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

Pete’s Dragon Review: Flying High


Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)

Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

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Release date: September 15th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country:USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dragon.

Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.

Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.

Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.

Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.

The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.

Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.

Verdict: A quaint family-adventure.

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.

Warcraft Review: Dungeons and Dullards


Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt

Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.

Worst part: The human characters.

Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.

Warcraft has stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.

From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.

Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.

Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.

Verdict: Another woeful video game adaptation.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones


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Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones

 

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

 

 

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War Review: The Ice Queen, The Hunk, His Wife, and the Sequel No One Asked For


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Craig Mazin, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5

Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Gods of Egypt Review: Gold-polished Turd


Director: Alex Proyas

Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless

Stars: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung

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Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate 

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 127 minutes


1½/5

Review: Gods of Egypt

Into the Woods Review: Show-stopping Streep-tacular


Director: Rob Marshall

Writer: James Lapine (book and screenplay)

Stars: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick


Release date: January 8th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The final 25 minutes.

Into the Woods, born from acclaimed composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s glorious 1987 Tony Award-winning stage production, serves a specific purpose: making fun of everything you love. Despite the patronising satirical glow, his style allows theatre-goers, fantasy-epic aficionados etc. to laugh with his production and at genre art. Several years ago, fans of Sweeney Todd were treated to Tim Burton’s spirited remake starring white-faced Johnny Depp and soot-covered soundstages. So, does this one hit the high notes or fall to wailing lows?

Tinseltown’s latest Broadway-to-Blockbuster smash is up against this Oscar Season’s biggest hitters. Wholly separating itself from its WWII/manipulative biopic/satirical broadway/Hobbit-starring competition, Into the Woods flaunts its creative consultants, director, and starry cast’s better sides. Placed in the Awards-hungry musical/comedy slot, it compares favourably to every other recent musical-to-screen effort (Les Miserables, among others). This musical deconstructs significant Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. In a small village, a wack-a-doo witch (Meryl Streep) tasks a cursed-to-never-conceive baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to obtain four items – a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold – before the next blue moon. For varying – albeit well-known – reasons, scullery maid turned princess hopeful Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), peasant boy Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) also venture into the dreaded neighbouring woods.

The musical-to-movie switch is a long-standing Hollywood process. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has dedicated himself to the art form. Even his songless flops, Memoirs of a Geisha and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, reek of flamboyance and grand-scale camp. Marshall efficiently applies his vast skill-set to Into the Woods, delivering a extravagance-fuelled hit rivalling Chicago‘s overt magnetism. The filmmaker, applying a unheard-of rehearsal schedule here, protects the original material’s legacy while lathering his style across each frame. Indeed, Sondheim’s outside-the-box storytelling style and pin-point sense of humour shine throughout this slick adaptation. Appealing to cinema-goers and theatre buffs alike, it snappily pays homage to Sondheim’s enduring legacy. Author/playwright/screenwriter James Lapine valiantly trims his original ground-breaking material down to fit effortlessly. This adaptation aptly carries its own heaving weight throughout its first three quarters. Marshall and co. succinctly interweave all four fairy tales into the central plot-line. Indeed, this Avengers-style gathering of fairy tale favourites draws out that inner-child-esque nostalgic glow. Its balance between anachronistic satire and old-timey fantasy fluff will satisfy families and cinephiles this Oscar season. It’s darker elements – connotations alluding to pedophilia and adultery – are overshadowed by its winning formula.

“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” (Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Into the Woods).

Sadly, Into the Woods‘ story topples over with the full force of a giant, a carriage, and Rapunzel’s heavenly locks combined. The original premise, depicting the meaningless of life post “happily ever after” for these fictional celebrities, is preserved haphazardly for the final 30 minutes. The finale, stretching this adaptation into a discomforting fourth act, throws unrefined resolutions and peculiar tonal switches into the otherwise hearty, designed-to-win potion. Eventually, the abundance of character arcs and story-lines sends it down the wrong path. Despite these near-crippling flaws, it’s an ample antidote to our recent slew of dark, dreary fairy-tale adaptations (Snow White & the Huntsman…ZZZZZ). It simply, and smartly, lets heroes be likeable and villains be despicable. However, the cynical twang elevates its forgettable array of musical numbers. The standout, oddly enough, involves a testosterone-fuelled feud between a Hollywood heartthrob and relative newcomer. The charming princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) engage in a hysterically homoerotic number (‘Agony’) comparable to Top Gun‘s volleyball scene. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s immense talents, the surrounding numbers struggle to escape its shadow. Red and the Wolf(Johnny Depp)’s set-piece – ‘Hello, Little Girl’ – is a mild reprieve. Streep and Blunt, yet again, deliver astounding turns in leading roles. Despite their underutilised supporting characters, Tracy Ullman, Mackenzie Mauzy, and Christine Baranski make a strong case for more big-time female roles.

Into the Woods‘ true, uncompromising magic comes from a desire to please audiences rather than shock or repel them. In the midst of imitation games, unbroken actress turned directors, and Timothy Spall’s grunts, this smash hit transitions gorgeously from the Big Apple to the bright lights. Marshall, recovering from tedious recent efforts, wholeheartedly succeeds with this hilarious and arresting fantasy epic. Its journey-better-than-the-destination vibe, for better or worse, separates it from the ‘village’.

Verdict: A family-friendly and entertaining musical-satire.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Review: War-crushing Wrap-up


Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans


Release date: December 26th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: New Zealand, USA

Running time: 144 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Freeman and McKellen.

Worst part: The padded-out plot.

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Verdict: A exhaustive yet entertaining trilogy-capper.

