Saturday, 28 April 2012

Film Review: "The Avengers" (2012)

"There was an idea… called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could." This is what The Avengers is all about. This epic superhero film produced by Marvel Studios, based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. It is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film was scripted and directed by Joss Whedon. In The Avengers, Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America to form a team that must stop Thor's brother Loki from enslaving the human race.

Avi Arad, the CEO of Marvel Studios, first announced plans to develop the film in April 2005. Marvel discussed their plans in a brief presentation to Wall Street analysts; the studio's intention was to release individual films for the main characters—to establish their identities and familiarize audiences with them—before merging the characters together in a crossover film. Screenwriter Zak Penn, who wrote The Incredible Hulk (2008), was hired by Marvel Studios to write the film in June 2007. After the successful release of Iron Man (2008) in May, the company set a July 2011 release date for The Avengers. In September 2008, Marvel Studios reached an agreement with Paramount—an extension of a previous partnership—which gave the company distribution rights for five future Marvel films. Casting began in October 2008 with Downey's signing. At the same time, two major prospects occurred for Marvel; Jon Favreau was brought in as an executive producer for the film, and the company signed a long-term lease with Raleigh Studios to produce three other big-budget films—Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)—at their Manhattan Beach, California complex. In February 2009, Samuel L. Jackson signed a nine-picture deal with Marvel Entertainment to play Nick Fury in Iron Man 2 and other films. The next month, executive producer Jon Favreau stated that he would not direct the film, but would "definitely have input and a say". In March 2009, actress Scarlett Johansson replaced Emily Blunt in portraying Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2, a deal that subsequently attached her to The Avengers. The following day, Marvel announced that the film's release date had been pushed back to May 4, 2012, almost a full year later. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston joined the film's cast in June, returning as Thor and Loki, respectively. In March, it was reported that Penn had completed the first draft of the script, and that Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and Avengers comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis had received copies. Also in March, Chris Evans accepted an offer to play Captain America in three films including The Avengers. In April 2010, Variety reported that Joss Whedon was close to completing a deal to direct the film, and to rework Penn's script. Whedon was announced as the film's director in July 2010. In August 2010, it was reported that Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios were planning to start shooting in February.  Also that October, The Walt Disney Company agreed to pay Paramount at least $115 million for the worldwide distribution rights to Iron Man 3 (2013) and The Avengers. The deal also allowed Paramount to continue to collect the 8 percent box office fee it would have earned for distributing the film and a marquee credit — placement of the company's logo on marketing materials. As a result, the onscreen production credit reads "Marvel Studios in association with Paramount Pictures" though the film is solely owned, distributed and marketed by Disney. In February 2011, Cobie Smulders acquired the role of Maria Hill, after participating in screen tests conducted by Marvel for the role of a key S.H.I.E.L.D. member. Over the successive months, the film's cast expanded to include Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Bettany, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow was cast at Downey's insistence. Principal photography began on April 25, 2011, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Production then relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in August 2011, where filming transpired over a period of four weeks.

The film features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson. Nick Fury said that the Avengers is about "bringing together a group of remarkable people..." That was exactly what I felt about with the ensemble cast. Never in my life have I seen the perfect group of individuals working together on a single massive film. The cast gave their best performances to date. Vast improvements from their solo films, especially to Downey Jr. And Hiddleston made a great threat with a major role and diabolical plan as opposed to supporting role in Thor with the typical ‘take over the kingdom’ phase.

So much is happening, you feel the immediate need of a sequel just as a reward for absorbing it all. The Avengers takes your breath away wire-to-wire the way X-Men (2000) did, it's an accomplished piece of work with considerable pulp watchability to it. The film is effectively paced with a good balance of exposition, character development, and special effects-enhanced action. Neither the plot nor the character relationships are difficult to follow, and the movie avoids the trap of spending too much time explaining things that don't need to be explained. Avengers fandom is likely to agree that the picture is a success. I started out liking this movie, while waiting for something really interesting to happen. When nothing did, I still didn't dislike it; I assume the Avengers will further develop their personalities if there is a sequel, and maybe find time to get involved in a story. No doubt fans of the comics will understand subtle allusions and fine points of behavior; they should linger in the lobby after each screening to answer questions.

