25 November 2008

Max Payne Review

It's a movie adapted from a video game.



Oh, you're still here? Right. Well, allow me to qualify. Max Payne is yet another in a long, long, long line of ridiculously disappointing game adaptations - but more so, considering the strength of the game that this one is based on. A film based on a game that borrowed heavily from the likes of John Woo and - the at-the-time new and fresh - The Matrix, it unfortunately suffers greatly from the facsimile effect - losing one hell of a lot of clarity in transmission.

On paper, it should've worked...

Director with at least decent action credentials and a tendency to treat 'adaptations' with the utmost care? Check - see the solidly entertaining Behind Enemy Lines and the remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix for what I mean.

Actor who vaguely fit the role? Check.

Segue of Mona Sax into the story? Check and...eh...another random check.

But unfortunately, nothing fits together particularly well. There are individual bits that work well, but it is infinitely inferior to the sum of its parts, and its part don't exactly add up to much.

For starters - and for once - the story makes the transition to the big screen almost intact. It goes that Max Payne is a cop who has his whole family murdered by junkies - high and almost invulnerable after consuming a drug called Valkyr - and he's out for revenge on those responsible. After the case dead ends, his partner happens upon a coincidental piece of evidence that ties a seemingly random murder to that of Max's wife, and that sets him on the trail of the Aesir corporation - a large, morally suspect pharmaceutical company. The story is solid and constantly promises to be interesting, but first-time scribe Beau Thorne simply can't capitalise on it properly.

But beyond that neo-noir aesthetic and some rather scathing zingers - both almost certainly thanks to the game's creative director Sam Lake's involvement - there's absolutely nothing to commend the script for. Most of the exposition is under-cooked, and complacency seems to have struck the character development ("His family got killed. Do we really need to develop him more?"). But not only is there absolutely no development of Payne throughout the movie, he genuinely comes across as completely empty, but in the bad way. There is one moment where he is actually properly characterised - a flashback sequence before his wife was murdered - but there's no link between that Max and the Max we have to endure for the majority of the film. The shoe-horning in of Mona as a more significant character is also half-arsed, and the addition of a sister character to try to make us invest emotionally in her is simply useless.

What's more, there's a total dearth of action, and considering that the game was heavily action-orientated, and it was touted as an action-thriller, this is something of a sucker punch that you can't really recover from. What's more, it doesn't even manage to work on a balls-out-action level, seeing as we're force-fed Thorne's half-baked exposition for a good hour before we get to see any action.

The really aggravating thing is that when the action does spill out, it's fantastic. Moore has a great eye for visuals - from an awesome tracking shot of a man seemingly committing suicide, only to be revealed to be him being dragged out by a Valkyrie (or perhaps vice versa), to a fantastically shot roof-top showdown, he really does quite a lot with such sparse opportunity. You get the feeling that had this been put in safer scripting hands, Moore could've done a lot more with it.

It's even more of a shame that - shoddy characterisation aside - Mark Wahlberg does actual throw in a decent portrayal of Payne, chewing his way through his lines with suitable grit and determination. Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as Mona Sax - she manages to pull of sexily dangerous, despite her pixie-like construction - and Beau Bridges, though pathetically cast in a the role of someone called 'B.B', pulls of his character with a decent amount of conviction.

In closing, Max Payne the Movie is very much a child of the writer's strike, because in the hands of a more capable writer – perhaps even if Sam Lake himself had taken over entirely - this may well have gone down a treat. As it stands, clumsy exposition and under-cooked characters, along with a total relative lack of satisfying violence make for a something that doesn’t even register on a guilty pleasure level. But importantly, it isn’t a step backwards for video-game adaps; it’s just disappointing that it so closely flirted with being a forward one.

24 November 2008

Hurray for [insert object here]!!!

