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Friday, March 30, 2012

Wrath of the Titans (3D)

Lets just say that I found the 195 minutes of Titanic (which I saw for the first time today! And it was much less terrible than I was expecting! And I got to watch it on the big screen in the most comfortable cinema in the city! Unfortunately it was in 3D! But only barely! Review coming soon...) far less tedious and boring than Wrath of The Titans' mere 99 minutes. It also doesn't help that it's one of only three films being released this week - with one of the other two being a Tyler Perry movie (didn't see it, couldn't care less) and the other Margaret, a film that definitively proves that "fascinating" does not always equal "good". That's for later though... For now then, Wrath of the Bloody Titans...

Also be sure to check it out Channel24, where I have already been receiving hateful comments... from people who haven't even seen the blasted thing! Oh how I love the interwebs!

What it's about

Perseus embarks on a journey to The Underworld to save the life of his father, Zeus, before Ares and Hades drain Zeus of all his life energy in an effort to resurrect the destructive and immensely powerful old god, Kronos.

What we thought

The best and worst thing you could say about Wrath of the Titans is that it is, in the end, a very small film. On the positive side, it's small in that for all of its special effects and bombastic set pieces, Wrath of the Titans is effectively a story about the relationships between the members of a very dysfunctional family. They may be gods but their bickering, in-fighting and reconciliation are undeniably and fundamentally human.

On the significantly less-than-positive side of things though, for a film that is supposed to be an epic fantasy film steeped in melodramatic Greek mythology, it feels unbelievably slight. It's the sort of film that starts and ends but does very little of any real consequence in between. We have winged horses, sweeping battles, angry gods, cataclysmic family dysfunction, fierce monsters and a massive, fiery giant of a baddie and yet none of this manages to create so much as a tiny spark of interest in what should really be a fairly classic, archetypal bit of storytelling. How could it have gone so very, very wrong?

Well, to be honest, most people who saw so much as a small portion of the previous film, The Clash of the Titans (a remake of a relatively classic 1981 film) a couple of years ago should be able to tell you exactly what what went wrong. Poorly drawn characters, wooden acting, cringe-worthy dialogue and rubbish storytelling. It has to be said though, that even if it's less visually impressive, Wrath of the Titans is actually quite a bit less terrible than its predecessor. The characters seem more grounded, the dialogue less teeth-gnashingly horrible, the storytelling less hopelessly inept and the tone somewhat lighter.

Still, for all that, Wrath of the Titans is a worthless, boring, nothing of a movie that even at a fairly brisk 100 minutes will have audiences everywhere struggling to keep their eyes open – a struggle to which they will no doubt constantly succumb, even just as a means of escaping the headache-inducing shakey-cam action-scenes. South African director, Jonathan Liebesman's last film was the similarly boring Battlefield: Los Angeles and he again uses the same hyper, post-Bourne (or, more accurately perhaps, post-Saving Private Ryan) style of shooting that made those action scenes impossible to follow and thoroughly unpleasant to watch.

As bad as the set-pieces are though, Liebesman's biggest failure is his utter inability to infuse the film with even a tiny smattering of – what can best and most fittingly be described as – magic. This is a story of high imagination, of mythical creatures, of noble heroes and great adventure so why does it play out with all the mundanity of watching someone doing their taxes. They would have to totally overhaul the script, but imagine what proper fantasy filmmakers like Peter Jackson, David Yates or Guillermo Del Torro could do with similar material.

Of course, even then, they would have to deal with the people in front of the screen as well. Sam Worthington is likeable enough a screen presence but he's far too bland to carry the film, but it's the supporting cast that really disappoints. You would think a supporting cast that includes Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Rosamund Pike would elevate proceedings but they all look like they're just waiting for the cheque to clear so they could move onto something better. The only saving grace is Bill Nighy who essentially plays Bill Nighy playing the old, upside down prisoner from Monty Python's Life of Brian (you know, “you lucky, lucky bastard!”), but he's not in it enough to save a film that frankly could do with a whole lot of saving.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Roundup of New Films Released 23 March 2012

With 21 Jump Street out of the way, onto some other, often more interesting, films that came out this past weekend. 

