G.I. Joe: Retaliation Review – America: F*ck Yeah!


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, Channing Tatum, Adrianne Palicki


Release date: March 28th, 2013

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


3/5

Best Part: Willis and Johnson

Worst Part: RZA as the blind master

Hollywood’s latest trend has been to adapt cartoons and toy franchises into big-budget movies. Toy company Hasbro is rolling in cash after the commercial success of the Transformers films and Battleship. However, commercial success doesn’t guarantee quality. Arguably, the best films with the Hasbro name on them are the G.I. Joe flicks. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the better of the two, but that’s still not saying much.

Dwayne Johnson.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is silly yet enjoyable. The plot, such as it is, is a lot saner than I thought it would be. It starts off with Duke (Channing Tatum) and Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) enjoying military life as members of the G.I. Joe Unit. They save countless lives, defeat super-villains with ease, and lap up everything at their disposal. However, their time spent protecting the Earth is about to hit a huge, ahem, roadblock. On a mission to reclaim nuclear arms in Pakistan, they are attacked by the vicious underground military unit known as Cobra. The attack was organised by none other than the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce). As announced rather hastily in the trailer, the president is not who he seems. The only Joes left alive after the attack are Roadblock, Snake Eyes (Ray Park), Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), and Flint (D.J. Cotrona). Teaming up with the original G.I. Joe member, General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), the remaining Joes must track down those responsible and bring them to justice.

Snake Eyes.

The original cartoon was designed to advertise the hugely popular action figures. Let’s make one thing clear; both live-action films are just as stupid and flawed as the original material. They are low-brow in every sense. The thing that makes them better than the other Hasbro flicks is their sense of humour. Both films wink at the audience. It’s as if everyone involved is aware of the franchise’s silly premise, catch phrases, and iconography. The first G.I. Joe flick, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was an ultra-dumb yet fun cartoon in live action form. It was essentially Team America: World Police without the satirical edge or marionettes. It reached for Transformers success without understanding anything about story or character consistency. Its sequel gives the franchise a facelift. This pseudo-reboot gets rid of the original’s ultra-shiny and unconvincing special effects to deliver a rollicking thrill-ride. Gone are the accelerator suits, advanced laser-weapons and ice palaces. Here, we get a cross between the original and grittier ensemble action flicks such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The A-Team. For the most part, the settings, costumes and gun-fights in G.I. Joe: Retaliation are tangible. Machine guns and camouflage army outfits suit this interpretation of G.I. Joe. This style may draw a larger crowd to this ridiculous franchise.

Cobra Commander & Storm Shadow.

This movie diverts from the crass and unessential elements of the Transformers films and Battleship. Unlike those movies, G.I. Joe: Retaliation knows what it is and doesn’t try to exceed its grasp. It revels in its predictable ‘men on a mission’ story without becoming jingoistic or insulting. Unlike the original, there are no unnecessary romantic sub-plots, predictable revelations, or awkward familial ties between characters. Here, it’s a revenge flick driven by both its action set pieces and spy narrative. The action set pieces are, of course, why the average Joe (du dun chh!) would want to see this movie. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint. Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2 the Streets, Step Up 3D) utilises his talents to master these set pieces. His handling of choreography and movement brings fluidity and exhilaration to each action scene. Thankfully, he avoids quick cuts and shaking cameras. The film’s best set piece is shown in many of the trailers. The ninja fight across the mountain face is a lot more exciting and vertigo-inducing than expected. Unfortunately, the action sequences past this point are anti-climactic.

“In the immortal words of Jay-Z: “Whatever deity may guide my life, dear lord don’t let me die tonight. But if I shall before I wake, I’d accept my fate.”” (Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

Bruce Willis & Adrianne Palicki.

