Film Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

31/08/2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World did not deserve to bomb as badly as it did at the US box office. However, neither did it deserve the exorbitant amount of hype it received prior to release. The film itself falls somewhere in between worthy of the hype and box office dud.

Scott Pilgrim’s life is turned upside down when he meets Ramona Flowers, literally the girl of his dreams. In order to be with Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes…

Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is much like a live-action cartoon. The combination of computer game graphics with comic book imagery gives the film a fun and interesting look. Director Edgar Wright has excelled in creating a visually pleasing picture.

What the film gains in aesthetics it lacks in depth. The central character, Scott, is not exactly the most endearing protagonist. Cheating on his innocent girlfriend Knives with Ramona does not illicit much sympathy for him in the more emotional moments of the film. Nonetheless, the film puts emphasis on fun rather than drama, so the superficiality does not detract overly from the enjoyment.

A good portion of the humour is derived from Scott Pilgrim‘s references to popular culture. Whilst this will probably resonate with twenty-somethings, it may fall flat with younger or older audiences. The reference to ‘Mega Scott’, for example, will only be amusing to audience members versed in the classic video game Sonic the Hedgehog.

Whilst Scott himself isn’t the most likeable of protagonists, there are several entertaining characters featured. Knives Chau (played by Ellen Wong) is delightfully over excitable. Kieran Culkin is suitably cacophonous as Scott’s roommate Wallace, whilst Anna Kendrick is excellent but underused as his sister Stacey. Among the exes, Chris Evans stands out in his parody of a Hollywood movie star.

In addition to the lively graphics, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World features a great soundtrack. The film isn’t simply a case of style over substance. The film is an enjoyable watch. However, it appears to have a limited appeal. This is part due to its leading man. Michael Cera seems to play a very similar character in all his films. Unfortunately it is a character which a significant sector of filmgoers find annoying. This coupled with the video game and hipster references result in a film that will not attract a wide demographic.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an enjoyable and amusing movie, but one that does not attain the level of ‘epicness’ it clearly strives for. 

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Film Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire

30/08/2010

The second installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire ups the pace from the first film, creating for the most part a more immediately engrossing thriller, but one with more flaws than its predecessor.

Journalist Mikael is investigating a sex-trafficking ring when three people connected with the case are murdered. Computer hacker Lisbeth is accused of the murders and, with Mikael’s help, must clear her name by finding the real culprit…

The main drawback with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was that it took too long to really get going. The Girl Who Played with Fire doesn’t suffer with this affliction, and is more instantly engaging because of this. Furthermore, some of the mysteries of Lisbeth’s past (introduced in the first film) are revealed in this installment, making it more satisfying to this end.

With much of the character development taking place in the first installment, director Daniel Alfredson is free to concentrate on the action of the case itself. It is just a shame that the mystery in this film isn’t as interesting as the case in the first film. The missing teen and the family empire of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo presented a more fascinating series of events than this case of a trafficking ring, which is never really investigated in any depth. Instead, the plot shifts to clearing the name of Lisbeth, which entails more action but less investigation.

The Girl Who Played with Fire presents a very clear depiction of women as victims and the perpetrators of crimes as solely male. Whilst Lisbeth may not be a typical heroine, she appears to fit in with the other main female characters in that she is a victim of violence. This rather primitive representation of genders detracts from the mystery aspect of the crimes, in both installments of the trilogy.

As with the first film, The Girl Who Played with Fire builds the tension to the climactic sequence. Although the climax is exciting, it also lacks credibility. Whilst the film has an overall basis in reality, events in the final scenes betray this with an absence of believability.

Casting for the American adaptation of Larsson’s books has recently been announced. It will be interesting to see how closely they resemble this Swedish attempt.


Film Review: The Last Exorcism

25/08/2010

Just when you think you’ve seen enough exorcism films to last you a lifetime, along comes another. The Last Exorcism, however, is a commendable film and one of the better ones in this horror sub-genre.

