Monthly Archives: May 2015

Review – SAN ANDREAS

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Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson and Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Cert: 12A Release Date: May 28th 2015

Ah yes, the summer movie season. Time to park our brains in the cinema foyer and enter into the popcorn filled darkness to enjoy some special effects wizardry and some cool actors in peril. It’s unfortunate then that in a time when real life events overshadow those created by Hollywood, such a venture makes for an empty experience where no amount of crumbling skyscrapers can make up for a script that has enough jarring lines and hammy dialogue to fill the fault line ten times over.

Director Brad Peyton, who previously worked with Dwayne Johnson on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island opens the film promisingly enough with a nail-biting ravine rescue. Johnson proves he’s got the mettle to handle any crisis as Ray, an LA Fire Department Search and Rescue helicopter pilot. When the San Andreas Fault triggers a 9 plus magnitude quake up the West coast, he and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) set out from LA to San Francisco to rescue their teenage daughter Blake (played with gusto by Alexandra Daddario).

Despite being a strong clever young woman who leads the charge when it comes to survival techniques, Blake suffers the summer blockbuster hottie tag last seen in Transformers, with contrived plot devices as the disaster ensues that require the removal of her outer clothing. You can almost hear her groan as her male co-stars shirts remain in situ.

Dwayne Johnson is the perfect leading man for this type of film but he’s weighed down by a family back story that rings hollow when it should move the audience. A cathartic moment feels forced and the pressure weighs heavy on Johnson to bring the heart needed when the script is wafer thin.

A mixed bag when it comes to the CGI, some effects are jaw-dropping in their photo-realistic bedazzlement while others are patchy and you feel like you can almost see the wizard behind the curtain turning the wheels and pressing the buttons. When Johnson and Gugino take to the water, you can imagine the green screen around them as the seams begin to come apart. The tsunami is ridiculous and was realised to better effect in last year’s Godzilla. Here they face the giant wave head on, in a boat, riding upwards to its crest in a frankly ludicrous scene that cost way more than it actually delivered.

Shot in Australia, Home and Away’s Hugo Johnstone-Burt plays Blake’s love interest Ben as a bumbling Hugh Grant-like Brit while Kylie Minogue pops up for a quick cameo, delivering her catty American lines with the relish of someone who is under no illusions as to what type of movie she’s in. With a screenplay by Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) several lines roll like tumbleweed across the screen. When Blake asks her mother’s new entrepreneur boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd) why he has no children he replies that his children are the buildings he’s raised. Cue awkward silence. Paul Giamatti plays the seismologist boffin well, though spends much of the film warning of impending further quakes from under his desk.

The bar has been raised so high on disaster movies that it feels like San Andreas has no-where to go. We’ve seen destruction like this before and we’ve seen it done better. Perhaps the bar can be raised now with the scripts for these films. The genre can produce classics, this we know. How about a little old school magic next time. **

 

Review – A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT

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Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marinó, Dominic Rains, Milad Eghbali, Rome Shadanloo, Marshall Manesh
Written and Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Running Time: 99 minutes
Release Date: 22nd May 2015

You know you’ve seen a good film when it gets under your skin and you’re still thinking about it days later. You know you’ve seen a good vampire film when you wish you were that vampire, even just for a little while.

Writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour, in her feature debut, has created a vampire in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night that will immortalise her among the greatest blood drinkers captured on film. Startlingly she has created a unique vision we haven’t seen before. Her vampire, known only as the Girl, haunts the streets of Iranian ghost town Bad City, walking among its pimps, prostitutes and misfits, clad in her long flowing black chador. It’s a stunning image that startles you ever time you see her on screen.

Shot in black and white, it’s a vampire western, a lone figure in a decaying town full of lost souls, way beyond redemption. An American-Iranian, Amirpour has brought her love of film to every frame. She references Rebel Without A Cause in Arash’s tortured, white t-shirt/hotrod driving young man with father issues, while mega gangster Saeed, a drug dealing pimp, channels True Romance’s Drexyl with a side order of Bobby Peru in Lynch’s Wild At Heart.

It’s beautifully shot, the black and white photography capturing the smoulering mood and atmosphere that comes in the hours of darkness when the Girl goes hunting. Sheila Vand was Amirpour’s only choice to play the Girl and she is incredible in a role that has very few lines. She powerfully lets her eyes do the talking for her. A scene in which she dances in her basement apartment before putting on her heavy kohl eyeliner is cool and beautiful. She’s a killer but she’s also just a lonely girl. A shot of her skateboarding down a dimly lit street at night, chador flying out like a cape is gorgeous.

All of the beautiful imagery is complimented by a great soundtrack, from Federale’s western inspired themes, to White Lies‘ Death playing in the Girl’s bedroom as the camera pulls in slowly, the space between her and Arash getting slowly smaller as their world’s collide.

Not since Pulp Fiction has music been used to such good effect in a film and there are Tarantino influences throughout. The violence when it comes is quick, shocking and very effective and the interplay between the characters charges with electricity and possibility.

