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.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes



****

When lab scientist Will (James Franco) tests a cure for Alzheimer's Disease on a lab ape (Terry Notary), she shows extraordinary intelligence, but is killed when she goes berserk and attacks the lab staff. Will then discovers she was trying to protect her newborn son, who he takes home and raises as his own son. Eight years on, Caesar (Andy Serkis), a very intelligent ape indeed, attacks a neighbour (David Hewlett), who threatened Will's dad (John Lithgow) and is sent to the local Primate Sanctuary. While Will tries to get his freedom through court appeals, Caesar sees how apes are treated by humans and leads them in a break out and take over of San Francisco.

I have to be honest, I initially had some major doubts about this reboot of the franchise, especially after the hugely disappointing remake (2001), but hope was kindled when I viewed the trailer for the first time six weeks ago. Having seen it earlier today I am so glad that I did, as not only has it rebooted the long floundering Planet of the Apes franchise (1968-), but has introduced it for an entirely new generation of young cinema-goers, and handled the concept of how the Earth became the Planet of the Apes so beautifully, making it the best Planet of the Apes film since the 1968 original.

Visually the film is a stunner, that features some absolutely superb cinematography by Andrew Lesnie, particularly in the shots of Caesar and the other Apes climbing buildings, trees, bridges, et cetera, which are created with some very fast-moving and slightly swooping shots that take us side-by-side with Caesar as he swings, and with some absolutely stunning, though potentially vertigo-inducing shots of them climbing buildings, and more stunningly so the Golden Gate Bridge.

The characters and their actors are also strong. Franco giving a very sympathetic and driven performance as Will, while Freida Pinto giving a deeply caring turn as Will's girlfriend Caroline, and Lithgow gives a performance that is deeply caring for his son and for Caesar, and which also tugs at the heartstrings as he tackles the character's Alzheimer's story with a touching, and wholly believable sense of fear, confusion and uncertainty. As Dodge, the chief guard at the Sanctuary, Tom Felton gives a performance similar to his performance as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films (2001-11) - smug, spiteful, malicious, and one who takes great pleasure in bullying others.
The performance which steals the film though is Serkis's performance as Caesar. Serkis is the master of motion capture performances, as proved by his performances as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3) and as the titular King Kong (2005), so if ever a motion capture performance is needed for a film he should be the first choice. As Caeser, Serkis gives a very sympathetic performance and makes Caesar an ape who is filled with curiosity and a longing to know both who he is and what he can become. The CGI added to the face of Serkis shows this beautifully as Caesar is made almost human, with all emotions displayed on the face perfectly and wholly believably, with so much being in the eyes. As a result Caesar really isn't the antagonist we assume he will be at the start of the film, rather a tragic antihero, who we really bond with as we follow his life, his fears and self-doubts, his battle to overcome them, and finally his longing to be free.

Ultimately what the film is telling us is that despite the fact they are different to us - furry, incapable of what we consider speech, bags more energetic, more agressive and even less intelligent - apes, like us, have feelings. They feel pain, suffering, sadness, fear, just like we do. But most of all they long to be free. How many apes, or for that matter any species of monkey, do you see roaming the countryside in Great Britain or the United States? You never see any in Great Britain. You certainly don't get wild apes in America. They're all in zoos, or being experimented on in labs. They have no freedom. And this film hits hard as it shows us through the eyes of a character who we are drawn to from the beginning of his character arc that these animals yearn for freedom as well, as they are beautiful, free spirits, which the film captures so successfully as they swing through the trees when they are outside.

If you have not seen this film yet I strongly advise you to do so, as it is a sensitive, moving and hugely enjoyable piece of film making, that draws the viewer in from the beginning, and is a very strong reboot for the Planet of the Apes franchise.


2011.
12.
Stars:
Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Tom Felton, Brian Cox, David Oyelowo, David Hewlett, Tyler Labine, Christopher Gordon, Richard Ridings, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Jamie Harris.

Oscar nomination: Best Visual Effects (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett).

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Da Vinci Code



***

When Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle) is murdered, symbolist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) discovers that he left a series of clues in the form of symbols, and with the help of Saunière's granddaughter, French cop Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), follows them in what turns out to be a puzzle that leads to the last direct descendant of Christ himself.

First things first, I wholeheartedly disagree with the film, as I do the book, and the film's problem is that one of Langdon's lines to symbolist and historian Sir Teabing (Ian McKellen) actually describes the film and the book in a nutshell - "a load of superstition and old wives' tales which you've twisted to suit your own beliefs." Ultimately that is what the book and the film is, and it is too weak a premise, although Dan Brown claims he wrote the book "as an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate". However, it is all quite sloppy as there are major inaccuracies (Historical, Scientific, Religious, and with the layout of Temple tube station, among other parts of London) in both film and book, so really there's not that much we can take seriously. And with some rather underdeveloped events and characters the film does tend to drag in places.

