Monday, October 31, 2011

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 13: The Three Musketeers (2011)

One of my fondest film memories is "The Three Musketeers," the 1993 Live Action Disney version to be precise. Funny, rollicking, and very tongue in cheek, it in many ways set the tone and style of Pirates of the Caribbean which followed a decade later.

There were a great many things about the 1993 production that went over my head as a child. I didn't know who Oliver Platt was, for starters, an oversight I have now gloriously rectified through his roles in Love and Other Drugs and the West Wing.

I also didn't know who Tim Curry was, but I have rectified that as well thanks to Clue, Rocky Horror, and the Gabriel Knight games.

I didn't know who Charlie Sheen was either, though I kind of wish I could return to those happy days.
And I didn't know, though I suppose I should be too surprised that it was really rather different than the original novel by Alexandre Dumas, but that's kind of okay, because I've read the original novel and exciting it was not. I'm perfectly aware that some allowance must be made for translation and time but there's only so many allowances you can give someone before they need to start considering a part time job.

The Disney film however was excellent good fun and highly recommended to all.

So I was a little curious to see the most recent adaptation of The Musketeers, as the rather exciting trailers seemed to indicate that it was extremely unfaithful to the original story, featuring airships, pyrotechnics aplenty, and a general action hero spy tone that seemed very unlike the original tale.

And so I was rather surprised to discover that although it did indeed contain all these things, it oddly enough still manages to be rather closer to the original text than it's far more plausible older brother from 1993.

Allow me to elaborate.

The original tale largely focussed on D'Artagnan and his musketeery friends on a quest to return a set of diamonds to the queen and quash rumours of her infidelity to prevent a war with England.

The 1993 film decided this was all a bit silly and focused instead on political machinations, secret treaties, and protecting the king at all costs, who is a bit naive but ultimately grows to be a brave and noble ruler.
The 2011 film goes right back to the diamond heist, but with some important edits.

All three share the same villain in the form of Cardinal Richelieu, and all three ultimately deal with defeating his plans.

It's at this point however that both films start to deviate from the original in some very strange but ways. To best illustrate this, I think it's time for a quiz. Multiple choice of course.

For each of the story points below, guess which one is the 2011 film, which the 1993 film, and which is the original novel by Dumas.

1: The Three Musketeers Go on a quest to retrieve a stolen item. It is:
a) A treaty that secretly allies England with the Cardinal against the King.
b) Diamonds stolen by Lord Buckingham from the Queen, and must be returned to disprove rumours of infidelity, which were falsely created by the Cardinal.
c) Diamonds given to Lord Buckingham by the Queen, and must be returned to disprove rumours of infidelity, which are entirely true.

a) 1993 (exciting!)
b) 2011 (also exciting!)
c) Dumas (...what?)

2: What happens to the Countess De Winter?
a) Athos wants to kill her, but she kills herself by throwing herself off the side of their boat to prevent him living with the guilt.
b) Athos doesn't want to kill but rather capture her, but she kills herself by throwing herself off the side of their boat, but not before revealing the Cardinal's plans in a moment of remorse.
c) Athos wants to kill her, and does, after holding a fake trial to justify it.

a) 2011 (good)
b) 1993 (better)
c) Dumas (...what??)

3: What happens to the Cardinal?
a) His plans are foiled, he gets punched in the face and is presumed dead and drowned.
b) His plans are foiled, but he is so impressed by the musketeers that he offers them a job. They tell him to get stuffed.
c) His plans are foiled, but he is so impressed by the musketeers that he offers them a job. D'Artagnan accepts.

a) 1993 (Ha ha! Take that, Cardinal!)
b) 2011 (Ha ha! Take THAT, Cardinal!)
c) Dumas (Ha ha! Take THAT, ... wait, WHAT???)

As it turns out, by rewriting large slabs of the original tale, both managed to in fact improve it immensely, and it becomes a tale of honour, adventure, and rollicking good times in France. Instead of, you know, a musketeer going to steal a gift to an English nobleman back for a woman who's cheating on her husband, and then taking a job with the very person who set them up in the first place.

Yeah... D'Artagnan's a jerk.

But as for the 2011 film itself, it manages to be good fun. By hyping up the spy movie aspect of it, and turning the action up to 11, they have managed to create an enjoyable farce of an adventure, with many quotable lines and a fun time to be had by all.

