Monthly Archives: February 2011

Review – Paul (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 1/5

Films involving aliens are usually slammed by critics for a reason. Granted, normally such movies are about alien invasions rather than comedies. Paul might be a comedy; but it still deserves as much ridicule as every other alien invasion movie that has gone awry.

Paulis about Graeme (Simon Pegg – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Mission: Impossible IV – Ghost Protocol) and Clive (Nick Frost – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Snow White and the Huntsman), two lame, comic-book, sci-fi nerds who are on a caravan road-trip of the west-coast of America. They intend to see the locations of sightings of UFOs and other weird events that have taken place in America, which they’ve read about. The trip is seemingly going according to plan, when they stumble across a stereo-typical looking alien. His name is Paul and he has a thick Californian accent (voice by Seth Rogen – Donnie Darko, Knocked Up, Steve Jobs). Paul is rude; he smokes and behaves like a douche.

Within a short time, Paul asks Graeme and Clive if they can help him reach the place where his spaceship will pick him up. The two men (so thrilled to meet an alien after reading so much about them over the years) agree; even if it does take them off-course. Yet, no sooner have they agreed when they learn that the cops, notably Llorenzo Zoil (Jason Bateman – Smokin’ Aces, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hancock), are following them in order to capture the alien.

The main characters, including Ruth (Kristen Wiig), far left, and Tara (Blythe Danner), far right, looking up at the bright lights in the night sky. Is it the spaceship to take Paul home?

The storyline may sound entertaining and amusing; but it is far from either. The acting from the entire cast is pathetic, and few of the jokes are funny. Although most people would not imagine an alien to behave like Paul does; the humour is shallow. Paul frequently resorts to swearing in a vain attempt to make people laugh. In addition, the other main characters rarely force a smile from the audience. They are so sad and odd that one finds it hard to identify with them.

The acting and dialogue are definitely the worst parts of the film. The choreography is quite decent, but nothing of note. As for the special effects and cinematography: let’s not go down there. They may not be as bad as other aspects of the movie; but, still, one would be surprised if the director, Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland), recognised that such things existed after watching a film like Paul.

In short, Paul is an early candidate for disaster movie of the year. It has no redemptive features; and, above-all, as a comedy, the film fails to do its prime duty: to make the audience laugh.

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Review – True Grit (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 5/5

Less than four years since they made the Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel (A Simple Man, Burn After Reading), have returned to the ‘cowboy genre’ with a bang (pardon the pun). No Country For Old Men was a brilliant film. True Grit is even better.

The plot for True Grit is quite straightforward. Based in a small town in Midwest America in the late-nineteenth century, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin – No Country For Old Men, Wall Street 2, American Gangster) killed Frank Ross in cold murder. Frank’s extremely intelligent, precocious fourteen-year-old daughter, Mattie (Hailee Steinfeld), is determined to have her father’s death avenged. After the local law enforcement agency refuses to chase Chaney, Mattie employs Rooster (Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart, The Big Lebowski, Seventh Son), a drunk and ruthless cowboy to find Chaney.

A drunk Rooster, played by Jeff Bridges, trying to shoot accurately on the back of a horse.

As Mattie strikes a deal with Rooster; Laboeuf (Matt Damon – The Bourne Identity, The Departed, Invictus), a dumb but wily Texan Ranger emerges. Laboeuf also wants Chaney. The latter is wanted in Texas for the murder of a senator. Despite some differences on where Chaney should be tried (Mattie wants him to be put to justice in her town, while Laboeuf needs to bring him back to Texas or else he won’t get paid), Mattie, Rooster and Laboeuf head off together in search of their man.

If the storyline does not make one believe that True Grit should have been a five-star film, the flawless and Oscar-worthy acting certainly will. Jeff Bridges splendidly captures the attitude, habits and language of an aging, drunk-but-funny, Midwest, trigger-happy cowboy. Similarly, Matt Damon illustrates that being a far-from-bright ranger on a horseback comes just as naturally to him as being the secret agent, Jason Bourne.

