Monday, November 28, 2011

Brother Bear

 When we think of Disney's animated features titles like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, The Lion King, and even Tangled immediately spring to mind. But think on this. In 2003 Brother Bear was Disney's 44th animated feature, and yet I bet you cannot name, let alone say you have seen them all. I certainly can't and yet I love animation. In fact I was shocked to find out that in 2003 Disney had made 44 animated features.

 Well before last night I had never heard of Brother Bear! I stumbled across it last night whilst rummaging around in the cabinet below the telly. At first I wasn't interested simply because I and never heard of it. But into the DVD player it went and afterwards some 'net searching did I do! What I found out surprised me. I was shocked by how many animated features Disney have made of which I know nothing about. I mean Brother Bear is only 8 years old and yet I don't recall this playing at my local cinema.

 The thing here is that this is a feature that grossed US$250 million world wide and yet has all but slipped into relative obscurity. In many respects it has suffered the same fate as 2008's Bolt in being a financial success without capturing the viewers imagination. I think this is because like Bolt it is a one watch unremarkable animated feature. It is a film that just doesn't stay in your mind except maybe in re-calling that it was somewhat.....bland?

 What is surprising is that it was nominated for two Oscars ( one of which was for Best Animated feature ). It really had no hope of winning when you realise it was up against Finding Nemo, which is to be honest, the far superior feature. To be sure it isn't a case of computer over hand drawn animation but one of Finding Nemo being more original overall, if not more striking. On release for instance Brother Bear was criticised for retreading ground from the likes of The Lion King and parallels to Ice Age. The criticisms are valid up to a point. There is a definite Lion King feel at times, but the comparison between it and Ice age are unfounded because Brother Bear was in production BEFORE Ice Age.

 Other interesting facts include the fact that this was the last hand drawn animated feature to come from Disney. This is probably because of the success of Finding Nemo. Again if you compare Brother Bear against Finding Nemo it must be said hand drawn animation was looking somewhat dated. In all reality to survive Disney had to make the switch to keep competing. I'm a fan of hand drawn over computer generated but what got me as I watched Brother Bear last night was how it looked older than its 8 years. It really did hit me just how quickly I have gotten used to computer animation.

 In all honesty though I don't think the quality of the hand drawn animation in Brother Bear is of previous Disney efforts. It isn't poor but it just isn't quite there either. At times it is quite jerky and to my eye looked like a straight to DVD feature from a minor studio of limited budget. One thing about the animation really bothered me right throughout, and that was the mouth of young bear cub Koda. That's right his mouth! In profile it looked more like a monkey's than a bear's! Seriously watch it as it doesn't look at all like a bear's mouth but a primates. I found this highly distracting and reinforced my feeling that the animation overall in Brother Bear wasn't quite there. At times it looked somewhat sloppy.

 Besides that there are other elements lacking. Generally speaking all Disney features have a good dollop of humour thrown in. But in Brother Bear there was decided lack of it. I mean in its entire 80 minute running time I laughed only once. It is not that it is overly serious in tone it is just that the intended humour doesn't come off. For instance the two squabbling, bumbling Moose brothers don't have the humour of past Disney comic characters. Even the dialogue between the characters was somewhat bland. I particularly found Koda's runaway, smart arse-mouth approach, more tiresome than humourous.

 Another thing in the film had me frowning as well. It was the copious amounts of head slapping of the human characters. I'm not sure this is appropriate in a film aimed at children. Animated features are renowned for promoting morals and values, and yet here is all this slapping going on. It sort of demeaned the message the film otherwise had and it felt out of place to me. But if you overlook the low level violence the story and moral are typical Disney.

 Over all then it must be said that even though Brother Bear was a financial success it hasn't stuck around. The fact an animation fan such as myself hadn't previously heard of it says a lot. This isn't a bad feature but it is far from Disney's best. All the ingredients are certainly there but they don't come together. The animation is lacking in the usual Disney quality and it shows because at times the film looks jerky. The humour is also absent which is unusual for a Disney film because it is a real staple of the studios animated features. I can't say I like or disliked Brother Bear. But to be honest I found too much to criticise than I would have liked to have.

 IMDB has this with 6.6/10. I'm more prone to give it 5/10 simply for it being so unremarkable. Sure it looks and feels like a Disney animated feature but it just isn't one of the studios best...far from it. Something is palpably lacking. Maybe the fact its sequel went straight to DVD says something in itself??

 In a word......Bland.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Harsh Times

 Over the years I've watched many a film that by the end I have asked myself ' Why was this ever made? ' To be sure 90% of the films made in a year can probably be asked that question! But most films have a reason for their existence, from making a statement, as pure entertainment, to scare, inform, or what not. But once in a while a film comes along that doesn't seem to have a point or reason to it at all. I watched 2006's Harsh Times immediately after The Number 23, as they were both on late night telly here in NZ. Believe me after nearly 4 hours, in hindsight, there were better ways I could have spent that time!!

 Harsh Times is a strange film. Strange in that it is superbly acted and yet seems to have no real point. It is purportedly a crime drama and yet it fails to feel like one. Even the title is strange because harsh times conotates just that, and yet nothing in the film felt like times were tough. I mean the two lead protagonists were out of work, but they both had prospects and things didn't look that grim. So where did the ' harsh times ' come in to it? For instance Christian Bale's character is an ex- Ranger who, even though rejected by the police force, has a good opportunity for employment with the FBI. The guy has real potential so why ' harsh times? '

 To be sure he is slipping back into old habits and is suffering from PTSS, but he isn't totally down and out yet. The problem is that he seems to want to be. He hooks up with his pal played by Freddy Rodriquez of Six Feet Under fame and the two go on a bit of a bender instead of looking for work. Over the length of the film Bale's character's PTSS grows worse and he completely loses control of himself, to the point where even his mates don't want to be near him. The problem is that his self destruction finally pulls them down to their's as well.

