Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

 Hobbit (2)
  • Released Internationally on 11/12/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 13/12/13
Review (12/12/13)

3-word review: Necessary, uninspired viewing.

It’s 2013, and this second part of the Hobbit is released worldwide on the 13th of December, and once again features a rowdy company of 13 dwarves. So here’s 13 reasons why you should watch it, and, maybe more convincingly, 13 reasons why you shouldn’t.

13 reasons why you should watch ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’.

  1. It’s more entertaining than the rather dull first instalment.
  2. It’s slightly shorter, too.
  3. It starts off with a prologue sequence in Bree, which might bring you fond memories of The Fellowship of the Ring, as it is intended to.
  4. Martin Freeman is once again fun to watch as Bilbo, and Ian McKellen is his usual classy self as Gandalf.
  5. The first half is quite fast-paced and features a couple of interesting and fresh new characters.
  6. There’s an exciting and well-choreographed action sequence involving lots of barrels and lots of dwarves, which stands out in the book and is brought vividly to life here.
  7. There’s finally one place that looks, sounds and feels completely new - a picturesque town on a lake, which is probably the first part of the Hobbit trilogy not to look like a recycled Lord of the Rings set.
  8. The leader of said town is portrayed by Stephen Fry.
  9. The magical sense of occasion that permeated throughout the Lord of the Rings trilogy finally returns once the company reaches their destination and knocks on the door of Smaug the dragon.
  10. Smaug himself looks quite stunning (albeit similar to most other dragons we’ve ever seen on screen), and is voiced by the ever-eloquent Benedict Cumberbatch.
  11. The way that Smaug is revealed and introduced lives up to all the hype surrounding such a magnificent character.
  12. Just like the recent second Hunger Games film, and many famous second films in trilogies, this one has the luxury of ending with a cliff-hanger.
  13. You need to see this to be able to see the climactic end to the trilogy next year.



13 reasons why you should not watch ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’.

  1. The main flaw of the first film has not been addressed, and in a sense could not be addressed. Once they committed to making three films out of such a short book, there was no way it was not going to be dragging, drawn out and stuffed with ‘filler’ material.
  2. The filler material includes the largely pointless prologue scene which feels so forced and fabricated, even including a repeat cameo by Peter Jackson just like in The Fellowship of the Ring, that you can’t but feel let down even before the main titles start.
  3. The lack of excitement is a recurring theme – such as in a long, complex scene involving huge spiders, which fails to provide anything new at all when compared to the excellent Shelob material we’ve already seen in The Return of the King.
  4. Gandalf is off on his errands as usual, but this time they are tedious, seemingly pointless, and to a large extent fabricated, besides slowing the films pace down even further.
  5. Nearly six hours into this tale, it’s still hard to sympathise with, delve into or even recognise most of the dwarves, despite evident attempts to make them distinguishable thanks to ridiculous hairstyles and traits.
  6. Evangeline Lilly (Lost) is a new main character, but her role also screams desperation - a desperate attempt to introduce some girl-power and a fresh face.
  7. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) is dragged into the proceedings, despite being completely absent from the source material, in what seems like a sad attempt at sharing some of the Lord of the Rings love and linking the two time frames.
  8. Surprisingly, the visual effects stand out as below par in certain instances, particularly the barrel action sequence.
  9. The attempts at linking the story with that of The Lord of the Rings, beyond the obvious links created by Tolkien, leads to the focus being stolen away from Smaug at certain key moments.
  10. Some scenes in the third act are so painfully long and dragging that you start to wonder if there was a pre-determined minimum length established for this film.
  11. None of Howard Shore’s new music, including the new themes for the town on the lake, stand out as half as inspired or memorable as the countless themes he wrote for the original trilogy.
  12. None of the dwarves are half as endearing as Gimli.
  13. The end credits song is an very unfortunate choice, and not a great fit for the tone of the film and the excellent end credit songs that preceded it.





Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saving Mr Banks

  • Released Internationally on 29/11/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 29/11/13
Review (28/11/13)

3-word review: Unusual Disney Magic.

Most people alive today, or at least those in the western world, have had their childhood years sprinkled with Disney magic in some form or another. The baby boomers were around when Walt Disney himself was transforming the world of animation and family cinema; my generation got to savour the Mermaid-Beauty-Aladdin peak and all the unforgettable music it brought with it; and today’s children are spoilt for choice thanks to the excellent quality of recent offerings, especially the collaborations with Pixar. Mary Poppins has somehow persisted through all of this, with its most recent incarnation being a stage musical. A childhood without ever having heard the word ‘Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious’ is not one I would wish upon anyone.

The making of

Which is a large part of the reason why this very unique film has such a great, nostalgic appeal to it. It is basically an entertaining, moving, film version of what you normally would expect to find amongst the extras on a DVD set. It is essentially a behind-the-scenes look at how 1964’s Mary Poppins was made. The reason it makes for entertaining viewing is that the author of the Mary Poppins children’s books - a very British lady who went by the name of P. L. Travers - was a very hard nut to crack, and it took Walt Disney many years and tonnes of charm to draw her to tinsel town and let him make the musical version of her books that he had promised his daughters.


There are few more enjoyable things to watch than a hard nut being slowly cracked, and acting goddess Emma Thompson is wonderful to watch as she slowly, and only very slightly, warms to the carefree Los Angeles ways and cautiously lets go of her precious literary creation. A large part of the persuasion process comes by way of the sublime music that the famous Sherman Brothers (portrayed here by B. J. Novak from The Office and Jason Schwartzman from The Darjeeling Limited) were composing at the peak of their powers, and which can still gets throats humming and toes tapping fifty years later.


Filling the powerful but warm role of the head of the Disney empire himself is Tom Hanks, who delivers yet another seemingly understated but ultimately excellent performance after his recent Captain Phillips, although if he gets any awards glory this year I imagine it will be for that, not this. His to-and-fro wrangling with Travers whilst never wavering in his determination to make the film he wanted to make is the stuff of warm drama films, not forgotten DVD extras, so I’m glad it has been given this first class treatment. These scenes are carefully woven in between scenes from Travers’ childhood, where her loving but unreliable father (Colin Farrell) was a clear inspiration for the imperfect Mr Banks, and where the events that followed explain her unwavering devotion to the characters in her books.

