Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ghosts in the Twilight

15 – 68mins – 2006
Teleplay by: Chris Durlacher
Based on the novel by: Dennis Wheatley
Directed by: Chris Durlacher
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Julian Sands, Rachael Sterling, Melisa Lloyd, Daniel Ainsleigh, Scott Handy, Peggy Popovic

This loose literary reworking of Dennis Wheatley’s “The Haunting of Toby Jugg” stars Hollywood heart-throb Robert Pattinson in a post-Goblet, pre-Twilight role as the disabled and traumatised World War II RAF airman of the title, confined to a wheelchair and committed to a Welsh military hospital to recuperate both psychically and mentally from the injuries that have befallen him.

Whereas Wheatley's 1948 source novel had a strong element of the occult and genuine supernatural hocus-pocus, Chris Durlacher’s BBC Four adaptation keeps all the horrors inside Toby’s shell-shocked mind, as this psychologically damaged patient is plagued by nightmares of the innocent families he killed in bombing raids, while hallucination-conjured spiders scuttle en-mass over his duvet.

In the dreary daylight hours, meanwhile, Toby cannot escape the creeping suspicion that his doctor, Hal Burns (Julian Sands), doesn’t have his best interests at heart, while the aunt (yes, aunt) Toby loves and wishes to marry (Rachael Sterling) isn’t returning any of his handwritten correspondence. With all of this weighing on the disabled pilot’s mind, The Haunted Airman certainly provides the rising Brit-born star with a chance to stretch his limbs – dramatically speaking, at least. Not that Edward Cullen is ever a bundle of laughs...

But for all of the eerie atmosphere and low-shot camera angles, this modest dramatisation is simply far too sluggish to grip your attention, even at little over an hour long. Intercutting scenes within the dank hospital with scarlet-drenched flashbacks to deafeningly chaotic and dramatically shot war memories is clearly an attempt to stun and disillusion the viewer, but it merely comes across as a confusing hindrance, to little narrative purpose.

Style over substance? That certainly seems to be Durlacher's intention, but this tactic is only successful when a production's distinctiveness compliments the material, not when tumultuous cutaways are edited in to juxtapose the brooding and uneventful story at seemingly haphazard instances. Ultimately, the transient tale's conclusion fails to justify the build-up or deliver a satisfying enough twist to tie the events together, leaving you with a creeping suspicion that the cast and crew have somehow missed the point of Wheatley's vision entirely.

In a CR@B Shell: Arachnophobes will be paralysed with fear, but true horror hounds will be left dispirited. Wheatley fans, meanwhile, will cry blasphemy at the significant changes to the novel's essence. Mark this weary Beeb “thriller” up as strictly for R-Patz droolers only.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Even Bigger Daddies

12 – 98mins – 2010
Written by: Adam Sandler and Fred Wolf
Directed by: Dennis Dugan
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Joyce Van Patten, Ebony Jo-Ann, Steve Buscemi, Colin Quinn, Blake Clarke


[SPOILERS] Five childhood friends, who claimed an unprecedented victory for their high school basketball team some 30 years ago, are reunited in the present day to attend the funeral and spread the ashes of their former coach, Bobby “Buzzer” Ferdinando (Blake Clarke). Because of course the man’s family would be more than happy to have nothing to do with his send-off…

Staying for the weekend in the wooden cabin where they used to party, the five separated buddies – accompanied by their wives, girlfriends and offspring – reconnect like in the good old days and come to realise that, despite moving on in vastly disparate directions, getting high powered jobs, falling in love and starting families (some more successfully than others), that their childhood bond is still strong. “Boys will be boys”, as the clichéd tagline cries, no matter how old they are.

It sounds like a pleasant enough central theme, but this Happy Madison production is far too generic to leave an impression. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider play predictable extensions of themselves, while the laughs feel neutered and less cutting than in previous outings, despite a barrage of laddish pun-derived banter (mainly aimed at Schneider’s eco-healing granny-lover).

Sure, as the weekend progresses lessons are learnt – snobbish children learn to love nature as much as their PlayStations, fashionista wives (Salma Hayek) tame their inflated egos and grudge-holding rivals (Colin Quinn) get a long overdue rematch – it’s just a pity that writers Sandler and Fred SNL Wolf didn’t learn restraint in driving home their funniest gags, with a breast-feeding joke in particular being suckled completely dry.

In a CR@B Shell: Chaotic and shallow, Grown Ups delivers exactly the kind of repetitive, immature hi-jinx you’d expect from an Adam Sandler film running in neutral. Just when will this big daddy start acting his age?

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Tutu Much Pressure

Cine Review: BLACK SWAN
15 – 108mins – 2011
Story by: Andrés Heinz
Screenplay by: Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, John McLaughlin
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Ksenia Solo, Winona Ryder


I've been squawking it from the top of the Tree of Life since The Fountain enthralled and enchanted me in 2006, but only now with the back-to-back success of 2008's The Wrestler and this year's Black Swan are mainstream audiences (and major award shows) finally starting to recognise Darren Aronofsky as an industry main player and not just an indie luminary with a flair for the eccentric and an eye for visual splendour.

Unlike the clinically clean visuals and microscopic attention to perfection that went in to creating his three-tiered love story from beyond the nebula, Aronofsky paints his ode to performance obsession in shades of grey, the screen speckled in grit and grim; imperfect. But this aesthetic preference is not to the detriment of the content, being as it is perceptibly analogous to our damaged protagonist, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman, on extraordinary form).

