Saturday, 2 August 2014

"Guardians of the galaxy" review: enjoyable but formulaic Marvel film

Good cast and great representation of Rocket Raccoon and Groot
Apparently, everyone is raving about the "guardians of the galaxy". Strange thing, this comic book and film geek will not. For some reason, I felt that GOTG was an effort to recapture what made the "Avengers" such a huge hit with pretty much the same jokes, spectacular special effects and a decent cast. There are many problems with GOTG that although some of them do appear in other Marvel films, here are more evident and literally do not immerse you the way previous installments did. 

Firstly, there is a tremendous amount of weak characterization. Starlord has some emotional development but his introduction scene on Earth is ludicrous as we do not get to see why he does the (rather miserable) thing that he does. Then all of a sudden an out of the blue romance blossoms it is getting now pretty annoying in each Marvel chapter to have characters fall in love through peculiar circumstances (see Thor). 

In the antagonist department (my favourite), Ronan the accuser is a joke. While Lee Pace tries desperately to make Ronan creepy and badass (the make up is spot on), he does not have enough material to work with. The same thing occured for Red Skull and Malekith, both amazing visually villains with lack of dramatic depth (see Loki) and motivations. So Ronan is the typical "I want to destroy my enemies and perform genocide" for whatever the hell he wants to do that for. And to my biggest disappointment, we do not know what he can do and what he can't. Is he a god? Is a superpowered dude? Why people fear him? We never get to see him shining in an action sequence and it is really embarassing the way he goes out of the picture. 
Pleasantly surprised by Chris Pratt's performance. He has enough charisma to make Starlord role his own.
James Gunn has tried to inject humour in the vibe of Firefly/Serenity and although it is a welcome addition, some of the jokes fall flat - as there is a joke every 3 minutes adding a childish layer in the proceedings. The script is moving at a fast pace with lots of satellite characters (Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reily, Glenn Close totally wasted) that have minimal or zero effect to the plot and although it is admirable that the guardians decide to save the galaxy as a group of misfits, the plan still lacks conviction. There is not even a dramatic moment - this is a movie where a guy wants to wipe out an entire planet. The heroes are invicible, there are no real stakes with everyone surviving explosions, spaceship crashes, fights and even bazooka blasts! And the biggest disappointment though was the reveal of Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin). This is a CGI monstrocity that looked so fake and felt it was inserted last minute to perform fun boy service. 

The action is servicable but there is nothing that is totally memorable or outstanding. One of the biggest problems I have so far with Marvel is that they are terribly weak in the fight department. So far, only "The winter soldier" has revealed proper (outstanding) choreography. I feel like that Kevin Feige and Co are mostly interested to showcase brilliant special effects and technicalities rather than a breathtaking fighting sequence (still waiting for my Thor vs Loki epic clash). Ronan as I mentioned above pretty much is wasted in the entire film and does not have a single action scene!!!

Having said everything that I was annoyed with the GOTG, do not lose hope despite my whining. Technically - with the aforementioned Thanos - the film is superb. The production design values are beyond exceptional as they bring a Star Wars vibe and the make up is truly outstanding - particularly on Drax and Ronan. The effects are spectacular and everything else from the designs to the cinematography serve the film really well. It is always good to see a film set in space as these days, let's be honest sci-fi is kinda a dull field to attract investements.

The cast is surprisingly good with Groot and Rocket Racoon - brilliant vocal performance by Bradley Cooper - stealing the show. Chris Pratt makes the role of Starlord his own and is charismatic enough to generate likability and Zoe Zaldana establishes herself as a proper badass. Certain laughs are guaranteed and some of the action is well staged, particularly a humourous prison escape that involves a prosthetic leg. 

But the Marvel formula starts here to wear thin. If you liked the previous films, you will like this one. There is nothing tremedously bad here (except that stupid CGI Thanos) but nothing memorable either besides...Rocket Raccoon and Groot. This is point A to point B Marvel flick - laughs, effects, weak villain, big cast, wasted acting opportunities, happy ending.

