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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Roundup of New Films Released 26 August 2011

I suppose I should hold off with this roundup until I've seen the new Conan: The Barbarian film but since it was barely press screened and I am in no rush to see it, I might as well just post a few thoughts on the rest of the films that I did see. I should also point out that I haven't seen The Ward but that wasn't press screened at all and only a handful of cinemas are showing it throughout the country, I can't really be bothered. 

Anyway, onto what I have seen. 

Love, Wedding, Marriage is a pretty bad rom-com that I really wish was a whole lot worse. Oh what I would give for it to be a truly hateful, detestable piece of excrement that I could properly dig into - not just because at least then I would have more to say about the wretched thing but I might also have not needed the IMDB's plot synopsis and the film's trailer to remind me what the hell it was actually about. That I saw Love, Wedding, Marriage a few months ago certainly doesn't help but I all but forgot about it the minute the end credits started to roll. Its story of a young psychologist who is so busy trying to fix the lives and relationships of those around her that she totally neglects her own marriage could perhaps have been interesting but between its chuckle-free comedy, blindingly obvious plot turns and a supporting cast of characters who mostly range between teeth-grindingly irritating and forget-em-as-you-see-em bland, it can't help but vanish into the ever-growing sludge of nondescript "chick flicks". (3/10)   

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Lion King 3D

This one has already been posted on Channel24, though it only opens on Friday, so I might as well post my unedited (though only slightly unedited, to be fair) review of this Disney classic here as well.

From Channel24

What it's about

A 3D reissue of the modern day animated Disney classic about Simba, a young lion that abandons his kind and his responsibilities as a new king, after believing himself responsible for the death of his father, King Mufasa.

What we thought

It's fairly shocking to believe that it has been nearly 17 years since The Lion King first hit cinemas. Not only because I cannot believe it has been that long since I originally saw it - on the big screen and in Zulu as a school outing with the rest of my school's standard 5 (that's grade 7, to you 21st century kids) Zulu class – but because it's astonishing how old fashioned the film feels after less than two decades.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Roundup of New Films Released on 19 August 2011

Not a great week for films... at least not based on what I've seen. French film Incendies and local flick Retribution were also released but I have not seen them.

Cowboys and Aliens has the sort of title that begs to be either warmly embraced by those of us who like a good bit of schlock in our cinema diet or scoffed at by pretty much everyone else. The biggest problem is that the film tries to hard to win both audiences and, in the process, alienates even the b-movie-loving geeks who would normally flock to a film called Cowboys and Aliens. It's not a terrible film by any means - how could it be when you have John Favreau, the director of Iron Man, working with current Bond Daniel Craig, current "It" girl Olivia Wilde and Harrison Frickin' Ford in a crazy mashup of the science fiction and western genres - but it is much, much less fun than it should be. It does pretty well as a western and Craig makes for a solid "Man With No Name"-type gun-slinging anti-hero but this is a far cry from Joss Whedon's brilliant Firefly/ Serenity when it comes to meshing The Wild West and sci-fi elements. The "Aliens" side of the equation is quite weak in general as the personality-free, uber-generic extraterrestrials make for some fairly dull bad guys. Worst of all, though, it's simply not as funny or as off-the-wall as its title seems to promise. Ford is responsible for most of the film's laughs as he once again has great fun playing up to his gruff and grumpy persona after his terrific turn in Morning Glory but he is sorely underused and his relatively small role is certainly not enough to raise the film beyond disappointing mediocrity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roundup of New Films Released 12 August 2011

I have to admit, with the week's two biggies out of the way, I very almost forgot to do my usual roundup of the rest of the week's films. Anyway, it's a bit late, but here are some thoughts on a couple of films - one good, one, um, not.

Lets start off with the good. Welcome to the Rileys is a fairly typical indie drama that mostly works while it's on but won't leave too much of a lasting impression. The story about a couple reeling from the death of their own child being drawn into the life of a wayward teenage stripper is elegant in its simplicity and it's certainly quite moving in parts but the almost fable-like story doesn't entirely gel with the cinema verite style in which it is filmed. For all of its problems, though, Welcome to the Rileys is a convincing study that allows its three main actors to really bring their A-games to the table. James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo are equally brilliant as parents broken by the loss of their child and the nuances in their performances beautifully highlight the differences between the way the two characters deal with their tragedy. While she shuts down, burying her grief and emotions in every day chores, he wears his emotions of his sleeve, trying unsuccessfully to find the will to carry on with the mundanity of his existence. Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, is no less impressive as she channels her usual mopey uneasiness into a teenage girl caught between the adult world that has forced to grow up before her time and her own childlike immaturity, Welcome to the Rileys is a long way off from being a masterpiece but, as far as character-driven acting showcases go, you could do far, far worse.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tree of Life

Before getting to a roundup of the rest of the week's releases, I want to shine a spotlight on Terence Malick's Tree of Life. As the work of one of cinema's great perfectionists, it's clearly a very important work but does that mean I have to like it? What follows is as much my reaction to the reaction of the film as it is to the film itself and, I must warn you, this will go on a bit and will, undoubtedly, be more than a little rambly and self-indulgent. But then, considering the film, that seems oddly appropriate.

