Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Clone Wars


  • Released Internationally on 14/08/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 27/08/08


Preview (01/08/08)

In a nutshell

In the afterglow of Revenge of the Sith (Episode III, released in summer 2005), George Lucas decided that the next step for his Star Wars franchise would be a TV series. Based on the success of the brief but stunning animated Clones Wars that was made before Episode III, he decided to further delve into the events of the clone wars, by means of a CGI-animated series. This feature film is the introduction to that series, and serves to showcase on the big screen what we hopefully will be enjoying on the small screen for years to come.

Why we’re hyped

Well, it’s Star Wars of course.

Who’s in it?

All the well-known characters that made it from Episode II to III are back for more action, as this film picks up shortly after where Attack of the Clones left off. In the voice department, Samuel L. Jackson is back to voice Mace Windu, Christopher Lee is back to voice Count Dooku, and Anthony Daniels, the only actor to star in all 6 Star Wars films, is back to provide the unmistakable voice of C-3PO.

Review (26/08/08)

Variations on a theme

As the lights go dim, and the Lucasfilm logo fades away and is replaced by the familiar blue text 'A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away', a pleasant feeling of familiarity is coupled by the usual sky-high expectations, and the audience holds its breath as they wait for the blast of the orchestra. This is Star Wars, ladies and gentlemen, and no matter how bad we might have thought Phantom Menace and/or Attack of the Clones were, it still has that magical aura which draws many to the cinema, and which feels somehow different from every other film we've ever sat down to watch. But as the main titles blast onto the screen in the familiar yellow font, we're quickly reminded that this is an offshoot, a variation, or Star Wars with a twist. After the first few notes of John Williams' legendary theme, the music veers off into new territory, and instead of seeing the usual scroll of text crawling into space, we're immersed in a spectacular space battle as a matinee voiceover fills us in on the latest Clone Wars situation. It's Star Wars, but it's different. It's rooted in familiarity, but it's something fresh and new. It could be argued that it's quite superfluous to the overall Star Wars story arc, but it's still fun.

Cloned footage?

For the opening few moments, one could be forgiven for regretting coming to watch yet another hour and a half of Clone War footage. The snippets of the Clone Wars we saw in Episodes II and III were exciting stuff, and they served their purpose as a backdrop for the overall story of Anakin and the Empire. Then we got a couple more hours of extra Clone War details in the animated series. So do we really need more scenes of Anakin and Obi-Wan leading clones against various armies on various planets? Hasn't this subplot been flogged enough? But after the brief introduction, we soon get to see what this extended episode is really about. The fulcrum of this particular story, and probably the reason why Lucas deemed it worthy of a cinematic release of its own, turns out to be an interesting plot line, and a even more interesting new character. The plot line reunites us with an old, albeit unattractive, friend - everyone's favourite slimy gangster, Jabba the Hutt. It turns out that even hefty huts can have adorable offspring, and Jabba’s son has been kidnapped as part of a scheme to turn him against the Jedi. Another familiar face (voice), Count Dooku, seems to be involved, and Yoda fears this could be a turning point in the war.

Fourteen and feisty

We’re then introduced to Ahsoka Tano, a young Padawan (or Jedi in training) who is assigned to Anakin, and who joins him on his search for Jabba’s son. She provides an interesting element because Anakin is suddenly entrusted with a new responsibility, and we therefore gain some insight into the transition he made from the reckless young man of Episode II to the more restrained and disciplined Jedi of Episode III. The new blood is much appreciated, and hopefully Ahsoka will feature prominently in the ensuing TV series.

The looks department

The characters are stylized versions of their real-life selves, although in the case of many scenes, vehicles and a few characters, the change from the other films isn’t that significant, seeing that they were already CGI. The animation is wonderful, and various set-pieces are beautifully done, including a moonlit lightsaber duel which can proudly stand alongside the other epic duels of the saga. This is no show-stopping Empire Strikes Back, but if you’re eager for more galactic entertainment after Episode III, this should bring a smile to your face.





http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/starwarstheclonewars/ (High-res QuickTime)


Get Smart

Get Smart


  • Released Internationally on 19/06/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 27/08/08


Preview (01/08/08)

In a nutshell

Based on the Mel Brooks TV series from the 60s, this spy-spoof films pokes fun at the whole secret agent world, much as Johnny English did a few years back.

Why we’re hyped

Steve Carell is one of the funniest actors working today, and this looks like a well-suited vehicle for his geeky persona. And like every spy-spoof worth its salt, this one promises to be full of death-defying stunts, stylish gadgets and headquarters, and a bungling but effective hero of the day.

Who’s in it?

