Saturday, 31 March 2012

187, Wrath of the Titans

You only have to look back at Blog 30, way back in April 2010 to understand that regardless of the critics opinion, I was a Titans fan.  Growing up as an illiterate child in a literate household my only bedtime reading salvation was a book entitled 'Myths & Legends'.

Night after night (and you have to understand that this was a time when TV had 4 channels and a bedroom TV was only for celebs such as Russel Harty & Benny Hill) I would see myself to sleep with tales of Perseus, The Minotaur, Cyclops, Beowulf, Grendel etc and dream of Greek Gods looking down from on high, commanding prayers from mere mortals to allow them the power to keep under lock and key the Titans that would destruct the world given half a chance. 

Even though Critics slated the first movie I still found it easy to apply sincere gratitude for some of my childhood memories being finally projected onto the big screen for all to enjoy and the thought of a sequel -well, lets just say that this film is by far in my Top 3 of 2012 anticipated titles behind the last Batman movie and The Avengers but did it uphold my childhood ambitions of greatness?

Well, Yes.  Although not all would agree.  Firstly, lets get this whole 3D thing put to bed right now. 3D has been around since forever & in many guises but its fair to say the most recent carnation is by far the best but its still sadly only an afterthought.  The first Titans movie was a disappointing 3D experience and the lure of a potential 'Real 3D' is what we all dream of - this does not have it.  Again, as an after addition it only adds depth of field and to be frank, 2D will be just as impressive so from a non-critics, critics eye - only pay for 3D if its advertised as "Real 3D" (as the Avengers will be) and you wont be disappointed.

So after 4 paragraphs its actually time to talk about the movie.  I Loved it!  It starts a good 12 years after the first one with Perseus sadly widowed (possibly from Gemma Arterton but I'm not sure) and living the life of a lowly fisherman with son in tow, still in contact with daddy Zeus but by no means taken the godly throne he is so entitled too. The story follows an uprising in the Heavens where Perseus's half brother Ares defies Zeus and works with Hades to release Kronos, father to the brothers three and the plan to bring persecution back to the mortals and destroy earth.  Perseus, cousin Agenor, Queen Andromeda and a whole army of followers set off to bring down Ares and Hades with  a surprising result to bring peace to earth as we know it, and that's all your getting - no spoilers here!

Worthington, Neeson & Feinnes all return (brave move) to rekindle their roles and this time the female presence sees Arterton swapped out for former Brit 'Bond' babe Rosamund Pike (OOOOoosh!)  In addition to the aforementioned cast its Toby Kebbell (Garsiv from Prince of Persia) who gets my nod of appreciation for his slightly comical portrayal of Poseidon's son and like minded demigod Agenor.  A brilliantly cast role and one that manages to add a few chuckles along the way.

But here's the real good bit - being only 99 minutes long it does not take too much time to get going and the introduction of a Cyclops, Minotaur and finally, Kronos himself as the 'baddies' are nothing short of utterly spectacular.  These were my childhood villains finally visualised as I expected them to be and not a fleeting snapshot as the Kraken was in part one but long, sweeping shots that held prowess on the 70ft screen in front of me, each one offering a awe inspiring gasp from my hidden child within.

From the second Perseus mounts Pegasus on his quest my heart started beating double time.  Cyclops was my favourite mythological creature of all time, and they give us three of the bad boys!  Then the Minotaur - only in it for a few minutes but exactly as I expected to find him, in a labyrinth with no apparent way out, Superb. Finally, Kronos himself, father of the Gods - exactly portrayed as he was in my mind and seemingly replicated from the Titans edition of the P.C classic, Age of Empires (The Titans) - all of my dreams were coming true!

I'm getting over dramatic but my love for these stories just wont let me hear a bad word against them.  Even the surprising portrayal of lost God Hephaestus, played by the utterly brilliant Bill Nighy managed to add further elements of unexpected humour to our pretty bleak story of loss and trauma and I for one loved every minute of it - even though the 3D was dismal!

Forget the press, forget the cash or the stigma surrounding this one - if you're like me and you like your blockbusters big and bold then this is a great story. 

I must admit thought (sheepishly) that even I still have to rank this 3rd on my list of potential great 2012 movies - The lure of the last Batman by Chris Nolan or even the culmination of every great Marvel hero which has come to pass over a decade of movie incarnations, together on the silver screen is just too much to wish away the top spot to a dodgy 3D sequel - Sorry.

