Monday, 28 December 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Fun yet misguided ...

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) successfully complete another case when they are able to capture Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who is responsible for a series of ritualistic killings. Blackwood is sentenced to death and buried but when it is discovered that Backwood has been resurrected from the dead, Holmes and Watson are compelled to reopen the case.

The story contained in Sherlock Holmes is interesting albeit untamed. Plot development occurs at an almost rapid pace thus making the narrative seem more complicated than it perhaps is. It does not help matters that by the end of the film, almost every single scene seems to play some part in Holme's investigation: it feels forced at times and interactions feel scripted rather than natural. And for a film based on a highly intellectual detective, the logic of some scenes walks on thin ice. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes does contain some characteristics that were prevalent to the character in the original novels, such as the ability to fight. What is presented is a Sherlock Holmes who is just as capable physically as he is mentally. At first this may appear to overshadow Dr. Watson considerably, but thankfully Watson is shown to be Holme's equal allowing for a fair exchange in solving their case.

One of the interesting dynamics of the narrative comes from a couple of short segments where the audience is introduced, though loosely, to how Holmes contemplates overcoming an obstacle. This comes about a couple of times but only before he proceeds to completely defeat an opponent in hand-to-hand combat. However, this sort of scene never occurs when you would most want it to: when Holmes is using his intellectual prowess to discover clues for his investigation. Instead, Holmes is left keeping his intelligence a secret, which seems rather absurd at times considering how rapidly he is able to deduce information. It only becomes slightly more annoying when it is taken into consideration that there is very little in aid for the audience in terms of trying to piece together the criminals plan. Sherlock Holmes is less a crime mystery and more an action adventure but regardless of one's preference the film is a fun watch for the most part.

Acting is a far steadier factor for the film with Downey and Law putting a lot of energy into their roles. This pays off with both having evident charisma about them and their screen time together is easily among the best in the film. McAdams is not quite as consistent with the rare poorly delivered line yet any fault she may have is never detrimental. Strong provides a formidable villain in theory, but for all his character's intellect he is far too weak a character to ever feel like possibly ousting Holmes. This mainly comes down to a script which does not allow more scope for the character of Lord Blackwood.

19th Century London is portrayed rather extravagantly with some great shots of the architecture and the attached gloomy atmosphere of a society still caught up in the industrial revolution period. Action sequences do not share the same flair and while they are workable they could have been better. Additional, music adds to the Sherlock Holmes experience but it never really enhances it and so feels more of an afterthought in the entire filming process.

The film contains no sex or direct nudity and language is just as mild serving only a couple of profanities. On the other hand, violence does make up a part of the film though it is never gory and hardly bloody as punches are thrown along with gunfire, hangings and explosions.

There is no denying that this new Sherlock Holmes adaptation is all about making the titular character appear more modern and exciting to the audience. The film is enjoyable with solid acting and a commendable story, yet the script has not appeared to have been scrutinized enough with its rapid nature and odd illogical mishap. You'd almost wish that Holme's himself had been asked to look over the script for the one second it would require of him: the film's story would be tighter and better for it.


Screen date: 26 December 2009
Release date: 1 January 2010

Friday, 18 December 2009


A spectacle without spark ...

In the distance future, the human race have discovered a unique planet, Pandora, in which a humanoid alien species, the Na'vi, exists. A highly valuable natural resource can be harvested from Pandora, and great lengths are taken to gain some control of the planet. Jake Sully, a paraplegic war veteran, is offered the chance to take part in a mission to help communication links between humans and the Na'vi by using an 'Avatar' which resemble the Na'vi in appearance. This involves him accidentally getting into the position of getting to know the Na'vi as well as possible in order to eventually persuade them to allow the humans to extract Pandora's valuable natural resource.

There is an obvious colonialist subtext which clings to the narrative of Avatar from the film's opening minutes and this is quite possibly the most rich the narrative ever becomes with little else to provide much depth to the films essence. The story for Avatar is interesting but it is far too cluttered with linear directions on how the film should flow from one scene to the next that by the credits it feels like Avatar has accomplished very little. This is mainly due to the lack of insight provided into the world of Pandora and even the nuances of the Na'vi themselves. Both are explored purely on a foreign viewpoint and it can be argued that this works in conjunction with the world being presented by the human character of Jake, but even when he begins to fuse his being with that of the Na'vi, not much more is presented to the viewer. There is a lot going for the film but it is disappointing that more is not made of it. Another problem lies with the Na'vi themselves. Their language, voices, dress code and cultural mannerism lack any distinct criteria beyond metaphorical elaboration. The Na'vi are, simply put, a mere fantasy retelling of the indigenous tribes of Africa or even American Indians. While this does help the colonialist theme of the film and in making the narrative appear more real, it nevertheless makes the story less unique and only disregards any originality the Na'vi could have as a species. It does not come as a surprise then that the human protagonists are mainly Caucasian and the Na'vi counterparts are African or Native American.

Acting is a slightly better department but the actors don't have much to work with as characters fall into defined stereotypes and the odd lines of dialogue lack consistency. Giovanni Ribisi is one of the more spirited actors but he plays a conventional power hungry executive: he becomes representative of the two-dimensional nature of the villains. Caricatures do not stop there but they are less identifiable in the heroes of the story. Worthington provides a more delicate approach to his character showing a clear distinctness in tone between his human and Na'vi selves. This does become questionable at times when even at times of unease his human self appears somewhat lackluster. Zoe Saldana is a pleasure to watch, even though she is a Na'vi, and this is purely because she is more in tune with her character than any other actor. At the end of the day, character development is on the weak side, with one character seemingly deciding to make certain decisions even when little evidence was provided for the character to do so. This also goes as far as character relationships being glazed over, even by the last third of the film where characters seem closer than originally expected.

