Review – Surrogates

September 27, 2009

Surrogates

Usually when I’ve been to see a movie I leave all enthused, eager to write about it – no matter if the film is good or bad, I can’t wait to get home and start typing up my thoughts. Surrogates didn’t give me that feeling and the worse thing is I have no idea why…

It’s important that you don’t misunderstand that last point, Surrogates is by no means a bad film. Not even in the slightest. The problem is that it’s not a particularly good film either.

I think a large part of this is due to the film’s concept. Although something as outlandish and unfamiliar a notion as society living out life through robot avatars might sound like an idea that’s pretty easy to get on board with, something somewhere along the way stopped me getting my head wrapped around the idea of the surrogates and thus stopped me from investing in what I was watching. Having said that though the film does take good measures to try and explain the concept, especially in its opening scenes which chronicle the advances in technology which led to society’s reinvention – but the real issue is that those measures aren’t comprehensive enough. It might sound trite to say it but when we’re halfway through the film and I’m stuck wondering how people eat or go to the toilet when connected to their surrogates, the introduction to the concept has obviously failed to hit the mark.

The real problem here lies with the narrative and those pesky little matters of character construction, pace and depth.

It seems as though when trying to construct characters, attributes have been randomly picked out of a hat. For example Bruce Willis’ character, Tom Greer, had a son who died. The need was felt to tell us this numerous times, but we never really given anything else from it. Did the child’s death result in some kind of change in Tom’s character or personality? Some kind of resentment towards one thing or another? Some feeling of ongoing responsibility and guilt? We never find out much more than the fact that the child died and Tom is sad about it. That is not depth of character, it’s two dimensional layering of back story.

I had a distinct feeling that we’d seemingly missed out on a third act, almost as if a huge chunk of the film had been lifted out. Clocking in at just over ninety minutes the narrative goes through the usual twists and turns you’d expect from a sci-fi thriller but comes around to its resolution rather abruptly. Rather than feel as though there are any real grounds laid down to lead us towards a satisfying conclusion, things just keep on happening until we reach our final showdown. One of the causes of this is the fact that numerous red herrings are thrown in our way to keep us guessing what’s really happening – unfortunately those distractions left me somewhat disappointed, especially when they’re followed by such an ambiguous conclusion. The ambiguity here lies not what happens at the climax, but after the climax. Usually this would not be an issue, after all it can be quite satisfying speculating on what occurs after we’re taken away from a fictional universe. However in this case the ambiguity occurs because of the aforementioned lack of concept development – after all it’s fairly difficult to be able to speculate on something when there are such gaping holes in the logic of that narrative’s universe.

I can’t help but feel the need to reiterate the point that Surrogates is not a bad film – I think I’m mostly just disappointed because I can see the film’s potential and feel it really would have benefited from an extra twenty to thirty minutes to try and flesh out its own universe.

In terms of positives Bruce puts in an enjoyable performance,  the make up work on making the surrogates look ever so slightly unnatural is quite masterfully done and there is a really good shot of people falling over (and I mean that seriosuly, despite being mostly CG that shot was ridiculously good).

Niceties aside, in truth the film was doomed from the outset for me – if I can’t get involved in the concept then I’m never going to buy in to the story. Part of me thinks though that this could be my fault and not the movie’s. Maybe the film came to early and I just wasn’t ready for it. One thing’s for sure though, even if the previous statement is true and suddenly in five years time something in my brain just clicks, the aforementioned narrative and structure issues are going to prevent this film from ever being considered a classic.

For now though, for anyone fancying a nice non-committal ninety minute slice of sci-fi thriller action in the vein of Asimov or Dick, Surrogates could well be right up your street, anyone else will probably be left disappointed.

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Review – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 3D

September 23, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Now this is what I’m talking about! Let’s start on a high this time, Cloudy… is easily the best animated film I’ve seen this year. Saying that though, I haven’t seen Up yet… And the only other ones I’ve seen have been Ice Age (thoughts here) and Bolt, which I actually quite liked. So… er…yeah…

ANYWAY!

