Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

"What have you got against capitalism?"

Written By: Don Payne & Mark Frost

Directed By: Tim Story

Starring: Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, Doug Jones

My rating: 3/5

With expectations for this franchise at almost minus level, it's fair to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the level of campy entertainment to be had from this pointless sequel. To be fair, 90% of the entertainment comes from the wonderful Silver Surfer character. Leaving any expectations for interesting characters at the door from my knowledge of the first film, I was pleased to see that the writers had created a sweet, simplistic character arc for what is certainly the coolest-looking comic-book character of the summer.

Otherwise, the plot is fairly typical. There's little to point out. The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic attempt to get married, but once again work gets in the way of their union, with the titular Silver Surfer coming to Earth to herald the coming of an alien force that will destroy the planet. The Fantastic Four must combine their powers (quite literally, it turns out) to get the Silver Surfer to aid them in destroying their enemy before it destroys us. Thanks to Jessica Alba's skin-tight "uniform" and pouty, glossed lips the Silver Surfer suffers a moral crisis.

To see the involvement of former Twin Peaks mastermind, Mark Frost, in the writing of this screenplay disappointed me so much that I was tempted to take away a whole rating mark, just out of spite. However, one must judge films for what they are and this is a run-of-the-mill summer sequel that actually surpasses expectations and somewhat entertains us for 95 minutes. Extra kudos must go to any film that can stick to the 90 minute mark these days. It seems impossible to tell any sort of story in less than three hours anymore. The pleasing brevity of the story and the surprisingly welcome vacuousness of the film actually makes for a decent popcorn movie. Not that I'll be running off to see it again, or to recommend it to people, but if you only want to sit back, close your brain, and give another €10 to Hollywood, then maybe give this a try. It's shorter than Pirates of the Caribbean and, for my money, the Silver Surfer has at least 20% more coolness than Jack Sparrow.

- Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Starring: Luke Wilson, Kate Beckinsale, Frank Whaley

Written By: Mark L. Smith

Directed By: Nimrod Antal

My rating: 3/5

As far as "yuppie couple trapped by masked predator" movies go, Vacancy is a pretty good example of a very scary, very consistent one. It follows nearly-divorced couple David and Amy as they are stalked by a motel proprieter and his henchman, to presumably become carnage for a series of snuff films.

From about 20 minutes in, until about 45 seconds from the end, the film grips its audience on a very primal level. Its remarkably Hitchcockian tone fortunately feels more like an aid to the horror than a stolen stylistic stereotype. Antal's jarring unusual framing makes for some ugly filmmaking, but aids the film later as the usual indicators of an upcoming scare are null and void. As audiences, we have become unconsciously fluent in the language of cinema and have an understanding that if there's too much empty head room in a shot, the killer will probably fill it. We also know if someone opens a door, that when they close it, the killer will be standing there. Antal cleverly teases the audiences with enough false premises to ensure that they know they cannot trust the usual language of the horror film. He then progresses to scare the pants off everyone and make the audience feels nothing less than terrorised for the duration of the film.

There are good performances from the usually-dull Kate Backinsale and the usually-hilarious Luke Wilson. They aren't the most likeable protagonists, but their determination to be cleverer than than their celluloid counterparts keeps the audience on their side. The biggest flaw in the film is the abrupt and bland ending. Hopefully the evil Hollywood studio execs are responsible for the ending, because this story at least allows some forgiveness for the filmmakers.

Basically, this is a film for the cinema. It will most likely scare you stupid and although forgettable and about as deep as a puddle, it is most definitely 85 minutes well spent!

-Charlene Lydon

Monday, June 11, 2007


"I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn't tell you."

Written by: James Vanderbilt

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny

My rating: 5/5

To write a film containing as much information as Zodiac is a daunting task. It is in great danger of getting bogged down in facts and figures while forgetting to establish characters and/or intrigue. However, films such as Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men proves that such tasks are possible. The trick is to roll with the punches. Fincher steers well clear of the 3 act traditional structure, instead following the meandering drama, with all its ups and downs, forcing the audience to endure the torment of the wicked succession of heartbreaking dead end leads.

The film follows the story of three central figures in the unravelling mystery of the Zodiac killer. San Francisco Chronicle star reporter, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) whose substance abuse starts as a fun, quirk and slowly disintegrates him until he has become a recluse. Dave Tosci (Mark Ruffalo) is the frustrated homicide officer who devotes a huge part of his life to the investigation. Paul Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist who decides to write a book about the killer and in the process solves the mystery of Zodiac's identity.

A typical serial killer flick this ain't! The murder scenes although harrowing, do not play it for scares and the gore is minimal. In fact, it is the matter-of-fact nature of the scenes that makes them so harrowing. The lack of any real resolution is something that makes for very frustrating
cinema, but there was enough conclusion to allow the audience to feel satisfied. Because nobody was ever charged with the Zodiac murders, Fincher's story focuses on why nobody was caught, allowing the audience to question the system, and its alleged over-reliance on technical evidence. This unsettling look at "due process" and "protocol"'s failure to succeed is the real focus of the film. Instead of the usual cat and mouse serial killer story, this story deeply investigates the reasons why Zodiac was never caught.The tiniest details are included and the story moves so quickly that if your attention loses focus for even a moment, chances are you'll have missed something important.

