Captain America – Review

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

Directed by Joe Johnston. With Chris Evans, Hayley AtwellTommy Lee JonesHugo WeavingStanley TucciToby Jones

If you are an average viewer with at least half a brain,with close-to-no-interest-whatsoever in comic books, or simply just exhausted by the overload of comic heroes out there at the moment, you might be asking yourself “Do we really need yet another movie adapted  from a comic, and more importantly, can we possibly care less about a film that flashes out that all-American gun-ho/patriotic spirit  right from the word go and proudly shows it even in its title? A spirit which is so out-of-date these days, in a post-9/11-Bush-and-economic-crisis era, like the one we’re all living today. Probably the answer to both questions will be a resounding “No, please!”.

Surprisingly “Captain America” might just be one of the best of its kind and certainly the best comic adaptation of the year (yes, I’d say better than Thor, which actually wasn’t too bad either and 100% better than that shameful Green Lantern).

The film-makers are obviously very aware of the cynical eyes of today’s audience towards jingoism and that slight anti-American feeling that is slowly creeping in beyond their own country. A misstep too far in bringing this latest superhero to the screen might not only jeopardize their international box office takings, but also (and more important) their long-awaited spin-off “The Avengers” (due to be released next year) of which “Captain America” was the last crucial missing link.

So instead of falling into the traps of the obvious patriotic gush and just updating the story for the modern audience, into a modern setting, director Joe Johnston decided to stay true to the origins of his hero and kept the story rooted in 194os, during World War II, deciding to concentrate more on the old-fashion moral decency of the characters than their “let’s kick some ass” type of mentality:  in fact in a few scenes they even make fun of that as Captain America performs in front of live audiences around America, looking more like a clown than a superhero. Of course it’s still propaganda, but of a slightly different kind and certainly less insulting.

The period atmosphere is perfectly recreated (reminiscent of another superhero film the Rocketeer, which interestingly was made  by the same director in 1991) through the sepia tones of the photography, the muted colours of the costumes but also a type of film-making itself calling back to the way the best action films used to be made, before a certain Bruckheimer decided that it was all going to be about one liners, big explosion, idiotic plot-lines, fast editing (so fast that you can’t quite tell how bad it all is!) and sex exploitation (yes, I am not a fan of Transformers, you might have gathered that). This is as much about humanity and characters than it is about big action set-pieces and special effects, because in the end those are only important as long as we care about the people involved in them (I know, this is no news to anyone, but it’s good to remind people about it once in a while).

Yes, of course, it’s all preposterous and plainly silly, but so is a radioactive spider,  a man who can fly, a giant hammer, and a silly mask that only covers your eyes and yet when you wear it nobody seems to recognise you . We are talking about Superheroes after all!! But as long as you can suspend your disbelief, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

To help it all there’s a splendid array of  supporting characters from Stanley Tucci, to Toby Jones, to Tommy Lee-Jones and even an-over-the-top Hugo Weaver who’s clearly having a lot of fun in this film (putting on a close-to-parody German accent!). And of course Chris Evans in the lead who embodies the physical strength of the hero and yet at the same time he brings enough charisma, warmth and dignity to make you actually care about him and feel for his pain whenever somebody close to him dies. It obviously helps that in the first 40 minutes of the film we get to know him as a frail and skinny men and somehow all that makes him even more sympatetic (with the aid of some truly stunning and seamless Benjamin-Button-Style-Special-FX… If only they had put so much effort into the 3D conversion which was actually rather bland, a part from a few shields flying towards us).

Ironically for an action film, the actual action scenes are rather unimpressive: of course they’re not bad, as I said this is a very competent film (aside from some bad CGI around the train sequence), but in the end they’re not what this film might be remembered for. In fact Captain America runs slightly out of steam in the last part and it feels more and more a collection of set pieces which are not necessarily flowing into each other, and it slowly risks to become an almost by-the-number type of affair, until of course the final coda, which is brings us a step closer to the Avengers… (though at the same time rather sad that it will mean the end of the period setting, which I rather liked).

As popcorn movies go, this is a lot better than you might expect (especially considering the blandness of the original character from the comics) and more enjoyable than most of the stuff that Hollywood tends to rigurgitate over us during summer holidays.

7.0/10

OTHER REVIEWS: 

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Green Lantern 

Tron: Legacy

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Beginners – Review

Beginners (2010) 

Director: Mike Mills Writer: Mike Mills Stars:  Ewan McGregorChristopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent 

They may tell you that this is a comedy. You might have read about it on newspapers and magazines, you might have seen the poster looking more like one of those US rom-com than anything else… You’ve probably even looked at the trailer which sells it as an Indi-like comedy (and only hints to something else behind it), but be aware…

To a certain degree this is comedy in the most Shakespearian sense of the word (where even the most dramatic plays are considered comedic just because they end well). There are certainly some inspired funny moments here and there, however if you decide to go and watch “Beginners”, get ready to bring some tissues along because behind the laughs and the weird quirky tone, there’s a really heart-breaking story at its core.

The film essentially intercuts between two timelines: the first one follows the few last months of the charming, flamboyant and playful 75 years old Hal (an Oscar-worthy role by Christopher Plummer) who has recently come out as gay and most crucially who’s terminally ill with cancer. Don’t worry, I am not giving away anything: the film actually starts with his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor in what’s probably his best performance) clearing up his deceased dad’s apartment.

The second timeline centres around his Oliver himself having to live with and accept the death of his father as well dealing with a new relationship with a free-spirited French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent).

The film moves backwards and forwards between the two timelines and as it unfolds, it underlines the many contradictions of life: there’s light and darkness, music and silence, joy and sadness, laughs and tears (mainly tears as far as I am concerned: I was a total wreck by the end of it!), life and death.

It’s a film feels incredibly personal and yet it actually manages to be universal. After all it deals with the things we all very familiar with: parents, love, loneliness, death.

The beauty of it all is its attention to details: it’s a film made by simple moments which are so small and yet carry so much meaning. Like clearing a house after a person has died, going through their clothes, their personal properties, having to deal with the practicality of having to write a death certificate, but also, the clear realisation that life goes on for the living.

It is poignant and yet hopeful. It’s probably not for everyone, and it may have a few moments where it drags a little bit, but in the end it’s so disarmingly honest and beautifully observed and despite having a “talking dog” (and getting away with it) it feels incredibly truthful and real and I’d love to recommend it, but I’m aware that it’s a really tough watch and it’s a hard film to love. However it stayed with me long after the  credits finished rolling

7.5/10

Attack the Block – Review

Attack the Block (2011) 

Directed by Joe Cornish. With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost

Director Joe Cornish is obviously a boy from the 80s and his latest film “Attack the Block” was certainly inspired by the likes of the GooniesGremlins (and its Z-list of derivates Critters, Ghoulies, Troll) or other 80s Monsters-films (even the soundtrack of this film seems to be reminiscent of the early Carpenter too). Not surprisingly Spielberg himself has chosen him to write his Adventures of Tintin.
All this retro-sci-fi sensibility is mixed up with the grittier settings of a typical British gang movie, like recent Harry Brown for example, just to mention one.

I must say it did take me quite a while to settle into the film, mainly because we are expected to like a gang of scumbags who attack people in the street at knifepoint and who speak with the uncompromising accents, only some of which I was able to fully understand.

And yet despite an early sequence where a nurse is assaulted (thus your liking for these kids reach rock bottom) director Cornish during the course of the film still manages to make these characters quite likeable and I guess that can only be considered an achievement. Obviously some of the credit has to be given to the realistic and natural performances from the gang of inexperienced actors, headed by the taciturn Moses, perfectly played by John Boyega.

The film on the whole is probably way too silly to take any of the message underneath too seriously: in fact we are supposed to understand the motivations behind these street kids and even excuse the gang’s behaviours. The film tells us that their resentment is justified by the fact that they are just unlucky kids who are not given a chance by the system.

However, beyond this intellectual (and not-too-subtle) reading, “Attack the Block” is mainly a comedy  about aliens versus hoodies and that’s what people will take out of it. It is also a rather unusual mish-mash of genres and I must confess in the beginning I found it all bit jarring, but if you are willing to go with it and suspend your disbelief, I’m sure you’ll end up enjoying the ride.

In fact, just like in Gremlins, the film tries to combine comedy with horror the same way cult films like Shaun of the Dead had done years ago. However whist there are some genuinely funny bits in the film, they are never really out-loud moments, nor particularly memorable. Even Nick Frost‘s part in the film feels more a  last-minute addition to the script than rounded character, functional to the plot. And knowing how funny Nick Frost can be, it all seems like a bit of a waste.

As far as the scary sequences are concerned, some of them are skilfully choreographed, photographed and filmed and on the whole are quite effective, however I’m sure that an audience familiar with the horror genre will find them all pretty standard and never as scary as they should actually be.

Cornish opted to use old-fashioned mechanical special effects for his weird alien/gorilla-like/furry-monsters. However the threat from these fluffy beast is never quite “real enough” and in the end the aliens are more ridiculous than menacing.

It’s hard to know what the target audience for this film is supposed to be. The Horror fans would  have seen it all before, the US kids will be put off by the accents, the snobby/arty elite will certainly find it all a bit too silly to care about its message, but  I must confess, I came to it with very few expectations and even though it took me way too long to get into it, once I was finally with it, I actually found it all rather enjoyable for the its slightly trashy fake-B-movie sensibility (but a lot more clever than it claims it is) and I was happy I saw it.

6.5/10

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael GambonRalph FiennesAlan RickmanJohn HurtHelena Bonham CarterTom FeltonJason Isaacs (hello!), Maggie SmithJim BroadbentDavid ThewlisRobbie ColtranGary Oldman.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Watching this film in a packed theatre with some of the most excited audience I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, was as much part of the experience as the film itself. The tension was clearly palpable: cheers,laughter, sniffling and sobs from the crowd seemed to accompany the soundtrack all at the appropriate moments, and yet it was in the most intimate and quiet scenes where you could feel how much the audience was with this film: you could have heard a pin dropped for how quiet everybody was!

For many fans (and let me get this out now: I am one of them), this is much more than just another film in the franchise: it’s the it’s the end of an era, or simply  the end of a journey which lasted for over 10 years (14 if you count the first book, back in 1997).

There are no precedents like this in movie history (the closest thing it can be compared with is the end of a long-running TV series like Friends, for example). There’s a certain poignancy that comes with it, because, as we all know, this is the last one EVER. There will not be any other Harry Potter, no matter what.

The film clearly knows all that and consciously plays to it, tapping into our deepest-self, reminding us about this journey we’ve taken and how we’ve grown up with it. But we are certainly not alone: these films themselves seem to have grown up too: this isn’t your normal dull blockbuster like Transformers, with idiotic one-liner, explosion-galore and music plastered all over (I was actually surprised to see how much restrained the music was on this film, but just carefully used only when it was really needed), this is more of an emotional roller-coaster. It might not be completely appropriate for your average kid (some of the images are pretty strong and after a while I lost the count of how many dead bodies of students I saw…), but if you’ve seen the previous ones, you should be prepared for this too (and if you haven’t, I must ask: what on earth are you doing here?!).

The previously-unknown David Yates has slowly been able to find his own voice with the latest 4 of the 8 instalments, by combining the sense of magic the first 2 films had, the darker tone introduced to us by Afonso Cuaron (with the third episode) but also that more grown-up approach to the story, which has been brewing and growing with each chapter (and book of course).

In fact Yates has also been one of the bravest too, as he has found the courage to actually hack to pieces the overly-written source and actually make a better film (clearly after book 3, no editor would dare to tell JK Rowling to cut anything out). In this last “Deathly Hallow”, he was able to basically stretch the final battle over the course of the whole film, making it seem greater and more epic than it’s ever been in the book (In the end, box office aside, it really did pay off to split the movie in two parts).

Considering the incredible amount of expectations which a film like this can carry and, consequently, the almost impossible task of bringing everything to a close, HP 7.2  does a really good job! Yes, of course there will be some disappointed people, but I think the disappointment will come from the fact that secretly each of us would like this story to go on forever and, no matter what, you can never please everyone.

There are flashbacks and cameos from pretty much every single member of the cast from the previous instalments (I think only Kenneth Branagh was missing), some of whom are unfortunately relegated to just a couple of shots and a single line (there are time where you just wish they had a whole spin-off movie about Snape, as Alan Rickman deserves a lot more screen time). Maggie Smith however manages to make the most of her little screen time and makes up for the fact that she wasn’t around in previous “deathly hallow”. She most definitely steals the show with her “I’ve always wanted to do that spell” and with that smile that carried both pride and embarrassment at the same time, so cute that you just want to hug her and ask her to be your grandmother.

The film is a real feast for the eye. The special effects are the most detailed on any Harry Potter (fair enough it’s been 10 years since the first one!) and actually I have to confess the 3D conversion was probably one of the best one I’ve seen in a while and although it’s not quite the same as actually filming in 3D it makes me rather curious and hopeful for the forthcoming Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately nowadays we are so used to see big battles with thousands of CGI-rendered extras, that focussing on those alone would certainly lead to some disappointment. Once again the film knows this and decides to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the big action scenes are there (in fact, the whole film seems a big action scene!), but as a fan it’s the most emotional moments in the film that stick with you: the death of some of the characters, the overdue kiss, the flashback sequence with Snape and most crucially the moment where Harry is ready to go and die and says goodbye to his friends. I must confess that had be too. Credits to that trio of those not-so-kids-anymore (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who this time clearly show how much they have matured as actors.

Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here: he has a clear understanding of his character as his face shows not just the loss of innocence but also a deep maturity in the acceptance of his fate. Emma Watsons shines with a freshly newly acquired spontaneity: the moment where she kisses Ron is followed by a smile which feels so real that could almost be mistaken for an outtake. And obviously Rupert Grint who’s always been the best of them all and can now relax in his role of ice-breaker with his funny comments in the most tense situations.

As always, if there are faults in the film they are mainly to do with the original source itself and, in this particular case, with the overly long and convoluted plot. Still to this day I have some problems in telling you what a deathly hallow is what its purpose might be… and I am a fan who has actually read all the books and seen most of the films more than once!! I can only imagine what the average viewer will make of it). At some point I almost had no idea what was going on anymore as horcruxes, crowns, snakes and plot twists all got mixed up in my head. Did it matter? Not really… to a degree.

And yet, even though I knew that the stakes were high and I could follow the rough plot (well, I mean, it’s clear enough: good vs evil), I still couldn’t quite grasp exactly how could Voldemort be killed or how was Harry Potter able come back from the whited-out King’s Cross (In fact that was also the biggest let-down of the book as far as I am concerned: it would have made a lot more sense if Harry had died. What a brave and powerful ending that would have been).

On the whole the film is a success. It’s hard to see how it could have been better: it can be argued that some of that sense of magical wonder that some of the previous instalments had, was probably lost here, as it gave more space to its three main characters. The very final scene was unusually underwhelming for these types of films and is a clear example of that as it decided to concentrate more on the faces of our three main characters rather than letting itself go by showing us perhaps an aerial view of the Hogwarts Express leaving with a possible rousing them from John Williams. And yet, Spielberg did manage to do both things in ET, by giving us the unforgettable image of the spaceship leaving a rainbow-like trail but also finishing on a tight close up of Elliot’s face, thus creating on of the most emotional ending of any fantasy film ever!

But these are just small quibbles: either you go with the film or you don’t and I certainly did.

Considering what a massive commercial machine Warner Bros is we must be so thankful for the way the franchise has been handled (it makes me shiver to think that actually Spielberg wanted to shift it all to America… Thankfully somebody had the courage to tell him off for once). Producer David Heyman is obviously a man of heart, who cares for his fans and set out to make the best films he could ever make, playing on the strengths of its (let’s be honest) not-so-perfect source and in the end making it an even better product.

In the end this film must be judged with that same heart and not so much with the brain, taking in consideration the series as well as this ending.

And you know what? My heart can’t stop saying “I just loved the journey, thank you so much for it”.

8/10

 Read my review of Part one

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Trust – Review

Trust (2011) 

Directed by David Schwimmer. Starring Clive OwenCatherine KeenerLiana Liberato

Whatever you might be expecting from “Friends” star turned-director David Schwimmer, get ready for an unexpected surprise, because this is certainly not it.

Trust is in fact quite a mature and complex drama about an even more mature and complex subject and though it might not be perfect, it certainly deserves a lot of credit and respect not only for tackling such a story, but also (and mostly) for its restrained approach throughout.

The film is not preachy, nor it pretends to have all the answers: it doesn’t offer any solution to an impossible situation and for most of its length, it manages to avoid the obvious clichés from the genre and just when you think you’ve seen it all before and it takes an unexpected and clever turn.

Schwimmer is aware of the complexities of its story and carefully manages to keep his vision very well balanced. He is subtle in his style and in the staging and direction of some truly great performances.

At the centre is the amazing performance by Liana Liberato as Annie, the teenage girl who befriends a stranger online, Charlie, who she thinks he’s about her age. Once the truth comes out (don’t worry, this happens quite early on in the film, so I’m not really giving away anything), and Annie discovers that Charlie is actually a lot older than he used to claimed, she’s first taken aback, but slowly begins to feel more and more attached to him, as she thinks he’s her first love and the only one who really understand her.

Ms Liberato despite her early age seems to have a remarkable understanding for that adolescent naïveté, that awkwardness and innocence that most teenagers seem to have and she portrays Annie to perfection, with all their weaknesses and strengths.

“Trust” is certainly not an easy watch. The scene with Charlie the “predator” in a motel room sitting on a bed next to Annie, is one of the most uncomfortable I’ve seen in quite a while: but like in all the best movies scenes of this kind, the tension is created by what you know and your expectations, not by what you see. And gracefully (and thankfully) Schwimmer shows us just about enough to get the idea across without exploiting the moment.

Schwimmer is actually an activist in the field of rape awareness in real life and his understanding of the complexities of the issue is certainly apparent on the screen.

If you hear David Schwimmer talking about this film you’ll hear him saying that this is really a film “from the point of view of the father”. And undoubtedly Clive Owen takes the center stage at some point in the film (and as always he’s pretty good too), but interestingly those are the parts I thought were probably the least successful in the film, all leading up to that final scene which felt to me a bit forced and actually slightly too melodramatic.

However these are just small points in an otherwise really powerful film, which should actually be a compulsory watch in schools and among teenagers. In reality, in the UK the film is rated 15 and in the US is R rated: which once again shows the usual close-mindedness of classifications on both side of the pond. Hopefully some kids will get to watch it anyway either on DVD or thanks to mature parents.

Oh, and that end credit sequence, which seems almost tagged on as an afterthought, is one of the creepiest thing in the film and leaves you with a really uncomfortable feeling as the credits roll, which I guess is the point of the film. On that respect, it’s a success.

7.5/10

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