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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Life In A Day: Review


Last July, Oscar winning film makers Ridley Scott and Kevin McDonald put out an advert across the world, wanting people to film their lives on one day (July 24th). They received 80,000 submissions and had to go through 4,500 hours of footage to put together this remarkable film.

Essentially it is the world in one day, proving that even if you don't think your life is that interesting, somewhere something incredible is happening, whether it be a birth, a death, a love affair, a job, a mission. Something is happening, and this film allows you to celebrate life, no matter how insignificant it can be.

I don't really want to give to much away as it will spoil possibly one of the most fascinating experiences I have had in the cinema. We start in the middle of the night and we go through a whole day, getting up, breakfast, washing and preparing ourselves, lunch, dinner until back to bed. These are shown in little clips, vignette and sometimes extended scenes.

There's the man trying to get his son ready for the day, which starts off as a simple daily ritual but becomes something else; the woman who is ill and conveying that to her little boy; the women of Africa beating out corn while we see others and their lunch time activities.

This is a film that is not only interesting to watch but will hit every emotion you can imagine. It is sometimes very funny, sometimes very sad (a few times I was fighting back the tears) sometimes shocking (be prepared if you are an animal lover for a couple of shocking moments) but time and time again you are drawn into the stories of these ordinary people.

It works because of this fact. These are not actors and they aren't working from a script. This is their lives, warts and all, and it's to the credit of McDonald and Scott that they are left unedited. Massive kudos must go to editor Joe Walker, who edited it all together and gets it absolutely right. The pace, the links, everything is near perfect film making.

I cannot rave about this film more. if you think that you are having it tough, then go and see this remarkable film. You will think about your own life in a very different way. Incredible stuff.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Hangover: Part II: Review


So you have one of the biggest sleepers of the summer of 2009, you make a huge profit at the box office with a comedy that is original, clever, witty and very funny. You make the studio who produce your film so happy, they slap a handful of more money to make a sequel. So you change the setting and put the same loveable characters into the exact same situation again, only this time you remove the originality, cleverness, wittiness and any redeemable laughs. Thus you have The Hangover Part II, an example of how not to make a sequel.

Stu, the dentist, is getting married to a beautiful woman in Thailand. He and his buddies, super smooth Phil, previous groom Doug and unwanted party crasher Alan head down to the beach with the bride's younger brother, Teddy, for a beer. They wake up in a strange hotel room. Doug is at the hotel having breakfast wondering where his friends went to. They don't have a clue. They also don't have Teddy. They once again have to put the pieces together of the night before in order to find the missing young man.

Yes, it is the same plot and this is the film's downfall. The first film took an interesting concept of a drunken stag night and threw in a whole host of clues that the gang had to put together. They do exactly the same thing here so all the surprises you got in movie one have gone completely. So have all the characters likeability.

Bradley Cooper, who seems to have nothing much to do but look cool, does that fine but that's all he does. Ed Helms as the dentist Stu screeches and screams while Zach Galifanakis has turned Alan into just a complete idiot and while he is the saving grace, he is nothing more than an annoyance. Ken Jeong is given a bigger piece of the pie this time as the drug dealing Mr Chow and he almost steals the film with one hilarious rendition of a 70s soft rock song in a lift that is ruined by the interruption of Alan.

This is another problem. None of the jokes actually work. They all seem desperate and in most cases, the time is completely out. Considering that it is the same team and cast as the original, you would have thought they'd know how to deliver a joke but they think screaming and slapstick are the heart of hilarity. They are not.

One or two scenes work. A tattooist (who was suppose to be Mel Gibson until the cast disagreed) has the funniest line, while the scene where the guys interview an exotic dancer is also a highpoint. Two out a film that last 101 minutes just isn't good enough. It makes it all the more depressing when you know there could be such great comedy in this instead of a lame remake.

This is almost certain to make tons of money at the box office which is a shame because it will then mean we will get a third outing. Really, if you want my advice, get the original and stick with it. You will have far more fun and you'd save some money and hopefully stop the team from making another massive turkey.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pirates Of The Caribbean - On Stranger Tides: Review


Was it really 2003 when the world first experienced the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow? Possibly one of the most enjoyable times I have had in the cinema, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was a swash-buckling treat. The came the two, over-plotted, over-complicated sequels and the love affair for the Pirate series seem to wane. So when news that a fourth film was heading to our shores, we all got excited, hoping that it would return to form of the first film. What we are given is possibly going to be the biggest disappointments of the year.

The plot involves Jack being hoodwinked by notorious pirate Blackbeard and his second-in-command Angelica (who also happens to be an old flame of Sparrow's) into finding two challises and the tear-drop of a mermaid in order for the legendary Fountain of Youth to work. Also after the same thing is former rival Barbossa, now working for the King of England, and the Spanish but who will get there first?

