Welcome

Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Rocky IV


*

When superhuman, cold-hearted Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) beats Apollo (Carl Weathers) to death in an exhibiton match, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) swears to avenge his once rival turned brother figure, so travels to Russia, where he trains hard in order to defeat Drago in the ring on Christmas Day.

Again, we have a ridiculously rehashed sequel offered to us. Rocky has an opponent he just has to face, he's seriously outmatched, so he trains his a**e off so that he will triumph. It's overly predictable, we've already seen it twice with Rocky II (1979) and Rocky III (1982), and having no development and nothing new to work with results in some truly poor performances - two of which won Golden Raspberries, another two of which were nominated. The actors are bland, wooden and very dull, giving truly one-sided performances of stupid, even pathetic characters, although never as poor as the screenplay. Everything is written to be over the top and very unrealistic - the realism was what made Rocky (1976) so wonderfully powerful. For his training Rocky axes trees and pretty much sprints up a mountain. I mean, are we seriously meant to believe that this 38 year old boxer who barely ways 200lbs is Superman or something?

On, the upside Lundgren makes Drago an exceptionally intimidating and brutal fighter. Almost two metres tall, with superhuman strength - although use of steroids is implied - you can't help but watch this beast with a slight sense of nervousness as you just picture yourself getting slaughtered in the ring by this brute. That's why the climactic fight scene with Rocky is about the only very good scene in the film, because they are both brutal - in Lundgren's case brutal enough to make Mr. T look tame - and they fight with such brutal passion you can't help but get drawn in. At the same time, however, this makes you look at the film as being even more unrealistic than you were throughout. Rocky wins, despite being about 180lbs lighter than Drago. So are we meant to believe that a solid brick wall can be taken down by a sturdy, though ultimately pitiful plank of wood? Because that is what this scene is saying.

A couple of intense scenes don't stop this film from simply being a case of overkill and you can't help but now look at the franchise as being all in all not that good now. Had they just left it at the end of Rocky II it would be fine. Rocky's Heavyweight Champion of the World, his goal is fulfilled, and it would have been a two-part film series ending on a high note. Shame on you, Stallone, shame on you, for tarnishing everyone's fond memories of the original.


1985.
PG.
Stars:
Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Talia Shire, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen, Tony Burton, Carl Weathers, Michael Pataki, George Rogan, James "Cannonball" Green, Rocky Krakoff.

Golden Raspberries: Worst Director (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst New Star (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst Supporting Actress (Brigitte Nielsen), Worst Musical Score (Vince DiCola).
Golden Raspberry nominations: Worst Picture (Irwin Winkler, Robert Chartoff), Worst Screenplay (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Supporting Actor (Burt Young), Worst Supporting Actress (Talia Shire).

Rocky III


**

Three years after becoming the World Heavyweight Champion, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) loses the title to newcomer Clubber Lang (Mr. T), on the same night manager and old friend Mickey (Burgess Meredith) dies. Determined to make Mickey proud and reclaim his title the ever aging boxer starts training with old rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who wants a**hole Lang to be knocked off his high horse just as much as Rocky does.

Ultimately this is a rehash of the quite decent Rocky II (1979), as we see Rocky having to overcome obstacles to take down an opponent who greatly outmatches him. In Rocky II he has to overcome being blind in one eye, while here he has to overcome the fact he is getting older and more out of shape. The unoriginality generally results in the film becoming quite predictable, and after watching Rocky II the night before I watched this I genuinely saw a lot of what was going to happen. Such unoriginality results in the actors churning out almost identical performances, as one-sided as their previous performances, with nothing convincing about the emotions they convey on screen - Stallone couldn't even make Rocky's upset over Mickey's death convincing.
To make up for this Stallone chucks in a couple of (failed) attempts at surprise factor. Here Rocky is actually semi-intelligent and suave, as opposed to the borderline caveman in Rocky II, which doesn't work as it is a complete contrast and surely he would have lost more brain cells since then, although some do argue that maybe Apollo knocked some sense into him in their last fight. And here Rocky is trained by Apollo to be more graceful and quick on his feet for the rematch against Lang. Although this could be seen as quite realistic, as it is a skill surely most boxers would need at some point, it is hammed up so much that when coupled with Rocky's strength the Italian Stallion is like Superman doing the ballet. So, generally this surprise factor falls completely as it just looks so stupid, and is hammed up beyond belief. I just found myself watching and shaking my head at how ridiculous it was.

