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Although I will readily admit to watching almost any type of film, I'm
much more discerning when it comes to books. Indeed, you could almost
describe me as snobbish. As a result, Dan Brown's cultural phenomenon
"The Da Vinci Code" passed me by but I imagine that it would read
something similar to how this film pans out. Take one unlikely expert
that nobody listens to, insert several increasingly cryptic clues for
hero to follow, add beautiful female sidekick and former best friend
who is now a baddie and heat for a couple of hours. The recipe may be
as old as Jim Davidson's material but that doesn't mean that it can't
satisfy any more. The movie is one long, dumb excuse for gallivanting
around the US and shooting at various historical landmarks. But
personally, I still enjoyed it despite my brain raging at the thousands
of plot holes and the sheer stupidity of it all.
Historical nut Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) is the latest in a long line of his family who have dedicated their lives to tracking down an ancient treasure acquired by the founding fathers via the Freemansons and Knights Templar (best not to dwell for too long about this, OK?). Along with technology expert Riley (Justin Bartha) and mercenary funder Ian Howe (Sean Bean), Gates sets off on a quest to locate the treasure which takes him to a wrecked ship somewhere in the Arctic Circle. Solving the clue he discovers, he believes that an invisible map is on the back of the Declaration Of Independence but Howe is impatient and sets off to steal it. Gates realises that his only hope is to steal it before Howe and his goons do but complications arise in the form of the curator of the National Archives, Professor Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) and FBI Agent Sandusky (Harvey Keitel).
"National Treasure" is a film that doesn't stand up well when looked at seriously. The story is plainly a load of guff with thrilling escapes following one after the other and impossible leaps of logic made in the blink of an eye. The only people who would believe this tosh are conspiracy theorists and idiotic cretins who accept the Gospel According To Dan Brown. But it is sold so well that you don't really care. The cast actually do a pretty decent job of selling it - Cage's usual wide-eyed mania comes in handy for once while Kruger provides a sensible outlook on proceedings, however implausible. Bartha, however, is a weak character - once his expertise are utilised, he is quickly reduced to comic relief and carried for the rest of the film. But generally, the cast do a good job of keeping things running smoothly which is the movie's smartest decision. A moment thinking about the movie will ruin it so it's far better to stop looking for plot-holes and inconsistencies (because you needn't look hard for them) and just enjoy the movie for what it is.
It does lack the humour of the Indiana Jones movies but "National Treasure" makes a good go of recapturing the spirit, giving the film a really adventurous feel and look. I did feel that it went on for too long and I also got the sense that it had been deliberately lightened for a more family friendly PG rating. There are no snakes, spiders or even masses of cobwebs on display (those 200+ year old corridors looked suspiciously clean to me) and rarely is there a sense of danger. But that aside, "National Treasure" is actually a fairly good adventure film that the family can watch safely. It actually reminded me of another film that had Cage acting under the direction of Jon Turteltaub: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". Both films are utter nonsense and full of fluff but despite that, you can still enjoy it to some degree. Just because something is complete tosh doesn't mean you can't still enjoy it, unless you're being too snobbish.
I suppose that it was inevitable after the considerable success of "Sin
City" that movie producers would go looking into the back catalogue of
Frank Miller for further adaptations. This one, based on actual events
in ancient Greek history, may take one or two (hundred) liberties with
the truth but as a spectacle, it is a brutal and bloody history lesson.
Director Zack Snyder has quickly developed a reputation as a visionary
who occasionally loses focus on the story (see "Watchmen" for details)
and I sometimes felt that was part of the problem here. It is extremely
stylised, fit to bursting with toned muscular bodies and lashings of
digital gore. There's no doubt it is a very pretty picture, despite the
subject matter. But the story felt a little lost at times and pacing
was also a problem.
In 480 BC, a vast Persian army led by the supposedly divine Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) was making its way through Greece. In his way stood a small force of Spartan warriors led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). Facing a face of around a million, Leonidas' 300 men are greatly outnumbered but by using the terrain at Thermopylae and the Spartan's natural fighting skills, Leonidas hopes to prevent Greece from falling. Back in Sparta, his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) attempts to convince the council to send the rest of the Spartan army but her efforts are challenged by the treacherous Theron (Dominic West). Leonidas knows that help is unlikely to come but refuses to back down or surrender, intent on taking as many Persians with him as he can...