An instant vampire classic, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night should be seen on the big screen. Beautiful, dangerous, cool – everything a vampire needs to be. See it twice.

*****

 

Review – TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND

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Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Robinson
Directed by: Brad Bird
Cert: 12A Running time: 130 mins
Release Date: May 22nd 2015

Amidst the cinematic sky of remakes, prequels, sequels, and franchises Tomorrowland comes zooming through the clouds, jetpack at the ready with an ambitious, original story to tell. Written by Damon Lindelof (Lost) and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) the film blasts off at the start but mid-way begins to crave nitro to give it the boost it needs to get to the finish line.

Early in the film when a young inventor Frank Walker (later played by George Clooney) brings his jetpack to the World’s Fair in 1964, he’s asked how it can enhance society. He replies that it’s just fun which is met with a raised eyebrow and a ‘what use is that’ response. But in trying to invent something useful here, Lindelof and Bird have forgotten the fun. They’ve built a story about caring for the world today before it disappears tomorrow and while a very worthy ideal, they have failed to inject the necessary fun to take the audience along on their quest and keep them interested.

Casting goes a long way to make up for this, with solid performances from George Clooney as the aforementioned inventor and Britt Robertson (Under The Dome) as Casey, the teenage tomboy chosen to save the world. When she gets arrested for trying to sabotage the demolition of the Cape Canaveral launch platform she is given a secret Tomorrowland pin that transports her there when she touches it. The effects in these scenes are stunning and magical. The city of Tomorrowland stands like the Emerald City of Oz with cornfields stretched out before it and Casey is our Dorothy on the cusp of a great adventure. But perhaps lacking in that analogy is the colour and vibrancy of Oz. Tomorrowland is nothing but chrome, steel and glass. It’s futuristic technology to the nth degree with hover trains, suspended swimming pools and cool clean lines. It has been developed by the best human minds but perhaps not the most fun ones.

The baddies in the film, pursing our heroine are very plainly drawn. Black clad human-like robots with cheesy grins and cheesier lines. Clooney, here channelling Jimmy Stewart to good effect, brings an old school charm to the film and it has the feel of a Saturday matinee about it. He and Robertson have good chemistry and he brings heart when it’s needed to the film, if a little too late. Hugh Laurie as the creator of Tomorrowland is well cast and a speech from him manages to package the message of the film very succinctly for the audience, without clobbering them over the head.

It will be interesting to see what audience it attracts. As someone with children, it’s not for the little ones but you would also need an older kid with a good attention span. Now if only we can invent one of those.

***

 

Hiding under the duvet..

So to a new writing post. This has been difficult over the last few weeks as I haven’t really felt like posting. It’s more personal and I’ve been hiding I suppose in my book, which is, touch wood, going well at the minute. That may be something to do with the fact that there’s been and still is, a lot of illness in the family and writing my book has been the duvet that I’ve been pulling over my head and escaping under. Continue reading

Review – PITCH PERFECT 2

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Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfield, Brittany Snow, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Cert: 12A Running Time: 115 mins
Release Date: May 15th 2015
 
Pitch Perfect 2 is like the ‘90’s hip hop jamz’ in one of its key a capella battles in the movie – catchy, cool, throw-back, head-bopping timelessness. Stuffed to the seams with great tunes, funny lines and a sparky cast, it never takes itself too seriously and so delivers the high notes when it comes to entertainment.

A hit in 2012, it earned $113 million at the international box office off a production budget of just $17 million so it was no surprise that the Barden Bellas would soon be warming up their vocal chords again.

This time around Elizabeth Banks (who exec produced and starred in the first film) makes her directorial debut and she knows where the comedy strengths lie in the cast. With returning writer Kay Cannon, they’ve upped the Rebel Wilson factor, even giving her a love interest and a lot of the funniest scenes belong to her and rightly so. Pointing out to the other girls that though she’s part of the American team, she’s the best singer and an Australian, she adds ‘I’m fat and that’s close enough”.

This time around the girls are again on the back foot, having put in a nationally shaming performance in front of the US President after Fat Amy (Wilson) has an unfortunate onstage wardrobe malfunction, giving him full view of what she has down under. The Bellas are suspended from their ongoing victory tour only to be replaced by the European champions Das Sound Machine, a slick, syncopated, German troupe of singers with laser harmonies and the moves to match. Their only hope is the World Championships in Denmark with new Bella member Emily played by Hailee Steinfield, who brings a nice quirky awkwardness to her new recruit.

There are jokey stereotypes (the impoverished Guatemalan immigrant, the Asian horror freak, the tough lesbian, the emotionless Germans) and though not all these jokes land quite as they should, they are saved by the run of funny lines from Gail (Banks) and her co-commentator, John (a deliciously dry John Michael Higgins). They are the pros here when it comes to delivery, from a very funny Gail who feels she has to be ‘on’ all the time to John’s hilariously sexist remarks. When the girls are despairing over their suspensions he tells them not to worry they’ll all be pregnant soon anyway.

