I swear the only reason I came back from New Zealand was this. The movies.
* The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, directed by Andrew Adamson. Much has been said about this second insallment of the Narnia franchise, mostly about how it underperformed at the box-office, was not as effective as its predecessor the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in terms of fantasy etc.
Well, I’ll be the devil’s advocate -I liked it, mainly because it was very faithful to the book, which I know isn’t an achievement by itself, but something I appreciate a lot as a huge fan of the books. Now, let me say the obvious: whenever there is a screen adaptation of a literary work, then there are two audiences to be satisfied, those who have read the original work and those who haven’t. I understand that as an adventure film per se, Prince Caspian isn’t particularly original. But from where I stand, well, I can’t help feeling very proud of the fact that the entire film crew seem to be die-hard fans of Narnia and that they would pretty much do anything to stay true to C.S. Lewis’ words. Even if it involves putting kids in armour and making them kings and queens, having a talking mouse who’s a knight and all that seemingly ridiculous stuff.
This being said, the film is far from being flawless -there is not enough character development (which is, in all honesty, why the Lord of the Rings films are masterpieces and the Narnia films aren’t) and that’s the biggest catch of all. The film drags on a bit too, a rythym problem that wasn’t there in the first film.
Also, for the sake of dramatic tension, Peter’s personality is somewhat modified (he’s being a bit of an arse with both Caspian and Lucy, which doesn’t really happen in the book), but then they have to deal with the fact that he comes out as unpleasant and whiny, and who would ever care about such a character? Edmund and Lucy, on the other hand, fare much better -and their portrayal by Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley is spot-on. Newcomer Ben Barnes makes a likeable Caspian, and I’m glad the three of them get to be the main characters in the next adventure. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has always been my favourite of the franchise, and I predict that it’s going to make a brillant movie. There’s room for improvement then, and while this second film isn’t a total failure, it will please the fans more than anything else. I suspect the rest of the audience feels either aloof or sceptical, which all in all, isn’t a very good thing.
Also: I recognised the locations in the film, the ones in New Zealand I mean! They were totally shooting in Southern Otago at some point, whee!
* Waltz with Bashir, directed by Ari Folman. Acclaimed by the critics when it was screened in Cannes, Waltz with Bashir is an unusual animated feature dealing with an incredibly difficult subject, the 1982 civilian slaughter of Sabra and Shatila. Part-documentary, part-autobiography, it tells of Ari Folman’s journey to trace back his lost memories from the war, through a series of interviews with people that fought the war alongside him.
The fact that Folman used animation to tell his story is very interesting indeed, because it gives the story an ethereal quality which fits the painful process he is trying to describe. The film’s not only a display of graphic skills but also of genuine creativity; Folman chose a very dark, gold-hued tone which takes some time to adjust to but ends up working beautifully. And the subject matter he is dealing with is wonderfully ambiguous and morally important. I was emotionally crushed by the end of it. I’ve never seen an animation film quite like it and would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in seeing a visionary, complex and somewhat politically related work of art.
* Kung-Fu Panda, directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. Talking about serious animation… Ha. Kung-Fu Panda is… well, it’s Hollywood animation at its best and worse. What I mean by it, is that the finished product is visually stunning but also that it can’t help being a bit big and dumb in its humour. Although there’s no denial that the film is hilarious and adorable! That’s what Dreamworks Animation is all about, I guess. Cute and cuddly seems to work very well for them. And the targeted audience, whether it’s kids or grown-up, will be delighted and satisfied. I enjoyed myself tremendously while watching it, and “awwwww”-ed several times, but other than that, it’s everything you would expect from a mainstream animated film. Which is neither good or bad. Also, it’s voiced by cool superstars.
* Hallam Foe, directed by David Mackenzie. This film’s a real gem, and thanks to the incredible performance of its lead actor Jamie Bell, an endearing coming-of-age story which feels different (and inspiring to young, free-spirited people such as MYSELF. What a self-centered reviewer you have tonight, ladies and gentlemen). Set in misty Scotland, Hallam is a lonely teen who’s suffered a terrible loss and can’t quite cope with the grief. He also has a weird habit of looking at people without them knowing, which either makes him a stalker or a fine observer of all things human. Driven out of his country estate by his manipulative stepmother (a damn efficient Claire Forlani), he is forced to live on the streets of Edinburgh. But his encounter with the beautiful Kate (the gorgeous Sophia Myles) will turn things around. Now, I can’t stress enough all the qualities this film has: delicate and insightful directing, engaging and funny characters, all of whom are brillantly cast; a certain bleakness which is appropriate, since it grounds the film in reality and fits the surroundings, therefore avoiding the over-glamourised image that films tend to confer upon their locations (and which sometimes annoy me). Hallam Foe is first and foremost a character drama, so you have to appreciate that genre in the first place, but other than that, it’s a charming little film; not charming as in all flowery and happy (it’s actually the opposite), but it really grows on the viewer and sticks to him. Thumbs up to David Mackenzie then, for providing us with such a beautiful film.
* In Bruges, directed by Martin McDonagh. Now, here’s a very promising feature from another young Britsh director. If I had to describe it with two words, I’d say In Bruges is nuts and also funny in a very twisted way. The premise is simple: two hitmen are sent to Bruges (yes, in Belgium) for a job they don’t know anything about.