It's not without its faults. It seems to be trying very hard to be other things. The Cardinal is trying very hard to be John Malkovic, Aramis is trying very hard to be Orlando Bloom (which is amusing given Orlando Bloom is in fact in the movie and is himself not trying all that hard to be Orlando Bloom), Athos is trying very hard to be Alan Rickman, and the entire film is trying rather hard to be the Princess Bride. (sometimes quoting it outright).

Milla Jovovic is also trying very hard to be Milla Jovovic, which is a shame given that's not who she's playing.

It also is a very silly film. This is in no ways a bad thing, except when it comes across as too silly. Most of it is excellently restrained but there are a few silly walks and faces, funny voices and lines where you can almost hear the director standing behind the camera yelling "BE SILLER!". If you're going to be silly, you should at least take it seriously.

But those faults aside it was great fun, and sadly there are very few films you can say that about these days. I still prefer the 1993 film, but this one is definitely worth a look, especially if you're looking for a film that is closer to the original plot (but still with many incidental deviations), but cuts out most of the unbelievably stupid bits.


4 out of 6 stars.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 12 - Real Steel

Films like showing the future a lot. It makes sense. You get to have cool special effects, you can muck around with things that couldn't be done in a contemporary film, and you're not locked down by current day settings or events. In a way you have a near infinite supply of options ahead of you.

So it's curious then that for all the myriad of options the future presents, how narrow our cinematic vision of the future can be. And not really just the cinema, but books, games, comics, paintings and particularly elaborate graffiti all restrict their futuristic depictments to (mostly) just two trains of thought.

Allow me to elaborate.

Your first vision of the future is the shiny one. The future is good, for the most part. This is your Star Wars prequels (I know, that's actually set a long time ago, but sod it, it's futurustic tech, your argument is invalid), your I, Robot and Bicentennial Man, your Spider-Man 2099s, your Speed-Racers. The future is bright and sleek, very neony. Your coffee machine has artificial intelligence, your flying car flys itself, and your mobile phone is a swiss army knife of technology. There are problems to be sure (it wouldn't be interesting story if there weren't problems) but the world itself is complete and, depending on your point of view, flawless.

Then there's your dystopia. The future sucks. Poverty and homlessness reigns supreme, and while there's flying cars and neon, it hasn't really done a lot of good. This is your Blade Runner and your Firefly, your 1984 and your Deus Ex. Quite often dystopias include elements of shiny world, but generally only to highlight the rich vs poor dynamic that most of these stories rest upon.

Most futuristic films jump into one of these two extremes, with not much of the middle ground.

And then there is Real Steel, a futuristic movie which manages to sidestep this dynamic altogether.

Real Steel is a father son movie. And you have seen it hundreds of times before. Lets run through a quick checklist.

It features a washed out former boxer who has fallen from his prime and now has hit rock bottom, with debtors after him. In the opening moments he even sinks as low as to fight bulls in a rodeo in an attempt to make a quick buck, but his arrogance and mouth stand in his way, as they have for years.


Without warning he is forced to babysit his estanged son for the summer after his ex-girlfriend dies and - other than the money he coerces out of the boys foster father -wants nothing to do with him.


The boy it turns out is just as stubborn as he is, and absolutely insists on coming with his dad on his latest venture.


Together they have many wild adventures, the kid helps the dad rejuvinete his boxing career, and they start to gradually grow closer.


But moments before the boxing match that could change everything, and just when you think they're going to form a genuine connection, the dad dumps the kid with his foster parents and gives up on the match.


The dad has a change of heart and races accross america to reunite with the kid and they go into the final match together, and while they don't win, they learn that the most important thing, is your family.


All pretty straightforward so far. And while it did manage to hold my attention through to the end, on a purely narrative level I can't say anything other than it's fairly rudimentary but in some ways pleasingly simple story. It is refreshingly to the point. We KNOW the dad is going to come back to the kid, so it's nice it only takes about three minutes for him to do so rather than having to wait for bloody half an hour before he finally does what we all knew he was going to do. Still, storywise it doesn't really add anything new.

So how is this a futuristic film, you ask? Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention the giant robots?

Yes, Real Steel isn't about your boring old mano a mano two gloves two fists boxing. This is about ROBOT boxing. Steel, bolts, metal, voice and motion control, no holds barred decapitation and plenty of leaking robot fluids.

