Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Review: Bumbling Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Ransom Riggs (novel)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney

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Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


2/5

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

The BFG Review: Spielbergian Schmaltz


Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (novel)

Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


3/5

Best part: Mark Rylance.

Worst part: The uneven pacing.

If you have even a mild interest in cinema, you cannot go past Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s excellent multi-decade career. It is so hard to believe the director of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, The Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich is the same guy!

Spielberg is the best action/drama/comedy/family-adventure filmmaker in cinema history. He can transport millions to other worlds thanks to his style, command of the system and collection of regular collaborators. He returns with the adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s many seminal children’s stories. The BFG begins with miserable child Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), living in an orphanage fittingly labelled ‘The Orphanage’, wandering the halls until 3am. Sophie unexpectedly sees the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) traipsing the streets of 1980s London. The BFG, seeing Sophie seeing him, takes her well north of Great Britain to Giant Country.

Spielberg, despite immense critical and commercial acclaim over an extensive career, has been a little hit and miss throughout the past decade. For every Lincoln or Adventures of Tintin, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or War Horse. The BFG is certainly one of the filmmaker’s lesser efforts. Unlike his children’s classics, it never finds the balance between comedy and drama. In love with the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay, the director leaves little on the cutting room floor. After a brisk opening, this fantasy-adventure plods through its first two-thirds. Sophie and BFG spend an exorbitant amount of time in and around his multi-layered home. Restricted to a handful of settings and characters, it sorely cries out for a more epic scope and tighter pacing. Although the focus on conversation over action is intriguing, the story and characters aren’t quite interesting enough for a 2-hour run-time.

The antagonists – some much bigger and nastier giants including Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) – show up to cause trouble. One set-piece focuses on the book’s arresting themes. Sophie can only watch on in horror as the bigger giants needlessly pick on BFG for being kind and subdued. To a certain extent, Sophie and BFG’s core dynamic is quaint. The movie finds a new lease on life when the two meet up with Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) and servants Mary (Rebecca Hall) and Tibbs (Rafe Spall). Slapstick hijinks and fart jokes galore, Spielberg dives into new territory here. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams once again serve Spielberg’s vision with aplomb. Rylance, backing up his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, returns to Spielberg’s realm with a fizzy mo-cap performance. However, Barnhill immediately veers into over-the-top-child-actor mode.

The BFG, unquestionably, provides a warm and fuzzy time at the movies. Its chases, dream-catching sequences, and commendable cast make for several memorable ‘Spielberg Face’ moments. However, the woe and whimsy trip Spielberg over; failing to delve deeper into the material’s darker shades.

Verdict: A light-hearted, hollow adaptation.

The Jungle Book Review: Bill’s Necessities


Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (novel)

Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


3½/5

Review: The Jungle Book

 

 

 

Wild Review – Witherspoon’s Wily Walkabout


Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Writers: Nick Hornby (screenplay), Cheryl Strayed (book)

Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman


Release date: December 5th, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Reese Witherspoon.

Worst part: The frustrating flashbacks.

Any movie placing the word ‘wild’ in its title – no matter how big, small, good, or bad – is taking a major risk before release. Tackling one of cinema’s most popular adjectives, this word is a cliche not worth tripping over. Though fulfilled heartily in The Wild Bunch and The Wild One, movies like Wild Hogs, Wild, Wild West, and The Wild highlight this trope’s overt simplicity. Oscar-hungry drama Wild, grappling wholeheartedly with the cliche, appears wholly obvious and generic.

Reese Witherspoon.

Despite the title’s simplicity, there’s a saying everyone should cling onto before seeing Wild: you can’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, the movie’s poster is surprisingly simple. Presenting its lead character, the American wilderness, and neat stylistic choices, the poster promises everything audiences expect nowadays from small-budget performance pieces. Fortunately, despite its many flaws, this walkabout is worth taking. Just make sure to see it with an open mind and a box of tissues. Wild delivers a story drenched in heart, heartache, and heartbreak. Our poster-hogging character is thirty/forty-something traveller Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon). After a string of poor choices, disappointing outcomes, and failed reboots, Strayed decides to venture down a well-known, well-worn path. Walking the United States’ notorious, over-1000-mile Pacific Crest Trail, from the US-Mexico border in California to the US-Canada border in Washington State, Strayed fashions her three-month trip as the ultimate jumpstart. Having divorced nice-guy husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), Strayed reflects upon her adulterous indiscretions and addiction problems. Along the way, we see – via flashback – Strayed interacting with optimistic mother Bobbi (Laura Dern) and snarky brother Leif (Keene McRae).

