WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

Life Is The Most Spectacular Show On Earth

Director
Francis Lawrence

Starring
Reese Witherspoon
Robert Pattinson
Christoph Waltz



Through flashback, we’re introduced to 1930’s America, suffering under prohibition and depression. Young Jacob Jankowski [Pattinson] is in the middle of taking his final veterinary exam when he is notified of his parent’s death. As with most families of that period, money was sparse and in the event of the Jankowski’s death, ownership of the family house is defaulted to the bank. Subsequently, Jacob is left homeless and refuses to go back to finish schooling, instead he proceeds to walk to the next town, looking for work. In the middle of the night, Jacob spots a train and spontaneously decides to hop on. The next morning, he discovers the train is in fact a travelling circus called The Benzini Brothers. After observing a day in the life of the circus, Jacob is brought before the owner, the surprisingly charming August Rosenbluth [Waltz], who acknowledges they could use an in-house vet and agrees to keep him on. As the story progresses, August purchases a new star act – in the form of an elephant named Rosie – to work with his wife, Marlena [Witherspoon]. As animal-liaison, Jacob is given the task of training Rosie but August quickly steps in utilising his vicious, heavy-handed technique. Working closely with Rosie and Marlena, Jacob starts to care deeply for both of them – a fact which August soon catches on to.

First thing to get out of the way, the structure is pretty much stolen from Titanic – yes, I realise Water For Elephants is based on an original novel and the whole flashback thing is a classic formula but the way in which it has been presented on screen draws incredible similarities: the whole, “What are you up to, old timer? Feel like telling me a story about something I’m already familiar with?” “You don’t know nothing, kid. Let me tell you what it was like..” blah blah blah. That said, Lawrence is a very visual director and with his third film he has managed to produce something stunningly impressive (visually) with a keen attention to detail and exceptional production value – as all decent period flicks warrant. Over the years James Newton Howard has produced an array of decent scores for various films ranging from wholly unforgettable melodies to .. well .. Space Jam. His effort here is not exactly one of his most notable but certainly fits the bill, often shining during moments of tension or building suspense.

The acting by all involved is equally praiseworthy, from the leads, to the supports, to the trained animals – everyone fills their roll efficiently. But it’s in the analysis of the acting that the glaring flaws of this film start to show. As much as each character seems perfectly cast (Pattinson as the unassuming young upstart, Waltz embodying both charismatic and terrifying elements perfectly and Witherspoon as an oppressed woman hoping for a way out but convinced of failure) they never really gelled together. Watching the three of them on screen, you get an impression of how the characters fit and that the actors are playing them flawlessly but you never really believe the situation. It may sound silly but when an audience is unhappy with a performance but can’t actually narrow down what they dislike specifically, it usually has something to do with how the characters interact with one another; nobody’s fault but a great hindrance on the film.

As with Francis Lawrence’s previous films (Constantine and I Am Legend), the effort is good, the story starts off well but the ending is a tad dissatisfying. Visually, Lawrence utilises his years as a music video director to harness several wonderful shots and beautifully arranged/edited scenarios but he still seems plagued by the dénouement. That said, he has shown vast improvement (as has Mr. Pattinson) and this is a solid family film – albeit somewhat violent and mildly raunchy in places, so when I say family film, I don’t mean children’s film.


Release Date:
6th May 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
I would probably say Jacob’s first tour of the circus was one of the highlights of the film. Combining a sense of wonder and mystery while establishing the disparaging life of the thirties drifters. Well shot, decently acted, nicely edited – it’s altogether rather impressive.

Notable Characters:
Just a character query here. There’s sort of spoilers but I don’t really think so, so whatever. According to the original novel, August is a violently paranoid schizophrenic. I don’t have a problem with that, Waltz flips back-and-forth so seamlessly that you would wholly agree. My main problem is that he was right. Not with the violence or the animal beatings or the ruthlessness (…well, maybe the ruthlessness) but his wife was going to leave him. Sure, he probably drove her away with his madness but she was sort of cheating on him. So as paranoid and schizo as he may have been.. I dunno, just thought I’d bring it up. As stated, Pattinson and Waltz do well here and it’s always nice to see Jim Norton in action, so that was a treat.

