Wednesday, 28 September 2011


If you go into “Drive” expecting adrenaline-fuelled action, you will come out satisfied. If you go into “Drive” expecting hard-hitting drama, you will come out satisfied. If you go into “Drive” expecting heart-warming romance, you will come out satisfied. If you go into “Drive” expecting explicit violence, you will come out satisfied. If you go into “Drive” expecting wonderful acting talent, you will come out satisfied. And if you go into “Drive” expecting to be thrilled, entertained, beguiled, captivated and entranced, you will come out very, very satisfied.

“Drive” is all of these things, and more. It’s got action, it’s got drama, it’s got romance, it’s got violence, it’s got marvellous acting, and by god it’s one hell of an entertaining ride. These key components all mesh together to make “Drive” a mesmerising and beautiful film; indeed, it’s one of the most mesmerising and beautiful feature films of recent years.

It stars Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine”) as a man with no name. There’s not one moment in the film where his name is mentioned, thus we know him only as the Driver; this is how he is listed in the end credits. This serves to make the character that little bit more mysterious. Who is this strange man in a silver jacket with a scorpion on the back? What’s his name? Where does he come from? Where’s his family? Why’s he always wearing a silver jacket with a scorpion on the back?

The Driver has three jobs in Los Angeles, one of which he assumedly tells very few people about. One of his jobs is “only part time;” this is his work as a stunt driver for movies. For his second job, he works as a mechanic alongside people-person Shannon (Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”). His third job is what you might call a little more “interesting”.

You see, some nights, the Driver works as a getaway driver, akin to Jason Statham’s character in Louis Leterrier and Cory Yuen’s “The Transporter.” He drives thieves to their targets, waits five minutes (no more, no less) and drives off with the thieves and their loot before the cops rear their heads. Stick to his rules, he’ll get you out of there safe and sound. Don’t stick to his rules, he’ll either drive off without you or kick you out of the car. It’s his way or the highway, I suppose you could say.

One day, someone doesn’t stick to the rules, and someone gets blown to bits. As a result of this, the Driver finds himself the target of some local mobsters armed with shotguns and straight razors. The Driver can handle himself perfectly fine, but he’s worried for the safety of his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan, “Never Let Me Go”), for whom he appears to have a keen liking, and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos).

If all this sounds like a typical clichéd action film, that’s because it is. It’s clichéd out the ying yang, there’s very little use in denying that. But the thing is, you will in all likelihood be too captivated by the film’s chic and pizzazz to actually notice any of the well-worn clichés. And if you do happen to notice any and/or all of its well-worn clichés, “Drive” is far too cool and far too stylish for you to really give a hoot.

Yes, “Drive” is a very stylish, very cool and very elegant action film. Its director, the very talented Nicolas Winding Refn (“Bronson”), has deliberately given the film an indie feel that’s uncommon for the genre; it’s designed, rather beautifully, like your typical highbrow arthouse feature. The result is astonishing. Think of it, if you can, as “The Transporter” with an arthouse sensibility.

The film would fit right in with films of the ‘80s; Refn has granted “Drive” with a mood that feels like it’s been lifted straight out of the decade. This mood is supported by the soundtrack, which contains some of the most pitch-perfect pickings of songs for a movie I’ve seen and indeed heard in quite some time. It consists mostly of synthesiser pop tunes that work to complement the images on-screen and the aura surrounding the film; they’re cool, they’re atmospheric and they’re quite tantalising, much like the film.

Gosling, as always, is utterly fabulous. Akin to Gary Oldman’s recent performance in Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” Gosling is playing a protagonist who is quiet and who is an introvert. The Driver doesn’t say much, but he makes up for this with his specific set of skills: he can drive, he can fight and he can kill; evidently, these can come in rather handy. This character is a very dangerous person, more of an anti-hero than all-out hero. He’s a potentially violent criminal, but he has a heart and the ability to fall in love; we see that he feels affection, and that’s all we need to know to fully support him.

As it stands, “Drive” is a powerful and sophisticated piece of action and drama, succeeding at both genres without any fault. It’s a controlled, focused and unblinking film that thrills, enchants and intrigues. There is a heartfelt and unspoken romance at the centre of the story, there is a soothing soundtrack, there is graphic violence, there is stunning cinematography, there is outstandingly effective writing and directing, and there is a delightfully understated performance from Mr. Ryan Gosling. I’d say that’s pretty good going for an arthouse “Transporter.”


