Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Case for New Guardians

Okay, so Guardians of the Galaxy.

It's awesome.  

From the incredible 80s soundtrack (oh yes, more please) to the lighthearted nature and occasionally surprisingly disgusting jokes (did I understand the "blacklight in the space ship" one correctly?), from the impressive visual effects to the highly engaging cast (is Chris Pratt the perfect imperfect hero?  Is Zoe Saldana the ultimate bad ass?), it all works to deliver the ultimate in popcorn thrills.

And, like most popcorn movies, I have no idea what is going on.  There is some kind of story involving Kree who are fighting the Nova who have no real space military to speak of but have somehow managed to defeat or at least contain the Kree forces and are seen as a balancing force in the galaxy. 

Into this comes a rag tag band of misfits: Star Lord, Warrior Princess, Tree with limited vocabulary (and hilarious to boot), literal strong guy, and irritating raccoon (not my favourite, I have to admit).  They are fighting for truth, justice, and the Nova way.  And money.

I was also aware that Karen Gillan, the wonderful Amy Pond from Dr Who, was involved in the cast too, and, shorn of her beautiful fiery tresses and covered in make up and prosthetics, it took me a while to figure out which one she was - an indictment on my powers of observation, I have to say.

At any rate, even if the story is insanely silly, the movie itself is brilliant.  There are the odd Marvel tie ins, but, without the need to ground it in Earthly reality, the film is able to go completely crazy and not worry about bigger pictures or continuity or anything like that.  All it needs to do is be fun and entertain, and it succeeds wonderfully.

Verdict: Guardians of the Galaxy is a marvel of visual entertainment.  Light, fun, and even with a two hour running time, it doesn't outstay its welcome.  More please - and there will be in 2017.  10 Infinity Stones out of 10.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Case for Gisborne Knights

The Dark Horse came out as pat of the International Film Festival, but it was released shortly thereafter as a general release and so I was able to see it in a “normal” session at the Lighthouse Cuba as the IFF itself continued on.

First off, things I learned about Gisborne: when it rains, it rains hard, as if someone had turned a fire hose on, though even the rain is a little afraid of falling on a gang party.  The Police seem fairly absent as well, unless called upon by white Mental Health nurses.  And I also learned that adults don’t really seem to care about other adults, though they love caring about kids – not that there is anything wrong with the latter, but the former seems a bit cruel.

The tale follows the “real life story” of Genesis (a pudgy Cliff Curtis), recently released into his gang leader brother’s care from a life in an institution for the mentally unwell.  A chess champion in his youth and truly obsessed with the game, Genesis joins a club for wayward youth run by a friend of his to teach the kids how to properly play chess and taking them to a championship tournament in Auckland where they can compete against “the best in the land”, or somesuch.  Against this backdrop, Genesis has to deal with his nephew Mana being inducted into the local Vagrant gang, a prospect his father is intent on making happen while Mana seems less convinced.

It’s a really good story, told mostly very well.  Curtis is amazing as Genesis, and the rest of the cast carry their roles really well too.  The cinematography occasionally veers into shaky vision territory, and the music is an interesting mix of music across multiple genres, and overall it comes together pretty well.

Its actually more the way the story evolves that makes things feel a bit manipulative.  Mana’s father arrives about 5 minutes after a critical moment has past even if it means he had to travel about 5 hours to get there; as mentioned, Genesis fragile mental state is well known but his so called “friends” leave him to his own devices when it seems pretty obvious he would not be handling things well at all; and a scene where Genesis’s fitness to be around the troubled youth comes and goes but left me wondering, “which kid’s parents had the problem again?” as it all seems to disappear as inconsequential a few minutes after it is raised.

There are no real surprises either as the story slowly unfolds.  This is a lot like most mentor films, where an older person brings out the best in the youths under their care and in the end finds redemption themselves as well.  The mildly surprising part though was that the fate of the kids was not revealed – we got the usual “this is what happened to” follow up slide for Genesis, but the kids are just dismissed with a blanket “they had better lives”, which seems a bit unfair and conspiratorial as well.

Nonetheless, the film itself is funny and touching and moving and well put together, so there is very little “wrong” with it.  It does run in at about 2 hours long and I think could have used a bit of a trim too.  I would also love to know where the house was that the chess club stayed the night in Auckland, with the most superb view of the downtown skyline at night I think I have ever seen.

Verdict: The Dark Horse refers to the characters, not the film making style or the way the story is told, which is pretty straight forward.  But its done very well, with a great main character in Genesis, and an incredible actor in Cliff “Uncle Bully” Curtis.  And the oldies in my film were very happy with it too – as I heard whispered quite regularly throughout the Lighthouse screening…  7 pawns out of 8.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Case for Herculean Efforts

The reason to go to a Dwayne Johnson film is because the man himself oozes charm and watchability out of very muscular pore.

And Hercules, the second film about the Greek demi-god released this year, only really works because of his incredible charisma.

The rest of the cast is pretty impressive, considering the style and the material, with Ian McShane being only partly cray cray, John Hurt being old and yet threatening, and Ralph Feinnes as the King of Athens looking all delicate and flimsy next to the bronzed bulk of the mighty Rock.

But the story is fairly predictable (and occasionally a bit nonsensical; where did all the armour and weapons come from again?) and the jokes are fairly hit and miss, and it all comes across as if everyone is not taking the material seriously at all – though to be fair, that is probably a good thing.

In this tale, Hercules is a man for hire, off to help Kings and men, all for a price in gold.  He is joined by a thief, a wise man, an Amazon warrior, a berserker and a story teller, all of whom bring different skills and talents to help build the myth of the invincible Hercules, assisted ably by the imposing presence of the man himself.

As with all these sorts of tales, there is a dark back story as well, with Hercules having suffered a personal tragedy in the past that haunts him and on occasion forces him to second guess himself.  But overall, he is rather up beat, and when the Rock smiles, its hard not to smile along with him.

Along with the cast’s good humour, the film also made an amazing amount of hay out of its 3D.  Normally, I just forget the 3D after a few minutes and the extra money and the need to wear silly glasses just feels pointless.  However, the use of 3D in this film was great, with “very obvious” 3D scenes reminding me that I had paid a bit extra to experience javelins being thrown towards me, and I was much the happier for it.

Oddly though, the cinema was not as packed as I had imagined it would be for a cheapskate Tuesday at Readings shortly after the films release.  I imagine the film itself has been a modest success, and considering how much I enjoyed it, I am quite keen to recommend it to all who may be into that sort of thing.

Verdict:  The Rock’s Hercules was a huge amount of fun, if a little slow and predictable.  For all its many, many faults and lack of originality, it was very well made and (mostly) lots of fun.  Good on the Rock too for being so damned awesome.  7 tasks out of 12.

 PS - we didn't see this version; I don't think it even got a theatrical release...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Case for Mice and Bears

I went to Ernest and Celestine due to the lack of anything of else of interest in the lead up to the International Film Festival and after seeing that it had an incredibly high score on Rotten Tomatoes, always a good barometer of a good movie!

A small animated tale of French origin (visible in the animation, if not the voices in this dubbed version), the film focuses on young mouse Celestine and her relationship with Bear bum, Ernest.  The two are misfits: Celestine dreams of a bear buddy in a world where bears have the roles of humans and the mice in similar style though underground and in fear of the bears above; Ernest is an artist who lives outside of town but comes in every so often to try and scrounge for food, busking for some scraps from the more well to dos.

Circumstances throw them together, and then the societies throw them out.  Together they find they are happier than they ever were alone and with their own “kind”.  It is a thoroughly sweet tale of friendship and prejudice, with a few knowing jokes about candy and teeth, and all wrapped up in a lovingly animated style.

The voice cast is great too: even just hearing Lauren Bacall is a treat, and with some well known men in leading roles (Forrest Whittaker as Ernest and William H Macy as the lead Dentist), the film doesn’t lack for star talent. 

The story is sweet, if a little prone to syrup every now and again.  The ending almost comes undone with its mawkishness (I am not a big fan of oversentimentality, so it may just be me), but it doesn’t dwell on that too long and the road to get there is so amusing and entertaining that both adults and children alike can (and did) enjoy the journey.

Finally, the animation is amazing.  Not overly detailed, with backgrounds looking almost half completed most of the time, its still incredible to behold and get lost in.  There is no highly detailed hair or 3D rendering.  This is all two dimensional, with the background disappearing every so often as the story dictates, and the film also nods to the fact it is animated too, doing things not possible if all the characters believed their world was “real”.

All up then, the film was a real treasure.  It didn’t quite hit me as strongly as the last Rotten Tomatoes-recommended film I saw, but then, as a tale for the whole family, it possibly couldn’t have (well, it could have, but its not Up!).  For what it was though, and as a nice and not overlong film, and for a cold winter’s evening, it was wonderful.

Verdict: Ernest and Celestine is sweet and lovely and very child friendly.  Totally lovely, and the kids in front of me seemed to love it as well.  8 premolars out of 10.