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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Texas Chainsaw 3D

And sadly this isn't even the only franchise killer released this week...

Also  up at Channel 24

What it's about

When Heather Miller goes down with a group of friends to claim the Texan house that a grandmother she never knew bequeathed to her, she soon finds that the house holds some very old and some very deadly secrets.

What we thought

Texas Chainsaw 3D marks, what, the fifth reboot/ remake of this interminable series? Regardless, it's probably ten remakes too many as the series may have dropped the “massacre” from its title, in place of a typically pointless “3D”, but it's also dropped any sense of terror, anarchy and unexpectedness that the original film might have once displayed.

It may not share exactly the same plot as any of its predecessors but Texas Chainsaw 3D is so utterly free of any sense of originality, innovation and vitality that it feels hopelessly tired from the very first frame. It's not exactly a surprise that the latest Texas Chainsaw Massacre cash-in is a very, very bad movie but it's not its lack of quality that is its biggest offence, as much as the very real sense that everybody involved in the film is as bored with the whole thing as most audiences have proven to be (by this point, that 4.8 rating at the IMDB must be the work of the franchise's staunchest fans).

Never mind the barely there performances or the film's utterly generic directorial style, the entire script feels like it was thrown together in a couple of hours while its writers were waiting for something better to come along. There's nothing at all scary about the film, big surprise, but even its frequent CGI blood-letting and general nastiness feel phoned in. This is by-the-numbers, non-committal filmmaking at its most blatantly transparent.

Monday, May 27, 2013

New Cinema Release Roundup for the Weekend of 24/05/2013

This past weekend saw the release of only three films but, though none of them are exactly perfect, they all have at least something to offer different cinema goers.

First off, we have this week's big release, Fast and Furious 6, which is mainly notable for the fact that this seemingly limited premise still hasn't quite run out of steam yet. Indeed, I can certainly arguments for it being the best one yet. Its mixture of fast cars, buff blokes and beautiful babes somehow hasn't gotten stale yet and fans of the series will undoubtedly eat it up.

Speaking for myself though, I remain pretty underwhelmed by the whole series. Undoubtedly, part of it has to do with my simply not being enough of an alpha male to enjoy such ridiculous levels of testosterone but, perhaps paradoxically, every time these films pull back from their utterly insane action set pieces and focus on the series' main characters and whatever plot they have going on, my mind starts to wonder pretty quick. 

Sorry, but I still don't get how they managed to build a series around such uncharismatic leads as Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, but then none of the humans exactly have a lot to do here except spout creaky dialogue about, uh, family or something. Oh, like you were concentrating. Even Gina Carano who made such an auspicious debut with her ass kicking turn in the underrated Haywire has much chance to shine here as she is given nothing to really work with and her overly edited fight scenes have none of the impact of the bone-crunching rumbles of Haywire. Ah well, at least they give their women as much of a chance to kick ass as they do their men - and that, in itself at least, is no small thing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Roundup of New Cinema Releases for the Weekend of 17/05/2013 (and more)

Hey, what do you know, I fell behind again. The good news though, is that I've actually covered most of the noteworthy films already in full review form so there isn't that much to catch up on. Also, I was waiting to see This is Forty before doing the roundup for that weekend but, as it turned out, that was something of a mistake for a number of reasons. Anyway, on with the show, starting off with this week.

I just posted my very long review of The Great Gatsby and just in case I wasn't clear enough, it's terrific and simply must be the film of the week. Admittedly, I haven't seen the new Tyler Perry movie because, really, at this point, why bother but I think it's safe to say like every single one of his bloody movies, if you like Tyler Perry films you'll probably like this one, if you don't you won't. I don't. I also haven't seen Bernie, which I have heard good things about. I hope to check it out soon as I am a big Linklater fan and will include my thoughts in an upcoming roundup or review.

This means that the only film to talk about this week is the latest Stallone actioner, Bullet to the Head. I could just say that having an actual bullet to the head would be more fun, but I'll also say that it's stupid, boring, derivative, humourless, woefully misjudged and nasty in every wrong way possible. And Stallone has simply never been worse. Avoid like the proverbial. (1/10)

The Great Gatsby 3D

Seriously, did I watch the same film as everybody else?

Having a director like Baz Luhrmann taking a swing at adapting a literary classic like The Great Gatsby was always going to be something of a tricky proposition. Luhrmann has always had plenty of visual flair and, while it would hardly be fair to say that his films (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet) are nothing but all flash and no substance, Gatsby is a novel that seems set to work entirely against Luhrmann's greatest strengths as its brilliance lies strictly under the surface. Fitzgerald's writing is, of course, wonderful and Gatsby's plot is basically interesting enough but what makes The Great Gatsby such an enduring masterpiece is its thematic richness that rises primarily from the complexity of its title character. How could Luhrmann possibly do something like that justice - especially when the trailers and the seemingly insane decision to shoot the film in 3D promised a film that would entirely miss the point of the book?

Well, here's the thing: according to what seems to be the vast majority of critical opinion, Luhrmann's Gatsby is, at best, a glossy but hollow mess that doesn't come close to capturing the greatness of its source material. Allow me to swim against the tide of popular opinion then when I say that The Great Gatsby isn't just a wonderful piece of cinema but it's as good an adaptation of the novel as we could ever hope to see.