Visually the film is quite strong, with some very eye-catching editing as ghosts of the past go through London, and with some very vivid and graphic scenes as well, such as Silas (Paul Bettany) whipping himself so he will sin no longer, which really makes one wince, and the way Jacques Saunière uses his body and blood to leave Langdon the first clue, which is a pretty gut-wrenching image. And despite the lack of strong screenplay we are also offered a strong cast, who do a good job with what they are given. Hanks is a strong lead, carrying so much of the narrative's weight successfully on his shoulders, while Tautou gives a sharp performance as Sophie. McKellen brings authority, sophistication and a sense of knowledge to the role of Teabing, even though the character's dialogue is a load of nonsense, and Alfred Molina is deeply caring as Bishop Aringarosa. The strongest performance comes in the form of Bettany as Silas, who Bettany makes a cold, yet caring character, and doesn't fail to draw us in.

At the end of the day this is a rather flawed film, although the novel is largely responsible for it being so, and the film's themes and ideas just can't be taken seriously, although it isn't that bad as entertainment, even if it does drag slightly.


2006.
12.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Paul Bettany, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno, Charlotte Graham, Jürgen Prochnow, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Hugh Mitchell, Seth Gabel, Marie-Françoise Audollent.

Golden Globe nomination: Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Hans Zimmer).

The Book of Eli


***

In a post nuclear apocalypse Earth, Eli (Denzel Washington) has the last ever Bible in existence, and is doing everything he can to protect it and deliver it to a safe location, so that men like Carnegie (Gary Oldman) won't use it to exploit people.

The film's main problem is its screenplay. The screenplay lacks strong pacing, with a number of scenes simply being Eli, and later Eli and Solara (Mila Kunis), striding through the desert in their mission to get the Bible to safety, so with little dialogue and a surly bond between the two at first, these scenes do tend to plod and their general pacing is slow and lacks suspense. The other problem is the scenes of gun violence and brutal action, which are gritty and really get the adrenaline and excitement going thanks to the brutality and grit of them, but they take over the film, so the central religious message is dumbed down and contradicted completely. The message is that the world needs the Bible to prevent violence and bring peace, yet the man who is delivering the Bible to safety shoots, stabs and decapitates people to protect it. Really? The Bible tells us we are to spread the truth of the Gospel to all, regardless of the danger, with some missionaries having gone missing, presumed eaten by cannibals in the last century. So, yes, as an Evangelical Christian I do disagree with this depiction, although I do agree with the fact Eli would go to any length to protect it from harm as the Bible is the most important and truthful book in history, and so deep that nobody will ever fully get their heads around it.

This is made up for, however, by the film's cast. Washington gives a gritty and touching performance as Eli, bringing grit and determination to the role, while Oldman is rather cold and sadistic as Carnegie. Kunis also does a good job as Solara, giving a performance that is both quite bad-ass and also fairly touching, as she is an image of one who has lived a tragic and oppressed life, and who yearns to be free. In a brief scene Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour (as couple George and Martha) come together to give a gritty turn as two people who yearn to defend themselves in a desperate fight for survival. The visuals are also quite good in this film, with the amount of desert and visible destruction of buildings, vehicles, et cetera, make a real feel of death and destruction, and the colours, which come together like an interesting combination of black and white, sepia and technicolour, gives it all a dark and gritty tone and feel.

This film is quite enjoyable at the end of the day, but it is fairly flawed, and I really do disagree with the way it tackles the religious message and ends up contradicting itself. It isn't a brilliant film by a long shot, but it is worth watching.


2010.
15.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Michael Gambon, Frances de la Tour, Tom Waits, Chris Browning, Malcolm McDowell, Arron Shiver.

Saturn nominations: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actor (Denzel Washington), Best Make-Up (Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger).

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Return of Jafar


*

The first Direct-to-VHS Se/Pre/Midquel, the film sees Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) freed from his Lamp by Abis Mal (Jason Alexander), and both have one thing in common - their hate for Aladdin (Scott Weinger). And with Jafar having the ultimate power of a Genie, things look set to get bad for the former street rat, turned royalty.

Direct-to-VHS/DVD Disney Se/Pre/Midquels have always disappointed, but none so much as this, which started the trend. The only half redeeming quality really are Freeman's and Gilbert Gottfried's voice performances, with Freeman's delivering Jafar's lines in a sinister voice, and Gottfried putting some energy into the voice of Iago. The rest of the cast were clearly as unbothered as the film makers, with Weinger and Linda Larkin making Aladdin and Jasmine just sound bored throughout, and as Genie, Dan Castellaneta comes up short, trying to be over-the-top to make the shocking screenplay work, but trying too hard in what seems like a half-hearted attempt to bring the same magic to the character as Robin Williams did in the 1992 original.

The screenplay has no funny jokes, not even one that could crack a weak chuckle, underdeveloped and poorly written characters, not strong enough to carry a film, and not one single magical song, with them all being dull and easily forgettable. As for the animation, it is not bright and magical like in the original, rather it is poor quality and does not come together at all well. Heck, more money gets spent on animating a low-budget cartoon series, than went into animating this film. Anyone who remembers the original and fell in love with it should just not bother with this film, it is a major disappointment, and frankly not worth the time of day.