+ good cast
+ Rocket Raccoon and Groot
+ production design
+ make up values - truly outstanding
+ spectacular special effects
- ... and then you have Thanos
- most of the humour falls flat
- wasted talented cast in the supporting roles
- one dimensional villain
- ... who has not a single shining scene
- formulaic film


Saturday, 26 July 2014

"Hercules" review: passable blockbuster entertainment

Reasons to see this: The rock! and the cast
Brett Ratner is just an average director. He does not have a particular style, he does not rely on special effects or overuse of music, he simply directs the actors and actresses sufficiently enough but does not go any further. In other words, his films will go down as passable entertainment that can never reach the masterpiece status or the so bad it is so good cult legacy. In fact, his whole filmography cannot even quantify as very good movies, merely forgettable and servicable entertainment. Some of them had potential that led to disappointment - the family man, x-men the last stand - others were simply ok - rush hour, rush hour 2, tower heist. 

"Hercules" falls into the second category. It is not bad, it has some good moments in it but it could have been so much more. But let's talk about it with more detail. The story has taken a few liberties regarding the myth of Hercules and I am not against that (despite being Greek). When someone is referring to the legendary deeds of Hercules, the reply is "what a load of crap". So here the filmmakers from the first minute have established the reality that the movie takes place. Sometimes the script does tease a bit of mysticism and the existence of gods but follows a similar route that "Troy" displayed 10 years ago. While this is not a wise decision - as the legend of Hercules is enough to create mesmerising set pieces and has lots of blockbuster potential, it does not have as catastrophic consequences as one might think. In fact, there is some clever humour regarding the whole thing implicating that the filmmakers are not taking seriously the occuring events.

The script while it remains for the majority of the movie predictable with every cliche being ticked along the way, does offer a bit of a surprise flavour towards the end and enriches with more pathos the (later) proceedings. I would wonder why it took so long to perform this since if more of these stuff were in the beginning, "Hercules" might have been a pretty damn good movie.

For a sword and sandal epic, Hercules does contain a handful of decent action scenes with some elaborate fight choreography from the heros' companions but they are all so awesome that the film lacks any real danger of them getting hurt or killed. In addition, despite being well made and edited and avoiding the trap of insane edit, there is nothing here that we have not seen before. Take for example the fight scenes in "Troy". Love it or hate it, the choreography was simply outstanding and the use of sound brilliant. Here pretty much everyone is like a god - either with a spear or with a knife - that can take dozens of soldiers within minutes. The rock does have some moments to show off his physique but I think he did it better in ... wait for it... "The scorpion king" bouncing like a crazy ninja turtle. As if Ratner was not ready enough to show off his charisma on camera. 

The battles on the other hand (only two), disappoint as again they contain nothing refreshing or exciting. They are dull, with not as many as you think soldiers just marching and forming Roman! shield walls to protect themselves. Taken into account that lots of mere mortals are meeting their makers, having a PG-13 rating does not help either as we definitely do not realise the horror of war. There are certain moments that push the rating to 15 but not much has been shown.

Dwayne Johnson is still a likable force (and person) and does everything he can to bring some gravitas and emotion to the role of Hercules. Certainly he looks the part and he does carry the film on his (broad) shoulders. I just wish he can be directed by a more sophisticated director - imagine Quentin Tarantino guiding him through an action scene - and with a script that dares to be a bit edgy. The rest of the cast are clearly having a ball with their one dimensional roles - particularly Rufus Sewell as Autolycos, a tremendously underrated actor and Ian McShane as Amphiaraus. What annoys me here is the non existence of a threatening villain - and I will not name him/her. Simply there is no visible threat for Hercules in this film or a clear objective that he has to complete or overcome. If we get a bit more related to a absolute douche who wants to kill him or another fictional demi-god that wants to take over the world so we can understand the stakes that our meythological hero has to face, it instantly elevates his character in the audience eyes  and makes us believe in him (see for example when Neo stood equally against Agent Smith).

So that was Hercules. There is not much to hate here but not much to love either. The film is recommended during the long winter evenings but once you have seen it, you probably won't see it again as there is nothing really that stands out besides the Rock destroying minions and the thoughtful art direction. Other Greek adaptations had more memorable set pieces - battle scenes in "Troy", Cronos in "Wrath of the Titans", style in "300" and insane art palette of "Immortals". Unfortunately nothing like that is around but who knows perhaps on a sequel and with a more capable director, we might get something worthy of the Hercules legacy.

