21 December 2008

Stuck released 9 Jan 2009, Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea

Dir. Stuart Gordon
Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea

Stuck manages to pull off the impressive trick of transforming an interesting and bizarre true event into an unwieldy and above all lame horror movie.

Director Stuart Gordon is best know for the hilarious HP Lovecraft inspired romp Re-Animator, an 80's not-so guilty pleasure of a shocker that more than made up for its lack of psychological terror and cinematic ability with a sense of fun and energy that propelled it on its macabre way. 

Sadly, Stuck has none of this. The story is based upon a Texan woman who struck a man while driving and literally left him stuck in her windshield for days while he slowly bled to death. So, nice stuff and fully deserving of a horror flick makeover. Unfortunately, the limp acting (Suvari and Rea are both decent actors, why they became involved with this wrongheaded project is frankly beyond me) and essentially dumb dialogue hamstrings the film before anything of consequence actually happens. 

When Suvari's retirement home worker (the opening scenes detailing her grim daily life- wiping old men's bottoms, that sort of thing - are probably the scariest things in this movie) hits Rea's newly homeless, down on his luck type fella while high, the scene is set for a tiresome battle of wills. While Rea stays stuck in Suvari's garage hanging on to life by a thread, Suvari takes drugs, has sex and wrestles with her conscious. It becomes clear fairly early on that the filmmakers have no idea what to do with this premise and any interest in whether Rea actually makes it out alive is dispensed with just as quickly.

Impossibly crappy looking cinematography only adds fuel to the general ugliness of the piece. Of course, sleep-walking actors, horrendous dialogue and an incredibly irritating soundtrack don't help too much either. Unsure whether to go for the horror juggler or to play it for misanthropic laughs, Stuck remains, well stuck in meaningless limbo of ineptitude. Avoid like the proverbial. 

Stuck is released 9 Jan 2009

The Crew - rel on DVD 12 Jan 2009 - post Lock-Stock cultural waste land anyone? ANYONE??!

The Crew - Out on DVD 12 Jan 2009
Dir. Adrian Vitoria

Scot Williams, Kenny Doughty, Cordelia Bugeja, Rory McCann

Featuring a script so full of tired, worn out gangster cliches it's in danger of kicking itself to death, The Crew marks a disappointing return to the sort of generic 'geezer' thrillers that clogged up the video shops of the post Lock-Stock Brit-flick cultural wasteland. You know the score - gratuitous violence and drug runners with cretinous nick names (Harry the truck) mixed in with often wildly inappropriate bouts of inane comedy. Most of those late 90's offerings never approached Mr Ritchie's debut for style and smart dialogue and The Crew is no exception.

Essentially the story follows Liverpool crime boss Ged Brennan (Williams, a dead ringer for ex-Reds footballer Jamie Redknapp) in his attempt to carry out 'one last job' in order to set himself and his young family up for life. Things don't go to plan however, (of course they don't - it would be a total waste of time if they did, rather than just a large proportion of one) especially when his brother (Doughty) - a local hard nut who hangs around with Tinhead from Brookside - decides he wants a piece of the city's local drug trade. Sickening, usually pointless, violence ensues shot in graphic detail.

Caught up within the manic speed rush of baseball bats and Scouse inflected beatings is a frankly bizarre and implausible sub-plot involving Brennan and his wife Debs (Bugeja) getting conned by a charming couple posing as property dealers. The lady of the honey trap pair seduces Debs in hilarious lesbian fashion that is as contrived as it is unnecessary. It does however provide the film's (unintentional, one assumes) funniest scene. 

All of the characters are wholly unpleasant, even the supposed loveable clown Moby (McCann) is a sex obsessed heavy with a sort of apathetic love for strip joints, masturbation and booze. Ok, so maybe he's not all bad. The rest of the psychopathic bunch stumble around in a semi-coma. only occasionally drawn out of their slumber by talk of the ridiculous 'plan' and the promise of Playstation 3's.

Oddly, these grim personalities of the central players add nothing to the authenticity of the piece - it merely leaves it cold, depressing and intellectually frail. Hardly a recommendation in anyone's book. 

Surveillance - released Jan 9 2009 - Jennifer Lynch does it again.

Rel. Jan 9 2009

Dir. Jennifer Lynch
Bill Pullman, Julia Ormond, Michael Ironside

Jennifer (daughter of David) Lynch hasn't made a movie since 1993's bizarre pseudo S & M mess Boxing Helena. While Surveillance is nowhere near as bad as that piece of soft-core 'erotic' nonsense, it does suffer from similar problems of style, tone and scripting. 

The premise of the film is that the FBI are tracking a pair of serial killers with the help of three different survivors; a drug using teen, a little girl and a police officer. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond are the agents entrusted with the task of deciphering the mystery. They both give fairly good performances and handle the weak script with as much dignity and guile as they can. Through no fault of his own, cult character actor Michael Ironside (of V, Total Recall and Starship Troopers fame) gives a disappointingly innocuous performance as the local Captain. His character has little to do and seems more of an afterthought than anything else.

While the perversion of authority theme is dealt with reasonably well and at some length - the local officers do an entertaining and disturbing 'good cop/bad cop' routine - there is a huge gaping wound of a flaw lying at the heart of the movie. Without giving too much away, any moviegoer who has seen more than a handful of thrillers or horror movies will see the twist coming a light year away. It is far too obvious - many will suss it after 10 minutes -  and  it irrevocably damages the film. This is a shame as there are some interesting, albeit underdeveloped ideas floating around. The acting is solid enough and at times there is a genuine air of trademark Lynchian family weirdness. However, the lack of any real sort of motivation for the murders, limp dialogue, terrible characterisation and the 10 ton clanger of a 'twist' renders Surveillance lifeless and ultimately pointless. 

16 December 2008

Ano Una (Year of the Nail)

I neglected to post this when I saw it - it was released at the end of Nov, but it is a great film and worth getting on DVD.

Jonas Cuaron's (son of Children of Men helmer Alfonso) debut is a stunning piece of work. A true labour of love, over the course of a year Cuaron took thousands of photographs of his surroundings, eventually constructing a plot from recurring themes. 

The charming and sharply written script concerns Diego, a randy fourteen year old Mexican boy and his lustful but naive relationship with Molly (Cuaron's girlfriend and co-producer Erieann Harper), an older American  student. The still photography works brilliantly with each actor successfully bringing the image to life with their voiceovers.

The film is a remarkably intimate slice of life about growing up, falling in love and chasing dreams. As cheesy as this might sound, the film emerges as a real surprise. It is one of the most original and uplifting films of the year and deserves a wider audience than it'll probably get. A brave art-house film with a big heart, it is sweetly funny and a great success all round. Well worth seeking out. 

Slumdog Millionaire - rel. 9 Jan - Great start for 2009!

A terrifically engaging debut film performance from Dev Patel (of TV's Skins) as Mumbai street kid Jamal is at the heart of Danny Boyle's uplifting slice of near magical realism.
Having somehow found himself on the verge of winning the jackpot on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Jamal's short but eventful life is brought sharply into focus. Taking the form of short vignettes, each question that Jamal answers (to the shocked disbelief of Anil Kapoor's suspicious host) relates to his traumatic upbringing. 
The supporting cast serves the film brilliantly, with the filmmakers carrying off the neat trick of using three set of actors to portray Jamal, his older brother and his love interest at different stages of their young lives. 
As one would expect of Boyle, the action is superbly handled in what is a fascinating mixture of genres. The different strands eventually form a love story that is genuinely moving. And yes, there's even a Bollywood style dance off at the end! 

23 November 2008

Milk -Oscar trail for Penn again?

