Sunday, 28 December 2014

Conan the Barbarian (2011) Review

Conan the Barbarian is yet another movie based on the Conan character who was created by writer Robert E. Howard. We have thus far seen stories featuring Conan in a plethora of media formats such as films, games, comics, tv shows and no doubt several others. I none the less have never really been all that excited about the character or the stories he has appeared in. However the prospect of a blood soaked sandle epic does appeal to my taste in films (especially with the current lack of such films) and sadly whilst Conan the Barbarian does provide for that, it has several shortcomings.

Conan the Barbarian starts of with a gloriously ridiculous scene of Conan's birth. Who is born in the middle of a blood soaked battle as his father cuts him from his dying mother and then holds Conan up in the air as he screams (presumably both in pain and joy). After some overly obvious exposition we are then introduced to a still young albeit no longer infant Conan and his combat abilities and mastery are quickly shown and the plot soon after kicks in (which of course required the previously mentioned ham fisted exposition to even make any lick of sense). Khalar Zym (played by the terrific Stephen Lang) seeks to bring back his dead sorceress wife back to life with the aid of his daughter Marique (played by Rose McGowan). Zym holds the belief in doing so he would become a God and the ruler of all. Simply put Zym is on a conquest for power and for a reason that is barely touched on the film believes his all powerful albeit dead wife would be able to grant him his wishes if she was brought back to life (though if she was defeated before why couldn't she be defeated again?). That is more or less all their is to the story and whilst the plot is solid it is childishly simple and uninspired. None the less it remains functional and is not one of the main issues present in the film.

The acting in Conan the Barbarian varies from mediocre to absolutely appalling. The previously mention Stephen Lang and Rose McGowan do their best as the villains but the characters ultimately fell underdeveloped and the reasons for their motives are barely touched on. As father and daughter they also share a creepy scene that hints at an almost incestuous relationship (or at least the possible desire for one) which whilst creepy ultimately adds nothing to the film. Such issues permeate throughout the entire film and 'characters' who already tend to have little screen time and characterisation, have what little they do often squandered on meaningless moments such as the previously mentioned semi-incestuous one. As a result the film makers seemed to rely on cheap visual cues such as an eye patch so as one can remember who particular 'characters' are. The lead actor in particular seemed content in mumbling his words with minimal articulation which is further hindered by an uneven audio mix that often had voices far to soft. None the less Momoa as Conan does himself few favours and whilst he physically looks the part of a ruthless Barbarian out for revenge, his acting ability (at least in this film) is a far shoot from being even remotely good enough to carry any film.

In spite of the above issues with the performances and character a film such as this can can still easily be enjoyed if the action is suitably well staged and exciting (an epic fell also tends to help). Conan sadly has very little of this. The action sequences are over edited and feature an almost nauseating amount of camera movement combined with constant cuts between different shoots that often do not flow from previous shoots. I actually don't mind the shaky camera effect and also feel the overly aggressive editing can work when used well and thus can be an effective tool in enhancing a films action scenes. That however is not the case here. Their are other extremely noticeable issue in editing (although they are likely to stem from filming issues) such as the time of day during the boat fight. The 'bad guys' sneak onto the boat and it is clearly dusk or dawn and moments later when they are detected it is suddenly a bright and sunny day. Such an instance isn't to bad in of itself and by no means something that ruins a film, but it does highlight the issues that are constantly present in the action scenes which jump around with no sense of flow from shoot to shoot and ultimately make this hard to garner any enjoyment.

The pacing is also problematic in that it is practically non existent and as the movie jumps from one action scene to another over and over again. The result is a complete lack of any sense of danger for the lead characters. Conan the Barbarian simply fells as if it's constantly deflating and slowly winding down towards the inevitable finale which to its credit does try to fell bigger and more epic then the previous action scenes, but is none the less plagued by the same issues that are present throughout the entire film and thus the film sadly ends with a whimper.

