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Saturday, 30 April 2011

Thor: Review

When it was first announced that Kenneth Branagh, the king of Shakespearean movies, was to direct a film based on a Marvel character, I thought, has the world gone mad? How wrong was I. This is a cracking adventure film helped by top notch performances.

Thor, the son of Odin, is in line to rule the land of Asgard, until an act of arrogance and the threat of war makes his father banish him from his world and sends him, powerless to Earth, along with his weapon, a mighty hammer that is stuck in the ground like Excalibur's sword. While Thor tries to adapt to life as a moral on Earth, his father is dying and Thor's brother Loki, sees this as an opportunity to become King and to stop Thor from ever returning.

This is a magical fantasy film and the first of this year's blockbusters and what a way to start. At over two hours, it zips through quickly, thanks to some very impressive visuals and strong performances from all.

Chris Hemsworth, more famous for his time on Australian soap Home and Away, makes for an impressive leading male as the blonde haired superhero, bringing a sense of charm to a role that could quite easily be one-dimensional. Natalie Portman (who seems to be in every movie this year) is fine as the human love interest Jane. Her role is the most underwritten of them all, as she doesn't get to play anything else but the pretty, brainy girl. Tom Hiddleston gets to play slimy bad as Loki and Anthony Hopkins throws his Shakespearan weight around as Odin, stealing every scene he is in. (Even unconscious he commands the screen).

While those who like their Marvel heroes all action and nothing else might be a little disappointed as there are time for plot development and character building, but this is a very satisfying adaptation and one of Marvel's better films, helped by Branagh making his actors believe everything they say and do, while there are moments of light humour to help things along.

If I do have one complaint, it is a regular one. Why, oh why is this film in 3D? There is absolutely nothing 3D about it and could be compared to Clash of the Titans as the most pointless use for the process. The only time you really notice it is during the credits. So as a word of advice, go and see the 2D version. It is cheaper and probably more entertaining.

With Captain America coming soon, the hopes for The Avengers next year being a cracker is looking good if it can match this super fun movie.

Word of warning: If you do go and see this terrific blockbuster, do not, under any circumstance, leave the cinema till the end credits finish. There is a short scene at the end that is important for the future of Thor (and I'm not giving away anything).

Friday, 22 April 2011

Fast Five: Review

Rev up those engines, the boys of The Fast and The Furious movies are back and this time they brought along Dwayne "The Rock" with them.

Dom Toretto has been sentenced to life imprisonment but ex cop and now partner Brian O'Conner helps break him out and the head off to Rio, where they get involved in a job of stealing three cars from a moving train. They soon find out that they are being set up and they steal one of the cars which has a hidden item that local drug kingpin wants back. With revenge in their sights, Toretto and O'Conner pull together a tema in order to steal 100 million dollars from the boss but top cop Hobbs is on their case.

Full of subtle nuances and character examinations...hang on, it's a Fast and the Furious film. There's no time for subtlety. This is loud and in-your-face from the off and is relentless in its dumbness. Vin Diesel returns and still lacks any real acting skills as does plank of wood Paul Walker. Thank goodness then for Dwayne Johnson, who, sporting a goaty and beefed up to the max, at least brings a freshness to the series, squaring up to Diesel in a testosterone-fuelled fight scene.

There's plenty of action sequences to keep those who like their films visual. The train sequence is both exciting and well executed while the final chase scene has more crushed metal than a scrapyard. What is missing from the fifth instalment is the street racing and with one in which Diesel and Walker race police cars, that's about your lot. (There is the mention of another but it's never shown).

This isn't for those looking for some sense of depth. It is for those who love their fast cars and half-naked women and who can sit through lines like "Nice legs. When are they open?" and think they are Shakespearian. At 2 hours and 10 mins it is the longest of the series and does suffer for it with plenty of filling as we wait for the heist that the film has been building to. It could have been edited down by 30 mins and it would have been a quicker, crisper movie but if you put your brain into neutral, see it on a big screen with big sound, you will probably enjoy it and I can say that this is the best of the series.

Not a masterpiece but then it was never going to be anything else but stupid fun and it delivers that, and then some.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec: Review

French cinema is a strange bird. It delivers some outstanding dramas and first-rate thrillers that Hollywood cannot wait to get their hands on to remake and ruin. Every so often, they also produce a film that is so left-field, so out there, that you wonder if this is the same country that produces work like The Class or Tell No One. The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec is just one of those movies.

