27 June 2009

The Reel Deal: And Back Down To Earth...

The title of this post refers to a line in Telstar (reviewed below), where the tone-deaf Joe Meek is dictating to his drummer and guitarist exactly what he wants them to play as they record the titular anthem, which made him a success. It can also refer to my return to form in a week where I've had to defend my views on Transformers 2, having unwisely forgotten that it's one of those films that internet fanboys will defend to the hilt. As the antidote to this rather depressing week, I went out and saw some films that were actually good.

And now of course, it only remains to review them- in addition to Telstar, I'm going to do the long overdue review of The Hangover, but first, onto a film that broaches the ever-so-popular vampire trope- Blood- The Last Vampire.

Reviews, as ever, shall contain minor spoilers, but not so far as to ruin your enjoyment of the films in question if you haven't seen them yet.

BLOOD- THE LAST VAMPIRE



Who's in it?
Gianna Jun (Superman ieotdeon sanai, amongst other Japanese language films), Allison Miller (17 Again) and Liam Cunningham (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor)

What's it all about?
Saya (Jun) is a vampire who lost her human parents to her own kind shortly after her birth. Raised by a kindly old man, she now works for a shady government department in post-WWII Japan. Her mission is to find and destroy bloodsuckers while also assauging her personal vendetta and hunting for the oldest demon, Onegin, who murdered her parents.

Any good? Anyone who's read the recent post I did about vampires is probably expecting a drubbing, but believe me, this certainly isn't the worst vampire film I've ever seen. The film is based on a Japanese anime film of the same name, but several changes have taken place. Like last year's Forbidden Kingdom, this is a very Americanised look at the martial arts genre, and that's most obvious for the inclusion of Allison Miller's casting as a plucky, (and more importantly American) army brat as a secondary lead. The crucial part of this is that she's the audience's insight into the scary world on "the other side of the looking glass", as Colin Salmon's creepy schoolteacher character intones at an early point in the film. Yes, Colin Salmon is here, and bafflingly, so are Liam Cunningham and JJ Feild- both British actors who play American in this film and don't have an awful lot to do.

As you might have guessed from the fact that this is based on an earlier film, it isn't terribly innovative. Nothing new is brought to the vampire characters except the nifty martial arts. On the contrary, the film is actually derivative of films other than the one it was based on- a scene where a truck is chased by a winged demon is almost identical to the similar scene in Underworld: Evolution. And more distractingly, there is some terrible CGI. Masses of special effects don't make films good as a rule (see last week's review), but when you see the unconvincing fountains of animated blood and Harryhausen-style creature effects, it'll take you right out of the film. Not to mention that Saya never once has a single drop of blood on her person during a fight scene- a practical impossibility given how much of it is flying around. Blood is an accurate title. The Last Vampire part, less so, given how many vampires Saya battles here.

Blood- The Last Vampire is the latest in a long line of vampire films that don't really do anything original with the trope, but it's not unwatchable. Enjoy the spiffy martial arts, if that's your thing, but substance is slightly lacking when it comes to the plot, which grinds to a halt for a whole twenty minutes midway through for some unnecessary flashbacks.



THE HANGOVER



Who's in it?
Bradley Cooper (Yes Man), Ed Helms (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) and Zach Galifanakis (Into the Wild)

What's it all about? A groom-to-be goes to Vegas with his three best friends (Cooper, Galifanakis and Helms) for his stag party, only for the four of them to get catastrophically drunk. When they awake the next morning, hungover, they find the groom is missing, and it falls to his buddies to retrace their steps through the carnage of the previous night.

Any good? On paper, it doesn't sound that good. The Hangover could easily have been another of the dumber comedies that have come out in the last few years, aping Old School or American Pie. But in the capable hands of Todd Phillips, who actually did direct Old School, and the cast he has assembled, the film is much more. And it's much funnier too. While I don't think anyone watching this will ever have been so devastatingly inebriated as to borrow a baby, a tiger and a chicken and take them back home while on a night out, it's a high-concept comedy and you go with it because the performances are so endearing. That it remains funny and relatable even after Mike Tyson (yes, as himself), and the Chinese mafia come after the friends looking for revenge is just a testament to how well-scripted and performed this comedy is.

