Colin Le Sueur

Colin Le Sueur

colin@colinlesueur.com
Colin Le Sueur

Film Reviews

The Avengers (2012)

IMDB page for The Avengers The Avengers
USA 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth
IMDb Link

I’d been waiting a long time for this film to come along. Growing up it always bugged me that the worlds depicted in superhero films were always so self-contained. Batman would never run into Superman or Spider-Man never called on the X-Men for help. Due to tight restrictions on trademarks, studio control meant that the only place you’d ever see your favourite heroes teaming up is in the comics. However, thanks to Marvel’s new vision of a shared filmic universe, I can finally see the film I’ve been waiting for my whole life. In The Avengers, Joss Whedon has skilfully built on an existing handful of strong standalone films (though designed to exist in the same continuity) and delivered an amazing action film with a solid foundation of character and heart.

In an ensemble film, there’s always the risk of one actor or character overshadowing the others. Whedon manages this difficult task expertly, alternating focus between the major players and weaving in and out of multiple narratives to give everyone equal attention. This works especially well on a character level, as the power levels of the different Avengers exist on a wide spectrum, ranging from talented assassin to Asgardian god. None of the heroes ever feel superfluous or out of their depth.

All of the Avengers have great moments in the film but the Hulk really stands out. Both Mark Ruffalo as Banner and the CGI Hulk offer terrific performances (including some genuinely hilarious moments of physical comedy). Even though there’ve been two previous cinematic versions of the Hulk in the last ten years, Whedon really delivers the quintessential iteration.

Even though the action sequences are amazing, The Avengers never totally disappears under a CGI haze. The focus always comes back to character interaction and that’s one of the main reasons this film works so well. All the characters are believable and I truly cared about what happened to them. The Avengers also managed to surprise me more than once, even given the massive marketing blitz, and that’s down to Whedon’s writing and direction.

The Avengers is an epic superhero crossover event and has easily become one of my favourite films from the past few years. Here’s hoping that DC sees this as an example and works toward that Justice League film we’ve been dreaming about for 30 years.

Colin Le Sueur
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
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Super 8 (2011)

IMDB page for Super 8 Super 8
USA 2011
Director: J.J. Abrams
With Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths
IMDb Link

Growing up, I always wanted to be part of an adventure, one of a group of kids ready to fight monsters (like in The Monster Squad) or hunt for pirate treasure (like in The Goonies). These kids were tough and brave and put themselves in the path of danger because no one else would. My adventurer aspirations didn’t last very long but these films had a big impact on me. Super 8 brought back a lot of those memories and if I’d seen it back when I was a kid in the 1980s, I would’ve been first in line to join their group of adventurers, shooting zombie movies and investigating the mystery of an Air Force train crash.

Abrams does an excellent job of capturing the idea of smalltown life in the 1970s. The kids roam the neighbourhood on bikes, hang out at each other’s houses and generally spend all their summer together. Leaving aside whether this is an accurate depiction, Super 8 hits all the nostalgia points head on, recreating the feeling of the 70s. This is strengthened by the terrific and natural performances from the main actors. The acting in general is quite good, though Eldard seems out of place as a troubled father.

The most interesting element in the film is the characterisation of the creature, which is given complex motivations and behaviour. Alternating between sympathetic and menacing, this nuanced depiction creates a genuine feeling of peril and ensures a steady level of tension throughout the film. Refreshingly, Abrams reigns in the anthropomorphic tendencies seen in similar films and presents a truly frightening creation.

With a likeable cast and an interesting creature, Super 8 is both a nostalgic look at childhood lost and a new interpretation of an old idea.

Colin Le Sueur
Thursday, January 26th, 2012
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Rubber (2010)

IMDB page for Rubber Rubber
France / Angola 2010
Director: Quentin Dupieux
With Stephen Spinella, Jack Plotnick, Roxane Mesquida
IMDb Link

There seem to be decreasingly fewer truly unique films released these days, a glut of remakes, sequels and re-imaginings taking the place of smaller, independent features. While franchises have their place, it’s nice to see a film so strange and surreal that it almost defies description. On the surface, Rubber is a story of a rubber tire that comes to life and kills people with its mind but the actual film is a commentary on Hollywood films and the role of the audience in cinema.

The film begins with a character addressing the camera directly in a monologue regarding arbitrary decisions in Hollywood films. This scene shapes the rest of the film, with a clearly arbitrary object chosen in the role of protagonist/antagonist. The tire is anthropomorphised, good editing and a clever movement mechanism helping to give a sense of real character to the inanimate object. More than just movement, the tire also has telekinetic powers and uses these to drive the plot, exploding all living creatures he comes across.

Rubber exists in a strange metafilmic reality, with a group of spectators literally standing in the desert and watching the action of the film through binoculars, occasionally offering commentary or opinions. The inclusion of an audience as Greek chorus is interesting; they begin by replicating a typical group of cinema-goers, kept at a distance to the action but get gradually drawn more and more into the narrative. The spectators are shown as mostly ignorant, consuming anything given to them regardless of the consequences.

If the main character of Rubber had been humanoid then the plot would be fairly common: dangerous stranger becomes obsessed with a woman and follows her, leaving death in his wake. However, because the main character is a rubber tire, the whole situation is made surreal and shows how hollow some Hollywood films have become. Director Dupieux knows the idea is ridiculous and uses this film to poke fun at the Hollywood machine.

Colin Le Sueur
Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
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TrollHunter (2010)

IMDB page for TrollHunter TrollHunter (aka Trolljegeren)
Norway 2010
Director: André Øvredal
With Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Mørck
Language: Norwegian
IMDb Link

In the past few years the monster movie has gone through a significant and dramatic shift. From Joon-ho’s The Host in 2006 to Edwards’ Monsters in 2010, recent monster movies have begun to rely less and less on spectacle and special effects, focusing instead on character development and realism. TrollHunter continues this trend, faux documentary style strengthened by a strong factual underpinning and realistic special effects.

There’s a strong realism throughout this film, even concerning the more mythical elements. There are reasonable and scientific explanations for almost everything, from animal behaviour to reproductive cycles. Combined with excellent special effects that nearly blend seemlessly with the beautiful Norwegian countryside and a collection of naturalistic performances, the fact-based plot and characters help create an immersive and believable story.

Unlike some faux documentary or found footage films, TrollHunter keeps the handheld camera relatively stable and never goes over the top, even when the characters are running through the woods. However, the filmmakers do take some liberties with the found footage idea and cut corners in certain situations, leaving some questions unanswered or unresolved.

TrollHunter is interesting and engrossing and demonstrates that even relatively low budgets can provide a realistic and spectacular monster movie.

Colin Le Sueur
Monday, October 10th, 2011
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Scream 4 (2011)

IMDB page for Scream 4 Scream 4
USA 2011
Director: Wes Craven
With Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
IMDb Link

Fifteen years after the release of the clever and groundbreaking Scream, Wes Craven returns to the series that helped to redefine the slasher genre. The state of the Hollywood horror film has changed greatly since the mid-90s, with waxing and waning cycles of Asian horror and over-the-top splatter franchises. Scream 4 struggles in this new environment and never rises above the level of toothless, watered-down remake.

Although the original Scream series started strong and ended weak, there was a coherent, consistent narrative and the story came to a natural conclusion. Scream 4 is a forced return to a closed story and can’t help but feel unnecessary and contrived. The three main characters from the first series sleepwalk through the plot, serving as a weak reminder of more interesting times.

Much of the style and humour from the original film is gone, with a string of gratuitous film references and social media shoehorned into a tired setting. Self-reflexivity and meta-filmic in-jokes take the place of complex characterisation and interesting plot twists. Craven’s always been an interesting filmmaker but his style is lost here, creepy sequences and interludes replaced with familiar camerawork and vanilla editing.

There are glimpses of an interesting film in Scream 4 but it’s ultimately an overly safe and dull remake of a genre-breaking classic.

Colin Le Sueur
Thursday, August 18th, 2011
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Ninja Assassin (2009)

IMDB page for Ninja Assassin Ninja Assassin
USA/Germany 2009
Director: James McTeigue
With Rain, Naomie Harris, Ben Miles
IMDb Link

Ninjas exist in the same strange mythological space as zombies, pirates and cowboys, with a rich visual tradition somehow totally divorced from historical and scientific fact. A ninja can be anything from an unskilled fighter in black pyjamas to an occult master of time and space. Ninjas have been mutant turtles, fat comedians and shadowy assassins but they’ve never been taken too seriously, as demonstrated in Ninja Assassin.

