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Belyy tigr (2012)
The first half is....OK
Trailer -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnKZcGtHNlY
:This Review is Without Spoilers:
If you saw the trailer (linked above), you know what to expect, right? It's Moby Dick with tanks. An action packed cracker about a incredibly gifted tank commander hell-bent on tracking down an invincible ghost tank. Is that what the movie lives up to be?
Well... yes and no.
The first half follows this premise, sure. Atmospheric, gritty, dangerous. it's pretty much just what you were expecting, except everyone is so deadly serious. For crying out loud, we're talking about a ghost tank that vanishes into thin air and doesn't make mistakes? A man 90% covered in burns at the start who fully recovers shortly after? Why couldn't they have accepted how ridiculous that was and just rolled with it? The straight faced approach has it's advantages, sure- the buildup to the first encounter is supremely tense and eerie- but otherwise it just doesn't fit. It's almost like the film scolds us for enjoying this slice of high fantasy.
Also, for all the tanks that explode in the trailer, there are really only two main battle scenes, and while they are excellent (and I do mean excellent- some of the best tank action I've ever seen on film), they make up a relatively small fragment of the film, and leave you shocked when they decide not to show any more.
The other main problem is that the film does a sudden change towards the philosophical side halfway through. Now don't get me wrong- I have nothing against films that explore the introspective manner of human nature, that give you deep thoughts to contemplate after the movie is over, have quiet scenes with characters forced to look at themselves in a new way and so on. It's just that in a film where you advertise it as a tank explosion extravaganza with miracle healing and ghost vehicles, it's the LAST thing you need. The creators may have felt compelled to make a comment on the nature of the war or the people who fought in it. There is a time and place for that. This is not it.
People come to this movie to see what it advertised: tanks shooting and stuff blowing up. Save your more serious commentary for a film that suits the message- not your ghost-tank story! Overall, the first half is OK. Too serious for it's own good, but some real satisfying action in there. The second half... it's just a mess.
Seriously- Frozen Strawberries? What the hell was THAT about!?
Beneath Hill 60 (2010)
Probably the greatest Aussie -War- film to date.
Do you remember, as a kid, watching stories of bravery and heroism set on a backdrop of war, and being fascinated by a kind of warfare you'd never even imagined before? Marveling at crafty allies and enemies alike pitting their wits as much as their weapons against each other to find each others weakness and foil the other's strategy? Well Beneath Hill 60 is just like that- an old fashioned no-nonsense look at a fascinating angle of WW1 never before properly explored- TUNNEL warfare. There are moments that leave you stunned to think of what dangers and precautions these men had to be ready for, above -and- below ground.
Make no mistake though, unlike the coming of age tale Gallipoli or the military court drama Breaker Morant, this really is, at long last, an Australian WAR film. And quite possibly it is the best from this country so far (though I'm still yet to see The Odd Angry Shot so jury's still out) and I would say one of the top ten WW1 films I've ever seen (and I've seen a LOT).
And it's all the more incredible because it's a true story. There was one moment which even almost made me tear up (unbelievable, right?) which I won't mention, suffice to say it involved a briefly shown, but dialogue-less revealing of just how much an experience had left a man broken and hollow.
If I absolutely HAD to find fault with the film, it would NOT be the flashbacks (you can't go round saying the characters were one dimensional and then say the background story was unimportant!) but perhaps the soundtrack. It knows what it's doing on the battlefield, but in the flashbacks is unsure of itself, sometimes getting all melodramatic like an excited child.
Really, that's it. The music seems slightly odd in one or two places. Everything else just WORKS. It's visually stunning, realistic, has great characters, action, suspense (and how!) and even humour. That's right, even in WW1 soldiers found time to crack the odd joke don't y'know.
So do check this out pronto- you won't be disappointed. And remember- keep one eye closed when the flares go up- you'll see better once it goes out again. ;)
Not really that good
There were two reasons I rushed to see this one, firstly because I loved Dark Blue World, a compassionate Czech war film about Czech pilots flying in the RAF in the Battle of Britain. It instilled in me the idea that Czech cinema could show the world how it was possible to have local soldiers alongside those of another nation without anyone getting insulted.