This is where Real Steel starts to get a little interesting. Despite being set in the future, it is actually rather grounded and realistic in it's portrayal of days yet to be. There are giant robots and some flashy phone tech, to be sure, but in most other respects the people of the future kind of just got on with things. We see rodeos, alleyways, old buildings, skating rinks and many a country roadside. And they're all pretty much the type of things you'd see today, just with the occasional giant robot, but even they are restricted entirely to the boxing matches. People still wash their own clothes and do their own work. This is a society of humans, not futuristic beings.

And even the robots are pleasantly real, with a subtle and restrained design. Heck, most of them ARE real. In an excellent piece of advice from Steven Speilberg (executive producing for the umpteenth time this year), with the exception of the boxing matches themselves, all of the robots are real, built things, which lends an authenticty to the acting you don't often see these days as the actors get to interact with things that are actually there.

The boxing matches are pure special effects of course, but are motion captured, meaning actual boxers went out and did that. I presume they didn't decapitate each other, but you never know.

Real Steel definately succeeds in it's decidely different representation of the future and it's real effects, but I can't recommend it on story grounds, and as a narrative nut, that's a bit of a deal breaker. But if you're at the cinema and trying to decide on what to see, it is worth your consideration.

3 out of 6.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 11 - Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

The Planet Of the Apes bothers me. I don't actually mean the books or films (although they do), or indeed the idea that we will one day be overthrown and inevitably destroyed by our simian overlords. That doesn't bother me because either a) It'll never happen, or b) I'll be long dead before it does, or c) it's stupid. No, when I say The Planet Of The Apes bothers me, I mean literally those words in that order. And not really those words itself, as a title goes it's a pretty cool and foreboding sounding one. This has more to do with the sequels.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of brand recognition, but simply picking an exciting sounding verb or noun and lobbing "The Planet Of The Apes" on the end does not an effective title make. Let’s go through the list.

The Planet Of The Apes - Good Title. Good. There is a Planet. There are Apes on it. I like it. Succinct.

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes - All well and good, though technically if the title was accurate the film would take place in space slightly below the planet, and would be silent, full of floating dead monkeys, and rather short. "Inside The Planet Of The Apes" doesn’t quite have the same ring to it I agree.

Escape From The Planet Of The Apes - While technically an adequate description, the actual escape takes place in the first five minutes or so of the film, and the rest of our time is spent on Earth in the 1970s. The actual Planet of the Apes itself won't make an appearance for another umpty-thousand years. A more accurate title would be "The Oppression Of Some Talking Apes From the Future On Earth In the Present... Of The Planet Of The Apes."

I said accurate. I didn't say good.

Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes - This is where the title starts getting silly. We're still on present day Earth, well present day Earth 20 years ago. Based on the amusing premise that if all the world's cats and dogs were wiped out, humanity would naturally start keeping monkeys as pets (at least until the Rabbit and Guinea Pig Union stepped in) - and then snowballing from there to all humans secretly want to be fascists - the film is notable in that IT ONCE AGAIN DOES NOT TAKE PLACE ON THE PLANET OF THE APES. I'm fully aware (SPOILER) that it's going to BECOME The Planet of The Apes, it is not yet that planet. Conquest of Earth is a perfectly good title, or even better something like "Pets, Unite!" or "We Have Nothing To Lose But Our Collars" or "Let My Monkeys Go", though once again, no brand recognition.

Battle For The Planet Of The Apes - WE'RE NOT. ON. THE PLANET. OF THE APES! The Planet Of the Apes in fact never appears again in the series, unless you count the remake (Don't. Just don't.) We're certainly a bit closer to it being A Planet Of Apes in this one, but we're still on Earth. Really. The Planet Of The Apes is an entirely inaccurate suffix.

You did get points for having guerrilla gorillas though.

You'll notice I haven't really talked about the qualities and good points of the movies. If they were there I would talk about them. That's a little cruel, the first one has some excellent points, but "short" and "undull" are not among them.

This all brings us to the actual point of this blog entry: Rise of the Planet Of the Apes.

Allow me to elaborate.

Rise Of the Planet Of the Apes is a reboot of sorts for the series, acknowledging the original and some of the sequels, while completing breaking others, specifically Conquest Of the Battle Of The Apes. Since Conquest was the "Let's Oppress Apes Because I Miss My Cat" movie this is probably a good thing. It does also fix the infinite time loop from Escape of "Talking Apes arrive on Earth, Talking Apes have baby, Baby Overthrows Humanity, Nothing Happens For Two Thousand Years, Planet Explodes, Talking Apes escape and travel back in Time, Talking Apes arrive on Earth, Repeat Until You're Bored", as now Caesar the Ape (named I believe for the salad, although possibly not.) is the secret child of a laboratory ape instead of the secret child a time travelling talking ape.

