Wrath of the Titans

A second try at this review as WordPress somehow deleted the one I’d finished last night just as I was about to post it. Damn you WordPress.

After putting the chocolate-encrusted kids to bed we checked the cinema times and found one we could catch without too much of a rush. Hence heading out to see…

Wrath of the Titans

“Follow the Navigator.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Bad guys try to release their daddy, who will rip the universe a new one. Hero has to stop him.

See it if you like: No-brainer effects-driven fantasy fests

It annoys me how Hollywood insists on making sequels to complete messes while ignoring decent fare which is crying out for a continuation of the story. For every Conan (siring a follow-up I believe), there’s a Percy Jackson or a Vampire’s Assistant cut off in its prime. While the original version of Clash of the Titans was a standalone masterpiece, the 2010 re-working was complete crap.

Wrath is actually a little better, perhaps helped by the fact that I had low expectations. The story is simple enough – Perseus (Sam Worthington) is back and doing the dirty work of his father Zeus (Liam Neeson) again. This time, there are only a few gods left as the humans have stopped praying to them. Along with Zeus are Ares (Édgar Ramírez), Poseidon (Danny Huston) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes).

Hades hatches a plan to re-awaken their dad, Kronos, for reasons I forget but the upshot of which is that the humans will be punished by having their entire universe ripped apart. As you do if you’re a pissed-off deity who’s been shoved into captivity for a few millennia.

Helping Perseus are Agenor, the son of Poseidon (played by Toby Kebbell) and Andromeda (eye candy in the shapely form of Rosamund Pike). There’s also a wonderful turn from the ever-excellent Bill Nighy as Hephaestus, armourer to the gods.

My main problem with Clash wasn’t actually the poor acting and abysmal dialogue. It was the awful special effects which looked cartoony in places and simply didn’t work with the live-action footage into which they were embedded. They were about as realistic as Gene Kelly dancing with Jerry Mouse.

Wrath has had better luck in this area with particular credit due to the team who worked on the fire and lava effects. The major scenes at the start and end of the film are very well done with suitably huge missiles and explosions. I think even Michael Bay would nod in approval at the fireworks. Best of the monsters, in my opinion,  are the whirling conjoined nasties in the final sequence. Nice and evil and slashing about so quickly you can’t pick out any problems with them.

The plot isn’t up to much – gather three objects and combine them to form one big weapon with which to defeat the inevitable huge bad guy at the end – but it works. It’s all predictable enough, but what film isn’t these days? The characters are a decent collection, though Andromeda doesn’t add anything to the story other than a) the ability to gather an army what with being a warrior queen and b) something pretty to look at.

Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

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Rango

Another cinema trip with the kids, so a rare munchkin-friendly outing with Industrial Light & Magic‘s new showcase piece.

Rango

“Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn all the books that ain’t Shakespeare.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A domesticated lizard finds himself lost in the desert and sheriff of a small frontier town.

ILM haven’t made a full length animated feature before. They’re better known for being one of the world’s premier special effects companies with more films to their credit than I’ve ever likely seen. They’ve gone all out with the technology and casting to make this impressive start (possibly) to a new wing of their business.

With Johnny Depp in the title rôle, it’s off to a good start. Add in the likes of Bill Nighy as an outlaw rattlesnake, Alfred Molina as an armadillo with a death-defying desire to cross the road, Ray Winstone as a cigar-chomping… something and Isla Fisher as the love interest and there’s been no skimping on the vocal talent. Hell, they’ve got Gore Verbinski (all the Pirates of the Caribbean films) to direct.

Depp rarely sounds like himself in this (does he ever?) but you can picture him playing the part in some scenes that seem written for his usual slightly off-kilter self. Rango himself is a strange character. Flung from a car in the opening minutes, he acts his way through the movie taking each event as a challenge and bluffing his way through. More by luck than judgement he ends up being a bit of a hero.

Now, I enjoyed the film although I thought it a teeny bit slow in places. Gill also enjoyed it. The two kids, however, weren’t so keen. It’s dark – not the bright, colourful explosion that appeals to most youngsters. The humour was quick and clever, but way over the heads with very little slapstick. The dialogue, also, was hard to follow in places. Very well acted, but the accents made it tricky for me in places. Younger audience members would surely struggle.

Visually, it’s superb. Absolutely on a plane of its own. The detail and movement make Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within look like a flip-book drawn in crayon. OK, that’s unfair on FF, but the whole look of the film really is incredible. You can tell a bunch of people with incredible mathematical brains have designed this film to show off their fluid dynamics and ray-tracing skills. Every bit of glass reflects and bends light, every grain of sand flows and drifts as realistically as it would in real life. Best of all, none of this takes away from the overall look of the film.

Definitely recommended for those who like their cartoon humour a little more subtle, and who appreciate when a lot of effort has been put into a production. Just hold out for the likes of Rio and that turtle film if  you’re going to be taking nippers with you.

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Film Feast

"Invictus" sneak preview in Hsinchu,...
Invictus (honestly!)

Four Film Friday this time – Invictus, Youth in Revolt, Astro Boy and Edge of Darkness. I’ll try to get through them quickly…

Invictus

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) becomes President of South Africa and decides to use the upcoming Rugby World Cup as a means of unifying the country.

