Wednesday 21 September 2011

Pearl Jam Twenty – not so much a review as a fan’s take

I’m a huge fan of Pearl Jam, and I’m a huge fan of Cameron Crowe (director of Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous amongst others), so there’s no point pretending I can offer an objective critical review of Pearl Jam Twenty, Crowe’s documentary of the band’s 20-year history so far. What I can tell you, having seen it at one of the worldwide one-day only screening’s last night, is that it is definitely one for the fans. Crowe's loosely chronological scrapbook-like approach offers up tidbits on the band's evolution over the years, inter-band relationships and songwriting processes; but ultimately this is a celebration, plain and simple, and taken on those terms it’s terrific.

Crowe has been a close friend of the band since before they were Pearl Jam, when they formed Mother Love Bone in the burgeoning early-90s Seattle grunge scene, and consequently he appears to have had access to every piece of film ever taken of the band. This means everything, from the band’s calamitous drunken performance at the wrap party for Crowe’s film Singles, to their tragic Roskilde festival slot in which 9 people were killed in a mosh-pit crush, is represented by on-the-spot video footage. There’s lots of good interview material with all the band members, as well as the scene’s other significant players, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell chief amongst them, but Crowe never dwells on a talking head for long when he has the pictures available to tell the story. His keen sense for comedy comes through too, with witty cutting between archive material and present-day reflections.

Predictably the first half of the film is more compelling than the second, as it contains so much fantastic footage from early performances and interviews, but even so, Crowe’s choice of live clips is never less than spot on, and he ends the film with a recent performance of Alive that is goosebump-inducing in its intensity. If you’re a fan of the band, you really owe it to yourself to see this movie as soon as possible.

Pearl Jam Twenty from Pearl Jam on Vimeo.

Sunday 18 September 2011

30 Minutes Or Less review (The List, Issue 687)

Reuniting Ruben Fleischer and Jesse Eisenberg, director and star of the hit comedy Zombieland (2009), this funny and silly diversion just about matches the previous film in terms of laughs, although it lacks the mix of invention and unique characterisation that made Zombieland particularly special.

Here Eisenberg plays Nick, a pizza delivery driver – hence the title – whose life consists of watching 80s action movies and refusing to get a ‘proper job’ like his best friend, schoolteacher Chet (Aziz Ansari). In a needlessly convoluted set-up, a pair of wannabe criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) kidnap Nick, strap a homemade bomb to his chest and threaten to detonate it in 10 hours unless he steals one hundred thousand dollars from a local bank for them. The reason they want the money is so they can pay a hitman (Michael Peña) to off McBride’s millionaire father (Fred Ward), but really the motives are irrelevant; Michael Diliberti’s script values laughs over logic, and fortunately enough of the gags hit their targets to make it easy to forgive the story’s shortcomings.

Realising he has no option but to rob the bank, Nick convinces Chet to help him, and Fleischer correspondingly kicks the film into action as they plan the heist, carry it out and deal with the increasingly desperate consequences. There’s some well-staged manic car chase action, nicely connecting with Nick’s love of 80s movies, while the cast have fun with Diliberti’s witty (and frequently potty-mouthed) observational dialogue. Ansari, previously seen in bit-parts and TV shows, is the stand-out performer, and he steals all the biggest laughs from under Eisenberg’s nose as the disapproving and incredulous ‘grown up’ friend. 

30 Minutes or Less is out now. This review also published at

Thursday 8 September 2011

Troll Hunter review (The List, Issue 687)

This monster movie was an unqualified box office hit in its native Norway, and has picked up dozens of rave reviews on the worldwide festival circuit, but aside from a couple of good jokes and a handful of impressive visual effects sequences, there’s nothing in André Ovredal’s film that hasn’t been done much better before.

It begins promisingly, with portentous opening text attesting to the veracity of this ‘found footage’, then a cut straight to handheld camera as three Norwegian media students document their pursuit of an illicit bear hunter. Their conversation is authentically mundane and the spectacular mountain scenery immediately atmospheric; it’s an aesthetic that’s been familiar since The Blair Witch Project so effectively rewrote the rulebook for modern horror. We seem to be on track for solid scares, but Ovredal abruptly gear-shifts to comedy once he reveals the trolls (fantastic CG creations that look like giant versions of Spike Jonze’s Wild Things). Not nearly scary enough to be a horror, but not consistently funny enough to be a comedy, Troll Hunter ends up somewhere in the middle.

Troll Hunter is on selected release from Fri 9 Sep. This review first published in The List magazine.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Weekender review (The List, Issue 687)

The do-it-yourself rave explosion in ‘90s Manchester is a moment of recent history ripe with storytelling potential – Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People demonstrated that wonderfully – but Weekender, Karl Golden’s brazenly shallow ode to the scene, offers less insight than a homemade video of a great night out. It’s the story of best mates Dylan (Jack O’Connell) and Matt (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), who start putting on club nights and are drawn into a world of great success and, once big-city drug dealers get wind of them, great danger. It’s a solid set-up, but Golden and writer Chris Coghill toss aside the moral, political and social issues inherent in the subject matter in favour of taking an hour and a half to say ‘remember the 90s? They were brilliant!’

Pelican Blood director Golden’s attempts at style – essentially using Dutch angles in every other scene – fail to distract from the script’s complete lack of tension, with every potentially dramatic plot turn clearly signposted, and a concluding piece of illogical storytelling that even Guy Ritchie would have reservations about committing to film. Thank the party gods then for Henry Lloyd-Hughes, whose excellent lead performance saves Weekender from being completely unwatchable.

General release from Fri 2 Sep. This review first published in The List magazine.