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, clich├ęd 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