Saturday, May 30, 2009

DRAG ME TO HELL - works better as loving pastiche than as horror

DRAG ME TO HELL is a very funny, loving pastiche of 70s exploitation horror flicks. It sees Sam Raimi of SPIDERMAN fame return to his roots, and every frame of this movie speaks of the fondness he has for the ludicrous nature of lo-fi horror. The colouring, the low-rent special effects (big on oozing bodily fluids), the two-dimensional characters, the absurdity of the central premise - it's all there. And in every case, the Bad Things that happen aren't scary at all, but just plain funny. This is, then, a movie, with it's tongue firmly in its cheek and, indeed, its pulse firmly on the zeitgeist. After all, in these recessionary times, who doesn't want to see the loan officer foreclosing a house get well and truly skewered?!

The plot is simple. Alison Lohman (WHERE THE TRUTH LIES) plays a sweet little push-over called Christine Brown. Fearing she'll be out-manoeuvred for a promotion by the office kiss-ass, she takes the unprecedented step of foreclosing the creepy Mrs Ganush (Lorna River). The boss at her bank (David Paymer) is impressed, but it all goes Pete Tong when the creepy Mrs Ganush puts a gypsy curse on Christine. For the next three days, she gets all manner of gross bodily fluids thrown at her, before the goat demon comes to take her soul. Her only chance of escape is to transfer the curse to someone else....

Lohman is perfectly fine as the scream-queen, but the movie belongs to the supporting cast. Reggie Lee is hysterical as the office kiss-ass, Justin Long is suitably straight-faced as the drippy boy-friend and Dileep Rao is spot on as the Indian mystic, to whom Christine turns for help. Overall, DRAG ME TO HELL is Sam Raimi at his most entertaining. But horror fans, take heed, this movie is PG-13 for a reason.

DRAG ME TO HELL played Cannes 2009 and is on release in the US, UK, France and Lithuania. It opens next weekend in Malaysia and South Korea. It opens on June 12th in Germany, Singapore, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Sweden. It opens on June 18th in the Czech Republic and Denmark. It opens on July 2nd in Belgium, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam. It opens on July 9th in Russia and on July 31st in Spain. It opens on August 14th in Brazil, and on August 20th in Argentina and Mexico.

Friday, May 29, 2009

12 ROUNDS - a movie so bad its been disowned by its screenwriter

12 ROUNDS is a piss-poor, formulaic, buddy-cop action flick, that has the cast and production values of a B-movie. It's basically a break-out vehicle for WWE wrestling star John Cena - a man so massive the screenwriter actually makes a joke about him being "freakishly large". And speaking of the screenwriter, despite the IMDB credit for Daniel Kunka, the flick was actually been written by Shane Black, the guy who wrote the massively superior Lethal Weapon movies and, more recently, the quirky thriller, KISS KISS BANG BANG. 12 ROUNDS is a humourless caricature of all that made the Lethal Weapon films great. Two humble beat-cops cum buddies (John Cena, Brian White) happen to intercept an international arms dealers (Aidan Gillan) when he's in New Orleans for the weekend. A year later, and the beat cops have been promoted to detective and the arms dealer has broken out of prison. In order to get revenge, he blows up the cop's house and kidnaps his girlfriend. The cops have to jump through 12 tasks in order to see her again. Yes, yes, despite the faux-realism of the hand-held Bourne-esque action sequences, this plot is incredibly, implausibly contrived. There are lots of chase scenes, none of which set the pulse racing, some mediocre acting, and an entirely predictable denouement. Seriously, just stay home and watch LETHAL WEAPON or BEVERLY HILLS COP and see how this stuff is supposed to be done.

