Thursday, 23 December 2010

My Top 10 Best Films of 2010

2010 has been host to some truly inspiring works of cinematic art. In a year of catastrophic oil spills and Chilean miners trapped 2,300 ft underground, films allow us to momentarily forget these instances outside the theatre, letting us get sucked into the realities they create and raise a smile or arouse a tear. Sure, 2010 hasn't been the strongest of years for moviemaking (don't we say that every year?), but a select few flicks are nothing other than superb examples of committed craftsmanship. Without further ado, here are my ten favourites. See these if you can.

10. “Rabbit Hole”

A true cry-a-thon if I ever saw one, "Rabbit Hole" stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart as two parents who are in grieving. Their four-year-old son has been killed in a car accident, a tragic event that changes them as people and as a once-happy couple. The film is a melancholy one, almost depressing, but the melodrama that surrounds it is stacked-up on emotion that doesn't seem forced or contrived. Kidman near cries herself to dehydration for an Oscar, and by golly she's worthy of it. A bit of a downer, but an effective piece of poignant filmmaking that will make lips quiver and eyes fill with tears.

9. “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

The fact that "Exit Through the Gift Shop" might possibly all be a hoax makes it all the more fascinating. A documentary on a documentary, it follows shop keeper Thierry Guetta, a quirky Frenchman who has a passion for filming every aspect of his daily life. He doesn't have any focus for the mountains of tapes he's collecting -- that is, until he begins to point the camera at local street artists. The footage (of which there is many) has been hijacked and re-edited by British graffiti icon and genius Banksy, the faceless artist Thierry ends up working with. Unexpectedly hysterical, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is a compelling exploration of not only the world of art, but of a man who shows how easy it is to become what some blindly consider a visionary. Real or fake, fact or prank, it's a bloody brilliant documentary/mockumentary that should provoke some thought in your noggin.

8. “Black Swan”

Haunting and bizarre, Darren Aronofsky's drama-horror and psychological thriller shows how ambition can drive one totally nuts. Natalie Portman is a ballerina who lands the role of The Swan Queen in a New York production of "Swan Lake," causing her to obsessively rehearse and rehearse until her grip on reality begins to loosen, with nightmarish hallucinations taunting her fragile mind. Portman is astonishing in the lead role, and Aronofsky's direction is a visual jaw-dropper. Disturbing and bold, this will linger and twirl in your defenceless brain for quite some time -- and not only for the lesbian sex scene.

7. “Let Me In”

The only remake on the list, Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" is based on the cult Swedish vampire horror "Let the Right One In," directed by Tomas Alfredson. Relocated to 1983 New Mexico, the American remake centres on a bullied boy, Owen, as a blood-thirsty, yet innocent-looking girl, Abby, moves into the apartment next door. She's been 12 for a very long time, apparently. The two bond over the course of the film as mismatched friends, Owen blissfully unaware of Abby's vampiric state. A creepy aura surrounds every shiver-inspiring scene, the film as unforgettably unsettling as the acclaimed original, making for a chilling and remarkably enticing horror-drama. "Twilight" fans, take note.

6. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

It's rare that a film is as zany or creative as "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," an adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-volume cult comic book. Edgar Wright's astoundingly energetic, cartoonish hipster-comedy is set in a world in which the laws of physics are similar to that of a video game -- Nintendo sound-effects, people exploding into coins, etc. The titular character, played by a shaggy-haired Michael Cera, must battle the seven evil exes of the girl of his dreams to win her over, leading to some beautifully-shot action sequences, as well as a Bollywood musical number. Brilliant, mesmerisingly inventive stuff that nerds everywhere will gawk at in wonder.

5. “Toy Story 3”

Pixar expectedly did it once again with the third instalment of the celebrated toys-gone-wild franchise, mixing deep-rooted nostalgia with colourful visuals to make for a magnificent family film. This adorable adventure had our iconic stuffed characters accidentally sent away to day care, where they must try to escape from the once-comforting residents. Fantastically comical, angelically animated, and eye-wateringly sentimental, "Toy Story 3" is a triumphant ending to the rightfully-idolised trilogy. Woody and Buzz are still as awesome as ever.

4. “Four Lions”

This Brit-flick revolves around a group of wannabe radical Muslim terrorists as they prepare to mercilessly suicide bomb the London Marathon. Perfect subject matter for a comedy, then. Chris Morris' seemingly controversial, side-splittingly funny satire balances hilarity with surprising tenderness as we watch our utterly incompetent jihadists screw everything up for 97 titillating minutes, aiming bazookas the wrong way round and accidentally blowing up sheep in grassy fields. Fuck mini baby bells!

3. “Kick-Ass”

"Kick-Ass" can easily be described as the filmic definition of the word "fun." A hilariously sick-minded satire of the superhero genre, Matthew Vaughn's gorgeous comic book action-comedy-thriller is a rare example of a popcorn audience-pleaser at its very finest. Aaron Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski, a young adult who dreams of one day becoming an ass-kicking superhero, and so decides to take on crime as a wetsuit-wearing vigilante named Kick-Ass. An awesome cast -- including a foul-mouthed, relentlessly violent 11-year-old girl -- makes for the best superhero feature of the year, with bullets piercing through the air and blood spraying with no end in sight. This is my kinda movie.

