Which story do you believe? – Life of Pi

Life of Pi - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Life of Pi – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee
Writers: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Adil Hussain

It is a difficult task to turn a novel into a film, especially one that is burdened by a heavy philosophical investigations. As most critics would attest to Ang Lee’s genius in creating absolutely stunning films I will simply say in that regard that he has once again gone above and beyond the high expectations I set for brilliant directors. What is even more brilliant about this film is how it allows philosophical ideas about faith and religion to be discussed in strategic and carefully plotted ways so as to both bring the subject to light as well as telling an incredible narrative. Ang Lee and David Magee have, together, hit the perfect balance of narrative and philosophy in Life of Pi. The gorgeous cinematic scenes along with a heartwarming story of survival and the discovery of faith is all combined together to make a film that is enjoyable and surprising. The story of a boy and a tiger on a small boat in the middle of the ocean is always bound to be exciting. What could go wrong with a hungry tiger on a raft with a boy to help keep him alive? And who is going to believe your story if you really do survive?

The passion of this film stems from Suraj Sharma’s performance. He has a heartwarming and grounded nature that makes the adventure feel all the more real. It is a fun ride and there are surprising moments in amongst the narrative and the power of the story comes from knowing where it ends before it even starts. It is a beautiful cinematic experience that can be enjoyed by all the family and will rock you back on forth on the waves of emotion as Pi discovers the unique characteristic of humanity.

4/5

Hitting the right notes – Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Pitch Perfect – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Director: Jason Moore
Writers: Kay Cannon (screenplay), Mickey Rapkin (book)
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Rebel Wilson

There is something genuinely magnificent about a carefully crafted one-liner in my humble opinion. It should surprise you, make you burst out laughing, and be delivered with as much dryness as possible. Pitch Perfect has just the right amount of one-liners to make this film a great comedy. Yes the stereotypes are strong and the humour can be blatantly obvious at points, but this makes it all the better in my mind. The comedy in Pitch Perfect is both funny and makes fun of itself in clever ways. It doesn’t ruin the narrative flow but in fact enhances it.

Pitch Perfect is the tale of Beca (Anna Kendrick), an alternative chick, DJ-wannabe, who is misunderstood by her father and is mostly friendless. That is until she is forced to join the all-girl acapella group. Forced to try out by the very forward Chloe (Brittany Snow), she comes into the group which is already going through a period of transition. The group is being controlled by the high-strung Aubrey (Anna Camp) who is on a mission to win nationals but she is a traditionalist and a perfectionist which does not suit Beca’s alternative and creative ways. Beca tries to both change the groups style, as well as trying to stay of Aubrey’s good side. It plays out as you would expect, the whole film does as well, with bits of surprises along the way, but it works. The thing about films like this is that if they stick, more or less, to the formula, then they will be entertaining. It is the way the more or less is challenged that either makes or breaks a film like this. It is the difference between a A-grade film and an B-grade film. Pitch Perfect hits the harmonies of formula and classy comedy in the right key. It is definitely the minor characters of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and Benji (Ben Platt) that make this film fantastic. Never underestimate the power of a great supporting cast, they will and do steal the scenes and make the film better.

4/5

Who Am I? – Les Miserables

Les Misérables - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Les Misérables – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Claude-Michel Schönberg (book) & Alain Boublil (book) & Victor Hugo (novel) & Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics) & Alain Boublil (original: French text) & Jean-Marc Natel (original: French text) & James Fenton (additional text) & William Nicholson (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway

I have always loved musicals. I grew up watching Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, etc, and loved everyone of them, good and bad. My favourite film is Singin’ In The Rain and will continue to be until my life’s end. I say that in order to justify my instant love of Les Misérables. I have never seen it on stage but I have had friends in the past who have raved about it.  I now understand why.

Although there are parts of the film which could be improved, *cough Russell Crowe cough*, the musical is adapted onto film brilliantly. It has a raw and gritty quality to it which makes the story feel real and grounded in history. The music is beautiful and the integration of story-telling with the music is seamless. Hugh Jackman does a great job of Jean Valjean and really carries the film and us with him on the journey of his hard life. However, the kids in the film are what really make it for me. Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) and Isabelle Allen (young Cosette) are incredible little talents. They come alive on screen and steal every scene they are in, especially Daniel.

The best thing about this film is that it has real heart. I cried, nay, I sobbed as Eddie Redmayne sang about how his friends would never sing again. Oh my gosh did I sob! Every moment was breathtaking and heartbreaking and heartwarming and oh just everything! It wasn’t that this was a brilliant film, or a brilliant musical, but it is a great story, well told, and in a lot of ways that is what films should be, even musicals.

4/5

See it in 3D – The Hobbit

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Phillipa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), JRR Tolkien (story)
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis.

When the Lord of The Rings films first came out ten years ago they really blew me away as the first epic adventure film that I had seen on the big screen. I still remember sitting through them, watching Legolas swing around that horse and climb up the oliphaunt and shot an arrow through its head. It was an adventure story and wondrous to behold on the big screen. However, in the opening scenes of The Hobbit my jaw dropped as the landscape and action came alive on the screen. Seeing this film in 3D is essential. Mainly because the story is padded out so much that there are moments when you can sit back and enjoy the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, sure the story of the Hobbit is great, but three films is a little excessive.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gives the back story to Bilbo Baggins. It is Bilbo’s story, but Jackson and his co-creators decided that they needed to give it context within the Lord of The Rings films, this is so very unnecessary even though I love seeing Elijah Wood as Frodo again. The story of Bilbo is exciting and adventurous in the book, and Jackson has brought it to life visually, but instead of making it fast paced and exciting like we are now used to, he has slowed the pace in between the big action scenes. I’m really not sure whether them stretching the short novel out into three movies is a good thing or it will just be laborious when it comes to the end of the third film but I have very mixed feelings about this first installment. I both enjoyed the ride and the visuals but also felt the length of the film and knowing there are another two to come over the next few years gave me a sense of tedium as I sat through the last half hour. The Hobbit as a story is meant to be a tale of adventure and discovery of what it means to belong for children but it hasn’t been treated this way and it loses it’s childish charm in a lot of ways because of the slowness of the telling of the film. Martin Freeman is brilliant, as is the rest of the cast, but all in all Jackson should have gone back to Tolkien’s original ideal in The Hobbit rather than trying to make it The Lord Of The Rings again. Jackson has overlooked the difference in Tolkien’s writing and purpose from The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.

3/5

Hope, Wonder, Fun, Delight – Rise of the Guardians

Rise Of The Guardians - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Rise Of The Guardians – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Director: Peter Ramsey
Writers: David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), William Joyce (book)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin and Isla Fisher

There is something wonderful about children’s films. They are delightful to get swept up in, especially when they are good. Rise Of The Guardians is a joy to watch. It’s not the best animated film ever but it has everything it needs to make you smile and laugh as well as teach you lessons about what is good to believe in. The morals infused in every character are at the forefront of this story as we travel with Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine) as he discovers who he truly is and why he is chosen to be a guardian of the children of the world.

Jack joins North (Santa, voiced by Alec Baldwin), Tooth (The Tooth Fairy, voiced by Isla Fisher), Sandman (not voiced, but wonderfully animated!), and Bunny (The Easter Bunny, voiced by Hugh Jackman), as they battle Pitch (The Boogeyman, voiced by Jude Law) who has taken it upon himself to torture and torment children with fear and nightmares. There is a great narrative progression through this film and it throws you around through the tunnels of children’s belief and their determination to believe in the core of each of these folklores. It is uplifting and cheery and has some great characters, although a little underdeveloped for my liking.

With Christmas creeping up incredibly quickly this is a great film for the family to see together as it refocuses both children and parents on what the festive seasons we celebrate in western culture represent. The wonder and delight of children are what we really aim for at Christmas, but we also love to reawaken that childish fun in ourselves over the Christmas and New Year period. Rise of The Guardians is not just a Christmas film but it certainly does hold all those little goodies that make Christmas movies so great and what make children films so beautiful.

3.7/5

Swing, batter, batter, yawn – Trouble With The Curve

Trouble With The Curve – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Trouble With The Curve (2012)

Director: Robert Lorenz
Writer: Randy Brown
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman

You would think that after starring in and directing some of the most acclaimed films of the last few decades, Clint Eastwood would be able to tell whether or not a movie was worth making or not. There are dozens of sports films out there, there are dozens of romcoms and dramas out there, and as I step into another film that I haven’t really heard of I hear myself asking “Is it really necessary that we have another one enter the world?”

The thing with RomComs and Dramas is that each one, although it may be formulaic and predictable, will appeal to its audience members in different ways. Trouble With The Curve is a story of an old hat baseball scout who is trying to stay in the game whilst his eyesight is failing and his bosses try and squeeze him out. Gus (Clint Eastwood) is joined by his daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), on a last hurrah as a baseball scout before his eyes go. Their relationship is rocky to say the least. Mickey is a hotshot lawyer but has mountains of daddy issues and really just wants to do what he does. Their relationship is strained and their communication skills need serious work. But it’s a sweet kind of relationship that forms over the film, as you know it will. And it is the predictability of this film that makes it feel longer than it actually is. It is sweet at points and you do come to like the characters enough to want the happy ending for them, but you know from the opening moments of the film that it is approaching and it takes a lot of energy to care about the characters when you know their problems will be gone in an hours time.

John Goodman provides a stand out supporting role as always and Matthew Lillard, although he plays an incredible annoying and dislikable character, does it splendidly and so must be commended on making his audience hate him. Amy Adams plays a wonderfully strong female character which I love but is pushed down somewhat by the forced love interest of Justin Timberlake. Timberlake may be an okay actor but I felt the love interest was commercial and crowd appeasing more than anything else.

2.5/5

Shot In The Dark – Red Dawn 2012

Red Dawn – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Red Dawn (2012)

Director: Dan Bradley
Writers: Carl Ellsworth (screenplay) and Jeremy Passmore (screenplay), Kevin Reynolds (1984 screenplay) and John Milius (1984 screenplay), Kevin Reynolds (story)
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas and Josh Hutcherson

When people take a movie to mean something completely different to what is portrayed in the film it really gets under my skin. Red Dawn has gotten a lot of flack because it has apparently incited racism in people (see this post). But the movie itself isn’t racist at all in my humble opinion. I think maybe it’s because I come from a generation where Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden was my favourite book series and the enemy isn’t described much at all I was never really cultured to be racist. It made me want to learn how to shoot straight and drive a manual car, but not to kill someone because of their race. However, apparently people are racist rather than actually understanding Red Dawn’s deliberate move to make it about political ventures rather than racism. Race is not the main theme of this film and anyone that comes out of the cinema making racist remarks incited from the film was racist to begin with and is just pulling at strings to justify their own racism.

The film takes place in our world, our time, with present day issues informing its setting. And like its original, the main “threat” to modern day America is those who would take down Capitalist America. The corruption of modern day America and Capitalism are the objects of the enemies fight, not the American people as such. The film is well constructed and the narrative flows well and keeps you entertained the entire way through. The acting is a little flimsy at points, especially when grand speeches are being made by the teens. All in all it was a fun ride and had a few surprises along the way. Red Dawn is an intense and deliberately fast paced movie, especially in comparison with the original. There was nothing about this film that made it stand out or made it the big remake that it should have been. The action is explosive but same-same.

I don’t know how people have come away feeling so mad at the North Korean characters, I feel angrier at the adults that don’t take a stand and wait for a few kids to take the charge than at the “enemy forces”. Also, unlike Tomorrow When The War Began, I don’t find the invasion of America believable. The fact that most Americans have ample weaponry in their homes makes me think from the get go: “Why don’t they just pull out their shot guns and shoot the closest invader?” But no one does that, which I find to just be bizarre for a country that is so trigger happy and insists on the right to bear arms to defend themselves. But hey, I’m an Aussie, what would I know, I’m not prepared for an invasion either.

2.8/5

For the woman he truly loves – Skyfall

Skyfall - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Skyfall – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Skyfall (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, and Ian Fleming (characters)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris

From the opening moments of this James Bond film you know it will be filled with everything that makes a Bond film great. There are the typical cheesy Bond moments of the classy casino, the car/motorbike chase, the Bond girl, and Bond kicking arse all around and surviving against the odds, and his one-liner wit. But you also see another side of Bond. The scriptwriters and Daniel Craig have given us better version of the rough-edged Bond you see in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. He isn’t the slick, nothing-ruffles-my-hair Bond of the Bronson or Connery age. He is a rugged and beaten up Bond. And in a lot of ways Daniel Craig has given James Bond a humanity that you don’t really see in the older films. The producers were on the right track when they convinced him to take the part. Daniel Craig looks sexy even as a beaten up alcoholic who comes back to life to save the woman he truly loves. I mean you can’t beat that.

The one thing that shouldn’t have surprised me but did was that Skyfall is a beautiful film. Sam Mendes has made an absolutely stunning film to watch. Every shot is gorgeous, and not just because Daniel Craig is in the shot. You can watch the music video for Adele’s Skyfall and see how visually brilliant they have made this film, but you don’t get the full effect unless you are sitting in a dark cinema with the full scale picture. I have no words for how delightful this film is to watch. It goes without saying that Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and the rest of the cast are brilliant but they have really stepped up the quality of this franchise all around.

I have to admit, I did take a moment during one of the slower parts of the film to work out whether my incredibly high expectations were making me love the film, or if it was just that I loved all Bond films – I even love Moonraker – or whether Skyfall was just a really good film. What was the conclusion I came to? It is an excellent film. From everything from the story to the actors to the justification for the fight scenes, everything fits together to make Skyfall a great film on its own. Even if you didn’t know anything about Bond you could still enjoy this film and appreciate it for a good action film. I don’t want to give anything away but there are some great hark backs to old Bond films that make this film a Bond fans delight.

Go and enjoy the fall.

4/5

Rookie, are you ready? – Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Dredd 3D – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Dredd 3D (2012)

Director: Pete Travis
Writers: Carlos Ezquerra (characters), Alex Garland (screenplay), and John Wagner (characters)
Stars: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey

There is something to be said for knowing what a film is about before stepping into the cinema. I made the rookie error of going to see a film without realising its history, even though I knew it had one. Even knowing the original starred Sylvester Stallone didn’t stop me or make me think twice. I just thought it would be like other action films I’d seen. Apparently there is a large difference between M15+ films and MA15+ films.

From the opening moments of the film I realised that I wasn’t going to like this film as much as I’d hoped. I think I’ve been spoilt by seeing clever action films. Christopher Nolan, Tony Gilroy, Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott have something to answer for with their clever camera work and screenplays. I was not ready for the amount of visual violence. I was not ready for how much violence would be shown in great detail. It was sensory but senseless. I had to force myself to stay in the cinema at one point because I was not going to let my money go to waste. I am usually okay with violence on film, one of my all-time favourite films is Fight Club and I grew up watching action films with my older brother, but this was a whole other level of violence for me. I think it was that it wasn’t just alluded to but you are shown in detail the violence, death, and torture of the characters. The camera reveals the awfulness of violence so extensively throughout the entire film. The use of slow motion and 3D heightens the visuals and shows the audience the violence explicitly.

The storyline is thin, the characters are underdeveloped and it seems that the main point to the film is to have Judge Dredd sentence one person to death but in the meantime get everyone else killed. It doesn’t really make sense to me that this would be a film that appeals to a wide audience nor a cult following, however I am informed that my suspicions are wrong and that this is actually a big deal in the action film world. I don’t rate it highly. It’s indelicate and unsightly. It’s full of one-liners that are delivered with such seriousness that it made me laugh (I’m not sure if I was meant to laugh or not…).

I wouldn’t recommend seeing Dredd 3D. The only thing that is worth seeing it for is its use of 3D. They have used 3D the way that I’ve wanted a film to use it – I may have ducked at one point to avoid being splattered by blood, yes it sounds as disgusting as it was but I appreciate them making the experience immersive to some degree. I just wish it wasn’t this film that made me like slow-motion and 3D again. It was cleverly filmed if nothing else.

2/5

Laugh or Avert? – Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Killing Them Softly – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Director: Andrew Dominik
Writers: Andrew Dominik (screenplay), George V. Higgins (novel)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta and Richard Jenkins

There is something both beautiful and terrible about this film. It shows violence in both beautiful and awful ways, sometimes at the same instance, such that you end up both wanting to look but cringing at the scene at the same time. It is a split-second reaction of awe and disgust which gives this film it’s cred. You have the high profile actors, the well plotted storyline and the brilliant and non-Hollywood-style director, but it isn’t a film I would recommend for non-film-buff friends.

I’m going to be a little negative about the film now, but hear me first say that this is a good film, well crafted and executed, with many positives.

I had spoken to one of my film critic friends about the movie before going to see it and he mentioned that he thought that the violence wasn’t glorified like it is in some Hollywood blockbusters. I think he is both right and wrong here. There are a lot of slow motion moments in the film and moments where lighting and effects are used to replicate a drug-induced haze, which is fine and clever, but it makes the whole world they live in a bit of a fairy-tale. It brings the awfulness of drugs to the forefront and makes the violence look pretty and controlled. The chaos comes through the drugs but the clarity comes through the violence, which isn’t the best message to be sending out into the minds of people.

Then there is the background noise of the economic downturn in America with constant chatter of televisions and radios broadcasting Bush and Obama’s political speeches surrounding economic issues. To be honest it could have been a little less obnoxious. It becomes such loud background noise that it gets in your face at times and I found it to be a little punishing on the narrative and action of the film. I know they were trying to make a statement about how the economy falling effected everyone, but it wasn’t done in a way they made it seamless with the film, it stood out too obviously. There were moments in the film which I really enjoyed but then they would be ruined by some TV or radio chatter of Obama or Bush talking about how awful the economy in the US was doing and how strong the American people were. It was irritating.

There are three things worth seeing this film for:
1. Brad Pitt, of course;
2. The shooting/car scene with Pitt and Liotta, it is incredible and extremely impressive;
3. The humour in this film is minimalistic and giggle-out-loud, it’s very understated but is also hilarious.

Rating: 3/5