Jet Li’s reputation was put under strain when he started focusing on Hollywood movies. Following the success of Lethal Weapon 4, the once renowned martial artist became increasingly mocked as each new English language feature seemed to utilise less and less of his martial arts skill and render his attempts at acting in a foreign language laughable. Romeo Must Die, The One and War were some of the forgettable movies he lent his name to until he returned to China for Hero in 2002 and delivered one of the performances of his career. Chinese battlefield epic The Warlords has won a string of awards in his home country, and is further proof of his abilities away from the fat paychecks available in the States.
Mark Wahlberg should have been around in Hollywood long enough to know movies based on videogames rarely give an actor’s reputation any kudos, yet here he is taking up the mantle of cop Max Payne from a games series long forgotten about. The game had a film noir style as Detective Payne blasted all the bad guys he came across in a bullet time slow motion a la The Matrix: it might be expected the transition to screen might be a painless one as at least it gives the basis for an enjoyable no brains action flick. Yet no, there’s hardly any action as the story falters and Wahlberg struggles to get a handle on the titular character.
Daniel Craig’s triumphant debut as James Bond in Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) dragged the series out of a tired rut induced by run-of-the-mill glossy Pierce Brosnan excursions with grittier action and a more emotional 007. Expectations are high for this follow-up, the first sequel in the long-running franchise which starts almost immediately from where the last finished off. Bond is on the hunt for revenge as he seeks to find out why his one true love, Vesper Lynd, died. In doing so director Marc Forster, normally known for capturing drama for the big screen, delivers a surprisingly action-packed movie which brushes aside any gadgets, the dwelling on exotic locales or chatting to minor characters. It may not be the Bond we are used to, and verges on a Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989) detachment from the super spy many might expect, yet provides another instalment where Craig continues his excellent form.
Tropic Thunder wants to be a satire on Hollywood action blockbusters that spiral out of control and the larger-than-life actors and money-grabbing producers whose egos fuel the cash-draining fires. For a while it works: the opening 25 minutes manages to hit the bullseye as the mega bucks production of a war film goes awry in spectacular fashion. Then, as attention turns to the characters involved, they are exposed as being little more than makeweights for a bright idea wasted in the wrong hands.
Hoodie horror hasn’t made it onto the film genre list just yet, but Eden Lake does a good job of suggesting loutish teens knifing unsuspecting victims could become a recurring image. Taking inspiration from Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972), a couple make their way to a small backwater town en route to a former national park that has been fenced off for new a new development in the hope of having a romantic getaway. Their peaceful break is soon shattered though as a group of youths do their utmost to make their lives a painfully miserable.
Hellboy’s nonchalant approach to fighting the bad guys in a beleaguered and workman-like way while smoking a cigar is quite the opposite to Batman’s tortured soul searching for a meaning to his life. Yet the widespread acclaim heaped on The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) this summer would be just as apt for this follow-up to an original which showed much promise even if it doesn’t take itself quite as seriously. Aided by the imaginings of Del Toro, the director of films featuring fantastical delights such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy II builds on the modestly-budgeted original with a dazzling display of creatures and worlds without losing any of its heart or sense of fun.
Anyone hiring Jet Li to star in a blockbuster movie would probably be considered a mug if they didn’t take advantage of his considerable martial arts skills. Rob Cohen wouldn’t care though: for this belated third Mummy outing he brings us Li to provide a menacing look without a kick or punch in sight. The rest of the cast put in about the same level off effort in what will surely kill off this franchise.
Who wanted another X Files movie? C’mon, own up! Hardly seen on television screens anymore, Lost and Heroes provide the all multi-faceted storylines we need to see these days and even manage to make more sense than the tiresome Files “mythology”. The latter was used to spearhead the 1998 movie Fight the Future, but for I Want to Believe creator Chris Carter has left that long and winding subject to the series finale and moves on to focus on how FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are getting on with life outside the bureau.
Pixar movies were once invincible pillars of the CGI animated world. After Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995) they went on to make hit after hit and usher in the age of CGI as the animated method of choice. Even Disney gave up on hand drawn characters in favour of their 3-D counterparts. With WALL-E, Pixar have won widespread acclaim for their depiction of love, innocence and heart starring a Short Circuit (John Badham, 1986) inspired robot. Touted as a modern classic, the first 45-minutes is a refreshing piece of cinema with only minimal dialogue somehow makes a robot’s ultimately thankless and depressing life humourous and, to a degree, enchanting. Then the twist comes and WALL-E develops into a disappointing offering dedicated to a worthy cause of saving the planet but never recapturing the originality that precedes it.
