Elysium / The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

120px-Film-stripDate night rolled round and the two films that fitted in back-to-back were both effects-heavy, yet different.


“I’d like them dead.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: in a dystopian future, one man needs to get from the poor zone to the rich zone. Violence ensues.

See it if you like: sci-fi with an actual plot and very good effects. And, obviously, District 9.

If you’ve seen the aforementioned (moderately low budget) District 9 then it won’t take more than a few minutes of Elysium starting before the visual similarities make themselves known. Neill Blomkamp does a dystopian wasteland better than most and he’s stuck with the theme for this big-budget outing.

Before I get to the plot and actors, I just have to say that the visuals are superb. They look realistic, the physics in the moving stuff feels just about right, there’s a ton of detail… Basically, they back up and bolster the film making the setting and story that bit more believable. Exactly what effects should be. This is a plot-driven movie with effects to support it, not an effects-driven one with a story tacked on.

Damon is pretty good as the downtrodden ex-con to finds himself in need of medical treatment. The only place to get it is on the orbiting rich-person-only space station Elysium. Their immigration policy is similar to that suggested by certain Australian politicians and begins with “Arm missiles…”.

Leading the posh nobs is President Patel (Faran Tahir), but he’s overshadowed by an as-usual excellent Jodie Foster who’s somewhat more militant in her outlook. In her pay is mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley, who played the lead in District 9) who is deliciously nasty.

The story, though, doesn’t flow so much as it staggers. A shame as the various plot strands aren’t bad. For me, they just didn’t move around as well as they could. This only spoiled things a little for me as I was utterly drawn into Blomkamp’s world.

A top notch piece of sci-fi. Nicely silly in places, great to look at and with a very able cast.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

“Everything you’ve heard… about monsters, about nightmares, legends whispered around campfires. All the stories are true.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Young girl starts to find out there’s more to the world – and herself – than she thought

See it if you like: Harry Potter, Twilight… teen vampire/magic/werewolf stuff

From sublime sci-fi to ridiculous teen-angst mush. OK, it wasn’t that bad. To start with. But by the time I’d asked myself “Is this it? Is this the climax? Is it over?” I’d just got fed up with the whole thing and wanted to go home. Often, I’ll pass that off as simply being tired and therefore judging the film unfairly but when the wife – who likes this kind of stuff – says the same thing you know the film’s just gone on too… damn… long.

We have a young girl, Clary (Lilly Collins), who starts drawing mysterious symbols subconsciously. Something inside her is trying to get out and an attack on her family leads her to meet Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) – a “Shadowhunter” who battles demons.

And thence begins a journey where she discovers what’s truly within her, snogs someone, battles vampires, yada-yada-yada. Sorry, but it just seemed to drag on.

The leads are typical teen fodder – pretty girl, brooding boy, unwelcoming peers, nerdy best friend (Robert Sheehan, who’s been far better in everything else I’ve ever seen him in). The story is very predictable, the effects are OK, and – in case I’ve not made the point already – it’s too bloody long.

Started well, got boring, should have limited itself to ninety minutes. It’s officially 130 minutes, but feels like 180.

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Ironclad / The Adjustment Bureau

Random choices for a Friday and a rarity in that I’d not seen a trailer for either film before we watched them. In fact, I’d not even heard of Ironclad before I checked out the performance times the day before.


“Hit them. Hard.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Mad king decides the Magna Carta doesn’t really suit him and decides to take England back. Can one small castle manned by 19 individuals stop him?

Ironclad is one of those excellent historical films that makes you want to go and look stuff up when you get home. Given my public school education (for American readers, this actually means “private school” in England – no, it makes no sense me either), my knowledge of English history is of course utterly abysmal. I didn’t even know, until last night, which king had actually signed it. I didn’t even know where it was signed (other than “at the bottom”).

The story is simple. King John, being a bit of a dick, has decided that the document which granted rights to the country’s population doesn’t really suit him. So he’s got the Pope to write it off and is about to start taking the country back under his iron – and rather nasty – rule. One castle stands in his way. He must control it to be able to begin his re-conquest.

A small party of Knights Templar get wind of this plan, and rustle up some support from a Baron, his men and a mercenary or two. They take the castle, recruiting its meagre population and prepare for the worst… an army of 1000 Norse warriors blackmailed by John into fighting for him on the promise that if he gets England back then the Pope will leave their country “un-Christian’d”.