A side story of Beca’s (Kendrick’s) internship at a local recording studio doesn’t really go anywhere but cameo scenes with Snoop Lion are funny as well as the berating of a hipster nephew by the boss.

A funny feel good movie that will having you humming The Thong Song and other 90’s jamz. Nothing wrong with that!

***

Review – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

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Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Directed by: George Miller
Cert: 15A Running Time: 120 mins
Release date: 14th May 2015

It’s been thirty years since George’s Miller’s dystopian tales of warrior Max Rockatansky hit our screens and returning to that world is a welcome jolt of cinematic anarchy. Miller’s vision hasn’t dimmed over the decades and he supplies copious amounts of onscreen derangement in stunning images that excite and ignite the senses.

Haunted by the past and those he’s lost, Tom Hardy’s Max proves he’s every bit as capable as Mel Gibson in the role and he brings his own visceral energy to the part but as the story unfolds he starts to fade into the background, making way for the true lead of the film, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. Her character forms the beating heart of the film and Max is literally a passenger along for the ride.

A warrior in her own right Furiosa frees the baby-making young ‘Wives’ of tyrannical Citadel leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) who gives chase with his band of freaks and war boys in their suped-up guzzlers to retrieve them. Max having escaped from their captivity as a living blood bag for war boy minion Nux (Hoult), teams up with Furiosa as they escape into the desert in the huge battle ready tanker truck, the war rig.

Immortan Joe believes women are useful for procreation and milk only and keeps the two in good supply. It’s a wonder he let Furiosa out in the first place. When free the girls cast off their chastity belts with bolt cutters, and being the supermodels they are, go half naked into the desert.

In one scene Max disappears off to combat the enemy and the camera stays with Furiosa, showing us only Max’s bloodied return. Should he not be front and centre? Or at least equal? Isn’t this called Mad Max? He also bows to her superior firing skills at one point and you begin to feel a bit sorry for him as she’s better than him at practically everything. Even Hoult’s war boy is no match for the women as he goes from suicide mission craziness to little boy lost.

Together they form a sort of dysfunctional family with Max and Furiosa the parents on a hell of a road trip. Pursued by Joe and his neighbouring allies, they are hunted from all directions. There is very little ease up in the pace and the action is heart-thumpingly non-stop. The chase vehicles are a feast for the eyes of petrol heads everywhere. Cars, trucks and even tanks are all mashed up and spit out into steam punk killing machines of steel and spike. They bring the necessary thunder complete with stilt like poles that enable them to jump from vehicle to vehicle and one complete with massive speakers as a backdrop to a crazed heavy metal guitarist. Where else would you see it?

Enjoy it for the outlandish spectacle it is and for Fierce Furiosa. Max may want to get his own storyline next time around.

***

Review – UNFRIENDED

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Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson and Heather Sossaman
Directed by: Leo Gabriadze
Cert: 16 Running Time 83 mins
Release Date: May 1st 2015

Coming from the same horror stable as Paranormal Activity and Insidious, Unfriended, a cautionary supernatural tale pitting five teens against the spirit of a dead girl they may have cyberbullied into suicide, is an effective if silly slice of modern horror.

The only thing the viewer sees is the computer screen of Blaire (Shelley Henning) as she clicks and chats using her Skype account, Facebook, YouTube and Gmail, beginning with her watching the posted video of school friend Laura Barns’ (Heather Sossaman’s) suicide.

It’s a clever device to begin with but as the body count rises and the teens grow more hysterical on Skype, it begins to wane as the viewer’s common sense creeps in. How did they all happen to be in their homes alone? Have they no parents or siblings? Is there no adult they can turn to for help? Couldn’t they have just met up at the local diner for a milkshake?

That said the format provides for plenty of jumpy moments as the teens realise the threat is in the room with them and writer Nelson Greaves has found new and suitably gross ways to dispatch them. The delayed, semi-frozen pic you get on skype when cursing your broadband provider, is put to good use here creating an eerie ghostly effect. Sound also builds the tension, where even a bing of a message notification can send you off your seat. Director Leo Gabriadze cleverly had the cast audition on Skype and they impress, especially as it’s heavily improvised so you feel like you’re listening in to a real conversation that’s authentic even if the characters are a bit stereotyped.

Despite it’s spooky premise, the film does tackle the issue of cyber bullying and demonstrates how one negative comment can encourage ten more and at one stage Shelley says ‘but everyone was posting’ and it’s that sheep mentality that gets them into trouble here. Aside from our spectre it also makes you wonder who’s watching you silently online and the lack of privacy is tackled here as the ghost seeks to air each of the friend’s dirty laundry for all to see. The permanency of the internet too raises questions over comments and media posted online that will stay up there forever.

Developed and produced by filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) it’s a clever film that will send chills up the spines of teens audiences everywhere and send social media into meltdown.

***