Monday, 30 August 2010

Piranha 3D

I don't think I have ever cringed or winced at a movie as much as I did while watching Piranha 3D. Almost every single frame is soaked in blood and most on-screen characters are covered head to toe in freshly bitten teeth marks. My shoulders stiffened and my eyeballs shrieked for help as they suffered the astutely bold barbarism of it all, yet I could not bring myself to turn my head from the screen. In that way, Piranha 3D has achieved what it unashamedly set out to do: to be fucking grotesque. And I loved it.

Some will call it trash, others may call it pointless, but what I call it is unadulterated, boisterous entertainment that pushes the boundaries of acceptable gore. No, this is most definitely not high art, nor is it a masterpiece, but what it is is a refreshing smack in the face to those who smugly raise their noses at these sort of films.

It is an exploitation horror movie, one swimming in lakes of gore-tastic blood and exploding with gratuitous shots of silicone-pumped boobs, giggling away as it cuts up stupid teenagers and shows you their tits. And it's all showcased in three gloriously grisly dimensions, although regrettably not actually filmed with them 3D camera thingies, but converted during post-production. Shame.

The tongue-in-cheek mayhem takes place in Arizona, where an underwater earthquake unleashes a massive pack of prehistoric piranha in the fictional Lake Victoria, after they've been trapped underground for over two million years. Awww, poor little fishies. They've got razor-sharp teeth, they're hungry for flesh, there's thousands of the little buggers and they're pissed off.

Unfortunately, it's Spring Break and Lake Victoria is a hot-spot for fun-loving, partying, beer-guzzling teenagers wearing bikinis and trunks. And unfortunately for them, the piranha aren't the friendly type. Despite several warnings from the police, hundreds of half-naked (and some fully naked) teens dive into the water, unaware of the ferocious, fanged fish swimming below.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, turns out there's a bunch of ruthless piranha waiting for you. The fish fucking devour everything in sight, sinking their jagged fangs into the skin of every single screaming adolescent unlucky enough to still be in the water. The aftermath looks like the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but worse. Much, much worse.

People have their entire legs feasted on, their skin torn off, their faces crushed by boats, the back of their heads eaten through, and a young woman's scalp is yanked from her skull by a propeller. It's difficult to put into words how sickeningly disgusting and nausea-inducing these sequences are. There's even a moment where a poor guy has his dick bitten off. By a piranha, of course.

When we're not watching finned monsters ripping people apart, we're following young adult Jake (Steven R. McQueen), son of Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue). Mom's told Jake to baby-sit his little brother and sister (Sage Ryan and Brooklynn Proulx) while she watches over the parties by the lake, but he goes out anyway and ends up tagging along with asshole porn director Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell), telling the two youngsters to stay at home. They don't.

Along with Derrick and the two stars of his new X-rated film, Danni (Kelly Brook) and Crystal (Riley Steele), Jake goes on a boat to help them find a suitable place to shoot the erotic flick. In piranha-infested waters, no less. The carnivorous beasts soon spring into action, leaving Jake and the gang stranded in the middle of the lake.

Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes remake) drowns us with nerve-shredding tension, with all bets off on which of the fish bait cast will be caught hook, line and sinker. A lot of the characters are nothing but walking, talking, partially naked meat for the pack of piranha to munch on, and it is impossible to tell who will survive to the end credits.

It's an ensemble cast, with both unknowns and well-knowns fighting against the angry gilled killers. McQueen is an appealing lead with his character being a likable hero, if largely forgettable, and Shue is convincing as the sheriff trying to control the chaotic situation as well as save her kids.

O'Connell is fantastically hateable, playing the typical sleazy, treats-women-like-objects knob head, but he is a great character. Christopher Lloyd makes a two-scene appearance as eccentric marine biologist Mr. Goodman - although I wouldn't be surprised if his name was Doc Emmett Brown -, chewing more scenery than the fish do.

The special effects on the piranha are spectacularly cheesy, fitting in with the over-the-top tone. They have a substantially threatening appearance and certainly do look like they could sever some limbs if they wanted to. And believe me, they want to.

Aside from the opening sequence, which has the awesome Richard Dreyfuss in it, the piranha remain mostly unseen for the first forty minutes. We get a couple of kills, but it's not until just before the big massacre half-way through that we get a full glimpse of them, reminding me of 1975's Jaws. For this, I had to admire it as it doesn't shoot its load too quickly, smartly working on the suspense.

Piranha 3D does pretty much everything it says on the poster. While I'd say that the gore goes a bit too far at points (I'm a pussy), it is enormously amusing watching so many people get sliced and diced at the jaws of fish. The self-aware script delivers gallons of humour, and the film adequately isn't meant to be taken seriously for a fraction of a millisecond. It's a lotta fun. The only true victims here are the tourism board for Lake Havasu, where the film was shot. Tourist numbers may take a slight dip.


