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.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Okay, just a little bit of info on the preorders front...

A few weeks ago I got very excited as Point Break (1991) was being rereleased on DVD. It still is however the June 20th date is for the Blu-ray only, the DVD is not being released until September 12th. Although I'm slightly disappointed that I will have to wait three more months, I'm still excited, and they do say that a longer wait makes recieving the DVD all the more exciting. That has certainly proved true in the past. This is just a little bit of info, just for anyone who saw the original excited post and were about to preorder the DVD.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Terminal


***

When Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at JFK Airport, he learns he can't leave as his home country of Krakozhia has just had a civil war begin. Living in the airport he learns English, finds a love interest in frequent passer through and new friend Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a job as a construction worker in the airport, and the airport staff befriending and ralling round him. However, CBP Head Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) gets sick of Viktor's presence and goes to all-out to force him out the airport.

What the film offers is a sometimes sensitive depiction of an individual overcoming initial opression as he strives to live the most normal life possible. His accent may not be fantastic - pretty good, but not fantastic - but Hanks gives a good performance through his expression, using his face to convey Viktor's fears, confusion and upset. Zeta-Jones is kind and caring as Amelia; and while the character of Dixon just gets more and more unbelievable and daft as the film progresses, Tucci gives a performance that is cold, sometimes harsh, and quite desperate.

Th film also depicts a care and compassion for those who need it through the airport staff who rally round Viktor, in what is a clear bond between the characters, portrayed by a cast who click well. This is a major contrast to Dixon, who is completely uncaring of Viktor's predicament, in a character, written to be very selfish. The jokes are pretty good, with some well timed slapstick and good delivery, but the screenplay does get more and more unbelievable as the film progresses, not just in the lengths Dixon will go to to get rid of Viktor, but also Viktor's actions, such as getting two staff members married, and also the staff - nobody bats an eyelid when he breaks chairs in the Terminal.

Although enjoyable and sometimes sensitive the film would have worked better if it had been more realistic and believable, particularly as it is loosely inspired by the true story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived in Charles de Gaulle International Airport for 18 years (1988-2006).


2004.
12.
Stars:
Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci, Barry Shabaka Henley, Diego Luna, Kumar Pallana, Chi McBride, Zoë Saldana, Eddie Jones, Corey Reynolds, Jude Ciccolella, Guillermo Diaz, Rini Bell.

Art Director's Guild Award: Excellence in Production Design Award (Alex McDowell, Brad Ricker, Martha Johnston, Bruce Robert Hill, Christopher Burian-Mohr, Harry E. Otto).

Should have done this a few days ago...

In terms of film the last couple of weeks have been pretty darn good. I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011; Dir. Rob Marshall) with my best mate the day it came out (May 18th). Although it could never live up to The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003; Dir. Gore Verbinski), it (like the sequels of 2006 and 2007) had occasionally entertaining moments, but was poorly written, dragged out and altogether poor film making.

I then spent a few days in Devon with family, getting home on Tuesday evening, and ended up seeing Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009; Dir. Wes Anderson) and Despicable Me (2010; Dir. Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud) for the first time, both of which I certainly enjoyed, albeit the latter being the inferior, reviews for which are to go in the May archives when completed. In terms of film the highlight came from getting 14 DVDs, 13 from the Market, one - 2012 (2009; Dir. Roland Emmerich) - from Oxfam.

The other 13 consisted of the following...
The French Connection (1971; Dir. William Friedkin)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974; Dir. Tobe Hooper)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975; Dir. Miloš Forman)
Das Boot (1981; Dir. Wolfgang Petersen)
Full Metal Jacket (1987; Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991; Dir. James Cameron)
Natural Born Killers (1994; Dir. Oliver Stone)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000; Dir. Ang Lee)
28 Days Later (2002; Dir. Danny Boyle)
The Pianist (2002; Dir. Roman Polanski)
Ray (2004; Dir. Taylor Hackford)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007; Dir. Andrew Dominik)
Crazy Heart (2009; Dir. Scott Cooper)

I was especially chuffed to get the full length version of Das Boot - 4 hours, 42 minutes - described by the two lines of blurb on the front cover as how Wolfgang Petersen always wanted it to be seen.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Brüno


*

In the latest mockumentary from Sacha Baron Cohen, we see Austrian gay fashion journalist Brüno (Baron Cohen) travel to the USA, where he feels his sexuality is holding him back from fame and fortune, and decides to try and become straight.

Three years earlier Baron Cohen gave us mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. It was fresh and quite original, hugely outrageous and both viewers and critics - myself included - were very chuffed with it. Brüno, however, fails as it is trying too much to be Borat 2. Journalist from another country travels to the USA for a documentary, speaks to a mixture of different Americans, and even at least one celebrity is prominent - Pamela Anderson in Borat; Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford and Ron Paul in Brüno.

My goodness. How thick are we meant to believe random American citizens can be? So many Americans were part of Borat without even realising it, Baron Cohen even thanked America for not suing him in his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical acceptance speech. And after the whole world has seen Borat, and half the world has laughed - the other half cringed and Kazakhstan have banned the film. So are we really meant to believe that the people used in this film didn't suspect something when a journalist easily as outrageous as Borat turns up? Or are they just attention-seekers who want to be caught on cinema screens, and DVD and Blu-ray copies of the film? Either way it just feels too fake and too much like a film which was rehearsed before shooting.

