Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan is an enduring figure in popular culture, but is now most often viewed as kitschy and campy. Clad in a loin cloth, yelling as he swings through the trees - he's not exactly the action hero modern-day moviegoers have become accustomed to. Director David Yates, best known for helming the final four instalments in the Harry Potter film series, endeavours for viewers to take Tarzan seriously again. This take on the story is commendable in that it wants to be about something, directly addressing the colonialist politics and the unethical means by which various European nations went about their conquest of Africa. It's pretty heady stuff and the film's approach errs on the simplistic side, but there's enough action to ensure the film doesn't get bogged down in its sombre themes.
The world was never aching for another Tarzan movie, but this one justifies its existence by incorporating historical elements and setting out to make a statement about man's relationship with nature. This is complemented by a blend of National Geographic-style panoramic vistas and moderately exciting action beats. While it lacks the heart of the animated version the target teen audience might be most familiar with, it's a fine addition to the Tarzan movie canon, and definitely ranks far above the risible 2014 animated take.
I was surprised to find myself really enjoying the film. From the trailers, I expected it to be a roundly mediocre affair, another in a long line of unsuccessful attempts in bringing dated cartoon characters to the big screen. However, I ended up having a really fun time with the film. It has a very high laughs-per-minute count, delivering a good mix of physical humour, wordplay and "getting crap past the radar" jokes aimed at the adults in the audience (such as the Oedipus Rex reference, the quip about Sherman "touching himself" and Bill Clinton's cameo). I liked how the story, an adaptation of the "Peabody's Improbable History" cartoons, played with historical elements in an entertaining manner reminiscent of Bill and Ted or Doctor Who.
There is a degree of educational content and the film could serve to pique kids' curiosity and encourage them to learn more about the time periods and historical figures depicted in the film on their own. The popular culture references were used in just the right places and I didn't find them as obnoxious as in many earlier Dreamworks animated films (the later Shrek instalments come to mind). My favourite of these sequences was the Troy battle scene, which spoofs the over-used ramping (slow then fast motion) effect popularised by Zack Snyder's 300. The voice cast was good as well, with Ty Burrell's Mr. Peabody suitably authoritative and intellectual. Max Charles was endearingly earnest and gave a very natural vocal performance as Sherman. Stephen Colbert, who has a minor role as Penny's Dad, really should do more animated films - he was also hilarious in Dreamworks' earlier Monsters vs. Aliens.
Stanley Tucci's Leonardo da Vinci and Patrick Warburton's dim-witted Agamemnon were both fun as well. However, the film doesn't satisfyingly explore Sherman's relationship with Penny. She begins the film as a spoilt, detestable bully and suddenly becomes more sympathetic at the midway point without a character arc to explain this, but it's understandable that the focus is placed on Mr. Peabody's relationship with his adoptive son. The film is able to keep a lighthearted tone throughout, without getting sappy or emotionally manipulative and I would recommend it as a film for adoptive parents to bring their children to see. The technical standard of the animation isn't up to the benchmark demonstrated in films like Rise of the Guardians and Frozen, but it did capture the old-fashioned character design adequately. The 3D was designed into the fabric of the film and employed in a delightfully gimmicky manner, with flying spears, tumbling rocks and a barrel of pomegranates that gets knocked out of the screen. The flying sequence, reminiscent of the "Can You Read My Mind" scene in Superman, was lovely. Also of note is Danny Elfman's pleasantly moving score.
Resident Evil: Retribution is a very frustrating film to sit through. It rips off all manner of science-fiction/action films that have gone before, relying on cheap tricks and lazy writing to shove the 'story' along, and concluding with an outright shameless bit of sequel baiting. Whatever life this franchise may have once had has well and truly been replaced with a sense of the undead. It's rote, boring, and has an odd direct-to-video feel - at its worst, it gives off Uwe Boll vibes. It's not so much egregiously bad as it is a very, very unnecessary sequel, and it appears that absolutely nobody involved in this project put in any effort, instead content to churn out another mediocre installment in their sleep. Also, the story goes nowhere, the whole film essentially setting up for yet another sequel. If Paul WS Anderson and co. wish to continue making these films, they had better rethink their strategy, because if this fifth installment achieves anything, it's in showing some sacred cash cows are probably better off slain.
