Monday, August 27, 2007


The verdict: Polished thriller with plenty of smarts that will certainly launch Shia LaBoeuf's career, and provide large audiences with above average multiplex fodder. It's not great though.

The rating: 6/10

Essentially a remake, or perhaps more accurately a 'modern updating' of Hitchcock's masterpiece Rear Window, 'Disturbia' tells the story of troubled teen Kale, played by Shia LaBoeuf. Wheile Jimmy Stewart's broken leg meant he was immobile during a New York City heatwave, Kale is made housebound for the summer with an electronic tag after he punches his Spanish teacher in the face.

The story is similar enough to Rear Window, in that during his forced retreat from the outside world, our protagonist takes to observing his neighbours, and becomes increasingly suspicious of a neighbour who may or may not be a murderer. However, this being a 'fresh' modern updating of the story, our protagonist here is a teen suburban subscriber to X-Box live and iTunes, who takes to watching his extremely hot neighbour Ashley (Sarah Roemer) taking afternoon swims when his subscriptions to said services are withdrawn by his mom.

The movie is better than your average teen schlock fare, with the first hour building nicely and providing a few genuinely tense moments. LaBoeuf is a very capable lead, and if I was the E! Channel, I'd be describing him as 'so hot right now', with 'Transformers' still doing great business for him, and 'Disturbia' already having hit the top spot in the U.S. He's even doing voices for kids' animated movies for chrissakes, and Steven Spielberg has seen fit to cast him alongside Harrison Ford in the next Indiana Jones.... so he's doing alright for himself!

The supporting cast are all likeable, with Aaron Yoo turning in a great performance as Kale's funny mate who, somewhat unfortunately for him, does all the donkey work for his house-bound buddy when the killer's house needs to be investigated. Sarah Roemer fills the screen marvellously well, and is very capable to boot, while Carrie-Anne Moss and David Morse provide more than adequate support as Kale's mom and the suspected slasher respectively. Morse in particular is nicely dark, and adds a sinister atmosphere to proceedings in each of his scenes, without hamming it up too much.

It's well written, and director D.J. Caruso certainly delivers a polished thriller with plenty of frights and tense moments. Unfortunately, in the third act of 'Disturbia', things take a far more macabre and chaotic turn than in hitchcock's movie, where the suggestion of dodgy goings-on was used as a means to create tension, and where we were never permitted entry into the prime suspect's residence. In this version, we are shown all the grisly details, and somehow the movie loses a lot of the tension it had built in the previous hour, where it just becomes a bit of a chase, derivative of 'Scream', and perhaps influenced by 'Saw'.

In terms of what to expect with this movie, think 'Final Destination'. When I saw that one first, I remember thinking, "hey, that isn't a bad idea.." Perhaps because I was surprised to see an idea so good in a film that I expected to be mediocre, I enjoyed that movie all the more. The thing is, the idea in 'Disturbia' isn't original - Hitchcock did it better about forty years ago. Also, the third act lets it down more than a little. It's thoroughly inoffensive, if a little predictable, but it's a lot better than some of the rubbish you'll see in the multiplexes this year.

In short, 'Disturbia' will provide some decent popcorn entertainment, but it certainly won't live long in the memory.

Bridge To Terabithia

The Verdict: A smart, bittersweet little gem of a movie pitched at the perfect level for growing kids and embittered adults alike.

The Rating: 8/10

Despite what the mainstream media might have us believe, not all kids these days are smoking ecstasy pipes while happy-slapping their delinquent friends on YouTube. I'm not talking about very young kids here, those still at the age where copious tears are shed with monotonous regularity ("I scratched my knee", "It's dark and I'm afraid", "There's alligators in the toilet") Hmmm, maybe just me on that last one then... No, I'm talking about the age when your folks get fed up to the back teeth with all this whinging, and start mentioning those terrible words: 'grow up'! That's when independence is forged, and things start getting all too real for kids who shouldn't be behaving like babies any more...

Ah yes, tween angst, that heinous, hormonally unbalanced beast, it's something Disney have been successfully tapping into for years. With 'Bridge to Terabithia', however, they've somehow managed to package it into a subtle, beautifully filmed movie that will surprise most with it's deceptively simple depth and quality.

