Monday, 30 May 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2

Jennifer Yuh Nelson's "Kung Fu Panda 2" blasts onto the screen with a rip-roaring energy that gleefully ricochets throughout the entire runtime. Much like its blockbusting predecessor, this computer-animated tale from Dreamworks Animation is fast and furious, sweet and funny, possibly even more so as it delivers the action, the laughs and an overall sense of exhilaration to sheer perfection. Watch out, Pixar, ‘cause Dreamworks is in town; the good kind of Dreamworks.

In the opening moments, we are told of a story revolving around Lord Shen (Gary Oldman, "Red Riding Hood"), the peacock heir to the thrown of Gongmen City. He seeks to use the power of fireworks to rule all of China, but is told by goat Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh, "Sunshine") of the prophecy that he is to be defeated by an animal of black and white. In response, he orders for all of the pandas in China to be killed, horrifying his family in the process. As a result, he is banished, but vows to one day return with a bang.

Some years later, chubby-tubby panda Po (Jack Black, "Gulliver's Travels") is the Dragon Warrior of the Valley of Peace, protecting villagers from crime along with the butt-kicking Furious Five: Tigress (Angelina Jolie, "Salt"), Monkey (Jackie Chan, "The Karate Kid"), Mantis (Seth Rogen, "The Green Hornet"), Viper (Lucy Liu, "Charlie's Angels") and Crane (David Cross, "Megamind").

Together, they take on a gang of wolf bandits who are trying to steal metal from the Valley of Peace. While at first successful, Po becomes distracted when the symbol on the head wolf's armour takes him back to his past; he has seen this symbol before. Due to Po’s transfixed daze, the wolves knock him on his back and speed off, taking the stolen metal with them.

Soon enough, Po and the Furious Five set off to Gongmen City when Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman, "Little Fockers") tells them that Lord Shen has killed Master Thundering Rhino (Victor Garber, "Titanic") with a new weapon. When they arrive, they discover that Lord Shen has taken control of the city, and his weapon of choice is a magical and very deadly cannon, the metal having been stolen specifically for this destructive device.

It's curious how the storyline of "Kung Fu Panda 2" is so engrossing; it sounds relatively simple when written down like this. But what makes it such an engaging narrative is the sense of emotion that is quick to rear its head. It turns out Lord Shen is involved in Po's past in some way or another, this little surprise one of the triumphs of this wonderful film; it is a sequel that expands on the world of the original without tampering too much until it becomes bothersome, adding an extra slice of tenderness to the story.

There's also the revelation that Mr. Ping (James Hong, "Blade Runner") is not in fact Po's father. However, this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, as Mr. Ping is a goose and Po is a panda (Po's reaction of shock is very smartly played with). This also aids in the film's unexpected emotional side, as we flash-back to Mr. Ping discovering baby Po in a basket and taking care of the little cub. 'Tis cute.

But the film's main focus is the action, an element that very much impressed in the 2008 original, the quality carried on here. It's all kung fu moves, the characters leaping through the air and punching and kicking with expert skill, though Po tends to use his rotund belly to his advantage. It's all incredibly handled by first-time director Jennifer Yuh Nelson, these set-pieces very lively and exciting, aided by the superbly rendered animation. Be prepared for your kids to do crane and viper moves on the ride home from the cinema; the passenger and driver seats are gonna get a kicking.

The voice-cast is all spectacular, Black the perfect candidate for the unlikely Dragon Warrior. Just like in the previous chapter, his character is a fun personality, this time attempting to achieve Inner Peace, now accepted by the Furious Five when he was at first out-of-place. Jolie's hard-as-nails tiger is equally as awesome, here shown to have a softer side, the script hinting at a possible romance between Po and Tigress. Could it be? I wonder what their kids would look like...

Oldman makes for a marvellously wicked villain in the form of a seemingly harmless peacock. The English actor really sells the power-hungry personality fuming within this vicious bird, the character both charming and abominable in equal measure without being a tired cliché. Even in voice form, Oldman is the man, damn near hogging all the spotlight from the black and white hero.

"Kung Fu Panda 2" is endlessly entertaining, and is the kind of family-friendly animation that really should be looked up to. While seemingly easy to shrug off as disposable celebrity-voice tripe, it is far too amusing and enthralling to be simply be dismissed in such a way. The animation is gorgeous, the action is magnificent, the comedy is sharp, the story is absorbing and the film overall is just brilliant. With the ending hinting at a "Kung Fu Panda 3," I'm as hungry for more as Po is for bamboo.


Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Hangover Part II

In a predictable world, Todd Phillips' "The Hangover Part II" would be utterly dreadful. After all, it is an over-marketed sequel to one of 2009's biggest box-office smashes, an R-rated comedy which was essentially a much better orchestrated copycat of 2000's "Dude, Where's My Car?" set in Sin City, aka Las Vegas. Also, the sequel's premise is damn near exactly the same as its rib-tickling predecessor, but this time with the trio of booze-hound protagonists flying halfway across the globe to start their drunken antics once again. And its money-lusting intentions are plain as day, though many a moviegoer will no doubt be flocking to see it the first chance they get, eating out of the producers' hands like a dog would with its owner. Essentially, everything about "The Hangover Part II" stings the nostrils when sniffing it from the outside, but as it stands it is perfectly fine for what it is, not exceeding adequacy or falling short of it too often.

In this continent-hopping follow-up, The Wolfpack flies to Thailand (let the ethnic stereotypes begin!) for the wedding of one of its members. Stu (Ed Helms, "The Office") is getting married to the lovely Lauren (Jamie Chung, "Sucker Punch"), and he's invited Phil (Bradley Cooper, "Limitless"), Alan (Zack Galifianakis, "Due Date") and Doug (Justin Bartha, "National Treasure") to the romantic ceremony.

Just like in part one, the mismatched pals decide to swig back a few brews to celebrate, this time along with Lauren's 16-year-old brother Teddy (newcomer Mason Lee), only they get a lot more than tipsy. They knock beer bottles together, the camera pans up to the stars, we get speeded up establishing shots of the city until the sun begins to rise above Thailand, and voila, it's the next day. And some intriguing things have happened...

Phil, Stu and Alan groggily wake the next morning to find themselves each with a hangover in an unfamiliar, sleazy-looking hotel room in Bangkok for some unclear reason. Alan's curly hair has been shaved off (though his beard is still intact), Stu has a Mike Tyson-style tattoo on the left side of his face, and while Phil appears to have no physical boo-boos, he does have a splitting headache.

None of them can recollect much of what happened the previous night, nor do they remember how they got where they currently are. A phone call to Doug proves worthless, as he left the drinking session early. There are many questions that need answering. Why are they in Bangkok? Why is there a monkey in the bathroom? Where is Teddy? And why is his severed ring finger sitting on the coffee table?

It would be foolish to argue against claims that "The Hangover Part II" is lazy; it very much is a lazy film. It's a sequel that follows the plot of its predecessor to a tee, structured in exactly the same way, the characters themselves actually referring to the ridiculousness of this happening to them again ("It happened again," says Phil in the flash-forward opening scene). It is practically a carbon copy of the original, the narrative beats nigh unchanged, certain scenes frame-for-frame identical to that of the 2009 hit, its story not particularly imaginative. In a film that's meant to rely on the element of surprise, this certainly is not an advantage, nor does it help in making the movie truly memorable.

While the first film was on a ticking clock to find groom Doug and get him to his own wedding, part deux has the trio running around Thailand to find the bride's little brother before the ceremony begins. With this, writer-director Phillips gets his creative juices flowing as he tries to come up with fresh and funny situations for the gang to stumble into as they search for the missing teenager and piece together the events that conspired in their alcohol-gulping night. For the most part, it is a moderate success in spite of the look-alike narrative.

Phillips, along with co-writers Craig Mazin ("Superhero Movie") and Scot Armstrong ("Semi-Pro"), spends much of the movie constructing moments to shock viewers and make them giggle at the sheer ludicrousness of it all. They are stretching a formula that was handled particularly well in the original, but there are plenty of bright ideas to keep the film going and the laughs consistent enough to be satisfying.

However, these laughs (which are unexpectedly darker and more mean-spirited than that of the first) aren't necessarily belly laughs, though a scene with the revelation of a shemale did have me guffawing in the theatre. Most of the jokes are worthy of only a chuckle, and that's ultimately the film's biggest fault. While "The Hangover" had a high number of moments of sheer hilarity, "Part II" struggles to rise above simply being amusing. Sure, it made me titter a few times, but more laughs would have been much appreciated.

Still, it's wholly entertaining as our hapless threesome are brutally beaten by a monk and get splattered with the blood of a dead pig. The film meanders between feeling sympathetic for them and pointing and laughing at their extreme misfortune, though in most scenes it's overwhelmingly the case of the latter. Phil's the foul-mouthed easy-on-the-eyes hunk, Stu's the seemingly normal dentist with a wild side that's unleashed upon sipping alcohol, and Alan is the bushy-bearded, clueless weirdo with the naivety and troublemaking tendencies of a young child. They scream, they whine, they cry and they get shot, and it's all in the name of our sadistic enjoyment. Now that's entertainment!

For what it is, "The Hangover Part II" is fun and is good for a few giggles, but high expectations will not be beneficial to the enjoyment of the film. While its structure is nearly an exact replica of its forerunner, it's inventive enough with the events the trio suffer through, which go from lighthearted to crude, shocking to scandalous and downright disturbing. I also must commend the film for not going for a "bang cock" joke at any point; I suppose "American Pie: The Wedding" already filled that position.


Monday, 23 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise is like an increasingly annoying friend who's come over to your house one night for dinner. While at first charming and entertaining, the friend telling you some wonderful stories, he has a little too much wine to drink, causing him to become a bit unstable and loud, banging his fists on the dinner table while maniacally chuckling away. Soon enough, he's babbling away incoherently, his speech slurred beyond comprehension and impossible to follow, you yourself becoming slightly uncomfortable around him as he dances around the living room in his underpants to his own amusement. When he finally passes out on your couch, probably naked, you go up to bed to sleep peacefully, and wake up the next morning, forgetting he is even there. And when you go down to the living room, he rouses with a hangover and lumps of vomit coating the hairs of his bare chest, your friend refusing to leave you alone or go away.

And in spite of the mind-numbing incoherency of 2007's threequel "At World's End," the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise is completely and utterly refusing to go away. Yes, Disney have hurled a bucket of water over the series' feces-dotted face and have forced it to get back to work and make them some more precious money with "On Stranger Tides." But don't listen to them, moviegoers! Don't listen!