As I said at the start, "300" is an easy film to watch. It may be almost all CG but the film presents a living, breathing glimpse into an ancient world full of myths and monsters and it gives the film an odd sense of plausibility. Whether CG was used for the huge number of abs and pectorals on display, I couldn't possibly comment but I can't recall seeing any film which made me consider my own bulky, overweight frame with quite so much disdain. Butler is remarkably good as Leonidas, giving the role both nobility and savagery in the many battle scenes. I just wished the plot gave him and the other characters more to do - once Leonidas and his men reach Thermopylae, the film kinda stops and presents battle after battle after battle and all populated by misshapen creatures and liberal splashes of red against the colour-infused chaos. It's like an 18-rated version of "Lord Of The Rings" and the screenplay issues are even worse with poor Headey who at least gives us plenty of reasons why she would be cast in "Game Of Thrones". Her political struggle with Theron is desperately slow and serves only to break up the carnage that would otherwise be on screen and this is a great shame because Headey's Queen is just as steely and determined as her husband.
I did enjoy "300" but I couldn't escape the feeling that they could have done a better job. The film needed more characterisation and more input from the screenwriters who seemed content to relax once battle had been joined. But aside from the odd costume (the Immortals seemed to have borrowed their masks from the set of "The Chronicles Of Riddick"), the film's true strength is the look of it. Snyder has fashioned an attractive film out of typical swords-and-sandals material and propelled it onto the screen with an orgy of violence behind it. It has been some time since I last saw a film with so many heads, arms and legs being chopped off outside of a teen slasher flick and whether you'll like "300" might depend on how strong your stomach is. Right, I'm off to hit the gym and I'll try not to look at any mirrors on the way...
Not many people know this but during a flight to Las Vegas to celebrate
my 30th birthday, I actually watched two and a half films. The two
complete ones ("The A Team" and "Iron Man 2" if you must know) were
made as we cruised over the Canadian wilderness but the half-movie was
this one which I was prevented watching fully by two things. Firstly, I
was distracted by icy beauty of Greenland and the vast desert emptiness
of Nevada and secondly, the movie's graphic nudity would have prompted
a sharp dig in the ribs from my wife. Today, alone in the house, I
caught up with it again on BBC's iPlayer service and was determined to
finish the job this time. A good job I did because this film is about
much more than Gemma Arteton's boobs.
The film opens with two former convicts, Danny (Martin Compston) and Vic (Eddie Marsan) quietly and efficiently acquiring the materials to construct a sound-proof cell with a remote house somewhere. Before long, they had kidnapped estranged heiress Alice (Ms Arteton) and have successfully locked her in the cell. After placing the ransom demand with her tycoon father, the two of them simply wait and take turns looking after their hostage. But as is often the case with the simplest of crimes, it doesn't take much to unsteady the ship...
I'm reluctant to give away any more of the story because "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed" is only a small film and needs all the help it can get and spoiling the twists would do it a disservice. And when I say small, I mean it - the cast number is limited to three, the crew is minimal and the budget feels stretched. But sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth and this film feels sharp, tense and atmospheric as a result. The cast are all in fine form - Arteton gives a brave performance as the poor victim (especially given that I associate her with fluff like the wretched "St Trinians" remakes and "Tamara Drewe") and Marsan is always watchable. The key to the film is Compston who I'm not familiar with but might keep an eye out for in future, given that he's equally as good as the others. The plot doesn't give much away and feels pretty slow at times as though director J Blakeson was more interested in filming Ms Arteton's numerous humiliations. It can be an uncomfortable watch at times such as the moment when she needs the toilet whilst still handcuffed to the bed. Without Arteton's convincing portrayal this might have been comical but with it, it is a disturbing scene that left me feeling nauseous and squirming in my sofa.
