31 October 2011
The answer to this question lies entirely at the script level, and perhaps with the ‘we accidentally threw too much money at it’...thing. There is literally no excuse for scripting this bad, particularly given the pedigree of both the character and the writing team – and the thing that seems to have eluded the production team is that you can’t solve the problems with your script by adding another gargantuan, effects-driven set piece.
Here is a story that has fewer plot points than Star Wars, and yet a thousand times more special effects shots - boiling down decades of mythology both intriguing and fatuous into a mere three story turns and a few bombastic action sequences. There aren't even any twists - it progresses exactly as you might expect, with about as many surprises as a night in with spaghetti Bolognese (what's this?!?! Mushrooms?!?! Oh no, wait..it's just more meat...).
So indeed, our jocky, vaguely arrogant hero learns the ways of the Green Lanterns from a slightly dead purple alien, learns some humility, and then beats up a big, bad alien menace, and ends up getting the girl. But there is literally just wiffle connecting them – ending up as something the Jesus of Suburbia might’ve stitched together, seventeen hours after his last Ritalin dose.
The most telling of these editing nightmares is the ‘training sequence’ that takes place on the Planet Oa. The scene skits fitfully from one character training our hero to another, and it’s in real time. After fifteen minutes of this schizophrenic character dropping, Hal is more-or-less shipped off back to Earth with a pat on the backside. It’s clearly an attempt at fan service, but ends up as more of an insult – making out that this intergalactic police force just hands its power rings out and says 'off you go', despite some earnest efforts to convince us to the contrary.
What’s worse, the entire thing – from the script to the staging - stinks of a certain Tom Cruise movie that involved an arrogant fighter pilot learning some humility. The only thing it’s missing is…y’know…the deeply homoerotic vibe, and even that would’ve at least given this kitsch appeal.
Still, it could’ve resulted in an element of simplicity that had the potential to be vaguely refreshing – Top Gun was hardly a bad film, after all - but it's rendered inert by a complete lack of interesting, connected characters (and yes, that is when compared to Top Gun). Ryan Reynolds does his best with the flaccid script, but ultimately just comes off as a set of teeth hovering in front of a green screen. Blake Lively's Carol Ferris is perhaps the dullest human being ever, let alone the dullest supporting female of all time. Tim Robbins and Mark Strong are completely wasted in roles that are almost entirely peripheral, with the latter’s potential for villainship clearly held back in a ‘we’ll definitely get a sequel!’ move. But the final, crippling blow is Peter Saarsgard's utterly, atrociously awful performance as red-herring villain Hector Hammond. Fine actor though he may be, he attempts to ham it up Anthony Hopkins style, and instead comes across as a screeching, irritating wet fish of a villain, who is ultimately and entirely brushed aside come the big climax.
Okay, so I’m assaulting it a bit here – it certainly wasn’t without its merits. Strong was actually really quite good as Sinestro, and Reynolds, had he had a better plot and stronger writing to work with, would’ve been actually a surprisingly good choice for Hal Jordan, as even in these shambling proceedings, he manages to nail the transition from bastard to do-gooder. The effects are impressively done (when they aren’t completely overwhelming the screen, that is), and there’s an element of fun to be had in all of the set pieces – particularly one that sees him saving a crashing helicopter, which allows Martin Campbell to really flex his action muscles.
It’s just so bloody insubstantial, at the end of the day. There’s so little to it, and yet it lasts for the better part of two hours, with the majority of the film spent faffing about. Had it not been so cynically sequel-driven, or even had a script better than this Top-Gun-with-superpowers knock-off, it could’ve been a decently entertaining movie. As it stands, it’s a sporadically enjoyable, yet ultimately empty affair. The Green Lantern genuinely deserved better than this – some of the most intriguing, integral stories of the DC universe have just been allowed to fizzle out. Let’s hope they still greenlight (hah!) a sequel. Is it way too early to consider a reboot? With distinctly less money thrown at it, and Mark Strong as the main villain? Probably…ah well.
26 October 2011
18 October 2011
If you're an avid fan of this blog - all five of you... - then you'll know that I'm rather keen on surprises, particularly when it comes to movies. Good surprises are my favourite, but obviously there're bad ones out there too, and one must be prepared for both eventualities, especially when you go in to a movie with rather heavy expectations. It's perhaps as much a shock to me as it might be to you that actually, against all the odds, I ended up having a huge amount of fun with The Three Musketeers.
