Film Review: Splice

24/07/2010

Splice is a bit of a strange film. There’s a feeling that the eery concept could work, but ultimately the film fails to live up to expectation.

Two ambitious scientists working at a genetics lab decide to try to combine animal and human DNA to create a new species. The couple, however, underestimate its cognitive abilities and rapid growth rate…

A modern update of the classic Frankenstein tale, the film offers the prerequisite warning on the dangers of messing with nature. Other than this, however, it offers little else. Splice lacks the trepidation expected of a science fiction-horror such as this. Whilst film begins in quite an interesting manner, the final scenes are a let down. The ending is hackneyed, reminiscent of numerous other films of this nature. Splice offers little originality or adaptation in this regard.

Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are well cast in their respective roles. Nonetheless, neither of the two protagonists is particularly likeable, which makes it difficult to care about their fate. There is less of the tragic Victor Frankenstein about the scientists; this archetype has been replaced by conceited upstarts experimenting just to see if they can push the boundaries.

The main plus point of the film comes in the form of Dren, the hybrid created by the scientists. Director Vincenzo Natali has combined CGI and other effects with a real actress (Delphine Chanéac) to produce a highly realistic creature. The effects are seamless, particularly in her movement and interaction with the other characters.

Nonetheless, great effects are not enough to save Splice; it adds little to the genre. For a top-notch sci-fi horror film, your best bet is the far superior The Fly (either version).

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Film Review: Toy Story 3

21/07/2010

Toy Story 3 is a highly entertaining film for people of all ages. It is also one of the best final films in a trilogy series. Given the marketing campaign and release date, it is bound to be one of the biggest grossers of the year.

As Andy gets ready to leave for college, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys are uncertain about their future. A mistake leaves them stuck in a daycare centre, with Woody insistent that they should return home to Andy before he departs…

As ever, the animation from Pixar is superb. The 3D aspect to the film works well as it is unobtrusive. It adds extra life to the animation without being  distracting, indeed you quickly forget you are watching a 3D film.

The usual suspects are back for this third instalment, as well as a number of new characters. These new additions are well-written overall, although understandably some of the minor characters fall into recognisable archetypes. The idea to introduce a Ken doll is inspired; his scenes are some of the funniest in the film.

Unsurprisingly, considering the Pixar back catalogue, the film combines comedy with action, suspense and drama. Numerous critics have discussed the emotional depth to the film, suggesting its ability to tug at the heartstrings. There is a universalness to the themes of maturing and the abandonment of childhood that entails the film will have an emotional effect on most, if not all, of its viewers.

In some ways, it is more of a film for adults, particularly younger ones who grew up with Toy Story as a child, than for a very young audience. Whilst there is enough action, comedy and pace to entertain the youngest viewers, the onus is very much on the notion of the toys being abandoned, rather than the narrative of their quest to find their way back. This is particularly pertinent in the last section of the film.

Toy Story 3 works so well as it errs on the right side of sentimentality. It is emotional without becoming cloying. Interestingly, with the end message of the film, John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton appear to propagate the idea that growing older necessitates the end of childish pursuits. A message that seems at odds with the Disney ethos. But with the revenue brought in by both ticket sales and the abundance of merchandise, it is unlikely Disney will worry too much about this.  


Film Review: Inception

17/07/2010

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is the best film of the year so far, and a pinnacle which all blockbusters should strive to match.

A team of specialists, led by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb, are hired by a business man to infiltrate the dreams of his rival and plant an idea; a near-impossible feat even in this world of dream extraction. Cobb hopes this last job will be the key to his way home…

Inception works on every level – it is an incredibly entertaining film. The special effects are seemless, and Wally Pfister’s cinematography is spectacular. Hans Zimmer’s score is suitably pervading, perfectly matching the tone of the on-screen action.

But perhaps the greatest achievement of Inception is the combination of interesting storytelling with slickly produced, high-octane action sequences. These scenes excel not only because they are well made, but also because there is a significant narrative that they work within.

Nolan provides his audience with a completely original screenplay, one that he wrote himself. Whilst the ideas Inception promotes have been explored in science fiction films and books before, the film nonetheless offers filmgoers an original blockbuster; a blessed relief considering much of Hollywood’s fare in the last few years.

The concept of inception (that is to say, planting an idea in someone else’s mind) is an incredibly powerful one. With so little known about dreams, Nolan is astute to capitalise on this. With its interesting plot and narrative twists, Inception provides a winning formula of on the one hand offering intellectual stimulation, whilst on the other not being too complex as to lose half the audience. The film thus retains the entertainment and accessibility to appeal to the mainstream audience, whilst giving viewers an intelligence missing from most recent blockbusters.

