Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa


Alive.


Two things make Madagascar 2 stand out from the usual offer of 3D animation films. The script and the performances (performances? excuse me? I though it was a “cartoon”??). I'll start by the second one instead of the first so as to test if you are alert and engaged, while adding a bit of chaos.

The characters no longer seem to be animated as such at any point. Instead, they now look a lot more natural, and act and move as naturally and effortlessly as yourself (unless of course you are one of those couch potato persons, in which case you can consider that they would easily beat you at that). We often find them trusting comments to other characters, and struggling with their emotions. At times, they even look like their voice actors (I'm certain Ben Stiller would move LIKE THAT if he was a lion). They are alive.



As for the script, we are presented with an enjoyable story with overtones of friendship, love and family. Don't throw up yet. They manage to make it enjoyable and not too cheesy, and top it up with a couple of the most beautifully dialogued scenes seen so far not just in an animated film, but in any film. And this is the key.


3D films have come a long way. More and more, secure in satisfying technological frames by now, 3D-film filmmakers seem to concentrate more and more in something else apart from the animation and the looks themselves, which can only be beneficial for the audience. I see Madagascar 2 as a potential milestone in animation, just as Toy Story 2 -the first script for one of these films to win a Golden globe for best comedy/musical- or, of course, The Incredibles -whose script was also nominated, this time for an oscar, unfortunately but fairly lost out to the exquisite Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, only against another giant could The Incredibles fall!-. Moreover, this existing technological situation, combined with animators' skills and creativity, is meant to keep providing us not only with lots of animation films to come, but with good films. Closer and closer to this academy award for “3D character performance” now.


And yes, the rest is all as expected (I now, I digress). Like in the first "episode", fun characters, simple but very personal visual style and very fast pace. There always seem to be something happening, and the camera is always there to capture it. Go watch it.


The day the earth stood still


Still remaking. Willy-nilly too.


Keanu Reeeves (Matrix), still unable to move his neck after the strains of The Matrix, and an underused Jennifer Connelly (Hulk) get the leading roles in yet another unnecessary remake of an old sci-fi classic, just as it happened before with War of the worlds or Planet of the apes. Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happiness), Will Smith's son, is consistently annoying through the whole film and completes the protagonist triplet.



The moralistic message of the film is awkwardly obvious and hardly original, and the plot's surprises seldom surprise. Additionally, the poor choice of James Hong as supporting actor (after playing a blind old Chinese master in the comedy Balls of fury quite recently) doesn't help consider this a serious science-fiction proposal. Maybe the film would had worked if the producers had decided to make a comedy out of it?


Enjoyable visual effects, however, in this slow-paced version that adds nothing of value to the original story but will probably make a considerable figure in the bow office.


The Secret Life of Bees


From "potentially brilliant" to "actually just okay" with no effort.


Quite a few popular faces in this supposedly small, human film: singer Alicia Keys, actresses Queen Latifah (Chicago) and Jennifer Hudson. All of them terribly underused and making very little effort to leave memorable performances. Only Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) seems to give an acceptable performance. Sadly, however, the high melodramatic charge of the script may ruin the moments at times. Indeed, I heard the audience bursting in laughter before the acting in scenes that were meant to be very serious and dramatic.



In short, a story that entirely relies in its convenient genre and historical background (and these its well known actresses), that promises but doesn't deliver (in fact, doesn't quite now where to go) and that is barely worth watching.


Specially disappointing and sad involving Jennifer Hudson, who plays an amazing leading character in Dreamgirls, whose recent personal tragedy makes it very likely for this to be her last film ever.


Quantum of Solace


When change is GOOD.


While keeping the idea of the intelligent, elegant British secret agent that bad guys can't possibly outsmart and ladies can't possibly refuse going to bed with, Daniel Craig makes a much more believable spy than any other James Bond (if not excessively British, okay, but wasn't Sean Connery Scotish?).


Although in this new new “episode”, Bond's heroic deeds seem to be more diluted in visual effects than in Casino Royal, and lacking the memorable scenes (like the opening and the poison scene -tremendous, see it-), Quantum of Solace is still a very valid film, and so is the new Bond generation, to which I can't help to dedicate a few more paragraphs...


Mark Forster's new Bond is very capable, you can see he undertook a tough training to become a “00”, yet he struggles in his own over-human way. Believable-yet-amazing is always better than spectacular just for the sake of it.



