Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Memento (2000)

Image is property of Summit Entertainment

Memento – Film Review 

Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A man tries to piece together clues as to who murdered his wife, whilst trying to overcome the fact that he has short term memory loss…

Review: The conventional way of telling a story: Beginning, middle, end. It is how most movies choose to tell their story. Of course, some directors have a habit of telling their stories in not exactly the right order. But for a film to elect to tell its story from the end to the beginning, is certainly bold to say the least, and could very easily backfire. However when you have a director like Christopher Nolan at the helm, it works an absolute treat!

With a screenplay adapted from a short story written by his brother Jonathan, focusing on Leonard Shelby, a guy who suffers from short-term memory loss, with not a single recollection of what he did 5 minutes ago. He’s certain of his identity and of the fact that someone killed his wife and during that incident something happened to him that gave him his condition. Through use of Polaroid pictures and tattoos on his body, he uses these as clues to what he hopes will lead him to the answers he’s desperately seeking. With some scenes playing back to front, and others playing in chronological order, it could have ended up as one convoluted mess, but under Nolan’s expert vision, it’s not a mess, it’s mindbogglingly brilliant and, at the same time, really perplexing.

“Can’t remember if this is my car…”

The way he tells the story is certainly unconventional, but it keeps you engaged. You know how the story went from point A to point B, but watching it go from point B back to point A, is just completely riveting to watch, and very unique. The riveting story is boosted significantly by the brilliant work of the case, especially Pearce. Given that the film focuses on Leonard and his condition, it was of critical importance that the actor gave a believable performance, and that is exactly what Pearce gives, you buy into this guy and his condition, and it remains perhaps the greatest performance of his career. Carrie Anne Moss is also superb as Natalie, a woman who is helping Leonard fit together the pieces of his puzzle and there’s Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy, a man who you’re never quite sure as to what his ulterior motive is.

Whenever you watch a thriller, a twist that the audience never sees coming is so often thrown in there so it can stun the audience when the penny drops and it’s revealed. Though Nolan doesn’t give himself that chance to shock the audience, the structure of the film ensures it remains a cinematic experience unlike anything else. With an excellent score from David Julyan, this was the film that made audiences really sit up and take note of Christopher Nolan and his considerable talents, which were duly recognised with an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. And as we all well know, it certainly wasn’t the last time audiences would hear of him, not a chance.

Original storytelling, told in a very innovative manager that will keep you hooked, anchored by a superb performance from Pearce.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Spider-Man (2002)

 

Image is property of Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Spider-Man Film Review

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis: When a high school student called Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider like powers, he becomes a super hero and adopts the identity of Spider-Man and fights crime in New York City.

Review: If you ask someone to name a popular superhero, chances are good that one of the ones they will mention would be that of the wall crawling superhero, otherwise known as Spider-Man. Right from his inception in 1962, to today, he has become a very popular character, and is indeed a fan favourite for many. The late 70s/early 80s saw a number of made-for-TV movies bring him to life, but after a two decade absence, he was finally brought to the big screen in 2002, and he certainly made an almighty impression.

Charting his origin story, we meet Peter Parker, a nerd in every sense of the word who happens to live next door to the girl who he has an immense crush on, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst). Whilst on a school trip Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which coincidentally gives him spider-like powers and enhanced strength and speed. Emboldened by his new abilities, he goes on a quest to win MJ’s heart, but this quest leads to the callous murder of someone very close to him (you know who!) and this prompts him to become the titular hero and protect the Big Apple.

Certainly got a great view from up here!

Whenever you make a superhero film, it’s of paramount importance that you make the hero likeable and someone the audience can root for, and Tobey Maguire as Parker does just that. He’s a bit of a dork, but he’s a lovable dork, and when he becomes the wall-crawling hero, he really bosses it and gives a terrific dual performance. as Peter’s two best friends Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are excellent as Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, even if they were a little old to be playing high school students. On the flip side Willem Dafoe is also tremendous as Harry’s father Norman, and much like Maguire, also gives an excellent dual performance as the villainous Green Goblin, and yes, the great J.K Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, is one of the best casting choices for a comic book movie, ever.

Having been a fan of the comic book,  Sam Raimi was brought on to helm the project and he certainly does a terrific job. With experienced screenwriter David Koepp, the story is told in a very entertaining way. It’s humorous when it wants to be so and when it wants to be dark, it manages to completely flip that humorous tone on its head, and does so very successfully. There are more than a few scenes that really REALLY push the boundaries of its 12 rating. The action is directed masterfully too, when Spidey and the Goblin are throwing punches, or spinning webs, it’s really gripping to watch, and their final battle, is dark, psychological, mesmerising entertainment.