Also, the difference between Borat and Brüno is that Borat knew there was a line to draw, and while Borat crossed the line this film catapults itself over. Brüno gives an extremely stereotypical view of homosexual males that is very bland and outrageous; and coupled with the idea that Brüno tries to turn himself straight makes the film darn right homophobic. The film also manages to be racist to a high level through crude, and insensitive references and stereotyping. Brüno the character is based on Josef Fritzl and Adolf Hitler, and although you may be able to just about excuse the latter as Hitler isn't such a sensitive topic more than sixty years after his suicide, the Fritzl case was fresh and an extremely sensitive topic, and is Baron Cohen saying all Austrians are like these two guys? Later in the film Brüno decides to adopt an African American baby whom he names OJ. The OJ Simpson case has been sensitive since those murders Simpson stood trial for more than a decade earlier, and had become even more so since his sentence for numerous crimes including armed robbery and kidnap in 2008. Oh and a Palestinian Christian called Ayman Abu Aita is falsely portrayed as a terrorist - which is not just very racist, but a disgusting reference to include after horrific incidents such as 9/11 and 7/7, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of December 2009 Abu Aita is suing Baron Cohen for $110 million and quite rightly so. It's extremely bad taste, and too insensitive - Baron Cohen really has gone too far.

Crude, insensitive, and racist and with none of the magic of Borat this really is the worst film of 2009, and I feel disgusted after watching it. It has tarnished my memories of Borat as I will now always associate Borat with this film, and I have no idea how Baron Cohen and Director Larry Charles felt they could make this terribly horrible film so casually. I go as far as calling this my least favourite film of all time, with every moment of racism, homophobia and crude insensitivity making me feel sick to the stomach.

2009.
18.
Stars:
Sacha Baron Cohen, Gustaf Hammarsten, Clifford Bañagale, Paula Abdul, Harrison Ford, Ron Paul.

Evening Standard British Film Award: Peter Sellers Award for Comedy (Sacha Baron Cohen).

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan


***

In a now well-known and rather controversial mockumentary, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakhstani journalist, who travels around America, making a documentary about their culture, and recording their viewpoints.

As Borat, Baron Cohen brings great amounts of energy and enthusiasm, making Borat a very cheerful and enjoyably cheesy individual, and makes the "character's" emotional arc very entertaining, albeit crude and very political incorrect. What is good about Borat, which makes it a hell of a lot stronger than Baron Cohen's Brüno (2009), is the fact that Borat manages to draw a line.

The film is also very interesting as it depicts both positive and negative qualities of the various different classes in America. Within the upper class one sees both patience and humility - most people would kick a man out their house if they brought a bag of faeces to the table, but these people forgive Borat as they think its part of his culture; they are also shown as slightly snobbish as they kick Borat out when he brings a prostitute (Luenell Campbell) as his plus one. In the working class - some young guys travelling the country in a camper van - their is the positive side of their friendly welcoming attitude - they're friendly to Borat and give him beer; but one also sees their more shallow side in the attitude towards women, notably when they tell Borat of how hot Pamela Anderson - whom he "falls in love with" - is, with their sexually impure attitudes.

However, the mockumentary also becomes quite self-contradictory as Borat, who wants the American citizens to treat him well, is hugely anti-semitic, to a level which is quite sickening, and makes the character a hypocrite. The film also gives a very stereotypical view of Kazakhstan, where everyone is in poverty and there is inbreeding and incest as well, and I personally can't find this funny, mainly as I feel all should be treated equally as we are all made in God's image, and partly because racist stereotypes are a poor depiction of the truth, and have been known to distort people's views of the truth.

All in all it is an interesting and often amusing mockumentary that unfortunately does cross the line, but features a good turn from Baron Cohen, and also highlights both positive and negative characteristics of various members of the American public.


2006.
15.
Stars:
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian, Luenell Campbell, Pamela Anderson.

Oscar nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay (Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer, Todd Phillips.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel


*

The Chipmunks (Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney) are getting bullied at their new school, but with Dave (Jason Lee) in hospital they can only turn to his waster nephew Toby (Zachary Levi) who's house/babysitting. Also starting school are the Chipettes (Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, Amy Poehler) and soon love is in the air between them and the Chipmunks. However, when Ian (David Cross) discovers the Chipettes' talent he decides to exploit them to regain his fortune.

The 2007 original raised a couple of chuckles, this film however, doesn't even manage that, thanks to verbal and physical gags that are complete misfires, as well as songs even worse than those of the original. The major problem/reason behind the failure of this film, however, is the fact that it is almost a complete rehash of the original - three singing rodents have their talent spotted, get a contract with a greedy record producer, who decides to exploit them at all costs, and they must escape. We saw it two years earlier; it is predictable, it is bland, it is sloppy, and it is pointless. The budding romance between the various rodents is just as bad, thanks to the corny dialogue and lack of smitten feelings, which you just can't believe an adult wrote.

Again, the cast flop: Levi fails to make Toby a convincing waster, more of a video game loving rockstar; Cross is even more a tantrum throwing toddler than in the original; and with double the rodents the various singing, squeaky voiced animals get unbelievably irritating twice as fast. Lee was borderline worthless in the original, though one must admire his efforts to make the poor dialogue funny, but with barely 10 minutes screentime you can't help but miss his presence.

All in all, one of 2009's worst films. If you were thinking of watching this film, then please don't, save those 88 minutes for something superior.


2009.
U.
Stars:
Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate, Anna Faris, Amy Poehler, Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee, Ross Bagdasarian Jr, Steve Vining, Janice Karman, Wendie Malick, Anjelah Johnson, Kevin G. Schmidt, Chris Warren Jr, Bridgit Mendler.