I'm going to dedicate an entire paragraph of this review to the film critic in me that wears a top hat and monocle, and snarfs derisively at the so-called 'tosh' that frequently excuses itself as mainstream cinema these days. Artistically speaking, this movie has practically zero merit - every single shot is derivative of some other, frequently better movie, with director Paul WS Anderson riffing on everything from 300 to Master and Commander, and stopping at every station in between, including a reference to Anderson's own Resident Evil franchise. The dialogue frequently and unceremoniously thuds. There's the bizarre decision to give every 'French' person a British accent, except D'Artagnan, who is saddled with Logan Lerman's smarmy, smug American mannerisms. The story has almost inexcusably been compromised beyond recognition, driven by producer-fueled delusions that it might not sell Stateside. That Alexandre Dumas didn't rise from his grave in search of brain-munching vengeance is perhaps a small mercy...
But about 30 minutes into the movie, this particular aspect of my personality was given pause, and the rest of me spent three minutes ignoring the film, attempting to figure out quite what had silenced him so thoroughly. Then it hit me - the ridiculous choice of accents, the knowing winks to pop culture, the outlandish twists on an established story, the vaguely plastic sheen to the set and costume design, the outrageous moustache twirling of Orlando Bloom and Christophe Waltz as the villains.
This is a bloody pantomime!
Then it started to happen - I started to have fun, and by the time James Corden was on stage...sorry, screen, offering the rest of the cast some cheese, I was having an absolute ball.Yes, it dances a merry jig on Dumas' grave. Yes, for whatever reason, Anderson saw fit to add fucking airships into the fray. But somehow, it emerges as a schlocky, silly piece of genuinely fun cinema, that entertains whilst it's there, and will instantly be forgotten.
There are problems with it, mostly stemming from the moments when it takes itself a little too seriously - it features a grave performance from Matthew MacFadyen as Athos that frequently seems out of place given that there are fucking airships that shoot fire from dragon-shaped cannons. It's more the writers' fault than MacFadyen's, and when he is allowed to join in on the fun, he shines wonderfully.
Then there's Logan Lerman. A fine young actor though he might be - but he's utterly, utterly miscast in the lead(-ish) role. Had he been replaced by a young British actor in keeping with the rest of the cast (or at the very least, been forced to adopt the accent) the smarm might've come across as slyly ironic. Alas, we'll never know.
Still, there's so much on show that is genuinely enjoyable. From the mentioned fire-shooting airships (which subsequently do battle and, in one of the movie's most joyous pieces of silliness, end up crashing into Notre Dame), to beautifully choreographed and shot sword-fights, you can't say that Anderson doesn't have an eye for outrageous (say it with a French accent!) set pieces.
The cast - for the most part, at least - seem to have cottoned on to the nature of the film as well, and have tongues firmly planted in cheek as they bounce across the screen. As mentioned, Orlando Bloom belies his usual wooden performances to bring a villain so deliciously, ridiculously evil and pompous you just can't help but chuckle every time he's on screen. Luke Evans is great as Aramis, and Ray Stephenson is essentially doing a pantomime version of Titus Pullo from Rome as his interpretation of Porthos, which is exactly as fun as it sounds.
So...you'll have noticed my overuse of a certain three-letter word in this review: fun. The movie is by no means good. But it is fun, and a lot of it. Get a few beers in you, see it with other movie-loving mates, and you'll have a ball. Just leave the top hat and monocle at the door, yeah?
18 September 2011
9 September 2011
12 July 2011
Reviewing a ‘film’ such as The Tree of Life is not without its difficulties. Chief among said difficulties is that whilst this does indeed share the trait of being a collection of moving pictures and sounds combined together and then projected onto a large white canvas, this is no film in the traditional sense of the word.
Rather, in true Terrence Malick style, this is a visual poem – a musing on faith, life, death, the nature of memory, the universe and the inter-connectivity of everything. There is a story, but it’s a mere conduit to the poetry. Boiled down to its most basic level, it’s about a man named Jack, who - after many, many years - finally comes to terms with the death of his brother.
There are performances contained herein, and they are, for the most part, good. The child actors in particular go completely against the norm to give a frighteningly accurate portrayal of pre-pubescent rebellion, all mumbles and passive-aggressive barks. Brad Pitt gives his most understated performance to date as Jack’s father - all pent up, like a spring that is ready to snap at any moment, and snap it does.
In truth, though, this is a piece where dialogue and performance are practically inconsequential. They simply meld into and accentuate the visual poetry on display – and what a work of visual art this is. Suns are born and die, microbes flitter and dance across the screen, sunlight plays through forests that tower overhead. It’s a sensual experience, full of the little curiosities of nature that we usually take for granted - and you can almost feel them: the roughness of stone, the silky veneer of a butterfly’s wings, the heat of the sun on your face, the odd sensation of wet grass stuck to your bare feet. And to go into the other-worldly beauty of Jessica Chastain – playing either an angel or Jack’s mother, it’s tricky to tell – in this piece would require a separate, 700-word essay just to do even a vague amount of justice to.
