Tuesday, August 31, 2010



  • Released Internationally on 21/07/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 01/09/10

Preview (first published in VIDA magazine on 01/08/10)

It’s sometimes tempting to dismiss Angelina Jolie’s acting talents because of how insanely attractive she looks. But her roles have been varied and acclaimed over the years, and her output consistently successful. Here she stars as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who is accused of being an undercover KGB agent. She must use her skills to stay on the run until she can clear her name, as the whole nation hunts her down. It’s sort of like the Bourne trilogy, but with a nicer silhouette.

Review (31/08/10)

Spy wars
Science fiction and fantasy films transport us to worlds which we, the audience, could never inhabit ourselves. I've always felt the same about spy films. They are a clearly defined and easily recognizable genre of films. They have their own set of rules. And although I know that somewhere in the present, or sometime in the future, the events therein can actually happen, they are as alien to me as the Millennium Falcon or Mordor. Those of you who are active or retired secret service agents may of course beg to differ, but then again I doubt you enjoy these sort of films to begin with.

In from the cold
The fictional tale on display today is set in the present and near future, within the arenas of USA and Russia with some leftover Cold War sentiments. One day, a haggard-looking, foreign-sounding old man walks into a supposedly covert CIA office, and announces that he is a Russian spy ready to hand himself in. Evelyn Salt, an experienced CIA agent with years of experience dealing with Russian affairs, is handed the job of seeing whether he is a nutcase or the real deal. After a brief interview she is all but ready to discard his unlikely theories, but as she leaves the room he announces to all who are listening that she herself is a Russian spy who will assassinate the Russian president on US soil in the coming days.

When in doubt
Her immediate supervisor, Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber - Defiance, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), seems to have faith in Salt, but the secret service chief Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor - Children of Men, 2012) isn't ready to take any chances. Terrified that her husband's safety could be at stake, Salt does what seems natural - she runs. This does wonders for her innocence plea, and a Washington-wide chase ensues. With years of physical, mental and weapons training under her belt, Salt proves rather elusive, and the mid-section of the film provides a long and exhilarating chase full of gadgetry and stunts.

Why it works
Then comes the point where the film scored many points, at least in my book. Rather than proceeding along the expected route, which has been seen in countless films before, the plot manages to keep twisting and turning, with a large amount of uncertainty, leaving the true motive and identity of this Salt character as something of a mystery right up to the ending. Admittedly, it verges on the silly and far-fetched at times, but the overall result remains entertaining and engaging. Director Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector, Clear and Present Danger) manages to keep the pace brisk throughout the film, although at times he resorts to the usual 'fugitive' clichés - running through woods - check, booking a hotel room under a false name - check, hair-dying scene - check, and so on. Jolie's performance is suitably enigmatic, with her sculpted facial features alternating between the anguish of a hunted wife and the stony expression of a disciplined spy.

In the end
There's nothing incredibly original about this film, although to their credit, the writers managed to conceive a rather inventive twist on the over-used Russian spy themes. Despite its flaws, it remains an entertaining espionage thriller which should appeal to a wide audience. Not particularly memorable, but great fun.



Monday, August 23, 2010

The Expendables



  • Released Internationally on 11/08/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/08/10


Preview (first published in VIDA magazine on 01/08/10)

In a nutshell

When I was a teenager, our local video rental store didn’t believe in organising shelves according to genre, or alphabetically. Instead, they had a Bruce Willis shelf, a Schwarzenegger shelf, a Stallone shelf, and so on. Genius, I thought. But they’d need at least three copies of this film.

Why we’re hyped

I doubt anyone is expecting any fine acting or mastery use of the English language here. But this promises to be bad, in a good way. If you feel like a couple of hours with a grin plastered across your face, feeling like you walked into a mechanic’s garage in the early 90s and are browsing the posters while he changes your oil, this might do the trick. The title refers to a group of highly-dangerous mercenaries who are assigned to overcome a South American dictator. Or something like that.

Who’s in it?

The cast list reads like a who’s who of action heroes from the past twenty to thirty years. Sylvester Stallone gets top billing since this was his idea and he partly wrote the screenplay, and directs. Jason Statham, who has recently been very busy with the Transporter and Crank films, is one of the newer action guys on the list. Jet Li (Romeo Must Die, Hero, Lethal Weapon 4) adds some martial arts expertise to the arsenal, and veteran wrestler Steve ‘Stone Cold’ Austin adds some brute strength. Reborn star Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2, The Wrestler) and Dolph Lundgren, the towering Swedish brick wall who shot to fame as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, are also on board. Schwarzenegger comes out of retirement to play a cameo role, in a scene with probably the most accomplished of the cast, the inimitable Bruce Willis. Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were both offered roles, but allegedly turned them down. Pity. This promises to be what popcorn and big screens were made for.



Review (23/08/10)


Despite being exactly what the trailers offered, this film still managed to surprise me. Mainly because it's better than I expected it to be. I was ready for wall-to-wall action, but at the expense of any semblance of plot or acting. Yet, despite not being Shakespeare, the story and performances aren't all bad. The overall, cheeky, 'boys-having-fun' aura that pervades the film allows everyone to get away with murder (literally, on numerous occasions), and makes any inept acting or overblown clichés forgivable.

Clash of the titans

Stallone wisely feeds of the ensemble cast at every occasion. From the opening shots of the team arriving at their hangout on fancy motorbikes, it's clear that half the fun is simply having all these people on screen together. This feeling reaches boiling point during the much-anticipated cameo scene with Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. The two assemble in a church for a brief meeting with Stallone's character. Like much of the film, the scene is rather unnecessary and loosely scripted, but it's incredibly fun to watch. Shamelessly tongue-in-cheek, it works more as a parody of the trio's real-life personas and on-screen heroes, than as any part of this particular film. They're obviously having fun, and it's infectious.

Over the top

Elsewhere, the action is relentless. No larger on-screen body count comes to mind, if you exclude disaster movies, and there's enough gunfire, explosions and blood to keep even the most insatiable action-fan happy. The fun element is predominant once again, with enough clichés and exaggerations to remind us just how fun action films were in the 80s and 90s. There's no slow-motion stylized combat here - it's simply survival of the strongest. Stallone looks like a charred effigy of his former self, and his abused, weather-beaten expression and physique make him a rather unlikely hero when surrounded by the younger action stars on his team. Only Lundgren looks worse. Jet Li's martial arts potential isn't fully utilised, and his acting is painful to watch. Statham proves he is worthy of sharing the top billing, and he seems the most reliable of the pack. Eric Roberts is suitably slimy and assured as the main villain, and he manages to look the part wonderfully, just as he did recently as one of Batman's foes. Back at base, Mickey Rourke's character sits in his tattoo parlour spouting wisdom, and manages probably the best performance overall. Two lovely ladies try to add some delicate touches to the proceedings, but they never stood a chance of anything more than a token role in a film like this.

In the end

When the end title song kicks in, you'll realise just how perfectly it sums up what you've just enjoyed. Stallone manages to handle his impressive cast, and also reins the film in at just the right length. Rarely has any film better epitomized the concept of mindless action and fun, and if you're looking for nothing else, this film delivers.






Wednesday, August 18, 2010




  • Released Internationally on 27/05/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/08/10


Preview (first published 01/08/10 in VIDA magazine)

If you’re browsing through the action and looking for something to treat your children to (after taking them to see Toy Story 3, of course), your best bet this month is the accident prone Great Dane Marmaduke. Starting life as a comic strip, the crazy canine can now wreak havoc on the big screen, in what looks like a cross between Marley and Me and Scooby-Doo.



Review (18/08/10)

Size does matter

I'm not a dog person. Few things attract me less than a hefty dog clawing at my trousers or slobbering all over my face. But Marmamduke managed to win me over, at least for the duration of the film, despite being as hefty and as slobbery as they come. The enormous Great Dane, practically a pony in the size department, boasts enough charm and character to carry the whole film as the star, largely due to Owen Wilson's voice acting. Whether you'll enjoy an entire film full of talking dogs is another matter.

Teenage drama

The film starts off metaphorically, showing how hard it can be for an unusually tall boy to fit in at school. The focus then shifts to the dog world, where Marmaduke has to stamp through life with the clumsy burden of his unusual size. But the similarities with teenagers fitting in at school doesn't end there, because in many ways the whole film is simply a teenage drama - new friends, new romantic interests, bullying, learning life lessons - but set in the dog parks and rubbish dumps of California, rather than within school corridors.

Who's in it?

The cast of dog voices assembled is quite impressive. Comedian George Lopez spars with Marmaduke as Carlos, the luxurious cat who shares a family and household with the titular giant. Fergie, of Black Eyed Peas fame, is Jezebel, a blow-dried collie who catches Marmaduke's eye in the park, and Keifer Sutherland (24, Phone Booth) is the vicious and jealous boyfriend she has growling at her side.The wonderful, gravelly voice of Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski, Hulk) adds menace and wisdom to Chupadogra, the much-feared local outcast with a history of rabies, and the Wayans brothers try to add some humour as Thunder and Lightning, the dim-witted henchmen. On the human side, Lee Pace (The Fall, A Single Man) gets dragged around as Marmaduke's owner, and William H. Macy (Magnolia, Fargo) has a small role as his tree-hugging boss.

Good dog!

The film is simple enough, and works as a light, dog-oriented comedy which will probably go down better with young children than with anyone else. The main messages of the movie - friends, priorities, etc., also seemed aimed at the younger part of the audience, and are messages that merit repeating. The star of the show was portrayed by two twin dogs, and CGI lip-synching was added in later. This makes all the scenes believable enough, although it's nothing we haven't seen countless times before.

Bad dog!

Despite all the above however, the film is ultimately a far-fetched excuse to bring yet another talking-animal film to the screens. No part is extremely bad, but no part is very good either, so don't expect another Homeward Bound or anything that will move you deeply or make you laugh out loud. Sadly, the powers that be deemed that it was necessary to add some toilet humour too, including the film's final scene, whereas everything would have worked fine without it.

In the end

Nothing new, nothing special. A simple, rather fun film for dog lovers and children of all ages.