Archive for August, 2011
Why do they insist on casting actors in roles that require them to do an accent? You can probably appreciate that an actor is in theory a blank canvas; a vessel through which the director channels his fancies and in this way, a performer’s native twang shouldn’t matter. But when they can’t manage to correctly mimic the accent it matters a lot. And if an actor’s looks matter, then so should the way they sound.
When the actor struggles to speak credibly in the prescribed voice, it is without fail insurmountably damaging to the entire film. And so it is with Anne Hathaway in One Day. We are supposed to believe that Hathaway is a humble Yorkshire lass, and while you can just about accept the Hollywood smile and model figure, it’s impossible to overcome her disastrous attempts to get the accent – making her distractingly and detrimentally unconvincing and unsympathetic.
Based on the best-selling novel by David Nicholls, One Day is billed as a faithful movie adaptation that doesn’t shy away from the book’s heartstring-tugging ending. It depicts the relationship between two friends – Dexter (Jim Sturgess) and Emma (Hathaway) – over the course of 20 years, from the awkward moment they first meet at graduation through their flirtings with romance until their eventual coming together, and all the things that happen to them in their lives in between. The film’s unique selling point is that it shows us all this by checking in on their friendship on the same date every year – 15th July, the anniversary of their meeting.
If Hathaway’s performance is hampered by her efforts to capture the northern accent, Sturgess’s is held back by his acting generally, while both are at pains to battle against an uninspired script, penned by the author himself. Sturgess tries too hard and subsequently comes across as a caricature that we don’t quite buy. Combined with a series of problematic vignettes of a relationship that doesn’t ring true as a result of contrived efforts to craft a sweet and touching portrait of a bond we only ever see developing once a year, the film struggles to win us over.
The film’s saving grace is its powerful ending – though it’s seriously let down by what’s gone before. While Sturgess finally gets to show his acting chops and make Dexter seem human, it’s just too little too late. Neither can the film be salvaged by Rafe Spall as Emma’s boyfriend Tim, in a sensitive, realistic and humour-heavy portrayal that makes him by far the viewer’s favourite character.
As the credits roll and you reflect on the film, you’ll feel disappointed that the raw, stirring finale is betrayed by everything you’ve seen up to this point. With more gravitas and less cliché, this could have been a Love Story for 2011.
With the dust just about settled on the poorly-received Planet of the Apes re-make Tim Burton did a few years back, 20th Century Fox has seen fit to totally re-boot the franchise (the original Planet of the Apes gave birth to a progeny of no less than four sequels).
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the summer’s crop of high-budget, high-concept blockbusters – which usually require you to park your brain at the door and sit back to take in some meticulously- choreographed action, stunning special effects and not much more.
This film has those elements but it also has a really big heart, and a sad tone running through it that makes it impossible to watch without feeling moved, possibly to tears.
James Franco is Will Rodman, a scientist working on developing a vaccine to cure Alzheimer’s. It’s a cause close to his heart, since he lives with his beloved father (John Lithgow) who suffers from the disease. Will has tested his latest version on laboratory chimpanzees. One, named Bright Eyes, responds in unprecedented ways to the treatment – demonstrating an intelligence beyond her species. Will thinks he’s made a breakthrough. But when Bright Eyes behaves aggressively during a pivotal presentation to potential buyers for the drug, it scuppers the chances of investment, angering Rodman’s boss and rendering his work a waste of time.
When lab technician Franklin (Tyler Labine) discovers that Bright Eyes has in fact recently given birth, they realise that the aggression was actually her natural instinct kicking in to protect her baby. With the order out to put the chimps down, Will instead takes the baby home.
Almost immediately, Will realises that this chimp has inherited its mother’s enhanced intelligence. It falls to Will to raise the chimp at home. The years pass and a violent episode sees the chimp – who Will has named Caesar – taken away to a facility where he is badly treated. Desperate to be free of his primate prison, Caesar starts hatching a plan to escape – with devastating consequences.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a simple yet affecting tale of human ignorance and our fear of the unknown. As much as it waves a banner for animal rights, it also warns against our eagerness to tamper with nature.
While Caesar’s tale is heart-rending (you just want the little guy to find his place in the world, even though you know there’s no place – and no peace – for such a creature), there are elements in the film that damage the impact of his sorrowful story.
The villains of the piece are too black and white to be convincing, especially Harry Potter’s Tom Felton playing to type as Dodge Landon, the evil primate-centre worker. With little psychological motivation set up to explain his cruelty to the apes, he’s more pantomime villain than anything else and therefore difficult to take seriously.
This won’t stop you feeling total sympathy for Caesar’s plight, though. Caesar, played by motion capture performance specialist Andy Serkis, is nicely-realised on screen – the filming method is very effective at integrating CGI virtually seamlessly into the live action, meaning we’re rarely distracted by scenes involving animation that feel awkward.
Director Rupert Wyatt and the team of writers have done a commendable job of refreshing the popular series of films from the 60s and 70s and manage to consign Tim Burton’s effort to the backs of our minds. The tantalizing finale that runs as the credits begin to roll creates a palpable sense of anticipation for the next film, which on this evidence looks set to be a doozy.
Twists on the traditional western rarely do well, particularly when a director tampers with the genre itself – a genre precisely defined by its imagery and themes. When genre-melding steampunk flick Wild Wild West came out twelve years ago mixing the western with sci fi-fantasy, it flopped critically and commercially, as did the similarly difficult to categorise Jonah Hex.
Now, it could just be that both of these films were rubbish – or perhaps both were ahead of their time. Whatever, the clamour around Cowboys and Aliens suggests that people this time around seem to be prepared for and excited about this latest genre mash-up.
