Wednesday, 29 September 2010


It's remarkable how certain films manage to still look so magnificent when provided with such shockingly miniscule funding. In Monsters, filmmaker Gareth Edwards is working with a budget of only $15,000, the same as camcorder-filmed haunted house horror Paranormal Activity, an amount that would make Hollywood soil its gold-plated underwear in awe of how Edwards achieved something so visually striking with the limited finances. The cinematography is no doubt magnanimous, the director spending the minimal cash appropriately to sketch a convincing large scale setting; the film is a pleasure to look at.

It's true, the art department most definitely deserves recognition for the momentous feat, yet Monsters - for a number of reasons - isn't all that it should be. The director has stated that he wanted to make "the world's most realistic monster movie", but in doing so, he's crafted a creature feature that is frequently a dull experience, occasionally bordering upon a tiresome terrain that lacks in an immersing storyline.

What should have been a thrilling adventure about two terrified individuals trekking through a dangerous jungle under the constant fear that giant aliens are about to crush them to death has turned into a character drama revolving around a hapless guy and gal wandering through a deserted area which just so happens to have unseen extraterrestrials positioned somewhere nearby. Even with this route it still could have worked, but the execution is drab at best.

Monsters takes place six years after a NASA space probe containing samples of alien life accidentally crash-landed when entering Earth‘s atmosphere, resulting in obscure creatures popping up all over Mexico. These octopus-like beasts caused a large section of the country to be quarantined in an area entitled, "The Infected Zone," where people are strongly suggested not to venture. In the present day, the threat of aliens are part of everyday life, with the government consistently bombing sites to try and prevent their spreading.

Our two main characters are photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), who’s looking for his big break by photographing alien-induced destruction, and unnerved tourist Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able), the daughter of Andrew's boss. Samantha has been injured following an attack on one of the monsters, and Andrew has been ordered by her father to safely escort her back home to America within 48 hours.

A not-so-thrilled Andrew accepts the offer and starts on a journey with Samantha, intending to accompany her to a ferry that will take her home. However, things get complicated when their passports are stolen, and they are forced to take a different trail, namely through the infection zone where the tentacled monsters roam.

I would love to tell you that Monsters is a fun, tense and scary sci-fi thriller that successfully redefines the alien invasion genre, but this is annoyingly not the case. The relationship between the two easy-going leads is the movie's main driving force, with the titular space inhabitants not making much of an appearance, fading away into the background. While this restraint is clearly deliberate, it nonetheless left me wanting a whole lot more than what I was given.

The grip of the film's octopus tentacles isn't tight enough to keep us on the hook, our attention more drawn to the ticking of our watches than the action on-screen. It should be intriguing, yet something drags it away from this opportunity. The weak script doesn't offer a helping hand either, with some messy, uninspired dialogue that McNairy and Able try their best to liven up.

Our two leads are almost Monsters' saving grace, their characters sharing a reasonable bond that at times manages to keep us from dozing off. With a subtle romantic element that, although predictable, seems realistic enough to not appear corny or formulaic, the two mix well together and make for watchable heroes. They're both kind, good-spirited and seemingly without a single bad bone in their bodies, aiding in how they connect with each other.

Edwards does show a flamboyant amount of directing talent here, filming each scene with hand-held cameras, rendering the film with an almost documentarian feel similar to last year's District 9. He has surrounded it with an enticing mood and an atmosphere of unease that nearly makes up for the troubling absence of tension, beautifully capturing the setting with luxurious allure.

While the special effects may not be up to Hollywoods' spectacular standards, they are mighty impressive for a film of this budget. Mostly covered up by low lighting, the creatures look splendidly hideous yet beautiful, towering over the petrified people below and whining whale-like moans. They are, more often than not, decently animated, save for the climax where the CGI is a little too obvious; it's a shame they're so underused.

Ultimately, Monsters is quite the disappointment. While the direction and visuals are astonishing for a film with such low funding, it's still dull and unengaging, moving along at a schizophrenic, uneven pace. It's ambitious and well-meaning with a not-so-inconspicuous commentary on immigration, but in the end it just falls flat. I'm sorry, Edwards, but if you make a movie called Monsters, you'd better make sure they're not just background extras.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Town

Following the outstanding direction shown in his two critically praised cinematic releases so far, I believe Ben Affleck has finally found the medium he's most comfortable in. Back in October of 2007, the Chasing Amy star took America by surprise with his dignified directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, a kidnapping crime drama starring his younger brother Casey. Usually known as an actor, Affleck decided to go behind the camera as co-writer and director, going on to receive a hefty amount of well-deserved acclaim for his confident artistic diversion. This time round, he is both the star and the filmmaker of his new flick The Town, but one does wonder if it lives up to his previous effort.

