Saturday, July 05, 2014

SPOILER WARNING

CLAWS IN EFFECT

Dreamworks Animation sometimes has lagged behind its rival, Pixar. But the release of How To Train Your Dragon in 2010 showed that they had the skill and nous to compete with their northern Californian competitors. Based on the popular series of kid's books by Cressida Cowell about viking teenager Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) who befriends dragon Toothless, the first film made $217m at the US box office alone. So a sequel was inevitable. How To Train Your Dragon 2 sees a slightly older Hiccup who is on the verge of taking over from his father Stoick (Gerard Butler). The village is now occupied by a whole slew of friendly dragons but it all seems to teeter on the edge when Hiccup encounters the evil Drago (voiced by Djimon Honsou) who is obsessed with bending the world's dragons to his own will to conquer the globe. To complicate matters, Hiccup meets his mother, Valka (Cate Blanchett), who disappeared years ago and is now living among her own horde of dragons. Visually, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is magnificent thanks to the visual input of Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins and for once, the 3D really creates a truly immersive experience. In terms of story, there is real growth for the characters (a major player doesn't survive to the end of the film) and director Dean  DeBlois really managed to invest humanity in both the vikings and even the dragons, with Toothless feeling more than just a licensing device. My own quibble is that the film is slightly too long and it could have been tighter with around 20 minutes trimmed off its running length. But this is a minor criticism as the film-makers have managed to imbue the sequel with the same sense of wonder and majesty as they invested in the first one. Quality children's films often manage to appeal to both a younger and an adult audience and like Toy Story, How To Train Your Dragon doesn't patronise the audience. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a worthy sequel to the first film with a range of voice talent including Game of Thrones' Kit Harrington appearing here for the first time, Gerard Butler returning and Cate Blanchett that really brings the script to life. A third one has been announced and if they can maintain the quality of the first and second films, then they will have achieved a great deal. A summer film that deserves to clean up at the box office as it's likeable, well-intentioned and with true heart…

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 14, 2014

KEEPING AN EYE OUT

A good horror film is a rarity these days. Oculus starring the former Doctor Who actress Karen Gillan (who played assistant Amy Pond) deals with a girl determined to exonerate her brother, accused of murder. The pair set out to prove that the murder had a supernatural element to it. At its heart is a mirror that seems possessed by evil spirits. The pair's mother is played by Katee Sackhoff while their father is Rory Cochrane. It was released in the US last year and the distributors have been sitting on it for a little bit. To be honest, the presence of Gillan, formerly of Doctor Who, with an American accent, probably helped to get it a cinema release. It's not a great horror film but Gillan is very good in it and there are a number of surprisingly scary scenes. At under the two hour mark, the film never outstays its welcome but you know that the story isn't going to end well without me even saying anything. Horror films are normally released in the autumn so it is a little strange to put it out in the summer blockbuster season over here. Oculus is definitely worth seeing even though I'm not sure how much milage Gillan has as an actress in the long term…

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

GREAT SCOTT
The idea of presenting a classic film with a full live orchestra is not a new one (it has been done for a number of the silent classics over the past few years) but last week I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Ridley Scott's Gladiator with the Philharmonia Orchestra and a guest vocal from Lisa Gerrard who appeared on the original soundtrack of the film, at the sumptuous Royal Albert Hall. Gladiator is still one of Scott's most impressive films, with its epic story of fallen-from-favour general Maximus (Russell Crowe) at its heart. Maximus drops in status and becomes a gladiator who is determined to rescue Rome from the clutches of evil emperor Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix). The film still holds up nearly fifteen years after its first release and the orchestra lends the proceedings an even more emotional air, adding to the drama. Obviously the audience needs to follow the film via subtitles because of the sound of the live score but with such a well-loved film, the audience is familiar with its plot anyway. Seeing Gladiator with a live orchestra and live vocal from Lisa Gerrard is a wonderfully immersive experience, bringing something new to a much-loved movie. The Royal Albert Hall have a number of other iconic films with a live orchestra like The Godfather and the films of Tim Burton later this year and I for one would be happy to do this again…



Labels:

Sunday, June 01, 2014

SPOILER WARNING

CRUISE CONTROLLED

Edge of Tomorrow is Tom Cruise's latest early summer blockbuster (actually it's spring but who's quibbling). Based on an illustrated manga book called All You Need Is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug (The Bourne Identity) Liman, where Cruise plays Cage, a soldier stuck in a time loop where he is forced to fight aliens with superior intelligence. Assisting him is fellow soldier Rita (Emily Blunt). Liman manages to use the motif of repetition without boring the audience and Cruise keeps his more annoying on-screen ticks in check (the over-confidence and the grinning are kept to a minimum here). Also, despite the fact that it is in 3D, there are moments where it really enhances the experience. Clocking in at under two hours, Edge of Tomorrow, thanks to its unusual locations (London throughout and Paris at the end rather than the usual New York and Los Angeles) and a canny script and a plot that barrels along nicely, is a very enjoyable big-budget Hollywood sci-fi actioner with some very impressive visual flourishes. Blunt doesn't have a huge amount to do here but she is likeable, if a little bit of a cypher. It's interesting that this is the second sci fi film that Cruise has chosen recently and he displays here that it is a genre that actually suits him. It's amazing to think that he can still cut it as an action hero after all these decades on the big screen. Edge of Tomorrow is recommended for people who enjoy more intelligent blockbusters…

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 23, 2014

SPOILER WARNING

MUTANT EQUALITY?

