Friday, 17 August 2012

Expendables 2 - Review

Sylvester Stallone has once again assembled a crack team of ageing action icons for this second outing of The Expendables. This time Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris are the big names joining Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li (for a minute), Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and others for another round of fighting. After being forced on a compromised new mission by Mr Church (Willis), Barney (Stallone) and his team lose one of their men, so resolve to seek vengeance against the villainous Jean Vilain (Van Damme).
As with the previous iteration, the plot is really just there to contrive different situations where all the superstars can spend time together, a feat it accomplishes with a staggering lack of subtlety. Not that this is a surprise and, in all honesty, the times when they are all bashed together need to be cherished. Chuck Norris’ introduction is a knowing and hilarious highlight, but the tone adopted for his far too brief section – which is also effectively utilised to accommodate Schwarzenegger and Willis – should have been more widespread. Instead, Stallone and director Simon West take matters far too seriously.
A movie featuring almost every action-god on the planet shouldn’t waste time getting Stallone to deliver pants speeches about the cruelty of death. At the most, you want to see Norris talk more about cobras, but other than that speaking ought to be kept to a minimum. You can’t to go for sincerity and then make Arnie compare a Smart Car to his shoe size.
Also disappointing is the lack of imagination. Whenever a group are put together in this way it’s vital that believable obstacles are presented. Avengers Assemble (2012) struggled with this same issue in its final third and, let’s face it, these guys are pretty much superheroes too – beating Schwarzengger, Willis and Norris is going to take more than a few machine guns. But greater firepower isn’t forthcoming and viewers will have to settle for a few choice moments. Sadly, this is a theme that, due to misjudgements in tone, reverberates across the whole film.
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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Warlords of Atlantis - Review

Warlords of Atlantis (1978) was the 4th in a series of fantasy films by Amicus director Kevin Connor, but despite an original screenplay by Brian Hayles [it was the first film from Connor not based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs book] the plot contains many elements that anyone watching for the first time will already be familiar with. A group of people go searching for something in the ocean, but some of the party know more than they’re letting on. Before they know it they’re transported to an unknown land, in this case the lost city of Atlantis, which is run by an ancient race of people called The Warlords.
Early on, Connor’s film seems to have a lot going for it. There’s a good scare in the beginning involving a monster inside a diving bell that’s timed perfectly. Actually, the creature designs are strong throughout which may have something to do with the fact that they were designed by Roger Dickens, who a year later went onto work in the special effects department of a little-known film called Alien (1979). The sets, for the most part, also do their job of giving the lost city a sense of otherness that provides much of the film’s adventurous tone.
Which is why it’s such a shame that the direction isn’t up to scratch. Connor makes some mistakes that just aren’t acceptable in any time period, such as allowing his audience to literally see the strings behind it all. Also a pity is the poor dialogue and lack of surprises in the script. If you’ve seen any film with this structure before or since 1978 then Warlords of Atlantis isn’t going to offer any shocks.
So, although those feeling nostalgic will find some solace in the creature designs, Hayles’ dated script and Connor’s over-revealing direction leave a stale aftertaste.

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Thursday, 9 August 2012

360 - Review

Circular, multi-saga dramas are a tricky business. The story count, characters and sense of meaning all have to be perfect or the whole film collapses in on itself. Sadly, 360 doesn’t get any of these elements right. The film, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, both 2006) and directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, 2002), wanders aimlessly through the lives of an enormous array of people in search of profundity but, taking into account the length of time it spends trying to deliver a message, the end result isn’t particularly sophisticated.
Aside from the tedious reminder that we are all connected, the only statement being made is that when we reach important decisions in our lives we’d be best to just pick an option and go for it. Saying that, a couple of storylines seem to either reach no conclusion or end up jarring with the others. The Muslim dentist wrestling with a religious-belief threatening dilemma is a case in point. Even the tales that hang together – Anthony Hopkins searching for his daughter, the intelligent sister of a prostitute running off with a criminal’s driver, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz’s struggling marriage – say little about love, loss and adultery that hasn’t been said before.
There are just too many different stories, or forks to borrow the film’s road-related metaphor and the result is that many feel under-developed. There’s nothing worse than watching an interconnected drama and wishing you could have seen more of some characters and less of others; 360 falls head-first into this trap and fails to clamber out. Star power galore can’t save it either, though Hopkins comes closest, with his 15 minutes carrying the clearest of emotion and meaning.
Meirelles succeeds in making the transitions between the characters pretty seamless so that 360, on surface level, appears to be telling one story. A closer look, however, reveals it to be at best confused and at worst clichéd.
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Monday, 6 August 2012

i Against i - Review

I Against I features a clear homage to Michael Mann’s well-respected thriller Heat (1995): two of the main characters pull over at the same time on the road and enter a cafe, this is the first time they will meet and it’s a crucial moment. But whereas Mann’s film had built up and fleshed out its central characters to the point where the tension was huge – although it admittedly didn’t hurt that this would be the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro would meet on screen – in i Against i there’s nothing of the sort.
Despite this failure, the premise can not be found at fault. Two men, Ian (Kenny Doughty) and Isaac (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), are hired to kill each other by Joseph Carmichael (Mark Womack) after his father is found dead and both men are caught leaving the scene. Trouble is, things get a lot more complicated than that and the film seems to buckle under the pressure. For instance there’s a third party, comprised of two drug dealers, that enters proceedings randomly and then exits ten minutes later, confusing everything and everyone – audience included.
Directing and writing team Mark Cripps, David Ellison and James Marquand needed to take a breather here so we could spend some time with Ian and Isaac. Yes, brief attempts are made for us to get to know them, Isaac has pills he must take, but ultimately these threads go nowhere.
They ought to be commended, however, for their success in making London seem like such an icy, atmospheric place. Their city feels dark, literally and metaphorically seeing as everything is filmed at night, and unforgiving. In the end i Against i succeeds at creating a sense of place like its forbears Heat (1995) and The French Connection (1971), but its story lacks the weight of those titans and so falls short of its lofty aims.
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Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Undefeated - Review

Just in case you haven’t had quite enough sport this summer, there is a new documentary from debuting directorial team Dan Lindsay and T.J Martin concerning American Football; a sport that is, to put it mildly, not traditionally the UK’s favourite. But this underdog story arrives fresh from winning this year’s Academy Award for best documentary and deserves your attention.
The subject is Manassas High School’s much maligned football team, The Tigers, as they try to turn their terrible sporting record around. We arrive when the team is well into recovery mode, with key coach Bill Courtney having arrived in 2004, at the start of the crucial 2009 season and now it’s time for key players O.C, Montrail and Chavis to overcome their demons. Lindsay and Martin followed the team throughout the season and their film is an attempt to document an amazing story.
Remarkably they succeed because, although Undefeated retreads a lot of the clichés that come with sports movies, it manages to retain a good pace while building up to that one final moment. It’s chock full of metaphors but Lindsay and Martin show everything with such honesty that it’s hard to think of a documentary that better represents what sport means to the participants. At the centre of all that’s good is Courtney. He’s an engaging and inspiring figure; providing surprising moments of humour to what are otherwise very serious proceedings. Though even he is given extra depth beyond the usual inspirational coach caricature as it gradually becomes clear he’s devoted too much of his life to teaching these young athletes.
Undefeated does struggle, like all underdog sports documentaries do, from the problems that come with trying to tell a story about a team through individuals and trips up in the last ten minutes by diving into unnecessary weepiness. But the journey to these moments is so powerful that it doesn’t matter. “Football reveals character” says Courtney early on, setting the tone for what’s to come. Well, Undefeated does the same and in doing so it soars above the average sports movie
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