I haven't, it has to be said, actually seen any of the other adaptations, but I have read the novel and Luhrmann clearly gets all of its character-driven subtext and its involved dissection of the American dream. He also, however, clearly understands that the novel itself is demonstrably anything but cinematic so rather than going the reverential route and giving us a stately, staid retelling of a story that was never made for cinema, he uses all the tools at his disposal to ensure that not only is the film captivating on a surface level, but that its surface reflects the story's themes in a way that the novel simply cannot.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dead Man Down

Again, I'll have the Channel 24 link up if and when they decide to post it...

And here it is.

What it's about

Viktor is a man out for revenge against the crime empire that killed his wife and child but things get complicated when he meets Beatrice, the woman living across from his who has her own scars and her own thirst for revenge.

What we thought

Dead Man Down is a film that unfortunately lives down to its rather lackluster title, despite having a number of things very much in its favour. It isn't a terrible film by any means, but by resolutely refusing to live up to its own potential, it is a very disappointing one.

Revenge stories are some of the most archetypal and, therefore, most overplayed stories around. They also belong to a genre that was so perfectly perfected by William Shakespeare in Hamlet that they still live in the Bard's shadow, no matter how many centuries have passed. In the same way that Romeo and Juliet still defines romantic tragedies, Hamlet still lurks in the shadows of all revenge dramas.

As such, it's pointless to expect anything really new from the genre. Instead, revenge films rise and fall according to how well they understand the the appeal, as well as the conventions, of the genre in which they exist. More than anything else, what makes a good revenge story is that is more about how the act of revenge – or at least the journey towards it – affects the wronged protagonist than how it affects the person who he or she is pursuing. The very best revenge stories understand that by seeking revenge, the protagonist starts to become more and more a reflection of the object of his revenge.

Jurassic Park 3D

I have no idea why this isn't up on Channel 24 yet but I am tired of waiting so I will put up the links for this and the next review if and when they go live. For now though, here's my love letter to one of my all time favourite Hollywood blockbusters. 

And here's the link.

 What it's about

You know the score: A billionaire opens the most incredible theme park ever conceived. He invites a lawyer, a trio of scientists and his two young grandchildren to sample the park before it opens. Things go very, very wrong. Only this time, things go very, very wrong in 3D!

What we thought

I saw Jurassic Park during its original run in South African cinemas way, way back in 1993 (or maybe '94 – South Africa took ages to get things back then) at the tender age of eleven. To say that the I liked the film doesn't even begin to do justice to how much of an effect it had on my young life. Not only did it make me an instant fan of Steven Spielberg but, for me, it was one of those movies that you see when you're very young that almost single-handedly (it has a bit of help from Return of the Jedi) makes you a movie fan for life. It also turned me, for a few years at least, into a giant dinosaur nerd. It's not for nothing, in short, that I discovered Jurassic Park around the same time I discovered The Beatles, Star Wars and comic books.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Iron Man 3

Don't worry, there are no spoilers to be found here - even though I'm pretty sure that the whole world has seen this already.

This might just seem like my trying to excuse how long I have taken to finally getting round to reviewing this film, but by waiting over a week, I am able to come to the film with a somewhat different perspective than had I reviewed it straight after seeing it. Especially since I gave the very flawed (but come on, it ain't that bad) Iron Man 2 a far better review than it probably deserved by reviewing it straight after the press screening and not having the time to let it sink in.

The good news then, is that Iron Man 3 still stands up to me as a very good film that effortlessly surpasses its predecessor and is at least as good as the film that started it all. This, despite the fact that there has been a fair amount of backlash against the film - backlash, which I mostly find all but impossible to understand.

After the game-changing Avengers movie, a lot of pressure was placed on Iran Man 3 to pick up Whedon's baton. Not only is it the first in Marvel's "Second Wave" which will lead into Avengers 2 in 2015, Iron Man 3 also needed to work as its own film, hopefully correcting the overly "this is all set up" feel of Tony Stark's second outing. With writer/ director Shane Black taking the reigns this time from Jon Favreau - who stays on with a very entertaining turn as Stark's long-suffering sidekick, Happy Hogan - Iron Man 3 feels fresh, energized and quite different from its predecessors.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

New Release Roundup for the Weekend of 26/04/2013

With this weekend's less than terrific films out of the way, we do at least have one gem to talk about.

Danny Boyle's Trance (8/10) is a mind-bending heist film that sees the eclectic director return to trashier pleasures after doing such excellent but worthy films as Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. And that's to say nothing of his stage production of Frankenstein and, oh yes, doing the opening and closing ceremonies for a little something called the Olympic Games.

The plot of Trance involves a young auctioneer working with a group of thieves to pawn off a valuable painting but when he tries to double cross them things go very wrong very quickly as he develops a very inconvenient bout of amnesia and they turn to a hypnotherapist to pull the information of the painting's whereabouts from his head. Got all that? Good, because that's when it starts to get really demented, really trippy and, at times, somewhat nonsensical.

The film has plot twists aplenty and a very good cast but the real joy of the whole thing is watching a master stylist like Danny Boyle really play around with narrative and gleefully indulge in his trashiest, most faux-exploitative tendencies in a way that we haven't seen since at least Shallow Grave. It's a film about fairly crappy people doing fairly crappy things to one another but because it is all directed with a playful gleam in its eye, it's always massively entertaining rather than in any way unpleasant.