- Released Internationally on 10/05/13
- Released in Malta by KRS on 25/05/13
3-word review: Quite Great Indeed.
3-word review: Quite Great Indeed.
Preview (as published 01/05/13 in VIDA Magazine)
J.J. Abrams received mountains of praise for his courageous rebooting of the Star Trek franchise a few years ago, and that was probably one of the main reasons why he has been handed an even bigger task - Star Wars Episode VII. Before that announcement was made, however, he had completed his Star Trek sequel, which hopes to build on the success and hype of its predecessor. The one element of the reboot that was slightly lacklustre was Eric Bana as the nemesis, so to raise this outing to the next level they enlisted one of the hottest actors of the moment to portray the foe - Benedict Cumberbatch. The star of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, as famous for his voice as for his acting (he will be voicing Smaug the dragon in the remaining Hobbit films, and he stole the show in the famous ‘Tom’ Google+ advert) has dominated all the trailers and posters so far, so it remains to be seen how the young crew of the Enterprise will get the better of him.
3-word review: For the fans.
J.J. Abrams has made a point of telling the press, at every possible opportunity, how he wanted to make a film that would appeal to all moviegoers, and not just Star Trek fans. Well, I’m no trekkie, and I felt neglected whilst watching this film. I’ve seen a few of the films, I’ve seen a small portion of the countless TV episodes, and I’ve read enough to know the basics. But in this film, although I got to enjoy it as an action and effects film, I felt like an outsider. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a huge character ‘reveal’ makes a very obvious reference to past Trek movies, and the way someone’s name is announced you’d expect the cinema audience to gasp out loud and burst into slow applause. The explanations that follow are sparse, and the ending of the films features other apparent symmetries with earlier films, which of course flew right over my head and I only learnt about later.
I guess it’s also for Cumberbatch fans. The rocketing star is wonderful as the main nemesis here, with his steely presence, impressive physicality and of course his famous voice, all combining to make a villain that you sincerely believe could take on every else in the film. The problem is, he’s hardly given a good ending, and I felt let down by the end of it. The other main new face is the gorgeous new female addition to the crew (Alice Eve), although it does seem like she is there merely to add a feminine touch and to walk around looking stunning, with or without her uniform.
It’s not all bad of course, and as expected in a J.J. Abrams film there’s stellar effects, a few action set pieces that take your breath away, and enough character development to make everyone interesting. The main cast continue their great work from the previous film, with excellent chemistry and a good mix of drama and humour, the latter mostly thanks to Simon Pegg. The musical and visual aura of the Enterprise is also continued in grand style, as is the simmering bromance between Kirk and Spock. It’s exciting and entertaining from start to finish, but I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone who never had an Enterprise or Cumberbatch poster on their wall.
Preview (as published 01/05/13 in VIDA Magazine)
It happens every few years or so - Antz/A Bug’s Life, Deep Impact/Armageddon, The Illusionist/The Prestige. This year we will get two similar films portraying enemies taking over the White House. This is the first. The instantly recognizable building is of course mostly know for what it represents, and has been an extra in films for decades - taken over by mutants in X-Men 2, a crime scene in Murder at 1600, and of course being blown to smithereens in Independence Day. This time around, Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) is the president, Morgan Freeman is the speaker, and Gerard Butler (300) is the action hero who will save the day.
3-word review: Entertaining American clichés.
America has its quirks. I love how they go to great lengths to hype up and worship their institutions, their country, their star spangled banner. No harm in being patriotic, I guess. But then, when the aura surrounding the flag and the president has been cranked up to the max, they all flock to the cinema to see it all blown up or jeopardised. It's all harmless fun, of course, and I'll admit to having a soft spot for these sort of films - all-out action films, with not a single bit of science-fiction in sight. No superheroes, no paranormal phenomena, no fantasy, no aliens. Just good old-fashioned terrorism and disaster, with lots of guns, hostages and wreckage, lots of people saying 'Mr President' in urgent tones, and lots of codes and protocols we the public have never heard of and which probably don't exist anyway.
This is definitely one of those films. It reminded me a lot of Wolfgang Petersen's entertaining Air Force One from over a decade ago. That was fun, and there was nothing too fancy about it - just ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and the president of the USA thrown into the mix. Just like in that film, this one does a decent job of introducing the main players and showing us the president's family life and inner circle, and this of course so that later, when everything is at stake, the human drama will unfold with more depth. There's also a few no-nonsense fist fights, despite the mountains of government technology at hand.
