Archive | April, 2012

Real Steel

30 Apr

Director: Shawn Levy

Writers: John Gatins (screenplay), Dan Gilroy (story), and 2 more credits

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly and Dakota Goyo

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 127 minutes

 

 

 

Robot wrestling is a growing ‘sport’ in Japan, but the hand built and controlled robots stand knee high to the competitors. In the futuristic Real Steel the scale is far more epic with the robots towering over their masters like a troupe of Terminator T-800’s. So this film’s central premise does not require a complete leap of faith like the Transformers franchise, but it does retain some sci-fi roots. And, unlike Transformers, this movie has a bit more than the crash bang wallop aesthetic.

The story of Real Steel is that of ex-boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), his estranged 11 year old son Max (Dakota Goyo) and his girlfriend Bailey (Evangeline Lilly). Charlie builds, trains, and fights robots as a wandering promoter from town to town. Like his past boxing career, Charlie is a hit and miss ‘roboteer’ and is generally scrabbling around for money. His relationship with Bailey is also bumpy whilst he is forced to reconnect with his son whom he is saddled with for his latest tour.

Real Steel reminds me of the recent cage fighting film Warrior. Both have cheesy moments, regurgitate classic movie plots and yet succeed very well as big entertainment. In this one we get the father and son bonding theme seen in films such as Road to Perdition as well as the working class hero dynamic of Rocky. The acting is solid enough and Jackman is almost always likeable (although he pushed his luck with Australia). The robots look great and the fight scenes are compelling. Real Steel is enjoyable and a perfect father and son (aged 10 – 15 years old) movie.

The Adventures of Tintin

29 Apr

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish

Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

 

Spielberg obtained film rights to the Tintin comic books from Herge, their Belgian writer and artist, not long before the author’s death in 1983. The long delay in bringing them to the screen has mainly been the result of Spielberg’s uncertainly of how to make the film(s). He looked at full ‘cartoon’ animation and he looked at live action with actors in prosthetic make-up. That he dismissed those ideas is to everyone’s benefit. This film works very well based upon Peter Jackson’s performance capture technology – real actors performing all of the work against blue screens, but with every move and facial twitch recorded for computer manipulation.

Yes, this film not only advances film-making technology, but it brings Spielberg together with Peter, the Lord of the Rings, Jackson. This is a dream team pairing of two of our best makers of rollicking cinematic adventures. And this Tintin delivers all of the thrills and spills that I expected from the Spielberg-Jackson axis. It is also loyal to the source material that I fairly devoured as a boy. The film retains most of the charm, intrigue and fun of the comic books as the boy reporter falls into an adventure whilst chasing a big story with loyal canine companion Snowy.

Whilst highly satisfied, I do have one or two criticisms of this Tintin adaptation. For a start the Thompson Twins just aren’t funny enough. In the comic books they are splendid fools, but in this film their jokes and pratfalls misfire. There is also a loss of momentum and a sagging of storyline about 60 minutes in, but Herge’s plots, to be fair to Spielberg, were always a bit patchy.

There are some wonderful action sequences in this film on ships, planes, tanks and motorbikes. To that end the film has an Indiana Jones feel to it that has to be one reason Spielberg spotted the source material. Tintin is young, European and a bit of a geek, but he chases down bad guys with a steely determination and a lack of self-regard that is 100% Indy. Jamie Bell as Tintin is pitch perfect and ably supported by the likes of Daniel Craig (as Sakharine), but the film is dominated by Andy Serkis as the drunken Captain Haddock. His performance is superb and it fully justifies the film production choice.

Shark Night

28 Apr

Director: David R Ellis

Writers: Will Hayes, Jesse Studenberg

Stars: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Carmack

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 90 minutes

 

 

 

B-movies have been a necessary and fun evil since the 1920’s as the warm-up acts for the main features in cinemas across the globe. Since then, and arguably through the ‘golden age’ of b-movies in the 1950’s, there have been cinema schedules to fill and low budget movies have been produced to do just that. Moving across genres including westerns, horror and sci-fi the consistent look and feel of the B-movie is one of cheap cheerfulness.

I have always been sceptical about the genuine appeal of B-movies, certainly those films stylized as B-movies, but made since the turn of the millennium. Back in the 1950’S movies such as Creature from the Black Lagoon and Invasion of the Body Snatchers were charming in their convictions. Recent productions however have left me cold and Shark Night (in or out of 3D) is a definite barrel-scraping effort. This is without doubt the worst film that I have seen for a very long while.