Saturday, 24 September 2011

Killer Elite

The best thing I can say about “Killer Elite” is that it held my interest; this, as you may assume, is something I crave from each and every movie I watch. While viewing “Killer Elite,” I acknowledged that it had the general appearance of a generic, seen-it-all-before action flick and I must admit I ended up a little lost in the story at some points (crammed-in plot twists tend to have that effect). However, a feeling of boredom never registered; then again, I suppose boredom would be difficult to encounter, what with all the ear-shattering gunshots, deafening explosions and overall noisiness thundering out from the loudspeakers.

Yes, “Killer Elite” is another one of those noisy, aggressive, high-octane actioners, and it stars a master of said area of cinema. This is Jason Statham (“The Mechanic”), who’s brought all his natural Cockney geezer charm to the film’s leading role. He’s cool, he’s charismatic, he’s got proper action skills and he’s got a rather attractive stubble going on; what’s not to like about this lovely, lovely man?

He stars as Danny Bryce, a professional assassin and best bud of a fellow assassin aptly named Hunter (Robert De Niro, “Little Fockers”). Danny, deciding to be a cliché, has had enough of killing, and chooses to give up the job to live with his beautiful Australian girlfriend (Yvonne Strahovski, "Chuck"). One year later, Danny gets a envelope in the mail containing a Polaroid picture of Hunter appearing to be a little bit kidnapped.

Danny goes to visit the kidnapper, who it turns out is a dying Omani sheik (Rodney Afif, “Checkpoint”). The sheik wants Danny to kill the three SAS men who murdered three of his four sons. He wants to hear their confessions. He wants the killings to look like accidents. And he wants to know that they are dead before his own predicted death six months from now, otherwise Hunter shall be killed.

So, Danny goes about planning the deaths of these three men. Helping him on his murderous task are Davies (Dominic Purcell, “Prison Break”) and Meier (Aden Young, “The Bet”). As you may foresee with your amazing psychic powers, the plan doesn’t 100% go according to plan, resulting in some fist fights, car chases and accidental (kinda) deaths.

Occasionally, these are the outcomes of Spike (Clive Owen, “Children of Men”)’s involvement in the plot. Spike works for a secret organisation that protects ex-SAS men from people like Danny and the Omani sheik. As such, he’s alerted about Danny’s schemes, and gets to trying to stop the gun-toting scalp-head in his homicidal tracks.

“Killer Elite” is supposedly based on a true story, or at least based on a book that’s supposedly based on a true story. The book is “The Feather Men” by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who claims he was involved in events similar to that of his book. If he is telling the truth and if the movie is a close adaptation of the book, then label me flabbergasted; it turns out real-life can in fact play out like a typical Jason Statham action thriller. If not, well, we can still live in hope.

The film is the first full-length feature from director Gary McKendry; it’s quite an impressive debut, I must say. He’s directed an action film that’s armed with proper action scenes. The action is tense, thrilling and gritty; it almost feels real, recalling the many action sequences from the magnificent “Bourne” trilogy.

The most memorable action set-piece from the film is a scene in which Statham and Owen have a fist-fight in a hospital room. They smack, kick and throttle each other, swinging each other into cabinets and punching each other in the testicles once or twice. It’s exciting, it’s brutal and it’s pulsating with suspense; we genuinely don’t know who’s going to win this fight, as Statham and Owen both gain advantage several times throughout.

It’s a film that’s quite gripping, supported by characters who, when we’re watching them, feel like they’re more than just cardboard cut-outs. Sure, Statham’s just playing the same action-man role he always has and probably always will, but you can’t fault the on-screen charisma oozing out of his performance. Owen’s playing a man who sporadically jumps between good-guy and bad-guy, though he’s always treated as an antagonist to anti-hero Danny. And De Niro actually looks like he gives a hoot for once in his recent career, playing an ageing assassin who’s smart, funny, charming and affectionate; De Niro also gets to say the F word a few times.

Yes, “Killer Elite” is disposable action fluff, but it’s competently crafted disposable action fluff. The action, of which there is plenty, is incredibly well shot, and the three men at the centre of the plot are intriguing enough characters. It’s not quite “Die Hard,” nor is it even “Crank,” but hardcore fans of action and/or Jason Statham are likely to be satisfied.


