Wednesday, 29 April 2009

X Men Origins: Wolverine - Movie Review

X Men Origins: Wolverine - Movie Review

Rating: 4/10
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, Ryan Reynolds
Director: Gavin Hood
Origins films are notoriously difficult.
Their writers are saddled with two options when it comes to a back story they either completely ignore whats been set on the celluloid screen before them and take it off on a new tangent (and risk alienating the fan base) or they embrace 100% whats been created before and stick rigidly to the characters, creating no real room for character growth or expansion.
It's even worse when the character in question is an iconic comic book hero - in this case, Wolverine.
When we met Wolverine in the first X Men film, Logan aka buffed up Hugh Jackman was desperate to find out more about his past and in the subsequent films, Wolverine's back story was a little more fleshed out and his involvement in the Weapon X project and with General Stryker was dealt with.
So it's curious to think that in X Men: Origins: Wolverine, you wouldnt expect too many new revelations.
Basically, in this film, we get to see just a little bit more of Wolverine's past (and a heck of a lot of shirtless Hugh Jackman who's once again spent some serious gym time building those pecs).
Shrouded in mystery (until the recent Origins comic and some of the recent X Men films) Origins saddles Logan with a past in the 1840s, a troublesome half brother Victor (played with menacing relish by Liev Schreiber) and a mercenary past working for General Stryker and his team of mutants who choose to wreak havoc for no real reason other than because the general tells them to.
However, with his moral compass acting up, Wolverine leaves the team and goes to Canada to follow the life of a lumberjack and set up little house on the prarie with a local school teacher.
But when Stryker returns with the news former comrades of the crack elite are being picked off, Wolverine's forced to make a choice about re-embracing his violent past or facing a tormented destructive future -at a lethal personal cost.
X Men Origins Wolverine is, to be frank, a disappointment - while Jackman comfortably embraces the role of Logan (and adds a bit more depth and humanity to him this time round as well as bringing yet more glowering), the rest of the film's a bit of a muddle.
The opening titles which show both Logan and Victor's involvement in various wars since the American Civil War are stunningly created and morph effortlessly from one combat to the next.
Sure, comic book films aren't exactly Shakespearean works even if their themes are tragedy, redemption and betrayal (which date back to way before old Will's time) but some of the dialogue in this is clunky beyond belief.
Granted, some of the humour comes from those moments when Wolverine's claws get him into trouble in a bathroom amuse - but the endless scenes of Liev Schreiber's Sabretooth character running at Jackman's Wolverine simply seem lazy.
Some of the fight scenes are impressive but they quickly fall into this repetitive mould and for a film which sees a lot of people impaled, picked off by guns and swords, there's a remarkable lack of blood.
Perhaps the heart and humanity of Wolverine's been ignored - a couple of particularly senseless deaths halfway through the film sharply bring into focus the tragedy in Wolverine's life and those around him - but those poignant scenes are shattered with yet more slow mo-explosions.
The end fight scenes (which I won't spoil for the X fans) go someway to retrieving the X Men mojo as they're impressive in scale - and there's a crowd pleasing cameo very near the end but too much of X Men Origins Wolverine feels like a misfire (don't even get me started on a fat suit reminiscent of Austin Powers and various scenes of Jackman growling and howling in anger).

There's already talk of a sequel and a Magneto origins film is in the works as a fan, I'd ask them to ease up and maybe go back to basics and actually concentrate on the characters before the whole X Men genre becomes a parody and I forget why I enjoyed the first films so much.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Grocer's Son: Movie Review

The Grocer's Son: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Nicolas Cazalé, Clotilde Hesme, Daniel Duval, Jeanne Goupil