On the upside the fighting itself is quite intense and very brutal. The amount of passion put into his fight scenes with Stallone is the only decent thing Mr. T does in his performance, and his passion and determination to win makes him a truly brutal fighter. If you think Weathers was brutal as Apollo then you're in for a huge surprise, as Mr. T makes Weathers look like a pussycat. These fights are so bloody and violent you can't help but watch on tenderhooks, not knowing who to support. Although you know you want Rocky to win - and know he'll eventually win - you just can't help but want Lang to be the victor once the fight has begun, as although he is an a**hole you can't help but be drawn in by the passion and brutality of his fighting.

However, all in all this is very disappointing, especially when you think that about how Rocky II was a rather decent sequel. No longer triumphant as the whole triumph from overcoming obstacles theme gets overkill here, even the brutality of the fighting scenes don't make up for the rest of the film.


1982.
PG.
Stars:
Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Mr. T, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Bill Baldwin, Stu Nahan, Ian Fried, Hulk Hogan.

Oscar nomination: Best Original Song (Eye of the Tiger - Jim Peterik, Frankie Sullivan).

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Rocky II


***

Following their original fight, the world is calling Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) a phony who let Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) go the distance in the ring. Determined to prove them wrong Apollo challenges Rocky to a rematch, but with the Italian Stallion blind in one eye following their original fight, and with new wife Adrian (Talia Shire) with child, things are not looking good for Rocky.

Generally this is a rather triumphant film indeed, thanks to a large amount of the screenplay, which shows Rocky trying to overcome his problems. Being blind in one eye results in Rocky being forced to live a much harder life in the first half of this film than he did in the original (1976). Being uneducated and slow means the only job he can get is carrying animal carcasses at a meat packing plant, and this creates a rather sympathetic view of the character, who has most definetly gone from hero to zero, and having been inspired by the character's triumphant journey to the top in the original, which we really felt, it does create some sad emotions within. However, the screenplay does go a little over the top in giving a sympathetic view of Rocky, really milking the idea that he is a loser in the real world, resulting in a fairly one-sided and underdeveloped performance from Stallone.

When Rocky finally does come back to fighting, his Gonna Fly Now scene is a triumphant one, but it is made too triumphant, and too stupid and over the top. The magic of the original was that it showed everything he did in order to be ready for his fight, but all this one shows is him running through Philadelphia, and he ends up running so fast you would think he was the Flash. Although the fact he has come such a long way over the course of the film to this point makes this a triumphant scene, the fact of the matter is that you can't help but watch it and go "really?" as the magic of the original just isn't there. The final match between Rocky and Apollo really makes up for it, though. It genuinely is an intense fight - fifteen rounds with neither one willing to back down or go down. Filmed with a number of well edited close ups, it really does draw you in, and it makes you glad that you weren't the camera man for this scene, as the last thing you would want is one of these brutes decking you by accident.

It is a flawed film, but it is a triumphant one, so it is most definetly worth watching. An intense film experience is offered up here thanks to the final incredible match, and the sense of triumph, although over exaggerated, is often quite uplifting.


1979.
PG.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell, Leonard Gaines, John Pleshette, Sylvia Meals, Paul J. Micale, Frank McRae, Bill Baldwin, Stu Nahan.

People's Choice Award: Favorite Motion Picture.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Eragon


*

As chosen before he was even born, farmboy Eragon's (Ed Speleers) life is changed when he finds an egg that hatches into dragon Saphira (Rachel Weisz), and he learns that he must lead Alagaesia to victory against evil King Galbatorix (John Malkovich).

Visually, this is not a bad film. Although the sets are a little too shabby and cheap to work well, the special effects are quite good - a high note being Durza (Robert Carlyle) forming a dragon through dark magic. As for the aerial sequences of Eragon flying Saphira, they are so fast-paced and well edited that a great swooping feeling awakes within you as you watch them. A lot of magic though is lost thanks to the makeup that creates the Urgals. They are not made to look like the brutish monsters that you build up in your mind reading the book, but basically very ugly rugby players with an IQ of -100, and no battle skill. Are we really meant to believe that they leave thousands fearing for their lives?

