Saturday, 31 December 2011

Film Review: "War Horse" (2011)

The film’s tagline, "Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship" is at the heart of War Horse. This war drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, adapted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, based on the novel and play of the same name by British author Michael Morpurgo. Set in the outbreak of World War I, Joey, young Albert's beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France. He's soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving both the British and the Germans before finding himself alone in no man's land. Meanwhile, Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

The genesis of Morpurgo's novel began when after he met a World War I veteran, named who drank in his local pub at Iddesleigh and who had been in the Devon Yeomanry working with horses, Morpurgo began to think of telling the story of the universal suffering of the Great War through a horse's viewpoint, but was unsure that he could do it. He also met another villager, Captain Budgett, who had been in the Cavalry in the Great War, and a third villager who remembered the army coming to the village to buy horses. Morpurgo thanks the three men in the dedication of the book, naming them as Albert Weeks, Wilfred Ellis and Captain Budgett. The third inspiration for the book, after meeting the veterans and seeing Billy with Hebe the horse, was an old oil painting that Morpurgo's wife Clare had been left: "It was a very frightening and alarming painting, not the sort you'd want to hang on a wall. It showed horses during the First World War charging into barbed wire fences. It haunted me." The painting was by F. W. Reed and was dated 1917, and showed a British cavalry charge on German lines, with horses entangled in barbed wire. The novel was an immediate success and was then adapted as a stage play in 2007 by Nick Stafford. Originally Morpurgo thought "they must be mad" to try to make a play from his best-selling 1982 novel. He was proved wrong by the play's instant success. The play's West End and Broadway productions are directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, with "horse choreography" by Toby Sedgwick. The horses were not real live horses, instead they used animatronic puppets for the animals. The animatronics were so successful that the Sunday Express said "The horses... are truly magnificent creations... Astonishingly lifelike."

Morpurgo, Lee Hall and Revel Guest tried to adapt the book into a film, working for over five years with Simon Channing-Williams, but in the end they had to admit defeat by lack of financing. To work dramatically, the story could not be told solely through the viewpoint of the horse (as it was in the book), and so the film version with a screenplay by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall is based on the narrative approach of the stage play more than that of the book. Unlike the play, which used puppet horses, the film uses real horses. In 2009, film producer Kathleen Kennedy saw the critically acclaimed production of War Horse in London's West End with her husband, fellow producer Frank Marshall and their two daughters. They were very impressed by the story and Marshall has recalled how he was amazed that no-one had already bought the film rights to the book. Steven Spielberg was told about War Horse by several people, including Kennedy. After discussions with Revel Guest, it was announced on 16 December 2009 that DreamWorks had acquired the film rights for the book, with Spielberg stating: "From the moment I read Michael Morpurgo's novel War Horse, I knew this was a film I wanted DreamWorks to make ... Its heart and its message provide a story that can be felt in every country." Spielberg saw the London production of the play on 1 February 2010 and met some of the cast afterwards. He admitted to being moved to tears by the performance. Spielberg has directed six films set during or just before World War II (1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Empire of the Sun (1987), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998)), produced two, Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), as well as producing two major television miniseries, Band of Brothers and The Pacific. In contrast, War Horse is Spielberg's first foray into World War I storytelling, as Spielberg admitted that prior to learning about the War Horse book and play "I had never been that interested in World War I". Kathleen Kennedy elaborated on the appeal of the story: "In cinema we've told very few stories about World War I and I think that's one of the things that attracted us to this ... It's a forgotten war in the United States, and that had a very powerful effect on Steven and I."

The cast includes David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell and Peter Mullan. The cast gave unforgettable performances, especially Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott. He played the young naive boy with absolute determination as the character never gave up on trying to find Joey and cross through the treacherous landscape of No Man's land. Another unforgettable performance came from the film’s animal star – Joey. It’s performance will linger on as the single greatest and most iconic animal role since Babe.

Anchored by a winning performance from an unlikely star, Spielberg's unflinchingly realistic war film, War Horse, virtually redefines the genre again. Like his previous effort, Saving Private Ryan, the film breaks new ground in content and style. It merges some of the most realistic battle footage with a touching human story. If Spielberg's emotional intelligence matched his visual genius, his harrowing, passionately felt and honorably flawed new film might qualify for one of the greatest American movies ever made about World War I. One of the best movies of 2011!

