Thursday, 25 November 2010


Elliot Hyams takes a look at the new DreamWorks animation that claims ‘it’s good to be bad’.

Being a super villain is not as much fun as you may think. The bad guy may get to blow stuff up and say all the best lines, but you need look no further than the Superman series for evidence of the obvious downsides. Evil rivals to the man of steel never win, they are launched into outer space, or thrown into their own nefarious contraptions, or constantly find themselves behind bars. It would seem that engaging in a battle of wills with a super powered muscle man from another world is a mug’s game that leads only to disappointment and defeat. But what if, just once, the bad guy won? What happens then? This question is answered in the new CG animation from DreamWorks, Megamind. Featuring the voice talents of Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, and Johan Hill, this is Team Spielberg’s attempt to win back face after the abysmal Shrek Forever After took a commercial pounding from Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me.

Ferrell provides the voice for Megamind, a down on his luck super villain from another world who has spent his entire life being bested by Brad Pitt’s chisel jawed hero, Metro Man. Aided and abetted by his talking fish sidekick Minion, Megamind is continually foiled in his attempts to kidnap reporter Roxanne Ritchi and take over Metro city. Then one day, one of his evil schemes finally succeeds, Metro Man is destroyed and the city is his. But rather than being happy, the evil genius gets depressed, his life lack purpose. So he decides to create Titan, a new hero to battle infused with Metro Man’s DNA. Unfortunately due to an accident this ends up being Roxanne’s oddball camera man, who misuses his new found powers and forces Megamind to question the only way of life he has ever known.

Megamind is a lot of fun. It sticks to the formula that has proven successful for CG animations since Toy Story by offering entertainment for both children and adults. Farrell is on top form as the bumbling villain and his exchanges with David Cross as Minion create the biggest laughs of the film. Jonah Hill gives a notable performance, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that he is simply playing an animated version of the same awkward character he plays in every film. The animation is cartoonish but it fits the story, perfectly parodying the imagery of comic books. On the downside the love story between Megamind and Roxanne does feel somewhat forced and will probably bore younger viewers, and the third act of the story pales in comparison to the unabashed silliness of the first two. Megamind is a good film, it’s entertaining and the majority of the gags work very well, but it does lack longevity. Whilst characters like Buzz, Woody and Shrek have gone on to become beloved icons nothing really stays with you after watching Megamind. Regardless of this it is utterly enjoyable and a great way to fill an afternoon with the family.

Review by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams gets on board for the story of runaway locomotive 777.

Train 777 rolls out of the Pennsylvania Station, picking up speed rapidly. It carries a half mile long cargo made up of fuel and chemical containers and it is heading towards a highly populated area. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be that alarming, but no one is driving Train 777, its air breaks have been disengaged and nothing can slow it down. For all intents and purposes Train 777 is now an unstoppable missile. Based on a true story, this is the Plot of the new Tony Scott film, Unstoppable. When all other strategies fail to stop the speeding monster it is left to two fearless railway employees, played by Denzel Washington and Star Trek’s Chris Pine, to risk life and limb to bring the runaway locomotive to a halt.

I was genuinely surprised by this film, the trailers made it look interesting, but not the kind of film that would leave a lasting impression. But to his credit Tony Scott has created a compelling piece of viewing. It is hard to place this film within a particular genre, at times it feels like a disaster film, complete with experts who give ample warnings of impending doom and greedy business men who ignore them. There are elements of drama as the two central characters each have emotional crosses to bare, but these tagged on side stories mostly fall flat. Where Unstoppable excels is when its lets go and becomes a chase movie. The determination of the two men to catch up with and stop Train 777 is thrilling and leads to genuine moments of dramatic tension. The films is well shot, Scott resists the flashy look that has been the calling card of his action films instead going for a more naturalistic style, this combined with the use of faux news footage adds to the sense of realism and impending doom.

The script isn’t particularly impressive and often slips into tedious clichés but the two leads do great work with the material they have. Washington has made a career out of turning in good performances and he is as watchable as ever as veteran train driver Frank Barnes. This is the kind of subtle character that he excels at and it is a pleasure to watch him return to form after the tripe that was The Book of Eli. The genuine surprise of the film is Chris Pine, he more than holds his own against Denzel as Will Colson, a young conductor with something to prove. But perhaps the greatest presence in the film is the runaway locomotive itself. Scott gives great character to Train 777. It roars like a T-Rex, destroys anything in its path like the Terminator, and at times is almost reminiscent of the shark from Jaws. Not since Dual has a form of transportation had such a malevolent on screen presence. Unstoppable isn’t exactly a classic, at times it is predictable and many of the characters seem to have been directly lifted from the big book of disaster movie stereotypes, but in terms of excitement it delivers on all fronts.

Review by Elliot Hyams


Elliot Hyams takes a look at the new film that refuses to be boxed in, Buried.

Imagine waking up in a dark confined space. Struggling for breath you fumble around, finally finding your lighter, igniting the flame you realise you are trapped inside a coffin. As you bang against the lid of your small wooden prison, sand pours down through the cracks. Slowly, the realisation dawns on you, you have been buried alive somewhere in the Iraqi dessert. This is the predicament facing Paul Conroy, the kidnapped American truck driver played by Ryan Reynolds in Buried. In a race against time Paul tries to get help using his only link to the outside world, the mobile phone his captors left for him to negotiate his ransom with an unwilling embassy. Buried created quite a buzz at the Sundance Film Festival, the concept of limiting a film entirely to one actor in the single location of a coffin left some viewers dazzled and others unimpressed, and there is no doubt that it will continue to split the opinion of audiences on its wider release.

For most people the thought of spending an entire film solely in the company of Ryan Reynolds is a horrifying prospect, but to his credit he does a good job in his portrayal of Paul. His performance carries the film and shows a depth that has thus far been lacking in any of his other work. A lot of the credit for this should go to writer Chris Sparling. His script is intelligent, believable, and tense. The time in the coffin never becomes dull as the simplest things become arduous for Paul, reaching for a dropped item in the confined space, trying to stem the flow of leaking sand, watching the battery on his phone slowly die. Paul is a well written character and there is something very real in his fear and desperation. There isn’t much room for development of the other characters in the film, they appear purely as voices on the other end of the phone, but Sparling uses these conversations to explore the character of Paul.

It would seem reasonable to assume that Buried would be visually dull considering the action never leaves the confines of the coffin. But director Rodrigo Cortés does a commendable job with the camera work, using zooms, pans, lighting, and quick edits to great effect. Whilst it may not win any awards for cinematography Buried does demonstrate what can be achieved when film making is stripped down to basics. However, movies are a visual medium and despite its unique and intelligent delivery Buried is still essentially just a man in a box for ninety minutes. Cortés decision not to use flashbacks or cut away shots of the people Paul talks to is brave and helps to maintain the intensity of the film, but it may serve to antagonise the short attention spans of viewers craving the next Avatar or Scott Pilgrim. The makers of Buried deserve credit for what they have achieved, a clever and original thriller. But it is doubtful that the film will be able to transfer critical acclaim garnered at film festivals into financial success in the multiplexes.

Review by Elliot Hyams

Sunday, 21 November 2010


Elliot Hyams sees if the latest instalment of the Harry Potter franchise still has the same magic.

J.K Rowling must be thanking her lucky stars, little could she have known that her book about a plucky young wizard would go on to make her a billionaire. But it did exactly that, gaining a dedicated fan base and spawning one of the most successful franchises in history. There have been seven Harry Potter books, and whilst I must admit that it isn’t really my taste in literature, the film adaptations have proven to be enjoyable slices of family orientated fantasy. This month sees the release of the seventh and penultimate Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, with Part II arriving in early 2011. Warner Brothers say the decision to split the final book was based on the desire to not condense Rowling’s greatest work and had nothing to do with wanting to milk as much money from the successful franchise before the inevitable final battle between Harry and evil Lord Voldemort.

The film picks up where The Half Blood Prince left off, Dumbledore is dead and Voldemort grows more powerful with every passing day. The Ministry of Magic has fallen and even Hogwarts is no longer safe. Whilst continuing to evade Voldemort’s snatchers, Harry, Ron, and Hermione search for the remaining Horcruxes that will aid in their battle against the dark lord. As their friendship is put to the test, Harry and the gang learn of the Deathly Hallows, three sacred artefacts that render their possessor near indestructible. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Potter franchise is the way in which the characters and themes of the films have matured along with its audience. It seems every time a new Potter film is released critics talk about how ‘dark’ it is compared to its predecessors and this is certainly true of The Deathly Hallows. The film features several scenes that might be a bit much for younger viewers, and parents taking small children to see the film should be aware that at times it goes well beyond simple fantasy and into the realm of full blown horror.

As with all the Potter films The Deathly Hallows is visually impressive, this is director David Yates third go at the helm, and he maintains the gothic feel that he brought to the last two films. There isn’t much room to experiment within the confines of such an established world but Yates does manage to give this instalment a unique feel, most notably in a fantastically realised shadow animation sequence. The three young leads are as enjoyable to watch as ever and the franchise continues to be a who’s who of British thespians. Sadly Alan Rickman plays only a minor part this time, but Helena Bonham Carter shines as the demented Bellatrix Lestrange. Ultimately, if the last six Potter films didn’t win you over then I very much doubt that this one will either, but the many fans of the series will be pleased with the latest adaptation. The Deathly Hallows Part I sets the scene for one of the most eagerly anticipated cinematic showdowns of all time, let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Review by Elliot Hyams

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Elliot Hyams takes a look at the hard-hitting mountain drama that wowed audiences at this year’s Sundance.

A young girl, no older than seventeen, watches her young brother and sister play against the backdrop of a snow covered southern Ozark Mountain. She cares for them whilst her highly medicated mother sits silently indoors. This is no life for a girl her age, but since her father broke bail and disappeared whilst on charges of cooking meth this is the life that she has been forced to accept. Just when it seems as if things couldn’t get any worse for her, the sheriff appears to inform her that unless her father returns within a week for his trial, they will lose their house and land to the bondsmen. This is the predicament that faces Ree Dolly, the brave heroine of the award winning drama Winter’s Bone. Left with no alternative, Ree sets out to track down her father, coming face to face with the dark underside of the mountain community, where cooking drugs is the main source of income, and unwelcome questions are met with a violent response.

A lot has already been written about this powerful drama, earlier in the year it took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, picking up the awards for best picture and best screenplay, but is it worthy of all the hype? The resounding answer is yes. Winter’s Bone is an unrelenting piece of cinema, by no means is it an easy watch. ‘Gritty’ and ‘hard hitting’ would be understatements when describing this film, as the mood of the piece is a bleak as the landscape against which it is set. The pacing is deliberate and slow, which combined with the lack of any kind of relief will make it unappealing for anyone in the mood for a spot of light viewing. Writer/director Debra Granik is brutally honest in her depiction of a world that is unfortunately a reality for many young children, forced to become old before their time. Her script is worthy of the praise it has received, none of the characters on screen feel like stereotypes, and the story remains believable at all times.

Without doubt the greatest credit to this film is the incredible performance by Jennifer Lawrence as Ree. Some of the things she goes through are hard to watch, but the audience is with Ree all the way. The determination of the young girl to keep her family together and discover the truth no matter what is stunningly portrayed by Lawrence, and it will be interesting to watch her grow as an actress in future projects. Former Deadwood star John Hawkes does an equally fantastic job in his portrayal of Ree’s uncle Teardrop, a role that requires a level of depth that makes you wonder why this talented actor was never snatched up by Hollywood. Winter’s Bone covers a lot of dark territory, and its portrayal of both isolated living and the effects of drugs on a community do not make for easy viewing. It is relentless and can leave the viewer feeling winded, but for those that can stomach it, they will discover one of the most interesting dramas of 2010.

Review by Elliot Hyams