1994.
U.
Stars:
Scott Weinger, Jonathan Freeman, Linda Larkin, Gilbert Gottfried, Dan Castellaneta, Jason Alexander, Val Bettin, Frank Welker, Jim Cummings.

Annie Award nomination: Best Animated Home Video Release (Walt Disney Home Video).

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Italian Job


**

After stealing $35 million in gold bullion from Venice, only to have it taken when Steve (Edward Norton) double-crosses him, a year later Charlie (Mark Wahlberg) assembles his old team to steal it back, in what proves to be a dangerous and life-threatening job.

The 1969 original is a piece of British cinema which should be done once and once only, and was effective as it wasn't mega budget film making and had a certain charm that should not be attempted to be reproduced. What made the original good was that it was a bunch of professionals who showed that even they could make foolish errors of judgement, although those did get ironed out for what proved to be a well pulled off job, which just didn't end as well as it could. In this remake these guys are all professionals, but the thought of making mistakes seems impossible, they are all way too smart and slick for it, which just brings down the sense of reality of the story. Yes, the action sequences that these almost perfect professionals become part of are quite slick, and rather exciting, but the fact that they are so over-the-top and the characters drive through them with such ease just doesn't feel believable, plus the ways in which they throw off their pursuers is just too easy and fake.

The actors don't give strong performances, but neither do they give terrible performances. The problem is that they lack charm, and just appear to be a bunch of cocky crooks at the end of the day, while Michael Caine and the rest of the cast of the original had charm and charisma, real gentleman thieves, and they just aren't strong enough characters to carry the film, not only because of the lack of charm, but also because there is a serious lack of development, and the film just seems to be going out of its way to be an over-the-top piece of action.

No matter how slick it is, there are some films where a remake just does not work, and unfortunately this is one of those films. It has some scenes which are enjoyable, but it is another example of a wonderful and fairly simple story which has been overdone by Hollywood.


2003.
12.
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Mos Def, Jason Statham, Donald Sutherland, Franky G, Olek Krupa, Boris Lee Krutonog.

Saturn nomination: Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa


**

When flying back to New York the plane carrying Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer), Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), the Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio), the Monkeys (Conrad Vernon), Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen), Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) and Mort (Andy Richter) crashes in an African Wildlife Preserve, Alex is reunited with his parents (Bernie Mac, Sherri Shepherd), but quickly loses his dad the title of Alpha Lion, so must take on the power-hungry Makunga (Alec Baldwin) to regain his dad's repuation.

For the initial twenty minutes or so, we have a film that feels just as enjoyable as the 2005 original, but is also presents a fairly moving opening, which comes a surprise and successfully draws us in. The jokes are less than expected, but still fairly amusing. After the crash land in Africa, however, the film just seriously goes down hill.
In Africa the jokes become far more frequent and far less amusing, resorting to cheap gags, such as cartoon violence which looks more like cartoon violence happening in a live-action film, as cartoon violence doesn't suit computer animation; and also jokes about big butts, which are rarely funny, as well as gags of common errors/foolish mistakes, which are underwritten and just fail to amuse.
After this the characters also become far too underdeveloped, with several new characters introduced as part of the Africa story, but barely getting the surface of them scratched, and some of the original characters in a number of scenes get pushed aside and get a lot less development than is expected. The number of scenes which are both underwritten and also unnecessary is genuinely staggering, and its clear they failed to focus on the screenplay as they worked as hard as possible to get a sequel to what became a much loved film three years earlier out in cinemas. Even the Penguins aren't as entertaining, with their antics not as funny when you see their general personalities in a couple of scenes.

At the end of the day the main strand of the film is The Lion King (1994) but in the over-excited, gag-reliant style of Madagascar, and it is poorly written, with the plot not well developed, pointless subplots, and no amount of bright, colourful animation - which isn't brilliant, but still nice to look - and energetic voice acting can make up for this. It is the worst computer animation from DreamWorks to date, and is not one to watch in a hurry.


2008.
PG.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bernie Mac, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, John DiMaggio, Alec Baldwin, Sherri Shepherd, Andy Richter, Elisa Gabrielli, will.i.am, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Quinn Dempsey Stiller, Declan Swift, Thomas Stanley, Zachary Gordon, Willow Smith.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Effects (Fangwei Lee), Best Writing in an Animated Feature Production (Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Etan Cohen).

Sunday, 21 August 2011

News concerning both Pixar and DreamWorks...


