African Safari 3-D

October 5, 2014
Not a postcard, not a trunk call... nothing! Our hosts get (fortunately) overlooked in this close call in 'African Safari 3-D'.

Not a postcard, not a trunk call… nothing!
Our hosts get (fortunately) overlooked in this dramatically close encounter in ‘African Safari 3-D’.

An Active3D review
Film: African Safari 3-D
Rating: (out of 5)

Experience Africa’s wildlife up-close – really up-close – without risking life and limb, without getting sweaty, and without getting nasty bugs in your hair. That’s the appeal of this 3-D documentary, and on that level, it delivers unfailingly.

The film’s director, Ben Stassen, has involved himself largely with the production and direction of whizz-bang animated shorts for exhibition in “4-D” motion-enhanced fairground rides (such as those that South Africans have experienced at Gold Reef City’s theme park).

In later years, he and his Belgian production outfit, nWave, have expanded into animated theatrical features, but he returns here to a subject that he covered in a 2005 short film; the safari.

This feature-length trek into the wilderness kicks off in the sand dunes of Namibia, meanders through Botswana, stops off at a couple of spots in Zambia, and finally makes quite a meal of Tanzania, which seems to be a haven for wildlifers. Our hosts are the South African “Lion Whisperer” Kevin Richardson and the Kenyan-born Mara Douglas Hamilton, whose field of expertise is the African elephant. The duo also provides the film’s voice-over narration and general chit-chat, and this is the project’s weakest area. Much as I have nothing but the hugest respect for Richardson and his work, movie narration will never be his thing, and he should never have been thrust into that role.  His flattened vowels convert “wildlife” to “warldlarf”, and the accent is quite disconcerting for this South African who has always tried his level best to respect the Queen’s English and avoid the pitfalls of Sarth-Efrikan-speak. Maybe audiences in other countries will find it charming or quaint, but I found it distressing to have our boere-brogue thrust at us from the big screen. The banter that he and his co-host enjoy throughout the film is also banal, off-putting, and sometimes unintentionally comical.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I think that both of these people have taken gigantic strides in increasing our understanding of Africa’s wild animals, and directing international attempts at wildlife preservation. It’s just that the producers should’ve found stronger scriptwriters (well, someone such as yours truly, for example), and given the task of narration to someone with authority and masterful diction (Jeremy Irons, perhaps?).

That said, the film’s 3-D visuals are truly spectacular, and it’s safe to say that you’ll probably never get this close to wild animals without (a) losing life or limb, or (b) soiling your smalls.

Lions brush past the 3-D camera, so close that you’ll believe you can smell the sand on their coats, and – in one particularly showy sequence, an elephant thrusts his (or her) trunk way out of the screen frame and deep into cinema-space.

Some shots in hyperstereo (i.e. with the Left and Right-Eye cameras placed unusually far from one another) are quite distracting and unrealistic. A recurring such shot, for example, is one taken from the front of the safari vehicle, showing our two adventurers.  The 3-D here is horribly exaggerated, as is the opening shot, in which a computer graphic of the earth makes our planet bulge towards us like the long end of an egg. Finally, in the bad egg department, the film embarrasses itself with some “climate change” prattle (hopefully not lots of it) that will even look silly in the near future, which is where it casts its predictions.

That said, this is an eye-filling document of probably the only decent thing that our sorry continent has to offer; its majestic wild animals; creatures that we need to treasure and protect.  The film doesn’t linger long on any one topic or animal, and is thus short on detailed information. It is, however, a good overall picture (and a stereoscopic one at that) of the majesty that roams upon African soil. Which makes a damn pleasant change from the tyranny that rules it.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rating:  **** (out of 5)

It’s no secret that Hollywood appears to be losing its ability to create new stories, and continues raiding the archives for old titles to “re-imagine”. Most of these efforts have been disappointing – if not utterly blasphemous – but, happily, the recent revisiting of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise has been quite rewarding. Of course, I’m not referring to Tim Burton’s widely cursed 2001 effort, but the 2011 entry [Rise of the Planet of the Apes], and now this sequel.