Witherspoon’s haunting artistic journey.

On her tumultuous trip through America’s unrelenting mid-section, Strayed meets several bright and enthusiastic characters serving as significant bursts of energy. In recent cinema history, survival-thrillers/road-trip flicks have relied on roller-coaster-like pacing, visceral gore, blockbuster storytelling tropes, and CGI-driven worlds. Dodging Life of Pi‘s visual stimulus, Tracks‘ sweeping scope, and Cast Away‘s volleyball/Angry Tom Hanks sequences, Wild carries is tried-and-true formula across the windy, dangerous path less taken. Shifting gracefully between major plot-points and interactions, director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) bolsters this ombre tale with a real-world approach. Similarly to The Way, the movie’s grounded narrative analyses one of history’s most sumptuous activities. Despite Hollywood and the general public’s lack of interest in the PCT, this drama – based on Strayed’s real-life memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail – makes a compelling argument for travelling, spiritual guidance, and self-worth. Across the vast stretch of land, the movie falls for Strayed’s gripping adventure. learning whilst doing, our hero seeks human interaction, core strength, and re-birth. Finally, another well-intentioned female character! Proving the journey is more valuable than the destination, the story, revolving around her intensifying character arc, is worthwhile. Despite this, the heavy-handed symbolism – outlined by Strayed’s run-ins with a poorly-rendered creature – adds little to the story or message.

“I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here.” (Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), Wild).

Witherspoon pleading for more Oscar buzz.

Infatuated with the Western world’s untouched landscapes, the European  filmmaker fuses its gut-wrenching story with a thought-provoking agenda and sterling comedic jaunts. Like with his preceding effort, his style draws life from generic plot-points  and characters. Trudging the arduous dirt path, as the movie switches from lively road-trip flick to dour relationship-drama/character study, Vallee, Witherspoon, and screenwriter Nick Hornby hold our interest throughout the 115-minute run-time. In the first scene, we get an uncompromising glimpse into Strayed’s cruel world. Strayed, stranded on top of a rocky hillside in an undisclosed location, pulls off her sock, rips off an infected toenail, before watching one of her boots tumble down a steep hillside. From there, Vallee and Witherspoon’s project pins us down and never lets go. Obviously, credit belongs to Witherspoon for shredding her starry persona. Grappling with a reprehensible character, the A-lister attacks each scene with award-worthy bravado. Despite its overwhelming positives, its story-telling and technical flourishes distort the narrative. Giving its supporting players little screen-time, the movie’s cold, lifeless flashbacks paint broad strokes. In addition, its pro-feminism message renders many the male characters mute and/or abrasive. However, it difficult to avoid the movie’s crisp, unrelenting locations. Yves Belanger’s wondrous cinematography – along with the immense scenic vistas – develop a momentous sensory assault.

Honouring its succinct title, Wild tells a haunting and visceral tale of man, nature, and existence. Valle, following up his 2013 Oscar contender, moulds an impactful and wondrous drama out of this profound true story. Aided by Witherspoon’s heart-breaking performance, the movie’s comedic moments and emotional resonance overshadow the minor flaws. Like our lead’s topsy-turvy career, the movie surges fourth despite the odds.

Verdict: A haunting and precious Oscar contender.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

Hercules Review – Hack ‘n’ Slash


Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos (screenplay), Steve Moore, Admira Wijaya (graphic novel)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane

Hercules


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Johnson’s casting.

Worst part: The topsy-turvy narrative.

In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!

Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend,  we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.

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John Hurt – King of Paycheques!

Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.

“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).

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An even-more-badass Ian McShane.

Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting  characters are sorely underdeveloped.

In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.

