Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Monsters Vs Aliens: Movie Review

Monsters Vs Aliens: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10 for adults, 7/10 for kids.
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie and Keifer Sutherland.
Directors: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon.

Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon) is getting ready for her wedding when she is hit by a meteorite infused with alien energy. Shortly after she turns into a giant woman 15 metres tall, bursting through the roof of the chapel and causing her guests to run in terror.
Now a monster, Susan is quickly captured by General W.R. Monger (Keifer Sutherland) and taken to the government's classified building in Area Fifty-something.
Dubbed "Ginormica," she joins four other monsters also seized over the years: Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist whose attempt to give himself the survival skills of a roach had unintended side-effects; B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) a gooey brainless blob created from a genetic engineering experiment gone wrong; The Missing Link (Will Arnett), an amphibious lizard-man; and Insectosaurus, an enormous giant bug herded around by bright lights.

The five monsters remain locked up until alien Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) arrives on Earth to retrieve the meteor's transforming energy and take over the world. After a military attack against Gallaxhar fails, General W.R. Monger and The President (Stephen Colbert) decide the only course of action is to deploy the five monsters to defeat Gallaxhar's robot probe and his army of clones. The gang are released and set out on a journey of self discovery and laughs as they band together to save the world.
Excited by attending a 3D Dreamworks movie, there was a moment of panic when I arrived and was handed the 3D specs. Smaller than the head-enveloping IMAX frames, it was uncertain that they would fit over my everyday glasses. Thank goodness for rectangular frames - if I had owned hipster horn-rimmed glasses there would have been 90 minutes of blurry screen action instead of the crystal-clear special effects I enjoyed.
(Mental note: when attending a 3D screening make sure to put contacts in.)
Monsters vs Aliens opens with an amazing view of the universe, packing a powerful 3D punch, and the special effects novelty stays around long enough for Susan's hair to be somewhat more captivating than normal. After this the effects settle down somewhat - there are a few moments of 3D for 3D's sake, including a pingpong ball - but the kids had such a lot of fun with it there's no point in being picky.
As an adult, the fun mainly lies with the references to the creatures from 1950s horror movies. Susan is clearly the 50 Foot Woman (or rather in her case, the 49 foot, 11 inch woman), B.O.B is the BLOB, and The Missing Link is uncannily similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unsurpisingly, this novelty wears off fairly quickly, leaving you desperate for the odd pop culture reference. I laughed out loud twice, which was a disappointing result when you consider the fun of another Dreamworks production, Shrek.
On the other hand the kids in the audience seemed captivated from the get-go. This may have been due more to the 3D effects than the storyline, but at least they weren't bored. Before the feature started the cinema was full of chatter, kicking seats, and calls for mum to sit in the middle. Once the lights went down there was complete silence, apart from an irresistable need at the beginning to name the planets - "Look there's Saturn!"
Gallaxher starts off as a comedic bad guy, but it's worth mentioning that in the second half of the movie he becomes slightly more menacing. Still, there weren't any really scary bits, and only one child was overwhelmed (three times). If your child is likely to cry at a friendly looking evil alien it might be best to stay away, but in terms of octopus-formed bad guys, Gallaxher doesn't come close to the truly terrifying Ursula from Disney's The Little Mermaid.

Monsters vs Aliens has all the ingredients of a good kids' flick- a band of misfits finding themselves, a scary bad guy who isn't too scary, a moral (your true friends will accept you for who you are) and a nod to Axle F. However as an adult, be prepared for the slightly unengaging characters and a predictable plot.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Wrestler: Movie Review

The Wrestler: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director: Darren Aronofsky