Though there are a few things such Goblin’s suit that can be a little bit irksome (we can see your mouth move mate!) Furthermore, certain sections of dialogue, particularly the scenes with MJ and Peter, are perhaps a little bit too cheesy. Overall, the journey to bring a live action iteration of the character to the big screen paid off enormously, and perhaps it paved the way for the dominance of superhero films that started towards the later half of the 2000s and continued well into the 2010s. With Danny Elfman’s majestic score to boot, the immortal words of Uncle Ben certainly ring true, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and with the power that was placed in Raimi’s hands, he undoubtedly delivered the goods.

Delightful blockbuster entertainment at its best with a likeable protagonist, a menacing and deeply troubled antagonist and brilliantly weaved action sequences.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Image is property of Hasbro Studios, Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Ramón Rodríguez, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Tony Todd

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: After saving the world from the Decepticons, Sam (LaBeouf) tries to leave all that behind and go to college. However, due to some clues that are in his possession, the Decepticons are ferociously hunting Sam once more…

Review: The first live action foray into the world of live action talking robots, was certainly if anything a noisy affair. Lots of explosions thrown in with robots fighting in a human metropolis. If that for whatever reason, didn’t provide you with a couple of hours of some mindless dumb popcorn entertainment, chances are this sequel to Bay’s Transformers mayhem probably won’t tickle your fancy much either, as it serves up more of the same in many ways, but the results this time, are not nearly as pleasing to the eye as the first instalment.

With the Decepticons seemingly defeated, Sam Witwicky now seems determined to lead a normal life, by going to college. Unfortunately for him, his role in the Transformers Civil War is not yet over, as a clue to another ancient artefact’s location on Earth sees him become the target for the Decepticons once again, and cue again lots of explosions and a Transformer Civil War reignites on Earth once more. What Bay does well is the visual effects are once again excellent, and for what it’s worth the opening sequence is for the most part, extremely entertaining to watch. These scenes are scattered throughout the film, and they, along with Steve Jablonsky’s score, are undoubtedly the high points of this expensive metal extravaganza.

Bruised and beaten, but still the ultimate badass…

The problematic dialogue has unfortunately not gone away, there are times when it is painful to just watch once again. The chemistry between the lead characters is not awful but its paper thin at best. The plot, once again is completely ridiculous and it seems was once again nothing more than an afterthought in production. You go into these movies to see Autobots fight Decepticons, but that is almost second fiddle here, as the humans are the centre of the attention. As such when those humans are front and centre for the majority of the run time, it’s really frustrating, especially since screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have proven themselves to be capable screenwriters.

As well as the bland humans, well they’re ably supported by some equally bland new Bots. Of course Optimus is his usual Peter Cullen-voiced badass self and the not so talkative Bumblebee. The rest apart from Ironhide are not nearly as developed as the aforementioned robots in disguise, thus rendering them big and uninteresting pieces of tin. Two robots that are not uninteresting, but for all the wrong reasons, are The Twins. Annoying and just offensive, it’s a pity they didn’t end up in the scrapheap of the editing room. In the Decepticon corner however, there is the eponymous Fallen who wants to do what Megatron did, and that is essentially destroy the human race, with a really absurd way of doing so. Bay’s style of editing is carried over from the first movie, and while it does have its merits to the way he frames his action scenes, it could quite possibly be migraine inducing.

It had its flaws but Bay had the platform to build on what he achieved from the first one and make a meaningful sequel. From quite the considerable production budget, the end result is certainly bigger in scale, but better it most certainly isn’t. There’s enjoyment to be had, as such it’s not a complete car crash, but  it’s not far off. Ultimately it is one colourful and noisy mess that doesn’t add anything new to the franchise. Instead it takes the problems of the first film, and just makes them that so much more noticeable.

Nothing more than meets the eye to be found here, a messy and absurd script is slightly compensated by some good effects, but even they become extremely tiresome after a while.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers (2007)

Image is property of Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Peter Cullen

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: When a teenager buys his first car, which turns out to be a Transformer, he gets dragged into an ancient war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and a battle for humanity’s survival.

Review: Making an adaption of a popular toy franchise, one that has been around since the mid 1980s, would seem like a safe bet for cinematic greatness. After all, when said franchise has spawned a plethora of spin off TV shows and an animated movie among other things, that have had a very loyal fan-base down the years, it was always bound to get the live action film treatment, and a popular toy franchise fused with live action must equal greatness, right? Well, not quite.

As this is a tale of two factions of alien robots, disguising themselves as regular Earth vehicles, doing battle over a transformer cube artefact, this is very much a popcorn flick where you leave your brain at the door. No thought-provoking themes to be found here, just sit back and watch at the metallic mayhem that director Michael Bay throws at you, which should for the most part leave you very well entertained as it truly is breathless stuff at times. There is a plot, of sorts, but it’s all pretty much irrelevant once we arrive at what we signed up for. Basically, the Autobots and Decepticons battling for possession of this cube, set in human territory, and Sam Witwicky (LaBoeuf) is at the centre of this fight.

