Mar 30 2012

Review: Mirror Mirror

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 5:29 pm

Mirror-Mirror2012 is shaping up to be a big year for fairy tale princesses. If you haven’t heard: there are not one, but TWO Snow White movies making their way to the cinemas in the next 3 months. This week sees Mirror Mirror hitting the big screen while the Kristen Stewart vehicle Snow White and the Huntsman is slated for a June release. Is this doubling-up of Snow Whites purely a coincidence, or a part of some wicked conspiracy between studios to brainwash our children away from eating apples?

Mirror Mirror stars Lily Collins (daughter of Sussudio hitmaker Phil) opposite Julia Roberts and looks to be the more traditional of the two movies. The film has a strangely irreverent tone that sets it out as a light romp, which is not a bad thing at all. Director Tarsem Singh quickly marks this out as a children’s film, shying away from any real violence, turning his attention to the eye-popping visuals for which he’s best known. His previous films The Cell, The Fall and Immortals may not have suggesting this as the next step in his career  (you can see him occasionally  struggle with nursing the script’s breezy style) but his opulent visual sensibility lends itself perfectly to the fairy-tale genre.

The sets and costumes have been designed to within an inch of their lives and the film makes very few attempts to solidify the reality of this world. In fact, one wouldn’t be far off comparing Mirror Mirror to a big screen panto: Roberts’ evil Queen is camp and knowing, her manservant (Nathan Lane) is a Mr. Smee-like comedy sidekick while Armie Hammer’s Prince is very often forced into the role of buffoon. The humour may be a bit broad for adult audiences, but it’s tough not to admire Mirror Mirror’s ambitions and influences — the argumentative camaraderie of the dwarves is a clear reference to Time Bandits; Lily Collins looks a lot like Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth; and the banter-laden dialogue is reminiscent of The Princess Bride. Singh’s film never quite reaches the heights of any of those classics, but you can’t fault the effort.

Mirror Mirror has few aspirations of being a Shrek-style cross-generational hit: it doesn’t make any attempt to update the story or make it hip in any way. It’s a film that’s firmly made for pre-teens that will probably keep the kids engaged for 100 minutes.

So to summarise: it’s a perfect movie for a day out with your nieces and nephews, but an awful pick for a first date.

 


Mar 30 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 12:29 pm

TintinAfter almost two decades of development and pre-production, Steven Spielberg has finally brought his vision of the ginger-quiffed boy reporter and his globetrotting escapades onto the big screen. But was The Adventures of Tintin worth the wait?

Combining a few of Hergé’s graphic novels, the screenplay (penned by British heavyweights Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish) finds Jamie Bell’s Tintin and his faithful terrier Snowy on the trail of a lost pirate treasure belonging to an ancestor of drunken seaman Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Hounded by a sinister figure named Sakharine (Daniel Craig), the gang find adventure everywhere: from the city streets to the high seas and the scorching desert. Along for the ride are fan favourites, bumbling policemen Thompson and Thomson, played by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.

Utilising the same performance capture system used in Avatar, the technology has evolved to the point where it no longer suffers from the dead-eyed “uncanny valley” quality that plagued earlier photo-realistic CG projects (for the most grotesque example, check out the strutting corpses from 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within). The most exciting part of this development is that Spielberg and his co-producer Peter Jackson have created a fully animated film that looks and feels like a Steven Spielberg movie: his regular cinematographer Janusz Kaminski is credited as cinematographer and John Williams provides a score reminiscent of his treatment from Catch Me If You Can. There are extraordinary visual sequences including pirate battles and a car chase that could have come straight out of the Indiana Jones films, a franchise that owes a lot to the Tintin stories.

Some of the characterisations are a bit on the un-PC side, notably the Arabic millionaire Omar Ben Salaad and Serkis’ drunken Scotsman (alcohol to Captain Haddock is like spinach to Popeye). Also, in an age when most family films have been sanitised to a U certificate, there’s something both jarring and nostalgic in seeing Tintin carry a gun so casually.  It’s old-fashioned and very much part of the movie’s throwback charm.

Critical response to The Adventures of Tintin have been notably tepid so far but one can’t help suspect that if this film had been live-action, it would be lauded as a return to form for Mr Spielberg, providing all the thrills and spills of a Boys’ Own adventure with the scope of a blockbuster.


Mar 25 2012

Review: 50/50

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 6:31 pm

50/50It seems strange how we have hundreds of horror movies that deal with zombies, serial murderers and sadists but there are no horror films about the most prolific killer of them all: cancer.  Over half a million people die of cancer every year in America alone, whereas Zombies have so far failed to rack up even a single fatality in real life. Our point is this: cancer is something that has affected the majority of people, whether it’s first-hand or through a friend or family member has had to deal with, yet movies too often seem incapable of dealing with the matter. The subject is so grim that to deal with it honestly feels taboo but failing to acknowledge its severity is crass. Even in this age of ironic detachment and non-PC Frankie Boyle routines, movies about The Big C still have to walk one hell of a tightrope.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young journalist whose life grinds to a halt when he is diagnosed with an exotic form of spinal cancer. We follow him as he breaks the news to his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best mate and colleague (Seth Rogen) and his mother (Anjelica Huston) and we get to see those relationships shift and morph as he proceeds with his treatment and considers the possibility he might die. His girlfriend initially promises to stay with him but the way their relationship plays out is understandable but tough to swallow.

The screenplay is written by Will Reiser, who based the story on his own experience with cancer. A television writer whose credits include Ali G’s HBO show, Reiser brings not only a deep personal understanding of the character’s situation, but enough perspective and clarity to realise that humour and terminal illness are not mutually exclusive. The structure of Reiser’s script gives 50/50 the rhythm of a comedy and there are funny scenes where Rogen and Gordon-Levitt try to use his cancer to pick up girls at a bar. The humour feels like it comes from a place of truth, and it stops the movie from becoming unbearably bleak or depressing.

The is acting is strong without being showy; with Bryce Dallas Howard, in particular, delivering on a role that could easily have been played unsympathetically. Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove his leading man cred while Rogen demonstrates once more that his stoner persona can be an incredibly versatile tool.

Don’t let the heavy subject matter put you off watching 50/50. It’s an uplifting, well-observed, funny movie. But don’t take our word for it: click here and watch it, already…

Back to blinkbox Movie Mondays


Mar 16 2012

Contraband

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 9:53 pm

There once was a man. He was very good at robbing banks/stealing cars/counterfeiting currency/negotiating for hostages/killing. He was the best in the business but it got to be too much for him and he had to retire. Now, because of some circumstance, he is forced back to do one last job before retiring for good.

This pretty much sums up the plot of a hundred movies from Rambo: First Blood Part 2 to Gone in 60 Seconds. We’re not pointing this out as a criticism: some of the movies that follow this format are absolute stonkin’ classics. It’s always about the execution.

Contraband is one such movie.

Mark Wahlberg is a man. He was very good at smuggling. He was the best in the business but it got to be too much for him and he had to retire. Now, because of a mistake made by his wife’s idiot brother, he is forced back to do one last job before retiring for good. There are, of course, more details. Thrown into the mix is Giovanni Ribisi as the small-time gangster who has Wahlberg’s brother in-law by the short and curlies while Ben Foster and Kate Beckinsale fill out the cast as his best friend and wife, respectively.

As mentioned before, it’s all about the execution, and Contraband is a tightly run ship that wastes little time elevating the stakes as Wahlberg travels to Panama to pull off a big job. Efficiently directed by Baltasar Kormákur (who starred in the Icelandic original on which this was based), the film delivers on its premise: there are car chases, daring heists and gun fights galore. Mark Wahlberg, an actor who has never claimed to possess a wide range, shows that he still has what it takes to be a very effective leading man.

Contraband works like gangbusters precisely because it has no aspirations to be anything more than what it is:  the story of a man. A man who was very good at smuggling and the best in the business, etc…

Contraband is in cinemas now.


Mar 16 2012

blinkbox Reviews – Jane Eyre

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 9:43 pm

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

“What? They made another movie of that book that we had to read for GCSE. Why would they do that?”

This is perhaps the attitude of many movie-goers and TV viewers who are annually subjected to endless remakes of classics by Dickens, Austin and the Brontë gang. Well, of course: these authors are literary titans and national treasures; their works deserve to live on in memory. But seriously, the British film and TV industry has a terminal obsession with horses and corsets that manifests itself in the dozens of period dramas produced every year.

