Reviews by PvtCaboose91
Lost in La Mancha is one of the most painful documentaries ever produced about filmmaking, yet at the same time it's also a brilliant and spellbinding examination of the motion picture process. The subject of the documentary is Terry Gilliam, a member of the Monty Python troupe who dabbles in directing and animation. Outside of Python involvement, Gilliam directed such offbeat gems as Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and his masterpiece Brazil. But the thing about Gilliam is that he's an artist and a perfectionist, and he's notorious for encountering troubles and setbacks while making his films. Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, Lost in La Mancha is an intimate look at Gilliam's creative process on a doomed project.
For years, Gilliam had dreamed of creating his own cinematic incarnation of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and this documentary chronicles his attempt to finally achieve that vision. In the summer of 2000, Gilliam was ready to start shooting in Spain, but from the beginning there were shadows of Gilliam's troublesome endeavour to make The Adventures of Baron Munchausen back in the 1980s. He lands $32 million from European investors to budget The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but that is only half of what a film of such scale would normally cost. Due to this, in order to make the film work, the production had to proceed without a hitch on meagre resources. Unfortunately, it's a failure from the get-go, with troubled weather delaying shooting and with the actors not arriving in time to accommodate proper rehearsals. The leading actor of the film, Jean Rochefort, suffers ailing health from the beginning, becoming so overwhelmed with pain that he can no longer ride a horse. Rochefort is hospitalised, and his absence is perpetually prolonged. Planes also fly overhead during the shooting of one scene, destroying the production audio and deafening the performers. It keeps getting worse and worse from there.
Fulton and Pepe intended to make a television documentary about the development and production of Gilliam's passion project, and in the process they captured several turbulent events on-camera. Hence, Lost in La Mancha is not a post-mortem dissection consisting mainly of interviews; rather, it's primarily fly-on-the-wall footage of production meetings, rehearsals, conversations between cast and crew, on-set activities, and, ultimately, behind-the-scenes havoc when the project degenerates into every director's worst nightmare. It's also interesting to see Johnny Depp here, completely candid and natural. Furthermore, Lost in La Mancha highlights the irony of the whole enterprise. You see, Don Quixote is a notoriously cursed character to bring to the screen. Even Orson Welles continually tried to make a Don Quixote movie across several decades, but the filmmaker failed to complete the project before his death.
Lost in La Mancha is a brutally honest documentary piece, which takes us behind the curtain and gives us unparalleled insight into this condemned production. Having spent time on film sets, I can say that this represents the most candid depiction of the stresses and exhilarations of being on-set, even emphasising the importance of one of the greatest unsung heroes of the business: the first assistant director (in this case Gilliam's right-hand man Phil Patterson). Lost in La Mancha refuses to sugar-coat anything - as a matter of fact, a number of moments are extremely confronting. We see Gilliam's temper flare on a constant basis, and it's heart-wrenching to witness the frank conversations that lead to the conclusion to scrap the picture. We even get a penetrating shot of Gilliam looking over footage after production has shut down, his face affected by disappointment and depression. If there's anything to criticise about this documentary, it's the brisk length. Lost in La Mancha clocks in at around 90 minutes, which frankly seems too short. The ending in particular seems a tad rushed, and it feels as if more could have been done.
What's remarkable about Lost in La Mancha is its ability to underscore exactly why filmmakers love what they do, while also conveying that film sets can be both mundane and frustrating. This is a fascinating and highly involving documentary, and it left me curious about what Gilliam's movie might have ultimately looked like. We see snippets of the footage that was shot, as well as glimpses of the costume and props department, not to mention storyboards and script pages. It looks as if this would've been another wildly creative and quirky Gilliam gem. For film buffs and Gilliam fans, Lost in La Mancha is a must-see.
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"I'm starting to think this is the most spiritual place I've ever been."
Spring Breakers represents the exact type of audacious cinematic vision that we do not see enough of in this day and age. It's a uniquely breathtaking experience from director Harmony Korine, one of the finest movies you will see this year on top of being undoubtedly the most polarising. The rather limp box office performance is unsurprising, as Spring Breakers will not appeal to all sorts. Some will hate the flick, perceiving it as a flashy gimmick since it features former Disney stars in risqué roles. Others will simply see it as empty, hedonistic exploitation; unable (or unwilling) to pierce the dense veneer of gaudy depravity on the surface to see the real film underneath. Korine's film is an uncompromising snapshot of our modern culture, capturing and even critiquing the allure of a modern spring break excursions while also presenting an unpredictable story that veers into dark territory. It's a culture-defining film, and it almost defies explanation.
Bored out of their minds at college, friends Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Brit (Ashley Benson) yearn to join the spring break festivities in Florida, and hope to bring along their Christian classmate Faith (Selena Gomez) for the ride. Lacking the necessary funds to travel, the girls rob a local chicken shop with water pistols and hammers to acquire cash, and soon they're en route to Florida for the best week of their lives. The four ladies are eventually arrested for drug possession, but they're unexpectedly bailed out by drug-dealing thug Alien (James Franco), who aspires to become King of Florida. Alien takes the girls under his wing, seeking to make the young ladies part of his harem.
The narrative more or less plays out like an extended music video montage; Korine fills the screen with a kaleidoscope of colours and images, often disregarding coherency as scenes and events blur into one another. There is not much of an underlying plot here and there's a certain aimlessness to the proceedings, yet Korine never lets the picture out of his control, refusing to let it transform into a meandering mess. The filmmaker had the good sense to keep Spring Breakers trim and tight, with the door closing at around the 90-minute mark before the assortment of hallucinatory visuals outstay their welcome. Indeed, there are very few dead spots throughout the feature, as it maintains its energy and continues to display heightened creativity. If a less dexterous director was in the driving seat, the film would grow tedious after the first five minutes.