Just seen Gus Van Sant's new one, here is my review...

rel-16 Jan 2009
Dir. Gus Van Sant
Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch

Understandably, there is early Oscar talk surrounding Milk. Penn looks set to be on the awards trail again with this assured, entertaining yet undeniably 'worthy' biopic from the inconsistent Mr Van Sant. However, underneath the hyperbole emerges a remarkable film about a remarkable man.

Penn plays Harvey Milk, Gay Rights activist and San Francisco's first openly gay city official. HIs rise to power and influence and subsequent tragic demise are captured sensitively. It's no hagiography either. Milk was no saint or martyr and the filmmakers have made no attempt to disguise a formidable ego and a somewhat manipulative personality. He was however a tireless campaigner and fine speaker who worked with the best of intentions and ideals. Penn is absolutely believable as Milk and imbues the role with a level of charisma that is just great to watch. 

There is tremendous support too from Hirsch (Speed Racer, Alpha Dog) and Franco (Spiderman, Pineapple Express) as Milk's right hand man and lover respectively. However, it is Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men, W) as Milk's sometime colleague and nemesis Dan White who really impresses, particularly when on screen with Penn.  Brolin nails the tragic flaws in White's make-up, displaying true finesse in instilling real depth and inner turmoil in such an un-likeable character. 

Easily Van Sant's most complete movie to date, Milk is where the early promise of Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For and Good Will Hunting really falls into place. With debates over same sex marriage currently raging in California the film is hugely relevant. More importantly, it is a timeless story of a man unafraid to face the injustices and prejudices of society to create lasting change.   

22 November 2008

Hexstatic - Videos, Remixes & Rarities

Out on Ninja Tune 1 Dec

Hexstatic - Stuart Hill and Robin Brunson to their mums - have been plying their intoxicating brand of audio-visual wizardry for well over a decade now. This DVD/CD collection neatly compiles their best work and is essential for anyone with any sort of interest in A/V beat matching. 

From famed Colcut collaboration 'Timber' to 2007's 'When Robot's Go Bad' LP, the set is all about consistently innovative and entertaining distillations of full-on, switched on mentalness. With appearances from Sir Jimmy Saville ('Auto'), Rolf Harris ('Stylophonic'), old skool video games ('Bass Invader', 'Vector'), singing parrots and the best rap and visual mash-up EVER this DVD serves as perfect post-club viewing. And we all know what that means. Just buy it - your ears, eyes and head will want to hug you. Seriously, it's like acid without the paranoia, depression and regret. And that, my friends, is a good thing.

Check out hexstatic.tv to see more.

'Blindness' - Out Now - smack you with the blindingly obvious...

dir. Fernando Merielles
Julianne Moore, Mark Rufallo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover

Merielles' (The Constant Gardener, City of God) adaptation of Nobel Prize winning author Jose Saramango's apocalyptic tale is an ambitious, but flawed creation. As the unnamed residents of an unnamed city are struck blind one by one, Mark Ruffalo's (Zodiac) Doctor attempts to understand the contagious condition. However, when he too is infected and taken to quarantine, his unaffected wife (Julianne Moore) becomes the only person with vision (physically, and woo, like, spiritually). Moore's character soon has to contend with the increasing depravity of the holding hospital and becomes, by default, responsible for leading the randomly thrown together strangers (including Danny Glover and Alice Braga) and defending them from the nasty gang-rape fixated elements of the hospital/prison (Gael Garcia Bernal, Maury Chaykin).

Blindness suffers from a peculiar heavy-handedness in its completely unsubtle sub-text. The audience feels like it's being bludgeoned over the head with the blindingly (sorry) obvious. Something along the lines of 'humanity is blind to bad things and we aren't terribly nice to one another'. If this can somehow be put to one side (I couldn't really) it could maybe be possible to enjoy Blindness as a stylish, 'zombie-ish' thriller. (Misanthropic/apocalyptic 'Zombie' thrillers are absolutely everywhere these days. Where were they when I needed them, in the early 90's??) For most of us however, the film's simplistic (and worryingly exploitative) handling of the source material renders it a largely unlovable and unpleasant  experience.