Monday, February 20, 2012

Gnomeo and Juliet review

WARNING: there's no way I can review this without spoilers about the ending. But who cares, you know the story and you know what will happen at the end, so if you're worried about me spoiling the ending to this movie, you probably shouldn't be on this site at all.

I am no Shakespearean scholar. I can never even remember how to spell his name – if it wasn't for the spell-checker it would have been spelled wrong just now. I've never read his plays in their original language, except in English class at school. And yet, this film offends me.

I've been trying to come up with a metaphor for how nonsensical it is to take Romeo and Juliet and change the ending, but I can't because nothing I can think of is more absurd than this. There is literally nothing I can think of that misses the point so completely as changing the ending of Romeo and Juliet. Hell, it practically IS the metaphor for missing the point, for giving something the exact opposite meaning of what it's supposed to have.

OK, it's not like cartoons haven't been based off old stories before. Snow White, The Sword in the Stone, Aladdin, Tarzan, pretty much almost every successful Disney animated movie since the company was founded in fact. And yes, they generally have their own take on the story. But, for whatever it's worth, Snow White was called Snow White. Aladdin wasn't called A-Lad-In Trouble, or some stupid pun like Gnomeo and Juliet.

The point is that, while they were certainly not word-for-word adaptations of the originals, while they still had funny singing furniture and ornery old owls and the like, they didn't completely miss the point and change the entire reason for the whole story by doing a complete 180 on the ending. And they didn't literally, quite literally, tell the author in a bastardization of his own story that their ending is better.

I wish to God I was making that up. All I can say is, if I was a writer and therefore my greatest accomplishments were writing, and after I died some people decide to profit off my most well know story by cashing in on it's popularity, and then in their version they have the audacity to write me in as a character just so they can tell the fictional me how my story sucked and their version is better... well, if that ever happens, I'd be glad I was too dead to know about it because I cannot imagine a bigger insult.

But let's pretend for a moment that they aren't spitting on Shakespeare's grave, in fact lets pretend there was never a "Romeo and Juliet". Then it's mostly just ripping off Toy Story. But OK, lets ignore that connection too, and try to imagine for a moment that this movie has a single spark of originality. Then the problem is that the movie is still mediocre, with only a few actually likeable characters and funny moments. Honestly, I found some 'jokes' to be downright morbid. The gnome who spends his entire life fishing the same fish that's already on his pole, the poor fish that will spend all eternity dangling on a string... I didn't find that funny, I found it horrifying. I cannot imagine having to live through such a fate.

So after all that you probably won't be surprised that I give it a 3 out of 10 - yes, if you're a kid you'll probably enjoy it, but if you compare it to the Pixar fare that can not only entertain, but downright move people of all ages, then it's just not in the same league.

The Grey review

First of all I have to say this: I dislike movies that vilify animals. I wasn't looking forwards to this movie for that reason alone, and to be honest the trailer didn't help. But I heard it was very good so, when it happened to be showing at a convenient time one day as I was looking for something in the local cinema to watch, I decided to go for it.

While this may sound like just my own inherit bias, I have to say that I strongly believe this movie would have worked much better without the wolves playing such a big role. As a survival movie, a tale of man versus nature, it is very well done. Every death matters, every character is mourned by the audience when they're gone, no matter how we felt about them while they lived.

But the wolves' behavior is out of place. They kill not for food, but just to kill. This explained as a territory thing, but I have trouble with that: even if they are killing for territorial reasons, I would still expect them to eat the corpse afterwards - they are still a pack of hungry predators after all.

What's more they come and go randomly; one minute the whole pack will be chasing the everyone, the next they'll hide in the trees howling until the humans manage to start a fire, then they'll just run off. Then a random number will appear at a random time later - well, I say random, but I'm sure the timing has been carefully chosen for pacing and dramatic effect, but it's logically random. Sometimes it's at night, sometimes it's during the day, sometimes it's just one wolf, sometimes it's the whole pack, sometimes it's two or three.

I'm no expert, but I imagine they either hunt at night or during the day, not both? More importantly, I have have a hard time accepting that, if they are protecting their territory, they'll just all run off, and then decide to protect their territory again later. Never mind the difficulty of accepting the humans managing to escape when their progress over the deep snow is so slow and clumsy while the wolves fly over the surface so swiftly.

It just didn't make sense to me, it really felt as though the wolves had been shoehorned in to make it look more like an action flick in the trailers, I guess action movies sell better than survival films? It doesn't help that the cost-cutting measures - wolves hiding behind the treeline, wolves hidden in the darkness so only their eyes are visible, close-up frantic camera work that just shows people's faces and random patches of fur or flashes of teeth - are not terribly subtle, making them feel even more out of place.

The other thing I couldn't understand was the main character himself. Surviving in such harsh conditions takes a real will to live, to keep pushing on despite the increasingly overwhelming urge to sit down and rest, just for a moment, as the seductive warmth of hypothermia sets in. But the night before the plane crash, he very nearly took his own life, so if the only thing we really know about him is that he has no real desire to keep living. So what, then, is keeping him going? A vague old poem? Everyone else had family, or at least something to live for, to go back to, but not him. Maybe it's just me, maybe it's incredibly deep and I just didn't get it.

Anyway, despite my problems with the movie, I'm going to give it a 7 out of 10 for the things it did well, under the assumption that most people won't be as bothered as I was with the aforementioned issues.

That bit with the broken bottles? Clearly there just for the trailer. I mean, he's surrounded by a dozen wolves after somehow walking RIGHT INTO THEIR HOME despite the way they were supposedly attacked for being too close when they were some twenty or thirty miles away. And yet all these wolves are just lounging around as he digs around in his backpack for some tape and tiny liqueur bottles (he was able to find the edge of the tape despite recently climbing out of freezing cold water while wearing wet woolen half gloves? how the hell do his hands even work at all right now?), then tapes the bottles to one hand and knife to the other? How very gentlemanly of them to wait. What now, do they take ten paces then turn and fire?

Plus the fact that it is literally the very last few seconds of the movie - the very last thing we see in fact - makes it feel especially pointless. As I said before, clearly just there for the trailer - which is really cheap since trailers aren't supposed to show you the very end of the movie.

Also, the bit after the credits? It was only a few seconds long and I couldn't even tell what we were being shown. Were they both dying, or only the wolf? I'm assuming both, but the fact that I don't know, after waiting over ten minutes for a 5 second clip, sounds like a mistake on their part to me.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Big Bang review

This movie flew completely under my radar, so I had no idea what to expect going in. I found it surprisingly fun and quirky. It plays out like a cross between a caper movie and an old private eye flick, but with enough surreal touches to make you question the reality of what you're shown.

The movie is stylish, I enjoyed the little touches like the constant physics references, and it did a good job of creating a sense of anticipation as it drew me in. Unfortunately I wasn't satisfied with the ending. To try to explain it, the ending is not what you would expect in that it is what you would expect if you weren't expecting more. OK, that probably doesn't sound like it makes much sense, so I'll try to clarify in the spoilers section.

I'm giving it a 7 out of 10. Basically, it's a fun and slightly unusual movie, more-so if you don't have any expectations and just let it take you for a ride.

Coming back to the end, I thought it was too simplistic. Yes, it explained everything and tied up all the loose ends, but it was just too mundane considering how the movie increasingly flirted with the metaphysical towards the end.

Also, the bit with ground collapsing in a line that chased their car was just silly and, worse, out of place.

Cowboys and Aliens review

With a title like that you would probably expect something a little silly, a comedy or even a spoof. But this movie is not silly or light-hearted at all. Without the aliens it would be a decent character-driven cowboy movie. Without the cowboys it would be a decent sci-fi action/horror.

As it is though, it's somehow less than the sum of it's parts. As a cowboy movie, the importance of the human issues and relationships seems unimportant next to the threat of the aliens, but the "western" movie structure doesn't work all that well for the alien angle. At least that's what I've come up with for why it doesn't quite work. But there's some more concrete issues as well.

The setting, while novel, puts the humans at too much of a disadvantage - not only do the aliens have superior technology and weapons, they are also larger, much stronger, faster and more agile than us, easily capable of climbing walls and roofs, taking down a horse and rider, killing a man with a single blow, and shrugging off mass quantities of arrows and bullets. Against such odds, the eventually human victory is simply not believable, and the movie falls apart.

Another issue is that the aliens themselves, as the 'bad guys', don't have any real character. That's not to say that they aren't well designed; I thought they were quite original. But consider Predator; while the Predator was barely seen for most of the movie, it all came down to confrontation between it and Arnie at the end - same for Alien and Sigourney. And while Star Wars is arguably a better comparison in that it has large battles and a more extensive cast, it still comes down to Vader, Luke, Obi-Wan and the Emperor. The aliens of Cowboys & Aliens don't have the personality and presence of Vader, don't dominate the movie the way the Xenomorph and Predator do. In the end, they are distant and faceless.

There is one single recognisable alien in the movie to serve as Daniel Craig's nemesis, but the fact that it has a scar fails to elavate it beyond the pack, and it's eventual demise doesn't really have much weight. All in all, while the aliens do present a very credible threat, they are unfortunatley distant and rarely seen - even in the large 'final battle' there's usually not more than one alien on screen at a time - which robs the final victory of it's gravitas, it's importance.

Having said all that, the characters themselves are generally believable, some are even likeable, and their personal stories do matter to the viewer. Unfortunately the protagonist himself is trying so hard to be a strong, silent, square-jawed hero that it's hard to actually form a connection with him, even though he get most of the screen time (hell, even the character's name is Jake Lonergan). Nevertheless, Daniel Craig handles the action scenes and the meagre dialogue well. Harrison Ford perhaps has the more interesting character; if you're expecting Indiana Jones, you'll be disapointed, but the character has depth and Ford does nail the role.

The special effects don't feel out of place, the aliens are well designed, and the action is entertaining. The story is pretty good overall - at least considering the fact that the title came first and the plot second. In fact I would say it has one of the more believable reasons for an alien invasion, although there's a few too many things left unexplained for my liking.

Overall though I'm going to give it a 6 out of 10: it's not bad, but I can't find it in me to say it's good.

I mentioned the movie has one of the more believable excuses for an alien invasion. The way I see it, mining for a precious mineral is quite believable. I don't know how prevalent gold is in the universe, but I'm guessing it can be found in non-inhabited planets, so why come to an inhabited planet? Economics. If the economics of mining the gold makes it worth it to come into conflict with the natives, then that's what they'll do (we do the same on a country basis all the time). Clearly earth matches their home planet environment, else they would need space suits or something, which could be a significant factor. Gravity, temperature, so many factors could interfere with the refinement and related processes, that not just any gold-containing planet would do. Humans are probably the least of their worries.

What the hell was up with that boat? Oh, and why are the aliens naked? We don't send astronoughts into space naked. How come they can take so much abuse? Those are bullets, not spitballs.

But most of all, if the humans have one single weapon capable of actually harming the aliens, and at least several, if not all, of the aliens have similar or better weapons:
a) how do the humans not get instantly annihilated?
b) how does Jaker Lonergan manage to so easily take out several dozen of them, when they have the same weapons and should be more familiar with them?
c) why the hell don't more humans pick up alien weapons when they drop them?

Charlie Bartlett review

Basically, this is just a nice movie. It's entertaining and mildly thought-provoking, the cast do a great job, and the way Charlie is able to see past the surface is somewhat inspirational. The only mild criticism I have is that it could probably have used a little more punch, a little more drama towards the end.

I give it an 8/10, probably not the kind of movie you'd want to watch at the cinema but definitely rent it if you get the chance.