The formula of this fourth instalment is practically the same this time round, just with no Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom, which I'm taking as a positive. However, the facial-haired, sword-wielding, mascara-sporting soul of the franchise is of course still here, prancing about and jumping out windows like the eccentric drunkard he is.

Once again played by the marvellous Johnny Depp ("Alice in Wonderland"), Captain Jack Sparrow finds himself on the quest for the famous Fountain of Youth, a flow of water that grants its drinker extended youth. This quest is ordered by King George II (Richard Griffiths, the "Harry Potter" saga), but Jack decides it's not for him and escapes by kicking fruit at some guards and standing atop two moving carriages at the same time. Well, he does like to do things in style, doesn't he?

Despite his resistance to take part, Jack ends up on the quest anyway, as it turns out vicious pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane, "Death Race") is also on the hunt for the Fountain of Youth, and he forces Jack to lead the way. Jack finds himself on Mr. Beard's ship when he stumbles upon ex-lover Angelica (Penélope Cruz, "Nine"), who may or may not be Blackbeard's daughter. I personally see no resemblance.

And so, Jack and Blackbeard's crew set sail to find the Fountain of Youth, playing with voodoo dolls and nabbing man-devouring mermaids along the way. Meanwhile, another crew closes in on the life-extending target, financed by King George II and lead by the one-legged Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"), who's looking for some bloody payback.

"On Stranger Tides" is far too familiar for its own good, the film exploring very little new ground and just generally lacking in creativity. As swords clash, ships sail and Jack complains of not being referred to as "Captain," it's difficult to shrug off the feeling that the film is lazy and unimaginative, the viewer being handed absolutely nothing they haven't seen before in previous instalments.

As a result, "Pirates" number four is an arse-numbing experience, viewers having to sit through over two friggin' hours of things that we're all now very much accustomed to. In spite of all the chandelier-swinging, rum-swigging and cannon-firing, "On Stranger Tides" is nothing other than a tedious bore that's tiring even before it's reached the halfway point. I've seen episodes of "Captain Pugwash" that are more thrilling than this.

One possible cause is the departure of Gore Verbinski, director of the first three swashbucklers, who has been replaced with Rob Marshall of "Chicago" fame. While the original trilogy's action sequences were fun and lively, the ones here are more wooden than Keira Knightley's acting ever was, which is shown in how ridiculously unexciting Jack's intricate escape from the king's clutches is and as he is then chased through the streets of London. The action set-pieces have lost their energy, no longer feeling epic or amusing, now just pretty darn monotonous.

"On Stranger Tides" is not without its merits, however small they may be. McShane makes for a wonderful baddie, his character a menacing brute of a pirate who's prophesied to soon be murdered. Depp is again on top form with his Keith Richards impersonation, mischievous rogue Captain Jack as watchable as ever. Cruz is rather forgettable, but she's decent as this no-nonsense pirate gal who'll deceive without a moment's thought. And a scene in which vicious mermaids violently attack a boat with Blackbeard's crew on-board is a fantastic surprise about an hour into the film, and one of the very few moments which actually feels inspired.

Nonetheless, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is frankly a snooze-inducer of a summer blockbuster, sucked dry of originality and a reason to really care. The original film's swashbuckling charm has sailed into the horizon, its silhouette smothered in a grey mist too thick to fully see through, and Depp's eccentric charisma isn't enough to save it. I think it's time for Rob Marshall to walk the plank. In fact, make the whole franchise walk the plank. And make sure there's a hungry alligator underneath.


Monday, 16 May 2011

Something Borrowed

The purpose of a love story is to enchant an audience with a tale of passion and romance, to entrance them with characters who fall for each other in spite of what is put in place to separate them and keep them from holding and caressing and kissing each other. Luke Greenfield's "Something Borrowed" takes a stab at this, but ultimately fails because of one tiny little problem: the characters are detestable pieces of unlikable scum who should be spat upon with hefty strands of thick saliva.

These characters are not engaging, they are not entrancing, and they are not sympathetic. It's difficult to see them as anything other than dirt bags and cowards, given the moral corruption of their sneaky actions. Because of this, the love story at the centre of the plot is a tedious drag that numbs the buttocks faster than any anaesthetic ever could. Who would want to sit through 100+ minutes of irritating characters whining about not being able to be with the one they have a crush on? It's very, very tiring, and no amount of piano riffs humming away in the background can change this.

But who are these characters? Well, our protagonist is Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin, "Big Love"), an attorney living in New York. She's been single for quite some time, though she has her eyes set on the very hunky Dex Thaler (Colin Egglesfield, "All My Children"), and always has ever since they went to law school together. The only problem is that Dex is engaged to marry Rachel's long-time BFF Darcy Rhone (Kate Hudson, "Bride Wars"), a thirtysomething party girl who always gets what she wants.

On the night of Rachel's 30th birthday, a surprise party is thrown in her honour, in which Darcy stands in front of a PowerPoint which shows pictures of her and Rachel together over the many years, Darcy talking about how they've always been the best of friends since they've been kids, and how Rachel introduced Darcy to her fiancé Dex. Shortly after this, Rachel has her tongue stuck down Dex's throat. This is after both have had a hefty amount to drink, but hey, screw morals and loyalty and whatever.