In the end

Ultimately, the film owes much of its feel-good factor and audience appeal to Mary Poppins itself, and even lifts a couple of songs for key scenes and touching moments. But the two stories are undeniably melded together, so it is a rare and wonderful joy to see this companion piece reach our cinema screens, and remind us of the excitement we felt, back when the winds were in the east, and the mist was coming in.





Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

  • Released Internationally on 20/11/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 21/11/13
Review (20/11/13)

3-word review: Even better sequel.

I think I’ll stop rushing to read books before they are made into films. It makes the films so much more enjoyable when I have no clue what’s coming next. I hadn’t read the Hunger Games books when the first film was released, and I enjoyed it so much I decided not to read the other two, despite itching to know what comes next. And here I am, hugely satisfied by the second film, and itching to know what happens in the third. But I’ll be patient.
Of course, the eternal debaters between the book and the film choices would point out that reading the books without having seen the films offers the same raw joy, but considering how many books I have lined up waiting to be read, I think I’ll be fine without delving into these particular  three.
So where were we?
But I digress. This second film definitely assumes you have watched the first, and picks up soon after Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, now an Oscar winner) and Peeta (subtle but effective Josh Hutcherson) have won the 74th edition of the infamous Hunger Games, in a dystopian world somewhere in the future. Their stirring victory and apparent love story has sent ripples of admiration and defiance through the twelve districts of Panem, and President Snow (a wonderfully malicious Donald Sutherland) rightly fears a revolution. He schemes with his new Head Gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to get them eliminated or at least have their image deflated, by hosting a 75th Hunger Games that involves participants selected from amongst past winners. So sort of like the Champions League, but instead of getting knocked out, you’re killed.
Deeply disturbing stuff
Much like the first film, the strength of this sequel is the worrying concept at its core, and the unsettling similarities to the world we live in, where TV and reality work together to manipulate audiences, and too much is done purely for show. The capital city’s thriving population feeds off the work and misery of the backward districts, and their celebrity TV presenter (a finely-tuned manic performance by Stanley Tucci) turns shocking and morbid news into sound bites for the cheering crowds. Death is reduced to a mere TV event, and lives are judged by their impact on TV audiences. It’s a far exaggerated version of the reality TV scenarios we have today, but so much of it rings eerily true. The helpless people on TV are instructed to merely be a distraction, so that the unwashed masses in the audience don’t have time to think about the real problems in their lives.
Making us accomplices
One of the impressive feats of the film, although I’m not sure whether intentionally or not, is that during the extensive build-up to the games, as we meet the eventual participants and see what is really at stake, the revulsion at the concept of the murderous games is mixed with a palpable anticipation for the games to start. I for one felt a rush when the countdown finally began and all hell broke loose. It’s hugely entertaining of course, and just like the manipulated workers of Panem I was eager to see the contest unfold. But of course, these are not straightforward games like we saw in the first film.
Cast and crew
The star-studded cast makes for quite an impressive list. Complementing Tucci as another well-executed fake is Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) as the District 12 escort, and trying to keep calm and grounded amidst all the craziness is celebrated designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Woody Harrelson also returns as the previous District 12 victor who mentors the new stars, and Liam Hemsworth (younger brother to Thor star Chris) resumes duties as Katniss’ close friend and hopefully more. The new participants in the games include a few familiar faces too - Jeffrey Wright (Syriana, Casino Royale), Amanda Plummer (Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction), Lynn Cohen (Munich) and Jena Malone (Donnie Darko). This sequel has a new director (Francis Lawrence, I Am Legend) and writers (Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire; Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine) but they do a remarkable job of continuing seamlessly where the first film left off, also thanks to the recurring musical themes of James Newton Howard (Batman Begins, The Sixth Sense).
In the end
This is extremely entertaining cinema, and it touches on a host of themes, from unrequited love to the power of the media, and all showcased in a post-apocalyptic world where excess and poverty feed off each other. The plot is taken up a notch in this second instalment, after the seeds of revolution were sown in the first, and I eagerly anticipate the next part of the story. The film also has that rare luxury only offered to second films in trilogies, which The Empire Strikes Back and The Two Towers made such excellent use of - the downer, cliff-hanger, ending.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Counsellor


  • Released Internationally on 25/10/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 15/11/13
Review (14/11/13)

3-word review: What a waste.

It is unfortunate when the collaboration between numerous talented people turns out to be quite a mess. This is one of those instances. Ridley Scott isn’t very consistent, but for over three decades now he has been directing films from a wide range of genres, many of which turn out to be hugely successful and established as classics. Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist, has a very particular style which makes it hard to put his books down. His fame soared recently thanks to the excellent adaptations of two of his best novels - No Country For Old Men and The Road. This is his first attempt at writing a screenplay. Cast-wise, Brad Pitt, Penélope Cruz, Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem hardly need any introduction. Yet, despite all these big names drawing you in and raising your expectations, there is a distinct feeling of ‘so what?’ by the time the credits roll.

No ordinary world

The technical aspects are fine, as expected. Everything looks great, from the tantalisingly sexy intro to the bleached look of the scenes in the Mexican desert. The film is set in a world of sharp contrasts - where the filthy-rich owners of pet cheetahs share business dealings with the filthy and crazy world of drug cartels. Michael Fassbender’s clean cut lawyer is new to this underworld, and he hopes to make just a quick visit, for one big-paying job. His crazy client (Javier Bardem) sets it up, but he warns him that it’s hard to not get sucked in. Brad Pitt is the wise, mysterious advisor who has seen it all and is trying to get out while he can. Cameron Diaz is the client’s sexy but dangerous girlfriend. The only seemingly normal person, and presumably the one the audience should try to relate to, is the lawyer’s girlfriend, played with wide-eyed innocence by Penélope Cruz.


Things plod along fairly slowly, but at least it is to McCarthy’s credit that the dialogue is lyrical and attention-grabbing. But the rather thin plot takes much too long to develop, and things rarely get exciting or moving in any way. A few key sequences stand out as vivid ideas that the author might have dreamt up, but they serve little purpose except to allow some character to describe them in disgusting detail. It’s as if he thought of a couple of ways to kill a person, and a couple of fascinating anecdotes, and built a film around them. They make for a few memorable scenes, but not for a good film. Some of the resulting episodes are not for the squeamish, although the most disturbing stuff happens off screen, which makes it all the more effective.

In the end

The word ‘cautionary’ comes up as the counsellor is warned about the dangers of what he is getting himself into, and ultimately that is what The Counsellor is - a cautionary tale. I imagine it would have made for an interesting book, but in heading straight for the screen is has ended up as rather dry and uneventful. There are many slow-paced, deliberate and observational films that I have loved over the years, but this is definitely not one of them. I predict that a couple of sequences will stick around in my memory, but the rest is a forgettable missed opportunity.





Thursday, November 07, 2013



  • Released Internationally on 03/10/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 08/11/13
Review (07/11/13)

3-word review: Go watch it.

Some films are beautiful, whilst others sacrifice the sweeping vistas and slow shots to deliver a fast-paced thriller instead. Gravity manages to do both, resulting in a film that manages to be gripping from start to finish, whilst still finding time to be a gorgeous feast for the senses.  

Simple, always simple

The first beautiful thing about this film is its simplicity. Two astronauts - one a seasoned veteran (George Clooney) and one a first-timer (Sandra Bullock), are on a space walk when their mission goes very wrong. Cut off from their usual lines of communication and well-rehearsed procedures, they need to struggle to survive. That’s more or less it. No cliché pre-take off introductions on earth, no flashbacks, no deus ex machina. Just a simple, immersive story that leaves you stunned for an hour and a half.

Great performances

As ground-breaking as the technical wizardry on display is, the film succeeds largely thanks to the wonderful presence of both Clooney and Bullock. Clooney is in familiar territory here, character-wise, as the wise veteran who knows all the tricks, offers a voice of reassurance, and never takes things too seriously. His calming presence is vital to his partner in space, whom Bullock instils with equal doses of insecurity and deep-seated determination.

A visual feast

Nowadays, it’s rare that I catch myself wondering ‘How did they do that?!’ when watching a film. I thought it a handful of times during this one. The sheer logistics of creating these completely convincing spacewalks and zero gravity accidents must have caused many a headache, but the end result makes you glad you have your 3D glasses on and a huge screen in front of your face. One scene in particular, as Bullock’s character enjoys a much-earned moment of freedom in zero gravity, is one of those priceless scenes where everything gels perfectly and makes you catch your breath.

Don’t let go

The film somehow manages to keep the tension and action going for most of its running length without ever getting tedious or tiring. Things keep going wrong, but not once does it feel far-fetched. The audience is toyed with continuously, given fleeting moments of security before they are pulled out from under us. This makes for a powerful human drama, the rise and fall of which is played out on the rate of Bullock’s breathing.

Technical masterpiece

This is an astounding achievement in every regard. The eerie, pulsating music; the visual effects; the spectacular shots of earth; the great use of sound - it all comes with a sheen of excellence and feels so much better and cleaner than anything I can recall in many months. Easily the best film of the year so far, and one of the most accomplished pieces of cinema I can remember experiencing.





Teaser Trailer

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

  • Released Internationally on 30/10/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 30/10/13

Review (29/10/13)

3-word review: London gets hammered.

Possibly better than the first one

I was a bit wary of this sequel. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor was entertaining enough, but it felt a bit heartless, and focused too much on the pomp and circumstance of the world of Asgard (where Thor and his dad, Odin, are from). When the action shifted down to earth for something us viewers could relate to, it was small towns in the middle of nowhere, and hardly scenes befitting a movie of that scale. Thankfully, these flaws have nearly all been addressed this time around.

Not all Dark

The prologue is rather grand, with battle scenes reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings prologue, and although I usually prefer the earthly action to the other-worldly lore in these films, the backstory and mythology don’t outstay their welcome. We’re introduced to a new nemesis - the silent and scary Malekith, portrayed with not many words but a lot of presence by Christopher Eccleston (Elizabeth). The fine details of his history and masterplan are not too important, of course, but the film does require a rather hefty suspension of belief for us to grasp that when instructed to hide a great evil power somewhere in the universe where nobody would find it, someone hid it in an abandoned building in a London industrial zone. But anyway, things move swiftly to the action.

Loki Loki Loki

For all his posturing and unsightly prosthetics, the new bad guy still pales in comparison to the hugely effective Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who post-Avengers gets to walk that delightfully ambiguous line between friend and foe, and who makes very good use of his screen time in this instalment of the Avengers saga. His chemistry, or lack thereof, with his adoptive brother Thor allows for a few well-conceived scenes and a good dose of Asgard family dynamics.

Between two worlds

Thankfully, the Asgard scenes, as well as those in other worlds, are regularly interrupted by down-to-earth action that help keeps the film somewhat grounded and relevant. The focus is mostly on present-day London, with the Shard getting the sort of attention cinema used to give to Big Ben, and the recent ‘walkie talkie’ building also making an appearance. The film’s final confrontation takes place on British soil, and is rather enjoyable if you manage to ignore all the ridiculous scientific explanations that Jane (Natalie Portman) and her team insist on shouting out intermittently.

In the end

Chris Hemsworth (Rush) manages to keep Thor likeable and reliable, despite him not being half as interesting a hero as Iron Man, or even Captain America for that matter. The film slots nicely into the Avengers timeline, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, with even an amusing cameo or two, as expected. Director Alan Taylor has previously done an excellent job directing Sopranos, Mad Men and even Game of Thrones episodes; and here he shows that he can handle an event film like this one. It’s nothing too refined, but at least it’s good fun. And of course, make sure you sit through the end credits.




Monday, October 28, 2013

Captain Phillips

930353 - Captain Phillips

  • Released Internationally on 10/10/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/10/13
Mini-Review (29/10/13)

3-word review: Hanks excels again.

Some of the best films ever made focus on a single person’s struggle, and Tom Hanks has portrayed that person on numerous occasions. He’s back in top form here, as the true life captain of the first American cargo ship to be captured by Somali pirates back in 2009, before these hijackings became regular news. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) gives us a simple, no-frills look at the unfolding events, and Hanks perfectly portrays the ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His powerful acting starts off subtle and unremarkable but ends in a powerful finale as the hostage situation reaches its conclusion. Credit must also go to the supporting cast, especially his captors – clearly desperate and unprepared, but led by the chillingly calm Muse (impressive first time actor Barkhad Abdi). It’s a moving story of confrontation and survival, and a great piece of cinema.




Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The World’s End

The World's End
  • Released Internationally on 18/07/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 23/10/13

Review (08/10/13)
3-word review: Sadly, too silly.
The Cornetto Trilogy
I am a huge fan of the first two instalments of this unofficial trilogy, which features different stories set in different times, but sharing a certain level of craziness and black humour. They're all written and directed by Edgar Wright (who also brought us the wonderful Scott Pilgrim), and they all star the duo Simon Pegg (Star Trek) and Nick Frost (The Boat that Rocked), who have great chemistry on screen. The first, Shaun of the Dead, was a near-perfect humourous take on zombie films; and the second, Hot Fuzz, was a wildly entertaining homage to over-the-top action films from the 80s. This third outing unfortunately falls short of its predecessors, especially in the second half.

The World's Start
Things start of promisingly, with a fast, joyous and entertaining prologue sequence that introduces us to five old friends and the legendary antics they got up to a few decades ago. Their present day incarnations are all rather serious types, except for the loose cannon Gary King (Pegg), who never quite grew up. The one thing he has going for him is his infective enthusiasm, and he manages to convince the old gang to head back to their hometown and try to complete the famous pub crawl that they attempted many moons ago. Apart from Pegg and Frost, the central quintet is rounded off by Martin Freeman (The Hobbit), Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Eddie Marsan (Happy Go Lucky).

The Nostalgia factor
Of course, as happens with nostalgia, things aren't as amazing as everyone remembered them to be, and the film offers some half-hearted commentary about the unfortunate gentrification of British pubs, and the rose-tinted distortion of childhood memories. It is, however, fun to watch the central five warm to each other as the pints get consumed and the stories start coming out. When the levels of testosterone get too high, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) waltzes in to offer a female touch, and she triggers off a whole slew of further memories.

The above lasts all of forty minutes, and is fun to watch, in a warm, non-demanding way. Then, as expected, all hell breaks loose. I was, of course, expecting this, since the film's title is evidently not just the name of the pub crawl's final pub, and in Hot Fuzz, the sudden change in tone of the film half-way through was marvellously executed and great fun. But here, things manage to get too silly. I am fully aware that 'silly' was a core element of the previous two films, but there's a limit. This film crosses that limit, and hands us a second and third act that are too ridiculous to sustain any prolonged interest. It's a pity, because in between all the carnage and nonsense there are a handful of good jokes and potentially touching moments. But it's all drowned in a big, expensive-looking mess.

In the end
The messy ending is made even worse by an epilogue scene that adds nothing and doesn't make much sense, and by the time the end credits rolled I had nearly forgotten the high hopes and warm feelings I felt throughout the first part of the film. Thankfully, the three films in this 'trilogy' are separate entities, so in future years we can still look back at Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz with the respect and affection they deserve, whilst hopefully forgetting about this one.

Monday, September 30, 2013



  • Released Internationally on 20/09/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 02/10/13

Review (30/09/13)
3-word review: A missed opportunity.

This is by no means a successful, definitive, biopic. Those films are hard to find, and in recent years have often been passed over in lieu of films focusing on specific periods or incidents in famous people’s lives, without ambitiously claiming to be an all-encompassing account of the person’s time amongst the living. The King’s Speech was a wonderfully-executed example of these focused types, whereas The Iron Lady was a rather successful overview of Thatcher from her dawn to her twilight. 

Making a modern royal biopic must be quite tricky. A chunk of your intended audience probably have the subject of your film on some pedestal and will carefully scrutinise your every move and see if the film is worthy of its subject. Another chunk hate the idea of a monarchy and will gladly ignore the film or tear it to shreds. But it gets even trickier when your subject is one of the most photographed and public figures of the past decades, and everyone has an opinion about her.

As superficial as it sounds, however, a lot is riding on the resemblance of your main star to the person in question, aided as necessary by prosthetics and makeup. Which is a large part, of course, of why The Iron Lady worked. Naomi Watts, despite her very good acting and wonderfully 80s hairdo, does not look like Diana, and it takes a while for this to sink in and allow you to look past it. In fact some of the best shots in the film feature her from behind or from an angle, and I found myself making a double take to see whether it was archival footage or a carefully re-created scene. 

Unfortunately these designed re-enactments of iconic Diana photos and moments are the most enjoyable aspect of the film, since the love story itself feels like a standard soap-opera romance, which could be completely accurate, or mostly conjecture - we might never know. Naveen Andrews (Lost, Sinbad) is confident enough to pull off the role of the heart surgeon who stole Diana’s heart, and Watts manages to combine enough grace and fragility with occasional moments of daring to remind us what a complex person Diana must have been.

It’s interesting to dip back into the mid-90s, in an era of flip-phones, Concordes and cassette tapes, because back then the internet was brand new, and despite Diana’s constant media presence she was spared the endless, permanent internet plastering that some celebrities get today. Which might be why she managed to enjoy this modicum of privacy and have a last few years searching for happiness, albeit away from her sons for long stretches. “My boys need to see me happy”, she said, and at least she gave it a good try.

The cardiac love story plays out as we expect it to, and the film feels like it could end there, but of course it needs to go on a bit longer so that Dodi Fayed (Cas Avnar - Argo) can come into play, and lead things towards that fateful night in Paris. The chilling, famous scenes most of us will recognise provide a powerful coda to this sad tale, but ultimately they fail to lift this film to the incisive portrait it could have been.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pain & Gain

  • Released Internationally on 24/04/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 04/09/13
Review (03/09/13)
3-word review: Entertaining Bay display.

The unmistakable Michael Bay

Whether Michael Bay’s films feature asteroids, giant robots or weapons of mass destruction, or even if they do away with all the sci-fi and gadgetry and just focus on present day crime, they are all easily identifiable as larger-than-life Bay spectacles. Not one to go for subtlety, Bay has often divided opinions with his over the top style. Everything must be drenched in sweaty, unforgiving sun, everything must be bursting with colour, and lots of action needs to happen in slow-motion and accompanied by wailing electric guitars. You also need at least one shot encircling the character from below, and one with a massive plane flying directly overhead, if possible. 

But while the end result is often a big hot mess (the Transformers films, especially the two sequels), or not worthy of the subject matter (Pearl Harbour), it does occasionally result in wide-eyed cheesy entertainment that is a joy to watch (The Rock, Armageddon). Those instances, however, where Bay does away with all the extras and stamps his style onto a crime film, are in my humble opinion the instances where his controversial talents are best displayed. Which is why this film works, just as the two Bad Boys films worked. When your subject matter resembles something out of an MTV reality show, what better way to present it than looking like a big budget music video?

“My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.”

Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Fighter), stars as the gym-obsessed ex-convict Daniel, who dreams of a life beyond his mundane personal trainer job and realises he can’t obtain that life through strictly legal means. He singles out a wealthy, seemingly helpless client of his (Tony Shalhoub - The Man Who Wasn’t There, Monk) and after getting fired up by a motivational speaker (Ken Jeong - The Hangover trilogy) he decides to go for broke and try to skim every last penny off the unsuspecting Jewish businessman. The trio he assembles for the job include his colleague and fellow fitness-fanatic Adrian (Anthony Mackie - The Hurt Locker) and built-like-a-bus Paul (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson - Fast & Furious 6). 

Fargo, on steroids

Between the three of them they have enough brawn to intimidate anyone, but not enough brain to pull their ridiculous scheme off. And thus ensues a regular winning formula in literature and cinema - the convoluted scheme which goes impressively wrong, partly due to misfortune, and partly due to sheer stupidity. Fargo remains one of the most nuanced and engrossing examples of this, with A Simple Plan trying to repeat the formula a couple of years later. This is nowhere as subtle or high-brow, but it is very entertaining nonetheless, although admittedly in a similar way to watching disastrous reality TV or other instances where you can shake your head and feel hugely superior to the protagonists. Wahlberg anchors the trio well, with his trademark puzzled expression perfectly suited for the enthusiastic but clueless gang leader he portrays. Dwayne Johnson is the most entertaining, however, managing to shift between highly-string cocaine fiend and his character’s recently discovered happy-clappy religious side. 

This is still a true story

By the time a private detective (the ever-bankable Ed Harris - A Beautiful Mind) is brought in to try and uncover the fraudulent scheme, and by the time our anti-heroes have spent all their money and are itching for a second hit, Bay does well to remind us, during one particularly insane scene, that “this is still a true story”. It takes some convincing, but we are shown the real-life protagonists during the end credits, and the events in the film did in fact happen in the mid-90s. Which is why the film is also a wonderfully cheesy collection of 90s styles and music, which cements the comparison with Bad Boys even further.

In the end

By the time the explosions have died down and everyone has come down from their steroid rage or cocaine high, there isn’t all too much substance to take home, apart from the very obvious moral lesson that crime doesn’t pay and that the elusive ‘American Dream’ needs to be attained through hard, honest work. But who cares? It’s an entertaining two hours, and despite being Michael Bay’s second least expensive film to date, I think it’s one of his best.




Tuesday, August 27, 2013



  • Released Internationally on 07/08/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 28/08/13
Review (27/08/13)

3-word review: Slightly inferior follow-up.

The future is now

The illegal migrants huddle together in terrified silence, praying and hoping to get to their new life safely. After paying more than they can afford to a sleazy merchant who thrives off desperation, they make a valiant attempt to reach the promised land where their children can grow up safely, with clean air and free healthcare. The risk they take is huge - most of them will not survive the trip.

This is not some extract from a news bulletin about the current situation in the Mediterranean, it’s a rather poignant scene early on in the film, which despite being fast-paced and action-driven manages to give us a taste of the migrants’ hopes and fears, and strike home the very relevant message. Just like in Neil Blomkamp’s first film, District 9, the use of a futuristic vision of earth to tackle a present-day issue is very well-executed.

Unfortunately, this second film of his doesn’t manage to maintain the novelty and relevance of his first, and after a very impressive opening the film descends slightly into standard, unemotional action territory, with a few quiet scenes here and there which beg you to care by slowing things down and chucking a wailing ethnic female voice on the soundtrack. It doesn’t always work.

In a nutshell

The stunning opening gives us just two sentences of backstory, and manages to draw us immediately into Elysium’s world - earth is diseased and overpopulated, and the elite few have escaped into a massive space station orbiting the earth, where they live in lush green tranquillity whilst keeping a sharp lookout for any unworthy ones trying to crash the party. Jodie Foster is the face of the elite and Matt Damon is our hero on the ground.

After an accident at work, his health suddenly becomes an issue, and the script goes for the old trick of adding urgency to the story by giving him a set number of days to live. With nothing to lose, he plans a daring trip to Elysium, with the altruistic aim of making their wonderful healthcare tools available for all of Earth.

Has its good points

Damon is, as always, very likeable, and his human side manages to shine through here, despite the prosthetics and exoskeleton they screw into him to make him strong enough for the mission. The shots of earth are impressively done - it looks like one enormous favela - but what I really loved was the look of Elysium. Definitely a space station, but for once designed with the possibility of fresh air and open-air landscapes. Very clever. The visual effects are all top-notch, including droids that looks better than Transformers and a couple of memorable healing shots.

Sharlto Copley, who shot to fame after his unforgettable main role in District 9, is back in a prominent role here, initially treading the line between Earth and Elysium as a rogue gun for hire. The sense of urgency is maintained throughout the film, which runs for what I thought was the perfect length for this type of film, and which thankfully helped us forget some of the inconsistencies and clichés it contained by ending beautifully.







Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Lone Ranger


  • Released Internationally on 03/07/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 14/08/13
Review (13/08/13)

3-word review: Surprisingly, consistently, fun.


British comedian Billy Connolly once defined ‘intellectual’ as ‘someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger’. Well that rules me out. After months spent watching re-runs of the 50s TV show as a child, Rossini’s orchestral gallop is forever linked to the masked hero in my mind, and I must admit I felt a surge of excitement when it burst onto the screen this time around.

News from afar

Inevitably, us European audiences are often influenced by feedback from the US when it comes to tentpole films which aren’t released simultaneously worldwide. In this case, Disney’s big summer blockbuster flopped spectacularly, despite Johnny Depp’s name being plastered everywhere and despite much of the crew from the Pirates of the Caribbean films being on deck. The reasons why could be debated at length, but for starters the film is definitely a good half-hour too long, which always means less box-office returns. That aside, however, I couldn’t find any obvious, major flaws, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Wild Wild West

Westerns tend to struggle to find an audience, but when done well I find them hugely entertaining. This one is about as western as it gets, and there’s equal parts sweeping, gorgeous vistas and oppressive heat and dust. Director Gore Verbinski (who has already regaled us with a masterful western starring Depp - Rango), makes more than the occasional nod to the spaghetti westerns of the Sergio Leone days, from highlighting the bad guy’s clear blue eyes to using incidental background sound effects to create tension. And like all the great classic tales from the west, train tracks and native Indians form an essential part of the plot.

Why so serious?