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

When a film opens with a pixelated, still image of the Universal Studios logo along with the well-known usually accompanied orchestral music sounding oddly like one of those repetitive, never-ending Game Boy tunes that play on a loop while you fight your way through multiple levels, there are two things that may have happened. Either A, the most likely young, geeky projectionist with an acne-infested face has totally fucked up his job; or B, you're about to watch a weird and obscure movie which has taken high inspiration from popular video games. If it's the former, you're screwed. If it's the latter, then get ready to have a helluva lotta fun, cos you're watching Scott Pilgrim vs The World.

Co-written and directed by Edgar Wright (the cinematic god who gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), this is a definite must-see for gamers and comic book nerds alike. Based on the cult series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley, it's set in a world where sounds take visual form (a la Adam West's Batman TV show of the '60s) and physics are not dissimilar to that of a video game.

Other than that, the very basics of this universe aren't too far from the regular one we live in. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a shaggy-haired 22-year old living in a Toronto bedsit with his gay roommate Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin), who's gay. He's gay and makes a point of saying this. He's gay. Scott is going out with quirky 17-year old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), but after Scott comes across the girl literally of his dreams, roller skater Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he begins obsessing over her and stalks her instead, quickly losing interest in Knives. What a bastard.

After spending some time with the purple-haired Ramona, he invites her to a battle of the bands that his awesome band, Sex Bob-Omb, is competing in for a record contract. While playing on-stage, Scott is attacked by Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who explains that in order for Scott to win Ramona's heart, he has to defeat her seven evil exes, Matthew being one of them.

With seven vicious old flames for Scott to pulverize, this sets up for six elaborate fight sequences (two twins are fought at the same time). Thankfully, the film does not succumb to monotony, as each of these scenes are so playfully creative and eminently unique that they never becoming repetitive. Wright stylishly directs them with much inspiration and energy, filling them with smooth and clear editing, meaning that we can actually see what is going on, unlike most recent action films. Cough, The Expendables, cough.

Many play out like Tekken battles and deal with flawless fight choreography from Peng Zhang, one of Jackie Chan's pals. Characters fly through the air and kick each other through brick walls, duelling one other using only the decibel levels jumping off the strings of their guitars as attack methods. When evil exes are conquered, they explode into a progressively increasing amount of coins, giving Scott more and more points whenever victory occurs for him. In one scene, he actually "gets a life", grabbing a small cartoon drawing of himself that is floating in the air. Which is cool.

Wright has loaded the film with a glorious plethora of visual and verbal gags, making Scott Pilgrim vs the World a laugh-a-minute riot. Just the way in which it is shot is enough to giggle at in itself, as its over-the-top, speedy manner is so ridiculously kinetic. Much of the editing and scene transitions are parallel to that of Wright's previous films and his profound Channel 4 show Spaced, with ingenious scene-switching techniques.

It just goes to show that Wright doesn't need his regulars Simon Pegg or Nick Frost to continue his winning streak of a filmography. Cera is the lead now and while he has never set foot outside the whiny-voiced character he played in Arrested Development, the Superbad star is nonetheless pleasing in the role.

Winstead is even better as Scott's punk love interest who changes her hair colour every one and a half weeks. She's an independent, cool and confident character with the stereotypical voice of American teenage arrogance, yet she mixes well with Scott's soft-spoken, wide-eyed, largely geeky demeanour. Opposites attract, I suppose.

The supporting cast is an exceedingly strong one, with Culkin and Wong delivering eccentric and memorable performances. Alison Pill is mesmerising as Kim Pine, the aggressive, freckle faced drummer of Sex Bob-Omb; and Anna Kendrick is mighty fine as Scott's judgemental, condescending sister Stacey.

Each of the seven evil exes are superbly cast, stretching from Brandon Routh as a white-haired vegan with psychic powers to Chris Evans playing a skateboarding, incredibly vain film star who wears leather jackets and talks in an exaggerated gruff voice. Evans would have to be my favourite, his performance is unforgettably hilarious, despite him only being in the film for around five minutes.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World truly is a fascinating cinematic experience, bursting with dazzling creativity and virtuosic liveliness mostly unseen by moviegoers lately. While I wouldn't say it quite reaches the near unbeatable level of Shaun of the Dead's utter brilliance, it is still a work of genius that has secured Edgar Wright's status as one of the top filmmakers working today. Trust me, you're gonna want to insert those coins time and time again once this is over. Continue? Yes please.


Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Switch

I mentioned in my review of the dismal Catherine Zeta-Jones feature The Rebound that honorable romantic comedies have been few and far between in recent times. With repetitious romance and corny comedy, they desperately need a bit of an, ermm, switch, shall we say? And while rom-com The Switch contains more drama than you'd think (false advertising), it nevertheless has the opportunity to alter this genre's current predicament. Sadly, it doesn't look like it's going to.

Based on the short story "Baster" by Jeffrey Eugenides, it stars Arrested Development's Jason Bateman and Friends' Jennifer Aniston. One's a quirky, indie, cult god, while the other is more of a Hollywood tabloid babe. I'll let you decide which is which.

Bateman is Wally Mars, a character best described as the neurotic type. His BFF (without benefits) is 40-year old Kassie Larson, a singleton who wants to have a baby. "I am in the market for some semen," she tells Wally. "And I need you to help me find some." In between his legs, missy. She opts for artificial insemination and after some hunting around, she chooses the handsome Roland (Patrick Wilson) to be the donor.

During the "pregnancy party" where Roland does the naughty deed, a heavily intoxicated Wally accidentally spills Roland's, ahem, load and so decides to sneakily fill the little pot with his own semen, forgetting this event the next morning. He's essentially a clumsy, drunken genetic rapist of sorts. Inevitably, Kassie soon becomes pregnant, with both her and clueless Wally unaware that he is the biological father.

Cut to seven years later and Kassie returns to NY to reunite with Wally, bringing her six-year old son, brainy but bullied Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), with her, who's as equally neurotic as his father. Wally eventually remembers what happened that fateful night and wants to be with Kassie and Sebastian, but things quickly get complicated as Roland is now involved in their lives.

The thing about The Switch is that although it has been marketed as a romantic comedy, the dramatic elements seem far more present than they should be for this genre. There are many serious scenes, some entirely without any jokes or gags, which may sound like it's trying to be a tad more adult/respectable, but it still pulled the film down for me.

Personally, I would have preferred the comedy aspect to have been enhanced and polished, as I found myself barely laughing for the whole 96 minute length, which is surprising, what with directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck having helmed the hilarious Blades of Glory in 2007. Aside from a couple of rare amusing gags, The Switch simply is not funny enough to even be classed as a comedy drama, leaving much to be desired.

Our two well-known leads are appealing enough, despite their significant lack of on-screen sexual chemistry. Jennifer Aniston does a terrific job in portraying Jennifer Aniston, as does Jason Bateman in playing Jason Bateman. I really would have loved for Bateman's performance to have been a robotic one, as I could have written a gut-busting Wall-E pun in reference to his character's name, but alas, he was pretty darn good.

Aniston has never really escaped the personality of the beloved Rachel from Friends, playing practically the same character in most of her subsequent film roles. Saying that, I bloody love the girl-next-door Miss Green, so I can't let that discredit Aniston's likable performance.

Wilson plays the snobby "other guy," Wally's recently divorced rival in style, while Robinson gives a remarkable feature film debut as Wally's hypochondriac son. I see a bright future for the young lad. There's also the awesomely awesome scene-stealer Jeff Goldblum as Wally's work colleague, Leonard. He vigorously dominates each brief scene he's in, even though his character is one big cliché. I adore the guy.

The only real character chemistry the film has is between Wally and Sebastian, with the former slowly noticing familiar traits carried on to his son. The two bond over the course of the movie, and it is quite sweet how the stubborn Sebastian soon relates to his oddball father, with their blood relationship unbeknownst to him.

The script, conceived by Allan Loeb, accommodates some inspired dialogue, brimming with satisfactory one-liners throughout. However, towards the end, it subjects itself to silly clichés - such as the use of pathetic fallacy - and predictability, annoyingly dumping itself into a typical, somewhat lazy Hollywood finale.

I didn't find myself engaged in the story for the first 20 minutes of The Switch, it felt as if I was just watching characters do things I didn't care about. The film regrettably never achieves a comforting level of captivity, nor does it deliver with the laughs. The performances are near top-notch and the writing is fairly decent, but I still very much wanted more. Then again, there's a scene where Jeff Goldblum plays the piano and sings Happy Birthday, which in itself almost redeems the film. He's so awesome.


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Expendables

I think it's fair to say that Sylvester Stallone is living in the past. Back in the day when men were men and guns were bazookas, Sly was running around a jungle, building intricate booby traps with a bunch of sticks and blasting away psychotic gunmen in grocery stores. He was an all-out action star, one who epitomised the popular gritty, muscle-bound flicks of the '80s, and he's never really left this mind-set.

