Film Review: The Collector

30/06/2010

Another year, another highly questionable entry in the torture-porn sub-genre. The Collector offers little originality, little fear, and sadly little entertainment.

So that the mother of his child is able to pay off her debt to loan sharks, Arkin breaks into his employer’s home, to steal a valuable jewel. When he gets inside however, he realises he is not alone…

There are multiple plot holes in The Collector, which generates little appreciation for the story. Even pushing these aside, the crux of the narrative appears to be geared solely on getting Arkin inside the house, and keeping him there, in order for him to see and experience gruesome incidents.

With the lack of an interesting story and very limited character development, it is hard to really care about the fate of the protagonist. Coupled with this is the lack of exposition on the killer carrying out such awful crimes. Whilst director Marcus Dunstan may have been aiming for mystery as the desired effect, the result is actually an air of laziness in the development of this film.

Gore and brutality is not necessarily a bad thing in horror movies. Nevertheless, the graphic imagery in a film should be accompanied by a worthwhile storyline, or at least some amusement. Drag Me to Hell is a good example of a film that successfully combines the abject with amusement and some moments of terror. Sadly, The Collector mixes its gore with neither humour nor any real sense of terror.

The acting in the film is passable. The cinematography offers a grainy and muted quality similar to the Saw films and Hostel. Whilst the effects in The Collector appear quite realistic, the film nonetheless offers little to its audience, other than gore and exasperation.

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Film Review: King Kong

28/06/2010

With good reason King Kong is considered one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. Although it has aged in some ways, the film still delivers the element of spectacle so fundamental to this type of picture.

Film director Carl Denham takes his cast and crew, including his new female lead Ann Darrow, to a mysterious island to film scenes for his upcoming movie. Unforeseeable to even Denham himself is that the giant gorilla Kong will take a shine to Ann…

Perhaps more emphasis has been placed on the special effects and set pieces of this 1933 film, however equally as significant is the narrative and pacing. The film excels at building tension, until the exciting moment of the reveal. Screenwriters James Creelman and Ruth Rose cleverly expose little about where the group are heading or what they can expect, initially. Though prior to their arrival on the island, Denham speaks about the myth of Kong, this does not detract from his colossal first appearance later in the film.

In building the anticipation, and sustaining tension, the score is an incredibly effective device. The ominous repetitive drum, and the rest of Max Steiner’s score, used in pivotal scenes drives home the precariousness of the crew’s situation. The pioneering stop-motion techniques used in the film, along with the other effects, must have been thrilling for the 1933 audience.

The relationship between Ann and John Driscoll is warming, despite his initial dislike of not only her, but all women. It serves as a sharp contrast to Kong’s affection for Ann; a tragic situation that only generates sympathy for the monster. As Ann, Fay Wray cements herself as the original scream queen.

The elements of misogyny and racism evident in the film may sit uncomfortably or amuse modern audience members, but serves as a reminder that this film was produced in a very different age. Nonetheless, even today King Kong stands tall as a classic, and as both an influence to many filmmakers and a benchmark that fantasy films of this nature should be measured against.

King Kong was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Screen Epiphanies season. It was introduced by Ray Harryhausen.


Film Review: Get Him to the Greek

26/06/2010

A spin-off from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek focuses on Russell Brand’s rock star character Aldous Snow. Whilst it may not be as consistently amusing as its predecessor, Get Him to the Greek is very humorous at times, and an entertaining, if mindless, film.

Aaron Green has 72 hours to get rock star Aldous Snow from London to Los Angeles, via New York, to play at tenth anniversary concert at the Greek Theatre. A simple enough task, but for the whims of a drug-addled rock star…

Whilst the plot is fairly linear, the real highlights lie in the amusing situations Aaron and Aldous find themselves in. The film does not take itself too seriously, however through the humour there is definite comment on today’s music industry. Much of the comedy not only from amusing lines, but also the songs composed for the film.

Just as Aldous Snow shone through in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a side character steals the show in Get Him to the Greek. Although she only appears intermittently, Snow’s ex-girlfriend Jackie Q is thoroughly amusing in every scene she is in. Her music video for ‘Ring Round’ is particularly hilarious.

Brand is good as rock star Snow, though it does feel as if he is playing himself at times. Jonah Hill gives a decent performance as Aaron; it is interesting seeing him playing the straight man to Brand’s character.  Sean Combs pretty much plays himself as music company boss Sergio. It is only in later scenes that Combs comes into his own, the results of which are pretty funny. The real star is Rose Byrne as Jackie Q; she steals every scene she features in. Given its setting and tone, it is unsurprising that Get Him to the Greek features several cameos, from Lars Ulrich to Meredith Vieira.

Perhaps the only real downside to the film is that the more serious and reflexive scenes fall flat, especially when contrasted with the more ridiculous situations contained within the film. Nonetheless, Get Him to the Greek is an enjoyable and funny movie.


Film Review: Our Family Wedding

23/06/2010

Our Family Wedding is a formulaic but fairly amusing culture-clash rom-com. What differentiates it from other films of this nature is the fact that none of the protagonists are white; instead a Latino family clashes with an African-American one, over the wedding of their children.

Lucia and Marcus are madly in love and want to get married before they go abroad to work. The problem is neither of their families know about this. When they decide to reveal all at a joint family dinner, sparks fly…

Our Family Wedding is pretty much what one would expect from a film like this: humour based on cultural and racial stereotypes, a few prickly bumps for the star-crossed lovers, and the inevitable happy ending. Director Rick Famuyiwa does a fair job in creating an amusing film, though there is nothing too remarkable, as far as the narrative goes.

Hollywood heavyweight Forest Whitaker gives an adequate performance in a film that requires little effort, in all honesty. Elsewhere, Carlos Mencia, Regina King and Lance Gross are believable in their respective roles. It is America Ferrera who disappoints, bringing very little to the Lucia character.

Though the young couple may seem like the focal point, it is really their two fathers who take centre stage in this film. Their initial clash and one-upmanship are what provide most of the laughs in this comedy. Much of this feuding transcends race/culture, making the humour accessible to all.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Our Family Wedding is the paucity of white characters. Whilst films featuring non-white protagonists often have at least a white friend or sidekick,  Famuyiwa’s film completely omits white characters, save for a few extras. Thus, Our Family Wedding exhibits that a mainstream Hollywood film can be multicultural, yet does not need to feature obligatory white characters. It is an interesting role-reversal of the dominant ideology. It’s just a pity that the point couldn’t have been made by a more compelling or memorable film.


Film Review: Brooklyn’s Finest

19/06/2010

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Richard Gere practices committing suicide with an unloaded gun.  No, all those gerbil rumours haven’t gotten too much for him. Rather, this scene is emblematic of the themes and tone of Brooklyn’s Finest.

Antoine Fuqua’s film follows the stories of three cops, all in different stages of their career. Although, for the most part, their stories are unconnected, they work on the same dangerous and jaded streets…

Brooklyn’s Finest works well as an absorbing crime drama, although the outlook is decidedly bleak. The streets of the precinct are devoid of hope, and each cop appears jaded in their own particular way.

In one respect, the film highlights the dangerous realities of being a cop in a place such as Brooklyn. Sal and his friends lament that they are worth more to their families dead rather than alive, due to the $100,000 payout their relatives would receive. On the other hand, however, the film is satiated with graphic violence. Thus the realities of the situation are off-set with the sometimes gratuitous violence. It does not seem a coincidence that characters are frequently shown playing video games, as the action of the film appears to resemble one, at times.

Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke all give solid performances. It is perhaps Hawke who excels most, as his frustration at not being able to provide for his family garners the most sympathy. Elsewhere, Wesley Snipes delivers a star turn as Caz, a recently released convict; a role that seems to have been written for Snipes. In this testosterone-filled film, women with significant roles are hard to come by; most cast are either prostitutes or dancers. Ellen Barkin is convincingly unlikable in the only powerful female role.

Overall, Brooklyn’s Finest is a film that delivers, but is also one that offers no real surprises from the director of Training Day. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Brooklyn’s Finest is a well-crafted drama. But for all its hints of early Scorsese (the themes of crime, the city and Catholicism), the film lacks the magic that would elevate it to ‘classic’ status.


Film Review: Greenberg

17/06/2010

Ben Stiller plays a distinctly obnoxious protagonist in Greenberg, yet it is still a watchable film. The fact the audience will keep watching despite the questionable behaviour of the main character can definitely be attributed to Stiller’s solid performance in Greenberg.

Recovering from a breakdown, Roger Greenberg house-sits his brother’s Los Angeles home with the sole aim of doing nothing. In between writing his letters of complaint to major corporations, however, Greenberg reconnects with old friends, and makes new ones along the way…

Screenwriter and director Noah Baumbach has created an ambling little film in Greenberg. Not remotely plot-driven, the film explores the minds of the main characters; the narrative is incredibly loose. Whilst there is strength in this approach, it is also the film’s biggest weakness, as Greenberg is a thoroughly unlikable character.

His treatment of best friend Ivan and new friend/love interest Florence is, at times, deplorable. Whilst some sympathy can be garnered by the fact that Greenberg is recovering from a mental breakdown, his dramatic outbursts against these far more likable characters do little to endear him to the audience. It is these two characters in particular which generate the only positive reaction from viewers. Baumbach and writer Jennifer Jason Leigh (who also stars in the film) have, in Ivan and Florence, have created two flawed but identifiable characters, giving the audience someone to root for – an aspect completely lacking in the protagonist.

Best known for his comedic roles, Stiller excels as the unpleasant Greenberg, offering a quiet but effective performance miles away from the likes of Zoolander. Greta Gerwig shines as the downtrodden Florence; she is engaging and elicits much sympathy for putting up with Greenberg’s rants. Rhys Ifans likewise gives a solid performance, and offers the audience a moment of catharsis when he finally calls Greenberg out on his shortcomings.

Whilst Greenberg is a well-made film, with a protagonist such as this perhaps more plot development would have been a good idea. Nonetheless, the strong performances of the cast, as well as the well-crafted secondary characters, make the film an enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, experience.


Film Review: The Killer Inside Me

14/06/2010

Michael Winterbottom’s controversial film is at times hard to watch, with its brutal depictions of violence. The Killer Inside Me, however, is for the most part a well-crafted drama, with strong performances from its cast.

Centering on a deputy sheriff in a small Texan town, The Killer Inside Me explores the mind of this psychologically damaged individual. As the film progresses, the extent of his psychosis becomes more apparent…

The character of Lou Ford is a complex and intriguing one. His cool exterior is gradually ebbed away until the facade of normality begins to slip in front of those closest to him. The attitude of the women in his life will be hard to relate to for many audience members, but is nonetheless convincing, sadly.

Casey Affleck gives an excellent performance as the protagonist Ford. It is understated, yet incredibly affecting. Kate Hudson also shines; it is refreshing to see her tackle a serious drama, a far cry from her usual rom-com fare. Elsewhere, both Elias Koteas and Bill Pullman are memorable.

In the last third of the film, the narrative swings from realism to the realm of disbelief. It is unclear how much of what is depicted is actual event, or whether most of what is shown is really a figment of Ford’s imagination. Up until this point, the film offers a thought-provoking examination of an unstable mind. This is somewhat disrupted by the last section of the film, which slides into Lynchian territory, without the panache of the acclaimed director.

Overall, The Killer Inside Me is an interesting yet flawed film, with its strongest achievement being an exceptional performances from Casey Affleck.