Thursday, 27 December 2007

I Am Legend

Little to remember...

In the year 2006, a miracle breakthrough, the KV virus, is created and toted to be able to cure the likes of cancer. However, in no time whatsoever, this cure mutates into a deadly virus which changes its host into a grotesque creature. Three years after the outbreak, Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the last human left alive due to his immunity to the virus, and he is continuing work on a vaccine to help change those who are no longer human, dark seekers, back to their original selves, while they attempt to hunt him down during the night.

With an interesting post-apocalyptic story, I Am Legend comes as one of many adaptations of it's source material, but is arguably the closest in it's rendition. However this is not to say that it doesn't take any liberties it's in story telling so fans of the novel might be disappointed. Even as a moviegoer, it's difficult to understand why certain elements of the novel were changed. While the novels soul remains in most of the film, such aspects as the locale change, Neville's population group and even the concept of the creatures themselves, are altered. These are minor issues, but more important story elements are changed as well. The worst of these being the difference in time line as it seems strange that Neville attempts to contact other survivors by means of a radio system. The film goes onto a vast array of symbolic themes such as heroism to , and importantly, religion, and these help heighten the story's depth. This is well assisted by few moments of reminiscence on Neville's part, where he accounts the last few moments he had with his deceased family. The story also lacks a firm buildup going from a calmness to franticness in the blink of an eye, bringing up a major problem with the film: length.

Closing in on the two hour mark, the film goes from a slow restrained manner for three-quarters of its length, only to spiral into a uncontrollable mess. This cinematic experience works best with Smith is absorbed in his isolation and more of these scenes would have really helped heighten the emotional impact. As well, not enough time is dedicated to his experiments on finding the cure and worst yet, the director completely disregards this part of the films essence towards the end, which itself is a real letdown. Firstly the ending is sort of Hollywood-like in it's execution and would have worked far better if it were more ambiguous instead of being stated. The other problem comes from the films skewed concept of the theme of being a legend. Instead of using the heavily metaphorical designation from the novel, the cinema version falls into a heap clichés. This could be partly due to the rushed filming of a new ending merely weeks before release, but this should not be an excuse. If anything, it does give an incentive to pick up the DVD release, just to see how the original ending worked with the rest of the film, how it compared to the novel's ending, and how effective it would have been for a movie.

The acting is solely dictated by Will Smith for virtually the entire film, and praise must be given to him for his portrayal of the last remaining human alive. Acting itself is not easy, and it's even harder when you are performing a solo effort. Smith has the ability to shows his character' s aged loneliness with his only companion being his loyal dog, Samantha, and how this affects his everyday ability to function in a society of normality. His performance is also emotional and so when moments of sadness are dripped onto the screen, they are powerful enough for the viewer to care.

An important aspect of the film is it's computer generated images, but these range from excellent to dull. The introductory scenes, and those which follow, of an abandoned New York City, are superb in it's realism. It's a real highpoint in the film and really sets up the atmosphere to follow, but it's a real shame that another important aspect to the film' s CGI, the dark seekers, are painted in a bland and non-realistic manner. From their skin textures to their awkward movements, the dark seekers are noticeably misplaced in a film that does so well to contain it's believability.

A relatively clean film as only violence makes any appearance. It comes in various forms of shooting, explosions and attacks from the human-turned-creatures. All of these scenes are never bloody , yes blood itself is seen staining the floors in a couple of scenes.

I Am Legend has had a strange development period with it's origins back in 1994, and various other attempts to get the film into production.. Thirteen years later and it appears that Warner Brothers has finally got their act together and finished the film albeit its marketing was not exactly up to scratch.. Regardless, I Am Legend is a remarkable title with some classy acting and an intriguing storyline. It's a shame that it has visible shortcomings, such as length and CGI issues, because it is one of those few films that you really want to succeed, to prove that the final product is better then originally believed. Sadly, no matter how you view it, I Am Legend is merely a good film, lacking in reams of potential.


Screen Date: Wednesday 26th December 2007
Release Date: Friday 28st December 2007

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Melancholic beauty…

Hollywood has the idea to glamorize and exaggerate virtually every historical figure without acknowledging that the respective person’s true self. This creates a flawed notion of the time period, yet there are times where a biopic is created with truthful richness and this so happens to be one of those times.

As the title explains, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is pretty much that and, of course, the events that led up to the act. Jesse (Brad Pitt) decides that he will attempt one last robbery and call his career quits after that. Yet after the feat paranoia crawls into Jesse as he begins to debate whether members of his last outing might in fact take the large bounty that plagues him. Over time he becomes interested in Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), a nineteen year old who has idolized Jesse since his childhood but discovers that the outlaw hero is not what he appears.

From the very opening scene the film captures you in its Western setting, and the authenticity of the period of the outlaw Jesse James is virtually realistic, albeit a few historical inaccuracies. Though if you aren’t well versed in the history of Jesse James you won’t have much to worry about, as these inaccuracies are relatively minor and doesn’t impact on the overall feel of the characters, and story. The film is slow and almost action-less. For the most part this suitably helps the films haunting veneer. But beyond the realism and atmosphere, the film has an excellent way of never defining a definite hero or villain. Yes, it is obvious how certain characters are to be finally viewed, but Jesse is not the heroic outlaw he is perceived to be. He is mocking and willingly to kill needlessly. As well, Ford is not just the coward he is made out to be. He’s a fragile character who has good intentions but his youthfulness does not allow him to see further then his actions.

Once again Brad Pitt proves a wonder to watch, with his portrayal of Jesse James being one of his best. You can feel the cold, calculated nuances of Pitt’s acting and the love and compassion his character is capable of. His acting his realistic and he is supported wonderfully by the rest of the cast, especially Casey Affleck, who on par with Pitt. Affleck has never struck me as being that great an actor, but his performance was nothing less than amazing. He exudes a creepy nervousness that is just waiting to burst into something more.

There is, as well, an accompanying narrator. Who this person is remains a mystery, but who he is, is never ever the point. The narrator (Hugh Ross) like all narrators, serves as the story’s guide, pointing out information of extreme importance, In fact, while the film is long, it could have been longer were it not for the narrator. He brings about certain bits of information throughout the film which adds depth to various characters, without these particulars having to be shown. One such time explains how Frank James (Sam Shepard) felt after the death of his brother Jesse, but we never see the character post-Jesse’s death. It appears like a quick scheme to get more story development without showing more, but its execution is practically flawless.

The music department is pretty thin: the majority of the film plays without music whatsoever, and when music is used, it’s done so as a transition point from one main story arc to the nest. Best yet, it doesn't feel out of place and only goes to enhance the somber atmosphere of the film itself.

If there is anything stopping this film from reaching greatness, it would be pacing issues. The film is just a little too long for its own good. While its final length cannot be cut by much, as every scene portrayed is of utmost importance, some scenes do linger on a few seconds too long. Much of the additional runtime comes from the director’s attempt at adding abstract, yet serene, images of the environment, and just being too art-like. I say too art-like because these great shots which the viewer are shown, while sometimes dazzling to gaze upon, feel forced and constricted. This is partly in due to the great number of times the director, Andrew Dominik, tries these shots, and also because every time this is performed, the main focus is always in the middle. While this is particularly the function of having an images centerpiece in the middle for emphasis, it just happens far too often and the art-like nature of the film loses its appeal. It ultimately becomes less interesting then it ought to be. Still the director does indeed have some real highpoints, especially the beginning of the day of Jesse James death, where we are greeted with a splash of nervousness and a sense of lost control in regards to Ford. Even towards the end of the film the director experiments a bit more and with great results, adding much depth with symbolism. The little scenes that are up to this quality show the amazing ability the director has, but its shame he falls into a mediocre pattern with his many other scenes.

No sex and no nudity although there is a scene involving one man walking on a woman who is using the bathroom. Language use is kept to a minimum and violence, while infrequent, is violent and realistic.

While Robert Ford’s bullet was effective in hitting its intended target, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, sadly, misses by a few inches. The story is engaging, if a little inaccurate and a little too much to digest in regards to the films length; the acting is of a sublime quality; the music is well placed and fits the films overall mood nicely, and the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking in its simplicity, but becomes overused. If you can survive till the films conclusion, and honestly if you cannot then it is a real shame, you will have watched one of the best films to grace 2007. The name of Jesse James still lives on, but now in a far more grand state.


Screen Date: 20th December 2007
Release Date: 14th December 2007

Monday, 17 December 2007


Surprisingly spellbinding...

'Another Disney movie?' Let's be honest, who hasn't yet made this phrase in complete awe as to why Disney still continue to slowly butcher the masterpieces of many years back, with features that are simply substandard in comparison? But on account of Disney's latest venture, it appears as if the animation-dominated company, is finally shifting its gears with the deliverance of the suitably titled: Enchanted.

Living in a fairytale world known as Andalasia. Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) is filled with thoughts of a dashing prince, later found to be Prince Edward (James Marsden) and the chance to share that one true kiss with him. When both unexpectedly meet, a marriage proposal is suggested and after merely a day of knowing one another, both Giselle and Edward are to be wed. However, Edward's step-mother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), has no inclination to allow her throne to be given to another, so she decides to be rid of Giselle by sending her to another world which is devoid of the characteristic happy endings of fairy tales. Giselle ends up in the real world, more specifically, New York City. Here the harshness of social life begins to tug at her, but an unlikely friendship with divorce lawyer, Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), helps her to adjust.

Enchanted portrays a bizarre story with some of its main characters jumping from a realm of fantasy (animation) into reality (live-action). And it's this fantasy/ reality exposé which guides the film along. For Giselle, the real world lacks the sparkle, optimism and general goodness which dominated her beloved world. Instead she is presented with self-centeredness and social dismay for aspects of life such as love. This is what makes Enchanted so interesting to watch: the general contrasts of two opposing worlds, and how both can find similarities, even if the list is little. A noticeable scene involves Giselle attempting to clean an apartment with the aid of animals; however she is presented with rats, fleas and roaches: a complete change from the doves, deer and chipmunks she expected. The film never goes about dismissing that there are reasons for negativity in our world, but it does provide reasons as to why the world should be filled with more optimism and hope. Thankfully this is never to the point of being mushy, or numbing on happy pills. And this is the films greatest achievement: keeping everything seemingly realistic and thus tangible for the audience to believe in. I did however have an issue with Giselle being able to name one or two items that clearly could not have been from her world, and there is no evidence in the story to prove that she was told beforehand.

The film also has its fair share of humour. While it's not on the level of making you laugh yourself silly, the humour does a good job of making you chuckle and keeping a smile upon your face. The film even goes as far as parodying some elements of a Disney animation. If anything, the film becomes stated in its meaning, obviously to help the younger children, but luckily there are drops of symbolism and references to a few other Disney fairy tales, which help deepen the experience for the older generation. An aspect which must be highlighted is how Enchanted breaks the stereotype of the fairytale maidens. Usually the damsel is always a subversive character, always relying on the strength of Prince Charming. However in Enchanted, we are presented with fairytale females who have self-control as are willing to be assertive. Yet this happens only towards the end and completely comes out of nowhere. This brings about my main complaint with the film: it is a few minutes too short. Like my previous point, there is not enough time to sufficiently enhance the characters attitudes and emotions, and the opening animated sequence is far too quick in its aim. Yes, we know that in Disney films the pair of lovers will met and live happily ever after, but this is always done after we are able to understand the characters better. The everlasting love between Giselle and Edward in the beginning of the film serves as a little less emotive as it should have been because of the lack of a necessary buildup. Also, I felt the ending was far too predictable. There is a good chance that you will guess the specifics of the obvious fairytale ending, about three quarters through the film. As well, the ending is far too brief and basically kicks out the reality notion the film does well, up until the end, to convey.

If there is one element to consider of an animated feature which Disney usually gets right, it would be voice acting, and while Enchanted contains very little animated sequences, the voice acting is handled superbly. Best yet, the actors translate quite nicely into live-action where the acting ability is, while a little over-the-top at times, noticeably strong. Praise must be given especially to Adams who is utterly exquisite.

Whether it is the carefree innocence of Giselle, the simplemindedness of Robert the bedazzlement of Edward, or even the evilness of Narissa, every respective actor brings a realistic approach that works within the framework of not only their own and the other characters, but the situational context as well. The supporting characters of Pip (Jeff Bennet in animation; Kevin Lima in live-action) and Nathaniel (Timothy Spall) prove just as capable as their leads. The film also expectedly sports a musical aspect, with
both Giselle and Edward being the forerunners of this department, and they both deliver great performances, with a piece by Adams being a high point in the film.

It is, however, a pity that the love interests of Giselle and Robert, Edward and Nancy (Idina Menzel) respectively, get a bit too little screen time. While their participation within the story is not nearly as important as the characters of Giselle and Robert, they are, by the end of the film given a major story arc, but little characterization to support it. Also, while a minor issue, Giselle's character appears as being a hint too childish in her naivety in the live-action segments, while her animated self is aptly suited. It would have also been a nice addition to include a bit more musical pieces but what is provided is, at least, sufficient.

As a Disney film, one can expect content that is appropriate for the whole family. There's no sex, nudity albeit a scene with Adams in a towel after a shower and a nude statue. There is minute, non-hard language use, and violence only rears itself in a small quantity towards the end of the film.

Enchanted is easily one of the best family films to grace cinema in the last few years. Regardless of your demographic, there is bound to be very little any movie-goer can find wrong with this experience. Yes, it falls short of being ranked amongst the top-tier, but it just makes for such a compelling case study of our world, and is just so fill of love that it almost breaks my heart not to add another point to the overall score. Enchanted will make you feel exactly so, and thank goodness for that.


Screen Date: Sunday 16th December 2007
Release Date: Friday 21st December 2007