Friday, 21 May 2010
I think this film may have gone straight to video, and once you've read my review you might agree with that decision. It stars Freddie Prinze Jr, Scott Caan and Jerry Ferrara as three close friends growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s, struggling with what they want to do with their lives, and becoming involved with the Mafia. As you can tell from this summary, it's like a poor version of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Boyz n the Hood, or The Departed. This film fails in more than just its lack of originality, however. I wasn't interested in any of the characters, right from the start. They have no interesting, or new, dilemmas to face, and aren't particularly likeable. There is nothing life-changing or even intriguing here. The romance of Freddie Prinze Jr's character doesn't go through any complex stages that can't be predicted. It stutters along beside the main plot, trying to decide how important it wants to be, and ultimately becomes insignificant. A major problem is that Freddie Prinze Jr just isn't right for this role. He can't do the accent, and he can't pull off character's more complex motivations. Add to this the fact that the film was mis-advertised as an Alec Baldwin vehicle (he appears in literally three or four scenes) and you have a very disappointing movie. There is one particularly gruesome and shocking moment, but that's all, and it's hardly worth paying the rental money just to watch it.
Thursday, 20 May 2010
I realise I'm very late in reviewing this film, and that whilst it was immensely popular on its opening, it has now probably faded from your memory. It actually had its first release in 2007, but didn't reach the UK until November last year. However, this was not solely down to the usual time lag between the US and here. The movie was initially made and released with little budget (comparisons to The Blair Witch Project were inevitable), before being picked up by a big studio, altered slightly (with the help of Steven Spielberg) and then re-released. The plan had actually been to remake it entirely, and this almost happened when during a test screening people started walking out. What they soon realised, however, was that these people were walking out because they were terrified. So, the film eventually gained a full, international release, its popularity spread through social networks, and the rest is history. I can't deny that it's frightening. In many ways, the mundanity of its opening makes what happens later more scary. Tension is built successfully, with little or nothing ever given away. This is how horror films should be made. The acting is amateurish, and the camera-work becomes irritating after a while. The plot is contrived at times (to get them to stay in the house, and to get him to continue filming when any normal person wouldn't), but you are carried along by fear and anticipation. It may not be worth seeing a second time, and clearly they had problems with the ending which, for me, still doesn't work, but it achieves what it sets out to achieve, and you have to applaud them for that.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
From the moment I first heard of and then saw trailers for this film I felt there was something wrong. Having now seen it, I can confirm these fears. What I'm talking about you might say is only one part of the experience, but for me it was crucial. When dealing with the fantasy genre, you have to create a new universe with new rules. It has to be compelling, original, and believable. For me, Stardust doesn't achieve this. The world created here (either by Gaiman or the film writers) feels like a confused mixture of elements borrowed from other stories. It attempts to reassure us with well-worn clichés of witches, princes and so on, but then confuses us with the way in which they are all put together. In the film at least, it doesn't make sense. The universe is a random series of events and characters with no cohesion. It feels like a flawed attempt to copy other better, or more completely conceived, fantasy worlds. The movie is also hindered, rather than helped, by the big name cast putting in only average performances, and I think the over-hyping and advertising of the film made expectations too high as well. The lead actor is uninteresting, and his relationship with Claire Danes too saccharine for me. It is a strangely flawed film, and perhaps the good parts hint at what the book might be, but as it stands the movie fails to create a creditable universe and thus, I would argue, fails overall.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
This film bases itself on a real story, or rather a real situation, but most of what happens is fictional. Whilst perhaps unfair to the real persons involved, I think it's a good approach that could've been adopted with some other films. It allows the writer to stay true to the essential dilemma, but be able to create the drama around it to fit the pace of the movie, rather than real life. Jake Gyllenhaal works for the CIA in North Africa, where a suicide bomber has recently attacked. A man is arrested on a flight to America for the bombing, flown back to North Africa, imprisoned and tortured there, without trial. Reese Witherspoon plays the man's wife, and Meryl Streep a senior figure in the CIA. It's Jake Gyllenhaal, though, that steals the film here, and the whole plot could've easily centred on him alone. As it is, we are given two or three sub-plots, one of which at least must be unnecessary. The most interesting aspect of this film, though, which will ruin it for those of you who haven't seen it, is the time-shift that occurs towards the end. It's a very neat device which ties everything together, but looking back on it once the credits started rolling, I began to worry. What does it add except suspense? Did it mean something to the story (like the device in Memento did)? Do we even need that story line at all? The film does its job well, is harrowing and dramatic, but could easily be seen to be quite perfunctory, leaving several threads hanging at the end.
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