Leaving aside the exaggerate advertising campaign that has flooded our lives for the past month, I like to think that the secret to keep such an old character “in” doesn't lay in the more spectacular approach visual-effects-wise, or the additional violence added to the series. But in the daring but necessary time re-location of the character and, of course, in the fact that the new Bond stories, unlike the classic ones, move forward and force the characters to grow, evolve, or even die.


It would look like what a few years ago wasn't but a moribund franchise still has a lot more fuel to keep going. In the days of degrading narrative and worshippers of J.K Rowling, this is something to be looking forward to. Too bad that in this second new film visual effects have such a patent, visible prominence, when it wasn't really called for.


The strangers


Not very surprisingly, just disappointing.


Another dull “horror” film built with easy scary scenes and with nothing else behind to back up the sensationalistic series of events.


But rather than being utterly unnecessary, the actual problem is realising that no one even tried to create anything minimally original or even worth of the genre at any point.


As usual, it is the poor audience, lured into the cinema with attractive, promising posters and expectation-creating commercial slogans, who suffers the ultimate disappointment.


On the plus side, the protagonist couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) is really good-looking, and their mere sight will delight the audience greatly. Which must be rewarding for the producers, since, given the rest of this uni-dimensional product, this seems to be the one aspect they were concerned about.


Madagascar


(IMPORTANT: This is an old review. No matter how fast you run, it won't be showing at the local cinemas when you get there. You can always get in on DVD though...)


By using the same vivacious and quick style present all over their previous blockbuster “Ice Age”, Twentieth Century Fox’s latest picture offers another simple –but still fresh and effective- story with a handful of animals as protagonists.


“Magascar” combines numerous enjoyable moments (above all those involving the hilarious penguins’ activities, which really make us laugh) with a few others, kind of dull and boring (that we secretly feel were not needed).



The 3D characters and the environment, like in a two-dimension cartoon, don’t look real, but didn’t mean to, either. Still, the chosen abstraction works, showing roles that, despite not being human, look familiar and believable to our eyes. All encapsulated into a scarce-in-details atmosphere which also works out.


Except for some easy jokes about cartoon-like falls and blows, which actually happen in a couple of occasions, the movie holds itself on a neat and clear storyline, dressed with very few sub-plots. It almost reaches unexpected deepness, however, but apparently the reflections such an event would have led us to would not have been appropriate for a U-classified (suitable for children) film.


So fun that does not go any further then, but is absolutely worth enjoying.


Hellboy 2: The golden army


Yep. I'll do it this way because I can.

Once more that beautiful word, “respect”, comes to mind. Respect to an author like Hellboy-creator Mike Mignola, who has earned the reverence of his peers and the interest of readers all over the world with his solid and original characters, and his very personal, apparently simple and yet so complex style and enjoyable stories. But also, respect to the audience, us. We don't go to the cinema to watch a bad film, we subconsciously expect the best and, if rightfully feel disappointed when we don't get it, we may even feel betrayed when we are lured to a film with false hopes and lies.
In the comic-book, Hellboy -despite his appearance- is quite a human character. His believability and sense of humour contrasts with the very essence of his stories, in which he often sees himself involved with mystery, darkness and monstrous creatures, while remaining someone we can identify with.


Director Guillermo del Toro and his producers take all this and, quite lightly, turns it all into a mixture of forms and colours where you can hardly identify which character is which. After the success of Pan's labyrinth, he, apparently backed up by Mignola himself, seems to think that the key to a good film is to pack it with his typical creatures, and so he creates an unrealistic (but not fantastic) and more often than not even ridiculous world populated by dozens of ugly monsters, supposedly ON creativity's sake. Characters' arcs are clumsy and vague, as are their personalities (so to say). Over and over again, we are forced to see visual and make-up effects which are so careless most of the time that one would think that not even the crew liked the film, not even during the making.

In other circumstances, this Hellboy 2 would only be a poor film. Being an adaptation, however, it denotes either a complete lack of interest or too lax a criteria when working with someone else's character. This is an offense to good, solid stories (like the original Hellboy's), and to the audience.

Let's be professional. If adapting, let's do serious research before embarking ourselves in this fascinating although dangerous journey of transformation. OR let's create our own characters and then, if we so wish, let's destroy (or rape!) them. But in this case, don't expect the audience to come back for Hellboy 3.