As a film there is barely anything else worthwhile to be honest. Here we are offered a 400 page teenage fiction, crammed into 100 minutes of entertainment for 8-year-olds, and simple minded 8-year-olds at that. We are given a very rushed narrative which whizzes from one over-too-quickly event to the next without pausing to provide character or event development or make anything at all memorable, so these events are just overlapping each other to try and make some visual spectacle and get anything even semi-serious over as fast as possible.
The lack of development saddens me as I have been a huge fan of the books for about five years now, and the books are most of all about Eragon and Saphira's journey, and how it develops them from a foolish farmboy and baby dragon to an all-time great Dragon Rider and a fierce, yet elegant adult dragon. NONE OF THAT IS IN THE FILM! And (no surprise) no character substance leads to poor performances. Speleers acts the over-cocky teen a bit too much and makes any kind, serious moments wooden and bland. As Murtagh, Garrett Hedlund tries too hard to play a bad attitude, that they may as well just give him a stick of bubblegum and be done with it. Jeremy Irons makes mentor Brom too wistful, resulting in there being nothing wise, mysterious or even half serious about the character. And Carlyle hams Durza up so much he is little more than a Disney villain, and a weak one at that. Don't get me wrong, I love Disney villains, but they only work in Disney cartoons.

So, all I say is this - don't waste your money getting a copy of this film, but instead by the book. The book offers a powerful fantasy, while all this film offers is a bit of swordfighting and dragon flying with nothing powerful about it.


2006.
PG.
Stars:
Ed Speleers, Rachel Weisz, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, Jeremy Irons, Garrett Hedlund, Djimon Hounsou, John Malkovich, Alun Armstrong, Chris Egan, Caroline Chikezie, Joss Stone, Gary Lewis, Steven Spiers.

Saturn nominations: Best Fantasy Film, Best Performance by a Younger Actor (Ed Speleers).

Welcome to the Jungle


*

To find the long missing presumed dead Michael Rockefeller, four friends (Sandy Gardiner, Callard Harris, Veronica Sywak, Nick Richey) head into the jungles of New Guinea, only to find the natives are a race of savage cannibals and that they can't escape.

In terms of shock factor this film has some potential for some very shocking scenes, but they are few and far between and not fully realised to their even basic potential. The long gaps between the shocking scenes of killings and cannibalism don't come till near the end, but they fail to shock when they come, filled with seriously gory images of vivid bloody colours that will put a lump to the throat, especially when one thinks that such a race exist in real life, and that is how people - most likely including Michael Rockefeller - have died, but yet the imagery of the four friends themselves - especially the dead ones - just look as if they have been moulded from plastic, so any shock factor immediately is lost. The wait for these scenes, however, is even more killer, as up until then it's just four friends hiking through the jungle, getting more and more hacked off with each other's bad habits, meaning that the characters become very irritating, very fast, as they are given basically no likeable characteristics, and we only see the unlikeable ones, which are very tedious and very crude a lot of the time as well.

Even the idea of the film being shot through two camcorders like a documentary fails to work as they shake it as if they are sprinting even when they lie down. Plus are we really meant to believe that the batteries can last for four days plus non-stop filming? Also, it is not a documentary, so one can not even say that the bland, crude, underdeveloped and irritating screenplay is natural to them as it was all scripted. Poorly paced, poorly written and poorly performed, this is most definetly one of those horror films where you spend most of it saying "I'm bored now, can we just get some gore", so with little redeeming quality about it, and no shocking and tense scenes till near the end (with said scenes flopping almost immediately, resulting in less than 1/100 minutes being a shocker), this film is also a bit of an insenstive look at what happened to Rockefeller, whose fate was a tragic one, which is still a sensitive topic for many to this day.

Don't waste your £3 buying this film, buy an older horror like Dracula (1931), or just any horror film that is actually good. The worst film of 2007 for me.


2007.
15.
Stars:
Sandy Gardiner, Callard Harris, Veronica Sywak, Nick Richey.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory


***

When poverty stricken kid Charlie (Peter Ostrum) finds a Golden Ticket in his chocolate bar he wins a tour of Wonka's Chocolate Factory, lead by the great Willy Wonka himself (Gene Wilder), a tour which will change his life and fortunes forever.

