By Stephen Bain
The Expendables was never going to be an artistic masterpiece (except possibly in the ironic sense) and inevitably some will have a field day tearing its metaphorical limbs apart. As someone who spent his youth watching the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone et al, its safe to say this was one of the most anticipated films of the summer for me. Feelings of excitement were high as this real life A-Team (A for Action) appeared all under one roof.
The Expendables can certainly be compared to the recent update of The A-Team in terms of its sheer noisiness and spectacle. Unlike that film it does have a fairly comprehendible plot (not that plots matter hugely in films like this).
However, this nostalgia vehicle is something of a hit and miss affair rather than a consistently fun action adventure. Whilst the main cast of action stars (this excluding Arnie and Bruce Willis) are impressive few are given ample screen time or sufficient character development for us to really care for them. The best example of this is Dolph Longren who seems to wonder randomly from good to bad before disappearing for long sections.
Likewise, whilst the best action films of the past have had antagonists that have almost stole the show from right under the hero’s nose (Die Hard had Alan Rickman, Terminator 2 had Robert Patrick, Demolition Man had Wesley Snipes and Cliffhanger had Jonathan Lithgow), this time the bad guys are relatively bland and forgettable; the best of the bunch perhaps being wrestler Steve Austin who gets to look tough but is strictly confined to a henchman.
Technically, The Expendables falls victim to modern action editing techniques (shakey shakey shots that last no longer than five seconds). Whilst this has proved effective in some contemporary films (the Bourne franchise), here it is (once again) somewhat distracting and some otherwise excellent action sequences are undermined.
Whilst it may sound like I am overly slating a film that makes no pretentions about what it is, I might quickly add that there are moments of strong charm and amusement. “That” short but sweet scene featuring Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger is a joy to watch, particularly as Big Arnie makes his entrance into the church against a background of white light, this almost giving him a god like presence. This sequence is topped off with a brilliantly painful one liner which certainly got the crowd laughing in the screening I attended.
The final showdown however is where fan boys will undoubtedly get the most satisfaction, and it is this sequence that redeems the film significantly. The gloriously over-the-top, tongue in cheek violence (complete with very big guns) being an obvious throwback to the especially cheesy Commando. You certainly get what you pay for in the final, crowd pleasing final twenty minutes.
Is The Expendables as good as the films made during the heyday of the Stallone/Schwarzenegger genre? No, certainly not. However whilst it is deeply flawed and perhaps not quite the rollercoaster ride we were hoping for, The Expendables is still an oddly entertaining trip down memory lane for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s.
By Stephen Bain
Roman Polanski has never been one to avoid the spotlight, both in his private life and in his work with cinema. The Ghost Writer is no exception.
Based on the novel by Robert Harris (one which I admittedly am yet to read), The Ghost Writer tells the story of an anonymous journalist (McGregor) sent to interview disgraced former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan) after his predecessor mysteriously drowns.
This is a sophisticated political thriller which takes its time unravelling (at 2 hours and 30 minutes, it is long yet never dull) and rightly treats its audience like adults.
The narrative is relatively traditional with familiar story-telling techniques however they are all done with great efficiency and confidence. Polanski is clearly a man with a proven track record. Brilliantly filmed with frequent echoes of Alfred Hitchcock (the low-key yet effective score at times reminiscent of Bernard Herman), the vast, and constantly overcast Island ensures a feeling of uneasiness and dread throughout. This sense of fear and isolation continues onto the mainland in one brilliant scene where The Ghost is mysteriously followed after visiting a key member in this apparent conspiracy. Events conclude with a jaw dropping, terrifically executed denouement.
The references to real life political issues such as the use of torture on terrorist suspects give the film a sense of reality and context. This is perhaps most evident in Brosnan’s performance as Lang, a man who is none too subtly modelled on a certain Mr Blair. Lang is seen as a man who has charisma and style in public but who is somewhat jittery and often short tempered in private. What you see is not necessarily what you get. Cynical? Yes! Believable? Unfortunately!
A large reason why The Ghost Writer works as a conspiracy thriller is because we as an audience are never ahead of our protagonist. Like the character played by Mr McGregor we struggle to comprehend the scale of what is going on and never lose our senses of fear and danger. The Ghost of the title is never a superhuman but neither is he stupid, as we watch him gradually realise just how out of his depth he really is.
There is the odd silly plot development and the blatant use of product placement is at times distracting, but you should be able to overlook these and enjoy the meaty two and a half hours of suspense and intrigue put before you.
By Yvonne Lamunu
The wardrobe design productions who play their role in film and cinema take on a huge task of syncing screenplay and fashion. Coupling the responsibility of staying in line with a character as well as enhancing audience’s style aspirations. This when done successfully can be as prominent as the plot points of the story. Gossip Girl, Mad men and Sex and the City owe nearly as much to the wardrobe stylists work as the scriptwriters. Cinema wise pearl necklaces, classic black shift dresses familiar from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and oversized boyfriend blazers and stone wash denim seen in ‘Suddenly Susan’ show a strong relationship between Film and Fashion. In an ever advancing market where people are hungry to have things as quickly as they see them, film and television is a new medium for designers to reach new markets and customers.
Lady Gaga’s most memorable music video yet, ‘Bad Romance’ featured otherworldly pieces by Alexander McQueen. The collaboration on the cinematic element complimented the equally stimulating designs. With heavy rotation on MTV a new audience unfamiliar with his previous work will now be able to recognise the late McQueen’s signature style daily. Gaga also parades comfortably around in notorious Armadillo heels which at 12-inches and unflattering shape and structure have been nicknames “Monster Shoes” along with the very statuesque ‘Dragon Shoes’. Audrey Hepburn’s iconic turn as ‘Holly Golightly’ in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys’ features the legendary Burberry rain trench coat and is still often mimicked by many high street shops all over the world. The prominent British House is just as famed respectably for its British trench coat as its chequered house pattern. The Vivienne Westwood wedding dress and the Manolo Blahniks featured in the ‘Sex and the City’ movie was more applauded than any other garment featured in the film. Essentially cinema and music is about drama and theatricality not much unlike fashion, its collaborations should applauded, not just seen as commercial value.
By Stephen Bain
I have to admit am not overly familiar with the original Alice in Wonderland literature, and it has been quite a while since watching the original 1951 Disney cartoon, so my canvas was pretty much blank when entering the cinema to watch Tim Burton’s latest tale. With a screenplay written by Linda Woolverton, whose previous credentials include Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (the latter possibly being Disney’s finest achievement in recent years), Alice is in more than capable hands.
The familiar gothic style associated with Burton is once again present. Once Alice falls down that infamous rabbit hole we are, unsurprisingly, transported to a visually rich world containing all the classic characters: the grinning Cheshire cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the mad hatter (Johnny Depp in his umpteenth collaboration with Burton), the Red Queen (Helena Bonnam Carter in her umpteenth collaboration with husband Burton), the White Rabbit (voiced by Martin Sheen) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (who are hilariously modelled to resemble Matt Lucas).
Visually Alice is certainly a treat. The ‘wonderland’ in question is a place that alternates brilliantly between a colour enriched kingdom and a gothically dreamlike universe. This is all backed up by Burton-regular Danny Elfman in a brilliantly appropriate score. However this time round the 3D ‘experience’ does not (arguably) add much to the events onscreen, unlike Ferngully-with-Smurfs hit Avatar. I am more than confident that this adventure could be enjoyed just as much in good old fashioned 2D.
Newcomer Mia Wasikowska does a fine job as Alice, a girl trapped in a bourgeoisie family and soon to be engaged to a comically upper-class idiot. Her innocence and girl-next door image make her an instantly likeable onscreen presence. Johnny Depp is his usual quirky self as the Mad Hatter (complete with a slightly questionable Scottish-sounding accent). However Helena Bonham Carter steals most of the scenes as the wicked, unremorseful Red Queen. She, without a doubt, swipes the film from right under Mr Johnny Depp’s nose. Clearly an act of revenge following the conclusion of their last film together Sweeney Todd!
Some voices are a little surprising on the ears, those who are fans of Eastenders may be shocked to hear Peggy Mitchell (sorry…Barbara Windsor) as a dormouse.
Whilst Alice may not have the originality of Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare before Christmas, it still shows considerable flare and creativity. Certainly an experience that adults are bound to appreciate just as much as children.
By Stephen Bain
He has chased after his kidnapped son, watched his wife murdered by English soldiers and become one, unstable, half of a cop duo. Now, after seven years absent from the big screen Mel Gibson (or “Mad Mel” as he has been named) returns as cop father Thomas Craven investigating the brutal murder of his young daughter (Bojana Novakovic). Read more »
By Stephen Bain
Those little golden statues are beginning to reappear on our television screens. That can only mean one thing, the Oscar season is fast approaching once again. Preparations are well and truly under way for the first ceremony of the new decade. What exactly is in store? We will find out on the big day itself, however the usual weepy speeches and endless ‘thank you’s’ are a near certainty. Read more »
By Stephen Bain
Robert Downey Jr. has already portrayed comic book character Tony Stark in the recent adaptation of Iron Man (the second instalment is due in cinemas this summer), now he is going for the big-guns and bringing literatures most famous detective to the screen. Behind the camera is Guy ‘Lock Stock’ Richie. An unusual choice for bringing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character to 21st Century audiences? Maybe. Especially after flops such as Revolver, one may be entitled to look on with some suspicion. However the results are, although certainly not perfect, undeniably fun.
Downey Jr. is excellent as Mr Holmes, his fast talking manner fits perfectly with Sir Conan Doyle’s creation. Like his portrayal of Tony Stark, Downey Jr. oozes charm and wit as the womanising lead and it is clear that he seems to carry off these roles within his sleep. His incarnation of Holmes is someone who is, as often demonstrated, more than capable in a fight, never letting a person twice his size intimidate him (in typical Conan Doyle style, Holmes carefully notes the body’s weak spots before neutralising an opponent). Likewise, there is a lot of fun to be had watching Holmes dryly explain his various theories, especially as events reach their conclusion.