Spring Breakers especially comes to life during the party sequences, when Korine's camera swirls around in a hypnotic fashion to capture the dubstep-fuelled insanity of hot youths consuming alcohol and drugs. For a while, Korine provides a rowdy, context-free walking tour through the types of insane debauchery that run rampant during spring break, which is enthralling to watch. The technical specs are first-rate, with the energetic cinematography by Benoît Debie (shooting on 35mm film) and the propulsive score by Cliff Martinez and dupstep outfit Skrillex creating pure audio-visual poetry. When Alien arrives about 40 minutes into the show, Spring Breakers becomes darker and more frenetic as the wannabe rapper gives the girls access to the real party. At first it looks as if Korine will travel down a clichéd route and eventually reveal Alien to be a scheming, murderous predator, making the girls realise they should've listened to their mothers. But Spring Breakers is too smart for that, and what follows is wholly unexpected.
Franco abandons his usual slacker persona entirely here to disappear into the role of Alien, and it's a performance that will change people's overall impression of the actor. It's an astonishingly well-judged turn from Franco, the type that steals scenes and earns Oscars. Who knew Franco had such acting gusto within him? Spring Breakers has been especially provocative because it features former Disney Channel girls in grown-up roles. Indeed, we get to see Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens in various stages of undress and intoxication. But their acting goes beyond the surface novelty of seeing formerly good girls acting bad; the ladies are fantastic here, delivering nuanced performances that feel completely unforced and demonstrate their ability to undertake mature roles. Ditto for Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine (the director's wife), who are every bit as brilliant as their co-stars. Korine's lavish images would've been for null unless they were supported by strong actors; fortunately, his ensemble are up to the task of carrying the film.
Regardless of what you think of it, Spring Breakers will likely go down as one of 2013's most important and vital works, as it embodies the exact culture and moment in time when it was produced. The only reason I did not award the film a higher grade is due to how frank, brutal and repulsive it is; this is a strength, sure, since it pulls no punches, but there is not much replay value. That's about the only thing there is to say about Spring Breakers that's remotely negative. It's hard to predict any individual's reaction to this movie, but in my eyes it's an immersive phantasmagoria that deserves to be seen by a wide audience.
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"911, what is your emergency?"
The Call displays a tremendous amount of promise during its opening hour, with several moments of white-knuckle tension compensating for a few of the script's shortcomings. Alas, into its final act, the film hopelessly falls to pieces, climaxing in an exhaustively stupid fashion guaranteed to have cinema audiences ridiculing it on their way out. With plot holes galore, some hammy acting, and a very moronic, easily telegraphed screenplay, The Call shifts from watchable diversion to outright insult, which obliterates its replay value. This is one of the most retarded motion pictures I have ever seen, and I've also seen many of Uwe Boll's movies.
In Los Angeles, Jordan (Halle Berry) is a seasoned 911 operator, but she's confronted with a disturbing call one night concerning a home invasion. She screws up, leading to the death of a girl. Six months later, Jordan has turned to teaching the new recruits in order to stay out of the line of fire. However, Jordan is thrust back into duty when teen Casey (Abigail Breslin) is abducted from a shopping mall by prowler Michael (Michael Eklund). Stuffed in the trunk of a car, Casey calls 911, but the cell phone she's using is hard to trace. As the LAPD scrambles to find her location, Jordan keeps the frightened teen on the line, reassuring her that she will be saved and instructing her about how to use surrounding items to her advantage.
With films like Session 9, The Machinist and Vanishing on 7th Street to his credit, Brad Anderson has made a name for himself in smart, challenging movies, but The Call finds Anderson as a gun-for-hire. The script is credited to Richard D'Ovidio (Exit Wounds, Thirteen Ghosts), his wife Nicole (a screenplay first-timer), and Jon Bokenkamp (Taking Lives, Perfect Stranger). The movie was initially set to be directed by Joel Schumacher, as well, and it was co-financed by WWE (yes, World Wrestling Entertainment). That's the type of flick we're dealing with. Characters disappear (Casey's friend is quickly forgotten about), while other characters are ignored completely (where are Casey's parents amid the crisis? Wouldn't they come to the call centre?), and the film plays out like more of a thrill-ride than a mature suspense movie.
Thankfully, Anderson's handling of the material is competent. His filmmaking is at its best during a brisk opening segment that introduces us to The Hive, the call centre for 911 operators. It's pure chaos, and we get to viscerally experience the commotion, watching Jordan as she deals with the fateful call. And once Casey is kidnapped, there are a few moments that strike an unnerving chord; it's harrowing to watch a hysterical Casey trapped in a car trunk, and we get the sense of how frightening such an experience would be. The material is admittedly obvious, but Anderson plays the expected notes with finesse, keeping Casey's ordeal involving and terrifying. But the cracks in the script keep appearing, revealing The Call as an idiotic thriller which deserves to have gone straight-to-video.
Plot points throughout The Call are telegraphed well in advance; Jordan instructs the trainees to remain detached and never to make promises, but she expectedly breaks both of those rules before the story's end. Likewise, Jordan's boss chastises her for misconduct early into the film, but later applauds her for practically taunting Casey's kidnapper. The only thing that actually surprised me was the climax, because I would never have guessed that any major motion picture release would traverse such moronic territory. Jordan decides to take matters into her own hands for the ending despite being a meek "by the book" type of person. If Jordan were an FBI agent (a la Silence of the Lambs), this wouldn't be too problematic. But she's a 911 operator, and she suddenly changes into a "girl power" figure, showing herself to have more smarts and investigative might than the entire LAPD. However, this is minor compared to the dreadful final two minutes of the movie, which single-handedly drop the film's value by several notches.
