Jul 26 2012

Review: The Raven

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 5:33 pm

The RavenOkay, we’re not going to lie to you. The Raven is a pretty bad movie. Leading lady Alice Eve was quoted saying that the screenplay “was the best script that I read last year and I was thrilled to be able to be a part of it.” For her performance in this interview alone, Eve should be presented with some acting award. Unless it turns out that The Raven was the best script she had read that year, in which case she needs to get a new agent.

Here is the premise: John Cusack is Edgar Allan Poe: horror writer, poet and now an alcoholic bum who can’t pay off his bar tab. Somehow, he is betrothed to a Baltimore socialite (Eve) who’s young, beautiful and a fan of his laboured prose, it would seem. Her father (Brendan Gleeson) does not approve of their match on account of his being a man of reason and logic and his daughter’s beau being a penniless drunk with a dangerous level of self regard.

The story really kicks into middle gear, however, when it’s revealed that a serial killer is on the loose. Drawing inspiration from Poe’s ghoulish horror tales, his victims are being murdered in circumstances ripped from the pages Poe’s books. Initially, Poe is the prime suspect but it soon becomes apparent that he’s the only man capable of stopping the murderer before it’s too late. Using his knowledge of his own work, he’s able to track down the clues left by the killer. But really: seeing how popular Poe was at the time, surely anybody familiar with his books could have helped the police just as effectively.

In some ways, it looks like The Raven wants to be something like National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code, taking real-world texts and artworks and using them as clues to a fictional crime/adventure. The script relies heavily on this device without making it much fun. As soon as it is established that the killings are based off the stories, all Cusack contributes to the investigation is constantly identifying references (“A bowline knot – just like in my story!”). But our main problem with The Raven’s central mystery is that we simply never cared who did it. And when all is revealed, we still didn’t care.

Directed by James McTeigue, who helmed the almost-excellent V for Vendetta, The Raven is a ‘thriller’ with so many promising components: Cusack is quite good, the production design is very evocative and McTeigue’s choices seem to reference Silence of the Lambs in more ways than one: the killer sews a clue into one victim’s mouth, keeps another one alive in his basement pit and also dances in front of a mirror with his genitals tucked between his legs (that last bit might not be entirely true). But despite having all these things going for it, the film’s script is laughably poor. The writers seem like they want it to be an intellectual mystery packed with literary allusions, but they also don’t trust audiences to know that Poe was an actual writer. There’s a scene at the beginning where Cusack kicks up a fuss in a tavern, telling everybody that he’s a very famous writer. It’s executed in such a ham-fisted way that he comes across like Ron Burgundy: “I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal”.

This is not a good film, but it certainly falls into that category of movie that we love to hate-watch with our friends. Order a pizza, fire up some popcorn and prepare to talk trash at your telly. Then afterwards, rent Grosse Point Blank and remember how Cusack used to be in great movies.

Jul 19 2012

Review: Magic Mike

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 4:56 pm

If you go down to your local multiplex today, you’ll have no trouble finding the screen that’s showing Magic Mike. Look for groups of giggling women followed by small pockets of nervous men. This, as we all know, is a film about male strippers that feature no shortage of muscular flesh. Drawing from his early experiences working as a male stripper, Channing Tatum has nursed this project from the ground up as its producer and star. He displays an impressive arsenal of moves that are sure to get the attention of the ladies, while leaving the straight male demographic uncertain of how to react. If you’re watching this film purely for the beefcake factor, you will not be disappointed. But you’ll also be getting a little something extra in the mix.

Tatum plays Mike, the lead dancer in Tampa’s hottest all-male dance revue. Run by ringmaster Matthew McConaughey, the show is filled with familiar TV faces like True Blood’s Joe Manganiello, CSI’s Adam Rodriguez and pro wrestler Kevin Nash. Everyone is buff and they are pretty convincing as a troupe of male strippers.

While working one of his numerous non-stripping jobs, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19 year-old kid who he begins to mentor in the way of stripping. An inherently nice guy, Mike dreams of starting a business where he converts old junk into coffee tables: y’know, in the way that all movie prostitutes are aspiring photojournalists or teachers. It’s a common story in the canon of exploitation movies but like Mike, the film is so well meaning that it never comes across as seedy.

Behind the camera is Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, a director so prolific that he’s put out no fewer than nine features since the beginning of 2008. Known for his wildly eclectic choice of projects that flit between genres and subject matters, he brings a veracity to this film that sets it apart from other films of this type (think: Striptease or Showgirls). The relationships between characters really pop and there’s great chemistry between Tatum and his protégée’s big sister (Cody Horn, doing a great job filling that Julia Stiles-shaped hole in our hearts).

But the actors who really shine in this movie are Tatum and McConaughey, two stars who are enjoying something of a career renaissance. With his turn in here and in 21 Jump Street, Tatum has moved beyond the cookie-cutter meathead in GI Joe and now has a good line in playing sensitive, inarticulate men. McConaughey –finally given a good reason to take off his shirt- continues his good form that started with Tropic Thunder continued with The Lincoln Lawyer and Killer Joe. He has this certain charisma that makes it hard to root for him as the lead in a romantic comedy, but if you give him any other role, he’ll knock it out of the park for you.

When things start getting slightly out of hand for Pettyfer and Tatum, the story does take a turn for the predictable, but under Soderbergh’s focused direction, Magic Mike never feels false. Audiences will come for the muscles, but they’ll stay for the good movie.


Note: As mentioned, there’s a lot of stripping in this movie, but it is a 15 certificate. So don’t be disappointed like the girl in the seat next to us, when you realise that Channing Tatum’s not going to reveal the insides of his trunks.

Jul 13 2012

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 6:09 pm

Spider-ManThank the maker! They’ve finally rebooted Spider-Man!

Okay, sarcasm over. But really, it’s only been ten years since Sam Raimi brought Marvel’s famed web-slinger to life in the form of Tobey Maguire. While Spider-Man 2 is considered a high-water mark of comic-book movies, the various excesses of Spider-Man 3 and its multiple villains pretty much left Spidey floating in the proverbial bathtub. Enter Marc Webb, the oh-too-appropriately named director of The Amazing Spider-Man. Working with a script by Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves and octogenarian scribe Alvin Sargent among others, Webb retreads a lot of the same ground as Raimi’s 2002 movie: unpopular teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives with his Aunt and Uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) until one day, he’s bitten by a genetically-modified spider that turns him into a superhero. Like in the earlier version, Peter learns through personal tragedy that with great power comes great responsibility.

Naturally, there’s a romantic plot between Peter and his crush, Gwen Stacy (Superbad’s Emma Stone). Garfield and Stone play this relationship more realistically than in the Raimi version, giving this film a reality that was mostly absent from the earlier films. They have tremendous chemistry and their scenes together are a real highlight. The strange thing is, however, that those bits really don’t belong in the same movie as the action scenes, which are still quite broad. The villain of the piece is Rhys Ifans, a one-armed reptile scientist. Under a lot of pressure to develop a serum that allows people to grow their limbs back, he expedites the scientific progress, accidentally turns himself into an eight-foot lizard, and proceeds to tear up New York City. The action is fundamentally good, with Spider-man’s swinging scenes possessing a heft that makes the 3D presentation almost worthwhile (almost, mind). But there was never any way that the giant Lizard plot line was going to mesh with the gentle relationship story Webb sets up in the film’s first act.

There are tell-tale signs of panic in the cutting room. A few characters seem to disappear mid-film while certain sub-plots are also abandoned, never to be mentioned again: the prologue deals with the mysterious death of Spider-Man’s parents and the fact that it’s barely mentioned again suggests that the producers are counting on a sequel to wrap-up those questions.

