Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

Aspiring to perfection as a hipster.

Image: Universal Pictures
Yes, it’s another Michael Cera movie. It does look like we’re all fed up of the hipster prince of the awkward mumble. But while it won’t change your mind about the actor, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is definitely worth a look.
Based on Bryan Lee O’Malley’s wonderful series of manga-esque graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is the story of the titular 22-year old slacker/bass-player’s struggle to defeat Ramona Flowers’ seven evil exes to win her heart.
Pilgrim may be Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) first film outside of the UK but it doesn’t feel like too much of a departure. It’s bursting with colour and energy, references to video games, TV shows, and movies abound, and it’s filled to the brim with very funny and talented actors. The screenplay, co-written with Michael Bacall, does a mostly excellent job of condensing the six comic books into ninety minutes. But while most of the best jokes are still there, and while the film is possibly the most visually representative of its source material since Sin City, all is not perfect.
Either the action or the romance was always going to take a backseat. Wright and Bacall do try hard to keep us invested in Scott and Ramona, but it’s here that the casting of Cera doesn’t help. Even setting aside the fact that he’s simply not the Scott Pilgrim of the comics, if you don’t like him, you’re not really going to care how his relationship with Ramona is going. And while Mary Elizabeth Winstead puts in a strong show, the script simply doesn’t give her character enough depth. We’re never really given much of an explanation for Scott’s obsession, beyond the fact that she’s elusive and hot.
It’s just as well, then, that everyone else is great. Kieran Culkin steals the film as Scott’s promiscuous gay roommate Wallace, while Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Aubrey Plaza (Funny People), Allison Pill (In Treatment), and especially newcomer Ellen Wong get big laughs. There are some brilliant cameos and the evil exes are bang on, too. Captain America Chris Evans and Superman Brandon Routh enjoy flexing their comic muscles, and evil eyebrows, while Mae Whitman (Arrested Development) makes an impression late on as bi-furious half-ninja Roxy. Jason Schwartzman is great as evil hipster mastermind Gideon Gordon Graves, but by the time he shows up the film’s biggest flaw has surfaced.
Scott Pilgrim is simply too episodic. There’s some funny dialogue, a brief scene with Ramona, then a fight with an evil ex, then the formula repeats itself. This is fine for the first hour or so, but quickly becomes too repetitive. However, while it may be predictable, it’s never boring. Just when you’re ready to get your critical knives out, a sonic yeti fights two sonic dragons. And it is difficult to argue with that, let alone the vegan police.
Funny, and occasionally brilliant, if not slightly disappointing.
3/5

JH

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The dragon, the ship, and a great fun trip