I’m still trying to figure out how the ‘Rise’ of said apes and their ‘Dawn’ are two different concepts, but I suppose that this isn’t a forum for semantics. The film (the first in the new series to be released in 3-D) begins with a résumé of the previous installment. San Francisco’s looking like the average downtown scene in South Africa (i.e. dilapidated). A relatively small group of surviving humans (a few hundred; maybe a thousand) lives in an encampment at what used to be the hub of San Fran’s Bay Area Rapid Transit underground rail system. Not far from there, in the wilds (possibly on Lake Merced?), there exists a thriving community of apes, near a now-disused hydroelectric dam – which the humans need in order to power their community. The humans are keen to kick-start the dam again, but the apes, however, have little reason to trust them, given this species’ track record of animal abuse, from which many members of the ape community still bear physical and emotional scars…

The film’s political and moral resonances are interesting, and it isn’t difficult to draw parallels with current human conflicts. In both the ape and human camps there are two factions; those whose decisions are driven by a moral, peace-loving imperative and those who are driven by a hostile tribal loyalty; i.e. supporting apes just because they’re apes, or humans, simply because they’re humans.

Playing the decent and empathetic human leader, Malcolm, is Jason Clarke, whilst Andy “Gollum” Serkis plays the voice of, and provides the body movements for, his ape counterpart, Caesar. Gary Oldman is the human bad guy, Dreyfus, while Koba the evil ape is voiced by Toby Kebbell. As in the 2011 film, the visual representation of the apes doesn’t entirely convince me, but fortunately the narrative does. This grippingly emotional drama plays itself out on an epic canvas, and it’s gratifying (for a change) to see that CGI is being put to the service of a proper story – unlike movies such as any of the Transformer series or most of the superhero franchise, where computer graphics are gratuitously employed to create seemingly endless, boring and noisy fight sequences.

At 130 minutes, ‘Dawn’ is possibly about 10 minutes too long, but that still compares favourably to the latest Transformers movie (last reviewed on these pages), which was two and three quarter hours of sheer, skull-bashing nothingness.

Those of us interested in matters political, will find much meat in this absorbing tale. As for the themes of unthinking group loyalty, it’s a mistake that South Africans have continued to make, and from which they’ve failed to learn, from one regime to the next…

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction (We should be so lucky…)

June 27, 2014
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Capable of doing everything imaginable – except engage in intelligent conversation.

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Transformers: Age of Extinction
Rating: * (out of 5)

165 minutes? Are you kidding me? This is the fourth of a new-millennial series of films based upon the HASBRO action toys, in which giant robots beat the bejesus out of one another. Does this really warrant as many sequels – and a 165 minute running time? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. Unless you’re a 12 year-old boy, I suppose. Or a studio that’s aware that these franchises are critic-proof licenses to print money. Seldom in the history of human endeavour has so slender a plot been stretched over so long a movie. Each noisy battle sequence lasted far too long, and, when it would finally grind to a halt and I was hoping that the closing credits weren’t far off, I’d be shattered to discover that there were many more to follow. (Remember when movies had one climactic sequence? And we didn’t feel robbed?)

The plot, such as it is, centres around Mark Wahlberg as a largely failed inventor with a gorgeous teenaged daughter who – though she loves her pop – is starting to lose faith in him. He’s bought this old truck, which just happens to be a dormant Transformer, and … oh; who cares?

Here again I must take issue with the battle scenes. We *know* that the good guys will triumph, so can’t we just bing-bang-boom and get it over and done with? But no; the director and computer operators want to show off their CGI toy-boxes, so they gleefully string every element of the conflict out, as if they were producers of a daytime soap opera. I can just see them proudly strumming their bowties with each new explosion they create. And, to make matters worse, the hulking robots are forever mouthing inanities that could’ve been scripted by stoned teenagers playing video games in their parents’ basements.

