Archive for April, 2010

At a time when women maintained little control over their own lives or that of the men around them, Victoria (Emily Blunt) in her youthful stubbornness refused to relinquish either.

In 1837, Victoria’s uncle King William (Jim Broadbent) died and she was crowned the queen of England at 18. As everyone anticipated the coronation, they all spent the year prior plotting to gain her favour and confidence. Her mother’s (Miranda Richardson) controller Sir John (Mark Strong) is the most adamant and unsuccessful as Victoria has already seen his influence on the Duchess. On the other hand, Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) manages to charm his way to the position of her personal adviser, furthering his own ambitions in the process. Finally there is Albert (Rupert Friend), hand-selected by Victoria’s uncle the king of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) to seduce the soon-to-be queen. However, they are surprised when they connect on a much deeper level and must decide which to put first: country or love.

For a historical picture the pace is relatively good with enough new plot developments to maintain a steady momentum. On the other hand, there are a lot of important details to pay attention to while watching to understand the gravity of a mistake or the significance of a relationship. There is no attempt made to draw attention to particularly pertinent pieces of dialogue so it is often not until the element comes into play that one realizes what the characters were talking about earlier was of importance.

All the actors give strong performances. Blunt exhibits the petulance of a child one moment, then the strength of a ruler the next; so many emotions are required of her and she displays them all credulously. Bettany is like a snake gaining an advantageous position with his forked tongue; it’s always obvious he knows he’s being deceitful. Conversely, Friend is sincere and thoughtful, genuinely resembling a school boy in love when communicating with Victoria. Strong is simply easy to hate as he reveals no redeeming qualities.

The sets are eye-catching and shown repeatedly as the story jumps from palace to palace. Victoria was the first member of the royal family to live in Buckingham Palace. In addition, the costumes are fitting though few of the women’s dresses appear extravagantly noble. The love theme for the film is Sinead O’Connor’s “Only You.”

Special features include: deleted scenes; “The Real Queen Victoria”; and four behind-the-scenes featurettes: a making-of, “The Coronation,” “The Wedding,” and “Lavish History: A Look at the Costumes and Locations.”

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Pirate Radio may not be entirely historically accurate, but it is an enjoyable peek into a moment in history.

It’s an irreverent yet fact-based tale of a seafaring band of rogue rock and roll deejays whose pirate radio captivated and inspired 1960s Britain. When a group of rebellious deejays decide to defy the UK government’s ban on rock music, they take to the seas to broadcast music and mayhem to millions of adoring fans.

It goes without saying the soundtrack to this film is astounding, ranging from The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones; though as one informed viewer points out, the songs are not chronically accurate by release date. Nonetheless, even when the storyline weakens slightly, there is a rock classic there to pick up the slack and push the narrative forward.

The cast is fantastic and very well chosen. Nighy rarely disappoints and his flair for music has been captured on screen here again. Hoffman is equally absorbed by his role in a period that seems to hold great appeal for him. In addition, Pirate Radio is the newest ensemble comedy from filmmaker Richard Curtis (screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, and writer/director of Love Actually).

Special features include: feature commentary with Curtis, producer Hilary Bevan Jones, actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd; and deleted scenes.

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an epic unquestionably worthy of a Blu-ray transfer.

Set in the fictional world of Middle-earth, the three films follow the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as he and a Fellowship (Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, John Rhys Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan and Orlando Bloom) embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring, and thus ensure the destruction of its maker, the Dark Lord Sauron. The Fellowship becomes divided and Frodo continues the quest together with his loyal companion Sam and the treacherous Gollum (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf and Aragorn, heir in exile to the throne of Gondor, unite and rally the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, who are ultimately victorious in the War of the Ring.

This project made household names of the characters as well as the actors that played them. Though its popularity has waned somewhat since the original releases, it is still widely regarded as one of the best and fascinating films put on film.

The world created by Jackson’s imagination and a dedicated crew is often breathtaking and the increased picture quality only amplifies its beauty. In addition, the characters are given new life and vibrancy.

The unfortunate downfall of this release is it does not include the extended director’s cuts of the films. If a re-release was to occur, it is these versions that should have been transferred instead.

The nine-disc set includes three special features DVDs with more than six hours of behind-the-movie featurettes (included in previous DVD releases) and digital copies of all three films.

Black is the perfect union of James Bond-style action and African folklore.

Black (MC Jean Gab’1) just survived a botched armoured car robbery and feeling as if nothing can go his way when he receives a phone call from an African cousin with a juicy tip on a really big job: the bank is holding more than a dozen uncut diamonds and he has access to the key. Black cannot get on a plane fast enough. However, the straightforward heist is complicated by Russian military, natives with machetes and giant supernatural snakes. Lucky for Black, he is found by Pamela (Carole Karemera), who becomes his butt-kicking ally.

The film was directed by French filmmaker Pierre Laffargue and filmed primarily in Senegal, as well as Paris. Laffargue says the main reason to shoot in Senegal was to display the beautiful city in a way that has yet to be done on film. The stunning setting also allows for the inclusion of local legend. In this case, it is believed every person has a totem animal that is representative of his or her personality; transmogrification is not impossible and leads to the enhancement of a great villain that is slowly becoming snake-like. In addition to incorporating traditional African lore, the film’s underlying plot is a commentary on war diamonds, which is a major issue in Africa.

The actors are flawless. Gab’1 exudes confidence and masculinity, as any successful international thief should. Karemera’s dance background is an obvious asset as she moves very fluidly in the action sequences. In addition, Laffargue boasts that she went against the grain of French women who look silly shooting a gun; rightly, she looks convincing and in charge most of the time.

Special features include: documentary chronicling Gab’1’s coming to Montreal; interviews with Gab’1, Laffargue and a producer; a making-of featurette; and a booklet with an exclusive director’s note and foreword.

The ’80s were big for fantasy pictures of epic adventures, so the production of Clash of the Titans fit in perfectly.

Valorous Perseus (Harry Hamlin), mortal son of Zeus (Laurence Olivier) sets out to fulfill his destiny by rescuing beloved Andromeda (Judi Bowker) from the wrath of goddess Thetis (Maggie Smith). Perils await Perseus time and again as he encounters the snake-haired Medusa, fearsome Kraken, winged Pegasus, two-headed dog Dioskilos, giant scorpions and more.

The great part about films in this genre at this time is the use of practical effects versus CGI. Eye-filling thrills await viewers as stop-motion effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) unleashes a variety of creatures onto the screen. The monsters appear somewhat ridiculous by today’s standards (hence the 2010 remake), but they are still incredibly entertaining even if they’re not as intimidating. Also, the oral history of these creatures lends itself to their imperfect appearances as they are only seen as they’ve been described.

The acting is above average for this type of film, helping raise it above the likes of Conan the Barbarian. Hamlin is wonderful as the brave, impulsive Perseus. Most other characters are secondary and inconsequential, but they round out the cast well.

Special features include: a conversation with Harryhausen and a “Myths and Monsters” gallery.

Families are excellent subjects for horror movies because it is impossible to know what is happening behind closed doors. Furthermore, the addition of a “new” person into an already established, even if broken, dynamic is an easy cause of issues.

When Michael Harding (Penn Badgley) returns home from military school, he finds his mom (Sela Ward) is madly in love with her charming live-in boyfriend David (Dylan Walsh). At first, David appears to be the ultimate nice guy and an ideal future husband and stepfather. But when Michael and his girlfriend (Amber Heard) start delving into David’s past, they begin to discover a dark and dangerous side to Michael’s new “daddy.”

The plot structure for this movie works very well because none of the stepfather’s early actions can be interpreted as outright acts of malice; moreover, it’s difficult to even be sure from within the story if he actually did something most of the time. This allows the mother not to appear weak and foolish, while still allowing Michael enough room for suspicion.

Walsh is adequately insane throughout his scenes and conjures that frightening look of crazy in all the right moment; on the other hand, he also looks like a nice, trustworthy man most other times. Badgley is grown enough to represent a physical challenge to the stepfather and his determination to find the truth is sincere.

Special features include: commentary with director Nelson McCormick, Badgley and Walsh; a making-of featurette; “Visualizing the Stunts” featurette; a gag reel; and movieIQ.

Jennifer Lopez and Alex O'Loughlin in The Back-up Plan (photo courtesy of Alliance Films)

The Back-up Plan is one of the year’s first genuinely witty romantic comedies.

After years of dating, Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) has decided waiting for the Mr. Right is taking too long. Determined to become a mother, she commits to a plan, makes an appointment and decides to go it alone. That same day, Zoe meets Stan (Alex O’Loughlin) – a man with real potential. Trying to nurture a budding relationship becomes a comedy of errors for Zoe and creates confusing signals for Stan. Anyone can fall in love, get married and have a baby, but doing it backwards is a real test.

Rather than repeating the same tired jokes about midnight cravings, the film goes a little deeper with body image and relationship issues. Zoe misses her “old ass,” while she and Stan struggle with their unique situation; from Stan’s point of view, he worries Zoe has become another person that has replaced him with a body pillow. While some of their problems are very real and serious, writers managed to inject humour into most of the situations.

Another key element to the film is the hilarious secondary characters. Zoe’s best friend (Michaela Watkins) is a mother of four, but thinks Zoe is crazy for wanting children because she hates her own – her dark humour is incredibly entertaining. Stan makes friends with a father (Anthony Anderson) in a nearby playground that has a similar view of parenthood, which means he causes Stan more concern than ease. Finally, the leader (Melissa McCarthy) of a single mothers support group (and its members) – or group for women without a penis partner – is so quirky, each of her appearances brings a laugh out loud moment. Overall, the recognizability of the cast is enjoyable.

The chemistry between Lopez and O’Loughlin is actually quite tangible. They appear to be a real couple, whether experiencing ups or downs in their relationship. The romantic moments they share appear genuine, however disastrous the results. Lopez has always excelled in these roles (see Maid in Manhattan), appearing natural and funny. O’Loughlin has made significant improvements since his previous endeavour as a private eye-slash-vampire in Moonlight, now more charming and believable while still smart and handsome.

One of the movie’s memorable innovations is a custom-made, convertible stroller that is simply inspired. On the other hand, the baby obsessed animation in the title sequence is funny but slightly disturbing too; nonetheless, it was a creative representation of Zoe’s ticking clock.