The Call is a powerfully dumb movie, even by Hollywood standards. The cops are painfully inept and never achieve anything worthwhile, and the characters are a roster of dull clichés. Michael's inability to discover Casey's cell phone will make you bang your head against a wall, and he keeps having to kill people in public in broad daylight, but no bystanders appear to witness the crime or do anything. The timeline is skewed as well; Casey is abducted in the morning, but less than two hours later (as gauged by the phone's call timer) it's suddenly late afternoon and the sun is going down. The battery life of Casey's phone is unrealistic as well; it still runs for a solid half-hour on its final flashing bar of life. Furthermore, when the situation with Casey breaks out, nothing else happens in The Hive. In fact, it comes to the point of pure silence, with other operators watching Jordan as opposed to fielding calls, and with no operators visible in the background stations doing their jobs. Apparently everyone in the city conveniently decided to stop committing crimes for a few hours. Added to this is the ludicrous Hollywood-ised technology used by Jordan, who can apparently turn up the background noise of a recording. Huh?
Certainly, The Call is watchable for the most part due to its visceral nature and the strength of its first hour, but you walk away disappointed that the filmmakers tried to keep things uncomplicated and generic for the sake of box office dollars. Honestly, the movie should not have detoured into depravity and formula, since it works so well as a 911 nail-biter. With artistic integrity relinquished, The Call is a bust; it's a film begging for a more talented team of writers.
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"We are investigating paranormal activity in suburban Los Angeles..."
According to Marlon Wayans, A Haunted House is not exactly a parody, but instead a horror flick with "funny characters" doing the opposite of what typical white people do in similar flicks. I call bullshit: this is a spoof film, plain and simple, constructed in a way that brings back painful memories of such Friedberg/Seltzer catastrophes as Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans. There are maybe three or four amusing moments in this entire film - as for the rest, A Haunted House is a banal endurance test, an early contender for one of 2013's worst movies. The best thing that can be said for the film is that it's an R-rated comedy unlike Scary Movie 5, but that's about the only shred of positivity that I can offer.
Taking its cues from the Paranormal Activity franchise as well as 2012's The Devil Inside, the plot concerns Malcolm (Wayans), who moves in with girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) in the suburbs. Malcolm purchases a video camera, setting out to document every facet of their new life together. He even sets up a camera at night overlooking their bed in order to film their bedroom Olympics. Kisha suspects that their housekeeper may be stealing from them, so they also install a number of surveillance cameras around their home. But Malcolm's cameras capture evidence that a ghostly presence may be in the house, compelling the pair to call upon a psychic (Nick Swardson), a pair of ghost hunters (David Koechner and Dave Sheridan), and a coke-snorting priest (Cedric the Entertainer).
Wayans was working without any of his brothers here, but he still retains all of the recognisable trademarks of a Wayans production: stupid, unfunny jokes about farts, poop, sex, dicks and masturbation. The material grows increasingly limp and uncreative the more it chugs along, with racism and ghost-rape also popping up. In the right hands, just about anything can be funny, but director Michael Tiddes is not the right hands. As a matter of fact, nobody involved in the creation of A Haunted House is the right hands. Hence, if you have the mental capacity of a ten-year-old, this sophomoric effort may be to your liking. But the rest of us will see A Haunted House to be the pile of shit that it is. Gags run on for far too long, with Malcolm at one stage engaging in sexual acts with stuffed toys for several minutes. Other jokes are simply repeated to exhaustion - the psychic is gay and tries to cajole Malcolm into being his lover, which is not funny the first or second time, let alone the twentieth. The film eventually starts spoofing The Devil Inside and The Rite, apparently forgetting that audiences found those movies to be hilarious self-parodies in the first place.
There is only one scene in A Haunted House which made me laugh out loud. After Malcolm witnesses compelling evidence that a poltergeist is indeed inside his residence, he immediately flees the house, packing up his gear and tearing off to safety, leaving Kisha behind. But he soon realises that it's impossible to sell a home in today's wretched market, and is subsequently forced to move back in. It's such a clever concept amid the scenes of gross-out gags, gay jokes and drug-taking, and it's executed with unexpected precision and comedic gusto. It's so on the money, in fact, that I'm convinced it was created by an entirely different creative team to the rest of the movie. What a shame this goodness lasts for about a minute. There may be a few other amusing lines here and there, but A Haunted House is slim-pickings for the most part. If all the worthwhile jokes from this ninety-minute film were edited down into one bite-sized chunk, we'd be left with barely five minutes.
A Haunted House is not worth your time. There's absolutely no subtlety, wittiness or sense of pacing here. It doesn't even feel like a real movie. Compare A Haunted House to something like Ghostbusters or The Naked Gun, and the difference is day and night; whereas the aforementioned '80s comedies have stories to tell and were brought to life via creative scripts and actual filmmaking artists, A Haunted House is a limp "comedy" assembled by self-indulgent filmmakers. This was Tiddes' first movie, and you can tell; it feels more like a student project than a proper theatrical production. Unfortunately, it turned a profit, earning in excess of $40 million from a $2 million budget. A Haunted House 2 is coming, which is surely a sign of the apocalypse.
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"This girl's dead. That guy's dead... That guy in the corner is definitely dead."