Waking up to find themselves in bed with each other, they're a little panicky, but manage to sneakily explain to Darcy why Dex didn't come home last night. Following this, the two decide to just pretend that nothing ever happened, but of course this does not exactly last very long. Rachel also feels guilty -- she even watches the climactic scene of "Fatal Attraction," which is so hilariously ironic. This film is genius.

Throwing any sense of right and wrong to the side, Dex and Rachel embark upon a passionate affair, this completely unbeknownst to Darcy as she excitedly plans for the wedding. So, will Rachel end up with Dex? Will Darcy and Dex get married? Will Darcy find out about the affair? And will she and Rachel still be BFFs if she does? I honestly couldn't give a hoot.

Based on Emily Griffin's chick lit novel of the same name, "Something Borrowed" is obnoxiously uninteresting, its thin-as-an-anorexic plot painfully stretched out to make it a full-length feature film. I wouldn't usually label a movie as "boring," as different people find different things entertaining, but in this case I simply have to call it that. It is boring. Very, very boring, to the point where it actually feels like the suffering is never going to stop. The end credits were a sweet relief, let me tell you.

The plot is like Nancy Meyers' brilliant "It's Complicated," but with characters who aren't even the slightest bit appealing. In Meyers' film, the characters were amusing, the adultery was playful and involving, the film overall quite riveting. In "Something Borrowed," it feels like we're just watching melodrama ensue, the characters beyond annoying, the adultery coming across as nasty, selfish and deceitful, which makes the adulterers' fate quite sickening. Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, where the hell are you?

The film is being marketed as a comedy, but really there's barely a gag to be seen -- well, aside from in the throats of audience members. And if it is genuinely meant to be categorised as a comedy, then wow, what a stinker of a laugh-em-up, 'cause there's nary a joke that works in the whole thing. The majority of the film is just pure melodrama, the second half especially, and what could be called comedy feels more like comic relief, pretty much all coming from Rachel's sarcastic platonic pal Ethan (John Krasinski, "Away We Go"). Though to be fair, a scene in which Ethan claims to be gay so that a woman stops trying to sleep with him did get a chuckle out of me -- you see, the only gag that works is a friggin' gay joke. Sigh.

With the romance falling flat on its face and the comedy dead in the water, "Something Borrowed" is a humongous failure of a romantic comedy, filled with characters who nobody could possibly give a toss about. I wish the film could have borrowed my interest, but sadly something else kept on doing that, something far more intriguing that just so happened to be wrapped around my wrist: my watch.



Vampires have taken on many forms in horror films over the years, from suave and seductive Draculas to brooding and mopey Edward Cullens, but the ones in "Priest" are a little different from recent depictions. Here, they are snarling, sharp-fanged, slimy-skinned, no-eyed, no-nosed monsters of the night, far from anything you'd find in a "Twilight" film; the teens in the audience would cry themselves into a wrist-slitting frenzy. However, while this may sound like something of a relief, this makes them no more interesting than your average brainless creature of evil, characterised as just a bunch of gormless, screeching, soulless flesh-nibblers. They'd be more befitting to a video game, really, a far squeal from being a properly intriguing set of villainous beasts. Just like the rest of the film, they're an opportunity that is as wasted as a college kid at a late-night frat party.

In the God-awful "Priest," atheistic English actor Paul Bettany once again plays a religious figure, having portrayed an albino monk in Ron Howard's "The Da Vinci Code" and an angel fallen all the way from Heaven in Scott Charles Stewart's "Legion." Here, he's stupidly reteamed with Stewart to play a Bible-bashing, motorbike-riding, vampire-thumping man of the cloth -- whether or not he molests children, I don't know.

In an animated sequence (yep), it is shown that humans and vampires have been at war for centuries. Vampires have evolved over the many years while humans have always had the sunlight to protect them during the day. However, the two feuding enemies have all but destroyed the entire world with their constant brawls, causing most humans to take refuge in a hidden city under the protection of the church. Within this dystopian city are priests, a gang of God-worshippers who are sworn to protect the public against any thirsty bloodsuckers. Well, thank the lord.

While all vampires are said to be held under lock and key, Priest (Bettany) discovers that a troupe of them have attacked his brother, sister-in-law and niece, who live together out in the wasteland. He learns that his niece Lucy (Lily Collins, "The Blind Side") has been snatched, so consults the head priest, Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"), who is so obviously a villain that he may as well have the word tattooed onto his forehead. Orelas says no, but, being a rebellious man of God, Priest buggers off out into the desolate desert anyway.

Finding his brother's home empty, Priest teams up with young Sheriff Hicks (Cam Gigandet, "Easy A"), who is also Lucy's sweetheart, to track down Lucy and save her from what is assumed to be a posse of garlic-despising humanoid leeches. Meanwhile, Orelas learns of Priest's defiance, and thus sends out a squad of priests to track him down and bring him back, dead or alive.

"Priest" could be described as the very definition of the word "bland." I mean, everything about it is bland. The acting is bland, the direction is bland, the writing is bland, the monsters are bland, the action scenes are bland, it's all just so gosh darn friggin' bland, all of it. And this is sad because the film's concept is quite interesting; a wasteland Earth explored by a priest as he fights vampires and tries to rescue his beloved niece, aided by a sheriff inexperienced at clashing with the vamps. That sounds cool, right? But this film desperately needs a defibrillator, 'cause it is as lifeless as a corpse in a cemetery.