Dracula Untold Review – Toothless Trash


Director: Gary Shore

Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (screenplay), Bram Stoker (novel)

Stars: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance


Release date: October 3rd, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, UK 

Running time: 92 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: The production values.

Worst part: The overbearing performances.

Since Hollywood’s transition from ‘classic’ to ‘modern’, big-budget entertainment has focused entirely on sex appeal. Defined by awe, devilishness, and attractiveness, Tinseltown promotes aesthetic beauty over substance. Even the idea of ‘style’ itself – distinguishing one’s work from everything else – has been watered down to an extraneous extent. Now that the studio system has exhausted trends like fairytale adaptations, comic book movies, and nostalgic actioners, the world’s biggest media hub is turning cannibalistic. Dracula Untold may be the high point of blockbuster/remake/reboot fatigue. What’s next, a cuddly wolfman? A sensitive mummy? a sexy invisible man? Good luck, Universal!

Luke Evans as Vlad III Tepes/Count Dracula.

Recently, there have been several similar big-budget extravaganzas. Most of them, Twilight included, are directed at teenage girls. While some of them are mindless adaptations of classic  texts. All of them, however, bend vampire mythology to their will. Mixing classic horror with explosive action and sappy romance, Dracula Untold is a horrific experiment in itself. Staggering toward its release date, this action-horror flick means little to either the people involved or those watching it. We begin with a highlight reel of one of history’s most disturbing people. We first meet Vlad III Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) in a rushed opening sequence. Depicting his fearsome fighting skills and determination, Vlad’s reputation is built on the bones of fallen enemies and kingdoms. The movie jumps forward to the central conceit, and Vlad has become a cunning warrior keeping guard of his people. Tracking a battalion of Turkish soldiers, our ‘hero’ and his men head to Broken Tooth Mountain to find answers. Instead, Vlad – the expedition’s sole survivor – unearths the world’s most terrifying secret. Vlad must also keep his home, Castle Dracula, out of the Turkish army’s hands. Led by Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), the army asks for 1000 able-bodied boys in exchange for ever-lasting peace.

Dominic Cooper.

As the land’s most fearless and skilled warrior, Vlad refuses to go down without a fight. Keeping his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), and child, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), away from the Turkish forces, our lead character takes on the world’s largest army. As the launchpad for Universal’s new Avengers-style franchise, Dracula Untold has been whittled down by the studio, director, screenwriters, and editor. Turning potentially-entertaining material into October-bound schlock, this production wastes several opportunities. The story, spoiled thanks to an egregious marketing campaign, is messier than a corpse in Dracula’s possession. The aforementioned opening, delivering cold-blooded exposition with static images, doesn’t deliver anything original or interesting. Those wary of the original material might stand a chance of following this sequence. However, those without said knowledge might become lost. From there, the movie leaps between concepts without purpose or warning. The first 15 minutes promises a down-and dirty superhero origin story/reboot for the archetypal vampire character. Showing off his powers – turning into a swarm of bats and utilising infra-red vision –  it defines our lead character’s inner conflict with visual effects and tiresome cliches. The movie also throws two more story-lines at us. The love story and medieval warfare sub-plots turn this straight-forward actioner into a convoluted foible. Transforming this alluring villain into a misunderstood anti-hero, the movie delivers nothing for viewers to sink their teeth into.

“Do you think you are alive because you can fight? You are alive because of what I did to save you!” (Vlad/Dracula (Luke Evans), Dracula Untold).

Charles Dance.

I could say Dracula Untold “lacks bite” or “sucks”, but that would be too damn easy. The biggest problem resides within its flesh and blood: it takes itself way too seriously! The performances, drifting between maudlin and over-the-top, are difficult to comprehend. Evans, despite the charisma and immense physicality, never meshes with his fruitful character. Gadon is underused in her plot-device role. While Cooper makes for an unconvincing Middle-Eastern/moustache-twirling villain. However, Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance heartily tackles his make-up-induced role. Quicker than you can say: “Transylvania”, Matt Sazama and Burk Shapless’ screenplay delves into sprawling conflicts, overblown speeches, and Greek tragedy-like drama. Giving the story or characters little development, the alliance switches, noble sacrifices, and revelations become increasingly stupid. Speed-reading the original text, the movie pretends to understand Stoker’s words. Explaining everything with stilted exposition and silly one-liners, its thrills are few and far between. While its comedic moments fall flatter than the lid of Dracula’s coffin. Lacking experience, first-time feature director Gary Shore succumbs to the monsters leering over him. Bullied by producers and studio executives, Shore turns this gothic staple into a transparent actioner. Despite the immense budget (for a British production), his action-direction hammers the stake into the heart. Thanks to quick cuts, shaking cameras, and shoddy camera angles, the action is incomprehensible. Despite the sword-and-sandal vibe, the video-game-like sequences shrink the story’s heart and brains. However, thanks to sterling sets, costume designs, and cinematography, the production values elevate it above I, Frankenstein (but that’s not saying much).

Despite the minor positives, Dracula Untold succumbs to a mystifying and laughable case of prequelitis. Telegraphing specific events ahead of time, the movie tests its audience’s patience. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Dracula suffocating aura lingering overhead, this action-oriented version is a spineless adaptation of Stoker’s masterpiece. Despite the brief run-time, the movie becomes as deadly to cinema as sunlight to a bloodsucker.

Verdict: A stake through Universal’s heart.

Maleficent Review – Tim Burton: Lite


Director: Robert Stromberg

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Angelina Jolie. 

Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.

Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.

Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.

Elle Fanning.

After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.

“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).

Sharlto Copley.

Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.

Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.

Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic. 

