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Sherlock Holmes – A Review

January 2, 2010 2 comments

Guy Ritchie has been a hero of mine for almost a decade now. The first movie of his that I watched was Snatch. I was still at school at the time, and Snatch was an instant hit with us school boys. It’s still in my top ten films of all time… maybe even the top 3. Admittedly his last few films have been a bit disappointing – Swept Away was rubbish, Revolver was critically panned and Rock ‘n Rolla was okay, but still not quite there. So it was quite a surprise when Ritchie was selected to direct Sherlock Holmes, his most high profile directing gig to date. In fact the producer, Joel Silver, goes so far as to say that this film sprung Ritchie from directing purgatory. But the bottom line is that when Guy Ritchie makes a film I go see it.

So was it a wise move to pick Ritchie? I have to say that the answer is a resounding yes. For those who aren’t in the know, Sherlock Holmes is a film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character of the same name. And while some Sherlockians (the Holmes equivalent of Star Trek’s ‘Trekkies’) will be disappointed at the films portrayal of Holmes, the rest of the world will be overjoyed that Sherlock has once again become relevant. He is no longer a stuffy English gentleman with a razor intellect. Rather he has become a sharpshooting, bare-knuckle-boxing bohemian with sharp reasoning, a somewhat questionable lifestyle and a dark, manic depressive streak. And did I mention he’s pretty ripped, with a decent six pack?

The project’s original writer, Lionel Wigram, has lobbied hard to get the new Holmes franchise off the ground. In the end he had to become an independent producer and only finally managed to sell his idea for Holmes by commissioning an “Indiana Jones” style graphic novel about the sleuth which focuses on Holmes grittier qualities… such as his martial arts skills (which were never explicit in the novels but were there in Holmes background).

I have to say that the new angle is a stroke of genius, and having Ritchie as director is a match made in heaven. He brings his usual take to the film – fast, punchy dialogue, a distinctive musical score, some bare-knuckle boxing and an engrossing picture of 19th century London that is dark, depressing and completely intriguing.

The story itself is actually an original, taken directly from one of Doyle’s novels. The premise is that Holmes and his right hand man Dr. Watson, are sucked into a dark web of intrigue after foiling a series of ritualistic sacrifices masterminded by Lord Blackwood (played by Mark Strong). Blackwood is sentenced to death by hanging, but after his sentence is carried out he refuses to stay in the grave and rises from the dead to wreak a plague of havoc. As the fabric of society unravels around them, and the government and police begin to turn them, Holmes and Watson rush to uncover the dark forces that are at play. What ensues is distinctly un-Holmesian, with street chases, shootouts, some spirited fisticuffs and an electrified cattle prod.

When it comes to the acting side of things Downey is excellent. His accent is flawless, and the character seems to fit him like a glove. Apparently he was visiting Joel Silver’s offices with his wife (Susan Downey, who eventually became one of the films other producers) when he learned about the project.  Initially Ritchie was reluctant to cast Downey as he wanted a younger actor, the idea being to focus on Holmes in his youth as he learns and grows into a legend. However, he eventually took a chance on Downey, and that chance has paid off. In Downey’s own words ‘when you read the description of the guy – quirky and kind of nuts – it could be a description of me.”

Jude Law is also excellent, his portrayal of Watson as former soldier, doctor, womaniser and gambler is a huge departure from original Watson – a bumbling fool who provides more comic relief than anything else. But the new “hot Watson” is an excellent partner for Holmes as they feed of one another’s energy and wit.

All in all Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic journey, and just writing about it makes me want to watch it again. No doubt the special edition DVD will be added to my collection in the near future. Go watch it.

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Inception

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

After the Dark Knight we all wondered what Christopher Nolan would do next. Well wonder no longer. He has been working on a new sci-fi thriller called Inception. Due to released next June/July Inception stars Leo DiCaprio. Not a whole lot is known about the plot, but what is known is that it is set at a time when corporations have developed technology to enter peoples’ dreams and extract information. DiCaprio is a CEO who gets caught up in some sort of blackmail plot. As he enters peoples’ dreams things get messy. I know that sounds a bit vague… but check out the teaser trailer here. I’m sure you’ll agree that whatever the storyline is it promises to be epic. Nolan is a genius.

Avatar – A Review

December 23, 2009 3 comments

I first started following the news on Avatar about 6 months ago, as it went into post-production. At that time critics were touting it to be the film of the year. Most agreed that it would revolutionise the use of CGI in film. While others said it could be the film of the decade. The first reviews from the premier, on the 10th of December, said that initial thoughts had been right… this was a must see film. But in the last week or so I’ve come across some articles that have levelled some pretty harsh criticism.

So what is my verdict? Well, if I could sum up Avatar in one word it would simply be… Epic. James Cameron has once again revealed himself as a master of his art, and perhaps one of the most visionary directors of our time. Reading his thoughts and watching interviews with him makes one realise the depth of thought that goes into his productions. Above all, he is a story teller, with a keen insight into what resonates with audiences.

Avatar itself is a relatively simple story. The basic premise is that sometime in the future (2154 AD to be exact) humans have travelled to Pandora, the lush, low gravity moon of a planet circling Alpha Centauri, where they are mining for a valuable mineral known as unobtanium. The humans’ presence on Pandora is completely commercial and they will extract minerals at any cost, without regard to their impact on the planet. On the other hand, Pandora is inhabited by an indigenous species called the Na’vi who live in complete harmony with the natural world.

Humans are unable to breathe Pandora’s atmosphere, and peaceful interaction with the Na’vi is difficult. Researchers led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) create the Avatar Program, creating human-Na’vi hybrids. A human who shares genetic material with an avatar can link to it, allowing them to control it while their own body ‘sleeps’. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a former Marine who was paralyzed below the waist in combat on Earth. His twin brother was a scientist working in the Avatar Program. When Jake’s brother is killed, Jake takes his place because he is compatible with his brother’s avatar.

While Jake is escorting Augustine through the jungle the group is attacked by a large predator, and Jake becomes separated from the others, forcing them to leave him behind for the night. Jake attempts to survive in his avatar body, fending off dangerous creatures. This attracts the attention of a female Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), who rescues Jake. Though troubled by Jake’s recklessness she takes him to the Na’vi Hometree, the spiritual and geographical home of her clan. The Na’vi decide to teach Jake their ways.

As Jakes learns more about the Na’vi and their way of life he increasingly finds his life as an Avatar to be reality, and his life as a human marine to be ‘a dream’. He also falls in love with Neytiri who is his mentor. Things become all the more complicated as the human quest for wealth begins to have deadly consequences for the Na’vi. In the end Jake must make his choice between the human life he was born into, and the Na’vi life he has learned to love.

The story itself is a timeless one which, in essence, boils down to a story of love between two people divided by race and culture.  Some have said that the visual elements of the film overshadow the storyline and characters, that the story is thin an vapid. But I would argue that Cameron has once again created a story that is simple rather than simplistic, and it is the way that the story is told that draws the audience into the film. It definitely has the feel of a fairy tale.

In Pandora Cameron has created a visual masterpiece. And it is this masterpiece that takes centre stage in the film. In fact Pandora is possibly one of the most important members of the cast. It creates an almost magical backdrop within which the cast can play out their story. And whilst none of the roles are particularly demanding of the actors, it is worth giving a few mentions. Sam Worthington does well as Jake Sulley. He has definitely put himself on the map over the last year or two, and you’ll be seeing a lot more of him over the next few years. In fact he seems to be in almost every action movie of 2010. Sigourney Weaver is excellent as Dr. Grace Augustine. She brings depth to a role where she almost certainly didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Stephen Lang plays a pretty mean bad guy. And lastly Zoë Saldaña is excellent as Neytiri.

All in all Avatar is a definite must see. In fact it’s a film that you will probably find yourself watching more than once. I know I will.

