An American kung fu movie geek is entrusted with an ancient staff… MoreAn American kung fu movie geek is entrusted with an ancient staff which transports him to a magical world where the mystical kung fu characters of his movies are real. The Forbidden Kingdom is a throwback to the wish fulfilment fantasies of the 1980s, sharing a lot in common with the likes of The Karate Kid, Big Trouble In Little China and even Indiana Jones. Making the hero of the film an American will no doubt irritate many and he is certainly the least interesting character in the film, but he is for the most part a figure of fun in the same way as Jack Burton was in Big Trouble. Jet Li strikes up a great buddy partnership with Jackie Chan who revives his Drunken Master routine, and their face off is impressive as you'd expect. And having grown up on cheesy 70s TV show Monkey, I'd have to say that he makes a brilliant Monkey King; I'd go as far as to say that I'd love to see a film version with him in the role. I would have to say that it is inevitably very formulaic and Yefei Liu's superfluous character only seems to be there to make sure that there's an even distribution of hotties. As a whole it's a funny, exciting family friendly fantasy with a knockabout charm that is clearly pandering to the Pirates Of The Shaolin crowd. But it works. Corny in an almost pleasing way and probably the best thing Jackie Chan has done since he first started bending over for the Hollywood buck, hating this film for the "homogenization of Chinese culture" is basically like calling Mr. Miyagi an evil traitorous sell out. Completely missing the point.
A schoolteacher's wife is imprisoned for first degree murder based… MoreA schoolteacher's wife is imprisoned for first degree murder based upon circumstantial evidence and when the final appeal fails and she resorts to a suicide attempt he pours all his skills as a researcher into engineering a meticulous plan to break her out. Very much in a similar vein to TV series Prison Break, The Next Three Days has the premise of an ordinary and honest man resorting to extreme measures when faced with an untenable situation. It's not as convoluted as the series however, concentrating more on the human drama than histrionics; in fact the inevitable mix of wobbly-cammed screeching tires, helicopters and cop dodging is easily the least interesting part of the film. Some will be disappointed at the lack of action, especially considering the trailer which was clearly cut together to make it look like another shit-witted action thriller for the ADHD generation but I personally am a fan of Haggis' more subtle and human approach to the thriller formula which dispenses with the usual associated macho bullshit and pointless running around with guns. As a result it feels a lot more plausible and realistic (at least until the rather unlikely finale) and you actually care what happens to the characters thanks to a strong performance from Crowe as the desperate husband and father. It does stall somewhat near the conclusion and never really gets back into gear, but the intelligent approach makes it a cut above the usual Hollywood fare.
A populist ghost writer is employed to rewrite the memoirs of a former… MoreA populist ghost writer is employed to rewrite the memoirs of a former Prime Minister but when the politician is accused of war crimes, he becomes increasingly fearful for his safety. The Ghost is a very old school cold war style political thriller that is based upon a character who is purely fictional and in no way represents anyone living or dead - especially not Tony Blair, nosiree Bob. Roman Polanski has always had a knack for paranoid conspiracy thrillers and this understated yet suspenseful example follows very much in the footsteps of Hitchcock, revolving as it does around an everyman protagonist who finds himself completely out of his depth when he blunders into intrigue. Although it is set mostly in America, The Ghost has quite a European flavour with a quality cast of character actors who utter dialogue that actually sounds like the words of English people (for a change) and there's no superficial flash or irrelevant action sequences. The one major flaw is the rather glib twist at the end which makes the film feel a little insubstantial in the final analysis but a likeable performance by Ewan McGregor and some nicely judged political intrigue makes the journey there well worthwhile.
An alien engaged in a process of capturing and cataloguing human… MoreAn alien engaged in a process of capturing and cataloguing human beings embarks on a journey to understand what it means to be human. Scarlett Johansson flexes her indie credentials in this low budget British film that does its utmost to resist the pigeon hole. Part dark sci-fi, part metaphorical human drama, the first act is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers by David Lynch and the second a kind of Cronenberg-esque reinterpretation of Starman. Under The Skin attempts to be a mirror held up to humanity, inviting the viewer to re-examine what it is to be human and how we perceive each other. Johansson's alien is initially unquestioning in her role, using her appearance as a honey trap to entice an assortment of all-too-willing men into her collection. But when she encounters a man suffering from a physical deformity who needs and experiences genuine affection, she undergoes a catharsis that leads her to begin a journey of self discovery. The finale is a meditation on sexual identity and self when this newly learned feeling of intimacy actually means something and suddenly becomes something of value not to be violated or taken from her. A cynic may point out that the plot is little more than one of those scenes in Star Trek when a soft-focussed alien hottie in a beehive says to Shatner "What is this Earth thing you call love...?" and it does share Crononberg's penchant for cold detachment meaning that the story fails to engage on an emotional level. However some striking imagery and an interesting and thought provoking script makes Under The Skin transcend the limitations of its genre to create something rather unique.
A vampire from born in New Orleans in the 18th century tells the tale… MoreA vampire from born in New Orleans in the 18th century tells the tale of his life to an incredulous reporter. Anne Rice's own adaptation of her novel is quite literary which tempers the melodrama to give it quite a theatrical feel, added to by a good supporting cast; Tom Cruise actually gives one of his more characterful performances and is clearly enjoying himself as the rakish Lestat. It's obviously mainly about the eye candy and gothic romanticism for the benefit of the ladies, but there is also some great period detail and interesting themes running through it; particularly the eternal child and links between voyeurism and violence. A VERY young Kirsten Dunst gives a mature performance as Louie's unwilling child/love although I felt Banderas' character was underused. It's brooding, atmospheric and has a nice line in black but playful humour and is far superior to the vast majority of it's many, many copycats.
The second part of the life story of notorious French criminal Jacques… MoreThe second part of the life story of notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine is very much a case of more of the same; more daring bank heists, more shoot outs on the streets of Paris and more prison break outs. It takes place over a shorter period of time than the previous film leaving more room to concentrate on the man and his motivations, particularly during the scenes in which he verbally spars with an ageing millionaire and kidnap victim and his brutal attempted murder of a right wing journalist. These scenes show all his bluster about being a "revolutionary" was really a smoke screen to cover his ever increasing ego and obsession with his own public image. The representation of his death is also very well done despite the inevitable conclusion, echoing the opening scenes from the first part except from the point of view of the pursuing police. It's a very tense piece of film making, very much from the Infernal Affairs school. Again it made not be the most in depth examination of the man's life but it's always entertaining and made all the more interesting by the fact that it's all based upon actual events.
An Iraqi army conscript is forced to become the body double of Saddam… MoreAn Iraqi army conscript is forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein's psychotic son and finds himself losing his identity as he drowns in a sea of depravity and murder. There have already been a slew of projects based on the Iraq war and The Devil's Double is an interesting film in that it shows the other side of the conflict, to some extent at least. Dominic Cooper makes a decent fist of playing both the pampered, debauched and sadistic member of the Iraqi elite and his moral, working class impersonator who is appalled by the behaviour of those who rule. Sort of a bizarre cross between such diverse stories as The Prisoner Of Zenda, The Last King Of Scotland and Scarface, the excesses and violence of The Devil's Double are counterpointed by the even more bizarre fact that it is actually a true story. I think it would have been better for the greater context of the life of ordinary Iraqis of the time but it still makes for a shocking and brutal journey through the looking glass into Saddam's world.
A US cavalry officer is accidentally transported to Mars where he… MoreA US cavalry officer is accidentally transported to Mars where he encounters a warring civilisation who require his help to end the conquest of their world by a brutal warlord. When talking about cynical marketing campaigns, it's usual to point to terrible films that become big hits through licensing, advertising and sponsorship deals, but the other side of the coin is John Carter. To say that this film bombed at the box office would be an understatement of the highest order. Those responsible for the marketing of this film fumbled the ball on such a colossal scale that it couldn't hope to recoup the reported budget of $250,000,000 despite the fact that it really isn't all that bad. It's fair to say that you can see where the money was spent; it's a very attractive film packed with nice production design, spectacular set pieces and a quality cast. The problem with John Carter is that it doesn't really capture the imagination in the way a large scale sci-fi adventure should. The culture created in the form of Barsoom is rather charmless and there's little in the way of chemistry between what should be the big romantic leads at its centre. There are also too many supporting characters who get too little screen time on their own making it hard to care about any of the protagonists. But by far the biggest blunder is in how seriously it takes itself; a little campiness and a self-deprecating sense of humour would have gone a long way to making the film a lot more likeable. The result is a po-faced cross between Flash Gordon and Xena: Warrior Princess with a big budget but having said all that, the pacey if somewhat episodic plot and large scale battle sequences maintain the interest for the duration. As a whole it's rather too clinical and soulless but John Carter didn't deserve to sink without a trace and I'd much rather sit through it again than The Phantom Menace or Attack Of The Clones.