Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon



  • Released Internationally on 25/03/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 31/03/10
  • Showing in ‘RealD’ 3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else

Preview (Published 01/03/10 in VIDA magazine)

Easter holidays mean fun family films, and this looks like the most interesting one this year. Jay Baruchel (the skinny one from Tropic Thunder) voices Hiccup, a young boy in the time of the Vikings who comes from a village terrorised by dragons. When he manages to capture one, he realises their fiery breath is worse than their bite. Also featuring the voices of Gerald Butler (300), Jonah Hill (Funny People) and comedian Craig Ferguson, and directed by the duo that made Disney’s Lilo & Stitch (which might explain why the dragon looks like Stitch).


Nutshell Review (27/04/10)

Everything you might have read in the papers or heard from your friends is true – this is a gem of a movie. Making impressive business all over the world since its release one month ago, it manages to soar above most of the tough competition in the smart, funny, animated genre. The main character is equally pitiful and admirable, the Viking setting is fresh and original and full of joke fodder, and the dragons are wonderfully conceived. After a slightly congested opening sequence, the film quickly zooms in on the relationship between Hiccup and his sleek dragon friend, and the bond between them is developed to perfection over the course of the film, culminating in a series of flying sequences that are undoubtedly the most beautiful thing seen on screen this year. The grand finale is epic enough to outdo all that has come before it, and the film manages to end on a surprisingly bittersweet note that is rarely achieved in animated films. A gorgeous thrill-ride.


Mark's Mark 8/10




Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Date Night

Date Night


  • Released Internationally on 08/04/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/04/10


In a nutshell

Two of the biggest names in comedy, Steve Carell (star of The Office and The 40 Year Old Virgin)  and Tina Fey (star, writer and director of 30 Rock) team up as a married couple whose relationship has settled into a rather mundane routine, but who try to keep it interesting with regular date nights. On one such occasion, they give a different surname to get a table at a crowded restaurant, and the mistaken identity lands them in a spot of bother. Not being used to high-speed chases, rapid gunfire and underground crime-rings, the couple end up having an interesting evening.

Making it work

In the hands of anyone else, this could easily have turned out to be a mediocre and instantly forgettable comedy. The script is rather ridiculous at times, skimming lightly and quickly over major plot points just to get to where the laughs and action are. But the suspension of belief is worth our while once we get to enjoy the bigger picture. Who cares why the couple needed to leave a house in a stolen car rather than on foot, if the resulting car chase is one of the most enjoyable chase sequences in recent years? Why bother about how the couple end up at the Central Park boathouse, of all places, if it leads to one of the funniest single shots in the whole film?

Perfect fit

Ultimately, the reason it all works is due to the starring couple. Carell and Fey bring their characters Phil and Claire Foster wonderfully to life. By the end of the film, you'll be wondering why these two haven't worked together on the big screen before. Now both established as the king and queen of comedy on TV, they both possess enough star power to carry the film, without having lost their intrinsic dorky image which is needed here. On the contrary, the two fully embrace this uncool image in their respective TV series, and casting them as a rather boring married couple was a stroke of genius.

High-profile support

Although the two spouses steal the show, the often hilarious interactions with the supporting cast are a joy to watch. Mark Wahlberg (Three Kings, The Departed) lounges about, determined to remain shirtless, and helps out the couple with his high-tech gadgetry, whilst Phil squirms and Claire ogles. James Franco (Pineapple Express, Milk) and Mila Kunis (That 70s Show, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) briefly share the limelight as a degenerate couple whose path crosses that of the Fosters, and their over-the-top relationship contrasts cleverly with the Fosters’ solid but mundane love for each other. Ray Liotta uses his Goodfellas credentials to lurk in the shadows as the mafia-style kingpin without needing much effort, and Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, Shutter Island) has a tiny but significant early role as the close friend who sets the Fosters on their relationship renaissance. The film is directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum) from an original script by Josh Klausner (Shrek Forever After).

Not just funny

The laughs are plentiful and frequent, and will probably be out loud. But the connection between the two main protagonists also allows them to develop the Fosters as an endearing, imperfect, realistic couple, with waning libidos and time-consuming jobs and children that have rendered their relationship unrecognizable. When the car chases slow down, and the gunfire ceases, they naturally realise that different doesn't necessarily mean worse, and the ending manages to be satisfying without getting too syrupy. I hope this on-screen duo have more outings planned.


