May 30, 2008

The Strangers (2008)

After what seemed like an eternity for this movie to get to the theatres it was difficult to hide the feeling that I would be disappointed it. That is so unfortunately so often the case. However, I tried to keep my mind open and let the actions on the screen do their best, despite having a promotional campaign that seemed intent on spoiling the movie for everyone, unless of course you like that sort of thing.

Things didn't start off too well though, nothing to do with the movie though, as three idiots decided to join the movie after about 10 minutes, then proceed to talk, move about and generally piss me off. Bear in mind this was a midday showing and, aside from the three evil monkeys, there were only five other respectful patrons watching the movie. Maybe one day I will learn that whatever time I choose to go to the theatre there will always be the odd fucknut there that doesn't care about other people wanting to watch the movie.

Anyway, before I go off on a tangent, i'll get back to The Strangers. Starting off with an "Inspired by true events" voiceover, which if you think about it could perfectly make sense in context to the plot, although I think it was just another line of bullshit from the marketing folks. Yes, people do get attacked in their homes, so lets generalize for a second shall we.... Right, after this we join Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) as they are returning from a wedding to James' family's summer home, which is in the ass-end of nowhere. Right off you know that something is amiss between the couple, a device used in the similarish Vacancy, but as of yet we don't quite know what it is.

They arrive at their destination and, after an awkward few minutes or so and a surprise vistor later, Kristen realizes she is out of smokes. So, of course, James pops out to get her some, even though it is four in the morning. Mind you, time has no relevance when you need a smoke, of that I can attest to.

Whilst out the fun and games start for Kristen, as there is a knocking at the door, or should I say banging, as that would be more appropriate. The night will only get more sinister from here on in for Kristen and James, once he eventually gets back.

The first thing I will say about The Strangers is that if you didn't like the Ils (Them), which is another home invasion movie, or found it too slow, chances are you won't like this as it moves along at a fairly slow pace throughout. Obviously it picks up towards the latter stages, but this is more a movie that is reliant on the slowburn, building the tension and slowly letting it unravel. I thought it worked quite well though, the sense of dread, accompanied by some great jump scenes and genuine chills all came together to give a great atmosphere. Nothing is rushed here, there's no fast editing, no real flashy effects just a drawn out uncomfortable hour and a half.

Now, whilst the home invasion premise is nothing new, and much about this movie isn't particularly original, there are two solid central performance from Tyler and Speedman that kept my attention. Tyler in particular did a great job conveying her sense of fear and panic at the situation. Speedman was a little less impressive, but a solid enough performance nonetheless. The real stars though are the strangers themselves; they are just creepy sonsabitches. Obviously this is helped immensley by the situations the writer and director puts these characters in; a shot of one of them in the background (the picture in the poster works much better on film), an over the shoulder shot that will have you holding your breath, these are creepy villians.

Unfortunately the flaws with this movie try their hardest to outweigh and nulify the good points. A combination of a poor marketing which reveals too much, a spoiling opening scene and a seen-it-before storyline really had this movie testing my patience to a certain degree. This should have been the sort of movie in which I was wondering what the hell is going on and why? Alas it won't take a genius to know all the answers before they are revealed to us.

Fuck, this was a very promising flick, and I did enjoy many aspects of it, but I really think the filmmakers hurt themselves here. I will give this a recommendation, with a certain element of caution though, as the atmosphere was tense, the strangers were cool and Liv Tyler is hot. This is one movie that will divide audiences, of that I am quite sure.

Rating 2.5 (out of 4)

Review by Jude Felton

May 29, 2008

P2 (2007)

My initial thoughts on this movie after I first read about it were that it would just be another predictable and stagnant thriller. You know the drill, such and such gets caught somewhere, psycho gives them grief, but behold they fight back and win! That was before I realised that Alexandra Aja and Gregory Lavasseur had written and produced it. Both were the brains behind the superb French shocker Haute Tension, as well as the superior remake of The Hills Have Eyes, so maybe, just maybe, I might be in for something a little different. Well, I won't beat about the bush, it was relatively predictable in certain areas, but it also had a couple of "holy shit!" moments that did impress as well as surprise me.

