Monday, 25 October 2010

Jackass 3D

Jackass has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Viewing people hurting themselves over and over again may not seem like quality entertainment to some, but Jackass I have a special soft spot for. From the successful TV show - which sadly only aired for two years - to the feature-length movies - which were essentially just 90-minute long extensions of the madcap episodes - I've always loved watching the controversial antics of the death-defying daredevils.

After making two fun-filled theatrical releases, the gang of stunt-loving misfits decided it was time to take advantage of the new technology available -- namely, three-dimensional cameras. Hence, their new flick is entitled Jackass 3D, as introduced in a regrettably weak opening by the famous, sniggering cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-Head of MTV fame.

What follows is the far better, brightly coloured opening titles sequence, featuring the regular team of mega-dauntless nutters dressed up in silly outfits and being beaten up by various props - from giant fishies to a friggin' cannonball - all filmed in super-awesome slow-mo. As usual, Johnny Knoxville is running the show, with the rest of the crew equally taking part; Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Ryan Dunn, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuña, Preston Lacy, Dave England and Ehren McGhehey.

Just like its two preceding movies, Jackass 3D has no discernible plot. Instead, it is filled with mischievous practical jokes played on bewildered members of the public - as well as the Jackass crew themselves -, crazily inventive stunts, and some grotesque, overall unsettling, vomit-inspiring moments. I swear I'll never step foot near a porta-potty ever again.

We have set-ups with creative uses for household items - a wheelbarrow and bottle of super glue come in handy -, several stunts involving dangerous animals - donkeys, rams, bulls and the such -, and the never-growing-tired running gag of uber-slow-motion shots of members of the gang unexpectedly getting splashed with water and then bashed in the face by a boxing glove. And it's all absolutely side-splitting.

What should be monotonous at a length of over an hour and a half is surprisingly not so; the film is edited in such a way that the repetitiveness of segment after segment never becomes tedious. Short, briefer stunts are mixed in with much longer and more elaborate pranks, each as hilariously preposterous as the last and next.

Johnny Knoxville's infamously naughty-behaved grandpa character is back, this time taking part in some public French kissing with the pensioner's own granddaughter. Steve-O does some truly sickening stuff with bodily fluids that your stomach will hate you forever for if you watch without turning your head from the screen. Bam Margera's phobia of snakes is toyed with once again, reducing him to screaming like a little girl once encountering the slithering serpents. And small dude Wee-Man has a bit of a brawl with some equally sized ruffians and public servicemen in an out-of-hand bar fight.

Director Jeff Tremaine returns from the previous outings to film the gang's third adventure into extreme vulgarity, his filming techniques only adding to the comical aspect of the 3D flick. He has a knack for brilliantly capturing the uproarious clowning around of the hyperactive thrill-seekers, this time using slow-motion to show every tiny movement of their crude frivolities. A personal favourite of mine is a moment when a dildo is fired through the air, through two miniature landscapes to smash through a glass of milk and smack Rick Kosick in the cheek. As the icing on the cake of this fabulously random segment, Rick has an apple placed upon his head. Genius.

Our troupe of adrenaline junkies are every bit as mad as they were before, bravely risking life and limb for the sake of our amusement. You really have to admire this group of men for what they do; they are a very likable bunch of guys who are fully aware of the stupidity of their actions. They may taunt and torture each other on a constant basis, but one can tell that they are great friends, aiding in the natural charm the Jackass franchise holds. I love 'em.

From drinking sweat, pulling a tooth out with a Lamborghini to getting the crap beaten out of them by rams and bulls while playing musical instruments, the Jackass team never seem to run out of ludicrous ideas. Jackass 3D is an absurdly riotous and self-indulgent piece of no-holds-barred entertainment that will have you both howling and puking in the theatre. Not even the cameraman could control his nausea.


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 is a film that callously strangles viewers with nail-chomping tension. I must admit I'm not usually much of a fan of asphyxiation forced upon myself or anyone else, but this, well, this is a special occasion. PA2 will, whether you like it or not, devilishly wrap its demonic, probably clawed fingers all the way around your neck and squeeze your throat with its thumbs as hard and as rough as it wants. No matter how much you desperately beg it to have mercy on you and plead it to stop, it really, really ain't gonna; and thank the Lord it doesn't.