2. “Inception”

Christopher Nolan, how I love thee. The "Memento" director proved himself once again to be nothing short of a genius of the filmmaking profession with his ambitious, original, and beautiful "Inception." Following fugitive Leonardo DiCaprio as he tries to get back to America to see his kids, "Inception" takes place mainly in the dream world as DiCaprio and his loyal team raid and physically explore the mind of Cillian Murphy to plant an idea in his subconscious. Innovative and intellectually stimulating, "Inception" is a blockbuster masterpiece that never fails to amaze. I'll have antigravity fight scenes with a side of buildings folding in on themselves, and a dash of Hans Zimmer's breathtaking score, please. Extra epicness, too.

1. “The Social Network”

Easily taking the top, bright, golden prize for 2010, "The Social Network" is the kind of Oscar-baiting stuff that actually deserves the naked statuette. David Fincher's stylised drama tells the true story of the invention of relatively well-known website Facebook, mixing in themes of betrayal, loss, ambition, and power to the superbly intriguing narrative. With an awe-inspiring, godly script by Aaron Sorkin that has machine-gun characters mercilessly blasting bullets of sharply scribed dialogue at each other, and top-notch performances from the magnificent cast, "The Social Network" is a friend request you know you'll accept. Stephen Watson likes this, and you should, too.

My Top 10 Worst Films of 2010

Like any year in the exciting and ever-changing world of film, 2010 has certainly had its miserable stinkers. Over the past 12 months, my love of cinema has been bashed over the head at an alarming rate with worrisome additions to theatrical schedules. Some have been laughable, some have been boring, and a hefty amount have baffled me as to how they were even green-lighted in the first place. But there are some that really stood out to me as truly monstrous pieces of work that have horrified audiences in all the worst ways. And so, I've compiled a list of the top ten movies of 2010 I consider to be the most abominable of the lot. Avoid these at all costs.

10. "The Wolfman"

One of the biggest disappointments in recent memory, this gothic horror is less spooky than a newborn baby giggling away in the comfort of its own crib. Joe Johnston‘s "The Wolfman," a remake of the George Waggner original, has Benicio del Toro wandering around in Victorian England before being bitten by a werewolf and turned into one himself. So much potential, yet such poor execution. It's tiresome, lifeless, and needlessly gloomy. Still, Anthony Hopkins looked to be having hammy fun as del Toro's estranged papa.

9. "The Bounty Hunter"

Even if you were to pump laughing gas into every orifice of my body while I sat and watched "The Bounty Hunter," you still wouldn't manage to make me laugh. Gerard Butler is a bounty hunter who finds himself on the job of tracking down his bail-skipping ex-wife, played by Jennifer Aniston. Hilarious (ha!) shenanigans occur as the ex-couple plummet towards snogging each other at the end. Oh, did I spoil it for you? Tediously unfunny star-parade that's almost as grating as Butler's American accent.

8. "Furry Vengeance"

Any film with "furry" in the title should be treated with caution, and none more so than this eco-friendly kiddie comedy. Slapstick shenanigans occur when wild animals (who can communicate with each other through think bubbles) fight back against businessman Brendan Fraser for trying to demolish their homely forest. Thrusting environmental messages down your gagging throat with every millisecond of its overlong running time, "Furry Vengeance" was another misfire in Fraser's shaky career. Chin up though, Brendan. I'm sure there's another "Mummy" movie waiting for you.

7. "Smokin' Aces 2: Assassins' Ball"

With "Smokin' Aces" taking high reign amongst my list of favourite films, it was especially uncomfortable for me to watch it get callously cut to pieces and pasted back together again in the form of this copy-cat follow-up. FBI desk jockey Tom Berenger is told he has a high price on his head, and so is rushed to a top-secret location to hide from an array of money-hungry assassins. Sound familiar? Slothfully recreating every single plot point from its ludicrously fun predecessor to terrible effect, this sloppy straight-to-DVD sequel was a tiring chore to watch; even with Vinnie Jones as one of the baddies.

6. "Marmaduke"

Who said basing a film on a one-panel newspaper comic strip would be a bad idea? Anyone with a brain, I'd guess. "Marmaduke," a fly-covered dog turd of a movie, is a boring snooze-o-rama about a talking Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) who moves to California with his human family. Stuff happens with other dogs, it's all so drab, the mouth-moving CGI is creepy, and wake me up when the end credits start rolling. Down boy, down! Sit! Left paw! Right paw! Good boy! Play dead! Now stay dead.

5. "My Soul to Take"

Wes Craven's unscary retread of past slasher horrors is less memorable than it is dull. The "Nightmare on Elm Street" director filled this bore of a stupid-teen killer with talk of souls and resurrection, which all sound pretty neat and cutting-edge, yet the movie itself is tired and monotonous. Without soul, you might say. With a lame villain, laughable script, and insipid main characters, “My Soul to Take” plunged a knife into the heart of Craven’s once-respected career. "Scream 4" looks to be in trouble.

