Month: January 2013

“Django Unchained” review

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Quentin Tarantino is a name most of us associate with fantastic films. Moviegoers would hear that name and believe that they couldn’t go wrong buying a ticket to a film he directed. Django Unchained can continue that association because it really is great. An epic western film set in the United States in 1858 when slavery of black people were still commonplace, this 165 minute feature packs a bloody good punch.

The Speck Brothers are transporting chained down slaves that they had bought, until they encounter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former dentist of German origin, who is now a bounty hunter. Schultz buys one of the slaves, Django (Jamie Foxx), after dealing with the brothers.  Schultz knows that Django can identify the targets of his bounty, and reaches an agreement with him: Schultz will give Django money, a horse and his freedom if he can help locate the targets. An amazing partnership is born. Later on, the pair attempt to free Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington), Django’s enslaved wife, from her owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a plantation owner who owns a loyal house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

I don’t really like long movies as it’s very difficult to hold my attention for over two hours. Of course is a movie is really good I won’t feel like it’s dragging on and thankfully Django Unchained did not overstay its welcome on the silver screen. The plot is simple enough to follow, but is well developed, the acting is believable and excellent, and the action sequences are well executed and entertaining. There’s even a little comedy, but the film doesn’t lose track of its serious tone.

If I had to complain about something, it would b the soundtrack. I just felt that the rap music didn’t fit well with this film. It clashed with the Old West nature of the film and feels incredibly out of place. The rest of the score however was quite good and complimented what was seen on screen.

The greatest joy of Djano Unchained is the growth of the title character as well as his partnership with Schultz. The ending is just classic Hollywood and it’s amazing!

There’s been some controversy over the frequent use of the “N” word. There is also quite a lot of blood seen onscreen, but that’s typical Quentin Tarantino for you.

The minor nitpicks I have with this film are like a pimple on your child’s face – you don’t like the pimple but you still love your kid either way! This is a very well made film that I heartily recommend. I give Django Unchained 4.5/5.

“The Inbetweeners” complete UK series review

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My friends had told me about this show. I knew it was a comedy, but oh my lord I found it far funnier than I could have ever imagined. This viewpoint came from watching just one episode. It’s definitely one of my favourite shows, and I demand you to watch it right now if you haven’t.

The Inbetweeners is a British sitcom that focuses on four teenage boys living in the British suburbs, who go to school at Rudge Park Comprehensive. The series begins when Will Mckenzie (Simon Bird) starts his first day at the school. Will is the central character and the show’s narrator, and had moved to the comprehensive school after his parents divorced, as his mother could no longer afford private schooling. The friends he chooses to be associated with (Simon, Jay and Neil) aren’t popular, but they aren’t geeks either, placing their social standing in the middle, which is where the show’s title comes from; they are “the inbetweeners”.

Will is the most sensible of the group, although arguably considered the most boring. This doesn’t stop him from making bad choices and suffering from what I like to call “Bad Luck Brian” syndrome. He also makes his fair share of offensive remarks and upsets/annoys/angers a lot of people throughout the series with his actions. He wants to be accepted, being aware of his lack of coolness. He also wants to get in a good university and get laid.

Simon Cooper (Joe Thomas), like the other boys, was reluctant to become friends with Will, but decides he is alright when Will was the only one not to make fun of him. He has had a crush on the beautiful Carli D’Amato for many years, and the relationship between the two is explored in many episodes, as Simon can’t seem to stop thinking about her.  Many of his decision making involves him trying to impress her or avoid being humiliated in front of her. He is one of the kindest of the four boys, and Will is closer to him than the others.

Every time I hear or see James Buckley, I keep thinking of The Beatles from when I saw them in A Hard Day’s Night. Sorry, that’s irrelevant. Anyway, he plays Jay Cartwright, who is based on that guy we all know in school who makes up bullshit stories of their sexual conquests that are either extremely exaggerated or are just utterly untrue. Will is the one who has the hardest time believing anything that Jay says, while Neil nearly always believes it. His stories, true or not, are highly entertaining regardless, and he likes to make fun of the others with his highly offensive British tongue.

