Archive for November, 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Review

A film by near-legendary filmmaker Terry Gilliam is a lot like eating out at an expensive restaurant – it doesn’t happen as often as you’d like and when it does you want to savour every exquisite moment.

Happily, this is one of those times where it’s absolutely well worth the wait and by the time the credits roll, you’ll be glad Gilliam stuck with the film through all the troubles on set – the death of star Heath Ledger, the death of producer William Vince and Gilliam himself breaking his back in a traffic accident. It really is a film that struggled against all the odds just to get made – and that makes this even more special.

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is in a bind. He’s a gambling addict with one huge problem – the man he keeps making bets with is none other than Mr Nick, the devil himself (the sublime Tom Waits), and now he has come to collect the fee for his latest gambit – Parnassus’ own daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole). However, the devil decides to up the stakes one last time: if Parnassus can win over five souls through the Imaginarium before the devil can claim them, she can go free.

Complicating this task are the members of the Imaginarium’s travelling troupe – dwarf Percy (Verne Troyer) is becoming frustrated with Parnassus’ heavy drinking, while Valentina is blind to affections of sleight-of-hand expert Anton (Andrew Garfield). Adding to this is the sudden arrival of amnesiac assault victim Tony (Heath Ledger), a man who may or may not decide the fate of the entire group.

It would be foolish to say that Ledger’s performance is as remarkable or as incredible as his portrayal of the Joker. Instead, it is simply as enjoyable as all the other characters on screen, each one as deep, as complex and beautifully drawn as most whole protagonists and all deserving of their own film. It is disappointing to note that the only three scenes Ledger did not get to finish are the most important three his character has in the film. Thankfully the always reliable Johnny Depp, the wonderful Colin Farrell and the passable Jude Law step in, adding another dimension onto Tony’s fractured character.

Like going through the Imaginarium’s door, delving beneath the surface of the film reveals far more than what at first seems so straightforward. Parnassus is a representation of Gilliam, a man desperate to tell the world amazing stories, while Mr Nick is the Hollywood studios – constantly interfering and influencing the tales in a different way. It’s an ensemble piece of the greatest variety; the titular Imaginarium – a horse-drawn double-decker carriage – is possibly the closest thing to a protagonist, a storyteller in a world that simply doesn’t care for its own imagination anymore.

Add to this some of the most incredible CGI visuals in recent cinema history and a film so heaving with imagination it’s in danger of collapsing under the weight of its scope. The only real criticism to be made is that the final twenty minutes feel slightly dragged out, as if Gilliam couldn’t bear to finish a film that cost two and a half people to make.

Wonderful, spellbinding, intoxicating. Take a dip in Gilliam’s mind once more, but be warned – this time you might not want to come out.

5 stars

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Circle of Survival

Its pincers slice through the air, coming up to tear out a piece of my leg. I move backwards, stepping around it.
The dance of death.
I rush around, trying to outmanoeuvre it. The Skorupi scuttles into my way, lightening fast, blocking my access to the prone figure of Dawn.
The dance of death.
It snaps the air in front of it, warning me that another rush will cost me a chunk of flesh. My arm feels heavy, the fingers unresponsive.
The dance of death.
I look around for a weapon. There are no sticks lying on the ground, nothing I can use at a distance. The Skorupi rears up its tail again for one more sting.
The dance of death.
It lunges in towards me again, the stinger poised for attack. I jump up, the stinger driving into the dirt below. I land back down on the Skorupi’s tail.
The dance of death.
It snaps under my feet and the Skorupi begins to scream loudly. I keep one foot on top of its broken tail and stamp the other one down on its head.
The dance of death.
The pincers reach up to slice through my leg but I move my feet and stamp down hard on its arms. I can hear bones snap and muscles tear and its hideous black goo leaks out of its torn skin.
The dance of death.
It raises is smashed face towards me, one half crushed in beneath its thickened shell. I bring my foot down hard onto its other half. The shell cracks and crunches underneath my feet, the goo oozing out of every available crevice.
The dance of death.
The Skorupi falls to the ground. It looks up me one last time. I don’t know if it can even see me through its mangled face. It manages one final short, sharp laugh. It falls down on its face and moves no longer.
The dance of death.

