Narnia : Cinema : Childrens Fantasy : December 2006
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Its been so long since I read the book of the same name, all I recalled before taking my seat was that there is a magic Wardrobe, a Witch, a Lion and for some reason the streetlight.

The premise and mechanisms for this story, I am reliably told are detailed in a previous Narnia story. We start this one with a bunch of children shipped out to the countryside during World war II blitz where they happen upon a wardrobe made of magic wood that can transport them to a fantasy world, namely Narnia, which was also created in a previous story.

Said children end up in this magical fantasy land and find themselves caught up in a wild adventure of good against evil that will ultimately see them fight in a great battle for, errmm! good over evil.

So thats the outline. Filmed in New Zealand, apparently with the same team that made rings, Narnia brings a captivating image to the screen that picks you up and twirls you around like a leaf on the wind. Its truly magical storytelling, of course helped considerably by the subject matter, but we should not underestimate the abilities of Andrew Adamson and crew. This could so easily have been truly silly.

For a movie than contained 4 children between the ages of 10 and 18 it is surprising that the performance that stood out as awkward layed significantly in the lap of a more established cast member. Of the children the 10 year old Georgie Henley made a valiant effort but when your 10 its real hard to act natural when you dont really know what natural is, so she spends most of the movie over acting. At the other end of the scale William Moseley the older brother and reluctant leader appeared as distant and a little awkward. This may have been a requirement of the character but if this was the case then it came just across wrong , for my mind.

Of the adults I thought the redoubtable Jim Broadbent just hadnt figured how he was going to play the role. In his short time onscreen we see him play the Professor in about three different ways. Of the other adults I really enjoyed James McAvoy's tender Mr Tumnus with Tilda Swinton basicaly doing what she does exceedingly well.

Apart from that, Skandar Keynes as the irksome younger brother had the most scope to breath as the errant one of the 4 children and accomplished it with some aplomb. It seems that the Susan character was only there to hug the dead Jesus, err I mean Azlan and be the catalyst for his raising from the dead.

In the religious allegory front there was a lot of talk about the christian foundations of the story, and that may be the case in the book, but Narnia does not preach. It handles the key Azlan scene, for which there really was no avoidance, with real respect for the original storytelling and the passage from the bible it closely resembles, but with presence of mind for a modern audience.

Visually, this movie is stunning. It presented Narnia, as a truly unreal fantastical world without giving you the impression you were looking at a lot of CGI effects, and that for a start is a very good thing. The reality and scope of the CGI animals was staggering, as was the detail each was rendered. You could literally see each hair on Azlan's mane moving in the breeze and that is truly amazing for a rendered animal.

A combination of good story and great visualisation make this a superb spectacle for all the family. I would have no problem plucking this from my DVD shelf and watching it as a one off by myself and can't wait to hear what Mr. Adamson has to say for himself in the commentary. No problem at all and a director to look out for in the future.


Director
Andrew Adamson
Writer
CS Lewis, Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring
Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Kiran Shah, James Cosmo
Studio
Buena Vista
Genre
Childrens Fantasy
RunTime
132 minutes
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
$649,897,443+
Released
2005
Phone Booth : DVD : 23 May 2005
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Joel Schumacher is one of those poeple that you just know is a movie director without actually being able to name any of the movies he has been credited with, well thats me anyways.

So if your struggling, let me give you a hand;

St Elmos Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), Flatliners (1990), Dying Young (1991), Falling Down (1993), The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Batman & Robin (1997), 8MM (1999), Flawless (1999), Tigerland (2000), Bad Company (2002), Phone Booth (2002), Veronica Guerin (2003), Phantom of the Opera (2004) ...

So now we know what Joel Schumacher is about!

Phone Booth is a relatively short movie that charts a few hours in the life of Stu Shepard at the close of an autumn evening in New York. Stu is a wise, quick talking publicist that does his best work while pacing the streets and is so wrapped up in a world of angles and ploys that his life has become the big deal that didnt quite work out.

Lured and then cornered in a Phone Booth by a would be avenger that has wised to his game Stu is forced to own up to the shambles of his life and let those around him that have shown love how he has betrayed their trust.

As such, all of this movie, and we are talking pretty much every frame revolves around Colin Farrell of which 70 minutes takes place in a phone box.

While spending 70 minutes in a confined space with Farrell might be appealing to many, I know several that would jump at the chance, it is not the basis one would expect for a blockbuster movie.

Fortunately the engaging script, steady directorial hand of Mr Schumacher and the outstanding breadth of acting on display from Colin Farrell make this a rewarding and entertaining 80 minutes and one which I immediately repeated in the company of Mr Shcumachers informative commentary.

On the face of it, Stu's predicament might seem unlikely and pretty unbelievable but the script and Schumacher easily divert our attentions by surrounding Farrell with standout supporting performances. In the main Paula Jai Parker as the stripper from the bar across the road and John Enos III as her 'boss' really give a grounding that adds to your buy in of the story and the street its set in.

