Thursday 27 October 2011

Win Straw Dogs on Blu-ray

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Monday 24 October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin review

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (PG, 107 mins)
Director: Steven Spielberg
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Steven Spielberg’s first film since the much lamented Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull arrives as a huge, multi-million dollar gamble for many reasons.

First off, it’s an adaptation of what is a fairly niche property, HergĂ©’s 80 year old Belgian comic book. And, unknown for a film of this scale from the world’s most famous and successful filmmaker, it’s out in Europe now but won’t hit cinemas in the States until Christmas, the reason given that its Euro-ancestry makes it only right that it should play here first.

More to the point, the financiers will be praying it already has some hundreds of millions in the bank from its worldwide run before it arrives Stateside. That’s because the other massive gamble is that this is a motion capture animation, much like that notorious disaster from earlier this year, Mars Needs Moms, which was one of, if not the, biggest flops in box office history.

But it will sell on Spielberg’s name, and hopefully it will sell based on the fact that it’s really very good indeed, a rollicking adventure that contains several moments of unrivalled cinematic exhilaration from a director whom we’d thought had forgotten how to have fun.

We meet our hero, young reporter Tintin (voiced and performance captured by Jamie Bell) as he buys a model ship in a market, one which a lot of people seem keen to get their hands on, including the devious Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

The ship is the Unicorn, a replica of a real boat lost since the 17th century, and thought to have gone down with its secret treasure. Kidnapped by Sakharine, Tintin meets Captain Haddock, whose ancestor was captain of the Unicorn, and is played as a drunken Scotsman with a mostly agreeable but occasionally fishy accent by Andy Serkis.

It’s a blend of intrigue and action that spends much of the first half introducing plenty of engaging supporting characters, like Tintin’s dog Snowy, who frequently appears to be smarter than he is, and the useless detectives Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg).

But it hits its stride during a marvellously inventive biplane sequence which takes Tintin and Haddock to Africa and the meat of the adventure, and an equally impressive flashback featuring the original Unicorn captain and his pirate encounter.

It’s at this point the action barely pauses for breath and when it most begins to resemble an Indy flick. The centrepiece, a chase through a Moroccan town, is truly breathtaking, although this does make it seem like the film peaks early.

A pertinent question might have been why it’s been filmed as an animation at all, and not simply live action. The answer to that lies in an astonishingly detailed level of richness and opulence in the design that would have been hard to achieve on any budget, and action sequences so fluid and imaginative that they would have been impossible as live action without the need for so much CGI that it would look like a cartoon anyway.

The issue of dead eyes and waxy features that has blighted so many mo-cap efforts also seems to have been addressed, with faces full of life and expression, although every once in a while the characters do move like they're on strings.

But that’s a tiny flaw, and let’s hope the gamble pays off, so that in a couple of years from now we’ll be enjoying the proposed Peter Jackson sequel, followed by many more Tintin adventures to come.

Sunday 9 October 2011

First Night review

First Night (15, 116 mins)
Director: Christopher Menaul
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

A group of opera singers are brought together by Richard E. Grant’s wealthy industrialist to stage a production of Cosi fan Tutte in the grounds of his country estate. As they plod through their rehearsals, punctuated by the goings on in and out of the bedrooms during the downtime, we’re forced to suffer through a barely competent am-dram car crash, and the most clumsily directed, misbegotten tosh you’re likely to see all year. It’s acted out by a bunch of dreadful old hams who can’t seem to perform the most basic lines or actions, with not a single moment that rings true and many that would be hilarious if they weren’t so painfully embarrassing. This really is appalling on every level, a desperate pudding that not even Mozart can save.

The Three Musketeers review

The Three Musketeers (12A/PG-13, 110 mins)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

This umpteenth version of Alexandre Dumas’ novel announces itself from the off as a Pirates of the Caribbean style fantasy, much too interested in delivering 21st century thrills even though it’s set in the early 1600s.

We meet the three musketeers, the king’s elite guards, who are introduced to us as spies and assassins, and young D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who longs to join up with them, even though they're all washed up.

Young king Louis XIII is on the throne of France, but Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) is plotting to start a war with England so that he can take over the running of the country, with only the musketeers able to foil his scheme.

A surfeit of baddies certainly doesn’t help to keep matters manageable. As well as Richelieu, there’s Mila Jovovich as M’lady, here turned into a super-assassin, Orlando Bloom’s Buckingham and Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort, each of them given a centre stage turn as the musketeers disappear for long stretches, leaving behind a useless teen angst subplot about the king and his bride.

All this takes place against truly lavish, opulent sets and magnificent computer generated recreations of Paris and beyond. No expense has been spared and every moment on screen looks glorious. But with the niceties out of the way, let’s take a look at what doesn’t work, which is pretty much the rest of it.

First things first, get some fun, charismatic actors to play your musketeers. Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans are solid enough, but no one’s idea of star attractions, while Lerman fluctuates wildly between an American accent and various parts of Europe.

Next, get a director with the first clue about staging action. It’s a movie full of swordfights and explosions and therefore mildly diverting as it goes, but the action scenes are modelled after 300 and Resident Evil, only without the benefit of sane editing.

The numerous fancy booby traps and devices give it a certain pizzazz, no question, but it becomes all about the whizz-bang, with the anachronistic weaponry and gadgetry an attempt to turn it into a shiny confection rather than a period piece.

Dismal dialogue means it starts out silly and only gets sillier still by the time James Corden rocks up as Planchet with the sole purpose of having a bird shit on his head, and his attempts at comic relief are painful.

And though it’s marginally better than the Peter Hyams swing at the story from a decade ago, The Musketeer, that really isn’t saying a great deal.