Archive for 2011

Love * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on March 14, 2013 by Mark Walker

20130314-131159.jpg

Director: William Eubank.
Screenplay: William Eubank.
Starring: Gunner Wright, Corey Richardson, Bradley Horne, Nancy Stelle, Roger E. Fanter, Ambyr Childers.

I often find it difficult giving my opinion on independent films as I’m aware of the struggles that have been faced in order to bring it to the screen. They are hard to criticise, as the filmmaker certainly doesn’t get the same luxuries or benefits that the financial backing from a big studio would bring. However, when all is said and done, it’s ultimately the material that it should be judged upon. Such is the case with this film; it’s undeniably impressive in it’s assembly but found wanting in it’s substance.

As I can’t really be bothered to write the plot summary, I’ll leave you with the director’s own description of the story… “After losing contact with Earth, Astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity – and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence, until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship”.

As the film opens, we find ourselves in the midst of the American Civil War and a commentary that’s reminiscent of the work of Terrence Malick. Visually, it looks spectacular and you wouldn’t think for a second that this was shot on a shoestring budget. Debutant director, William Eubank certainly knows how to capture a scene and his work here is exceptionally well handled. There’s a good sense of atmosphere and overall, ethereal, feel to the film.
From the battlefields we are then taken to a space station that is orbiting earth and we are introduced to our protagonist who wanders his enclosed environment and ruminates on his lonely existence much like Duncan Jones’ “Moon” or Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey“. It’s not just the setting but also the existential nature of those films that this tries to emulate. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as good as either of them. The isolation of our protagonist brings about a monotony in his daily routine and that monotony is soon shared by the viewer. To put it simply, very little happens. I got the point of his dilemma and the effect that it had on his psyche but it’s laboured too strongly and the connection between the astronaut and the civil war is tenuous at best. There are many verbal musings throughout, whereby some lovely passages of words are weaved together but it sounds more poetic than it does philosophical and I think that’s where the problem lies. The film has airs and graces of having challenging, philosophical, ideas but doesn’t really have anything concrete to cling on to. I kept waiting for some revelation that would tie everything, meaningfully, together but when it arrived, it didn’t deliver the punch I was hoping for and only confirmed my suspicions of how pretentious the film really is. The only thing that really makes sense is that it was funded entirely by the band “Angels and Airwaves” (who also provide the soundtrack) and it comes across as an exercise in marketing their own stuff and no more than a glorified music video.
In fairness, it does manage to hold your interest on the visual front with some stunningly captured images and moments. However, impressive visuals do not a good film make. If it continued how it began, then it might have had something going for it but it didn’t and it doesn’t.

The major issue with Love, is that it believes itself to be deeper and more profound than it actually is.
There is such a thing in the cosmos known as a ‘Black hole‘. This certainly has a hole, and it’s head is too far up it.

Mark Walker

20130314-131227.jpg

Killer Elite * *

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on October 20, 2012 by Mark Walker

20121020-175254.jpg

Director: Gary McKendry.
Screenplay: Matt Sherring.
Starring: Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert DeNiro, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Ben Mendelsohn, Yvonne Strahovski, Adawale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Whiteley, Matthew Nable, Lachy Hulme.

Jason Statham is normally a ‘type-cast’ kind of actor that I normally steer clear of. It’s not that I dislike him personally but his films tend to be of a particular genre that I don’t much care for. All they seem to consist of, is the “The Stath” serving out his knuckle sandwiches on some stereotypical numskulls. For me, the draw to this film was my liking for Clive Owen and especially my personal favourite Robert DeNiro. Unfortunately, even those two couldn’t save this film from mediocrity.

Former assassin Danny Bryce (Jason Statham), is brought out of retirement to save his mentor Hunter (Robert DeNiro), now held captive by a Oman sheikh. In exchange for Hunter’s freedom, Danny must hunt and kill the SAS officers that the sheikh believes killed his three sons during the Oman war. Danny is certainly up to the job but it’s not made easy when another ex-SAS officer, Spike Logan (Clive Owen) is determined to keep what happened in Oman a secret.