The dark knight


A film for a villain


Christopher Nolan's second episode of his Batman film series contains some excellent scriptwriting and quite a few powerful moments meant to stay in our memory. Not that we need any incentive to go and watch it (and enjoy it, despite its excessive length), after such a huge advertising campaign. It would appear that the producers' decision of using Heath Ledger's death as bait in the campaign was quite a wise one. Business is business, after all.



Ledger's character, the delicious joker, undoubtedly is the best treat of the film. From his first moment on screen, it is clear that we are before an intriguing character, that throughout the story becomes one of the most convincing and terrifying villains we have come across.


Sadly, the Batman character (played by whispering Christian Bale) is not rendered as that captivating, and the human dimension of his decisions ends up being nearly totally eclipsed by both his infinitely more interesting arch-villain, the rest of a luxurious cast, and the high-tech atmosphere (more suitable for the Mission Impossible saga, really).


All in all, a film worth watching, as well as an interesting social theory about duty , responsibility, and what makes us human.


Hotel Rwanda


(IMPORTANT: This is an old review. No matter how fast you run, it won't be showing at the local cinemas when you get there. You can always get in on DVD though...)

Director Terry George found in the material that inspired “Hotel Rwanda” a perfect excuse to let the inhabitants of ‘the first world’ know about African struggles. This particular story, although sadly real and shockingly human, is just an example of what usually happens in those forgotten areas of the planet.

Whether or not the film fulfils one of its missions (the main one, the director says) of raising people’s consciousness about the situation that the movie shows, “Hotel Rwanda” is a beautiful and touching story properly shot and told.



In general, the actors know how to create intense personalities and give outstanding performances, favoured by the propitious and hopeless war environment.

Don Cheadle plays Paul Rusesabagina, a man who finds out what kind of human being he actually is during the terrible events. His character -a real person, by the way, who did save more than one thousand people from the slaughter that many other suffered- is difficult to separate from the rest of the movie since, in a way, they both are the same thing.

The appropriate choice of shots, containing all that the audience needs to know in order to feel along with the protagonist, undoubtedly helps him. But Don Cheadle’s work amplifies what happens on the screen, widely supported, for his part, by the rest of the cast. This is the case with the seemingly passive Nick Nolte or the awesome Sophie Okonedo, Don Cheadle’s wife in the film.

Apart from the actors, there are some breathtaking moments in which we can barely blink because of the intensity of the emotions that spill out of the screen. Some Don Cheadle’s lines, like the conversation with his wife in the roof or the meaningful speech to his guests, are especially remarkable.

The director counted on a very tasty material at his disposal: war between neighbours, families, brother against brother, the evasive attitude of the rest of the world (“the civilized part”), … But, instead of getting too excited, he wisely handles all these ideas without overusing of ghoulish or bloody resort.

His crew’s choices also achieve an adequate atmosphere, which makes us feel empathy, guilt and responsibility. The light and the music, for example, are appropriately used for this purpose.

Since that’s not my task here, I won’t finish this cold piece of writing trying to tell the reader, in a moral-like way, what they should do after watching the movie (or what we should have done before). I won’t even wonder if Joaquin Phoenix’s words in the movie, speaking about some shots of the conflict that he has shot, are truth: “If people see this footage, they’ll say: ‘Oh, my god, it’s horrible’, and then go on and eat their dinners”.


Ray


(IMPORTANT: This is an old review. No matter how fast you run, it won't be showing at the local cinemas when you get there. You can always get in on DVD though...)



“Ray” covers the early years in the life of the pioneering musician Ray Charles. The movie tells us about what the road to fame is like, going through the different steps and aspects of this intense experience quite faithfully. But it’s also the story of a man –who, despite being amazingly good at playing piano, singing and composing, is as any other- struggling for a chance to live his life without becoming a monster in the process.

Only someone like the director Taylor Hackford, who, as we realise during the first minutes of the movie, deeply admires Ray Charles, would have been capable of going through such a difficult and long project (which, incidentally, involved Charles himself in the early stages, before his death). On the other hand, this vast love ends up ruining some moments of the film (and some others that, because of the same kind approach, were never created) in which the behaviour of the philandering and heroin-addicted soul singer remains unscathed instead of being condemned by the eventually too belligerent director.