Director: Eric Guirado
30-year-old Antoine Sforza (Nicolas Cazalé) left his small village ten years ago to follow the dream of a new life in the big city.
However, when his father has a heart attack, and with no other choices (either financial or personal) he finds himself drawn back into the parochial world of the village and thrust back into the family grocery business.
But Antoine is not a fan of life in the country - his attitude on being given the mobile grocery van and taking the shop on the road, is one of contempt for those around him.
Will his return to his former life work out?
Or will simmering family tensions finally bubble over and forever destroy the Sforzas?
The Grocer's Son is, at its heart, a retread of the story of the Prodigal son.
Only this time, it's told with a lot gentler humour - and some truly stunningly beautiful countryside.
While the characters aren't exactly original (Antoine left his village years ago tired of the small life, the father is a bit of a tyrant) The Grocer's Son works because of the gentle subtle way he becomes part of their life.
Granted Antoine's change in attitude is no surprise and can be seen a mile off - however, his initial interaction with those who rely on his services as the driver of a grocery delivery van, recall simpler times - I'm sure in some parts of the world people still buy from these vans and use eggs to trade or fake deafness when it comes to paying (as some of these characters do) - but bit by bit that doesn't detract from the overall feeling of this film.

Perfect for a rainy gloomy day, The Grocer's Son will transport you away to the beauty of Provence and the rolling hills - heck, it may even tempt you to give up the rat race and start a delivery business of your own.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Star Trek: Movie Review

Star Trek: Movie Review

Cast: Chris Pine, Karl Urban, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Simon Pegg, Leonard Nimoy

Director: JJ Abrams

Rating: 9/10

"Set phasers on fun"
JJ Abrams has done it! The man who confused the world with Lost and destroyed New York with Cloverfield has managed the impossible - he has made a Star Trek movie which will satisfy the fans, as well as bring a whole new generation of Trekkies to the franchise.
Quite simply he has made a bloody brilliant movie! Going back to the original characters of Kirk, Spock and Bones and introducing them as they meet for the first time at Starfleet was a huge gamble.
Would fans accept seeing different actors playing the iconic roles? Was there any life in a franchise which had wilted on TV and film? Would a new generation of cinema goers know or care about the history of the Trek universe?
Well fans and non-fans can rest assured that thanks to a tight script from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Mission Impossible 3, Transformers), top notch special effects and a cast that are clearly relishing their roles, Star Trek brings fun to the big screen - a welcome relief from the moody fantasy movies like The Dark Knight and Watchmen.
Abrams is quoted as saying he looked at the second movie in the series The Wrath of Khan for inspiration and it is clear he has taken basic elements from that movie.
Often regarded as the best of the previous 10 Trek outings, it featured a wronged protagonist (a fantastic Ricardo Montalban) out for revenge against the Federation. Much like the 1982 movie, the main bad guy in the 2009 version is not some general overlord out for world domination but rather a man who has lost everything but his sense of betrayal.
Eric Bana shines as Nero, a Romulan who has justifiably got the hump after watching his home world obliterated. With his own planet destroying device on board his mining vessel, Nero is out for some serious ass-kicking.
Bana is not the only one having fun with his character, the same can be said for the rest of the cast.

The big revelation is Chris Pine as the young Kirk. There is not a lot in his CV to suggest he would be suitable to fill William Shatner's boots from the original series. A starring role opposite Lindsay Lohan in Just My Luck and a small role in the indie hit Smokin' Aces are about as good as it gets.
But he blitzes the screen as the cocky, arrogant Kirk who never backs down from a fight. He doesn't play the future captain with the same mannerisms as Shatner, however it is fun to watch him throw in the odd Shatner-isms every now and them.
The original series relied heavily on the friendship between Kirk and Spock and thankfully Pine and Zachery Quinto handle the relationship on the big screen well - starting out as enemies before warming to each other's idiosyncrasies. Quinto (Sylar in TV's Heroes) nails the characteristics of Spock, an outsider on his home planet of Vulcan due to his mixed heritage.
Kudos to our own Karl Urban too for stepping into the shoes of DeForest Kelley to play the grumpy doctor Bones and he even gets to say one of his famous lines "I'm a doctor Jim... not a physicist".
John Cho as Sulu and Zoe Saldana as Uhura also shine, the latter even getting an unexpected romantic plot line, and Simon Pegg almost steals the show late on as engineer Scotty.
The gap between the original series and the latest update is bridged by the introduction of the "old Spock" Leonard Nimoy - who steps easily back into the role which made his name. Nimoy brings gravitas and in essence hands the reigns onto the new actors to continue the adventures of the Enterprise.
The movie is not without its faults - the device for Kirk to meet the old Spock stretches credibility to the limit and Anton Yelchin's Chekov starts off as amusing before quickly turning annoying, but these do not detract from the overall movie.