Much like the former of his directorial filmography, The Town is set in the rough and tough streets of Boston, this time in Charlestown. Affleck characterises the setting with a stylish cultural identity of criminality, as we are told that it is a hot-spot for bank heists, producing more robbers and car thieves than anywhere else in the world. I suppose it's a wonderful place to raise your children.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a professional Bostonian bank robber who is part of a gang of skillful bandits. In the thrilling opening scene, we watch as they fiercely raid a bank vault's contents wearing skull-like masks, and take the building's manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as a getaway hostage. They briskly let her go once they have escaped, but are later more than a little freaked out when they find out that the shaken-up lass resides in their neighbourhood.

Fearing that she may be able to identify them to the police, Doug decides to sneakily approach her in a friendly - maybe a little too friendly - manner to find out what she knows. The two instantly connect, their relationship swiftly blossoming into romantic territories, with Claire blissfully unaware that Doug, not too long ago, was pointing a gun at her face.

Meanwhile, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), a man of the law who's not afraid to get his hands dirty, is leading the case against Doug and his crew, progressively compiling evidence step by step. With pressure from the aggressive James "Jem" Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) and his no-fucking-nonsense-or-I'll-cut-your-balls-off-and-shove-them-down-your-throat boss, Fergie (Peter Postlethwaite), Doug struggles to maintain the relationship with his new girl as he prepares for a final job.

Affleck once again proves himself to be an efficient director, capably handling each intricate action set piece to an astonishing calibre. From the opening bank robbery to an explosive car chase to the climactic public shoot-out, the director shows how an action scene is supposed to be done. There aren't cut-a-millisecond edits, the camera isn't violently trembling, the cinematography isn't over-bombastic; Affleck films them with smoothness and clarity, intertwining a sense of anxiety amongst the air-tearing bullets.

The Town is not an action-packed extravaganza however, with much attention focused on the more emotional aspects of the story; the action scenes are few, but memorable. The film's vault is filled with flawlessly manufactured character interaction, stacked with money-bags of drama all remarkably acted by a stellar cast.

This is one of the best performances I've seen out of Affleck, playing a criminal with a haunting past and a heart partially made of gold. He is the only one of his band of money-hungry crooks to portray actual compassion, as shown in the opening scene where he tells his blindfolded hostage that she's going to be okay and that they're not going to harm her. He's not overly sentimental, however, he has a largely evident rough and rugged side seemingly inherited from his incarcerated father (Chris Cooper).

His relationship with Claire is a realistic one, not constrained by Hollywood formula, but let loose with convincing chemistry and connection. Hall manages to pull off a decent American accent in a somewhat restrained but solid performance as the strong and intelligent Claire.

Stealing the show is Jeremy Renner, who you may remember from last year's Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker. His character is best buds with Doug, but the two are considerably different in nature. Jem is a hot-head, a loose-cannon, a man who goes a little too far once committing acts of violence. Renner has an intimidating presence, his actions unpredictable and his attitude a dangerous one, marking his performance the best of the bunch.

Although the script sounds a smidge clichéd at points, Affleck and co-writer Peter Craig have perfectly balanced the right amount of drama with the right amount of action, crafting a perfectly orchestrated, tense thriller with reminders of Michael Mann's Heat. It's hardboiled, it's gritty and it's heartfelt. And it should be enough for us to forgive Affleck for starring in Gigli.


Friday, 24 September 2010


Frozen is a movie that asks us what we would do if put in such a remarkably dire predicament as the one we are presented with. As with any situational horror, we theoretically put ourselves in the character's fearful footsteps - or in this case, dangling chair - and create our own survival strategies, promptly ending up shouting at the screen, bemused as to why the actors won't do what we're telling them to; namely because the director says otherwise.

Several times throughout Frozen, I found myself questioning the behaviour of the protagonists and pathetically desiring to sit beside them so I could yell in their ear what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong. Alas, this did not occur. And this is what makes Frozen such a breathtaking experience; you imagine yourself in the character's shoes and thinking about what you yourself would do, given the unlucky chance of experiencing what they regrettably are.