It saddens me to say that whilst Conan the Barbarian is by no means the worst film released this year and whilst it is not without its positives, it is none the less a film that was ultimately more often boring to watch then it is fun. Conan the Barbarian is simply overwhelmed by numerous issues which successfully zaps near on all the fun the film could otherwise have had to offer. Conan the Barbarian does not come recommended.

The 3d:
Conan the Barbarian is also available in 3d and as has far to often become the case is a complete 2d to 3d conversion. Conan the Barbarian was not shoot in 3d and it was not shoot for 3d and whilst a good conversion can look amazing and add to many films (usually only when intended or wanted by the film makers) that where never intended to be seen in 3d . In this case it however sadly adds nothing to this film and if anything it makes the already poorly edited action sequences even harder to watch as the hectic editing is anything but 3d friendly. The 3d is also minimal and takes on an every flat appearance that does nothing to enhance the story and as previously mentioned actually hinders the action scenes. Hence if you do decide to see this film I would urge you to ignore the 3d option and see it in 2d.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Tree of Life Review

If their ever was a film that could be the poster child for films that divide audience opinions Terrence Malicks Tree of Life is a film that would be a strong candidate. Inescapably and unapologetically experimental and existential The Tree of Life is a film that many will love, but equally many will loath, finding the contents nothing but a pretentious tedious bore.

I would usually try and summarize the basic story of the films setup. However in the case of The Tree of Life that would be a disservice and mostly an impossible task as the Tree of Life is a film that deviates from the norm in how a films themes and story is presented. The film at its core is about the beauty of life and the world and universe we live in. Whilst the story of a family and the individuals that make it up is certainly present, The Tree of Life is more concerned with the larger picture of life and using the smaller scale human narrative so as the audience can more easily relate to the bigger picture. It not only seeks to show beauty in what is generally accepted as beautiful, but also the beauty that still exist in the most tragic of circumstances. It would be a disservice to not mention the beautiful cinematography present by Emmanuel Lubezki that helps present the core concept present to be visible throughout.

Thus The Tree of Life is a film more concerned with evoking 'genuine' emotion from the viewer directly as opposed to trying to elicit an emotional response through how one relates to the individual characters present. With all that said I wouldn't say it is a particularly deep experience. It presents what it wishes to with no interest in exploring why the universe is how it is or similar. It is comfortable being a celebration of the beauty we are so fortunate to be able to experience no matter how limited our capacity may or may not be.

At it's heart The Tree of Life is about the beauty of not only the world we live in, but the universe and that of life. It is a film that I see large number loving and large numbers loathing. None the less I found it to be a completely enthralling and beautiful experience and The Tree of Life comes with my highest recommendation.

Note: I would strongly urge people to not view this film via streaming or a dvd release. Rather I would recommend viewing the blu-ray or seeking a showing at a cinema similar to The Astor Theatre. For those living in Australia I would urge those interested to consider importing the blu-ray as the local release is objectively worse then what is available elsewhere (the Australian release has a 5.1 audio track as opposed to the 7.1 available elsewhere and the video contains significant banding throughout many scenes).

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Collection Update (December 2014 part 2)

The final part for this two part collection update contains both the 3d and Disney blu-rays I have purchased this year.

It may come top a surprise to many that their are numerous 3d films are available from the 1950's. These are not films that have been converted into 3d in recent times, rather they where shoot in 3d. Not only that but they where also presented in 3d using polarized glasses (as most cinemas currently show theatrical 3d films). The results are stunning as the film makers don't have the fear of depth that modern 3d has suffered through in recent times (though that trend thankfully seems to be mostly over with most 3d films pushing higher levels of depth). If it is indeed a surprise that 3d films in the past where not simply the territory of anaglyph 3d (most commonly using red and blue filters in the glasses) it may also surprise many that Alfred Hitchcock directed a 3d film (Dial M for Murder).

