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.

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


***

One year/three Narnian years after their last visit, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are transported back to Narnia, this time accompanied by their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). There they sail with King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and the crew of The Dawn Treader in a quest to rescue the Seven Lost Lords, in order to save Narnia from a corrupting evil that resides on a dark island.

The Chronicles of Narnia (2005-) has never been anywhere near as successful as The Lord of the Rings (2001-3) or Harry Potter (2001-11), and quite rightfully so, as it has been the most inferior and childish of the three, to the extent where Disney wouldn't comission this third installment and Fox took over control of the series. Like with its predecessors The Voyage of the Dawn Treader boasts fantastic visuals. The Dawn Treader is a bold and majestic ship, beautiful in design, and brings a real sense of fantasy to itself. And the film's special effects are excellent. The way the Pevensies and Eustace are transported to Narnia is created with such wonderful editing, and is paced so well that it could easily create a sense of fear in a younger viewer, as it does Eustace in the film; and the scenes in which Eustace is a dragon are created with some wonderful cinematography that features swooping, high in the sky shots that are potentially vertigo inducing, and bring a real sense of grace to themselves.

Again we have an average cast. Barnes, isn't that passionate or heartfelt as Caspian, but thank goodness he's dropped that awful Mediteranean accent. Henley remains strong as Lucy, meaning she keeps her title as best cast member of the series to date despite being the second youngest. Poulter, though, is an excellent new addition playing the pompous and snobbish Eustace with real enthusiasm and capturing the irritating little twit down to a tee. To be fair to the rest of the cast, they are not wholly responsible as they once again are not given a good screenplay to work with. The screenplay remains quite childish and cheesy, as well as underdeveloped; we jump from one event to the next with little development and little in between, so that most of the characters never get a good opportunity to stand out and are just there to fill up the two hours of film.
On the upside the Christian messages of the film are actually conveyed a lot more effectively than before. This installment features two major ones. The first is that we are always going to face temptations in this Earthly life, which is created effectively as it is by the dark forces of the islands that The Dawn Treader sails through, which show Lucy, Edmund and Caspian the dark desires of their heart with some very bold imagery and a great sense of fear and uncertainty created through some raw emotional impact on the three characters. They fight these temptations with raw emotions and are a good example of how we should fight them so in this Earthly life. The second is that we can't change ourselves, however, this is far too understated. In the film it is Aslan who changes Eustace back into a human after clawing the ground while Eustace lies unconscious; in the book though Eustace claws at his dragon self like mad to get back to the boy with no luck, showing that it is something humans can not do. Aslan - the God/Christ like figure of the series - suceeds, and this emphasises that only God can save and change us. That was in the book, in the film it basically looks like Aslan is doing it out of sympathy for Eustace. It doesn't work.

A visual treat, this film is very entertaining, and quite exciting in places, but it has a rather flawed screenplay, and Christians who admire the writings of CS Lewis will be in for mixed emotions towards the Christian messages - while one is created successfully, the other is completely understated. Prequel to the entire series so far, The Magician's Nephew is now set to be released in 2013, and I hope that a better job is done of conveying the Christian messages.


2010.
PG.
Stars:
Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Liam Neeson, Simon Pegg, Gary Sweet, Shane Rangi, Arthur Angel, Arabella Morton, Laura Brent, Billie Brown, Terry Norris, Bruce Spence, Tilda Swinton, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley.

Golden Globe nomination: Best Original Song (There's a Place For Us - Carrie Underwood).

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Clash of the Titans


*

Following the death of his adoptive parents (Pete Postlethwaite, Elizabeth McGovern), demi-God Perseus (Sam Worthington) is recruited by the city of Argos to protect them and their Princess (Alexa Davalos) from Hades (Ralph Fiennes), a quest that will lead him straight into the lair of Medusa (Natalia Vodianova).

There are some good moments in the film offered to us, but which are only made good through the special effects, which are bold, sharp and well defined. Early on we find ourselves gripped by some excellent special effects where Hades uses his dark powers to destroy Argos and kill Perseus's family. This will get your hopes up as they are bold and impressive effects, so you automatically know there will be a lot of great special effects. However, the gaps between the major effects laden scenes are long and dragged out, and they drag out the screenplay with scenes just walking through towns, or slowly sailing through the sea. As for the scene in Medusa's lair, that is quite a creepy one as Perseus is a mouse trapped in a maze, and this is one maze where the Mistress can stick her head out of nowhere and turn you to stone. You know Perseus will win, and you can't wait to see how. But at the same time you can't work out how he will. However -*SPOILER ALERT*- Perseus beheads her as soon as she is in the right position, and she doesn't get a chance to fight back. They build it up for an epic Clash, but wrap it up too quickly.