Visually this film is quite a treat. The special effects are very good, especially for a 1971 film with a $2.9 million budget, with the highlights including Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) expanding into a giant human blueberry, which is done with some well executed gradual colour changes and inflations; and Wonka's great elevator crashing through a glass roof in a lovely slow motion shot coupled with a bold shattering sound effect. The sets are also of a beautiful design, but none more so than the Chocolate Room, a gigantic edible meadow inside the factory, which combines numerous colours that never overlap or threaten to become garish, but are brought together like a wonderful oil painting; and is made with such care and detail that the moment Wonka opens the door to it is a moment most will always remember.

The songs, I have mixed feelings for them. The lyrics are different to those of Roald Dahl's book, as in very different, yet they are still quite enjoyable thanks to their catchy tunes. However, how the song sequences are created is what doesn't work. The frames of the Oompa Loompas (to date only about 3 of the 200+ dwarf actors survive) singing is shrunk on to a black canvas and the lyrics flash up in big colourful letters to make a sing-along, and this just doesn't work as it looks too much like a comic strip without the characters being hand drawn. Disney never tried this with their many animated musicals, so why should Mel Stuart do this here, even if the lyrics are decent?

The main problem is the film's pacing, which is most likely damaged by the fact that the film is very unloyal to the book. The book is about a life-changing tour of a magical factory, after a long period of family suffering that for a while looks to be getting worse and worse. Instead it all rushes to the factory a little too quickly - the five Golden Tickets are all found within about 25 minutes, and the space between the findings are as minimal as possible, resulting in there being little emotional development of Charlie, who ends up becoming a depressed little kid, instead of the ever optimistic boy in the book. As for Wonka's grand tour, it is all just sped up so much that the children's personalities which result in life-changing experiences are rather understated. For example, Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) is a greedy kid, whose greed teaches him a painful lesson, but there is no emphasis at all on his greed except for his first 30 seconds on screen and last 60. It speeds through the events leading to a lack of character development, lead by a totally misadapted Willy Wonka. Our "tour" is not lead by a borderline magician, but by a camp, not too excitable singer, which means that the character has little magical quality. However, Gene Wilder proves his acting skills as he still makes Wonka very loveable, a real fatherlike figure who has a wonderful charm and even charisma to him. A character you cannot help but love.

Flawed this film may be, and nowhere near as magical as the source material (actually entitled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but as a viewer you can't help but feel warmly for this brave first attempt at adaptation, and there are many quite uplifting moments in this film that you will never forget.


1971.
U.
Stars:
Peter Ostrum, Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Julie Dawn Cole, Paris Themmen, Denise Nickerson, Michael Bollner, Diana Sowle, Dodo Denney, Leonard Stone, Roy Kinnear, Ursula Reit, Gunter Meisner, Aubrey Woods, Werner Heyking.

Oscar nomination: Best Original Song Score and Adaptation (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley, Walter Scharf).

Monday, 14 March 2011

Juno


****

Sixteen-year-old teen with attitude Juno (Ellen Page) discovers she is pregnant, and, unwilling to raise the child looks into letting married couple Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) adopt the baby, as well as looking into getting back with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), the baby's father, whose heart she has already broken once.

Often referred to as a comedy, this is not a comedy about teenage pregnancy (if that's even possible), but a comedy-drama about teenage pregnancy. Like a well scripted comedy-drama should, Diablo Cody's wonderful screenplay gets the perfect balance between comedy and drama, with both hilarious and moving results.

The comedy all comes from the dialogue, no question about it. Unlike almost all comedy films, which are churned out almost non-stop by Hollywood, the dialogue is witty and sophisticated, not attempting to use cheap attempts at farcical dialogue. Like Little Miss Sunshine (2006) we are talking about dialogue which is funny because it is just so frank and believable. When Juno's father (J.K. Simmons) learns she is pregnant he says he'll "punch him [Paulie Bleeker] right in the weiner", a moment made so funny just because it is such a natural, frank comment which most fathers would make, and also because it is delivered so perfectly by Simmons; and when Juno goes into labour her stepmum (Allison Janney) says it takes so long because "doctors like making people suffer", which is funny because that is what most mothers think when in labour (I've heard), yet only in a film like Juno would a mother actually say it so casually.

