Friday, December 23, 2011

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

As an instantaneous fan of almost everything that Tom Cruise touches (except the horrible ‘Knight and Day’), it didn’t take much effort to get me terribly excited for the release of the latest Mission Impossible film. What I was expecting was thrilling action sequences, dazzling set pieces and a few cheesy action one-liners – I got all of this, with a little touch of ‘awesome’ added that sweetens this fantastic popcorn spectacle even further!

Of course, Tom Cruise is back in full form, as he plays the enigmatic Ethan Hunt in an adventure that feels quite personal, but more than accessible enough for those new to the franchise to enjoy. Joining him is an all-star cast of Simon Pegg (Paul, Hot Fuzz, MI 3), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers, The Town) and the beautiful Paula Patton (Deja Vu, Hitch, Mirrors). It’s an effective mix of characters that helps to give the film some well needed light moments and a true sense of camaraderie that builds as the team gets closer to accomplishing their goal. Seeing them work together feels surprisingly honest and infectious – You’ll most likely want to start your own crime fighting espionage team before the end of the movie (I don’t however recommend this...).

But forget about the actors – The true star here is director Brad Bird, best known for this work on critically acclaimed animations like Ratatouille, The Incredibles and the Iron Giant. This very unlikely choice of director might seem like cinematic suicide, but Bird proves that his talents are very much transferrable to seemingly any genre he tackles.

And his talents are very clearly displayed in Ghost Protocol, as audience members can indulge in a gloriously extreme sense of tension that leads to more than a few ‘edge of your seat’ moments. Bird manages a striking sense of urgency during action sequences that I haven’t come across in a while. At times, it really feels like you’re watching a suspense thriller, cleverly masquerading as a Hollywood action blockbuster.  Bird’s fresh approach pays off in spades, as he effectively balances all of the suspense with ‘to-the-point’ scenes of tactical mission planning and a few verbal confrontations, resulting in a generous runtime of over 2 hours.

“At times, it really feels like you’re watching a suspense thriller, cleverly masquerading as a Hollywood action blockbuster."

Don’t be fooled however – At its heart, Ghost Protocol is an action flick, which means it behaves as one for most of the time: Dialogue is mostly cheesy (forgivably so) & minimalistic and action sequences are loud and a bit over the top, even though they come across as quite realistic when compared to other entries in the series.

Add to the mix some fantastic sound editing, a familiar & fitting soundtrack and some splendid set pieces and you have an action extravaganza that ticks all the right boxes for a film of the genre. With the right expectations and an adequate supply of refreshments, you’re sure to enjoy and appreciate Bird’s take on Ethan Hunt’s impossible legacy.

The Hoody-look works well as both a practical and stylish number for Ethan in this particular scene.
Highlight: There’s a scene that involves a steep climb up a building that is so suspenseful that I might need finger-nail replacement surgery because of it. A great testament to Bird’s skill.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Puss in Boots (3D)

Spin-offs are a risky affair which can either pay off in spades or lead to an annoying mob of disgruntled movie franchise fans. The answers to important questions like “How similar do we keep the spin-off?”, “How much of the original cast should return?” and so forth always has a huge impact on the new venture’s success. In the case of ‘Puss in Boots’, director Chris Miller (Shrek 4, Shrek 3, Shrek 2) seems to have had all the right answers, as his latest addition to the Shrek legacy is just as funny, enchanting and moving as the best of the franchise.

The decision to let only one of the main cast members return for this outing might seem like cinematic suicide, but fans will be pleased to hear that their favourite feline hero (played by Antonia Banderas) more than fills up his over-sized boots. Joining him is Salma Hayek (Grown-ups, After the sunset, Frida) as ‘Kitty Softpaws’, a sexy feline seductress that has more than a few cards to play and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date, Up in the Air) as the very yolky ‘Humpy Dumpty’ – Add to this list Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton as the notorious ‘Jack & Jill’ and you’ve got enough star appeal for three additional full-length follow-ups.

"... enough star appeal for three additional full-length follow-ups."

 The cast successfully balances a powerful combination of hilarious comedy and moving emotional developments, resulting in a film that will have you crying one moment from uncontrollable bursts of laughter and the next from deeply touching displays of emotion.  Add to the mix an undeniable sense of charm by means of an impressive visual style and you have a movie that will surely delight both young and old.

Miller’s latest also benefits from the same sense of ‘wow’ as the Shrek films, making it clear that the franchise still has a lot to kick left in it. Add to this the success of Puss in Boots at the box office and raving reviews from critics and you’ll soon realise that another spin-off is almost guaranteed...  I can’t wait!


Cute, but deadly.
Highlight: Humpty Dumpty is quite the little criminal mastermind and a flashback later in the movie surprised me with one of the funniest film moments I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing in a theatre.Rating: Meerkat Tails


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tower Heist

There are a few things in life that I'm quite vocal about and one of those things on the top of this list is my extreme disgust for Eddie Murphy and basically all movies he has ever had a role in, with Shrek as a specific exception. This should explain why I wasn't too excited when I saw Eddie Murphy next to Ben Stiller on the movie poster of Tower Heist. Nonetheless, I put my Murphy judgements aside for 90 minutes and gave this one a proper chance.

To be quite honest, it was a movie risk I'm happy I took, as Tower Heist treats its audience to a fresh take on the heist movie archetype, instilling it with charm, humour and well, Ben Stiller, playing the role of lead instigator quite marvellously, as director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour 3, X-Men: The last stand, Red Dragon) manages to tap into Stiller's best qualities as both a serious and comedic heavyweight. Looking at Ratner’s film credits, the film’s tight balance between serious and funny shouldn’t come as much of a surprise...

Joining Stiller is a strong cast helping to fill the runtime with continuous laughter that includes Casey Affleck, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch and Gabourney Sidibe, best known for her standout role in the movie Precious. What makes the cast work in a big way is the sheer unexpectedness of the group, with actors like Casey Affleck and Gabourney Sidibe as very unlikely options for a comedy of any breed. And then of course there’s Eddie Murphy that for the first time in a decade plays a realistic character that cannot speak to animals or is so extremely fat that it’s just sad, not funny. It’s this risky mix of old comedic heavyweights and brand new players to the game of comedy that makes the film much more entertaining than it probably should be.

“And then of course there’s Eddie Murphy that for the first time in a decade plays a realistic character that cannot speak to animals or is so extremely fat that it’s just sad, not funny.”

The plot is modern, but nothing really groundbreaking. I had a few issues with the pacing, with certain scenes seeming unusually long and others that you wish could have been drawn out a bit more. Furthermore, the movie does take quite a while to get going, with the really funny moments only happening halfway through adventure. But in the greater scheme of things, this is a small blemish on a film that is surprisingly watchable and enjoyable.

An unlikely, but funny pair. Great return to form for Murphy, more of the same from Stiller.

Highlight: Gabourney Sidibe’s role in The Heist is a far cry from what we’re used to, which results in almost every scene with her in being totally ridiculous and hilarious. Singling out one feels like a crime, but there’s one scene involving a cake and a security guard that is sure to result in more than just a giggle or two.


Friday, November 18, 2011

50/50

Movies about cancer don’t have to take themselves too seriously in order to be profound. That’s the cinematic lesson I learned from a beautiful little gem called 50/50, starring Seth Rogen (Knocked up, Pineapple Express, The Green Hornet) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Inception, 3rd rock from the sun).  

What sets 50/50 apart from your standard film about cancer is director Jonathan Levine’s (All the boys love Mandy Lane) off-beat approach to a very grim topic, imbuing his story with a great comical flair that prevents the film from ever descending into the depths of melodramatic cheesiness. But that’s not to say that 50/50 isn’t going to grip you – if anything, the quirky nature of the film only manages to heighten the film’s emotional intensity, as characters’ reactions feel real and honest as they try to deal with some really dreadful events in their lives.

"characters’ reactions feel real and honest as they try to deal with some really dreadful events in their lives."

As with any movie based on grave events, 50/50 shines primarily thanks to brilliantly honest performances by its cast. At the helm of things is Joseph Gordon Levitt, whom is actually no stranger to unconventional roles – Some like Mysterious Skin, which most casual movie goers will not be familiar with. His experience however becomes very obvious in 50/50, as he is perfectly casted as a young working man troubled by the news that he has acquired a very serious type of cancer. Levitt plays the role with a superb level of ease as his character at first tries to deny the seriousness of his situation. As things start to get more dire however, Levitt’s performance changes quite dramatically, delivering exceptional emotional climaxes for viewers to indulge in.

What makes this even more delightful is the fact that Levitt’s performance is complemented by a stellar cast: Seth Rogen is the perfect supportive buddy, Bryce Dallas Howard (The help, Lady in the water, The Village) a very unsupportive ex and Anna Kendrik (Up in the air, Twilight, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) a super funny psychologist in training. I can openly attest of the greatness of each of these supporting performances and don’t want to single out one , but if I had to, I would go for Anna Kendrik.

A quirky and surprisingly upbeat indie-like score adds to the film’s dry and off-beat tone and should be a big hit for fans of the music of films like Garden State and Juno. Great cinematography and generous pacing gives the story a lot of room to grow in your mind, leading to a very pleasurable film experience.


"Great cinematography and generous pacing gives the story a lot of room to grow in your mind, leading to a very pleasurable film experience."


I can’t imagine that many people would be able to find fault with the realistic way in which 50/50 approaches its subject matter and for that reason alone I would recommend it very highly. All of the other great things about just sweetens the deal – definitely worth the price of admission!

Highlight: Levitt's emotional breakdown close to the end of the film is honour to experience.

True buddies, through and through.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fright Night (3D)

I think as a rule, all movies should at least be entertaining and having achieved this, can then even be forgiven for other cinematic misdemeanors. It's in this very field of entertainment value that Fright Night scores top marks, proving that there's nothing like some dark humour and gory deaths to spice up one's week!

Fright Night's storyline isn't rocket science: A teenager gets harassed by his neighbour, who also happens to be a non-vegan vampire that secretly feeds on a group of unsuspecting suburbian folk. The first and best thing about Fright Night that you'll notice is that it has no misconceptions of greatness: It's a simple and funny movie that relishes in its own horrific ridiculousness. Whilst it might take some time for certain folks to get to grips with the film's quirky approach to horror (especially if they aren't used to films like this), your're almost certain to appreciate the film's light take on a dark subject in the end.

"The first and best thing about Fright Night that you'll notice is that it has no misconceptions of greatness..."

Fantastic performances by a few unexpected cast members make this dark comedic adventure just that much more enjoyable. Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, The Dead Girl, United States of Tara) plays a defenceless mom who has seemed to develop a liking for her vampiric neighbour, played with the utmost delicacy by Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Miami Vice). Farrell really is the highlight of this film, as a slightly trashy vampire that's just too sauve for big theatrical entrances and dramatic one-liners. It might seem like an unlikely role for Farrel, that's more use to serious roles, but it just goes to prove that Farrel really can pull off just about any role.

The film's protagonist also seems like a bit of an unlikely choice, but Anton Yelchin (Charlie Bartlett, Alpha Dog) is a believable teenager struggling with the fear of losing his beautiful girlfriend, his friends and a significant amount of blood. Along the way however, he manages to become a man, with the ability to fend of supernatural forces and keep his girlfriend satisfied. The rest of the cast is just as brilliant, with Imogen Poots as Charlie's defenceless  girlfriend and David Tennant ( Doctor Who, Harry Potter) as a hilarious Vegas showman, serving up some of the film's best comedic moments.

"...a believable teenager struggling with the fear of losing his beautiful girlfriend, his friends and a significant amount of blood."

Whilst it might have been wholely unintentional, the movie did come across to me as an oustanding analogy for the many struggles a teen faces and how these struggles in life contribute to the shaping of their inevnitable adulthood: Growing up is a turbulent journey (that might or might not include vampires) that we all need to go through.

The film truly is best enjoyed in 3D, mainly due to the fact that the inherent cheesy nature of 3D film effects only helps to highlight the film's best parts. The effects are gloriously over-imagined and leads to more than a few 'Wow' moments as blood gushes from necks and vampires distingerate into glowing ash particles that seem to land on the tip of your nose.

Taking into consideration that Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Mr Woodcock) only has two titles behind his name worth mentioning, this film is really a great achievement and should help to position Gillespie as a capable director nor afraid to take chances with the stories he tells.  Fright Night is a clever film, totally aware of its own inferiority, which ironically makes it a superb film, best enjoyed with a group of friends that believe that humour is a dish best served dry and bloody.

This could end badly... and you know it probably will.
Highlight: People just seem to lose their heads in Vegas – Vampires are no exception.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Contagion

Sure, a killer disease that resembles the symptoms of the common flu (except for the dying part) probably doesn't sound like the most thrilling movie concept ever imagined, but Contagion’s success sprouts from much more than that.

The first thing this risky film has got going for it is director Steven Soderbergh, best known for very serious movies like ‘Good night and good luck’ and ‘Syriana’, as well as some delicious off-beat humour such as in films like ‘Oceans Thirteen’ and ‘The Infomant!’. Contagion however adds to Soderbergh’s more serious film credits, as a deadly virus quickly starts to infect the globe with panic, confusion and conspiracies. So be warned, Contagion has no gooey centre of warmth and comfort – This film tells its story very frank, without any sugary coating.

"This film tells its story very frank, without any sugary coating."

