Monday, 13 April 2009

Monsters Vs Aliens

The cinematic highs reached through animated films like Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo just haven’t been recreated by the recent attempts of Dreamworks, Paramount and Pixar etc, and Monsters versus Aliens is no exception. Sadly it doesn’t encapsulate the charm of the superb Wall-E, nor the laughs of Bolt. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not awful – and granted, I’m not exactly target audience as an (ahem) twenty-something, but the joy of animated creations like Toy Story, was that you didn’t have to be.

The premise is interesting enough, happily-in-love Susan is about to get married when a meteorite strikes her, transforming her into a giant. She’s immediately dragged away and forced into league with 4 monsters – all sly nods to B-movie lore: The Blob, The Fly etc, and these outcasts are pitted against alien invader Galaxar. Sadly, the plot dies an ugly death about half way through, about the time the lattes ran out in the boardroom I guess, and I’d lost my patience before the finale even kicked in. Part of the problem here is that tenticled Galaxar isn’t an engaging bad guy (or alien rather), in fact, he’s pretty rubbish. There’s a distinct lack of suspense, you never really fear that the monsters are in any real danger. Old-school baddies like Captain Hook and Ursela the sea-witch were far scarier – kids like to be scared by the baddies, that’s the point, right?

Anyhow, saving the film are excellent performances from Keifer Sutherland as an unstable madcap general, and Steven Colbert portraying an idiot President pre-occupied with nuclear destruction and coffee, who brilliantly greets the aliens by pompously playing the 5 tones from Close Encounters on a synth - cue in-joke snigger if you’re old enough to get it. And while Seth Rogan’s trademark 40-a-day laugh can’t claim a credit on its own, it’s used to great effect. To give the writers their due, there are some brilliantly inventive moments too; when Susan (now renamed Ginormica) thinks on her feet (literally) and uses cars as rollerskates to whizz around San Francisco you’re finally drawn into the action, and Rogan’s gelatinous blob, B.O.B falling head over heels with a green jelly raises some of the few genuine giggles.

It’s just not enough to fill out the size-zero thin plot though, and distract from the fact that laughs are all too infrequent; the lack of originality takes away from the fantastic graphics and a few memorable action sequences. Basically, for me, it’s a Monster-sized disappointment.

The Haunting In Connecticut

Now, I love a great horror, when I was far too young I used to record the likes of The Exorcist and Candyman from the telly and scare the crap out of myself watching them in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, The Haunting in Connecticut is not a great horror, and I doubt had I seen it at 14 that it would have shaped my cinematic experiences as they did.

To sum up the plot: boy is cancer sufferer, his family move, new house is creepy, bad things start happening - so far, so average. The spooky goings on in the house Matt (cancer son) and family relocate to are neatly attributed to 2 variables. Firstly, cancer sufferers (explains new friend and handy plot device the Priest), occupy a place in the world equivalent to “walking in the valley of the shadow of death”, and secondly, the house was formerly a funeral home – d’oh.

To start with the good, the creepy atmosphere is well established and maintained through muted washed-out colours and a decent score. To go off topic slightly (I’m allowed, it’s my blog), I think music is so important with horror, we subconsciously take cues from it, it raises our heart rate without us even knowing it, and it is, in my opinion, the most important weapon a film maker has to build suspense. Think about Carpenter’s signature synths, used to such great effect in Assault on Precinct 13, or the now much spoofed and over-used knifing noise from Psycho, the constant and unnerving hum and grumble of the generators in Texas Chainsaw Massacre that keep you on edge – they make the films. When you can’t rely on your eyesight being led through a darkened forest, or trapped in a blacked out room hiding in terror from an unknown evil, it’s the score that keeps the horror going – it’s essential for a horror score to be great.

Anyway, geeky and irrelevant aside over, Kyle Gallner as Matt looks suitably peaky through the majority of the film, that is until his remarkable burst of energy at the end that somewhat beggars belief. Also the scares aren’t bad, if a little predictable, and there’s the inevitable, you-think-it’s-all-over-but-oh-no-there’s-more “twist” at the end.

Now for the bad, considering the story is anchored somewhat in truth, it seemed sadly lacking in originality. It incorporates bits and bobs from most horror sub-genres: poltergeists, zombies, mummies, ghostly visions, séances etc. It even “borrows” key moments from some of the crème de la crème of horror – while some might enjoy playing “spot the famous scene they’ve ripped off from The Shining / The Birds” etc, others, myself and the boy included, might just find it derivative. The character of Matt’s father is also woefully underdeveloped (I can’t even remember his name), and some contrived scenes were laughable in their clichedness. Also, beware the little box of treats discovered when digging up the dark past of their new home, if you didn’t like Goldmember’s “collection”, you won’t like theirs...

I can’t help but feel I’m being a bit harsh though, The Haunting in Connecticut is, on the whole, better than a majority of the recent surge of poor Japanese remakes. However, it’s certainly no modern classic, and I doubt anyone truly found themselves on the edge of their seat.

Gran Torino

Let’s face it, Clint Eastwood is badass, at 78 he’s still directing, producing and starring in films of the highest calibre – come on, who doesn’t want him to be their grumpy Grandad? As Walt in Gran Torino he takes on probably his last starring role, and it’s a fitting farewell to his time on the silver screen.

