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It's finally over. Last Sunday The Shield wrapped up its seventh and final season and came full circle leaving viewers feeling shocked, saddened, and wondering what they will do from now on during its time-slot now that it's no longer with us.
'The Wire' is the greatest cop show on TV. Ask anyone who likes cop shows what their favourite series to watch is and they will inevitably always tell you it's 'The Wire'. Well I'm not. While I appreciate it's slow-burning labyrinthine plot and realistic approach to the City of Baltimore, I simply cannot call it the greatest cop show on TV, and that is mainly due to some actors (Dominic Cooper) being less convincing than others, with its ending being downright pitiful (it's penultimate episode was the greatest, not the series finale).
No, the greatest cop show on television is 'The Shield'. Not only does this sprawling dirty cop show have an actual story with a beginning, a middle and and an end, but it's a gritty, realistic approach to the streetlife of the corrupt cops that roam the streets, solving cases while pocketing a little cash on the side. And unlike 'The Wire' every single actor, no matter how small their role, gives their very best, making a real-flesh-and-blood person that you can believe exists in the real world and not just on the screen. Of course, the real star of the show here is Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis), a kniving, cunning, , horrendous monster of a human being with a badge who's the Tony Soprano of cops. Heck, if Mackey met Soprano he'd probably frame him for something and have the mobster shanked in prison, he's that tough and flawed a cop. Yet Chiklis manages to do something few actors can do and that is less us sympathise with this vile human being, following and sometimes even supporting his deplorable actions over the seven long years even after he shot and killed a good member of his team at the end of the pilot episode (possibly the greatest first episode in the history of TV).
But noone is purely evil and even Mackey has a softer side, doing anything he can to help his family as well as keeping the strike team together, the strike team consisting of redneck Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins who gets better each season till giving an Emmy-worthy performance in season 7), Donnie Gardocki (starting as a 4th wheel but growing into someone whose story is just as important as the leads) and Curtis 'Lemonhead' Lemansky, the nicest cop of all who believes in justice though also cares about his team and is torn between his conscience and his things as he commits illegal activities in the name of the law. They are all part of a larger picture, but the show is a Shakesperean tragedy, with lead character Vic much like Richard II, King Lear or Titus. With a gun.
The adventures they face (robbing from the Armenian mob, going after an evil superior) both progress and move back to the past as every crime they make returns later on to test them again till every member of the strike team is punished in some way or other for their misdeeds. And you will never expect how or when it will happen.
The show is a real life depiction of the seedy LAPD, its shaky-cam work not too shaky but just blurry enough to make you feel like you're in the shoes of a cop with danger round every corner, and it's stories are surprisingly deep, dealing with issues most showstry to avoid. Not to say every story is excellent, a subplot in season 2 ruining my liking of one character and probably other audience members too as the character of Danni (a cop sleeping with one of the married character) is eventually reduced to a small role. That story was the killing of an innocent Arab by a cop after the Arab's Islamophobic neighbor reports them for being terrorists. Rather than deal with police abuse going too far the show appears to justify it as simply something cops do on the job which is forgivable. The DVD had additional scenes that made us sympathise more with the innocent Arabs but what was aired on TV simply make them angry, bitter people (after the husband is gunned down). It was the lowpoint of season 2, contrasting the highpoint which was the build-up towards the robbery from the Armenian mob. Luckily this lowpoint was fixed in a later season when a new boss angrily tells a cop who utters a anti-Arab remark that she will kick him out if he does it again. And with her tone she means it.
But the show also has other characters, all of whom have secondary agendas to their jobs, with the politically motivated Captain Aceveda who will use anyone to climb up in his hopes of becoming Mayor to character favourite Dutchboy, a smart geeky detective mocked and humiliated by others who follows the book and has a thirst for putting bad guys away by interrogation with the mind. He and his partner Claudette Wyms are the cleanest of the cops but even they have problems which I cannot say as I will spoil this review, although I was disappointed at one episode which made Dutch do something disgusting and out of character (surprisingly enough it was directed by David Mamet).
One of the best things about this show is that it actually goes full circle, ending in a story that brings back the past and creates closure for all characters involved, some for the good, some for the bad, some for the terribly ugly (one scene will leave you stunned and is currently considered to be one of the most shocking moments in TV history). Like the Rocky saga it never forgets the past and even goes as far as to bring back characters from the past but in a realistic manner.
And this brings me on to guest stars, the series having respected actors on the show it exceptional roles worth chewing on. Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker (post-Oscar win), Franka Potente and more are all in this series with their own stories that run parallel to Vic's and make us understand him more. Not only are these characters compelling but at times we find ourselves rooting for them more than the main characters, such is the brilliance of their performances.
Before I end this review I must state one more negative qualm about this show, and that is its attitude to homosexuality which is that it's a disease that can be cured. One character, Julien, is a devout Christian who is also gay. He goes to seek help from a priest and goes through 'treatment' which turns him straight. But rather than deal with the issue it says that he really is straight, marrying a woman and being happy (thus reducing interest i the character and so his role gets smaller). In one episode a lesbian is kidnapped by her brother and gangraped to make her straight. At the end of the episode she hates her girlfriend and remains straight. This sort of attitude to such a sensitive issue is irresponsible and the sort of thing that can have one voting against gay marriage or wanting all homosexuals to undergo 'treatment' for their 'disease'. Thankfully much like with the Islamophobic story a later episode hints that for all his actions he may always remain gay.
So, 'The Shield'. A Shakespearean opera in modern day LA. A crime story where the cops can sometimes be worse than the criminals. An action-packed story dealing with loss and redemption. And the greatest cop show on TV. Will it be called a classic? I hope so. Will the actors receive Emmys? I wish but voters don't like cop shows today. Should you see it? YES, BUY IT ON DVD NOW!!!!
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. DJ Caruso and Shia LaBeouf. Okay, so perhaps the latter doesn't fit in with the other three greats in terms of the movies they make, but one thing they do share in common is that Shia LaBeouf has never been directed so well as he has with Caruso, their relationship reminiscent to that of Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman. DJ Caruso until recently was simple a director for hire, his mediocre-at-best films such as the forgettable Angelina Jolie thriller Taking Lives being the highpoint of his career. Much like fellow hack Jon Avnet, Caruso was simply making movies to get some money with no distinct style to separate himself from countless other directors and reach the rank of auteurs such as Michael Mann. But then 2 years ago he met Stephen Spielberg who asked him to direct a film he was producing, a teenage remake of Rear Window, which would star an up-and-coming Shia LaBeouf, at that point a Disney kid trying to break free of his innocent image. That film was Disturbia, the low-budget film ($20 million budget) making over $100 million worldwide and making Shia LaBeouf a bankable leading man.
It may surprise you that I have said so much already without once mentioning Eagle Eye, and that is because the relationship between director and star is so important, it was a leading factor that could make or break this movie. For after making Disturbia together, Spielberg then pitched a story about a young man framed for being a terrorist who must go on the run to prove his innocence. He once again wanted Caruso to direct, and both wanted LaBeouf to star. LaBeouf, having just wrapped up Spielberg's latest Indiana Jones installment, was available and eager to team up with the director again. Adding in the excellent Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) as a mother who must aid the young man (played by LaBeouf) if she wants to see her son again, as well as a supporting cast with the excellent Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa), Rosario Dawson (25th Hour) and Michael Chiklis (TV's The Shield), anticipation was high for this one, made even higher with the excellent trailers that were released. And did this movie meet expectations? In the words of a non-VP: You betcha!
The film starts in Iraq, with American forces using satellite imagery to watch what seems to be a Muslim funeral going on. Except contrary to what the technology says, they believe this isn't funeral but a meet-up between terrorists with the coffin holding a nuclear missile. The Secretary of Defense (Chiklis) believes they need more evidence before they launch an attack; the President and his cohorts believe otherwise, and thus they blow up the village killing everyone there which leads to increased revenge suicide attacks in the Middle East.
Back in America Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf), a college dropout with no aim in life has just come from the funeral of his twin brother. And upon arriving home he finds his room filled with ingredients to make a bomb, and receives a phone call from a mysterious woman (Julianne Moore, uncredited) telling him to get out before the FBI come in. Too late. The FBI swoop in and arrest Shaw.
Also there a divorced mother (Rachel Holloman) has seen her son get on a train for his school trip. As she leaves an Iranian steals her son's luggage. And Rachel receives a phonecall from the same woman saying that if she wants to see her son again she must do exactly what she tells her.
