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Sunday, June 30, 2013

White House Down

So, this was kind of a surprise...

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

During a tour of the White House with his young daughter, John Cale, an ex-marine who having just recently been rejected for his dream job of joining the Secret Service, suddenly finds himself as the only man who can save the president from a group of terrorists who have violently overtaken the building.

What we thought

So... I can't help but feel that we've just done this. White House infiltration. Nuclear launch codes. Betrayal from within. A disgraced/ wannabe Secret Service man who finds himself the only thing that stands between the president of the United States of America and bloodthirsty baddies who want to, basically, blow up the world. This is Olympus Has Fallen, isn't it? You would think so, but no, (quite a bit) less than half a year since Butler and co, tore into cinemas with their Die-Hard-in-the-White-House actioner, audiences get to go through much the same thing again, only this time with Channing Tatum in the lead and Roland Emerich at the helm.

Well, here's a little twist for you: not only is White House Down markedly superior to Olympus Has Fallen, it is, by several million miles, the best big budget blockbuster Roland Emerich has made since Independence Day.

Now, I grant you, that's not exactly saying much as Emerich has pretty definitely proven himself to be the worst “Summer Movies” director this side of Michael Bay and, frankly, it doesn't take that much to beat the mercilessly stupid Olympus at its own game but credit where credit is due. White House Down is hopelessly derivative, endlessly ridiculous and its wham-bam action set pieces are entirely undeterred by weak characterization and a total lack of intelligence or nuance, but there's no getting past it: White House Down does what it sets out to do - and with a fair amount of aplomb at that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Cinema Release Roundup for the Weekends of 14/06/2013 and 21/06/2013

As I hadn't yet seen Gambit, I decided to hold off last week's roundup until I had so, once again, here's what's been happening over the past two weeks in South African cinemas.

Last week did seem to be the week to release extraordinarily ordinary films and Epic was only the start of it. I, like all but one of Johannesburg's film critics somehow managed to miss I'm So Excited but, from what I hear, it seems to be one of Pedro Almadovar's worst ever films - though what I did see hardly fares much better.

First, we have Broken City, an overly generic crime/ noir thriller that may be perfectly watchable but is as predictable as it is forgettable - which is a bit of a problem since I saw it last November when it was originally supposed to be released. Since then, it's been pushed back by distributors in this country for a solid seven months, finally finding its place among this period's huge blockbuster films. I don't know why they bothered. Not only is this unexciting b-movie far less deserving of a cinematic release than many of the indie films that are constantly relegated to only those DVD stores that have a large import and rarities selection, it never stood a chance at the box office anyway.  

The usually very likable Mark Wahlberg is largely miscast as an everyman who finds himself in way over his head as he is caught between Russel Crowe (in solidly good form) and Catherine Zeta Jones (in less solidly good form) in a theoretically exciting game of political maneuvering, but between its daft script that telegraphs its twists miles in advance and a total lack of originality or freshness, Broken City is best left to only the most die hard of noir fans. (4/10)

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Or not so Epic...

But hey, at least it ain't Epic Movie!

(Also up at Channel 24)

What it's about

During a visit with her eccentric father, teenager Mary Katherine (MK) suddenly finds herself entangled in a war between the fairy-like forest people and the evil forces of the Rot as the forest people's dying queen shrinks MK down to their size and charges her with protecting and delivering the birth pod of a new queen to her people and stopping the Rot from taking over the forest.

What we thought

Much like The Croods before it, Epic was done no favours by a tremendously generic and unpromising trailer but with the added disadvantage of a title that is both grandiose and entirely non-descriptive. Unlike The Croods though, which turned out to be one of the year's most pleasant surprises, Epic never quite manages to transcend its trailer or live up to its title.

That's not to say that latest animated kids feature by the team behind the Ice Age films and Rio is without its pleasures or that it won't work, in the short term at least, with younger audiences but perhaps a more fitting title would have been “Middling” or, more descriptively, “Just Another Animated Movie.”

Epic's basic plot may not in fact be “epic” and it's certainly not original as it plays out like a mixture of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Avatar/ Pocahontas/ FernGully and the latest incarnation of DC's Swamp Thing comics, but it is adequate enough and is certainly far better than the thread-bare plots of the Ice Age films. If there is one stand-out thing about the film though, it's that it has as its main character a strong, independent and likeable teenage girl (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) that not only makes the film equally fitting for girls as it is for boys, but gives little girls a genuinely worthwhile role model in the form of Mary Katherine.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Roundup of New Cinema Releases for the Weekends of 31/05/2013 and 07/05/2013

It's catch up time once again, this time with a number of films of interest and only one or two that are, shall we say, not.

Lets start off with the biggest and worst film from the last couple of weeks about which I haven't given a full review. No, not a Haunted House- I missed its press screening and there's no way in hell I'm actually going to pay money to see another presumably terrible Wayans brothers film. No, I am, of course, talking about The Hangover Part III.