Bradley Cooper seems to have escaped the stigma of playing assholes from his earlier career, but while he's too good-looking and knowingly leading man material to be an everyman, the slack is picked up by his beta-male co-stars. Zach Galifanakis might not become a household name (try saying it three times fast), but you can tell from his performance in this that he's going on to big things in comedy. Ed Helms is endearingly impotent as the obligatory stuffed-shirt-learning-to-be-himself character, and holds his own in a script that's full of one-liners. Heather Graham makes an appearance as the wife he married while drunk and proves as she does in every film that she really ought to be getting more work in Hollywood.

Despite taking a little too long in the beginning to get to the start of the real plot, The Hangover is a wonderfully quotable and enjoyable comedy. It quite deserves to be the sleeper hit of the summer that it has become stateside, and I hope that the mooted sequel doesn't lose the charm of its predecessor.



TELSTAR- THE STORY OF JOE MEEK



Who's in it? Con O'Neill (TV's Criminal Justice), JJ Feild (Blood- The Last Vampire- see above) and Kevin Spacey (21)

What's it all about? Covering the first seven years of the 1960s, the film charts the rise and fall of the eccentric and flamboyantly gay music producer, Joe Meek (O'Neill), as he mismanages his production studio, offends his musicians and sinks more and more money into making insufferable bully Heinz Burt (Feild) into the UK's answer to Elvis.

Any good? If you're a fan of 60s music, then Telstar is for you. Joe Meek's hits- Jonny Remember Me, Just Like Eddie and the anthem of the title- may not have passed into the accepted canon of musical classics, but it's the story of the man that makes this film so fascinating. If I complained that The Boat That Rocked was guilty of forgoing any real historical context in order to make a film where some comedy actors danced around to pop music, then I have to applaud this film for doing the opposite. This is a harsh appraisal of both the period and of Meek's life. Homosexuality was illegal at the time, and this comes as a source of great turmoil at one point in the film for Meek, who's played larger than life by Con O'Neill. The best part of O'Neill's performance is that you want to like him, but can't. You're brought close enough to Meek to be shocked when the film turns on him, portraying him as an emotionally disabled, paranoid old man, spending his life worrying about people stealing his music after he faces plagiarism lawsuits over his most successful song.

This representation is not unique to Meek- director Nick Moran has made a film in which there are very few likable or endearing characters, and that just makes it all the more real as a biopic. JJ Feild's Heinz is terrific, going from clueless and stupid one minute to threatening and self-important the next. It's his character that leads Meek down the road to self-destruction, and the dynamic the two characters have is one of unrequited love and abuse. The supporting cast cannot be praised enough either, most notably in Kevin Spacey's performance. His role is small in this one, but more memorable than most of his other performances since The Life of David Gale, and the rest of the cast are at the top of their game too. Ralf Little and James Corden in particular show off acting chops that I didn't realise they had. The pacing seems to depart with the rest of the supporting cast in the last half-hour, and as electric as O'Neill is to watch, the film might comfortably have lost ten minutes and been even better.

Telstar is essential viewing for any Joe Meek fans out there, but I didn't know who he was until I saw this film, and I loved it all the same. Poignant, well-acted, and one of the best films currently on release. Sadly, it's not in wide distribution in the UK, perhaps due to it being released in the same week as a certain robot-smacking army-loving shitfest, but I strongly advise you to catch it when it comes to DVD if you can't catch it in cinemas.


