Monday, September 24, 2007

The King of Kong

The verdict: A surprisingly genuine and inspirational story of a man's struggle to be his own man, and be the best in the world... at Donkey Kong.

The rating: 8/10

This is a movie about video games, but I'm not talking about MMORPG's, Nintendo Wiis, Playstations, or even Sega Megadrives. The games featured in this movie pre-date Commodore 64's and possibly even the 2600 from Atari. We're talking arcade games here, and the originals, such as Donkey Kong, Pacman, Q-Bert and Frogger. 'The King of Kong' tracks the origins and development of the people who hold the world records at these classic video games, and how since 1982, the competition to hold one of these records has been as fierce as in any competitive sport - I kid you not.

Since 1982, Billy Mitchell has held the record at Donkey Kong, but this is really someone else's story. I was surprised how involved I got in this tale of Steve Wiebe, (pronounced wee-bee) a normal, honest, hard-working guy who loved his wife and kids, but somehow never lived up to his potential. His father pushed him to be the pitcher for the school baseball team, and expected him to follow in his footsteps, becoming an engineer at Boeing, and work there for the rest of his life. Steve didn't really live up to his old man's expectations however, leaving baseball behind to play the drums with his garage band, and getting laid off from Boeing the day he signed mortgage papers with his wife.

As his wife says in the movie, Steve was 'searching for something', and one day heard of the organisation known as 'Twin Galaxies', established by Walter Day - the self-appointed regulator of all video game world record attempts - back in 1982. Wiebe took it upon himself to go for the top score, and set about trying to beak Billy Mitchell's world record.

Now, I don't want to tell you more about this movie, because it really caught me off-guard. At first, I found myself amused by the nerdy characters involved in the 'Twin Galaxies' crew, but gradually, I was taken in. The story becomes something that Will Ferrell could option for himself, with Billy Mitchell every inch the real life 'Ben Stiller from Dodgeball' of video gaming. Meanwhile, Wiebe is the honest guy just trying to make a mark for himself.

I don't want to spoil it for you, but I heartily recommend this movie. The filmmaker Seth Gordon understands that the people involved can tell the story better than anyone, and wisely stays behind the camera, letting the protagonists play out the drama for us, building slowly towards a guinness world record attempt, and a live showdown between Billy Mitchell (boo!) and Steve Wiebe (hooray!).

The story is strong enough to transcend video games, and could be transposed to any sporting scenario, or situation involving a struggle for glory. All the central characters have given part of their lives to this story, and it is worth hearing as a result. Seek this out, and you won't be disappointed.

No news yet of an Irish release date, but click here for the (rather noisy) official site.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seraphim Falls

The verdict: A slow-burning western, not without it's charm.

The rating: 6/10

'Seraphim Falls' is very marketable movie: it's a beautiful looking western with a great cast, and it's pretty watchable, if a little on the dull side. However, even when the movie was released in Ireland, the country of origin of the movie's two leading men, there was nary a whisper about it. Were Neeson and Brosnan on the Late Late show, and I missed it perhaps? Who knows, but I remember seeing one poster for this movie, and one review on TV, before it sank into obscurity.

Movie marketing just makes no sense to me. At some point in the mogul hierarchy, a decision is made whether to promote a movie or not, and for some reason, the 'Norbit' gets blanket media coverage for a fortnight, and movies like this, and others, such as 'Thank You For Smoking' must rely on word of mouth and peer recommendation to find an audience.

Ok, rant over. This Western is an old-fashioned slow-burning story in three acts that pits Liam Neeson's posse in pursuit of lone wolf Pierce Brosnan. The odds are stacked against Gideon's survival right from the opening moments of the movie, and he must struggle manfully to stay alive. This western is more 'Apocalypto' than 'Unforgiven', but if Gibson's Mayan pursuit movie was a hundred metre dash, this is more like a Winter Olympic biathlon, with the protagonists travelling long distances before stopping every now and again to shoot at each other.

Gradually, over the course of the chase, we learn of a dark secret that bonds these two men. Brosnan's character - and performance - is the more interesting of the two however, as the script is craftily fashioned to engineer the audience's sympathies for him in the first half of the movie, despite our knowledge that he must have done something wrong to be chased so relentlessly by Liam Neeson. I mean come on, that's Oscar Schindler for chrissakes, you've got to really piss him off to make him want to get a posse together!