I think after we experienced last year's "Legion," it's fair to say that Paul Bettany is not necessarily leading man material. He's yet to prove himself as able to portray an intriguing protagonist, here failing yet again. His character is flat and generally uninteresting, though the script tries to throw in an emotional background story of him sacrificing everything when he became a priest, and yadda yadda, yawn yawn, snooze snooze. Bettany, get some charisma soon, 'cause I feel like I need a pillow every time you open your gob.

The primary villain is a tad more stimulating, but handled clumsily by the mind-numbing screenplay. He's Black Hat, played by Karl Urban, who you should've seen as Dr. McCoy in J.J. Abram's "Star Trek." Black Hat's a gravelly-voiced human bloodsucker who conducts vampire raids like an orchestra (one is reminded of Gary Oldman's villainous role in "Leon" at this point) and proudly shows off his fangs as he stands atop speeding trains. You've gotta give it to Urban for trying, but he's fighting a losing battle here, the writing not giving him a single chance to be as menacing as he seems to think he is.

The biggest problem with "Priest" is unquestionably the script, the pages of which should be condemned to the pits of Hell to burn until its ashes are reduced to nothing but smoke and air. Scribed by first-time writer Cory Goodman, it's a series of ridiculously uninspired dialogue and pathetic attempts at one-liners, occasionally interrupted by some stylish action sequences. Lines like "It's just beginning," "Never!" and, of course, "Noooooo!!!" lazily flop out of characters' mouths, the actors looking a tad red-faced as they read this shite with a straight face. One would feel sorry for them, but on second thought, they did accept the roles themselves.

And when the characters finally shut their traps and the vamps show their unsightly faces, the film becomes self-indulgently "cool" and "awesome." The bloodsuckers are host to some hilariously predictable jump-scares, monotonously growling and scowling, leaping and bounding towards and on top of our human protagonists. The fight scenes are stylishly shot in slow-motion, feeling like a naff "Underworld" as sharp circular metallic weapons are flung through the air at the heinous beasts. There's more slow-mo here than in a typical Zack Snyder flick. It's practically the work of Paul W.S. Anderson (the dreadful "Resident Evil" franchise) at its most half-assed, drooling at its own visual spectacle with foolish awe. It may look cool on a quick glance, but upon closer inspection it is lazy and just a bit too stupid for its own good.

I doubt there will be many who will have faith (ha!) in "Priest" -- after all, it does just look like the widely panned "Legion" all over again. It's a deeply stupid film, slothfully going for razzle-dazzle flashiness, the script a horrifying load of insipid tosh, Bettany a bore once again, the villainous CGI monsters completely without allure, and Urban kicked in the gonads by the horrendous screenplay. Avoid this like a brainy child would a member of the clergy. Oh yeah, I went there.


Thursday, 12 May 2011

Attack the Block

Right, check out this high quality bling bling right here, man. Dis motherfucker Joe Cornish (he's a radio presenter, bruv) has made dis film, yeah, and it's called "Attack the Block." He's got some sick skill, I'm tellin' ya. It's some straight-up sci-fi horror thriller, man, and it's got aliens and shit, innit, better believe me! And there's this bunch o' fuckin' muppets, yeah, thinkin' they're well hard and shit when they'z so not, and they try to kill all dem aliens, and dem aliens fight right back, you get me? It's well sick, bruv, so you gotta go check it out right this second cos it is serious quality, right, and I ain't playin' with choo.

Okay, look, I can't write an entire review like this, I haven't got enough street cred to do justice to the lingo. Instead, I shall speak in Her Royal Majesty the Queen's English to describe this wonderful film that first-time director Joe Cornish (one half of BBC 6 Music's side-splitting comedy duo "Adam & Joe") has bestowed upon us.

The film is set on Bonfire Night in South London, specifically inside a towering council estate. Living in this block of flats are a gang of teenage hoodlums -- Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard). Fittingly, we meet them as they mug innocent nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker, "St. Trinian's") on the street, threatening to stab her if she doesn't give them her phone, money and wedding ring. Well, these will surely be a delightful bunch of lovable protagonists.

As the street robbery proceeds, a fireball bursts down from the sky above and smashes into a car on the road. The teens go to inspect the wrecked automobile, surprised to find a vicious creature of unknown origin lying within the vehicle. It has no eyes, no ears, no nose, but it has a rather sharp set of gnashers attached to its saliva-drooling gums. Shocked and confused, they chase the creature when it runs away, and callously beat it to death in a shed. Again, a lovely set of protagonists we have on our hands here.

So, they go back to their council estate, of course taking the dead alien body with them for some possible dosh, and pay a visit to their drug dealer, Ron (Nick Frost, "Paul"). After peering out the window, they realise they might be in a spot of bother -- amongst the banging and crackling fireworks on display there are other fireballs plummeting down to Earth, and these ones ain't no fireworks.

It is then up to our band of very unlikely heroes to protect their unsuspecting housing estate from the colony of ruthless alien invaders, using baseball bats and squirt guns to defend themselves -- but is it a proper planetary invasion, or do they just want revenge for the murder of their alien friend?