Not your regular bunch of vehicles…

Bay certainly likes to tell his stories with some explosions, or ten, and when its all out Transformer Battle Royale, in a scrappy fight to the death, it certainly is pulsating stuff. Bay certainly favours quick cut editing, and it is used to great effect here. What is also truly excellent is the CGI, especially when the robots are transforming, it all looks absolutely superb.  What’s not as interesting however is the bits in between with some of the human characters. LeBoeuf is interesting enough as the human lead, even if he is a bit of a dork. The chemistry between him and and Mikaela Banes (Fox) is shaky at first to say the least, it’s not the best it could be, but it’s not the worst that’s ever been put to screen, although some of the initial dialogue between the two is just uncomfortable to watch, for all concerned. Leading the military contingent is Josh Duhamel’s Major Lennox, who certainly carries the most charisma amongst all of the human contingent.

Despite a mixed bag of human characters, the action that Bay delivers is more than enough to leave the viewer satisfied. Casting the OG voice of Optimus Prime Peter Cullen to reprise his role was a smart move to win over the fans, as Cullen’s deep voice brings an aura of authority to Optimus which being the leader of the Autobots, is kind of important. Similarly, as he is no stranger to playing bad guys, Hugo Weaving as the voice of the Decepticon big gun Megatron, another superb choice. Many of the Decepticons are in many ways very disposable, but in terms of the Autobots, there’s a good contingent of memorable friendly bots that you definitely want to root for.

It may not be perfect, in fact some of it is extremely cheesy, but when the action is this good, that’s really what matters as that is precisely what you sign up for. For fans of the original, they might have some nitpicks, but it cannot be denied that Bay delivers the sort of dumb, loud popcorn entertainment that you want from this sort of film, and Steve Jablonsky’s brilliant score complements it perfectly. There’s nothing more than meets the eye about this,it is big, loud and ridiculous fun and it does what it exactly says on the tin.

The script was clearly not high on the agenda of the production team, and it didn’t need to be, as Bay delivers precisely the sort of popcorn entertainment that you signed up for.

Posted in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019, Film Feature

Ranking the Star Wars movies

Image is property of Lucasfilm

Is there a franchise across the galaxy that has made such an impact on popular culture than Star Wars? Right from its inception in 1977, it has seeped its way into almost any and every aspect of our daily lives, so much so that a good four decades after the first film was released in cinemas, it has continued to enjoy almost unparalleled levels of popularity. You ask anyone you meet on the street if they know Star Wars, it would be quite incredible if you encountered someone who genuinely has no idea what the hell you’re on about.

Anywho, for a great many years it did look as though there was no force left in the world of Star Wars, since its creator George Lucas had originally planned for two trilogies. However, since Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, the franchise has enjoyed a new lease of life. The new trilogy is up and running and an anthology film is in the bag with many more planned. But the force has not always been strong with this franchise, and so it’s time to take a trip to a galaxy far far away and rate the Star Wars films from worst to best. Time to get started, and make that jump to hyperspace! Punch it Chewie!

8. Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Read my original review here

The whole purpose of the prequel movies was to witness the transition of Anakin Skywalker from extraordinary Jedi to badass Sith, however he was far from a compelling character and here he’s nothing but a whiny pain in the arse! It is fair to say that Episode I wasn’t quite as well received as the 3 films that had come before it, so after some negative feedback you’d have thought George Lucas would have made some improvements in the 2nd outing in his prequel trilogy, and well in short he didn’t.

The dialogue is dreadful, with Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman not possessing a single bit of chemistry between them just makes it so painful to watch. Romantic dialogue at its absolute worst. “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere” is a line that will live forever in film infamy. The film tries to make things exciting with Obi Wan’s adventure, but even that is just ridiculously bloated and nonsensical. At a point it just becomes a chore to finish the movie as you’re just not invested in the adventure one bit. Even with less of one of the most infuriating characters ever brought to screen, it’s an excruciating watch, even with some lightsabre battles involved.

7. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Read my original review here

Ahem, speaking of said infuriating character: JAR JAR BINKS. One word: WHYYYYYYYYY????? What on earth was Lucas thinking when he came up with the idea for this character ? He’s annoying to watch/listen to, and it’s not surprising that some thought the character was deeply offensive, regardless of whether he was written to be for children, he did not need to be so infuriating to watch. He’s perhaps the most hated movie character ever, and justifiably so too. But that’s just one facet of what’s wrong with The Phantom Menace. Right from the opening crawl, upon watching this, something is not right. Trade negotiations??!! Peace treaties??!! Star Wars, this is not!