Steve Carell is Maxwell Smart, the data analyst who gets promoted to agent due to desperate times. Anne Hathaway is the dazzling but deadly Agent 99, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is Agent 23, Alan Arkin is The Chief, and Terence Stamp is Siegfried, the current threat to world safety.

Review (26/08/08)

High-tech fun

From the word go, this film was a charming reminder of how a movie genre can be spoofed entertainingly. So-called spoofs are being released faster than you can watch them nowadays, and most of the filmmakers involved seem to think that if you simply re-create a scene from a famous film but have the actors fool around or bump into things, it will be funny. Thankfully, this is not the case here. This film throws up the whole secret agent genre by simply being a secret agent movie, but adding hints of exaggeration to the characters, the sets and the plots – whilst making sure that everyone looks dead serious throughout. And few people could do that better than Steve Carell, whom we see promoted to agent in times of dire need, and who proceeds to get the job done rather unconventionally.

He even gets the girl

Teaming up with him on his mission is the delightful Anne Hathaway, who is slowly but surely staking her claim as one of the leading young ladies of Hollywood. She shines in every scene here, and manages to make any eventual chemistry with Carell believable. And when geeky office types manage to save the world and get the girl, it’s hard not to leave the cinema feeling good.

Planes, trains and automobiles

As befitting a film of this sort, we’re treated to impressively scary henchmen, mentally unstable villains, nuclear threats, Cold war remnants and all sorts of modes of transport. But most importantly, the humour keeps running throughout, right up to the climax, which is of symphonic proportions.





http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/getsmart/ (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D

Journey to the Centre of the Earth


  • Released Internationally on 10/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/08/08


Showing in 3D at Empire Cinemas in Buġibba, and in 2D elsewhere

In a nutshell

The classic Jules Verne tale is retold in a 21st century setting, and serves both as a quality film in its own right, as well as a showcase for some seriously stunning three-dimensional effects.

Who’s in it?

Brendan Fraser stars as a volcano scientist who sets out to try and discover what happened to his missing brother, a fellow crater explorer. He drags his nephew (Josh Hutcherson) along, and aided by a local mountain guide (Anita Briem) they set off across the Icelandic mountain wilderness, but end up getting much, much more than they bargained for.


As mentioned in the Hannah Montana review earlier this month, this is the first ever live action full-length feature made with the new Real-D technology, which promises to have a big impact on the world of cinema in the coming years. Whilst the concert video was a good introduction to the quality of the 3D image, this film lets us see just how films can take advantage of the 3D effects to enhance the visual experience and immerse you in their world. And that is just what is needed here, because after the brief introduction we’re soon dropped down into a visually stunning world of rock formations, crystals, lava and underground eco-systems.

Besides the 3D?

The story is a memorable one, and it’s told briskly and charmingly with good performances by the three main actors. The computer-generated imagery isn’t exactly groundbreakingly realistic, but when it’s hurtling out of the screen at you, it doesn’t matter. I suspect I still would have enjoyed the film had it been two-dimensional, but it would be a bit of a waste considering how great the 3D looks, and numerous scenes would lose most or all of their visual impact.



(Overall mark for the 3D experience)


http://www.apple.com/trailers/newline/journeytothecenteroftheearth/ (High-res QuickTime)


Monday, August 18, 2008

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan



  • Released Internationally on 06/06/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 20/08/08


Preview (01/08/08)

In a nutshell

Adam Sandler is Israel’s best counter-terrorist agent. After years of impeccable service, he decides he wants to escape to a new life as a hair-stylist in New York. But after establishing himself in the business, his past begins to catch up with him.

Why we’re hyped

Adam Sandler has proved his abilities time and time again both as a comedian and as a ‘serious’ actor, and thankfully over the past few years we’ve been able to see him in a steady mix of insane comedies and moving dramas. After last year’s Chuck and Larry fiasco, this looks to be a return to form for Sandler’s particular brand of humour, and despite a number of mixed reviews we know we’re guaranteed a few laughs.

Who’s in it?

Adam Sandler started work on the script, along with Judd Apatow (of 40-year Old Virgin and Knocked-Up fame) at the start of the decade, but the project was shelved due to the events of 9/11, as it was deemed untimely. But time heals all wounds, and the script resurfaced, with Sandler himself taking on starring and production roles. Cult favourite John Turturro (Transformers) and relative newcomer Emmanuelle Chriqui play Zohan’s nemesis and love interest, respectively.


