Monday, March 28, 2011

Rango

It has become easier and easier over the years to stereotype animation films as superficial and predictable, seeing how they play it as safe as possible in order to ensure they appeal to a very broad audience. Even the really good ones like 'Toy Story' and 'The Incredibles' have an obvious gooey centre that make it easy to predict what is likely to happen next. But none of this seems to be the case with the very strange and original Rango, an animation in a leauge of its own.

Rango tells the story of a Chameleon (played by Johnny Depp) that seems to have lost his sense of identity as he embarks on a soul searching (and quite intellectual) journey that brings him to new insights concerning the actual point behind his life. While this might seem like a quite obvious plot for a Hollywood animation, please don't be fooled, as there is very little that can be classified as typical about Rango.

The most prominent and striking difference between Rango and its conventional counterparts is its eerily grown-up animation style that is honestly like nothing I have ever seen onscreen. Much of the animation style's impact is due to the intense sense of realism, that is not limited to just the scenery and backdrops, as all characters are drawn in such a way that they appear quite disturbing in some cases. I fear that if I had to meet some of these characters as a young boy, I might have been left more than just a bit unnerved. Nevertheless, adults should greatly appreciate the film's authentic style, as all the characters (no matter how minor to the story) are imbued with a painstaking sense of detail, making them a joy to behold and experience. Not only does every critter-like townsfolk member of 'Dirt' (the desolate town that becomes the focus of the film) move and act unbelievably realistic (excuse the oxymoron), but they also feel strangely human, due to the brilliant voice acting present in the film overall.


"I fear that if I had to meet some of these characters as a young boy, I might have been left more than just a bit unnerved."

With a bit of a darker plot (not that the plot is very light to begin with), Rango could easily have been a full-out animated horror, but thankfully the plot has a definite silver lining, that balances its highly graphic feel quite well. Still, I must admit, there does exist a definite sense of creepiness, as a few characters are just too 'real' for common comfort – it this is the same director of the very scary 'The Ring', which might help explain the film's surprisingly dark feel. Rango's colourful soundtrack of fitting Mexican and bubblegum Western tracks is another welcome addition, adding to the film's great sense of authenticity and originality.

Even though this weird style does take quite a while to get used to, its hard to deny that Rango is an extremely memorable film experience that you'll find hard to compare to anything from recent film history. Director Gore Vebrinski (The Ring, The Mexican, Pirates of the Caribbean) has accomplished a great thing with Rango and whilst not every aspect of the film is perfect, the sum of its somewhat strange parts are more than enough to keep this partially flawed gem lingering in your mind for quite a while.

Highlight: As Rango's world suddely gets thrown upside down, he meets a very helpful desert armadillo that agrees to part some wisdom in exhange for some urgent support in his current dire situation.

Just one of the many weird and somewhat creepy characters that Rango meets on his journey of self discovery.

Rating: 4-and-a-half Meerkat tails (Subtract half-a-star if a weirdly unique film experiences is not your thing). 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

It's been a while since we've been treated to a straight out alien invasion popcorn blockbuster. And in the true spirit of films like Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles is all about kicking some alien butt (or a similiar alien counterpart for this body part).

Honestly, there's not a whole lot to say about this movie, as the title already gives you a good idea of what to expect. Things you shouldn't however expect is an involving storyline, breakthrough performances and fresh dialogue. But all of these are mere nice-to-haves when the world is being attacked by 'little green men' and that is exactly why this battle only focusses on the bare essentials needed to make a movie watchable.

With more than a few similarities with the hit TV series, Friday night lights, especially the score and camera technique used, Batlle: Los Angeles attempts to draw you into the action as much as possible. And for the most part, this really works, as you feel like your playing a Playstation game with really nice graphics and awesome sound effects. Aliens are creepy and scary, without however feeling unrealistically powerful or clever.

"And for the most part, this really works, as you feel like your playing a Playstation game with really nice graphics and awesome sound effects."

Without giving too much away, the film is also quite unforgiving for the type of genre it steals shamelessly from. This might be due to the film's lack of different perspectives, as you only see the drama unfold from the eyes of a military squad of misfit soldiers that might or might not have a history with each other.