In this case, we are following three young college students: Joe (Shawn Ashmore), Dan (Kevin Zegers) and the latter's girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell). None of them have anymore depth than a snowflake, but they are extraordinarily likeable leads; thank Christ, most of the film is them conversing for 94 minutes straight. They're on a trip to a ski resort, but are not willing to pay the full price for tickets, so bribe the ski lift attendant to let them take a few lesser priced spins on the ride.

He accepts and the trio go and have fun. However, once the resort is about to shut down early for the week, they ask to have one more ride, convincing the grumpy attendant to yield with their sweet widdle faces. They go out on the ski lift, and through a slightly far-fetched series of unfortunate events, the seat stops halfway through its course and the three friends look behind them to see the place's lights go out as everyone leaves the site. While they first laugh and believe this to be a joke, it soon looms on them that they're gonna be stuck there on the mechanism for quite some time.

The rest of the film consists of our sniffle-nosed threesome uncontrollably shivering, looking a-scared and irritably complaining about the weather; fair enough, it looks pretty fucking cold. They're high up in the air, they're suffering from frostbite and it doesn’t look like there's going to be anyone around to help them for a total of five days. Bummer.

For Frozen's majority, Joe, Dan and - to a lesser extent - Parker make several desperate and suspenseful attempts to get down from the suspended ski lift, with many miserable failures. To make matters worse, there's a pack of bloodthirsty wolves gathering below, staring up at the helpless tourists and hungrily licking their lips. They stay put, they freeze to death. They jump, they heavily risk breaking a few bones and getting eaten alive.

Nevertheless, the abandoned trinity try to keep their hopes up, regularly repeating, "Everything's gonna be okay," and, "We're gonna be fine" over and over again. Yes, ermm, I'm sure you'll all live to the end credits. I'm sure of it. Mm-hmm. Adam Green, the main man behind the camera, impressively manages to keep our attention focused on these three suffering characters for damn near the film's entire length, despite them spending most of it stuck to a chair.

Green has thrown a mountain-load of tension-filled snowballs at what should be a mediocre flick, causing an unexpected avalanche of edge-of-your-chairlift entertainment. He's pitted everything against these strikingly appealing individuals, from fanged canines lurking below to that bastard known as the freezing-cold weather, and we really get a sense of how hopeless these characters feel.

Ashmore, Bell and Zegers are all substantially watchable and endearing actors, delivering Green's lines to a satisfying level, their relationships to one another very believable. Joe and Dan are childhood best friends, both sarcastic jokers but not meanies or bullies, just all-round nice guys with warm hearts. Parker is a tad whiney, but nonetheless a lovable lady who shares a conflicting relationship with Dan, who feels like a third wheel. Some of their conversations may seem like useless time-fillers, but what they do say is interesting and expands on them as characters.

Frozen has our trio fight, bicker, make escape plans, cry, wee themselves and reminisce about the good old days when they weren't freezing to death on a chairlift. Green has smartly sprinkled the film with moments of humour in the wittingly scribed dialogue and smothered it in an atmosphere of anxiety, making for an excellent and entertaining tale of man against nature. Although I have to ask, what's Iceman from the X-Men got to worry about a bit of snow for?


Tuesday, 21 September 2010


It struck me while watching John Erick Dowdle's Devil that Satan must really have quite a lot of time on his hands. Assuming he's not an omnipresent being who can multitask a billion things at once - i.e. like God - you'd think he'd have an extensive list of priorities that doesn't include tormenting a bunch of randoms in an elevator. I mean, the author of all sin and the supreme enemy of righteousness should have more important things to do, right? Heck, the fact that he hasn't yet catapulted Paris Hilton off the top of a skyscraper still baffles me.

In the imaginatively titled Devil - which, for your information, is not a heartfelt biopic of his terror-reigning life - he is the conniving villain, but he does not appear with the stereotypical pitchfork and facial horns. Instead, he has taken on the form of a normal-looking human being, the identity of whom we, as oblivious viewers, are unaware of. It could be a man, it could be a woman, it could be Lady Gaga; we don't know, and guessing is part of this movie's fun.

Following several stylish, unsettling and slightly disorientating upside-down shots of the city of Philadelphia during the majestic opening titles, we see a man committing suicide by jumping off the top of a high-rise building and landing on the roof of a truck. A suicide paves the way for the devil's arrival, our Hispanic narrator tells us.

