Friday, 27 July 2012

Hybrid - Review

Ready yourself for one of the most ridiculous movie premises you’ve ever heard. An evil, shape-shifting, man-eating car deliberately crashes itself on an American highway and is delivered to the local police car compound. Once there, it begins to hunt and kill a mismatched group of mechanics. But what sounds like good fun (admit it, it does) quickly turns into a dull waste of time and money.
Now, evil car movies are nothing new and they’ve previously ranged from the good (Spielberg’s Duel) to the – putting it mildly – not so good (Maximum Overdrive). This outing is parked firmly in the latter section because it’s lacking the laughs required for a Friday night get-together, the scares for horror aficionados and the gore for, well, both of the previous.
In all fairness, there’s never been a killer car movie where the vehicle was actually an evil morphing squid, so some marks for originality should be awarded. Those same marks, however, could be removed swiftly on the basis that the above comment ought to be a spoiler, but it’s not and this is the biggest mistake of them all. Director Eric Valette foolishly chooses to reveal what’s under the hood in the first act and the results are underwhelming. Had he chosen to stick with the opening technique of filming the car/squid at an atmospheric distance, the end reveal would have meant something.
Still, the cast do their best with this flawed material. Shannon Beckner convinces as an action heroine, even with the questionable dialogue frequently thrown her way. Together with Oded Fehr, as the selfish boss, they work hard within their archetypes to make sure you don’t actively want these characters to be given the most gruesome deaths possible, a common problem with monster movies.
The final nail in the coffin, however, is the last-ditch attempt to play it straight, thereby dispelling any hopeful notions that the filmmakers were aiming for the ‘so bad it’s good’ angle.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - Review

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock, best known for 2004’s controversial Super Size Me, is back with another documentary that rests heavily on one concept: the processes and wrangling behind movie product placement. Spurlock chooses to highlight these processes by funding his movie purely through sponsorships. And so the documentary follows him as he tries to gain these sponsors, with the circular aim of making the audience aware of, and complicit with, the advertising all the way through.
If anything though, these early attempts to gain sponsorships are where Spurlock stumbles because a little too much time is spent in business meetings that are neither funny nor enlightening. Consequently, a lot of time is wasted that could’ve been spent on focusing down to his conclusion that, in the end, lacks the punch of some of his previous work.
But there’s still plenty to like and some of the things he reveals are eye-opening. Anyone not familiar with American television will be astounded at the placement within popular shows and the extent to which TV spots mislead. Equally compelling is Spurlock’s visit to Sao Paulo, where the local authorities have banned any advertising in public places because they see it as “visual pollution”.
This is all aided by Spurlock’s engaging presence; he’s always restless with energy and in pursuit of a laugh as well as your interest. He’s also wisely opted for the interview route and so The Greatest Movie Ever Sold features, albeit briefly, interviews with directorial royalty such as J. J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. More interesting, however, are the conversations with those inside the industry. The demonstrations of neuromarketing for trailers, a process whereby the advertisers link people up to MRI machines to better understand what makes them tick, is a fascinating pointer to where the world is heading.
Spurlock does well here to inspire thought about the threat advertising can have on the narrative of cinema, but you can’t help but think that his initial lack of focus resigns The Greatest Movie Ever Sold to a much less devastating impact than he would’ve originally hoped for.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

The kitchen at El Bulli

The recently closed El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona was widely considered to be one of the finest restaurants in the world, earning 3 Michelin stars and topping Restaurant Magazine’s yearly poll five times throughout its lifetime. But the renowned restaurant and its equally lauded chef, Ferran Adrià, have an unusual method of menu design: each year, El Bulli would close for 6 months so that Adrià and his head chefs could design and test an entirely new menu.
This documentary follows Adrià through that process and the results prove fascinating, with the strangest dishes imaginable being concocted. The film opens, for example, with Adrià eating a glow in your mouth, fish-flavoured lollipop. On top of this, each dish is beautifully shot in close-up while its being tested in a way that allows the viewer to follow several designs over the course of a year.
Of course, there’s more going on than just showcasing fancy food. Director Gereon Wetzel manages to tease out some broader conclusions about both the nature of cooking and the importance of creativity. Adrià lives by a code that insists on the importance of gaining a reaction to a dish; whether his Rabbit Brain recipe tastes good or bad is not the prime concern, the fundamental point is that his patrons experience bewilderment.
Any problems the documentary has are actually a result of Wetzel’s preference for the fly-on-the-wall approach. On the one hand, this method gives us a real sense that these cooks – or, it could be argued, artists – are completely single-minded in dedication to their craft. But at the same time it can feel slightly cold, particularly in the later stages, because there are no personal interviews with key players, not even Adrià himself. The exception is one brief scene where two of the head chefs sit outside the restaurant, drinking beer and watching the moon. This moment is a sobering reminder of how a documentary always needs a human side.
Nevertheless, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress’ exploration of cooking as an artistic process is informative enough to ensure that when Adrià reopens El Bulli, as he promises to do in 2014, there will be even more people waiting at the door.

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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Zombie 108

From writer-director Joe Chien comes the self-proclaimed first Taiwanese zombie movie, Zombie 108. The plot is familiar to anyone who has any experience in this genre and is niftily explained via a credits sequence. A virus breaks out in the wake of a Tsunami and infects Ximending, a city district in Taiwan, with the rambling violent undead.
The film then sets up two storylines. The first involves the local gang lord (Morris Jung) and his cronies, a swat team and an American parkour specialist as they try to escape the outbreak. This side of affairs has its moments. The zombie costuming and sounds effects get the job done and ensure that there will be something of value here for dedicated fans of the genre. Performances are also strong enough for this kind of low budget horror; especially considering this is many of the cast’s first time.
The problem, however, is that there are two storylines. The second is actually how the film opens. We follow Linda (Yvonne Yao) as she wakes up on the day of the apocalypse desperately trying to find her daughter Chloe. Once she finds her, the monsters are closing in for the kill when a pervert, who has used the chaos to kidnap and torture women, steps in and saves them. Here Zombie 108 takes a sour turn that only die-hard horror fans will be able to forgive because what follows are some troublesome, and really quite graphic, scenes of sexual abuse.
First and foremost, Chien’s camera seems to be both ogling the tortured women for sexual titillation and playing certain moments for laughs. Secondly, the scenes are out of place in the narrative and when the two storylines coalesce in the closing stages it’s due to a weak instance of coincidence. Add to this a strand of suggested paedophilia and the result makes for a deeply uncomfortable experience.
So while there’s something commendable about the production values, Zombie 108’s torture scenes move it away from a promising genre piece towards a chaotic, exploitative example of cinema’s darker side
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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Burma Conspiracy - Review

The Burma Conspiracy is the second in the comic book-based film series that follows the exploits of the young billionaire business heir Largo Winch. After the death of his father, Winch prepares to offload his enormous fortune for charity when he is suddenly accused of crimes against humanity, a charge he denies. The rest of the movie sees Largo travel all over the world trying to unravel the various plots against him and clear his name. But for all its tourist sights, The Burma Conspiracy is one troubled action film.
Not everything goes wrong; director-writer Jèrôme Salle is adept at shooting action sequences and excels at making all the old staples exciting; from exploding buildings to car chases. The standout scene is a fantastically ridiculous skydiving fight sequence that would make Jason Statham’s Crank (2006) proud. Unfortunately there’s just not enough of this kind of action.
Instead the plot turns into a complicated mess, one that runs for nearly two hours, and becomes almost impossible to follow. It constantly flashes forward three years, sometimes twice without going back. The one card it holds close to its chest is the identity of the true villain, yet this is the one thing that’s painfully obvious from the very start. Suffice to say it’s not the Bond-esque caricature played by Dmitri Nazarov, more’s the pity because he’s the one amusing character in the piece.
The performances are an even bigger issue. Tomer Sisley, as the lead, seems unsure of whether he’s in a wannabe James Bond or a hard-hitting drama. Sharon Stone, the big name, fluffs her 15 minutes, although she is given the lion’s share of dud lines and keeps crossing her legs in an increasingly irritating nod to Basic Instinct.
Frankly, The Burma Conspiracy would’ve been greatly improved if it had spent just a little more time deciding what exactly it was trying to do instead of choosing its next exotic locale; this lack of attention resulting in a befuddled, uninteresting mess. Skydiving aside, of course

