By Stephen Bain
A highly unusual, yet inspired pairing to say the least. Ewan McGregor starring alongside zany funny man Jim Carrey, a man people seem to either love or hate (I personally have been a big fan since his early days). This is perhaps not the comically mismatched “double-act” movie one may have expected but instead a pleasantly strange contemporary tale of love between two men.
Carrey stars as Steven Russell, a seemingly happy family man whose life is suddenly altered by a car crash. Soon afterwards he ends up in prison where he meets the Phillip Morris of the title (McGregor) and the two form a romance. What follows are a series of events involving scamming and deception which (incredibly) are based on a true story.
The pairing of Carrey and McGregor certainly pays off. Carrey’s character is sure to provoke mixed feelings of genuine hilarity and disgust. His admittedly devious activities (which will make sense as the film develops) combined with his usual comic madness make this one of Carrey’s more interesting characters.
Indeed the main fault with this film is that it does not always seem to know itself which direction it is heading. One minute it pans out like a (certainly funny) screwball comedy with Carrey doing his usual Ace-Ventura style routine, the next it is almost stepping into the “Philadelphia” territory of serious drama. This is all sprinkled with more than a few, admittedly crude, jokes about homosexuality. The overall tone of the film however is certainly that of darker one compared to most of Carrey’s previous work. The opening scene demonstrates this clearly with Steven lying in a hospital bed apparently near to death as he begins narrating the story. As do the brilliantly executed final twenty minutes.
Ewan McGregor’s performance is possibly the superior out of the two however, with his character remaining a confused, yet constantly likeable figure. Carrey, on the other hand, shows that, while he can indeed do drama, it is perhaps the old-school rubber-faced routine that he is best at as this style regularly pops up during the films duration.
That said there are plenty of laughs to be had and the film remains a satisfying, if slightly uneven experience.
By Stephen Bain
It is a city where self-control is essential, a place where very few will tell you to stop. From the moment I stepped out of the airport and started travelling past the strip to our hotel, I knew this was going to be a somewhat unique experience.
I am talking about my recent visit to the infamous Sin City, otherwise known as Las Vegas, my only trip to the United States to date. Talk about jumping in the deep end.
Las Vegas has been featured in many films over the decades, perhaps most famously in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, the resulting song, sung by Elvis Presley, having been associated with the entertainment capital of the world ever since. Most recently Vegas has been seen in the hit 2009 comedy “The Hangover”. Likewise Katy Perry has also sung about “Waking Up in Vegas”. Being someone who admittedly enjoys an occasional early night and a cup of coco I was a little apprehensive about going to this so-called “adult playground”.
So what is it actually like? Well for a start, the sheer sizes of the hotels are something in themselves, with each resembling a palace. That last word is even co-operated into possibly the single, most famous hotel in the strip, Caesars Palace. There is also the Stratosphere hotel, which stands at a whopping 1,149 feet tall. The view from the top was a truly spectacular experience. The hotel which I stayed in, The Mirage, also did not fail to impress.
The city is perhaps known best for gambling. Go into any hotel and it is not long before you are greeted by apparently never-ending rows of slot machines, roulette tables and all the other forms of gaming you can think of. However, for me, some of the best aspects of the trip were well away from the betting tables. If anyone ventures to the city I highly recommend taking a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon and then flying back over the strip (especially at night). The former acts as a deserved, breathtaking, break away from all the glitziness of the city (which will possibly be needed after a couple of days) and is one of the few attractions that is 100% natural in the area.
There is, of course, the less glamorous, seedy element of the place. Those who have seen 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas” will remember that the city certainly has a dark side to it. Like everything else it is very much in your face. One sound that stuck with me was the distinctive flicking of escort cards being handed out to members of the public at all hours. There is also a fair share of so called “gentlemen’s clubs”, the few places where men are NOT sitting round playing cards.
So, to answer my earlier question, what is Las Vegas like? Well it is very much a city of two sides. For a United States virgin such as me, the scale of the place is bound to impress. The spectacle of Vegas is something not seen anywhere else in the world, and as a result, it has a unique sense of beauty to it. On the other hand there is an undeniable feeling of tackiness all around you. To use an old cliché Las Vegas is definitely a city of excess. You can eat what you want, drink what you want and gamble as much as you want and, as I said at the beginning, few would tell you to stop.
