Tuesday, 22 May 2012

'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' (2011)

- My memory isn't the way it used to be.
- How was it?
- I can't remember.

If there's one thing Spielberg can do, it's a fun, exciting, action-packed adventure movie. Tintin is essentially Indiana Jones with a sprinkle of film noir, a slice of Pirates of the Caribbean, and a dab of The Golden Compass. The animation is impressively top-notch, and what's great is that it needs to be - this isn't a live action story that just happens to be computerised; the animation lends itself to the story, characters and (most importantly) action out of necessity rather than opportunity.

With action sequences almost lifted straight from Indiana Jones (see the bike/side-car shot above taken from The Last Crusade), you know there's enjoyment to be had, and an abundance of edge-of-your-seat moments. There are also plenty of laughs to be had, mainly in the form of Captain Haddock and dog Snowy, but I feel some of the Thompson and Thompson moments fall a little flat. Yes, they're funny, but they feel old-hat in a film that's refreshingly modern and slick. They're also involved in a rather boring subplot that you expect to lead somewhere bigger, only it doesn't. Remove them completely, and you've got a better film with more time to dedicate to the characters we care about.

The voice acting is, of course, great. Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis all do their jobs well and the film avoids dropping in endless numbers of recognisable voices, which prevents "Who is that? Is it Steve Buscemi? It sounds like Steve Buscemi. But I don't think it is. No wait, it is Steve Buscemi! Yep, definitely Steve. I love him, such a great actor. I wish he was in more films. Wait.....what just happened???"

There's a message to be taken away, of course, this film being mainly for the Little Folk. All about heroism, battling on through obstructions, being who you are and whatnot - it's very sweet. Fortunately, the film doesn't play down to the young audience and instead treats them with respect, even dealing with alcoholism (although it doesn't exactly say it's a bad thing).

All in all, Tintin is fun, and compelling from the off. The animation is excellent, the is acting fine, the story itself is slick and straightforward, and there's something for everyone to enjoy. But this film was criminally only recognised at the Oscars for its John Williams score. Blistering barnacles!

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Friday, 11 May 2012

The 3 problems with 'The Avengers' (2012)

So I reviewed The Avengers here and gave it 4.5 out of 5, which obviously means I loved it. But also that I thought it could be better. And here's why......

Problem 1 - Captain America
He's the guy we see things from, our POV character, and he gets the most screentime of all the Avengers. So he's developed well. But Joss Whedon mentioned cutting about 45 minutes from the film, which apparently included various scenes showing Cap's thoughts on modern times. As things stand, it's comical - he doesn't understand the technology and is proud to catch a Wizard of Oz reference. He also struggles to grasp the ideals of today's world (questioning whether a uniform comprising of the American flag is really the way to go).

This is all great. But what the story needs is a more personal outlook - how does Cap feel about the fact that his whole world has gone? When he left, WWII was in full swing. He wakes up 70(ish) years later to find the war over and everyone (and everything) he knew dead and buried. That would fuck with your head (and your heart)! Also, it turns out that his seemingly heroic sacrifice to save the world was not, in fact, that sacrifice-y. But then again, there's something very awesome about being a sacrifice that somehow lives on.

That's what the Cap character needed to explore more. Yes, the intro of him bashing the poop out of several punch bags summed a lot of his feelings up in a smart, visual, non-expositioinal way, but I wanted more.

Problem 2 - The Hulk
It's a tiny issue. When Bruce Banner first hulks-out, he is holding Loki's magical staff. We assume (later) that this is the main reason for said hulk-out, we assume that this is the reason that he was completely unable to control the Hulk, and we assume (afterwards) that Banner always could control the Hulk to a high degree. But there's a lot of assuming going on. I think we needed to be told (later, in a fun way) that Loki's staff was the reason for Banner's complete loss of control.

Problem 3 - Black Widow
Easily the finest character in the movie for me and she has the best scenes (her meeting with Bruce Banner, her "red ledger" exchange with Loki, saving the day in the film's finale et al). One of her shiniest moments comes when Banner hulks-out and she is forced to run for her life. She is swatted against a wall and is next seen "cowering in the corner. The look on her face is that of a woman utterly broken. It takes a few moments before she finally responds to her radio summons." (that quote is taken from here - a highly recommended read, it'll only take a minute. Honest.)

It's a moment that comes out the blue - it's easy to forget that these superheroes are people too. Yes, Black Widow can kill kill kill when she needs to, but she is so taken aback by being completely overpowered and nearly squished (thank Odin for Thor's intervention, eh?) that she freezes. The only thing missing from Black Widow's story is how this huge (albeit brief) scene has effected such a hardened assassin. Like the gentleman from the above article says: "It's too bad, because in a movie fraught with cartoonish destruction, it's the one moment where the audience actually sees some real damage."

