Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.

*THERE WILL ALWAYS BE SPOILERS*

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Shrek

Year: 2001 (Shrek), 2004 (Shrek 2), 2007 (Shrek 3), 2010 (Shrek 4)
Running time: 90 minutes (Shrek), 93 minutes (Shrek 2), (Shrek 3), (Shrek 4)
Certificate: U
Language: English
Screenplay: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S. H. Schulman (Shrek), Andrew Adamson, Joe Stillman, J. David Stem, David N. Weiss (Shrek 2), Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Chris Miller, Aron Warner (Shrek 3), Josh Klausner, Darren Lemke (Shrek 4)
Director: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson (Shrek), Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2), Chris Miller (Shrek 3), Mike Mitchell (Shrek 4)
Starring (voices): Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow, Vincent Cassel, Antonio Banderas, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Rupert Everett, Jennifer Saunders, Eric Idle, Justin Timberlake, Jon Hamm, Walt Dohrn

Dave.

Shrek and Donkey begin to see there's more to Fiona than they thought.
Shrek was one of the first non-Pixar CG feature films to pull in numbers like a Pixar film, and it's not hard to see why. It's full of ingenious story ideas, a great wit and an ear for the ideal song to accompany the plot developments. Shrek is a grumpy ogre who just wants to be left in peace. When his cosy swamp is invaded by a host of various fairytale creatures, he finds himself agreeing to rescue a princess from a dragon-guarded castle just to get some peace. The premise is marvellous and allows the writers to poke good-natured fun at any fairytale they feel like (allegedly, they got approval from Disney before releasing it), while simultaneously fulfilling the classic fairytale scenario.

Shrek and its sequels are among my daughter's favourite films, and I can honestly say that there are still several genuine laugh-out-loud moments even after multiple viewings, which is a true testament to the level of quality on show here. Although everyone gets a fair share of good lines, as is the case with films like this, it is the sidekick who steals the show, and Eddie Murphy's Donkey gets the vast majority of the best material, and his delivery is sublime proof that Murphy can still deliver quality comedy even when shackled with family-friendly material. Second only to Donkey in hilarity is Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow), the vertically challenged villain of the piece, who has built himself a monstrous castle and has scores of armed men at his command to compensate for his lack of height (or, as Shrek suggests in a U certificate way, a less than impressive penis size). The scene in which Farquaad is putting the Gingerbread Man to the question ("Not the buttons, not my gumdrop buttons!") is one of the funniest non-donkey scenes in the whole franchise.

Shrek 2 was inevitable considering the box office of the first one, and thankfully it's just as much of a riot. After marrying Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), Shrek has to meet the in-laws, the king and queen of Far Far Away. In order to give Fiona the happily ever after he thinks she wants, Shrek triggers a magic spell that turns them both human. The jokes come thicker and faster, with a new sidekick competing with Donkey: Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, presented here as a Zorro-like sword-wielding bounty hunter ("Fear me, if you dare!"). The two of them create a cracking double act as they spark off each other throughout.

Puss in Boots; assassin, hustler, scene-stealer.
Unfortunately, the villains are not up to the standard of Lithgow's Lord Farquaad, but Jennifer Saunders and Rupert Everett as a corrupt fairy godmother and her foppish son Prince Charming do well enough.

Shrek the Third, as is so often the case with the third part of a franchise nowadays, lets the side down. Shrek finds himself in line for the throne of Far Far Away and sets off to find distant relative Arthur (Justin Timberlake) to take the job in his place. He also has nightmares of ogre babies when Fiona tells him she's pregnant. A new team of writers just can't compete with the joke hit ratio of the first two, and apart from a dwarf saying "Where's the baby?" in a funny voice John Cleese gets the only genuinely funny scene, in which, ironically, he is dying painfully (much like the franchise itself).

One problem with the story is that 'Artie' is clearly supposed to be King Arthur, but the inherent Britishness of the Arthur legend is lost when the action is relocated to a clearly American prep school. Much worse than this is the criminal wastage of the two best characters, who are reduced to a lazily conceived body-swap plot. The biggest problem I have with it is the villain. Shrek 2 went to a lot of trouble to point out that without his mother Prince Charming was stupid, vain and generally a waste of space. So, to have him as the main perpetrator is woefully inadequate and completely non-threatening. I realise that jokes are often more important in films like this, but as mentioned, these are also in painfully short supply.
Shrek and Artie fail to find the funny.
Dreamworks gave itself a chance to rectify the mistake that was Shrek the Third, as due to the sheer financial weight the franchise pulls part 4 was already greenlit before part 3 was even released. Shrek Forever After: now that is how to save your franchise. 'The Final Chapter' triumphantly returns the franchise to the quality of the first two films. Almost. Our big green hero is unhappy with his happy ending, and yearns to leave his settled existence and return to the frightening ogre of the past, shunned and feared by all and sundry. Enter the best series villain since Lord Farquaad: Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn). A truly effective bad guy, he is comedic but he also has a vicious mean streak - he evidently revels in the distress he inflicts on others. The nasty little imp convinces Shrek to sign a magical contract that plunges him into an existence where nothing is familiar, Rumpel rules a run down Far Far Away and ogres are hunted by 'stiltskin's personal army of witches.

