Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Intouchables

Lowdown: A special relationship develops between a carer with a dodgy past and the disabled rich guy he’s looking after.
Review:
Let’s say you’re a millionaire. Not just your ordinary millionaire, you live in a chateau smack in the middle of Paris. Let’s also say that you’re disabled, able to run your head but feeling nothing below the neck. Clearly, you have enough money in your hands to acquire the best support possible. Who would you go for when hiring such a support person, a person you’d expect to constantly look after all your physical needs?
I don’t know what you will choose in such a scenario, but the guy in the 2011 French film The Intouchables – Philippe (Fran├žois Cluzet) – opts for the least likely option. He’s got lines of qualified carers that bore him to death with their promises and are basically there for their own selfish reasons. So instead of churning through yet one more of those, he opts for the black guy with the criminal record who has zero qualifications, Driss (Omar Sy). Why does he take this gamble? Because unlike all the others, Driss has this basic integrity about him. He calls things the way they are, thus enabling him to have the potential to be a true companion. Which is exactly what our Philippe is after. And if you accept this story to be based on true facts (the actual real life duo is presented to us at the end of the movie), then you’d come out of this one feeling rejuvenated. You’d feel as if there is still hope for humanity. Or rather, you would enjoy a nice feel good movie with some fine comedy and drama woven into it that tells us yet again, Pride and Prejudice style, that rugs can make it into riches. Or at least look after them.
Thus Intouchables develops with the development of this exotic relationship between poor and rich, the older and the younger, the black and the white. In parallel there is Driss getting along with the rest of the staff (and the rest of the staff’s built in pomp). There is also Driss trying to sort out his own personal stuff, which turns out to be the main cause of tension in the legendary relationship that the core of this movie creates for us.
If it all looks and feels a bit too familiar, you’re probably right: The Intouchables is, essentially, a French reboot of Pretty Woman. Yes, you read it right: between exotic cars and private planes, there are 1:1 correlations here.
I am not saying the similarities with Pretty Woman are bad. Who cares about copying as long as the copying works? (And who cares if it doesn’t, either?) This one is a pretty entertaining film, thank you very much. Where I did find it to lag, potential sugar poisoning aside, is in what seems to be an artificial rift created during the third act so as to create the necessary tension between the two heroes. I failed to understand the movie’s explanation for the rift occurring in the first place and, worse, I failed to understand why our heroes paid attention to this reason. I guess that’s the problem when trying to generate a drama out of a real life story: often the drama has to be added on top.
Overall: It’s not Pretty Woman; rather Pretty Man, perhaps (Sy is quite good looking). But it’s definitely a fine feel good movie still, at 3 out of 5 crabs.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Lowdown: A guy recruited to fight humanity’s war against an invading alien race repeatedly wakes up to relive the same day of fighting each time he’s killed in action.
Review:
Edge of Tomorrow is a film on the edge. Silly pun, I know, but bear with me.
Its starting point is on the compromised side of things. The movie is based on a Japanese science fiction tale, with the book's related comic called All You Need Is Kill leaving me rather unimpressed. Then there is the Tom Cruise factor: I could accept Mr Cruise as that flawless but ultimately silly hero in Top Gun, but come on – surely we’ve matured in the three decades since? I’m way past the point of being attracted to Cruise’s star power; I’m rather repelled.
But then I actually sat to watch Edge of Tomorrow. I will be blunt (another pun!): I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and consider it the best new film I’ve seen in a while. The question is, what makes this movie so good?
First, let us discuss the movie’s backstory. In a very WW2 style presentation, albeit in color, we are informed that aliens have invaded the earth and have taken a stronghold in Europe. WW2 motifs continue with the whole of humanity taking part in the war against these aliens: the Chinese advancing in the east the same way the Russians did back then, and the West about to have its D-Day moment. A moment when it will launch an all-or-nothing attack, landing its forces on the European mainland in order to eliminate the alien threat once and for all. Shards of Paul Verhoeven’s brilliant Starship Troopers are there to be seen.