This is a big, fun film, obviously made with a lot of love which will see the Enterprise boldly going for more years to come.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fast & Furious: Movie Review

Fast & Furious: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10

Cast:
Vin Diesel - and his muscles, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster

Director: Justin Lin

Make no mistake - The Fast and the Furious has not been re-released. This is indeed the fourth instalment in a franchise that seems to share Police Academy's predilection for sequels (yes there is another one on the way).
Fast & Furious is a high-octaned muscle fest with all the elements to make a boy racer salivate: shiny toys, nos, gadgets, car races through populated streets and tunnels. Muscle cars race Japanese imports and there's plenty of lesbian action too.
The original crew signed on for the film, though one of the core cast is dispatched early in the piece. This character's demise sets the wheels in motion (pardon the pun) for the inevitable reunion between estranged mates Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker).
Dom is still pretty miffed that Brian turned out to be an undercover cop, while Brian feels pretty guilty about deceiving Dom, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and true love Mia (Jordana Brewster) about his true background.
Dom and Brian go head to head in a street race that would leave Tauranga residents seething. They arrive at the finish line to realise they share a common enemy and both are determined to bring the man down, no matter what the cost.
The franchise has been criticised for the blatant and at times comical use of CGI. Fast & Furious manages to dodge this issue through the use of fast cuts and editing. The action is so fast that at times it's dizzying.
The car chases are impressive, particularly one where the boys race across the Mexican desert and through a maze of tunnels with drug barons in hot pursuit. Hell, Dom didn't even break a sweat.
The acting is uneven but hey, the cast almost play second fiddle to the cars. As the tortured and conflicted Dom, Vin Diesel seems happy to let his forehead do the acting.

Diesel has been keeping a low profile of late and I can tell you exactly where he's been - at the gym, buffing up to fill in the cable knit sweaters in this film. His muscles are so big they are almost a distraction - and he makes the pretty buff Paul Walker look weedy in comparison.

But Fast & Furious ticks all the boxes, it's fast, it's bloody, it's shiny like a new coin. And if it's not your gig think of it this way - it'll keep those boy racers off the streets for a couple of hours.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Boat That Rocked: Movie Review

The Boat That Rocked: Movie Review

Cast: Tom Sturridge, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy
Director: Richard Curtis

Rating: 6/10 (7/10 if you're mainly going for the soundtrack)
Sex, drugs and rock n' roll. Welcome to the sixties.
Richard Curtis has returned to the silver screen once again to write and direct The Boat That Rocked; a story about the British government trying to stop the growth of the devilishly putrid rock music (as they see it) from reaching the innocent ears of the people. For a commercial station to fight the monopoly of BBC Radio, which only plays 45 minutes of rock music a day, the station must be offshore and thus, Radio Rock is born.
The film is a nod in the direction of the influential Radio Caroline, which reshaped the industry in that period and the rebellious nature of the DJs, who live truly hedonistic lives, reflects the era and exactly what the music of that time promoted. The notion that people were carefree and intrinsically, if subtly, rebellious is made abundantly clear throughout the film with the great British people tuning in to listen to their favourite voices from Radio Rock.
For the first hour of the film the style is fun and funky, as the newcomer, Carl (Tom Sturridge) gets to know the irrepressible members on the boat. Were it not for the strength of some of the core cast, it would have been very easy for the film to completely lose its way as the narrative begins to lose shape and the sub-plots confuse us all.
Curtis' strength has been romantic comedy and even though he tries to enter some of that into the film, the character engagement with Carl is never strong enough for the audience to truly empathise with him.