12 ROUNDS was released earlier this year in Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the USA, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, New Zealand, the UAE, South Africa, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, Russia, the Ukraine, Finland and Mexico. It is currently on release in the UK, Germany and Portugal. It opens in June in South Korea, Turkey and Romania; on July 31st in Italy; and in Bolivia, Brazil and France in mid-August.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 - Last night I dreamed that somebody loved me

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM was a sweet kids adventure film featuring Ben Stiller as a dead-beat dad security guard who bonds with his kid when the exhibits in the New York Natural History Museum come alive. Whatever charm the movie had, resided in Stiller's character Larry finding courage and friendship with the miniature cowboys, a statue of Teddy Roosevelt and a big articulated dinosaur. I also loved the fact that the exhibits were basically rubbish. They were exactly the kind of low rent exhibits you can find in many a dusty old museum filled with diaramas and stuffed heads.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 is a fundamentally different beast. Propelled by the box office success of the first installment, the movie has a bigger budget, better special effects and an even more star-filled cast. There is a certain fun in seeing the Lincoln memorial spring to life, but I couldn't help feeling, in the words of Emperor Joseph II, that they were simply too many notes. "My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect." 

Added to the mish-mash of historical figures, we also get a less interesting protagonist. The security guard has, in the intervening year, become a millionaire inventor of such crappy household objects as glow-in-the-dark torches. The message of the movie seems to be that being rich doesn't make you happy. Still, the soul-searching and character development isn't given much screen-time, and serves only to allow Larry to become such a large benefactor of the museum that he can keep his friends safe.

Despite the lack of compelling plot and over-stuffed character roster, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 isn't a complete waste of time. And that's because of three people. First, Jonah Hill has a pretty funny five minute cameo as a security guard at the Smithsonian who is full of his own petty power. Second, Steve Coogan is also good value, and reprises his role as Octavius, the miniature Roman general. Third, and best of all, Hank Azaria plays the baddie - an Egyptian Pharoah hell-bent on ruling the world - as a classic Die Hard Jeremy Irons baddie. It's pure comedy gold. This is him diss'ing Darth Vader:

"Is that you breathing? Because I can't hear myself think! There's too much going on here; you're asthmatic, you're a robot. And why the cape? Are we going to the opera? I don't think so." 

Genius. And, of course, Amy Adams is charming as Larry's love interest, Amelia Earheart.


Friday, May 22, 2009

CHARLIE BARTLETT - This Charming Man

CHARLIE BARTLETT is a charming and quirky teen comedy directed by sometime editor Jon Poll and written by debut feature writer Gustin Nash. It's a classic tale of teen fantasy - the class loser finds popularity by turning his disadvantages to his advantage. In this case, he dispenses advice and sells on the psycho-ceuticals prescribed to him by the many therapists his rich, troubled mother engages for him.

The film has a major flaw, and that is its unevenness of tone. On the one hand, it has a real sense of style, a quirky score, brutally funny one-liners and a healthy dollop of teenage wish fulfillment. But dispensing narcs to mentally sick kids is a serious business, and whenever the movie tries to grapple with that, it doesn't have the courage to follow it through and slips back into offbeat charm.

For all that, CHARLIE BARTLETT is definitely worth watching for Anton Yelchin's central performance as the troubled teen and Hope Davis' gloriously camp performance as his mother. Yelchin has real charisma in this film and displays great comic timing. (It's a shame he wasn't allowed to move beyond a stereotypical accent in his recent turn as Chekov in the new STAR TREK film.) Moreover, as in all the best teen fantasy movies, Charlie's troubles contain a grain of truth. Anyone who has irresponsible parents knows what it's like to act out and push for some boundaries.

CHARLIE BARTLETT played Tribeca 2007 and was released in 2008 in Canada, the US, Turkey, Singapore, Croatia, Australia, Russia, the UK, Italy, Germany, India, South Korea, Austria, Israel, Iceland and Mexico. It was released earlier this year in Japan and is available on DVD and on iTunes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

GIA - Suedehead

Gia Carangi shot to fame as a supermodel in the late 70s and featured on the cover of VOGUE. Although she's remembered now, if at all, as a lesbian fashion icon, it's worth remembering that the better known Cindy Crawford was first referred to as Baby Gia. Gia was, in other words, the benchmark for all the supermodels we're familiar with. Her story is, however, tragic. Born into a troubled home, a teenage punk, openly gay, her candour was unsuited to the reality of professional modelling. This HBO TV movie simplifies the story arc while simultaneously protesting that Gia was too complex to be analysed. In fact, according to this film, her decline began when the woman she loved refused to be outed, and was precipitated when her mentor and manager died. In sadness, Gia turned to drugs, and died at 26, a burned out, HIV-infected smack addict.

I was rather surprised at the simplistic story arc given that the movie was written by Jay McInerny. Sure, Angelina Jolie commits to her role as Gia, and Elizabeth Mitchell and Faye Dunaway are fine as lover and mentor respectively. But the only real interest and complexity comes from Mercedes Ruehl's portrayal of Gia's vainglorious but flighty and selfish mother. I would have preferred to have seen more of Gia's childhood and teenage years - more of this relationship. But in this movie, all we get is a rather cliched scene in which a young Gia (Mila Kunis) shepherds her brother away as her parents have an argument.

All in all, a rather disappointing, unambitious biopic of an undoubtedly interesting and important figure.

GIA is an HBO TV movie that has been released overseas on feature DVD. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pantheon movie of the month - KILLER OF SHEEP - Come Armageddon

KILLER OF SHEEP is a sensitively observed, picaresque film chronicling the life of a hard-working black man in the roughest part of LA in 1977. Shot simply on black and white 16mm, the movie follows Stan, a slaughterhouse worker, as he scrapes together a living. His jobs drain him of energy. The kids are acting out. And all the time he keeps telling himself that he isn't poor. A moment of romance is shared with his wife, as they slow-dance to a beautiful Clyde Otis song performed by Dinah Washington. A peaceful interlude between scenes of animals herded into the slaughterhouse, kids throwing stones at trains, and men and women being ground down. The woman seems to realise this as her husband leaves and she's framed in front of a back-lit window in silhouette. The music merges into Rachmaninov.

The beautiful framing, the sensitive use of music, the ability to observe without seeming voyeuristic or exploitative, the ability to make a powerful political statement without being didactic or angry....KILLER OF SHEEP is a pantheon movie for all these reasons.

The folklore comes as extra. That this film is the graduation movie of a UCLA student, shot on a shoestring budget, with non-professional actors on weekends, makes it all the more extraordinary. It's reputation built among critics, and it has now been restored and released as a feature, the music rights paid for. Thanks be to the gods of film that this movie survived.

KILLER OF SHEEP was shot in 1977 but only played Berlin (where it won the Fipresci prize) and Toronto in 1981.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pantheon movie of the month - BADLANDS - Such things I do

Terrence Malick makes movies that look so beautiful and feel so intense, they're heartbreaking. His first feature, BADLANDS, may be the least intricate of his films, but it's also one of the most memorable thanks to the evocative use of an orchestral motif from Orff and a pair of truly brilliant and disturbing performances from Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen. Spacek plays Holly, a bland-looking, introverted teenage girl who lives with her dad in dull, dusty South Dakota. She meets, Kit, a 25 year old handsome rebel, in the style of James Dean. She thinks he's dreamy. He recognises in her the desperation and vacuousness that will make her a perfect audience for his self-deluding grandeur. For Kit dreams of being a romantic hero, just as Holly dreams of being swept off her feet in romance. For no reason other than to kick up a melodrama, Kit takes Holly on a killing spree, starting first with her protective, worried father. He wants glory - even if its notoriety. He wants the place where he's been captured to be famous. Their journey takes them into the psychological badlands - arid scrubland with isolated ranches where a friendly farmer can be shot in cold blood. The isolation of Holly and Kit is physical and psychological. He may be a reckless kid with a gun - a narcissist with a death-wish, but as the movie unfolds it's Holly who's the more disturbing. She watches Kit kill people with a moral detachment that is far more eery than his activity. She doesn't want or feel anything. Indeed, unlike Bonnie and Clyde, these kids aren't even sexually involved.