The drama comes from the fairly adult themes within the screenplay, which reflects serious issues in both domestic life and society as a whole. Teenage pregnancy/unwanted pregnancy rates have been getting higher and higher since the start of the century, and society looks at it as quite a serious issue, so it is always a tough issue to tackle, especially in a film.
Juno, however, tackles it perfectly. We see the initial unacceptance of the mother, which leads on later to shock at the truth; the father's anger at the father; the father's fear at the prospect of fatherhood. These are all emotions that different people involved feel when they are caught up in the issue, and the emotions are portrayed so beautifully by Page, Simmons and Cera.
The issue that affects domestic life - obviously any pregnancy can affect a domestic situation - is in fact a subplot, triggered by Juno's pregnancy, which sees Mark and Vanessa's marriage fall apart. Divorce rates have been rising for years - that's if people get married in the first place - and it is a great premise to write some drama. The performances of Bateman and Garner are so strong, and a great scene shows just how much tension there is between them and how their marriage has reached its limits, which is made so powerful and emotional by their heartfelt, moving performances, which are quite, yet tense throughout the scene.

Ultimately, none of the comedy or drama would have come to life were it not for the superb cast. Page gives what has so far been the best performance of her career - nope, not even her performance in Inception (2010) manages to surpass this one - by creating some wonderful comedy through the character's bad attitude through some wonderful comic delivery and perfect comic timing, and the character's serious scenes are played so strongly by Page in a very moving performance. Cera captures the awkward teen type perfectly, and also makes Bleeker's fear at the prospect of fatherhood very believable and emotionally gripping. Garner and Bateman make the most dramatic scenes of the film as powerful as they are, with a really emotional on-screen bond (or lack of) and shows just how good they are as actors. And Simmons, well, he's always been good for a laugh, and here he doesn't disappoint with his usual outstanding delivery and top-notch timing.

Just as emotional and deep as it is funny Juno is a must watch. As a Christian I frown on illegitimate teenage pregnancy - especially if it's a one night result like Juno's is - but I approve of this film, as it shows just how emotional it can be, and because this film shows just how an issue such as this, and an issue such as divorce can change people's views and attitudes towards life, and that can only be a good thing to be represented on screen.


2007.
15.
Stars:
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby.

Oscar: Best Screenplay (Diablo Cody).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, Russell Smith), Best Director (Jason Reitman), Best Actress (Ellen Page).

Cheaper by the Dozen


**

Parents of twelve Tom (Steve Martin) and Kate (Bonnie Hunt) get the chance for a richer life in Chicago when Tom gets offered his dream job. However, their kids don't want to move and soon relationships in the family are getting more and more awkward and tense.

The children are about the best thing in this film. With the exception of Shane and Brent Kinsman - who play identical twins Kyle and Nigel - none of them are blood relatives, yet their on screen relationships still feel reasonably siblingesque. They bicker on and off, the younger siblings often look up to the older siblings, and when they want to get rid of Hank (Ashton Kutcher), older sister Nora's (Piper Perabo) arrogant, kid-hating boyfriend they work as a team to pull off the meanest pranks possible. These are all found in sibling relationships, so even if the kids aren't brilliant actors yet (the younger nine were all under fifteen when they made this film so it is excusable) there is still a level of authenticity due to this.

Everything else about the film is a let down though, and it all stems from the screenplay. It has little character development, yet vast amounts of over-the-top physical comedy, making the characters little more than props used to create cheap laughs. Laughs? The most you'll be able to manage in this film is the odd weak chuckle here and there. The comedy is over-the-top cartoon style stuff, which can be funny in live action sometimes - Home Alone (1990) proved that - unless it is being churned out at about 150 miles an hour like it is here, each cartoon style sequence overlapping the one before, making it all pretty dam pointless and so bland you'll be almost glad when it's all over. As well as this they all end up looking pretty darn fake as they try to cram in so much that calling it a jumbled, over-the-top series of scenes is a slight understatement.

Such a below par screenplay is most likely the reason that so many of the adult performances are as poor as they are. Martin is very forced and altogether wooden as he tries to be funny and cheesy; and the on screen marriage he and Hunt have feels far too fake, even for a comedy. Now with Steve Martin I think it's a case of if the screenplay is good he is good - take Roxanne (1987) and Father of the Bride (1991) as two examples - but if the screenplay is poor then so is he, and sadly this film is an example of the latter. The poorest performance, naturally, comes from Kutcher, who is very overly arrogant, tries too hard to be cool, and is far too irritating and cocky he ruins the character from the word "Go"; although this is Ashton Kutcher and the last time he gave an even half-decent performance outside of That '70s Show (1998-2006) was, erm...never!