Both the dialogue and comic situations are priceless, if you like the second-degree, dark and dry sort of humour. It’s the stuff the Coen brothers are probably dreaming about, and that Tarantino could have easily written. The pace and tone are difficult to set, but McDonagh does a splendid job in keeping the audience interested. The final sequence is particularly thrilling. Most of all though, the three main characters are brillantly written. It’s also worth seeing for its actors: this may be Colin Farrell’s finest performance to date; and Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes make the best out of their supporting roles, as always. Highly recommended if you like insane and unconventional genre films.
* Wanted, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (this is a somewhat spoilerish review, so you’re warned). You have to admit that a Russian (Kazakh, actually) director at the head of such a Hollywood blockbuster is bound to make people a bit curious about this project. Visionary as he may be, Bekmambetov can’t escape the tradition of action films that have come before him -and yes, there is no denial that The Matrix is one of Wanted‘s heaviest influences. Packed with action almost to the point of bursting, the film tells the story of Wesley, a nobody who hates his job and everyday life. He’s never known his father, which tells us Something! Big! is going to happen to him someday. And indeed, a supersecret society of assassins is just waiting to recruit him and from then on, it’s all fun and games (and crazy car chases and dodging bullets and so on and so forth). Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with the film: characters are loveable enough (if not a bit cliché -your dorky hero, bad-ass sidekick, honourable but suspicious mentor etc), directing is energetic and appropriate; overall, the film’s really enjoyable. But then, isn’t that the problem? This is pure entertainment, nothing more. I reckon the film’s got potential but it restricts its audience to those who want brainless, extreme action. Which is fair enough, because the majority of viewers would want that. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then you are going to love it. But I like to get something else than just visuals and adrenaline out of a film, is all I’m saying. So Wanted was good, but all in all, feels a bit empty.
* Wall-E, directed by Andrew Stanton. Awww, Wall-E. There’s not much I can write about it except that it’s absolutely lovely and cute. But heeem, let’s be a bit more professional.
You have to admit it, there’s something absolutely weird about Pixar being so fucking good. No other way to put it. When Toy Story and its incredibly creative universe popped out of nowhere, I was blown away. Then again with Monsters, Inc. Then again with Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, and Cars, and Ratatouille. Every time, it’s the same amount of genius, beauty and poetry, all mixed up together. Visually, it’s always dazzling but the form is always matched by the content: the stories they tell are always captivating and really emotional. It’s no different for Wall-E.
There’s no use comparing it to the previous Pixar’s because this film is another whole new level of creativity. Stanton (already on directing duties for Nemo) knows how to speak to the viewer -even if Wall-E barely talks. The true achievement is not only in not having any dialogue for at least half of the feature film, but also in writing up characters we love and care about -effortlessly. That’s genuine understanding between a director and the viewers. I don’t think you can find this anywhere else than at Pixar Animation Studios.
I’m running out of adjectives to describe how wonderful the film is. The attention paid to details is astonishing; the quality of the animation of the highest standards, whether it’s Earth or the galaxy. The sci-fi setting proves to be to their advantage, as everything looks really beautiful -I just can’t praise it enough. Wall-E‘s also a film with a conscience, but I won’t discuss the core matter here since it might spoil you. Let’s just say that once again, the Pixar team is not only displaying its skills but also its smarts. And it’s the ultimate proof that animation is no longer for kids only. Stanton has a lot of heart, and so do his stories. Although set in the future, the story is very much relevant and universal. And what can I say about the main character? He’s the cutest, funniest little thing that was ever invented; he’s irresistible (and “voiced” by sound effects legend, Ben Burtt). Last but not least, Thomas Newman scored the film and it’s absolutely lovely and fitting to Wall-E’s universe. It’s perfect, just like the film itself.
I don’t know how Pixar will ever manage to carry on if they continue to set their standards so high. But so far, it’s completely faultless.
* The Incredible Hulk, directed by Louis Leterrier. The big green monster is back, this time with a French director and Edward Norton’s features, the latter being the only reason why I even bothered to see it. Well, frankly, the film is a mess. It’s trying hard to be interesting, but it isn’t. It’s been done before and a thousand times better. I thought that Ed Norton’s presence would be enough to make a difference, but he’s barely onscreen (ha! he’s still good in it, mind you). There’s also something wrong about trying to reboot this franchise. Sure, Ang Lee’s version focused on more ‘psychological’ aspects of Hulk’s story, which upset a lot of fans at the time. But in my opinion, this one just falls flat; it’s not even engaging or particularly well-done, or just plain fun. None of that here. It’s simply mediocre. Rhythm and Hues (the visual effects company in charge of this film) may have invested a lot of work in making Hulk believable, but it doesn’t matter since the screenplay is not interested in that. It’s a bit of a shame really, because I love comic-book adaptations but then with the likes of the Fantastic Four films and this one, well, it’s bringing the genre down. And I’m sure fanboys are very happy with this version but I’m not.
Well that’s it for this month folks, happy viewing in theaters and don’t forget to go and see the Dark Knight, out on the 13th of August. It’s so clooooose! Next post will probably be my thoughts on Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece film.
Update: Can’t believe I forgot to post about this –behold the brand new Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince teaser trailer! It’s all kinds of creepy and dark. Bring it on, then! It will be released on the 26th of November in France and five days earlier in America.