Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Forget world domination. The villain in Thor’s second movie has aspirations to universe domination as he wants to turn out the lights of our current reality and return matters to their former state of total darkness. Perhaps he works for my local electricity company. In any event, it’s up to the god of thunder to beat the bad guy, rescue the girl and save the universe.

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The movie begins with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) telling of the efforts of the dark elves to return all things to the state of darkness that they knew before the universe began. They developed a powerful weapon called the Aether but were overcome by the Asgardians under the leadership of Odin’s father. The Asgardians could not destroy the Aether and so hid it secretly in one of the nine realms. Thousands of years later, as the nine realms begin to align, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) discovers the Aether in its hiding place and it escapes, infiltrating her body in the process. The reawakening of the Aether also reawakens the remnant of the dark elves who survived the original battle; their leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) sets out to hunt down the Aether and use it to return the universe to darkness. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has meanwhile brought Jane to Asgard to try to rid his love of the Aether and so Malekith’s quest leads to an invasion of Asgard and, eventually, earth. To combat this, Thor has to oull out all stops, even going so far as to enlist the aid of his disgraced and jailed brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). To say more would give things away completely.

Marvel seems to have decided on a certain formula for bringing superhero comics to the screen successfully. Focus on the action, make it spectacular, have your heroes be stereotypically larger than life, add some chemistry between the main characters and throw in a lot of quips. Marvel’s movies don’t have the complexities or depth of something like The Dark Knight, but their refusal to take themselves too seriously means that they often provide better passing entertainment. Going to Thor: The Dark World is a bit like going to MacDonald’s, then: if you go knowing exactly what you’re looking for because you’ve had it before, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

As far as the visual feel of the movie went, it felt more like a direct translation of comic panels to the screen than many others I’ve seen. It works in the context of the movie as a whole and the general thrust of what Marvel seems to be trying to achieve. The actors generally did quite well in their roles, though Chris Hemsworth’s delivery of his lines can seem a little stilted now and then; perhaps he suffers by comparison in not having the natural gravitas of, say, Anthony Hopkins. The most appealing performance, though, is delivered by Tom Hiddleston, who has the character of Loki pretty well nailed down. Constantly raining out one liners (watch for a superb take off of Captain America), he’s one character you’re always happy to see on scene. There’s even a tender moment of reconciliation between the brothers to balance out the humour, though you just know Loki’s going to conspire to use that to his advantage eventually.

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The plot also seemed to be classic comic book stuff, designed more to drive the action pieces than to be enjoyed in and of itself. It does demand a fair bit of suspension of disbelief (why did Frigga die after being run through with a blade but Loki apparently survive?) but, again, if you’re looking for tight drama, weighty speeches and character development, I’d suggest your expectations are as unrealistic as this movie obviously is.

What parts did I enjoy the most? Everything points to the action sequences, which is the intention of the movie, and they certainly appear on a grander scale than the first outing. It is as though The Avengers has set the standard for explosive and immersive action and now all these “sequels” must at least aim in the same direction. That said, they are pretty enjoyable and the end section as Malekith tries to implement his plans certainly provides for a (forgive me) thunderous finale of pounding action.

In the end, a solid addition to the Marvel stable but keep your expectations in check when you do go to see it.

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MI 4: Ghost Protocol

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
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We don’t get to the cinema that often – well, to see movies that aren’t aimed mostly at kids anyway – so generally go to watch films that seem like they will be a big screen extravaganza. The fourth series in the superspy series Mission Impossible certainly qualifies on that score!

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The plot this time centres on an evil genius hell bent on global destruction (aren’t they always?) and the first of his dastardly moves causes superspy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team to get the blame. The rest of the movie sees the team, now pariahs and acting without any official support, trying to prove their innocence and save the world at the same time (aren’t they always?).

If the plot seems awfully familiar, it’s because it is and, though the performances are good, you shouldn’t be going to movies like these expecting in-depth plots or complex character studies. No, we go to watch the MI series because we want to see high octane action, and lots of it! On this score, the film certainly delivers, with more breathtaking action scenes and daring stunts than I could count. Director Brad Bird (of Incredibles fame) keeps a pretty tight rein on proceedings and I never felt lost in a meandering mess of pointless explosions (Matrix Reloaded, I’m looking at you). I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was probably the best of the series so far.

