What We Do in the Shadows: a documentary crew follow the exploits of four vampires – Viago (aged 379), Vladislav, (862), Deacon (183) and Petyr, aged (8,000) – sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. All the standard vampire tropes are here and used to comic effect: being invited in, reflections, hypnosis etc. The character’s have nearly a thousand years of history to play with and the film does well to thrown in a bunch of historic references and jokes – although the strongest riff is minor character Stu teaching the vampires how to use modern technology (Laptops, Skype, Ebay etc). The central trio are fantastic characters: perfectly acted, and all funny in their own styles – you’d happily sit and watch them argue for hours as they truly feel like bickering mates. It’s a great comedy script, with plenty of big and throwaway gags, but the overall feel of the film is more like a bunch of individually strong sketches loosely tied together by a few tangents – it feels more like a sitcom, than a documentary or movie. Most situations substitute the romanticism of being a vampire with the silly and mundane stuff, giving the film an upbeat, giggly, and playful tone which – along with the old-timer’s habits, dress sense, accents etc – make it all great fun to watch. It’s technically sound – CGI & wires are well hidden and there’s even an Inception-style corridor fight that works. I tip my beaver fur top-hat to Clement and Waititi for taking on two completely tired genres and making something this fresh and funny with it. A charming and entertaining look at the boring daily vampiric monotony.
The Frozen Ground: when an upstanding citizen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping a ‘lying’ prostitute the case is immediately dropped, but lands on the desk of a diligent detective. The first-time director coaxes solid performances from an impressive cast: Con Air’s Cage and Cusack are always welcome (and Cage looks like he actually wants to be here!), supported by the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kurt Fuller, Brad Henke, and 50 Cent’s teeth. Unlike 99% of serial killer films, this is different because you know very quickly who the baddie is – it’s not a random character added in the last act – so we see the cop stalking the killer, while the he tries to evade detection, not unlike Insomnia (in setting / location too). In fact the only real mis-step is the clichéd ‘over-committed-detective-with-suffering-family’ trope, but it’s a minor part of the picture. As great as this is, it’s a tough one to recommend because it’s pretty grim viewing in parts, but I’d put this as being head and shoulders above your average movie in the burgeoning ‘true crime / serial killer’ genre.
Air Doll (空気人形): a lonely singleton falls in love with the blow-up doll that has replaced his girlfriend; and one day she comes to life (this could only be Japanese). The first five minutes are an explosive combination of funny, creepy, peculiar and entertaining. The remaining two hours however is essentially a grating portrayal of childhood innocence, but here’s the kicker: it’s played through the eyes of a sex doll!omfg!! The moment you notice this is the moment this film bursts. It’s full of ludicrously whimsical and increasingly pretentious ‘life lessons’ about what makes humans human, played through a handful of seriously irrelevant stories and sub-minor characters (which I guess is to beef up the runtime). It also features one of my biggest pet hates: the doll gets a job in a DVD rental store so the director can crowbar in a bunch of his favourites / influences / kewl moviez. Worst. Trope. Ever. There are a couple of funny-ish cultural confusion moments, but they’re balanced out by several close-up shots of a removable rubber vagina being washed in a sink: can you say “shock value”? In fact, the only saving grace is the lead actress Bae Doona who does a great job and for the most part doesn’t feel the slightest bit human. Other than the first five minutes this is literally – and figuratively – as exciting as spending almost two hours watching something slowly deflating in front of you. Air Doll comes off the rails far too quickly, never picks back up.
Fast & Furious 6 (Fast Six, Furious Six, Fast 6 etc) [Mild Spoilers]: the gang reunite with federal agent Hobbs to track down a dangerous group of car-based (duh!) paramilitaries; but when a ghost from the past re-appears, it gets personal. The film feels a little action-lite to begin with, as the first-half re-introduces all of the characters, sets up their backgrounds, and shows us the evil crew’s work – for one of the rare times in the franchise, it cops-out of showing a perfectly good action sequence, instead giving us the charred aftermath. The second half however has some of the most outrageously and unsympathetically over-the-top action set-pieces in the history of cinema: the tank chase that culminates in Vin Diesel actually flying; the subway fights that push the human body to the absolute limits; and the finale that that seems to take place on the longest runway in the world… all crazy-good, but ensure that your disbelief is left fully suspended. What’s disappointing is that despite pushing stuntwork and physical/real effects as far as the movies have, the script is still so hackneyed, and the over-emphasis on drama / family / plot is poorly judged – it’s obvious by now that nobody in the cast is cut out for ‘proper’ acting. Also, considering the whole 4th film was about the death of Letty, it’s absolutely ridiculous to have her just get written back in as an amnesic. Being part-set in London, I was loving the bawdy accents, Cockney stereotypes, scenic shots, red busses and general English shenanigans. Fast Six is a great action film – it was however the first time that the action went from flat-out cool, in to silly territory, with people in the crowd LOLing at a couple of moments. Overall, the movies have slowly transformed from niche, nut-and-bolt level car-porn films through to top-tier summer action blockbusters – quite the achievement given the origins and cast!
The Fast and the Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Fast & Furious
Fast Five (New Review) / Fast Five (Old Review)
How many times can you downshift in a race?!?!?!?!
Twilight: after moving to the sticks Bella discovers that her new boyfriend, and his entire family, are vampires – I hate when that happens!! What surprised me is how much this is just a bog-standard coming-of-age, high-school teen-drama, with a side serving of vampires. Most ‘classic vampire traits’ are there, but the film doesn’t really dwell on them, and quickly explains the ‘workarounds’ – like how they can go out in daylight. K-Stewart is actually pretty good as the dowdy girl-next-door ‘new kid’ at school; R-patz on the other hand seems to just scowl at other characters, ridiculously, and in an infinitely broodily manner – he’s embarrassing to watch at times. The rest of the characters are well-cast, and do what they have to. The picture is very drab, devoid of any life and colour – pretty depressing and glum to watch – at least until R-Patz started SPARKLING!! Added to the plain direction, and it feels very much like a TV movie. Other noteworthy points are the: easiest vampire family infiltration ever, Edward pretty much shows/tells Bella everything; ridiculous meet the family scene; superhero baseball, lots of emo / indie music; and who’d have thought that Volvo’s were COOL COOL COOL?!?! It’s not a fantastic movie, nor is it a particularly original one, but the first Twilight film is a run-of-the-mill high-school movie, with vampire cloak over it; but what bugs me most is that vampires aren’t monsters any more, but merely ridiculous teenage sexual fantasy-projections. It’s a franchise opener that ticks the boxes, and ends up being way more chick-lit-flick than vampire/action/thriller movie.
Emo Vampires 1 – Vampire Goths 0
Could have done with way more Anna Kendrick
Chronicle: found footage sci-fi flick following three guys who become close friends when they inherit telekinetic/psychokinetic superpowers, and how it changes them. The first ~70 minutes are pretty sweet and the story’s built up well; with solid acting and slap-dash characterisation of three teenagers, who are surprisingly smart (and far more believable) when compared to those of other super-power films. You see them slowly discover and develop their strange new powers which is equally entertaining and fascinating – there’s a few good comedy moments. It’s somewhat disappointing that on the home stretch, one character becomes a ridiculous ‘baddie’ figure (at the mention of the phrase Apex Predator) and the ensuing smash-em-up action-fest feels gratuitous, quota-filling and budget-busting. A quick explanation into the cause of the powers – the hole in the ground – would have been nice, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Overall, Chronicle is a good idea, well executed, boasting smart effects, loads of product placement, feels refreshingly all-American, and in the end, it’s both interesting & watchable; making this a surprisingly mature directorial debut for Josh Trank, who I suspect we’ll be seeing much more of…