Paperman- A Disney Short Review

Sometimes, six minutes of magic can outweigh two hours of enjoyment. Before seeing Wreck it Ralph, as traditional with Disney films a brief, six minute short was shown before the film, and it often allows the studio to get very creative and think outside the box. The latest one was entitled Paperman, a black and white, 2D silent love story between a man and woman who meet on a train platform, almost a tribute to the classic film Brief Encounter. Using new technology that allows the animators to combine hand drawn animation with CGI, Paperman is a quite magical and unique piece of cinema, perhaps heralding a new phase of Disney, combining the hand drawn techniques of old with the new era of CGI. What an exciting prospect this is, and what a wonderfully portrayed love story this was, telling a story full of emotion and true love with no words. If you want to watch it, just type it into any search bar, although YouTube seem to be deleting any videos put up of it for copyright reasons. I haven’t ever done a review of a short, but I implore you to take six minutes out of your day to watch this short piece of cinema: you’ll be touched, heartbroken and excited about a possible new direction for Disney.

5/5

Oz the Great and Powerful- The Review

It’s fantastic to see cinema regaining a bit of heart, and where better to be then right back in the land of Oz? Starring James Franco, Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel to the original classic, detailing the story of how the Wizard of Oz was once a simple con-man who lands in Oz after riding into a tornado on a hot-air balloon. From then on it’s a fast paced and relatively fun adventure, with Franco playing Oscar, a man attempting to fulfil a prophecy that he feels has nothing to do with him.

Your enjoyment of this film could really stem down as to whether you like James Franco or not. No doubt he is asked to carry this movie by himself, and I for one thought he was the star of the show, turning what could have been a bit of a greedy but pure hero into more of a blatant anti-hero, a nice little twist that really worked with the film. It’s made clear from the beginning that Franco’s character is only there for the money involved, and this little nagging doubt at the moral purity of what is essentially the main hero is an interesting point for the audience to have to be thinking about. Its tiny little twists like this that make Oz the Great and Powerful a much more interesting movie then it had any right to be. The supporting cast are average: Zach Braff was surprisingly funny as the monkey slave, Mila Kunis was disappointing as Theodora the Good, and Michelle Williams played Glinda in a bland and lifeless fashion. It wasn’t hard for James Franco to steal the show, but he still does it will aplomb and cheek, charming the characters of Oz and the film audience alike with good comedic timing and strong variation between styles.

Sam Raimi is a wonderful director, but I did worry about his ability to take on a film that was not only away from his comfort zone, but also had the added pressure of having to live up to the original film on which this is based. Raimi does everything he can to make sure this is as enjoyable and as fun as it is, presenting some wonderfully quirky directorial techniques to keep things interesting. What I really loved was the beginning of the movie, set in the normal world, was shot in black and white, plus the aspect ratio of the screen begins in 4:3 Academy ratio. When Franco finally reaches Oz, the film gradually changes into glorious colour, as well as changing the aspect ratio to 2:35:1 widescreen, making the Land of Oz burst out onto the screen in front of you in glorious CGI induced colours. You then wonder how you did without colour: Raimi presents each object in Oz with dazzling brightness, and it’s quite an adjustment for the eyes, but also a glorious touch. That scene was my highlight of the movie, however brief it may have been. There are a few other lovely touches by Sam Raimi, experimenting with styles like the source material and genre allows him too, however it is hard to judge sometimes how much of this film looks good because of the special effects people, not the director. This film is very heavily reliant on CGI to pull through, especially in Oz where every leaf, every river and nearly every person has something computer generated about them. The film could be seen as losing some of its character and heart through these effects, but Raimi pulls off a few shocks by adding some genuinely moving moments into Oz the Great and Powerful, particularly with the character of a little porcelain girl. Cleverly mirroring the situation of a disabled girl in the real world, this porcelain girl provides some comic relief but also some genuine heart. Raimi does an absolutely brilliant job of making the audience care about this character, and without her I don’t think this film would have been so full of life.