The witty script, by Zombieland writers Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick, saves this film. The iconic elements of the G.I. Joe franchise are subtly and fondly peppered throughout this film. The all-important Joe characters shine on screen. Roadblock is a nice addition to this series. He is given a greater back-story than expected. He also becomes the strong leader needed in a time of crisis. Dwayne Johnson’s physique and natural charm stand out here. The original Joe’s inclusion was also a nice surprise. Willis brings his dry wit to an otherwise straight-faced role. Palicki and Cotrona liven up their one dimensional characters. However, faring poorly is former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. He is laughable as Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow’s master, sporting both white-tipped facial hair and a strange accent. Asian actor Byung-Hun Lee does the best he can with some of the film’s worst dialogue. Except for Pryce’s ego-maniacal president character, the villains are uninteresting. The Cobra Commander and Firefly (Ray Stevenson) are over the top. You begin to miss the Joes whenever they aren’t on screen.

If you are willing to suspend disbelief, then you may enjoy G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Aided by the charisma of Willis and Johnson, the film is a non-stop thrill-ride. This film has its problems (e.g. too many silly code names), but it understands just how preposterous this franchise is.

Verdict: A silly yet enjoyable sequel.

A Good Day to Die Hard Review – Please Die Quickly!


Director: John Moore

Writer: Skip Woods

Stars: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir


Release date: February 14th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


2/5

Best part: Willis and Courtney.

Worst part: The incomprehensible plot.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Rocky Balboa and Rambo? These films were sequels that brought their respected series’s back into the spotlight. 80s-era franchises are loved by the masses. Today, studios are milking series’s dry for nostalgia’s sake. Even looking at contemporary film franchises, we currently have six Fast and Furious films, four Terminator films and, now, five Die Hard films. Having watched A Good Day to Die Hard, I believe that this series should follow its title’s own advice.

Bruce Willis.

It’s by far the worst in the series and a waste of time in more ways than one. It’s a cynical exercise in Hollywood politics that completely forgets what made the original the classic that it is. Watching this film, you can see how Hollywood has fallen from where it was in the 80s. The plot of AGDTDH is not important or interesting in any way, but I’m still going to describe it. The seemingly immortal John McClane (Bruce Willis) is back in action. This time around, he must travel to Russia to get his son Jack (Jai Courtney) out of trouble. Jack, a CIA agent, is arrested over a catastrophic assassination attempt. His mission is to set political prisoner Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) free. Komarov is set to stand trial, but must retrieve a file containing incriminating evidence against corrupt politician Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). Before you can say “Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia”, The McClanes, Komarov, and Komarov’s daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) must travel to Chernobyl to retrieve the file before Chagarin’s henchmen catch up to them.

Jai Courtney.

This film is somehow much dumber than its already pathetic title. It seems that hack writer Skip Woods (Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and hack director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Max Payne) have failed to grasp any understanding of this series. It has bigger issues to contend with than just a clichéd narrative. Many action flicks have predictable plots, yet can survive on other strengths. When analysing it as a mindless action flick, AGDTDH is terrible. But when judging it as a Die Hard instalment, it’s even worse. What makes Die Hard one of the best action flicks in history is its basic elements. It contains a simple story aided by many fun and jaw-dropping moments. With the fifth instalment, everything is pumped up to a cartoonish extent. The action set-pieces have an epic sense of scale, yet fail to convince. They stretch both plausibility and patience to breaking point. It’s awkward watching the many distracting and unnecessary visual flourishes at Moore’s disposal. The excessive use of CGI destroys action scenes that should be tangible and enjoyable. However, the stunts, noisy explosions and gunfights are fun. The leaps and bounds made by certain characters are positively baffling and add to this otherwise empty experience.

Yuliya Snigir.

This film provides a rather uninteresting and inaccurate interpretation of the John McClane character. In the first three films, John McClane was a relatable citizen. He was essentially the action hero version of the ‘Hitchcockian’ lead character; always in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Die Hard 4.0 hit cinemas, that vulnerable side of John McClane vanished and suddenly he was launching cop cars into helicopters. In AGDTDH, he is essentially a superhero. He can jump through windows, crash cars and dodge bullets without receiving any broken bones or concussions. I’m looking forward to seeing him in The Avengers 2. Where the film lost me was in its insanely bombastic car chase. John, Jack and the slimy European baddies use three large vehicles to destroy half of Moscow. They obliterate hundreds of cars and structures in a 10 minute sequence, without receiving disabling injuries or police interference. In fact, the police are strangely vacant throughout this film. John and Jack must fight helicopters, terrorists and bad one-liners by themselves. John also becomes an unlikable and angry tourist. At one point, he knocks out an innocent Russian man for not speaking English. From then on, I found it difficult to care about his struggle.

“The sh*t we do for our kids. Yippie-kai-yay, motherf*cker.” (John McClane (Bruce Willis), A Good Day to Die Hard).

The A Good Day to Die Hard gang.

Willis is still charming. He overcomes his putrid dialogue whilst injecting some life into his beloved character for a fifth time. Willis reminds me of my dad- tough, hard-working and bald. He and Courtney have significant chemistry. Courtney, fresh off of his villainous role in Jack Reacher, is charismatic. He does what he can with the inept material here. The relationship between John and Jack fails to ignite. Like the conflict in Die Hard 4.0, the McClanes face-off with both the bad guys and each other. The father-son shouting matches never stop and soon become sitcom-like. John saves Jack’s life, only to be treated with distain. At the same time, John’s comments about Jack’s CIA work are condescending (“The 007 of Plainfield, New Jersey”). The only charming character in AGDTDH is a Frank Sinatra-loving cabbie. Every Die Hard flick should, at the very least, have a strong villain. Alan Rickman and Jeremy Irons brought charm and prickly demeanours to their immaculate roles as Hans and Simon Gruber respectively. Even Timothy Olyphant shined as Die Hard 4.0’s computer whiz baddie. Here, there are too many inferior villains. None of them stand out beyond the film’s confusing political espionage sub-plot.

AGDTDH is an example of how not to make an action film. With Die Hard 6 on the horizon, everyone associated should go back to the drawing board. Hollywood’s worst ideas and impulses have been injected into this dumb action flick with the Die Hard name slapped on it. If they are looking for an even stupider title for the next instalment, may I suggest ‘A Die Hard Day’s Night’?

Verdict: A vapid and disappointing fifth instalment.

Broken City Review – City Slickers


Director: Allen Hughes

Writer: Brian Tucker

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffery Wright


Release date: January 18th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


3/5

Best part: Russell Crowe’s intimidating performance.

Worst part: Its ham-fisted messages.

Many people, in some way or another, were hit by the global financial crisis. A few years have passed, and Hollywood has since made a stack of films focusing on this hot button issue. Broken City avoids the bombastic nature of many post- economic crisis action/crime flicks to deliver a subtle and old-fashioned crime-thriller.

Mark Wahlberg.

It’s a dark and gritty film noir that reminded me of what Hollywood used to be. Sure, it has its drawbacks, but I was still able to grab onto this engaging story. Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is arrested and tried for the alleged murder of a young black man. He is released from his shackles after a controversial hearing. His victory, however, is short lived. The mayor, Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and Taggart’s superior, Capt. Carl Fairbanks (Jeffery Wright), persuade Taggart to quit the force. Seven years later, Taggart is running a small business as a private investigator. Running out of money (despite his forceful nature), he pushes himself to take an assignment given to him by Hostetler. Hostetler believes that his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is cheating on him. Afraid that her debauchery might affect his upcoming re-election campaign, Hostetler asks Taggart to tail her. From that point on, multiple threads intertwine as Taggart gets into one bad situation after another.

Wahlberg & Russell Crowe.

