Category Archives: Reviews

Review for “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

There’s something particularly peculiar about the adaptation of this particular novel. A children’s book with very adult themes, the story is told from the perspective of the narrator, an 8 year old boy who moves to Auschwitz with his family including his Nazi superior officer father, but without understanding the reasons behind the move, nor exactly what it is that his father does there. The story is revealed to the reader at the same pace as the lead character, and therein lies the problem. Not only has The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas been translated into 34 languages around the world, and remained in the Irish Bestseller’s List for over a year, the film has to take a different slant towards the story. Telling a story from a perspective is one thing, but showing it is something else entirely.

The film does take a fair amount of time to get going, especially considering its rather meagre running time of 94 minutes, but once it arrives at its destination, the sense of foreboding ratchets up constantly. As Bruno, the inquisitive boy always looking for adventune, Asa Butterfield delivers a performance that can be placed among the ranks of the Fanning’s and the Joel Osmand’s of the world; kids with scarily too much talent for their age. But even surpassing him is Jack Scanlon as Schmuel, aka The Boy, who’s expressions rarely fail to be set to either confused depression and rampant fear. The image of Bruno, son of the Soldier in charge of one of the Auschwitz concentration camps, trying to play a game with Schmuel, who doesn’t understand why he’s being treated so badly beyond knowing that its because he’s Jewish, across a barb-wired electrified fence is striking, and just one of the many images that will remain in your memory long after the film is over.

Outside of the children, the adults all step their game up. David Thewlis plays the German soldier/father with suiting subtlety, being impossibly creepy as a loving father all the while knowing exactly what his happening in his back garden. Vera Farmiga outdoes herself as the mother of the family, trying to keep a loving household together in the midst of such a violent atmosphere. And Rupert Friend is absolutely terrifying as a rage-fuelled soldier with a possible murky past of his own.

Director Mark Herman knows how to play down a situation and let the story speak for itself, and has proven himself fully capable of such in the past with small hits like Little Voice and Brassed Off, but here he seems overtly aware of the story’s power and where it is all inevitably heading, and underplays the entire thing to such a degree that for the most part it seems like nothing is ever going to happen. But lurking beneath all the scenes of emotional ambiguity and personality revolutions, there is a constant sense of dread, and while we may not know for sure, but we all know that this can not end well. The climax still retains the same power that the book had, perhaps even more so thanks to a fantastic score by James Horner.

But in the end, the movie will leave with the feeling that while very competently made and well acted, it was a 5 minute climax that merely required a 90 minute build up. Everything that had gone before was secondary to how it was going to end. In this case, where we got was the most important part, not how we got there.

Seven Out Of Ten

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Review for “The Dark Knight”

 

In the year of summer blockbusters being dominated by comic book movies, the one that cast the biggest, darkest shadow was Nolan’s sequel to the rebooted Bat franchise. And as much as you may have found Iron Man surprisingly good, The Incredible Hulk surprisingly better or Hancock surprisingly original, nothing will prepare you for how just how surprising The Dark Knight is.

As is the general rule of thumb, with sequels must come darkness. Darkness was expected, but what is unexpected is just how dark this sequel gets. Getting right down to the nitty-gritty of psychoanalysis of psychotics and exploding it up on to an IMAX screen, for 150 minutes you will bear witness to a genuine cinematic genius at the top of his game making not a comic book movie, but a massive crime epic for the ages.

From the get go, everything has changed from Begins. Gotham City itself has been revamped; gone is the grimy asthetic and downtrodden slums, in comes a city made purely of skyscrapers, glass and steel. Gone to is the stranglehold that crime had over the city, with just a flash of the Batsignal enough to have petty criminals running indoors. Following a very quick cameo from The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) who seems to have been relegated to petty thug/drug dealer, we’re introduced to Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham’s new D.A. and known to many as the city’s white knight. He is dating Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal, replacing a not-missed-at-all Katie Holmes), who of course is holding a candle for Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale). But he is too busy helping Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), with the help of some nifty weapons by his developer Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), to capture the new head of the mob family Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), and then head home after a night of crime-fighting to his helpful/sarcastic butler Alfred (Michael Caine). As if all of this wasn’t enough, tossed into the mix is the live grenade known only as The Joker (Heath Ledger). Following the open bank heist that has been available online, and a superb taste of the intricacies of the plot, The Joker gets one of cinema’s greatest ever introductions, involving a pencil magic trick that will stick in your mind for days. Unlike Maroni and the other bad guys of Gotham who want nothing more than money and power, The Joker wants nothing more than to watch the city descend into chaos, believing it to be mankind’s natural (dis)order.