Although Warm Bodies seems like a blatant attempt to cash in on the "supernatural teen romance" subgenre popularised by the abominable Twilight saga, the similarities start and end with the idea of a human falling in love with a supernatural creature. In fact, Warm Bodies has more in common with Edward Scissorhands, as it's a quirky, incredibly endearing romance that's wonderfully acted and directed. It's a peculiar hybrid of Shakespeare and zombies, but the result is pure bliss, with writer-director Jonathan Levine (50/50) pulling off an ostensibly impossible tonal juggling act to tell this oddball tale of zombie romance. It may not match films like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland in terms of laughs or thrills, but it packs a great deal of heart.
After an apocalyptic world disaster, the planet has become overrun with the walking dead. Human survivors live behind huge walls, while the zombies are left to wander around aimlessly looking for fresh meat. Residing in an airport, R (Nicholas Hoult) is a sensitive creature who feels guilty about feeding on humans, but is compelled to do so in order to survive. During an attack on a group of humans, R spies a woman named Julie (Teresa Palmer), and he suddenly begins to feel emotions he's long forgotten. Wanting to protect Julie from his zombie brethren, R takes the frightened girl back to his shelter within an abandoned plane, trying to communicate through his actions and the limited number of words he can utter. Julie is horrified at first, but begins growing a hesitant trust for the zombie as they spend time together. Their relationship cannot last, though, as Julie's father (John Malkovich) oversees the military team assigned to slaughter zombies. But R starts to display human-like qualities the more he hangs out with Julie, beginning a trend in the rest of the undead.
As plot complications continue to pile up, you begin to wonder how everything will end up being resolved, but Levine (adapting Isaac Marion's novel of the same name) does a superb job of wrapping everything up without making the ending too overwrought or prolonged. Plus, the film closes on a happy ending that doesn't feel like a total cop-out, which is miraculous. Warm Bodies manages to breathe fresh life into zombie lore as well. The film actually evokes memories of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead in the way it depicts the living dead learning to use vehicles and weapons. Luckily, Levine doesn't pussify zombies (a la Twilight), instead merely presenting a balanced and thoughtful perspective on them, which is refreshing. Nevertheless, the undead still have real bite here; although R is sensitive, there are packs of skeletal zombies known as "Bonies" which are ferocious and add genuine threat to the tale.
Clocking in at a brisk 95 minutes, Warm Bodies progresses at a nice clip and never outstays its welcome, yet more narrative development would've been beneficial. The film hinges on our belief that the zombies can be rehabilitated as they get in touch with human feeling again, but it's never quite believable enough as it's too rushed. It needed more breathing space and time to gestate; it all happens too quickly, making a number of things hard to swallow. Added to this, the script is tacky from time to time, with a few eye-rolling lines of dialogue. This aside, there's little else to complain about in Warm Bodies, which is otherwise a solid film. Levine keeps things playful and fun, with the script emphasising R's buzzing brain. See, although R can only speak a few words at a time, we're privy to his interior monologues, hence there's a lot of effective voiceover narration that adds context to his actions on top of providing some wry humour.
There's no getting over the fact that Warm Bodies is patently ridiculous; the scientific underpinnings of the premise and a few aspects of the narrative are a bit too cutesy for their own good. But the film overcomes this because Levine commits to the premise with absolute sincerity. Levine was last seen behind the cancer comedy 50/50 for which he displayed a miraculous ability to mix the sweet and the sour, and he retains this skill for Warm Bodies. He strikes a perfect tonal balance, playing the horrific elements completely straight while also providing some exceptional comedy and a sense of sweetness. Indeed, the relationship between Julie and R feels fully human, and gains more emotional traction than most Hollywood romances. The payoff is rewarding, as we get the chance to feel invested in the relationship. Warm Bodies is also a handsome and well-made motion picture despite its modest budget. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe shot the film on 35mm, which gives it a gorgeous cinematic look.
Levine has a secret weapon in Hoult, who impresses mightily as zombie R. Hoult's body language and tender line delivery sells the role perfectly, and his demeanour is believably zombie-esque, especially with a layer of impressive make-up that further sells the illusion. Meanwhile, as Julie, Australian newcomer Palmer looks remarkably like Kristen Stewart, inviting even more Twilight comparisons. However, Palmer is a terrific choice; she's the hot version of Stewart, and she can actually act. Indeed, whereas Stewart is emotionless and stiff, Palmer is a genuinely expressive actress able to convey emotion and nuances. Hoult and Palmer share wonderful chemistry, too. Fortunately, there's solid support from a number of actors, including Malkovich as the badass military leader, Rob Corddry who's often amusing as R's kind-hearted zombie pal, and the lovely Analeigh Tipton playing Julie's best friend.
Warm Bodies is no masterpiece and it won't pick up any Oscars, but it's a sweet, good-natured romantic comedy, and I was surprised by how much it won me over by the end. Comparing it to Twilight is wrong; Warm Bodies is so much smarter, thematically deeper and charismatic than the Stephanie Meyer franchise, and it doesn't deserve to be associated with Twilight. Although the movie is primarily aimed at young ladies, it will also appeal to males, who won't be embarrassed to be watching this with their dates.
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"Your commanders have committed a crime I cannot forgive. None of you are safe. Have I got your attention now?"
Director J.J. Abrams' second venture into the cosmos on-board the USS Enterprise, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a smoother, more engaging experience than its predecessor, and it shows that there's still plenty of mileage left in the decades-old franchise. This is a follow-up that lives up to and surpasses the movie that spawned it, retaining the 2009 film's sense of energy and excitement but upping the ante with a stronger villain and a more interesting narrative. Most impressive about Into Darkness, though, is that it's a blockbuster both for Star Trek fans as well as the uninitiated. Indeed, there's fan service aplenty, and Trek fans should find the film to be an absolute godsend. Non-Trekkies, meanwhile, will find this sequel to be an exhilarating, involving sci-fi action extravaganza. You can't ask for much more than that.
