August 1, 2014

Movie Review – Daredevil

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Daredevil Review Logo Movie Review   Daredevil

- Summary -

Director :   Mark Steven Johnson
Year Of Release :   2003
Principal Cast :  Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Scott Terra, Jon Favreau, Joe Pantoliano, David Keith, Leland Orser, Erick Avari, Derrick O’Connor.
Approx Running Time :   103 Minutes
Synopsis:   Blind lawyer by day, costumed crime fighter Daredevil by night, Matt Murodock seeks justice for those who cannot find it any other way.
What we think :   Honestly, it’s not as bad as I recall, although it’s certainly no classic. Ben Affleck’s first foray into costumed crime fighting, for Marvel no less, features a decent opening “origin” sequence, and then goes all downhill fast. The heroic characters are played dead straight, while the villains are all over-performed, leading to a tonal mismatch that hinders the film’s strengths from ever taking hold. Some decent visual concepts can’t help some ordinary digital effects (by today’s standards, the CG human avatars stick out like dogs balls!), and the script veers wildly from arrow-straight comic-book to eye-rolling tripe, trying to both introduce the titular character but also a slew of secondary ones in an effort to establish a franchise, and succeeding at neither.

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Batfleck Begins.

Before it became a film-making juggernaut in its own right, Marvel Comics unleashed a number of its properties to external Hollywood studios; X-Men to 20th Century Fox, and Spider-Man to Sony Pictures, being the two signifigant IP’s then outside of Marvel’s direct control. Also following X-Men to Fox was Daredevil, a heroic blind dude with enhanced hearing and a penchant for taking down the scum of New York during the dead of night. In any other universe, he might have been called Batman, but for Marvel, and creator Stan Lee, Daredevil was their answer to combating DC’s ubiquitously popular mortal hero. With the success of X-Men, a film that cut through into the mainstream in a way comic-book films to that point hadn’t really achieved (with the exception of Tim Burton’s Batman back in ’89), Fox ramped up production on their only other Marvel property, Daredevil, casting then still-popular Ben Affleck as the titular hero. It’s fair to say that Daredevil met with mixed feelings on release – many fanboys derided the performance of Affleck (who snagged a Golden Raspberry for his work here) and threw creative stones at director Mark Steven Johnson for somehow “ruining” Daredevil, but a few critics also felt that, when compared to the latter stages of Warner Bros’ Batman franchise, then mired in camp shittiness, Daredevil at least partially succeeded in getting things back on track. Not having seen this film since around 2004, I decided to give it a re-watch, to see for myself whether the taint was warranted, or whether Daredevil was simply a film too ahead of its time.

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July 30, 2014

Movie Review – A Million Ways To Die In The West

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

A MIllion Ways To Die In The West Review Logo Movie Review   A Million Ways To Die In The West

- Summary -

Director : Seth MacFarlane
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, Christopher Hagen, Wes Studi, Rex Linn, Alex Borstein, Ralph Garman, John Aylward, Evan Jones.
Approx Running Time : 116 Minutes
Synopsis: A meek, loser-ish man living in the old west courts the estranged wife of a local legendary outlaw.
What we think : Too long by about 20 minutes, A Million Ways To Die In The West skirts the level of abysmal and only just keeps itself from toppling over. While there are several decent laughs to be found, they’re too few and far between, while the balance between the “olde timey” tone and the “modern pop-culture” language feels too strained to truly satisfy. Juvenile and unsubtle, Million Ways is largely mediocre and crass to the point of inanity.

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A Million Ways To Die of Embarrassment.

Like him, love him or loathe him, there’s no denying one-man-band actor/writer/producer/director Seth MacFarlane, one-time Oscars host and vocal lead on Family Guy, is something of a Hollywood wunderkind. Although often scorned for his juvenile humor and an innate inability to look like he’s doing anything other than pinching off a loaf, MacFarlane’s parlayed his small-screen success (including hosting Comedy Central’s Roast shows on a regular basis) into big-screen permission, as he tries to drag his teenage-boy sense of humor across from American Dad and into films like Ted and now this, A Million Ways To Die In The West. While Ted succeeded almost in spite of itself, thanks to a genuine performance by Mark Wahlberg, and a nicely rendered CG teddy bear, Million Ways places MacFarlane, an unproven screen performer, dead-center for its story, and coupled with MacFarlane’s job of directing, writing and producing this thing, the balance of humor, pathos and technical competency was always going to be key for the film to really leave its mark. So how does Million Ways fare, in spite of MacFarlane’s involvement? Is it destined to be a classic Western-themed comedy, like The Alamo or Unforgiven, or is it a gargantuan misfire destined to consign ol’ Seth to the bargain bin of Hollywood crash-n-burn victims?