Torture-porn veterans might think this tame but I felt "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed" to be an effective and enjoyable thriller. The ending feels a little stretched and I would have liked someone else to appear in the movie - a policeman or two - to prevent the movie feeling too claustrophobic. But on the whole, I reckoned I should have watched this on the plane instead of "The A Team" and risked bruised ribs. We Brits seem to do a good job on small budgets and simple stories and the movie almost feels like a play, albeit one written by a rather disturbed individual. Not every thriller needs a car chase or explosions to drive it - a good screenplay or compelling actors can do the job just as well and this movie is one such example. It won't be to everyone's taste but I believe that the movie deserves more attention than it got in the cinemas when it was released.
Having watched this last night with my Better Half, I was somewhat
surprised by the middling rating and bile-fuelled comments. Are
people's expectations now so high that unless they're crying with
laughter or peeing involuntarily, a comedy is useless? Personally, I
was delighted to find a comedy that made both her and I laugh at times.
True, it is not a riot of fun - it takes time to get going, given the
fairly short running time and the film's fantastical plot takes some
believing. But with two seasoned comedy performers in the lead and
surrounded by a stellar supporting cast not afraid to laugh at itself,
it's definitely worth a look and more so if you identify with the
couple in question like I did.
For middle-aged couple Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey), their weekly date night is the highlight in their otherwise stable but boring marriage. Shaken when two of their mutual friends split up, Phil decides to take Claire to a new place - the Manhattan-based seafood joint Claw - but aren't able to make a reservation. Mulling their options at the busy bar, Phil throws caution to the wind and claims a table booked by the Tripplehorns who haven't turned up. But his impetuous behaviour has unforeseen consequences for them both involving a couple of crooked cops (Common and Jimmi Simpson), a sleazy DA (William Fichtner), a muscle-bound security expert who's never wearing a shirt (Mark Wahlberg) and a couple of minor criminals (James Franco & Mila Kunis) with relationship problems of their own.
I hadn't many expectations of "Date Night" so it was a pleasant surprise to find a comedy with a genuine heart to it and didn't rely on gross-out humour and needless sexism. It is, in short, a comedy about adults for adults - none of this "American Pie" nonsense about desperately trying to get your end away. Granted, the plot is somewhat far-fetched but Carell and Fey handle the material with humour and the requisite amount of seriousness. As good as they are, they don't really convince as a couple. Thank Heavens for the supporting cast - Wahlberg gives his funniest performance to date as everyone else hams it up to spoof their roles very well. The only performer I didn't like was Taraji P Henson (who I normally enjoy) but saddled with an unconvincing haircut, she fails to convince as the bemused detective on their tail which may be why her screen time is sorely limited.
What makes "Date Night" stand out from most comedies these days, aside from the fact it is genuinely funny, is that it's also a touching look at a marriage in decline with both participants unable to do much about it. The early scenes, with their sleep being interrupted by young children and the bitchy commentary they provide for other diners, rings truer than anything in the movie. This is why what follows (which I'm being quite cagey about, deliberately) is so good because when it does kick off, we have already formed a bond with these two characters. In fact, remove the kids and add on a few pounds to each character and we could have been watching ourselves! In truth, it was just refreshing to see normal people on the screen for once and allow the comedy to revolve around them instead of having extraordinary people trying to do normal things. Clearly, judging by some of the comments here, this movie isn't for everybody but I urge you to give it a chance. It's funnier and sillier than you might imagine but at least it's something different and for that, I respect it.
Desperate for a film to disprove the theory that there has not been a
decent movie adaptation of a video game, I stumbled across this generic
homage to the mother of all shooters. Way back in the early Nineties,
"Doom" was a landmark title which paved the way for the torrent of
first-person shooters (FPS) that flooded the market and led to stuff
like "Quake", "Half-Life" and "Call Of Duty". This movie adaptation is
based upon the most recent entry in the franchise "Doom³" which focused
on being more of a horror game than the traditional demon-hunt with a
mini-gun. Trouble is, none of the Doom games were the most narrative of
experiences and trying to extract a movie of near two-hours length is
like trying to make a movie adaptation of a single Dilbert comic piece.