Adele Blanc-Sac (Dry white, like the wine) is a reporter on a personal mission; to bring back the mummified doctor of a Pharaoh in order to save her twin sister, a paralysed woman with a hat pin through her head  (long story). With the help of a scientist with special powers, the doctor can be brought to life. What she doesn't know is that a Pterodactyl has hatched from the local museum and the scientist has mental powers over it. Got it so far?

To say that the plot is this side of bonkers is a massive understatement and as the film progresses it gets even more bizarre. Most of the time, if you had to sit through a film this crazy, you would think it was the worse thing on earth. Not the case. Instead, this is a gloriously loopy yet delightfully charming romp that will make you smile no matter what frame of mind you are in.

Luc Besson, who hasn't been on direct duty for a while (if you forget the animated Arthur and the Invisibles movies). Busy with writing and producing The Transporter films and reinventing Liam Neeson, Besson has decided to take the famous French graphic novels and introduced to the world the feistiest female that has very graced the screen.

The beautiful Louise Bourgoin is sparkling as Adele, a woman who looks like she is a true lady in the turn of the 20th Century but has a more determined attitude than Ripley! She commands the screen with every scene she appears and is a star in the making. Mathieu Amalric (from Quantum of Solace) is completely unrecognisable as Adele's nemesis. The only problem being he is given very little screen time.

The set pieces are brilliantly handled. A trip in an Egyptian tomb is brimming with ideas and threats while scenes in which Adele tries to get the scientist out of prison are both very funny and clever. The only real let-down is the effects used with the Pterodactyl but that can be forgiven as the rest of the film is so much fun.

If you do go and see this surprisingly delightful tale, stick around for an extra scene during the end credits. This is the most fun I have had in a French film since Amelie (it has plenty of its surreal qualities) and i cannot wait for another of Adele's extraordinary adventures.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Arthur: Review

One of my favourite films growing up was the comedy Arthur with Dudley Moore, the story of a playboy with a drinking problem. It won an Oscar for John Gielgud as a foul mouthed butler. 30 years on and the remake is here and while it's almost a shot-for-shot blueprint of the 1981 hit, it's not half as bad as it could have been.

Arthur Bach is a child-like billionaire who enjoys a drink or three, wild parties with complete strangers and acting like a kid. He's an embarrassment for his businesswoman mother, who threatens to cut him off from his fortunes if he doesn't marry Susan Johnson, the daughter to a wealthy builder. Arthur, however doesn't love her and what makes things worse is that he meets Naomi, an illegal tour guide who he falls for. Could Arthur survive without a penny? Or can he even survive the world around him when he has relied on his nanny, Hobson?

Russell Brand takes on Dudley Moore's small shoes and doesn't do a bad job. He works better with his foppish comedy than he does in the serious stuff but he makes Arthur a likeable rogue. Jennifer Garner is fine as Susan and Greta Gerwig, so impressive in Greenberg, is fair as Naomi, a role that Liza Minnelli took on in the original. She has the perfect look for a plain Jane from a poorer background but the scenes between Brand and her just don't gel as well as they could have.

The saving grace is Helen Mirren, taking Gielgud's Hobson and turning in a pitch-perfect comic turn, delivering the sarcastic banter with aplomb and she seems completely effortless and yet steals the film from everyone. Even the scenes between her and Brand are the best and proof that the two are great friends not only on screen but off, (they met making the ill-fated The Tempest).

The direction is a little lacklustre and needs someone who can handle comedy much better as well as handling actors. Jason Winer has worked mainly in TV (including some episodes of Modern Family) but here he lets his actors take control and that doesn't always work, while the film could have been 20 minutes shorter.

It's not perfect in any means but it has some quite funny lines and its worth seeing Mirren on fire. Still would recommend you watch the original though.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Scream 4: Review

It's been 10 years since Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson brought the final Scream movie to the screen. In that time a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the world of horror, with torture porn and films getting more sick and twisted by the moment, they obviously felt it was the right time to reintroduce the classic slasher movie with it's tongue rammed in its cheek.  What they forgot to do is inject some originality.

Sidney Prescott, the victim of the previous Woodsboro murders, returns to her hometown with a new life and a new best-seller. She doesn't have a moment to reconnect with Sheriff Dewey Riley and his now wife Gale Weathers-Riley when a whole new batch of killings from the notorious Ghostface occur. Everyone thinks that her being back is the reason for the new murders, even her cousin Jill. Of course as the murders mount up, so to the suspects and someone definitely has it in for Sidney.

It is almost impossible not to compare a sequel to the original and i can tell you that number 4 is almost the same as number 3, number 2 and number 1. It has moments of pure shocks, the opening sequence is very clever and the references to other horror films is a nice homage to the genre but we've been here before. Many times before.

The cast look a little older, Neve Campbell returning as Sidney, with exs David Arquette and Courtney Cox get to play married people. New to the series are Emma Roberts as Jill, and Hayden Panettiere from Heroes, donning a haircut that makes her look twice the age she actually is.

The murders are almost doubled and we get some inventive places to put a knife but even in this film we get the same thing over and over again. The fun is had trying to work out who the killer is and while you think you know, you probably will be wrong.

On the whole this actually is a lazy rehash of what has been before. If you are a fan of the series then you won't take a blind bit of notice what the critics say but if you are going expecting something new and fresh, best look elsewhere for that because you won't find it here.

On another note, the BBFC , in their infinite wisdom has given this film a 15 certificate. In a time where knife crime is rife, it seems pretty irresponsible for a film that involves graphic murders (and some of them are very graphic) being given such a low classification. The contents is incredibly gory and screams out to be an 18 like its predecessors.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Your Highness: Review

Take the elements to classic fairy tale adventures, a handsome prince going on a quest to defeat an evil wizard in order to save the one he loves, battling monsters along the way. Then add Danny McBride and his foul-mouth into the mix and lots and lots of penis jokes and you can pretty much sum up Your Highness.

Prince Fabious, returning from defeating a Cyclops, has brought home a beautiful princess to marry but she is kidnapped by the evil Leezar, who wants her for himself in order to mate during the colliding of the two moons, and give birth to a dragon. Determined to get her back, he heads off with his band of soldiers and his inept, cowardly brother, Thadeous. The journey is filled with peril, especially when they are double-crossed and they meet a female warrior bent of revenge against the same wizard.

If you can imagine The Princess Bride as written by two teenage boys, you will have a pretty good idea what the level of the humour is like. It become obvious during the credit sequence, when illustrations of Thadeous escaping his pre-credit captors, are defaced with red pen of various body parts. This is all well and good but for a full length comedy, it becomes tiresome very quickly.

McBride, along with fellow Pineapple Express star James Franco, give the British accents a go and are not altogether successful, although their partnership isn't too bad. Zooey Deschanel is completely wasted as the princess and Justin Theroux gets to play pantomime as Leezar. Only Natalie Portman comes across the best, taking her role of the tough, fighting warrior with a pinch of salt and still delivering the good. There's support from a host of British talent too; Charles Dance, Toby Young (as a servant called kind of know where the joke in that one is) and Damien Lewis.

While it all looks great fun and some of the set pieces are fine, it suffers from just not being funny enough. Sure, there are a couple of decent laughs but in a film that looks like it could be hilarious, there are far too many missed opportunities and instead we get another f-word or another sexual gag that are even more childish than the last one.

McBride, who co-wrote the script, has given us much better material with the TV comedy Eastbound and Down and the underrated The Fist Foot Way, this is a major disappointment and one that if you are a teenage boy and still think that seeing a penis around a man's neck on a chain is funny, then you will be in for the treat of your life. For the rest of us, it's just not good enough.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Rio: Review

Rio is another in the long line of CGI 3D animations that seem to be hitting our screens on a regular basis now. This one has been hyped up to be the next big thing but alas like all things hyped, this is more a dead duck than a beautiful swan.

Blu is a rare Blue Macaw that has been domesticated to the point that it cannot fly and is fearful of almost anything. It turns out that his breed is almost extinct and so must go to Rio in order to breed with a feisty female called Jewel. When the pair are bird-napped by a group of bumbling smugglers, they escape and Blu is desperate to get back to his owner. Only problem is, they are chained together and while she can fly, he keeps dragging her down.

The plot is simple. A chase through the carnival streets of Rio, picking up some bright characters along the way. These films are never complex and you don't expect them to be. There is a sense of laziness here though. The plot is so simple, it must have been written on a card. There has to be something more interesting than chasing around a brightly coloured city to keep the young audiences attention.

It is very bright and colourful and that's a plus side and the film has attracted some interesting voices, Anne Hathaway as Jewel, Jeese Eisenberg as Blu and with and Jamie Foxx as a pair of samba singing birds who help them out on their journey. The music is also good, with Sergio Mendes in charge, you'd only expect the best. They are all let down by a pretty worthless script with not enough verbal gags to make the adults laugh and not enough visual gags to keep the kids smiling.

It's a shame because in the hands of Pixar or even Dreamworks, this could have been an inspired little comedy. Instead it's far too bland to be more than just pretty and while the quirky characters come and go they are not in the least bit interesting.