When picking an enemy, the script-writers went with the very safe bet of a North Korean terrorist, and I imagine that this should make the film as uncontroversial and inoffensive as possible, unless of course you're a North Korean terrorist. Aaron Eckhart uses his Dark Knight noble image to look convincing as the supposed leader of the free world, although he does seem to keep the same facial expression for the duration of the film. Gerard Butler is likeable, dependable and occasionally funny as the renegade hero, and the various supporting roles are filled with recognisable faces who add some weight to the proceedings and look and sound like they actually could be in cabinet.
Unfortunately, what they spent on acting talent seems to have been saved on special effects, with some scenes looking below par for this sort of film. But ultimately everything ties up nicely in heroic fashion, and the world gets to live another day, and I walked out feeling as if I had ordered an item off the menu that was familiar, satisfying, but nothing special. Now we just wait to see how White House Down compares.
Preview (as published 01/05/13 in VIDA Magazine)
If you thought Iron Man’s exploits ended with the multi-hero love-fest that was last summer’s Avengers, then you might be pleased to know that that was apparently only chapter one. Most of the superheroes in question will continue to have their own individual outings, and we can probably assume that this gigantic cash cow will be milked well into the next decade. Personally, I thought Iron Man was the most entertaining of the related films so far, although the period setting of Captain America added some class to that character. Most of Iron Man’s credit goes, of course, to Robert Downey Jr., who managed to combine effortless panache and good acting to make him likeable, but in a ‘roll your eyes’ way.
His new antagonist, because there must of course be a bigger and badder one each time around, is ‘The Mandarin’, portrayed with interesting hair arrangements by Ben Kingsley (Elegy, Gandhi). So Downey Jr. might have met his match in the class and acting departments too. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as the hero’s steadfast partner, and Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven) returns as his sort of sidekick. Guy Pearce (Memento) and Rebecca Hall (The Town) are other high-profile additions to the cast. It remains to be seen how much of what happened in The Avengers will be referenced here, since this film is set after those events. So why exactly is he back working solo?
3-word review: Better than 2.
The song that kicks off this highly entertaining film wasn’t exactly a good start, but it did the job of transporting me back to the turn of the millennium, for an amusing flashback sequence set during one of the many overhyped New Year’s Eve parties that ushered in the year 2000. It reminds us of the Tony Stark of the first film, and also shows us how easily he made friends and enemies.
Fast forward to the present day (at Christmas-time, which is odd for a summer blockbuster), and Tony Stark is having a bit of a delicate moment. The epic events depicted in last summer’s Avengers have taken their toll, and he doesn’t exactly like to talk about them. Which might be why he doesn’t meet his superhero friends for drinks (or a shawarma). Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts gets a bigger, meatier role this time around, and she is clearly one of the few things holding Tony Stark together.
A sort of forced timeout helps Stark regroup, rethink and get his act back together, which is helpful, since the new nemesis, The Mandarin (a wonderful and surprising Ben Kingsley), is proving to be too much for the authorities to handle. The action unfolds with enough twists and surprises to keep it entertaining, and the science-fiction element is taken to even greater heights than it was in Avengers.
As expected, the various Iron Man suits Stark has built over the years feature prominently, and this film provides a sort of greatest hits of all his past models. The film cleverly highlights the man himself, however, clearly showing the suits as mere tools, and ones which can be used and abused as necessary. Once the aura that used to surround the suits is dampened, Stark himself can emerge as the true hero, and hopefully a more stable one than he was in the previous film.
The trilogy is nicely wrapped up by the end of proceedings, and whether or not Iron Man or Downey Jr. return, this chapter is most definitely closed. Everything is rounded off by a wonderfully stylized and scored end credits sequence, and the by now obligatory post-credits scene. I left smiling, and much more entertained than I thought I’d be.
3-word review: Visceral and beautiful.
Love is not always pretty. Some might argue that love is never pretty, but after many decades of romantic comedies full of good-looking, smartly-dressed people with toothpaste smiles, it’s not surprising that many of us roam around expecting knights on white horses or proposals during summer rainfall. Thankfully, every so often a love story comes along that manages to convey the ugly, compromising side of relationships, but which also manages to show how the resulting emotions are no less genuine or intense. I have been lucky enough to come across a few such films, but this is definitely one of the best I can remember.