P2 is about young office executive Angela (Rachel Nichols) who, being totally dedicated to her job, is working late on Christmas Eve. She should be heading to her sister's for a family gathering but that would be another movie wouldn't it? Anyway, she makes sure she is just about the very last person to leave before heading down to the underground parking lot, or the P2 of the title, where lo and behold she finds that her less than shabby car won't start. I know, I can hear you groaning too just bear with me. So, she tries to go back upstairs in order to call a cab, only to find the access door is locked. Hold the groaning please. Fortunately for Angela there is a security guard working, so she asks for his assistance.

Now, if this was just a random security guard played by someone you'd never heard of you would just accept this as routine. However, this security who's name is Tom is played by Wes Bentley who may not be a A list actor but he's a large enough Star so that you know he's going to have a major part to play in this flick. And, before you can say "There's so much beauty in the world..." he goes all looney tunes, thus setting up a rather good cat and mouse thriller.

Whilst there are many predictable elements to P2, not to mention nasty plot holes, it held my attention from start to finish. Initially I felt no sympathy towards the Angela character; her early abruptness towards Tom only served in making me want him to make her suffer. This soon passed though as Tom's character is slowly unravelled, in what has to be one of the fine over the top performances in recent thrillers. He is ridiculously over the top in places; just wait until the Elvis scene.

What did make this movie work for me was a combination of factors which all added up to make this a winner in my eyes. The direction by newcomer, and Aja protegee Franck Khalfoun, was nicely executed giving a decent sense of claustrophobia and helplessness in the parking lot. Great lighting and a cool score also served to add to the atmosphere. I also can't forget one incredibly gory moment, that was completely unexpected and very impressive in terms of raising the horror bar in Angela's situation. On top of that Angela spends most of the movie trying to fall out of her clothing; alas she fails.

P2 is a movie that accepts the fact it is following a very cliched route, and makes no apologies using as it does so many of them, yet it manages to somehow come across as relatively fresh in its execution. Certain situations are telegraphed, whereas others are just daft but there is also a sense of not knowing quite what is going to happen next, and for a thriller that is half the battle won.

I would personally rather see Alexandra Aja work on something like this rather than one of the seemingly endless amount of remakes he is connected to (aside from his early Hills Have Eyes remake there is also Mirrors and Piranha on the horizon), but if that is his choice then more power to him, there is always Khalfoun, along with many other exciting new French directors, to keep a look out for.

Don't go into this movie expecting another Haute Tension, Hills Have Eyes or Inside even, because you won't get that. What you will find is a very decent and well made psycho thriller made by Frenchmen with a little Hollywood gloss sprayed over it. Exciting, bloody and just a little over the top which makes it well worth checking out.

Rating 3 Stars (out of 4)

Review by Jude Felton

May 26, 2008

Iron Man (2008)

I'll be the first to admit it, I don't really get excited about superhero movies, whether they are from DC, Marvel or anyone else. I have enjoyed some of those that I have seen, and I think that Christopher Nolan's realization of Batman is fantastic, but for the most part I just wait until they hit dvd (I think Spiderman 2 was the one and only that I caught at the theatre). When I first saw the trailer for Iron Man though I knew it was a movie that I needed to see, and good lord for some reason I took my sweet time about getting to see it. The reason for wanting to see it so badly though was not for the character of Iron Man, no, it was because Robert Downey Jr. was in the lead role. Personally I think he is an underrated actor and from what I saw of the movie in the trailer I was convinced I wouldn't be disappointed. Thankfully I wasn't wrong.

The movie itself is about egocentric billionaire weapons tycoon Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who upon a visit to Afghanistan to showcase some new, and quite spectacular, weaponary ends up getting kidnapped by a group of war-hungry militants. Their demands are for him to build them some of his new weaponary, his answer is to build himself a new highly armoured and heavily weaponed suit. And as Black Sabbath once sang " I am Iron Man".

Obviously there is far more to the story than which I have just outlined, such as Stark's business partner (an awesome Jeff Bridges), his longstanding personal assistant Pepper Potts (a gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow) and his good friend (Terrence Howard), but again, to tell too much would be pointless if you plan on catching the movie.