How to Train Your Dragon is a film that I would strongly urge people pick up in 3d, even if they are not 3d compatible currently. Not only is the film an exciting funny breath of fresh air in an industry with a low number of quality recent animated titles, but it features amongst the most stunning 3d I have seen. On the other side I had seen the extended cut of Hansel and Gretel and thought I would pick up the 3d release. Whilst it isn't an entirely lost cause I don't think I will ever watch the 3d release again as the extended edition (which is only available in 2d) is by far the superior version of the film.

Lastly for this two part update are the Disney release from the last year. I could write extensively about the poor practices Disney have been undertaking with their recent blu-ray releases but that would be best left for a latter time. 

In what is somewhat of a sweeping statement I would recommend all of these release in 3d except for Captain America. Whilst it is true that not all of these films where originally intended for 3d, it's presence certainly enhances the films. In particular Frozen and Oz The Great and Powerful are stunning examples of intended and native 3d. Likewise Guardians of the Galaxy has stunning 3d that whilst it is a 2d to 3d conversion was made as a 3d film with the director overseeing the 3d conversion of "every shoot".

So the above (along with the prior post) finishes my home film purchases over the last year. I intend for future collection updates to be far more regular but that will of course depend on when I pick up films. Of note is that I bought zero dvd's in the last year. This is simply as their where no films released that I wanted that where only available on dvd.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Collection Update (December 2014 part 1)

How time can fly. It has been a year since my last collection update and having bought more then a small number of films this year I have decided to split this up over the next few weeks in several different posts. Due to the number of release I will only be commenting on specific releases that I fell attention should be brought to. So without further adieu part one of this rather massive collection update.

The film from the above which was easily among the larger surprises of the year was Blue is The Warmest Color. With near universal  acclaim it was a film that I found to be an overly long and bloated film that had plenty of potential that I didn't fell was realized (click here to see my full review). As a fan of Spike Jonze I was very happy to pick up Being John Malkovich which is a film that comes with my highest recommendation. Likewise Edge of Tomorrow was possibly the nicest surprise of the year. I wasn't expecting much and what I got was a tremendous sci fi action film with superb 3d.

Her is another film by Spike Jonze that I can't recommend highly enough. At times purposefully awkward, at other times bitter sweet. It is a film that on paper would likely appear to be a disaster waiting to happen. However thanks to some brilliant direction, acting and of course writing it stunningly is easily amongst the better films of recent memory. Catching Fire is another film I would highly recommend and the blu-ray alternates between it's scope ratio and 1.78:1 (full screen) for the imax scenes which is present throughout the entire time spent in the arena. Sadly the blu-ray does have some flaws, most notably is the film seems bit starved and thus some obvious and ugly banding is sadly present. Of note is this is the American release (which is region locked). The local Australian release does not alternate aspect ratios which some may prefer (especially those with CIH setups).

Whilst the sequel Silent Hill revelation was a travesty (click here to see my full review), the first Silent Hill is personal favourite of mine. Unfortunately the only competent blu-ray release is the French edition which I took the plunge and bought. It not only is the only release approved by the director it is the only one that doesn't have risen black levels that starves the image of any 'pop' resulting in a murky mess (the darkest black appears to be light grey). Thankfully the French release does justice to the film and its gorgeous cinematography. Likewise Super is a film by the director of Guardians of the Galaxy that few seem to have seen. It's premise is very similar to that of the first Kick-Ass film. It however doesn't drop the idea of a nobody trying to act like a super hero in favour of having 'real heroes' (such as Big Daddy and Hit Girl). This is most apparent in the final act and is a film I would recommend to those who are fans of the first Kick-Ass film.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What If Review

In What If, Wallace a medical drop out who one night meets Chantry a young women in a long term relationship. Upon finding this out he is Chantry gives him her number which he later disposes of uninterested in 'just' a friendship. But of course as this is through and through a romantic one night soon thereafter they both once again meet in a chance encounter and from their the friendship blossoms and the two slowly become more aware of one another feelings towards each other.

