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Re-Hash of the Jedi
I guess I'm in the minority here and yes I enjoyed it for the most part (though probably mainly for nostalgic reasons) but it was tough to really lose myself in the film as I felt I'd been there before.
The hardcore fans are celebrating the fact that J.J. ticked all the boxes but for me that was part of the problem, too many boxes were ticked making it little more than a remake with old actors thrown in.
On top of that there were some serious plot holes and inconsistencies as well, things I didn't expect J.J. to let slip though. I can't go into them without giving away spoilers but if you've seen the film you should know what I mean.
I guess it was always going to be a tough ask to continue the saga and do it justice (though it seems most people think that's what has been done) but I feel that the problem is that the Star Wars story really ended with EP6:ROTJ, sure there's always the chance that the Empire rebuilds and a new Sith Lord shows up but so what? That's a remake or reboot right? Anything after that is hitting the reset button (which ironically is what J.J. did with Star Trek allowing him to essentially remake Wrath of Khan but do it fresh). That'll work great for the new fans but for those of us that were there at the start it feels like just another reboot of something we loved as a kid.
EP7:TFA has a lot of good stuff in there as well, it's not a 'bad' movie and it's certainly far better than EP1:TPM (what isn't) but over all I felt EP 7 really didn't continue the story it was just J.J. remaking his childhood memories which to me was disappointing. To be honest I'd love to know what George Lucas had in mind for episodes 7 - 9.
I'll give it 6/10 but mostly for nostalgia.
Sucker Punch (2011)
More than just chicks with guns kicking butt.
At it's most basic level Sucker Punch is a great fun popcorn flick, more like an extended trailer for an action video game than a movie. Visually stimulating though somewhat exhausting at times, it's a mash up of various genres and styles and is certainly not for everyone but delve a little further and there's a lot more going on than chicks with guns kicking butt. Buried way below the spectacle is a much deeper story which has been explored in an unusual but very effective way, if only it wasn't so open for misinterpretation.
Unfortunately the main themes of the story are overshadowed by heavy handed style and over-the-top action pieces that will distract all but the most willing to see past the pop culture facade, which is a pity because it's a much more thought provoking and well constructed film than it has been given credit for. Snyder's 'rock video' approach kind of trivializes the subject matter of mind and spirit triumphing over circumstance pushing it back to the point of obscurity.
It would be fascinating to give the bare bones of this script to a director like David Fincher, who has had a lot more success at delving into the dark side of human psyche and serving it up to audiences in a palatable way from rock videos such as Aerosmith's Janies Got a Gun to films like The Fight Club and Zodiac and see what results.
Although the action / fantasy sequences were executed amazingly well and are great fun to watch, I found they did drag on a bit longer than necessary (how many robot Nazis do we really need to see being decapitated?) and they assaulted the senses so much that it was difficult to get back into 'plot mode' after each one but despite this I personally really enjoyed Sucker Punch.
Snyder is certainly carving out his own niche in film history and I'm enjoying the ride so far and am certainly looking forward to his take on Superman.
The Other Guys (2010)
The other cop out
The problem I find with a lot of comedies today is that directors often have too much faith in their leading comedians to be naturally funny and almost no faith in the comedic value of the script. It's almost as if the screenwriter hasn't bothered to write any dialog figuring that the actors will just make up funny stuff anyway so there's no point. How often have you heard a director say "I just rolled the camera and witnessed improvisational comedic genius take after take" in a making of which is usually followed by " I just didn't want to cut any of it out" and unfortunately they usually don't.
Comedy works best when its found within the circumstances of the plot not forced out of every moment. Comedy also usually works best when it's balanced with drama. The filmmakers have to realize that not every moment can be funny, you have to have a release before the next build up. Same goes for any form of audience mood manipulation, one cat jumping out of a closet will probably scare your audience, the fifth in a row almost definitely wont but these days when it comes to comedy everything is over played for laughs. It's almost as if the actors are ramping it up more and more in each scene, shouting out hey look at me I'm soooo funny right now.
Ferrell is a funny guy, there's no doubt about it, but of late he's been let off his leash far too often and ends up rambling, falling back on his ever faithful man-child persona.
