Tuesday 29 March 2011

Sucker Punch review

Sucker Punch (12A/PG-13, 109 mins)
Director: Zack Snyder
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Director Zack Snyder has gained himself quite a reputation in the last few as a fine visual stylist, thanks mostly to his work on 300 and Watchmen. Digging deep for faint praise, he once again brings that hyper-stylised sensibility to Sucker Punch to create a gorgeous world of rich pastel and grey, filled with all manner of amazing creatures and effects.

But that’s where the positives must end, because everything else about this nasty little film is tawdry and empty and badly written to the point of disbelief. It’s the ultimate realisation of movie as video game, and there has possibly never been one more beholden to the power of the X-Box. The problem is, most video games these days are better written than this.

Our heroine is Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who accidentally kills her sister and is sent by her evil stepfather to a home for the insane. There she befriends four other girls and they hatch a plan to escape after Baby Doll learns she’s going to be lobotomised.

But here’s the thing: in her mind the asylum is re-imagined as a burlesque club. But within that, she escapes into another world through dance (no, really). Her dancing transfixes those watching and allows Baby Doll to enter a fantasy realm where Scott Glenn turns up to impersonate David Carradine and tell her she must find five objects they need in order to escape.

As she dances, the other girls steal the items, while we see them participating in elaborate action sequences where they fight dragons and giant ninjas and Nazi zombies. If that doesn’t make any sense, well then that’s because it doesn’t make any sense.

It would nice to think Snyder is aiming for Inception-style layers of reality to create an intricate puzzle, but in truth it’s just incomprehensible. It’s a screenwriting cacophony, garbled hooey without anything resembling a cohesive structure, one game level after another, beautifully designed but nonsensical and ultimately lavishly boring.

Don’t look for an explanation of the rules of the fantasy world either, like how the other girls can be in Baby Doll’s mind, or what happens if they get hurt. Not a moment is spent considering character or consequence, each shiny thing existing only to get us onto the next cool and awesome shiny thing.

There’s a bit of Kill Bill, some Sin City, a dash of Total Recall and even Chicago without the songs, all aimed squarely at undiscerning 14 years old boys without any thought for anyone else. It’s grimy and prurient and rather unpleasant, as one pouting thigh-and-midriff-revealing jailbait waif after another gets put on display for our masturbatory delectation.

If there's one thing that can be said in Snyder's defence, it’s that he knows how to coordinate an action sequence. But even these consist mostly of the same tricks we’ve been seeing since directors learned to utilise computer generated props, and if we see one shot of someone somersaulting in slow motion over a flashing sword-blade, we see a hundred.

More to the point though, all the whizzy action scenes in the world count for nothing if they don’t exist in the service of a working narrative, and that is something glaringly absent from Sucker Punch.

Monday 28 March 2011

Hop review

Hop (U, 95 mins)
Director: Tim Hill
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Blending live action with computer generated wildlife, this clunky but undeniably harmless family comedy sees the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) running a Willy Wonka-style operation on Easter Island (naturally) where they make chocolate and candy for the whole world. His son E.B. (Russell Brand) is due to take over the family business, but wants to be a musician instead and so runs away to the US where he meets James Marsden’s unemployed loser, with underwritten adventure ensuing. Though loosely plotted to the extent that it’s coming apart at the seams (which extends to the visible join in the ropey special effects), Hop is somehow surprisingly agreeable, occasionally even amusing, mainly thanks to the vocal affability of Brand. You couldn't quite make the leap and call the film good or even memorable, but when you consider how skull-piercing the likes of Alvin and his chipmunk pals were, Brand's ability to render E.B. palatable is nothing short of a miracle.

Monday 21 March 2011

A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures review

A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures (U, 85 mins)
Director: Ben Stassen
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Made in Belgium, this third rate Finding Nemo knock-off comes to our shores re-dubbed with atrocious British voices to complement the tatty animation. Calling it an adventure is a tad optimistic, as young turtle Sammy tries to make his way in the big bad world, floating around the Pacific in search of anything resembling a story. Labouring under the sorely mistaken belief that simply anthropomorphising any old critter is a solid foundation for an animated film, this is low on fun and thrills and high on dodgy internal logic, while the sledgehammer eco-message and insipid songs are unlikely to impress kids weaned on more sophisticated fare.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Anuvahood review

Anuvahood (15, 89 mins)
Directors: Adam Deacon, Daniel Toland
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One of the stars of Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood and Adulthood movies, Adam Deacon, co-writes, co-directs and stars in this abysmal British comedy as Kay, an unemployed layabout who fancies himself as an up-and-coming gangster after getting mixed up with some local drug dealers. If there is a plot, it’s well hidden within what amounts to little more than a series of YouTube sketches, with all the wit and sophistication that suggests. If it’s a parody of Clarke’s films, it fails to find anything in them to actually make fun of. When the dialogue isn’t unintelligible, which it mostly is, it’s juvenile and smeared in racism and homophobia, and with every performance amped up to absurd levels, the resultant screeching mess quickly becomes intolerable.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

The Resident review

The Resident (15, 91 mins)
Director: Antii Jokinen
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Possibly the most interesting aspect of The Resident is the first appearance in 35 years of Christopher Lee in a Hammer production. But, typical of the film’s flaws, his role as the grandfather of a creepy landlord (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who has rented his spacious apartment to Hilary Swank’s doctor is largely irrelevant. By so readily invoking Psycho, this prurient chiller makes a rod for its own back, and though it does some interesting work in the shadows, it’s choppy and clumsily scripted and really rather listless. It plays most of its cards early, which adds some intrigue to certain characters, but leaves others out to dry, and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether its sheer grubbiness is an asset or a curse.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (12A, 106 mins) review

The Adjustment Bureau (12A, 106 mins)
Director: George Nolfi
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The work of late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick has been very well treated by Hollywood over the years (Blade Runner, Total Recall) and just as frequently badly mishandled (Paycheck, Next). The Adjustment Bureau falls somewhere in the middle, offering some modest fantasy fun that’s most notable for its terrific star pairing of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Damon plays a popular politician who meets and falls for Blunt’s dancer, but is then warned he must never see her again by a group of shady guys in hats. They seem able to predict the future and go to great lengths to keep them apart, with Damon determined to exercise free will and be with her. More romance than action-fest and light on any actual danger, The Adjustment Bureau is full of goofy rules that keep getting re-written, while chase scenes are slick without exactly fizzing with energy. It’s monumental hooey that only gets sillier the longer it goes, but Damon and Blunt share great chemistry and with stars on this form, it’s fairly compulsive stuff.