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Why did they apply a can of big name players?
Influenza. Most people get it at least once in a lifetime. Most people suffer from it for no more than a few days and then go on with their normal lives. What would happen though if we were met with a more serious strain? One with a higher mortality rate and even higher contagion factor? This film tells such a tale. Starting as patient zero is admitted to the hospital with unknown ailments, and going on from there, getting worse at an alarming rate. This is one of the best things about this film - the way the sickness progresses is more than believable and sometimes even too close for comfort. It is not impossible to believe how the people respond to it and the actions they are willing to do to be able to survive.
What works against it in my eyes is the appearance of a plethora of big time actors and actresses, where it really does not need them. It feels like the directors didn't feel too sure about the film and tried to apply the age old trick of adding known faces in hopes to improve the film (it never works, and in this film it makes it worse by pulling the attention from the backing story).
Add to that the final minutes were unnecessary - the film could have done (and in my opinion should have done) without them and you get to the final result: a very good film which is hindered by just two problems, but rather drastic ones at that.
8 out of 10 needles in a haystack
Fright Night (2011)
Good popcorn fun
Remakes of classics usually end up being pants. Every once in a while though some comes through holding up to their original counter part - or at least enough to be worthy of cinema time.
Fright Night is one of these. It's a typical vampire story where one person detects the unbelievable truth and then needs to repair the damage before it gets really out of hand. It has a very nice pace and doesn't wait long with making sure everyone knows who is who and where things are going - it's as predictable as the average soap opera but it plays out fun.
Adding to that the fact that it doesn't take itself serious and you can add good bits of laughter to the otherwise gruesome effect of having people close to you being hassled by a vampire and you not being able to do much about it. It rolls on and never looses track and all in all its highly enjoyable.
7 out of 10 bite marks on the neck
Super 8 (2011)
The glorious return of the Goonies
A group of friends consisting of kids of about 12 years old works together to make a film. Using a Super 8 camera and whatever scenery they can find they attempt to put together their master piece so that they can send it in for a competition of sorts. Things get really interesting for them when they see something they shouldn't have seen during one of their sessions.
And so the story rolls. Story wise this one isn't exceptional. It begins with people being at the wrong place at the wrong time and from that point on being the unwilling victim of sworn secrecy. Most of the things that happen make some kind of sense and that makes the story good enough.
The way it is played out, carried on the shoulders of the children, is cool. Their way of acting is both natural and designed and this works wonders, especially as part of the film hinges on them making a film themselves so there's plenty of acting to be acting so to speak. Most of the adults feel to be at their place too.
The first thing I was reminded of when seeing this film was The Goonies, a feeling that never went away during the rest of the film. That film had the same kind of touch to it, but it's a good touch so nothing lost there.
All in all, surely worth a watch, even though it's based on a story that is a little too overused 7 out of 10 shots in the dark
Final Destination 5 (2011)
A fitting finale
Being the fifth part in the series there is nothing left to be explained. The motto is the same: an event that causes several fatalities happens and for some reason a number of people survive it while they shouldn't have. Death doesn't like this and comes after them to finish the job.
As expected this film tries to show some new ways for people to die using some new gruesome "accidents". It doesn't entirely succeed at this but does well enough to be better than the previous two installments in this series. Overall it runs at a pretty decent speed and there's enough in there to keep it interesting. It never gets to the level of the original film or even its direct sequel, but it's worth a watch and most definitely a fitting last part. I do hope they keep their promise and leave it at this though, this cow has been milked dry.
6 out of 10 mistakes cleaned
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Barely worthy of celluloid
One thing has to be said. The title holds true. This film is about Conan, and he's a barbarian. Story-wise there isn't that much to tell really. A guy gets born, grows up and learns the trick of the warrior trade by necessity. The same guy then starts roaming the world in seek of people to slay and barbaric acts to perform.