Simon says War Horse receives:

Friday, 30 December 2011

Film Review: "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "This year, discover how far adventure will take you", which is exactly what The Adventures of Tintin does spectacularly. This 3D performance capture film based on The Adventures of Tintin, a series of comic books created by Belgian artist Hergé (Georges Remi). Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and adapted by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, the film is based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham's Treasure (1944). Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt against Sakharine for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor – The Unicorn.

The history of the movie's entire process began when Spielberg had been an avid fan of The Adventures of Tintin comic books, which he discovered in 1981 when a French critic compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Tintin and claimed that the character of Indiana Jones was a direct descendant of Tintin. But there was one small thing: Spielberg never heard of Tintin. He asked his secretary to buy him the French-language editions of each book, but Spielberg did not have to understand them: he immediately fell in love with its art and learned basic French in high school. Meanwhile, the comics' creator Hergé, who didn't like the previous live action film versions and the cartoon, became a fan of Spielberg. So he sold the rights to Spielberg in 1983, Hergé died soon after. Spielberg felt that the best and only way to preserve and honor Hergé's Spirit was film the movie in the new performance capture technology developed by James Cameron and Weta Studios (Jackson's company). He then partnered with Jackson (another Tintin fan) and hired Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat to write the script and secured a deal with Paramount and Sony.

The film stars Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, Daniel Craig as Sakjarine and Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as Thomson and Thompson. The cast gave spectacular performances. Bell's performance was so reminiscent to Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones, Bell also represented the classic Spielberg heroes such as the energy of John Anderton in Minority Report (2003), the tenacity of Carl Hanratty in Catch Me If You Can (2002), the youthful curiosity of David Swinton in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) and the nowhere-boy qualities of Elliot Taylor in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982). Serkis gave a outstanding performance, no wonder he is the king of motion capture. Serkis is a multi-faceted character actor who can play any role he is given. Craig gave a wicked performance and was marvelous as the film’s antagonist, which is his first. Lastly, Frost and Pegg gave their best comedic performances yet as the comedic detective duos. Ranging from Chaplin to Peter Sellers’ Clouseau, they are undeniably the top comedy duo of all time.

The Adventures of Tintin is one of the most deliriously funny, ingenious and stylish American adventure movies ever made. It is the ultimate Saturday action matinee–a film so funny and exciting it can be enjoyed any day of the week.

Simon says The Adventures of Tintin receives:

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Film Review: "The Iron Lady" (2011)

"We will stand on principle... or we will not stand at all." This is at the heart of The Iron Lady. This British biographical film directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The film explores the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power. The film is narrated through a series of flashbacks, including the 17 days leading up to the Falklands War in 1982.

The role of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was played by Meryl Streep, Thatcher's husband, Denis Thatcher, was played by Jim Broadbent and Thatcher's longest-serving cabinet member and eventual deputy, Geoffrey Howe, is portrayed by Anthony Head. The cast gave terrific performances, especially Streep who has given one of her finest performances. In preparation for her role, Streep sat through a session at the House of Commons in January 2011 to observe British MPs in action. Extensive filming took place at the neogothic Manchester Town Hall, which is often used as a location double for films which feature the Houses of Parliament because of its architectural similarity. However, her performance could have been perfect if the script had been tweaked and couldn’t have followed the conventional biopic narrative. Though Streep was a risky choice, due to her nationality, I thought it was, in the end, the best choice and she played the part well. The rest of the cast were super, but unfortunately were overshadowed by Streep. I felt Broadbent and Head were either minimized to a fault or were cut too short. However, I admired what they brought to their roles.