Why? Well, firstly, there’s the casting. Cowboys and Aliens unites James Bond (aka Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (aka Harrison Ford) on screen for the first time; a huge draw to movie fans. And, secondly, there’s the appointment of helmsman Jon Favreau. The man behind the über-successful Iron Man movies, Favreau is currently at the top of his game and height of his appeal.
Whatever the reasons behind such fervent anticipation, Cowboys and Aliens seems to have tapped into the current zeitgeist. Primarily an action movie, Cowboys and Aliens incorporates elements of science fiction and fantasy into a western setting. Based on a comic book, it’s a project that was first mooted several years ago and which has now finally seen all the elements fall into place allowing it to see the light of day, including the involvement of a stupendously talented bunch of filmmakers. Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Damon Lindelof (among other big names) are all attached in various producing and writing roles.
So what of the plot? When we first meet anti-hero Jake Lonergan (Craig), he’s battered and bloodied and alone in the middle of cowboy country with a strange, futuristic shackle clamped to his wrist. He’s abruptly set upon by a gang of hostile cowboys but as quick as you like, he demonstrates some fearsome fight skills and swiftly despatches his attackers.
Taking off on one of the horses, he pitches up at the town of Absolution, where lawlessness is rife. The veritable ‘man with no name’, amnesia sees him unable to remember his origins. Serious tensions are revealed between the town’s citizens, its lawmen and the man who controls it – rich cattleman Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford) – and just as conflicts come to a head, an alien invasion shakes everything up.
As the people of the Old West pull together to defend themselves from the hostile, technologically-advanced invaders, there are skirmishes and bloodshed, and it’s only through working together – and with the assistance of the mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) – that they can win out and start to rebuild their lives.
Though the film’s title suggests an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek action comedy in a similar vein to Iron Man, what you actually get is a film with a serious tone that’s light on dialogue and heavy on action. There’s none of the witty rapid-fire exchanges and monologues for which Favreau is known (think Robert Downey Jr in the Iron Man films and his self-penned indie hit Swingers). It’s traded instead for a new screen language. The story is in large part communicated visually through wordless action. This places a greater emphasis on individual shots, which become all the more important as tools for conveying meaning.
Favreau creates a rich film, replete with characters we’re so interested in we want to know more about them, as well as fascinating themes and subtexts and a convincingly-realised Western backdrop – and all despite its perceived position as an out-and-out actioner designed for brainless summer blockbuster success.
Craig is perfectly cast as the enigmatic stranger who walks into town to save the day. He smoulders with a James Bond swagger that is oh-so-appealing. And though Harrison Ford is relegated to a supporting role, he hits the right note as he riffs on his grumpy old man persona and proves he’s still able to kick butt with the best of ‘em, in spite of a literal handing-over of the Indiana Jones hat to Craig towards the end of the film.
While you might lament the loss of lightheartedness and irreverence that is present in Favreau’s other work, there are some thrilling action set pieces and inventively savage scenes that go a long way towards making up for their absence. Besides, who could fail to be hooked in by the prospect of Bond meets Indy on the big screen? Not me, that’s for sure…
First, he resurrected the phenomenon of must-see television with the unmissable TV series Lost that had fans discussing the latest episode’s events over the watercooler at work (as well as on social networking sites and online forums). Then he overhauled the original camp 1970s science fiction series Star Trek to bring it bang up to date with lashings of contemporary cool all wrapped up in a big budget movie experience worthy of the kudos heaped upon it.
And now J.J. Abrams has attempted to recapture the feel of the films we loved as kids in the 1980s with Super 8, which echoes all the childhood favourites of a generation from The Goonies and ET to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In short, every movie that Hollywood supremo Steven Spielberg ever had anything to do with during the period. And in actual fact, the man himself also has a hand in this.
Set in 1979, a group of young friends sets out to make a zombie movie to enter into a competition using a super 8 video camera – from which the film takes its name. One night, they sneak out late to film a scene at a nearby railway station. When a passing train ploughs at top speed into a pick-up truck on the tracks, disaster ensues – but the pals escape with their lives intact.
They’re surprised when they find the driver of the truck still alive, and even more so when he gives them a chilling warning to tell no one about what they’ve seen for fear of serious recriminations. As the military arrive on the scene, they get away by the skin of their teeth.
When people and things around the town start disappearing and strange occurrences go unexplained, the kids get suspicious – and when a metal cube recovered by Joe (Joel Courtney) at the scene starts moving of its own accord, they know something startling is afoot. Joe and his friends must get to the bottom of the mystery if they’re to save the townsfolk – and themselves.
Abrams successfully recreates the feel and tone of nostalgic fare like The Last Starfighter, Flight of the Navigator and so on but despite the film’s compelling story and charming retro atmosphere, the child characters aren’t quite drawn well enough to match up to its forerunners – mainly because its focus is wrong.
While most of Spielberg’s similar back catalogue places the family at its centrepoint – and by extension the human factor and the everyday – Abrams is overly concerned with the supernatural aspects of his story and the way in which he tells his tale as the mystery unfolds. Instead, he should be shifting the focus more intently on the kids themselves, padding out their characters and exploring the dynamics between them. They should be more quirky individuals than underdeveloped stereotypes and the dialogue should be funnier than it is, and a more important element in the film.
Although Elle Fanning is wonderful as the lone female and her relationship with the film’s protagonist Joe is very touching, when you compare the friendship group with those in The Goonies and Stand By Me for example, it just doesn’t have the same impact and we struggle to feel for all these kids.
By far the best part of Super 8 is the closing credits – and that isn’t to damn the film with faint praise. Not only do you get to see the kids’ hilarious filmmaking attempt in all its glory, you also get to see just what these child actors would have been capable of outside of a screenplay that constrains them.