Image: Twentieth Century Fox
That we have managed to reach a third instalment in the Narnia cinematic saga is impressive. CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia were always gentle, cosy novels (apart from The Last Battle, which is just rather confusing), and surely never intended to go head to head with more bombastic fare such as The Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series. Their right and proper place for adaptation was definitely the late 80s/early 90s BBC series, full of men in giant beaver suits and sweet animation, shimmering with Christmas-y magic. On the big screen, they have always seemed a little lost, despite being made with love and due reverence to the source material. The likelihood of Dawn Treader being made seemed particularly distant when the earnings from the previous film, Prince Caspian, amounted to far less than that taken by The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Production company Disney backed out, and the film spent a while in limbo before Fox stepped up and took over. So, after all this time, was it worth the wait? Well…I rather think it was.
This time around we follow the two younger Pevensie children, along with their annoying cousin, as they’re pulled through a painting back into the land of Narnia, where their old pal Caspian is involved in a quest to find seven lost lords. The most conventionally plotted of the Narnia septet, Dawn Treader translates into fully rounded family entertainment. Young children will be happy with the talking animals, especially Reepicheep the mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg, ably taking over from Eddie Izzard), older kids will love the sword fighting and even adults should be kept amused, whether in groaning at the sledgehammer religious allegories or smiling at the increased humour content.
With Susan and Peter gone, younger siblings Lucy and Edmund get the limelight. Both have their demons to face, with Lucy’s desire to be beautiful cleverly embodied in the form of her older sister, and Edmund’s feelings of inadequacy played upon by a manifestation of the White Witch (additions to the original novel which cleverly enable the filmmakers to bring back both the elder Pevensie children and Tilda Swinton for cameos). While neither Skandar Keynes (as Edmund) nor Georgie Henley (Lucy) have developed much in terms of acting chops over the three films, they have something about them which is irresistibly watchable, making it far easier to overlook their weaknesses than for, say, the terrible Harry Potter kids. The constantly underrated Ben Barnes puts in another good performance as King Caspian X, ably portraying the young monarch with the burden of history on his shoulders.
The most memorable performance in the piece, however, comes from Will Poulter as the Pevensies’ obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubb, who is drawn into the adventure against his will, and spends much of the film bitching about what’s happening to him. The rapport he develops with Reepicheep is amusing and touching in equal measure, and top marks to the animators for capturing Poulter’s withering expressions in the CGI dragon into which he is turned when his avarice gets him into magical hot water. I’m already looking forward to seeing him return in The Silver Chair, should the box office business on this one encourage them to continue the series.
On the downside, a problem issuing from the novel itself, the story is rather too formulaic. While Caspian was criticised for its lack of action and deus ex machina conclusion, I appreciated the dark politics which fuelled the story. None of that really carries over into this instalment, with the end of the previous film’s great battles being dealt with in two or three throwaway lines. Other flaws include the filmmaker’s attempt at introducing another cute kid into the mix – which falls flat on its face as she is given nothing to do which might make us give two hoots about her – and the fact that the best fight scenes (the heroes versus a bunch of nasty slave traders, or Caspian and Edmund) are cut short in favour of focussing on long CGI ones which aren’t half as enjoyable to watch (the Dawn Treader against a big imaginary sea serpent).
Small niggles aside, and bearing in mind that it’s a film for kids, this is one voyage well worth treading.
4/5
MP

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Somewhere (2010)

It’s neither here nor there.


Image: Universal International Pictures

When the trailer for Sofia Coppola’s latest hit the web it was almost too easy to point and call it a clone of her best-known and best film, Lost in Translation. Having seen Somewhere, it can be said that yes, it is rather similar, and no, it’s inevitably not as good.

Stephen Dorff (the villain from Blade) plays Johnny Marco, a successful Hollywood star who’s sequestered himself in the Chateau Marmont hotel in LA. He sleeps a lot, does publicity for a film, travels to Rome, drinks, smokes, and has sex with beautiful women. He hangs out with his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) when her mother disappears for a while.

There’s really not much of a plot going on here, which was to be expected. What is a disappointing surprise is Coppola’s determination to cover much of the same ground while showcasing her languorous, slow style. Somewhere is certainly a good looking film; the director’s eye is as strong as it’s ever been. But her insistence on lingering on absolutely everything, or just basically repeating it slows the film down to a snail’s pace.

Nobody’s coming to watch Somewhere expecting a fast-moving film, but it’s difficult to care when you’re given nothing by way of a reward for watching Johnny listlessly make his way through his days. Dorff is fine, and sometimes surprisingly very good, but it’s often a non-performance. He reaches his best with the arrival of Fanning, who is wonderful as his daughter.
But it’s only when they’re actually given things to do that the film threatens to stutter into life. It’s the small glances that are the most effective: Johnny marvelling at Cleo’s apparently new-found ice skating talent (she’s been doing it for years), and her silently scolding him for allowing a woman he’s slept with to intrude on their breakfast in Milan. These little glimpses into their family life give Somewhere a bit of momentum, but they’re few and far between. No big issues are resolved here. They’re barely even raised. The relationship between Johnny and Cleo also represents the only real reason to care at all about the actor. Hate texts and endless scenes of pointing out how alone he really is don’t manage to have an effect.

Somewhere is still somehow watchable, despite its many faults. At its best it’s a nicely observed look at a father-daughter relationship in a strange environment. At its worst it’s a self-indulgent, riff on Lost in Translation that even goes for a “Wait! The masseuse is a guy?” gag. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it. However, it suffers from a terrible ending and, more importantly, it’s the second film in two months to completely waste Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’s Michelle Monaghan. Now that is unforgivable.

It’s missable and disappointing. While it’s probably very significant and meaningful to the director and actor, sometimes it works, but more often it doesn’t.

2/5

JH

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger...