After a Starfleet mission goes awry and Spock (Zachary Quinto) reports the wrongdoings, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is relieved of his command, but the expulsion does not last long. Rogue Starfleet agent John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) begins staging devastating terrorist attacks around London, resulting in the deaths of civilians as well as several Starfleet employees. Reinstated as captain of the USS Enterprise, Kirk and his crew are tasked with seeking out and killing Harrison, which takes them to the Klingon world of Kronos. However, the mission provokes unease amongst the crew. Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) doesn't trust the torpedos supplied by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), while a mysterious new crew member (Alice Eve) piques the interest of Spock.
Written by Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Into Darkness is smarter than the average summer blockbuster, showing a keen interest in sophisticated dialogue and themes. While the mechanics of the plot are sometimes too vague and more explication would be appreciated, this is only a mild hindrance. Pretty much everything else about Into Darkness is a raging success: it's a relentless action-adventure, filled with bombings, chases, hand-to-hand combat, space battles and shootouts. Yet, the in-between stuff is strong as well, and there's a particularly notable heartfelt scene in the third act that packs so much of a punch directly because of how intense the past two hours have been. This is a surprisingly character-rich film, giving the central characters a distinguished presence and purpose, though Alice Eve's role is a tad underwritten (and her underwear scene is every bit as gratuitous as the trailer suggests). Furthermore, the dialogue is a consistent joy, with sharp one-liners and moments of satisfying humour that feel surprisingly organic amid the heavy drama and excitement.
Abrams inserts an unusual sense of genuine peril into the proceedings, with unexpected character deaths and a lingering sense that some of the protagonists might not survive. It gives the movie an added edge, and makes the action sequences all the more stimulating. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a handsome picture as well, full of well-staged set-pieces, and set to a brisk pace that keeps the film entertaining from start to end. Daniel Mindel's cinematography is lavish and competent, while the score by Michael Giacchino amplifies the sense of intensity during the thrilling action scenes. As to be expected from a big-budget blockbuster, the production values are astonishing, and the CGI borders dangerously close to photorealism from time to time. As a matter of fact, especially during the finale, it's hard to tell what's live-action and what's digital. That said, though, Abrams cannot overcome one of the primary missteps of the last movie: his directorial tendencies - with frenetic cinematography, a hyper-polished look and the goddamn lens flares - are too much at times, which can be distracting.
All the main players from the 2009 film return for duty here, but it's newcomer Cumberbatch who steals the show as John Harrison, the tale's antagonist. He's truly terrifying here, but the brilliance of Cumberbatch's performance is how multi-layered and manipulative he is. At times Harrison does not even seem like a villain due to how placid and charming he is. When he strikes, though, he's one of the most menacing bad guys you'll ever see. Meanwhile, the returning faces are great as well, with Pine upping his game and with Quinto continuing to be a superb Spock. The two are a great screen pair, and their interactions are frequently compelling. Also standing out is Pegg who handles the comic relief extremely well, while Karl Urban makes for a scene-stealing Bones. Another notable newcomer is former RoboCop star Peter Weller (who was actually in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise), turning in an engaging performance as Admiral Marcus.
Into Darkness is presented in 3D, a decision made by the studio heads at Paramount rather than Abrams. Hence, the choice to go 3D was motivated by money rather than artistry. The last film was fine in plain old 2D, which automatically makes the extra dimension seem redundant here. Nevertheless, the conversion is a solid one, with a number of impressive-looking shots and scenes that look natively 3D. Still, the experience plays more smoothly in 2D, especially due to Abrams' shaky-cam trademark that makes the glasses tough on the eyes at times.
Ultimately, Star Trek: Into Darkness solidifies a franchise reborn. 2009's Star Trek instilled a lot of promise for the future, and this sequel does not disappoint. It's been four years since the last film, and Into Darkness was initially slated for a summer 2012 release date, hence it's marvellous to finally see this new adventure come to fruition. It's a hugely appealing and thrilling action film, which should reel in a new generation of Trek fans and appease the veteran Trekkies as well.
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"We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!"
Three decades on, 1984's Ghostbusters is still as hilarious, spooky and marvellous as ever, a real hoot of a horror-comedy engineered by a host of talented moviemakers. Directed by Ivan Reitman (Stripes) and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, it's a grandiose spectacle of comedy and special effects, enhanced by a pitch-perfect selection of actors and sharp dialogue. Ghostbusters was a box office smash upon release, grossing almost $300 million worldwide from its $30 million budget, and it still feels fresh and original in 2013. With its spot-on tone, absurd plot devices, hysterical one-liners, gut-busting physical humour and over-the-top performances, it's no wonder that movie-goers keep calling on Ghostbusters for superb entertainment.
Kicked out of Columbia University for their questionable abilities, parapsychology scientists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis) decide to go freelance, setting up a ghost removal service and calling themselves the "Ghostbusters." Before long, the gang also recruit sardonic receptionist Janine (Annie Potts) and fourth member Winston (Ernie Hudson), operating their business out of an abandoned firehouse. The Ghostbusters are soon approached by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), a beautiful cellist who notices strange supernatural happenings unfolding in her apartment building. Eventually becoming possessed by a demon together with her nerdy neighbour (Rick Moranis), the Ghostbusters face the task of saving New York City from destruction at the hands of Gozer the Gozerian.
