Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

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.

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.

Little Guy Brings Big Tech

December 14, 2012

 

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♪ “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
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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.]

And so to Dredd…

September 28, 2012

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In 1995, I was unfortunate enough to have been exposed to that dreary Sylvester Stallone movie, Judge Dredd. The good news was that this was in the early days of the SDDS digital sound system, and the sound system in the Sandton City cinema in which I was watching the film kept slipping out of sync – which gave me ample excuse to flee the theatre. [South African cinemas never seemed to get SDDS right, incidentally. Sad, but that’s old history now, and outside of the ambit of this discussion.]

As it appears to be with most films set in the future, Dredd 3-D’s setting is post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that the film was shot in South Africa. There are street scenes shot in downtown Johannesburg that don’t even need set-dressing, ravaged and garbage-strewn as they are…

The narrative revolves around a banned narcotic called SLO-MO that, as the name suggests, affords users a sense of slow-motion euphoria. So, if the writers are to be believed, a prohibition mentality will persist into the future.  Despite the embarrassing failure of alcohol prohibition in the States. Despite the failure of the risible “War on Drugs” that currently kills more people than it purports to save. The action happens in a huge apartment building that falls under the ‘jurisdiction’ of a drug gang (reminiscent of Hillbrow today – right, South Africans?) The deal on Dredd, in case you aren’t in on it, is that the law-enforcement officers in this future society each have the authority to act as judge, jury and executor – yet another South African parallel.

Judge Dredd and a female rookie step into this urban threat zone, which goes into immediate lock-down. Let the shooting begin! The film’s star, Karl Urban, isn’t afforded much of an opportunity to perform, given that all we see of him is his mouth and chin. Given these constraints, Urban acquits himself with dignity, and the film earns kudos for keeping its look-and-feel faithful to its “graphic novel” origins. Olivia Thirlby is smart, sassy and grittily glamorous as the new kid on the block, and the 3-D is clean and effective.  

So, I had dragged my heels going in, and emerged pleasantly surprised. Of course, they do have the added benefit of the comparison to Stallone’s dreadful original!

Get an ‘Eiffel’ of this!

September 14, 2012

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An Active 3D Review: A Monster in Paris 3-D

Rating: **** (out of 5)

It’s Paris in the early 1900s; cars are noisy and the movies are silent. Emile, a timid cinema projectionist is hopelessly in love with the young lady who works in the ticket booth, but he’s too bashful to make his move, as he believes that he’s too plain – and short – to appeal to her. If he only he could be tall, devil-may-care and confident around women – like Raoul, who runs a one-van transport service, delivering, amongst other things, the reels of film that Emile exhibits at his place of work.

Despite his air of ease and finesse, however, Raoul is astonishingly clumsy, and, when his curiosity gets the better of him and he fiddles around in a botanist’s research lab, he inadvertently creates the monster of the film’s title. Further than that I will not reveal, other than to say that the film’s primary villain is a corrupt, scheming Police Commissioner – a concept that’s familiar to South Africans, who’ve had to endure two corrupt Police Commissioners in a row – and could’ve had a third to contend with, had there not been a concerted effort from opposition parties and the press to block his appointment.

Those who know their movie history will spot the references to Universal Studio’s classic horrors of the ’30s, whilst pretty much everyone from teens upwards should spot the parallels with Phantom of the Opera (narrative and otherwise).

It’s a musical, and though its songs may not be as memorable as those of the Disney animated movies of the past seven and a half decades, you’ll probably find yourself exiting the theatre humming the theme tune, as I ‘someone I know’ couldn’t help doing…

Apparently, in most of the countries where it’s already been released, the film has garnered raves from the critics, whilst showing only moderate box office receipts. All of which helps to prove my theory that most people shouldn’t be allowed out in the streets. This is a charming, funny, quirky, imaginative – and exciting – animated adventure that truly deserves a wide audience.

Resident Milla: Again

September 14, 2012

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An Active 3D Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

Rating: ** (out of 5)

It’s hard to believe, but it appears that there’s still a call for writer/director Paul WS Anderson’s ‘Resident Evil’ movies, starring Milla Jovovich as Alice.

Normally Hollywood’s A-listers desert a franchise after the first or second movie, but dear Ms J,  forever teetering in that limbo twixt A and B list, is hanging in there for dear life: It was Resident Evil in 2002, Resident Evil: Apocalypse in 2004, Resident Evil: Extinction in 2007, Resident Evil: Afterlife in 2010, and now, Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012. Star Wars is one of the few sci-fi franchises to have had more sequels tucked under its belt – and, let’s be frank, it deserves to.  If the ‘Resident Evil’ movies persist for much longer, the Russkie ex-model will be fighting the baddies off with her Zimmer frame…

This latest chapter in the canon was better than I expected, however – bearing in mind that I’d set the bar rather low. Perhaps because I’ve missed most of the sequels in-between, my tolerance levels were kinder going in. The storyline is some mumbo-jumbo about a virus that’s turning the human race into a brand of super-zombie, and a mega-corporate – headed up by a super-computer with the soul of a vindictive little girl – that wants to pretty much decimate everyone.

Early on in the movie, I enjoyed an exciting scene in which these rather unkind zombies lay siege on quiet suburbia. It was, I thought, one of the film’s strongest moments; largely because it takes place in a setting to which most of us can relate – as opposed to some computer-generated spacecraft or planet. The contrast of these blood-hungry savages against the sedentary pastel lifestyle of the nine-to-fivers is potent and exciting.

But, almost as if to punish me for this early pleasure, most of the rest of the film takes place in the usual drab settings we’ve come to expect of the genre. (Of course, there is that combat sequence that takes place in an antiseptically-white corridor…) The seemingly unending slo-mo martial arts fight sequences soon lose their ability to impress – much as I’m sure the post-production team sat there oo-ing and aaah-ing at their craftsmanship late into the night, in their darkened edit suites.

The problem with watching these based-upon-video-games movies is that:

a) they tend to be peopled with humourless, one-dimensional characters – as this movie is, and

b) it reminds one of visiting one’s older cousin Ed; the one who’d graciously allow you to watch him playing video games, but would never let you touch the game controller. By this I mean that the movie looks, moves and sounds like a video game, but ultimately doesn’t deliver the satisfaction of allowing one to steer or propel the characters. Which can only be alienating and frustrating.

In fairness, it has to be said that the 3-D is pretty damn impressive – with a few gratuitous show-off moments (though no one’s ducking any more!) – and the overall visual appeal is equally striking. Sadly, it takes more than an impressive aesthetic to sustain an audience’s interest – well, certainly this audience member.