Friday, 23 September 2011


“Warrior” is the surprise tear-jerker of the year. Why such a surprise? For one, it’s called “Warrior,” which gives the immediate impression of heroic, muscle-bound manliness. Secondly, its story centres around mixed martial arts, a sport in which beefy men willingly take part in beating one another to a misshapen pulp, which of course brings us back to the manliness factor. One gets the distinct notion that it’s a testosterone-fuelled man-movie, so imagine my shock when I found myself battling away tears in the film‘s second half; this, I must admit, was a battle I lost.

The film, which is co-written and directed by Gavin O’Connor (“Pride and Glory”), is a mishmash of sports action and family melodrama. As such, one is reminded of David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” which tread similar ground last year, and did it quite well. However, “Warrior” manages to better “The Fighter” in both areas; the sports action and the family melodrama are handled much more effectively, working together to successfully reduce you to a blubbering blob weeping on the floor.

We are presented with two protagonists and a prominent supporting character. Our two protagonists are brothers; one is Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton, “Legend of the Guardians”) and the other is Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”). The prominent supporting character is their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte, “Tropic Thunder”).

They are what you might call a broken family. Paddy is a recovering alcoholic (his 1,000th day of sobriety is coming up) who hasn’t spoken to his two sons in years. Brendan and Tommy have also not spoken in years; they barely exist to each other, though what they do share is a bitterness towards their father, as well as skills in the world of mixed martial arts.

Having been serving in the Marines, a haunted Tommy drops by his father’s house without warning one night. He has decided he wants to get back into fighting for a living, and asks for his father to be his trainer and nothing more; he doesn’t want a father-son relationship, just a fighter-trainer relationship. Paddy agrees, and they begin hitting the gym together.

Meanwhile, Brendan struggles to support his family with his job as a public school teacher. After deciding to fight in an amateur mixed martial arts contest one night, word begins to spread about his antics and he is suspended by the school without pay. Desperate for money and realising he’s still got some fighting juice left in him, Brendan ventures into the same competition Tommy enters; the man left standing at the end gets $5 million.

“Warrior” may go through every sports movie cliché in the book, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t go through them incredibly well. It builds up momentum in each fight; every brawl is tense, exciting and emotional even though we know the result of each one; well, all except the climactic brawl, in which we wish for both fighters to win.

It’s a very emotional film, both inside the ring (or cage, I guess) and outside of it. This is a result of the three central acting performances, which are some of the most effective examples of film acting I’ve seen in recent years. Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte create such real and convincing characters that being drawn into them and their story is unavoidable.

Edgerton plays a kind-hearted family man who’s clinging onto and revisiting a past life of fighting and winning, despite his loving wife’s protestations. Hardy plays a man troubled by bad memories, a man angry and unforgiving, a man who hates his father, hates his brother and in all likelihood hates himself, though a softer side lies buried underneath this impenetrable shell. And Nolte plays a man crippled with regret, and who is trying to bring he and his two sons back together again to no avail.

These are powerful performances of characters that are written and developed without any notable fault. Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte make them so endearing and captivating that the film itself becomes endearing and captivating. At several points throughout the film you will find yourself wishing to either stand up and cheer or whimper and cry -- possibly both at the same time -- and it’s all down to these three excellent performances by these three excellent actors.

“Warrior” is a cinematic experience that is both emotional and exhilarating in equal measure. It will make you weep and it will get your heart racing in excitement. It will depress you and it will thrill you. It’s a wonderful addition to the sports genre that’s flawlessly acted, excellently written, superbly directed and refreshingly emotive. And if you find yourselves crying, you manly men out there, don’t feel ashamed; I cried thrice.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Film director Tomas Alfredson first rose to fame in 2008 with his critically-acclaimed vampire chiller “Let the Right One In.” The word “chiller” is an apt description; it was indeed a chilling film surrounded by an icy, very unnerving tone; every image was eerie and every scene was discomforting. With his newest film, a sophisticated Cold War spy drama set in the ‘70s, the Swedish director has maintained this unsettling and icy mood; with it, the Cold War gets a little bit colder.

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is based on the 1974 novel of the same name by John le Carré. It is also based on the BBC min-series adaptation from 1979, which starred the wonderful Alec Guinness. I’m afraid to say I have not read the novel, nor have I seen the mini-series, but what I can say is that Alfredson’s big-screen adaptation stands impeccably well on its own two feet.

