Thursday, 15 August 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

One of the unexpected hits of 2010 was the off-beat not-so-superhero flick Kick-Ass, which brought the world a fresh and original take on the unstoppable superhero genre that dominates the modern multiplex cinema culture. Speed forward 3 years and with a new writer and director on board, as well as a whole host of new actors joining the cast ensemble, the adventures of amateur superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the expletive-screaming, limb-removing 11 turned 15 year old Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) go bigger and more ambitious with Kick-Ass 2, as the dynamic duo have to fight off their biggest threat yet: sequel-itus...

There is a lot to enjoy in the follow-up to Kick-Ass, with the same wit and style returning along with the original's key characters, in a story that goes on to progress their stories naturally from the events of the first: Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass faces the responsibilities of what he has inspired - an army of similarly masked vigilantes, Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl must adjust to living a normal life under the societal conventions of a normal teenage girl (against the conflicting philosophies of her late father in mind), and for Chris D'Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) the call to avenge his father's death sees him becoming the world's first super-villain - The Motherf%&*^r. The film's structure is built around the journeys of these three returning characters, and as a result sees itself dividing into three separate plot-lines shortly after the film starts.

The world's first Superhero faces-off against the world's first supervillain, in Kick-Ass 2.

Through Dave's story and the introduction of the 'Justice Forever' team - headed by prosthetics laden Jim Carrey's Colonel Stars and Stripes - the film takes an interesting path that evokes the strange inventiveness of the film's predecessor. As too does the storyline of Chris D'Amico, who similarly introduces his own team of masked creations. However it is the tale of Hit-Girl this time - the shining star of the first film - that unfortunately lets down the anticipated sequel. There's no denying Moretz's talents as she returns to the role that made her name, but for a majority of the film we see her famous Hit-Girl character take off the mask to focus on a developing a normal life. Though natural progression, this is a big problem as the foul mouthed, 11 year old killing machine that made the film such a well enjoyed and memorable success is not present for a large portion of the film, whilst she gets tangled up into a bizarre high school teen-girl storyline instead. It was a while into this segment that I came to the unfortunate realisation that I was no longer watching Kick-Ass 2, but Mean Girls instead. If I wanted to see Mean Girls again I would have, but I paid to see another Kick-Ass film instead, and this demotion of Hit-Girl is partially what makes it something of a disappointment.

It is this segment as well that hosts perhaps the most horrifying piece of product placement that I have ever seen in a film. During a scene at a teen girl slumber party, the queen bee of the group informs Moretz's Mindy Macready that she is not a real girl without having Twilight, Channing Tatum and Union J in her life, before playing the music video to Union J's single; 'Carry You.' You'd be forgiven for not knowing who Union J actually are (a One Direction inspired boy band from a recent series of The X Factor), and it's clearly apparent that the US market is unaware too, which makes the randomness of this scene stink of cynicism all the more - as it is ridiculous to suggest that Union J are as influential as Twilight and Channing Tatum on this generation. As the song plays, the camera slowly tracks into it the music video until the film literally becomes an advert to allow the band to exploit the One Direction demographic and encourage audiences to make them just as profitable. All the while, we hear the bodily sounds and an ever increasing heartbeat as the 15 year old girls become audibly aroused at the pretty-boy group, with one exclaiming "I'm soaked!" by the end - totally sexualising a group of underaged 15 year old girls. If handled more tastefully, a scene like this could have worked in the film well as a ironic take on the pettiness of certain teen girls, but with the over-exaggerated audio effects playing over the screen engulfing music video (which well outstays its welcome), it become all the more apparent as to what the scene is actually trying to achieve is higher CD sales and mp3 downloads - in a way that is as morally questionable as it is totally out of place in a graphic 15 rated film that will miss the majority of its target market anyway. It may only be a small moment in the grand scale of things, but it took a franchise that I very much admired to a very disappointing low.

Hit-Girl - not your average teenage girl, in Kick-Ass 2.

Kick-Ass 2 certainly aims to go bigger than the original, and through its extended cast and storyline it certainly does. Yet it is widely known that bigger isn't always better, and unfortunately in this case the film struggles to pace itself under the huge weight of the expanded plot and ensemble. With so many new characters (and their alter-egos) being introduced into the franchise, certain characters never get the exposure or development that they need, and particular relationships never get the screen-time necessary to make them feel natural or believable. In the worst case scenario of this, Dave's girlfriend Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) from the first film - whom is portrayed as the girl of Dave's dreams, and for the attention of whom he strives to gain at any cost - is limited to two brief moments in the film before disappearing entirely after a short spat which we are left to assume causes the end of their relationship. Not that it seems to matter to the emotionless Dave at all, who after pining for her so long seems to forget her in an instant. With so many plot-lines and characters emerging from Kick-Ass 2, the film struggles to gage the right balance in its transition from comic-book to film, which results in the film losing the heart that the original had and benefited from greatly.

It's good to finally see a return to the big screen for Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl, and the franchise's unique and quirky style, but with an overcomplicated plot and too many characters being introduced all at the same time, Kick-Ass 2 struggles to find its feet and reclaim the former glory of the very original first instalment. Through its three intertwining plotlines - including a very unusual Mean Girls inspired segment - Kick-Ass 2 certainly isn't without some enjoyment, especially as it comes to its grand climax, but throughout it is plagued with its own struggle to pace itself as it attempts and fails to best the original. In a rather unmemorable summer of cinema, it's a shame that this follow-up is not able to reclaim or better the enjoyment of the original, as something as original as the first Kick-Ass film feels greatly needed right now. "Try and have a little fun" says Col. Stars and Stripes, "otherwise, what's the point?" - well Jim, I tried, but for a lot of the film I simply was not amused. Oh, and can we all just try to forget that Union J disaster ever happened, please?...


Verdict:

Kick-Ass 2 (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Kick-Ass 2? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Review: The Frozen Ground


Based on shocking true events, American crime thriller The Frozen Ground follows the police manhunt for Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a man responsible for the raping and murdering of a number of young females in a small and desolate town in Alaska. Led by Sergeant Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), the investigation gains a lot of traction after escaped victim Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) provides her witness evidence - but time is ticking fast as Hansen is out to find and finish what he started on the one girl who can prove his guiltiness...

The most remarkable thing about Scott Walker's The Frozen Ground is the wording that fades on and off of the screen in the film's opening moments: 'based on true events.' Cemented by the unbelievable facts presented at the film's conclusion, and the tribute to the victims at the opening of the closing credits, a huge weight is brought to the film with the realisation that the psychotic inhuman mind of Robert Hansen is actually a very real one, and that these unimaginable events did occur. Pair that with the edgy and disturbingly brilliant performance given by Cusack in the role, and it's a strong formula for the stuff of nightmares!

This is however more or less where the film draws the line at unfortunately being anything more than an average police thriller.

John Cusack as the psychotic Robert Hansen in The Frozen Ground.

The Frozen Ground may be a film of great performances - with Cage's down to Earth role providing a satisfying and surprisingly non-meme generating performance, and Hudgens fully shaking off the High School Musical alumni appearance as the strong traumatised escort (the only exception being a small role played by 50 Cent, a man seemingly unable to convey any form of emotion) - but even these aren't enough to cover up the fact that the film is little more than anything you can see in an American crime show such as CSI  or Criminal Minds. This is not to say that this is a totally bad thing, but it does however prevent it from becoming anything more than completely generic and average at best. It also doesn't help that at a running time of an hour and three quarters, the film does drag on at times; and as it, I did find my attention span beginning to grow thin on occasion too. As a result of it feeling like an episode of a TV show, I can't help but feel it might have benefited from a shortened running time, as well as a slightly simplified plot that doesn't leave lose ends, as The Frozen Ground did do at times too.

By no means is The Frozen Ground a bad film, but its inability to become anything different or overly cinematic does leave it feeling like something that you have probably seen before. It's leading cast, especially the performances of Cusack and Hudgens, do help to make The Frozen Ground a bit more interesting, and help to present a story that very much deserves to be told; yet especially in the midst of the summer blockbuster season of big cinematic releases, it might be just well to save some money and wait for this one to hit TV and DVD first instead.


Verdict:

The Frozen Ground (certificate 15) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 19th.

Are you looking forward to seeing The Frozen Ground? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Review: Pacific Rim


Film trailers can be deceptive things, can't they? More often than not they'll make a film look better than it actually is, but occasionally they can even make the film look worse. To watch one of the many trailers released for Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim would be akin to taking a trip down memory lane during the times when loud trailers for loud films like Transformers and Battleship polluted multiplexes and made one fear for a mind-numbing future of cinema. Yet, the actual film is far from the horror that you might expect it to be. Take note Michael Bay, the big blockbuster for 2013 has just landed, and it's a force to be reckoned with...

Pacific Rim opens with two definitions appearing on the screen in a retro-futuristic green font: one for the word 'Jaeger' - the giant robot-like, human controlled battle suits - and the other word, 'Kaiju' - the inter-dimensional beings that travel through a rift in the Pacific Ocean and so often threat the future of the human race. And with that information made known from the get go, we have our set up and the action well and truly begins. Connected to their robot exoskeleton and their co-pilot through a mind link that make all three act as one, it is up to the pilots within the giant Jaeger Rock'em Sock'em Robots to battle off category-3 monsters and their own inner-demons to save Earth from a threat that dates back to pre-historic times.

Jaeger pilots bring a physicality and vulnerability to Pacific Rim's ambitions action scenes.

What sets Pacific Rim aside from other recent genre films from the Michael Bay generation of filmmaking is the focus on the film's characters. In a similar vein to a film like Top Gun, the friendships, relationships and brotherhoods between the Jaeger co-pilots who march into battle together brings a depth to the film and its characters, who when joined together through the mind-link process (which allows the pilots to access the inside of the other's mind and access their personal memories and thoughts) only strengthens this depth through an interesting philosophical idea which is there for anyone who wants to consider it.

As a result of this concept, we do not get a film about giant robots - as large metal beings who cannot suffer and feel no pain - but the vulnerable human pilots at the centre of both the suit, and the film; whose presence and personality adds a drama, engagement and sense of peril to the film's large scale fight sequences. Through the premise of the pilots fighting through the suit also comes a large physical element too, as we witness not just a giant battling 'bot hitting the monstrous creatures from the deep, but the puppet-master human pilots themselves simultaneously doing the same moves too. As a rule of thumb, genuine human fight scenes will always be more effective than CGI, so pair that conceit with the various other physical fighting scenes that the film features, and suddenly a film that was initially doubtable is actually a lot more entertaining than you might expect it to be.

Lead Charlie Hunnam in one of Pacific Rim's CGI-free fight scenes.

Yet I'm going into a lot of analysis here, and there is reason to question whether or not this level of critical interpretation is even necessary. To bring it all down to what really matters, Pacific Rim is simply a lot of fun to watch. Very well-paced and by no means overstaying its welcome, the film is an exciting action romp that does the job of keeping its audience both entertained and feeling like a child again (if they are not one already). There is no two ways about this; this film is a guilty-pleasure summer blockbuster indulgence that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. The monster movie genre has died away somewhat in recent years, and judging by this and the upcoming Godzilla reboot (by Monsters director Gareth Edwards) this is the start of a fresh, stylish and contemporary yet retro homage to a genre that is currently resurfacing like the monster threats that it features.

You'd be forgiven for having a total lack of interest for Pacific Rim after witnessing the trailers that cry out to the audience that made Michael Bay's Transformers films into a billion dollar franchise. Yet the end result is in fact a highly entertaining adrenaline ride that knows exactly what it needs to do to be a fulfilling summer blockbuster, and achieves it. Of course it has its moments of CGI fighting and destruction - it would be a rubbish monster movie if it didn't - but Pacific Rim proves that despite some particular examples of recent years, this is not always a bad thing. At the film's centre are the people inside the giant metal suits and their stories that drive the narrative and bring drama and engagement to these big blockbuster set pieces, which are as enjoyable as they are ambitious. Indulgently stylish and absolutely epic in every sense of the word, Pacific Rim is every bit as good as you'd hope it is, and not at all as bad as you feared it might be.


Verdict:

Pacific Rim (certificate 12A) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 12th.

Are you looking forward to seeing Pacific Rim? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Review: Monsters University

In 2001, Pixar Animation Studios opened up the bedroom door into the monstrous world of Mike and Sulley, the lovable duo for whom scaring the children of the human world is just the usual 9 to 5, in the instant-classic, animated film Monsters, Inc. Now, 12 years on, the unstoppable Billy Crystal and John Goodman voiced double act are headed back to school to discover where it all began, in prequel Monsters University.

Set well in advance of the original film, Pixar's first prequel sees Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan's university days in the School of Scaring at the prestigious Monsters University. The youthful dreams of two ambitious scaring majors are the same, yet their ethos of getting there couldn't be more different, and when the pair meet for the first time these inseparable friends rather surprisingly bring out the worst in one another as their differences cause them to clash. As a fierce rivalry instantly emerges with severe consequences that threaten their prospective futures in scaring, the duo must learn to work together with one another to succeed in the annual Scare Games - competing as part of the underdog fraternity, Oozma Kappa.

Things get off to a rough start between future friends Mike and Sulley in Monsters University.

The difficulty in creating a prequel is quite obviously that going into the film, you already know how it is going to end - and just by reading the above synopsis I'm sure you can gage a good idea of how Monsters University will pan out. Therefore, it is to the credit and creativity of the filmmakers at Pixar that they are able to pull off a prequel that despite this inevitable hurdle is actually able to play the time-setting to its advantage and throw some unexpected curve balls at you along the way too, as Mike's story takes front and centre this time around. It's of course all about the journey rather than the destination, and the film's message of dreams and ambitions going awry, and finding the silver lining in that moment of revelation which resonates with the film is a bold and ambitious one, and has a strong emotional pay-off to it. It won't have you crying into your 3D glasses like the opening of Up or the climax of Toy Story 3, but these engaging and relatable characters, regardless of how monstrous they may appear, have a pure human soul that we can all relate to on some level. Everyone will have had their dreams shattered at some point in their life - where lifelong plans are scuppered in an instant - for those people, this is their film; when the traditional 'work hard and you'll achieve' moral just won't cut it anymore because it just won't happen, the message that something even better come when you accept yourself for who you are is truthful and powerful.