The film’s serious nature is accentuated by a long list of very capable Hollywood A-list actors, that include Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and a few other faces that you are sure to recognise and appreciate as they imbue the film with loads of added credibility. Each character’s involvement in the overarching plot contributes to the film’s sense of seriousness and urgency, as people’s lives get turned upside-down once the severe scope of the virus is finally realised. Winslet and Fishburne are particularly brilliant, whilst Matt Damon managed to irritate me once again.

Soderbergh does a fantastic job of building the tension as things start quite slow and then quietly build up to a state of global unrest. Be warned however: There are no flashy action sequences to keep your attention. What you do however get is brilliant dialogue and honest emotional displays from the cast as they try to make sense of what is happening and how to deal with it. It’s this subtle approach that makes Contagion all the more scary, as you quickly realise that the events depicted can very easily take place in real life.

"It’s this subtle approach that makes Contagion all the more scary, as you quickly realise that the events depicted can very easily take place in real life."

With all of this said however, the movie definitely isn’t for everyone and will find more appeal from critical movie-goers than it will from your average blockbuster fan. The main reason for this is that the film doesn’t follow any typical movie plot, with no real climax, romantic connection or a clear sense of fulfilment.  In other words, it might even come over as quite boring, something that the courageous runtime will make even more unbearable for some. Nevertheless, it’s a sickly trip I recommend taking, even if it’s just for the sole purpose of knowing how to act when something like this happens in real life.

In short, Contagion is one of those movies that you will either love or hate. Personally, I felt it gave a very realistic, but grim picture of what could happen if the world is attacked by a deadly unknown enemy. I do think it could have benefitted from a bit more accessible and shorter scenes every now and then. 

Highlight: It’s hard to pick one, but Soderbergh’s attention to the smallest of details is very evident throughout the movie and contributes immensely to the film’s overall impact.

This movie makes one thing clear: Deadly diseases can spread very easily...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween special: Scream 4

I've always regarded myself as a true fan of the Scream franchise and would even openly defend its horror honour from the verbal attacks of friends, that would belittle it for its cheesy approach to teen murders. So you shouldn't find it very surprising that I was quite excited when I heard that the fourth installment was on its way... But even even though I was looking forward to seeing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Sidney Prescott  (Neve Campbell) run around covered in blood again, I have to admit that I had my doubts about how well Wes Craven's popular slasher franchise would hold up after so many years.

And to my own extreme dismay, I found my worst movie fears realised: The screams in Scream 4 just aren't as scary or entertaining as they were back when I was a teenager. And no, I don't think it's merely because I can't seem to connect with the very unfortunate teens – It's got more to do with the direction horror movies in general have taken the last decade and when one considers this, it makes Scream 4 look really, really old. And it's quite a shame, as a lot of work has gone into this film in order to make sure it stays true to its demented roots, with more than a few exciting stabs and chases to keep things relatively interesting.

I also really appreciated the fact that the entire core cast returned for this one – A huge part of the series' success is directly due to the strong emotional connections with the original survivors and seeing them reunited again after so many years is a great cinematic treat for die-hard fans of the series. The rest of the cast, that includes Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Adam Brody (and even a guest appearance by Anna Paquin) can also be mentioned for their believable performances as inevitable slasher victims.

"...seeing them reunited again after so many years is a great cinematic treat for die-hard fans."

Getting back to the important stuff, I would really have enjoyed some more gory death scenes – It's not that they were horribly bad, it's just that they would have benefited from some more deliberate showerings of blood and human insides.  I suspect my bloodlust comes from movies like Saw and Final Destination, but still, it just seemed like the killers could have mutilated their victims a tad bit more.

Thankfully, Scream's meta-textual (referring to itself in an ironic matter) approach still works wonderfully for the series and maybe even better due to the long list of movies that have parodied the film for years and years.  It just wouldn't have made sense if the film took itself too seriously, so poking/stabbing fun at itself was definitely a clever move.

All in all, the movie is a return to form for the Scream series, but the problem is that it's a return to a franchise that seems very old and cheesy. Nevertheless, fans will adore the film's loyalty and those who have never seen the film is sure to be left with a sadistic grin. A perfect DVD for this weekend's Halloween festivities.

Poor Sidney  Prescott just can't seem to catch a break...

Highlight: There was one scene that really got my attention... it made a white room seem very red and a unfortunate victim's bed look like a surgeon's operating table – Nicely done, Mr Craven!


Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Three Musketeers (3D)


Recently I've stopped reading other film reviews before I watch a film myself, for the simple reason that I don't want my opinion being influenced by some geeky middle-aged man living in a New York apartment. And whilst I mostly still appreciate their professional opinions afterwards, I don't always seem to agree with the general critical consensus of certain films.

The latest cinematic rendition of The Three Musketeers is a clear example of my critical rebellion. Paul W.S. Anderson's (Resident Evil, Event Horizon, Mortal Kombat) version of these French freedom fighters' inspiring legend has been criticized for being uninteresting and bland, but I beg to differ. 

The first thing that stands out to me is the film's breathtaking beauty as it paints a gorgous historic canvas, smothered in generous dollops of bright colours that seem to jump out of the screen. Set pieces are painstakingly detailed and gloriously over the top, complemented with outragous and lavish costumes that must have made it even easier for the actors to get into character. All of this makes the adventure exceptionally easy to get in to, as you marvel at all the little touches that you get treated to. And whilst I must admit that I don't know if much of the story is historically correct, it just doesn't matter in the greater scheme of this modern cinematic adventure.

"...it paints a gorgous historic canvas, smothered in generous dollops of bright colours that seem to jump out of the screen."

A formiddable cast of unknowns and a few blockbuster heavyweights duke it out in The Three Musketeers.  There are some great villains in the form of Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fourth Kind), Christopher Waltz (Water for Elephants, Inglorious Basters) and even Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Troy) . Waltz is as great as ever and Mila serves up the film's sexiest and most impressive action sequences.

On the other end of the spectrum are the musketeers themselves, played by a group of relatively unknown, but quite capable actors. Of these Matthew MacFadyen ( Death at a Funeral, Pride and Prejudice) is by far the standout. The fourth musketeer, played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, Gamer, Riding in card with boys) is however the most noticable and his presence alone makes the film much more accessible to a younger audience. And the best part it, he plays his role really well, as a hard-assed, but honourable fellow musketeer.

The king, played by Freddie Fox is however definitely my personal favourite as he manages to steal the limelight from the musketeers with his great knack for awkard comedy and surprisingly involved character development. To be honest, the movie is quite light and funny in general, even though there is a serious thread that binds all of the film's characters and their independent stories. Whilst some might argue the movie is too playful, I do feel it works in its favour.

"...the movie is quite light and funny in general, even though there is a serious thread that binds all of the film's characters and their independent stories."