"Attack the Block" is definitely an ambitious directorial debut from Mr. Cornish, the English comedian also serving as the film's writer. His brainchild is a small-scale British production that acts as a big-budget American sci-fi blockbuster, complete with stunning cinematography and superb SFX. It's not often we get the blockbuster treatment in our neck of the woods, but boy do us Brits know how to do it in style. Take that, America!

Think of the film as a cross between Menhaj Huda’s “Kidulthood" and Joe Dante's "Gremlins." There's the sneering, cap-sporting yobs on one end, and a swarm of mouth-frothing, bloodthirsty monsters on the other, pinned against each other with endlessly entertaining results. Big on action, "Attack the Block" is an extremely thrilling experience, gleaming with a self-knowing sense of humour that’s worthy of many, many chuckles.

The supposedly heroic kids all chat in South London street slang, the kind that makes them sound like they're reading their text messages aloud. Some may find this grating on the ears (Americans have actually been offered subtitles so they'z can understand what we sayin', bro), but to me it really develops the setting of this inner-city urban environment. I'd say the slanguage is exaggerated, but on second thought, I hear teens talking like this damn near every single day, so I'm gonna label it as pretty darn authentic.

Their characters are all hoodies, thieves and generally just petty criminals, all about 15 or 16 years of age, which will prove them challenging to relate to for many viewers to begin with. However, I defy anyone to not feel them growing on you as the film progresses, their personalities far too amusing to remain detestable. Sure, they steal, rob nurses and beat newly discovered species to death, but damn they're funny.

The villainous aliens are spectacularly designed, given a look that is both original and actually quite inspired. They have the figures of gorillas, their bodies big and bulky, their fur so black that their bodies are literally just a furry shape of pure and utter darkness, like a walking, snarling silhouette of evil. With their lime green fangs glowing in the dark and their fur as dark as a black hole in space, they are fabulous to look at and are especially menacing as they bound down streets and crawl up the sides of buildings like miniature King Kongs.

More tongue-in-cheek than all-out comedy, "Attack the Block" is a spellbinding B-movie horror and a brilliant collision of chav culture and murderous extraterrestrials. Cornish's cinematic debut is an absolute triumph, both thrilling and funny at the same time, making for one of the best and most thoroughly entertaining alien invasion movies in yonks. Trust!


Monday, 9 May 2011

Water for Elephants

Once again distancing himself from his vampiric role in the cash-guzzling "Twilight" franchise, English heart-throb Robert Pattinson is taking another dip into the unsupernatural romantic drama section. Last year saw him falling for a daughter of a detective in Allen Coulter's amiable "Remember Me," and now this year he's falling for the wife of a circus owner. This is Francis Lawrence's "Water for Elephants," and it's based on Sara Gruen's much-acclaimed best-selling novel of 2006.

The film is set mostly during the Great Depression and the Prohibition era, the main plot recollected in the modern day by our main character, Jacob Jankowski, whose elderly self is played charmingly by Hal Holbrook ("Into the Wild"). In 1931, Jacob (now played by Pattinson) is told that both of his parents have been killed in a car accident, and that he will lose the family home due to the piles of debt his father left behind. Dropping out of his veterinary science course at college, he is now homeless, taking to wandering down the railroad as a drifter, unaware of where he is going, naively betting on pure chance.

As he travels down the tracks, he finds himself hopping on the official train of the spectacular travelling Benzini Brothers Circus, landing the delightful job of scooping up horseshit. He then meets the owner and ringleader of the circus, August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz, "The Green Hornet"), and requests another job, resulting in Jacob becoming the vet for the show's plethora of performing animals, sneakily claiming that he graduated from college.

As he gets to inspecting the animals, he becomes familiar with the show's bareback rider, the beautiful Marlena (Reese Witherspoon, "How Do You Know"), who also happens to be August's loyal wife. There's that typical moment where our innocent protagonist stares longingly at the film's love interest from a distance, the film slowing down and the music turning into something romantic.

So, we have a bit of a love triangle on our hands. Jacob struggles to keep from gawking at the gorgeous lady who rides horses so splendidly. Marlena also becomes a little infatuated with the college drop-out, but knows her boundaries and vows not to cross them. And August begins to suspect that something is going on between his wife and the new recruit, which proves a test to his incredibly unstable temper. Well, this is much better than insecure girl, topless werewolf and vegetarian vampire.

It's all too obvious to call "Water for Elephants" old-fashioned; this comes naturally with the era in which it's set. What I will say is that it has a charm about it, one that is welcoming and creates a sense of wonder, one that's suitably dazzling as we watch circus performers entertain an audience, as we watch trapeze artists twirl and elephants stand up on their hind legs.

However, it is the love triangle that is the film's focus rather than the events of the big top's ring, all told from the point of view of our inexperienced protagonist. One feels that he is foolish for attempting to claim the ruthless ringleader's bride, but one also feels that he is brave and that he is doing only what his heart tells him to.

Pattinson, an actor unrightfully slapped with the title of "flat and wooden," holds his own as he performs alongside two Academy Award winners. He's playing a somewhat sympathetic character, a man who's lost everything in his life, a man who cares for the animals he treats, a man whose courage builds as the film draws closer to the end credits. As he also showed in last year's "Remember Me," he's not just a pale-faced, spiky-haired bloodsucker -- RPattz has proper acting skills.