As the pursuit progresses, we gradually get to know the two men better, as well as the tragic events that have given rise to Neeson's morbid pursuit. This is not a case of good guy chasing bad, but Neeson's motives for revenge are certainly black and white, while Brosnan's character is a little less cut and dry. Later, in the third act, things get more than a little allegorical and symbolic, with Anjelica Huston's appearance in particular resembling a devil at a crossroads, presenting these two men with choices that will ultimately decide their fate.

It's a beautiful looking film, and Brosnan is great in the lead role, with Neeson an excellent foil, even if he has relatively less to work with. The script is well constructed for the first two thirds, but jars a little when things start getting all surreal. Strangely, this movie's best moments were those when the characters weren't talking at all, and we're left to fill in the blanks. Some of the best scenes feature Brosnan's character using his survival skills, and there is more than a dash of 'First Blood' in some of his early scenes. However, later, when the back story is revealed in particular, my interest certainly waned a little, and the last third plodded a little for me.

I'm boggled why this movie was dropped by the marketing men, as it's got a lot going for it. Also, with '3:10 To Yuma' doing great business, and the Coen Brother's 'No Country for Old Men' being hailed as their best work in years, there could have been a wave of audience interest in Westerns to ride. As it is, this movie will probably sink to the 'straight-to-dvd' shelves, which is a shame, because it's not that bad. I won't lose too much sleep though, because it's not that great either.

Recommended for fans of the Western genre perhaps, and for those interested in Brosnan's post-Bond career-high performances. The man from Navan is really enjoying himself these days.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shoot Em Up

The verdict: Clive Owen shoots bad guys while doing stuff (and Monica Bellucci) but even if it's intentionally cheesy and shallow, it lacks the genuine quality to make up for that.

The rating: 5/10

Every now and again, a 'laddish' film such as 'Shoot Em Up' is released that separates the critics into two distinct camps. On the one hand, you have the lads mags, the likes of FHM and Loaded calling it "non-stop gung-ho entertainment", and on the other, you have "big papers" like The Guardian using such a movie as an example of how modern cinema is being dumbed down.

At the level of the average movie viewer, this can often mean that such a movie becomes emblematic. For example, to admit to liking such a film is a statement that you know how to enjoy watching movies. Conversely to criticise such a film can leave you open to being seen as a bit of a cultural snob.

Now, before I give you the reasons why I didn’t like this movie, I'll ask you not to get me wrong, because I like my brainless entertainment as much as anyone. However, I'll add a bit of a proviso to that statement. Jason Statham's better movies (I'm thinking of 'Crank' and 'The One', for example) may appear at first glance to be brainless, but in my opinion this is by design rather than by accident. If you scratch a little below the surface of those movies, you'll find genuine creativity – these movies might be based on simple ideas, but they are at least a little original, they are well executed, and display a good sense of humour and enough quality to entertain.

'Shoot em up' is different. The premise of the movie is so contrived, it could have been dreamed up by Awesom-o. Anyway, the premise is thus: take John Woo's 'Hard Boiled' and remove Chow-Yun Fat. Insert Clive Owen, and numerous scenes where he shoots many many bad guys while doing cool stuff (like having sex with Monica Bellucci). Now, the premise isn't so bad, but there are so many scenes in here that are just crowbarred into the script because they sounded 'cool' (in a thoroughly self-conscious way, which of course, isn't that cool).

The action in Shoot em up is mildly entertaining at times, but the script, story and characters are just props, linking the assorted scenes of over the top gunplay. I don't know about you, but if I don't care whether the good guy lives or dies, then I’m not going to get too worried about whether he survives to the end or not.

Monica Bellucci is essentially a prop in this movie, appearing every now and again to explain what's going on to the audience, and provide a bit of agreeable T&A filler material before the next action sequence. Clive Owen isn't bad, but his dry cool one-liners are really terrible. He just doesn't have the comic delivery of an action hero. Paul Giamatti hams it up nicely, but he's working with peanuts here.