On the flipside, I have to admit that the action aspect of the film is a bit lacking, with them being few in number and a bit dissapointing in terms of spectacle.Yes, this is a bit of a dissapointment, but the film has much more going for it. I did also feel that the action sequences benfitted from the minimalistic use of 3D, something I can't say about many action adventure films.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Three Musketeers: It's got lots of style, quirky dialogue, interesting characters and is a real visual pleasure. I think the problem comes in when people expect the film to be all about swashbuckling action (more of a Pirates of the Carribean appraoch), due to misleading promotional material that attempts to make the film seem more accessible than it truly is. Nevertheless, I'm quite sure even the most hardcore action fans will appreciate the film's slightly off-beat approach to the genre and seeing it on the big screen is a must!

Logan is surprisingly good...

Highlight: Most scenes that include the young king, but if I had to single out one, I would have to settle for his discussion with the youngest musketeer about the delicate matter of charming the fairer race.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Final Destination 5 (3D)

I just want to warn you upfront – This review is not all objective. With that in mind, I proudly present my thoughts on the fifth installment of the Final Destination movie franchise, a film series that I have very fond, but sick & twisted memories of.

It’s been a while since I’ve been impressed by a Final Destination movie and I’ve been hoping for years now that a director would come along that made one that gets close to the brilliance achieved by the very first Final Destination film. While it might be a bit of a stretch to appoint Final Destination 5 as an equal to the first, it is definitely (in my opinion) the best and most satisfying installment since then.

There are a few things that work in the film’s favour: Firstly, and most importantly, the death scenes are truly brilliant, with a few of them even exceeding the creativity of the signature fatalities from the original. Highlights include an excruciatingly painful, but exhilarating gymnastics practice session as well as an eye-operation gone horribly south. What make these scenes brilliant however are not the gory climaxes, but the clever build-up of nerve wracking tension, as relatively unknown director Steven Quale does a superb job at balancing the eye-popping moments of flesh explosions with stressful minutes of pure dread.

"Steven Quale does a superb job at balancing the eye-popping moments of flesh explosions with stressful minutes of pure dread."

But to be frank, this is the one department that Final Destination films have always done at least half-right, which means that successful goriness alone is not going to be enough to propel this mindless popcorn fest above the bulk of its predecessors. But luckily, Final Destination 5 also benefits from the inclusion of a quite capable cast of nobodies, that do a creditable job at not being too irritating before they get drowned, decapitated deboned and so forth. Nichola D’Agost (Fired-up, Mardi Gras) plays the role of sensitive semi-jock commendably, whilst David Koechner (Piranha 3D, Balls of Fury, Snakes on a Plane) serves as the films only really familiar face.

Please don’t mistake my comment as a direct praising of the actors’ talents however – It’s still quite bad, but does serve as definite a step up from past installments. And in a movie where acting is such a secondary point of consideration, you don’t even mind some of the more horrible caricatures, like a fat & geeky male chauvinist clown.

The plot follows the typical Final Destination template, but colours it in with some interesting twists & turns that you might not see coming and even if you do, you’re likely to at least appreciate the writer’s deliberate attempt of spicing up the franchise with some fleshy detours.

3D effects are used sparingly, but when it does come into play, you can expect some ‘eye-popping’ visual delicacies that manage to heighten the film’s shock factor quite considerably during certain key mutilations. The best example of the effective use of 3D however happens very early in the movie, in the form of a beautiful opening credits roll – You’re struggling to believe that credits can be exciting, aren’t you?  But nevertheless, it’s small little details like these that you’ll come to appreciate as your realize the film is far more polished than the last few entries of the series.

"... it’s small little details like these that you’ll come to appreciate as your realize the film is far more polished than the last few entries of the series."

That all being said, non-fans will probably still not be converted by this one and the film is still very much only for those who like their films with a deliberate sprinkling of bloody cheese. But those who like their comedy black and don’t mind a clichéd storyline will definitely find a lot to indulge in!

Yes, this is going to end badly.

Highlight: All I can say (without giving anything away) is that the best scene in the movie involves a screw… Gymnastics will never be the same again!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Conan: The Barbarian (3D)

I have quite fond childhood memories of Conan, the very ruthless, but soft-hearted Barbarian. The latest version of the Cimmerians’ legend however disappoints in a few big ways and to be honest, there's not a lot I can applaud director Marcus Nispel’s attempt for.

The first major flaw (and the most unforgiveable one for an action adventure) is the really stupid and unoriginal fight scenes: Sure you get treated to some grotesque samples of barbaric violence, but they don't really manage to distract one's attention from the monotonous and loud bashing of clunky swords – The fact that these incoherent fighting scenes are so frequent doesn’t help either.

"Sure you get treated to some grotesque samples of barbaric violence, but they don't really manage to distract one's attention from the monotonous and loud bashing of clunky swords."

This is made even more unbearable thanks to significantly bad cinematography that relies on an ill-advised zoomed-in effect, making it extremely difficult to figure out what is exactly transpiring. This gives the movie an odd old-school feel, but in this instance, it seems to be more a case of unintentional out-datedness rather than sheer directorial brilliance.

The issues don’t stop there however: Average dialogue can be forgiven in an action film, but also add to this horrible pacing, plot inconsistencies and a noticeably uneven screenplay – yes, Conan: The Barbarian really doesn't have a lot going for it.

"Conan: The Barbarian really doesn't have a lot going for it."

You would think and pray that interesting characters might save the film, but once again, the film fails to deliver. Whilst the acting itself isn't too bad (taking into consideration the film's internal faults) the real dilemma comes with the extreme lack of character development. This results in the audience not experiencing any sense of emotional connection with the film's characters, leaving you wondering why you haven't left the cinema halfway through. I could probably highlight Rose McGowan’s (Grindhouse) performance as a practitioner of black magic, but that would feel a bit too forced for my tastes.

The cherry on top of this rotting cake is that the film is a complete waste of a 3D ticket, a statement I verified when I took off my 3D glasses and realized I was incapable of noticing any difference.

You really have to be a big fan of the Barbarian man to enjoy this one.

Conan has a lot to be angry about, but cinema goers have even more.

Highlight: I'll admit I got marginally excited when the CGI sand people appeared. I became sad again when I realized I still had to sit through 30 more minutes of this...

Rating: 1-and-a-half out of 5 Meerkat tails.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Glee: The 3D Concert movie

As an avid closet Gleek (the name assigned to fans of the Glee TV series) I was simultaneously sad and excited when I heard the news of yet another cash cow milking 3D concert movie. Justin Bieber's concert movie did brilliantly (not surprisingly) and I was curious to finally experience this strange substitute for an actual concert (and movie) myself.

The first thing that I should probably warn you of is that if the TV series itself didn't appeal to you, there is little to no chance that the film version will convert you into a Glee-freak. At its heart, it's still just about a bunch of hormonal teenage misfits that happen to be good singers, so if this concept doesn't sound entertaining, you best stay far away from this one.

