Show #6 – last show before the Christmas break. Broadcast yesterday.
Show #5 – broadcast yesterday. Click play below to see the tracklist. Featuring brand new music by Daft Punk from the Tron: Legacy score.
As I mentioned earlier, the frequency of reviews has taken a dive because I’ve moved to London for a year, without access to press screenings. Whilst here, however, I’ve managed to land myself a slot on the radio station for University College London’s Union – www.RareFM.co.uk – where I’ll be hosting a weekly show (Mondays, 11am GMT) about film music. I’ve been an avid collector of film scores since around 1999, and this show will hopefully allow me to share some of my favourite pieces in some sort of organised fashion.
You can hear the shows live at the above link, or archived at http://www.mixcloud.com/Camillu/
The first show was broadcast on Monday 8th November and was titled ‘Music for Flying’. You can listen-in below:
Preview (first published 01/11/10 in VIDA magazine)
In a nutshell
It's here. Between this November and next summer, we can finally enjoy the climactic act of what has turned out to be an entire decade of Harry Potter on the big screen. Those who have devoured the books know how it ends, but that shouldn't diminish the excitement of seeing it unfold before our eyes. There will be no sequels, there will be no prequels, there will be no spin-offs. The story ends here.
Why we're hyped
With the slow development of Harry's facial hair, and the passage of each scholastic year at Hogwarts, the books got progressively better and darker. But from the fourth book onwards, the width of each book increased too, with the predictable result that many subplots and details were axed from the film versions. Which might account for why Azkaban (the third one) seems to linger in my memory as the best so far. For the grand finale however, it was decided early on that the film would be released in two halves, allowing lots more screen time, attention to detail, and proper send-offs for the array of characters. That idea worked pretty well with Kill Bill, and here again we have two closely linked, skilled individuals locked in a duel to the death - Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. By the end of it, there can be only one.
Who's in it?
To list the cast and their previous achievements would cause me to encroach on other articles, as all the surviving characters of the series are of course back for the curtain call. Over the years the Harry Potter films have enlisted the services of a sizeable chunk of the British acting elite, and there are over twenty big names listed for this final film. The young actors behind the three main characters – Harry, Hermione and Ron – have become famous thanks to the franchise, and we can expect them to tackle most of the action once again. They won't be within the protective walls of Hogwarts, however. This time they're off across the country in a race against time to find and destroy Voldemort's 'Horcruxes'. (Needless to say, it helps to see or read the other six before tackling this). The major new addition is the delightful Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Shaun of the Dead) as the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour. Behind the scenes, David Yates, who directed the last two, has been entrusted with the finale, as has screenwriter Steve Kloves, who adapted all seven of the books. Author JK Rowling exerts her influence as the producer. The music of the last two outings was a bit below key, but this time around Alexandre Desplat, probably the most busy and interesting film score composer of the moment, has promised to make ample use of the signature themes from the first few films. And there's still a chance that John Williams himself, who wrote those theme (plus most other movie themes the average person can whistle or hum) will be back for Part 2. Love them or hate them, the Harry Potter books have sealed their place in history for a number of reasons, and the success of the film franchise is one of them. Whatever the audience opinion at the end of it all, this if the film event of the year.
A strange phenomenon
It was a rather unusual experience at the cinema yesterday, during Potter's immense opening weekend. Not a seat to spare, despite the complex running Potter screenings every half hour. Not a word throughout the film, despite the running time being close to three hours. And when the main credits suddenly appeared on screen, despite the film's plot having reached no particular checkpoint, everyone simply stood up and walked out silently. There were no murmurs of disappointment. There were no beaming faces or desires to applaud either. We'll just all be back in July.
Why the split is not so good
Of course, middle films of long sagas have become commonplace nowadays. We sometimes expect to see the magical words 'To Be Continued' splashed across the screen, to help remind us that not all is lost. But this is the first time I have ever experienced a film viewing with no bend or bump in the story arc whatsoever towards the end. The choice about where to make the much-publicized split seems to have been based on a not-so-major character's demise, and a step in the right direction taken by Voldemort. But otherwise, you'd be forgiven for expecting to pop out for a toilet break and a drink and come back in for more. Recent films with possible similar scenarios that come to mind include The Two Towers and the above-mentioned Kill Bill, but both has such jaw-dropping final acts of their own that the end of the film was a much-needed breather for both the characters and the audience to regroup. I'm not complaining, I'm just stating how strange it all feels. Having such a long piece of cinema that has no discernible beginning or end seems like an anomaly. I very much doubt that when all is said and done, anyone will ever get a burning desire to cuddle up on the sofa and watch 'Book 7 Part 1' as the highlight of their evening.
Why the split is good
Having said that, this was all very much expected. I was one of the many to feel cheated when many moments of detail or pause were chopped mercilessly from the previous three films. Here we get the full deal. Nothing feels rushed, everything unfolds meticulously, and this crucial time for the characters involved is given the exposure it deserves. The trio at the heart of it all have grown up together, and it shows. The many scenes they share, away from the protective walls of Hogwarts, are great character moments, and help strengthen this already tightly-knit team, before the final plunge. Tempers flare, feelings stir, and like most triangles, not everything is smooth. Director David Yates, now with three of these films under his belt, and probably already busy editing the last one, has firmly established his tone and style for the second half of this saga, and here he is allowed to mix his dark and gloomy scenes with spectacular countryside as the pursuit criss-crosses all over the country. With less time restrictions, he is allowed to linger on scenes of sensual fantasy, dark plotting, physical torture and death, making this instalment even darker than the last one. A notable highlight, unlike anything seen in the previous films, is the short segment recounting the 'tale of the three brothers', or the backstory of the titular Deathly Hallows. Directed by Ben Hibon, the segment is a sudden change of both pace and style, and is a poetic mini-film of its own.
In the end
No matter what I or any other viewer makes of it, this is of course essential viewing for those who have read or watched the previous six episodes, and a natural requirement for those who plan to see the final one. This ready-made audience can enjoy a faithful and ambitious adaptation of the novel, which looks consistently spectacular. Those unfamiliar with the franchise need not bother however, because this film doesn't stand on its own in any way. Nor was it intended to.
Preview (first published 01/10/10 in VIDA magazine)
In a nutshell
At very least, if you don't own a Facebook account, you'll have heard about it, read about it in the papers, or seen someone's photos on it. In less than a decade it has mushroomed into an internet brand as recognisable as Google and YouTube, which of course means that somewhere, someone is extremely rich.
Why we're hyped
When I first heard that a movie was being made about Facebook, I admit I thought it was some laughable attempt at cashing in on its immense popularity. But it turns out that someone had written a rather sordid book ('The Accidental Billionaires') chronicling the campus and board-room struggle that characterised the birth of Facebook back in 2004. When business-savvy whizz-kids stumble upon a winning formula, and billions are at stake, you can imagine that there will be lots of interest and intrigue when it comes to sharing the pie. And sure enough the film trailers that have been released so far promise a thriller far more gripping than the title would suggest. The tagline is quite eloquent - “You don't get to 500 millions friends without making a few enemies”.
Who's in it?
Another major reason why this film looks promising is the man in the director's chair. When it was announced that David Fincher was going to call the shots, I for one realised that there must be something in the script that has the makings of a great film. With excellent and adored films such as Fight Club, Seven, and Zodiac under his belt, Fincher also recently showed us how versatile he is by helming the picture-perfect (although rather long) fairytale The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. With him attached, the focus then shifted to who would portray the real-life protagonists of this very recent history. Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland) looks and sounds the part as Mark Zuckerberg. Listed by Forbes as the world's youngest billionaire, Zuckerberg was one of the co-founders of Facebook, and currently owns one quarter of the empire, besides running the show. Not bad for a 25 year-old. Andrew Garfield (Doctor Parnassus, the upcoming Never Let Me Go, and the next Spider-man) is Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded back in 2004 but has now left the company, under not-so-happy circumstances. Justin Timberlake (who seems to be doing more acting and less gyrating nowadays) rounds off the main trio as Sean Parker, who used to be the President of the company, and who once upon a time co-founded Napster. They've all more or less distanced themselves from the film, claiming things are blown out of proportion – but that was to be expected considering the dirty-laundry aspect of the story. It now remains to be seen whether the vast swathes of people who spend much more than two hours a week on Facebook will want to spend two hours seeing how it was founded, but based on the trailers and the pedigree I'd venture a yes.