The dumb one is Neil Sutherland, played by Blake Harrison. He’s gullible and simple minded. While he often joins in on ridiculing the others, he also can be quite friendly and seems to be less selfish than the others. He is the least developed character on the show, which is fine because he is there to be funny. Despite not being as obsessed with sex as the others, Neil is by far the most successful in his encounters with girls. He has a habit of saying the funniest things at the right times.

Other characters include Carli D’Amato (Emily Head), Simon’s main love interest; Mr. Gilbert (Greg Davies), the very cynical head of sixth form, who seems to hate his job and the students he is supposed to be responsible for; Charlotte Hinchcliffe (Emily Atack), the most popular girl in the school; Mark Donovan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), the school bully who becomes Will’s nemesis from the start; and the family members of the four boys.

There is a lot of swearing on this show, as you would imagine teenage boys to speak, with lots of rude sexual slang and derogatory terms. I love British comedies, and the British background of this show certainly seems to work in its favour. Some of my favourite quotes contain British slang, and like fellow British comedies The Office and Extras, there are extremely funny awkward moments and strong comic timing. All of the main characters are incredibly funny and interesting.

The episodes involve the boys doing typical teenage boy things, such as going to parties, trying to get laid, participating in underage drinking and pulling stunts to improve their social status in the school. Poor decision making by the characters as well as bad luck and social awkwardness usually leads to extremely embarrassing and awkward outcomes. As all of us who have been to high school knows, skipping school, going camping, getting with the popular girl, going clubbing, studying for exams, going camping, dating and having sex for the first time doesn’t always end in the way we wanted it too, as the inbetweeners find out.

Anyone who is familiar with British shows would be aware that a very small amount of episodes is produced in each year’s series (known as “season” in Australia and the USA).  Most UK shows produce six episodes a series whereas American shows produce approximately twenty to twenty-four a season. The Inbetweeners ran from 2008 to 2010, producing three series of six episodes, totalling to eighteen, which is less than one season of most American shows. This is because most British shows have one or two writers, whereas American shows have many writers. The good thing about this is that The Inbetweeners didn’t overstay its welcome, and that unlike watching an entire American series such as Friends (ten seasons with approximately twenty-two episodes each), you can watch all the episodes in a short period of time (I stopped watching Friends about halfway through as it was taking up too much time and I never got round to finishing it). You can also watch the episodes all over again. I mean, I wanted to watch Seinfeld again from the start, but will I ever? Probably not, it’s too much of a time investment. Not only do I love The Inbetweeners, but with just eighteen episodes and all of them being great, I’ll have time to watch them again. I’m not trying to say I don’t like shows that have over a hundred episodes, because I love How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock at the moment, but watching all those episodes takes a lot of time.

So, let’s look at the facts. The Inbetweeners is one of my favourite shows, and I find it as funny as The IT Crowd, also one of the funniest shows I’ve seen. There are only eighteen episodes, meaning it won’t take too long to watch them all. That would be my only criticism, which is a completely unfair one as I just wish there were more episodes. There is not a single bad episode; in fact, all of them are great, so on the other hand, the show ended on a high note. Oh, but there is The Inbetweeners Movie, which I haven’t had the privilege of seeing yet but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as a massive fan. I’ll be sure to review it too. There’s also that American version which I hadn’t heard good things about, and the trailer I saw made my blood boil a little, but that’s not part of the real Inbetweeners canon.

To sum up, all episodes are fantastic. Hilarious characters that say hilarious things and get involved in hilarious situations that end hilariously. If you are looking for a good comedy, you’ve come to the right place. The Inbetweeners is rude and – for high school students past and present – it feels incredibly true to life. The British humour shines admirably. You must watch this show!

I rate the entire show, as in Series One, Two and Three, a perfect score of 5 out of 5.

“Jack Reacher” film review

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I knew a mere three things about Jack Reacher before I saw it. First was that it was called Jack Reacher, second was that Tom Cruise was in it, and lastly that it was a……film.