Originally published at:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

In Your Hands - Review

This French-produced feature looks as though it’s going to be just another generic thriller when middle-aged surgeon Anna Cooper (Kristin Scott Thomas) is seen leaving a house looking disorientated and very frightened.
Once home, she heads back out to the police station where we discover that she’s spent the past week imprisoned by Yann (Pio Marmaï), a man who’s out for revenge for something Anna has done. Cue a 40-minute flashback as In Your Hands eschews its thriller premise and, surprisingly, turns into a study of Stockholm syndrome.
Some of the early abduction scenes prove a delight, especially when it becomes clear who’s really in control. But oddly enough, it’s this middle section, when Anna and Yann start to form a close emotional bond, that’s the most rushed. Surely an extra 10-15 minutes running time could have been used here to ensure that this sensitive section of the film was dealt with properly (it runs for a brief 85 minutes). As it is, the dialogue seems clunky, rendering Anna’s middle act transformation a little too unbelievable to have any serious emotional impact. This is a shame, as Kristin Scott Thomas does well with very little, her sense of despair and desperation coming across perfectly and the chemistry between the two leads help to gloss over the lack of sparkle at the close.
One or two scenes aside, director-writer Lola Doillon (daughter of Jacques) also deserves credit for her direction because she makes a couple of very astute choices. She constantly fills the screen with both of her character’s faces and bodies, always emphasising the claustrophobia they both feel. Doillon also explores loneliness to an unsettling effect, showing the hold it can have over people’s actions. Unfortunately, although the film is striving to be about more than just loneliness, the other themes of loss and victimhood get a less than thorough exploration.
In the end, you come away with the feeling that, given a quick rewrite of certain scenes and an extra fifteen minutes, this could have been a taut, emotional thriller. As it is, In Your Hands is a disappointing waste of considerable acting and directorial talent.
Originally published at:

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb (1971) - Review

As the horror genre was becoming ever-more contemporary Hammer was desperately - and, in the end, incorrectly - trying to set its pictures in the present day. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb represents just such an attempt. The Mummy franchise had for so long, and so effectively, utilized a historical setting to tell its story, so by pretty much eschewing history Hammer and director Seth Holt took a huge risk.

A risk that, sadly, doesn't come off. The issue here is with Valerie Leon, it's a flat performance. Acted with sincerity, but without charm, her Margaret holds back the final results seeing as it's the main role. See, she plays Margaret Fuchs who, on her birthday, is given a ring by her father Professor Julian Fuchs (Andrew Keir) that incites an ancient Mummy that was brought back from one of Julian's archeological expeditions. Once Queen Terra (the Mummy) gets going she starts to take control of Margaret, forcing her to kill. One member of said Archeological expedition, the villainous Corbeck, is dead set on exploiting this evil. Corbeck, played by James Villiers, is as subpar as Leon as he seems to be trying to emulate Peter Cushing's Van Helsing but has none of his icy coldness.
In fairness to both, however, the script isn't eye-opening and for significant periods there seems to be very little said at all. One triumphant sequence, in which an inmate is driven to insanity by a model snake (bear with me), sees Holt tilt the camera left and then right down the hospitals corridors until we find ourselves trapped within a close up of the patient. All the while Tristram Cary's melodic - but still frightening - score grows louder.

While fast editing adds to the sensation that these people are being watched by some over-bearing, all knowing presence. Trouble is, we don't ever really see this presence and in the few cases when we do, it's underwhelming. Also, for all Holt's visual flourishes, the narrative is murky, it's unclear what's going on half the time.

Overall, it's not the worst of the later-day Hammer's, but it's certainly not the best. Instead it's a salutary reminder that Seth Holt's early death was a real blow to British cinema.
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Saturday, 7 July 2012

A Horrible Way to DIe (2010)

It's a strange thing, watching two people that are utterly miserable trying to live their lives; its always so compelling even though it should, technically speaking, be a dull affair. And this is what A Horrible Way to Die does for half of its running time. The other half, however, is the tale of a serial killer.

It effectively sets up two story lines. On the one hand, there is Sarah (Amy Seimetz) a recovering alcoholic who starts to date fellow A.A. attendee Kevin (Joe Swanberg). However, Sarah has a dark secret: she used to date a mass murderer. That serial killer (named Garrick Turrell and played by the ever-excellent A J Bown) has managed to escape and is in the process of tracking her down.

Now, camera-work has gotta be the bread and butter of any film. When it fails, the rest of the piece is left hanging by a thread and, for the first half an hour, A Horrible Way to Die dangles. Its filmed in shaky-cam to disorientate but this seems to serve no real purpose. It's more irritating than uncomfortable.

And then there is one moment, as the killer is using a young woman to make his way across a bridge, when the camera goes steady on his face. And its terrifying, an instance of total stillness produces the uncomfortable feeling that the previous 40 minutes had tried so hard to shake you into. 

From this point on, things improve. Not enormously but enough to ensure that by the closing stages you'll be looking through your fingers. The music adds to this greatly, and is at times so hell-bent on oppressing that you shrink a little in your seat. All in all, then, it's worth seeing, especially if you remember to have patience with the first half an hour. 

But for many, the unintentional irony of having a film about two recovering alcoholics shot by someone that is clearly inebriated will simply be too much.

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Friday, 6 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - Review

It does seem like a such a short time since even the first of the last series of Spider-Man movies was released and so, naturally, this reboot has had doubters doubting. Well, they need worry no more because this incarnation of the iconic superhero is a success despite the fact that nothing drastically new is attempted.

That being said, let's start with the flaws. In terms of story it retreads a lot of old Tobey Maguire ground, boy is bitten by a spider and then suddenly has superpowers. This time, he has to learn to live with his new abilities, all the while trying to investigate creepy scientist Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). All the old Spider-Man origin touchstones are there; the speech-wielding uncle, geeky Peter Parker getting beaten up, he even gets his costume ideas from a boxing ring.

There is also a villain problem here; an issue, it must be said, that's nothing new and so is even more troublesome. The third Raimi movie struggled because Spidey had three under-developed nemesis's . This time, he struggles because there isn't even one of them. Sure, the Lizard's passable, scary in one or two places and their high-school located brawl is both exciting and funny courtesy of an elderly librarian. But Rhys Ifans' mad scientist has been done to death and nothing new is attempted here. Lizard feels wildly underdeveloped, although there is an effort to weave him into Peter Parker's father-gone-missing storyline but it never really goes anywhere and is dropped by the final third.

Lizard is, however, immaculately recreated special-effects wise. An achievement that runs through the whole movie with nary a blip. Watching Spider-Man swoop through Manhattan is one of the reasons cinema was invented, I'm certain of it, and this time they've nailed it. The POV web slinging scenes are stunning and bring an interesting way of filming a superhero. Who knows, maybe they'll include POV shots when The Hulk gets his inevitable Avengers' spin-off.

Emma Stone features as Peter's love interest and it's really this that holds the movie together. Like so many of Stone's choices, The Amazing Spider-Man is rooted in relationships: watching herself and Andrew Garfield stand awkwardly and chat is perfectly played, while Webb makes a couple of cracking decisions when Parker's identity is finally revealed. Indeed, Webb recently said he was inspired by the touching romances of movies like Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin.

Of course, this brings us to Garfield. He's a revelation. The responsibility and pressure that an enormous role like this presents is enough to ruin any actor's output, let alone a 28 year old from Surrey, but he owns that costume and the role. No one will ever match him.

So, although it may be going over the same stuff, The Amazing Spider-Man is superior to the previous movies because the performances are better, the special effects are better and, amazingly, its romantically engaging.
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Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Trouble With Harry (1955) - Review

Cropped screenshot of Jerry Mathers from the t...

Next on my list of Hitchcock to watch was The Trouble With Harry, first released in 1955; here are my thoughts.

Strange. Very strange. This seems to be a film unlike anything Hitch has ever done. Like so many of his movies, it pivots around a murder except that this time it has already taken place. The Trouble With Harry opens to a beautiful New England setting where we watch four people find a dead body, Harry, and each think that they are responsible. The four are: Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), Albert Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), Jennifer Rodgers (Shirley MacLaine) and Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick). And so the trouble with Harry is that no one actually knows the truth about him.

This, however, is not what makes TTWH strange. Instead its the lightness of the tone. It reminded me very much of - and this may sound strange as it came long after but, you know, I'm young - the 1980s TV series Murder She Wrote. Same location, same breezy feel to it. Time passes and yet night takes ages to come, while the colour palette remains autumn rich throughout. There is a certain timelessness to it, you get the feeling that we are capturing these people at a very specific time in all of their lives. 

Hitchcock's direction is also more static than in many of his other movies, perhaps due to the fact that the deed has already been done and we need only watch as things take their natural course, but it still feels very different to the manipulative style he adopts later on in Psycho. Of course, Hitch being Hitch, there's still plenty of room for perversity (he develops a penchant here for focusing on feet as they become an important plot point later on). 

Now, I've read plenty of reviews that suggest this film contains themes of resurrection and faith. For me, I didn't pick up on any of those meanings first time around and so will simply suggest what I got out of it. It seemed to me that The Trouble With Harry was about the uncomfortable silences and foolish things we say when we finally meet the people we love. This, from Hitchcock, seemed strange.