Jesse Eisenberg portrays the main guy with a powerful yet nuanced performance. How much of what he injects into the character is true is for Zuckerberg's close friends to decide, but from a normal viewer's perspective this is definitely a fascinating character who commands everyone's attention for the duration of the film. Fincher doesn't hold back, and from the opening scene it is quickly established that this is no likeable hero. He may be at his best in front of the computer screen, but out in the open world, social interaction is not part of his comfort zone. Which is obviously very relevant considering the virtual social network he has built for over 500 million people. Where the film excels, however, is managing to earn our respect for Zuckerberg, despite his lack of people skills. It's obviously assumed that the guy must be super smart, but the script breaks that down into small daily episodes that leave you with the realisation that it was no accident why this guy, and not one of the many other hopefuls, founded the Facebook behemoth.
His friends list
Despite Eisenberg ruling the film, all the other players give wonderful performances, especially Garfield as the estranged Eduardo Saverin, and Timberlake as the flamboyant and impressive Parker. The latter is obviously very comfortable in his role, and he manages to show exactly why Zuckerberg was in awe of him, and Saverin was evidently not. The script cleverly switches between recounting the events, and taking us through the two ensuing legal battles, which allows a structured telling of the tale without resorting to normal voiceover or random flashbacks. It keep the film moving forward swiftly, and the fact that we know where the train is heading doesn't make the ride any less enjoyable.
In the end
This is one of the best films of the year, largely thanks to its fascinating depiction of very recent history, and its sharp and clever script. There's a mountain of memorable lines, and the witty banter and duelling make it as exciting as any action film. Mostly, however, its a brilliant depiction of a generation, and the birth of internet giants in these years where a simple online idea can very quickly become one of the world's biggest bands. If you're not one of the 500 million, you can rest assured that there's a lot to be learnt and enjoyed for everyone here, not just Facebook addicts. It's an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship, creativity and determination, and it's all the more impressive considering it all happened during the past decade. The Social Network. Mark likes this.
Preview (first published 01/09/10 in VIDA magazine)
In a nutshell
Yet another buddy-cop movie, but this time coloured with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's particular type of humour.
Why we're hyped
Together, comedian Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay have made many of us laugh (and probably just as many roll their eyes) with the comedies Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and the recent Step Brothers. If you find Ferrell nauseating, you might as well skip to the next film preview now. But if he tickles your funny bone, this might be the first decent live-action comedy this summer.
Who's in it?
Every buddy-cop movie needs two antagonistic stars, and the man patiently accompanying Detective Gamble (Ferrell) is Mark Wahlberg as Detective Hoitz, who was lumped with Gamble after a tragic shooting incident. The two minor-league detectives live in awe of the city's star police duo (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson), but they are thrust into the limelight when they least expect it. Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes also star.
The film opens with a feast of gunfire and car wreckage, as two veteran cops chase an alleged criminal across the busy daytime streets of New York. The scene sets the mood nicely – nobody takes anything seriously, the action is big and loud, and nearly every cop movie cliché is brought out for a beating. That's more or less the recipe that is kept cooking throughout the film, and for most of the running time it manages to remain fresh. Jackson and Johnson's extended cameo also establishes the huge difference between their status in the police department, and that of the two minnows who live in their shadow.