Most importantly & like it or not, its way better than part 1, so for the die hard fans among us (and there is one like minded soul who I know will read this, Mr Box!) don't let the critics put you off - step forward and enjoy - I certainly did!

Monday, 26 March 2012

186, The Hunger Games

I am convinced that Hollywood keeps bashing out these literary movie incarnations just to make me look silly!  Okay, so maybe those 'in the know' in Hollywood don't actually know who I am but again I am faced having to write a blog based on the first of a trilogy of novels I had never heard of while the rest of the known world seems to be already in love with and, in awe of the stories written by Suzanne Collins that chart the plight of a population from a not too distant future in North America, now split into 12 Districts after a historic revolution.  Having lost, as seeming punishment each District must annually offer up one boy and girl (against their wishes) aged between 13 & 18 as a sacrifice or 'tribute' as they are known to attend as contestants in the Hunger Games - a deadly seek and destroy game where only one can survive to the applause of the city residents. 

To break this down for the non-literate or anyone over 30 years old, think of it as "The Running Man" meets "The Fifth Element"?  Is everybody on the same page?  Good, we will continue.

Sadly, I was not too taken with it initially but before you lynch me, stating its the next big thing and is going to make Twilight look like yesterdays laundry let me explain why.

Over the past few years I have seen first instalments of The Golden Compass and the Last Airbender, both seemingly quite good but alas, having parts 2 & 3 axed due to a poor turn out in cinemas.  This one though apparently has the legs, taking a whopping $155m in it's opening US weekend alone, 3rd behind Harry Potter Part 8 and the Dark Knight!  So maybe this one wont go away as I initially might have guessed.

I first thought that the kids having to take part would all be treated as prisoners but in all honesty it was the opposite - although a fight to the death and feared in the individual districts its a real heroes welcome for the contenders as they are treated to a fortnight of 'celebrity' during their induction to the media and their subsequent training that sees the overall winner collect great riches and accolades for their victory.  Something treasured by those in District 1 who are trained specifically for the honour whereas for our stars of the movie hailing from District 12 its quite the opposite - an almost certain untimely death and one dreaded among the parents and their kin.

My comparison are definitely accurate, more so the Fifth Element one for the costume, pomp and ceremony from the higher classes which almost mirrors characters seen in the Bruce Willis classic whereas the Running Man part may be better described as Gladiator but you'll need to draw your own conclusions.

The cast is awesome though - the main two contenders from District 12 are the stars of the books portrayed brilliantly on screen by Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men First Class) and Josh Hutchinson (Mysterious Island) with a back room ensemble including Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and an almost unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks (Miri from Zak & Miri make a Porno as well as much more) as Effie Trinket. 

The big news is the cutting of 7 seconds of footage that allowed the classification board to award this a 12A from a 12.  Seemingly to allow a far wider audience into it.  Well, whatever they did actually cut from the final presentation still wont make me take my 8 year old along to see it as its kept a lot of the violence that made this such a winner in the first place.  Kids still die, squirrels still get skinned and Lenny Kravitz still manages to reasonably act quite well which was a pleasant surprise but for any parent, I'm convinced that 10 is about the max for this movie.

Then there's the actual end of the movie.  Having not read the books I cant express my opinion on how closely it relates,  I can tell you it seems wide open for a sequel so it looks like they've not closed it all off in one go and I suppose time will tell if part 2 ever makes it to the big screen.  At this time - none of the cast on IMDB are listed as being in pre-production, at least not this side of 2013 so for all you die hard fans out there, its fingers crossed.

As far as trilogy's go it has potential.  The back story and the characters were believable and well acted.  It was brilliantly cast and I completely bought into the class difference and the games themselves.  As a first try, it did pretty well, but the real test will be if the rest of the story makes it to the silver screen - for that we will have to wait and see.

185, We Bought a Zoo

There is something warm and fluffy about a good true story.  Take 'The Blind Side'.  Now tell me that movie did not make you leave the cinema just feeling bit great about yourself?  I know it did, and the best bit was it was true, okay - probably over romanticised to make it more 'Hollywood' friendly but it definitely ticked a lot of boxes.  Well, We Bought a Zoo should hopefully do exactly the same.

Matt Damon plays a widowed dad, left parenting two kids after the sad passing of his beloved wife.  After a few months of wading in despair, purposely avoiding their old haunts, being daily accosted by the single mum's on the school run with requests of dinner dates and re-heated lasagna he decides to up sticks and move to somewhere new, away from the past and onto greener pastures. 

