Sunday, 31 July 2011

REVIEW: Captain America The First Avenger

Dir.: Joe Johnston
With: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving

I am so tempted not to write anything apart from “it’s shit”.

But I guess I’m feeling disciplined right now so I’ll elaborate on the statement above. “Captain America” was literally the dullest thing I have seen in years. I didn’t think that something this big, seemingly thought-out and expensive could ever be so unbelievably boring. It lacks wholesomeness, unity and flare. It takes itself way too seriously and the plot is completely disjointed.

Chris Evans seemed to be uncomfortable in his leotard, the CGI in the beginning of the film where he is supposed to have a 12-year-old boy’s body was very unconvincing. He was so much better as The Human Torch in "Fantastic Four". The battle scenes were needlessly over-dramatised; the main baddie, played by Hugo Weaving, was laughable in his terrible red latex mask. There was absolutely no chemistry between Captain America and his love interest, even I could probably fake more affection towards a coat hanger.

It was also remarkably cliché and lacked any soul. Most of the scenes were pastiches from other superhero or action films and the movie failed to engage me completely. It just ticked boxes like ‘big explosion’, ‘main hero looks on with a furrowed brow’, ‘the baddie has an evil laugh’. It kind of reminds me of a typical power point presentation with bullet points – see, here is the hero saying something inspirational, here he is rooting for the underdog…you get the picture. On a more personal note, I find that 3D films discriminate against people who wear glasses. My nose is not long enough to support two pairs at the same time.

All in all, I cannot believe I wasted two hours of my life on this miserable failure of a film.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

REVIEW: The Beginners

Dir.:Mike Mills
With: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent & Cosmo, the dog

My goodness me. I just realised that my student card is expiring in three days! Looks like I’ll be moving into the cinema until Monday to really relish saving those two extra pounds, or whatever it is these days, on cinema tickets. On top of that, I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties in July (although I’ve had by far the most views this month, must be all down to the Harry Potter review), so I’ll try and get back into the swing of things. This might prove to be rather difficult to carry out since there isn’t much out there I’d like to see…again, all Potter’s fault.

I wasn’t really that interested in watching “The Beginners” until someone said that it was like the male version of “Amelie”. Being the gullible little girl that I sometimes am, I got rather excited. And you know what, it wasn’t bad at all, although “Amelie” it most certainly is not. The story goes thusly – Ewan McGregor plays a 38-year-old graphic designer from LA whose recently widowed father comes out to him. After embracing his new lifestyle, the father, wonderfully portrayed by Christopher Plummer, is diagnosed with stage-four cancer and eventually passes away. McGregor’s character tries to deal with his loss via reminiscing about his childhood and the conversations he used to have with his father. He also inherits his dog, a Jack Russel called Arthur and meets a French girl who he, unavoidably, falls for.

The film is your typical quirky romance/drama with some humour, slightly pretentious camerawork, offbeat relationships and a confused central character. The plot sags in the middle, like a rope bridge, and the work as a whole reminds me of a chick that almost got out of its eggshell but died, half concealed. It could have been so much more and tried to address many complex themes but failed to do so justly. It is needlessly long and suffers from the usual cliché – this being a white American dude rescued by a tousled-haired French maiden (see “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset” etc, etc, etc).   

What saves the movie is the well-chosen cast. Christopher Plummer shines as the elderly homosexual gentleman, who lead a pleasant enough life in the closet and finally decides that he owes himself some true happiness. His thirst for life at the age of 75 is really quite endearing despite its comedy value. Ewan McGregor is evidently very comfortable in his role – sensitive, artistic soul who suffers from a prolonged solitude and is bound to make himself unhappy. His constant lack of initiative and the tiresome search for the cause of his predicament is slightly irritating, to be perfectly honest. You almost want to shake him and scream “WAKE UP!” But, once again, McGregor is good at playing a harmless, self-reflecting fool.

The French actress, Melanie Laurent, is nice to look at but she does not create anything out of the ordinary and sticks to the safest stereotype of what a free-spirited French girl must be like. Will it work out between the recently bereaved designer and her? It’s for you to find out :-)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Dir.: David Yates
With: Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes

Who knew that on that summer’s day, 12 years ago when I went to look for something new to read in a little bookstore near my grandmother’s house, my reading habits would be defined for the next decade. I’ve picked up a random hardback I’d never heard of before entitled “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. On that day I’ve learnt what true fandom meant. The wonderful world created by Ms Rowling was so encompassing that I, having just turned eleven like Harry and gotten a pair of spectacles, began to half-expect a letter from Hogwarts. Sadly, it never came. So, in those pre-internet days, I’ve scoured through pages and pages of newspapers and magazines in search of any information on Harry Potter. I remember obsessively waiting for the new books to come out, getting really disappointed by some of the characters and absolutely adoring others. Gosh, the number of family holidays I’ve spoilt by becoming non-communicative until I’d finished a new volume… Ah, those were the days. And then came the films. I detested the first two, quite liked the third, snored through the fourth, fifth and the sixth and semi-enjoyed the seventh. Finally, I was thoroughly satisfied by the eighth film.

WARNING: SPOILERS! If you have no idea what happened in the last book, do not read on.

The new movie can be split into several thematic parts: Gringotts, battle at Hogwarts, Snape’s revelation, Harry’s death, the climax and ‘19 years later’. I really liked the first part, the whole break-in into the bank sequence was brilliantly macabre and reminded me strongly of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” in its décor and mad absurdity. The battle was a bit of a downer – I feel that epic fights between fantastic creatures should be left to Peter Jackson and Peter Jackson alone. Snape’s moment of glory was just…unbelievably good. I am not saying this just because he was and remains my favourite character; Alan Rickman has done a tremendous job portraying the aloof, seemingly unemotional man with a rich soul and gnawing inner turmoil. Here especially, he elevated his level of acting to completely new heights, there was something almost Shakespearean in the magnitude and drama of his secret second life. Our first glimpse of him on top of a tower, hovering in his long, black, Grim Reaper-like robe, is a definite bad omen from the start. Snape’s murder by Nagini is perhaps one of the scariest moments in the film and his last gift of memories to Harry was heartbreaking. Seeing his usually expressionless face contort with grief made me and everyone in the ten-meter radius sob like complete sissies. 

The waterworks continued with Harry’s realisation of what he had to do. Once he sacrificed himself and then came back to life, the tone of the film changed slightly. The climactic face-off between Harry and Voldemort did not seem as epic as it was in the book, although the brief moment when the two wizards’ faces were superimposed onto each other was a nice little touch, just reminding us how intertwined and similar their fates were, only that one of them used his gifts for the good and the other for evil. It was also a good decision to make all other characters, apart from Snape, peripheral to the storyline. Ron and Hermione had a few moments in the movie, as did various teachers and students, but overall, Harry and Voldemort shared the most onscreen time. Ralph Fiennes was superb in this film. I always thought that he did not take his job as You-Know-Who very seriously and looked more like a freaky scarecrow than anything else. This time round he was full on. It was amazing how he managed to bring out Voldemort’s humanity and vulnerability through the thick prosthetics and CGI. You really felt that this deformed man was just Tom Riddle who simply made too many bad choices in life. Daniel Radcliffe was also surprisingly on top form; his acting has clearly evolved in the past few years. He could hold his own opposite Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman and definitely outshone Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

The so-called epilogue was a bit cheesy and quite funny, Ron cut the most believable middle-aged figure with a double chin and a beer belly; poor Hermione indeed.

The film is well-paced, full of suspense and has many great moments. Editing was professionally done, I am sure those who haven’t read the books would not be confused by the plot. It generally stayed true to the book, but there were also a couple of discrepancies that I thought weren’t necessary. The tone of the movie is very bittersweet, underlining how much the characters have grown, as have their audiences. This is the end of an era indeed, an era called childhood and it is time for us to say goodbye to Harry Potter, the boy who lived.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

By David Mitchell

I realised that this is only the second book review I've produced since I started the blog. This doesn't mean that I've only read two books in the meantime (I've read 3!))) but rather that these two books seemed like worthy enough candidates to share with my readers. 'Jacob De Zoet' has been on my reading list for quite a while now - it was one of the best novels of 2010 according to The Guardian. Its author, David Mitchell is quite a renowned writer with several literary awards and nominations. However, it was not these titles that attracted me to this novel but its back cover. "The year is 1799, the place is Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor..." I have always been a huge fan of the adventure genre in literature, my favourites being "The Treasure Island", "Robinson Crusoe" and all the works by Dumas. "Jacob De Zoet" evokes exactly that spirit of the days long gone when swashbuckling seadogs were at large, each man was for himself and gallantry and true friendship were hard to come by. David Mitchell achieved the titanic task of creating a modern novel that reads like a classic.

His storytelling style, language and characters keep well within the boundaries of the genre, are colourful and delicious. The exotic location of 18th century Japan creates a romantic and slightly alien atmosphere where myths are intertwined with intrigues. If I had to describe the novel in one word, that word would be 'fragrant' - the book is full of smell descriptions; there is the freshness of the sea, the rotting excrements on the street, the sweat of the covered up Dutch and the burning incense of Japanese temples. Mitchell grabs your attention from the word go - the book opens with an extremely detailed account of a stillbirth. My friends, I literally had to put the book down and persuade myself not to throw up. There are quite a few unsavoury moments like that in the novel and they add massively to its authentic feel.

The eponymous protagonist is someone who is first presented as a young, naïve and inexperienced goody-two-shoes; his personal growth and inner qualities reveal themselves as his life on Dejima turns into a whirlwind of tragedy, farce and action. The main villain is slightly caricaturesque but then so are his misdeeds, chilling as they might appear to some readers. The narrative switches between several characters, so we are allowed a glimpse into the inner workings of several minds. I was particularly impressed with the novel's ending. But I obviously cannot say much about it for fear of spoiling it in case you'd like to read it. All I can say is that it was the perfect ending if only a tad too melancholic.