Monday, 29 November 2010


"Tangled" marks the first ever big-screen outing for the poor, isolated Rapunzel. I find it odd that the classical princess, cast from the minds of the famous Brothers Grimm in 1812, has taken so long to finally reach cinema screens. The story is so well-known, one would think that a dozen filmic retellings would have permeated the cultural wave by now. The only notable adaptation was the direct-to-DVD "Barbie as Rapunzel" in 2002, for the love of Christ.

But now, in 2010, Disney has ultimately taken up the challenge of bringing the fabled fairy tale to the silver screen -- and who better to do it some well-deserved justice than the studio who brought us "Bambi" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"? "Tangled" is entirely rendered in computer animation, it's being shown in 3D, and it's a musical -- it's also the first full-CG flick to be an all-out sing-a-thon.

Rapunzel (singer Mandy Moore, "Saved!") is a sheltered girl. She's been living in a tall tower with her pet chameleon ever since she was kidnapped from her royal parents as an infant by Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy, "The Nanny Diaries"). Unaware that the child-snatching witch is not her birth-parent, the 17-year-old is forced by her fake mommy to stay inside the tower so that Mother Gothel can use the youth-giving magical powers coating Rapunzel's long, flowing hair. Rapunzel has never left the secluded structure, but yearns to venture outside.

Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi, "Chuck") is a bandit who, along with two hulking twin thugs, manages to steal what should be Rapunzel's tiara from the royal castle. By pure coincidence, he just so happens to climb up Rapunzel's tower while hiding from chasing guards after deliberately losing his brutish companions.

Following being knocked unconscious with a frying pan, crammed into a closet and then tied up with Rapunzel's golden locks, he and The Lost Princess climb down the sky-high tower. Rapunzel wants to discover the reason why she sees floating lanterns burning amongst the stars on each of her birthdays -- her real father and mother send them into the night every year in the hope that their missing daughter follows them and returns home. In return for being Rapunzel's guide, Flynn will be given the stolen tiara, which Rapunzel has taken off him.

As they trek through the forest together, getting in all sorts of calamities, romance blossoms between the two mismatched misfits. Meanwhile, hundreds of guards are hunting Flynn, the two ditched sibling robbers are hunting Flynn, and Mother Gothel is hunting Rapunzel. I'm sure they'll be fine.

Disney's last feature was the brilliant New Orleans-set, 2D-animated "The Princess and the Frog" of 2009, and "Tangled" treads similar ground. Their latest is a traditional story of princesses, witches, dashing anti-heroes and enchanting incantations -- but with a more modern feel surrounding the proceedings.

"Tangled" is met with cartoonish comedy and whimsical music, both holding up well amongst the swashbuckling adventures of the two courageous leads. Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard share a sharp eye for slapstick shenanigans, the physical humour a joyous highlight in this hair-raising comedy. The initial interaction between Flynn and the trapped princess is especially hilarious, peaking when Rapunzel makes several attempts to stuff Flynn's unconscious body in her closet.

The music, composed by Oscar-winner Alan Menken ("Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin"), is a cheerful listen, the lyrics giving a little more depth to the characters, as well as furthering the plot. While not particularly memorable, they're fun while they last -- "I've Got a Dream" is a delightfully silly entry in the original soundtrack, sung by supposed ruffians (one of whom is voiced by Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond" fame) in a bar.

The voice-work is all top-notch, radiantly bringing the already-3D characters to wacky life and gloriously singing to their hearts' content. Moore's Rapunzel isn't the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, but an independent and strong young woman with a long-restrained sense of inquisitive adventure. She's a tad naive, but still a lovable, magical-haired lead who'll make a great role model for little girls sitting in the audience -- however, if you want your shins unharmed, I'd take the frying pans away from your daughter(s) after watching this.

Flynn is a grinning and clever-mouthed thief who thinks he can get himself out of any sticky situation by showing off his "smolder" to the ladies. Well practiced in narcissism, he's insulted when the land-scattered wanted posters picturing him get his nose wrong -- it's drawn as a bulbous bill. He's also shocked when Rapunzel doesn't fall for his charms, but the two share a conflicting chemistry on their risky exploits.

As the wicked queen to Rapunzel's Snow White, Mother Gothel is a right manipulative old bitch. Using the powers in Rapunzel's lengthy split-ends to sustain a youthful figure, she poses as the princess' over-protective mother, telling Rapunzel that she can't survive outside the tower, fearing that the curious blondie may escape her clutches. When Rapunzel finally spreads her wings and hops off with the handsome Flynn, Mother Gothel is both furious and desperate to get her once-willing captive back.

While it may not be hailed as a Disney classic anytime soon, "Tangled" is nonetheless an excellent addition to the studio's vast plethora of popular animations. It looks beautiful, the cast is magnificent, the musical numbers are kind to the ears, and the comedy works wonders. Both kids and adults will love it. I just wonder how Rapunzel manages to not trip over her hair all the time.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Next Three Days

What do you do when the love of your life is, without warning, locked up in prison? With your spouse behind bars, sealed off from the outside world, having to take not-very-private showers, what would you do to resolve this situation? Well, according to John Brennan (Russell Crowe, "Gladiator"), you've gotta bust them out of there by any means necessary.

John, a teacher at a community college, lives with his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"), and their young son, Luke (Ty Simpkins, "Little Children“). Family life is what appears to be fine and comfortable with these three, there still being sexual flavour burning in the wedded couple's relationship, and a strong bond between parent and child.

That is, until one morning when Lara is arrested on suspicion of murdering her boss with a fire extinguisher in a parking garage. With blood drops found on her coat, and her fingerprints imprinted on the murder weapon, all the evidence points to Lara having committed the violent crime. John, however, is determined that his wife is completely innocent, and backs appeals for her to be released. They all fail, and Lara is sentenced to twenty years imprisonment.

Riddled with desperation, John struggles to deal with the incarceration of his beloved other half. A suicide attempt from her while she's stuck in the slammer combusts something in his mind -- he has to get her out of there, no matter the consequences.

Seeking guidance from jail-breaking ex-con Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson, "Taken"), John begins to scheme sneaky ways of setting his wife free. Less than an amateur at this sort of thing, John stumbles into some unfortunate mishaps, but takes Damon's advice and laboriously plans out how he can perform the prison break and hold his girl in his arms again. Dat scho schweet.

To say the least, "The Next Three Days" is a far-fetched film. The elaborate tactics of the literature educator border upon illogical and his constant getting-away-with-criminal-acts puts the law enforcement agency to ridiculing shame. John Brennan is one lucky son of a bitch, one might say.

He starts off as an average 40-something father and husband, his love spreading to both his wife and son. His companion's criminal conviction activates something within him -- an obsessive determination that now consumes his everyday life. He "knows" that Lara is innocent, but he has never thought to ask her -- even if he knew she was guilty, he would still want to spring her from jail.

Throughout the course of the film, John is driven to dire extremities (which sadly doesn't include flinging a phone at a hotel employee), carrying out things his pre-murder-charged-wife self would not have ever dreamt of doing. It's odd watching him go from bookish school teacher to Maximus Decimus Meridius in the space of about an hour.

What makes his illicit actions interesting is that he does them not necessarily out of a desire to correct miscarried justice, but out of a need to be with his wife. He wants her to gain freedom once again, and nothing will stand in his way as he tries to achieve this criminally ambitious goal. His passion is what nourishes the film.

The innocence of the likable and sympathetic Lara is mostly clouded in mystery. There are flashbacks to that fateful night, coming from John's piecing together of evidence, but her status of guilt remains unclear until the ending. Because of this, my personal longing for John to accomplish his wishes of setting her loose were occasionally bankrupted as my liking of Lara would momentarily become smudged. At several points I actually wanted John to fail his mission -- a feeling not helped by some of his selfish activity.

Crowe and Banks are both brilliant and enthralling leads, equally bringing some emotional depth to their distressed characters. There is a strong sense of yearning shared between them as they look at each other while talking through a prison phone, and while guards watch them when the two aren't separated by glass. Their relationship is, for the most part, a moving one.

Oscar-winning writer and director Paul Haggis ("Crash", "In the Valley of Elah") keeps the suspense high and the adrenaline on the tip of ignition. A scene in which John attempts to use a "bump key" to enter a secured elevator while surrounded by unknowing cops is especially tense, worsened when the procedure goes horribly wrong. The last 30-or-so minutes of the film also carry an effective "will they, won't they?" quality as the prison stunt becomes a fast-moving reality.

"The Next Three Days" begins as an emotional drama and eventually turns into an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller. Its pace seems to get confused as to whether it should either be too rushed or too slow, and the plot requires an extreme suspension of disbelief, but Paul Haggis' prison-break piece is still a decent effort that boasts sensational performances from Crowe and Banks. Liam "Qui-Gon Jinn" Neeson is only in one scene, though. Boo!


Monday, 22 November 2010

My Top 10 Horror Films

What is it about horror films that make them so enticing? The vast majority of people I know aren't particularly fond of being scared, yet spine-chilling spook-em-ups are apparently worthy of their time and money. Perhaps it's the adrenaline rush -- to want to turn away from the screen, to hide one's face behind the sofa cushion, to want to escape from the horrifying events depicted on-screen is eerily intoxicating, yet we are still filled with a desire to keep on watching. It's all so exciting, isn't it?