 For me the major problem with the film is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. At first it flirts with trying to be a crime drama, and yet in all reality it is more about a couple of dudes who smoke a bit of pot and get up to a few stupid antics. But crime drama per se? No way. Boyz in the Hood it is trying to be but Boyz in the Hood it isn't. Then it flirts with trying to be about post traumatic stress syndrome as we see its impact on Bale's character and what happens when it is left unchecked. Harsh Times then is a film trying to be two things and fails at both of them.

 And that is what leads to the film feeling strange. It sort of drifts along without engaging the viewer. I found myself scratching my head at it all and came close to turning it off and going to bed. But I persevered because it surely surely had to go somewhere, let alone have a point. Suffice to say the film stuttered to its conclusion and left me feeling totally unsatisfied.

 All of which is a shame, because even though it is a film that has no real direction or point, it has two fine performances in it. Both Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriquez are superb, which is surprising considering the strange wandering script. Normally a bad script sees actors unable to get anything from it, and yet both Bale and Rodriquez manage to somehow. The pity is that ultimately it was all for nothing because Harsh Times was a straight to DVD release where their respective performances could hardly be expected to be seen. Bale's performance has been praised by critics and he is in fine form. But ultimately his performance is wasted because the rest of the film is so forgettable.

 The director is David Ayer who directed such films as Street Kings, and wrote screenplays for The Fast and Furious, U-571, which aren't exactly quality films. And yet he wrote the script for the Oscar winning Training Day. But overall I think Ayer pretty average and it shows in this muddle of a film. Incredibly IMDB has this with 7/10! I find that laughable because the film is a mess, doesn't go anywhere and feels completely pointless as it tries to be two things and fails at both. I'm hard pressed to give it anymore than 4/10  simply because Harsh Times is a strange, unengaging film, that has two outstanding performances going for it but little else.

 In a word....don't bother.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Secondhand Lions

 I see dead people. Shit.....wrong film but right actor!! Or maybe it should be ' I've seen my career disappear ' because this 2003 film was almost the last Haley Joel Osment was to appear in. He has only made one other since then in 2007 entitled....??? Hmm, who cares it was forgettable. During those last 8 years all he has mainly done is voice work for video games. Sure he ran into a bit of trouble in 2006 after hitting a brick wall in his car whilst sozzled on booze ( and for possession of naughty substances ), but I can't believe that alone has driven his career down hill. After all other actors/actresses have done worse and continued on in Tinseltown.

 But thems the breaks in Hollywood. One day you can be hot property, then the next your name can be mud. Of course after 1999's The Sixth Sense, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, he was hot property. But when you look closer at his post-Sixth Sense career there is nothing special there. And that includes this 2003 effort Secondhand Lions. Actually it is funny to compare Osment against his illustrious co-star Michael Caine, because besides Jack Nicholson, Caine is the only other actor to have been nominated for an Oscar in every decade since the 1960's! Of course he has another illustrious co-star in Robert Duvall who has an Oscar and of writing is making a telemovie at the sprightly age of 80!

 So in 2003 Secondhand Lions was a film that had a hot new up and comer and two old war horses who had been there and done that. The contrast couldn't have been greater. But age, awards, etc aside  Secondhand Lions is a 2003 dramedy...I kid you not, a dramedy! That is what wikipedia calls it so I'll go with it as well! So dramedy it is and funnily enough it fits because it is both a drama and comedy  mingled into one. The result is a quite reasonable family orientated film, that whilst not great, is still a satisfying enough watch for all ages. Dramedy? Yes, but in all intents and purposes it is a family movie.

 So what is this dramedy about? Well in 1962 12 year old Walter ( Osment ) is dumped on his two aging uncles, Hub and Garth ( Duvall and Caine ), by his promiscuous lying mother. Apparently they have a stash of money somewhere gained by unknown means. She leaves with instructions to Walter to find it. Suffice to say the relationship between the 12 year old and his aged uncles isn't easy. Their eccentric ways and family visits from greedy relatives initially confound Walter. But over time as he is yet again let down by his mother the three warm to each other. It is then Walter hears through Garth the tale behind his uncles lives and ultimately where the money came from.

 Along the way there are all sorts of comedic capers involving a lion hunt, an airplane, one damned good salesman, and a fight with four greasers. But over it all is the closeness and need  the three grow towards each other. Overall the script is quite reasonable and pulls on the heart strings just enough for the viewer to cheer for the good guys and boo the rotten family members! My only real complaint is that the action sequences as Garth reminisces about he and his brother's past are a little lame at times. To be sure it is a family orientated film but they really did look somewhat cheap. Conversely though the 1962 scenes looked good!

 When you watch this film it is hard to believe it cost US$30 million to make! $30 million! Where did it all go? Seriously that is a hell of a lot of money and yet the film doesn't project it as such. But what is more worrying is the fact it grossed only US$48 million world wide. So it is fair to say it under whelmed audiences. But it isn't a bad film at all. When released it received mixed reviews from ' its obvious flaws that can be overlooked ' ( I agree with that sentiment ) to ' it has enough charm and whimsy to capture the attention and imagination of children and adults alike ' ( a true statement ) to ' schmaltzy' and ' troubling ' due to its depiction of Arabs, hmmm maybe, maybe not.

 To be sure it has flaws but in all reality it is aimed at a specific market and for the type of film it is it does it well. There is enough story and set pieces which are ably backed up with some good humour that it is a film that is hard not to like. I've watched it numerous times over the last few years and always enjoy it. The end is a bit silly though. But then again it isn't the original one. Apparently a test audience didn't like the original ending so the producers made a new one. It isn't that great either in my opinion but it is there and has to be lived with. But since it is a feel good film the end and the way it is really does fit in with the whole point of the film.