The majority of the movie's comedy is generated from the interactions and conversations between the main characters, who seem to disperse an endless array of witty dialogue. For a PG-rated film, the script is surprisingly risqué, though most of these gags will probably fly over the heads of kids whereas adults will have a hearty laugh. On top of the smart bantering, Ghostbusters has terrific situational comedy and an all-round charm and zaniness that feel spontaneous rather than forced. There's a terrific flow to the narrative as well; no other filmmaker than Reitman could have pulled off such a smooth transition from a standoff with a demigod to a battle involving a Godzilla-like giant marshmallow man. Reitman also establishes a spot-on tone; Ghostbusters does not go overboard in the comedic department, keeping events somewhat grounded and establishing real stakes. But while there are some serious moments, the film keeps the laughs coming thanks to funny bantering and the hammy nature of so many of the creatures. The only real problem with Ghostbusters is a sub-plot involving an environmentalist played by William Atherton. It's too much of a standard-order story thread, and it honestly spoils the fun. The film grinds to a halt when Atherton shows up, even though Atherton's presence does make way for some amusing lines.
Contemporary spoof movies and comedies are not often skilfully-assembled, yet Ghostbusters is bursting with talent in terms of cinematography, editing and direction. The opening library scene is a masterpiece of deliberate pacing and tension, and one can't help but smile when the theme kicks in and the title appears on-screen. It's an immaculate opening for the picture. Similarly, framing is unusually strong throughout, with a careful eye towards composition which makes every shot look interesting. This is exactly why comedies from this era are superior and more respected than their modern counterparts; Ghostbusters feels like a real movie pulled off with skill and care, instead of a slapdash creation thrown together by a bunch of juvenile filmmakers. Ghostbusters is a special effects-heavy production, with numerous ghosts and creatures appearing throughout. Most of the practical effects stand up to this day, while the more obvious effects shots only amplify the film's charm and absurdity. With CGI used to much in modern filmmaking, there's something endearing about watching old-school effects. Also exceptional is Elmer Bernstein's score, which captures the essence of the film; it's playful, light-hearted and comedic, yet the music is also foreboding at times to underscore the horror elements.
The screenplay makes fantastic use of the cast, playing well to each performer's strengths and welcoming improvisation. The Ghostbusters gang carry a terrific camaraderie, as if they've been friends for years, hence we feel comfortable whenever they interact onscreen. Bill Murray is at his comedic best here, with his deadpan delivery, sarcasm and witticisms shining through in every scene. Nobody does humour quite like Murray; he's an enormous asset to the picture. Meanwhile, Ramis is a top-notch straight man, delivering the science-heavy exposition with abandon and charm. Then there's Aykroyd, who absolutely nails his role and provides several big laughs. Also worth mentioning is the side-splitting Potts as the Ghostbusters' receptionist, and Hudson who ably fulfils his duties as the token black guy. Rounding out the cast is Weaver, who holds her own against the rest of the cast, and Moranis, who's never been funnier.
Perfectly executed and smartly written, Ghostbusters is a seminal '80s comedy which deserves to be seen, even by those who do not enjoy movies of this vintage. Even though it spawned an inferior second film and there have been talks of a third instalment since the '90s, we still have this first film, and we can be forever thankful for that.
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Ever since he was infamously punched onstage while performing at the Manchester Comedy Store in 2007, it has been all uphill for Australian funnyman Jim Jefferies, who has so far released four comedy specials and has performed stand-up all over the world. Jim is arguably one of the finest comedians currently working today, as he delivers genuinely funny material with real bite. Jim is deserving of his own television show, which is why Legit is so disappointing. It's not terrible per se, but it's too much of a mixed bag, rendering it underwhelming. To the credit of the show, it starts out completely flat and dull but gradually improves over subsequent episodes. Nevertheless, Legit never quite hits its stride, only ever showing slivers of greatness that are surrounded by pure mediocrity or outright boredom.
Legit features Jim playing himself. A stand-up comedian, Jim yearns to go "legit," hoping to one day star in motion pictures and appear on television. In the pilot episode, he meets old childhood friends Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and Billy Nugent (DJ Qualls), the latter of whom is severely disabled, suffering from muscular dystrophy. The trio move into a house together, and the rest of the series chronicles their various shenanigans, as Jim auditions for roles, performs stand-up, and attempts to get with women.
In a nutshell, Legit falls lethally short in terms of comedy. For the first few episodes or so, the script is almost entirely comprised of recycled material from Jim's stand-up, with his stories being played out here, and with his diatribes spouted in everyday conversation. It simply feels lazy. Jim has stated that he never performs the same material again after recording it in a special in order to ensure that his fans have new jokes to enjoy whenever they pay money to watch him onstage. And yet, Legit drags out some of Jim's oldest jokes from five or six years ago, which have now lost their punch. Worse, this is a mainstream American television comedy, meaning it cannot be outright vulgar or feature any nudity. Swearing is present, but only very occasionally, and the bad stuff is bleeped out. Without swearing, the humour lacks bite. Onstage, it's funny to hear Jim curse frequently, especially when he blurts out the occasional "cunt." Casual viewers unfamiliar with Jim may find some of this material funny, but they'd be better served watching Jim's much funnier stand-up DVDs.
Produced by U.S. cable television network FX, an "American" disposition pervades the entirety of Legit to detrimental effect. Despite scenes involving sexual stuff, no nudity is ever allowed. Sure, it might be nasty to see a penis, but, if done properly, it could be shocking in a hilarious fashion. And it might sound childish but a brothel scene in the first episode feels way too tame, lacking sauciness. It's baffling that this show is American in the first place. After all, Jim lives in England, and has even stated in his stand-up that he prefers to live in England because America is so politically correct. An English television show would have more teeth, and it would be far more colourful as well. As it is, Legit is a middling American sitcom, lacking the brilliance and wit of classic shows like Scrubs or Friends.