Some horrors have stood the test of time, becoming classics of the genre, while many have not. Now-iconic villainous monsters have been created in some, while other laughable antagonists may as well be holding a teaspoon instead of the knife they're carrying. To truly frighten a viewer, to set their brains to "terrified" mode, to unsettle them while entertaining them is a massive accomplishment in the world of film. Some succeed, many do not. This list is of the top ten, for me, that do.

10. "The Fly" (1986)

We start with David Cronenberg's superior remake of Kurt Neumann's 1958 sci-fi horror of the same name. A gory depiction of a man who slowly-but-surely turns into a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly, Cronenberg's deeply unsettling re-imagining is an oddly touching body-horror held up by stellar performances from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Not one to be swatted.

9. "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974)

As a grisly, darkly humorous splatter-shocker, Tobe Hooper's controversial, blood-soaked horror has become a popular cult film over the years. Still carrying the ability to horrify today's audiences, it's set in sweaty Texas, and follows five teenagers as they're violently offed one-by-one by the iconic chainsaw-wielder Leatherface. As brutal as the title suggests, but brilliantly effective.

8. "Jaws" (1975)

Perhaps the least scary of the list, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" nonetheless remains a filmic PowerPoint on how to utilise cinematic tension. The monster is nothing more than a hungry, man-devouring shark -- a great white that's stalking the waters of Amity Island. Roy Scheider, playing the local police chief, goes out on a boat with Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw to hunt down the ravenous sea-beast. Suspenseful as hell, "Jaws" is a tour de force in fabulous filmmaking that will leave most viewers hesitant to go back in the water. This film, swallow you whole.

7. "Night of the Living Dead" (1968)

Filled with allusions to racism and the Vietnam War, George A. Romero's black-and-white "Night of the Living Dead" is one of the most influential zombie movies ever released. Certainly ahead of its time, it revolves around several individuals as they barricade themselves in a house surrounded by undead flesh-eaters. Braaaaains. This film has 'em.

6. "Halloween" (1978)

A standard-setting stalk-'n'-slash picture, "Halloween" was the first film to feature masked-maniac Michael Myers. John Carpenter's madman-on-the-loose horror hosts a whole plethora of scares and surprises as Myers cuts his way through his childhood neighbourhood. In Jamie Lee Curtis' film debut, she plays the unsuspecting babysitter who ends up being Michael's primary target. Trick or treat? Or maybe die?

5. "Alien" (1979)

The only entry in the list to be set in space, Ridley Scott's masterful "Alien" never fails to send an unnerving chill up one's spine. Even scarier than your mother-in-law's bare-naked physique, it charts the attempts of a space crew at killing a bloodthirsty extraterrestrial that's run amuck on their ship. Images of a miniature creature bursting out of John Hurt's chest are far more joyfully ghastly than almost anything being produced today. Bleurgh.

4. "The Thing" (1982)

Without a doubt one of the most sickeningly gory movies to ever spray across a cinema screen, "The Thing" is a chilling tale of 12 men living in an isolated base in Antarctica who are forced to battle a shape-changing alien. The outer-space life form can mimic any anatomy, leading to painstaking tension as the increasingly paranoid characters accuse each other of being the heinous creature. An unforgettable showcase of fantastic practical effects and utterly nerve-wracking anxiety. And Kurt Russell with an awesomely bushy beard.

3. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)

As writer and director Wes Craven's quintessential horror masterpiece and a creative landmark of the genre, "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was the first of many outings for professional dream-stalker Freddy Krueger. The burn-faced, catchphrase-cackling, merciless child murderer, played effortlessly by Robert Englund, pierces his young victims with a razor-fingered glove while they sleep in this expertly executed teen-slasher flick. Quickly springing to the title of a horror icon, Freddy Krueger has become a significant key player in movie-related culture. Freddy's the man/dream-demon.

2. "Evil Dead 2" (1987)

The low-budget sequel to the best tree-rape movie ever, "Evil Dead 2" showed how slapstick comedy can work alongside supernatural horror, with awe-inspiring results. Starring a hunky Bruce Campbell as cowardy-custard Ash Williams, the hysterical horror-comedy had over-the-top spirits and soul-swallowing demons tormenting the poor frightened fellow in an isolated cabin in the woods. Sam Raimi's hilariously manic direction fuels what is an insanely entertaining and side-splitting horror with physical humour reminiscent of The Three Stooges. Groovy.

1. "The Shining" (1980)

And finally, taking the top spot as the best horror movie ever made (well, according to me), it's Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining." Based on the 1977 novel by horror maestro Stephen King, this haunting masterpiece was the perfect opportunity for star Jack Nicholson to gnaw on some scenery. He plays Jack Torrance, a writer who becomes the caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel for the winter. Staying with his wife and son, Wendy and Danny, in the vast hotel, he starts to become distracted, hostile, and is seemingly driven insane by the long-residing evil living within the resort, taking to trying to murder his family with an axe in the film's thrilling climax. A definite must-see for horror fans everywhere. Heeeeeeere's a great movie. And wheeeeeeeeere's Jack Nicholson's Oscar?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The Warner Bros. Pictures logo is starting to rust, it seems. There it floats, high in the sky in the opening of every Harry Potter feature, positioned amongst the darkly shaded clouds, as it always has ever since John Williams' magical score was first heard back in 2001. Those clouds seem to get darker every year. But while the film company's symbol is visibly corroding before our naked eyes at the start of the newest installment, the Harry Potter series is about as rusty as a brand new Lamborghini.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” marks the beginning of the end of the British boy wizard's hazardous adventures. We've watched the "chosen one" grow up, go through hormones, battle a whole array of wicked villains, play wizard chess with his school pals (which can be more dangerous than it sounds), and now he's teetering upon the brink of adulthood -- with a stubble to boot.

Based on the first half of the seventh and final book of J.K. Rowling's beloved, best-selling series, “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is the first to take place outside of Hogwarts. The ancient decor of the bewitching school's castle setting has been replaced with the busy streets of London and beautiful countryside landscapes. 'Tis a lovely change that enchants the film with an ambience of freshness.

Professor Dumbledore (Gosford Park's Michael Gambon) has been murdered. The already-corrupt Ministry of Magic has been taken over by the forces of evil. Lord Voldemort (In Bruges' Ralph Fiennes) is dead-set on killing Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and taking as much power as he possibly can.

With a fairly overwhelming sense of impending menace surrounding their every hesitant move, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are forced to go into hiding, cut off from everyone they know and love. Harry continues his mission to search for the world-scattered Horcruxes -- different parts of Voldemort's soul that need to be destroyed before he can finally be killed.

Taking to camping together in different locations for fear of being found by the vicious Death Eaters, the adolescent trio try to work out cryptic clues in the objects they have inherited from Dumbledore's will. Meanwhile, The Dark Lord is hot on the trail of "the boy who lived" and his two companions, with henchmen working off-the-clock to capture the bespectacled scar-face.

"These are dark times," says a long-haired Bill Nighy right at the movie's start-point, his eyes practically piercing through the screen. "There is no denying," he goes on. I don't see how anyone could deny that, Bill. Cos “Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is pretty friggin' dark.

At times as frightening as a nightmarish horror film, the two-and-a-half-hour long introduction to the long-awaited final send-off is the most adult and mature of the saga thus far. It flawlessly deals with raw, heart-wrenching emotion, exuberant thrills, and dimly toned eeriness, each handled with expert precision.

The mere presence of The Dark Lord's loyal followers casts a far-reaching shadow over the affairs of the troubled teens. Helena Bonham Carter returns as the deeply deranged, giggling witch known as Bellatrix Lestrange, cackling away as she tortures innocents. Scottish-born Peter Mullan is a newcomer to the series, playing Yaxley, a ponytailed doer of maliciousness who works within the refurbished Ministry of Magic, the current goings-on of which heavily allude to the actions of the Nazis in WWII -- see, this film's deep. And the serpent-faced, no-nosed He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (that's Voldemort, by the way) is as devilish as ever, characterised as the loathsome epitome of everything that is evil in this world and others. He's a scary bugger.

It sounds so macabre, but things are not all so brutal. Director David Yates -- helmer of “Order of the Phoenix “and “The Half-Blood Prince” -- switches from daunting tones to more comedic sighs of relief, as it has always been in Rowling's books. The exploits of the now-skilled wand-wavers lead to some much-needed humour, both verbal and visual, witty and slapstick.

Ron and Hermione are no longer the one-note personalities they once embodied; they've got some emotional depth to them now. Yes, Little Miss Bookworm and, erm, Clumsy Ginger Boy have been jinxed out of their well-known pigeon-holes, thankfully given more complexity to their personalities. As they stay hidden in the forest-sitting tent along with BFF Harry, emotions run rampant and friendships begin to crack -- they've been turned into brooding, grumpy young adults, you see. Still, Hermione retains some know-it-all qualities, and Ron caters to the occasional gag with his jovial buffoonery.

And Harry, our eponymous teenage wizard, is again a fabulously compelling and identifiable leading character. He's been through a heck of a lot in his 17 years, his mind as scarred as the mark on his forehead. He's certainly grown a hefty amount throughout the series, Radcliffe's performances improving with each wide-scale release, and is determined to eradicate the barbaric ways of Voldemort and the ferocious Death Eaters. Good on him.