If the days when Steve Martin was great are fond in your memory then do not watch this film as it will only hurt and disappoint. If you're after a few cheap chuckles then you may as well nip down to Blockbuster and rent a copy for £1.


2003.
PG.
Stars:
Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff, Kevin G. Schmidt, Alyson Stoner, Jacob Smith, Forrest Landis, Liliana Mumy, Morgan York, Blake Woodruff, Shane Kinsman, Brent Kinsman, Ashton Kutcher, Richard Jenkins, Steven Anthony Lawrence, Paula Marshall, Alan Ruck, Vanessa Bell Calloway.

Teen Choice nominations: Choice Breakout Movie Star - Male (Tom Welling), Choice Movie Blush (Hilary Duff), Choice Movie Hissy Fit (Ashton Kutcher), Choice Movie Liplock (Piper Perabo, Ashton Kutcher).

Friday, 11 March 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest


*

On their wedding day Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are arrested and face the gallows for aiding the escape of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). However, Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), agrees to release them if Will can track down Jack and get his hands on Jack's compass for Beckett. Jack, however, is in hot water, as he owes Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) his soul, and the only possible way he can see of saving himself is by finding the chest that contains Jones's heart.

After the 2003 original it was no surprise that a sequel was made; the original grossed $654 million worldwide, recieved 5 Oscar nominations (including Best Actor for Johnny Depp) and great feedback from viewers and critics alike, so almost the entire world yearned to see Captain Jack Sparrow again.

Visually the film is very eye-catching, and won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The amount of CGI used in the film is vast, and the most successful use of it is Davy Jones's ship, The Flying Dutchman, with it being very bold and detailed as a ship of, well, undead mutant Pirates, with a really creepy and eerie feel brought to it. Naturally the crew of the Dutchman are the most unnerving to look at, with the CGI doing a great job of making the half human-half sea creature crew look like the most vivid cursed sea farers imaginable, and brings great detail to the crusts, claws, et cetera. Jones, however, is the most memorable CGI creation though, with the boldness and size it gives him making him an even more intimidating antagonist than expected, and successfully giving every individual tentacle its own unique life/soul.

The entire film, however, is dragged down to the very deepest depths of the sea thanks to a majorly flawed screenplay. Jumping from one event to the next there is so little development throughout you just have to wonder what the point of most of the scenes are. They feature stupid action - to escape an island occupied by cannibals Will and several others roll a cage of human skeletons; and other action sequences just resort to the most childish live action cartoon violence since Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). The magic of the original's action was that despite being in a film that was farcical and slightly absurd, there was such well choreographed action sequences, well written comedy and an all round air of sophistication, but here all we get is another over-the-top, goofy blockbuster with too much action.

As well as this the minor characters have such little intelligence - a Scottish crew assume Elizabeth's abandoned wedding dress is that of a ghost - and you just can't help but wonder if they are for real; while characters such as Jack are given far too much goofy slapstick that robs him of a lot of the charm he had originally. And again the subplot concerns Will and Elizabeth's romance, but this time it is a major drawback, as it takes up a good amount of the film, and is both ridiculously cheesy, and poorly played by Bloom and Knightley, who have wooden expression and delivery, no sexual tension at all, and chemistry so awkward than nobody could ever believe they were in love.

The rest of the cast also struggle to perform well: Stellan Skarsgård seems too distant when delivering lines; Hollander is completely expressionless; Jack Davenport struggles to play an even slightly convincing drunk; Jonathan Pryce fails to capture the British aristocrat type, making Governor Swann too woolly and foolish; and Mackenzie Crook's comedic qualities are all over the place. With aid of the CGI Nighy is very intimidating and heartless as Jones. Depp, though still retains a decent amount of charm and coolness as Jack, with good comic timing and delivery, making the deliciously over-the-top character one of the only worthwhile things about the film.


2006.
12.
Stars:
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Stellan Skarsgård, Tom Hollander, Kevin R. McNally, Naomie Harris, Jack Davenport, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, David Schofield, Jonathan Pryce, Alex Norton, Martin Klebba, David Bailie, Christopher S. Capp, Geoffrey Rush.