Yet, the performances of Bridges and Damon are cast into the shadows by that of Steinfeld. If the star of No Country For Old Men was the frighteningly serene villain with red-rimmed-eyes, played by Javier Bardem, then Steinfeld is the stand-out entertainer of True Grit. Mattie’s ability to understand the complexities of law; her ability to see through people as if they were opaque, plus her witty tongue are all down to the proficiency of Steinfeld. It almost beggar’s belief that Mattie was played by a fourteen-year-old! Indeed, one will struggle to witness a more assured and mature performance from someone of her age over the coming decade.

Mattie attempting to feed the ill-tempered Laboeuf beside a campfire one night.

The acting, however, would not be half as impressive if the characters would have been without well-written scripts. They might have got away with it provided they’d have just maintained strong Midwest accents (like Russell Crowe and Christian Bale did in 3:10 To Yuma); but the three main actors do more than that in this movie. Bridges, Damon and Steinfeld adopt a dialogue that one can realistically imagine ‘Middle Americans’ once using (or even still use in some places today). That there are no lapses whilst they talk in this semi-alien tongue makes their performances all the more remarkable.

The magnificent acting and dialogue are matched by the choreography, music and landscapes throughout the film. Each scene smoothly slots in, one after another, without interruption. In addition, the music is always fitting for the scene; as are the differing sceneries the Coen brothers have employed, showing us that Midwest America is more than just a desert with a dozens of cacti.

In short, True Grit is a model of a film and a realistic portrayal of how cowboys used to go about their business. One does not need to be a fan of Western-style movies to appreciate that from the directing; to the production; to the writing of the screenplay and the music scores; to the acting, True Grit is as close to perfect as a film can be.

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Review – Sanctum 3D (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Sanctum had the potential to be a disaster to the point when the cast, director and producers alike would have attempted to revise the fact that they had been apart of the film. But Sanctum is not a catastrophe movie and it is surprisingly gripping.

Victoria and Carl begin to panic as they realise that they are trapped and the cave is flooding.

The film is ‘inspired’ by true events. (What this means is anyone’s guess.) A group of cave divers attempt to see the last unknown, underwater cave in the world in Papa New Guinea. The divers, led by Carl the manager (Ioan Gruffudd – Titanic, King Arthur, Fantasic Four I & II), Frank (Richard Roxburgh – Mission Impossible 2, Moulin Rouge, Van Helsing), Josh (Rhys Wakefield – Home and Away, The Black Balloon), George (Dan Wyllie – Chopper, Animal Kingdom) and Victoria (Alice Parkinson – Where The Wild Things Are, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Pacific) are slowly but surely revealing the depths of the cave. That is until a storm breaks out above them. Before they know it, the cave is flooding. They are trapped. The only way out is down. Down, through previously unexplored areas.

The plot for Sanctum is simple and fairly predictable. We know that not everyone is going to survive, so it is just a question of who is next to fall. Yet, because the acting is terribly wooden and the dialogue is poor; it is hard to empathise or like any of the main characters. Their predicaments, and the way they behave in certain situations, seem quite realistic. Under such circumstances, survival is the only thing that matters. Everything else goes by the wayside and there is no time for sentiment. Nevertheless, the more the main characters try to be serious, the more pitifully amusing they become. (Also, why is it that the ‘good guys’ in the film never need food or water; but the ‘bad guys’ do?)

Carl, left, and Frank, right, stay still for a moment to let the others catch up. Behind them, one gets a glimpse of the awesome underwater scenery that is prevalent throughout the film.

The acting, though, was never going to be Sanctum’s attraction. As a thriller, one hopes to feel one’s heart pounding against the chest. While the film takes a bit of time to get going (even though the film is not particularly long), Sanctum achieves this. That the characters go through tight spaces underwater makes one feel claustrophobic; unsettling one almost to the point of panic. (Especially if one does not like being stuck in a small space.)

The 3D feature of the movie has the further effect of making the audience feel as trapped as Frank, Carl, Josh, George and Victoria. This is in no small part due to the executive producer, James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar I, II & III). Just like in his last film, Avatar, Cameron successfully exploits the 3D effects to make one feel like they are in the predicament of those they are watching. In addition, his 3D images of the caves are stunning; seductive enough to make one believe that the potentially fatal dangers of cave digging/exploring are non-hazardous and worthwhile.