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Righto, that's your lot. The next review will likely cover Year One, Ice Age 3 and Public Enemies. Aside from the latter, there are few other films to look forward to this summer. I read a review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince earlier on, from someone who isn't a fan of the books or the movies thus far, and yet suggested it might be considered Oscar-worthy with the recent changes to the Academy's voting procedures for Best Picture. So hell yes, I'm looking forward to that.

Until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,
Mark

23 June 2009

Review: Transformers- Revenge of the Fallen

I like midnight screenings. The atmosphere is generally good at such screenings, because everyone there has made an extra special effort to see the film first, so you can expect they'll be fans. It was with some trepidation that I remembered this while sitting in the cinema auditorium early on Friday morning, because it was clearly full of people who liked 2007's Transformers. Having rewatched the first film recently, I decided I can't hate it for being stupid. I can hate it for idolising both the US military and a fake orange porn-star who can't act her way out of a paper bag, sure, but not for being stupid. It's a Michael Bay film, so that's par for the course. However, I like to think I came to the sequel with an open mind- it wasn't impossible that Bay would create a totally superior sequel, and so I was cautiously optimistic once the trailers finished.

And what follows is my review. No summary for those who are just skimming- I demand that you read all of it. Mostly because this film will do huge numbers at the box office no matter what I say about it, and I honestly believe it's less painful to read this review than it is to watch the film itself. It's taken me this long to review it because I actually have had problems articulating how bad this is. I'm not so childish as to ruin the plot, so I've taken measures to make this review as spoiler-free as I possibly can. There is a fair bit of profanity, but I try to use that sparingly in reviews, so I won't apologise for the frequent verbal gesticulating in this one.

TRANSFORMERS- REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

Who's in it? Shia LeBeouf (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Megan Fox (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), John Turturro (You Don't Mess with the Zohan), Ramon Rodriguez (Pride and Glory) and Josh Duhamel (Transformers).

What's it all about? Two years after the All-Spark was destroyed, Sam Witwicky (LeBeouf) is off to college when he's embroiled in the war between the Autobots (goody robots) and the Decepticons (baddie robots) once more. It emerges that the Transformers have had a much greater hand in human development than anyone realised, and the original Decepticon, known as the Fallen, is out for revenge on Autobot leader Optimus Prime, and on the Earth...

Any good? The paradox of Revenge of the Fallen is that, as a Michael Bay film, it ought to start badly, continue to be bad, and then finish awfully. You'd certainly expect exactly that from the build-up I've given this review, but I actually caught myself enjoying the film for the first 45 minutes or so. There's an interesting diplomatic set-up with the Autobots and the US Government, and Sam's comic-relief parents are used sparingly and with slightly better effect than in Transformers. Bigger than that however, the major set-piece of the first hour is a fight set in a forest that, besides displaying an apparent disregard for anything tree-related on Bay's part, is actually stunning. I cared about what was happening in a way I never had in the first film. The feeling of being slightly unclean aside, it was refreshing to actually enjoy what I was watching.

However, this does not last, and it becomes ever more apparent that Michael Bay is concerned solely with showing us what it looks like when you're given $200m with which to film whatever you want. And a lot of that is very bang, boom, wallop. As in the first film, the bangs, booms AND wallops are all vapid, uninteresting and same-y once that superbly realised forest sequence has been and gone. But this time the bangs, booms and wallops are spread over 149 minutes, and that's about 100 minutes too long, considering what follows. After a key plot turn at the end of this golden period, the plot derails with all the horror of a train full of puppies crashing into an aircraft carrier full of screaming babies. While the comic relief was restrained largely to Sam's parents in the beginning of the film, it feels like every other character here is now there for some lame attempt at a laugh.

"I died for your sins, Sam... so stop putting me in shitty movies."

