Mega Catch-up Movie Blitz (Part 6)

November 15, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but it’s not because I haven’t had any lined up. Here goes. I suppose this is the “drama” portion of my catch-up review blitz.

War Horse (2011)

I wasn’t as high on this Steven Spielberg epic as I thought I would be. As the title suggests, it’s about the life of a horse, from its birth in the early 1900s to the end of the First World War, and the lives of all the people it touches along the way. There’s not much to dislike about the film — it features a stellar ensemble cast, looks absolutely amazing, and is designed to tug the heart strings. Ordinarily, that’s more than good enough for me.

But for some strange reason I wasn’t blown away by it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest horse fan, or perhaps its because the ensemble cast meant there wasn’t a particular human character I could really connect with. Or maybe it’s because it was so serious, lacking in that light touch I had been used to from Spielberg movies. But it is overly long at 146 minutes and my guess is that I found the subject matter a little on the bland side.

Ultimately though, it’s still a fine piece of filmmaking from one of the masters. I just wish I liked it more.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is remarkable in that it takes an interesting but unspectacular concept and turns it into a poignant, funny and unexpected gem driven by excellent performances.

Based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, it’s about a Honolulu lawyer (George Clooney) who happens to be the sole trustee of a family trust that owns a lot of very expensive land. He’s filthy rich, but as usual, not content with life. Following a tragic accident to his wife, he is forced to confront his two daughters and the fact that his marriage wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

This is the kind of movie critics just love. Well-written and well-directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), and with possibly the best performance of Clooney’s career, The Descendants treads a fine line between genuine emotion and melodrama, but manages to come out on the right side. If you’ve seen Payne’s earlier films you’ll have an idea of the kind of dark comedy and tone that he is accustomed to creating.

I wouldn’t say I absolutely loved this movie but I did think it was wonderfully made and produced laughs and stirred up emotions I had not expected. While it probably deserved its Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, I doubt this is a movie we will look back upon in a few years as a classic, or even a particularly memorable film.

4 stars out of 5

Puncture

Captain America as a drug addicted lawyer? And it’s a true story? Yep, that’s what Puncture is all about. Chris Evans is Mike Weiss, who looks like a bum off the street but is actually a very smart guy with a law degree. The problem is, he doesn’t care much about anyone except himself, and is usually either drunk or on drugs.

Weiss and his partner take on a case where the manufacturer of a safety syringe (which would be perfect in hospitals) claims it was shut out of the market by the big bad pharmaceutical companies (sounds like a true story already). As the case progresses and the odds become more and more against him, Weiss starts developing a conscience and begins to genuinely care about the cause — with your typical “flawed protagonist finds redemption” vibe written all over it.

Essentially, Puncture is a darker, grittier version of some of the other little lawyer against big bad corporations kind of film. Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker comes to mind. But unfortunately, Puncture takes far too long to get off the ground that by the time I found myself engaged it was almost over. And no, it’s got nothing to do with Evan’s acting, which was fine, by the way.

I think it had a great story to tell and the final third was executed rather well, but it’s a shame that the film could not have gotten interesting sooner.

3 stars out of 5

The Beaver (2011)

This film had things going for it and against it. On the one hand it is directed by Jodie Foster and is called The Beaver (which is awesome), but on the other it stars megadouche and anti-Semitic psycho Mel Gibson. In the end, I decided to put my biases aside and watch the film, and I still can’t decide in the end whether I made good use of my time.

The Beaver deals with Depression by creating a bizarre scenario. Water Black (Gibson) is a depressed toy company CEO who handles his issues by speaking through a beaver hand puppet (as though it were a different person). And to everyone’s surprise, the beaver makes Black a huge success and enables him to rekindle his relationship with his wife (Foster) and son (Anton Yelchin).

If you can stomach the premise and the actor, The Beaver is a solid drama that tells a serious story in a semi-lighthearted manner. There isn’t as much humour as you would expect, though I suppose it’s hard to be funny when you’re dealing with a mental illness that affects millions of people. I think Foster dealt with it respectfully and she injects the film with warmth and honesty, but I’m not certain that I was sold by it as a whole. In the end of the day, it’s still a family drama starring Mel Gibson, and neither is really my cup of tea.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011) (2D)

November 21, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I’m not ordinarily a big fan of animated films and I know almost next to nothing about the adventures of the titular character or the original comics on which they were based (apart from a short visit to the Tintin Museum/Shop in Brussels) — which is why it surprises me to declare that The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most exciting and enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.