Oz the Great and Powerful feels like a hugely nostalgic homage to the original film, and this sadly, can be seen as a mistake at times. Raimi perhaps shoots himself in the foot by deliberately making the CGI for certain characters terrible, to recapture the movements and effects of the original. This is a lovely but maybe slightly unrealistic idea, let down by the lack of consistency with the rest of the world. For example, they made the Wicked Witch fly in the same awkward and crooked way that she did in the original, trying to pay homage to its limited effects. This feels odd when her backdrop is a gloriously stunning CGI monster of a horizon, and this nice idea by Raimi just feels out of place. Another evil Witch flies without a broom, and is depicted as flying in the most awkward and horribly uncomfortable of ways it just looks painful, not nostalgic. The saddest thing of all is that these nice ideas weren’t even needed; Raimi fills up a lot of the film anyway with lovely references to the original film, with nods to Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. These touches don’t feel out of place at all, which makes the inclusion of these deliberately bad special effects all the more bizarre.

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The glorious CGI landscapes is where the film really shines

At heart, Oz the Great and Powerful is a kid’s film. Although it does have a bizarre knack of using jump-scares, one of the worst techniques in modern cinema, it does appeal mainly to kids with a feel good story and innocent laughs along the way. The trailer has done a good job of convincing everyone who hasn’t seen it that it is a more serious and updated version of the Wizard of Oz; and as much as I would have liked that film, Oz the Great and Powerful is not the smart and serious take on the land of Oz that it could have been. It managed to appeal to me by being witty, silly, and a lot of fun, and I’m sure a lot of parents will go see it and genuinely appreciate and enjoy it for what it is; a brave and accessible version of the classic film The Wizard of Oz for the new and younger generation.

Best Bit

As soon as the screen slowly gets wider and the colour fades in, the world of Oz comes to life and so does the movie. A memorable homage by Sam Raimi.

Worst Bit

The unbalanced mix between jaw dropping CGI and deliberately nostalgic and poor CGI is a bizarre addition by Raimi, and although ambitious, ultimately does not pay off.

Overall

Oz the Great and Powerful is a charming and fun children’s movie, managing to appeal to a very wide audience by successfully pulling off its tribute to the much loved classic. Although the director Sam Raimi does make a few missteps, a large part of the film’s success is down to his directorial style, plus his casting of James Franco as the loveable anti-hero lead. Certainly not for everyone, but has more accessibility then any kid’s film has any right to be. In no way perfect, but has too much heart and guiltless fun inside of it for you not to enjoy.

3/5

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters- The Review

I try to go into every film with a completely open mind, trying desperately not to judge on the premise alone but to review every film I see with fairness, a blank slate at the start of every new film. But when a film like this comes along, one with such a laughably stupid premise and a director whose finest work is a low budget Norwegian film about Nazi Zombies, it is hard not to make up your mind before you even enter the cinema. Going into Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters I had to constantly remind myself of my duties; to review a film fairly and without bias, however ridiculous it may seem on paper, and how poor the reception has been by other critics. And yet, after the movie, I realised my valiant attempt to be fair had been in vain: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a ridiculous, stupid and downright insulting film, and I felt dirty just watching it. In attempting to appeal to a particular audience, particularly bloodthirsty and horny teenagers, it manages to lower the IQ of everyone in the audience with its downright stupidity. Somehow managing to ensnare respectable actors Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, director Tommy Wirkola has established a mess of a film and embarrassed the film industry, leading me to question how it got past the ideas stage, let alone got a budget of $50 million. This is what the film industry has become. Lots of explosions, lots of gore, lots of swearing; all in vomit inducing 3D.

Continuing with the latest craze of expanding and updating on classic fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters expands the bare bones of the children’s story, showing what happens after the two orphans manage to burn the witch. Somewhat predictably, what happens is that they both turn into sexy bad-asses, somehow getting hold of weirdly shaped shotguns and crossbows to bash down those evil Witches. When a village is being robbed of its children by the dozen, the mayor turns to Hansel and Gretel: Sexy Outlaws, in order to solve their Witch problem. The first line that Gretel says is “Let her go or I’ll spray your brains all over the fucking wall” (even when they are outdoors), and that sets the tone of the movie from there onwards. It’s hardly a re-imagining of the fairy tale, more a gore-fest that has the twist of being based on a children’s story to draw the crowds in more. The two lead actors do remarkably well in not completely embarrassing themselves, but you have to wonder why they are even in it in the first place. Hasn’t Jeremy Renner got better, more respectable things to do? When he isn’t conveniently stripping, he is engaging in a very half-arsed love story with an underdeveloped redhead while wincing or groaning in agony or love, whichever suits the moment. Gemma Arterton is a good actress, but that skill is slightly diminished when all she is doing is strutting around in a skin tight suit like there is a Armadillo in her trousers and dropping the F bomb repeatedly, pressing her incredibly lame crossbow into anything with a pulse. It’s often a surprise when after a particularly brutal kill, she doesn’t spread her legs and lick her lips to the camera, making everyone feel slightly uncomfortable that the director thinks she is a lot more attractive then she actually is. And yet, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton are the best part of this movie, making a very respectable effort to squeeze some life from the absolutely horrendous script. It’s not their fault that the script lets them down, or that the direction is intended to make all the 15 year olds in the audience horny. What a huge backwards step in both of their careers.