A fading wrestler, battered by his time in the ring, looking for one last final big fight aka Randy "The Ram" Robinson.
An actor, battered by his time in the spotlight, looking for a return to fame and peer acceptance aka Mickey Rourke.
Yes, the parallels in Darren Aronofsky's latest between the titular character and Mickey Rourke are far too obvious.
Back in the 1980s, Randy The Ram Robinson was a big player in the wrestling scene - his nemesis in the ring was the Ayatollah but these days The Ram plays smaller venues and is struggling to get by.
He wears a hearing aid in one ear; his body wracked by the use of steroids, muscle boosters and the beatings he's taken in the ring over the years.
But the Ram is old school; he still loves to put on a show for the fans so much so that he'll use a razor blade in the ring to cut his own head, allowing the blood to mingle with his blond overlong trestles.
However, life outside the ring is not going great for Randy.
His futile attempts to rebuild some of the destroyed bridges with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) whom he abandoned in his early years and his push to form a closer bond with stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) are pushing him ever further to the edge of desperation.
A heart attack after a particularly gruesome smackdown forces him to re-evaluate his life and as he wrestles with the possibility of his life being over, he tries one last time to put his life in order and quell the demons of the past.
The Wrestler mixes documentary and drama - in effect, at times, it feels like a doco about a Wrestler's twilight years, as he adjusts to life outside the ring, a life where he's always struggling to get by and where he feels alienated.
However, it's Rourke's performance in this film which is so compelling even if the route Aronofsky takes is somewhat predictable (what will happen between estranged daughter/ father as they pursue a second chance; what could happen when he takes a role at the local deli counter; will he grow closer to Cassidy), it's Rourke's turn which makes it plausible, raw and emotive.
His every move after a fight is a struggle; his very core is mangled by the lack of emotional connection with his daily life he is a character who is fighting to move on and deny the reality of what hes created over the years.
Even when The Rams beavering away behind the deli counter, he's essentially putting on a show for the customers, struggling to break away from the persona he's become over the years.
At the Wrestler's emotional core is an existential conflict between living life because you have to and denying who you are.
Both The Ram and Cassidy realize this as they try to make ends meet.
(Minor spoiler warning!)
And when The Ram gives his final speech in the ring about how he's going to keep doing this for the fans and will only quit when they tell him to, you can't help but wonder how cathartic that must have felt for Rourke, as an actor who spent many years in the wilderness.
There are some great moments in The Wrestler - such as the camera following The Ram as he negotiates the back corridors in the supermarket to the front counter which parallel his entrance to the ring but at times, Aronofsky is a little hard handed in delivering them choosing to sledge hammer them home rather than rely on a more subtle approach.

The open to interpretation ending of the film may infuriate some, and some of the formulaic way in which the plot unfolds may irritate purists but at the end of the day, The Wrestler is a tour de force; an emotionally draining journey and one which will leave you feeling like you've experienced the Ram Jam smack down Robinson's character is famous for in the ring as you step outside. 

Transporter 3: Movie Review

Transporter 3: Movie Review

Rating 4/10 - 9/10- if you like exploding things, car chases and lots of slow mo shots
Cast: Jason Statham, Robert Knepper
Director: Luc Besson
Frank Martin is back.
Actually, I don't recall asking for his return - but nevertheless, the courier man who always has a plan has returned for a third outing.
This time, it's pure adrenaline filled nonsense.
Martin's approached for a job when a car carrying a colleague of his - along with a kidnapped Ukranian girl - smashes through his wall at home.
But as his pal's carried away in an ambulance, he explodes knocking Martin out.
When Martin wakes up, he finds he's got a few problems - on his wrist is a device which will cause him to blow up if he deviates on what the bad guys want.
So along with the Ukranian girl, he's back on the road in his trusty car - and determined to untangle himself from the web he's become ensnared in.
The twist (a la Speed) with this one is that if he's too far away from his car and his cargo, the wrist bracelet will explode - and that'll be the end of him.
What can I say about Transporter 3?
At times, it's like watching an overlong commercial for a car with plenty of slo-mo shots/ cut shots/ shots of the gears being wrenched and so on.
There is plenty of car chases - some of them appear to have been sped up in the edit suite which produces an odd effect.
There's also a lorry jackknifing on a narrow road mid -pursuit.
Things blow up - from many angles.
There's a pumping soundtrack - and to be fair, a very amusing chase on a BMX bike as Martin desperately tries to catch up with his car after it's stolen.
There's a gubbins plot about an eco-terrorist kidnapping a petulant Ukranian girl to hold her eco-minister father to ransom.
And there's our Frank Martin (a gruff growling Jason Statham) facing off against multiple bad guys who have guns/ knives etc - and armed at times with only his jacket top and easily shreddable shirt.
Whereas in the past, all the bad guys in action films were either English or Arabian, now every hero is menaced by Robert Knepper (the odious T-Bag in TV's Prison Break) - who's in danger of being brutally typecast in playing the same bad guy roles - even down to the slight chewing on his own tongue.
Basically if you like the previous films, you won't need me to expand on why Transporter 3 works in its respective genre and with its respective audience.

