Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Movie Reviews...

Miami Vice

Michael Mann was the executive producer on Miami Vice, the series, from 1984 to 1989. This summers’ incarnation of Miami Vice is his big screen re-interpretation of the show, but the only things they have in common are character names and location. The movie couldn’t be more different from the show if it tried. Gone are the bright pastel colours and bad eighties fashion and synth-pop soundtrack.

Sonny Crocket (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) play Miami’s finest, who, after a tragic security breach in the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, the FBI recruit, having not been part of the compromised group. Going deep undercover, they take on the narcotics trafficking network of Archangel de Jesus Montoya-Londono (the incredibly creepy Luis Tosar) and his Cuban Chinese banker, Isabella (Gong Li).

It takes a while to get into this film. The actors speak a kind of stylised, film noir type of rapid English that comes across as un-natural and heavy-handed at times. They (especially Farrell, as he has the largest speaking role) have great difficulty pulling it off. However, this issue fades as the film progresses, with the audience growing more accustomed to the characters. The film was shot entirely on digital cameras, which gives it an incredibly realistic, almost documentary-style look and feel, which increases the believability factor exponentially.

Occasionally, the film dwells far too long on certain scenes, especially those between Sonny and Isabella, when all we really want to see, is these guys doing what they do best. Farrell and Foxx are an undeniably cool pairing, and are allowed run free with their action and shoot out scenes. These scenes are the films stand out moments, containing bursts of extremely gritty violence, and relentless and dramatic action, reminiscent of Mann’s work on the famous shoot out scene in his never bettered masterpiece ‘Heat’.

3 out of 5



Lady in the Water

Apartment building superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) rescues a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) from the pool he maintains. He discovers that she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the journey back home. With the help of his tenants, he must figure out how to protect her from the creatures that are determined to keep her in our world, and take her home.

M. Night Shyamalan has so far given us The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village. The first two films in that list are the work of an extremely gifted writer and director, announcing to the world a determination to achieve the mantle that only a select few directors actually manage. Hitchcock did it, as did Kubrick, Spielberg, and Scorcese. They achieved universal recognition; a household name. With the last two films in that list, however, the cracks began to show. Crippled under the weight of expectation, and forced ‘twist’ endings, and leading to Shayamalans reputation being questioned, with rumours of enormous ego, and on set clashes with producers, and his eventual split from Disney, ‘Lady in the Water’ turns out to be his worst film to date, the latest in a steadily declining quality of output.

The movie is a failure, albeit an interesting one. Firstly, forget the television spots being used to sell this film as some sort of horror movie. That’s just the result of an ill-conceived marketing campaign by a studio unsure of what they have on their hands. Shyamalan regards Lady in the Water as ‘a bed time story’. So, what does that mean? In this case, are we to assume it means that leaps in logic are to be expected, and accepted? That conventional story-telling has gone out the window, only to be superceeded by the under developed whims of a director fuelled by belief in his own brilliance? Shyamalan has always given himself minor cameos in his films a la Hitchcock, but this time casts himself, a poor actor at best, in a central role in the story.

Performances are mostly fine, Giamatti and Howard are eminently watchable, but are surrounded by some of the broadest stereotypes you can imagine. Obviously though, there is a lot of imagination on show, presumably conceived in good faith, but executed horrendously. The film does look beautiful, with Christopher Doyle’s cinematography just about the only thing holding attention.

1 out of 5

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Movie Reviews...

The Da Vinci Code

Harvard professor of Religious Symbology, Robert Langdon (Tom
Hanks) is in Paris on business when he's summoned to The Louvre. A
dead body has been found, setting Langdon off on an adventure as he
attempts to unravel an ancient code and uncover the greatest
mystery of all time.

The movie adaptation of Dan Brown's hugely successful novel, was
directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13), who is the
single most important factor in the movies failure. Quite how he
managed to miss the mark so spectacularly is anyone's guess.
The novel, while not particularly well written, practically reads
like a screenplay, and in the right (perhaps more daring) hands,
could have been a great pop-thriller.

