Buried


Those of you who read these reviews regularly or have talked to me in general will remember my mantra about a well executed movie – keep it simple, high quality and differentiated where possible. Well Rodrigo Cortés’ newest picture “Buried” couldn’t possibly question the very same idea any.

Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) wakes up in most people’s worst nightmare, buried in a coffin below the ground with little more than a zippo and arabic cellphone for company. A truck driver working on contract for the US military during the rebuilding of Iraq, his convoy was attacked by IED and this is the first thing he can remember after falling unconscious. The one number in the phone leads him to his captors, a group of destitute locals doing what they have to survive (and requesting $5 million for their troubles).

Such an idea has been examined on tv and in film before but never to the same extent, Reynolds essentially the only cast member to appear on-screen throughout the entire running-time. The smallness of scale and claustrophobia ample ground for examination but the possibility of engaging an audience for any length of time completely within a 6 foot box and no nature light proving to be the bane of anyone else. Within seconds of the opening however, the dark screen followed by hollowed breathing and cries of help announces that even where content is light, the suspense will never cease, even momentarily.

Punctuated by a vastly dark humour, Reynolds exerts the kind of leading man persona that immediately attracts the camera to him whilst also utilizing his personal strengths. Acting with every ounce of his body, the usually mainstream favourite proves he can emote with the simplest of acts and in such a way as to tell us more than dialogue ever could.

More so, these ebbs in time never fully distract from the situation he is in, instead adding a lightness of tone that could otherwise lay as heavily upon the viewer as it does himself. Cortés tries a similar technique, employing artificial longshots and tricks of perspective to highlight certain intensities that arise as well as to mask a momentary break. Although beautiful, it unnecessarily distances us from Conroy and often lacks impact. Despite the nobleness of preempting audience fatigue, it doesn’t sit perfectly with the overall feel of the movie.

Chris Sparling’s script illustrates his own bright future and depth of ability yet it must be pointed out that conventions do seep in, proving that even the greatest amongst us will fall back upon devices that could have been used more originally in time or in construction. There is a difference between simplicity and familiar and often times the latter wins out over originality. Also the cruelty inflicted upon Conroy by parties other than his ransomers lends itself to being too heavily pressed at times, its editing not nearly as concise as the overall picture.
The ending blends both the expected and otherwise into a slyly apt nod to independent cinema’s sensibilities without overtly alienating a mainstream audience. With limited potential outcomes it is amazing Sparling remembered here was not the time for empty platitudes.

Shrewd and ultimately entertaining, the otherwise negligible issues with story and techniques are overcome by a witty and cleverly edited piece that certainly outperforms most recent hollywood endeavours.

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Devil


Never content with merely damaging his own reputation, M. Night Shyamalan has expanded from ruining franchises to mentoring those he considers innovators In their field.

Yet the only truly ominous moment comes with the realisation that this is merely the first instalment in his “Night Chronicles” trilogy, attempting to best well established series such as the “Twilight Zone”.
Regardless of Night’s position as producer it simply falls upon someone else to expand a paper thin plot into an 80 minute B-Movie hopeful. Director John Erick Dowdle may resort to slightly differing visual styles to the self-appointed auteur, the signature is inescapably Shyamalan.

A shortness of scale as regards time does however invariably save the piece from descending into the lunacy that accompanies a typical Shyamalan directed picture.

Investigating the suicide of an office worker, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina), a man already reeling from the loss of his wife and daughter, discovers five strangers trapped inside an elevator in the very same building. However Ramirez (Jacob Vargas), a security officer at the scene points out that amongst the five: the temp (Brokeem Woodbine); the elderly woman (Jenny O’Hara); the salesman (Geoffrey Arend); the mechanic (Logan Marshall-Green); and the heiress (Bojana Novakovic), one of them is the devil in disguise sent to test the other four who are far from innocent.