Fragile but focused, stunning but sheltered, innocent Nina is the very embodiment of a dedicated dancer: performance dance is not just a hobby or a job; it’s her lifeblood, from the moment she wakes with a bone-crunching stretch of her overworked limbs, to the second she drifts off into reverie to the tones of her trinket box playing Tchaikovsky’s enchanting “Swan Lake”.

Indeed, after years of waiting in the wings of the chorus line, Nina’s dream of playing the Swan Queen in her NYC company’s updated production of said iconic Russian ballet is finally within touching distance – however, her gracefully accomplished White Swan is lacking the raw and rebellious sexuality required for the character’s transformation into the film’s eponymous shadow doppelganger.

Can Nina release the beast and channel her inner darkness or will wild-child newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) nab the cygnet-ture role from beneath Nina’s fretful bill? With a supporting flock of fame-hungry hasslers and harassers piling on excessive expectations, it is scarcely surprising that cracks in Nina’s delicate personality soon begin to fracture and a breakdown is just around the corner.

From her bitter and smothering “stage school mom” Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) to her hypnotically commanding obnoxious barre-stard of a company director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), Nina inhabits a dour and intimidating world where no one is to be trusted, not even her own reflections – and Aronofsky makes sure to litter his stage with a multitude of mirrors so as to further disorientate and distance Nina – and us – from reality and create a world where her perception of the truth is shattered into a thousand contrasting shards.

So mesmerizingly enrapturing is Nina’s psychological decline that every frame is packed with jolting apprehension. Like a figurative ballet tutor, Aronofsky keeps his dancers always on their toes; so on edge are you at what disturbing delusion is hiding just beyond the spotlight, as Nina’s pink and fluffy childlike dream pirouettes dangerously into a sexually-fused, drug-fuelled deviant nightmare.

In a CR@B Shell: Tense, twisted and hauntingly unhinged, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan smears the rough with the smooth, but hidden in the plumage beneath the depravity and theatrics lies a superior and brazen mind-game masterpiece.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Canyon Believe It?

Cine Review: 127 HOURS
15 – 94mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by: Aron Ralston
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn


Having tackled gritty urban drama (Trainspotting), horror (28 Days Later), science fiction (Sunshine) and coming-of-age romance (Slumdog Millionaire) over the last 15 years, eclectic - and not to mention award-winning - director Danny Boyle gets to grips with yet another diverse genre with his latest big screen tour de force: real life survival stories.

In 127 Hours Boyle and returning Slumdog composer A. R. Rahman conjure a quirky, wired style and effective use of split screen to bring the distressing true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) to life. The technical flourishes are advantageous to the drama as Aron spends ninety-nine percent of the film on his lonesome trapped in one static position in one claustrophobic location. It's a grim scenario for certain; his right arm crushed beneath an unshiftable boulder in an isolated crevice in Blue John Canyon near Moab, Utah.

Even from a third person perspective it's a tense and traumatic experience watching Aron while away the excruciating hours of desperation by procrastinating, innovating and hallucinating as hope of rescue fades and his food and water supplies run dangerously low. It's a remarkably inspiring display of willpower which will have you cringing and peeping through your fingers as one sickeningly unthinkable option becomes evermore liable... and vitally necessary.

Based as this film is on Aron's published memoir of his ordeal, we already know he will survive, against all odds, but regardless of the "happily ever after" this observational document is still gripping and al-arm-ing stuff (particularly that infamously vivid scene), to the director and star's credit. We truly get an unguarded view inside Aron's tortured headspace as he panics, ponders and prophesies from within his cavernous prison.

In a CR@B Shell: An artistic but respectfully tasteful representation of courage under boulder from a director who seems to excel at everything he turns his hand to. And no, I didn't set out to make a cheap limb jibe there... but I'm leaving it in.

Pound Some Cunth

15 – 90mins – 2010
Written by: Will Forte, John Solomon, Jorma Taccone
Directed by: Jorma Taccone
Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph


Imagine, if you dare, that Ace Ventura has called a day to his illustrious career as a critter cop and decided to become a mercenary special operative instead. And grow a mullet. Stranger things have happened (like Ace Ventura Jnr. for one… *shudder*). Alllllllllrighty then? Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from MacGruber, and it sure ain’t Shakespeare.

Raucous lunacy would be an apposite phrase to use – but in a positive manner. Provided you’re prepared for an 80’s-spoofing action parody then you will have an absolute blast with this wise-cracking loose canon who has a rather distorted opinion of his own awesomeness and a penchant for repeating his favourite quips until they become catchphrases.

The single monikered one-man-army – the brainchild of former Saturday Night Live-er Will Forte, who also embodies the character – is brought out of self-imposed exile (à la When Nature Calls) to stop a dangerous nuclear arms dealer (Val Kilmer) who just so happens to be the same Cunth (yep, that’s really his name: Dieter Von Cunth) who blew up MacGruber’s wife-to-be (Maya Rudolph) on their wedding day.

Admittedly, not every gag hits the spot, but there are so many thrown at the screen that some were bound to fly by unnoticed. However, those that do work will seriously have you howling. Personal favourites of this CR@B include: the fate of MacGruber’s self-selected elite team of experts; his insistence on role-reversal dress-up; and his obsessive personally which sees him carry his treasured tape-playing car stereo everywhere and go bat-shit crazy at a motorist who innocently cuts him up.

Basically, MacGruber is one hell of a personality, and the film would have been an absolute disaster if Forte wasn’t so attuned to his unorthodox… baloney. Like Jim Carrey’s iconic pet detective, he’s a law unto himself but he somehow gets results and the girl (Kristen Wiig). His creative use of celery sticks and spur-of-the-moment “plans” (“That isn’t a plan then!” blasts Phillippe’s by-the-book rookie) are either nonsense or utter genius. Either way, they’re hilarious.

My initial apprehension that a more universally familiar actor such as Owen Wilson (admit it, they do look alike) would have helped carry the film more effectively was instantly alleviated. You’ll either hate MacGruber, or you’ll love to hate MacGruber, but rest assured that if the title of this review was enough to raise a puerile grin, then chances are you’ll wolf down this generous serving of Mac and cheese.

In a CR@B Shell: He’s armed and dangerous, but you wouldn’t trust him with a weapon. Luckily, MacGruber is such a tool he’s an American hero, and the same can be said for this hysterical send-up which is so bad it’s bad ass.

Krazy, Krazy Knights

12 – 112mins – 2010
Written by: Patrick O'Neill
Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Blucas, Maggie Grace, Jordi Mollà, Viola Davis, Paul Dano


Bright, boisterous and bullet-sprayed, Knight and Day's financiers (and Tom Cruise's agent) were seriously banking on this globe-trotting romp to propel the formerly untouchable sofa-jumping Scientologist back to the top of the Hollywood hot property ladder. Surprise, surprise, director James Mangold's flop-buster action flick crashed and burned like a pilot-less aeroplane emergency landing in a crop field. Oh well, there's always M:I4, Tom.

It's not hard to see why Knight and Day's content failed to make amends for the titular pun-ishment: for all of the fish-out-of-water “hilarity” of seeing excess baggage Cameron Diaz hauled unwillingly from exotic locale to exotic locale, this Six Days Seven Nights a-like game of cat-and-mouse drags on for far too long – but still they weigh down this home release with seven additional minutes.

Diaz's everywoman mechanic June Havens flips from trusting to framing Cruise's fugitive spy Roy Miller so often that you quickly lose interest in their campaign to save an eternal energy source from being sold on the black market, and when even a motorcycle chase along the streets of Spain amongst a herd of stampeding bulls doesn't grab you by the horns, you know that this really is one mission incongruous.

In a CR@B Shell: Like an expensive vacation you just want to leave early, Knight and Day packs in so many of the richest ingredients that you switch off from the pretty landscapes and ballsy adventuring and just long to be back in the comfort of a better film.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Bizarre Attraction

12 – 109mins – 2009
Screenplay by: Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland
Based on the
Vampire Blood trilogy by: Darren Shan
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Starring: John C. Reilly, Chris Massoglia, Josh Hutcherson, Jessica Carlson, Patrick Fugit, Michael Cerveris, Ray Stevenson, Ken Watanabe, Kristen Schaal, Orlando Jones, Frankie Faison, Willem Dafoe

Following my exasperation at what Hollywood had done when reimagining Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising (reviewed HERE) for the 21st century movie-goer, I decided to “go in blind” when watching their celluloid translation of Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, so I could judge the film for what it is, rather than what it could or should have been; an independent entity separate from its source material.

I have been reliably informed that I made the correct decision, for all manner of major and minor plot, character and chronological edits have left fans of the fantastical prose reeling with disappointment. Pour exemple: uprooting the setting from the UK to US means a cross-Atlantic vacation is obviously dropped, while the protagonist's love interest (Carlson) is reformatted into an adage-spouting circus monkey. Literally. But I, of course, will never know any of this... Not first hand, at any rate.

Based on the opening trio of novels – referred to as the Vampire Blood trilogy – from British author Darren Shan's twelve book teen vamp-chise, this flashy, spectacle-filled adaptation boasts an impressive line-up of big name stars, many of whom are willing to get “f-ed up” (that's freaked up, FYI) with all manner of grisly and peculiar ailments and, er, talents, for all of five minutes screen time.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Roll up, roll up and witness for yourself a man with an impossibly small torso (“Alexander Ribs”) who looks like his gut has been eaten away; a bloater who appears to be literally eating for two (“Rhamus Twobellies”); a woman whose jumbo chompers can bite through anything (“Gertha Teeth”); a hairy beast of a bloke (“Wolf Man”); a scaly serpent charmer (“Evra the Snake Boy”); a gal with the power to re-grow appendages (“Corma Limbs”); and no freak show would be complete without a bearded lady who can also predict the future (“Madame Truska”, gamely played by Mexican beauty Salma Hayek).

You're enticed, right? And so you should be. The Vampire's Assistant goes all-out to create a gothic fun house of a show which is far darker – and more verbally blue – than any family friendly fantasy yet. But herein lies the problem which plagues Paul Weitz's film: the weird and wonderful oddities which comprise the travelling freak show of the title are its main draw. They are far more alluring than the reputed star of the show and his independence-attaining plot arc.