Shark Night is absurdly plotted, cheaply made and incredibly badly acted. Maybe I am just too old, but I feel that this film robbed me of 90 minutes of my life and I am still annoyed about it days after sitting through it. It has no redeeming qualities and at times seems to revel in its own paucity of ideas and belief. As the director David R Ellis came to this from Snakes on a Plane I can only imagine that he’s now working on Tarantula Tuesday or something weaker. Avoid this film at all costs.

Another Earth

18 Apr

Director: Mike Cahill

Writers: Brit Marling, Mike Cahill

Stars: Brit Marling, William Mapother and Matthew-Lee Erlbach

Motion Picture Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 92 minutes

 

 

 

We are entering a period of post-modern science fiction. That accounts for this film Another Earth following so quickly on the heels of Melancholia and Moon before that. New or re-packaged film genres emerge for different reasons, but typically the reasons reflect the macro economics and geo politics of our times. So it is feasible that our recent collective loss of faith in politicians, bankers and the police is pushing modern film makers towards a new form of sci-fi.

This film, like Melancholia and Moon, is difficult to characterize and to adequately describe. ’Post-modern science fiction’ is halfway there, and certainly covers the other planet storyline, but this is also a dark tale about living with guilt and striving for second chances. The central character Rhoda (played extremely well by Brit Marling) causes a tragic road accident, spends time in prison and then emerges to try to salvage her life and to make amends to the victim (a widower called John played by William Mapother). Most of the film focuses on Rhoda slowly bringing John out from his booze and prescription drug induced isolation. Their awkward relationship develops whilst a planet seemingly identical to earth enters our orbit and dominates the sky.

This is a first film for the director Mike Cahill and it has flaws that can be attributed to inexperience. Whilst the sparse dialogue and slow indie pacing mostly work, this film drags at times. It can also be too earnest with the grainy documentary style filming giving it an unintended amateurish feel at other times. However, it is certainly different and it is interesting.  Also, it is atmospheric and the music and cinematography are both excellent. This film makes you think which is not to be under-valued with so much bland cinematic fodder served up these days.

Immortals

15 Apr

Director: Tarsem Singh

Writers: Charley Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides

Stars: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke and John Hurt

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 110 minutes

 

 

 

I assume that the Immortals was a summer 2011 ‘blockbuster’ style release, but it definitely passed me by at that time. Unfortunately, it just caught up with me. That it didn’t derail its two key players is unjust, but the director Tarsem Singh is in cinemas now with the better marketed Mirror Mirror and its star Henry Cavill will be back soon enough with no doubt limitless marketing as the next Superman. They are lucky to have escaped this god awful film, but apparently it did well enough at the box office so what do I really know?

There is no real plot as such in this film. It’s another highly camp ‘swords and sandals’ twisting of Greek mythology and, as with its equally poor predecessors Troy, 300 and Clash of the Titans, it involves an enormous amount of CGI. So much of this film is computer generated in fact it might as well be a computer game for the Xbox. It is closest in style to 300 and it is as bloody and gory as that 2006 comic book adaptation. We get to see beheadings, disembowelling, genital crushing’s, people boiled alive and all sorts of other sport.

Besides the endless CGI violence that gets boring quickly, the sound quality of the film is poor and far too many scenes are badly under lit. Add to that Mickey Rourke’s mumblings and the nonsense plot is made even more confusing. Tarsem Singh is known for great visuals and at times with the Immortals he delivers a wow factor. Similarly hyper stylized are the costumes that are so bonkers as to bring to mind the 1980 Flash Gordon. It is, frankly, way out there and only its intended ca. 16 year old audience of boys could possibly love it.

The Awakening

9 Apr

Director: Nick Murphy

Writers: Stephen Volk, Nick Murphy

Stars: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

 

 

I appreciate creepy ghost stories on film, such as The Orphanage and The Others, and this one garnered strong reviews in the UK on its theatrical release. It stars Rebecca Hall as a 1920’s ghost hunter called Florence Cathcart and it has the feel of a modestly budgeted English production throughout. That might explain the good reviews here, but certainly Hall is always worth catching up with – especially after her recent performances in fine films such as The Town and Everything Must Go.

In reverence to all good ghost stories the film is set in a single and remote location. The ghost hunter Cathcart is hired by a boys’ boarding school in North West England to investigate the possible presence of a ghost. The school is grey, cold and foreboding. Its young students are suitably timid and respectful of authority. However, it is clear that they are scared of something and that all is not quite right at the school.

The set-up, initially in London and then up to Cumbria, and the first hour of the film are interesting. Hall is well cast as the “educated woman” and is backed up nicely by Dominic West as a teacher and Imelda Staunton as the school matron.  The setting, pacing and camera work are also good. The problem, and the disappointment, comes in the final third. The plot unravels and the final reveal is simply not convincing. The level of creepiness and the number of scares also fall away as the non-believing ghost hunter succumbs to her own paranoia. This is not as good as either The Orphanage or The Others, but it’s a reasonable effort.

Hugo

8 Apr

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: John Logan (screenplay), Brian Selznick (book)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 126 minutes

 

 

 

 

Martin Scorsese is a part-time film historian and a full-time film devotee. When interviewed about his own films he often references past masters and he talks in awe and wonder about his first cinema going experiences as a child. With Hugo we have both a referential history lesson about cinema and an awe-inspiring film filled with warmth, love and care for the medium. This is a love letter to film by a great master.

Hugo is the story of a young orphaned boy who lives alone in the Gard du Nord train station in Paris in the 1920’s. This film is adapted from a popular children’s book (“The Invention of Hugo Cabret”) and it is a rich story of boyhood adventure. Hugo’s dead father was a clock-maker and his uncle set the clocks around the station before disappearing. That role now falls to Hugo who lives and roams in the back rooms, crawl spaces and hidden passages of the station. The opening shots of the film trail Hugo around Gard du Nord and it is breath-taking cinematography. The film conjures up a bustling and fascinating ‘playground’ for lonely Hugo.

The sweeping camera shots and the sepia-tinted sets add grandeur and a sense of nostalgia. It is in keeping with the 1920’s period and it supports the ‘history of cinema’ sub-plot. That strand is headed by Ben Kingsley (revealed to be Georges Melies) as a shop owner in the train concourse that takes an interest in Hugo. It was Melies that followed the Lumiere brothers in Paris from the 1890’s to invent cinema as we know it today.

Kingsley is excellent and well supported by Asa Butterfield as Hugo and Chloe Grace Moretz as his niece and Hugo’s only friend. Sacha Baron Cohen hams it up nicely as the station inspector and other British character actors pop up here and there. It’s a good ensemble, but the film succeeds because of the enchanting story and the beautiful camera work. It reminded me in parts of Amelie and that is high praise where I come from. This is a terrific family film and highly recommended.

Margin Call

4 Apr

Director: J.C. Chandor

Writer: J.C. Chandor

Stars: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci and Kevin Spacey

Motion picture rating: R

Runtime: 107 minutes

 

 

I can’t think of any other mainstream movies about the 2008 banking crisis. Arguably Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps covered it, but that was as much about the return of the Gecko. Anyhow, here with Margin Call we are right in the midst of the Wall Street banking failures of 2008. That time when terms such as credit default swaps entered the modern vocabulary. That time when the most recent global credit bubble burst and spewed its toxic contents all over Wall Street.

This film starts with redundancies. Bank staff including Stanley Tucci are told that they are living in ‘extraordinary times’ and about to make a ‘transition’ in their lives. It is a strong jumping off point for the story and the film hardly releases its grip thereafter. Tucci confronts his boss Demi Moore and is commiserated by his colleague Paul Bettany. The bank moves on, but it is clear that big changes are afoot and everyone is twitchy. Soon enough a lowly analyst (Zachary Quinto) discovers the black hole in the bank’s finances and, in essence, in the whole of the global banking system.

Along with Quinto, Tucci, Moore and Bettany are other strong actors including Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons (wonderfully bloodless as the head of the bank). It is a heavyweight cast that was clearly attracted to an excellent story and script. That it’s a first time writer director behind the film is surprising, but congratulations to J.C Chandor for his efforts.

This is a commendable film. It is tense, dark and chilly – akin to the New York cityscape that ominously fills out the background. Although the bankers are dealt with equitably, the self-justifying and defensive line pedalled by them after the crisis is revisited here; that it was greedy consumers living beyond their means that brought the crisis upon themselves. I still find that line hard to swallow and this film has not altered my fundamental view of investment bankers. For me it was their naivety, hubris and wilful ignorance that brought us low.

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