“Deathly Hallows: Part 1” is a visual pleasure, Yates blasting the penultimate entry with a feeling of cinematic epicness. The cinematography by Eduardo Serra is simply stunning, with a grim and gray palette painted over the film's jaw-dropping imagery, definitely worthy of an Oscar nomination (nudge, nudge).

The special effects are gorgeously detailed, if rather obviously CGI. Not to worry, the franchise has always been reliant on computer-drawn visuals, what with the otherworldly plot and spellbinding action sequences, and it doesn't disappoint here. From a giant snake to wrinkled house elves, flying broomsticks to sky-cruising motorbikes, the VFX team manage to impress in aiding in the film's dazzling spectacle. The beautifully gothic animation on a wonderful section explaining what the Deathly Hallows are is also a definite highlight.

Intense and thrilling, dark and sombre, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” may just be the fantastic series' all-time best. Yates spectacularly intertwines scenes of heart-racing action with tender moments of profound emotion to make for a perfectly crafted, all-star magical adventure. July's your time to shine, Part 2. You've got a lot to live up to.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010


The Brothers Strause are like two young children trying to learn the alphabet. Upon introduction to the new letters they had to memorise off by heart, they curiously looked at the differently shaped symbols with large, crossed eyes, and blew some green bubbles through their noses while mindlessly giggling away. They failed, and the result was the revolting anal wind entitled Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.

Now three years older, they're attempting to feed their brains with knowledge of the alphabet once again. This time, they're taking more of an interest in its ways, stutteringly sounding out the first few of the 26 letters. "Ah, bi, ki, di, eh, fi, gi," they say. As you can see, they're still not quite there yet; but they're getting better. In time, one hopes they shall improve even more.

Childish joking aside, the sibling directors' newest feature is another blunderous sci-fi actioner with elements of horror slothfully thrown in. Skyline may not be as traumatisingly, eye-gougingly ghastly as the horrendously detestable AVP:R, but that really is not saying too much in their latest flick's favour.

The film bravely wastes absolutely no time, starting at the exact moment an alien invasion begins. Beautiful, bright blue rays of light descend from the heavens above and land amongst the high-rises of Los Angeles. Jarrod (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Eric Balfour, who looks like a half-human, half-goat) wakes up in an apartment complex in the middle of the night to find himself entranced by the blinding light glowing through the window. His pupils turn white, his face goes all veiny, and his legs won't stop taking him toward the shining glare. He's like a moth on heroin.

Backtrack to 15 hours earlier, and Jarrod is on a plane with his girlfriend, Elaine (Trauma's Scottie Thompson). They're in town visiting Jarrod's best friend, Terry (Scrubs' Donald Faison), for his birthday bash in his L.A. apartment. They drink, they dance, they argue, they watch two gay guys have sex through a telescope, Elaine reveals she's pregnant, and they go off to bed.

Following this badly written episode of 90210, we're back at the film's opening, with the party-people gawking outside at the mysterious glimmers situated on the streets below. Turns out (duh) Earth is being taken over by extraterrestrials, which our clueless heroes find out when they watch hundreds of helpless people being vacuumed up into the air and into a vast spacecraft hovering above the city.

Our main characters understandably begin to panic, thinking up plans of what the hell they should do. Meanwhile, outside; big, alien, machine-like organisms are searching through buildings for living humans to do what they wish to them -- which looks to be consuming their brains. Y'know, like zombies. Zombies from outer-space.

Taking inspiration -- cough, rip-off, cough -- from War of the Worlds, Independence Day and, most recently, District 9, Skyline is a low-budget, absurdly banal screw-up. Made for reportedly only $10 million, its limited money count doesn't excuse how badly handled this independent sci-fi turd is.

The characters consist of main guy, black guy, blonde bimbo, pregnant girl, and douchebag. The script by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell doesn't even make an attempt at developing the terrified dim-wits, nor making them likable, or the slightest bit memorable. All played without a speck of charm by a TV-cameo cast (aside from a competent Faison), they may as well not even be there, as they're just a distraction from the dazzling special effects.

True, the alien effects are mighty impressive for a film of this budget, I'll hesitantly give Skyline that through gritted teeth. Directors Greg and Colin Strause are both visual effects artists (having previously worked on Avatar and 2012), so it's not surprising that most of the "effort" has been shoved into making the interstellar foes look good.

Their designs stretch from "Hey, nice" to "OMG, Matrix knock-off." The huge, daunting mother ship in the sky hauntingly watches over the city. The tall, creature-like robots climb up buildings and grab rescuing helicopters. And the probing, street-searching machines with long, black tentacles look 100% identical to the Sentinels from the Matrix trilogy. Seriously, they're exactly the same.

