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Sunday, June 12, 2011

New Movie Releases Roundup 10 June 2011

A bit of a mixed bag for the rest of this week's releases. Also, there's something called Nice Guy Johnny that looks pretty good but I am pretty sure there wasn't a press screening for it so I may - or may not - get round to reviewing it at a later date. As for the rest though...


Starting way, way, way at the bottom, we have a Nigerian film called Between Kings and Queens. Essentially a pseudo-remake of the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie Coming to America, in which an American girl falls for an African prince, Between Kings and Queens is the first US-set film for Nigerian director Joy Dickson. The best thing I can really say about it is that it does seem well-intentioned and maybe one day she will make a film truly worthy of your time. This isn't it.

I really hate to rag on a film by an inexperienced, African indie-director because, lets be honest, she probably put her heart and soul into it and, in its intent, it's about as far from the worst of Hollywood's commercially driven dreck as it is possible to be. There's no getting past it, though, it's simply a bad movie. The lead actor, DaJuan Johnson is a fairly likeable lead but most of the acting - especially by the film's bit characters - is seriously below par; the lighting gives everything a weird yellow tinge; the editing and directing is notably amateurish; the dialogue is cringe-worthy and the plot itself is just a rehash of a perfectly funny Eddie Murphy comedy. Sorry Ms Dickson but better luck next time.

 


However much I may feel bad for slagging off Between Kings and Queens, I don't have such qualms with picking apart Kung Fu Panda 2. Now, don't misunderstand me, Kung Fun Panda 2 is obviously a far better film than that Nigerian dud and I did enjoy it to a certain degree. The thing is, though, that Kung Fu Panda 2 simply should have been much better than it was, even if it does get a fair amount right: The gorgeous, beautifully detailed animation - particularly the traditional hand-drawn animation that pops up from time to time - is a notable step up from the previous installment; it has some very solid laughs; much of the martial arts are pretty well handled and the voice acting is top notch.

That all of this is firmly in place, only makes the whole experience all the more disappointing as it becomes increasingly clear that the actual narrative of KFP2 is noticeably not up to snuff. The plot itself is thread-bare and the script is dragged down by far too much focus being placed on Po, our titular hero, indulging in fortune-cookie soul searching in a quest to find inner peace. His search for where he came from and what happened to his parents is similarly problematic, not only because it's incredibly obvious but it gives the film a level of darkness that does not sit at all well with its more lighthearted, bouncy elements. And it totally spoils one of the best gags in the original film. His really fun supporting cast is also given far too little to do, while the wonderful martial arts action of the first film (and, if I think about it, of the first half of this film) is replaced by action scenes that are far more frenetic but far less effective and the 3D and at times overly dark colour palette does the film no favours either.




And then we have Nowhere Boy. It's no secret that I am about as big a Beatles fan as it is possible to get - well, if you put aside the fact that I actually like The Rolling Stones just as much, that is - but that's something of a mixed blessing when it comes to my enjoyment of Nowhere Boy.

On the one hand, I can't help but enjoy an exploration of the life of a young John Lennon when it is handled this well. It is confidently directed by newcomer Sam Taylor-Wood with a script that is both a presumably authentic look at that time period (I was very much not around in the late 1950s, early '60s) and a very satisfying portrait of a very complex and conflicted young man. The acting - most especially from Kick Ass's Aaron Johnson as Lennon himself and Kristin Scott Thomas as his aunt Mimi, the woman who raised him for most of his formative years - is beyond reproach. It's simply a very good pop biopic.

The problem is, though, that the film did feel overly familiar to me. Not only have their been a seemingly infinite amount of books, articles, websites and movies released about the man, he is also constantly brought up in the many interviews and biographies of the people who knew him: Yoko Ono, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Elton John - the list goes on and on. Plus, added to all that, John Lennon - particularly in the post-Beatles years - is known for being one of the most emotionally open and confessional song writers in the history of post-war 20th century popular music. 

As such, there is a sense of deja vu that comes with every single scene of the film. Sure, his pre-Beatles day haven't been explored as much as what came afterwards but whether it's seeing Paul McCartney being allowed to join Lennon's group by knowing all the words to Eddie Cochran's Twenty Flight Rock or being almost intimately aware of John's parental problems and his mother's eventual fate (see his devastatingly powerful song: Mother), the film held very little in the way or surprises or revelations for me. More than that, the over-familiarity of this story made the film somewhat tiresome despite itself.

Still, it's a really well made film about one of the 20th century's great pop icons that ends, incidentally, with a great rendition of In Spite of All The Danger, which is, as far as I know, the only song credited to McCartney and Harrison. It's just that, if your Beatles fanaticism is anywhere close to mine, you will probably be better served by the upcoming George Harrison documentary by the incomparable Martin Scorsese. I just hope that that we get a chance to see that on the big screen, as well.



OK, with those (not so) surprisingly long "mini-reviews" out of the way, onto the best and worst of this week's new releases. I'm sure the results will surprise you...

Best Film of the Week: The Adjustment Bureau
Worst Film of the Week: Between Kings and Queens.   

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