There is plenty of scope for comedy with alternate versions of the characters, the best of which are Puss in Boots, who is one fat and pampered cat, and the Gingerbread Man, who is a vicious gladiatorial cookie fighting in death matches set up by the muffin man. Fiona is the leader of an underground ogre resistance fighting against Rumpelstiltskin's oppression, and it's here the film finds its emotional heart. Abandoned to the dragon's keep for countless years and forced to wait for a true love who never turned up, she is a half princess half ogre loner who has long since abandoned the possibility of romance. Shrek finds he has his work cut out as he has a limited amount of time to save his old life and family by causing Fiona to fall for him all over again. It wouldn't be much of a spoiler if I told you he did, and just in the nick of time, too.

Not quite as high a laugh quota as the first two, but a vast improvement on Shrek the Third, this is a quality addition to the series, and an appropriate place to call it a day. Notwithstanding the Puss in Boots spin-off, naturally.

Score:
Shrek: 8/10
Shrek 2: 8/10
Shrek the Third: 3/10
Shrek Forever After: 7/10

Rachel.

Shrek and Shrek 2 are great family films with story lines and humour to entertain both adults and kids alike - in fact Dave and I saw the first three films without any children in tow! Memorable characters and jokes abound, with my particular favourite being the 'ogres are like onions' metaphor in Shrek. The writing is so good on both of them, I can't choose between the two.

Shrek and Rumpelstiltskin talk magic wishes.
As for Shrek the Third, oh dear! This is much less entertaining, particularly for adults, so it is not nearly as family-friendly. I quite liked the scene in which the fairytale princesses give Fiona a baby shower, and that's about it. Instantly forgettable.

I'm glad they decided to make Shrek Forever After, because it means the dreadful third film won't be the franchise finale. The story works really well because it allows the writers to craft lots of new jokes around the alternate version of the world Shrek finds himself in. It reminded me of It's a Wonderful Life as Shrek finds out what the world would have been like without him.

Not as good as the first two films, but still decent, with a satisfying ending.

Score:
Shrek: 8/10
Shrek 2: 8/10
Shrek the Third: 3/10
Shrek Forever After: 7/10

Opinions on the Shrek franchise generally appear to coincide with ours based on these reviews: Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Collateral

Year: 2004
Running time: 120 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Stuart Beattie
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo

Dave.

Vincent's night is not going to plan.
Michael Mann is probably one of the best directors around when it comes to making slick, tense crime thrillers, so you can be pretty sure even before Collateral begins you'll be in good hands from start to finish. It takes a moment or two to get over being asked to accept Tom Cruise as a cold-blooded killer, so it's a testament both the director and actor that after a few minutes of him onscreen you're no longer consciously watching Tom Cruise, but his character Vincent, and you have little doubt that he is every bit the remorseless assassin. More surprising than this however, is Jamie Foxx, previously stand up comedian, as Max, the cabbie unlucky enough to get stranded with a psychotic killer for the night. He's very believable as an average person facing extraordinary circumstances, and his grounded performance is truly superb.

There's relatively little in the way of plot - Max is a taxi driver with ambitions to be something more, who is struck by Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a fare he gets one day. Later that day, against his better judgement he agrees to take Vincent's offer for a fare for the night. It doesn't take long to notice that Vincent has multiple stops where he intends to assassinate different targets. Fanning is a cop played by Mark Ruffalo on the trail of bodies left behind by Vincent. There's not much more to it than that, but this leaves plenty of room for Mann to find ways to wind up the tension - see a visit to Max's sick mother and a conversation with one of the victims in a jazz bar for two of the most striking examples. The film continues to wind the tension up a little more scene by scene, until in true Michael Mann style the action explodes in a thrilling gun battle in the middle of a crowded nightclub.

The music, sound and especially the cinematography are outstanding - I could watch those gorgeous birds-eye view shots of LA at night for hours on end.