So the film is essentially about the siege, and it’s incredibly gripping. Characters drop like flies, quotable dialogue flies around like a medieval Aaron Sorkin script, blood squirts and bones are crushed. It’s high in gore without focussing on it.

Although the cast across the board are very good indeed, I’m going to single out Paul Giamatti for his role as King John. Utterly mental and obviously a complete egotist, John hates it when things don’t go his way. He’s ruthless, greedy and vicious. No wonder the country wanted him gone. He also gets the best (and probably longest) speech in the film, all full of flailing limbs and frothing spit.

Gill thought the film dragged, and struggled to see some of the fight scenes as we were sat quite close to the screen so we lost the effect somewhat. She could be right on the latter, but I found the pace about right. Each intervening scene had enough being discussed and with such good use of language that I was entertained between all the grisly, exciting set pieces.

I tweeted as such right after the film and in reflection I’m still agreeing with myself. Up to now, this is the best film I’ve seen this year. In terms of pure enjoyment, I loved it. It’s never going to go down in history as a classic, I admit that. But I would go and see it again, and I can’t say that about anything else I’ve seen since January 1st.

The Adjustment Bureau

“What the hell is going on?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man finds himself stuck in the middle of a hiccup in “he above”‘s great scheme of things… and decides to do something about it.

Quick question – has anything Philip K. Dick wrote not been adapted for the screen yet? The Adjustment Bureau is based on his short story Adjustment Team and must rank as one of the best. Again,I  had no idea what it was about when I saw down to watch it, and that’s the way it should be with films of this ilk. Trailers can only take away half the fun.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a gifted young man running for public office and doing well at it. He bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt) by accident and she inspires a great speech. This is the only time Norris is “supposed” to meet Elise, but something goes wrong in the way the world works and mysterious men in hats are sent out to repair it.

It’s hard to describe it more than that without giving away any of the fun stuff so I’ll stop there.

There’s a definite romance story, some science fiction, a nasty bad guy, a hint of religion, some neat effects, and a back story of manipulation not dissimilar to the masterful Dark City. The best thing is that it doesn’t really mess with your head the way that Inception did (or at least tried to – was that film really so complicated?). It’s easy to watch as pure entertainment without having to strain any lobes.

The ending could have been a little better, in my opinion, though it did tie things up nicely.

A nice story of one person up against all the odds the world has to throw against them, with good performances across the board. Surprisingly enjoyable.

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True Grit / Drive Angry

I just spotted there were going to be eight films in the cinema this weekend that interested me. This called for an emergency trip to the Edinburgh Cineworld to offset this load slightly.

True Grit

“If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: hard drinkin’, straight shootin’, man huntin’… erm… rootin’ tootin’ cowboy flick.

According to the blurb, this isn’t  remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie, but instead a new adaptation of the original source novel by Charles Portis. I heard an interview with one of the Coen Brothers recently, and he stated that they’d stayed close to the book including around 90% of the dialogue being lifted straight from it. The dialogue certainly is fantastic and one of the highlights of a great movie.

Now, I’m not a Coen disciple. In my opinion they’ve done some pretty good stuff (The Hudsucker Proxy) and some completely over-rated claptrap (I’ll be crucified for this, but I think Fargo is ****). I picked True Grit as it had had good reviews and because it started at a convenient time. I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed it.

As I said, the dialogue is a delight. If the Brothers tell the truth then the credit deserves to go to Portis for writing it so well. Of course, the delivery by the likes of Jeff Bridges (“Rooster” Cogburn), Matt Damon (Texas trooper LaBoeuf) and narrator Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) should also be credited in much the way that Aaron Sorkin‘s genius wouldn’t be as effective without the gifted casts of The West Wing or The Social Network.

I am not a fan of westerns, either, but the setting makes no odds for this as the story is good. A simple tale of revenge as Mattie hires Cogburn to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father. The two don’t like each other, or Damon’s LaBoeuf who joins them, and the three play well off each other.

It’s a well-spun tale with a good ending (not the same as the Wayne version, and apparently that of the book) which doesn’t over-stretch itself or become maudlin.

Better than I expected and well worth a watch.

Drive Angry 3D

“Wouldn’t wanna be you when Satan finds out!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Things explode and people get killed and there’s some devil worship in there somewhere… and maybe a plot.