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is based on a book that Americans love (that I’ve never heard of) but doesn’t really take much more from the novel other than the name of the town and the idea of giant raining food. But hey, who needs original source material right? The film really doesn’t suffer for this and comes up with a real credible reason for this wacky premise – and don’t be fooled into thinking the film is ruled by the raining food idea, there’s a lot of intelligent character work going on here, with some fairly staple emotional goals to achieve and life lessons to learn. And indestructible spray on shoes. Naturally.

A few reviews I’ve read all raise the point (and not in a negative way) of how aimed at kids this film is. I couldn’t disagree more – the scripting is great throughout with sight gags and punchy dialogue as well as a particularly infectious lol-cat rap, all aimed at well above a child’s level of understanding. Sure the concept is a bit bizarre but to demean this to being a kid’s film is unjustified and wrong and stupid. So there.

Given my previous stance here, the voice acting was always going to be a bone of contention except that… in this case…it actually wasn’t. The voiceovers are handled at the very minimum competently and in most cases quite superbly. Bill Hader and Anna Farris both provide solid dependable performances in the lead roles, whilst James Caan and Bruce Campbell add some real credibility to the roster. The clear standout amongst the voice cast however, is Mr T. Interestingly though, rather than that being because his voice suited the character, it was more that the character suited his voice. There’s no doubt in my mind that upon scripting this there was no other actor in the writers’ minds who could’ve played Officer Earl Deveraux other than Mr T. The case remains though that there are a few big names in there for seemingly no reason. I was quite surprised to find out during the credits that the recurring bit part character of “guy with beard” was played by Neil Patrick Harris – something that had passed me by entirely. I still can’t quite get my head around the need for the cast to be flooded with Hollywood names, especially in roles that could have been handled just as competently by any standard voice actor.

The only thing I’ll really say against this movie is that the use of 3D feels fairly minimal. Coming to think of it I struggle to think of any real standout scenes that really made it worth paying those few quid extra – in fact the best use of 3D was in the trailer for Toy Story 3D (out Oct 2nd woo!). This isn’t a major dampener at all, and a lot of the 3D was done very competently, I just wouldn’t say that you’d particularly miss out if you only saw the 2D version.

Obviously you’ll know before going to see this, before reading this even, if you’re not going to like this film. Some people just can’t see past the title (and thus the film’s concept), others just can’t get out of the mindset that animated films are for kids. I really hope we get to the stage soon where animation attains the reputation that it has in Asia as a credible medium for storytelling, as it’s really disappointing to think this film might be tossed aside purely because of the two reasons noted above.

Whatever the weather, the people who dismiss this film are missing out. Cloudy… is a treat from start to finish, packed with fun characters, vibrant visuals and witty dialogue. It’s really refreshing to see a vivid, imaginative non animal-centric offering from someone other than Pixar – that’s not to say it’s the only one out there, but it is certainly one of the better ones.

Pixar take note, the others are gaining ground. Slowly for sure, but gaining all the same.


Review – Gamer

September 20, 2009

Gamer

Before we get started, let me set the scene for you on this one. After Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage, I would’ve said that the combination of Lionsgate and writers/directors Neveldine and Taylor could have taken a collective shit in my mouth and I’d still say it was chocolate.

How very naive of me.

Let’s get this clear from the start. I did not enjoy Gamer. Whilst I often try and veer clear of making bold sweeping statements about the films I’ve been to see – choosing instead to rely solely on my experience with the film – I’m going to put my neck out here and say this:

Gamer is a mess.

Lazy writing mars the film throughout. The narrative has no real flow, and much of this is compounded by the characterisation. They might as well have called characters The StoryTeller or Dr Exposition – the cast spend so much time filling each other in on things they both already know or telling each other exactly what is going or on that it really feels they’re just doing it for our benefit – which naturally they are, but when it’s this bloody obvious it becomes a little insulting.