4. "Cop Out"

Ah, the film that made me question Kevin Smith's talents as a filmmaker. Smith ranted on his Twitter page about how critcs were unneeded and unwanted once they rightfully gnawed their teeth into his latest cinematic effort, but what he failed to understand was that they were very much correct in their harsh-but-fair bashing. Dire and nigh unwatchable, this tedious buddy cop comedy is less funny than having diarrhoea injected into your eyeballs, with not even the constant presence of the illustrious Bruce Willis able to make this horribly-written stinker the least bit entertaining. Yippie-kay-yay, Kevin Smith. Fat bastard.

3. "Sex and the City 2"

Obnoxious, annoying, irritating, abhorrent, repugnant, loathsome, pointless drivel. Subtlety does not appear in "Sex and the City 2"'s strawberry-scented dictionary; instead, words like "overlong," "insensitive," "ditzy" and "nauseating" are listed in pink, sparkly text. Lazily sending its caricature cast to Abu Dhabi to buy handbags, shoes, and act like total sluts, "Sex and the City 2" did more to set women back than empower them. Judging by what I've watched of the beloved TV series on which this is based, the second big-screen outing of the independent gals is a deep-reaching cunt punt to its much-worshipped name. Piss off, girls, and take your shitty movie with you.

2. "Fred: The Movie"

To say that "Fred: The Movie" is an excruciating ordeal to sit through simply would not justify the unadulterated savagery of such a harrowing experience. Made-for-TV in the US (though somehow it got a theatrical release in the UK), this mind-boggling disaster marks the first (and hopefully last) feature-length outing for the YouTube phenomenon known as Fred Figglehorn, portrayed by Lucas Cruikshank. He's a teenager with a stalkerish infatuation with his female neighbour, he has an unendurable squeaky voice, he never shuts the hell up, and I want him to be crushed to death under the weight of a school bus. Kids these days.

1. "Vampires Suck"

And now we come to the big, rotten, festering cheese. From the makers of (sigh) "Date Movie," "Disaster Movie," "Epic Movie" and "Meet the Spartans" came yet another laugh-free, fart-filled spoof in the form of this half-assed "Twilight" parody. Unbearably unfunny and a thousand times worse than what it is meant to be mocking (without any effort put in), "Vampires Suck" is an agonizing 76-minute-long showcase in how not to make an audience laugh. Utterly torturous, and one of the most useless contributions to celluloid since John Travolta dressed up as a Jamaican extraterrestrial in "Battlefield Earth." The only thing amusing here is the irony of the title.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

TRON: Legacy

If there's one thing that will stick in your mind after you walk out of "TRON: Legacy," it'll be Jeff Bridges' CGI face. Computerised to appear 28 years younger, it's a nightmarish image that makes the "Crazy Heart" actor look like an addition to the Madame Tussauds wax museum. His eyes look dead, and his skin looks like it's melting off his motion-captured skull. How this got away with a PG rating, I will never understand.

The first "TRON" was made in 1982 and was a moderate success for Disney, both financially and critically. Under the direction and writing of Steven Lisberger, it was a one-of-a-kind techno sci-fi electrified by cinematic ambition, and has gained a cult following over the many years since its release. It's taken almost three decades for the unique original to finally get a sequel, and "Legacy" shouldn't disappoint die-hard fans. Others, however, may yearn for more.

Kevin Flynn (Bridges), former CEO of computer-technology business ENCOM International, has been missing since 1989. His son, 27-year-old Sam (Garrett Hedlund, "Eragon"), is a motorbiking, base-jumping hacker and majority shareholder of his father's multinational company.

Sam is told of a page (y'know, from a pager) his father's old friend Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner, "Babylon 5") received from a disconnected number at Flynn's shut-down arcade. Sam decides to investigate the dusty insides of the abandoned building, finds a hidden room behind a coin-operated arcade game, and is zapped by a laser that transports him to The Grid. He's as clumsy as his dad.

A digital mainframe, The Grid is now a dystopia of bright neon lights and double-glazed windows. The computerised land is also now run by Clu (also the hideous young-looking Bridges), Flynn's doppelganger and program-turned-dictator. Clu has gone corrupt and is wiping out all users (AKA human beings within the system) with his vast army.

Sam is forced to play games within the gladiatorial arenas in his skin-tight wetsuit as he treks across the totalitarian world to find his father. Once they reunite, he and Flynn, along with program Quorra (Olivia Wilde, "Alpha Dog"), set out to thwart the evil ruler of The Grid while trying to get to the portal to the real world before it closes.

Let's get something straight -- the script in "TRON: Legacy" is friggin' awful. It's as lifeless as the programs contained within the plot, and as lazy as a computer nerd playing footy in gym class. The dialogue is stilted, entirely without inspiration, and worthy of quite a few eye-rolls. Writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis (both "Lost" scribers) seem adamant to make "TRON: Legacy" tedious to listen to -- lines like "You've gotta be kidding me!" are repeatedly bludgeoned into the script.