Highlighted Quote:
“You’re a beautiful woman, you deserve a beautiful life”

In A Few Words:
“A pleasant adaptation that favours story and character development over unnecessary spectacle – making for a thoroughly welcome surprise”

Total Score:

3/5

THOR

Courage Is Immortal

Director
Kenneth Branagh

Starring
Chris Hemsworth
Natalie Portman
Tom Hiddleston
Anthony Hopkins



As a fan of Norse mythology and a Marvel comics addict, you’d think I would know Thor inside and out. You’d be wrong. I’ve only recently read Straczynski’s stuff and really enjoyed it but had absolutely no idea how they were going to successfully translate this character to a cinematic audience. That was, up until Kapow! Comic Con, where I was lucky enough to get into the Thor panel and clip screening. Somehow, Branagh has perfectly cast this film and presented it in such a way that refuses to shy away from its origin, revelling in the lush visuals of Asgard while neatly anchoring the story on Earth.

Following the very brief introduction to the arrival of Thor on Earth, we are treated to a lengthy flashback that details the truth behind the mythology. The universe as we know it is divided into nine distinct realms, the most powerful being Asgard, ruled by Odin [Hopkins] and Jotunheim, ruled by the frost giant Laufey [Colm Ferore]. Armed with their greatest weapon (The Casket Of Ancient Winters) the frost giants set out to conquer the nine realms, starting with Midgard (Earth). After a long and bloody war, Odin called a truce, confiscated the casket and retained it deep within his castle’s treasury vault, guarded by the destroyer – a formidable metallic golem. Decades later, on the coronation day of Odin’s son, Thor [Hemsworth], a small band of frost giants break into the vault but are quickly dispatched. Hot-blooded and foul-tempered, Thor is intent on visiting Jotunheim and punishing the frost giants. Against Odin’s wishes and goaded by his brother, Loki [Hiddleston], Thor recruits Sif and the Warriors Three to accompany him. Naturally they are horrendously outnumbered and all bar Thor opt for retreat. Surrounded, Odin appears and petitions Laufey to dismiss his son’s actions as that of an arrogant child. Laufey explains Thor will have his way and there will be war between the two worlds. Furious, Odin returns to Asgard and officially strips Thor of his title, privileges and power before exiling him to a mortal life on Earth. Upon arrival he is discovered by a small astrophysics group in New Mexico, headed by Jane Foster [Portman]. Whilst Thor attempts to adjust to a mortal life, Loki learns of his past and turns to his father for answers. Wishing to end Thor’s banishment, Sif and the warriors three request an audience with Odin, only to discover that Loki has ascended to the throne.

Thor’s a hard sell, even to comic fans; magic, aliens, mythology, it can be a bit much but when broken down, the story seems ideal for Branagh: sibling rivalry, monarchical power struggles, subtle love story, comedy, eloquent monologues delivered in British accents – it’s basically Shakespeare and more than familiar turf for Branagh. And this project really does excel, proving that even the most formulaic elements can be delivered in a fresh way. For example, there’s an undeniably two dimensional nature to the characters (the brash hero, the silver-tongued younger brother, the plucky love interest) that’s sold so very well by decent storytelling and credible charismatic acting. Additionally, the frequent, not to mention skilful, use of humour, drama and action will be all too familiar to Marvel readers but seeing it in the cinematic universe gives a nice unifying feel. Speaking of the marvel universe, it’s nice to see nods to Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and next year’s Avengers film – simultaneously connected to something bigger while remaining its own unique release just staples the Marvel feel perfectly. Visually, the entire movie is a treat; ranging from the sets and costumes to the vibrant visual effects – in particular the sweeping pans of Asgard – everything is gilded, gleaming and layered with a stunning amount of intricate Nordic detail. I must confess, as booming as the soundtrack was, I didn’t really notice it much. It clearly fit in neatly with the on-screen developments without imposing itself but seemed to lack a memorable presence.

My only real main faults seemed to lie with the presentation of the release. In IMAX Thor is stunning, simply spectacular – but the 3D element was so unnecessary. I understand the gimmick and it was reasonably well handled here but, not dissimilar to Tron: Legacy, it wasn’t needed and slightly hindered the full impact of the crisp finished visuals. Furthermore, a point I actually enjoyed, some are going to be put off and distracted by Branagh’s use of Dutch angles – which basically means wonky. I think it was very tastefully done and heightened the emotion but undoubtedly, some are going to hate it.