Later that day, while police investigate the incident, five strangers - Sarah, a rich, young gold digger; Ben, a member of security; Vince, a selfish and obnoxious salesman; Tony, a quiet yet peevish mechanic; and a nameless cranky old lady - get on an elevator in the same building the suicide jumped off of earlier. Not long after pressing the up button, the elevator unexpectedly stops somewhere near the top, leaving the five tense passengers momentarily stranded between floors.

What seems to just be an annoyingly stuck elevator quickly turns into something a heck of a lot more sinister, as the bickering strangers begin to mysteriously die one by one whenever the lights go out. As firemen unsuccessfully try to break their way in through the carriage's doors, the increasing body count has our leads promptly turning on one another. Is it the devil? Is it one of them? Is it someone outside? Did they do something to deserve to be here? And who the hell farted? Uncool, man.

Devil is the first in what is promised to be a trilogy entitled The Night Chronicles, i.e. unrelated films produced and thought up by M. Night (cough, The Happening, The Last Airbender, cough) Shyamalan. Yes, Mr. Egocentric himself has his blood-red, clawed mitts all over this film, and his fingerprints are always burning in the back of your head like a 666 birthmark throughout. Thankfully, he is not writing nor directing, so you can expect something worthy of your time and money.

Our director - namely the guy who recently helmed Quarantine, the frame-for-frame remake of Spanish horror [Rec] - proves himself to be dashing with a camera, working alongside cinematographer Tak Fujimoto to ignite the film with an ominous sense of dread.

Screenwriter Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy)'s script gives us no one to trust, our suspicions as to who could be the devil and who definitely isn't constantly switching places. While this succeeds in keeping us on the edge of our seat, it makes it difficult to find a character to root for, because for all we know they're the Prince of Darkness lurking underneath.

Each of our main characters trapped inside the non-moving box are played by actors who apparently love to chew scenery. Unfortunately for them, they're stuck in an elevator, so they'll have to settle on munching on each other. They are somewhat hammy and none of them are all that likeable, but they nonetheless are an entertaining and convincing cast keeping the whodunit factor intact.

Devil could have added on its intriguing premise by being a purely claustrophobic horror with five cast members going John Carpenter's The Thing on each other, but sadly there are many scenes that take place outside the immobile lift. Chris Messina is Detective Bowden, a devout atheist investigating the matter, watching through the security camera and talking to them through the one-way intercom, his religious beliefs inevitably and predictably coming into question as he witnesses the bloody events unfold.

Matt Craven and Jacob Vargas both play fellow security guards who report the incident and watch the elevator's live feed alongside Bowden in the control room. Craven is more the everyday friendly type, while Vargas (who serves as our narrator as well) is a deeply religious Catholic who, in one scene, proves that Satan is in fact roaming around by throwing a slice of toast on the floor and freaking out when it lands with the jammed side facing downward. I'm betting this was Shyamalan's idea. Damn it, Shyamalan!

Fernando Velázquez 's thunderous orchestral score enhances the threatening mood in what is otherwise a not-so-scary movie. Jump-scares are used abundantly and nerve-shredding tension is only occasional, the true feeling of fear rarely utilised to petrify the viewer. When the elevator lights go out, we know something spooky's about to happen, but it simply isn't hair-raising enough.

Saying that, I did find myself enjoying the film and getting into it for the first hour or so. It has its ups and downs (hee hee hee), but is competently crafted, if leading up to an underwhelming finale. And, of course, how could I forget that horrifying moment that made me almost shit myself with unmitigated terror, when the words, "Produced by M. Night Shyamalan" popped up on screen? Surely he's the devil.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

The American

The region of Castel del Monte looks to be an exquisitely beautiful site. Situated in the mountains of Abruzzo in Italy, it's the setting of director Anton Corbijn's sombre film The American, and the filmmaker has taken it upon himself to show off the area's gorgeous landscape. The buildings, the countryside and the mountains themselves are all lushly shot, Corbijn staying with their eye-pleasing nature for long periods of time. And, to be frank, they're the most exciting aspect of the movie.

Former music video director Corbijn's drama/spy thriller is a slowly paced one with an arty attitude, rarely indulging itself in the latter of those genres. It is a mood piece diverging outside of the mainstream hoopla, driven mainly by characters' facial expressions and not grandiose dialogue or elongated fist fights. For the most part, not very much is going on in terms of plot, an element which both works for the film as well as against it.