The film was actually rather enjoyable and definitely the only one out of the series so far that I would venture to describe as "good" or "fun", but it does suffer from many minor and some rather major plot holes or logic missteps, as well as a few odd choices.

Focussing on the fun of the scenario over plausibility is one possible explanation. Writing the script on Swiss cheese is another. Some of these are trifling. A high tech and expensive science laboratory which submits apes to regular testing and 24 hour surveillance that is somehow unable to spot a chimpanzee giving birth (I'm no zoologist, but I'm pretty sure this would be a lengthy and potentially messy process), is an example of the former. A drug that enhances the neural pathways of the brain but which also mysteriously changes your bone structure, gives you good posture, and grows vocal chords is rather more of a worry. Rather like Revenge of the Sith, instead of allowing that the passage of time will create change in people and their environments, Rise prefers to get all of the changes out of the way right now, and then the characters presumably just twiddle their thumbs for the next two thousand years until the next movie starts.

Contrary to this, though, the film counteracts it's George Lucas syndrome very effectively with the hints of the eventual fate of the human race. Without beating you over the head with it, the film creates an effective and plausible reason that humanity will die out over time that isn't just Man Those Apes Are Smart. It also is perhaps the first time ever I have seen an end credit sequence actually further the plot in a meaningful (and rather ominous) way.

But, far more importantly: A planet does not rise. Particularly if you are on it. At no point during the film did a planet rise over the horizon, or indeed, go up in any capacity. Some apes might rise. They could certainly do that. Perhaps an entire planet's worth. But not a planet. A planet just sort of spins.

Also, and I really can't stress this enough, IT'S NOT THE PLANET OF THE APES YET.

3 out of 6 stars.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Best Laid Blogs

"The best laid plans of mice and men" is an expression that has always puzzled me. Mice, as far as I'm aware, are not known for their planning and strategic outlook on life, nor are they known for their collaborations with humans. in fact, their interactions could be almost exclusively limited to "I am your pet, love me, love me." and "Ha ha, I'm in your wall, eating your plasters. Oh wow, that piece of cheese on the spring loaded trap looks mighty tasty..."

But, like an inevitable steel bar hurtling down upon a rodent skull, real life has come crashing down on attempts to ressurect this blog.

Allow me to elaborate. About the blog, not the mouse.

About six weeks ago I decided it was high time to start writing blog entries again as it had been almost a year since the last update, due largely to a healthy dose of other projects and procrastination. This tied in rather nicely with a newly begun scheme of mine to go to the cinemas at least once a week, as it allowed me to return to the reviews I had been doing up until September last year.

This began well enough, a movie and a blog both occurred, and I was all set to repeat this the following Friday with another movie. But at the last moment (and I mean, LITERALLY at the last moment), the world intervened. Which is my elaborate way of saying we got robbed.

I was in the act of walking into the cinema, holding a choc top and a freshly torn ticket stub, and took my phone out to turn it off when I noticed I had a missed call from my mother. Ringing her back I discovered that our househad been broken into and by initial appearances, my room had been pretty much cleaned out.

Suddenly I didn't really feel much like watching a film. So I ate my choc top (hey, a choc top's a choc top), went home and assessed the damage. As it happens it could have been worse. They had gotten in by breaking a lock on a window, and NOT by going through the front door, meaning I was not a horrible person and had not in fact left it open by mistake. (pretty impossible in any case as I was not the last person to leave the house, but hey). Most of my room was untouched, but I did lose my television and my laptop.

Although I did end up seeing the film the week after, this all left me in rather an off colour mood for a good week or so, and I found myself uninspired to write, so the blog remained untouched. I did have something to look forward to however, as my holiday to Perth to see my father was rapidly approaching, and I was looking forward to some rest and family time. What's more, I could use the peace and quiet to catch up on the blog entries, as my brother had kindly loaned me his laptop for the duration.

Which couldn't connect to the internet.

Nonetheless it was an excellent holiday away, full of family, relaxation, and far too much coffee (the withdrawal of which I am currently suffering through as I write). I am now back in Melbourne, and getting stuck into various projects that I'm looking forward to completing over the next few months. One of those is this blog. If only I had time to write an entry.

Oh wait.

PS. Barring more real life happening, expect a film review soon.