Another underwhelming aspect about Legit is, alas, Mr. Jefferies himself. It's not that he's terrible - he's just "meh." To illustrate why, compare Legit to Ricky Gervais' new show, Derek. In it, Gervais and non-actor Karl Pilkington play actual characters and stretch their range, which is intriguing and entertaining. Jim just plays himself here, and a half-hearted version of himself at that since he's unable to utter curse words. It would be interesting to see Jim attempting more actual acting, since Jim's real-life ambition is to become a screen actor.
It must be stressed that Legit is not all bad, but the drab episodes outnumber the enjoyable episodes. The show actually exhibits real promise when it moves into original material, with its third episode in particular featuring an entirely original plot and a handful of fresh jokes that successfully land. And that's the really frustrating thing about the show: it often takes off when it doesn't rely on Jim's now worn-out material. But then, just as things are getting better, Jim delivers more of his material in a really half-arsed fashion, which winds up sounding forced. By the end of the first season, Jim has just about run the gamut of his stand-up material, leaving little else for him to source in later episodes (a few of his other stories are much too racey and crude for this sitcom). Legit has been renewed for a second season, but it's difficult to feel excited about it. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what Jim does next and where the show leads. If, that is, I decide to keep watching it.
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"Oh you're just having a bad dream, that's all baby. That's all it was. Bad dreams make you think you're seeing things that you haven't."
Watching the early scenes of 2009's Triangle, you may feel as if you've seen it all before. It drops a handful of standard-order characters into what seems like a slasher premise, and it looks as if the film is about to adopt the clichéd structure of people getting murdered one-by-one by a mysterious person or entity. But writer-director Christopher Smith has something different and more substantial up his sleeve, mounting a film full of Twilight Zone-level strangeness that's too delicious to spoil. Triangle is not what the trailers made it out to be - it's more like a twisty Alfred Hitchcock picture, with splashes of Memento and The Prestige. But even if you watch the movie with this in mind, Triangle will still defy your preconceptions.
A single mother with an autistic son, Jess (Melissa George) rarely gets time to herself anymore. With a day off, Jess agrees to spend her free time on a sailboat with a few companions organised by casual acquaintance Greg (Michael Dorman). Also along for the ride is deckhand Victor (Liam Hemsworth), friend Heather (Emma Lung), and couple Downey (Henry Dixon) and Sally (Rachael Carpani). Unfortunately, a vicious storm suddenly hits which overturns the yacht and leaves Heather lost at sea. Standing atop their capsized boat, the survivors are forced to take refuge inside a passing ocean liner. However, the vessel seems deserted, and Jess is unable to shake feelings of unease as she wanders the eerie hallways.
Triangle was the brainchild of Christopher Smith, who previously helmed the Danny Dyer vehicle Severance as well as 2004's Creep. Smith reportedly spent two years working on Triangle's script, hashing out the narrative and meticulously planning every twist and turn. Hence, this is not your stereotypical throwaway horror-thriller with little lasting value. On the contrary, Smith has created a mesmerising ride which pulls the rug out from underneath you every time you think you've figured out what the hell is happening to these characters. Triangle is underpinned with psychological concerns, as well, exploring how much you would be willing to endure to be with somebody you lived, or to right your mistakes.
Smith has stated that he was influenced by 1994's Pulp Fiction with its play on time, and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining with its claustrophobic atmosphere within an isolated location. It seems that the director also took influence from 1962's Carnival of Souls, and there are a few similarities to Donnie Darko. Triangle was competently constructed by Smith, who displays a firm grasp on tension-building and mise-en-scène. The initial period on-board the ocean liner is unbelievably creepy, with empty dank hallways and a lingering sense of mystery that grabbed this reviewer's attention. Triangle never concentrates on gore, but nevertheless provides an unflinching front-row seat to a nightmare in progress. The cinematography by Robert Humphreys is a huge strength, and the movie is filled with striking imagery. If there's anything to be criticised, it's the CGI, which reveals the movie's low-budget limitations. The storm looks like something from an animated movie, and some of the shots involving the large ship look like something from an Asylum production. It's not a deal-breaker, but such moments do take you out of the movie.
Although Smith hails from England, Triangle was shot in Australia and features an entirely Aussie cast. Luckily, he coaxed some marvellous performances from the actors, all of whom did a superb job of hiding their Aussie accents. If you were none the wiser, you would believe these people to be American. At the centre of the picture is Melissa George, delivering a complex and assured performance as Jess. An attractive actress, George sells a sense of apprehension in the film's early stages, and nails the character's transformation to something much darker by the film's conclusion. She's aided by a more than capable supporting cast, including Liam Hemsworth, who was taking all the work he could get at this early point in his career.
Suffice it to say, movie-watchers who like to watch films in which everything is tied up in a dainty little ribbon may not like Triangle. It's one of those movies that has layers upon layers of content to examine, compelling you to rush to internet forums to discuss your interpretations and read the conclusions of others. It's the sort of film that keeps you asking questions long after the credits have expired, and one that deserves to be watched over and over again. The fact that Smith pulled off the movie with virtuoso technique is another bonus, as Triangle is atmospheric and very intense.
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"Things are different now, I have to protect the one thing that I can't live without."
Kicking off Phase Two of Marvel's interconnected series of superhero adventures, Iron Man 3 is a raging success, a comic book movie with depth, smarts and a marvellous sense of fun. The director of the first two Iron Man pictures, Jon Favreau, did not return to helm this third instalment, and his replacement was Shane Black, a filmmaker who's been writing screenplays since the 1980s and who helped to reboot Robert Downey Jr.'s career with his superlative directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black was an inspired choice for the picture, retaining his penchant for red herrings, black humour, snappy dialogue and intense action scenes. It's a change of pace for both the Iron Man series and the Marvel franchise in general, yet that's precisely why Iron Man 3 works. It's pure ecstasy.