47 Ronin Review – A Beheaded Beast


Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

 


Release date: January 16th , 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, Japan

Running time: 118 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: Reeves and Sanada.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Inexplicably, the Western world looks down upon the East. In our ever-so-racist culture, we destroy cultural and social links due to prejudice, anxiety, and judgement. Despite multiculturalism’s benefits, we continually place people and communities into stereotypes. Thankfully, Hollywood is avoiding this dated societal practice. Thanks to China’s influence on the box office, big-budget extravaganzas are now aiming for international audiences. In fusing two contrasting cultures, Asian actors and characters are receiving significant attention. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s latest cultural mash-up, 47 Ronin, is an exorbitant waste of time and money. Sadly, the cast and crew are being named and shamed for their efforts.

Keanu Reeves.

Despite the final product’s overall quality, it’s difficult to blame everyone at once. Admittedly, there are flashes of brilliance in this otherwise disastrous action flick. Some cast and crew members aimed to develop an ethnically friendly and entertaining cinematic endeavour. Unfortunately, this $175 million catastrophe is the result of an untested director and hack writers. Despite Universal Studio’s commendable intentions, the company’s reach exceeds its grasp. The studio’s predictable actions and typical ideologies prove costly here. With 47 Ronin a critical and commercial bomb, executives, writers, and directors could face the chopping block. Outlining 47 Ronins wasted potential, the movie is loosely based on Japan’s most influential historical tale. Clinging onto a haunting and enlightening tale, 47 Ronin immerses us into the Bushido code (way of the warrior). There’s a reason why I didn’t mention the Samurai elements earlier. Sadly, the movie is bafflingly disinterested in this enigmatic and respectable ancient culture. 47 Ronin hurriedly immerses us into 18th Century feudal Japan. After the exposition heavy and confusing prologue, the movie introduces its only white character. Escaping from a dangerous mystical society, half-cast child Kai is rescued by the honourable and domineering Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Asano’s Samurai protectors treat adult Kai (Keanu Reeves) with distain. Teaching himself to follow the Samurai code, Kai becomes a distinguishable and skilled warrior. Reeves, overlooking the debilitating racial divide, delivers an enjoyable performance in his underwritten role. Delivering purposeful mannerisms, he allows his Japanese co-stars – Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, and Rinko Kikuchi, in particular – to propel this disenfranchising fantasy epic.

Hiroyuki Sanada.

Thanks to its obvious and repetitive opening scenes, the movie swiftly descends into chaos. The awkward prologue, defined by poor animation, describes the narrative’s all-important intricacies. In fact, the overt narration specifically states: “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know the story of old Japan”. Featuring the movie’s only worthwhile line, the narration throws the besotted audience into this conquering story. Despite the intriguing premise and inspired concepts, the execution is beyond atrocious. In typical modern-fantasy-epic fashion, Kai falls for Asano’s remorseful and sullen daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). With forbidden love frowned upon by Japanese customs, Kai banishes himself into the woods. Damaged by this cliched peasant-and-princess-love-story sub-plot, the narrative abruptly transitions into a vengeance, discipline, and honour fuelled epic. After Asano is tricked, by sadistic witch Mizuki (Kikuchi), into attacking despicable master of ceremonies Lord Kira (Asano), Kai and Asano’s 47 brave protectors are banished from Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi(Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)’s territory. With the Samurai warriors disbanded, Oishi (Sanada) finds Kai and convenes with his fellow ronin. From this point on, the movie delves into potentially graphic and enigmatic material. Fortunately, the narrative shifts out of its cloying and heavy-handed first third. Its many underdeveloped plot-strands and characters are sparingly introduced, set up, and shifted around. Despite the interesting premise, the movie’s absurd twists and turns distort this preposterous action flick. Thanks to its wavering pace and jarring tonal shifts, the first third stalls the entire narrative. With multiple character arcs and plot-strands alluding to specific revelations, Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini’s conventional and unintentionally laughable screenplay delivers overblown dialogue, tiresome cliches, and a broad presentation of ancient Japanese culture. After its tedious first act, the movie transitions into a conventional and exasperating fantasy-adventure flick.

“I will search for you through 1000 worlds and 1000 lifetimes!” (Kai (Keanu Reeves), 47 Ronin).

Rinko Kikuchi.

Thanks to botched production and post-production schedules, this sprawling concoction of cliches, bizarre directorial ticks, and half-constructed studio decisions becomes almost unwatchable. Despite the following two third’s eclectic pacing and fun set-pieces, 47 Ronin never examines intriguing or thought-provoking aspects. Throughout its 2-hour run-time, the quest-based narrative follows a one-dimensional formula. Despite this tale’s heart-breaking messages, the movie’s emotionless and ignorantly offensive aura damages its beguiling action-adventure concept. Beyond the insignificant screenwriting tropes and directorial ticks, the movie’s ethical and moral conundrums lodge themselves into the consciousness. Each year, Japanese entertainment mediums deliver iterations of this inspiring story. Known as Chushingura, this practice, unlike 47 Ronin, examines and celebrates this spiritually commendable tale. Despite the story’s culturally specific roots, the movie, inexplicably, ignores Japanese culture’s most intriguing and informative elements. This Americanised and sugarcoated version of Japan’s most influential tale insults the Samurai code, Japanese history, and world cinema. Lacking any Japanese dialogue, this fusion of Japanese and Hollywood moviemaking tropes becomes a soulless creation. Honestly, hasn’t Japan suffered enough this decade? Constructing his first feature, commercial director Carl Rinsch (YouTube video The Giftpoorly grapples with vital moviemaking mechanics. Handling its incoherent production design and wavering structure, Rinsch’s disjointed and derivative style dampens the premise. His messy visual style borrows from contrasting influences and genres. The movie transitions from Chanbara flick, to exhausting sword-and-sandal romp, to inorganic fantasy adventure. Featuring bright, joyful, and alluring visuals, 47 Ronin insufficiently fuses Throne of Blood, 300, Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Following mentor Ridley Scott’s methodology, Rinsch’s sprawling and eye-catching compositions elevate certain sequences. Clashing colours, impressive creature and set designs, and sumptuous locations provide pleasurable distractions for this otherwise underwhelming blockbuster. 