Arguably, the visuals and the 3D effects in Sanctum, to a degree, make up for what is lacking in the acting department. The director, Alister Grierson (Kokoda: 39th Battalion), and Cameron make the most out of a bland storyline; and turn it into an unexpectedly entertaining and nerve-shredding movie.

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Review – Black Swan (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

Obsession is a dangerous mindset to fall into. It has the power to consume its victim, and drive him or her to madness. Black Swan may look like it is about ballerinas and Ballet in general, but it is not: it is about obsession, and the psychological effects and the physical strains it can cause someone. Yet, if the film meant to tackle these complex issues acutely, it goes preposterously too far to be taken seriously.

The movie is viewed through the eyes of Nina (Natalie Portman – Star Wars I IIIBrothers, Your Highness), an innocent, pretty but mentally unstable ballerina, who lives with her domineering mother (Barbara Hershey – Falling Down, Hannah and her Sisters). Nina has seemingly devoted her whole life to becoming Odette, the White Swan, in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. But the company she works for has made a slight altercation to the performance: the girl who plays Odette will also have to play her evil twin-sister, Odile, the Black Swan. Whilst Nina fits the role of the White Swan perfectly, she has to learn how to become manipulative and provocative in order to play the Black Swan.

Thomas urging Nina to ‘feel’ and ‘respond’ to his touch as the latter needs to learn how to become the Black Swan.

Nina is determined to play both roles flawlessly. But her obsession with perfection exposes her already fragile mind, as well as her various insecurities. It is not long before reality and Nina’s perceptions of reality (hallucinations?) start to thread together to look like one and the same. Paranoia goes hand in hand with this too. A younger and, perhaps, even more beautiful girl, called Lily (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Friends with Benefits), joins the company making Nina believe that she is going to be replaced as the lead performer. Consequently, Nina works ever harder, pushing herself to the brink (and beyond), in order to please and convince her demanding boss, Thomas (Vincent Cassels – La Haine, Derailed, Trance), that she is right for the dual role. Regardless of the personal cost.

The acting in Black Swan, across the board, is exceptional. Natalie Portman is without a doubt the star of the show. Portman captures the mental anguish that Nina goes through with remarkable consistency and concentration. One is never sure what mental state Nina is in, or what is real and what is not real with her. Portman is solely responsible for this and rightly deserves the credit.

This is not to say that Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey or Vincent Cassels do themselves an injustice; far from it. But Portman’s performance as Nina is Oscar-winning material. It has also finally enabled her to remove the shackles from her piteous performance as Padmé in Star Wars I, II and III. Yes, Portman’s performances in Closer and Brothers showed us that she had the potential to be a great actor, but in Black Swan she reveals that she has more than just mere potential with stunning effect.

Lily, played by Mila Kunis, looking beautiful despite having done some intense ballet practice.

It is not just the acting that is superb throughout the movie. The director, Darren Aranofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) has done the choreography and the music brilliantly too. As a result, just like in Pi and Requiem, the disturbing nature of Black Swan has the maximum effect upon the audience. (Think of the masturbation or the lesbian-sex scenes to mention but two.)

The travesty for Black Swan is that it is neither as intense nor as shocking as it should have been. It is certainly not in the same league as Requiem. Whilst Requiem is harrowingly realistic, Black Swan becomes a little farcical towards the end. This is a pity for cast and director alike. It is unlikely that Aranofsky, judging by his previous works, intended to turn this movie into a pantomime.

These are by no means the only flaws in Black Swan either. Although the film hints at how dedicated one must be to become a top ballerina, it fails to detail the positive aspects of the industry. Instead, the movie focuses upon many of the negative stereotypes, such as eating disorders and overbearing parents. (Apparently, much of these are out of date in the West.)

Black Swan is by no means an objective portrayal of the Ballet world. The film also lacks the jaw-dropping, stomach-churning ability of Requiem. Then again, Black Swan is still a very entertaining psychological thriller and is quite distressing. Moreover, the acting is of the highest quality. Few actors will better Natalie Portman’s performance over the coming year, and she rightly deserves the nominations and awards she is receiving. It is just a shame for her and Aranofsky that audiences have laughed more at the absurdity of Nina’s descent, than taken note of the possible consequences of obsession.

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