Sunday, 29 April 2012

Titanic in 3D

 Rating: ★★★

A film about a ship that was effectively sunk by greed, is having a re-release? How ironic.

I grew up watching Titanic. It was the first film I was ever really fascinated by and this movie has seemed to do the same for many other generations, too. But even though I will always love Titanic, I have to admit it has its fair share of cheese.

Hollywood meets History
Many of the films, books and TV shows set on the Titanic are based on the account written by Walter Lord in A Night To Remember. And to be honest I wish more of that book had made it in to James Cameron's film because the stories are so tragic, so interesting and most importantly so true. I like the Romeo & Juliet-style romance that James added in, but it is clichéd and not really needed when there is already such great material in A Night To Remember.

Jack & Rose's guide to life 
By the way, there might be some spoilers ahead (and I don't mean that the Titanic sinks because I hope you already know that). Anyway Kate Winslet plays Rose, a rich girl who is looking to break away from her mundane life and find adventure, and luckily she finds it in a poor young artist called Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Even though their acting has progressed so much in recent years, they both gave great performances in Titanic. The film has a very empowering message about breaking free and learning to live a thrilling, full life without the constraints of money, which I thought was ironic when my student cinema ticket cost a whopping £13! If Jack and Rose came to the cinema they would refuse to pay. But that's between me and the Odeon and has nothing to do with the film. Back to my review...

Was that an iceberg or a massive slice of cheese?
Some of the dialogue is unbelievably corny. For example 'a woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets' or 'This is so crazy... but that's why I trust it'. What does that even mean? It's a good thing the film had such an amazing cast that  really brought the words to life so you stop noticing how unrealistic they are and just let yourself fall into the fairytale-like world of Jack and Rose's love affair. I can understand how the writers could get carried away writing a script for this film and make it a little too flowery. The event sparks so much fascination and interest in anyone who hears it that the language has to be just as epic and dramatic as the sinking was. I also think that some of the imagery in the text is very poetic and passionate. For example when Rose says 'now you know there was a man named Jack Dawson and that he saved me... in every way that a person can be saved. I don't even have a picture of him. He exists now... only in my memory'. It brings a tear to my eye even though it also makes me a little sick.

The band kept on playing
The background music in Titanic is so wonderfully atmospheric. It can sound haunting but also very romantic. I'm not a big fan of the annoyingly whiny My Heart Will Go On ballad by Celine Dion. I think it's a lot more powerful and emotional without the words. Sorry, Celine.

The cinematography is also very powerful. I really loved one particular shot of the water slowly moving down the corridor. It gives a real feeling of foreboding. Shivers went up my spine! 

King of the box-office
So is James Cameron a visionary or just very clever? I personally think it's a bit of both. Even though Titanic was clichéd it really made the clichés as good as they can be. The special effects were brilliant and still look incredibly real today. The film did make a staggering $1.8 billion but James isn't quite 'king of the world' as he announced at the Oscars in 1997. I think he's just a very good storyteller and knows exactly what the audience want to see. He doesn't show off his genius very ofter though. After Titanic he didn't make another feature film til Avatar or, as I call it, Ava-Pocahontas-tar.

Titanic did look breathtaking in 3D but it was fantastic just getting to see such a grand film on the big screen, the way the world originally fell in love with it. God, the more I write about Titanic the more corny I sound. So I'll end by saying Titanic in 3D absolutely swept me away.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

John Carter

 Rating: ★★★½

I had to do a review of John Carter and I think we all know why - unless you've been living under a rock recently - it's been declared one of the biggest flops in movie history, alongside such anti-classics as The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Cutthroat Island, Heaven's Gate and Disney's own Mars Needs Moms! Ever heard of any of those? No! What a surprise.

So, now for the burning question. Is John Carter really as bad as its box-office performance? Short answer. No. But Disney did make a lot of mistakes along the way...

The film is based on a series of books by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs about an American Civil War soldier who gets transplanted to the planet Mars - a bit like ET or Superman, but in reverse. I would say Disney's first mistake was not to market the film in a way that makes it clear that it's the human who is the alien this time, because this was mostly what the story was about and also its most original feature. Even though the book was one of the first sci-fi adventures, many of the other things that happen in the book have become sci-fi movie clichés, and audiences won't realise they were first used by Burroughs.