The prequel to last year's mega-hit chiller is every bit as terrifying as its low-budget predecessor. Just as before, it is a member of the found footage genre, with the entire movie filmed by the characters contained within, the events we watch posing as real-life happenstances. In this case, we are watching through a whole plethora of security cameras set up around a house - as well as one hand-held camcorder - as opposed to the single video camera presented in the first film.

The amount of main characters has expanded as well. We have Kristi (Sprague Grayden), the sister of Katie (Katie Featherston), the star of the first film; Kristi's sceptical husband, Daniel (Brian Boland); Ali (Molly Ephraim), Daniel's brooding teenage daughter from another marriage; and the religious Hispanic nanny, Martine (Vivis). Oh, and there's also a newborn baby boy, Hunter, and the family dog, a loyal German Shepherd.

The family have just recently experienced a break-in in their lovely suburban home; strange thing is that nothing has been stolen. Every room has been trashed with objects having been tossed around, all except Hunter's untouched bedroom. As a result, it is decided to put up surveillance cameras all around the house; one by the pool, one in the kitchen, one in the family room, one in the hallway, one outside the front door and one in Hunter's room. It's like Big Brother but with a demon roaming around.

Like the original, shots of night-time while everyone is asleep are intertwined with footage from the daytime as our protagonists go about their daily lives. Everything seems fine at first on the late-night front; that is, until eerie things begin happening. Doors moving on their own, pans falling off their hooks, and the familiar sound of dull thumping tormenting sweet little Hunter and the family dog.

Our main characters begin to suspect that their residence is being haunted by a demon; well, Kristi and Alli do; Dan's the more "Ghosts?! Bah! All make believe" type. Guess who's right? As the nights go on and the film edges closer to the first film's events, the paranormal activities progressively get worse and worse, leading to some gnarly business.

I know what you're thinking. "This sounds an awful lot like the first one, doesn't it?" And, to put the film to basics, yes, it is very similar to the fright-fest original. However, Paranormal Activity 2 is a film that proves lightning can strike twice, with the scare-em-up methods of this suspenseful prequel just as effective as they were the first time round.

As with the preceding flick, you are always on alert, always on the lookout, your eyes searching for moving objects, waiting for the supernatural presence to make itself known. It's shocking how tense a simple image of a seemingly motionless room really can be. As an extra kick in the balls to the already-terrified audience, not only do spooky things happen during the night, they happen during the day as well. You simply just don't know when the demon is going to sneakily make its next heinous move.

The added danger of an infant living within the house heightens one's tense demeanour; one wonders what in the holy Christ is going to happen to the defenceless littlun. Same with the dog, who seems to be more aware of the demonic goings-on than the humans are.

The film utilises sound perfectly, making for some tremendous jump scares that some will consider cheap, but I see them as all part of the fun. The sudden sound of the baby crying in the distance made my heart almost catapult out of my ribs. Thumps in the night create a goose bump-inducing sense of dread. Toys moving on their own will make you jump out of your seat. And the one moment that will make you leap into the air with excrement dribbling down your legs -- well, I'm not going to give that unexpected moment away.

The cast is all stellar, giving performances that feel more real than read from a script. They may not be as strong characters as Katie and Micah (Micah Sloat), but they are very sympathetic protagonists who we can't help but care for. Kristi is a kind, loving mother who is all too familiar with these diabolical occurrences; Daniel is a stubborn but not very annoying husband who laughs in the face of supernaturalism; and Ali is a typical, spunky teenage girl who finds the haunting "cool".

Director Tod Williams (taking over from Oren Peli) and writer Michael R. Perry do a fabulous job of expanding the mythology and the "universe" the first movie was set in, as any great sequel should. It perfectly ties itself up to the predecessor's story, releasing new information that will make you rethink the events of the original. Also, Katie and Micah make a few appearances as drop-in visitors to the home. Which is awesome.

So, I guess the ultimate question is whether or not the prequel matches the previous feature in terms of quality. Well, I would say that PA2 has certain scenes that are more mortifying than anything presented in the original; but in my opinion, the first film just manages to edge in front of its follow-up, altogether superior and more solid as a motion picture.