Damon and his totally adorable 6yr old daughter fall in love with a country pad (against the quite hapless but comedic letting agents advise) that comes with plenty of land and a fully operational albeit closed, Zoo, complete with a full compliment of volunteer staff and a pretty sexy head keeper (Scarlett Johansson).  One set of life savings later and Damon is master and chief of the whole place and sets about re-building it to its former glory with the dreams of a Summer opening and a chance to really make a business and home for his family and those in his employment.

There are so many different plot lines here it does feel that one mans real life could not really be such a roller-coaster from Matt upping and leaving his high paid journalist job to become a Zoo Keeper / Owner to the eldest son, at a point of sheer loathing for his dad who took him away from his friends.  Then there are the loyal Zoo workers, all still arriving daily even without a pay check at the end of the month because of their love for the animals and the moody Zoo moderator who they have to convince to sign off the Zoo for re-opening. 

For me, this many twists and turns did not matter - it was a very enjoyable story and one made better by the brilliant acting of Damon and Johansson in the lead roles but backed up with some pretty impressive performances from the kids (Colin Ford and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) as well as the mostly non-committed brother, played by Thomas Hayden-Church.

My only negative is it does feel a little long.  I'm not sure of the exact time but I was getting a bit fidgety towards the end.  If you like your love stories though this will tick a few boxes.  There are relationships all over the place mainly between Damon and Johansson but more distinctively between Damon's son and Johansson's niece who works there 'off the books' and does come across well as the naive country girl and who falls quite deeply in love with our moody city lad.

The absolute star of this movie though is not the Lions, Bears or Tigers.  Its not even Matt Damon or Scarlett Johansson but its the remarkably adorable performance from Maggie Elizabeth Jones.  This is her first credited role and I challenge any of you not to have the total "Ahhhhh" factor when she is on screen.  A great little talent who defiantly shone through against a pretty impressive A-list.

Again, there are bits that seem to have been over romanticised but it even 50% of the story is true then its quite a compliment to the Mee family who too this day, still run, maintain and live at the Rosemoor Wildlife Park in California. 

What does make me chuckle though - and will do to long after this day are the critics / fact finders who actually take the time to write the following;   'The movie continuously refers to the zoo's upcoming opening day as Saturday, July 7, 2010. July 7, 2010 was actually a Wednesday'.  Really?  Have you nothing better to do? 

See it and love it - This is a great great family movie.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

184, 21 Jump Street

Back in 1987, 21 Jump Street was an American TV show that ran until 1991 starring Johnny Depp and a team of young, undercover cops specialising in youth crime, predominantly posing as school kids.  Skip forward 25 years and this movie re-make has gracefully stayed completely true to the original in a way that makes it a privilege to be reincarnated, rather than a cringe worthy attempt to re-kindle an old classic.

What makes this movie 'do-over' stand out from the rest is its immediate and repetitive jibes at itself, even with a line by Channing Tatum stating "its just another ploy to re-do old programs" or something to that effect, but when you actually get into it the pairing of a noticeably thin Jonah Hill and the normally wooden Channing Tatum bouncing off each other like squash balls in a wooden box it becomes a complete joy to behold.

Okay, so maybe that's a bit too gushy for a comedy but from the immediate outset we are identified with stereotypical genres and characters that defined High Schools since at least the late 80's.  The cool jocks and the nerdy geeks are easily recognisable in Hill and Tatum and the 'Eminem' likeness is quite spooky! But our unlikely BFF's, although despising each other through School end up on the same police academy training and using each other talents, form a pretty solid bond that's almost too realistic but in no way creepy or dull. 

When our two slightly deluded cops are bounced to Jump Street to work undercover in the newly re-formed division of high school infiltrators its Ice Cube in his most stereotypical role to date that acts and commander and chief and the immediate expectation of them reprising their own high school lives is all but guaranteed until our heroes discover that the high school kids of today aren't womanising meat heads but 'cool' stands for eco-diesel and 'Save the Planet' while the geeks are blowing up stuff and hacking phones - all of a sudden, a normally shy and retiring Hill becomes "Too Cool for School" and Channing's normally Witty one liners and hit first, speak later attitude is seen as an embarrassment to modern living so roles are spun on their head and its Hill who turns player while Channing has to settle for science class and both are hilariously thrown into unfamiliar territory.

The plot is a simple one, detect and investigate an in-house drug circle and bring down the suppliers and dealers but that does seem to take a total back seat to the laugh out loud humour presented to us by Hill and Channing in what for me, is there combined best efforts to date (although the sitter was pretty good as well).

Alongside our too 'wannabe' super cops though there are some other great characters to keep an eye out for like Channings Science teacher who takes an instant 'over friendly' liking to him and the slightly odd romance between Hill and one of his class mates could be determined as slightly creepy, him being a fully grown adult n'all but it seems to go by the by. 

The laugh out loud moments are pretty much all handled by Hill and Channing which for me, opened up a side to Tatum I'd not seen before.  He's done Romance, Action (if you can call GI-Joe action?) and now comedy - I am not sure where he's aiming for - jack of all trades, master of none? But for me this was a stand out performance and although still a little wooden, seemed to adapt well.  

I could quite easily script out every scene, every moment that made me chuckle and quite happily watch this over  again but that would spoil the fun so do yourself a favour and pop along yourself.  Keep a look out at the end for a brilliantly executed nod to the 1987 original and if like me you are looking for a movie to renew your faith in cinema after John Carter almost took away my will to live then this will get your comedic juices well and truly flowing.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

183, John Carter (3d)

What does $250m get you nowadays?  Well, Roman Abramovichs' Yacht will set you back $590m so that's out of the question but a private island is on the cards, so are a few Veyrons and a fleet of Gulf stream G6's and it goes without saying that you can comfortably live on KCF for the rest of your life, you'd even get $200m change from Tamara Ecclesteons pad but one thing you wouldn't want to do is be the person responsible for forking out this much on making John Carter.  Sadly though, someone did and whoever you are, P45 springs to mind!

I so wanted to fall in love with this movie, it had everything from the beefed up Led Zeplin soundtrack on the trailer to stars including Mark Strong, Taylor Kitch & Lynn Collins (both from Wolverine) & Dominic West taking the lad roles, backed up with voice performances from Willem Dafoe & Thomas Hayden Church as a few of the 12 foot aliens it seemed that all of my Sci-fi dreams were coming true. 

My anticipation was at its highest, that was until I watched the 'Review Show' on the BBC(?), Oh Dear.  All my hopes melted quicker that an ice cube in the Sahara as it was dubbed poor, long winded, over priced & badly acted with most of the cast wondering why they signed up for such a donkey of a movie.  The problem was it should have been awesome so what went wrong?

Well, its long - 2hrs in length and you really feel every minute of it with the first 30 minutes all set back in the 1800's during the American Civil War.  I was not aware of the stories so although for people like me this needed to be explained, half an hour of slow, ploddy dialogue was just too much. 

By the way, there is a plot which probably does need some recognition and it sees our hero, Carter (Kitch) on a search for his fortune and on the run from the confederate army when he comes across a resident of Mars hidden in the cave of gold he so eagerly seeks - after a quick fight, Carter find himself transported to Mars where he almost instantly discovers that due to his size and weight, the gravitational pull has given his almost superhuman like strength and an ability to leap phenomenal distances.  After a short time, Carter is captured by a tribe of 12 foot alien beings and once his abilities are discovered he becomes a leader of their armies and goes into battle against Sab Than (West) who is hell bent on capturing one of the last remaining cities, marrying the princess and destroying everything.  It's up to Cater and the band of Tharks to work with Princess Deja (Collins) & her dad, Tardos (Ciaran Hinds) to bring an end to Than's rule.

So, that's the story, simple enough and with the money spent and the special effects it should have been nothing short of spectacular but I have to agree with the critics, even with my highest hopes wanting to ignore the reviews - I too fell into a trap of disappointment and loathing by the time the movie was even half way through.

The sad thing is, I cant put my finger on exactly what was so bad - the effects for the White Apes and the spaceships was as good as lets say the Phantom Menace and the cast have each excelled in previous movies but all together with a drawn out script and too long getting anywhere it just seems like a slow, laborious rumble in the sand and one I could have easily done without.

The adaptation, from comic book author Edgar Rice Burroughs will undoubtedly have its admirers and if your one of those then this may be everything you dreamt it would be, but maybe I was expecting a little too much, wanting it to be the next Star Wars but I was way off target.  For me, too much time was spent in the 1800's and it just seemed to drag on for an eternity with nothing really seeming to get going, the battles over too quickly and the cast looking like they made the biggest mistake of their careers - not to mutter the fateful words 'Water World' but this makes the Kevin Costner mistake almost rectifiable.  Oh, and my final note - as for the 3d, WASTE OF MONEY!

