26 September 2011

"Albatross" in cinemas October 14th!

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“Albatross” is a coming of age story with sting. Featuring prime acting talent like Sebastian Koch (“The Lives of Others”), Julia Ormond (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Felicity Jones (“Cemetery Junction”) and Jessica Brown Findlay (TV’s “Misfits”), “Albatross” promises to be a powerful and amusing watch, strong early reviews indicating that this slice of British cinema is a winner.

The picture played at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June 2011, where it was warmly received, and will hit cinemas in the UK and Ireland on the 14th October 2011. “Albatross” is the story of Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) a rebellious teen and aspiring novelist. She befriends bookish and reserved Beth (Felicity Jones”), whilst also starting an affair with Beth’s father over their passionate and shared love of literature and writing. The plotline suggests that “Albatross” will be funny yet complex, a film with more on its mind than the usual generic coming of age trials and tribulations. Find out for yourself this October 14th when the feature hits cinemas nationwide. A US release has yet to be announced.

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25 September 2011

Capsule Review: Blitz

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B

Blitz
2011, 97mins, 18
Director: Elliott Lester
Writer: Nathan Parker
Cast includes: Aidan Gillen, Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey
UK Release Date: 20th May 2011

Jason Statham heads up this Brit thriller, which does just enough to outdo the majority of its dreary genre competition. Statham plays a cop with a hot head and some questionable methods, who is tasked with tracking down a serial killer called Blitz, a psychopath who specializes in murdering cops. Teamed with his homosexual partner Porter (Paddy Considine), he seeks to bring justice back to London’s streets.

“Blitz” isn’t a massively striking picture, and the screenplay by Nathan Parker probably tries to do too much in its moderate 97 minute frame, but the movie definitely deserves props for trying harder than most. The central narrative is engaging, whilst performances from Statham, Considine and Aidan Gillen (as the manic Blitz) are all well suited to their respective roles. The picture has an admirable energy, director Elliot Lester trying to infuse added human depth through the prejudice Considine suffers in the work environment and the Statham character enduring the onset of depression. A subplot involving a colleague of Statham’s fighting the battle against addiction never feels strictly necessary, but leaving that aside “Blitz” is a polished and enjoyable piece of work. It’s at least worth checking out on DVD or Blu-Ray.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

22 September 2011

Movie Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love

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A

Crazy, Stupid, Love
2011, 118mins, 12
Director (s): Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Writer: Dan Fogelman
Cast includes: Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Analeigh Tipton, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon
UK Release Date: 23rd September 2011

There’s an honesty about the romantic comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love” that makes it absolutely irresistible. Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (last year’s excellent “I Love You Phillip Morris”), the film is a bubbling pot of endearing screenwriting, detailed performances and comedic gold. With a plot that involves over half a dozen key characters and which runs at 118 minutes, one could be forgiven for assuming that “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is an overcooked, schmaltzy and drab effort, or more accurately the US equivalent of the painfully overrated Richard Curtis snoozer “Love Actually”. However whilst permissible, such presumptions would be wrong. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is a phenomenally affecting and beautifully designed slice of Hollywood fantasy, a brave picture that understands heartbreak just as astutely as it does love.

After his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) confesses to infidelities and asks for a divorce, Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) is left hopelessly adrift in a world he doesn’t understand. Whilst rambling incoherently at a bar one evening, he draws the attention of Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a handsome lounge lizard with a gift for seducing women. Jacob takes pity on Cal and begins to teach him the tricks of the trade, helping the middle-aged loser to update his wardrobe and understand the fundamentals of scoring with attractive girls. Eventually Cal gets the knack of it, a parade of meaningless flings (including one with a lively Marisa Tomei) ensuing. Yet no matter how passionate the sex is Cal can’t seem to fill the void that Emily once so effortlessly occupied. Meanwhile Jacob is after feisty redhead Hannah (Emma Stone), his usual moves not having much of an effect on the spirited young woman. As he falls slowly in love and Cal pines for his old life, their two worlds become intertwined, leading to some interesting domestic dynamics.

The screenplay by Dan Fogelman is a gem, which in honesty is quite surprising. Fogelman has cut his teeth mostly on family fare in the past, none of it very good, his run of rancid hits including “Fred Claus” and “Cars 2”. However with “Crazy, Stupid, Love” the writer has transitioned into the world of adult cinema marvelously, crafting a deftly plotted and deeply engaging dramedy. Every character in this superlative movie is exquisitely rendered, Fogelman’s strong writing and a series of flawless performances contributing to concoct something truly special. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is just as interested in exploring the downsides of romance as it is the highs, depicting its protagonists as vulnerable and often sad, each individual struggling with the load endowed upon them by Cupid. The picture is fiercely committed to having believable personalities at the fore, their actions fraught with mistakes and quirks. Of course “Crazy, Stupid, Love” has some degree of formula to adhere to (it is after all a mass market studio release), but the filmmakers unravel the story in the most charming and lovable fashion possible. It’s simply a joy.

