Rio / Red Riding Hood / Source Code

The plan for three films turned into a plan for one. Then two more. Which makes three anyway.

Rio

“I am not an ostrich!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: adopted macaw head to Brazil to discover his heritage and get laid.

I really wanted to avoid this film purely because it’s been used for the last three million years (or so it seems) to advertise Orange phones before every damn film I’ve seen. However, the kids wanted to see it (in preference to Winnie The Pooh and Hop) so off we went on Sunday afternoon. Oh, we saw the 2D version because Little Mister is under 6 and his older sister finds the glasses very uncomfortable. And I can’t bloody stand it.

It’s by the same folk who did the Ice Age movies, and it’s got a similar style of humour. It’s also definitely back on a par with the first of that series after the twee decline they went through. It  is a very bright and colourful movie with plenty of action to keep the youngsters happy although Little Mister didn’t seem quite in the mood to be engaged by it. Elder Sister really liked it.

The story is simple enough. A young macaw is stolen from the forests and finds a home in North America with a young girl (Linda voiced by Leslie Mann) who he grows up with. A Brazilian ornithologist arrives to beg that Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) be taken on a trip back “home” to pair up with the other last remaining macaw to save the species. Jewel (Anne Hathaway) turns out to be a little more of a live spirit and she and Blu end up going through a series of adventures.

The side characters and clever use of visual humour will keep adults interested as the kids giggle at the animated slapstick and ogle the visuals.

Not the best animated film ever, but definitely one that should entertain the sprogs if you have a spare afternoon. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?

Red Riding Hood

“Grandmother… what big eyes you have.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small village has been safe from the curse of a werewolf for twenty years when it suddenly strikes once again… but who it is, and what does it want?

This was one of those “we’re intrigued, but the times fit in with when we’re free” films. The two trailers we’d seen led us to think a) crap and b) hum, maybe not so crap. The reviews haven’t been kind, but I’d recommend giving it a chance.

It’s set in the middle ages, in a small insular village called Daggerhorn. Every full moon the villagers put out a sacrifice (goat, pig, whatever) and the local werewolf nabs it rather than killing one of the people. However, twenty years after the last human gets snatched, a local girl is eviscerated and questions start to arise.

The girl’s sister, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), is the titular Red Riding Hood and central character. It is she who is caught up in the mystery of the identity of the werewolf, a mystery that takes another turn when Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) arrives in town on a personal crusade against all things lycanthrope.

The story then becomes a half decent whodunnit combined with a some soap opera touches as family and relationship secrets are exposed. Friendships are strained, beliefs tested and Oldman overacts as wonderfully as only he knows how.

I think Gillian reckoned this was “OK”. I was quite impressed, largely as I wasn’t expecting much. It did take a little while to get going, but once things started ticking along I was guessing here and there as to who the werewolf was and why they were interested in Valerie. In true Murder, She Wrote style all of these details are revealed when we find out who the rampaging half-wolf is, along with brief flashbacks to the events we didn’t see clearly the first time.

Red Riding Hood won’t win any awards, and likely won’t do too well judging by the ratings I’ve seen so far. Which is a shame, as it’s not as bad as some people are making out. If there’s nothing else on, it’s worth 100 minutes of your time.

Source Code

“Oh boy.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Soldier time-travels (repeatedly) back to a commuter train to find out who blew it up and to prevent a major terrorist bombing.

Along similar lines to the likes of Deja Vu and Quantum Leap, Jake Gyllenhall‘s character Colter Stevens is part of a military-funder operation allowing tweaking with the timelines. The limitation with this expedition is that Stevens can only witness and interact with an alternative reality’s version of the last 8 minutes of his host’s life, taking place during events which have already occurred. Simply put, unlike Sam Beckett, he can’t put right what once went wrong… but he can hopefully collect enough information to prevent an upcoming event of much greater proportions from taking place.

The reviews and comments I’ve seen about Source Code are universally complimentary and a huge number are marvelling at the complicated twists and mystery as to what the “source code” actually is. Frankly, anyone posting comments like that on Twitter has never seen a sci-fi film. This is as linear as it gets, and although being a good story its twists have been done before. The “big twist” at the end is even explained by the central character, after a fashion, during the main body of the film!

As with most modern sci-fi, it’s best to disengage the believability circuits at the same time as you start shovelling popcorn into your gob. Source Code is nicely character-driven with a good premise, much of what made Quantum Leap so deservedly popular. Although it’s not difficult to stay a scene or two ahead of the screenwriters, Gyllenhaal really does make you care for his character.

He’s aided by the sympathetic “controller” Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who is overseem by the rather more self-obsessed Dr Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), while engaging with several characters on the doomed train – in particular Christina (Michelle Monaghan) who sits opposite him, and who he vows to save – despite being told that this is impossible.

I think Source Code suffered from the exact opposite problem as Red Riding Hood. After all the pizzaz, I was expecting it to be awe-inspiring. Instead it’s just “pretty good” so almost a let-down. Well-made, very well acted and not overblown it makes for a good film with a nice story but it simply isn’t the incredible movie it’s being made out to me.

Oh, and the Quantum Leap quote I put at the start of the review? The classic “Oh boy”? It’s in there. And it’s the first words spoken by the very actor who made them famous. Good luck spotting them!

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Love & Other Drugs / The Next Three Days / The Way Back

Ah, been a while since I did three films in a day. In a bid to avoid take a break from working hard, I headed over to the Cineworld in Edinburgh for one romcom, a thriller and a historical drama. I like a nice mix.