From a technical standpoint the musical score and computer generated imagery work wonders. The music definitely adds to the emotion and feel of the film heightening the more sad and courageous moments while also aiding in scene transition. The computer imagery is staggering in scope encompassing an entire environment. There is the odd scene where textures lose their realistic look but it is in the quality of the animation of characters, creatures and flora where Avatar shines.

While sex is implied, there is no nudity beyond the Na'vi wearing little in terms of clothing. Language consists of mild profanities and the odd blasphemous term, while violence ranges from a variety of gunfire and stabbings among others; violence is never gory with minimal blood visible, though some acts can be a little extreme.

Avatar is an ambitious film and it deserves to be so with the majestic landscape of Pandora, and her inhabitants, nearly being adequate substitutes for reality. With the well conceived musical score, Avatar has the technical factors nailed but it all falls apart when the film's core narrative is added to the mix. For all the possibilities available, the film forgoes depth for simplicity and convention. If anything, Avatar is an enjoyable film but an enjoyable film with substance that does not equate to its hype.


Screen date: 18 December 2009
Release date: 18 December 2009

Monday, 14 December 2009

Paranormal Activity

Slow chill ...

A young couple on the verge of engagement encounters what appears to be a supernatural entity in their house. Katie (Katie Featherston) makes note of being haunted by a shadowy ghost of some sort for her entire life and this spurs Micah (Micah Sloat) to decide that it would be a good idea to try and get video evidence of this phenomenon.

Paranormal Activity covers nearly a month period in which the protagonists attempt to film their experiences while being haunted. It starts off relatively slow and continues so until around the last third of the film. The narrative never covers everyday but only those in which some ghostly activity at night takes place and a few scenes documenting the next morning. As a result, the film ends up being slightly shorter than expected but the run time works well in condensing the overall experience into what it aims to achieve: uneasiness in the audience. Paranormal Activity is not devoted to scaring at every possible turn but rather in creating an overall tense atmosphere for its finale. Advertisements seem to suggest otherwise but anyone expecting the usual horror affair may be left disappointed, and deservedly so as the horror sequences are sporadic and short. However, the events that occur have a realistic nature to them, granted you believe in the supernatural, and this cranks up the uneasiness associated with the horror.

Though Paranormal Activity is more than just a documenting of some unexplainable event as it also provides an intriguing perspective into the breakdown of a relationship. Katie is completely horrified at what is taking place yet Micah never really takes it all that seriously until later into the film. This conflict of view begins to erode at their relationship and this becomes integral to the greater understanding of the film. The narrative is not entirely ambiguous as other supernatural texts, but enough will be left unanswered to prompt further discussion on certain actions and scenes in the film.

While not performed by complete professionals, the acting is pretty decent and believable enough. The contrast of views between Micah and Katie are easily apparent, and the nuances in each character is performed adequately by the respective actors as Katie is serious and scared while Micah wavers from being jocular to devoted concern. The level of acting does decrease at times but considering the offering at hand it is not overly problematic.

The film has a budget of around $15,000 and does obviously show with the hand-held camera perspective used for the film. With this sort of restrictive camera application horror scenes have to be quite calculated. Nevertheless, the style of the film results in longer than expected intervals between horror moments.

While language usage contains merely a handful of F-words amongst others and violence limited to one or two non-graphic scenes, there is no nudity or sexual content.

Unlike the horror genre in general, Paranormal Activity is never about its different parts but rather the experience as a whole. Combined with a somewhat slow narrative pace, Paranormal Activity becomes a film that is both interesting yet frustrating. This will surely result in a clear divide between those who appreciate it and those who felt that the activity of going to see the film was wasted.


Screen date: 12 December 2009
Release date: 11 December 2009

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

New Moon

Soulless ...

As her 18th birthday approaches, Bella (Kristen Stewart) is finding it difficult to live a life where she would eventually become old while Edward (Robert Pattinson) retains his youth. When Bella's small birthday affair at the Cullen household threatens Bella's life, Edward decides that it is best if he leaves her fearing that he is causing her unnecessary danger. This results in Bella falling into a deep depression which her friend, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), hopes to relieve her from.

Continuing the novel adaptation of the Twilight saga, New Moon is a misfit of sorts in the series thus far. Regardless of how accurately the novel is followed, the narrative appears to present little new or different from the story presented in Twilight. Bella is still a sad and pathetic person who needs the love of someone else to keep her going. Instead of Edward being her source of love, it is Jacob this time around. And like the first film, Bella's life is under threat from a handful of vampires, and these happen to contain the remainder of the original group from Twilight. In essence, New Moon is just Twilight wrapped up in new skin, arguably paler this time, and it will feel like this for a good chunk of the film until the introduction of the Volturi, the royalty of vampires. This small arc in the film definitely ramps up the narrative into more interesting territory outside the lifeless romance of before, and the characters this romance entailed. Though the story does have one thing going for it and that is humour, and the genuine kind to boot. The film is constantly comedic enough that you may even forget that it was meant to be a tragic romance of sorts akin to Romeo and Juliet, which the narrative blatantly tries to intertextualise with. Inevitably, the story has little substance and feels like a bridge between Twilight and the remaining sequels to come. This is because all the intriguing mythology added to the series in New Moon, such as the Volturi and werewolves, contribute nothing to the film but rather that they could be useful for the sequels.

The acting is largely a better affair in the Twilight sequel but this mostly comes in the form of the lesser characters. Of the lot the more noticeable supporting performances come from the charm of Ashley Greene, the acute coldness of Dakota Fanning, and that rather mysterious elegance of Michael Sheen as the Volturi leader Aro. Of the three protagonists, it is only Lautner who makes any commendable effort at acting: he starts off rather low-key but gets himself into a decent position. It is disastrously unfortunate that neither Stewart nor Pattinson become anything more than simply dull. Both their respective characters are meant to be pained at the loss of being separated from one another but they always appear somewhat bored when in scenes together and show little conviction in their emotions. On the other hand, Stewart's scenes with Lautner have more going for them even when Stewart loses her gaze to Lautner's abs.

