Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Better, but not much so...

A year of leaving Narnia, Peter
(William Mosley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skander Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) strangely return, only to find Narnia has advanced 1300 years in their absence. They have entered a world which has drastically changed since their last visit where the Narnians appear virtually extinct. They come across Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), a man who, with the aid of the Narnians, is fighting to have his rightful place as heir to the throne of Cair Paravel returned.

The story of Prince Caspian is a very on-off affair.
It is a fairly simple story to follow and while clearly an adaption of the novel, it does not discard the central thematic of Christian theology on which the novel is based. The story sports some great moral lessons on such concepts as deliverance, and the importance of maturity in respect to one's age. The film also does an amazing job in diverging into the mythology of Narnia by evoking the very history and culture of its inhabitants. This proves to enhance the interaction with the film, but does not stop it from having some very unfortunate mishaps. Firstly, for a film which passes the two-hour mark, Prince Caspian feels quite short on story material, in fact I would go as far as saying that the film could have been done, story wise, in just about hour. Secondly, while Narnia has changed, the world in which the story takes place, feels far too generic. This is because the story never really plays on the whole 'Narnia has changed' concept. It has lost its magical elements of the first film, but there is nothing in its place to help fill the void. These problems all stem to the amount of action sequences in the film.

The action is pretty enjoyable to watch, from the army fights, to the one-on-one fight, which is quite excellent. However, the action seems to underwhelm the story, pushing it aside into an inferior role. This could just be retribution for the first film, where the roles were reversed, but in this case, it hurts the film in the long run. But even for the lengthy action sequences, the cinematography becomes a little wonky, with director Andrew Adamson, trying to be fancy at times, when the sequence did not need it. There is a noticeable death toll, but the lack of any blood whatsoever, does seem a tad unwarranted, even though this film is aimed at kids.

The acting department is a definite improvement over the first Narnia film, with the veteran actors feeling more comfortable with their roles. Even newcomers prove equal matches, and thus makes for a well rounded acting performance, even though there were a few hints of actors forcing emotion into some lines. It is a pity that Tilda Swinton, reprising her role as The White Witch, gets very little screen time, and that Liam Neeson, as the voice of Aslan, does not make much of a showing.

The musical score fits quite snugly within the context of Narnia, but compared to other scores in similar films, the music is not particularly note worthy. Also, the computer animation is not something to get excited about. For the most part, it looks amazing, but there are noticeable moments where the animation loses its level of achievement.

No sex, nudity or even language for that matter. However the film is big on violence with it taking up a good chunk of the film. Is bloodless, with no gore, but some scenes are still violent nonetheless.

Prince Caspian is not a bad film, for it is, for the most part, a definite improvement over its predecessor. However, it is not exactly as grand as it should have been, and I emphasize this point, because it really deserved better treatment. Every facet of the film fails to reach high levels: yes there are moments when they do but it is far too inconsistent for the parts to be of real use to the final product. While an improvement, Prince Caspian is still nonetheless a disappointment.


Screen date: 31 May 2008
Release date: 06 June 2008

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Dual Shock 3 EU release in end July?

I originally posted this article in another blog of mine on Tuesday 20 May 2008, but have since disbanded that blog.

Upon pre-ordering Metal Gear Solid 4, I noticed that the Dual Shock 3 was yet available in South Africa or any other PAL territory for that matter, with the latest known date being a simple 'imminent'. So I proceeded to get hold of Sony Playstation South Africa so as to inquire about the release date for the Dual Shock 3. Their reply was for me to buy a third party controller from Logitech. As I am the sort of person who only buys official products (though on the rare case will go third party), I replied, detailing how the official Sony Dual Shock 3 was only available in Japan and America, and how I wished to know the release date for the Dual Shock 3 from Sony. The reply I received, from an alternate source that I do not wish to specify in case their relationship with Sony Playstation becomes damaged, was:

We have been advised that SCEE will be launching the Dual Shock 3 at the end of July in all PAL territories.

End of July? After Metal Gear Solid 4
? Considering that the Metal Gear Solid 4 PS3 bundle for European territories does not include a Dual Shock 3 but a Sixaxis, I think the end of July might be correct.

Friday, 16 May 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

Worthwhile martial arts...

Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angarano) is a martial arts fan who enjoys buying movies of old martial arts films for his viewing pleasure. Yet one night while at the a pawn shop in China Town, Michael gets himself caught up in a terrible situation not of his liking, and receives a golden staff from the store's owner, Old Hop. With this staff, Michael becomes magically transported to Ancient China, where he must deliver the staff to its original owner. With the aid of Lu Yan (Jackie Chan), Golden Sparrow (Liu Yi Fei) and the Silent Monk (Jet Li), Michael must save Ancient China becoming fully ruled by the Jade Emperor (Collin Chou).

The story of The Forbidden Kingdom is a simple one which does not try to convolute itself. It is thus a simple watch, but by no means is the story unimportant into events which transpire. Yes, it does take a backseat to the many martial arts sequences, but the story is vital, even if for its moral message it presents. However while its simplicity is nothing major, it does come across as somewhat frivolous when compared to such titles as Hero and House of Flying Daggers, such as The Chronicles of Narnia is to The Lord of the Rings. And the film really shouldn't be so: it is evident by the film's conclusion that there are elements which needed more emphasizing, such as the Jade Warlord's aggression over his people, and the situation which occurs in the real world, never gets the resolution it deserves. Still the story fulfills its purpose by moving events along, and does prove to help with the development of the characters with one another, and their own emotion states. What the characterization doesn't do well is the growth of the characters psychical abilities. For Michael, yes it is done as expected but none of the other characters grow with their strengths or learn as the film continues. It can be argued that Silent Monk and Lu Yan do not need to, but that is one of the film's problems: they have no apparent weakness in their fighting skills, and can demolish groups of men with ease. As least with Michael his skills develop from virtually none at all, to adequate enough to survive battle. It does come as a pity that he doesn't get much of a role in the final battle.

Characters essentially become a problem for The Forbidden Kingdom. Even though the Ja Warlord may have an army, it is pretty obvious early on that have a problem trying to fight Lu Yan, let alone the remainder of the group. So fair fighting must be equated to the main characters but there are four heroes versus merely two villains. Also, the Jade Emperor is not even the strongest of the six characters, something revealed in a fight quite early in the story. Ultimately, the story becomes somewhat predictable, and tension you might expect from the film's later stages, is lost because there is no real challenge for the protagonists to overcome.

However the fighting sequences, which are probably the sole reason for 99% of viewers went to watch the film, are completely amazing. The fights are wonderfully choreographed and make for some exciting fights. However some parts of a fight can at times seem a little too perfect and not quite natural enough. Also, after the Jet Li/ Jackie Chan fight, the remaining fights become somewhat formulaic and predictable. Regardless this never stops the fights being engaging, with martial arts action being even more intense than in The Matrix.

One notable aspect of the film is it use of music. The opening track pretty much summarizes the films tone as being a light-hearted affair, and the rest of the tracks keep their atmosphere similar. While the music is very pleasing to the ears there were hardly any tracks that were used to build tension. Coupled with the hero-villain ratio problem, the film has this jarring effect of lacking suspense. And while the soundtrack has its weak moments, they are not as evident as the graphical component of the film. There are some lush environments, spectacular costume design, but the CG fails to imitate the beauty of the film as a whole, with some images being obviously forced into the film's imagery. Such an example comes in the form of Ni-Chang's (Li Bingbing) hair when it used as a weapon. It looked grated in the trailers but when seen in its full reel, it looks shallow and the technology dated.

The film contains no sex or nudity, but there are a few fully clad women in a brothel. Language is left to a minimum, and action sequences contain hardly any deaths and even less blood, however, the fighting can become quite intense.

The Forbidden Kingdom is a wonderful film and will most probably satisfy all martial arts fans. But this doesn't stop the film having a complete lack of suspense in regards to ever important story, and it feels far too immature to the likes of Hero and House of Flying Daggers. If anything, The Forbidden Kingdom becomes a nice introduction to these easily superior films, but it does have the very strong point of utterly engaging martial arts. It is a film with loads of potential, but maybe if done on another day, would have been able to realize it all.


Screen date: 16 May 2008
Release date: 16 May 2008

Friday, 2 May 2008

Iron Man

Gold but red...

As a weapons manufacturer, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is also one of the most well recognized men in the world due to his billionaire status forged by his genius. After showcasing a new missile, known as the Jericho, in Afghanistan, his convoy is ambushed, and Tony is taken prisoner. Spending three months captive in the mountain range, Tony is forced to rebuild the Jericho missile for his captives. Tony instead designs a device that keeps his body from dying, due to the shrapnel he received from the ambush, and as well a robotic suit to help him escape. With these new inventions, and experiences in captivity, Tony Stark’s view on his life, takes a drastic change.

One thing Iron Man’s story is not, is hard-hitting, which is disappointing considering the films opening half. It is relatively simple to follow, and a tad frivolous, but the film is quite enjoyable nonetheless. The script is well-formed, following a logical structure with some genuinely good humour to boot, and it’s only imperfection comes in the form of a very clich├ęd villain. This element also forms some predictability in the film’s plot, but it is a minor issue at best. An element which did irritate me was the level of convenience within the story. Yes, most films have moments of convenience, but Iron Man makes them quite noticeable. Such an example being how Stark's laboratory of sorts, somehow is able to be used as a launching pad for getting the Iron Man armour attached to Stark, without there ever being any mention that Stark modifying the place for such an action. It is as of the laboratory was built for that purpose the entire time and it just feels a little off-putting. This makes the concept of believability strained somewhat, even within the context of the film’s universe, and it is not just limited to this single occurrence, but a few others, such as how the Iraqi guards had no idea or any suspicion on what Tony Stark was building, even when they had security cameras all over Stark’s cell.

Thankfully the acting is of a good level, with Robert Downey Jr. stealing the show, with his performance as Tony Stark being absolutely perfect. Be it when Tony is acting in a casual free-spirit manner, or when he is serious, and devoted to cause for a better world. Performances by Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow make for commendable efforts, but sadly the latter two have a few awkward moments where they seem honestly bored with the material or incapable to convey the right emotions, such as Paltrow in highly tense scenes. But perhaps the worst example of acting comes in a very unlikely form: Stan Lee's cameo. Simply put, it was horrible and clearly not well thought out.

The computer graphics are at times are amazing, but at others times, a bit of a letdown. The good times sport some impressive visuals, especially the sequence with Iron Man flying while attempting to survive an attack from two fighter pilots. Yet this doesn't stop the film having sequences where the Iron Man suit looks like a cartoon rendition, seemingly negating the realistic concept of the film in general. Action sequences are quite fun to watch with some excellent visual effects, but it is a pity that the final fight is far too short and somewhat of an anticlimax, and thus never fully satisfies the concept of the fight in its entirety.

I also felt the directing to be disappointing. Jon Favreau has some good moments, and I go back to the Iron Man and aircraft sequence, which really is outstanding, but Favreau has this annoying habit of having a left to right sweeping scene transition. It is as if he was trying to create this comic book effect with the transition and this ultimately comes to my main complaint of Iron Man: it is unsure whether it should attempt being a realistic portrayal or remain like its comic book form. It is a hybrid, but one that doesn't work all that effectively. It can be annoying to see a scene that resembles a good quality film, just to be followed by one that seems straight out of a comic book. How the sequences are structured in both mediums work differently, and are, in this case, not aptly suited to be used side-by-side. I feel that if they wanted a realistic approach, to go full out with that and not diverge into comic book proportions, and vice versa.

The film is virtually without any swearing or nudity, but there are some implied sexual imagery, such as the very brief encounter with Tony and a female journalist in his house. The extreme violence is left for off-screen purposes, and involves a lot of killing with armed weapons, and the cries of the victims are quite noticeable. The on-screen action is pretty much the standard comic book hero affair with lots of melee combat, and explosions.

Iron man is a wonderful example of a good comic book-to-film creation. While lacking the same maturity of Batman Begins, Iron Man proves to be the best Marvel film available, ousting out the likes of the original Spider-man and X-men 2. And this is because the film doesn't attempt to dumb itself down to appeal to a greater audience, or focus itself on too many elements: it keeps things relatively simple. Instead Iron Man tells the story of Tony stark, a man callous about the world in general, transforming into a man who respects not only himself, but those around him. With very good acting, a well structured story, Iron Man’s only problems are a few inconsistencies and its inability to support a dual personality approach. It's no Batman Begins, but then again, it doesn't need to be.


Screen Date: Thursday 01st May 2008
Release Date: Friday 02nd March 2008