Thankfully, Verbinski steers clear of the classics when it comes to taking himself seriously, and just like Rango this film is infused with a healthy dose of self-awareness and humour. It is mostly provided by the misunderstood and seemingly not-too-bright Tonto (Depp), who proves to be a useful sidekick much in the vein of captain Jack Sparrow. He gets to do a lot of eye-rolling too, due to the bumbling antics of the titular character himself (Armie Hammer, The Social Network). The excuse for the Texas ranger’s lack of expertise is that this is an origin story, and he therefore makes the transition from clean-cut legal office man to bankable vigilante before our eyes. The tongue-in-cheek attitude is a blessing, especially when your hero is a man in a suit, mask and white hat, who rides a horse whiter than Shadowfax and who silhouettes himself against the setting sun whilst yelling “Hi-Ho Silver!”. Verbinski handles all this marvellously, and I for one laughed out loud more than once.

Cast & Crew

Besides the two main guys, the film is populated with a host of two-dimensional characters, but the talented cast does the job admirably, with William Fichtner (The Dark Knight Rises, Armageddon) finally getting a full-blooded bad guy role, Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, Batman Begins) playing his usual shifty self, and Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish, The King’s Speech) pulling out all her eccentric tricks. Behind the scenes, the film boasts wonderful scenery and some stunning shots, including a few self-aware, eye-catching ones as in all Verbinski’s recent efforts, and one set piece that looks like a scaled-down Helm’s Deep. Composer Hans Zimmer moves on from the noisy Man of Steel and shits into playful mode, including his all-important take on the Overture, which predictably ends up sounding like Rossini on steroids, in a good way.

In the end

It has its flaws, and it could have been shorter, but it’s gorgeous to look at, fun throughout, and packed with action, humour and some (predictable) drama. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it ticked all my boxes for a summer blockbuster, and provided more escapist entertainment than many of its more successful summer competitors. And it was definitely the most fun I’ve seen on a train since Back to the Future Part III, which was over two decades ago.





Should you sit through the end credits? Yes




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bling Ring

  • Released Internationally on 12/06/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 24/07/13
Review (23/07/13)
3-word review: Sick but fascinating.

I often refer back to a comment I once read - that a good film is one that manages to make the audience feel anything strongly enough. The more films I watch, the more I agree. I liked this one quite a bit, for example, despite it making me want to reach into the screen and slap every single main character hard in the face. I sincerely hope that every person who watches this film is disgusted at some level.
“We had so many beautiful gorgeous things.”
Based on recent true events, this is the worrying tale of a group of spoilt Hollywood teenagers who despite having way too much ‘stuff’ and money in their lives, let their obsessions with fame and celebrity turn them into a ring of burglars, stealing designer items from the mansions of the the stars, enjoying the rush of the invasion even more than the acquisition of more stuff. The warped products of the Facebook generation are presented in near-documentary style, with the camera observing their vapid lifestyles, ridiculous conversation and dangerous boredom. How one spends the day and night is not half as important as how one looks in the ‘selfie’ photos one takes and posts online, and the definition of a successful life is not whether you enjoy your day, but how fabulous it looks on Facebook. I’m sure this rings a few bells with any regular social media user, and this phenomenon is a real and present problem, along with our increasing obsession with watching anything remotely interesting through the screen of our phone camera, rather than with our eyes.
“America’s sick fascination”
As I sat peering into the accessorized lives of these pseudo-spiritual juvenile delinquents, I felt a similar feeling of disgust to when I used to watch MTV’s ‘Cribs’, a show which used to showcase the exorbitant and ridiculous excesses that the filthy rich incorporate into their homes. These brand-obsessed teenagers left me feeling similarly empty and soulless, and sad that this level of superficiality actually exists. It’s like watching the E! channel all day long.
The biggest name in the film, Emma Watson, has some initial trouble shaking off her Hermione character from the Harry Potter films, which is of course how us audiences have seen her growing up. But once you embrace the new accent and attitude, there’s a fine-tuned performance worth noting, and one that brings home the complete lack of self-awareness her character has. A lack of self-awareness that is of course fuelled by reality - these young criminals served their short prison terms and emerged ready to milk their new found fame and make the most of the situation. It’s fame that’s important, not how you got it.
Sofia Coppola continues to build her impressive directing filmography and adds her usual brand of style to the proceedings. The brazen titles, the obtrusive but intoxicating music montages and the hedonistic dialogue are equally matched by a few beautifully constructed scenes, including a gorgeous long take of one of the burglaries. She even manages to make CCTV footage look classy. Some might argue that the film offers no statement or lesson at the end of it all, but I didn’t feel it was necessary - the film is a statement in itself and perfectly captures many symptoms of the sick society we live in.

The Vanity Fair article on which the film is based: The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales.




Monday, July 01, 2013

Past Perfect: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Home movie gems from the past few decades that need some dusting but never get old.


It was only recently that I finally got around to watching this classic, and once again the overwhelming feeling afterwards was that I really should be dedicating more time to watching these golden oldies, because there’s usually a very evident reason why they’ve endured. I had never watched a film with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their prime, and I can see what all the fuss is about. If you want a perfect example of on-screen chemistry, look no further - the title pair are so effortlessly brilliant together that they’re a joy to watch. And it gets even better when Sundance’s girlfriend joins the fray, including a famous musical bicycle scene which will have you humming for the rest of the day and bringing out your old Burt Bacharach tapes. It's basically a chase film, and although it doesn't maintain the great quality of the first half, it still ends with a wonderful, classic scene.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

World War Z

  • Released Internationally on 19/06/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 26/06/13
Preview (as published 01/06/13 in VIDA Magazine)

Watching Malta succumb to a zombie epidemic should be fun, which probably means that this film will be a local box-office hit, whatever the international outcome is. You might recall that, quite a while ago, Brad Pitt was in town, accompanied by the lovely Angelina and their personal child care centre. The result was extensive and ambitious scenes of zombie warfare shot in various parts of Valletta, Floriana, and even the Malta International Airport, amongst others. Shooting then moved to Glasgow, so it remains to be seen who does the best undead impression.

Despite the scale and international appeal of the project, as well as the star at the helm, alarm bells started ringing when extensive reshoots and alterations were announced - something that usually indicates that the film is going to be a bit of a mess. The first trailers didn’t do too much to dispel those worries, with the admittedly impressive footage being a bit too chaotic, and not exactly the best special effects we’ve ever seen.