And boy, is the comedy in this film lame. I can only imagine Michael Bay was sat watching Verne Troyer hump Beyonce Knowles' leg in the third Austin Powers film and thought it was so funny that he put no less than FOUR humping jokes into this one. That people were laughing at these moments in the cinema made me despair for humanity, to put it bluntly. And then there were the Twins. Oh, sweet cattle of Seattle, those Twins. Remember how everyone really fucking hates Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace? It's like they went out of their way to include TWO characters exactly as annoying as him. And these two robots get more screen-time than any of the 44 other robots in the film. Not that you can tell many of them apart, due to the simple fact that there's 46 of them. If one of the biggest problems in the first one was that you couldn't particularly tell what bit of robot was hitting whose bit of robot, then why in the name of Optimus Prime would you add MORE robots?!

And more importantly, why when you have the superbly voiced and animated Optimus Prime, Megatron and the eponymous Fallen, would you focus on the fucking Twins?! They are hideous, borderline racist stereotypes who should never have got past the drawing board- nay, the fucking skirting board! And I reiterate what I say about those other three characters- Megatron was clearly the best part of the first one and I was actually happy to see him back, and this time around, Optimus Prime is actually imbued with some of that "better than Jesus" heroism stuff that you hear the really dedicated fanboys talking about. And of course, there's the Fallen. In a film subtitled Revenge of the Fallen, you'd think the Fallen would really be the centre of the plot. And that his role would involve revenge. But after the plot hares off into so many different strands, trying to bring back everyone from the first film as well as introduce the aforementioned multitude of additional robots, the title just doesn't ring true.


Nuh-uh. The film's not really about the Fallen. Or his revenge. Or anything, really.

And that's another thing! All the returning cast members! It's bad when a sequel needlessly suffers from "the whole gang's back!" syndrome, but this takes it to ludicrous extremes, as Bay's films are wont to. Ignoring the two abominable young leads for a moment (was their romance so timeless that we had to endure it for another 149 minutes?), more or less everyone is back. Remember Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson's characters from the first film? They're back, for little reason other than having been in the first one and being in the US military. Remember Simmons, John Turturro's shady government character in the first film? He's back. Hell, they travel halfway around the world for Simmons, just to have him explain what the fuck has happened to the plot since they left the forest! And I feel slightly unfair criticising Simmons, because Turturro soldiers on with the poor lot he gets in the script, and is in fact one of the more watchable aspects of Revenge of the Fallen.

But now onto the inevtable. I don't hate Shia LeBeouf, but I think he's terribly over-rated- he's gone from being one of the more enjoyable parts of the first film to being one of the many awful parts of this film, via an excruciating turn as the son of Indiana Jones. There's none of the charm that some of his lower profile performances exuded, and I'm swiftly losing patience with his work, full-stop. And then there's Megan Fox. I have never found her hot, nor will I ever, and if karmic retribution should turn out to be an actuality, anyone who's told me that she is shall be struck down, as seen in the picture below. More pressingly though, Fox absolutely cannot act. This is a woman who really made a big impression in the world of acting in another Bay film, Bad Boys II, in the memorable and gruelling role of "Stars-and-Stripes Bikini Kid Dancing Under Waterfall". And in this film as in any other, she is rubbish, rubbish, RUBBISH. And she's still not attractive!

Yeah kid, that'll teach you to worship your false orange idol.

