Now You See Me: smoke and mirrors

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The Prestige and The Illusionist were great films. Mainly because they were almost like magic tricks themselves – constantly keeping the audience guessing until the very end. Now You See Me obviously draws from the same genre, but with too many sub-plots, characters and the added heist element, it is ultimately little more than a poor man’s Ocean’s Eleven.

At the start of the film, four magicians are recruited by a mystery man to put on a big show in Las Vegas, subsidised by a wealthy businessman (Michael Caine). Calling themselves The Four Horsemen, they are cocky sleight-of-hand artist Jesse Eisenberg, psychic trickster Woody Harrelson, Harriet Houdini Isla Fisher and pickpocket Dave Franco.

Somehow or other — the script isn’t strong on explanations — they are headlining the MGM Grand in Vegas within a year. At the show, they bring a Frenchman to the stage as a volunteer, “teleport” him to the vault of his bank in Paris, and get him to steal millions from the vault.

The FBI then selects one of its agents (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the crime, and he’s assisted by a French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) and an annoyingly smug ex-magician (Morgan Freeman) who has dedicated his life to working out how tricks are done, and spoiling them for the audience.

The result is a cacophony of big-name actors all vying for screen-time amidst overlapping and often nonsensical storylines. Most of the acting is underpowered, and the normally excellent Ruffalo gives the worst performance of his career. To top it off, the director can’t even decide who the main characters are. Is it the gruff and confused FBI agent and his suspicious colleague, or the four illusionists?

Unsurprisingly, the man behind the camera is none other than Louis Leterrier, whose last creative act was to inflict the 2010 3D remake of Clash of the Titans upon the world. His new film is smaller in scale, but equally short on sense. Definitely one to avoid.

Man of Steel: not quite a Nolan, but juicier than ever

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Co-produced by Christopher Nolan and directed by the somewhat audacious blockbuster engineer Zack Snyder, Man of Steel takes Superman (Henry Cavill) back to square one and recalibrates him as a pure-of-heart hero for a new age. It’s a risky move, the implications of which are fully realized in the movie’s tense climax, in which Superman is compelled to act in a way that none of the other prior screen incarnations of the hero would ever have considered.

Nolan co-concocted the story line with expert screenwriter David Goyer, and Goyer battles the origin-stories-are-boring problem with a two-pronged approach. The birth of Kal-El and the end of the planet Krypton narrative gets a juicy backstory involving genetic archiving, internecine struggles between warlike factions, and a more pronounced series of confrontations between wise and saintly Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the once-noble but increasingly power-mad General Zod (Michael Shannon) These scenes are substantially aided by the fact that Krypton is rendered beautifully as the ultimate sci-fi planet.

Goyer also keeps things moving via a multiple flashback structure that toggles between the young Clark Kent and the present-day action. Young Kent finds that his enhanced senses can drive him crazy and that his superstrength renders him a freak. Given Nolan’s work on the Dark Knight movies, the notion of a tormented Superman shouldn’t surprise us. But the whole idea of Superman, as conceived by two comic book artists almost a century ago, was rooted in optimism, and to their credit, the creators of the movie don’t forget that; they just make optimism a more difficult place for Kal-El to get to.

Surprisingly, in this iteration of the origin story, intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) gets to know a drifting, bearded, do-gooding stranger before she meets the Clark Kent who also works at the Daily Planet. One big digression the movie takes is making Lois privy to Clark’s “secret” right from the get-go.  The move not only make sense, but it spares us a lot of silliness down the line.

Even though some of the attempts at gravitas don’t work, the movie does make you believe that a flying man in tights is a thing of scary awe and with a superb all-around supporting cast, Man of Steel blasts the archetypal superhero into our uncertain new century in high style, neither selling him out nor making a sap out of him.

I, for one, am looking forward to the next installment already.

After Earth: undeserving of it’s flop film status

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Sitting down to watch After Earth, I didn’t expect much. Having heard and read only negative feedback, I was prepared for the worst – a plodding adventure written by Will Smith (produced by him too) with the sole intention of raising his son Jaden to movie star status.

I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find myself drawn in by the suspense of this action-packed flick and not so pleasantly surprised to realize the majority of mainstream media were so obsessed with the fact Will Smith would have the audacity to costar with his son in a movie helmed by a “failed” director that they couldn’t just enjoy After Earth for what it is.

