Sunday 24 July 2011

Movie Review - Cars 2

It's hard to deny that Pixar Animation Studios have an excellent track record in the film industry, having produced an abundance of top quality CGI animated films such as Toy Story (and its sequels), Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E and much more. Despite not being necessarily known for it, they've recently been pinning their focus on sequels to some of their older hits, and whilst this worked brilliantly in 2010 with Toy Story 3, a beautifully animated and wonderfully satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, I'm afraid to say that this year's Cars 2 doesn't share such a success.

The story revolves around Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) as they travel the globe during the World Grand Prix, which McQueen is determined to win. However, amongst all this, Mater learns of an evil mastermind who is violently sabotaging races worldwide, and inadvertently teams up with British spies Finn McMissile (Sir Michael Caine) and Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) in order to unmask this criminal and save the day.

Being a Pixar film, it should be fairly obvious that the aesthetic side of things is top notch. Environments are truly wonderful to behold, with some being nicely modelled after real life landscapes, and character animation is incredibly fluid. It's not as colourful as some of Pixar's other flicks, but rest assured, everything looks great. The film is also viewable in 3D format, and to me this felt very conservative. The 3D isn't really that spectacular even during the action or racing sequences, and in all honesty I wouldn't recommend it.

Whilst Cars 2 provides some pleasant eye candy, the story is where things fall a bit short. Granted, the story is by no means terrible, but when you remember that this is Pixar, everything seems a tad too unoriginal and predictable and there's a severe lack of development in some of the characters. Take Lightning McQueen; who, after being the central character of the original film and experiencing noticeable changes in his personality throughout, has been downgraded to a completely flat supporting character. That's right; Mater is the main character of this film (why the poster implies otherwise I have no idea), and whilst he's certainly a lot of fun, the film doesn't really enable you to relate to him that well and his comedic idiocy gets a bit old after a while. The story won't grab you, but the film is stuffed with a plethora of nicely animated Bond-esque action sequences and some intense racing scenes, and whilst these to get old after a while, they're still the highlights of the film by far.

The voice cast of Cars 2 is pretty much the same as that of the past movie, but of course we have some new additions for certain new characters, most notably Sir Michael Caine who fits the character of Finn McMissile perfectly. He's English, so he's automatically awesome anyway, but the voice over he provides shows both the sophisticated yet earnest nature of the character. Mater is yet again comically voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, and as I previously said the character is pretty funny, but after a while his charm dies off and he descends into a pit of extreme annoyance. The rest of the voice cast perform nicely, especially Owen Wilson and Emily Mortimer who, alongside Caine, provide the best vocal performances in the film, at least in my opinion.

As a standard animated film, Cars 2 is decent and, at times, a lot of fun. As a Pixar film, not to mention a follow up to Toy Story 3, it's very average. Not at all bad, mind. In fact, it's still an enjoyable film, but when it comes to the story and characters, everything just feels far too wooden and you'll be paying more attention to the action sequences than you will to the actual plot. If you really want to see the film, then by all means do so, but if you weren't very interested from the start, you should give it a miss.

Friday 15 July 2011

Movie Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

This is it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may have originally been a novel that ended the Harry Potter saga back in 2007, but the decade long life of the film adaptations now draws to a close as we finally witness the conclusion to this global phenomenon on the big screen. Whilst Part 1 did a good job setting the stage and building up the tension, the abrupt ending left many underwhelmed. If you were one of these people; fear not. Not only will Part 2 satisfy your taste for the true finale, but it's safe to say it's easily the greatest Potter film ever produced.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 kicks off right where Part 1 concluded, as Harry and friends aim to destroy the remaining Horcruxes of Lord Voldemort; each containing fragments of his corrupted, murderous soul. What follows in the hectic search is a full scale war as Voldemort and his legions turn to Hogwarts, and it's not long before Harry realizes he must confront his fears and his destiny, for neither can live while the other survives...

This film easily has the darkest vibe of the entire series; including its predecessor. The serious tone is set through some incredibly rich performances and some of the gloomiest sets and special effects the series has seen, which should be evident if you've seen the trailers and stills. The soundtrack (composed excellently by Alexandre Desplat) also possesses a much more gloomy tone than ever before; we still have those iconic themes at certain points, but there's a lot of desolate pieces that really help to move the emotional scenes (yeah, I almost cried again). Unlike Part 1, Part 2 is available to watch in 3D format, which doesn't truly warrant the extra cost as there's no real enhancements made by the extra depth, so save your money and choose 2D.

The plot is inevitably going to feel rather disjointed to those who have not seen Part 1, as nothing from that movie is revisited and instead we are put straight into the ensuing events. But in fairness, there's no reason to see this movie if you have not seen Part 1, and in all honesty any of the previous films. You'll really have to witness the build up to the epic finale to appreciate the characters and their motives, and to get a solid grasp on the incredibly deep plot that has been unraveled over time, which this film does a fantastic job of drawing to a satisfying closure. We witness the shocking revelations of many secrets and motivations that have been hidden from us over time; all shown through a variety of clever film techniques. And not to mention the incredible final battle in Hogwarts which is truly stunning. All these events culminate nicely to form a truly satisfying conclusion, and only remind us of how this magnificent tale touched our hearts.

The main trio (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) are at their finest here, and I mean that sincerely. We all know they were pretty lacklustre in the early films (I know, they were just kids), but here we witness the amount of talent and experience they have built up over the course of the last films translate into what is easily their best performances yet. Ralph Fiennes also captures the menacing and somewhat paranoid nature of Voldemort excellently, just as he did in the past few films, making for a truly memorable villain. The supporting characters are also well played; especially Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), who is a lot more prominent than he has been in the past films, and after you see how awesome he really is, you'll be glad.

To wrap things up, all I can say is that this magnificent series of films draws to a brilliant closure with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Part 1 was definitely a solid build up and an enjoyable film in its own right, but Part 2 takes all the tension conjured by it (and the other six films) and creates an explosive and truly gripping finale. It has some moments that could've been polished, and some explanations could've been handled better, but it is sure to satisfy all fans of the franchise. The books and films may now be finished; but Hogwarts will forever live on in our hearts.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Movie Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Despite its success at the box office, Michael Bay's Transformers film franchise has failed to impress the majority of film critics. The original received heavily mixed reviews, whilst the sequel was universally panned and is generally regarded as one of the worst films of 2009 (so much so that even Bay himself apologized for its outcome). Can this third and final installment redeem the series? I wish I could say yes, but sadly, that is not the case.

The plot revolves around Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who after the events of the previous film has settled down with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) as he attempts to find a career. However, he is soon pulled back into the conflicts of the Autobots and Decepticons as a Cybertronian spacecraft which crash landed on the Moon in 1961 is brought back to Earth. What follows is a catastrophic invasion as the Decepticons aim to enslave all of humanity to rebuild their once glorious planet, Cybertron. By the way, the ending sucks. Hard.

Visually, this movie is pretty stunning. The Transformers look great, and some of the high octane set pieces in the climax are really fun to watch, and do indeed benefit from that extra depth that 3D provides. It's not all perfect though; some of the camerawork during the action scenes is incomprehensibly clumsy, making some of the battles seem very claustrophobic, and the designs for several of the Transformers are obscenely stupid (yeah, all the Decepticons look the same as usual). The soundtrack wasn't really memorable either; in fact, there was only one track near the end that I remembered and liked, the rest was just drowned by screaming and explosions.

The story, while an improvement over that of the previous film's, is still crudely told, and despite an interesting plot twist, it's incredibly cheesy and dull. The acting is sub par as well; I have no issue with Shia LaBeouf unlike a lot of people, but my god, Huntington is a terrible actress, and to be honest, she fills in a role that was best left excused. The characterization is a lot better than that of Mikaela which is a plus, but Huntington's performance lacks any passion or interest. What drags down this borefest even further is the absurd characters that are introduced in some scenes; they're not funny, they're annoying and serve no purpose to the story. Admittedly, the "dorky comedy" has been toned down slightly, but there's still a fair bit of stupidity, and it's even more insulting when it's integrated in really out of place scenarios.

Most people who saw Revenge of the Fallen will agree when I say it was far too long, and that same fault carries over into this film (HOW COULD YOU NOT LEARN FROM THAT BAY). It has a run time of around 155 minutes and takes great pleasure in wasting a good portion of this to ensure you're bored throughout. This is especially noticeable in the opening hour or so, which is plagued by a ridiculous level of daft humour as well as the fact that it focuses more on the humans than the robots; seriously, when you see the poster of this film and actually pay to see it, do you want to see Sam's incessant whining, or Optimus beating down some metal bad guys?

I really wanted to like this film; the trailer made it look awesome, and I just couldn't see how Bay could make it as terrible as Revenge of the Fallen after apologizing for making that film. But alas; he has managed to do just that. My disappointment and hatred for Dark of the Moon has only increased when writing this review. Despite nice effects and good use of 3D, it falls short due to Bay's typical inability to produce something of substance. The childish sense of humour and tedious length make this more of an ordeal than entertainment, and I seriously cannot recommend it to anyone, especially if you already dislike the film franchise as a whole.