As the movie got over the initial stage setting and the full ego mania of Stu's captive kicked in I have to admit that the story started to lose its grip on me, but I was soon brought back and by the time we get to the crunch of the matter I was on the edge of my seat.

The DVD contains a making of featurette which is remarkable in the main because it shows how the movie was filmed in just 10 days, while the commentary by Joel Schumacher is informative and laden with homages to those that made and starred in the movie.


Director
Joel Schumacher
Writer
Larry Cohen
Starring
Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell, Richard T. Jones, Maile Flanagan
Studio
20th Century Fox
Genre
Drama, Thriller
Runtime
87 Mins
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
£54,795,352
Released
2003
Man On Fire: Cinema : 19 April 2005
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Creasy has been there seen it and done it. When we mean done it we mean special forces, special operations, covert operations and all sorts of shady dealings. All this indicates at the beginning of the movie, as he arrives in Mexico city that he is a man that has seen more life than he would probably cared to have and killed too many people to make life significant. You might also consider him to be an angel sent back to redeem his wicked life, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Our mans memories have taken a toll on his well being that sees an over dependance on alcohol and a depreciation of his physical abilities. Convinced by a long term friend (Walken) in Mexico to take on a position as a body guard for a hard up car manufacturer, he soon finds himself the guardian of a precocious nine year old, which is the beginning of his redemption. Their onscreen relationship is what allows us to buy into the last ours attrition.

I could wax lirical for endless paragraphs but really all that needs to be said is that this is an excellent movie. Its brilliantly acted by all, the story holds up throughout and Mr Washington is mesmerising.

Visually Ridley Scotts brother Tony, he of Top Gun gives is loads of candy to feast upon while the story at its heart is centred around themes of revenge and redemption also spends a good proportion building up our understanding for the course Creasy takes in the last half of the story.

This is pretty much the best movie I have seen in a long while and one I have enjoyed with those that love this genre and those that would normally prefer spending their movie watching hours laughing along wth Love Actually.


Director
Tony Scott
Writer
Brian Helgeland
Starring
Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Rachel Ticotin and Mickey Rourke
Studio
20th Century Fox
Genre
Action, Crime, Thriller
Runtime
Unknown
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
£66,496,471
Released
2005
The Manchurian Candidate : DVD: 16 April 2005
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I like Jonathen Demmes style. His movies seem to me at least to be understated works of art. They start, inform, entertain and finish. Thats not to say that Mr Demme's movies provide entertainment in the classic movie going mold.

The plot of Manchurian is the mother of all cliche' in that we have a major corporate brainwashing soldiers with a view to getting one of them elected to control the American government while one of the soldiers, slowly awaking to the truth attempts to unravel the conspiracy.

So, your probably sitting there thinking; "So its rubbish then?"

Well, no, its actually rather good. Not because of the plot, the story and character path in the final reel were relatively easy to determine within ten minutes. The movie itself succeeds for three reasons;

1) It has Denzil Washington as the leading role

2) The filmakers, realising the shortcomings in story decided to decorate the entire movie with slight of hand plot, visual and audio devices that really are engaging.

3) The characters are played by strong actors throughout. For my mind it was the characterisation provided by the actors that made this movie engaging throughout.

Definately worth the time of your day if you want something that isnt defined by body count or bare flesh.

DVD Extras
Not much on offer here. For my mind a directors commentary is mandatory and this one along with the screen writer is interesting and informative if not a little to much 'industry' in that there was to much of

"Oh actor XX usually gets bigger parts but we were really pleased when he agreed to do what is quite a small role"

Rubbish they need to earn money and get their faces on the screen.

There is a brief documentary on the making of the movie which contains some interviews.


Director
Jonathan Demme
Writer
Daniel Pyne, Dean Georgias
Starring
Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Kimberly Elise, Jeffrey Wright, Ted Levine
Studio
Paramount Pictures
Genre
Drama, Thriller
Runtime
130 minutes
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
£53,825,748
Released
2004
The Last Samurai : DVD
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Dont quite know what I was expecting from The Last Samurai, heard lots of good stuff via word of mouth and from written reviews stating that this was Cruises most deliberately under stated role, favouring the movie as a whole.

For my mind, having watched the movie, its good. There are some genuinely captivating moments, many awkward and some downright uncomfertable.

The first 15 minutes, I think deliberately show us the worst of cliched drunken, screwed up american soldier (Captian) working as a circus sideshow during the late 1800's. This being Tom Cruise.

He then somehow gets recruited by the Japanese emporer to run the old world Samuria out of the rural villages of new world Japan using the best of American war machinery and tactics.

Where this film shines, literally shines like a brilliant star, is in its presentation of japanese life as it was supposedly at that time, its precision, stiocism and attention to detail, in a word, beautiful.

Pity then that having displayed this unique and most delicate portrayal of 18th Century Japanese life the movie should degenerate into the worst in american war glorification.

Tom Cruise obviously decided he was going to make this movie and therefore was not involved in any casting for the role. He is good in places, mostly the understated middle section where japanese culture takes centre stage but back to his 'days of thunder' self undulgant worst in others. He is a actor well respected by directors for the effort he puts into roles, which is always on screen, but it feels like he is the just the wrong person for the role.