Carnage: Starting off with a film that is both the most flawed film of the week and the one I enjoyed most, Roman Polanski's Carnage. It's primary flaw becomes pretty obvious within minutes of the film, it is based on a play and, for all of his experience as a filmmaker, Polanski fails to fully translate a story that is fundamentally theatrical into something cinematic. As such, the "action" is somewhat static, the dialogue somewhat stagey and the characters somewhat hyper-real. With all that said though, Carnage is a complete delight from beginning to end. I know, I know, "delight" seems an odd word to describe a film called Carnage but, though there is a reason for its title, it certainly doesn't exactly encapsulate the feel of the film itself. A more apropos title would probably have been "Adults Behaving Badly" or something less hopelessly unoriginal because that, in effect, is what the film is about. The central irony at the heart of the film is that it deals with two adult couples becoming more and more childish in their interactions as they try and solve a fight between their two young children. It also deals with a number of other "intellectual" issues, none of which are exactly miles beneath the surface but the real reason why Carnage is such an easy film to recommend is because it is very, very funny. The way Carnage has been sold, you wouldn't expect it to be more frequently and more gut-bustingly funny than the vast majority of straight up mainstream comedies and yet it really is precisely that. It also clearly features four immensely talented actors working off one another, but however much you will probably spend most of the time laughing at Jodie Foster - or at least at the other characters reactions to her intense, tightly wound too-liberal-to-believe mother - it's clearly Christoph Waltz's show to steal as he outdoes himself with one of the most effortlessly hilarious comedy roles I've seen in quite some time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

21 Jump Street (The Movie)

Overseas critics seem to love it, South African critics seem to hate it, I am somewhat more mixed about it but 21 Jump Street is probably the big release this week so here's a full review of it. I do need to point out that I say in my review I mention that Hot Fuzz is the only decent buddy-cop film to come out for ages and, though it is the film to beat, I do have to also mention The Other Guys, which is simply incredibly funny. It's probably Will Ferrell's funniest performance outside of Anchorman and Mark Wahlberg is flat out hilarious in it. And yes, The Other Guys is also generally much funnier and much less compromised than 21 Jump Street as well. I actually meant to include it in my review but it totally slipped my mind until just a couple of hours ago. My bad.  

Also up at Channel24

What it's about

A pair of novice cops go undercover in a high school to infiltrate a drug ring.

What we thought

Considering its most unpromising of origins – a big screen remake of a classic TV show – it's ironic that the biggest problem with 21 Jump Street is that it fails to make full use of its premise. The original show is probably known mostly for launching the career of Johnny Depp but it was a fairly sombre, straight-laced affair. The film, simply put, is not. Effectively, it's a post-modern comedy with a mission statement to work as a buddy cop film, while also poking fun at conventions of the genre in which it quite clearly revelling and the show that spawned it. More than that, it also, along the way, plays around with the constantly evolving conventions of youth culture as these relatively young cops finds that the whole high school experience has been completely flipped on its head in the few years since they were last there.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New Release Roundup for Films Released 9 and 16 March 2012

I didn't post a roundup last week because I hadn't yet seen John Carter but, seeing as how I have no plans to check it out until it starts showing in 2D, I'm just going to shelve it for a while and review those films I have seen. 

Project X: I missed the press screening for Project X, but because of all the anti-hype, I had to see what all the fuss was about and paid to see it last week. Would you know it, it was every bit as rotten as the most scathing reviews would have you believe. If not more so. I saw it at Nu Metro on a Wednesday so I saw it for less than half the price but I still feel bad for contributing anything to the profits of so vile an excuse for a film. Not only is it entirely without a single laugh, a problem that is enough to sink any so-called comedy, it's misogynistic, mean spirited, entirely pointless and features some of the most hateful characters to hit our screens since Adam Sandler decided to put on a dress and play his own sister.