Yet Monsters University is not a film designed to tug at the heart strings. If the conclusion to the original film has taught us anything, it is that laughter is the most powerful form of emotion of all, and for people sitting down to watch Monsters University, prepare yourself for what it quite possibly the funniest film in Pixar's 14 film history. Whilst all of the studio's other films have had a noticeable focus on the humour, from the very first frame right to the end of the credits, Monsters University focuses on the laughter department more so than any other Pixar film to date, and absolutely delivers at each and every opportunity; with it's fantastic dialogue and well-timed slapstick set pieces coming from the comedic mind of fresh-blood director Dan Scanlon.

Mike stands up to the fearsome Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) in Monsters University.

As the film opens onto the very first shot, we are instantly reminded of the richly creative world that we are returning to - and Monstropolis has never looked better. Expanding the world to venture into the university environment feels like a very natural move, as we stay in the brilliant concept of the 'everyday' working life that made the concept of the original so wonderfully unique: if the first saw the monsters going to the factory for the 9 to 5, then it makes sense to focus on another career-based institution such as the schooling system. With that concept instantly comes a fresh twist on a recognisable world, and whilst the usual college movie antics are obviously toned down a bit for the family market - there are no monsters doing Jäger shots, although most of them do walk around naked - it still has the natural feeling of a university environment, and all of the recognisable individual types that you would come to expect from it too. It's the world's first family college movie, and it's every bit as funny as you want it to be.

Naturally, with the original film being so well loved by people all over the world, the question is often asked as to whether University is an equal or worthwhile follow-up to Inc. Of course we don't need a follow-up, especially not with the original being the classic, fully-closed story that it is, but instinctively there is the concern that returning to the franchise unnecessarily can sour the memory of a well loved film (just ask the adults who grew up with the original Star Wars films as a child) - but when do we ever need a film? What the prequel element of Monsters University allows the filmmakers to do is to return to some familiar faces, and at the same time have some fun with your memory of them by twisting your expectations, or just by simply having fun with their youthful appearances. There are so many little nods and winks towards the original, allowing the film to actually improve your appreciation and understanding of the monster world and its inhabitants in many ways - you'll certainly never look at Steve Buscemi's Radall the same way again. However it is naturally the friendship between Mike and Sulley that benefits the most from the prequel, as watching the inseparable pair becoming the unbeatable team that we know them to be by setting aside their differences - and in fact using them to their own advantage - really makes you understand and appreciate their story from the original film on another level. Regardless of how it compares to the original, as a stand-alone film, it is nothing short of a complete joy to see the pair back on the big screen together in a film that focuses on further exploring these characters - the original film's two greatest assets.

How will underdog fraternity Oozma Kappa fare in the Scare Games of Monsters University?

So to answer the question on everyone's lips: it's tough to say if Monsters University is as good as the original, as it is very different film, and they both have strengths in different areas. What it does do is absolutely stand-up alongside it; perhaps some of the originality has worn off (as you'd expect from returning to a franchise, you've seen this world before), and it may not have a set-piece as extraordinary and unforgettable as the door chase sequence of the first (although what film does!?), it's a laugh out loud hilarious film that will have audiences members of all ages roaring with laughter from start to finish, with an engaging and heart-warming story that packs a bold and valuable message at the same time.

If nothing else, Monsters University is a testament to the lasting brilliance of the original film and to Pixar's ability to create great characters and stories that people of all ages will adore and invest in emotionally for generations to come. With humour and heart in abundance, this may not be another Pixar tearjerker, but it might just be their funniest film to date. 12 years after Monsters, Inc. first wowed audiences, the world may not have been crying out for another instalment, but it got one - and rest assured the world will sure be glad it got it! Welcome back Mike and Sulley, it's a pleasure to see you both again my old friends. Now I guess the 12 year wait to Monsters Retirement Centre starts right here...


Verdict:

Monsters University (certificate U) is released in cinemas across the UK on July 12th.

Are you looking forward to enrolling into Monsters University? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mini-Review: This Is The End


Released in cinemas across the UK tomorrow, Hollywood apocalypse comedy This Is The End sees a group of current comedy A-listers and actors (including but not limited to James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill) playing fictionalised versions of themselves (or so they say...) at the end of days.

James Franco, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill ("from Moneyball" - not pictured) lead the A-List celebrity cast of This Is The End.

It's easy to go into a film like this with low expectations, as so often these types of films from the school of Judd Apatow-style comedy filmmaking fail to deliver on their promise of humour, but despite a few flat moments here and there, This Is The End actually prevails in bringing the laughs throughout a number of very funny and memorable set pieces. The story is simple but fun, all building up to a big and satisfying finale that will leave you on a high note and leaving with an unexpected smile. With the self-referential celebrity ensemble twist bringing a lot of the gags to the table, it is to the merit of the cast that they have the good humour to mock their own careers and personas as they do throughout, as this helps to lift a lot of fairly uneventful moments to consistently enjoyable entertainment; be it the James Franco's unrequited bromance with Seth Rogen, a low budget sequel trailer that the group shoot to pass time, or the confessionals shot on Franco's stolen 127 Hours camera prop. Cameos come thick and fast throughout as the celebrity nature of the characters allows a lot of their famous friends to pop-up, with the likes of Harry Potter alumni Emma Watson and Scott Pilgrim star Michael Cera changing the way you'll likely look at them forever.

This Is The End of Hermione's good-girl image...

Consistently funny and mindlessly entertaining, throw away any initial expectations that you may have towards this type of film as This Is The End more than delivers throughout. It won't blow your mind or change your life, but nor does it set out. What you see is what you get with This Is The End; a satisfying and highly enjoyable Hollywood comedy that will do exactly what it sets out to achieve - entertain.



Verdict:

This Is The End (certificate 15) is released in cinemas across the UK on June 28th.

Are you looking forward to seeing This Is The End? Perhaps you already have? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Anyone over the age of 18 (and a few naughty fake I.D. holders under 18) will have probably experienced this at some point in their lives: the feeling that accompanies stepping out of a nightclub at 3am in the morning. It's a feeling that oh so many of us will have experienced from the later years of our youth: returning to the outside world having just experienced a barrage of flashing lights, images and fleeting moments, through a constant and unrelenting series of loud noises and bass-heavy tunes that have left your poor ears hearing everything as a distant muffled echo. As the distorted memories from what was probably a rather empty and difficult to follow evening of events begins to settle, it is at this point that we find ourselves asking that all important question: was that actually an experience that I enjoyed, and was it all really worth it? Sure you may have had a few moments of fun with some familiar faces along the way, but it's ultimately a question that is more often than not followed by a crushing feeling of disappointment and regret.