Where the long-anticipated follow-up's redemption lies, however, is in the look of the film -- "TRON: Legacy" is absolutely gorgeous. It comes with the territory that a "TRON" film will be visually mesmerising (the look of the original remains untouched), and "Legacy" will outdo any high expectations in this area. The special-effects team certainly deserves many pats on the back for their outstanding work.

Light-cycles speed along glass-covered tracks, gladiators violently swing battle discs at each other, and gigantic recognisers fly overhead. It's all so stunning that your eyes can hardly take it. First-time director Joseph Kosinski makes sure to take full advantage of the digital frontier, filming the dazzling neon universe with a sense of wide-scale epicness.

Speaking of epicness, the musical score by Daft Punk is a tantalising pleasure for the ears to experience. Famous for "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" and "One More Time," the music duo stun with their electronic tracks, complimenting the awe of the visuals on-screen. The French pair also have a cameo midway through the film as a couple of DJs, although their identities are shielded by face-covering helmets.

There's not much to say about our main character other than "he's our main character." The script fails to give him much of a personality, but Hedlund works well with what little he's given, playing an outcast unwillingly following in his father's footsteps. Still, the character has all the excitement of a beige-coloured couch.

As one would expect, Oscar-winner Bridges is top-notch in both the role of Flynn and Clu. The former is a man helplessly trapped in the realms of his own creation, while the latter is a heartless, power-hungry dictator who hunts after his creator. Bridges gleefully channels his iconic character of The Dude from "The Big Lebowski" in the form of Flynn -- he even says "You're messing with my Zen thing, man" at one point. The Dude abides.

What else is there to say about "TRON: Legacy"? It's an easy-on-the-eyes sci-fi spectacle that has style trumping substance. The script stinks to high heaven and the narrative is as thin as an anorexic stick insect, but the majority of the running time is rather enjoyable. A definite for fans, a maybe for general moviegoers. Oh, and make sure to cover your eyes whenever young-faced Jeff Bridges is on-screen. I know I'm gonna have nightmares for weeks.


Monday, 20 December 2010

Black Swan

I've never been much of a fan of ballet. I admire the art form, I'm astonished by the skill of the performers, but, like opera, I wouldn't be particularly fond of sitting in a theatre and watching an entire show. Perhaps I'm not arty or tasteful enough, but I'd most likely end up just imagining how bruised and battered the performers' toes must be, instead of paying attention to the spectacle itself.

Still, there's something about Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" that enticed me in a way that few movies have done before. Like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" of 1948, Aronofsky's disturbing drama portrays the dancing art in a beautiful light that entrances and allures, heightening the impact of events that take place off-stage.

The film centres on a fresh-faced dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, "V for Vendetta"), aged 28. She's committed to her profession, almost unhealthily, and is determined to reach what all ballerinas see as the pinnacle of success -- to be The Swan Queen in a New York production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

The current Swan Queen, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder, "Edward Scissorhands"), has just "retired," and her position needs to be filled. Nina sees her chance and goes about auditioning for the role. The director of the production, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel, "Mesrine"), is at first unconvinced by Nina's performances, but gives her the part when she bites his lip. Hurrah!

Nina rehearses and rehearses, striving for perfection, to impress Thomas, to become the Swan Queen. Her fellow ballerinas look upon her with jealousy, while Lily (Mila Kunis, AKA the voice of Meg on "Family Guy") strikes an unlikely friendship with the leading lady. However, Lily's motivations become questionable when Nina gets to know her a little better.

With "Black Swan," Aronofsky confronts melodrama and darkens it, spinning it away from the stage of cliché. The film is intimidating in tone, much more distressing than one might imagine upon learning of the general plot. Several scenes had me cringing at the imagery, some including self-mutilation. The images the film conjures up will make one turn one's head from the screen, if briefly. If you were to glance at me as I watched “Black Swan,” you'd swear I was watching John Carpenter's "The Thing."

Portman's character is a fragile one, seemingly virginal, called "weak" by Thomas, controlled by her overbearing ex-ballerina mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey, "The Portrait of a Lady"). She is told that she shines as the innocent White Swan, but falters when portraying the seductive Black Swan. Obsessed with perfection, she lets the double-character role consume her out of desperation for flawlessness on the big night itself.

Portman is spellbinding in the role, playing a girl whose entire life revolves around her skills as a dancer. Her character begins to lose sight of what's real, her grip on reality loosening as her life spirals into a hallucinatory nightmare, the likes of which David Lynch should be proud.

Kunis, on the other hand, portrays a more laid-back girl, showing up late for rehearsals, her prowess as a dancer more befitting the Black Swan than Nina's techniques. She's the party-going type, introducing Nina to alcohol, drugs and sex, awakening something long-buried within Nina's persona. Kunis' performance dares to be as fascinating as Portman's, and succeeds, her underrated talents worthy of much more attention than they get.

Cassel is delightful as the runner of the production, of which his character is aptly passionate. A French prick by profession, he tries to get Nina to let go of her innocence and indulge in her sensual and sexual side, his attempts altering her mannerisms, morphing her into a more violent and unstable person.

As Thomas tells Nina to let go of her painstakingly memorised moves and lose herself in the performance, Aronofsky does the same. He utilises a similar shooting method as his very own "The Wrestler," using handheld cameras to their stylistic advantage, putting us up on stage with the performing ballerinas as if we are one of them, frolicking for the audience in white tutus.

The "Requiem for a Dream" director gets up close and personal with the well-choreographed dancers as they strut their stuff, his work not feeling perfected or polished to death, but fresh and almost improvised. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique ("The Fountain," "Iron Man") works wonders with Aronofsky's beautiful and bold direction, the dark and icy visuals dancing off the screen.

"Black Swan" is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It's part psychological thriller, part drama, part horror, all pliéing together with seductive and bizarre results. It's an awe-inspiring portrayal of a woman transformed from an innocent to a beast, from White Swan to Black Swan, her determination driving her mad. Oh, and if your five-year-old daughter asks to see "the new ballerina movie," I'd advise against taking her.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Tourist

The last film Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (that's a mouthful) made was the winner of the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film of 2006. "The Lives of Others" was universally praised as a gripping and sombre drama-thriller, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that it was the German writer-director's feature debut. In addition to this, it makes one scratch one's head in wonder as to why he chose "The Tourist" as his second picture.

"The Tourist" is pure Hollywood fluff that just so happens to be set amongst the grandiose buildings of France and Italy. Donnersmarck keeps some notable European sensibilities intact, adamant that the film doesn't turn into a balls-to-the-wall action blockbuster like "Knight and Day," peeling apart the explosive set-pieces to concentrate on the quieter moments shared between characters. Sounds like a smart move, right? Thing is, I liked "Knight and Day." I didn't like "The Tourist."

We open with French authorities spying on Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie, "Changeling") in a surveillance van, paying close attention to her arse as she confidently strides across the streets of Paris, attired in the tight-fitting outfits only models are allowed to wear. She sits outside a cafe and is approached by a delivery-man who hands her an envelope. Within this envelope is a letter from her fugitive thief of a boyfriend, Alexander Pierce, telling her to get on a train, find someone who fits his height and build, and dupe the authorities into thinking that the unsuspecting subject is Pierce.

She burns the letter, swiftly loses her many tails -- despite their hardest efforts at following her gorgeous arse around the picturesque scenery -- and hops on a train. And voilà, there she finds hubba-hubba Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp, "Alice in Wonderland"), a bumbling American maths-teacher sitting all by his lonesome. They flirt (well, Frank tries to), have dinner together, and go their separate ways once the train reaches its destination: Venice, Italy.

However, they "coincidentally" bump into each other once again, and end up staying in the same hotel room together. Sadly for Frank, he has to sleep on the couch. Next thing he knows, Frank is being chased around rooftops in his pyjamas by gun-toting crooks who believe that the socially-awkward buffoon is Alexander Pierce. Chased by Scotland Yard and angry mobsters, Frank goes on the run, with some unexpected help from Elise herself.

One of the most striking things about "The Tourist" is, of course, the casting of the two leading stars. Both Hollywood A-listers of the highest degree, Depp and Jolie are remarkably talented individuals with admirable careers, yet neither of them are able to overcome the mediocrity surrounding this misguided production -- it doesn't particularly help that their performances seem phoned-in.

Depp's character is a man from Wisconsin who smokes fake cigarettes and is a tad clumsy when it comes to conversations with beautiful women. He is a casual, down-to-earth tourist who is suddenly guided into a world of danger, espionage, speed-boat chases, and Angelina Jolie's arse. He's meant to represent the everyman, but isn't particularly relatable. Depp's knack for eccentricity doesn't work its usual magic here, although I still have a lot of respect for the man who was Edward Scissorhands and is Captain Jack Sparrow.

Jolie's character, on the other hand, is the complete opposite -- she's cool, calm, suave, seductive, and reeks of all the stereotypical attributes of a classic femme fatale. Jolie is fine in the role, she's convincing enough as a sophisticated gal who knows her way around a gun, but her character is nothing that audiences haven't seen a hundred times before -- well, not with this arse. I'm gonna stop making inappropriate jokes about Angelina Jolie's arse now.

The romantic aspect to the plot isn't particularly interesting, despite Depp and Jolie's strains to get a flicker of sexual chemistry going. Sorry, guys, but if you don't have chemistry, you don't have chemistry. Their characters have an on/off thing going on, but we all know how it's going to end -- with some dead hookers and an infected nipple piercing.

The film also has a staggeringly predictable plot twist stapled onto the ending that anyone with a partially-working eardrum should be able to hear from the other side of the galaxy. It's like a stampeding rhino that's violently thundering throughout the entire film. It's so painfully obvious right from the get-go that I actually laughed upon its revelation.

A film like "The Tourist" needs a lot more class to it, more flamboyance and pizzazz. It doesn't contain many action scenes, deciding to strike a chord with the dialogue instead, hitting bum notes as it lazily taps away with crooked fingers. Wit and style rarely pop up in the script by Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park"), Christopher McQuarrie ("Valkyrie") and Donnersmarck, replaced with sterile lines that fail to entice. There's the occasional appearance of swanky playfulness, but it just is not enough.

I honestly cannot understand why Donnersmarck, fresh from his Oscar-winning, acclaimed work of art, would choose "The Tourist" as his next project. It's an obsolete thriller that very clearly lacks in a dashing nature or any sense of likable charm. Its plot is ludicrous, made even worse by the eye-rolling twist ending. Its only pay-off is in the shape of Depp and Jolie, yet even they are missing that special something. "The Tourist" needs a new tour guide.


Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Ah, Narnia. A magical land filled with talking animals, beastly monsters, kings, queens, and parallels to Christian beliefs (boo, hiss!). The first big-screen portrayal of this enchanting world came from the inside of a wardrobe, the second from the London Underground, and now, in this third instalment, it's entered through the use of a painting -- which is suitable, because watching "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is like watching paint dry.

The third of the chronicles stemmed from the mind of author C. S. Lewis, "Dawn Treader" continues the adventures of the Pevensie children -- well, the two younger ones. Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), now teenagers, have moved into the house of their aunt and uncle while Susan (Anna Popplewell, "Girl with a Pearl Earring") is in America, and Peter (William Moseley) studies for exams elsewhere. Such a nerd.

Edmund shares a room with Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, "Son of Rambow"), he and Lucy's stuck-up brat of a cousin. One day, while Eustace taunts Edmund and Lucy about their obscure ramblings of a fantasy world, the trio watch as water leaks out of a painting on the wall. The whole room quickly floods, and the three adolescents are pulled into the frame to find themselves in the waters of Narnia.

They are picked up by the Dawn Treader, a dragon-shaped royal vessel carrying Caspian (Ben Barnes, "Dorian Gray"), King of Narnia, and his loyal crew. Caspian is on a quest to find the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia, men banished by his evil uncle Miraz when he assumed the throne. Lucy and Edmund gladly decide to help Caspian on his journey, while Eustace tags along and complains about damn near everything.

Meanwhile, a mysterious green mist has been popping up everywhere, causing scared Narnians to disappear without a trace. Coming from a spooky island covered in darkness, the lime-coloured mist is growing stronger, already on the verge of consuming the whole of Narnia. Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace must also find the Seven Swords of the Lost Lords to defeat this evil before it takes over all the land.

"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is a film that's all about its special effects. Set in an otherworldly setting, it shows off its eloquently-rendered CGI in the form of fire-breathing dragons, vicious sea serpents, sword-waving mice, and roaring, agony-uncle lions. It looks nice, it sounds nice, but the $140 million budget has been overused in all the wrong areas.

The third entry of the epic saga needs a much stronger storyline, as this one is quick to fall overboard and get lost at sea. As the central plot gets distracted and unfocused for the sake of more magical goings-on, the film -- despite the beauty of the ever-present computer animation -- becomes a tired bore that challenged my attention span. Even at just 115 minutes long, "Dawn Treader" was a harsh test on my usually-patient concentration.

A principal problem here is the writing by Christopher Markus ("You Kill Me"), Stephen McFeely ("The Life and Death of Peter Sellers") and Michael Petroni ("Queen of the Damned"). Putting the content of Lewis' praised book aside for a moment, the adaptation's writing lacks much of an imagination. The dialogue is missing a punch, and there's a shortage of interesting characters. A film of this nature should have a true sense of epicness, but the script disallows this, despite the grand-scale set-pieces.

Our two main characters, Lucy and Edmund, don't carry much weight either, their personalities needing more oomph to them. Henley has naturally lost the adorable cuteness of the young and curious Lucy we saw in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," more of a grown-up now. As a result, the now-teenage girl who was the first to discover Narnia has gone a bit stale, though there's an interesting subplot of her wanting to be as beautiful as her sister, Susan.

Edmund suffers a similar flaw, the film's writing struggling to give him a proper characterisation. He is being haunted by the green mist as it taunts him with visions of The White Witch (Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton"), the wicked-minded ex-ruler of Narnia, one of the many forgettable occurrences of the movie.

On the other hand, the character of Eustace delivers an actual impact primarily because Poulter is so over-the-top. The up-and-comer plays a snooty and selfish school kid with a vocabulary the size of Big Ben, using unnaturally elongated words as he raises his nose at others. The 17-year-old channels the silliness he displayed in sketch-show "School of Comedy," exaggerating a snotty English accent (himself a Brit), the likes of which could compete in a Posh-Off with Her Majesty The Queen herself. Blimey.

Sadly, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is a sour let-down. Under the direction of Michael Apted ("Amazing Grace"), it fails to hook, to entice, and to fully entertain. It struggles to even work as a kids' film, as young audience members will most likely be running around the theatre as a result of sheer boredom. Narnia's gone naff. Still, there's a talking mouse voiced by the awesome Simon Pegg ("Hot Fuzz"). That's something.