This was just a very, very good film. I've heard a lot about it, particularly that it didn't make a lot of money at the box office because audiences didn't want to see Harrison as a potentially-dangerous anti-hero instead of as the straight good guy people came to know and love the actor as. It's really thought-provoking, and very well-shot. Peter Weir is a director whom I admire a lot and had earlier worked with Ford on "Witness", and would go on to direct films such as 'The Truman Show' and 'Master and Commander'. In this film, Ford plays a radical, somewhat crazy inventor who is tired of what he perceives as overly-commercialised, lazy American culture and uproots his entire family, including his wife (Helen Mirren) and oldest son (River Phoenix) to a remote jungle location along the Mosquito Coast of the title. There, he sets up his own town, building "civillisation" from scratch, but his extreme ideals push him to the edge and endanger his family, and he becomes blinded by his vision, ironic as that sounds. This film proves Ford has range, he plays a wild-eyed, unstable man very well and all the while you still have a shred of sympathy for him even as he pushes the limit of what's acceptable for a father to do to his family over and over again. The location filming in Belize is gorgeous and you truly get a sense that you're off the beaten track and far from the known world, as it seems. It's also one of the last film appearances of Butterfly McQueen aka Prissy from 'Gone With the Wind'. I was watching the film with my mother and she said "hey, that sounds like the silly girl from Gone with the Wind" - and it was the same actress! Helen Mirren was great as usual as the hapless (and actually nameless) wife, pulled along for the insane adventure and loyal to her husband to a fault. River Phoenix's performance was also stunning and it is a huge, huge pity that he passed away so early on; he could have had a very luminous career as he clearly was a talented actor.
The film's tagline is "Nothing But a Good Time" - however, they seemed to put an emphasis on "nothing". And after a while, the "good time" effect began to wear off. The film was drenched in excess, an over-the-top pastiche of good ole' 80s rock music, joyously uninhibited but woefully unrestrained. The whole thing was painted with such broad strokes that it kind of kept the audience out. It's like hearing a party going on in the other room, occasionally peeking in, but never actually joining that party. The emotional scenes were very hard to get into, and there was no sense of intimacy in the character interactions. Julianne Hough was alright, she was a little whiny but I guess that's what they were going for, and she sings and dances good. The male lead, Diego Boneta, was odd. He's watchable, but very bland. You almost forget he's the male lead because of the formidable supporting cast. Everyone's talking about Tom Cruise as Stacee Jaxx, and while he clearly made a huge effort, I think he was very miscast. Try as he might, Tom Cruise isn't a rock star, he's a movie star, an action hero, and there's a difference. His posturing and eccentric mannerisms felt very put-on, and while his singing was great for somebody who isn't a professional vocalist, it was too clean and lacked that rock star aggression the character was supposed to innately have. Catherine Zeta-Jones is always great, but I guess this kind of super-broad comedy isn't her thing. She's good with subtle, sexy, wink-and-blow-a-kiss parts, but as the zealous church lady intent on bringing Jaxx and all of rock music down, it became a caricature, and this one slightly more dated and offensive than the rest. Alec Baldwin was the standout - he was the one who looked like he was having the best time ever, and his singing is pretty good! He had great chemistry with Russell Brand, which culminates in a gloriously silly duet of "Can't Fight This Feeling". Mary J Blige, goes without saying, was the best singer of the bunch. Paul Giammati and Bryan Cranston were both underused as the slimy manager and the lecherous mayor repsectively, and seeing Cranston get smacked in the behind repeatedly takes more than a little dignity away from the actor. The music was good, but you do get that "over-produced cover" feel that Glee sometimes gives off, and a lot of the songs are truncated or mashups. Apparently, a number of songs from the stage musical are missing as well. I guess I had a bit of fun, but found it impossible to connect emotionally to what was being portrayed. Hairspray was a lot better because it had a sense of innocence and whimsy tied to its nostalgia, and an emotional thread running through it. The big finale in Rock of Ages was "Don't Stop Believing" (hasn't that song been overexposed enough?) and a line goes "and the movie goes on and on and on" - and I went "please, no." Thankfully, it ended about there.