The plot is literally that paper thin, a chase movie in which to get the goal, they have to get the items. Not too much of a problem. Then  why does it take over two hours to do it?

With such a thin storyline you have to ask yourself what is actually included in the film. There are some very good set pieces. Sparrow's escape from capture by the King and the consequent chase through the streets of London has plenty of charm and invention; a sword fight in a cellar is very reminiscent to the one that Sparrow has in the first film. The best of the set pieces is the terrific mermaid attack (which also is the only scene in which the otherwise pointless 3D actually works). The rest of the film is filled with long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue in which the characters repeat over and over what they are having to achieve, or who is double-crossing who, to the point where the watches are being looked at and hope upon hope that some humour will be injected in an otherwise humourless film.

Adding fresh blood to the proceedings, you would have thought could bring some well needed new dimensions. Alas they don't. Sam Clafin actually makes you yearn for Orlando Bloom and love interest Astrid Berges-Frisbey, pretty as she is, doesn't even come close to Keira Knightley, and I never thought I'd hear myself say that. Ian McShane, as the new villain, isn't bad enough and Penelope Cruz is left with a badly underwritten part, even if she is given some fight sequences.

So it is up to the three left from the previous movies to inject some life. Kevin McNally returns as Jack's confidant Gibbs and is perfectly fine while Geoffrey Rush doesn't seem to even try to bring something new to Barbossa and why should he? Don't fix what ain't broke. The saving grace, once again, is Johnny Depp's Jack, although here it seems, even he is struggling to keep the drunken sailor afloat. He only really comes to life in the final scene, where he is finally given some funny lines to say, the rest of the time it's a pretty straight-laced Jack Sparrow.

New director Rob Marshall, eh man who brought musicals back with Chicago and Dreamgirls, does a good job with the action scenes but just doesn't know how to liven things up in between. With half-hearted special effects not helping, you can now see what a truly wonderful film the first Pirates was. Where did it all go wrong?

It's been a pretty disappointing year in the cinema for box office takings and the studios were looking to this for some added revenue but I think it will do well in it's opening weekend and then plummet once word of mouth starts saying that this is, by far, the worst of the series. A very poor show indeed.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Attack The Block: Review


If we are led to believe, the places that are most dangerous are the inner city council areas of London, so it would seem an almost appropriate place to set Attack The Block, an alien invasion movie where the creatures from another world aren't up against the might of military power but a gang of teenage hoodies.

Samantha is walking home late one night in South London when she is mugged by five teenagers, and is saved from a fate worst by an object falling from the sky. When the gang leader, Moses, investigates, he is attacked by some strange, hairless creature and not wanting to be outdone, follows it to kill it, which he does and drags its dead carcass into the tower block like some trophy, not realising that there are loads more creatures coming down to earth and are descending on the same block, leading the thugs to become reluctant heroes and defend their territory.

Comedy presenter Joe Cornish (he of The Adam and Joe Show) makes his directorial début with this inventive horror comedy that follows in the same footsteps as Shaun of the Dead, taking a well-worn horror genre and giving it a modern spin. Does it work? Like hell it does!

In the beginning you are not quite sure if you should like this nasty thugs who attack an innocent young woman in the street, but Cornish does a very clever thing and turns this around so by the end you kind of feel sympathy for them, especially Moses. While it's not as funny as Shaun, it has some very impressive moments and plenty of shocks to keep horror fans happy.

The performances from the kids are spot-on. For a change, heavy street slang doesn't feel forced or unnatural and even if you sometimes cannot understand an word they are saying (how the American audiences are going to cope will be very interesting), you can still follow the humour in the conversation and you never once feel like these are actors trying to be street thugs. John Boyega is especially good as Moses, a 15-year-old who has a sense of pure menace about him while at the same time you feel kind of feel sorry for him. Jodie Whittaker is good as Samantha and Nick Frost is amusing as the local dope head.

There are some dubious moments and some times when you feel a little uncomfortable but this is a full-on assault which never outstays its welcome and Cornish has the good sense to keep it short and direct. The decision to make the creatures all black apart from the fluorescent razor sharp teeth works well too, so they come at you from the shadows.

This is a fun, roller-coaster ride of a movie and one that uses the parable of the dangers of modern life in the inner cities with alien attacks brilliantly. I would say, Independence day, this is how you do an invasion film. Cracking entertainment, and a superb début from a man who could be a film maker to watch.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hanna: Review


It's not often that I go into a movie and I am surprised. Hanna is one of them films. You go in expecting one thing and you get something much, much more.