Having dug ourselves into a hole, it must be admitted that Cary Fukunaga’s film adaptation of Jane Eyre is actually very good. Starring Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (every movie from 2011), the production is a lush affair that simply oozes atmosphere. Wasikowska’s leading performance is subtle, yet clear in demonstrating a woman meek in poise but strong in resolve. Fassbender –continuing his string of fine work—plays the brooding and seemingly cruel Rochester perfectly, creating tension from thin air in his scenes with Jane. On the level of a romance film, it works exquisitely thanks to the palpable tension between them. Fans of modern romances like Twilight will have much to enjoy in Jane Eyre

In fact, on a surface level, Jane Eyre and the vampire saga have much in common: they both tell the story of a young woman displaced into an unfamiliar and slightly menacing environment. Once there, they both encounter a handsome and mysteriously brooding man. Though at first they find him rude and distant, in time they discover that he is indeed infatuated with them and hiding a terrible secret. But whereas Brontë’s heroine is a self-possessed woman who is determined to be subservient to no man, Twilight’s Bella is a girl defined entirely by her obsession with a boy. It’s utterly baffling how a 160 year-old story is more progressively feminist than something concocted five years ago.

And surely, that’s what makes Jane Eyre such a timeless story. Jane is born into a man’s world but she stands by her convictions in the face of adversity, which results in her finding not only love, but the reciprocated love of someone that considers her an equal.

Bolstered by a great supporting cast that includes Jamie Bell and Dame Judi Dench, Jane Eyre is a tight and compelling piece of film making. It’s a movie that’s strangely appropriately for the entire family and, who knows, it could come in useful if you’re revising for your exams.


Mar 02 2012

blinkbox Reviews: Immortals

Tag: Uncategorizedblinkbox @ 5:48 pm

 

In Ancient Greece, Theseus (Henry Cavill), a man from humble beginnings, must prevent the merciless King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from finding a mythical bow powerful enough to slay the Gods. With the help of the virgin Oracle (Freida Pinto) and a thief (Stephen Dorff) he faces foes like the Minotaur and the Titans.

Though there are hints of Jason and the Argonauts and the original Clash of the Titans, Immortal’s true providence is revealed by its poster’s tagline: “from the producers of 300”.

Who would’ve guessed that Zak Snyder’s 2007 Spartan romp would become such the influential movie of our time? Since Gerard Butler and his heavily muscled cohorts rippled their way onto the big screen, there has been an enormous slate of sword-and-sandal epics starring actors with their shirts off. From TV’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand to last year’s Conan the Barbarian, there’s been no shortage of muscular men brandishing swords and spilling blood. Our leading men have all become so stacked that if Gladiator was being made today, Russell Crowe would not make it past the first round of auditions.

So can we expect anything new or different from Immortals?

First of all, director Tarsem Singh (a veteran of commercials and music videos) brings an unexpected visual style to the project. While the focus is still firmly placed on action, Singh shoots his slow-motion fight sequences to resemble renaissance artworks: from the compositions to the way the scenes are lit, many shots look uncannily like something Caravaggio might paint. It is an impressive feat, but the style isn’t entirely consistent throughout the entire movie. Strangely, for a film of such epic proportions, there’s something about Immortals that seems decidedly small. It looks as though in an effort to save money, they filmed on the smallest soundstage on the planet and used only a dozen extras, filling in the rest of the space with glossy computer graphics.

One point of interest is that lead actor Henry Cavill has been cast to play the Man of Steel in an upcoming Superman reboot from the makers of 300 (all roads lead to Sparta, after all). He has a great handle on the action sequences but in quieter moments, he’s stoic to the point of being boring. Frieda Pinto is an alluring screen presence as always but she’s criminally underdeveloped as a character. Mickey Rourke, however, just feels out of place like a Brooklyn gangster magically transported back in time. And perhaps that is our main gripe with Immortals: it’s strangely inconsistent. The elements that we see on screen are striking and wonderful don’t seem to build a cohesive world.

It really is a shame as Singh’s previous film, The Fall, had a small budget but enormous visual scope. He travelled all over the world over a period of four years shooting this, piggybacking his production on the back of commercial shoots and encouraging clients to make their ads in locations where he wanted to film his fantasy epic. Sadly, having a bigger budget for the Immortals could not translate to a bigger look. Incidentally, The Fall is also one of the most striking movies ever made and comes highly recommended by us.

Immortals, however, is still more original and esoteric than any other blockbusters you’re likely to see: the action is absolutely fine and as a movie experience, it’s leagues above something like Transformers. It’s mostly well-acted, exciting when it needs to be and visually stunning throughout.

Rating: 4 greased torsos out of 5.