Director Chris Wietz brings a commercial feel to New Moon which was lacking in Twilight, yet New Moon ultimately feels less unique than Catherine Hardwicke's efforts. This does not help the film in any way as it has less going for it than its predecessor did. Music is a love-hate affair: it feels way too forced in helping create a certain mood that at times the music feels oddly misplaced. The special effects are much improved and now look far from awkward. While the CG is never overly convincing, it is integrated well enough as to not be a distraction.

For a film based on vampire romance, New Moon is pretty sexless in appeal beyond Lautner being shirtless. There is the odd use of mild language and while violence is more abundant than in Twilight, it is never harrowing enough considering the vampire and werewolf mythology.

While somewhat enjoyable, New Moon lacks identity and this is solely based on the fact that it does little to enhance the Twilight formula. Richer mythology is added; the quality of acting has increased in the overall cast; and the special effects have undergone a needed retuning. But like Edward so blandly points about himself, the film lacks a soul. The brewing romance between Bella and Edward is lifeless with a general lack of development throughout all the characters. Likewise, the narrative never really seems to head in any viable direction and it is up to the lesser characters to get the film's blood pumping.


Screen date: 24 November 2009
Release date: 27 November 2009

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Blood: The Last Vampire

Life sucked dry ...

Working with a mysterious organisation known as the Council, Saya (Ginanna Jun) is on a quest of vengeance to kill the most powerful demon in existence, Onigen (Koyuki). Saya's search leads her to a military base in Tokyo where she befriends Alice McKee (Allison Miller), a student whose persistence leads her to discover that demons are living amongst humans.

The narrative of Blood: The Last Vampire is an on-and-off affair. The initial setup is quite intriguing but the potential for a deep narrative sadly never materializes into anything tangible. The film does have a lot going for it, combining past segments with Saya's search for Onigen while factoring in political tension between the military and the Council. None of these elements go beyond the simple matter of establishment and the core reason for this is a weak script. By the film's end it becomes obvious that the script is undeveloped and the final running time of a mere 90 minutes becomes evident of this claim. The film needed to be longer by at least 30 minutes so as to allow the core elements of the story to be developed. Saya's past is glazed over, especially with one character that is pivotal to Saya's younger life being mentioned only to be dismissed as unimportant by the script a minute later. More back story would have only helped develop Saya as a character but as far as characterisation goes, the film gets the job done. The internal politics and the detective mystery nature of the film which are hinted at could have added wonders to the plot enhancing Saya relationships with other characters while trying to build mystery to the demonic forces at hand. Nevertheless the film does attempt some fleshing of the plot with the help of the character Alice McKee. The problem with this is that Alice works too much as this voice of reason, with two noticeable scenes where it is difficult to understand how she knew exactly what was going on or what to do. All-in-all, the narrative works well until the 3rd quarter of the film where events begin to enter the fray at random; it also doesn't help that the ending is on a weak note but the film, nevertheless, carries a unique enjoyment factor to it.

Acting is perhaps one of the better elements of the film. There is no award winning performances but the actors convey the emotion required of their characters. Jun is both brooding and lonely; Miller is spunky and afraid even though her scenes of enlightenment are somewhat stale; Koyuki has a stint of subtle evilness; while Cunningham is aptly suited as the cool headed lead investigator for the Council.

Disappointingly, and easily a nod to a low budget, is the very poor standard of computer graphics. The two main uses of this are when the demons turn into their true forms and when blood sprays during fighting sequences. The latter is forgivable since while the blood does not look genuine by any means it gives the film a stylized appeal. However, the CG for the demons is truly bad and almost unwarranted. The demons are lazily designed and considering that the adaption does not stick true to the source material, the demons could have easily been changed as well. Demons have three forms throughout the film: a human form; a demon form; and a semi-demon form which is easily more menacing and believable then the demon form itself.

In fact the fight scenes which involve the CG demons are easily the most poor of the lot: there is no vigour to them and they feel more like filler than anything else. However the remainder of the action is pretty well handled. The camera can be jerky at times but never to point where you'll be left wondering what happened. Unfortunately, the final action sequence is a let-down resulting in little in terms of raw action and the best action scene does not even involve Saya. In the end, the fighting in Blood: The Last Vampire is both part good and part bad and it is saddening that it does not remain at an adequate level of quality.

There is no sex or nudity to be found in the film, and language is used rather sparingly while including the odd blasphemous term. Nevertheless, the film sports quite a lot of violence and while it is never overly gory as some films in the same genre, it is still pretty violent. Violence includes some gunfire and sword fighting, with the latter including a collection of normal strikes, stabbings, beheading, decapitations and a character having is hands cut off. Most of these scenes include the spraying of blood though as mentioned earlier these are done in with stylised computer graphics.

Blood: The Last Vampire is a 90 minute film of an original 45 minute animation, and is easily 30 minutes too short. All the basics are covered, such as the acting, action and narrative but they are never explored with much depth or diligence. The acting is workable with a few sore spots; the action can be quite fun to watch when the director seems to care; and the narrative falls somewhat short after having many promising points for discussion. There is niche likeability to the overall structure of the film which helps it chances, unfortunately this structure is lacking in substance resulting in a film which could easily have been so much more.


Screen date: 09 October 2009
Release date: 09 October 2009

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

TGS 2009: Sony Conference Overview


Gran Turismo 5:
- March 2010 release; new physics and damage text/ voice chat online; youtube export feature; export videos to PSP.