 IMDB has this with 7.5/10. I think that is probably too much as it isn't a great film as such. I think it more a 6/10 as a film overall. But where I see that 7.5 coming from is the sentimental feeling people get from it. I suppose then that it has fulfilled its role as a piece of feel good escapism anyone of any age can enjoy. Certainly more than watchable with enough to satisfy a wide range of viewers.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Number 23

" Be sure your sin will find you out. "

Numbers 32:23

  I am a serious fan of Jim Carrey...NOT!!! I've never taken to his style of humour, let alone the type of films he stars in. The only role I have liked him in was as The Riddler/Edward Nygma in 1995's  Batman Forever. The funny thing is that even though he has forged a career as a comedian, I think him a better actor when playing it straight laced. The problem again though is he hasn't done it too often, which is a shame because when he does he shows his real talent.

 2007's The Number 23 is a good example of just this point. Even though a totally unoriginal and forgettable film, it it is worth watching just to see Jim Carey actually acting, and not playing the fuckwit. Seriously I can't stand Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura, Cable Guy, etc, etc. I have always found Carrey's humour too forced and hence unfunny. The problem then with watching a film like The number 23 is that you constantly expect Carrey to slip into fuckwit mode and let slip something stupid, or just downright dumb....or even penguins to appear.

 Suffice to say it took me some time to get used to Carrey in a serious role. This is unfortunate because half the film goes by before you relax and realise Ace Ventura isn't going to leap out at you! This was actually Carey's first suspense thriller and the second he made with Joel Schumacher after Batman Forever. I wonder how much of an influence Schumacher was over Carrey's performances in both of these films considering how good they are?

 So what is it all about?? In short it is a psychological thriller which involves a number 23 obsession. ( you know Psalm 23, 23 was Hitler's favorite number etc, etc ). Or in other words the so-called 23 enigma, the esoteric belief that all incidents and events are connected to the number 23, permutation of 23, or a number related to 23. ( In short guy finds a novel that inexplicably is mirroring his own life. It revolves around the number 23 and he becomes obssessed by it as he finds an underlying murder behind the novel's existence ). The premise is great as this belief in 23 is held very real by many people. So you'd expect a really cool film out of it wouldn't you? WRONG!! Because unfortunately The Number 23 takes a fantastic opportunity and completely stuffs it up.

 The problem is that whilst the idea of a number 23 obsession has real scope, the script is just so unoriginal you wonder why anyone even bothered to make it. Seriously folks if you combine Memento, with The Shining and Secret Window, then you would end up with The Number 23. The writing and scrawling on arms and hands is lifted straight out of Memento, as is the scrawling all over any available wall ala The Shining. But worse is the Secret Window analogy. The thing is that in The Number 23 it becomes all too obvious who wrote the novel all too quickly, hence any suspense is completely lost.

 But unlike many films with a ' twist ending ', that of The Number 23 is lost because the twist is played out too long over too many scenes. The impact of who the author is, and how they came to write the novel, becomes meaningless and less of a surprise. Mind you there is no real surprise, because in all reality you'd have to be thick as a six inch plank to not be able to figure it all out within 20 minutes. So the script is a let down and thoroughly unoriginal. So much scope for a really top notch, mind twisting thriller, was completely missed. Believe me as I watched it I felt really annoyed at how such an opportunity went begging.

 The Number 23 was a virtual straight to DVD release, but this does not excuse the poor script, or the waste of a fine performance from Jim Carrey. It did see a limited theatre run but only of 35 days worldwide. Surprisingly it grossed US$35 million in the States and US$77 million worldwide. Which aren't spectacular figures considering it grossed US$27 million from DVD rentals in 2007 alone! So this a film that failed to make any real impact. Again that script cannot be ignored for the films underwhelming performance.

  But it is more than this because the film flits, as it must, between two time streams. But it doesn't do it well enough. Sure there is a certain stylishness about it, but it ultimately feels clumsy, confusing and delivered in a rather rambling manner. And again The Secret Window analogy is all too obvious. All of which takes away from an excellent non-comedic performance from Carrey, which deserves to be seen. The rest of the cast is solid, but Carrey is on a different level. If you hadn't seen him act in this film you'd never believe he could pull of a role like this and so convincingly.

 And that is the problem. Carry's performance is just too good for the whole film! The script is poor to say the least and doesn't do justice to Carrey at all. It is a pity because so many people will never watch this film and see his performance. But what I hope happens is that somewhere in the future Carrey is given a far superior script to work with. One in which he can showcase his obvious talent for this type of suspense thriller.

Memento and The Shining anyone?
 Ultimately The number 23 isn't worth bothering with. If it wasn't for an out of character, and yet stunning performance from Jim Carrey, I wouldn't be able to find anything to commend about this film. It is just too unoriginal, with obvious parallels to other films. And the twist is too easily worked out which makes the whole film pointless. The only thing that came out of this films existence is Jim Carrey. If for nothing else I recommend you give this a watch just too see him in a different type of role.

IMDB has this with 6.2/10. For me that is far too generous. I'd be hard pressed to give it a begrudged 5/10 for being unoriginal, too obvious, and for stuffing up a potentially great premise, and opportunity, to make a creditable thriller around the number 23 enigma.

 Click here for a synopsis and more:

Friday, November 18, 2011

The World's Fastest Indian

 I've been doing this blog for 10 months now. Within that time I've only watched and reviewed one NZ made film. The film in question was Love Birds, and whilst not the best Kiwi film ever made it captured our national sense of humour well. Before that the last NZ film I saw in a cinema was the very popular 2010 release Boy. As a film I don't think many outside of NZ will ' get it '. It is very quintessentially NZ and sums up a lot about certain aspects of our culture and heritage. It's popularity saw it out-gross The World's Fastest Indian, a film that is certainly well enough known outside of NZ.

 Released in 2005 ( my god was it that long ago? ) it is a semi-biographical look at Burt Munro and his setting of a land speed record on his heavily modified Indian Scout in the late 1960's. The poster states ' Based on one hell of a true story' , and the key word here is ' based on '. Because in all reality it is very, very loosely based on the life of Munro. Director Roger Donaldson had previously made a short TV documentary on Monro in 1971 entitled Bert Munro : Offerings to the God of Speed. Ever since he had wanted to make a film based around Munro's achievements. He was certainly qualified enough to do so.

 Again, the film is loosely based on Munro. In the film it suggests that Munro went to the Utah Salt Flats and achieved his records in one year. This is totally inaccurate as Munro went to Bonneville many times and took several years to achieve the records he did. But inaccuracies aside what Donaldson has done is compress a certain part of Monro's 79 year life into 127 minutes with particular emphasis on his Bonneville years. It pretty much excludes his earlier life as a speed way rider in Australia and motorcycle mechanic and beach racer in NZ. But I find this alright because his achievements and many records within Australia and NZ were to be overshadowed by his international records of Bonneville.

 So the film is only slightly biographical due to its inaccuracies. But all the same Donaldson has captured much of Munro in the film. As a man Munro was eccentric to say the least. He had been around bikes for many years racing and repairing them, from which he gained his self taught engineering genius. The film does show an element of this in his shed ( and yes he lived like that for many years! ). We see him making his own pistons for instance. In fact the mold in the film is the very one Monro used. And on the walls are actual pistons Munro made and blew over the years. They were borrowed from the Southland Museum and Art Gallery.

The real story!!
 The other thing Donald does well is capture Munro's eccentric personality. Several scenes in the film are based on some of Munro's ways. But really what Anthony Hopkins does is show more a flavour of what type of man Munro was rather that a straight out portrayal. For anyone interested in reading more about Munro and his life there was a book published in the same year entitled One Good Run : The Legend of Burt Munro by Tim Hanna. It is an excellent biography and well worth reading if you can get a copy ( I'm sure will help in that regard! ). But be warned it gets rather technical at times as Hanna writes how Munro modified his Indian. But all the same it is an easy read and will appeal to anyone remotely interested in furthering their knowledge on this remarkable, eccentric man.

 So what of the film itself inaccuracies aside? I've established the inaccurate necessities to a certain degree and I'll include a wikipedia link that explores them in greater depth. Now as stated in 2006 this was the highest grossing NZ made film up to that point. It grossed a whopping NZ$7 million!! This is a staggering figure considering NZ's population hadn't quite reached 4 million! It went on to gross over US$18 million world wide. Which aren't bad figures considering the size of NZ's film industry ( which does NOT revolve around Peter Jackson!! ).

 But here the cast very much revolves around a certain Anthony Hopkins!! He was a good choice to play Munro because he had the age, but also the star power, in which to get cinema audiences outside on NZ interested in seeing the film. I've read a bit on the real Burt Munro and along with Roger Donaldson's personal knowledge of Munro I think Hopkins captures the essence of the man well. Even though of Welsh extraction Hopkins made his character feel like a Kiwi. Some criticise his accent, but really I think this can be ignored as the film needed someone of Hopkins age and stature. Sometimes little things like that have to be sacrificed for the film's greater good.

 I believe Hopkins found the whole film a great experience and enjoyed his time Down Under. I've read this of many big name stars who have filmed in NZ. Tom Cruise with The Last Samurai ( filmed in the Taranki where I lived when very young ),  and the entire foreign cast of The lord of the Rings stated the same thing. I believe it is the fact it is so far removed from the hype and big lights of Hollywood that they find so refreshing. Orlando Bloom for instance has stated he liked the fact he could walk down the street without being mobbed. Kiwis are like that as we don't really make a big deal out of seeing a celebrity in the street.

 The other two bigger names in the cast are Diane Ladd and  Christopher Lawford, son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia ' Pat ' Kennedy, ( yes from THAT family of Kennedy's!! ). The rest of the cast is a real assembly of local Kiwi actors and lesser lights. This is important because it brings the Kiwi air to the fore and keeps it grounded as a Kiwi story for which it is. It isn't a Bonneville, Utah story, but one a Kiwi bloke setting land speed records on the international stage. When you realise this you can understand why it raked in the dollars at the Kiwi box office, as we felt a certain pride in Munro's achievements.

 The thing to was we all knew the film was to play overseas and we got a silly thrill from knowing that our local actors were to be seen worldwide. One scene is very tongue in cheek and completely unknown outside of NZ. The film used locations in Invercargill ( never been there! ) which was Munro's home town. In the film the modern day mayor of Invercargill, Tim Shadboldt is seen in bumping into Hopkins' Munro as he enters the bank to get his pension! It is a great touch and us Kiwis had a good laugh at the in-house joke!

 I personally saw this twice at my local cinema and several times since on DVD. My favorite scene is where the dis-believers and nay-sayers let Munro have a run whilst his entourage follow him in their car. What makes me laugh is when they hit 90mph in the car Munro cuts loose and just blows them away! Their jaws just drop!! Seriously folks when that bike disappeared like that I got goose pimples up and down my spine! It look fantastic on the big screen which gave a better feel for the speed he was travelling at. Read the book as Munro tells what it was like to ride at 300kph!!

 So this was a film NZ could be proud of. The thing I like most is that it feels like a NZ film and didn't sell out in making it more palatable for a worldwide audience. To be sure it isn't a truly great film in itself, but when you consider it's small budget and the small pool of acting talent it drew from then this is a good example of a New Zealand made film. It does have inherent flaws, especially to historical accuracy, but it doesn't pretend to be a true portrayal as it quite clearly states ' based on one hell of a true story '. But believe me if you like this film's story then I strongly urge you to read Tim Hanna's biography, because the real life story of Burt Munro far surpasses that of the film!

 In short a flawed film but with two thing going for it. A great story based on even greater events. In the process it is a show case of a real quintessentially made New Zealand film. IMDB has this with 7.9/10! To be honest I think that a little bit too generous as I feel it to be more down around 6.5-7/10. But none the less a fine watch.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more, especially in regards to inaccuracies and other interesting facts on Burt Munro and his Indian Scout:

And click here for wikipedia's biographical sketch of Burt Munro:

New Brave Princess Breaks The Mold

A teaser poster.
 Here's an article from my local rag about the upcoming Pixar animated feature Brave ( the studios 13th ). The incredible thing is that it is slated for a mid-2012 release, and yet I have already seen a teaser trailer at my local cinema several weeks ago! In fact if you go to wikipedia's page on the feature it gives so much information you could be forgiven for thinking it had been already released. Suffice to say though that much of wikipedia's page is mirrored in this article. So without further adue the article!

Pixar's first female lead shows she's one tough cookie.
 The newest princess from The Walt Disney Co is more interested in shooting arrows and hunting bears than attending balls and finding Prince Charming. Merida, the spunky curly-haired Scottish heroine from the coming Pixar Animation Studios adventure Brave, is breaking new ground as the archery-loving protagonist of the Oscar-winning studios first fairytale.

 " She's your anti-princess, " said Brave co-director Mark Andrews. She isn't your typical princess. She does not wear nice clothes except in a couple of scenes when her strict mom, Queen Elinor, makes her do it for special functions. She's an active and action-orientated person. She wants to get out in the outdoors of the Highlands, escaping from castle life and exploring the woods. "

 Brave, scheduled for release next June 21st, is set in medieval Scotland and features the voices of Boardwalk Empire actress Kelly MacDonald as princess Merida, Emma Thompson as Queen Elina, Billy Connolly as her one-legged father, King Fergus, as well as Craig Ferguson, Kevin Kidd and Robbie Coltrane as the kingdom's noblemen.

 Despite being the first Pixar film to focus on a female heroine, Andrews said Brave will be less about girl power and more about the oppositional relationship between mother Elinor and daughter Merida, likening the defiant red-haired princess to a scrutinised modern teenager who is forced to attend the same high school where her mother serves as the principal.

 In the trailer, Merida's father tells of the 6.7m beast with razor-sharp claws, a face scarred with a dead eye and " hide littered with the weapons of fallen warriors, " that chomped off his leg while the rebellious Merida transverses a forest, ascends a mountain and lands a bulls eye at a tournament.

 The role of Merida in Brave marks the first animated film part for MacDonald, a Scottish actress who has appeared in Gosford Park and  Finding Neverland. She acknowledged being struck by the significance of playing Disney royalty during a visit to Disneyland this year as she watched Disney princesses gallivant during the parade.

 " I just thought, ' My goodness! There's eventually going to be a Merida doing her thing up there, " said MacDonald. " The people that they cast to be the characters and wear the costumes at Disneyland have to do the accent, so.....some American girl will have to do my accent. It kind of blows my mind, really. "

 Other imagery in the trailer includes Merida encountering mystical blue-hued wisps and the gnarly bear that took her father's leg. Andrews said despite the 3-D film's darker tone and visual style compared with past Pixar movies like Toy Story and  Cars, Brave will not be " missing any of the comedy or entertainment you usually associate with Pixar. "

 Of course the article doesn't tell all. It was initially to called The Bear and the Bow and Reese Witherspoon was approached to voice Merida. She declined though because of schedule clashes. The darker tone and fairy tale elements are lifted from the likes of The Brother's Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Even the score has a Scottish flavour with the film's score composed by a ( gasp!!! ) real live Scot!!

 So all we can do now is wait and see. It is Pixar so I'm sure it will be a quality animated feature. Just judging by the teaser trailer I saw it looks as if it is worth waiting for! But bah to it being in 3-D!!!!

 Click here for the official site:

And here for more at IMDB:

Miss Potter

 Heaven forbid...I have actually put aside the wonderful ' magic ' of Sleepless in Seattle and watched a different film!! This particular DVD has been under the telly for as long as Sleepless in Seattle has been. And like that film I never thought I'd bother to watch it. But last night I did before my fifth consecutive night of watching Tom Hanks win over Meg Ryan. Now this is a difficult film to categorise. It isn't quite a chick flick even though of more interest to a female audience. And it isn't strictly speaking a bio-pic. It is a sort of hybrid of both.

 But all the same it avoids the dryness that can sometimes come with biographical films. It also infuses enough heart and warmth to make it approachable and watchable. I do re-call the release of this film and the positive reviews it got but at he time I felt it looked too female orientated for my tastes. After last night I still think it more a ' chick's '  film. But all the same it is a fine film and well worth watching.

 It is of course based on the life of children's author Beatrix Potter and her battles with her parents over her chosen vocation and choice of men. Now first off the film has several inaccuracies. But they fortunately don't detract from the main focus of the film, which is Potter's rise to fame as a children's author, and her desire to marry her publisher against the wishes of her snooty parents. The surprising thing about the film is that it is only 91 minutes long! But even with cutting out a few aspects of Potter's life the 91 minutes are actually spot on length wise.

 Normally a film like this of that length would aggrieve me. I think a film should be at least 100 minutes at least, but Miss Potter delivers more than enough in its relative briefness to satisfy. And satisfy it does! The cast here is superb and there isn't a mis-casting to be seen. Renee Zellweger is magnificent as the somewhat sheltered Potter, who battles her interfering, over bearing parents. I believe she had a dialogue coach for the film to negate her post Bridget Jones American twang. She speaks and captures Potter's privileged, but sheltered life beautifully.

 This is important because the viewer instantly gains a rapport with her and sympathises with her desire to strike out on her own. Her parents are superbly played by Bill Paterson and Barbara Flynn. Flynn in particular captures the snobbery of too much money, and I couldn't help but won't to give her a good hard kick up her fat snobby arse! I mean even as a child she was dismissive of her daughters obvious burgeoning artistic talents and offered no encouragement or praise. It is terrible to think that once upon a time parents could and did feel the need to control their children's lives, even into adulthood.