Despite some juicy plot developments in the film’s second half, it’s still a by-the-numbers crime -thriller. The film lacks a sense of urgency and style. Every so often, the slow pacing would dull the film down to an extraneous extent. I don’t think it should’ve been a mindless action flick, but it needed a little less conversation. Having said that, it’s a narrative that is easy to connect with and enjoy. It may be typical on many levels, but sometimes that is a good thing. It, however, is still not as smart as it thinks it is. At points, it feels like the director and screenwriter are hammering nails into your head. Over and over again, we are reminded of how scummy politicians, cops and ‘one percenters’ can be. The use of symbolism and metaphor isn’t subtle in any way. It’s a film that lambasts how New York City has evolved over the past decade. The rich look down on the poor, race relations are at an all-time low, and people are too afraid to help one another. It discusses these issues without acknowledging Rudolph Giuliani’s beneficial time in office.

Crowe & Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Brian Tucker’s script falters on many levels. This is a formulaic thriller that lives on the strength of its cast and director. This is Allen Hughes’ first directorial effort by himself. He and his brother, Albert, have directed many influential action/thrillers together since their debut feature Menace II Society. He pushes every plot twist and turn on the audience without excessive force. Despite the film’s slow pace, Broken City is terrifically tense and punchy at points. The problem with the direction, however, is that Hughes focuses too much on the messages without giving the film a sense of style. The Hughes brothers have created kinetic visuals for many of their movies. From Hell placed us into a shiny Victorian-era London at the time of Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, The Book of Eli, despite its flaws, had a sumptuous post- apocalyptic visual sensibility. Broken City is nothing but, for all intents and purposes, a very moody thriller. Whereas Gangster Squad heightened its visual style to a cartoonish extent, this film doesn’t push it far enough. Some of the costumes and hairstyles give the film a nuanced 70s look, but these stylistic elements are very slight.

“There are some wars you fight and some wars you walk away from. This isn’t the fighting kind.” (Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), Broken City).

Wahlberg, Crowe & Jeffery Wright.

This film is very enjoyable, particularly if you are interested in film noir. If you look closely, you can spot elements of many influential crime films such as L.A. Confidential, Klute, and Chinatown. It contains many film noir clichés, yet it leaves the trench coats, fedoras and cigarettes behind. It relies, to a certain extent, on the strength of its characters and performances. Wahlberg plays the down-on-his-luck lead character. He is an old-school private eye and a brutish male with several understandable weaknesses. Women and alcohol are continually waved in front of him. The banter between him and his cute blonde assistant is funnier than you think it would be. They embody small business owners hit by the troubling economic situation. Wahlberg has made many hits (The Italian Job, The Departed) and stinkers (The HappeningMax Payne). Not only does he play cops or criminals in most of his movies, but he plays all of them with the same intensity and range. He is still a charismatic on-screen presence. He brings toughness to this already intriguing role. Russell Crowe steals every scene he’s in as the slimy and vindictive mayor. Zeta-Jones, however, is under-utilised as NYC’s scheming first lady.

Broken City suffers from a lack of originality and style. Despite this, it’s a subtle and likeable take on a classic film noir story. The cast and director pull a rabbit out of a hat; creating an enjoyable, witty and intensifying crime-thriller. Thanks to Wahlberg and Hughes’ collaboration, Broken City scrapes by on being pure, unadulterated comfort food cinema.

Verdict: An enjoyable yet problematic crime-thriller.

Side Effects Review – Addictive Formula


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones


Release date: February 8th, 2013

Distributor:  Open Road Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


4/5

Best part: Soderbergh’s direction.

Worst part: Cartoonish supporting characters.

It’s ironic that acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh has made several movies about drugs, because his filmography is startlingly addictive. Soderbergh has made some of the best movies of the past two decades. His filmography features such hits as Out of Sight, Traffic, The Ocean’s trilogy, The Informant! and Erin Brockovich. Side Effects is his last feature film. Thankfully, his swan song may be one of the most intelligent films of his career.