Hopefully, however, the extensive post-production period has allowed for things to be polished and refined, and we’ll get the epic apocalyptic disaster movie that summer audiences deserve. Zombies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but when you might recognise one of them as Uncle Tony or Aunty Phyllis, I think it’s worth plucking up the courage and heading to the cinema.


Review (25/06/13)
3-word review: Zombies, but serious.

It’s tricky making a zombie film. No matter how much gravitas you pour in, and how big and respected a star you land as your main guy, it’s hard to shake of decades of zombie film reputation and reactions. The reason is quite simple - zombies tend to be a perfect mix of looking terrifying and looking ridiculous. We all know how to walk like one, and if you add a blank stare and outstretched hands - voila! - instant zombie party. Which is why the more successful zombie films in the past have either dialled-up the horror to the point of making it a guilty pleasure gore-fest, or else added generous amounts of humour. In recent years, two good examples of this were Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. The former toned down the gore but had some of the best humour of the decade, and ended up being a joy to watch. The latter took the gore to new extremes, but still managed to coat it all in wonderful, self-aware, dry humour, including an inspired opening monologue that sets the quirky tone splendidly.

Here, however, nobody smiles. There is nothing remotely funny or amusing about the whole film, and it very clearly aims for the ‘tragic, heartfelt, disaster movie’ genre, but replacing the usual recipes of aliens, outbreaks or asteroids with zombies. It very nearly manages in that regard, and the worldwide scope is palpable, and befitting of the film’s title. But inevitably, you can expect to hear occasional guffaws from the audience, because zombies still look ridiculous, or at least they can do when they’re not running after you or biting your leg. Possibly because of this, the Z-word isn’t heard until a good half-hour into the film, and great care is taken not to portray them in any amusing way.

International unity

The paranoia sets in very effectively during the opening titles, with the overused-but-still-very-effective method of using newsflashes. Once Piers Morgan appears, you can tell things are going to get really unpleasant. And sure enough, we cut quickly to the chase, with widespread chaos having set in barely minutes into the film. As is necessary in any such film with an emotional core, we zoom into the main character’s family briefly, but we’re shown enough to make them a key motivation throughout the rest of the film. Normal life is shattered, as within moments ordinary citizens are on the run without their car, without their wallet and without their asthma inhaler.

But then we zoom back out and take in just how bad things are getting. The international scope of the film is well-maintained throughout, with the global fight against the zombie epidemic playing out like some huge competition - some countries are winning, some cities have fallen, some nations have ‘gone dark’. The powers that be are suitably international, with the UN and the WHO being the main players here, and Brad Pitt’s character as their man in the field.

Ideas that work

The urgent search for a cure plays out well, with hints dropped along the way and eventually coalescing into a feasible solution, although the film doesn’t hang around long enough for practical loopholes and problems to be given much thought. The whole zombie phenomenon is also given a few interesting twists not often seen is such films - such as their being drawn to noise, and their being aggravated by the killing of fellow zombies. These minor points help to add tension and drama at a few key points in the film. The other main factor that drives this film forward is how the plot delivers us into seemingly safe locations - sheltered homes, aircraft carriers, planes, countryside - before ruthlessly yanking them away from us, thus driving home the message that “movement is life”. Thankfully, amidst all the wanton destruction and killing, there are also a handful of moments to remind us about the true value of each individual life, especially in the case of a female Israeli soldier who ends up being one of the more interesting characters in the film.

Malta and more

On a purely Maltese level, the film is also highly recommended from a sightseeing point of view, as Malta doubles for Jerusalem in the middle section of the film. There’s lots of Valletta on display, as well as our airport being overrun during an aerial escape sequence. Once the plane manages to leave, it allegedly marks the point where the film’s direction was altered after the first draft was made, resulting in extensive reshoots, a few new early scenes, and an entirely different third act. The last bit, set in a claustrophobic WHO facility in Cardiff, does in fact seem very different from the rest of the film - in tone, in pace and even visually. But it manages to deliver some of the more tense scenes of the film, on a minimal budget, and manages to give this film a satisfying conclusion whilst leaving the options open for the inevitable sequel.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel
  • Released Internationally on 13/06/13
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 19/06/13
Preview (as published 01/06/13 in VIDA Magazine)

With attention spans and memories getting seemingly shorter, filmmakers are probably justified in never giving up on a film franchise. Just wait a few years, and give it another shot. When Ang Lee’s Hulk wasn’t a success, they tried again a few years later, and when that flopped too, they snuck the angry green giant into Avengers anyway, with record-smashing results. Which brings us to the second attempt at reviving the iconic Superman franchise.
In many ways, Superman is the purest, most impressive and certainly oldest superhero, appearing in some form or another since way back in 1938. As discussed at length in a wonderful dialogue scene in Kill Bill, he is also the superhero whose natural state is the heroic form, whereas the ordinary human clothes he wears whilst on earth are a costume for him to blend in. The red cape was something he was wrapped in from birth, and none of his powers were designed in a workshop or caused by some lab meltdown or insect bite. Yet, despite all these attributes, his popularity waned recently, as moviegoers shunned his red spandex briefs for the cooler outfits and antics of Batman, Iron Man and Spider-man, to name just three of the many recent crowd-pullers. Superman reached his cinematic pinnacle with the first two Christopher Reeve films in the late 70s and early 80s, helped by then-ground-breaking special effects and by one of the best musical themes in cinema history, courtesy of John Williams during his wonder years.
But when Bryan Singer tried to revive the franchise with Superman Returns in 2006, the results were entertaining but forgettable, with too much deference to the original films, and Superman’s good boy image (and red briefs) jarring slightly after 2005’s unbelievably cool and dark Batman Begins. The two masthead heroes from the DC comics universe apparently could not co-exist, and whilst Superman was shelved, Batman went on to dominate recent years with a critically acclaimed trilogy by Christopher Nolan. So, sure enough, it’s Nolan himself who now has a hand in trying to bring Superman back into the reckoning, although he’s producing, not directing.
Surprise, surprise, the red briefs are gone. So is the boyish curl on his forehead. This is no goody-boy superhero - he’s masculine, he’s damaged, and the first glimpses we got of him were him busting out of a safe and him being escorted in handcuffs. A crucial factor in bringing Superman into the current gritty trend of superheroes was casting Henry Cavill (The Tudors), who looks a bit more weathered than 2006’s clean-cut Brandon Routh. The rest of the cast is an exciting mix - Russell Crowe as Superman’s natural father, Kevin Costner as his adoptive father on earth, Diane Lane (Unfaithful) as his adoptive mother, plus Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Amy Adams (The Fighter) as Lois Lane, and the wonderful character actor Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road) as the main villain, General Zod.
Directing duties went to Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), directing from a script by David Goyer, who wrote the recent Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan himself has also contributed to the story, and amongst his many usual collaborators, he also brought along veteran composer Hans Zimmer, who was faced with the unenviable task of taking a new musical direction which will inevitably be compared to Williams’ Superman theme. He did a wonderful job with the Dark Knight music, and based on the stunning music which dominated the latest Man of Steel trailer, he might just pull this one off too. There hasn’t been a trailer that caused so much fuss since Inception (also by Nolan, of course).
Now that the film’s release is imminent, the sublime marketing campaign and response so far have more or less guaranteed that the film will be a financial success, probably based on the first few days alone. But the important question will be whether it can stand up to all the hype, and ensure we get to see a quality, well-made Superman trilogy that is as great as those of his peers.