The screenplay which we are offered not only is inconsistent in the pacing of the action sequences which were riddled with CGI (and in the case of the fight with Medusa are anti-climactic), but we are also offered bland, underdeveloped characters, most of whom get scarcely any screen time compared to Perseus. This is a problem, as Perseus is just not written as a strong enough character to carry the film. He moves through almost the entire film just surly and miserable, and as well as this he fights with such boredom, which disappoints as for a character with so much potential to be a brutal, passionate warrior, you expect a little passion, or there's little worthwhile about him. And with the focus being on him, the rest of the actors are given little to do. For me the major disappointment came from a noticable lack of focus and development on Fiennes's Hades. I was quite excited when I heard that Fiennes would be the antagonist, after his great turns as antagonists Amon Goth in Schindler's List (1993) and Lord Voldemort in the fourth and fifth Harry Potter films (2005/7), and needless to say I was disappointed.

In short the film focuses too much on visuals, with little time getting allocated to the screenplay, resulting in vast amounts of blandness and underdevelopment. I first saw this film in the cinema with my good friends Tom and Daisy, and fortunately we finished our popcorn during the trailers, otherwise I'd probably have hurled mine at the screen in frustration.


2010.
12.
Stars:
Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Alexa Davalos, Natalia Vodianova, Jason Flemyng, Tine Staplefeldt, Nicholas Hoult, Hans Matheson, Liam Cunningham, Ian Whyte, Polly Walker, Vincent Regan, Pete Postlethwaite, Elizabeth McGovern, Kaya Scodelario.

Golden Raspberry nominations: Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel; Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3-D

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End


*

After rescuing Jack (Johnny Depp) from Davy Jones's (Bill Nighy) Locker, Jack, Will (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) face the greatest challenge of all as they lead great fleets of pirates into battle against the East India Trading Company, lead by Jones and Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander).

Visually the film is outstanding, and so it should be as it remains the most expensive film in history with a $300 million budget. The amount of CGI used in the film is vast, and the most successful and jaw-dropping scene is the battle between the Pearl and the Dutchman around a giant maelstrom, created through exceptionally sharp and bold imagery, which is coupled with some spectacular sound effects that make this the most spectacular film scene of 2007. The other impressive use of CGI is naturally Davy Jones himself, whose individual tentacles get their own individual lives/souls, and the CGI does a great job of making him the most physically intimidating villain of the entire franchise.

The entire film, however, is dragged down almost as deep into the depths of the sea as its 2006 predecessor 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 get out of the Locker they capsize the ship, killing one crew member; and other action sequences range from full out swashbuckling to Jack slapping Barbossa's monkey. As I said in my review of Dead Man's Chest, the magic of the 2003 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, although at least the final battle has big, bold action sequences with a purpose.

As well as this the minor characters have so little to do onscreen - Marty (Martin Klebba), Ragetti (Mackenzie Crook) and Pintel (Lee Arenberg) are downgraded to little more than extras; while characters such as Jack are given far too much goofy slapstick, even the twist of his schizophrenia gets cheap gags by the bucket load and loses any potential strength.
As for the subplot of Will and Elizabeth's romance it is at its corniest and most poorly performed, and the idea of their unconditional love for each other is almost obsoleted as Elizabeth becomes even more of a whore by snogging Norrington (Jack Davenport). Their wedding takes place during the climactic battle, and it is the most stupid wedding ever as they keep getting interrupted by the need to battle. Bloom and Knightley are so wooden and bland there are no convincing moments of love between them and trying to get a sense of such feelings is harder than drawing blood from a stone. Fortunately, they will not be in the next sequel - On Stranger Tides - released in almost three weeks, so I'm sure that their lack of presence will be a major improvement.

The rest of the cast also struggle to perform well: Stellan Skarsgård seems too distant when delivering lines; Hollander is completely expressionless, although there is some cold malice in his voice; and Crook's comedic qualities are all over the place in the few scenes where he is used. Although he has little to do as Marty the midget, Klebba is used for some of the only half-decent physical gags in the film, that come from the size difference between him and the other pirates - Marty is literally blown off his feet when he fires his gun. Depp still retains much charm and coolness as Jack, with good comic timing and delivery, as well as making Jack's schizophrenia wonderfully delivered and timed, making the deliciously over-the-top character one of the few worthwhile things about the film.


2007.
12.
Stars:
Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Stellan Skarsgård, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Kevin R. McNally, Chow Yun-Fat, Naomie Harris, Jack Davenport, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Crook, Keith Richards, David Schofield, Greg Ellis, Angus Barnett, Giles New, Jonathan Pryce, Martin Klebba, Reggie Lee, David Bailie, Christopher S. Capp.

Oscar nominations: Best Visual Effects (John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charlie Gibson, John Frazier), Best Makeup (Ve Neill, Martin Samuel).

