End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III

December 29, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!

Movie Review: The Road (2009)

January 30, 2010 in Movie Reviews

There are quite a few excellent posters for 'The Road' - this is my favourite of the lot

Pound-for-pound, The Road is the most depressing movie I have seen in years, but it is also moving and strangely uplifting.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy (my review of the book here) and directed by Australian John Hillcoat (The Proposition), The Road stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as a nameless father and son duo making their away across a post-apocalyptic America.

At first glance, The Road is a survival movie.  The world in which they live is not a pretty one.  Nor a safe one.  I don’t want to spoil it for those who don’t know much about it, but let’s just say McCarthy (and Hillcoat) don’t have much faith in humanity.  Even though I had read the book, seeing that brutal, horrific world on the screen still made my skin crawl.  There are a few scenes in particular that I will remember for a very long time.

However, at its heart, The Road is about a father’s unconditional love for his son.  Then tenderness with which the man cares for his boy brings a sense of hope into a hopeless world.  Despite how futile their efforts seem, you want them to make it.  You want them to live.

Visually, the film is amazing.  Hillcoat’s interpretation of the world McCarthy created on the page is grey, lifeless and frightening.  It’s not so much a visual style (like say Harry Potter 6) as it is a depiction of what our eyes would see if we were there in person.

As for the performances, Viggo Mortensen is sensational.  I can’t think of another actor better suited for the role than him.  On the other hand, Kodi Smit-McPhee as the son felt more replaceable.  He was more than adequate, but I wouldn’t call it an outstanding performance.

The book and the film have a number of differences – more flashbacks, less repetition and increased action – but the essence is identical.  Most of these changes are welcome and necessary for the adaptation to work, so I don’t have a problem with it.  Well, maybe except the extended cameos of Charlize Theron, some of which felt like were there just to give her more screen time.

The Road is terrific (in both senses of the word), but be warned – it is a slow paced film.  There are some short bursts of excitement, and though it is never boring, there are lengthy periods of patient observation.

On the whole, The Road is a worthy adaptation of an award-winning novel.  It might not have quite the same emotional punch as the book, but when all said and done, The Road may very well be the most important movie of they year.

4 out of 5 stars!

[PS: I can’t believe that ‘The Road’ is receiving a limited release in Australia.  For a film based on a best-selling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel and directed by an Australian with two Australians in key roles (Kodi Smit-McPhee and Guy Pearce), this is mind boggling to me.]

[PPS: Contrary to popular belief (okay, just mine), this film has no relation to The Lord of the Rings…except maybe Viggo Mortensen is actually Aragorn and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the son he had with Arwen…and the world is the way it is because Sauron finally got his hands on The Ring (ie Frodo’s ring, not the Japanese horror film).]

Classic Movie Review: Let the Right One In (2008)

January 24, 2010 in Movie Reviews

[Just looking through my movie reviews, I noticed that I inexplicably left out one of the best films I saw when I was over in the UK last year.  The film is a little old now to be reviewing it as a new film, so I’m going to review it as a ‘classic’.]

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) is a 2008 Swedish film that was released to much critical acclaim, won a bunch of awards, and has attracted a cult following.  I am usually somewhat wary of such foreign films because they do tend to get over-hyped, but thankfully, this one is entirely worthy of the praise.

Without giving too much away, Let the Right One In tells the story of Oskar, a bullied young boy living in the suburbs of Stockholm in 1982, and Eli, a mysterious, pale young girl who moves in next door with her father.  The film is an unconventional horror-romance – where the horror is genuinely creepy and frightening, and the romance is heartfelt and strangely, sweet.

Directed by Tomas Alfredson and based on the best-selling book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is freakishly atmospheric.  It must be a combination of setting the film in the beautiful,  icy-cold Swedish winter and the finely-paced direction of Alfredson, who shows you just enough blood and gore to get your heart racing without making it seem gratuitous.

Many have said that Let the Right One In is Sweden’s answer to Twilight – well, that’s a bit of an insult to the former.  Don’t get me wrong, I quite like Twilight, but Let the Right One In one of those rare horror gems capable of lingering in your mind even years down the track.  There are numerous scenes in the film (and one in particular) where the imagery has been etched onto my brain forever.

4.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: Sadly, the film is being remade by Hollywood as ‘Let Me In’.  It will be directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and the setting will be moved to a small New Mexico townOskar will be renamed Owen and will be played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road).  I sincerely hope it will be good.]