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

Kaboom – Review

Kaboom (2010)

Directed by Gregg Araki. Starring Haley BennettThomas DekkerJames Duva

After the complex, challenging, touching and definitely mature “Mysterious Skin” (2004) I was really looking forwards to Araki’s new film (And let’s just pretend that the 2007 Smiley Face doesn’t even exist).

The trailer makes Kaboom look quirky, subversive and somewhat crazy in a fresh and fun sort of way…. Once again, a misleading trailer! Unfortunately the film itself has really none of that offer, as if Araki, instead of growing up, had been regressing to a film student again, because, that’s what this film feels like: a polished and yet pointless student film! And believe me, I’ve seen many of those in my life!

Thomas Dekker is quite likable and he’s probably the best thing in the film and yet he’s struggling with a story that has no beginning and no end (literally no end!)… And actually, come to think of it, no middle either!

The film tries to be anarchic, dark, sexy, funny, rude, aping films like Donnie Darko and even  The Rules of Attraction  (which was a pretty faulty film anyway). In the end it is just too chaotic and definitely too silly to be taken seriously or to even recommend.

There are very few original ideas and the little excitement in there is only given by the music and the editing, but certainly not by the story. Even the few good lines of dialogue in the script remain too isolated and detached be noticed, let alone remembered and they get lost in the ludicrous plot.

What is real? Is there a conspiracy?  Who are those people dressed like animals? Does any of this really matter? And actually, do we give a toss?

In the end it’s very hard to care about who does what and why, so basically you’ll just end up waiting to see who’s going to have sex with whom,

(Basically everyone seems bed down with just about everyone else in this movie despite their gender differences) and yet, none of the sex has anything to do with the story. It is completely incidental and purely exploitive.

But even if you take it as a sexy film, beyond its average straight/gay/bi soft-core porn clichés, it is all quite unremarkable and gets nowhere close to push any boundary and it thinks it does.

In fact it all gets rather repetitive  (I lost the count of how many times some character wakes up all of a sudden from some bad dream).

This film might have been the director’s wet dream, but none of that excitement shows up in the final product. I’ll give Araki one last chance then I’ll begin to think that “Mysterious Skin” was just a lucky mistake in an otherwise disastrous flexography.

5.0

Rubber – Review

Rubber (2010)  

Directed by Quentin Dupieux. Starring Jack PlotnickWings HauserRoxane Mesquida 

This is probably one of the weirdest film I have ever seen in quite a while… Unfortunately, not in a good way.

Rubber is on the surface a sort of a horror/parody that pays homage to those low-budget American horror films from the 1950s and 60s (the Blob just to mention a one), with a hint of Carpenter’s Christine from the 80s and even Eraserhead by David Lynch.  It has the feel and look of one of those road movies from the 70s and it even reminded me of  Duel by Spielberg (a killer truck in Spielberg’s film, just a tyre in this one) and Wall-E.

Sounds intriguing? Well, sadly all the similarities with the above mentioned films stops pretty soon and the realization that what you’re in fact watching is a rather dull film.

Rubber is the “story” (I use this term very loosely) of tyre (No, I haven’t misspelt the word: it is an actual tyre!) that comes to life and realizes it has psychic powers to make everything that comes in its way explode (bottles, animals, and humans!). Yes, it sounds absurd and it has the potential to be absolutely inspired! In fact, what the film is wants to be really about is more than a horror, but a satire about  “absurdity” and “randomness. It’s a film about the complicity and voyeurism of the audience itself.

The film is intercut between the tyre and a group of people watching the actual events taking place. They serve as a sort running commentary to the film , in the best classical tradition of a Greek Chorus. This part is clearly very heavy-handed, as it tries to rely too much on the dull dialogue to bring the message across (or its so-called “no reason” philosophy). It is certainly not very subtle and it the end it just comes out as too gimmicky and quite irritating. What could have been potentially a very good idea just ends up being too stretched and too arty (ironically, but not surprisingly, the director Quentin Dupieux is French! sorry I couldn’t resist mentioning that…): it is extremely smug and too self-congratulatory.