Wahlberg on the other hand is not a naturally funny guy and he's left to compensate by exploding into an over the top performance in every second scene, so much so that Ferrell's character even points this out and verbalizes what the audience is thinking - "we're so sick of it already", yes Mark, it's not working.
The other downer is that like Cop Out there's not that much chemistry between the two cops, though at least both actors appear to want to be there rather than just going through the motions as Bruce Willis did with Tracy Morgan.
To top it off, for what is meant to be a comedy, we're presented with a rather convoluted and surprisingly involved plot about financial embezzlement and corporate greed committed by the most boring, unfunny bunch of non-villains I've seen in a long time.
There's a few laughs here and there and the production value is great but ultimately there's very little to like about The Other Guys.
Transformers 3, much less than meets the eye...
I'm not a fan of the Transformers but I did enjoy the first two films and I don't ask for much when it comes to movies about giant robots fighting each other. Transformers 3 however failed to even live up to my low expectations and in my opinion it is easily the worst film of the series.
In the first two films director Michael Bay was at least aware that a movie based on large robot toys should be fun. This movie tries to get clever by infusing robot lore into actual historical events such as the moon landing in '69 and the Chernobyl meltdown of '86 which had great potential if only they'd bothered to think it all the way through. Stagnating in pits of exposition with plot holes large enough to ram Optimus Prime through sideways, we get bogged down in lengthy scenes where everyone tries to act more crazy and over the top than everyone else, presumably to hide the fact that nothing much else is happening and it's all very boring. To compensate for the absurd over acting displayed by most of the cast Bay throws in a new leading lady who barely acts at all but in her defense she does do a decent job in the role she was really hired for and that is to fill the 'sexy eye candy' void left by the controversial departure of Megan Fox, who should be glad she was left out of this debacle.
The first half of the film is filled with little more than scenes of Shia complaining about everything, so much so that I almost switched off around the 30 minute mark but thankfully the second half of the film ramps up a little and we get to have a bit of fun as the story starts to unfold with some twists (albeit mostly lame or obvious ones) and an injection of much needed WOW moments of visual delight. At last we get some of Bay doing what Bay does best - total mayhem, but regrettably by the time the film really kicks into gear I was way past caring or investing into the movie on any level.
Watching Transformers 3 I couldn't help but feel Bay was growing bored with fighting robots and the complete lack of extras on the Blu-ray could be a telling sign that I might be right. It was like he was on auto pilot, there was a definite lack of typical overly stylistic signature Bay moments and I wondered if he actually bothered to turn up on set most days. In fact he has become so disinterested that he's now reusing songs from the soundtracks of his previous movies (Aerosmith's Sweet Emotion also featured in Armageddon). It's way past time for Bay to move on, especially if there is to be a fourth film because this franchise is in desperate need of fresh ideas and some enthusiasm.
Despite being a pretty terrible film Transformers 3 grossed a truckload of money and there are rumors that parts 4 and 5 will be filmed back to back. The bad news is that Bay is meant to be directing. The good news is that LaBeouf may be replaced by Jason Statham so hopefully there'll be less moaning and groaning from the leading man which might, if nothing else, free up some time for Bay to blow more stuff up earlier in the film.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Takes me back to the horror comedies of the 80's.
Piranha 3D is perfectly suited to the 3D medium and is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be... a good old fashioned fun combination of boobs and splatter that takes me back to the horror comedies of the 80's.
Some nice cameos including Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd poking fun at their previous roles and Jerry O'Connell seems to relish his over the top role as a bad boy porn director.
Piranha 3D knows what it is and doesn't try to be anything else which is rather refreshing and as such it delivers what it promises. There's no surprises here and if you're a fan of the Roger Corman / Troma type films you shouldn't be disappointed.
And then nothing happened...
Monsters drags on limply though a self indulgent journey littered with political statements that are never fully explored and it's telling that the writer / director, Gareth Edwards, admits in a bonus Q&A that he didn't even know he was making those statements (some ad-libbed by the actors) until the film was reviewed. His main intent was to show the futility of war (because not enough films have explored this yet I guess) but this theme is lost in the confusion of what this film is really all about. Given that the film's tag line is - "After six years they're no longer aliens they're residents - Now it's our turn to adapt" - it's also rather evident that the marketing department gets what the film is trying to say even if the writer / director doesn't.