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July 28, 2014

Movie Review – Enemy

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Enemy Review Logo Movie Review   Enemy

- Summary -

Director :  Denis Villeneuve
Year Of Release :   2013
Principal Cast :  Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Gordon, Megan Mane, Stephen R Hart.
Approx Running Time :   90 Minutes
Synopsis:  A man becomes obsessed with his physical doppelganger after seeing him in a movie.
What we think : Hard to watch “thriller” delivers few actual thrills, depending instead on its visual aesthetic and a worthwhile leading performance from Gyllenhaal to generate any momentum whatsoever. In light of an opaque set of characters, no explanation to anything whasoever (something I find to be annoying) and an ending that will have many simply scratching their heads, Enemy is in no way recommended to anyone other than hard-core cinephiles.

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Intsy Wincy Spider.

Folks who caught the Hugh Jackman-starrer Prisoners in 2013 would know the skill of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve to craft a terrific story from a hugely divisive premise, carried largely by some equally terrific acting. In a significant one-two punch for Villeneuve, his low-key thriller Enemy, which debuted during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, snagged the director a Canadian Screen Award (equivalent of the Oscars, only for Canadians!) for Best Director. Both films star Jake Gyllenhaal, and both films use a fairly downcast visual style that cements each story in a grim reality of our world, unmistakeably brimming with flavor and squalid social nuance. After my shocking encounter with Prisoners (seriously, it’s a ripping film, albeit a fairly depressing one) I went into Enemy with expectations suitably elevated – I hoped that Villeneuve could maintain his keen eye for human frailty, and hope in the face of utter ruin, and continue with putting films forward that had ambivalent moral messages entangled within desperate ethical dilemmas. Or, a good fight scene. I’d be happy with a good fight scene.

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July 25, 2014

Movie Review – Blackmail (1929)

Filed under: Alfred Hitchcock Collection,Hitchcock's British Films,Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Blackmail Review Logo Movie Review   Blackmail  (1929)

- Summary -

Director :  Alfred Hitchcock
Year Of Release :  1929
Principal Cast :  Anny Ondra, Sara Allgood, Charles Paton, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Ritchard, Hannah Jones, Harvey Braban, Joan Barry,
Approx Running Time :   84 Minutes
Synopsis:  After she kills a man who tried to rape her, a woman is pursued by the police.
What we think :  One of the earliest “talkie” films to arrive on the British market, Hitchcock’s Blackmail was filmed in both silent and sound versions – well, kinda – and became a box-office success for its time. As you’d expect, the film is rather dated by today’s standards, but even taking that into account, Blackmail is still a nice little thriller/drama that plays with the accentuated style Hitch’s early work enjoyed. Lovely camerawork, some terrific locations and set-design, mixed with decent acting and – again, considering the film’s vintage – excellent sound design, make this one a gem among Hitch’s early works. Well worth a look, especially in light of the history the film enjoys as the advent of sound came about.

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Black-and-white-mail.

In the late 20′s, cinema was undergoing what was then considered a thunderous change in its very DNA: the advent of sound, particularly the ability to hear the actors on the screen talk, was something new and exciting for studios and film-makers, although initially it would appear audiences were less than adventurous when picking up on the new technology. That, and many cinemas around the world were not really ready to spare the expense of adding in sound reproduction facilities inside their auditoriums, making the uptick of the “talkie” as a selling point somewhat moot. Hindsight obviously gives us some nice chuckles, knowing just how pervasive sound films would become, but remember that at the time it was a relatively unproven technology which was usurping “traditional” cinema markets – and Hitchcock’s Blackmail, released in 1929, is considered a major touchstone for the film industry of the era, thanks to its use of sound. According to the internet (because I have to refer to those who know more about this than I do!) Blackmail was originally planned as a silent film, but somewhere during production the choice was made to convert it to sound: executives wanted half the film to be shot with sound – Hitch thought this was a terrible idea and went about shooting the whole film with the new technology, no doubt realizing the potential for audiences to actually hear what people were saying on the screen! Naturally, Blackmail was a huge success, both critically and commercially, and was praised for its use of sound. With the distance of time, though, and the obvious advances of technology in film, one might look at a pivotal film such as this with a more critical eye than the film perhaps warrants. Considering its vintage, how does Blackmail stack up as a narrative film, irrespective of its use of sound? Is the story enthralling? Are the performances worth a look? Is this Hitch’s proudest British film?

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July 23, 2014

Movie Review – Edge Of Tomorrow

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Edge of Tomorrow Review Logo Movie Review   Edge Of Tomorrow

- Summary -

Director : Doug Liman
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson, Kick Gurry, Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley, Jonas Armstrong, Noah Taylor, Franz Drameh.
Approx Running Time :   113 Minutes
Synopsis:   After Earth is invaded by hostile aliens, a last -ditch assault to wipe them out will meet with disaster unless one man, who possesses the ability to reset time each day, can stop it.
What we think :   Pulsating sci-fi actioner delivers on just about every count, and then some. Cruise is characteristically on point, Blunt is kick-ass, Bill Paxton is a riot, and the special effects are top-notch. This is perfect popcorn entertainment that isn’t as mindless as its contemporaries, and a welcome antidote to the dreck of tent-pole sequels flooding the cineplexes each year.