It doesn’t help the leads out at all when the supporting cast is among the worst ever to be displayed in a cinema. The head Witch is played by Famke Janssen, who’s most recognizable role before now was Jean in the X-Men series. Although most of her facial features are CGI, she is one of the worst parts of this movie, adopting a new evil accent in every scene, even sounding slightly Russian at one period in order to add some much needed menace to the role. Even worse is the relatively unknown actor Thomas Mann, playing the required ‘wannabe Witch hunter’ in such a way that he effectively is there to tell the audience how to feel. “That was awesome!” he exclaims as an innocent villager explodes in a shower of gore, hoping in vain that the audience will repeat his words like parrots. The final nail in the coffin for the supporting cast is Peter Stormare as the evil Sheriff, a performance so incredibly bad it’s painful to watch. With his long and twirly moustache, the actor makes a mockery of himself, doing a fantastic impersonation of a snake whenever the words are particularly nasty.

The dastardly Sheriff (above) is played by Peter Stormare, and an early highlight is watching the actor trying to be scary without the script showing him do anything scary at all.

The biggest shame of this film is that it clearly doesn’t know what it wants to be. It fails in all its attempts, trying to be both a parody and a re-imagining of the fairy tale, while also being a horror film and a black comedy. The only surprise is that the poster tagline for Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters isn’t ‘They were children: Now they’re sexy’: after the first 20 minutes every flaw has set in and every attempt at tone has been established, to be rinsed and repeated throughout the rest. Ultimately, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters feels like something that has been solely designed to appeal to a stereotypical teenage audience, showering the screen with blood, swearing and soft porn: what’s most insulting of all is that it does this without any consideration for any sane viewers’ enjoyment, making it largely unappealing to just about everyone.

Most remarkable of all is just how lame the whole thing is. However much I wanted it to be, the action or design isn’t cool in anyway, only tedious, mostly resorting to a shaky camera effect and the disgraceful use of 3D, making any sort of violent encounter resemble a bunch of randomly induced special effects being spun 360 degrees constantly, until you are so dizzy you’ve actually forgotten about all the plot holes. In every explosion in this film the director thinks it would be a GREAT idea to chuck something from the wreckage right in your face, not making you flinch as intended but just making your eyes hurt from the sheer tediousness. When I see a film in 3D I take it for granted that the director will have one moment of weakness and throw something at the viewer; in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the director does it so many times it seems to be intended to keep you awake, without much success. In fact, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is so reliant on its handy 3D gimmick that even the final credits are impossible to read without your plastic glasses.  Another problem is its reliance on cheap tricks, like jump-scares, in order to keep you interested. I don’t like jump-scares at the best of times, the sign of an unimaginative and lazy horror movie, but at times in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, the jump-scares actually go against the plot. In one scene, our two protagonists are dazed in a house, and while they are gathering their senses, the front door slams open. They look over the other side of the room, and the head Witch is there, inexplicably slamming the door open with her wand to scare the audience. When they try to leave through the now open door, she slams it shut again, leaving everyone, including Hansel and Gretel, extremely confused and irritated. At least in cheap horror movies the director knows what he is doing with his material; a director shouldn’t have to randomly add jump-scares to a film that isn’t even intended to be a horror!

I don’t care if I’m being tedious, that is not a shotgun. It looks as if it was designed to be a toy sold after release.

There are a few moments where Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is what it wanted to be. One particular death, in which Famke Janssen makes an underdeveloped character commit suicide, is done in an effective and rather chilling directorial style (although it is then ruined by the character’s head exploding over-dramatically). Another interesting addition is weakening Hansel by giving him diabetes, trying to add a realistic addition to the story by giving a side effect to the relentless eating of candy in the Witch’s lair. I appreciate the attempt to at least try and add some smartness to the film, but when everything else is seemingly designed to be stupid, this lovely little touch is instead made to feel hugely out of place. There are one or two more examples of this interesting style of directing, and some credit to Tommy Wirkola, even if for the majority of the movie he gets it badly wrong. For every good moment there are twenty bad ones however. The claim that the chemistry between Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton is good, which is true, is diminished by the diabolical attempts to give them both love interests, Arterton’s being a troll. Are we supposed to laugh when Gretel is giving a troll CPR with a Stun Gun to a rousing piano chorus? Sadly, I doubt it. It’s moments like this that turn Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters from something that may not have been respectable, but perhaps a fun ride, into something stupid, overblown and a complete waste of everyone’s money. How, HOW this film has topped the box office is quite a staggering notion, but it has somehow done just as well as some gems like Wreck it Ralph (a review of which is coming up soon). Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is the worst example of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, attempting to lower your IQ instead of entertaining you, giving 3D a bad name by throwing endless sharp and nasty things into your face, and potentially ruining the careers of some very good actors, who thankfully are so covered in blood by the end you can hardly recognize them. A sequel will be in works soon I’m sure, and then we are back to phase one. When will cinema grow up?

Best Bit

The opening credits were pretty cool I guess.

Worst Bit

I would have to say the finale: setting the scene by having Jeremy Renner massacre a group of Witches with a magical machine gun. The make up is awful, the 3D is constantly obscuring your vision, and worst of all the love story between Gemma Arterton and ‘Edward the Troll’ has distracted you so much you’ve forgotten why all this is actually happening.

Overall

Less of a movie, more of a cure for insomnia. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a mess of a film, barely managing to string together a plot, let alone combine seven different genres into any recognizable form. It is exactly what it says on the tin, but without any of the fun you might imagine: it somehow manages to make ‘bad-ass Witch Hunting’ very lame. Maybe I’m no fun, maybe I’m too cynical, but Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a bland, emotionless shell of a film, not worthy of anyone’s time or money, hopefully destined to lie in bargain buckets for the rest of eternity. It shows very brief glimmers of good ideas, soon destroyed in a shower of brains and guts. I pray that the current Hollywood craze of twisting fairy tales is coming to its end, it’s about time cinema regained some dignity. No heart, no soul and no brains.

1/5

Argo- The Review

I really shouldn’t have let this one slip away from me. When Argo first came out, I watched the trailer and didn’t think much of it; plus, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ben Affleck, and he directed, produced and starred in Argo. I thought I was being smart and resourceful in giving Argo a miss, watching Django Unchained, Lincoln and Gangster Squad instead. Argo, incredibly, went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, something which surprised the hell out of me, and made me take a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. So when I had a day off, and my local cinema was showing Argo one final time, I had to take the opportunity with both hands.

Based on a remarkable true story, Argo is a historical drama depicting the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, where militants in Iran stormed the American embassy and took over 50 Americans hostage; six managed to escape, and took refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Ken Taylor. Argo chooses not to focus on the situation of the 50 hostages (who were eventually released after 444 days in captivity), but the attempts by the American Government to smuggle the six Americans out of Iran. Tony Mendez,  a CIA exfiltration specialist played by Ben Affleck, comes up with the crazy (but true) plan to create a fake film as a cover, and use a story of a ‘location shoot’ to smuggle the Americans out.

Directed, produced by and starring Ben Affleck, Argo was always going to be a complete disaster or something worth shouting about; Ben Affleck tries to blend unbearable tension with dry, almost black humour, and it somehow manages to work. The direction of Argo is absolutely superb, blending real life footage and filmed shots in such a seamless way that you sometimes wonder which is which. The opening sequence depicts the takeover of the American embassy in Iran by the Militants, and Affleck uses real footage to display the crowd shots, while mixing it with staged footage. This kind of direction gives Argo a sense of realism that most films can only dream of; the biggest triumph of Argo is its constant reminder this is a true story, and your constant disbelief. The mere suggestion these events actually happened is staggering, and whisper it, you couldn’t write this stuff. It’s part of what makes Argo so completely enthralling; it’s all very good being excited by Avatar and Superman, but real stories with real people are what really make movies special, and this story is so bonkers and fantastical, it could just be real. The mix of styles is quite striking too; the first half of the film does have a fair few laughs in it (mostly given by John Goodman, who always steals the show), despite the dark opening. Until the actual mission goes ahead, the whole premise itself seems laughable; again I had to constantly remind myself this was a real story. The second half of the film completely changes the tone: it’s tense, it’s dark and it is extremely exciting. Some critics have argued the change of styles doesn’t work, but I disagree, the transition is seamless and quite natural, if obvious. No doubt it is slightly strange though; perhaps slightly alienating for some, and a directorial technique which Ben Affleck experimented with rather dangerously. Throughout the whole film however, Ben Affleck’s directorial style is superb; just don’t mention his acting.