Rooney Mara.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a sweet, young woman. She has waited four years for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to be released from prison. Unfortunately, she is struck down by her long-term bi-polar disorder. Her shaky mental state causes a failed suicide attempt. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is assigned to treat her on-going and dangerous condition. He prescribes Emily a new drug called Ablixa, recommended by Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The drug seems to work wonders for Emily. That is until the side effects kick in. She begins to sleepwalk incessantly around the house. Her erratic behaviour suddenly, and violently, transforms Emily into a legal nightmare for Dr. Banks. His life soon begins to fall apart. Having lost everyone’s trust, he becomes obsessed with discovering the real cause of Emily’s condition.

Jude Law.

Jude Law.

Soderbergh has a very distinctive and experimental style. He can fleetingly go from a mainstream production with a huge ensemble cast, to an indie flick with porn star Sasha Grey in the lead role (The Girlfriend Experience). He creates temperate character studies instead of typical Hollywood fodder. He will cap off his screen career with Behind the Candelabra, a Liberace biopic for HBO starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Afterwards, he will focus on painting and directing plays. He will be sorely missed. His latest film is an eclectic mix of influences and trademark flourishes. Soderbergh instantaneously flips the narrative; turning this sensitive character study into a Sex, lies and Videotape/Les Diaboliques-style drama, and then into a legal/journalistic thriller in the vein of Michael Clayton and Zodiac. Every twist and turn hits with a knock-out punch as egos and motivations are tested. However, some of the third act plot twists are a bit hokey. An adjective that is thrown around way too often is ‘Hitchcockian’ (thanks for nothing, Brian de Palma!) I will say, however, that the term fits Side Effects like a glove. From the opening shot of a bleak cityscape, you can pinpoint winks and nudges to such Hitchcock films as PsychoVertigo and Dial M for Murder. Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities.

Channing Tatum.

Soderbergh, much like Hitchcock, has a visual style that places him above other prominent directors. It’s very easy to identify his cool and moody style. He is a true A-list artist that is known to play with indie film-making sensibilities. Nowadays, it’s hard to find directors with a taste for creating visual flourishes. His camera angles and movements, for example, are both unique and indelible. With just a few distinctive shots, he can make likeable characters seem peculiar. His use of depth of field is another important aspect of his direction. The camera comes in and out of focus at odd points, putting pressure on the viewer without using excessive force. His colour-coded scenes also paint an emotionally charged picture. His earthy and unsettling green and yellow tones (prevalent in many of his films) bring every scene and situation down to a real world level. His touch is not just in the visuals. The swift editing and pulsating jazz/electronica score help to create a cracking pace for this low key, atmospheric thriller. Soderbergh is certainly an opinionated director. Throughout his career, he has discussed many important issues (world-wide panic, economic crisis etc.). Traffic delved into the US/Mexico drug trade whilst Contagion, written by Side Effects writer Scott Z. Burns, depicted a world-wide epidemic. Side Effects, on the other hand, explores Soderbergh’s stance against prescription drugs and pharmaceutical companies.

“I won’t be able to tell the truth if I take anymore pills.” (Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), Side Effects).

Catherine Zeta-Jones.

In the first act, Soderbergh and Burns objectively and meticulously set up the conflict. Ever so slowly, however, the film turns into an all-out assault on America’s most profitable drug companies. It becomes an in-depth examination of pharmaceutical industry wheeling and dealing. Dr. Banks and his colleagues almost become drug dealers, dishing out meds for a quick and hefty profit. This film thrives on its winning performances and intensifying characters. Mara continues her scorching run after the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She conveys the full range of mental and emotional states, becoming a true Hitchcockian lead character. Her china doll look is in stark contrast to her failing mental and moral state. Law gives a passionate performance as a sympathetic man on the edge in more ways than one. Scarily determined to find the truth, Dr. Banks’ search for answers is a neo-noir-like race against time and injustice. Tatum, capping off his ‘Soderbergh hat-trick’ after Haywire and Magic Mike, impresses in a small yet dignified role. Unfortunately, Zeta-Jones delivers an unconvincing performance as a vindictive she-devil. Sporting more make-up than the Joker, she hams it up to a cartoonish extent. Many of the supporting characters are one note. Dr. Banks’ wife, for example, is nothing but a shrill obstacle. Their relationship is just too shaky to be believable.