I know we should all be down with post-modern ironic entertainment, where movies like 'Grindhouse' and 'Hot Fuzz' have made it legitimate to make intentionally cheesy movies, as long as there is the occasional nod to the audience and of course, the original source material. However, this approach can wander into dangerous territory if it goes too far, and 'Shoot em up' is in the kind of 'Snakes on a Plane' territory. It's knowingly cheesy, but it's still cheesy. The one-liners might be written with the intention of making you groan, but the effect is the same. The action has been constructed to be ridiculous, but at the end of the day, is that going to give the audience real entertainment? This movie effectively steals from John Woo, and doesn't reward him for invoking his iconic image.

If you watch this film with the lads over a few cans, you might get enjoy it. Maybe I was just too damn sober for it. I'm going to give it a five, but not because I'm on a moral crusade against low-brow entertainment. No, this movie gets a five because I just didn't enjoy it that much.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Free Lecture: The Power of Japanese Animation

Nobiyuki Tsugata knows a lot about anime. In fact, he lectures about it in two Japanese universities (Osaka University of Arts and Kyoto Seika University). Also, he has written three books on the subject, which is roughly three more than you or I. Where am I going with this? Well, one more interesting thing about Nobiyuki Tsugata is that he's also coming to Dublin to talk on the subject, and if you want to go and hear what he has to say, you lucky devils get to go for free!

For those of you with an interest in Japanese animation, this promises to add bucketloads to your background knowledge of the subject from a real expert in the area, and all this at a price that can't be beat.

The lecture is in Trinity College, Dublin, in the Jonathan Swift Lecture theatre (ground floor of the Arts building) on Wednesday 3rd October at 18:30.

To register for places, you'll need to contact the Cultural/Information Division in the Embassy of Japan (tel: 01-2028305, or e-mail:

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The verdict: Solid, realistic and well acted political thriller, with an excellent script and three decent central performances... but it's a little lukewarm.

The rating: 6/10

You may recognise Chris Cooper's face as the emotionally repressed military father from 'American Beauty', but you there's a good chance you're not familiar with his name. You see, Cooper is one of those jobbing Hollywood actors who at one point or another, was branded as a 'character actor'. The role of the character actor is essentially to deliver capably adequate performances that will support the leading men and women, without showing off too much, and somehow outshining the reason the audience is there in the first place.

Since American Beauty, Cooper has quietly and capably turned in effective performances in some pretty big movies. He was in the first two 'Bourne' movies, 'Capote', 'Syriana' and 'Adaptation', which isn't a bad resume by anyone's standards. 'Breach' is Cooper's just reward for biding his time, and he has managed to land a role that is well suited to his talents.

At one level, this movie is the story of treason inside the CIA. Robert Hanssen (Cooper) may or may not be guilty of feeding inside information to the enemy. Former Catholic schoolboy Eric O'Neil (Ryan Philippe) is given the job of Hanssen's assistant, but this job is just a cover. In reality he is monitoring Hanssen, and reporting his movements to his real boss, Agent Burroughs (Laura Linney).

However, this movie is also a character study, following the effects of O'Neil's immersion in the activities of the CIA, through his encounters with Hanssen, the grizzled twenty-five year veteran who believes he can read people better than a lie detector, and also his immediate boss, who lives a lonely, unconnected life. Whilst in the process of uncovering the truth about Hanssen, O'Neil also comes to learn more about what the sacrifices he'll need to make to get ahead in the CIA as an agent.

I took some enjoyment from this movie, as Cooper in particular is great. Philippe delivers resaonable support, and the two share a few reasonably tense scenes together. The script is well packaged, and build slowly to a crescendo of subtle tension. This movie is based on a true story, and does feel like a slice of life in the CIA, an existence that could be transplanted to any form of corporate life by the looks of it.