When a freak storm erupts over a small town and a mysterious mist descends on it from nearby mountains, the community heads to the local store for supplies in the wake of power cuts and damage to their homes by uprooted trees. But as soldiers from the nearby army base appear on the roads, it becomes clear the pea soup visiblity outside is no ordinary low cloud. A bleeding old man warns there is something meancing in the mist — and suddenly the one-stop shop becomes a refuge for the scared and mystified community.
Silly season continues at the box office with the special effects action bonanza Wanted. A hyperactive comic book adaptation only in its stride when rival assassins are trying to literally shoot holes in each other thanks to its preoccupation with CGI, this blockbuster may have 18-rated kills but it is about as interesting as a Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episode. James McAvoy stars as a shy loser catapulted into the high octane life of a hitman by the endlessly sultry Angelina Jolie answering to a typically authoritative Morgan Freeman. Delivering their lines without breaking out into laughter after every line is the extent of the challenges to their acting talents in this schoolboy yarn.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A saying taken to heart by Marvel who felt Ang Lee’s vision of their giant green superhero in Hulk released in 2003 was not a resounding success as it struggled to make more than 100 million dollars at the American box office. Their solution was to bring in a new creative team, cast and crew to revive the franchise fortunes. It would have been a wise move had they known what was wrong with Hulk for it to underperform so badly. On this showing, they didn’t as they’ve taken a step backwards from the deep and brooding atmosphere of Lee’s version to a dumbed-down crowd-pleaser. Hardly a surprise when they put Louis Leterrier, the director of The Transporter 2 and Unleashed (both 2005), in the hot seat.
Delays, disagreements over scripts and a general concern that Harrison Ford would be too old to be Indiana Jones nearly 20 years after the last in what was a classic trilogy of adventure films should have been enough to suggest a fourth entry could be too difficult to bring up to the high standards George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had set for themselves. Now, here it is on the big screen, but only following close scrutiny by all parties that this package did the famous franchise justice. Ford, Lucas, Spielberg, a script by Spider-man and War of the Worlds writer David Koepp and a cast including Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf and Karen Allen gave us hope they were right. Sadly it’s not the case as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only just manages to better its own copycats The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001). What a sad state of affairs.
Whether they like it or not, the Wachowski Brothers will always have to live with the achievement of spectacularly losing their army of fans when the pompous sequels to The Matrix (1999) failed to return anywhere near the same level of originality and energy. Although the special effects and action sequences delivered in the main, they were not the massive step up everyone hoped and the story descended into philosophical mumblings best saved for an academic text book. Family-friendly Speed Racer, an adaptation of a Japanese cartoon popular in the west at various times from the 1970s to 1990s, should have been an easy ride for them, but they stale badly before getting round the first lap.
Don’t go in to watch In Bruges with the usual expectations for a film about hitmen — you won’t find the usual cold-blooded killers stalking heads of state or well-connected businessmen. No, based in the most well-preserved medieval city in Belgium, Bruges, it’s as quirky and surprising as you might expect from debut writer/director McDonagh who is famed for his Olivier and Tony award-winning plays. Eschewing typical story archs and using an introspective, character-driven approach, this tale of a guilt-ridden failed Irish hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) and his minder Ken (Brendan Gleeson) will have you chuckling away, especially when a cocaine-fuelled discussion of who the Vietnamese might side with in a fight between all the blacks and whites in the world takes centre stage.
The chilling thought of being awake but paralysed through a major operation, known as “Anaesthetic Awareness”, is used to disappointing effect when powerful business man Clay Beresford (Hayden Christensen) undergoes a heart transplant. Just married against his mother’s wishes to her beautiful assistant Sam (Jessica Alba), he has also already angered her by choosing to trust short-term surgeon friend Dr. Jack Harper (Terrance Howard) rather than a leadering expert on the proceedure. However, as he lays on the operating table, things take a turn towards the distrurbing when the anaesthetic puts him in a state where he cannot move or talk, but hears and feels everything. It’s a high concept thriller which hampers itself by ignoring the possibilities of an inventive direction by going with an unsurprising twist.
The phrase “Presented by Guillermo del Toro” on the advertising for The Orphanage is obviously intended to draw in the crowds wowed by the director’s Oscar-nominated hit Pan’s Labyrinth. While it does share an interest in the imagination of children and uses an orphanage as the centre of the action like another of his films, The Devil’s Backbone (2001), The Orphanage is a far more straight-forward affair. As a ghostly thriller with plenty of hair-raising moments as director Bayona presents the eerie goings on in the life of a mother who becomes convinced ghost children have kidnapped her son it is effective — he just drifts too close to being overly generic by the time the events shuffle into place via the closing twist.