The other guys
Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, Three Kings) is not at his desk out of choice. He craves the action on the streets, and curses his past luck and his present partner. As detective Hoitz, he's all enthusiasm but no delivery, and he tackles the part well, in a sort of skewered version of his own role from The Departed. Will Ferrell seems to be having more fun, and is perfect for his role as Detective Gamble - a nerdy, wholesome forensic accountant who is the biggest fan of the heroic cops, but feels his contribution at the desk is just as important. He is hilarious to watch, as always, and his inept manner makes it all the funnier when he actually gets things done.
Various police film staple themes are thrashed and ridiculed at length, and most running gags don't outstay their welcome. One which falls slightly flat however is the issue of Gamble's wife. Eva Mendes is down to earth but still quite astronomically hot as Gamble's wife, Sheila, and she seems to be head over heels in love with him, to the amazement of Hoitz. The marriage sub-plot wears a bit thin however, and Mendes' role is revisited unnecessarily. It's still fun to watch Ferrell with her, at least.
Your mood might affect how you savour this film. It has lots of laughs, but many of them are of the silly variety, so don't expect to be rolling in the aisles too often. It's still enough to keep a smile on everyone's face, however, and coupled with all the action it constitutes some accomplished entertainment. The complex stock market plot might confuse you as it did the other guys, but that's hardly the focus here. Funnier than most other films we've had this summer, but nothing too memorable.
Preview (First published 01/09/10 in VIDA magazine)
Back in 1975, a small film started the blockbuster phenomenon and kept many people out of the sea all summer. That film was Steven Spielberg's masterpiece of marine terror, Jaws. Amongst the many imitation films that followed, 1978's Piranha was noticeable for the small size but great numbers of its titular meat-eater. Over three decades later, we're invited back to the beaches to watch more young, unsuspecting bathers get chewed upon, but this time it's all in glorious 3D. The Jaws feel is very evident in the film's trailers, including the appearance of Richard Dreyfuss amongst the stellar cast. Ving Rhames, Elizabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Kelly Brook and Eli Roth will also be there, but you can bet they won't all make it to the end credits.
In a nutshell
Earlier this summer, I assumed that The Expendables would end up being the biggest blood-bath of the year, with the highest body-count. I was very wrong. If blood and gore are what you enjoy seeing splashed across the big screen, then this should satisfy your cravings like an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you're squeamish, however, you should avoid this like the plague.
Oh, the horror!
I'm not saying a spot of well-designed and well-placed gore isn't one of the ingredients of fascinating cinema. But here, it's delivered in proportions and detail that make Saving Private Ryan look like a Jane Austen adaptation. With a seamless mix of computer-generated effects and some very well-done prosthetics and make-up, most of the cast end up chewed, dismembered, minced or skinned. It's not pretty. And by the time a scantily-dressed blonde is sliced in half by a wandering cable, you'll probably be so numbed by the incessant carnage that you'll find it laughable. Which may have been the filmmakers' intentions, to be fair.
Oh, the plot!
A brief mention of the plot should manage to give a good picture of what you're in for. Thousands of toned party-goers in swimwear descend upon Lake Victoria for the annual Spring Break party. Just as they're arriving, an underwater tremor opens up a deep fissure in the seabed, linking with an underwater lake and unleashing a horde of feisty non-vegan fish from the Mesolithic era. Dinner is served, and very soon everyone with even a foot dangling into the water becomes a potential victim.
Oh, the tension!
There isn't much. The opening scene, with Richard Dreyfuss standing in for Jaws' skinny dipper, sets the tone nicely. But sure enough the effect is soon undermined by the discovery of his nibbled corpse. I realise that it's not fair comparing these sort of films with Jaws, since that was the first big film of its kind, but let's not forget that there are many reasons why that classic is so loved and respected. One of them was the lack of gore. Spielberg managed to create palpitation-inducing levels of tension by not showing the predator, and by only sparingly showing the effects of his teeth. Fear of the unknown is a powerful beast, and this time around that beast is slain around five minutes into the film. The only real tension is conjured up during a final scene with the main protagonists racing against time, but by then some of you might have already headed for the bathroom.
