Tuesday, 23 November 2010

This Week's DVD/Blu-ray Choice, November 22nd

This week's chosen release is, unsurprisingly, Pixar's smash-hit Toy Story 3.

Pixar's highly anticipated sequel -- carrying on the story of Woody, Buzz and co. after a pro-longed eleven years -- beat all expectations and box office numbers, with Lee Unkrich, Pixar's handyman, helming the project. Astoundingly, the story was as invigorating and as fresh as any other stand-alone film, bringing life to the toys that have unfortunately been left behind by their owner, Andy. Unintentionally shipped off to Sunnyside Daycare Centre, our toys must battle it out with Lotso, a strawberry scented cuddly toy whose previous life with his owner left him miserable and deluded. An immensely enjoyable, hilarious and brilliantly heartfelt farewell to the toys. This is Pixar, a blu-ray purchase is recommended.

Honourable Mentions:

Thankfully the only other release this week is Nativity, a heartwarming Christmas tale of one grouchy teacher (Martin Freeman) coming to terms with the nativity play he has to plan. Full of uplifting musical numbers and cutesy kids to warm the hearts of those wishing for a delightful Christmas flick to tide themselves over for the 25th.

DVD Review: The Reef

Starring: Damian Walshe-Howling, Zoe Naylor, Gyton Grantley, Adrienne Pickering

Directed by: Andrew Traucki

Plot: With their sailboat capsized along the Great Barrier Reef, the crew attempt to swim to a nearby island. Unbeknownst to them, a 15-foot great white shark is stalking them.

Those who've seen Traucki's previous creature feature Black Water will know exactly what they're in for. Bold enough to evade CG and animatronics and use the real thing -- crocodiles for Black Water and now sharks for The Reef -- proves most profitable, with intensity levels cranked sky high and the believability factor laying within the reactions of those stranded in the ocean.

Starring a cast of fairly unknown actors, it's an unmissable fact how simplistic the script is, consisting of solely whimpers, cries of help and moaning about how pissed off they are and whose fault it was -- much like the 2003's indie thriller Open Water. Thankfully, where The Reef sets itself apart from Open Water is with the characters themselves. These are characters you can truly level with, despite little to almost no background story. They're faced with a life-or-death situation, and we're hurtled along on the risky adventure with them. Once realisation of a mysterious entity following them sets in, all hell breaks loose when said entity shows its ominous fin, triggering a trail of panicked splashes followed by blood.

As intense as the third act is, it never truly beats how deeply unnerving the first two are. Swimming to what they hope is safety, the countless shots of the deep unknown are chilling. Casting shots on the never-ending surface in hope of some sign of where our hopeful survivors lay, yet the only reassurance they can rest upon is, at first, splashes in the distance.

A simply pieced together thriller that contains real bite, with enough live-action stock footage of great white sharks doing what they do best, all successfully frightening enough to thwart any person who plans on swimming along the Great Barrier Reef any time soon. The 'based on a true story' aspect surely is enough to send chills...


Cinema Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

"These are dark times, there is no denying," exclaims Bill Nighy's Minister of Magic, an enthusiastic but sadly deluded leader forced into an unfortunate circumstance, bowing out to the dark Lord Voldemort and his minions and forcing his oppression on others in search of Harry Potter and all those wishing to help him. This is the world all wizards, witches, elves, dwarves and even muggles are unfortunately a part of now; an extremely troubled, more sinister advancement compared to the almost angelic world we were faced with in 'Philosopher's Stone'.

J.K. Rowling's renowned books depicting a young wizard destined to avenge the death of his parents is worldwide for its creativity and sheer spellbinding nature, capturing audiences all over the world for the past thirteen years. The latest triggers off the end of an era, the first segment of the inevitable finale most have been dreading in hope it doesn't end, or some, though i assume only a few, have been eagerly anticipating its demise; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One.

Forced as outlaws, Harry, Ron and Hermione unwillingly leave the comfort of their homes in search of the five remaining horcruxes (objects holding one of several pieces of Voldemort's soul), leaving them to fend for themselves, evading snatchers, death eaters and any other loyal servant to Voldemort himself.