Final Fantasy 13 bundle
- Lighting edition; comes in pink and white with a 250gb HDD
Motion controller
- Jun Takeuchi from Capcom shows off Resident Evil 5; dualshock in one hand with motion controller in the other; LittleBiGplanet also shown; games list includes the likes of Eyepet, Flower, High Velocity Bowling and PAIN


Playstation Portable

- Home for PSP, cuter looking style

PSP 3000:
-priced at 16800 yen from October 1; +- $184/ R1350; Gran Turismo and Winning Eleven bundles planned
PSP go:
-November 1 launch in Japan; 400 - 450 titles planned for launch


Comic service:
-Manga titles in catalogue; available in December; titles include Dragonball and One Piece
Music service.
New PSN service:
-Focus on Mainichi Issyo
PS1 Classics:
-Final Fantasy 8 hitting PSN



-user base doubled from 4 million at start of year to 8 million currently.
The Last Guardian (PS3):
-new trailer shown.
-launches November 1 in Japan; will be 700 titles available for download on launch in US; 400 for Japanese launch.
PSN Video store:
-will be available to all Europeans by Spring 2010.

Friday, 28 August 2009

District 9

A fascinating delight ...

After over 20 years of keeping a mysterious alien race, referred to as Prawns, in check in an area known as District 9 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is given the job of relocating the aliens away from the city so as to ensure that they pose no threat to the citizens of Johannesburg. But during a raid on one of the alien's shack, Wikus comes into contact with a substance that causes him to become the number one person of interest throughout the world.

District 9 is a remake of sorts of a short film from 2005 known as Alive in Joburg, and is filmed in two manners; the traditional film-making process and a documentary approach. The latter is mostly used for the first arc of the films narrative. It combines interviews and news reports, with documentary segments relating to Wikus and the relocation work he will be doing with the aliens. This film perspective is masterfully controlled by Neill Blomkamp and the integration of, and eventual change to, a more formalized camera work seems effortless and natural. This also provides the narrative with some added depth: instead of a linear exposition of Wikus and his reassessment of the whole situation, the audience is provided with history prior to the events taking place, even recalling vital information as to why the aliens are informally referred to as 'Prawns'. However the greatest strength of the narrative is how it parallels Apartheid. While the events in District 9 could relate to events such as the Holocaust, it is quite obvious that Apartheid is the core starting point of interest. This even goes as far as replicating the xenophobia which is strife within South Africa. For instance, replacing the African majority being subjugated against, are the technologically superior aliens. And even though the film is science-fiction, great strides have been taken to make the material as real as possible. These include the poor living conditions; an almost picture perfect representation of shacks through South Africa; and even finer details such as the African SWAT member calling Wikus by the term 'boss'. These are not just randomized stereotypes, but rather real life occurrences of South African living. This combined with the well structured story results in an entertaining and engaging narrative. However there are some points of interest which seem to get very little attention and any audience without an understanding of Apartheid might be feel something is amiss. For instance, the aliens who are clearly superior to humans seem to show little resistance to the poor conditions they are forced to live with. This may appear as a plot-hole, but essentially is only mimics how the White apartheid government were able to exert control over every other racial group, even when they were outnumbered nearly ten-to-one by the African population.

Continuing the believability of the South African context is the actors department, most notably Sharlto Copley who uses an incredibly authentic Afrikaans accent. Wikus is clearly a second language English speaker and Sharlto replicates this well, combining his characters need to speak English with instances of resorting to Afrikaans when swearing. Sharlto is only a first time actor in District 9, which is incredible to note considering how believable his acting is. Wikus goes from being a jerk to desperately fearful for his own life because of how the odds change against him. Regardless of how Wikus develops, Sharlto conveys his character with great realism. The remaining cast are all essentially secondary, and while they perform good jobs of keeping the level of acting high, they do at times falter a bit, but thankfully very rarely.

There is no nudity and sexual activities are only talked about and on a rare basis. Language is strong and consistent with a variety of expletives being used with the F-word uttered at least around 70 - 90 times. Most of these are spoken by Wikus and in Afrikaans, but considering how the F-word sounds similar in both Afrikaans and English, it is not difficult to know what is being said. The language is contextually fit though there is the odd scene where it does feel a bit too much or unnecessary. The intensity of violence matches that of the language with some fairly graphic scenes. Granted many of the deaths happen at a very quick pace but people are essentially vaporized into bloody matter or hacked apart, and this does not even account for the many instance of gunfights and psychosocial cruelty which takes place. Unlike the language at times, the violence is very fitting for contextual purposes in order to emphasis the brutality that existed during Apartheid and even in current day South Africa. South Africa is a violent country, and Neill Blomkamp does not shy away from this.

Both cinematography and the CGI are stunning. Neill Blomkamp is slightly experimental at times, such as filming from just above the barrel of a gun. He never does so frequently, but they surprisingly work. Another factor which is nicely executed are the action sequences which are viewable enough for the action to appreciated, but also slightly frantic to heighten the atmosphere. Accompanying this is some stellar CGI which blends into reality very well: the alien mother ship is the best example as it appears so natural while hovering over Johannesburg.

District 9 is being heralded as one of the best science fiction films to ever be showcased and its not difficult to understand why: it has a mature and exciting narrative, even if unclear at times, which brings about enough material to further the created universe in many directions. With a brilliant example of acting by Sharlto Copley, fascinating cinematography from Neill Blomkamp, high quality CGI, and engaging violence, District 9 is one of the most exciting films of recent years with only a few hitches. And as for this year, it easily relegates other recent blockbusters to the levels of mediocrity they deserve.


Screen date: 28 August 2009
Release date: 28 August 2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

GC 2009: Sony Conference Overview


Eyepet - bundled with the PlaystationEye
Heavy Rain - new character
Home -
Singstar space with video jukebox and music quiz; Audi space ;new dance moves, animations, character customizations and a camera item
Uncharted 2

Motion controls -
Teaser video for now but fully shown at TGS 2009
Playstation 3 Slim - 120gb, 33% smaller, 36% lighter, available 1st week September at 299 Euros


Playstation Portable

Eye of Judgement
Minis - New titles for PSP on the PSN store with a 100mb size limit; 15 titles on launch October 1st with 50 titles through 2009. Includes Tetris, MiniGore, Fieldrunners, and Hero of Sparta
Gran Tursimo PSP - Anyone who registers their PSPGo in the first 10 days from launch get GT PSP free!
Loco Roco Midnight Carnival - exclusive download title

PSP 3000 -
new colours -- Turquoise Green, Lilac Purple and Blossom Pink.