Again just what was Lucas thinking?! When you watch this you wonder is this the same man who created this wondrous universe? Cos here it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Lucas clearly became drunk with CGI, as there’s a ton of it on show here, and while some scenes are cool, the majority of these effects are horrifically dated. The script, much like Clones, is also abysmal, as is the acting. What puts Phantom Menace above Clones is Duel of The Fates, Darth Maul and the ending lightsabre battle, cos that’s just cool, but it’s not enough to save the movie from the mediocre snoozefest it really is, and that’s an almighty shame.

6. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Read my original review here

AT LAST! WAR! After two for the most part painful movies, we finally got the prequel movie we signed up for! Right from the opening space battle, we immediately get the feel of old school Star Wars, and the Clone Wars that we were promised. More importantly, we watch as the Dark Side gnaws away at Anakin, eventually leading to his full turn to the Dark Side. Rise, Lord Vader! Christensen is for the most part, much better here in his performance, but there are still some lines that are just painful to watch. But it must be said, the acting went up a couple of good pegs, largely courtesy of Ewan McGregor who really shines as Obi-Wan. Not more so in the destined duel between Master and Padawan. You really feel the emotion, the pain and anguish of these two former friends now ferociously trying to kill the other. It’s also much funnier than the first two movies, largely courtesy of R2D2.

The action is also much better, from the opening battle to the battle against General Grievous (also the best villain of the prequel trilogy). There’s a handful of some great battle scenes, such as Yoda VS Palpatine and the climactic battle between Obi Wan and the newly turned Lord Vader is certainly gripping, if a little overlong. But by far one of the most excruciating scenes to come out of the prequels was Order 66! It made any Star Wars fan’s stomach churn watching the grim destiny of the once highly lauded Jedi Order. Yet, there are some scenes that much like its predecessors are truly head scratching, dying of a broken heart? I mean, really? And that really dumb “Noooooooooo” right at the end, just well erm, no. No thank you Lucas. At least this film ended the trilogy and the franchise (or so we thought at the time) on a positive note.

5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Read my original review here

The one that originally closed the book on the franchise, and although in terms of quality it doesn’t quite match up to its predecessors, there was much enjoyment to be had in this final instalment of the original trilogy. The Battle of Endor is really well done and features one of the most memorable lines in cinematic history, courtesy of Admiral Ackbar (you know the one!). But the main focus of this tale is Luke’s mission to rescue his father from the evil Emperor’s clutches, and try and restore him to the good side. Their climactic final battle carries a lot of emotional weight, and is also very gripping to watch: “I am a Jedi, like my father before me”.

Now on the other hand, there’s the small matter of the Ewoks, you either love or you hate these little bears, but either way the idea of them being able to topple the Empire’s troops is a bit silly and very perplexing. That being said, despite these furry bears, Jedi has enough enjoyment in it to give the original trilogy the satisfying conclusion it really deserved, but as we know, this was not the final chapter in the adventures of the trinity: Luke, Han and Leia.

4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Read my original review here

Despite being called “Star Wars”, there hadn’t really been a moment where these films really felt like proper war movies, this is of course until Rogue One blasted its way onto the big screen, in the first of the anthology films that Disney had been developing since it seized control of the franchise. Taking place right before Episode IV kicks off, the focus is on a group of rebels who make a daring mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s deadly planet destroying space station, the Death Star, and it really does bring the war element to the franchise in a way that we had not seen before.

No Jedi to be found here, and in Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso the franchise has another very compelling female lead (more on that later,) the assortment of characters that are recruited are enjoyable to watch, Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe for instance, and new droid K2SO is VERY funny. Yet there is a bit of an irksome lack of development on some of these characters, aside from Jyn and the relationship she has with her father Galen. However, when we get to that third act, it is breathless entertainment, not to mention one of Darth Vader’s best ever moments in the franchise. It is a perfect companion piece to Episode IV.

3. Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Read my original review here

There has perhaps been no movie this decade that carried more hype going into it than for the first Star Wars film since 2005. By this point, the franchise had now firmly made the decision to move forward with its own ideas, and as such Lucas’s suggestions were left by the wayside, much to his dislike. After the prequels had for the most part left fans vastly disappointed, much was riding on this film to match those lofty expectations, and for the most part, it delivered.

Now there has been much criticism hurled at this movie for being essentially a carbon copy of the original. While admittedly there are lots of visual nods and throwbacks, JJ Abrams and his team delivered a film and a story that felt so much more like a homage to those original movies we know and love. Rey is a very compelling and interesting character that is so effortlessly watchable in spite of the fact that we know so little about her, and given the fact she is the central character of the new trilogy, is critical. John Boyega also gives a top notch performance as FN-2187 (Sorry, I mean Finn), a Stormtrooper gone rogue and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron certainly carries that Han Solo esque aura about him.  Speaking of Han, this film gives him and Leia so much more backstory and fleshes their characters out in ways we hadn’t seen before.

In Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, the series has another superbly portrayed antagonist who in spite of knowing the bare minimum about his backstory (other than also being Ben Solo), is very compelling to watch in the same way that Rey is. He’s in many ways a wounded soul, but one you absolutely do not dare mess with. Some would even argue that he become most menacing when he removed his terrifying mask while interrogating Rey, placing his mask on the ashes of his Jedi victims, only to reveal a young boy, corrupted and twisted by the dark ways of the Force.

There’s flesh on the bones of these characters in a way that was pretty much non-existent across the prequel trilogy, thus you’re invested in them, leaving you wanting more. Also, the movie makes a bold choice by leaving the film on a cliffhanger. There are many questions that fans across the galaxy at this moment just do not know the answers to, which only generates more excitement and anticipation for the next instalment.

2. Episode IV: A New Hope

Read my original review here

The start of truly something special, a film that revolutionised the industry in pretty much every way, and created a franchise that to this day enjoys galactic world domination. It would be fair to say that there was something of a struggle to bring this to the big screen. Production problems, difficulties in funding the film, and even some cast members thought the film would be a massive failure. Mark Hamill commented that on the first day of filming in Tunisia, cameramen were laughing at his costume. How wrong they were!

Right from the opening moments, this film just captivates you, the effects at the time were dazzling and they still hold up to this day (well for the most part!). The characters are all very intriguing and much like The Force Awakens, you wanted to spend more time with these characters, characters who have left their mark on pop culture forever. Luke, initially a bit whiny, really grows into the role of the main protagonist. Han Solo is your cocky, brash but lovable smuggler, and in Princess Leia, you have a female protagonist that is up there with the very best that have ever been put to screen. Equally in Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, you have two of the most memorable antagonists cinema has seen.

Despite all the production problems, the struggles were not in vain, and the final product is cinematic gold in every sense. The start of a franchise that has reigned across the galaxy for decades now and will in all probability continue to do so for decades to come.

 1. Episode V: Empire Strikes Back

Read my original review here

Sequels have very much become a staple of modern cinema, sometimes they improve on their predecessor, and sometimes they just don’t. Empire is most definitely the former, in this instance, but it’s more than just a great sequel, it is one of the best films of all time. Period.

With the first film we got introduced to our key characters and at the same time, introduced to a plethora of planets to explore and a very intriguing and well told story to boot. This film takes those characters and develops their relationships in very unique ways, whilst also making plot choices that are bold to say the least. While the action in A New Hope was something to behold, here it is even better. The Battle of Hoth is mesmerising to watch, whilst the climatic final battle between Luke and Vader (who’s also an absolute boss with no Tarkin to hold him back) just mercilessly dropping his own men dead in the quest to find Luke. What’s more if you had no knowledge of the prequels (lucky bastards) as people in 1980 did, then the twist that happens in this battle is so well executed that you just never saw it coming.

The tone is also much MUCH darker, especially given the fates that befall some of our heroes, and the direction and the cinematography are just BEAUTIFUL to look at. There’s not a single thing wrong with this movie, and with the introduction of Yoda, you again have one of the best characters to have ever graced the silver screen, and some of the best cinematic insults too. It remains to this day the best film in the franchise, and it will take something truly special to beat it.

So, after making that jump though hyperspace through all of the major cinematic Star Wars films, it is now over to you! Which is your favourite Star Wars film, and how would you rank these films? Comment below and let me know! If you enjoyed reading this, I’d be very grateful if you gave my Facebook page a like and connect with me on Twitter: @ThrSilverScreen.

May the Force be With you all!

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Buena Vista Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Stellan Skarsgård, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Hollander, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl set sail in search of a chest that contains an item belonging to the ominous Davy Jones, but this item is also sought after by several other people, all of whom want this item for their own ends…

Review: Pirates, there’s something about these scallywags that cinema audiences certainly seem to like, and enjoy watching, as was evident by the phenomenal critical and commercial success that the first film in this franchise enjoyed. A sequel (or two, or three) was always going to happen. Sequels, however can be the equivalent of cursed treasure, in that if you get them wrong, it can place upon the preceding film a terrible curse that’s hard to shake off. Or it can be like finding a glorious stash of treasure that makes everyone rich and happy. In the case of Dead Man’s Chest, this is perhaps somewhere in between it’s not a curse, but it’s not a perfect stash of treasure either.