Verdict: A D-grade sword-and-sandal adventure. 

Much Ado About Nothing Review – Shakin’ Up Shakespeare


Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon (screenplay), William Shakespeare (play)

Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion


Release date: June 21st, 2013

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The dynamic cast. 

Worst part: The awkward first five minutes.

“What’s the matter, smart ass? Don’t know any f#cking Shakespeare?”. Mark Wahlberg’s line from The Departed, to me at least, sums up William Shakespeare’s overwhelming effect on pop culture. The Bard, whether he’s infatuated with a sprightly, Gwyneth Paltrow-looking woman (Shakespeare in Love) or brashly labeled a fraud (Anonymous), is always depicted as a knowledgeable and enigmatic individual. In addition, big-budget renditions of his seminal works – including Ten Things I Hate About YouThrone of Blood, and Romeo + Juliet – amicably reach wide audiences. Along comes geek heartthrob Joss Whedon. Whedon, arguably Hollywood’s hardest working writer/director, offers up a loving tribute to history’s greatest poet. Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing depicts a funky, sexy, and witty insight into the Hollywood hills. Whedon’s rendition, receiving extraordinary exposure, is a unique and faithful ode to an ever-lasting hero.

Alexis Denisof & Amy Acker.

His version, touching upon an engaging story and vital themes, is an insatiably strong adaptation. Sticking to the source material, Much Ado About Nothing defines Whedon as an all-knowing and gracious filmmaker. Describing the plot, despite overlaying valuable information, doesn’t ‘spoil’ the final product. With work this treasurable and refined, everyone should seek out Shakespeare’s material (in fact, why are you still reading this review? Go find it!). The narrative unfolds with the scornful yet vibrant Beatrice (Amy Acker) lamenting her cloying existence. Her cynical ideologies and actions – cheerfully matched by zany, confident, and desirable bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) – almost push her to breaking point. Thanks to Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Don Petro(Reed Diamond)’s agreement, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) will achieve marriage and eternal happiness. This event, marked by lavish celebrations and free-flowing alcohol, is marred by Claudio’s deceitful brother Don John (Sean Maher). Along the way, our courageous and optimistic characters come across masked well-wishers, snivelling evildoers, and luscious settings. Hot on the evildoers’ trails, Agents Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), and their spritely associates, watch over proceedings. However, their good efforts are threatened by Don John’s helpers, Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark). Over the course of a few days, allegiances, best-laid plans, and the idea of love itself will be greatly tested. In this I-Pod, smart phone, and gossip induced world, our heroes and villains will face off in the midst of kind greetings, parties, weddings, interrogations, and funerals. Despite the pace wavering with each abrupt transition and additional plot-strand, this adaptation develops a comforting and engaging tone. With characters, twists, and sexual awakenings seamlessly intertwining, Whedon subtly controls every necessary strand and titbit. His overwhelming affection for Shakespeare pours over his charming and hilarious adaptation.

Nathan Fillion & Tom Lenk.

Before I go on, I’ll admit my affection for Whedon and Shakespeare may potentially cloud my judgement. Having read and viewed their all-important works, its difficult not to proclaim Much Ado About Nothing as entertainment history’s greatest ‘collaboration’. Both critically-and-commercially-lauded artists – bringing heart, soul, and laughs to every creation – have crafted influential and popular efforts defining certain generations. In praising Whedon’s adaptation on its own merits, Much Ado About Nothing, as famed film production schedules go, is a jaw-dropping and clever achievement. Mashing the original material with a contemporary setting pays off. Whedon’s behind-the-scenes ingenuity boosts the small scale and quirky visuals. With a 12-day shooting schedule, Whedon took time off from working on The Avengers to work on this concept. With planning, production, and post production taking place in Whedon’s Santa Monica Mansion, his style and the narrative’s intimate nature go hand in hand. Passionate about Shakespeare’s comedic touches, Whedon’s writing style derives from the Bard’s seminal efforts. His adaptation highlights the most punctual and relevant aspects of Shakespeare’s work. Relaying Shakespeare’s every word, the opening few scenes are jarring. With kitsch direction applied to poetic material, viewers may, sadly, throw up their hands by the thirty-second mark. However, criticising the movie’s core would insult Shakespeare’s material. With each metaphor, anecdote, and soliloquy, I hurriedly connected to intricate details and overtones. Despite several plot-points, including feuds between royal ties and Claudio’s paranoia over Hero’s virginity, not connecting to the movie’s time period, certain strands relate to relevant themes. Despite the hurried marriages, articulate prose, and pontifications, Much Ado About Nothing places Whedon’s popularity in the spotlight. Like his previous efforts, multi-layered characters, deception, honour, and societal order rule the day. Obsessed with familial ties and small scale conflicts, Whedon deliberates on our media-obsessed world’s love of power, sex, love, loss, regret, inspiration, and fame. Featuring attractive heroes, scheming, black-haired villains and vicious conflicts, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers aren’t too dissimilar.

