28 March 2013

TRANCE- Review

Danny Boyle seems to enjoy turning the tables between films. After Slumdog Millionaire was trumpeted as a feel-good hit, despite broaching poverty and child labour, to the tune of eight Oscars, the grisly but inspirational 127 Hours reminded us of who we were watching. Likewise, after politely declining honours from the Queen for his role in directing the Olympic opening ceremony last summer, he's made this little piece of work.

Trance is a labyrinthine psychological noir that starts with an art heist, and ends with a bang. Simon Newton works at an auction house that specialises in artworks of historical significance. A Goya painting goes for over £20 million, and seconds later, it vanishes in the midst of a daring heist. Simon is assaulted by one of the robbers, and the head trauma results in amnesia. When it turns out the robbers don't have the painting either, they turn to hypno-therapist Elizabeth to try and coax Simon's memories out, but everyone winds up getting a lot more than they bargained for.

25 March 2013

THE CROODS- Review

Yep, this guy.
Accounting for the time it takes to develop a stop-motion animated film, a new Aardman film feels like a precious thing. That The Croods originated with Aardman, with a script co-written by John Cleese, and yet continued to be developed as a CG feature at DreamWorks after the two studios parted ways, would usually be enough reason to take against the film right away. However, the final result is pretty damn good.

Without riffing too hard on Flintstones territory, the Croods are a less-than-modern Stone Age family, governed by the credo of their lumbering patriarch, Grug- "Never be not afraid." Teenage daughter Eep has other ideas, and her curiosity leads her to an encounter with Guy, a more resourceful cave-dude, who has reason to believe that the world as they know it is about to end. When the ground begins to crack and separate all around them, the Croods are forced to trudge out of their comfort zone, into a brave new world.

22 March 2013

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE- Review

Despite starring Steve Carell, and focusing on the world of stage magicians, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone bears a striking resemblance to any number of Will Ferrell sports movies. Talladega Nights, Blades Of Glory and Semi-Pro all centred around an egotistical superstar man-child, who checks himself when he suffers a serious knock back and ultimately regroups. Hell, even Anchorman followed that formula, though it arguably did it best.

The eponymous magician believes he's the main attraction in "The Incredible Burt and Anton: A Magical Friendship", a show he has performed at a top Vegas hotel for ten years straight, with his best friend and long-suffering co-star, Anton Marvelton. Even aside from the lost passion in their act, their audience is siphoned away by the headline-grabbing stunts of street magician and self-proclaimed "brain rapist", Steve Gray. Soon enough, Burt is forced to check his ego and freshen up his act in order for his career to survive.

20 March 2013

WELCOME TO THE PUNCH- Review

Welcome To The Punch is a much better movie than The Sweeney. Set your mind at ease on that score, because although it's another chest-puffing British action thriller, which makes a brave stab at aping its Hollywood counterparts, it's not anywhere near as bad as any Nick Love movie. We could count the ways in which it's better than The Sweeney, but there's little point in protesting too much.

With its cool(?) title and swanky visuals, the film follows obsessive copper Max Lewinsky, as he single-mindedly pursues his criminal nemesis, Jacob Sternwood. He's injured in the line of duty early on in the film, and Sternwood is able to flee the country. Three years later, Sternwood's son is a victim of gun crime, prompting the crime kingpin to return to the UK, and giving Max a second chance to put him behind bars. But there's a larger conspiracy at work, and perhaps the two enemies aren't on opposing sides after all.

19 March 2013

THE PAPERBOY- Review

It can be tough to review a film as a whole, when you know from around half an hour in that it's destined to be remembered as "the one where Nicole Kidman pisses on Zac Efron". Of course, that's partly due to the scenes around it being somewhat less memorable and engaging, but it seems entirely possible to try and enjoy The Paperboy outside of its appeal as a campy melodrama.

In 1969, Jack Jansen is a frustrated young man who works for his father, delivering papers in a Floridian shithole called Lately. One summer, Jack's older brother, Wade, returns home to investigate the case of Death Row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, for an article in the Miami Times. In trying to prove that Hillary was wrongly convicted for murdering the despised local sheriff, the brothers encounter Charlotte Bless, a 40-year-old woman who has fallen in love with the convict via mail, and Jack falls for her in turn.

18 March 2013

SIDE EFFECTS- Review

It's not often that we get to bust out "Hitchcockian" in relation to a new cinema release, but Side Effects has qualities of the master's work that extend even to its marketing. Given how it comes from Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z Burns, who collaborated on Contagion, you might expect that this is a companion piece, doing for medication what the earlier film did for pandemics. You'd be wrong.

Emily Taylor has been suffering from depression while her husband, Martin, serves a four-year jail term for insider trading, and initially seems overjoyed at his release. Soon after, however, she drives her car into a wall, in an apparent suicide attempt. Dr. Jonathan Banks is the psychiatrist assigned to treat her, and he's drawn to trying out a new antidepressant, Ablixa. At first, this seems to help, but as the title suggests, there are some side effects to this treatment. You might think that gives you a better idea of the full picture. You'd be wrong.

11 March 2013

OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL- Review

After stepping off of the Spider-Man franchise, and going back to basics with Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi's latest is possibly his most mainstream affair yet. But even within the strictures of a 3D family movie, based on a beloved property and revamped by Disney, Oz, The Great And Powerful stands out through the surprisingly effective use of the director's trademark scares and style.

Taking place before L. Frank Baum's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this prequel serves as an origin story for the eponymous wizard. If you somehow haven't seen The Wizard of Oz, you'll be stunned to hear that the so-called wizard doesn't have any actual magic powers, so our hero is Oscar Diggs, a two-bit carnival showman who flees the fallout of his womanising ways and ends up being tornado-ed to the mystical land of Oz. Although he plays along with the jubilation of the people at his arrival, he's soon bound to defeat a wicked witch, and liberate Oz from her evil.

8 March 2013

BROKEN CITY- Review

Mark Wahlberg has become one of the most prolific stars in Hollywood, by diversifying his output between mid-range crime thrillers and action movies, and exercising his surprising talents as a comedic straight man. It doesn't take long to realise that Broken City is not a buddy comedy, even if Russell Crowe's radioactive uber-tan might provoke giggles.

Instead, Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a cop who faces jail amidst a scandal over the death of a young offender. Charismatic New York mayor Nicholas Hostetler is instrumental in getting Billy out of trouble, but drums him out of the police force in the process. Billy becomes a private eye, and several years later, he gets a call from Mayor Hostetler, asking him to investigate his wife's extra-marital activities. But beneath the surface of what seems like a simple job, lies massive corruption in the mayor's office, and a double-cross that puts Billy on the warpath.

5 March 2013

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS- Review

Although it also fits into the less than popular mash-up fantasy movie sub-genre, which has given us films like Cowboys & Aliens and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is more reminiscent of Your Highness, the 2011 comedy, which played like a cross between The Princess Bride and Pineapple Express. But that film bombed at the box office, and the ten-month delay from its planned release last March hasn't made this one seem any more timely.

Based on an idea from director Tommy Wirkola, the film follows the adult lives of Hansel and Gretel. After surviving their childhood trauma in a house made of sweets, they decide to become bounty hunters, and devote their lives to killing witches. With the added boon of being immune to magic, they've become renowned around the world. Arriving in a small town close to where they grew up, they discover a spate of child kidnappings, as a grand witch plots to change the world for her kind.

4 March 2013

STOKER- Review

Sometimes, I wonder how much studio attention is required to make a bloated, nonsensical mess like A Good Day To Die Hard. Certainly, it didn't take a lot of presence of mind from the filmmakers, but it reeks of yet another film that was nursed from script to screen (and dropped on its head a few times) by an accountant.

Perhaps everyone at Fox was looking at that, and that's how Park Chan-wook got away with making Stoker, the most surreal and disturbing mainstream studio feature in many years, while everyone's attention was diverted. The film centres around 18-year-old India Stoker, who is left with her slightly unhinged mother, when her beloved father dies in a car accident. India is beguiled by the arrival of her previously unknown uncle, Charlie, whose appearance coincides with a number of strange disappearances, and the end of our heroine's innocence.

1 March 2013

THIS IS 40- Review

This one came out on the same day as A Good Day To Die Hard, so hopefully you'll understand that I was working through some stuff after enduring that big, brown shite of a movie. This Is 40 comes billed as the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, expanding and developing the B-plot of the previous film, in which Pete and Debbie were a settled-down analog to the leads.

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann return in those roles as the characters are on the verge of 40, along with the real-life children of Mann and director Judd Apatow, playing their kids. Pete and Debbie have their birthday in the same week. Pete's embracing it, but Debbie claims she's turning 38. When Debbie has a brush with an older relative, she resolves that she and her husband need to improve their lifestyles and make more time for one another. However, they're running into financial problems with their respective businesses, and family matters persistently stress them out.