Still, Paranormal Activity 2 is a magnificent prequel that shows newer installments in franchises can in fact successfully hold their own. It's slow-burning, it's atmospheric and it's relentlessly scary, taking its time to curdle one's blood. I know it'll take me quite some time to sleep with my lights out.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The Social Network

I'm not at all surprised by Mark Zuckerberg's decision to remain distant from the David Fincher-directed biopic The Social Network. The film paints the Facebook creator in such a way that he comes across as a not very approachable individual, his inflated ego and nerdy arrogance almost as large as his fast-thinking brain. He's a genius no doubt, but a socially uncomfortable one. Whether or not the real billionaire is like this or not, I honestly don't know, nor do I truly care. He's a fascinating main character in a fascinating film, and that's all I really need and want to know.

David Fincher's stylish drama is the true story of the founding of Facebook, the increasingly popular website in which 500 million people can connect with each other through the click of a computer mouse and post messages about the daily goings-on in their lives. And look after pixelated sheep in FarmVille. Based on Ben Mezrich's non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires, it is a marvellously crafted character study that will be remembered for many years to come, looked back on in esteemed admiration.

The opening scene, set in 2003, depicts Harvard student Zuckerberg (played effortlessly by Jesse Eisenberg), 19 years old, being dumped by his girlfriend, Erica Albright (A Nightmare on Elm Street's Rooney Mara), following what is more a battle of wits to Mark than a regular conversation. After being called an asshole, an intoxicated Mark retreats to his dorm room, switches on his laptop and bitterly rants in his blog about what just happened, calling Erica a bitch and mocking her family name. She'll come around once reading this, I suppose.

Being the outcast that he is, the super-nerd is then inspired to hack into the Harvard database to steal pictures of female undergraduates and create a website, Facemash, in which the girls are rated for their attractiveness. The site's extraordinary overnight popularity - which crashes servers - catches the attention of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both portrayed by Armie Hammer, with Josh Pence as a body double), who ask for his help in creating a site called Harvard Connection.

He initially agrees to be the programmer, but ends up avoiding the two brothers, working with his best friend and roommate, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), in developing theFacebook, Mark's idea for a new social networking site. With the project growing and growing, eventually becoming worldwide, Mark finds himself in the middle of two multi-million-dollar lawsuits, his personal relationships teetering toward destruction.

The film is perfectly intertwined with both the early and later stages of Facebook's development and the court hearings Mark is attending alongside Eduardo and the Winklevoss twins. Flawlessly paced and intricately structured, The Social Network is captivating right from the crowd noise playing over the Columbia logo to the poignant and thought-provoking end scene.

Don't be put off by the subject matter at hand; the movie is not "Facebook: The Internet Motion Picture", but is instead a timely tale of greed, jealousy and ambition. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) has opted to not make this a film glamorising Facebook (the site barely even features), but a film about two friends torn apart by business, their differing visions leading to the downfall of their relationship.

Despite uploading beautiful imagery into the movie's exquisitely designed profile, masterful filmmaker David Fincher (Zodiac, Se7en) is more restrained than usual, rightfully stepping out of the bright, shining spotlight to let Sorkin's pitch-perfect writing splendidly work its magic. Sorkin displays some Oscar-worthy material here, his deftly playful script acting as the ever-beating heart of The Social Network's body, coating the film with hard-hitting drama as well as LOL-inspiring humour. His script is both funny and moving, succeeding in creating striking characters from the real-life entrepreneurs.

In Zuckerberg, Sorkin has shaped a unique, quick-witted character who thinks primarily in 1s and 0s, his personality more robot-like than emotive, an element which makes him a heck of a lot more intriguing than he should be. With Eisenberg in the role, Zuckerberg is a remarkable creature who's a nerd without being a stereotype; a calculating, seemingly cold-hearted but enchanting machine that never shuts down and never shuts up once opening his smart-assed mouth; and I am more than happy to listen to every titillating word to jump off his tongue.

We are at doubt as to whether or not we should be rooting for him; Sorkin presents us with a character who is an overtly ambitious asshole, but such a well written one that you can't help but love him. His best friend, played by future Spider-Man Andrew Garfield, is more of the socially adept kind; he is friendly and boyish, Garfield showing off his acting chops as an intelligent, but non-geeky tech-head.

Coming in half-way through the film, Justin Timberlake plays Sean Parker, the inventor of music-sharing service Napster and helper of getting Facebook set up. He's a smirking, charismatic wild horse with aspects of paranoia, Timberlake perfectly cast as the party boy who Mark sees eye-to-eye with.

