True Grit / Drive Angry

I just spotted there were going to be eight films in the cinema this weekend that interested me. This called for an emergency trip to the Edinburgh Cineworld to offset this load slightly.

True Grit

“If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: hard drinkin’, straight shootin’, man huntin’… erm… rootin’ tootin’ cowboy flick.

According to the blurb, this isn’t  remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie, but instead a new adaptation of the original source novel by Charles Portis. I heard an interview with one of the Coen Brothers recently, and he stated that they’d stayed close to the book including around 90% of the dialogue being lifted straight from it. The dialogue certainly is fantastic and one of the highlights of a great movie.

Now, I’m not a Coen disciple. In my opinion they’ve done some pretty good stuff (The Hudsucker Proxy) and some completely over-rated claptrap (I’ll be crucified for this, but I think Fargo is ****). I picked True Grit as it had had good reviews and because it started at a convenient time. I’m glad I did as I really enjoyed it.

As I said, the dialogue is a delight. If the Brothers tell the truth then the credit deserves to go to Portis for writing it so well. Of course, the delivery by the likes of Jeff Bridges (“Rooster” Cogburn), Matt Damon (Texas trooper LaBoeuf) and narrator Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) should also be credited in much the way that Aaron Sorkin‘s genius wouldn’t be as effective without the gifted casts of The West Wing or The Social Network.

I am not a fan of westerns, either, but the setting makes no odds for this as the story is good. A simple tale of revenge as Mattie hires Cogburn to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) for killing her father. The two don’t like each other, or Damon’s LaBoeuf who joins them, and the three play well off each other.

It’s a well-spun tale with a good ending (not the same as the Wayne version, and apparently that of the book) which doesn’t over-stretch itself or become maudlin.

Better than I expected and well worth a watch.

Drive Angry 3D

“Wouldn’t wanna be you when Satan finds out!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Things explode and people get killed and there’s some devil worship in there somewhere… and maybe a plot.

I really can’t be arsed with 3D films. This one claims to be shot in “state of the art”3D. How this is different from the 3D used in other films these days, I have no idea. Yes, I’m aware there are those filmed in 3D and those ruined by mucking about with the print in post-production to fake it, but they’re all just gimmickery.

The first thing you should do upon buying your ticket for Drive Angry is to place your brain into neutral and allow any sense of reality to ooze from your ears before the trailers end (and that ******* Orange advert comes on. Again.). You should now enjoy it immensely. Especially if you’re male and around 18 years of age. It’s that kind of film.

Nicolas Cage is a man on a mission, to rescue his grand-daughter from the clutches of an evil devil worshipper. He’s aided by a ridiculously hot waitress (Piper played by Amber Heard) and a couple of other buddies along the way. To tell you more would only give away as much as is in the trailer but as ever I’ll try to stay as spoiler free as always.

As a bonus for your money, there are two bad guys. The aforementioned evil devil-worshipping cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) and The Accountant played by a  magnificent William Fichtner. I’ve seen this man in a few things, including TV’s Prison Break and he is, frankly, the natural replacement for Christopher Walken. Cool, unruffled, slightly unusual-looking and capable of scaring the **** out of you. In fact, he’s so good in this film, that he runs the risk of doing what Alan Rickman did in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and stealing the show.

This is not a sensible film. There are no heart-wrenching performances. It won’t have you rolling in the aisles with laughter. What it will do – if you enjoy films like Death Race – is thoroughly entertain. It does get a little bit repetitive at points, and some of the action scenes drag a little too long. Or maybe that’s me having seen too many daft films.

Either way, it’s worth your cash. Although I still reckon it would have been every bit as stupid and enjoyable without forcing me to wear those bloody glasses for 100 minutes.

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Season of the Witch / The King’s Speech

The King's Speech
The King's Speech

Two films on a Friday – back to a semi-regular way to round off the week with Gillian. We opted for a nicely opposing pairing this weekend. One silly action film and another deemed somewhat of a classic from the previews.

Season of the Witch

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Absconding knights offer to take an alleged witch across country for trial so they don’t get executed. Like a road movie with armour.