Ben Affleck (left) directs masterfully, Bryan Cranston (right) steals the show as side character Jack O’Donnell.

There are two major problems with this movie. Number One: Ben Affleck was vain enough to cast himself in the lead role, which requires a few more emotions than he mustered. Number Two: He then surrounded himself with outstanding actors, which sadly makes his performance seem a lot worse than it is. Throughout the film, Affleck doesn’t seem to be in any kind of mood or emotional state whatsoever, he frowns through the lines as if he doesn’t like the sound of his own film. He just doesn’t seem like a very good actor sadly, he’s just Ben Affleck. He is like this in every film he’s in, seemingly numb and bland, when the character dictates he is neither numb or bland. I had no feel for this amazing person he was supposed to be portraying; it’s all well and good shouting down a phone Ben, but raising your voice isn’t acting. Next time you are directing a script of this quality, with your direction skills, hire a good actor, not yourself. But, as I have mentioned, this could be down to the superb cast surrounding him. Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle stole the show as Jack O’Donnell, a very short-tempered CIA official who has to pull the strings when the plans go a bit askew in Iran. John Goodman and Alan Arkin were fantastic as the comic relief, playing John Chambers and Lester Siegel respectably. Also, the six hostages put in too many great performances for me to name here; superb casting once again as the credits compare the actors to the real life people, and it’s like looking at twins. Scarily good work by all involved.

Research however shows that it’s not all a master class for Argo. As I suspected, the majority of the second half of the film is heavily dramatized, to a point of almost laughable absurdity. Of course, like fellow historical thriller Lincoln, dramatization is necessary to create a good cinema experience; some would argue Argo goes too far. The final chase scene in particular is absurd to the point of laughter, but, and I stress this, only in hindsight. At the time, my heart was bursting to get out, exceptional levels of excitement being generated for me and everyone else in the cinema. Looking back, Argo does go a bit far with the dramatization, some of the more silly bits could have been left out to give a slower, but arguably more tense and realistic piece of work. One other issue that might be brought up with Argo (and quite rightly so) is the portrayal of the Iranians. Anything but fair, it depicts them as slow, merciless people, with very little explanation of back story or motives (skimmed over in a stylish comic book art style at the beginning). I shouldn’t really have to raise points like this about cinema these days. Films should be smarter than this! Films should have thrown off these lazy stereotypical standards! I wasn’t surprised when the horrendous Taken 2 dropped to these levels, portraying anyone foreign as a threat, but Argo should really know better. For a film of this quality, the depiction of the foreigners is hugely disappointing. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that at the time, Argo was entertaining me like very few films do. And at the end, where the predictable fairytale ending scene rears its head, I felt myself welling up a bit. I loved the characters, I loved the direction, and I was genuinely happy for everyone on-screen. Fine, that is clichéd, but Argo does this better than most films out there, because it actually happened. And I have never had that reaction to this cliché before. It will take a lot to get it out of me again.

Best Bit

Bryan Cranston’s show stealing performance as Jack O’Donnell, wonderfully emotional and strikingly powerful. The perfect casting for such a brute character, not too dissimilar to Tommy Lee Jones’ performance in Lincoln, and just as good.

Worst Bit

I can forgive over-dramatization  but I can’t really condone such poor racial stereotypes. We know that the Iranians are the baddies, but two sides of the argument would have been lovely. Instead we get a lazy effort, showing one dimensional enemies doing bad things. I expect better things from modern cinema.

Overall

Argo is fast, fluid and exciting cinema, brilliantly adapting incredible real life events into extraordinary film making. The direction is astounding, the casting is perfect, and the story is inspiring. Niggling issues like the over-dramatization of key events can hamper the experience, and certainly the one dimensional and stereotypical enemies can make you wonder how fair this film really is. However misjudged the enemies’ portrayal, nothing takes away from the fact that Argo is uplifting, touching and hugely exciting. It didn’t deserve the Oscar for Best Picture, but Ben Affleck certainly deserved Best Director, for which he was inexplicably ignored. A remarkable film.

4/5