Soooo...long time no update, huh? That's because honestly there hasn't been much going on. Well, I say that, but actually it's a lie. A sorry, pitiful attempt to find an excuse for being lazy. Which I am. Very much so. I'm not wearing trousers at the moment, I'm so lazy. But onward!

Played and finished Dead Space, and that was ridiculously disappointing. Considering how technically impressive it is - gorgeous graphics; responsive, intuitive controls; brilliant 'HUD' system - it's a massive let down how utterly average the game turns out to be. It's survival horror that is almost never scary, with a story so mired in cliche that even a 4-year-old could point at two or three movies that it rips off. Throw in an unbeatable baddy which you have to fight three times, along with a total lack of emotional stock in the character you play - he never speaks, he never tires...he might as well be robot for all I cared about him - and you end up with a game that is brilliant on paper, but boring and tedious in execution. Worth a rental if you're dying to play it or a fan of survival horrors, but not worthy of a permanent place in your collection - as it seems strangely insistent on, what with issuing massive 'replayability rewards' for completing it the first time. Hopefully a proper review will precipitate, but honestly I think I've said all I can say about it.

Finished Gears 2 on Insane, which brought with it an awesome sense of achievement. Big shout out to Ali B for ploughing through it with me on co-op! Now that's definitely not a game to be sniffed at, and if you own an Xbox, are over 18 and haven't bought it yet...what the hell is wrong with you? Seriously, go buy it. Single player is absolutely awesome, and the multiplayer - especially Horde mode - is great to play with friends.

Lots of movies out this week, and I haven't managed to get around to see any of them. Max Payne was the last thing I saw, and hopefully I'll be able to write a review of that shortly. But I'm definitely looking forward to several things this week - Body of Lies, Waltz with Bashir and Choke. I'm also strangely attracted to My Best Friend's Girl...make of that what you will, but I've sat in on it for a good five minutes, and it seems a slightly more refined comedy than the trailer lets on, so I might well go have a gander at that before the week is up. Have also seen parts of Waltz with Bashir, and that looks absolutely beautiful - it's getting loads of great reviews, so hopefully I'll be seeing that tomorrow!

Got Fallout 3 coming in the post, along with a whole succesion of movies that LoveFilm has allowed me access to. Most interestingly is a mini-series callled Tin Man, which looks totally weird and surreal and brilliant, but we shall have to see. Also found that they rent All Dogs Go to Heaven, and that swiftly got stuck on my list. I remember loving that film when I was little, and I want too see if it stands the test of time.

That's about it, really. Life trundles on, with or without me. How's that for some folksy wisdom?

20 November 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Review

Kevin Smith has done Zack and Miri before. Not in the sense that he's made a film about two people desperate for cash making porn, but he has tried to make a feel-good comedy like this before. But as a fairly bad omen for Zack and Miri, Jersey Girl was a horrendous, disgustingly soppy affair, with almost nothing to redeem it. Fortunately, whilst this latest entry into his canon does retain some of the sentimentality, it also decides 'fuck the schmaltz' and throws in a healthy dollop of Smith's trademark filthy banter. And even though this isn't up there with the heights of Dogma or Clerks 2, it does have a foul-mouthed charm that's hard to deny.

Once again, the true star of the show is Smith's terrifically funny script. He's never been the flashiest of directors, and nowhere is it more evident than it is here - beyond the wonderfully grainy and deliberately slightly shoddy 'home video' moments, there's nothing of note to write home about. What does shine, however, is his cast's delivery of his script.

The role of Zack was written specifically for Seth Rogen, and it certainly fits him like a glove. There's simply no way that he could've been anything other than Rogen's trademarked tubby-but-loveable-loser, and Rogen is truly outstanding - as he is wont to be as of late. There's something remarkable about the man, because anyone who can say 'let's make a porno!' and actually manage to make it sound like a good plan deserves quite a few kudos. Zack comes - excuse the pun - off as a genuinely nice guy...in a Smith-ianly crude kind of way.

