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As is to be expected, most of the truly most expensive films concern big action films, high-concept comedies, period pieces and otherwise special-effects laden films, or a combination of some of the above. Another reason for a high budget would be a cast including many big actors.
Last update: September 30, 2016 - Desperate Housewives, Doctor Who (classic & revival), Doctor Thorne, Downton Abbey, Indian Summers, Star Trek Enterprise, The Night Manager, True Detective, Weeds (& Space Above & Beyond update)
The Abrams Awakens
In 2005 I was in a massive, packed theater on opening day for "Revenge of the Sith", convinced it would be the final "Star Wars" movie. The mood was electric, the audience was buzzing with excitement and there were massive cheers and applause every time a new character appeared on screen. It was an incredible moment and one I was sure I'd never experience again.
In 2015 I was in a massive, packed theater on opening day for "The Force Awakens". There was a smattering of applause at the beginning and end of the film and when the Falcon, Han Solo and Chewbacca first appear. There were also a few laughs for a couple of scenes. Other than that, silence. Walking out of the theater, surrounded by hundreds of moviegoers, no one uttered a word. Everyone just shuffled out in a deathly quiet.
Now don't get me wrong, "The Force Awakens" is a fantastic movie and the best thing JJ Abrams has ever done. However it also underwhelmed me in a way Episodes I to III never did. There is enough good, even great in it, and I have enough good will towards the series to name it my favorite film of the year, but I also have major problems with it, which range from the outer packaging all the way to the creamy center.
Everything you feared since hearing JJ Abrams was directing has come to pass (lens flares aside). His obsession with the first three films as well as "real sets, practical effects" is taken much too far. You can see everything coming from a mile away, none of the mysteries and twists work and there is zero emotional weight to the film. The endeavor also suffers from a major case of telling rather than showing and as such we are pleadingly being asked to love our new heroes rather than liking them of our own volition.
Of the new characters, Snoke and Hux are great, Kylo Ren is the weakest villain the series has ever had, Captain Phasma is useless, Rey and Finn are fine, Poe Dameron makes no impression whatsoever and BB-8 is pretty cool but very redundant.
Again it's a great film, and I'll see it again in theaters. Just be careful to keep your hype in check.
Wild Card (2015)
Competent action thriller that wants to be a drama
Wild Card has been a passion project of Jason Statham's for several years, the actor having even secured Brian De Palma for the director's chair at one point. With De Palma stepping away, Statham enlisted the competent but much less exciting Simon West with whom he'd already collaborated on The Mechanic and The Expendables 2.
West was excited to work with legendary screenwriter William Goldman again after The General's Daughter and assembled an impressive supporting cast around Statham, the likes of Stanley Tucci, Anne Heche, Jason Alexander and many more. A vastly underrated actor, Statham easily holds his own among these and gives a fine performance as Nick Wild, first played in the 1986 original by Burt Reynolds.
That picture was a notoriously troubled production that left a sour taste in William Goldman's mouth, but he obviously thought highly of his screenplay, as story-wise, Wild Card plays almost exactly like the original, beat-by-beat. However, watching the on-screen proceedings it is hard to believe this is the same man responsible for such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride and so many others.
From its top notch cast to its look and pacing, Wild Card feels like it wants to a gritty drama, a moody character piece with bursts of action in the vein of Michael Mann's Collateral, a film with which it shares quite a few characteristics. Unfortunately it never quite reaches the heights of its ambitions, the film being unable to conjure up something special, unexpected, original enough to put it over the top.
That is not to say it doesn't deliver. Without saying much, the film draws you into this world easily and convincingly. The acting is very strong and the characters pretty appealing. The writing is sharp. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson gives the film a distinctive look and the editing is excellent. The score is composed by the ultra-talented Dario Marianelli. And then there's the action.
While there are only but a few of them, the action scenes, handled by Hong Kong legend and frequent Statham collaborator Cor(e)y Yuen, are incredible, exhilarating and eminently memorable. Even more to the film's credit, each one is very different, both through their visual and musical presentations.
All this makes for a perfectly serviceable film but one unfortunately stuck between two worlds. Which makes it quite a shame that Brian De Palma backed out of the project as his style would have no doubt elevated Wild Card to something pretty fascinating.
A classic, but well-made and formidably acted biopic
I basically knew nothing about French pop superstar Claude François before seeing this film, apart what he looked like, a couple of his songs and how he died.