Musings on time and space take a turn to the leftfield with indie movie The 4th Dimension. Clearly inspired by early David Lynch efforts such as Eraserhead (1977), writer/director team Mattera and Mazzoni have made a hypnotic introspective of an obsessive compulsive genius trying to figure out a way to get a grasp on the elements of living beyond our control. Stripped down to black and white with a patiently absorbing approach to the storytelling, the movie is a rewarding experience stylistically, however can’t quite match its engrossing atmosphere with the pay-off it deserves.
This movie is preposterous and awful. There’s no nice way to say it. 10,000 BC is classic Hollywood trash, landing in the traditional dumping ground of March and not even in the braindead blockbuster sense despite the presence of a big budget director — it just plain sucks. Roland Emmerich can normally be relied upon to bring us good, clean family entertainment. With a CV including Stargate (1994), Independence Day (1996), The Patriot (2000) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004) you’d think he could at least have the decency to paste top line CGI and set pieces to even the most far-fetched screenplay for us. Oh no, 10,000 BC is not only light years away from being an accurate history lesson as a period piece, it also wimps out of trying to paper over its failings. It’s just bad.
Just two years after Land of the Dead (2005), zombie movie mastero George A. Romero is back in the director’s chair with another horror film laden with social commentary. He has averaged a zombie film a decade until now, but the proliferation of Internet blogging and the miss-truths of the mass media have galvanised him into making two in the space of two years. Using this entry as more of a series reboot as is the in thing these days in Hollywood, Romero has also pitched us in the heart of the flesh-eating action as we witness events through various video cameras as a group of film students attempt to document all they see. Coming so soon after Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008), there are obvious comparisons to be made, even with his unique vision of the undead walking on Earth being very different from the Godzilla-inspired adrenaline rush JJ Abrams produced. Yet it is within the genre he is supposed to be so adept in that Romero manages to falter badly and let his admirers down.
Michel Gondry has won himself a loyal following with his inventive storytelling seen in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2007). His delving into the psyches of fragile, quirky characters have resulted in visual treats of special effects and the sight of a keen imagination at work. Gondry’s visions have been the centrepiece of his films, so when it was revealed his latest, Be Kind Rewind would involve a pair of movie fanatics making bootlegs of major Hollywood blockbusters and award winners using only limited props and a handful of friends as extras, anticipation for seeing how he had re-interpreted Robocop, Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy were high. Yet, while these trademark Gondry sequences are clever and very funny, they don’t provide the gloss to an already smart and witty offering. Rather, they pull the weight of a lethargic story.
A mountain of well-controlled hype was the precurser to Lost mastermind JJ Abrams’ retake of the Godzilla genre. Not only was the story kept under wraps for as long as possible, but also the experience movie-goers would be treated to when they finally arrived. The knowledge that it was filmed from the point of view of eyewintesses using a camcorder led to associations with The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) and when we were told it would involve the army taking on a giant maraudering monster smashing the head off the Statue of Liberty and knocking down buildings, it was hard not to think of 9/11 connotations combining with popcorn entertainment. In essence, it was the film everyone wanted to know about. But with the dust settling on the furore, what’s left?
Steamy, rough sex is the last thing you might expect from a slow-burning wartime drama directed by Ang lee, but when it arrives in Lust, Caution there is more to it than just arousing the attention of the audience. The carefully measured pace of the two-and-a-half hour film weighs an immense amount of depth and understanding on how the two leads come together, and the turmoil in its final 10 minutes is a harsh lesson in the laws of love.
The sight of a lone survivor wandering the abandoned streets of a famous city riddled with monsters is becoming a frequent sight on cinema screens and apocalyptic scenarios putting the fate of humanity in the hands of one potential saviour have been doing the rounds for decades. So what makes I Am Legend, based on a novel already put to film in the form of The Omega Man (Boris Sagal, 1971), worth the retread of so many popular themes? Probably the ability of Will Smith to single-handedly keep a film together no matter how many times it might threaten to fall apart.
British comedy shoots itself in the foot once more with a naff resurrection of a movie series started in the 1950s with The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954). When the Ronald Searle cartoons about England’s famous and prestigious ‘School for Young Ladies’ were first brought to the screen, they were considered fun examples of learning life at an institution known for its playfully rebellious nature. For this update, rebelliousness gets swapped for delinquency as these girls show all the moral fibre of a prison full of serial rapists. Deceiving, thieving and generally showing no respect of authority may be ideal for film where the villain is the hero, but to suggest a schooling of stereotyping and lessons in the vices seems an irresponsible use of UK Film Council money.