I must admit I cannot remember how long ago it was that I saw the original films so I am not going into comparison. It can be said that this film is not going to win any prizes - but its more or less like its title character: crude but effective. The humorous touch is nice enough and the different characters get together pretty well.
The visualisation of the fights and scenery are matching and the speed is nice, there's no sloppy bits that drag on for an indeterminate period of time. All in all, it's OK enough popcorn material, something to sit through on a bored evening.
6 out of 10 skulls bashed
Starts OK, then looses the plot completely.
A smart company has a smart idea. They have developed a drug that might one day be used to repair the brain damage caused by Alzheimer disease. All they need to do is expand their tests from rats to bigger animals and eventually humans. But as many smart ideas go, this one turns sour and they end up with more than they can handle.
Story wise this film is a prequel to its direct predecessor, giving a more or less plausible explanation of how things got to where they were. It really is too bad though that this exact story has been used to many times before already because it makes the film feel more bland than it should. Either way, the story rolls and eventually the revolution begins.
And that point is the point where this film really starts loosing its grips on reality. One has to enter this film being able to believe that a drug makes apes much more intelligent and that is perfectly fine, but what one is supposed to take as believable from the middle of the film is just ridiculous.
Those two added together make the film an insult to the original series and even worse than its direct predecessor (which was bad to begin with). Again eye candy wins over story and depth and again it makes for a film that will probably lure in the popcorn lovers and send everyone else off to the DVD rental store to see the original ones again.
4 out of 10 apes gone mad
Mr. Popper's Penguins (2011)
A bit too easy, but fun for the kids
When a workaholic guy gets a penguin from his deceased father it is clear that he isn't cut out for taking care for such an animal. So when he gets more of them that can only spell disaster. Good thing for him he is able to adapt.
A simple film, a simple typical story, but more or less enjoyable, especially for kids. Carrey again shows off his ability to pull the maddest faces known to man, the necessary evil characters perform their role believably, and everyone else is fitting enough. It's all just too easy, it is clear that little effort was taken to build anything more than just the penguins. If the penguins are removed all that is left is a hollow template that has been used for too many films before and that doesn't do this film the right to exist it deserves.
So, all in all, kids will enjoy this, their parents probably won't.
5 out of 10 frozen eggs
Green Lantern (2011)
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine
The Universe is a big and dangerous place. Good thing there's an agency of guardians to watch over us. When one of them dies their selection procedure finds a replacement, and against all odds it turns out to be an Earthling.
Another comic turned into film. Another comic I have never read so I can't say whether the conversion was done well or not. As a film it works OK enough - it's popcorn amusement with plenty of spectacle to keep the audience busy for its full duration. It is not going to win any prices though, no master piece performances, no master piece story, no master piece of anything.
Graphic-wise it works well enough. The planet of the guardians is depicted like a place worth living and the effects used are ranging from OK enough to pretty good. Story-wise it tells enough even though most of the backing tale is biased along an all-too-known cliché. Sound-wise I see no reason to complain - music was either not there or not disturbing.
So, all in all, a 7 out of 10. Popcorn amusement and decent enough at that.
And so the circle closes
As an eight part in the series there's not a single reason to explain the story or its characters, they've been defined. And so this film starts running, and doesn't really pause until the very end of it. As a book translation I guess it doesn't do too bad of a job - most events of importance get a glimmer of screen time. I have no idea how it works on people that haven't read the books though.
As a film it's dark, literally. Too dark to my liking, it's a good thing to express the dark and grim feeling of the book, it's overkill to make the film look like everything was shot between dusk and dawn. This effect was even worse in 3D - which again turned out to be a dud.
Overall the film felt rushed - as if the maker was done with it, glad to have the series end. As part of the audience I now feel the same - it was a good series to watch through the years but I am happy it is done now.
Adding that all together makes it the worst part in the series to me, fitting but not fitting, pleasing and not pleasing.
6 out of 10 last rites
A very pale shadow of its first part
Picking up the story where the previous one left off (more or less) this film continues a fairy tale world where Red Riding Hood is not quite as helpless as she is in the original tales and where Granny is something else entirely. The characters are, to an extend, the same as they were in the first film - but quite sadly that is the end of the comparability of the two.
Where the original film is a quirky "whodunnit" that attempts to solve a crime by having the audience sit through several viewpoints on the events that happened this sequel is a sequence of standard events that seems to be stolen from several other films - and stolen poorly at that.
As a comedy it doesn't work - good scenes are few and far apart. As a twisted fairy tale it doesn't work either - it's not convoluted enough by far. As an animation film it doesn't work either - it's bland and many scenes feel overly easy.
All in all, an insult to the first film and I only didn't feel cheated out of paying because my kid did seem to like it (he's never seen the original though) 5 out of 10 sequels too many
The Smurfs (2011)
Way better than expected
Being Dutch and living close to the Belgian border I grew up reading the comics about The Smurfs, called De Smurfen over here. When I saw the first posters for this film I was thinking it was going to be a disaster - there had been animation films with the smurfs before and none of them came close to the level of the comics and this wasn't even going to be animation, it was going to be half-and-half. When I then saw the first trailers and how the characters looked much like the "new smurfs" that were made years after the original series the fear for a disaster got even bigger.
I went to see it anyway because the kid wanted to see it and to my great surprise the film really wasn't half bad. They kept enough of the original theme and characters to bind to the original comic and added enough human interaction to make it funny. Having the story take place in a place and time that is completely unlike the one in the comics makes for a big difference and gives space for extra easy cop-outs to keep the story rolling.
I guess the film isn't any good if you're not known to the original series and aren't a kid, but for my kid and me it worked.
8 out of 10 cats with a piece of ear missing
Two birds of a feather
The story starts as a number of birds is caught in the middle of the Brazilian rain forest. One of them is a blue parrot, and as it turns out, a very special one. Years later the wheels of fate have taken him into the loving hands of a woman that treats him very well, maybe a little too well. Fate is again turning on him and his presence is needed in Rio.
And that's where this very colourful animation film really starts rolling. He quickly meets a number of friends and a necessary number of enemies and the rest of the story unfolds at a pleasantly quick pace.
Animation wise this one is nice, but not more than nice. The colour scheme is just great, spot on for the type of film, but action wise it's too much of a kids film - there's too little fun stuff hidden under the surface to keep the adults happy.
Story wise it's a little too rich on clichés and the easy turns and tangles. It's not bad but it's not great. All in all, it works great on the children, and works OK on their parents/guardians.
7 out of 10 feathers in a ruffle
Cars 2 (2011)
Starting where the previous one left of we meet Lightning McQueen completely settled and living in Radiator Springs. Life is good - there's racing events to be won and the company of friends to be enjoyed. During a race event in Japan the wheels of fate are set in motion and McQueen and Mater end up in what can only be described as a cloak and dagger operation. So far for the story.
Animation wise there's nothing too wrong with this film - the style is much the same as the first one. Most of the scenes are busy - there's always something to look at, some detail to pick out. Story wise I felt the film was aimed at an audience a bit older than the one for the previous film although the number of young kids in the theatre enjoying themselves proved it didn't matter.
3D effects were far under the expectancy level for an animation film. I don't think anyone would miss them if they weren't there at all and that makes this film another proof that the 3D addition to film is one that is to be worked at some more or removed completely.
All in all it is a fairly enjoyable film with a good number of cultural effects and lots of laughs.
6 out of 10 sources of intelligence
Make it stop, please.
Picking up where the previous one left of this one starts with several transformers living on earth, more or less at peace with human civilisation. This all changes when an old government secret is uncovered. From there on things start to get nasty and the world once again needs to be saved by the Megatron and his metallic friends.
After seeing the second one I wasn't expecting too much of this one. Where the first one had a story and a decent amount of CGI the second one had no story and nothing but CGI. For some reason I was thinking this one couldn't be worse than that second one. But alas, it is.