Problem is that such little attention has been given to the rationale of the characters' actions that the occasionally enjoyable use of CGI is rendered completely and utterly redundant. Almost everything the characters do is either laughably illogical or twistingly contrived to set up for an action sequence, leaving me shaking my head in disbelief at how poorly written they are.

Every time the film surprisingly manages to reach a degree of mild entertainment value, some abominable scene is guaranteed to be right round the corner to kick the preceding sequence right in the testicles. There were actually moments I guiltily enjoyed, maybe even found "good", but these thoughts were quickly abducted by the nefarious schemes of the evil, amateur moviemakers.

And then there's the film's conclusion. Well, all I can say is that it I couldn't help but damn near laugh my ass off at the cheesiness of it all, and how much it leaves a sickening taste in one's mouth as the film's final note.

With such a god-awful script and stale acting devoid of any sense of magnetism, Skyline didn't stand a chance. It may have all the looks of a big-budget, action-packed extravaganza, but contains the mind of a testosterone-filled, 12-year-old schoolboy. The Brothers Strause, please stick to the visual effects industry, and leave the filmmaking to the filmmakers.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010


The villain of Tony Scott's Unstoppable is a train. Not a drug lord, not an assassin, not an Austrian-accented killer robot from the future, but a regular, standardly engineered train rolling down the tracks at near-maximum velocity. It's like Jan de Bont's Speed (1994), except there’s no flesh-and-blood antagonist who the heroes have to thwart, not counting a greedy and snide executive (Transformers’ Kevin Dunn) who is the top-ranking decision maker.

Inspired by the "Crazy Eights" incident of 2001, Unstoppable revolves around the unfortunately unmanned runaway freight train #777. Its uncontrolled status begins when a sloppy engineer (Blow's Ethan Suplee) jumps out of the slow-moving vehicle to reset a switch by the tracks, only to find that he is unable to climb back aboard when the train unexpectedly speeds up.

Meanwhile, Will Colson (Star Trek's Chris Pine) is beginning work as a conductor, riding with railway veteran Frank Barnes (Man on Fire's Denzel Washington) in train #1206. As they go about their job, the blue-collar duo are told of a half-mile long train carrying molten phenol that's travelling uncontrollably at speeds of over 70 miles per hour.

The media, of course, hastily gets involved, with news stations covering the event and following the "missile" as it hurtles through Pennsylvania, predicted to crash while crossing a curved bridge in Stanton and land in a fuel oil tank farm. Uh-oh.

Disaster lurks on every turn #777 takes, from a horse trailer appearing on the tracks, to failed attempts at slowing down the shooting railway vehicle. When hopes begin to shrink from everybody else, Will and Frank make the brave decision to try and help stop the unstoppable monster using their comparatively miniscule locomotive.

Scott is known for the distinctive visual flair he's picked up in recent times, shown off in Man on Fire and Domino. Here, his signature style isn't as erratic or trippy as his latest works, but Unstoppable still hosts an in-your-face shooting method -- in a very good way. He keeps the camera always in motion, just like the matter at hand, heightening the drama and tension that races throughout the film.

He spins the camera around the characters, a fashion which flows excellently from scene to scene, smashing through a premise that is, for the most part, two dudes sitting in a fast-moving box, chasing after a much bigger, even faster box.

There's barely a second speeding by in Unstoppable that's not either intriguing or edge-of-your-seat. Mark Bomback (writer of Live Free or Die Hard) scribes, setting the stakes high, filling the film with suspenseful set-piece after suspenseful set-piece, Scott's direction enhancing the exhilarating nature of each blood-pumping sequence.

Denzel's character is a father of two teenage daughters (both Hooters waitresses, I might add) who's experienced in both his job and in life. He knows all there is to know about his line of work, of which he has proudly been a part of for 28 long years. He likes a joke, but raises an eyebrow at Will's inexperience.

Will is a cranky rookie who tells Frank he wants to do "something different" with his career. His home life is a troubled one, making phone calls about a restraining order while on the job, much to Frank's annoyance. The typical "it's a long story" reply is the answer to Frank's probing of Will's domestic situation. "We've got a long day," Frank throws back.

The two are both working-class citizens thrown into a predicament that seems out of their league. Their differing attitudes spark friction at first, but the dangerous situation they encounter and desire to eradicate causes them to work together more smoothly.

Talking to the would-be heroes from headquarters, Connie Hooper (Sin City's Rosario Dawson) is desperate to bring the chaos-on-wheels train to a halt. Despite pressure from her money-for-brains superior, she believes in Frank and Will's determination to solve the increasingly risky situation, eventually taking their words over that of her boss.