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Edge Of Perfection.

He might be a crazy, couch-jumping, Scientology-loving nutcase, but Tom Cruise doesn’t go into a film with a half-assed performance. If there is one thing you can count on with Cruise, it’s that he invests himself thoroughly within a character (and a film), and it’s through this investment that he remains one of the world’s preeminent A-list superstars. While 2012′s Oblivion may have lacked audience appeal or a fresh plot, Cruise wasn’t the weak link in that film, and he isn’t again here. Not that Edge Of Tomorrow has any real weak links (other than its ending, more on which I’ll discuss shortly); Doug Liman has crafted a thrilling, involving, intelligent sci-fi actioner that will appeal to a broad spectrum audience – with both its leading man and leading woman asserting their authority on the screen, Edge Of Tomorrow is a blast from start to finish.

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July 21, 2014

Vale – James Garner

Filed under: Obituary — Rodney Twelftree @ 7:11 am
James Garner Vale   James Garner

James Garner – 1928-2014

Legendary Academy Award nominated film and television actor James Garner has passed away.

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Movie Review – Grand Budapest Hotel, The

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review Logo Movie Review   Grand Budapest Hotel, The

- Summary -

Director :  Wes Anderson
Year Of Release :   2014
Principal Cast :  Ralph Feinnes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, F Murray Abraham, Methieu Almaric, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban.
Approx Running Time :   99 Minutes
Synopsis:  A concierge teams up with one of his employees to prove his innocence after being framed for murder.
What we think :  Just a pure, candy-coated delight. There’s little more I can say about this film without descending into unadulterated, unfiltered superlatives; look, Grand Budapest is the kind of film I wish I could make, and I desperately wish there were more of, it’s so good. If you only see one film in 2014, make sure this one is the one you see right after that. Utterly brilliant.

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I’ve been to Budapest. This is far better.

Watching films can be a cathartic experience. Sometimes, wading through all the crap ejected from the sphincter of Hollywood’s lower echelon one might stumble upon a hidden gem, a hitherto unheralded masterpiece for which universal acclaim is not only expected, but deserved. Typically, however, one must look externally of the Hollywood Mainstream for a better chance of quality film-making, at least in terms of non-action genres. Independent storytellers are less constricted by commercial demands (but not always),and often deliver “passion” pieces (for want of a better phrase) that work irrespective of mainstream audience expectation. Wes Anderson has been delighting film lovers for years, much like his contemporaries the Coen Brothers, with obscure, laconic, often kooky films that definitely do not fall into the category of “mainstream”. Folks who have enjoyed Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, for example, would be well suited to appreciate the nuance and delicacy with which Anderson crafts his stories, and Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. Given that I have yet to tap into the complete Anderson oeuvre to-date (sorry, Wes) I can’t say for sure whether this film is his most accomplished work or not, but I can say one thing with absolute certainty: The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of those films that were it to come out of the Hollywood production line, might very well be missed or avoided (probably the latter more often, more’s the pity) but it really does deserve your time and attention.

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July 18, 2014

Movie Review – 300: Rise Of An Empire

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

300 Rise Of An Empire Review Logo Movie Review   300: Rise Of An Empire

- Summary -

Director :   Noam Murro
Year Of Release :  2014
Principal Cast : Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Andrew Tiernan.
Approx Running Time :   102 Minutes
Synopsis: Greek leader Themistocles leads his men into battle against the forces of Xerxes and his naval commander, Artimesia, as war comes to the bickering Greek city-states.
What we think : Entirely style-over-substance, Rise Of An Empire is hollow, loud, obnoxious entertainment that is heavy on gore and light on depth. A bland leading man and a bipolar performance by Eva Green as the central villain don’t help matters, as Empire’s brutal conflicts and catchphrase-heavy dialogue elicit minimal enthusiasm for the source material. Generally, a bit of a bummer.

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I think they mean Rise of Slo-Motion.

Anyone familiar with pop-culture will doubtless be aware of the significance of Zach Snyder’s sophomore directing effort, 300, the film which launched Gerard Butler and Lena Headey into A-List, and more then enough internet memes. With that film’s success came the allure of a follow-up, yet inconsistent with the Hollywood mantra of churning out direct-to-video slop to capitalize on said success, the second film in the 300 franchise took seven years to come to fruition – an eternity for audiences clamoring to see more of the stylish slo-mo Snyder made (in)famous. Eventually, a prequel film of sorts arrived in multi-plexes around the globe, subtitled Rise Of An Empire. Starring French actress Eva Green, original film co-star Rodrigo Santoro reprising his role as Xerxes, and newcomer Sullivan Stapleton, Rise Of An Empire followed the franchise’s visual beats to the letter, overseen by executive producer Zach Snyder, who was filming Man Of Steel at the time. Considering the original 300′s status among film fans, critics and casual viewers, it’s little wonder that expectation was high (or at least positive) for the follow-up; so what was the result? Is Rise Of An Empire a worthy sequel to the original, or does it struggle to…. ahem, rise to the challenge of providing audiences with a captivating, entertaining mix of gore, brawling and stylish violence?

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July 16, 2014

Movie Review – Tarzan (2013)

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Tarzan 2013 Review Logo Movie Review   Tarzan (2013)

- Summary -

Director : Reinhard Kloos
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Kellan Lutz, Spencer Locke, Jamie Ray Newman, Mark Deklin, Robert Capron, Joe Cappelletti, Craig Garner, Anton Zetterholm, Les Bubb.
Approx Running Time : 94 Minutes
Synopsis: The legend of Tarzan, the orphaned boy who grows up in the African jungle raised by apes, meets young hottie Jane, and defends the jungle against Clayton, the CEO of Greystoke Energies, who wants a lost, millennia-old meteor to generate power and wealth.
What we think : Throughout the entirety of this film, all I could think was one thing: when were the Phil Collins songs going to start? Tarzan’s umpteenth iteration, in animated motion-capture format, is dull, plodding, and nominally poorly animated. The humans look like bad children’s TV avatars, while the landscapes and effects are truly breathtaking, an imbalance that drags the eye out of the film’s story and into its inadequacies. Plus, there’s some kind of plot about a crashed meteor powering cities… yawn.

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Lord of the apeshit.

I’m not sure entirely why Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story about a man lost in the African jungle remains as popular as it is a century after its debut, but 2013′s animated attempt isn’t gonna do it any favors. Produced in Germany, Tarzan is the first major attempt to bring the story to the screen since Disney’s 1999 effort – a seminal film which sent the millennium out in style for the studio – and, as is to be expected with “new” versions of the classic, now made in a motion capture studio. Yeah, I rolled my eyes at that too. For no matter how hard Robert Zemeckis tried, he just couldn’t quite nail performance capture on film; The Polar Express, Beowulf and his attempt at Dickens’ Christmas Carol all found fault with the “uncanny valley” scenario of the human characters in those films lacking “life” behind their eyes, something audiences generally baulk at. And it’s fair to say that the director of this film, Reinhard Kloos, isn’t a director of the caliber of Zemeckis. 2013′s Tarzan falls into the same trap (and a few others, surprisingly) of having its human characters looking a little…. off, preventing the viewer from really attaching emotionally to the film and thus rendering it disappointingly inert.

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July 14, 2014

Movie Review – Oculus

Filed under: Movie Review — Rodney Twelftree @ 12:01 am

Oculus Review Logo Movie Review   Oculus

- Summary -

Director : Mike Flanagan
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff, James Lefferty, Miguel Sandoval.
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Synopsis: A young woman and her brother return to the house they lived in a decade earlier to rid the world of a haunted mirror.
What we think : Gore-free horror film delivers mild chills and spends a great deal of time trying to ratchet up the terror, only to flail about in incoherence late in the piece. Instead of a unique and memorable film experience, we’re left with yet another “haunted household item terrorizing a family” plot-line that goes nowhere fast, and never really surprises.

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Don’t look in the mirror. Or at this film.

It’s fair to say that the older I get, the more jaded and cynical I have become, and nothing nails this feeling like watching a modern horror film. Modern horror, be it the R-rated torture porn of the Saw franchise, or the PG dreck such as… well, everything else, really, has begun to blur into a tableau of mediocre, uneventful, non-creative trash just willing the money from the wallet at the hopeful thought of some blood, gore or hair-raising frights. For every good or great horror film there are about three dozen shitty ones, and these odds do not make a genre fan happy at all. Horror fans aren’t the most demanding viewers when it comes to these kinds of movies, and it’s sad fact that the genre has been looked upon by mainstream critics as a lower class of cinematic tripe, so I guess one could be forgiven for just throwing in the towel and accepting whatever rubbish Hollywood decided to dish up; not me – I expect more from my horror film than just random crash-bang jump-edits designed to elicit a momentary thrill of panic. I expect film-makers to be brave enough to try something new, to experiment a little within the bounds of the genre, to be daring. Oculus, in many ways, isn’t daring at all, but you get the sense that even though director Mike Flanagan was hard up against it with a largely incoherent script, he was at least trying to make this film as good as it could be.

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