His last film, 2008's Rambo, was a return to his beloved roots, playing the famous Vietnam veteran once again, appeasing most of his testosterone-hungry fans. I wasn't one of them. It was bloody, it was brutal and it was actually a bit boring, or at least it was for me. However, it seems that the 64 year old liked the familiar taste of the now-outdated genre and has decided to attempt a loving comeback for it, bringing together the very best action heroes working today for its primary cast, including Jason Statham and Jet Li. Steven Seagal can suck it.

The Expendables stars Stallone as Barney Ross, the head of a group of professional mercenaries, consisting of Lee Christmas (Statham), Ying Yang (Li), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Toll Road (Randy Couture). How they came up with these names, I don't know.

They're on a mission to take down the evil dicktator (deliberate) of the fictional South American country Vilena, General Garza (David Zayas), who unflinchingly kills people and has a big mansion and is just a fat, foreign bastard with a Craig David beard. Turns out he is not their only target, as crooked ex-CIA agent James Munroe (Eric Roberts) is the well-dressed controller of puppet Garza's strings.

As expected, this is all leading up to an eardrum-bursting, vein-popping 20 minute long finale filled with gigantic explosions, erratic gunfire and beefy men angrily shouting at one another. Characters who get shot in the forehead end up with exploding skulls, and I’m pretty sure that if you were to get a paper cut in this movie, your finger would fall off. There's even a moment where Couture watches a man roast in flames and runs up to punch the poor burning guy in the face. I mean, holy fuck.

It all sounds epic and, occasionally, it is. But to be brutally honest, there's not much separating this from the sleazy, straight-to-DVD fair you might see in a bargain bin at Blockbuster. I don't intend any disrespect to Stallone, he clearly has a lot of admiration for the genre and he has fully displayed it here, but the end result is less than satisfying.

First off, a lot of the editing in the action scenes is all over the place with about ten cuts in just over a second. It's like Transporter 3, where the action sequences - the most important aspect of the action genre - are murdered by frustratingly frequent edits, rendering them near incoherence.

They're also filmed in the style of shaky cam, a condition where the cameraman seems to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Made famous by Paul Greengrass with his popular Bourne flicks, it's headache-inducing and I certainly don't remember this being an aspect of '80s action movies. So I have to wonder why Stallone decided to film The Expendables in this spastic way.

Likewise, his script, written alongside David Calllaham, is rather patchy, containing some weak writing with irritating cliches. These cliches may be deliberate, but that doesn't stop them from inspiring an eye roll. Saying that, there is the occasional one-liner worthy of a giggle. After blasting some bullet holes into a recently interrogated traitor, Roberts proclaims, "Now we can see inside of him...and I see lies." There's also a part where Lundgren stomps on a dude's face and simply says, "Insect." Genius.

One of the most prominent features of The Expendables is, of course, the glorious cast, crammed with muscular action stars. Most of the film's focus is on Stallone and Statham, who both work fine on their own, but are lacking in chemistry when on-screen together. Stallone may not have much in terms of a personality other than "he's the leader", but he's acceptable. Statham has his usual, natural charisma at hand and he uses it to the fullest, yet the two don't quite mesh together.

Lundgren is marvelous, with his character turning to the dark side not long into the film, making for a memorable baddie role. The main villain, Eric Roberts, isn't a terrific one - all he does is wear tuxedos, smirk and act like a total cunt - but he does what he can with the role.

Aside from Jet Li (who has a dandy hand-to-hand fight with Lundgren), everyone else feels underused, a common symptom of an ensemble cast such as this. Crews and Couture don't do anything until the finale, and even then, they don't do much. What could have solved this would be to remove the subplot of Statham's cheating girlfriend - which doesn't go anywhere at all and is simply a useless time filler - and insert more scenes to develop these characters.

Mickey Rourke is a fabulous actor, undoubtedly the most respectable name in the cast list and his talents shine bright in the three scenes he's in, the second of which contains a heartfelt monologue about heartbreak on a past mission. It's a shame he's not used more, because his performance momentarily lifts the film sky high above the punch-punch, bang-bang of the rest of the movie.

I can't help but feel that The Expendables' vast potential has been squandered. Stallone had the opportunity to do something spectacular, but what we've ended up with is a bit of a convoluted mess. There are too many characters, leading to many being undeveloped and the '80s action vibe isn't enough to hold it together. Some fans may find gratification here, but I didn't. For me, it was more Cobra than Die Hard. And Cobra sucked.