Requa and Ficarra do superb work from behind the camera, turning “Crazy, Stupid, Love” into an attractively filmed, amusing and thematically rich affair. The duo’s sense of comedic timing is terrific, even if with “Crazy, Stupid, Love” they demonstrate a slightly less audacious style of humour than was present in “I Love You Phillip Morris”. In regards to joking, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” sticks more rigidly to standard Hollywood expectation than some of Requa and Ficarra’s other works, but that’s not to say it doesn’t inspire plenty of laughs. The picture may not be raunchy or politically incorrect, but it definitely delivers a plethora of witty dialogue and even some uproarious set-pieces. One such sequence takes place in Cal’s backyard, the directors utilizing shock value and coincidence to hysterical effect. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is also a pleasantly edited and creatively shot feature, but it’s the filmmakers appreciation of funny business and truthful human connection that allows the movie to impact so heavily upon its audience.

The performances are uniformly outstanding. Steve Carell is sympathetic and subtly distraught as Cal, the actor sidelining his sharp comedy intuition for most of the film, only breaking it out when the script demands a moment of stellar delivery. Julianne Moore starts the film as a villain of sorts, but the actress quickly turns Emily into a complex victim of mundane living, deeply regretful concerning her actions and protective of her family. Gosling nails the hollowed out charmer routine, displaying both confidence and a nagging emptiness. The thespian also adjusts perfectly to the picture’s comic sensibilities when required, something I haven’t really seen him do in the past. Emma Stone rounds out the preliminaries, the actress once again showcasing why she’s a surefire bet to be the next big thing. She’s a true sweetheart, her ability to handle both silly and dramatic material once again leaving a stunning mark.

On the fringes of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is a subplot concerning Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) becoming infatuated with his older baby-sitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton), who has in turn developed a confused crush on Cal. It’s a slightly less meaningful strain of storytelling than is evidenced in the rest of the movie, but it still entertains in a brisk fashion, before aiding the film’s soulful and immensely satisfying conclusion. Both Bobo and Tipton are tremendous (especially given their relative inexperience), further bolstering this masterful piece of work as a result.

“Crazy, Stupid, Love” is an adorable motion picture. It’s mature, nuanced yet incredibly accessible, boasting a roster of characters and arcs that most viewers should have no trouble identifying with. After this and “I Love You Phillip Morris”, Requa and Ficarra have become filmmakers to watch and hopefully cherish; even in this early stage of their careers they are creating breathtakingly good cinema. I would recommend “Crazy, Stupid, Love” in a heartbeat, and can only hope that future generations come to respect it as the genre masterpiece it so clearly is.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

20 September 2011

Movie Review: Drive

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A-

Drive
2011, 100mins, 18
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Hossein Amini
Cast includes: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac
UK Release Date: 23rd September 2011

“Drive” premiered several months ago at the Cannes film festival, and has been picking up steam ever since. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Valhalla Rising”) was awarded the coveted “best director” gong at the event, whilst the film itself just narrowly missed out on the Palme d’Or. After viewing “Drive” it becomes easy to understand why the picture made such a fierce impression. A delicate merging of arty silence and Hollywood noir, “Drive” is a subtle and supremely tense endeavour. Beautifully filmed by Winding Refn (who thoroughly deserved his big moment at Cannes), the movie is a pleasure to behold, thanks in no small part to a restrained yet incredible central turn from Ryan Gosling.

Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a stuntman by day and a getaway maestro by night. Driver excels at aiding criminals in their petty jobs, his cool head and skill behind the wheel making him the ideal accomplice. It transpires that his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) has managed to broker a deal with some gangsters that will allow Driver to race cars for a living, but instead the sullen motorist is more interested in his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos), forming a unique connection with this fragmented family unit. When Benicio’s father Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns from prison, he is initially suspicious of Driver, but soon turns to him for help. Standard owes a hefty amount of protection money, and has been ordered to rob a pawn shop so he can square his debts. Driver agrees to partake in the raid, chiefly to ensure Irene and Benicio’s safety, but things don’t go to plan. Standard and Driver are double crossed, leaving the latter in a web of violence and reckless evil.