As it stands, the movie is flat and uninspired. This could be due
to the fact that everyone, and their mother has read the book, and
been bombarded by media coverage concerning the backlash from the
Catholic church, but that's no excuse. Examples of previous Oscar
winning, million selling book-to-movie adaptations such as The
Godfather and Silence of the Lambs, were such huge artistic and
commercial success stories, because the right cast and crew were
allowed to bring the stories to life.

Tom Hanks, as central character Robert Langdon, is utterly
forgettable. Admittedly, the character from the book is not exactly
Indiana Jones, but Hanks brings none of his trademark likeability
here. Ian Mc Kellen as Sir Leigh Teabing, however, shines when he
appears half way through, and carries the movie for the duration of
its running time. Paul Bettany, as crazed assassin-monk, Silas,
does an adequate job with what he's given, yet always seems like
he's in the wrong movie. Audrey Tautou, as Langdon's sidekick asks
a lot of stupid questions, and serves only to make sure the
audience hasn't missed anything.
Extra support comes in the form of the ever-watchable Jean Reno,
and Alfred Molina.

All in all, The Da Vinci Code is an all-too-literal adaptation,
remarkably boring in places, safely played, miscast and utterly
disappointing.

2 out of 5



X-Men: The Last Stand

When a cure is found to treat mutations, lines are drawn amongst
the X-Men, led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and
the Brotherhood, a band of powerful mutants organized under
Xavier's former ally, Magneto (Ian McKellen).

The third in the mega-successful comic book movie franchise was
rushed into production and completed in half the time it should
have taken. It shows. The two previous x-movies were directed by
Bryan Singer(The Usual Suspects). After being offered the chance to
make Superman Returns, Singer bailed out of x-men 3 and upset a lot
of people at Fox studios. Tom Rothman, Fox's head of production,
vowed to have the film completed and in cinemas before Singer could
release his Superman movie in July, no matter what.

Firstly, it could have been a lot worse. The movie has no right to
be any good, given its production history, Singers replacement,
Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon), has delivered a solid summer
blockbuster. Where Singer excelled at interweaving the characters
stories and developing the depth, subtext, and themes of
intolerance and rascism, Ratner is a one trick pony. He blows stuff
up really well.

The main cast returns, for their third and final, contracted
appearances. X-Men is an ensemble film, and most of the fan
favourites are given reasonable screen time, with even more new
mutants added to the mix. A pair of particularly jarring deaths
take place in the film, main characters too, and some will be
surprised to see them go. Many mutants lose their powers, through
'The Cure' too, which will no doubt annoy many, but does serve to
add a sense of danger and urgency to proceedings.

The visual effects have clearly been affected by the short
turnaround time, but while not on a par with X-Men 2, still deliver
the bang for your buck. On one hand, the lack of any emotional
depth on show compared to the superb second film, really detracts
from what could have been a fitting end to the trilogy, but on the
other, it really delivers on the action, in a way Singer could
never quite manage. It's incredibly short running time too, affects
the pacing terribly and the hardly-there soundtrack doesn't help
either. If you're expecting, smart action, you won't find it here,
but if you only want to be entertained by comic book superheroes
for a couple of hours, it's a no-brainer.

3 out of 5

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Movie Reviews...

Munich

Steven Spielberg’s latest, ‘Munich’ explores the impact of the brutal terrorist attacks on the Israeli athletics team at the 1972 Olympic games. Adapting the book ‘Vengeance’ by George Jonas, the script was written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America), who’s treatment of the main characters lends an insightful astuteness to the proceedings.

Within the first twenty minutes, Spielberg recreates the violent sequence of events of the day, by deftly combining existing news reel footage, with his own. The scene where we see one of the terrorists stepping out onto a balcony in the background, while witnessing the same scene on a television in the foreground, from inside the room he just stepped out of, is an incredible example of both technical proficiency and the manner in which we’re completely drawn into events on screen.

