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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Patchy Premieres

I'm back to having a wee moan about the weekly premieres on the main Sky film channel -- their other nine have a nifty line of repeats and more repeats.  Unlike most weeks, there were actually a full five flicks this week that I'd not already seen, unlike last week when there were all of two, neither of which I particularly wanted to view.  Of course, PPP being PPP, I did watch them both: "Africa United" a fairly sugary tale of three youngsters making their way the 3000-odd miles from Rwanda to South Africa to get to the Soccer World Cup (much of which I saw on fast-forward) and "Paranormal Activity 2".  I can't begin to believe that this actually made money at cinemas -- which it did -- since the first film in this series was about as scary as corn flakes and this second one was a fine example of watching paint dry with absolutely nothing happening until the last five minutes.  No doubt P.A. 3 is en route...

Anyhow, what about this week's five?  As usual something of a mixed bag with not a lot to get excited about:

First up was a Hallmark Channel product called "A Dog Named Christmas".  Given its origins, you would be right in guessing that it was a healthy, family drama with a feel-good punchline.  A pleasant but somewhat intellectually-challenged young man living on a farm with his parents hears that the local animal shelter is urging the community to 'adopt a dog for Christmas' and not only manages to convince his folks to let him do so (father Bruce Greenwood has doggy-issues in his background), but also convinces the family's married offspring, their friends, and neighbours to do so as well.  Naturally the chosen dog, whom he has promised to return to the shelter on December 26th, turns out to be a heroic charmer ultimately melting even Greenwood's hard heart.  A totally watchable film, especially if you love dogs, but otherwise pretty yuck as cinema.

Then there was the "big" premiere of the week, director Tony Scott's "Unstoppable" starring the Denzel and Chris Pine.  Based on a true incident from 2001 (but reminiscent of earlier movies), we have veteran train driver Washington and his novice conductor Pine risking their necks to stop a runaway train laden with dangerous chemicals from wreaking havoc on the communities in its path by preventing its derailing.  To give Scott his due, there is no denying his skill at getting our adrenaline flowing and to make us savour the growing tension, but again it wasn't exactly brilliant film-making.  Both leads did an adequate job, as did Rosario Dawson back in the control room, but there were a number of loose ends, especially with the subplot of a bunch of school kids taking an educational train ride, who were never actually in danger.  Anyhow the end credits tell us that the Washington character who was working out his 90-days notice was told that he could keep his job.  So there you go...another happy ending.

The week's third film was the one I actually liked best although it is something of an obscurity and a real mish-mash of talent: "The Warrior's Way", which advance reviews suggested would be abysmal.  Produced and filmed in New Zealand, the movie is the first and only feature written and directed by someone called Sngmoo Lee (nor me) and stars a Korean, Dong-gun Jang, alongside Yanks Kate Bosworth and Danny Houston (as the big baddie), and Aussie award-winner Geoffrey Rush.  Our hero is an invincible swordsman in exile with a small babe in America's 'wild, wild west'. He's hired by Bosworth as a laundryman but ends up teaching her fighting skills so that she can avenge herself on Houston and his murderous horde of outlaws who killed her husband and child.  In this same small community we also have a stranded colourful troupe of circus artistes, amongst whom is Rush's perpetually drunken sharpshooter.  What makes this movie so remarkable is the flair with which the director has staged the setting, with stylised sets reminiscent of von Trier's "Dogville" (2003), and his skill with the martial arts elements, especially with flocks of ninja warriors descending from the sky in pursuit of the rogue swordsman. In fact all of the action sequences are both brilliantly handled and exciting -- far more so than one would expect from this film's mongrel components.

As for films four and five, the fourth one "London Boulevard" was so forgettable that I had trouble remembering what it was called or what it was about within a day.  Ex-con Colin Farrell is hired by David Thewlis as a bodyguard for Keira Knightley's actress superstar and must fend off the larcenous ambitions of Ray Winston's Mr. Big.  Yawn...   Number five, "Puncture", came across as a made-for-television effort, although with current flavour-of-the-month Chris Evans in the lead, this was possibly a 'real' film.  Again based on a true story, it tells of Evans as hotshot lawyer Mike Weiss and his more grounded partner taking on the crusade of getting the hospital buying cartels to purchase a new type of life-saving syringes.  Meanwhile druggie Weiss is fighting his own demons in the form of his uncontrollable drug habit (which eventually took his life) a la Gosling in "Half Nelson".  Sorry...more yawns.

The annoying fact is that Sky manage to offer a pretty up-to-date selection of appealing movies on their pay-per-view Box Office, but many of these never make it to their regular subscription channels, where the weekly premieres tend to be padded out with made-for-TV dross.  It's just as well that I'm not totally dependent on them for my viewing pleasures. Even if I do try to watch all of their new offerings, there is always a miscellany of non-Sky channels and the growing DVD backlog to enhance my choices.   In fact, I never seem to catch up -- which is actually a good thing in this instance.  Keeps me busy and off the streets!!
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