Monday, 27 June 2011
Saturday, 25 June 2011
Finally a film that lives up to expectations. And by 'up', I, of course, mean 'down'. I have half-jokingly mentioned online that I had pencilled in Transformers 3 as my worst film of 2011, but thanks to ever-reliable director Michael 'more is more' Bay, I can now erase that scribble and ink it in.
That's despite opening with a clever reinterpretation of the history of the American space race (which would have been even more clever had Doctor Who not performed a similar but far better conceit with its 2011 season opener). But Bay quickly lapses back into his old ways: the very next scene opens with a shot of a tiny heiny strutting up a staircase: from the Moon to a moon. Subtle, Mr. Bay, subtle.
Those buttocks belong to Rosie Huntington-Something O'Rather, a Victoria's Secret model and Megan Fox's replacement as, inexplicably, the girlfriend of Shia Labeouf's Sam Witwicky. How this everyboy attracts the babes I don't know, and he doesn't seem to care. Despite her scantily clad advances, Sam spends the first half of the movie pissing and moaning about no longer being involved in the US government's defence operations with the Autobots (the good guy Transformers in case you forgot, or simply forgot to care).
Terrence Malick's first film in six years, the highly anticipated, much speculated upon The Tree of Life, finally arrives in cinemas with some but not all of its mystique removed following its world premiere at Cannes in May. Booing aside (oh, those crazy French!), Malick's visual poem to creation, life and after life – and indeed no less than the meaning of life itself – may or may not meet the expectations of a six-year wait but it's certainly worth experiencing.
But your average cinemagoer shouldn't let the presence of Brad Pitt and Sean Penn fool them into thinking this is a Hollywood film. Much like he did with The Thin Red Line (1998), which returned Malick to the director's chair after a 20 year hiatus, the maverick director places his marquee actors in the service of his creation.
As such, Pitt, as 1950s husband and father Mr. O'Brien, plays second fiddle to child actor and on-screen son, Jack (Hunter McCracken), while Penn (who perhaps as a favour to his Red Line director) has a cursory role playing the adult version of Jack. Penn's sequences top and tail the film in its most ambitious and, to be honest, for me least successful sections.
A plethora of beautiful images and whispered dialogue/prayers opens The Tree of Life – which also covers the creation of the universe from the Big Bang through to those much talked about but briefly glimpsed dinosaurs, before settling down in small town USA, 1950s – while a suggestion of the after life, including a beach and a predominantly white dress code, closes the film.
But it's the middle section which occupies most of the film's 135 minute running time, and it's this section which is the most involving and adopts a more typical, linear narrative structure (though with very little reliance on dialogue or action).
Observing the O'Brien family, which includes two other sons and an angelic mother (played by Jessica Chastain), we glimpse the beauty of the world from the point of view of young Jack; open to the wonders of his surrounds, as encouraged by his mother, but ever mindful of his disciplinarian father who practises a form of tough live on his sons, preparing them for the hardships of a world which crushed his own dreams early on.
Despite a passing resemblance to his Benjamin Button persona, what with O'Brien's glasses and jutted jaw, Pitt gives one of his better performances; suggesting a man with his gestures and facial expressions rather than with his (very few) words. There's already talk of an Oscar nomination but I'd suggest as Supporting Actor rather than Lead if it were to happen, for he's not only supporting McCracken but Malick, too. Let's be honest, in a Malick film, everyone is supporting.
I've seen The Tree of Life twice now and upon my second viewing, without expectation and preconception, found it to be far more emotionally engaging. Others may get it the first time round, or simply won't get it at all. And that's perfectly okay; it certainly won't be for everyone. But I'd urge you to see it and in the cinema, where you can immerse yourself in Malick's vision – a vision like nothing you've seen before.
Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Tuesday, 21 June 2011
DreamWorks Animation's surprise hit of 2008, Kung Fu Panda, opened with a spirited 2D hand drawn animation sequence revealing its hero Po's fantasies of becoming a member of the Furious Five and a master of kung fu. By the end credits, Po (voiced by Jack Black) had achieved both feats in a film of pure awesomeness.
The inevitable sequel also opens with a 2D animation sequence: a tale revealing the rise of the evil peacock, Shen. It also hints at the sad history from which Po (again voiced by Jack Black) descended, for Kung Fu Panda 2 is a much darker film than its predecessor and not just because of the deployment of 3D.