I can’t help but feel for Terry Crewes in amongst all this. I think he’s capable of a lot more than the roles his physique alone secures him. To see him reduced to what amounts to little more than a musclebound foil in this outing seems like a shame – especially when he’s utilised as such in such a sporadic random fashion. Again lazy writing is the root cause – he’s obviously evil because some people say he is whilst he fumes angrily at the screen, then we find out that he hasn’t got a Gamer controlling him so there’s nothing to rein in all his malevolence but then all that happens is that he randomly turns up for a bit of a lame scrap then disappears again. Although not the primary antagonist, he does have the potential to become a real psychological antithesis to Butler’s hero  if only the effort had been spent in developing him as such. That’s not to say that his character is the only flawed one, more than anything he just acts as a motif for the failed investment throughout.

Cinematographically the film is akin to giving someone with ADD a camera, then giving them an IV full of sherbet. The hyperactive camera work almost feels like there’s some fear of showing you what’s happening on screen – I can understand the idea of wanting to approach the visuals from a gaming perspective, but when you constantly feel jerked away from whatever you’re looking at, only to have the same thing happen mere moments later, it becomes very difficult to get involved with the action on screen. Having said that though the films use of colour was one of the few stand out features for me – slipping easily between gritty dirt filled warzones; the clean, almost blinding penitentiary and the neon colour filled madness of Society.

Society itself  – the idea of gaming Sims style through real life avatars – is an interesting concept but doesn’t ever really move much past that. It gives us a mere peek at this future’s hyper-reality but the only real impression we get out of it is that the users are all fetishistic wankers.

All in, I think that as a critique of the effect that advances in technology can (and possibly will) have on social interactions, Gamer proves itself to be more than competent, providing a brief glimpse at the dystopia that over reliance on the former could lead to. Having said that though I don’t think that was necessarily Gamer’s aim – this film was built on the concept rather than the ‘message’ – in fact the latter seems to have come about somewhat by accident. This reliance on the concept is more than evident in the narrative itself which feels like little more than disjointed vignettes tied together with sloppy dialogue and uninvolving characters.

I was so fucking bored and disengaged throughout that  rather than walk away having had a great time and a new take on technological advance to boot, I thought no further of Gamer, came home and threw myself into the dull and arduous task of rearranging my itunes library.

I had more fun with itunes.


Review – Sorority Row

September 9, 2009

Sorority Row

Orange Wednesdays are a wonderful chance to go and see those films that you’d usually… Keep the fuck away from… So when my new flatmate asked me what film I wanted to go and see between The Final Destination and Sorority Row… the choice was clear. The Subjected Reviews we’ve been doing really have got me in the mood to go see films I’d usually avoid so I thought “Let’s do it! Let’s go and see another terrible excuse for what passes as a “movie” nowadays.”

Let’s get this straight from the off – I have no love for Horror films or, in particular,  their sub-genre the teen slasher flick.  Notable exceptions to this are obviously the Scream movies, the first two final destinations (the second is  particularly great) and maybe (stretching the definition a little) the Faculty. The reactions that horror tries to drive out of their audience aren’t ones that I particularly go to the cinema for – I’d much rather be taken aback by stuff blowing up than hide behind my hands because some psycho has a grudge and an awfully blunt weapon with which to enforce it. My recent exposure to the horror genre has often leant slightly too far towards gorno for my liking so it was refreshing to take a step back into the Middle to Upper Class American Suburban University system for a slice of classic hot babe death-em up.

I usually feel somewhat guilty about skipping the narrative but this time you really don’t need it – some beautiful girls are being systematically killed over something that happened sometime earlier. To be honest, who cares? The thin thread of narrative is really just a facilitator for all kinds of gory ridicularity – so why let it, or other factors (like that pesky logic I keep hearing so much about) get in the way of having a good time?

And here’s the shocking truth. Hold onto your hats. I actually didhave a good time. Granted that’s because I burst out laughing every time something ridiculous happened, but then again that’s just my natural reaction to things – (I was met with disapproving looks from around the screen for my outbursts, but then again I am when I go see comedies too so… whatever…) the fact is that I managed to suspend my disbelief for a little while, get caught up in the story and – horror of horrors – actually enjoy myself.

Please let’s not mistake ourselves here though, this film is garbage. Absolute terrible, cheesy, cliched, flawed garbage.