This is from the same team that brought us Ice Age, a film that was brimming with ideas and fun characters that could quite easily be sent off into their own adventures (like Scratch, the acorn loving rodent). These characters lack that magic and even though this will be a huge hit, I don't think it will stand the test of time like it's big brother does. In fact, I don't think it will be memorable enough to stand the test of time an hour after seeing it.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Sucker Punch: Review

I'd like to think of myself as being a little bit intelligent. I have sat through some strange, often baffling films and managed to work out what was going on. Zack Synder's hugely anticipated Sucker Punch I still don't have a clue.

A young girl is thrown into an institute after accidentally killing her younger sister while trying to save her from her lecherous stepfather. While there, she creates a vivid world in which she and four other 'inmates' are trapped in a dance-club and that the five have to find objects in order to escape. The girl, now called Baby Doll, has a dance routine that is enough of a distraction for the others to get the items but in doing so, Baby Doll is transported into another world where she and the girls are mighty warriors battling all kinds of enemies.

At least, I think that is right. This is the problem with the film. Synder has an excellent premise of five tough women fighting through CGI settings and if he had left it at that, we could have had the action film of the year. Instead, he bombards us with pseudo-psychology that doesn't make any sense at all, leaving the audience amazed by the action but confused by the story.

The girls obviously had loads of fun brandishing guns and swords. Emily Browning, as Baby Doll, is innocent-looking enough while it's good to see Abbie Cornish given more to do than she was in Limitless. Jena Malone, who starred in that other head-scratcher Donnie Darko, is fine and Vanessa Hudgens gets to play grown-up after those dire High School Musical films and she kicks some serious butt. They are all perfectly fine and proof that girls are just as good at action as the boys.

The set pieces and production values are extraordinary. One moment we are in a samurai style battle with giant warriors, the next the trenches of a war, then a fight with a dragon and on it goes. If Synder had just concentrated on these scenes and placed together a proper cartoon style story around that, I think the fan-boys, that audience of teens to 30s who love nothing more than comic books, video games and naming all the characters out of Star Wars, would lap this stuff up. Instead it's enough to turn you cold with the ideas that have been thrown onto the screen to see which ones stick.

There is a lesson to be learnt here: keep it simple. If you are intending to be clever, then go really clever, don't baffle the viewer with an inconsistent, in-coherent story of a fantasy within a fantasy. Next up for Synder is the reboot of Superman. I just hope he doesn't try to be clever with that.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Source Code: Review

Duncan Jones debut, Moon, was one of the best was one of the best movie debuts from a director in a long time.  So would his second film, Source Code, be able to match his first.  It not only matches it, it surpassed it.

Captain Colter Stevens finds himself on board a train and in the body of a history teacher.  Not knowing why he’s there or who the pretty woman opposite him he has, Stevens is involved in an explosion.  He then finds himself in a capsule talking to a military officer who wants to know if he’s found out about who set off the explosion.  He is part of the military experiment in which he gets to live the last 8 minutes of the man’s life in order to find out who is responsible for blowing up the train and hopefully this will stop an even bigger disaster happening.  So he keeps going back into the final 8 minutes but there was more to this mission than meets the eye.

This is a tense, exciting, nail biting thriller is more twists and turns than a train track.  Not a single inch of its 93 minute running time is wasted.  Jones keeps the pace and suspense racked up throughout.  Just when you think you know what’s going happen something else occurs that throws the movie into a completely different direction.

Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Stevens.  Part every man, part action hero, he’s believable throughout and you go through his journey with the same level of confusion.  He is well supported by the beautiful Michelle Monaghan, as the mysterious woman who he slowly starts to fall in love with; Vera Farmiga as the military officer guiding him through the mission and Jeffrey Wright as a scientist who created the source code.

With the recent spate of Inception rip offs, this film manages to raise above any comparisons, and is more like Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap.  It is probably the best action film I have had the pleasure of watching since Die Hard.  My cinema seat arm still has my fingers imprinted in it.  The explosion on the train is spectacular to watch and even though we keep going back to the same 8 minutes it is never boring and you slowly start piecing the entire puzzle together.  Like myself you might guess who the bomber is quite near the beginning of the movie, but there are more twists and turns that you would expect, and this is the power that makes this film so watchable.  Plus this is more romantic than any of the recent spate of love stories and rom coms.

If you have to make a movie decision this week and you’re not sure what to go and see, then rush and see this fantastic movie.  You will not be disappointed.  Congratulations Duncan Jones, this will be a definite cult classic and I can’t wait for your third movie.