Digital Reader - graphic novels, indie titles; includes Marvel; not just for comics.
Firmware 3.0 - interface changes; whats new section; animated themes
PSN - relaunch design for September 1
Video Download Service - Rent and buy films - PSP and PS3; launches November
Vidzone -
expanding to new PAL territories

Monday, 3 August 2009

An Education

A cushioned lesson ...

Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a 16 year-old girl who is attempting to get into Oxford University and has high promise of doing so due to her exceptional intelligence. However, she feels that life is far too linear and she wishes to be able to express herself by listening to French music and going to the cinema and theatre whenever she can, but her parents forbid this for the most part. On a chance encounter Jenny meets David (Peter Sarsgaard), an older man who allows her the freedom to live life the way she wishes to do so.

An Education is adapted from the memoir of the British journalist Lynn Barber, and is a coming-of-age drama set in 1960's London. The story unfolds in a very standard fashion but it is the very core themes of the narrative which keep it engaging. The main theme of the film revolves around the importance of a rationalized living, such as getting a formal education and having the chance of being boxed into a typecast, versus living life to the full and having an existence on the foundation of enjoyment. The films is also evenly paced and while it is a fun and interesting watch, there is a slight mishap to the overall narrative structure which hinders the film greatly. While the film is set up by trying to understand how Jenny feels about her current life compared to the life she could have, the film does little to dwell on the realistic consequences of the actions made by many of the characters, especially Jenny. Any poor decisions she makes in her life are gazed across far too quickly, and those by other characters are none the better. It is a disheartening aspect to the story, and one which would have made the film more cohesive with it's message.

Nevertheless, there is not much else to criticize the film for. The acting, for instance, is superb with some natural performances. Most of the screen time is dominated by Mulligan and then Sarsgaard. While the chemistry between both never really works all the time, they are still appear amply suited. The rest of the cast all support these two and even the likes of the talented Emma Thompson and Alfred Molina never imbalance the fine equilibrium. Each character also comes across as unique. For example, where Mulligan's Jenny is rational and tries to act sophisticated, Rosamund Pike's Helen is ethereal and frivolous. These contrasts seem simple but they work in addressing the core concerns of the film.

Director Lone Scherfig does an amazing job with her creative vision of the script even though she does not create a unique cinematic experience. For the majority of the film, the camera work is understandably controlled, and helps to convey the characters as they ought to be. However, as if to aid the thematic notion of the film, when Jenny in introduced to a more a world of artistic expression, Scherfig is quick to make the camera work more loose and free, heightening the film's very premise of rationality versus emotion.

Beyond some implied sex and nudity, An Education contains little in terms of content with violence and language.

There is a charming simplicity to An Education which allows the narrative to unfold without any hindrance. The acting is great, the direction is just as good, and the story has some important messages to impart to audiences. Though as a coming-of-age story, An Education steers clear of trying to have an impact with its core themes, and ultimately suffers for convenience.


Screen date: 31 July 2009
Release date: N/A (Durban International Film Festival 2009)

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Countess

Ambling on ...

In the 17th Century, the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Julie Delpy) and her husband, General Ferenc Nadasdy (Jack Berglund), are regarded as one of the most powerful couples in Hungary. Soon after Nadasdy's death, Elizabeth begins a passionate relationship with Istvan Thurzo (Daniel Bruhl), who is nearly 20 years her junior. When Istvan leaves her, she believes it is because of her age. This ultimately leads to her believing that the blood of virgin girls can help her remain youthful, and Elizabeth starts a mysterious killing spree to satisfy her vanity.

The issue surrounding Elizabeth Bathory makes for an interesting narrative in the cinematic format. The story is told in a rather linear fashion, beginning with Elizabeth as a child and how politics deemed who she should marry in her older age. Politics is perhaps the best dealt with theme in the film: while not shown in a refreshing manner, politics still has an overriding importance into understanding how arranged marriages were so important for families in regards to gaining new ties and allies and, more importantly, how these marriages ultimately develop characters in order to enrich the story. Yet it is disappointing that nothing helps strengthen the plot: the life of Elizabeth Bathory is open to much speculation with there being a debate as to whether she really is the 'Blood Countess' or whether she was trapped in a political conspiracy. But none of this is even questioned until the very end of the story, but by then it is so incredibly obvious that the filmmakers have wanted to portray Elizabeth as a cold-hearted murderer, that the alternate paradigm briefly introduced serves little purpose. Another problem with the narrative is how the film's underlying philosophy, as emphasized by a voice over from Istvan at the very start of the film, is in conflict with the film's main story. Istvan believes that the true story of Elizabeth was never revealed but as shown from the films intention, it clearly is.

There is a reasonably strong cast in the film but it never shows. Both Delpy and Bruhl lack emotion and their portrayed relationship is not any better. In Delpy's defence it can be argued that her character lacked any real emotion but nevertheless, there is nothing really compelling about the performance. William Hurt features at points throughout the film but he rarely makes much of an impact. The best of the lot is Annamaria Marcina who feels more believable then her co-stars, and does a good job as a supporting actress.

Julie Delpy does shine in her role as director with the film being, for the most part, eloquently shot. There are some interesting scenes of symbolism with the heightened ominous atmosphere of the film starting off early and is carried along until the end. Considering the subject matter, the film is neither as gory or bloody as you would expect, but the acts of cruelness still have a haunting presence to them, and Delpy must be congratulated for this. Likewise the musical score appears to compliment the film though is forgettable by the end, and the costume design has a real sense of reality to them though they lack extravagance as shown in other similar period films.

Sex is implied with upper female nudity appearing at times in the first half of the narrative. Language is almost unheard of but violence is shown in various manners: there is some decapitation, and piercing of skin from sharp items. None of the violence is lingered upon but their buildup has a threatening quality to them; blood does appear throughout.

The Countess is a surprisingly average film with a good sense of technical techniques being weighed down by some weak showcases of acting and a confused directional narrative. The beginning attempts to setup the film as a mystery thriller, something to get audiences debating the accuracy of events, but ultimately the film is so conclusive with what it wants audiences to believe that the film gets muddled up in its own creative process. It is an interesting movie with an exciting subject at its helm, but it is nonetheless a flawed film that just never gets going.


Screen date: 29 July 2009
Release date: N/A (Durban International Film Festival 2009)

Friday, 17 July 2009

Surviving Evil

Decent horror flick deserving of better ...

A TV documentary crew, responsible for a wide selection of programmes on surviving in different terrains around the world, attempt their latest shoot on a remote jungle island in the Philippines. While filming, the crew come across some strange sightings unknown that the island is home to the bloodthirsty Aswang.

From the opening credits it is evident that Surviving Evil was filmed on a low budget and very little is done to hide this fact, however the film does get slightly in quality after the first few minutes. The story itself is nothing new and is reminiscent of the Hills have Eyes 2 combined with Cannibal Holocaust, though it never gets near as gory as either. There are a couple of subplots, one of which helps the main plot along, but they have very little impact on the story as a whole and serve more to add depth to the characters and their relations with one another. Though even this is a lost cause with there not being enough screen time for true character interaction to occur. The plot is ultimately thin but with the workable pace and real intent on scaring the audience, it is never as glaring a problem as it could be.

The acting side of things is fairly competent. While Billy Zane, Colin Moss and Natalie Mendoza take up the bulk of acting, the other actors persevere in making as much of the script as possible. Still this doesn't stop some weak acting at times but on a whole the cast are reasonable and definitely make up for the films other shortcomings.

The biggest of which happens to be the cinematography. Director Terence Daw is unfortunately no professional having directed only television series many years ago. He attempts to do justice to the locales but to little effect with little effort going into wide or panning shots. Still he is able to gt the ferocity and quick tension of the violent attacks well enough without having to resort to full on bloody violence gore. His build up to the climax is fairly paced and the barrage attack with occurs to the crew makes for an exciting watch.

There is no sex or nudity though violence and language are constant throughout. Violence is bloody but most gore is shown from corpses with the horrors sequences raining from quick cuts to darkened views on the action. Language variety is low though the F-word is muttered a good few times, mostly in bunches.

There is a peculiar likability to Surviving Evil even when it is clearly far from being the best in its genre. And perhaps this is due to an acting ensemble that really try to make more of the film then there should be. When you factor in some fairly entertaining horror moments, even though they're mild by modern comparisons, you have a film that deserved a more experienced director and more money for production. It is a pity that the film is getting little in terms of publicity and this is most likely due to the film being half produced by a South African company. If the chance arises you should give Surviving Evil a chance: it's not great but you may be pleasantly surprised.


Screen date: 17 July 2009
Release date: 10 July 2009

Saturday, 27 June 2009

New York

A terrorist film lacking spark...

With the advent of 9/11 forcing the American government to clamp down on terrorism, innocent Muslims live in fear that they may be suspected of terrorist attacks when in reality they do not even condone the act itself. Omar (Neil Nitin Mukuesh) is arrested by the FBI but not because he is a terrorist suspect, but rather so that he can be used to spy upon the leader of a terrorist group working within New York. Omar soon discovers that he has to spy upon his best friend from college, Sam (John Abraham), but does so in order to prove his friends innocence.

The 9/11 wave of films have more or less past and New York happens to be one of the first Bollywood films to tackle the subject. This becomes a slight problem as the film's core theme lacks the contemporary nature to truly challenge political alignments. Though, the film still uses its narrative to good effect by highlighting the jadedness of Omar's current predicament with the lightheartedness of his college years. It is a well formed juxtaposition of Omar's life and highlights just how different the world has become for him. But beyond this the narrative is fairly simple while Omar attempts to become accustomed with Sam's life in order to aid the FBI with their investigation. There are no musical and dance sequences, which would have detracted from the experience, but the cued music in certain scenes do not work to full effect. There is a track in the first half which losses vibrancy a good few minutes before the scene ends, and another track in the latter half of the film which does not suit the mood at all. Though the film never becomes a tight thriller, these oversights lessen the chances the film does have. Finally the film suffers from an overload of political views: first America is seen in a negative light for torturing Muslims and then the films moves to Muslims standing up against terrorism to make a better life for Muslims in America, to name but a few of the issues. These two core messages keep playing until the conclusion and whenever the film appears to be pro Muslim it undercuts this peaceful tone with America hate before Obama as president. The film's themes are muddled, but worse yet they are themes that have already been debated: New York offers nothing new for audiences to engage with.

The ensemble of actors in New York is good but the skill rarely exceeds expectations, but rather all are merely competent enough to see the film through. Abraham is more believable with his fun-loving college self then he is as a man who could be running a terrorist group. However praise must be given to him with his scenes involving him locked up for being a suspected terrorist: the anguish and pain he expresses feels real, but it is just a pity this sort of emotion is not carried throughout the film. Mukesh has a similar transition feeling more believable when defending himself and trying to fix everything then he is in other scenes. Kaif's role, while prominent compared to other films, is still lesser compared to her two male counterparts. Though she does feel more comfortable in this role then she has in previous where it feels like she is wasting any talent she may have. Rounding off the cast is Irrfan Khan as FBI investigator Roshan: he is not the lead but you sort of wish he was. He is a far more the more capable actor and he brings a pedigree to a film which deserves to better then it ends up being.

Considering its subject matter New York is not quite as violent as expected. There is no sex or nudity and language is virtually unnoticed.