+ Dwayne Johnson
+ some (minor) script surprises
+ the cast
+ well made...
- but nothing memorable
- or super exciting
- PG-13 / Greek epics need to be bloody. Period
- boring villain
_ 80% predictable script for characters and situations


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

"Transformers: age of extinction" review : a thrilling yet overblown sequel

A bit more cinematic justice for the autobots this time around
"Transformers: age of extinction" is exactly what you would expect from a Michael Bay directed "Transformers" flick. A loud, most of the times overblown sequel with stellar special effects, almost no plot and cool shots. However, much to my surprise, this is by far the best sequel in the franchise. This time around, Michael Bay learnt from the previous mistakes and seemed  more restrained here (not on action) when it comes to misplaced humour, racist stereotypes, too many human characters that add nothing to an already empty plot, souless autobots and weak villain characterization - elements that so gracefully were seen in the previous films.

First of all, Mark Wahlberg is a way more interesting choice thatn Shia the Douche. While, Sam Witwicky was a teenager we could relate to in the original movie, in the latter proceedings he became a whiny (overacting) bitch that has no reason to frankly bitch about. Therefore, by shifting the attention towards the far more charismatic Wahlberg was the right thing to do. In addition, the whole father-daughter dynamic is cliched and terrible predictable but at least is a winning formula that has worked for ages. This is a "Trasnformers" film. Better to have formulaic narrative rather try to shoehorn a billion subplots that go nowhere and contain zero intrigue (see Dark of the moon). The other standout here is Stanley Tucci - where clearly he is having a ball with the role and comes close to a solid performance than anybody else. His inventor character has a surprising depth(!) and avoids the trap of one dimensionality towards the climax. Everyone else is doing just ok for what they are supposed to do - looking badass, goofy or scared - and there are no annoying characters. Shame for Li Bingbing as I think she is a talented actress (and gorgeous to look upon) who gets limited screentime and for Kelsey Grammer portraying a rather blunt human villain . So acting part has been fixed at the blockbuster medium range.
As for the autobots here themselves, they are presented nicer with redefined character models and more personalized moments as their number is shrunk down from 10+ to only 5. This allowed the screenwriter (the who) to focus on more what-cool-stuff-this-robot-can-do rather than show generic gun firing and surrounding explosions. Particularly fan favourite Bubblebee steals the show with his child-like persona something that was solely missing in the previous trilogy.

The plot itself is still difficult to understand; the why's and the how's are inexplained as we are taking a leap of faith after 4 years since the battle of Chicago took place with a McGuffin concept called "the seed". Interestingly, the proceedings have a more sinister and serious tone that plays in favor of this installment. There are real stakes here and a proper badass robo-villain with tones of equiment, moves and minions. Sure there are funny moments (most of them do hit the spot) but there is a more menacing atmosphere as the Autobots are being hunted down by Decepticons, humans and alien bounty hunters. No place is safe. There are tones of ? during the film's running time and sense of geography (going from Beijing to Hong Kong by car in the same day?!) but to be honest, do I need to care?
One of the thrilling set pieces in AOE
Which brings me to the main attracting point of "T4". The action. I personally love Michael Bay. Nobody stages mayhem the way he does and his camerawork is fantastic. Despite some quick edits during the chase scenes, he cleverly utilizes the slo-mo during inventive car crashes or destructive set pieces powered by long steady shots. Assisted by 3D, the Imax presentation was simply mesmerising and it is a shame really that he does not get the recognition he deserves. He is one of the few filmmakers that does not go overboard with the CGI when it comes to stunts and chases and there is tone of breathtaking stuff. From a skyscraper escape through suspended cables, to a showdown in the overcrowded apartment complexes of Hong Kong to a Texas car chase, Bay throws cars upside down packed with explosions, loud special effects and moments of picture clarity. So much mayhem is impossible not to be appreciated, and with each action scene Bay goes bigger and bigger reaching such an overblown assault in all senses towards the end that would make your ear drums shutter and your eyes feasting on all these disasterous sequences (the ships falling from the sky is a set piece that has to be seen to be believed). The Chicago battle is tiny in comparison with the action in here. Yes, it is brainless but in contrast to the former films, it is not overly insulting with terrible gags or dialogue but towards a step to the direction that made the first one such a good film.

Bay's films have always excelled in performance when it comes to technical stuff but the production design has more character here than the entire (rather generic in this field) previous trilogy. Lockdown's ship should be considered for the respective awards giving a completely alien vibe and it is shot with exquisite cinematography. And speaking of the cinematography, I think by far this is the best looking film of Bay. The capture of sunsets, the swooping shots of the Texas desert, or the crowded streets of Hong Kong are wonderfully lighted by Amir Mokri.

The way I have written this review could imply that I consider the film a masterpiece. Hardly. At least half an hour with the human element could have been left in the editing room and the rather long running time of 3 hours can be quite exhausting even for a fan of the series (like me). While certainly it did not bore, I did think in some occasions that the carnage and mayhem is too much! And again Galvatron has been reduced to a limited screentime (ultimate blasphemy) with a one dimensional personality who shouts a lot of orders but does nothing. Finally, the much rumoured appearance of the Dinobots although it does include certain "awesome" scenes, it has pretty much no depth or any sort of background whatsoever.
Optimus Prime gets an update
And pretty much that summarizes AOE. If you like any of the previous films, then you will probably think this one is the best. The cast is way better, the satellite characters have stopped to exist - both humans and Transformers - and the serious tone is more than a plus. Despite the long running time and the overstuffing of action, T4 did not disappoint me. Perhaps because my expectations dropped significantly after T3 and here I found more redeeming values than in the other two. Bay won me over with the fourth installment and made the Autobots look cool again in exquisite action set pieces. Because this is a Trasformers film. If it fails in action, there is no point.

+ breathtaking action
+ great stunts
+ gorgeous cinematography
+ likable although typical main characters
+ Mark Wahlberg, an update in good protagonist
+ great camerawork
+ technical aspects are state of the art: brilliant special effects, production design
+ Bubblebee is cool again
+ sinister tone 
+ humour hits the spot
- long running time, easily cut half an hour
- rather blunt human villain
- climax - either will send you away with such an assault or keep you in your seat
- Galvatron - still Megatron has not been seen as awesome


Saturday, 5 July 2014

"Edge of tomorrow" review: a fun and forgettable fun ride

Good casting choice for TC and a bit different characterization as well. 
"Edge of tomorrow" comes with the premise of "Groundhog day" with a sci-fi twist. Althought, at the beginning, it seems intriguing to see Cruise's coward! character keep reliving the same battle every time, the final pay off is inclining towards disappointment. Doug Liman used to handle action scenes surprisingly well ("the Bourne identity", "Mr and Ms Smith") but here it seems that he has lost his mojo. A theoritically thrilling Normandy-style battle between humans with exo-skeletons armed with lots of weapons and matrix-like squids is a blurry mess with lots of quick cuts and fast pacing edits that you do not know who is shooting who. Additionally, during the final segment of the film, the cinematography is so "dull" that you can barely see anything exciting on screen.

The film is not supported by the fact that a huge amount of defying physics heroics exist and while everyone should be dead, they are not. The filmmakers desperately try to do and show a realistic, modern take on the alien invasion but the way the exposition is being handed over by a scientist starts to get upsetting as movies with the same context have performed the same trick in the last couple of years.

On the positive side, the cast is surprisingly good and especially Cruise playing a character with a complete disregard for the lives of those around him besides well, his own. It is good to see him portraying against type and I have to admit, in the first half of the film he does it really well. Emily Blunt is severely underused as the ultimate badass soldier against the Aliens and it would have been great if she had any character development besides being at the end the love of the hero's life. Among the rest, Puxton and Gleeson are having a blast with their small roles but they do not have enough material to do something.
Emily Blunt is stunning as the most badass soldier in the alien-humans war - shame she does not have a scene to shine.
Much to my surprise though, EOF is surprisingly funny. There are many scenes where you will caught yourself giggling and laughing with the unexpected outcomes of Cage's actions on screen trying to get through this busy day. Clearly, this is a segment where the writers are not taking things seriously (in contrast with the ending) with the implications of Cage dying and suffering horrible fates only to avoid them the next time and anticipate some worse ones. This is by far the best moment in the entire film and the most creative. Nevertheless, as we witness people exploding, impaled and crushed, there is not a single drop of blood. This probably to capture a wider audience decision hurts the film's intentions, and makes the movie even more unrealistic with no real feel of actions or gravitas.

It is such a shame then that the aliens lack any personality, the supporting cast are reduced to one dimensional characters and the happy to the point of honey ending comes out of nowhere with no stakes or significant consequences. Perhaps if the film had more focus to the journey of Cage from the ultimate coward douchebag to a fearless hero, it would have been way more interesting. Instead, we get a mix of intriguing but underdeveloped ideas and a triumphant return of Cruise to the blockbuster. But others have done it better before hand anyways.