The story deals with young Jesse, at a twelvish age and feeling a bit left out at school, the poor wee sod. He's interested in running and drawing, but from meagre means, so unable to afford decent trainers or paints. He's the fastest kid in school of his age, but thanks to the bullies, a bit of a loner. However, when Leslie, a quirky new girl starts at his school, and moves in next door to him, they quickly make friends and begin exploring in the forest behind their houses.

It sounds so simple, and it is, but the relationship between the two kids is extremely well written and developed. Both are excluded at school, and through this they bond, finding the means to tackle the bullies and bad kids. Their imaginations, Leslie's in particular, are their escape, and they conspire to imagine a world of their own in the forest, where they make the rules and are in charge.

It's not all happy exploring though. The theme of death is first introduced so subtly, that when it recurs, it is very very shocking indeed. Jess's father (the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick) keeps a greenhouse, and sells the veg they grow there to supplement his already stretched income. However, he has to lay a trap in the greenhouse for an invading rodent who continually breaks in, and tells the young lad that he'll 'deal with' the intruder when he catches him. When the sound of the trap being sprung wakes Jess early one morning, he sneaks down to the greenhouse and releases the creature, for fear of what was about to happen to it. The scene where the mean dad berates the kid and tells him to 'get his head out of the clouds' is a revealing one, especially considering what comes later in the movie.

I don't want to spoil this movie, but as it's essentially a kids' film that adults can watch, it is important to tell you that it is probably going to be about as harrowing to a kid as, say, Bambi was to you when you first watched it. It's important to remember that most people who watched that movie as kids, never forget it.

In this movie, the themes of death, growing up, and the power of a child-like imagination are all delicately and subtly explored in this movie in a mature and considered manner, but pitched at a level that kids will 'get'.

The two leads are great, and although they are a little 'Disney Club' at times, they are frighteningly capable, the young lad in particular having to deal with some tough material. His music teacher, played by a doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel, also has a nicely understated supporting turn, the script is great, and although there are a few cheesy Disney moments thrown in here, they are acceptably brief, and sort of make sense when they do happen. The man in charge, Gabor Csupo (the real life Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons!) directs with a steady hand, never over-using the unusual special effects, and literally letting the kids do the talking.

No question about it though folks, if you have kids, this movie will make them cry! However, I recommend it as it thoroughly surprised me with its intelligence, subtlety and respect for the ability of its target audience to handle the drama that's unfolding on screen in front of them. Plenty in here for adults as well though, and it may be unfair to compare it to a movie as good as 'Pans Labyrinth', but Terabithia is perhaps a less grown-up version of a similarly themed story, and has many of the same qualities that made Pans Labyrinth so watchable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The 11th Hour: Preview

There was a typically insightful, albeit slightly cynical moment, in the opening minutes of the Simpsons movie, where Greenday, after playing for two and a half hours, request a minute of the Springfield audience's time to deliver a quick message about the environment... now, at the risk of meeting the same fate as those lads, I'd like to briefly interrupt this blog-cast to bring you a wee message... (see trailer below)

Now, it would be all too easy to dismiss Leonardo DiCaprio's movie about global warming. After all, he's a super-rich Hollywood bigshot, what business does he have telling us how to live, I ask you!? Well, don't scramble the angry mob just yet folks, as it appears that DiCaprio's movie is a well researched piece from the list of contributing scientists at least, but more importantly, it is a cinematic movie, featuring some beautiful shots in the trailer at least.

While Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth focussed rightly on getting across the message of a real and genuine crisis with regard to climate change, times and the global political landscape have progressed since that film was released. By contrast, DiCaprio's two cents (more than that I'd imagine - Ed) begins with acceptance that the global climate is in crisis. Taking that as read, the movie tries to spotlight what can be done to turn this around.

No news yet on Irish release dates, but check out the trailer below, see what you think. And actually, if you do take the time to watch the trailer, please let me know if you'll be interested in seeing the movie, just as a straw poll... maybe another documentary about the environment is one too many? See if the trailer tickles your fancy anyway...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

The verdict: Very obviously inspiration for Monty Python, Michel Gondry, Stanley Kubrick and, no doubt, countless others.