Into the frame comes Cage (Cruise), an American propaganda officer whose role is to lure volunteers into the human meat grinding army. Only that the British General in charge of the invasion would prefer Cage to be embedded with the landing force; Cage is smart enough to refuse the “offer”, which lands him instead in the position of a subordinate Private placed in a platoon of fighting misfits.
Cage lands on the shores of Europe with humanity’s million wise invading force, only to be a witness to the human army getting massacred. He quickly dies, too, only to wake up on that very same morning yet again in order to live (and die) through the landing again. And again. And again, and again. It’s Groundhog Day on steroids. But Cage has an advantage: he can learn from day to day, allowing him to slowly extend the time he survives on that European beach till the aliens get to him again. Through repetitions he extends his time enough to meet the human super soldier, sword yielding Rita (Emily Blunt); perhaps together our reluctant soldier and super soldier can actually win the war?
OK: I’ve mentioned Edge of Tomorrow is a film on the edge, and now it’s time for me to explain myself. The edge I meant is to do with the way this movie does its best to stay on that optimal peak between the potentially conflicting needs to provide action/suspense, comedy and plot progression. All three are strongly mixed here, and all three can be either difficult to achieve or overdone. I will start with plot progression: if you think about it, you will realise it could be quite hard to drive forward a movie that has to repeat the event of a single day again and again without stumbling. By the same token, for a movie promising so much potential in the action department, it would have been all too easy to turn Edge of Tomorrow into another special effects orgy that Hollywood likes to push our way. And last, there is plenty of potential for comedy here around the way Cage has to deal with repeatedly living the same day.
I would therefore “blame” me liking Edge of Tomorrow as much as I did on it actually managing through this highly elusive holy grail of optimisation in the field of filmmaking in flying colors. Edge of Tomorrow is an excellent mix of action, comedy and plot. Sure, the movie has a lot going for it, from script to a Tom Cruise that actually does a fine job in the role of his compromised character rising to the occasion. But I feel it is in the editing department that Edge of Tomorrow wins the day.
I will not shy from giving Emily Blunt credit, too. This actress seems to have a knack for high quality science fiction flicks, as per The Adjustment Bureau and, to a lesser extent, Looper. She seems to own the role of supporting female actress in this genre; given her excellent fit into the main role in Wild Target, I would hope the next time we see her would be in the pilot seat of a high quality science fiction movie. I’m sure she would do an excellent Commander Shepard!
My sole disappointment with Edge of Tomorrow is to do with its ending. It’s not too bad, but if you read the book’s you will see the original is better. Once again we have Hollywood sticking a stick in its own wheel for the sake of supplying us with yet another hero & heroine kissing into the sunset type ending. Surely we have matured enough to not require that out of every film?
Overall: Edge of Tomorrow brings further weight to the claim science fiction can do a hell of a job in providing interesting yet entertaining movies. 4.5 out of 5 crabs from me.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Noah

Lowdown: The biblical story, rebooted.
Review:
One of my core complaints against the recent Peter Jackson filming of The Hobbit is that Jackson takes a beautiful short story and adds to it, with the end result being – in my opinion – significantly interior to the original. Yes, even when taking into account the need to cross the dreaded book/movie barrier.
Noah presents its viewers with the same sort of an abomination. Take a familiar short story, and add tons to it so as to be able to make a star studded movie version. The key difference between The Hobbit and Noah? While the former is a wonderful children’s fantasy tale, the latter is not a story one can relate to or identify with. It is also a story that fails to make sense at many a level, compared with the first which does not pretend to be anything more than fantastic. Perhaps we should thus be thankful to Noah, the movie, for making it bluntly obvious how silly this biblical story some still allege to be genuine is?
So yes, Noah isn't all too loyal to the original tale (that was, if you were to critically study the Bible, copied from even more ancient tales). This version has lots of things added to it, but most importantly its portrayal of the sinful world God wants to get rid of differs. This time around God does not want to destroy humanity because it's evil, but rather because of what it's doing to the earth. In other words, this is the green 21st century take on the story.