The resulting film is brilliantly slippery. It simulatenously presents us with the romantic vision of the two lovers on the run from the law, and the reality of two psychopaths, together alone.

BADLANDS played Venice 1975. Bizarrely it didn't win any awards to speak of and isn't in the IMDB Top 250.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

JCVD - The harsh truth of the camera eye

Policier: Central to Unit 27. Jean-Claude Van Damme's robbing a post office. I need back-up.

I thought JCVD was going to be a post-modern comedy in which Jean Claude Van Damme, the Muscles from Brussels, star of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, spawner of bizarre-o zen epithets, serial husband, tax evader and general 80s wash-up, would satirise himself for my amusement.

Not so my friends.

The only funny thing about self-described comedy JCVD is the name of the Director of Photography, Pierre-Yves Bastard, and the opening studio logo animation.

JCVD is, in fact, one of the most sinister movies I have ever seen. Jean Claude Van Damme plays an exaggerated version of himself as a pimped out washed up actor desperate for cash. He's caught in a bank heist, but the cops think he's responsible. And all the while, the grainy, grimy action footage is interspersed with surreal flashbacks to court hearings and a much-lauded straight to camera confessional that's wince-inducingly embarrassing.

Some people have dared to praise Jean Claude's acting chops in this movie. I can't quite agree. This is no WRESTLER. All I can do is admire his courage in acting in such a raw film. Which is not to deny the fact that I found this movie incredibly difficult to watch and not wholly successful either as poignant satire or as post-modern heist.

JCVD was released in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Turkey and Spain in 2008. It also played Toronto and Rome. It opened in Japan, Sweden and the UK earlier this year and is also available on DVD.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

KAMIKAZE GIRLS - There is a light that never goes out out

Call me insular, but there is so much about contemporary Japanese culture that I find just plain sinister. Take, for, instance, the fashion sub-culture in which grown woman dress up as Victorian children, complete with frilly, embroidered caps, parasols and hooped skirts. KAMIKAZE GIRLS goes some way to explaining why a young country girl, daughter to a small-time crook, craves such luxurious escapism, scheming her way into enough money to make it to Tokyo and the real-life boutique, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. Events become even more bizarre when the "Lolita" girl hooks up with another girl who's a member of a "Yanki" biker gang. This involves looking like a goth crossed with a biker and generally being bad-ass. The two girls go shopping together and then there's a bust up at the end. The exaggerated, cartoonish style of the movie and the colourful costumes are amusing for about half an hour and then becomes hard-going. Also, am I imagining things or are the pseudo-toddler and butch biker a gay couple?

KAMIKAZE GIRLS was released in Japan in 2004, in South Korea in 2005, in France in 2006 and the UK in 2008.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

STAR TREK - deus ex singularity

I am not a sci-fi fan. I've never seen an episode of Star Trek in any of its guises. I only watched the new Battlestar Galactica because Melvin and Sam convinced me that it wasn't, in fact, sci-fi but a consideration of US politics post 9-11. In fairness, I did get pretty addicted to BSG up until season 4 when it transpired that, not only Ronald D Moore NOT have a plan, he also had NO respect for his viewers. So my brief dalliance with sci-fi was over.

Still, I approached J J Abrams re-boot of STAR TREK with curiosity and an open-mind. He did a good job injecting the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise with some emotional heft, and allowed us all to vicariously get off on Philip Seymour Hoffman beating the crap out of Tom Cruise. Moreover, much of the team from MI-3 were reunited on STAR TREK - not least writing duo Kurzman/Orci and cinematographer Daniel Mindel.

Imagine then, my horror, when a few minutes into this new flick, I'm greeted with a rip-off of one of the worst scenes from the new Star Wars trilogy - James T Kirk's mother screaming through childbirth as her heroic (read: unemotive, square-jawed, blonde) husband suicide bombs into the nasty Romulan ship so that his crew can escape. I had traumatic flashbacks to the Natalie Portman birth scene.

