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)

Image

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)

Image

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.

Slug Addicts

August 2, 2013

Pacific Rim
An Active3D movie review

Movie: Pacific Rim

Rating: *** (out of 5)

It’s the near future, and gigantic reptiles are attacking major cities around the world (because, as we know, aliens never bother with laying siege on boring rural towns, or even cities that don’t look pretty (Johannesburg, anyone?). The US military has deployed an army of similarly towering metal robots to fight back, each of which is piloted by two humans who have to undergo a coupling and synchronising of their minds before they can take on this demanding task.

Confession time: I was hesitant going in, but I girded my loins and braved the preview theatre. And I’m happy to say that the film exceeded my expectations; quite possibly because it was helmed by the Mexican fantasy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who brings a measure of savvy to the affair. Whilst the script sported a few good laugh lines, I could’ve done with a measure more humour – after all, even Shakespeare, in his darkest tragedies, knew the importance of a hearty chortle amidst the swordplay.  But the cast is earnest, and takes their task diligently, without stretching to the point of being camp; it’s a delicate tightrope…

Three characteristics of modern fantasy films that have really started irritating me:
a) They take themselves too seriously, and are too sombre for what are after all, largely comic-book stories,
b) The CGI battle sequences take forever,
c) They’re played out in dark, bloodless hues.

I’m thrilled to declare, however, that:
a) del Toro clearly realises that this isn’t the sequel to ‘The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie’, and handles the affair as the Saturday matinee movie that it is,
b) the CGI battle sequences are mercifully short, by comparison with other films of this genre. They get in, have it out and call it a day; bim-bam-boom!
c) the film is a feast of exciting colours and, stereoscopically speaking, it’s out there with the front-runners.

And speaking of aesthetic delights, the gorgeous Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, looking as if she’s stepped out of an Anime comic, provides a pleasing counterpart to all the noisy machismo that surrounds her.

A bonus for the credit geeks who sit out the final roll, is a fade-out tribute paid by the filmmakers to the “monster masters”  Ray Harryhausen and Ishirô Honda.

We Apologise for the Break in Transmission…

May 17, 2013

Break in Transmission[A catch-up session]
To my chagrin, the Internet at my home office has been down for over two months, thanks to what felt like a conspiracy between Internet ‘Service’ Providers. For those of you who live in South Africa, I will mention three little words, and thereby dispense with the need for any further explanation: iBurst, Telkom and MWeb

But I’m back, so a quite round-up is in order. Some of the films will no longer be on the theatrical circuit, but there’s always 3-D Blu-ray if you missed any of ’em…

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away **
The world-renowned acrobatic performers do their thing in a film that is, interestingly enough, shot on the Las Vegas stages at which they normally present their shows. For me, it went on a bit, though it’s certainly pretty to look at. I also wasn’t wild about poor cropping in the shoot, which frequently resulted in breaking of the 3-D window.

Oz The Great and Powerful ***
James Franco is all smirks and smiles in this prequel to The Wizard of Oz (yep; another one!). Whilst there are homages to the Judy Garland original (such as opening the movie in black & white), this spectacular-looking adventure lacks the magic of the classic that it references. (Enjoyable – but not something you’ll be urging your grandchildren to watch…) A touch that I enjoyed: during an early sequence, the story’s playing out within a masked-off frame-within-the-frame, which allows for some of the action to move out of the 3-D window. (Just like those print ads for 3-D TVs which show footballers’ legs extending outside of the 3-D window.)

Jack the Giant Slayer ***½
The fairytale revisited, with all the clout of the latest stereoscopic technology. This bold British venture proves that the islanders can happily compete in the spectacle stakes with their counterparts in Hollywood. The strong, largely UK cast includes Ewan McGregor and Ian McShane, although New Yorker Stanley Tucci gets the chance to go wickedly OTT. Surprisingly grisly for what is essentially a kids’ movie.