Ostensibly a serious revenge film, Ninja Assassin is filled with buckets of blood and flying limbs, clunky exposition, and gratuitous scenes of protagonist Rain exercising shirtless. This is a classic B movie disguised by slick production provided by the Wachowskis and direction courtesy of McTeigue, best known for his film version of V for Vendetta. In fact, Ninja Assassin feels like an extended version of the slickest fight sequences from that earlier film. That’s not to say the visuals are without fault, however, as most of the night scenes seem murky and under lit.

The acting is a mixed bag, with the film existing in a strange world where absolutely everyone speaks near-perfect English, including Japanese gangsters and German neighbours. Even the love interest, played by British actor Naomie Harris, speaks with an American accent (though she works in Berlin for an international law enforcement agency). I’m not asking for the whole film to be in Japanese (unreasonable for a primarily-American production) but why not have some of the characters speak their native language even occasionally?

The best parts of the film are also the rarest: good, clear ninja action. For a film called Ninja Assassin, there actually aren’t that many good fight sequences. There’s a good bloody opening fight scene but the film relies too much of murky CG and sloppy gunfights to be a truly satisfying ninja experience. I wasn’t too disappointed in this film (as my expectations weren’t that high) but it rarely rises above an average action film, even with some decent gore; interminable flashbacks and sloppy dialogue make it more of a slog.

Colin Le Sueur
Friday, March 4th, 2011
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Survival of the Dead (2009)

IMDB page for Survival of the Dead Survival of the Dead
USA / Canada 2009
Director: George A. Romero
With Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe
IMDb Link

When I was younger I used to ask myself what it’d be like if George Romero directed a new zombie film. How could he possibly top the legendary Dead trilogy, concluded in 1985? After him being only partially involved in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, the thought of a new Romero zombie film was almost beyond belief. Thankfully (though some would argue otherwise), Romero’s had a zombie renaissance in the last few years, with three new Dead films released in the last five years. Perhaps tellingly, the budget for these new films has decreased with every new release; his most recent, Survival of the Dead, was independently produced.

I think the decreasing budget helped this new film; by focusing on a small group of survivors in a confined area (echoing the original 1968 version of Night of the Living Dead), he’s able to get back to what he does best: depict humanity fighting amongst themselves while facing the walking dead.

There’s something charming about Survival of the Dead. The makeup is closer to what it was in the 1980s and there’s a lot more humour than there was in Diary of the Dead. Romero’s not taking himself or the film as seriously this time around and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience. There are a few new developments in the mythology of the zombies but everything works; he’s been making zombie films for over 40 years and he knows it inside and out.

The acting is about what you’d expect; some good performances but others a bit over-the-top. I liked Sarge, the main character, but I can’t tell you exactly why. I do like the fact that he was a small character in Diary of the Dead, which makes this film the first true sequel to any in the Dead series.

There’s also the expected level of gore with some good kills, both zombie and human. I know that CGI has progressed to a level now that it’s sometimes cheaper than practical effects, but I still prefer physical stunts and gags for zombie films. There’s just something more satisfying about a bloody squib exploding all over a zombie instead of his head disappearing in a CGI mist.

Though not to everyone’s taste, I enjoyed Survival of the Dead. Fun, gory, and occasionally thought-provoking: everything you’d expect from classic George Romero.

Colin Le Sueur

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Thursday, April 8th, 2010
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Let the Right One In (2008)

IMDB page for Let the Right One In Let the Right One In (aka Låt den rätte komma in)
Sweden 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
With Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Language: Swedish
IMDb Link

While finding something original in today’s culture of remakes and re-imaginings is often difficult, finding a new idea in the horror genre is practically unheard of. Since most horror films deal in common character and story types, when a film simply attempts to do something slightly different with an established genre archetype the result can either be terrible and banal (leading to the return to and reinforcement of genre status quo) or remarkable and innovative, leading to new interpretations of old ideas. Let the Right One In manages the impossible, bringing a fresh approach to a well-known horror archetype while still keeping within the boundaries of the mythology.

The tone and mood of this film is set early and never wavers: cold, austere, and distant. Several times I had to remind myself that this film was released in 2008 and not the early 1970s; even the use of CGI (though sparing) doesn’t detract from this feeling. The main focus of this film seems to be realism, perhaps to balance the unreal elements of story. The director strikes a fine balance between real and unreal, giving a believable picture of a figure of classic horror mythology living in contemporary society.

The acting in this film is quite good, especially from the two young leads. Both give mature, natural performances that help to strengthen the film’s credibility and realism. These performances help to increase the atmosphere of isolation and loneliness central to the film. That said, however, there is genuine warmth and tenderness between the young boy and girl which is a credit to the ability of the young actors.

In a time where horror films seem to getting larger and louder, I’m always pleased to see a director with a light touch and the confidence to make a small film about large ideas. Let the Right One In is a cold, haunting film and a welcome new take on an old formula.

Colin Le Sueur
Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
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Watchmen (2009)

IMDB page for Watchmen Watchmen
UK/USA/Canada 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
With Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman
IMDb Link

For some films it’s hard to remain objective, a detached observer able to critique and analyse with an open mind. In this case, the Watchmen graphic novel made such a terrific impact on me as a teenager that there’s no way I could write an objective review of the film. Though completely separate entities, my enjoyment of the comic does colour my experience of the film which, primarily, strives to be as accurate an adaptation as possible, given the various limitations of film in comparison to comics.

Director Snyder was in a tough position making Watchmen. Would he truly adapt the graphic novel, cutting and editing a decidedly epic story that spans nearly six decades into a trim, cohesive and thought-provoking film or would he choose to follow the route previously set by 300 and make a near carbon copy of the comic, perhaps sacrificing a smoother-flowing film narrative for a more faithful translation? In the theatrical cut of the film, it’s clear he tried to do both, to varying success.

The major sequences from the comic are expertly represented, with matching composition and colours helping to create a seamless transition between page and screen. The characters are mostly how I imagined them and the world depicted is a familiar one from the comic. The problem lies with the fact that most viewers of the film won’t have read the comic and won’t be familiar with the world or characters of Watchmen. Snyder does a good job of quick exposition, not slowing the film down with a long history lesson, but there’s still a lot of nuance lost (not surprising considering the depth and complexity of the comic).

Where Watchmen stumbles a bit is in the action sequences. While entertaining and technically well executed, the fight scenes are slightly over-the-top, more akin to The Matrix or V for Vendetta. In fact, some of the film’s visuals are too slick, too glossy. A more realistic approach would’ve helped to ground the film further, creating a truly believable world and characters.

Ultimately, this film was made for the fans of the comic. For those not familiar with the world of Watchmen prior to seeing the film, Watchmen is an exciting, intelligent, dark comic adaptation filled with complex characters and moral ambiguity. For the full effect, however, you need to read the Watchmen comic and immerse yourself in the world created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Zack Snyder’s version of the world is good, but Moore’s is better.

Colin Le Sueur
Sunday, March 8th, 2009
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All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

IMDB page for All the Boys Love Mandy Lane All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
USA 2006
Director: Jonathan Levine
With Amber Heard, Anson Mount, Michael Welch
IMDb Link

I have to admit, slasher films are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Watching horror films as a teen, slashers always seemed to provide the right mix of gore, sex and shocks my still-developing mind craved. When I began to study films, I felt secretly justified to discover how surprisingly complex the slasher film can be. When it comes to slasher films, even the worst of the worst have some interesting psychological quirk that usually make viewings bearable. Thankfully, there are still excellent slasher films being made these days and even some that manage to do something new.

Although this film is clearly in the slasher genre, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane never feels like a typical slasher film. The structure and pacing fits the established pattern but director Levine manages to keep things feeling fresh with interesting visuals and a terrific soundtrack. The look of this film is polished but not over-produced (a hard balance to find) and there’s enough good gore to please the genre fans without becoming gratuitous.

Amber Heard plays the title role fairly well with a good mix of girl-next-door and object of desire. The others do a decent job, with no-one particularly bad or good. As supporting characters they serve their roles well, increasing tension and threat as they’re systematically killed off around the main character.

This film helps to bring a little spark back to the fading slasher genre, a new take on an old story. Though not as revolutionary as some believe, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is entertaining, scary and sexy and makes me love the slasher genre even more.

Colin Le Sueur

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Thursday, January 8th, 2009
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