Is it a ‘real’ city? Certainly not, and it is subsequently not for everybody. I hesitate to imagine what it would be like to live there for anytime longer than a week. Surely the showiness would eventually wear thin. However it is safe to say that there is nothing quite like it elsewhere.
By Stephen Bain
I have to admit am not overly familiar with the original Alice in Wonderland literature, and it has been quite a while since watching the original 1951 Disney cartoon, so my canvas was pretty much blank when entering the cinema to watch Tim Burton’s latest tale. With a screenplay written by Linda Woolverton, whose previous credentials include Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (the latter possibly being Disney’s finest achievement in recent years), Alice is in more than capable hands.
The familiar gothic style associated with Burton is once again present. Once Alice falls down that infamous rabbit hole we are, unsurprisingly, transported to a visually rich world containing all the classic characters: the grinning Cheshire cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the mad hatter (Johnny Depp in his umpteenth collaboration with Burton), the Red Queen (Helena Bonnam Carter in her umpteenth collaboration with husband Burton), the White Rabbit (voiced by Martin Sheen) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (who are hilariously modelled to resemble Matt Lucas).
Visually Alice is certainly a treat. The ‘wonderland’ in question is a place that alternates brilliantly between a colour enriched kingdom and a gothically dreamlike universe. This is all backed up by Burton-regular Danny Elfman in a brilliantly appropriate score. However this time round the 3D ‘experience’ does not (arguably) add much to the events onscreen, unlike Ferngully-with-Smurfs hit Avatar. I am more than confident that this adventure could be enjoyed just as much in good old fashioned 2D.
Newcomer Mia Wasikowska does a fine job as Alice, a girl trapped in a bourgeoisie family and soon to be engaged to a comically upper-class idiot. Her innocence and girl-next door image make her an instantly likeable onscreen presence. Johnny Depp is his usual quirky self as the Mad Hatter (complete with a slightly questionable Scottish-sounding accent). However Helena Bonham Carter steals most of the scenes as the wicked, unremorseful Red Queen. She, without a doubt, swipes the film from right under Mr Johnny Depp’s nose. Clearly an act of revenge following the conclusion of their last film together Sweeney Todd!
Some voices are a little surprising on the ears, those who are fans of Eastenders may be shocked to hear Peggy Mitchell (sorry…Barbara Windsor) as a dormouse.
Whilst Alice may not have the originality of Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare before Christmas, it still shows considerable flare and creativity. Certainly an experience that adults are bound to appreciate just as much as children.
By Stephen Bain
He has chased after his kidnapped son, watched his wife murdered by English soldiers and become one, unstable, half of a cop duo. Now, after seven years absent from the big screen Mel Gibson (or “Mad Mel” as he has been named) returns as cop father Thomas Craven investigating the brutal murder of his young daughter (Bojana Novakovic). Read more »
By Stephen Bain
Those little golden statues are beginning to reappear on our television screens. That can only mean one thing, the Oscar season is fast approaching once again. Preparations are well and truly under way for the first ceremony of the new decade. What exactly is in store? We will find out on the big day itself, however the usual weepy speeches and endless ‘thank you’s’ are a near certainty. Read more »
By Stephen Bain
Robert Downey Jr. has already portrayed comic book character Tony Stark in the recent adaptation of Iron Man (the second instalment is due in cinemas this summer), now he is going for the big-guns and bringing literatures most famous detective to the screen. Behind the camera is Guy ‘Lock Stock’ Richie. An unusual choice for bringing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character to 21st Century audiences? Maybe. Especially after flops such as Revolver, one may be entitled to look on with some suspicion. However the results are, although certainly not perfect, undeniably fun.
Downey Jr. is excellent as Mr Holmes, his fast talking manner fits perfectly with Sir Conan Doyle’s creation. Like his portrayal of Tony Stark, Downey Jr. oozes charm and wit as the womanising lead and it is clear that he seems to carry off these roles within his sleep. His incarnation of Holmes is someone who is, as often demonstrated, more than capable in a fight, never letting a person twice his size intimidate him (in typical Conan Doyle style, Holmes carefully notes the body’s weak spots before neutralising an opponent). Likewise, there is a lot of fun to be had watching Holmes dryly explain his various theories, especially as events reach their conclusion.