On a remote scientific outpost on Mars (aren't they all?), the small team of scientists lose contact with Earth so a team of military specialists are sent to the planet to find out what's happened. It turns out that at the site of an archaeological dig, the scientists have discovered ancient Martian fossils with an extra chromosome which turned most of them into monsters. Judging by the number of bloody deaths and mysterious disappearances, it would appear that some of them aren't as dead as they supposed and from this point, it becomes a macho version of the Dead Teenager cliché of most horror films. Can you guess who survives from the military professional (Dwayne Johnson), the religious one (Ben Daniels), the sleazy one (Richard Brake), the ladies man (Razaaq Adoti), the enigmatic one with a back-story (Karl Urban), the young rookie on his first mission (Al Weaver) or the heavyset gun-head (Deobia Oparei), not forgetting the obligatory female scientist in a tight sweater (Rosamund Pike)? I forgot about the other member of the team (Yao Chin) who plays the guy you forget about almost immediately.
"Doom" is the sort of brainless actioner that would appeal to the teenage boys who grew up running around dark corridors with a BFG. Trouble is, those teenage boys have now grown up playing "Call Of Duty" and watching "The Matrix" so one wonders how relevant "Doom" still is. Certainly, the movie is as technically advanced as the original game is today - almost every scene involving the beasties is pitch black so not only can you not see the crummy effects but you also have no idea what's happening which isn't a good thing for a movie reliant on action. After all, "Doom" isn't reliant on much else - the actors do their thing but really have little more to do than run, shoot and shout. The movie also doesn't work as a horror because it's just too damn predictable. Every corridor is ill-lit and full of the usual distracting objects - random chains hanging from the ceiling, sparks flying from walls, steaming pipes, you know the stuff. After about an hour, you start to wonder why you even bothered thinking that this film would be the one to buck the notorious video-game adaptation curse.
I can't completely condemn "Doom" because there are one or two moments that make you think that things might have been different. Take the first-person sequence which isn't just technically impressive (if you ignore the crummy CG) but an obvious nod to the original games. The movie also matches the game's level of violence and gore - I liked the chainsaw, prompting memories of playing the first "Doom" many years ago. But generally speaking, this movie fails on almost every level. For an action pic, the action is too ill-lit and composed of hundreds of needless edits, making it impossible to follow. The story is practically non-existent, the cast are little more than one-dimensional cut-outs and the film's horror element is tragically comical. However, I have found one level on which the film DOES work. Sadly, it reinforces my theory that there are no decent film adaptations of video games...
It's hard to ignore a film described by 'The Independent' as one of the
most important films ever made and one that everyone must see. Bold
claims but I can't really imagine any film living up to such hyperbole.
Not being familiar with the source novel, I was aware that this movie
was a long, sterile exercise in depressing atmosphere and earnest
acting. It felt a very worthy film, the sort of movie that tries really
hard to appeal to voting members of awards bodies. Despite this, it
does work - the film has a stark beauty to it and everyone in the cast
does indeed bring their A-game to the picture. But it's a hard film to
recommend because it is so relentlessly bleak and it's difficult to
understand exactly what it's trying to say.
A few years after some sort of global apocalypse, the world is now devoid of plant and animal life and populated by roaming gangs of cannibals scavenging whatever they can find. Amidst such devastation, a man (Viggo Mortensen) is escorting his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to the south coast in the hope of finding better things. Armed with a pistol with two rounds and haunted by memories of his late wife (Charlize Theron), they struggle to survive as they escape from murderous gangs and live on their wits. But the longer they are exposed to the cold, grey environment, the greater the toil on themselves.
You know how movies are coming adorned with numerous warnings for things like violence, drug use and 'mild peril'? Well, "The Road" should come with a warning reading something like this: "This film contains scenes of tedious dreariness and will make you want to slit your wrists." It is a pounding on your ability to watch scenes of terminal sadness, one after the other until the credits finally signal the end of the film. You wish for something hopeful, something to offer the viewer some respite from the gloom. Amid this cycle of cheerlessness, the cast offer what they can - Mortensen is in full-on Aragorn-mode and is painfully plausible as the tortured protector of his son. Alongside him, Smit-McPhee is equally up to the task as his son. His face is full of the fear I'd imagine one who grew up in such an environment would have. The only other cast member with any significant screen time is Theron but her desperation and resistance to her husband's determination to live brings the film back down.