Behmen and Felson (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) get a little sick of being told to kill innocents in the name of God, so decide to turn their backs on the Crusades. Popping through a small town, they are discovered as deserters and sentenced to death. As luck would have it, the town is suffering a plague brought on by a witch and in exchange for offering to transport her to a monastery to undergo trial, they’re given their freedom.

That pretty much covers the plot. Other than that it’s moderately average action / medieval fare. Cage and Perlman get all the good lines and there is some decent banter. The effects are passable (until the end when there’s some CGI that makes Doctor Who look big-budget) and the acting’s tolerable.

It’s not a classic, but even by Cage’s standards is just not up to par. Certainly, it’s not a complete heap of arse like Ghost Rider (seriously – they’re making a sequel?), but there’s just not a lot to it. By the end, there’s a feel that you’ve watched an over-long TV drama rather than a decent motion picture.

The King’s Speech

“I have a voice!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: true story of a king-to-be who has a speech impediment, and the work done by a therapist to get him through it.

Short review: See this film. See it now.

Longer review: This is a heartwarming tale of royalty meets common-folk set in the 1930s as Britain gears up for war and the royal family goes through some upsets. King George V doesn’t have long to live and his son (the soon-to-be King Edward) is filandering with a twice-divorced American. Marrying her would mean he can’t be king, and his younger brother Bertie would take the reins.

Bertie (better known historically as King George VI, and played magnificently by Colin Firth) has a problem. His job is to be head of state, he need to give speeches… and he has a very pronounced stammer. At the insistence of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) he does the rounds of speech therapists, eventually ending up with the rather unusual Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Thus begins a story that takes us from Bertie’s small speeches as Duke of York through to his first – and famous – speech as King just as Britain announced that it was to go to war with Germany for a second time.

The film very much focusses on the relationship between  Lionel and Bertie. The Australian voice doctor much preferring to be informal with his patients initially sits very badly with the occasionally bad-tempered King-in-waiting, but the two do gel as time goes on.

The dialogue between the two fizzes, even when Firth is stammering away. One of the therapy sessions includes the funniest swearing sequence I think I’ve seen since Steve Martin’s car hire rant in Planes, Trains and Automobiles – a segment which initially earned the film a 15 rating due to the number of “****”s. It was downgraded to a 12A with the warning that it was “language in the setting of speech therapy”. So remember, kids – it’s acceptable to swear at your doctor.

There isn’t a single bad member of cast in the entire movie. A small surprise for me was seeing Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. A far cry from the labourer he played all those years ago in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. Derek Jacobi is superb as the pompous Archbishop of Canterbury, a man obviously used to getting his own way.

Firth plays the Prince/King very well and the script portrays him as a troubled man who underwent a harsh childhood being by far the second most important behind his elder brother. Despite this, he’s a good father to his two daughters and by all accounts was a popular king before being succeeded by our current monarch.

I’m no royalist, but this is an incredible story and certainly one that deserves two hours of anyone’s time. With some excellent dialogue, funny moments and a story that doesn’t stop with a ton of history and trivia thrown in it’s great value for money.

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Sorcerers and Dreamers

I’m in Pattaya, Thailand‘s sex capital. So obviously I spent the evening at the cinema escaping from the rampant lady boys.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

“This is crazy! But it is fun…”

First film up was the new Nicolas Cage vehicle which I missed the first minute or so of, as I was flipping hungry and ran to A&W before it started. I didn’t miss much, just the “story so far” synopsis which was easy enough to catch up on. It goes something like this:

Back in the day, Merlin (James A. Stephens) was pretty much king of all that is wizardly. However, Morgana (Alice Krige) had plans to defeat him and destroy the world by raising many evil wizards from the dead. Merlin’s understudy Balthazar (Cage) saved the day by trapping Morgana in a Russian doll. Over the years he added “layers” to the doll as he captured other nasty magic-wielders, while searching for the Prime Merlinian – an individual who can cast spells without a magic ring and who is the only person capable of destroying Morgana.

Quick switch to the 21st century and Balthazar finds Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry then Jay Baruchel as the character ages), who turns out to be this Prime Merlinian. A fortuitous find as Dave releases Horvath (Alfred Molina), one of the Morganians who sets out to release and aid Morgana.