Evra: “What kind of freak of you?”
Darren: “Oh, I'm not a freak. I'm normal.”
Evra: “You're normal?”
Darren: “No. I mean, I'm a half vampire, but I'm
completely normal”

Arachnid-loving 16 year old Darren (Massoglia) is perhaps a little too normal and too bland to acquire affinity from the audience, so even when he agrees to become blood-sucking gent Larten Crepsley's (Reilly) stooge and leave his family behind in order to save the life of his comatose rebel of a best mate (Hutcherson), you never really feel any sympathy. His family, also, have such a tiny role that their grief at the loss of their eldest born is never conveyed.

And so you watch, dispassionately, as Darren gets sucked into a long-battled civil war between Crepsley's more gentile vampire faction, and their darker, more violent, human-slaughtering blood brothers, the vampaneze. But your only real interest throughout is seeing what manner of bizarre prosthetic and CG abnormality will grace the screen next.

Frankly, that really isn't good enough for a blockbuster franchise kick-starter, is it? And franchise kick-starter The Vampire's Assistant incontestably is, with Willem Dafoe's 'tached vampire general Gavner Purl and rotund curiosity Mr Tiny (Cerveris) servicing the story only by hinting at future events which, sequel-pending, we may never witness off the page.

In a CR@B Shell: Creepy, kooky and all-together loopy, there's definite fun to be had with The Vampire's Assistant, but it's plain to see that the main attraction is far less entertaining than the Cirque's sidelined sideshows.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Simply Irritating

PG – 87mins – 2010
Written by: David Diamond and David Weissman
Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny Devito, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci, Bobby Moynihan, Anjelica Huston


Unclouded by my unrequited teenage crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar, I can now truly appreciate how god-awful her whimsical 1999 romantic comedy Simply Irresistible is. A magical crab (no relation!!) enchants a struggling chef's culinary concoctions, charming the taste buds of a handsome big-shot executive, who hires her to cater an upcoming reception. Seriously, what the shell Buffy?!

Eleven years later and deja vu strikes: Kristen "Sarah Marshall" Bell, another adorable blonde kick ass Hollywood starlet who made her name in an iconic small screen role (Veronica Mars), has gone ahead and made a similarly flaky filmic faux pas. When In Rome is a woe-mantic chuckler showered in a sickly fantastical glaze.

Bell plays Beth Martin, an impossibly-still-single Guggenheim art curator who's married to her job after one too many dating disasters. That is until a trip to the city of lurrrrrrrve for her little sister's (Alexis Dziena) shotgun wedding leads a drunken and despairing Beth to pick coins from the "fountain of love" and consequently be hounded by the obsessively irrepressible suitors whose “wish for happiness” she has nabbed and now keeps in an ornamental bowl in her living room.

Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard and Danny Devito play the quintet of loser-droolers who follow Beth back home to NYC for a chance at her heart. They're all freakishly bizarre, unrealistically over-stylised and totally dislikeable, all except for suitor number five, that is: the charming and chiselled Nick Beamon (Josh Transformers Duhamel), who just so happens to be embarrassingly clumsy. I'm not entirely sure why, it certainly doesn't work if it's for comedic effect. There's no question of who Beth will fall for, but does Nick really love our cold-hearted curator, or is he spellbound until his coin is returned to the Roman fountain?

I know When In Rome isn't meant to be a taxing, head-scratching mystery, an epic love affair for the ages or a deep social satire of our times; not every film ever made has to be a masterclass in Oscar-baiting glory. Some films are simply made to entertain. Regrettably, When in Rome fails even at that: a lightweight and cutesy rom-com it may be, but I can't image even the easiest-to-please tweenager would be bewitched by this lame turkey of a misfire. Learn from my young and deluded ways, CR@B fans: no matter how easy on the eye the lead pair may be, this film is not simply irresistible

The “comedy” is juvenile and over-egged (Beth being unable to smash a ceremonial vase at the wedding; Nick's farcical bungling; an Italian mini being driven indoors like friggin' Brum!), the plot is achingly generic (one look at the poster/DVD cover-art will save you 87mins of your life) and the stereotypical characters so blatantly geared towards learning moralistic lessons that the whole thing feels excruciatingly contrived.

In a CR@B Shell: Ditzy, mawkish and so awkwardly unnatural that you're more likely to heave than fawn over this saccharine-sweet disaster. When in Rome, do as the Roman's (and the level-headed cinema-goers of the world) did and avoid this terrible, terrible flop.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Couple Who Knew F- All

15 – 87mins – 2010
Written by: Josh Klausner
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji P. Henson, Jimmi Simpson, Common, William Fichtner, Ray Liotta, Leighton Meester, J. B. Smoove


“You took someone’s reservation? What is wrong with you people?!”

Middle-aged comedians de jour Tina 30 Rock Fey and Steve The Office Carrell share a sparkling chemistry and snappy sense of improv (“That’s amazing Jeremy, but I’m gonna go home and fart into a shoe box”) while also conveying a tender authenticity to overworked and undersexed couple Claire and Phil Foster in this farcical mistaken identity yarn from frivolous director Shawn Night at the Museum Levy.

An impressive roster of big name faces game for a laugh –, Mark’s Wahlberg and Ruffulo, James Franco, Mila “Meg Griffin” Kunis, that screeching jokester who ruined ’Til Death (J. B. Smoove), to name but a few – pop up for all of a scene or two apiece, but this is undeniably the Fey and Carrell show, as the Foster’s attempt to revitalise their kid-centric marriage takes this unassuming and unworldly couple on an outrageous cross-town adventure.