We begin when the wedding of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner is rudely interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Hollander) who’s after one man, yes Captain Jack Sparrow of course! After the latter was allowed to escape by the hands of Will, Beckett condems the bride and groom to be to the hangman’s noose. Jack meanwhile is desperately seeking to avoid the debt that he owes Davy Jones (Nighy) and so begins a spiral of events that stretch out this film’s run time to an incredible two and a half hours, that really really could have been trimmed down in one or two places.

Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio do ensure that there is some fun to be had of course, but there’s quite a lot of meandering as this ship steers its way through some very exposition filled waters that threaten to run the film aground. A common path for sequels to sail, is to make the tone that bit more darker, and this is the route that this film chooses to take, and in doing so much of the wackiness and the fun that the first film brought is replaced by a more serious ominous tone, though the film doesn’t lack some very entertaining sequences that returning captain Gore Verbinski helms to a similar standard as he did with the first film.

The ominous is perhaps best exemplified by Davy Jones, though we don’t find out much about him and why he looks the way he does. Nighy brings a very menacing presence, that is aided by some truly excellent CGI. Being in this creature’s presence could cause even the bravest of souls to quiver in fear.  Though the CGI for some of his crew aboard The Flying Dutchman is very obvious, it is for the most part very well done and the recipient of the Oscar for Visual Effects. Despite the meandering script, there are some rather splendid action sequences to enjoy, and the acting across the board remains at a solid standard.

Not someone you want to mess with…

With Depp again on splendid form as Captain Jack, and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also in fine form reprising their roles as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Newcomers Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hollander give the most memorable performances of the newcomers as Will’s father Bootstrap Bill and the pesky Cutler Beckett.  It’s not the swashbuckling adventure its predecessor was, but there’s more than enough rum on this ship to ensure it has the right amount of wind in its sails.

A choppy plot, coupled with some clunky dialogue could have resulted in an unpleasant shipwreck, but an ample amount of fun action ensures it’s steered home to a satisfying conclusion.

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

curse-of-the-black-pearl
Image is property of Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: When a dastardly band of Pirates seeks a valuable piece of treasure to lift a curse, a blacksmith and a rogue Pirate must unite to help save the daughter of a Governor who happens to be in the possession of said treasure.

Review: Pirates, for a very long time now, these swashbuckling individuals have been almost an ever present in popular culture for about as long as anyone can remember. Some of the most notable being of course Captain Hook from Peter Pan and  of course there’s Steven Spielberg’s Hook, but perhaps no other franchise in Hollywood as left such a lasting impression on Pirates in pop culture than the franchise that began all the way back in 2003, this of course being Pirates of the Caribbean, based on the popular Disneyland attraction.

Enter Jack Sparrow (Depp) a pirate who arrives in the Jamaican town of Port Royal, in rather dramatic and amusing style, on a mission to commandeer a ship in order to exact revenge on his former pirate comrades. During this mission however, his path crosses with Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of a Governor, and the Blacksmith Will Turner and the three become entangled in a mission that involves treasure, swordplay, action, romance, scheming and the supernatural all in one go. If nothing else it’s stylish entertainment at its absolute best.

ARR is it treasure ye be looking for????

Director Gore Verbinski is the captain of this vessel, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are the first mates if you will, with the cast being their eccentric, and rather brilliant crew! In a role that has arguably become his most well known, Depp is absolutely electric as Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s humorous, witty and extremely charismatic and Depp’s fine work ensured he received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Of course Depp is the shining light of a cast that is packed with excellent performances, Geoffrey Rush is excellent as the wicked and treacherous Captain Barbossa is the primary target of Jack’s vengeance, with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley completing the cream of the crop in terms of fantastic performances, the latter two certainly boast some excellent chemistry.

Verbinski steers this ship like a captain who has been sailing the seas for all eternity. The action is enthralling to watch and the effects are equally terrific, the resulting outcome of the curse that is placed on these pirates  transforms them into utterly terrifying beings that at times really push the 12A rating of the film, it is entirely possible that one or two people might have had nightmares. Throw in an excellent score to boot, composed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, with a fantastic theme that is guaranteed to make you hum along to it every time you hear it,  you’ll be entertained right from the get go and will not have any desire or need to go and walk the plank.

When pitching this film, it is entirely possible that studio execs might have just looked at each other in utter bemusement as to how this could possibly mesh and work together. Fortunately Verbinski and crew make it work, and the results are just an utter blast. As one character says near the beginning of the film, during a rather daring heist, “This is either madness, or brilliance,” to which the other character responds “it’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.” Certainly applicable in the case of this film, though it is certainly more a case of brilliance, but a bit of madness is thrown in there for good measure, and all the better for it, savvy?

Here be treasure alright! It is quite appropriate for a film to be based on a theme park attraction to be one hell of an entertaining ride, as that is precisely what this film takes you on. 