The same thing happens, in some way, with the subplot that takes us to explore the past from time to time. Although it’s in general well handled, it becomes quite tedious by the end. And the almost celestial final image is definitely too much and doesn’t contain any new meaning: after an almost-three-hour film –seemingly longer because of the constant fades by the end-, the director feels he forgot to include a deep moral (which is not needed) and hurries to ruin another moment of the story.

Yet “Ray” is an enormously human story, in part because of a meticulous script and in part thanks to the actors.

The choice of Jamie Foxx -by the way, approved by none other than Ray Charles, who also taught ‘some piano tricks’ to the actor- as the protagonist give us the chance of enjoying a delightful unrepeatable performance. Foxx, also pianist, looks and sounds like the original Charles. And he offers nerve and authenticity while playing and pretending to sing his recordings.

Let's not forget the impressive Sharon Warren, as well, in the role of Ray’s mother, so shocking and decisive at all times like a whole life of maternal schooling encapsulated in a few minutes.

But, the way I see it, the best present that we receive from director and scriptwriter with “Ray” are various wonderful scenes, two in particular: one, belonging to Ray’s childhood, in which he falls over already being blind; and another, close to the end of the movie, in which Ray’s wife tells him about what he could lose if he didn’t give up drugs. I still feel something special while I write these lines. Scenes like those remind me of the power of good storytelling and would make the movie worth watching even if it told nothing else.

The music is, as expected, one voice more, speaking about that period and its composer’s attitude before it (as the gospel music subject). It’s easy to fall in love with the toe-tapping rhythm as you watch the movie. And particularly enjoyable are some parts in which lyrics completely integrate into the story to tell part of what is happening.


Wall-e


They would never let us down.


Pixar, the production company responsible for diamonds like Toy Story, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, keeps doing it. They keep making compelling human stories with each of their films. And they do it with all of us in mind, knowing what we like, how we understand stories, what is too obvious and must be discarded, or what is too clever and might go overlooked. How we react to what happens on the screen. They know their job. After decades of film making, we should be able to delight our senses with this level of craft all the time, to find that our likes have been learnt from and respected for making the next film in line. But the reality is different, and the nature of the business often causes the beautiful entertainment side of it to be undervalued. The capability of keep respecting us as spectators, rather than any other compliment that I could try to fill this article with, is what makes Pixar special.


Wall-e, the most tender and human of all the robots, lives his adventure among a full set of human and robot characters that move us, make us hold our breath, smile and laugh out loud. Some of them, we only see for seconds, but even so, they often become a story in themselves, and rarely aren't examples in characterisation.



Nothing to say about the 3D itself. As usual, Pixar makes it all believable. And this is the greatest achievement. The animation becomes reality and, when it comes to characters, beautiful performance. Computer generated actors will have to qualify for an academy award one day if we want to make this world a little bit less imperfect, just like Wall-e attempts to do with its ending moral in the film.


Wall-e is one the films one can't miss. However, despite its brilliance, the incredible The Incredibles is still the best Pixar ever made. To me anyway. Maybe it's the patent division between the two parts of the film in Wall-e (although it doesn't affect the rhythm greatly), or maybe it's just a personal priority for the genre. By the way, when I wrote the review for The Incredibles, the article turned into an ode in the end too...


The incredibles


(IMPORTANT: This is an old review. No matter how fast you run, it won't be showing at the local cinemas when you get there. You can always get in on DVD though...)


Incredible indeed!


The Incredibles” is the last CG film (completely generated by using computers) made by Pixar, who already surprised us with “Toy Story”, “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo”. As any Pixar film, this is a movie which appears to be sometimes a very funny comedy, sometimes a moving story capable of touching the toughest spectator. And, as any Pixar film (it doesn't matter if they use toys, bugs, monsters, fish or super-heroes) it remains a powerful story about relationships between human beings.


This time, they tell the story of a family of super-heroes using lots of references to super-hero movies, TV serials and comics, as well as adventure films. “The Incredibles” delights our senses with a powerful script full of sub-plots brilliantly treated, including several relationships inside the family (Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl’s love, parents and siblings, children's problems) which are easily believable as well as amazingly familiar.


By combining virtual people and real actors’ voices, the characters (all them, not just the main ones, but every single one) end up having more personality than many human actors: nice characters whom we get attached to and whom we worry about. Their bodies and faces make us believe in them and create a favourable atmosphere for humour. Pixar accomplishes the most difficult thing in this kind of movie: credibility. And this is the point: when a character is beaten, we know it hurts; when a character runs, we know he's going fast. When a door is opened, a train is trying to stop and people or objects are falling, we are sure that they are all heavy, as if they were real elements. From the character's expressiveness to the fanciest effect seen in the film, Pixar’s animators and programmers achieve the impossible.