Visually there is a real sense of the period as the hustle and bustle of a murky Victorian London is captured wonderfully. It is clear Mr Richie went to a lot of trouble to get the look and feel right, with some scenes featuring dozens of extras.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law work well together, although it is undoubtedly the former who sticks in the memory for longer. Mark Strong additionally is brilliantly menacing as the villainous cockney Lord Blackwood.
However the film feels too long, subsequently some of the action set pieces (particularly one around the dockyards at the middle-point) lose their intended impact. The film would have certainly benefitted from being cut down a further 20 minutes. Similarly the heroine Rachael McAdams is given relatively little to do onscreen besides look and act glamorous.
By the time the credits roll it looks like another franchise is on the horizon. Will this potential series of films do well with the public? Yes of course it will.
In summary, Sherlock Holmes is an enjoyable if flawed adventure with a shining central performance from Jr. and sufficient support from Law. That alone is enough to keep the audiences entertained.
By Stephen Bain
Well its that time of year (again!) and that means more countdown lists and the inevitable debates/arguments which follow. Having figured out I have made around 20 trips to the cinema this year (I dread to think how much that amounts to financially) I thought I would look back on the last 12 months and give my top 5 favourite films as well as my top 5 disappointments. Maybe its a sign of my youthful ignorance but I cannot remember a previous year in which films featuring the elderly have made such an impact on me. Read more »
By Stephen Bain
After several weeks I was finally given the opportunity to watch Pixar’s ‘Up’ over the weekend. This film has received positive feedback from critics and audiences alike. Did it live up to the hype? You are about to find out.
Arguably Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo, ‘Up’ is a perfect example of how cinema should be done. The seamless blending of flawless animation and powerful themes of mortality will prove a treat for adults just as much as children. Earlier this year Clint Eastwood appeared as the grumpy old man with a heart in ‘Gran Torino’. Essentially Carl Fredricksen, the old man in Up (voiced by Ed Asner), is not far removed from Clint’s Walt Kowalski. He is isolated, unsatisfied, a recent widower and bitter about the ongoing changes occurring around him, yet we sympathise with him instantly. The excellent opening ten minutes takes us through Carl’s life and shows us the sadness experienced as well as the more joyful moments. Although this sequence may establish a somewhat sombre mood, it is done gently and never ventures into gooey sentimentally.
The story itself centres on Carl, now an old man, setting off in his house, with the assistance of hundreds of helium balloons, to look for adventure. Joining him is an equally keen youngster named Russell (Jordan Nagai), eager to gain his merit badge for ‘helping the elderly’. Once they arrive in South America, the two encounter a large, rare bird and a talking dog. Additionally Carl meets his childhood hero, world-renown explorer Charles Munz (Christopher Plummer).
The animation in the film is once again nothing short of spectacular. When we see first Carl’s house attached to different coloured balloons floating in the bright blue sky, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be impressed.
The balance of humour, excitement and warmth is virtually flawless. The two side-kicks, a large part of the film’s comic relief, are genuinely hilarious, and the more suspenseful moments work perfectly. More importantly however ‘Up’ enforces a truly timeless message that life is about much more than fulfilling your own, personal desires. Sometimes sacrifices need to be made and, ultimately, it is how you treat your fellow man which is important.
I firmly believe that ‘Up’ will rank alongside the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc and become a classic in the years to come. Its stunning visuals along with its surprisingly mature heart may even mean that it could surpass all of the above. In other words it would be a guaranteed Christmas Day television hit, and that is meant in the best possible way.
Roll on the next Pixar adventure Toy Story 3.
By Jamie Skey
Peter Esmonde’s account of artist known simply as Trimpin is warm, insightful and amusing. Esmonde, who filmed over a two year period, draws us into the colourfully polyphonic world of Trimpin, a world of child-like fascination for all of nature’s sounds.
The German born artist is impossible to pigeon-hole: He is a sonic experimenter, a technician, a scientist, an inventor and a composer who builds installations such as a mountain of self tuning, automatic electric guitars and a perpetual motion glass ball, which he calls his ‘silent instrument.’ This particular instrument is, perhaps, symbolic of the unending motion of his endeavours.
Tracing his lifetime projects, the film moves between his childhood and adult hood, focusing on the expereinces and influences that shaped his obsession. He was born in the Black Forest region of Germany, a place synonymous with music and machinery (cuckoo clocks were originally built there). As a child he was fascinated with Harper’s Electricity Book for Boys, which introduced him to the blueprints of engineering, but it was a profound musical experience in the forest with his father that opened his ears to the myriad sounds of waking life.
Astoundingly, he is deeply cynical of recorded music and the commercial art world at large. Not a note of his music is recorded. He shuns recording equipment and refuses to put a price on his art, which is exhibited only in select galleries.
Yet his singular, eccentric vision conjures moments of pure comedic joy, especially in his attempt to convert earthquake data into music and a rather awkward collaboration with the Kronos Quartet that involves toy instruments and wacky sensor technology.
Overall, this docu-film is more than a portrait of a crazed musical genius. It is a tribute to passion, to creativity and to life as exploration and art.