And thus the film begins, a relentless action thriller filled with astounding setpieces and suspenseful scenes as Shaw is broken out and he and Rachel go on the run, chased across the country by the FBI (Billy Bob Thornton leading, here in comic menacing mode with Dawson more subdued) as they try to figure out what's going on and stop whatever horrible thing is about to happen.
The film is in full pulse-pounding overdrive, with everything checked from carchases to footchases to a spectacular moment involving a plane, and little time to breathe. If your heart isn't racing during this movie you're most probably dead. While The Dark Knight remains the best thriller this year (and in my opinion one of the greatest movies ever made but that's for another review) this film is the second best blockbuster made, being more exciting than Iron Man and more intelligent than one would expect.
There are only two things I must criticise. While I applaud the filmmakers for not making a movie about evil Islamic terrorists (because frankly it's beginning to seem like Goebbels propaganda), their lack of research showed by having the Iranian bizarrely have an Arab name. I also am irked by the third act, which after the excellent set-up in the first twenty minutes, and the adrenaline rush that is the next hour, was ended in a very simple way that suspends credibility due to the absurdity of the resolution. That and certain actions occur during those moments that are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. If the ending was as good as the first two parts this film would have been a masterpiece. Alas it's just great Summer entertainment (released in the Autumn).
As for performances, LaBeouf once again shows why he might just be the next Tom Cruise, his charisma and acting chops shining throughout in a role that made me think of a junior Minority Report. Monaghan is also excellent, fleshening her character and toughening her up to be a mother who will do anything for her son rather than be a shrieking damsel-in-distress. The two are equals here, a rarity in a genre where men are expected to always save the girl. The supporting cast is also excellent, with Chiklis in particular showing why he's a tremendous actor (check out The Shield; his performance is as great as James Gandolfini's in The Sopranos).
All in all, an excellent film that makes me excited for the next Caruso/LaBeouf team-up - Y: The Last Man.
NOTE: The screenplay had an alternate ending which was similar to that of Enemy of the State and opened room for a sequel. I normally don't like endings that are made just to have a sequel but personally I think it's better than the one here.
I figured I should write a review on the magazine I had been reading for the past few years (since 2001) but have now quit.
My history and experience
The magazine first caught my attention in 2001 when I saw The Lord Of The Rings on the cover. Bored that afternoon with nothing to do I bought the magazine and started reading it. Immediately hooked, the magazine stayed informative and entertaining until the penultimate pages (the ultimate pages were porn ads) where I put the mag down, satisfied that I had learned everything that was going on in the industry that month.
Over the next few years I continued to read it, learning more and more, being the first to find that Sean Bean would be the villain in National Treasure or The Hobbit was being optioned to be made into a film or Bill & Ted III was being made... Wait a minute, that didn't happen! Yes, in the world of Total Film Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter were reprising their roles as Bill Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan AKA WILD STALLYNS!!!! *Cue air guitar music* with Laurence Fishburne cameoing as God and Ozzy Osbourne coming along for the ride. Pity that never happened...
Yes, Total Film brings out facts but in its earlier days mixed it with fiction to the point that you would only take what they said with a grain of salt... very different to Empire where you believed what they said no matter how idiotic the concept. Today, though, Total Film has a new section called Buzz that thankfully puts rumours down in its own section and restores some dignity to the mag.
So the years progressed and the magazine became more and more expensive, going up from £2.90 to £3.70. But as the prices increased so did the pages, becoming more fleshed out and intriguing so that you felt that it was worth the price you paid. Total Film was now a major rival with Empire.
But perhaps that was a bad thing for Total Film was now at the peak of its popularity with buyers, myself included, lapping up everything they had to say and loving them for their free posters they used to give.
Total Film felt it was invincible and started to have more fun with its words, making fun of everybody and publishing the most pathetic letters in their mags (which meant that people who wrote 20 silly words received prizes but those who had genuinely interesting things to say had their words deleted by the staff). Along with that their forum was moved and made bigger (and better).
Now I must say a little about the forum: At that time run by the lovely Liz Hawkins its administrators were two men(?) who were not part of the Total Film staff but simply film fans who loved the magazine. One was a fan who loved all film, one was a cinephile who snubbed almost everything. The two worked together and helped build a small community where users acted courteously towards each other and were always interested in what everyone had to say. But that's not a good thing.
The forum was a small community for a reason. The members of that magazine who belonged to the old forum (which included me) knew each other well enough to get along in the new one as did a few members who joined earlier, but sadly that meant that some users felt that their words were more important than others and so they downright bashed any new member who had a thing or two to say about movies. This meant that many members left the forum to join others. I myself had made many friends there (both old existing members and new ones) and when I saw one administrator (who I to this day believe was between the ages of 17 to 20) breaking his own rules and attacking a user I and other members stood up for him.
But I'll talk about what happened later.
So which year are now at? Oh yes, 2005.
The magazine looked great, it probably even smelled great, and its issues were more rich and informative than ever before. Every aspect of film productions were mentioned and interviews were given with all the main players on the set of the film. But the magazine somehow didn't go in-depth with them and simply was used as a way of promoting the film. Yes, that is true, that's what magazines do, but unlike Sight & Sound or Empire, Total Film was beginning to resemble Heat magazine with its lavish poems of love towards the celebrities and no getting down and dirty into the truth of it all, making a hellish production seem like a walk in the clouds. It's reviews also grew more and more outlandish, giving positive reviews to universally panned films and spoiling movies for the masses (28 Weeks Later gave two HUGE pictures of one of the biggest twists in the film). It also didn't want to appear like it loved everything so gave lame excuses for why it gave 4 stars and not 5; Zodiac, for example, lost a star because its camera shots were too perfectly composed.
If Stanley Kubrick had made it, the film would have gotten 5.
My respect for the mag had dropped drastically and no matter what freebies they gave, from DVDs featuring movie trailers to more posters, many customers decided to stop buying the magazine. But I stood on, hoping that this was just a bad patch in a great decade.
Then it happened. The realization. The truth. This magazine may be writing its reviews based on what it gets from the studios. Why else does the magazine promote everything Eli Roth does, always talking about his upcoming projects as if he's the next Scorsese of our generation. Always giving him rave reviews for the worst of his work, always praising what others condemn, giving Hostel: Part II 4 stars when every other mag gives him 1 (even fans of the genre hated the movie). Their love for this man put me off so much that I have now quit reading the mag.
And now back to the forum:
Before I go on, let me just say that the opinions of the administrators and members in no way reflect Total Film's beliefs, and what I say is based on my own personal experiences.
So we stood up for the member. And this administrator turned his horns on me, attacking me in every post no matter what was written. It could have been a stated fact in the press and I still would have been insulted (the usual attacks were that I knew nothing of film or had no taste in movies simply because I felt that Kingdom Of Heaven was an underrated picture).
I no longer went to the forum to enjoy a conversation about film with other filmlovers; I now went there to defend my words against an administrator who broke his own rules, who harrassed me every day like a bully who had found its prey.
But in those dark days there was one good one. This came last Summer at the time that I was at my peak of message boards (by the way that was only a phase; today I have life, work, and relationships which take time out of the lesser points of life) and was the administrator of another messageboard that houses over 7000 members (the members who were brutally attacked by this administrator, whether it be because they liked a film he loathed or defended another user's opinion to like that film, joined this forum when they asked me if I was part of anything else). At that time Ms. Hawkins wanted to break the record for: Most users online on their forum. I had a friend with me that day (who I had introduced to this forum) and together we went to the site and logged on to increase the numbers. The record sadly wasn't broken (in fact one of the administrators wasn't on at the time) but the admin whose eye was fixed squarely on me immediately created a thread making the horrendous accusation that my friend and I were the same person. Forced to defend myself for the rest of the day (and thankfully other members believed my words) it finally ended with the administrator withdrawing his horrible remarks, my friend quitting the boards, and the other administrator sending me a private message giving me a reluctant apology for all the trouble they had caused.
VICTORY! I screamed like Kevin Dillon's character in Entourage.
But that was not to last.
For 6 months later the admins would have their revenge. After yet more horrendous posts attacking me I finally stood up for myself, unafraid of this person's position. He could have been the President of Futurenet (the publication company) but that does not give him the right to abuse his rights as an admin.
I said what I thought of him, what he did, how I felt, everything...
And the next day I could not log on. Was I banned? No. Apparently one of my pieces of info was changed (I'm guessing password or e-mail address) and this could only have been done by the admins.
So I asked my friend if I could use his account? He kindly agreed and I sent a message to the nicer of the two admins. No reply to it. So I posted on the forum that I was using my friend's account and couldn't log onto mine. The administrator then replied to my message telling me that it would be sorted out immediately and I could go online.
THAT WAS A LIE.
For the very next day my friend's account was banned. And I still could not log on.
Those two admins finally removed their scapegoat, but what goes around comes around and after so many members who have joined their forum have realized that it is a close-knit village where new people are not welcome, I am sure that they will realize their mistakes and make the forum a better place.
Do I regret ever joining it? No. I made friends there who knew so much about film and whose opinions I truly respect. I had my good times in the forum too talking about the hot Summer and the beautiful days. And perhaps me being shut out of their community was a blessing for I would no longer have to be insulted in that forum and could go out and resume my life, going to exotic locations, seeing the most breathtaking films, and seeing them with the most breathtking women. So no, perhaps it does have a happy ending. :-)
The Total Film mag is divided into the following sections:
Past: Good letters that had interesting questions, some fun polls, and were always a good read.
Present: Most of them are stupid with the occasional interesting one.
Arguably the best part of the mag, the news is always interesting to read with fun facts and trivia and great anecdotes to mention at work. It also features some good movie stills.
I've already mentioned them as I have mentioned:
The Buzz: AKA Rumours
We then have features on upcoming movies which is a simple promotion for the film, followed by DVD reviews (amazing how a magazine can rate a movie 5 stars, find that the public hated it, and then give it 1 star when its time to review the DVD) and lastly, US DVD, replicas and porno ads.
It also however features the fabulous Abridged Script, arguably the best part of the mag. Hilarious spoofs of new releases, it's always great to see someone rip the script apart. Do read it after you've seen the film of course, unless you like laughing at things you don't understand or read spoilers.
By the way you don't need the mag to read the abridged script, you can read it right here:
Lastly we have the website itself, which sadly posts rumors as facts only to the next day quickly retract their statements (this had happened quite a few times hence why I mention it). But it is also a great way of promoting the mag, the truthful news are always interesting, you can read their reviews online, and you even get links to the newest trailers on the web. A fantastic job, then, with every aspect of it apart from the forum.
Summary: A great magazine that has peaked and is now dragging itself to the end, Total Film's best parts can now easily be found on the web. Let's hope it picks up before people stop subscribing.
Their War. Our World.
When that tagline was released on the web I got a heart-attack: This was the exact same tagline of Alien VS. Predator, a film that is unanimously hated by both Alien and Predator fans (and anybody else who dared watch that piece of trash). Would this film be the same?
I was hoping not. Transformers was a cartoon I loved to watch when growing up. The epic story of alien robots battling each other was something any young boy would enjoy, and it was fantastic fun to play with the Hasbro toys.
So I was paying attention to all the updates. The first teaser trailer (which is part of the plot); only a glimpse of the Transformer. Then the pictures arrived and not one of them was of an Autobot or Decepticon but instead of the humans caught in the middle. Many of them were of Megan Fox who I still can't understand why people are mad about. She's pretty but nothing for everyone to rave about. However even without the Transformers shown it still made the suspense more exciting.
Then the international trailer came and there we saw quick glimpses of the Transformers in action, shifting shape and battling on the streets (and in the desert). WOW! After this expectations were off the roof.
So now the preview screenings came and I of course rushed to see it... as did a queue of hundreds. A queue that took half-an-hour to get to the end, this was a movie everyone was mad to see.
So did the film deliver? YES.
Beginning with an amazing action scene in Qatar as one of the Decepticons (evil Transformers) destroys a military base, the film then throws us into the shoes of Sam Witwicky, the boy who is about to get his first car. Like all Hollywood movies he likes a girl whose beyond his league, played by Megan Fox, and like all movies he's a little dorky. But thanks to this character being played by the excellent Shia LaBeouf, one of the future greats, Sam doesn't come off as annoying or stereotypical but as someone just like the rest of us. Except unlike the rest of us his car turns out to be an alien robot named Bumblebee.
Queue action scene after action scene after action scene as the robots beat each other to a pulp as they try to find a cube that can be used to destroy humankind. The location of the cube, however, happens to have something to do with Sam's grandfather's glasses which he is selling on eBay (and by the way this movie plays off like a 2-and-a-half hour eBay advert).
This is a Michael Bay, film, so that is expected, and thankfully this is a Michael Bay film with some of his best action movies ever. It's funny, it's energetic, it's colourful, it's beautiful, with all the big bangs and explosions that we haven't seen since Armageddon, also made by Bay. This, thankfully, is nothing like 'The Island'.
This is also an extremely patriotic movie and though I enjoy them (Top Gun is one of my favourite movies) this seemed a little too much like propaganda thanks to rewritten scripts by Alex Kurtzman and Steven Spielberg.
Examples: Arabian Gulf used instead of Persian Gulf. There was a huge fiasco when the Persian Gulf was renamed the Arabian Gulf by National Geographic magazine but a couple of months later newspapers, etc. started calling it the Persian Gulf again. So why one character says Arabian Gulf is beyond me.
Next: They're too smart to be Persian scientists.
ANother dig at Iran. Before you think I'm some Iran-supporter I would like to state that I am not, but when a movie takes a break to throw not one, but two digs at the Iranians, before going on to show that only Americans can help the world, you can see that a message is being shoved down the kids' throats.
Then we have the cringe-worthy: Freedom is the right to all sentient beings, which happened to be a line written by a Transformers fan. It wasn't the best line (I saw a lot better on the Transformers website), it was just something Spielberg liked so shoved in. And it truly is cringe-worthy, stating the obvious (of course its everyone's right!) in the most sappy, emotionless way.
But with those two quips aside the rest of the movie is just one fun Summer ride, and in my opinion the best film you'll see all Summer (although I also highly recommend The Simpsons movie, which I never thought would be as brilliant as the TV show).
Of the human actors, other than the aforementioned people we also have a terrific cameo by John Turturro and good performances by Jon Voight and Anthony Anderson, who is as hilarious as always.
The robots themselves are so realistic you think they have souls. Their faces are full of emotion and expression and you care for them, an amazing feat for this sort of movie.
So what are you waiting for? Get in your vehicles and prepare for the ride of your life!
Transformers are back!
He's been trapped in a skyscraper, he's been trapped in an airport, he's been trapped in the city, now McClane is... no longer trapped. Great.
Yes, Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free Or Die Hard in the States) marks the return of John McClane, the only alpha male to roam the Summer this year. But though McClane is back, everything that you associated with Die Hard is gone.
Yipee Kiy-yay mo... is arguably one of the greatest lines in movies and is so iconic that bus posters simply said: Yipee Kiy-yay mo -- John 07/04/07
It didn't show Willis' face, it didn't give the name of the film, it was simply that quote. Yet everyone knew what movie they were advertising.
So you would expect this line to be used in this film like they did with all the others. Not so. Due to studio interference wanting to keep the rating down (and the MPAA feeling that bad language is the most dangerous weapon of all) only half that line was used. Guess which half...
Another thing about the Die Hard movies that people never mention is that the people in higher parts of the government (FBI, etc.) either interfere and unwittingly aid the bad guys or are plain bad themselves, and the only good people in this trilogy are the working class people; cops, etc. who must against all insurmountable odds stop the bad guys from succeeding in their money-loving goals. That has also been destroyed as Homeland Security which every American hates in real life, are trying desperately to prevent another terrorist attack from happening.
And moving onto terrorists, Die Hard thankfully has not changed and pitted McClane against Al Qaeda (the previous Die Hard movies never had McClane against who America was currently fighting against but instead East Europeans or home-grown Americans) but rather against computer hackers who have shut down everything electronic in America from CCTV to traffic lights. They're slightly nerdish but they're not hesitant to kill, so thankfully the danger meter is high.
The lead terrorists are Timothy Olyphant and kung-fu beauty Maggie Q who are both great in their roles (Olyphant is a threatening genius, Q is a sexy psycho) with Q's seemingly indestructible character making you scream "WHY WON'T YOU DIE????" Yet you can't help but compare them to Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons who were far more dangerous, far cleverer, and far more fleshed out but I blame this more on the lack of good script than on the acting itself. Another problem is the lack fo characterization for the other villains to the point that we don't know any of their names and they appear to be there to up the body count. While the first Die Hard movie had a scene where McClane actually bothered to take down their names and each villain had something witty to say, in this film the villains simply grunt and shoot. Even the nerdy evil computer hacker in this film is extremely bland in comparison to the evil computer hacker in the first film.
The script appears to have been written with the thoughts of the action scenes rather than plot, and while the plot is thin the action is astounding with the highlights being a car chase involving a helicopter and other vehicles flipping over (you've seen it in the trailer) and a truck versus a fighter jet. It's epic-style action and perfectly executed so that every money shot can be seen in all its glory.
Willis has recently moved onto John Wayne-style dry characters so it is a welcome return to see him playing the disgruntled man with cynical humour, and though his one-liners aren't great (compare Die Hard's "Thanks for the advice" to this film's "That's gonna wake the neighbours" and you'll see what I mean) they're still fun to listen to.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Lucy McClane, the daughter of our vested hero, and though she isn't in many scenes she is still great in them, making her character seem real with some of her on-screen father's qualities.
Justin Long plays the good computer hacker and sidekick to Willis' action man, and is extremely good and a lot of fun in his role. A talented comic actor (Dodgeball, Waiting...) who can actually do more dramatic acting (Jeepers Creepers), Long has proven that he may have a long career ahead of him. He also manages to steal the show from Willis with his hilarious lines which is a very rare feat.
The director, Len Wiseman, has also managed to do a decent job here with his action scenes being the most stand-out. Surprising, though, especially when he made the atrocious Underworld movies which have badly executed action scenes, bad scripts, bad acting, bad EVERYTHING, and which you would not expect came from the man who has made this decent Die Hard movie. Perhaps not as good as any of McTiernan's films, it at least is better than number 2 and deserves to stand as an excellent summer action movie.
Worth the price of admission, I'm going to see it again on Friday.
Check it out.
When you read a review of Apocalypto in a newspaper or magazine you are bound to be given the following the pieces of information:
- Mel Gibson was stopped for drink-driving.
- Mel Gibson spouted something anti-semitic.
- Mel Gibson is disturbed.
Now the first two statements are sad facts but the third is an opinion of the reviewers and should not be taken as the gospel truth.
I need to say this because my purpose is to review Apocalypto, the film itself, and not to discuss Mel Gibson's private life. Much like Roman Polanski (who raped an underage girl and fleed the country when he was found), Gibson has done an atrocious thing but his personal demons do not diminish the fact that he is an excellent filmmaker. The star of some of the best action films ever made (Mad Max, Lethal Weapon) and the director of undeniably powerful films (Braveheart, Passion Of The Christ), Gibson knows how to entertain the audience but his vision is strong enough for him to develop his own style and allow him to make choices most Hollywood filmmakers would dare not do. A religious Catholic himself who has always been interested in history, Mel Gibson filmed his Jesus movie in Aramaic and now has made Apocalypto, the picture that chronicles the downfall of the Mayan civilisation, in their native language. Yet it works, the realism depicted here making the film feel raw, the tension real, and literally takes us into their world of human sacrifices and violent sport.
And yes, the film is undeniably violent with people being thrown off cliffs, beating hearts being taken out of people's bodies, and babies being flung into fires. Yet Gibson is not a sadist, choosing to show the violent life our heroes must endure as a larger force chooses to occupy their land (the allegory to the Iraq war is imminent and Gibson has talked about it himself) yet never glorifying the violence like Hostel: Part II did. In fact the aforementioned scene of the baby being tossed was filmed but Gibson chose to cut out most of it because he knew how shocking it was and did not want it to detract from the rest of what was going on in that scene.
The first ten minutes of the film throws us into the lives of these people, letting us get to know the lives of our main characters and playing out like any Hollywood movie. We have jokes about testicles that a frat pack movie probably wished it had thought of first, a hunt for food, comaraderie and friendship scenes, bonding between father and son, and more practical jokes that allows us to feel the family bonds that exists in this tribe. The main character of the film, Jaguar Paw, has a pregnant wife and son and the intimate scenes with them are the kinds that put smiles on your faces.
Then after those ten minutes things begin to get creepy. Another tribe passes through their forest trying to get away from something - but what?
And during the night the horrific onslaught begins as the massive force murders most of the tribesmen and takes a few for a fate that I will not spoil for you. However Jaguar Paw has hidden his wife and son in a well and needs to get back on time before it rains in which his whole family will drown.
The movie then becomes a journey as these characters must face all sorts of obstacles to get to the massive empire of the larger tribe.
If I said anymore about these scenes you might get mad for they are maor spoilers so like the Grindhouse flicks I will simply say:
The last hour of the film is a non-stop chase sequence and while most movies get boring after ten minutes, here the chase is rieting and never lets up as both man and nature try to prevent Jaguar from reaching his wife on time. Here Gibson once again shows his flair for crafting the most tense scenes ever filmed on celluloid (or in this case digital) with fast, action-packed, quick-cut scenes that will have you on your edge of your seat about to have a heart-attack. These scenes are NOT for the faint of heart and if you can't go on rollercoasters you should not go and see this.
While 99% of the movie is at masterpiece status the final ten minutes a serious letdown, not because of the finale which was excellent but because of an added scene that was added due to Gibson's Catholic background. Here the Christians come (with big cross, etc.) to be the shining white light in this dark, crumbling kingdom. Apocalypto means a new beginning and this is what the film was leading towards. However the film just doesn't work if you know history because what the Christians did when they came over was far worse than any of the barbaric atrocities committed during the movie, and to glorify them as a much-needed presence seriously diminishes the power of the movie and causes me to take away one of the stars.
There is the film reviewed, now for the DVD:
I bought this movie from DVDLoon.com for £7.99 and seeing that it was the last one in stock (I'm sure its been restocked by now in case you're interested in buying it) it looks like good word-of-mouth caused it fly off the shelves.
The main extras are:
- Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto
which is a fascinating Behind-The-Scenes look that is half-technical half-documentary and you can see the amount of effort put into crafting this realistic action-packed epic.
and a commentary (plus deleted scene) by Mel Gibson and his co-writer Farhad Safinia.
The two are lively partners throwing in fun anecdotes but also a lot of information about the Mayan civilisation, and it is clear from the commentary that Farhad Safinia is an extremely smart man. In fact the partnership between the two worked so well that Gibson and Safinia are working on a movie about... the creation of the Oxford dictionary. I'd like to see the critics talk about his disturbed mind now!
All in all, Apocalypto is a riveting, realistic picture that deserves to be seen. Though the extras are few the information is packed and for the price of £7.99 on DVDLoon.com I would suggest buying it. If not, rent it. But do see it!
When this film was first released in 1998 it was critically acclaimed but not a big money-maker. It's title isn't very catchy, there were no huge stars in it, it was made by a director famous for schlock horror films like the Evil Dead trilogy and it was released around the same time as The Mask Of Zorro. Which film would you rather see?
Yet now that it is on DVD it has begun to gain a following, perhaps not as big as The Shawshank Redemption but still enough to sell a lot of copies and give Sam Raimi more clout; if this film and The Gift hadn't have succeeded he may never have had the chance to direct the Spider-Man movies. And it deserves it for this film is something that will never leave you and is a movie that regularly crops up during conversations.
The story itself is simple: Three friends (two of them brothers) find money in a plane crash and decide to hide it instead of give it to the local authorities. Things get worse when they find that the money belongs to the mob.
This whole film is in fact a morality tale but told in such a brilliant way (convoluted but easy to follow) that it goes into a class of its own.
I've already said that the title of the film 'A Simple Plan' is one of the reasons why the film didn't fare so well, yet the title is perfect: No plan, no matter how simple you think it is (take the money, keep it a secret), will ever be that way once its taken to action. There are so many different factors that come into effect, all of them threatening to expose the friends for what they've done. Soon enough greed and paranoia come in and we are left with more double-crossings than a heist movie.
In most films these sorts of scenes are exaggerated to such an extent you would think the people doing these are wearing horns on their heads, but thanks to the brilliant script (written by the author of the novel that this is based on) they are portrayed as human beings who have reasons for why they do what they do. Why take so much money now? To pay the mortgage. Why not trust your friends? Because your friends are brothers who are spending less and less time with you... It's real, and it helps that the actors are not big A-list stars but supporting characters in A-list films, finally given a chance to shine.
Bill Paxton has always been one of my favourite underrated actors and this is the evidence of why that is. As the wiser brother and leader to the group he has to ensure that the plan works perfectly. The whole weight of the world is hunched on his shoulder and with the authorities getting closer to the truth (the FBI become involved in the case eventually) and his wife (Bridget Fonda) finding out more and more, his character Hank has a lot of pressure in making the right decision, and sometimes its not that easy.
Billy Bob Thornton wasn't a big star when he made this film but you can see that he is a brilliant actor just from this (also watch the Coen Brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There for his best performance before he became an A-list actor with movies like Bad Santa). A very simple-minded person who just wants to live a good and normal life, Jacob (his character's name) is the morality meter of this film as he reflects upon the crime they have committed and the actions they have taken to keep this a secret. His performance has an air of sadness that allows you to pity him without thinking that he is a child. True, he has the mentality of a child but as the film progresses you can see the adult personality in him and this makes it all the more powerful.
The relationship between the two brothers is integral to the story and if the actors didn't have the chemistry it wouldn't have worked, but Paxton and Thornton are excellent together and this gives a credibility to the relationship. Bill Paxton may be the younger brother brother but because he is the smarter one he acts like the older one, and everything he does, no matter how bad, is done for him and his brother who he loves more than anything. This makes the scenes powerful and effective as he forces his brother to do things that would make him hate himself as a person. These actions may be akin to bullying but Paxton has played it as the brother who must do this and make his brother do the same no matter how bad it makes you feel.
This movie, however, isn't a drama although the relationships and emotional arc are the most noticeable in the film. It is in fact a suspense thriller and the fear of getting caught is always lingering in the air. With the authorities and mob closing in on both sides our three characters must do all they can to ensure that they will never be found. This film also acts out the Prisoner dilemma strongly as each character must act with the assumption that they know what their friends are going to do. Paranoia, as mentioned before, is very important here and much like Prison Break, there are a lot of twists that play out without your knowledge.
The violence too is shocking with sudden horrific bursts of it coming during seemingly quiet scenes. Sam Raimi knows horror violence and it works here where an intimate conversation can turn into an almost cartoonish level of blood which leaves you gaping at the screen, open-mouthed, and allows us to feel the same way as the characters who are now in a situation that is way over their heads.
The weather and setting (small town that is always snowing) as well as the haunting score by Danny Elfman (interesting fact: he's married to Bridget Fonda), who also did the music for the first two Spider-Man movies, gives us a visual feeling of isolation that these characters feel as the film progresses. In fact the snow is harder and the score more staccatic as the movie progresses with a huge clash when the powerful, hair-raising end comes (which I will not be spoiling for you).
The supporting characters are excellent too, many of which are recognisable faces from TV but whose names we always forget.
The script is meticulous and the performances sensational but more must be said of Raimi's direction. He appears to be interested in fleshing out the drama in other genres whether it be the story of love and revenge in the Spider-Man movies or the maturity or a coward into a leader in the Evil Dead films (interesting fact #2: a sequel may yet be made and hopefully it will begin with the better ending of part III involving the future). Here he has turned a conventional thriller into a story of love and deceit and has crafted it perfectly, plus his sparing use of unflinching violence keeps the movie rooted in a real characters-in-absurd-situations film world that is perfect for this kind of film.
So, A Simple Plan: Forgotten when it was released but looking to breathe on DVD. See it and you will never forget it.
In fact now that I have written this review I will go and buy the DVD.
On Eli Roth's MySpace page the director has written a note stating as to why the movie has flopped in the States. He blames it on the fact that a 'Workprint' edition that surfaced on the internet shortly before the film's release caused many people to download it and watch it on their PCs instead of the cinema screen. I can personally see that as one factor which has led to its agonising death but I also see two other factors:
1. Every horror movie released since last October's Saw III has bombed at the box office whether they are good (28 Weeks Later, Grindhouse), bad (The Hills Have Eyes 2, Captivity) or just plain ugly.
2. The movie is awful.
To ease your minds I would like to point out that the reason this review has been written before the film's official release is not because I watched this pirated copy but because a friend of mine works at a cinema and gave me the chance to view the film. Now that I have stated this I would like to continue with the review.
From the horror turkeys we can see that cinemagoers are getting tired of the bloodsoaked rampage movies and have gone on to other genres. Sure, they still like their action movies and go for some escapist entertainment in the form of 300 and Shooter, but they also want more lightweight movies like The Devil Wears Prada. How else can you justify the surprise Box Office hit that was Music & Lyrics. This is understandable because after the tragic V. Tech massacre violence was no longer something to enjoy onscreen but rather something to hate; I won't discuss the violence-in-movies debate but when certain directors like Eli Roth glamorise the sadistic violence perpetuated onscreen events like this are bound to happen.
Hostel: Part II can be categorised as another 'torture porn' movie like Captivity and Turistas (also titled 'Paradise Lost') but most people will compare it to the hugely successful Saw franchise. I happen to be a huge fan of the Saw movies and the main reason isn't the twists at the end (they're simply an added bonus) but something that is crucial to these kinds of movies: Story. And herein lies Hostel: Part II's problem. There is no story.
Whereas the Saw movies deal with a psychopath's form of justice and the emotional arc of the characters he chooses to inflict this punishment towards, Hostel II is simply an excuse for horrifying violence. The premise is simple (a group of girls go to Slovakia and stay at a hostel. There they are kidnapped and tortured by rich businessmen who enjoy this kind of stuff). This sounds more like a Pinku movie than a horror flick, where the storyline and characterisation are tossed out in favour of different types of torture scenes that will no doubt give immense pleasure to some lovers of this kind of violence.
Eli Roth enjoys filming the pain inflicted upon these people and it is not to condemn their actions but to revel in it much like one character revelled in another character's blood. Legend has it that the concept for the Hostel movies came from a website Eli Roth and Ain't-It-Cool-News founder Harry Knowles stumbled upon in which for $10,000 you can go to Thailand and shoot someone in the head. After seeing these films I am beginning to wonder whether Roth was shocked by it or found it 'cool'.
Whereas the Saw films gave us flawed but sympathetic characters to root for here we are supposed to cheer for a trio of 2-dimensional girls who do nothing but talk about sex. If they're not screaming in pain then they're flirting with guys in the extreme slutty sense. In fact the only conversation not about sex was a conversation that hugely hinted as to the ending. It surprises me that a feminist like Rosario Dawson would be dating such a shallow-minded filmmaker.
Roth also wants to remove all the cliches of the horror genre and here we have a second problem. The script was written as if the writer-director had looked at a book that listed all the horror cliches and wrote the script in an attempt to turn it over this head. The results of this were complete predictability (all you have to think is what would happen in a normal horror movie then think the exact opposite) and even more unsympathetic characters 'acting' in a movie that never had a story.
The movie, as stated before, is a torture film so I should talk a bit about it. Yes, the scenes are varied and a lot of blood is shed. The movie in fact is so horrifically violent that ANYBODY will question the MPAA's rating of R instead of NC-17 and this movie is further proof that the ratings board are motivated by studios, politics and the big $$$. Why else would independent films like Boys Don't Cry be rated by NC-17 but a film that SHOWS a penis being chopped off as well as other body mutilation be rated NC-17. I'm not a big fan of Jack Valenti but if he were alive I'm sure he'd be shocked as to how the ratings boards are run.
Yet for all the violence that happens the film is bland for there is no originality in them. The Saw films had great concepts of different torture techniques, all executed masterfully and giving you an 'Okay, this is very elaborate but there must be an escape route' feeling. Here, however, the violence is usually limited to different types of metal blades and the only way to escape would be if the plot gave a bizarrely easy way out or if a character did something stupid.
The main performances here are awful and limited to coming on to a guy or screaming in agony. It is sad to see a talented actresss like Heather Matarazzo (The Princess Diaries) star in a film like this.
The male performances, on the other hand, are slightly better as we follow two businessmen (played by Roger Bart and Richard Burgi from Desperate Housewives) who go to Slovakia to torture their victims. Their scenes here are far more interesting and the two actors do their best to fleshen out otherwise bland roles. However once again the writing slips up and although Roth's intention was to show a character changing over the course of a film, which would have been an excellent plus for this film as we see men turn into monsters, Roth cops up and manages to do the whole transition in 30 seconds causing you to shudder at the thought that Roth is getting your money to make this dumb stuff.
If you've seen the trailers or posters you are bound to have noticed that Quentin Tarantino serves as executive producer on this film. Undeniably talented and in my opinion one of the greatest filmmakers working today it is sad to see his name on garbage like this. I remember the week after Grindhouse's flop (by the way it is a brilliant movie and I urge you to see it if you haven't already) Tarantino came on David Letterman. He said "I haven't read the papers recently, how did Grindhouse do?" to which Letterman replied "It's the number one non-family, non-comedy R-rated horror movie" (it had debuted at Number 4). Tarantino laughed and replied: "Still got the Midas touch!" I would like that touch to be back. Here is the man who made the movies that were the staplepoint of the '90s and who produced one of the most beautiful movies ever made, Hero. Just because he's friends with Roth and a sort of mentor doesn't mean that he should produce films that he knows will be garbage. Tarantino is one of the best when it comes to disturbing-but-offscreen-violence (the ear slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs is so unsettling some viewers believed they had seen something that wasn't shown) as well as cartoonish-violence (Kill Bill). He does not have to do this sort of sadistic violence that doesn't work under Roth's hand and I hope that in the future he will choose the projects he produces. He's a huge fan of Martin Scorsese (who himself was a tutor to another great filmmaker, Spike Lee) and I really hope that, like him, he will choose the movies he helps make next time.
By now a pattern is obvious. Virtually everything bad about this film comes down to Eli Roth, arguably the worst living filmmaker after Uwe Boll. I'd like to state a few personal thoughts on Roth before I end this review:
1. On his MySpace page he considers his ending to Hostel: Part II to be one of the greatest endings. As stated before, the one non-violent non-sexual conversation gave away the ending which was so stupid it felt like a brass cop-out.
2. He regularly mentions that he was the assistant to David Lynch. David Lynch happens to be one of my favourite directors (and I was more than happy to have met a fellow fan on the train recently who, against all odds, was a strikingly beautiful female with a completely sane and rather clever mind) but it doesn't mean that because he worked for Lynch he is automatically a creative genius. All that did was open some doors to get into the crazy world of Hollywood. Good for him, I say, it's nice to hear a success story, but Roth's movies are obviously based on teen horror movies and not any of Lynch's work.
3. All his movies are bad. Hostel was stupid and boring (but not as bad as this thanks to Jay Hernandez giving an above average performance) and Cabin Fever was a movie based on rip-offs: Not only is its ending a copy of Night Of The Living Dea but the whole film is really a masked version fo Friday The 13th with sex and murder occurring throughout the movie (not even in a clever way like Spike Lee's 'sex and death' message in 'Summer Of Sam' but a simple way to get some money shots). In fact the only reason I bought that movie was because a film magazine, Total Film, called it one of the best horror movies. However after reading countless issues of them praising Eli Roth and hyping up both Hostel and Hostel II before they were released, I have come to realise that they may be doing a deal with the director and so the magazine is extremely corrupt and not based on reviewers' personal opinions but rather on what they get if they write a good review. For this reason I have stopped buying the magazine.
Hostel: Part II will no doubt have the curious filmgoer see the movie for its violence or perhaps for a continuation of part I. All I can say now is 'Don't'. It is more fun to torture yourself than to watch this film (please refrain from doing that, though). Not only are you feeding this man more money to make yet another bad movie but you will also destroy all positive thoughts you had left when you saw Hostel for this film destroys the ending of that film with a beginning that rips off yet another far superior horror movie. The worst film I have seen since 300. Except this time I am sure there will be a unanymous feeling as to how bad it is.
Let me begin by quoting John Lasseter, the pioneer behind Pixar and their brilliant CGI movies: From the beginning, I kept saying it's not the technology that's going to entertain audiences, it's the story. When you go and see a really great live-action film, you don't walk out and say 'that new Panavision camera was staggering, it made the film so good'. The computer is a tool, and it's in the service of the story."
Today almost every animated movie being released is CGI, and even the kings of 2-D animation, the Walt Disney corporation, who are responsible for such hits as Aladdin and The Lion King, have shut down their 2-D departments (thankfully John Lasseter has reopened them). Why is that? Is it because CGI movies are making so much money but 2-D no longer is? It is because 2-D just seems outdated like black-and-white TV? Maybe. But I'd like to think it's because over the recent years most 2-D movies simply do not have a good story to tell. The blueprints are always the same and after a while you get bored of seeing the same plot regurgitated to the point that there is no magic to the film.
Which is why I was surprised that Curious George had that magic.
The animation isn't exactly astounding, it's the kind I've seen on Saturday morning cartoons and for this reason the film works better being seen on the small screen. Some of the subplots are cliched (the romantic subplot between the naive Man In The Yellow Hat and the woman is awful simply because she loves this buffoon straight from the beginning). But what is lacked is made up for by the film's storytelling abilities and the opportunity to smile for 90 minutes as you see the many misadventures the titular character, Curious George, goes through. It also has some dramatic scenes that though not dark are enough to make you feel sorry for the heroes.
The plot itself is relatively simple; George, a curious monkey who gets in all sorts of shenanigans, follows a Man In A Yellow Hat to the big city where he causes even more chaos. The Man In The Yellow Hat, meanwhile, has tried to look for an ancient artifact that could keep the museum open. However when a dastardly man changes the map because he wants to build a parking lot over the museum, The Man finds the wrong artifact and has to find a way to keep the museum open by other means.
While the story itself has been tried before, the journey is a new one that decides to slowly develop the friendship between a man and his monkey. And it works at the right pace, never speeding up or grinding to a halt. Just like a love story our 'hero' slowly finds his companion after enduring hardship from him.
The cast itself are pretty good with Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Eugene Levy and Dick Van Dyke the mainb stars on board. However this is all Will Ferrell's show and he does an excellent job as The Man In The Yellow Hat, playing the likeable morons you see in his other movies so perfectly that the transition from live-action (Blades Of Glory) to animation is an easy one. If any other actor had voiced this role the character would have seen bland or too unfocused. Ferrell, however, just makes him an ordinary man who's taken advantage of all too many times.
And what of the monkey? Animals in movies are usually cute but annoying (so are kids in a lot of films too actually) but not only is George drawn cutely but he acts cutely too. Here is a monkey who just likes to try different things. He isn't greedy or mean-spirited but simply someone who gets in a lot of trouble over his curiosity. In fact after the opening sequence that shows George's day you can't help but feel sorry for him when he goes to sleep all alone with no family to be with, and thus allows us to understand why he loves The Man In The Yellow Hat so much. He is a nice man who in a way is like a father or an older brother to George, and is a much-needed presence in his life, someone who can save him from trouble and teach him things other than making a mess.
A film for the whole family, Curious George is a perfect example of great storytelling breaking through the animation barrier to reach the hearts of the viewers. See it.
Since October of 2006 every horror film released has bombed. It ranged from the most terrible horror film (The Hills Have Eyes 2, Hostel: Part II) to the most brilliant ones seen in a long time (28 Weeks later is Aliens to 28 Days Later's Alien and Grindhouse is a must-see big screen experience). These are the films with the most coverage so how does a film like Vacancy have a chance of recouping its money?
But I am not writing this to give reasons to it. What I am writing is: Does this film DESERVE to make money?
And the answer, surprisingly, is yes.
Vacancy is a low-budget movie with very few cast members (so small I can count them on my hand). Virtually the entire movie takes place in one location. Without the big names this film could still be filmed by a poor up-and-coming film student but this is not the case.
The film stars comedy star Luke Wilson and vamp Kate Beckinsale as a couple who have lost the spark of their marriage. On their way home from her parents the car breaks down and they end up shacking at a motel by extremely nice but decidedly creepy man Frank Whaley.
Up until this point the movie hasn't started but the sounds, the lighting, the choice of angles and simple actions the characters take (cutting her finger when slicing an apple) are all so creepy that you're already in the mood for when the horror will inevitably begin. The slightly disjointed dialogue used here voiced by these actors, who in my opinion give their best performances in a long time, also makes the relationship between the two credible and so it will not get in the way once the movie 'begins'.
So the two shack up in the motel where strange things start to happen and even worse, videotapes are found that reveal murders - happening in the room they're residing in.
At this point we are 13 minutes into the film (the only time I checked my watch and only because I was surprised at how early the real shocks started) and the thrills never let up. This is a rollicking roller-coaster ride from beginning to end as the frightened couple do all they can to escape from these nutjobs. Although at times the characters do things that will make you scream: ARE YOU AN IDIOT? most of the time their actions are clever or real and you can't help but think that you might have done some of the same actions these people made.
It's a short film lasting no more than 90 minutes but it ends with the Halloween-like ending that leaves you wanting more. In fact this film deserves a warrant but unfortunately it will never come.
Having said that, however, it doesn't have the emotional oomph that lasts once the film is over. After a couple of minutes you have already gone to do the next bit of business with your day.
I've talked about Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale's performances but what about Frank Whaley? One of my favourite underrated actors (to see some of his best performances watch any of Oliver Stone's early work such as The Doors or Born On The Fourth Of July... or one of the best films of all time, Swimming With Sharks which also stars Kevin Spacey) he really plays the Norman Bates-like pleasant guy with an Ed Gein-like mind.
And talking of Norman Bates, you have no doubt been thinking of Psycho. But thankfully this isn't a rip-off of the movie and though the concept is similar the execution is original. Hopefully this will be the same for the upcoming Disturbia which has stayed at the top of the US Box Office chart for some time and which seems to be loved by most filmgoers (it's a teenage version of Rear Window, in case you're wondering what it is).
All in all the movie is worth watching for some chills and thrills but compared to the big movies out now perhaps a DVD viewing would be better.
I'll be honest with you. I wasn't planning on seeing this at the cinemas. After all with so many torture movies coming out (the Saw films and Hostel leading the pack) Captivity looked like another slab of snuff to be put on the slate. But then there was more and more talk about it after its controversial poster was pulled off and critics talked about how sickening it was.
Today was a beautiful day. I woke up refreshed, read a good book, and saw a really good episode of The Sopranos (I just bought the season 3 boxset). Things were looking good for me.
I found a voucher which had expired yesterday but luckily the cinema staff were very friendly and let me use it anyway. They most certainly were the best part of the cinema outing because the movie itself was disappointing.
The film begins atmospheric enough with torture, quick cuts, good choice of music (it was used in 'Traffic') and hinting as to the killer's motives. Elisha Cuthbert was also in it and I personally think she is a talented actress who can carry a film no matter how terrible (House Of Wax) it is. But after seeing this I am hoping for her to try something different that will ask more of her than just screaming and running in horror movies. If that's feminism at its peak then this world really has low standards for women.
She plays a model, Jennifer, who at a club gets drugged and wakes up in a basement where she is tortured. Thinking Saw? So was I.
The film until this point has a problem with its cinematography. I've mentioned its good editing and music but until now the shots themselves have been so unintentionally unfocused and placed in bad positions that I was beginning to think I might need glasses. Thankfully, though, you get used to it and can pay attention to the story... which unfortunately is a bad thing with the same thing happening throughout the movie: torture, HELP ME, torture, HELP ME, torture, HELP ME, torture, HELP ME... Admittedly some of the scenes are squirmish and I found myself caring for our protagonist but at other points you're just getting bored.
The problem with the person being tortured is that she is written as an extremely shallow, vein person who considers beauty to be anything. In fact I couldn't help but think that she would probably have been a close friend of Paris Hilton if she were real. It was only Cuthbert's performance that made her worth rooting for (but the scenes showing her past interviews on TV unravelled that and it was up to her to bring back some emotion for the audience).
There is also a sex scene that though important to the story seems very misplaced and quite stupid. Who in their right mind would have sex right after being tortured horrifically and only meeting the other person only a couple of days ago.
This leads us to the next part where we are suddenly introduced to another captive played by Daniel Gilles and from here on the film loses its focus as it spouts cliche after cliche (I knew the twist almost immediately and it is so bad it makes the Saw films hide their faces in embarrassment). The final act is exciting and thankfully not as stupid as most third acts in suspense thrillers (I'm thinking of Red Eye), but by the time the credits rolled in this extremely short film (the staff were asking me why I was leaving so early and were surprised when I told them it was already over) I was thinking of what film I'll be watching next week.
If you like violence or Elisha Cuthbert, watch it. Otherwise skip it and wait for it to come on TV. You won't be missing much.
The Dark Knight broods. So does Spider-Man. And from the looks of things so will Iron Man and the (hopefully better) sequel to Hulk, both due for release 2008. In fact most superheroes right now have to deal with dark and complex issues; relationships, death, revenge, murder, schizophrenia, you name it. Superhero movies have gone to the adult world and from what we've seen it looks to be better. So a movie like Fantastic Four, a family-friendly film where superheroes come to save the world, is nice breath of fresh air that should keep the children entertained. But the parents?
Think of a family film. What do you think? I think Pixar. Why? Because most live-action movies are disappoointing but Pixar knows how to appeal to every demographic. So coming in to see the sequel to Fantastic Four, which was fun and good, but nothing more, I expected to come out wishing I had just watched The Incredibles again.
Sequels are almost always better than the original and this movie looked like it would be the case. Thankfully, though, I was wrong.
Beginning with a literal big bang you can see that the budget here is far bigger than the first film. It's also a slight bit darker, possibly because Mark Frost (one of the writers of the fabulous Twin Peaks) had more involvement with the script this time round. But do not worry parents, it's still family fun (save for one scene but I'll get to that later).
The Fantastic Four have returned and everything that worked remained; the bickering between the Human Torch and The Thing, Mr. Fantastic's geekery, the insane villain that is Dr. Doom... A few things have changed. The first film didn't have enough action but this movie is a relentless ride with more bangs to justify your bucks (I know this is the UK but I really wanted to use that phrase!).
The film also focuses on the best thing the first had to offer: The Human Torch. Chris Evans is a natural at this type of role and here the story is more about him as he realizes that his tomfoolery is doing more harm than good. This is the film where Johnny Storm has to grow up and the script does it justice as he slowly matures till he becomes a worthy hero like the rest of the gang.
Not only that but we have TWO villains. As mentioned before, Dr. Doom is back and more powerful than ever. But like most good sequels (think Blade II) the writers opted to have the villain HELP the group take down the title villain, The Silver Surfer.
An enigmatic man, The Silver Surfer has long been one of the greatest characters ever created in a comic book. Voiced by Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix movies) and played by Doug Jones (from Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy) the character is interesting, complex, and so good that a spin-off dealing with the origins of this character is in the works. His scenes with Jessica Alba, the only person who believes there might be some good in him, are the kind that make you pay attention instead of chortle at the lines. And his action scenes are exciting, the greatest being the first fight with The Human Torch (you've probably seen a lot of it in the trailers) and when he's dodging the rockets the US military are sending at him.
But while the characters were well-developed the story itself, though good, was once again not great. I know it is a family film but we could have had more of the darkness that the first Spider-Man film had to offer. We're dealing with the world being destroyed, couldn't there have been more emotional scenes instead of the group arguing with each other?
And the ending with Galactus was quick and rather pointless. If they had spent more time building this character up like they did with the Silver Surfer it could have been great. But unfortunately all we can think is: What the hell is that?
Before I finish this review I would like to say one thing: The MPAA have once again shown that studios affect their movie ratings. When 20th Century Fox is involved this movie becomes a PG/G/family-rating. Yet the movie had one horrifying scene of a man having half his body smashed (the camera lingers on that so that we can see half his face staring in horror and thus giving some kids nightmares when they get home and sleep). The movie deserved a 12A rating for this scene but what can you do? BBFC, MPAA, they're all run by corrupt people.
So is the movie fantastic? No. But it is very good and a huge improvement on the first. A film that is worth watching with the family.
So the biggest part 3s have already been released (Spider-Man, Shrek, Pirates Of The Caribbean) and I'm pretty sure most people were thinking of those movies for which part 3 they wanted to spend their money on than this.
True, this is the one with the starry cast. True, the first is absolutely fantastic. But whereas the other films were building up to their part 3s, this franchise can stop whenever it wants, and so the arc is smaller.
Before I begin this review you should know that I'm in the minority who actually enjoyed Ocean's Twelve. I thought it was misunderstood and was an extremely fun movie and one of the better films of 2004.
So what do I think of this input into the Ocean's franchise? It's also very good. But not as good as the first. Perhaps as good as the second (maybe a little more, maybe a little less, it's hard to say) but definitely not as good as the first.
The location has once again been moved to Las Vegas, the one true home the Ocean's crew should always work in. It's classy, it's stylish, it's fun, it's fake, it's everything the movie means to be. We get the greatest actor ever, Al Pacino, playing the movie's villain, a true monster who deserves to be robbed. We get most of the cast back (minus Robert and Zeta-Jones). We even get Andy Garcia HELPING the Ocean's Crew as the 13th member, which was definitely a great bonus for the film. The cinematography (by director Steven Soderbergh under the name Peter Andrews) is top-notch as usual and David Holmes' kinetic funky music is still excellent. But although they've managed to retain a lot of what made the first movie work, they also forgot some important ingredients.
The first is the villain. On the DVD commentary for the first the actors were talking about making Andy Garcia a true adversary for Danny Ocean, a man with a brain and not just a cliched hoo-hah evildoer. But unfortunately they broke that rule with this film where Al Pacino is a monster. True, Pacino makes it work but the movie would have worked so much better if he was fleshed out.
Second, his right-hand woman (played by Ellen Barkin) is terribly underused to the point that she's completely inept and there is absolutely no point in her being in this film. Barkin is an excellent actress so it is a shame to see that talent go to waste. All her scenes comprise f her either walking and doing odd jobs for Pacino's Willy Bank or being dazed. I can't say any more on this as it will simply spoil the film but all that you need to know is without this character the movie would still be fine.