As my wife and I left the cinema we toyed with an inevitable question: are there characters like this in real life? He’s essentially Superman, really, but what about a more “realistic” spy with access to all those cool gadgets? There might be superspies but I think most of the technological ideas are more fantasy than anything else, at least in the total accumulation that we see in this movie. Having met a few slightly disturbed characters from our defence forces myself, I think Matt Damon’s character in the Bourne Identity is closer to what one might actually find. Whatever the truth, though, I’m glad I just get to watch stories like this on the big screen rather than having to participate in any version of them.

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Posted: December 28, 2009 in Uncategorized
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In director James Cameron’s new science fiction epic, a greedy corporation wants to strip mine a distant planet for a valuable mineral. However, the native population known as the Na’vi are proving an obstacle and science attempts to come to the rescue by creating avatars, genetically grown lookalikes of the Na’vi that are piloted by humans using neural links. Into this role comes the hero, Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington): can he befriend the Na’vi and produce a peaceful solution before the military forces supporting the corporation blast them aside?


I saw this last night and the only word I can think of to describe it is “amazing”. Cameron spent four years and anything north of $230 million to make the movie and every bit of the effort comes through in what must be one of the greatest cinematic spectacles ever. Much of the visual impact of the movie comes through the excellent use of 3D technology: for the first time, it feels not like a gimmicky add on but rather a natural enhancement which draws the viewer further in to the world displayed on screen. Adding to this immersive experience is the CGI, which is taken to a whole new level as it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between it and “real world” actors and models. It actually has to be seen to be believed, it’s that good. Cameron (who also did Titanic, Aliens and Terminator) has perfected the art of using advances in technology to provide entertainment of the highest order, and Avatar is another triumphant example of this.

Though the entertainment provided by the film is a complete package, the star of the show is really the alien world and the way it is portrayed. The plot is competent enough, if somewhat predictable and not very original (I had some weird Aliens flashbacks as the Sigourney Weaver character argued with the company representative about ethics) – think Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai in a science fiction setting with a healthy dose of “green” and you’ve pretty much got the whole thing. Generally, the acting was good enough to move things along without being a distraction in any way. Cameron can do relationships quite well (think of the Terminator and John Connor in T2, or Ripley and Newt in Aliens) and in this instance the interplay between Sulley and Neytiri, the Na’vi female tasked with his training and integration, came across well. Once we’d been well soaked in this and the alien world and all its magic, the scene was set for the inevitable grand clash at the end, but it’s a testimony to the skill of the movie maker that it didn’t overwhelm everything that had gone before.

On a final note, I know that a “normal” 2D version has been produced, but I really think you’d be losing half of the effect if that’s all you saw. This is entertainment to be savoured, so pay the extra and make sure you see the full 3D version. You won’t regret it for an instant.

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Posted: September 26, 2009 in Uncategorized
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A lonely old man decides to fulfil the dream he and his late wife had of moving house (literally!) to Paradise Falls in South America. He is joined unexpectedly by a young boy and the trip turns out to be more of an adventure than could ever have been imagined.


I’d heard from several reviews that this movie was outstanding, but remained sceptical before seeing it. I am sceptical no longer: this is an excellent film, perhaps even better than Pixar’s last Oscar winning effort, Wall-E. The thing that struck me most about the film was the heart in it and the way that the main character is so fully and sympathetically drawn (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s obviously pitched as a family movie, but I dare say that adults will enjoy this one even more than the kids as there are many more layers to appreciate. Some cinematic techniques are very effectively utilised – you’ll notice several long scenes without dialogue that nonetheless build sympathy and story and convey emotion wonderfully, reminiscent of the long opening parts of Wall-E.

I really don’t want to tell too much about the plot and scenes because I don’t wan to give anything away. It’s a movie you should see, no matter how old you are and whether you have kids or not. I don’t know how Pixar does it, but they keep raising the bar for animated features. Not just for kids anymore, I reckon.

— Posted From My iPod

Using the hopeless emptiness

Posted: August 10, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Enforced sick leave sure means you get to catch up on your movie viewing. We saw a movie called Revolutionary Road the other day and something in there got me thinking.


The main characters (Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, in roles far removed from Titanic) find themselves trapped in the suburban rat race and make plans to escape to Paris in a quest to find meaning and their authentic selves. The Di Caprio character referred to the apparent futility of the lives of all those caught in their situation as “the hopeless emptiness”. Reminded me of a quote by Henry David Thoreau, who said: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. They recognized that most of those around them could not even face up to the horror of meaninglessness and were determined not to follow the treadmill they were set on.

The hopeless emptiness. Much as I thought they understood the bleakness of their plight, a part of me wondered if fleeing to Paris would ultimately find a solution for them. I mean, in the absence of any Absolute, with no Alpha and Omega against which to define their meaning and authenticity, it seems to me that all they would find in the end would be hopeless emptiness in a different setting. For them really to find what they were truly seeking required a fundamental paradigm shift, not merely a change of context or lifestyle.

It occurred to me also, though, that the way that the hopeless emptiness also represented an opportunity for sharing the need for our faith in a meaningful way. Sin is a concept that is at best outdated and at worst completely irrelevant in a relative universe. Even concepts of separation and loneliness can be answered to some degree by connection at a purely human level. But the desparation of the hopeless emptiness can only be quelled by the reality of an Absolute, the Alpha and Omega that gives realisation of a meaning founded not in yourself and those around you, but in Him and His song. All other solutions ultimately lead back to themselves and the hopeless emptiness from which they started. This, I think, is something people can understand.

We need to find ways of telling the Story in ways that make sense to those who are listening, or else we become just so much unintelligible babble. Being Greeks to Greeks and Romans to Romans is just as relevant as it has always been, even more so in the global village of today. What concepts do you think fit the bill these days?

— Posted From My iPod

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Posted: July 18, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Wow, two cinema outings in two weeks, a recent record. This one continues the story of the alien robot race with the ability to transform into everyday machines. Here a Deceptikon (the baddies, remember?) called “The Fallen” races to turn on a machine on Earth that will bring life giving power but burn out the sun. Only the Autobots and Optimus Prime, aided by the human Sam, can stop him – or can they?


This one certainly qualifies as a whizz-bang action movie. To a degree, it suffers from sequelitis, the tendency to make the spectacle bigger and bolder and more breathtaking – but ultimately at the expense of the story. It cost a staggering R1,6bn to make (but has earned an even more mind boggling R6bn worldwide to date) but the producers got their money’s worth because the effects are excellent: smooth and believable animations and enough explosive, awesome action to bludgeon your senses into overload pretty quickly. The plot is predictable and leaves open a lot of questions that even a nine year old would ask (literally) but if you’re going looking for character development and meaningful storylines you’ll definitely be in the wrong cinema! Even the first movie had more of that. You’ll enjoy the film a lot more if you go in knowing what to expect: it’s based on kids’ toys, for goodness sake. I had fun watching it.

As a parting note, I wish that the age restrictions would be more consistent. This one is rated the same as the last (PG13) but seemed to me to be more mature than the last. Ah well, perhaps that’s just my leaky memory or a sign of changing times.

— Posted From My iPod

Slumdog Millionaire

Posted: July 11, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Finally saw this now that it’s out on DVD. It tells the story of Jamal Malik, a guy from the slums who wins big on India’s “Who wants to be a millionaire” show. Under investigation (of sorts) for cheating, the story of his life and how he knew the answers to the questions on the show comes out.

Wow, what a great movie. It didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar for nothing. It was technically well produced and the actors all did a really good job, but what stayed with me most was that it’s just a great story. Watching the plight of kids in the slums was sometimes hard (you can’t help but think of the local situation too) but it made for a fascinating tale and the characters and the script made the most of this. It was interesting to see the reaction of the three main characters – Salim, Litika and Jamal – to their rough circumstances, as their hopes were alternately consumed by them, resigned to them or relatively untouched by them. I wonder if that’s a true reflection?

On a final note, it’s touted as a feel good movie (and it is) but there are some hard parts of the story to go through to get there. It just makes the final moments sweeter, though; seems like there should be some kind of lesson there, though I can’t imagine what it is ;). Definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already: you’ll enjoy it and find that it’s just well…written.

