Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight

Dark Knight 2


  • Released Internationally on 16/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 25/07/08


Preview (01/07/08)

In a nutshell

Since Batman Continues doesn’t work very well as a movie title, one of the Caped Crusader’s many other monikers was chosen as the title for this summer’s highly anticipated Batman sequel. As you may recall, the franchise was reborn with a flourish in 2005, when director Christopher Nolan did away with the fancy colours and cartoonish scenes of the previous two films, and gave us possibly the best Batman film to date. And when, in the film’s epilogue, Batman handed the Joker’s calling card to Commissioner Gordon, we were already licking our lips in anticipation.

Why we’re hyped

Superhero franchises are sprouting like mushrooms nowadays, but no matter how incredibly strong or green Bruce Banner becomes, or how shiny Iron Man’s suit is, there will probably never be a hero as mysterious and ultimately cool as Batman. Add to this the fact that Batman Begins was a brilliant film on all levels, and it’s no wonder why the Powers That Be asked Nolan to stick around for more. The few scenes we’ve been treated to so far show the same dark, gritty, no-nonsense look of the previous film, and we can only hope it’s on par. Oh, and if you loved Batman’s car, wait until you see his bike.

Who’s in it?

The sad story about this film release is of course that fact that it was the last film that Heath Ledger completed filming before his untimely death last January. He steals the show in all the film’s trailers so far, and appears to have fashioned a maniacal and frightening joker, with a dishevelled look and unhinged behaviour that works brilliantly. So we will hopefully be treated to a worthy adversary for Mr. Wayne and his gadgets. Aaron Eckhart is also on-board as Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Bruce’s childhood friend and possible sweetheart. But the important news is that Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and especially Christian Bale are all back to reprise their excellent roles from the previous outing. As mentioned above, Christopher Nolan returns to direct, as well as co-writing the screenplay with his brother Jonathan. They took time off since Batman Begins to give us the equally impressive The Prestige, so we can assume they’re still in top form.


Dark Knight


Review (23/07/08)

And here we go

The Dark Knight wastes no time with introductions. Batman had all of the excellent Batman Begins to introduce himself, and we rejoin him in top form, as he slowly cleanses the crime-filled streets of Gotham city. The much-anticipated Joker is also in fine form. We get to meet him in a wonderfully orchestrated opening sequence, and he appears to be at the peak of his powers, terrorising us and the city’s inhabitants with his ruthless efficiency.

Welcome to Gotham

For over two hours, director Christopher Nolan immerses us in this Gotham City he has fashioned. Apart from a brief escapade in Hong Kong, the entire drama unfolds within the city walls, and by the end of it I felt like one of its citizens. We watch the news they’re watching, we see the politicians they’re pinning their hopes on, we watch their faces as this new terror takes over their city, and we sense their panic as he slowly edges the city into chaos. Besides working as a superhero epic, and as a study of the maniacal Joker, the film excels as a dark and gritty crime drama, dragging us deep into the Gotham City underworld, and giving us a feel for the board rooms, police headquarters and streets of this felon-infested metropolis.

Why so serious?

Gotham seems to be on the mend, thanks to Batman, and thanks to the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). But then the Joker comes along, and things start to fall apart. Here lies the film’s trump card. The Joker, as moulded by the Nolan brothers and as brought to life by the exceptional work of the late Heath Ledger, lifts this film even higher than the lofty standards set by its predecessor. From physical tics, to an unnerving voice, to a hysterical laugh, Ledger fills his character with convincing detail, and becomes a truly mesmerizing villain. He gets ample screen time, but not once can we safely predict what he’ll do next. He has no rules, he answers to no-one, and his apparent insanity is what makes him so fearsome. The games he plays, and the way he toys with the minds of Gotham’s citizens during a number of sequences, are fascinating to watch. He tells us that Gotham “deserves a better class of criminal”, and Heath Ledger delivers just that.

Sounds of insanity

Adding muscle to Ledger’s performance is the innovative score by composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. Zimmer created a unique, eerie, one-note theme for the Joker, which builds like a siren wail and then lets loose with the bass. It’s first heard when we first set eyes on the Joker, and from then onwards, its sinister, wailing build-up lets us know when things are going to get ugly. Newton Howard composed a more traditional theme for the noble Harvey Dent, and we also hear a couple of grand statements of the two-note Batman theme from Batman Begins, whenever the heroics call for it. The dark and unconventional score ends up adding as much to the ominous look of Gotham as the sets and cameras do, and the end result is just what a Batman movie needs.

All together now

Whenever the Joker isn’t stealing the scene, we can appreciate the many other performances that bring this film to life. Eckhart is endearing and confident as Harvey Dent, and his sometimes strained relationship with Bruce Wayne provides another story arc to follow. Maggie Gyllenhaal fills the shoes of Rachel, after Katie Holmes allegedly turned down the role for whatever reason she’s now regretting. Michael Caine gets some of the best lines as Alfred, Bruce’s butler and voice of reason, and Morgan Freeman returns as Wayne’s new CEO, and Batman’s design engineer. Gary Oldman is thankfully given a much bigger part this time around, as he gets promoted to Commissioner, and his role in the unfolding crime saga is often as important as Batman’s. Christian Bale does the job, and does it well, as the man with the mask, but he has a tough-time competing with the Joker when they share the screen.

Ticking every box

With these type of performances, the dialogue and ‘character’ scenes are great to watch, but as expected, the action sequences don’t disappoint either. The film flows swiftly from one to another, and the plot unfolds full of twists and turns. The special effects are also top-notch, and when the film reaches its elegant and smartly-scripted end, it’s hard to sit back and find any particular technical aspect of the film that was sub-par. It could have been a bit shorter I guess, but then again there wasn’t a single 5 minutes of the film I didn’t enjoy, and thought could have been chopped out. Christopher Nolan has outdone himself and created a film of the highest calibre, and for once this is a huge summer blockbuster that deserves all the hype.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia


  • Released Internationally on 09/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 23/07/08


In a nutshell

Yet another successful jukebox musical makes the leap to the big screen. Mamma Mia! has been playing to packed theatre audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for nearly ten years, and considering the undying popularity of ABBA’s hits, it’s no surprise.

Summer loving

Mamma Mia! Is very much a summer film – loads of beautiful people singing and dancing away on a sun-drenched Greek island, as they prepare for a wedding. Guests start to arrive from around the globe, and a few old friendships are re-forged and some old flames rekindled. What more could you ask for on a hot summer night?

Happy families

I admit to never having watched the stage musical, for reasons related to my Y chromosome, so I’m not sure how this screen version steers away from the original plot or song line-up. We first meet Sophie on the eve of her wedding, and she confides in her bridesmaids that she has raided her mother’s old diary looking for clues as to the identity of her unknown father. Instead of an answer, she finds three, and therefore decides to invite all three of them to the wedding. And sure enough they all turn up, never having met each other before, and all eager to meet their old summer romance, Donna.

Mighty Meryl

Donna runs the island’s main hotel, is organising the wedding, and more or less steals the show. She is played by a very feisty Meryl Streep, who once again shows us her huge versatility and talent. Approaching 60, Streep transforms herself into a burnt-out but fun single mother, who’s put aside her wild youth and settled for a quiet but busy life cut off from the rest of the world. She sings, she dances, she performs splits, and she crowns it all with a wonderful rendition of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ atop a windy cliff.

Who else is in it?

Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Alpha Dog) is the bride-to-be, Sophie. The three potential fathers she invites are portrayed with gusto by Pierce Brosnan (007, Mrs. Doubtfire), Colin Firth (Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually) and Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean, Amistad). Julie Walters (Harry Potter, Billy Elliot) and Christine Baranski (The Birdcage, Bulworth) are equally entertaining as Donna’s best friends. The film was directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who had directed the musical to worldwide success back in 1999.