On the one side it offers what is to be expected - explosions and fire, and lots and lots of action sequences. On the other side it offers the return of some of the older characters - and a shipload of new ones. Now that wouldn't be too bad - if only they would fit in the story and would do what they were supposed to do. What I found more than mildly irritating for instance was the fact that the Sam Witwicky character had to start all over when it comes to trust from the government agencies.
Add to that that at least one character was hopelessly miscast - Patrick Dempsey does not belong in this film, at least not in the role he plays, it doesn't suit him at all and it shows in the way it comes to the screen.
Then it seems they tried to save the film by applying the old trick of opening a can of known actors/actresses in the hopes they can turn lead into gold. The trick never worked and it doesn't work in this one. What's Frances McDormand doing in this film? She can do a lot better. The same for John Malkovich. John Turturro is about the only big name that I can like in this film - but that's because he has a long history of odd little roles and the one he has in this film suits.
Last but surely not least, the 3D. This can be described by asking one question: What 3D? There's next to none and where it is visible it doesn't add anything.
So, all in all, an utter waste of celluloid.
2 out of 10 robots no longer disguised
A road trip through cultural difference
A Moroccan guy is instructed by his father to drive an old Mercedes taxi from The Netherlands to Rabat (a city in Morocco). When his friends learn of this they invite themselves to join on the trip and the three of them drive into the distance.
And so the film starts, after a short introduction into the three characters. This film is a typical road movie, with the three of them learning more about themselves and each other as they go and are influenced by the countries they drive through. The film is littered with conversations and run-ins with more or less random people and the interaction is great. Some of the people look a bit more flat than they should be - mostly because they bring their roles as if reading a story from paper instead of entire life like but the effect isn't strong enough to really annoy.
As expected there is a touch on the cultural differences between Western Europeans and (Northern) Africans - made worse by the fact that the three main characters in this film were either born in The Netherlands or living there for the longest of time and are therefore a lot more Western minded than their own people. The touch is there but it never goes further than relatively light and doesn't enforce something to think about, but it's good enough.
All in all, a very pleasant watch.
8 out of 10 mind altering trips
Slightly better than run of the mill
When a kid sees eerie creatures in the night the parents do the usual thing - they comfort the kid and blame childhood fantasy. But when the kid slips into a coma and other people in the house start seeing things they may have been wrong.
Films like this are a dime in a dozen and they usually pick one of the more classical films and take whatever they can from that one. This one is no different and leans very heavily on Poltergeist (1982). It's still rather different from that one though so it's OK, it's better to copy creatively than to create badly after all.
The tension build in the film is quite good. It starts slowly but gets under the skin eventually. Attempted shock moments are there but are completely ineffective (and might just be designed to be like that) but they don't disturb anything. As the film rolls on and picks up speed it becomes a pleasant watch but never goes above that level. So, all in all, slightly better than run of the mill.
7 out of 10 dark intentions
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Good for an afternoon watch
Not having seen the first film I'm unable to define how bad or good this one connects to it. From what I do know of it, the lead character is still pretty much the same - thinking with his belly, not completely help- and clueless but almost there, but still a hero. Either way this film starts with an old enemy of Po rearing its ugly head and Po being called in to protect the citizens from him.
Story wise there's nothing too fancy about this film - it's all been done before. It doesn't affect the film negatively though, it's an animation film designed to please kids and their parents and it does that.
Animation wise I must say I was pleased by the colour scheme. It gives a radiant hum. The details in the background are just high enough as well, and the added 3D effects aren't wasted (though they can be missed without missing out on anything of the film).
The character development may go a little over the heads of the kids - but I didn't see any of that bother the kid I had with me. So, all in all, enjoyable for kids and parents.
7 out of 10 Pandas behaving fiercely
X: First Class (2011)
Not gripping at all.