The remainder of the running time, is concerned with the response of Israel’s secret service (the Mossad), to the attacks. Our main character Avner (Eric Bana) commits to the mission, working alongside South African Steve (Daniel Craig), ex-toy maker turned bomb maker Robert (Matthieu Kassovitz), morally conflicted Carl (Ciaran Hinds), and Hans (Hanns Zischler). The men officially don’t exist in the eyes of the Israelis, and are left to their own devices, to slowly but surely track down the men behind the Munich attack, and eliminate them by any means necessary. Dealing with some truly untrustworthy, international contacts, they set about executing their hit list of Palestinian prey.

The cast is stellar. Eric Bana (Hulk, Troy) delivers an incredibly emotionally involving portrayal of a man who has left his life behind, including his pregnant wife, to devote himself to revenge. The scene where Avner cries upon hearing his estranged child's voice over the phone is as devastating as his ability to execute his targets with such determination. The exceptional supporting cast cannot be underrated here, as it is by their subtlety and skill, that we are completely drawn into their world.

Of course, there have been accusations of the film-makers expressing political agendas, artistic licence abuse and then there’s that last shot of the film, which tries to force the point home, just in case u missed it. The pacing of the film feels a little off, and many think it to be overly long. As a factual portrayal of the events that occurred, the film may not hold up to close scrutiny, but as a piece of dramatic entertainment, it delivers.

4 out of 5


The New World

The New World is inspired by the legend of John Smith (Colin Farrel) and Pocahontas (newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher). Filmmaker Terrence Malick’s epic interpretation of this tale is about as far removed from the Disney version as possible. Telling a story of love, loss and discovery, and the effect of the British landing in America for the first time, Malick’s film is a deeply flawed but touching effort. Portrayed as a pristine, untouched land of innocence, Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) clearly sets down his issues with the colonisation of a free world.

Disgraced John Smith arrives with his fleet, in chains, under the command of Christopher Plummer’s Captain Newport. Their intention is to develop the Jamestown colony, but of course, after an initial friendliness with the ‘naturals’ or natives, things take a turn for the worse, when the natives foresee the inevitable boatloads of new settlers to come. Smith is sent to investigate the culture of the natives, and when he is captured and subsequently has his life spared at the request of a beautiful young native girl, romance ensues.

The New World is a film more concerned with prolonged sequences of wildlife, gushing water, and slow motion frolicking in grassy fields, than with dialogue. Many of the characters contribute through overly long inner monologues, presented as narration, which begins to grate after a while. The main issue with The New World is that there simply isn’t enough dramatic storytelling to keep the sloppy mid section afloat. Stricter editing may have fixed this problem, but as it is, the film is undisciplined. The return to England in the third act comes way too late in the day, and only serves to upset audiences even more, with yet another monologue by Christian Bale, who by now, everyone has forgotten was even in the film!

Performance wise, the actors succeed in holding our attention for a little while at least. Farrel is convincing as Smith, but looking confused and bewildered for the entirety of the running time was hardly a stretch. Kilcher however, brings an effortless charm to the screen in her first ever role. The language barrier obviously prevents these characters from much verbal communication, but the physical interaction between them is well done, if a little too frequent and obvious. The New World then, is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, with arguably the main draw being the stunning cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki.

2.5 out of 5





Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Movie Reviews...

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Shane Black, the screenwriter responsible for the some of the biggest blockbuster action films of the late eighties and early nineties, including ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘The Last Boy Scout’, makes his directorial debut with the magnificent ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’. At the height of his career, Black was the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood. He received four million dollars for penning ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’, which subsequently received a critical thrashing, and failing to perform at the box office, contributed to Blacks’ ten year absence from the movie business.

Adapting, in part, the novel ‘Bodies are where you find them’, by Brett Halliday, Black has created one of the most refreshingly original pieces of cinema in years.