Stepping out of Man of Steel was like stepping out of that proverbial nightclub.

After the huge critical and financial successful of the most recent Warner Bros./DC Comics film collaboration - Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy - Man of Steel follows closely in the footsteps of the recent Bat-franchise by giving Clark Kent, alias Superman (Henry Cavill), a Batman Begins style origin story set on a dark and more contemporary version of Earth. Yet with 'Supes' being born into his superpowers and getting used to them through childhood, the film features very little in the way of the character learning and adjusting to his new-found superhuman abilities that you might expect from most superhero origin films. Instead we have a tale of self-discovery: it's not about who Clark Kent was and what he's now become, it is about discovering who he has always been all along, and why. It is these parts of Man of Steel that are the most interesting and engaging to watch. Simple moments with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark's adopted Earth parents are subtle, touching and emotionally endearing, and apparitions of Russell Crowe as his biological Kryptonian father help to further Kent's understanding of who he is and how he must choose to live his life. Presented here through a non-linear Nolan-esque telling of a story that fans will already know more or less through the original Christopher Reeve film series, the film's narrative feels fresh and engaging, and the film as a whole benefits greatly for it.

Subtlety is key: simple scenes between Clark and his adopted parents justify Man of Steel.

Yet to some extent, the focus on characters that makes Man of Steel so interesting also forms part of the film's undoing - namely in the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Although Amy Adams does a great job of re-imagining the iconic Superman love interest, news reporter Lois Lane, and Henry Cavill absolutely has the visual presence of a perfect Superman, it is the rushed character development of the film's screenplay that truly lets down what could have been the beginnings of an appealing relationship. Instead of saving any time to allow the relationship to slowly blossom in a natural way, the screenplay chooses to thrust the two characters together rapidly; seemingly because they have to, rather than because it is the appropriate time to do so. As a result, any early signs of the fantastic chemistry and banterous dialogue that occur between the two (especially during an interrogation scene) are cut short by the need to forward the plot as quickly as possible in order to get to the big budget action sequences - and when the film presents an on-screen kiss towards its climax, the moment does not feel at all natural or necessary, but instead rushed into the film just for the sake of having it there. With an inevitable plan for more films to come (with MOS2 already in the works), there really is no reason why Zack Snyder and co. could not have slowed down such major character developments like this for potential follow-ups.

Alongside these issues in the screenplay is Man of Steel's complete lack of humour throughout. It's clear that Snyder is trying hard to avoid the camp humour style of the Marvel Avengers universe with its heightened gritty realism, yet even the comparable Dark Knight Trilogy which the film is trying to match is able to have some laughs at itself throughout. With just a few moments of very subtle humour featuring in a film about a man in a skin-tight blue costume with a bright red cape flapping at the rear, fighting a group of people wearing blackened Buzz Lightyear suits, it is clear that the film is taking itself far too seriously. I'm not looking for the comedy of the year, but a few more laughs and lighthearted moments certainly would have made Man of Steel a far more enjoyable film to watch, and may have even allowed for a greater engagement and likeability towards the film's character ensemble. But perhaps establishing characters and their emotional developments doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, for as soon as the film reaches its final forty minutes the concept of characters gets thrown straight out of the window: both figuratively and - unfortunately, far too often - literally.

When the lead in a humourless film wears this, you know it needs to lighten up a bit...

As soon as the film's lead villain, the kryptonian General Zod (Michael Shannon), touches down on Earth with his dastardly team who threaten the safety of the planet in order to track down the Man of Steel himself, the film turns from the intriguing Nolan-style Hollywood art film character-drama into a Zack Snyder/Michael Bay CGI action wet dream. I'd be lying if I said I could totally follow what happened for the final forty minutes of Man of Steel, but it's almost incomprehensible: an endless series of explosions, noise, large scale destruction, and people flying through buildings. It all suddenly becomes very difficult to follow, and even more difficult to care. Constant, repetitive, nonsensical action between seemingly invisible characters (who appear to be unable to feel any form of pain or suffering at all) naturally drags on far too long, proving nothing more than the fact that people punching each other for forty minutes does in fact get boring; very, very quickly. And it seems that no-one else can be hurt either, as even the majority of the millions of Metropolis city inhabitants appear to flee collapsing buildings and exploding vehicles without even as much as a scratch - it's comparable to a darker adult version of The Avengers' final battle in New York, just with less interesting characters, and a lot less enjoyment. It's at this point where Man of Steel becomes its own worst enemy - what starts off as a promising film ultimately becomes everything you fear it could possibly be; a headache-educing hollow Hollywood corporate box-office machine.

Supremely stylish but unsatisfyingly empty, Man of Steel kicks off what could have been a promising Super-franchise, but a lack of humour and a seemingly endless finale of loud and unrelenting CGI destruction ultimately leaves a sense of disappointment that unfortunately looms over any positivity that you may initially have towards the film; leaving you to walk out of the cinema with an distasteful memory of 40 minutes of boredom and confusion. Not without merit, Man of Steel is by no means as good as it should have been with the name of The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan attached to it. As the set-up to many inevitable sequels to come - and the on/off Justice League film that's still on everybody's lips - we can only hope that the already confirmed follow-up will be the film that we deserve, but it's almost certainly not the one we need right now.


Verdict:

Man of Steel (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Man of Steel? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness


Confession time: I am not a Trekker! There, I said it - I haven't seen any of the television series', and as far the films go I have only seen the very enjoyable 2009 reboot Star Trek (bet they took a while thinking that name up...), and as of last night, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the fan heralded 'best Star Trek film ever'). Wait; what!? I know what you're thinking, I bet you were expecting me to say Star Trek Into Darkness there - the latest film and sequel to the 2009 blockbuster - but I didn't see that last night, in fact I actually saw it on Thursday, opening day in the UK. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, this new film must be something fantastic to convince me to dip my toes further into Trekker territory through watching one of the original films just one day later, mustn't it?...

Set after the events of 2009s franchise rebooting prequel-come-sequel (it's a long story...), Into Darkness opens on a distant planet as we find the intrepid crew of the U.S.S Enterprise mid-mission - thrusting the audience straight into the middle of the action in a way that felt reminiscent of the opening sequence on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Of course, as you can probably imagine, it doesn't take long before things very quickly go out of control, forcing the infamous Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), and his expert team boasting the unforgettable Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Salanda), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban, the chin of Dredd himself), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) to make some rash decisions to get out alive - not without consequences of course. As the team head back home to the Starfleet headquarters, news comes in that the London branch has been the victim of a large terrorist attack, helmed by the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has a large vendetta against the intergalactic Peace Corps that he seeks to settle.

Zachary Quinto's Spock amidst a volcanic visual spectacle.