Image: Disney

According to director Joseph Kosinski, Tron: Legacy is a film that’s very dear to his and Jeff Bridges’ hearts, and has been years in the making. But, after much anticipation, the time has finally come to enter the grid once more, and get down with Flynn, Tron and the rest of the crew that signed on for this neon-tastic upgrade.

Twenty years has passed, and Kevin Flynn (Bridges), creator of the game “Tron”, has been mysteriously absent for all these years. Troubled by his father’s disappearance, a grown-up Sam (Garrett Hedlund) spends most of his time playing pranks on his dad’s former company. This all changes when he’s sent to his dad’s old arcade to investigate a strange message, and is subsequently transported into the digital world of “Tron”, where he must defeat Clu (a clone of his father) in order to escape.

Within the first few minutes of this sequel you’re hooked and ready to shout Kosinski’s achievement from the roof tops. Sweeping shots of a Gotham-like city, and images of Sam weaving through the night’s traffic to the scintillating, electronic sounds of Daft Punk are captivating. But just as Sam parachutes to a safe landing after pulling off his latest prank, the audience alike is brought back down to earth, as the lack of story from here on out becomes apparent.

This is the main problem with Tron: Legacy. For all the wonderful, dazzling effects, the picture is let down by a tired and thoughtless script, with cringe-worthy dialogue like, “you’re messing with my zen thing, man” and “let’s split” from old man Flynn, and “It’s big” and “warm” from Sam responding to a warrior program (Olivia Wilde) who asks him to describe the sun. From that astute observation, the “Tron” legacy looks to be in safe hands!

With such writing, it’s not long before the script becomes overpowered by the imagery and the soundtrack, which are essentially there to compliment the storytelling.
There are also a lot of references in the film, creating a throwback feel. It’s evident that we’ve entered the new millennium with this glossy offering, but Kosinski seems to have included every little thing that he enjoyed from the original film, as well as growing up, and so, like a sweet, it almost becomes sickly. There’s Blade Runner, Power Rangers, The Big Lebowski, ninja sequences, “Suzuki” ads, air hockey, and a ridiculously odd scene in which Michael Sheen, appearing to be channelling David Bowie and Willy Wonka, leads the gang through a futuristic Studio 54. It’s all a bit too much.

But for all the negatives, there are a couple of positives. It can’t be said enough, but if only for the sound and visual spectacle, Tron: Legacy should be seen. You’ll have to put up with a Beowulf-looking CGI Flynn/Clu at times, but scenes like the climax, in which Tron and Flynn’s fates are decided, make it worth the ride.

If you haven’t seen the original, not to worry. The background and all you need to know is quickly explained. It’s harder, visually better, faster and stronger than the original, but a bit of a narrative bore.

3/5

FG

Monday, 13 December 2010

Daft Punk Funk Up The Blue Carpet

Image: Getty Images

Image: Walt Disney

The stars of the Tron revival were out Saturday night for the premiere of the eagerly awaited futuristic film, and not wanting to upstage the main cast, soundtrack producers Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, better known as French DJ duo Daft Punk, tried their best to remain their usual inconspicuous selves!

Donning their trademark robot heads - and hands - the boys lit up the carpet but sadly failed to go unnoticed. Can you spot the Wallies, or the Daft Punks (to call them what they are)?

We're lovin' your style fellas, and your soundtrack. C'est genial!

FG

Pirates 4 Trailer Washes Ashore!

After months of filming in various exotic locations, including Greenwich, London, and a trip to a local primary school to rescue a bunch of miserable kiddies, Johnny Depp is back where we're used to seeing him as the new trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides lands on the web.

It's hard to comment at this point on Depp's performance as 1) the entire movie has yet to grace the big screen and 2) it's hard these days to distinguish one Depp performance from another. But one thing that is evident from all the antics, Keira Knightley is out and Penelope Cruz is in, and equally, Orlando Bloom is out and, well, it doesn't look like either of them will be coming back in!


Feast your eyes on the trailer below...




FG

Thor Trailer Arrives...

Cor blimey! Check out the size of his hammer!