Refn opens “Drive” with a phenomenally suspenseful yet refreshingly quiet chase sequence, detailing wonderfully the precision and intensity that define the feature’s central character. It’s an immersive scene from start to finish, setting up the required tone beautifully. “Drive” may involve shootouts and fast cars, but it remains a very restrained film, more reliant on its oddball soundtrack than chaotic sound design or ear shredding explosions. Refn cultivates a mood of intrigue and uncertainty, rifling through Hossein Amini’s screenplay stylishly and economically. “Drive” is a tight and highly atmospheric watch, primed with far more personality than the usual faceless multiplex fodder.

The performances are solid, with the exception being Gosling’s standout contribution. Even whilst doing very little, the actor expresses a lot, forming Driver into a monosyllabic yet complex screen entity. The film envisions Driver as an antihero from the beginning, contrasting his participation in criminal deeds with the ever warming dynamic he shares alongside Irene and Benicio. It’s a superb bit of work, understated but unquestionably meaty. Don’t be surprised if Gosling’s name echoes around Hollywood during the forthcoming Oscar season. Carey Mulligan is nearly as removed as Gosling, but still manages to permeate a lovable and sympathetic essence. Oscar Isaac and Christina Hendricks (portraying an associate of Standard’s) barely grace the picture, unfortunate given that both performers have respectable reputations. On the other hand screen veterans Brooks, Cranston and Ron Perlman (Brooks' partner in indecent behaviour) all deliver strong and memorable turns. “Drive” generally utilizes its eclectic cast well, adding extra vibrancy to Refn’s already stunningly photographed version of Los Angeles.

“Drive” doesn’t actually offer a vast amount of traditional motorway carnage, but what’s on show is still very cool. Refn shoots the action slickly and coherently, focusing on the fantastic stunts instead of soulless digital insertions. During its opening act “Drive” doesn’t offer much to offend beyond some fruity language, but the second half is a veritable bloodbath. Heads are blown apart, throats are slit and hammers are wielded in a worrisome fashion, lending “Drive” some serious edge beyond its sporadic instances of road rage. The sensitive are to be advised that Refn doesn’t hold back on the viscera and gore, in fact, by the end he aggressively revels in it. Of course it’s all just surface level coating for this moody noir, but potential audience members should be made aware of it before committing to the movie. “Drive” gets pretty brutal in parts.

Compared to Refn’s previous directorial venture “Valhalla Rising”, “Drive” is a breath of fresh air."Valhalla Rising”, whilst nobly assembled and picturesque, was a slog to get through, something that “Drive” could never be accused of during its skillfully structured 100 minutes. “Drive” is a brilliant film and a must-see for those in support of thrilling yet meditative cinematic product.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

18 September 2011

Movie Review: 30 Minutes or Less

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B-

30 Minutes or Less
2011, 83mins, 15
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer (s): Michael Diliberti, Matthew Sullivan
Cast includes: Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Dilshad Vadsaria, Michael Pena
UK Release Date: 16th September 2011

In 2009 Ruben Fleischer made his feature directorial debut with “Zombieland”, an amusing farce that showcased a surprising degree of ambition from the novice filmmaker. It is peculiar then to observe him play it so safe with his sophomore effort “30 Minutes or Less”, the picture rarely striving to break convention. Sure the film has a vulgar potty mouth and a solid helping of raunchiness, but realistically it’s just a fluffy diversion, built to deliver a few laughs and entertain audiences over its wonderfully brief 83 minute runtime. So whilst it’s disappointing to watch Fleischer lower his aim here, there’s no denying that “30 Minutes or Less” actually makes good on its severely limited expectations. It’s a moderately fun flick, played gamely by an alert cast; but do you know what’s best of all? It gets the job done in under an hour and a half.

Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is well into his twenties, yet still spends his days smoking weed and delivering pizzas for a living. His buddy Chet (Aziz Ansari) and crush Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria) are moving on with their lives, but Nick remains stuck in his adolescent ways. Whilst on the job one evening, Nick is taken hostage by Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson), a pair of nincompoops who need Nick in order to enact a convoluted inheritance scam. They require a professional assassin to kill Dwayne’s wealthy father (Fred Ward), but before that they need $100,000 to pay him. Strapping a bomb to Nick’s chest, the goons order him to rob a bank and attain their loot, giving the frightened slacker 10 hours to complete the mission. Nick cajoles Chet into helping him, together planning out a robbery far beyond their skill or intelligence. Things turn from bad to worse when the disillusioned professional killer Chango (Michael Pena) rolls into town, keen to dispatch of everyone involved with Dwayne’s ludicrous scheming.