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

King Kong (2005)

Image is property of WingNut Films and Universal Pictures

King Kong – Film Review

Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, Evan Parke, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler

Director: Peter Jackson

Synopsis: A venture to make a film, led by an eccentric film-maker in the hope of capturing an uncharted piece of land on film leads to the discovery of a truly terrifying place, home to among other things, a giant ape…

Review: Of all the monsters to have featured in monster movies that have been released down the decades, there are perhaps only two monsters that have a claim to being the most iconic monsters to have ever graced the silver screen. One of these is of course Godzilla, and the other is of course Kong.  Both have featured in many films in the past and have been pitted against each other once before (and will do so again in 2020!) For Kong however, his first foray on the big screen came in 1933, at a time when the World was in the midst of the Great Depression, and so for director Peter Jackson, having just come off his phenomenal success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, decided to tackle this story about a gargantuan Ape.

Interestingly, the 1933 film was Jackson’s inspiration for wanting to become a filmmaker and it’s clear in each frame that Jackson creates that he has an immense passion for this story, and as such wanted to do his utmost to pay tribute to the original. Indeed, Great Depression USA is where he sets the scene where Ann Darrow (Watts) who’s been made redundant is seeking work and she comes across Carl Denham (Black) an eccentric filmmaker seeking a female lead on an adventure to film the mysterious Skull Island, which Kong calls home. When they foray to said island and Ann is taken prisoner by Kong, a rescue mission is launched, and some monkey mayhem ensues.

The story of this giant ape is mainly told through Ann’s eyes, and Naomi Watts is superb in this role. It might seem impossible that a woman and an ape could become so close, but her performance makes it so believable. As Ann’s human love interest, Adrien Brody also gives a stellar turn as Jack Driscoll, a famous playwright whom Ann is an enormous fan of, and there’s Jack Black’s Carl, who despite his ambition, is ultimately not a really nice fellow. The focus is primarily on these three, although there is perhaps a bit too much focus on some other characters who you don’t care about enough. As such, a considerable chunk could have been taken off its 3 hour running time.

Jackson, with the Lord of the Rings trilogy showed off his ability to make some jaw dropping compelling action scenes. Though there are some that feel a bit scrappy and in some ways incomplete, there are more than a few others that are just  brilliant to watch, with more than a few iconic shots thrown in there for good measure. The special effects are truly phenomenal, all of the Skull Island residents are tremendously well realised, and if you have a fear of insects, one scene in particular might chill you to your core. Jackson again uses the New Zealand scenery as Skull Island, and there are more than a few spectacular shots. It’s so well realised it doesn’t feel like a movie set. The motion capture work that brings Kong to life is utterly tremendous and yet again Andy Serkis deserves enormous plaudits for his work with the technology in bringing characters such as these to life. That Oscar will surely come eventually. Although the film did manage to scoop three well deserved gongs, including one for visual effects.

When you think about a story about a 25 foot gorilla and a human female meeting and almost falling in love seems like a concept so ridiculous it should have been laughed out of production. Yet in 1933 it worked, and in 2005 it worked again, to great effect. It’s so effective that you might find yourself fighting back the tears once the dramatic final showdown on the top of the Empire State building has come to a close. And after this adventure has reached its conclusion, there might perhaps be just one question on your mind, does Beauty truly kill the Beast?

A remake done good with plenty of heart and emotion, and some chest thumpingly great action sequences, the King of the Apes roared again.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

The Incredibles (2004)

incredibles
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios and Disney

The Incredibles – Film Review

Cast:  Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Spencer Fox, Jason Lee

Director: Brad Bird

Synopsis: After a public outcry, superheroes are forced to put away their capes and live in everyday society. However a deadly plan to wreak world havoc forces one super family to band together to help save the world.

Review: Largely thanks to the work of DC and Marvel, superheroes are currently enjoying a great boom in popularity in Hollywood at the moment. Yet back in 2004, the superhero fever hadn’t quite reached the level it enjoys at this moment in time. Nevertheless, it didn’t need to have the soaring popularity it currently enjoys for an idea about a superhero family, all with extraordinary abilities, in a world that has superheroes aplenty to gain traction. From an idea first spawned in 1993 by writer and director Brad Bird, after being brought on board the Pixar train that up to that point hit a home run with with all of its prior releases, and soaring critical praise, Bird’s superhero dream finally came to fruition, and soared spectacularly so.

Focusing on Robert Parr AKA Mr Incredible, a super strong superhero who after committing a selfless act of heroism leads to fierce criticism from the public and gives the government a great big headache, which ultimately forces the superheroes to relocate, and to become as they say “average citizens, average heroes.” So reluctantly, Bob settles down with wife Helen AKA Elastigirl who has the ability to stretch, and their three children, Violet who can create force-fields and turn invisible, Dash who has super-speed and Jack-Jack whose powers are somewhat undefined. Bob is experiencing something of a mid life crisis, with a dead end career. This is until he has a chance to put on his mask and suit up once again, setting off a chain of events that lead to some super entertaining excitement from a studio that has almost always produced cinematic gold. Bird’s screenplay is witty, entertaining and slightly moving at times, with lots of gags aimed at adults for good measure, as one might expect from Pixar.