Invictus – a review

December 17, 2009 2 comments

Clint Eastwood has become a pretty big player in the film industry. When he directs a film, you expect a lot. So when you go to watch Invictus there is a weight of expectation. You’re thinking Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Changeling… all of which are dramatic and beautiful. So when the film opens it’s a bit of a shock. This doesn’t look like Eastwood… this looks like a film made by South Africans. The film isn’t glossy. The acting feels a bit wooden. The characters (and actors) are all too South African. And that’s why those of you who are expecting the gloss and glamour of a Hollywood production are bound to be disappointed. However, this definitely is an Eastwood film. It’s just not an American film. It’s South African, it’s real and it’s gritty. At times the acting does feel a bit awkward, or wooden. But this isn’t a script that was written to be smooth or funny or quirky. This is reality. This is a story of a country at a crossroad, of real people, with real problems. Once you’ve come to grips with that you quickly become engrossed in the film.

I will admit that there are some ‘lapses’ in the film. There is the occasional continuity error. The music can be a bit jarring. The live action rugby scenes can be a bit flat. And the scenes of South Africans packed into their lounges, pubs, and shabeens to watch the World Cup final also feel a bit cheesy.

But the beauty of the film is that, as with so many of Eastwood’s films, the story drives some key themes. It is about integrity, forgiveness, hope and love. And what makes the film so much more impactful is that this isn’t a fictitious story aimed at neatly delivering some key messages to a lost generation. These characters weren’t dreamt up to be endearing. The story is true. Critic David Ansen says it best when he says ‘Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story – one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.

It seems that South Africa is moving into the centre of the world’s attention. And what better way to begin our move than with the story of Invictus. It is a story which should remind all of us where we have come from and should inspire us to be more than we think we can be. Invictus definitely won’t be a box office dominator (especially overseas) and it won’t provide the whole family with two hours of fun and laughter. But it should be prescribed viewing – go see it.

2012 – a bit of a steaming pile

December 14, 2009 4 comments

Roland Emmerich is a man who embodies everything that is American cinema – big budget, lots of action, and huge amounts of CGI. In fact he stands just behind Michael Bay as Hollywood man of the decade. But we have to be honest with ourselves – he’s nailed some real winners over the years – Universal Solder, Independence Day and (arguably) The Day After Tomorrow.

But I think his latest film – 2012 – has gone a little over the top. It feels like Emmerich has bitten off more than he can chew, and even throwing a host of CGI animators and a $200 million budget at the production – it all falls a little flat.

The opening 10 minutes of film set a pretty sad scene. You’re introduced to a range of characters and countries and taken through almost 2 years of backstory. But it isn’t concise… and it doesn’t flow. It kind of feels like being punched in the face a few times, and by the end of it you’re left a little dazed and confused… couldn’t it all have been done in less time, with less dialogue? Unfortunately that feeling remains for most of the film – there’s just too much. Do we really need all the characters, and all the laborious dialogue? The old guys on the boat… who cares? They add nothing to the film, except maybe a few million dollars in extra production costs. And we could also do without everyone phoning their loved ones every ten minutes to bury the hatchet and confess their long overdue love for one another.

So what about the acting? I think it is summed up in the fact that my two favourite characters are glorified extras with about 10 minutes of airtime. Woody Harrelson is pretty cool, albeit pretty insane. He plays the role of an eccentric conspiracy theorist who broadcasts his wacked out views from his camper van at Yellowstone National Park. He also has a think for gherkins. Next up is Johann  Urb who plays Sasha – the Russian man servant – who delivers the most memorable line of the film. Unfortunately both characters don’t hang around very long. So the majority of the acting is left to the large cast of ‘big name’ actors: John Cusack, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, Oliver Pratt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton. All I can say is that it isn’t their fault that their characters are so wooden and one dimensional. Clearly the script they were provided with was a bit of a steaming pile. And the biggest indictment on this film is that it is Emmerich’s highest grossing to date – having reaped over $700 million across the globe.

So, to bring this thing to a close, if you’re expecting an epic, entertaining and action packed film you’re most likely to be a little disappointed. If you’re paying R39 for a ticket you definitely aren’t getting your money’s worth. So what to do? I’d say you should wait for it on DVD, but then you lose out on the CGI, which is the only thing that breaths a bit of life into the film. So unless you’re on Discovery Vitality, you’re going to Nu Metro on a Wednesday, or you live near a Ster Kinekor Junction – rather leave this one out. Rather go see Invictus and be proud of your country.