There’s really not that much to be said about “30 Minutes or Less”. It’s an efficient, slightly above average studio comedy, which offers some good jokes, but is unlikely to linger long in the memory. Both doubles acts featured in the movie are appealing; Eisenberg and Ansari making for a particularly unusual but well matched team. Ansari is the shining star, the comedian making the most out of his material with a frenzied and jocose turn. After his excellent but stern performance in “The Social Network” last year, it’s refreshing to see Eisenberg taking himself less seriously again, although his relaxed performance here isn’t as strong as his neurotic rambling from “Zombieland”. Fleischer never gives viewers any real insight into these characters, thus robbing “30 Minutes or Less” of any true weight, but I doubt that was ever really on his directorial agenda. Instead he probably just wanted the movie to have two entertaining and vibrant protagonists, with some solid chemistry thrown into the mix. If that’s the case then he has succeeded.

Swardson and McBride are good fun, although their various improvisations feel less consistently inventive than those shared between Eisenberg and Ansari. McBride also still appears determined to play the same character in every movie; something I had hoped might’ve changed after the deservedly uninspired response to his last film “Your Highness”. Still, for the purposes of this simple tale his idiot routine is ample, and he shares a respectable onscreen bond with Swardson. “30 Minutes or Less” is enthusiastically helmed by Fleischer, who stages several well handled car chases and continues to demonstrate an admirable understanding of comic timing. The bank robbery set-piece delivers in the giggle department, as do several other sequences in the movie. I would never describe “30 Minutes or Less” as being hysterical, but it is frequently merry.

The romantic angle shoved into the screenplay doesn’t really work (although it provides Eisenberg to flex his dramatic muscles a bit), but given the picture’s already brief length it’s not a major concern. “30 Minutes or Less” is well intentioned nonsense, a watchable and serviceable comedic endeavour. If in 6 months time you’re struggling to elect something to rent on a Friday night, this minor caper should fill the hole adequately.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

17 September 2011

Movie Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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B+

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2011, 127mins, 15
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer (s): Peter Straughan, Bridget O’Connor, John le Carré (novel)
Cast includes: Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy
UK Release Date: 16th September 2011

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” oozes class from every frame, but that’s hardly surprising when you consider the personnel behind it. The director is Tomas Alfredson, who was last seen helming the universally acclaimed vampire chiller “Let the Right One In”. It’s based on a novel by John le Carré. The cast features some of the finest actors currently inhabiting the British film industry, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong. So yeah, the pedigree on this one is high. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a satisfying and hugely intelligent movie, perhaps a little overstuffed with subplots and vital narrative details, but audiences with a decent concentration span and a desire to be impressed will feel rewarded by the time it concludes.

With the Cold War raging, the upper echelons of MI6 have become convinced that a mole is lurking amongst their ranks. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is quietly recruited to try and ascertain the identity of the double agent, returning to the world of espionage for the first time since his dismissal several years prior. Using his right-hand man Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a link to the Secret Service, Smiley begins to examine all the possibilities, quickly realizing that the traitor is one of five men, all of whom are highly regarded officials within MI6. Using various contacts and his own impressive methods of deduction, Smiley and Peter scramble to uncover the Russian contact before it’s too late.

Gary Oldman is terrific in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, delivering a nuanced and phenomenally thoughtful turn as George Smiley. Oldman, a performer regularly in favour of cartoonish excess, dials it down to zero here, providing a quiet yet powerful dosage of high calibre acting. Smiley is the critical character within le Carré’s labyrinth of espionage, Oldman evoking both a steely professionalism and an unsettled emotional core with only the most minimal of acting tics. It’s a strong piece of work, fully rounded and complex, without ever slipping into the realms of nothingness. The supporting cast also happen to be excellent, albeit several of them have to contend with considerably less interesting roles. As some of Smiley’s suspects, Firth and Strong are impeccable, the former concocting a particularly enjoyable yet oddly silent relationship with Smiley, the two men jousting over romance and affairs of the heart. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is actually a relatively cold picture, fixated on the intricacies of its clever plot rather than the discontentment of its characters. For that reason the Firth/Oldman dynamic becomes invaluable, as does an arc involving a supposed deserter portrayed by the ever watchable Tom Hardy. These decidedly more humanized components provide critical relief from Alfredson’s otherwise meticulously focused yet emotionally hollow interpretation of this tale. Thankfully the director has assembled a cast good enough to make mountains out of what little character development gets thrown their way.