The Croods ***½
An overprotective caveman daddy (voiced by Nicolas Cage) has to protect his family in times of overwhelming hazard. Typical of Hollywood, it’s all terribly PC, what with the teenaged daughter being the informal leader, and her brother being the gormless follower. After a slow and worrying start (“Where’s this thing going?”), it heats up to provide spectacular scenics, some good laughs, and a warm serving of sentiment.

GI Joe: Retaliation •
No; really. A confusing plot and the endless bam, bam, bam of firearms being discharged. But then, we need to remember that this is a sequel of a movie which is based upon the existence of a series of action toys. That should explain it?

Iron Man 3 ***½
Robert Downey Jr’s interpretation of the cynical superhero is always engaging and entertaining, in addition to providing the most believable and interesting member of all the Marvel Comics ‘Avengers’ characters. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the Iron Man movies that preceded this, then you’ll know what you’re in for. My only gripe; it’s a tad too long – and it’s a criticism that can be applied to much of what’s coming out of the Hollywood at present. Get in, tell your story, and get out, for goodness’ sake – seemingly non-ending CGI fight sequences are boring.

Dino-snore time

February 8, 2013
Image

“Help – it’s a Low Budget-osaurus!”

An Active3D movie review

Movie: Dino-Time 3-D (a.k.a. Dino-Mom)

Rating: ** (out of 5)

A little boy and his spoilsport sister end up at the home of one of their peers whose dad is a  less-than-successful inventor. The trio end up messing about in the inventor’s time-machine, which, up until that point, hadn’t been working. Of course, they manage to activate it, and the device, conveniently shaped like a large dinosaur egg, rockets them back into the Jurassic age. A large pink Tyranno-something immediately assumes that they are her offspring (despite the fact that they look nothing like baby dinosaurs) and starts to lick them as a dog would groom her puppies. Yes, this is, indeed, silly, and there’s very little evidence of tongue in cheek to make the journey more palatable for adults in the audience.

This South Korean/American effort tries to legitimise itself by using a cast of well-known American actors (such as Jane ‘Glee’ Lynch, Melanie Griffith, and two available Baldwin brothers), but the very audience who might recognise these names is alienated by a script that lacks nuance or wit.

The computer-animated feature film genre is dominated by the likes of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and Fox, and these studios have huge budgets and resources, so it strikes me as insanity to try and compete in this field. The lack of sophistication in, for example, the character’s facial movements, is obvious. The Hollywood studios also have teams of sharp writers who hone the storylines and dialogue, thus engaging audiences in a complex fashion. If the film had been made as a ten-minute ride attraction, for showing in “4-D theatres”, such as the one at Gold Reef City, I believe it would have found its niche – and enjoyed a longer exhibition life, to boot.  In its defence, this naive romp is far superior to the first South African 3-D animated movie, Jock of the Bushveld, although that’s like saying that the sensation of sea sand in one’s shoes is more pleasant than having one’s knees vigorously sandpapered… The stereoscopic work is dodgy, and backgrounds sometimes pop forward unintentionally, as was often the case in the South African movie.

The film’s heart is in the right place, however, and I suspect that there is enough racing, chasing and general action to engage Grade Ones, but that it will prove a trial for parents taking their children out for a Saturday morning treat.

Little Guy Brings Big Tech

December 14, 2012

 

Image

♪ “Heigh ho, heigh ho / It’s off to do battle with a bunch of CGI creatures we go…” ♫

An Active 3-D review
Movie: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3-D
Rating: *** (out of 5)

This adventure film, apart from being the apparently “highly anticipated” prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, will probably be remembered for ushering in a new era of cinemagoing in South Africa. 

It’s the first movie to be shown, in selected theatres, in HFR (i.e high frame rate), the 48 frames-per-second format (i.e. double the frame-rate of standard cinema fare).

It’s also the first film exhibited in South Africa (or indeed, anywhere in the southern hemisphere) in Dolby’s new theatrical technology, Dolby Atmos.