Thor; - The best home videos are here

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Warrior's Way (2010)

Cowboys vs. Ninjas


Image: Entertainment Film Distributors

Mad, silly films are tough to get right. After all, it’s one thing to take a bunch of different elements and throw them together, it’s quite another to make it likeable and watchable. It’s also rare that they star an Academy Award winner. So, how does Sngmoo Lee’s martial arts western fare?

A brief prologue shows Yang (Dong-Gun Jang), the best swordsman in the world, decide to spare the life of a baby. This, of course, immediately marks him for death. He runs from China to America, ending up in a small town in the desert populated apparently entirely by a circus troupe. He’s welcomed with open arms, particularly by Lynne (Kate Bosworth), a feisty gal with a dark secret. Both their pasts are about to catch up with them: an army of ninjas and a gang of vicious cowboys led by the monstrous Colonel (Danny Huston).

I wasn’t that interested in watching this film until I saw that Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush and Huston (The Proposition) would be appearing. Admittedly, Huston hasn’t had the best quality control recently, but Rush looked like he was having fun in the trailer. And fun is certainly what writer/director Lee is going for. The film is like a comic book come to life, with all pros and cons that entails. There’s next to no characterisation, the plot is occasionally laughably thin, and some audience members may sniff that the performances are much too hammy.

But, dammit, it’s fun. Bolstered by a welcome sense of humour and knowing full well how silly it 
is, The Warrior’s Way moves quickly along. The circus folk give the film an almost Jean-Pierre Jeunet feel, and the physical gags involving Yang’s treatment of the baby had me giggling. The green-screen works well in the context, with impossibly starry nights and ridiculously orange sunsets. The violence is also impressive; the creativity making up for the occasionally too-obvious CGI.

Yang is appropriately poker-faced as the man of few words/killing machine, Rush gives it all the ham he’s got as town drunk with a secret Ron, while Bosworth (Superman Returns) is surprisingly good as the haunted but lively Lynne. She gets the tone exactly right, almost like a grown up version of Jessie from Toy Story. Yes, I know how strange that sounds. And Jessie never had to meet Huston’s Colonel. When Huston appears on screen, the balance shifts. With half his face covered by a Leatherface mask, the Colonel starts off as a Batman villain before becoming intensely horrifying and threatening. Huston is almost too effective; as it looks like he might actually rape Kate Bosworth you wonder what the hell happened to the film you were just watching.

I can see for some viewers the dark parts might be simply too dark, or the silly parts too silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed this strange, strange mish-mash. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, but if the notion of cowboys fighting ninjas while a circus troupe is caught in the middle appeals, not to mention the fun of good actors throwing restraint to the wind, this is well worth a look.

Cinematic lunacy of the most entertaining kind.

3/5

JH

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Twilight Wolf Pack Let Loose In London

Strike a pose, there's nothing to it, vogue...
Let your body go with the dog's flow, you know you can do it...




Images: Entertainment One

In time for the release of the Twilight: Eclipse DVD on Monday 6 December, a pack of wolves, including some substitute Native Englishmen, delivered the first batch of DVDs to an HMV store in central London.

Lead by Jacob's "crew", the wild animals (the dogs!), who seem to be in control of the situation, graced the mean city streets with Eclipse DVDs tied around their necks. Grrrr!

The photos look a little too photoshopped to seem completely authentic, but our sources have informed us that there was nothing fake about the event. But don't just take our word for it, check out the video evidence below... it's no laughing matter!



So, ladies, is this a total eclipse of your hearts? Have you picked up your copies from a dog near you? A dog with a gramophone that is.

FG

Monsters (2010)

Or, Richard Attenborough’s Independence Day


Image: Vertigo Films


The trailers for Gareth Edwards’ debut feature have been selling Monsters as an action sci-fi horror in the vein of Cloverfield or the more recent, more loathed Skyline. The posters, with their bio-hazard warning signs, were reminiscent of the excellent District 9. So what is it?

A NASA space probe has crashed in Mexico, bringing extraterrestrial life back with it. The squid-like beasts grow to enormous proportions, capable of destroying whole buildings. The US has declared much of Mexico an “Infected Zone”, and has constructed a huge wall to keep the monsters out. Photographer Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is instructed by the owner of the newspaper he works for to escort the tycoon’s daughter Samantha (Whitney Able) home. When events conspire against them they are forced to go through the zone.