It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie throughout, sure, but there’s something about the flabby structure and wildly conflicting tones that makes it hard to rave about. Origin stories very rarely make for satisfying movies and this is no exception. With the kind of money it’s been making at the box-office, there will almost certainly be a sequel and with this phenomenal cast in place, there’s every chance that the franchise could improve.

Amazing Spider-Man? No.

Reasonably Good Spider-Man? That’s more like it.

Jul 06 2012

Review: 21 Jump Street

Tag: blinkboxblinkbox @ 11:17 am

How do you adapt TV shows for the big screen? Let me count the ways…

1)      Add cash and technology! 1998’s Lost in Space was a master-class in throwing money at an old sci-fi show and ignoring things like character and story.

2)      Constantly wink at fans of the original show. 2010’s The A-Team played out like celebrity karaoke show, with big-time movie stars taking on parts originally played by more obscure actors. It spent almost its entire run-time crow-barring in every A-Team trope it could think of.

3)      Create a post-modern parody! This is a double-edged sword: The Brady Bunch movie took the ultimate 70s family and transplanted them to 90s America for a very funny fish-out of water comedy that exaggerated the conventions of the sitcom for comedic effect. Nora Ephron’s Bewitched film, however, took things a step too far: set in a world where the supernatural sitcom ‘Bewitched’ actually existed, Ephron imagined what it would be like if they were to cast a real witch (Nicole Kidman) as the lead in a reboot of the original. It was very ‘clever’ but not very funny.

4)      Give it to a famous director and have him/her put their ‘spin’ on it. We’re basically referring to Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows here, a movie that is unforgivably terrible.

21 Jump Street, the new comedy starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum avoids pretty much every pitfall TV adaptations face by taking the broad concept of the show (cops going undercover at a high school) as only the starting point and inventing a whole new story to go with it. Former adversaries turned best friends, Tatum and Hill are rookie cops sent down to an undercover unit after they bungle a simple drug arrest. Under the command of their angry Captain Ice Cube, they have to pose as high school students to infiltrate a narcotics ring. One of the films strongest recurring jokes comes from Tatum being completely confused at how things have changed since he was in high school. Where ignorance and apathy were once cool, their new classmates all seem to be about the environment and caring about stuff. Where Jonah Hill used to be unpopular with the girls, he’s now able to strike up a conversation with his love interest Brie Larson, the pseudo-girlfriend of the school’s über-crunchy drug dealer (Dave ‘Brother-of-James’ Franco). One of the achievements that screenwriter Michael Bacall (who co-wrote the story with Hill) has pulled off is to take these stock characters from so many high school movies and cop shows and giving them all a fresh and unexpected twist. He also seems to enjoy calling out the inherent flaws of the movie’s premise: everybody at school keeps commenting on how Tatum looks nothing like a teenager.

The new reduced-size Jonah Hill that appears in this movie is as funny as ever (assuming you find Jonah Hill funny). He has pretty much the same voice in every film he appears, but he always finds subtle difference in each role he takes. For a guy whose reputation lies in playing filthy, bawdy fat guys, he’s capable of showing his characters’ vulnerable sides and in 21 Jump Street, he’s great at conveying the insecurity and false confidence of a teenager. The break out performance of this film, unexpectedly, is Channing Tatum. Seen by many people as ‘that meathead who appears in action bombs and sappy romances’, Tatum more than holds his own against Hill. As adept with slap-stick as he is with the back-and-forth dialogue, he’s quickly proving himself to be a world-class comedic straight-man.  On the back of this great turn and his starring role in Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming Magic Mike, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Channing’s Tatums in the future.

At 100 minutes, 21 Jump Street is one of the most tightly-written comedies of recent years. The gags all land, the action scenes come at the right time and the little character moments that they set up at the beginning all pay off in the end. There are also a few great surprises thrown in for good measure. If you haven’t heard about these ‘twists’ from the other reviews or your loose-lipped friends, I recommend you set aside some time tonight and enjoy this thoroughly funny film.

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