+ Cage's tactics to get through the day like a videogame
+ supporting cast
+ interesting concept
- poor execution
- uneven tone
- terrible alien designs
- quick cut and shaky cam editing in the action scenes
- PG-13


Thursday, 22 May 2014

"X-men days of the future past" review: worthy of X2's awesomess, this is the sequel you have been waiting for

"X-men days of the future past" is what the "wolverine", "origins wolverine", "first class" and the lame "last stand" should have been! Some where not really pleased with the way Bryan Singer handled the famous mutants but from my perspective his superhero films are literally flawless. They do not contain bombastic special effects, cheesy costumes and loud sound design but rely on interesting character dynamics and coherent plots, avoid overfitting traps and Hollywood-isms. But let's take the clocks 8 years back. When "Last stand" was announced everyone was ecstatic. You had perfect casting and the story of the Dark Phoenix would be presented in the big screen! However, things went sour when Singer left the project to pursue his passion for Superman, Matthew Vaughn came on board but left and then last minute choice Brett Ratner delivered the finished product.
Quicksilver steals the show
"X-men the last stand" was such an underwhelming movie that ultimately held lots of potential. The mutant cure, the conflict among X-men to choose to live like theywere born or cured, the overstuffing of superfluous and boring characters and elaborate but frankly unimaginative action scenes were among the issues that threw the film into a cinematic abyss surrounded by fan hate and despair. While not all was bad - the casting of Kelsey Krammer as fan favourite Beast including the amazing make up still sends chills towards my spine every time I see him - the X-men franchise needed a boost of energy. Many thought it would come through the spin off Wolverine (everyone was dead wrong) and while First class and The wolverine were decent efforts, they felt a bit rushed and kinda underdeveloped.

Here though what is really fascinating is the fact that Singer and his team of screenwriters tried to correct all the mistakes of the previous films. "Origins" is not acknowledged at all - thank god - and every single mistake that the last stand displayed here is patched, particularly towards the fantastic ending that ties everything together and would make every single geek cry from too much awesomeness. *** SPOILERS *** The cameos, the original X-men theme and intro/outro and the ability to see finally the mansion filled with students again is terrific *** END OF SPOILERS.
The chemistry betwen McAvoy and Fassbender is still great
So DOTFP feels totally coherent in style and setting with Singer's previous efforts and it is fantastic to see him in top form here. Perhaps his absence almost a decade from the franchise has energized him to deliver potentially the best film regarding our favourite mutants. With a frenetic style around the action sequences, brilliant cinematography - particularly in the future, Singer get loose to the time travel storyline injecting vividly with humour too. There are quite a few inventive action shots with the most memorable involving Quicksilver who steals the show with his Ramona Flower-ish appearance - everything looks so slow for him and tied that with a seventy's soundtrack at the backdrop, it is a joy to witness him going in normal speed when pretty much the whole world progress in slow motion. Additionally, a skirmish with the sentinels at the beginning is enough to make your heart pumping as heroes and heroines do anything they can to stop this overwhelming new threat.
Michael Fassbender continues to be a revelation even in comic book films
Surprisingly, the action is relatively limited in fist fights with a small dose of special effects when you take into consideration that other blockbusters these days have a city been wiped out from the face of the planet - The avengers, Thor 2, Captain America 2, Man of Steel, GI JOE retaliation, Transformers 3, etc - with an overabudance of CGI. Where DOTFP feels like home is in the quiter scenes and the verbal exchanges of the main characters. James McVoy is doing a fantastic job as the broken Charles and his interaction his Fassbender's Magneto (who oozes coolness) are the highlights of the film. Clearly both of them are having a blast with their roles, but they bring a poetic gravitas in these comic book counterparts pretty much the same way that Stewart and McKellen did 14 years ago. Mystique is getting lots of stuff to do this time around (by far my favourite mutant) besides looking badass and participating in elaborate choreography and the whole film plays a battle for her soul between Xavier and Magneto.
Jennifer Lawrence humanizes Mystique even more and gives her more character (finally)
Another interesting aspect is the recreation of the 70's and any other political tones of that era - the Vietnam war, JFK's assassination, Richard Nixon (!) - are used for backdrops regarding the mutant rights avoiding to make a political statement and cross the point of bad taste. The colourful production design along with some nifty costumes give the film a more convincing look that some of his cousins superhero flicks bear.

