I've been going to the movies and watching recent DVDs more than normal lately, but I'm aware I've not kept up with writing full reviews for anything. So, I'm going to skip through three reviews in one post and try and keep them more to soundbites than the usual in depth ranting I usually do.
There seems to be a revival in Hollywood at the moment of the big, dumb action flick. We've got The Expendables
out this week, Predators
earlier in the summer and the A-Team
, which slinked into UK cinemas a little later than the US. However, like Predators, it successfully recreates that bygone, cheesy age where an action movie meant lots of crap blowing up, while stereotypes ran around spouting corny dialogue. For me, personally, that's the best approach to an action movie, rather than the CGI heavy , shakey cam, Michael Bay school of movie making.
The A-Team doesn't try to attain any height higher than completely stupid and is all the better for it. Liam Neeson looks uncomfortable throughout (somewhat surprisingly, because as a movie it should cause less embarrassment than The Phantom Menace), but the rest of the cast genuinely appear to be enjoying themselves. Quinton Jackson's no actor, but fills Mr. T's large shoes admirably regardless and Bradley Cooper is obviously having a ball as Face. It's District 9's Sharlto Copley who really steals the show, however, making Howling Mad Murdock even more entertainingly unhinged than the original show.
Aside from the performances, the plotting's straightforward and just gives an excuse for action sequences - each more gloriously overblown than the last - to be strung together. It tips a little too far into ridiculousness for the finale - no mean feat considering an earlier sequence involving a flying tank - but there's still plenty to enjoy. It's loud, dumb, brash, utterly over the top and vulgar and it's not the kind of movie you'd take home to meet the parents, but for a fun night out where you wake up the next day wondering where in the heck you got that traffic cone, it's perfect.
Toy Story 3
Currently ranked at 99% at Rotten Tomatoes, it's not hard to see why. Toy Story 3
has everything going it and is a hair's width from being the perfect family movie. I'm trying desperately to think of some flaw which would make it seem like I'm not simply bowing down before the false idol of Pixar, but I'm coming up blank. It's one of those very rare sequels which surpasses the original and may well be the most rounded and entertaining of all the Pixar movies, which is no mean feat.
Pixar are pretty much the textbook example of family filmmakers - they don't talk down to kids or adults - and there's no doubt that Toy Story 3 is an emotional rollercoaster. If you have any sympathy or fondness for the characters, be prepared to have your heartstrings not just tugged, but yanked firmly. Make no mistake, there's some real depths of emotion here - a kid in the cinema behind be was sobbing their guts during a couple of scenes and obviously deeply affected - and even my lower lip was wobbling plenty. But there's utter joy as well and the movie contains some of the funniest scenes of any movie in recent years. Inventive, mature, hilarious, thrilling, witty, scary, deeply moving... Pixar have done it again.
Pixar's greatest achievement is where the action is supposed to make you laugh and break your heart at the same time
. The fact that they accomplish that near impossible feat deserves love and applause.
Too many brilliant moments to mention and the cast is, as always, pitch perfect, but special credit to Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton (who actually comes close to stealing the show as Ken), Javier Fernández-Peña (who does steal the show), Timothy Dalton, Jodi Benson, Kristen Schaal and others for effortlessly slipping into the Toy Story world.
Plus, you’ve got to love any film that uses the phrase ‘death by monkeys’.
To paraphrase Lord Melchett "this movie twists and turns like a twisty turny thing." The 50s period movie very much plays on the surprise twists and shocking plot turns and more red herrings than an Agatha Christie novel as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to an island which houses an insane asylum to investigate the escape of one of its inmates. What follows is a story (loosely) that reminds me very much of The Wicker Man
- very much all atmosphere and the central character's search for the truth of the disappearance hindered by the enigmatic inhabitants of the island.
In that, it does the gothic horror conventions proud - rich in atmosphere, all communication with the mainland disrupted by a hurricane hitting the island, sinister doctors and inmates alike. The high profile and hard hitting supporting cast (Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Ted Levine, Patricia Clarkson and Jackie Earle Haley) add to the gravitas. It's a fascinating exercise in film making art from Scorsese - beautifully shot, rich in atmosphere, claustrophobic, tense, tightly performed, intelligently scripted - but when the final reel rolls, that's what you remember, over being entertained. I think the best description I can come up with is "engaging, but not necessarily entertaining". As another review put it, "It would be more enjoyable if you could take out your brain and experience it only with eyes and ears."
That said, the story draws you in from the first and, while it would have benefitted from losing at least 20 minutes off the running time and one subplot, it's never boring and does an effective job drawing you in. Although the soundtrack was atmospheric, but a little intrusive. After the third or fourth time the soundtrack has built to an overpowering, ominous crescendo only for nothing to happen, you start to feel a little bit like it's the soundtrack that cried wolf. Equally intrusive are the occasional exposition dumps as supporting actors wander in to deliver a chunk of exposition, then wander off again, which means the stop-start feel of the movie is enhanced.
But even then, it's still an interesting exercise in mashing as many clichés of the gothic thriller and police procedural genres into one movie as possible. You do sense that Scorsese enjoyed the challenge and playing on convention, but it may well split the audience as to whether that enjoyment rubs off on them.