Monday, February 24, 2014

Film Review - Pompeii

In the Provinces of the Empire we meet young Milo (Dylan Schombing) at a battle between the Celtic and the Romans to open a passage in the Norther Isles. The Roman forces are led by Corvus (Keifer Sutherland) and Proculus (Sasha Roiz).  As they defeat the Celtic horsemen the Romans slaughter everyone taking no prisoners. Young Milo hides in horrible circumstances ending up as the only know survivor of his clan.

The story jumps ahead to Londinium 19 years later where Milo (Kit Harrington) has grown up to be a gladiator /slave known as the Celtic defeating all challengers. His feriousness pleases his owner Graecus (Joe Pingue) who sends Milo to Pompeii to face better competition.

Upon arrival Milo catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning) the daughter of the cities Prefect with a kind act. Her father Severus (Jared Harris) has a plan to obtain investment from Rome for a city building project. Soon Corvus enters the town as a representative of the Emperor to a mixed reception. He has a history with Cassia and turns out to be the potential main investor in Severus's project.

The story written by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnston is telegraphed but fast paced when compared to other narratives of an epic event. All the elements of romantic and physical rivalries are present. The two inevitable lovers Milo and Cassia who originate from completely opposite worlds. Gladiator Rivals, the new challenger Milo and the veteran champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnoye- Agbaje) who are destined to become best friends and the interlopers from the big city Corvus and Proculus who will take what they want from Pompeii even the first daughter.

The film excels in visual effects and set design. Shown unnecessarily in 3D the visual effects to create Pompeii are stunning. The city streets, presidential palace, and the port of Pompeii with her ships are breathtaking. Director P.W. Anderson shows off these sets with many sweeping overhead shots alternating between close ups and panoramic to give the viewer a sense of the scope and scale of the accent city. The visuals are especially vibrant in the night shots of the city that lights up filling the screen overwhelming the senses with warmth and colour.

The Editorial department were notable with their work on the material. The prologue is short and to the point.  The introductions and early interactions of the main characters are crisp, precise and after one   gladiatorial event in the Pompeii stadium Mt Vesuvius begins to stir. The Art department were also instrument in the production putting together their vision of the Roman City in intricate detail making the cities eventual destruction more devastating and complete.

Kit Harrington is believable as Milo the Celtic slave turned gladiator and hero of the masses. Harrington continues to thrive in historical action roles reminding audiences of his most famous role of Jon Snow in the Game of Thrones series. Emily Browning turns in the best performance amongst the cast as Cassia, daughter of the Prefect of Pompeii, balancing her feelings for Milo, respect for her parents, duty to her city while loathing Senator Cervus and all that is Rome. Keifer Sutherland has some difficulty finding his accent in the quieter scenes as Roman Senator Cervus but settles into the role as the piece progresses ramping up the evil and he moves deeper into the villain role. Joe Pingue brings some comic relief as Graecus the lounging grape eating, wine drinking, money hoarding slave owning Roman aristocrat.

Pompeii is a simple tail with predictable relationships between the characters. The visual effects, art and set work are where the film excels and make the production worth a viewing. It is a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4.

Pompeii | Paul W.S. Anderson| U.S.A. /Germany /Canada | 2014 | 104 Minutes.

Tags: Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, Celtic Rebellion, Disaster, Rome, Gladiator, Slave, Senator, Chariots.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Film Review - The Lego Movie

We first meet Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he wakes up to start his day. He grabs his trusty instruction book titled How to fit in, have everybody like you and always be happy then begins to follow the rules as he does everyday. He showers, takes times to exercise followed by eating a complete breakfast. Next Emmet heads off to work almost forgetting his clothes as he accidentally skipped that page in his book. As he a heads to work he smiles to everyone he meets even the barista  that sells him a cup of coffee for $37.00 that he is compelled to buy every morning.  Emmet does not have thoughts that are not directed by or started by someone else. At his construction job he does nothing to stand out.  At one moment Emmet has an inkling of an original thought but that is quickly washed away by a clip from everyone's favourite show Where are My Pants. The work day continues as the workers sing the theme song to their life Everything is Awesome.

At the end of the workday Emmet is headed with his co-workers to the local sports bar to cheer on the home team.  As he is agreeing with the recommendation of the group for the evening his instruction book is blown away. When he goes to retrieve it  he notes a shadowy figure in a restricted area. He begins to follow the rules for this circumstance but freezes kicking off a series of events that changes the course of his life forever.

Thus begins Peter Lord & Christopher Miller's The Lego Movie. The directors have created a unique world to tell their tale.  The visuals are bright, sharp and crisp featuring everyday Lego figures that have sprung to life.

