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.

Advertisements

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.]

And so to Dredd…

September 28, 2012

Image

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!

I have my reservations…

September 28, 2012

Image

An Active3D review: Hotel Transylvania
Rating: *½

Genndy Tartakovsky built his reputation – such as it is – by churning out cheaply-assembled Cartoon Network series such as Powerpuff Girls. Which means that he’s qualified to make a 3-D animated feature, right? Well, not in my eyes.

Count Dracula, we learn, has built a hotel exclusively for the use of monsters. Cue the Mummy, a mis-named Frankenstein’s monster (remember that “Frankenstein” was the guy who made the monster), Quasimodo, and various other folk who would be deemed misfits outside of the hotel’s rarefied atmosphere. Into their milieu stumbles a young skateboarder from the regular human world , and romance blossoms between him and Dracula’s daughter – an issue of concern to Dracula (and to audiences now wearied of Romeo and Juliet rehashes).

But never mind; something might still have been rescued from the paper-thin plot. It isn’t, however. Instead of investing their energy in characterisation and the plot arc (both strong suits over at Pixar), the filmmakers are constantly distracted by any opportunity for a quick gag – and most of these gags are lame, sad to say.

What’s also lamentable is that Tartakovsky’s wasted a strong voice cast; try Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi and Jon Lovitz (the latter two being two fave character actors of mine). In the lead voice role is Adam Sandler, cloning Steve Carell’s vocal performance in Despicable Me.

There’s little here to tickle – or maintain – one’s interest.

Get an ‘Eiffel’ of this!

September 14, 2012

Image

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

Image

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.

Tangy Perry-Perry

September 7, 2012

Active3D Review: Katy Perry: Part of Me 3-D

Rating: *** (out of 5)

First up, let’s get this straight: I’m not a fan or follower of Ms Perry or her music. I was aware of her biggest hit, and that was about it. I’m also not in her target group, either age or gender-wise.

So it was with trepidation that I approached the preview screening of this movie. Yet – despite the slings and arrows that I might suffer as a result of this declaration – I found this to be a reasonably entertaining movie! Ms Perry appears to be a savvy and warm-natured individual who’s handled her rise to fame with a great deal of grace and maturity. To her credit, i seems that she has brought her mates along with her on her journey to success, so her pals who did her make-up and costuming for her during her struggle days of anonymity are now there alongside her, dressing and preening her for her huge concerts; and huge they are. Perry’s aesthetic is baby-doll playroom stuff; all brash colours, rosy cheeks and garish wigs, and the 3-D cinematography captures these lively, upbeat shows superbly.