It's also telling that Edwards further admits that they basically drove around finding nice locations and acting out various pieces that would hopefully fit in with the story because structure is something that is seriously missing in the film. This isn't really surprising either considering Edwards had an idea for a story (in reality it was an idea based on themes) but didn't really have a screenplay.
Another missing element is chemistry, the two leads in the film were married in real life shortly after production wrapped but there was less spark between them than between Jake and Heath in Brokeback Mountain.
On the up side the film is nicely shot maintaining a great eerie vibe and the effects work, done on a laptop with Aftereffects, is to be commended but there is little else of any real substance in this film to hold your attention unless your mind wanders off searching for deeper meanings that probably weren't even meant to be there and judging by a lot of reviews I'm guessing this was the common reaction to the film.
There has been criticism of the lack of Monsters in a film titled Monsters (we do get a glimpse of some rather large octopus like beings now and then) but it's clear that the monsters in this movie are really the humans in the mind of the film's makers as is so often the case in recent films (Avatar being the best recent example of this theme).
I know I'm in the minority here but personally found Monsters so uneventful it was pretty much unwatchable... Maybe it's me, maybe I'm just bored with the same old themes being regurgitated over and over again but if you must make political or personal statements in your films at least try to make it entertaining and engaging as well. This is where a film like District 9, exploring similar themes, succeeded so much better than Monsters.
Pirates 4 sails on safer tides rather than stranger ones
No one expected Pirates of the Caribbean 4 to live up to the originality of the first film but it does manage to bring some of the frivolous fun back into the series that went missing in the third film with a simpler story aimed purely to entertain.
A new director (Rob Marshall) helps to inject some enthusiasm back into the franchise and the inclusion of fresh bunch of supporting characters, led by Penelope Cruz, was a wise choice given the characters portrayed by Knightly and Bloom had pretty much run their course. Let's face it as far as characters go Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is the real draw card for the series and has been since day one.
The opening action sequence has been criticized as being overly choreographed and while I agree it does come off a little too staged at times I thought it was a lot of fun to watch and given the director is best known for musicals such as Nine and Chicago you'd expect the action sequences to have a dance like rhythmic quality to them.
There are no undead pirates or mutated sea creatures in this chapter. Instead we have have to make do with a brief scene involving Mermaids to satisfy the 'supernatural' aspect and while the sequence was engaging I found I was left wanting for some ghosts of pirates past.
McShane's Blackbeard has drawn criticism for not being menacing enough while Rush is applauded for almost stealing the show and while I'd agree on both counts I felt it was a tough ask for McShane to maintain the menace level expected for the duration of his screen- time especially given the tone of the film. Keith Richards has an all too brief cameo reprising his role as Jack's father, so brief and oddly placed that you wonder why they bothered but I'm guessing director Marshall is a fan... personally I'd like to see Aerosmith's Steven Tyler play Jack's uncle in the 5th film, if there is to be one. Tyler dresses like a pirate anyway so if nothing else he'd save the production by supplying his own wardrobe.
While Pirates 4 might have failed to set the franchise sailing again I found it rather enjoyable and better than expected.
Enjoyable but no Wallace and Gromit.
Pirates! Band of Misfits is another fun romp from Aardman with the top class acting, animation and all round production values we've come to expect from the studio.
Unfortunately Pirates was missing one key ingredient usually found in Aardman productions and that is a rock solid story. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the story, it's just that there wasn't really anything special about it either and as such it failed to engage me as it plodded along very predictably.
There's some nice action pieces as you'd expect but again these just felt like they were shoved in because 'that's what you do' and there was more than a bit of 'let's top our last chase sequence' going on behind the motivation as well.
Ultimately Pirates! Band of Misfits was an enjoyable way to spend an evening but it's not going to leave a lasting impression the way Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run did.
If you can't enjoy this ride then entertaining you is a mission: impossible.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is the forth film in the franchise (though first not to acknowledge its place in the title) and sees Tom Cruise reprising the leading role of the globe-trotting super spy Ethan Hunt. Throughout the series Hunt has evolved from team player to lone wolf and now in Ghost Protocol he must become a true leader of a team that, for the first time, he didn't choose.