The story is both straight forward yet complicated at the same time. President Business (Will Farrow) steals the ultimate weapon, runs his Octan Corporation soon becoming supreme ruler of the world. His goal to stop all new building, stifle creativity and cease everyone ability from changing the world he built. Armed with his weapon KRAzyGLuE  is diabolical plan is to spray the KRAGLE from a sopisticated delivery device in order to freeze the world in place. Opposed to President Business are the Master Builders the best and brightest Lego artist in the world led by Vitrivius (voiced by Morgan Freedman) and Wildstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) along with several D.C universe, sports and pop culture heroes such as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Shaq, Abraham Lincoln and Millhouse. President Business is viewed as the altruistic ruler by the citizens that follow his book of rules, watch his T.V. Show and sing his song while they miss his subliminal commands. Meanwhile in the shadows with the help of his main henchman bad cop (voiced by Liam Neeson) he hunts down the Master Builders as his plot to freeze the world comes closer to fruition.

The animated film seemingly aimed at kids has very powerful messages on the ills of conformity plus society's willingness to be distracted and fooled. The story shows how in today's society when someone steps out from or away from the herd they are unusual, dangerous and considered a threat to the rulers. It also has a strong message against multi dimensional conglomerates that control the news, television, music and often run or own all of our social and pleasure activities.

Frantically paced, The Lego Movie is an excellent superbly presented film that I highly recommend. The writing is witty, the plot moves fast containing a message that is highly important for todays world.

**** out of 4.

The Lego Movie | Peter Lord & Christopher Miller | U.S.A | 2014 | 100 Minutes.

Tags: Lego, Everyman, Dictator, Police State, Conformity, Self Confidence, Hero, Friendship, Mentor, Legend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Film Review - The Monuments Men

George Clooney returns to directing with The Monuments Men His first feature since 2011's The Ides of March. Clooney also stars as (Frank Stokes) the leader of the monuments, fine arts and archives section of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force or MFAA.  The film is based on a true accounts focusing on a group of Art Historians, Scholars and Enthusiast that enter the European theatre of World War II shortly after D- Day to stop the looting of centuries old art by the Germans as they retreat from Western Europe to protect the Fatherland.

The troop first complete basic training in England, land in Normandy, then split up to head to highly vulnerable locations to protect works of art that may be in jeopardy. In the event that they are late to a spot they work with Allied forces and locals to ascertain the Germans method of transport of pilfered artifacts and their ultimate finally destination.

Each team member were assigned a military rank along with marching orders from the Allied brain trust to ease their efforts to secure transportation and support from military commanders. The mission was often met with opposition from leaders on the ground who did not see the point in potentially sacrificing soldiers or changing tactics to protect art.

What appears on the surface to be a fascinating subject falls flat and rings hollow under Clooney’s guidance. The script co-written by Clooney and Grant Heslov provides little opportunity for character development that is essential to foster a rooting interest. Only the relationship between Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) and Richard Campbell (Bill Murray) plus to a lesser extent Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) move toward redemption offer any sign of growth amongst the cast. The rest of the story skims the surface of the subject matter.

An early scene between Frank Stokes and James Granger (Matt Damon) when they discuss potentially  team members is uncomfortably similar to the recruiting scene in Ocean's Eleven. Another ill-conceived scene is the Units Higgins boat landing at Normandy. The squence is meant to show how calm the beach had become since the territory changed into Allied hands but instead has the opposite effect reminding the viewer of a far superior presentation of the event in Saving Private Ryan.

Clooney's directorial work produced a couple of memorable sequences. A significant event occurs on screen toward the middle of the piece. The viewer hears the action off camera followed by a slow arcing pan to the left of the screen to show the aftermath. The other occurs toward the very end of the film when an artifact is discovered in an unlikely location. The find is revealed to each of the Unit members individually building upon and multiplying each members reaction.

The acting in the production is serviceable and for the most part unremarkable. Cate Blanchett is under used as Paris Museum employee (Claire Simone) who may or may not know where the stolen French treasures lie and possibly has ties to the French Resistance. Her main interaction is with Damon's James Granger but there scenes lack any chemistry or depth. Clooney is in smirking autopilot as Frank Stokes. As mentioned above the interplay between Bill Murray's Frank Campbell and Bob Balaban's Preston Savitz are among the best moments in the film. Dimitri Leonidas gives one of the better performances as Sam Epstein a German born New York residence who serves as the groups translator often picking up information from captures German soldiers while proving to be a key figure in deciphering German maps and codes.

The Monuments Men is a film that attempts to present a historically significant event but misses the mark. The film’s cast all have produced excellent work on several past occasions but as a group are let down by the script and direction of the piece. If you have a keen interest in the subject matter and want to see it presented on the large screen proceed with caution but overall it is a film that I cannot recommend.

* 1/2 Out of 4.

The Monuments Men | George Clooney | U.S.A.,Germany | 2014|118 Minutes. 

Tags: World War Two, Nazi's, Adolph Hitler, Art, Historians , Academics, U.S. Army,  British Army, The Ghent Altarpiece, Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna, Neuschwanstein Castle.