 A film about a party that spirals out of control could make for an interesting satire about the emptiness of modern life, but the only subtext on display here is the subtext of a party that these horrible teenage boys - and, lets be honest, the filmmakers - use as a way to get nubile teenage girls to take their clothes off. This would, of course, be somewhat forgivable if the film was either funny or a Girls Gone Wild video, but it fails miserably at the former and isn't upfront enough about it's intentions to be the latter. I say this not out of prudishness because, aside for the whole warm blooded male and yada yada yada thing, sex and nudity have always had a place in cinema (see anything from Swimming Pool to Piranha 3D) but, despite being more tame than most, Project X is so offensive because it fails to grasp the difference between sexiness and sleaze.

 The biggest problem though, are the three awful characters at the centre of the film. The reason why films like Superbad or American Pie work, even though they too are about nothing more than over-sexed teenage boys trying to get laid, is because they feature characters that are too sweet and too naively innocent about sex to ever come close to being the kind of offensive, women-hating douchebags that populate Project X. To add insult to vomitous misogyny, Project X is also shot using the now infuriating "found footage", faux documentary style that is quickly overtaking 3D as the most overused gimmick in cinema today. And, really, the less said about the "feel-good" ending the better. Just awful, awful stuff.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Another Side of Bob Dylan

That's right! A brand spankin' new music review. Not a new album, you understand: it's damn near 50 years old, but a new review of an album that I never ever covered before - not even in my slightly embarrassing but enthusiastic Epinions days. And, despite being a fan of the dude for the last 8 (?) years and listening to him even longer, this is also my very first Bob Dylan review. What took me so long? Well, read on and you might get some idea...

Bob Dylan is the one great '60s musical acts that I have always been terrified to write about. I still kind of am, to be honest. Quite aside for the fact that this humble Jewish kid from Hibbing Minnesota has very probably been the subject of more articles, reviews, books and scholarly papers than any other 20th century pop-culture icon, coming to terms with the mercurial genius of Dylan's music is not something to be taken lightly. "Genius" is a word that is thrown around far too indiscriminately these days - a crime of which I am far from innocent - but, at least in a purely literary sense, it's a word that Dylan has more than earned. It's not just anyone who can compose such profoundly wise and perfectly crafted masterpieces like A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall and Bob Dylan's Dream, after all, and certainly not when they're just a couple of years out of high school.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

New Film Release Roundup for 24 February and 2 March 2012

Well, OK, actually it's a bunch of movies from this week and only War Horse from last week as I haven't seen the likes of Ghost Rider 2 (indeed, as a big a comics fan as I am, I haven't seen Ghost Rider 1 either), The Devil Inside or Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Still, there are some notable films to talk about anyway... though, of course, not always in a good way.  

War Horse: Taking a look through most film critics' opinions about War Horse, it's either a really beautiful and moving slice of old fashioned storytelling or an unbearable avalanche of manipulative schmaltz. Personally, I lean more towards the former but, honestly, it's really kind of a whole lot of both. There's no two ways about it: War Horse is immensely emotionally manipulative - it's just that it so happens to have been directed by Steven Spielberg, the absolute master of unashamedly tugging at the heart strings. It certainly has its weaknesses in that it is a bit overly long and there's a certain blandness to some of its human characters but, for all that, it is a stirringly emotional film that offers up a somewhat different view of war to which most of us are now acclimated, if not a little bored. By shaping the film around the titular war horse, Spielberg and co-writers Richard Curtis and Lee Hall (and, of course, the author of the book on which it is based, Michael Morpurgo) offer us a multifaceted look at the different sides of a conflict through the viewpoint of something that is intimately involved in the war but is also entirely innocent, uninterested and impartial to the carnage and wasteful destruction going on around it. (8/10)