Green Lantern – Review

Green Lantern (2011) 

Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Ryan ReynoldsBlake LivelyPeter Sarsgaard.

I should probably start by stating few facts about my position with Green Lantern and superheroes in general.

First of all my only little knowledge of Green Lantern came actually from an episode of “The Big Bang Theory“, other than that, I didn’t even know there was such a comic until I read that Martin Campbell was going to make a movie. In other words, I wasn’t really a fan (and let me spoil you the surprise: I’m still not one!!).

However,  I always try to be as open-minded as possible, in fact I was quite excited to learn something new about a new superhero. The fact that I hardly knew the existence of Green Lantern had nothing to do with me not liking the film: I wasn’t a fan of Thor either, and yet I did manage to enjoy the film for what it was (here’s my Thor review) and as far as the X-Men I knew next to nothing when the first Bryan Singer movie got released and still liked it. Finally, I should also point out that I have nothing against comic superheros either (in fact I still consider Spiderman 2 one of the best action movies of the last few years!).

Green Lantern opens with a very confusing prologue, visually unoriginal and heavy in exposition, characters and soulless CGI. And as it got louder and louder, more and more frantic the whole thing got even more confusing.  I must confess, the film lost me right from the word “go”,  but I decided that it didn’t really  matter: “It’s a comic! How hard can it be?” I said to myself. Thankfully I was right and when finally the action cuts to planet Earth I was able find my bearings again, though the feeling of boredom stayed with me throughout.

Once we are finally introduced to our hero, played by Ryan Reynolds,  I realise that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t really know how to take this film. Reynolds seems to be just as confused as he plays the character sometimes with a complete straight face and sometimes with a smirk irony as if he knew that the whole thing is just preposterous. He’s likable enough, but sadly lacks of any emotional depth. The only thing left to marvel at, is his perfect body which only made me even more annoyed and jealous: in fact it distracted me even more as my mind started to wonder “when was the last time I actually went to the gym?”

Director Campbell, never really seems to be in control of what’s going on and instead he decides to cram the film with as much noise as possible  hoping it might distract his audience from thinking that this is actually all a bit of a mess… The result is that sometimes even some of the dialogue gets lost (though I’m prepared to bet that despite those 4 writer being credited, I didn’t really miss much). Campbell clearly feels uneasy with this universe and doesn’t quite know what to make of it. The whole philosophical side is just ridiculous, the action scenes are too messy, the special effects underwhelming and the love story is so flat that it becomes redundant.

The pace is completely off and for a film of this kind which lasts just under two hours, I found myself looking at my watch way too often.
The editing is just as uncertain just like the rest of the film, as Stuart Baird seems to be randomly cutting to wide shots and close-ups, irrespective of what the action would require and not taking into account that a film in 3D should really hold its shots for much longer, otherwise the 3D effect is lost on its audience. But then again, who cares about 3D! This is another of those films that’s been converted into 3D after it was filmed (and my God, it shows!!) and I suspect will have a very short life in this form: many people will probably watch it on DVD or on TV anyway, so why bother cutting it for the 3D format. Those action scenes, particularly at the beginning, are so fast that you really have no idea what’s going on.

It doesn’t really help the fact that there are way too many characters, obviously introduced to us because of a possible sequel (clearly set up in the end credits with a silly plot twist): after all today it’s all about franchises, isn’t it? (Bloody hell, Warner, aren’t you happy with your 8 Harry Potter films and your never-ending Batman?! Do you really want to embark into another franchise? ).

Peter Sarsgaard plays a sleazy over-the-top baddie without a proper script to allow him to actually be one of those really good baddieMark Strong is pretty much wasted, not to mention Tim Robbins in what is possibly his most forgettable role in years. Angela Bassett plays is as if she’s been told “you’re not allowed to show any emotion, in fact deliver those lines thinking of something else…”. Even Geoffrey Rush who probably had a couple of hours spare in his schedule was just happened to pass by the film set, lends his voice for one of the character sounding pretty much like one of those Owl from that film by Zack Snyder.

Finally James Newton Howard‘s film soundtrack (who I usually really like) is as derivative as all the rest. Not bad, but certainly unremarkable, just like the film itself.

In the end, this is probably out there with some of the most disappointing comic book movies of all times (Elektra, Daredevil, Spawn, The Avengers, the 1998  versions, just to mention a few…). Its main crime is that it thinks is a lot better than it is… and that it must have cost a lot of money too!!

One positive note: I did like the costume…

4.5/10

If you enjoyed this Review you might like the ones on THOR, HARRY POTTER 7.1, INCEPTION, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, TRON: LEGACY

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Life in a Day – Review

Life in a Day (2011) 

Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Produced by Tony Scott & Ridley Scott.

Last year (2010) YouTube launched a campaign, supported by executive producers Tony and Ridley Scott, asking everybody with a camcorder to record a day in their lives. Fast forward a year to 2011 and director Kevin Macdonald and editor Joe Walker (never an editor has been more crucial to the making of a film), release their documentary to the world and to the same people who actually filmed it.

Apparently 80000 videos for a total of 4500 hours were submitted from 126 different nations.

The result is a film that tells the story of a day on Earth, and precisely the 24th of July 2010: 24 hours in the life of ordinary people. Their stories, their images, their thoughts, all linked together by an incredible work of editing and a rousing soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams

You can argue that some of it might  be slightly heavy-handed (a shot of a cow being killed on camera is then, non very subtlety, cut together with a man eating from a bowl of spaghetti), but some of the choices are absolutely inspired (montage sequences of people getting up in the morning or having breakfast or simply walking). It’s the amalgamation of all these little snippets of life that makes the film an incredible watch and eventually it ends up actually telling a whole story as the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

The film starts at midnight as people are still asleep in most places: some night shift workers are already at it, some wild party animals are still up from the previous day, but generally speaking it’s a quiet start. Within a few minutes, we are treated by a sunrise montage from all over the world as people are getting up in the most remote corners of the globe. They have breakfast, some of them go to work, others stay at home, somebody shaves for the first time (a very funny scene!), somebody decides to lay in bed for a bit longer, and somebody else begins a new “empty” day: loneliness might be just around the corner…

Despite the sometimes over-indulgent choice of editing and the ever-present soundtrack the film still manages to capture that pulsating realism of modern life through simple gestures, looks, words and silences as the similarities and (many) differences are exposed.

But just when you are about to think “is this film going to be just a long montage sequence?”, then the film suddenly slows down and you are actually treated to real moments into people’s life (well, I say “real”, obviously there’s a camera filming so I suppose it’s “a version of reality”, but that doesn’t diminish its value nor its emotional impact on the audience).

For example, quite early on a little boy of probably 4 is woken up by his dad who’s filming the whole thing (I seem to remember they were in Japan or thereabout): we stay with them for a while as they talk about seemingly mundane things: the boy is incredibly sweet,  the house is strangely messy. Then dad says “let’s go and say ‘hi’ to mom”. They move to a corner of a room where we see for the first time a little shrine with a picture of a woman. Together they light an incense and pay their little morning tribute to the mom.

It’a quiet moment that tell a thousand words: no need for commentary or any explanation. It’s clear these two have been doing this for a while. It’s clear they are incredibly close to each other. Mom is gone. They are both alone, but they have each other… We fill the gaps in an instant. It’s an incredibly poignant moment. This time there is no music playing underneath. The director knows when to manipulate its audience and when he should take a step back and let us make our own mind and feel what we want to feel.

Life in a day is full of simple moments like this one. So simple and yet so powerful.

Don’t worry, there are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments too.

Generally speaking the film is edited in such a way that shows a certain optimism that comes with the beginning of a new day and yet is some cases, this fades away for some as we approach sunset and go through the night by which time loneliness takes over the weakest ones. It’s a beautifully constructed device, which might be a bit contrived but it works perfectly.

In the end, this is a film about everything: rich countries and poor countries, smiles and tears (quite a lot in my case, I must confess), day and night, life and death, animals and humans, man and women, whites, blacks, gays, straights, children and very old people, happiness and desperation.  We are all there, with our fears, our idiosyncrasies, our routines, our doubts, our weaknesses…

Everybody will come out of it and will probably remember something different. Each of us might identify with a different moment in the film. One thing is certain: you will never forget it.

It might not be a complete masterpiece, but there is so much good stuff in it that makes you forget the slightly sugary moments and the most heavy handed ones.

This was my favorite film of the year so far and definitely the most intense emotional experience I’ve had in a long time.

YOU CAN NOW WATCH IT ONLINE:  http://www.youtube.com/lifeinaday

9.5/10

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Thor – Review

Thor (2011)   6.5

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris HemsworthNatalie PortmanTom HiddlestonAnthony HopkinsStellan Skarsgård

I must confess I was never really a huge fan of the comic Thor (but then again, are there really many Thor fans out there?) so I went into this not only with the lowest of expectations, but also with pretty much zero knowledge of this viking-looking superhero. And maybe because of that I came out pleasantly surprised and I actually liked a lot more than I thought I would.

In a time of heavy-handed and preposterously dark movie adaptations of comic book heroes, full of calculated allegories and deep symbolism, it is actually quite refreshing to find a film that knows exactly its boundaries and never really takes itself too seriously: I mean, after all we are talking about Thor!

This will probably not find a permanent place in cinema history, but as a pre-summer blockbuster, it was plain fun! And while it worked as a stand-alone adventure, it also paved the way for the eagerly expected (well, among comic book fans at least) “Avengers“, a film which has been in the pipeline for a long time and it’s going to re-unite Thor, Iron Man, Captain America (to be released in July 2011), the Incredible Hulk and other Marvel heroes in what promises to be one of the biggest comic book adaptation yet. In a very calculated marketing campaign, there are plenty of references, in-jokes to other marvel heroes and several hints towards the forthcoming “Avengers” peppered throughout this film, including a semi-hidden sequence right after the end-credits which made even a non-believer like me looking forward to the summer of 2012 when the actual film will finally be released.