Their eponymous and supposedly romantic evening goes from bad to barmy as they have to avoid gun-totting lackeys (Jimmi Simpson and rapper Common), break into security buildings, drive taxi’s backwards into rivers and pole dance for corrupt and kinky District Attorney’s (William Fichtner) – and all because they took another couple’s dinner reservation at swish Manhattan seafood restaurant “Claw”. Clearly, it pays to book early. And not pretend to be someone you’re not.

With the purported Mr and Mrs “Tripplehorn” having to retrieve and deliver a stolen flash drive (or “computer sticky thing” as Claire calls it) to mob boss Joe Miletto (stern-faced Ray Liotta), it’s increasingly preposterous – but affable enough – fluff, held together with a sitcom-load of running jokes, call-backs and memorable lines (“For the love of God would you put on a fucking shirt?”).

In a CR@B Shell: Carried by its two leads, Date Night still sparkles with comedic verve even as the plot ties itself in knots. It’s not clever, but it’s never boring, and you won’t have to work too hard to get a chuckle from this zany caper.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


15 – 93mins – 2010
Written by: Adam Green
Directed by: Adam Green
Starring: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Adam Johnson, Chris York, Peder Melhuse

Three friends. Five nights. Forty feet in the air. Temperatures dropping below zero. One chairlift. No way out. This is the terrifying situation which college-goers Parker O’Neil ( Bell ), Joe Lynch (Ashmore) and Dan Walker (Zegers) find themselves in when a series of miscommunications lead the staff at Mount Holliston ski resort to close down for the week in director Adam Hatchet Green’s ultimate endurance test.

What starts out as irritation at the “malfunctioning” ski lift quickly snowballs into panic and desperation as the lights go out and realisation dawns that nobody knows they are still up there. What do you do: Wait for help? Scream until you’re hoarse? Climb? Jump? Freeze to death?! All of these scenarios present themselves to the fraught and freezing trio as day turns to night, frostbite sets in, wild wolves circle below and tensions rise as all hope of rescue fades.

Although Frozen is designated a horror film, and horrible things do happen in it, I deem it would be better described as a tragic character piece. Relating to the livelihoods of the three main players and associating with their pain as their situation worsens is paramount to enjoying this film (if indeed “enjoying” is the appropriate word for such a gloomy and disheartening tale); their nuances and personalities are well portrayed by the little known actors and they feel like real people in a really horrendous predicament.

The wolves, too, are real wolves, not CGI beasties. Their movements are natural and their behaviour believable, which makes their actions all the more gruesome. Furthermore, the small scale and minimalist feel of the film, as well as the less glossy finish to this low-budget effort, all accumulate to its advantage: this isn’t a cheesy and implausibly farfetched shocker, this could happen to you!

In a CR@B Shell: A tense and distressing rough-edged chiller with three remarkably authentic lead performances which will have you Frozen to the edge of your seat – just don’t fall off, whatever you do!!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Deliverance from Evil

15 – 87mins – 2010
Written by: Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland
Directed by: Daniel Stamm
Starring: Patrick Fabien, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Laundry Jones, Tony Bentley

[SPOILERS] From banjo-strumming yokels (Deliverance) to deranged hillbillies (The Hills Have Eyes) and incestuous cannibalistic mountain men (Wrong Turn), Hollywood has certainly strained a lot of servings out of the “backward folk off the beaten track" these last 30-odd years. Likewise, bandwagon-jumping has seen the mockumentary-style of shaky-cam horrors comprising “found footage” recently pillaged after The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, [REC] and Paranormal Activity put the gimmick to such imaginative use.

The laws of equations tell us that two tired tropes an original movie do not make, but remarkably Daniel Stamm’s creepy low-budget possession flick The Last Exorcism has managed to revitalise both over-saturated clichés into a tight and effective horror which benefits from realistic characterisation, a slow-burn build-up which grips and twists, and scares which never overstay their welcome or give too much away (at least not until the final scene).

Despite a lifetime devoted to the church, popular Christian minister and exorcist-for-hire Cotton Marcus (Fabien) is having a hard time holding on to his faith, so he agrees to let a camera crew trail his every move on what he deems his last ever paycheque. Truth is, he doesn’t really believe in demonic possession, he simply delivers what the customer wants to see: smoke, mirrors and pre-recorded sound effects.

But Marcus might have to reconsider his beliefs after arriving at the Louisiana farmhouse of Louis Sweetzer (Hertbum), a man who believes his teenage daughter, Nell ( Bell ), is possessed and nightly slaughtering his livestock. Following an ostentatious “exorcism”, Nell unexplainably appears in her "saviour's" hotel room in a catatonic trance, leading Marcus and the documentary crew to believe that her possession may actually be a psychological illness. Her father, however, is having none of it and insists upon another purging of her demonic possessor.

The Last Exorcism is by no means an all-out in-your-face horror. If you’re expecting a jump n’ scare every two minutes you are watching the wrong film. The first half an hour is spent quietly asserting that the main character definitely does not believe in paranormal spirits, before we witness his prop-reliant fraud in action. But even as events take a supernatural slant and your belief blossoms, writers Botko and Gurland still offer up opposing possibilities which could explain away the unexplainable…

Is Nell repressing a trauma? Has she been brainwashed by her reality-shielded upbringing? Is she pregnant? Why is her brother (Lasundry Jones) initially so intent on the film crew’s departure? Is her dad hiding a horrific family secret? The largely unknown cast are spectacular at breathing life into their motive-driven characters; they feel like real people who are taking us along on this unorthodox journey.