A talented filmmaker, Florent-Emilio Siri has surrounded himself with a stellar cast and captures dazzling visuals to deliver what ends up being a rather classic, well-made musical biopic that (re)introduces the singing sensation to the 21st century.
On the down side, the film sometimes plays like a highlight reel of sorts, seemingly jumping from one flagship scene to the next without taking the time to explain the significance of events unfolding to the unfamiliar viewer, while at the same time jumping over portions of François' life that look like they might have quite some importance.
However on the positive, apart from the aforementioned excellence of the actors and the incredible shots scattered throughout the picture, Cloclo also gives an insight into an aspect of the musical industry that is rarely seen on film, which is the "industrial" production of songs, creation as seen through a committee rather than a single artist. Quite fascinating.
Les adieux à la reine (2012)
Unconventionally wonderful period film.
A marvelous film. Very rarely does a film based on fact, especially a story as infamous as this one, succeed at creating such tension despite the fact that everyone knows pretty much what is going on and what will happen (United 93 springs to mind). As it is director Benoît Jacquot and his team have done a incredible job in capturing the confusion, uncertainty and pure dread that those living at Versailles in the final days of the Monarchy must have felt. Seriously, anyone who's ever dismissed period dramas and films based on true stories as "stuffy", slow and boring should give this one a shot. The cast is also exceptionally strong, led by a group of immensely talented female performers. The only downside is really the ending, unfortunately, slightly anticlimactic and a bit of a let down.
Real Steel (2011)
A Spielbergian movie with a lot of heart
Most of the time, if a film director hits the big time, it's usually that one of his films, early on in his career, has made a huge smash and given him status and power. This is the case for people like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Shyamalan, Cameron, etc... However, if there's one director that has been steadily moving up the ranks of the Hollywood over the past ten years or so, starting out small and tackling on bigger, more ambitious and more prestigious projects as he goes on, it's definitely Canadian filmmaker Shawn Levy.
The man started out directing episodes of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows such as Animorphs or The Famous Jett Jackson in the late nineties, moved on to directing kids from those types of shows in their big screen efforts, such as Big Fat Liar and Cheaper By The Dozen and used the success of these films to bag ever more prestigious comedies, from The Pink Panther remake to Night At The Museum to Date Night. And while critics have mocked him and dismissed him, calling him an untalented hack, he has now graduated to a big, science-fiction blockbuster produced by Steven Spielberg himself, Real Steel.
Like a couple of other recent sci-fi releases, I Am Legend and The Box, Real Steel is based on a story by celebrated genre writer Richard Matheson. Well it is actually loosely based, or as the credits put it "partly based" on it. Indeed, Real Steel basically only retains the fact that robot boxers have replaced human boxers in the future from Matheson's story, which is probably a good thing as its twist ending is now so widely known.
Real Steel takes place in the very near future, barely ten years from now. Not much is different other than the fact that robot boxing is one of the most popular sports in the world and the phones, computers & co are much more advanced. Charlie Kenton, played by Hugh Jackman, is a former boxer turned small-time "robot trainer". Constantly in debt, he tours the US in his truck, looking for fairs where he can have his robot fight for cash. Things get complicated for him when the son he never cared about enters his life, finds an old robot in a scrap-heap and decides to have him fight.
Earlier this year, media outlets all over made a big fuss about the fact that Steven Spielberg had produced Super 8, which in their mind made Super 8 as much a Spielberg film as a JJ Abrams film. For some reason no such fuss has been made about the three other films Spielberg personally produced this year, be it Transformers 3, Cowboys & Aliens or Real Steel. Interestingly though, Real Steel is just as Spielbergian as Super 8, if not more. At the world premiere of the film in Paris, Hugh Jackman told us how the film was about a son and his father, and how the young Dakota Goyo is the heart of this film. I initially scoffed at this but when the film ended a couple of hours later I knew he was speaking the truth. The science-fiction robot ass-kicking element of the film is just a sheen under which the real subject shines through: the relationship between a father and his son.
Real Steel is actually a sports movie. The fact that it is about boxing robots is essentially irrelevant and simply serves to give it an identity and a cool factor. It could have been about human boxing, football, baseball, car racing, whatever, and the story wouldn't have changed, which is in my mind one of the film's big strengths. The story of Real Steel isn't particularly original, but it is instead a classic story, that speaks to our primal emotions as human beings. It is a David vs Goliath story that had the packed theater cheering, clapping and reacting like I've seldom seen a movie audience react.
The film is beautiful to look at, the fights are cool and the acting is of high caliber. Danny Elfman's music is effective but not particularly original and will remind you partly of his "emotion theme" for The Kingdom and partly of every sports movie music ever made. The rest of the music is mostly comprised of Eminem songs, apparently the most popular singer in the future. Contrarily to what another reviewer here said, I found the ending to be realistic and hugely satisfying.
The big difference between Super 8 and Real Steel is that while Super 8 is perhaps more enjoyable "in the moment" due to it being more high concept and having more stuff going on all the time, like everything JJ Abrams does it seems to lack in something and is somewhat forgettable. Real Steel, despite featuring many cold, metal robots, as a warm, beating heart at its core and for that I say: well done, Shawn Levy, well done.
Your run-of-the-mill EuropaCorp action flick
If there is one French director the non-French general public knows about, it's Luc Besson. Even if the name means nothing to you, chances are you've heard of the films he's had a hand in. Among his most famous films are Léon: The Professional (which introduced American audiences to Jean Reno and Natalie Portman), Nikita (which has been remade into an American film and two American TV shows so far) and The Fifth Element (which nearly 15 years later remains one of the most famous science-fiction films as well as one of the 10 most expensive French films).
At the dawn of the new millennium, Besson started his own production company, EuropaCorp, which in the last ten years or so has funded its fair share of diverse movies, both in the French and English language. Nevertheless Europa (as it's known in short) is best known to mass audiences for its numerous, high-octane, medium-budget action films, most of which are written or co-written by Besson himself (often with Karate Kid screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen). Among these are the Taxi, Transporter and District B13 series of films, Wasabi, Taken, From Paris With Love, Danny The Dog (also known as Unleashed), Bandidas, Kiss Of The Dragon, Yamakasi, Crimson Rivers 2, Hit-man,... Through these films, Besson is also responsible for introducing the world to Parkour, which seems to have taken over action cinema in the past 5 years (and even making its way to films such as Step Up 3D).
Colombiana is another product from Besson's action film factory. The story starts in 1992 in Bogota, where some mob guy, Don Luis, orders a hit against a former associate of his who he considers has betrayed him, and naturally his whole family. Only young Cataleya Restrepo escapes the bloody shootout during an intense Parkour chase (what else?), and manages to reach her uncle in Chicago, to whom she swears that she'll become a hit-man and avenge her family. Fast-forward and enter Zoe Saldana as adult Cataleya as the rest of the film takes place, strangely enough, in 2007. With her uncle's help, Cataleya has indeed grown up to be an awesomely skilled contract killer, having performed 22 jobs in 4 years. However, she signs each of her kills with a message destined for her real prey, making her one of the FBI's most wanted. When the FBI decides to divulge her "serial killer" status, Don Luis and his men know what's up, and all hell breaks loose.
Much has been said of the film's similarity with Besson's Léon and Nikita, with many people musing that the film could just have well have been a sequel to Léon with Natalie Portman's character all grown-up and kicking butt (something fans have been dreaming about for years). Now I haven't seen Nikita, but while there are similarities between Léon's Mathilda and Colombiana's Cataleya, the two films are definitely not on the same level. Colombiana is really your typical, run-of-the-mill Besson action production, which is really not a bad thing. It is not in the top-tier of these films (where I place films such as Taken and Danny The Dog), but still a perfectly entertaining romp.
Viewers concerned with director Olivier Megaton due to the perceived lack of action in Transporter 3, his previous film, need not be concerned. The action here is almost non-stop, pretty much to the detriment of plot. While the story has potential and could make for a film with a lot more depth, whatever plot is here is minimal to the max, recycled, cliché and basically a hodge-podge of all previous hit-man/revenge/on-the-run-from-the-law films you've ever seen. There is absolutely zero character development whatsoever and if you didn't know that Cataleya's parents were murdered by Don Luis, you would have no idea why any of the characters are doing what they're doing. I'm not exaggerating, the Transformers films, heavily criticized for this reason, have more character development.
But lack of plot depth isn't really a negative here. More depth would have certainly made it a better film, but Colombiana is still entertaining as a simple, straightforward, "dumb" B action flick. Like all EuropaCorp films, production values are top-notch. The expected Parkour chase is kept fresh by having it unfold with a child. Zoe Saldana gives a great physical performance and spends a great deal of time flitting in and out of vents and the various hits shown in the film are all quite cool. The other actors also do fine, though Michael Vartan's character has very little purpose and is actually barely in the movie. Also this might be the only movie you'll ever see in which toothbrushes are used as weapons.
In short, know what to expect from Colombiana (which literally means Colombian woman by the way), and you'll enjoy it fine. It's a straight-up action movie, no more, no less, very low on plot, high on action, that falls straight into the heap with the scores of other similar Besson-produced films, though it doesn't possess the touches of humor that most of his other productions have. In comparison to the other hit-man movies of the year, it's superior to The Mechanic, but way inferior to Hanna (though it contains a lot more action than Hanna, which shouldn't be seen as an action film). This is no Léon: The Professional 2, fans can keep hoping that Besson and Portman work that one out at some point (interestingly, Megaton is first in line to direct if that movie does happen).
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
"I live. I love. I slay. And I am content."
Let me preface this review by stating that I have not seen either of the Arnold Schwarzenegger films (except for the opening scene of the first one during a class), not a single episode of any of the TV shows, whether animated or live-action and have never read any of the original stories by Robert E. Howard nor any subsequent comic book and have never played any of the video games. As such, I have no means to compare it to the previous films or to assess its fidelity to Howard's works. I am coming in fresh, and reviewing this film strictly on its own merits using as prejudice only my image brought over by pop culture of who Conan The Barbarian is.
The basic story is this: as a Morgan Freeman sound-alike tells us, a long time ago there were these bad guys, the Acheron, who had this bone mask which made them really powerful, but the Barbarian tribes united and beat them to a pulp and they destroyed the mask with each tribe keeping a piece of the mask so that it can't be united again. Then came the "Hyborian Age" and baby Conan is born on a battlefield to the chief of a Cimmerian village and a mother who dies in the process. Years later, teenage Conan is a skillful fighter and the village is attacked by a guy who wants to reunite the mask pieces. He finds the last piece remaining with the help of his witch daughter and Conan is forced to watch his father die in front of him. Naturally, he vows revenge and years later, adult Conan still searches for his father's murderers.
I will just come straight out and say I very much enjoyed this version of Conan The Barbarian. No, it's not an Oscar contender, of course not. No, there are no big surprises either, the whole thing is pretty straightforward. But it fulfilled every expectation I had from a movie called "Conan The Barbarian". Much like the other recent Robert E. Howard adaptation from the same producers, 2009's Solomon Kane, and perhaps even more so, it's a perfectly sound, effective piece of entertainment, and compared to other films with similar ambitions, such as Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, The Scorpion King and the Clash Of The Titans remake, it is much better.
First of all, the film looks very good. The world we are shown is vast and expansive. Indeed, Conan moves around a lot and we are introduced to scores of different environments, all beautifully conceived from amalgamations of different real-world cultures and with a realistic look and feel. Secondly, the film is not shy on violence and certainly earns its R rating. The (very) numerous action scenes range from very good to excellent and are in addition very bloody. In fact I'd go so far as to claim that the film is more bloody than director Marcus Nispel's remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th combined. In other words, you may not want to bring your kids and the squeamish may want to give this a pass, as there are some truly unpleasant scenes.
Tyler Bates' score is not particularly memorable after a first watch but is still strong, epic, and effective. Marcus Nispel has truly done a great job directing the film, and a strong sense of adventure seeps through every frame. He also seems to pay homage to John Milius in an early scene where Conan and his father forge a sword together, which echoes and looks very similar to the opening scene of the 1982 film. The 3D (post-converted) looks good and works well in the film.
As for the actors, Jason Momoa, best known as a TV actor up to this point with roles in Baywatch, North Shore, Stargate Atlantis and Game Of Thrones, does not possess the same presence as Arnold Schwarzenegger but delivers an adequate performance nonetheless. Teen Conan, played by the same kid who blew everyone away as Teen Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is very good here as well. Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Season Of The Witch) acts as his bearded father and does well as expected, and otherwise we have Stephen Lang (Avatar) as the bad guy, Rose McGowan (TV's Charmed and who was ironically previously attached to a Red Sonja reboot) as his daughter, Rachel Nichols (G.I. Joe) as the love interest and Saïd Taghmaoui (G.I. Joe) as one of Conan's buddies (3 former G.I. Joe actors in a single movie?). There's also that huge pile of muscles called Nathan Jones whom you might remember from the beginning of Troy. All do fine and apart from Perlman and Taghmaoui are rather unrecognizable.
The biggest question is how will 2011's movie audiences react to Conan The Barbarian, as it seems in many ways a relic of a bygone era. It's a very earnest film, that doesn't pretend to be anything else than what it is, where characters snarl at each other and raise their swords to the sky in a powerful thrust while screaming their lungs out while heroic music plays on the soundtrack. Yet somehow, for some reason modern audiences seem to think they're above this sort of thing and tend to snicker at such things. They might call it unsophisticated and silly. But I am rooting for Conan The Barbarian. I hope that people will be able to appreciate it for what it is instead of mocking it for those same reasons. I hope it is successful enough to green-light the planned Red Sonja film starring Amber Heard as well as Conan sequels. I would like to see this become a franchise.
In short the film looks great, is decently acted, has a Morgan Freeman sound-alike narrating, offers plenty of imaginative action scenes and is just altogether entertaining, which is the most important thing. A job well done.
Air Guitar Nation (2006)
A fun, easy-to-watch doc.
Set around the 2003 Annual Air Guitar World Championship Contest, and in particular around the first-time American participants, Air Guitar Nation plays like a tournament movie, pitting two opponents against each other, the "favorite" C-Diddy and the "relentless challenger" Björn Türoque.
Don't be deterred by the overall silliness (which everyone acknowledges) and gives this documentary a chance. It's a joy to watch, from the inventive structure to the obvious fun the contestants have taking on their "rock star" personas. No these dudes aren't really like that, they're taking on a role! And having a blast doing it too! Air Guitar Nation certainly isn't a must-watch but it's a very nice watch. Very original and a lot of fun. A refreshing documentary which doesn't take itself seriously and doesn't tackle a serious matter either.
Tru Calling (2003)
Pretty repetitive at first, but started to get really interesting when it was canceled.
Tru Davies has a gift. When she's next to a corpse, sometimes it asks for help, at which point her day rewinds and she has to save the person before he dies.
Early episodes of Tru Calling are extremely repetitive. Corpse asks for help, Tru's day rewinds, Tru saves person. Sure, the writers made attempts to diversify the formula (several people must be saved, day rewinds several times, etc...) and advance the storyline (Tru forms alliances with her boss at the morgue and with her brother, etc...) but still, you probably wouldn't want to have a Tru Calling marathon.
This started to change about halfway through the first season with the introduction of Jason Priestley's character, and by the time the show was canceled (six episodes into the second season), things got extremely promising and viewers are left with the beginning of what would probably have been a fascinating story arc involving Eric Christian Olsen's character Jensen.
It's a shame Tru Calling got canceled when it did, as by that time it had started to show the potential it had. And when you think that the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle Ghost Whisperer is going strong by having the same exact storyline every week, it's extremely frustrating. Tru Calling is worth checking out. I wouldn't say it's a great show (though it could have become one) but it's still pretty entertaining and certainly offers more ideas than the aforementioned somewhat similar Ghost Whisperer.
Possibly the best croc movie
This is the third croc movie I've seen, after the first Lake Placid (which was quite fun) and the Dominic Purcell starring Primeval, which I was pleasantly surprised with, and felt was actually a political film disguised as a croc film.
2007 was a ripe year for croc films, with the aforementioned Primeval, Australian flick Black Water, and now another Australian flick, Rogue, writer/director Greg Mclean second feature effort after the well-received 2005 gorefest Wolf Creek.
I got to see this film in the cinema, and let me tell you it was worth it. The film is simply beautiful to look at. Mclean and his unfortunately now dead cinematographer Will Gibson offer some amazing, breathtaking shots of Australia's Northern Territory (where the story is set). Seriously, I cannot stress how beautiful this movie's setting is, you have to see it to believe it.
However stunning visuals do not a good movie make, and thankfully Greg Mclean and his team deliver the goods in the other departments as well. Have you ever been disappointed by that "keeping the monster hidden makes him more effective" rule of monster movies? Well Mclean actually pulls it off. You almost never see the croc during the first part of the movie, yet his presence is felt at every turn. The pacing is just right, the atmosphere is appropriately tense and the characters are pretty believable. Unfortunately, the film becomes slightly less interesting during its second part, where Rogue takes a more conventional turn.
Nevertheless, I'd recommend watching Rogue, even if you're not that into horror films, as Mclean's mastery, originality and inventiveness is felt throughout, from the superb opening to the awesome rendition of the Disney song "Never Smile At A Crocodile" which accompanies the end credits.
On a side note, I'm not sure how happy Australia's tourism board are with director Greg Mclean. On the one hand, he captures the beauty of the setting in a way not often seen, but on the other, you won't want to go anywhere near that place after seeing Rogue. Especially considering the size of our killer croc is apparently entirely plausible. Scary stuff.