Oh, the good stuff!
It's not all bad, however. For a film that promises nothing more than sex, sea and blood (as proudly proclaimed on the teaser posters), it proceeds to give you exactly that. The subplot involving Kelly Brook, with a tiny crew trying to film a porn film on the lake, provides lots of on-board and underwater nudity and playfulness, with the use of opera music that some purists might find unsettling, but which works. But the endless beautiful bodies on display only help make the eventual butchery more shocking. The cast are obviously in on the joke and try to make the whole affair as camp and fun as possible, especially Eli Roth in his very brief cameo, which ends in a way befitting of the horror director. Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, The Addams Family) is also fun to watch in his few scenes, as he adopts his favourite wide-eyed expression and marvels at the wonders of nature, much as he did at the wonders of the flux capacitor.
In the end
There is no hidden agenda here. Someone wanted to make a film full of beautiful bodies, underwater flesh-eaters, and more graphic bloodshed than anything else in recent memory. That is exactly what they delivered. It has its moments, but everyone should know exactly what they're in for.
In a nutshell
Scott Pilgrim is something of a loser. Yet he somehow manages to woo the eccentric and mysterious Ramona Flowers, who recently moved to his Toronto neighbourhood from the US. Things start of promisingly, but he then meets the ‘League of Evil Exes’. He must defeat all seven, if he is to win her hand. Fight!
Scott Pilgrim's precious little life
Based on the six-volume comic book, the film opens much like many other teenage romantic comedies we've seen recently. Scott plays bass in a band, which he admits are terrible. He also has a rather platonic relationship with a girl quite younger than him. Then a dyed-hair mystery girl starts rollerblading through his dreams, and after bumping into her at a party, he becomes obsessed. He manages to find out where she works, and asks her out, but what he doesn't find out about is her chequered romantic history.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the universe
Suddenly, the films roars into life. Much like the trailer (see below), the transition is impressive and very welcome. When the first evil ex-boyfriend comes crashing through the ceiling during a battle-of-the-bands gig, we quickly shift gear from romantic comedy to full-blown videogame action, although the romance and the comedy thankfully stick around. Admittedly, there are a few hints early on, such as the wonderful pixelated 'Universal' logo that opens the film, complete with PC-soundcard music instead of the usual glorious orchestra. But as the film progresses, the line between film and videogame continues to blur, with wonderful, exciting results. Whether picking up an extra life in Super Mario style or gaining points and powers as the exes are defeated, the Gameboy style of the action helps hide Scott's physical inferiority, and adds colour and panache to the film.
Scott Pilgrim and the infinite sadness
It's not all smooth and slick however. The over-stylized fights and action might put large chunks of the audience off, while for those who head in yearning for the end-of-level-baddies, the film takes some time to take off. The ending could have been trimmed a little too, although the climactic end duel deserves all the screen-time it gets. Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) might also be an issue - he tends to polarise audiences, so if you despise him it might ruin the film for you. I don't mind him, and I think he fits this role perfectly. He is irritating and wimpy and neurotic, but that's what the role calls for.
Scott Pilgrim gets it together
Besides the titular character, the film boasts an impressive cast playing an array or colourful characters. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Death Proof, Live Free or Die Hard) is arresting as the object of affection that causes all this trouble. She doesn't look like much at first, but she manages to make us realise why Scott would bother so much. Kieran Culkin (Macaulay's brother) has a brief but amusingly snide role as Scott's gay roommate, and rising starlet Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air, Twilight) occasionally offers condescending advice as Scott's sister. The exes all have looks and back-stories of their own, with Chris Evans (The Fantastic Four, the upcoming Captain America) stealing the show as the hilariously egocentric actor and skateboarder Lucas Lee. Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) seems like one of the toughest ones to beat, with a combination of huge physique, bass-paying ability, and psychic powers earned by being vegan, and the final and most powerful ex is portrayed by a delightfully over-the-top Jason Schwartzman (Funny People, Fantastic Mr. Fox).
