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Australia A failed epic
If I remember correctly, Baz Luhrmann intended to give the world an Australian epic with this movie. Unfortunately, this movie falls short of the expectations or even its intention.
In the beginning I was laughing, but not in a "wow, that's funny"-kind of way, but because the cheap slapstick comedy humor was so grotesquely out of place and I didn't know how to feel about this movie. Also I felt, that it did not have a real genre at all. Later in the movie it predictably became more dramatic but it never really got me or touched me in any way. Maybe because they started so inappropriately.
The whole story of the movie is also just cliché and predictable from start to finish. Worse still, the villain did not even have a real motivation. Maybe it's just me, but I honestly think that an Army-beef-supply-deal is a pretty weak motivation for doing all those things, killing people (including little children) and so on. And also David Wenham doesn't make for a very convincing villain. Speaking of the cast, I guess everyone was okay, no great performance, but of course that is also because the script did not include a single great role to perform. Oh, and one more thing, the whole big second part of the movie was also redundant, because it seemed as if they simply included the sequel into the original movie. And I know where they were trying to get here, they were trying to achieve a Gone-with-the-wind-like epicness, but they just fail. And who would have guessed it? The villain does not improve, nor does his motivation. Quite the contrary, one could even say.
Apart from that, I did not like the special-effectish look of the special effects. That kind of look is okay for fantasy/science-fiction and so on, but not for this kind of movie. It simply gives it a surreal look and draws to much attention to them as such. It just slaps you in the face and says: "Hey, I'm a special effect! Do you like me?" And I did not. And also I felt as if they did too much with CGI, even when it would have been possible (and thus should have been done) without.
Pretty much the only redeeming factor is that there are some great nature wide shots of Australia. Obviously, you cannot do much wrong with filming Australia. You could probably film anything and it would look great. And, as a second redeeming factor, maybe that a movie with such a high budget and cast of well-known actors can never be really terrible. At least if it stays away from the really stupid jokes and/or plot points, which Australia, thankfully, does.
5 out of 10 for being mediocre in every way, which for such an ambitious movie is even worse that being simply bad.
Decent and Entertaining Sword-and-Sorcerer-Movie
The Scorpion King 2 - Rise of a Warrior
I honestly think, that the current rating of 3.8 is not doing this movie justice, and I will try to find words why I think so. The action (which I would say is most important here) was actually pretty well done (at least as far as a PG-13-movie can do it), that is the fights were well choreographed and slow-motion was used quite effectively. I would exclude the scenes of Randy Couture wrestling down his opponents, because I wasn't aware that the Egyptians invented the WWF as well. As for the characters, they were likable although cliché (then again, so were the characters in the first movie). At least they were not the type of unlikeable idiots, one has to deal with in many horror-movies or comedies. They were all well cast, with the exception of our hero's mother, who looked totally out of place for the setting. Also I have to say, I never quite felt the charm that some reviewers attest Dwayne Johnson in the first part. I thought he did not do well as a main character, at least in this kind of movie. I would even go as far as saying that Michael Copon looks the part better than The Rock does. The set design and costume design were good. The weapons and armor looked real enough to appear to be more than toys, real enough to suspend one's disbelieve. As for the setting, I'd say, you can't go wrong with desert-and-Egyptian-style-temples.
On the other hand, the story was predictable and there were some plot holes, but overall it could have been worse (especially towards the ending I was even quite surprised). And it has been done worse in countless other movies of this kind. It's just an average young-boy-rises-to-hero-story and for 90 minutes of entertaining what can be wrong with that? Unfortunately, and that is a big let-down, to call the special effects average would be already exaggerating. They are only slightly above Playstation-1-Level, especially in some crucial scenes. But also here you will find worse.
So all in all I rate this movie 6 out of 10. It's not as good as the first part, but if you liked the Mummy-movies, if you liked the first Scorpion King-film and/or if you simply like sword-and-sorcerer-flicks (and I do), give it a watch.
Ninja Assassin (2009)
Whooshing and Whispering Ninjas and a Strange Red Liquid
How James McTeigue, director of the great film 'V for Vendetta' could make such a bad movie remains as much of a riddle to me, as the question, why Lana and Andy Wachowski, makers of The Matrix and other great movies, got their names attached to it as producers. What were they thinking?
From the first to the last scene the film is filled with ridiculous amounts of violence and gore and the main protagonist's injuries made me wonder about how many superficial scratches an average human skin could take before simply dropping off. And how incompetent can thugs (in this case they are ninjas, for crying out loud!) get? And I do not normally have a problem with violent action-movies.