Set in time years before the start of the first film this prequel shows the younger years of two of the more known mutants - Professor X and Magneto. Mankind does not yet know the mutants exist - and the mutants are doing their best to keep it that way by sticking to hiding.
The trouble with prequels is that the ending is already known. Normally that wouldn't make for so much of a problem (it's the how you get somewhere that counts, not the where you get) but in this film it is. From the very start of the film it becomes clear that this film is going to have to bend the rules of the continuity of the series (or even break them) to work out and that point becomes painfully clear later in the film.
What follows is a series of events that fits the theme in behaviour and speed (although the beginning was too slow to my liking) and since it is known where everyone is going in the end it just doesn't matter - it's a pointless recap of what might have happened in the past of the players in the other films but that can't really have happened because the rules had already been laid out differently.
So, all in all, the film fails pretty hard. The action sequences are more of the same, the story is mediocre at best, and although the acting is pretty decent that alone is not enough to save it.
5 out of 10 mutants better removed from the gene pool
Ho ho ho, this pirate has been milked dry
Being the fourth part in the series the general setting of this film will not have to be explained. It more or less continues the story where the third film left of. Jack has the map that leads to the fountain of youth, and is in need of a ship and a crew.
Missing most of the original crew this film has to make do with a lot of new people. This isn't bad - most of the new ones come across as fitting and make for a new setting. Personally I am missing some of the comical characters of the previous films though - especially the guy with the prosthetic eye and his mate. The pair of them made for an extra bit of comedy with their constant bickering and his fooling with the eye.
The film starts with a bang and explains the situation as well as it must - it sets out the stage for the rest of the film. As the action starts rolling it looks rather promising. But then...
Then the film gets to its main part and it becomes clear that it is a clear attempt at rinse and repeat of the success of the previous ones with different characters. Some bits are flaky, some are rather good, but overall the film is on the dull end of the spectrum. It's not entirely unpleasant, but it could have been so much more.
Finally we get to the 3D layer that was added. Again it can be said that it doesn't add a single thing. The few scenes that really worked were the standard gimmicky scenes where a sword sticks into the audience - please stop doing that, it's been done, it's becoming a drag. Either make a film for 3D or keep it 2D. This one is clearly made for the 2D market and that is just fine, just don't try to sell it as 3D to make some extra money.
6 out of 10 bored pirates
Barely enjoyable theft
Somewhere in the future the Earth has been scorched by long wars. Wars that took place between the humans and vampires. Most humans now live in big cities - under the protection of the Church. The vampire threat seems to have died down and the Priests, more or less the hit-men of the Church, have fallen out of grace, shunned by everyone but themselves. But then a house in the wastelands is attacked in the night and one of the Priests goes out to investigate.
So far the story. What follows is a more or less typical combination of post-apocalypse survival, vampire hunting and fighting off a totalitarian state. It's clear that the film steals from other films left and right but it steals well enough and adds some influences of its own so that it becomes a film on its own.
It must be said though that it is not entirely enjoyable: it has far too many dull moments and many of the turns it takes are far too high on the cliché ladder. I think it would have done a lot better if it had tried to steal some less and add some more of itself - there's plenty of potential, it just hasn't been fully delved into.
All in all, OK for a bored evening, ignorable on any other moment.
6 out of 10 stolen vampire teeth
Fast Five (2011)
Somewhat failed attempt at popcorn
Picking up the story where the previous one left off this one doesn't need much explaining story wise - the gang is still up to no good and using fast cars to do it. This time the scenery has changed to Southern America, Brazil to be exact.
The theme of the films being fast cars, fast driving and action sequences galore this one does not fail to deliver. There's plenty of all of that. When it comes to adding something new to the series it does fail a bit though - it's just more of the same. Add to that the fact that most of the story is more than a little ludicrous and the end result is easily derived: if one is able to dislodge ones brain for the duration of the film then it can be enjoyed otherwise it can't.