Master-of-disguise Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) stars as George Smiley, a retired British intelligence officer who is called back into duty when a mole is suspected to be lurking about inside the Circus. What is the Circus? It’s the headquarters of MI6, and a mole inside this organisation would be very bad news indeed.

Smiley is tasked with discovering the identity of the double agent. We know the mole is one of five men: Percy Alleline (Toby Jones, “Infamous”), Bill Haydon (Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds, “The Rite”),  Toby Esterhase (David Dencik, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) or Smiley himself.

These people are all very high-up in MI6, which is a worrying thought. Smiley has worked with each and every one of them over his many years of service and has been close with them; one of them has betrayed not only their country, but Smiley himself. Aiding him in his investigation is Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, “Sherlock”), retired researcher Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke, “Gimme Gimme Gimme”) and scalphunter Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy, “Bronson”).

The investigation is intriguing and develops with a deliberately slow pace. As the movie goes on we are presented with new information and evidence as Smiley interviews, questions and is approached by those with facts and findings. We’re entirely unaware of the identity of the mole, but are eager to find out; thankfully, the revelation is satisfying.

The investigation is also very complicated, an inevitability with so many characters and so many motivations and betrayals going on; I must admit I found myself lost at several stages in the plot. It’s a complex narrative that frequently jumps back and forth between past and present as its intricacy unravels. However, as baffled as I was, I remained captivated and fascinated.

As you may have already noticed, the cast list is utterly stupendous; it’s a who’s who of great British actors. On the supporting front, it’s Cumberbatch and Hardy who really stand out among the others. There’s also the magnificent Mark Strong (“Kick-Ass”), who gives an intense performance as troubled British agent Jim Prideaux.

Oldman, one of the best actors working today, gives one of the most outstanding performances of his career. As he does with every single one of his performances, Oldman entirely becomes Smiley, a man who is quiet and discreet, barely ever opening his mouth, though when he does he shows the sharpness of his mind. He’s a true introvert, communicating with his eyes for most of the runtime; it’s unbelievable that this is the same actor who played a violent, wannabe-black pimp in Tony Scott‘s “True Romance.”

As I’ve seen many others point out, Smiley is the complete opposite of James Bond. They’re both British agents, yes, but Bond is the fantasy and Smiley is more the reality. Bond is a glamorised, womanising adventurer, and Smiley is very much a tired, middle-aged fart; indeed, it’s Smiley’s wife who is the promiscuous one.

Smiley’s an enthralling character to watch, and Oldman’s  performance is utterly faultless. He’s a brilliant actor playing a brilliant character in a brilliant film; a perfect fit, you could say. Even though he’s essentially the main character, one still feels he steals the film, and he does it without ever saying too much.

On a visual level, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is beautifully directed and designed without error; the period detail is incredibly convincing. On an acting level, the film is exceptional; every actor appears to give it their all, and it entirely pays off. And on a plotting level, the film is absorbing from beginning to end, even if you do find yourself lost and confused on occasion.


Monday, 12 September 2011

The Troll Hunter

“The Troll Hunter” is a movie that tries to convince us that it’s real, but knows that we won’t believe it. It starts and ends with statements that all of the footage in between is 100% genuine and has not been tampered with. However, all of the footage in between is fantastical and silly, and sometimes deliberately humorous in tone; the statements of factuality are clearly a joke that we are intended to be in on.

Much like last week’s “Apollo 18,” the film is presented to us through a found-footage format, i.e. it’s filmed by the characters within the film. Unlike “Apollo 18,” this format feels natural to the film’s story. I also feel that “The Troll Hunter” would not benefit from being filmed “normally,” as opposed to “Apollo 18,” where the format was annoying.

Originally titled “Trolljegeren,” the film is Norwegian and written and directed by André Øvredal. It’s relatively low-budget and is both a comedy and a horror. As the title may have already informed you, the film revolves around a hunter of trolls; yes, apparently trolls exist, and they’re very, very dangerous.

However, the film does not initially revolve around trolls. It begins as a documentary investigating the mysterious shootings of local bears, filmed by college students Thomas (Glenn Erland Tosterud), Johanna (Johanna Mørck) and Kalle (Tomas Alf Larsen). The suspected bear poacher is Hans (Otto Jespersen), a bearded loner travelling around in a jeep and a caravan.