It's handy though, because Bay's portrayal of Megan Fox is a useful allegory for his entire approach to directing. You get the feeling that if he were directing outright honest porn instead of big Hollywood films, he'd be lauded as a genius. You know, by professors of cinema and such-like, as opposed to being lauded by 13 year old boys worshipping false orange idols. That's because his approach to anything, be it robots hitting each other, women fixing automobiles or most notably, the US military, has something leery and unsettling about it. Part of me is curious about what a Michael Bay porn film would look like- it'd have explosions and the like. But I digress, his pornographic approach to film is what makes this so inexcusable. Transformers is apparently critic-proof because this is a franchise for kids, not adults. Why then do we see so many references to women as sex objects, drugs (YES, drugs) and racial stereotypes? Are these appropriate for kids? I'm actually astonished that this film can still make money, and be accepted as a summer blockbuster, after the success of Iron Man, The Dark Knight and Star Trek, and even more amazed that this film has the same screenwriters as the latter of those films. How did they go so right there and so wrong here?!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the lowest common denominator- Leni Riefenstahl made more likable films than this. Even as enjoyable and as lightweight as I found the opening 45 minutes or so, there are still those hideous tropes of Michael Bay's filmography on display- lens flare, upskirt shots and masturbatory idolatry of the US military. Particularly nauseating is Sam's college, where every student looks like some variation on Megan Fox, which would personally be my idea of an academic nightmare. It gets the rating it does solely for the promise of the early film, and that much-mentioned fight in the forest. The rest is ludicrously self-indulgent, stupidly long and worst of all, it's not even entertaining rubbish. I've already mentioned the lack of the Fallen, so Transformers: How Fucking Annoying Are These Twins? might be a more prudent title for the film. Or more succinctly- Transformers: Bleh Bleh Bleh Bleh Bleh!

Awful! Awful! Awful! (Mostly.)



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If you think that star rating is slightly odd considering the drubbing I just gave this film, just remember that I at least liked the start of it. The forest fight is like a scene from another movie, and I'd give everything up to and including that point a 4/5, because I was entertained, so I felt it was doing its job. Seeing as how I'd give the rest a 0/5, the maths goes like this.

4 + 0 = 4
4/2= 2

So it's 2/5. Though still probably the worst film of the year.

(shudders) The next update will definitely involve The Hangover, and probably Telstar and Looking for Eric, looking at my plans for the rest of the week. Just be glad we've got Transformers out of the way- I can't see anything this year making me rant at you as much as this did. One thing to come out of this review- I like to imagine Michael Bay scribbling that simile down in a notepad- "Aircraft carrier... screaming babies..."- for future reference.

Until next time, don't watch Revenge of the Fallen,
Mark

With thanks to Fearn Sobers for the Movie Goat art- for more of her work, go to her site, fesoes.net, linked on the sidebar.

9 June 2009

The Reel Deal- Bang, Boom, Wallop!

Illness is a bitch, ladies and gents. That's why you're getting this post so quickly after the Drag Me to Hell review, and it's also why I haven't had chance to see anything else this morning to add on here. Admittedly, I am going to drag myself down to the local Cineworld to see Spartacus tonight, and having never seen it, I'm likely to review it on here thereafter. Still, seeing as how I'm sat in the house, I might as well snap to and review 12 Rounds and Terminator Salvation, both action films, and neither exactly pushing the boundaries of that genre.

Reviews, as ever, shall contain minor spoilers, but not so far as to ruin your enjoyment of the films in question if you haven't seen them yet.

12 ROUNDS


Who's in it?
John Cena (The Marine), Aidan Gillen (Shanghai Knights) and Ashley Scott (The Kingdom)

What's it all about?
Danny Fisher (Cena) is an ordinary beat cop who is accidentally involved in the capture of Miles Jackson (Gillen), an international arms dealer. One year into his prison sentence, Miles escapes prison, kidnaps Fisher's girlfriend (Scott), and pits Fisher against a series of twelve challenges to secure her safety.

Any good? Time was, when you were channel-hopping of an evening, usually very late in that evening, odds were that ITV1 would be showing a film featuring one or more of the following action stars- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Not being as up on telly schedules as I once was, I'm not sure if that tradition has now migrated to another channel, like Five, but the remarkable feeling you'll get after seeing 12 Rounds is that this film could join the Late Night Brainless Action line-up once it makes it to terrestrial television. That some critics have chosen to read the film as director Renny Harlin's homage to Greek mythology, and the twelve labours of Hercules, is mental. This is simply a film of bangs, booms and wallops, and anyone pretending differently is kidding themselves.