Delving into potentially entertaining material, 47 Ronin could, and should, have been an entertainingly gritty action-adventure flick. However, this derivative, messy, and uninspired fantasy epic wears Hollywood’s most aggressive and perplexing impulses. Like After Earth and The Lone Ranger, 47 Ronin presents a unique idea ruined by poisonous execution. Making a bad blockbuster is simple. However, this movie, despite the quick and hefty profit, isn’t even worth the admission cost.

Verdict: A silly, uninspired, and preposterous action flick. 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Review – Middle Earth, Middle Third


Director: Peter Jackson 

Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom


Release date: December 13th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: New Zealand, USA

Running time: 161 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The barrel sequence.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Despite the obvious flaws, Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated Hobbit trilogy is an easy target. Criticised for its story-telling issues, its multitude of characters, and the 48 frames-per-second debacle, this series still hasn’t been given a fair chance. Buried under hype, directorial power, and desperate marketing ploys (looking at you, Air New Zealand!), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to judge these instalments as single entities. These movies, innocently, reach out to fan boys and average filmgoers alike. So, like this series’ lead character, why not give something grandiose and enthralling a chance to succeed? The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, though inconsistent, swiftly soars above the already enjoyable original.

Martin Freeman.

To elaborate on these points, all modern blockbusters suffer from overhype and exhaustive pre-and-post-release critical backlash. Audiences are more willing to criticise a big-budget fantasy flick than an independent romantic dramedy. With ‘perfect’ movies impossible to craft, let’s judge movies like The Desolation of Smaug for what they are. With enlightening performances, engaging action sequences, and a straight-faced facade, this fantasy-epic lives up to expectations. Despite Jackson’s overt self-indulgence and excessiveness, his adaptations stand the test of time and honour J.R.R. Tolkien’s influential legacy. However, whilst crafting this prequel trilogy’s unique identity, Jackson inadvisably stretches each instalment until breaking point. Here, the narrative picks up immediately after the events of An Unexpected Journey. With burglar and trustworthy Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) keeping watch over the horizon, his 13 Dwarf companions, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), scour the landscape for hidden passages and safe places. Despite Gandalf the Grey(Ian McKellen)’s unabashed admiration, Bilbo is unsure of his responsibilities on this all-important journey. After being rescued by Skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the group heads for Mirkwood to continue their trek toward the Lonely Mountain. With the Dwarves eager to retake their homeland from vicious and greedy dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the group comes across the spiders and Elves inhabiting this treacherous forest. Disdained by Elf-king Thranduil (Lee Pace), Thorin must find courage before continuing this quest. Fortunately, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Bard (Luke Evans) seek to aid this commendable band of heroes.

Ian McKellen.

Like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Hunger Games: Catching FireThe Desolation of Smaug, despite bridging the first and final instalments, seeks to craft a recognisable identity and several commendable moments. Fortunately, this sequel successfully links this trilogy to the Lord of the Rings saga. Around every corner, references and titbits sit proudly on display. Jackson, blinded by immense talent, is infatuated with his over-long and bombastic creations. Despite my previous statements, I’ll admit that dividing one book into three epic movies is a nonsensical and preposterous idea. This decision’s immense consequences are immanently noticeable. From the compelling prologue onward, the bloated story becomes chaotic. Here, Jackson introduces several potentially intriguing sub-plots and character arcs. Adapting the book’s middle third and appendices to fit into this sprawling middle instalment, Jackson’s toy-box-like mind goes overboard. With several weird, vicious, and engaging characters hurriedly introduced, the first third will leave series newcomers scratching their heads. Don’t get me wrong; Jackson is indeed a transformative and imaginative filmmaker. However, there’s a specific reason why the appendices are wholly separated from Tolkien’s other Middle Earth adventures. Jackson, taking control of the book series’ every intricacy, awkwardly wedges plot-strands, prophecies, and set pieces together throughout The Desolation of Smaug‘s exhaustive 2hr 45min run-time. In addition, Jackson and co. invent characters, obstacles, and plot-threads at their own volition. This method brashly dilutes the original material’s charming and engaging identity. However, despite the narrative knots, the sequel’s boisterous charm, gripping chase-movie structure, and visual splendour distract from several story inconsistencies and directorial foibles. Thanks to an action-packed first third, the original’s pacing and tempo issues are fixed. Following the LOTR trilogy and An Unexpected Journey‘s familiar structures, this repetitive sequel removes suspense and intrigue from this influential franchise.

Richard Armitage & the Dwarves.