But fun terrible, cheesy, cliched, flawed garbage.

In amongst all the ridicularity, the film actually does manage to do a couple of things right. The camera work in the opening sequence is executed superbly (and at the very least competently in other areas) and on the soundtrack side of town,  party pleasing dance tunes are masterfully mixed with a sinister, tense orchestral edge in all the right places. The latter may sound somewhat trite, but it really is one of the fundamental elements of a good horror film.

Unfortunately, it’s not all thumbs up greatness – firstly, the film is (as mentioned above in case you missed it) garbage. Secondly, throughout the time I was playing the “whodunnit” guessing game I was constantly expecting the tire iron to come through a wall at any moment – and it was during these times that the film really had me hook, line and sinker. As soon as the killer was revealed, I instantly felt deflated – the reasons given for their actions really didn’t ring true and felt more like an excuse rather than a motivation – somewhat disappointing after you’ve just watched eight or nine people be brutally murdered.

But then I guess that’s the issue with these films as a whole. It’s the suspense and intrigue that really keeps the audience going – the reveal never really lives up to expectations. A reflection of the skill of the writers? Or an intrinsic flaw in the genre as a whole?

Nitpicks aside, I had a better time than I was expecting to, granted what they got out of me probably wasn’t the reaction the filmmakers were going for but I walked out of the screening with a bigger smile than I have for a while, certainly bigger than for any “comedies” I’ve seen recently (*cough* Funny People *cough*).

Then again maybe all the above was slightly influenced by the fact I had a few beers before I went.

Who can say?


Review – Speed Racer

September 6, 2009

Speed Racer

One of the greatest tragedies of cinema in the recent memory is the absolute critical dejection of the Wachowski Brother’s – Speed Racer.

Expectations on the Wachowskis couldn’t have been higher. After all with Bound, the Matrix trilogy and V for Vendetta, they set themselves a pretty high bar to beat.

As anyone who’s seen any of the above films can tell you, the Wachowskis pretty much like to shove their directorial style in your face in a manner that’s just millimetres short of having a camera forced through your eyeballs. However, on this occasion it’s actually pretty easy to completely miss their directorial flair – not for any lack of it, more so because the whole movie is one extended self indulgent shout of “look at what we can make a camera do!” and this is the point where I’d usually jump into a whole style over substance debate but in this case that whole argument is kind of moot. The cinematography is inextricably linked to the film as a whole in a way you’d only ever really associate with the cast or the soundtrack and to be fair it really doesn’t suffer for it. Instead here, it becomes like a character unto itself – so much so that you’ll be hanging on the edge of your seat wondering what ridiculous things that damn camera is going to get up to next. And the wipes.. don’t get me started on the wipes. Genius.

It’s all well and good having style dripping from your every orifice, but without a strong narrative to back it up, the movie might as well be a tech demo for a new piece of editing software.  So how then is the film to actually watch? As you can see here I had a really enjoyable experience watching this film but I think that was largely due to the guys I was watching it with. Any semblance of story only really serves to act as bridges between the next big set piece, whether that be a race or a ninja fight or something involving a monkey. Hardly a compliment there I know, but the film basks in such a wonderful  air of lavishly colourful childish delight that if you’re prepared to let the typical Saturday morning fare wash over you, you’re in for a treat.

The Wachowskis obviously made a film that they would love watching and although that is something that can be commended (after all, big mass made studio drivel is slowly destroying creativity and originality… isn’t it? wait.. or is it?)  whether that was necessarily a good decision with such a big studio backing is a tale that was pretty much told by the box office takings. I however, am from the same ilk as the Wachowskis and I bloody loved it.

Oh and the performance of the film undoubtedly is given by a chimpanzee. I’m not really sure if that says something bad about the acting abilities of the humans involved.

If you’re one of those people who thinks that something being so colourful it makes your eyes bleed is a bad thing, then you may want to give this a miss. If however, you’re up for some fast paced fun filled family entertainment I implore you to check this out. And for a fiver on DVD or a tenner on Blu-Ray at Amazon, you haven’t really got an excuse…