For starters, it's brought to us by the gloriously daft 20th Century Fox, and produced by the slightly questionable production stable of WWE Studios. I can only presume that the latter is the reasoning for casting the permanently befuddled John Cena, who comes across as Mark Wahlberg after an allergic reaction to something that causes his face and body to bloat horribly and completely negates any acting skill he might have. Cena is evidently trying to fit into that category of action star mentioned above, but having watched this, I'm afraid that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson remains the only WWE wrestler to successfully move into acting proper. Played off against him is Aidan Gillen, who is clearly capable of acting (and acting well), but for some reason, his move into Hollywood seems to be marked by slightly rubbish villains in films where the script gives him little to do. This one is no exception, and as Gillen's character is Irish and Cena's protagonist is called Danny, I'm surprised at how far the writers got before making a "Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling" joke, which I can only assume they saved especially for the pulse-pounding climax.

All this said, did I enjoy it? In spite of everything rubbish about it, I did find a reasonable amount to enjoy. While Harlin clearly isn't setting out to be daft like Neveldine/Taylor did with Crank, there's something to be said for seeing a good old 90s action film homaged in this day and age. Even if Harlin didn't intend to homage it. And of course there's nothing new in the formula- Gillen putting Cena through his paces in order to get revenge is lifted directly from Die Hard with a Vengeance, and each of the titular 12 rounds seems to be homaging some film or other. That I can't be more specific is merely a sign of how I was able to switch off my brain for once while watching. So yes, it's generic. Yes, it's daft. Yes, it's all those things that I've criticised in other recent Fox movies. But there's a joy in this that wasn't in the others. The most comparable of Fox's output to this one was last year's Max Payne, which was po-faced and boring as all hell, whereas 12 Rounds is much more enjoyable.

While I doubt the career of its star will really take off, and I'd really rather be watching the villain in a film where he's allowed to act a bit, 12 Rounds is a harmless enough throwback to the 90s action movies that tend to get shown so late on telly. It's a recommendation and not a putdown when I say your enjoyment of the film may be better served by waiting for it to show up on ITV at 11pm sometime.



TERMINATOR SALVATION


Who's in it? Christian Bale (The Dark Knight), Sam Worthington (Rogue) and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek)

What's it all about?
Judgement Day has been and gone, and the war between humanity and Skynet is well underway in the year 2018. John Connor (Bale) is now one of the highest-ranking leaders amongst the resistance, but encounters Skynet's newest weapon when he's brought face to face with Marcus Wright (Worthington), a criminal seemingly given the death penalty back in 2003.

Any good? Read that synopsis again. Straight off the bat, there's the problem, because here's what it might have read...

Marcus Wright (Bale) wakes up in 2018, having been put to death by lethal injection in 2003, to find a world rocked by war and ruled by a sentient computer system called Skynet. With only a young man called Kyle Reese (Yelchin) as his ally, he attempts to traverse the war-ravaged lands and join the Resistance, little realising what he really is...

What changed between that synopsis and the finished film? Christian Bale would've been playing Marcus, and the film certainly wouldn't have centred around John Connor. In one of many decisions taken by the ludicrously named "director" McG (I use "director" in the loosest sense of the word), a major script rewrite was undertaken in order to get Bale to star. Bale wanted to play John Connor and the rest as they say was... well, a bit of a mess. I wouldn't mind, but the only new thing Bale brings to the role is his much maligned Batman voice and a lot of shouting. It's astonishing to see him phoning in any performance after every other performance thus far has been superb, but Terminator Salvation clearly gains nothing from the presence of John Connor. On the contrary, it actually loses something.