What are the film’s virtues? The 3-D cinematography is spectacular – and is seen to gobsmacking advantage in IMAX theatres, if you have the opportunity to do so. Also, when the two villains (played by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer) are on screen, one can feel the intelligence level of the experience rise – admittedly, not a huge feat.

Much has been made of the fact that the new Digital IMAX 3-D camera has been partially deployed in the making of this film. You will notice, if you’re watching the film in an IMAX theatre, that the regular shots, which have been up-converted from the digital cinema master, don’t fit the entire screen; they leave black strips over and under the picture. When the shots from the IMAX camera kick in, the picture fills the entire height of the screen. An irritation here, is that scenes in the film are often made up of shots from both cameras, so we keep switching rapidly between reduced screen and full screen, from shot to shot. It’s very irritating, and I don’t get why director Michael Bay went with that. Entire sequences, yes; they make sense. But this ongoing click-in-and-click-out? No.

If the film had been 95 minutes long, I might’ve possibly enjoyed it as a matinee distraction, but damn; Hollywood is taking these comic-book/action figure adventures far, far too seriously. It’s also a stupid move, commercially, to make these things so long, as the distributors would be able to fit in more shows per day if they were of a reasonable length.

 

The House of Magic: Family fun

June 27, 2014

The House of MagicAn Active3D Movie Review
Movie: The House of Magic
Rating: ***½ (out of 5)

The story begins quite distressingly, with a young cat, Thunder, being dumped on the side of the road by people who (a) have yet to realise that a pet is a lifetime’s commitment, and (b) seem unaware of the existence of animal shelters. It isn’t long, however, before he locates an eerie looking mansion that he reckons could be the roof over his head that he seeks. It turns out the said home belongs to an eccentric old magician who lives with an assortment of pets, intriguing automatons and penny arcade attractions. The magician is more than happy to included Thunder in his eccentric menagerie, but a grumpy rabbit (clearly the Elder Statesman) and his sidekick mouse, aren’t at all happy about this interloper, and make it quite clear to him that that he should vamoose.Adding to the tale’s assortment of villainry is the magician’s nephew, who’s keen to sell his uncle’s house, and dump the old guy in a care facility.

This animated feature comes from nWave, a Belgium-based outfit that started off by making short 3-D ride attractions for so-called 4-D theatres (such as the one at Gold Reef City). They’ve since branched out into full-length movies such as ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ and ‘Sammy’s Adventures’ I and II; all three of which have released in theatres locally. Whilst their production values can’t hope to match those of the huge Hollywood studios, nWave’s films still have well-developed characters, fun scripts, and overall, a considerable charm and flair. And being as they have a background in what one might call “fairground 3-D”, their 3-D is always played over-the-top – which this stereoptifile loves! Active 3-D recommends this fantastical adventure for a fun family outing.

Godzilla 2014: a Sobering Subtext

May 14, 2014
"I'm the good guy here - you should see the bad guy!"

“I’m the good guy here – you should see the bad guy!”

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Godzilla (2014)
Rating: *** (out of 5)

Gojeera (as its Japanese originators referred to it) is back – as is this, previously slumbering blogsite!

On its surface, this latest imagining is exactly what one might’ve expected: a noisy, CGI-dependent orgy of destruction, during which desperate families attempt to stay intact whilst gigantic creatures lumber across both country and urban landscapes, crushing man and habitat underfoot.

We have the almost-obligatory storyline of the obsessed scientist who knows that the authorities are hiding something from the people (and whose dogged pursuit of the truth has alienated him, even from his son). His son, who has a wife and young child, indulges his “loony” father, largely to appease the missus, who reminds him that blood is thicker than water. Of course, he will come to discover that his old dad was right all along (a revelation that awaits most men) but has to undergo a hero’s journey in the process.

As one would’ve expected, all these elements play themselves out in a manner most unsubtle. The movie theatre in which I previewed the film experienced some speaker trauma during the ear-splitting parade of gunshots, bellowing, human terror, and crunching of metal and mortar.