Instantly, the first thing to be said about Into Darkness as the film opens to shots of an alien world - filled with a forest of red trees, ancient temples and an erupting volcano - is that the impressive visual aesthetic of the franchise has been retained from its predecessor. Once again, the slick stylistic flair (and trademark Abrams lens-flare) of the Star Trek universe is brought to life beautifully, bringing an engaging depth and majestic wonder to the worlds that are explored, including a futuristic version of Earth. The CGI effects are truly second to none, but of course that is all secondary to the plot; give me a film with rubbish visual effects any day as long as it has a captivating storyline, over one without. Fortunately, Into Darkness features the best of both.

Based on the television series created in the 60s, Star Trek Into Darkness stays true enough to its source material's characters and ethos whilst infusing a modern spin through its updated visuals, which in doing so creates a loving old fashioned science-fiction story for a new generation. Perhaps more impressive is that fact that it does so without feeling at all outdated, as fantasies of space-exploration are still alive and strong today as they were during the decade that first put man on the moon. More than that, the film simply nurtures the human lust for adventure, and nothing quite delivers that like Into Darkness' enthralling action sequences. Fast paced and on a large scale, the film features a number of scenes that are as exciting and satisfying as they are ambitious. However it is the character-driven storyline that really allows the audience to engage in an alien universe, through its richly-written human characters that bring a genuine emotional heart to the film as well.

Cumberbatch's villain role takes centre stage amongst Into Darkness' returning cast.

Pitting the crew of the U.S.S Enterprise up against their toughest adversary yet, Into Darkness tests relationships between the characters to the limits. The love-to-hate friendship between Spock and Kirk gets a natural evolution which continues on from the first film, as the two become closer to a fully understanding one another. And if times weren't tough enough for poor ol' Mr. Spock, he also has to deal with love interest Uhura who, quite understandably, isn't too happy about some of his selfless actions in the film's opening. The rest of the cast's diverse ensemble also gets their moment in the spotlight, but it is Benedict Cumberbatch who naturally steals the show with his villainous portrayal of a vengeful adversary who alone poses an intimidating physical and intellectual threat. Cumberbatch effortlessly creates a screen presence that creates a constantly shifting power struggle amongst characters, as he gives the sinister smirk of a man two steps ahead. Balancing a wide range of impressive action sequences with an engaging character-driven storyline, Abrams' direction - from production through post-production - pieces together a well-paced, fast-flowing film that, despite a few scenes of exposition-heavy dialogue that slow the pace for just a fraction too long, is difficult not to enjoy.

With stunning visuals, superb action, and a great story, even the occasional lags of heavy exposition dialogue cannot stop Star Trek Into Darkness setting audiences to stun. Whether you are a lifelong Trekker, or an absolute newcomer to the franchise, perhaps the film's greatest strength is that it will entertain both sides: respecting its fans and converting the new. Of course, with director J.J. Abrams now turning his direction to the ways of the force, and with my earlier comparison to Empire Strikes Back I think that it's fair to say that if Into Darkness does anything it is to prove that he well and truly is the man for the Star Wars job; even if it does put the future of his Trektacular reboot on the ice (I only hope that it is not for long). Mr. Abrams: 'may the force be with you' as you undoubtedly 'live long and prosper'...



Verdict:

Star Trek Into Darkness (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Review: Iron Man 3


Iron Man may be a globally recognised superhero, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) - the man inside the metal suit - is just a man. He may be the 'genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist' that the not so shy and retiring character let's on, but even those credentials could not prepare Mr. Stark for revelations of Gods, aliens and wormholes to other dimensions in the battle for New York in 2012's Avengers Assemble. This is why Tony Stark cannot sleep...

Following on from the events of the hugely entertaining global success story of last year, Avengers Assemble, the team at Marvel Studios face two huge problems in following-up the franchise: how to match or top a film that huge, and how to make a stand alone film that doesn't cause spectators to ask "why doesn't Iron Man just call in The Avengers for help!?" Everything considered, these are two huge obstacles to overcome, and fortunately for director Shane Black and the rest of the team behind Iron Man 3, they have successfully cleared both hurdles with ease.

Ben Kingsley - fiendishly fantastic as The Mandarin in Iron Man 3.

To solve both of these problems, the filmmakers have pulled the focus onto the character of Tony Stark, in an ambitious and bold move that sees him facing his own personal demons as he fights anxiety, night terrors and panic attacks in the wake of The Avengers - clearly no amount of shawarma is ever going to overcome the trauma of plummeting through a wormhole! Iron Man 3 is very much about Tony Stark as the man inside the suit, and the effects that this (literally) heavy burden is having on someone who is, at the end of the day, only human. Sent off into the middle of nowhere after a terrorist attack by the film's villain, the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), destroys his Malibu home, Tony Stark - with a broken Iron Man suit in tow - must use his intelligence and technical ability alone to get his life back on track and face off with a villain with whom Stark has a very personal vendetta. This isn't a fight for Iron Man's 'super-friends' (aptly named so by John Favreau's body guard character, Happy); the stakes are higher than ever in Stark's most personal challenge yet.

Yet unfortunately, whilst Tony's story does seem to wrap up tidily (throwing question over the need for further Iron Man films), the film's fascinating premise of Stark's anxiety attacks never seems to find a resolve. At the end of it all, Iron Man 3 turns into a large action blockbuster that seems to forget the heart and soul of the film somewhat - perhaps unsurprisingly so. Fortunately for Downey Jr.'s egotistical character the panic attacks seem to simply stop, unfortunately for us we lose the satisfaction of him overcoming his inner demons. Yet this is not to sound negative for the blockbuster nature of the film; the action set pieces for which are often incredibly exciting and entertaining to watch - it is just a shame that the fascinating and exciting conceit at the centre of the film gets lost and forgotten somewhat amongst the large 3D CGI explosions.

Things get very personal for Tony Stark in Iron Man 3.

A mention must not be forgotten either for the film's humour, with the comedic dialogue expected from an Iron Man film turned up to 11 to create one of the funniest film of the year so far, and perhaps the most enjoyable Iron Man outing of the franchise yet. Quick one-liners (occasionally very edgy ones at that), some great slapstick humour and moments of misdirection create some big laughs throughout the film - balancing the film's serious, dark and dramatic moments with some genuinely funny comedy to create a fun and ever-so camp superhero film to match the likes of the studio's Avenger predecessor. And as mentioned briefly, misdirection is a huge theme of the film, and a massive plot twist demonstrates this perfectly; in fact it is this that makes Iron Man 3 stand out somewhat amongst other films of this type, with a very, very brave and totally unforeseeable twist that well and truly alters your perception of what is going on, and of what this film is capable of. Naturally, I will not mention what it actually is and urge you not to look it up either; I guarantee that no-one will anticipate it coming, and it's worth the wait...