Is something I did not like? Not much really as I really dig the world that Singer and co have created with care and lots of heart. The characters feel more like real people, their decisions are not flawless and their heroics not the best thing in the world. Having said that though, due to the presence of so many mutants, those involved in the future storyline are not getting enough screentime besides participating in the action sequences - Warpath, Bishop, Iceman, Colossus, even McKellen's Magneto! - feel like filler for the intro and outro of the film. Holly Berry is especially wasted :( Finally, Peter Dinklage as Bolivian Trask is a great casting choice but he does not have anything to play with. While Dinklage does anything he can in his power to bring some gravitas to his role, the script does not allowing him to evolve as a character or at least offer any interesting backstory regarding his motivation and expectations and it is a stepdown really from "First class". 

So this is "X-men: days of the future past". It is a blockbuster with heart and brains and stands way up than most of the blockbusters in the last couple of years. Restrained, not overstuffed with special effects but with intriguing characters, bringing back the awesomeness that the mutants deserve with excellent performances, witty action scenes and a care that so much lacks these days. Highly recommended. In all honesty, cannot wait to see where Singer will takes us afterwards with "X-men: Apocalypse"


"Pompeii" review : Paul WS Anderson has done better

The special effects and the cinematography are top notch
I have been a fan of Paul WS Anderson for years. Yes that is right. Say what you want about him but for me, this is the director that did "Mortal Kombat", my favourite film of all time and "Event horizon", one of the scariest movies ever. Having said that, I do acknowledge that he has lost his way through the years particularly when it comes to compelling stories and interesting characters. When you listen him talking about each film, he oozes passion. However, it is a different thing to be passionate about a project and another to be able to showcase that type of energy on the big screen. Unfortunately for Anderson, although he tries desperately to display cinematic awesomeness, he mainly remains good on visual levels and nothing more.

In particular, his films have strong visual flares and to his credit, he does utilize the 3D into great effect. Nobody can take that away from him. He has a keen eye for nice and vivid visuals through relatively small budgets and does not overwhelm the viewer with bombastic special effects and explosion arrays. No matter how cool all the above may sound though, there are not enough to make me invest in the story around "Pompeii". The plot contains recycled threads taken from other (better) films, mainly "Gladiator" and the characters are no more than one-dimensional. It is rather upsetting to witness three screenwriters coming up with this uber cliched epic that holds no surprises or dramatical substance whatsover while including so many "modern" day dialogue. First Milo gets zero character development or backstory besides the driven by revenge motive. Where did he learn to fight so good? Or how to be that tough? What is it like to live as a slave? These may sound quite familiar questions but by existing, they help build up the universe and the persona of the main hero. Although it may not be Kit Harington's fault, he still ends up looking like John Snow in the film.
Costume and production design are excellent
Same logic applies for the satellite characters also. Emily Browing's Kassia has little to do besides seen troubled, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (always awesome) is more thin than a piece of paper and Jared Harris and Karrie Anne-Moss are totally wasted. As for the villain of the piece, when you think of a Roman Senator, do you imagine a hummy Kiefer Sutherland on that role? Although he clearly is having a blast with the material, he is not particularly that evil and frankly any interesting just like everyone else. And this is where the biggest problem of "Pompeii" is. The whole natural disaster can be used for a backdrop even for a period romantic story. But you require basic cinematic ingredients for that. Here, the setting is intriguing, well presented but it lacks any emotional value due to the lack of motives and sharp characterization. To make matters worse, the whole movie is taking place within 2 days - kinda hard to buy that our duo has fallen in deep love and Sutherland has developed a fuming hate for our doomed? couple.

And in all that, the whole "Gladiator" aspect in this sword and sandal epic comes more like a cheap knock off in its execution and action. While Anderson keeps foreshadowing the upcoming catastrophy (and its execution has been indeed handed well), the action scenes are anemic and the swordfights lack intensity and awe. Surprisingly, they contain lots of cuts and fast sword play and do not reveal any memorable stunt or move (unlike the swordfights in Anderson's "Three Musketeers"). The lack of bloodshed is a bizarre choice for this kind of film as we tend to see glimpses of wounds but not during the fights and it has a tremendous impact in the overal realism. Is this an epic "Twilight-ised" for a new generation? Perhaps.
Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery in every scene he appears as a total miscast
Anderson's direction is absorbing in every possible angle the ancient city of Pompeii and its thundering volcano allowing to witness exquisite visuals and glorious cinematography - especially in the destruction scenes in an eventually, empty dramatic vessel. Anderson seems to be busy to carry on fast not allowing us to experience the circumstances. Remember in MK and EH where he used to have static, circular or even steady cam shots giving each movie a distint pace? Here just like the "The three musketeers", and "Resident evil retribution", he acts as if he is hurrying to finish the film. There are no acting face offs between his cast, no build up towards the volcano explosion, no cathartic climax. Even the final fight has the sign "let's wrap it up quickly". 

