Monday, 24 October 2011

The Three Musketeers

DIRECTED BY: Paul W.S. Anderson
WRITTEN BY: Alex Litvak, Andrew Davies
STARRING: Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Logan Lerman, Mads Mikkelsen
RATING: 1.5 stars

I don't think I understood this film. Was it to trying to be a clever and witty spoof film like The Princess Bride? If so, it failed. Was it trying to be a quirky and silly uptake on a classic tale? If so, it failed. I'm sure there are audiences who will enjoy this version of The Three Musketeers, but I found myself growing increasingly baffled by the plot and ridiculous use of airships.

Based very loosely on the classic tale by Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers tells the story of Athos (Matthew Macfayden), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) who are disgraced when they are double-crossed by Milady (Milla Jovovich). A few years later, musketeer-wannabe D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) finds them and inspires them to return to their glory days as heroic musketeers. Meanwhile, corrupt Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) plans to frame the villainous British Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) and the Queen (Juno Temple) by suggesting to the bratty King (Freddie Fox) that they are having an affair so that he will start a war with Britain. It is then up to the musketeers so save the day.

The film is full of clich├ęs, historical inaccuracies and more one-liners than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis could handle. It also rip-offs other films like Fistful of Dollars, The Princess Bride, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, but it's not done in a fun way.

A relatively decent crop of actors also performed poorly in this film and it was largely due to the bad script. Only Waltz gave a decent performance, but even he couldn't save this film. Bloom is not who I would usually cast as a villain, mostly because he is too effeminate (and I mean that in the nicest possible way, but let's be honest, there's a reason why he always plays the lovesick youth as in the Pirates films and Troy for example) but he wasn't too bad as a slimy villain. The others struggled with the bad dialogue and clunky chemistry.

There's no way to sugar-coat this - I walked out of The Three Musketeers wishing I could get those two hours of my life back. Unless you have a 13-year-old boy, I doubt many others will enjoy this film. On a positive note, if you are planning to see this film, I recommend seeing it in 3D. Unlike most feature films made in 3D today, The Three Musketeers uses the 3D effects as more than just a gimmick at the start, but keeps a consistent effect throughout the movie.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Contagion

DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
WRITTEN BY: Scott Z. Burns
STARRING: Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle
RATING: 3 stars

Films like Contagion scare me more than any supernatural horror film ever could. The idea that a deadly, contagious virus could spread so easily around the world because people are so unhygienic is horrifyingly realistic. Yes, I'm one of “those people” who carries hand sanitiser wherever I go. You might think I'm weird, but I value my cleanliness. Having seen Contagion, I am now more convinced than ever that carrying hand sanitiser is a smart idea.

Told through multiple stories around the world (but mostly in cities across the United States), Contagion begins with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who arrives home from a business trip in Hong Kong to her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and her son in Minneapolis only to come down with a serious and mysterious illness. Soon, others start to contract the virus and people begin to die from the disease. The infection, which is named MEV-1, rapidly spreads around the world, leading the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to investigate and try to develop a cure. CDC Deputy Director Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) sends Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) to Minneapolis to investigate Beth's activities because she was the first person known to contract the virus, while WHO representative Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong to do the same. Meanwhile, blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) claims authorities are keeping the cure a secret, which leads to mass panic.

The theme of Contagion has obviously been born out of the fears of recent worldwide infections like Bird Flu and Swine Flu. However, it is the idea that no disease could ever spread quicker than the fear of the disease, which is the most significant theme of the film. Contagion looks closely at how mass hysteria can occur and is an almost more realistic, rather than gory, film of this genre. It also seems to express a frustration with how red tape, funding issues and inter-agency politics hinder the management of such diseases. The film also seems to criticise pharmaceutical industry pressure groups.

Perhaps it is because of all of the politics that Contagion lacks the right level of emotion, and it's disappointing that you don't connect with the characters as much as you would like to. It seems the impressive cast full of Oscar winners and nominees is almost stifled by the script and the greater story idea that the individual stories are not as developed as they should be.

I'm probably being a little hard on Contagion, but it's certainly not Steven Soderbergh's best film. Rather than blow me away, all it did was make me more aware of my own habits, like how often I touch my face, and more paranoid about the hygiene of the person sitting next to me on the bus. Contagion is worth a look, just don't touch anything at the cinema.


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Drive

DIRECTED BY: Nicolas Winding Refn
WRITTEN BY: Hossein Amini
STARRING: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston
RATING: 3 stars

I love a good action film. I also love a good suspense thriller. Drive happens to be both. Unlike a lot of films of this genre (which usually star tough guys like Bruce Willis, Jason Statham or Mark Wahlberg) Drive is unpredictable and keeps you on the edge of your seat. You really don't know if the protagonist is going to make it to the end of the film.

Based on a book by James Sallis, Drive tells the story of a man only known in the script as Driver (Ryan Gosling) who works as a mechanic and stuntman while also working as a getaway driver for armed robbers. Driver falls for his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) but she's married to a man soon due for release from prison. This doesn't seem to bother Driver and he soon takes on a surrogate role taking care of Irene and her young son. Meanwhile, his friend and boss, Shannon (Bryan Cranston) organises a deal that will allow him to drive a flash car in races. Unfortunately, to get the money for the car, he has to turn to a couple of mobsters and he's soon heading down a dangerous path.

