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Fantasy

Night at the Museum

dir: Shawn Levy
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I know, I know, no-one really expects me to be capable of sitting through a PG-rated flick without a straitjacket being involved, and those metal clasps keeping my eyes open. But I do, on occasion, watch flicks you would ordinarily require children to gain entry to if you’re not going to have parents looking at you like they were advertising for babysitters and you arrived dressed up like Michael Jackson.

Night at the Museum, something which looks utterly stupid, was playing at the IMAX theatre located just around the corner from where I live, and my significantly better half evinced an interest in seeing it on the super silver screen, so we trundled over to check it out.

I’m not remarkably surprised by the fact that I enjoyed the flick and got a few laughs out of it, but let’s just say it helps to have spent the last few weeks inundated with nieces and nephews making every moment a screaming, whining living hell. Of course, escaping to a packed theatre full of kids would seem like jumping out of the frying pan and into a nuclear reactor, but at least a couple of hours respite from the particular kids I’m talking about was still appreciated. When will the War on Christmas be finally won, anyway?

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Charlotte's Web

dir: Gary Winick
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The prospect of watching a new, big-budget version of a children’s classic is quite daunting. The big budget means they have to cater to the widest of wide and low-brow audiences, and the ‘classics’ origins means they’re either going to offend the purists or bore the unwashed who are also unread.

And Charlotte’s Web hardly needed to be made. Sure, the cartoon from the 70s wasn’t exactly gold, but director George Miller pretty much remade Charlotte’s Web a bunch of year’s ago and called it Babe to much acclaim.

That being the case, the film Charlotte’s Web is most reminiscent of, of course, is Babe. It has the same use of CGI mouths for talking animals, and a bunch of humans in key roles as well. What it has on top of that is a lot of celebrity voices meant to make audiences “Awww” instead of going “eh”.

Could Charlotte’s Web not have been made without the voices of Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi et al? Was anyone staring at a poster for this film and thinking, “this is going to be crap, I’m not taking the squealing piglets along to this”, then saw the list of people supplying wise cracks and thought “Wow, how wrong was I, it has celebrity voices! I’m taking everyone I know and their dog to see this one now?”

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Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

dir: Gore Verbinski
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If some films are like non-stop rollercoaster rides, this one here is the rollercoaster ride as viewed by someone on the ground. It’s an endless series of continuous action set pieces which don’t really amount to much but sure are fun to the people on board.

In this case, the go switch is stuck on the ride, the operator is too busy reading a nudie magazine to notice, and the thrills on board have evaporated as the passengers check their watches and just want to get off.

You could never accuse these flicks of lacking characters or plot. Dead Man’s Chest has enough plot for a dozen action-adventure-fantasy-pirate flicks, and enough characters for a Broadway production of Les Miserables.

At the end of the first flick, it seemed Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) were going to live happily ever after, with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) having regained control of his beloved ship the Black Pearl, off to commit more dastardly piratical acts.

The beginning of the sequel finds our heroic couple stymied in their attempts to enter into the devilish contract known as marriage by evil aristocrat Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander), who works on behalf of the East India Trading Company.

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Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The

dir: Andrew Adamson
[img_assist|nid=896|title=Just like Lord of the Rings, except blander|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
I don’t usually get to watch G or PG rated flicks at the cinema. And it’s not due to the result of any court proceedings or angry parent’s groups with pitchforks and flaming torches. Rarely does a thusly rated movie justify my scant money and precious time. It’s not only smutty hellish violence and lewdness that inspires me to venture forth. Usually, if it doesn’t have at least ‘adult themes’, I’m not always interested in what one of these sappy movies has to say.

It’s a definite, unfortunate bias on my part. It means I miss out on seeing some admirable flicks on the big, unfocused screen. It means I miss out on being annoyed by legions of hyper-animated munchkins in the seats around my position in the cinema.

It means a lot of things. But I decided to breach the conditions of my self-imposed restraining order and make the long journey into a theatre to watch this here epic.

I have fond memories of reading the Narnia books as a child. I read them at around the time where I was in my Enid Blyton-reading prime. So the activities of well-scrubbed, full of pluck, British boys and girls around the time of the second War with the Germans engaging in acts of derring-do and crime solving are part of my upbringing.

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King Kong

dir: Peter Jackson
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Some of you who’ve been reading my reviews over the centuries know that I have a bit of a problem. First time readers will know what the problem is by the end of this gargantuan review of a gargantuan film.

I’m bad at editing my own stuff. It’s hard for me to cut out the constant and endless stream of mirthful pithiness that doth roll forth from my fingers. In writing classes, one of the key phrases they first teach you is “murder your babies”. This is not a recommendation to go out and kill your children because a) they’re annoying, or b) they stop you from writing.

The phrase refers to a good writer’s need to be able cut out whole sections of their own stuff even if they think it’s the brilliantest and wittiest crap written since Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw traded catty insults in a rent boy-filled opium den. Even if it’s a great idea, even if it’s the single greatest idea you’ve ever had, if it doesn’t enhance what you were working on, or fit into the overall scheme of things, you need to be able to drown it without mercy.

Clearly, as you can well see, if the requirement is to ‘murder one’s babies’ in order to write something cohesive and coherent (and entertaining), I am the equivalent of a bloated single mother with an endless brood of hellspawn stinking up the trailer park.

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Constantine

dir: Francis Lawrence
[img_assist|nid=946|title=Great in any language except English|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=450]
There used to be a time, back in the distant reaches of the 90s when everyone knew that Keanu Reeves sucked as an actor but didn’t care. Girlies thought he was cute, and guys thought he was funny in Point Break and Speed, but no-one thought he was much of an actor. Then he starred in a little film called The Matrix, and some people started to take him seriously.

God knows why, since Kanooie’s success in that film was more a matter of him not being allowed to give the world his version of ‘acting’, standing in the right place with the right clothes on, and being an adequate support for the designer sunglasses that he was a prop for. Only for him does a wooden performance actually represent a step up in the acting stakes. In other words, by not always sucking completely in every single film he convinced us that maybe he didn’t suck.

So in coming to a new Kanooie film, you don’t ask ‘Was he good?’, you ask yourself instead ‘Did he not suck too badly?’

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Charlie and the Chocalate Factory

dir: Tim Burton
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When I heard the film was going to be remade, I had a sick feeling in my gut. When I heard Tim Burton would be the one helming it, that sick feeling grew to full blown, explosive nausea.

Maybe it was the hangover, maybe it was the dodgy curry. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. But I can say that see the finished product was a decent cure.

It is a good film. It’s not great, but then having seen the original a few weeks ago as well, neither is that one. Johnny Depp is no Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, but then again clearly no-one wanted him to be.

Instead of going down the track of trying to replicate that experience, Burton has done to this what he mercilessly did to Planet of the Apes: he’s “re-imagined” the character of Willy Wonka. Instead of being a mysterious Wizard of Oz type, eccentric aristocratic figure such as in the book and (to a lesser extent) in the first film, here Wonka is just an out-and-out freak.

Much has been made in the press of the idea that Wonka as played by the deathless and ageless Depp is reminiscent of Michael Jackson and Peter Lorre (the bug-eyed German actor from such classics as M, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon). There’s none of the former and more of the latter, in my estimation.

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Van Helsing

dir: Stephen Sommers
[img_assist|nid=979|title=Even for a flick with Kate Beckinsale in it, this is pretty dumb|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=315|height=395]
Not that anyone asked, or that anyone wants to know, but I can honestly say that I’ve never paid to have sex with a prostitute, a working girl, a ‘lady of the night’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a comment on the ladies, I know they do a hard job and they earn their money bringing to fruition the old business success mantra about the customer always coming first. I joke about hookers and cocaine all the time, but it’s just that: a joke. Who can afford that kind of crap when a bottle of decent single malt whisky costs between $60 and $80?

The reason I hold this particular credo, which has nothing to do with morality or personal ethics or anything of the sort, is that I can imagine after money changed hands and business was taken care of, the deed being done, I’d be filled with a profound emptiness inside. It would come from the fact that I had to pay money to get someone to have sex with me, a person who couldn’t possibly even remotely have any tender feelings towards me. Sure, live long enough and you end up having sex with a bunch of people that can’t stand you and whom you can’t stand, for a multitude of different reasons. But at the very least you shouldn’t have to pay cash for it.

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Night Watch

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
[img_assist|nid=950|title=No wonder some people fall in love with their own reflections|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=360|height=212]
If this is Russia’s answer to The Matrix and the other fantasy / vampire type films Hollywood has pumped out in recent years, perhaps it would’ve been best had the question never been asked.

I am unfortunately in that position where something receiving a lot of buzz and praise has left me muttering “eh” under my breath and in the length, width and girth of my review. I just don’t think that it’s really that good. I am perplexed as to the good press it has received. In a way it feels like people are praising the Russians for producing such a film in the way people praise a retarded child when he starts reading See Spot Run ten years after the other kids, because he’s really trying so hard, and doesn’t he make you want to hug a puppy? Awww…

For me, this film is only different from the recent Constantine film by not having Keanu Reeves in it. They both have fantasy plots based on a war between the forces of Good and Evil, they both had nil characterisation and pointless plots, and they both had resolutions more insulting than revelatory. Still, Constantine was dumb. I’m not sure what Night Watch’s problem is, but it’s not just dumbness.

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Passion of the Christ, The

dir: Mel Gibson
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Oh. My. Gods. I’m, I’m stunned. I cannot believe what I just saw. A movie about a nice enough chap who says a few nice things to people, ends up getting beaten up severely, is then flayed and tenderised like a cheap cut of meat, has thorns wedged though his eyelids, and is then nailed to pieces of wood. They even stab him with a spear in the end just to make sure that he’s dead.

And that’s the film. The vast majority of it centres on and is entirely concerned with his torments. It’s pretty rough, and it kind of makes me feel sorry for anyone who’s undergoing torture right now. Anywhere in the world. You know, at anyone's hands. It's nasty stuff.

Gibson is famous for a lot of things. You would wish it would be for playing Mad Max / Road Warrior films, or for those steely blue eyes, or for making a few good films in a completely idiosyncratic way.

Alas, most recently, his infamy has been based on the now clear evidence that he really does hate the Jews, and that at least in part, his version of the Easter classic was intended to malign the Jews who killed Christ. In vino veritas, and all that.

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