Witherspoon is also a delight as a sweet and innocent 30-something who feels a sense of obligation to stay loyal to her husband, in spite of his practically bipolar temper. However, it is with the relationship between Witherspoon and Pattinson that the film falters slightly. They're both wonderful in their roles, but something doesn't quite click between them, their chemistry not quite ringing true. You'll no doubt find yourself caring for them, but they're lacking in that spark that makes the romances of classical movies so immersing and truly captivating.

And then there's Waltz once again playing the shark-eyed villain of sorts, his character at times a detestable, psychopathic brute, at others charming and good-humoured. He's uncaring about the suffering of the animals of his shows, angering both Jacob and Marlena as he callously beats the main attraction, an elephant named Rosie (played by Tai, who's previously performed in "The Jungle Book" and "George of the Jungle"). Those who aren't of any value to him are lobbed off moving trains. He claims to love Marlena, but is abusive towards her, damn near strangling her to death at one point. He's not entirely evil, but by god he's a basterd.

"Water for Elephants" is a thing of beauty, and that's not just because of the utterly spellbinding cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto ("Biutiful"). It's pure melodrama, hitting all the right emotional notes, all handled perfectly by the trio of stars. The slack narrative is engaging, the love triangle at the centre of the story worthy of much intrigue. And while there's little in terms of chemistry between Pattinson and Witherspoon, they're a lovely watch alongside the sneering, grinning git played marvellously by Waltz. Still, they're all outshone by the real star of the picture -- a 42-year-old, gray-skinned land mammal with rather large ears and a long, water-spurting trunk. Give that elephant an Oscar. And some peanuts.


Friday, 6 May 2011


After watching the opening moments of Daniel Barnz's "Beastly," you will have received every piece of information you need to know about the film. It opens with a song called "Vanity," a Hanover Swain tune that plays over footage of a hunky topless man working out as he smugly grins at himself in the mirror, performing push-ups and chin-ups. The song continues as we are given establishing shots of billboards on which pictures of half-naked men and women are professionally posing for all to see, the tune's lyrics repeating the word "vanity" over and over again. These introductory scenes work furiously to ram the film's message down the viewer's throat until their arms and legs are flailing in the air and they can no longer breathe -- by the time the song faded out, I was already gagging.

Yes, "Beastly" is all about vanity, specifically the vanity of the aforementioned mirror-grinner, a blonde-curled, six-packed, slim-jim hunk who's more arrogant than Kanye West at a music awards show. His name is Kyle Kingston (Alex Pettyfer, "I Am Number Four"), a rich kid, son of a news anchor, lover of himself, and he's running for student body president at his school.

After winning purely for his handsome physique and having his head lodged inside his own anus, he mocks emo kid Kendra (Marie-Kate Olsen, twin sister of Ashley) for being, like, weird and emo and, like, stuff. And then Kendra reveals herself to be a witch of sorts, and sneakily places a spell on the unsuspecting Kyle. He feels dizzy at the after-party, goes to his ridiculously expensive home and watches as his reflection hideously changes.

Kendra has cursed him with a spell that has all but destroyed his luscious good looks, to which he reacts with understandable whining. However, with all his hair shaved off and his body covered in scars and tattoos, he just looks like a guy who's recently had another drunken night out with his mates. He could have "I LUV JIM-BOB" tattooed on his forehead, it wouldn't seem out of place.

The rule of his curse is that if he gets someone to say that they love him within a year, then his hunk-a-liscious looks will be returned immediately. However, if he is unable to do this, then he will forever be a scarred, tattooed, eyebrow-less slap-head. I tell you what he could do: phone up a sex line and get the girl on the other end to say she loves him -- see, happy ending for him. Ahem.

Okay, so "Beastly" is essentially a contemporary reworking of the classic fairytale "Beauty and the Beast," the film itself based on the 2007 novel "Beastly" by Alex Flinn. The tale is beloved by many, its popularity increased by the dazzlingly animated Disney adaptation of 1991. However, there are no singing candles or dancing wardrobes in this beast of a movie; instead, we have brooding teenagers and sad-faced emoticons on Facebook updates. :-(

"Beastly" is catering to the most easily pleased audience in the world: teenage girls. Like "Twilight" (but without decent filmmaking to back itself up), it's all about mopey adolescent romance, it trying only to satisfy the fantasies of the swooning tweens in the otherwise-bored audience. And the thing is, much as I disliked this film, it will undoubtedly satisfy its demographic's desires. Does this mean it is any good? Not in any way, shape or form.

The hilarious thing is that after Kyle's supposedly ghastly transformation, he is still relatively good-looking. Sure, he's lost his golden locks, he's got scars running along his body, tattoos and piercings covering his face, and his ears are all doolally, but he's still the hunky, athletic Alex Pettyfer with the dreamy eyes and false American accent that makes anyone with sex organs weak at the knees.

He's not the strongest of actors, his facial expressions strained at times and his line delivery occasionally bland, the same as he was in "I Am Number Four." However, the British actor is still the lickable eye candy who all the teens will weep for when his good looks turn bad. Poor smug, arrogant, detestable, nasty bastard son of a bitch character! Why'd it have to happen to HIM?! Why not Paris Hilton?