Elizabeth Banks is less strong in the role of Miri - the same wit is present, but only half the zest in the delivery. Perhaps she's better suited to the satire of W or the trademark comedy of Scrubs, but either way she isn't the best of fits here. She's not bad - there're simply better actresses for the role. But elsewhere there's some top notch performances going on. Craig Robinson is superb as the emmasculated producer Delaney, his trash talk subdued yet incredibly funny, and Jeff Anderson seems to be growing under Smith's direction, putting in what could be classed as a genuinely decent performance - as opposed to the stand-up-with-extra-people-in-it that was Clerks and Clerks 2. He actually feels like a character instead of just Jeff Anderson.

But it just has to be said again - the real spark is in the script, and whilst it does descend a little too far into the sentimentality barrel towards the end, there's more than enough hilarity ensuing - from the banter between Zack and Miri to the crude yet oh-so-funny set piece involving the other kind of sex - that you can actually forgive it this time, instead of Jersey Girl's leaving a sour taste in your mouth.

Truth be told, the only real way to judge a comedy movie is to count how many times you laugh out loud. That count'd be about 15 for me. Essential for any Smith fans, and perhaps as good a segue as you'll get for any newcomers. It's not Clerks 2, but then again...what is?

12 November 2008

The actual 100th post...

Seems I may have been a bit pre-emptive before. This is my 100th published post - the last '100th' post was all of my posts including written but not published ones. But they have been purged, and now my centenary emerges. Huzzah!

Sooo! Three movie reviews in pretty rapid succession! Not bad, though I do say so myself. Oh, and to explain the brand spanking new rating system....

Absolutely unmissable. Anyone can go into this movie and enjoy - at least, in my opinion they can.

Won't appeal to all tastes, but for the most part people will come out of this smiling. Excellent if not a masterpiece.

Has pretty broad appeal, but will almost certainly split audiences. Like Marmite, some will love it, others will hate it.

For fans only, be it of the director, genre, actor, screenwriter etc.; only the hardcore followers will get something out of this.

Abysmal. Even fans will be hard-pressed to enjoy this, not even on a guilty-pleasure level. Avoid like the plague.

That's pretty much it - so basically it's a recommendation factor instead of a rating of the movies 'quality', and it does have to be used in conjunction with reading the review...

Been playing Gears of War 2. Single-player was/is excellent, and am trying to get to grips with the multiplayer. Seems there's still a few issues to be ironed out when it comes to Xbox Live matchmaking, but playing Horde with mates is a huge amount of fun. Will hopefully post a review in the next couple of days.

That's about it...still plugging away, it would seem. You all have a good week out there!

10 November 2008

Pride and Glory Review

There is a phrase that more or less sums up Pride and Glory: "The box is my home - it was made for a reason, wasn't it?". Yes it was - it was put in place so you could poke at its boundaries, not stay firmly within its confines. Well, apparently Gavin O'Connor never heard of this 'boundary pushing' thing, and so he's very happy in his Cube, thank-you very much. But then again, we're not looking for a genre to be redefined - we're looking for some entertainment; and the unfortunate thing is that O'Connor's film works in small bursts scattered throughout its running time.

Pride and Glory is a so-called 'family-orientated' cop thriller, centring around the lives of brothers Ray and Francis Tierney (Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich respectively), as well as their brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). After a grisly shootout which involves the deaths of four NYPD officers, Ray is assigned to the investigation - and it transpires that Jimmy is somehow involved, becoming a dirty cop right under Francis' nose. Eventually, both Ray and Francis will have to choose between their loyalties - the NYPD, or family.

So at first glance, it does seem like it ticks all the boxes, doesn't it? But therein lies the problem. A bad movie can occasionally be commended for at least trying something new and interesting; but Pride and Glory is conversely condemned for taking absolutely no risks in its little niche. Which is a shame, because - ignoring the arse-numbingly unnecessary 155-minute running time - there's actually very little that's genuinely wrong with it.