Old Dogs – someone really should have them put down

December 7, 2009 3 comments

In my defence, the only reason I watched this film was because I had time to kill after a meeting in JHB and it was the only film I could watch without missing my flight. I might also add that my ticket was sponsored by a colleague of mine… so I didn’t even have to pay for it. The defence rests.

So, where to start? Old Dogs is an American comedy directed by Wild Hogs’ Walt Becker. Wild Hogs was pretty cool. I watched it at the Waterfront back in 2007 and I was quite surprised. In fact I laughed so hard that the guy sitting next to me moved seats after the first 15 minutes.

Old Dogs is a bit of a strange one. With a cast including Robin Williams and John Travolta you expect quite a lot. You don’t expect to be blown away, but you expect some decent acting at the very least. Unfortunately when it comes to acting, dialogue, character development and even story line the film is horribly disappointing. For most of the film it looks like Williams and Travolta have been taking huge doses of speed in their dressing rooms. Their interactions are fast paced, unconvincing and a little wooden. And what makes things worse is that Williams’ love interest in the movie is Kelly Preston… the real life wife of John Travolta. I’m not sure whether this had any impact on their acting, but their relationship onscreen was about convincing as claims that Julius Malema is actually ‘an incredibly intelligent man’.

However… despite the fact that the film is made about as well as a French car, I actually laughed pretty hard for long stretches of the film. The storyline was very obviously written around the gags they wanted to include. Basically two life long friends are about to seal the biggest business deal of their lives when one of them (Williams) finds out he is the father of twins – conceived 7 years earlier during a drunken night in Vegas. What makes things worse is that the their mother is out of action for two weeks and so the two muskateers have to be surrogate dads for two weeks. Obviously hilarity ensues.

Yes I might be corny. And yes, I am one of those guys who never fails to laugh when Leon Schuster eats a chilli and has to dump his flaming buttocks in a pail of water. But the fact remains that there are at least a few laughs in Old Dogs. I definitely wouldn’t recommend seeing it on the big screen, even if you are on Discovery Vitality. Rather wait for it to come out on DVD and rent it with some mates for a bit of a laugh.

Inglourious Basterds – they’re… well… glorious

December 3, 2009 Leave a comment

So it’s a little late in coming, but this is my first film review. I wanted to start off with a bit of a bang, rather than reviewing some b-grade trash. So I thought what better way to start than with reviewing Inglourious Basterds.

Inglourious Basterds is a war film that was both written and directed by Quentin Tarantino – one of the most prolific directors of our time… in my opinion. The film tells the story of two separate plots to assassinate the top tier of the German high command, and in so doing ending the war (WW2). One plot is planned by a young, Jewish cinema owner who, four years prior, witnessed her entire family being killed by Nazis. The second plot is put in motion by a team of American soldiers known as ‘The Basterds’ who have been sent deep into enemy territory to masacre Germans.

The film is, in a word, excellent. It is gripping right from the word go with excellent (as always) camera work from Tarantino, a fantastic script, engaging characters and an interesting and engaging storyline.

In terms of individual performances I think that two stand out – Chritoph Waltz is a complete revelation in the role of Standartenführen Hans Landa aka ‘The Jew Hunter’. The character is charming, intelligent, witty, ruthless and violent… a strange combination which leaves you a bit confused as to whether you like him or hate him. But it’s that sort of character that makes Tarantino such a genius. Waltz won the Best Actor Award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival for his role, and I reckon he’s got a good chance of winning a little gold man statue.

The other stand out is Brad Pitt as 1st Lieutenant Aldo Raine aka ‘Aldo the Apache’. The character is a hardcore, vengeance driven soldier with his roots in the deep south, who also happens to have a pretty good sense of humour – again making for a strangely endearing character.

It is a definite must see, especially if you profess to know anything about films. Some have gone so far as to call it Tarantino’s masterpiece – including the director himself (pay attention to the last line of the film for the self reference) – but I wouldn’t go that far. I’d say it’s definitely his best work since Pulp Fiction, but they are probably pretty neck and neck in terms of awesomeness. And what makes it even more palatable for the masses is that it isn’t as heavy on swearing and violence as some of his other films – a fact which had a large role to play in it making over $120 million at the box office.

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