A case of what Peter Jackson did next here. Wingnut Productions has been plenty busy of late and this one hundred and eighty degree turn away from all things Hobbit-like was perhaps not the most obvious choice for Jackson, though still a recognisable nod that harks back to his early days and a penchant for visceral and gruesome horror flicks, even if The Lovely Bones falls into neither category all too comfortably.
Whilst all of the Oscar madness has been ensuing, The Lovely Bones has gone about its business in its own sweet way, and has yet to succumb to massive marketing hype in order to get its nominations, of which there may be at least a couple when the gongs are finally handed out at the start of March this year. Whether the Academy feels the film is good enough to make winners of those suspected nominations, is something else entirely.
Only Susan Sarandon has really been heard to mention anything on the subject of Oscar, suggesting that she would personally be very surprised if the film didn’t pick up at least one nomination for the performance of Saoirse Ronan, playing the part of the actual and then late Susie Salmon. This could easily be seen as partisan, or even worse, marketing bias, which is something I find surprising of Sarandon, if only for the reason that you would expect her to have risen above all that posturing by now.
This would only be the case of course, if Ronan was not indeed deserving of such a credit, so the real question of Sarandon’s ethics would be if Ronan was actually any good or not. Ronan, probably best known for her roles in City of Ember and Atonement is certainly shaping up to be a fine actress, but worthy of an Oscar? Not his time around I fear, though while she is engaging as a lost/dead/missing (delete as applicable) girl in this, she never really gives what can be called an Oscar winning performance. Simply a very good one, but never does she truly shine (at least not without the aid of some otherworldly and gratifyingly beautiful special FX).
Jackson takes the original work and almost does it justice, taking his audience on a regularly uncomfortable but no less intriguing trip first through Susie’s early teenagedom, as it was weaved together in a seventies patchwork of hazy Wonder Years flashbacks and old copies of The Bunty, through to her (can we call it) life in the spaces between time and space and her efforts to understand her own place in the grand scheme of things, with the aid, inevitably, of a initially mysterious but helpful guide in the guise of Holly.
Oddly for a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, the support is excellent throughout. With the aforementioned Wahlberg playing the Susie’s father, who refuses to accept his loss. His reluctance is to everybody else’s benefit, bar one. That being George Harvey, Susie’s killer, played superbly by a barely recognisable Stanley Tucci, evil contact lenses included.
Completing the main ensemble is Rachel Weisz as often estranged (what would you expect) mother of the victim, who despite her loss, inexplicably disappears off to the country in an attempt to deal with it, leaving her two remaining children at home with her husband. The eldest of these two remaining children, Lindsey, is played by Rose McIver, who is given the opportunity to develop her role throughout the film and does a reasonably decent job of doing just that. Lindsey and George share the most knife-edge scene in the film, that when you watch it, will have you almost screaming at the screen.
Finally, Susan Sarandon plays Susie’s grandmother. Not one to look at, as she is about as conservative with her dress sense and her tongue as asking Paris Hilton to do the splits for a tenner on the cover of Rolling Stone. Quick-witted and happy to dispense a world-weary word of advice to anyone that is prepared to listen, Sarandon seems made for the role. Whether this is a compliment or not, I’m not yet quite sure.
In all, a formidable cast compiled for an adaptation of a very difficult story to film. A job not badly done in the least, by all accounts, and whilst not knocking on the door of the Academy (with good reason) it may get at least nominations, if not the awards, that Sarandon at least believes it deserves.
If I’m honest I wasn’t really expecting much from this. Most people that know me are already aware that I think of Robert Downey Jr as the most talented actor working today, in any genre, and have done so from before his enforced removal from the profession due to his custodial sentence. I have yet to honestly see him make a hash of anything he has done. Granted, sometimes the material has been a little skittish, but his effort and enthusiasm for his parts in any production that he undertakes repeatedly underlines not only an admirable work ethic, but is backed up by a screen presence that is increasingly rare these days.
So when I heard that he would be taking on the role of England’s smartest private dick, I knew the film would be entertaining. When I heard Guy Ritchie was going to be directing it, I was a little less enamoured by the prospect, wondering just what Ritchie would make of the time period, being more used to directing gritty, modern British drama. Completing this formidable trio was Dr Watson, played by Jude Law, another highly talented actor whose performances and project choices have been sometimes perplexing, but always intriguing.
So if we were ticking boxes on the three main players involved, it would have been a grateful nod for Robert Downey Jnr and a couple of ‘I’m not so sure’ for Law and Ritchie. I couldn’t really see how Jude Law could pass off a portly Victorian doctor, or how Ritchie could envelop anybody into the murky backstreets of old London town with any realism or feel for the period.
It was at this point that I began to understand Ritchie’s approach to Holmes and his cohorts. This was the Holmes and Watson that had been unfettered by thirty years of British television and like many others, my almost dyed in the wool vision of the couple originated largely from that view.
But instead of a pair of starch collared professionals, Ritchie takes us on a whole different kind of trip. Portraying Holmes as brilliant, sparkling mind, but lacking in many of the social graces that most of us take for granted.
Confident in his own abiities and often driven to distraction by them, he fails in so many other areas as to be almost pitiful. Downey Jr plays with Holmes’ character delightfully, in a fashion not too far removed from Depp’s Jack Sparrow, so it would be difficult to imagine this Holmes as playable by anybody else apart from him.
Watson too has had a makeover from the overweight, haughty and flappable surgeon we have come to expect. Jude Law brilliantly turns him into a capable and formidable opponent both physically and mentally, with a sharp mind and even sharper wit. Both characters are eminently watchable throughout and seeing them in physical action is often as real a treat as when they are using their brains to solve a less physcially demanding problem.
Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong make up the rest of the main cast and are both equally compelling as Irene Adler (alluring, wanton troublemaker) and Lord Blackwood (brooding, evil incarnate) respectively, complimenting Both Downey Jnr and Law with some fine performances of their own.
The cinemtography was surprisingly accomplished for the period and the Direction from Ritchie was mostly on the money though appeared to be a little haphazard at times, with a rather overlong second act, seemingly (thought not altogether surprisingly) more comfortable with prolongued periods of action rather than anything approaching pedestrianism or moments of contemplation.
Altogether, however, despite these small and mostly irrelevant annoyances, Ritchie has done a great job a breathing new life into an old standard and no doubt providing Downey Jnr with another franchise to turn up and do the business for every couple of years.
The first section of this review was written prior to watching the film this afternoon, and deals predominantly with my thoughts on the hype, marketing, interviews and alternate critical reviews that have appeared across the globe from those lucky enough to see the film already. I feel this is the fairest way to judge anticipation, which in my role as reviewer, happens far too rarely for my liking. I don't look forward to many films being released, so to suggest that this has been a very long wait for me personally is something of an understatement. James Cameron wrote the outlines and formula for Avatar prior to filming Titanic, and only a few years afterwards, I got wind of it.
Ever since, I have been waiting for it to arrive. Today is the day it does, and like many people that know me, I am hoping against hope that it is all I wish it to be.
When the first trailer was released to a world that was, by now, practically salivating at the prospect of this new uber-film from James Cameron, I was much like any other movie fan. I was sitting at this PC on Apple's website, waiting for the thing to pop up in front of me. When it did, I was a little surprised.
I was already familiar with the actors, storyline, plot etc, but one of the things that you couldn't even begin to imagine was how the film looked. Cameron had kept his cards very close to his chest and like everyone else, this was truly a mystery unveiled. Like a birthday present when you think you know what you're going to get, but are surprised when you unwrap it and it isn't what you wished for, there were many naysayers throughout most communities I frequent. This is not to say that the present wasn't still welcome.
But there were many raised voices and capital letters about how it looked, simply as it hadn't matched the imagination of the expectant viewer. And to that extent it was certainly true. I didn't expect Pandora to be so Halo-esque (an environment in game form I don't really enjoy). I, unlike the vocal protesters however, remained silent. I knew that little could be gleaned from the short trailer we were treated to and that Cameron had failed in his first attempt to give the people that had been waiting the longest the thing they craved the most. Spectacle, story, emotion and adventure. Some of it was there, but most of it was sadly absent.
By the time the second trailer arrived, Cameron had put that right and like myself, most of those same detractors were left wide-eyed and grinning like a three-year-old the first time they see Tigger. Relief was palpably unabound.
The film has been so long in the creative process that it is easy to forget what your original expectations were. Reading several reviews that have been gushingly glowing but littered with common-sense also, I was reminded of what I had wanted from Avatar all those years ago. I wanted detail and scale. I wanted to help usher in a new era of cinema. I wanted to be able to say I was there when the future of movie-making changed forever. To be there when the bar was raised and everyone sat up in wonder. Initially for me, Avatar had never been about the story. I had sparse details about the point of it all, but what drew me in was the promise of the visual delights that the new technology was going to be able to provide
So now we have been back from the Avatar 3D screening on the IMAX for a couple of hours and I have had enough time to digest what I have seen in front of me. When you actually sit down and think about the event as a whole, it is a truly remarkable achievement of detail and scale and in many aspects, not least technologically, revolutionary. Very few reviews have taken a step back from the film, unemotionally, and seen this exactly for what it is however, and there are issues with the film that have largely been overlooked during the heaped praise, which it mostly deserves. Yes, this is indeed a behemoth of a film in visual delights. This is as 'grand cinema' as you are going to see without travelling forward a decade or two in time. Regardless of your opinion of the film, there isn't a soul that can say they have seen all this before.
I expect the story will be familiar to most of you by now. Crippled Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) arrives, wheelchair-ridden on Pandora, a satellite moon light years away, on a golden ticket. His twin brother was supposed to be going but tragically killed, only Jake's DNA will match the Avatar that has been created at vast expense by the corporation that needs him to navigate the vast jungles of Pandora in order to both study the fauna and flora, and more covertly, find a diplomatic solution to the problem of repatriating the local blue-skinned human like population, known as the Na'vi. They are living right on top of the one thing that the humans need, the appropriately named Unobtanium. This is two hundred years from now and there is 'no green left on the planet (earth)' and this natural resource on Pandora is essential to the future of mankind.
Cameron wastes no time in dropping you right into the action and within quarter of an hour, Jake has arrived, acclimatised and mentally inhabited his eight-foot, blue-skinned body and taken it out for a run. For a man that has spent more time in his wheelchair than he cares to remember, the feeling of freedom he is now afforded cannot be contained. And so begins the story of Jake's three month intermittent tenure of his Na'vi host, spending his sleeping time as a human in the human base, and his conscious time as part of the Na'vi. He meets and is often saved by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the local Na'vi clan leader, and it is at this point that Cameron comes into his own. Every Cameron film worth it's salt has a love story attached somewhere and Avatar is no different. The relationship between Jake and Neytiri blossoms as he learns their language, how to become a hunter and how to catch his very own dragon to fly around Pandora on. He both engages and charms the local Na'vi clan and slowly but surely changes his philosophical stance, from alien invader on a mission to save his own planet to angry native at the invasion that is taking place around him, that he initially helped achieve.
So the story is simple enough and it had to be, really. All of Cameron's work is not difficult to grasp, get into and become enveloped in. The self proclaimed (even ironically) 'King of The World' is absolutely the best, without question, at what he does. If you look at his back catalogue including the likes of Titanic, Terminator 2 and Aliens and you begin to understand how Avatar got made in the first place. It can't have been an easy pitch, even for him, however. Blue human like aliens with golden eyes and tails, six-legged horses, weighing in at twenty minutes short of three hours? Really?
And so to the nuts and bolts of it. Was it really worth the time, trouble and vast sums of money to bring this epic to the screen? I'll be brutal and say that I am honestly still wrestling with the question. Even after having now having seen the film, I still don't know if it is good enough to match the expectation, which admittedly was abnormally high. It is outstanding, but I was expecting the best film I have ever seen, and this was nowhere near worthy of such an accolade.
The film is truly stunning to look at and the amount of detail Cameron has put into Pandora and it's indiginous population is beautifully and astonishingly anal. From the foliage that is tossed apparently thoughtlessly from the battles we witness, to the bioluminesence all around you that interacts with the characters so beautifully that you can only imagine that it is a natural occurence, you do forget that Pandora is completely imagined and designed. The motion capture is, without doubt, the finest you will have ever seen, with our lead characters indistinguishable from their real life counterparts.
Technically, this is a triumph for Cameron, an incredible presentation of what can now be achieved on film, even if it comes at massive costs and years of protracted labour.
And yet there is still a nagging at the back of my mind. If Avatar is a love story, then Titanic did it better. As a love story, it fails. It is too beautful to look at. The romance is lost on the audience by the sights they are spoilt by. Is it the best storyline? Again, it doesn't manage to engage the viewer on a philosophical level, even given it's timely 'climatic' release. Sure, we understand the irony behind the socio-political comment Cameron seems to have happened on, but while we understand the rights and wrongs, it isn't handled or emphasised eloqeuntly enough to drill home the message. Is the acting the best we have ever seen? Whilst Worthington and Saldana are both intriguing playing Jake and Neytiri, neither are engaging enough, despite the incredible motion capture, to drag the audience into a blossoming relationship. Nor are we moved by the supporting cast enough to appreciate them fully. Weaver and Rodriguez both play wonderful characters that are woefully short on roundedness.
Ultimately, this is something this reviewer recommends you see on as big a screen as you can find as the reason you need to see it is for what it looks like and not it's content. Cameron has pulled off something technologically amazing here, but what sets it apart from everything else you have witnessed in breathtaking visuals, it pays for by falling (slightly) short on every other aspect.
Gob-smackingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful, but sadly short on content. (4 stars on the IMAX, but drop it by one for the Blu-Ray)
I blame Pattinson and Stewart, but I pretty much can’t stand anything vampire related these days, with the notable exceptions of Let The Right One In and Interview With The Vampire, which are the only two vampire related films released in the past twenty years that really have/had anything original to say on the subject.
When Daybreakers was released, however, there was the promise of something original. An alternative and altogether less appealing vision of vampire and human co-existence. The Spierig Brothers have taken a phenomenally simple premise and then ran with it, seemingly just happy to see where it goes, but still following set mythical parameters. So when faced with the question, ‘what happened when vampires ruled the earth but then ran out of blood to feed on?’ is posed, you can expect an unusual take on the genre, not overly concerned with vast, lonely lifetimes and aching, unfulfilled, misunderstood passion that can only be truly felt by those that can live to be hundreds of years old. Daybreakers dispenses with the romance and the physical drama of being a vampire almost as much as it ignores the benefits of extended life, concentrating on the potential end of two wildly different races with a seemingly common goal instead. The film does away with the glamour of an eternity with fangs and great dress sense, choosing instead to wallow in the mire of two desperate needs to survive.
The films attempts to approach some difficult moral questions and even some theological ones and whilst it should be applauded for doing so, it really fails to drive home the messages that the answers to those questions provide, still having to deal with the sometimes inconvenient truth that not only do the vampires want blood, but so does the audience. This demand for action and adventure could easily be accused of taking away something from the film as an interesting philosophical argument is trying to push itself forward, but then has to contend with hackneyed dialogue and now predictable, all too familiar, lapses into bloodletting of one form or another.
Comparisons have been drawn, not least by the marketing, to the Matrix and it is easy to see why. The human race at the very near end of its existence, defeated and cowed by an opposing and occupying force smarter, quicker and generally superior in almost every department, but one. That being humanity, of course. The fight for survival against a massive opposing force is uppermost in both films, but Daybreakers lacks a believability due to its ancient subject matter, often the butt of schlock television mini-series and ‘Classic’ wielding Goths the world over. Essentially, in order for this film to engage on a moral and mentally visceral level, it requires a narrative dependent upon a realistic outcome to a believable, or even possible, threat. In short, Vampires will never rule the planet. Machines could easily manage it in time. And here the difference really lies.
To take nothing away from it, Daybreakers provides both some insight and the confirmation of some inalienable truths. With all pro’s, you will invariably find some cons lurking in the background, and while it may be great to live forever, you still can’t walk about in daylight and you are probably going to go hungry, and often. Unfortunately, Daybreakers does go the way of most films and a perspective that was initially blurred showing a non-human society doing quite well for itself does away with a morally ambivalent standpoint and ends up chest thumping for the small band of humans that are doing the decent thing and fighting for their survival. No great shocker, but what started out as an admirable attempt at philosophical argument slowly descends into something far more formulaic.
The acting is all well and good, but never borders on what we would call ‘highs’, but is still acceptable enough for the demands of the plot and character development. The films’ mood and lighting are suitably toned down to represent a world without any real humanity, except on occasion where the sun is called into play as saviour to the human race. In all, an entertaining hour and a half that could easily have provided more questions and answers about what it means to be human, but settled in the end for just being entertaining, instead of provoking and confrontational which it threatened to do in the early part of the film.