Disney princess Vanessa Hudgens ("Sucker Punch") is the angelic love interest, a ridiculously kind, sweet and caring young adult named Lindy who we actually watch feed the homeless in one laughable scene. Our hooded protagonist obsessively stalks Lindy (looks like someone's been taking tips from a certain Edward Cullen) until she has to go into protection when her father shoots a mugger, whose brother swears vengeance on poor Lindy. I'd like to add that this plotline goes absolutely nowhere.

I'm not kidding when I say that the only positive thing I could possibly say about this film is the presence of the lovely Neil Patrick Harris ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"). He plays Kyle's blind tutor, his character given all the good, funny lines in the downright appalling script by director Daniel Barnz. In fact, even Harris' character becomes irritating after a while, being the butt of every blind joke and wisecracking about damn near everything.

"Beastly" is teenage fantasy romance at its agonising worst. Struggling even to entertain for 80 tedious minutes, it's annoyingly misguided, slothfully directed, blandly acted and slapped silly with a script that's even more ugly than its deformed main character. Teenage girls the world over will no doubt love it, but they're, like, dumb and stuff. LOL ;-) xx


Sunday, 1 May 2011


The word "insidious" bursts onto the screen with a thundering score blaring out of the loudspeakers at both sides of the cinema. The title fills the whole screen, coloured in blood red with an ominous font that covers a pitch black background. The music playing is the kind of music that would befit only a horror movie, a nightmarish orchestral piece that's purpose is to unnerve viewers, the volume turned up specifically to pierce one's eardrums. This sequence borders upon extreme cheese, but following this title revelation there is no denying that viewers are about to be subjected to a full-blown horror film, one that takes some tips from '80s pictures of the genre.

"Insidious" is haunted house fair from Malaysian-born Australian filmmaker James Wan, director of the first of the "Saw" franchise -- thankfully, his latest feature isn't all blood and guts and innards and entrails. Instead, "Insidious" spooks viewers through old-school suspense, paying off all the underwear-filling tension with some genuinely inspired scares that will startle anyone with a working pair of eyes and ears.

The film focuses on the Lamberts, a typical family of five. There's mother Renai (Rose Byrne, "Get Him to the Greek"), father Josh (Patrick Wilson, "Watchmen"), and their three sons: Dalton (Ty Simpkins, "The Next Three Days"), Foster (Andrew Astor, "Santa Buddies") and their newborn baby girl. They've just moved into a lovely new home in the suburbs and all seems perfectly fine for a little while, but one must remember this is a horror film, so things soon take a turn for the horrifying.

One night, little Dalton takes a curious trip to the attic when its door swings open of its own accord. While attempting to reach for the light switch that hangs from the ceiling, a step on the ladder he's crawling up breaks off, causing Dalton to fall and bump his head on the wooden flooring. The next day, his father comes into his bedroom to wake him up for school, but Dalton will not rise.

They take him to the hospital, and the doctors are baffled. Dalton is not necessarily in a coma, but he won't wake up. They don't know when his eyes will open again. Three months later, the boy is taken home for his family to keep an eye on him, his unconscious body hooked up to a heart monitor and an IV drip. And then spooky things begin to happen around the house.

First off, Foster claims to see Dalton wandering about the hallway late at night. Second, Renai begins seeing mysterious people around the house when, well, no one was exactly invited. Third, there's a bloody, sharp-nailed handprint found on Dalton's bed sheet. And fourth, Renai is attacked one night by a man in the bedroom, which is then followed by the front door being kicked in.

And then the film turns into a remake of "Poltergeist." After the family moves to Josh's mother's house along with Dalton, and the inexplicable events continue to occur, they seek the aid of a trio of paranormal investigators: Specs (Leigh Whannell, who is also the film's writer), Tucker (Angus Sampson, "Summer Coda") and the psychic Elise (Lin Shaye, "2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams"). Following some thorough investigation, they come to the conclusion that there's a ferocious demon roaming about, and it wants Dalton's body.

"Insidious" runs through all the cliches of haunted house horror, from creaking floorboards to inanimate objects that move around with no one having touched them. The father is sceptical, the mother is terrified and the elderly medium is wise and all-knowing. The two houses in which the supernatural events occur are vast and both have ticking grandfather clocks. The film gets a limited amount of points for originality, but it still very much succeeds in entertaining a Friday night crowd.

Along with the sensibilities of the team behind 2009's chiller hit "Paranormal Activity" on board as producers, director Wan and writer Whannell (both of them having collaborated on "Saw") deliver a whole plethora of scares and surprises that would startle the toughest of tough men. While there are a few cheap jump scares, they are expertly handled and are difficult to predict, and the rest of the frights are splendid slices of spine-chilling creepiness.

The film also looks good, made on a budget of $1.5 million and shot in digital, aided by some nifty camerawork. A sense of dread surrounds the whole feature, the film told mostly from the perspective of the scared-stiff mother before switching over to the father, whose scepticism is given a quick kick in the gonads (and no, this isn't a spoiler; even a blind man could see this character development coming a mile off).

While the scares start to run dry by the goofy final act, the film becoming more silly than scary, it nonetheless remains interesting. This is a film that, for the most part, knows how to frighten an audience and get our skin crawling, it taking great pleasure in teasing us before alarming us. And while it may not have the lasting impact of Oren Peli's "Paranormal Activity," it's still a very satisfying modern-day spook house horror flick. I also must commend the film for managing to make the song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim sound creepy. Damn, that song's silly.