“Why, he is the Prince’s jester: a very dull fool; Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” (Beatrice (Amy Acker), Much Ado About Nothing).

Fran Kranz.

Whedon’s unique pet project, born from a shared understanding of the source material, brings family and friends together. His mansion becomes a labyrinthine castle for conflicted characters to swiftly travel through. Emphasising each hallway and empty space, characters efficiently peer around corners, fall down stairs, and glance through wide windows. In addition, several camera tricks illustrate Whedon’s methodical conveyance of small details and symbols. Aiding the confronting material, the black-and-white cinematography also takes time getting used to. Emphasising  each conflict and relationship’s rawness, this choice elevates Whedon’s succinct and powerful style. Keeping it in the family, Jed Whedon (brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen (sister in law) contribute with a hip, jazzy score. Firmly stamped into the enthralling narrative, their tunes elevate each intriguing set-piece. This anachronistic journey – featuring an entertaining masked ball, scintillating romantic moments, and a discomforting memorial sequence – is a wondrous miasma of fashion, fun, and fiery feuds. Like Shakespeare and Whedon’s previous efforts, the characters contain a knowing sense of humour. Understanding each debilitating situation’s gravity and urgency, these people appropriately speak the truth. Making for several hysterically awkward moments, these blunt yet alluring characters solidify this intriguing dramedy. Using dry wit, guile, vaudeville slapstick, and heart, Whedon touches up Shakespeare’s creations. Boosting each enigmatic characterisation, the movie’s dynamic ensemble conquers the cloying material. As Whedon’s ‘regulars’, the TV-centric cast convincingly delivers Shakespeare’s tongue-twisting dialogue. Standout performers Fillion, Gregg, Denisof, and Diamond become comedic geniuses in vital roles. Meanwhile, Acker brings gravitas and poignancy to her promiscuous and cynical character.

Combining two brilliant minds for one rendition, Much Ado About Nothing is a humorous, reflexive, and thrilling dramedy. Despite having stated my overwhelming affection, it’s still worth mentioning – Whedon is a cinematic genius! This movie, aptly accessing the play’s most intriguing elements, is certainly worth a look.

Verdict: A witty, clever, and enlightening dramedy.

Les Miserables Review – A Sombre Sililoquy


Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: William Nicholson (screenplay), Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil (musical), Victor Hugo (novel)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried


Release date: December 25th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: UK

Running time: 158 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Oscar-worthy performances from Jackman and Hathaway.

Worst part: The love triangle.

A young girl’s visage is draped across the screen, her voice whistling in the wind as she drags her suitcase cross a bitterly snow-covered French landscape. This devastating image is part of what makes 2012’s Les Miserables such a profound piece of theatrical storytelling. This story now has a cinematic opus worthy of its esteemed emotional core and harsh re-telling of the French Revolution. Les Miserables is a moody and eclectic adaptation of this epic story of rebellion in the heart of 19th century Paris.

Hugh Jackman.