Reverend Cotton Marcus is the subject of a documentary on exorcisms. He allows a camera crew to film his final exorcism, with the intention of debunking some myths…

Filmed as a mockumentary, the film will immediately draw parallels with The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project. Daniel Stamm’s film differentiates itself from these predecessors by injecting a healthy dose of cynicism. Rather than a neutral documentary hoping to discover some truths, The Last Exorcism is set-up as a film intending to reveal the fabricated nature of exorcisms. This is cynicism is aided by bouts of humour, which add to the sense of verisimilitude.

The story works well; the various twists leave the viewer unsure of exactly where the film is heading. The film works well to maintain audience interest; it is only the last quarter of the film which lets it down. Otherwise, the film does well to build tension, and the scares are infrequent but efficient when they come.

The Reverend Cotton (played by Patrick Fabian) is an interesting protagonist. A religious man who has lost his faith, it is clear Marcus has been affected by having a family and the stories of exorcisms ending negatively. The overriding theme of The Last Exorcism is that of belief. The film parlays the line between the natural and the supernatural; it is unclear whether Nell’s predicament is psychological or paranormal. The overall message of the film appears to promote personal faith over organised doctrine.

Patrick Fabian gives a good performance as Marcus. He appears genuine when expressing both humour and fear. Ashley Bell brings an ambiguous quality to her portrayal of Nell, seeming innocent yet tortured. Effects are used sparingly, adding to the realist feel of the picture. When employed, the sound works to great effect in enhancing the atmosphere.

Not a masterpiece, but The Last Exorcism is definitely worth a watch. Although the thrills are on the limited side, the film engages the audience’s interest throughout.


Film Review: Salt

20/08/2010

Angelina Jolie dons a series of unconvincing wigs in this unconvincing action thriller. Salt is one of those films that should be good, but ultimately fails to live up to expectations.

Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent, is accused by a defector of being a Russian spy who intends to assassinate the president of Russia in New York. Salt goes on the run after finding her husband missing, with her colleagues in close pursuit…

Salt begins similarly to Minority Report; with an insider being accused of a crime they have yet to commit. With Tom Cruise originally slated to take the title role, the similarities could have continued. Instead, with Jolie at the helm, the film takes a series of twists, none of which are particularly convincing. Furthermore, the ending is rather unsatisfying and comes across as a tad presumptuous.

Phillip Noyce’s film attempts to keep the audience guessing with its twists and revelations (any detail on this would be too much of a spoiler). However, with every twist the film becomes more incredulous. Salt falls into the gap between realist thriller and popcorn action flick. On the hand the film takes itself too seriously to be enjoyed solely for its action angle, and on the other it aims at a degree of realism that depreciates with the film’s descent into disbelief.

Angelina Jolie does a fair job as protagonist Salt, although her artificial hair situation is somewhat distracting. Liev Schreiber is believable as Salt’s boss Ted Winter, although it is the type of role he has been cast in a number of times before. Chiwetel Ejiofor meanwhile is underused as Peabody, the most convincing character in the film.

The action sequences are well crafted, and add some much-needed excitement to proceedings. Even these, however, are marred by implausibility. Salt, for example, jumps from a bridge onto a metal container of a truck, yet is so little injured by this that she is able to make similar jumps moments later. Elsewhere, top CIA and security service agents are portrayed as wholly incompetent, despite the importance of their roles.

If you are looking films in a similar vein, Bourne Identity, Minority Report or The Manchurian Candidate are all superior choices to Salt.


Film Review: The Expendables

15/08/2010

If you like your storyline thin and your body count high, The Expendables is the most enjoyable straightforward action film of the year.

A group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross are offered an assignment to assassinate the dictator of a small island is South America. When they arrive, things aren’t exactly what they seem, and the group faces a highly perilous mission…

Sylvester Stallone directs, co-writes and stars in this big-budget action spectacle. He has assembled some of the best-known action stars from the last few decades, including cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This works well; there is a real sense of camaraderie, as well as the obligatory in-jokes.

The plot is light, but then that’s not really the attraction of The Expendables. The main draw is seeing all these action stars – Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and others – together on the big screen. Coupled with this are the large-scale action scenes and the graphic fights.

The Expendables harks back to the testosterone-fuelled action films of the 1980s, through not only the casting but also the style. This is by no means a bad thing; after numerous action films attempting to combine a bit of everything it makes a change to see a film so unequivocally action-focused. Most importantly, the film is executed well enough to entice a range of cinemagoers; it is not just the action film devotees who will enjoy it.

The pyrotechnics and stunts are commendable, although there is one effect used in the film that looks a little unrealistic. The soundtrack matches the bravura nature of the visuals. The Expendables builds pace, combining action scenes with more dialogue-laden ones, until the frenetic finale. It is Mickey Rourke’s character who provides the only real depth to proceedings; but then again this film isn’t an emotional drama.

Overall, The Expendables is a highly enjoyable film, and a welcome return of the no-nonsense, unrelentingly violent, unabashedly masculine action film.


Film Review: Knight and Day

11/08/2010

Knight and Day relies heavily on the star power of leads Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. The film definitely benefits from the pair’s chemistry; without this it is passable at best.

A chance encounter at the airport changes the life of June Havens (Diaz) forever. She finds her life is in danger after she gets chatting to secret agent Ron Miller (Cruise) on a plane…

As an action comedy, Knight and Day appears to tick all the boxes. The film contains large-scale action sequences, plot twists, a love story and amusing set-ups. Nevertheless, it lacks the magic that would make it a memorable film. Although the stunts are well produced, the twists aren’t that imaginative and the comedic situations are not as funny as you would hope.

Tom Cruise appears to send himself up a little in his portrayal of the seemingly unhinged Miller. As the film progresses, Miller is revealed to be more astute than his initial depiction; an analogy, perhaps, of Cruise and his public persona. Cameron Diaz plays June as ditzy yet endearing. It is a role she has played before, but one she plays well. Cruise and Diaz work well in this pairing; their chemistry sparks an interest in an otherwise mundane narrative.

The premise of Knight and Day isn’t a poor one, but it has been done before and executed much better than in this film. James Mangold directs the action scenes with finesse, however the sequences in between are let down by a lack of ingenuity, which would have carried the audience’s interest through.

Knight and Day is enjoyable enough if it is not taken seriously at all.  It is the type of film you would happily watch on television or dvd, but may leave you a little disgruntled after paying to see it on the big screen.


Film Review: Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

08/08/2010

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) is part biopic, part fantasy, and wholly enjoyable. Whilst Serge Gainsbourg undoubtably had a very interesting life, it is up for debate as to how much emotional attachment the audience will feel to the film.

Brought up as a Jew is wartime Paris, Gainsbourg tells the story of the young Lucien Ginsburg and his transformation into one of France’s most successful artists. Along the way, Gainsbourg achieves great success whilst having liaisons with some very well-known women…

Gainsbourg is a biopic, but not in the traditional sense. Rather than fact-filled, the film floats from sequence to sequence, combining actual event with fantasy and dreams. The fantastic element is most prominent through the frequent appearance of Serge’s alter-ego, Mug; a larger than life character who often tries to lead the protagonist astray.

Director Joann Sfar gets the best out of his actors. Eric Elmosnino is compelling as Gainsbourg, highlighting the singer’s immense talent, as well as his flaws. Anna Mouglalis, Laetitia Casta and the late Lucy Gordon all perform well in their roles as famous stars who enter Gainsbourg’s life.

The soundtrack for the film is excellent, featuring Gainsbourg’s music from various points in his career. Visuals are often sumptuous, offering a dreamlike quality to surroundings. With the lack of factual information (the film jumps decades at times) the sets and costumes give the audience a clear indication of the era of a particular scene.

Whilst Gainsbourg is an interesting character, unlike a typical biopic the film does not easily generate sympathy or admiration for its protagonist. The film depicts Serge Gainsbourg as imaginative and talented, but also incredibly selfish. Thus, there isn’t any strong feeling towards the central character as the film closes, other than one of interest at the remarkable life he has led. Nevertheless, Gainsbourg is an entertaining and well-crafted film.