Directed by French director Jacques Audiard, who received mountains of praise for his last film - 2010’s A Prophet - the film stars Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose, Inception) and relatively unknown Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as the central roles. The two characters have very little in common, but both have been dealt a rough hand in very different circumstances. A chance chivalrous encounter leads to future meetings, but in the meantime both their lives have changed significantly. He is a single father who struggles to make ends meet and ends up using his brute strength to support his son. She is a killer whale trainer who suffers an accident at work that changes her outlook on life.
This is a very emotional film - I went from fear to tension to anger to sadness in quick succession, but the emotions and salient points are not spoon-fed to the audience. Audiard has the courage and skill to get his message across with very few words and with many missing pieces needing filling in. He is aided immensely by the powerful yet subtle performances from both main actors, as well as the unobtrusive visual effects where needed. The film has its graphic moments, but no amount of bloodied fists can compete with what’s going on inside. Very different and very impressive.
Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)
Oblivion hasn’t been released anywhere yet, so it’s hard to gauge whether it lives up to expectations or not. Expectations are understandably high, however, since it looks like a smart, futuristic action thriller and it stars Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.
Set 60 years in the future, the post-apocalyptic backdrop is apparently the result of a huge war which resulted in the destruction of most of our planet. Although the war was won, everyone had to be evacuated. All that remains is a few individuals who keep the planet secure and maintain all the drones. So it’s a sort of Wall-E-type scenario, although instead of a cute little robot we have Tom Cruise looking serious despite his tight white outfit.
Of course, things are not all as they seem, and shortly before his shift on earth is about to end, he uncovers an underground community of humans, led by a grungy-looking Morgan Freeman. They try to enlighten him, and he starts to question the political manoeuvres behind the current situation, and whether all is as it seems on desolate planet Earth.
The film is the second directorial effort by Joseph Kosinski, who was at the helm of Tron: Legacy, and it is based on the graphic novel he wrote. To help him polish the screenplay, they roped in Michael Arndt, who was previously slightly famous for writing Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3, but who is currently the man entrusted with the behemoth task of writing Star Wars: Episode VII. The film also stars Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) and Zoë Bell (Death Proof).
3-word review: Quite cool overall.
Oblivion looks great from start to finish, and during the main titles manages to convincingly ‘sell’ us the post-apocalyptic world it is based in, with impressive and beautiful shots of a desolated Earth, in which Jack (Tom Cruise’s character) is a very isolated maintenance guy. The scenery is even more notable as it is showcased in broad daylight, largely avoiding the visual effects tricks of clouding scenes in shadows. The main title sequence sounds great too, although it’s a bit too similar to Tron: Legacy, which was the director’s previous project.
The plot, although engaging on a human and technological level, doesn’t try to be too original, and feels like a healthy mix of many previous science-fiction landmarks - anything from 2001 to the above-mentioned Wall-E, with an overall coating of the classic ‘man reaching the end of his mission’ plot device. The settings are a mix of spotless, white, designer space-stations and vehicles, and the grungy, Tatooine-like dirt of the underworld down below. Sitting up in the spotless control centre is Jack’s supervisor, partner and lover, who for some reason insists on wearing lovely dresses and high heels even though she sits at a screen all day. Back at the orbiting mothership, everyone is happy about what a great team they make.
As is usually the case in these sort of films, Jack stands out because he is curious about the past, and this stems from a series of dreams and flashbacks that he can’t shake off. One hour in, we hear the instantly recognizable voice of Morgan Freeman, and Jack’s journey of discovery gets the necessary catalyst for him to defy orders and seek the truth. To go into too many plot details would be a disservice to the filmmakers, but suffice to say that there’s a reasonable amount of human drama for an effects-driven film, and not since Moon a few years ago have I enjoyed a stand-alone science fiction film so much. The sheer scale of the finale is also impressive, with some Independence Day influences making a welcome appearance. The epilogue is a slight cop-out, where in my humble opinion the script loses the chances to be truly different, but otherwise I found this to be highly enjoyable, irrespective of whether it is a Tom Cruise ego-trip or not.
Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)
Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, My Sister’s Keeper) has a solid reputation for writing moving human dramas, and Lasse Hallström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Chocolat) has an equally solid reputation for directing moving human dramas. So here they are, together again (after Dear John a few years ago). Julianne Hough, who made the move from dancing to acting when she starred in the remake of Footloose, stars as a woman escaping an abusive husband, who finds solace in a small town, where she meets a widower with two children (Josh Duhamel, Life As We Know It). Based on past experience, I’d suggest you bring tissues.
3-word review: Safe is dull.