Our three protagonists begin secretly following and filming Hans, who refuses to answer any of their questions. One night, Hans goes deep into the woods, with Thomas, Johanna and Kalle in close pursuit. What they discover is that Hans is not actually hunting bears; he’s hunting something much, much bigger. Spoiler: he’s hunting trolls.

These trolls are large creatures, though their largeness varies. They’re humanoid and have bulbous noses. Some have one head, some have three. Some turn to stone when exposed to UV lights, some explode. All of them appear to be quite dumb, luckily. They’re portrayed to us through use of CGI; it’s very convincing CGI, which is presumably enhanced by the shakiness of the camerawork.

Hans hunts down trolls for the government, who are adamant that the public be oblivious to the creatures’ existence. He’s grown tired of the business, and agrees to let Thomas, Johanna and Kalle film him on his troll-hunting adventures; Hans wants them to use the footage to expose the truth to the general public. How we don’t know already is a tad peculiar.

These adventures become increasingly dangerous, though of course cameraman Kalle never thinks to let go of the camera. The trolls loudly stomp around, crushing trees and causing the ground to vibrate as they stampede towards our terrified protagonists. Occasionally, the camera is filming nothing more than a blur of mud and trees as the camera-operator runs for their life; night-vision is also utilised to properly see the towering beasts. These make for very suspenseful moments that are frequently quite frightening, though their silliness is always in the back of our minds.

And when the trolls aren’t moping about and growling away for us to see and hear, we’re being educated about them. Hans explains everything there is to know about trolls: their nature, their world and their general way of life. We learn about their sources of food, their different species, their lifespan and their gestation periods. It’s all very interesting to listen to and learn about; trolls are pretty fascinating creatures, I gladly discovered.

“The Troll Hunter” is a refreshing comedy-horror and a triumphant addition to the found-footage subgenre. It’s got a cool and creative concept that’s explored thoroughly, a lovely cast (especially Jespersen as the titular troll-hunter), marvellous special effects and several scenes that are thrilling and tense. I would expect to see more movies about trolls in the future, if I were you.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Red State

There are two reasons that “Red State” is a movie that’s destined for attention. The first is that it tackles religion, an issue which is and always will be a topic of much controversy. Some may find themselves offended by the movie’s way of handling the sensitive subject and the beliefs the film’s writer and director, Kevin Smith, makes quite clear throughout the movie.

The second is that “Red State” marks a sudden change of pace in Smith’s career. Smith is widely known as a filmmaker who does crude comedy, most of his previous films being foul-mouthed, dirty, R-rated side-splitters. “Clerks,” “Dogma,” “Chasing Amy” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” are all scattered throughout his past filmography. Thus, “Red State” sticks out like a sore thumb in Smith’s body of work.

The film is a mishmash of drama, horror, thriller and action, mixed in with a smidgen of dark humour. It starts out like “American Pie,” turns into “Hostel,” switches to the shoot-out scene in “Heat” and ends similarly to “Burn After Reading.” To say it’s confused would be an understatement, but Smith makes it work, mostly.

We begin with three teenage protagonists. These are Jarod (Kyle Gallner, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”), Travis (Michael Angarano, “Gentlemen Broncos”) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun, “Sky High”). They live in a town in which religious fundamentalists the Five Points Church, lead by local loony Pastor Abin Cooper (Michael Parks, “Grindhouse”), run rampant, shown in the opening scene protesting the funeral of a gay teenager.

One day, the three boys are invited via a dodgy website to have a threesome with a lady who lives nearby. They excitedly (and maybe stupidly) accept, but are soon regretting the quick decision when they find themselves captured by the Five Points Church for reasons of ridicule and murder. These three boys are sinners and must be killed for plaguing society, apparently.

“Red State” shows Smith doing what some may call “maturing.” As previously mentioned, he’s known for making obscene and indecent comedies that could easily be categorised as “immature.” Here, he’s made a movie that is intense, that is raw, that is penetrating and intimidating, given a tone that is mostly cold-blooded and a little bit grim.

Smith has continued his reputation for having an ear for character interactions; “Red State” is a very well-written film filled with very enjoyable dialogue. Its script contains many shocks and surprises that I for one did not see coming. Smith has also given the film a very distinctive look; the visuals are bleached and filmed in an effective shaky-cam method, both of which aid in giving the film a certain feel that is eerie and unsettling.