Facts about the film I probably should have been aware of before the opening credits:

  • directed by Steven Spielberg;
  • produced by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg;
  • uses performance capture technology (made famous by The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Rise of the Planet of the Apes) and features the performance capture king, Andy Serkis; and
  • an all-star cast including Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) as the protagonist Tintin, Serkis as the hilarious Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as the sinister Sakharine, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the duo from Shawn of the DeadPaul) as Thomson and Thompson, the bumbling detectives.

This film, hopefully the first of a trilogy, is based on three of the original comic books, and tells the story of how young journalist (and essentially detective) Tintin and his beloved dog Snowy become embroiled in a wild adventure involving model ships, secret riddles, pirates and sunken treasures.

Thanks to Spielberg’s masterful storytelling and the amazing visual effects (made possible by the performance capture technology), The Adventures of Tintin is an engrossing, clever, humorous, exciting and wonderfully spectacular animated film.  It is no coincidence that the film reminded me a lot of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies (especially the superior earlier ones), where the sense of adventure was genuine, fresh and thrilling.  It is the type of film both children and adults can enjoy.

The look of the film is fantastic — everything but the human characters look real, and my guess is that they held back a little so that the human characters can closer resemble their comic counterparts and avoid looking ‘spooky’ (like say Polar Express or Beowulf).  The combination of performance capture and ultra-realistic, high quality animation is spot on — it is impossible to imagine a traditionally animated film (or even a purely computer animated one) or a live action version of Tintin having the same atmosphere or effect.  It looks real but not too real, allowing the film to utilise techniques and storytelling methods that work well in animated films but not live action ones.

The performances were fantastic.  Rather than just providing voices, the subtleties of the actors’ body movements and expressions were also encapsulated in the characters they portrayed.  It made a difference.  Serkis’s Captain Haddock in particular was a standout, even if he might have come across as excessive at times.  Daniel Craig was practically unrecognisable, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s unmatched chemistry brought a certain harmony to Thomson and Thompson.

Although the 107-minute running time might have been 10-15 minutes over the ideal length of such a film, on the whole I was immensely impressed with The Adventures of Tintin.  This is coming from someone who had never read a Tintin comic book and previously had no interest in ever reading one.  Now I can’t wait for them to make the sequel, which will allegedly by directed by Peter Jackson (as soon as he is done with The Hobbit).

I don’t know if the film did justice to the original character or the comic books.  But to me it doesn’t matter.  A good film is a good film, and The Adventures of Tintin is just that.

4.5 out of 5 stars!

PS: I am continuing my stance of ‘no 3D’.  I don’t think 3D would have necessarily ruined this film, but I don’t think it would have helped.  2D was perfectly fine, and it was good enough for me.

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

August 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo/Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a western fused with nasty aliens, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man), with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  In terms of expectations, they don’t get much higher than Cowboys and Aliens (adapted from the graphic novel of the same name), which could explain the lukewarm reception the film has received thus far.

But was it really that bad?  No.  I actually thought it was okay.  Big stars, freaky monsters, large-scale battle scenes and some well-executed action sequences.  But given what this film could have been, Cowboys and Aliens was ultimately somewhat of a disappointment.

The story is relatively simple — Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with an alien bracelet on his wrist and no recollection of who he is or where he has been.  Stuff happens, and along with Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown (everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank), he goes on a mission to rescue some humans while trying to piece together his shattered memory.

All the requisite elements for an engaging motion picture are there.  Craig is excellent as the kick-ass, “don’t mess with me” protagonist, while the supporting roles are adequately filled by legend Ford and rising star Wilde.  The film has that dusty, gritty western feel, along with old fashioned bravado and gun fights — plus the strangeness and unknown feel you get from alien invasion films.  The special affects are fine by current standards.  The story is formulaic enough for a typical summer blockbuster but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction.  The character development and subplot boxes are also ticked.