Yet, it was the silent and tragic subtext of this tale that spoke the loudest to me. An eco-Marxist reading of the film would undoubtedly declare it to be about humanity being consumed by the spectre of its own consumption; that nature was somehow “taking its revenge”. This, indeed, appears to be the view of the film’s young British director, who didn’t write the screenplay (and shouldn’t be allowed to write any, either). I’ve read interviews with the man, who, frankly, doesn’t strike me as very bright. His interpretation strikes me as so shallow, so fashionable; so easy. My reading of the film’s subtext may horrify some, but at least it lies more than 1 millimetre from the film’s flashy surface.

What really piqued my attention was Godzilla’s role here – as humanity’s saviour against the “mutos”; a fearsome tribe of gigantic, spider-like creatures that has grown from the nuclear waste of the Hiroshima A-bomb. What? A reference to America’s guilt? A suggestion that America’s heroic leaders of the past were actually war criminals?

And it doesn’t stop there: More often than not in these disaster pix, we have a granite-jawed president who takes control, and directs the fighter planes that save the nation, and indeed, the world. But we’re presented here with a weak, fumbling and misinformed government. How sadly apt.

The United States today is in a parlous state. Its people are fearful, rudderless, and unsure of where to turn. In 2008, the majority of US voters put their faith in a man who promised to unite all Americans under one strong flag, revive the economy, and put hope where once there had been fear and despair. This president was even re-elected in a final burst of vain hope.

What he brought, however, was lies, spies, and a tripled national deficit. Going by the current approval rating (at around 30%) of this clay-footed idol, it seems that the man who had Americans chanting “Yes, we can!”, now has them muttering, “Oh, bugger – it looks as if we bloody-well can’t – well, not under this leadership, anyway.”

There have been few times in American history when its people have ever been this divided or uncertain. In fact, all around the globe, there is a rising tide of mistrust of political power. So what, then, does this film offer, as its audacious saviour of the human race? A reptilian Christ figure; Godzilla.

The Daft World : It’s a Bit of a Thor Point…

November 9, 2013

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Thor: The Dark World
Rating: * (out of 5)

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Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Hopkins in ‘Thor: The Dark World’

In fairness, I must put my cards on the table: I have grown weary of this non-ending stream of superhero movies to which we’re being subjected (although the recent ‘Superman: Man of Steel’ wasn’t at all shabby). In addition to this, Thor is my least favoured member of the Marvel Comics Avengers team. Iron Man, on the other hand, is in a different league: Firstly, he’s played by Robert Downey Jr, a versatile and talented thesp. The character of Iron Man is also more grounded in reality – as much as a fantastical creation could be. He’s cynical, witty, and we can relate to him. Or at least I can.

Thor, on the other hand, is just this ruddy great big blond man with a ruddy great big hammer. He doesn’t speak very much (which I suppose is some sort of mercy, as he doesn’t have that much to say for himself) and the mythical world from which he hails, bores me. When I’m watching these Hollywood blockbusters with their Thargs from Argenon and Mists of Wangaboonga, my eyelids start closing. And it’s all made worse by the pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue that’s shoved into the actors’ mouths. The film has some visually exquisite moments, and I remember smiling or having a chuckle about three or four times; hence the single star rating that has rescued this adventure from the dark pit of my Worst Ever movies.

So if you ask me what actually happens in this new addition to the apparently eternal Avengers series, all I can tell you is that there’s some evil plasma-thingy that has the power to destroy the world as we know it, and there’s a pretty girl who normally does artier movies, who digs the dumb blond intergalactic handyman. She also has a younger sister who treats her intern so dismissively that it borders on abuse – so, naturally, he’s head over heels in love with her. And then everybody fights, and it’s very noisy, and IMAX get to show off their amplification systems. Apparently these makers of blockbuster fantasy films entertain the belief that louder is better. So Thor crashes about the planet getting involved in messy conflicts, and speakers in cinemas around the world are challenged not to burst at their seams.