The latest news from Pixar is that the currently Untitled film to be released in November 2013 shall be about dinosaurs, and is set in a world where that Asteroid missed the Earth and dinosaurs co-habitate with humans. The currently Untitled film to be released in May 2014 is going to be one which takes us inside the human mind. Both of these films sound like very interesting concepts and I look forward to seeing how Pixar do them.
In June Tom Hanks revealed that there is to be a Toy Story 4 and according to IMDb it will be released in 2015, and although the latter of these two sources can't be considered 100% reliable, I believe that there will at some point be a Toy Story 4 as I have no reason to doubt Hanks.
On the Monsters University - out June 2013 - front, Steve Buscemi shall reprise his role of Randall Boggs, while Dave Foley - in his first Pixar role since Flik in A Bug's Life (1998), Julia Sweeney - in her first Pixar role, Joel Murray - in his first role in a Pixar film, after voicing Professor Triffid in two episodes of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2001), and Peter Sohn - a Pixar Storyboard Artist and Animator, and the voice of Emile in Ratatouille (2007), have all been cast.
Apparently Spring 2013 will see a direct-to-DVD spin-off to Cars (2006), entitled Planes, and although John Lasseter seems to have decent reasons for wanting to do it, this is a sign of Pixar falling into the Disney trap of making below par direct-to-VHS/DVD releases, which is one trap I seriously hoped they would never fall into. Toy Story 2 (1999) was originally meant to be a one hour direct-to-VHS film, and that would almost certainly have been a disaster, plus it caused friction between the two companies.
So, if all five of these films are released as expected that means that, including Brave - out June 2012 - there are three original Pixar films, a prequel, a spin-off and a sequel in the pipeline.



In June I lost a lot of respect for DreamWorks after learning they had 25 films in the pipeline, all of which would probably end up getting released by the end of 2018. Believe it or not I have lost even more respect for them now as they have a 26th film in the definite pipeline - The Grimm Legacy.
Not only that but there is a fourth Madagascar film being strongly considered, and also there are currently four more sequels being planned for Kung Fu Panda which will bring the grand total up to six Kung Fu Panda films. This means that there is a total of 31 DreamWorks Animated films that are in the pipeline, which could be disastrous as that is more than likely to mean little work will be done on the screenplays, and DreamWorks will go back to producing vast amounts of misses.
As for four Madagascar films, I feel the third is unnecessary after the very disappointing Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) - DreamWorks worst animation to date - and it is clear that the rest of the sequels are only being made for the money.
Six Kung Fu Panda films are also too many. The first two (2008/11) were strong films, but any more than three would end up being a case of all visuals, no substance, and an excuse to make money. They are already making a Kung Fu Panda TV Series, why not just leave it at that, or put the ideas for the other four films into the TV series?
At the end of the day I have confidence in Puss in Boots (2011) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) but that is all from DreamWorks Animation I have full confidence in.

Madagascar


***

When Zoo animals Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) are being shipped to the wild, their crates fall off the ship and wash on to the shores of Madagascar. There they are treated like Gods by the Lemur population, but the lack of food starts to make Alex one dangerous predator.

In the post-The Incredibles (2004)/pre-Ratatouille (2007) era for computer animation DreamWorks were especially average or even disappointing, and Madagascar was released early on in this. Don't get me wrong, the film is by no means bad, but it isn't brilliant either. The animation is bright and colourful, with New York City and the jungles of Madagascar being beautiful and bold in design, and the Ocean waves graceful, although the faces of the animals don't convince as much as the faces of animals in Pixar films due to the fact, particularly around the nose area, they look a bit too blocky and set shaped, although the fur is very detailed, particularly in Alex's mane.
The screenplay itself isn't too bad either, with some quite comical moments and sly set-ups, plus some brilliant dialogue for the four Penguins (Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights), but it is brought down by a rather anti-climactic final 15 minutes, and the odd scene which is slow-moving as it is just the four main characters arguing and stressing out. There is also a substantial lack of character development, with the only exception really being Alex, and despite some excellent, energetic voice performances you just can't be brought in so much by underdeveloped, under-written characters.

At the end of the day, though this is a fun and enjoyable film, and despite its flaws it's worth a watch, and the success of this film started DreamWorks second franchise after the Shrek franchise (2001-).


2005.
U.
Stars: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter, Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John DiMaggio, Christopher Knights, Conrad Vernon, Fred Tatasciore, Elisa Gabrielli.

Annie Award nominations: Best Animated Feature (DreamWorks Animation), Best Animated Effects (Matt Baer), Best Animated Effects (Rick Glumac), Best Animated Effects (Martin Usiak), Best Character Design in an Animated Feature Production (Craig Kellman), Best Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Yoriko Ito), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Tom McGrath), Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Catherine Yuh), Best Music in an Animated Feature Production (Hans Zimmer).

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Evan Almighty


**

Congressman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) seems to have life sorted, until God (Morgan Freeman) visits him and warns of a pending flood, then tasking Evan with building an Ark and saving animals as Noah did thousands of years earlier.

Visually this is a decent film thanks to the scenes with the animals, which are eye-catching thanks to the large variety of different animals used, and also the scenes of the Ark, particularly those of the finished Ark, which is a bold image of triumph and of how hard work can really pay off. The only other noticeably strong feature of the film is Freeman, who brings a great sense of wisdom and much of his signature charm and warmth to the role of God.