Oscar: Best Visual Effects (John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charles Gibson, Allen Hall).
Oscar nominations: Best Art Direction (Rick Heinrichs, Cheryl Carasik), Best Sound Editing (Christopher Boyes, George Waters II), Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes, Lee Orloff).

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl


****

Until this film came along the words Pirates of the Caribbean immediately made you think of the more dire rides at Disneyland, upon which the film is based, and you immediately wonder how a lousy kids ride could be turned into a very good two hours plus of film.

The film sees Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) be taken aboard The Black Pearl by a cursed crew of undead Pirates, led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). To rescue her, friend Will (Orlando Bloom) - whose blood is needed to break the curse along with all the pieces of Aztec Gold - and The Pearl's former Captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who Will breaks out of prison, steal a Royal Navy ship and give chase, getting them pursued by Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport) and the Royal Navy.

From start to end this film is a successful mixture of slightly over-the-top action, old school swashbuckler, adventure, ghost story, comedy and romance. The action is made big and bold thanks to a lot of hard work from the choreographers of said scenes, as well as vast amounts of energy and enthusiasm from the cast, extras included, who clearly wanted to do all they could to make the scenes as exciting as possible. As for the sword fights which get the most focus - Will vs. Jack, Barbossa vs. Jack - great energy is seen as they make the sword fights as similar to old school swashbucklers as possible - over-the-top, slightly frantic, and making good use of location - Jack and Will's fight takes place in a blacksmith's, and the pair constantly duck and sidestep machinery - and there is something quite charming about this old school swashbuckling.
The sense of adventure is consistently strong, with many scenes providing a sense of danger, and even peril in some cases; plus the film is set at sea during the Pirate hunting 18th Century, which provides a great premise for adventure from the word "Go". The ghost story side is where the special effects truly shine, when Barbossa's crew become living skeletons at night thanks to the curse, and the effects and very good makeup turn them into a very eery and creepy bunch indeed, that look as if they stepped out of a major ghost/horror film such as Poltergeist (1982); and the moment where Barbossa first turns into one is masterful editing, carefully crafted and designed for maximum impact.
In terms of comedy, the scenarios and dialogue of the film are truly farcical, with us the audience ultimately being offered a three-way game of cat and mouse - Jack's chasing Barbossa, and Norrington's chasing Jack - and thanks to well timed, well delivered and well written comedy this film just feels like a wonderful farce almost as often as not. As for the romance we are given a typical soap opera style love triangle - Norrington and Will both love Elizabeth, but who does Elizabeth love? - and this is what drives Will and Norrington to be the determined characters we end up loving.

Ultimately it is the characters, and the wonderful cast who create them that capture our hearts and draw us in. Rush is bold, brash and quite unsettling as the despicable Barbossa; Bloom brings some great determination to Will, and while Knightley gives a poor performance as Elizabeth, the character itself represents somebody who wishes to break free of the boundaries her aristocratic life brings up; Kevin R. McNally makes Gibbs a typical sea farer, and also is a very convincing alcholic; while Davenport and Jonathan Pryce bring great airs of dignity and sophistication to the roles of Norrington and Governor Swann respectively. In the end though this is all Depp's film. Stealing the show as Jack in a role which earned him his first Oscar nomination, he is over-the-top, exaggerated, cocky, energetic and foolish, and Depp puts his all into the character, also making him a charming and loveable rogue at the same time.

Exciting, action packed and with a strong cast led by the incomparable Depp this is certainly one of the Top 10 films of 2003, and a must watch film, no doubt about it.


2003.
12.
Stars:
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Kevin R. McNally, Jonathan Pryce, Zoe Saldana, Mackenzie Crook, Lee Arenberg, Greg Ellis, Damian O'Hare, Angus Barnett, Giles New, David Bailie, Martin Klebba, Christopher S. Capp, Isaac C. Singleton Jr, Trevor Goddard, David Patykewich, Vince Lozano, Treva Etienne, Brye Cooper, Michael Berry Jr, Finius Egun.

Oscar nominations: Best Actor (Johnny Depp), Best Visual Effects (Hal T. Hickel, John Knoll, Charles Gibson, Terry Frazee), Best Makeup (Ve Neill, Martin Samuel), Best Sound Mixing (Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David Campbell, Lee Orloff), Best Sound Editing (Christopher Boyes, George Watters II).

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The Lost World: Jurassic Park


**

Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) leads a scientific research team to Sorn Island, where Hammond (Richard Attenborough) first designed genetically engineered dinosaurs. There they run into a team of hunters lead by Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite), who wants to take a T-Rex back to San Diego, with disastrous consequences.

Visually this is a good film, with the dinosaurs being just as bold in size, and with just as much attention to detail going into their skin, and sharpness brought to their teeth and claws, as wel as how they stand out, all of which makes them look very ferocious and feel real. The most spectacular scene is the T-Rex's climactic rampage through San Diego, which is a very destructive depiction of a disregard for human life, truly dominated by the spectacular dinosaur, who can be considered the real star of both this film and the 1993 original.

The screenplay is the film's major flaw, adapted from a poor standard novel, which was written in 1995 to answer the public demand for more Jurassic Park/to cash in on the fan base the original film generated. Filled with underdeveloped characters, and too many events which are just there to fill the 2 hours 10ish minutes running time, there is also a major lack of banter between the characters and a lot less interesting scientific information, both of which really added to the magic of the original film's screenplay.
We are also offered a pretty poor cast, featuring from almost all the actors within the film, very bored and unenthusiastic performances, many of which also just feel rather forced and even as underdeveloped as the characters they are playing, which especially disappoints in the cases of Goldblum and Postlethwaite. At the end of the day one can be forgiving as they weren't exactly given brilliance to work with.

All-in-all this is a poor attempt to recreate the magic of the original, but it achieved what was clearly its primary goal of box office success (over $618.6 million worldwide at the box office), but achieves little else.


1997.
PG.
Stars:
Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Richard Attenborough, Arliss Howard, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Harvey Jason, Richard Schiff, Thomas F. Duffy, Thomas Rosales Jr, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello.

Oscar nomination: Best Visual Effects (Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Randy Dutra, Michael Lantieri).

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Kung Fu Panda


****

Goofy Panda Po (Jack Black) is the biggest fan of Kung Fu and the Furious Five (Angelia Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Jackie Chan) and can't believe his luck when he is chosen as the Dragon Warrior, to train under the Five and their Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). But when the fierce, deadly Tai Lung (Ian McShane) breaks out of prison, it is up to Po to defeat him.

When Kung Fu Panda was released DreamWorks Animation were in an era of misses that had begun four years earlier with Shark Tale (2004) and had continued with films such as Madagascar (2005), Shrek the Third (2007) and Bee Movie (2007), the only hit in these four years being Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

The film, however, was a break from the constant misses, meriting hit status. The film is a wonderful blend of Kung Fu film, computer animation, old school cartoon violence and simplistic, yet farcical comedy. The animation is all dazzling and bold, perfectly blending together many different colours, and also bringing a lot of careful attention to detail together, to capture the look of Ancient China perfectly. The carefully edited animation also results in the very eye-catching Kung Fu moves, with the character actions moving fluidly, and the animation creating some very effective camera angles to capture it, both in the fast and slow paced sequences.
The cartoon violence comes from the fact that Po is so clumsy and all of the painful mishaps he gets himself into, and it is actually very funny, farcical even, thanks to its wonderfully over-the-top and fast pace, interesting set-ups and the fact that it is slapstick at the end of the day. The comedy is there throughout, and much of it comes from Po being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as the simplistic typ of verbal comedy which comes from misunderstandings and the fact Po is written to be comically foolish. And with well written comical set-ups the screenplay is wonderfully amusing, and when I first saw it three years ago it was a very refreshing change from the terrible jokes in some previous DreamWorks animated features.
The characters are also wonderful thanks to an excellent voice cast. Black brings great energy and enthusiasm to the role of Po, making the goof Panda a very funny and enjoyable lead. McShane gives a deliciously cold and sadistic voice performance to Tai Lung; while Hoffman brings a great sense of wisdom to the role of Shifu. And as the Furious Five, Jolie, Liu, Rogen, Cross and Chan bring power and a great sense of strength.

With all these elements and more combined this is a wonderful animation and one of the strongest DreamWorks Animations to date.


2008.
PG.
Stars:
Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Randall Duk Kim, James Hong, Dan Fogler, Michael Clarke Duncan.

Oscar nomination: Best Animated Feature (John Stevenson, Mark Osborne).