This is a funny, accessible dream-like satire featuring deceptively serious themes of mortality and purpose.

The rating: 8/10

Although I had vague memories of watching 'Belle de Jour' many moons ago, I was a little wary of what to expect from my first Luis Bunuel movie as an adult, especially one with a title as wacky as this one. It turns out that the title is strangely descriptive though, as the movie is essentially a gentle satire of upper class habits and customs.

I felt on safe ground almost immediately as the opening scenes of this movie developed. It centers around the movements of a group of three wealthy French couples, who are constantly meeting for dinner, or at least, attempting to meet for dinner. Every time they meet, something seems to scupper their plans, be it a simple mix-up with dates in the beginning of the movie, or the frustrating fact that the entire meeting was dreamed by one of the group, as happens later in the movie when things get a little more involved.

The group of well-heeled couples are versed in etiquette and proper behaviour, and espouse decorum at all times. Behind this layer of politeness however, lurks a significant amount of dark secrets. The male characters are up to no good right from the get-go, with Fernando Rey (you might remember him as the bad guy from 'The French Connection') proving to be a softly spoken, well mannered cocaine smuggler.

The relationships and dialogue between the three couples reminded me of the dinner party scene in 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life', when Eric Idle's salmon accidentally killed herself and all her guests. Oh bother. This scene from Monty Python was most definitely inspired from scenes in Bunuel's movie, where absurd politeness also happens to sit alongside the imminent approach of death. Just as death played a role in the Monty Python movie, so it does here. In one of many dream sequences, a young boy is visited by the ghost of his mother. After catching a glimpse of her in a mirror, he begins writing on a mirror in red lipstick in a subtly frightening scene, a single shot that instantly reminded me of 'The Shining'. When his mother appears the second time, she speaks without moving her lips, and this too is more than a little unnerving. However, the kid is happy to see her, and hasquickly grown more comfortable with his dead visitor.

Dream sequences play a large part in this movie, and a single shot, repeated three times, may be designed to have the audience question whether these characters are actually alive at all. At three separate moments, we see six main characters alone on a country road, walking towards the distance without speaking to each another. Is this a dream of one of the characters? Or is it merely designed to signal to the audience that the real lives of these characters is the pointless journey? Open to interpretation that one.

The dream sequences are complex, but never get too out of hand. The satire is gentle, and sometimes bombastic - such as when the military batallion interrupt one of the dinner parties - but it never goes over the top. There is a sense of madcap humour about this movie that is infectious however, and even some elements of farce - such as when the local bishop becomes a gardener to one of the couples - but this is explained, and makes a crazy sort of sense, in the context of the movie.

Bunuel collaborated with the prolific Jean Claude Carriere on six movies, all made consecutively, and this one was made in 1972. It's awesome to think just what a source of inspiration it has been to film-makers over the years, and how original it must have seemed at the time it was released.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and am now looking forward to the prospect of getting through my Bunuel box set: this one is heartily recommended as a jaunty little madcap diversion from the mainstream. It's a little surreal, but then again, so was 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', and how good was that?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

The verdict: A safe, predictable and somewhat irrelevant cinematic debut for the ubiquitous yellow animated clan.

The rating: 6/10

The American tv show 'Happy Days' inadvertently coined an unfortunate phrase for the moment when an entertainment franchise runs out of gas. That moment when, collectively, the audience decides that there might be something better on the other channel.

The phrase originates from a moment when Fonzie decided to jump a shark through an ingenious set-piece involving a speedboat, a ramp and some rather shoddy special effects. From that moment, the ratings for Happy Days, previously a cornerstone of American tv viewing, dropped dramatically. Thus, to 'jump the shark' is, like Fonzie did that fateful day, to reveal to your audience that you've run out of ideas.

For example, the Wachowski Brothers jumped the shark with the third matrix movie. George Lucas jumped the shark with Jar Jar and Episode I. More often than not these days, television series are conceived with a lifespan in mind, a seven year cycle that will bring it to a logical conclusion. The objective? Avoid jumping the shark.