The second reason was that it was about Tobruk- a battle almost never seen on screen and a legendary one in the history of soldiers of my country.
Firstly I must say that Tobruk treats Australians well. We don't turn up much but when we do we seem human enough. One particular part showing some Aussies drinking in a bar and nonchalantly cheering for a man who has just fallen down the stairs seemed like a bit of comedy specially there for us, and it shows the attention to detail the cultural research must have had.
As a movie itself though, it was pretty lackluster. I don't mean because there is hardly any action (but be warned if you want action- there's little to go round) but because the movie just doesn't know what it wants to do, or who it should be following. At one point the camera follows a terror stricken deserter for a good 15 minutes, but when he meets up with some friends who have seen recent action, one has to wonder why the hell the camera didn't show their struggle instead. It seems the budget was blown on artillery barrages (which look very impressive BTW).
The characters are good, and you can identify with them, but they don't really change at all, and for some reason there's a cliffhanger ending. Since this movie doesn't really seem like one that is begging for a sequel, the ending seems pretty abrupt and badly written.
So yeah. Not very good. Avoid it if you want Action, an outline of the battle and/or why it was so important, a glimpse of a tank of any kind (despite being a large part of the battle), or for that matter, a glimpse of a German soldier. Yeah, hard to believe, isn't it.
However see it for the character study, what it's like to be a Jew disliked by an army fighting to protect your kind, training scenes, dim bunker scenes, the interesting dynamic of men being led by a man they hate so much they'd almost kill him themselves (and you'll wish for it too) and some fairly good desert photography. Oh and if you loved that shot out of Benjamin Button where the sub and tugboat were slinging blazing tracers at each other in the dead of night, there's a bit of that here too. Definitely a 'watch it to see what it was like back then' film rather than any real entertainment.
Tight script. Deep character arcs. Rewarding ending. This movie has none of those. Here's why.
"We're not making a movie about pirates, we're making a pirate movie" was the motto Curse of the Black Pearl was made under, and it worked fantastically. Fast paced, funny and dazzling. The undead came into it but were used to give the plot an extra dimension and actually add to the story, not diminish it.
All I wanted with the sequel was more ship combat, and less reliance on over the top CGI, not a film that breaks some of the most basic rules of film structure.
Problems start almost immediately when Jack blasts a crow. Sure, he's shot Barbossa and doesn't have to save his bullets anymore, but a pirate as accomplished as Jack wouldn't go wasting shot on something like that! It's completely against his character; though going out of character happens all too often in this film. More on that later.
What follows is the most messed up and muddled film I've seen in living memory. Why? Two words: The Natives. The whole time they spend on that island with the cannibals (all...40ish minutes of it), not only has nothing to do with anything else, but it grinds the movie to a halt. It's more like an episode of 'the adventures of Jack Sparrow' with a ridiculous premise: he suddenly finds himself king of a tribe that does everything he says as long as they get to burn him alive? That's got to be the biggest act of Deus Ex Machina since Alice discovers Wonderland was an LSD dream.
By the way- I have nothing wrong with Johnny Depp, he does a superb job with what he is given, which in this case values a Sparrowfest at the cost of any real cohesive story.
Of course, with pirate movies, there are always sword-fights and ship battles. The sword-fight is outstanding. It's got some of that 'have to make it more extreme than what we've already done' school of thought that made the new Star Wars trilogy so camp, but damn- it's so in-your-face and perilous that you don't care. The ship battles though, are pathetic. I mean, there are no less than three encounters, right? and EVERY SINGLE TIME it looks like we're in for a decent ship battle, they bring out the CGI infested Kraaken. It's good the first time- another high-seas myth referenced. Then it becomes apparent that they're going to use it whenever a ship needs attacking. There is a brief section where a revolving tri-barreled cannon is used instead (what the hell? this isn't Apocalypse Now!) but nobody seems to stay on the water for more then 5 minutes without getting attacked by the giant squid, which even when severely crippled by an explosion triggered by a bullet-time shot (bullet time? in a pirate movie? next they'll be punching through walls...) it STILL comes after them, even-though-it-loses-about-three limbs-completely. Now, if someone blew off my legs and an arm, I'd damn well call it quits, but no, they are informed it will be back, as if losing multiple appendages is a daily occurrence for the beast. Yeah right.
OK, so enough of that- what about these character problems, you say? still not convinced? In the first film, Elizabeth clearly has no attraction to Jack whatsoever, and yet while he has that crucial pardon document on his person she can't stop glaring at him with smouldering eyes. At the time I always figured the compass was showing she wanted that document back to use as leverage, which was an interesting plan, but no, it turns out she's just hot for him, and why? because of the fan-base. Nothing kills movie franchises like a director who starts compromising on stuff just to please fans. Even if she only smooches him to save herself it still 'had to be there', right? Wrong.
This brings up another point. A HUGE point. Will actually SEES Liz and Jack going at it, and considering everything he's done for both of them you'd expect him to be angry, enraged; absolutely livid. But surprisingly when everyone jumps into the 'Yes, let's go and save Jack' mob at the end, Will joins them without even batting an eyelid. Either he's got no long term memory, or someone ripped his spine out. Or maybe the scriptwriters just hoped nobody would notice the plot hole the size of Port Royale itself. They probably also wanted people to view Norrington as a villain, but not a single thing he did during the film overturned the huge sympathy I had for him, given what has happened to him so far.
And if you're going to show an extinct game being played -for such high stakes- make sure you give at least a hint as to how it works! Any suspense the dice game could have had was totally destroyed by the fact that nobody in the audience knew how the game is played! Finally, the ending is such a blatant disregard of the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mantra. Not only does it say pretty much everything Jack fought for in the original movie was for absolutely nothing, it left us wondering what other crap will be changed around for the next one. Perhaps those two Royal Navy guards will return in the third as werewolves or something equally absurd. It's clear that the franchise is now more sci-fi eye candy than anything resembling an old swashbuckler like Black Pearl was.
The after credit sequence in Pearl opened up some new story possibilities, but the one in this? It just reminds you that the dog is set to be roasted, without actually resolving the situation, or even advancing it! They might as well have shown the candle holder in Elizabeth's house falling off the wall again instead- at least that would have got a laugh or two.
Biggest disappointment of the year, and the worst sequel since Mission Impossible 2.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
A Pile of Style, but Substance in Absence.
After one of the best, if not the very best opening sequence of all the post-Moore Bonds (with high risk, plenty of action, and a mistake Bond has to clear up to save the day, Tomorrow Never Dies degenerates into easily the least polished and most 'style over substance' of the Bonds. I think it's the worst of the lot and even now it's the only Bond I find physically hard to get through.
Bond stunts have always been outlandish, but they were always meant to be possible, hence the use of real stunt men. Tilting a helicopter 70 degrees and chopping up a marketplace while hovering and not actually wrecking the blades, cartwheeling into a building, or accelerating forward out of control is not even nearly possible. It actually suggests that helicopters hover of their own free will and the blades are just there for show and to chop crap up. That doesn't make a cool stunt- that makes an insulting farce.
One of Bond's mantra's has always been 'I work alone.' Kudos to the screenwriters for including a bond girl who can stand up for herself, but why show it through Bond going completely out of character and seeking her help, only for her to spit Bond's own line back at him? That doesn't make sense at all. That doesn't seem like Bond at all.
There are other goofs that are so simple a child could spot them, yet they went unnoticed into the final version. Things like the torpedo having three giant interlocking gears- something else which is impossible- and a watercraft that looks streamlined and like a thin inverted 'U' on the outside, but on the inside somehow looks like a very large, very cube-like warehouse. The fact that the giant paper poster barely stops ripping under Bond and Lin's combined falling weight, yet holds fast as they recklessly flit back and forth to smash a window. Chains that hold fast while Bond somehow transfers breathable oxygen to Lin in a smooch, but part effortlessly once the point has been made. The way a seemingly insignificant single console in a dimly lit hallway will, when shot with a single burst, dramatically reduce the speed of the entire ship.
Even at the very start, with a ballistic missile bearing down on Bond as he taxis a jet packing a nuclear warhead away from soldiers with illegal weapons of all sorts lying around to be used, not to mention a gattling gun mounted truck blasting away at him constantly, he still takes the time to run the plane all the way down the runway, turn around, and be surprised that there's another jet there waiting to take off in the opposite direction. Sure, he might have done that to make sure he took off into the wind, but it's hardly something you worry about when you're about to be incinerated, and besides, the other guy takes his plane off in the other direction and gets up fine, which demonstrates another character faux-pas for Bond: The reason he survives all his stunts and chases is because he -like any self respecting action hero- has a keenly developed sense of what can be achieved with what he's got, when he's got it. The only reason he wouldn't have taken off straight away is if he didn't think he'd make it. The other pilot did. Already that gives some nobody shmuck a keener instinct than Bond.
All they had to do was make some truck block the runway entrance, forcing Bond to go to the other end, and everything would have made perfect sense. The way they did it, it seems like Bond's watch must have frozen, so he decided to take his sweet time getting out of a potential nuclear ground zero. Way to go, Bond. Don't forget your receipt.
They would have made it a much better story by just including the pre-credit sequence, the car park chase and maybe the newspaper plant investigating scene and throwing the rest out.
The series just got more convoluted in TWINE. I'm glad they at least brought a bit of fun back in with DAD. It's ten times the movie this pile of crud is. For first-time watchers, when you get to the opening credit song, switch it off. Apart from the car chase, it's all downhill from there.
Monster House (2006)
A gem under a misleading trailer
There seems to be a growing trend to see CGI Animated films that are genuinely good natured, clever and pleasing to watch, which have trailers that make them seem cheap, unoriginal and dumb. So I didn't expect much when I came to see this one, but now that I've seen it I wish the marketing had been a bit more tactful, so more could see this little gem.
For a start, the animation itself is amazing. I don't mean glitzy and eye popping (in fact everyone's hair seems to be superglued) but I mean emotionally. I don't think even pixar has been able to tell so much through a single facial expression. When you see someone's face slowly change (I'm thinking of Z in the doorway here) you can almost imagine all the things that are going through their mind and identify with it. The characters are so fleshed out even before they talk! The story is interesting too. The first half is just about perfect for pacing, dramatic tension, identifying characters, humour, you name it. Unfortunately the second half starts dragging a bit and has a bit of a clumsy build up, though Mr. Nevercracker, who seems like a stereotype, reveals a side to himself that makes for an immensely satisfying twist to the story. For a long time there was something that just didn't seem right about the story that I couldn't put my finger on, but I've realised what it was- the film was drastically underpopulated. With only a handful of characters shown, the scale of the film is severely limited, and when...'big bad things' start happening near the end it just doesn't seem as dangerous as it could be, since that sea of suburban houses surrounding the film's locations (of which there are only 3) never seems to have anyone actually living in them.
Many animated films seem to fare best as a standalone film, but this one is just begging for an sequel, expanding the film's world as toy story 2 did. There were many examples of real thought put into characters that had a tiny amount of screen time- particularly DJ's parents and the humorous hint of the relationship Chowder's mother has with a 'personal trainer', and to see more of these dynamics would be a real blast.
Many people say they don't like to see a movie's evil explained, but the way the kids discover how everything works and use that to their advantage is nicely done. A pity they didn't show more of that room of toys, I'm sure the younger viewers would have liked to be able to stare and imagine swimming through all that themselves. I give this film a 7, for it had great characters, clever humour and a great first half, and a second half that, if not completely satisfying, at least answers all the questions that the first half brought up.
A solid effort. Bring on the next suburban adventure for this trio!