I saw this film in IMAX 3-D, which put me in mind of an alleged quote by that legendary Hollywood mogul, Samuel Goldwyn. When asked about what was then a breakthrough in film technology, CinemaScope, the savvy old master reminded his inquisitor that “a wide screen just makes a bad film twice as bad”.

Add thousands of Watts of amplification and 3-D, and the film’s mediocrity is quadrupled.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Wet Your Pants…

October 18, 2013

An Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Gravity
Rating: ***** (out of 5)

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Space travel can be an aesthetic mind-blast, as the early scenes of this film will prove. But out there isn’t really the sort of zone you want to be in when the wheels start falling off, so to speak. In this hair-raising adventure, we join two astronauts; a female mission doctor, oddly named Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and the freewheeling and more experienced Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). As you’ve probably heard by now, they’re doing some spacewalking when we join them: she, some maintenance work, and he, some astronautical goofing around. And then, they become detached from the mother craft. As in: free-floating in that extremely large nothingness, with nothing on which to clutch, and limited oxygen in their space packs.

Reach for the Xanax, because, from here on in, we lurch from one crisis to the next, packing in more anxiety per 15 minute stretch than the average astronaut experiences in 15 years of perambulation of that great, silent, black vacuum.

Sandra Bullock is sublime; an almost androgynous expression of angst. And George? Well, he’s just Clooney in a space suit; laid back, cocky, yet somehow reassuring.   

I’m not sure that this is a “good film” in terms of plot, character development, and such criteria. It’s more of a visceral experience, as in a theme park ride. And it works beautifully in 3-D.

Imagine paying money at the door in order to be walloped in the gut by a world-class fighter; just that, in this case, it’s a world-class movie maker, Alfonso Cuarón. Apparently, he’d grown up wanting to be an astronaut. So now he makes a movie that will discourage anyone who ever had the slightest ambition to don a spacesuit…

This choke-on-your popcorn experience has convinced me that I shan’t ever be lining up for one of Mr Branson’s space jaunts. I think I’ll take my chances within the gravitational pull of this wild, unpredictable, watery, dusty orb we call earth. 

Worth Shelling Out For

August 30, 2013

ImageAn Active3D Movie Review
Movie: Turbo
Rating: **** (out of 5)

My biggest reservation with movies such as Cars and Planes, is that the protagonists lack arms and hands. This tends to limit their expressiveness – as any Mediterranean will confirm. It also prevents one from doing much in the way of work – which I suspect that most Mediterraneans would find desirable… ;-)   

And here we find ourselves with a bunch of snails; armless, of course (and no Cockney puns, please). The prognosis isn’t good, but it’s any reviewer’s job to put quibbles aside where possible, and this is what I do. And who knew it; it seems that forelimbs are not entirely necessary: the animators at Dreamworks have assembled a charming and funny ensemble of expressive escargots.

A wee snail called Theo has an obsession with car racing and fancies himself as quite the speed king – in snail terms; which, as you can imagine, doesn’t amount to much. He’s a dreamer, and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the snail community, that leads a dull, 9-to-5 lifestyle. Theo’s brother is always defending him, but even he is starting to lose patience with his younger sibling’s starry-eyed world view. And then it happens: Theo gets momentarily trapped within the turbo system of a souped-up drag-racing car, and finds himself blessed with that very quality he’d so long sought; speed. And thus, a snail legend rises; Turbo! This could lead him, and those around to him, to fame and prosperity, or it could propel him into great danger. The scene is thus set for Dreamwork’s latest 3-D family funfest. 

Car racing fiends will love the climactic scenes set within the Indianapolis Speedway; yup, the home of the Indy 500. Even though I’m no car fanatic, the race scene, in which the animators weave our hero – and therefore us – between, over and under the cars, extracts IMAX-like thrills from even the smallest theatre screen. And there’s more for the speed geeks; racing legend Mario Andretti has two brief voice cameos; one as a fast food customer, and the other as a race official. As for the main audio cast, your ears will keep bumping into familiar voices; some of which you’ll recognise immediately, and some of which will have you muttering, “I *know* that voice… don’t tell me… don’t tell me!” For me, the most recognisable pipes in the line-up belonged to Samuel L Jackson, Luis Guzman, Paul Giamatti, and Richard Jenkins (whose animated avatar even bears a strong resemblance to him).