The screenplay by Peter Straughan (“How to Lose Friends and Alienate People”) and Bridget O’Connor ( Straughan’s recently deceased writing partner) condenses the story effectively, although audiences should be warned a lot goes on within its 127 minutes. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a slow moving beast, filled with subtle twists and fringe players, meaning that switching your brain off before viewing isn’t an option. It’s a complex and serious slice of intrigue, and perhaps in sections somewhat overcooked. Audiences should be thankful that “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” treats them with respect and delivers a generally gripping spy story, but there’s no denying it can be difficult to keep pace with all the film’s clever little flourishes. In that respect it’s oddly reminiscent of last year’s “Inception”, another crowd-pleasing effort which blessed its viewership with so much, but at times possibly seemed too smart for its own good. I feel like an idiot for criticizing a movie for being clever (lord knows more Hollywood product needs to be), but within the 127 minute timeframe some of the feature’s cunning feels a little trapped. The script remains a treat, but “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” might have been slicker had it evened out its load over a beefier runtime.

The cinematography and musical score are both of the utmost quality, Alfredson going to great lengths in order to secure a believable sense of place and gloomy paranoia. Much like with “Let the Right One In” the filmmaker displays a commendable range of creatively structured shots, helping to distance “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” from more formulaic entries within its genre. There’s a nicely framed segment that encompasses a range of rooms in an apartment, whilst the central room in MI6 headquarters is basked in a surreal and distinctive golden glow. Alfredson also opts for many close-up shots, helping to eke out every contour on his talented casts’ faces to maximize their already startling performances.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a lengthy and tiring sit, but it does offer an absorbing way to spend two hours. When measured against “Let the Right One In” (and I’m the first to admit that’s a crude comparison) it probably falls just short. However when more directly assessed against its current multiplex competition the film is a safe bet, Alfredson and his talented cast having assembled a compelling and substantive cinematic buffet.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

16 September 2011

Movie Review: The Change-Up

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C

The Change-Up
2011, 112mins, 15
Director: David Dobkin
Writer (s): Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast includes: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin
UK Release Date: 16th September 2011

“The Change-Up” is an incredibly disposable comedy, elevated slightly thanks to two amusing central performances. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the dynamic duo behind “The Hangover”), “The Change-Up” utilizes one of the stalest comedic formulas around, the body swap. Fortunately the picture has Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds heading things up, two different yet equally talented performers, both willing to give their all in an attempt to make the so-so script work. The concept is ultimately too creaky to totally overcome, but thanks to the sharp (albeit rarely likable) leads, the film is at least mildly tolerable in spots.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a hardworking family man with job obligations that never cease. Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is an out of work actor who lives like a child, shunning all of his responsibilities, including a relationship with his lonely father (Alan Arkin). Despite their differing lifestyles, Mitch and Dave happen to be longtime best friends. After a night of drinking, the pair blabber identical confessions whilst urinating in a fountain, each wishing they had the others life. The next morning Mitch wakes up beside Dave’s wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), whilst Dave finds himself shacked up in Mitch’s unkempt apartment. It transpires the fountain from the night before possessed mystical powers, granting their wishes by instigating a good old fashioned body swap. Desperate to reverse the predicament, the boys find the fountain missing, forcing them to live as each other until it can be located. For Mitch that means tackling Dave’s demanding job and enduring the more challenging elements of family life. Dave on the other hand is granted freedom for the first time in years, rediscovering his thirst for thrills through sexy co-worker Sabrina (Olivia Wilde).

The screenplay does a pretty poor job of making the characters engaging, one of them happens to be a loathsomely selfish womanizer, the other a stern and work obsessed goober. However through their inherent charms and combined comedic prowess Reynolds and Bateman render these fools digestible, both men bringing energy and neat improvisational touches to the picture. It’s also enjoyable to watch both actors play slightly against type, Bateman tearing into the manic and inconsiderate persona with relish for the first two thirds of the movie, whilst Reynolds looks to be having fun portraying a quieter and more socially adjusted character for a change. Any problems that exist within “The Change-Up” (and believe me there are quite a few) can’t be traced back to either of these talents. Bateman and Reynolds give the material a good old college try here, a respectable feat given that the script is clearly well below both their abilities.

The gags are moderately ticklish at best, and excruciatingly unfunny at their worst. Some of the interplay between Dave and Mitch makes for quality entertainment, but the larger comic set-pieces tend to underwhelm. There are moments that reek of desperation, namely a porno sequence, which basically plays out as one long, vulgar and slightly homophobic character reaction. Director David Dobkin isn’t really setting the strongest of tones when he opens the picture with a baby projectile pooping into Jason Bateman’s mouth, lazy humour like this killing the feature’s buzz pretty fast. “The Change-Up” is an astoundingly broad piece of work, more reliant on boobs, F-bombs and masturbation cracks than any truly decent comedy should be. There are laughs to be had, but they’re mostly to do with the ace Bateman/Reynolds pairing at the picture’s core, and less to do with Lucas and Moore’s uninspired written contribution.

David Dobkin has proven himself a problematic filmmaker in the past, after all his most recent offering prior to this was the foul festive stinker “Fred Claus”. His timing with punch lines is definitely more alert here (say what you will about the “Change-Up”, but its script is far superior to that of “Fred Claus”), yet his overall pacing of the product leaves much to be desired. At 112 minutes “The Change-Up” is profoundly overcooked, Dobkin drawing the picture out aggressively to try and lend some naturalism to the sentimental conclusion. Again Reynolds and Bateman have no trouble competing with the story’s syrupy finale (in fact they’re each quite affecting), but the movie as a whole has no justification to go grappling for a meaningful emotional core. It’s simply too vulgar and silly for the majority of its runtime, the paper thin characterization on show not helping much either. “The Change-Up” strives to be taken seriously during its climax, but sadly no audience is going to buy it as a tale of redemption or spiritual awakening.

Visually the film feels like a sitcom (ditto for Dobkin’s other directorial fumbles), although I suppose that’s not entirely inappropriate given the movie’s forgettable nature. “The Change-Up” provides a few chortles and promises further reasons to back Bateman and Reynolds in the future, but ultimately leaves virtually no discernible impression. A word should probably be spared for the film’s amiable supporting cast (Mann, Wilde and Arkin are all competent), but even they’re not enough to push the picture beyond its obvious limitations as a raunchy helping of DVD fodder. It’s not entirely unpleasant, but I can’t in good conscience recommend that you actively seek out “The Change-Up”.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

DVD Review: Stake Land

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C

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/stakeland.php

Blu-Ray Review: Sleepers

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B

Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/sleepersbluray.php

12 September 2011

"The Holding" on DVD now!

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“The Holding” arrives on DVD today, moving on from the short theatrical release it enjoyed this weekend past. Crafted on a tight £3,000,000 budget, the picture is suspenseful affair, with a motley crew of local British thespians propping proceedings up. “The Holding” marks the feature length debut of helmer Susan Jacobson, a filmmaker with plenty of hands on technical experience in the British film industry. This expertise and the picture’s tightly wound premise should result in a rewardingly gripping viewing experience.

“The Holding” is a chilling thriller set on a farm in the Peak District, the movie managing its budgetary constraints by shooting in beautiful and authentic locations. On DVD the scenery is sure to look sprightly, adding to the calibre of the production at large. “The Holding “is currently available to buy on amazon.co.uk for £9.99, where as of this date, it boasts a perfect 5-star user rating. The film stars Terry Stone (“Rise of the Foot Soldier”), Georgia Groome (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging”), David Bradley (the “Harry Potter” franchise) and Vincent Regan (“Clash of the Titans”).

sponsored post, 2011

11 September 2011

Movie Review: Friends with Benefits

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C-

Friends with Benefits
2011, 109mins, 15
Director: Will Gluck
Writer (s): Will Gluck, David A. Newman, Keith Merryman, Harley Peyton
Cast includes: Mila Kunis, Justin Timberlake, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Emma Stone, Patricia Clarkson
UK Release Date: 9th September 2011

When one of a comedy’s biggest laughs comes from an obvious reference to its director’s previous film, it’s probably safe to say things haven’t gone exactly to plan. In the opening few minutes of “Friends with Benefits” we are gifted a brief callback to Will Gluck’s last feature, more specifically 2010’s refreshing “Easy A”. On the surface “Friends with Benefits” does have several things in common with Gluck’s well regarded sophomore venture. Firstly the best performance clearly comes from the female lead, in “Easy A” that was the delightful Emma Stone (who incidentally cameos in “Friends with Benefits”); here it’s the equally illuminating Mila Kunis. Secondly the movie looks sharper than your average Hollywood product. During “Easy A” Gluck demonstrated inventive flourishes to showcase the spread of gossip in a school environment; in “Friends with Benefits” he uses similar touches to capture the hubbub and craziness of New York. Thirdly both films are overstuffed and excessively long. However thanks to a spicy and amusing script, the editorial problems with “Easy A” were forgivable. “Friends with Benefits” on the other hand is a very different story. The screenplay is a disappointingly witless and static endeavour, lacking both the charm and insight which allowed “Easy A” to so readily impress. Instead “Friends with Benefits” is plagued by an infuriating tone of superiority; the picture’s soft mocking of rom-com clichés somehow making it appear cleverer than it actually is.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is brought to New York by headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis), the latter hoping the LA based art director can fill a vital position at GQ. Dylan gets the job, but soon finds life lonesome in NYC, turning to Jamie for friendship in his strange new home. The pair click, a plutonic bond forming with comfortable ease, but it isn’t long before Jamie and Dylan start to view each other in sexual terms. Both have endured a string of shoddy relationships, and are thusly determined to keep their arrangement purely physical, using each other exclusively for the purposes of friendly banter and carnal pleasure. Predictably however, emotions start entering into the equation, bringing an unwelcome yet unavoidable sense of intimacy to the pair’s romping.