Severely traumatised following the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) finds himself unable to sleep properly and consistently suffering from anxiety attacks that affect his relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as well as his public image. A new threat soon emerges in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a terrorist leader who takes responsibility for a number of bombings on American soil. When one bombing leaves Happy Hogan (Favreau) in hospital, the situation becomes personal, with Tony setting out on a mission of revenge against the Mandarin.
From the very beginning, it's clear that Iron Man 3 is a Shane Black script. Playful narration opens the picture which evokes memories of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and things only get better from there. Black was actually a dialogue consultant on 2008's Iron Man; he was called upon whenever a snappy one-liner was needed, making him a logical choice to fill the director's chair in Favreau's absence. It's hardly surprising, then, that an entire script by Black (co-written by Drew Pearce) is a home run. Witty dialogue and comedy abounds, yet Black perfectly balances the humour with drama and genuine stakes. Iron Man 3 is exceedingly dark - the darkest Marvel movie so far - and it incorporates a number of Black's distinctive idiosyncrasies. It's set at Christmastime for starters, and a number of narrative developments and lines of dialogue wouldn't feel out of place in a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sequel. However, the Black influence is an ideal fit for this series after the enjoyable but safe second film, and this new direction works as long as you're willing to accept that this is a different type of Marvel adventure. And there are no earmarks of studio interference; it appears that Black was never asked to dilute his vision.
As good as it was, the first Iron Man was hampered by its generic "origin story" structure, making it feel like Spider-Man with the names changed. Likewise, Iron Man 2 felt like a formulaic follow-up, ticking the proverbial superhero sequel boxes. But Iron Man 3 plots its own course; all bets are off here, with a story that's unconventional and unpredictable. Being unfamiliar with the comics, I cannot comment on the quality of the adaptation, but Iron Man 3 plays out beautifully on its own terms. In particular, the story arc of the Mandarin is unique and unexpected. Fans of the comics may get up in arms about the changes to the source material, but in the context of this story it works brilliantly. Iron Man 3 is a blast from start to finish, and it's easy to give into the picture's mischievous charm and delirious sense of pure fun.
Black has dabbled in R-rated territory for most of his career, having scripted such movies as Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. It appears that Black tried to transfer as many of his R-rated tendencies as possible to this flick; the action scenes are incredibly vicious and brutal, and the human body count is astonishing for a Marvel film. If you come to Iron Man 3 seeking some spectacular blockbuster action, it delivers in spades. The bar is set high early into the film with a breathtaking assault on Stark's estate that will have you on the edge of your seat. But Black tops himself in the film's latter half, beginning with a jaw-dropping airborne rescue that's so exciting because it was largely the work of a parachuting stunt team as opposed to green screen. The climax, meanwhile, is almost as good as The Avengers, packing emotional power and an enormous amount of multiplex-rocking action. The quality of the special effects is consistently mind-blowing, and the mise-en-scène of the set-pieces is incredible. Iron Man 3 is the first Iron Man film to be presented in 3D, but the extra-dimensional effects are underwhelming. Converted to 3D as opposed to being shot in the format, it adds nothing to the experience; the fact that the film's predecessors worked just fine without 3D is proof that 2D is a preferable option.
Downey Jr. continues to demonstrate here that he can carry this franchise, and he proves once again to be an ideal mouthpiece for Black's razor-sharp dialogue. The beauty of Downey's performance is how multifaceted it is; conveying misery and anxiety whenever it's called for, and displaying spot-on comic timing and delivery at other times. He embodies the role of Tony Stark, and it's impossible to imagine any other performer playing the character. Downey also shines in a number of scenes with a young boy who's befriended by Stark, giving Black the chance to insert his trademark buddy movie back-and-forth banter into the proceedings. Meanwhile, as Captain Rhodes, Don Cheadle is just as good here as he was in the second movie, and his chemistry with Downey is outstanding. Special mention also goes to Guy Pearce, who's spot-on as Aldrich Killian. Pearce makes Killian believably dorky in the film's early scenes before becoming a spellbinding and menacing presence. Then there's Kingsley, who's pitch-perfect as the Mandarin and who handles the various aspects of his role with finesse. Paltrow also impresses once again as Pepper, while Favreau looks to have had a ball here.
Surprisingly, outside of Paltrow and Paul Bettany (who voices Jarvis), no Avengers cast members appear here, though there's a surprise cameo which cannot be spoiled. The lack of Avengers tie-ins is a wise choice, though, since Iron Man 2 was so much an extended trailer for The Avengers and spent too much time setting up the Joss Whedon blockbuster. Fortunately, Iron Man 3 is its own film with its own story to tell, and the rest of the Avengers team have no relevance here.
It's an obvious recommendation at this point in the Marvel franchise, but be sure to stay until the end of the credits for an additional scene. It's an unexpected type of post-credits scene that fans may find odd, but it brings the narrative full circle, and it's a perfect way to cap off the experience. It's nearly impossible to walk away feeling dissatisfied with Iron Man 3. Armed with a fresh vision, it's arguably the best of the Iron Man trilogy, and it's a valiant follow-up to Whedon's wildly successful The Avengers. Black's film entertains from the very first frame, packing heart, sound storytelling, superb comedy and top-flight performances. It keeps getting harder and harder to justify sequels since they're everywhere these days, hence it's miraculous to witness a part three as solid as this.
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