As you might expect from a movie such as this there are special effects galore, something that director Jon Favreau handled superbly as well as the direction in general as he really did surprise me. There is quite blatantly a shitload of CGI on display here, none of it though seemed anything other than seamless though, in fact the majority of the movie is more about Stark and his conflicts rather than high octane superhero sheneigans, of which there is plenty by the way.

For me though, what held this movie together, and lifted it way above so many other big budget movies of this ilk, was Robert Downey Jr.'s central performance. To be quite honest he was fantastic in the lead role; his delivery of his dialogue was nigh on perfection. A rich mix of dead-pan humour and over the top dramatics throughout, I really couldn't picture anyone else playing this character after seeing him in the role. Mind you, this would probably not have worked as well had it not been for his solid and pitch perfect supporting cast. Brideges, Howard and Paltrow all deliver the goods in their roles; maybe Paltrow's as Pepper Potts could have been developed slightly more but still she carried it off so well.

Iron Man was a quite fantastic blend of action, humour and quality acting, and quite frankly I cannot wait until a sequel rears its inevitable head.

Highly recommended.

Rating 3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Review by Jude Felton

May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Having grown up with the previous three Indiana Jones movies, much as I did with the Stars Wars movies, it was with a little apprehension that I went to the theatre to catch this belated entry to the franchise. My main concern, as I 'm sure it is with many other fans, was whether Harrison Ford could pull off the role 20 years after last pulling on the old fedora and bullwhip. My secondary concern was whether it would be a Phantom Menace-style CGI extravaganza. The answer to my first concern, was yes, just about, there was only the odd occasion where I could tell it was a stunt double, but for the most part I was happy with his performance. As for the second concern? Of course there was a ton of CGI, most of which was fairly seamless but you could still tell it was there.

On to the movie itself though. Set in 1957 at the heart of the "Better Dead Than Red" everyones-a-commie era Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has the Russians as the bad guys as, led by Cate Blanchett's Irina Spalko, they are searching for the legendary crystal skulls which they plan to use in the next level of weaponary by harnessing their powers of mind control. So begins a journey that starts in the mysterious Area 51 in New Mexico then proceeds all over South America, with Indiana Jones, and his new sidekick Mutt, being called back into action, even after the FBI question his integrity.

Now, I'm not one for going into great details surrounding plots of movies, especially new flicks, and i'm not going to change now, as to reveal too much would be to spoil any enjoyment you might garner from it. What I will say though is that this has to be the most far-fetched and outlandish Indian Jones movie to date. Sure, there are the prerequisite chases, fight scenes, booby traps and creepy-crawlies but George Lucas, David Koepp et al have really gone overboard here. Did it spoil my enjoyment? Not really, but just get ready to leave you disbelief well and truly suspended for the duration of the movie.

There are plenty of nods to the earlier movies here, with mention of his father (Henry Jones Sr), Marcus Brody (the late great Denholm Elliot) as well as the inclusion of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).

The humour that has come to be expected of these movies is also prevalent throughout, indeed I did laugh out loud on more than one occasion. However, there were other moments where I felt the humour felt a little flat, and forced even. The good moments did outweigh the bad though in my opinion, a scene involving a large snake being especially amusing.

The action scenes were generally well choreographed, with the special effects being pretty damned good, I would however have liked to have seen a little more in the danger stakes. By this I mean that I never really feared for Indiana's safety, regardless of his predicament, he seemed to coast from one situation to another.

Overall I would say that this is nowhere near as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but as a rip-roaring style of adventure flick it did enough to keep me happily amused for its 2 hour running time. Sure, it could have been better, by grounding it a little more in reality, but then these movies have always been about pure boys-own escapism, and that is pretty much what you get here. Just don't expect too much, Spielberg hasn't quite managed to bring back the glory days of the 1980's, he also didn't fail to bring a decent flick to the screen. Nowhere near perfect but I will be buying the DVD in the future.

Rating 2.5 Stars (out of 4)

Review by Jude Felton