Completely believable hair, muscles and fabric, including several costumes per character (for the first time in a movie like this). Explosions, water, explosions in the water, lava, ice, shattering windows, energy fields, invisibility effects, light beams, plane reactors, robots… everything is possible, even stretching human limbs. We have no reason to not believe in it because it’s very well done.


In regards to music and lighting, the film opts for a colourful environment typical of old-fashion comics and Saturday morning cartoons which turns into a James Bond-like environment as the story moves forward. Of course, every effect related with light and used to personalize each moment of the film (daylight, dust, clouds, fog) is perfectly created.


The “60's 007”-like look is reflected as well in the multi-location design of the film. From the interior of a volcano to the open sea, from remote forests to common cities, we visit many different beautiful sceneries. Furthermore the director consistently uses the camera intelligently throughout each set (he seldom overuses the fact that everything is 3D to take odd shots), so we don’t have to see spectacular yet absurd views.


It’s difficult to decide if “The Incredibles” is only one of the best animated movies so far or it’s one of the best super-hero films ever created as well. Whatever the case, this is not a story just for kids. In fact, this is the first PG (Parental Guidance) movie made by Pixar. And this only means that parents will enjoy as much as their children. Or perhaps even more.


So, technical perfection, an enjoyable story and tons of fun in a film which maybe is a bit long -for an animated movie- but is incredible in all other respects.


Hancock


An oddly enough ride.


Hancock is enjoyable, but has three little drawbacks: Will Smith, the clumsy usage of visual effects and (how not so?) the script .


Although Will Smith has proven that he can act like an actual actor (see the heart-warming The Pursuit of Happiness), most of the films he gets involved in are just commercial blockbusters, with all their negative connotations (his first actual big-screen hit, Independence Day, may have set the tone...). And if he can get involved in the production (and he does again in Hancock) and show off a bit, better still. Show off chest muscles, or backside, or simply poses... You can tell he likes that. He shows off less minutes than in previous films, but he shows off. Just like in I, robot, or I am legend. Still, there's something about Will Smith's presence that stops you from hating him so much despite all this. Odd. Whether this is charisma or not, or whether this film should have been called “I am Hancock” is obviously not the purpose of these lines.



All the visual effects from the trailer and used as bait seem to happen rather soon in the film. Which is good, since they aren't anything special or unseen before. After that, for a moment, it seems the story will acquire deeply human overtones and leave effect in the background... but then the film takes an unfortunate and inexplicable path and we come back to visual effects ad infinitum. No surprises here.


But we also come back to a much darker atmosphere that changes the style of the film and that (again) seems to be uncalled for. There is a similar confusion with the genre itself: comedy, more dramatic at times, “adventure” parts, ... The surprising and unconventional approach probably comes from the intention of making a different superhero film. In practice, however, the producers truly seem indecisive about this, and so ended up creating a strange hybrid creature.


All the above, plus the fact that the relationship between characters is awkward and twisted results in, yes, an entertaining film, but one that doesn't make the most of itself or even reach the end of the story looking like it's the end of the story. If you are reading this in disbelief, go and watch it: the cleaners may have to kick you out, because you won't believe the film is over. As spectators, we are entitled to a fulfilling experience. And if a script doesn't give us this ultimate experience, then we feel emptiness in our film goer hearts. Subconsciously, we ask for more and we can't help cursing the experience.


Old film reviews (old the reviews, not necessarily the films)

I start re-posting some of my old reviews in Canalmanchester as well as new ones for the following reasons:


  • The main reason (and also the most outrageous one) is that, since they are already written, old reviews will save me some time and effort and may make me look like I'm a lot more productive than I actually am, leaving, at the same time, more time to dedicate to pleasures of life other than writing.
  • The original website where my old reviews were kept, is now dead and buried, and so I'd like to re-post these old reviews so I can have them on-line again and even link back to them like I did with my latest (new) review (comes in handy sometimes!).

Some of the Canalmanchester reviews in their original format.

Robots


(IMPORTANT: This is an old review. No matter how fast you run, it won't be showing at the local cinemas when you get there. You can always get in on DVD though...)