Kids' Choice Award: Favorite Movie.

Spider-Man 3


**

Peter (Tobey Maguire) has finally managed to balance his duties as Spider-Man, his college work, his job for the Daily Bugle and his love life with Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst). However, an extraterrestrial symbiote crashes to Earth and bonds with Peter, and his behaviour takes a turn for the worse and he becomes dark both inside and out. To make matters worse he faces his biggest challenge yet, as Harry (James Franco) seeks to avenge his father (Willem Dafoe), Uncle Ben's (Cliff Robertson) killer Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) becomes the Sandman and starts terrorising New York, and after ridding himself of the symbiote Peter's rival Eddie (Topher Grace) bonds with it and becomes the monstrous Venom.

Visually this is the strongest film in the trilogy (2002-7). As ever the aerial shots of Spider-Man swinging through New York City are wonderfully shot and you get a real swooping feeling as you watch these well-edited, potentially vertigo inducing scenes unfold before your eyes. And the CGI is easily more jaw dropping than it was in the previous films. The highlight of the CGI is easily Sandman, with every single individual grain of sand that makes him up, particularly in the first scene where the sand forms into him, given its own individual life and purpose as it comes together in very intricate detail. The other memorable creation is the life given to the symbiote, which almost has its own soul thanks to the work put in, and in both the scenes where it takes over Spider-Man and the scenes where it becomes Venom it is a very bold piece of imagery that really steals grips the attention of the viewer.

However, the visuals is one of the few redeeming features of this film. What we are offered is a very frantic screenplay which has far too many ideas crammed into it. The result of this is that both events and characters are terribly underdeveloped and are just there to fill the two and a bit hours. Although wonderful visually Spider-Man's fights with his three new enemies are very rushed and always end very quickly, so we never get much of a chance to be gripped by them. And the characters themselves are generally so bland and one-sided.
Mary-Jane does little more after the first twenty minutes than have a strop and have a very selfish attitude, in a very irritating and shallow performance from Dunst. The backstory of Sandman has potential to be a strong and powerful piece of drama as he breaks out of prison and desperately tries to steal enough money to get his sick daughter (Perla Haney-Jardine) medical treatment. However, it is majorly underwritten, so Sandman becomes little more than a menacing crook with a bad temper. And those are just two of the underdeveloped characters, almost all of whom are played by actors giving pretty poor, one-sided performances.
Ultimately the most pathetic scene is when Peter becomes dark he walks down the street giving every pretty girl he passes an attracted look, before breaking the fourth wall by dancing to the jazz background score. Are we really meant to be entertained by this shallow, childish attempt at being a pimp? Or are we meant to believe this ridiculously smart man reckons he has a shot with the ladies by doing this?

So all-in-all this ends up being a visually impressive, but shallow, childish and underdeveloped final installment of the trilogy. A major disappointment after its two wonderful predecessors.


2007.
12.
Stars:
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Topher Grace, Thomas Haden Church, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, James Cromwell, Bill Nunn, Dylan Baker Elizabeth Banks, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson, Michael Papajohn, Elya Baskin, Mageina Tovah, Ted Raimi, Theresa Russell, Perla Haney-Jardine, Hal Fishman.

BAFTA nomination: Best Special Visual Effects (John Frazier, Peter Nofz, Spencer Cook, Scott Stokdyk).

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Spider-Man 2


****

Having spent two years as Spider-Man, Peter (Tobey Maguire) cannot balance everything out in his life and starts to consider getting rid of the suit. However, with scientist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) terrorising New York city as Doctor Octopus with his four robotic arms, Peter faces his toughest battle yet.

Spider-Man 2 is easily as good as its 2002 predecessor, and the most mature in the trilogy. The concept of a superhero giving up on himself is a very serious one in comic books, and shows a selfish side to the hero, which you just naturally assume he doesn't have, seeing as he is out saving people on a daily basis. Yet here we are offered it, and Sam Raimi's and a fairly sensitive performance from Maguire carry this twist well, unleashing quite sensitive on-screen emotions, and this twist really reminds us that superheroes at the end of the day are just like you or I, bar the powers, costumes and gadgets, and that they surely yearn secretly to live normal lives where they can just be themselves and not what the public want to see.
The most moving and mature scene of a serious nature is that of the moment Peter confesses to Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) how he was partly responsible for Uncle Ben's (Cliff Robertson) death. Heartbreaking emotions are portrayed to a tee by Maguire and Harris, and Aunt May's state of shock really does show just how much such tragic loss of one so close to you can hurt deep within. However, her forgiveness of Peter later in the film really does show how an unconditional love can overcome any obstacle.

Let's not, however, forget how spectacular the visuals are. The swooping shots of New York City in the aerial sequences are beautifully edited and designed, and move both gracefully and with energy - they are fast, but Spider-Man moves with such graceful and perfect poise. The editing remains strong throughout, but especially when Spider-Man has to stop an elevated train that Doc Ock took the brake off of before it comes off the end of the rail, which has a lot of editing from one great shot to the next and is such a quick-paced, adrenaline fuelled scene that you will be on the edge of your seat though. In the special effects department though, it is the mechanical arms of Doc Ock that top the lot, with each arm given its own life, its own soul and its own purpose throughout.

Couple these elements with some excellent performances - including a very cold and tingling one from Molina; and a rather moving and deep performance from James Franco, whose character Harry is in a state of anger and depression following his father's death - and you have one of the all-time great superhero films, which is both exhilarating and mature.


2004.
PG.
Stars:
Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Daniel Gillies, Bill Nunn, Donna Murphy, Dylan Baker, Willem Dafoe, Cliff Robertson, Mageina Tovah.

Oscar: Best Visual Effects (John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, John Frazier).
Oscar nominations: Best Sound Editing (Paul N.J. Ottosson), Best Sound Mixing (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Joseph Geisinger).

Alvin and the Chipmunks


*

Failing musician Dave (Jason Lee) can't believe his luck when three young singing chipmunks (Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney) turn up on his doorstep and have soon sent one of his songs skyrocketing to number one. However, greedy record producer Ian (David Cross) decides to exploit them in a bid to double his already huge fortune.

For a child this film is decent entertainment - vast DVD sales have proven this - but as a film there is little worthwhile about it. The jokes are almost all 100% unamusing, thanks to verbal punchlines that aren't funny and physical comedy which relies on below par slapstick. As for the songs, they could have been written by a toddler, the lyrics are that poor. Not even the cast carry the film: Lee - who recently showed his comic talent in My Name is Earl (2005-9) - is fairly flimsy as Dave, although he does everything he can to try and make the awful jokes funny; Cross is like an attention-seeking toddler in an Armani suit as he throws inconsistent temper tantrums; and the Chipmunks are as irritating as possible within half an hour, thanks to their one-sided, underdeveloped hyperactive personalities.

Ironically the film unintentionally becomes a metaphor for how the music industry exploits its young stars, as Ian does everything possible to make sure the Chipmunks do a couple of gigs a day, without thinking of them, and when you think of child singers who are on tour for at least half of the year, you do wonder whether it is right for them to have that much pressure put on, and you do get a sense that they are only on said tours so record companies have more chance of selling 20 million albums a year. The problem however is that this metaphor was created unintentionally, so we have to take the film for what was intended to be, and what it ultimately is - turning classic cartoons, into modern live-action comedies, just like Scooby-Doo (2002) and Garfield (2004) before it. Too many classic cartoon series are getting ruined this way, and really enough is enough.


2007.
U.
Stars:
Jason Lee, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Ross Bagdasarian Jr, Steve Vining, Janice Karman, Jane Lynch.

Kids' Choice Award: Favorite Movie.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Despicable Me


***

When super-villain Gru (Steve Carell) plots to steal the Moon, he realises he will need the aid of three orphans (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher) to steal the vital shrink ray from fellow super-villain Vector (Jason Segel) so he adopts them. However, after adopting them he begins to bond with them and realizes there is something more important in life than success - family.

What we are offered here is an interesting, and pretty successful combination of The Incredibles (2004) and Looney Tunes (1930-1969, 2011-). Like the works of Pixar, we are offered a computer animated feature, with bold, colourful and eye-catching images, and similarly to Pixar's The Incredibles we are offered some interesting super-villains - in theory they are brilliant, but practically they are too foolish - who have more gadgets and gizmos than we could ever dream of, and make some visually impressive animated sequences, even though it all gets a little over the top; while the characters are designed in a rather cartoonesque style, similarly to the Looney Tunes characters, which is very eye-catching indeed, and with such cartoon like characters comes large amounts of cartoon violence, just like in Looney Tunes, which works surprisingly well in this film, and suceeds in making you laugh.

The screenplay though is generally quite flawed. Although it is an interesting concept, the idea of supporting a super-villain is an interesting one, and the fact that there is no superhero means it grabs our attention, plus the fact that Gru is such a loveable character, not least thanks to a great voice performance by Carell, means he grabs our full attention. However, it does just get a little bit too absurd sometimes, with too many ideas chucked in that seem to be an attempt to make it as much like a feature length Looney Tunes as possible, such as Vector's house producing twenty missiles or so every time somebody knocks on the door, which just seems a little too farfetched and doesn't have the same magic in a computer animation.
As for the rest of the characters, they are quite a mixed bunch. Segel does a good job voicing Vector, but Vector is too much of a bumbling fool to be taken seriously as a super-villain. The orphans Gru adopts are a wonderful contrast thanks to their age differences - Margo (Cosgrove) is protective and level headed, Edith (Gaier) is a cocky tomboy, and Agnes (Fisher) is very kind, albeit quite simple. Despite a strong voice performance by Russell Brand, Dr Nefario (Gru's gadget man) is very one-sided and the joke of his poor hearing gets old quite quickly. Arguably the most memorable character is Gru's mother (Julie Andrews), who is written to be a wonderfully tough and hilariously mean battle-axe.

All-in-all the film may be flawed, but it is good entertainment and has an interesting premise, so it is certainly worth watching.


2010.
U.
Stars:
Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Will Arnett, Julie Andrews, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud, Danny McBride, Rob Huebel, Jemaine Clement.

BAFTA nomination: Best Animated Feature Film.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


*

On his quest to find the Fountain of Youth Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has to join the crew of Queen Anne's Revenge, captained by the merciless Blackbeard (Ian McShane), with the First Mate being Blackbeard's daughter and Jack's ex-lover Angelica (Penélope Cruz), with the Royal Navy ship HMS Providence hot on their tails, captained by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

Visually this is a pretty good film, with a number of strong set designs, and explosive effects, as well as some exciting, though far too over the top fights between the Pirates and the Royal Navy. The mermaids are also quite stunning in design, with lots of attention to detail gone in so that they are beautiful but clearly not too human, and believably so, though after the various members of The Flying Dutchman's crew in the last two films (2006/7), this film does feel quite short changed in the make-up department.

The screenplay, however, like with the other sequels in the franchise is the major downfall, with many unnecessary scenes filled with goofy, underdeveloped characters, such as Scrum (Stephen Graham), and which are just generally slow moving as the various characters head towards the Fountain of Youth, and squabbling between the characters along the way, which is just petty and not as funny to watch and hear as the film makers had clearly intended. The jokes are also pretty bad, although some of the physical gags are quite funny, particularly those with Jack, the verbal comedy is just poorly written.

The characters of the film are generally rather underdeveloped, with several characters, such as Scrum who are just pointless, and are just there as a crew is needed like it was in the previous films. Depp gives a fun and energetic performance as Jack again, while Kevin McNally and Rush are just as much the old sea dogs as Gibbs and Barbossa as they were in previous films, and although very occasionally enjoyable, their characters are far too predictable and really haven't changed at all over the course of the three sequels, and instead are now more bland than anything else. This is particularly disappointing in the case of Rush after his great performance in The King's Speech (2010). Cruz and McShane are cunning, as well as seductive in Cruz's case, and cold in McShane's case, but they too are playing underdeveloped characters, and the climax of their stories just become way too hammy, but their cruel, angry sides however feel very forced. Meanwhile Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey display poor acting throughout this film and have a very awkward romance as the Missionary and the Mermaid he falls for, which lacks passion and sexual tension, and although a refreshing change from the awful romance between Orlando Bloom's Will and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth in the last two films, it is no better, rather a relief that the previous awful romance was milked no further.

Just as bad as Dead Man's Chest, slightly worse than At World's End, this is a very insubstantial film, and a case of a strong (semi-)original film (2003) that has been given another unnecessary sequel in order to make profit.


2011.
12.
Stars:
Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Greg Ellis, Damian O'Hare, Óscar Jaenada, Gemma Ward, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Cheaper by the Dozen 2


*

For the Labour Day break, Tom (Steve Martin) takes the family to Lake Winnetka. There he reunites with old rival Jimmy (Eugene Levy), father of eight, and soon it's an all out battle of oneupsmanship, with both fathers forcing their more unwilling children to try outdoing each other.

Wow. Just when you think that the comedy Steve Martin and Eugene Levy have done this century is as bad as it gets, you watch this film and see it can go to an even lower level. We are offered an hour and a half of film, and it is possibly the most unnecessary hour and a half of 2005 in film. What could be a quite amusing rivalry doesn't even raise a chuckle as Martin and Levy basically do nothing but throw on screen tantrums at each other, and you just wonder what the hell Sam Harper was doing writing two borderline ADHD cases as the fathers of twelve and eight respectively. Are we really meant to believe these two morons have the ability to raise twenty youngsters between them well?

And ultimately there are just way too many characters for this film to be funny or developed. Five adults, and twenty youngsters, none of them get any proper development or substantial screen time, and half of them are just there cluttering up screen space. A kid will come in for one line, possibly one appaulingly unfunny joke, and that will be the only time we hear their voice. The other flaw to the screen play is one that it shares with the extremely disappointing Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), and that is by the half way point vast amounts of over-the-top cartoon style violence and stupidity is chucked in. Are we meant to believe that Mark (Forrest Landis) can carry a rucksack of lit fireworks for nearly a minute without burning his hand? Or that Tom and Jimmy can fall headfirst twenty feet into water and Jimmy doesn't damage his glasses? Too much effort went into making this a cartoon like comedy that the idiots forgot it was live action and doesn't work so well. And with way too many characters and far too much stupidity, this is easily one of the most unnecessary sequels of this century so far. AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!!


2005.
PG.
Stars:
Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt, Eugene Levy, Piper Perabo, Tom Welling, Hilary Duff, Carmen Electra, Jaime King, Alyson Stoner, Taylor Lautner, Forrest Landis, Alexander Conti, Jonathan Bennett, Jacob Smith, Blake Woodruff, Kevin G. Schmidt, Morgan York, Liliana Mumy, Shane Kinsman, Brent Kinsman, Shawn Roberts, Robbie Amell, Melanie Tonello, Madison Fitzpatrick, Courtney Fitzpatrick.

Golden Raspberry nominations: Worst Supporting Actor (Eugene Levy), Worst Supporting Actress (Hilary Duff).

Friday, 13 May 2011

Tron


***

A hacker (Jeff Bridges) is abducted into the world of a computer programme, where he is forced into participating in gladitorial games found in an arcade, and his only chance for survival and freedom is with the help of heroic security programme, Tron (Bruce Boxleitner).

Tron became a milestone in cinema history as it is the first film to ever use CGI for the visual effects. Thirty years or so ago this was totally unheard of, and a rather risky experiment. Made up by simple shapes merged together in blocks of basic colours, today the visual effects are extremely outdated by mega budget CGI effects of science-fictions such as Avatar (2009) and Inception (2010), which are so slick they don't even look like a computer creation; and wholly computer animated features such as WALL-E (2008) and Toy Story 3 (2010), which blend every possible colour together like a fabulous painting.
However, despite being ridiculously outdated the CGI is still magical to look at as it all comes together very well, with bold images that move together slickly and consistently. They may not be in the sharpest definition possible, but they are still eye-catching images, and you have to praise the visual effects team for doing such a wonderful job with such limited technology available to them.
Ironically at the Academy Awards nine months later the CGI turned out to be the film's downfall, as the Academy refused to allow the film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, due to the fact that the use of CGI gave Tron an unfair advantage.

Unfortunately with Tron the studio spent too much team working on the effects, and the writers just didn't put enough time or effort into the screenplay. The film races from one event in the computer world to the next with very little in between, resulting in a lack of attention grabbing scenes, although the scenes that do grab your attention, such as the Light Cycle match, do so very well and are rather exciting scenes. There is also a lack of character development, which offers characters who are one-sided and often quite dull. This in turn prevents the acors from performing to a high standard, as although there are no major flaws in the performances of Jeff Bridges and David Warner, there is nothing particularly memorable, which is disappointing when you think of all the great work they have done in the last forty years plus.

Altogether, this film is a milestone in cinema history and an enjoyable film in general. It is flawed, but it is a must watch, as this film is the reason we have such incredible CGI created films today, and has earned its cult status.


1982.
PG.
Stars:
Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Dan Shor, Peter Jurasik, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes.

Oscar nominations: Best Sound Mixing (Michael Minkler, Bob Minkler, Lee Minkler, James LaRue), Best Costume Design (Eloise Jensson, Rosanna Norton).

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Shrek Forever After


***

Yearning for the good old days, Shrek (Mike Myers) gives a day of his infancy to Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) in exchange for a day as a real ogre. However, Stiltskin takes the day Shrek was born throwing the grouchy ogre into an alternate universe where Stiltskin rules Far Far Away, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is a slave, Fiona (Cameron Diaz) has never met Shrek and leads an army of ogres, and Puss (Antonio Banderas) is her obese, pampered pet. If Shrek can't make Fiona fall in love with him within 24 hours then he will cease to exist, and the alternate reality stays.

Taglined as The Final Chapter, which isn't the title in the opening credits, I was slightly worried about a fourth Shrek film after the very disappointing third installment (2007). Fortunately there was really no need to worry. This isn't a great film, but it is far superior to its predecessor, just missing out on that fourth star, yet still scraping its hit status.

The animation, quite frankly, is the best that DreamWorks has produced to date. The images are sharp and bold; beautiful to look at, thanks to excellent attention to detail in the intricate designs, as well as wonderful use of colour, with the large range of colours coming together wonderfully like a work of art, never threatening to look garish or sickly, but always beautiful to the eye.

Generally the characters and screenplay are quite strong, although this is where the film is flawed.
As always Myers and Diaz voice Shrek and Fiona with much passion, and create a really touching sense of romance between the two characters. Thanks to Myers's comic timing Shrek's dulcit Scottish tones are as wonderfully comic as ever. Fiona is also an engaging character due to to the emotional complexities of her character, just like in the first film (2001), which is why we readily forgive the fact she is not that much different in the alternate reality to how she is in the real Shrek world. The downside, though, is the fact that the two characters have to fall in love all over again, and this is quite predictable as we saw it in the first film, and saw elements of it in the second (2004).
When it comes to Donkey and Puss, Donkey is no different in the alternate reality to the real Shrek world, which is disappointing, as a semi-intelligent, respected Donkey would have been a wonderful comic contrast, but Murphy still makes Donkey as comical as ever. Fortunately the well-written and very witty alternate Puss makes up for this, and it was a very clever idea to make Puss obese and pampered, as it is a great contrast to the real Shrek world Puss.
When it comes to new characters, Dohrn is deliciously sadistic as Stiltskin, and although the chracter's temper tantrums get irritating, he is sly, crafty and generally engaging. Other characters, such as ogres Brogan (Jon Hamm), Cookie (Craig Robinson) and Gretchen (Jane Lynch), however, fail to engage us due to the fact they are unsubstantial, underwritten and generally one-sided.
As for the screenplay, it is generally well-paced, with comical, dramatic and emotional sides to it that generally all work. Some of the jokes though fail to ammuse, a lot of the time because they are poorly set up, thanks to scenes that are rushed and the jokes also get understated that way. The characters and screenplay are the flaws that stop this from being as good as Shrek 2, but this is all-in-all a good film, and a nice wrap up to the franchise.


2010.
U.
Stars:
Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dohrn, Jon Hamm, Craig Robinson, Jane Lynch, Julie Andrews, Conrad Vernon, Kristen Schaal, Mary Kay Place, Meredith Vieira, Kathy Griffin, Lake Bell, Aron Warner, Christopher Knights, Cody Cameron, Frank Welker, John Cleese, Jeremy Steig, Chris Miller, Mike Mitchell, Ryan Seacrest.

Annie Award nominations: Animated Effects in an Animated Production (Andrew Young Kim), Voice Acting in a Feature Production (Cameron Diaz), Storyboarding in a Feature Production (Paul Fisher), Production Design in a Feature Production (Peter Zaslav), Music in a Feature Production (Harry Gregson Williams).

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Reader


***

As a teenager Michael Berg (David Kross as a youth, Ralph Fiennes as an adult) embarks an affair with older woman Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) in 1958. In 1966 when he is a law student she is given a life sentence for her involvement in the mass murder of 300 Jews during the Holocaust, and it is then that he realises that she is illiterate.