Unstoppable is a perfectly paced, vigorously entertaining thrill ride. A race-against-the-clock action thriller, its anxious demeanour refuses to cease. Scott directs the film to a stunning level, Washington and Pine's chemistry is exceptional, and Bomback's script, although it has its not-so-strong moments, sets the stage for tension to run wild. Buy your ticket now. Your cinema ticket, I mean. Trains you might be iffy on after this.


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls is an ambitious and distressing tale of race, womanhood and of shaken-up domesticity. Written, produced and directed by Madea-creator Tyler Perry, the film is a female-led ensemble piece based on the Tony-nominated 1975 play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange.

Perry's big-screen adaptation deals with several interweaving storylines, each loosely linked to one another through the relationships between their nine central female characters. Rendering the film a tad overlong, we jump from one emotionally chilling subplot to the next, each given an appropriate amount of screen-time by Perry to fully develop the large assortment of characters.

Toying with many controversial themes, the film is host to an almost all-star cast that is thankfully on spectacular form. From acting veterans to fresh-faced rising stars, Robi Reed-Humes and Alpha Tyler both deserve a pat on the back for casting such marvelously suitable actors and actresses for the roles they play. And now I'm going to attempt to describe each of the interconnected characters in sufficient enough detail. Wish me luck.

First up is Janet Jackson, who does a fascinating job of looking and sounding exactly like her moonwalking late brother. I jest, I jest. She plays Jo, the uptight editor of Robe Rouge magazine, her heart cold and her arrogance high. Her husband, Carl (Kick-Ass' Omari Hardwick), has stolen money from her, and their relationship has recently grown distant, raising some sneaking suspicions from the fashion-mag boss.

Her assistant, Crystal (Diary of a Mad Black Woman's Kimberly Elise), is a mother of two who suffers at the hands of her abusive, war-veteran partner's savage behaviour and untamed, tough-guy attitude. "I've loved you since we were 14 years old," she says to partner Beau (Takers' Michael Ealy), recalling the better times they once shared. Neglecting his medication, the disturbed paranoid's unsettled demeanour soon leads to some discomforting tragedy.

Playing the troubled couple's next-door neighbour, Tangie, is Crash's Thandie Newton. A promiscuous bartender, Tangie sleeps with any man she can wrap her scantily-clad legs around. "I'm one that likes to fuck," she tells one of her horny pick-ups after he confuses her for a prostitute, offering her money while she lays atop him on her bed.

Tangie's mother, portrayed by Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg, is a religious fanatic who's part of what her libertine daughter calls a "cult." Living with her is Tangie's sister, Nyla (When a Stranger Calls' Tessa Thompson), a dancer and college applicant who is shocked to find that she is pregnant, taking drastic actions to rid of what she sees as a problem.

The landlord whose door stands between Crystal's and Tangie's is Gilda, played by Just Wright's Phylicia Rashad. Just over the middle-age mark, the wise and caring Gilda hears through the walls the violence that occurs in Crystal's apartment, and watches as men come and go to use Tangie's free "services".

Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog) plays Yasmine, the smiling 30-something dance teacher of Nyla. She seems rather happy with her charming new boyfriend, Bill (Juice's Khalil Kain), a well-dressed smoothie who takes her out to fancy restaurants and leaves flowers on her doorstep. All seems fine for the gleefully happy daters until one night when things take an unexpectedly shocking and sinister turn. This, in particular, caught me off guard.

Loretta Devine (I Am Sam) is Juanita, a lively, condom-dispensing nurse whose cheating spouse, Frank (Richard Lawson), wanders off from time to time without due warning. Whenever she comes home to find Frank gone, she worriedly checks her bedroom drawers to see if his clothes are still there. Devine being an extraordinarily likable actress, Juanita is perhaps the most naturally sympathetic character along with the soon-traumatised Yasmine.

And finally we have Kerry Washington (Ray) as Kelly, a social worker who we meet when she visits Crystal's apartment to analyse the conditions the two toddlers are living in. Her husband is a cop (CSI: NY's Hill Harper), and she has recently found out that she has an STD, resulting in her inability to carry a child within her womb.

Phew. With so many characters contained within the much-threaded plot, For Colored Girls can get a little muddled at times, resulting in the occasional confusion from me as I pondered how different events were connected to one another. Nevertheless, each story is powerful, and the movie has something to say in each and every one of them.

The film comes across very much as (suitably) reminiscent to a play -- a scene in which Juanita rants through the closed door of Frank's apartment is a sequence that is straight out of a stage production. Characters begin preaching heartfelt speeches, some more soaked in the tears of melodrama than others, that all polish the film with a shining sense of importance and an ambience of classiness amongst the Harlem setting.

Putting expository dialogue aside, Perry's script is a relatively solid one that allows for us to connect with these loosely associated characters. They are all pictures of unnerving tribulations, dealing with similar themes of abortion, rape, love, infidelity, and domestic abuse. All characterised with dreary realism, they give the film a heavy weight that Perry's writing manages to carry much more often than not.