Monday, 16 August 2010

Step Up 3D

In the sublimely cultural and highly kinetic universe of John Chu's Step Up 3D, people like dancing. As in, they really, really love it. It's set in a world where it seems that busting a move and winning break dance battles is practically the most important thing to every human being on the planet, living or dead. It's a lifestyle, one where a single toe out of line can discredit your respek 'n' shit and get your head chopped off and popped on a stake for all to gawk and laugh at as they drink your inadequate and incompetent blood. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.

This obsession is true for our main characters, mainly young and athletic street dancers whose lives revolve one hundred and ten per cent around dancing. They live it, they breathe it, they digest it, they fart it, they everything it, and it always comes first for them. While their passion is fairly admirable, it's also a bit laughable. To hear characters taking these things so outrageously seriously is just stupid and unintentionally comical, leading to the film shooting itself in its exceedingly happy foot.

We follow two adolescent siblings, Moose (Adam Sevani) and Camille Cage (Alyson Stoner) who have just started attending New York University. Moose has promised his mother that he would never pursue his love for dance again, but after less than two minutes of screen time, he ends up in a break dance battle. That's right, this film hasn't heard of the word "pacing."

He respectfully wins and attracts the attention of Luke Katcher (Rick Malambri), an aspiring filmmaker and dancer, who introduces Moose to his dance crew, called Pirates. Arrrr, matey, they can twirl and do somersaults and do all sorts of freaky stuff. Moose joins the crew as they prepare for an upcoming dance competition, the World Jam contest, where they will be competing against their rivals, the House of Samurai dance crew. Pirates versus Samurais, eh? That sounds a lot more entertaining than it actually is.

For a lot of the movie we're watching our protagonists train and practice for this prestigious competition, all of which is quite fun. The choreography within these sequences is spectacular, oozing with creativity, aided visually by those 3D glasses you should be wearing. Most of it is typical street dancing, but a scene where Moose struts his stuff with Camille to a remix of Fred Astaire's "I Won't Dance" stands out from the crowd.

Dance is a beautiful art form and it's showcased very well here, but as much as it tries with all its strength to drag the film up from the depths of mediocrity, truthfully, nothing can. When the dancers stop moving their bodies, we have to deal with boring, melodramatic scenes with characters, ugh, talking.

The script by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer is frustratingly cheesy, bursting with annoying exposition at the start and jam-packed with stupid cliches. With lines like "You wanna get to him, you gotta go through us" and "With a little bit of training, this kid could be the spark that we need to get everyone together and win the hundred grand from the World Jam and pay back what we owe," I can't say that they've put any effort into this whatsoever.

This isn't helped by the wooden acting from almost all of the cast, particularly Malambri. To be fair, many of the performers are professional dancers, not actors, so we're not expecting much, but that doesn't get them off the hook. The only good performance is from Sevani as Moose, our exuberant and passionate main character, yet even he's shaky at certain points in the film.

I also can't do this review without mentioning Martin and Facundo Lombard as The Santiago Twins, two of the most annoying on-screen siblings since Mudflap and Skids from Transformers 2. I spent much of Step Up 3D imagining I was bashing their pathetically unfunny skulls in with a baseball bat.

Many of the characters simply feel one dimensional, with significantly few of them having a noteworthy presence. Side characters will only be remembered as backing dancers and nothing more, as they lack distinct personalities.

What the film does have though is a cracking soundtrack, filled with hip-hop and electro-funk which ramp up each individual dance scene. From Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me" to Chromeo's "Fancy Footwork," it really is great and sets the energetic mood.

I want to say that the film's heart is in the right place, but when our main character is told that dancing is more important than school, I have to say that the movie's morals are a tad questionable. The film is meant to show the emotional power of dancing, but this is nothing short of generic and it seems forced at times.

I would recommend Step Up 3D for fans of dancing, but thinking about this, they would still have to sit through the tedious scenes where the art is not being displayed. The dance sequences may be fascinating, but they aren't enough to compensate for the god awful script, the bland acting and the wafer-thin plot. Actually, hold on, just go on YouTube and search for clips of the best dancers on Britain's Got Talent. That should suffice.


Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Other Guys

Ugh, remember Cop Out? I wish I didn't. That bore-fest of a parody flick has unquestionably painted a big black stain on Kevin Smith's career and will make its victims quiver in fear whenever its title is mentioned to them. It was an appallingly unfunny comedy intended as an homage to the well-known buddy cop films of the 80's and one that failed miserably. It's too bad that Smith didn't wait a few months, as he could have seen how a movie of this type is supposed to be handled.

That way, he may have seen the wonderful Adam McKay's new picture The Other Guys, although he should have watched Hot Fuzz in 2007. Both have basically the same intentions, to pay tribute to the style epitomised in Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs, but where Kevin Smith failed, Adam McKay stands tall and proud.