I was considering writing a full review for Todd Phillip's latest cash-in but when you consider just how little effort was put into the film itself, I really couldn't be bothered. I suppose I should be grateful that the third film doesn't follow its predecessor by being isn't just another rehash of the first film but somehow Hangover 3 is even lazier than the second film. At least part two put some effort into being offensive; its sequel couldn't even be arsed to do that much.

First, clearly Phillips is as sick of the franchise as I am as he basically uses the no doubt generous funding to make a crime caper comedy. It's just too bad that this is less Oceans 11 and more Oceans 12 but with much less laughs (indeed, just about no laughs) and more annoying characters.

The actors too mostly look like they would rather be anywhere else. Ed Helms spends the whole film as someone desperate to get back to The Office and Bradley Cooper looks like he'd much, much rather be hanging out with Jennifer Lawrence than this bunch of goons. Only Zach Galifianakis and Ken Jeung - who I generally like as good, dependable comic actors- put any effort into their roles but their characters are so irredeemably annoying at this point, it's hard not to wish they were as bored as their co-stars. John Goodman is good as always but he clearly doesn't know what he'd doing here either and frankly John, neither do we. (2/10)

Monday, June 10, 2013

After Earth

Check out the user comments of my review of the film at Channel 24 if you want to find out a) how awful a critic I am and b) how very, very wrong I am about Shyamalan's latest cinematic catastrophe. Read on here, though, for my own unabashedly negative review of one of the worst science fiction films I've seen in years.

What it's about

A millennium after humanity were forced to leave an inhospitable earth, a young military cadet, Kitai, and his estranged father, Cypher, find themselves stranded on the planet after their spaceship is brought down by an asteroid storm. With Cypher badly imaged, it's up to Kitai to traverse one hundred kilometres of poisonous air, rapidly shifting temperatures and a host of deadly animals to send out a beacon and secure their rescue.

What we thought

There's something kind of hilarious about After Earth being released in this country the same week as Star Trek Into Darkness. Not just because it's going to be fun watching Star Trek kicking M. Night Shyamalan's latest disaster all over town but because After Earth is actually similar to what Star Trek was quickly on its way to becoming before JJ Abrams came along and gave Gene Roddenbery's tired franchise the adrenalin shot in the ass it so desperately needed.

Star Trek at its worst, particularly in its later incarnations, had dull characters, stodgy dialogue, boring plotlines and wooden acting so it's interesting to see that just as JJ Abrams has done everything in his lense-flair-driven powers to return Star Trek to its Shatner-led glory days - but with a new, accessible and hyper-active sheen - Shyamalan has effectively made something that looks like a long-buried episode of Star Trek: Voyager but with worse writing and direction.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Finally showing up on these shores, Star Trek Into Darkness has been received with everything from gushing praise to no less gushing hatred with many, many people falling somewhere in the middle. Well, I ain't sitting on a fence this time around...

My own personal history with Star Trek has always been a bit complicated, a bit contradictory and utterly inconsistent. My first steps into the franchise were watching the animated series when I was a kid but I only really got hooked when I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was in my very early teens. For those few years before The X-Files stole my interest and Buffy the Vampire Slayer stole my heart, I was quite the Trekkie and, obviously, caught up on the movies and started watching the later - and increasingly worsening - series. And, oh yes, I read loads of Star Trek novels as well. As time went on though, I lost almost all interest in Star Trek as I came to the stunning realizations that the Next Generation was bland, Voyager was terrible and Deep Space Nine was never anywhere near as good as Babylon 5. And, seriously, Enterprise who?     

Still, I could never quite shake the Original Series and the older I got, the more I came to appreciate the brilliance of the original adventures of the Enterprise - and that was before I even started to watch the 60's TV show itself. The thing about original Trek is that, no matter how good the stories themselves were, its real brilliance always lay in the characters that make up the crew of the USS Enterprise, but most especially the ego-driven Captain James T Kirk, the emotional Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy and the coolly intellectual Mr Spock. They are both brilliantly realised characters and immortal archetypes and the interplay between the three was always the driving force behind the first and best incarnation of Star Trek.

Lapsed Trekkie as I was though, when I heard that they would be rebooting the original series for a new franchise of films starting in 2009 with new actors playing these iconic roles, I was, to say the least, incredibly skeptical. The film, though, simply and wisely called Star Trek not only surpassed all of my expectations and put my fears to rest but ended up as one of the best movies of that year. Director JJ Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman captured all the humour, adventure, welcome cheesiness and unbridled optimism of the original series and, with a lot of help from a terrific cast, more than did justice to these classic series. That they did all this with a new CGI sheen, a much increased pace and plenty of action   doesn't change the fact that Star Trek truly lived up to its name.

Now, four years later, we once again join Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci and new co-writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) and the slightly expanded crew of the USS Enterprise but would they be able to catch lightning in a bottle twice, especially with that ominous and not very Roddenberry-esque title?