With each cast member utterly stellar and the characters all perfectly fleshed out, For Colored Girls is a touching portrait of the harshly drawn lives of African American women who are going through despair in everyday USA. Bleak and respectably unflinching, it only feels odd when characters begin speaking in emotional monologues, reciting off-the-top-of-the-head poems out of practically nowhere, which does seem out-of-place within the film's fearless tone. Not just for "colored girls", but for most moviegoers who can stomach some shocking subject matter.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Due Date

Due Date is a film that sits on the shoulders of its two leading men. Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis don't take turns in carrying the movie, but instead do it together as a team that's befitting while also being mismatched. Each at the top of their game, the two acclaimed actors commendably backpack the movie almost entirely on their own, aside from the occasional celebrity cameo they come across on their long-distance adventure.

The film's premise is a simple one -- take two characters who are essentially the complete opposite of each other, force them together in a stressful, inescapable situation, and watch the probably side-splitting turmoil ensue. For this, the movie is a respectable success, a crowd-pleaser that doesn't overstay its welcome and aims no higher than what could be called its limitations as a scenario.

Downey Jr. is Peter Highman, a suit-wearing architect who desperately wants to get to Los Angeles. He's on a job in Atlanta, and the due date for his pregnant wife, Sarah, (Gone Baby Gone's Michelle Monaghan) giving birth to the couple's first child is only five days away. He boards the plane that will take him home, ready to soon reunite with his preggers spouse, but, through a series of calamitous mishaps, ends up on the no-fly list.

Stranded in the airport car-park without his wallet or luggage, the wound-up stress-head is forced to tag along with the man who got him into the aggravating situation, aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis). Riding along with Ethan and the Hollywood wannabe's French bulldog called Sonny, Peter is slowly but surely driven nuts by his driver’s increasingly irritating quirks.

I'm sure you've noticed by now that the plot is strikingly similar to John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), and you'd be right to spot the parallelism of the synopses. Both buddy road comedies, the two films follow our unlikely accomplices as they trek across the country, going from one outrageous fuck-up to the next ludicrous screw-up, with hilariously obscene consequences.

The more mileage the conflicting couple cover, the more preposterous their experience becomes. From a car crash to a gunshot, the hospital to the Mexican border, Peter's mental state is near rammed over its edge by Ethan's unorthodox and unpredictable behaviour.

Downey Jr. and Galifianakis may not be Steve Martin and John Candy, but nonetheless still make for eminently watchable leads. Fighting and bonding over their crazily eventful journey, a spark burns between the colliding personalities of the duo of travellers. Punches are thrown, saliva is spat (at a dog wearing an e-collar) and cremated ashes are spilled, but the dynamism between the two differing dudes remains ever-present.

Iron Man star Downey Jr. plays an over-serious, heavily disgruntled, foul-mouthed father-to-be who is the straight man to Galifianakis' wise guy. Disturbed by his escort's more-than-wacky behaviour, Peter yearns to get as far away from him as humanely possible and closer to his soon-to-be-in-labour wife -- but cruel fate refuses to have it this way. Getting edgier and edgier with each passing second, the bad-tempered businessman tries to remain calm and collected, but ends up committing his own childish acts.

Galifianakis, star of It's Kind of a Funny Story, plays an empty-headed, round-bellied pig with a softly-toned voice that never stops yammering away, his beard almost as thick as the skull atop his fat neck. Blissfully unaware of the catastrophe he causes, Ethan creates havoc with every step and/or misstep he stupidly takes, intruding on Peter's personal space by constantly asking random questions. Like Peter, Ethan is trying to get somewhere, with Hollywood his destination while he attempts to find a place to scatter his father's ashes. Aawww.

As Peter's pregnant other half, Monaghan is largely forgettable, lost among the film's plethora of celebrity cameos. Cape Fear's Juliette Lewis plays a drug-dealer associate of Ethan; Tropic Thunder's Danny McBride has a brief appearance as a lazy Western Union employee; and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx plays a close friend of Peter who may or may not be sleeping with his best bud's wife.

Director Todd Phillips (2009's hit The Hangover) keeps the film feeling fresh and hysterically demented, if a little bit recycled from the success of last year's aforementioned comedy. Working with three other screenwriters (Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland and Adam Sztykiel), Phillips has made Due Date a laugh-every-couple-of-minutes victory that only has a few tired, old gags.

Due Date won't be hailed as a classic in years to come, but it's still a mostly hysterical slice of adventurous amusement. The chemistry between Downey Jr. and Galifianakis fuels what is a slightly deranged, sniggering bromance comedy with a masturbating dog and a dead dad in a coffee can. Harmless fun. Sort of.