Even though great performances were displayed and no matter how much director Lloyd tried to bring to the characterization of Thatcher, there were major flaws with the film. For example, in the film, it was suggested that Thatcher had said goodbye to her friend Airey Neave only a few moments before his assassination, and had to be held back from the scene by security officers. In fact, she was not in Westminster at the time of his death and was informed of it while carrying out official duties elsewhere. Secondly, the film does not portray any other female MPs in Parliament. In fact, during Thatcher’s time in Parliament, the total number of female MPs was between 19 and 41. Lastly, the Labour Party leader Michael Foot is depicted as a critic of the decision to send a task force to the Falkland Islands, and Thatcher is shown admonishing him in the wake of Britain's victory over Argentina. In fact, Foot supported the decision to send a task force, something for which Thatcher expressed her appreciation.

Phyllida Lloyd has made a disappointingly conventional and sluggish film in The Iron Lady. It benefits from a lively lead performance by the talented Meryl Streep, but doesn't come within light years of the actual truth, one of the greatest political stories of human history. Lloyd sketches Thatcher's life as depressing, if by the numbers. Ultimately, she falls victim to the danger of movie biography: she elevates Thatcher's importance until the vital historical context is obscured.

Simon says The Iron Lady receives:

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Film Review: "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "No Plan. No Backup. No Choice." Which is what’s happening this time round for Ethan Hunt and his crew from IMF in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. This action spy film directed by Brad Bird. It is the fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible series. Ghost Protocol is set when the IMF is shut down when it's implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization's name.

The film stars Tom Cruise reprising his role as iconic agent Ethan Hunt with a cracking team that includes: Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, IMF Secretary's chief analyst and former IMF field agent, Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, an IMF technical field agent, Paula Patton as Jane Carter, and Michael Nyqvist as Kurt Hendricks, a Swedish-born Russian nuclear strategist and the film's primary antagonist, Léa Seydoux as Sabine Moreau, a French assassin for hire and Tom Wilkinson as an IMF Secretary. The cast gave thrilling performances thank to the solid script and genius direction of Brad Bird (The Iron Giant (1999) The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007)). Cruise gave another thrilling performance as Hunt despite my minor reservation about his age and ability to top the last film. If there are any more future installments, let’s see how well he holds up. Renner gave an intense performance. Pegg gave a humorous performance. Like his role in Star Trek (2009), Pegg provided comical relief, despite the other characters having a little more humor than the last films, even in the most intense scenes. Patton gave a physically intense performance, she was able to bring so much in that particular department alone. Nyqvist gave a brilliant performance despite his role being much smaller than I imagined. This also goes to Seydoux and Wilkinson. Despite giving fantastic performances, they were unfortunately given very minor roles and were ultimately cut too short.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a gratifyingly clever, booby-trapped thriller that has enough fun and imagination and dash to more than justify its existence. The film still presents the same business as usual, but it's the best kind of business as usual, and it finds everyone working in top form. Sure it's all poppycock, but it's done with such vim and vigor and both narrative and visual flair that you care not a jot, thanks to Bird’s genius direction. It has an inspired middle-hour pumped by some solid action. We now live in a post-Bourne, recalibrated-Bond universe, where Ethan Hunt looks as though he is on track to getting where these franchises are at. To conclude, if you want to see intelligent action and computer-generated sequences executed with breakneck speed and technical precision, then go see this film. I am getting to the point where I don't much care about whether or not this film will deliver, because it does. The plot in this film hangs together better than the other three films in the series.

Simon says Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol receives:

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Film Review: "Puss in Boots" (2011).

"My thirst for adventure will never be quenched!" And that's the heart of Puss in Boots. This computer-animated fantasy action comedy film directed by Chris Miller, written by Tom Wheeler and produced by DreamWorks Animation.Years before meeting Shrek and Donkey, the adorable but tricky Puss in Boots must clear his name from all charges making him a wanted fugitive. While trying to steal magic beans from the infamous criminals Jack and Jill, the hero crosses paths with his female match, Kitty Softpaws, who leads Puss to his old friend, but now enemy, Humpty Dumpty. Memories of friendship and betrayal enlarges Puss' doubt, but he eventually agrees to help the egg get the magic beans. Together, the three plan to steal the beans, get to the Giant's castle, nab the golden goose, and clear Puss' name.