This is probably film-making by committee, thought of  by marketing campaigners and executive producers with big fat cigars, but mercifully Kenneth Brannagh has been able to inject it all with enough mischief and fun. In the end it might not work as well as the first Iron Man, and it certainly doesn’t have the invention or heart of the first couple of Spiderman movies but it’s polished,  fast and short enough to get away with it.

The Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth, most famous until yesterday for playing in the TV soap Home and Away, looks like he was born to play this role. he not only fits the part perfectly but somehow he manages to make the potentially dull Thor into a likable and sympathetic character.

The film does look great too: production design, costumes, photography and special effects are of very high standards. Unfortunately the conversion to 3D, once again, is not among the best. Generally speaking it is quite unnecessary and aside from a couple of instances becomes fairly forgettable pretty soon and in the end it just serves to make the film a little bit duller in colors… (I’m seriously wondering how long this 3D-mania is going to last for as it seems to be fading out already. But this is a subject too long to be taken here).

I saw this film almost a month ago and I’ve already forgotten about Natalie Portman‘s performance in all this. That should tell you all you need to know about her role in “Thor”. But then again, if she had been really bad I would have probably remembered it…

Finally you’ve got high calibre actors like Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgård to give it more credibility.

If you asked me in another couple of month to tell you about any sequence in Thor I would probably not be able to remember much of anything, but while I was with it I’m sure I never looked at my watch and I had more fun than I was ready for.

6.5/10

Les petits mouchoirs – Review

Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies) 2010 

Directed by Guillaume Canet. Starring François CluzetMarion CotillardJean Dujardin

When watching Carnet’s third film, you’ll be excused from drawing some obvious comparisons with the 1983 hit classic the Big Chill:  not only the story of a group of friends gathering together for a holiday and ending up taking their skeletons out of the closets is a fairly familiar territory, but also the way the film itself is handled, with that mixture of comedy and drama and a constant (and most of the times fairly random) soundtrack of old American songs playing in the background.

The film starts off with a spectacular piece of cinematic bravura: a one take wonder which serves as an introduction for the rest of the film (though I must confess it’s so perfectly well choreographed that actually makes you expect the big surprise that’s about to come). Unfortunately this perfectly well-timed sequence is a rather isolated example in an otherwise indulgent and over-long film. In fact, after the striking beginning it takes at least a good 30 minutes before the actual holiday (and the real film) starts. Thinking back at it, with hindsight, it would have been quite easy to cut all that part out and set it all up just during the holiday. It would have also brought the film down in length from those 154 minutes. Yes, the accident sequence was very good, but did we really need to see it ?

But aside from few indulgences, once the film actually gets going it is a real delight. There are some individual very funny moments (the one where two friends get stranded on a boat gets my top marks…) and generally speaking the inter-relationship between all the various characters is beautifully portrayed and very well observed.

Of course, the whole things couldn’t be more French and, seen from the eyes of a foreigner, all the so-called clichés that you would expect from these sort of people seem to be there: from the hysterical dialogue, to the wine drinking, the talk about sex and to the fact that they could all end up in each other’s bed… and just when you think you’ve seen it all, a man shows up with a baguette under his arm (really!).

However none of that takes anything away from the genuinely affecting drama that unfolds under your eyes.

And just like in “the big chill”, underneath the surface and all the laughs, there’s an impending sense of nostalgia that permeates the atmosphere.

All the performances are top-notch; so much so that they make real even some of the most far-fetched situations. These could be friends who spent most of their life knowing each other.

François Cluzet, resembling more and more Dustin Hoffman, gets some of the best lines: his storyline about a man who’s just been told by his best friend that he’s in love with him, is probably the most original and definitely the most entertaining. Everything else is pretty standard for this sort of “re-union” films and yet perfectly enjoyable and very engaging.

But while some of the characters work better than others, sadly it’s the women that are most two-dimensional (with the single exception of Marion Cotillard) to the point that more than an hour into the film I was still not quite sure about how many where actually there.

The film runs slightly out of steam towards the final act where the dialogue becomes more forced and a certain tendency to give every character a cathartic moment starts to creep in.

The tearful drawn-out ending to the notes of Nina Simone’s version of “My Way”, however moving, was probably a step too far and where subtlety really went out of the window.

On the whole it felt like a very personal film made by a director who should have been kept more on a leash by a more watchful producer. There’s absolutely no excuse for a film of this kind to be so long!

And yet, despite all its weaknesses I’m still giving it a thumb up. Would I watch it again? Definitely not. But I certainly did enjoy it the first time around.

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