If this sound awfully familiar, it is because the film follows the structure of a romantic comedy to a fault. However the reason to see What If is not its structure, rather it is the two leads Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace and Zoe Kazan as Chantry. Both deliver strong, credible performances and share a degree of chemistry that is rare to see in films, especially those in the romcom genre. The comedy and wit on display is likewise surprisingly potent and fells like it comes naturally from the characters involved instead of simply being forced into the film in an attempt to bring life to the film as is so often the case in films like this.

Unfortunately What If does end with one or two completely unnecessary scenes which weighs the film down and takes away from the core strength of the film. At times moving the film into eye roll inducing clear romcom territory as if any nuance or ambiguity would be a crime. I will note that this is a review of the US release which features several minutes of cut footage and apparently the final scenes present here are not present in the uk release. These differences would likely remove the largest and only real issues I had with What If.

At a glance What If could easily be mistaken for an entirely unremarkable film. It follows the structure of a romantic comedy to a fault (especially in the final scenes). It however is able to rise above its structure with its remarkable performances and chemistry between the two leads along with its witty and unforced humour. Whilst I would recommend those interested waiting for the UK release which is uncut and apparently features a different ending, the US release of What If still comes highly recommended.

Note: As is unfortunately a frequent occurrence I would recommend avoiding the trailers for this film as it spoils several key points.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings Review

Note: The below review does contain spoilers, but nothing that I fell constitutes a spoiler giving how well known this story is.

Exodus: Gods and Kings as one may expect follows the tales of Moses a godless Egyptian prince who upon discovering his true parentage is exiled into the dessert where he meets his wife. One day Moses walks up a mountain that just so happens to be one that is forbidden by whilst trying to capture some stray sheep he presumably shepards. It is here that he meets 'god' who needs a general not a shepard and convinces Moses to return from his exile and see what had become of his enslaved people. Unsurprisingly upon returning matters are worse then before and he decides to take action with the help of 'god'.

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a film that I imagine many people will find offensive. It is directed by a man who has a very low opinion on religion and has treat the film as a simple story. In it god is shown as a largely thoughtless half wit who whilst incredibly powerful is unable to utilize his power in an effective manner and comes across and immoral and evil entity. Something that Moses in this film seems to agree with, but at no stage is it ever explained why. The characterisation for the most part is equally troubling. With few exceptions characters motivations seem to simply change with the changing requirements of the plot and few are giving enough screen time to be fully realized characters in their own right. This leads to the 'epic' scenes lacking any punch and being nothing more then a visual treat in the same way many enjoy brainless action spectacle films.

The cause would seem to be how rushed the film is. For example, the relationship between Moses and his wife is nothing more then them meeting at a water hole, exchanging no words, next Moses is meeting her father who asks numerous questions as she watches and then suddenly they are married. This lack of development is in part to the mostly passable but entirely unremarkable acting on display, but also that their simply where not enough scenes dedicated to developing important characters beyond Moses. Their is an early scene between Moses his sister and adoptive mother which is certainly a highlight that promises some dramatic punch, but neither are seen again and nor is the dramatic punch.

In many was Exodus: Gods and Kings is like Kingdom of Heaven. Both are directed by Ridley Scott that hope to have an 'epic' scope but are faltered by rushed pacing and story telling that skims over far to many important details. Hopefully Exodus: Gods and Kings get an extended edition that improves the film like Kingdom of Heaven had. But in its current state Exodus: Gods and Kings does not come recommended.

What about the 3d?
The 3d is simply put a rather mixed affair. Starting of rather mild it later pushes to rather heavy levels of depth. Whilst this heavier level of depth is certainly a nice trend to see in an industry that seems fearful of anything but mild 3d in years past the presentation here is also inconsistent with the levels of depth fluctuating wildly within the same scene and similar shoots. The result is a mostly competent 3d presentation that will certainly satisfy fans of the format, but will be unlikely to convert those who have yet to be convinced.