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…


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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Single film Sunday

I was toying with also catching 44 Inch Chest today, but I just couldn’t be bothered leaving the house! I did make the effort to see The Book of Eli, though, and glad I did.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A lone man walks across the post-apocalyptic US carrying a book which is very much in demand – and not just from nice people.

First off, although filmed in a similar style to The Road which I saw a few days ago this is a hugely different film. For a start it seems to have some kind of plot. There are questions that as a film-viewer you feel you want to know the answers to. There is action. There are some nice snippets of dialogue.

All of these were missing from The Road which is, in fairness, a very different film.

The lead in this case is Denzel Washington who plays the titular Eli as a monosyllabic hard nut who just wants to get on with his little stroll to deliver a package. Bad guy duties go to the excellent Gary Oldman who carries out the manic, power-crazed role as well as would be expected.

Eli is carrying a book (no surprise there) to “the west” and Oldman decides he wants it. It’s a powerful book and what it is won’t come as a shock. What this leads to is a good bit of discussion over how the book has and will be used – how and why, and the effects it has had pre-war and within the society after it.

There are obviously going to be comparisons to the Mad Max films, but given that there are only so many ways you can portray a post-nuclear wilderness. Mel Gibson‘s films pretty much designed the template for any that were to follow, after all.

I definitely won’t spoil the twist at the end, and it’s a good one, but it does drag a bit. The final revelation is made, you get the “joke”… and then there’s more. That, to me, was the only major weak part of the movie. Other than that, it’s captivating and well-filmed. Visually, it’s excellent with a good use of real sets and what must be post-film effects. How else you’d get the Golden Gate Bridge in that state I don’t know.

If you’re only going to see one film set after a nuclear holocaust this month, make it The Book of Eli.

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