I strongly suggest moviegoers know a little more than I did about Jack Reacher whenever they see a film, as it can possibly taint your enjoyment of it, as it potentially did for me for this particular film. Obviously I had to spend a bit more time figuring out who the characters were and what the main premise was. Of course knowing as little as possible about a movie can make it more of a surprise. I sometimes think that reviews and trailers give a little too much away, but then again how else will the reviewers talk about the themes and characters and how else will the distributors market the film?

What I didn’t know was that this film was based on a 2005 novel by Lee Child called One Shot, which is just one title in the long running Jack Reacher book series. A new instalment has been released every year since 1997 (except 2010, with two). Why they chose this particular one to adapt to film is beyond me, I’m guessing they believed it would look good as an action film.

Former U.S. Army sniper James Barr (Joseph Sikora) is arrested after murdering five people with a sniper rifle. In custody, Barr writes “Get Jack Reacher” on a notepad. Jack Reacher is a mysterious and rarely seen figure who served in the army with Barr and makes an appearance after hearing about Barr’s arrest. He hesitantly investigates for Barr’s defence attorney, Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike), who wants to save Barr from the death penalty.

The two main cast members, Cruise and Pike, play a very cool pair of mystery solvers. Rodin seems very interested in Reacher as a person, which I think extends to the audience. Reacher and Sikora’s characters feel believable and interesting. Using Sikora, who I believe to be an unknown actor (I never heard of him and he has no Wikipedia article so I think that’s a fair assumption) certainly worked in a role like this, where the audience doesn’t know if he’s guilty or not.

SPOILERS START HERE

The twist when one of the cops is revealed to be on the same side as the Russian villains was left unexplained, which left me feeling a bit cheated. It’s not a horror movie, where villains without motives are scarier, it’s a murder mystery and this void undermined the revelations.

SPOILERS END HERE

The action is good and the story is easy enough to follow, which is complimented by good acting, but I feel something is missing to make it great. I have a feeling it’s the plot that feels a bit underdeveloped, and some of the characters are too.

If you see Jack Reacher you will see excellent action scenes, interesting characters and an unravelling murder mystery. If this is the kind of film you want to see, and if you like Tom Cruise, chances are you’ll enjoy Jack Reacher. There are a few flaws here and there, but this film has a lot going for it. I’m giving it 3.5/5.

“Life of Pi” film review

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Life of Pi is a pretty good movie. It’s not a masterpiece. All I’ve heard about it is constant praise hyping it up like it was the best thing to happen to movies this decade. Don’t get me wrong, I recommend seeing it, but don’t come in expecting a five star film.

An Indian teenage boy nicknamed Pi grew up in India with his family, who owned a zoo. After deciding to start a new life in Canada, the family travel on a ship with the animals on board. When disaster strikes the vessel, Pi and a tiger named Richard Parker are the only survivors, left stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean. The story is told by an older Pi, to a writer that came to visit his home hoping that his life experiences would make a good book.

It most likely did, as the novel of the same name this film is based on has been approved by Obama. It made a good a movie too. Life of Pi is tragic, but I think its most important theme is faith, as in both hope and religion. Pi’s ordeal on the lifeboat and his entire life in India beforehand feel like a spiritual journey where he learns about himself, and God.

Director Ang Lee tried to get an unknown cast for this film, and I think it works. Having a top billed actor would take away from Pi’s story and put more focus on the star himself. Suraj Sharma was chosen as the lead, playing his first major acting role very well. All the other cast are believable, even the others who play Pi at different ages. The animals were amazing, and it was great to see Pi’s relationship with Richard Parker develop.

One of my favourite things about this film is how it looks, visually. The opening sequence with the zoo animals is long, but great. The filmmakers used the ocean and the sky to great effect, which creates a sense of wonder and awe. As for the 3D, it’s not as groundbreaking as I’ve heard, but it’s definitely put to good use. If you watch it in 2D, I wouldn’t call it a missed opportunity, but do check it out in 3D if you can.

I must admit I was disappointed Coldplay’s “Paradise” wasn’t included in the actual film. The epic trailer led to all of us calling Life of Pi ‘That Movie with “Paradise” In It’. This is such a silly thing for me to complain about, but that trailer was pretty damn awesome.