The best parts of Terminator Salvation, I'll say right now, are Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. Worthington is being quite hyped up lately as the Next Big Thing, with roles to come in Avatar and a remake of Clash of the Titans, and from his performance here, it's clear to see why. He provides a much more three-dimensional performance than the character demands as written, and plays well against the superb Anton Yelchin. Having also played Chekhov brilliantly in Star Trek, I really can believe he's going to be the Next Big Thing, even if he's sadly underused. This is even more criminal when it's considered that the film was originally going to be about Marcus and Kyle, trying to survive and join the Resistance, and I honestly feel that would've made a better film. John Connor has little to do other than... be called John Connor, and so it's a shame that so much of the film focuses on him. Christian Bale isn't to blame for this though- the "director" is.

Joe McGinty Nichol (I can't decide which of his names sounds sillier) clearly sucks as a director. While even Terminator 3 managed to capture some of the spirit of its two James Cameron-directed predecessors, Terminator Salvation is clinical, joyless and full of plot holes. When you watch The Terminator or Terminator 2, there's a genuine thrill to watching a machine that cannot be stopped ruthlessly hunting down its prey, but seeing them on the assembly line in the film just seems to kill any chance of menace dead. In showing the future for a whole film rather than the fleeting glimpses from the earlier instalments, it's almost like they've Clone Wars-ed the Terminator franchise. And worst of all, any other director would've stood their ground and said "No thanks" to Bale's demands, but it seems that McG gave up any chance of the film being good to try and grab Bale after The Dark Knight (almost) became the highest grossing film ever. And I don't know what stage of development they were at when they decided to make the film PG-13/12A and release fucking Terminator voice changer helmets to target a young audience, but that's probably where they went wrong. It's a Terminator film! What about that says "appeal to children"?

Most befuddling of all are the random set-ups for a further sequel that McG seems to seed throughout the film, like Connor's wife being pregnant, something that is never mentioned in the dialogue or given any significance whatsoever beyond an occasional glimpse of a baby bump bulging from her jumper. In the evidence of Terminator Salvation's disappointing box office returns, it seems unlikely that McG will be allowed near the franchise again, thankfully. If by some horrible twist of fate he is, it seems sadly plausible that Terminator 5 will be more of the same- video game logic, a bag of tricks containing little more than a couple of explosive set pieces and a script that's being dictated by whichever actor McG is trying to cajole into headlining it. No wonder Bale went mad on set. Hopefully it won't be back.


(The rating is for Worthington and Yelchin alone- if the whole film had centred around them, it likely would've been four)

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Well, that passed some time- two distinctly average action films. And that's a more pejorative label for Terminator Salvation, which should really be something more. If any of you were intrigued by that mention of what the script was like before Bale came on board, here's the full story. Obviously there were problems with that original Marcus and Kyle script, but hey, that's what you get when you put McG and the writers of Catwoman on a Terminator film.

Next time... um... The Hangover will likely be involved, and possibly Last Chance Harvey too. Spartacus will probably get a look-in if I see it tonight as well.

Until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,
Mark

Review: Drag Me to Hell

As the 00's draw to a close, you could say they've been eventful for Sam Raimi. He's well and truly passed into the mainstream by directing the Spider-Man films, in stark contrast with his early days directing Darkman and of course the classic Evil Dead films. After the quite fairly lambasted Spider-Man 3, he's taken a little time out to return to horror by making Drag Me to Hell.

This is a film that seems to have flopped stateside, with most choosing to see Pixar's latest effort, Up, which was released on the same day (and I'm still dying to see it myself), and some of Raimi's more hardcore fans being alienated by what they see as a "tame" PG-13 rating. While the rule seems to be that PG-13 horror films are a contradiction in terms because they can't effectively scare you, the audience is in safe hands with Raimi. If you're looking for a quick summary of my thoughts on the film without looking through the whole post, that's it basically- horror fans are in safe hands, and Drag Me to Hell is definitely worth a watch.

But for everyone else, here's a review that contains a spoiler or two, but nothing crucial, storywise.