Flawed but fun

The fun never stops, and there are over twenty musical numbers squeezed into the plot, and chances are you know the lyrics or at least the tune to nearly all of them. And the entire cast seems to be having great fun throughout the whole thing. Admittedly, watching James Bond suddenly burst into song on a Greek veranda can take some getting used to, but most musical numbers turn out quite well. The scenery is exquisite, although some sequences give away the studio setting and fail to match the outdoors scenes. But all’s resolved in the end, and in true musical style there’s a big grand finale to suit everyone. And just in case you’re not smiling by the end of it all, the closing credits are sure to win you over.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Meet Dave

Meet Dave


  • Released Internationally on 09/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 23/07/08


In a nutshell

Dave may look like Eddie Murphy, but he is in fact a spaceship, manned by numerous tiny human-like aliens. They have been sent to Earth on a mission which will hopefully save their home planet, Nil. But while they’re here the crew start to develop certain feelings for the doomed earthlings, and mutiny threatens to compromise their mission.

Saving face?

If you’re still reading, then you haven’t been scared off by the ridiculous plot outline above. And to be fair, once you get past the whole plot concept, the film does somehow manage to offer a few moments of humour and warmth. However, these are the exception rather than the rule, and most scenes are somewhat painful to watch, either due to the poor special effects, or the strained acting, or the general silliness of the whole idea. Still, I imagine younger children will find much to enjoy in Dave’s antics.

Who’s in it?

Murphy takes on the dual role of the spaceship and its bite-sized captain. Elizabeth Banks (Seabiscuit, Spider-man 2 & 3) is Dave’s unlikely love interest, and Gabrielle Union (Deliver Us From Eva, Bad Boys II) is the ship’s 3rd in command. Scott Caan (Ocean’s 11,12 & 13, Into the Blue) is one of the bewildered police officers dealing with Dave. The film is directed by Brian Robbins, whose other dubious achievements include The Shaggy Dog and Norbit.

O Eddie, where art thou?

Ultimately, this film can be shelved along with the Norbits, Pluto Nashes and Haunted Mansions of Murphy’s career, and it is sadly turning out to be quite a loaded shelf. We all know that he’s got talent, and it’s been very evident in both his early work, as well as recent outings such as Shrek and Dreamgirls. But for reasons known only to him, he still accepts these very obviously silly roles from time to time. I guess he needs the cash. The comic value of Murphy’s rigid, robotic Dave wears thin pretty quickly, and ironically even the spaceships’ captain, also played by Murphy, delivers all his lines emotionlessly, despite being flesh and blood.




Trailer: (High-res options)


Tuesday, July 15, 2008




  • Released Internationally on 26/06/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/07/08


Preview (01/07/08)

In a nutshell

WALL•E stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter - Earth-Class, and is the name of a pint-sized robot who is left behind on a deserted planet Earth in the year 2700, to clean up the mess. He’s cute, he’s got personality, and he’s about to welcome a very special visitor.

Why we’re hyped

Pixar have been churning out one quality hit after another ever since they launched computer-animated feature films with Toy Story back in 1995. Their recent offerings were all brilliant family films, and with such a cute title character, it looks like this will be the film that adults will be enjoying this summer after being dragged to watch it by their offspring. He seems like a cross between E.T. and Number 5 from Short Circuit, and we can expect to see him everywhere very soon.

Who’s in it?

Have you ever met anyone who didn’t like Finding Nemo? Well Andrew Stanton, who wrote and directed Nemo, is the man behind the scenes here. He also has Monsters Inc., A Bug’s Life, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 on his impressive CV. The voice of WALL•E was created by sound effects guru Ben Burtt, who back in the 70s created the voice of another lovable and functional piece of hardware – R2-D2.


Review (15/07/08)

Yup, you guessed it

You may have heard or read this numerous times before, but Pixar and Disney have, (surprise, surprise) done it again. Every year or so they release a film amidst a wave of high expectations based on their stellar track record, and every year they manage to raise the bar. WALL•E delivers on every level, and isn’t just the best animated film of the year so far, but one of the best films of any sort.