From the moment the gorgeous opening credits are done, the film takes off at incredible pace, and just keeps going. Our narrator, Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.), is a petty crook, who indirectly finds himself in the middle of a movie audition, in a hilarious early scene, which sets the tone for the entire piece. Once he finds himself in L.A., Harry gets caught up in the middle of a murder investigation, along with his high school dream girl (Michelle Monaghan) and a detective-cum-movie-consultant Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who has been training him for an upcoming role.

As well as the detective film-noir that Black has created here, ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ is also a complete send-up of the entire buddy-cop genre. Harry’s self-aware voiceover narration is a stroke of genius. It goes on to twist the timeline, forget things, criticize itself and other movies, and even interact with the film itself. Black’s strength remains his sarcasm, and his lines are delivered brilliantly by the perfectly cast Downey and Kilmer. Also worthy of mention are the action scenes. One in particular sees Harry, clinging desperately to a corpse's arm, hanging off an L.A. motorway bridge, and in a burst of gunfire, picking off bad guys. This is just one example of the marvellously choreographed comedy action scenes which are peppered throughout. The movie is certainly an unusual variety of tones; sporadically violent, regularly silly, often both. But, most importantly, it’s never boring. ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ is highly recommended viewing.

4.5 out of 5


Doom

Based on the popular 1993 videogame of the same name, ‘Doom’ is nothing you haven’t seen before. It borrows liberally from superior action films, and fails to contribute anything new to the marines-in-space sub-genre, established in James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’. Starring ex-W.W.F. wrestling star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and ‘Lord of the Rings’ bit-part actor Karl Urban, the casting leaves a lot to be desired. The plot is wafer thin. Something has gone wrong at a remote scientific research station on Mars. Quarantine is put into effect, so that the only personnel allowed entry to the space station are the R.R.T.S. (Rapid Response Tactical Squad), a troop of hardened space marines whose job it is to investigate and neutralise the threat using any force necessary. Sound familiar?

Doom is a throwback to the glory days of the no-brainer action movie, the likes of which Schwarzenegger or Stallone would churn out in the mid-to-late eighties. ‘The Rock’ is no star though, struggling to shoulder the weight of ‘Doom’, looking uncomfortable doing anything more than throwing a punch, or firing a weapon. At least Arnie and Sly could pull it off with a cheesy one liner thrown in for good measure, but the fact is, ‘The Rock’ has about as much on-screen charisma as a wet sponge. In between the mildly diverting action sequences, we are informed by Rosamund Pike (former Bond girl), who is perhaps the least convincing genetic scientist ever put to film, that the creatures attacking her colleagues in the space station are none other than genetically enhanced versions of themselves. But by this time, you’ll be too bored to actually care, and will be begging for another mediocre action scene, to replace the dire-logue spouting non-actors who insist on insulting your intelligence for the duration of their exposition drenched scenes.

The one redeeming scene comes close to the end of the movie. A lengthy sequence, shot entirely from the fist person perspective, just like the videogame, that is executed with a large degree of technical skill and ability. Not enough to save ‘Doom’ from its bargain bin destiny then, but an unexpected treat nonetheless.

1 out of 5

Friday, October 14, 2005

Movie Reviews...

Serenity

‘Firefly’ was an acclaimed television series, unjustly cancelled after only its first season due to a combination of the interference of inept network officials, and a misguided scheduling strategy. However, after belatedly finding its audience, mostly through its dvd release, it’s enormous sales and ever increasing fan base prompted director Joss Whedon to recreate the story for the big screen, using the same, largely unknown, cast and collaborators. ‘Serenity’ isn’t an easily classified movie. A universe populated with what at first, seem like stereotypical sci-fi characters (square-jawed All-American hero, feisty female second-in-command, etc.) infused with stylized, almost cheesy speech patterns and, at times, impenetrable dialogue, may turn newcomers off. But that would be their loss entirely. Given a chance, it soon becomes apparent, just how unique these characters and settings really are.