Fast forward through Kirk and Spock's childhood (Kirk an enfant terrible a la Dubya; Spock a half-human, half-Vulcan misfit) and we end up with Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quino), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Soldana) and Bones (Karl Urban) aboard the brand new Enterprise and on their way to aid Vulcan. Kirk doesn't inspire me with much confidence. He runs round the ship like a five-year old who's eaten too many E-numbers. And seriously? Would Starfleet really staff up a ship with 17 year olds? Maybe I'm just taking this too seriously, but it's these sort of crazy details that pulled me out of the film.

Now the one thing I had always liked about the concept of STAR TREK was its liberal, pioneering political message and racial inclusiveness. So I was particularly keen to see how the new movie pushed forward the envelope. Would they have an Indian officer? More woman? An openly gay crew member? Nope, they stayed true to the original. Indeed, I was particularly dismayed to see the only female crewmember strip down to her bra and knickers within the first half hour of the flick - a crass and unnecessary move only partly mitigated by the fact that she ends up with the brainy Vulcan rather than the brawny Kirk.

Next up, the Enterprise realises that Vulcan is actually being attacked by aforementioned Romulans; there's some fighting that hints at light-sabers; Kirk is ejected off the ship onto a planet that looks suspiciously like Hoth; and the movie totally jumps the shark. As soon as it became clear that time-travel was going to play a major part in the flick, I was lost. It has always struck me that the ramifications of time-travel are too mind-bendingly complex and insane to grapple with in a movie, and that screen-writers tend to use it (as with religion in BSG) as a lazy, unsatisfying deus-ex-machina, or rather deus-ex-singularity.

The plot unwinds with lots of technically superb action shots; a good comedy turn from Simon Pegg as Scotty (despite an unnecessary Willy Wonka rip-off); and the only really engaging and convincing performance from Zachary Quino as Spock.

Overall, I just didn't see what all the fuss was about. The movie was well-made but unconvincing. It's hard to get too excited about fight scenes when you know that all the main characters are going to survive. And I was utterly unconvinced by Chris Pine's Kirk as the hero of a new movie franchise. Still, it's taken shed-loads of phat cash, and the fanboys seem happy, so I guess these actors are made for life.

STAR TREK is on global release.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

CHERI - luscious frou-frou with too sporadic flashes of psychological insight

Stephen Frears is an uneven director. Occasionally he makes devastating, gritty dramas chronicling the savagery of life and love, viz. DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDERETTE. But most of the time, he makes luscious costume dramas that skate delicately over deeper, unexplored issues, and seem primarily conceived for the heritage industry. They are the cinematic equivalent of those cheap tea-towels and mugs you can buy near Marble Arch and on Piccadilly, embossed with pictures of Princess Diana. In this category, I place works like MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS and THE QUEEN. Very rarely, Frears directs a movie that combines luscious cinematography and costumes with real psychological weight, viz. DANGEROUS LIASONS. So where does CHERI fit into this typography? Sadly, mostly in the luscious frou-frou category, although there are flashes of psychological insight in the final scenes.

Based on the novels by French author, Colette, CHERI chronicles the affair between a middle-aged high-class courtesan, Lea, and a twenty-year old bored fop, Cheri. They live together for six years, up-ending conventional social mores. She pays for and keeps him, organises everything, and takes the dominant role. He is the kept woman. The affair ends when his spiteful mother, a former rival of his lover, arranges his marriage to a wealthy young girl. Lea is gracious and lets him go, even, in extremis, giving him the moral courage to make a life with his wife, knowing that, in her old age, she cannot keep him. But, for both of them, this pragmatic decision will prove a moral disaster - because they really were in love.

