Thursday, 14 May 2009

Angels and Demons - Review

Indiana Jones + Seven + Water downed 12A certificate =...

After an extremely promising start with Star Trek and Coraline last week, the blockbuster season continues with a movie filled with suspense, mystery, dodgy religious officials, ancient symbols and more plot twists than one's stomach may be able to handle, that's right its time for another Indiana Jo...oh wait no my bad it's his slightly more conserved counterpart, Robert Langdon played by everyone's favourite non offensive leading man Tom Hanks in Ron Howard's follow up to the dull and less than memorable 2006 adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons.

I might as well get this out of the way, when I ventured to go see this film I was preparing myself for the worst, yet another dull and depressing adaptation of Dan Brown's controversial thrillers however it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised. For those who are not aware, Angels and Demons is technically the prequel to the Da Vinci Code but not one to confuse viewers Ron Howard has lightly dropped hints that this film is in fact set after the events of the previous film, but that is frankly a minor detail in the over all story, setting this film as a completely separate entity away from the Da Vinci Code (and benefiting massively for it...). Without dropping spoilers, the general plot of the film revolves around the death of the latest Pope thus leaving the Catholic Church, in all their power and wisdom, resided to selecting a successor, of course this being a film and a high charged story things of course aren't that simple with an ancient enemy from the church's distant past re-emerging to inflict chaos upon its devoted followers in the form of the mysterious Illuminati, which in turn brings our hero into the equation once more to decifer clues and symbols to these mad men in hope of trying to save the day. One of the aspects of this movie I enjoyed compared to the last one was that it managed to capture the fast pace and thrilling intensity of the original story , instead of being confined to a couple of days this was set against essentially 24 hours forcing the protagonists to keep the pace of the story moving at an enjoyable brisk speed.

When the original movie was released I'll admit I didn't think Tom Hanks was best suited to the role of Langdon but having the opportunity to watch this movie has made me have a change of heart, as Hanks definitely feels a lot more comfortable in the role this time round, possibly unlike Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons had considerably less hype surrounding it, thus was able to concentrate on making an enjoyable murder mystery as oppose to a poor mish-mash of confusing clues that all seemingly forced themselves together to make a incoherent conclusion. Unlike the Da Vinci Code, A&D had a slightly less known cast but an extremely capable ensemble consisting of the talents of Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan SkarsgÄrd as well as a host of unfamiliar Italian and European talent that truly added to the quality of the film. On the whole I think Ron Howard did an excellent job with the direction of the film, providing some shockingly graphic scenes, pushing the limit within the 12A boundries and really getting to the heart of what makes Brown's books appealing, that sense of mystery and anticipation revealing just enough until the audience is ready to handle more of the plot twisting story. As well as the direction, the special effects when called upon were excellent, never looking cheap and nasty such as last month's Wolverine film with cinematography truly demonstrating the beauty and claustrophobic nature of a busy European city like Rome set to a high paced, epic, yet haunting score provided by one of my favourite film composers, the ever-capable Hans Zimmer

I shall not lie, though this was a much better adaptation than its predecessor, I don't feel its a film that I will want to watch over and over again like certain other films I have seen lately, in that respect I think we're still waiting for that all defining interpretation of Brown's work for the big screen, and maybe studio execs might want to re-evaluate whether Ron Howard is the right man for that particular job next time. That said however Angels and Demons is certainly an enjoyable way to spend two and a half hours invoking one's lust for adventure, mystery and suspense, even if it is factually up the cow's backside, in the same way that the Indiana Jones films have done in the past or even comparable to the murder mystery Seven with its religious undertones. I have no doubt in my mind that the adventures of Robert Langdon will continue on the big screen after this, but we haven't quite achieved the perfect adventure from him just yet.


See this if you liked...
The Da Vinci Code, Indiana Jones, Seven

Friday, 8 May 2009

Coraline & Star Trek Reviewed

Having been slightly behind on the reviewing over the past few weeks, I felt I owed it to myself and the few wonderful people who frequent the blog to review a double whammy of films this week. May is always a hit and miss month for myself, on the downside its the end of the year therefore the panic of exams and the sorrow had by people such as myself regarding the end of the football season for those 2 very long months (seriously) however on the upside it always marks the beginning of cinema's Summer blockbuster season which this shmuck is a real sucker for. The first of the day locating myself in Belfast's Movie House on the Dublin Road was...


It has been a long while since I have seen a movie billed as a "kids' film" that wasn't made by Disney or Pixar however an adaptation of one of my favourite stories written by one of my favourite authors was just too much to resist. Brought to us by the imaginary genius who has gave the world some truly colourful beautiful novels and comic books such as Stardust, Sandman, American Gods amongst many others, Neil Gaiman. Having already had previous work adapted for big screen such as last year's Summer fantasy romance adventure Stardust and helped pen the screenplay for the innovative (but highly over rated) Beowulf, the latest entry from Gaiman's collection of stories is the wonderful, darkly disturbing children's tale Coraline. When I originally heard about this being adapted I was worried that it would transfer horribly onto the big screen if it was a straight live action, so it was to my complete delight to discover that stop motion director Henry Selick took on the job (for those not in the know, the real man who brought us the Nightmare Before Christmas).

Gillian Reid 2009.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Coraline is about a young girl of the same name who is moved out to the middle of nowhere to an unusual house of apartments, ignored by her career driven parents and disturbed slightly by the twitchy boy next door Coraline finds herself alone and bored in an empty old house. That is until she finds a doorway that takes her to an alternate reality of magical wonder, with everything she ever dreamed could come true and a set of parents who give her undivided attention, however as you can imagine nothing is ever quite as it seems and there is an extremely dark agenda in the air, playing out like a really sinister version of Alice In Wonderland. Drawing cues from previous films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach, Coraline is a visually stunning animated movie creating the most magical of settings that would put fellow stop motion animator, Nick Park to shame. It takes a talented man to take a film aimed and marketed essentially at children and turn it on its head and truly give the adults a fright, with scenes involving mutated insect furniture, ghost children locked in room with nothing more than a rickety old bed and every living thing or person in the "other" world having simply sown on buttons as eyes invokes some truly chilling imagery. This is family horror at its best, the type of movie that will define films for a generation of kids under 12, just as films like The Witches,The Goonies and Dark Crystal did for me when I was around that age. Essentially a Pan's Labyrinth for young children. Maybe my only criticism among the execution of the tale (which in turn was a criticism I had with the original novel) is that we never get much insight into the evil that haunts the title character, nor exactly what it is, resulting in some shocking imagery that conjured up images of David Cronenberg's more gruesome work (which is never pleasant viewing in my books).

On the technically side however it was extremely hard to fault, being already familar with the original novel I felt Selick gave the audience an accurate and faithful adaptation that any fan of the story would be proud of to watch again and again with pride. Sometimes over looked in such a lush and visually beautiful film, the voice cast do an extremely commendable job with such big names as Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David, Ian McShane, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French providing their vocal talents. One of my absolute favourite elements of the film however was the score provided by a virtually unknown composer to me Bruno Coulais, the music to the opening sequence was frankly spell binding (as I download it while you read...) giving it a serious, beautiful tone that the likes of Danny Elfman would have failed to deliver in my opinion. Honestly I was really surprised by this movie, and considering it is hardly aimed at my age group I felt I witnessed a film that delivers vivid evocative imagery, dark disturbing undertones and enchanting storytelling, with a plot that doesn't dumb down at all for children nor too basic to exclude adults. If you are a parent taking a child to this film beware for some horrific fantastical scenes but you know what, sometimes that is OK, children need to experience these kind of films and give credit where it is due Selick delivers maturity in abundance. Coraline might not be the best film I will see this year that will cater to my own personal tastes but to any parents or fans of animation or fantasy, you would be hard pressed to find anything as completely wonderful as this. Now if someone would just have the balls to adapt Neil Gaiman's Sandman series or American Gods then we would be in business.....


See this if you like...
The Nightmare Before Christmas, James And The Giant Peach, Alice In Wonderland

After a quick break and a bite to eat, I forego the popcorn this time as I get my fanboy geek groove on for one of my most anticipated films of the year...

Star Trek

I shall not lie, when it comes to J.J. Abrams, I am not the biggest of fans. Besides his claustrophobic 2008 smash hit Cloverfield I absolutely detest his TV series, the highly over rated Lost and I thought his Mission:Impossible III was the worst of the bunch. However I can't help but respect the man for having the balls to reboot one of the biggest cult television franchises in history, god knows how many Trekkies in the world probably wanted his head on a spike when he recast the entire original crew, and completely changed and disregarded canon. Star Trek as even un-Trekkies would know is the about adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise, featuring Captain James T Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, Bones and Uhura as they save the galaxy time and time again from evil alien races looking to destroy everything within their sight. However not until now as there ever been a film about how they all met and became this infamous inspiring crew. Without spoiling the film too much, the story centres mainly around Kirk (played by virtual unknown, pretty boy Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachery Quinto aka Heroes evil-doer Sylar) as they grow up to become the men they are, with the time line slightly changed from previous events due to the visit of Eric Bana's sinister 24th Century time travelling Romulan, Nero out to destroy them both and all that is dear to them.

Unlike Coraline this is a film that involves picking apart the individual performances although I gotta be honest there was very little to complain or bitch about, all actors gave a fantastic account of themselves, and it was clear each of them gave a s**t for the monumental task of living up to their predecessors iconic performances, though Quinto and Pine performed and lead the film extremely well, the support performances from Karl Urban as Lenoard McCoy, Zoe Saldana as Uhura , John Cho and Anton Yelchin as Sulu and Chekov respectively as well as one of my favourite British actors Simon Pegg as Scotty, and all completely shone when it was required of them. All the characters had their part to play, and the writers did a brilliant job of using them sparingly. The only one that slightly suffered was Eric Bana, though a capable actor, you never really got the chance to experience the personal angst and torment of his character nor a real link to the film's protagonists in a way that past Star Trek villains such as Kahn did to Kirk in Star Trek II or the Borg Queen to Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. Onto the technical side of it I thought Abrams did a tremendous job of bringing Star Trek over into the mass audience market, obviously using cues and nods from the original TV series but adding his own mentality of changing Trek from a slow burning techno-babble drenched story into a fun-filled action adventure that I seriously believe would appeal to all Trekkies and general film goers alike. Without screaming blasphemy, you get the distinct impression Abrams added the "Star Wars" to Star Trek, with Pine's Kirk being just as much a nod to Han Solo as well as Shatner's original take. On the Trekkie side it was simply wonderful to see the great Lenord Nimoy reprise his role as Spock once again, with his on screen presence as epic as the lines he was given.

Was it flawless though? Frankly no, but I would say my criticisms are more nip picking for nip picking sake than general straight flaws, firstly, J.J if you are reading this (and I bet you are) seriously give the shaky cam and especially those f**king lens flares a rest, we get it, its your movie no need to keep reminding us every 5 minutes! Also though the story itself was pretty solid, and straight forward (for a time travel centric movie I was impressed in that respect), however you felt the film was taken away from you as it was only starting to truly get going, similar in a way to last year's Summer blockbuster Iron Man or 2005's Batman Begins, this was very much an origin film as is the current trend in Hollywood at the minute. However due to this you know instantly that the already planned sequel will be a must see now that the crew are all together and in their famous positions onboard the iconic ship. Star Trek will probably annoy die hard fans for some reason or another, but from a casual fan's point of view I felt the writers and director sparked a beautiful balance to seriousness with the light hearted moments that (some people tend to forget) were also associated with the original television series, similar to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman's 2007 epic special effects extravaganza Transformers (and I'm sure it will be the same for their highly anticipated sequel released next month). On the subject of special effects, the team do a fantastic job bringing the universe of Star Trek to life on such a grand and epic scale, not only making the Enterprise and Nero's intimidating time travelling shop to life, but bringing back some unique aliens that have been missing from the memory banks of Star Trek lore, one scene in particluar involving Kirk being chased by some monsterous beast reminds one of Abrams, Cloverfield project from last year. Fant-vulcan'-tastic (couldn't resist)! To round up, it was refreshing to see Star Trek was still able to boldly go where the franchise hasn't had the chance to go before or at least for a very long time, clearly showing (possibly to some people's distress) that there's life in this 43 year old franchise yet. Take note lads, get The Borg and/or Klingons for movie number two!!


See this if you like...
All even numbered Star Trek movies.

Star Trek and Coraline are both out now! Let the Summer Blockbuster Season begin!


If anyone out there missed the Belfast Film Festival's showing of Synecdoche, New York it has now been officially released on UK shores! Check out my review of it back in April incase you missed it the first time, a complete triumph in modern film making! Only one of two films to get a full 5/5 from me so far in 2009...