The Other Guys stars McKay regular Will Ferrell and Mark (Marky Mark) Wahlberg as Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz, a couple of New York City detectives who are nothing if they're not mismatched. They're overshadowed by two aggressive, vain supercops called PK Highsmith (the awesome Samuel L. Jackson) and Christopher Danson (the not-so-awesome Dwayne Johnson), who hog all the media attention.

After Highsmith and Danson are killed while on the job, their positions as idolized megastars needs to be filled, so Gamble and Hoitz see their chance to shine and to prove themselves. They end up on the case of a possible corporate fraudster, David Ershon (Steve Coogan), but the more they search for clues, the more they screw things up.

McKay has a keen eye for witty dialogue, as shown in each of his previous efforts, writing alongside Land of the Lost’s Chris Henchy here. They gently cram the film with continually hilarious one-liners for Ferrell and Wahlberg to happily play with, and I'm happy to listen to it. The film is no doubt at its fascinating best with the brilliant banter between our two protagonists, which is exceptionally entertaining and thankfully ever-present.

As usual, Ferrell is the film's highlight, delivering a memorably deadpan, if familiar performance as the awkward and socially square type. The character's a moron no doubt, and Ferrell's rich skills in the art of comedy acting are perfectly suited for the role. Not that Ferrell's a moron (lots will disagree with me on that), he just knows how to play one in an effective and over-the-top manner.

Wahlberg is the complete opposite, portraying a gung-ho brute who looks like he'd throw a sandwich man out of a window for putting too much mayonnaise on his BLT. He's lovable and has a smart mouth, with Wahlberg displaying some damn fine comedy talent and sort of recycling his famous role in The Departed. And that's not a bad thing, cos Dignam was fuckin' awesome.

The two have the kind of chemistry that Cop Out strived for, but completely messed up. Wahlberg is the straight man and Ferrell is the silly one, a mix that really does work here, much like Laurel and Hardy, although obviously to a lesser extent in terms of quality.

Michael Keaton is Captain Gene Mauch, the usual takes-no-shit boss who has a second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond and barks orders at our two main characters while inadvertently quoting TLC lyrics. "Don't go chasing waterfalls," he says. Keaton is a god.

And then we have Steve Coogan as our possible baddie, a very powerful and arrogant Englishman who distracts Gamble and Hoitz with tickets for court size seats to a Knicks game and to go see Jersey Boys live. Coogan’s a spectacular comedian and his talents certainly are not squandered here, he’s given much material to show off his natural charisma.

While this is no Anchorman, I'd say it's superior to McKay's Talladega Nights and on a par with Step Brothers. The laugh-out-loud, absurd comedy is constant and thoroughly pleasing, serving several belly laughs within the first hour. A scene where Hoitz quietly fights one of his colleagues on the floor at a funeral while others gang around and egg them on by whispering is hilarious.

It turns out that McKay is quite the action man, impressively filming high-octane car chases in a surprisingly neat fashion. The opening scene, consisting of Highsmith and Danson speeding after a bunch of armed crooks, is hella cool as we watch a bullet pierce through the air in a very Wanted-esque way, and New York's finest crash into a bus and cause $12 million in property damage. It's all well-shot and is an invigorating opening to the film.

What I like about The Other Guys is that while it parodies the buddy cop genre, it doesn't just become another one of them. To do that would be what Cop Out stupidly did, and we all know how that ended. “Badly,“ I scream in your ear through a bullhorn. It's McKay's own film that simply has elements of the popular genre and for that, it's great.

If you've seen McKay's other flicks, you'll know what to expect here. It's the same unique brand of outrageous slapstick and ridiculous humour that worked so well in Anchorman, except it's laden with guns and explosions. While falling a bit flat by the last ten minutes, The Other Guys is still a side-splitting affair that makes for a fabulous addition to the summer. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go punch Kevin Smith in his rotund belly.



Neil Marshall has never been one to shy away from gore in his films. Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday were equally bloody affairs, gloriously splattered in gruesomely visible entrails and crimson coloured bodily fluids. As expected, his newest project, an epic war thriller entitled Centurion, appropriately follows suit with this ever-present theme of maniacal bloodshed.

Throughout the movie we watch constant stabbings, beheadings, never-ending amputations, eye-gouging, throat-slitting, severed limbs flying everywhere, broken bones and bodily mutilations all at the sharp ends of swords, spears, hatchets and arrows. At one point - five minutes into the film to be precise - a man gets stabbed in the groin while taking a piss. Now that's just rude!

As you would assume, the movie takes place in ye olde violent times; 117 AD in fact. We're in Scotland, and Roman centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the sole survivor of an ambush on a highly guarded fort by a fearsome tribe known as the Picts. He is captured, but promptly escapes with some help from a Roman legion led by Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), whom Quintus decides to tag along with.