Not that it would matter that much in an action-movie, but here we also have the disputable pleasure of watching an implausible story about an Interpol-cop, unconvincingly played by Naomie Harris, unveiling a secret organization of assassins that has been interfering with world politics for centuries. As she proceeds investigating she gets into serious danger, since her superiors and, so it seems, all the governments in the world are also contaminated by this strange guild of ninjas and therefore try to kill her. Luckily she has some help: A young ninja, played too-cute-to-be-convincing by the South-Korean pop-star Rain, who has left his clan and is fighting a lonely war against them, because they killed the woman he loved.
Unfortunately, for this story will hardly entertain anyone, there is no breath-taking action or suspense neither, instead we get weak dialog ("If you want to dance the tango of the stubborn...") and an absolutely and in every detail predictable ending. The overall acting is wooden and flat, the music is unremarkable and therefore easily missed and the cinematography, apart from some action scenes and some shots towards the end, reminded me of the quality of an afternoon-soap-opera. Sure there are worse movies. There were even some quite cool scenes in it, among them some of the battles and slow-mos. And also for me personally, since I live in Berlin, it was quite fun to recognize the different sceneries, however strange it may seem to imagine such things happening in your very neighborhood.
So what do we learn from this movie? Cars made by German Volkswagen company are Shuriken-proof, Ninjas like to whoosh around and whisper strange things and if you merely touch a human being with a sharp tool, hectoliters of a strange red liquid (certainly not blood) will splatter all over the screen.
3 out of 10 for taking place in my home town and being at least not insultingly stupid. But nothing more.
The Dark Knight (2008)
A Dark Drama
I work in a video store and there is something I experience every day. Although there are more and more superhero-movies out there and even more are coming up soon, many people still disregard them. And one cannot really judge them for that, because after all, these movies are still quite "special" in a way. One does not only have to like action-movies, but, apart from that, one has to suspend one's disbelieve as to accept the supernatural or superhuman (maybe even more than in Science-Fiction). However regardless of whether you like superhero-movies or not, or whether you like action-movies or not, in my opinion there is no way around Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (and his other movies, for that matter) and the movie this review is about: The Dark Knight.
In it, the masked vigilante Batman continues his struggle against crime in the fictional metropolis Gotham with the help of Police Commissioner Gordon and the new District Attorney Harvey Dent. Some time has passed since the events of Batman Begins and the struggle is going quite well. Until they have to face the mysterious and sadistic criminal mastermind called The Joker and the chaos he unleashes.
The cinematography is great, solemn and sublime wide shots are mixed with intensive close shots and stunning action-scenes. The colors and the light are hard and realistic, and get darker and darker as the movie proceeds.
As for the cast, Christian Bale gives the best performance as Batman/Bruce Wayne there has been so far, he is disillusioned and vulnerable, and still not willing to give up. He is a mere human, who has to play the role of the playboy and billionaire on the one side and a masked vigilante, a symbol for hope and justice, on the other. Gary Oldman underplays his part as Jim Gordon in a down-to-earth, simple way. Maggie Gyllenhaal is both tough and vulnerable as Rachel Dawes, lawyer and Bruce Wayne's love, Michael Caine plays a supporting, father-figure as Bruce Wayne's Butler Alfred, Aaron Eckhart is both shining and charismatic as Harvey Dent and twisted and wrecked as Two-Face- the list could be continued throughout the whole cast. To them: Take a bow, you have been part of this great film; but there is one who stands above all the others: Heath Ledger gives a incredibly creepy and terrifying performance as The Joker. His voice is altered, whiny, terrifying, his presence threatening and menacing. He portrays his completely mad and psychotic character with an incredible intenseness and inconveniently convincing. Many in the audience laughed during his first appearances, but even they lost the urge to laugh as the movie continues, because The Joker is simply to cruel and insane.
Of course the credit is not all his, you also have to mention the writers, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who wrote this role and the whole script, which is surprising, twisting, thrilling, breath-taking, funny at times, but all in all dark. Each and every role and event has a meaning, not one scene is idle or useless. The music is, as well, great, one of the best works by both James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, subtle when needed, but mostly almost painfully intense and dramatic. Action, stunts and CGI, when they appear, are astonishing, breath-taking and well choreographed, but not overused, since they are not what this movie is about.
It goes much deeper than you would expect, even having seen the prequel Batman Begins. It is about philosophical and moral questions, about whether one life is worth more than another, about the confrontation of law and crime, heroes and villains, good and evil and about truth and its value, yet such things exist. Every character in the film has to face his or her very own nemesis, and some of them stand it, some of them break and some of them fall. This motion picture is not a comic-book-flick or a simple action movie. It is much more. It is a crime saga, an cinematic epic, a dark drama.
A clear 10 out of 10 (one out of currently only five movies I have given this rating) and a definite recommendation for every movie-fan, regardeless of what type of movie you prefer normally.