The action sequences in this film are powerful with characters being killed at any random moment, and in some new, interesting and gruesome ways reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film. The driving scenes in particular are exciting, including the opening sequence and a climactic scene towards the end of the film.

Ryan Gosling is an unusual choice for an action star but he pulls it off quite well. There's no explanation as to how his character came to be such a tough guy, but it doesn't seem to matter what his back-story is and the character development comes surprisingly from his body language and facial expressions, rather than dialogue so there's actually a heavy reliance on Gosling's acting ability. Director Nicolas Winding Refn has also cleverly used camera angles to great effect to help.

Drive is a carefully thought-out, slow-paced film that builds its suspense with several mini-climaxes before an exciting ending. It's not just a film for men – women will enjoy it too.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Midnight In Paris

DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen
WRITTEN BY: Woody Allen
STARRING: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Marion Cotillard
RATING: 4 stars

It's hard to review this film without giving away some spoilers so forgive me for keeping this vague. Other reviewers have given away the plot completely, but I'm not going to do that. Just let me assure you, it's a great film. Woody Allen has definitely given audiences some evocative and thought-provoking films in the past like Annie Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Zelig. With Midnight In Paris, there is no doubt that he has delivered yet another masterpiece.

We've all wondered what it might be like to have lived in another era. This feeling is probably especially fuelled when we travel to a foreign country and experience a culture different to our own. There is a sense of nostalgia and romanticism in the place, time and the idea. This theme is explored in Midnight In Paris which is more like dreamy, fantasy poem than a regular film.

Owen Wilson plays a writer named Gil - the character Allen would usually play in his films. Gil and his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) travel to Paris for a vacation while her parents are there on a business trip. Gil falls in love with the city and thinks they should move there after they get married, but Inez does not share his love of the city or the idea that the 1920s was the best era to have lived in. One night, Gil takes a walk at midnight and finds a unique inspiration for his writing.

The film is almost like a dream come true for writers and lovers of the arts, paying homage to the 1920s and greats like Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you're not familiar with the artistic and literary greats, then you may as well not bother with this film because Allen has written the script in a way that assumes you're going to understand all the references without any explanation.

Allen is so witty and engaging in his writing. Like all his films, Midnight In Paris provides several scenes of high brow conversations between characters and Michael Sheen is brilliant as a pseudo-intellectual. McAdams also gives a good performance as the spoilt fiance. There are also some good cameos but it is definitely Wilson who drives the film. The sets and costumes are worth noting, while the cinematography is also good and depicts a very beautiful Paris.

Allen's films are always thought-provoking and say so much about society and human beings. Midnight In Paris is no different. At its heart, it tells us that no period is perfect and we can find happiness in our own time.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

What's Your Number?

DIRECTED BY: Mark Mylod
WRITTEN BY: Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden
STARRING: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Gryanor, Blythe Danner
RATING: 3.5 stars

I'm surprised at just how much I enjoyed this film and I think it has a lot to do with Anna Faris. Even in the most mediocre of films, Faris shines because she's so funny and easy to like. What's Your Number? may not be the most original film concept, but Faris provides enough originality to give this film legs.

Based on Karyn Bosnak's novel 20 Times A Lady, What's Your Number? tells the story of Ally (Faris) who thinks she will never get married because she’s had too many lovers. A magazine article tells her the average woman has 10.5 lovers in her lifetime, but she has already had 20 lovers without finding “the one” she wants to marry. Ally decides she won't sleep with anyone new and starts tracking down her ex-boyfriends to see if “the one” may have slipped by her. Ally's overtly sexual next-door neighbour (Chris Evans) agrees to help her with her search in exchange for her helping him escape his one-night stands by allowing him to hide out in her apartment. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it's also quite fun.

So many romantic comedies these days are making references to pop culture and the modern world, and this film is no different. Facebook and Twitter get massive plugs in this film in some very funny moments. We've also seen a few romantic comedies push the boundaries in recent times, such as Bridesmaids, but this film goes back to the basics of romantic comedies, which is actually quite good to see. The only difference is that both protagonists are promiscuous and the film is a little more raunchy and explicit than most sappy romantic comedies. When one potential future husband says “Well if I wasn't your first, at least I can be your last” Ally responds: “Why? Are you going to rape and kill me later?” Only Faris could pull off a line like that!

Writers Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, and director Mark Mylod have graduated from television to film and it's not a bad effort all round. Evans is also good in this role as the charming and flirty neighbour. He spends a large portion of the film either in his underwear or barely covering himself with a small towel, so there is plenty of eye candy too. Blythe Danner is also entertaining as Ally's sometimes-a-little-crazy mother.

What's Your Number? may be labelled by some as “just another romantic comedy”, but at its heart there is actually a good moral to the story. Magazines might provide us with obsessive quizzes and tips about life and love, but the truth is put quite simply in this film – happiness in love means being completely comfortable being yourself, rather than living up to other people's expectations. The aim is to find someone who will accept you for who you truly are. Awww...