I run over to Dawn and shake her with one working arm. The other hangs limply, feeling fat and bloated. I shake her again. Again. Nothing.
She murmurs.
I breathe a huge sigh of relief, whispering desperately into her ear, ‘Dawn, it’s me, wake up, wake up!’
Her eyes slowly open.
She screams.
I put a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, realising that the first thing she woke up to is the sight of a mad man covered in mud and water and blood and sweat with his remaining clothing in tatters.
‘It’s okay, it’s me, you remember me?’
Recognition in her eyes. She nods.
‘Good, okay, I’m going to take my hand away now, but you have to be quiet, okay?’
Nods again.
I take my hand away from her mouth.
‘What the hell happened?’ The question burns through me as viciously as the look in her eyes.
I shake my head. ‘I’m not sure. The Pokémon around here… they’re killers, Dawn. They want us… and our Pokédexes.’
Remembering the Pokédex, I rush over to her torn and tattered backpack, sifting through the remains with my one working hand.
‘What happened to my bag?’
I show her the torn fragments. ‘They want the Pokédexes. I’m not sure why, but they’re hunting us down. You, me and Rival.’
‘Why?’
I shake my head.
The bushes rustle. Loud, pounding footsteps getting nearer.
‘Lie down! Quick!’ I whisper to her. ‘Pretend you’re still out cold.’
She nods, terrified, and falls back on the ground where she was. I spot a small clearing in a bush and climb into it, the mud making me practically invisible.
The hide of the Kangaskhan crashes through the bushes, sniffing the air, looking around at the scene. I know it heard her scream, maybe even the Skorupi too.
It spots the ruined carcass of the Skorupi and growls.
It walks nears Dawn, still not seeing me, the baby still fast asleep in its pouch.
I look around for something, anything.
A small rock.
That’ll do.
It sniffs the hair of Dawn. Can she stay still?
The Kangaskhan sniffs the air around Dawn’s head. It strokes her hair, ever so gently.
Her foot twitches.
The Kangaskhan smells something in the air.
Something in my direction.
The colossal beast begins lumbering towards me.
I hide, lost in the shadows of leaves and bushes.
It stops so close to me I can touch it if I reach out.
I balance the rock between my finger and thumb.
I flick the rock off into the bushes.
The Kangaskhan hears, snaps its head in that direction.
I reach out while it’s not looking.
Grab the hand of the sleeping child.
Pull it out of the pouch.
The baby cries. The Kangaskhan snaps back around, roaring in rage. I hold the baby close to me, trying to look threatening.
The Kangaskhan rears back, readying a charge.
‘STOP!’
The beast and I turn to see Dawn standing, doing her best to look intimidating.
‘We have your baby! Don’t you fucking move!’ She’s screaming and I’m hoping against hope that there aren’t many more monsters waiting out there in the darkness.
The Kangaskhan never takes its eyes off me as it steps backwards.
I walk out of the bushes, carrying the tiny screaming baby.
The powerful arm of the Kangaskhan twitches slightly and for a moment I can visualise it punching straight through my skull. But it dare not hurt its child, so the movement is just a twitch.
‘We’re going to walk out of here. And you’re going to let us, understand?’ I wonder if whatever knock on the head she took has just pissed her off because she looks like she’s going to kill something and the Pokémon glaring at us seems to think she could too, for it nods slowly.
‘I want my Pokédex, too!’ She balls her hands into fists at the thought of her personal possessions being ripped through and torn apart.
The Kangaskhan growls and raises a massive fist in protest. I pull the crying baby closer to me, hoping I look like I could kill it, not like I’m about to pass out from holding a heavy fat bastard baby with only one working hand.
‘The Pokédex!’
The Kangaskhan relents and barks three times into the night sky.
Silence. The seconds feel like hours. I can feel the sweat running down my head, mud slowly dripping down my face. I arm is going numb holding this fucking baby. My other arm hangs like a dead weight.
A rustle in the bushes.
The Quagsire steps out, holding the Pokédex in its wobbling blue flippers.
The Kangaskhan growls at it, nodding at Dawn and myself. I step over to Dawn.
The Quagsire looks at the Pokédex in its hand and over to us.
It growls back at the Kangaskhan, apparently disagreeing with the-
The Kangaskhan’s massive fists swing down at the Quagsire’s head and with a soft ‘pop’ its head is gone and that black gunk covers the ground like an exploded water balloon.
The carcass falls to the ground.
The Kangaskhan gently picks up the Pokédex and holds it out to us. It throws it on the ground in front of us.
Dawn snaps it up and pockets it.
‘We give you the baby, we walk right out of here, got it?’ Dawn shoots the Kangaskhan a look that could kill.
The Pokémon nods slowly, eyes on the baby.
I walk forward a few feet and gently place the baby on the ground. I quickly dart back to Dawn, waiting to be crushed to the floor and stamped on.
It doesn’t come.
Dawn looks at me, fire blazing in her eyes. ‘RUN!’
We start back through the swamp, pushing past leaves and bushes and running as fast as the water will allow us to.
I risk a look back over my shoulder.
The Kangaskhan whimpers softly, cradling the weeping baby in its arms. A mother and her child.