 Ewan McGregor is well cast as Potter's publisher and then fiance. He has the ability to play these charming mannered roles so well. The chemistry between him and Zellweger is obvious. I just loved the almost innocence of Potter juxtaposed against the polite charm of McGregor's Norman Warne. To prepare for the role McGregor actually studied photos of Warne and visited the modern day Warne Publishing House. Both he and Zellweger read letters that Potter and Warne wrote to each other as well. So research was done to create the characters as close as possible to the real people. The animated Peter Rabbit scenes etc were done by an animator who had previously worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It adds a real charm to the film as it conveys to the viewer the world through Potter's eyes and how she conceived her characters. I think it very well done.

 My only niggle is in just how real was the politeness? I know this Victorian England but somehow it just felt a tad overdone. Or I may be fatally wrong and that was how the upper class and privileged spoke and thought of one another. But either way, overdone or not, it still produces a quite reasonable period drama of which the English excel at better than anyone else...period. But as stated there are several minor inaccuracies. For instance Norman Warne died of pernicious anemia which does not cause coughing as stated in the film. Secondly whilst not an inaccuracy as such, more an oversight, is the fact that Potter throughout her life made detailed fungi studies and often stated her desire to be a mycologist. And lastly The Tale of Peter Rabbit had been privately published before taken up by the Warnes.

 Miss Potter was released in time to be in Oscar running contention but garnered no nominations. Whilst positively received and a financial success it has a sort of under whelming feel to it. It is a well made, acted film no question, and it delivers charm and fell good vibes galore, but something isn't quite there. I felt the Victorian era politeness a little over done which I found somewhat distracting. But for it's relative short running time of 91 minutes, the quality of the cast and their respective performances Miss Potter is a worthy watch. It is just interesting to watch a film like Sleepless in Seattle before this because I haven't stopped thinking of that film whereas Miss Potter hasn't really stayed in my mind.

 IMDB has this with a solid 7.1/10 which is probably fair because it is well made all round. It isn't perfect but it does enough to be a fine watchable biopic/period drama. Where it fails is that it just isn't memorable. Solid undoubtedly, but sadly not at all memorable.

 Click here for a synopsis and more:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sleepless In Seattle

 " That's your problem. You don't want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie. "

" It was like....magic. "

  Alfred Hitchcock once quipped ' It is only a movie. ' And of course the rotund one is right, they are only movies. This is both fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunate because after a Hollywood bloodbath we can all walk out in one piece. Or unfortunate in that we leave wishing that sometimes life mirrored the big screen. This is the power of cinema. It entertains, scares, moves, makes you laugh, cringe, squirm, hurl abuse at the screen, or heaven forbid, cry ( for those of you willing to admit to having done so! ).

 Well after four viewings over consecutive nights I'm in the ' unfortunate ' category with 1993's rom-com Sleepless in Seattle. Why? Because things like that don't happen in life do they? Well they might. But in all honesty what his film done for me was reinforce what cinema is ultimately about. Fantasy and making them happen, albeit for a few hours. And Sleepless in Seattle is a wonderful example of this fantasy and escapism.

 Now there are some film genres I don't really do. Musicals and horrors are on the bottom of the list. Romantic comedies I have avoided precisely because of films like this! In fact it wasn't until 1998 and Saving Private Ryan that I watched a Tom Hanks film! It was because in his early career he starred in such films as Big, Joe Versus the Volcano and Sleepless in Seattle which twenty years ago held no appeal. I never took to Meg Ryan because of the string of rom-coms she starred in as well. But time and age is a funny thing. And whilst sitting down in the middle of the night to watch a film like this 20 years ago wouldn't have happened, it isn't such a rare occurrence now. Suffice to say as I've gotten older I've got ( thankfully! ) a bit more eclectic in my tastes!

Is Fatal Attraction your favorite scary movie?!!
 I do remember this playing here and I cannot believe this is now 18 years old! It can be said that it is a modern classic even though not that old. But I do believe it deserves to be called a classic, and if not, then it is definitely one in the making. Well I think you can see where this is going can't you! Seriously I loved this film! I mean I looovvveeeed it! Which is unusual because rom-coms don't generally appeal to me and I don't seek out watching them very often. I'm not dismissive of the genre, its just that they aren't my cup of tea. But from time to time I do partake.

 Suffice to say once in a while a rom-com crops up that is actually pretty damned good. And I think Sleepless in Seattle not only a fine rom-com but an excellent film full stop. This is a film that I can't fault in anyway. It just works on all levels. The script is par excellence, the soundtrack is a genuine cracker, the acting superb ( especially that of Meg Ryan who I've never taken notice of ), well...just everything. This is a film that just got it all right. But at the same time I can't call it a masterpiece or even genuinely great. But it is memorable and once watched never to be forgotten. Which to my mind shows a film doesn't have to be entitled The Godfather or Gone With the Wind to make an impact.

 The wonderful thing here is that so many professional critics and film goers in general are dismissive of rom-coms as a genre. What I think Sleepless in Seattle has done is shown it is a valid genre and can produce some very, very good films. The thing I like most about this particular film is the script. It is pure romantic escapism to be sure ( which is its whole point of existence ). But it does it so well by incorporating the movie within a movie theme. Of course it builds itself around the classic Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr film An Affair to Remember of which it uses the theme song and various clips from.

 This inspiration is wonderfully parodied as the females in the film all gush over its romantic content. I went into hysterics when Rita Wilson's character Suzy went into tears as she described the film to her husband Sam and Jonah! Of course Sam spouts out ' sounds like a chick's movie!! 'The three of them all look at her in disbelief as she blubbers away and then go into tears themselves over The Dirty Dozen! The climatic scene where Sam and Annie meet on top of the Empire State Building is playing out the meeting that never happened in the Grant/Kerr film. This is such a great script where it uses a classic film and has the lives of its character mimicking that of another film. ( I loved the Fatal Attraction allusion as well!! ).  Sure it isn't an original premise and done many times before. But Sleepless in Seattle does it in its own way that is funny, heart warming and full of charm. In fact it was so good it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay ( but lost out to Jane Campion's The Piano ).

 The thing is to is that it doesn't get mushy or too sentimental. When a rom-com does that it tends to lose me. But this is the strength of Sleepless in Seattle in that it avoids the mush and keeps it grounded. It is sheer romantic escapism. It doesn't pull on the heart strings but plays on the viewers romantic streak. And just like the characters themselves watching Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, the viewer is feeling the same way about the movie they are watching with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It is very clever and it works brilliantly.

 The cast is excellent which also helps! I get the feeling they knew they had a good script and that they were making a good film. It shows in the final product because it just has that warm fuzzy feeling to it. The cast has gotten into it and the vibe is palpable. There are of course five main players in the film, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman, Ross Malinger and Rosie O'Donnell. But for me personally the performances that really stood out ( even though they all compliment each other ) are from Ryan and O'Donnell. O'Donnell as Becky is superb! Her scenes are full of a droll, dry, subtle sense of humour that constantly had me in stitches! ( re-call her loving the dream of walking down the street naked!! )

 But Meg Ryan as Annie was the star for me. I've never really taken notice of her before because of the type of films she starred in. But after Sleepless in Seattle I certainly sat up and took notice. I just loved every scene she was in. At times her body language was superb as she expressed the doubts and frustrations of her character. ( Favorite? I liked the look over her shoulder at Becky as she walked out of her office after telling her obliquely she was going to Seattle ). It is no wonder she has been dubbed the ' soul of romantic comedy ', because she is just so damned good at it. The funny thing here is she won a comedy award for her performance and yet it is more Rosie O'Donnell who provided the comedy. But non the less, even though the film has a female bias audience wise, Ryan really stands out amongst a cast that was superb as well. And notice what a beautiful head of hair she had in the film! God I couldn't keep my eyes of it. And just as her character Annie was ' having fantasies about a man she hadn't even met ', I kept having fantasies of running my fingers through that blonde crop!

Such a great scene isn't it??!
 Once in a while I think we all watch a film that completely takes us by surprise. For me Sleepless in Seattle is just such a film. There really is nothing I can criticise about it. Sure I loved it, but I can criticise many films I love. But somehow Sleepless in Seattle just got it all right. The cast is superb, especially considering there are five main characters who all have a real input to the film. For me Meg Ryan was a particular highlight and I was enrapt with each and every scene she appeared in. But what really carries this film is the script. The film within a film aspect is especially well done. But what I liked the most was how it concurrently showed both Hanks and Ryan's character in two different cities and how their lives drew together. It is well conceived and played out. For me the script is one of the best, and most memorable, I've ever come across.

 But the final cherry on top is the fantastic score. Back in the Saddle Again, Love is the Answer, As Time Goes By, Stand By Your Man, etc. Ah what perfectly chosen songs which fit their respective scenes perfectly. But what I liked was how each is so gentle which mirrors the whole film. Anything too fast paced or racy just would not have fit. It really is a memorable score and I hummed along quite merrily to it!!! Yep this is a film that you can't resist. It's warmth, gentleness, and subtle humour just wraps itself around your heart and doesn't let go. I just haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I first watched it several nights ago. In fact I have watched it three times since! It is just so memorable. This is a film that you will never forget and one I think destined to become a true classic, if it hasn't done so already.

 In short..MAGIC!!!! A lovely gentle film with a truly great script. It satisfies on every level. I just wish life was like this at times! IMDB has this with 6.7/10. I'd give it 10/10 as a rom-com and a solid 8/10 as a stand alone film.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

And click here for a site on the house Tom Hank's character lives in in the film. It doesn't look the same anymore and even the interior is different. There is a good link to a site when it was put on the market in 2008:

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doctor Who - The Five Doctors

 Well after watching Pete's Dragon this morning I re-visited The Five Doctors, a 1983 telly-movie made to celebrate the 20th anniversary of UK television series Doctor Who. Now I'm a Doctor Who fan but not aficionado. Unlike its almost cousin the Bond films I know virtually nothing about this series. I've always wanted to read up more on it but other things have always taken priority. So I've tended to just watch and enjoy the series alone. After watching this I found it hard to believe that we are now up to Doctor number eleven in Matt Smith!

 I have seen all the Doctors since Jon Pertwee. I can just, just recall him in the early-1970's. But besides re-runs of his time as the intrepid time lord I remember from Tom Baker onwards with more clarity. In reference to my Bond as almost cousin statement I mean how both Bond and The Doctor have both been through multiple actors and have remained popular for almost the same length of time. Remember the first Bond film was released in 1961 and Doctor Who first aired in 1963. Another is having Roger Moore as the longest serving Bond with seven films of which Tom Baker semi-mirrors as the longest serving Doctor from 1974 to 1981.

 I wasn't old enough to really know, let alone recall, the change from Pertwee to Baker. But I can vividly re-call the change from Baker to Peter Davison. I remember how it was announced Baker was retiring and there was to be a new Doctor. Of course speculation was rife and the secret was well kept until he was unveiled in the show. It was one of the few times Doctor Who aficionados, and fans world wide, didn't know who it was to be before hand. It was one of things that made the show so appealing as it could go on even without its lead actor. So many shows die when a major character/actor leaves. And yet, because Doctor Who under goes ' re-generations ', a new actor can come in and take over.

 And like the role of James Bond it is coveted. Many of the Doctors have been played by very accomplished actors. Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Christopher Eccelstone for example have all had long distinguished acting careers outside of playing the Doctor. Like Bond each actor has brought not only a new face to the role but a new interpretation and style. Just look at how different Pertwee is from Davison for instance. This is what has helped keep the series fresh even though it was controversially dumped by the BBC in 1989. It then went through several attempts at a revival through the 1990's, but it wasn't until 2005 it again became a settled series on worldwide telly.

 Interestingly whilst the Doctor has undergone many regenerations his nemesis, The Master, has had one actor who outlasted several of them! Of course I refer to Anthony Ainley who played the third Master from 1981 to 1989. For my mind of all the actors who I have seen play the Master Ainley is the best and most memorable. In this particular film his character is called ruthless, vile, despicable by President Borusa. I couldn't have put it better and Ainley played the part exceedingly well! And like his Doctor counterparts he also had a distinguished career outside of Doctor Who appearing in Bond film You Only Live Twice and BBC productions such as the impressive Secret Army and Upstairs, Downstairs.

 But here we are in 1981 and The Doctor is twenty years old. I'm not sure if this aired on NZ telly back then. Before I got the DVD about eight years ago I hadn't seen The Five Doctors before. Actually the last episode of the latest Matt Smith episode finished here only a matter of weeks ago so this was an interesting comparison between the Doctor of 2011 and that of thirty years ago. Now the first thing is is that Jon Pertwee is now deceased ( 1996, aged 76, whose death I remember well as he is my favorite of the Doctors )  as is Ainley ( 2004, aged 71 ). Patrick Troughton who played the second Doctor died in 1987 aged 67. Richard Hurndall died in 1981 just six months after completion of The Five Doctors. He of course stepped into the shoes of the deceased William Hartnell ( 1975, aged 67 ) who had played the first Doctor. It is a remarkable performance and he captured Hartnell's movements and voice uncannily.

We shall never see so many Doctors together again.
 Peter Davison is still alive and presently aged 60. He remains the second youngest actor behind the then 27 year old Matt Smith to have played the Doctor. Tom Baker declined to appear in The Five Doctors as he didn't want to play in the role he had all but just left. It was a decision he came to regret later on in life. It is a shame he done so because to have had all five actors/Doctors ( barring of course the original Hartnell ) together for this one and only time was something quite unique. Baker's scenes were out takes from previous episodes that were never used.

 Of course all the Doctor's partners are also present. It made me laugh because I read recently that Karen Gillan ( mmmm Karen Gillan......grrrrrrrrr!! ) has been called the sexiest of all the Doctor's female companions. And yet whilst Karen is hoooooooooot ( and I mean grrrrrrrrr hot! ) I think that several of the others are just as grrrrrrrrrrr hot. For instance both Sarah Jane Smith ( Elisabeth Sladin ) who accompanied Pertwee's Doctor and Tegan Jovanka ( Janet Fielding ) who accompanied Davison's were both grrrrrrrrrr babes in their day. Even the ( possibly? ) mis-guided character of K-9 makes a cameo appearance. But he is only a metal robotic dog and isn't so grrrrrrrrrrr!

 Of the others Liz Shaw, Captain Yates, Vislor Turlough ( played by Mark Strickson who now lives in Dunedin NZ!! ), and the erst-while Brigadier Leth-Bridge Stewart played by Nicholas Courtney who died in February of this year aged 81. So yep they all there which makes this a really unique and special piece of Doctor Who history. Just think as a comparison there have been six actors to have played James Bond and with both Sean Connery and Roger Moore into their eighties they won't be with us that much longer. I use this an analogy because earlier this year Connery spurned an anniversary party held for the James Bond franchise.

 So this was a real television event. The strange thing is that it aired on US television two days before the UK got to see it! I've always read that Doctor Who wasn't particularly popular in the States. I'm not sure how true this is but for me this is by far my favorite sci-fi TV series ever. For some reason I much prefer British sci-fi over its American counter parts. Series like the brilliant Blake's 7Doctor Who and  the sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf just had a certain something the US TV studios couldn't emulate. If anyone doubts Doctor Who's pedigree just remember this. It is the longest running sci-fi series in the history of television and the most popular!

 But it does have its flaws. Its main one is budgetary. The UK studios could never compete with their American counter parts in this area. So unfortunately Doctor Who episodes visually date very, very quickly. But where money was short for better looking special effects it made up for in great weekly sci-fi scripts. And this is where a 90 minute telemovie like this shines. It has dated but the script is excellent and showcases the talent that has seen the programme endure for so long. I really enjoyed this and was surprised by it as I had watched it twice before. And yet this time round I saw past the datedness and saw how good a script/plot it really was.

A fibreglass TARDIS. Note the wheels to move it about!
 In short someone is pulling all five incarnations of the Doctor out of time and placing them in the Death Zone on Gallifrey, home planet of the Time Lords. There old enemies like the Daleks and the Cybermen are encountered, as Davison's Doctor finds a traitor among the Time Lord elite. It transpires, as his identity is revealed, that he wants to gain immortality by acquiring an old ring belonging to a long dead Time Lord of dubious background and knowledge ( Rassilon ).

 What follows is each individual Doctor finds his way to the Tomb of Rassilon where they all finally meet. Along the way they each face their own trials and tribulations before the finale. It is classic Doctor Who and it is a very solid script. I liked how each Doctor makes their own way to the tomb and only slowly encounters his old incarnations. Suffice to say once together there are any number of tongue in cheek jokes about I, me and we! The telemovie ends with the traitor getting his deserved comeuppance as he finds out immortality is actually a curse. It all ends with final goodbyes from the past cast members until the then Doctor of Davison is left. It is here he finds out he has been chosen to replace the traitor and goes on the run we all know him for.

 The Five Doctors then is an excellent Doctor Who adventure. It not only combines a great script but it was the last time the entire cast surrounding the first five Doctors was to ever assemble. This makes this a unique piece of Doctor Who history and thankfully it delivered the goods. I thoroughly enjoyed it more this viewing than in the previous two! My only criticism is that it has dated visually.Some of the special effects are almost cringe worthy now, but all the same, after watching Matt Smith in the new version of the TARDIS, it was really cool to look back and see how it was in 1983!

 Click here for the BBC site:

Here for a thorough synopsis and more:

And here for wikipedia's very thorough and comprehensive page on the series and character:

All eleven Docs!!