For seven or eight years, 'The Simpsons' was light years ahead of most of what television, and american television in particular, had to offer. Even Matt Groening could never have imagined the kind of global cultural impact this cartoon family could have had, starting as they did from such humble beginnings as crudely drawn short interludes on The Tracey Ullman show. However, increasingly, audiences are beginning to notice that the quality of Springfield's output has hit a sort of creative plateau.

Fast forward to 2007, and the Simpsons has become a staple of the Fox Network's schedule, on air now for almost twenty years, and soon to become the longest running tv show in the history of the world, ever. The list of guest voices on the show reads like a who's who of popular culture: Spinal Tap, Tony Blair, Stephen Hawking, U2, The Rolling Stones. More recently, Ricky Gervais wrote an episode and, now in the movie, Green Day make an appearance.

The Simpsons is an institution, as iconic as it is possible to be in popular entertainment. However, its best moments are most definitely behind it, and the movie only reinforces this.

The critical buzz from the Simpsons movie goes something like: "yes it's just like an episode of the Simpsons on the big screen, but is that such a bad thing?". Well, this reviewer humbly argues that the movie is about twelve years behind its time, and that to compare a movie to a current episode of the Simpsons makes me not want to pay ten euros to go and see it.

Harsh words perhaps? Well, in my defence, allow me to consider a far superior tv-to-movie jump from an animated series. The 'Southpark' movie was a ballsy, intelligent comedy that used the format of the musical to expose the franchise to a whole new audience, and deservedly received huge critical acclaim. By comparison, the Simpsons movie attempts nothing fresh or new. Also, the quality of the Simpsons TV series has been in steady decline for about ten years. Now, it could be argued that the average episode is still of a decent enough quality, but the point of a movie transition should be to expand the franchise somehow, to perhaps take a creative risk. With the Simpsons movie, we have a plot based around recycled moments from episodes we've already seen, packaged with better anumation and a few new gags.

A telling moment from the Simpsons movie occurs as the closing credits are rolling. Maggie finally says her first word, and it is 'sequel'. As the family disappointedly trudged off screen, I feared that this was the moment. Yes folks, this was the moment when I feared that the Simpsons may have jumped the shark.

It's not a bad movie. I mean, after all, it's 'the Simpsons', like a familiar blanket you can wrap yourself in when you're tired after work, eating your dinner, or waiting for 'Heroes' or 'Prison Break' to start of a midweek evening. It's just that the movie offers neither Simpsons fans nor newbies alike, anyhing new, at least, nothing that the tv show hasn't been doing for years and years.

'Spider pig' was funny, as was Homer's chainsaw impression. The rest, well, I just got the feeling I'd seen it all before on the smaller screen. Yes, I chuckled through a lot of it, but, like the average gag on 'Family Guy', this movie won't live long in the memory. Kids will love it, but followers of the tv series will have seen most of this before. The simpsons isn't jumping the shark in terms of its global audience, but for me, from now on, I'll be having a look to see what else is on.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


The verdict: Immersive, lovingly created psychological drama that focuses on a small group of people obsessed with catching an elusive killer.

The rating: 8/10

Now this is a movie. Right from the languid opening moments, when the camera trawls slowly over a night-time vista of a fireworks display, and the soothing, late seventies soundtrack caresses the eardrums, the audience should be in no doubt. The message, right from the off, is to sit back, strap yourself in, and enjoy the journey.

In those first scenes, where a young couple foolishly decide to head to a lonely late night make-out spot (first rule of horror films people, keep your kit on! - Ed), the uninitiated could be forgiven for thinking that this is another teen slasher movie in the vein of something like 'Road Kill' or 'The Hitcher'. Luckily however, this movie was crafted by David Fincher, so we are in for an entirely different kind of journey.

Fincher has had an interesting career, even by Hollywood standards. He started out as a miniature artist on small movies like (*cough*) 'Return of The Jedi' and (*cough*) 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'. Next, perhaps emulating Martin Scorcese, he cut his directorial eye teeth with a concert movie. However, like so many other directors currently making the big bucks in Hollywood, he really gained notoriety as a music video director, churning out pop promos for small-time musical acts such as Sting ('Englishman in New York'), Michael Jackson ('Who is it') and Madonna (would you believe it: 'Vogue'!).

His big break came with a franchise instalment, but unfortunately, 'Alien 3' was a stylish failure, allowing Fincher room to demonstrate his technical expertise, but possibly at the expense of a decent story. However, treading in the footsteps of Ridley Scott and James Cameron is no easy thing to do.. (but I'll be honest with ya folks, I've always had a soft spot for Alien 3). The rest, you probably know already. After all, this is the guy behind 'Fight Club' and 'Seven', unquestionably two modern classics, but also 'The Game', an oft-overlooked little gem featuring Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, and a wickedly mind-bending story.

With 'Zodiac', Fincher has brought a labour of love to the screen. Based on the book by Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle in the seventies and eighties, it tells the story of 'The Zodiac', a serial killer who loomed large in San Francisco in the late 70's. With a craving for media attention and a love of puzzles, this killer captured the attention of the public for half a decade. This guy was never cuaght, and taunted the media and the police with clues as to his identity, sending them letters, and even ringing in to televised talkshows to talk of his exploits.

Jake Gyllenhall plays Robert Graysmith, and he is instinctively drawn to the case right from moment the Zodiac's first letter is received at his office. Crime Correspondent Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is charged with reporting on the case, but he picks up on Graysmith's intuition as to why the killer is sending puzzles, and together they work on cracking the case. Meanwhile, the police investigation is headed by Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, played by Anthony Edwards (the Goose man! - Ed).

The story follows the timeline of the case, and tracks the effect this investigation has on the people most closely involved with it. At first, Toschi is the man obsessed, and he comes painfully close to an arrest at one point. However, the physical evidence simply isn't on his side, so his suspect goes free. Avery (Downey) for his part, angers the Zodiac by referring to him as a latent homosexual, and for a time his life appears to be at risk, which only fuels Avery's problems with alcohol.. and the rest.

As the years pass since the Zodiac's last killing, Avery's career goes on a downward spiral. Possibly in an attempt to help his friend, but also possibly out of self-interest, Graysmith offers to help Avery write a book on the Zodiac, but Avery isn't interested. And so begins Graysmith's obsession with the case.

The central performances in this movie are all strong, and are as close to perfect casting as you will see. Gyllenhall's character is moody and weird, Downey's is a fully-functioning alcoholic, and Ruffalo - although almost unrecognisable compared to his character in 'Eternal Sunshine' - is a driven, ambitous and emotional cop. The supporting cast, are all great too, with Brian Cox seemingly omnipresent lately, but the screen is full of recognisable, talented faces, all adding to the atomsphere of the drama.

In terms of atmosphere, the most ready comparison I could make would be with Spike Lee's excellent 'Summer of Sam', but Zodiac is a better movie, if a slightly different animal.

The movie looks and sounds absolutely great, and will be a dream for any HD LCD or Plasma TV owner. Every scene is framed beautifully, and this is a much more colourful film than most of Fincher's previous work, synonymous as it is with either darkness ('Seven') or monochrome colours ('Panic Room'). The soundtrack is atmospheric and seamlessly works with the action, adding to the feeling of being placed in the 70's.

Part police procedural drama, part ensemble mystery story, one criticism I would have of Zodiac is that it is a little long. However, this is not to say that there are any vacuous moments in the movie, it's just that there really is a lot of detail up there on screen.

However, the central performances are all outstanding, the direction and script are top notch and the story is definitely one worth hearing. For these reasons I'd heartily recommend 'Zodiac', and reckon it's easily one of the best movies I've seen this year so far.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Bourne Supremacy

The verdict: Gritty, action-packed and, unbelievably, it's believable! Bond should look to Bourne for ideas, because this is what a spy thriller should be. Roll on Bourne 3!

The rating: 7/10

I don't know, there just seemed to be no end of fuss and hype about 'Casino Royale'. Fair enough, Daniel Craig delivered a great performance as Bond, and the script and action were the best we've seen from the franchise in years, but when you watch 'The Bourne Supremacy', you begin to realise the failings of the british franchise. The problem with Bond, as Daniel Craig found out so viscerally, is all the bloody baggage that comes with it. Everybody has expectations of who Bond should be, what he should say, what fecking car he should drive.. For film-makers to take on the Bond franchise, they have the weight of expectation around this larger than life character that has an off-screen identity all his own.