Undoubtedly the darkest entry of the franchise, the familiar, cosy setting of Hogwarts is sadly absent, leaving our three, now fully grown, characters truly on their own with little-to-no hope of where to find and destroy these horcruxes that contains the only true way of abolising Voldemort once and for all. Once thrown on this perilous journey, the film is entirely character based, with the connection between our three heroes never appearing as strong as featured in Deathly Hallows: Part One. Believable in almost every aspect, their friendship on and off-screen is partially the reason the entire franchise works so well. Under the watchful eye of keen director David Yates (in his third outing with the Potter clan), they've remained throughout as characters that enable full investment, and, throughout the series, have grown all the more complex, with layer upon layer providing material for the young actors to also grow, to evolve into the particularly bright, genuine actors that they've become. While Radcliffe may still struggle with some aspects, his eagerness is never gone a miss, with Watson and Grint on top form as their personal, more intimate, relationship eventually spawns in the penultimate chapter -- scenes that, while only hinted at, are overwhelmingly heartwarming. Another scene in particular featuring Radcliffe and Watson in a 'will they, won't they' scenario is unarguably poignant and a true delight to watch, breaking the tension the film is so riddled with.

Now able to Apparate, the three simply link arms and are swept off to their desired location. In doing so, Part One takes place in dozens of gorgeous but somewhat unnerving destinations, ranging from darkened forests to the indisputably unsafe Malfoy Manor to Godric Hollow, a secluded town once home to the Potter parents and the Dumbledore clan, leading to several clues and a scene that advertently jump starts the heart and proves first-hand how adult the films now are. A potentially distasteful variation compared to the grounds of Hogwarts, but change was needed for an entry as serious as this -- with a story containing elements that parallel the nazi movement, it was inevitable.

A courageous, tight-knit adaptation of Rowling's source material sparks the best in Yates. An enthralling, dark and broody epic that highlights how wondrously inventive the story truly is. While newcomers will be scratching their heads, the dedicated fans will be cheering, laughing and crying throughout and left reeling from the cliffhanger that splits the story with aimless ease. While it may be the beginning of the end, July 2011 couldn't come quicker.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Cinema Review: You Again

It's an unequivocal fact that the vast majority of 'chick flicks', or in this case a film with a central cast consisting of mainly females, are shot down due to their lack or originality, culminating in a tiresome, never-ending string of all too familiar cases of deja vu that inevitably ends its short lifespan on the back burner of painfully truthful reviews from critics that have spent years dissing the tripe that is regurgitated out of Hollywood's stomach.

You Again, the latest from family-friendly director Andy Fickman, is almost no different. An uninspired plot focusing of Marni (Veronica Mars' Kristin Bell), a successful PR pro forced to relive her high school hell once she finds out her brother is marrying the one girl that tormented her throughout her pre-adolescent years. Once her mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) is also forced to relive her past nightmare -- a nightmare in the form of former best friend Sigourney Weaver -- they both end up in a messy, dreadfully embarrassing weekend full of vengeance and enough slapstick mayhem that was undoubtedly originated in one of National Lampoon's hits.

With a passably entertaining plot, the problem the film faces on countless occasions is Moe Jelline's unarguably amateur writing, forcing the film to down-spiral in an all-too-U rated, almost child-inspired route that is consistently vapid and clichéd, failing to perform on most levels as the film it could have been if a splash of dirty humour and a more vicious array of nail scratching and name calling was included. It's almost as though Jelline and Fickmans' combined efforts were to make this year's naughtiest Disney film. With that said, the full 100 minutes is as entertaining as any film of the particular rom-com genre.

While Jelline's writing maintains its rather unambiguous state, the strong, well written female leads prove an extravagantly amount more entertaining than anything else to be featured. Bell and rival Odette Yustman illuminate the screen, floundering about the scenes whilst clashing superbly, yet are overly dramatic and camp enough to enforce the clearly melodramatic script. However, as a rivalry goes, the conflict and sheer unabashed nature between Ellen Ripley and Laurie Strode themselves takes the cake with every slice intact, despite the quick descent into a schmaltzy-saccharine manner.

Hardly ambitious, but You Again provides enough harmless laughs to light up a dull Friday night with the girls. A shrill, glitzy but consistently entertaining fair with a man-grabbing Betty White, what's not to enjoy?


