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This is the place where Cablo Gula writes film reviews for science-fiction or fantasy films. Enjoy!
 
What's new?: Star Wars Episode III, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Spiderman 2, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy reviews
 

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

 

With: Gene Wilder, Peter Ostrum, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Julie Dawn Cole, Leonard Stone, Denise Nickerson, Dodo Denney, Paris Themmen

 

 

With the Tim Burton version of Roald Dahl’s masterpiece coming our way on dvd in about a month it’s the perfect time to revisit the old musical version. Surprisingly, the film was a flop at the box office on its release and apparently, Roald Dahl was so unhappy with it that he insisted the film shouldn’t carry the title of the book. Frankly, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about. Sure Mel Stuart took many liberties with the story and turned it into a musical but you can’t deny the result is a real success. Gene Wilder is superb as the chocolatier Willy Wonka and light-years away from Johnny Depp’s campy interpretation. Wilder’s Wonka is mischievous, very clever, occasionally creepy and temperamental: he knows exactly what he’s doing and is clearly in perfect control of the whole situation. Depp’s Wonka, however, has definitely spent too much time inside the factory which accounts for his snow-white skin, the sensitivity of his eyes to sunlight and his obvious mental and physical detachment from the outside world. You get a feeling he’s not completely all there in the head: a troubled childhood and too much time inside the factory has left him child-like and unpredictable. Charlie, in the Wilder version, is played by Peter Ostrum who does his best but is not exactly a very loveable character compared to the pure and generous Charlie of the Burton version. As a musical, the 1971 film works perfectly and is one of my personal favourites: the unforgettable and devilishly catchy Oompa Loompa songs are classics. All the other songs are good too although why Veruca Salt got her song and none of the other kids did remains a mystery to this day. The rest of the cast is impressive and the child actors are surprisingly good, especially Veruca. As for the look of the film, it may not be quite as stunning as the new version, obviously, but it’s still a joy to watch: the sets, costumes, the whole thing is bursting with originality, colours and Alice in Wonderland-ish madness (the psychedelic tunnel scene is still hilariously creepy). What this musical version of the Dahl tale has a lot of, it must be said, is heart. It’s been called corny, syrupy, sugary…but to me, it’s just very chocolaty, in other words, sure it’s sentimental but it’s never cheesy and always touching. The ending is, admittedly, a little too ‘goody-goody’ and abrupt but Tim Burton certainly made sure he fixed that little problem. In my opinion, both film versions of the book are equally good but in different ways: if you want heart, catchy songs and a perfectly sane (if creepy) Wonka, then the 1971 is for you. If you want a visual treat filled with laughs, dark irony, toe-tapping music and a Pee Wee-esque, unhinged Wonka then I suggest the 2005 version. Overall, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a beautifully done musical fantasy for anyone with a sweet tooth. Absolutely scrumptious!

 

Overall: *****/5   

 

Total Recall (1990)

 

With: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside

 

 

Paul Verhoeven, director of such inventive and hugely entertaining sci-fi films as Robocop, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man had one of his best moments when he directed this clever, action-packed sci-fi flick. Based on a short story by genius science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report), Total Recall is a twists-filled story set in 2084. Big Achnold is Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who, one day, decides to go to Recall (an agency where they implant artificial ‘holidays’ in your mind) in order to get memories of a 2 week incredible adventure on Mars implanted. Obviously, something goes wrong and Quaid starts being pursued by numerous bad guys and everyone he knew and loved turns out to be in on the conspiracy. He makes his way to Mars, where he learns that he has already been there (and not only in his dreams, wink) and that he is in fact a secret agent whose purpose is to bring down the evil tyrant in control of the Red Planet...or is it? In short, we get a film packed with action, one-liners, mutants, special-effects and numerous twists. What more could you ask for? The effects were very impressive at the time and most of them still look pretty good today. As for Arnold, well, he does his best in a film that’s probably too clever for his usual robotic persona. His one-liners are as good as ever though: ‘screw you!’, ‘consider that a divoarce’, ‘get your ass to Mars’, ‘You’re not youah, you are meah!’ (lol). The rest of the cast is brilliantly over-the-top and quite impressive. Overall, this is a film that still manages to mess with your mind every time you watch it. It’s very entertaining, terrific fun and is definitely one of Arnie’s best.