Monday, 25 April 2011

Carry On Camping


***

Set in a Devon campsite called Paradise, the film follows the events that lead several groups of people to the campsite, and the various ways in which their lives connect and interconnect over the course of 48 hours on site.

Carry On is famous for being low budget British comedy, that relies on innuendos and slapstick to make its audience laugh, which this film does, and this is only part of the reason why this film is a successful piece of farce. The innuendos come very regularly, and vary in degrees of subtlety, some being ones you have to really think about, others you feel yourself asking "Can they really insinuate that in a PG?" Turns out they can!
Slapstick also gets ladled on in large, regular portions, which after a while isn't as funny, but they never fail to make it genuinely funny stuff. It turns out you can have too much of a good thing!
As for the general verbal gags they are quite funny and generally hit the right notes, although they are not that well written, so the reason they hit the right notes is the fact that they are timed so well by the cast.
However, the screenplay drags the whole film down by not giving much substance or development to its characters. Yes, they are made funny, but that is simply because they are being used specifically as props to bring the farcical screenplay to life, resulting in little substance or worth to said characters. They are weak characters, and this is disappointing as you want a comical look at the people of '60s Britain, which falls flat.

A good piece of farce, and all round good entertainment. The film lacks substance, but it all in all isn't too bad for a film that cost just over £208,000. I, however, will always carry a tiny torch for it as it's the first Carry On film I ever saw.


1969.
PG.
Stars:
Sidney James, Bernard Bresslaw, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Dilys Laye, Hattie Jacques, Terry Scott, Betty Marsden, Charles Hawtrey, Julian Holloway, Peter Butterworth, Trisha Noble, Amelia Bayntun, Sandra Caron,.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Batman


***

Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) face their greatest challenge ever when The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) team up together to take over the World.

The first major superhero film, the film is truly carried by its cast. Romero, Meredith and Gorshin all bring lots of deliciously over-the-top energy to their three villains, exaggerating their characters to make them as comic book like as possible, truly capturing the obvious insanity of the characters, and the obvious energy and enthusiasm they put into their roles really draws you in as you watch them on screen. This is a great contrast to Batman and Robin, whom are portrayed as being very cool and level-headed, an innocent type of calm, which West and Ward play quite well. Of course, though, let's not forget Meriwether, who makes Catwoman such a gorgeous and seductive creature.

The entire film is shot in that over the top comic book style that made the TV series (1966-8) as appealing as it was to audiences. Everything is brought to life with energy and passion, but one can't help that it feels a little too over exaggerated and comic book like. Although it is fast paced, it just zips from one event to the next without much pause and you have to have your wits about you to make sure you keep up with it. You also expect no realism from the film, but they take the unrealistic side of the film slightly too far. Batman gets a shark bite down on his leg and cling on to his leg as he is on the Bat Ladder, only a few feet above the sea. There's no blood, his tights don't even get ripped. How? And when trying to dispose of a bomb, it takes five minutes as people and animals are always getting in the way. It's quite amusing that he can't get any luck, but surely the bomb would have exploded within a minute? It worked in 20 minute long episodes, but it does feel like they are trying too hard to fill up the 105 minutes of film. It would work better in cartoon form.

Ultimately this is a film a lot like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). As a film it is over exaggerated and ultimately not that great, but it has a certain amount of charm and appeal to it thanks to its originality, which is why it endears to viewers, and has earned its status as a classic.


1966.
U.
Stars:
Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Neil Hamilton, Alan Napier, Stafford Repp, Madge Blake, Reginald Denny, Milton Frome, Gil Perkins, Dick Crockett, George Sawaya.

Giffoni Film Festival Award: Golden Gryphon (Leslie H. Martinson).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Enchanted


***

In the cartoon fairy tale land of Andalasia, Giselle (Amy Adams) is about to marry Prince Edward (James Marsden), only to be pushed into a portal that takes her to the real world of New York by Edward's evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon), who yearns to remain Queen. In New York she is taken in by lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey), and struggles to get her head round the idea that she is now in a place where happily ever after is impossible and bad things are everywhere.

The concept of New York being chosen as the place of no happily ever after and much sadness is quite a subtle, yet frank, dig at today's society. New York may be a wonderful tourist attraction with great amounts of culture and history, but like every major city in the world it is full of crime, and of course has a high rate of divorce - sadly nearly every city/county/state in the world has something like 1/4 marriages minimum ending in divorce. Naturally, New York is the most obvious choice out of anywhere in America, as there is a lot less hustle and bustle in other cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, plus a number of famous sites are used at some point in the screenplay - most notable examples being Central Park in a wonderfully choreographed musical number, and the Woolworth Building in a climax full of bold special effects, and some wonderful and potentially vertigo enducing cinematography.