The thing is, this movie is good, but it just ain't great. The tension builds slowly, but it never really simmers, and the outcome is relatively predictable. I enjoyed the fact that the good and bad guys in this movie came in shades of grey, but I was never able to warm to the characters. I could relate to the young guy in the office, wondering about how political he needs to be to get ahead, sure, but this is hardly inspiring stuff. All in all, when the end credits rolled, I wasn't really left with any strong feelings about this movie. 'Capable', 'adequate', and 'sufficient' were words that sprang to mind. Perhaps recommended for fans of political intrigue, but this isn't a top-notch thriller by any means.. let's just say if this movie was an actor, it would have a supporting role.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


The Verdict: Excellent stuff. If you liked the Incredibles, you'll really like this.

The Rating: 8/10

In sport, as in the entertainment industry, success is often a double-edged sword. Moments of triumph are fleeting for those with that winning mentality, with successes becoming former glories faster than James Cameron can say 'I'm King of the World!!' No sooner has the ink dried on the rave reviews than the sports star or creative artist must pick themselves up and ask "what's next?".

Brad Bird followed his much lauded directorial debut, 'The Iron Giant', with a real gem of an animated feature. 'The Incredibles' won Brad Bird huge critical acclaim for producing an unpatronising piece of family entertainment, and picked up the Oscar for best animated feature. Easy to forget, however, that his script for The Incredibles was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay that year.

Bird was possibly unlucky to be in the same category as Charlie Kaufman's 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' that year, but the nomination is a reflection of his ability to produce family entertainment that has something to offer kids and adults alike. At first glance, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles are straight-forward kids' entertainment, but scratch beneath the surface, as with many kids movies, and there are clear moral messages to be taken away. Thankfully, Bird's 'messages' are subtle enough to often remain implicit to the story, and the two movies I've just mentioned never descend into preaching.

However, with the success of 'The Incredibles', Bird essentially cranked up the spotlight and pointed it at himself. What next? Well, with 'Ratatouille', in my opinion he has raised the bar. It tells the story of Remy, a rat with highly developed senses of smell and taste, who dreams of more than just living on garbage and stealing food. No, Remy's idol is a chef on the Cookery Channel named Gusteau, the best chef in France, and owner of a prestigious Parisian five-star restaurant, who believed that 'anyone can cook'.

In the first few minutes of the movie, Remy is separated from his family and friends, and is surprised to find that he has been living in Paris all along. He somehow finds his way to Gusteau's restaurant, and manages to befriend an inept chef working there. Together they begin cooking gastronomic masterpieces that begin turning around the fortunes of Gusteau's restaurant, which hasn't been doing so well lately. However, the current chef at Gusteau's suspects something is up (smells a rat? - Ed), and when uber-critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) gets wind of the new chef at Gusteau's, he decides to sample the wares of the new chef, providing Remy with his greatest challenge yet.

As with all involving stories, it sounds so simple, but the main characters in this movie, especially Remy (pictured above) are excellently drawn and animated. There are a million little touches in the animaton that I imagine will reward the repeated viewings of a million kids and their beleagured parents once this movie is released on DVD.

Ratatouille is a wonderfully paced, entertaining story, and Bird has pitched the moral barometer just about right, delivering his lessons more with a roadmap than a baseball bat. It's funny, immersive, and should have enough to keep kids quiet for a couple of hours, while providing more than a few laughs for the adults to boot. Of particular note for the grown-ups is Peter O'Toole's speech at the end of the movie, in which Bird insightfully describes the role of the restaurant critic, in a delightful reference to the role of any critic (ahem).

So, two hearty thumbs-up for Ratatouille from me. This movie should provide a breath of fresh air to the genre of kid's animated entertainment now that the Shrek franchise has gone more than a little stale.

Ratatouille is released in Irish cinemas on 12th October

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And the winner is...

Well folks, the draw has been made, and Hugh O'Brien is the first name out of the hat, so congrats Hugh, you're won two tickets to the Irish premiere of Death Proof!!

Hugh, please get in touch so I can arrange handover of the moy-chan-dise. (As Fat Tony might say).

I should probably also point out that if Hugh fails to get in touch by four o'clock tomorrow, I'll be obliged to draw another name... so no pressure there Hugh!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Knocked Up

The verdict: Warm, funny and engaging. Don't believe all the hype, but this well written, well acted, romantic slacker comedy shouldn't disappoint.