Monday, 15 November 2010

Cinema Review: Skyline

The Strause Brothers -- the pair that simultaneously assisted Paul Anderson in almost destroying the Alien/Predator franchises with their renditions of Alien Vs. Predator -- attempt box office success with one of this years alien invasion flicks, depicting one unimaginably cack-handed group of predictably good looking party-goers against a force of, on one hand, extreme beauty and, on the other, a race of extremely unforgiving extra terrestrials.

Graffiti artist Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) head to L.A. for a weekend of drunken fun with successful special effects artist Terry (Scrubs' Donald Faison) and his girl Candice (Brittany Daniel). The morning after, the pack are rudely awoken by bright beams of light, leaving some in an uncontrollably unresponsive state.

As a gargantuan spaceship descends from the clouds Independence Day-style, minions are released to collect those strays that they've failed to already vacuum up into it's gaping, ominous but profoundly sinister floating hell-hole. Trapped inside their multistory apartment block, the anxious group must decide whether to flee or patiently wait for help.

The set-up is as unoriginal as they come, introducing two couples we're, from what i gather from every other sci-fi flick, meant to level with from the get go. Jarrod and Elaine, the down-to-earth, partly-likable duo are thrown into personal turmoil once they uncover something life changing, whereas big-headed best friend Terry and his distinctly unpleasant and hilariously clichéd bimbo girlfriend are the genuine opposite, simply placing a ticking time bomb above their dimwitted craniums with how long they have left before being unwillingly swooped up by the evil lurking outside - the evil which, once released from the Mothership, can sprout tentacles that is an undoubtable nod to War of the Worlds. Once the action truly starts, clear stupidity gets the best of them and we're forced, also unwillingly, to watch them attempt to cling on to their blatantly unworthy and dreadfully uninteresting lives.

Character wise, there's truly nothing original about Skyline. The Strause brothers set the film up rather fantastically with the extravagant special effects -- made all the more awe-inspiring due to the small budget -- that you would normally see in a big budget, most probably 3D, post-apocalyptic epic, but newcomer writing duo Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell clearly worship the likes of Roland Emmerich and H.G. Wells all too much.

Still, with the amount of face-palming occurring in the audience at the sheer audacity of the script, it's simply gob-smacking at how entertaining the final product actually is. With the top notch special effects illuminating the screen and the modernized E.T.s trying their hardest at wiping out humanity, it's the true definition of a mindless, Saturday night whiz-pop-bang-fest that Michael Bay is usually at the helm of.

Aside from the atrocious last act where the writing truly turns completely bonkers, Skyline is incontrovertibly sloppy in places, but, if expectations are low enough, provides enough thrills to hold you over for Gareth Edwards' low-budget invasion love story Monsters and Sony's competition World Invasion: Battle L.A.


Friday, 12 November 2010

Movie News: Scream 4 Causes Mass Anticipation!

Ghostface's long awaited return has been severely under-publicised on Great Expectations - blame the three week holiday, however, seeing as the trilogy has proven to be one of the most inventive trilogies to have cropped up in my lifespan, i have a somewhat never-ending love for Kevin Williamson's fantastically dark script and Wes Craven's keen eye for directing.

Floods of images were thrown onto the internet and welcomed by a pack of wild gore hounds, placing the latest entry -- a supposed opening for a brand new trilogy -- on one of the most anticipated of next year. With it re-defining the slasher genre in the early 90's, high, very high hopes have been placed upon it's already massive shoulders.

With a short but infuriatingly delicious teaser released at this year's Scream Awards, it was only a matter of time before a brand-new trailer was released, accompanied by the many high definition screen caps detailing Ghostface's latest band of hopeful survivors, as well as the glorious return of the three originals; heroine Sidney, damaged cop Dewey and loud-mouthed but undoubtedly lovable Gale Weathers.

Below you'll find the latest teaser for Wes Craven's latest, providing a look at the fresh faces ready for the picking, two of which include's starlet Emma Roberts and Rory Culkin, with a hopeful array of surprising, 'big name' cameos being slyly kept under wraps. True Blood star Anna Paquin and romcom favourite Kristin Bell are featured, but how many more can they fit in?

The film is set for an April 15th, 2011 UK release, leaving all of us fans reeling in anticipation.

Movie News: Trailer for Battle: Los Angeles

Those left severely unimpressed by this week's alien invasion thriller Skyline will get more than they bargained for in this sublimely haunting trailer for the Jonathan Liebesman directed epic Battle: Los Angeles.