With an estimated budget of $200,000, Edwards has made a film that looks like it could have had studio financing. He’s also subverted the expectations of audiences waiting for a big monster action movie. Instead, he’s made something that looks like what a National Geographic alien invasion film might look like. There are no big battle sequences, no mind-melds, and no one-liners. All the action sequences in the film have already been seen in the trailer.

Rather than focusing on the creatures themselves, Edwards prioritises his characters and the ruined yet beautiful landscape they walk through. Kaulder and Samantha aren’t the stereotypes they appear to be at first glance. Kaulder might seem like a jaded asshole, but well-paced character development puts us on his side. In another film, Samantha would be a spoiled brat or an irritatingly idealistic hippie who puts them at risk. Here, she’s melancholy and more aware of what’s going on than Kaulder. The growing relationship between the two characters unfolds slowly but surely and, more importantly, plausibly.

Visually, the film is very striking indeed. The warning signs and public service announcements are full of lovely little details. As Kaulder and Samantha make their way through the infected zone, we see ruined hotels, burnt-out helicopters, and a jet fighter floating down the river. The uselessness of US intervention in the jungle recalls films like Platoon, and even the work of Werner Herzog, as opposed to the back catalogue of Roland Emmerich. We also see what effect the invasion and the US attacks have on the locals. Children wear gas-masks and no one travels at night. They stay there because they have nowhere else to go.

That being said, the film does suffer a bit once you realise what Edwards’ agenda is. When you’re aware of the fact that there probably aren’t going to be that many big shocks, you relax. This works for admiring the visuals and the love story between Samantha and Kaulder, but the lack of action in the plot will be too much for some audiences who showed up expecting a blockbuster.

It may not the masterpiece that the hype would have you believe, but this is a very interesting and overall successful take on the alien invasion film. If you found the gory action sequences in District 9 too much to stomach, check out Monsters. It’s like District 9 meets Salvador. In a good way.

Visually stunning and surprisingly different, Monsters succeeds, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.

4/5

JH

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

McKellen & Cotillard Star In Lady Grey Film

Image: Dior

After an initial unveiling in London last month, the full-length final instalment from the "Lady Dior" saga has hit the web.

Told in four parts, the cinematic campaign features Academy award-winning actress Marion Cotillard, who appears to be serving up a hot platter of danger, mystery and, more importantly, handbags (named after the late Princess of Wales).

Shot in four cities: Paris ("Lady Noire"); New York ("Lady Rouge"); Shanghai ("Lady Blue"); and now, finally, London - and if you haven't guessed it, there's a different colour handbag for each city - the final featurette, entitled "Lady Grey", showcases the capital, and sees Cotillard unveiled in a life-sized hourglass filled with red sand, after which she proceeds to get two men riled up with excitement. The two men in question are up-and-coming British actor Russell Tovey and Sir Ian McKellen, who are lured by Cotillard's sensual moves.

Directed by James Cameron Mitchell - helmer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the up coming film Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart - this final chapter has enough sexual tension to give an old man a heart attack.

Check out the full promo... here.

FG

Almost Famous: Unpublished Moon

Image: Sony Pictures Classics

So old and yet so new. An unpublished gem. The poster to the right is by no means inferior, but it's all about the left-hand side. Like a baby in the womb, Sam Rockwell glows in solitary confinement.

Photoshop perpetrators (Takers. Who? What The...!) take note.

FG

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Innocents (1961)

Is it just child’s play, or an adult affair?