The rating: 7/10

Judd Apatow's rise to the top of Hollywood's comedy crew has gathered so much momentum of late, you could be forgiven for thinking he came from nowhere, but that's not quite true. He's already produced and/or written a few movies for Jim Carrey and (ahem) Will Ferrell, but he first sharpened his pencil on some quality tv shows, writing for both 'Larry Sanders' and the short-lived but under-rated 'Freaks and Geeks'. However, it was with 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' that Apatow became something of a name that audiences would recognise.

Many of the same crew from that movie - except, save a pretty funny cameo, Steve Carell - are re-united here, and the slacker themes are also revisited. Seth Rogen takes top billing this time, as Ben, a twenty-something bong-smoking Canadian jew, living illegally in the U.S. on the proceeds of an personal injury claim until his fledgling porn website (flesh of the is launched. Meanwhile Alison, played by the beautiful Katherine Heigl, is promoted to presenter on the E! Network, and decides to celebrate by going out on the town with her older sister Debbie. In the club, the paths of these two characters cross, one thing leads to another and.. well.. I'm not spoiling anything here am I? I mean it's called 'Knocked Up', but it's not about tennis, you can guess what happens next!

The concept of this movie is so simple, it's amazing that it's any good. Essentially following these characters' efforts to cope with the imminent arrival of a big change in their lives, if the people involved weren't realistic and likeable, this film would be a disaster. Thankfully Apatow's script and an excellent cast make this a fun, enjoyable movie.

Rogen and Heigl are both great in the leads, and Paul Rudd is another familiar face from 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' making a welcome appearance. Rudd and Rogen's trip to Vegas in particular is a memorable sequence, and if you've never heard of 'pink-eye' before, then you may need to see this film.

The sense of humour is part 'The Office', part 'American Pie', but what makes Apatow's comedy so engaging is that each character has an identity, rather than just a 'motivation', or a plot-related reason for being on screen. Even the bit players have a personality, such as the candidate gynaecologists, or Ben's slacker buddies, and these aren't simple stereotypes such as 'the jock' or 'the nerd', each character has idiosyncrasies that make them funny. It's a subtle, but effective approach, and needs a good cast to pull it off. (Fnar fnar! - Ed)

I'm not sure how much more I need to say on this one really folks. If you enjoyed 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin' and you're looking for the perfect date movie, read no further, just get out and see this one...

However, be prepared for next year, because Judd Apatow has 'arrived' in Hollywood, and he's cranking up the production line to eleven. Next summer he'll be churning em out for Jack Black ('The Dewey Cox Story'), Will Ferrell ('Step Brothers') and *cough* Adam Sandler ('You Don't Mess With The Zohan'). The jury's out as to the potential quality of any of those (The Will Ferrell one should be good - Ed) but right about now, Apatow is pretty much the guy Hollywood comedians need to work with.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

The verdict: Savvy, slick street-wise comedy actioner with a good sense of humour, this is pretty good fun.

The rating: 6/10

For some reason, I filed 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' in the 'maybe' category when it was released, and so never quite caught up with it. However, more recently I've seen Robert Downey Jr. in the brilliant 'A Scanner Darkly' and the thoroughly great 'Zodiac', and he's considering he's soon to star as the hero in the upcoming 'Iron Man', I figured it'd be remiss of me to let the movie that relaunched his glittering post-rehab career pass me by.

Also of interest is the comparitive lack of success that Val Kilmer has enjoyed since this - critically acclaimed and financially successful - movie was released.. I mean, have you seen him in anything recently? What's that? You mean you didn't see him in 'Ten Commandments: The Musical'? Shame on you reader, shame on you.

Anyhoo, Shane Black wrote and directed this movie, and this guy also wrote 'Lethal Weapon', back when the buddy cop movie was a fresh idea, and the origins of this genre are widely credited to him as it happens. Black also wrote what was so nearly Arnie's greatest moment, 'The Last Action Hero'. Sadly, that movie missed its marks, and was widely hailed as a turkey, but he did pen 'The Last Kiss Goodnight', one of those 'actually not too bad' movies you occasionally catch on d'telly.