Set in an unspecified future time, Earth has become severely overpopulated and humans have taken to ‘terra-forming’ planets into inhabitable environments, under an intergalactic Alliance. Genre conventions are turned on their heads (main characters and hero’s die in this universe!), while the usual Sci-fi clichés are skilfully avoided.

There isn’t a single alien or strange creature to be found here, rather the human race spreading across the universe in search of new frontiers. In a way, ‘Serenity’ is a lot closer in scope and feel to a western than a science fiction movie. The film is written in such a way that the audience is constantly being fed information about this universe. Revealed mostly through witty, often very funny, dialogue though, it never feels like hard work. ‘Serenity’ is highly recommended viewing.

4 out of 5


Land of the Dead

George A. Romero’s fourth ‘Dead’ film (in as many decades), delivers every ounce of biting political satire, cutting-edge gore, and of course, fun as its much loved predecessors. Romero is widely credited with the invention of the zombie genre as we know it, with his 1968 feature ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Staunchly independent of studio interference, Romero is usually restrained by a low-budget look and feel to his movies, which (arguably) only adds to their charm. However, with this latest entry, you would be hard pressed to tell it from any other Hollywood production, with perhaps the only obvious exception being the less than stellar cast.

The biggest names here are Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo. Hopper predictably hams it up as a crime boss who has managed to salvage one of the last remaining zombie free cities. The remaining cast are mostly unknowns or T.V. regulars, but everybody knows the real stars of the show are the zombies anyway. Tom Savini’s effects are, as always, top notch, delivering some of the most creative and inventive ways-to-die ever put to screen.

3.5 out of 5


A History of Violence

Director David Cronenberg has delivered a fantastic tale of identity, violence, and the difference between reality and perception. Family man Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) has a run in with two killers on the run, when they attempt to hold up his small town coffee shop. Our introduction to the killers is blunt; a child is murdered, and it seems Tom Stall is about to be killed. Out of nowhere, in a sudden burst of extreme violence, Tom manages to save himself and his customers and staff by reversing the situation and shooting the two killers. Televised attention to Tom’s heroics catches the (good) eye of Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), a scarred mobster from Philadelphia who claims Tom isn’t who he says he is. Tom fervently denies it, but Carl lingers to menace Tom’s family and exact revenge.

Cronenberg cranks up a claustrophobic sense of unease, by portraying Tom’s family life, as almost too perfect. The actors create an almost surreal sense of familial happiness, through their deliberately wince-inducing, sickeningly lovely dialogue.

The audience is just waiting for it all to fall apart for them and it does so in spectacular style. Mortensen is perfectly cast. Watching his eyes, he conveys innocent disbelief, flirting with slight hints of a darker ambiguousness in the next. He, wonderfully, keeps us guessing the truth until we learn it in full. Highly recommended.

4.5 out of 5


Nightwatch

Based on a novel by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, Nightwatch is the first in a trilogy (Day Watch and Dusk Watch) of fantasy films, which was made for $4.2 million, and took over $16 million in Russia alone. Quentin Tarantino called it one of the best films of 2004. The idea is that 'Others' (witches, shape-shifters, vampires etc) live among us. ‘Others’ must decide between the Dark and Light, but thanks to a medieval truce, the two groups co-exist in a state of uneasy peace, policing each other's activities. A prophecy says that a Great Other will come, and forever destroy the balance between Light and Dark.

The central character Anton, learns he is an ‘Other’ after he visits a witch, asking her to cast a spell on his ex-girlfriend. He joins the Night Watch, but still has a dark streak, and he suspects a woman called Svetlana could be the prophesied virgin, who may destroy the city. Nightwatch is an incredibly original and thoroughly enjoyable slice of far-fetched fantasy filmmaking. Comparisons to other wildly varying, but high quality, fantasy fare such as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ have been made. They are justified. Nightwatch is subtitled in English, but the sequels are being shot in English so as to broaden its audience. It deserves to do huge business.

4 out of 5

Cinderella Man

The true story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a heavyweight contender whose career peaked early and crashed with the stock market in the late 1920s, Cinderella Man is a predictable but poignant comeback saga, safely directed by Ron Howard (‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Apollo 13’). By 1934, crippled by poverty, Braddock is standing with hundreds of other broken men on the New Jersey docks, begging for work. One scene in which the boxer goes to the old Madison Square Garden, begging for a handout to pay his family’s electricity bill, wonderfully conveys how the mighty have fallen. The scene aches with desperation. His old manager Joe Gould (a scene-stealing Paul Giamatti) appears with a one-time offer: A boxer has dropped out of a match with an up-and-coming heavyweight; $250, win or lose. Braddock delightedly quips: ''For $250, I'd fight your wife!”.

Howard’s film immerses the viewer in the terrible, grinding poverty of the Great Depression. Charting the course of Braddock’s comeback; step by step, fight by fight, portraying the growing fascination of the press and public, Cinderella Man seems however, to outstay its welcome with a flabby middle hour, but eventually gets back on track for a satisfying, if somewhat expected conclusion.

3 out of 5

Monday, August 01, 2005

Movie Review(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore), our main protagonist, comes from a poverty-stricken family, living in a crooked house with three generations of other Buckets, including Grandpa Joe (David Kelly). Charlie dreams of winning one of five golden tickets to visit Wonka’s chocolate factory. Able to afford but one bar of Wonka chocolate per year, the odds of him finding the bar containing a golden ticket are anything but favourable. A lucky chain of events unfolds which sees Charlie and Joe visiting the revered factory for a day they will never forget.

This is not a remake of the 1971 Gene Wilder movie. This is both the better movie and the better adaptation of the source material. Screenwriter John August has adapted elements from both Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ and combined them to form a well-rounded story and satisfying conclusion that was missing from the 1971 effort.

Tim Burton’s films are always interesting. The man has a unique visual sensibility, a style of his own which absolutely reeks of eccentricity. The man who brought us Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Beetle Juice, has once again been inspired by a reclusive misfit; someone who just doesn’t fit into normal society. Mr. Willy Wonka.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ marks his fourth collaboration with Johnny Depp after ‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Ed Wood’, and ‘Sleepy Hollow’. They’re obviously on the same page artistically, which explains how Burton seems to coax great performances from him. Depps’ Wonka is a jarring creation. At once creepy and innocent, comparisons to a certain pale-skinned ‘King of Pop’ are hardly uninvited but the comparison begins and ends with the physical presentation of Wonka. In truth, he despises children (and parents), gleefully excited by the torment inflicted upon Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop, after they loose the run of themselves in his factory.

Production designer Alex McDowell has a field day catering to Burton’s outlandish vision for the world in which the story unfolds. The chocolate factory itself represents an explosion of imagination, while special mention must go to the chocolate built palace, the new and improved Oompa Loopas, and Danny Elfmans wonderful melding of his own score and music with Dahl’s written word. Funny, wildly inventive, and catering for both adults and children on numerous levels, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is highly recommended viewing.

4 out of 5

Movie Review(Fantastic Four)...

Fantastic Four

The current trend for superhero movies continues apace with ‘Fantastic Four’. The latest effort from Marvel Enterprises is the story of four astronauts whose DNA is fundamentally altered during a freak accident in space (involving cosmic rays, of course) giving them superhuman powers. Reed Richards, played by Ioan Gruffudd (‘King Arthur’), is an inventor and leader of the group. He gains the ability to stretch his body like elastic, and goes by the alias, Mr. Fantastic. His ex-girlfriend, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) gains the power of invisibility, hence the moniker, The Invisible Woman. Her younger brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans, ‘Cellular’) gains the ability to manipulate fire, (including engulfing his own body with flame), becoming The Human Torch. Ben Grimm is transformed into a super-strong rock creature, gaining the nickname ‘The Thing’ (Michael Chiklis, ‘The Shield’). A fifth member of the space mission, billionaire industrialist and mission financier Victor Von Doom, is also mysteriously affected by the cosmic blast, and holds Reed Richards directly responsible for the failure of the mission and subsequent liquidation of his company.

Director Tim Story, the man responsible for such cinematic disasters as ‘Taxi’ and ‘Barbershop’, had everything to prove with this movie, the big-screen adaptation of a flagship Marvel comics’ property. The odds seemed to be stacked heavily against him as he battled against internet ‘fan-boy’ outrage from the very start. Upon hearing even the slightest snippets of production information, fans of the comic pounced and complained endlessly about how they felt the property was being mistreated. Debating everything from the suitability of the actors cast, to the costumes and most ridiculously, a certain character’s hair colour. It was getting out of hand, the movie being smothered under the weight of expectation and crippled by increasingly negative word of mouth.

The result is certainly a mixed bag, but not the disaster many were anticipating. Fantastic Four is primarily, a fun family film. Where the other Marvel adaptations (‘X-men’, ‘Spiderman’ and ‘Hulk’) were just bursting with subtext (ranging from racism and homophobia to self discovery), Fantastic Four is a single layer family friendly popcorn movie. What you see is what you get with this movie and in a way it’s a refreshing change. No doubt, the comic fans were upset that their heroes weren’t going to get a ‘serious’ big screen treatment, but the movie actually benefits from not taking itself too seriously. It is the antithesis of the brilliantly dark and minimalist ‘Batman Begins’, but only because the material requires it to be.

Performances by Chiklis and Evans are the notable standouts, with adequate, if slightly mundane, turns from Alba and Gruffudd. Julian McMahon (Dr. Troy from T.V.’s ‘Nip/Tuck’) comes off worst, given nothing interesting to do with a stereotypical comic book villain. The main draw here though is the special effects work. Mostly excellent, with the obvious exception of Mr. Fantastics’ stretching effect, Fantastic Four is a pleasure to look at.

3 out of 5

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Movie Review (Sin City)...

Sin City

Co-directed by graphic novelist Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Till Dawn), Sin City is the most faithful comic book adaptation ever attempted. The movie uses three of Miller’s stories; ‘Sin City’ (now renamed ‘The Hard Goodbye’), ‘The Big Fat Kill’, and ‘That Yellow Bastard’. All three stories share particular situations and characters, using a fractured timeline in much the same way as ‘Pulp Fiction’, albeit to a lesser extent. The story goes that Miller was persuaded to entrust these beloved characters to the film-making process, when Rodriguez presented him with a short scene (now the films intro.) as an example of the look and feel he was trying to achieve. Miller, of course, was blown away, and agreed to a co-direction partnership. In order to achieve this, Rodriguez had to resign his membership from the Directors Guild of America, a move which, if nothing else, showed just how seriously committed he was, to his dream project.

Sin City is a film where the three central characters are just about the furthest away from your typical comic book heroes as you can possibly get. Marv, a man “born in the wrong century, he’d be more at home swinging an axe into someone’s face on an ancient battlefield” is played by Mickey Rourke(in heavy prosthetics) in a career-defining role. Dwight McCarthy, “an ex-killer with a new face” is brought to life by Clive Owen, and grizzled but “do-gooder” cop, John Hartigan is skilfully portrayed by Bruce Willis. These three fundamentally flawed protagonists are the closest we get to having good guys in Sin City.

Sin City is a sadistically violent movie, in which characters are beheaded, limbs are torn off, guts are spilled, reproductive organs are detached from their owners (twice!), there are hit and runs, and multiple gun shot wounds and stabbings. This is comic book violence at its most explicit, but it is still comic book violence. The stylistic approach, mimicking the graphic novel’s black and white aesthetic, allows for more intensely violent imagery to be put on screen, uncut and in its intended form. (Film censors seem to only have an issue with excessive blood letting if the blood is actually red on screen, but Sin City overcomes this obstacle through its stark monochromatic visuals).

Within the Sin City ‘universe’, characters speak like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. This, of course, underlines the movies’ ‘film-noir’ tonality and themes, while also making lines such as “…the hell I’ve sent him to must seem like heaven after what I’ve done to him” sound good. Sin City is also the first digitally shot movie, using virtual sets and locations, which has truly worked, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. It looks amazing. Rounding off quite an incredible supporting cast (the sheer scheduling of whom, must have been a logistical nightmare) are Benicio Del Toro, Michael Madsen, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Nick Stahl, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Jaime King, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bleidel and Josh Hartnett. Be sure to look out for the scene in the car with Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro, surely the films most bizarre and funniest moment, shot by guest-director, Quentin Tarantino. Sin City is highly recommended viewing.

4.5 out of 5

Movie Review (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith)...

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith is a perfectly fine Summer blockbuster. It offers nothing new to entice anyone already uninterested in the Star Wars story. In fact, it may well be impossible to follow. But it is after all, a movie for the fans. This was always going to be the best of the prequel trilogy, due simply to what events must take place. Anakin Skywalker must turn to the dark side, and become Darth Vader. The twins, Luke and Leia must be born and separated at birth. The Duel, between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, referenced in the first Star Wars movie. Numerous loose ends are tied up and nods to the films of old are present and correct. Revenge of the Sith does its job, successfully leading the audience back to where it all began in the original movie.

It has taken him thirty years, but film-maker George Lucas has finally completed his six-part space saga. The box-office monolith that practically invented the summer blockbuster in 1977, has had its fair share of detractors, especially since the idea of a prequel trilogy was announced in 1997. Both Episodes one and two have come and gone, simultaneously attracting a new generation of Star Wars fans and excluding some disgruntled original trilogy ‘purists’. What the older generation of Star Wars fans seem to forget, is that when they first set eyes on a galaxy far, far away, they were kids, impressionable and looking for something to call their own. Lucas has stated that his Star Wars movies have always been aimed primarily at the 8 – 13 year old market. It’s as if the older generation of fans, presumably fuelled by nostalgia, refuse to recognise movies pre-1977. Understandably, everybody has a favourite movie, and for a lot of kids in 1977, Star Wars would be the yardstick to which everything else would be compared.

Of course, as with any film, if you dig deeply enough, there are layers of subtext to be found, characters based on established mythological archetypes, etc.(Lucas was a disciple of Joseph Campbell, an “expert in the construction and cultural resonance of mythology. His books ‘Masks of God’ and ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ are widely considered the ultimate guides to what has enthralled the world for centuries”). Similar to the way in which ‘The Matrix’ movies have inspired some overly enthusiastic fans to study the cod-philosophizing and meditation on the nature of reality, the Star Wars Universe naturally lends itself to deeper investigation. Put simply, the viewer will get out of it, exactly what they want to get out it.

As Lucas realises that even the new generation are old enough now to watch the brutal incineration scene, decapitated villains and murdered ‘younglings’, he has pushed proceedings in a slightly darker direction this time round, compensating somewhat for the complaints voiced over the overly-cutesy shenanigans in the first and second episodes. Personally, the really interesting stuff is what’s happening behind the scenes. Episode 3 was filmed almost entirely on blue screen, with effects, sets, worlds and thousands of characters being added digitally. Some say that Lucas is all about style over substance. Arguably, true, but what is an indisputable fact, is that he has been the driving force behind digital technology, sound and visual effects in the movie industry. Wealthy enough now to be completely independent from Hollywood studios, rumour has it that his next film-making goal is to re-introduce to world to 3-D movies, “the way they should have been done.”

3 out of 5