With The Desolation of Smaug specifically served as an action-adventure flick and Boxing Day release, these movies identify themselves as LOTR prequels more so than children’s book adaptations. Looking up to the original trilogy’s influential story-telling tropes and immaculate action set pieces, this trilogy’s reach has already exceeded its grasp. Despite the first third’s exciting moments, the movie stops dead during the second act. Here, the exciting chase sequences transition into comedic hijinks, dialogue sequences, and complex exposition. After the group is smuggled into Lake-town, we are introduced to the city’s economic and political structures. Transitioning from action to drama, the political debates and hierarchal systems place pointless conflicts on top of the group’s urgent quest. Thankfully, Jackson’s visual flourishes and attention to detail elevate this convoluted fantasy-adventure. Throwing more orcs, men, and elves into the on-coming war for Middle Earth, this sequel continually ups the ante. Fixing this series’ pressing tonal shifts and pacing flaws, the action set pieces expand this wondrous and enrapturing universe. Following the bear attack, the spider sequence is a visceral and glorious thrill-ride. Jackson, known to inject disgusting creepy-crawlies into extraordinary tales (King Kong), uses zany surprises and jump-scares to push this sequence into overdrive. However, the movie’s stand out set piece is the group’s barrel escape down a dangerous river system. This enlightening sequence throws orcs, dwarves, and elves into an ingenious battle. With distinctive fighting styles defining certain characters, stakes are raised throughout this set piece. In addition, Bilbo and Smaug’s climactic battle of wits gleefully caps off this exhaustive instalment. The creature designs, thanks to visual effects company WETA Digital, are all top notch. Providing sensory thrills and gripping surprises, the spiders, orcs, bears, and wargs are breath-taking and confronting creations.

“I will not die like this, clawing for life…If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!” (Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug).

Orlando Bloom.

Despite the endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery, the CGI vastly overshadows the practical effects. Rushing through the post-production stage, Jackson haphazardly throws several unrefined effects into his finished product. For a multi-million-dollar production, short cuts like this aren’t advisable. The original trilogy’s stirling practical effects are inexplicably replaced with green screens and Playstation-2-level digital creations. Sadly, several locations, action set pieces, and characters appear noticeably artificial. Despite these issues, the comedic hijinks lighten the sickeningly dark tone for brief moments. Slapstick gags and witty one-liners highlight the absurdities embedded in these pressing situations. Our heroes, unlike those of most modern fantasy-epics, are defined by complex and likeable personalities. Despite taking a back seat in this instalment, Bilbo is still a cheekily engaging and determined lead character. Tasked with a specific purpose, Bilbo becomes a wise and courageous individual. Here, his conflict with the ring is pushed to the forefront. Providing dry wit for this fan-favourite character, Freeman grows into this all-encompassing role. Facing off against his Sherlock co-star, Freeman provides a charismatic and idiosyncratic performance. Gleefully, Cumberbatch, as the powerful and intelligent antagonist, steals his scenes. Delivering conquering vocal and physical mannerisms for this fascinating character, he relishes in motion capture technology’s over-whelming potential. Despite Gandalf’s insufficient sub-pot, McKellen delivers another engaging performance and elevates certain scenes. Unfortunately, only two dwarves are given definitive personalities. Despite Armitage’s intriguing portrayal, his character mirrors Aragorn to a fault. However, the elf characters are charismatic. Bloom and Lilly’s screen presences boost significant plot-lines.

With love triangles, action sequences, comedic hijinks, and character arcs filling this instalment’s extensive run-time, The Desolation of Smaug is a significant improvement over the original. With Bilbo stepping aside, the other characters are given valuable room to breathe. Jackson, despite the overt infatuation with his own material, confidently delivers an exhilarating and gripping roller-coaster ride. With The Hobbit: There and Back Again linking both trilogies, a shorter instalment may hold viewer interest.

Verdict: A hearty, enjoyable yet convoluted sequel.

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.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review – A Walk to Remember


Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis


Release date: December 12th, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: New Zealand, UK, USA

Running time: 169 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles.

Worst part: The excessive 2hr 50min length.

Peter Jackson’s much anticipated return to Middle Earth has been through its own unexpected journey. Economic and production issues led to Jackson’s reluctant return to the director’s chair. His first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy is still likely to delight fans and conquer box office records. This return to the world Jackson built a decade ago is an uneven yet still wildly enjoyable adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey succeeds in certain places and falters in others, becoming a polarising continuation of a cinematic masterpiece.

Martin Freeman.

Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm’s character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, sits down to write a book of his great adventures. The film then travels back 60 years and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is a contented Hobbit living a peaceful existence in the Shire. His plans are rudely disrupted by the abrupt intrusion of twelve Dwarves from the once great city of Erebor. Driven out of their lands by the evil forces of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), hatch a dangerous plan to take back their home. This group of Dwarves is the work of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who persuades Bilbo to join them on their quest. Bilbo, reluctantly agreeing to leave the Shire, must find the courage to survive the obstacles in his path. While aiding the group on the road that lies ahead.

Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.

Ian McKellen & Cate Blanchett.

Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has received criticism from critics and fans alike. Using 48 frames-per-second film production technology and extending the content of one novel between three films hinder what could have been a masterpiece of fantasy film-making. Despite being the first act of this expansive narrative, An Unexpected Journey is merely a visual splendour that may or may not distract from its structural flaws. Jackson’s work on the original LOTR trilogy was a staggering feat. He captured a world-wide audience of both film aficionados and eager-to-please LOTR fans. However, His work here has created an uneven and at points confusing journey. Jackson has pushed the beginning of his new trilogy into similar territory as The Fellowship of the Ring. All too familiar elements make An Unexpected Journey feel like an monotonous trip there and back again. The grouping of contrasting characters, endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery and Howard Shore’s influential score depict Jackson’s obsession with the mythology and structure of his original trilogy.

Hugo Weaving.

Hugo Weaving.