It's safe to say that 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang' is a better movie than Black's other writing credits, and as writer and director here, he has to take much of the plaudits for this, because it is very well written and looks great. The dialogue is sharp and crackles with wit and energy, delivered effortlessly by Downey Jr., who also plays the role of the self-conscious narrator. Kilmer has some great lines as the gay private detective 'Gay Perry', and Michelle Monaghan is only occasionally annoying as Harmony, the aspiring actress embroiled in the same nefarious Hollywood goings on as Downey Jr., and with a few dark secrets of her own to boot.

It's essentially a mystery suspense thriller type of deal, but so tongue in cheek that it's difficult to get too worried about what happens on screen, with Kilmer and Downey Jr.'s scenes together particularly good fun to watch. Downey also has a good chemistry with Monaghan, and there is a particularly good scene featuring a spider that made me laugh out loud. The story twists and turns with ruthless efficiency, and all builds towards a set-piece finale, with the efficiency of a well-oiled Hollywood machine, at times veering towards pat story-telling, but always with a few dry one-liners to keep the audience smiling.

Black has very obviously been influenced by Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock' and 'Snatch', and there were moments here evoking memories of those movies. Someone losing a finger shouldn't make you laugh, for example, but in Shane Black's world, as in Ritchie's, this type of incident seems quite easy for the audience to take on board, and is used as a comedy prop.

I found the whole thing good fun and it trundled along at a nice pace. However it was wrapped up a little too easily in the end with an improbable and jarring action sequence. Also, even though it was set in L.A., against the vacuous backdrop of aspiring actors and actresses, the whole thing just felt a bit lacking in substance. Black has improved his comic delivery, and polished the packaging of his movie to look shiny and new, but at the end of the day, this film is not much more memorable than his previous offerings. That said, it's not a bad dvd choice for a night in, you could definitely do a lot worse.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

28 Weeks Later

The verdict: An admirable attempt at building on Danny Boyle's acclaimed not-a-zombie-movie-but-may-as-well-be: '28 Days Later', this is entertaining stuff, but falls well short of the original.

The rating: 5/10

Sometimes, sequels are easy. In the early nineties, James Cameron certainly seemed to think so. Despite Ridley Scott's 'Alien' and his own 'The Terminator' both being recognised by audiences and critics alike as excellent movies, he arguably followed both with better films (in my book anyway). More recently, Paul Greengrass proved it was possible, with each Bourne movie he makes seemingly better than the one that came before, and you might remember the first one wasn't all that bad either.

With '28 Days Later' though, I always felt that it was going to be a tough gig for whoever it was that picked up the reins left slack by the polyvalent Danny Boyle. Boyle seemingly never revisits a genre once he hits his marks, and wasn't interested in making the sequel to '28 Days Later'. That movie was a breath of fresh air for a genre dominated by dull, formulaic remakes ('Land of the Dead', anyone?). It featured the now iconic scenes of Cillian Murphy wandering through a deserted London city centre, and a chilling virus known only as 'the rage'. Nice. It was also a very uncomfortable movie to watch, with the army barracks scenes in particular harbouring genuinely nasty undertones, to the point where you're rooting for the monsters over those creepy soldiers..

The director of 28 Weeks Later is no slouch though, and bizarrely, his movie 'Intacto' provided me with the orignal inspiration for this blog. Apparently I went to see it, but I have absolutely no memory of it, except, ahem, that it was pretty good... (What a review! - Ed). Hence the decision to record each individual reaction, lest I forget another! Anyway, the director also received executive producer Danny Boyle's stamp of approval, and he even borrowed 'Sunshine's Rose Byrne for one of the lead roles.

So, to the question, where do you go from '28 Days Later?', the answer, apparently, is back to London. The virus has apparently disappeared (yeah, right) and the U.S. Military are in to restore order (Fuck Yeah! - Ed) They're doing their best to rebuild, but we know it'll all go horribly wrong, and it quickly does.

If you thought the hand-held cameras in 'The Bourne Ultimatum' were annoying, then I would recommend you stay away from this movie. The jerky hand held makes the chases seem more visceral, and the rage-infected seem more frantic, but jaysis if it doesn't half get a bit tiresome after a while!