Review (18/06/13)
3-word review: A super disappointment.
I was so let down by this film that I felt sad for the rest of the day. A first-world problem, granted, but it had never happened to me to this extent. It’s my fault, of course. I get caught up in the excitement. I read the news scraps we’re fed as the film is being made. I feed on the excitement and I believe the hype. I felt justified in this case based on the list of key players, and based on the subject matter. Then, in mid-April, the third trailer was released, and I was in awe. I think making trailers is an art form that not all filmmakers succeed at, but this trailer was by far the best this year, and caused an appropriate level of excitement as it spread online. Now, having seen the film, that ‘Trailer 3’ remains for me a perfect mini-movie which contains most of the things I loved about Man of Steel – the key scenes, the best lines, the best parts of the plot, and the best piece of the soundtrack. For me, it’s all I need to remember, and it’s far better than the film as a whole.
A bit much.
I had a hard time rationalising why I hadn’t liked Avengers last summer, but this film helped confirm why. I dislike films that use the ‘aliens’ plot device to signify that absolutely anything can happen, and that for a good chunk of the plot they will throw everything at the audience, in bigger and bigger waves, seemingly trying to outdo themselves. In Avengers it was that wormhole at the end, and all the enormities that emerged. In this case it’s practically the entire third act of the film, as the two main protagonists conduct their alien duel on our planet, with increasingly immense swipes of destruction, increasingly complex technology and ‘powers’, and increasingly enormous vessels. I am fine with science fiction, but the type I love sets out a few basic ‘rules’ for the world we are about to see, and then plays out using a mix of those rules and the rules of reality we are used to. So, to use an obvious alien example, in E.T. we of course know he is an alien, we know what ship he arrived in, and we soon find out what his handful of alien tricks are. But the story then develops using those factors and a good dose of earthly reality we can connect with. The same goes for the more recent Super 8, or to use another superhero example, the Iron Man trilogy. It’s that dose of reality and scale that helps us connect with what’s happening. The Dark Knight trilogy is of course a wonderful example of this, since Batman is a very human and real hero, and the fantasy/sci-fi element is tiny. His technology might at times be stuff we haven’t invented yet, but otherwise we can get a pretty good picture of what is happening. Even Star Wars, which is of course entirely alien and sci-fi, is wonderfully set in a world we can appreciate – dirty, rough around the edges, human. Where farm boys dream of glory, vessels often break down, and having your hand cut off is a huge inconvenience. We’re told what the ‘Force’ is, we’re shown what lightsabers do, we can grasp the concept of spaceships – and then the plot plays out like any earth-bound drama, but in that setting.
Loss of scale.
But here, that sense of scale is thrown out of the window. After a reasonably entertaining, albeit overlong, prologue detailing the titular character’s birth and destiny, we finally get to earth for what I considered to be the best part of the film – the non-chronological scenes of Clark Kent growing up and learning to harness his powers without making a splash. Director Zack Snyder covers these wonderfully, and the focus on Clark’s relationship with his father (a wonderful Kevin Costner) and their agreement to keep the powers hidden is a joy to watch. But once the cover is blown and the final battle begins, the destruction and action takes on ridiculous Transformers-type proportions, with endless, mind-numbing visual effects and wave after wave of to-and-fro hammerings and near-death experiences. How am I supposed to care about either Clark Kent or even his new foe, General Zod, if every scene is trumped by the one after it, and if new powers, options, ships, devices and weaknesses are introduced and used ad hoc? Why should I be awed by the appearance of an enormous spaceship or destruction of a city, if something even bigger could easily just turn up five minutes later. Why should I feel for a battered superhero if his capabilities are being revealed on an as-needed basis? Rarely has an epic battle left me so tired, uninvolved and bored.
Not all bad.
As mentioned above, the growing up scenes are excellent, and I wish they had been the focus here. One particularly interesting concept introduced might prove interesting to those with autism spectrum disorders, and their families. The performances are generally great throughout, although Henry Cavill doesn’t get to do or say too much as the main man. He looks the part brilliantly, however, and is clearly a great choice to take this franchise forward. There’s a scene as he flies up into a jet stream where for a second he looks uncannily like the late Christopher Reeve, which can’t have been just a coincidence. His love interest, Lois Lane, gets an interesting portrayal by the talented Amy Adams, who manages to make her likeable from her first scene, and who prefers jumpsuits and anoraks to the pretty dresses the character is used to. She also gets the best line, right at the end. Russell Crowe, who is thankfully back in a non-singing role, provides a great anchor of stability and wisdom, and delivers the important monologues with class. Another highlight is the obvious attention to the small, but key, moments – the ‘S’ word is only heard once, if I remember well - a good hour-and-a-half into the film. The outfit gets a befitting reveal scene, and the flying sequence that follows is gorgeous and appropriately exhilarating.
In the end.
The bookends are wonderful too – a slow, gorgeous logos sequence at the start, and a brief but perfect ‘What are you going to do when you are not saving the world?’ scene at the very end, which returns to earthly, nostalgic emotion once the action has ended, and nearly managed to make me forget the exhausting half-hour that had preceded it. It also features by far the film’s best piece of music, with a rousing new heroic theme by Hans Zimmer, which was also one of the reasons that third trailer was so jaw-dropping. Just like the film, this last piece of wonderful music unfortunately comes after a long sequence of battering noise (see a wonderful review here), but at least it allows you to leave the cinema with a slightly better taste in your mouth, and hope that the sequel will be better.