Similarly to his musketeers adaptation , "Pompeii"'s saving grace are the costume design and the sets. You truly feel you are actually there and it is nice to see the effort being put on the big screen for the accurate representation of these times. But as I mentioned earlier, visuals do not make a film alone. Now you could argue that in other movies, I have given a high score just for that. Yes, that is correct but their setting and purpose (e.g., "The crow", "Kill Bill volume 1", "The cell") aim for stimulate our eyes not our brains. "Pompeii" wants to be a dramatic epic with a swooping story and serious moments and on that field, it fails. It is not a terrible film, it is just average and the final act when the special effects are unleashed barely make it any memorable or entertaining. Besides that, the characters are disappointing if they can be classified as such, the plot cliche from screenshot one and the performances range from OTT (Sutherland) to reading-the-script-loud (Harington). Shame for this being Harington's first solo outing, he should choose the second one more carefully. Assuming there is one.

+ exquisite visuals
+ disaster bits of the film are very good
+ cinematography
+ production and costume design
+ the talented cast
- ... that does nothing in the whole film
- one dimensional characters
- Sutherland totally miscast
- cliche and recycled plot
- lack of blood
- quick cut action scenes...
- with nothing memorable


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review "Calvary": powerhouse perfomance by Brendan Gleeson

"Calvary" deals indirectly with the sexual abuse of kids/teenagers that so many catholic priests have gotten away with. However, it is not the drama that you think it is. John Michael McDonagh is using the unfamiliar backdrop of black comedy, similarly to what the Coen brothers did in their earlier works. At the centre of the plot, we meet Father James Lavelle, a likable priest of the catholic church in a remote Irish town who at the later stages of his life decided to be a representetive of god in order to deal with his own issues (alcoholism and being recently widowed). The interesting part of the plot is that a familiar face from his environment due to years of sexual abuse by another priest decides to kill him (despite having nothing to do with such horrific acts) and gives him a week (only).

What follows is fairly intriguing as we are introduced to a variety of characters that surround Father James and his feisty yet alienated from him daughter of various sociaeconomic statuses - doctors, trophy wives, jobless men, bartenders, etc) each one having their own reason to despise the tactics of the modern church (and thus being the prime suspect). As we progress through the final? week of Father James life, storylines are interconnected, revelations are being made and dodgy characters take centre stage with their eccentricities and bizarre pyschological attributes. A who-is-going-to-do-it plot gets infused with more hostile acts towards James blurring the lines of much clearer suspicious people and introducing others. 

No matter how cruel the whole subject can be, McDonagh is not focusing to make a statement against a powerful organization that happens to shelter and protect its predators. This is known (unfortunately). No, he is interested in extracting a powerhouse performance from Brendan Gleeson and superb supporting turns from the rest of cast while defusing the situations with one liners ("killing a priest on Sunday - that would be a good one") and out of the blue comedic acts. You see the point here, is the rather short travel of a man in a small forest of familiar faces and his relationships with them after particular incidents. It brings to memory lots of similarities with the Danish "The hunt" but it is less stressful and frankly more optimistic. Genuinely Father James is a good man, not a perfect one, but a good one, trying to bring as much as hope and peace to those around him who still make the wrong decisions no matter how moral support and advice they seek to receive. 
Brendan Gleeson gives the performance of a lifetime - I wish he gets lots of awards for his work here
In a world where blockbusters and stupid intelletual films reign with nothing to offer, it is nice to see a simple character story with the jaw dropping landscapes of Ireland as a rainy setting (the beach shots are incredible). While "calvary" does not reinvent the wheel of cinematic productions, it certainly offers plenty of imagery for thought while certain points are left ambiguous for those of us who desire a more insightful analysis of movies.

+ mesmerising landscapes
+ brilliant cinematography
+ Brendan Gleeson is fantastic
+ the supporting cast
+ interesting plot
+ with sharp social characterization
+ some parts are actually really funny
- perhaps an issue such as serious as this should not be treated lightly?