Disney's next mistake, and probably their biggest, was to name the film John Carter, instead of John Carter of Mars, which was Burroughs original title and is much cooler. When I found out they'd changed the name I shouted out "What are you doing?" This decision alienated the film from its core audience, namely sci-fi fans, not to mention fans of the books, and also made it sound like a spin-off film about one of the characters from Happy Days or something.

The last and probably biggest mistake was letting the budget grow to around a massive $250 million! No wonder it didn't make a profit. With costs like that any film would have had a tough time breaking even.

'But why is it a good film?' I hear you ask. Well I'll tell you — first of all it has everything you would look for in an action/sci-fi film, great fight scenes, beautiful actors, amazing landscapes and even a little romance and comedy. The majority of the film was very exciting and enjoyable. Its design and characters would have been a good contender to the Star Wars crown if it wasn't for the publicity mishaps. John played by Tayor Kitsch was oftern very funny and relatable even though he was a soldier sent to Mars. His pet was also very funny. In fact a lot of people's favourite part was the comical CGI alien dog that followed John Carter around. I thought of that as a sign that Andrew Stanton should stick to animated Pixar films in future. He was obviously in his element when working on the dog's scenes.

I think a female audience might have been turned off beause Lynn Collins's alien princess character was dressed like a bit of a sex object. But she was actually very strong, brave and smart which is normally a selling point for women. Sadly she was hardly in the poster or the trailer so how was anyone to know she was such a cool girl. Maybe Disney was hoping women would come to see Taylor, who was also dressed in S&M gear.

John Carter has some really cool, clever action scenes. My favorite was the battle at the wedding. Although the film should have ended soon after that scene and didn't.

The plot over all was a bit too complicated and started to drag at the end. Maybe I should have read the books first. It was still very entertaining and definitely didn't deserve to be crowned biggest flop of all time.

That said, I don't think Disney will be going back to Mars anytime soon!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Beauty and the Beast in 3D

 Rating: ★★★

The tale as old as time is new again! At least that's what Disney wants you to think as they re-release Beauty and the Beast in dazzling 3D. Some might say it's sad that Disney has started to re-release their classic movies instead of just making new ones. But why shouldn't you re-release such an amazing film? It's not only one of Disney's most beloved animated films but possibly the most beloved animated film of all time, being the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Disney has a history of re-releasing their films in the days before Blu-Ray players and Sky Movies on demand. So it's not really a new idea, if anything it's a blast from the past.

Once upon a time...
Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) in an effort to save her father is captured by the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) and forced to live in his enchanted castle were all the servents have been turned into furniture and kitchen wear. Eventually Belle and the Beast fall in love. Even though Belle might sound a bit dim for falling for her captor she is actually a great role model for young girls. She's independent, passionate, brave and smart. In fact, unlike the typical princess, at the start she has no interest in love or getting married. You go girl! She is actually looking for adventure which we can all relate to.

Tune as old as song
I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview of Beauty and the Beast in 3D, before its release on the 4th of May, giving me a chance to fall in love with the film all over again. Let me begin by saying the music is amazing and I don't just mean the songs. When the violins started in the scene where Belle is sneaking into the west wing, I swear my heart stopped. The background music by Alan Menken was so atmospheric and gripping it was almost like a narrator bringing the story to life. The musical numbers give the audience the same thrill as watching a stage musical (it's no wonder they adapted it for Broadway). The lyrics in the song Beauty and the Beast by the late Howard Ashman are wonderful.

Mona Lisa of cinema
The beautifully detailed background paintings in this film are one of its major strengths and something you will never get in CGI animation. I really believe that animation is the ultimate modern art form because it combines painting and illustration with storytelling. Beauty and the Beast is the best possible example of that. The scene when Belle brings the Beast back to the Castle after he has saved her life is really poignant but not one of the characters says a word. Now that's what I call good storytelling!

Even though I love Beauty and the Beast I'm not sure if audiences will pay to see another Disney re-release so soon after the re-release of Lion King only 6 months ago. Which isn't very long in movie time. I think Disney should limit itself to one shameless re-release of an old classic a year.

As if that's not enough...
That said giving a new generation the chance to see this amazing film in all its cinematic brilliance is a treat not to be missed. In another attempt to make the film seem new Disney has not only converted it in to 3D but has also added a new short called Tangled Ever After. It features all the Tangled characters getting ready for Rapunzel and Flynn's wedding and it is incredibly funny. It had the whole audience in stitches.

Hopefully, for Disney's sake, that is enough to pull an audience in to see a film they might have on DVD. Personally if you only see one animated film this year I suggest Beauty and the Beast.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Mirror Mirror

Rating: ★★

I'm still confused about Mirror Mirror. The big thing in Hollywood at the moment seems to be epic fairy tales. After the massive earnings of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland it's no surprise that other studios are trying to jump on the band wagon. But this adaptation of the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is so random it almost feels unfinished. The biggest problem is that throughout the whole film I was trying to figure out whether it was meant to be aimed at kids or adults. The costumes and overall design were very colourful and cartoon-like but most of the jokes were very grown-up. It made me feel a bit weird watching it with lots of kids in the audience.

Should have been called Julia Roberts and the Seven Dwarfs
Julia Roberts was the shining light of hope in this story... and she plays the villain. Even though Julia's performance of the Evil Queen was meant to be funny and wasn't, she still made an excellent villainess, completely stealing the show from Lily Collins as Snow White. But I felt slightly embarrassed for Julia because of the neverending getting old jokes that were in the script. Julia Roberts isn't that old and I doubt any child would get a joke like that anyway. Not to mention it has been done too many times before.

Hollywood going head to head
I'm sure neither Relativity Media or Universal Pictures knew that they would be going head to head this year both releasing films based on Snow White. This rarely happens in the world of cinema. Some examples though are Antz and A Bugs' Life, The Last Song and Dear John and also A Sharks Tale and Finding Nemo. But now two films will be doing battle to see who makes the most money out of Snow White. Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman is much more what audiences are paying to see at the moment. It's a much more dark, sinister and action-packed telling of the fairy tale. This is why Relativity Media probably decided to speed up the release of Mirror Mirror - so that it would come out a couple months before its competitor. Although after seeing the film myself I can say that audiences would be better advised to wait for the other movie.

Covering up the cracks
Director Tarsem Singh seems to me to be a little bit style over substance. Mirror Mirror's colour pallet was almost blinding (like being stabbed in the eye with a highlighter). It also has some of the most outrageous costumes you have ever seen. At one point Lily Collins is wearing a swan on her head! The sets are just as over the top which also makes them very unbelievable. The woods are covered in snow but no one ever looks cold or wears proper winter clothing. I think Tarsem wanted this to look artistic like his other film The Fall but Mirror Mirror just looked tacky and that is coming from someone who would normally love a full-on fairy tale. But I think I'm just going to stick to Disney's Snow White from now on.

Not the fairest plot is the land - That's for sure
The plot is the part that seems the most unfinished. It was just like one event after another and didn't have a proper story arc. I think it might have worked better as a mini series than a feature film. Its hardly anything like the original book. The poisoned apple is basically not in it (I don't understand why they have her holding it in the poster). It's like they took the original story, put it in a blender and then stuck it back together in a completely different order.

After all that I do have to say that Mirror Mirror did have one or two enjoyable scenes. One of them being when the Evil Queen uses giant puppets to try and kill the dwarfs. And if they had aimed the film more at young children it could have been a bit better and might have pulled in more of a profit. But I'm still expecting Snow White and the Huntsman to be the fairest in the land.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

21 Jump Street

 Rating: ★★★

Damn – what a film. 21 Jump Street is the first film I've laughed out loud at for a while. I don't know about everyone else but I was starting to get really bored with wannabe Hangover and Superbad films that were just vulgar for the sake of it and showed all the real jokes in the trailer. Other than one or two occasions 21 Jump Street was nothing like that.

21 Jump Street is based on an 80's TV show staring Johnny Depp. Yes, Johnny Depp. It is about two undercover policemen who, because they look young, have to pretend to be high school students and investigate youth crime. Unlike the TV show, the film is a comedy and stars Jonah Hill as the smart yet embarrassing Schmidt and Channing Tatum as the athletic yet stupid Jenko.

Who would have guessed that Channing, star of Step Up, would be so funny? He was pretty much on the same level as Jonah who is famous for his comedic talent. Channing was especially hilarious in the scene in which the pair take a really strong drug to prove to the students that they aren't cops. Tatum ends up running into the school band practice and tries to dive through a gong. It had me screaming with laughter and I don't normally find slap stick that funny. Channing is having a very good year so far as his career goes from strength to strength.

21 Jump Street also breaks a lot of the social norms that other teen movies have tried so hard to set up. For example, the idea that the popular kids are mean and elitist by nature or that the smart kids are constantly unhappy. This film has gone for a much more realistic and up to date view of the social structure in high school. Which is a lot more relaxed and friendly. I think this is one of the things that made the film such a success. That it isn't the bored, cliched plot we've seen before in hundreds of high school based movies. 21 Jump Street would have been very similar to Never Been Kissed if they hadn't made it this way.

The other actors in 21 Jump Street are also very watchable and funny. Dave Franco is funny but in a less odious way and Brie Larson has a similar acting style to Emma Stone. She's  charming and yet sarcastic. All together, the film has a great cast of actors.

I was not a fan of Ice Cube's character of the perpetually pissed-off police chief. He just seemed a little too stereotypical to be funny for me. He sometimes made me laugh but mostly just reminded me of the kind of humour I've seen in Hangover and other male comedies. I've seen it before and I don't wanna see it again.

I personally love it when a comedy has some heart as well as laughs. And 21 Jump Street had the perfect balance. The bromance between Jenko and Schmidt is quite touching. The romantic scenes, between Schmidt and the popular girl, are really quirky and sweet.

Over all 21 Jump Street deserved to beat John Carter in the box office because it is funny, colourful and fresh. I loved it and would happily see it again. (But I wouldn't go to high school again. Madness.)

Tangled (DVD)

 Rating: ★★★

Tangled is Disney's adaptation of the children's story Rapunzel. It is Disney's first computer animated fairy tale and they really went all out to make it as fantastic as the other beautiful princess movies. The result was an exciting fantasy adventure in which Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) escapes her tower/prison with the help of the handsome thief Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi). As usual Disney has taken a lot of artistic license on the story until its practically unrecognisable from the original. But this is what Disney do best and we can't blame them because they do it very well. I think they even improve the story from the original.

Combing out the problems
It's a surprise Disney managed to pull it out of the bag in time after the reported changes to the story, characters and title very late in the game. After the lackluster box office of the Princess and the Frog, Disney decided to change aspects of the story and marketing to appeal to boys as well as girls. That's why is called Tangled instead of the much more familiar Rapunzel. It seems to have worked because the film was the biggest success Disney has had for a while. Rapunzel and Flynn have even made their way into the Disney parks now.

Modern princess
Rapunzel is not your typical princess waiting for her prince to save her. Instead she's more about breaking the rules and fighting the bad guys with her incredible hair, 74ft of golden locks to be correct. It's also beautifully animated and seems very real. Apart from when it starts to magically glow. But this is a fairy tale.

Have I mentioned that Tangled is funny too. The two main comedic characters Pascal the chameleon and Maximus the horse have the ability to make children and adults laugh. 

Split ends
I do have some small criticisms though. One is that the songs are nothing compared to Disney's usual melodic masterpieces. I'm not a very musical person but I can tell when they have stolen bits of the melodies from their old musical numbers like A Whole New World and Part Of Your World. My other criticism is that the ending is a bit of a cheat. I don't what to spoil it for you but if you've seen it you'll know what I mean! (Magic tears? Where did that come from?) My last problem with Tangled is it's beautifully animated but I miss drawn animation and I always will.

Hair raising adventure story
Other than that Tangled could be the start of another renaissance for Disney. It has all the standard Disney hallmarks, like a brilliant story, a scary villain and beautiful animation while at the same time being very modern and funny. It will make you laugh and cry. Tangled is HAIR-larious (sorry, couldn't help myself)

This is my personal list of the top 10 Disney princesses, which now includes Rapunzel:
1. Ariel
2. Pocahontas
3. Belle
4. Mulan
5. Rapunzel
6. Tiana
7. Jasmine
8. Snow White
9. Cinderella
10. Aurora

If you disagree leave a comment.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


Rating: ★★★½

I originally went to see Battleship to stare at my one true love Rihanna acting. I wasn't expecting much from the film but I was pleasantly surprised.

Misfit marine
The film is about a marine (Alexander Skarsgård) who convinces his good-for-nothing brother (Taylor Kitsch) to join him in the US navy. Little do they know that a fleet of aliens is about to attack and it's up to the new marine to defend Earth. I know what you're thinking – could this plot be any more far-fetched. But the script, which it has to be said does not contain the most original dialogue, is surprisingly funny and even points fun at itself a lot. For example, every time a character is about to swear a loud explosion covers it! And there's a lot of loud explosions... And even more reasons to swear.

Battleship is child's play
Now as many people may know, this film was inspired by the Hasbro game Battleships. Even though the game is incredibly tedious, I can understand why it might make a good premise for a film because (unlike games such as Cluedo) there is absolutely no plot or characters, so you pretty much have free reign to do what you want. Director Peter Berg and his scriptwriters do come up with some clever homages to the game... For example, the scene in which the Destroyer's radar breaks means that the crew have to fire blindly at the enemy, just like in a game of Battleships (geddit!). Also, every so often the filmmakers cut to a really high aerial shot, to simulate the Battleship board. But overall the movie-makers have got the essence of the game, which is to destroy as much stuff as possible.

RIHANNA the actress
Now that's enough of me being a retro toy nerd. Back to the most important thing in this movie.... RIHANNA! People might think a pop star is an odd choice for an action film. But they would be Wrong! Rihanna's part isn't all that challenging. Her character has absolutely no relevance to the story and in any other action film would have been dead within the first five minutes, but because it's Rihanna, she gets to spend the entire film fighting aliens, blowing up spaceships and looking cool. And she even sings (for about half a second, you'll have to watch the movie to spot the moment).

I hope for Taylor's sake Battleship is a success because after John Carter his career might already become a sinking ship.

You might think that this film is ridiculous, but it did have some great moments. My favourite is the final climax when the new marines have to enlist the help of a group of veteran, pensioner marines to drive the only ship they have left.

Battleship isn't as dark and brooding as some of the recent CGI blockbusters, such as Dark Knight and Inception, but it's got something for all the family..... And of course RIHANNA's in it, just in case you forgot.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

StreetDance 2

Rating ★★
I wanted to go to the cinema with an old friend who is a dancer. So StreetDance 2 was the natural choice. It's about two boys, Eddie (George Sampson) and Ash (Falk Hentschel), who go on a Magnificent Seven-style mission round Europe to put together a street dance crew to perform in a big competition. All the non-dancing bits in between the big dance sequences were so wooden I wasn't sure if they were acting or selling me car insurance. But they weren't helped by the fact that the story was so cliched it was as if they took the plot from a Dance Films for Dummies book. It had the typical cross-over of dance styles which ends up in a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between the figure heads of the two styles. Even if I hadn't seen all this before in Save the Last Dance, Step Up, Take the Lead, etc, etc, etc, not to mention the first Streetdance film, it also wasn't executed with any flare or imagination.

It's a small Europe after all
The Big New Idea for this second film with the same plot was all resting on the European travelogue locations. But half of the film seemed to be shot on sets or ultra cheap locations that had a homogenous fake Euro-feel, and considering this is supposed to be the British Dance Movie franchise, it was a shame to see it had a very American view of Europe. For example our Latin Dance heroine Eva's Parisian apartment looked more like it was in New Mexico! Also the Final Clash is held in a massive CGI coliseum also supposed to be in the centre of Paris... HUH! Or maybe it was Rome? In any case it wasn't clear. And there also seemed to be a big lack of French people in France! Unless you count Tom Conti with a dodgy Euro-accent.

Wicked dance sequences
Now okay, so the acting and the plot were crap, the big euro locations even less believable, but you have to remember that a film like this is about the dancing and the plot is only a device to tie together the dance sequences. And this film did have one or two brilliant dance sequences. The Final Clash was sick! It was a chance for the cast to show that what they lacked in acting talent they made up for in dancing ability.

That said, halfway through the film my dancer friend whispered to me that this film has fantastic stunts but the choreographed dances are technically better in the American Step Up franchise than in this British version. After she'd said that I couldn't help comparing the two and noticing that she was right. So I highly recommend not watching the two back to back, but to be honest I'm a lot more excited about Step Up 4 coming out this summer than I was about this lacklustre British imitation.