Marine staff sergeant Aaron Eckhart is thrown into the limelight once mankind falls under threat by an army of extra terrestrials, triggering a full blown war between alien and human.

The film co-stars Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo, Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Pena. It's set for a March 25th, 2011 UK release.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Cinema Review: Easy A

Tina Fey's smartly written, bitchy high school comedy Mean Girls was the last true teen comedy that deserved any particular position in the Greatest Teen Comedies year book, standing alongside fellow laugh-a-second, female-driven flicks such as Clueless and even dating back to the 80's when Mr. Hughes himself ruled the genre with Sixteen Candles. It's an undoubtable fact that finding such a gem is a task that offers itself up every few years. Six years down the line and we thankfully have Will Gluck's Easy A.

Socially unknown student Olive Penderghast (Zombieland's Emma Stone) sees her life paralleling Hester Prynne's in "The Scarlet Letter", the book her class is currently reading - which thrusts her into the limelight of the school rumour mill that advances her social and financial standing in life.

Almost instantly, character dynamics are formed -- Olive's primarily, highlighting her as the clean-cut student that she is -- and the story is in full swing. As Olive spouts an unintentional white lie detailing how she lost her big 'V' to her best friend Rhiannon, she's quickly thrown into the life of the adulterous, fictional heroine Prynne and swiftly transforms from a content, almost self-reliant starlet to a falsely renowned harlot by bible bashing queen Marianne (Amanda Bynes). With Marianne and her disciples destined to rid the school of such a preposterous hussy, Olive accepts propositions from the down-on-their-luck students with payment in the form of uninspiring coupons.

Emma Stone -- unarguably equally as adored as Clueless' Silverstone and appearing, somewhat, as a modernized Molly Ringwald -- delivers the perpetually intellectual script admirably, with a performance that engages throughout with a never-ending sense of confidence and enthusiasm regarding the self-assured character. Utterly charming, she portrays the message of self-respect with great assurance, consistently uncovering the potentially positive aspects of a situation that never allows for any particular breathing space. A courageous effort, if you will, that never would have truly functioned without the help of Royal's energetic, consistently quirky script that, combined with the talents of Stone herself, creates an extremely likable, strong female lead. Comically in-tune with his writing, Stone is first and foremost one of today's most natural comic talents, with a regularly underlying warmth to her character that most will relate to.

Royal's witty and inevitably heartfelt script depicts unconventional characters (Olive's parents, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, are written fantastically, taking quirkiness to a whole new level) with a refreshing story that most definitely carries an uncanny resemblance to those belonging on the late John Hughes' list of successful projects. With the many references to the likes of Judd Nelson thrusting his fist to the sky and Ringwald's misfortunate day on her sixteenth birthday, a clear influence from the earlier teen comedies has traveled, albeit not smoothly, to a film that successfully carries the ingredients that made them so successful.

Easy A may stray down the road full of predictably outlandish situations and teetering towards the slightly over-nostalgic of the 80's, but they're all factors that never fully perforate your enjoyment. This is a film where the underdogs rule, the inconsiderate queenbees drool and John Hughes reigns as King. A world where, if i was still attempting to survive high school, i would love to reside in.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

DVD Review: Altitude

Starring: Jessica Lowndes, Julianna Guill, Ryan Donowho

Directed by: Kaare Andrews

Plot: After a minor malfunction on a small plane sends Sara , a rookie pilot, and her friends climbing out of control, they're faced with the unusual challenge of finding a way to descent to the ground, all while defeating the supernatural entity floating around them.

Your initial reaction after the trailer is an understandable 'cool, that could be interesting', a nod in the direction of the classic Twilight Zone series, but modernized in a way that it fits with today's audience. Sitting for a full ninety minutes with 90210's Jessica Lowndes and her dimwitted and frankly irritating group of plebs is one thing, watching them squabble incessantly is another, and the floating octopus flailing it's greasy tentacles throughout the troublesome clouds is the breaking point that leaves you admittedly baffled as to how you thought such a plot could work. Well, it may not pull it off as smoothly as those fantastically absorbing episodes of the 60's, but i can't grudge how surprisingly involved i found myself.