Bourne has no such baggage. The first movie was a pacy actioner in which Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) awakes from a spell of amnesia to find that he's a highly trained super-spy, and his life is in danger. Instantly, the rules of the game become fluid. We aren't sure what to expect from Bourne because he doesn't know what's going to happen next himself.

The first movie, with its understated and dangerous hero, managed to relaunch the flagging career of Matt Damon, and luckily there were two more Robert Ludlum books to mine for sequel material. Now, of course we have the franchise, with the third movie 'The Bourne Ultimatum' due out this summer, and featuring Paddy Considine in a lead role, good work, fella!

In an inspired piece of delegation for this, the second episode, the reins were handed to United 93's helmsman Paul Greengrass, and this has injected a dose of grittier, more realistic action to proceedings. Bourne has no catchphrase, and there are no invisible cars on show in this spy thriller.

Right from the opening moments, 'The Bourne Supremacy' sets the ball rolling for a fraught, tense and realistic thriller that is definitely worth the admission price. Greengrass brings an immediacy to proceedings, and the action moves at a real-time pace, with Bourne literally living moment to moment, but always a pace or two ahead of his pursuers.

The supporting cast adds the required level of gravitas to proceedings, with Brian Cox delivering a pretty good turn as the veteran of operation Treadstone, Bourne's training mission. Julia Stiles also shows up, and has a nice few scenes with Damon, where she genuinely looks like she's fearing for her life. Bless.

Crucial to your enjoyment of a movie like this though, is whether you can believe what's unfolding in front of you. To his credit, Greengrass manages the pace of the action very well, and although at times events happen very quickly, the movie never gets ahead of itself. When gadgets are employed, they are sufficiently low-tech in appearance, portable, and conspicuously free of brand names to make them look like they might actually do what Bourne is trying to make them do. One criticism might be that even in the quieter moments of the movie, his characteristic jerky hand-held camera style seems a little at odds with what's happening on screen, but this is a small quibble compared to the positives.

Damon is convincing as the amnesiac hero, and has sufficiently increased in bulk to make you believe he's hold his own in a ruck with a russian mole, or whatever. As I said previously though, Greengrass has foregone the dry cool wit of the action hero, so Damon has no killer line to speak of, of the "Bourne, Jason Bourne" variety. (How about: "I'm Bourne. You're dead." Eh? ... No?... - Ed).. However, given the situations he's dealing with, you'd forgive him for not having the time to throw a witty remark over his shoulder..

I have to say, I was impressed with this one, and am now really looking forward to the third instalment, which will also be direted by Greengrass. In any case, this one is well worth a look on Dvd if you missed it in the flicks...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Host

The verdict: A light-hearted monster movie from Korea, but the occasional laughs are outweighed by a meandering, ponderous storyline.

The rating: 5/10

Ah yes, the monster movie. Hollywood has churned out it's fair share of em, and Asian cinema is probably renowned for the genre. But it's been more than a few years since the threat of a big bad monster could capture the imagination of cinema audiences on the scale of some of the recent Hollywood Cinematic behemoths. So, while 'Transformers' brazenly rakes in the box office takings, a fun monster movie like 'Slither' humbly sneaks into the DVD bargain bin with nary a whimper.

The movie critics may bemoan this fact, studied as they are in the history of trashy cinema from 1950's Hollywood and Japan, where monster movies were a staple of the art. However, this style of movie harks back to a simpler time, when broadband was a type of y-front waistline, and a gigabyte was something Gojira did to Mothra. The heyday of monster movies recalls a time when going to the movies of a Saturday was an event, and seeing Godzilla trash a cardboard city on the big screen was new and exciting. These days, we mock poor special effects, used as they are even in music videos.. (such as this Beastie Boys classic) No, in the 21st century, we like our monsters to be real, and if possible, graphically violent, if the huge success of the recent crop of 'torture porn' style horror movies is anything to go by.

The Host is an old-school monster movie, in that the monster isn't simply attacking and killing innocent victims. In this type of monster movie, the creature is created by humans, and simply tries to survive. Godzilla was a product of nuclear explosions, but this creature is caused by an altogether more mundane human failing, when chemicals are dumped into Seoul's Han river.