Image: Twentieth Century Fox
If ever proof were needed that films do not have to be bloody to be scary, The Innocents would be Exhibit A. Based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, and shot through with a bubbling undercurrent of aberrant sexuality (grace, no doubt, à Truman Capote, who helped with the script), the film is a masterpiece of subtle chills.
The deceptively simple plot sees repressed young vicar’s daughter Miss Giddens taking on the care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora, who live in a huge country house with only servants and the housekeeper for company, their guardian uncle being happy with his bachelor lifestyle in the city. Initially it seems idyllic, as Miss Giddens makes friends with the captivating Flora and relishes life in a big house. However, Miles’ return from school, from which he has been expelled for polluting the minds of his peers, heralds the start of a descent into psychological terror for Miss Giddens, as she slowly uncovers the story of what happened to the last governess and her lover.
The governess, Miss Jessel, fell in love with the rugged and abusive gardener, Peter Quint, and their torrid affair took hold of the residents of the house, only abating with their deaths (his an accident, hers suicide). Upon hearing that the couple may have exposed the children to their depraved acts, and that Miles idolised Quint, Miss Giddens decides that the precocious, secretive children have been possessed by the spirits of the dead lovers, and resolves to rescue their souls.
As with all the best ghost stories, The Innocents does not give firm answers to the questions it poses, and the viewer is left to make up their own mind. From the off we know that Miss Giddens is an imaginative young woman, and immediately we begin to question whether the events are genuinely supernatural in nature, or merely vivid hallucinations borne of a repressed mind encountering ideas of overt sexuality. As she starts working on the children in an effort to ‘save’ them, Miss Giddens herself becomes a determined, even dangerous, figure who may just be doing more harm than she knows.
The film relies heavily on suggestion and fear of the unknown. We are never told explicitly what Quint and Miss Jessel got up to, although we get several strong hints, nor do we ever discover the true nature of their relationships with the children. Although we see them appear as apparitions to Miss Giddens, we never know whether these visions are shared by the other characters. The ghosts’ appearances are handled with a subtlety which makes them all the more terrifying, such as when Peter Wyngarde’s maliciously evil Quint leers at Miss Giddens through the window. There is no need here for jumpy editing to force a scare – instead Clayton and the actors draw a prolonged feeling of dread from the scene, relishing the governess’s fear and the ghostly gardener’s relentless and somehow unreadable advance (or should that be advances?).
Deborah Kerr is the focal point of the film, and never disappoints. Her Miss Giddens is at once mature and childlike, sexual and sexless. She responds with girlish embarrassment to the compliments of Miles and Flora’s absent uncle, yet shows a darker sensuality towards Miles, in whom she sees the spirit of Peter Quint. There is a particularly disquieting moment in which a goodnight kiss between the two lingers and becomes something worryingly perverse. That all this got past the censors of 1961 is a marvel. Martin Stephens brilliantly pulls off the complex character of Miles, and while Pamela Franklin’s Flora isn’t quite as affecting (her brilliant turn in The Nanny was when she really came into her own as an actress), both are wonderfully uncanny, jumping between impossibly sweet and incredibly unnerving with aplomb.
Disturbing and dark, The Innocents only grows in stature with, and demands, repeated viewings.
5/5
MP

Friday, 3 December 2010

London Boulevard (2010)

Just when I thought I was out....


Image: GK Films

I have a strong aversion to Cockney gangster movies. After the success of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the British film industry was flooded with worse and worse riffs and rip-offs. Thankfully, in recent years, they’ve been largely of the straight to DVD variety. So the prestige and talent involved in this film is surprising.

Mitchell (Colin Farrell) is released from prison and struggles to build a new life for himself. Crooked old mate Billy (Ben Chaplin) tries to convince him to pick up where he left off, but Mitchell’s more interested when he’s approached to work as a handyman/bodyguard for Charlotte (Keira Knightley), an actress who’s hounded by paparazzi and has holed up in her London house with “resting” actor Jordan (David Thewlis). Unfortunately, gangster Gant (Ray Winstone) has taken a shine to Mitchell and won’t let him go easily.

The film is written and directed by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for adapting Infernal Affairs into Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Whereas that film could be accused of suffering from a surplus of twists and turns, the same charge could not be levelled against London Boulevard. It’s utterly predictable at every turn, with each development sign-posted well in advance. The script is especially weak when building the romance between Charlotte and Mitchell and there’s no real momentum, just a sequence of events.

What Monahan has done is give his cast plenty of good dialogue to work with, and a very good cast it is too. Farrell’s subdued performance works well and his cockney accent is better than expected. Knightley isn’t given a lot to do apart from look very fetching but is convincing as the harried star. The quality goes beyond the headliners. Chaplin (Me and Orson Welles) plays against type as Billy, Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies) stars as Mitchell’s unstable sister/liability, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) plays a crooked copper. But the film is really worth seeing for two stand-out performances. First of all, Winstone is terrific as the psychotic Gant, delivering some much needed menace.