Also posted as Artslink.

Terence Malick's latest film, Tree of Life, has gotten probably more gushing, five-star reviews than any other release this year. Most critics simply absolutely adore this film. Me? I don't get it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Starting off the weekend with a review of what was a very pleasant surprise...

From Channel24

What it's about:

Taking the old franchise back to its origins, Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the story of how a potential miracle cure for Alzheimers disease ends up giving the apes on whom it is tested, human-levels of intelligence - setting up a chain of events that would forever alter mankind's supremacy as earth's dominant species.

What we thought:

It was hard not to walk into Rise of the Planet of the Apes without at least some trepidation. The previous attempt to revive the franchise was 2001's dire Tim Burton "re-imagining", which still rates as the worst thing he has ever done and ensured that no further attempts would be made throughout the rest of the decade. Here we are, though, ten years later and rather than remaking the series, they're doing something even more dubious: they're giving us the backstory that led to the now-iconic final moments of the original film.

New Film Release Roundup for the Week of 5 August 2011

I'm late with this again but here we actually have a fairly small week in terms of films that I've actually seen. Also released were Skoonheid, Soul Surfer and African Cats, all of which I have missed but as for what I've seen, it was a pretty damn decent week for film.

Tamara Drewe was released on something like three screens throughout the country but I am covering it because a) I'm sure you will be able to find it on DVD in no time at all and b) it has become such a rarity for British films to actually make it to cinemas in our country that I'm not simply going to ignore one that actually does. Tamara Drewe is based on a generally well-regarded British graphic novel that I have admittedly not read but there's little point in getting into the film's plot as it really is a collection of cascading stories about a group of characters whose lives are affected, to various degrees, by the presence of our titular protagonist : a very beautiful but very troubled young woman. How you react to that (ridiculously rambling) sentence is pretty much exactly how you will react to the film. The narrative is indeed all over the place so if what you're looking for is plot, I strongly suggest looking elsewhere. The thing that has really turned most people off the film, though, is Tamara Drewe herself. She is a deeply flawed, sometimes flat out unlikeable character whose narcissism and self-destructive behaviour has clearly been a major turn off for most people. Personally, though, I have no problem with stories that are more about characters than plot and, being a huge fan of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I am absolutely fine with less than loveable "heroes". I, in short, liked the film quite a bit. It is perhaps a bit too bitty for its own good - in terms of theme, more than in terms of plot - and the comedy is somewhat hit and miss but if your tastes run more towards the more quirky, off-centre side of the so-called "dramedy" genre, you should find plenty to like in Tamara Drewe.   

The Conspirator, on the other hand, is anything but quirky. What we have here is a fairly straightforward courtroom drama that is made far more interesting by the context in which it is set. Robert Redford's direction is perhaps a bit too austere to truly allow the film to come alive but with subject matter and themes this compelling, it's easy to forgive Redford the occasional bit of overly dry filmmaking. The Conspirator revolves around the trial of a Southern woman who may have been part of the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the young lawyer who is forced to take her case. It is a film that is very much interested in exploring timeless theme of due judicial process being worn down by a nation's thirst for revenge more than in piling on the drama but, weirdly, this is its greatest asset. Bolstered by superb performances by James McAvoy and Robin Wright, the film works as well as it does because it is so intimately aware of just how engrossing its subject matter truly is. It could certainly have used a stronger directorial stamp but The Conspirator remains a compelling morality play that tackle subjects that are sadly as poignant as ever.


Film of the week: Of those that I've seen it's still Captain America but the other two films are well worth seeing as well - if you find their basic subject matter interesting, of course.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Captain America

Another month, another very good Marvel superhero movie...

(My original review goes on a bit so it was slightly edited on Channel24. Check that version out if you want the less rambly review or read on for my original.)

What it's about

Steve Rogers, a brave but physically weak and frail young man, is deemed unfit for military service but his determination to fight for his country at the height of the USA's involvement in World War 2 leads to his volunteering for a top secret government program that will turn him into Captain America, a super-soldier and the living and breathing embodiment of American idealism.

What we thought

It's not for nothing that Captain America comes with the subtitle “The First Avenger”. Unlike the Marvel superheroes that we have so far seen our screens, Captain America was created a couple of years after Superman, rather than a couple of decades. Unlike Spider-man, The X-Men, Thor or Iron Man, Captain America was also not created by Stan Lee (not that that stops Stan The Man from having a typically fun cameo in the film) but by Joe Simon and Lee's frequent collaborator, Jack Kirby.