Rather than building tension as to what the monster looks like, or perhaps give us the occasional night-time glimpse for the first half an hour or so, the makers of 'The Host' take the ballsy approach of revealing the creature in the first ten minutes of the movie. This scene is one of the best in the film, where the creature goes on a large-scale river-side rampage, trashing all in it's wake.

The plot centres around the hapless Gang-Du, played by the ever-versatile Kang Ho-Song. This guy has really mixed it up over the years, and features in two previous reviews from PCMR's Asian Season: 'Shiri' the popcorn cop flck, and 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' the nightmarish revenge fable. In this movie, Kang Ho-Song's character is something of a loser and a dimwit, but as we learn later, there's a reason for his dopey ways. He lives with his young daughter, athlete sister and browbeaten father in a trailer by the bank of the Han river selling snacks, the Korean equivalent of an ice-cream truck I guess, if the ice-cream was fried squid that is.

Aanyway, Gang-Du's daughter Hanseo, is taken by the creature, and he has to get her back. And therein lies the story of 'The Host'. His sister's archery skills come in handy, as do his father's wiles (and life savings) and eventually the creature is faced down.

The creature itself is done well, and the scenes where it rampages through the crowds are excellent, but there is far to much of the movie where the monster isn't even a threat. Also, there is a lot of comedy in this movie, and I'm afraid the effect of it was lost on me a little, given that I was watching the dubbed version, and all the male characters sounded quite similar (rounded and well pronounced generic american accents... tsk).

So the tension is created with the reveal of the monster, but relieved once we find out Hanseo is alive. From that moment on, the movie just seemed to meander. In a format as tried and tested as this, there needs to be a few surprises involved to hold the interest of the audience, and, sadly, there weren't many to be found in this movie.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of 'The Host' on these shores, but sadly, in my opinion, the strong opening scenes promise much but deliver little, and this film is ultimately a little more Godzuki than Godzilla.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Goal 2: Living the Dream

The verdict: Ok, so it's only slightly less ridiculous than the first instalment, but (*cough*) the football action is very well filmed.

The rating: 5/10

The continuing existence of this franchise is something of a minor miracle, considering the revenues of the first, cliché-riddled, lamentably awful instalment. However, it may be a fortuitous case of life reflecting art - and I use the word in the loosest sense in relation to this film - but Santiago Munez' career takes a turn for the better in this sequel, and overall, this is a better film than the first epsiode.

Bear in mind though folks, that's not saying much! I don't think Goal 2: Living the Dream is intended to appeal to anyone other than those who would already consider themselves confirmed fans of The Beautiful Game.

I mean, the first episode had weighty themes of the 'believe in yourself and you can achieve anything' variety to tackle. This episode treats altogether more tabloid storylines such as 'how to cope when you crash your lamborghini and punch a paparazzo'. In this, at least, it provides an altogether purer form of escapism than the first episode.

Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) joins his former team mate Gavin Harris (Alessandro Nivola) at Real Madrid early in the movie, and struggles to get into the first team. The crew were given unprecedented access to Real's facilities during production, so the likes of Beckham, Zidane, Ronaldo and (*cough*) Thomas Gravesen continually potter about in the background, occasionally high-fiving one of our two heroes in the midst of a training montage, or some such. Occasionally the real Real players get lines in the movie, but the film-makers obviously learned from Becks' heinous spoken role in the first episode, and restrain their dramatic demands on the players, letting them do most of their talking on the pitch.

Off the pitch, Santi's having girl trouble, and how. His Newcastle girlfriend, played by Anna Friel, is finding the move to Madrid tough, given that she is still working towards exams at the Newcastle hospital, and only spending the odd weekend in Madrid. At the same time, Santiago's receiving special attention from a certain Spanish tv presenter named Jordana, a Penelope Cruz lookalike (but with a better nose) and this puts a real strain on their relationship.

So, Munez becomes a super-sub, and a Real star, but also discovers his long lost mother in Madrid... Will all his off-field struggles combine to cause mental problems in his game? Will he do the dirt on Anna Friel? Will he reconcile with his mother? Will Thomas Gravesen have a spoken part in this movie?

Yes folks, just like in an episode of 'Dream Team' or 'Footballers Wives', there are many questions to be answered in this movie. However, the on-field action is the primary attraction of this movie, and this at least is put together exceptionally well. When on the pitch, the footage of the fictional characters interacts with that of the genuine Madrid players seamlessly, and with the exception of a few moments that are straight out of an X-Box simulation (every goal Munez scores seems to be an acrobatic bicycle kick in the last minute) the on-field action is great and very watchable.

So, it's a feather-light football movie for fans of the game, but it's a big improvement on the first episode. Kuno Becker is likeable in the lead role, and his team-mate (Nivola) is a loveable rogue kind of character. Friel, too, has more to do in this one, and Rutger Hauer is a useful enough addition to the cast as the Madrid gaffer, even if he does phone in a performance that wouldn't make a Guiness Ad out-take. Too many montages, pat story-telling, and a high number of cliches mean this will never be anything approaching high art or even multiplex fodder, but it's an agreeable, if completely dopey ninety minutes during a summer without football.

The third instalment of this franchise is on the way, apparently. I find it difficult to believe that it will get the green light however, unless they can continue the Beckham link... Munez to sign for the LA Galaxy perhaps?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

This is England

The verdict: Shane Meadows' superb semi-autobiographical account of growing up in early 80's England is an immersive, atmoshperic movie with great central performances. Well worth a look.

The rating: 7/10

My first impression of Shane Meadows was made with 'Dead Man's Shoes', a wrecking ball of a movie featuring a genuinely frightening performance from Paddy Considine. There are scenes in that movie that leave a deep imprint on the memory, but of note is the unbelievable tension generated by Considine's sudden shifts of mood. One moment things are light-hearted and easy-going, the next you are catching your breath for fear of what the crazy man will do next.

'This is England' features similar moments of tension and unpredictability, but these are balanced by scenes of a more light-hearted mood than anything from 'Dead Man's Shoes'. Set in the early 80's, the movie's central character is Shaun, a guttsy 12-year-old kid dealing with life after the loss of his father. Shaun is getting a little grief at school, and befriends a group of skinheads on his way home from school one day.

Events take a slightly darker turn however, when Combo gets out of jail. Played by Stephen Graham, who you might recognise from 'Gangs of New York' - but more likely from those Arctic Monkeys videos - Combo is a more aggressive, BNP-affiliated kind of skinhead. From his explosive entry into proceedings, Combo is a divisive presence, building tension between this group of friends, with his blatantly racist comments causing particular tension for the ironically named Milky, played by Romeo Brass himself, Andrew Shim.

The movie is loaded with 80's nostalgia, right from the opening credits, where we are treated to a monatage of iconic images from the time, with the opening line of dialogue going to a cinematic debut for none other than Roland Rat.

England in 1983 must have been a difficult place to grow up. The war with the falklands, combined with high levels of immigration and a domestic recession contributed to an atmosphere of frustration. This movie evokes that quite well, particularly with the tragically conflicted character of Combo.

Of more interest though, is the journey of Shaun, played astonishingly well by the young debutant Thomas Turgoose. The role asks a lot of the kid, as he is placed in adult situations throughout the film, but he copes incredibly well, and has some brilliant lines. He has a lot of memorable moments, including one when he is trying to convince his mother to buy him a pair of Doc Martens, and his language shocks the prissy shoe saleswoman.

Stephen Graham's performance too, is phenomenal, and Meadows' capacity to create dark, frustrated and dangerous characters, so ably demonstrated in 'Dead Man's Shoes' is reproduced here, in my opinion to greater effect. The Combo character is complex but understandable, and Graham's performance is top notch.

I would heartily recommend 'This is England' as an immersive, nostalgic movie. If you're a child of the 80's like me, you'll find much to like in this one. However, the central performances of Stephen Graham, Thomas Turgoose and Andrew Shim are worth the admission price alone in my book. So shave your head, lace up your Docs and get that Ben Sherman shirt on, stick on the ska and enjoy this movie. It's definitely Shane Meadows' best to date.

/** Amazon Affiliates code /** Google Analytics Code