The armoured legion is soon attacked and little are left standing as Titus is captured by the tribe. Are you noticing a pattern here? Along with a small group of Romans, Quintus invades the tribe's huts to rescue Titus, during which the tribe chieftain’s young son is killed.

Hell-bent on revenge, a tongueless female warrior called Etain (Olga Kurylenko) furiously chases after our miniscule band of Roman soldiers through the woods with other tribe members. As much as our protagonists desperately try to hide, the tribe is always right behind them.

Centurion ended up being quite a surprise for me, as I was expecting a laborious and annoyingly generic period war film with no real sense of excitement. Turns out it's a fairly entertaining and excessively brutal tale that's reasonably fun for almost all of its running time. Make no mistake, this is no Gladiator or 300, but it's enjoyable nonetheless.

The action sequences are nicely shot, with Marshall's energetic direction thankfully not resorting to tedious rapidity, meaning that we can actually tell what the hell is going on. Swords clang against each other and armed horse riders swing axes into Roman foreheads, which only becomes repetitive towards the end.

The script is filled aplenty with half-witty banter between our main protagonists, which is very reminiscent of Marshall's directorial debut, 2002's Dog Soldiers. It makes for a dandy, slightly humorous break from the high drama and gut-wrenching violence of the constant action scenes. Although containing the occasional cliché, it's a reasonably satisfying script.

However, one of the film's definite flaws is that the sword wielding characters are substantially underdeveloped. Their personalities aren't that strong and thus don't have enough of an impact, which may cause you to simply forget about them soon after the end credits roll. Fully fleshed out, truly memorable characters would be exceedingly preferable to the bland, rough, tough warriors we get here.

Then again, the cast does a fine job with the characters they're given. Fassbender is an exquisite leading man, one who emits the right amount of emotion when necessary as well as kicking some tribal ass. His character, on the other hand, doesn't feel like our hero until about an hour into the movie, with our only clue that he's the main character being that he's the narrator.

Noel Clarke, Dave Legeno, Axelle Carolyn, David Morrissey, JJ Feild and Riz Ahmed all have largely forgettable roles, so much so that I genuinely can't remember which character is which. Who really stood out for me though is Dominic West as Titus, certainly the best performance in the film. West is a fascinating character actor and I for one very much admired him as the stubborn and unflinching leader.

There's also Kurylenko as Etain, our menacing, bloodthirsty villain. What's interesting is that her character doesn't have a single line throughout the entire film, what with her tongue having been previously cut out by a Roman, but she still manages to be one scary bitch. She's pretty awesome in the film and makes for a decent and powerful antagonist.

Marshall brings the thrills and kills, but the movie is lacking in suspense. For instance, a scene where our heroes are hiding under the floorboards of a hut while Etain searches around atop obviously calls for much tension, but this just doesn't happen. Etain quickly buggers off, leaving me scratching my head, wondering why Marshall didn't take advantage of this situation. It's puzzling, no?

Nevertheless, Centurion is still a profoundly fun, blood-infested movie with a fine cast and nifty direction. It's certainly not a great film, just one above mediocre that I would recommend for giving a go. That is, unless you've got a weak stomach, in which case I recommend watching The Little Mermaid instead.


Friday, 6 August 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

There are some films out there that just make you want to puke. These recently titled "torture porn" flicks, so-called horror films intended to make the viewer question whether or not to continue eating their tuna sandwich, is a current and popular trend amongst cinema goers. The Saw franchise and the two Hostel video nasties have only spread the hunger for this love it or hate it genre, and now The Human Centipede has been released to quench this sick thirst for gore and general hideousness.

The concept alone is enough to put you off your dinner, but should thoroughly satisfy its target audience. Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) are two American tourists travelling across Europe when their car gets a flat tire in Germany. They come across a house and ask the grim owner Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) for help, but end up being drugged by the sinister bastard.

They then wake up in hospital beds in Heiter's basement, where the doctor reveals that he is going to perform a little surgery on them. He is going to permanently sew them up, mouth to anus, so that they can share a single digestive system, along with another man named Katsuru (Akihiro Kitamura). Why is he doing this? Fuck knows.

As you would assume, the film is laden with stomach-churning scenes, which both work for the film as well as against it. A sequence where Katsuru decides to take a dump in the squirming Lindsay's mouth should have you wide-eyed and cringing in horror. However, the film is not a stupid one, it seems well aware of what it is and what it is not. I could sense a tongue-in-cheek tone hidden beneath the over-the-top seriousness.