 

Overall: ****/5

 

Batman Forever (1997)

 

With: Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Chris O’Donnell, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman

 

 

 

When the opening titles for Forever begin, it’s instantly obvious that Tim Burton’s dark and gothic style will not be attending the bat-reunion. Instead, it appears director Joel Schumacher has decided to bring the dark knight of Gotham into another direction. Val Kilmer takes over the role of Batman from Michael Keaton, who wasn’t too impressed with the script. Batman Forever is a more sci-fi-ish and campy version of the Batman story and it’s closer to the old TV series with Adam West than the Tim Burton films. Gotham City itself is a different city than the film-noir Gotham of the first film or the gothic, snowy one from Returns. In Forever, Gotham is a futuristic city filled with goofy thugs, colourful parties and fluorescent lights. The first villain we encounter is Two-Face, an ex-honest-lawyer turned psychotic schizophrenic criminal after Batman failed to protect him from being disfigured on one side of his face by a crime boss. Two-Face (aka Harvey Dent) is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who surprisingly gives the most demented performance of his career. Sadly, this effort is a bit stained by the fact that Two-Face is not supposed to be a giggling, Joker-like character. The other villain is Jim Carrey’s eccentric, insane and campy Riddler (aka Edward Nygma), a scientist with an obsession with his idol Bruce Wayne. When he gets fired by the latter, he snaps and becomes a criminal seeking revenge from the man who rejected his invention and ‘cruelly’ fired him. He therefore starts writing riddles and sending them to Wayne whilst forming a secret alliance with Two-Face. He promises the latter that if he helps him make his Box invention grow he will manage to reveal to him who Batman is and eventually destroy him. The Bat has undergone numerous changes too, not only does he have a new batmobile, a bat-suit with rubber nipples and some new gadgets, but he is confused about numerous things: Nicole Kidman’s femme-fatale Dr Chase doesn’t know if she wants Batman or Bruce, and Bruce has to take care of a young, troubled and angry orphan called Dick Grayson (aka Robin), whose parents were killed by Two-Face. Overall, Batman Forever is vastly inferior to Tim Burton’s previous Bat-films: the story is preposterous, the whole thing is overly silly, colourful and light-hearted and the characters aren’t believable. Having said that, it has some redeeming elements: Robin’s entrance is well done, Bruce Wayne’s dark side and troubled past remains, The Riddler is terrifically unhinged and it’s all very entertaining. No masterpiece, but great fun nevertheless.

 

Overall: ***/5

 

   The Matrix (1999)

 

With: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne

 

 

What is the Matrix? Well, by now everybody knows of course (except perhaps Keanu Reeves whom, I suspect, is still confused about the whole thing), but when the film came out, everyone was puzzled by the enigmatic posters with had weird green letters scrolling down over a black background. Then the trailer came out and the film became a must-see. Do I really need to remind you of what it’s about? Ok then. Thomas A. Anderson lives a double life: by day he works in a tiny cubicle, for a big software company and by night he’s a computer hacker called Neo. Neo has been trying to find out what is the Matrix and has been contacted by a certain Trinity who tells him that a mysterious man by the name of Morpheus wants to meet him. But some creepy Agents seem to be aware of what’s going on and try to make Mr Anderson tell them all he knows. Neo is soon told, after having agreed to see what the Matrix is and ingested a suspicious red pill, that he’s been living in a dream world all his life and that reality is in fact much more disturbing. It seems that the real world is dominated by insect(and squid)-like machines and that the Matrix is nothing but a fake reality, a computer program, a prison for the mind that keeps human beings controlled so they can be used by the machines as energy. It sounds a bit silly doesn’t it, I mean, when you think about it? But it really isn’t because the film asks interesting and mind-bending philosophical questions (Plato and Baudrillard being the main inspirations) that had never been asked in films before. The special effects used in the film and the “bullet-time” technique are mind blowing and audiences were more than impressed. Keanu’s acting is a bit less wooden than usual and Hugo Weaving’s wonderful Agent Smith steals the show. It was obviously inspired by Japanese mangas like Ghost In The Shell (big time) and comic books. And it is, without a doubt, one of the best science-fiction films ever made and definitely incomparable to its 2 lesser sequels. 

 

Overall: *****/5

 

Vanilla Sky (2001)

 

With: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell, Jason Lee

 

 

Cameron Crowe, who brought us such hits as Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Say Anything, directs this underrated film, a close remake of Amenabar’s Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (with Penelope Cruz too). It stars Tom Cruise as David Aames, a pretentious, obnoxious millionaire who inherited his late father’s fortune and is consequently the owner of 2 magazines. David has everything: money, looks and an on/off beautiful girlfriend called Julie Gianni (Diaz) whom he treats cruelly without any regards for her feelings. One day, during a party, his friend brings a girl, Sophia (Cruz), and David falls instantly in love with her. And just when we feel David might change his ways, Julie appears in her car and tells him to get in: big mistake. Julie, consumed by jealousy, tells David she loves him just before driving them both off a bridge. She is killed in the crash (or is she?) but David survives, problem is, he is left horribly disfigured (or is he?). As David tries to cope with his unfortunate physical appearance (he has to wear a mask and Sophia is uncomfortable with whom he’s become), his life is going down the drain: he loses Sophia, his friend, Julie appears unexpectedly and haunts his mind and he is arrested for the murder of Sophia. A psychiatrist (Russell) is going to try and help David  remember what exactly happened. Basically, during the whole film, we see what David sees, which makes it hard for us to understand what’s real and what’s not, since David becomes increasingly confused with what’s happening to him. Cameron Crowe, it must be said, has stayed very close to the original Abre Los Ojos but has brought some welcome alterations. The special effects are obviously better, Tom Cruise is as good as ever and perfect for the role and the whole thing is visually amazing. Also, Crowe has added an Oscar-winning soundtrack as well as a slightly different, more explicit (but still enigmatic) ending. The film received mixed reviews and people either loved it or hated it. But Vanilla Sky is ultimately definitely an underrated, misunderstood, haunting little masterpiece and every time you watch it you notice something different. The first scene is a particularly unforgettable and brilliant dream sequence that sees Tom Cruise running in an empty Times Square. The original Spanish version is also highly recommended and is surprisingly just as good as this American one.

 

Overall: *****/5   

Equilibrium (2002)

 

With: Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus McFadyen, Sean Bean

 

 

This science-fiction B-movie did surprisingly very well at the British box-office when it came out. The futuristic film takes place after the end of a Third World War, the world is under reconstruction and a new system of society has been installed in which people, in order to avoid the appearance of more wars, constantly take a drug that makes them devoid of any feelings. If someone is suspected of feeling or is found carrying objects that could provoke a certain emotional response, he is arrested and often executed (usually by combustion). Everyone acts the same and everyone is ruled by a Big Brother-like leader. The story takes place in a state called Libria and the system in place is an almost religious one. We follow Clerick John Preston, a professional government agent in charge of destroying those who resist the rules, even his best friend and fellow agent. Clerick starts to question his loyalty to the system after he fails to take the drugs one day and starts to feel again, progressively. The film contains some pretty neat action sequences and the invention of a new form of fighting: Gun-Kata, which is basically a mix between martial arts and gun-fighting ( in other words, a combination of Eastern and Western fighting styles). This creation is quite cool and is, unfortunately, one of the only original ideas in this movie. The film was obviously inspired by 1984 (the leader’s face on screens all over town), The Matrix (clothes, fight scenes), Fahrenheit 451 (cityscapes) and even Blade Runner (empathy tests, emotionless beings). The film does suffer from a lack of any real innovative originality but it looks great, Christian Bale is excellent (as usual), the action scenes rock and it’s also quite funny at times (unintentionally, of course). It’s all very stylish and has some impressive special effects and interesting twists. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable science-fiction flick that’s way above SF films like Matrix Revolutions or Paycheck. Great fun.

 

Overall: ***1/2 / 5

 

  The League of Extroardinary Gentlemen (2003)

 
With: Sean Connery, Stuart Townsend, Reta Wilson

Famed adventurer Allan Quartermain (Connery) is recruited by the mysterious British Intelligence agent M, who wants him to head a secret mission to save the world. M has assemled a team to help Quatermain including Dr Jekyll/MrHyde, Dorian Gray, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Tom Sawyer and Mina Harker. They must work together to stop the Fantom and his plot for world domination. It's brainless, silly, at times weak and confusing but, overall, quite entertaining and fun. Ignore the crappy script and, to quote Allan Quartermain: "I'm shtill waiting to be impreshed!"

 
Overall: **1/2 /5
 

Minority Report (2002)

 

With: Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell

 

 

Steven Spielberg directs this brilliant science fiction film based on a Philip K. Dick short story. Tom Cruise is John Anderton, a troubled cop who’s a great believer in the Precrime system in place in Washington DC (the film is set in 2054). This system is based on the visions of 3 beings, Precogs, who are able to see crimes and murders before they actually happen. The police is then able, from watching the images created by the Precogs’ minds, to stop these crimes before their occurrence. But before this revolutionary and (supposedly perfect) system can go national, Lamar Burgess, co-creator of Precrime, has to prove that it is completely flawless. Then, one day, John Anderton, whilst working on a new vision by the Precogs, discovers that he himself is going to commit a murder in the near future. He has never met the victim before and has no choice but to escape and try to prove his innocence. Which turns out to be a really hard thing to accomplish indeed! The film is visually flawless and impressive with some exciting action-sequences. Cruise is as good as ever and his performance is a powerful one. Samantha Morton is also absolutely brilliant as the Precog Agatha. John Williams provides an energetic score which adds tension and punch to the sequences. There are many twists and turns in a complex and clever story that demands repeat viewings. Spielberg, with A.I., showed that he wanted to go in a new direction: cyberpunk. Minority Report is arguably one of his best films and is definitely underrated as it is, in my opinion, one of the best sci-fi films of the 21th century so far. Overall, this is an inventive, thought-provoking, perfectly acted, written and directed, thrilling ride that’s a real treat for all science-fiction lovers. Wrongly overlooked by the Oscars as well, tsss.

 

Overall: *****/5

 

Daredevil (2003)

 

With: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Farrell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Joe Pantoliano

 

 

After the huge success of Spiderman, a darker, less popular Marvel superhero had he’s movie debut: Daredevil. When the film begins, we know it’s not going to be a light-hearted affair: we see our hero, perched on top of a church, bleeding to death in the night. What follows is his long-ish back story. As a kid, Matt Murdock is bullied and his father, an ex boxer known as Jack ‘The Devil’ Murdock, is a troubled man who drinks and remembers his past victories with great nostalgia. Nevertheless, Matt promises his dad that he will not follow in his footsteps and that he will work hard at school. Some time later, Matt is deceived when he realises his father is working for criminals and he has an accident that leaves him blind forever. However, his other senses have become incredibly sensible, Matt can hear the slightest sound, smell the faintest odour and simply by knocking on a surface, this creates a sort of radar effect which allows him to see a bit and keep his balance. So, Matt works hard and learns to fight, as his strength and agility has increased as well. But, when his father fails to go down in the ring as he was told to, he is murdered by a certain Kingpin of crime and Matt is left all alone and wanting revenge. From then on, he will help those for whom justice has not been fair to and punish those who abuse others. Matt becomes a lawyer by day and a rather violent vigilante by night. As Matt, his power is limited, as Daredevil, his ways are confused. When a child thinks he is the bad guy one night he was fighting a thug, he knows he has to change. Ben Affleck does very well as one of the darkest Marvel heroes there is and Jennifer Garner is great, not to mention stunning, as Elektra. Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin is not very faithful to the one of the comic-books but he is terrific anyway. It’s Farrell who steals the show though, as Irish villain Bullseye, who has the ability to be extremely accurate when throwing things. There are also some cool cameos to spot: Kevin Smith, Sam Lee and Frank Miller. There’s much to like in this film and it’s been wrongly underrated in my opinion. Daredevil is very entertaining and ambitious in its execution. The special effects are not always 100% but that’s not too dramatic. Admittedly, there are a few glitches and clumsy bits and pieces in the film but overall, this is a fine introduction to a darker, more aggressive hero. Not as good as Spiderman but not bad at all. A sequel should help to clean up a few of the minor flaws.