Prior to this, co-writer and director M. Night Shyamalan had been on a downward spiral that was seemingly out of control. After delivering a trio of great films – including The Sixth Sense – between 1999 and 2002, Shyamalan lost his footing and produced an unbroken string of bad movies. It is natural, I suppose, for one to expect that trend to continue. But it didn’t.

After Earth is not perfect, but it is Shyamalan’s best movie since 2002’s Signs. It is also a compelling science-fiction adventure that works as both a coming-of-age tale and a parable about father-son relationships.

The film is set in a distant future where human beings – having damaged Earth beyond repair – are living on a new world. During a routine military mission, a famous human general named Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his 13-year-old boy, Kitai (Smith’s son, Jaden), crash land on the old human home world. Because Earth is unstable and populated by a host of deadly creatures, Kitai and Cypher are in remarkable danger.

As with a lot of semi-enjoyable science-fiction movies, After Earth has points that strain credibility. For instance, the characters possess only crude, close-range weapons despite being advanced enough for intergalactic travel. Focusing on this could ruin one’s appreciation for the picture. But beneath the surface-level problems lies a movie that is both action-packed and emotionally stirring.

Shyamalan does a fine job with pacing, and Will Smith is solid as a hardened military veteran who realizes that he and his son are facing long odds. Jaden Smith is less polished than his father, however, and he speaks in a poorly chosen (and never explained) accent. An annoying aspect, to be sure, but one easily ignored.

After Earth is a film that should have helped Shyamalan regain his stature in the film industry. Unfortunately, the early backlash was so nasty that it may have actually sped his fall. Definitely not out of this world, but an enjoyable film that by no mean deserves its bad reputation.

The Call: tense and compelling with a lackluster ending

the call“911, what is your emergency?”

It’s a line you hear repeated time and time again within films in the thriller genre, typically for only the briefest of moments as our hero or heroine desperately tries to escape the sinister figure lurking in the shadows.

More often than not, these anonymous voices are unable to do anything more than provide a precious few lines of dialogue — immensely unhelpful ones at that — before danger catches up to our protagonist and he or she is forced to get themselves out of trouble.

Thanks for nothing, 911.

In most films, this valuable service is merely a quick nod to a character’s common sense before being promptly abandoned in favor of fanciful dose of heroism and courage. This tendency is precisely what makes The Call, despite its many flaws, work. Yes, it is predictable. No, it is not even remotely frightening. But its inversion of the leading role, along with a decent dose of tension and a pair of fine leading ladies, turns an otherwise forgettable and generic ride into an entertaining little thriller that is far more enjoyable than it should be.

Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) is a 911 operator who receives a panicked call from a girl whose house is being broken into. Alone and terrified, the teenager initially manages to hide from the intruder thanks to Jordan’s careful instruction, but a careless mistake allows the man (Michael Eklund) to discover and capture the young woman, who is found dead several days later. The incident shakes Jordan, she quits her job soon after. Six months pass, and she is now a trainer for new operators, but is abruptly thrust back into the fray when another teenage girl named Casey (Abigail Breslin) is captured by the same man. With the caller locked in the killer’s trunk and running out of time, Jordan works with the girl over a disposable phone to plot an escape plan, all the while desperate to prevent the past from repeating itself.

Shaky camerawork, straightforward plotting and a generic villain ensure that Brad Anderson’s low-budget efforts feel more like an episode of CSI than a big-screen thriller, but it’s all so inoffensive that such a fact is easily overlooked. It does have one major downfall, however – the ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending is quite possibly one of the worst I’ve seen this year. Having said that, it’s only March, and I’m sure worse are to come.

Jordan’s position as an operator provides an interesting, albeit dramatized, look into a typically ignored workforce that is nonetheless vital to the safety of many. Berry gives a subtle but realistic performance, and is surprisingly easy to connect with despite her lack of characterization. Her chemistry with Breslin — heartbreakingly realistic in her role as the victim — provides the story with its best moments, where the pair acts as both conspirators and accomplices. The relationship is at once touching and exciting, raising the film above its mediocre plot and Eklund’s relatively spooky, but ultimately cliché, villain to make the product as a whole much more emotional than it has any real right to be.

It’s certainly forgettable, but The Call is saved from inherent blandness by its actors, who lend the affair an unexpected humanity. It’s not a call you’ll likely be making more than once, but the initial dial is one you can punch in confidently. As long as you aren’t expecting too much, you’ll hang up satisfied.