Ramirez is perhaps the embodiment of the needless seriousness granted to the project, laying a heavy hand over the action in such a way as to remove any real suspense. He is however constantly aided by the crew’s inability to turn their limited environment to their advantage, believing that a constant fade to black will somehow spare us form discovering the obvious and inevitable twist when in fact it serves only as a means to sanitise a potential thriller.

This could have been alleviated through the audience forming emotional attachments with the denizens of the plot but their characterisations leave little room for the same, meaning we care little for their ultimate fate. Each are one-dimensional to the point that they may satisfy the need for delineation but never genuine humanity.

Ironically most of these issues could have been solved or at least addressed with more time to establish Itself, to create a real sense of foreboding and attachment. More importantly, that would have required a more proficient team (something “Devil” lacks); the constant flow of time towards its extremely concise running time instead makes it admittedly watchable.
Ever so slightly camp, predictable and with a script that reeks of being borrowe, it’s nothing short of astounding in its mediocrity coming from the man that gave us “The Last Airbender”.

The Rebound


Bart Freundlich’s latest offering after the unimaginative “Trust The Man” is a transparent vehicle for Zeta-Jone’s career rehabilitation.
Sandy (Jones) is a housewife and mother of two who upon discovering her husband’s infidelity runs to New York in search of a second chance. Quickly finding an apartment and new research job, she also befriends Aram (Justin Bartha), a waiter in the nearby coffee shop. Hiring him as the children’s nanny, the close relationship he has with Sandy’s children develops into what Sandy may not have wanted but definitely needs.

Everything comes too easily for this woman, establishing herself within an emotional minute of leaving her husband. Jones’ inability to radiate any kind of personality or warmth both generally and towards her paramour makes it impossible not to wonder what it is that makes her so lucky, especially given she’ll leave her children with a relative stranger after a matter of days.

There is nothing wrong with a driven woman yet here all we see is a woman consumed by self-interest. In Chicago Jones proved she could transform this shortcoming (at least from the perspective of a 90 minute picture), this calculated persona she radiates at all times into something not only sexy and dangerous but funny and even likeable. Unfortunately this is evidently a trick she’s incapable of performing even a second time.

Bartha channels the sort of charisma that proves he is capable of such a lead role, appearing as an entirely different person to the needlessly billed cameo he is perhaps best known for.

Art Garfunkel as Aram’s father may have appeared to be a wonderful idea in theory but plays out rather uncomfortably, largely indicative of the supporting cast as a whole who are so wide-eyed it goes beyond merely poor direction and made me wonder if there should have been random drug testing on set.

A needless reliance on set-pieces that themselves offer little new in the way of content, the predominant image is not their personal relationship. Inevitably one must wonder how such a brief romance, especially one so one-sided.
Brisk in it’s introduction but not in length, the conclusion tries too hard to add something new to the genre does not go far enough in its remit instead settling on an uncomfortable rather than satisfactory.

Timing and the lack of a distinctive vision are the ultimate flaws with “The Rebound”. Too much is attempted in too small a window of time, a fact that Bartha cannot fight singlehandedly despite his best efforts.

Tattoo


Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery and with Robert Schwentke’s directorial debut the similarities to David Fincher’s “Se7en” are glaring. When any such movie garners such critical acclaim there will inevitably follow a series of copycats, attempting to evoke the same style and feel yet after such a masterful production from the American director, the German offering falls flat.

Marc Schrader (August Diehl) is a newly graduated police recruit, enlisted by veteran crime detective Minks (Christian Redl) to solve a mounting list of murders involving the flaying of skin, or more specifically tattoos. As the investigation unfolds, both find an elaborate plot involving “skin traders” involving often unwilling donors.

Schwentke attempts to cajole and disturb the viewer with continually disheartening and gratuitous visuals. Although these initially add to the intensity of the plot, the overriding focus on the same lead to an inevitable lull in the plot meaning the story evolves in such a way as to leave us with as few surprises as possible. It’s commendable for a director to go so far but without the backing of a nuanced story, often the frank visuals are too jarring or simply do not fit contextually into the overall narrative arc. In the age of “Saw” and “Hostel”, now more than ever such choices are not enough to sustain an audience’s attention for long.

With cinematography for all intensive purposes taken directly from Fincher’s playbook, the writer/director abandons realism. Pushing it further into bleak modernism, the feel of the piece cannot surpass stifling self-consciousness for long. Drained of almost any vibrancy, the colour palette is never warm or engaging, matched only by the over-use of panoramic or widescreen shots. Even those that attempt to illustrate and capture the emotion felt by the characters at key moments are too despondent, too detached to maintain our sympathies for very long. The result is often closer to a selective viewing of the original “Blade” than a modern crime drama.

Redl and Diehl act admirably within the confines of their character but never break free from the conventions forced up them. Not once do they appear distinct or relatable, even in their differences from us to demand our attention.

Innocuous in every sense of the word, “Tattoo” is an average re-imagining of a far superior movie, never carving out a niche for itself sufficient enough to bring it beyond what is merely adequate.

The Big Lebowski


Of indecypherable genre and scope, the piece primarily focuses on the Dude (Jeff Bridges). Invoking the buddy comedy, spaghetti westerns, absurdism and elements of criminal thrillers, it is only by on the lead’s steadfast calm that the piece does not spiral completely out of control like “A Serious Man” or “Burn After Reading”.

A plethora of ideas and concepts, jokes hurtling by with nauseating frequency does not automatically endear us towards the characters themselves, each suffering in terms of development and ability.

Bridges haemorrhages charisma but his character is such a passive lead, it’s impossible to sustain interest in him long term. Of course no one ever asks for their troubles in these productions, inaction and a complete lack of common sense absolving them of any guilt.

Thus the largest part of the movie’s story (covering a rug, a kidnapped wife and multiple tidbits) passes to the supporting cast, a pantheon of individuals so unhinged, so skewed, they might be may be entertaining but grate at times.

In spite of these glaring errors in conception, the brothers are intent on positing these oddballs as superior to everyone else, as if ignorance is true bliss. Bridges revels in his character’s simplicity, illustrating a collected intelligence that while not always immediately noticeable is never far from the surface. He alone breaks free from the issues laden upon him in a way they cannot.

For the most part the brothers retain their omnipresence above the action, a relatively clear hand guiding the action. Even with the relative anarchy, there is a restraint and largely informed writing neglected in their other comedies. Rarely are they possessed of such comic timing.

“What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?” they ask, a question I at least am incapable of answering. What’s important, is the Dude never worries about the little things and neither should we.

Why Did I Get Married Too?


More than a simple exercise in ineffective writing, Tyler Perry’s latest outing amounts to a lesson in quantum physics and mirror universes that would make Marvel Comics jealous.

Case in point is Terry (Tyler Perry) and Diane’s (Sharon Leal) son, who despite supposedly being born in the interim year between both movies looks and acts like a 4 year old. Is he the real world answer to a young Franklin Richards?

Arriving for their annual couples retreat, four relatively affluent African-American couples must confront the issues they otherwise keep hidden. For Sheila (Jill Scott) and Troy (Lamman Rucker), they are haunted by her ex-husband Mike (Richard T. Jones); Terry believes Diane is cheating due to a recent change in her mood for the better; Patricia (Janet Jackson) and Gavin (Malik Yoba) are unable to recover from the loss of their child and Patricia’s inability to open up emotionally; and Angela (Tasha Smith) believes Marcus (Michael Jai White) is incapable of fidelity with female fans flocking to the fledgling sportscaster. One couple’s troubles will be too much for them to continue.

Perry’s understanding of story and character development appear even worse than his sense of time. Each couple struggles with such banalities, often recycled entirely from the original, it’s impossible not to wonder how they’ve managed to survive this long. Subtleties are of little importance, leading to each conflict being introduced almost immediately after they gather together, also raising the question of whether or not they’re each other’s worst omens.
How a meaningful and lasting catharsis can be achieved with any degree of impact in the concluding chapters is never a consideration. Despite being store-bought in sentimentality, Perry honestly believes they carry significant gravitas to maintain the audience’s interest, something far from the truth. So much so that when the promised marital breakdown materializes, it is neither interesting nor a surprise, simply because one has to wonder how any of them have made it this far other than through blind ignorance of the realities before them.

None of the cast interact with each other as real friends or beyond their annual vacation, communicate, based at least upon how little the most recent addition Troy knows the rest of the travel party and the children’s lack of knowledge about his very existence.
Each looks at one another with a smile, giggling uncomfortably at jokes
without any punchline before retreating to their own inner demons. Yes they band together at appropriate moments but it is far too transparent and structural, plodding methodically even further through tired conventions.

Angela specifically as a character harks back to the stereotype of the angry black woman which Perry attempts to subvert. So salient is she in her writing and portrayal, there is nothing new added to the conversation except for an ever constant irritation. In spite of Smith’s attempts to humanise her as a character , the time devoted to demonising and belittling her is far too lasting to be overcome so quickly. Her problems are indicative of the entire project, literally ported from one edition to another, ironically for the most part a fact Perry makes light of for as long as possible, missing that he is in reality highlighting a major shortcoming of his “style”.

Credit must however go to Scott, who continues to grow as an actress, illustrating a quiet strength and breathy confidence in every word she utters, even at her most vulnerable.

Aimed at the average Oprah viewer, the only saving grace is Scott, otherwise adrift in a sea of nausea-inducing mediocrity.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World


Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuss) sets himself a difficult task with his latest project. In an age where comic book adaptations adorn our screens at every turn, the honeymoon period is quickly coming to an end. Kick-Ass tried to do the very same, injecting hipster sensibilities into the preexisting formula, failing early on to carve a substantial niche for itself. But in the mysterious wilds of Toronto, practically anything is possible.

Drawing from the pulsating series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is the jilted bass guitarist of Sex Bob-omb, a group in need of a break. Still cradling his childhood and the memory of the one girl to ever break his heart, Scott begins seeing 17 year old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). In the year since his last serious relationship ended he’s left a trail of romantic destruction in his wake. The introduction of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is no different, causing him to yet again lose interest in his current paramour, falling instantly and irrevocably in love. Unfortunately her 7 evil exes aren’t too enthusiastic about the new pairing.

Where Kick-Ass employed tired conventions of teenage angst and hyper-realistic violence without recourse, here multiple elements across as many unlikely genres create a vivid and other-worldly quality. The very nature of these additions form an altogether frantic pacing, initially overloading the senses before enveloping all who come before it. Minor issues exist in the moments left simply to the characters, jarring in their deprivation of background stimuli and an ending lacking in simplicity.
Wright deftly juggles a form of smug indifference and self-awareness, forming a world where in spite of their faults the residents are unquestionably likeable. Rather than simply conforming to the given stereotypes of modern youth they revel in it. Acknowledging their failings with equanimous foresight and celebrating the very same, adds simple and effective depth to the proceedings overall.

Cera, having proved himself to be an unlikely but enigmatic lead in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist essentially channels the same abilities. He may appear to be passive but rarely is he less than formidable. The remaining cast fit comfortably around him, never falling into the background nor overshadowing him.
Where the roles do not feel like the most comfortable of fits are the exes themselves. Entertaining to a point, each are insubstantial in the threat they pose. With every sequence the action increases exponentially yet it is the opponents themselves that dull them even if it’s for the briefest of moments. Such shifts assuage much of the damage yet they continue to exist.

Never overstepping its bounds, Scott Pilgrim manages to subvert a genre in need of change, a fact that studios should consider with any future projects.