Unfortunately, the film goes off the boil a little once the characters leave the claustrophobic confines of the cab, but that's to be expected and unavoidable. Also, the contrived, predictable coincidence of Annie being Vincent's final target is a little too much, but when the overall effect is so dazzling, these are minor quarrels indeed.

Not as good as Heat, but then again, very little is.

Score: 8/10

Rachel.

Max is most definitely a man in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
When I remember watching this film, the thing that stands out most in my mind is the darkness, with the night time setting and the whole movie taking place within the course of a single evening. This darkness echoes the content of the story (assassination), which works really well. Supporting Dave's comments, Tom Cruise plays a blinder and forgetting the actor in real life and his previous roles, you find it easy to buy into him as a cold-blooded killer.

All in all a great looking film with an entertaining story. Definitely worth a watch!

Score: 7/10

Joshua at Cinema Blend thinks much the same, as does Colin at Empire.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Monsters, Inc.

Year: 2001
Running time: 92 minutes
Certificate: U
Language: English
Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Daniel Gerson
Director: Pete Docter
Starring (voices): John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Mary Gibbs, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly

Dave.

So far, Pixar have done no wrong. It doesn't matter which one of their films you see, it is brimming over with a sharp wit, wonderful originality and some of the finest animation ever seen. The person that came up with the idea that monsters scare kids because the screams power their city is touched by brilliance, but that wonderful central story idea is just the start. Monsters, Inc. is the power company responsible for collecting the screams, and it is where our heroes James P. Sullivan aka 'Sulley' (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) work. Using some ingenious monster technology, they have a huge network of doors to bedrooms all over the world where Sulley creeps in to scare the kids and Mike collects the screams on the factory floor.

Mike and Sulley head to work.
However, the brightly coloured Monstropolis is not without trouble. There is a looming scream shortage, on account of kids growing up sooner and being less frightened. When Sulley notices a young girl (a human child, the most toxic thing there is) entering the monster world he embarks on a quest to firstly, save himself, then save his and Mike's careers, and finally save Boo (the girl, voiced convincingly by the then 5 year-old Mary Gibbs) from a dastardly plot involving kidnapping children and attaching them to a frighteningly huge machine built to extract screams more efficiently.

Like every Pixar film Monsters, Inc. works perfectly and effortlessly on a number of levels - there is bright slapstick comedy for kids (the best example of which is Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi) and his end at the hands of a trailer park mom with a shovel), but there is layer upon layer of in-jokes for children of all ages, such as the restaurant Harryhausen's, named after the effects wizard who first portrayed monsters onscreen using cutting edge stop-motion animation techniques. Although all Pixar films have lots of comedy, Monsters, Inc. is so far the most relentlessly funny by some margin, thanks largely to the remarkable performance given by Billy Crystal, who invests Mike Wazowski with an irresistibly charming mix of naive gullibility and think-on-your-feet cunning. Sulley is clearly Pixar's best achievement in animation in this film, but it's Mike who steals the show.

The climax is one of Pixar's most thrilling, a real roller-coaster ride following Sulley and Mike as they race to get Boo safely back to her bedroom. The imagination and ingenuity that has gone into the design of the door-storage part of the factory is staggering and provides all kinds of opportunities for laughs and action as the chase continues through doors to different bedrooms the world over.

It's not just played for laughs or thrills, however - no Pixar film would dare be so shallow. There are moments that resonate emotionally too, tapping in to that all-too-familiar fear of the dark and what might be hiding in it, and when Mike shows Sulley Boo's door near the end, reassembled piece by painstaking piece, don't be surprised to find yourself with a lump in your throat and your eyes filling up. And when the the door opens, and you hear Boo's voice off screen: "Kitty!" it's enough to soften the hardest of hearts, and a perfect ending.

It doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of the Toy Story trilogy, but it's fabulous nonetheless.

Score: 8/10

Rachel.

Sulley comes face-to-face with his biggest fear; a human child.
A film to have kids for! Complementing what Dave has said in his review, a Pixar film gives you confidence that it will be enjoyable for all ages. Monsters, Inc. is full of unforgettable characters, hilarious jokes that work on a number of levels and introduces the romantic notion for kids that monsters are just as scared of you as you are of them.

On a more technical note, one of the best scenes is where Sulley and Mike have been banished to Tibet and thousands of separately animated strands of the big blue monster's fur are blowing in the wind - fantastic animation.

All round classic family entertainment!

Score: 8/10

Unsurprisingly, there isn't much in the way of negative criticism out there for Monsters, Inc. These reviews from Ram and Roger Ebert are largely in agreement.