Monday, 27 January 2014

The Raid – Beautifully Brutal

As the ever-growing catalogue of English-language remakes of foreign films proves, there are many people out there who refuse to watch movies with subtitles. But, if there is ever going to be a subtitled movie that everyone can understand, then this is it.

Gareth Evans, the Welsh director of this Indonesian action movie, has unearthed a truly universal language; the language of violence. Whether you like it or not, people understand machetes in a way they’re never going to understand Indonesian, and Evans knows this. He keeps the dialogue simple, but effective, and instead lets the action do the talking.

And boy does it get its point across. You feel every single. Punch. Kick. Stab. Shot. Slice. Dice. And it’s absolutely thrilling. Evans remains as light on his feet as Iko Uwais, his lead, and he ducks and dives his camera through the carnage, holding its gaze at just the right moments. It’s a truly monumental directorial achievement.

‘The Raid’ features some of the hardest-hitting, and best, action I've ever seen, and all for $1.1m. That’s some kind of miracle if there ever was one.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hunger – Disappointingly Malnourished

Before taking up directing, Steve McQueen (director of this year’s 9-time Oscar nominated, ’12 Years a Slave’), was a Turner Prize winning artist . . . and you can tell.

However, with his debut feature, ‘Hunger’, he hadn't quite made the jump from art installations to emotionally wholesome films. While this film about the Northern Irish hunger strikes in the 1980s features innumerable exquisitely measured and often breathtakingly beautiful images, as an emotional whole, it falls disappointingly flat.

Apart from an interesting, but misjudged, single-shot dialogue scene lasting 17 minutes, the script is painfully threadbare and instead features a series of vignettes all seemingly based around an uncomfortable fixation with human bodily fluids. Those filth covered walls should mean something, but instead they just animalise the few prisoners we meet, which goes no way to converting us to their cause.

Soon after ‘that’ scene, though, Michael Fassbender delivers the one truly moving moment in the entire film. He details a particular childhood experience so perfectly you are swept away and soon engulfed by his tale. I didn't really know what it meant, but I knew it meant something and that's more than can be said for the rest of the film.

It’s technically masterful, but ‘Hunger’ is a missed opportunity to tell a heart-wrenchingly powerful tale of the foundations of a revolution.


Monday, 20 January 2014

HitRecord on TV – The Future is Now

I must admit, I’m a bit of a stickler for productivity. But even two reviews a week pales in comparison to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a man who wrote and directed Don Jon last year and starred in The Dark Knight Rises, Looper and Lincoln the year before.

And now this, the first episode in a season of unique variety shows from his open collaborative production company, HitRecord, an online community he started with his brother in 2005. For any of you who are unaware, it’s a gloriously creative corner of the internet where everyone is invited to contribute to a series of artistic projects. Contributions can be in form of music, artwork, animations, stories, or anything really. In fact, there are even people who just rate everyone else’s content to make sure it’s the best stuff that floats to the top.

However, what has been purely an internet-based phenomenon up until now, has finally made the massive leap onto the telly-box. Gordon-Levitt hosts each episode in front of a live theatre audience and he commands the stage wonderfully, providing charming segues between each feature.

These main segments are remarkably diverse and can range from live musical numbers to documentary shorts. This first episode provides something for everyone with a touching little animation, an insightful documentary and an entertaining final song, all made using individual contributions from hundreds of different HitRecord users.

Admittedly, it’s a show I was always going to love because it’s such a proud bastion of user-created material. But, all that aside, it features some impressively high-quality content and a delightfully endearing sense of fun. Bravo, Regular Joe.


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – ‘Pilot’ Review

After tearing it up at the Golden Globes during the week, surprise ‘Best Comedy’ ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ has made its way over the pond and is now part of e4’s ever-growing schedule of high profile US comedies.

Andy Samberg won ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ for his portrayal of Jake Peralta, the grossly immature, but irresistibly charming, lead detective in Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct and, even in this pilot, he seems totally at home in the role.

In fact, if there’s one thing you’ll take away from this pilot it’s how relaxed it all seems . . . and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was as if I was joining the show multiple seasons in, without any of that awkward experimentation that can occur in the early episodes of many comedies.

Saying that, it would be remarkable if the show doesn’t have to overcome some hiccups further down the line, so I’ll reserve judgement until then, but for a show to be this effective at such an early stage is remarkable. I just hope that all the positive buzz draws in a good audience when the episode airs tonight*.


*9pm on e4

Monday, 13 January 2014

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil – Hillbilly Humour

I'm just turning my hand to some news for a moment;

For anyone who's been watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Channel 4 have just announced that the second half of season one won't be returning to our screens until March (more on that here).

So that means no reviews of episode 11 onwards until then, sadly.

In other news, in lieu of a full review, I thought last nights episode of Sherlock was excellent and a thoroughly enjoyable end to season three. 


At its worst, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is Scary Movie; but, at its best, it’s something else entirely.

That’s because, on the one hand, we have Tucker & Dale, a lovable pair of Hillbillies spending a few days out in the woods. Then, on the other, we have ‘evil’, in the form of a group of dull, and occasionally hateful, teens who accuse our leads of being ‘psycho killers’, due to a number of utterly ridiculous misunderstandings,.

Most of these mix-ups feel totally contrived and pretty stupid, really. However, the buddy movie going on underneath the dumb B-movie horror is absolutely delightful and the two leads, Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, are excellent. It also features some refreshingly inoffensive Hillbilly humour, which has to be one of my new favourite sub-genres. There’s no cynicism, no mean-spiritedness; just huggable, and surprisingly delicate, humour.

While the kids are grating, the central pairing in Tucker & Dale is charming and often brilliantly funny.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Olympus Has Fallen – America, F**k Yeah!!

Gerard Butler stars in 2013s first White House Siege movie, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’, that was soon followed by the similarly ridiculous ‘White House Down’.

In a thoroughly enjoyable first act, a small band of highly trained Korean extremists lock down the White House, hold the President (Aaron Eckhart) hostage and threaten to turn the US into a nuclear wasteland. These scenes, especially the firefights on the house lawns, are suitably bombastic and, when accompanied by the hilariously patriotic score, provide a great deal of jingoistic fun.

Understandably, however, these scenes can’t last forever and we soon witness a slow-burning hostage situation that sees a group of boring people sit round a table discussing boring stuff. This slows the pace right down, and the film’s pulse only really starts beating again when Butler’s Mike Banning starts brutally stabbing people in the head again. But, then we’re taken back to the hostage room.

This cycle continues throughout the middle act and it all starts to get a bit shouty and racist. But, fortunately, the explosions soon return when the boring people decide to do something a bit less boring and send out some choppers to get men onto the White House roof. Things remain engaging for the rest of the runtime thanks in part to an exciting, though ultimately incomplete and short-lived, hooded set-piece.

Despite all my gripes, Olympus Has Fallen is a far better Die Hard movie than the real Die Hard 5 and, likewise, Gerard Butler now seems to be a better Bruce Willis than Bruce Willis . . . who’d have thunk it?


Monday, 6 January 2014

Chronicle – Darkness Reigns

Chronicle is another instalment in the ever-growing alternative superhero genre. It sees three high-school kids stumbling across a mysterious cave that grants them burgeoning powers of telekinesis. As one of them soon realises, their powers are like muscles and the more they are used, the stronger they become. However, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is having a tough time at home and, understandably, the combination of mental instability and superpowers turns out to be pretty devastating.

What starts out as a series of playful pranks soon becomes uncomfortably mean-spirited, and it’s these scenes that really drew me away from the film. All of a sudden, these kids went from being charming and fun to emotionally hostile and I soon stopped caring about them.

However, this coldness towards the film was overcome by the impressively orchestrated finale, in which the sheer level of destruction belies the films meagre budget. This final quarter of an hour also happens to see Josh Trank (directing his first feature) deciding to drop the found-footage-style aesthetic and it’s the only time the film feels totally cinematic.

It’s undeniable that Chronicle offers something new to the genre, with a far darker, and probably more realistic, take on the consequences of teenagers developing superhuman powers. However, the harsh emotionally distancing, due to some malicious behaviour from the leads, goes a long way to dilute the films otherwise important message.


Friday, 3 January 2014

The Hunt – A Deeply Troubling Masterpiece

Mads Mikkelsen stars as nursery assistant, Lucas, in this harrowing Danish drama about the devastating effects of allegations of paedophilia.

Mikkelsen gives a heart-breakingly human performance as Lucas’ life is torn apart, shattering any conceivable dramatic boundary with the audience. Aided by the understated writing, his performance subtlety bores its way into the darkest recesses of your soul making it impossible not to become emotionally invested in the character’s life.

There aren’t many actors working today that can hold their own against Mikkelsen when he’s on as scintillating form as this, but remarkably the rest of the cast do an exceptional job. Most importantly, Thomas Vinterberg draws a sublime performance out of Annika Wedderkopp as Klara, the child around who the accusations are centred. It’s rare to say this of such a young actress, but her use of body language, especially with regards to a number of child-like tics, is devastatingly effective

There is no such thing as a perfect film. There are however films that feel perfect. ‘The Hunt’ is one such film.