As for the humour, we are offered cheap, ongoing jokes such as Evan's unshavable beard, which is bland and falls flat immediately - why milk it?; and much verbal humour that fails due to poor delivery, a lot of the time from Carell, who gives a bored, wooden performance with barely any comedic quality. Plus are we really meant to believe a semi-foolish news reporter who became a victim of Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty could become a successful politician within four years? Most of the cast - including Wanda Sykes and John Goodman - fail to make good supporting stars, which is most likely down to the lack of character development in the below par screenplay.

All-in-all there's no a lot worthwhile with this film and the surprising magic of Bruce Almighty (2003) is not at all recreated. Even Morgan Freeman couldn't save this film.


2007.
PG.
Stars: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, Lauren Graham, Jimmy Bennett, Graham Phillips, Johnny Simmons, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Molly Shannon, Harve Presnell.

People's Choice Award nomination: Favorite Family Movie.

The Invasion



*

When an alien lifeform lands on Earth it begins to make the Earth's population emotionless and monstrous when they fall asleep, and psychiatrist Carol (Nicole Kidman) goes all-out to save herself and her son (Jackson Bond) from losing their humanity.

With a couple of redeeming moments at most, such as the fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled climactic chase, which is edited reasonably well, this film basically isn't worth bothering about. There is no magical quality about it like there was in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), of which this film is a remake.
This is due partly to the fact that the film is set in the middle of Washington, D.C., and therefore it is not so effective if a stranger is acting odd as it would be if someone you knew in your small community (where you know everyone) would be, and being in the middle of nowhere, with little chance of escape from people you've known for years trying to destroy your inner self as you run away on foot isn't as shocking as a load of random strangers trying to kill your inner self as you drive away at full speed.
The lack of original magic is also partly due to the fact that this is like a dodgy rip-off more than a remake as it doesn't use alien pods like before which proved a much greater threat as they would clone you and then replace you in your sleep, as well as the fact there is no subtle political comment at all, which is one of the strong qualities of the original. The film also has a poor screenplay which has an inconsistent pace - some scenes fast-paced, others slow - and a number of unnecessary scenes which are effectively just there to fill the running time, and so much poor dialogue that just doesn't work at all.
To top it off the actors all give shocking performances, wooden, forced and badly rehearsed, although one must take into consideration the fact that they had underwritten characters with no development to play, so they had little to work with in the first place, which makes it harder for them to give good performances. The only exception is Bond who makes Oliver's fear feel genuine.

So, this film really isn't worth bothering with, and it's a simple case of you can't recreate the magic/impact of an old classic without putting a terrific amount of effort in, which is something the film makers really did not do with this one.


2007.
15.
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jackson Bond, Jeremy Northam, Jeffrey Wright, Veronica Cartwright, Roger Rees, Josef Sommer, Celia Weston, Eric Benjamin, Susan Floyd, Stephanie Berry, Alexis Raben, Adam LeFevre, Joanna Merlin.

Young Artist Awards nomination: Best Performance in a Feature Film - Young Actor Age Ten or Younger (Jackson Bond).

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Red


**

When former black-ops CIA Agent Frank (Bruce Willis) becomes a hitman's (Karl Urban) target he and his former team (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren) discover that ultimately the Vice President (Julian McMahon) is behind it and work on a plan to take him out.

As an action film this is rather and inconsistent film, with the car chases being slick and well-edited, only to be brought down by the gunfights which just have a fake feel to them as machine gun fire goes, but with no adrenaline and a major lack of determination behind it, making these some rather dull-faced gunfights. It is also quite unbelievable that people as old as 80 - Freeman's Joe - can still be running around firing guns, although it is a slightly amusing image to have in one's head. As a comedy there are some fairly amusing jokes about old age, longevity, et cetera, but more often than not the jokes fall flat, thanks to bad writing and a lack of comic delivery.

As for the actors, we are generally given a disappointing bag. Although there's nothing particularly wrong with Freeman or Mirren's performances, there's nothing spectacular about them, and when you think of the wonderful performances they have given in the last few years that does come as a disappointment. Willis is trying too hard to recreate the John McClane magic of Die Hard (1988); and Malkovich is trying too hard to be a senile old man, and just becomes far too unconvincing far too quickly in what feels like a forced performance - give Malkovich a strong, serious character and he's great, otherwise we may have a problem. Urban, though brings grit and determination to his character, so his is one performance that lacks major flaws. As an overall cast they are rather hit-and-miss and the lack of strong performances from great talent is a huge disappointment, so all-in-all this is a very flawed film, and one I would recommend you only watch either on TV or if someone lends you a copy. It has enjoyable moments, but it's not worth going out and buying.


2010.
12.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Karl Urban, Julian McMahon, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, James Remar, Rebecca Pidgeon.

Golden Globe nomination: Best Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Johnny English



***

When the Crown Jewels go missing bumbling Secret Agent Johnny English (Rowan Atkinson) immediately suspects French Prison entrepeneur Pascaul Savage (John Malkovich), descendant of William the Conqueror, and goes on an all-out mission to prove it.