For decades we’ve been subjected to what various producers have assumed the public wants, battling with directors over creative elements to simply boost the sale of a film (prime example would be Daredevil; it’s far from perfect but if you watch the director’s cut and ‘making of’ feature, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). But it’s nice to finally see comic book adaptations released without studio interference and key decision making done by exceptional filmmakers. Subsequently, Thor deserves thunderous applause for contributing so beautifully to this wholly welcome growing trend.


Release Date:
29th April 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers.. for those who are unfamiliar with Thor – either the comic or mythology**
As stated, the narrative flitters back-and-forth between drama, comedy and action with complete ease. Subsequently, there should be three highlighted scenes – but that would be a tad indulgent. I think the scene that stands out the most is Loki’s confrontation with Odin. Up until this point, Hiddleston had been commendably supporting everyone around him but when given a chance to really thrash he produces an amazing performance. In a way he reminds me a lot of the equally talented Michael Fassbender and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a great deal of scripts thrown his way.

Notable Characters:
Commanding every scene, Hemsworth and Hiddleston have both stepped into the limelight with an amazingly powerful stride; each bringing something unique and impeccably impressive. In typical Shakespearean style, the majority of the supporting characters don’t tend to deviate from their specific archetype. In other words, Stellan Skarsgard plays the sceptic, Kat Dennings plays the comic relief and Clark Gregg plays the working stiff, just trying to get on with his job. So, it’s a little tricky judging their performance when they’re given so little leeway. Having said that, there were a great many spectacular performances and my only real snub would be Jaimie Alexander as Sif, don’t ask me why, I just didn’t feel she nailed the part. Sorry.

Highlighted Quote:
“Anyone who’s ever going to find his way in this world has to start by admitting he doesn’t know”

In A Few Words:
“A welcome addition to the expanding Marvel cinematic universe and a great accomplishment unto itself”

Total Score:

3/5

SCRE4M

New Decade, New Rules

Director
Wes Craven

Starring
Neve Campbell
David Arquette
Courtney Cox
Emma Roberts
Rory Culkin
Hayden Panettiere



I think I was the perfect age for Scream; released in 1996, I was probably fifteen when I got round to watching it on TV. Referencing and satirising horror films I had only just become familiar with, while providing decent running tension and scares, I was instantly impressed. The sequels weren’t too bad but (rather expectedly) paled by comparison. So, just over a decade later, the slasher genre has mutated and spawned the popular ‘torture porn’ subgenre, with film series such as Saw and Hostel raking in handfuls, as well as the successful market of remakes. The pressing question seems to be, do audiences need another Scream film?

I won’t fully describe the introductory scenes solely because they’re amusing but hinder the plot description a little. Following suit, we witness the gruesome murder of two young girls by a killer in a ghost-face mask with a hunting knife, on the fifteenth anniversary of Woodsboro’s initial killing spree. Coincidentally, survivor Sidney Prescott [Campbell] returns home for the final date on her extremely successful book tour, only to be implicated as a suspect when the murder weapon is found in the boot of her rented car. Meanwhile, the only other two veteran cast members, Dewey Riley [Arquette] and Gale Weathers-Riley [Cox] are sparing over how to proceed: Gale sees the whole event as an opportunity to reclaim the limelight, whereas Dewey, now Sheriff, feels he cannot objectively work alongside his wife. The new ghost-face killer appears to be targeting everyone around Sidney, in an attempt to cause her immense suffering, starting with her sole surviving (albeit distant and somewhat estranged) family members. This new generation is represented by Sidney’s cousin Jill [Roberts] and her two friends, Olivia [Marielle Jaffe] and Kirby [Panettiere]. The story rather openly (and unashamedly) follows the formula of the first film, making direct comparisons to the next gen characters and the original victims/killers. By heavily referencing the other Scream films, the narrative continually sets the audience up to believe a certain cast member might be the killer, before their grisly execution provides the ultimate alibi. In a way, this means it avoids being predictable and technically these could be counted as twists but ultimately, there’s something horribly bloated and cliché about the entire project that really cripples it, forcing me to once again raise the aforementioned question, “do audiences need another Scream film?”

As far as this reboot.. revisit.. whatever the hell you want to call it.. goes, it’s not bad. The script was impressive and felt like a story worth telling, furthermore, with the revitalised success of the horror genre, a satirical commentary such as this, with decent characters and scares, feels like a welcome break. The acting is atypical for the genre but far from sub-par; the highlight would certainly be the returns of Arquette in the role of audience favourite, Dewey, and Cox as the surly foul-mouthed reporter, Gale. Directorially speaking, Craven has done a commendable job here and proven that the self-referential style still works very well in the right hands; Marco Beltrami also returns to offer a suitably fitting orchestral score, littered with the obligatory contemporary rock tracks. When analysing the individual elements, it’s difficult not to compliment this film, solely for the fact that it replicates the exact same formula of the first release so closely that if you enjoyed Scream for the humour, postmodern attitude and elaborate chase scenes, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this. However, in making itself so self-aware, so postmodern and so savvy to the changing world of media coverage, the story almost consumes itself. For example, in trying to throw the audience off so much, there are a fair few setups and developments that never pay off. In particular, one relatively creepy exchange between the deputy and Sidney goes nowhere, despite the fact that it’s filmed in an incredibly suggestive manner — it’s problematic little flaws like this that really ruined Scream 3 for me.

**Short spoiler paragraph**
I must confess, I actually really enjoyed both the killer’s motive and the ending. I realise it’s going to piss a lot of people off – but then, so did the other three Scream titles. Everyone expects a big elaborate reason to justify the killings (either that or some deformed monster is responsible) but Jill’s explanation that in order to become famous “you don’t have to do anything, you just have to have fucked up shit happen to you” is an interesting commentary on the nature of contemporary fame. But, as stated, I get that people are going to be annoyed, my biggest complaint is that Sidney lived; they should have had the confidence to completely and finally off her character – either that or make Jill the victor, only to be caught and exposed at a later date in a (some would say justifiable) sequel. Ah well.

Final thoughts, great film for Scream fans and anyone looking for a return to the 90’s answer to horror but if these are the kinds of elements that frustrate the hell out of you, or you’re too young to remember films in the 90’s, you’ll probably find it tedious, slow and boring.


Release Date:
15th April 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
The interaction between Officers Perkins [Anthony Anderson] and Hoss [Adam Brody] were particularly amusing, namely for their analysis of the fate of police officers on film in general (let alone horror movies) and their eventual demise.

Notable Characters:
As stated above, I’ve always felt that David Arquette’s performance as Dewey has been a bit of a highlight of the entire series and this film is no exception. It’s very difficult, however, to judge the new characters, simply because they follow the archetypes of the older ones so closely – giving them little room to deviate or act outside of their two dimensional descriptions.

Highlighted Quote:
“I don’t need friends, I need fans!”

In A Few Words:
“Considering how awful a revisit could have been, Scre4m was a welcome surprise. Nothing overly challenging or new but lived up to its predecessors”

Total Score:

3/5

SUPER

Shut Up Crime!

Director
James Gunn

Starring
Rainn Wilson
Ellen Page
Liv Tyler
Kevin Bacon
Michael Rooker
Nathan Fillion



Far too dark and grisly to be a comedy and too bat-shit crazy to be a drama, Super is a hard one to call. Overall, I’m really not sure if I like it or not. At times it was genuinely hilarious and a shining example of what a low-budget independent release can achieve and other times it went completely overboard and wholly alienated its audience. So, what we’re left with is a confused, puzzling release that never really establishes a steady drive for its lead characters – and the second it starts to come together, they pull a complete one-eighty in an attempt to shock you. The whole thing felt as if the project dramatically spiralled out of James Gunn’s control before a last ditch plot device to try and justify the entire effort.

The main plot thread focuses on the exploits of timid nobody, Frank D’Arbo [Wilson]. After losing his drug-addicted, alcoholic wife, Sarah [Tyler], to crime lord Jacques [Bacon], Frank seeps into a deep depression. Whilst watching TV, flicking through channels, Frank comes across a cheap, poorly acted, pro-Christian super hero show named The Holy Avenger – with the title character played by the wholly underused Nathan Fillion. Later that night, Frank experiences a vision in which the finger of God touches his brain — this is a very literal description of a very graphic scene and the exact moment where audience members who were in any way unsure of this film, instantly made up their mind about it. Inspired by God (or mental illness), Frank goes to his local comic shop to research superheroes who don’t have any powers and from this becomes The Crimson Bolt. After a few failed attempts at fighting crime, Frank arms himself with a wrench and proceeds to viciously beat muggers, dealers and paedophiles. One of the comic shop employees, Libby [Page] quickly catches on that he may be The Crimson Bolt, which Frank denies right up until he is shot and needs somewhere to hide. During the recovery process, Libby hounds Frank, continually offering her services as a kid side-kick, Boltie; after time Frank reluctantly agrees (I’ll expand on Libby’s character in the highlighted character section below). Both Libby and Frank take to the streets, fighting petty crime as best they can before addressing the issue of what to do about Jacques. As you’ve no doubt guessed, a comparison with last year’s Kick Ass is inevitable but I will try to avoid that until the final line – namely because they were filmed around the same time and I don’t want to get into any form of debate of what came first.

For a largely comedic release, the humour is questionable and solely intended for those who laugh at outbursts of graphic violence and the extreme – what your average prudish cinemagoer would call ‘sick’ jokes. But every time they take it too far; jokes quickly get out of hand or played out longer than necessary and the violence continues long after the initial narrative and shock values have faded leaving a thoroughly flogged dead horse. In truth, they should have focused more on the comedy behind the dementia that drove Frank to suit-up rather than his ultraviolent exploits. Then there’s the supporting characters, who seem to serve two dimensional purposes before (more often than not) violently exiting the story. Each is reasonably well-played but they lack full development to make their presence any more than something for Rainn Wilson to riff off.

On the positive side, the juxtaposition of violence in comics and the real world is nicely handled, as is the strange, extremely strict nature of the battle between good and evil. Additionally, opting for a recurring indie theme (the name of which utterly escapes me) was a nice touch and cemented the running small-town feel populated throughout. I realise I mentioned the humour earlier but it’s very much both a positive and negative element – as stated, if you’re a fan of graphic black humour, there is plenty to laugh at here. Also, the notion of vigilante justice is reasonably well handled, littering elements of sheer discouragement and dissuasion, providing a visual representation to the classic, “Don’t try this at home” note.

Ok, here’s the only Kick Ass comparison I’m willing to make: almost every single element that made Kick Ass a rowdy, eccentric joy is taken here and pushed over the line. Sometimes, this works in a films’ favour but more often than not, it serves only to push audience tolerance levels. There’s plenty within this film that serves as genuine entertainment but much like Slither, people are going to be split three ways between those who love it, those who hate it and those who have no idea how to process it.


Release Date:
15th July 2011

The Scene To Look Out For:
Two scenes for you, one hilarious and one that made me really really really fucking uncomfortable. Without a doubt, Nathan Fillion’s wooden Holy Avenger clips are some of the best cut-away moments; detailing ridiculous plots with awfully cheesy religious messages crow-barred in and brilliantly terrible acting. The other scene will probably come up in most reviews. I’ve expanded on my thoughts pertaining to the Libby character below but she’s a bit of a sadist and gets off on the superhero thing – this leads to a very sexually frustrated Libby forcing herself on Frank. Ever since Hard Candy, Ellen Page has creeped me out and this whole masked rape thing kinda pushes it over the edge. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen a forced sex scene played for comedic value ever working (bar same sex jokes, for some reason they seem oddly alright with the public – one of which is used in this very film) but this was just horrific. From Libby’s odd dance and “It’s all gushy” line to Frank’s refusal and eventual submission, it’s just awkward and adds to my complete dislike of Page’s character.

Notable Characters:
**Nasty spoiler at the end**
Emotionally, Rainn Wilson channels a great deal with Frank and makes the character borderline endearing. Gliding back and forth between manic determinism and tearful penitence, Wilson manages to project an impressive range with his performance. Ellen Page as Libby, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter; her character was mostly annoying with her overzealous enthusiasm and sadistic tendencies, combined with a grating forced laugh and over-acted glee. If the Kick Ass comparison was ever justified it’s here because they have desperately tried to create their own twenty two year old Hit Girl and failed. As such, her fate is kinda obvious because she was never fully crafted as a character — as if the creative forces behind this piece said, ‘what about someone like Hit Girl but older and more insane?’ to which the only logical response seems to have been, ‘awesome but I can’t think of any way to write a device to redeem her.. so let’s just kill the crazy bitch’ Then they high five or some shit.

Highlighted Quote:
“You tell everyone you know! That anytime some stupid fucking bastard wants to commit some gay ass crime that Crimson Bolt and Boltie are gonna be there to crush their little fucking evil heads in!”

In A Few Words:
“Relatively amusing take on the comic vigilante sub-genre but always seems to take the humour and violence too far, turning most of the audience off in the proceeding”

Total Score:

2/5