The film’s opening hour is an unending mess of slapstick gags, wacky characters and exposition. Two prologues, though helpful in bring the uninitiated viewer into this labyrinth, divert the real focus of this story. The narrative itself is bloated, illustrating the problem with stretching one novel across a multiple film franchise. Unessential comedic moments dilute the darkly sickening aura of this evolving quest. The Dwarves are defined by bodily functions, unintentional destruction and wacky facial features. Their comedic sequences distract from the story’s essential elements. While a goofy and unending troll sequence turns into extensively bumbling comedic material. Thankfully, the film’s second and third acts allow the awe-inspiring action sequences and CGI creations to crawl and crash through the screen. Middle Earth has expanded from the previous trilogy, creating a breath-taking and unique look at a world we’ve seen before. Jackson’s use of CGI however distracts from the multi-layered practical effects. The visceral quality of the LOTR trilogy has been replaced with several blatantly-green-screen sequences.

“I do believe the worst is behind us.” (Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

Andy Serkis.

Andy Serkis.

Where the film manages to equal the original trilogy is through its many captivating  performances. Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo is charismatic and uplifting. Freeman, able to handle both dramatic and comedic material with BBC’s Sherlock and The Office, finds a balance between baffled and courageous. Bilbo creates an uneasy alliance between him and the rest of this bumbling fellowship. His vulnerabilities are what make him ‘human’, while his innate courage makes him a much more empathetic lead character than Frodo. Another stand out here is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis brought motion capture performance into the spotlight with Gollum several years ago. His wriggling, schizophrenic creation has to be seen to be believed. Both Serkis and Freeman fight with wits instead of swords in their tension-inducing game of riddles. The light bounces off of Gollum’s enormous eyes, illuminating every splayed wrinkle and facial twitch.

Despite its inconsistencies, An Unexpected Journey is still a fitting example of cinematic fantasy. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out next year, Jackson may have to focus on the narrative before taking another step toward box office success.

Verdict: A messy yet visually splendid return to Middle Earth.

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.

Dark Shadows Review – Bad, Bad Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith 

Stars: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz 


Release date: May 11th, 2012

Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Johnny Depp.

Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.

This tale from the crypt proves once and for all that Tim Burton has directorally run out of steam. His use of the same narrative tricks and visual motifs over and over again may please the die-hard Burton geeks, but non- believers may wish to steer clear of his latest white-faced, gothic adventure-comedy Dark Shadows.

Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp.

Based on the 1960/70s soap opera of the same name, the film begins in 1782 with the Collins’s; a wealthy family leaving Britain for the new world. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the bright son of the Collin’s family and their new fortunes in the newly built Collinsport, feeling so powerful he rejects the maid of the Collin’s estate, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who has a craving for both which-craft and revenge. She sickeningly murders his family and new love while cursing him forever as a vampire. Awakened in 1972 with a thirst for blood and a fresh start with his once great wealth, Barnabas must contend with the manor’s new inhabitants; his wacky ancestors. With a stuck up head of the family (Michelle Pfeiffer), a rebellious teen girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a drunkard (Jackie Earle Haley), a hired live-in Psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a strange little boy (Guliver McGrath), Barnabus must deal with clashing personalities, a vastly different time in history, a sexy yet vindictive Collinsport hotshot and alluring new visitor to the manor, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).

Eva Green.

Eva Green.

The real name of Dark Shadows should be ‘Tim Burton on auto-pilot’. Everything you think a Burton film involves is here in some sort of slithering form or another. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter show up in important roles, white, sour faces cover the characters in every frame, beautiful set and costume designs and one underused yet significant actor after another. With Burton’s recent slate of uninspiring and unnecessary remakes and interpretations such as Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he can now add this adaptation of the infamous gothic yet satirical soap opera to the list. The story problems stem from Burton’s blatant disinterest in the unfolding of beautiful yet scary events. Much like his other remakes, the story begins with a whisper of promise. The prologue illustrating Barnabas’ violent fall from uptown grace by dark forces, starts Dark Shadows off in a necessarily dark fashion. Soon after however, the film heads to the 1970’s, where one obvious joke on the styles and stereotypes of the 70s, and ironic vampire humour, rise from the grave.

“I have already prepared my counter-proposal. It reads thusly: You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!” (Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), Dark Shadows).

Michelle Pfeiffer.

Michelle Pfeiffer.

The hip soundtrack, featuring a blatantly pointless concert performance from Alice Cooper, rings throughout this fish-out-of-water tale, while clashing ideologies between Barnabus and the 70s itself surprisingly click in several of the slow dialogue moments. Several talented actors are forced into small, underused roles. Moretz, famous for her ass-kicking, potty mouth portrayal of Hit Girl, is creepily forced to grow up too fast in her portrayal of a slightly filthy teenager in the era of free love. Bonham Carter is only used to bring colour to many dull moments of character based dialogue. Aussie newcomer Heathcote is charming as the other new introduction to the Collin’s family, while Earle Haley is sadly wasted in a role entirely based on silly slapstick comedy, a real shame after his brilliant and sickeningly disturbed portrayal of the anti hero Rorschach in Watchmen. Burton’s typical auteur symbols do manage to keep the film together. Depp provides his usual charismatic and intensifying abilities as yet another indistinguishable and supernatural character from Burton’s disturbed mind. While Burton’s contrasting style of bright colours and soul sucking darkness in every scene portrays a fitting representation of this supernatural yarn. 

Burton, once considered the breakthrough auteur of Hollywood cinema, has transitioned from Edward Scissorhands to a parody of himself. With Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter holding him down, Dark Shadows solidifies his journey from greatness to messiness.

Verdict: A dull and convoluted fantasy flick.

Mirror Mirror Review – Roberts’ Rollercoaster


Director: Tarsem Singh Dhanwar

Writers: Marc Klein, Jason Keller (screenplay), The Brothers Grimm (fairytale)

Stars: Julia Roberts, Lilly Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane


Release date: March 20th, 2012

Distributors: Relativity Media, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Lilly Collins.

Worst part: Julia Roberts.

Interpretations of classic fairy tales seem to be part of a new Hollywood trend. Among them comes a surprising number of re-tellings of the Grimm Brother’s story Snow White. With Snow White and the Huntsman out in the coming months, we first arrive at a seemingly lighter retelling with Mirror Mirror. This kid friendly, bombastic affair will remind you of the fun animated Disney adventures significant to our childhoods through the eye popping visual style of special effects master Tarsem Singh Dhanwar (Immortals).

Lily Collins.

A fresh look at a stale story is what we see here as we are told by the stuck up and disgruntled evil Queen (Julia Roberts) that her version of events is far more enthralling than Snow White(Lily Collins)’s. We are thrown into the story as the Queen’s wicked ways push Snow over the edge, to the point of leaving the confines of the castle in search of adventure. The Queen’s destructive rule over the village forces Snow to stand against her. Banished to the woods, Snow recruits seven wacky yet resourceful dwarves, all the while charmed by the presence of courageous yet modest Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer).

Julia Roberts.

Julia Roberts.

Along With Tim Burton and Michael Bay, Singh has a keen eye for visual imagery but is unable to extend his reach towards convincing storytelling. With all the charm and flair of a musical, Singh’s visual direction in Mirror Mirror attains wondrous new heights. Particularly impressive is the ball sequence in which the castle is flooded with patrons dressed as members of the animal kingdom. His style allows the main characters to stand out in bright colours against plain colour settings, such as Snow’s visit to the decayed village in bright yellow, to illustrate the importance of Snow White’s journey of defiance. The costume design by the late Eiko Ishioka, CGI effects augmenting the wacky slapstick gags and zany fight sequences and the set designs uniquely representing the light of the castle and dark of the woods create an ingenious third dimension for the film without the use of 3D. While a cheerful and catchy song and dance number provides an extra surprise for this already enchanting visual splendour. The use of a brilliant 3D animated exposition sequence, keeping one up to date with the legend, will make you question whether displaying the whole film in this style would lift the film above a dull story told by a somewhat incapable director. This retelling makes a fatal mistake in focusing on the evil Queen. Mirror Mirror is noticeably awkward during scenes involving the Queen in all her pampered glory.

“It’s important to know when you’ve been beaten. Yes?” (The Queen (Julia Roberts), Mirror Mirror).

Armie Hammer.

Armie Hammer.

Despite the clever use of the mirror providing a guardian angel in the Queen’s own form, the castle scenes, involving awkward slapstick comedy and unending scenes of dialogue, only add to the desire to return to the classic story of Snow White and her band of height challenged compatriots. Not to mention, an uncomfortably flat performance from Julia Roberts is a clear sign of her inability to be anything more than her usual charming self in films like Erin Brockovich and Pretty Woman. Nathan Lane does however provide some much needed comic genius as the mistreated yet amusing boot licker Brighton. Thankfully, and ironically, scenes involving the dwarves never fall short. With differing personalities than usually depicted in the Snow White legend, their comedic delivery and natural chemistry create the true heart of the film. The training of Snow White in becoming a bandit is handled with the wit sorely lacking in the majority of the film. Both good looking and charismatic actors, Hammer and Lily create a funny and light hearted relationship though their enjoyable performances. The chemistry between Prince Alcott and Snow White works wonders for several of the otherwise bland dialogue sequences while their sword fight may be one of the most engaging and expertly choreographed in recent memory.

Mirror Mirror, piggy backing off the current fairytale adaptation trend, certainly wears its influences on its well-pressed sleeves. Despite the spirited cast and gorgeous production design, a certain aura of unoriginality fills the air throughout.

Verdict: A calculated and misguided retelling. 

The Hunger Games Review – On Fire!


Director: Gary Ross

Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novels)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson


Release date: March 23rd, 2012

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The frustrating shaky-cam.

The first of this enormously successful trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, has finally been translated to the big screen. With the notoriety this book has received and the difficulty of projecting this harsh story to large audiences, you have to wonder how they could possibly do a competent job. Thankfully they have; creating a beautiful yet sombre perspective of a reality show contestant in the most dangerous competition ever imagined.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

The Hunger Games starts out in the realm of District 12, one of 12 districts working their fingers to the bone to satisfy the needs of the futuristic landscape known as ‘The Capitol’. With the 12 districts given the appearance of coal mining towns in the 1800s, its inhabitants work hard and follow the oppressive rules to survive. Teenage wanderer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) envisions a life away from restraints. Her protective nature over her sister Primrose is brought to light when Prim is chosen to be in the capitol’s favourite annual event, the Hunger Games, in which 24 citizens, two from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to forcefully participate in a bloodbath. 24 go in, one comes out. After volunteering for the event to save her sister, Katniss is accompanied by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). They must both physically and mentally challenge themselves in and out of the arena as their moral judgements, both for humanity and social indifference, will be greatly tested.

Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson & Woody Harrelson.

Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson & Woody Harrelson.