What holds the film back is some downright bad acting from our two female leads and the simple grotesqueness of it all. The character of Katsuru is slightly annoying with all his screaming and ranting which, although appropriate for the situation he's in, soon becomes frustrating.

Laser's performance, on the other hand, is a fabulously creepy one, making for a fantastic and quirky villain who vastly steals the film. There's also a nerve-shredding escape scene involving Lindsay which had me on the edge of my seat in suspense, one of the definite highlights of the film.

Those of you who want to see this film will know who you are. It's destined to receive a cult following and it certainly deserves it, if simply for the hilariously nasty plot. Don't expect too much and you should enjoy the flick despite its many flaws. Just prepare to be put off that hot dog you're eating.


Thursday, 5 August 2010

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore

Bill Murray once compared the end of the world at the hands of an evil god to cats and dogs living together. "Mass hysteria," he said in 1984's comedy classic Ghostbusters. Turns out this silly comparison may actually be appropriate, as in Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the two usually feuding furry animals must work together, with the end result being, of course, mass hysteria from cringing viewers.

This sequel to the 2001 hit, a family film about canine spies going up against feline foes, is much the same as its predecessor. While the original was a mediocre effort with a largely opportunistic premise, the follow-up has an increasingly opportunistic premise but unluckily buggers it up even more than the first one managed to do.

The movie starts with a supposedly lost and cute wittle puppy being taken into an office at a German base by one of the workers there. The worker's barking, suspicious bloodhound peers through the window and watches as the cocker spaniel, taking pictures of top-secret documents, unzips its fur coat to reveal an evil, hairless pussycat called Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler) inside.

The bloodhound contacts the dog, err, headquarters and tells them that he has spotted the wretched villain. A new recruit, an incompetent German Shephard named Diggs (James Marsden), is put on the job to track her down, along with his experienced partner Butch (Nick Nolte).

On their mission, they discover that Kitty Galore is attempting to send a high-pitched signal all across the world, which will drive every single dog totally cuckoo. Not as cuckoo as the makers of this film though. It also turns out that in order to stop their loathsome adversary, the dogs will have to team up with a group of cats, whether they like it or not. What a scandal!

This is the kind of film which producers are hoping will hypnotise gullible youngsters into begging their whining, groaning parents to miserably purchase movie tickets for them to go and see it with them in, urgh, 3D. Three dimensions of brainless un-tertainment. It makes the moronic mistake of thinking that a kids film doesn't need wit or class to be good, when in fact the rule is the complete opposite.

About 90% of the script consists of frustrating feline and canine puns, and the other 10% relies on lazily clichéd dialogue. Truth be told, the writing isn't anything if it's not nauseating and should have anyone in the hopefully empty-seated audience over eight years old rolling their eyes.

The humour is entirely laughless, unable to gain even a chuckle from me and I have a wide range for comedy. I could see that it was trying to appeal to adults with the film references, particularly James Bond, but it's just not witty enough to execute them in an effective manner. A sequence parodying the famous first appearance of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs simply goes on for too long and is too similar to other films and TV shows which have homaged the well-known scene.

The film may not resort to fart jokes or burp gags, but I was struggling to spot a single sophisticated quip for almost the entire running time. Then again, kids are easy to please, so I wouldn't be surprised if they clap their hands in amazement at the talking pets.

To be fair, some of the special effects are not that bad and are certainly a step up from its predecessor. The CGI animation on Kitty Galore looks rather nice, if obviously crafted on a computer. But then there's the tedious movement of the lips on the blabbering creatures, an effect which I don't think will ever look anything other than odd.

The cast is not too shabby, if substantially unmemorable. James Marsden does fine with the drivel he has to read and Nick Nolte is superb as a gravelly voiced Anatolian Shepherd. Chris O'Donnell (Robin from the two Joel Schumacher Batman travesties), on the other hand, is bloody terrible as cop Shane, Diggs' owner. Seriously, it's as if someone is spinning tiny-lettered cue cards around for him to read off of. I'm really not surprised the Boy Wonder is practically unseen in today's world of cinema.

Bette Midler is brilliant as Kitty Galore, cackling an evil laugh in the one of the film's two outstanding performances. She brings a suitably threatening voice to the character, one that I very much admired. Sean Hayes is the second of these performances, reprising his role as Mr. Tinkles, the best character in the flick. He's only in two scenes, but all of the somewhat respectable writing is squandered on the wise-cracking cat.

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is predictable, generic, very badly scripted and is just a showcase for celebrity voice actors. It's a bad boy, it needs to be put down, it should choke on its hairballs, it deserves a smack on the snout and it desperately needs obedience classes. Don't listen to your kids and don't pay for the damn thing. Buy them a puppy instead.