”Robots”, the latest 3D production by “Twentieth Century Fox”, is built on a too obvious and little original story which eventually turns out to be only and excuse to fill the screen with lots of colourful robots during almost two hours.


It’s a true shame when something like this happens. The audience is asking for more and is actually able to absorb much more content. And since this need doesn’t disappear during the movie –because the script is too simple, like it was only meant for our kid brother- we appreciate the always amazing 3D environment but don’t enjoy it as much as we should.


Still, the film offers some hilarious moments, until we bitterly find out almost all the jokes are based on the fact that the characters are living machines and start to hate them. Again, this helps us to unconsciously switch our attention to different things; like the music, for instance (which is really enjoyable, by the way, but this is beside the point).



The messy cast contains millions of unnecessary characters, each of them with a different colour, slightly different shape and seldom showing more than one sign of personality. The good guys are kind and pleasant and have many merry friends; the bad guys have no feelings and of course no friends. Inside this context the audience doesn’t get to believe in them, since neither of them seem to have powerful motivations nor even show a different facet at some point.


On the other hand, our senses are delighted by a feast of 3D graphics, credibly created and satisfactory animated (along the lines of the fast and vivacious “Ice Age”). After a while, however, so many robots on the screen at the same time become tiring and pointless, as it happened before even with the numerous armies of evil creatures in the multi-award-winner “The lord of the Rings”.


As a computer-generated film, we must say that, although the 3D effects are in general believable (except maybe that oil which doesn’t convince completely…), “Robots” is not as daring as other recent products in regard to virtual effects development. By the time it was released, “Shrek” came up with the best liquid effects; “The Incredibles”, along with many other improvements, contained the first attempt to use create human character for the whole cast. But, what is it that “Robots” has to offer as its new and revolutionary contribution?


When the script heavily arrives at the ending, we are given the oldest and most overused message of the film history: “Be yourself”. Unfortunately, we are quite fed up with the movie in question by then and feel our intelligence has been insulted in some way. I wonder if even the little kids won’t feel the same.


In short, few surprises in a film which probably shouldn’t have been made and undoubtedly deserves oblivion.


La sopa (The soup)

I finally managed to add showy (well...) English subtitles to one of my old Spanish short films filmed in 2002 (oh, my god, I just realised, that is 6 years ago!). To be honest, the experience was rather painful (the subtitling, not the filming itself), as there seems to be no software capable of handling all the different steps in one go. This was little more than a test ("La sopa" can be understood without subtitles, I like to think), to see if I could subtitle the yeap-still-in-Spanish-only Eso que Pasó, a longer short film that I made in 2004 and that does need translation. I will do so at some point during the next few months, depending on other projects.

In any case, here is the link to the youtube video. I hope those of you who didn't know about this 7-minute oldie will enjoy it!




Thanks for watching.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


The poorest fantasy world even summoned.


Unfortunately, not all the fantasy stories that make it to the big screen are of as good quality as The Lord of the Rings' latest film adaptation. There already are 5 Harry Potter films (plus 3 more on the making). The Narnia series is, too, a good example of how far we can go (Disney, in this case) in our effort for trying to reproduce the key elements of a hit of this kind. Although the result may be financially rewarding, randomly placed bows, magic spells and sword fights don't make a good fantasy film. More importantly, this sort of production may make audiences lose faith in next ones, as they would end up not expecting much of them.



Visual effects in this second “Narnia” deserve special mention. There is quite an impressive sequence in a bridge towards the end of the film. Other than that, it is not often that what may be a combination of lack of imagination, poor criteria and/or scarce interest results in such a huge amount of pointless soulless ugly creatures (right, the pointless and soulless side of it has to do with scripting and acting, but all together makes a terrible combination!). Not even films like Robots (with its too many meaningless machine-like characters) leaves you with such a bad taste in our mouth. It is hard to believe that there is still something in the fantasy line that we can't do convincingly with 3D computer graphics. Or maybe there is, but it sure has to be something more complex and creative than anything we can see in this film.


According to the director himself, the film is meant to make us reflect upon the transition to adulthood, the sacrifices that you have to make and those things that you have to leave behind. But since very often actors just stand there, in front of the camera, hoping the melodramatic musical background will do all the work and the script only collaborates with a few scenes that require the film to stop completely while torrents of explanations are given... well.. it doesn't quite work. Other than that, nothing more to say about a script that doesn't say much itself anyway.


Luckily, despite upsetting experiences like this, Disney doesn't seem to be totally dead. There seems to be life after its divorce from Pixar, and the trailer of Blast (first 3D film on their own) looks quite good and serves as evidence of an encouraging future. There are Let's hope they'll follow this path instead of going through the gate to Narnia again..


The Incredible Hulk


The green giant is in shape.


There was a time when comic-books were not treated with much respect on the screen. Then one day Marvel released Spiderman, and saw it was good, and then got really excited with the money-making machine and went on to release and release films that were not in fact that good. Fantastic Four 2, to take a case in point, was a most painful experience.

Having finally rethought their concept of film business, they revamped their franchise with Iron Man and now continue with this The Incredible Hulk. The now rightfully named Marvel Studios are finally paying greater attention to their final product and clearly going for a new generation of super-hero films. Now the story and the characters are far more important than just having spectacular shots, and the complex “marvel” universe is finally taking the place that is its by right.



The film shows off (although doesn't rely on) fantastic visual effects, as expected. The jade giant looks a bit different than he was in Ang Lee's very personal and venerated version, but he is as impressive and powerful as ever. And Edward Norton's unheroic constitution in this film seems to make him a much better candidate for Hulk's human alter ego than Eric Banna was. It seems filmmakers didn't want to use much of the first film, and of that particular vision of the character that make so many people so enthusiastic. This new film opts for a more commercial, but also a more loyal version of the comic-books, respecting the original characters and using them to orchestrate a most human story with power and responsibility as the main points.


Especially enjoyable are a few moments that one wouldn't expect in this type of film in which interesting aspects of Hulk are shown from a very human point of view, far away from superheroes. These scenes help understand what might be like to have to bear a burden like that of the protagonist's. Further into the movie, tender “beauty and the beast” moments, enormous critters fighting, and Lou Ferrigno's appearance (from the Hulk TV series), are there to keep entertaining and surprising you.


Please keep it up with the incoming Magneto, Captain America, and so on, Marvel. And no rush with Fantastic Four 3...


The Happening


Whatever you do, don't insult the audience.


It is hard to imagine a film worse than The Happening.


The seemingly endless series of scenes itself seems to get lost in nonsenses. The script is over-dramatic and incoherent. The acting, painfully executed through some of the most senseless lines of the film history, is just terrible. Both main actors, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel give very poor performances, sadly matching the quality of the story. We can almost feel the pain as we watch in astonishment, denying what our eyes see, and force ourselves to smile before a few scattered jokes. This is a film that doesn't move forward. Nearly every scene of the film is either unnecessary, or badly built, or both. Ridiculous moments and easy scare shots degrade the genre and insult the public over and over.



Before watching this film, after seeing the promising trailer, one would want to go out of his way to compliment M. Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense and would even be inclined to forgive his momentary slip-up with the lamentable The Village. But the truth is that, in The happening, the script is as weak as the directing work. And the actors' delivery is just one of many tokens of it.


Out of respect to filmmakers who love what they do and make films for intelligent audiences, films like this should, quite simply, not be made.


The "open souce" wonder


If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” - Isaac Newton


The idea of isolated creation is vanishing. In its place, a collaborative Internet-linked world takes shape. This is good news. The more people are allowed to participate, the better humankind's creations will become, and the greater and more numerous our resources will be.


The so-called Web 2.0 played an important role on collaboration. Open source software, however, is to me one of the most interesting creations that this new world has come up with. Program packages created, bug-fixed and maintained by people, for people. Free, and very often more efficient that their commercial counterparts. Here is a brief list with some of my favorites, all of which I use or have used in the past.


  • OPEN OFFICE: Yes, it is like Microsoft Office. Spreadsheets, its own version of the popular Word, databases, ... Some options may be in a different place, but everything is there. And if it is not, it probably will be in the next release. You would have to wait longer (and certainly pay) for Microsoft to update their package.
  • GIMP: For all your image manipulation and digital retouching needs. Much like the popular Photoshop.
  • INKSCAPE: For those more into vector graphics, here is the alternative to Freehand, Illustrator or CorelDraw.
  • BLENDER: Excellent 3D package, just as 3D max, Softimage, Maya, etc.
  • CLAMWIN: Scans your computer for viruses, just as Norton or Panda would. Only, more discreetly and without Panda's spooky voices talking to you all the time.
  • AUDACITY: A great simple-looking yet powerful sound editor.


I even, not long ago, found a way of finally writing a script without having to worry about the format at all, celtx. Of course, I use it now.


All I can say is that if any of these fall within your area of interest, you HAVE to try them. If not, well, why don't you try to run a search for “open source” for whatever your interest are? Why not? You might be surprised. Have a taste of open-source software, at least. In most cases, it's a most rewarding experience of discovery. In the unlikely case that you don't enjoy it, well, you can always go back to the old conception of “paying for your software must mean that it is better software”.


I am so happy to be living this technological revolution.


By the way, if you want to understand better how open source software develops, or if the consequences really are the fall of empires like Microsoft's, I would recommend a fascinating book called Wikinomics (of which, not surprisingly, a wiki, editable version of is available on-line too).


Mongol, the rise to power of Genghis Khan


Spectacular is not enough.


I like to think that when we watch “personal journey” films, we subconsciously expect genre conventions and a wide range of subtleties to eventually give us an overview of the character's motivations, as well as a good understanding of his life, all this packed in two hours of well-built narration. When this doesn't happen, I personally feel very disappointed, and somewhat deceived. What, after all, if not the rise to power of Genghis Khan, do we expect to see in a film about the rise to power of Genghis Khan?



Mongol starts off in a very promising way. We enjoy the first steps and taste the excellent performance given by Odnyam Odsuren, the boy playing the protagonist's young counterpart. Soon, something terrible happen. The necessary gradation to make scenes flow through time seems to be forgotten and the story stagnates in a series of unfortunate scenes that, although still remarkable, contribute very little to the personal story of the main character. When it is finally resumed we are only left with the battles to be entertained with, and of course Khulan Chuluun's strong character, far more interesting than the protagonist. The clumsy captions and voice-over narrations become additional testimony of the script's inability to tell a story for the screen.


The remarkable premise -the human right to choose- probably comes later than it should too and, since it is not maintained convincingly throughout the film, we don't get to really get attached to the character's principles. A real shame, after bringing a figure like Genghis Khan to an innovative human level, far away from the brutal, infamous conceptions that are common in historical data (Tadanobu Asano's looks and acting contribute to this end in a laudable but eventually vain effort for turning the protagonist into something that he is not).


Yes, the stunning photography, the astonishing natural scenery and a couple of spectacular battles are of course there as expected. But that is about it. In short, enjoyable (no one said otherwise) although not-that-epic film that could have been a lot more convincing and much better built.


Cassandra's dream


Woody gives himself another treat.



No other director can beat Woody Allen's possibilities of doing whatever he wants on screen. His stories continue selling, all the actors he wants to use will say yes without even reading the script, so he keeps filming in whichever country he chooses and doing one film per year.


By using his particular modus operandi he has produced some of the most beautiful, human and entertaining films of the last century. Still, out of such a matchless wealth of production, (and since, unsurprisingly, most of what we all do is not as good as our best) most of them turn out to be average productions. I personally don't think it has to do with Allen's age, but rather with his seemingly endless energy for film making. In fact, although unquestionable gems such as Annie Hall or Manhattan belong to his universe of past productions, the more relatively recent Deconstructing Harry is to me the most enjoyable of his extensive filmography. In any case, Cassandra's dream is to be counted as one of those poorer films which, unlike the above, won't resist the passage of time.



This time Allen treats himself to the nearly ubiquitous and always charming Ewan McGregor. Unfortunately, his looks are not enough in this occasion and, except for a few moments more purely entertaining than remarkable, the Scottish actor contributes with very little to the film. The same can be said about Tom Wilkinson, both seem to get seriously affected by the unavoidable frivolity of their characters. Colin Farrell is blessed which a much more interesting role, and his deeply human performance doesn't disappoint.


As usual in his Allen's films, it does take a while for the film to get started, but one it does (and here we have again another one of the newyorkian's hilarious settings) the rhythm is elegantly maintained during most of the story. It is throughout the middle part, where so many other films fail, that the script shows the most interesting, witty-dialogue-packed scenes, and the best examples of apparently unintended humorous treatment.


Don't expect anything radically original, or a classic meant to go down in history. But if you, too, usually enjoy Woody Allen's films, Cassandra's dream will certainly entertain and make you have as good a time as any other average Woody Allen's.