The set-up is traditional, pulling five teens together from all backgrounds that we're hilariously meant to believe all get on. Quickly, the predictability gets the best of it, with each member getting even more infuriated with the next but thankfully, the plentiful supply of high octane, out-of-plane challenges on display to send those with aviaphobia into a fit of inescapable terror, the rest of us will merely be entertained with how director Andrews managed to pull off said stunts with such a limited budget.

The acting may be wooden and the script even more painful to abide by, but an enthusiastic cast of characters and a strange, yet somewhat refreshing, turn of events does indeed set Altitude apart from the rest of this year's thrillers. The climax may piss some off, with the 'twist' opting for an easy escape but really, how can a film like this end logically? It well and truly can't. Sit back and enjoy the absurdity of it all.


Monday, 1 November 2010

DVD Review: The Loved Ones

Starring: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Victoria Thaine, John Brumpton

Directed by: Sean Byrne

Plot: When Brent (Samuel) turns down Lola's (McLeavy) invitation to the school dance, he spirals into a horrific nightmare where Lola and her father rule and her is merely an object. Abducted and pit against the horrors in the Stone family home, Daddy (Brumpton) will do anything to make his Princess happy.

Aussie director Sean Byrne brings us the new face of terror; Lola Stone. A seemingly innocent high school student whose attitude towards her crushes is the stuff of nightmares. Brent (Twilight Saga: Eclipse star Xavier Samuel) is kidnapped, tied with rope, slashed and stabbed. A truly unforgettable situation that equals the depravity that was featured in Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A night that would in fact compete with the infamous dinner scene, with Lola first handedly taking over from the chainsaw wielding maniac.

Samuel's horrific portrayal of a suffering teen greenlights his path as being a true breakout star. Excruciatingly painful to watch yet unable to fully look away. McLeavy's maniacal presence is the films true highlight, with her inescapable, psychotic state electrifying the screen and working tremendously with 'Daddy', her on-screen father and mentor to the horrors they've inflicted.

A steadily paced, cleverly unwinding first feature from an extremely promising director that will unarguably become a cult classic in the near future for having enough balls to never truly hold back. Maintaining the shock 'n' awe factor throughout and carrying enough blood-curdling, body piercing screams than any other horror released this year, Byrne's Loved Ones cracks a heavy punch and is a determined feature to place Lola in the Greatest Villains catagory.


Cinema Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Oren Peli's original at-home jumpfest terrified audiences last year, instantly greenlighting a sequel. With a new director on board, the question of whether it would shoot the inevitable franchise down before it's truly given life was on the tip of every horror fan's tongue.

After bringing their newborn baby Hunter home from the hospital, mother Kristi Rey (Sprague Grayden), her husband Dan (Brian Boland) and his daughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) begin experiencing supernatural goings-on around their house, reigniting the peculiar fear she once had as a child.

Tactically, Tod Williams' highly anticipated sequel treads the same steps as the first. Initially setting up the characters and the overwhelming innocence surrounding them -- even more so this time with an actual family falling prey to this ominous presence -- then slowly, but surely, making their situation more aware to both us and them, with a dozen excruciatingly intense, chilling scenes along the way.

Almost a sister act to the first, Paranormal Activity 2 begins a whole six months before the explosive ending of the first, giving a hefty amount more backstory and heavy plot than the jump-a-second original. Setting up security cameras to capture any unusual happenings, the tension is racketed at a slower pace than the first, with the brilliant bedroom shot sadly missed. The tight-knit, claustrophobic aura of the bedroom suffocated, whereas now, with this enormous house used as the demon's playground, it feels a substantial amount weaker. The dozen night shots featuring the lonesome pool, darkened kitchen and empty hallway begin to teeter on the edge of being simply boring, with the repetitive clashing of pans and creaky floorboards used more than enough in the first. Still, saying that, you're guaranteed a jolt to the heart when something does occur.

As terror progresses and each family member is pushed to their boiling point culminating in an ending that will make or break the entire film for each individual, it doesn't quite beat Steven Spielberg's terrifying ending. Still, with his careful eye absent, the finale packs an unexpected punch.

The acting never feels quite as natural as the first and the scares aren't exactly as plentiful, but Williams' sequel beats the traditional 'shitty sequel' curse and is tense enough to throw any viewer that enjoyed the original on edge. The escalating terror evoked in the first isn't as malicious, but it's enough to undoubtably greenlight another sequel. This time, how about we limit the space and rid the house of all pots and pans? Deal.