More about these movie sciences in another entry; suffice it to say that the HFR, Digital 3-D, Dolby Atmos industry launch at Umhlanga’s Gateway cine 1 in Durban on Tuesday, December 11th, represented a milestone for those of us lucky enough to attend it.

Let us return, however, to our friend the Hobbit in the shire. The tale’s filmic interpreter, Peter Jackson – like his counterpart in the epics league, James Cameron – is quick to fall for a story’s roadshow potential, as opposed to its more human dimensions. Peter Jackson just can’t say no to an action/conflict scene; an indulgence that drives me to distraction. After about two hours, I was thinking, “Yeah; nice noisy action climax – are we done, and may I go for a wee now?” But no; there’s another where that came from. And another…

All of this spectacle deviates, I believe, from the quiet charm of the book. But what Jackson knows about subtle, Tyler Perry knows about funny. The special effects are indeed breathtaking, but they’re so densely laid on, and so protracted, that their splendor soon wears off. And they detract from the performances that members of the cast may be attempting to offer us. Although I remember The Hobbit to be only one book, largish tome as it was, I’m not sure that it contains enough narrative meat to be stretched out over three films, as the filmmakers are planning to do.

An impressive scene in the latter part of this first installment, between Gollum and Bilbo Baggins, supplies the dramatic stuff that I expect of such a saga – which goes to show that Mr Jackson is still capable of being a good director of drama… when he isn’t being distracted by his special effects toybox.

Ghouls Just Want to Have Fun

November 9, 2012
Image
Bold. Original. Entertaining. Abnormanny so.

An Active 3D Review: ParaNorman 3-D

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Wow – this one came out of left field… After the disappointment of that bland plod, Hotel Transylvania, I wasn’t prepared to invest much anticipation in this; what I had assumed to be more directionless kiddie-horror.

What we have here is an engaging and surprising tale set in a small town, Blithe Hollow, featuring a somewhat geeky schoolboy, Norman, who “sees dead people” (just as Haley Joel Osment had done some some years ago in The Sixth Sense). As he travels down the streets and sidewalks, Norman bumps into ghosts of the deceased, greeting them and conversing with them as if it were the most natural thing in the world. But, being as it certainly isn’t, he’s teased at school, and even Norman’s father (voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Jeff Garlin) is starting to lose his patience with what he regards as his child’s eccentric and antisocial whimsies. He isn’t even impressed by his son’s regular chats with his late paternal grandmother (voiced by that zany doyenne of Broadway, Elaine Stritch).

Further eroding poor Norman’s reputation at school is the awkward fact that the town’s resident alcoholic/tramp/loon is his uncle. The open-minded lad is neither embarrassed nor frightened by this wild and inconvenient relative, though his parents don’t approve of any contact. It’s bad enough, after all, that their kid goes around kibitzing with mid-air.

But it’s no surprise that the poor uncle has gone off his rocker; he’s been sitting on a horrific secret for decades. He also knows that the only person who can help him with this frightening predicament – and save the sleepy town to boot – is his nephew, Norman…

Now that I’ve feasted on it, I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to find a classification into which I could neatly slip this highly enjoyable romp. One thing I can assure you is that it’s no kids’ picture. It’s way too dark for that. After a scene in which our young hero attempts to take a book from the grip of a recently deceased person and ends up desperately trying to wrestle the object off the old dude, given that rigor mortis has set in… I resolved to nudge this title out of the ‘small fry’ domain. Yes, it’s animated, and yes, it’s the story of an alienated young boy, but any resemblance to cute, family-friendly fare ends right there.

Every single frame of this wonderful adventure has been invested with care, humour and passion, and I delighted in its wicked characterisations, beautifully realised backgrounds, and its unapologetically dark and impish sense of fun.

[Oh, and by the way: credit geeks such as your truly are rewarded with a sequence toward the end of the closing credit crawl, in which... nah, I won't reveal it.]


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.