I've no doubt that "The Road" is a well-made, well-intentioned picture but I'm struggling to think who it's for. It's far too depressing to be entertainment and I can't understand what the film is trying to say. The story leaves several questions for the viewer and while I acknowledge that not every film should answer its own questions, it does make "The Road" a frustrating picture to watch. I admire it but can't really enjoy it. It's too abstract for me, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that I'm not entirely sure are from the same box. After all the doom and gloom on screen, for the viewer then to be left underwhelmed at the end is something that I cannot forgive. As Talking Heads might have put it, this is "The Road" to nowhere...
It's easy to forget that not every film based on a Marvel character is
a blockbusting smash. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was
even planned, they were reliant on other studios adapting their
material and usually, they cocked it up. Indeed, so disastrous was
their first attempt at a movie (1986's "Howard The Duck") that they
left it twelve years before having another go - and reduced the
character to a brief cameo in the recent "Guardians Of The Galaxy". But
here, finally, they were on steadier ground. Vampires have long been
favoured baddies in movies so it made sense to have a straight-up
action movie involving the bloodsuckers. Sure enough, the movie is
fairly conventional by todays standards - anyone who has seen any of
the "Underworld" movies will be at home here - but fans of the current
crop of Marvel movies might reckon a reboot is in order because this
first film in the series hasn't dated well at all.
Tax dodging Wesley Snipes plays the titular hero, a half-human, half-vampire hybrid who has dedicated himself to ridding the world of vampires everywhere. Alongside his armourer Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade has a run-in with a vampire named Quinn (Donal Logue) who has attacked a haematologist named Karen (N'Bushe Wright). Rescuing Karen and taking her to his secret base hoping to cure her before she turns, Blade realises that his true enemy is fellow hybrid Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has plans to enslave humanity forever.
Ignoring the pretty dumb story behind, "Blade" does a pretty decent job of being a horror-themed action flick. Snipes knows what he's doing in these sort of movies and has all the moves to convince, even if his portrayal is fairly monotone and uncharismatic. In truth, nobody really does themselves any favours with their performances - Wright does an adequate job of being the rabbit-in-the-headlights, caught up in a war she doesn't understand and barely believes. Logue, who I'm currently enjoying in the under-rated TV show "Gotham", is little more than a sniggering sidekick while Dorff looks and feels like a weak Jack Nicholson impersonator. It's a pity because the movie generally does a good job, fuelled by frenetic fight scenes and decent visuals. But it's much darker than Marvel's current output (unsurprisingly) as there is a good deal of gore splashing about and some of the characters (like the grotesque archivist (Eric Edwards underneath a tonne of prosthetics) tortured by Blade and Karen) are weirdly reminiscent of the equally dark "Spawn".
It avoids being a "Howard The Duck"-shaped turkey but "Blade" is somewhat underwhelming. I liked the character but wished he had a bit more to him than a back-story and a vast array of interesting weapons (how expensive are those silver bullets, given how many he shoots at a time?). Maybe the sequels will offer something a tad deeper but somehow, I doubt it. Despite the shadows and blood-letting, this is actually a standard shooter that overemphasises the violence instead of letting the characters develop naturally. It looks good on screen and has a good feel for the aesthetics, much like director Stephen Norrington's later adaptation of "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen". But like "LXG", it disappoints in terms of story and character although nothing like as bad as "LXG" did. I wanted to be scared, entertained and interested and in truth, I wasn't any of these. Nice try but needed a lot more to it, especially compared to its stable-mates these days.
As we hurtle yet again towards the Oscars, I always try to make the
effort to catch previous winners. I find it's easier to fully judge a
film once the hype has died down and dissenting voices can be fully
heard, rather than dismissed as being deliberately controversial. With
this in mind, I really had no idea what to expect from this successful
revival of a long-dead format. But I'm happy to report that the
numerous awards it received are fully justified - not only is it a
loving homage to the magic of cinema but also full of genuine humour,
shed-loads of charm and wonderful performances from the cast. Looks
like silence really is golden.