Deep in an isolated snowy forest lives Hanna, a young girl who has been brought up by Erik, her father, an ex-CIA agent, who has taught her everything she knows about the world but never experienced it. That is all she really wants, to be allowed out into a world that, to her, is just a fantasy, something that is read from a book. The other thing that Erik has taught her is how to be a killing machine, defending herself with gun, arrow, knife and unarmed. Allowing her wish, Erik lets Hanna go into the world but they are to meet in Berlin. He disappears into the night and she is captured and taken to a hidden bunker by ruthless Intelligence agent Marissa. While in captivity, Hanna discovers a family secret and as she escapes from the compound, she gets to see the world she has missed while running for her life.

A word of warning, If you are going in expecting an all-action thriller, you are going to be bitterly disappointed. this is far better. It is a multi-layed chase film that is reminiscent of the old 70s espionage thrillers like The Eiger Sanction with The Fugitive thrown in.

It's a surprise, first off that the director, Joe Wright, is more known for intelligent dramas like Pride and Prejudice, Atonement and The Soloist. Like Kenneth Braghan last week with Thor, you don't expect a director of Wright's calibre to be handed this but he does an excellent job. He keeps the pace moving swiftly along while still keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering what's going to happen next.

The sound is incredibly loud which works well. you jump at almost everything and so if you do decide to see this gem, and you should, go and see it in a decent cinema with decent sound. It also has the coolest soundtrack around, with The Chemical Brothers delivering a thumping score that helps push along the cracking set pieces.

Then there are the performances. Eric Bana, donning a sometimes dodgy accent, is still very good as Erik while Cate Blanchett is as good as always as Marissa. Some solid support too from Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng as a couple of earth people who Hanna hitches a ride with, and Tom Hollander is amusing as a camp psychotic hired to track Hanna down. The film, however, is held together by a brilliant performance from Saoirse Ronan in the title role. Innocence seeing a world she never knew while at the same time the most dangerous thing to hit the screen, Ronan is just magnificent and she manages to act everyone off the screen.

A beautifully shot film that looks more arthouse than mainstream, it also has some very funny moments too that will have you laughing out loud. Hanna has so much to offer, far more than most other movies and even if you don't like action thrillers, you will come out surprised at what it has to offer. A cracking, first-rate film that deserves huge amounts of attention.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Water For Elephants: Review


Being a film critic means having to see films you think aren't going to be very good. Water For Elephants was one such film. I had a dread in my stomach of having to sit through a 2 hour movie with Robert Pattinson in it. However, this isn't all about him and it came as a big surprised that I kind of liked Water For Elephants.

An old man arrives as a circus is about to leave town and refuses to move from their path. He is eventually persuaded to come inside and is asked to tell the story of his life. It is the Depression in America and Jacob is a veterinary student who is about to take his final exam when tragedy strikes and he is left homeless. Wandering aimlessly, he boards a train that just happens to belong to a circus. After convincing the owner, egomaniac August, he is allowed to stay as their own personal vet. He meets Marlena, the star attraction and wife of August but Jacob is immediately attracted to her. When August buys an elephant to pull in the audiences, he puts Jacob in charge of her and his wife to ride the creature, bringing them closer together.

This is a decent, old-fashioned love story that has a feel of old world Hollywood to it. It is beautifully shot and the use of the circus background helps with the framing of the film. Director Francis Lawrence seems a strange choice to direct a depression set romance, considering his previous films, I Am Legend and Constantine, and yet he handles the whole affair well, never making it too slushy to make you sick.

Reese Witherspoon is very easy on the eye but the character doesn't really demand too much from her. She is perfectly adequate as Marlena but she is good enough just to turn up and read the lines and it's made believable. Robert Pattinson is fine, he just doesn't come across as a proper Hollywood leading man. He tries to smoulder but it's all too bland and any emotional depth just isn't there. Occasionally he smiles but it's like he believes that it will make him look more human.

The star turn, however, is Christoph Waltz. Oscar winner from the brilliant Inglorious Basterds, his turn as August is the film's crowning glory. A man who one moment is as nice as pie and in the blink of an eye is the evillest creature around, he captures your attention in every scene and without him, this would certainly have been a duller movie. The other star turn is, of course, Rosie the Elephant, who you can't help but fall in love with and in one scene, you sympathise with the giant animal than any of the humans (and once again, thanks to Waltz's incredible performance, it is a scene that will stick with you long after it has happened).

As love stories go, it is perfectly fine and will keep those looking for something lovely happy. At 2 hours, it is a tad too long but with a terrific sense of period, some well handled set pieces and Waltz, this is a far better experience than anyone would have guessed.