Opening with an intense action set-piece sets this film up well and from the off-set, it promises to be quite a thrilling ride. Statham delivers his usual bad ass schtick and it’s great to see DeNiro flex a little of his (ageing) action muscles too. Once the initial 10 minutes of action is over though, DeNiro takes a back seat, Statham takes over and Clive Owen is brought into the mix of intrigue and espionage. Surprisingly though, it doesn’t deliver the action expected and the intrigue is less than… erm, intriguing. The film falls flat very early on and it seemingly has no chance of redemption. That is, until Statham and Owen finally cross paths in a brutal physical exchange that’s impressively handled and before we know it, the film has found it’s feet again. Or so it would seem for this fleeting moment of fisticuffs. After that’s over and done with, the film falls back into it’s not-so-comfortable formula and fails to ever resurface. Reportedly, it is based on true events (as reflected in ex-SAS and adventurer Rannulph Fiennes’ book “The Feather Men“) but whether that’s true or not, it still doesn’t add anything to the story. The delivery is just a bit too tedious which I found to be quite a conundrum in itself as the material should make for an exciting watch. Added to which, nobody really puts a foot wrong; Statham and Owen deliver the goods and solid support is given by DeNiro and Dominic Purcell from TV’s “Prison Break“; debutant director Gary McKendry also seems to be in command of his material and frames his film well. Sadly, it just doesn’t quite come together, which leads me to the conclusion that it’s the script that’s the major issue here.

This is the type of film that’s neither an out-and-out action movie or a complete spy thriller. It can’t seem to make it’s mind up and as a result will probably disappoint fans from both camps. At one point Statham says “Killing’s easy. Living with it is the hard part“: the same could be said of this film; putting it into the DVD player is easy, getting through to the end is the hard part.

Mark Walker

20121020-175557.jpg

Margin Call * * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on October 7, 2012 by Mark Walker

20121007-142731.jpg

Director: J.C. Chandor.
Screenplay: J.C. Chandor.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Mary McDonnell, Aasif Mandvi, Ashley Williams, Susan Blackwell.

Are you feeling the pinch of our current economic crisis? Are you angry at the investment wankers bankers that have put us all in a precarious financial position? If so, you may find a dramatisation of the operations and swindling of these high-flying executives of particular interest. Writer-director J.C. Chandor seems to and has his finger firmly on the pulse when conveying the enormity of greed and dishonesty in corporate business.

In an unnamed New York investment bank, the majority of the work force are losing their jobs. One of the first to go is risk management executive Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci). Before he’s escorted from the building, he hands a USB to analyst Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) asking him to take a look. Sullivan does so and finds that the company’s profit margins are superseded by it’s debt. It’s unsustainable and will dangerously and inevitably lead to a financial collapse.

Margin Call could, comfortably, be described as a zeitgeist film. It addresses the economic crisis at face value and reflects the very financial situation that has affected a lot of people at this time. It isn’t a film that bombards you with statistics but plays it from the angle of the people behind the scenes and does it admirably with sharp dialogue; the best of which goes to Irons’ CEO when he spouts such choice lines as “The world will always be full of happy fucks and sad sacks” or “It’s spilt milk under the bridge“. There’s a ruthlessness involved in big business and this film captures it well. Ultimately, it may all just come down to number crunching but the job that these people do has a direct effect on all of us and in this respect, debutant J.C. Chandor gets his point across. It’s an impressive and effective first feature and Chandor makes great use of close-up’s on all of his characters. So much so, that every wrinkle, pore and nervous expression is captured – lending the film a real intensity. Across the board, the high-calibre cast are brilliant; how can you go wrong with such talents onscreen when every one of them is given just enough material to sink the their acting chops into? Well, the answer to that is… you can’t. And that’s what makes this film standout. Don’t get me wrong though, this does have it’s narrative flaws and despite a very tense opening and consistent display of captivating boardroom meetings and fast, flowing business jargon, it loses it’s momentum around the midriff. However, it still packs enough of a punch to see itself through to the end.

A worthy reflection on the current financial times and cutthroat nature of business. This is a film that will appeal to fans of “Glengarry Glen Ross” or the underrated and mostly unseen “Boiler Room“. A top quality cast and an excellent directorial debut.

Mark Walker

20121007-142802.jpg

The Raid: Redemption * * * 1/2

Posted in Action with tags on August 31, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120831-131500.jpg

Director: Gareth Evans.
Screenplay: Gareth Evans.
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy, Yayan Ruhian, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya.

If someone had told me that a Indonesian martial-arts movie directed by a Welshman was going to have much of an impact on the film going public, I have told them to stop shitting on my head until I’ve at least put a hat on first. As it turns out, no defecating took part in the build up to this film. What I was hearing through the grapevine turned out to be true. This is a very impressive action movie and it’s easy to see why it’s had mass appeal.

A slum housing estate in Jakarta is run by a ruthless drug baron who’s also secured the place into a high-rise fortress. A SWAT team is brought in to infiltrate the building and bring the crime lord down but when they enter, alarms are raised and the police find themselves under attack from an army of killers from all 30 floors.

As there’s not much on display as far as the narrative goes, it’s hard to write about this without throwing a plethora of adjectives at it. So I’m going to take the easy way out and do just that. Quite simply, it’s exhilarating, gripping, thrilling, exciting and exhausting. What it also is, is preposterous. However, it’s entertainment value cannot be faulted in the slightest. Is that enough to describe this film? If not, I apologise ’cause there’s not much else to say. Right from the off-set this film get’s going and wastes absolutely no time in getting down to business. It’s relentlessly energetic and unashamedly over-the-top but essentially, it’s over an hour an a half of people pumping some lead, bashing some heads and people screaming and writhing in pain. What fun it is though and this is coming from a person that’s not entirely enamoured with mindless action movies. However, credit must be given where it’s due. The display of martial-arts and action set-pieces are skilfully handled and it channels the type of kinetic pace that director John Woo was a master at. This is the quintessential ‘leave your brain at the door’ type of film. It demands very little and delivers plenty in return.

Some sublime action set pieces and bone crunching fights and although it’s wildly over the top, it delivers no less than it sets out to do. I had some fun with this one but action/martial-arts fans will enjoy it even more so.

Mark Walker

20120831-131706.jpg

The Skin I Live In * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery with tags on August 16, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120816-130222.jpg

Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar, Agustin Almodovar.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Blanca Suarez.

Any time I approach a film by director Pedro Almodovar, I know straight away that I’ll have to pay attention. He explores difficult and heavy themes but does them with such style and attention to detail that his craftsmanship cannot be ignored. For anyone wondering whether he achieves the same level of quality with this recent effort, then wonder no more. He does and more so.

Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a plastic surgeon who has perfected a new form of artificial skin. The problem with Ledgard though, is that he’s not entirely healthy of mind and as a test subject, he holds Vera (Elena Anaya) captive in his home to conduct his experiments. However, the arrival of a wanted criminal makes an appearance at his home which brings forth the dark history of the doctor and patient and how they came to be in their current situation.

Something that I have always tried to avoid when writing down my thoughts on a film is treading into spoiler territory. This is certainly one of those films that’s difficult to write about without giving away major parts of the plot. Suffice to say, Almodovar himself described the film as “a horror story without screams or frights” that was loosely based on the novel “Tarantula” by French writer Thierry Jonquet and inspired by Georges Franju’s 1960 film “Eyes Without a Face“. It also has an odd David Lynch feel to it, or more to the point, Lynch’s daughter Jennifer and her 1993 movie “Boxing Helena” (much more accomplished than that of course) In different hands this film could have fell into torture porn territory and ended up hitting the straight to DVD slasher shelf but with Almodovar at the helm, it takes on a whole new shape and form. His ability to construct an elaborate narrative cannot be questioned and he commands an audiences attention, while teasingly, revealing the layers to his story. Quite simply, he’s an artist! That statement alone should be enough to simplify this highly creative director’s impressive catalogue. Scenes are shot with such an eye for detailed beauty that you’d be forgiven for being reminded of classical pieces of art as he frames his picture like an expressionist painter. The production design is superb and visually, the film is simply beautiful. The beautiful look isn’t reflected in the material though. This is dark stuff and despite being, both shocking and bizarre, it possesses a sense of humour – all be it, a sick one. Almodovar’s recurrent themes and probing of the human psyche are also explored; masochism, transgender issues and repressed sexuality but ultimately this is a modern, twisted take on the Frankenstein story and one that he imbues with style and creative flair. But nothing is black and white here, he even toys with the morality of the audience in clever use of the Stockholm syndrome in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. As always with Almodovar though, there are a major plot developments that throw his films off-kilter and take such dramatic turns that they quite near takes your breath away. To reveal any more would be completely irresponsible and wholly unfair of me but rest assured that this is thought provoking filmmaking and a craftsman plying his trade at a very high standard. He’s also aided by superb performances by his leads; Elena Anaya could well be the next Penelope Cruz and it’s great to see Banderas deliver such an intense and brooding character, making you wonder why he and the Spanish auteur have waited 21 years before collaborating again here.

A provocative and macabre near masterpiece from Almodovar. It’s one worthy of attention and arguably his finest film to date.

Mark Walker

20120816-130321.jpg

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil * * *

Posted in Comedy, Horror with tags on July 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120726-162209.jpg

Director: Eli Craig.
Screenplay: Eli Craig, Morgan Jurgenson.
Starring: Alan Tudyk, Tyler Labine, Katrina Bowden, Jesse Moss, Chelan Simmons, Brandon Jay McLaren, Christie Laing, Alex Arsenault, Travis Nelson, Karen Reigh.