Sadly though, it's nothing new, original - or in places coherent.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Spirit Of The Marathon: Movie Review

The Spirit Of The Marathon: Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Kathrine Switzer, Deena Kastor, Paula Radcliffe, Daniel Njenga, Dick Beardsley, Ryan Bradley, Leah Caille, Jerry Meyers

Director: Jon Dunham

Having just seen plenty of people complete the Round The Bays run in Auckland (and the subsequent discomfort many of them are now in) it seems a good time to examine the psyche of those who put themselves through arduous exercise such as this.
The Spirit Of The Marathon takes a look at six people who are involved in some level in marathon training and participation.
From the first timer to the seasoned pro, the doco's very good at detailing the history of the Marathons worldwide and details the run up to the Chicago Marathon.
However, I found it wanting in some places - whether I was expecting to feel inspired by those involved in the event, I simply didn't leave the cinema itching to take part in a 26.2 mile run.
But I was a little concerned I was alone in my feelings on this - so I enlisted the help of Annette Lee , who's completed 4 Ironmans, 3 Half Ironmans, 2 marathons and 5 half marathons to see how she viewed the doco which has taken 4 years to complete - as an athlete who's ensconced in this way of life, this is what she thought.
Running a marathon is a very personal thing to do.
Whilst you race with others, you're not necessarily racing against others; at least that's how I see it as a marathon runner.
"The Spirit of the Marathon", a non-fiction feature film, attempts to expose the 'spirit' but fails to delve deep enough into the runner's psyche.
The film attempts to tell the 'unique' stories of six runners but actually there's little that's unusual about them to really inspire you.
Sure 70-year-old Gerald is inspirational simply because he's 70 but then if you know anything about marathon runners, he's pretty run of the mill.
Elite athletes Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga are in a different class and one that your average runner isn't really interested in joining.
So where was the spirit of the marathon?
The film, shot on four continents, relies heavily on the rising and setting sun, which artificially glorifies even the plodders of the running world.
A nail-biting finish at the Chicago Marathon in the men's and women's elite race is simply good spectator sport, but if I weren't already a runner, I wouldn't have felt particularly inspired to don my trainers and get out there, it all looked a bit too pedestrian even with a film crew following your every footstep.
Having said that, looking back five years where the distance between lamp posts might as well have been 26 miles maybe I'm just blase about it all now.

So, if you're a budding marathon runner or you just want to understand a little more about what makes runners tick "The Spirit of the Marathon" tweaks the curtain on the race a little and offers some interesting marathon facts that might come in useful at the next pub quiz night.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Religulous: Movie Review

Religulous: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Bill Maher
Director: Larry Charles
What are you to expect from a comedian for whom irreverent would appear to be their middle name?
Furthermore, what would you expect from the director who helped Borat terrorise parts of the civilized world?
Well, throw the two together and add in a mix of religion, and what you're left with is Religulous, a doco screening at the World Cinema Showcase. ( Read more about the festival here!)
Bill Maher, the host of American shows, Real Time and Politically Incorrect, makes no excuses about coming to the religious debate from a position of severe doubt.
He wasn't born skeptical - and was raised by a Catholic and Jewish family.
In this film, Maher meets Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons on his quest to see how the religious tick.
He heads to a Creationist museum in Kentucky - and visits a truck stop chapel - and along the way (in true Louis Theroux style) meets some of the more extreme believers on the spectrum as he tries to dissect what exactly faith is.
Maher's style is mischievous and, at times, (unsurprisingly) provocative as he interrogates people - sometimes, they answer as a rebuke to his increasingly irreverent questions.
He asks one believer (after telling them their take on miracles is pretty lame) why he doesn't kill himself if he can't wait to be with God.
As the doco unfolds, there are some crafty and amusing inserts between questions and interview subjects - during the Creationist segment, scenes from Planet of the Apes are shoehorned in for comic effect; and subtitles crop up on the screen during various interviews.
Some of these are relevant and some of them are just punchlines - but they give the doco a different feel to normal handlings of the subject.
The only time Maher loses the upper hand to an interviewee comes when he meets up with an anti-Zionist rabbi - Maher's so stunned by the rabbi's beliefs, that he walks out.
Elsewhere the interview subjects are mocked, belittled and provoked into answers - and at times, it's very funny - even if it is biased.
Religulous has a nice closing monologue from Maher where he extols the benefits of doubt which he says is more humbling than the arrogance of belief.
Ultimately, Religulous won't cause you to question any beliefs you have and it won't open your eyes too wide into other religions and their ways.
Maher's at times contemptuous attitude, may offend some - as he has a viewpoint from which he refuses to shift from - and Religulous' argument that religion has caused a lot of misery in the world is not a new one.

However, don't be surprised if you find yourself warming to him as the film goes on.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Watchmen: Movie Review

Watchmen: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jackie Earle Haley, Carla Gugino, Patrick Wilson
Director: Zack Snyder
Right - let's get this straight.
This film is going to divide the audience in two - 1) those who love, cherish and adore the original graphic novel and 2) those who've never read it, have heard the hype and wonder if it's like The Dark Knight.
Superheroes generally have been going darker as a genre over the past few years - and Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman franchise has plunged them deeper into noir.
So, the inevitable question with Watchmen has to be - does it measure up or does the weighty expectation piled upon it in the past few months sink it?
Watchmen is the story of a group of "superheroes".
Set in an alternative 1985 where Richard Nixon didn't leave the White House in disgrace and where the threat of nuclear war with the Russians is always around the corner, Watchmen tells the tale of a band of ordinary men who became the self appointed vigilantes of America; even fighting in Vietnam to help the cause.
But all of these dysfunctional guys - bar one, the atomically blasted apart Dr Manhattan - have no superpowers whatsoever and are racked with morality issues.
Things get worse for the Watchmen when Nixon introduces legislation outlawing the masked vigilante fraternity for good.
Cast aside and no longer wanted, the Watchmen are in their twilight years.
And when The Comedian, (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), one of their number is murdered, a lone vigilante known as Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) sets out to discover who was behind the brutal death - but what he discovers is infinitely more terrifying than he could have expected as the conspiracy runs a lot deeper and with consequences for the entire human race.
As I say, this film from visionary Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons, was always likely to appeal a lot more to the fans of the book (of which, I will admit, I am one.)
It's a dark, bleak, moody affair which is expertly realised and true to its original source material.
It's also quite a verbal film which demands a lot of concentration from its audience as the strands of the conspiracy are drawn together.
That said, it is truly stunning when viewed up on the big screen.(I'd recommend seeing it in IMAX if you get the chance)
Director Zack Snyder, who made the highly stylised 300 with Gerard Butler, has once again captured the feel of the graphic novel and created some truly bone crunching fight scenes (complete with some slow-mo moments).
However, those scenes don't resort to the Matrix bullet time effects which give them an original feel.
The opening credits sequence is audacious - to the sounds of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changing, the entire history of the vigilantes and how they've become what they've become is laid out - it's the perfect scene setter and leaves Snyder more time to concentrate on the latter day action without having to resort to wads of exposition to explain who everyone is and so on.
The central protagonist in Watchmen is Rorschach (played with spitting venom by Jackie Earle Haley) - as the last of the "superheroes" to continue working behind a mask (a cloth white balaclava which has moving ink blots on it a la Rorschach test) he is yet another anti-hero - but as the film goes on, you root more for the guy - even if he is pre-disposed to settling scores in a quite violent way.
Also central to the film is the glowing blue Dr Manhattan who's lost touch with all of his own humanity, despite being charged with looking over the rest of the human race.
There's Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), a pair of former heroes who're struggling to get by day to day without the costumes - and who can only really come alive when they embrace what they were - not what they are now.
These are characters suffering crises of identity, who have lost their sense of self by being unmasked and unwanted.
If you're in the dark about the novel and wonder if the film will appeal to you - I can safely predict you will enjoy it - but with the caveat that if you like comic book films as a genre.
It's a complex, dense conspiracy with unconvential heroes - and one which may suffer because it doesn't appeal across the spectrum in the way Superman and Batman have throughout the years.
But to be fair, that was always author Alan Moore's intention - his "superheroes" were based in reality, riddled with foibles and regrets and his vision was to portray a universe where heroes were a reality rather than a the hyper-reality of Gotham City and Metropolis.
Watchmen is an, at times, violent affair which is definitely not for the younger generation with more violence and sex than was in The Dark Knight.