Spy spoofs back in 2003 were fairly popular thanks to the Austin Powers trilogy (1997-2002), and this film is a spy spoof that a family could enjoy. Generally the jokes are good, with some slick, and sometimes subtle in the wrong place at the wrong time type jokes, and some physical comedy that is really brought to life by an energetic Atkinson, although the film also resorts to some very cheap and frankly unnecessary toilet humour, which brings the overall standard down noticeably. At some points though it just becomes a bit too absurd, but it is all good fun to watch, and it isn't meant to be a smart comedy like some fairly recent films such as Juno (2007).

The performances are a mixed bag, with Atkinson being actually quite charming and believably stupid; Malkovich being a bit too much of a drama queen in some scenes, and not an altogether convincing antagonist, though he can be cold in some scenes; Natalie Imbruglia being sassy and seductive as Lorna Campbell, the Bond Girl of the film, though not succeeding so much in the comic quality department; Ben Miller having inconsistent comic timing and delivery, but not doing an awful job; and Tim Piggot-Smith as Johnny's boss being moody but sincere.

Generally though, this is a nice little piece of entertainment, with flaws, but it's an enjoyable watch with some quite funny moments and characters. Britain likes its low(ish) budget yet enjoyable comedies, and always has. They're not great, but they're not meant to be, and a good 70(ish)% of the time the film does what it intends to - be light-hearted entertainment which takes the mick/spoofs spy films.


2003.
PG.
Stars:
Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller, John Malkovich, Natalie Imbruglia, Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Ford Davies, Kevin McNally, Douglas McFerran, Steve Nicolson.

British Comedy Award nomination: Best Comedy Film.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Holiday


**

Down in the dumps and single during the festive season, Surrey editor Iris (Kate Winslet), and Hollywood trailer editor Amanda (Cameron Diaz) do a house swap for the Christmas break. While overseas, however, they both fall in love, Amanda with Iris's brother Graham (Jude Law), and Iris with Miles (Jack Black), a friend of Amanda's ex Ethan (Edward Burns).

In terms of comedy, the film features some gags worth a chuckle, but they are few and far between. Instead the screenplay is filled with effectively, waffle. The character development is generally there, but it is poorly written in Amanda's case, much of which comes from spur of the moment decisions, and briefly mulling over events in her life, and as a result lacks believability, as people generally don't make life-changing decisions on a whim. In Iris's case, it is a slow build-up which does drag, but it is nicely subtle and underlying, and its climax, where she cuts her cheating ex (Rufus Sewell) out of her life is more believable.

The cast generally are of a low standard, which disappoints especially in the case of Winslet, who is frankly one of the finest actresses Britain has to offer. Although she gives a caring performance, with occasional moments of sensitivity, she completely over-exaggerates and hams the scenes of tears and heartbreak, as well as scenes of anger. Diaz is too overly melodramatic throughout, and Jude Law's charm hears ends up becoming a little too cheesy, although this is made up for in his sensitive handling of some of the more emotional scenes his character recieves. Black, well there's neither anything awful nor anything impressive about his performance. The only good performance and character comes in the form of Eli Wallach's elderly writer Arthur, who Iris befriends, in a sensitively handled performance from Wallach of a character who brings up issues of mortality and how advancing age takes over our bodies, and to a lesser extent our minds. But one consistent character out of a dozen is not enough.

An overly cheesy and not very funny comedy, with a very flawed group of characters, played by a very flawed cast, this is not a film I recommend you watch unless there's literally nothing else on. One also has to question the morals. Is the film telling us to have drunken flings then make life changing decisions on a whim like Graham and Amanda do? Or keep seeing someone who's already engaged like Iris sort of does for the first two-thirds of the film? I'm not convinced or impressed.


2006.
12.
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Jude Law, Eli Wallach, Rufus Sewell, Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Miffy Englefield, Emma Pritchard, Bill Macy, Shelley Berman, Caroline Crimmins, Kathryn Hahn, John Krasinski, Jon Prescott.

Teen Choice Award: Choice Movie: Chick Flick
Teen Choice Award nomination: Choice Movie: Hissy Fit (Cameron Diaz).

Monday, 15 August 2011

One Year Anniversary

Today marks a whole year since I began this blog, in which time I've seen many, many more films, and saved over 70 half-finished reviews go into the archives, which will be finished by Christmas and published!

Here are the film blogs I have followed over the last twelve months (hyperlinks included):
1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
A Life in Equinox
Andy Buckle's Film Emporium
Brian's Film Review Blog
Cinemania
Common Guy's Film Reviews Blog
Confessions of a Film Critic
Defiant Success
Film Experience Blog
Korova Theatre Presents: Cinema Poetics
Mendelson's Memos
Movie Feast
Movie Reviews by Tom Clift
My 2,500 Movies Challenge
Rachel's Reel Reviews
Suspend Your Disbelief
The Armchair Archive
The Film-Freak Central Blog
The Part-Time Critic

In six weeks I begin my degree in Film Studies, which I can't wait for, and in which time I hope to see many more films and develop my writing style. However, more than anything I wish to grow in Godliness and Spiritual Maturity, becoming involved with the Christian Union and seeking opportunities to speak to others about my faith. God has given me great blessings in the last year, and I want to live for him!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Last Airbender


*

A century after being frozen, Airbender Aang (Noah Ringer) awakes, and learns that it is his destiny that he be the Avatar, who can control all four elements - Earth, Fire, Water and Air. But with Fire Nation Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) trying to capture him in an all-out war, only Aang can bring peace.