— Posted From My iPod

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D

Posted: July 4, 2009 in Uncategorized
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This is the third instalment in the hit Ice Age series. Manny and Ella are expecting a baby and Sid’s attempts to “join the club” ends up with him being carted off to an underground world where dinosaurs still reign. The others mount a rescue mission ad mayhem ensues.

Much as sequels have their own quality risks, and this one looked to be a rather contrived excuse to get the ever popular dinosaurs into the picture (pun, pun!), I actually quite enjoyed this one. The characters are all comfortably familiar and the movie doesn’t stretch any of them too much, so it becomes like a visit with old friends. For all that, things move along at a lively pace with more action scenes than I remember from the first two and the introduction of the Buck character (think Indiana Jones meets Tarzan meets Crocodile Dundee) worked well for me. I found Scratt’s extended role less successful – a bit overplayed, perhaps – but I can see that others would like the extra attention given him. I generally like my volume threes to be familiar fun and the movie delivers on that score.

As a final note, we saw the film in 3D (at a very crowded Sandton City) which was quite a novel experience. It was fun for the kids with us but I can’t say I’d recommend making the extra effort to see it in this format. The 3D effects seemed like an afterthought and it has an effect on the colours and vibrancy. Only if you’re in the area…

— Post From My iPod

So I watched The Dark Knight with my wife the other day and we had an interesting discussion about the Joker. I thought he was an interesting study because he seemed to me to be not insane but the logical conclusion of a naturalist world: in the absence of any absolute, any fixed reference that could define truth and good, his world view made perfect sense. The only fair thing, as he said, is chaos and people must eventually degenerate into pure self interest when you strip away the veneer of civilisation – sort of Lord of the Flies with a bomb trigger instead of a conch, if you will. My wife, who has her honours in psychology, maintained he was much more of the classic psychopath and delved into her textbooks to prove her point.

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While I’m still not entirely convinced the Joker fits the profile, one very interesting thing that emerged was that the psychological profile of the psychopath and the hero are not that far apart. Both have little regard for personal safety, embrace high risk activities and have an often…unconventional view of society and their role/obligations within it. The difference in the way that someone with that profile turns out, whether they become the Batman or the Joker, lies in their early childhood experiences. As if you didn’t have enough pressure as a parent, it’s now clear that it’s up to you to keep your young daredevil away from the dark side and ensure that they rescue society later on rather than destroy it! Still, it’s comforting to know also that the hard work you put in when they’re little could realise amazing benefits later on. And, no, I don’t mean they’ll keep on running round as adults with their underwear inside out…

As a final thought, watching the movie made me agree with my wife’s sentiment that associating Heath Ledger’s suicide with his portrayal of the Joker is an overly romantic notion. If there’s one thing that the Joker was not in that movie, it was suicidal.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Posted: May 20, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Went to see this on Saturday as part of a guys’ night out. These days, the thought of relaxing in front of a good movie for a couple of hours is more attractive than painting the town red; fortunately, this turned out to be quite a good movie. It’s essentially the prequel to the X-Men trilogy, focusing on everyone’s favourite member of the clan, Wolverine (played by Hugh Jackman), and telling the story of the discovery of his powers and the path that led to him being infused with adamantium.

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The movie leans more towards the action side of things rather than the layered complexity that we saw in The Dark Knight and is definitely focused on the chief character and his trials rather than introducing broader issues of alienation and discrimination that were the ambition of the original trilogy. For all that, though, it’s eminently enjoyable and cracks along at a fair pace. Jackman, who knows the character inside out by now, plays his role really well and the story brings quite a lot of pathos to Wolverine. He’s ably supported by Liev Schreiber, playing his brother-become-arch-enemy Sabretooth, and the interactions between the two are some of the highlights of the movie. I thought the William Stryker character (Danny Huston) was a little underplayed and failed to come across as menacing enough even though he was effectively the chief villain of the film. The other star of the movie was of course, special effects, and these did a great job, with high octane stunts and scenes abounding; you’ll be much more satisfied if you go along with this in mind rather than complex storylines and character portrayals.

All in all, glad I went to see it, even if I admit to my enjoyment being enhanced due to a real fondness for superhero movies. I’d give it a solid 7.5/10.