Love and Other Drugs

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her. Meets another girl. Shags her, but likes her. Sells some pills along the way (legally).

LaOD is definitely more “romantic” than “comedy”. There are some genuinely funny moments in it, but it focusses far more on the story than it does on laughs. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable. It is. Hugely so.

This is largely due to Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. And this is partly due to the amount of flesh they show. One thing that’s always annoyed me about films is the way a couple can be all over each other, then the scene cuts and they insist on keeping themselves covered with sheets. Not so in this film! That’s not to say it’s remotely pornographic – unless you’re from the Bible Belt, in which case curved table legs are fairly hard core.

The performances are fantastic, especially Hathaway who plays a character with onsetting Parkinsons Disease. The writers have managed to make this a major point (as it should be) without turning things schmaltzy.

Jamie (Gyllenhaal) grows up as the film progresses, and he portrays this with some strength. Moving from the easy-going playboy to a dedicated partner in stages as the film progresses, he matures over the course of the two hours or so.

Josh Gad is also excellent as the comedy relief, Jamie’s brother. He pops up in just the right places to give some laughs and does manage to steal some of the scenes he’s in. Basically, he’s there for the guys who are taking their partners to see this film on a date.

A great story with passionate performances from the leads.

The Next Three Days

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A woman is jailed for a crime she didn’t commit (or did she?) and her husband starts to plot a way of getting her out. Only he’s not that great at it.

This isn’t the first “damsel in distress and amateur husband/partner comes to the rescue” film by any stretch. It is, however, ever so slightly more realistically portrayed than most others. Hubby (John – played by Russell Crowe) is a school teacher. He isn’t ex-military and doesn’t have a keen interest in survivalism.

His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is jailed for murdering her boss which she denies. However, there’s a lot of doubt as to the truth of this. This simple fact does make the film a bit more interesting. Will the actually get away with John’s plan? Should they? After all, there’s every chance she did it.

Indeed, John keeps screwing up. As ever, I’ll avoid spoilers, but his methods don’t always work out too well. Of course, where’s the fun in a film where everything is easy? You’ll end up with something like Law Abiding Citizen which has been done.

Despite a 2-hour running time, The Next Three Days doesn’t overstay its welcome and maintains interest right the way through. It does use some classic cinema tricks to maintain tension which are woefully predictable, but they only detract slightly from the film.

The Way Back

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A small group escape from a Russian gulag in Siberia then travel 4000 miles – on foot – to freedom.

There’s some debate as to the truthfulness of the book on which this film is based, but there’s enough fact in there to make it a wonderfully emotional work. Starting in the work camps of frozen Sibera (all 5 million square miles of it), the group head south in search of freedom. This takes a lot longer than they expect.

The group is made up of Russians, Poles, an American… quite a mix and indicative of the fact that Communism didn’t care who it trampled as long as it got its own way.

Not all the actors are from Eastern Europe, despite paying characters from there. Ed Harris does play the lone American, but Colin Farrell puts on a pretty acceptable accent as the mad knife-wielding lowlife who forces his way into the escape party.

The majority of the film depicts the group’s journey through harsh snow, mountains, plains, lakes, and desert as they make their way south to India and freedom from the reaches of Communism.

It does seem to rush a little as the time goes by. The early stages of the trek take up the most time, and each lengthier stage takes less and less screen time as the story progresses. Still, I suppose there’s only so much you can show of people walking with the sun beating down on them, or snow blinding them.

There’s a great story here with some compelling performances. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it’s quite classic material. Far better than some of the brain-numbing crap being thrust on us these days, though.

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Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia poster
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Escaping from a hot day, I managed to catch my first film for a week. Another in a string of computer game adaptations: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

“You can’t have an ostrich race… when you only have one ostrich!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: orphan boy is rescued by king and goes on to (go on, you knew it) save the world. Using sand.

Computer game adaptations have had a hard time of it in Hollywood. Mario Bros wasn’t that bad. But around the same time you had Street Fighter which was crap (well, it had Van Damme and Kylie Minogue – it never stood a chance). The more recent Doom adaptation pretty much sucked, too. I am happy to say that PoP:tSoT bucks the trend slightly.

First of all, it has an actual story. I have no idea how closely this relates to that of the game on which it’s based, but it’s a good one. A nice plot with layers, twists and believable characters. OK, it’s silly as well. Come on, it’s a fantasy film.

Next up, it has a good cast. And, more importantly than just shoving actors in for the sake of it like the aforementioned failures, PoP makes full use of them. Ben Kingsley is slightly typecast as the hard-nosed brother to the king, but as ever puts in a wonderful performance. Jake Gyllenhaal hams it up as the lead, Dastan. And the gorgeous Gemma Arterton alternately makes you drool and want to slap her as befits her spoilt high priestess character.

Visually, it’s a complete treat. The skips between built sets and CGI are flawless which makes it seem enormous in scale. There’s a good use of quick camera pans and twists to enhance the action without leaving you wondering what direction you’re looking in (future James Bond directors, take note). One part in particular I liked was the Hassansin’s lair – very much like a Persian version of Q’s lab from the Bond flicks.

The stuntwork in particular should be enjoyed. The fight scenes and the like hark back to the original game and it’s motion-captured lead sprite. If free-running was a sport in ancient times, Dastan would have been a gold medallist.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the film drags a bit. Although there’s no real fluff or waste in the storyline, it’s just a little too long especially when it’s being targeted partly at kids who don’t often have the attention span to eat a whole ice cream before it falls to the floor.

Otherwise, it’s a cracking little action film.

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