“Friends with Benefits” has its heart in the right place, which I suppose is something. The picture is neither vile nor offensive in execution (unlike some other recent bawdy rom-coms), instead aiming to represent its protagonists’ relationship in a natural and engaging light. However the largely laugh free screenplay and trite storytelling undermine such ambitions, leaving “Friends with Benefits” as little more than an overwrought bore. Kunis and Timberlake connect adequately (the former actually applying an excellent genre performance), but there’s no overcoming such a blandly derivative script. The film goes exactly where you expect, and takes an age to do it. At 109 minutes “Friends with Benefits” is stretched far beyond reason, the filmmakers finding bizarre editorial detours to enable the film’s bloated runtime.

Despite his disappointing refusal to enforce any form of obvious cutting, Gluck does at least frame “Friends with Benefits” professionally. The picture has a slick and attractive palette, the filmmaker exploiting both his photogenic stars and bustling locations to pleasant effect. Jamie and Dylan’s bedroom dalliances are also nicely presented, Gluck finding an otherwise absent aura of energy and comedic rhythm during the sex scenes. Kunis and Timberlake aren’t afraid to get stuck in, embracing both the picture’s naughtiness and underlying sweetness. Leaving these more physical set-pieces aside, “Friends with Benefits” is actually an incredibly cumbersome comedy, lacking in spark or innovative comedic intuition. For example the film features Woody Harrelson (whom I’m usually fond of) hamming it up as a homosexual caricature. Harrelson in fairness attacks the part with gusto, but the very idea of his role is simply too moldy and unadventurous to work. It’s this sort of misstep that reoccurs again and again in “Friends with Benefits”, robbing the picture of respectability in the humour department.

“Friends with Benefits” adopts a very snarky attitude when it comes to referencing its own genre, poking fun at numerous rom-com conventions which are simply beyond the realms of expectation in the real world. At the start this isn’t much of a problem (indeed it even allows for a dig at 2009’s rancid “The Ugly Truth”) but as the movie meanders on, it becomes a point of frustration. The observations noted aren’t particularly erudite to begin with, but watching “Friends with Benefits” adopt such a self-righteous personality before devolving into exactly the sort of mush it seeks to lampoon is pretty annoying. The movie’s lack of imagination or kick renders it just as sterile as the mounds of drivel it targets, leaving it stranded in a swamp of unwelcome hypocrisy. I welcome the attempt, but next time the filmmakers had better pay more attention to the calibre of their own art before they start degrading somebody else’s.

Mila Kunis is fabulous. The cinematography is better than average. It’s not overrun by sickening chauvinism or a devotion to piggish ideals (basically it’s not “The Ugly Truth”). However “Friends with Benefits” is infected by limp gags, formulaic plotting, poor pacing and a nasty strain of piety. You could definitely do worse, but you could also just revisit “Easy A”. Better luck next time Mr. Gluck.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

8 September 2011

Capsule Review: Paranormal Activity 2

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D+

Paranormal Activity 2
2010, 91mins, 15
Director: Tod Williams
Writer (s): Michael R. Perry, Christopher B. Landon, Tom Pabst
Cast includes: Katie Featherston, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Micah Sloat
UK Release Date: 22nd October 2010

I bypassed this sequel last year in cinemas, and I now resoundingly wish I hadn’t bothered catching up. This time it’s the extended family of the original film’s female protagonist being haunted, “Paranormal Activity 2” imagining itself as a prequel to the 2009 box-office smash. Where the original film slowly mounted dread and played on a sense of genuine isolation, “Paranormal Activity 2” sluggishly moves through a dreary first hour, before unleashing a manic final 20 minutes. The climax is sufficiently loud and exciting, but it isn’t enough to compensate for the dull storytelling or lack of imagination that precedes it. There’s a limit on how many times the image of a door creaking open can remain scary, “Paranormal Activity 2” blowing its quota pretty fast. A third entry in this apparent franchise is due to hit theatres later this year. After acquainting myself with this initial sequel, I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to it.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

7 September 2011

Movie Review: Fright Night (2011)

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B+

Fright Night
2011, 106mins, 15
Director: Craig Gillespie
Writer: Marti Noxon
Cast includes: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Toni Collette
UK Release Date: 2nd September 2011