I really can’t be arsed with 3D films. This one claims to be shot in “state of the art”3D. How this is different from the 3D used in other films these days, I have no idea. Yes, I’m aware there are those filmed in 3D and those ruined by mucking about with the print in post-production to fake it, but they’re all just gimmickery.

The first thing you should do upon buying your ticket for Drive Angry is to place your brain into neutral and allow any sense of reality to ooze from your ears before the trailers end (and that ******* Orange advert comes on. Again.). You should now enjoy it immensely. Especially if you’re male and around 18 years of age. It’s that kind of film.

Nicolas Cage is a man on a mission, to rescue his grand-daughter from the clutches of an evil devil worshipper. He’s aided by a ridiculously hot waitress (Piper played by Amber Heard) and a couple of other buddies along the way. To tell you more would only give away as much as is in the trailer but as ever I’ll try to stay as spoiler free as always.

As a bonus for your money, there are two bad guys. The aforementioned evil devil-worshipping cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) and The Accountant played by a  magnificent William Fichtner. I’ve seen this man in a few things, including TV’s Prison Break and he is, frankly, the natural replacement for Christopher Walken. Cool, unruffled, slightly unusual-looking and capable of scaring the **** out of you. In fact, he’s so good in this film, that he runs the risk of doing what Alan Rickman did in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and stealing the show.

This is not a sensible film. There are no heart-wrenching performances. It won’t have you rolling in the aisles with laughter. What it will do – if you enjoy films like Death Race – is thoroughly entertain. It does get a little bit repetitive at points, and some of the action scenes drag a little too long. Or maybe that’s me having seen too many daft films.

Either way, it’s worth your cash. Although I still reckon it would have been every bit as stupid and enjoyable without forcing me to wear those bloody glasses for 100 minutes.

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Alice, Girlfriends and Green Zone

I didn’t quite manage four films yesterday – the scheduling was slightly out around 4pm so I couldn’t fit the extra one in – but I still caught Tim Burton‘s Alice in Wonderland 3D, My Last Five Girlfriends and Green Zone.

Alice in Wonderland – 3D

“Off with their heads!!!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – girl falls down hole into bonkers world.

Of course, everyone knows of the original Lewis Carroll stories and the old Disney animated version for many moons ago. It does seem the ideal environment for Tim Burton to let his insane mind run riot. Talking rabbits, animated playing cards, scary creatures… all very dark and scary.

Only it simply doesn’t work, partly due to the story being a bit weak. There’s no denying the visuals are superb – the Cheshire Cat is particularly well done – but the story just doesn’t back it up. Even the usually dependable Johnny Depp fails to bring much life to this film.

Thing is, we’ve seen Johnny Depp in a top hat being mad before. It was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I’ve not seen that one but I hope it’s better than this mess. There’s just no real “grab” to this film. I wasn’t interested after the opening and the move from real world to fantasy.

Mia Wasikowska is OK as Alice, but nothing special. Helena Bonham Carter just tries to to her impression of Miranda Richardson from Blackadder II, lisp included.

The 3D didn’t add anything either. One of the trailers which was also in 3D engaged me more than any of the film.

Sorry, despite all the publicity and so forth – “miss”.

My Last Five Girlfriends

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A man contemplates suicide after five failed relationships.

This is a rather quirky little number, with some very imaginative sequences. A mixture of film, animation, special effects and so forth it has a slightly disjointed and dreamlike quality but it’s very imaginative and holds the attention. Otherwise it’s not a hugely original story, but the way it’s told really makes it.

Brendan Patricks plays Duncan, the central character. He narrates as well as plays the central character and the dialogue is quite chatty and lighthearted. Anyone who’s been through relationships will be able to relate to at least a few of the situations – do you lie about how bad those shoes she bought really are? How do you tell someone you love them? What is your reaction when you find out your partner’s been seeing someone else?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect an the film is just a little off-kilter in how it’s told. While I got bored of the bizarre scenes of Alice (above), I quite liked the way it had been weaved into Five Girlfriends. More of a narrative tool than reason for the whole narrative in the first place.

Probably not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

Green Zone

Plot-in-a-nutshell: America invades Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein and destroy his weapons of mass destruction… didn’t it?