But what’s perhaps most astonishing about this cinepoem (yes, that is an actual thing) is that it rhymes, and the effect that this has on you, the filmgoer, if you allow it. It’s so difficult to describe this in words alone, but there’re visual motifs that echo throughout the piece, allowing it to lull you into an almost meditative state. Your breathing will slow, you’ll be able to hear your heart beating slowly but regularly, and the editing seems almost designed to synchronise with this state.
If there is a failing of the movie, it’s that about three-quarters of the way through there is a sudden attempt to shoehorn in forty minutes or so of vaguely coherent narrative. There is an argument that’s in favour of this – given the transient nature of memory; it’s essentially Jack’s thoughts finally cohering into something tangible, instead of vague flashes of emotional imagery. But from a structural point of view, it’s vaguely confusing, and it takes a little effort to adjust back from the zen-like trance that the first part of the movie will almost certainly put you into.
It’s also about twenty minutes too long, but it’s difficult to point at any particular part and say ‘that needs to go’, although the slightly bizarre sequence involving dinosaurs is probably a candidate, and there’s probably quite a bit that can be trimmed from the coming-of-age film that got stuffed into the final hour. And yes, it is about as pretentious as cinema can possibly get without actually starting to smoke a gauloise.
At the end of it, though, I’m not going to give this a star rating. If I were going to, it would be a five, simply because you should go see it, to make of it what you will. You might hate it, you might love it, it might bring you to tears or you might be entirely indifferent. It is one of those magical movies that you have to make work for yourself. If it hasn't become clear to you yet: I enjoyed myself – but it’s not entertaining in the traditional sense of cinema. It is, however, thought-provoking, heart-wrenchingly beautiful and truly fascinating. It works on about eight different levels, and all of them are intriguing and well thought out. Please see it – it’s an experience quite like any other so far this year.
17 June 2011
The second coming of Po the Dragon Warrior (and also panda) never seemed like a good idea to me. That first movie was so complete, so visually dazzling, witty and inventive, but more importantly, self-contained, that it didn’t seem like the franchise builder that Dreamworks, back in October ’08, announced that it was going to be. It’s been a while since I’ve been happy to be proved wrong, and by ‘eck, Kung Fu Panda goes about it with serious aplomb.
Going the Toy Story 2 route of sequel stories, it ups the emotional stakes and the scale, whilst at the same time managing to focus on character arcs that are distinctly fleshed out and interesting. Specifically to this, too, there are quite a few bold moves, particularly for a movie that is ostensibly aimed at children – from dealing with genocide to a reasonable effort to remove the on-the-nose nature of the original’s message.
The story goes that the mythical land of China has come under threat by none other than a rather vengeful peacock named Shen, who plans on using gunpowder and technology in an attempt to force the various kung-fu masters to submit to his reign. Staging his coup, it’s down to Po and the Furious Five to stop him, only they can’t until Po finds his inner peace, and becomes a true kung fu master. There’s also the question of quite how Shen and Po’s histories are intertwined, and details of this a slowly drip fed to us throughout.
It’s a logical continuation – legendary warriors continue to protect their country – but it’s beautifully thought out, with the exact nature of Po’s past being both intellectually and emotionally engaging, thanks to some superb animation work that very nearly makes you forgot that you’re looking at anthropomorphic animals. There’s also a depiction of Po as a cub that is so aggressively cute that if an ‘awww!’ doesn’t escape from your face, you probably left your soul in the popcorn stand.
The cast are all superb, with the Furious Five in particular allowed to shine rather more than they were in the previous movie. Angelina Jolie gets most of the meaty dialogue as Tigress, but even David Cross and Lucy Liu as Crane and Viper respectively have their moments in the spotlight. Jack Black brings his usual slacker charm to Po, but best of all is Gary Oldman as the rather psychotic Shen, his evilness tempered by a slick charm and sly wit that makes him one of the most intriguing villains in animation of late.
But the real star of the piece is the rather magical direction from Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who was responsible for the rather excellent shadow-puppet style dream sequence in the first movie, and makes her feature debut here. With the assured hand of a veteran, she blends CG with absolutely gorgeous, traditionally animated segments, as well as upping the game with the actions sequences – a scramble up a gargantuan collapsing tower and a showdown in a metal works being the two highlights.
To summarise, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a triumph. A sequel that is not only better than its predecessor, but one of the best animated movies since Toy Story 3. It works on a comedy front – there are at the very least five belly laughs in the film – an action movie front and indeed on a character development front, and if the ending of the film is to be believed, then a third instalment is an incredibly tantalising prospect. But for now, see this movie. It’s...well, awesome.
15 June 2011
28 May 2011
29 April 2011
12 March 2011