And it’s a shame because there is clearly some talent behind it all. The film has moments of inspired dark humour. It is very well shot and photographed, but it all gets diluted in the repetitiveness of its self-indulgence. (Even the hilarity of the animals and people exploding looses its impact after a while). As it is, it feels more like a student film…

But more importantly, aside from all that, it is just very very boring indeed (despite being only 82 minutes), so even if we get told that there is “no reason” for this film (literally we are told that, in a monologue at the front of the film), there is absolutely nothing  that makes it worth a feature-length venture. It should have stayed as a short film and it would probably would have been more effective.

4.5/10

Source Code – Review

Source Code (2011) 

Directed by Duncan Jones. Starring Jake GyllenhaalMichelle MonaghanVera Farmiga

Source Code is a smart, suspenseful Sci-Fi action/thriller which takes the concept behind the hit comedy “Groudhog Day” and mixes it with some Twilight-Zone-Style elements in Hollywood style, for the post “Inception” era  (I know it sounds like a weird hybrid…) and somehow makes it the most exciting and original film I’ve seen this year.

As always the least you know about the film the better it is, but having said that, there are so many facets to Source Code, so many twists and turns that unless I sit down and tell you everything about it, you’ll still be surprised. But let me just tell you the rough plot, or at least the first few minutes.

Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly wakes up on a train in a state of complete confusion: the last thing he remembers is crashing his plane in Afghanistan and yet know he’s inside the body of a man named Sean. Across from him is Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who clearly knows him and yet he has no memory of her or any of the other people on the train heading to Chicago. Eight minutes later a bomb goes off and everyone on the train dies.

Colter wakes up again, this time he’s in a dark pod-like structure looking at a monitor with the face of a superior officer (Vera Farmiga), explaining to him that he’s part of a government experiment used to stop terrorism. Through a process called “Source Code”, Colter gets sent back (again and again and again) eight minutes before the moment before the explosion went off, find out where the bomb is and who set it and prevent a later and far greater attack by the same person in downtown Chicago.

Part of the fun of “Source Code” is watching our hero (Jake Gyllenhaal) re-live the same 8 minutes over and over again, each time in a slightly different way, each time getting closer and closer to the truth!

There are a couple of small clunky moments here and there (the biggest of which, is the scene, full of exposition, where we get told what “source code” is), but the sheer inventiveness, the fast pace and the emotional burden that the film carries are far greater that those little imperfections.

There are some debates about its ending (don’t worry, I’m not going to reveal it here). There is a point where you might think the film has actually ended: I’m referring to the long freeze frame (you’ll know what I mean when you see the film) and in fact it could have easily ended there, which would have made the film much more poignant and arguably better, but then the film carries on… and just when you think “Oh no, another Hollywood ending), the film takes a surprising final turn and gives you a few (slightly) unexpected twists right till the last moment and makes up for what you thought it was one of those “re-filmed-ending” after failed test screening.

There’s nothing better than a good unexpected ending! In the theatre where I watched it, it got everybody talking!

I haven’t had such fun watching a film in a very long time.

It’s a bit unfair to compare this with Inception (but it seems like everybody else is doing it). They are two completely different films and their only similarity is the fact that they both make you think and requires you to do some work while watching the story unfold.

However “Source Code” is an emotionally charged film too (while Inception, as we’ve  all noticed, was a tiny bit cold); I was almost moved to tears in couple of scenes and yet, the film still managed to have a lot of humor throughout (courtesy of Mr Gyllenhaal’s perfectly pitched performance).

What else can I say? I loved it! It might not be as stylish and fresh as Moon was (Duncan Jones’s previous film). This is certainly a bigger Hollywood fair, and a much more crowd-pleasing roller-coaster, but if you regard cinema as entertainment, you can’t get better than this!

9/10

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