The cliché-mongers will be calling it “high octane family entertainment”, and I’m happy to report that I’m unable to top that description.

Treading Water in the Deep End

August 22, 2013

“No, Horsie – I don’t want to hear any more songs from ‘Gypsy’…”


An Active3D Movie Review

Movie: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Rating: *½ (out of 5)

Ethnic mythology and classical history seems to be enjoying a revival in Hollywood, although the stress is on CGI spectacle above than any kind of adherence to those time-honoured tales. Thor, with his ridiculous silver hammer, is about to resurface – again – in another Marvel movie, and there are discomforting rumblings that a sequel to the overrated 300 is on the table. This Percy Jackson sequel is an uneasy patchwork of Greek mythology, contemporary college flick and teen detective thriller; and it teeters uncertainly between these genres, like a drunk that’s forgotten his name and purpose.

I was furthermore not persuaded by the interaction between the film’s many CGI critters and its real-life protagonists. Picking up on the prevalent buzz, I understand that most everybody in the industry appears to be drawing parallels with the Harry Potter franchise, so let me address that directly. Apart from a scattered, episodic script (crammed with dei ex machina) that doesn’t provide him with any support, the bland Logan Lerman, as Percy, lacks that finely measured mix of vulnerability and heroism that made Daniel Radcliffe so popular in the Harry Potter movies. And, of course, Radcliffe also had a strong ally in those googly, Lennonesque specs of his.

The 3-D depth has been cranked up by the tech team, although it stops short of endlessly shoving swords and snakes up our nostrils (not that I mind a bit of show-off gimmickry once in a while!). Finally – and here’s the movie’s only perk – I’m prepared to bet that 3-D geeks will love the opening and closing credits, which serve up some tasty stereoscopy.

‘Plane’ and Simple

August 8, 2013

Planes_Altitude

An Active3D movie review

Movie: Planes

Rating: **½ (out of 5)

This poor wee project has been in the incubator for years. First it was a Pixar project, and then we heard that Pixar dropped the option – which made punters nervous. Then we heard that Disney animation was picking it up, and then still, that it was being passed on to DisneyToons – which understandably made us quake yet again, as this is the Disney division that creates content destined largely for straight-to-disc (or the occasional theatrical exposure – think the dire Tinkerbell movies). It appears to have been a pet project of John Lasseter’s, who, despite his involvement in Pixar, kept his oar in as some kind of executive producer.

Applying anthropomorphic qualities to animals is relatively easy, and we’ve never quibbled with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck’s arms and hands; and the way these semi-human appendages enhance these creatures’ performances. When we get to mechanical devices such as cars, however, the animators’ creative toolbox is severely restricted; particularly seeing as the artists at Disney decided not to give them little arms and hands. And this is one of the main reasons, I believe, for Pixar’s Cars movies falling below par. As for Cars 2… let’s just say that the scriptwriters should’ve put away their James Bond fantasies, and concentrated on making a Pixar movie.

Planes is all about a little crop-dusting aeroplane with ambitions of competing in an international air race, so it’s essentially a ‘Little Engine That Could’ movie, with wings. The intercontinental nature of the featured air race gives the studio the opportunity to introduce a multinational voice cast, which includes Bollywood beauty Priyanka Chopra and everybody’s favourite Brit, John Cleese (who will soon, I expect, start snap,-crackle-and-popping up in breakfast cereal commercials). This tale of undaunted determination will possibly inspire young children by informing them that no one should clip his or her wings according to the expectations of others. But *sigh*, it brings nothing new to the table.

On the plus side – and this should be stressed, as a tribute to the animators – the mechanical denizens of this world are quite endearing, despite their physical limitations. This is, I believe, largely due to the incredible range of emotion reflected in the characters’ eyes. So, kudos to the animators, who gave the story its soul, despite its so-so subject matter.


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