The second, and finest, performance is that of David Thewlis. As the RADA-trained, cardigan wearing, stoned Jordan, the actor clearly enjoys getting the best dialogue in the film. Whether it’s discussing Charlotte’s reputation for on-screen nudity (“If it wasn’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped woman in European cinema”) or his own shortcomings (“Compared to most people I’m a Borgia Pope”), Thewlis is by far the most memorable aspect of London Boulevard.

Monahan wisely uses Thewlis as often as possible. However, the rest of his direction is workmanlike. He’s certainly capable of framing, but seems anxious to hammer home what should be subtle. He’s also very clearly influenced by Scorsese, so much so that it becomes an issue. Almost every scene is introduced with a raucous seventies rock classic, perhaps in place of a voice-over. It’s fun at first but quickly becomes irritating. That said, it’s difficult to argue with anyone using Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

All in all, London Boulevard is better than expected, but not much better. Despite being based on a novel (by Ken Bruin), it’s obviously indebted to almost every “They pull me back in!” movie from Carlito’s Way to Layer Cake. You could always just stay in and watch In Bruges again.

Mostly entertaining enough, and well acted, but utterly predictable. But yes, that third star is for David Thewlis.

3/5

JH

Machete (2010)

Mexican or Mexi-can’t?


Image: Sony Pictures

Back in 2007, one of the more highly praised aspects of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse collaboration was the fake trailers. Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Rodriguez himself contributed promos of non-existent B-movies. Three years later, Rodriguez has given us Machete, the full-length version. The trailer was a hilarious couple of minutes, but how does the film work stretched out over 100 minutes?

Grizzled Federale Machete (Danny Trejo) is double crossed and left for dead at the hands of drug lord Torrez (Steven Seagal), but survives and makes his way to Texas. There he’s approached by the oily Booth (Jeff Fahey) who wants him to assassinate anti-immigration Senator McLoughlin (Robert De Niro). Shockingly, he’s double crossed. On the run from the cops, his only hope is taco vendor/guerrilla warrior Luz (Michelle Rodriguez) and immigration agent Sartana (Jessica Alba). Booth has no idea who he’s messed with...

It goes without saying that Machete is over the top and silly. Anyone who saw the original trailer will tell you that ridiculous violence, hammy performances, and more of “that henchman from that action movie” Danny Trejo (Heat, From Dusk Til Dawn) than you’ve ever seen in one film are the order of the day. And while Rodriguez and his co-director Ethan Manquis stick to that mission statement, things go well. The prologue, in which Machete tries to rescue a witness from Torrez, is the right combination of shockingly gory and hilariously funny. This is helped by the fact that the presence of cinematic punch-line Seagal, who’s put on weight as well as a dodgy Mexican accent, fits seamlessly with the tone.

But things go wrong when the film tries to make a statement. Far be it from me to condemn the filmmakers for wanting to say something about immigration and racism in Texas. But this tongue in cheek action throwback was never going to be the right platform for it. The directors also make the mistake of giving all of the “serious” stuff to Alba and Rodriguez (Avatar). The latter at least seems to get the tone, but Alba plays it dead straight. Dialogue beyond one-liners has never been Robert Rodriguez’ strong suit and Machete proves no exception. By the time Luz and Sartana have finished their morality debate (“It’s the law.” “There are many laws.”), you’ll be itching for the film to remember the fun.

And fun there is. There are frequent gory and inventive action sequences that should match the expectations of Rodriguez fans. There are also the usual familiar faces. Alba and Trejo aside, Cheech Marin appears as Machete’s padre bro, and make-up wizard Tom Savini pops up as an assassin. Fahey (Planet Terror) is slimily fun as Booth, original Crockett Don Johnson is weirdly effective as murderous racist border vigilante Von, and Shea Wigham (Wristcutters) does a good lip curl as Booth’s henchman. Robert De Niro must have owed Quentin Tarantino quite the backlog of birthday and Christmas presents to appear here, and gives an awful performance.

It moves along pretty quickly, but veers from shockingly entertaining to deathly awful so often that it’s impossible to say that it’s entertaining throughout. However, it’s great to see perpetual henchman Trejo get his own film.

It’s uneven and often terrible, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun.

2/5

JH