Korean war veteran and dedicated xenophobe Walt, is struggling with the death of his wife and, as he sees it, the deterioration of his neighbourhood as the immigrant community grows around him. The racial tensions throughout the film are palpable and expertly handled, though I learnt more racial slurs in the first half hour than I ever needed or wanted to know! The plot centres around Walt’s relationship with his young Hmong neighbours, borne through a series of encounters culminating in an attempt by shy Thao to steal Walt’s prized ’72 Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation. The growth of Walt’s friendship with Thao and his sister Sue, is touching and believable. It even provides a few unexpected laughs as he struggles to reconcile his prejudices with the reality of his warm and intelligent new acquaintances, discovering a new lease of life through his newfound connection with people. As a clever and subtle signifier of their familiarity with each other, the insults of old slowly become nicknames used through habit rather than to cause offense.

The film tackles tradition, history, humanity, race and spirituality, and Eastwood effortlessly commands every scene he’s in. Fans will be glad to see the spirit of Dirty Harry definitely lives on. The writing, pace, and cinematography are faultless, and there’s even a neat twist at the end, but I won’t give the game away... Basically, he spits a lot, he swears a lot and he growls a lot, as the boy put it: “he’s just a cantankerous old bastard with access to weaponry!” – I couldn’t agree more, he’s one of the coolest vigilantes ever.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

3 Films in 1, the catch-up blog

Ok, so it’s been an obscene amount of time since I posted my proposal for this blog - I got caught up with freelancing and job-hunting, but I’ll try to make amends. My thoughts on films I now saw over a month ago are understandably hazy, so I’ll just write a short synopsis of my feelings about The Reader, Watchmen and Marley and Me. These aren’t intended to be full reviews; they’re not about in depth research and witty alliteration, but my gut reaction to a film, put into words as best I can. So here goes:

The Reader

This film really is all about Kate Winslet: Kate’s boobs, Kate’s impressive bottom, Kate’s German accent etc. etc. And in my opinion she deserves her Oscar for this adaptation of a relationship between a former S.S. guard (Winslet as Hanna) and a 15 year old boy (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes as Michael), and the repercussions their liaison has on his life. Without revealing any spoilers, I challenge anyone not to get drawn into their story, feel sympathy for Michael as the dark past of his first love is revealed, and feel sympathy for Hanna as her life is wrenched from her - whether fairly or not, you can decide for yourself. The cast as a whole is spot on, and Daldry directs with compassion and intelligence. I love a film that I think about and debate the ins and outs of for hours, and The Reader did just that for me. It’s moving and thoughtful and tinged with melancholy throughout, definitely worth seeing, but not if you’re after a pick me up.


I had nothing invested in this film as I’ve never read a comic, let alone a whole graphic novel, which in this case is probably for the best. Like anyone else with a passing interest in film I got caught up in the hype, and found myself reading every available column inch dedicated to the film people had declared an “impossibility”. Unfortunately though, I found it disappointing, not because I found the plot too confusing without prior knowledge of the story, but because it was damn near impossible to care one iota about any of the characters. The Comedian, by far the most charismatic “hero” of the bunch, is killed off in the opening scenes, a real shame as I spent the rest of the film hoping he’d reappear. Past the first 20 minutes, he does not. The rest were self-involved and impossible to empathise with.

The sex scene has to be one of the most cringe-worthy things committed to film – a horrible sexed-up jazz version of Hallelujah plays in the background while 2 characters with no chemistry attempt to get horny in a pod, shame they both seemed more preoccupied with ensuring sure their arse cheeks looked nice and tight. Rorschach (an admirable effort by Jackie Earle Haley) makes watching the whole film just about bearable, but even his gravelly tones get a little grating a couple of hours in.

There’s no doubting Snyder has made a very stylish film, and it’s hard to imagine that the look of the novel could have been captured better, however the film as a whole lacked pace and relatable characters, and sadly, no amount of gore and latex is going to change that. It’s also worth mentioning that the boy’s copy of the novel itself remains unread and gathering dust, read into that what you will.

Marley and Me

Not our usual choice of film, but we were both knackered and fancied something light-hearted, plus I like dogs, so we thought we’d give it a go. I think most reviewers missed the point with this film; it’s not just a tale of a cute yet destructive dog – there aren’t nearly as many set pieces hinging on the hilarious antics of an out of control bundle of fluff as you’d think. Essentially it’s about a young family struggling with everyday problems: child-rearing, job stresses and making a marriage work. It just so happens that they also own destructo-dog Marley, initially part of a baby replacement scam hatched by John Grogan (Owen Wilson). Marley becomes an integral part of the family as the Grogan clan grows - a loyal companion and mess-maker. Aniston and Owen are predictably fitting in their roles as the young homemakers, and of course there are plenty of “awww” moments if puppies are your thing. Just a small warning though: have tissues to hand.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

My proposition...

THIS IS A SITE IN PROGRESS (page will be prettified, html knowledge allowing...)

Recently my boyfriend and I started going to the cinema every Tuesday, the weekly outing was quickly and affectionately dubbed
"Cinema Club". (Thank yous must go to Vue and Cineworld in Cardiff for finally making cinema affordable!)

I've always been pretty opinionated about films, and love discussing them with anyone with a view not peddled to them by Time Out. So here's my proposal: each time I see a film, I'll post a concise and completely honest review about it as soon as I can. Last Tuesday's film was The Watchmen, I've quite a lot to say about that... If time and memory allows, I'll also write a little something about the last month's worth of "Cinema Club" viewings preceding Watchmen.

I'm sure there are hundreds of people writing similar blogs, the lack of available URLs testifies to that, but what the hell?