He has major storylines throughout the film, finding love and discovering more about his family history, yet they seem to be small scenes randomly thrown in rather than the character taking us on an emotional journey while he's on the boat.

On the face of it, the story is really about Carl, yet just as we're getting to know him we suddenly cut away to another random sub-plot and never really resolve Carl's issues, or at least, if they are covered they are quickly glossed over. Tom Sturridge's performance was commanding when he had screen time but there wasn't enough of him on screen for the audience to really care about him.
Also, the performances from the rest of the cast were so strong, and their sub-plots so superficial, that his storylines were drowned out anyway. Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Count was his usual brilliant self, taking charge when it counted and being the one character that really showed a genuine passion for music and a deep care for his 'limey' friends.

Bill Nighy was, well, Bill Nighy. His dry wit that he has really perfected into an art form was very much at the fore and the perfect foil for Kenneth Brannagh, who became better as the film went on to the point of really being a genuinely evil character, rather than the caricature he seemed to be at the start of the film.
Sad to say, the two Rhys' (Ifans and Darby) were not great. The Kiwi star had his moments but at the end of the film we were finding out what sort of character he was by others telling us, rather than him getting to really show what he can do. Even Dave (Nick Frost) is confusing; he tries to help Carl but then subsequently betrays him, and then they're still great mates. Does anybody care about anything in this film?
The Titanic-style ending was nothing short of awfulness mixed with huge doses of cliché. Despite the criticisms of the characters, some of the dialogue has been brilliantly written and delivered with a lot of laughs emanating from the audience and when the romantic situations started to develop, some of Curtis' talents could really be seen coming through, yet the disjointed characters and storylines gave an odd sense of enjoying the film as a whole, probably due to the significance of pirate radio in the era, but with about as much care for the characters as those DJs had for the government. Not a lot.

For those who love music from that era, the soundtrack will not disappoint and for those who lived through that era (especially if living in the UK at the time) the Radio Caroline memories will return, but that's not enough to make a great film, just a good one.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls: Movie Review

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls: Movie Review

Rating 7/10
Cast: Jools Topp, Lynda Topp, John Clarke, Helen Clark, Don McGlashan
Director: Leanne Pooley
"On paper, it shouldn't work"
Early on in Leanne Pooley's documentary those very words are uttered by a comedy writer about the two Kiwi icons.
And it's easy to see what exactly he means - Jools and Lynda Topp have become a bastion of Kiwiana, icons in their own lifetime.
But if you were to analyse exactly why that was, you'd pretty much expect the yodeling twins with their affinity for country and western, characters and political activism just wouldn't add up.
However, over 85 minutes, it soon becomes clear why the Topp Twins as an act does work - as well as just how much they've infiltrated the New Zealand way of life.
Ostensibly, this is supposed to be a documentary about Jools and Lynda, but it's really a snapshot of the New Zealand way of life during the last 50 years or so as the doco demonstrates just how steeped in the zeitgeist the twins have become.
Against the backdrop of Waikato dairy farming, we see the montage of the twins' lives before being introduced to some of their many characters - Camp Mother and Camp Leader, Ken and Ken, The Bowling Ladies and The Posh Socialites.
What's good about this is the way it simply slips into the pair's characters and morphs them back in - some of the anecdotes about how they've been taken into people's lives are just priceless - particularly the one involving Ken and the lapdancers.
Essentially the film doesn't really become about the two of them until very near the end when we see Jools' fight against breast cancer.
It's here we see the real love the Twins have for each other - and how devastated they'd be if anything happened to either of them.
Director Leanne Pooley's handling of these darkest moments of the Topp Twins' lives isn't mawkish or intrusive - and it shows just how low people can get when fighting this cancer.
Through the rest of the film, it's interesting to observe to what effect the duo have permeated our everyday lives and how at key moments in the country's history (Bastion Point, the Springboks tour) they've been involved in some form or other.

And that's The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls' greatest triumph - the narrative weaves the Twins' lives with major social events - and effortlessly shows how these icons have become a Kiwi heritage property.