With Zodiac, David Fincher has finally found the right balance of style and storytelling. Although he has made some of the most important films of the past decade, sometimes his flashy style can distract from the story and perhaps even cheapen its impact slightly. Zodiac is pure Fincher visually, but never gets bogged down in its aesthetics. It looks beautiful, with perfect 70's period recreation merged with a classical Hollywood film noir style. Some brilliant camerawork only helps the story along, and never draws focus away from the events taking place.

The performances in the film are a huge part of the reason this film works so well. Every single tiny character in this film full of tiny characters is perfectly cast. It is full of brilliant performances, especially from the three lead actors, each of which bring enormous charisma to their respective characters. In films like this, there is a thin line between forgetting to fully realise characters and getting too involved with the central characters. Zodiac sits perfectly on that very line. The three leads go through enormous changes and development throughout the film, but these details are tightly woven into the story, never ever losing focus from the story at hand.

Overall, I found myself unable to find any flaws in Vanderbilt's perfect script, Fincher's perfect direction and Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal's perfect performances. One must be warned to ensure that full concentration be given to the film. Due to its meticulous nature, it is full of tiny details that become very important later. If you force yourself to see one film in the cinema this summer, let it be Zodiac rather than a blockbuster. It deserves your attention more and may lose something in its small screen adaptation.

- Charlene Lydon

Friday, June 08, 2007

La Vie En Rose

Written by: Olivier Dahan

Directed by: Olivier Dahan

Starring: Marion Cotillard
Gerard Depardieu
Sylvie Testud
Isabelle Sobelman

My Rating: 4/5

To tell somebody’s life story in one movie is like trying to condense the Bible into a pop-up book. This is something that filmmakers realised a long, long time ago. Because of this, the only way to make a biopic is to pick out the main events and adapt an episodic structure. With La Vie En Rose, the biopic of masterful French singer Edith Piaf, the director takes a slightly different route. He keeps to the episodic structure but truncates the narrative so that there are several periods of her life being told randomly throughout. Although original, and cleverly interwoven, this narrative style cheapened and detracted from the emotion of an otherwise beautiful, unbearably sad story.

The film tells the story from Edith’s early days on the streets, to the part of her childhood spent in a brothel, blinded by an inflammation of the eyes, to her days in the circus with her father, to her incredible rise from poverty to all the heights and glories of international acclaim. Although full of character and sparkling charisma, Edith was a troubled, hardened woman, having led an awful life of fear, poverty and instability. Her later years were spent as an incurable substance addict and her body became frail and elderly by the time she died at the age of 47.

The music in the film is used beautifully and highlights the natural talent of Edith Piaf. The film emphasises her lack of training and discipline and her ability to perform onstage no matter what emotional or physical condition she was in is. The songs are beautiful, the orchestration is beautiful and the deep soulful melancholy of the music is perfectly fitting with the story of her life.

The central performances are all very strong but Marion Cotillard’s portrayal of Edith Piaf may be one of the most stunning female performances of our time. She plays the physical fragility brilliantly and the emotional fragility even better. She sparkles in every scene, allowing the audience to compare the vivacious sensation that was Edith Piaf to the shrivelled shadow she became. Unfortunately, this film is in French with English subtitles so any hope that this film will be rewarded as Johnny Cash’s biopic Walk the Line was at the Oscars is doubtful. If there is any justice in the world, audiences will flock to see Cotillard’s performance and to see the story of one of the 20th century’s most gifted artists.

The film celebrates Edith Piaf’s gift without painting her as a saint. Her life was bitterly sad and not at all uplifting but the music, the story and the frankly astonishing lead performance is certainly worth the price of a ticket. While it doesn’t necessarily stand out among other biopics, it is as deserving of our attention as any other and successfully gives us an overall feel for the woman whose voice soared even when her heart was in the gutter.

- Charlene Lydon

Friday, June 01, 2007

28 Weeks Later

"Step 1: kill the infected. Step 2: containment. if containment cannot be done then, step 3: extermination "

Written By: Rowan Joffe & Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Directed By: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Catherine McCormack