I bring this up not just as a history lesson but because it sets Captain America apart from Marvel's later heroes. His early adventures made ample use of the second World War as a setting but, more importantly, because Steve Rogers is a character that hues far closer to the Superman model of the great, square-jawed “Ubermensch” fighting for “truth, justice and the American way” than to the troubled, every-man heroes that Stan Lee excelled in creating.

By far the best thing about Captain America: The First Avenger is that - through its star and its director - it plays up both of these aspects that are so unique to the character and his place in the “Marvel Universe”. The decision to hire Joe Johnston to direct the film may have at first seemed like a dubious choice (the last three films he directed (The Wolfman, Jurassic Park III and Hidalgo) have been almost universally panned) but going back to the beginning of his rather small filmography, it quickly becomes clear just why he is the absolutely perfect choice to bring Captain America's early days to life.

In the early 90s, Johnston directed The Rocketeer, a film that is both rather underrated and, most critically, is a mix of straight up superhero action with a pulpy 1930s period setting. Captain America may be set a few crucial years later than The Rocketeer but it evokes its setting with all the colourful vividness and attention to detail that made Johnston's earlier film such a delight and the two films share a very similar heady concoction of adventure, superhero action, comedy and romance – not to mention the scenery-chewing bad guys who knock the high-camp levels through the roof. And, of course, they both feature old fashioned superheroes whose sole motivation is simply their need to do the right thing.

That, inevitably, brings us to Chris Evans. Here we have a film that is stuffed to the gills with great actors - Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones and newcomer Hayley Atwell whose mixture of sultry, Old-Hollywood beauty and post-feminist-post-Buffy kickassery makes her the perfect romantic foil for the good Captain – but it is Evans who carries the film. His performance may not grab you as strongly or as quickly as Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr did in their respective roles as Thor and Iron Man but his relatively unflashy turn allows the quietly charming goodness and moral fortitude of Captain America to shine through.

Whether its the scrawny CGI-enhanced (and very impressively so, at that) Steve Rogers of the early parts of the film or the superhumanly buff super soldier that he becomes later on, Evans never puts a foot wrong. And, lets not kid, the dude clearly has range: this is the 5th comics adaptation that he has starred in and his Steve Rogers is absolutely nothing like The Fantastic Four's cocky Johnny Storm or Scott Pilgrim's ego-inflated douche-bag, Lucas Lee. 
The film is not entirely without flaws, though. More so even than Thor, Captain America does feel like two hours of set up for The Avengers – good, engaging set up but set up nonetheless – than a complete story in its own right. It's also true that the less you know about Captain America's story the better. Not only was I unsurprised by most of the film's plot turns but I was actually anticipating them as I understood precisely where this film needed to go in order to allow Joss Whedon to hit the ground running with The Avengers. The less geeky among you are probably better off going into the film with as little prior knowledge as possible. For comics fans, however, prepare to have your breath stolen and your mind blown by the post-credits sneak-peak at the Avengers. Yes, it really is happening but, yes, we do have to wait months to see it...

In the meantime, though, we at least have very impressive comic book films like Thor and Captain America to tide us over until Joss Whedon has to deliver, in the form of The Avengers, a film that has been built up for the last half decade as THE superhero movie that fans have been waiting for. No pressure, Mr Whedon. No pressure at all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Roundup of New Movie Releases for the weekend of 28 July 2011

Jock of the Bushveld may have taken the number one spot in South Africa over the weekend but I don't see much life in it beyond that - certainly not overseas. The rest of the stuff on release this week are far more deserving of your cash - even if they do vary in quality quite a bit.

First, and by far the best, is Super 8. Much has been said about this film basically being one long love letter to the films of its producer, Steven Spielberg and I'm certainly not going to argue with that. Super 8 does have the feel of a classic Spielberg blockbuster and, as a fan of the great man, it hit all the right notes as far as I'm concerned: the ET-on-steroids alien that just wants to go home; the Jurassic-Park-inspired monster action; themes of families and friendship; untrustworthy government types; a group of children being the lead characters and the sort of genuine sense of wonder and excitement that Spielberg, at his best, is known and loved for. It is also very much a love letter to the art of filmmaking - especially amateur filmmaking - never more so than in the warmly hilarious in-credits scene that finishes off the film.

J. J. Abrams has struck gold again. Aside for wishing that physical effects were favoured over CGI and that the adult characters aren't nearly as memorable as the kids (who are really impressive - especially for a bunch of (mostly) unknowns), Super 8 is simply a very good, old fashioned sci-fi film, bristling with heart and wit that is a perfect antidote for the heartless clutter of the latest Transformers film.