The effects are quite good with some fairly bold and sharp imagery used, and some good cinematography making the distortion of the elements quite eye-catching, but visually the film is brought down by the sets, several of which just look way too fake and cheap to be taken seriously. The make-up is also a major flaw in the visuals, particularly in Zuko who is given tattoos and parts of his hair are shaved. This stops him from looking in the least bit threatening, which is expected in the antagonist of a family film, and instead just makes him look like a kid attempting to seem hard, and failing.

The screenplay, however, is even worse than this. Fully of bland, sometimes cheesy dialogue, as well as underdeveloped characters and events, that jump from one to the next with little substance and little in between. It is so badly written that one gets frustrated and bored by the lack of quality in it, and it is clear that Director M. Night Shyamalan was focused on the visuals of the film, and therefore decided to do barely any work on his screenplay. As a result of an appauling screenplay, which is equally badly directed in some badly paced and dull scenes, we are offered an appauling cast, particularly Patel, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone, who given very wooden performances which lack energy and passion, not even attempting to salvage some of the screenplay.

Definetly the worst film of 2010, it deserved those five Golden Raspberries, and I wouldn't recommend anybody buy a copy as it is such a bad attempt to turn a good animated series (2005-8) into a live action film. Some things work better when spread out over several years, and are animated. This is one of those things as it is basically all three series of the good cartoon crammed into 100ish minutes of dire live-action.


2010.
PG.
Stars:
Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Seychelle Gabriel, Cliff Curtis, Summer Bishil, Francis Guinan, Randall Duk Kim.

Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture; Worst Director (M. Night Shyamalan); Worst Supporting Actor (Jackson Rathbone); Worst Screenplay (M. Night Shyamalan); Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3-D.
Golden Raspberry nominations: Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel; Worst Supporting Actor (Dev Patel); Worst Supporting Actress (Nicola Peltz); Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble (The Entire Cast).

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cars 2


**

Cars (2006) may have been the weakest Pixar film, and one of the lowest box office performers ($461 million worldwide, while all other Pixar films during the 2000s grossed $526-$868 million), but it made some $8 billion in merchandise, gaining a huge fan base along the way, so a sequel would always be on the table.

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is invited to participate in the first World Grand Prix, and flies overseas with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). However, when Mater runs into British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), he is mistaken for a spy and becomes involved in their mission to stop Professor Zündapp (Thomas Kretschmann) from bringing down biofuel Allinol.

Like every single film Pixar has made Cars 2 features incredible computer animation, which brings together every colour imaginable, into what can only be described, visually, as a piece of artwork. All characters, including those in the very background, are very well designed so they look like genuine cars in their slick movements on the roads, but also have a lovely humanesque quality in their expressions.
The locations are also as beautiful in design. Tokyo is bold and dazzling, looking just as incredible in animation as it does in real life; Italy is beautifully rustic, a real architectural stunner; Paris is captured to a tee, even featuring street markets and is just as closely detailed as it was in Ratatouille (2007); and finally London is perfectly recreated in everything, from major tourist attractions, English pubs, Routemaster buses, and black Taxi cabs, bringing a genuinely authentic feel to it.

The film's main drawback is the screenplay, which jumps from the World Grand Prix to the spy adventure more frequently and unexpectedly than necessary. The main issue though is the fact that there are too many ideas crammed in, such as the races, the enquiries of the spies, and the meeting with Luigi's (Tony Shalhoub) family (Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero). Yes the first two are necessary, and slick in design but they are underdeveloped with little substance, and they would work if there was more time designated to the film's running time, therefore more time designated to these scenes. As well as this the jokes are more miss than hit throughout, with foolish gags that just fall flat, and also effortless car puns, such as Big Ben being called Big Bentley, the Radiator Springs cinema showing The Incredimobiles, John Lassetyre and Gusteau's restaurant in Paris (from Ratatouille) being called Gastow.

The characters are a mixed bunch, but the voice cast are good. Generally the characters are all one-sided and potentially irritating but the voice cast salvage them well: Caine brings his signature British charm to Finn, while Mortimer brings her own lovely charm to Holley; Wilson is cool and a lot less cocky as Lightning; and John Turturro brings great energy to the role of Italian racing car Francesco Bernoulli. The problem is Mater, and while Larry brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to him, the character is written to be too overly stupid and just gets irritating. The rusty old tow truck worked as a supporting character, but not as a lead. Throughout the film as well you can't help but miss Paul Newman's Doc Hudson, who following Newman's death in 2008 has been dead for almost a year and the Piston Cup is now named the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup. It was the right decision to kill the character off as a new voice would be a bit tactless, but one can't help but miss the crabby old philosopher. A major drawback, however, is that old favourite characters such as Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mack (John Ratzenberger) have little input to the narrative, while hippie VW Camper Van Fillmore (Lloyd Sherr replacing the late George Carlin) is little more than an extra until the end of the film.

Even further below Pixar's usual standard than its predecessor, this has a lot of flaws, but it is enjoyable, and is a reasonable film for a family to watch. It's just a shame it's not as good as any other Pixars, which is even more of a shame when you think it came after a four year flush for Pixar - Ratatouille, WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - and broke that great chain of hit, like Cars broke Pixar's original chain of hits that consisted of six films - Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004).


2011.
U.
Stars:
Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, Thomas Kretschmann, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Tony Shalhoub, Guido Quaroni, John Turturro, Paul Dooley, Lloyd Sherr, Sig Hansen, Darrell Waltrip, Stanley Townsend, Brad Lewis, John Mainieri, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Bruce Campbell, Bonnie Hunt, Cheech Marin, Jenifer Lewis, John Ratzenberger, Michael Wallis, Jeff Garlin, Brent Musburger, David Hobbs, Katherine Helmond.

Golden Globe nomination: Best Animated Feature Film

127 Hours


****

The latest film by Danny Boyle tells the true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), a mountaineer, who gets his arm trapped under a boulder, and does everything he can to survive, as he is trapped for five days, with only a day's water and a blunt penknife.

True stories of survival are more often than not a great premise for a film, as they show how people do things they could not normally do, things that they can only do in that context in order for survival, and Ralston's story is no exception to this. Would you ever drink your own urine, or amputate your arm under normal circumstances? No. But Ralston did, and it was all so that he could survive and be reunited with his family.

Knowing the truth that Ralston survived doesn't make your desire to watch this film any less great, as this is a well-made and constantly engaging film. The style in which this film is made is very interesting as it is half(ish) what is happening in Ralston's fight for survival; a quarter(ish) flashback, as he dwells on the past, sometimes with happiness and sometimes with regret, and hallucinations as he imagines ways of being freed; and a quarter(ish) shot by camcorder, in the scenes where Ralston records what's happening, and then goodbyes to his family.
Throughout we are engaged by just how emotional a tale it is. Ralston's desperation for freedom and survival is gut-wrenching as you are brought in by the powerful screenplay and just the sheer grit of it and try to imagine yourself in that situation. The flashbacks are also quite thought-provoking, as the emotions which Franco conveys on screen during said flashbacks makes you ponder on the regrets you have in your own life and hits you with a brutal reminder that the past can't be changed and that we shouldn't dwell on what we can't change, and feel glad that we can look ahead to our future actions, something which must have seemed impossible to Ralston. The camcorder moments, not only feel authentic as they are slightly shaky and a little fuzzy in contrast to the HD quality shot action that takes place outside the camcorder, but they also make you realise how much your family means to you, and it is quite moving when you think how upset Ralston must have been by the thought of never seeing them again.

The emotional story is very well written, and Simon Beaufoy really earned that Oscar nomination, however, it would not have been what it is where it not for Franco. A lot of pressure was put on Franco, the weight of almost the entire film having to be carried on his shoulders. There was no need to worry, though, and the final performance is the best in his career to date, and one of the best of 2010, earning Franco his first Oscar nomination. Every moment of Ralston's emotional journey, Franco expresses sincerely, putting his all into the role, never trying too hard, allowing it all to come naturally. The emotions which he conveys on screen really hit hard, and make you think of the real Ralston, and the fact he provokes our emotions, movingly and delivers Ralston's attempts at light humour in an amusing way, without being too cheesy or going for big comic delivery is a real testimony to Franco's acting skills, and I say that between his performance and Colin Firth's multi-award winning performance in The King's Speech (2010) there is a cigarette paper.

Ultimately, this is a film about survival and the lengths one will go to in order to survive. The attempts to chisel away at the boulder with a blunt penknife of all things are gripping and show the desperation one must feel when thrown into that context, while the amputation itself will briefly leave a lump in your throat with its gory imagery, which is a lot briefer than one would expect, but it really is vivid and gory. It is a moment which shows that survival comes at a cost, but that the cost becomes irrelevant and meaningless in the joy you feel to be free and know you are in with a strong chance of survival. This film teaches us so much about Ralston, and by the end we feel sympathy for him, as well as joy that he still lives a normal life. His story is inspiring and moving, and only a fool would treat it as anything less.


2010.
15.
Stars:
James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clémence Poésy, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams, Kate Burton.

Oscar nominations: Best Picture (Danny Boyle, John Smithson, Christian Colson), Best Actor (James Franco), Best Adapted Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle), Best Editing (Jon Harris), Best Original Score (A.R. Rahman), Best Original Song (If I Rise - A.R. Rahman, Dido, Rollo Armstrong).