And yet Cowboys and Aliens feels like an empty blockbuster — all style, (to be fair) a little substance, but no soul.  If I had to pinpoint what went wrong, I would probably say that the biggest problem lies with the aliens, who are menacing but that’s about it.  They’re just there to kill and be killed, monsters with no personality whatsoever, and as a result don’t invoke genuine suspense.

Another problem is that everybody in the film seems to play their roles too straight — there are some elements of humour but for the most part it’s all about being cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, though I feel with such a potentially fun premise they should have had more fun with it than they did.

(And I’m not sure if it was just the cinema I attended, but many of the night scenes in the film came across as incredibly dark, to the point where it became irritating.)

Having said all that, Cowboys and Aliens is better than a lot of the criticism suggests.  I was never disengaged during the 118-minute running time, and I almost wished they could have dedicated more time to certain plot points (especially those involving Ford).  As far as action blockbusters go, it’s certainly a lot better than say Transformers 3, but given the crew involved I should never have even considered comparing the two films.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Paul (2011)

June 21, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I like comedies and I’m fascinated by aliens, so Paul, the new sci-fi comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of Shaun of the Dead fame) seemed right up my alley.  In short, Paul is pretty good, but nothing special.

Paul is about two English comic book nerds and buddies, Graeme and Clive (Pegg and Frost), who travel across the Atlantic to attend Comic-Con and to take a trip in their RV across the country to visit alleged alien hotspots.  Of course, they run into the titular character, voiced by Seth Rogen, who is unlike all the stereotypes we have come to expect, and that kick starts off a series of wild and wacky adventures.

For me, there were lots of moments where I went, ‘That’s very clever’ and had a giggle or two, but the laugh-out-loud moments were rarer than expected (though, to be fair, there were a couple of ripper gems).  That made it slightly disappointing as I thought the potential for better laughs was definitely there.

My favourite thing about Paul is the Arrested Development connections.  The film is directed by Greg Mottola, who did a few AD episodes back in the day before going on to direct Superbad and Adventureland.  Jason Bateman plays the mysterious Agent Zoil, and there’s also Jeffrey Tambor as a sci-fi writer and Jane Lynch as a themed cafe owner.  They are all brilliant.  I won’t spoil any more than that except to mention that the film also features the likes of Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), Bill Hader (Adventureland) and John Carroll Lynch (my favourite husband from Fargo), plus a few truly awesome cameos.

Ultimately, Paul is what it is.  A few flashes of comedic brilliance, some clever lines, surprisingly wonderful cameos and references — super fun but not exactly super funny.  I’d call it an amusing film with a dash of geeky charm, for the most part an enjoyable chuckler as opposed to a laugh-out-loud kind of movie.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Super 8 (2011)

June 11, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I was on a high after last week’s X-Men: First Class so I decided to check out the much-anticipated but somewhat mysterious Super 8, written and directed by JJ Abrams (Star Trek, Cloverfield and the TV shows Lost and Fringe) and produced by Steven Spielberg (no explanation necessary).

If I could sum up the film in one word it would be ‘Wow’.  The trailers of Super 8 show relatively little compared to the spoil-all trailers we tend to get these days, and thank goodness for that.  This is really a film where you should go in with as little knowledge as possible.

So I won’t say much about the plot except that it’s about a bunch of kids making a movie in 1979.  It’s a throwback (and I believe has been referred to as a ‘homage’) to those amazing Spielberg films of the 80s, such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I just loved those films when I was growing up and it’s obvious from Super 8 that Abrams did too.  In the MTV age, they just don’t make movies like this anymore, and it’s a tremendous accomplishment to even attempt to recreate the nostalgia.

Like Spielberg before him, Abrams has created a marvellous motion picture experience with a clever premise, likable, relatable characters, thrilling action, top-notch special effects, awe-inspiring, memorable images, plenty of heart — and most of all — masterful storytelling.  I was hooked from the very first image, which I thought was pure genius.

The likability of the film makes it easy to overlook its shortcomings (and granted, there are a few), but Spielberg’s films weren’t exactly perfect either.  It remains to be seen whether decades from now Super 8 will be remembered in the same vein of those classic Spielberg films.  My guess is probably no, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.  I would recommend parents taking their kids to check it out.  It’s the type of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!

 
%d bloggers like this: