REVIEW – Cowboys & Aliens

Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Yes! A great combo of past and future
No! Poor character development

Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of the desert with no memory and a macguffin on his wrist. Arriving in a town, he encounters Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford), the man who put a bounty on his head, and Ella (Wilde), a mysterious woman who is very interested in his wrist accessory. Suddenly, the small mining town is struck by alien abductors and a motley crew ventures out to find their kidnapped kin.

It should have been an unstoppable combination – James Bond, Han Solo/Indiana Jones, the director of Iron Man, and Stephen frickin’ Spielberg keeping at all together.

Considering the mind-blowingness implied with that team, it was disappointing.

But considering Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex, it was amazing. It’s a scifi Western actually worth watching.

It’s mostly an action film, of course, with humans scrapping with one another before even getting involved with aliens. The focus on action and ass-kicking made the emotional aspects seem awkwardly tacked on.

The out-of-the-blue emotion could, of course, be harking back to the spaghetti westerns of old that didn’t have the same emotional arcs like those we’ve become accustomed to, with more being implied than overtly expressed.

At times it felt like a PG13 Deadwood (with aliens), and I blame that on the presence of Keith Carradine. But even though it lacked the cussing and sex of the HBO show, it didn’t feel like a silly, childish ideal of the wild west. It was still dirty and lawless.

Despite the gratuitous pouting, the actors are fun to watch. And a gruff-voiced Ford was well cast.

It’s not as good as other blockbusters released recently, like Captain America, Super 8 and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but if you’ve seen all those already, this one is worth a watch.

REVIEW – Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Emma Stone, Julianne Moore
Yes! A shirtless Ryan Gosling
No! Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are underused

After Cal Weaver’s (Carell) wife Emily (Moore) leaves him, he seeks Jacob’s (Gosling) help to become better at attracting women. While transforming Cal, Jacob, the perpetual playboy, finds himself falling for quirky Hannah (Stone).

As far as romcoms go, I enjoyed this one. Maybe I’m biased because I like all the actors, but I had fun. It’s not as saccharine and goofy as many romantic comedies, and it shows love in three stages of the average person’s life: the adolescent first love, the young adult first real love, and the middle aged complacent love.

It is, essentially, three love stories intertwined with one another, creating the kind of coincidence storm that is only ever found in movies like this. Without fate’s fickle fingers, many a romcom would be out of luck.
All the actors play roles typical to them. Except Gosling, who has been playing pensive indie characters lately, so it’s odd (but refreshing) to see him dial up the charm and show off his abs.

 

Steve Carrell plays his usual schlub, adding humour where he can. The throwaway dialogue and banter is, like most comedies these days, the source of most of the film’s humour.

 

Emma Stone plays her usual delightful self, the awkward but adorable girl-next-door, and Julianne Moore plays a frustrated wife. None of the characters have an extraordinary amount of depth, but hey. What were you expecting?

 

Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon are great in their roles, too big to be a cameo, too small to do them justice. One surprisingly great performance was Josh Groban (okay, that was small enough to be a cameo), as a cheerful and oblivious boyfriend.

 

If you enjoy romantic comedies, but are sick of the kind where the male and female leads are back-to-back on the poster, check this one out.

REVIEW – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Rupert Wyatt
Cast: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow and the world’s most famous motion capture actor, Andy Serkis
Yes! Emotion and action without being cheesy, effects
No! Does it count as a happy ending?

Scientist Will Rodman (Franco) is looking for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, to help his ailing father Charles (Lithgow). After trouble at the lab, he encounters a baby chimpanzee whose mother received the drug in trials and the mind-improving chemicals have been transferred to him, Caesar (Serkis). With help from zoo vet Caroline (Pinto), the scientist takes care of the chimp. Until trouble strikes.

The film starts off as a heart-warming tale of a man and the cutest damn CGI chimpanzee ever. Well, the chimp is really more like a child; there are many moments that remind a viewer of kids-and-animals movies from the 90s. With less cheese, of course.

Later, when trouble happens as a result of People Who Don’t Understand, the movie shifts to an action/drama.

I picked up a few references to the original – such as the Statue of Liberty and the line “get your stinking hands off me you damn dirty ape” – and there are bound to be lots I didn’t notice.

While watching the film, good as it was, all I could think of was: If this is a prequel, then this movie charts the beginning of the end of mankind. So, really, there would be no happy ending, regardless of how the movie itself actually finishes. For that reason, the film itself didn’t feel dark enough, given the future occurrences.

The acting was good, overall. James Franco and John Lithgow are always delightful to watch, the latter being the more compelling of the two in this. Freida Pinto, while stunningly beautiful, is not being used to her full potential. Her character is two-dimensional; she’s playing a role no more complex than the perfect woman there to support her man, and look worried now and then.

It was odd to see Tom Felton in a non-Harry Potter role, but he plays a bully in this too, so the scowl is ever-present.

The effects are… so impressive. In my opinion, it’s one of the more convincing uses of CGI. Serkis and the movie’s effects team would be the star of this one.

The story felt rather implausible in parts. I can suspend disbelief to accommodate a super intelligent ape that understands complex human concepts. I cannot believe this ape communicating effectively with less intelligent primates.

I’m also struggling to pinpoint the exact message here. Is it a cautionary tale against playing God? Or is it against animal testing? Is it telling us to treat animals as equals? Perhaps it cautions against discarding ethics for greed?

All in all, it’s a good blockbuster. There are a few funny moments, but it tries not to be too funny, or too emotional. Despite the content, it manages to not be sappy.

REVIEW – Super 8

Director: JJ Abrams
Cast: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Riley Griffiths, Kyle Chandler
Yes! A great coming-of-age adventure
No! May seem a little cheesy to some

At the cusp of the 1980s in a small Ohio town, a group of young teens (Courtney, Griffiths, Fanning, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso and Zach Mills) are making a zombie movie, when they witness a terrible train crash. While the air force is investigating the crash, strange things start happening around town.

I thought this movie was just fantastic. There has been a dearth of good coming-of-age movies lately. Most movies with teens these days try to be too clever for their own good, or too saccharine for any teen to identify with.

This is in the tradition of the great 80s adventure films, like The Goonies, or Stand By Me. (I realise those movies are quite different, but the comparison is valid).

The movie was produced by Spielberg and feels exactly like something he would have made in the 80s if he had access to 2011 special effects.

Using relatively unknown actors and “that guy”s definitely works in the movie’s favour, and the children’s acting was wonderful.

It’s both understated and a great action movie. The plot is not especially complex; it deals with themes we’ve seen a million times. But this film takes a simple theme and does it damn well, proving you don’t need a million plot twists and revelations to entertain an audience.

The clothing, environment and even the graininess of the film itself lends a lot to the atmosphere of the time period. The setting of the late 70s was perfect for this movie – a time when young teens were still mostly innocent. Also, the great Horror Movie Plot Destroyer, the cellphone, is irrelevant here.

Yes, it does have elements of horror. It also has elements of drama, science fiction and adventure. The movie is intense enough to keep adults interested, but still fun enough for tweens to teens.

For some who weren’t watching movies in the 80s, the movie might seem cheesy in parts. In my opinion, it’s just the right amount of cheese. Many of the characters (and their arcs) are stereotypical and cliched, but that doesn’t detract at all.

I’d definitely recommend this one.

REVIEW – Horrible Bosses

Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis
Yes! Jamie Foxx as [expletive] Jones
No! Predictable humour

Kurt, Dale and Chris all have… horrible bosses. Then, a little tipsy one night, the three of them joke about killing these bosses. The joke gets a little more serious, and predictable hijinks ensue.

Despite some hilarious moments, I just didn’t love this movie. There were some great jokes and some real laughs, but nothing truly memorably funny. I suppose I was hoping for an “Office Space”-esque victory for the little guy type movie. Instead, this is a screwball crime caper.

The humour in this film comes from two sources: awkward ad-lib banter and cheap shots. Alright, not quite as cheap as, say, bodily fluids or a character getting hit in the crotch, but many of the jokes were predictable.

And if you’ve seen the trailer, expect many of the best jokes to be ruined.

That said, the actors were good. Of the main trio, Sudeikis would be the weakest performance, but Bateman and Day were doing what they do best, and doing it well.

Colin Farrell’s crazy cokehead brought an interesting side to the actor, although it seems like the filmmakers didn’t really know what to do with him. They brought him in for some ridiculous one-liners, but the character’s potential wasn’t realised.

Kevin Spacey is always a delight, although this would definitely not go down as one of his better roles.

Jennifer Aniston’s dentist was not particularly badly acted, but also not one of her stronger performances.

The show-stealer would be Jamie Foxx as the badass murder consultant with an x-rated name. It’s worth it to watch the movie for the interactions between the trio, and their interactions with Foxx’s Jones.

Despite some troubling opinions on rape and sexual harassment, it’s an enjoyable comedy. But don’t expect to be blown away.

This review was also published on Pulp Online.

REVIEW – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes
Yes! Action and magic… a satisfying end
No! Some of the emotions feel misplaced

In the final part of the Harry Potter film series (octology?), Potter (Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Grint) and Hermione Granger (Watson) try to collect Voldemort’s (Fiennes) remaining horcruxes to finally end He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Going into the cinema to watch this final instalment was both sad and happy for me. I’ve enjoyed the series since tweenhood, and I’ve managed to see each of the movies in the cinema. This was the end. Truly the end.

The movie carries on right where the previous film ended, at the beach. If you can manage it, I’d recommend reading or watching the previous instalments, because I was a little lost at the beginning.

Potter’s conversation with Griphook near the start of the film is probably one of my favourite scenes in the movie, because Warwick Davis’ goblin was particularly well acted.

From the dialogue-heavy first few minutes, the intrepid trio then have intermittent bouts of action (a roller-coaster ride into Gringott’s) broken up by shots of Voldemort being evil and all the characters looking pensive.

I enjoyed the film a great deal, and the action did not disappoint, but some of the emotions were slightly off. Don’t get me wrong, there was emotion in spades, but the things that had me bawling like a baby in the book (Death! Love!) were rather meh in the movie. The emotion came from the general tension and the good-triumphs-over-evil. I definitely think a few more tears could have been milked out.

As the books grew increasingly darker, so did the films, and I’d suggest parents do some research about the film before letting little ones watch it. No nudity or cursing (well, not our Muggle cursing), but the violence and dark themes seemed quite intense for kids that just want some magic.

It’s definitely worth a watch, and has more action and tension than part one (see our review here), which felt like little more than build-up.

But, really, the deciding factor won’t be a review, it’ll be whether you’re committed to the series. If you’ve never seen/read Harry Potter, you’ll be lost; if you’ve seen/read them all, how can you not watch this one?

This review was originally posted on Pulp Online