The last third in particular is a cavalcade of spook-tacular shocks and reveals, forever progressing the serpentine script, and even when you think all is clarified and reason has finally returned to the world, yet another stone wall obstruction makes you do a further u-turn and head back to the Sweetzer’s farm for one more evaluation into their old school values.

The abrupt and all-too-definitive conclusion does blow the lid off of all the film’s previous subtleties in spectacular fashion, and some viewers will be unimpressed by how the mystery is yanked out of our hands, but there is something to be said for the brave and unexpected direction the film takes, and a second viewing will highlight clear pointers throughout which may otherwise have spirited past.

In a CR@B Shell: The final reveal may give too much away, but that doesn’t divest all that precedes it of delivering smart shocks in a tight script which bends and twists like a girl possessed. Whatever you believe, The Last Exorcism is a devilishly effective genre flick.

Manic Teeth Feasters

18 – 88mins – 2010
Written by: Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg
Based on the film
Piranha (1978), written by: Richard Robinson and John Sayles
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Steven R. McQueen, Jerry O'Connell, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, Ricardo Chavira, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth and Richard Dreyfuss


Spring break, the notorious US tradition where thousands of supposedly learned students descend upon sunny beach communities to wreak havoc for a week of unopposed study-free partying. This year, however, in Lake Victoria, the fun-loving local “sand rats” have some company. These mouthy little party-crashers are from a very different school indeed, although they are also hungry for flesh, and any co-ed taking a dip in the crystal blue lagoon will get nibbles thrown in free of charge.

A minor earthquake in the Arizona region has caused a cavernous rift to unleash a once-thought-extinct breed of deadly piranha into the water. "Thousands of them. And they're pissed," so diver Novak (Adam Scott) helpfully clarifies, having just hauled out the lifeless skeleton of one of their meals. Jaws ain't got nothing on these diminutive little blighters, who have survived in isolation for two thousand years by eating their own kind. Now, however, they have a craving for students, and spring break is about to get a whole lot wilder.

From the opening scene where Richard Jaws Dreyfuss is fishing on the lake whistling “Show Me The Way To Go Home”, you know Piranha 3D isn't a film which takes itself at all seriously. Likewise, anyone viewing this riotous horror-comedy should approach it in a similar vein: disconnect your brain, down a couple of brewskis and let the orgy commence!

The impressive cast just have a blast as madness descends – appendages get bitten off in seconds, eyeballs (and other organs) float towards the screen and boat motors make remarkably good fish deterrents. It's great to see Christopher Lloyd back to his madcap best as the panicky piscine expert, while Kelly Brook is remarkably game for everything the director requires. But special note must go to Jerry Sliders O'Connell as slimeball porn director Derrick Jones – he really didn't hold back in portraying an absolute douche with wild-eyed glee.

As the lunacy progresses, the bikini-clad babes get naked-er, the death tole gets bigger-er, the wise-cracks get stoopid-er and the destruction gets gorier and evermore inventive... er. It's brash, trash and ludicrously lowbrow, but unapologetically so. Piranha 3D certainly won't be to everyone's taste, but it knows its audience and panders to them perfectly.

In a CR@B Shell: You'll giggle, you'll cheer, you'll gawp and you'll gag, but you'll never be bored, provided you aren't expecting logic or decorum, that is.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Step into the Light Fantastic

Cine Review: TRON: LEGACY
PG – 125mins – 2010
Story by: Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal
Screenplay by: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz
Based on characters created by: Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, Bruce Boxleitner, James Frain, Beau Garrett, Anis Cheurfa, Serinda Swan, Cillian Murphy


28 years after we last entered video game programmer and software engineer Kevin Flynn's (Jeff “The Dude” Bridges) neo-punk virtual reality of duelling digital sprites and high stakes light-cycle races, Disney have re-pressed the start button and re-entered The Grid. Fanboys rejoice: it's on like TRON... again!

Having reacquired the position of CEO of ENCOM International in the 1980's and distributed copies of a best selling arcade game based upon his digital endeavours, Flynn has been missing and presumed dead for nearly two decades, leaving his business empire in the hands of a board of directors while the controlling shareholder and Flynn's heir – his now 27year old son, Sam (newcomer Garrett Hedlund) – wastes his life away dropping out of college, pulling financially costly pranks on the ENCOM directors and seeking ever-greater adrenaline rushes.

But Sam is about to have an adrenaline rush like no other; asked by his father's friend and ENCOM executive Alan Bradley (Bruce Babylon 5 Boxleitner, reprising his role from the original film) to investigate the source of a mystery pager message apparently sent from Flynn Snr.'s abandoned arcade, Sam locates his father's secret laboratory and is accidentally transported inside The Grid.

A dazzling cyberspace of abstract angles, funky construction, disco lighting, physical anomalies, neon highlights, Daft Punk helmets and leather loving computer programmes made flesh. It's utterly gorgeous to look at but mind boggling to conceive. This is a virtual world where your digital imprint is carried around by each user in the form of a literal “hard disc” which, bizarrely, doubles as a deadly throwing weapon in gladiator-style duels pitting players against one another (for some reason I'm sure...). Um, what if your opponent catches your disc and dumps it in the Recycle Bin?

Sam discovers that The Grid is run by CLU – a digital clone of his father who betrayed the real Flynn Snr. and deletes any imperfections to his “master race” – but before the outsider is defeated, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia The O.C. Wilde) and reunited with his real and ageing father, who has literally been gridlocked since 1989; trapped inside his own creation, living in the Outlands in fear of his tyrannical youthful doppelgänger.

Hayden Christensen-alike Sam – who far too easily accepts everything that happens and far too quickly masters throwing discs and riding light-cycles – is determined to delete CLU and make it back to the real world with his father in tow, but safe passage is hard to come by when CLU's guards roam the grid and neutral programs can so easily double cross you. It's not quite as simple as pulling out the plug, you see.

The usually dependable Michael Sheen pops up in one of his more... eccentric roles, channelling his inner Ziggy Stardust with horrendously out-of-place character Castor, a camp cocktail-swigging bar owner (yes, inside a computer program...) who nods to DJ's Daft Punk – who also contributed a pitch-perfect synthy electronica score – to change the choonz while he “shoots” lasers from his neon cane as his bar is turned to rubble in a bloody battle raging around him.

To reiterate my early point, TRON: Legacy is aesthetically flawless; it really is an awe-inspiring universe, even if the “de-ageing” CGI to recreate a 30 year old Jeff Bridges does reveal itself whenever CLU opens his mouth. This is boundary-pushing entertainment here. But much like that other recent spectacle-heavy 3D blockbuster (yes, Avatar, I'm looking at you), TRON: Legacy stutters somewhat in the story department.

Unlike James Cameron's twee environmentalist message, I'm not accusing debut director (wow, what a first gig!!) Joseph Kosinski's sci-fi sequel of being predictable, instead quite the opposite: a narrative introduction, two drawn out speeches, constant flashbacks and an impressionist news-story montage and still TRON: Legacy is utterly baffling. I appreciate that in science fiction you have to dispense with rationality and open up your imagination, but even as a hardened genre “geek”, I felt myself rolling my eyes at the convenient story fixes and strung out, laboured plot.

Why, for instance, if Jeff Bridges – the “God” of The Grid, lest we forget – is able to re-programme CLU's guards with a simple code typed onto their back-plates, and has the fantastical ability to generate enough “power” to pull CLU back towards him, has he been content to live in hiding amongst pixel folk for two decades?! If it was that easy, why wait? Now I know there probably is some in-universe reason for this. Hell, it may even have been mentioned in amongst the jargonous diatribe of dialogue, but issues like that just yell “writer's cover-up” to me.

Maybe that's where the problem lies, maybe there was too much pressure upon the four writers to make this the most spectacular, mind-blowing ride of your life that they went too far and over-thought it, weighing themselves down with unnecessary story baggage when all anyone really wants to see is futuristic looking bikes skidding around The Matrix.

In a CR@B Shell: A dazzling showcase of awe-inspiring wonder and frenetically choreographed set-pieces – it's just a pity that the overly TRON:voluted plot and endless layers of exposition frequently distract your attention from the beauty and remind you that even the herd of story scribes really haven't a CLU what's going on.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Way Off Course

PG – 87mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Joe Stillman, Nicholas Stoller
Based on the novel by: Jonathan Swift
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Starring: Jack Black, Amanda Peet, Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, Emily Blunt, Billy Connolly, T. J. Miller, James Cordon


Jonathan Swift's social satire of the 18th century masquerading as a (fantasy) travel guide is one of my favourite books of all time: it's witty, layered and ingenious. Three accolades I most definately cannot grace this 21st century reimagining with. I can think of three other words right off the top of my head, but publishing them would probably get me banned from blogspot. Yes, ladies, gentlemen and Lilliputian's; Gulliver's Travels Jack Black-style really is THAT bad. And then some.

Black's character may be called Lemuel Gulliver, but he's playing to type and rolling out “Jack Black” yet again; an unmotivated layabout loser whose only good quality is his charm. This time he's one of the “little people”, the mail man at the New York Tribune who has a huge crush on travel editor Darcy (Peet). Going for broke, he plagiarises a travel story and bags an assignment to the Bermuda Triangle, only for his boat to get sucked into a giant cylinder of water and for him to awaken in a land of real little people: Lilliput.

To say this is a loose adaptation is simultaneously generous and wide of the mark: Rob Monsters vs. Aliens Letterman's film sails so wide of Swift's story that it's sometimes easier to disassociate from what should be happening and just accept what is happening (like Darcy coming to Lilliput, Gulliver's pudgy stomach “rebounding” cannon fire, the Lilliputian's having endless resources to build him a condo, coffee maker, theatre and replica model village).

There are all of two semi-faithful scenes (Gulliver being tied down upon his arrival, and his hero-making “splash” of inspiration) and one of them feels shoehorned in for necessity's sake. The other - saving the day by pissing on the palace - is played for laughs and seemed to be the focus of ninety percent of the film's puerile advertising campaign. Basically, it's best to forget you're watching a retelling of one of the greatest books of the last 300-odd years and just go with the madness. For madness it is, and much of it hard to swallow.