Thanks to the mystifying success of the “Twilight” franchise, Hollywood has become fixated with mining vampires for box-office dollars. On a slightly staler note, studio executives have been trumpeting remakes for decades, sitting back on rehashed notions and brand awareness to ensure maximum financial return. However despite these indisputable truths, it remains surprising that anybody would demand a remake of 1985’s “Fright Night”. The picture was indeed a macabre yet goofy joy, celebrating in full the cheesy majesty of late night horror, but that’s surely not something modern audiences would be overly interested in. Director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon appear to be on the same wavelength, marking their remake out as a much different beast than the original. The basic premise remains, but the filmmakers have restructured the story by introducing new themes and set-pieces. It’s a welcome approach to the project and one which leads to a satisfying end product.

Charley (Anton Yelchin) has put aside his nerdy past to focus on a potentially bright and sociable future. His new girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) is intelligent and beautiful, although she has come at the expense of ditching awkward ex-best buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Charley is left dumbfounded when Ed approaches him looking for help, insisting that Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Disregarding Ed’s comments as the ramblings of a desperate and lonely geek, Charley chooses to remain ignorant, until Ed disappears and he meets Jerry face to face. On the surface Jerry is merely a handsome guy with a womanizing habit, but with a little probing Charley deduces that Ed’s theories might actually have been correct. Jerry doesn’t show up on mirrors or cameras, and as more people vanish in the local area Charley’s suspicions become concrete. Seeking the help of boozy showman Peter Vincent (David Tennant), the teen begins to plot against Jerry, but the charismatic vampire isn’t going down without a fight.

Leaving aside David Tennant’s knowingly overblown turn as Peter Vincent, the 2011 incarnation of “Fright Night” is less jokey than its predecessor. The filmmakers open the picture with a brutal and suspenseful vampire attack, using tight camerawork and aggressive visuals to kick things off with a bang. Director Craig Gillespie runs through the set-up speedily but with enough detail to allow viewers the chance to form a solid connection with the characters, lavishing extra detail upon Ed and Charley, the former possibly this remake’s most interesting screen presence. It’s an economic but competent scripting job by Noxon (who also penned numerous episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) that understands what audiences what, but which also seeks to imbue the protagonists with enough heart and relatable emotional nuance. It’s a confident piece of writing, nicely supplemented by Craig Gillespie’s proficient direction. Gillespie has never operated in the realm of horror before (he helmed 2007’s “Lars and the Real Girl”), but he does good work here, lathering the picture with moody cinematography and an appreciatively energetic tempo.

The performances are peachy across the board, with special mentions being reserved for Tennant, Mintz-Plasse and Farrell. As the chief villain Farrell is an unstoppable monster, the Irishman bringing proper viciousness and threat to the part. It’s certainly a hammy bit of acting in spots, but when Gillespie wants the suspense to swell, Farrell is on hand to effectively unnerve viewers. Yelchin isn’t remarkable but he is solid, ditto for the extremely attractive Imogen Poots. As a pair they maintain a workable but far from electric chemistry, something that may well have factored into this version’s downplaying of the original’s sexual subtext. Mintz-Plasse ends up bookending the picture more than anything else, but he does impress, capturing the two very different sides of Ed with skill and enthusiasm. Tennant on the other hand is mostly present to deliver bravado and comic relief, although the picture does attempt to imbue his character with a little extra dramatic heft come the finale. This specific addition doesn’t really work, but given the level of entertainment value Tennant offers, it’s not a major issue.

Aside from the brief but visceral opening, the movie manages several other genuinely unsettling moments, namely one in which Charley attempts to rescue one of Jerry’s future snacks. The film utilizes clever shot construction and Farrell’s malicious turn brilliantly here, Gillespie rounding out the sequence with an almighty bang. “Fright Night” never replicates the excellence of this scene again, but there are still several other enjoyable intervals, including the basement set climax. Gillespie handles the action with minimal flair, but it’s all comprehensible, and due to the character work enacted in the opening two thirds audiences will already be soundly invested.

Unfortunately the picture overuses CGI during pivotal moments, subtracting somewhat from the hardened horror sensibility the movie is clearly keen to exude. It may possibly be a punt for younger audience members or simply a creative misstep on Gillespie’s part, but “Fright Night” would certainly have benefited from a more practical FX aesthetic. Still, such complaints feel minor, especially given that this is a remake which delivers gratifying popcorn escapism. It may not be the most innovative or elegant piece of work to inhabit cinema screens this year, but “Fright Night” definitely manages to deliver a good time.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011