As an example, Cruises journey from a swashbuckling cavalryman, through to accompllished wielder of the Japanese sword is cleverly accomplished and demonstrated through the best passage of the movie; the middle hour.

His transition from accomplished japanese sword wielder too taking on 5 japanese mercenaries in a street fight including two sword, ultra slow mo is the worst. Entertaining in itself but entirely out of place in context to the rest of the movie. I'm surprised they resisted inter cutting the slow mo with real time footage and rotating the camera to create matrix like scenes and totally stinks, as I said in the movies overall context.

The whole japanese cast even down to the despicable Omura (a non movie actor) is played brilliantly.

Ken Watanabe demands your attention whenever he is onscreen, supremely charasmatic and brilliantly cast as a leader men would lay their lives on the line for without question at a moments notice. The beautiful Koyuki; demure personified as the wife of the samurai killed by Cruise, of who she has to care and nourish, not without protest. I was gratefull they never concluded their flowering relationship with a 'love' scene, it would have betrayed everything beautiful the movie makers had skillfully achieved upto that point.

Admirable was the casting for the Emporer, not what you would immediately expect and another non movie actor.

Billy Connolly thankfully departs within 15 minutes, along with an awful irish accent and thankfully, (again) doesnt come back.

Tony Goldwyn was efficient within the confines of the cliched evil and twice as stupid Colonel Bagley (I kept thinking I know him from somewhere until it downed on me, the Swayze buddie come baddie in ghost).

Someone should shake Edward Zwicks hand and the rest of the production team (which in the main seemed western) for portraying the japanese with the most delicate of touches and then slap him round the face for allowing the movie to degenerate into popcorn gratification for the top gun audience.

Soundtrack by the redoubtable Mr Zimmer is beautiful and to his usual high standards, a welcome companion though the movie even when the story telling lowers its own.

Watch this movie for the middle hour and the asian actors, they outshine anything else beside the sound track and ultimately make this a well spent two hours or so of your leisure time.

DVD Extras
I listened to the directors commentary twice too see if Mr Zwick could redeem himself, he didnt, but it was never the less very interesting to listen too and I thought very telling that he opens the commentary discussing the compromise and frustration he had to endure in the making of the movie.

The are a descent number of extras on show here, the ones with Tom Cruise are mostly the usual worrying self congratulating by the numbers interviews.

Having watched many of these for his generally good movies, you get the impression of a lonely person that is surrounded by lots of people that want a piece of him and therefore spend a lot of time saying 'yes'. He does appear a little more modest than in the commentary for the brilliant Jerry Mcquire.

The extras that shine for this movie are in the production and costuming , genuinely interesting if the matter of movie making is interesting to you.


Director
Ed Zwick
Writer
John Logan
Starring
Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Ken Watanabe, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shun Sugata, Shin Koyamada, Seizo Fukumoto, Schichinosuke Nakamura, Koyuki, Masato Harada, Sosuke Ikematsu, Aoi Minato
Studio
Warner Bros.
Genre
Action, Adventure, Drama, War
Runtime
144 minutes
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
£255,815,632
Released
2003

Paycheck : DVD
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Philip K Dick for anyone that follows Science Fiction is a bit of a god when it comes to writing original stories that seem to make it to the movie screen. Off the top of my head we have Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report (probably many others) and now Paycheck directed by none other than Mr Woo, John Woo.

The first hour of this movie is quality of the very highest order, I was almost delireous at the thought the story was hinting at, that has a plastic looking Ben Affleck as a top technologist that sends himself a envelope of everyday trivia, doesnt remember why and spends the rest of the movie working out what it all means (and I cant tell you why cos it would spoil the fun of the first hour).

Thats the good of it. The worst of it is the story only provides us with just over an hours worth of story which means the remaining hour is filled with standard John Woo fair, which ordinarily would be cool. But for reasons that he explains in the commentary he deliberatly toned down the visual panache he is known for in favour of what he thought was the story of an ordinary man.

Ultimately misguided and cheapens the last hour, considerably.

Ben Affleck is ok, Uma is fantastic initially but her character is woefully underused and the rest of thecharacters are formula.

So overall a brilliant concept well concieved in quality hitchcockian style for the first hour but runs out of steam badly in the second with big name stars either under used or stymied by awful script.

Shame. Another one for Friday night with the mates.

DVD Extras
The directors commentary is good, humble and unashamedly honest about his plagerism of the hitchcock style and his own shortcomings as a sci fi director. Makes the extras worthwhile all by itself. I havent listened to the one by the screenwriter yet. The other extras are the sort you will see on Sky in 3 months when it goes to Sky Premier so dont rush out for the extra DVD.



Director
John Woo
Writer
Dean Georgaris
Starring
Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Michael C. Hall, Aaron Eckhart, Kathryn Morris, Paul Giamatti, Colm Feore, Joe Morton
Studio
Paramount Pictures
Genre
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Runtime
120 minutes
Boxoffice(Worldwide)
£53,445,802
Released
2003
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