Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Other Guys

The Other Guys

  • Released Internationally on 06/08/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 22/09/10

Preview (first published 01/09/10 in VIDA magazine)

In a nutshell

Yet another buddy-cop movie, but this time coloured with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's particular type of humour.

Why we're hyped

Together, comedian Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay have made many of us laugh (and probably just as many roll their eyes) with the comedies Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and the recent Step Brothers. If you find Ferrell nauseating, you might as well skip to the next film preview now. But if he tickles your funny bone, this might be the first decent live-action comedy this summer.

Who's in it?

Every buddy-cop movie needs two antagonistic stars, and the man patiently accompanying Detective Gamble (Ferrell) is Mark Wahlberg as Detective Hoitz, who was lumped with Gamble after a tragic shooting incident. The two minor-league detectives live in awe of the city's star police duo (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson), but they are thrust into the limelight when they least expect it. Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes also star.

The Other Guys3

Review (22/09/10)

The guys

The film opens with a feast of gunfire and car wreckage, as two veteran cops chase an alleged criminal across the busy daytime streets of New York. The scene sets the mood nicely – nobody takes anything seriously, the action is big and loud, and nearly every cop movie cliché is brought out for a beating. That's more or less the recipe that is kept cooking throughout the film, and for most of the running time it manages to remain fresh. Jackson and Johnson's extended cameo also establishes the huge difference between their status in the police department, and that of the two minnows who live in their shadow.

The other guys

Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, Three Kings) is not at his desk out of choice. He craves the action on the streets, and curses his past luck and his present partner. As detective Hoitz, he's all enthusiasm but no delivery, and he tackles the part well, in a sort of skewered version of his own role from The Departed. Will Ferrell seems to be having more fun, and is perfect for his role as Detective Gamble - a nerdy, wholesome forensic accountant who is the biggest fan of the heroic cops, but feels his contribution at the desk is just as important. He is hilarious to watch, as always, and his inept manner makes it all the funnier when he actually gets things done.

The gal

Various police film staple themes are thrashed and ridiculed at length, and most running gags don't outstay their welcome. One which falls slightly flat however is the issue of Gamble's wife. Eva Mendes is down to earth but still quite astronomically hot as Gamble's wife, Sheila, and she seems to be head over heels in love with him, to the amazement of Hoitz. The marriage sub-plot wears a bit thin however, and Mendes' role is revisited unnecessarily. It's still fun to watch Ferrell with her, at least.

The result

Your mood might affect how you savour this film. It has lots of laughs, but many of them are of the silly variety, so don't expect to be rolling in the aisles too often. It's still enough to keep a smile on everyone's face, however, and coupled with all the action it constitutes some accomplished entertainment. The complex stock market plot might confuse you as it did the other guys, but that's hardly the focus here. Funnier than most other films we've had this summer, but nothing too memorable.



Monday, September 13, 2010

Piranha 3D


  • Released Internationally on 20/08/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 22/09/10

Preview (First published 01/09/10 in VIDA magazine)

Back in 1975, a small film started the blockbuster phenomenon and kept many people out of the sea all summer. That film was Steven Spielberg's masterpiece of marine terror, Jaws. Amongst the many imitation films that followed, 1978's Piranha was noticeable for the small size but great numbers of its titular meat-eater. Over three decades later, we're invited back to the beaches to watch more young, unsuspecting bathers get chewed upon, but this time it's all in glorious 3D. The Jaws feel is very evident in the film's trailers, including the appearance of Richard Dreyfuss amongst the stellar cast. Ving Rhames, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook and Eli Roth will also be there, but you can bet they won't all make it to the end credits.


Review (13/09/10)

In a nutshell

Earlier this summer, I assumed that The Expendables would end up being the biggest blood-bath of the year, with the highest body-count. I was very wrong. If blood and gore are what you enjoy seeing splashed across the big screen, then this should satisfy your cravings like an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you're squeamish, however, you should avoid this like the plague.

Oh, the horror!

I'm not saying a spot of well-designed and well-placed gore isn't one of the ingredients of fascinating cinema. But here, it's delivered in proportions and detail that make Saving Private Ryan look like a Jane Austen adaptation. With a seamless mix of computer-generated effects and some very well-done prosthetics and make-up, most of the cast end up chewed, dismembered, minced or skinned. It's not pretty. And by the time a scantily-dressed blonde is sliced in half by a wandering cable, you'll probably be so numbed by the incessant carnage that you'll find it laughable. Which may have been the filmmakers' intentions, to be fair.

Oh, the plot!

A brief mention of the plot should manage to give a good picture of what you're in for. Thousands of toned party-goers in swimwear descend upon Lake Victoria for the annual Spring Break party. Just as they're arriving, an underwater tremor opens up a deep fissure in the seabed, linking with an underwater lake and unleashing a horde of feisty non-vegan fish from the Mesolithic era. Dinner is served, and very soon everyone with even a foot dangling into the water becomes a potential victim.

Oh, the tension!

There isn't much. The opening scene, with Richard Dreyfuss standing in for Jaws' skinny dipper, sets the tone nicely. But sure enough the effect is soon undermined by the discovery of his nibbled corpse. I realise that it's not fair comparing these sort of films with Jaws, since that was the first big film of its kind, but let's not forget that there are many reasons why that classic is so loved and respected. One of them was the lack of gore. Spielberg managed to create palpitation-inducing levels of tension by not showing the predator, and by only sparingly showing the effects of his teeth. Fear of the unknown is a powerful beast, and this time around that beast is slain around five minutes into the film. The only real tension is conjured up during a final scene with the main protagonists racing against time, but by then some of you might have already headed for the bathroom.

Oh, the good stuff!

It's not all bad, however. For a film that promises nothing more than sex, sea and blood (as proudly proclaimed on the teaser posters), it proceeds to give you exactly that. The subplot involving Kelly Brook, with a tiny crew trying to film a porn film on the lake, provides lots of on-board and underwater nudity and playfulness, with the use of opera music that some purists might find unsettling, but which works. But the endless beautiful bodies on display only help make the eventual butchery more shocking. The cast are obviously in on the joke and try to make the whole affair as camp and fun as possible, especially Eli Roth in his very brief cameo, which ends in a way befitting of the horror director. Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, The Addams Family) is also fun to watch in his few scenes, as he adopts his favourite wide-eyed expression and marvels at the wonders of nature, much as he did at the wonders of the flux capacitor.

In the end

There is no hidden agenda here. Someone wanted to make a film full of beautiful bodies, underwater flesh-eaters, and more graphic bloodshed than anything else in recent memory. That is exactly what they delivered. It has its moments, but everyone should know exactly what they're in for.



Friday, September 10, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim

  • Released Internationally on 13/08/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 15/09/10

In a nutshell

Scott Pilgrim is something of a loser. Yet he somehow manages to woo the eccentric and mysterious Ramona Flowers, who recently moved to his Toronto neighbourhood from the US. Things start of promisingly, but he then meets the ‘League of Evil Exes’. He must defeat all seven, if he is to win her hand. Fight!

Scott Pilgrim's precious little life

Based on the six-volume comic book, the film opens much like many other teenage romantic comedies we've seen recently. Scott plays bass in a band, which he admits are terrible. He also has a rather platonic relationship with a girl quite younger than him. Then a dyed-hair mystery girl starts rollerblading through his dreams, and after bumping into her at a party, he becomes obsessed. He manages to find out where she works, and asks her out, but what he doesn't find out about is her chequered romantic history.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the universe

Suddenly, the films roars into life. Much like the trailer (see below), the transition is impressive and very welcome. When the first evil ex-boyfriend comes crashing through the ceiling during a battle-of-the-bands gig, we quickly shift gear from romantic comedy to full-blown videogame action, although the romance and the comedy thankfully stick around. Admittedly, there are a few hints early on, such as the wonderful pixelated 'Universal' logo that opens the film, complete with PC-soundcard music instead of the usual glorious orchestra. But as the film progresses, the line between film and videogame continues to blur, with wonderful, exciting results. Whether picking up an extra life in Super Mario style or gaining points and powers as the exes are defeated, the Gameboy style of the action helps hide Scott's physical inferiority, and adds colour and panache to the film.

Scott Pilgrim2

Scott Pilgrim and the infinite sadness

It's not all smooth and slick however. The over-stylized fights and action might put large chunks of the audience off, while for those who head in yearning for the end-of-level-baddies, the film takes some time to take off. The ending could have been trimmed a little too, although the climactic end duel deserves all the screen-time it gets. Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) might also be an issue - he tends to polarise audiences, so if you despise him it might ruin the film for you. I don't mind him, and I think he fits this role perfectly. He is irritating and wimpy and neurotic, but that's what the role calls for.

Scott Pilgrim gets it together

Besides the titular character, the film boasts an impressive cast playing an array or colourful characters. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Death Proof, Live Free or Die Hard) is arresting as the object of affection that causes all this trouble. She doesn't look like much at first, but she manages to make us realise why Scott would bother so much. Kieran Culkin (Macaulay's brother) has a brief but amusingly snide role as Scott's gay roommate, and rising starlet Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air, Twilight) occasionally offers condescending advice as Scott's sister. The exes all have looks and back-stories of their own, with Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four, the upcoming Captain America) stealing the show as the hilariously egocentric actor and skateboarder Lucas Lee. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) seems like one of the toughest ones to beat, with a combination of huge physique, bass-paying ability, and psychic powers earned by being vegan, and the final and most powerful ex is portrayed by a delightfully over-the-top Jason Schwartzman (Funny People, Fantastic Mr. Fox).

Scott Pilgrim's finest hour

The film is directed by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), who also helped adapt the comics. He is obviously having fun here, with lots of tricks and add-ons at his disposal to make the film sparkle and grab your attention. Thankfully the gimmicks aren't overused, and while they sometimes provide convenient plot shortcuts, they never replace the story or the characters. For no apparent reason at all, he even directs one post-date-discussion scene as if it was a scene from Seinfeld, complete with intro music and audience reactions. It's the sum of all these little crazy story and directorial pieces that make this film so colourful.

In the end

The word 'original' is often thrown about nowadays, including by yours truly in several reviews. But I can't think of any other film this year that deserves the description more than this one. It's not for everyone, but if you think you'll like it, you'll probably love it.


Trailers: (High-res QuickTime)