Animated characters certainly have demonstrated in the past that they have the power to pull on the heartstrings of the audience and once again, Pixar nails this with flying colours, as it so often does. Bob is a character whom many could undoubtedly relate to, in terms of his career and his burning desire to put on his mask again, but not the cape, the cape must never be worn at all! Each of the family members are well developed characters, and each absolutely gets their moment to shine, with tremendous voice work by all concerned, Bird himself lends his voice to the quite brilliant and eccentric Edna, yet Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone is in many ways the scene stealer, with some brilliant one liners and a fantastic exchange with his wife that surely ranks up there as one of the best scenes ever put to screen by Pixar.

Bird had animation experience after directing 1999’s The Iron Giant, and although that film suffered at the box office, his talent is undeniable. His script is matched by the film’s enthralling action sequences, whether its hero vs villain, or hero vs machine. It is faultless stuff and the detail on certain aspects such as the hair and the explosions is remarkable, almost as close to real life as it could get. This pun probably has been mentioned in every review for this film ever written, but it really is incredible, and well recognised with the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, as well as one for Sound Editing, Throw in an excellent score by the ever excellent Michael Giacchino and you have all the ingredients to make a truly excellent Pixar film, and a studio that with this making it sixth big release, had six super hits, and only went from strength to strength.

The Incredibles really sets the standard for superhero movies, animated and live-action alike, with relatable characters, some great dialogue, and some truly enthralling action sequences.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

No Country For Old Men (2007)

no-country
Image is property of Miramax Films and Paramount Vantage

No Country For Old Men – Film Review

Cast:  Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: When a man stumbles across a drug deal that has gone sour and finds a suitcase with a large amount of cash, he finds himself being pursued by a relentless hit-man who will stop at nothing to reclaim the cash…

Review: What would you do if you happened to come across a substantial amount of cash that you found in the desert? Chances are you’d probably take the loot and run as fast as you could for the hills. Yet what if you knew (somehow) that the money was the subject of a drug deal that had gone just a bit awry? Would you think twice? You might well do if you knew that there was a psychopathic man after you, who will stop at nothing to recover the loot from said drug deal.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, at the centre of this thriller is Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) who upon finding the aforementioned loot does decide to bag the cash and make a run for it, along with his wife Carla Jean (MacDonald). However his pursuer Anton Chigurh (Bardem) is the crazy mofo who is after the cash, and possess machine like determination in order to hunt Moss down and reclaim the cash. Thus this gives the audience a game of cat and mouse, that is brilliantly written and expertly brought to the screen by the Coen brothers. Right from the moment the chase begins, the tension begins and never abates until the credits role. The dialogue is minimal in some scenes but the tension remains high throughout the two hour run time as you watch this chase unfold.

The film is bolstered immeasurably by the performances of its three main actors, all of whom give excellent performances, Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as the gruff Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who becomes involved in the chase between Moss and Chigurh, all the while becoming horrified with what the world has become. Brolin, as the mouse in the chase, is also excellent determined to do whatever it takes to survive, mainly due to the strong love of his wife . Yet, it is undoubtedly Bardem who gives the most impressive performance. Here’s a man who could make the most innocuous conversation sound utterly terrifying, such as a conversation about the toss of a coin. He hunts his prey with Terminator like efficiency with even a terrifying haircut! He will spare no one in his quest to reclaim the cash, and is certainly remains one of the finest psychopathic, menacing villains that has ever been put to the big screen.

chigurh

The Coens masterful writing, lifting McCarthy’s novel from page to screen excellently, and their exquisite direction is aided by the usually flawless cinematography from Roger Deakins, marking his incredible 8th collaboration with the Coens. Both were recipients of Oscar nods for their incredible work, and in the case of the Coens, it was three times a charm as took home the prizes for directing, writing for an Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, as well as a well earned triumph for Bardem for Supporting Actor. Sadly Deakins did not take home the gong for cinematography, but the sheer quality of his work remains crystal clear. What also remains clear is that this is one of, if not, the finest pieces of work from the Coens. The ending leaves much open to interpretation, as such, it may jar with some, but when you sit down and assess everything you have witnessed, it is absolutely perfect, a word that could be used to describe just about every aspect of this extraordinary film.

Anchored by three outstanding performances by its leads, with brilliant dark humour thrown in for good measure, this is the Coen brothers’s masterpiece, without any question of a doubt.

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