Alas, the very core assumption behind the tale of Noah is problematically handled. I’m not talking about the mysterious koalas, who managed to find their way across land and sea from Noah’s ark all the way to Australia without leaving a shred of evidence of their epic journey. I’m talking about the basic ethical discussion that drives Noah's character and thus Noah the movie.
Humanity is evil/doing evil things to the earth, so it is alleged, and therefore God decides that only descendants of Seth (Adam & Eve’s third son, who - like Cain - managed to somehow reproduce despite the obvious lack of females in the vicinity) are to be left in this world. And, according to the same God, the best way to achieve this goal is to kill not only the sinful descendants of Cain but also destroy the whole world in the process. Note the assumption that evil runs in one’s blood. Also note that Noah (Russell Crowe) is far from purity either, being quite good at killing when given an opportunity. His sons, Shem, Cham and Yefet are all flawed, too – just like all people still are. But still, God perseveres with His agenda, while communicating his divine plans using vague and vastly open to interpretation means. I would have said that destroying the world justifies direct communication, but God chooses to persist with His mysterious ways.
These ways are good enough, though, to create all sorts of conflicts with the movie characters, starting from Noah and moving through sons, adopted Cain descendant daughter (Emma Watson) and wife (Jennifer Connelly). None of these should make sense to a thinking human being. Take, for example, the question of whether Noah should seriously consider the murder of his grandchild because of his particular interpretation of a dream? But that’s the type of thing that drives Noah, the movie. And that’s the type of thing that convinced me that watching Noah, the movie, was a complete waste of north of two hours of my life.
In its awkward way, Noah is there to provide a message of redemption. We can redeem ourselves before God even in dying, it argues. Well, I will counter argue that Noah is just another flawed product from the same mystically wrapped brains of director Darren Aronofsky. If it’s Noah’s origins that you seek, look no further than his The Fountain; it's yet another movie about people struggling to reconcile their faith with a world that's sending them contradicting messages.
Overall: Between its inconsistencies and the way it abuses the acting talent at its disposal (think Connelly), Noah is a serious wasteland of a movie. 1.5 out of 5 crabs managed to survive this flood.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Mr Peabody & Sherman

Lowdown: A dog has to rescue his human son who is rescuing his girlfriend from a time machine entanglement.
Review:
As far as computer animation movies designed primarily to squeeze parents’ wallets during school holidays are concerned, Mr Peabody & Sherman is an above average affair. It’s mildly educational, with its history lessons, and it will appeal to both pre-teens as well as younger teens who have reached the age where they notice members of the opposite sex are mysteriously attractive. The fact these are all wrapped up in the movie’s plot is a positive indicator by its own right.
Providing for a Modern Family actors’ reunion, we start by meeting Peabody (the very prolific Ty Burrell), an unconventional dog who is smarter than all humans and never fails at whatever he embarks upon. Of course, he’s up for a challenge with his adopted human son, Sherman: as much as Peabody prepares Sherman for the intellectual challenges of school, he fails to take social aspects into account. As a result, Sherman gets into a quarrel with popular girl Penny (Ariel Winter). In turn, this presents the powers that be with an opportunity to separate dog father from human son.
Not if Peabody can help it. He convenes the opposing parents for dinner at his house. Only that Sherman uses the opportunity to try and impress Penny with the time machine Peabody had built, and now Peabody has to be more than a host: he needs to travel to ancient Egypt, revolutionary France, Troy and Florence to save the kids from trouble. Do not worry, given this one is an American movie you will also encounter some pieces of American history. Even if a bit out of context.
The collection of funny and aptly portrayed characters, combined with the fresh plot that makes as much of the time machine concept as a kids’ film can make, work to create an entertaining adventure that even adults can enjoy.
Overall: A fresh candidate in a field littered with leeches, Mr Peabody & Sherman earns 3+ out of 5 crabs. In other words, I actually enjoyed it.