Screenwriters Stillman and Stoller have no qualms with despoiling the source material in the name of “big budget family entertainment IN 3D!!”, with a cheesy song and dance number and a showdown with a giant robot in an intimation Times Square diorama. This is Gulliver's Travels in name only: The action is brought into the modern day with a plethora of eye-rolling and gimmicky pop culture references (Star Wars, Guitar Hero, Titanic, Avatar, Prince, KISS), while the second half of the four-part novel (which sees Gulliver travel on to two other lands) is completely ignored in favour of a hokey and predictable romance plot.

Finally, the film's one saving grace – its decent cast – also fail to deliver, leaving me almost nothing positive to report. The wealth of big name stars and comedy talent from both sides of the Atlantic are thoroughly wasted, with Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate – as the King and Queen of Lilliput – given little to do and James Gavin & Stacey Cordon (butler Jinx) even less, while The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd, as Gulliver's main adversary, the jealous General Edward, just doesn't feel right in his role: he gives the impression he is permanently on the cusp of delivering a chucklesome punchline, yet he plays the part far too straight.

In a CR@B Shell: I love Gulliver's Travels, it's just a pity that this by-the-numbers, air guitar-strumming, pop culture-riffing, goofball-makes-good Jack Black vehicle is NOT Gulliver's Travels. A disastrous, cheap and distasteful mess which makes Yahoos out of everyone who took part: A Brobdingnagian FAIL.


Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Start, New Year, Same Ole' CR@B

So here are three more taught n' trim CR@Blogs to ease you hungover review hounds gently into 2011... Happy New Year!

15 – 105mins – 2010

Taking a subject as sacrosanct as religion and revolving an identity crisis comedy around it was a brave move by David “I’m a Jew” Baddiel, particularly when dealing with two staunchly identifiable faiths, and I certainly respect the subtext of multicultural unity which underlies the comedian's first foray into feature films.

Respect aside, however, as much as I can’t fault the platonic chemistry between remarkably restrained Omid "moneysupermarket" Djalili – a relaxed Muslim who has a theological predicament when he discovers he was adopted and born a Jew – and his deadpan American Jew rival-come-confidant Richard The West Wing Schiff, The Infidel simply isn’t that amusing.

Miranda Hart and Matt Lucas also fail to bring the laughs in cameo roles, while the script – for all its honourable intentions – follows all the obvious routes you would expect (struggling to pronounce “Oy vey” being the most trite), with a “twist” involving Djalili’s favourite ‘80s pop star being far too apparent and far too coincidental to deliver the necessary karmic conclusion.

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

Written by: Jaclyn Dolamore
225pages – Bloomsbury – 2010

Okay, yes, it’s a novel aimed at teenagers (sorry, "young adults”), but the combination of fantasy, the paranormal and doomed love appealed to me, having been so engrossed in Joanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Indeed, Jaclyn Dolamore’s debut novel could very easily fit into the same universe, set as it is in an alternate Victorian age where magic is performed by sorcerers, and fairies and ghosts exist.

Exotic dancer Nimira is whisked away from her downtrodden city existence by magician and widower Hollin Parry, who puts her up in his labyrinthine mansion in exchange for her oral services: he wants her to accompany his newest acquisition – a piano playing wind-up automaton – and perform to a more respectable crowd than she is accustomed.

But all is not as it seems, as Parry is hiding some rather dark secrets about his past and his wife’s present, while there are murmurings from his staff that the musical automaton is haunted and intent on escape…

Dolamore’s writing style is instantly absorbing, her spritely prose filled with some truly beautiful descriptions which transported me into this whimsical world, without ever overcomplicating the scenario.

At a trim 225pages, Magic Under Glass is hardly a challenging read, and the chapters are accessibly swift, but as the truth behind the automaton is revealed and Nimira finds herself falling for Erris – the fairy prince locked inside the clockwork man – I couldn’t help but wish for a more dynamic plot.

Whether it is because Dolamore is catering for her younger audience, or simply not wishing to obscure her premiere vision with unnecessary narrative threads, I found the story to be far too linear and lacking in surprises, even when opposing forces – in the form of dispassionate sorcerer and fairy hater Mr. Smollings – reveal themselves and secrets are unearthed, it is always far too obvious what the next course of action will be.

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

18 – 79mins – 2010

His over-opinionated and callous brand of comedy isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always found Ricky Gervais to be an intelligent and darkly sarcastic delight, even if his podcast banter with mate Karl Pilkington does occasionally verge on bullying.

The British comic’s previous stand-up shows have held up incredibly well to repeated viewing, continually inducing a fit of giggles from yours truly, however, after only one viewing I can already recognize that Live IV: Science isn’t up to his customary best.

As his success has skyrocketed, Ricky’s stage sets have become evermore elaborate (Frankenstein’s lair, here, looks amazing, despite largely being ignored and never utilized in the lazily unstructured and chiefly unscientific show), while his rotund physique has noticeably slimmed and his on-stage ego ballooned.

Consequently, the man who was David Brent still frequently mocks his “fatness” while using this self-deprecating honesty to openly lambast the overweight. It’s shtick which ran its course two tours ago and frankly no longer delivers the same effect.

No matter how many times Gervais candidly “apologises” for his brutal jibes (comedy, apparently, allows one to be sexist/racist/size-ist/sacrilegious, provided you laugh after delivering the insult), there’s no getting away from the fact that the persona on the Hammersmith stage is far crueller than on previous live DVDs. I realise the “I’m famous, you’re not” ego is part of the act, but it certainly isn’t as fresh as it once was.

CR@B Rating: aaaaa