The pay-off scene at the end also makes you feel shortchanged. The movie was very fun to watch and it's great to relax with the Ocean crew for two hours but excitement and suspense was needed and it looks like that was forgotten when the movie was made. Don't get me wrong, things do happen but it didn't make my heart race, and that is always important for a crime caper.
There were a few funny subplots which didn't really go anywhere but then the movie was about the revenge, not the stories of:
1. The causing of a strike in Mexico that could hinder the chances of the crew succeeding in their 'heist'.
2. The horrible things that happen to the man Carl Reiner is impersonating.
3. the problems the tech guy is happening.
Two characters from Ocean's 12 also appear in this (one is Eddie Izzard, the second I won't say ;-) ) and the latter was unfortunately just there to appear in a few second shots and ended with the most pointless scene that made all the previous scenes inept.
So is it worth seeing? I'm still saying yes if you like hanging out with the Ocean's gang but you don't have to watch it right now. Unless you're willing to pay for the marvellous cinematography on the big screen I say wait for the DVD.
This review was written five days after the movie was released but I've had to wait until my suggestion was accepted to put it up. Because of this the first two paragraphs may seem a little 'outdated'.
I meant to see it on Friday. I was changed, I had my shoes on, we were just waiting for the ladies to prepare.
Then I read the reviews in the papers. All of them unanimously agreeing that the movie was disappointing and it was only Nicolas Cage who was good.
So we watched something else instead.
But today a friend was doing the Orange Wednesdays and invited me along, and with the low expectations I watched it.
And I sure am glad I did because this movie is far more entertaining than I thought.
Nicolas Cage is indeed the best part of the movie, his usual quirky performance working well for his character with some comical scenes placed at the right moment.
Visual effects weren't great but they were good enough to watch and enjoy.
It also did have some excellent thrills. While the trailer seemed like another boring run-of-the-mill movie the film itself was different and far better than the recent Hollywood movies Lee Tamahori has done. True, they are far-fetched but it still was entertaining and highly amusing.
Peter Falk's part is really a cameo and it isn't really anything to talk about since he was just acting in one scene and pretty much anybody could have played that role.
Julianne Moore's character was unlikeable but I guess it was supposed to be that way in order to give a reason for Nicolas Cage to be on the run from the goernment. Having said that she and Jessica Biel did good jobs with their roles although this is Cage's movie.
The action finale wasn't as well-executed as the rest of the scenes which is one of the two downfalls of the movie.
What is the second downfall? The ending which suggests a sequel. And from the lack of money it's making, it's one that will probably never be made although I am actually interested in seeing it.
So is it worth the cinema ticket? When films like Spider-Man 3 and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest are coming out and you can only go to the cinema a few times a year, then no, save your money for the big blockbusters of the year and the more intriguing arthouse films from Wong Kar-Wai and Gus Van Sant. But if you like going to the theaters regularly, don't feel like getting depressed (if you don't mind that then watch the brilliant 'This Is England') and don't mind a fun film to watch with your friends, then yes, I recommend it because it is good 90 minutes of killing time and will do what it is meant to do: Entertain.
Although I do really hope that Nicolas Cage's next film (pun not intended) will be far better than this one.
The preceding trailers sums up why the movie is misunderstood.
Zodiac is based on one of America's most notorious serial killers in San Francisco and to this day it has remained unsolved.
It's from the director of Se7en. The preceding trailers were: Hostel: Part II (torture movie), Paradise Lost (horror with lots of torture scenes) and Captivity (torture movie). So what would you expect when seeing this film? A sick, twisted serial killer with a lot of horrifying scenes.
And this is why people might be disappointed. Because this isn't that. It's a whodunnit, that you, the viewer, get to solve along with the characters. The horrifying violence is all in the first act of the movie, but the rest is about piecing together the puzzle and finding the killer. In that respect, Zodiac is more '12 Angry Men' than 'Saw'.
Now that you know this I would like to say that Zodiac is a masterpiece.
I watched it on Thursday the 24th May (late night showing) and though most of the screens were flooded with people watching Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, the screening for Zodiac was surprisingly filled. People there were mostly teens and young adults with a large proportions of thirtysomethings and a few elderly people too. Yet by the end of the film everyone seemed to love this movie. At a length of 3 hours where the film isn't a gore-movie, saying this means a lot. For we are talking about most of the demographics being in that audience and not ONE person left the cinema during the showing. They were just as hooked as I was in finding out who the killer was and worried about the characters getting hurt.
David Fincher, a man who has not made a single movie since 2002's 'Panic Room', has matured as a director yet knows how to keep the visual flair while telling the story.
While directors like Sidney Lumet (Network) have made movies that mean a lot, they have forgotten about film being a visual medium and the shots are not as well thought out as they used to be. But Fincher has created an atmospheric movie that makes you feel like you are in '60s San Francisco (as is evidenced from the first shot when the old Warner Bros. logo is used as opposed to the new one). He has done meticulous research on making this movie (they checked every case study file and did so much work that they revealed overlooked clue the detectives had missed.. such is the passion of Fincher's research into this film) and it pays off with a film that checks the case on every single angle and doesn't give us a deus ex machina. Fincher was a child living in San Francisco when the Zodiac killer was committing his crimes, so it is obvious that this movie is one that is very close to his heart and he doesn't want to make something mediocre, but rather a film that makes us feel like he did when he was there.
Fincher has also always used visual effects fantastically (Fight Club and Panic Room are proof of this) and he has not changed here with two brilliant scenes: the detectives walking across the office while letters and symbols come popping around the room; and the creation of a building to show that the year has gone by... bring the most prominent. He has also chosen the right songs to evoke the feel and mood of the scene and the entire movie (with a clever use of Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man which plays to show us being sent right back to the beginning).
So seeing in that film made me feel like I was living in that era.
The violence itself is horrific and exceptionally tense. If you were in suspense during Se7en, you will be jumping or squirming (but always moving) in your scene during the Zodiac scenes. Fincher knows how to craft suspense and he cranks it to the max here and always gives you an unsettling feeling during the film that something bad is about to come.
And what of the actors? With a talented cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, you can tell that the performances will be great. But these aren't just great; these are superb.
The acting done here is powerful and makes us feel for these characters and the way they act. Mark Ruffalo's voice is so different to how he is in real life. He's not just putting on an accent, he's made himself sound like the person he's playing, the Detective Dave Toschi, and we can see the case get to him and his partner (played by Anthony Edwards from 'ER') with just his facial expressions. He becomes more and more obsessed with the killer to the point that, as one character (Dermot Mulroney) puts it: Do you think he's the killer because you genuinely think he is, or do you think he's the killer because you want the case to end?' And that sums up everything about him.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays obsessed really well, and since he is the main protagonist we follow his story as he becomes more and more obsessed with the Zodiac killer to the point that is strains the relationship with his wife, Chloe Sevigny, and their kids and even puts them in jeopardy.
Robert Downey, Jr. reminds me a little of Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls. The funniest character in the movie (his hate-hate relationship with Dave Toschi is pure genius), his character is both loveable and tragic as we see his life get destroyed thanks to his ego and love for booze.
And the other actors are all familiar faces but given enough screentime to flesh them out and make them almost as important as the main characters themselves.
We have the cop Elias Koteas (from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Thin Red Line and Shooter), Brian Cox, the guard from Prison Break (as a Zodiac suspect), Nicolas Cage's friend in Ghost Rider... all popping into scenes but bringing their own character traits to make them memorable.
But what is most surprising about this film is that, although dealing with a serial killer and the people who tried to find him, we also have a lot of comedy and humor that works well in this movie.
Most of the humor comes from Robert Downey Jr. but it also comes from food; the drink Jake Gyllenhaal loves, Ruffalo's obsession with animal crackers, the way Gyllenhaal acts when he thinks he's unsafe... It all makes you laugh.
And there are tender scenes too, as is shown from the relationship between the two detectives (the 'Happy Birthdays', the final scene between the two, et al).
So we have a three hour film that looks fantastic visually, has great performances, a brilliant script, and well-executed suspense scenes. But what good is that if the film doesn't have an end? Well, here is some good news: By the end of the film we are given an idea of who the killer really is, but it's left up to us to decide if we want to believe it or not.
An entertaining movie with an excellent story, Zodiac is a must-see film. So if you've still got time to watch a movie and you've already watched the blockbusters of the year, then please consider this film. You will not be disappointed.