Adams and Marsden give hammy and overexaggerated performances, however, this works as they are playing characters who were once cartoon, so to be so overexaggerated means that they still seem like the cartoon characters that they ultimately are, and the fact that Adams and Marsden managed to get this just right is an attribute to their talents. Sarandon also does a good job of making Narissa appear like a classic Disney villain - cold, wicked and heartless. However, this is quite unoriginal as she is a cross between The Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Malificent from Sleeping Beauty (1959), but she handles the role well.

Where this film ends up flawed is the fact that it is trying too hard to be like Disney animations. Giselle is a cross of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Ariel of The Little Mermaid (1989), so there is no original quality to her, while Edward is way too much the dashing hero. And as for the musical sequences, although they are well choreographed it seems that they are trying to make them as big as possible, so the lyrics in all honesty don't work too well. Ultimately, there is too much effort to be a homage to Disney animations that it all ends up being a bit too much. There are only so many unoriginal ideas you can cram into one film. If there was a bit more originality to it then it would be superior to what the final result is.

Ultimately it is quite entertaining, but too over the top and too unoriginal. It's still worth a viewing though. And also you could do what I once did - play a game of spot the Disney reference. There's hundreds - everything from Snow White to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005).


2007.
PG.
Stars:
Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Timothy Spall, Idina Menzel, Rachel Covey, Jeff Bennett, Kevin Lima.

Oscar nominations: Best Original Song (That's How You Know - Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz), Best Original Song (So Close - Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz), Best Original Song (Happy Working Song - Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz).

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Planet of the Apes


*****

After a 2006 year voyage through space - in which they only age 18 months - three astronauts (Charlton Heston, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton) crash land on a desolate planet where humans are mutes, hunted by a brutal race of apes that can talk. Taylor (Heston) is the only one captured who truly survives, and when the apes discover he is the only human in "history" who speaks they are shocked when he tells their leader Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) that humans were once an intelligent species and goes out of his way to find proof that they were before the "history of the Apes", which dates back a mere 1300 years.

In 1968 audiences were so used to their science-fiction being low-budget film-making, all wobbly sets and taccy costumes. What would they have expected from a film about a planet occupied by almost human apes. The puppetry and models of an older film like King Kong (1933)? No. Fur being stuck to the faces of Maurice Evans and others? Most likely. What we get though is a huge surprise. The makeup in this film is exceptional for the time, beautifully crafted and designed with great care and attention to detail, so that all the fur moves and nothing looks out of place or too much. Were it not for the speech one would think we were watching real life apes. The make up does restrict the opening and closing movements of the jaw slightly, but it genuinely is exceptional, and for it's day was so magnificent and impressive to audiences that John Chambers won an Honorary Oscar for Outstanding Makeup Achievement. Coupled with the savage behaviour of said apes, I wouldn't be surprised if younger viewers of the day got scared due to thinking these were real apes gone homicidal and spiteful.

The makeup may be something to make our jaws drop, but the actors behind the makeup still stand out and give superb performances. Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter give very sympathetic and heartfelt performances as kindly ape couple Cornelius and Zira, and the pair have a lovely on screen relationship; while Maurice Evans is very cold and authoritive as Dr Zauis and brings a great sense of wisdom to the character with a powerful performance. Charlton Heston, however, steals it all, bringing an enormous amount of drive and determination to Taylor, in a performance brimming with raw energy. Taylor is a character we are drawn in by from the word "Go" and by following him through almost every second of the film we are made to love this character and yearn for him to succeed.

Our characters are also put against an exceptional backdrop. The planet is much made up of bleak deserts with mountains and great big forests that seem very desolate, and such a bleak and perilous place really puts some fear for the characters you love quickly in your heart, and provides the perfect setting for such danger for our humans to experience. And as for the history, thanks to more the fact that humans have been intelligent and at the very least able to speak since Adam and Eve were first created multiple millenia ago, you do wonder whether Taylor is right about the humans on the planet as the history of the Apes says they have been savage mutes for a good 1300 years, and it seems impossible to think of Earthly humans ever being like that. Therefore the major twist in the final seconds of the film comes as a huge surprise and a bit of shock also. I won't spoil it for you, you just have to watch it.

An absolutely outstanding film, it has more than deservedly stood the test of time, and has spawned a legacy that has seen four sequels (1970-3), a TV series (1974), a cartoon series (1975), a remake (2001), a very memorable musical parody in A Fish Called Selma - a 1996 episode of The Simpsons (1989-), and a prequel due to be released later this year.


1968.
PG.
Stars:
Charlton Heston, Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Linda Harrison, James Whitmore, James Daly, Woodrow Parfrey, Lou Wagner, Robert Gunner, Jeff Burton, Buck Kartalian.