I get the sense that Life of Pi is missing that certain something to turn it from greatness to excellence, although that may have been because of all the hype. Life of Pi is definitely worth your time however, because it is a very well made film. In fact, while it may not be the best film released in 2012, it probably is the one that most deserves to be seen.

Rating: 4/5

“Wreck-It Ralph” review

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Film adaptations of video games have not gone down too well. In fact, not a single one has a rating of at least 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. On the other hand, original films centred on video games haven’t fared so badly, with Tron, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and now Wreck-It Ralph showing us how it’s done.

The film takes place in the present day in an arcade. During the day, all the video game characters fulfil their roles in the games they originate from as kids play them. During the night, after the arcade closes, the characters are able to travel to other games, all connected via a central arcade hub. For three decades, Ralph has been the bad guy in the game Fix-It Felix Jr and disregarded by the game’s other characters, whereas the titular protagonist has been lauded. Ralph decides he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore and leaves his game to prove he can be a good guy, upsetting the state of affairs in the process.

I heard this film was good, but it ended up being much better than I expected. It’s not a Pixar film but resembles one in many ways, with its art style and the general quality of the film itself. The four main characters are voiced by top actors. Felix Jr is voiced by Jack McBrayer of Kenneth from 30 Rock fame. It seems as if McBrayer was just being Kenneth in the role of Felix, which was fine by me as Kenneth is my favourite character from that show. Providing an opposite personality is Jane Lynch, who seems to have become a typecast of that woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Her character, Sergeant Calhoun (the main character from the first person shooter Hero’s Duty), is exactly as you’d expect if you’ve seen Lynch in Glee, Role Models and Two and a Half Men.  John C. Reilly as Wreck-It Ralph creates a straight-forward character we can identify with; he’s a guy who’s not happy with who he is. Sarah Silverman as Vanellope, a young girl from the kart-racing game Sugar Rush, becomes a likeable and charming character later on, which was great as I had a feeling she would be the weak link when she first opened her mouth. While being very different characters, Ralph and Vanellope both have a common goal to be someone special, which is a very familiar theme (not saying that’s a bad thing).

As a fan of retro games, I was enthralled by all the references. I believe that the Fix-It Felix Jr game is inspired by the original Donkey Kong arcade game. The art style and the use of actual existing video game characters result in fantastic fan service for gamers as well as making the video game world believable. This film is full of surprises, so I won’t mention any of the references. In saying that, some of the references are so obscure even a hardcore gamer might not catch them. The plot is relatively simple but has depth, heart and charm, which is complimented by the soundtrack and the visuals. You know an animated film is well done when you’re trying to resist shedding tears, and Wreck-It Ralph did it for on more than one occasion.

If there were weak points, I’d say that the film could’ve been a bit funnier and no cameo by Mario definitely hit me where it hurts. Although I guess it’s good they didn’t just awkwardly include him for marketing appeal.

The 3D is pretty good in this film, and there are some moments where it really shines, however 2D viewers won’t miss out on anything as the movie is great anyway. Watching it in 3D is definitely a nice bonus, but it’s essential.

You don’t have to be a gamer at all to enjoy this movie, as it targets a family oriented audience, but nonetheless gamers will definitely enjoy it the most, especially with the references and the recognisable characters. It would be easy to mistake this for a Pixar film (which is a compliment in the highest form) because it is a real joy to watch. It’s a family film, but adults will still enjoy it nonetheless. In fact, everyone can enjoy it, so go see it!

Rating: 4.5/5

 

Paperman

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Another reason Wreck-It Ralph could be mistaken for a Pixar effort is the short film before the main feature. It’s a love story presented in black and white and features a fantastic use of symbolism to create meaning. A man and a woman encounter each other on public transport and the woman catches the man’s paper caught by the wind and leaves a lipstick mark on it. After they depart ways the man tries to get her attention after spotting her again. It’s a much better love story than Twilight. Ok, to be fair I haven’t read nor seen Twilight but my point is that this seven minute short film is quite lovely and I’m glad that Disney attached it to Wreck-It Ralph for moviegoers to enjoy.

Rating: 4/5