Matt Damon returns as Action Man in a new thriller giving him a break from the Bourne films. This does make a change from that series, though it’s directed by the same guy. Fast-paced action films, some good tense moment and a fairly political plot that certainly won’t please the last Bush administration. Which is another plus point.

Damon plays “Chief” Miller, a unit leader who’d getting more than just a little upset about his team wasting time, energy and lives in the attempt to find seemingly non-existent WMD. The story progresses into a CIA v FBI thriller with some incredibly well-filmed scenes in the streets of downtown Baghdad (well, Morocco, but it does a good impression).

The story does twist a little, though the ending doesn’t come as a huge shock. However, the journey there is an enjoyable one. Constantly tense and very well filmed, it’s dirty, messy and mirrors the scenes of Baghdad we saw on the news those years ago very well indeed.

While certainly not a classic, it’s a very good contemporary war film which is definitely worth a couple of hours of your time.

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Film Feast

"Invictus" sneak preview in Hsinchu,...
Invictus (honestly!)

Four Film Friday this time – Invictus, Youth in Revolt, Astro Boy and Edge of Darkness. I’ll try to get through them quickly…


Plot-in-a-nutshell: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) becomes President of South Africa and decides to use the upcoming Rugby World Cup as a means of unifying the country.

I don’t like rugby, on the whole. This worked in my favour going into this film as it’s based on real events and I didn’t know what the outcome would be as I had no idea who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Clint Eastwood directs, Freeman is – as ever – simply superb and Matt Damon captains the Springboks.

How close is it to what really happened? Who knows. I’m sure there are certain key scenes and events which mirror history but there’s always room for dramatisation (Wikipedia has a small list). Thankfully it’s not overly-sentimental or symbolic, though it does push this from time to time.

Both Freeman and Damon pull off decent accents although some of the other actors appear somewhat stilted, especially towards the beginning of the movie.

This is a good film. Not overstated, not grandstanding, and a very good story. The obvious link between a battered country finding its feet and being led by someone who’s overcoming the odds is very much mirrored by their rugby team’s efforts. If I have a complaint, it’s the huge over-use of slow-motion to enhance “dramatic effect” near the end.

Youth in Revolt

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy has to become bad boy to get girl, boy goes a little too far…

Michael Cera plays two parts in this film – Nick and the alter-ego Francois that he creates to get the girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The only other film I’ve seen Cera in was Superbad and that lived up to its title. Youth in Revolt is marginally better but still lacks greatness.

If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s the amusing animated segments interspersed throughout the live action. They don’t really add to the story, but they’re amusing and the one at the start got one of the loudest laughs in the theatre. It’s worth watching the one over the end credits as well.

Amusing in places, messy in others. Next!

Astro Boy

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Scientist creates uber-bad killer robot, and also a robotic replica of his dead son. Cue obvious battle.

I’m not a Manga geek so I don’t know how this hold up to the original, however it’s kind of “OK” as a CGI Hollywood version. There’s no denying the quality of the voice cast: Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron… However, the script needs more work. Or more jokes.

Visually it’s nice, but CGI films are all starting to look a little samey now. There’s no real imagination in Astro Boy. If you want a mechanical visual feast, check out Robots from a few years back.

The kids will like its simplicity, but adults will miss the added depths, double meanings and references present in films such as Toy Story or Planet 51.

Edge of Darkness

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a cop’s daughter is gunned down in front of him on his doorstep, so he sets out to find out who did it

This film is based on a BBC drama from some years ago which I vaguely recall watching. Obviously, it’s been shifted to the US but well re-written to make it fit both geographically and in a modern timeline.

However, while the drama had several hour-long episodes to fit everything in, the film version has only 117 minutes. As a result, Mel Gibson‘s efforts to locate his daughter’s killer and work his way through the conspiracy tree is often a little messy.

Ray Winstone’s role is rather hard to pin down. We know he’s there but who the hell actually is he? Other than an English guy who swears a lot (i.e. he’s playing himself again).

The film begins well enough, but the thrills and spills promised by the trailer really don’t occur. There’s a lot of soul-searching and threats by Gibson’s character mixed with very occasional bursts of fast driving. It is a drama, not an action thriller – but the trailer is misleading.

It’s a good story, too. But as I said it’s compressed into too short a time. Some questions are left unanswered while other bits of evidence are thrown in and the viewer is left wondering where they came from.

Well-acted, good story but just not suited for film form without better scripting.

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