The film's cast is strong, and for a change Robert Downey Jr. doesn't rely entirely upon his fast quips and large ego to demonstrate some moments of genuine and very good acting. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle have fantastic supporting roles which are expanded substantially from the previous outings. Perhaps rather problematically however, whilst Pepper Potts does gets herself some strong female action moments in the film for a change, she does so after acting as a damsel in distress and whilst wearing only her underwear (it's set at Christmas too - does she not get cold!?) - who said misogyny was dead? Above and beyond the rest of the ensemble however is franchise newcomer Ben Kingsley who steals the show with a fantastically devious performance as Osama bin Laden the Mandarin that is worth the price of admission alone

Through strong character development, Pepper Potts gets the chance to kicks ass - but why is she naked!?

Iron Man was a very good and strong film, Iron Man 2 was a bit of a mess, and Avengers Assemble was something else entirely; but with a bold concept, an ambitious twist, large scale action and a lot of laughs, Iron Man 3 may just be Tony Stark's most enjoyable moment yet. Let down somewhat by the fact that the fascinating conceit of Stark dealing with anxiety attacks seems to get misplaced and forgotten amongst the large scale action set pieces, Iron Man 3 is still a very strong film to kick off Marvel's road to The Avengers 2 - and with Downey Jr.'s contract with Marvel up, and the films conclusive ending, if this is the last solo outing for Tony Stark, then he certainly goes out on a high.


Verdict:

Iron Man 3 (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Iron Man 3? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Great Review Revue!


Any eager readers may have noticed that there hasn't been an awful lot of activity here on Beyond Infinity Film for quite a while (over a month!) and for that I sincerely apologise - University work and adventures to New York, New York may have kept me occupied of late; but fear not, for as the great and powerful Schwarzenegger would say: "I'm back!"

Since my last article, a lot has happened within the world of film, most notably of course being the Academy Awards, in which Ben Affleck's Argo of course took the Oscar for Best Picture (rightly or wrongly, who am I to say... but it's wrongly!), and with it came the last wave of awards season film releases trying to win the hearts of awards season voters. I was fortunate enough to be able to see most of the best picture nominees in the lead up to the big night (sorry Beast of the Southern Wild, I did miss ye!), as you are about to see. If you are still wondering what this article is all about, this essentially a catch-up of the films I caught, and the reviews I missed, hence the title - The Great Review Revue! It's like that old joke about buses, when you wait for one to show up and two show up at the same time, except this time six have shown up, very, very late... (sorry, better late than never!)

Lincoln (Certificate 12A)
I don't think that anyone was surprised when Daniel Day Lewis picked up his record breaking third leading actor Oscar for his remarkable performance as former US President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's magnificent biopic; quite frankly it's just a shame that the film didn't pick up many more awards than that! One of my favourites of this years big contenders (alongside Ang Lee's Life of Pi), the film focuses in great depth on the final defining years of Lincoln's presidency, with great drama, emotion and authenticity. Spielberg's direction and talent for large scale drama (especially in war time America), paired with a solid cast of performances (none more impressive than that of the lead) made Lincoln a well and truly authentic feeling piece of cinema, bringing the people and era to life like never before. A masterful, triumphant and unmissable piece of filmmaking by the world's most iconic director.
Verdict:
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Zero Dark Thirty (Certificate 15)
Katherine Bigelow's follow-up to Oscar winning The Hurt Locker saw the director returning to modern warfare with the controversial film about the search and capture mission of Osama bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty is very bold move for the director, but one that more than paid off. ZDT is a very edgy, tense thriller that gives its spectators a lot to consider. What is particularly excellent about the film is that it creates the basis for further discussion on the many (and there are many) controversial real life events that occurred in the hunt for bin Laden, in particular the scenes of torture that sparked big reactions in the media, some of which look like they've been lifted straight out of a Saw film! Brave is certainly the appropriate word to sum up Bigelow's latest film, especially so soon after the events themselves actually happened, but regardless of the arguments in the media Zero Dark Thirty provides an interesting commentary of recent years, and is not to be missed.
Verdict:
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Django Unchained (Certificate 18)
The release of Django Unchained alongside the aforementioned Lincoln created an unusual brief trend of slave films in cinemas, but Tarantino's latest couldn't be more different if it tried (provoking an interesting point of comparison for a 6 hour double bill). The usual Tarantino shtick can often be a little hit 'n' miss for me, but perhaps the thing that I admire most about Django is it's reinvention of the old Western genre that reinvigorated it for a modern contemporary audience with huge success. Personally I could have done with a little less of the extreme violence in the film (cue the usual "but it's a Tarantino film!" response) as it wasn't necessarily unnecessary, just not what I want to see - slightly tip-toeing past the line of taste and decency a couple of times. Aside from that, and a few songs that felt too modern and out of place, Django Unchained was an enjoyable - if not a little long - film, with a strong award winning screenplay written by its often fascinating and always quirky director.
Verdict:
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Amour (Certificate 12A)
Michael Haneke is not famously known for being a nice and cutesy film director (his film Funny Games - either the original or the US remake, they're both essentially the same - is perhaps one of the few films that has shaken me up the most), therefore a film about the loving relationship of an elderly couple, the female half of which is slowly deteriorating as her time runs out (played in an extraordinary performance by Emmanuelle Riva), doesn't really sound like his kind of thing. So it is slightly ironic that this could well and truly be Haneke's masterpiece. From the film's description it certainly sounds like it would be quite a tear jerker, but rather surprisingly I actually sat through the film dry eyed, which is no bad thing, in fact I applaud the film for it. The filming style, the fantastic performances and perhaps most importantly of all the complete absence of non-diegetic music through the film make the film feel  very, very real as opposed to a fictional piece (it is only the edits through greater periods of time that reminded me that it was a film). Had Hankeke wanted me to sob like a baby he could have, but instead of abiding to mainstream conventions of layering schmaltzy music over the film to tell the audience what to feel, he does the opposite, and what comes as a result is a highly engaging and remarkable piece of filmmaking.
Verdict:
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Cloud Atlas (Certificate 15)
It's a bit of an enigma this one, but as with everything you take as much from it as you put in - so invest, because it's worth your time if you do. Based on the book by David Mitchell (no, not that one), Cloud Atlas is a multi-narrative story that tells the tales of many different groups of people from many different periods of time (played by the same actors, yet avoiding becoming a game of 'Where's Tom Hanks?'), presented cleverly through some superb editing to allow the viewer to see the links that join everyone together. For most of the film it may be hard to tell where everything is actually going (after a quick toilet break I asked my dad who I went with if I had missed anything important, to which he replied "no... or maybe you've missed the whole thing - I don't know!"), but for a film that is short of 3 hours long, it never got uninteresting, inaccessible or boring. It's a film that you could study to no-end, but at the end of it all I got a great sense of humanity, and what makes us as a human race all unified as one, and it takes a very impressive film to pull that off! All things considering, it is a shame that not many people actually went to see Cloud Atlas, it could have really benefited from a few deserved Oscar nominations to drive up the ticket sales...
Verdict:
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Top Gun 3D (Certificate 12A)
Consider this a little bonus review; firstly because it's a 27 year old film, secondly because it's a 3D/IMAX re-release, and thirdly because it hasn't actually got a UK release date (not yet at least!). Nevertheless, during my trip to New York I had a free night and decided to give the American cinema experience a go (25 screen AMC multiplex at Times Square), and as I decided that nothing else was really worth watching (25 screens and nothing on...) I was saved by one of the final performances of the limited 3D re-release of Top Gun. I'm not a 3D fan, but truth be told it was done pretty well for Top Gun, especially impressive considering its age. Of course it was the aerial training/fighting shots that worked the best (I don't need to see Tom Cruise's changing room/sex scenes in 3D), but truthfully the best bit was just the experience of seeing the blockbuster classic on the big screen. The 80s-tastic, action-packed, banter-filled and genuinely heartfelt, unashamed popcorn blockbuster flick (not to mention its kick-ass soundtrack) is and will remain the great reminder of the late Tony Scott's cinematic legacy, and long may it last.
Verdict:
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Most of these films may have come and gone from the cinemas (and in the case of Top Gun 3D may never even arrive!), but if you get a chance to catch any, or pick up the inevitable DVD release that will soon be here then I certainly recommend that you do. We're only a few months in, and 2013 has already shown a promising start for what is already shaping up to be another great year of cinema...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Review: Wreck-It Ralph


Let's make one thing clear from the get go; this is NOT a Pixar film - although I wouldn't blame you for getting confused, especially in a year where Pixar released a Disney-style film with princess flick Brave. Now it's Disney's turn, and funnily enough they're following it up by releasing a Pixar-style film with their latest animated picture Wreck-it Ralph - has the world turned upside down!?

It's probably fair to say that it's been a bumpy road for Disney animation through recent years. The rise of Pixar, while phenomenal for the animation industry and other studios, did send the mouse-eared monopoly tumbling, and the traditional hand-drawn animation/fairytale musical formulae with it (rather ironically, now that Pixar is a Disney owned property). As a result the studio struggled to create their own competing contemporary computer-animated tales such as box-office flops Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. In recent years however the studio has found its feet once more through a recent string of critical hits from The Princess and the Frog (although it's poor financial performance practically forced hand-drawn animation back into storage), Tangled, and now Wreck-it Ralph.

Wreck-it Ralph and Fix-it Felix Jr. in their 8-bit arcade game world.

Set inside the video game worlds of a small town arcade, titular character Ralph (voice of John C. Reilly) is a villain in an old school arcade game called Fix-it Felix Jr. As you'd expect, life as a villain isn't always peachy - who really likes the bad-guy!? But even if his fellow video game villains tell him that being a bad-guy doesn't make him a bad guy, Ralph still longs for the perks of being a hero. Once an opportunity opens for Ralph to prove his worth, he seizes it by game-jumping into the Call of Duty style first person shooter Hero's Duty and the candy land of Mario Kart style racing game Sugar Rush, where Ralph will discover whether or not he really does have what it takes to become a much adored hero.

So from that synopsis, it's easy to see how this is being confused with a Pixar studio film - it's Toy Story for video games! With the lack of a fairytale/musical narrative being replaced by a contemporary tale which features pop-culture characters, set in a computer graphic world in a film made of computer graphics, the film imitates a move made by Pixar back in 1995; as the Pixar team made Toy Story they used these very techniques to differentiate themselves from Disney and to establish themselves as something new, and as the technology wasn't perfect and resulted in plastic looking results, they opted for a largely plastic world! Now as Disney struggle to clasp onto the animation market they once owned in a modern world that's moved on, the studio has been forced into a re-birth to meet demand. Cue Wreck-it Ralph.

Ralph game-jumps into the first-person shooter game Hero's Duty.

Easily stronger than any Disney film in recent decades, better than most offerings from competitors such as DreamWorks, and even equal to some of the works of Pixar, Wreck-it Ralph is a very cleverly constructed, creatively created, entertaining and engaging piece of work. The world that the filmmakers have created is genius, from the game central station hub in the mains power supply through to the different game portals which allows for the game-jumping plot element to steal the show. Scenes of Ralph venturing into Hero's Duty for the first time are for me the highlight of the film, and executed perfectly with incredibly entertaining results. Each of the specially designed worlds, and the editing styles and music that accompany them, are pulled off perfectly to make their contrasting environments a lot of fun to explore (hello sequel!). For any video game fans watching the film, a vast number of cameos and references that are found throughout add an extra layer to the enjoyment of the film (the Pac-Man ghost cameo is my fantastic), but this cleverly executed comedy adventure is simply for everyone, and even those who haven't touched a games console in their life will still be able to enjoy the film. The reason why: well conceived characters such as Ralph and Vanellope (voice of Sarah Silverman) and the journey they embark on to find recognition and acceptance in a world that looks down on them is both heart warming and deeply human.

If I have any complaints about the film though it is that it does run a bit long during the Sugar Rush scenes in the second-act, with the characters staying in the world for slightly too long and marginally breaking the flow. Alongside this, some of the story, dialogue and jokes do play to a slightly younger audienceon the odd occasion rather than engaging the entire family audience as a Pixar classic like Toy Story, The Incredibles and Monsters, Inc. would. Speaking of Pixar, whilst Wreck-it Ralph may resemble a Pixar film, it very much isn't one, and certainly lacks the special timeless quality that the Pixar films have; partly thanks to the use of one or two contemporary pop-songs, and the inclusion of established pop-culture characters (for comparison, whilst Toy Story uses Mr. Potato Head as a recognised character but develops a unique personality for him, Sonic the Hedgehog appears as Sonic the Hedgehog already does in his own games), both of which may cause the film to age quickly. It's difficult to say whether or not this film will be as loved 20 years from now, but for the time being it's difficult not to enjoy Disney's efforts with Wreck-it Ralph - and the fact that I am comparing it largely to the works of Pixar is hardly a bad thing!

Son of a Glitch! Vanellope's troubled life adds to the humanity of the film.

Attached to and played before the main film is a brand new Disney short film: the Oscar nominated Paperman. You may have already seen the short after it surfaced on YouTube a few days ago, but I feel it also deserves a quick mention. The story is sweet and simple, and offers a lot of heart, but what really grabbed me about the short is the groundbreaking technology it demonstrates. It's 2D and 3D, it's hand-drawn and computer-animated; it's simply mind-blowing! I've already spoken a lot about the past and the present of Disney animation, and I definitely feel that this could (and should) be the future of Disney Animation Studios: a technique that represents and shows the history and iconic style of hand-drawn Disney, whilst keeping up with current market trends and expectations in computer animation. It's a match made in heaven, and needs to be seen to be believed...

A film about an old fashioned arcade game character entering the world of the newer state-of-the-art computer graphic video games and trying to survive; sound familiar? Perhaps you could even say it's almost a metaphor for the studio itself - it's Disney Animation venturing into the modern market. Although I doubt the filmmakers had this in mind when making the film, the comparison is certainly there. This is what Wreck-it Ralph is for Disney Animation Studios: a necessary journey into a new advanced world, in which they must compete to survive - and one that is tremendously good fun at that! The creative world developed for the video game characters is done very cleverly, and the game-jumping element provides for most of the fun in the film, even if the second act does feel lost in Sugar Rush for a bit too long. Overall, Wreck-it Ralph a film that will please people of all ages immensely, and with the likelihood of a sequel already in the works, the next few years at Disney Animation Studios will very interesting to watch indeed...

P.s. To prepare you in advance, the Sugar Rush theme tune may, and almost certainly will, end up stuck in your head. Maybe forever...


Verdict:

Wreck-it Ralph (certificate U) is released in cinemas across the UK on February 8th.

Are you looking forward to Wreck-it Ralph? Have you already seen it? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Review: Les Misérables


Based on the world renowned West End musical, which in turn is based on the novel by Victor Hugo, based upon the events of the 19th Century French Revolution, the inspired and inspiring film adaptation of Les Misérables has made quite an impact on cinema audiences since its release. Undoubtedly you'll be aware of the film which stars the acting and musical talents of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Eddie Redmayne; in particular the tear inducing effect that it has had on vast numbers of its spell-bound cinema audiences, and understandably so...

The posters all define the film as 'the musical phenomenon' and boy they weren't kidding. The music, as anyone familiar with the musical will already know, is the film's biggest asset, with a lot of the numbers being incredibly powerful and moving; 'I Dreamed a Dream' particularly so. Anne Hathaway, who steals the show and buys herself an Oscar, is absolutely mesmerising and heart-wrenching in every scene that she is in, and the simple one shot rendition of the iconic 'Dreamed a Dream' song epitomises this and is far and away the defining scene of the film. After watching him play Wolverine for the best part of thirteen years, Hugh Jackman when thrust into the leading man role reminds us just how much of a musical talent he really as Jean Valjean, and Russell Crowe who makes up the other part of this two man rivalry, Javert, remarkably manages to defy all expectations and hold his own impressively well up against the heavy weight singing talents of the film - especially when in duet. Whilst it may be easy to dismiss them in a film that is supposed to be so, well, 'Misérable,' Bonham Carter and Baron Cohen deserve as much recognition for their parts as the comic relief, with their main song 'Master of the House' also being one of the highlights for me.

Not to be overlooked: Helena Bonham Carter brings a much needed comic relief to a Misérable film.

Having not seen the musical or having a huge amount of knowledge about it prior to seeing the film, I was unaware of just how musical the film was - I just expected the usual musical format of the occasional song and dance. In fact the film is essentially one giant song, with each song flowing into the next and all dialogue being delivered lyrically. It really is an impressive feat, and this combined with the epic scale of the story creating the feeling that the film you are watching really is something extraordinary and a real cinematic event. It's unlike any musical that I have ever seen before, and certainly puts in a strong case for 'the musical phenomenon' title that the film has awarded itself.

But there's a problem; clearly I have a lot of admiration for the film, why then is it that I didn't find myself sobbing at it like the rest of the audience?

My big problem with Les Misérables can be summed down to just one word: theatricality. There are a number of elements of the film that evoke a sense of theatricality, including the melodrama of the musical element, although as this is a musical film that isn't the issue here; in fact it is the film's greatest asset, although it does help to highlight this problem as you are watching what is essentially a near 3 hour long song! Whilst I still believe that Hooper is a very good and promising film director, his decision to focus on the faces of the characters a lot (including shots that track them face-on as they move and sing) evokes a sense of the stage show with the characters always singing out into the crowd. This paired with the heavy use hand-held camera shots gives the film a sense of realism that doesn't make you feel like you're in real-world 19th century France, rather more like a high budget filming of the stage show itself (just with a fully realised environment).

Even in such a melodramatic film, the sublime Anne Hathaway never gets carried away - well, except here...

Production design also adds to this issue, with some of the albeit amazing set designs feeling like the stylised sets of false wonky building designs that you would in fact see as the backdrop of a stage musical - watching the barricade scenes feels closer to being in the courtyard of the Dickens World attraction than a French town itself. I wasn't transported to the real 19th Century France; I was transported to a stylised fibreglass set piece. The problem with the production design isn't aided by its own inconsistency, with the reality of the on-location shot scenes, the non-reality of the occasional CGI heavy shot (and often blatant CGI backdrops), and the theatricality of the set designs never gelling together to create a coherent, immersive world. This also goes the same somewhat for the make-up that make the grimy prostitutes look more like pantomime dames!

Taking up the best part of 3 hours (with its 157 minute run time), I will also argue that the film is too long (Although truth be told I'm just thankful that Peter Jackson didn't direct it as it would have taken two films to get through!). Although it is difficult to condense a film that is on such an epic scale, it could have been tightened up at parts to adapt it to the big screen. This in turn ties nicely back into my problem with the film's theatricality, as if you were to watch Les Misérables on the west end stage you would have an interval mid-way through, which you no longer get when watching a film at the cinema. Apart from the lack of an interval though, the film does naturally follow a stage show structure, with typical stage ploys such as the two comic relief characters appearing on cue just as they might as a large set change happens behind the curtains on the stage version. It's minor things like this that subconsciously evoke the feeling of watching a stage show performance.

Russell Crowe on location at Dickens World - no, wait a minute... 

Now these are minor issues, some of which may not even be considered an issue at all, however it all works towards a strong sense that all I was watching was just the musical on the big screen - which for fans of the musical may sound like a dream I dreamed come true, however in being adapted to the big screen I want to see Les Misérables the film, not Les Misérables the stage show. Regardless, the main issue hasn't even come to light yet! The sum is greater than the parts of the whole, and all of these small elements combined to create this notion of theatricality that had me constantly thinking of the film as a performance. Despite the fact I was sat thinking 'blimey, this is a ruddy amazing performance,' the fact of the matter remains that I was thinking of it as a performance nonetheless, rather than being enveloped in the drama of it all. Even though I loved the performances, I never felt that I was watching Jean Valjean, it was always Hugh Jackman playing Jean Valjean, albeit incredibly well, but it's a feeling that takes the edge of the drama and emotion off of the film through a loss of immersion and believability. And in a film called Les Misérables I think you can imagine why that sense of drama is an important one. Unfortunately, Anne Hathaway's Fantine aside, I never felt the full extent of this 'Misérable' element.

Despite feeling like I was watching something really epic and special whilst watching Les Misérables, with the exception of the show-stealing scenes with Anne Hathaway I simply struggled to get as misty eyed as everyone else did after failing to completely connect with the story and its characters. When all was done and the final shot cut to black, the entire sobbing audience of the filled theatre went up in a round of applause, and I felt the urge to do so as well, but not in emotional admiration at what I had seen. The theatrical elements and structure that made the film feel like a large budget shooting of the stage show made me feel the compulsion to clap as one would at the end of a stage performance; if I had wanted that I would have just gone to see it on stage instead! Les Misérables is still a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and is certainly a must see, but for me at least it is let down by a sense of performance and artificiality that prevents it from being the masterpiece that it could have, and perhaps even should have been.


Verdict:

Les Misérables (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Les Misérables? What did you think of 'The Musical Phenomenon!?' Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!