 

Overall: ***1/2 /5

 

Cypher (2003)

 

With: Jeremy Northam, Lucy Liu

            

 

This little known science-fiction spy film was directed by Vicenzo Natali, who made cult film Cube. It’s one of the best and most clever science-fiction films of the past 5 years. It’s the story of geeky Morgan Sullivan, a normal married man who lives in the suburbs, who decides to become a spy for a shady corporation. He is given a new identity, Jack Thursby, and is sent to countless boring conventions and is given a transmitter to record them. It’s clear from the very start that something screwy is going on. As Morgan progressively changes personality and becomes Jack Thursby, he meets a beautiful and mysterious woman who tells him that everything is not what it seems to be. The film is neatly directed and has a Spielberg feel to it in that it’s almost shot in monochrome and is very stylish. The story is absorbing once you get into it and could almost be a Philip K. Dick story in that twist follows twist and manages to surprise you constantly. Jeremy Northam’s American accent is flawless and he is surprisingly good. The film also has an excellent score and a sense of humour which makes the complex plot easier to absorb. It may not be as good as Minority Report or Gattaca but it’s certainly better than any of the Matrix sequels and I, Robot. Overall, Cypher is an underrated and fascinating little gem that might become a cult film with time. A must-see for all science-fiction fans.

 

Overall: ****/5

I, Robot (2004)

With: Will Smith and Alan Tudyk

After the Matrix "debacle", I feared the extinction of clever science-fiction films but I,Robot proved me wrong. Directed by Alex Proyas, well known for his ambitious, impressive cult classic Dark City, I, Robot was one of the biggest summer blockbusters of 2004 (a disappointingly low on blockbusters year). Will Smith is slightly miscast as the troubled detective Spooner, it must be said. He fails to eradicate his tiresome "Fresh Prince" persona. Thereore, it is Alan Tudyk who easily steals the show as the robot murder suspect. This film is not only very entertaining but it is also a tense and intelligent detective story. From Isaac Asimov, the writer of the cheese-fest and unbearably overlong Bicentinnial Man comes a truly fascinating and well directed sci-fi film that looks good and feels good.

Overall:***1/2 /5 

Spiderman 2 (2004)

 

With: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Donna Murphy

 

 

Spiderman returned in 2004 with an equally entertaining and impressive sequel directed, once again, by Sam Raimi. From the start, it seems Peter Parker is not doing too well and is finding it hard to handle all his “lives”. He has a lousy job as a pizza delivery boy but is always late because of his “Spidey duties”, actually, he gets fired  very early on in the film. Not only that but he’s not working as well as he should at college since he’s always tired and can’t concentrate. And to top it off, he lives in a crappy little apartment, he’s behind on the rent and the newspapers are still against Spiderman. Oh yeah, and he’s still in love with Mary Jane (Dunst) who’s actually doing pretty well for herself as an actress. Things go from bad to worse as a friendly scientist, Doctor Octavius (Molina) is turned into a powerful villain nicknamed Dr Octopus, aka Doc Ock after an experiment goes horribly wrong. Poor Octavius not only loses his wife but the metallic tentacles which were attached to his spine for the experiment, start to control his every thought. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, son of Norman, aka the Green Goblin, is still far from forgiving Spiderman for killing his “beloved” dad and he just gets angrier and drunker as the film progresses. Aunt May has problems of her own too, financial ones mostly: she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the house anymore and she misses her late husband Ben, who died in the first film. As you can see, all this is very stressful for our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman and the stress in question has become so important that Peter is losing his powers as a cause of it. Which is always a bit annoying, especially when you know an unhinged madman is preparing a dangerous machine capable of destroying the entire city. In this sequel, Sam Raimi’s stylish, tongue-in-cheek style is more perceptible, especially in the inspired, Evil Dead-ish scene where Octopus’ tentacles come alive and brutally annihilate a bunch of doctors. There’s even a little chainsaw involved, and later, “The Chin” himself, Bruce Campbell does another cameo appearance. Some scenes however are too funny, too tongue-in-cheek and I found myself expecting Leslie Nielsen to pop up at some points (especially during the out of place Butch Cassidy spoof bit). Sure Spiderman is light-hearted and fun but not buffoon-esque for crying out loud, calm down Sam. Another problem with this film is the rhythm, there’s far too much emphasis on the M.J. and Peter relationship and the romantic scenes are overlong and just seem to slow down the film’s rhythm. Having said that, those are the only bad points of Spiderman 2. The special effects are still impressive even though the “surprise” factor of the first film is gone. There’s a much better villain (with a decent costume this time) in the shape of Molina’s excellent Dr Octopus. Otherwise, the story is great and … is completely perfect as Jameson. Overall, Spiderman 2 is just as good as its predecessor: it’s bigger, funnier and contains some truly gripping action sequences (the train, the bank). Sam Raimi hasn’t produced a 5 stars-worthy Spiderman film yet but maybe it will come one day, and anyway, I’m not complaining as the 2 Spiderman films  he’s done so far are very admirable indeed.

 

Overall: ****/5

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

 

With: Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy, John Malkovitch, Anna Chancellor

 

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has been a radio show, a novel (by Douglas Adams) and a TV show, so it was inevitable that it would eventually become a film. The cult show has a acquired numerous fans over the years and it looks that they won’t be disappointed with this fine adaptation. It’s basically the story of regular guy Arthur who is saved by his odd friend Ford (not from Earth) who managed to hitch a ride on a spaceship seconds before the Earth’s total destruction by some very unhandsome aliens. But DON’T PANIC! Earth is fine, it’s all fictional. Arthur is thus introduced to the big, very big galaxy and its unusual inhabitants and creations. Soon, Arthur meets some wonderfully weird characters such as Zaphod, the President of the Universe who has 2 faces and without one of them he becomes as dumb as a sheep with brain damage. Not to mention the depressed robot Marvin who steals the show whenever it appears. Everyone is delightfully over the top without being heavy although there is a bit of a lack of Malkovitch, oh well. These days, British cinema hasn’t been at its best, I mean, when your best film of the year is Shaun of the Dead, you know there’s a problem. Here’s a British film that’s actually funny and witty as well as impressive and great to look at. The special effects are excellent and there are some neat stylish moments provided by first-time director Garth Jennings (who did commercials and music videos). The whole thing is very British and eccentric, think Monty Python meets Star Wars meets Brazil. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is definitely my favourite British film in recent years, Shaun of the Dead?? Don’t make me laugh! 

 

Overall: ****/5

 

 

Star Wars: Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005)

 

With: Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid Natalie Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz

 

 

Yes, this is it: the final Star Wars film. After 28 years, George Lucas’ epic sci-fi fantasy saga comes to an end. Episodes I and II were somewhat disappointing. Both told interesting stories and brought fantastic special effects, cool villains and were very entertaining indeed. But they were essentially flawed and failed to match the original trilogy’s brilliance. Now we come to Episode III: Anakin Skywalker gradually detaches himself from the Jedi council, his master Obi Wan and even his pregnant wife Padme and forms a friendship with the evil Chancellor (who turns out to be the Sith Lord) who becomes his master and makes Anakin’s transition to the Dark Side complete. Anyone familiar with the previous Star Wars films knows what to expect and this includes Darth Vador’s long awaited return. I’m glad to say that Episode III is, without a shadow of a doubt, superior to its 2 predecessors: it’s darker, more impressive, clever and George Lucas ultimately does a surprisingly great job at tying the ends of the 2 narrative ropes together. I can’t claim that I’m personally a humongous fan of the Star Wars saga but I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this film and was pleasantly surprised, which is a good thing since I haven’t managed to sit through Episode I till the end yet and was left a bit sceptical after the slightly better Episode II. Episode III may be the best Star Wars prequel but it is not perfect and isn’t without its shortcomings. There are a few cringe-worthy bad jokes and geeky one-liners which made me roll my eyes more than once (and what’s with those droids with the silly squeaky voices?). I must also mention the clumsily written and acted romantic story (the big problem of Episode II) but thankfully, we don’t get a lot of that in this one. Hayden Christensen’s acting is still very wooden but, to be fair, he has improved since Episode II, in which he was just plain incredibly bad and deserved his Razzie nomination. Here, he does his best and proves he can, at least, act evil. Natalie Portman is, well, annoying, but it mustn’t be easy, I’m sure, to be the only girl in this whole story! Ewan McGregor is, however, quite good as Obi Wan, Samuel L. Jackson emanates coolness even in the way he walks, Frank Oz is as good as ever as the voice of Yoda (who, once again, steals the show) and McDiarmid is brilliant as the evil Sith Lord. Everyone kicks butt, even R2D2, who usually just said ‘blip’ repetitively. Overall, it rocks, and Star Wars fans finally have a prequel to be proud of. Darth’s brief return is well and truly welcome and the Force was obviously with George Lucas when he made the film. Terrific fun, this film is. Nerds rejoice!

 

Overall: ****/5 

Epic/ Fantasy

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

 

With: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max Von Sydow

 

 

This is one of Arnold’s first proper films. Of course, the first one was Hercules in New York, undoubtedly one of the worst films ever made. This, however, is a respectable and much more decent effort that propelled The Schwarz to super-stardom. Conan the Barbarian is an adaptation of a book by E.P. Howard (it’s also, more famously, a comic-book). It tells the story of a young boy, Conan who sees his village burned to the ground and both his parents brutally murdered in front of him by some evil snake-loving bad guys. The boy is captured and becomes a slave, as the years pass, the boy becomes a man: Arnie! Obviously, we know what happens next: Conan is going to search for his people’s ruthless killers and get revenge. Along his way, Conan meets some strange characters and gets into some adventures filled with sorcery and violence. There’s also an excellent villain in the form of the evil Thulsa Doom. The whole thing, admittedly, is pretty brainless and there are numerous silly moments, but it’s all so entertaining and so much fun you barely notice it and enjoy the ride. Achnold’s performance is, well, mediocre, as always. But Conan is a barbarian at the end of the day, not a neurotic art-lover from Manhattan! And Schwarzy provides just what the character needs: muscles. Actually, his performance is one of his best believe it or not. What makes this film worth seeing is its originality: the costumes, settings and designs are impressive and the directing is surprisingly good. I must also mention the music for this film contains one of the best and most energetic film scores you’re ever likely to hear. Overall, Conan the Barbarian is an underrated terrific epic fantasy that’s unforgettable and great fun. And to those ignorant reviewers who said it was a ‘thumpingly stupid’ film I say this: I will crush my enemies, see them driven before me and hear the lamentations of their women! Aaarghaaarghh!

 

Overall: ****/5

 

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

 

With: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons

 

 

When Ridley Scott made Gladiator he reinvented the epic genre and obviously a whole bunch of epic films followed…and flopped: Arthur, Alexander, Troy…Now, Ridley has returned with yet another film of this kind (maybe to finish what he started?). He takes on the Crusades and we follow Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith who eventually becomes the defender of Jerusalem against Saladin’s army. From the offset it’s clear that Scott hasn’t lost his touch: the film is visually flawless from beginning till end and the battle scenes are certainly impressive. Unfortunately, the casting of Orlando ‘Legolas’ Bloom proves to be a bit of a mistake. Whereas Russell Crowe was convincing as a tough Roman turned gladiator, Bloom is just too young and innocent-looking to be convincing as a blacksmith turned great kick-ass leader. His acting is sadly too wooden and he seems to struggle with the scenes where he has to act ‘tough’. Having said that, admittedly the rest of the cast does very well although Eva Green and Orlando Bloom undoubtedly suffered an overdose of close-ups during the film. The endless brooding poses and absorbed stares into the distance are quite distracting and unnecessary. Through this film, it’s clear that Ridley Scott wants to show that a) not all Muslims are bad and that b) things haven’t changed that much 1000 years later. And if you can forgive the odd cheesy line, this message is put through quite effectively. Kingdom of Heaven is certainly much better than Arthur etc…but it isn’t quite as stunning as Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King for example. Overall, this is a very entertaining and impressive film that lovers of the epic genre will adore. Just don’t expect Gladiator.

 

Overall: *** /5

 

 

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