It stars two-time People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive winner George Clooney as the titular American named Jack - or Edward, his pseudonym to those he is not close with - an expert assassin who specialises in building weapons for his murdering associates. After an attempt on his life results in the death of his lover, Ingrid (Irina Björklund) - he pulls the trigger on her when she learns too much, I might add - Jack is advised to go into hiding by his handler, Pavel (Johan Leysen), out of fear that someone may still be after him.

Jack does so, taking residence in Castel del Monte, where he is contacted via phone by Pavel and told that he is to meet with Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), whom he is to construct a high-powered rifle for. They get together, they talk about the technicalities of the job and, over the next few days, Jack begins assembling the device while looking out for possible assassins.

Clooney is usually associated with charming, vibrant ladies-man leads with pearly white teeth and flirtatious dispositions, yet here he is playing a character who carries none of these traits. He is largely reserved, unable to so much as smile for the film's entire length. The character of Jack is a man without humour, without charisma and without the ability to connect with people. James Bond, he is not. You could go so far as to say that he is lifeless and bordering upon robotic, but Clooney gives a hint of humanity in his actions.

He spends much of his time manufacturing the weapon, working out topless in his hotel room (that's for you, ladies) and talking to a kind local priest he has befriended (Paolo Bonacelli), despite Pavel's directions of, "Don't talk to anyone. And above all, don't make any friends." Also in defiance of this, he is sleeping with a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) who he - out of regret for his killing of Ingrid and a desperate need for female affection - bonds with.

Corbijn crafts some tension amongst the film's cold atmosphere, with Jack in a constant state of paranoia after almost being killed in Sweden in the movie's opening scene. He wanders the cobblestone streets of Castel del Monte convinced that every footstep he hears behind him is that of a hit man. He wakes up at night in a cold sweat after a book slams onto the floor, grabbing his gun from under the pillow and pointing it at thin air.

The Dutch-born director shoots the film with a distinct European style, dealing with mainly still camerawork and barely-moving pacing. The tranquil nature of The American does, however, make it a bit of a bore at times, shooting itself in the foot with such an apathetic mood. Much of the film consists of close-ups of either Clooney looking serious, anxious and paranoid without saying a word; or him carefully constructing the rifle, which takes a lot of patience to watch for a whole 90 minutes. While it kept my attention for the most part, my level of enjoyment and captivity had limitations.

Placido is an arousing love interest for Clooney's cold-hearted loner, delivering an amiable performance as a hooker who is more than willing to help with Jack's desires for emotional closeness. She spends a fair amount of the film with her clothes off (that's for us, guys) and her motives clouded in mystery, causing Jack to become a little suspicious of her. The two share a convincing chemistry as they fulfil each other's wants and needs.

As Father Benedetto, Bonacelli is a pleasing supporting actor, providing the morals and themes of the film in the form of a man of the cloth. He is unaware of Jack's job, but still looking for him to confess his sins, sure that he is hiding a longing for redemption, but Jack will not give in.

Reuten and Leysen both portray enigmatic characters as a mysterious assassin and Jack's controlling boss. Reuten comes off as equivocal, her intentions for Jack's building of a rifle ambiguous up until the end; while craggy-faced Leysen is a somewhat menacing control-freak who knows Jack all too well.

Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, The American is definitely not a film for adrenaline junkies, made more for the artsy-fartsy crowd. It's ambitiously slow, carrying a multilayered story on its shoulders as well as high quality performances from Clooney and the rest of the cast, but will leave some viewers convinced that they've found a cure for insomnia. In a plethora of colours, The American is beige. And beige can look nice.


Monday, 13 September 2010

Resident Evil: Afterlife

When I wasn't listening to the endlessly isolated ticks and tocks from the hands of my watch during my viewing of Resident Evil: Afterlife, I was working out how long the film really would have been if it weren't for all the slow-motion. Given that each action set-piece is engorged in the bullet-time effect - at one point the film actually freezes as we're given a totally unnecessary 180 degree view of two mid-air rivals in an aircraft that's about to explode - I'd have clocked the film in at about two and a half minutes. Two and a half minutes of tedium.

Yes, the Resident Evil franchise is back (insert monotonous groan here) and this time it comes with the title, “Afterlife“. Because even when the series is dead in terms of quality, it's still walking around. I'll confess that I actually have not seen the previous installment, entitled Extinction, mainly due to all of the appalling things I've heard about it, but I have seen number one and two so I know the basic story and wasn't confused by Afterlife. Then again, the film's not smart enough to confuse even a two-year-old giraffe with down's syndrome.

The post-titles sequence shows superhuman, machine gun-toting, mega-bitch Alice (Milla Jovovich) tearing her way through a Japanese base along with her equally flexible clones to get to Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), the evil head of the Umbrella Corporation, which has turned almost the entire population of the world into the undead. He sneakily injects her with a serum which obliterates the T-Virus from her system, taking her telekinetic powers away and turning her back into a normal human, for which she thanks him before he falls victim to an aircraft-mountain collision.

Some months later, Alice is searching through the post-apocalyptic world for survivors, following a radio broadcast leading to an apparent safe haven - called Arcadia - for people who aren't flesh-eating mutants. Along her way, she finds Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), an old acquaintance whose memory has been wiped by an Umbrella device attached to her chest. Alice takes Claire on her journey until they eventually find a prison surrounded by zombies, in which a small band of survivors are living.

It turns out that these cardboard cut-out characters are looking for Arcadia as well, and tell Alice that it is a cargo tanker which is in binoculars-sight of the prison. Hooray! Problem is that the plane Alice and Claire arrived in can only carry two people, and the prison is a considerably awkward landing place. So, Alice and the group of incredibly forgettable armed mutant-killers must find a way of getting to Arcadia without being turned into zombie poop.

To sum up Resident Evil: Afterlife, I'd have to say it's like a series of tiring video game cut scenes you have to sit through while waiting for the gameplay to start again so that you can pump bullets into zombies' decomposing skulls and decapitate them with chainsaws. But as much as you press that X button in hope that the characters shut the hell up and start battling evil creatures, it ain't gonna happen any time soon.

The film slowly plods along, arms outstretched, saliva drooling down its chin, desiring to feast on your brain while moaning, "moonneeyyyyyy" and throwing objects at the camera (for the 3D, you see). It desperately struggles to be interesting for more than three minutes, but when a film is as brain-dead as this, you can only express sympathy towards it.

The characters talk in such stilted dialogue, never saying anything the least bit catchy, witty or amusing, nor do they even carry proper personalities. Everyone comes across as so cold and emotionless, with not even Alice having much of an impression on the viewer. Jovovich is a fine actress, but with writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson's script, there's no hope for her.

To be fair to Anderson, he is a man with a knack for eye-catching visuals. The film is a good-looking one and the cinematography carries some weight, especially during the action scenes, taking the film out of the overall blandness surrounding it. The fight scenes are most definitely the film's highlights, the second of which very much caught my attention, consisting of Alice swinging off of an exploding rooftop before blasting her way through a hoard of zombies, all in slow-motion with Tomandandy's score blaring throughout. It's just a shame that these relatively cool parts of bullet-time action are so infrequent that they will leave you wanting so much more.

As our villain, Roberts is agonisingly corny, playing a sunglasses-wearing Agent Smith wannabe who's as banal as he is one-dimensional. Our zombies only get a couple of scenes worth of screen time along with a massive, axe-wielding mutant beast thing with a sack on his head who randomly pops up and picks a fight with Claire. I have no idea what he was and I don't really give a crap.

The rest of the cast is barely worth mentioning; none of them are striking at all. Not even the usually reliable Ali Larter manages to pack a punch. Boris Kodjoe leads the group Alice finds, which also contains Kim Coates as a movie producer who you just know is going to betray them, and Kacey Barnfield as an actress. Ironic. There's also Wentworth Miller as Chris, a soldier who is locked up in the prison, probably as an homage to the actor’s famous role in TV show Prison Break. As a supporting cast, they're pretty weak, but this could just be the wooden lines they have to read.

Resident Evil: Afterlife is not even close to how fun it thinks it is; its veins diseased with the deadly seen-it-all-before virus. Aside from the element of being filmed in 3D, there isn't anything new here and it's all quite dire, unable to survive on such a wafer-thin story and over-serious tone. I've gotta admit, tits and ass would have come in handy. Tut tut, Anderson.


Friday, 10 September 2010

The Last Exorcism

What is it with films about demonic possession and girls in white nighties with long, greasy hair? The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and now Daniel Stamm's The Last Exorcism each depict this once striking, now tame imagery, undeniably copying visuals from William Friedkin's seminal 1973 hit about 12-year-old Linda Blair being possessed by the devil. Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge also deserve a mention, containing black-haired, young female ghosts roaming around in colourless nightgowns.

It's become a cliché of horror, so much so that its symbolic nature and the juxtaposition of child-like innocence plagued with inner evil has lost its eerie effect, weakening over time with monotonous overuse. And while Stamm's new horror has an ominous atmosphere, it struggles to exorcise the feeling of familiarity out of its body.

What it does bring to the exorcism sub-genre's bedside, however, is the increasingly popular device of the found-footage format, i.e., the whole movie is shot on a camcorder by the characters within the film, a la The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. It may be gimmicky, but the mockumentary style lunges the possession genre into foreign territory and makes for an interesting - if grainy -watch.

The Last Exorcism follows Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), an easy-going, confident and charming reverend who is called to a farm in Louisiana by Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), the over-protective father of isolated 16-year-old Nell (Ashley Bell), who he believes is possessed by a demon.

With the aid of documentarian Iris Reisan (Iris Bahr) and cameraman Daniel Moskowitz (Adam Grimes), Cotton is going to make a documentary (the one we're watching) intended to disprove exorcisms and show how easily they can be faked by priests with the use of props and hidden speakers.

Cotton has been doing this for years and believes that those allegedly possessed by supernatural entities are actually just suffering severe trauma, so he provides a service of fake exorcisms - their artificiality unbeknownst to the receiver - to remove their delusions. A placebo effect, if you will. However, after analysing Nell's predicament and watching her every move, he begins to question whether or not her condition is real or psychological, fearing that a demonic force is in fact controlling her from inside.

You'd think that a film with a premise such as this would take advantage of the opportunity to portray creative scares, but The Last Exorcism annoyingly settles for seen-it-all-before tactics. Sure, Nell shouts and screams, contorts her limbs like a circus freak and stares longingly into nothing but thin air, but there's not much that seems new or fresh. Even the segment in the trailer where she walks across the ceiling is missing from the film. Oh, come on!

The film just is not scary, failing to hook the viewer's nerves and make them quiver in fear at the thought of the perverse invasion of Nell's young soul. The main problem is that despite the film’s hardest efforts, everything feels orchestrated and fake, much like Cotton's so-called exorcisms, never crafting the sense of realism that The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity successfully achieved.

Saying that, it is not without its tension, with our blindness as to whether or not this adolescent's body has been taken over by a rebel from Hell leading to much suspense. Stamm heavily sprinkles the film with holy ambiguity up until the ending (which in itself is a little ambiguous too), keeping the film on a fairly absorbing and intriguing level.

Our lead, Fabian, is a fine actor with strong charisma, and the character he's playing is a fascinating one. He's a man who doesn't practice what he so lively preaches. He lies to people for money, yet he justifies it by saying that he has a family to feed. He is a con-man, but a well-meaning one, and he is only trying to help the people he "exorcises”, as shown with his determination to help Nell.

Ashley Bell is enchanting as Little Miss Demon, convincing in both the roles of a secluded but kind, religious teenage girl with a cheery disposition; and a malevolent, sneering, kitten-murdering monster. Impressive. She's a sympathetic character who Cotton suspects is hiding a secret, maintaining the film's aura of unease.

Herthum is splendidly hateable as Nell's alcoholic father who "protects" her from the rest of the world and isn't afraid to take the situation into his own hands. Pssst, he means shooting her in the face with a shotgun. 20-year-old Caleb Landry Jones shows quite a bit of talent as Nell's non-religious brother, an odd character who's immediately onto Cotton's tricks and threatens to hurt him if anything happens to his sister.

The Last Exorcism is more character-driven than you'd think, with no scares - or attempts at scares - for the first 40 minutes. The primary focus is on Cotton's scepticism and his rethinking of his faith as he watches Nell go bloody cuckoo, and for that it works. Mostly.

While it desperately needs more horrifying moments and a bigger imagination, The Last Exorcism is an entertaining addition to the found-footage genre. Do not expect a jump-a-minute horror film as you'll probably leave rather disappointed. Just sit back, shut up and masturbate with a crucifix. Wait, no, wrong movie.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Buenas tardes señoras y señores ("good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen", I think. I don't speak Spanish). Cinematic craziness comes in many, many forms - from over-the-top characters to generally random plot happenstances - and if there's one man who knows how to do it in style, it's multi-talented writer and director Robert Rodriguez. Within the first three minutes of his new flick Machete, we have already witnessed a wrinkle-faced Mexican narrowly dodging a multitude of bullets, a bloody massacre inflicted by the blades of several sharp knives, and a butt naked Mayra Leal taking a cell phone out of her vagina. That's one lucky cell phone.

You may remember a certain hilarious fake trailer starring Danny Trejo that played before screenings of Rodriguez's previous B-movie imitator Planet Terror - part of the Grindhouse double feature with Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof - called Machete. Well, what was first intended to simply be a short little spoof of the exploitation genre has now manifested itself into a full-length movie, and it's unlike anything you've ever seen before. Unless you do hallucinogenic drugs on a regular basis.

What we saw in the originally bogus trailer was pretty much a shorter, briefer version of what we get here. The story revolves around our titular character (still played by Trejo), a Mexican day laborer working and living illegally in Texas. Once a tough federale, Machete stopped his crime-fighting ways after his wife and daughter were brutally murdered at the hands of local drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal) for his snooping around in Torrez's business.

Three years later, Machete catches the eye of bearded businessman Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), who hires him to assassinate the corrupt Senator John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro), a man hell-bent on removing all illegal immigrants - or parasites, as he calls them - from the state. Machete is reluctant at first, but takes the offer of $150,000 and soon grabs a rifle, gets on top of a building and aims for McLaughlin's head. To his surprise, our hero is quickly shot in the shoulder by a sniper situated on the opposite building before Machete can pull the trigger.

Realising he's been set up by Booth in a political marketing scheme to boost up McLaughlin's support, Machete promptly escapes custody and sets out for bloody revenge with the help of some new friends, all while having the police and Booth's armed men hunting him down.

Machete - like Piranha 3D and The Expendables - is part of the trend of self-aware, fun-poking genre flicks that have recently exploited their way onto cinema screens to wittingly wink at laughing audience members who get the joke and are smartly in the know. And Machete - the film, I mean - does a heck of a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-winking.

While Ethan Maniquis is listed as a co-director, this is very much a Robert Rodriguez film, smitten with the tone and style, as well as sense of humour of his famous outings such as the El Mariachi trilogy and From Dusk Till Dawn. Even the blisteringly awesome score by John Debney carries the familiar traits of Rodriguez's music, consisting of a grungy feel and coated with electric guitar riffs.

Trejo plays it fully serious as our "don't fuck with me, I won't fuck with you" protagonist, an amigo so gruff that his black horseshoe moustache is enough to make you shit your pants. I bet he's sweet and cuddly inside though. The cult character actor has sadly only been playing bit parts and cameos for most of his 27 year career, but hopefully this will get him the recognition he so deserves.

The cheese factor aims its ginormous, grinning guns as Machete effortlessly slices his way through butch bad guys with the aid of some gardening tools, and swings into the window below of a hospital using a dude's disembowelled, unravelling intestines as rope. These satisfyingly frequent moments of maniacal madness are what make Machete what it is: a violent and silly send-up and/or homage to grindhouse cinema, and for that it really works, showing off our Latino hero as a fantastic and memorable character.

However, the focus shifts from Trejo a little too much to make way for other characters to have their own individual spotlights. While these other players are interesting, it nonetheless takes away from what should be the Con Air star's leading role.

De Niro, Fahey and Seagal each chew large parts of the scenery as our main villains, with De Niro the chuckling politician, Fahey the smooth-talking businessman with assassins on speed-dial, and Seagal the sinister drug lord who took away everything Machete ever loved. Each of them are affiliated with one another, and each of them are targets for Machete to carve up some much-needed revenge.

Helping Machete on his mission are Cheech Marin as his brother Padre, a priest with more shotguns in his church than bibles, and Michelle Rodriguez as Luz, a super-hot taco-truck lady with a determination to take down Lt. Von (Don Johnson), an evil and unflinching border patrol vigilante.

Jessica Alba is Sartana, a U.S Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent (ICE for short) who takes an interest in Machete's antics, while Lindsay Lohan is Fahey's coke-snorting party girl of a daughter, April. It's the role Lohan was born to play. As you can see, this is a pretty damn cool cast, and none of them feel squandered in the slightest, given much character taco to sink their teeth into.

Spiced up with hilarious one-liners and packed with tasteless corniness, Machete really is a treat. It's fast-paced, it's ridiculous and it's oh so entertaining; Rodriguez indulging himself, and us, with no end in sight. It is a definite cut above many modern action pictures, succeeding in the majority of areas where The Expendables and The Losers thoroughly failed, making for a piñata filled with fun. Watch and learn, Stallone. Watch and learn.