Thursday, 28 October 2010


Elliot Hyams reviews Bruce Willis’s latest film.

R.E.D is the acronym given by the C.I.A to retired agents still considered to be extremely dangerous, it is also the name of the new Bruce Willis action flick. Based on a D.C comic and directed by Robert Schwentke, watching this film felt a lot like meeting your best friend’s new girlfriend, you want to like her, and she seems nice enough, but you can’t escape the niggling feeling that he could probably do better. Featuring a cast of fantastic actors including John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, and Richard Dreyfus, this tale of a group of elderly assassins getting the band together one last time to fight off a threat from the agency never really fulfils on its promise. The problem is it just isn’t as much fun as it should be, the action isn’t exciting enough, the comedy isn’t funny enough, and Bruce appears to completely sleepwalk through his performance to the point where the viewer forgets that this man was John McClane.

The love story between Willis’s retired assassin and Mary Louise Parker’s bored phone operator never really catches the viewer’s attention and pales in comparison to the delightful sub plot of forbidden love between M.I.6 agent Mirren and K.G.B operative Cox. In fact, it is the supporting cast that saves the film, particularly a fantastic performance from Malkovich who has shown in films like Con Air and Burn After Reading that he is more than capable of not taking himself too seriously and just having fun in silly films. In the role of Marvin, a paranoid ex operative who was subjected to three decades of L.S.D testing, Malkovich is the glue that holds this film together. Similarly Brian Cox and Helen Mirren seem to be greatly enjoying themselves, even Richard Dreyfus appears to be having a great time as the deliberately hammy villain of the piece, screaming “I’m the bad guy!” in a way absent from cinema since the reign of Tony Montana.

So if all these actors are having such a great time on screen why didn’t I have just as much fun watching it? Like the equally flawed Die Hard 4, R.E.D is a film made up of set pieces rather than a steady flow of enjoyable action, and most of these set pieces appeared in the trailer. Ultimately if you are seeking out a no brainer slice of popcorn viewing on a Friday night you could do a lot worse than watching R.E.D, you may even enjoy it, but it is unlikely that you will remember it. Not having read the graphic novel I am unable to say if it is a truthful adaptation, but even so you can’t help but shake the feeling that with such a great supporting cast so much more could have been done with this film. It is the very definition of action by the numbers and whilst it will certainly get a few laughs from the audience it ultimately leaves them feeling unsatisfied.

Review by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams reviews the latest C.G caper to hit theatres.

I loved this film, no I adored this film. Go see it, take your children, if you don’t have any children then borrow someone else’s. Put simply Despicable Me is fun from start to finish, as enjoyable for the adults as it is for the little ones. The tale of a super villain named Gru, voiced fantastically in Bela Lugosi style by Steve Carell, and his attempt to commit the crime of the steal the moon! Along the way he must battle against his arch nemesis, a geeky super villain named Vector, manage an army of bumbling minions, and as a result of a plan gone wrong play unlikely father to three adorable orphaned girls. What works about this film is how fresh it is, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the colours are bright and the laughs are plentiful. Last month’s release of Toy Story 3 saw a wave of nostalgia for twenty somethings who affectionately remembered the first time they had met Woody and Buzz, but that nostalgia was lost on younger viewers. In despicable me they have the birth of characters they can claim as their own.

The story is light, a standard tale of a cold heart being melted by an unlikely source. Whilst Gru may be a villain he is by no means evil, and is an utterly likeable character. The orphans are necessarily cute, and the youngest of the three’s infatuation with unicorns is one of the highlights of the film. But the show is undoubtedly stolen by the minions, small yellow Tic Tac looking creatures that bicker in a garbled language and engage in raucous slapstick fun that will keep the whole family entertained. The voice work is fantastic, Carell gives Gru a sorrowful depth that helps us to stay firmly on his side even when he is at his naughtiest. Russell Brand is delightfully underplayed as the bumbling and ancient Dr. Nefario, to the point when one is left wondering if it is Brand at all. On top of this the animation is top notch and perfectly fits the playful style of the film. After the misstep that was Shrek Ever After, Despicable Me and Toy Story 3 are exactly what was needed to reminded us what CG animation is capable of.

As is the current trend this film was released in both 3D and 2D, but the simple 2D version is far superior to its gimmicky brother, rather than sitting watching children fidget as objects pointlessly fly towards them it is better to enjoy a traditional cinema going experience. This film is magical enough on its own, the fact that it’s fresh, fun and original should be its U.S.P rather than clumsy 3D animation. Family movies should feel like a party, they should send kids and adults home smiling, the best CG animations such as Monsters Inc, Toy Story, Wall-E, and Shrek have all managed to achieve that and Despicable Me more than deserves a place on that list.

Review by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams reviews HBO’s new prohibition drama.

There are certain brand names that are instantly synonymous with quality, Harley Davidson, Ferrari, Gillette, Bang and Olufsen, these are brands that have proven they deserve the reputations they have garnered by providing high quality products over and over again, HBO is a brand that deserves its place on that list. From The Wire, to The Sopranos, to Deadwood, HBO has proven time and time again that they are truly at the forefront when it comes to ground breaking drama. Which is why when trailers for its latest series Boardwalk Empire began to air it was hard not to get excited. Created by Terrance Winter, one of the minds behind the television legacy that is The Sopranos, and produced by Martin Scorsese, this one seemed like a no brainer.

Starring a cast helmed by the ever watchable Steve Buscemi the show tells the story of the power struggle that occurred following the introduction of prohibition in 1920’s America. The brunt of the plot centres on Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, Buscemi’s corrupt treasurer of Atlantic City, as he attempts to gain total control of the city through the illegal trade of alcohol, all the while battling against rival gangsters and trying to stay one step of head Michael Shannon’s square faced A.T.F agent. The show features a fantastic supporting cast routed in real history such as Michael Stuhlbarg as New York kingpin Arnold Rothstein, British actor Stephen Graham as a young Al Capone, as well as fictional characters such as Michael Pitt’s exiled war veteran Jimmy, and Kelly Macdonald as the conflicted Margaret Schroeder. Only a few episodes into the first series it has already become apparent that this is another classic. It may lack the edginess of The Wire or the cutting edge of The Sopranos this is due to the fact that it exists in the shadow of these ground breaking shows, but this takes away nothing from the overall feel of the series.

The script is fantastic, believable at all times and characters are able to show their inner thoughts without ever delving into exposition. Although sex and violence obviously feature heavily in the gangster based plot they never overburden the story allowing for small beats and nuances to become apparent on repeat viewing. The look of the show is fantastic, photo realistic reproductions of the Atlantic City Boardwalk and the characters that inhabited it allow for total immersion into the rich history of the time. Prohibition lasted just over ten years in America and the show has barely even begun to scratch the surface of the stories that came from the period. As with all historical pieces we know certain things will happen, Thompson’s empire fell and he ended up behind bars, Capone rose from the position of hired stooge to a prohibition kingpin in his own right, and prohibition finally came to an end. But the knowledge of history takes away nothing from the drama, just because we know where we are going doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the journey there, and what a journey Boardwalk Empire has proven to be so far.

Review by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams reviews Capcom’s latest slice of survival horror.

Capcom’s Dead Rising was one of the standout computer games of 2006, continuing the survival horror theme championed by the Resident Evil games X-Box 360 owners were offered the chance to battle their way through a Dawn of the Dead style shopping centre fighting of hordes of the undead with whatever happened to come to hand, a chainsaw, a bench, even...well....a hand. Now four years later Dead Rising 2 has been unleashed on a hungry market. Whilst at first glance it may appear to be a case of simply more of the same, the truth is there has been a world of subtle changes that make this game superior to its predecessor. This time gamers take on the role of Chuck Greene, a survivor of the first outbreak struggling to make enough money to pay for his daughter’s Zombrex medication, the only thing that will stop her from turning into a zombie. This leads him to Fortune City where he takes part in the game show Terror is Reality. However all is not as it seems in Fortune City and it’s not long before the zombies are loose and Chuck is rescuing survivors, fighting psychopaths and searching for Zombrex.

Like the previous game Dead Rising 2 offers the player an immersive seventy hour experience in Fortune City, during that time you can complete missions to forward the main story, rescue survivors or just go on kill frenzies. However playing the missions unlocks new areas and items for exploration so it is recommended that this is the way you play on your first outing. Also like its predecessor PP can be gained from completing missions, rescuing survivors and killing zombies in large numbers. This gained PP allows the gamer to level up increasing life, attributes and adding new attacks to your repertoire. It would seem that the U.S.P for Dead Rising 2 is the ability to combine weapons to create new novelty weapons, a chainsaw combine with a rowing oar, a giant teddy bear combined with a machine gun, an axe combined with a sledgehammer. The graphics are top notch and the sometimes clunky controls of the first game have been improved dramatically.

Although the game is at first great fun the problem facing Dead Rising 2 is very much the same one that faced the last game, after a couple of hours of game play everything starts to feel very sameish, bosses and zombies alike can be beaten with ease once their simple patterns of attack have been mastered. Similarly the A.I of survivors hasn’t improved dramatically since the last game and it often proves a lot easier to just leave the idiots to die and get on with what you were doing in the first place. Where Dead Rising 2 redeems itself is in the online gamer co-op mode. Working your way through different versions of the story with friends is simply a lot of fun, but again once this has been done a few times there really is no need to go back and play again as with the fantastic Red Dead Redemption. In short Dead Rising 2 is fun and well worth a play, but it is probably better to rent it over a weekend than spend any hard earned cash on it.

Reviewed by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams takes a look at the new drama detailing the rise of Facebook.

“Facebook me” It’s a phrase that has become synonymous with communication in the digital age. With over 500 million users and counting, Facebook has gone beyond the realms of social networking to become a major part of everyday modern life. But few people know the story behind the creation of the site, some may be aware of the name Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest billionaire in history and Facebook’s creator, but it is unlikely that any of Facebook’s users know of the several legal battles that occurred over the ownership of the site. This is the story told by David Fincher’s The Social Network, based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Bezrich and adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin, writer of The West Wing. The film focuses on Zuckerberg’s days as an isolated programming student at Harvard, his creation of the site, his rise to success and his betrayal of his closest friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

After the overblown, sentimentality of a vanity project like Benjamin Button it is good to see Fincher returning to the subtle dramatic tension he showed he could do so well in Zodiac. The pacing of the film is tight and for such a dry subject matter the two hours do seem to pass quite quickly. Flicking between two law suits, firstly by ousted co owner Eduardo Saverin, played by Andrew Garfield, and a second by the privileged Winklevoss twins, Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg tells the story of the birth of the site through his depositions. But this isn’t really a story about a website, it’s a story about people and what drives them, their greed, desire, and insecurity. Zuckerberg himself has complained about his portrayal in the film, and whilst there can be no doubt that he is presented as selfish, cold, and egotistical, Jesse Eisenberg adds a sense of fragility and sorrow to the role that ultimately leaves the viewer asking what would you do in the same situation? Would you really behave any better?

Sorkin’s script is as sharp witted and intelligent as fans of the West Wing may expect, the dialogue and exchanges between characters manages to show their humanity, whilst forwarding the plot and keeping those who may be computer illiterate in the loop. However a few of the narrative twists feel somewhat forced such as Zuckerberg coincidentally moving to a house opposite that of the girlfriend of his mentor, Napster founder Sean Parker, played very charismatically by Justin Timberlake. After the CG wizardry of Benjamin Button it would seem this is exactly what Fincher needed, and although it is an enjoyable watch, there is something ultimately missing. It is doubtful that this film will do well on DVD sales as there is no desire for a repeat viewing once you have finished watching it. After the critical and commercial success of Fight Club, Fincher has searched for a project to prove that the hype he garnered was deserved, this film, although good, is not the film to do that.

Review by Elliot Hyams