So that's it really. I know I'm nitpicking, but I think with those three things tweaked somewhat, The Avengers would undoubtedly be a 5-star movie. What say you?

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Saturday, 5 May 2012

Review: 'Hanna' (2011)

I can't really think of much to say about this film - it's not that I don't like it (3/5 is what I'd consider a Good film), it's just that the plot is fairly straightforward and obvious. I don't mean that in a bad way - it's simple in the same way The Avengers was simple - it doesn't need to be that complex. It's very atmospheric and the characters are compelling. Well, the good characters are; the Bad Guys couldn't be more cliche to be honest. But again, with the focus on Saoirse Ronan (who gives a great performance) it's not too much of an issue.

The subject material is clearly about empowerment and fighting for your right to exist. It deals with this very well in the beginning, when the issue isn't directly addressed but rather the focus is on survival in its rawest sense. But once things get going, it seems like style is chosen over substance. There are just a few plot-points that don't ring true for me and secondary characters seem forgotten about near the end.

Unfortunately, for an action film, there's not much action (that was my issue with the first Underworld movie). The action - when it comes - is fairly standard as well. Some great moves in there, but nothing to write home about - there's no real reason for us to care about the faceless grunts Hanna is dispatching.

The ending, while obvious, shows a hint of redemption for the film. However, the movie stops abruptly. If you catch this film on DVD, I recommend checking out the 'Alternate Ending' which actual seems to be a scene which, once tagged onto the film's current ending, makes for a far better, more-rounded conclusion to the story.

It's like I know what Hanna is trying to do, but it doesn't quite do it. A message is clearly there, and the potential for action is plentiful. But all this reminds me of a better film entitled Serenity (Joss Whedon's 2005 movie spinoff from TV show Firefly), which also deals with the idea of a young weapon taking on those who created her. Serenity tackles things head-on, whereas Hanna seems to side-step the issue. I want more emotion, more gritty action, more of the drama that is seen near the film's close in a brilliant scene between father and daughter. But it just ain't there!

I realise it sounds like I hate this film, but I don't. The story really appeals to me and the acting is spot-on (for the most part). The first half is near-flawless and shows real promise for the film as a whole, but the second half dissolves into stylish quirkiness that wants to imitate the chase-and-fight style of The Bourne Identity.

Overall, it's worth checking out, but expect to be peeved at a fair amount of unfulfilled potential.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Review: 'The Awakening' (2011)


There's not really much to say about this film that you can't work out for yourself - it's a standard Haunted House Horror set in the 1920s, which sees a sceptic ghost-buster visit a "haunted" boarding school to debunk the supernatural goings-on, only to question her own beliefs. It deals with faith and post-war fears; on the latter note, it's very compelling - various characters have different opinions on the WWI conflict and suffered different traumas. And on the belief side - remember the film is called The Awakening - again, multiple viewpoints are given; there's no cliche "fear God!" characters or blind faith going on.

On the subjects of cliches.....it's full of them. The hand from the river grasping at our heroine's arm, the scary laughing child running about the house, the "there's something moving behind you!" moment. But there are only so many ways of scaring an audience so these moments are forgivable (besides, if you're still a fan of the horror genre you know all the tricks and presumably you don't care). It's worth mentioning a particularly creepy set-piece involving a doll's house that will tingle your spine. But other than that, the scary ain't that scary.

The characters are compelling - performances from Dominic West and Imelda Staunton are predictably note-perfect, but it's Rebecca Hall who shines through. In such a strong cast, it would be easy to see her blind-sided, but Hall is more than compelling as a strong female lead questioning her beliefs.

A lot of horor movies tend to spend so much time on fancy camera tricks and jumpy movements that the actual visual feel suffers. This isn't one of those cases - the entire movie is beautifully shot by Eduard Grau (he's the guy who used every trick in his arsenal to shoot 2010's Buried with Ryan Reynolds - a film everyone should see!)

A confident script from Stephen Volk and Nick Murphy (managed by director Murphy), easily earns the film 2.5. But the extra star comes from the emotionally compelling character-driven moments and a gut-wrenching final 20 minutes. What stops it getting any further is that it's a little longer than it needs to be, it uses just a few too many predictable horror cliches, and a random subplot with a secondary character acts as nothing more than a red herring. The ending, however, is deliciously ambiguous!


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