Sunday, 30 May 2010

Recent Movies...

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) ***Full Review Here

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) *** - A powerful reminder of why I hate teenagers and their fight against "the man", this is nevertheless an enjoyable drama and James Dean anticipates the type of intense performance which would not become commonplace in cinema for another two decades.

Robin Hood (2010) ***Full Review Here

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (12A)

Ever since Bob Hoskins threw on a pair of red dungarees to play an irate Italian plumber, critics have been less than favourable towards video game movie adaptations. And with good reason; despite their best intentions, filmmakers seem incapable of finding a cinematic home for their 16-bit stars and many have questioned if a successful console conversion is even possible. Well, it appears that Disney’s latest, whilst far from a masterpiece, has at least put this particular curse on ice. Avoiding the pitfalls of its predecessors, Prince of Persia succeeds, somewhat ironically, by distancing itself from the source material. Whereas Max Payne (2008) or Silent Hill (2006) et al, were merely a best of compilation of the game’s most iconic moments, Persia merely name checks its videogame counterpart whilst remaining first and foremost, a film. This is affirmed when halfway through you find yourself realising for the first time, ‘this is based on a game.’ 

Not that you’ll be rushing back to see it. Not unless you’re 8 years old anyway. This is after all a Bruckheimer film complete with all the action, romance and lazy plotting that his name guarantees. Clearly wanting to emulate the success of a certain Pirate series, Disney has recaptured Verbinski’s epic setting but lost much of the charm. Alongside Jack Sparrow, Elliot and Rossio’s script featured a myriad of intriguing characters each spouting exceptional dialogue. Here, the only comic relief is Alfred ‘Doc Ock’ Molina’s morally compromised businessman and even he isn’t that funny. Everyone else, including a barely relevant Ben Kingsely, takes themselves far too seriously in a film which really requires a few more winks at the camera. Meanwhile, the protagonist Dastan is a surprisingly lightweight lead for such a potentially lucrative franchise, a likeable but ultimately uncharismatic hero whom you can’t help but feel should have been a lot cockier. Jake Gyllenhaal does his best but his English accent is far too dreary which only magnifies his unsuitability for such a huge role. The delectable Gemma Arterton is on full Transformers/Megan Fox mode as a Look But Don’t Listen romantic fling whose significance to the plot is of secondary importance to how many males will come to watch. 

But is it fun? Well, predominantly yes. The script keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the action never feels overbearing. Mike Newell, hot off the back of an Indiana Jones master class, balances the use of practical effects and CGI rather well, although the frequent slo-mo leaves the whole thing looking a little 1980s, while his over reliance on close-ups during dialogue scenes is often disorientating. However, the closed ending is a satisfying change and if you can sidestep the clunky story and expositionary dialogue you may find yourself actually enjoying the experience.


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Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) ***
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) ****
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) ***

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Robin Hood (12A)

With the arrival of Robin Hood’s latest big screen outing, you may find yourself asking one simple question: "Why?" After all, didn’t the recent BBC series render this particular dead horse fully flogged? Apparently not. And though hardly the most necessary of adaptations, it is an enjoyable one.

In his quest to repeat the success of Gladiator (2000), Ridley Scott has transported his Roman epic to greener pastures. Cue ye old English, talk of destiny and a lot of arrows as the typically rousing set pieces of Kingdom of Heaven (2005) et al return, although decidedly tamer and with less pomp and circumstance than one may have expected. Unlike Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Scott has taken a more realistic route which is both a positive and a negative; successfully trading Kevin Costner’s action hero for a gruffer lead is offset by a rather drab tendency to place drama above excitement. Indeed it may come as a shock to many that this latest iteration is more of a prequel than a straight retelling, an origin story which actually ends just as The Legend begins. What does this mean exactly? Well, there'll be no robbing from the rich to give to the poor, no merry men, forest-set guerilla warfare or an anti-King John uprising; basically the most appealing facets of the Hood mythos. Unless there’s a Robin Hood 2 further down the line, expect to be disappointed. That being said, the decision to play it straight is generally well received and adds a level of complexity to what has traditionally been a very undemanding example of chivalrous storytelling. Although the arrival of each well-known character never quite matches the thrill of seeing those reinvented in Star Trek (2009) for example, the reformation of Maid Marian into a peasant-like tomboy is sure to please Laura Mulvey and friends. 

Surprisingly, it’s Russell Crowe who proves to be the film’s weakest link. While Oscar Isaac pours every drop of his soul into the ruthlessly impetulent Prince John complete with a fantastically impressive English accent, Crowe’s performance seems rather lacklustre by comparison. His usual intimidating ferocity is here subdued by the English weather so that this dream opportunity to play the usually cocky archer  is wasted entirely. A late attempt to usher in the call of destiny via a father-son flashback fails to provide his character with a much needed jolt of motivation while his English accent veers between Scottish, Irish and Yorkshire. Clearly Scott’s love affair with him has taken priority over relevant casting.  In the end of course, not much about Robin Hood IS relevant. For all the niceties with which it could be bestowed and as pleasant an experience as it is, there’s very little new to say. Watch it, enjoy it, just don’t expect it to change your life.


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First Knight (1995) ****
Kingdom of Heaven (2005) ***
Tristan and Isolde (2006) ***

Monday, 3 May 2010

Movies This Week...

Iron Man 2 (2010) *** - Full Review Here

The Outlaw Josey Whales (1976) *** - Exciting Western with strong direction by Clint Eastwood. Despite not being a fan of Westerns, this was an easy to watch, complex and thoroughly enjoyable film.

Triangle (2009) *** - Although I guessed the twist roughly 5 minutes in, this is a well crafted thriller which relies more on psychological tricks than fully fledged horror. Sure, it's full of unanswered questions and glaring errors, but the director of Creep (2004) and Severance (2006) has truly excelled himself here.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Iron Man (12A)

It is unfortunate that two years after the surprise delight that was Iron Man (2008), Marvel’s metallic wonder is now showing a few chinks in it’s armour. Not that Iron Man 2 is a bad film, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who won’t be clamouring for the original’s simple pleasures come the closing the credits.

Director Jon Favreau could definitely have benefited from the maxim, Less is More. Whereas Stark’s first foray into the world of heroics was a light-hearted origin story, the sequel suffers from a plethora of cooks who, despite good intentions, cook up a broth with far too many flavours. Anyone familiar with Harry Potter press junkets will know that cast and crew love to big up how much darker the latest addition to the franchise will undoubtedly be and the same is true here. Although it still retains its good humour, Iron Man 2 clearly wants to emulate The Dark Knight (2008)'s critical success, the most notable example being a hero/villain face-off followed by a prison breakout which reeks of the Joker’s far more impressive escape two years earlier. Undoubtedly the story meetings were an exciting process, but their translation to the screen is kind of, well, sloppy. The main plot involves Tony Stark (whose former self-confidence has now been replaced by a rather unappealing arrogance) who appears to be dying but for some reason fails to inform those around him. Had the film dealt with the comic book arc of his addiction, this struggle would have been a compelling concept, but as it stands there appears to be very little challenge for him to overcome. This in itself wouldn’t be so bad if it was not continually vying for attention amidst a sea of other unfinished subplots; Stark’s bizarre are they/aren’t they relationship with Pepper Potts (whose damsel in distress role has become decidedly Mary Jane-esque); a father/son reunion which has very little bearing on Stark’s character and best friend Rhodey whom despite being recast is once again painfully underused. 

Speaking of wasted talent, Mickey Rourke’s turn as Whiplash smacks more of cameo than a top tier role. While his performance is expectedly great, his character spends so much time on the sidelines that he provides very little menace for our protagonist. With a backstory involving his father and a subsequent quest for vengeance,  Whiplash lacks any real motivation, resulting in a one dimensional baddie who appears to come straight from a Saturday morning cartoon. Although a promising tete a tete with Stark suggests a deeper complexity to their relationship, Whiplash soon becomes a lackey for Sam Rockwell’s far too likeable Justin Hammer. As terrible as all this sounds, Iron Man 2 remains a highly watchable film. For all that a major blockbuster budget allows, Favreau thankfully avoids Transformers territory by keeping the action to a minimum, although a plodding second act and anti-climatic finale will disappoint those expecting a bit more bang for their buck. The inclusion of Samuel L. Jackson and stupidly sexy Scarlett Johansson as Avengers agents also add a bit of charm to the proceedings even if one can’t help but feel that the series is becoming just a marketing machine for that 2012 release. (See: Post-credit sequence).

All in all then a welcome sequel, if slightly indulgent, but a decent start to the Summer season. Let’s just hope the third one makes a bit more sense.


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The Incredibles (2004) ***
Spider-man (2002) ****
Spider-man 2 (2004) ****