As our two sibling antagonists, Hammer is spectacular, eloquently pulling off two roles who are on-screen at the same time. Self-proclaimed "gentlemen of Harvard", they become jealous of Mark's success, planning on suing him for allegedly stealing their idea. They're both avid oarsmen, their talents shown off in a gorgeously shot sporting scene which contains Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' remix of Edvard Grieg’s "In The Hall of The Mountain King".

Speaking of music, the soundtrack is bloody brilliant. Electronic and moody, Reznor (who you may know from Nine Inch Nails) and Ross' score nails (heh heh) the atmosphere of each scene, from a dark, intimidating nature to a more light and breezy territory. Fabulous stuff.

You could spend hours arguing about whether or not certain "facts" we are presented did actually happen as they are portrayed, but Sorkin's script is nonetheless the work of gods. Not just a film for internet dweebs, David Fincher's The Social Network is an era-defining masterpiece very much deserving of some naked, golden statuettes. I didn't just like this. I loved it.


Saturday, 16 October 2010

My Soul to Take

In My Soul to Take, we are given a dire, drab, dull, boring, seen-it-all-before slasher horror that introduces nothing new, fresh or anything of any value to the quality-starved genre. What should have been a hooking tale of teenagers being offed by a buff, masked serial killer is anything but hooking, and is at many points a rather exhausting snooze-fest. It's shocking then that it's written and directed by the Scream trilogy's Wes Craven, who’s often considered a master of horror. Not after this though.

His newest project is one of the typical killer-comes-back-to-his-hometown-to-kill-some-kids horror, much like John Carpenter's magnificent Halloween or Craven's very own masterpiece, A Nightmare on Elm Street. Ah, those were the days. The killer in question is introduced in the clichéd somebody-gets-killed opening, with The Riverton Ripper (Raúl Esparza) - who suffers from multiple personalities - slaughtering his pregnant wife in his own home, taking out a few cops and paramedics before dying in an exploding ambulance. Or does he? I don't care; just make it end.

On this fateful night's 16th anniversary, the event is being celebrated by a bunch of obnoxious, stereotypical, insipid teens, seven of which just so happen to have been born on that murderous night. Spooky. Not. They discuss the rumour that the Riverton Ripper may still be alive, they conduct a ritual of stabbing a replica of the Riverton Ripper, they part their ways when the police come about, and one of them gets gutted and dumped in the river by the Riverton Ripper. Stupid kids.

And so, the rest of the movie consists of the annoying youths repeatedly kicking the blood-soaked bucket, running about, screaming, looking petrified and probably masturbating off-screen, all of which happens while we're yawning, rolling our tired eyes and wondering what the bloody hell Wes Craven was thinking.

My Soul to Take is a friggin' nightmare; and not the kind where Freddy Krueger jumps out from the wardrobe and has some mischievous fun with our poor, poor protagonists; no, those are entertaining. This is the kind of nightmare you wake up from in a confused, manic state, your clothes covered in sweat, your head thumping with rattling trauma, hoping to never go back in there and experience it again.

The movie is just ridiculous, scarred with monotonous jump-scares you can see from a god damn light-year away. People bumping into one another time and time again, people popping up behind moving doors, people seeing dead friends in cabinet mirrors. There's a scene where a guy runs about a classroom in a bird costume as part of a school talk, vomiting over a student, while our main character, Bug (Max Thieriot), talks in a booming, gruff voice. It's meant to be eerie. It's hilarious.

The cardboard cut-out cast doesn't stand a chance with Craven's laughable script. When a cop says "He's dead. Way dead", I'd had enough. And that was, what, five minutes into the film? Christ. The main character - y'know, the one we're meant to be rooting for - is a heavily distressed psycho who hallucinates and randomly talks in the voices of the local kids who share his birthday. Well, you'd be a little disturbed too if your nickname was Bug, right? And if you were in this movie.

His best bud is Alex (John Magaro), the practical joker and trouble-making wise-ass who, for the most part, is nothing but irritating. Every other adolescent is a death-teasing, forgettable stereotype desperately awaiting to be turned into a disembowelled cadaver. There's the jockish bully (Nick Lashaway), the bible-bashing weirdo (Zena Grey), the nerdy Asian (Jeremy Chu), the pretty blonde (Paulina Olszynski) and the, err, blind dude (Denzel Whitaker).

They're all underdeveloped, unsympathetic and uninteresting. They take part in tedious, shabby subplots that go absolutely nowhere, and Craven stupidly decides to give them some exasperating, pointless family dramas to deal with. So you'd think that them violently meeting their maker at the hands of the film's brutal killer would be satisfying. But it isn't.

The villain is a lame one, looking silly in dreadlocks, comically suffering from Tourette’s syndrome whenever he gets frustrated; much like me while watching this garbage. He cuts up the sixteen-year-olds with his "vengeance"-inscribed blade in mundane, plain ways from which the only redeeming factor is the high level of blood. Where are Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers when you need 'em? I'll even settle for Simon Cowell rather than this irksome dolt.

My Money to Steal? My Time to Waste? Wes Craven to Die? Okay, that last one's a bit extreme. But come on, man. What happened? My Soul to Take is nothing more than a pathetic retread of past slasher flicks that is in no way enjoyable or amusing. With Scream 4 on the way, I'm scared. Don't screw it up like you did this one, Wes. Please.


Thursday, 14 October 2010


2010 has not been a happy year for high-ranking American mercenaries/CIA agents. In The Expendables, they had to go against one of their own; in The Losers, they were betrayed and forced to go on the run; in The A-Team, they were wrongfully jailed and similarly had to go on the run; and now in Red, they're being hunted by hi-tech assassins. There's also the fact that two of these films kinda sucked, but I'm sure their cast members had lots of fun.

Red is based on the comic book mini-series of the same name by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, and is much more lighthearted and wacky than its darkly toned source material. It revolves around a gang of aged ex-killers, one of whom has unfortunately been marked as R.E.D., a code which stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous", although "Ridiculously Entertaining Distraction" could have also applied.

This bald-skulled pensioner is Frank Moses (action hero Bruce Willis), a former black-ops CIA agent who now lives an idyllic, peaceful life in his quaint suburban home. He has a crush on the voice of the young Sarah Ross (Weeds' Mary-Louise Parker), the telephone operator who handles his pension cheques, and who he has only spoken to over the phone.

One night, Frank's house is invaded by rifle-bearing, balaclava-faced assailants, each of which the dressing gown clad Brucie either knocks unconscious or kills before escaping. He goes to Kansas City and takes the kicking and screaming Sarah with him - using duct tape and handcuffs - in fear that she is in danger too, what with his constant phone calls to her.

Chased by a team of professional killers - which is headed by CIA agent William Cooper (Star Trek's Karl Urban) - Frank begins reassembling his old (literally) team along with Sarah, scouring the country to find them one by one and discovering facts about the dangerous situation along the way.

In Red, our main characters are the sort of antiheroes who really know how to kick some ass. When there's someone sneakily approaching them with an AK-47, our heroes are guaranteed to have an automatic weapon at the ready, their fingers on the trigger before their foe has even aimed their gun. During shoot-outs, they know when to step out from their hiding spot so that they don't get shot, and they seem to always have a bullet-proof force-field around them that shells ping off of when enemies attempt to take them out. "I'm too old for this shit" doesn't apply to them.

To sum it up, the film is practically a cartoon, a factor which just makes it all the more entertaining. German director Robert Schwentke keeps the constant action scenes energetic and lively, keeping up creative filming techniques and seemingly grinning throughout as the leads of a certain age cause some chaos. Working with cinematographer Florian Ballhaus, the Flightplan director has made Red a visual treat that doesn't grow tired.

Die Hard star Bruce Willis is just as John McClane-ish as ever, although when is he not? His sarcastic wit is in full-force here with a character who is reliving the good old days of playing with bullets and beating up bad guys. His love interest, co-star Parker, is lovely as an attractive, charming but lonely phone lady for Pension Services who's suddenly catapulted into a world of car chases, explosions and Bruce Willis' bald head.

The legendary Oscar-winning Dame Helen Mirren is extravagant as Victoria Winslow, one of Frank's previous associates. The juxtaposition of what appears to be a sweet, sixty plus, posh-tongued English tea-slurper, with a soon-revealed personality of a cold-blooded, machine-gun-blasting mega-bitch is utilised to great effect. "So if you break his heart, I will kill you," she warns Sarah. "And bury your body in the woods." She's like an upper-class, elderly Hit Girl.

Also portraying Frank's long-time pals are film-stealer John Malkovich as Marvin Boggs, and Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson. Boggs is a paranoid nutter who we are told once underwent daily doses of LSD for 11 years, resulting in his current delusional state. Malkovich's comic timing is fabulous, deliriously delivering quirky one-liners, robbing each scene he's in. Freeman for once isn't playing the narrator, but is instead a calm - if cheeky - chap suffering from stage 4 liver cancer, but he can get his fists ready for some face-pounding and trigger-pulling whenever necessary.

It's a stupendous cast which takes part in Red's classy quality alongside the film's cartoonish nature. The chemistry between our leads is extravagant, as well as with memorable roles from Richard Dreyfuss as a protected, villainous CEO; 93-year-old Ernest Borgnine as the CIA archive guy; Brian Cox as a Russian operative and former lover of Victoria; and relentless baddie Karl Urban who's chasing after our leads.

The storyline gets a smidge muddled at points, but whenever this occurs, it's guaranteed that an action scene is just around the corner, so who cares? When it's cool, it's very cool. When it's funny, it's very funny. Red is a flat-out crowd-pleaser, and if you ain't part of the crowd, well then it sucks to be you.


Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The Hole

Joe Dante is widely hailed as a true master and legend of cult horror films, making flicks of the genre that can appeal to both adults and children alike. His near 40-year-long filmography contains such classics as the original Piranha, The Howling, Small Soldiers, The 'burbs, Innerspace, Gremlins and its silly sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch. He's a man who makes fun movies for fun-loving audiences, and I'll be damned if he ever makes a feature that isn't up to a high standard. I'm ignoring Looney Tunes: Back in Action, I might add.

His newest flick - shot in 3D - is another kid-friendly tale of legitimate spookiness that delves into the darkest fears of its young main characters. The Hole relies on tension and suspense to send a chill up viewers' spines, unlike certain recent "horror" puke-munchers that tear their cast members limb from limb in desperation for some gory shock value. Piss off, will ya?

We start with two brothers, 17-year-old Dane and 10-year-old Lucas Thompson (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble), moving into their new home in the quiet town of Bensonville with their single mother, Susan (Teri Polo). Dane, who claims to be fearless and is not especially happy about the move, quickly develops a crush on the young neighbour, Julie (Haley Bennett). In other words, he sees cleavage on display and he likes it.

While taunting Dane about his feelings of affection for the scantily clad girl, Lucas is chased by his brother into the basement, where the two discover what looks like a trap door on the floor. Their heads pumped with horror movie stupidity, they unlock the surrounding padlocks to find themselves staring down into what seems to be a black, wide, bottomless hole. I could easily make a bad-tasted joke about some slutty female celebrity here, but I'm not going to.*

With the help of Julie, they investigate the pit using a torch, a video camera to film inside it, and dropping objects inside to see how deep it is. Hint: very. Soon enough, creepy things begin to happen, with strange, eerie happenstances occurring around the house and wherever they go. The trio begin to suspect that they have unleashed a doorway to another world, or one to Hell itself.

I have a small warning for those wishing to take their littluns to see The Hole, as the film is surprisingly rather scary. Youngsters will most likely be terrified by images of a murderous, grinning clown doll sneaking around, and injured ghosts wandering about the house, one with his brain visible through the back of his head. A small, grey-faced, one-shoed, limping little girl who cries tears of blood comes to mind as a chilling highlight; she freaked even me out. And I'm a big boy.

Along with screenwriter Mark L. Smith (Vacancy), Dante has crafted a film that's both lighthearted and ominous, excellently balancing scares with laughs, much like my favourite of his, 1984's Gremlins. Although The Hole has a few pacing issues and some subplots in need of expansion, it's refreshing to see the 63-year-old back in the business of scaring up the kids.

As the eldest of our two male protagonists, Massoglia is a tad wooden, his performance unconvincing in terms of acting genuinely scared, but that doesn't stop him from falling into the hole of likeability. Dane is a mopey adolescent who's gotten in some trouble in the past - rebelling against his sweet workaholic mother, I suppose - and has an axe to grind with his incarcerated, abusive drunk of a father.

His younger brother, however, is much more optimistic about things and is excited about the new home. Gamble (who starred in The Dark Knight and The Mist) superbly outshines both Massoglia and Bennett as the blonde-headed, smart, sparky youngster with a phobia of clowns. Confident, sexy girl-next-door Julie is played charmingly by Bennett, adding a quirky sense of humour, as well as a hint of a troubled past, to the film's love interest. "Is that what you do for fun in Brooklyn?" she says. "Play with your holes?"

On their quest to stop the evil seeping out of the hole, the trio come across the previous owner of the house, menacing oddball Creepy Carl - who Dane keeps calling Freaky Freddy by mistake - played by Bruce Dern. The guy's sadly only in two scenes, definitely underused, but the Silent Running actor is perfect as a raving lunatic who knows the horrors of the hole all too well.

Shaky pacing aside, The Hole is an intensely entertaining kid-friendly horror that all the family can enjoy. It's not quite Gremlins, but Dante shows that he still has a lot of juice left in him as a young-at-heart filmmaker, directing the film to a satisfying conclusion. It's a hole lotta fun. Come on, I had to.


*Paris Hilton

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

"Jail was the best thing that ever happened to me," says filmic icon Gordon Gekko in a scene from Wall Street 2, the anticipated sequel to Oliver Stone's masterfully orchestrated, era-defining 1987 drama. "It got me to think," he then adds. Well, Mr. Gekko, you really need to stop thinking, because it looks like time in the joint doing just that has somewhat crippled your stance as a beloved cult character and cultural symbol of the '80s.

In the beginning of Money Never Sleeps, the corporate criminal - played again by Michael Douglas - is being released from prison after having served an eight-year sentence following his sneaky business in the original flick. Upon leaving, he's handed his brick-sized cell phone as a showing of how times have changed since he was a king of the financial world. It seems he has changed as well.

Gekko has softened during his prison time, his wicked grin and fast-talking, quick-thinking, sharp-eyed demeanor all but gone; he is no longer the cash-devouring shark he once was. Instead we have a not-so-memorable smart alec with hints of coolness here and there, but annoyingly not through and through. He's a changed man, his villainous role in the former film shaped into more of an anti-hero, finalising in a lackluster and underused appearance. And while hints of his nasty, scheming behaviour pop up near the end, I was still left scratching my head at where the real Gordon Gekko was.

Seven years after his release, his long-estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan), is going out with young and ambitious trader Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf), who works for Keller Zabel Investments. Cigar-chomping asshole Bretton James (Josh Brolin) decides to take over the company, causing Jake's elderly mentor, Louis Zabel (a brilliant Frank Langella), to commit suicide by jumping in front of a moving train.

Jake seeks out Gekko - who is promoting his new book on the impending financial crisis, entitled "Is Greed Good?" - and tells him of his intentions to marry his daughter, before discussing what has happened with Zabel. Gekko is convinced to help Jake get revenge on Bretton and to tie up his relationship with his long-unseen daughter, who is stubborn in her neglecting of him.

Unlike its highly praised, now-classic predecessor, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps feels a bit more mainstream than it should. The charm that came so naturally to the original has faded into a faint blur here, smudged by a big-budget atmosphere that partially lacks in an absorbing charisma. While I wouldn't go so far as to say I disliked the film, the feeling of disappointment was nevertheless kicking me in the shins throughout.

Douglas' performance is amiable and undoubtedly the best on display, but he is not much to invest your life savings in. He may have won an Oscar for the famous role back in '88, but his work here falls fairly short of that esteemed level, failing to achieve the sheer altitude of greatness he set 23 years ago.

His interaction with LaBeouf is also not as striking as it was with Charlie Sheen in the original's similar role, the social effects they have on each another oddly absent for the most part. The Transformers star is fine in the position, as is his on-screen girlfriend, Mulligan, but more noteworthy characters could have fully sealed the deal for them as our leading couple.

As the egocentric villain, Brolin is appropriately hateable and makes for a passable, snide antagonist. He's not a killer, he's not devilishly evil, he is just an immoral and corrupt Wall Street player, his arrogant attitude fuelling a desire from us for him to be taken down.

Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff are our two writers, clearly taking inspiration from the majestically piercing screenplay of the '87 flick, which was written by Stanley Weiser and Stone himself. While I'd say that it's not very subtle in its striving for constant one-liners, it is a catchy and lively script that keeps the film's entertainment account running.

Stone directs with astute confidence, his distinct camerawork similar to that of the film's predecessor. He beautifully shoots establishing shots of New York City with Talking Heads' greatest hits blaring out from the screen. Stone's a pro and - while I had a problem with the use of some split-screens and a random circle popping up in the middle of the frame, containing a woman's talking face - he knows what he's doing.

To compare it to the original, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is a bitter mishap; but as a film in and of itself, it's okay. It no doubt could have been crafted a heck of a lot better with stronger characters and more emphasis on Douglas, but for what it is, it ain't a disaster. It just needs the old Gordon Gekko back. Y'know. The evil one.


Sunday, 3 October 2010


Rodrigo Cortés strikes me as the kind of guy who, as a child, would run his little legs around the playground, frantically waving his arms in the air at his onlooking miniature schoolmates, screaming, "Look what I can do! Look what I can do!" while doing somersaults and cartwheels over the steel jungle gym. In Buried, the Spanish director channels Alfred Hitchcock, setting out to film one actor lying inside a coffin for 94 whole minutes. That's just over an hour and a half consisting entirely of watching a dude reclining and sweating in a seven-foot-long box. And it's fucking brilliant.

Little word of advice: if you aren't fond of Ryan Reynolds, then Buried ain't for you; because there isn't a single second of the film in which he doesn't feature. We're trapped inside the coffin with him for the movie's full length; there are no cut-aways, no flashbacks, no nothing outside of his rectangular cell. Just a frightened Ryan Reynolds perspiring, panting and panicking all on his own.

The only lighting we have for most of the flick is from the burning fire of the lighter he holds, at other times from a faulty torch and luminous green glow stick he later finds at his feet. He has a cell phone - not his - through which he desperately calls people and begs for help. How he manages to get a signal when he's six-feet underground I don't know; I only have to stand under a cloud and my phone signal automatically buggers off.

Through conversations he has with several government officials over the increasingly powerless cell phone, we learn that his name is Paul Conroy. He was a truck driver working in Iraq as a private contractor when his convoy was ambushed by terrorists or extremists or insurgents or whatever. He was knocked out and, in the film's opening, woke up engulfed in darkness, his mouth gagged, his hands tied up, soon realising the enclosed situation he's been thrown into.

Paul is called by an unseen Iraqi rebel who took part in his horrifying predicament and is ordered to somehow get him $5 million using the phone provided. If he doesn't, they'll leave him to die and rot in his small, wooden cubicle. With his air running out and the phone's battery gradually expiring, Paul distraughtly dials and dials, his hope slowly disintegrating along with the surrounding oxygen.

My presumptions of Buried were that its curiously outlandish premise would sluggishly suffocate once its limitations had been stretched beyond their blatantly obvious boundaries. I'm man enough to admit that I was horrifically wrong; Buried is a remarkable and fascinating cinematic achievement.

To make a feature one hundred and ten percent revolve around a chap trapped inside such a small space is no easy feat, but to make every moment of it a nail-biting thrill-ride of suspense and terror is nothing short of extraordinary.

Cortés achieves the near impossible task of successfully putting the challenging plot to celluloid, putting his rich directing talent to good use, enhancing the edgy drama that is unfolding on-screen. The word, "drawback" must not appear in this man's dictionary, as he makes the most of what many others would find an overwhelmingly difficult chore. The camera revolves around the coffin, trickles over the top of it, utilizes overblown zooms to augment shock, and is still when necessary; it's staggering how visually exciting a coffin-set movie can be. He thinks outside the box, you might say.

Known more for his sarcastically-tongued roles in immature - although hilarious - comedies such as Just Friends and Waiting rather than his criminally underrated dramatic work, Reynolds effortlessly knocks the ball right out of the coffin and into the next state as Buried's only visible character. It's a testament to his excellent acting skills that he can carry the film's every moment purely on his own, confined to being stretched out inside a casket the entire time.

We, as an audience, are going through the motionless but emotionally wrenching journey with him; we feel the claustrophobia he is enduring and we discover things at the exact same time he does. Much flabbergasting sympathy is inspired from Reynolds' invigorating performance as an everyman forced into a nightmarish situation, made to battle it out for his survival.

With several other "fuck, I'm stuck" horrors such as Frozen and Devil to come out this year, Buried is the stand-out masterpiece. A tight script makes for a magnificently tense, edge-of-your seat, unique experience that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. I really hope they do a sequel starring a suffocating Justin Bieber. I'd pay triple to see that.