Monday, 6 December 2010


The three main characters in "Faster" are nothing more than labels. They are introduced with simple classifications popping up on the screen -- "Driver," "Cop" and "Killer" -- and are given no other titles throughout the rest of the film. They don't need first or second names -- they are what they are, and nothing more. They are identified only by the trademarks of the tags they've been branded with. It is unnecessary for them to exceed simplified terms when they, as characters, are wholly defined by them.

The first and foremost of these players is "Driver" (Dwayne Johnson, "Race to Witch Mountain"), a muscle-coated ex-con who has just been released from his 10-year jail sentence. He stampedes his way out of prison and sprints to his car, a 1971 Chevy Malibu SS hidden under tarp in a junkyard. He speeds to a street outside an office building, crosses the road without looking both ways, bursts his way through reception, and pumps a slug in the head of a telemarketer. We've all wanted to do that, haven't we?

He was arrested for a bank robbery, in which he was double crossed and shot in the head after watching the murder of his brother. However, Driver miraculously survived the gunshot to the noggin, akin to Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill," another eye-for-an-eye tale. Now out of the slammer with a metal plate stuck to his skull, he's gunning for revenge against the gang of twisted crooks who killed his bro and landed him behind bars.

Number two of the labels is "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton, "Monster's Ball"), a (surprise, surprise) cop who ends up on the job of tracking down Driver. Working alongside fellow law-enforcer Cicero (Carla Gugino, "Sin City"), the middle-aged, doped-up lawman pieces together the puzzling case as Driver continues his media-hogging killing spree.

Cop has two weeks to retirement, he neglects his son in favour of his work, he has family troubles, and is addicted to a drug he purchases in public toilets. Heroin, I think. This man is quite possibly the biggest cliché in the history of film, yet a floppy-haired Thornton somehow manages to make him not seem like this unoriginal protector of peace.

And then there's "Killer" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, "Going the Distance"), a professional hitman assigned by an unknown figure to take Driver down. To him, it's just another job he can do with both arms tied behind his back, but his new target proves a complicated task. One of the few opponents Killer struggles to massacre, Driver shows himself to be a worthy adversary for the determined assassin.

Killer also has some personal stuff going on, his girlfriend-turned-wife no longer turned on by his exploits, begging him to give up the dangerous business. With an ego bigger than the pecs on The Rock's chest, Killer begins an obsession to track down Driver when the former is beaten in a gun battle.

"Faster" is an all-out, R-rated, straight-up revenge flick that serves no purpose other than to entertain a manly crowd. A total B-movie of guns and road-rage, it's built to be nothing more than a quickly forgettable audience-pleaser. It's bloody, it's cool, and it refuses to shy away from showing the red corn syrup dripping off the violent antics of its vengeful antihero.

A definite detour in Johnson's career, "Faster" puts the ex-wrestler back in the role of an action champion -- lets throw "Tooth Fairy" and "The Game Plan" behind us, people. Back to grasping a gun between his bone-crushing fingers, he looks so natural as the unstoppable beast in a tight leather jacket tearing his way through those who have wronged him. He conjures up some authentic sympathy, Driver having to watch as his own brother's throat is slit with a knife, but his character doesn't really need to go any deeper than this. And while the role doesn't allow Johnson to show off his notable charisma, he does well as a cold-blooded exterminator trying to set the score straight.

The film opens with a surge of energy running through its body, an adrenaline rush flowing through its veins as soon as Driver steps foot outside his decade-long cage. He runs through the desert as "Goodbye My Friend" by Guido and Maurizio DeAngelis plays overhead, his arms punching the air as he gallops through the sandy setting. This power bar, faintly resembling Neveldine/Taylor's "Crank," runs out fast, though, as the rest of the film fails to capture this sense of mayhem and enthusiasm, rooting more for sentimentality and emotionality -- which is a little hit and miss.

"Faster" also seems a bit too serious for its own good, with humour taking a gigantic side-step from the main proceedings, almost completely falling off the frame. It doesn't fully ruin the sense of fun that surrounds the film, but I couldn't help but feel that a more darkly comic tone would have been advantageous. The many subplots, which very nearly render the film's focus convoluted, are the ones to blame here, family matters seeming a tad pointless given the central plot at hand -- an ex-con's murderous rampage.

Nevertheless, "Faster" always has some revolver-blasting, car-smashing action lurking around the corner, Driver's quest for justice zooming along at a quickening pace. Director George Tillman, Jr. ("Notorious") films the action with efficiency and liveliness, the editing frantic but stable in clarity. A moment when the camera is positioned within a speedometer, looking up at a sour-faced Johnson, inspired a sly smile to creep up on my face.

"Faster" is a flick made entirely for popcorn-munchers who won't question the logic of a storyline. Dwayne Johnson's anticipated return to old-school action pictures is a rewarding one that, while far-fetched, manages to create such an ambience of full-throttle fun that one almost forgets the over-serious silliness of it all. It's harder, better, faster and stronger than most revenge flicks. Just remember to stay away from Disney from now on, Dwayne. If you haven't scared them off, that is.


Sunday, 5 December 2010


Géla Babluani's "13" plays like a more voluntary version of the events in Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter." In the Vietnam sequences of the 1978 classic, prisoners of war are forced by their captors to play Russian roulette, a fateful game in which men point the barrel of a gun at their temple and pull the trigger in the hope that the chamber is empty. In "13," they're pointing it at someone else's head. While Cimino's masterpiece detailed the troubling effects that war can have on tortured soldiers, Babluani's disposable picture is about how men's lives can be used for sport -- with a punch that needs more force to it.

"13," contrary to popular belief, is not the 6th sequel to "Se7en," nor the 287th prequel to "300," but is a redo of "13 Tzameti" -- which is also written and directed by the remake's Georgian-born filmmaker. I have not seen the French-language original (which won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival), but I'll bet my tooth-marked fingernails that it's miles ahead of this mediocre attempt.

The film opens with a gun pointed directly in the face of Vince Ferro (Sam Riley, "Control") as the young chap aims one right back at his unseen opponent. In the darkness that suddenly encapsulates the screen, we hear a single gunshot. Either it's from one of the pistols the two fellows are holding, or it's the sound of the film breaking before it falls to pieces.

Three days earlier, Vince is an electrician working on the house of William Harrison (Michael Berry, Jr., "Where the Wild Things Are"). While going about his duties one day, Vince overhears a conversation William has with his partner, in which he talks about doing something that will earn him a hefty sum of money. Unfortunately, William then dies of a drug overdose in his home, and Vince, desperate for cash, takes a mysterious letter the recently deceased druggie was in possession of.

Reading its contents, he makes the rather moronic decision of following its instructions, planning to assume the identity of William Harrison and doing whatever it is he has to do to get a little richer. This lands him unwittingly taking the place of the late Mr. Harrison as #13 in a demented game of "Shoot the Poor Bastard in Front of You." Not the official title.

The rules of the game are relatively simple: a group of men, each given their own individual number, stand in a circle and are handed a pistol with one bullet in the cylinder. They aim the gun at the man positioned in front of them, wait for the light bulb in the middle of the ceiling to light up, and pull the trigger. Those who survive go on to the next round with more bullets placed inside their guns. The winner is the last one standing. Spectators bet high amounts on who will live and who will die. Sounds fun, right?

In the remake of his own 2005 flick, Babluani shows himself to be an artist with a camera, but an amateur with a script. Judging by what I have heard of his praised work on the original "13 Tzameti," lightning most certainly has failed to strike twice. The problem with "13" is that it simply is unable to captivate from the get-go and is unsuccessful at doing so even later on, despite the dangerous situations the characters force themselves into.

I will say that "13" is, without a doubt, a good-looking flick, Babluani's cold visual direction one of the good points of an unexceptional and underwhelming feature. Still, the film is mostly without an enthralling aura for the audience to latch onto, leaving us just watching, very mildly entertained, but overall unsatisfied. I wouldn't go so far as to call the film soulless, just uninspiring and lukewarm.

In the rather bland opening 15-20 minutes, the soundtrack suggests that something fishy is going on, something intriguing, but none of this sense of excitement comes across on-screen, leaving these introductory moments a flat and stale experience. The film struggles to recover from this, though moments of arousal do pop up every now and then.

The repetitive nature of the game itself, as well as the orders the always-furious Michael Shannon barks at the "players," puts a gun to the film's forehead, too. While momentarily tense (which, given the format of the game, is unavoidable), it develops into a portrayal of tedium, with shouts of orders becoming obnoxious to listen to again and again. It's a drawing concept to begin with, but falters with repetition.

The film tries to deal with raw emotion and, in some aspects, it occasionally achieves this -- to a certain degree, however. Vince's experiences are at first traumatising, being forced at gunpoint to kill a man when hesitating to pull the trigger in the game's first round. He is pushed to murder in the name of competition and money, his personality morphed over the course of the game. While initially sickened at the prospect of what he has to do, he does become more used to it as the day goes by, made into what some would consider a stronger and tougher soul.

His most notable competitor is #6, Ronald Lynn Bagges (Ray Winstone, "The Departed"), a burly, sweaty slob whose temper is rather unpredictable, his mental state a questionable one. He's just been signed out of a hospital by his brother Jasper (Jason Statham, "Crank"), his manager of sorts in the lethal tournament. The ravishingly handsome Statham is eloquently attired, covering his stubble-scalp with a bowler hat, and his hands with a pair of black leather gloves. Winstone ain't the only "Sexy Beast" of these two English siblings.

Also of note is Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") as Patrick Jefferson, who is player #17 in the deadly contest. Rarely seen without a stetson placed upon his head, he's a tattooed, muscular convict who has travelled to the house of death in a box from his prison cell, sent by his captors. Seemingly courageous about the whole ordeal, he offers his look-out, Jimmy (rapper 50 Cent), fifty times his earnings to get him out of there.

"13" is a film in which the title is apt. Scrambling to be an immersing narrative, it rarely rears its head above run-of-the-mill inadequacy. Its salvation lies with the strong cast and the easy-on-the-eye visuals, as well as the ways of the central game itself, but they aren't enough for me to class the film as above second-rate. Unlucky.