Scott Pilgrim's finest hour
The film is directed by Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), who also helped adapt the comics. He is obviously having fun here, with lots of tricks and add-ons at his disposal to make the film sparkle and grab your attention. Thankfully the gimmicks aren't overused, and while they sometimes provide convenient plot shortcuts, they never replace the story or the characters. For no apparent reason at all, he even directs one post-date-discussion scene as if it was a scene from Seinfeld, complete with intro music and audience reactions. It's the sum of all these little crazy story and directorial pieces that make this film so colourful.
In the end
The word 'original' is often thrown about nowadays, including by yours truly in several reviews. But I can't think of any other film this year that deserves the description more than this one. It's not for everyone, but if you think you'll like it, you'll probably love it.
http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/universal/scottpilgrimvstheworld/ (High-res QuickTime)
Preview (first published in VIDA magazine on 01/08/10)
In a nutshell
When I was a teenager, our local video rental store didn’t believe in organising shelves according to genre, or alphabetically. Instead, they had a Bruce Willis shelf, a Schwarzenegger shelf, a Stallone shelf, and so on. Genius, I thought. But they’d need at least three copies of this film.
Why we’re hyped
I doubt anyone is expecting any fine acting or mastery use of the English language here. But this promises to be bad, in a good way. If you feel like a couple of hours with a grin plastered across your face, feeling like you walked into a mechanic’s garage in the early 90s and are browsing the posters while he changes your oil, this might do the trick. The title refers to a group of highly-dangerous mercenaries who are assigned to overcome a South American dictator. Or something like that.
Who’s in it?
The cast list reads like a who’s who of action heroes from the past twenty to thirty years. Sylvester Stallone gets top billing since this was his idea and he partly wrote the screenplay, and directs. Jason Statham, who has recently been very busy with the Transporter and Crank films, is one of the newer action guys on the list. Jet Li (Romeo Must Die, Hero, Lethal Weapon 4) adds some martial arts expertise to the arsenal, and veteran wrestler Steve ‘Stone Cold’ Austin adds some brute strength. Reborn star Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2, The Wrestler) and Dolph Lundgren, the towering Swedish brick wall who shot to fame as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, are also on board. Schwarzenegger comes out of retirement to play a cameo role, in a scene with probably the most accomplished of the cast, the inimitable Bruce Willis. Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme were both offered roles, but allegedly turned them down. Pity. This promises to be what popcorn and big screens were made for.
Despite being exactly what the trailers offered, this film still managed to surprise me. Mainly because it's better than I expected it to be. I was ready for wall-to-wall action, but at the expense of any semblance of plot or acting. Yet, despite not being Shakespeare, the story and performances aren't all bad. The overall, cheeky, 'boys-having-fun' aura that pervades the film allows everyone to get away with murder (literally, on numerous occasions), and makes any inept acting or overblown clichés forgivable.
Clash of the titans
Stallone wisely feeds of the ensemble cast at every occasion. From the opening shots of the team arriving at their hangout on fancy motorbikes, it's clear that half the fun is simply having all these people on screen together. This feeling reaches boiling point during the much-anticipated cameo scene with Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. The two assemble in a church for a brief meeting with Stallone's character. Like much of the film, the scene is rather unnecessary and loosely scripted, but it's incredibly fun to watch. Shamelessly tongue-in-cheek, it works more as a parody of the trio's real-life personas and on-screen heroes, than as any part of this particular film. They're obviously having fun, and it's infectious.
