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.
Released to howls of derision from the critics at Cannes, Richard “Donnie Darko” Kelly has been trying to make his sprawling story set in an apocalyptic 2008 make enough sense us laymen can understand what on Earth is going on in his head. It’s been to no avail. Months of work and the removal of subplots later, the two-and-a-half-hour results remain incoherent and indulgent. Lucky for him, there is a smackering of silky smooth style to make up for the lack of bite, but only just enough to put up with Kelly’s pompous thinking that he has sculpted a movie to be long adored like Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) or even his own Donnie Darko (2002). No chance.
Frenchman Bruce Cauvin’s debut feature is an elusive thriller which will entice and stimulate some, though no doubt frustrate and irritate others. Much less aggressive in its cryptic nature than a David Lynch work like Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire (as review comparison has actually been made so far) Hotel Harabati (De particulier a particulier) sits naturally within the recent history of angular French thrillers such as Hidden (Cache, Michael Haneke) or Lemming (Dominik Moll). The fact that the film’s male lead is played by Laurent Lucas, the star of Lemming and several other similarly thrilling and sometimes elusive films like Harry He’s Here To Help and Who Killed Bambi? also aids this comparative grouping.
Van Wilder, I mean, Ryan Reynolds, proves he can act in the metaphysical directorial debut from seasoned screenwriter John August. A three-time collaborator with Tim Burton and also the writer of the two — ahem — Charlie’s Angels movies, he puts Reynolds at the centre of three stories interconnected by the same cast playing very similar roles. He doesn’t manage to quite clear the final hurdle of making it all come together at the end, but the existential ponderings don’t detract from this being an insightful and rewarding experience.
Wes Anderson’s quirky and understated comedy has given him a reputation of being a filmmaker not suitable to all. He does not draw attention to his humour, rather he puts it on-screen for audiences to take on board or wash over them. This is why many find it hard to digest his offerings despite having varied and interesting characters driven by often bizarre desires. In The Darjeeling Limited he brings together three brothers in India for a spiritually-awakening train ride to their mother. It’s a typical Anderson journey with the terrific trio of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman making it a trip to remember.
When Quentin Tarantino’s half of the Grindhouse exploitation movie double bill, namely Death Proof, was finally released in the UK, his promise of an insightful throwback to films of the 1970s fell well short of his claims. Overlong, rambling and a gimmicky narrative undermined his attempts to nod back to the trashy midnight movies of old from a contemporary perspective proved unsuccessful. There was always more hope for Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror. His unashamed direction of high octane actioners such as Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn had a whiff of exploitation in their approach, loading up with over the top set pieces. It transfers perfectly to Planet Terror, but is weighed down by trying too hard to replicate movies from the past.
David Cronenberg steps back into the gritty underworld following immense success with A History of Violence (2005) to deliver another satisfying slow burner. It marks a continuing shift away from his once-famous visceral fascination with the flesh and delves further into a more subtle approach to his screen interests. Apart from one scene destined to be crowned another Cronenberg classic, Eastern Promises simmers with fine performances and a glossy exterior to its dark centre.
Political thriller-turned-actioner The Kingdom wants to do two things: make a statement about American foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 and ensure audiences get a dose of gung-ho anti-terrorist action. The result? A laboured investigation into a Saudi Arabian terrorist bombing which seems to be teeing up an incisive assessment of the USA’s desire to be at the forefront of international issues but morphs into a mindless bombs and guns finale. This puerile approach to making people think about issues arising from the Middle East wants to enforce America’s lofty ambitions of being an effective global peacemaker, but distracts from the real issues blighting its War on Terror. I felt sorry for all involved.
Has it really come to this? One of the truly iconic slasher villains is brought back to life in a remake of the John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Along with Jason Voorhees and Freddie Kruger, Michael Myers has long been tormenting teenagers to thrill audiences for decades in mindless sequels to the infamous originals. With a couple of grizzly horror movies under his belt in the form of House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Reject, heavy metal musician-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie had a stab at a new origins story for Myers. It’s got all the elements of the horror classic, but none of the lasting character that made it so popular.
Not satisfied with writing, directing and producing the comedy hit of the summer, Knocked Up, Judd Apatow treats us to another side-splitting production in the form of Superbad. He’s fast becoming the king of modern gag-fests, reliably putting together movies that combine gross out with a more tender, rom com attitude to give a well-rounded side-swipe at personal dilemmas. For Superbad, Apatow steps back to solely the producer as he did with Will Ferrell comedies Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights (2006), giving room for the new talent to make a name for themselves in an _American Pie_-style coming-of-age film about a trio of high school seniors out to score booze so they can score with the girls for the first time.
John Travolta in a fat suit, playing the role of a middle-aged, married woman. Sounds like another wacky, but doomed to fail, way of getting his career back on track, right? Especially given it’s a the adpation of the Broadway musical based on a 1988 John Waters film of the same name. Yet, despite all the reasons Hairspray might be expected to go terribly wrong, it succeeds largely because all involved understand and love being part of what it is: a camp song and dance to lose yourself in.
It’s been more than 20 years since 80s toy phenomenon The Transformers hit the big screen. Back then it was the first time a range of children’s playthings had been made into a TV programme and then movie, chiefly to sell more of the Hasbro products. The Japanese company is one of only three credits before the film starts here, the others being production company Dreamworks and studio Paramount. To say this is just another elongated advert for a new line of Transformers may be very true, especially given the 143 minute runtime, but director Michael Bay has lavished a budget in the region of $200 million on a glorious visual feast to ensure it isn’t a dull promotional video.
More than 400 episodes after its debut, The Simpsons finally comes to the big screen with a hefty weight of expectation. The shows have been going downhill since its peak years ago, partly because of such high standards set in the early seaons, but it remains a highlight to any evening’s viewing. There was never a worry about whether The Simpsons Movie would be financially successful, but there has always been a fear that the end product would lack the freshness it once had in abundance. I’m happy to say, on the evidence here, The Simpsons is still as strong as ever but the feature-length time takes its toll as a classic opening 45 minutes leads to a laboured second half.
Well worth the forty-minute drive down the 405 freeway and having to endure the sight of 40-year-old men dressed in costume for a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, This Is England is a compelling, heartfelt and comical coming-of-age tale of a young boy getting to grips with the loss of his father.
In Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Sicko, he exposes the corruption of America’s private medical and pharmaceutical industry. The film follows in the footsteps of Moore’s pervious films, Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) which showcased the ills of the American way of life and the greatest perversion of the American public since the Nixon administration.
The long awaited return of Detective John McClane and his rough ‘n’ ready approach to fighting terrorists brings with it high expectations. Die Hard launched Bruce Willis’ action hero career in 1988, the follow ups proved to be fun additions to the series. More than 10 years on since the last outing, whether Willis was still up to the task has been questioned, especially with Sylvester Stallone returning to his John Rambo and Rocky Balboa characters as well as Harrison Ford grabbing his hat and whip once more as Indiana Jones. Die Hard 4.0, in that repsect, is a lot like Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, 2006): not a classic by any means, but certainly a good effort at recycling a character well past his best.
The golden years of Hollywood gave us the first cinematic stars of a lifetime in the shape of Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper, Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant. Photographs of these famous faces in their prime have turned heads for years and what better backdrop to their seemingly effortless style than the French Riviera? That is where renowned photographer Edward Quinn snapped them at the Cote D’Azur in the 1950s. Riviera Cocktail is a documentary, out now on DVD, exposing his vast library of work during a decade when celebrities always looked their best — especially when captured by Quinn’s expert lense.
This gem of a film has been knocking around for ages, but has only just seen the light of day here in the UK after festival appearances and general releases elsewhere. Perhaps people are finally understanding what a brilliant indie actor Aaron Eckhart is away from the blockbuster tosh he took on a few years ago. Thank You for Smoking (Jason Reitman, 2006) showed us he still had the knack for being the fast talking but loveable rouge and here he stars opposition the beautiful and very Englsh rose Helena Bonham Carter in a tender relationship comedy that reflects on past lovers rather than pokes fun at them.
Witnessing a double suicide in an opening scene is normally the preserve of horror movies or mystery thrillers, here it is an understated moment of drama in another of Ferzan Ozpetek’s examination of personal histories. Out on DVD now, in Sacred Heart Barbora Bobulova delivers a award-winning performance as Irene, a property developer who realises there is more to life than squeezing every last penny from transforming old buildings into rabbit-hutch flats. Her journey will bring her closer to those she would normally avoid in the street on the way and, in a way, literally shedding her former identity.
Splashed all over the media, Robert Webb and David Mitchell only need step out of their doors for instant recognition. They have made the bold step of moving into cinema, bringing the Peep Show creators with them for what you might expect to be a sure-fire hit. But away from their popular sitcom characters the humour has never flowed so easily and it is sad to say two of Britain’s hottest comedians have wound up in a sub-standard, tv-style movie which doesn’t belong on cinema screens and fades quickly due to inevitable comparisons with previous magician outings The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006) and, less so, The Illusionist (Neil Burger, 2006).
Shane Meadows has been steadily building a strong career in British independent cinema and his latest, a coming-of-age drama set in the summer of 1983 England, has lofty expectations on its shoulders. Based on Meadows own experiences growing up, newcomer Thomas Turgoose plays 12-year-old Shaun. Bullied at school for wearing flared trousers on non-uniform day and unhappy living with his mother, he is befriended by an older, oddball bunch who promise to make his summer an enjoyable experience. Although he initially has fun, when ringleader Combo (Stephen Graham) is released from prison and returns to the group armed with a racist attitude, Shaun finds he is lured into a dark and shadowy side of English society fuelled by BNP propaganda.
Spider-Man is back in what could the final instalment from director Sam Raimi and starring the original cast. Pulling out the big guns with a rumoured 300 million dollar budget, he pits Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) against three foes while still having relationship problems with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). A guaranteed hit at the box office, but does it have the same level of human drama to engage us between the many action sequences needed to round out the Raimi trilogy and justify the many villains?
In 2001 Eric Schlosser’s bestselling book Fast Food Nation lifted the lid on the the horrorible truths of fast food: dodgy meat, immigrant workers paid pittence greedy corporations and a global industry keeping the public in the dark. How do you turn a fact-based book into a fictional film? Make it into a series of character studies that not only removes much of the direct impact, but is too cool to tackle all the issues head on.
Remember when Antoine Fuqua had just directed the Oscar-winning Training Day (2001) and looked to be hot property in Hollywood? Five years and two major blockbuster flops (the turgid Bruce Willis war movie Tears of the Sun in 2003 and dull historical epic King Arthur in 2004) later, he is still failing to find any kind of form to replicate that success. Shooter borrows from just about every wrongly accused man on the run story there has ever been for a Mark Wahlberg action walkthrough.