My rating: 3/5

As sequels go, 28 Weeks Later came as a surprising treat. Though not received particularly kindly by all critics, it has proven to be a successful successor to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Set 28 weeks after the events of the first film, the US military are tentatively repopulating England after it was ravaged by a zombie- making disease known as "the rage".
From the outset, it is firmly established that the audience is in for an intense 90 minutes of almost continuous peril. Whether it is the fact that the two main protagonists are children who, over the course of the film, lose both their parents, or perhaps the fact that the familiar landscape of London is a bit TOO familiar, this film really knows how to frighten its audience. Not just by delivering jumps and horrible gore, but by genuinely placing the audience within the pandemonium. Because the film becomes so catastrophic in the second half, the element of desperate running tends to make the viewer tired and relieved to be out of the nightmare of the past hour and a half. I mean this in a very positive way. The sight of the end credit made me feel like I had woken from a nightmare and found to my relief that it was, in fact, just a nightmare. This is the power of good cinema. Of course, this is nothing new, as those of you who have seen the first film will know. The incessant feeling of running for your life is traumatic and the unrelenting presence of the infected people make for an intense cinematic experience, to say the least.
Despite a number of very silly plot problems and contradictions, 28 Weeks Later easily provides its audience with a satisfying sequel to what has become an almost universally praised modern classic. The performances from the children tugged at the heart-strings and the infected were as ravenous as in the first film, but some of the main grown-up cast were lacking. There was a sense of aesthetic pleasure over acting skill, but this tends to be the nature of horror films. This doesn't jar too much though and overall it doesn't detract from the otherwise high quality of the film.
It may sound like a strange thing to say but what makes these films especially frightening is their mature and realistic portrayal of what might happen in a very hypothetical situation. On this level, the reaction of the military, the spread of the disease and the reactions of the children to the horror of it all was successful. At no time did I find the solace of the knowledge that this is set in a fantasy world. The film ensures that it all feels real and takes care to exploit the familiar tourist areas of London to remind us all that we've all been here and visited these places.
On that note, the special effects must be commended. To create the desolate London city must have been pain-staking but but worked beautifully and created a great sense of fear, tapping into the part of us that fears nuclear war or chemical attacks.
Overall, its not a perfect film, but it certainly deserves a look and turned out far better than was generally expected. Worth the price of your ticket.

Spiderman 3

"I don't understand, Spiderman doesn't kill people! What happened?"

Written By: Sam & Ivan Raimi

Directed By: Sam Raimi

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Topher Grace
My rating: 4/5

***Contains Spoilers***

For reasons unknown, the world has turned against our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. The third installment of the enormously successful superhero franchise has been attcked ferociously by critics and audiences alike. Having loved Spiderman 3, I find myself in the same position as I was in after having loved the first Spiderman movie. I find that I must explain to people that they are missing the point of both Sam Raimi's intentions and of the intricacies of the story. Of course, I won't pretend I wasn't disappointed with Venom and Eddie Brock's miniscule screen time but that was more than made up for by the gloriously fleshed-out character of Sandman/Flint Marko and the wonderfully poignant character arc of Harry Osborn.

The main criticisms of Spiderman 3 seem to revolve around its clutter. Too many storylines, too many characters, too many villains. Well, in my eyes, the clutter in the story reflects the clutter in Peter's life, the clutter which led to the frustration which resulted in his gradual change to emo-Spidey. With problems in his reltionship with M.J., problems with his own self-esteem, and the shock news that Uncle Ben's killer is actually alive and still on the loose, Peter's frustrations mount, descending into that dark place that we all venture into during the hard times. However, most of us don't have evil space oil infecting our bodies and augmenting our dark side until it becomes quite literal. The glory of the comic book story is the literalisation of themes that reality just can't explore. This is never more spectacular than in Spiderman 3. Every action of emo-Peter is an augmented action of any hurt and disillusioned person.

Raimi should be especially lauded for allowing himself the indulgence of 20 minutes of pure silliness, a montage which shows "the new Peter Parker". He's hip, he's confident and he knows how to stand up for himself. Of course, as the montage progresses, the audience begin to realise that not only do we think he looks crazy, but so do the very people he's trying to impress. It dawns on us, at the same time it dawns on Peter, the seriousness of this new lease of life and the implications of the black suit. After a particularly kitsch scene in the bar where M.J. works turns very sour, Peter realises that the suit has affected him in ways he must now confront. In doing so, the oil infects Eddie Brock, Peter's rival at The Daily Bugle. The climax of the film gives Brock (as Venom) a moment of choice, like Peter had, a chance at redemption. Instead of taking it, Brock hungrily lunges after the alien oil ferociously rejecting any chance of humanity, thus resulting in his demise. Raimi's clever use of this mechanism allows the audience to compare hero to villain and therefore forgive Spiderman for his past indiscretions.

Such classic cinematic touches as this, and as the careful illustration of the brutish thug, Flint Marko's struggle with his alpha-male and paternal sides, are what makes Spiderman 3 one of the most cinematically articulate blockbusters of our time. This third installment addresses issues of masculine insecurities and also issues of sociological ideologies of crime and punishment, while never preaching and always keeping entertainment as the key priority.

Raimi commendably maintains the superbly comic-book visual aesthetic he created in the first two films, giving the audience the eye-candy they deserve in a summer blockbuster, but cleverly structures the film in such a way that Peter's character arc is central and connected to the stories of all the other villains. Unfortunately for Spiderman, the misunderstood masterpiece has been sidelined as a lazy action flick, but hopefully time will allow Spiderman 3 its chance in the limelight, along with its predecessors.