Over the top
Elsewhere, the action is relentless. No larger on-screen body count comes to mind, if you exclude disaster movies, and there's enough gunfire, explosions and blood to keep even the most insatiable action-fan happy. The fun element is predominant once again, with enough clichés and exaggerations to remind us just how fun action films were in the 80s and 90s. There's no slow-motion stylized combat here - it's simply survival of the strongest. Stallone looks like a charred effigy of his former self, and his abused, weather-beaten expression and physique make him a rather unlikely hero when surrounded by the younger action stars on his team. Only Lundgren looks worse. Jet Li's martial arts potential isn't fully utilised, and his acting is painful to watch. Statham proves he is worthy of sharing the top billing, and he seems the most reliable of the pack. Eric Roberts is suitably slimy and assured as the main villain, and he manages to look the part wonderfully, just as he did recently as one of Batman's foes. Back at base, Mickey Rourke's character sits in his tattoo parlour spouting wisdom, and manages probably the best performance overall. Two lovely ladies try to add some delicate touches to the proceedings, but they never stood a chance of anything more than a token role in a film like this.
In the end
When the end title song kicks in, you'll realise just how perfectly it sums up what you've just enjoyed. Stallone manages to handle his impressive cast, and also reins the film in at just the right length. Rarely has any film better epitomized the concept of mindless action and fun, and if you're looking for nothing else, this film delivers.
Preview (first published 01/08/10 in VIDA magazine)
If you’re browsing through the action and looking for something to treat your children to (after taking them to see Toy Story 3, of course), your best bet this month is the accident prone Great Dane Marmaduke. Starting life as a comic strip, the crazy canine can now wreak havoc on the big screen, in what looks like a cross between Marley and Me and Scooby-Doo.
Size does matter
I'm not a dog person. Few things attract me less than a hefty dog clawing at my trousers or slobbering all over my face. But Marmamduke managed to win me over, at least for the duration of the film, despite being as hefty and as slobbery as they come. The enormous Great Dane, practically a pony in the size department, boasts enough charm and character to carry the whole film as the star, largely due to Owen Wilson's voice acting. Whether you'll enjoy an entire film full of talking dogs is another matter.
The film starts off metaphorically, showing how hard it can be for an unusually tall boy to fit in at school. The focus then shifts to the dog world, where Marmaduke has to stamp through life with the clumsy burden of his unusual size. But the similarities with teenagers fitting in at school doesn't end there, because in many ways the whole film is simply a teenage drama - new friends, new romantic interests, bullying, learning life lessons - but set in the dog parks and rubbish dumps of California, rather than within school corridors.
Who's in it?
The cast of dog voices assembled is quite impressive. Comedian George Lopez spars with Marmaduke as Carlos, the luxurious cat who shares a family and household with the titular giant. Fergie, of Black Eyed Peas fame, is Jezebel, a blow-dried collie who catches Marmaduke's eye in the park, and Keifer Sutherland (24, Phone Booth) is the vicious and jealous boyfriend she has growling at her side.The wonderful, gravelly voice of Sam Elliot (The Big Lebowski, Hulk) adds menace and wisdom to Chupadogra, the much-feared local outcast with a history of rabies, and the Wayans brothers try to add some humour as Thunder and Lightning, the dim-witted henchmen. On the human side, Lee Pace (The Fall, A Single Man) gets dragged around as Marmaduke's owner, and William H. Macy (Magnolia, Fargo) has a small role as his tree-hugging boss.
The film is simple enough, and works as a light, dog-oriented comedy which will probably go down better with young children than with anyone else. The main messages of the movie - friends, priorities, etc., also seemed aimed at the younger part of the audience, and are messages that merit repeating. The star of the show was portrayed by two twin dogs, and CGI lip-synching was added in later. This makes all the scenes believable enough, although it's nothing we haven't seen countless times before.
Despite all the above however, the film is ultimately a far-fetched excuse to bring yet another talking-animal film to the screens. No part is extremely bad, but no part is very good either, so don't expect another Homeward Bound or anything that will move you deeply or make you laugh out loud. Sadly, the powers that be deemed that it was necessary to add some toilet humour too, including the film's final scene, whereas everything would have worked fine without it.
In the end
Nothing new, nothing special. A simple, rather fun film for dog lovers and children of all ages.