The tension is maintained for around an hour or so, but I felt it lost its way towards the end, particularly when a few bad decisions are made. I feel that if I found myself in a horror movie scenario, I wouldn't decide to hide out in a subway station where it was too dark to see anything. But hey, that's just me.

The end is teasingly left wide open for a third instalment, and stranger things have happened. However, with this movie I think we already have a good example of the law of diminishing returns in action, and the horse has been sufficiently flogged in my opinion. It's not by any means an offensive sequel, but the original was way better. Undemanding entertainment with a few good scares, but was possibly always going to be lacking the originality that made the first instalment so special.


The verdict: A dark melodramatic tale of family ties and difficult lives, but without an awful lot to say. Maggie Gyllenhall is great, but the movie is mediocre.

The rating: 6/10

Don't get me wrong, I do like a good depressing melodrama every now and again. (Call me old fashioned!). Mike Leigh's 'Secrets and Lies', or possibly Darren Arronofsky's 'Requiem for a Dream' both spring to mind as real gems, but also properly harrowing.

These are not movies to casually throw on after a few pints, because they demand the audience be in the right frame of mind, mainly to avoid being reduced to weeping on the couch in the foetal position within half an hour. 'Sherrybaby' is in certainly in the same ballpark as those I've previously mentioned, but unfortunately doesn't even approach the same level of quality.

Sherry (Maggie Gyllenhall) is released from prison, two and a half years clean of heroin, and attempts to renew contact with a daughter she hardly knows. ... Yes folks, it's that kind of movie. (Jeez, you didn't fancy 'Knocked Up' then!? - Ed).

The plot follows Sherry as she attempts to build her life in the weeks after her release, struggling with addiction, family, and trying to do the right thing. Unfotunately, her background, though it appears rosy from the outside looking in, is anything but, and gradually more details are revealed about Sherry's past that explain why she is in the position she is in today.

Laurie Collyer wrote and directed this one, and the main point of interest in relation to the script is the prevalence of the female perspective in almost every scene. Particularly in her scenes with her daughter (Lexy), and also in the scenes with her sister in law, who has been raising her, I got the impression that the dialogue could not have been crafted by a bloke. There was much more unspoken dialogue than spoken, if that makes sense, and this adds to the realism, a definite plus point.

The thing is though, after sitting through Sherry's tough experiences and difficult times, I'm not really sure what I took away from this movie. In 'Transamerica', another drama told from a female (well, sort of) perspective, I had the impression that, if there was a point to be made, then I might have 'got it'. With Sherrybaby, I was left a little cold. Perhaps Sherry's situation was inevitable all along? Did she learn not to be so selfish and put other people's needs before her own, despite all the horrible stuff she had been through? The evidence on screen is inconclusive at best.

It's well acted, and very well written, but ultimately a standout lead performance does not always a great movie make. There are exceptions of course ('The Last King of Scotland') but Sherrybaby ain't it. I wouldn't run a mile from it, but it's only for die hard Maggie Gyllenhall fans, or possibly only those with a passing interest who just want to see her breasts a few times.

Death Proof Competition

Win two tickets to the Irish Premiere of Quentin Tarantino's 'Death Proof'!

Yes, you could be among the first in Ireland to see Tarantino's GrindHouse pic in the presence of the man himself... The premiere takes place on Friday September 14th in the Savoy cinema, Dublin. (More details here)

Two tickets are up for grabs.. all you have to do is answer three simple movie-related questions. The answers can all be found somewhere on this blog (little tip: use the search bar at the top of the page to help you...)

The Questions
1. Which English premier league football team does Sylvester Stallone (apparently) support?
2. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are starring together in a movie released later this year. Name that movie.
3. Name a Thai movie that features a gay volleyball team (I'm presuming there is only one...)

The rules:
- One entry per person. Multiple entries will be ignored.
- Competition will close for entry on Wednesday 12th September at 17.00.
- Your mail address will not be used for any other purpose than this competition. No mailing lists, I promise.
- The winner will be notified on Thurday 13th September before 17.00.

Answers should be e-mailed here. Good luck!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

The verdict: A cracking actioner, requiring just the right amount of suspension of disbelief. The Bourne Ultimatum is that rarest of movie entities: a third instalment that improves on the previous two.

