Tag Archives: the tourist

Review – The Hunger Games (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Over the last decade, there have been a multitude of reality TV shows/series targeted for children and teenagers. Big Brother, The X Factor and The Apprentice are three such programmes that have gripped the nation, despite becoming sterile in recent years. Based on a similar, yet darker premise, The Hunger Games entertains its audience prior to running for too long.

Katniss (Jeniffer Lawrence) hunting in the woods to find food for her family, wherein she meets her childhood friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The Hunger Games is based on the book with the same title by Suzanne Collins. It’s based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once territory in North America. As punishment for a people’s rebellion, each one of the twelve now-impoverished districts has to put forward their boys and girls, between the ages of twelve to eighteen, to compete in a tournament called the Hunger Games. At random, one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the games, which are watched by thousands throughout the country. The tournament, controlled by a repressive leadership, is a fight to see who will survive. Only one, out of the twenty-four chosen, will return home.

After her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is picked to compete in the tournament, 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past) volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss has spent years illegally hunting with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth – Knowing, The Last Song, Independence Day II: Resurgence), for food in the woods outside of District 12. Now, taken to the affluent capital for pre-tournament training, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express, The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn), Katniss must use her skills and learn other arts from her mentors, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – No Country For Old Men, Friends With Benefits, Seven Psychopaths) and Cinna (Lenny KravitzThe Rugrats Movie, Precious, The Blind Bastard Club), to survive the games.

The plot for the film is quite accurate to the book, despite missing the Avox sub-plot and changing the skin-colour of some of the characters, such as Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg – Texas Killing Fields, Colombiana).

Katniss’s main opponent in the games, Cato (Alexander Ludwig). He is vicious and ruthless.

Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting movie, not least due to its brutal, Orwellian premise. (Note how down-trodden and miserable the common people are in comparison to the powerful elites.) Moreover, the film offers a refreshing change to the fantasy/science-fiction genre by having an outwardly tough, mentally-strong woman in a combatant role as the lead character (unlike the feeble Bella from the Twilight series).

However, at 142 minutes, The Hunger Games is far too long. A movie needs to be something special to hold its audience for that length of time, and The Hunger Games loses its viewers almost as soon as Katniss enters the tournament. One feels little suspense during the games, and one also feels that Katniss is never in real danger (unlike in Game of Thrones, where one never knows how long any of the characters will live).

Furthermore, the film lacks the violence it deserves. In 2000, a Japanese film with a comparable theme, called Battle Royale, was released. (Suzanne Collins denies being influenced by the movie.) That film acquired an 18-rating, due to the vicious content. But, just as The X-Factor has to adhere to rules so minors can watch it (even if Christina Aguilera and Rihanna stuck two fingers up to those in 2010), director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Free State of Jones) had to make the violent aspects of The Hunger Games implicit to the movie’s detriment. It makes the film less realistic; and, by merely shaking the camera, Ross makes the fight scenes hard to follow.

Fighting for one’s life in a forest is what the games are about. Yet, Katniss appears remarkably relaxed throughout. One only has to watch Vietnam War films, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, to realise soldiers’ edginess whilst in the jungle. Katniss, though, not only sleeps well, she’s even willing to help out others (seemingly unbothered that they could kill her when she’s not looking or asleep). It is astonishing that for someone so mentally hard, she’s unwilling to do what’s necessary to survive.

Despite Katniss’s inherent contradictions, Jennifer Lawrence gives a credible performance as the lead character (who always looks lovely and clean after rolling around in the dirt). Likewise, Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, The Eagle, Sofia), as the pitiless President Snow; and Woody Harrelson, as the alcoholic mentor, also perform decently. But the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, as the wimpy Peeta; Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Company You Keep), as Caesar Flickerman, the daft-smiling hand of the president; and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), as Cato, Katniss’s nasty and fierce opponent in the games, give pathetic, one-dimensional displays.

Katniss, looking much like Tulisa Contostavlos, in tightly-fitted leather, training before the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She and him are receiving advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to beat Cato and his gang.

It is a shame that most of the actors give poor performances. The movie has been put together nicely, James Howard (Love And Other Drugs, The Tourist, Snow White And The Huntsman) has composed a respectable score, and the special effects are brilliant. Panem’s capital has been wonderfully constructed and is a sight to behold.

All-in-all, The Hunger Games has a strong, but flawed, main character, with an intriguing, 1984-like basis to a reality TV show. But, ultimately, the movie has been hamstrung to cater to children and teenagers. Consequently, it is predictable and, like most reality TV shows/series, the film peters out before it ends.

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Review – Pirates of the Caribbean IV: On Stranger Tides 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

When it comes to a fourth movie in a franchise, a sceptic might wonder if it is merely an easy excuse to rake in money, ahead of taking a risk and dreaming up something innovative. Other fourth instalments, such as Die Hard 4 and Fast 4 (not to mention Fast 5), have lacked creativity in favour of the familiar themes and characters that audiences have come to love. The same can be said for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Despite director Rob Marshall’s (Memories of a Geisha, Nine, Chicago) attempts to spice up the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides illustrates that it might have been better just to have ended the series after the third instalment, At World’s End.

Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the reformed pirate, dressed admirably as a respectable Royal Navy Officer.

On Stranger Tides is based on the book by Tim Powers and centres once again on Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, The Tourist), as the droll pirate with warped logic and a twisted moral complexion. This time around, he is out to find the Fountain of Youth. The Spanish and the English are also in a race to find this place, and only Sparrow knows the way. (Although, whether Sparrow has actually been to the Fountain of Youth is, of course, a little dubious, due to his canny nature.)

But to enter the fountain requires certain things that will not be simple to acquire. Plus, the feared and ruthless pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane – Kung Fu Panda, Coraline, The Golden Compass), is also hell-bent on reaching the fountain in order to preserve his life for many more years.

The plot is filled with twists and deceptions that have become a predictable feature of the series. The storyline is at times ridiculous; yet, one accepts it knowing that he/she has not gone to watch a serious or realistic film.

One of the new characters in the series, the feared pirate, Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

However, the most disappointing aspect of On Stranger Tides is the script. It hampers the film and, primarily, sells the two main stars short. Whilst Johnny Depp gives another fine performance as Captain Sparrow, he lacks his trademark wittiness and oddities. Even his outrageous stunts no longer appear so outrageous anymore. Maybe we are too used to ‘witty Jack’ and expect too much from him. In fairness, it is almost impossible to light up the scene all the time with a brilliant comeback line. Nevertheless, the script for this movie is a far cry from that of Part I, The Curse of the Black Pearl, which had some fantastic lines.

Just as Depp has been let down, so too has Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, The Tailor of Panama, The King’s Speech). Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, who has now seemingly given up the life of a pirate for that of a respectable English naval officer. Barbossa’s character is a pale shadow of the one who entertained us so magnificently in the first three films. This is a real shame, as his rivalry with Sparrow in the past has made for terrific entertainment.

Captain Sparrow taking the beautiful Angelica to the Fountain of Youth via a river in the jungle.

Despite being conspicuously absent from this film, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are certainly not missed. Their performances in the series deteriorated with each movie. Alas, their replacements, Blackbeard and Angelica (Penélope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Sahara, Nine), are hardly much better. McShane does not perform badly, even though Blackbeard’s character does not have the depth to be the ‘next Davie Jones’ (played by Bill Nighy in parts II, Dead Man’s Chest, & III in the series); whilst the sexy Cruz offers so much and delivers agonisingly little.

The special effects at least give the film a semi-redemptive feature. With the exception of one or two instances, they are pretty decent throughout the movie. Again though, they look hardly any different from scenes in the other films in the franchise, so viewers are unlikely to give producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean I, II & III, Black Hawk Down, National Treasure) much credit. The 3D is virtually non-existent too.

Over-all, On Stranger Tides continues the worsening trend of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and of over-extended franchises in general. The fourth instalment appears tired and out of ideas, to the extent that not even Captain Sparrow can make us enjoy, or think much of the film. But hey, fans of the series will flock to cinemas worldwide in great numbers to see their favourite characters again, enabling those involved in the movie to make a fortune once more. And fans will probably do the same again when the fifth part comes out in a few years time.

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Review – The Tourist (12a) [2010]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

When a guy generally sits on a train (or a bus or an aeroplane for that matter), he hopes and prays that a drop-dead gorgeous girl sits either next to or opposite him. Alas, this generally does not happen. Similarly, when two or more star actors combine for a film, the movie usually does not live up to its expectations. The Tourist is a casualty of this syndrome.

Nevertheless, Frank (Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean I, II, III & IV, Sweeney Todd, Alice In Wonderland), a single and simple maths teacher from Wisconsin, has a dream come true at the start of the film when the stunning Elise (Angelina Jolie – Salt, Wanted, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) sits opposite him on a train to Venice. Better still, she is interested in him. Unfortunately for Frank (if there is such a thing as ‘misfortune’ in this scenario), Elise is being followed by Scotland Yard and by Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff – A Clockwork Orange, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), a murderous mafia boss. Both parties are after her husband, Alexander. Elise intends to use Frank as a decoy, to dupe the authorities and Shaw into believing that Frank is her husband.

Depp and Jolie gazing at one another as they dance at a ball. When it comes to glamour, there is only one winner.

Frank has no idea about any of this. As Frank, Depp plays a very different character to the intense, weird roles that he has done in previous films. (Think the barber in Sweeney Todd or Willy Wonker in Charlie In The Chocolate Factory.) In The Tourist, Depp plays a bumbling fool, who is in shock that a woman as striking as Elise would want him. Frank is totally infatuated with Elise throughout the movie and Depp does well to constantly remind us of this without being cringe-worthy. Not only is he nervous and uncertain of himself around her; whenever Elise speaks of her husband, one sees a twinkle of crushing depression form in Frank’s eyes as well as a lump develop in his throat. As a result, one has nothing but empathy for Frank: there are few things more gut-wrenching than going out with a girl and having to listen to her talk about how much she loves someone else; especially if you fancy her.

However, as good as Depp is, Jolie outclasses him. As Elise, Jolie plays a cunning, strong-willed and intimidatingly beautiful, high-class woman. The way she dresses, walks and talks (the English accent, last heard when Jolie starred as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, definitely adds to the appeal) make her the object of fascination throughout the film. That we are unsure for more or less the whole film whose side she’s on ensures she is an enigma. This is far from frustrating. Rather, this has the effect of increasing Elise’s/Jolie’s attractiveness several times over.

Depp and Jolie enjoying Venice's romantic charm as they take an evening boat ride.

Whilst Depp and Jolie play very well, the plot is nothing special and has holes in it that must be taken with a pinch of salt. Although the storyline is quite entertaining and full of twists (some of which are quite predictable); at times, particularly in the middle of the film, it can be a bit dull. If one were harsh, one could even go so far as to argue that it is not the storyline but the two main characters that keep the audience interested. That is never a good sign for a movie.

The choice of Venice for a location is a refreshing change. This film could easily have been shot in any of the over-used major cities in films (like London, New York, LA, Paris or Rome amongst many others). Yet, Venice has its unique allure, which is quite well captured throughout the film. The movie also reveals other not-so-wonderful aspects of Venice, and Italy in general, such as corruption within the police. But that is beside the point.

All in all, The Tourist is a tad disappointing. The actors and the charm of Venice undoubtedly make up for many of the shortfalls in the plot. Yet, even if the storyline has its flaws for much of the film, the ending is a different matter altogether. The ending is nothing short of brilliance and will leave one feeling very satisfied indeed.

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