Tuesday 19 February 2013

Movie Review - Hitchcock

The name Alfred Hitchcock isn't alien to anyone even remotely knowledgeable of the film industry. One of the most famous directors of all time and one honourably dubbed 'the master of suspense', Hitchcock's 50+ films have set numerous quality standards in Hollywood and his own style and choices have left a huge impact on their outcome. Interestingly, Hitchcock (well, along with 2012's The Girl) marks the first time the legendary filmmaker has been given his own theatrical biopic - poor box office takings and mixed reviews have made its theatrical run very short lived, but was it deserving of such disappointment?

The story centers on one of the biggest moments in Alfred Hitchcock's life - the making of Psycho, from conception to reception. Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) acquires the rights to the relatively unknown novel by Robert Bloch, but his controversial choice of source material prompt the executives at Paramount Pictures to cease funding the project and pay only for distribution. A keen Hitchcock mortgages his house to provide a decent production budget, but the film continues to struggle alongside the director himself, who fears his wife (Helen Mirren) may be having an affair. The endless stress during production puts his life in jeopardy, but as it comes closer to completion, light emerges at the end of the tunnel. Come on, I'm not spoiling, you know Pyscho made shitloads of money. Right?

The man himself is undoubtedly difficult to portray. Alfred Hitchcock has such a unique appearance that anyone can recognize him immediately; his somewhat calm, slow and authoritative manner of speaking is something equally as iconic. How can someone capture this to a T? Anthony Hopkins in a fat suit surely isn't enough? Well, yes it is. Hopkins completely becomes not only a Hitchcock lookalike but a seemingly perfect clone right down to this mannerisms and voice. He speaks in the same calm and iconic accent with ease and provides a witty charm which Hitchcock was always known for. He steals the limelight with such a fantastic performance, but isn't the only one driving it; Helen Mirren is equally as strong as Hitchcock's troubled wife Alma and Scarlett Johansson (OMG YES) is just as fitting for her role as Janet Leigh, the famous leading lady of Psycho. 

Hitchcock takes pride in bringing depth to its characters which makes for a narrative full of heart and complexity. The image of Hitchcock is examined beyond his role as a lover of violence or beautiful blonde women; even these aforementioned ideas are explored as conflicting flaws in his life and not things to judge him for. It works as a character driven story and one explorative of a mans love for his career that sometimes cannot be restrained. It's a bit slow in areas and admittedly not consistently insightful - it inevitably sacrifices some factual depth for entertainment, but this is perhaps a good thing to some. I enjoyed it and that's good enough for me!

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Movie Review - Wreck-It Ralph

Since the end of the Renaissance era with Disney's acclaimed Tarzan, the company has been subject to a mixed response from audiences - moronic audiences who only seem to remember crap like Chicken Little and seem to interpret Disney's reputation from such insignificant turds. In actual fact, Disney continues to be awesome; their last two flicks treated us to a fresh take on a classic fairy tale and demonstrated their still stunning ability in traditional animation, and now their latest project abandons the fairy tale premise in favour of something original and equally fantastic: an animated journey into the realm of video games.

After thirty years of work and neglect in the arcade game Fix-It Felix Jr, bad guy Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) decides it's time to earn the respect of others and justify his importance in the gaming world and consequently journeys to neighbouring game Hero's Duty to earn himself a gold medal and the praise of others. But when things don't go according to plan, his medal is lost and he is transported to the new game of Sugar Rush and must team up with Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a glitchy, misplaced character also trying to earn the respect of others, to win back his stolen prize; however, his priorities are soon shifted where a danger Ralph may have inadvertently started begins to unfold, jeopardizing not only the future of his game but the entire arcade itself.

Wreck-It Ralph is one of the best animated films ever made when it comes to visuals and this isn't just because of the wonderful quality of the rendering and animation. The films art direction is lovingly crafted to appeal to fans of gaming, with a distinct 8-bit quality to the various retro arcade settings and a host of famous cameos from Sonic the Hedgehog to Pac-Man to Bowser (yeah, Mario was too expensive). It doesn't end there, though - the design of each location in the film is full of careful attention to the backgrounds and background characters, essentially creating one of the best Where's Waldo?-esque games ever created.

The film is backed by a strong voice cast thankfully not overrun with unnecessary Hollywood A-Listers: John C. Reilly is hilarious as Ralph, and Jack McBrayer's flamboyant and and pretentious portrayal of Fix-It Felix is just as enjoyable. Some fans will also notice the care and attention to the voices of the cameo characters: for example, Roger Craig Smith reprises his role as Sonic in his relatively small role (look out for his background appearances though!) and Kyle Herbert continues to portray Ryu from the acclaimed Street Fighter franchise. Great stuff!

Wreck-It Ralph is difficult to fault; the story comes together like a wonderful jigsaw, though admittedly it can feel a tad contrived in areas. There's a strong heart behind everything and a touching moral to the narrative, and it's all backed by an ingenious premise and fantastic characters. People unfamiliar of the franchises involved in the films various cameos will still enjoy it as a great animated flick, but those engrossed in the gaming universe will be overwhelmed with nostalgia and appreciate it so much more. Wherever you stand, nothing changes: it's brilliant and you should go see it.

Monday 4 February 2013

Movie Review - Flight

It's been over a decade since Robert Zemeckis has entered the live action side of filmmaking with What Lies Beneath; over the past years, he has earned a strictly visual effects concerned label after extensive work in the motion capture business of animation, but can the acclaimed director regain his footing where he began? Flight shall give us the answer!

Renowned aircraft pilot William 'Whip' Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is involved in a disastrous plane crash which, thanks to his expert handling of the situation, leaves only six of the 102 passengers on board killed. Hailed as a hero for his brave actions, the tables soon turn when it is discovered he had alcohol in his bloodstream on the day of the incident; as controversy arises and begins to spiral out of control, the captain's own health begins to deteriorate, leading him to decide what truly needs to be done to allow himself to be at peace.

The visual splendor in Flight is hardly dependent on the wisdom of CGI effects - though a gripping and excellently shot and paced crash sequence immediately injects an exciting tone into the film, the remainder of this two hour fare is handled through some fantastic cinematography and editing combined with top performances from every lead actor, especially Washington himself. Zemeckis delves into the frame of mind of the cast (some less so, mind you) to great effect and the end result is a pleasantly character driven drama with some genuine tension to it.

It seems pretty obvious based on all the advertising and the general understanding of the plot upfront that Flight is hardly at all about the flight itself. Well, maybe that's a bit strong, but the main set piece of the crash is handled in the first twenty minutes of the film and the remainder delves into the character of Whitaker himself as well as his problems with alcoholism, the controversy and eventual action upon his apparent drunkeness during the flight and his relationship with addict Nicole Maggen (Kelly Reilly). This multi stranded narrative can sometimes fail to converge organically, and the end result is a lack of focus and boredom upon the viewer. Flight is not over quick - at around 135 minutes it really is a beast, and towards the climax of this admittedly very enjoyable film you can feel the run time slowly trying to make you go to sleep. 

Flight is a well made film with excellent character development (though FUCK John Goodman's stupid character) and a well plotted script. It cruises into the zone of boredom a few times and isn't without moments that maybe needed a second trip to the editing room, but any fan of a good, adult oriented drama is going to enjoy it. Recommended.