Insidious – Review

Insidious (2010) 

Directed by James Wan. Starring Patrick WilsonRose ByrneTy Simpkins

I’m going to be quite upfront in reviewing this film: the plot is preposterous, it has virtually no original ideas, it is a derivative from all sorts of films we’ve seen before, the end is ludicrous, and yet it scared the living daylight out of me, like very few films have managed to do in the last few years. Just for this reason I would recommend it to every horror/thriller fan out there. It is one of the most skilfully made horror I’ve seen in quite a while.

Director James Wan certainly knows how to create the most tense atmosphere out of a simple scene where a person is walking along a corridor. His mastery in the use of sound, in the use of music (or better, when to use music and when silence is a lot more powerful), the positioning of the camera is to be admired.

Wan clearly knows that the anticipation to an event could be a lot more powerful than the event itself. He knows that the fear of seeing the devil can be a lot scarier than the moment when the devil actually reveals himself.

There are some incredibly tense sequences (a particularly creepy one involving a baby monitor) throughout the whole first part of the film. There’s a constant sense of dread as the camera moves around the empty rooms of the house and when the scares come, they really make you jump, however expected some of them might be.

A lot of time is spent in building some believable characters and making the audience care about them (credits due to both Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne too of course) and it’s good to see the “usual sceptic” changing his mind and actually believing the supernatural.

The film looses a little bit of its edge and its eerie atmosphere once the supernatural get officially introduced, and yet even the reveal of the Devil (which is usually quite a let-down in any other horror films like this one) still manages to be incredibly unsettling. Since the script is a bit obvious and a photocopy of films like Poltergeist (including the Ghostbusters team and the not-so-reveal of the fact that it’s not a haunted house, but a possessed child), and of course the Exorcist, I can only deduce that it’s the direction of Insidious that really makes it work.

Of course, once the film is over and the lights are on, it’ll take you 2 seconds to realize that it was all pretty silly and it’s going to be a lot easier to dismiss it as junk (really scary horror films should really stay with you long after they finish), but while you’re in it I’m sure you’ll be as frighten as a little boy who hears a suspicious noise coming out of his closet at night…

6.5

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec – Review

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) 

Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Louise BourgoinMathieu AmalricJean-Paul Rouve

Director Luc Besson finally returns to live action after a 6 years hiatus, though after watching this film, I wished he had waited a little bit longer. 

The film is adapted from Jacques Tardi’s early ’70s comic book series, set in 1912 Paris: in fact it’s taken from 2 different adventures (the first one is the story-line about the pterodactyl and the second one about the mummies) and throughout the film there is so much going on that I really wished thinking they had sticked to just one of storylines.

The international posters sells “Adele Blanc-Sec” as a cross between Indiana Jones and Amelie (and that’s an already pretty bold and yet suspicious claim as the two films despite being both very good are surely quite incompatible with each other), but there are also hints from the Tintin strips and even reminders to Lara Croft herself.

The film certainly looks very stylish and quite expensive (though some of the CGI work looked a bit ropey): both the cinematography and the art direction are top-notch, as we’ve come to expect from Besson’s films. The 1900 Paris is recreated with ravishing details as the camera swoops along the many sets, and locations but unfortunately it’s the story-line that ultimately lets it all down.

The plot is so convoluted that in the end it takes all the fun away from what could have been quite an enjoyable experience.

It’s hard to see what the target audience for this film should be. Sometimes it is all so silly that you could be forgiven to think this is one for the kids, and yet the use of the voice over and the actual structure of the story both seem to aim at a much more mature type of audience (and let’s not even mention the completely gratuitous nudity, which is just baffling and really pointless).

There are individual some good scenes here and there (for example the Indiana-Jonesenque adventure in Egypt) which give you a glimpse of what the film could have been if it had sticked to a more simple genre.

But where the film really fails completely is in its comic timing (there’s one funny joke toward the end, to do with a certain pyramid in Paris…): the comic characters are so stupid and over the top that not only are more reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther films, but they somehow manage to diminish the impact of the rest of the film, especially from both the most poignant moments.

In the end it is very hard to take any of that seriously, or to care for any of the characters on the screen (despite a good performance by Louise Bourgoin, in the title’s main role). All you’re left is a sour taste about all that money wasted on a messy and flippant film which is all style and very little substance.

Mr. Spielberg, do watch it closely and learn your lessons for your your upcoming Tintin.

6.0/10

A real moviegeek or a tired old cynic?

Some of you have pointed out that in the last few months it seems like I was disappointed by most of the stuff I saw in the cinema.

This came just at the time when I was about to choose which film to review next, of the ones I’ve seen in the last couple of days: “The Roommate” (A thriller, which is usually a genre I love), “the extraordinary adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec” (By Luc Besson who made La Femme Nikita and leon, 2 of my favourites ever!), or “Hachi” (By the director of one of the film I love the most, What’s eating Gilbert Grape)… And you know what?! I really didn’t like any of them!

It made me think: when did I become such a cynic?

It is so unlike me… I’ve always been the positive one, the smiley person who tries to look for bright side…

I love going to the movies and there’s nothing I cherish more than loosing myself in a good flick.

Whenever I go and watch something, I’m always hoping this might be the one that makes me go back to being a kid, or makes me cry or laugh with tears in my eyes, or forget about my deadlines at work and my worries at home…

The fact that I have not liked a lot films recently is probably indicative of the way cinema is today. Most of these films are just products”: they are made by a committee of advertisers, or people who need to balance their books at the end of the year.

There are very few mavericks, or real storytellers out there… Most of them prefer to play it safe and give us what their recent surveys told them they should give us.

Or is it me who is just getting pickier and pickier? Why do I seem to be the only one who thought “The King’s Speech” was a pretty average film crowd pleaser?

Why didn’t I like Scream 4, when in fact it did exactly what the “tin” said?

Should I have got lost in the colours of “Rio”, forgetting about the fact that the story line was so damn predictable?

Why wasn’t I swept away by the quirkiness of “Rubber“?

Why was I so cold in front of that tragedy that was “Rabbit hole“?

Why couldn’t I just laugh watching “The Dilemma” while everybody else was in tears around me in the theatre?

Why couldn’t I just go with “The Adjustment Bureau“, instead of looking for all the plot holes?

Why wasn’t I enchanted by Submarine?

And why am I more terrorized than excited by the idea of the forthcoming Tintin movie by Spielberg (a director I love making a film about my ultimate childhood hero?) … Why am I so afraid I’ll be disappointed?

Am I growing old and just tired of movies or are there just fewer and fewer fresh good things our there?

Scre4m – Review

SCREAM 4 (2011) 

Directed by Wes Craven. Starring Lucy HaleShenae GrimesDane FarwellAnna PaquinNeve CampbellDavid ArquetteCourteney CoxHayden PanettiereEmma RobertsRory CulkinAdam Brody

Before I can begin even talking about this film I must give you a little bit of background… Allow me to go off on a tangent for a bit.

Back in 1996 Scream was a smart, ingenious and witty take on the slasher-films. It single-handedly re-vitalized the horror genre by re-defining its rules and by combining elements of thrills and comedy like few films had successfully done before (in fact I can only think of An American Werewolves in London).

At the time, we all fell for it, but still to this day that opening scene with Drew Barrymore is arguably one of the best executed, most intense and shocking sequences of any slasher/horror film… but also one of the cleverest too, with its many references to other horrors, the film was able to send all the old rules out of the window. It all felt fresh and new, terrifying and funny at the same time. In the end it was all ludicrous, but while  with it I had a ball!

A year later, screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven re-teamed with Scream 2 and tried to do the same for slasher sequels.  Some of the originality was obviously lost, the plot got more convoluted and far fetched and certainly the scares were a lot fewer, but Scream 2 had enough tongue and cheeks to get away with…  murder!

Once Scream 3 came along in 2000, the formula seemed to have run out of stream. It was still quite entertaining, with its film-within-a-film formula, but even then we all knew that it could not go on.

Then all the various “Scary Movies” came along. Cheap, vulgar, spoofs that wanted to be as clever and funny as Airplane! but in fact got worse and worse as their numbers got bigger and bigger (number 5 is in development, according to imdb).

What had begun as a sort of “piss-take” of horror films was now the subject of spoofs. It became impossible to imagine how the “Scream” series could go on.

The only way for horror to move forward seemed to be the so-called “torture-porn” (the “Saw” series, Hostel (1&2)The Devil’s Rejects, Wolf Creek and so on…) or the “re-boot” of those 70s and 80s classic (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre), all of which were bloodier and nastier than their original counterpart, but as it happened a lot less effective.

And now, 11 years after the Scream 3 closed its curtains (and 15 after the first one), Williamson, Craven and the main surviving cast from the originals, are all back in what’s promised to be a new trilogy (though it’s hard to see where they might take this new series after this already tired fourth installment).

But if their aim is to re-define the rules once again, this time for the new generation, they fail completely, as this feels just like a cash-in exercise and an excuse to revive something by re-hashing  and regurgitating everything that we have already seen.

The main rule this time (or excuse) is that there are no rules! Or at least that’s the official line, because actually behind all the talk about going against the  clichés and trying to ridicule the various the character-less horror of the last few years, there is actually very little new. There a sense of Déjà-vu throughout and (aside from its far fetched ending) it is all rather predictable in its non-predictability.

Back are the usual movie references, the many (too many) characters, most of them are just there so that they can be killed off at some point (and yes, the rating system has relaxed a lot more since the 90s, so the death sequences are gorier).

Williamson’s script spends a lot of time criticizing old clichés and paper-thin characters, but more often than not falls into the same pit (and I don’t really think it’s intentional). There are undoubtedly some clever remarks and, particularly if you are an horror fan, you’ll have fun in detecting all the various in-jokes and references (is the film really trying to say that nothing good has come out since the first Scream Trilogy?It seems a bit of a pompous remark, doesn’t it?); but clearly all this post-modernism is just a smokescreen, hiding the film’s real weaknesses as Scream 4 quickly falls into the same traps as the many films it’s referencing.

Admitting a theft (or a reference) may ease the conscience, but it certainly doesn’t make it OK, nor it makes it a good film.

The problem is that none of behind the scenes seems to know what this new generation really is like: yes, of course, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, webcams, torture porn and phone apps are all name-checked, at some point or another , but that’s it: they are just name-checked.

Never during the course of the film you get the feeling that this is really what kids are like. Their dialogue fits rather awkwardly in their mouths and they feel more like a version of what an older person might think kids are like. Their comments on the horror genre today is way too self-conscious and feels rather forced and heavy handed, but more importantly, they are always unrelated to the actual event of the films.

it’s as if Craven was saying: “Oh look, some jokes and references!… Ok, now let’s get on with the film”.

Everybody in Scream 4 seems to have the same voice: they are all horror-fans, they all quote movies, and they all know the rules of slasher films, whether it is policeman or a hot young teenager, of a nerdy blogger.

In the end it’s just like a big parody of itself, slightly funny but definitely not scary. The only way the film can make you jump is by relying on loud and sudden noises… Well, that’s not very hard is it?

This might be a film about horror films but it’s certainly not a horror film!

As I said, Scream 4 is not without enjoyment and the fans will certainly like to see familiar characters back, but that’s all the do: they are just back. They are very little developed among the over-crowded cast and they have very little to do.

And then when you think the film might finally have done something quite brave and unusual, towards what you might think is the end, you’ll be disappointed to find out that there is another 15/20 minutes coda which will bring back the clichés and will leave the door open for our tired characters to come back for a possible Scream 5.

It’s hard to see what it might add to the series, as this one added  next to nothing. What a shame, I was so looking forward to this film!!!

I’m sure the making of the film itself (with all the re-write, people quitting, getting divorced, re-cast and re-shoots) must have been hundred times more interesting and new than the actual film itself.

6.0/10


Fair Game – Review

Fair Game (2010) 

Directed by Doug Liman. Starring Naomi Watts, Sean Penn, Anand Tiwari, Michael Kelly, Ty Burrell

Fair Game was the only American film in competition at the Cannes Festival in 2010, and given its political message it comes to no surprise at all that it was selected by the French.

Based on the 2 memoirs by former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn) and Valerie Plame Wilson (Watts), a CIA agent outed by White House officials, the movie tells how the couple were betrayed by the Bush administration and attacked by the media after Mr Wilson decided to publish an article on the New York Times called “What I didn’t find in Africa“.

In the article basically Mr Wilson accuses the White House of misrepresenting him and saying that he had found evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in order to sell the case for the imminent invasion of Iraq.

Fair Game is really split into two parts: the more urgent political thriller, as the pair undertake their respective fact-finding missions (obviously taken from his version of events), and the more emotional domestic suburban drama, charting the couple’s breakdown as their findings are manipulated by the White House (which must come from her memoirs).

Penn and Watts have already worked together twice before (21 Grams and The Assassination of Richard Nixon), and whenever together  in this film, they convincingly managed to convey the intimacy of a real marriage in danger of being destroyed by the constant assaults by reporters and the media in general, the sense of dread given by the death threats and arrogance of the power above them.

Naomi Watts is pretty much perfect as the tightly controlled woman who’s been training for a whole life to  be secretive , and control her own emotions (“I don’t have a breaking point” she says at one point in the film).

Sean Penn, was born to play the role of Joe, the liberally opinionated fighter who’s running against the whole system. He’s basically playing himself and he’s clearly enjoying himself quite a lot (and he’s very good at it too!).

The contrast between the two of them makes a dynamic combination. I just wish there was a little bit more of that in the film.

Unfortunately by trying to stick to the facts (which in a film like this I guess is the safer option), the director Doug Liman (from the first Bourn Identity) give the film a rather slow pace which works against the tension the film is trying to create and eventually its dramatic impact is diminished.

The breaking of marriage happens mostly too  quickly and off-screen and when the final confrontation comes, because we haven’t been so much invested in the relationship we get the feeling that it could have gone either way.

Also, it takes forever to actually get there and the film fells generally a bit too slow for what it’s trying to do. All the President’s Men it ain’t!

On the plus side, the sense of the real story really comes through and by the end of it, somehow you’re just left with a feeling that you’ve been watching a documentary (obviously helped by the very last appearance of some real footage) and you come out of it even more pissed off at the Bush Administration than you’ve ever been.

7/10

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