Although the character of Puss in Boots originated in a European fairy tale in 1697, the film is a spin-off prequel to the Shrek franchise. It follows the character Puss in Boots on his adventures before his first appearance in Shrek 2 (2004). The film had been in development since 2004, when Shrek 2 was released. As a Shrek 2 spin-off, it was initially planned for release in 2008 as a direct-to-video film, then titled Puss in Boots: The Story of an Ogre Killer. By October 2006, the film was re-slated as a theatrical release due to market conditions, and due to DreamWorks Animation's realization that the Puss character deserved more. In September 2010, Guillermo del Toro signed on as executive producer. A conscious decision was made to make the world of Puss in Boots very different from that depicted in the Shrek films. In the latter, the backgrounds and stylizations are very fairy tale. Here, it has a distinctly Spanish feel with warmer, more orange colors.

It stars Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Seders. The cast gave entertaining performances, with each giving their own unique personalities. Banderas giving his suave Spanish charm. Hayek giving her seductive charm and Galifianakis giving his outrageous comedic flare. Despite this, it does not live up to the original personalities in the Shrek films.

Puss in Boots is fast and brightly colored enough to entertain small children, but too frantically silly to offer real filmgoing fun for the whole family. While there are plenty of madcap antics to fill a feature, all that manic energy ultimately proves to be somewhat exhilarating. Granted, it's no classic, but a sassy script and good-natured voice work from Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Zack Galifianakis should keep kids entertained. Frenetic and frequently funny, the movie represents the DreamWorks Animation franchise style – which boils down to self-aware, but naïve, talking animals who learn kid-friendly life lessons – at its most palatable. The lack of originality is offset by sheer silliness, including Classified and Skipper's Abbott and Costello-style argument over whether there's a long I in 'diversion.' The word fits the movie.

Simon says Puss in Boots receives:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Film Review: "Machine Gun Preacher" (2011).

"Hope is the greatest weapon of all." This is Machine Gun Preacher. This biographical action film directed by Marc Forster, adapted by Jason Keller, and based on Sam Childers' autobiographical book Another Man's War. The film follows Sam, a former drug dealer, who undergoes a spiritual transformation and decides to go to war-torn East Africa. Enraged by the horror faced by the region's vulnerable populace, he vows to save them.

Since mid 1992, the former Outlaws member now dedicates his life and resources to rescue children in the war zone of South Sudan. Childers and his wife Lynn founded and operate Angels of East Africa, the Children's Village Orphanage in Nimule, South Sudan, where they currently have more than 300 children in their care. By early July, Gerard Butler, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll, and Kathy Baker were cast in an adaptation of Childers' novel. Vera Farmiga was the first choice to play Lynn, but dropped out due to pregnancy. She was replaced by Michelle Monaghan. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout Michigan and South Africa. Childers showed screenings of a heavily-edited version of the film in churches around the world. The proceeds of which are used to support his ongoing work in South Sudan.

The film stars Butler, Monaghan, Shannon, Carroll, and Baker. Butler and Monaghan as Sam and Lynn Childers are definitely the highlight of the film. Their relationship is truly felt, which makes the mission that encompasses Sam all the more powerful.

Despite some fine performances, Machine Gun Preacher is just shy of rendering the spirit of the novel on to the big screen. A shockingly bungled opportunity for greatness and quite possibly the most disappointing film of 2011. Forster can't solely blame the impossibility of condensing the breadth of a dense novel into two hours of screen time, but his own shoddy realisation too. Nevertheless, the film serves as a reminder that hope is universal; that, regardless of our cultural differences, humanity will always find common ground in devastation. It is a remarkable story with tremendous human interest, about people we think we've figured out, but about whom we actually know next to nothing. A skilfully made and subtly powerful film, with a disarmingly human protagonist whose efforts seem all the more real, given his weaknesses and the movie's authentic feel. The narrative is a tapestry entwined from personal and political threads; the result is emotionally overwhelming. The film will no doubt warm the hearts of its intended audience, even if its nature is one of dubious flattery. The film is solid and competently made, but then those are words one always uses when a piece of art falls short of greatness. Moments feel disappointingly scripted, so it's especially good news that many of its characters do not. Forster's over-done melodrama that doesn't so much open our eyes to Afghanistan as reinforce everything negative we've already suspected. In the end, the film is a good but not a great one of a good but not a great novel.

Simon says Machine Gun Preacher receives: