Sunday, 31 March 2013

250, The Host

 As regular readers will know - I'm about as far from being a book person as you can get so when Stephanie Meyers (Twilight author's) latest masterpiece hit the big screen, I was totally unaware it even existed! Whereas millions of others, totally new that it did.

I say this for one reason - I am writing this blog after seeing the movie with no pre-conceptions of what it should contain or indeed - any element of the story within, something that after reading a few other reviews and chatting to a few 'in the know' - puts me at a slight disadvantage.

Those who are fans of the book (apparently) wont like this movie - I've heard it leaves loads of the story out and as such - makes a majority of viewers feeling cheated out of  a great movie.  The rest say the book is difficult in the early days (as is the movie) but the end is phenomenal - something I didn't get at all from my viewing so before you judge please remember - I've not read the book ;)

The Host charts life in the future on Earth although its not as you know it.  A Parasitic race has taken up roots in almost all of Earths inhabitants and as such - this seemingly peaceful alien presence (known as Souls) has no need for war or destruction to right wrongs, as a matter of fact - they manage to survive without any form of money, have ended global warming and greed is a thing of the past - even crime on all levels unheard off so in all honesty - sounds pretty cool? (unless you're one of the trapped humans within) although, not everyone thinks so and a small band of rebels are keen to keep humanity alive.

So, when our leading lady Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is taken against her will and paired with Wanderer (her alien soul) its freaks them both out that they are seemingly able to co-exist in the body, something Wanderer hasn't experienced in her other worlds and this opens up a whole questionable world of doubt that what they are doing is right - on the flip side, Melanie's feeling, thoughts and most importantly, strong-will manage to persuade Wanderer to turn her back on her race and get them both to the sanctuary of Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) who instantly see them as a threat and only after time and belief - does Jeb and the tribe of survivors welcome them both into the pack - working to understand the race and inevitably, find a way of separation for his niece without hurting the Soul - now renamed Wanda.

And that's about it - sadly, this is a slow paced movie that never really seems to pick up any steam.  The Seekers (in effect the Alien Police) are over polite and compensating except one rogue female played by Diane Kruger who's intent of making sure Melanie doesn't escape - even breaking a few of her own laws along the way - much to the complete disgust of her colleagues.

I'd like to say so many good things about this after the success of Twilight but it doesn't even come close.  I thought the movie dragged on way too long and considering the only point of the story is to get the remaining humans to believe their story then it's extremely drawn out. 

A few of the cast did shine though - Ronan herself played the lead very well, last seen (notably) in Hanna (2011) and a few others since but plenty more to come.  Also, a nice turn from Hurt himself (Jeb) as well as Jake Abel (Ian), who oddly manages to fall in love with Wanda - the Soul living inside Melanie (which is totally weird) but I'm sure the complete point of the entire book?

The end?  Well, lets just say everyone seems to get what they want to I'm not expecting another trilogy here although I've been wrong before.

I sadly can't say this was a great all round movie.  I mentioned how slow it was to get going and I know fans of the book will be disappointed so you probably wont go anyway - as for the remaining few that don't care either way - knock yourself out!

249, Jack the Giant Slayer

After seeing Little Red Riding Hood and the brilliant Hansel & Gretel - Jack the Giant Slayer is the most recent Grim reincarnation set to hit the big screen but unlike the previous two movies - don't expect something as dark and grown up, this definitely is one for the kids!

Nicholas Hoult always surprises me as the big screen hero - from his meagre beginnings (TV shows from 6 years old) he appeared in About a Boy and Skins and I though that would be that - but a starring role in X-Men first class and then a lead in Warm Bodies has somehow seen his rocket up the 'fame-O-meter' and with plenty in the pipeline including the next X-Men movie and a Mad Max remake (to name a few) I have to take my hat off too him.

This movie charts the all too familiar story of Jack and the Beanstalk (although switched for Giant Slayer & Giant Killer for the U.S audiences).  Set in old England, this movie opens with the story of the Giants and the magic beans needed to grow the gateway between the earth and their kingdom in the clouds.  We also learn of a magical crown which can control the giants and here lies the start, middle and end of our story. 

Very briefly - Jack manages to acquire the beans and accidentally grow the beanstalk, somehow, accidentally including the future Queen of England in his escapades and the King releases his elite forces to bring her back from being trapped at the top.  Head of the Guard - an extremely British Ewan McGregor (more British in fact in this than he was as Obi-Wan and that takes some doing!) as well as Bad Guy Roderick - Stanley Tucci who is all too familiar with whats going on and even stole the Crown to ensure once there - he can rule the giant hordes.

So - action, swordplay, a sniff at a love story and the most stiff upper lipped McGregor you could wish for and in a nutshell - that's you re lot.

Except the Giants.  Obviously!

Basically - they are the stars of this movie.  The effects are brilliant and for me, they where the only saving grace with this film.  They are big, brutal and comical in their methods which make for a few chuckles along the way.  You cant fault them whereas sadly, everyone else - including Hoult is questionable.

My only gripe (and its one with the story) is that theoretically - these guys should smash the living daylights out of the far less adequate human race but by being bound by blood to the crown of control means we can defeat them.  Sad, as its made them come across as relatively wimpish but never mind - its only a movie!

Keep an eye out at the end for a lovely little twist on modern day London as you see the story further unfold and a potential 'up to date' sequel left open for debate as a seemingly knowing ancestor takes a trip to the tower - but that's all you're getting - no spoilers!

Not the most fun I've had at the cinema but hey, its got Giants - and no other movie right now can say that!

248, The Croods

I've seen plenty of animation movies over the years and as the bar is raised each and every time in relation to graphics, effects and more recently, 3D each one seems harder and harder to critique.  You just know that behind the familiar voices there are teams of animators, designers etc who have pain stakingly spent months developing ideas and visuals that wow the movie goers however in each case, one thing seems to let most of them down - the story.

When you think about, were so caught up in the visual masterpiece bestowed upon us we forget that the stories are mostly lame but we don't seem to care.  Sometimes they are so unfunny that we only end up humoured by the dizzy antics of whoever were supposed to be laughing along with on screen at the time and normally, that's enough but its about time an animation covered both aspects.  Fantastic to look at but also a script and story that's hilarious to watch - and The Croods managed to cover them all.

This movie opens with a family of Neanderthals - The Croods.  Stepping outside of their cave for the first time in about 3 days to hunt, you quickly get a feel for the make-up of the whole family.  Grug, a very protective Dad (Nic Cage), his understanding beloved Ugga (Keener) and her Mother, the hilarious Gran.  Then there are the three kids.  Eldest Thunk, who follows his fathers every word, the completely adorable, albeit rabid baby Sandy and the adventurous and completely impressionable Eep, played by Emma Stone.

The opening scenes of this movie are some of the funniest I've seen in a while, let alone in an animation and the first 10 minutes is taken up with a hilarious egg chase for breakfast, covering what seems like miles but each taking a turn to fend off the wildlife to ensure they get too eat.  Quickly after, Eep discovers Guy (Ryan Reynolds) a seemingly more intelligent version of man and one that could easily be deemed as the next advancement in the human race from Caveman to Homosapien as Guy has these new things called ideas and invents necessities such as shoes and belts! (assisted by Belt - an adorable Lemur like creature) 

Guy determines the world is going to end (when in fact it just the continents separating) and as a collective, convinces them all to go with him or face certain destruction - something Grug has a real problem dealing with as he slowly watches his family entrust themselves to another, for the very first time.

The adventure they set put upon sees them battle big cats, treacherous terrain and uncertainty of survival - something they've never had to encounter before but obviously - its all going to work out in the end. 

All of the cast in this are fantastic - the Stone / Reynolds relationship is brilliant as is Nic Cage as the oafish but caring father figure.  Gran is a stand out performance, portrayed by Cloris Leachman and the hate / hate relationship between her and Grug is responsible for many a chuckle along the way.

I was expecting yet another bore of a movie to a visually stunning backdrop but what I got here was something I unexpectedly thoroughly enjoyed - from start to finish.

If you haven't seen this yet then get yourselves down to the cinema over the Easter Holidays - Enjoy!.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

247, Oz the Great and Powerful

I take it before going any further that you've all seen the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz where Judy Garland (in Black and White) gets whipped up into a tornado along with her dog Toto and end up dumped in the Magical land of Oz (now in Glorious Technicolour) and set about with a merry band of followers (Lion, Scarecrow etc) to follow the yellow brick road and find the Wizard who can send her home, only to discover he is a bit of a fraud using smoke and mirrors and she had the power in herself, as did the creatures who joined her?  Good, well in that case - let me make this easy.

This is the prequel.

Okay, so its probably the most overdue one of all time (74 years after to be precise) and in all honesty, the 1985 Sequel, Return to Oz was disastrous so it was time to see how the Wizard himself came to be, along with the the whole Wicked Witch scenario as well, all of which get answered in this movie.

I have to start with a moan - This movie also starts in Black and White with James Franco as the circus magician, using smoke and misdirection to stun almost impressed audiences and again (as with Garland), its a Tornado that takes him to Oz where a prophecy states a Wizard bearing the same name as the magical land would rescue them all from the clutches of the Wicked Witch, or Witches in this instance played by Mila Kunis (Theodora) & Rachel Weisz (Evanora).  

The moan?  Well that's the length of time this movie takes to actually get to Oz in the first place - its nearly 40 minutes of ploddy black and white back story and one that bored me close to tears!  It seems to keep on and on and on with no real reason until you find yourself watching him board a Hot Air Balloon and then you know things are about to pick up pace.

Once the movie actually gets to Oz it does pick up pace (a lot) and as with Hansel & Gretel, the 3D is actually relatively impressive but for me, something just didn't quite work with the movie.

As with the original, The Wizard (as we know) is not an actual Wizard although Franco plays him as slightly arrogant and cocky which disappointed me slightly because he came across as more annoying than anything else.  Luckily - the stunningly beautiful Weisz and Kunis more than make up for it as the ruling sisters and as the movie continues, we find out the reasons why there ends up with only one Wicked Witch and why (more importantly) she's green!

Rounding off the leading cast is Michelle Williams as the remaining Good Witch who has to rely on Franco doing what's right and becoming the Great Wizard they all expect him to be to save the people of Oz and take his rightful throne in the Emerald City.

I'm not going to give anything away although this movie does end up staying true to the 1939 original and you'll see why towards the end of the film.

As plot lines goes - the Witches story is by far and away the best bit of the movie and for me, Franco's part was a bit wasted on him although being a PG - I certainly did not expect it to be as jumpy as it was towards the end.  If you take children, they will leap clear from their seats at least twice during the movie.  You've been warned - in 3D, its very well done.

There is plenty more I could write - the Munchkins are back (of course) along with a host of other fascinating creatures (including a brilliantly animated China Doll) and these additional characters more than make up for the disappointing Wizard himself.  The scenery is stunning and the 3D (as mentioned above) is impressive which does put a smile on my face as this was two for two now that have raised the bar and actually included real 3D and not just the atmospheric stuff.

So there you have it - a Trilogy of movies spanning nearly 3/4 of a Century an which one take the crown for the best instalment?  Sadly, the 1939 version.  (although Mila Kunis rocks!) 

Friday, 1 March 2013

246, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Its no secret that the tales from the Brothers Grimm have been part of everyday life for nearly four centuries. Their books and stories entertained millions worldwide and most recently, their visions have been immortalised on TV with Grimm - the great TV drama charting most of the stories written in 1 hour episodes. I always thought though, although kids stories - the depth of the actual story telling is that of witches, trolls and (to be fair), not very nice 'nasties' so to have potential TV remakes and movies, 'sugar coated' and made kiddie friendly takes away the potential for some fantastic movie making - just for the grown ups.

This came to light in 2011 when a darker version of Red Riding Hood hit the screens and now - Hansel & Gretel is upon us. This cert 15 rated movie focuses on the unfortunate kiddies who come across a candy house in the woods and end up being potential supper for the dwelling inhabitant within.

Well, if that sounds all a bit cheesy then let me set the record straight - this is an awesome movie! I was so pleasantly surprised by the content, visual brilliance and surprising levels bad language that adorn our aforementioned siblings and seeing as for this Blog - its 'back to back' Gemma Arterton reviews - lets start with her.

She is AWESOME! Anything negative I have said about her previously is utter rubbish.  

Arterton = Redeemed! 

In this she is the epitome of cool. A hard-ass cross bow toting Witch hunter who along with Jeremy Renner as the quirky and quite comedic Hansel make an almost impenetrable duo but to their credit, they never seem to get an easy ride and pitted against Magic Wand Wielding Witches - really ending up taking as much punishment as they give out.

There is blood, gore and fantastic death scenes of which the best two (in my mind) are the curse of the ever lasting hunger for crawling creatures (I think I got that right) and its Gretel's least favourite (you'll see why) and the Witch being beautifully diced as she hurtles though a catch net - strung between two trees. To add to the carnage there are decapitations, Trolls stomping on faces and most impressively - squishing skulls like they were grapes but all of it was brilliantly done and with an air of humour but certainly not cheesy by any means.

The story rattles along almost immediately with the childhood story that we all grew up on being played out during the opening credits and then based on their initial success, a CV crammed full of child rescues is what lures them to a town, ravaged by Grand Witch Famke Janssen and in a total 360 story - see our heroes back where it all began.

The supporting cast is amazing - Arterton and Renner (as 'I've already said) are unbelievably good and the special effects are epic, but that's not all (and I cant believe I'm actually going to say this out loud) - for the first time - the 3D WORKS!!! I know! - I couldn't believe it either but there is none of that atmospheric depth of field 3D crap here - stuff actually flies out of the screen at you, whether it be arrows, blood, gore or even whole parts of Witch, it really will take you're breath away.

The best thing - its not even scary. The 15 cert is based on the language (multiple F-words brilliant spattered throughout from Arterton) and an almost Tarantio'esq display of gore but even that's not too bad, certainly no where near Hostel or Saw levels. The witches are evil but in a fun way, making watching them die even better and I for one - absolutely loved this movie. 

Only coming out mid week, this is its opening weekend so if you're reading this Friday night and have nothing on for Saturday and the kids are sorted, make a date to go and see it - you wont be disappointed. I just hope that this opens the door for more adult aimed Fairytales to adorn my multiplex because if they are like this one - I cant wait.

245, Song for Marion

Going into this movie I was expecting quite a jovial romp through OAP suburbia with a tinge of sadness in the most recent instalment of a string of movies over the past 12 months focusing on the older UK generation and chuckling along at their mischievous and comedic methods as was in comparable movies such as Marigold Hotel & Quartet.  What I didn't expect however (albeit understanding the premise prior to viewing) was for it too tug on the heart string as much as it did.

This movie is easily broken into two parts - firstly, don't expect a sad ending - the trauma comes early on in this one and you will be hard pressed to crack a smile during the first 45 minutes as you watch the tragic effects of cancer take hold of Marion (brilliantly played by Vanessa Redgrave) as she endeavours to fulfil her dream of singing in the local pensioners choir much to the criticism of cantankerous hubby Terence Stamp (Arthur).

As Marion's health declines the choir seem to build a stronger bond with her, again to the embarrassment of Arthur and when the inevitable happens it falls to Choir mistress Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton) to try and get Arthur involved with the choir himself - picking up where Marion left off and take her place on stage for the final choir competition that the movie is based around.

Part two of this movie does cheer up a little as Arterton manages to persuade Stamp into taking a few singing lessons and discovering quite a knack for holding a note and its not long before they all start to gel together, making for a rousing finale!

What I am certainly not going to do is critic the performances from Redgrave & Stamp - General Zod is a legendary character for Stamp and Redgrave's career dates back to the late 50's so who am I to judge? so from me - all praise to them and Redgrave especially deserves credit for her portrayal of Marion.

I have however, in the past been quite critical of Gemma Arterton. I've been split of recent years between not really being a a fan of her's in Quantum of Solace (playing Strawberry Fields) or Nancy Drew but on the flip side, loving her work in Prince of Persia, Wrath of the Titans and (her best role to date) Kelly, in St Trinian's. In addition - the fact that she was born and raised not more than 20 minutes from me in Gravesend, Kent is nice to know but in this movie she really does shine as the innocent girl next door. A lonely Music teacher relying on the OAP'z as her contact to the outside world and really understanding the older generation. Well done Arterton.

There are of course a fully recognisable band of pensioners taking up the slack as the supporting choir - almost all from TV shows seen over the decades but for me, the biggest surprise was seeing Pork-Pie from Desmond's! Loved that show.

Marion & Arthur's son is played by Christopher Ecclestone and his easily noticeable issues with his dad lay ground for a subtle side story although I hoped this may have been thwarted by a possible love story between him and Arterton but it was not to be - this is all about the oldies and although sad, is as heart-warming as it gets.