There are three stand-out acting performances in “Red State.” Stand-out acting performance number one is Michael Parks as Pastor Abin Cooper, the chief villain of the piece. In this role, Parks chews more scenery than a household termite; he plays this preaching leader of religious hicks with such charisma that one cannot take one’s eyes off him, especially as he delivers a ten-minute monologue in front of a congregation of his loyal followers.

Stand-out acting performance number two is recent Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”) as Sarah Cooper, daughter of Abin Cooper. Sarah is shown to be every bit as delusional as her father, appearing to be in extreme pleasure whenever Abin preaches and talks about God. In one scene, she is reduced to tears by the mere mention of the word “homosexual.” Leo succeeds in making this woman incredibly detestable through the simple use of a certain look or smile, the kind that expresses dim-witted foolishness.

Stand-out acting performance number three is John Goodman (“The Big Lebowski”) as Special Agent Keenan, a married man who is contacted to help with a dangerous situation at the Five Points church. Goodman gives a convincing sense of humanity and purpose to this man who is forced by his superiors to make a tough decision once reaching the church; our fondness for him becomes more blurred as the film goes on.

It’s the first half of the film that truly shines; it’s frequently suspenseful and occasionally quite powerful. It’s by the second half, when all hell breaks loose via use of AK-47s, that the film becomes less intriguing, albeit still entertaining. The less action-oriented stuff works like a charm, while the machine gun-blasting works less so.


Monday, 5 September 2011

Apollo 18

You could say that the best way to describe “Apollo 18” is to say that it’s “The Blair Witch Project” meets “Alien.” Or you could possibly say that it’s “Paranormal Activity” meets “Moon.” Anyway, there are two reasons for this movie supposedly being the meeting place for these four movies. The first reason is that, like “The Blair Witch Project” and “Paranormal Activity,” it’s a found-footage film, i.e. it’s filmed by the characters within the film. The second reason is that, like “Alien” and “Moon,” its primary setting is in space, where no one can hear you scream, or indeed yawn.

The problem with these vague descriptions is that “Apollo 18” is not the kind of film that deserves to be the meeting place for these four movies. It’s a very poor film, and thus seems unworthy of being mentioned alongside these four very good movies. Also, the comparison of these four very good movies with “Apollo 18” serves only to further ridicule the film; it seems cruel and unjust. As such, I’d say a fairer “blank meets blank” would be “Diary of the Dead” meets “Jason X”; it does more to prepare/warn possible viewers.

The film, which is directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, is intended to be interpreted as actual, real-life footage that has for some reason been edited together for release in multiplexes everywhere, a typical gimmick of the gimmicky found-footage subgenre. Given that the film portrays a colossal and moon-shattering cover-up by the US government, I’m unsure as to how the footage has in fact landed in worldwide cinemas without the government’s interference. Usual government incompetence, I suppose.

“Apollo 18” revolves around, surprise surprise, a supposed Apollo 18 mission that went to the moon in December 1974. If you know your American history, you should know that the last Apollo mission to launch into space was number 17; this film claims that the cancelled 18 launch did in fact go off into space and was completely covered up. Yeah, right, and there are aliens on the moon too, huh?

The mission has a crew of three. These are Commander Nathan Walker (Lloyd Owen), Captain Benjamin Anderson (Warren Christie) and Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins). They are told not only to collect moon rocks, but also to plant detectors that will detect any ICBM attacks from the USSR.

The film is a horror, so inevitably things go horribly wrong on this mission. I won’t tell you exactly what causes things to go horribly wrong; I’ll let you discover this for yourself as you battle heavy eyelids and the desire to take a nap. What I will tell you is that it’s not particularly scary and, as you may have guessed from the previous sentence, more than a bit boring. It also takes so long to get to this point that by the time things start to properly rev up, you will have completely lost interest.

“Apollo 18” feels like it’s little more than a gimmick; I suspect that its pitch consisted entirely of someone yelling, “Hey, let‘s do “The Blair Witch Project” in space!” There is potential here; three astronauts finding themselves under attack while stuck on the surface of the moon could make for a fantastic claustrophobia horror in the vein of John Carpenter‘s “The Thing.” But here, with characters we don’t care about and a filming method that’s a little annoying, it simply doesn’t work.

