Film Review: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans

27/05/2010

Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is a peculiar film, but one well worth a watch. Its strength is in the fact that it does not follow more traditional approaches to filmmaking, the result of which is a compelling film.

Lieutenant Terence McDonagh is charged with investigating the murder of a Senegalese family in post-Katrina New Orleans. His drug and gambling addictions, however, interfere with solving the crime…

What begins as a noir drama becomes increasingly surreal in a style often associated with David Lynch. As McDonagh descends further into criminality, the story takes several turns and it is hard to predict how the film will conclude. With so many highly predictable films released of late, this makes a refreshing change.

Overall, Nicolas Cage gives a good performance as McDonagh, although at times it seems that he is trying so hard to give a first-rate performance that it comes across as forced. The supporting cast performs well, with Xzibit and Jennifer Coolidge in particular giving believable performances. Eva Mendes is fine as love interest Frankie, although the casting of such a beautiful actress in this role is a tad unconvincing.

The cinematography and production design work well to create visuals that match the seedy nature of the narrative. The soundtrack is sometimes inspired, adding to the uncanny sequences.

By not following the rules, Herzog has created a film that throws up unexpected incidents and strange but amusing scenes in what could have been a straightforward crime thriller. The Bad Lieutenant is an intriguing film, offering a modicum of the unforeseen in a sea of predictability.

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Film Review: Cop Out

24/05/2010

Reviews of Cop Out have been mediocre overall. By no means a classic, nonetheless, Cop Out is not as bad as the reviews suggest either.

Jimmy and Paul, two NYPD detectives, happen upon a Brooklyn drug ring after Jimmy’s prized baseball card is stolen. A simple mission to recover the card by the duo becomes much more complicated after they discover more than they were expecting…

 The fundamental problem with Cop Out is that the film is not as funny as you’d hope it would be. While there is humour, it is not as consistent as one would expect from a movie directed by Kevin Smith and starring Tracey Morgan.

The pairing of Morgan with Bruce Willis works well; with Willis playing the straight man to Morgan’s funny guy. Elsewhere Seann William Scott plays an annoying but genial thief. Although Scott does well in these side character roles, it will be interesting to see whether he will eventually break out of the archetype Stifler mould.

Smith continues with his cinematic-referencing preoccupation in Cop Out, in an overt and sometimes humorous manner. In a sense, Cop Out is a film about wanting to be cops, in a brashy, television/film way. This is most evident through the detectives played by Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody; two back office cops who jeer at Jimmy and Paul, but long to do the dangerous, action hero thing themselves.

Cop Out does not do anything to redefine the buddy cop genre, but it is unlikely the film intended to. Instead it serves as a fun addition to the genre. A few more laughs would have been welcome, though.


Film Review: Robin Hood

15/05/2010

Whilst there was enough to fault with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (namely Kevin Cosner), at least it was an enjoyable adventure throughout. Ridley Scott’s version is uneven; whilst entertaining in parts, the film is not without its holes.

More of a prequel to the familiar story, Robin Hood focuses on the title characters journey home from the Crusades and to becoming the man of legend. Scott’s film departs from previous cinematic incarnations, by having this Robin assume the identity of Robert Loxley.

One of the main problems with Robin Hood is the fact that is tries to cram in too many disparate historical elements into the narrative. As well as the aftermath of the Crusades, there is the over-taxing of the peasants, the succession of King John, an invasion attempt by France, and even what appears to be the founding of the Magna Carter. All of which, quite implausibly, Robin has a part to play in…

Russell Crowe gives a performance of some bravado, as expected. His accent at time drifts from Geordie to Irish however, which becomes distracting. Cate Blanchett is solid as Maid Marion, slightly older and with more pluck than some depictions of the character.

The film is also let down by the dialogue. It flits from overblown to corny, descending to awful pun at its lowest point. The battle scenes nonetheless are fantastic, with Ridley Scott proving he excels in directing these epic action sequences. The art direction works well also, providing a muted palette to accompany the grim depiction of the fable.

Given the calibre of talent involved in this production, the end result is disappointing. Whilst Robin Hood aims for a more gritty portrayal than previous efforts, it is let down by historical inaccuracies and bad pacing, as well as the aforementioned issues. As a prequel to the Robin Hood legend it suffices, but for a more definitive version you are better off looking elsewhere. Even Disney’s 1973 animated version would be a better bet.


Film Review: Four Lions

12/05/2010

Much has been made of Chris Morris’ willingness to court controversy. The subject matter of Four Lions has already caused a stir, however a viewing of the film is enough to subside these alarms. Though perhaps not from the Daily Mail.

Four Lions focuses on a group of inept would-be suicide bombers planning a terrorist attack on the UK.  As head of the group, Omar tries to plan an attack that will go down in history. He is thwarted somewhat by the idiocy of his fellow extremists…

The striking thing about Four Lions is that for all its absurdity, much of the film is entirely plausible. Rather than faceless murders, these characters are made three dimensional; Omar in particular is portrayed as much like everyone else, in spite of his unpalatable ideas.

The strength of the film is two-fold. On the one hand, there are the well written characters and scenarios, which promote a sense of believability. On the other, the dialogue and set-ups are incredibly funny, giving the audience exactly what they expect from a comedy of this nature.

With a film such as this, commentators will always question how sensitive filmmakers are with their depiction of the Muslim religion. However, Islam remains one of the few things that isn’t made fun of in the film. Whilst Four Lions parodies extremists and their views, authority figures (police and government) and even the unsuspecting nature of colleagues, friends and the public in general, there is no mockery of the actual religion. Four Lions is much cleverer than that.

There are good performances all round, particularly in the camaraderie between characters played by Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak. Elsewhere, it is nice to see The Thick of It‘s Alex Macqueen reprising a political role as a clueless MP.

Four Lions is a both a hilarious film and an astute parody of a politically sensitive topic. Undoubtedly certain factions will deem it offensive. But anyone who has actually seen the film will see this criticism as baseless. Four Lions is definitely worth a watch.


Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street

08/05/2010

The antichrist of Hollywood (Michael Bay) strikes again, with yet another remake of a horror classic. This new version is slick, yet this does not detract from its pointlessness.

The teens of Springwood are having nightmares, all featuring the same frightening character. Things take a turn for the worse when Freddy Krueger starts to cross the line from dream into reality…

Samuel Bayer’s remake does not stray too far from the original material. Many of the characters and set-ups are kept intact. A noticeable exception to this is the absence of Nancy’s father, a police officer. The lack of police presence in the remake is palpable. With the violent suicides and murders that occur, Bayer’s film is made all the more incredulous by a lack of interest from the authorities.

A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s chief character is of course Freddy Krueger. Jackie Earle Haley offers a performance not overly dissimilar from Robert Englund’s. However, Freddy seems to have longer strings of dialogue in this film than the original. The lack of explanation from Freddy in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street certainly enhanced the fear factor of the iconic film character. You can’t help but feel that if a remake of this film was deemed necessary, director Bayer has missed a trick in not altering the antagonist to a greater extent.

Elsewhere performances are adequate, never illuminating. The effects utilised in the film are convincing, although the original seems gorier in comparison. The soundtrack works well, particularly the use of The Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have to Do is Dream’.

With all the action and jumpy sequences that precede it, the climax appears a little lacklustre. Whilst the film is reasonably enjoyable, hopefully it will not be successful enough to spawn an unnecessary sequel. 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street part 2 was bad enough. 


Film Review: It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

01/05/2010

Director Gurinder Chadha said in a recent interview that she was sick of making romantic comedies. Perhaps not the best way to promote your new film; a romantic comedy.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife tells the story of Roopi, a British-Asian woman, and her mother who is desperate to see her daughter married. So desperate in fact, that she has taken to murdering those who get in the way…

The story is very flimsy, based on a rather ridiculous premise. This would not matter if the film was consistently humorous. However, the film is weak in this area; although there are some funny gags, it lacks the frequency of comedy you would hope for from this genre.

Goldy Notay shines in It’s a Wonderful Afterlife, giving an earnest performance despite the material she has to work with. The one highlight of this film is in its casting of Notay as the leading lady; it is refreshing to see someone in this role who is not stereotypically attractive, as with most rom-coms. Thus, when she struggles to find a partner or laments her situation, the audience can believe her.

It is a pity that less effort was spent developing the other characters in the film. Sendhil Ramamurthy is attractive as the love interest, but there is not much else too him. One is never given too much of an impression as to how his character feels, or his motivations. Sally Hawkins is bright and entertaining as the best friend Linda, although her Carrie-inspired sequence goes on a lot longer than necessary, thus losing any initial amusement.

It is decidedly positive that Chadha has chosen to take a different direction. Whilst Bend It Like Beckham was a fun and engaging film; this most recent offering  is far less inspired. Coupled with this is Chadha’s inclination to offer a very similar, stereotypical depiction of Asians (particularly Asian parents) in almost all her films. By avoiding the romantic comedy genre, hopefully her next film will offer more originality.