Whether you like it or not, Soderbergh has closed the curtain on his film-making career. In my opinion, he couldn’t have done a better job. Warning: Side Effects may lead to multiple viewings and an addiction to Soderbergh’s previous works. With a stellar cast and dynamite narrative in tow, Side Effects varies between mesmerising and upsetting. Ironic, really.

Verdict: An intense and stylish drama-thriller.

Oz the Great and Powerful Review – Franco’s Feverish Fantasy


Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), L. Frank Baum (novels)

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams


Release date: March 8th, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Raimi’s direction.

Worst part: James Franco in the lead role.

Whether you are a spirited youngster, wicked witch or cowardly lion, everyone is fond of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. It was a fantasy adventure that defied expectations and became one of the most quotable and referenced films of all time. Any sequel, prequel or re-imagining would pale in the shadow of the original. But the team at Disney have had a crack at it anyway. Oz the Great and Powerful is a surprisingly modest and charming family film.

James Franco.

It is also stands somewhat proudly next to the original. Disney has brought many things back to life. But was this a good idea? Sure, the budget and hard work is plastered on the screen, but did we need it? I think so. The original gave the viewer some light-hearted thrills shortly before WWII. This return to Oz also provides an enjoyable escape from reality. The story itself is pretty straight forward. Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a frustrated, womanising young man trying at true love. Leaving his abused helper, Frank (Zach Braff), behind, a heavy gush of wind picks up his hot air Balloon and sucks him into a tornado (note the similarities to the original). Before you know it, he is transported to the bright and pristine world of Oz. On his journey, he meets the feisty Theodora (Mila Kunis), and Evanora (Rachel Weisz). With the help of Glinda the Good Witch (Michelle Williams), Oz must overcome his insecurities and rid the land of evil.

Rachel Weisz & Mila Kunis.

It’s been a while since the original was first released. The iconic elements remain with me the same way they do with popular culture. It’s a film that everyone thinks of when they hear the word ‘fantasy’. Recently, many big-budget fantasy epics have focused solely on the visuals; failing to grasp either characterisation or story (Alice in Wonderland, John Carter). Don’t get me wrong, Oz the Great and Powerful has its flaws. But it still defies huge expectations. This prequel has a certain charm to it. This tale diverts, for the most part, from the 1939 classic. It chooses instead to bring L. Frank Baum’s original ideas to life. This prequel looks at where it all began. Unlike most prequels, this movie never throws an excessive number of winks and nudges at you. When the references come, they are swift and clever (take some notes, George Lucas!). There are no glittery red shoes, no tin-men and no dogs named Toto. Having said all that, the script is very clichéd. We have seen is story done a thousand times before. They always have kooky characters, a snivelling villain, a timid hero and a prophecy. However, the dialogue and self-aware humour gives this traditional fairy tale a modern twist. The true magician at work here is the film’s director. Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series, The Spider-man trilogy) is one of the most respected and creative directors working today. He must’ve known you can’t move the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the original. Instead he creates his own vision out of the many clichéd elements on offer. His sense of wonder and nostalgia shines through every elaborate setting and camera angle.

Zach Braff’s monkey character.

The child in Raimi is fighting its way to the surface here. So is the young director famous for creating the phenomenon that is The Evil Dead. The opening and closing credits alone speak wonders for Raimi’s admiration of the original. His directorial flourishes don’t simply stand out; they push everything magical about this film out into the audience. Speaking of that, his use of 3D is both wonderful and wacky. Instead of subtly immersing the viewer, the 3D jumps out at them. The film starts out in a glorious wash of black and white. Raimi’s camera tracks through a crowd of kooky circus performers and attendees. It’s from this moment that the world of Oz is reborn for a new generation. Raimi is paying homage to cinema itself. Much like Hugo, old and new cinema techniques are smoothly pieced together. He believes that directors are some of the best magicians on Earth. The references to both Thomas Edison and old cinema technology are important to this big-budget extravaganza. Raimi has a keen eye for inventive visuals. The film transitions from black and white colour. At the same time, the aspect ratio expands from 4:3 to widescreen. These touches give the film a true sense of wonder. It discusses the magic of cinema whilst communicating to the young target audience. The movie touches on many popular film-making trends. Hollywood has recently released many films that are either based on nostalgia or popular childhood tales (Snow White and The Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters).

“I’ll put on the show of a lifetime! The likes of which the land of Oz has never seen! Magic! Mystery! Prestidigitation! It’ll be my greatest trick yet.” (Oscar Diggs (James Franco), Oz the Great and Powerful).

Michelle Williams.

This film is a step above many of those. Its visual style is what elevates this film above its competition. The special effects, though unconvincing at points, provide a bright technicolour look. The practical effects and creature designs are also second to none. The Munchkins, Tinkerers, peasants and flying monkeys create lasting emotional impact. Unfortunately, some of the iconic characters are miscast. Franco is, without a doubt, a talented actor. When he’s not stuffing up an Oscars ceremony, he is delivering powerful performances in movies such as 127 Hours and Milk. Having worked with Raimi before, he should be comfortable with his surroundings here. He, however, lacks the emotional range and charisma to pull off this type of leading man role. Actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner would’ve given the character a larger-than-life presence. Having said all that, Franco is still charming at points. His character, for the most part, is thoroughly unlikeable. He never becomes the courageous leader that was promised. Kunis is also miscast. As Theodora, she is given a classic 1930’s china doll look. Her natural beauty and charm stand out when they need to. However, Kunis fails to master the twists and turns of her character. Rachel Weisz is foreboding and sexy as Evanora. I still believe that Weisz and Kunis would’ve been better if they had switched roles. Michelle Williams, in one of her few mainstream roles, steals the show. As the story’s soul, Glenda the Good Witch is a fun character. Joey King and Zach Braff also excel as the China girl and Frank/Finley the Flying Monkey respectively.

Oz the Great and Powerful proves that Disney is a company full of imaginative ideas. Despite its flaws, this movie reaches out and grabs the viewer without letting go. To find a truly exciting family film, all you have to do is follow the yellow brick road. Tim Burton, eat your heart out!

Verdict: A light-hearted and inventive roller-coaster ride.

Cloud Atlas Review – Mysticism & Make-up


Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Writers: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer (screenplay), David Mitchell (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving


Release date: February 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: Germany, USA

Running time: 172 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The interweaving story-lines.

Worst part: The laughable make-up effects.

Have you ever stared up at the stars? Or studied the patterns embedded in your fingerprints? Or even truly embraced the people close to you? Don’t worry, these actions are completely normal. This behaviour is considered to be ‘philosophical’. Throughout history, man has strived to answer life’s big questions. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious and enthralling examination of the human condition. It’s an extraordinarily difficult film to analyse. This review may only cover a small fraction of what the film has presented.

Tom Hanks & Halle Berry.

This complex movie covers the past, present and future. The narrative is made up of six stories, each with their own significant plot-points. The first plot-thread is set in the South Pacific Ocean in 1849. An American Lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), arrives in the Chatham Islands during the California Gold Rush. He befriends a poorly treated Slave, Autua (David Gyasi). At the same time, his friendship with Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) takes a frightening turn. The next story, set in 1936, follows a young bisexual musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), journeying from Cambridge to Edinburgh. He gets a chance to work with one of the greatest composers of all time. But their partnership is far from ideal. The next story, set in 1973, depicts a journalist’s gruelling search for answers. The Journalist, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), finds herself in more trouble than she ever could’ve imagined. The next story, set in 2012, finds a London-based book publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), in hot water after a run-in with British gangsters. Searching for a place to hide, he finds himself locked up in a nursing home. In Neo- Seoul (2144), a dainty female clone, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae – the film’s stand-out performer), may hold the key to Earth’s survival. A resistance agent, Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again), must release her from a life of servitude. The last story is based in a post-apocalyptic world. Zachry (Hanks again) leads a peaceful tribe. He must guide Meronym (Berry again) across a wasteland known as ‘The Valley’. However, he is threatened by an evil spirit known as ‘Old Georgie’ (Hugo Weaving).

Jim Broadbent & Ben Whishaw.

The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have created the biggest independent production in film history. Their new film will struggle to make a profit. However, it’s nice to know that Hollywood directors are still willing to try new things. This is, as you can tell, a unique and expansive narrative. The writer/directors have inventively adapted David Mitchell’s book of the same name. The six story-lines are vastly different in both setting and tone. Bringing these contrasting stories together is a startling achievement. They are all bound together by certain ideas and character types. The 1849 story is seamlessly juxtaposed with the Neo-Seoul story. It takes a while for every story to intertwine. After a rather confusing prologue, I spent over two-thirds of the film trying to figure out how every story was connected. The film is bold and ambiguous (both very rare traits nowadays), but it could’ve been comprehensible at the same time. It becomes bogged down by pretentiousness in certain sections. The poetic dialogue and heavy handed messages are, to a certain extent, distractions. If you judge some of the story-lines on their own, you may notice that they are rather hollow. The nursing home story-line, for example, is shallow and easily could’ve been excised from the film.

Hugh Grant.

It’s a film that is both famous and infamous. It has already been placed on ‘Best of 2012’ and ‘Worst of 2012’ lists (if you hate my review, you should read Time Magazine’s write-up!). However, Hollywood films of this magnitude and complexity have always been met with mixed reactions. Despite minor flaws, it’s a film with so many positives. The use of metaphor and symbolism is nothing short of mesmerising. Cloud Atlas discusses how one person can change the entire universe. Our actions can shape time, space, identity and/or culture. The post-apocalyptic story-thread is poignant and rich. This Apocalypto-style world enthrallingly bursts into life. This story-line pushes the film to its enthralling climax. It discusses the fact vs. belief debate. This debate is de-constructed; proving that both fact and belief can lead to hate, betrayal and/or suffering. The editing is Cloud Atlas’ saving grace. All six story-lines are welded together; turning this delicate sci-fi drama into a roller-coaster ride of gargantuan proportions. Certain story-threads interweave in a light-hearted manner. For example, characters in Neo-Seoul will watch video footage featuring events from another story. These transitions relieve the many jarring tonal shifts. The film distracted me by hurriedly switching from a slapstick comedy to an intense corporate espionage thriller.

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” (Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), Cloud Atlas). 

Doona Bae.

This 3 hour examination of humanity and fate gets bogged down by its own hubris. The writer/directors have, in the past, created some remarkable achievements. But they have also created some stinkers. They put too much of themselves into this film. At one point, one of the characters throws a critic off of a balcony. This was an unsubtle and slightly offensive way of expressing an opinion. The Wachowskis are clearly still bitter about their last three critical and commercial bombs (the Matrix sequels, Speed Racer). Pet projects of A-list directors have failed in the past (Sucker Punch, Southland Tales, The Fountain). This film does succeed, but there are still some truly laughable elements. Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) has drastically changed throughout her many years in the spotlight. The Wachowskis believe that anyone can change. The actors are forced out of their comfort zones to fit the ‘identity crisis/genetic experimentation’ theme. Caucasian, Black and Asian actors switch between varying classes, races and genders. The make-up effects are, for the most part, extremely unconvincing. Certain actors have genetic qualities that continually shine through the prosthetics (Keith David in particular). Some characters look like they’ve stepped out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Ambitious, excessive and intensive; Cloud Atlas carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. It’s a tale unlike any other. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have created a beautiful movie about environmentalism, politics, capitalism, love, philosophy and sociology.

Verdict: A moving and ambitious work of art.