Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saw VII (3D)

Since its first installment back in 2004, Saw has managed to muster up a huge following of frighteningly devoted fans and I would be dishonest in denying my esteemed membership to this at least semi-disrurbed group of hardcore fans. My loyalty should therefore help to explain my excitement when I heard that Jigsaw and company's gruesome legacy would get the 3D treatment as its final encore.

And fans can rest assured – Saw works just as well (if not better) in 3D as it does in the more traditional flat-view.  And as one would expect, Saw's style (the term 'gore' may be a more appropriate here) over substance approach benefits greatly from the cheesy and over the top 3D blood splatters, head explosions and numerous forms of dismemberment that film goers get treated to.

"...The trademark gore over substance approach benefits greatly from the cheesy and over the top 3D blood spatters, head explosions and numerous forms of dismemberment that film goers get treated to."

The Saw series has received a lot of heat for its mostly silly, unoriginal and even illogical plot, a point of criticism that is hard to argue with. Saw 7 suffers from the same problem – with a plot so holey, you'll be hard pressed not to burst out laughing because of the sheer ridiculousness of certain plot twists. Nevertheless, the story does have an interestig self-analytical twist to it that brings the saga back to its root, resulting in a nicely rounded conclusion to the series.

The B-grade ensemble cast's acting is probaly a tad better than the usual Saw gang's, but are still noticably average. In their defense though, one must mention that most of them serve as mere canvasses for the next awesome and stomach-turning bloodbath, so solid acting isn't really all that important here – Your ability to scream relentlessly and die disharmoniously goes a long way however!

The elements that should however count in a Saw film are however fantastic, with a whole lof of intense and interesting traps for viewers to indulge in. Whilst the combination of traps aren't the most spectacular or original in the series, they do feel distinctly Saw-like, with more than a few that are really hard not to squirm at. Favourites include a gut-wrenching car scene and an awesome opening scene that sets the dark and unforgiving tone perfectly.

Fans will also be pleased to hear that the last Saw installment maintains the series' distinct sense of intense dread and extreme hopelesness, which has become the series' trademark. And whilst it could have been due to my dark state of mind even before watching the film, I had the perception that Saw VII is even more unforgiving than its predecessors, as the sombre atmosphere never seems to let go, supplying no form of emotional resolution to make you feel better afterwards.

The final Saw movie isn't out to win any awards and rightfully so, because it's much more concerned with freaking the living crap out of you – a job it does quite fantastically.

"Let's play a little game... Which starts with your back being super-glued to the seat of a car."
Highlight: In the opening scene, a love triangle is put to the test, in a traditional and revolting Saw way.

Rating: 2 Meerkat Tails (Subtract 1 tail if you don't particularly like gruesome and unjustified violence)

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Green Hornet (3D)

It's a great feeling when a movie surprises you, especially when it's the type of film you would least expect it from. The latest 3D blockbuster, The Green Hornet did not only exceed my expectations in terms of quality, but I also thoroughly enjoyed it as a welcome addition to the superhero sub genre.

Instead of taking a serious, dark approach to the theme of superheroes (as has become the norm for the last decade), the film rather focusses on an effective combination of humour, action and a very small degree of drama to produce a nicely balanced film. But don't get me wrong, The Green Hornet is more of a comedy than anything else – and a really funny one at that as well.

A huge part of the film's humour is due to the strong comedic timing of the hillarious cast: Cameron Diaz (There's something about Mary, Charlie's Angels, Being John Malkovich), whom is no stranger to films of this nature, plays the role of sexual interest well, whilst also supplying some good laughs while she's at it. Seth Rogen's (Knocked up, Funny People, Pineapple Express) amazing knack for off-beat comedy is however the film's saving grace and I was surprised to see how comfortably it translates in an action focussed context. Filling up the rest of the spots are Christoph Waltz (Jacob, Inglorious Bastards), playing an image-obsessed, really strange villain and the unknown, Jay Chou, playing the role of the very capable, misunderstood foreign sidekick that serves up the film's best 'Wow!' moments in refreshingly spectacular 3D. 

What gives The Green Hornet an extra sense of interest is definitely the fact that the film's greatest laughs come when you least expect them, namely during the very awesome and original feeling action sequences. The film's weird balance between serious and funny action really works, in a way that I expect was the actual intention behind most films that feature Jackie Chan.

"The film's weird balance between serious and funny action really works, in a way that I expect was the actual intention behind most film's that feature Jackie Chan."

Part of the film's successful recipe also lies in the fact it is ever aware of its inferiority and high degree of cheesiness – an element that French director Michel Gondry (Be kind Rewind) has used successfully more than once in his films. The Green Hornet isn't out to win any awards or dazzle the critics, but what it lacks in plot and impact, it definitely makes up for in entertainment level. So, if you're in the mood for something entertaining that doesn't require a lot grey matter processing, then The Green Hornet cannot be more highly recommended – oh, and it's worth the extra few bucks for the 3D.

Highlight: A physical confrontation between the Green Hornet and his sidekick, results in one of the funniest action sequences I have seen in a film. 

Being a superhero isn't always as easy as it seems.

Rating: 3-and-a-half Meerkat Tails (subtract half-a-star if you don't plan on seeing this on the big screen in 3D)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book of Eli

The hype around 'Book of Eli' was reason enough for me to develop more than a gracious amount of skepticism about the film. To make things worse, people that were telling me about it were very divided in terms of the central message the film was trying to convey, but all of them at least agreed on something: Watch the film. So, thanks to Mnet's Sunday night blockbusters (which is mostly an excuse to ignore by better film judgement), I finally got the opportunity to experience the film for myself...

First things first: I'm not a huge fan of Denzel Washington, as his dramatic muscles seem to be limited to a single character archetype, namely, the silent, but compassionate hero that isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. And surprise surprise, guess what type of character Denzel plays here? Don't get me wrong, he fits the role well, I was just hoping to see him step out of his boundaries a bit. Filling up the rest of the cast is the super sexy Mila Kunis (Max Payne, Black Swan), who actually puts quite a nice spin on the 'damsel in distress' role and Gary Oldman (Harry Potter, Batman Begins, The Dark knight) As a badass, bible-destroying, blind woman-beating, bad-mouthed villain (he is also well read and listens to classical music). Whilst no one is noticeably bad in the film, no one is really good either, but this might also be largely due to the film's action/dialouge ratio, that doesn't really provide many opportunities for the cast to flex their acting pecks.

"...a badass, bible-destroying, blind woman-beating, bad-mouthed villain (he is also well read and listens to classical music)." 

But what the film lacks in depth, it seems to try to make up for with some awesomely gruesome action sequences, that basically involves the protagonist taking on 30 plus armed thugs with a machete-like sword, confrontations he usually overcomes without any serious injuries. And even when he does get badly injured, he somehow ('miraculously' might be the right word to use here) manages to pick himself up again. But don't worry, the film does actually give a plausible explanantion for the hero's amazingly good luck: yes, you guessed it – divine intervention. And whilst it isn't my place as a reviewer to judge the script and the religious presumptions it makes, it does seem very contrasting when one takes a hard look at the critical commentary the film delivers concerning organised religion, namely that it is a powerful tool that can be used to manipulate and control societies and steer economic and social structures (to both their doom and salvation). 

Despite this strange ideological contradiction present, Book of Eli remains a very 'pretty' film, in a very non-traditional way though, as the dark, brooding post-appocalyptic setting is really well imagined and put together, complementing the very serious tone that the two directors, Albert and Allen Hughes successfully establishes. The dark camera filter that is used is especially effective in giving the movie a very sombre feel and the landscapes seem even more painfully desolate. 

To be honest, I truly believe Book of Eli would have been better if it took a more clear stance on the religious questions and issues it so bluntly raises. The other option would have been to scrap the religious sub-text entirely, but the film's kind of ambiguous approach results in the film leaving you more confused than enlightened (in my opinion, at least). If that was the Directors' intent, well bravo, but if it wasn't – epic fail. This review will also then take the stance that this was a failure...

The baddies outside have a rocket launcher and a Gatling gun... they stand no chance against Mila's braided hair though.

 Rating: 2-and-a-half Meerkat Tails

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The King's Speech

Sharks, heights, snakes and even death itself – These are but a  few of man's greatest fears. But there's one fear that, according to statistics, outweighs the severity of almost all these fears combined, namely man's fear of... public speaking. Whilst it might sound like a boring subject for a film, it is used as the central premise to one of this year's biggest Oscar contenders, 'The King's speech'. And not only does it make for a original and refreshingly accessible period drama, but it's also just a fresh concept for a film in general, making it stand out in the crowd of best film contenders.

To complement this enticing concept, comes assembled a capable cast of dramatic heavyweights, all more than capable to steer this dramatic masterpiece to an emotional and fulfilling conclusion. Leading the way is the stammering and troubled King George VI, played by Colin Firth (A single man, Dorian Gray), delivering arguably the role of his lifetime, a fact substantiated by the number of award mentions he has received for this role. Not only is Firth totally believable in the extremely complex role he plays, but he also manages to imbue his character with an impressive level of sentiment and humanity, resulting in an accessible protagonist that you can't help but feel for. 

Geoffrey Rush's (Pirates of the Caribbean, Munich) performance deserves an equal amount of praise, fulfilling both the role of friend and antagonist simultaneously with utmost skill. I should also add that Rush and Firth's combined performances produce the best movie 'bromance' in years, as both characters are in a sense reshaped by the interactions they have with one another during the course of this splendid film. And not only is this development entertaining to watch unfold, but it also never reverts to over-dramatization, a weakness of many a few period films. 

"...Rush and Firth's combined performances produce the best movie 'bromance' in years, as both characters are in a sense reshaped by the interactions they have with one another during the course of this splendid film."

Rounding off the capable cast is Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter) in a role that has also resulted in more than a few award mentions and Guy Pearce (The hurt lockers, Memento) in a role that will at first seem very foreign for him, but still one he manages to play surprisingly well. Other worthy mentions joining Carter from the cast of Harry Potter are Timothy Spall and Michael Gambon, as well as a long list of other seasoned veterans, whom all contribute to a powerful sense of legitimacy for the film. The film's super intelligent dialogue must also be mentioned in the same breath, as all the performances benefit from the sharp and fitting verbal material.

But good acting and brilliant dialogue is just part of the film's winning recipe: A beautiful collection of classical arrangements makes for a fitting and effective score, whilst the striking cinematography captures the heart and soul of the finely planned set pieces and also contributes greatly to some of the movies most awkward and powerful moments. King's Speech is also inspiringly well paced, as scenes that need time to flutter in one's mind are given ample opportunity and those that only serve to move the plot along are functionally brief.

The film's biggest achievement is however the way in which all these elements come together, something that Director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) should be commended for. The King's Speech really feels like a neatly packaged and well rounded film experience, a challenging feat that only very capable film-makers can accomplish with such finesse.

To sum up, 'The King's Speech' is a well made, extremely accessible, relatable, relevant and touching period piece that will lead to many mainstream audience members gaining a new appreciation for a genre that has always seemed reserved for those few that are really serious about their films – highly recommended. 

Highlight: After a few sessions with Rush, Firth finally opens up to the dear 'doctor'...

There's a good reason why Firth looks so tense here... and no, it's not wind.
Rating: 5 Meerkat Tails