Review (18/08/08)

Nobody is safe

You have to hand it to Adam Sandler. If he thinks something is funny, and he wants to bring it to the big screen, there isn’t much that will stand in his way. Not political correctness, not the laws of physics, nor the conventions of good taste. And to his credit, most of what he brings to our cinemas this time around is indeed quite hilarious, and probably couldn’t have been pulled off by anyone else working today. Rednecks, Israelis, Palestinians, the elderly, the Clintons and countless other facets of society fall victim to the Zohan, and he seems to work on the premise that if you ridicule everyone, and both sides of every argument, then nobody will accuse you of racism. Still, if you turn a blind eye to his blatant abuse of every stereotype imaginable, then everything will turn out right in the end, and you might have had a few chuckles in the meantime.

The Zohan

Most of the comedy stems from the Zohan persona himself, whom Sandler and Apatow seems to have had great fun creating. Zohan’s exaggerated physical abilities are handled with gusto, and Sandler keeps a straight face throughout as he takes first the Middle East and then the US by storm. The plot concept, as outlined above, is enough to guarantee a host of laughs, but Sandler peppers the character with countless extra details, such as his great admiration for Mariah Carey, that help prevent the laughs from drying up towards the end.

Not for everyone

As is the norm for Adam Sandler’s recent offerings, this isn’t a film you would want to take your mum to see. The jokes get pretty crass, and some of the innuendo might be hard to stomach. A few moments stand out brilliantly however, such as the group of Israelis and Palestinians meeting in the street to discuss US politics, and co-star Rob Schneider trying to get through to the Hezbollah helpline. If you like your comedy raunchy and irreverent, you shouldn’t miss the Zohan.





http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/youdontmesswiththezohan/ (High-res QuickTime)


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Mummy 3


  • Released Internationally on 31/07/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/08/08


Preview (01/08/08)

In a nutshell

When in doubt, make sequels. Another big movie franchise from recent summers is back for another effects-laden assault on the box-office. After the hugely enjoyable The Mummy nearly 10 years ago, and its sequel The Mummy Returns, Brendan Fraser is back in the boots of adventurer Rick O’Connell to once again save us all from the undead.

Why we’re hyped

The original film was great fun, with a likeable Indiana Jones-type hero taking us through a good old-fashioned history-lesson and adventure. We then had an inferior but still enjoyable sequel, and a rather forgettable spin-off (The Scorpion King). Now, after a 6 year-gap, we’re shifting location to China where a rather unpleasant emperor is awoken from his supposedly-final resting place, and with the services of the Terracotta Army at his disposal things could get ugly.

Who’s in it?

Besides the obligatory return of Brendan Fraser, we also have John Hannah resuming his comic-relief sidekick role as Jonathan Carnahan. Rachel Weisz decided to opt out of this one, and Maria Bello (A History of Violence) takes her place. Jet Li fills yet another villainous role as the emperor. The director of the previous two instalments also decided it was time for fresh ideas, so the director’s chair is now occupied by Rob Cohen, whose impressive action resume includes Daylight, DragonHeart, xXx and The Fast and the Furious.


Review (12/08/08)

Good timing, nice location

It could be coincidence, but after Kung-Fu Panda, this is the second big movie of the summer to be set in China, during this spectacular summer of the Beijing games. But whatever the reasons, the change of scene serves this franchise well, because by leaving Northern Africa we are offered a fresh start, and this film manages to feel like a film of its own, rather than simply continuing to stretch the ideas and characters of the first two films.

Like father, likes mummies

After the spectacular and promising prologue, which takes us back to ancient China to show us how the Emperor in question ended up entombed along with all his army, we get to meet the now fully-grown Alex O’Connell. He was just a boy in The Mummy Returns, and already following in the footsteps of his thrill-seeking parents. Now he’s deep in the excavation sites of China, while his family think he’s studying at university, and he uncovers the expansive tomb of the titular emperor. Mum and dad soon burst onto the scene, but that’s not enough to prevent the emperor from awakening and seeing to his unfinished business. The term ‘mummy’ is used loosely here – what we get is hordes of undead warriors, and Terracotta instead of Tutankhamen.

The baddies

Unfortunately for such an CGI-heavy film, the special effects here often look sub-par compared to what else has been gracing our big screens for the summer months. There's also a point half-way through when things get a bit silly, and it takes an improbable deus ex machina in the form of three poorly-rendered yetis to bring the heroes, and plot, back on track. Maria Bello does her best at replacing Rachel Weisz (who opted to come to sunny Malta and film Agora, instead), but she doesn’t breathe much life into the character.

The goodies

Despite the above, the film manages to be a good dose of spectacular fun, just like its predecessors. Back in 1999, the original Mummy was a great reminder of just how engrossing Indiana Jones' archaeological exploits had been, and Rick O'Connell was as good a substitute as we had seen in years. This summer, the original man with the hat and whip is back at the box-office, but this sequel manages to hold up pretty well. Some homages are pretty obvious - including the mid-century Shanghai nightclub scene which brings back wonderful memories of Club Obi-Wan from Temple of Doom. The supporting cast give mostly solid performances, and the film doesn't outstay it's welcome.





http://www.apple.com/trailers/universal/themummytombofthedragonemperor/ (High-res QuickTime)


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour

Hannah Montana


  • Released Internationally on 01/02/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/08/08


Showing exclusively at Empire Cinemas in Buġibba, in Disney Digital 3-D


Yes, that’s actually the title of a film. It’s very forgivable for us Europeans to have never heard of Hannah Montana, or Miley Cyrus, or the Best of Both Worlds tour, or Disney Digital 3-D for that matter. They’re all the rage across the Atlantic though, and I hope this sort of 3D will soon be all the rage here too.

One at a time please. 3D?

Ok, let’s start with this new 3D. RealD Cinema is the latest development in the world of three-dimensional film. Like older versions, it involves the viewer wearing tailor-made polarized glasses, but the results are much more impressive than what we might have experienced in the past. The concept is proving so successful that Disney/Pixar have announced that all their future film releases will use the technology (under the brand name Disney Digital 3-D), and so have DreamWorks animation. Other big names with RealD films in the pipeline include Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and Tim Burton.

This summer marks the release of the first ever live-action film to be released in this new format – Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3-D (starring Brendan Fraser, and soon available locally), and Empire Cinemas in Buġibba have launched their own 3-D cinema just in time.

Hannah Montana? Miley Cyrus?

Hannah Montana is the name of a hugely-popular American TV series conceived by Disney a couple of years ago. It stars one of the richest teenagers in the world, Miley Cyrus, as a girl who leads a double life – she’s a normal schoolgirl by day, and a successful pop musician by night. Buoyed by the show’s popularity (amongst pre-teen and teen girls, mostly), Disney’s next step was to launch a US tour where Miley Cyrus could perform the show’s numerous songs, both as herself and in character. The concert was a huge success, as screaming girls dragged their parents to arenas across the country. This film serves as a short résumé of the whole tour, showcasing the highlights of one of the performances, as well as giving the viewers some backstage access.

Worth the funny glasses?

The 3D is pristine. Forget the flimsy cardboard frames with green and red lenses you wore back in the 90s or during your trip to Florida – this time around we’re given chunky but comfy frames (which thankfully fit over my prescription glasses) and which align with the big screen to make you think that for some strange reason you attended a Miley Cyrus concert. Admittedly, I’m not exactly the target audience for the film in question, but sitting through the teenage scream-fest was made much more enjoyable by the impressive 3D effects – from the arena audience raising their hands in the seat around you, to guitar picks and drum sticks flying towards your face. If the cinema’s air-conditioning wasn’t working I might have actually thought I was in Utah, not Buġibba. Let’s hope we get a steady stream of quality 3D films to suit all tastes in the near future, because this is what ‘going to the movies’ should be all about.


The 3-D Experience:


The Hannah Montana concert documentary:




http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809949460/trailer (Higher-res)


Friday, August 08, 2008

The Edge of Love

Edge of Love


  • Released Internationally on 20/06/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/08/08


In a nutshell

Set during WW2, this British film covers a short but eventful period in the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and two women who featured prominently.

Who’s in it?

Keira Knightley plays Vera Phillips, Thomas’ childhood sweetheart who bumps into him during the war. Sienna Miller plays the vibrant Caitlin MacNamara, Thomas’ wife, who gets along surprisingly well with Vera, despite their awkward love triangle. Matthew Rhys plays the poet in question, and the enigmatic Cillian Murphy (Batman’s Scarecrow) plays William Killick, the soldier who marries Vera and threatens to upset the balance of their little trio, with tragic consequences. John Maybury, who previously gave us the creepy The Jacket, directs. The script was written by a certain Sharman Macdonald, who just so happens to be Keira’s mum.


Whether she’s looking glamorous whilst singing in the shelters, or unkempt as she grapples with motherhood, Keira looks very much at home in these sort of period films. She has British written all over her, and here is very much in Atonement territory, rather than Caribbean territory. And speaking of Atonement, it’s hard not to be reminded of that gem from last year when Knightley is walking around in dinner dresses, meeting soldiers, and whispering ‘come back to me’ in men’s ears. Maybe it’s intentional.

Much ado about nothing?

Plot-wise, not much happens. The events and emotions which form the basis of the script could probably have been made into a much more involving piece of cinema, but here we plod through the proceedings at a dreary place, and when things finally come to the boil, I found that I didn’t know enough about the characters to really care what went wrong. Still, the film is a pleasant watch, but don’t expect it to have you holding your breath.





http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/theedgeoflove/ (High-res QuickTime)