The resulting film is beautiful to behold, the costumes, locations and colour schemes speak of luxury, indulgence, over-ripe summers and a true belle-epoque. Alexandre Desplat's score is similarly delicious. One would never tell that the characters were living on the verge of the First World War and in a time of increasingly radical politics. Michelle Pfeiffer looks lovely as Lea, and perfectly captures the fact that a well-preserved fifty-year old can look ravishing but can also, in unforgiving light, look gaunt and care-worn. The final scene, where she coolly appraises her lined face in a mirror, is chilling and touching. Every woman can relate. Rupert Friend is similarly well-cast as Cheri. He is similarly beautiful and captures the cynicism of a dandy who is bored with the champagne life but also too lazy and vapid to commit to anything more profound. He does a tremendously good job of making a superficial character likeable. The supporting characters are also well-cast with the exception of Kathy Bates - a brilliant actress but just not convincing as an ageing former beauty and about 10 years too old for the role.

The substantial problem with the movie is that it skates over the deeper psychological insights of the novel - the torment is too tepid - and makes nothing of the characters' isolated self-absorption as a grand metaphor for the society that would be swept away by the war. Stylistically, there was too much exposition, largely in the form of a clumsy voice-over narration from Frears himself. It seemed to hint at the style of JULES AND JIM but was clumsy, unnecessary and its trite tone undercut the emotional heft of the story.

CHERI played Berlin 2009 and is currently on release in the UK, Belgium and France. It opens in the Netherlands and the USA on June 26th and in Germany on August 27th. It opens in Finland on September 11th, in Norway on October 2nd, in Portugal on October 8th, in Russia on October 15th and in Spain on November 6th.

Friday, May 08, 2009

CORALINE - psych horror for kids

When you boil it all down, CORALINE is an animated kids film that plays like a psychological horror flick. And, I'm not being trite. CORALINE is everyone's worst nightmare. She's a young teenage girl who lives in a crumbling old house, with creepy neighbours, and workaholic parents who just want to get rid of her. No wonder her sub-conscious creates an alternate universe in which she is very much the centre of attention. The other mother is always cooking a tasty meal and the other father is always ready to play Coraline-centric games. Of course, this sort of Stepford existence is as dysfunctional as the real world, and the price of staying is to become an automaton - symbolised by having buttons stitched on your eyes. And thus, Coraline battles to return to her own world, but there are no happy endings. Mum's bought her some new gloves but she's as crotchety as ever, and Dad is as pussy-whipped. Coraline is still self-absorbed, it's just that now she knows there are consequences.

The resulting film is beautifully drawn, truly psychologically scary (that's a good thing), and faithful in most part to the Neil Gaiman original story. OK, so director Henry Selick added Wybie, the dumb-ass side-kick to lessen Coraline's isolation, but then again, he stripped down the up-beat musical numbers to a single song from They Might Be Giants. Following on from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, Selick has cemented his reputation as the pre-eminent director of intelligent children's movies - movies that understand that childhood isn't schmaltzy and sun-lit as symbolised by cute talking animals, but dark and insecure and selfish and savage. The only real criticism I could make of CORALINE is that, technically, it's a tour-de-force of stop-motion animation but it barely uses, and doesn't need, the added layer of 3-D. Presumably this was just a shameless cash-in on the part of the studio.

CORALINE was released earlier this year in the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Portugal, Panama, Argentina, Hungary, Poland, Kazakhstan, Russia, Romania, Lithuania, Norway and the UK. It opens next weekend in the Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden and Turkey. It opens later in May in Bulgaria, Iceland and Greece. It opens on June 5th in Finland and Spain; on June 10th in Belgium, France, the Czech Republic and Denmark; in Israel on June 25th; in Italy on July 3rd; in Germany on July 20th; in Australia on August 6th and in Singapore on September 3rd.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE - works, but not as intended

Gavin Hood's addition to the fantastically popular and lucrative X-MEN franchise has attracted mixed reviews. Fans of the original Marvel comics have complained about the cavalier attitude of screen-writer, David Benioff (25th HOUR), to the source material, in particular, the transformation of mutant Logan (Hugh Jackman) into adamantium-enhanced Wolverine in the lab run by General William Stryker (Danny Huston). Logan's relationship with his some-time partner Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) has also been changed. Other complaints include the fact that we never see Wolverine go berserker and that too many classic comic book characters are introduced and then given not much to do. Perhaps the most damning criticism is that the content of this movie adds precious little to the narrative arc of the original three X-MEN movies. It is, when all is said and done, a $150million irrelevance.