The film blasts off into overdrive from the minute the gates open and rarely lets up, it's one hell of a ride and there's enough action and gadgets here to please any fan of the spy film genre. The plot is fairly straightforward; the bad guy obtains the key to the ultimate weapon and plans to destroy the world with it. Hunt and his team, working without the support of the IMF, must stop him at all costs. It has enough twists and turns to keep you engaged but it never gets so complicated that you risk getting lost while you're immersed in the mind- blowing stunt sequences. One thing fans of the series will probably notice this time around is that Hunt is more 'human' when it comes to the action than he has been in most of the previous outings. Not everything goes to plan and if he gets hit or falls down it hurts. Sure he's still a super spy and can do things most mortal men would never try in a million years but the added vulnerability and consequences of those actions gone wrong lifts the film to a new level and is one of the reasons it kept me on board all the way to the end.
If there is anything about this film that let me down a little it was the absence of a true 'super villain' like we had in MI3. Yes there's a villain and yes he's dangerous but there is something missing. I guess I could put it this way there is no, Joker to Hunt's Batman. In MI3 things get very personal between Hunt and Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and that jacked up the menace and intensity of the conflict to a level you'd expect to see in the ultimate villain but in M:I-GP that level of personal rivalry between protagonist and antagonist was a bit lacking. It's not that Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) didn't deliver a good performance in the few scenes where he interacts with Cruise, it's just that there are so few of these moments that he is, in many ways, almost like another one of his own henchmen and I mistook him for other characters on a few occasions.
Personally I felt a greater presence and sense of danger from the female assassin, Sabine Moreau (Lea Seydoux Robin Hood), a beautiful yet malicious woman with a cold heartless gaze, completely devoid of compassion. In my opinion she'd have made a much better leading villain, especially as her actions do personally effect one of the team, but despite this little hiccup there is certainly more than enough obstacles to keep Hunt and his team busy and the audience well and truly entertained so this is really just nit-picking on my part.
After the relative disappointment of the second Mission: Impossible film, first time feature director J.J. Abrams (of TV's ALIAS and Lost fame) injected some much needed heart and soul into the third installment, expertly balancing a romantic subplot with the high-octane action sequences all fans demand of such a film. Although Abrams was not going to direct the fourth film it was reassuring to see that he was still involved as a producer so I had relatively high hopes that Ghost Protocol would live up to MI3 and I wasn't disappointed.
Like MI3 before it Ghost Protocol's director's chair is filled with another first timer of sorts and like the previous chapter that 'gamble' has paid off. Although Brad Bird is not a first time feature helmer this is his first foray into the world of live action so he might not seem to be the most obvious choice but there was never any doubt from either Abrams or Cruise about his talent and potential to deliver a great film. Bird's impressive previous credits include The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille (the last two having won Academy Awards for best Animated Feature Film). Like Abrams, Bird has also had great success on the small screen as an executive consultant on the Simpsons and I've been a fan of his work since chancing upon Family Dog (from Spielberg's 'Amazing Stories' series) in the early 90's.
Simon Pegg (Paul) reprises his role as Benji Dunn from MI3, the computer whiz behind all the action. Dunn has now graduated from a 'behind the desk cameo' to a fully qualified field officer and as a result gets a much beefier role in this mission becoming one of Hunt's rogue team. Pegg's natural comedic timing and likable charm adds a much-needed element of lightheartedness to the franchise that could have easily backfired had this role been miscast.
Rounding out the new team are IMF agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton Deja Vu) and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner The Hurt Locker), and both actors deliver solid performances. Carter is as sexy as she is deadly and Patton slips between these two persona's with ease while Brandt hides a secret past allowing Renner to show a vulnerability we're not used to seeing in the roles he normally plays.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol delivers exactly the type of entertainment action fans crave and as a result it is perfect popcorn movie. If you don't enjoy this ride then entertaining you is a mission: impossible.
A Girl Like U (2011)
A well made teen film about lust and betrayal
A Girl Like U' is a modern teen film about lust and the yearning for something more than the every day. The script was on point, and the direction and cinematography were from a place of intimacy and realism. There was good chemistry between the two leads and neither of the main actors seemed forced in their delivery. The music was unobtrusive and the lighting remained natural for the most part which elevated the truth in the narrative
Of the leading pair, Tamika Wood was the strongest and most likable and while conventional the story could have taken place anywhere. This was all part of it's charm. ****(4)