DRAG ME TO HELL



Who's in it?
Alison Lohman (Beowulf), Justin Long (He's Just Not That Into You), Lorna Raver (TV's Nip/Tuck), Dileep Rao (TV's Brothers and Sisters) and David Paymer (Ocean's Thirteen)

What's it all about? Christine Brown (Lohman) has a lot going for her with her boyfriend and her high-ranking job at a bank, but in an unguarded moment of selfishness, she incurs the wrath of an elderly gypsy woman, Mrs. Ganush (Raver), whose house she is forced to repossess. Consulting a seer (Rao) about her encounter with Ganush, she discovers she has been cursed with the Lamia, the most feared of all demons, and has three days to break the curse before the demon, you guessed it, drags her to hell for all eternity.

Any good? Sam Raimi's philosophy of horror owes much to his love of Three Stooges shorts. It's only in Evil Dead II that we start to see him leaning towards slapstick rather than the abject horror of its predecessor, and Army of Darkness became more comedy than horror, on balance. That worked in its favour in my opinion, as I reckon the films got progressively better, and now 17 years later, we have Drag Me to Hell, which dispenses slapstick and shocks in lashings to the audience. The first real confrontation between Christine and Mrs. Ganush is like a sickening version of Tom and Jerry- Tom bringing a hammer down on his own tail has been gruesomely and hilariously supplanted by Mrs. Ganush attempting to bite her quarry without her false teeth, resulting in Christine's chin being thoroughly gummed and covered in phlegm.

You may well have gathered from that alone that Lorna Raver is utterly disgusting, but the audience will love it. She's the best screen villain in a while, never mind the best horror villain. But the beauty of her character is in how she's mostly in the right- Alison Lohman's endearing performace as Christine makes us root for her, sure, but it's her one selfish act in pursuit of a promotion that's enough to get her cursed and send her down a path where she'll do terrible things to protect her own soul. Lohman gamely substitutes for the mighty Bruce Campbell here too, and is thrown this way and that in the pursuit of scares and laughter from the audience.

Another surprising aspect of Drag Me to Hell is how it puts one of the worse horror tropes to good use. A variety of jump scares are involved, as in the most generic of Hollywood horrors, but Sam Raimi appreciates the value of visuals as opposed to volume when scaring the shit out of an audience. The inevitable stabbing music chord accompanies most of the jumps, but sound is applied with dazzling effect throughout. The key reason to see this in the cinema, besides the reactions of the audience around you, is the sound- the sound system of any cinema will be put to good use by the film's occasionally deafening sound and music, designed specifically to make the audience uncomfortable, only to relent without anything happening. Three seconds later, just when you've relaxed, something does happen, and you'll hit the ceiling of the auditorium.

All of this is not to say that Drag Me to Hell is without its flaws- the dialogue isn't perfect and there's some occasional clunky exposition, and with all the best will in the world towards Justin Long, I can't quite believe that he's a professor at a university. This is the kind of thing that usually takes me out of a film, along the lines of believing Jessica Alba as one of the smartest women in the world in the Fantastic Four films, but Long's performance is as amiable as we've come to expect and so it didn't bother me too much. The other disappointment as far as dialogue goes is that it's just not as quotable as Army of Darkness. That film was jam-packed with lines that people have been quoting for the last 17 years, and perhaps the discrepancy here owes as much to Lohman being unable to match Bruce Campbell as it does to the script. That's not really a negative- no one can match Bruce Campbell, and I was disappointed not to see him in a cameo here.

Drag Me to Hell is one of the more inventive horrors to come out of a Hollywood that now seems pre-occupied with two types of horror film- the remake, and the "Ooh, kids are scary" film- and it's a must-see for any fan of Sam Raimi's work. It doesn't take itself massively seriously, and thus it's a funny and scary way to spend an evening at the cinema. Just don't piss off any gypsies on your way home.


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Salutations, noble reader- I'm in the rare position of knowing for definite which films the next review post will cover. So come back next time for reviews of Terminator Salvation and 12 Rounds. I might chuck in another one if I see anything else between now and the next post.

Until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch,
Mark