Sorry Disney, normally an admirer of your work I feel the money that went into this could easily have been better spent buying the population of South Korea a Big Mac each (if my maths is right!)

Friday, 9 March 2012

182, Wanderlust

There are few things in life that are certain, luckily one of them is that at 43yrs young, Jennifer Aniston is still looking amazing and knocking out comedy classics at your local multiplex quicker than you can save up the cash and afford the petrol to go and see them and Wanderlust is no exception.

Teaming up with Paul Rudd again after the very funny Horrible Bosses, our Hollywood starlet plays an out of work entrepreneur, sadly though yet to find her niche market but nevertheless, loved up with boyfriend (Rudd).  The pair appear quite happy and content with their Manhattan lifestyles and soon buy a box apartment in the East Village which is overpriced and undersized and for a few days things go fine until Rudd is made redundant and the pair have no choice but to move in with Rudd's brother, a self obsessed Muppet who's living in ignorant bliss of his uselessness.  On-route, our happy couple accidental come across a commune where they spend an exhilarating night that opens their eyes to a whole new world. 

After a few days with the brother the pair cant wait to get away and in desperation head back to the commune as full time residents in a free love and drug fuelled environment which on the surface is all peace and love but after a few weeks they have to deal with each others expectations & temptations.

Its not just Aniston and Rudd that will make you smile in this - there are great performances from Alan Alda,   the beautiful Malin Akerman, the over hairy Justin Theroux and the very naked Joe Lo Truglio and with these four combined with a host of other equally funny commune residents this movie does tickle all the right spots.

What this movie does is manage to brilliantly is just emphasis what city dwellers are prepared to put up for their own little slice of high profile existence compared to the more rural, carefree, hassle less lives of the Forest dwellers - fair enough, the free love and drugs will not be to every ones taste but some of the morals are well received and there is no doubt that this movie is a sweet little romp in the hay with a number of laughs thrown in for good measure.

I do have to admit that I am slowly coming around to Pull Rudd, Aniston had me won over from the early days of Friends but for Paul its taken a while and it was only since Horrible Bosses that I've started to warm to him but with Aniston in tow the pair bounce well off of each other which definitely helps.

Its 91 minutes long and a great little time filler so if you've nothing else on and want a great giggle at someone elses expense then make a point to check this movie out.

181, One for the Money

It was only recently while watching Steven Segal classic 'Under Siege 2' that I noticed his 15yr old niece looked vaguely familiar - and much to my surprise it was a young Katherine Heigl, way back in 1995 in only her 4th movie did our Hollywood sweetheart impress under Segal's wing and 17 years later with titles such as Knocked Up, 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth, Killers and most recently, New Years Eve under her belt, Heigl is fast becoming the 'Cameron Diaz' for a new generation and her cute naivety wins over audiences time after time.

In One for the Money, Heigle plays a Jersey girl who's out of work, out of love and pretty much out of luck after losing her job as a lingerie sales manager in Macy's.  Desperate for work she hooks up with her cousin, Vinny (I know, corny!) who runs a bail bonds office and Heigl unwittingly sets herself up as a Bounty Hunter, tracking down bail jumpers for cash payouts - her main target - an ex-boyfriend who she has beef with played by Sky 1'sTerra-Nova star, Jason O'Mara.

In her opening hapless attempts at capture, O'Mara comically deals easily with Heigl until she asks one of the offices top hunters, Ranger to assist and as a special ops wannabe takes her under his wing and helps her out when needed - which is most of the time.

Heigl is her normal cute self, only this time upping the ante slightly with a few revealing shower scenes much to her characters embarrassment but again she proves she can do adorable and funny in the same breath.  In addition, she also manages to express a little of her wild side in this with a slight Jersey twang to her accent and a definite swagger in her step.  A new direction for Heigl and a well received one.

As for O'Mara - quite surprised to see him in this after adorning my TV screen weekly in Terra-Nova, I had the same reaction when I saw saw Hawaii 5.0 lead, Alex O'Laughlin appear in The Back Up Plan (2010) so in my mind a TV actor getting a lucky break but in all honesty he coped well and played Heigl's opposition really well.

It does rumble along nicely for 90 minutes this movie with Heigl in almost every scene and some comedy performances from the back-street hookers as her 'ears on the street' as well as her seedy cousin Vinny, his receptionist and an expected performance from movie regular, John Leguizamo.  All in all if you liked Heigl's other movies you can add this to your list as one to watch.