However, it's yet another stunning entry into the "superhero" genre.

The Secret Life Of Bees: Movie Review

The Secret Life Of Bees: Movie Review

Rating 4/10
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Paul Bettany, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo
Director: Gina Prince Bythewood
1964 South Carolina.
Against a backdrop of the civil rights movement, 14-year-old Lily Owens (Fanning) runs away from an abusive father T Ray (Paul Bettany) taking with her the family's caregiver Rosaleen (Hudson).
But Lily is running away from the fact she's haunted by the death of her late mother whom she accidentally shot when she was young while her parents were arguing.
Lily and Rosaleen end up on the doorstep of the honey producing family, the Boatwrights - a trio of sisters; August, the matriarch (Queen Latifah), the ever so fragile May (Sophie Okonedo) and the belligerent June (Alicia Keys).
Within days Lily's introduced into their world - and taught how to keep bees.
But little does she know that in that house where she ended up, lies a secret which will change her life forever&.
Based on the best selling book by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees is unashamedly Sunday afternoon chick flick material.
It dances a fine line between outright schmaltz and tear jerker and is clearly pitching for a certain demographic.
While the film's not an unmitigated disaster by any stretch of the imagination, it is slow to get to where the narrative wants and is lumbered with some horrendously clunky dialogue and a clear case of sledge hammer foreshadowing.
When it's revealed the ever so fragile May is one half of twins and the second died, and she's described as a soul split in two, it's quite obvious (spoiler alert) May's not going to see the end of this film.
And that's half the problem with Bees - at times, its lazy characterization (be it either the flaw of the script or the director) makes you feel like you're watching a terribly clich├ęd Sunday afternoon drama pitched for the Hallmark Generation.
However, there is one saving grace.
Dakota Fanning.
Her performance as the deeply troubled, permanently haunted Lily is astonishing - and shows once again, that when she's part of an ensemble, she clearly blows everyone else off the screen. She clearly has a long way to go on her Hollywood journey - and if all her performances are as good as this one, she'll be collecting awards soon.
Unfortunately though it's not enough to lift The Secret Life of Bees out of the saccharine mire that is chick flick material - sometimes, you feel sick when you devour too much sugary stuff.

The Secret Life of Bees is one of those times.