Simon says The Avengers receives:

Also, see my review for Captain America: The First Avenger.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Film Review: "A Dangerous Method" (2011)

The film’s tagline reads "Based on the true story of Jung, Freud and the patient who came between them." This is the premise of A Dangerous Method. This Canadian historical film directed by David Cronenberg and adapted by writer Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure, which was based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method: The story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. The film is based on a true story, Set on the eve of World War I, A Dangerous Method describes the turbulent relationships between Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, Sigmund Freud, founder of the discipline of psychoanalysis, and Sabina Spielrein, initially a patient of Jung and later a physician and one of the first female psychoanalysts.

Since the 1990s, Hampton's earliest version of the screenplay was written for Julia Roberts in the role of Sabina Spielrein, but the film was never realized. Hampton re-wrote the screenplay for the stage, before producer Jeremy Thomas acquired the rights for both the earlier script and the stage version. Christoph Waltz was initially cast as Sigmund Freud, but was replaced by Viggo Mortensen due to a scheduling conflict. Christian Bale had been in talks to play Carl Jung, but he too had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts. Filming began on 26 May and ended on 24 July 2010. The film made extensive use of the musical score of leitmotifs from Wagner's third Ring opera Siegfried, mostly in piano transcription. In fact the composer Howard Shore has said that the structure of the film is based on the structure of the Siegfried opera.

The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Vincent Cassel. The cast gave superb performances and provided complex psychology to the real life figures. Viggo Mortensen gave a mesmerizing performance as the great founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. I felt as if I had seen the man himself on the screen. Along with Michael Fassbender's Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology. Fassbender gave a compelling performance in every single one of his scenes, especially during the scenes when he was with Knightley. Knightley, like Fassbender, also gave a compelling performance as the psychologically disturbed female masochist. She receives the highest praise amongst the cast, due to the fact that it must have been a difficult role to play. I did not believe an actress such as her could play a role like Spielrein. But she pulled it off magnificently.

A Dangerous Method definitely has explosive power, striking performances and subversive wit. It successfully lives up to maestro's Cronenberg’s legacy as a world-class filmmaker and can definitely be counted as a film that is at the top of his startlingly creative form. To conclude, it is a lively, dramatic film infused with a palpable subversive pulse due to the ready opportunities offered by the material, this lively adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play initially will attract all Cronenberg fans but may be widely met with general audience indifference.

Simon says A Dangerous Method receives:

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Film Review: "The Lucky One" (2012).

"From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Notebook and Dear John" comes The Lucky One. This romantic drama film directed by Scott Hicks, adapted Will Fetters, and based on the 2008 novel of the same name by the Nicholas Sparks. U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, with the one thing he credits with keeping him alive - a photograph he found of a woman he doesn't even know. Discovering her name is Beth and where she lives, he shows up at her door, and ends up taking a job at her family-run local kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm.

The film stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Jay R. Ferguson, Riley Thomas Stewart, and Adam LeFevre. The actors work well together, but they should have quit when they were ahead. Strongly mottled by contrivances that even the charisma of stars Efron and Schilling can't repair. They ensure that the film is never less than watchable, but it's scuppered by an overly sentimental script and fails to deliver the required emotional punch.

The film has some strange edits, and the widowed Schilling and the U.S. Marine lover Efron are so badly directed that most of the time you just want to laugh at the wooden dialogue and delivery. You could have filmed zombies in a gorgeous 19th century beach house and gotten the same emotional impact. Even if you are rooting for this film to succeed, you find yourself sitting through the tear-jerking part of the movie without feeling terribly wrapped up in it. It is the cinematic equivalent of a Harlequin novel with a pack of tissues shoved into the back cover. I will say this about the film: spoken Nicholas Sparks is preferable to written Nicholas Sparks. Strictly for romantic masochists. Enough tears in the final reel to fill a Hollywood producer's swimming pool. You can make a good movie out of schmaltz. This isn't one of them. Even though it is competently mounted, the film's unrestrained sentimentality will no doubt make many girlfriends swoon even as it makes their boyfriends squirm uncomfortably. Indoors, there is elegant if unconvincing emotional drama you can see coming from half a mile down the beach, with very little com to lighten the rom. Just about provides the goods as a romantic weepie but not the best Sparks adaptation. Grief is trotted out and cheaply exploited in order to burnish instant love with faux-realism. And then the ending - where we're told that we not only can but MUST believe in love, and life, again. Who knew a romance could be so depressingly cynical? This is one of those unapologetic, tear-jerking romances. There's nothing really wrong with that, but it occasionally lays things on a little thick when it should have been holding back. Though the leads are attractive. the plot collapses under the weight of its ridiculous circumstances.

Simon says The Lucky One receives:

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Film Review: "Battleship" (2012).

"The Battle for Earth Begins at Sea" in Battleship. This military science fiction action film directed by Peter Berg, written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and loosely based on the board game of the same name. An international fleet of ships encounter an alien armada and discover their destructive goals. To defeat their enemies, they are forced to fight an intense battle on sea, land and air.

By late August 2010, Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgård, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano, Jesse Plemons, Josh Pence, and Rami Malek were cast in a loose adaptation of the well-known board game of the same name written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and with Berg as director. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place in O'ahu, Hawaii; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; San Antonio, Texas; Los Angeles and San Diego, California; Hong Kong, China; and Auckland, New Zealand. The film was to begin filming in Australia's Gold Coast, but the production changed location due to a lack of Australian government tax incentives and a high estimated budget of $220 million.

The film stars Kitsch, Neeson, Skarsgård, Rihanna, Asano, Plemons, Pence, and Malek. Each of the cast were punishingly boring.

It's not that Berg's vision for the robot-battle choreography is unimaginative. Rather, he lacks imagination to provide viewers with a way of putting all the pieces together for themselves. That was delivered will no doubt send merchandising sales spiralling into orbit, but sadly at the cost of countless brain cells popping through after nearly two and a half hours of tedium. The film delivers on its promise of stunning visuals and well-crafted action sequences, but it's not remotely worth the slog it takes to get there. Once the novelty of the robots wears off it's hopelessly insipid. Morphs from Army-enlisting ad to toy ad (on its way passing through a panoply of car ads, computer ads, beer ads) without ever becoming a movie. For the bot-neutral rest of us, two-and-a-half hours of mostly incoherent special effects may be a bit much. Come to think of it, I was pretty stupid when I was six years old. So is this film. Producer Michael Bay's bigger than life version of the cartoon I grew up loving pretty much ruined one of my favourite childhood memories. Although it strives to appeal to the whole family, it winds up emerging as a kiddie flick on steroids - a big-budget, effects heavy, feature film version of a Saturday morning cartoon. The film is a loud, unsophisticated testament to the visceral thrills of effects-driven mayhem. A sensory attack that drives us into tiny little fetal balls on the ground, whimpering that we must have liked it because the car effects looked cool. The film goes on and on, it is unbearably loud, and much of the dialogue is impossible to hear. Like Bay, Berg's notion of excitement is to smash up bunches of stuff on screen, with no rhyme or reason, no characters to care about, and no clarity or structure to the action.

Simon says Battleship receives:

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Film Review: "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" (2012)

"Behind every captain, there's a crew. Sure, some of you are as ugly as a sea cucumber, some of you are closer to being a chair or coat rack than a pirate, and some of you are fish I've just dressed up in a hat..." This is what Aardman nrings to the big screen with The Pirates! Band of Misfits. This stop-motion animated film produced by Aardman Animations, in partnership with Sony Pictures Animation, and directed by Peter Lord. The film is based on the first two books from Gideon Defoe's The Pirates! series, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists and The Pirates! in an Adventure with Whaling. The film centers on the Pirate Captain who sets out on a mission to defeat his rivals Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz for the Pirate of the year Award. The quest takes Captain and his crew from the shores of Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London.

Despite being a stop-motion film, Aardman extensively used computer graphics to complement and enrich the film with visual elements such as sea and scenery. Peter Lord commented, "With Pirates!, I must say that the new technology has made Pirates! really liberating to make, easy to make because the fact that you can shoot a lot of green screen stuff, the fact that you can easily extend the sets with CG, the fact that you can put the sea in there and a beautiful wooden boat that, frankly, would never sail in a million years, you can take that and put it into a beautiful CG scene and believe it."

The Pirates! features the voices of Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain, Salma Hayek as Cutlass Liz, Jeremy Piven as Black Bellamy, Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria, David Tennant as Charles Darwin, Martin Freeman as The Pirate with a Scarf, Brendan Gleeson as The Pirate with Gout and Brian Blessed as The Pirate King. Hugh Grant gives great voice to the mild-mannered pirate captain. I also enjoyed Salma Hayek's Cutlass Liz, and Jeremy Piven's scenery-chewing Black Bellamy, even though they were small roles. I also loved how historical figures like Charles Darwin, Queen Victoria, and even The Elephant Man have all made their way across the screen and were gleefully portrayed. It has been a while since I heard talents such as David Tennant, playing the ill confident scientist Charles Darwin, since the Dr. Who series, and Brian Blessed, as the Pirate King, since The Blackadder series and Flash Gordon (1980).

The Pirates! Band of Misfits has all the charm of Peter Lord’s Chicken Run (2000), and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular. Apart from looking like Aardman’s other films, the film stands alone in its unwavering determination not to play down to the kiddies. To conclude, indeed, it's one of the best movie comedy to come out of England since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

Simon says The Pirates! Band of Misfits receives:

Also, see my review for Arthur Christmas.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Film Review: "The Lorax" (2012).

"Meet the original force of nature" with The Lorax (or Dr. Seuss' The Lorax). This 3D computer-animated musical fantasy comedy film co-directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, adapted by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, based on Dr. Seuss's children's book of the same name, and produced by Illumination Entertainment. It is the second adaptation of the book following the 1972 animated television special.

The idea for the film was initiated by Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss' widow, who had an established partnership with Chris Meledandri, the producer of the film, from a successful collaboration on Horton Hears a Who! (2008). Geisel approached Meledandri when he launched Illumination Entertainment. The film is the fourth feature film adaptation of Dr. Seuss' books, and the second fully computer-animated adaptation. In 2009, the film was officially announced with Renaud and Balda as co-directors, as well as Paul and Daurio penning the adaptation. In 2010, it was announced that Danny DeVito would be voicing the Lorax character. Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Betty White, Nasim Pedrad, and Stephen Tobolowsky rounded out the film's voice cast. The film was fully produced at the French studio Illumination Mac Guff, which was the animation department of Mac Guff, acquired by Illumination Entertainment in the summer of 2011.

The film features the voice talents of DeVito, Helms, Efron, Swift, Riggle, Slate, White, Pedrad, and Tobolowsky. The cast delivered entertaining performances with keen voices for bringing Dr. Seuss' whimsical drawings and humanistic message to CG life.

The Lorax is both whimsical and heartwarming, and is the rare Dr. Seuss adaptation that stays true to the spirit of the source material. Hollywood has finally found the key to bringing a Seuss story satisfactorily to life. The film is a frequently beguiling fantasy packed with ticklish sights and vocals. Taking on Seuss has proven a challenge for Hollywood, but a nice balance has been struck here between authenticity and new ideas. This one's a winner. What is most remarkable about this film is the fidelity it retains to Seuss' work and intentions. After the overcooked live action Grinch (2000) and nauseating Cat In The Hat (2003), Hollywood has finally served up a tasty adaptation of Dr. Seuss. Even if that's not saying much. Teeters throughout at that juncture between masterpiece and piffle. The filmmakers capture the whimsy of Seuss' drawings and add a nice tactile feel. Succeeds where previous Dr. Seuss adaptations have fallen short, most notably by using animation - fluid, elastic, genuinely Seussian animation - to tell the story. Despite the stretch of adapting Horton's tale to a feature movie, Dr. Seuss' original story and the worlds he created, plus some particularly winning characters, put the film over the top. Charming, funny, with great turns from a juicy cast and the added bonus of minimal finger-wagging. Just stay well clear if you're not in a good place for psychosis-inducing imagery. A delightful adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic is sure to entertain the kids, and the parents won't be too far behind.

Simon says The Lorax receives: