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Review – Rio 3D (U) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In recent times, there have been some exceptional animated films; the pick of the bunch being Toy Story 3. Kung-Fu Panda and Coraline have their merits for humour and horror, respectively; however, they lack the je ne sais quoi of Toy Story 3. For similar reasons, Rio falls short, despite being enjoyable and cute.

Blu and Linda showing that they are the best of friends

Rio is about a blue McCaw called Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Zombieland, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a shy and dorky bird that can’t fly. At a young age, Blu is taken from his home in the Amazon and finds himself randomly in Minnesota. There, he is looked after by a young girl Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann – The Cable Guy, 17 Again, Knocked Up). Fifteen years later, Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro – 300, Che I & II, I Love You Philip Morris), a scientist, finds Linda and tells her that Blu is the last of his species. There is only one other blue McCaw and she is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thus, the only way to save the species is by taking Blu to Rio.

Once in Rio, Blu is put into a cage with the beautiful, but feisty Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Love And Other Drugs, One Day). Yet, dark forces in the underworld of Rio desire these birds for profit. Not long after Blu and Jewel are caged up, they are stolen by smugglers; much to the consternations of Linda and Tulio. Blu and Jewel are determined to get out of captivity: the latter to fly freely through the Amazon; the former to find Linda. It will not be easy and being chained together makes matters harder for them.

There is nothing especially original about Rio’s plot. It moves at the right pace so as to keep its viewers interested, but it gets a bit naff towards the end. Nevertheless, there are many sweet and funny moments in the film; especially, the singing and rapping by Pedro (Will.i.am. – Madagascar 2, Knight And Day, Freedom Writers) and Nico (Jamie Foxx – Collateral, Law Abiding Citizen, Miami Vice). Anne Hathaway also has a surprisingly powerful voice. But, on the whole, Rio is not as funny as the hilarious Kung-Fu Panda (and perhaps Kung-Fu Panda 2, which is released later this year).

Blu and Jewel being shown the way by another bird who is willing to help them.  Alas, the director and script-writer, Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age I, II, III), has ensured that Rio is not a satire. This could have given the film a sophisticated edge. Additionally, the characters are very two-dimensional: Blu somehow looks and acts just as geeky as Jesse Eisenberg did in The Social Network; whilst Jewel acts throughout like a spoilt princess with no claim to royalty.

On another note, the graphics are fine for what the movie is; although, the 3D effects add little to the film. Indeed, Rio is not Avatar in the sense that, like Legend Of The Guardians and Alice In Wonderland, it was not made to be, primarily, a 3D movie.

All in all, Rio is a movie for children. It is cute and will put smiles on the faces of those who watch it. However, if one thinks that it’s going to be the next Toy Story 3 then disappointment will follow.

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Review – The Way Back (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3/5

Travelling can often be long and boring, regardless of whether it is on a bus down the road or on an aeroplane across the world. Alas, despite one heck of a trek, one feels much the same whilst sitting through The Way Back.

The film is based on true events as described in the book, The Long Walk, by Slawomir Rawicz. (The book, however, has recently been proven to be a work of fiction.) The story centres on six men, who escaped from a Siberian gulag in the winter of 1940 and made their way south to India on foot. The distance alone sounds daunting to even the most determined of souls. The inhospitable terrain and harsh weather conditions make the task Herculean, if not outright impossible.

Janusz, played by Jim Sturgess, leads the way through the fierce snow storm. The blizzard is so strong they have to cover their faces in order to see where they're going.

The director, Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, The Truman Show, Gallipoli) certainly captures the difficulties the heroes face. From the bitingly cold, white desert of Siberia to the scorching heat of the Mongolian/Chinese one, the struggle to keep on going is vividly portrayed. The lack of food and water is a constant problem. Hunger, thirst, cold and skin problems are a constant reminder of the fragility of mankind against unforgiving mother-nature.

Yet, throughout the movie, one wonders what the goals of the main characters are. Once they have escaped, then what? One gets the impression that escaping from the gulag is the end in and of itself; which, of course, it cannot be.

An even greater travesty for The Way Back is that, whilst the acting is generally good, the key characters do not develop. Worse, Weir fails to make us empathise with the heroes. With the exceptions of the American ‘Mister’ Smith (Ed Harris – A Beautiful Mind, A History of Violence), the criminal Valka (Colin Farrell – Phone Booth, Miami Vice, SWAT), and Irena (Saoirse Ronan – Atonement, The Lovely Bones) for being a woman; the other characters do not stand out: Janusz (Jim Sturgess – Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, 21, One Day), Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, The Paper will be Blue), Zoran (Dragos Bucur – Tuesday After Christmas, The Godmother) and Andrei (Dejan Angelov – Scorpius Gigantus, Until Death) all seem to merge into the same kind-hearted character. Whilst benevolence in such situations is to be admired, it makes it hard to differentiate them; especially as they all look the same dirty, scraggy outlaws.

The accents are also disappointing. Apart from with Colin Farrell, there is little consistency in the actors’ Slavic accents. (Ed Harris uses his American accent throughout the film so is exempt from criticism.) For some of the time, their accents are surprisingly good. But just as one starts to believe that they could actually be Polish or Russian (depending upon where they claim to be from in the vast USSR), out pops their real accents to undo it all. One would have thought that an experienced director, like Weir, would have noticed this during filming. Evidently not.

The party have to endure seemingly endless baron planes during their trek. The baking-hot, sandy deserts of Mongolia and China are just as cruel as snowy Siberia.

Another noticeable thing about the main characters is that none of them make an attempt to violate Irena. This is more than a tad surprising considering that some of these men had been in the gulags for years, and so would not have had the company of a woman for equally as long. Also, bearing in mind the Red Army’s behaviour in Eastern Europe in the latter part of World War II, the characters’ disinterest in Irena appears wholly inaccurate within the historical context. (Not that I am condoning rape amongst former gulag prisoners, of course.)

One thing the film gets right, historically, is the way the gulags were run. Hardened criminals were virtually given carte blanche to terrorise other inmates; especially if they were political prisoners. In addition, the topography throughout the movie, which the National Geographic channel helped to choose, is wonderful.

However, whilst one can appreciate picturesque landscapes, a film that lasts more than two hours has to give its audience more to enjoy than mere terrain. Although The Way Back had to be long to ensure the audience grasps the extent of the distance the main characters walked; not enough happens to them to sustain the viewers’ interest and concentration. Ironically, one comes out of this film thinking that, despite witnessing a journey from Siberia to India, they had not seen much.

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