30 December 2013

Your Last Cinema Outing of 2013?

It's December 30th 2013, and if you're reading this early in the day, you still pretty much have two whole days to squeeze in one last cinema trip for the year. As I've fallen behind with reviews in the last couple of weeks, (it's Christmas, dammit!) now seems as good a time as any to go through some of your options.

I've reviewed Ben Stiller's subversive studio dramedy,  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, over at Den of Geek already, and I've yet to see Nebraska, All Is Lost or even The Harry Hill Movie. But there's still a number of films to go through- this year's Palme D'or winner, Blue Is The Warmest Colour; the Hollywood-ised 47 Ronin; and the animated confusion of Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie.

In retrospect, the controversy over the obviously explicit sex scenes in Blue Is The Warmest Colour seems slightly ridiculous, particularly when they account for ten minutes of a three hour movie. On the whole, the film is about the romantic awakening of Adéle, a straight schoolgirl who falls for an older student, the blue-haired Emma, with all of the emotional and- yes- sexual bits that are entailed in their subsequent relationship.

It starts out as quite an absorbing film, which uses similar but contrasting scenes to great effect, throughout its opening movement. Adéle's classmates gossip about sex and lust after boys in their class, but what starts as jokey interrogation about a boy who likes her, later becomes more accusatory when she's seen hanging out with Emma after school. Even more effective are a pair of "meet the parents" (lower-case, folks) dinner scenes- firstly with Emma's parents, and then, a more tense scene with Adéle's more buttoned-up parents. It's a film that's rich in symbolism, and sometimes obvious with it- the film's English title serves as a redundant neon-lit arrow towards one of the main motifs- but it gives the viewer plenty to engage with and analyse while viewing.

But over the course of almost three hours, a bit of editorial indulgence diminishes the impact of the symbolism, and even the unfolding and unravelling relationship. Happily, the film is really held aloft by lead actresses Lea Seydoux and newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos, who have incredible chemistry together. By virtue of their turns alone, Blue Is The Warmest Colour shapes up as an open, intimate and sometimes bittersweet rumination on first love and gay relationships, and it will surely continue to be a talking point, hopefully for the real questions and points that it raises, once people have stopped giggling and/or chuntering about the sex scenes, or over-hyping it for awards season "glory".

Blue Is The Warmest Colour is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide.

In a complete departure, your second choice would be 47 Ronin, a dumb, boring, big-budget samurai film that makes The Wolverine look like Kurosawa. This is an adaptation of the Japanese national legend of the forty-seven Ronin, and it stars Keanu Reeves- cheers, Hollywood! Reeves' character, Kai, is one of the 47 samurai left without a master by another lord's fiendish scheme. Banished from their homeland, the ronin re-group and plan to take revenge on the despotic lord, who also has an evil witch on his side.

As much as I never like to point to a film's box office failure as a sign of poor quality, there's really only one thing you need to know about this one- it bombed in Japan, where this story is apparently one of their most famous historical tales. Having seen it, I think it's fair to generalise about the film in this case. If there was nothing that appealed to Japanese movie-goers, there's definitely nothing here for viewers who are new to the tale.

Aside from being predictable from beginning to end, it's another myth-o-matic blockbuster, bashed into the Save The Cat template and embellished with a token white boy, a love interest and a vaguely supernatural aura, and you've got a film that measures up to just about any other infamous Hollywood "historical" film. In fact, the climactic setpiece feels like the end of Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, with samurai. Reeves isn't shoved to the front as a bankable face in front of a solid international cast, but he's clearly having one of his more leaden days on the job.

For a film about violent revenge, spirituality and honour, 47 Ronin has turned out to be rather bloodless, soulless and hollow. With many delays to the release date, and tales of a first-time feature director struggling to handle the big budget, the final edit leaves all of the characters feeling like bystanders, with little to latch onto in terms of character, story, or even the special effects, which frankly make this look like a much cheaper film. Not remarkably terrible, but certainly not terribly remarkable either.

47 Ronin is now showing, in 2D and 3D, in cinemas nationwide.

Lastly, Walking With Dinosaurs- a late entry to my bottom ten, least favourite films of the year. Nominally based on the BBC's animated documentary series of the same name, this looks like it might, at one point, have been intended to be a feature-length version of that format, following a herd of pachyrhinoceros through the dangers of migration in the late Cretaceous era. Then, somebody came in and added a Disneyfied story, a framing device that ropes in poor Karl Urban and a couple of child actors, and a truly fucking awful script from John Collee, the writer who brought us the Happy Feet movies.

Why did I come to this conclusion? Well, despite the fact that the talking dinosaurs never seem to shut up, neither do they ever open their mouths. It gives the impression that the voices of Justin Long, John Leguizamo et al have been dubbed onto an admittedly very well-animated documentary, instead of proper narration from someone like Kenneth Branagh (who narrated the series) or David Attenborough. Even worse, Long and Leguizamo both narrate the film, on top of the characters and sometimes on top of each other- it's instantly headache-inducing.

If it was always the intention to humanise the dinosaurs by narrating their physical interactions with (apparently) telepathic exchanges of anachronistic jokes, cliched dialogue and dated catchphrases, then that's just as silly as if someone or other re-jigged the film during production. It's not even as good as the last time Disney tried this same thing, with 2000's Dinosaur. Given the digital craftwork on display here, and the BBC Earth branding that's eclipsed by the Fox fanfare at the front of the film, I want to believe that it was a studio executive who fucked this up, and decided to flatten down what was so unique about the original series and re-inflate it with 3D gimmicks and a bland pop soundtrack.

Either way, it shows how wide of the mark Walking With Dinosaurs has fallen in comparison to its groundbreaking namesake, that I'm even asking these questions about a film that's aimed at young children. When I say "young children", I mean "very young children", and when I say "aimed at", I mean "thrown in the faces of." Quite aside from being annoying and inscrutable, the script is extremely condescending, throwing out any educational value to simply personalise the characters and then reiterate what's going on a dozen times, when even the least cinema-savvy kid will already recognise the basic story beats. Children should feel insulted, parents will hate it- this is a huge missed opportunity, and the worst, laziest family-oriented film I've seen in a long time.

Walking With Dinosaurs is now showing, in 2D and 3D, in cinemas nationwide.
I feel like I haven't given you much choice, when it comes to picking that last cinema visit of the year, but it actually provides me with the opportunity to reiterate that Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks are still showing in most cinemas. Go and see those, if Blue Is The Warmest Colour and/or Walter Mitty don't float your boat! See one of those Disney movies again, if you've already been! I'm a real helper!

If you have seen any of these films, why not leave a comment below? Also, let me know what your favourite and least favourite films of the year were- my lists will be up later this week.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch dinosaurs (not) talking to/over each other.

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