Visually there is a real sense of the period as the hustle and bustle of a murky Victorian London is captured wonderfully. It is clear Mr Richie went to a lot of trouble to get the look and feel right, with some scenes featuring dozens of extras.
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law work well together, although it is undoubtedly the former who sticks in the memory for longer. Mark Strong additionally is brilliantly menacing as the villainous cockney Lord Blackwood.
However the film feels too long, subsequently some of the action set pieces (particularly one around the dockyards at the middle-point) lose their intended impact. The film would have certainly benefitted from being cut down a further 20 minutes. Similarly the heroine Rachael McAdams is given relatively little to do onscreen besides look and act glamorous.
By the time the credits roll it looks like another franchise is on the horizon. Will this potential series of films do well with the public? Yes of course it will.
In summary, Sherlock Holmes is an enjoyable if flawed adventure with a shining central performance from Jr. and sufficient support from Law. That alone is enough to keep the audiences entertained.
By Stephen Bain
Well its that time of year (again!) and that means more countdown lists and the inevitable debates/arguments which follow. Having figured out I have made around 20 trips to the cinema this year (I dread to think how much that amounts to financially) I thought I would look back on the last 12 months and give my top 5 favourite films as well as my top 5 disappointments. Maybe its a sign of my youthful ignorance but I cannot remember a previous year in which films featuring the elderly have made such an impact on me. Read more »
By Stephen Bain
After several weeks I was finally given the opportunity to watch Pixar’s ‘Up’ over the weekend. This film has received positive feedback from critics and audiences alike. Did it live up to the hype? You are about to find out.
Arguably Pixar’s best film since Finding Nemo, ‘Up’ is a perfect example of how cinema should be done. The seamless blending of flawless animation and powerful themes of mortality will prove a treat for adults just as much as children. Earlier this year Clint Eastwood appeared as the grumpy old man with a heart in ‘Gran Torino’. Essentially Carl Fredricksen, the old man in Up (voiced by Ed Asner), is not far removed from Clint’s Walt Kowalski. He is isolated, unsatisfied, a recent widower and bitter about the ongoing changes occurring around him, yet we sympathise with him instantly. The excellent opening ten minutes takes us through Carl’s life and shows us the sadness experienced as well as the more joyful moments. Although this sequence may establish a somewhat sombre mood, it is done gently and never ventures into gooey sentimentally.
The story itself centres on Carl, now an old man, setting off in his house, with the assistance of hundreds of helium balloons, to look for adventure. Joining him is an equally keen youngster named Russell (Jordan Nagai), eager to gain his merit badge for ‘helping the elderly’. Once they arrive in South America, the two encounter a large, rare bird and a talking dog. Additionally Carl meets his childhood hero, world-renown explorer Charles Munz (Christopher Plummer).
The animation in the film is once again nothing short of spectacular. When we see first Carl’s house attached to different coloured balloons floating in the bright blue sky, one would have to have a heart of stone not to be impressed.
The balance of humour, excitement and warmth is virtually flawless. The two side-kicks, a large part of the film’s comic relief, are genuinely hilarious, and the more suspenseful moments work perfectly. More importantly however ‘Up’ enforces a truly timeless message that life is about much more than fulfilling your own, personal desires. Sometimes sacrifices need to be made and, ultimately, it is how you treat your fellow man which is important.
I firmly believe that ‘Up’ will rank alongside the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc and become a classic in the years to come. Its stunning visuals along with its surprisingly mature heart may even mean that it could surpass all of the above. In other words it would be a guaranteed Christmas Day television hit, and that is meant in the best possible way.
Roll on the next Pixar adventure Toy Story 3.
By Stephen Bain
My recent 24th birthday has been a particularly special occasion largely due to a certain present which I received, one that allowed me to take a trip down memory lane and recall the excitement of my childhood. This present was the complete box-set of Gerry Anderson’s original ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’. Joyfully re-watching these old favourites (ok, I wasn’t around when they first aired but so what?) reminded me that great spectacle and great imagination can be done WITHOUT the need of a computer screen. Read more »
By Stephen Bain
BBC film critic Jonathan Ross described 2012 as ‘insultingly lazy’. Nothing could be more accurate.
This apocalyptic tale is the latest effort from Ronald Emmerich, director of Independence Day, Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. As you may expect it is laden with special effects (the budget reportedly being around the $260 million mark). Read more »