Oscar: Honorary Award for Outstanding Makeup Achievement (John Chambers).
Oscar nominations: Best Costume Design (Morton Haack), Best Score (Jerry Goldsmith).

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Something to smile about!!!

Tonight I am a very happy man. Why? Because on June 20th the 20th Anniversary DVD/Blu-ray of Point Break (1991) is being released! Okay, so technically it isn't known as the "2Oth Anniversary Edition" but it has been 20 years since the film came out and it is being released on the 20th of the month so it may as well be. But anyway, technicalities aside, it is currently available to all Brits to preorder at hmv.com, so I suggest to my fellow Britons you preorder it. Trust me, you will love it. It is a superbly made action film with great art direction, strong editing, bold images and features a brilliant performance from Patrick Swayze to boot. I love this film, I've been waiting over a year for it to be rereleased and now I'm actually counting down the days...60 and a half to go!!!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Predators


**

When a group of mercenaries land in a jungle on an alien planet, they start getting killed off one-by-one, and soon they learn that they have been landed in a game preserve inhabited by merciless alien race Predators (Derek Mears, Carey Jones, Brian Steele).

The film starts with the main mercenary Royce (Adrien Brody) landing and then meeting the others and it soon becomes clear that the others have colourful histories, bar a doctor Edwin (Topher Grace) - Stans (Walton Goggins) had been on death row; Isabelle (Alice Braga) was a sniper for the IDF and an assassin for the CIA - and when each of these colourful histories is introduced you can't but think "great we're offered some really interesting characters". The concept of their backgrounds maybe interesting, but it is not realised or developed in any way. Instead we are thrown in at the deep end of the action almost immediately when the Predators start attacking and it is a fight for survival, and their pasts get basically no further reference other than a quick mention dropped into the dialogue.

Don't get me wrong, the action is well made. The jungle is a truly desolate place and the wilds of it have you on the edge of your seat as you know that the Predators could jump out of pretty much anywhere at any point. The fighting scenes are full of bold, vivid images of machine gun fire, and terrific explosions; and the chase scenes are quickly edited, jumping from one shot to the next rapidly to make them fast paced and not dull for a second. However, these action sequences are generally underdeveloped and jump from one to the next as often as possible, presumably so viewers would be constantly absorbed, but one does feel that a film needs a bit more than explosions and gunshots as nothing can substitute for some well developed, strong characters.

Ultimately the film tries too hard to wrap itself up so quickly, which is why we jump from one killing to one chase to another killing with little in between, and you really do feel that the film has ended too quickly when it finally does end. The lack of development is surely what leads to characters that you feel nothing for, and who can't even carry the film despite the fact that there are no absolutely major flaws in the performances, and by the end you will feel short changed. Explosions and gunfire, and a dangerous jungle occupied by Predators that look visually bold and powerful, don't make a good action film, so to anybody who hopes to make another Predator film one day just remember that development and substance is needed.


2010.
15.
Stars:
Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Oleg Taktarov, Walton Goggins, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Danny Trejo, Laurence Fishburne, Derek Mears, Carey Jones, Brian Steele.

Black Reel Award nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Laurence Fishburne).

Monday, 18 April 2011

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut


***

After seeing the latest Terrance and Phillip film, the kids of South Park can't stop swearing. Angered by this Kyle's (Matt Stone) mother (Mary Kay Bergman) forces the government to go to war with Canada and have Terrance (Stone) and Phillip (Trey Parker) executed. Now Kyle, Stan (Parker) and Cartman (Parker) must lead a rebellion to save their heroes. Meanwhile, after dying (again) Kenny (Stone/ Mike Judge) ends up in Hell and finds out Saddam (Stone) wants to force lover Satan (Parker) to bring hell to Earth as the war means it is surely the right time.

Having been a fan of South Park (1997-) for quite a while and having seen a good number of episodes when I learnt that this held the World Record for most use of a swear word within a film I was not at all surprised. South Park has always been a lot cruder and more politically incorrect than The Simpsons (1989-), and even Family Guy (1999-2002, 2005-), so if you've watched the cartoon series, you know exactly what to expect from the film, only on a much larger scale. As always the cartoon characters - who are cut out of paper as the series opening credits have always emphasised - flow through the entire running time smoothly, and keep their greatly contrasting personalities, brought to hilarious life by the voice cast.
Naturally, Cartman is the crudest, his harsh tongue and profanities are well written so that he is always entertaining. Stan and Kyle are not as funny, naturally, but the comedy from them comes from the huge contrast they have in behaviour to Cartman, which is genuinely a major contrast. Surprise factor comes from Kenny, though, who (in the two and a bit series that came out before the film) is little more than a prop created for running gag usually. In Hell Kenny is like an Agony Uncle to Satan who hates Saddam's scheme, and the idea that a kid who hung out with Cartman could be so sensitive is just so clever and such a surprise - I guess Kenny contrasts Cartman more than Stan and Kyle - and we get to see Kenny without his hood, which rarely happens in the series. One has to question why Kenny would end up in Hell if he is ultimately such a sensitive soul, and the conclusion is that like most cartoons South Park goes against the Gospel and makes it out to be good deeds that get you into Heaven - clearly cartoon writers have never read the Bible, or if they have don't believe a word of it - in which case one can just conclude that years of hanging out with Cartman lost Kenny a place in Heaven.

Ultimately one has to admire Parker and Stone for being so daring in their screenplay, but one can't help but think they went a little too far. After the first three hundred swear words one just wants them to stop with the swearing and use words that are recognised by a 1990s' dictionary.
And also, for my generation, the subplots involving Saddam and Satan are a bit too tasteless. In the '90s Saddam was still alive and in power, a major threat to much of the world, so the idea that he could actually be a bad-tempered homosexual midget would have appealed to many and seemed a hilariously interesting contrast to the real-life Saddam. But in this century the Second Gulf War began, Saddam was hung, war against the Taliban in Afghanistan began, and hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers have lost their lives, so for someone who has been saddened deeply by it all for over eight years now, it's just rotten luck that I watched this film first time round in 2009, and was sickened by this characterisation of Saddam. Were I ten years older I'd have seen it in 1999, when first released and would probably have laughed my head off.
As for how the character of Satan is written, I, as a Christian, am just glad that for once a cartoon is going out of its way to take the mick out of Satan instead of God. However, the fact that Satan is such a wimp here, scared by Saddam, despite having immeasurable powers of evil, I do disagree with, as Satan is a powerful force of pure evil, yet to fight the Satan of this film would be like Mike Tyson vs. a limbless individual in the ring.

Although there are many laughs to be had in this film, the screenplay is still quite flawed and tries to pack in too much into an hour and a half. One, however, can't help but admire the daringness of the screenplay, even if they do take it too far, and it is ultimately classic South Park, so if you are a fan of the series it is definetly worth a viewing. If you are easily offended, then maybe not.


1999.
15.
Stars:
Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes, Mike Judge, George Clooney, Brent Spiner, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle, Dave Foley.

Oscar nomination: Best Original Song (Blame Canada - Trey Parker, Marc Shaiman).

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Cry_Wolf


***

When British student Owen (Julian Morris) joins an American boarding school he makes an immediate impact by making a story online of a serial killer who kills students on school site. However, when the story of killings starts to come true Owen begins to fear for the lives of himself and the friends he made up the story with. But is there more to what's happening than meets the eye?

Successful in getting the heart pounding when viewed, this film really builds up the tension well with a number of excellent devices, such as creeping background silhouettes, creaking doors and a sense of being alone in darkness. Some scenes, such as Owen getting chased by the "killer", are made very exhilarating thanks to some quick edits and the fast pacing. And to make it even more horrific, the fake blood in a number of the scenes flows so realistically and is so graphic that one can't help but feel slightly squeamish.

Ultimately the flawed screenplay drags the film down, thanks to some poor pacing in some scenes, and a twist at the end that really fails to reach its full potential, as the film just ends too abruptly, but the idea that spreading a rumour on the internet could get you and your friends stalked by a killer is a shocking one, which today (six years on) happens far too often (just look in the newspapers to see what I mean). But for a film shot independently on a shoestring budget of $1 million, Director Jeff Wadlow really did do quite a successful job, and despite the flaws of the film itself he has shown that a good horror film really can be shot on a low budget, by not relying on bags of gore like My Bloody Valentine (2009) or explosive deaths like Final Destination (2000), but relying on simplistic, yet effective makeup, and fast edits.

It's flawed, but it's definetly worth viewing, and Wadlow has done a very good job, although there was some cases of miscasting, such as the legendary Jon Bon Jovi as a teacher. JBJ - stick with the incredible music you produce, acting isn't your scene.


2005.
15.
Stars:
Julian Morris, Lindy Booth, Jared Padalecki, Kristy Wu, Jon Bon Jovi, Sandra McCoy, Paul James, Jesse Janzen, Ethan Cohn, Gary Cole, Anna Deavere Smith, Erica Yates.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Making a promise to myself and readers, right here, right now...

I realise with a lot of shame and regret that since October 2010 I have been slacking in the reviews department. I have currently 51 half finished reviews, which when finished will go into the archives for November 2010 to March 2011. My aim is to have all the drafts from November to January completed by the end of May. This may or may not be possible, we will just have to see. What I promise though is that when I get back from New Word Alive (starts tomorrow - CAN'T WAIT) on Friday I will get back to blogging after a good night's sleep and from then till the next time I go away for a few days, and I will publish a review every other day!
For anyone who was a regular reader, but has returned less and less due to my lack of self-discipline in the review department, I must apologise and I will make sure that this promise shall not be broken.

Here's a tip to all living in the UK

If you live in the UK and you like to preorder DVDs then I suggest preordering at tesco.com. They are more often than not the cheapest and they despatch your DVD in the post five days before the DVD is available to buy in stores so that you get it the same day as the people sleeping outside HMV. If, like me, you are lucky, then it will arrive a couple of days before the film is out on store shelves. Like today the DVD copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) I preordered at Tesco arrived in the post, and the film isn't even out till Monday in store. Why did it arrive early? Because they despatched it on Wednesday so that it would arrive tomorrow, but it got through the postal system fairly quickly. That is why I give you this advice, and if you take it then I hope you get as lucky as I did.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

An old Film Studies coursework essay I found

Going through some documents on my PC I found the first ever piece of Film Studies coursework I submitted as an idiotic 16-year-old in November 2008. I got a strong B for it, and now feel like I should upload it to the blog...



HOW FANTASY IS CREATED IN THE MOUTH OF SAURON SCENE IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (EXTENDED EDITION) THROUGH MISE-EN-SCENE AND CINEMATOGRAPHY

For this essay I shall be analysing how fantasy is created in the Mouth of Sauron scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) through the use of cinematography and mise-en-scene. This three minute and seven second long clip is roughly three and a half hours of the way through the four hour long film, and although it is a short clip it is a very powerful one.

By this point in the film Frodo and Sam are close to achieving their goal and Aragorn, Éomer and Gandalf have led armies of Rohan and Gondor to victory at Pelennor Fields. The surviving soldiers have now been lead to the Black Gates of Mordor by Aragorn so that they can distract Sauron and defeat the last of the Orcs, therefore making it possible for Frodo and Sam to get to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring.

In this clip the army of Rohan and Gondor have arrived at the Black Gate, and are roughly 25 metres away from it. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Éomer and a flag-bearing soldier of Gondor approach the gate on horseback. They are greeted by Sauron’s messenger, known simply as “Mouth of Sauron”. Gandalf tells the messenger to tell his master to leave Middle-Earth forever, only for the messenger to present them with Frodo’s meathril shirt and tells them all that Frodo is dead, though they are all unaware that Frodo is in fact alive. As his friends take it in Aragorn rides forward, beheads the messenger and then states his belief that Frodo is in fact alive, which is where the scene ends.

In this clip there are a number of things in the mise-en-scene and cinematography which emphasize the theme of, and create, fantasy, as well as suggesting the mood of the scene, all of which are as follows.

Firstly, is the Black Gate of Mordor. The Black Gate is at least fifty feet in height with spikes at the front of the top. This creates fantasy as this is the sort of thing which is only ever seen in fantasy, as things similar to it have been used in Harry Potter (the great walls of Hogwarts), and King Kong (the great stone wall and gate), and are usually part of the home(s)/ lair(s) of the antagonist of the book or film. There is a good chance that this was inspired by the great gate from the original King Kong, partly due to the fact that King Kong was the film that made the Director (Peter Jackson) decide that he wanted to make films as an adult, and also partly because, similarly to the gate in King Kong, a gate as large as this suggest that on the other side there is something large and that the gate is being used to either keep it in, or keep it out.
There are also a number of shots of the gate in this scene. The first main shot is a distant over-shoulder shot of the Black Gate from the spot where the army of Rohan and Gondor are standing. The second one is when the camera starts at the base of the gate and then moves up the gate as it slowly opens. Coupled with the design of the gate this creates fantasy as it shows how large the gate is, and reminds a viewer that it is something which is almost always found in fantasy and of the fact that it’s sheer size is being used to keep something large either in or out.

Secondly, is the setting of this scene. This scene is in a very depressing and very gloomy setting. The setting is a very rocky landscape, with grey rock ground, grey cliffs/ stone walls at the side and a grey sky as well. This is the sort of dark place that is seen in a lot of fantasies, and is usually associated with the antagonist, but in reality is not found very often, with the most likely place where you would find a setting like this being some part of uninhabited Asia. An interesting thing to note here is the fact that the area that this scene takes place is a very compressed area due to the great walls of rock closed in at each side, as well as the fact that it is very dimly light. This is a big contrast to many other settings of the film which are much brighter, much wider and open spaces.
There are a number of shots of this setting as well. The first shot is an over-shoulder shot from where the army of Rohan and Gondor stand, with the bare rocky landscape straight ahead of them. The second shot is when Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Éomer and a flag-bearer approach the gate on horseback. In this shot the camera starts with a front shot of them and it then follows them as they ride forward, rotating around them and through rotating around them shows the bleak setting in which this scene takes place. This conveys fantasy as the cinematography of this scene will constantly remind audiences that this is the sort of dark place that is seen in a lot of fantasies, and is usually associated with the antagonist, but in reality doesn’t exist, with the nearest thing to it being mentioned above.

Thirdly, is the different characters used in this scene. The characters that are featured most in this scene and the scene revolves around are Aragorn, the “Mouth of Sauron”, Gandalf, Frodo (who only has a three second cameo), Legolas (who doesn’t speak in this scene, but gets an adequate amount of focus), Merry, Pippin, Gimli (who too doesn’t speak in this scene, but gets an adequate amount of focus), Éomer (who gets one comical line at the end of the scene, yet gets an adequate amount of focus) and a flag bearing Gondorian guard (who has no dialogue and is never focused on; it is also the only part of the film in which he is seen).
Aragorn, Éomer and the Gondorian guard are all human and depicted as normal men with long hair and a beard. Legolas is an elf, depicted as tall and slim, but muscular, with pointy ears, long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. This depiction simply comes from the illustrations within the novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. The “Mouth of Sauron” is presumably an orc (we never find out as we only ever see his mouth, but he has the teeth and the voice of an orc). However, what of him we see is a short, stocky, body, a bony lower face with pale skin, scars around his mouth and brown teeth, which suggests that, like a lot of orcs in the film he has seen war and has been left scarred by it.
Gandalf is a wizard and is depicted as a stereotypical wizard- elderly, tall and thin with long white hair and beard, wearing white robes and holding a staff. The fact that he is older suggests that he is also wiser. Gandalf’s design is likely to be based on the legendary magician, Merlin, as the two are very similar in appearance and have very similar skills and wisdom. Merry, Pippin and Frodo are all hobbits and are depicted as around four feet in height with large and hairy bare feet, red curly hair and pointy ears, but curly black hair in Frodo’s case.
Gimli is a dwarf, and depicted as four and a half to five feet in height and fat, with long and thick brown hair and beard, and a large axe in his hand. As a character Gimli is depicted as rather medieval due to the fact that he wears a medieval costume of chain mail and on top of that he wears metal armour, as well as a metal helmet, all of which is very similar to what a medieval warrior would wear when he would leave home to go to war. All of these characters constantly have the camera cut to them throughout the scene in the form of close-up shots from the front.
Coupled with the way the characters are depicted this conveys fantasy because these ten characters between them are a total of six different species of human like creatures, as mentioned above, which constantly reminds the viewer of the fact that is a fantasy film, as fantasy is the only genre in which you will find such a large variety of human like species, as if it was any other genre the film wouldn’t work as, although dwarfs do exist orcs, elves and hobbits simply do not.
Finally, for a three second shot we see Frodo lying on the ground, with the great fiery eye of Sauron rotating in the background. Although Frodo lying on the ground is not a way to convey the theme of fantasy as something like that is something that can be seen in any film of any genre. However, something like a gigantic eye of fire that rotates as it is actually somebody is something which can only be conveyed in fantasy as there never has and never will be anything even slightly similar to that in the real world and it is only something you can find in fantasy. The shot is a front shot of Frodo, however, behind him the fiery eye and the tower on which it rests can easily be seen in focus. The lighting brings this to the viewer’s attention as, although the setting is very dimly light, the bright orange colours of the fiery eye stand out against this dim background and the contrast in colours brings the fiery eye to the viewer’s attention.

To conclude, through the use of mise-en-scene and cinematography the theme of fantasy is conveyed successfully in the Mouth of Sauron scene in the The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Edition) in many different ways and greatly helps the scene become a powerful one.




Looking at it I see a noticable difference between my writing style then and my writing style now, two a half years on. I also see I didn't fully understand the Mouth of Sauron character then. He is in fact a representation of how mouthfuls of evil destroy the human appearance and tarnish (in the film at least) and this makes sense, for in the book (which I reread a year after submitting this piece of coursework) Tolkien emphasises that he was a man, manipulated and corrupted by Sauron.

Anyway, that's enough for how much (erm) wiser (?) I have become since then, for I shall now answer a common question I got at the time - Why this scene? Well, it is only included in the Extended Edition, but it is a powerful, underrated scene in my view, as the emotions expressed when the various Fellowship members believe Frodo dead shows just how strong the bonds truly are, and is a real image of how grief unites people, which hadn't been depicted to such a strong level since Gandalf fell into Khazad-Dum in The Fellowship of the Ring.

If you haven't watched the Extended Editions then this is a must watch scene in The Return of the King, which has a number of strong ones such as the confrontation with Saruman, Faramir reflecting on his bond with Boromir, and of course tonnes more battle and hard feelings - which as ever involve orcs.