DVD Review: Life of Pi

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Life of Pi is a true masterpiece, and is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen.

Director Ang Lee has done what many thought could not be done, he turned the best-selling novel into a larger-than-life work of art. Not only that, but it is actually one of the best book-to-movie adaptations for a long time.

The film tells the story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma / Irrfan Khan), zookeeper’s son. Pi is uprooted from his home in Pondicherry, India, when his father decides to move their zoo to Canada. The family catches a ride on an ocean freighter along with the animals – imagine a modern-day Noah’s Ark. When a massive storm rocks the freighter, the boat sinks – and Pi finds himself one of the few to survive. He is all alone in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Yes, it sounds far-fetched and unrealistic – that’s what I though too. At every twist and turn, I expected to laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all. But I didn’t.

It is genuinely one of the tensest, most captivating movies I have seen in a long time. It takes a story of fantastical proportions and not only makes you believe it, but makes you care about it. The acting is magnificent, to say the least, with newcomer Suraj Sharma (teen Pi) tugging the heat-strings in all the right places, and Irrfan Khan (adult Pi) reservedly superb as naval-gazing narrator.

Simply put, Life of Pi is glorious. A marvel that takes cinematography to new heights with its crisp rendering of dreamlike landscapes and its fierce yet fascinating feline co-star, all while delivering a poignant and inspiring story of human endurance.

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The Blu-ray disc includes the following HD special features:

  • A Filmmaker’s Epic Journey: Not many Blu-Ray can tout over an hour-long documentary, The four-part making-of documentary shows the four-year filming process, and covers everything from the adaptation of the novel, filming, and the lengthy post-production process. The documentary includes interviews with the cast, and focuses heavily on Ang Lee and newcomer Sharma.
  • A Remarkable Vision: The award-winning visual effects are spectacular. Bill Westerhofer and the team at Rhythm and Hues visual effects show how they were able to make the film look realistic.
  • Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright: This feature focuses on the CGI used to create the tiger with the help of a real-life tiger.
  • Gallery: The feature gives a peak at the pre-production art, which you can watch in an auto-play slide show.
  • Storyboards: The feature shows the storyboards used for seven of the big scenes in the film.

If you have not seen this Academy-Award winning movie yet, buy it on the spot. You won’t regret it.

Red Dawn: jingoistic and unnecessary

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The jingoistic Red Dawn, in which North Korea invades America in the very near future, is the unfortunate  movie Chris Hemsworth signed up for when he was still an unknown and maybe  living, if not under a rock, perhaps in a pickup truck. After MGM went belly-up in ’09, Red Dawn was, for all intents and purposes, left on a shelf somewhere to gather dust – hence why it’s only now seeing the cold harsh light of day.

If you read the first sentence correctly, you’re probably wondering how North Korea (population 25 million) can raise enough invaders to attack the Unites States (population 315 million). Short answer is, thy probably can’t. You see the original screenplay for this remake named the invaders as Chinese. After principal photography was completed on the film three years ago, the enemy identity was changed to North Korea by reshooting several scenes, redubbing lots of dialogue and using digital adjustment to change the looks of flags, uniforms and insignia on trucks and tanks. Why? Because China is one of the biggest markets for American movie exports. North Korea, not so much.

In this remake of the 1984 cult classic, the able Hemsworth plays Jed Eckert, an emotionally bruised veteran on a visit home to Spokane after a few tours in the Middle East. His little brother  Matt (Josh Peck) is the quarterback of his high school football team. After a prologue of talking heads giving a political “primer” on declining  relations with North Korea, the film opens with Jed and the boys’ dad (Brett  Cullen) watching in dismay as the Wolverines lose their game.

The brothers Eckert wake the very next day to the sight of North Korean paratroopers floating down from the sky. Spokane is soon under foreign  control, as well as other American cities. The boys escape to their family’s hunting cabin with a crew of  friends and acquaintances, including a pair of younger, handily tech-savvy geeks  played by Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) and Conor Cruise (son of Tom Cruise).

Under Jed’s tutelage they emerge as Wolverines – teenage ass-kickers raising  hell for those dopey invaders, who bumble and stumble and can do little more  than raise a frustrated fist at the pesky kids. Only one of them, their leader Captain  Lo (Will Yun Lee) even gets a name.

Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas and Alyssa  Diaz provide the girl power, all of which is very PG (no bunker hook-ups  for these kids) while Peck projects such pained  sensitivity that I had doubts about his characters ability to make a sandwich, let alone  kill dozens of Koreans.