To say anything more about the labyrinthe storylines would deflect from the awe you’ll feel watching the clockwork plot tick off in front of you, but despite what you’ve read or seen in the trailers, nothing of extreme importance has been revealed in any trailer to date. One thing that you may have read is that Ledger’s performance is extraordinary, and while it is difficult to seperate it from his untimely death, everything you have read about him regarding this movie is absolutely true. He plays the character with so much magnetic surrealism that it is impossible to tear your eyes from him, even as he slicks the screen with a greasy menace not seen in any other villian, comic book movie or otherwise, in quite some time.

But this is no one trick pony; Bale is as charasmatic as ever, constantly at odds to do what is right and do what is normal, while all of the remaining of the supporting cast are at the top of their game. But special mention must go to Aaron Eckhart, even before the tragic events that result in him become Two-Face, he fills the screen with such potential hope that even though we all know the road he is eventually going to end up on, and as interested we all are in seeing his transformation, you will be half-hoping that the film makers will change their minds and let him be the normal hero.

The film-makers in question, the Nolan brothers sharing writing duties and one directing solo, have a history of taking psychologically interesting characters and placing them in pyschologically entrancing situations (think of Guy Pearce in Memento, Robin Williams in Insomnia, Hugh Jackman in The Prestige), and here, instead of letting it remain subtext, allow it to envelop everything in a murky haze of confusion. The Joker may be insane, but his brand of organised chaos takes a highly developed mind, and uses his ability to find a person’s darkest place and manipulating it to make sure they all play off each other. Its a highly intelligent route to take for such a blockbuster tentpole movie, but it in no way distracts or subtracts from the action scenes, including one involving an 18-wheel rig, a police escort and the Batpod that is most likely this summer’s best action sequence.  The film is all for spectacle, be it the big, some of which you’ll have seen in the trailers, or the small, like the tantalizing reveal of Two-Face, which represents another ground breaking turn in CGI/model work.

The film isn’t perfect; around the half way mark the plot makes a sharp U-turn that may infuriate some audience members, any toilet breaks will result in missing several important key scenes, and some of Lucius Fox’s new gadgets, such as the “sonar phone”, go beyond ultra-modern technology into impossibly-sci fi. But these are minor niggles against a film that has set a bar for itself and any sequels just so god damn high. The ending is just as much a cliffhanger-ish ending as the original, but with Nolan having already stated that he isn’t as interested in coming back for a third slice, if this is the last of his entries into the Bat-cannon, then he has ended it not only on the best comic-book movie of the year, but possibly ever, not to mention possibly his own best film yet, or the fact that it may very well be the best film of 2008.

Nine Out Of Ten

June’s Top Five Films

She says:

The Incredible Hulk

And so the summer blockbuster season came into full swing. Your views on each will probably have depended on your advance expectations. As such, The Incredible Hulk scored well. It’s the comic book hero with the least appeal to me, so to have a film version that entertained, had laughs, very good CGI, good action sequences and good acting was a pleasant surprise. A solid, decent, good value-for-your-money movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

No kids franchise these days can deliver a sequel without promising us “darker”, but Prince Caspian is one installment that delivered on that promise. With less of the cutesy fantasy of its predecessor, the bad guys are real people here and actually die too, they aren’t just turned to stone. With all-too-human notions of greed, ambition, hubris and doubt at play, this pushes its PG rating to the limit. The special affects are vastly improved, some of the action sequences are genuinely thrilling and two out of four of the Pevensie kids turn in engaging performances (well done Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley; must work harder Anna Popplewell and William Moseley – although this was their last chance, as neither will appear in Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Ben Barnes offers some smouldering good looks for the older viewer, while Peter Dinklage continues to delight and impress.

My Brother is an Only Child

An Italian family saga. Spanning multiple decades. Two very different brothers. Their love of the one woman. The Best of Youth (La Meglio Gioventu) I hear you ask? Not quite, although with two of the scriptwriters having worked on both films, comparisons are as understandable as they are inevitable. My Brother is an Only Child, however, still works on its own merits. Funny, warm and dramatically engaging, it tells of two brothers, Manrico and Accio (pronounced ‘Acho’, fact fans!) with clashing political beliefs. Set in 60’s and 70’s Italy, the clash between communists and facists serves as both a grander political back drop for the Italian story, and as a catalyst for the loving yet tense relationship between the brothers and their object of desire, Francesa.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

If a lack of overly high expectations worked in the favour of The Incredible Hulk, then the opposite was the case for Ford, Spielberg and Lucas’s latest (last?) outing as everyone’s favourite archaelogist (sorry Ross from Friends). While far from being a bad film, it certainly disappointed, especially towards the end. A bright opening, some good sequences and a genuinely engaging interplay between Ford and la Boeuf made for a good first hour and a half. We dared to dream. Then Lucas’s influences became all to clear and it lost its way somewhat, with an excess of unnecessary CGI and a ludricious denouement. Harrison Ford has still got it though, and there’s no denying that theme tune.

Mongol

The first in a planned trilogy to chart the life and rise to power of Genghis Khan, Mongol offers us a strange mix – a loving, loyal, family-oriented Genghis (he is still known as Temudjin at this stage), but with 300-esque bloody battle sequences. Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film, Mongol displays scenes of breathtaking beauty, utilising the great expanses of the Mongolian steppes to great effect. While clearly taking some artistic liberties in telling the story, it is an interesting and well-made epic. We await the subsequent (although as-yet-unannounced) installments with positive anticipation.

Special mention: The Happening. Is it really that bad? Well, yes. Would it have worked if marketed as a knowningly-bad satire? Possibly. It’s the only way that the ponderous, badly-delivered dialogue, ludicrous plot and frequently visible sound boom can be explained. I predict a revisionist take by Shyamalan by the time of the DVD release.

Review for “WALL-E”

Straight off the bat, this particular reviewer did not think that Ratatouille was the be all and end all of modern animation, in the way that every cinema reviewer in the world seemed to think. Yes, it looked amazing, in terms of technology Pixar certainly continued to push the envelope, but the childish joyfulness that fuelled most of there other events seemed oddly missing. It was a similar mis-step they made with Cars, in that alot of the story was skewed to a much older demograph that they seemed to be previously hitting bullseyes with Finding Nemo and The Incredibles.

But with the announcement of WALL-E, and every teasing trailer that was released, the world seemed to now that Pixar was really on to something, simultaneously moving forward in terms of technology and unique story lines, while retracing their steps to imbue the story with as much broad appeal as possible. And following its massive opening weekend in the States, as well as reviews such as “The Greatest American Film Of The Year”, it seemed like everything was falling into place for what may be the greatest thing Pixar has ever done. Whether you believe this or not will depend greatly on your mood going into the movie.

While movies in general, and the audience’s perception of which, can vary greatly on a person’s mood going into the movie, it is especially true in this case for one very good reason; it is possibly the cutest film ever made. WALL-E himself was always going to win over the audience’s heart, being so endearingly optimistic doing his seemingly never ending chores of cleaning up Earth several hundred years into the future, and doing it all on his lonesome. In order to fully understand isolation, grandeur needs to be implimented, and Pixar have never been more epic than here. Massive abandoned cities with skyscrapers constructed from compacted garbage higher than anything the humans left behind, entire fields of broken WALL-E’s, and enormous dust storms that confine WALL-E to his dumptruck apartment all combine to magnify his isolation. So when EVE arrives in search of life on Earth, and our tiny hero finally has someone to communicate with, it is entirely plausible and heartbreakingly real that he would hang on to the side of the spaceship that is taking her away just to maintain that relationship.

The promoters have done a fantastic job of hiding most of the second half of the movie in their publicity campaign, bigging up (and rightly so) the dialogue free first half, and shrowding (rightly so) the second half in a case of mystery. WALL-E’s determination to single handedly clean Earth is exploded to gigantic levels for his hunt of EVE, and director Andrew Stanton, the man behind Pixar’s biggest hit to date Finding Nemo, is a trusted hand in mixing genuine emotions with plenty of laugh out loud moments. Everyone in the audience should be prepared to get some major throat lumps in the last 20 minutes, really ringing true on its potential of being our generations E.T.

However, all of this will mean little or nothing to you if you’re not willing to go with it. Pixar have already tried to get us to fall in love with Toys, Ants, Monsters, Fish, Superheros, Cars and Rats, and if you haven’t fallen for one, most or all of them, then their attempts to have a recycling robot mealt your heart isn’t going to sway you any. The film is going to amaze everyone with its visual prowess, even managing to bring in camera focus pulls to make it seem more real, but cynics or people who think cartoons are for kids need not apply.

Eight Point Five Out Of Ten

Review for “The Strangers”

Modern horror has found itself at something of a crossroads. In the late 90’s, the genre hit its potential intelligence peak with the Scream movies, not to mention the Scary Movie‘s, which brought wit, irony and, most importantly, self-awareness to horror. It spelt out the stupidly abided by rules that stupid/horny teenages abide by when confronted with a masked killer, so everything that followed those movies and followed those rules would be deemed as stupid and dated. Which presented a bit of a problem since as much as we’re screaming “Don’t go out there!” to the cheerleader in her underwear investigating a strange sound in the woods, we all secretly get a rush of adrenalin in anticipation of her decapitation.

So in retaliation to Wes Craven’s humiliation of horror, some directors looked to Asia for remakes of ghost stories, whiles other directors got nasty. Very nasty. Hostel and its gorier sequel, The Hills Have Eyes and its stupider sequel, Wrong Turn, the temporarily revitalised then re-destroyed Texas Chainsaw Massacre films; all put violence ahead of story and, more importantly, actual scares. Blood and guts are gross, but no necessarily frightening. And so another retaliation was born; a mid-point between the smarts of the 90’s and the splats of the 00’s. And with it, came another broken rule; out went the hot teenages, in came mid-30’s couples. Vacancy, Them (of which The Strangers seems to be a loose remake) and the upcoming Mirrors all have older folk, wiser folk, dealing with grown up scary things.

And now here we are. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are an attractive mid-30’s couple who are staying at Speedman’s parents remote cottage in the woods for a romantic weekend away, which isn’t going entirely to plan. For one thing, he’s proposed and she’s said no. But more importantly, some woman keeps knocking at the door asking for her friend…… And thats pretty much your lot. The film is shockingly short (75 minutes including end credits!), so not given the chance to outstay its welcome, and Tyler and Speedman are pretty much the only people you’ll see for the whole show. It takes about 20 minutes for the film to switch from creepy “There’s someone outside” flick to out-and-out home invasion horror, with plenty of jump out of your seat moments to enjoy. The problem is you probably won’t react to any of them, which brings us to horror’s other major problem.

Trailers. Modern horror films all have the same trailers; which go a little something like this: “Oh, did you hear something/that old story about blah blah killer blah/its someone’s anniversary at midnight tonight?” — Attractive people kiss/are about to get it on, then something scary happens. — Someone goes to investigate something, then something scary happens. — Then its the end of the trailer, and its FLASHCUTFLASHCUTFLASHCUTFLASHCUT. — Then it goes all quiet and someone is hiding somewhere and a hand comes out of nowhere and that someone screams and then thats it.

If you’ve seen the trailer for The Strangers, then you’ve seen a very effective horror movie trailer, particularly that jumping record of a creepy song, which gets about 7 minutes actual screen time in the movie. But also, if you’ve seen the trailer for The Strangers, then you’ve already seen how practically every tense scene ends, thereby removing all tension from the scene. Admittedly, there are still one or two scenes that still scare, and there are also one or two surprises in store, but its all secondary to the fact that due to the films significantly short length, the fact that you’ve seen the trailer means you’ve seen a larger percentage of the movie than normal.

Tyler and Speedman are fine, and the directing is fine, and the script is fine, cinematography, editing, sound effects, everything is fine, more than fine for a horror movie. Its all a very classily made affair, with nothing to fault excepts its unoriginality. Which is probably the horror genre’s biggest hurdle to date. And its going to take a strong retaliation to work that one out.

Five Point Five Out Of Ten

New Contender For Worst Film Of 2008!

Washington Post: “Mike Myers is anti-comedy . . . that is, if one presumes comedy ought to be smart, new, surprising or, yes, funny.”

NYTimes: “A whole new vocabulary seems to be required. To say that the movie is not funny is merely to affirm the obvious. The word “unfunny” surely applies to Mr. Myers’s obnoxious attempts to find mirth in physical and cultural differences but does not quite capture the strenuous unpleasantness of his performance. No, “The Love Guru” is downright antifunny, an experience that makes you wonder if you will ever laugh again.”

Rotten Tomatoes: 16%

Chicago Sun-Times: “Myers has made some funny movies, but this film could have been written on toilet walls by callow adolescents. Every reference to a human sex organ or process of defecation is not automatically funny simply because it is naughty, but Myers seems to labor under that delusion.”

MSNBC: “A movie endlessly amused with its own stupidity — to the point where Myers actually laughs at his own jokes, and shots of other characters breaking character to giggle are left in, as though this were a “Carol Burnett Show” sketch — “The Love Guru” is a soul-draining waste of 90-plus minutes.”

Wow….. Seriously, WOW! We knew it wasn’t going to be doing the Oscar rounds, but its kinda surprising that its THIS bad. Mike Myers style of comedy isn’t for everyone, but he’s never had problems finding fans before. And this is the first film that he had a hand in that wasn’t a smack-in-the-face hit, having already penned the Wayne’s World and Austin Powers franchises. But we can probably expect more negativity heading his way, especially since he just announced that he is writting and starring in the remake of classic 40’s flick The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.

Review for “Hancock”

Featuring special guest reviewer Lindsay Cashin!

So, following on from all the hooplah that surrounded the films controversial beginnings (if you don’t know what they are, we’re not getting into it here cos it’ll take too long, but lets quickly say that it was originally known as Tonight He Comes and would’ve been NC-17), Will Smith’s latest mega-expensive comes on the back of very little hype, as his unknown superhero gets released in the midst of big green meanies and men who like to dress up as bats or in iron.

Directed by Peter Berg, who seems to be Hollywood’s hack version of Paul Greengrass, and we mean that in the nicest possible way, but there’s only one person working right now that seems capable of shooting in “shaky-cam” and still have it look glossy and costly. On the back of edgy action flick The Kingdom he was brought on board this edgy action flick after Michael Mann (Heat) baulked at the budget but who now features as executive producer, which features Will Smith waking up in a hospital after a severe blow to head and now featuring super strength and the ability of flight. After spending several years doing the hero thing, he becomes an degenerate alcoholic through boredom, and after one public outcry one too many in reaction to his city destroying heroism, in steps Jason Bateman as a PR-man who makes it his one man campaign to change public opinion of the misunderstood and underappreciated super-man. Of course, things get a bit hairy as Bateman is married to Charlize Theron, who Hancock develops a serious crush on.

To say anything more about the plot would give away some interesting twists in the basic story, but needless to say it goes down a very entertaining route. Thankfully, Berg tossed out most of what made the original pitch so dark, and brought in a lighter, but still very cynical sense of humour, thanks mainly to Smith in a rare anti-hero mode, not to mention Bateman who can make most people laugh with the slightest facial twitch. Theron is underused for most of the movie, in terms of acting and general asthectic purposes.

The action sequences are very well done, the CGI is practically top notch, everyone’s acting is on-par, blah blah. But there’s still something missing, but something that is hard to put your finger on. For one thing, its too short, at just about 90 minutes, so either they lost alot of footage in the editing room, or they just squeezed too much story into too short a time. And there’s no big bad boo hiss villian. Whereas with more recognisible superhero movies this summer we’ve had Iron Monger, Abomination and soon to be Joker and Two Face, this film was already at a loss with not having a big name bad guy. But to not really have one at all is kind of a mis-step.

Apart from all of that, its still one of the better summer blockbusters so far, easily side-stepping some of the pre-existing franchises in terms of quality and scope. And its very open ended for a sequel, and if nothing else, fans of this one will be baying for the next one.

Seven Point Five Out Of Ten