Marvel's X-Men was one of the first of the recent big-screen superhero franchise movies. X-Men and X2 were very good, but The Last Stand was pretty weak. So the decision was made to reboot it and X-Men: First Class in 2011 made a pretty good fist of things, recasting James McAvoy and the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender respectively as Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Now it's 2014 and we have X-Men: Days of Future Past. Original X-Men director Bryan Singer has returned, directing the characters for the first time since 2003. Days of Future Past is loosely based on the Claremont/ Paul Smith story published back in 1981 and it is set in a dystopian future where the surviving X-Men are forced to hide out and in the 1970s, where a young Professor X and Magneto have the opportunity to prevent that nightmarish future from ever happening. Basically, it all hinges on Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) and his robotic creations, the Sentinels. So where First Class tried to mimic James Bond and that iconic Sixties feel, here we have jumped head to the Seventies with Singer going for that decade's atmosphere and ambience. Thanks to the split time periods, for the first time, we are able to see Stewart and McKellen and McAvoy and Fassbender in the same film. Singer also does some very clever things with the visuals, and a scene with Quicksilver (Evan Peters) that turns the whole bullet time thing on its head. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) holds both periods together as they decide he is the only X-Men physically strong enough to survive being sent back to the 1970s. The film does manage to channel that classic comic feel without coming across as patronising and remaining faithful to the source without feeling slavish. Fassbender is very good again as Magneto as is McAvoy as Professor X but Stewart and McKellen feel a little bit like bit players in their own story and Dinklage feels wasted here, as Trask is just a plot device at the end of the day. Jennifer Lawrence reprising her role as Mystique has an onscreen magnetism that is hard to argue with. It has been released in 3D but apart from the Quicksilver scene, it doesn't lend a great deal to the overall experience. The post-credits stinger, pointing to what's next in the rebooted X-Men franchise, is short and feels a little bit pointless. X-Men: Days of Future Past isn't perfect by any means (its end feels a little rushed and counter to the film's own internal logic) but it is an ambitious summer superhero film with some nice flourishes. It is good to see Singer back on X-Men. It will be dominating the box office on both sides of the Atlantic as you read this…

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

SPOILER WARNING

SWINGING LOW
When Marvel decided to reboot the Spider-man films after the disastrous Spider-man 3 back in 2007, the choice of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-man was met with some skepticism. The 2012 film wasn't perfect by any means: its running time was too long and some of the CGI looked decidedly ropey. But Emma Stone was an inspired choice as Gwen Stacy and there was an interesting vulnerability to Garfield's Peter Parker. Fast-forward to 2014 and we have Amazing Spider-man 2. Webb's second Spider-man outing suffers from many of the same problems as the first film (it outstays its welcome by about forty minutes and Jamie Foxx's Electro has a very poorly designed costume) but it is actually a far weaker film than its predecessor. Garfield's Peter Parker has become cocky and rather arrogant and the inclusion of a second villain with a conclusion that foreshadows the inevitable introduction of the Sinister Six in a second sequel means that the film feels cluttered and dramatically all over the place. There are some nice touches when it comes to exploring Peter's father's scientist past but overall you are left shrugging your shoulders. Marvel's decision to press the restart button on Spider-man was criticised as a pointless exercise and Amazing Spider-man 2 really makes you miss Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. The sad thing is that with another sequel packed full of even more villains than you have here, the omens aren't looking good that they'll be able to reverse the drop in quality. In fact, it is becoming reminiscent of what Warners did with Batman when Joel Schumacher came on board. Amazing Spider-man 2 is bloated, uneven and mostly unengaging…

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 04, 2014

NOT GOING BY THE BOOK
Bible stories strangely are having a little bit of a mini renaissance. We have Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale, but first out of the gate is Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe as the flood prophet who attempts to save all of Earth's animals when the world is flooded through man's wickedness. Aronofsky has tinkered a little bit (alright a lot) with the bible story, adding barren daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson) and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the venal chieftain who doesn't consider his actions in any moral light and feels the Earth is theirs to do what they will with. It wouldn't matter how close it was to the bible story since that's no more credible and factual than what director Aronofsky has created here except for the fact that Noah features laughable dialogue (often delivered by Crowe), risible performances especially by the excruciatingly wooden Watson, who seems to be trying to give Keira Knightley a run for her money in the shocking performances stakes, and a tone that veers between earnest and turgid. Noah is two hours and twenty minutes and by the time you hit the last forty minutes, you are constantly checking your watch. It doesn't help that it also has some truly wretched effects which look artificial and ungainly thanks to the pointless but inevitable 3D. There may be an interesting and thought-provoking film hiding in here somewhere but much of it feels like a 2014 remake of The Land That Time Forgot without the kitsch charm and the sense of fun. Noah is overlong, tedious and a real chore to get through. Here's hoping that Scott's Moses epic is a lot better…

Labels: , ,