If the movie finds an audience, that audience will most likely be 14  and oblivious to the fact that there ever was an earlier Red Dawn.

Definitely one to stay away from.

Cloud Atlas: ambitious and intellectual, but not without fault

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“All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended”, declares the  young, bisexual British composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) near the end of  Cloud Atlas.  That’s the mission  statement for this zany epic – based on a 2004  novel by David Mitchell – which alternates between six separate stories, set in  different historical periods, about the battle for love and freedom.

Besides Frobisher, the other protagonists include a crusading reporter (Halle  Berry), a bumbling publisher (Jim Broadbent), an oppressed clone (Bae Doona) and  a tribesman (Tom Hanks) from a post-apocalyptic future.  Many actors appear in  multiple roles, with heavy make-up sometimes used to alter their race or  gender.

That is as much as can be nailed down about the movie – to attempt a short and succinct summary of plot would be both pointless and frustrating.

What I can say, is that the film sets out to transcend various boundaries, including the boundary  between blockbuster entertainment and art cinema; it also rejects the notion  that a visionary project should be guided by a single individual.  Three of its  segments were directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, the siblings who brought us  the Matrix trilogy; the other  three are the work of the German director Tom  Tykwer, best-known for Run Lola Run.

But perhaps the real mastermind of the piece is editor Alexander Berner, who has the unenviable task  of linking all the stories together through sound bridges and match cuts.

  Overall, Cloud Atlas strives to go beyond what has been done before, and occasionally  succeeds.  Though sometimes awkward in practice, the ”colour-blind” casting is  the most radical tactic, a distancing device aimed at upturning our assumptions  about fixed identity.

Does this lumbering machine soar to the skies?  In a word, no. The  performances are often absurdly broad, and it’s unclear how literally we’re  meant to take the notion that different characters are reincarnations of one  another.

But at its best Cloud Atlas has an undeniable charge: it is a film that so boldly  risks incoherence that it requires the viewer, too, to take a leap.

It won’t be for everyone, but truly great movies so rarely are.

Broken City: Another awful Mark Wahlberg movie

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If you had to choose two actors suited to a political crime thriller, chances are Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe wouldn’t be the first names out of the hat. Never-the-less, they’re big names. The bigger the names, the better the film right? Right??

Cue Allen Hughes’s Broken City; the only proof we need to finally conclude that a film requires a lot more than well-established actors.

Wahlberg, in a not-so-unique role, plays Billy Taggart, a good cop in a bad town.

One night, Taggart makes a decision that changes his life forever. Years later, the city’s mayor (Crowe) remembers the cop-turned-private-eye and asks him to take on a new assignment. The mayor suspects his wife (an impressive Catherine Zeta-Jones – credit where credit’s due) of being unfaithful and wants the ex-cop to investigate.

So begins a twisted and unnecessarily convoluted tale as Taggart tries to find out what’s going on. That is, quite genuinely, the whole film right there. Taggart becomes confused. Taggart investigates. Taggart (on more than one occasion)  blatantly asks “What’s going on” and, in the end, Taggart finds out what was going on. Riveting.

On several occasions, Hughes places too much responsibility on his stars to carry the film on their own, believing that if he simply puts them in a scene together the actorly sparks will fly. This doesn’t work, however, unless they also have something interesting to say.

In Broken City, neither the over-complicated plot nor the overwritten dialogue ever grips. At times, it seems that barely any effort is being made at all, when Zeta-Jones, for example, makes a speech about human rights below a huge sign reading “Human Rights Campaign”. A little imagination, people, please. But that’s Broken City, a film that takes a sledgehammer to subtlety.

Avoid at all cost.

The Pact: Just another horror film

In cinemas this month, we have The Pact, an eerie ghost film about a woman returning to her family home shortly after her estranged mothers death.

Starring Caity Lotz (Annie) and Casper Van Dien (Creek), the kindest thing I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The Pact is yet another jumpy ghost story that will soon be forgotten.

At her sisters request, Annie returns home after many years to attend her mothers funeral. It becomes clear, thanks to some very obvious dialogue, that Annie and her mother didn’t have a good relationship and that as kids, Annie and her sister had to endure various levels of parental abuse. Brash and unlikable, Annie does nothing to make the viewer like her or feel pity for her. She is stubborn, idiotic, and fancies herself a rebel of sorts. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

Shortly after, Annie begins experiencing paranormal activity in the house and teams up with local Cop, Creek. While I did find myself warming to him a tad, the well-meaning law officer is simply too vapid a character to have much of an impact. Dimwitted and unprofessional, Creek is yet another stereotypical and clichéd “horror-film” character with lots of testosterone and not enough depth.

Though The Pact was, overall, very tense and had its ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ moments, it did nothing to stand out from the crowd. If it had been on TV, for example, I probably wouldn’t have watched it through. Not because it’s a terrible film, it’s not too bad, but it simply didn’t really engage me.

The best part of the film was when local clairvoyant Stevie (Hayley Hudson) attempts to connect with the presence in the house. This lasts maybe ten minutes and really does up the ante. Unfortunately though, it’s a case of too little too late and even Hayley Hudson’s eerily beautiful performance can’t save this film.

If you’re the type of person who likes laughing at badly scripted, badly acted, badly lit “horror” films, you might like The Pact. If not, you’re probably better watching something else.

DVD Review: John Carter

John Carter, a tale of otherworldly mysticism, came out on DVD last week. Upon its release, the Disney movie received many an unfavourable review which undoubtedly had an adverse affect on its box office performance. Much like Mirror, Mirror, which I reviewed a few days ago, I believe a lot of these reviews to be misleading. Sure, John Carter isn’t one of the greats, but by God was it enjoyable!

Carter himself is played by the ever handsome Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, X-Men Origins) who is absolutely to die for. The fact that he is the main focal point for the entire 132 minutes is reason alone for any straight female to watch this movie. That he spends most of it topless is another bonus.

The film follows a very basic plot. Carter, a Civil War veteran, accidentally transports himself to Mars when he encounters and kills a strange man holding a strange device. After finding his feet, so to speak, he is captured by tall, eight limbed creatures and brought back to their home in chains. Before long, he encounters a princess in dire need of assistance and, gallant to a fault, he makes his escape to save her city and win her hand.

Based on a classic novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is an excellent visual spectacle full of great special effects and many a tense fight scene. It is pure escapist, adventure cinema at its best. Yes it has flaws, no it’s not perfect, but I really don’t think this film is deserving of its flop status. All too often, perfectly passable films are slated by pretentious, douchebag movie critics who elevate themselves above the average cinema-goer.

You probably won’t love this movie, but it definitely won’t bore you. Perfect for anyone looking to immerse themselves in another world and not think too much about it.

Mirror, Mirror: a bad apple

Despite my better judgement, I watched Mirror, Mirror yesterday. I knew it wasn’t going to be a great film. I suspected it might not even be a good film… and I was right. But something I could never have foreseen was that this movie entertained me greatly. If this sounds like a paradox, I apologise, but that’s as close as I can get to an accurate description of this movie.

Apart from the name of the main character, this film had no similarities with Snow White and the Huntsman, in cinemas at the moment. Though Mirror, Mirror does turn out to be the lesser of the two flicks, it very much stays away from the dark subject matter that Huntsman delves into.

After a beautiful piece of animation in the opening sequence, Mirror, Mirror introduces us to The Queen (Julia Roberts), ruthless step-mother to her late husband’s daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins). The Queen keeps Snow locked in her room, excluded from all of the lavish parties paid for with ever increasing taxes from the kingdom she rules with an iron fist. One day, Snow escapes from the castle only to discover the poverty her kingdom has been reduced to. Enraged with a sense of duty, Snow vows to restore the land to its former glory.

This film is silly, comical, and endearing. It’s perfect for kids, but not so much that anyone older wouldn’t appreciate it. It’s also a very spectacular visual spectacle thanks to its director, Tarsem Singh, who is known for his unique visual flair.

While it’s no surprise that Roberts gleefully owns every scene she appears in, and seems to genuinely enjoy her role as the film’s comically “evil” Queen, the seven actors playing the dwarves are the film’s real treat. Rather than opting for an endless parade of tired jokes about their height (a la Snow White and the Huntsman, which didn’t even use real little people), Mirror, Mirror gives the audience a group of dwarves whose comedic moments come from witty dialogue and timing.

All in all, Mirror, Mirror is a surprisingly enjoyable film that modernises a classic fairytale. While it has its share of flaws – including the acting ability of Collins and the occasionally shaky story device – Mirror, Mirror is a better film than some critics would have you believe.

Prometheus: even Fassbender can’t save it

Prometheus, widely anticipated as the must-see movie of the month, hit cinemas last week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the film many of us thought it was going to be.

In this prequel, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace plays religious scientist Elizabeth Shaw. Shaw, along with her colleague and lover Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discovers a pattern in ancient cave drawings, leading them to believe the human race was engineered by physically and genetically similar beings from another world. Attracting the financial assistance of a dying billionaire, Shaw and Holloway take charge of a spaceship and follow their ‘map’ to a distant moon.

From start to finish, this movie is an excellent visual spectacle. I’m saddened to report, however, that that’s all it is. Not only does this film not live up to the hype surrounding it, but it actually fails to pass for an enjoyable film in its own right.

It’s difficult to outline this films many faults and failings without exposing a wealth of spoilers… but there are some absolutely huge holes in this shabbily put together plot. The motivation behind some characters key decisions are never explained and some scenes/characters/discussions are utterly pointless and add nothing to the story.

Idris Elba gives a very enjoyable performance as the Captain of the spaceship, but a lack of character development means that you won’t really give a damn about him or any decision he makes. Charlize Theron also gives an enjoyable, if stiff, performance… but again, there’s not nearly enough development there. Guy Pearce plays the aforementioned dying billionaire but even he can’t bring this dead husk of a character to life. His ability is completely wasted in this lacklustre storyline.

Michael Fassbender is the one saving grace of this film in his role as the mannerly and scholarly robot David. At times he his creepy, knowledgeable and darkly humorous but, in true psychopathic form, is neither bad nor good. Fassbender’s performance is captivating and unique and he really brings something unique to the table. The same can be said, to an extent, of the female lead, Noomi Rapace. To be sure, nobody is going to confuse her for the next Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but Rapace does an admirable job in the lead role none the less.

Regardless of performances, the entire film fails to deliver anything but a visually pleasing reboot of a franchise that should have been left alone. The horrific magnificence of both Alien and Aliens is their directness. They are primal thrillers and questions of life and philosophy tend to take a back seat when you’ve a xenomorph attached to your face.

All in all, Prometheus has been the biggest disappointment of 2012 so far. If you’re just looking to pass two hours of your day, by all means, take a look… but don’t expect it to live up to the hype.

Snow White and the Huntsman: All the right fairytale ingredients

Film Jam

by Kelly O’Brien

From the dawn of time, mankind have been telling and retelling fairy tales. Originally, these tales were a lot more gruesome than Walt Disney et al would have you believe. In the last few decades, the bedside stories have become watered-down versions of their former selves: princesses are passive, Kings are honest, and warriors are manly and virtuous.

Snow White and the Huntsman, I’m happy to relate, is nothing like the modern-day fairy tales we’ve become so accustomed to. It has all the right ingredients: a beautiful princess, an evil step-mother, a loving father and a handsome ‘prince’, but it doesn’t follow the recipe of its predecessors.

The tale begins when stunning/cunning Ravenna (Charlize Theron) wheedles her way into a royal marriage only to murder her husband and king on their wedding night, thus taking the kingdom for her own. She has her new step-daughter, Princess Snow…

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MIB III: bends space and time but fails to rock my world

This week saw the third, and presumably the last, instalment in what has become a Men in Black trilogy.

Starring an ever youthful looking Will Smith, a rather deliberately haggard looking Tommy Lee Jones, and an astonishingly handsome Josh Brolin, MIB III has all the hallmarks of its predecessors. Both tongue in cheek and cringe-tastic humour runs rampant through the flick, awkward at some points but chuckle-inducing at many.

The premise of the film is simple – an enemy alien force seeks revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) for his loss of a limb and subsequent years of imprisonment. Breaking free of his lunar prison after 40 years, the delectably devious Borris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) discovers the secret of time travel and journeys back to the day his evil plan was thwarted and attempts a re-write of history. Agent J (Will Smith) discovers the plan and has no choice but to follow Borris back through time and tries to save his surly and unwitting partner.

Being totally honest, this film is not a ground-breaking one. It is simplistic, sometimes childish and most of the screen time is devoted to Will Smith. Despite its failings, however, I do think it’s well worth a watch for the majority of people out there. At the very least, it’s several times better than MIB II: a disastrous movie indeed.

Most films that incorporate time travel end up being slightly confusing… sometimes intentionally so. This is not the case with MIB III. They’ve kept things as easy to follow as possible and it actually ends up being a better movie because of that. Unlike some of the more intellectual time travel movies, it just wants to entertain you, it doesn’t want to mess with you head.

Another plus comes in the form of Josh Brolin who plays the younger version of Agent K. Brolin is probably the best thing about this film as he completely rejuvenated Jones’ character. His slow, melodic drawl is a dead ringer for Jones’ own speech. Throw in some familiar dialogue for past and present Agent K and suddenly you’re seeing into the past. Apart from speech patterns, the two also share some very similar physical attributes which adds to the believability of it all.

Of course, fans of MIB I and II may get annoyed that there’s not much continuity between the three films… one fan, for example, mentioned to me that Agent O is nowhere to be seen in I or II yet, going on occurrences in III, she has apparently been a big part in Agent K’s life. I’m sure the writers and producers could explain this away by saying she left the country (or something) while the events of I and II unfolded… but it’s still an annoying continuity error.

If you’re going to see this film, don’t expect be blown away, don’t get hung up on the events of the first two films, and don’t over-analyse the characters. Accept the film as a bit of light-hearted entertainment and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

 

DVD Review: The Grey

Hitting the shelves of DVD outlets nationwide as of May 22, The Grey, starring Liam Neeson, is definitely one to pick up.

In the flick, Neeson plays brooding oil-rig worker John Ottway. We learn that most of the workers in this remote environment are ex-cons, which is apparently where Ottway ‘belongs’. The last day ‘on the job’, so to speak, the oil-rig roughnecks board an airplane that goes through extreme turbulence and crashes somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness.

After the initial shock wears off, Neeson takes charge of the seven survivors in a bid to escape the cold, the hunger and a pack of vicious wolves and return to civilisation. What follows is a heartwrentching struggle for survival against all odds.

The men soon realise that nature has no pity and no forgiveness and much of the drama lies in the interaction between survivors. The film remains tense throughout and some of the wolf scenes are nothing short of chair-gripping. The wolves themselves look extremely realistic if not a little Twilight-y but it is a bit hard to believe that Neesons character knows as much as he does about the everyday habits of a wolf-pack.

Never-the-less, the film is emotional, action-fuelled and darkly poetic. Surprisingly enough, it also makes one hell of a statement about religious beliefs, with Ottway roaring up into the sky at one point demanding a sign that never materializes.

The ending is also one of the finest I’ve seen, with an important piece of information being relayed to us in the final few moments. If you see nothing else this month, pick up a copy of The Grey. But don’t forget the tissues, because this one will have you blubbering like a schoolgirl by the end.

Dark Shadows: where it belongs

Dark Shadows, the latest Depp/Burton/Carter collaboration, hit cinemas nationwide last week. You’d be forgiven for missing this, however, as the release was very much swallowed up by the all-encompassing hit that was The Avengers.

Despite an all-star cast and impeccable credentials, the movie never left the dark shadow cast by The Avengers which continues to break records in its second weekend in theatres. The Tim Burton helmed film was expected to open in the $35 million to $40 million range, but only  earned a disappointing $28.5M.

The film itself is based on a long-running TV show that ran in America in the 60’s and stars Johnny Depp as handsome socialite Barnabas Collins. Barnabas, the lothario that he is, has an affair with his housmaid Angelique (Eva Green) but spurns her for another woman. This being the town of Collinswood, where creepy things happen, Angelique turns out to be a witch, and takes her revenge by killing Barnabas’ other woman and dooming him to an eternity as a vampire. Soon exposed for a creature of the night, the local townspeople set upon Barnabas and bury him deep in the woods. Two centuries later, Barnabas is accidentally disinterred and sets about restoring his family’s fortune.

Despite having all the right ingredients, Dark Shadows turns out to be nothing but a kooky, half-baked film that is entirely devoid of not only plot but of any meaningful character development. The story is as predictable as it is weird and its only redeeming qualities lie in the visual.

Exquisitely shot by French cameraman Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and beautifully designed by Burton’s regular collaborator, Rick Heinrichs, Dark Shadows is indeed a visual delight. Sadly, that’s all it is.

DVD Review: Underworld Awakening

underworld awakening

Out on DVD as of May 8th, the fourth movie in the Underworld series saw badass vampiress, Selene, make a blood curling return to the big screen. This installment, however, lacks a lot of the substance that made its predecessors so popular.

The movie opens with Selene, played by the ever-svelte Kate Beckinsale, and Lycan lover Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run from the latest threat to their survival – humans. Captured by armed forces, Selene is placed in a cryogenic state and unwittingly lends her body for medical experimentation. Upon her violent awakening, twelve years later, she finds the world little different to how she left it.

In an era where the existence of Vampires and Lycans is common knowledge, Selene discards all the secrecy she was taught to uphold. Leaving a trail of body parts in her wake at every turn, the film is a gloriously gory transportation back to the time before Twilight made vamps and weres all fuzzy and cuddly.

Having said that, blood and guts is just about all this movie has to offer. Beckinsale, while being an effortlessly cool and vicious vampiress, struggles to take the sole lead. The film as a whole suffers from the lack of another role such as Bill Nighy’s Viktor or Michael Sheen’s Lucian. There is very little storyline throughout with the writers chosing to focus on action and blood spatter rather than some actual character development.

I, for one, missed the backstory that each previous installment furnished us with. The history of the war between Vampires and Lycans is an interesting one and yet Awakening mentions nothing of it in any way shape or form. There are only minimal references to ‘the old ways’ and all the lore seems to be forgotten entirely.

Despite its many faults and a severe lack of story progression, Underworld: awakening isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It has plenty of action, its fair share of blood and guts, and it’s a welcome return to the gory days of vampires and werewolves. If that’s exactly what you want, then you won’t be disappointed but if you’re after something with a little more depth, you may want to look elsewhere.

The Avengers: an absolute Marvel

the avengers

With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spiderman still to hit cinemas, it’s looking like a definitive year for superhero movies as The Avengers storms the big screen and wins over critics across the globe.

The premise of the movie is simplistic – bad guy Loki hatches world-domination scheme, petulant but kind-heated good guys swoop in to save the day, Scarlett Johansson in leather looks damn hot. But somehow, somewhere along the way, it becomes a lot more than that.

Six gifted and special people, Iron Man (Downey Jr), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), have to come together despite their differences to stand against Loki, a Norse deity hell-bent on ruling the earth with an iron fist.

Usually, movies that feature an abundance of big name stars are not to my taste. Take, for example, New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day – lots of stars, not a lot of substance. The Avengers, I’m happy to report, is nothing like either of those films.

The cast, which features Hollywood A-listers such as Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, meld fantastically with each other and with the storyline.

Prior to The Avengers, we saw Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America. Each of these films, while not to be seen as prequels, did indeed do the job they were created to do – they gave the main Avengers depth, backstory, and character while being box office success stories in their own right. Granted, Black Widow and Hawkeye were left out of this process and, as such, weren’t developed as much as they could have been, but I see that as an unfortunate casualty of an otherwise fantastic development process.

Though I do genuinely love this new method, I have to note that some of the previous Marvel Movies weren’t quite up to scratch. It seemed as if the Captain America installment was not as thought out as either Iron Man or The Hulk and that it was only there to fill the gap until the 2012 release of The Avengers. I also thought that Thor, though it was a joy to behold 114 minutes of Chris Hemsworth, was a bit of a let down in places.

But whether it’s down to the previous films, the stellar cast, or Joss Whedon’s scriptwriting prowess, The Avengers itself is clearly the best
Marvel Movie to date. The acting is near impeccable, the action is raw and the jokes are hilarious. Stark is his usual cheeky self, Bruce Banner is broodingly deep and Thor is just as beautiful as he ever was. There’s also something disturbingly attractive about terrifically entertaining Asguard bad boy Loki played by the fantastic Tom Hiddleson who, according to many critics ‘steals the show’.

Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk was also a breath of fresh air in this sneakily unique heavy hitter. He gives his character more depth than either Eric Bana OR Edward Norton (something I never thought I’d admit) and is both endearing and heart-wrenching in his portrayal of Bruce Banner. Instead of going for the “woe is me, I get angry and smash things” angle, his manner and acting style hint towards a deeper, more depressing self-loathing.

What I like about the film, is that it deviates from the traditional ‘Good vs Evil’ trend just the right amount. There’s the bad guy, obviously, and the quest to save humanity… but there’s also some interesting in-fighting and tension between avengers. It’s clear that they all come from different moral standpoints, and I think Joss Whedon did a great job using that to his advantage.

I also like the fact that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Here’s a Marvel Movie for people who like action movies, for people who like Marvel Comics, for people who always played the “Who would win in a fight…” game and, of course, for people who want to drool over Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson.

If you see nothing else this month, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.

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