There are very few characters in this film, and they are all pretty two-dimensional and clichéd. I guess the overall effect works if you’re looking for an undemanding thriller/romance, but I felt that the thrills were few and the romance was quite tepid. Julianne Hough portrays the woman on the run, who decides to stop in a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. Her decision may or may not have been affected by the handsome man who runs the local store, but if she has any doubts that they’ll end up an item, I’m pretty sure the audience won’t. The reason why she is on the run is the only real secret of the film, and once that is revealed there’s nothing much more to do but watch the inevitable unfold.
Maybe if you’ve had a long, emotionally draining day, or your favourite pet just died, you might get a bit teary-eyed during the blatantly manipulative scenes at the end, but I guess my day was going just fine. And this is someone who can unashamedly admit to having shed a few tears during My Sister’s Keeper. I’m not sure whether that was a better Nicholas Sparks novel, but they certainly made it into a better film than this.
Preview (first published 01/04/13 in VIDA Magazine)
The is definitely the release I’m most interested in this month. The film has all the makings of an epic, but was less-than-enthusiastically received across the Atlantic. It is the difficult adaptation of the multi-award winning novel from 2004 by David Mitchell (not the comedian). The book follows six separate stories which are eventually shown to be related to each other in various ways, despite being set in various corners of the globe and often many centuries apart.
This must have made it a bit of a nightmare to bring to the screen, but the task was undertaken by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Perfume, Run Lola Run). Tykwer is one of those rare directors who also composes music for his films, and here he teamed up with Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek to compose what was undoubtedly one of the best and most beautiful film scores to come out of 2012.
The film also boasts a stellar cast, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, amongst others, portraying multiple roles in the various story segments. Despite all this, it failed to make huge waves at the US box-office, although the general impression is that those few who did enjoy it, think it’s a masterpiece. Let’s see what Europe thinks.
“All boundaries are conventions.”
There's a point, roughly two hours in, where this fast-paced film takes a breather, and a new piano melody appears. It slowly builds to a gorgeous march, playing out perfectly in sync with the montage on screen. The shots skip nimbly between different eras and different locations, and the voiceover from one of them carries over into the others, perfectly accompanying what we are seeing on screen. It's a rare moment of movie perfection, with sound, music, narration, emotion and imagery melding perfectly. I wished it could last hours, but it was over in a couple of minutes - a sublime crystallization of all that is wonderful about this film.
“What is an ocean but a multitude a drops?”
This is, in fact, the single most daring and ambitious decision taken by the filmmakers - to constantly cut from one story to the other, rather than lay them out in lengthy chunks like the novel does. From the very beginning of the film, in a whirlwind opening sequence, we are transported between an 1849 sea voyage, 1936 Cambridge and Edinburgh - where a fledgling composer somehow completes his finest work, 1973 California - where a young reporter daringly tries to uncover an environmental time-bomb, present day UK - where a publisher is tricked into entering a mental asylum, 2144 Korea - where a daring escape is underway in a Coruscant-type city, and a post-apocalyptic Hawaii where technology is only held by the few. It seems like a mammoth task, but from the very first shots the frames are carefully set with props and clues, as well as costumes and makeup, to orient the audience to time and place. Somehow, it works, and it allows for a few breath-taking sequences like the one mentioned above.
“From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present.”
The point, of course, is that everything is linked. As the film unfolds, we see how not-so-random acts of kindness in one era resonate in the next, and how places and people are clearly affected by others. Some of the links are obvious, but others had me thinking and reading up online well into the night after leaving the cinema, wide-eyed. The crossover narration mentioned above is a key feature, and it’s not everyday you see such seamless collaboration between script and editing. The other way the filmmakers chose to link the eras is by having the same actors portray various roles in each segment. This is one change I was less enthusiastic about, although it does help stress the point of linkage. The makeup and prosthetics are generally excellent, but there were a few characters that I felt ended up looking too odd, and being a distraction.
“That’s it! The music from my dream!”
The other common thread throughout the six segments is the music. Rather than try to compose music typical (or expected) of each setting, the music acts as a timeless thread between them all, also forming part of the plot, and of course enhancing key moments and carrying the story forward in other pulsating sequences. There are some moments of sheer gasp-out-loud joy, such as a comical escape, and others moments of shocking violence or futuristic action. The sheer variety and complexity of what we see on screen during these nearly three hours is staggering, and no wonder three directors were needed. I believe it was quite an oversight for the Oscars to shut this film out completely, especially with regard to original score. I can only imagine the logistical nightmares that art direction, makeup and costume design teams faced.
By the time things are brought beautifully to the boil, and all six segments rush towards their individual, but inevitably shared, conclusions, you’ll either be completely befuddled and uninterested, or else be sitting there with your mouth open, wondering how anyone had the guts to make this film, and make it so beautifully.
I approached this critically-acclaimed film in the knowledge that I know very little about the world of dance, and next to nothing about the “dance theatre” style for which the late Pina Bausch is mostly famous. This unconventional documentary by the celebrated German director Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club, The Million Dollar Hotel) showcases her dance company’s major works, and looks back on her artistic work through the eyes of her dancers.
The format is fairly simple – there is no obvious narrative, but rather a fluid and sequenced trip through her four major works, recreated for the film. The film is punctuated by brief, intense and original interviews with her dancers, who come from all corners of the globe, and evidently miss her a great deal. There are also numerous brief dance sequences set in various gorgeous locations, making wonderful use of 3D and giving an all-round better picture of her style of dance. Pina herself appears in numerous older clips, but unfortunately she passed away when the film was still in its early stages.
There’s no denying that this is vivid, beautiful and very different cinema, but whether you actually enjoy it or not as a film experience will probably depend highly on your relationship with dance. And on whether you view Pina’s quotes as inspirational nuggets to cherish, or vague statements that could really mean anything. But ultimately, I’m quite sure that everyone leaving the cinema will have a very good sense of who Pina was, at least professionally, and what an indelible mark she has left. Which is a testament to Wim Wenders and his observant and thorough approach here.
St James Cavalier have recently installed new digital projectors and a larger screen. Upcoming highlights which will make use of this technology include showings of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and many more. For more info visit http://www.sjcav.org/.
Preview (first published 01/03/13 in VIDA Magazine)
Yup, another fairy tale. Fee fi fo fum, etc., but of course this is the supercharged version for the big screen. I have higher hopes for this one though, compared to all the other fairy tale films of recent years. Mostly because it’s directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men), but also because he roped in Christopher McQuarrie (also of The Usual Suspects fame) to polish up the script. The film stars Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man) as Jack, who finds his way in the world of giants, and of course has a princess to rescue. Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Ian McShane (Sexy Beast) and the inimitable Bill Nighy (Love Actually) also star.
So far, this has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. The trailers and promotional material for this film didn’t help raise my expectations, but I ended up enjoying myself from start to finish. If accepted for what it is – a light-hearted re-working of a famous fairytale – this film manages to deliver on all levels.
It starts off, as all proper fairytales should, with a bedtime story, setting up the parallel situations of our hero Jack and his counterpoint princess, as they both sit in their (respective) beds, listening wide-eyed as their parents recount the lore of the giants. Fast forward a bit and Jack is of course a poor farmer’s boy, while the princess is, well, a princess. Before long the infamous beans make an entrance, and the grand adventure can begin. Before the beanstalk even starts to sprout, however, I was already fond of the main characters – both Jack and the princess (newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson) are likeable, and with good chemistry between them. The smaller roles don’t disappoint either, with Ewan McGregor having great fun in ‘Tally-Ho!’ mode as the head of the king’s guard, and Stanley Tucci in delightfully crafty mode as the scheming advisor.
We then head, as expected, to the place ‘half-way between heaven and earth’, where giants roam free. The giants, who come in various shapes and sizes (none of which are pleasing to the eye), don’t burst onto the scene, but director Singer manages to build up enough expectation and grant them a tense, silent, ‘reveal’ – a sort of lesser cousin of T-Rex’s appearance in Jurassic Park (with similar sound effects). Their land is depicted as an oddly familiar paradise – resembling some parts of earth, but feeling very different – again, akin to Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park, or Skull Island in King Kong. Some of the set pieces also delight – such as a wonderful kitchen scene reminiscent of ‘Les Poisson’ in The Little Mermaid.
Back on the ground, the obvious false ending quickly makes way for a riotous third act, including a castle assault that manages to be coherent and entertaining. The single-mindedness of the giants makes them formidable foes, with not a single big friendly giant in sight. Throughout proceedings, the film manages to keep on just the right side of silly – something I felt last week’s Oz failed to do. The ending was another wonderful surprise – I loved it! This is no thought-provoker or event film, but it’s not pretentious, and it’s fun throughout, managing to bring a classic fairytale back to life with gusto.