But even though the film lacks a chewy, emotional centre, director Jonathan Liebesman (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The beginning) has tried his best to imbue his film with a slight shred of resonance, but this fails quite obviously. Nevertheless, one can at least identify with characters' dilemma, as Michelel Rodriguez and protagonist Aaron Eckhart (Dark knight, The Black Dahlia) as a hardcore staff sergeant try to give all the destruction some point.

So, if you need a break from the troubles of office politics, then Battle: Los Angeles is a good way of seeing people's heads get blown up without the repercussions of getting fired or sent to prison. 

Don't worry, things are worse than they seem...
Highlight: When things get a bit gloomy, leave it to the Staff sergeant to brighten things up with some petroleum and a unlucky alien droid in the middle of things.

Rating: 2-and-a-half Meerkat Tails

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Winter's Bone

Giving a film the compliment that it has a distinct atmosphere and feel to it, is one of the most important ones to give, as it implies that the film has managed to tranport its audience with an impressive level of immersion. Whilst this is definitely one of Winter's Bone's greatest achievements as an example of fine cinematic art, it is far from the only.

From the first scene, one gets the feeling that there is something different to Winter's Bone – viewers are immediately confronted with a sombre colour palette of dark screen filters and a distinct sense of silence that gives the film a creepily eerie quality. This combination of elements results in a haunting movie that is downright scary and intensely stressful for most of the runtime.

But what's even more significant about the film is that (even with all of this darkness) Winter's Bone still has a whole lot of heart, mainly due to the fantastic breakthrough lead performance of Jennifer Lawrence. Jennifer Lawrence imbues this very depressing story with a strong sense of conviction, as she struggles on relentlessly to ensure a better future for her broken family. A formiddable ensemble cast joins her, which includes brilliant contributions by John Hawkes (Hardball, The Perfect Storm, Miami Vice) as the protagonist's only supportive family member and Dale Dickey as one of the many people adding to her frustration with her current position in life.

The numerous interactions that the lead has with others in the film are a true joy to witness, as each and every one comes over as noticeably authentic and painfully unforgiving. The dialogue feels sincere and contributes to the film's strong lingering quality. These realistic encounters results in the audience developing a true sense of empathy for the characters, as you quickly get envelop in the trials that they face.


"These realistic encounters results in the audience developing a true sense of empathy for the characters, as you quickly get envelop in the trials that they face."

As already mentioned, Winter's Bone has a very distinct feel to it, which might explain why the film's more intense and violent moments come over as even more visceral and impactful than they would have otherwise. The story is also masterfully paced, attesting of the relatively unknown Director Debra Granick's knack for eliquent filmmaking.

To put it bluntly, Winter's Bone is more than just a worthy contender for the Oscar for film of the year. Its distinct feel results in a hauntingly awesome movie that all seasoned film buffs should appreciate immensely. Casual movie goers might however find the film's heavy approach tiring and cumbersome (which is kinda the point , by the way).

A touching end gives the film a strong sense of  resonance. 
Highlight: During a very heated confrontation with some of her community's more agressive members, the exact degree of the protagonist's incredible sense of conviction becomes very apparent.

Rating: 4-and-a-half Meerkat tails

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Drive Angry 3D

Some films prefer to keep things simple by not overcomplicating stuff with intense character studies, longwinded scenes of dialogue and over-dramatized screenplays. Drive Angry 3D is one of those films that chooses to focus on only a few things, namely sex, cars, blood, lame bar jokes, guns and sub themes of demonic intervention and the power of family bonds.

Whilst this might seem like a recipe for ultimate disaster and extreme cheesiness, it all comes together quite beautifully, much like a well planned sex orgy. Director Patrick Lusser (My Bloody Valentine, White Noise 2) uses an interesting strategy in this gory funfest, decidinng to give the plot's background story a noticible backseat. This technique works suprisingly well, as it imbues this action blockbuster with a great sense of mystery till the end. You never really understand everything that's taking place, which keeps you guessing (and laughing) till the end.

In the driving seat is a man who is no stranger to risky films: Nicholas Cage (Adaptation, Matchstick men, Bad Leuatentant). Cage has gained a reputation for fluctuating between huge film successess and massive cinema misses. Drive Angry 3D however utilizes his knack for the weird and off-beat, resulting in a memorable lead character that takes no shit from anyone (dead or alive). Two very powerful antagonists share the stage, one a powerful demon known simply as 'The Accountant', played with utmosts skill by William Fichtner (The Dark Knight, Blades of Glory and Equilibrium) and the other a devil worshipping preacher, also played quite amazingly by Billy Burke (Twilight, Fracture, Along came a spider). But don't fret, inbetween all the testosterone is a deliberae sprinkle of sexy and feistiness in the from of sexual interest, Amber Heard (Zombieland, Never back down). Between these four actors, a wonderfully funny and exciting conflict is born and played out, helping the film accelarate forward at an exhillarating speed.

"Drive Angry 3D is one of those films that chooses to focus on only a few things, namely sex, cars, blood, lame bar jokes, guns and sub themes of demonic intervention and the power of family bonds."

Special mention must be given to the fantastic and extremely fitting old school rock soundtrack that gives the film a great sense of atmosphere as well as an added level of authenticity. The soundtrack is also surprisingly catchy and you should find it hard not to start tapping your feet (or some other musical appreciation gesture) halfway through this entertaining ride.

But all of this pales in comparison to the film's biggest sell: Glorious, intense and gory 3D effects. Not only does Drive Angry 3D have some of the most jolting 3D effects that I have seen, but they also are well placed and used sparingly enough to stay very high on level of effect. The 3D is used masterfully to accentuate the extreme graphic nature and over-the-top action sequences of the film, a fact that fans of unjustified bloodshed is sure to appreciate.

To sum up, Drive Angry does what it sets out to do (namely to be damn entertaining) quite magnificetly. Squeemish movie goers who prefer substance over style should however take a detour around this blockbuster, but those who don't mind a bit of unserious fun will find themselves begging for a sequel.

Cage has been through a lot by this point in the film, but more hell-raising is yet to follow...

Highlight: There are many, but there is one particular scene that is likey to stick with you for weeks... Let's just say it gives new meaing to multi-tasking.

Rating: 3 Meerkat tails

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The kids are all right

"Comedy dramas can be quite an acquired taste, seeing how the humour only serves as a mere distraction from a usually dark central focus. Neverhteless, when done right, these movies can have a very powerful impact on its viewer.'The kids are all right' joins the list of comedy drama masterpieces that include 2004 Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, 'Sideways'.

As as the case with Sideways, 'The kids are all right' relies heavily on the performances of its leads and it is in this respect that the film scores top marks. The star studded cast truly deserves individual recognition: Mark Ruffalo, known best for his role in blockbusters like 'Just like in heaven' and 'Date night' plays a philosophical tree hugger that gets caught up in the lives of a very complex and troubled family. Whilst it wasn't good enough to win him an Oscar, it probably still is his best performance to date, as it gives him the opportunity to show he has the capacity for more intriguing characters.

Completing the film's weird love triangle is two very believable lesbians in the form of Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Moore, who has seen her fair share of movie misses (Next, The Forgotten, Saving Grace) and a few hits as well (A single man, Children of men etc.) delivers one of her most powerful performances, as a woman who is struggling to balance her role as mother with her role of lover. Anette Bening (American Beauty, Being Julia) is as amazing as ever, playing a very different chararcter archetype than Moore, helping to give the film a beautiful sense of acting diversity. Bening and Moore's on-screen chemistry is also fantastic to behold, as they naturally fluctuate between conflict and support for one another. 

"Completing the film's weird love triangle is two very believable lesbians..."

Rounding off the cast are the two children caught up in all of the ensuing drama, namely Josh Hutcherson, best known for his emotional showing in 'Bridge to & Terabithia' and Mia Wasikowska, known for her memoable role in Tim Burton's rendition of 'Alice in Wonderland'. Even though Moore and Ruffalo's performances stand out, the overall impact of the ensemble cast's combined strength is what really makes this film shine.

The plot is solid, well-paced and gives the actors more than enough room to stretch their acting muscles. In true black comedy style, the film ends as open-ended as it begins, leaving audience members with a weird lingering quality that hangs in the air for a considerable time after the credits start to roll. Add to this a fitting soundtrack and great camera work and you have the makings of a classic.

To sum up, The kids are all right is a satisfying 'slice of life' comedy drama that contains some memorable performances from the entire cast. A worthy addition to the Golden Globe's Best Motion Picture awards list.

Highlight: Moore's confrontation with her gardener is as funny as it is sad.

Not your average family set-up, but who are we to judge? 
Rating: 4-and-a-half Meerkat Tails