New York is an interesting film or should be: its subject matter and political messages all seem rather unnecessary these days. It is great to see a Bollywood film dealing with post 9/11 experiences but it is geared in the wrong way and even confused at the ideology it wishes to have. The narrative shows signs of artistic nature but is too linear in its approach. The actors work with their respective roles but besides Kahn they are not consistent in delivering at their best. New York is a competent film but it is just not refreshing.


Screen date: 26 June 2009
Release date: 26 June 2009

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Horror returns in fine form ...

With a promotion on the line for the role of Assistant Manager, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is hoping to fill the position; however she has some competition for the role and decides to prove to her boss that she is capable of handling any situation with falls her way. One such situation arrives when Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman, arrives to appeal for a third extension for a mortgage on her house. Christine ultimately decides to decline the woman’s request resulting in the old woman cursing Christine to damnation.

It is a strange storyline it must be said, but it works regardless of how ridiculous it may become. For many years American horror has gone the route of a serial killer or psychopath tormenting victims, but few rely on the plot device of the supernatural. The film starts on a note of suspense and continues to its end in this manner, and the fact that Christine is cursed to go to hell in a few days ensures that horror does not remain sporadic, but the norm. Plot development flows allowing for Christine to shuffle her curse with her personal life: she is virtually in every scene so the audience becomes caught up in her life. That said there are no subplots to distract from the main story arc: Christine is going to hell and she needs to stop that happening. This is slightly disappointing in regards to narrative depth but the film has clear indications into commentating about society at large. Christine has to struggle with her choice and whether self-gain is more important than the well being of others. Additionally a discussion is created about whether putting on a certain image to impress certain people, changes who you fundamentally are, or exposes your true self. There are fascinating levels of depth to the linear storyline if viewers so wish to engage with the text, but if not the audience will still be greeted with a favourably pleasant experience.

The acting front is workable in the film’s structure: it is never of a high level but it is commendable in giving the respective characters some life. No one actor cements their presence but it is Lohman’s character that rightly gains the most depth. At first it is difficult not to dismiss Christine’s predicament, but the story and Lohmans’ acting ability allows a new angle to be considered. Relating to Christine is never easy: while she is not an entirely virtuous person, she comes across often as too stuck up for her own good. This runs well with the films thematic factor which Raimi is able to explore but it does lessen Christine's overall charazizaton somewhat.

Cinematography is a fairly interesting facet for the film with many scenes being presented in a 1980’s horror manner. This could be easily frowned upon but Sam Raimi, who is clearly appealing to fans of his Evil Dead series, has a keen sense for direction making for sharp scene interaction and crazy imagery. This creates some great moments of horror and complementary sly humour: it is a unique blend but Raimi gets it spot on and the comedy does not go to dim the horror’s effectiveness. If there is a problem it is that some techniques are a little overdone, but ironically the horror scenes only keep getting better.

Horror films usually have certain expectations on regards to content, but Drag Me to Hell seems to disobey such notions. There is no sex or nudity, and language is almost non-existent. Violence is triggered through some suspenseful showcases and while they do have a factor of being grotesque, they are hardly close in realization to the all out gore and sadism of modern titles.

Simply put, Drag Me to Hell is one of the most enjoyable horror films of recent times. It has an interesting, supernatural storyline with interesting characters; reasonably good acting, though it could have been stronger; and intriguing cinematographic design, even if a little overused. There is even well formulated social commentary which really adds wonders in allowing the film to appeal on an intellectual level. Raimi’s grip on horror makes for a great deal of suspense and the added humour only makes the film all the more devious. All this is achieved with a minimal level of objectionable content, making the film less conformist to the horror genre as it stands and showcases Raimi at what he does best. Though the shining achievement of Drag Me to Hell is that it does what a horror should: not just simply gross out the audience but rather aim to scare and entertain them.


Screen date: 12 June 2009
Release date: 12 June 2009

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

E3 2009: Sony Conference Overview

Playstation 3:
Motion control - similar to Wii remote but requires eyetoy; true 1:1 tracking; first person shooter demoed; RTS demoed;

Agent - Rockstar PS3 exclusive; late 1970's espionage
Assassins Creed 2.
Final Fantasy 13.
Final Fantasy 14 - PS3 exclusive; online like FF11
God of War 3 - first public demo shown.
Gran Turismo 5 - rally, nascar, car damage.
The Last Guardian - Trico project.
LittleBigPlanet - new Disney costumes coming;
MAG - first public demo shown.
ModNation Racers - kart racer, LittleBigPlanet esque; PS3 exclusive
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.


Playstation Portable:
PSP Go - no UMD; does not replace PSP 3000 or UMD; 16gb internal flash memory, built-in wifi, bluetooth support; $250.
Hannah Montana PSP 3000 bundle - new lilac colour.
Rockband Unplugged PSP 3000 bundle

Assassins Creed: Bloodline.
Gran Turismo - full scale game, 60 frames per second, 800 cars, 35 tracks; many single player modes such as time trial and drifting; ad hoc for up o 4 players; trading of cars with other players
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker - 10 years after MGS3; Kojima deeply involved with script and producing; made by MGS4 team
Resident Evil Portable- new title.

Media Go - simpler way to connect the PSP to the PC in order to receive PSN content.
Sense Me - sense listening habit, recommend playlist.
Video PSN - native for PSP; includes new channels such as E!, Manga and Showtime.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

White Wedding

An enjoyable though simple tale...

The soon-to-be-wed Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi) and his best friend and best man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo) are on route from Durban to Cape Town to attend rehearsals for Elvis's wedding. However their journey does not go according to plan as both Elvis and Tumi struggle to find their way across the country, and they meet up with Rose (Jodie Whittaker), a doctor from England, who is trying to return to home.

The narrative for White Wedding is not exactly something unheard of but it makes for a refreshing tale in traditional South African cinema, usually concerned with Apartheid, crime or other negative aspects of modern society. Instead, White Wedding is far more casual and relaxed though this is not to say that its issues are not serious. The central three characters all suffer from some form of anxiety in regards to relationships. Elvis is devoted to his wife Ayanda (Zandile Msutwana) but as the story progresses he becomes jealous that his wife might be spending too much of her time with her ex-boyfriend. Tumi has no interest in marriage and his flirtatious habits make his prospects at a long term relationship difficult. Rose, on the other hand, learned that her fiancée was being unfaithful. Evidently it is relationships which become the film's prime concern. Another issue at the heart of White Wedding is racism and the ideal of an equal society.This issue is played upon by much of the comedic nature of the film. Strangely, while the film has comedy throughout and is marketed as such, the comedy never overrides the dramatic elements of the text. In many respects, the comedy becomes situational, playing upon South African societal norms, such as Elvis and Tumi vising a bar in an Afrikaans town. It all makes for good, clean fun even if the film proves too idealistic for its own good.
The acting is, in general, quite good. Nkosi feels comfortable with his role though he tends to overact on the odd occasion, and Seiphemo is as solid as always. Whittaker is a surprise casting, giving the film somewhat of an international appeal, and while she is not acting at her best she does her job well enough. Msutwana is the only of the cast who appears somewhat off-putting. Throughout she is workable but she goes through the odd scene once and while as monotonic.

The cinematography feels too simple and expected, though strangely this is not a bad move on part of the director Jann Turner with her directorial debut. Turner goes about refreshing African cinema, and proves to rather make a sound film instead of allowing it to be plagued by a poor script, story or acting. She will undoubtedly free her style once she gets more used to creating movies instead of her usual television shows.

Apart from the occasional mild swearing, there is no content which sensitive viewers would disapprove of.

White Wedding is not an excellent comedy but as the sum of it's parts, its worth a watch. The story is simple though lacks subtly in explaining its messages and the acting is commendable though it does wane at times. While strictly a comedy to be enjoyed by South Africans it does have some international appeal. However the film should be viewed as a drama with a good does of comedy rather then a strict comedy, and perhaps by not being so conservative with style and form, White Wedding could be enjoyed by all.


Screen date: 03 May 2009
Release date: 29 April 2009

Thursday, 30 April 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

A slice of fun, a dice of technicalities ...

Origins: Wolverine gives a glimpse into the history of one the most iconic characters in the comic book industry showing events before the first X-Men film. Brothers James Logan (Hugh Jackman) and Victor Creed (Liev Schreiber) have, with their unique gift to rapidly heal their bodies, served together in countless wars throughout the 20th century until being recruited into a special ops programme by William Stryker (Danny Huston). Logan begins to tire of this group as he opposes the overly violent tendencies of the operations, and eventually he leaves the group. Years later, Logan is approached by Strkyer to help with a task of national security all while Logan's girlfriend Kayla Silverfox (Lynn Collins) is murdered by Victor, which results in Logan seeking revenge.

The origin of Wolverine is a rather intriguing story, especially since Wolverine in modern times suffers from amnesia. Of course the adaptation is not entirely faithful. The introduction begins to quickly settling the arrival of Logan's abilities in a few minutes and then flashing to well conceived opening credits. The story continues this fast pace but once Logan leaves the special ops programme the films pacing begins to slow. This becomes symbolic in the change of lifestyle for Logan but after the first half the film begins to become somewhat fragmented, resulting in a story whereby Logan is forced to fighting another character just to move the story on for a few minutes: the dramatic elements begin to lose their importance as the film develops but thankfully the story's finale synthesizes the action and story in a similar manner to the film's beginning.

Many facets to Wolverines life are kept while others, especially in regards to characters are given certain changes. One such change revolves around Deadpool: it is a change which ardent fans may disapprove of but since this is an adaptation, the film works like a retelling of the overall Marvel universe, a concept synonymous with the comic book industry. In fact, Origins: Wolverine becomes indicative of how adaptations should be perceived as a imagining and not always as a as carbon copy of the original text.

The actors and their respective characters are, for the most part, well received. Jackman continues his excellent form as Wolverine, but is able to portray him as a character filled with an internal struggle to do what is right while having a capacity for evil. Schreiber, Jackman's counterpart, proves a useful adversary and an excellent binary opposite to Jackman; where Logan is conflicted, Creed is bloodthirsty. Huston performs a good job as a subtly menacing and smug official who wishes to wipe out mutants while Collins is delicate, if not underplayed in the film. The remainder of the cast all perform adequately and their respective characters are suitably added to the films plot. However, this does not stop a couple cameos being more fan service then actually being truly relevant to the overall plot.

Another person to be complimented is director Gavin Hood (Rendition) who does a delightful job with his cinematography. Granted, he tends to stay on the conservative side of film making, but this never stops him completing some beautifully shot scenes. Though some of the fight sequences are more muted then they should be and it becomes saddening to think that the film's action, while entertaining, could have been more ferocious. An uncut release could remedy that but hopefully the sequel, if there is one, will allow for the actions scenes to all be equally as enjoyable.

However, if Wolverine is to be faulted in area it would be its mixed bag of special effects and CGI. CGI tends to be worse off with the odd action scene looking either too blurry or unrealistic, and even Wolverine's trademark claws appearing far too cartoon-like. The special effects are not too bad with a characters energy beam being very impressive, but another characters defense mechanism being poorly textured. The end result is a mixed bag, and while none of the problems areas truly distract from the overall experience, it is evident that the film required a longer post-production phase.

There is no sex or nudity, with language at a low. Violence is abundant throughout the film but it is never bloody, even with one character being decapitated, though this is never graphic by any means.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a highly pleasurable film: the story is engaging; if lacking in depth; the acting is commendable; the directing is workable and the action scenes are fun to watch. It is a pity that the film is not as violent as it could have been and even more so that the technical aspects, something so well polished in other superhero films, appears incomplete. This plus a few slight niggles to the overall film still allows Wolverine to be among the better half of the superhero genre.


Screen date: 30 April 2009
Release date: 29 April 2009