Les Miserables captures the visceral qualities of this historically significant tale. Based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel, the stage musical has been adapted countlessly on stage and screen. This adaptation begins with Jean Valjean(Hugh Jackman)’s release after a 19 year imprisonment. Locked up for stealing a loaf of bread, his courage and tenacity have led to an exiled existence. Cast out into the cold by both the law and the lower class, Valjean’s religious awakening leads to a life in hiding. 8 years later and Valjean, having broken his parole laws, is the target of Parisian prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean seeks a peaceful life in France as a factory owner. Despite Valjean’s efforts to keep women in his factory and out of the cold, the ill-fortunes of single mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) go tragically unnoticed. Valjean swears to protect her daughter Cosette, feeling he has wronged Fantine in horrific ways. Years later, the ‘June Rebellion’ affects both Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), as Cosette falls in love and Valjean’s time on the run may soon be at an end.

Russell Crowe.

Les Miserables is much more of a sweeping epic than a dull period piece. The film captures one of Europe’s darkest times through a haunting visual style. Each filthy, claustrophobic setting becomes a dark labyrinth. This is a story where good people are made to suffer and wallow in filth while people who can help stand over them. For example, the first scene is one of astounding beauty and severe consequence for our hero. A ship is pulled into the docks by an army of prisoners. Their chant is a battle cry of hatred and despair, while Javert looks down upon them with an unmistakeable sense of disgust. ‘Look Down’ is one of the film’s greatest musical numbers and a perfect way to introduce the increasingly sombre tone. Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) once again proves to be an Oscar-worthy visionary. His take on a beloved classic is an emotionally powerful stance against crime and corruption. Hooper has created an uplifting modern musical and a stirringly cinematic Spartacus/A Tale of Two Cities style epic. Atrocities in 21 century France, Egypt and Libya make this harrowing story of teenage rebellion as relevant today as it was during the acclaimed novel’s creation. The ‘June Rebellion’ is one of the film’s most powerful sequences.

Anne Hathaway.

Guns and ideologies clash as political uprising rears its ugly head. ‘Red and Black’ is harmoniously voiced in unison; becoming a rousing musical number with moral and social importance. Despite this story’s stance on civil upheaval, this is an operatic tale of loss and redemption from Valjean’s perspective. Valjean is a man convinced that religion and humanity have shown him the way to a better life. He is a strong protagonist in this cat-and-mouse tale as he constantly searches for a way to enlighten his tragic existence. Fantine, however, becomes brutally disfigured by loss and heartache. Her sacrifices were made so that Cosette could live a peaceful life. But Fantine tragically falls into the depths of tuberculosis and prostitution. Javert, on the other hand, is a vague character. His obsession with catching Valjean remains sorely enigmatic and understated. This bombastic affair is tempered by Hooper’s choice to have his actors sing live. Instead of the over-dubbing process used in most screen musicals, this unique process allows the vocals to intertwine seamlessly with the soundtrack. Each sputter, tear and torment comes across in each note, aiding the darkness of this adaptation. Hooper’s hand-held camera-work also adds to the film’s gritty edge. Focusing on the wavering emotions embedded in each character, the camera tracks across each scene and illuminates the endless emotional current.

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” (Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Les Miserables).

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

Amanda Seyfried & Eddie Redmayne.

The camera-work matches each crescendo, using swift crane shots to transition from one scene to the next. The film’s stellar performances are likely to garner Oscar acclaim. Jackman has never been better. He is a captivating presence as every ballad is delivered with melodic force. ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’ is performed with a devastating amount of pain and anger. Hathaway is a remarkable talent here as Fantine. Her portrayal is one of harrowing sorrow; providing the definitive version of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. Bravo! Russell Crowe is always an intense presence on-screen. He continues this here going scene for scene with Jackman. He is however unable to match Jackman’s stellar vocal range. His gruff tone hammers each ballad with a thud instead of a ring. The sickening tone is balanced by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as ludicrous thieving innkeepers, the Thenardiers. ‘Master of the House’ is a harmonious and whimsical number illustrating the depths they have sunken to. Seyfried brings a canary-like chirp to scenes of emotional dexterity. The love story however is underdeveloped. Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks are convincing yet shift the focus too far away from Jackman’s enthralling embodiment of Valjean.

Hooper’s adaptation of Les Miserables hits the high notes. Powerful performances and rousing musical numbers stand out in this cinematic extravaganza likely to compel audiences during Oscar season.

Verdict: A stirring and sumptuous screen musical. 

Snow White and the Huntsman Review – Grimm & Grizzly


Director: Rupert Sanders

Writers: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini (screenplay), The Brothers Grimm (fairytale)

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin


Release date: June 1st, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The breath-taking visuals.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Following the recent forgettable slapstick farce Mirror Mirror comes yet another interpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White. Snow White and the Huntsman takes a large step in the other direction; creating a dark, twisted interpretation of a story normally considered to be a fun, family friendly adventure. Out of the many recent film and TV adaptations of popular fairy tales, this adaptation of Snow White may be the fairest of them all.

Kristen Stewart.

This film takes a sharp turn away from the classic 1937 animated adaptation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, emphasising many fantasy elements relevant in popular film culture. With the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) taking over the kingdom and locking the murdered king’s daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) away forever, the king’s once glorious and beautiful reign has crumbled. Her rule forces Snow to escape her captivity and proceed into the dark forest. With a strong desire for Snow’s still-beating heart, she enlists the help of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to bring her back. The Huntsman’s path however intertwines with Snows as their desire for the freedom of their kingdom leads Snow to be the fated saviour of the land and take her rightful place on the throne.

Chris Hemsworth & the dwarves.

Chris Hemsworth & the dwarves.

This interpretation perfectly suits the name of ‘Grimm’. With this familiar story recreated in the serious tone of the revered original material, Snow White and the Huntsman is a derivative yet energetic reinvention of the legend. The direction by first time feature director Rupert Sanders (previously known for creating breathtaking advertisements for the Halo 3:ODST video game) creates a fairytale land that is sickly creepy and gorgeous simultaneously. Despite the uneven pacing throughout, Sander’s film may be seen as his canvas; a blank slate in which his keen eye for visuals and influential works are composed in a multi layered and involving fashion. His action set pieces and cinematography contain elements of blockbuster hits such as GladiatorKingdom of Heaven, the similarly envisioned Robin Hood and The Lord of the Rings trilogy with the mixture of handheld camera work, fluid tracking shots and soft lighting. While the affecting landscapes and peculiar creature designs are reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pans Labyrinth. Several shots in particular, involving fairies calling Snow White, are filmed in close up on their small faces to create the emotional balance needed for the disgustingly dark story told.The weaker aspects of this interpretation however involve the screenplay. Involving three different screen writers, Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Hossein Amini (Drive), the screenplay is of lesser quality than the visual style due to the many popular genre elements fit in all at once.

“Lips red as blood, hair black as night, bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White.” (Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), Snow White and the Huntsman).

Charlize Theron.

Charlize Theron.

Despite the many charming dialogue moments and rousing speeches, including one that will leave any sceptic of Stewart thinking twice, flashback sequences and underused characters dilute from the familiar story. Unfortunately, the development of Snow White from victim to determined hero is largely implied. She never convinces the viewer that she is the fabled, strong female lead character the original fairytale portrays her to be. Her underwritten character, though convincingly performed by Stewart, incessantly shifts focus between the more involving characters around her. The dwarfs, played by a plethora of experienced character actors such as Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane, are also underwritten. Despite engaging performances from this reliable cast, they simply provide moments of comic relief for this otherwise sombre interpretation. The performances from all three leads are enrapturing. Coming off of portraying the detestable female lead character Bella in The Twilight Saga, Stewart can hopefully shrug off that stigma after her dynamic performances in AdventurelandWelcome to the Rileys and now Snow White and the Huntsman. Hemsworth continues his run of charismatic performances after Thor and The Avengers with a thick Scottish accent and axe in hand. While Theron, continuing on from her recent turn as the hardened female antagonist in Prometheus, brings an ice cold  demeanour to the sadistic Queen Ravenna.

Though hindered gravely by its sluggish pacing and derivative direction, Snow White and the Huntsman appeals to fairytale buffs and blockbuster nuts equally. Thanks to the charming performances and invigorating visuals, this gritty reboot will work wonders over the holidays.

Verdict: Thankfully, fairer than many of the poisoned apples in modern cinematic fantasy.