Shen (Gary Oldman), having been informed by a Soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) that his rise to power would be halted by a panda, set in motion a Bible-like genocide of which Po was the only survivor; spirited away by his parents when just a baby and eventually adopted by noodle shop proprietor – and goose – Mr. Ping (the wonderful James Hong). That Po never questions his father's differing species is one of the running jokes of both films.
But in encountering Shen's coat of arms, worn by his wolf warriors, Po has flashes to his early childhood and parents, and his mission – to halt Shen's planned occupation of China by cannon fire; the peacock having discovered a use for gunpowder other than fireworks – is compromised by his desire to learn of his roots and why he was abandoned.
So where Kung Fu Panda was the story of Po's progress from zero to hero, the sequel is one of self discovery; far more concerned with the emotional journey of our portly panda than his kung fu prowess. There's nothing particularly wrong with that but the action sequences, which director Jennifer Yuh (graduating from head of story on the first Kung Fu Panda) must have envisioned as looking great in 3D, aren't the focus of the film nor are they helped by the murky palette the 3D produces.
Once again the Furious Five (voiced by Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and David Cross) are mere support, although with Jolie's Tigress is given slightly more screen time. Sadly, it seems, at the expense of Dustin Hoffman's Master Shifu, an absence Danny McBride (Wolf Boss) Dennis Haysbert (Master Ox) and even Jean Claude Van Damme (Master Croc) can't compensate for.
Kung Fu Panda 2 isn't a bad film nor a bad, if unnecessary, sequel. That it lacks the spark of surprise, that element of awesomeness which made the first such an entertainment, is predictable if no less lamentable, given sequels tend to fade with each installment. Here's hoping DreamWorks don't inflict the same fate on the panda as they did with a certain green ogre; as any Dragon Master knows, there's no shame in quitting while you're ahead.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
Saturday, 18 June 2011
Friday, 17 June 2011
Thursday, 16 June 2011
LIFE, ABOVE ALL
Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Monday, 13 June 2011
Saturday, 11 June 2011
Friday, 10 June 2011
Wednesday, 8 June 2011
Sunday, 5 June 2011
With a film calendar full of sequels, prequels and remakes, Super 8 arrives as a pleasant surprise. Granted it's not wholly original – writer-director J.J. Abrams' sci-fi period piece is an unabashed homage to the early works of mentor, Steven Spielberg – but I found it wholly satisfying. I'll take nostalgia over studio colour-by-numbers bean counter filmmaking any day.
Set in 1979, a couple of years after Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a few years before E.T., Super 8 deliberately but not clumsily evokes both those and other Spielberg films (including Jurassic Park and Jaws), from the blue tinged lighting and the elongated pull-focus shots (I'm sure there are technical terms for these but I confess my ignorance) to the elements of his story.
In small town America, a group of school students – writer-director, Charles (Riley Griffiths), best friend and make-up artist, Joe (Joel Courtney), leading man, Martin (Gabriel Basso), and fireworks expert, Cary (Ryan Lee) – plan to spend their summer vacation shooting a zombie movie.
Much to Joe's delight, they're joined by Alice (the increasingly impressive Elle Fanning), but on their first night shoot on the outskirts of town, the crew are witness to a spectacular train crash, which is no accident, setting in motion a series of peculiar events and a summer these kids won't soon forget.
The marketing campaign for Super 8 has been at pains to reveal as little as possible about what follows that crash (a lesson other studios should heed), and while some reviews have revealed the contents of the train's cargo I won't, suffice it to say that it's here where the film's sci-fi elements kick in. But thankfully, it doesn't overwhelm the human element.
Abrams elicits excellent performances from his young cast, with Courtney's Joe making for a relatable hero (having lost his mum at film's beginning and struggling to connect with policeman dad, played by Kyle Chandler), and Fanning's Alice more than worthy of his admiration. The other three boys – the boisterous Charles, vomitous Martin, and pyromaniac Cary – are wonderful comic foils. And make sure you stay through the end credits to witness The Case, the zombie film they eventually put together.
And you can easily imagine the young Abrams putting together his own super 8 movie, enthused with the thrill and joy of filmmaking. That same boyhood zeal comes through Super 8 and you'll be hard pressed not to fall under its spell. I suggest you just go with it, it's mint.