Sunday, 21 April 2013

Evil Dead (2013) | Cinema Review

A glorified video nasty, Sam Raimi's original splatterfest Evil Dead hit screens to a magnitude of gasps and controversy; but that was the 80's. On board as a producer in the latest of a current string of horror remakes, Evil Dead hits our screens once again to an audience that splits between the unknown and the die-hard fan.

Helmed by Uruguayan writer-director Fede Alvarez and with the original team, including Raimi himself, on board as producers, anticipation was there but highly cautioned -- we've learned before from building expectations when it comes to remakes.

A group of friends head to their childhood cabin in the woods to help friend Mia (Jane Levy) as she powers through early stages of cold turkey. Unbeknownst to them, however, is the power that lurks within the basement, and with the reading of one simple sentence powers beyond their reach transform each of them, mutilating, dismembering and ultimately torturing each one of them until five souls are claimed, of which a higher evil will rise.

This 21st century reboot knows its game. Alvarez understands Evil Dead, and more to the point we know Raimi would have inspired him to do his ultimate best. While the original stands firm as an easy target for epitomised horror, it's undoubtedly dated. And while aspects of it remain utterly grotesque, Raimi's vision thrives now on comedy. This is where Alvarez pulls a dozen tricks from his sleeve, not only inducing enough horror to make a stand alone horror entry but one that's respected enough of the Evil Dead franchise. While Alvarez could chuckle more every now and again -- we're dragged to hell and back, a little lightheartedness was due -- he hits horror bang on the head. Intentions are to purely horrify, and in most aspects he does just that.

Levy, the true victim of Alvarez's new vision, goes through hell. Taking pivotal and cinematically recognised sequences from the original, there's an updated spin on them making them all the more disgusting, frightening and increasingly more disturbing the further the possession takes her. By halfway, she's unrecognisable, but damn is she fantastic. Undoubtedly enjoying the freedom her character is given in regards to her previous PG-rated roles, Levy's stand in this franchise holds firm but without spoiling anything, it's increasingly more obvious how Alvarez is shaping her.

Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas are amidst the handful who're also dragged relentlessly through the nightmare, though barely get off to more than a couple of words until the situation is blood red and we're merely awaiting the next chop.

It's increasingly more dangerous how far Alvarez takes his reboot, the boundaries, or lack of, parallel the sheer craziness of Raimi's classic, so in retrospect as a remake, it's unarguably one of the best we've seen. It barely thrives on story, or acting (bar Levy) at that, but that's not what the core of Evil Dead is. An absence of CGI works as cinematic trickery, pulling out all the stops as grotesque prosthetics and buckets of blood drown the screen.

A dozen nods to the original provide enough material for fans to have a full-on hearty fangasm which, as i can testify to, ultimately makes this reboot worthwhile, and in turn could easily welcome a sequel with open arms. If he remains as faithful to the franchise as he already has proven, Alvarez's stardom will soar.

Verdict: A relentless, disturbing venture into the mind of an obvious Evil Dead fan, with the passion, charisma and dark charm of its predecessor's director. It's uncomfortable viewing, but that's what we want.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Croods | Cinema Review

A competitor of Pixar Animation surely has no leeway in regards to success. I mean, can other studio animations really rival the brilliance of features such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the latest, Brave? Well, they sure can try. However, with trying comes the inevitable competition, and with competition and standards appreciation can often be left adrift. Dreamworks Animation is Pixar's biggest competitor and with feature and feature, they're slowly but surely paralleling the aforementioned studio's greats.

First came Shrek, with sequel after sequel truly bursting the studio into the limelight. Then similar successful franchises followed suit -- Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda, primarily -- before Monsters Vs. Aliens, Megamind, Rise of the Guardians and, my personal favourite, How to Train Your Dragon hurtled it from minimal success to a box office smash.

The Croods is Dreamsworks' latest, following the family Crood, a prehistoric gang of cavemen whose leader of the pack, Grug Crood, shields his family from the dangers of the land. However, the arrival of a prehistoric genius, Guy, triggers a magnitude of life-altering situations for The Croods, forcing them into the world they've grown so accustomed to hide from. This prehistoric family must revolutionise and modernise themselves in order to survive extinction.

It's actually rather startling that cinema hasn't, as of late, featured more cavemen. The last that triggers a sour memory was the Jack Black and Michael Cera vehicle Year One -- maybe this is why there's been a four year anti-cavemen stance. Maybe it's why The Croods is so refreshing, and in turn has become, or in due course will become so successful.

This is brisk family entertainment at its epitomised best. Thanks to a worthy and consistently effective range of charismatic voice work from the likes of the already-charismatic and deathly-lovable Emma Stone, Nicholas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman, The Croods are instantly known. The characters are wild -- much like their caveman status -- and rambunctious, failing to drift into the background of wild colours and exciting action sequences as they grow more and more boisterous and infinitely more warming. And it's by stretch the best Cage performance in quite some time -- the animation barrier doesn't help either.

A fully-ranged sense of the word as "family entertainment" is attached as The Croods at times address obvious economical problems, and the inevitable extinction number that we're all expecting this animated epic to end on, and by so, the adults are in for just as much of a wild ride as the kids. Kinetic and dutifully grand in scale, the action is outstanding and merely aids the enormous amount of colour and general visual spectacle that The Croods are experiencing as much as its audience, and while this can be expected, it outstretches that of some of Dreamworks' previous works.

Its core is family. It's heartwarming and thoroughly poignant, from moments of sentimentality between father and daughter to Emma Stone's burly Epe finding complete wonderment in the world she's sought and dreamt of for so long. An introduction to a whole new world is eye-opening, thus inducing the third dimension to extraordinary factors. From an opening hunting skit to the enormous wilds of jungles and mountains, the landscape is dazzling and so fits the screen like a glove.

It never bores and for the most the comedy is spot-on, but as the family grows increasingly more modernised and experiences a dozen new factors of life, i'd be surprised if you didn't find yourself in a state of overwhelming warmth and heart. It's written wonderfully, and while it doesn't compete to the poignancy of Finding Nemo or that last chapter of Toy Story 3, it's attempts are honourable. I had an absolute blast, and i know you will too.

Verdict: One of Dreamworks' best as voice acting parallels that to the adventure waiting to be had: an extravagant and successful trip through a prehistoric era with an exuberant, wild and joyously lovable family. You'll laugh, you'll shed a tear, it's a trip worth admission.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Side Effects | Cinema Review

Soderbergh's been busy, hasn't he? After a slip of the tongue in regards to a sudden retirement from film, he's released Haywire, the understandably sought-after Magic Mike and now the medical thriller Side Effects, proving first and foremost that if retirement is on the cards that his addition to cinema, if sustained as well as proven in his latest feature, will be sorely missed.

Rooney Mara stars as troubled patient Emily Taylor. Her husband Channing Tatum is about to be released from prison for insider trading for which she's delighted, but can't seem to shake the illness she's been plagued with since he was sentenced.

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt she's placed on the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a man whose desperate attempts at curing Emily are thwarted after Ablixa, a drug still in a trial process, hits Emily with a dozen side effects, one of which is sleepwalking. After a fatal encounter under the drug, both worlds are turned upside down as the case effects both sides of the table.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes screenwriter Scott Z. Burns is fresh from the viral thriller Contagion to bring us something slightly paralleled, though it's a challenge in itself to tell you why without giving any plot development or genuine twist away -- no one likes a blabber mouth. What it verifies itself as, however, is that it treads on tradition.

While it defines itself as a classic thriller, Side Effects feels lovingly refreshing. We've not had one with the backbone of this for quite some time, gripping from the moment Rooney Mara hurtles herself towards a wall from the moment the final unveil leaves you exhausted, gripped and somewhat startled.

The battle of wits between Doctor and patient is blurred when truths are told in handfuls, secrets are uncovered within the dozens and progressions are made through character accusations, primarily that of Law's Dr. Banks, a man whose life is taken piece-by-piece as pasts haunt and aid present problems. Blame is placed entirely on him, thus forcing him to uncover the actual truth, leading him to Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, fellow psychiatrist and past Doctor to Emily.

Performances are superior and ultimately believable; Law and Mara are especially profound, though both find themselves on the same route of playing innocence until proven otherwise. A game is easily played, and Soderbergh plays his to the film's advantage. None of his characters are particularly likeable nor show any particular nod to acting sympathetic, thus it plays out all the more fun watching things unveil -- mostly for the unfortunate -- as we eventually, by the third act, have unravelled and slightly let our guard down ourselves.

Prying the secrets open is what thrives us to the final chapter of Soderbergh's Hitchock-inspired thriller, but it's always a help when our curiosity is extended as a brisk pace and an aided social commentary on the general dependance of a pharmaceutical handicap frightens as this clever little noir unfolds and dazzles, even if belief is slightly suspended as it climaxes on hoarse frivolity.

All the right buttons are pushed, so if this is Soderbergh's true farewell, at least it's a good'un.

Verdict: An intellectual, character-driven medical thriller that bows Soderbergh into proposed retirement. Challenging and sustainably gripping with Law and Mara on top form.

Stoker | Cinema Review

Celebrated for giving us genre classics such as Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Korean director Park Chan-wook is no newbie to unconventional cinema. But, whilst the remake of Oldboy looms around the corner, we're welcomed with the director's first English-spoken film, Stoker.

When the news of India's father's fatal car crash hits on her 18th birthday, all that looms is an inevitable funeral and a few uncomfortable interactions with mostly insincere family friends. She's self-collected and for the most damaged by the news. All who remains is her self-obsessed, utterly undependable mother (Nicole Kidman) who, with the sudden arrival of the distant and bleakly chilling Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), decides to focus her grief and attention on him. It's not until secrets are unveiled that raise awareness for India about Uncle Charlie's true intentions.

Mia Wasikowska, that innocent girl from the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre, redefines herself in Park's ultimately innocence-obliterating Stoker. This is truly an adult role, one that Wasikowska grasps by the balls. A new light certainly shines on the young actress, maybe not from the opening scene of which she relentlessly scours the grounds of her family's enormous house for a hidden birthday present, but eventually, and surely, tainted -- almost poisoned -- by the suffocating grip of her mysterious, watchful Uncle. Her broken innocence and gradual descent into adulthood takes her to a well-defined dark corner, of which her beloved Uncle Charlie is more than welcoming to accompany her to.

Goode's undoubtable good looks aren't as much of a distraction as i had initially expected. Well, sure they're dazzling but it shrouds the character in so much curiosity that it merely plants you in the same boat as India. Though behind closed doors his secrets mount to something a lot more sinister, his unusual eroticism creates a profound depth to Stoker that stretches over a span of three characters -- him, Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman herself. Her determination to lean everything on this newly-uncovered manly figure that's fortunately a better, younger looking version of her late husband swerves her into a place India can't figure out, and vice versa.

Two very different reactions to this defined figure send the characters into completely opposite directions -- something that's due for Kidman's resumé. Along with her unconventional role in this year's sleeper hit The Paperboy, she's beginning to relinquish her reservedness and tend to roles a little more intriguing and fortunately ones that push boundaries. The focus isn't exactly on her, but she's a delightful addition who provides an intensity through the jealousness of her daughter's newly-found relationship.

A malevolence is fused with traditional family dynamics in a story that isn't particularly original, though thanks to the renowned eye of Park it feels every bit as original as all his other pieces of work. Every scene feels necessary; every scene feels dependant on the next; every moment of intense eroticism or general unease feels precise and absolutely vital to the final product. This is Park's expertise in cinematic relevance, and as much as everyone involved do their jobs with unquestionable brilliance, this is his game.

As innocence is shattered, the hook is flesh deep. These characters are cold, vague and often expressionless, but we want to know more. India is understood as much as we understand Charlie isn't the idyllic idea of a precious Uncle. These characters have depth and what's so infuriating is that it ends just as we're truly begging for more.

Verdict: Park's English debut feels underwhelming compared to his prior work but as a stand alone piece it's astounding. Directed with the greatest precision, Stoker is the downfall of one girl's innocence and the figure which smashes it to smithereens. Career-defining performances from Wasikowska plants her as a true talent worth watching, where known actors such as Goode and Kidman are on par with her brilliance. It's an enticing and superior tale with an underlying evil that grips and dazzles.

Oz: The Great and Powerful | Cinema Review

Can you believe The Wizard of Oz was released a phenomenal 73 years ago? What furthers the amazement that, despite barely being a theatrical success upon its initial release, it still to this day remains as one of cinema's most delightful and rewatchable cinematic fantasy flicks of which one girl is swept away to another world, full of talking creatures, uplifting singing midgets and wicked witches. It redefined so many aspects of the fantasy world and everything that comes with it, and if anything proved a successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

It's now the 21st Century, and it's only been a matter of time until the story was relived. With the undoubtable success of the original story of Wicked on Broadway, it only proves that the land of Oz is more than welcome in our hearts. Oz: The Great and Powerful takes the story by the horns and ventures back to the very beginning, starting with our very own titular Wizard himself.

James Franco is Oz, a greedy, selfish and self-renowned conman who parades throughout small towns as the "Great and Powerful Oz" to merely fool his audiences into believing he's something that parallels that of his icons, Houdini and Thomas Edison. It's not until an unfortunate encounter in a Kansas travelling circus that has him fleeing in a hot air balloon, thus encountering a raging tornado. Swept in the gust of absolute destruction, he's hurtled into an unimaginable world, crash landing amidst a cornucopia of colour; a wilderness of pure imagination. There, he meets Theodora the Good (played by Mila Kunis), a friendly, dependable witch. Following her to the enormous Emerald City, of which he's been told has been awaiting an almighty Wizard to defeat the Wicked Witch's reign, he's greeted by Theodora's sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

To become King, Oz must defeat said Witch, though it proves more difficult than he initially expected. On his way he encounters new friends, discovers a landscape thought only of in dreams and Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams), a gleaming beacon of kindness and hope. Together, they venture to free the land of Oz.

Sam Raimi, the director of franchises such as Spider-Man and Evil Dead, helms the tough project of retreading the Yellow Brick Road and introducing it to an entirely new audience. By doing so, he courageously directs a brand new story of Oz and so has free roam in introducing completely new ideas that eventually, and gloriously, tie into the world-famous Wizard of Oz.

A traditional black-and-white opening sets the scene for which Oz is introduced as money-hungry with an impeccable taste for greed, of which Franco suits well. With a Grinch-like cheeky grin and the handsomeness to pull off anything, Oz isn't particularly a character to like. The moment, however, the screen opens up and introduces both him and us to a world full of ingenuity and sheer originality, it leaves you glass-eyed with wonderment. Raimi understands how to dazzle, and does it with confidence. Swooping throughout what feels like a canvas splashed with dozens of colour, flowers bloom into bells as our eyes attempt to adjust to more than one ravishing sight. If Oz: The Great and Powerful was based entirely on how a film looked, this would be a five-star romp worthy of every award under the sun.

Casting decisions are soon questioned with the arrival of Mila Kunis. As dazzling and stunning as she always is, her kindness suits the role of Theodora, but once story progressions are blatant a sense of worry is rife as typical Kunis tendencies are almost off-putting. The same can be said with Franco -- while at times he's perfect for the role, he's over-the-top when he must be subtle, and a few moments when things are troublesome you catch him almost glazing over what must induce a reaction.

Still, with every downfall there's a bonus. Weisz never appears to have more fun than she is playing Evanora, the blatant super-villain of Oz, dressed head-to-toe in enormous attire that'd pin her as Oz's most sought-after showgirl, and Michelle Williams who ultimately defines the word 'angelic', superior in looks and costume to anything Raimi's addition has to offer. Glinda has never looked better -- sorry, Billie Burke.

There's an unfortunate absence of Munchkins but additions of Oz's right-hand man Finley and the adorable China Girl are welcome, even if they can never life up to the expectations of The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow. China Girl is one of the film's greatest achievements in digital effects.

It's landscape is utterly ravishing and its characters are, for the most, great, but obviously this won't live up to the classic Wizard of Oz. But what you have to remember is that nothing will, so for Raimi to attempt something so grand, it's really an effort i can applaud. It's got a half dozen faults but you'll have an enormous amount of fun; whether it's the sight of seeing the Wicked Witch of the West on the big-screen again, the glorifying turn of Williams as Glinda or Weisz as the evil Evanora, or merely seeing the Yellow Brick Road just once more, it's a blast for the entire family.

Verdict: Barely lives up to The Wizard of Oz but Raimi attempts something original, all-the-while taking homage. There are casting decisions that could have easily been fixed but instead it's just something to pick at, but the final product is a fun, mostly exhilarating two-and-a-bit hours that welcomes you, and a 21st Century audience, back to the land of Oz.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

This is 40 | Cinema Review

This sort-of-sequel to the popular comedy Knocked Up reunites stars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd with director, and husband for the former, Judd Apatow to continue the tumultuous and often turbulent relationship between Knocked Up's true star couple, Pete and Debbie.

There ain't no Heigl or Rogen on tap for an appearance so don't be squabbling over minor tweaks that Apatow may or may not have wanted to include, but it's really for the best. The limelight is on Pete and Debbie, and as we remember them so fondly from its predecessor, they're truly the epitome of an everyday couple, arguments, disagreements and all, and there are many of as they hit the age of 40, dealing with careers, children, money and hormones.

The footing is rife thanks to Apatow's dedication and clear love for the characters -- and dramedies themselves. His genre-clashing capabilities ably induce enough drama within the general comedy that Apatow's 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up are riddled with, even though, despite the occasional boob slip, fart joke or Megan Fox's face, there's enough Lost coverage, lighthearted banter between a riveting on-screen couple and cameos to prove it much more tasteful than you may initially think. But it's the general happenings of Pete and Debbie, the dawning of 40 and the realisation that they're youth is behind them that stamps a backbone of heaviness behind This is 40, separating it from every other coming-of-old-age dramedy out there.

Though it's all slightly over-exaggerated for entertainment purposes, Apatow easily touches upon everyday problems most couples are undoubtedly expected to come across at least once in their lives -- both good and bad. Amidst the general occasional annoyance of a spouse, money problems hit the family hard and hurtle them into financial panic. Debbie's clothing store is oddly down a large sum of money, but whether or not it's Megan Fox, an affable support for the store, or the mousy Charlene Yi is a mystery, whereas Pete's record label is bringing in nothing, opting out for the predictable yarn most are producing and reliving the days of a golden oldie.

While their careers are up in the air, family drama is an enormous stress-inducer. Between two squabblesome daughters, Debbie's distant father John Lithgow wants back on the scene whereas Pete's, played by Albert Brooks, is more inclined to guilting his way into their pockets despite their current descent into financial ruin. Currently, their lives are a mess, and Apatow knows how to play on it, either by tugging on the heartache between a relationship that could be sizzling out, or on the comedy of everything and anything that could and is going wrong.

It's not quite as heavy as Funny People but it's sure as hell the funniest entry in Apatow's career since The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and with two leads that are as infinitely likeable as these, there's no two-and-a-bit duration that flies quite as quickly as this.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Now is Good | DVD Review

Based on the novel Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Now is Good is the latest, excuse the label, 'cancer drama' that hits us square in the gut, paralleling that of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, though British-based with an young American actress at its core.

Tessa wants to live her life to the full, even more so now she's diagnosed with cancer and has, for a number of years, had to live with the consequences and the harsh treatments. Preferring a short life lived to the full rather than a prolonged life under intense treatment, Tessa declines the next stages of chemo and instead decides to do the things she feels every teenager must do before they die, thus goes by a list she concocts against her father's wishes.

What she doesn't count on, however, are the little things, the things she doesn't think she'll miss or achieve in such a short time, but instead finds herself completely in the wrong. With the help of the new boy next door, Adam, she finds new meaning in her remaining time.

The outcome is inevitable, yet we refuse it to ourselves over and over again. And so, Now is Good is a determined watch, one that defies all sense of the human emotion. You may even find yourself inconsolable -- i'm not owning up to anything. And saying that, does that mean Now is Good gets it right? Is it truly a faithful adaptation of a novel i've never heard of yet can guarantee is just like the rest of its kind?

First and foremost is Dakota Fanning; the typical American teenager with acting chops to boot, seen most recently in the closing chapter of the Twilight Saga or in Sundance with Elizabeth Olsen. What she does get expertly, however, is something that parallels a chameleon. She's superb with characters, and not only adapts but owns the role. Here, she's a British teenager. Clothing, attitude and all, she nails it right on the head. A careless attitude is exuded by Tessa as she weaves through understandably horrid circumstances, all the while attempting to survive sex, first loves, family drama, friends, pregnancies, drugs, shop lifting and of course the cancer itself. It's a rush for her, and whilst time is limited, the writing never loses plot of what Tessa, or any regular teenager, would deem an important ritual into teenage life.

War Horse's Jeremy Irvine enters and Tessa immediately catches his eye. Foremost hesitant falls down to the knees when an honest, intensely likeable relationship strikes between the two stars, both relatable and real, and all the more heartbreaking. Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams are the bickersome parentals who're on two separate paths; one too caring and considerate of everything to do with the sickness, the other barely manages a trip to the hospital. Considine, a firm favourite of the Brits, is an outstanding and brutally emotional addition to a supporting cast that ranges from the inconspicuous to the important.

Ol Parker respectfully balances between a blatant emotional core that creates a heartbreaking backbone that Now is Good stands firm on. What induces this further is a performance that Fanning should be proud of, a story that, while been done to death, feels as natural as the real thing, and come the end leaves you lip-quivering and battered, almost to the point where you can easily wonder if this was one of your family members, what the hell would you actually do?

Verdict: Amidst an outstanding core performance, Now is Good will shatter every remnant of your soul, heart and every being. It's wonderfully written and undeniably uplifting, but at the forefront poignance is its game.