I don’t like rugby, on the whole. This worked in my favour going into this film as it’s based on real events and I didn’t know what the outcome would be as I had no idea who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Clint Eastwood directs, Freeman is – as ever – simply superb and Matt Damon captains the Springboks.

How close is it to what really happened? Who knows. I’m sure there are certain key scenes and events which mirror history but there’s always room for dramatisation (Wikipedia has a small list). Thankfully it’s not overly-sentimental or symbolic, though it does push this from time to time.

Both Freeman and Damon pull off decent accents although some of the other actors appear somewhat stilted, especially towards the beginning of the movie.

This is a good film. Not overstated, not grandstanding, and a very good story. The obvious link between a battered country finding its feet and being led by someone who’s overcoming the odds is very much mirrored by their rugby team’s efforts. If I have a complaint, it’s the huge over-use of slow-motion to enhance “dramatic effect” near the end.

Youth in Revolt

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy has to become bad boy to get girl, boy goes a little too far…

Michael Cera plays two parts in this film – Nick and the alter-ego Francois that he creates to get the girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The only other film I’ve seen Cera in was Superbad and that lived up to its title. Youth in Revolt is marginally better but still lacks greatness.

If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s the amusing animated segments interspersed throughout the live action. They don’t really add to the story, but they’re amusing and the one at the start got one of the loudest laughs in the theatre. It’s worth watching the one over the end credits as well.

Amusing in places, messy in others. Next!

Astro Boy

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Scientist creates uber-bad killer robot, and also a robotic replica of his dead son. Cue obvious battle.

I’m not a Manga geek so I don’t know how this hold up to the original, however it’s kind of “OK” as a CGI Hollywood version. There’s no denying the quality of the voice cast: Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron… However, the script needs more work. Or more jokes.

Visually it’s nice, but CGI films are all starting to look a little samey now. There’s no real imagination in Astro Boy. If you want a mechanical visual feast, check out Robots from a few years back.

The kids will like its simplicity, but adults will miss the added depths, double meanings and references present in films such as Toy Story or Planet 51.

Edge of Darkness

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a cop’s daughter is gunned down in front of him on his doorstep, so he sets out to find out who did it

This film is based on a BBC drama from some years ago which I vaguely recall watching. Obviously, it’s been shifted to the US but well re-written to make it fit both geographically and in a modern timeline.

However, while the drama had several hour-long episodes to fit everything in, the film version has only 117 minutes. As a result, Mel Gibson‘s efforts to locate his daughter’s killer and work his way through the conspiracy tree is often a little messy.

Ray Winstone’s role is rather hard to pin down. We know he’s there but who the hell actually is he? Other than an English guy who swears a lot (i.e. he’s playing himself again).

The film begins well enough, but the thrills and spills promised by the trailer really don’t occur. There’s a lot of soul-searching and threats by Gibson’s character mixed with very occasional bursts of fast driving. It is a drama, not an action thriller – but the trailer is misleading.

It’s a good story, too. But as I said it’s compressed into too short a time. Some questions are left unanswered while other bits of evidence are thrown in and the viewer is left wondering where they came from.

Well-acted, good story but just not suited for film form without better scripting.

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The Boat That Rocked

I saw this one on the Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow and it deserves a review all of its own. The Boat That Rocked is a typical UK ensemble comedy with a great cast. A couple of free white wines may have helped, but I was snorting away and laughing out loud at some points; almost in tears at others.

What makes this such a good film – aside from the wealth of acting talent – is the fact that the central plot revolves around something I care about. Freedom of choice, a fight against censorship and the underdog having a good go at an overbearing authority. It’s also got a superb soundtrack, several plot threads and some great segments in the end credits.

Plot in a nutshell: It’s 1966 and rock’n’roll is booming. Except in the UK where the only radio – BBC – plays about 40 minutes per week of popular music. Feeding off the demand, pirate radio stations start up and are an instant hit with the masses… and reviled by the authorities who do all they can to shut them down. The film follows the adventures of the staff on one ship over the course of a year or so until the final closedown of pirate radio by the British government.

Bill Nighy plays Bill Nighy (as he always does) with aplomb, running the ship and the station. Philip Seymor Hoffman is The Count, the headlining American DJ. Nick Frost is the disgusting Dave, Rhys Darby the Kiwi Angus, Rhys Ifans the self-proclaimed king of the airwaves Gavin… and so on. Not a bad actor amongst them. Despite the large number of main parts, nobody gets lost and each character has their own personality.

On the other side of the fence, Kenneth Branagh is nicely slimy minister Dormandy with assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport) toadying to him.

As well as the Good Morning, Vietnam-esque DJ segments and good guy v bad guy plot, there is a lot of romance and bawdy sex (nothing too offensive, though not 100% family friendly by any shot). Nighy’s character has a godson who ends up on the ship after being thrown out of school. He’s our entry into the world of Radio Rock and introduction to the aforementioned characters and lifestyle.

The following two hours are a wonderful mix of highs and lows. Characters don’t always get on – who would living in such cramped quarters? – creating some great conflicts which go right over the top at times.

Of course, the soundtrack is superb being based on the music of the late 60s. The closing montage mentions that “rock and roll had a pretty good 40-or-so-years” flashing up more and more recent album sleeves. However, who on earth decided to include Take That And Party as on a par with the likes of BloodSugarSexMagic and Rattle & Hum needs shot.

Definitely catch this one.

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