Sometimes a film comes along that although completely preposterous and silly, it still possesses a certain charm. I grew up watching the likes of Bill & Ted and to this day, find them quite appealing. This first feature film from director Eli Craig isn’t far from that same brand of idiotic humour.

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two gentle and likeable hillbillies who have purchased their own “fixer-upper” holiday home in West Virginia. With the beer and fishing gear packed they head there to relax and enjoy their new surroundings. On the way though, they encounter a group of spoiled college kids who judge Tucker and Dale on their rough exteriors. What ensues after that becomes bloody and messy and it’s not at the hands of the likeable duo.

On occasion, while commenting on films, you can find yourself being overly critical because it’s not normally the type of material that you’re interested in. When doing this, it can often be overlooked how well the film is actually structured or shot. I tried to be aware of this when I sat down to Tucker and Dale. Despite being a fan of Bill & Ted, I now think of myself a little too old to enjoy similar types of films anymore. Any that I do still enjoy, I put down to nostalgia. Of course, this is complete nonsense and now and again I should let myself loose a little and drop the critical barriers, so to speak. Well, in some ways, I did with this. I can obviously see it’s ridiculous premise and nature but there’s no denying that it’s actually rather fun and deserves recognition for putting a fresh spin on the usual horror conventions – the hillbillies are good, being hunted by bad college students. It’s a very appealing horror parody and is served well by two endearing leads in Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk (in roles originally intended for Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper before hitting the heights of “The Hangover“). They share a similar comradery to the aforementioned excellent dudes, Bill S. Preston esquire and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and without their appeal, this film just wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does. I had admiration for the director and actors working on it’s tight budget and even the effective comedy of error moments. However, at a short running time, I still found it to overstay it’s welcome and towards the end, it became the very type of film it was sending up. Although the brand of humour isn’t entirely to my tastes, there will be an audience out there that this will most certainly appeal to. I don’t happen to belong to that audience but I can still appreciate the effort and talent involved. Not to mention, some good humour.

This was a film that didn’t receive much marketing and as a result featured in very few cinemas. It did, however, please audiences across the board at several film festival screenings and is no doubt a cult classic waiting to happen. Think Bill & Ted dicing with the Evil Dead and you pretty much get the drift of this one.

Mark Walker

20120726-162428.jpg

The Grey * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, thriller with tags on July 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120715-112521.jpg

Director: Joe Carnahan.
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers.
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, Ben Bray, Anne Openshaw.

As much as I was a big fan of the TV series in my childhood, I was never really drawn to the recent film version of “The A-Team” – which was the previous outing for director Joe Carnahan and star Liam Neeson. If truth be told, I wasn’t really drawn to this film either but for one reason or another I found myself giving it a chance. As it turns out, this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be.

On a return flight home, a group of oil drillers find their plane having problems mid-air. It crash lands, leaving a small number of survivors stuck in the Alaskan wilderness. The conditions they face are treacherous; it’s freezing and they have no food or shelter but their main concern is the pack of hungry wolves who are aware of their exposure and weaknesses and begin to pick them off one by one.

Neeson continues his emergence as an ageing action star and churns out a good performance here. He delivers his tough guy schtick with admirable ease, firing off some no-nonsense lines – “I’m going to start beating the shit out of you in the next five seconds” and is a convincing and commanding presence. He also shows a bit of heart and vulnerability despite the film being quite thin on characterisation. This is most apparent in the supporting characters who basically serve as no more than fodder for the big bad wolves. They introduce enough of a background to make you almost care but this would definitely have benefited from a bit more focus on the supporting roles. Maybe even throwing in a couple of familiar faces to make it less predictable and more able throw us off the scent as to who might be the next one for wolf meat. An almost unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney makes an appearance and an impressive performance from Frank Grillo aides Neeson’s plight in trying to shoulder a routine and formulaic script that’s been stretched from a short story into a two hour movie. There’s not enough material and it shows. Despite this, Carnahan and Neeson still manage to keep you watching. I found myself more involved in the second half of the film where it became more methodical and even existential in it’s approach but ultimately, this is an action/survival tale and despite attempts at something deeper and more meaningful, it remains what it is really; a thriller. Still, it’s a good thriller that benefits from a solid lead performance.

If you don’t expect too much from this, you might just find yourself having fun. It’s a film that, surprisingly, manages to have both a deliberate pace and a eye for action set-pieces. It’s not as purposeful as it would have you believe but it’s worthy on a suspense level.

Mark Walker

20120715-112612.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,895 other followers