Would it have worked better if not filmed through the found-footage method? I won’t put off the idea; it would have possibly reduced the sense of cheapness that overwhelms the film. Then again, it would take a heck of a lot more to improve this frankly dreadful movie than simply changing it to a “normal film.”

In the end, “Apollo 18” never rises above being slightly unnerving and vaguely interesting. It’s a tedious and frequently dull experience that will bore viewers to tears more than frighten them half to death. Still, I’m sure conspiracy theorists will get a kick out of it.


The Change-Up

I’ll start this review by getting some inevitable movie mentions out of the way. First, there’s Gary Nelson’s “Freaky Friday” (1976), its 2003 remake, Brian Gilbert’s “Vice Versa” (1988), Tom Brady’s “The Hot Chick” (2002), Penny Marshall’s “Big” (1988) and Rod Daniel’s “Like Father, Like Son” (1987).

As you may know, these are all body-switch films; they are movies in which one character, through some mysterious turn of events, finds themselves trapped in the body of another character, and vice versa. “The Change-Up” is a body-switch film, and it connects the dots of its plot with the same methods employed by each of the aforementioned films; still, it’s one of the better entries in this typically generic subgenre.

Our two protagonists are best buds Mitch and Dave, played by Ryan Reynolds (“Green Lantern”) and Jason Bateman (“The Switch”) respectively. As is required for the plot, these characters are complete opposites, fixed with widely opposing morals and mindsets, which unsurprisingly results in calamities when the body switch occurs.

Mitch is a loose cannon. He’s unemployed, he’s foul-mouthed, he’s overly laid-back, he’s highly sexual and is constantly inappropriate. He spends his days getting laid and getting high in his dump of an apartment. He’s thought of by others as a quitter, never finishing anything he starts. He’s a lazy, uncommitted slacker who never quite left his college dorm room.

Dave, on the other hand, is a responsible family man. He has a wife (Leslie Mann, “Funny People”), three kids and a lovely home. He’s a successful lawyer, though he finds his job tiring and stressful, and is constantly kept from spending quality time with his family. He has to juggle many responsibilities every single day of his life, and he’s a little tired of it.

During one night of drinking and complaining about their lives, Mitch and Dave together pee in a magic fountain and proclaim that they wish they could have each other’s lives. And then, hey presto, both of them wake up the next morning in the other’s body. Side note: I’m curious as to how the wizard or whatever came to the conclusion that in order for this magic fountain to work, two individuals must pee into the water together.

So, Mitch is Dave, and Dave is Mitch; the audience must remember this for the rest of the movie. Reynolds and Bateman have obviously had to study each other’s traits and mannerisms as they essentially play each other for the majority of the movie. Reynolds switches from “douchebag” to “tool,” and Bateman switches from “tool” to “douchebag.” Got that?

This inevitably leads to many humorous situations; the best thing you can say about “The Change-Up” is that it is very, very funny. The leading duo get into plenty of side-splitting, R-rated shenanigans together as they are forced to live each other’s lives and impersonate each other. Of course, both characters have big events coming up; Dave has a big important business deal, while Mitch has a big important acting gig. You will receive no reward for guessing that both end badly.

Yes, it’s generic and predictable; this is the kind of movie you walk into very much expecting relentless predictability. Body-swap movies have been around since the ‘70s, and every nook and cranny of the subgenre that could be explored has already been explored. However, director David Dobkin (“The Wedding Crashers”) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (“The Hangover”) attempt to breathe new life into this near-dead area of cinema by cramming in as much rude, crude, gross-out humour as humanly possible, with mixed results.

One the one hand, I got a chuckle out of Dave having projectile baby diarrhoea squirted into his mouth, pointlessly disgusting as it was. I also chuckled at a scene in which Dave (in Mitch’s body) finds himself acting in a light porno film and sliding his thumb inside a woman‘s anus. On the other hand, watching a baby playing with kitchen knives made me uncomfortable. Also, watching and listening to Leslie Mann noisily voiding her bowels is more nauseating than funny. Because of this, it is at times that it feels Lucas and Moore are doing nothing more than trying to be filthy and offensive, which does not necessarily equal funny.

But what ultimately makes “The Change-Up” work is the charm that comes so naturally to Reynolds and Bateman. Together, they bring a heap of energy to their roles and work perfectly as a comic double-act; they’re effortlessly entertaining comedic actors who help us to look over the writers’ frustrating desperation to always be shocking.