Hollywood in 1927 and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is happily promoting his latest hit "The Russian Affair" alongside studio producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and his ever-popular canine sidekick. Bumping into enthusiastic fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) outside the theatre, George encourages her to become a star herself and soon, Peppy's career as a dancer and actress takes off. But within a few years, the silent movie is replaced by 'talkies' and George finds himself on the Hollywood scrapheap while Peppy's career takes off. As George hits rock bottom, Peppy realises that she cannot deny her feelings for him - but will tragedy strike before she can tell him?
I cannot begin to tell you how much personality is contained within "The Artist", a film that flies in the face of modern convention by being largely silent and black-and-white. Each performance is beautifully portrayed on screen, largely through the lost art of acting with the face - Dujardin in particular and Bejo both look like they could have stepped off the silver screen themselves, looking and feeling every inch like early cinema stars. But they are the cherries on top - Goodman and James Cromwell lead a fantastic supporting cast who utterly convince. The screenplay, taking its inspiration from several silent stars who couldn't cross over to talkies, is believable and charming while director Michel Hazanavicius has a good eye for the era - even the opening credits look authentic for the time while some of the scenes are reminiscent of silent movies of the time. I loved the scene between Dujardin and Bejo on the stairs of what looked like the Bradbury Building (from "Blade Runner"), shot side-on and instantly recognisable to anyone who's had the good fortune to watch "Metropolis". But because it's a modern silent movie, it can play with convention - the dream sequence is a prime example, twisting our expectations of what the movie is and what it's capable of.
The musical soundtrack is also first class, complimenting the action on screen without being too intrusive. Really, I'm struggling to think of anything not to like about "The Artist" and God knows that I can be really picky at the best of times. There will be many viewers who won't like it, put off by the near-total absence of audible dialogue or the black-and-white visuals. These are the same people, presumably, that didn't enjoy "WALL·E" because it had no audible dialogue to begin with. But that fault lies with them and not with "The Artist", a wonderfully winning film that really can be watched by everyone. I spent the whole movie with a broad smile on my face, entranced by the beauty and magic of it. And even though I was born in 1980, it made me nostalgic for when cinemas brought excitement and romance into peoples lives, where films were enjoyed the way they are supposed to be - on a big screen in a sumptuous setting instead of downloaded onto a tablet the size of a mouse mat. And what better reason is there to recommend a movie besides the rarely-uttered statement "It made me happy"?
After the financial disaster of "Sleeping Beauty", Walt Disney needed
to save a few pennies on his next outing. Indeed, he even considered
shutting down the animation studios altogether before he was rescued by
the unlikeliest of machines - a photocopier. Armed with this new
technology, Walt could rapidly reproduce animation cels at a fraction
of the cost. There was, sadly, a trade-off as the quality of
reproductions wasn't that great and left everything with a grainy black
outline. This is why the original "101 Dalmatians" looks the way it
does but it is a shock to the system considering the beautiful fluidity
the earlier films contained. Combining this with the fact that the
story and characters aren't especially memorable and it's perhaps not
surprising that the film's one true lasting legacy is in the shape of
the movie's legendary baddie.
Lonely Pongo (voiced by the late Rod Taylor) yearns for some company for both himself and his owner, struggling song writer Roger (Ben Wright). After spotting fellow Dalmatian Perdita (Cate Bauer) in the park, Pongo contrives to get Roger to meet her owner Anita (Lisa Davis). After Roger and Anita marry, it isn't long before puppies are on the way and Pongo and Perdita become proud parents to fifteen puppies. But their happy home life is shattered by Anita's old school friend Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson) who has plans for the helpless puppies and together with bumbling crooks Horace (Frederick Worlock) and Jasper (J. Pat O'Malley), conspires to steal them. After the police turn up empty-handed, Pongo and Perdita realise that it's up to them to get their litter of puppies back.
It isn't just the story which is barking in "101 Dalmatians". None of the characters really make much of an impact, meaning that the already-weak story hasn't much impetus to it and my attention often wandered during the film. The one exception is the delightfully devilish Cruella, who has become an iconic creation thanks to the wonderful performance by Gerson. The animation also helps - her cigarette's billowing green smoke and her grayish skin make her stand out from the others on screen. Looking at it, it would appear that most animators concentrated on the characters instead of the backgrounds. Some scenes use that horrible technique of simply colouring in sections of the background, giving the film a weirdly stark and indistinct feel. There just isn't as much colour or magic as there is in Disney's earlier films and it makes "101 Dalmatians" a difficult film to love.