OK, plot over. This is an effects-driven movie and said effects are superb. I loved the link between magic and physics – very briefly explained, yet nice and simple. It lends a touch of realism to a fantastical film, and it’s refreshing to hear the things being flung around by magicians being referred to as “plasma”.

I’m gathering that the reviews aren’t that great for this film and that’s a surprise. It’s hugely entertaining. Cage is great in it, obviously having fun, and Baruchel’s not annoying as a young actor can be in films like this. The humour level is spot on, with everything from snappy dialogue to fart gags.

Oh, and not to forget the little film references in there. It’s made by Disney, so there’s a Buzz Lightyear at the start and a very obvious Mickey Mouse-inspired sequence which just had to be included given the film’s name. Even the “hypnosis” moment which instantly made me think of Alec Guinness is name-checked a few seconds later.

This is an ideal popcorn film and something kids and adults alike can enjoy. I just don’t get the poor reviews and attendances. Films are supposed to entertain and this one does the job perfectly.

Inception

“I just want to understand”

A complete counterpoint to the magic of the first offering, Inception is a high-brow sciencey thriller. It’s also a bit of a brainscrambler, often leaving you wondering what the hell’s going on – just like diCaprio’s last outing, Shutter Island.

Leo plays Cobb, a “dream thief”. In this world, people can share dreams and the skilled individual can even create an environment for a third party to explore – so realistic that they don’t know that they’re dreaming. Inside this fake world, others can effectively explore the victim’s psyche and gain information.

The next step is to implant an idea in someone’s head, something regarded as near impossible. This is the “inception” of the title.

Cobb is after one last job to allow him to return to his family in the United States and Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him this chance. He wants the son of a business magnate to break his father’s companies down into smaller shareholdings to reduce their grasp on the world. To achieve this, the team Cobb forms work out that they will need to “layer” the dreams – one within another within another. This brings about risks – that Cobb is already all to aware of.

As the movie progresses, we not only get a decent twisty plot and some excellent special effects, we also find out a lot more about the history of Cobb.

It’s not that hard to follow once you work out what’s happening and the opening 15 minutes do a good job of explaining it, despite seeming like a short film in their own right. There are plenty of twists and reveals as the two hours plus roll on and it does feel a little long, but that’s a minor complaint.

Told in a good way with extra layers being added as the film progresses, this is definitely a good science fiction film. It also has the best environmental effects since Dark City. Which, if you’ve not seen, you should.

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Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass Poster
Kick-Ass

I managed to catch one of the “preview” screenings of Kick-Ass this evening. Surprisingly, the cinema wasn’t packed despite the huge hype and positive reviews. After watching, I think it got the audience it deserved…

Kick-Ass

“Okay you c**ts… lets see what you can do now!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: geeky teenager becomes non-super-powered superhero Kick-Ass… and lands himself in a world of trouble as a result.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is a nerd. A geek. A comic book dweeb. Who one day wonders why nobody has ever tried to be a super hero. Not that they should, just with all the source material out there why hasn’t someone actually patched together some lycra and gone out crime-fighting?

So he does.

And he’s monumentally crap at it. Which, in honesty, is far more entertaining than someone actually being good at kicking criminal backside. It certainly leads to some very brutal slapstick.

On the other side of the coin are Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). Both highly skilled and dripping in cash, they’re more Batman and Robin-esque. Only somewhat happier to eviscerate the opposition than Bruce Wayne ever was. Or crush them. Or blow them up.

Kick-Ass has its moments, and a ton of references (some subtle, some not so) to past films, TV series and comics. The action sequences are frenetic and bloody, the jokes sometimes humorous but a lot of it is down to shock value (like a small child using the “C” word). So if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll not laugh as hard. Nor will it really stand up to repeat viewing.

It’s fun. It’s just not as fun as I was expecting or hoping for. Still, it’s a good adaptation of the original comics, even though it’s slightly less violent (seriously). Don’t expect a masterpiece and you won’t be disappointed. And it’s good to see Cage in a superhero film that’s not crap. Not to name any Ghost Riders or anything.

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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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