Throughout we are offered a subtle and sensitively handled drama. The set ups to the discovery of Hanna's illiteracy are very subtle. She asks Michael to read to her as they lie in bed, which could be for a number of reasons, such as loving the sound of his voice. She puts aside the books he suggests she reads. That could just mean she wants to do something more intimate than read. These are subtle hints, and until Michael's flashbacks as the truth hits him, you naturally don't think of anything as deep as illiteracy, and Hanna can be seen as a woman who wants to be in a sensitive relationship.
As for the sensitive handling, there's no way of denying that, and the sensitive scenes are really brought to life by some very moving performances. Kross gives a fantastic performance, putting much inner turmoil into Michael, making him a moving and loving character, as well as one who hates being messed around, and the very professional handling of this role makes it easy to forget that he was still school age when he filmed. Winslet really earns her Oscar, making Hanna quite a complex character who conveys vast amounts of power and raw emotion on screen, her inner struggles made very deep. The relationship that the two have on screen is also handled very well, with great emotion being put into their feelings for each other, and the scenes where they bicker are filled with raw power.

Where what could be a very good film starts to fall short in are the underlying, and very sensitive themes of the Holocaust and illiteracy. There is little focus on the Holocaust outside of Hanna's trial, and it seems that the subplot of Hanna's involvement in such tragic events are written in order for them to open up the window for Hanna to go to prison, and finally give Michael an excuse to learn of her illiteracy. Ultimately this is not the film's fault, as it is based on a novel, and they have to work with what they are offered.
This, however, would not smart quite so much were it not for the fact that the theme of illiteracy is also greatly understated, and one would think that Director Stephen Daldry would have worked hard to make said theme very strongly stated when you consider that the film is called The Reader. Even when -*SPOILER ALERT*- Michael sends tapes to Hanna to help her learn to read in prison, it keeps coming back to how Michael and Hanna still feel strongly for each other, and the subsequent psychological studies.
Themes such as the Holocaust and illiteracy have potential to be major trump cards, yet they are never offered the chance to be developed into such as it seems the entire film should revolve around the affair these two characters share, and no matter how wonderful a couple the two of them are you can't help but wish for something even deeper and more serious. The film though is most definetly worth watching as it is still fairly powerful in spite of its flaws, and the three leading cast members give wonderful performances - yes, Fiennes does do a very good job, but he just isn't quite as memorable as Kross or Winslet.


2008.
15.
Stars:
Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Hannah Herzsprung, Karoline Herfurth, Burghart Klaußner.

Oscar: Best Actress (Kate Winslet).
Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Sydney Pollock, Redmond Morris, Donna Gigliotti, Anthony Minghella), Best Director (Stephen Daldry), Best Adapted Screenplay (David Hare), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins, Chris Menges).

Friday, 6 May 2011

Invasion of the Body Snatchers


*****

In a quite American town Dr Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) begins to do some digging after more and more people say that their loved ones are emotionless imposters, and his research leads him to find that people are being duplicated and replaced by alien pods as they sleep.

From start to end this is a wonderful piece of drama, keeping the viewer gripped from start to finish. With every accusation that people are not who they seem to be, and with every little piece of information picked up, a sense of dread starts to build as you know that Miles must be coming to something bleak and horrifying. This is created through some very careful direction, which is filled with subtle set ups; art direction that shows many different stages of bleakness for the town; and a wonderful performance from Kevin McCarthy who brings raw power and gritty emotion to Miles, making the character's fear very heartfelt, and you find yourself really drawn in by him, wanting more than anything for him to survive in order for humanity itself to have any chance.

As a science-fiction this film is quite simple, and manages to both live up to and not live up to that stereotype of how science-fiction pre-1970s was all low budget and flimsy. The film cost less than $383,000 to make, and was shot in nineteen days, so there is no denying that it was a low budget film like most science-fictions of the era. However, the film does not feature flimsy sets or cheap makeup/costumes that look like they will drop off at any second as most films from said era did.
Unlike most science-fiction films the entire film is set on Earth, and although there are aliens the film depicts them as human in appearance - they are Body Snatchers to be fair - and not unleashing four arms and three eyes as one may expect. The whole concept is a very refreshing change from many alien films, and for those who fear that one day aliens will take over the Earth it could cause a lot more worry and caution, as you naturally assume it would be like The War of the Worlds (1953) - an invasion on a huge, deadly scale - if it ever did happen, as opposed to a quiet, reasonably subtle taking over of human bodies.
The fact that there is nothing majorly "alien invasion" about the film though is what makes it so strong, due to the subtlety of it all, as it is harder to be fearful when they are coming left, right and centre, as you know what is going to come, but here you have no idea, and when it does come it is guaranteed to shock.

And if you like looking for themes that reference the society of the '50s this film has a number of subtle allegories that you have to have your wits about you for in order to spot. The ultimate is the film's digs at McCarthyism, with the whole concept of how people are turned into emotionless doubles as they sleep being an allegory for how dangerous it would be for Americans to turn a blind eye to McCarthyism, which would have made life incredibly hard for hundreds upon thousands of Americans. There is also the fact the film's ending is open and ambiguous, which can be seen as a dig at McCarthyism as nobody knew when it would end at the time, or what the outcome would be. Communist messages are a lot more subtle and hard to spot here, but with subtle digs towards the Cold War featured, it is not surprising that there will be the occasional message underlying somewhere. And combined with the above elements, plus many more I have not mentioned, this film has become a truly classic example of science-fiction which has left a huge legacy that has included three remakes (1978, 1993, 2007), and can easily leave a sense of fear/dread in one's heart.


1956.
PG.
Stars:
Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Larry Gates, Ralph Dumke, Jean Willes, Virginia Christine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson, Guy Way, Bobby Clark.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Sentinel


**

When an assassination attempt on the President (David Rasche) goes wrong, it is revealed that a traitor is within the White House, and veteran Secret Service Agent Pete Garrison (Michael Douglas) is framed as said traitor.

In terms of excitement there is some within this film, thanks to some very quick editing, which when coupled with the fast pacing of the film, makes for some very sharp and swift scenes of chase and action, that will do a good job of keeping your focus. Sadly there is little else worthwhile about this film. The screenplay zips from location to location, with little in between, resulting in a series of underdeveloped events, which have potential to be exciting and gripping but never get to realize their full potential. In doing this there is a lack of character development also, resulting in bland, underdeveloped characters, which surely is why we are offered almost nothing but slow, wooden performances from the cast, as they had little to work with.

In terms of trying to create dramatic sequences it is trying too hard to be like In the Line of Fire (1993), but unlike In the Line of Fire, it is not giving any build up, and there is also a major lack of political context and understanding shared between the characters, so any attempts to be like In the Line of Fire completely fail, and we are left with a below par action film with not much redeeming quality to it. It really isn't worth a viewing, and to be honest the only reason I got it was because it came in a 3 pack with The Siege (1998) and The Last King of Scotland (2006), which I bought for £3, while waiting for a bus that would get me from Porthmadog to Bangor station. At least The Last King of Scotland was well worth buying.


2006.
12.
Stars:
Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Eva Longoria, Kim Basinger, Martin Donovan, Ritchie Coster, David Rasche, Blair Brown, Kristin Lehman, Raynor Scheine, Clark Johnson.

Black Reel Award nomination:
Best Director (Clark Johnson).

Monday, 2 May 2011

A Trip to the Moon

Le Voyage dans la Lune



*****

The first ever science-fiction film sees four astronomers (Henri Dellanoy, Brunnet, Farjaut, Kelm) fly to the moon - signature face created by Bleuette Bernon - and meet its inhabitants.

How can one review this film? It is the first film really to have a narrative. It is the first science-fiction film ever made. For audiences of the era it was incredible. In this one jump cinema had gone from minute long shots of people leaving work, or trains pulling into stations, to this exciting science-fiction, which actually has a narrative/plot you can follow. The first film really to use special effects - rockets, other planets - for its time it is incredible to look at. Today it is very outdated (obviously 109 years is a hell of a long time to develop special effects), but when watched one can't help but feel a sense of awe to think of how much effort Georges Méliès must have put into this film, getting it just right.

Combining a fictional narrative that one could follow, with special effects, Méliès truly created not only a whole new form of entertainment, but a whole new form of art. If any film deserves to be remembered forever it is this, as if Méliès hadn't made it, who knows where film would have ended up going!?! Today, 109 years on, film makers still look up to Méliès and his creation of this film, and if that isn't a testimony to how wonderful a film it is then what is? Today the concept of infiltrating an alien planet, which Méliès brought to the big screen for the first time here, is still being used (or milked, depending on your point of view) by film makers such as James Cameron in films like Avatar (2009).

A cornerstone of cinema, it is exceptionally hard to ever do this film justice, and I realise I haven't - I accept the fact it's a struggle. But this film is one every critic must write about at some point, just as every viewer should watch at some point, and I'm sure it will remain as strong a cornerstone as it is in 2102 as it was in both 1902 and 2002, and we all owe Méliès a great debt for what he truly created with this, not only a film, but an original art form.


1902.
Silent, original intertitles in French.
Stars:
Henri Dellanoy, Farjaut, Kelm, Brunnet, Bleuette Bernon, Georges Méliès, Victor André, Jeanne d'Alcy, Depierre.

Iron Man 2

***

At the same time as he finds out he is dying Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), or Iron Man, has to face computer genius Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), who has built an arc reactor-based weapon to ruin Stark Industries, and is in league with Tony's rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).

Visually the film is very strong: the swooping aerial shots are well edited and potentially vertigo inducing; the fights involving machines are both destructive (walls are broken, items are smashed and bullets are fired left, right and centre), and literally explosive, with terrific explosions; while Vanko is given a dominatingly destructive presence in a well edited scene where he destroys racing cars with an incredibly sharp and bold whip.

The cast are generally quite good, with Downey Jr bringing a sense of dry wit yet wisdom to Stark, while Don Cheadle is authoritive yet cool as Lt. Colonel Rhodes. The pair are well supported by Scarlett Johansson, who is very seductive but also smart as Natasha Romanoff, and Samuel L. Jackson who brings great wisdom to Nick Fury. Rourke, however, steals the show as Vanko with some very good comic timing and scene stealing anger and authority. They do though get poor support from Gwyneth Paltrow, who is sulky and wooden as Pepper Potts, and Rockwell, who more often than not looks like he wants to have a tantrum on screen, and isn't at all a convincing antagonist.

Another flaw in the film is the screenplay, which although succeeds where it focuses on creating some pretty explosive action scenes, makes a number of scenes including action scenes altogether rushed and convoluted. As for the film's comical side, the jokes are very fifty-fifty, with the dry wit and banter between the characters being quite amusing, while also treating us to some very lowbrow and poorly written sexual jokes, stupidity jokes and even some bland toilet humour. Altogether though, it is an enjoyable film, even if inferior to its 2008 predecessor, and the brief epilogue left us looking forward to Thor - released in cinemas within the next few weeks.

2010.
12.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Don Cheadle, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L Jackson, Sam Rockwell, John Slattery, Jon Favreau, Garry Shandling, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany, Leslie Bibb.

Oscar nomination: Best Visual Effects (Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright, Daniel Sudick).