I realise that I might be in the minority but I prefer the live-action remake from 1996. Glenn Close can't quite match the manic madness of Gerson's Cruella (though she's still excellent) but in every other respect, that movie trumps this one. Real dogs will always be cuter than animated ones and Horace & Jasper's bickering sideshow is also more entertaining. But this earlier film still has its merits and its fans - understandable if you've grown up with it. I just wished that it didn't look and feel as cheap as it does because with more effort and energy, this might have been one of Disney's classics. But it simply isn't on a par with the likes of "Dumbo", "Pinocchio" or the animated sequence from "Mary Poppins" and typifies the occasional laziness of the Disney studio. Even the most ardent of Disney fans will acknowledge that they have a long list of half-hearted films on their CV along with the classics and for me, "101 Dalmatians" is somewhere in between. I can understand why old man Walt wasn't too happy with this film...
As much as I enjoy watching and reviewing the hundreds of movies that I
have on IMDb, there is an inevitable downside. Of course, I could sit
and watch nothing but classics, the stone-cold iconic movies that have
stood the test of time and remain loved by all. But then I'd be missing
perspective and let's be honest, not every movie is a classic. There
are those that make you question why you bother going to the pictures
at all or inspire you to become an actor or director - not because
you're good but because you can't possibly be as bad as those you've
just seen. As a fairly prolific writer, I do have to dip my toes into
the murky waters of Turkeyville but this bizarre sci-fi western comedy
felt like a baptism of bilge. It was so focused on its unusual
steam-punk take on the old TV series that it completely forgot to add
humour, tension, excitement, chemistry or entertainment. You know
things have gone wrong when Will Smith's dire "Wild Wild West" track is
the best thing about a movie.
Sharp-shootin' ladies man James West (Smith) is forced by President Ulysses S. Grant (Kevin Kline) to investigate the disappearance of several eminent scientists after things come to a head, literally, when one turns up decapitated. Unwillingly teamed up with inventive US Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kline again), West and Gordon track down their chief suspect - former Confederate General "Bloodbath" McGrath (Ted Levine). But McGrath is only the muscle for the suave, wheelchair-bound Dr Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) who has plans for the US almost as big as his secret weapon the scientists have been forced to create for him...
"Wild Wild West" is such a monumental failure that it's hard to know where to begin. Aside from Levine, the cast are universally dreadful - Kline & West are an awful couple on screen with zero chemistry while Salma Hayek, as the obligatory love interest, is a shadow of her sultry self. Branagh is probably the most embarrassed he's ever been, spending the whole film on his digitally-removed knees and overacting with a dodgy accent and even dodgier facial hair. The plot is utter nonsense, dispensing with any sense of reality from the first shot and getting worse as the movie goes on. I'd given up on the film when Kline blasts past the horse-riding Smith on a jet-powered penny-farthing bicycle. But the film is filled with insane contraptions such as the enormous mechanical spider, the train with more toys than Inspector Gadget and Kline's ridiculous pop-up notebook and pencil. I might have got on-board with the madness if the script made me care but it didn't. The jokes fell flatter than a Russian satellite (and the constant racial gags felt forced and uncomfortable) and at no point did I care what was happening, mainly because it was obviously written by a bunch of people on extremely strong medication.
The only comfort I can take from this is the brief shot of Hayek's behind and the knowledge that movies are unlikely to get worse than this for the remainder of the year. Levine's performance also deserved better than this mess but overall, "Wild Wild West" misfires like a broken Gatling gun. It's all concept and no execution - even the CG effects look cheap and poorly done. The film-makers may as well have got the budget (an estimated $170 million), set fire to the money and filmed that instead. It should never have got past the planning stage but since Will Smith was in the middle of his cultural assault on the Nineties at the time, I suspect it was rushed through without giving it much more thought than necessary. This was a bad judgement on the producer's part - the movie more or less halted Smith's previously unassailable success by shooting it right between the eyes and marked the start of his career decline. The arrogance of youth can be forgiven for many things but inflicting "Wild Wild West" on us is a crime that should come with some serious jail time.
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