As ever, Nolan appears to elicit superb performances from his cast. Regular Nolan players like Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe do a great job, whilst newcomers to the fold such as DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt excel in Inception. Tom Hardy is excellent as Eames; the exposure the actor is likely to garner from this film will probably make it his wisest career move.

Inception really is this year’s definitive blockbuster, one that deserves to be seen on the big screen. It is the type of film Imax theatres were made for.


Film Review: Predators

10/07/2010

This long-awaited sequel functions as a passable action feature, but one that does not excel to the level of the 1987 original.

A random group of soldiers, hitmen and killers, as well as a doctor, land in a mysterious jungle. It isn’t long before they realise that all is not what it seems, and the hunters become the hunted…

Predators distinguishes itself as a sequel to the first two Predator films, and not a remake. There is scant mention of the goings on of the first two films, however, and the narrative takes place on an alien planet – immediately differentiating itself from the earlier films.

One of the highlights of 1987’s Predator was the way the story was built. The reveal was gradual, and it was a significant way into the film before the creature was actually exposed. This sequel does not follow in the original’s footsteps, thus it lacks the tension and accession of pace that works so well in the 1987 film. Although it could be argued that the audience knows what the predators look like so there is no need for this suspense, the characters in this film don’t, so more could have been made of their first encounter.

The action scenes in Predators function well, and the special effects appear realistic. Nonetheless, the lack of a real plot hampers the film throughout. The climax of the film dwindles, rather than going out with a bang.

Adrien Brody is convincing enough in his role, but there is little character development in this film. Topher Grace’s character is somewhat interesting, but is let down by half-baked exposition towards the end. Elsewhere, Laurence Fishburne makes a memorable entrance, but a pitiful exit.

The action scenes in Predators are solid on the whole, and the film is certainly watchable. Nonetheless, it brings nothing new or interesting to the franchise. If you are looking for a well-executed action sci-fi film, you’re best bet is to stick with the far superior original.


Film Review: Heartbreaker

08/07/2010

Deception and surveillance are the order of the day in this enjoyable French rom-com. In the mould of Hollywood films in this genre, Heartbreaker is not groundbreaking, but it is a lot of fun.

Alex has made a career of making women fall in love with him, in order for them to leave their unhappy relationships. When he is commissioned with breaking up the relationship of soon-to-be married Juliette, he gets more than he bargained for…

The concept of the film is fun but not really original at all. However, the execution of the premise works well, better in fact than films such as Failure to Launch. Heartbreaker references some of its influences; this self-reflexivity is effective in suggesting to the audience that the filmmakers are aware that this isn’t the most original of films.

Romain Duris is charming and charismatic as Alex, whilst Vanessa Paradis is appropriately contained and controlled as Juliette.  François Damiens and Julie Ferrier perform well as husband and wife team Marc and Melanie – their characters providing much of the film’s humour.

Though Heartbreaker sometimes descends into the incredulous, it works well as a popcorn flick. The beautiful Monte Carlo backdrop matches the fantasy of the story, and makes the film a pleasant slice of escapism.


Film Review: Whatever Works

05/07/2010

Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, released only recently in the UK, sees a return to form for one of cinema’s most industrious directors and screenwriters.

Boris is an aging, cynical New Yorker set in his ways. When he decides to let a young runaway stay at his apartment, the two form an unlikely friendship, influencing each others’ long-standing beliefs…

Taking the action back to New York was a good move by Allen; it is the setting of some of his best work, after all. Not only is the city presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner, but it also acts as a powerful force within the movie. New York offers the freedom for people to truly be themselves, or at least this is what Whatever Works suggests. 

Allen is back on top form with his writing. The dialogue of Whatever Works showcases his talents at their best; it is witty and intelligent, yet relatable. Unfortunately the director does not appear in this film. He is, however, manifest in the character of Boris; the idiosyncrasies, the neuroses and the attitude is plain to see.

Larry David does an excellent job as protagonist Boris. At times an unlikeable character, nevertheless there is something intensely human (that is to say fallible) about him, which makes it easy to relate to him. Rachel Evan Wood gives a good performance as the young Melody, and Patricia Clarkson excels in her supporting role.

Whatever Works, like most Woody Allen films, won’t appeal to everyone. However, it is both an enjoyable and a well-made film. Unlike so much of mainstream Hollywood’s recent output, the film offers good writing, good performances, and that crucial element of originality.

Whilst last year’s Vicky Christina Barcelona was a cut above a lot of other releases, it lacks the warmth that emanates from Whatever Works. At the beginning, Boris tells the audience that this isn’t a “feel-good film”. But it really is, as the underlying premise is an immensely positive one. By this standard, Allen’s next release, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, is eagerly anticipated.