Mark's Mark - 7/10



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Clash of the Titans


  • Released Internationally on 26/03/10
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 14/04/10
  • Showing in ‘RealD’ 3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else

In a nutshell

If you learnt all your Greek mythology from secondary school and Disney’s Hercules, this might be a good opportunity for a not-too-accurate update. A remake of the 1981 classic, this battle of the gods is big, boisterous and not too brainy.

Oh my gods

The film opens with a much-needed prologue, where as we watch lightning snake across the sky, a soothing voice fills us in on the current state of Greek god affairs. Zeus rules the skies, whilst his brother Hades runs the underworld. We are also told that Poseidon captains the seas, but we hardly get to see him, despite Danny Huston (Birth) being cast in the role. One can only presume his scenes amongst the many that were allegedly cut. Back to politics – the people of Argos (the city, not the franchise), are angry with the gods for what they claim is poor recent management, so they declare war on Zeus by destroying the huge statue of him that stands astride their jagged coast. Bold move.

Of course, you know, this means war

In the meantime, we meet Perseus, who is adopted by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite – The Usual Suspects, Romeo + Juliet) after being found as a baby, adrift in a coffin with his dead mother. He grows into quite a strong lad, which can be partly explained by the fact that he is in fact the illegitimate son of Zeus. The attack by Hades on Argos, and on Perseus’ adoptive family, spurs the young man to accept a perilous mission to find a way to defeat the humungous Kraken, which Hades has threatened to unleash on Argos unless they sacrifice their princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos – Defiance).

I need a hero

Confused yet? If not, then by all means rush to watch this film. If you are, don’t worry – it won’t matter much in the end. The prologue unfolds so quickly and fitfully that before you know it Perseus is leaving Argos, with a small band of suicidal men, ready to face the numerous battle scenes that the script has prepared for him. Taking on this main role is rapidly rising actor Sam Worthington, whom you might have seen in Avatar. He seems to have walked off that set and onto this one, as he sticks to the same accent, look and motivation. Unfortunately, not even all the rousing one-liners that the screenplay throws at him are enough to breathe any true emotion into his role, and it’s ironic that the hero ends up being so two-dimensional in a film made for 3D.

Easy to hate

Films like this are unfortunately becoming common in this age where so much depends on your opening weekend box-office. Grand scope, enormous aspirations, hefty budgets, big names. Sadly coupled with poor writing, last-minute cuts and re-shoots that decimate the film, and a belief that spectacular effects alone with make the film a good one. Much like the 1981 original, the film boasts top-drawer actors in the roles of the gods, but the result is painful to watch, as Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) as Zeus and Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient) as Hades prance around in grotesque hair and make-up spouting dialogue that would make a Dynasty fan cringe. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace), as Perseus’ tepid love interest, looks very British and slightly out of place amongst all the olive-skinned Greeks. Also jarring is the last-minute replacement soundtrack, which tries too hard to drum up some sense of awe, but could easily have been copied and pasted from numerous recent action films. For all the emphasis they are given, the effects occasionally falter too, with some of the creatures being only slightly more convincing than their Harryhausen predecessors. But in the film’s final act, when the kraken is released, nearly all is forgiven.

Fun to like

Ultimately, this film needs to be watched as a source for mindless fun, rather than inspiration or art. The film starts building to its climax from an early stage, and the oncoming kraken onslaught hangs heavily over the proceedings throughout. Once he (she? it?) is awoken, many of the wince-worthy moments that came before are forgotten, and we can sit back and grin through a bombastic and destructive conclusion full of shrieking Greeks and slithering tentacles. The scenes with Perseus astride Pegasus are probably the best in the film, and his mismatched duel with Godzilla’s grandfather manages to make some sense of all that came before it.

In the end

Director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk) seems to have taken on too big a project, but in his defence the end product is probably very far from what he originally planned to make. For such grave source material, the film is rather ridiculous at times, but if you’re after a couple of hours of beasts, bombast and numerous heavenly bodies, than you might enjoy this more than you expected to. It’s a quiet month, so why not?