Silence is golden

WALL•E is a guy of very few words. But the wizards at Pixar have filled this tiny metal robot with so much character and charm that for the first chunk of the film he steals the show by just scurrying around planet Earth on one of his typical days, with only a die-hard cockroach to occasionally keep him company. But then another robot, EVE, suddenly lands on the scene with much fanfare, and WALL•E’s mundane routine is sent into orbit. The action never lets up from then onwards, but no matter how huge matters get, our little rusty hero never loses sight of his original target – EVE.

Technical brilliance.

Whichever way you look at it, this piece of movie magic is amongst the best of what cinema has to offer. The main characters, although mostly tiny robots, are all memorable and unique. The humour is fine-tuned and frequent. Plus, the expansive apocalyptic cityscapes, balletic flying sequences, and maestro Thomas Newman’s warm and colourful score combine effortlessly to give us numerous breathtaking sequences. And amidst all the technology and spectacle there’s a hard-hitting message for us sedentary humans who might be spending just a little too much time in front of our flat-screens. Then, as the last frame fades to black, we’re treated to one of the most ingenious and beautiful end credit sequences I can remember. Brilliant stuff.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, July 08, 2008




  • Released Internationally on 01/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 09/07/08


Preview (01/07/08)

In a nutshell

This is the first film that can truly claim to be a superhero movie with a difference. Hancock may well be a superhero with superpowers, but he’s also an alcoholic, has slightly unorthodox methods, and needs a shave. But when everyone else turns against him, one man tries to help him get his act together and improve his image.

Why we’re hyped

Two words: Will Smith. He’s likeable, he’s talented, and he’s been the leading man in a string of hits ever since Independence Day way back in 1996. And when you need a superhero with a touch of comedy, he seems like just the man to pull it off. This promises to be just as big on the special effects as on the laughs.

Who’s in it?

Apart from Hancock himself, there’s Jason Bateman (Juno, The Kingdom) playing the public relations consultant who tries to revamp Hancock’s look after having his life saved, and the always lovely Charlize Theron (Monster, The Devil’s Advocate) as Bateman’s wife. It’s directed by Peter Berg, who was behind the camera for the Saudi Arabia action thriller The Kingdom last year.


Review (08/07/08)

Is he legend?

Will Smith is as big a star as you can get nowadays, and in his last outing – last year’s I Am Legend, he practically carried the whole film on his shoulders, and elevated the film with his performance and his presence. Now he’s the title character yet again, but sadly not even Will Smith in superhero mode can save this film from the mess it gets itself into.

Not your average superhero

He does try his best however, and the film starts off very promisingly with a fairly original idea – a superhero who’s let himself go and needs to hone his social skills. We first meet Hancock as he’s passed out on a street bench, unshaven, unkempt and about to start nursing a nasty hangover. Before long he’s reluctantly using his superhuman strength and flying capabilities to save the day, but he manages to make a botched job of it and ends up annoying more people than he impresses. And so it goes on – a superhero who is seen as a nuisance by the city he protects. But after saving the life of a PR executive (Bateman), he is offered some tips to improve his public image and get his life back on track.

Great concept, what next?

So far so good, but that’s when things start to get messy. The original idea outstays its welcome, the plot takes off in a totally unexpected direction, and in the second and third acts the film isn’t sure whether it wants to be a comedy, a drama, or an all-out superhero action movie. We meet a rather confused Charlize Theron and a somewhat unconvincing bad guy, and by the end of the film the plot will have taken so many unexplained turns and twists that there’s a good chance you won’t really care what happens next. Rumour has it the film underwent a lot of last-minute editing, so chances are some much-needed explanations are lying somewhere on an editing-room floor.


It seems that when it comes to superheroes, it’s better to trust the big names. Some of the best-known comic-book heroes have recently given us top-notch film outings, on every level. Hancock aspires to be one of them, but he’s not sure which one.




Trailer: (High-res QuickTime)