Monday, 28 December 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Fun yet misguided ...

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) successfully complete another case when they are able to capture Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who is responsible for a series of ritualistic killings. Blackwood is sentenced to death and buried but when it is discovered that Backwood has been resurrected from the dead, Holmes and Watson are compelled to reopen the case.

The story contained in Sherlock Holmes is interesting albeit untamed. Plot development occurs at an almost rapid pace thus making the narrative seem more complicated than it perhaps is. It does not help matters that by the end of the film, almost every single scene seems to play some part in Holme's investigation: it feels forced at times and interactions feel scripted rather than natural. And for a film based on a highly intellectual detective, the logic of some scenes walks on thin ice. Nevertheless, Sherlock Holmes does contain some characteristics that were prevalent to the character in the original novels, such as the ability to fight. What is presented is a Sherlock Holmes who is just as capable physically as he is mentally. At first this may appear to overshadow Dr. Watson considerably, but thankfully Watson is shown to be Holme's equal allowing for a fair exchange in solving their case.

One of the interesting dynamics of the narrative comes from a couple of short segments where the audience is introduced, though loosely, to how Holmes contemplates overcoming an obstacle. This comes about a couple of times but only before he proceeds to completely defeat an opponent in hand-to-hand combat. However, this sort of scene never occurs when you would most want it to: when Holmes is using his intellectual prowess to discover clues for his investigation. Instead, Holmes is left keeping his intelligence a secret, which seems rather absurd at times considering how rapidly he is able to deduce information. It only becomes slightly more annoying when it is taken into consideration that there is very little in aid for the audience in terms of trying to piece together the criminals plan. Sherlock Holmes is less a crime mystery and more an action adventure but regardless of one's preference the film is a fun watch for the most part.

Acting is a far steadier factor for the film with Downey and Law putting a lot of energy into their roles. This pays off with both having evident charisma about them and their screen time together is easily among the best in the film. McAdams is not quite as consistent with the rare poorly delivered line yet any fault she may have is never detrimental. Strong provides a formidable villain in theory, but for all his character's intellect he is far too weak a character to ever feel like possibly ousting Holmes. This mainly comes down to a script which does not allow more scope for the character of Lord Blackwood.

19th Century London is portrayed rather extravagantly with some great shots of the architecture and the attached gloomy atmosphere of a society still caught up in the industrial revolution period. Action sequences do not share the same flair and while they are workable they could have been better. Additional, music adds to the Sherlock Holmes experience but it never really enhances it and so feels more of an afterthought in the entire filming process.

The film contains no sex or direct nudity and language is just as mild serving only a couple of profanities. On the other hand, violence does make up a part of the film though it is never gory and hardly bloody as punches are thrown along with gunfire, hangings and explosions.

There is no denying that this new Sherlock Holmes adaptation is all about making the titular character appear more modern and exciting to the audience. The film is enjoyable with solid acting and a commendable story, yet the script has not appeared to have been scrutinized enough with its rapid nature and odd illogical mishap. You'd almost wish that Holme's himself had been asked to look over the script for the one second it would require of him: the film's story would be tighter and better for it.


Screen date: 26 December 2009
Release date: 1 January 2010

Friday, 18 December 2009


A spectacle without spark ...

In the distance future, the human race have discovered a unique planet, Pandora, in which a humanoid alien species, the Na'vi, exists. A highly valuable natural resource can be harvested from Pandora, and great lengths are taken to gain some control of the planet. Jake Sully, a paraplegic war veteran, is offered the chance to take part in a mission to help communication links between humans and the Na'vi by using an 'Avatar' which resemble the Na'vi in appearance. This involves him accidentally getting into the position of getting to know the Na'vi as well as possible in order to eventually persuade them to allow the humans to extract Pandora's valuable natural resource.

There is an obvious colonialist subtext which clings to the narrative of Avatar from the film's opening minutes and this is quite possibly the most rich the narrative ever becomes with little else to provide much depth to the films essence. The story for Avatar is interesting but it is far too cluttered with linear directions on how the film should flow from one scene to the next that by the credits it feels like Avatar has accomplished very little. This is mainly due to the lack of insight provided into the world of Pandora and even the nuances of the Na'vi themselves. Both are explored purely on a foreign viewpoint and it can be argued that this works in conjunction with the world being presented by the human character of Jake, but even when he begins to fuse his being with that of the Na'vi, not much more is presented to the viewer. There is a lot going for the film but it is disappointing that more is not made of it. Another problem lies with the Na'vi themselves. Their language, voices, dress code and cultural mannerism lack any distinct criteria beyond metaphorical elaboration. The Na'vi are, simply put, a mere fantasy retelling of the indigenous tribes of Africa or even American Indians. While this does help the colonialist theme of the film and in making the narrative appear more real, it nevertheless makes the story less unique and only disregards any originality the Na'vi could have as a species. It does not come as a surprise then that the human protagonists are mainly Caucasian and the Na'vi counterparts are African or Native American.

Acting is a slightly better department but the actors don't have much to work with as characters fall into defined stereotypes and the odd lines of dialogue lack consistency. Giovanni Ribisi is one of the more spirited actors but he plays a conventional power hungry executive: he becomes representative of the two-dimensional nature of the villains. Caricatures do not stop there but they are less identifiable in the heroes of the story. Worthington provides a more delicate approach to his character showing a clear distinctness in tone between his human and Na'vi selves. This does become questionable at times when even at times of unease his human self appears somewhat lackluster. Zoe Saldana is a pleasure to watch, even though she is a Na'vi, and this is purely because she is more in tune with her character than any other actor. At the end of the day, character development is on the weak side, with one character seemingly deciding to make certain decisions even when little evidence was provided for the character to do so. This also goes as far as character relationships being glazed over, even by the last third of the film where characters seem closer than originally expected.

From a technical standpoint the musical score and computer generated imagery work wonders. The music definitely adds to the emotion and feel of the film heightening the more sad and courageous moments while also aiding in scene transition. The computer imagery is staggering in scope encompassing an entire environment. There is the odd scene where textures lose their realistic look but it is in the quality of the animation of characters, creatures and flora where Avatar shines.

While sex is implied, there is no nudity beyond the Na'vi wearing little in terms of clothing. Language consists of mild profanities and the odd blasphemous term, while violence ranges from a variety of gunfire and stabbings among others; violence is never gory with minimal blood visible, though some acts can be a little extreme.

Avatar is an ambitious film and it deserves to be so with the majestic landscape of Pandora, and her inhabitants, nearly being adequate substitutes for reality. With the well conceived musical score, Avatar has the technical factors nailed but it all falls apart when the film's core narrative is added to the mix. For all the possibilities available, the film forgoes depth for simplicity and convention. If anything, Avatar is an enjoyable film but an enjoyable film with substance that does not equate to its hype.


Screen date: 18 December 2009
Release date: 18 December 2009

Monday, 14 December 2009

Paranormal Activity

Slow chill ...

A young couple on the verge of engagement encounters what appears to be a supernatural entity in their house. Katie (Katie Featherston) makes note of being haunted by a shadowy ghost of some sort for her entire life and this spurs Micah (Micah Sloat) to decide that it would be a good idea to try and get video evidence of this phenomenon.

Paranormal Activity covers nearly a month period in which the protagonists attempt to film their experiences while being haunted. It starts off relatively slow and continues so until around the last third of the film. The narrative never covers everyday but only those in which some ghostly activity at night takes place and a few scenes documenting the next morning. As a result, the film ends up being slightly shorter than expected but the run time works well in condensing the overall experience into what it aims to achieve: uneasiness in the audience. Paranormal Activity is not devoted to scaring at every possible turn but rather in creating an overall tense atmosphere for its finale. Advertisements seem to suggest otherwise but anyone expecting the usual horror affair may be left disappointed, and deservedly so as the horror sequences are sporadic and short. However, the events that occur have a realistic nature to them, granted you believe in the supernatural, and this cranks up the uneasiness associated with the horror.

Though Paranormal Activity is more than just a documenting of some unexplainable event as it also provides an intriguing perspective into the breakdown of a relationship. Katie is completely horrified at what is taking place yet Micah never really takes it all that seriously until later into the film. This conflict of view begins to erode at their relationship and this becomes integral to the greater understanding of the film. The narrative is not entirely ambiguous as other supernatural texts, but enough will be left unanswered to prompt further discussion on certain actions and scenes in the film.

While not performed by complete professionals, the acting is pretty decent and believable enough. The contrast of views between Micah and Katie are easily apparent, and the nuances in each character is performed adequately by the respective actors as Katie is serious and scared while Micah wavers from being jocular to devoted concern. The level of acting does decrease at times but considering the offering at hand it is not overly problematic.

The film has a budget of around $15,000 and does obviously show with the hand-held camera perspective used for the film. With this sort of restrictive camera application horror scenes have to be quite calculated. Nevertheless, the style of the film results in longer than expected intervals between horror moments.

While language usage contains merely a handful of F-words amongst others and violence limited to one or two non-graphic scenes, there is no nudity or sexual content.

Unlike the horror genre in general, Paranormal Activity is never about its different parts but rather the experience as a whole. Combined with a somewhat slow narrative pace, Paranormal Activity becomes a film that is both interesting yet frustrating. This will surely result in a clear divide between those who appreciate it and those who felt that the activity of going to see the film was wasted.


Screen date: 12 December 2009
Release date: 11 December 2009