Performance-wise, it could well be considered absolutely stellar. Ed Norton is on his best form since Fight Club with the terminally damaged Ray Tierney, the brother caught up in the whole thing and truly at his wits end; his transition from mere investigator to emotional participant is both convincing and moving. The not-top-billed Noah Emmerich is on fine form too - you might remember his performance as the "best friend" in The Truman Show, and this is yet another understated yet pitch perfect portrayal. Francis is a broken man - torn between paying attention to his precinct's officers and tending to his dying wife. There's an absolutely incredible moment of raw emotion from the man that is both unsettling and fascinating, but to go further is to spoil the plot. Colin Farrell - with a not-deserving-of-top-billing role - still puts in a decent performance, his Jimmy all heart and only cursory amounts of brains.

Whether or not these performances are down to the director or the quality of the actors playing them is a good question; but I'd put my money on the latter. There really is very little flair elsewhere, with O'Connor content to let the story drawl itself out - almost like it's being told by an elderly relative. There are some flashes of brilliance - a scene involving Farrell, an iron and a baby is a terrifying prospect; a one-man raid by Norton on a 6-storey-building is gratifyingly tense - but it's simply not concentrated enough to convince. But again, there's nothing bad about it...it's simply average. Perhaps O'Connor would've benefited from a superior editing department, because there is potential for there to be a decent film in here somewhere. But this 155-minute, flabby cut isn't it.

At the end of the day, Pride and Glory is quite a tricky film to review. It doesn't really have anything that should get you running from your houses and into the nearest cinema, but - on the flipside of the coin - I can honestly see no reason why you should avoid it like a particularly large, plague-infested rat. Try it...there's the off chance you might enjoy it.

7 November 2008

Eagle Eye Review

In an era of action movie-making dominated by the Bournes, reimagined Bonds and gritty, realistic superhero movies a lá Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it's something of a breath of fresh air when a film like Eagle Eye charges through like a clown with an AK-47 loaded with blanks - thrilling and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable except maybe as an aside in a pub conversation. Yes, I just likened a film to armed circus entertainment. Sue me.

The thing is that it's apparent from the get go that director DJ Caruso knows his movie is ridiculous, knows it to the roots of the trees the script was written on. But he knows he can do two things with it - first, blow a whole bunch of shit up with nary a backward glance, and second make some interesting characters that we care about enough to worry that they might be blown up with nary a backward glance - and these two things he pulls of admirably.

You've probably seen the trailers - it's one of those genuinely good ad campaigns that gives away the premise of the film, but doesn't actually give that much of the plot away. Is it cyber-terrorism? Is it an AI stalker? Is it just some nerds dicking about? Doesn't matter - what does matter is that Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBoeuf) has been 'activated', and now he's on the run from the FBI. Along the way he meets Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), and the two have to work together to figure out what the hell is going on. In hot pursuit is Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who's completely perplexed by the goings on, and unconvinced that they're doing it alone.

Sounds silly, and it is - but as I said, Caruso realises this from the get go and instead of focusing on his story, he instead propels the picture along at rocket-powered pace, barely stopping for air as the plot twists - each one more monumentally ridiculous than the last - rear their heads. The plot is a harking back to the days where story was peripheral to explosions, and it manages this beautifully, albeit with a slight techno-terrorism edge that – aside from having a white guy in office as of the 29th of January 2009 - more or less brings it bang up to date.

Caruso, it would seem, has a fantastic eye for action, and some of the set-pieces – preposterous though they may be – are excellently put together, with – bar one – a very physical edge to them.

Where it does fall down is where it does indeed stop for air, with a good half hour of the film’s hefty 118 minutes spent doing entirely peripheral exposition on characters outside of the main three. Exposition on Jerry, Rachel and Morgan is all well and good, but do we really need Rosario Dawson’s Agent Perez? Or Michael Chiklis’ under-fire Secretary of Defence? The answer is ‘no, not really’. Were it a trim 88 minutes, it would’ve been a superior film. As it stands, there’s still some flab that needed to be tightened out.