The rating: 8/10

The third instalment of the Bourne trilogy trundles along at such a confident, relentless pace, it would almost be easy to dismiss it as a solid action movie... you know, good popcorn entertainment. Well, I'm happy not to describe Ultimatum only in those terms, simply because it provides an absolutely top night at the flicks.

Be prepared though folks, because this movie is a tale of perpetual motion, right from the off. From the amnesiac hero at it's centre, on the run from the CIA and the NSA, to the hand-held camera style favoured by the movie's director, the now surely A-list Paul Greengrass, everbody in this movie is in a hurry to get about their business. Right from the opening scenes, which pick up as the second movie ended, there is an atmosphere of little time to waste: the dialogue comes thick and fast, and the action, set almost in real time pace, is smart, realistic and adrenaline-fuelled.

This movie follows a similar template to the previous instalment: Bourne is trying to re-discover his identity while being pursued by the CIA, who use cutting edge technology to try and catch up with him before he uncovers a number of dark secrets that their top brass would prefer to keep buried. While Bourne jets from one exotic location to the next, the CIA agents pace up and down in ultra-modern offices, using any means necessary to try and dispose of him, and getting quite irritated with each other as they continually fail to do so. Meanwhile, Bourne must follow a lukewarm trail of limited information from one life-threatening situation to the next, and keep literally just one step ahead of his pursuers all the while.

Matt Damon is convincing, and David Srathairn is excellent as the morally questionable chief investigator. Joan Allen reprises her role as chief pacer in the office, and does have a little more to do in this instalment, but the real star of the movie is the action. The set-pieces never feel overly contrived, as they are all deceptively simple. A few car chases, a chase on foot across rooftops in Tangier, a sniper in Waterloo station, every set-piece is filled with tension, close shaves, and unexpected twists, leaving the audience with just enough time to gasp before the next moment of high drama erupts onto the screen.

The soundtrack pulses with just the right amount of intensity when building tension, but daringly, many of the action sequences occur without any musical backing. When Bourne is fighting hand-to hand, we hear every swipe, every grunt of pain, and every bone crunching hit. When Bourne is in mobile pursuit, we hear tyres screeching, sirens wailing, glass smashing, and shouts of passers by. Overall, the sound in this Bourne movie really is second to none, and heightens the impact of the action scenes.

The dialogue is terse and urgent, and as with the action, there is little waste, with everything happening at real pace. However, there is some depth below the surface in the exchanges we see on screen, with the high-powered executive banter in particular displaying a real wit that you're unlikely to see in many actioners. A moment that sticks in my mind is when David Strathairn's character lambasts Joan Allen for criticising real-time judgements from an armchair, and I interpreted this almost as a challenge from the screen writers to the audience, as if they were saying, go on then, what would you do differently in this situation? Because Bourne generally stays one step ahead, and also because of the pace of the action, we never get the opportunity to poke holes in his decisions, and this is a major strength of the movie.

There are no cheesy one-liners, arched eyebrows, invisible cars or signature theme tune here (unless you count that Moby song.. which I don't). Bourne gets hurt and is regularly in mortal danger, but when he has to fight, he can fight. When he needs to drive, he's as comfortable on a scrambler as in a cop car. He capably speaks foreign languages, he knows how to lose a tail and he uses pay as you go mobile phones to avoid surveillance. Nothing in Bourne is beyond the boundaries of possibility, and that's what pulls you into wanting him to win out in the end.

If this movie is overlooked for Oscar next year, it will be a real crime. Direction, sound and script are top notch here and are the definite stars of the piece. Damon, too though, is understated and quietly effective in the lead role, and Strathairn and Allen have a very watchable sparring relationship, with a real undercurrent of tension (thankfully not of the Unresolved Sexual type).

What more can I say folks, go see it, you'll have a blast. You'll need a little suspension of disbelief, but not much, and for a movie that asks for so little, it delivers in spadeloads. I'm not sure if I want them to make a 'Bourne IV' (the door is left wiide open), but as long as Paul Greengrass continues to make movies of anything approaching this quality, then I'm going to be very happy to keep watching.

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