Someone who hasn’t read the books (myself Included) may see this for what it is; a bloodthirsty battle for survival featuring the teenage fantasy of good looking characters and romance in the face of danger, with an aim of pleasing the entire family. The translation of this book, while a hard one to pull off, brings elements from different genres and visual styles together in a charming fashion. The witty dialogue and chemistry between the characters is a unique and enlightening trait, sadly missing from similar adaptations such as Percy Jackson or The Golden Compass. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) creates a rightfully sombre depiction of events while being able to inject an appropriate amount of charisma. His direction in the slow, dialogue based parts is powerful. Poignant yet romantic technicolour dreams of The Capitol and moral ambiguity in the face of death is the perfect balance found right off the bat. The visual style delicately reflects Katniss’s strong emotional shifts. District 12 is reflected as a decrepit and colourless land surrounded by green forests, simulating her desperate desire to leave the borders of this lower class society. While The Capitol is certainly a sight to behold. A powerful and fixating mixture of Tokyo anime and New York fashion week depicts the technicolour plethora of futuristic yet concrete grey city settings and elaborate characters decked out in outrageous costumes and hairstyles. The performances also add to the charm needed for this depressing story.

“May the odds be ever in your favour.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games).

Donald Sutherland & Wes Bentley.

Donald Sutherland & Wes Bentley.

An impressive supporting cast including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland deliver fun yet nuanced performances. While singer Lenny Kravitz is a revelation as Cinna, a stylist making the best of a bad situation for the participants. This is not a perfect film however as some of the more confronting themes and directions the book is known for are sadly lost in the translation. The film’s overall problem matches a similar problem with the Harry Potter films, in that it feels like there are so many elements brought in from the novel that the film loses focus and leaves behind any sense of emotional impact or connection. Jennifer Lawrence, Hutcherson and Hemsworth deliver dynamic performances, but the love triangle between them, when eventually touched on, feels forced. While the supporting characters fail to deliver a dramatic affect on any level and are strangely left out of most of the second half. Another major flaw is the game itself. The direction is uninspiring as Ross fails to deliver the technical ingenuity needed to tell this interpretation of kids being tested in brutal combat. Despite its shocking violence at certain times; quick cuts, uncomfortably close shot framing and an irritating shaky camera style unfortunately turn what should be affecting scenes of death into completely incomprehensible fist fights and blood splatters.

The Hunger Games, if anything, points directly at our love of big-budget entertainment. Revelling the hypocrisy, the movie utilises its impressive cast, solid writing team, and efficient director to bolster the YA genre. This adaptation is certainly worth fighting for!

Verdict: A flawed yet engaging action-drama. 

John Carter Review – Kitsch’s Catastrophe


Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novels)

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong


Release date: March 9th, 2012

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The Tharks.

Worst part: The cliched narrative.

The perfect way to describe this adaptation of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is by comparing it to every classic action adventure film of its type. Charming yet tedious, John Carter is a sci-fi fantasy flick that will leave you underwhelmed, as great actors and a beautiful visual style are dragged through a slow pace and unoriginal script.

Taylor Kitsch.

The clichés begin with a young Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) reading from the memoirs of civil war veteran and all around badass John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Suddenly we are taken back to the end of the civil war, with Carter looking for lost treasure while trying to avoid both the cruel american forces and savage native american indians. Carter’s dangerous discoveries and run ins with the law of the land lead to his transportation from Earth (Jarsoom) to Mars (Barsoom). With the realisation of his new home comprising of warring factions not resembling any nationality on earth and a spiritual alien tribe, its up to Carter and feisty princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to save the dying planet from the forces of evil, with their hearts skipping a beat for each other along the way.

Lynn Collins & Ciaran Hinds.

John Carter is Avatar, Star Wars and Dances with Wolves all rolled into one. The film wears its cliches and influences on its sleeve, without displaying an even vaguely imaginative sci-fi action fairytale simultaneously. Despite this series of books being written in the early 20th century, this film was clearly the result of box office successes such as Avatar and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Carter’s exploration of Mars is surprisingly dull due to the very simple quest our characters are placed in. Unlike Avatar, the film quickly loses focus and spends little time with its most unique characters. Whereas Avatar saw to the detailed exploration of a planet’s native inhabitants, The ‘Tharks’ in John Carter stand only for plot devices and comic relief. Unfortunately, the film focuses almost entirely on the warring Romanesque factions. Despite several clever moments of comedy, the human characters throughout are two dimensional at best while bland performances from British actors Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West prove costly for this already unenterprising adventure. Mark Strong is charismatic as the snarling, shape shifting Thern but suffers from a one dimensional character used specifically as a plot contrivance. This film proves that Hollywood’s fresh crop of young lead actors aren’t up to the task of carrying major Hollywood blockbusters.

“When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.” (Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), John Carter).

Mark Strong.

Kitsch and Collins are completely dull. Their thick accents and lack of expressions add to the tedium as they soon become uninteresting to watch. Their developing relationship also feels forced upon finding out Carter’s recently troubled past. This largely predictable quest and tale of love among the stars is not without its share of enjoyable moments. The technical aspects of the film reign supreme, especially when dealing with the alien characters. The Tharks are depicted as war ravaged and spiritually guided praying mantises. Their tusks, four arms and slender figures create a wonderful interpretation of the ancient Earth bound tribes from Africa to North America. While their strange body movements and reactions to  John Carter himself create many fascinating character interactions. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church provide their usual screen prowess in their motion capture turns as tribe members Tars Tarkis, Sola and Tal Hajus respectively. The setting of Mars is also used to full effect. The idea of undiscovered worlds carved into the bright red planet is expressed through giant mechanised cities, flying machines, scary creatures, gigantic battles and alien inhabitants sticking to the old ways; brought to life through impeccable special effects and sickeningly harsh desert landscapes.

John Carter, for all the bravado and good-will of its typical summer blockbuster vibe, can’t help but trip over its own two alien feet. Despite the epic scope and fine cast, the movie comes off like a slap-dash studio decision. Sadly, Avatar‘s shadow is still too big!

Verdict: A perfunctory and uninspired sci-fi blockbuster.