Which is a shame, because both Dawson – gorgeous as she is – and Chiklis are very fine actors, wasted in roles that needn’t be there for the film to work, and their performances seem to reflect this: the both of them phoning their performances is and holding their hands out for their paycheques.

On the flipside of that coin is LaBoeuf. The boy is trying his hardest, and whilst you can hardly credit him with a brilliant, nuanced performance – well, he’s better than the average bit of cardboard that populates most action movies. LaBoeuf has a genuinely likable quality to him, his presence giving some zest and anima to what could’ve otherwise been an all-too-dull picture. But perhaps the best thing is that Caruso never lets Jerry become a true action hero, his ‘action’ always being helped along by the primary antagonist. It’s a clever play on the usual riff off the ‘average Joe becomes gun-toting madman through deus ex machina’, because here there really is a God – or something – coming out of machines to help Jerry.

The remainder of the core trio seem to be having fun too – Billy Bob Thornton getting some of the choice lines and delivering them with his usual sly grin that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Michelle Monaghan seems confident enough, but her performance has depth that the film is almost unworthy of, and it’s testament to the quality of the actress that this is the case.

It’s just such a shame that there’s a huge fall down on the story, with a highly unsatisfactory ending that does – for the third and final act – transcend into the realms of the surreal. To say that someone takes several bullets to the chest and lives is…well, it gives it away somewhat, and how the whole thing is tied together requires a real leap in logic that quite frankly I wasn’t prepared to accept. Then there’s the plane chase in the tunnel. Don’t ask.

But for what it is – a summer-type action thriller blockbuster – Eagle Eye is pretty good. Competently performed and stage, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re willing to switch your brain off, but this is certainly no masterpiece. Like my aforementioned clown, you’ll probably only bring it up when you’re drunk.

2 November 2008

100th Post!

Hurray! My centenary! Fun, huh? One hundred posts of utter madness. Madness is good. I like madness.

Wait...what was I talking about?

So yeah...Quantum of Solace not as good as you might hope. It's fine, y'know, and if it were an independant Bond movie then it'd work fine - the problem is that it does actually properly ride in on the train of Casino Royale. Not to say it's bad, right - just not as good as it could've been.

Finished Fable 2, and that had a rather underwhelming climax to it. New and interesting ways to beat bosses aside from smack smack, dodge dodge are good...but this was just ridiculous. In a movie, it'd've been fair enough - but in a game, I'd quite like a challenge please. Still, the overall experience was great, and the vast number of improvements they made over the first one are absolutely stuaggering. I went - as I usually do - the good guy, so next play through I'll get to be the bad girl. Plus there are three endings, so a third play through may well be in order. It was also great to see the likes of Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker making voice appearances, oh yes it was.

Went back to the CoD5 beta, and it seems they've patched it. It's no better or worse, mind - they've just fixed a couple of the map glitches as far as I can tell. So Halo got loaded back up and I've been letting some carnage ensue. My current source of new games is LoveFilm, as it seems I'm gonna be a bit strapped for cash until the end of November, which is bloody annoying. And all because the cinema pay in bi-weekly sets, so I have to wait up to two weeks to get my pay for one bleeding week. I mean, I know that the net gain is the same, but getting paid weekly simply works better for me. Anyways, this way means that I spend an awfully long time in the red when I could just zip up to the black. C'est la vie, I suppose.

The great thing is that when December does roll around, I'll have two jobs, and then on my birthday in January, I get bumped up to the proper minimum wage - instead of the shitty, middle-bracket one that I'm in at the moment. £5.75 here I come!

Writing has, annoyingly, ground to a halt. No idea why, but this image sums me up nicely...

And that's about it, really. Lots of musings, little in the way of interesting stuff. Latas.