Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Prometheus (2012)

Some things are best left undiscovered.

Image: 20th Century Fox

The blitzkrieg of an advertising campaign for this film has made it clear that the quest for knowledge of our origins can lead to all sorts of trouble. One wishes that the filmmakers could have followed their own advice and left the origins of the Alien series well alone. Director Ridley Scott has strived to point out that this is not a direct prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, but rather a film which shares certain aspects and tells a new story. What this means in reality is that Prometheus is a schizophrenic muddle, packed with useless continuity references which lead nowhere and a new story which struggles to make us care.

Scientists in search of the origin of human life (Noomi Rapace and Tom Hardy-alike Logan Marshall-Green) follow cave painting clues to a distant planet, and discover that every Eden has its snake (or xenomorphs). Along for the ride we have a suspicious android (Michael Fassbender), an ice-cold company exec with some sort of agenda (Charlize Theron), the ship’s captain (Idris Elba) and seemingly hundreds of other underwritten hangers-on.

The film’s flaws are immediate from the outset, where a nice pre-credits sequence segues into interminable scenes of the plot coming together, where only Fassbender gets stuff to do. Even once they reach the planet (LV 223, take note fans) and the rest of the crew thaws out things still take an age to pick up, with loads of characters staying totally undeveloped – a far cry from James Cameron masterfully introducing the massive cast of Aliens. After a bit we get some nicely gory scenes, but a lack of explanation beyond vague musings renders it all pretty boring. Some scenes are laughably weak, in particular the convenient holographic projections that fill in missing storyline.

Alien succeeded in part due to its simplicity. People go to a planet, pick up a nasty beast and then have to deal with it. Bish bash bosh. In this film there are all sorts of nasties flying about the place, with eye-worms and sexually transmitted octopi and itchy looking skin diseases all getting a look in, but none of them has anything like the impact of HR Giger’s gorgeously sickening monster. People waiting for an appearance will be disappointed – all we get is a giant proto-facehugger and a short scene at the end with a boring chest burst and a variant Alien giving us a quick roar. This final scene has been predicted by everyone who has seen the first film, but it happens in the wrong place and leaves some annoying final questions. Also annoying is the fact that the Space Jockeys (or Engineers, as we now have to call them) don’t have trunks, which ruins years of fun fan fiction. It’s just a suit, you see, and underneath they are humanoid. Shame on you for ruining the dream, Ridley! 
In terms of the acting, Noomi Rapace as Dr Elizabeth Shaw is fine, but her character is badly served by the script and comes across as fairly annoying. Shaw is a devout Christian, and there are a few times where the script seems to confuse the terms “human” and “religious believer”, which leaves a distinctly sour taste. Michael Fassbender is also good in his robot role, but his performance seems at odds with the chronology of the films that have gone before, and he just isn’t in the same league as Ian Holm or Lance Henriksen when it comes to treading the fine line between likeable and creepy. Fass never ‘goes Irish’ in this film, though, which is surely a career first. Idris Elba’s Janek probably does best, but his role is terribly hackneyed. All the other people are fine, but few make much of an impression. Guy Pearce turns up in silly old-age make-up for a bit, but his character should probably have been played by Henriksen as well.

There really is nothing about the storyline that works, and the direction is mostly point-and-shoot, but where the film does succeed is in its set design. Using lots of HR Giger’s original sketches for Alien, we are given a nicely fleshed out version of the sort of environs we saw in that film, and the lovely big sets make it all look satisfyingly solid in a way that such places often don’t in modern sci-fi. The exploration scenes are really where the film comes to life, with all sorts of hidden menace and nice visual nods to Alien. Unfortunately much of the good work is undermined by the horribly out of place score – I don’t know what film Marc Streitenfeld thought he was composing for, but it certainly wasn’t the one we got. His music isn’t at all bad, just wrong. Imagine if the score from Avatar was stuck onto the original Alien and you are halfway to seeing why it is so disastrous.

Fans of Alien and the series will be disappointed, and others will only find a confusing and weakly-written mess of a film that could obviously have been so much better. In short, everyone loses. It’s still better than AVP: Requiem, but then so is snogging a facehugger.



Friday, 25 May 2012

Bernard Charoy: Les Pin Up Des Sixties

If you're in Cannes and on the hunt for a good art exhibition, stop by the Geneviève Marty Gallery to see the work of figurative artist Bernard Charoy.

"Les Pin Up Des Sixties" features original work from the French artist, whose illustrations graced the covers of numerous magazines including Paris Flirt - and his work can famously be seen in the opening of Jean-Luc Godard's critically acclaimed classic À Bout de Souffle as Jean-Paul Belmondo's character appears to be reading an issue of the lads' mag.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Grey (2012)

Image: Entertainment Film

Joe Carnahan’s career has had its ups and downs. After justifiably being showered with praise for the gritty cop drama Narc, he received a critical pasting for Smokin’ Aces and his very enjoyable update of The A-Team failed to make enough money to warrant a sequel.  He’s reteamed with his A-Team star Liam Neeson for this gritty survival thriller.

Ottway works at a remote Alaskan oil-rig with other “men unfit for mankind”. Their plane goes down in the wilderness and he must lead the survivors to safety when they realise they have crashed into the kill-zone of a ravenous wolf pack.

The Grey has been marketed to appeal to fans of Neeson’s recent action movies. Trailers have emphasised shots of the actor readying himself for a mano-y-mano scrap with the wolves and spitting tough guy dialogue. But the film is quite a different proposition. Yes it’s a thriller, and a very effective one. But it’s also a dour, bleak study of men faced with the fact that their lives are about to end. Ottway is suicidal at the start of the film and surprises himself by finding purpose helping these men to safety. But any heroics have a minimal effect. Despite his best efforts, the team are persistently picked off one by one. If anyone falls behind, falls asleep, or turns their back, they die.

Given Carnahan’s track record, it’s not exactly a surprise to find The Grey is a film about masculinity. It’s interesting that the majority of the survivors are family men with pictures of their loved ones in their wallets and are all quite happy to follow Ottway’s lead, with the exception of the abrasive Diaz (Frank Grillo). The men spend as much time discussing their families and their spirituality as they do running and fighting. They agonise over the greater wisdom that allowed them to miraculously survive a plane crash, only to be killed by something else.

This is not to say that The Grey is not a thriller. The chase is unbearably tense at times, with plenty of jumps and scenes of expertly orchestrated suspense. This is Carnahan’s best since Narc by quite some margin, and he repeats that trick of taking a B-movie premise and presenting a gritty, bleak character study.

The cast do solid work in fairly typed roles, with Dermot Mulroney (Zodiac), Dallas Roberts (3:10 to Yuma) and Nonso Anozie (Conan the Barbarian) as the nice guys and Grillo (Warrior) and Joe Anderson (The Crazies) as the mouthy troublemakers. But it’s Neeson’s show and he’s on excellent form. The role allows him to sink his teeth into a character as well as throw himself into the physical action, which is something that’s been missing from many of his recent roles. The character’s a familiar but powerful contradiction and the actor brings him powerfully to life: a man who’s given up on life and God but keeps fighting.

The Grey manages to be a highly effective thriller as well as a surprisingly affecting journey. While it may not appeal to all audiences, Carnahan’s unfussy but calculating style makes for a gruelling, grim film.

An expert thriller with unexpected depths and a great turn from Neeson.



Friday, 18 May 2012

Cannes Spotting: Jackie Chan

Image: Ellinor Forje

Vivre Les Boulistes

Image: FG/Fohnhouse

Sculpture of bowls player Gustavo by Gilbert Bria Bari, unveiled by the artist and the mayor of Cannes the day before the opening of the 65th Cannes Film Festival. Nothing like a game of pétanque to get the party started!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Image: Lionsgate

Reviewing this film is going to be difficult. It comes, you see, with a gagging request/order from producer, co-writer and geek lord Joss Whedon. I think the line is that he wants the story to stay a surprise. If one were being cynical it could be suggested that he fears what will happen to the audience sizes if people know beforehand what it’s all about. Not wanting to test the patience of King Joss, though, after airing our opinions on The Avengers, I am going to acquiesce and try to give away as little as possible. Here goes…
Five young things go to the titular cabin in the woods for a good time. Horrible stuff happens to them. Meanwhile, two white collar guys, a security guard and a sexy scientist are involved in something which sounds a bit ominous. What is the connection between the two?
This film is being described as having “twists”. I take issue with this. For me, though perhaps not for everyone, a twist is something which pulls a rug out from under the feet of the audience, some diversion from a pre-supposed course of events. If you accept my view, then this film is completely twist-less. Much of the game is given away far too early, so we know this isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill slasher flick. Any subsequent plot development is therefore not challenging our expectations in any way. There are turns, certainly, and some of them are pretty magnificent, but the structure of the piece means that none of them really pack a narrative punch.

I am going to try and give an idea of the tone of this film in as opaque a way as possible. If I were using thematic examples from Joss’s oeuvre I could say that it has a lot of Dollhouse throughout, a fair splurge of Angel later on, and far from enough Buffy or Firefly anywhere. I can also say that, despite some post-screening claims, it is certainly no Scream. Wes Craven’s 90s masterpiece was a film which fully understood its genre and the expectations of the audience, and played with them accordingly. The Cabin in the Woods is far too uneven in tone to have the same appeal. As a horror film it just isn’t very scary, and director Drew Goddard doesn’t bring enough visual verve to the piece early on, though it picks up later. I don’t know how much of the script came from Whedon and how much from Goddard, but it certainly lacks the zing we have come to expect from Whedon’s dialogue.
On the plus side there are some fun performances, with Chris Hemsworth continuing to impress and Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker getting to repeat their television personas, from The West Wing and Angel respectively, to good effect. There are appearances from a couple of people who will make both horror and Whedon fans very happy.  We get some nice visual and thematic nods to other films which you might not expect, with one sequence echoing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Cube within seconds of each other, which is certainly something one doesn’t see very often. It is a massive mishmash of madness, but that doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy it for what it is.
Far from Whedon’s best, with too much going on and not enough focus on tight plotting or suspense. It is a fun watch, though, and the cast were clearly having a blast – we predict that this will become far more enjoyable with the addition of a gang of friends and a lot of alcohol.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (2011)

The fascinating life of an artist in geometric pictures.

Image: FG/Fohnhouse

The hairdresser transcends boundaries in a film that serves as a great source of inspiration for the next generation of creatives.



Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012)

Image: Lionsgate

After the recent Joe Eszterhas furore (and all the other furores) surrounding Mel Gibson, we went into his latest film hoping that we could put all our problems with the troubled star aside for 90 minutes and just enjoy his new film. With a different title (Get the Gringo) and a very limited release in the States, could How I Spent My Summer Vacation be a hidden gem?

The film starts with the nameless Driver (Gibson) gunning it for the Mexican border with a car full of money. When he crashes into Mexico, the crooked local cops take his haul and throw him into “El Pueblito”, a prison that functions as a small, violent town. Can he figure out how to survive and get his money back before he’s either killed by the inmates or the vicious gangsters that he stole from?

Things get off to a good start with a deadpan voice-over lamenting the man in a clown costume spitting blood in slow-motion at the camera. The tone is set for a darkly comic, violent film. But given that’s what they’re going for, it’s a shame that the script (co-written by Gibson) gives its lead character such an easy ride. Gibson wisecracks and connives his way through the film but there’s never any real sense of danger, at least to him. While there are some quite shockingly violent moments, the tone’s so inconsistent that it’s difficult to know whether we’re supposed to be laughing or not.

And we probably are, as the film is often quite funny. Gibson gives a good turn while never really breaking type, and he has good chemistry with the street-smart, cigarette-smoking kid (Kevin Hernandez) that lives in the prison/village with his fiercely protective mother (Dolores Heredia). The kid’s being kept around by Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho), the gangster who runs the prison, because he shares the same blood type needed for Javi’s imminent liver transplant. All this is presented with a wry, cynical sense of humour that never quite settles comfortably enough to be convincing. The film either needs to be a lot darker or a lot wackier. As it is, it’s all over the place.

There are some funny moments and Heredia and Hernandez make a very strong impression with the best-written characters. But, fatally for a dark comedy, a lot of the gags fall dreadfully flat. The narration aims for neo-noir and misses the mark (despite actually nailing it during the opening scene). It’s not a total disaster but the inconsistent tone kills it.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation flip-flops too often between dark and wacky and it can’t quite decide whether it wants to have a heart or not. Entertaining in places, but it’s a bit of a mess.



Friday, 4 May 2012

Beauty and the Beast 3D (2012)

Image: Disney

While we at Fohnhouse are great fans of the Disney classics, it had actually been a while since we’d watched Belle and the Beast learn to look past each other’s differences so we were excited to get a chance to revisit the animated classic.

A quick plot recap for the uninitiated: Belle lives in a small provincial town but longs for something more. When her inventor father loses his way in the woods, he accidentally stumbles upon the castle of The Beast, a once handsome man who was cursed for his cruel, shallow nature with a hideous appearance. It will become permanent if he can’t earn somebody’s love before the enchanted rose withers. When Belle finds that the Beast has taken her father prisoner, she offers herself in exchange. But can the Beast change his ways and earn her love?

While the reason for the film’s re-release is to show off the 3D conversion, one of the genuine pleasures of watching Beauty and the Beast again is reminding yourself how beautiful the 2D Disney artwork was. The detail, both in the small town and in Beast’s gloriously cavernous castle, is utterly fantastic, and the characters are beautifully drawn (our personal favourite this time around was the finger-steeple-ing asylum doctor).

It’s also impressive to note how the film appeals to both young and old audiences, with plenty of more adult touches in amongst the nicely constructed slapstick. Old favourites like Lumiere, Mrs Potts and Cogsworth are as great as ever, and the Beast’s still an impressively scary figure in the film’s first half. Belle is a strong lead, and not just because she refuses the advances of the hilariously vain and deluded Gaston. She’s determined, she’s clever, and she’s aspirational. And she loves books, which is always a good thing.

It’s also got great musical numbers, good jokes, and, as we mentioned, fantastic animation. If we had one complaint: Why does it need to be in 3D? We only really noticed it in the first few minutes, although the darkness that’s often a problem wasn’t noticeable at all.

Take the opportunity to see the Disney classic on the big screen.



Thursday, 3 May 2012

Clash of the Cats: The Avengers

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Houston, we have a difference of opinion. Ever since The Avengers crashed onto cinema screens last week the film's magnificence has been subject to a large amount of debate among us Wandercats. While two of us enjoyed the film, we certainly don't feel that it's as impressive as many, including our Jonathan, would have you believe - and in my review of The Avengers I contradicted popular belief, much to his dismay.

Clearly rattled, naturally, he had to strike back....

So we finally have The Avengers, the film that brings together the superheroes that Marvel has worked so hard to endear to cinema goers over the past few years. Last year I was surprised, impressed, and very much entertained by Thor and Captain America, and with Joss Whedon taking over writing and directing duties for The Avengers, my expectations were high despite the nagging worry about fitting so many characters into one film.

One of my main concerns was that Robert Downey Jr. would dominate the proceedings but all of the cast get their chance to shine, with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth carrying on their good work, and I very much agree that franchise newcomer Mark Ruffalo shows that he’s the perfect choice to play the Hulk (and yes, please give him a stand-alone film). Scarlett Johansson also makes her mark much more effectively here than she did in Iron Man 2. Benefiting from a script that gives her not only some quality Whedon zingers but things to actually do, her Black Widow stands shoulder to shoulder with the super-powered boys in costumes. As for the complaints about Thor and Cap, it’s hardly surprising that Thor is the butt of a few jokes (much like he was in Thor), and Captain America’s vital to the proceedings as he’s not only the leader and the only one not to hesitate to sign up, but he also gets some nice fish-out-of-water material to work with.

There was a moment about halfway through the film when it suddenly occurred to me that The Avengers felt very much like a comic book come to life. And yes, obviously, that’s the point, but it’s worth addressing the fact that Whedon brought his cast and his characters together to create something that is very much like a Marvel comic. The script is at its best when providing the characters the opportunity to bounce off each other. It’s a pleasure to watch these characters verbally sparring as well as squaring up to each other. Given that it’s Whedon, it’s hardly surprising that their back-and-forth is great but the fight sequences are truly impressive, building towards a huge final battle that’s a tremendous piece of sustained action.

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki seems to be a point of contention, but in my opinion, it’s a fantastically sly performance of a wonderfully written character. Loki is snide, he’s petty, and he’s cruel. His plans for world domination are born purely out of a sense of entitlement and spite. He’s not trying to rule the world because he wants to change things, he wants to rule the world because he hates it and everyone in it (particularly his brother) and he wants them to suffer. I couldn’t really disagree more with the idea that Hiddleston isn’t good at playing bad.

Now, I do have a couple of complaints to address. It was inevitable that one or two characters were going to be short-changed, and frankly I would have liked to see more of Thor. However, Hemsworth continues having a fantastic time with the part and his chemistry with Hiddleston is as good as it was in their previous film. Jeremy Renner’s Hakweye looked conspicuously like the third wheel in much of the advertising, and while he finally gets something to do in the final act, if one of the characters could be lost, it would be him. Finally, I do agree the film does sag a little in the middle as the slow build towards the stunning climax is, in fact, a little bit slow.

But these are all minor complaints. One of the things that has impressed me the most about the recent Marvel films is their commitment to character and a sense of spectacle and fun, and The Avengers continues that trend. It’s hugely entertaining and it’s up there with the best of the Marvel movie canon. You’ll leave with a big grin on your face.



Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Safe (2012)

Image: Momentum Pictures

While we count ourselves as Jason Statham fans, it’s been a while since he last headlined a decent film. The Mechanic? Blitz? The Killer Elite? All disappointments. But when he’s on form he’s capable of providing some seriously entertaining action escapism, and we went in with fingers firmly crossed. Were we disappointed? Actually, no.

After failing to take a dive in an MMA fight, Luke Wright (Statham) is punished by the Russian mob. Anyone he gets close to, dies. Meanwhile, a young Chinese girl (Catherine Chan) is given a long number to memorise by the triads. But the Russian mob and the dirty NYPD are after it too, and she’s soon on the run from a city full of bad men. Luckily, she runs into Luke, who finds a reason to live again: protecting her.

We honestly weren’t expecting Safe to be this entertaining. But the film is funny, totally aware of its B-movie status, and the action sequences are often very impressive. It’s a film in which no one can be trusted apart from our hero. The corruption goes all the way to City Hall, the cops are double-crossing the mobsters who are paying them off as well as each other, and anyone who gets in the way of Jason Statham is beaten to death or shot repeatedly.

For non-action fans, there’s not a lot to recommend as it’s basically a breathless race from punch-up to punch-up, interspersed with scenes with dialogue so ripe it’s impossible to know whether to sneer or grin. It’s a reaction we felt for a good proportion of the first twenty-odd minutes, but by the time Statham decides that saving the girl is the only option, then it’s pretty much grins all the way.

The action is very well-choreographed. Statham can usually be relied on for good hand-to-hand fight sequences, but these are the most impressive we’ve seen him perform in a while. Outside of the action, well, things are a little shakier. We’ve said that the film’s aware of its B-movie status, but there are times when credulity is stretched beyond breaking point, and the dialogue is often beyond terrible. The performances are also a bit shaky, though Reggie Lee (Drag Me to Hell) and veterans Robert John Burke (Limitless, The Unbelievable Truth), James Hong (Blade Runner) and Chris Sarandon (Fright Night) all ham it up nicely.

But good lord it’s a lot of fun. If you’re a Statham fan and if, like us, you’ve been disappointed by his recent outings, Safe is the Jason Statham movie you’ve been waiting for.

Statham on top form in a film that utilises his talents well and has a ludicrous script to match. A very entertaining B-movie.



Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Lucky One (2012)

Image: Warner Bros.

Another day, another Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation. This time it's The Lucky One, starring Zac Efron - a movie that has Efron clearly trying to prove himself as a credible actor and, dare we say it, a man. Most of his movies up until now have pretty much seen him shake his tail feather and sing up a tween storm, but for this role Efron was eager to embody the character and go that extra mile so, like men do, he bulked up to aid his performance, and on his recent global tour to promote the film he was keen to show the world his skills in the bra removal department, on several occasions. I'm not sure if "men" do that, but anyway....

In the film Efron plays Logan, a U.S. marine who has just completed three tours in Iraq. Back home in Colorado things aren't quite how they used to be so Logan sets off on a journey to find himself, and a mystery girl from a photograph he found in the ruins at war; a photograph he believes kept him alive.

For better or worse you know what you're getting with a Nicholas Sparks film. Thanks to the seven previous adaptations, the scene had already been set for The Lucky One before even entering into a cinema, and even before the release of a trailer. So whether a Sparks movie is going to score big at the box office has nothing to do with what we say, and really depends on your love for this generic formula, and the appeal of the film's lead actors.

Playing Efron's mystery lady/lady love is newcomer Taylor Schilling, who actually fairs pretty well in this considering neither actor is given much to do: Efron spends most of the time walking up and down what appears to be the same street while Schilling, although with the added responsibility of looking after a child, spends half the movie pretending she doesn't like the wandering marine. The whole story is not really that plausible so with that in mind the actors do alright. The kid, we might add, is played well by the least annoying child actor we've seen in a while, Riley Thomas Stewart (The Beaver).

Unfortunately, this is not the movie that's going to propel Efron into the man's world he so craves, but we've seen him in enough movies, including Me and Orson Welles, to know that it's more the scripts that are preventing him from reaching his goal, not him.

Fans of The Notebook, Dear John and all other Nicholas Sparks adaptations will most likely enjoy this latest offering, but for everyone else, the movie is as you would expect it to be: sentimental, predictable and a bit bland.