We emerge from the marshlands in the cold grey light of the sun’s slow ascent.
‘Where do we go?’ Dawn asks me.
I open my mouth to reply but only drool and gurgling sounds come out.
I fall to the ground in the ruined city of Pastoria.
I can hear Dawn’s voice, so far away.
I’m lifted up.
I’m-

409 – Brother’s Keeper

A pick-up episode in terms of both pacing and storyline, continuing the up-and-down bumps the series has been putting its viewers through lately.

In exchange for Charlie, Samuel wants Hiro to go back in time eight weeks to the night he murdered Mohinder Suresh. He doesn’t want the whining exposition bag saved – instead he wants a film can from 1961 brought back. Unfortunately, Hiro can’t focus enough to time travel.

Other stories include Tracey losing control of her powers and not knowing what to do about it. In a change from the normal boring storyline, she seeks out old man Bennett, only to find Claire and some excellent CGI as the ice queen accidentally freezes both a full bath and everyone’s favourite healing girl – although we are still denied a truly excellent money shot of Claire regrowing a whole foot.

The Haitian seeks out the Petrelli boys, finding Peter and Nathan – the Real Sylar, try to keep up at the back – and tells Peter that their mother wants their memories erased, instead he hands Peter an address and tells him to go alone. Naturally, he doesn’t and the Petrellis discover the body of the real Nathan, setting them off on a quest to find to find Parkman.

The bulk of the episode, however, is set eight weeks in the past, as Mohinder once again goes through his father’s research and discovers that Samuel:
a) was born in Coyote Sands
b) has powers that will increase by a thousand if he surrounds himself with the right super-powered people
c) has a compass to seek out the individuals.
This sends Mohinder off to find the man himself at the carnival, only to be warned off by Joseph and told to destroy the film.

While the episode is not without its flaws – didn’t Mohinder’s story end when they bailed out of turning him into a lizard? Why does anybody want more Mohinder? Why is Claire in this when it could be Bennett? – it’s definitely got its fair share of cracking scenes. There’s the ice-based delights of Tracey’s uncontrollable powers to the genuinely exciting confrontation in Parkman’s hospital suite as the overlong and bloated story of Sylar’s mind and body finally comes to an end. We could have done without Hiro saving Mohinder, but it’s all worth it for the idea that Mohinder is now trapped in a psychiatric hospital and is probably going crazy for the eight weeks he must remain there. Likewise, Tracey’s will-she-won’t-she arc comes to an end as Samuel welcomes her into her new home.

It’s not perfect by any means and it’s certainly not the best episode of the series so far, but it ends several dangling plot strands and gives the story as a whole a much-needed kick up the arse. Maybe, though, Hiro shouldn’t have saved Mohinder? The last thing we need is another bloody character getting in the way, while the cliffhanger suggests that the story of Sylar’s return isn’t quite finished yet. You bastard, Kring.

Four stars

Saw VI Review

Posted: November 27, 2009 in Review
Tags: , , , ,

Saw VI Review

Once upon a time, two men wrote a brilliant, gripping and original horror movie. Because it was made on a budget of chewing gum and pennies and grossed tens of millions on release, the sequel machine took over and began churning out yearly instalments of varying grizzly nastiness while simultaneously forgetting what was so great about the original in the first place – the lack of violence.

After the original writers killed off their creation in the third movie, two new writers came on board to write a second trilogy. With the series this time actually being designed as such, it meant they could do whatever they wanted and be as stupid as they liked, knowing they would have three years to plan how it all resolved. And that’s where Saw VI picks up: at the end of a long, bloody, painfully obvious road.

Saw-VI-lead

Opening in traditionally silly style, two loan sharks wake up in a room to discover they have sixty seconds to cut off as much of themselves as possible to avoid having screws driven into their heads. If at this point you’re wondering what technology would be involved in such a thing, this franchise is not for you. After this, the film turns yet again into a long series of ‘tests’ (read: excuses for violence) as Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) takes the head of an evil insurance firm and tries to help him see the error of his ways. As you’d expect, this involves forcing William to murder seven of his employees.

SAW-VI

The traps – hugely elaborate ways to die, a staple of the series – are as stupid and deliberately gruesome as you’d expect. One involves holding breath to avoid being squeezed, another running through a steam maze, while the most hilarious of all features six people on a carousel facing a shotgun. It really is as face-palm-worthy as it sounds. As usual, Jigsaw’s victims are mostly blameless, from a bunch of white-collar office jockeys to an old man whose only crime is to smoke – you really have to wonder why you’re supposed to want these people to die.

gosaw23.jpg

While all that thigh-slapping fun happens in the background, the main arc of the story sees Jigsaw’s apprentice Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) trying to keep his cover (again) while Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) walks about looking mysterious.

The main things this instalment have going for it are that it manages to answer most of the questions left open by the series (not that you wanted most of them answered, but, hey, that’s life) and that it’s better than Saw V – although that film could perhaps have only been worse if it randomly fired snakes out of the screen at you.

middle-finger

By the end of the long, arduous trek up death mountain – passing stupid civilian city and dumb dialogue point – you finally come to the end of this ludicrous and unnecessary franchise. But, wait… what’s that? The story isn’t quite finished? And the sequel machine rolls on. See you next year, Jigsaw.

Two stars

408 – Shadowboxing

Oh dear. After that wonderful crescendo episode comes this: Claire, Parkman and Peter, none of whom do much about anything.

Claire and Gretchen try to find invisible girl Becky, who – they’ve apparently forgotten – is invisible and not likely to be found. So they do what they always do when faced with a plot hole – they call in the Haitian, who stands around wondering if it’s worth the payday. Mercifully, Gretchen fears for her life and leaves Claire, only to be replaced by Samuel, who tries to tempt Claire over to his team. Bennett tangles with Becky when it is revealed that he killed her father some years before and by the end, yet another wedge has been driven into their fractured relationship. They’ve gotten back together more times than Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, why is this remotely worrying?

heroes460

Meanwhile, the Real Sylar wakes up and accidentally turns into Nathan, flying away from the carnival in fear. Yeah, it’s as stupid as it sounds.

Fake Sylar is still in control of Parkman’s body and sets off on a quest to New York intending to get some answers out of Peter Petrelli. On the way, Parkman repeatedly pisses off Sylar, who murders innocent people until he finally is told the truth of what happened at the end of the last season. Parkman makes the ultimate sacrifice and gets them both shot, but we all know it won’t ever end so neatly.

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In other boring plots, Peter and Emma deal with a train crash in New York. Peter uses his healing hands on patients whenever he gets a chance while Emma remembers he doctor training and finally confides that the dead ‘Christopher’ in her past was her nephew who drowned because she couldn’t hear him, making her leave medical school. It’s still completely unclear quite how the hell this is going to tie up with the main story in any believable way.

It’s a plodding episode, but one that finally gets rid of Gretchen from the story and simultaneously brings Samuel towards his final target: Claire. Now if only we could get moving on that slightly more important issue: what the hell does Samuel’s murder of Mohinder have to do with anything?

Two stars – generously

And so the story of Thomas, friend, foe, fiend and all-round greedy fat ginger cat, comes to its close.

ARCHIVES

Paranormal Activity Review

Before the review proper begins, please answer this simple question: are you scared of the dark? If the answer is yes, then this is a movie that is going to scare the everliving shit out of you. If the answer is no, then you weren’t going to watch this anyway, so let’s not waste time trying to win you over.

Twentysomething couple Micah and Katie believe they have a ghost in their house so Micah does what any rash young man would do: he buys a camera to document the goings on while they try to get rid of it.

If that sounds like a weak synopsis, that’s because there isn’t a story in any kind of the traditional sense. There is no script, there is no three act structure and there is no pacing. Things go bump in the night and that’s what you’re waiting for.

The movie is split into several chunks. In the day, the characters get their separate points across and all the exposition surrounding the ghost comes through. Micah is sceptical, a brash jock who actually wants the ghost to cause trouble so he can see it for himself. Katie, though, is the long-suffering woman and when the shit starts hitting the fan, you can see the fear in her eyes – it’s the same fear that’s rattling through yours.

At night, however, a slow dread falls over the film. As the spirit haunting them gets slowly more powerful and more vicious, the intensity of its actions picks up in speed and pace until you, like the characters, don’t want night to fall.

It’s a rare horror film these days that manages to actually horrify and the way it does it is delightfully simple: you care about the characters. They are so well rounded, so well performed, so believable and so raw and human that you’re almost watching yourself on screen. That’s you up there, shivering in fright – you don’t want terrible things to happen to you, do you? No, of course not, so the incredible arc the characters are forced to go through over the course of the days of film is one very similar to the audience’s own. Micah dismisses the psychic out of hand in his first visit. By the hour mark, both you and he are practically begging the psychic to walk back in and sort it all out.

On a filmmaking level, it’s utterly incredible. The film appears to have cost the price of the camera to make and the level of imagination on offer is simply astounding. Doors slam on their own, footprints appear on the floor, Katie is dragged screaming down the hallway and it’s so convincing that the part of your brain wondering just how this was made shuts up completely and hides in a corner sobbing in fright.

And then the film plays its trump card: just when you think you understand the rules of the game and the malevolent force watching over them, everything changes. In the interest of terror, this shall not be spoiled here, but it goes without saying that it’s a brown trousers moment.

The shortest and sweetest way to sum this film up – although it won’t do it any justice at all – is to call it ‘Blaire Witch in a House’. That should be enough to tell you whether or not this film is going to get under your skin and live there. It will if you let it, and in doing so you’ll experience something truly extraordinary: genuine fear. If not, continue sleeping soundly with the lights off, just don’t- OHMYGODWHATTHEHELLISTHA-

4 stars