That being said, even non-fans should appreciate director Kevin Tancharoen’s (Fame) attempts at making the film relevant, by focusing on relatable issues that modern teens face. This is done by means of a documentary approach, which plays out in the form of real-life testimonials from fellow Gleeks, illustrating how the show has changed their lives. While this might sound extremely egotistical, the recipe does work surprisingly well and even if the stories don't move you emotionally, you are likely to at least enjoy them as welcome breaks from all the singing. You do get to hear from the Glee cast themselves as well every now and then, but these are however intended to give the film some needed comic relief, with great laughs from Britney (Heather Morris), Rachel (Lea Michele) and Artie (Kevin McHale).

And yes, there's a lot of singing here to work through, as virtually every cast member gets the chance at a solo performance in front of a zombie-like legion of Glee fans, with some favourites of course receiving more of a vocal spotlight than others. A big part of the film's entertainment value actually comes from merely observing your fellow Glee devotees enjoying the songs that they have witnessed on the small screen, now live.

“A big part of the film's entertainment value actually comes from merely observing your fellow Glee devotees enjoying the songs that they have witnessed on the small screen, now live.

And for the most part, these performances are really spectacular, with the best numbers coming from the voice pipes of Rachel, Kurt (Chris Colfer) and Mercedes (Amber Riley) proving that they really do sound as good in real life as they do in front of a real audience. Rachel's rendition of Barbara Streisand's ‘Don’t rain on my parade’ and her duet with Kurt is most definitely the musical highlights of the film. But when it comes to sheer entertainment value however, the part of the cast with less of a singing talent manages to deliver in spades, with a powerful Britney performance by Britney, a fun MJ rendition by Mike (Harry Shum) & Artie as well as a surprise guest appearance that I would rather not spoil.

The film's 3D is better than most I've seen, as it is used quite cleverly to make some of the performances even more memorable, even though it does sometimes feel as if Rachel is going to spit on your face because of the sheer intensity of the effects in certain scenes.

For the most part, it would seem as though the film does a lot right, but all of this makes the film’s greatest failure, namely the very strange absence of two of the show's greatest attractions even more unforgivable. Believe it or not, but neither coach Sue Sylvester or Will Schuster makes it on the stage or are even mentioned during the course of the film – It's as if these vital parts of the show's success have simply disappeared from the face of the earth, as you sorrowfully begin to realize that they are never going to make their inevitable appearance. While this might sound like a minor flaw, it did subtract from the overall experience for me quite dramatically, as the film just feels a bit empty without them.

“It's as if these vital parts of the show's success have simply disappeared from the face of the earth, as you sorrowfully begin to realize that they are never going to make their inevitable appearance.”

Nevertheless, the film is definitely worth the price of admission and the cast do a stand up job of keeping things afloat. Glee, as a cultural phenomenon, should at the very least be commended for bringing the concept of a musical to modern audiences and this film cements that achievement.

Glee in 3D… What’s not to like?

Rating: 3 out of 5 Meerkat tails


Highlight: The true star of the film is a very big fan of the Warblers and he is not afraid to show it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (3D)

If you had to choose an iconic Marvel superhero that best resembles the characteristics of DC Comics' Superman, Captain America should definitely be on the shortlist. With director Joe Johnston’s (Hidalgo, Jurassic Park 3, Jumanji) admirable take on the ultimate freedom fighters' origins, the excitement for the inevitable Avengers movie has reached fever pitch. But how does Captain America's story compare to other Marvel heavyweights like Ironman, Thor and Spiderman?

The first thing you come to appreciate about the film is the beautifully imagined 1940's from a parallel universe, where the second world war seems familiar, but in a lot of ways totally different and quite absurd due to the inclusion of some weirdly probable historical detours. Luckily, all of these slight factual twists are explained and contextualized thoroughly, making it easy to forgive them in the embodiment of this fun superhero movie.

The retro sci-fi set pieces offer a lot of eye candy, but the real visual stimulation here is arguably the two leads themselves: Chris Evans (The Fantastic 4) does a great job in portraying a morally inclined loser that turns into a symbol for America's struggle for peace after he is injected with a superhuman serum. The exquisite and fairly unknown Hayley Atwell (The Duchess) is as a believable feminist with a soft center. Tommy Lee Jones’ presence as a no-nonsense army general gives the film a bit of added credibility and the rest of the ensemble cast also does a stand up job. The villainous Red Skull, aka Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, V for Vendetta) plays the role of Nazi extremist very successfully as he plans world domination by means of a strange glowing cube in a box.

“The retro sci-fi set pieces offer a lot of eye candy, but the real visual stimulation here is arguably the two leads themselves.”

Yes, the plot isn't rocket science, but it is this simple premise, combined with strong performances that give Captain America a surprisingly moving emotional beat to chew your popcorn to. The dialogue continues the trend of simplicity to a serious degree, with some very cheesy, clichéd lines that are almost ridiculous. Weirdly enough, you easily forgive this, as it all seems to fit in perfectly with the intentional retro vibe. Still, it does seem a bit out of place in a 2011 blockbuster, but that might just be me...

Rounding off this surefire hit's plus points are some spectacular old-school fight scenes and delicious CGI effects that combine to produce 3D (or 2D) awesomeness! The small bits of interesting social commentary are a welcome distraction from all the action, but don't expect any significant changes to your perspective about war, gods or life in general.

“Don't expect any significant changes to your perspective about war, gods or life in general.”

All in all, this is most likely one of Marvel's most distinct comic book adaptations to date, due mostly to the colourful world, a capable cast and tightly packaged action sequences – A welcome addition to the buildup to the upcoming Avengers series.

The second version of Captain America’s outfit is a great improvement on the first – His tailor should be commended.

Highlight 1: When Captain America enrolls in the US army, he starts off with more of a PR position. This results in some hilarious intertextual references that will make you utter a giggle or three.

Highlight 2: An intense final confrontation takes to the air as the story plummets to a death-defying conclusion.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Meerkat tails

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Horrible Bosses

It's not very often that I go the trouble of watching a comedy at the cines, but when I saw the trailer for Horrible Bosses about a month ago, I convinced myself to make an exception. Why? I suspect it was because of the expectation set by the formidable, but unlikely comedic cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Collin Farrell. Still, I was quite a bit sceptical about how this would all play out...

In the end, I was delighted to find myself thoroughly entertained, as the weird mismatch of a cast actually manages to deliver a surprisingly funny onscreen ensemble performance. Spacey plays the role of the 'asshole employer' brilliantly, as you quickly start to recognise his features to your own dismay and enjoyment. Farrell, on the other hand, makes for a very believable coke addict, whilst Aniston embodies the role of the 'slightly whacked, sex-crazed hot boss'. 

Completing the cast is a group of unfairly treated employees, played by Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass, What happens in Vegas) and Charlie Day (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Whilst the trio might remind you of the very funny Hangover cast and therefore, also feel like a bit of an imitation thereof, you'll find their humour to be a breed of its very hilarious own as you root for them on their ridiculous, but justified pursuit at professional happiness. Their proven knack for slightly off-beat, dry humour mashes up well with those of their corporate superiors, resulting in some wonderfully amusing confrontations.

“…you'll find their humour to be a breed of its very hilarious own as you root for them on their ridiculous, but justified pursuit at professional happiness.”

But as you should well know, a comedy with a capable cast is nothing without some sharp and witty dialogue and it is in this area that Horrible Bosses truly shines. The comedy here feels fresh, clever and almost totally gimmick-free, which is saying a lot when it comes to modern comedies! The slapstick is also kept to a delightful minimum in terms of mainstream comedy standards.

With all the praise there is to be given for the film's great comedic timing, also comes a bit of criticism: The plot, which you learn to accept as being a bit over the top, does become a bit muddy and disjointed as the cast's stories begin to merge into one big storyline clutter. Nevertheless, it's quite easy to forgive this, as the laugh out loud funny moments just keep coming.

Horrible Bosses probably won't reach fame levels of certain similar comedies before it, but as a night out with friends where you just want to forget about your troubles at work and laugh at those of others, it works quite stunningly. Be warned though – Horrible Bosses can be delightfully rude from time to time, so leave your sensitive views at the refreshments stand.


Jennifer Aniston plays the role of an employer very willing to ‘share’ in Horrible Bosses.

Highlights: 1. When Collin Farrell asks his employee to get rid of some employees, by 'Trimming the fat'. 2. A police questioning gone wrong.

Rating: 3-and-a-half out of 5 Meerkat tails

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Ending an era is always a difficult affair and with millions of Harry fanatics (complete with Potter spectacles and Griffindor scarfs) watching on lustfully, there's a lot of pressure on the grand finale to be simply spectacular. And luckily, it is.

The story takes off at a lightning pace exactly where the previous Harry film left its audience hanging. There's no brief summary or flashback to help you pick up the pieces, as Harry immediately starts looking for the rest of the 'Hoorcruxes'. You quickly realize that the slow pace, with long scenes of dialogue and emotional intensity of the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is long gone, making it quite clear why Director David Yates (Deathly Hallows - Part 1, Half-Blood Prince, Order of the Phoenix) decided to split the final Harry book the way he did.

"You quickly realize that the slow pace, with long scenes of dialogue and emotional intensity of the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is long gone."

What has however stayed is the Deathy Hallows' thick sense of darkness, as there are almost no scenes that offer a bit of relief from the inevitiable confrontation. The film's drive is directed soley to this battle, leading to a magnificent build up that will leave fans gasping for air. The film is as unforgiving as one would expect, with many friends and foes alike that are claimed as casualties before it is all said and done.

With the dramatic flair of part 1 now firmly in the past, the final Harry film opts for a much more plot heavy and action-packed structure. And as far as epic fantasy battles go, this is probably one of the most beautiful and intense ones I've witnessed. Beautiful due to the simply breathtaking visual effects and intense due to the significance of the location of this final battlefield. All of this without it ever feeling over the top, fitting in perfectly to what is possible in this magical world – the magic truly is at it most wondorous in this final installment.

"...The magic truly is at it most wondorous in this final installment."

Even though this is one of the shortest and least talkative Harry films, the acting retains the high standard set by previous entries. Whilst the female leads (Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter) take a noticeable backseat, the male leads like Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes get more than enough screen time to conjure up a satisfying sense of emotional release for the series. But of course, the real star here is Daniel Radcliffe himself and it would seem that his progression into a serious & highly capable actor is now finally complete, delivering his role with great conviction and admirable frustration. 



Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is by far the most epic Potter film to date and seeing how it is the final installment, it seems very fitting that the film takes on a quite different feel to any previous entry in the series. Flashbacks to the first Potter film really makes you respect and appreciate how far the series has progressed and what a challenge it was to bring JK Rowling's breakthrough fantasy series to the big screen. It's an adveture that has defined a generation and that alone is a worthy accolade and proof of Potter's impact on the world of us muggles.

Tom Riddle hasn't aged well...
Highlight: The combined magical inputs of various wizards leads to a spectacular CGI accomplishment. 

Rating: 4-and-a-half out of 5 Meerkat Tails

The Harry Potter franchise

Best film of the series:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – The second last Harry film gave the three leads the perfect canvas to stretch their dramatic muscles and managed to accurately capture the culminated dark anguish that all three have had to endure since their first year at Hogwarts.

Rating average for the entire series:
4 out of 5 Meerkat Tails – A Few of the entries were disappointing, but as a whole, the series will be remembered as a cinematic marvel for generations to come.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Green Lantern

With the unavoidable advent of Marvel's trump card (The Avengers), DC Comics needs another big hit like Batman: The Dark Knight if they want any chance to still be taken seriously in the current comic book film adaptation war. But the next Batman movie is still a bit away, so what weird and wonderful hero do we get treated to in the interim? Enter The Green Lantern, probably one of the most misunderstood DC superheroes ever. 

Green Lantern has a few things going for it: Firstly, a strong cast of well-known Hollywood lovelies, like Ryan Reynolds (The proposal, Waiting, Adventureland) and Blake Liveley (The Town, The Sisterhood of the travelling pants), secondly some fantastic samples of CGI wowness and thirdly, an alien world where basically anything is possible.

When you however compare it to Marvel's counterpart otherworldly comic, Thor, the film's blemishes just become a bit more apparent. The first most noticeable problem is with the villain, whom is really hard to take seriously with his hilariously ugly features and quite apparent lack of ability to instill fear in his enemies. This fact becomes painfully ironic in the light of the film's willpower vs. Fear plotline, which bring me to the second serious flaw:

"The first most noticeable problem is with the villain, whom is really hard to take seriously with his hilariously ugly features and quite apparent lack of ability to instill fear in his enemies."

While the film's plot might sound fine on paper, it just doesn't seem to really take flight ever. Sure, I can handle an alien menace that consumes fear as its energy, but once this allegory is generalized to relate to the entire film, you're going to find it difficult to take all the corniness seriously.

The film also feels a bit out of balance when it comes to the amount of focus shared between the two worlds. To be honest, the alien world seems much more exciting than the silly earth world, but sadly we only get a few sneak peeks of this weirdly wonderful foreign realm. The benefit however is that the film spends a lot more time on the development of the relationship between the two human earth leads, resulting in an average degree of emotional attachment. 

Even with these few cracks in the Lantern, the film is a great night out, with some really funny moments, fantastic action sequences and a fair amount of delicious multi-gender eye candy.

Highlight: A terrifying aerial opening scene sets the mood for the thrilling trip you are about to undergo.

Alien breath is the least of Ryan Reynolds' problems in this action-fest.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Meerkat Tails

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Remember Me

I make my hatred for Romantic movies quite public, without any fear of retribution from the enslaved rom-com zombie community. One of the advantages of my obvious over-judgemental nature however is that I very easily appreciate a film that tries something different, even though it might be at the cost of its unintetional audience. 'Remember Me', starring Robert Pattinson is one of those inherently romantic movies that take a few splendid dark detours from the obvious 'man loves woman' plot structure.

At the centre of things is a young man with a serious lack of direction in his life, but a huge heart that he shares mostly with his younger sister, his new found love and his goofy New York roommate. Pattinson seems to have been born for this role, as he gives the film a heavy emotional centre, thus creating the perfect canvas for the film's unexpected, brilliant ending.

A strong ensemble cast joins Pattinson to fill up the ranks: Retired 007 agent, Pierce Brosnan plays a cold, detached father and the perfect wall for Pattinson to bounce his frustrations off. Love interest, Emile De Ravin (The perfect game, Public enemies, Carrie) plays her part adequately and Ruby Jerins is another child actress you need to look out for. Pattinson's roommate, played by Tate Ellington (Taking chance, The elephant king) is by far the most stereotyped character, but director Allen Coulter (Hollywoodland) actually manages to put a nice spin on the vagina-hungry roomie archetype, instilling his role with a great sense of profoundness.

As mentioned before, 'Remember me' is a heavy film to chew on, so don't expect a light and relaxing night in when renting this. All of the characters are passing through their own dark tunnel, giving the film a very serious and poignant feel.

"All of the characters are passing through their own dark tunnel, giving the film a very serious and poignant feel."

Even though there's a lot to appreciate here, critics have ridiculed the film for many reasons, stating that it is unnecessarily sentimental and depressing. I however enjoy my movies with a few proper dollops of dread, so I was quite happy observing all the sadness. The film is however cursed: Your typical Twilight fan will probably not appreciate the film's slow pace and more serious movie buffs will be put off from the onset, due to their presupposed opinions of Pattinson's acting talent, even though he does a great job. It is my hope however that you give this film a try, regardless of your opinion of that horrible vampire series of films.


Pattinson has a reason to be smiling, with all the dough is making from Twilight.

Highlight: A powerful ending will leave you a bit white in the face and puts a great spin on a tired subject.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Meerkat tails

Thursday, June 9, 2011

X-Men: First Class

As a massive fan of Marvel's X-Men comicbook series and its adaptations, I had extremely high hopes for the latest installment of the franchise. The first three movies were quite a bit dissapointing, in the sense that they didn't live up to the demanding legacy they were trying to aspire to. Luckily, it would seem as though a prequel was all that was needed to reignite the series' esteemed position in the comicbook universe.

A huge part of X-men: First Class' appeal lies in it's refreshing approach, as Director Matthew Vaughn (Lock, Stock and Two smoking barrels, Stardust, Kick-Ass) shows its audience where everything began, focussing heavily on the development of the complex relationship between Magneto and Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy (Atonement, Becoming Jane). The most intense and moving scenes however originates from the very 'attractive' Erik Lehnsherr himself, masterfully played by Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre, Inglorious Basters, 300). Magneto's lust for revenge not only humanizes this villain, but it also gives a new level of depth to the X-men saga. In fact,  a viewing of First Class enhances viewings of the previous series installments with new levels of profoundness.

"Magneto's lust for revenge not only humanizes this villain, but it also gives a new level of depth to the X-men saga."

The other really interesting side to the film is the relationship between The Beast and Mystique, as they battle with their fears of social rejection, in a world where they are clearly out of sorts. In truth, the discussions they have stand as a striking parralel to anyone who has faced social prosecution at the hands of others. The ensemble cast's acting in general is very impressive for this type of movie, with special mention to baddy Kevin Bacon, the beastly Nicholas Houly, shapesifting Jennifer Lawrence and the only really noteworthy human in the cast, Rose Byrne.

But please don't let the above discussion concern you – Inbetween all the scenes of fantastic dialogue and acting is a great balance of amazing action sequences with new and old mutants, showing off their powers by means of spectacular CGI effects. Some scenes in particular will leave you gasping, mainly due to their sheer awesomeness. Whilst some mutants' powers might leave you more confused than impressed, most will have you jealous of what they can do with as little as a swing of the hips.

It's this impeccable balance between drama & action, light & dark as well as the brilliant pace that makes X-men First: Class the best of the series and also one of the best superhero movies I have had the pleasure of seeing.

Target practice gone wrong, horribly.
Highlight: A riveting final confrontation at sea results in more than a few 'WOW' moments.

Rating: 4-and-a-half Meerkat Tails out of a possible 5

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Source Code

Last year’s Inception seems to have rejuvenated the Sci-Fi genre, as its success has proven that the world is once again ready for a deliberate sprinkling of future technology, complicated & misleading plotlines and brave heroes to entertain them on screen. Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead, Prince of Persia, Donnie Darko), is one such movie and thankfully, it does more than a few things right.

With the risk of simply regurgitating the entire plotline in the form of a review (as many reviewers tend to do) taken into consideration: I won’t say a lot about the plot, as most of the film’s magic comes from the process of trying to figure out what exactly is actually happening and even more importantly, what is actually NOT happening.

Many reviewers will probably tell you that Source Code has an extremely complex story structure, but when you strip it down to its bare essentials, you’ll realize that it’s actually very straightforward. The real achievement here by Director Duncan Jones (Moon) is how he manages to masterfully hide most of the major plot revelations, only gradually revealing them very far into the film. Luckily for the viewer, the protagonist is just as lost and confused, as you both try to figure out what is the best plan of action under the confusing circumstances. It is this mutual mystery that keeps the film moving forward, even though you’re essentially just watching the same 8 minutes over and over again (This will make sense when you watch the film).

"The real achievement here by Director Duncan Jones is how he manages to masterfully hide most of the major plot revelations, only gradually revealing them very far into the film."

As most of the film is very action-heavy, Gyllenhaal probably won’t receive any award mentions, even though his performance is quite fittingly excellent and consistent throughout the film. The two supporting female actresses, Michelle Monaghan (Due Date, Gone Baby Gone) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) are both just as brilliant, with special mention to Farmiga, delivering a very powerful performance that elevates many of the film’s more dramatic moments above the heights of your typical Sci-Fi action fest. The only disappointing and even slightly irritating performance comes from Jeffrey Wright (Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale, Syriana), as he delivers his lines so over-dramatized that it's hard to take him serious. 

The film’s soundtrack is quite typical action flick stuff and effectively imbues many scenes with a high level of intensity. But in some cases, the music just seems a bit too dramatic and even feels a bit overpowering and forced. The film’s special effects are great throughout, but to be honest, there was very few scenes that truly impressed with their CGI brilliance –These are however two very small chips in a beautiful gem of a cinema experience.

Source Code is an excellent Popcorn movie that might lead to a few entertaining discussions about the space-time continuum afterwards – Just don’t expect something that will change your outlook on life.

This scene is less cheesy than it seems, really.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Meerkat Tails

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thor (3D)

Hollywood really has a talent for milking a franchise. In some cases, they're so good at it that they manage to ensure a series' success even before it gets released, as is the case with the upcoming film adaptation of Marvel's Avengers Comics. And how are they doing this exactly? Well, it's a simple case of giving each member of the Avengers superhero group some individual screetime and in so doing, build a momentous degree of hype around the inevitable release of the film series. The latest screen addition to the Avengers group, Thor 3D is another succesful ingredient to this ingeious strategy.

But don't fret – Thor is a far cry from your traditional superhero movie... To be honest, it's not much of a superhero movie at all, seeing that Thor is of course a god and not some spider mutation freak or a multi-billionaire half-robotic dick. A huge part of the film doesn't even play off on earth to begin with as the movie divides its focus between happenings on two planets, instead of one. 

"To be honest, it's not much of a superhero movie at all, seeing that Thor is of course a god and not some spider mutation freak or a multi-billionaire half-robotic dick."

The 'earth part' of the story is leaded by the film's very capable love interest, Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Brothers, Star Wars) and it's quite refreshing to see Portman in a less serious role for once, even though it takes a while to get use to her straightforward dialogue and simple character model. Nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with her performance and it's great to see how comfortable she fits her stereotyped role. Kat Dennings (Charlie Bartlett, The House Bunny, 40 year old virgin) is brilliant as a bit of comic relief, but to be honest, Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, The cabin in the woods) is by far the funniest of the lot. Other noteworthy performances by Clark Gregg and Stellan Skarsg rounds off the human part of the cast.

But to be honest, most of the film's magic takes place on the far away realm known as Asgard, where Thor and his fellow godlike beings keep themselves busy with heated political affairs that make our own local governmental debates look like something out of a Teletubbies episode. Director Kenneth Branagh (Rabbit-proof fence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) has cleverly decided to keep the laughs to a minimum on Asgard, which helps to create a  powerful contrast between the two worlds. And what makes all this even more enthralling is that there's no obvious right and wrong side, as viewers are left to choose a side for themselves. Whilst Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) is obviously the antagonist for at least the last half of the movie, his actions feel mostly justified, as the story is masterfully spun to a climatic ending. The godly part of the cast is just as wonderful, with special mention to Anthony Hopkins and Colm Feore.

The movie's greatest accomplishment is however hands-down the spectacular special effects that results in Asgard being presented as painfully majestic and battles sequences come alive as wondrously epic. The 3D itself was however a really disappointing, but the awesomeness of the standard effects more than make up for this. Whilst I don't usually single out sound effects, the sound editing here is so good that it at least deserves its own sentence in this review. All of this makes Thor an excellent popcorn movie that will have fans and newbies alike drool with anticipation for the next Avengers installment – Captain America.

This sad Excalibur-like moment can kind of get to a man that has a hammer as a best friend.
Highlight: Thor's trip to a local pet store almost had me crying with laughter.

Rating: 4 Meerkat Tails

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

Even though British actor, Robert Pattinson is best known as an American vampire, he has also started to prove that he is quite believable and capable as an American human. ‘Water for elephants’ cements his skills, whilst also providing a splendid amount of dramatic entertainment in the process.

But there's more to this film than merely witnessing Pattinson's evolution into a serious actor - In the centre of this drama broods a serious love triangle between Pattinson, love interest Reese Witherspoon and the surprise star of Inglorious Bastards: Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as another diabolical evil mastermind.

All three roles are beautifully realized, with the tension between them increasing more and more as the film nears its quite gracious 121 minute runtime. The forbidden love plotline plays out entertainingly intense and in this sense, might even remind viewers of a film with a similar sentiment, Titanic.

As most of the film plays off in a circus, there's a lot of glorious eye candy to behold both in the form of a colourful ensemble cast as well as realistically envisioned set pieces. The great thing about the film's backdrop is that nothing feels over-the-top and this gives the film an awesome degree of honest appeal. The circus is portrayed as a real business with its fair share of troubles and conflicts brewing underneath the glamorous exterior.

"The great thing about the film's backdrop is that nothing feels over-the-top and this gives the film an awesome degree of honest appeal."

Water for elephants can at times be a little frustrating and hard to watch (especially the few scenes of quite intense animal cruelty), but overall it's an impactful ride that will leave you satisfied due largely to a well rounded ending.

Highlight: Pattinson gets inducted into the circus by means of a very traditional 'ceremony'.

Not as cute as Dumbo, but close enough!
Rating: 4 Meerkat Tails

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Limitless

After the runaway success of 'The Hangover', Bradley Cooper quickly became somewhat of a household name. With his knack for comedy proven, he had yet to prove himself as a capable serious actor. Limitless seemed to be the perfect opportunity to show that there's more to this just above average looking Hollywood star.

In Limitless, Bradley plays the role of a washed out writer who has nothing going for him. This all changes when he is introduced to a new designer drug that increases a person's mental capacity tremendously, without any noticable drawbacks. Whilst this might sound like a cleverley disguised pro drug campaign, things quickly turn sour, as the lead's dependancy on the drug leads to some very unhealthy lifestyle decisions. 

There's however more to the plot than simple drug addiction. Wrapped around this chewy, druggy centre is a heavy focus on corporate politics, steered beautifully by the film's main antagonist, Robert de Niro. While there's a lot happening, director Neil Burger (The lucky ones, The Illusionist) has managed to keep everything quite tight and interesting. The corporate political subplot actually helps to give the film some needed depth, even though it does kinda feel like you're watching two neatly stitched together films instead of one.

The film's own take on the classic 'drug-o-vision' made me a bit queasy, but actually does a great job in highlighting the drug's super intense effects. A simple score complements the films ups and downs quite well.

With all these compliments, comes the realisation that the film is far from perfect and actually comes across very forgettable. The main reason for this is that the film tries to be just too many things all at once. Part comedy, part action, part psychological thriller and part crazy – Limitless is quite limited by it's lack of a proper golden centre. This results in a fun ride, but one you soon forget as soon as you get onto the next one.

"Part comedy, part action, part psychological thriller and part crazy – Limitless is quite limited by its lack of a proper golden centre."
Nevertheless, Limitless is a very commendeable effort at genre mixing that many will find quite intriguing – from drug junkie to aspiring corporate snake. Just don't expect any mind bending and revolutionary outcomes.

Highlight: It's been a while since I was this excited for correctly predicting the outcome of  a scene: Blood is involved.

I really struggled to get a proper pic...

Rating: 3-and-a-half Meerkat Tails