For me the turning point was the point where it became clear there were no characters to bond with. Every single one of them should be locked away for life. One can't care for characters like that - whether they live or die, escape or get caught, it doesn't matter. It makes the film flimsy and too easily forgotten.
6 out of 10 corns not yet fully popped.
Konferenz der Tiere (2010)
A tad too moralistic
It's the start of a new season and the animals all gather around the drinking place waiting for the water. When it doesn't come one of them starts a trip to find where it went and bring it back. When it becomes clear he can't fix this on his own a conference is started and all animals unite in their quest to bring the water back.
Animations films like this are clearly aimed for a younger audience - nothing bad ever happens and when it does it is buried under enough funny bits to make it pleasurable. The story is easy enough for that audience and not completely boring for the adults - even though its implementation is a -very- moralistic one, forcing a message down everybody's throats for the full duration of the film.
The animation itself is mixed - sometimes good, sometimes bad. The added 3D effects are pretty good but the film doesn't loose much if seen without them. The characters are the typical ones - ranging from the goof to the necessary evil to the wise old owl and the way they get together fits. The kid I watched it with enjoyed it richly and I wasn't bored to death, so that works.
6 out of 10 watered down morals
More shallow than it should be
The Gods are crazy. Norse Gods even more so. After long raging battles they rest in Asgard, keeping an eye on the worlds so that they might intervene when necessary. But not all is well, first there is the arrogant son of the King that lusts for power, second there is the constant threat of an ancient enemy.
And so starts the story of Thor, a young brash member of a tight group of Gods that is about to meet its newest challenge. Playing partly in Asgard, partly on Earth this film hits solid gold when reviewed as a graphical feast - the depiction of Asgard is great and would make even the largest creatures feel humble and small. The effects all through the film are quite well too.
But then there is the story. The fact that is biased around Thor is one thing (he is the title character after all) but insulting many of the other players by allowing them little to no screen time is unnecessary. Given the length of the film the makers obviously had no problem making a film longer than average, and an extra 15 to 30 minutes would have solved many of the thin backgrounds to the supporting crew quite decently. It's a shame really for now it's nothing more than popcorn amusement and eye candy.
6 out of 10 bored Gods
Red Riding Hood (2011)
Nice idea but implemented poorly
Who doesn't know the classic fairy tale of Red Riding Hood? Now, it must be said that even if there are people that haven't heard of that story it doesn't matter too much - this film has as little to do with that story as that crying kids have to do with ice cream (there are some bits of interaction hiding under the surface, but nothing more than that) Anyway ... The film starts as the denizens of a a picturesque village in the mountains are going through their merry way of every day life. Little do they know that their pleasant life is about to be disturbed quite badly, but soon they will come to realize that life will never be the same again.
Trailered as a modern retelling of the fairy tale this one comes out well enough - the twist they make to the story isn't all together bad (but a little full of the standard clichés that make up for too many films). It would have worked out rather well I think, if it hadn't been for the fact that many of the players either don't really fit in their roles or don't play them well enough. This makes the film feel fractured and at points even irritating.
The filming style and the way the town is depicted is nice - even though some of the houses are all too clearly the effect of CGI. The music is not disturbing and adds effects where needed. All in all, it should have been a fair deal better.
5 out of 10 hoods coloured red
Source Code (2011)
Nicely put together from stolen bits
A guy wakes up from slumber on a train. Startled to the bone - as he wasn't on the train in his previous memory - he quickly attempts to make sense of what is happening. Failing miserably at that he ends up in the biggest surprise of his life.
Films like this work best when there's little to no knowledge of what is going on before seeing them so I'm not going to say anything more about the story. Suffice it to say that it's a thriller in most senses and that it puts together the tag lines of various other films - in all the best ways. It's also biased towards science fiction - without the aliens - and again done in a good way.
It's no work of art and doesn't leave a mark on the mind, but it's a fun way of spending an hour and a half and well worth the cinema time - high speed, captivating story and nicely acted.
7 out of 10 odd events getting odder by the minute