I can't really defend the film against these charges. Nonetheless, I did enjoy watching it. I liked the action set pieces. I liked the sarcastic humour of Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, even if he was only on screen for 10 minutes. I liked the gallery of mutants. I was genuinely surprised by the plot twists and double-crosses. And most of all, I bought into the love affair between Logan and Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins). Hugh Jackman may look ludicrously buff as Logan, but he can also look vulnerable. He sells the love story.

The upshot is that I didn't so much enjoy WOLVERINE as a standard summer blockbuster but as a thriller with some emotional heft, enlivened by the occasional technically brilliant action set-piece. And I think that if you take the movie on those terms, it works perfectly well.

WOLVERINE is on release pretty much everywhere except Japan, where it opens on August 22nd.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

CLEANER - justifiably overlooked DVD of the month

Renny Harlin (DIE HARD 2) directs a contemporary thriller penned by debutant writer Matthew Aldrich. The whodunnit has a nice original concept - Samuel L Jackson plays an ex-cop widower who runs a company that specialises in cleaning up crime scenes. All goes tits up when he cleans up a particularly grizzly murder BEFORE the police have been called in, thus flushing away the evidence. The problem is that the whodunnit is fairly obvious thanks to the type-casting of Eva Mendes as a femme fatale and the fact that you wouldn't cast Ed Harris for anything other than a leading role. Moreover, Sam Jackson's personality and same-y acting once again overwhelms any particular nuances in his character. In fact, I was pretty undewhelmed by the performances of all three leads. Only Keke Palmer does a decent job playing the daughter of the Sam Jackson character. So, despite striking visuals and a rather deliberately artful voice-over style, definitely one to avoid.

CLEANER played Toronto 2007 and was released in Finland, Denmark, Norway, Russia, France, Taiwan and Israel last year. It was released in Japan earlier this year and will be released in Spain on June 12th. It went straight to DVD in the US, UK and Australia.

Friday, May 01, 2009


GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST is a high concept romantic “comedy” in which Matthew McConaughey plays, shocking I know, a scoundrelous photographer who refuses to commit to the love of his life (Jennifer Garner). He is not a complete schmuck, you see, but is acting out as a result of childhood trauma and the example of his Robert-Evans-style lothario uncle (Michael Douglas). Said Uncle sends a ghost (Emma Stone) to show McConaughey’s character scenes of his past romantic cowardice, present shallow lifestyle and future loneliness if he doesn’t mend his ways. All of this takes place the night before his kid-brother’s wedding allowing a suitably schmaltzy ending and some lovely scenery in a gorgeous country house. The only reason to watch this movie is for interior design tips cum country house fantasising and to watch Michael Douglas camp it up as Robert Evans. I’ve seen Matthew McConaughey’s sterotypical arrested adolescent character too often now to find it interesting, and he has absolutely no chemistry with Jennifer Garner. Overall, this is just another one of those clunking rom-coms, where you can see the machinery of the plot lurch into gear and predict from the start where it’s heading. Dull, dull, dull.

GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST is on release in the UK, USA and opens next weekend in Australia and New Zealand. It opens later in May in South Africa, Argentina, Germany, Denmark, Estonia and Lithuania. It opens in Malaysia on 4th June; in Greece, Russia, Singapore, Brazil and Romania on June 12th; in France, the Czech Republic and Finland on June 18th; in Belgium and Italy on July 3rd; in Bulgaria on July 10th; in the Netherlands and Norway in July 24th and in Portugal on August 20th.