Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dictator (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: ballsy political and social satire, awesome performance by Sacha Baron Cohen, heartwarming emotional subplot,

The Bad: unoriginal storyline, some may find parts offensive, requires extensive basic knowledge of numerous sociopolitical issues

Political satire takes an equal amount of balls and tact. Too often does a satire movie end up too preachy, too safe or too overdone that it crosses that thin line. It takes a master to craft a film that delivers a good punch without being too painful. Enter "The Dictator", a witty, funny, biting political and social satire that can easily be the most hilarious film this year.

Larry Charles and Sacha Baron Cohen team up once again to bring us black comedy at its finest. If the snide opening dedication to the late Kim Jong Il does not get you at least grinning or chuckling then you know you're in the wrong theatre. You are not here to watch some tame little romantic comedy. You are here to behold the rise and fall and rise again and fall again of Admiral General Aladeen; the perverted, anti-westerner, immature and slightly off his rocker ruler of the North African republic of Wadiya. His lecherous decadent life is shattered on a fateful trip to address the UN over talks of stopping Wadiya's development of nuclear weapons. Betrayed by his uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley effectively reprising his role of treacherous right hand man from Pince of Persia), replaced by a mentally retarded decoy, and shaved of his trademark beard by a hitman, Aladeen embarks on a clandestine scheme to get back into power by joining forces with a Wadiyan refugee (whom he supposedly executed) and a tomboyish political activist named Zoey. 

 Strip the story down to its bones and it is "Prince and the Pauper" or "Emperor's New Groove". Heck, it's "Lion King" complete with treacherous uncle and African monarch. A sheltered leader falls from power and soon learns the simple joys of a simple life. Not very original there. Yet it is in the pitch perfect execution of this tried and tested plot that The Dictator stands out. Sacha Baron Cohen IS Admiral General Aladeen. He plays the role with such earnest vigour that, like his previous film portrayal of fictional Kazakstanian Borat, you would be hard pressed not to believe Aladeen exists in the real world as a real person. Ironic in that his overblown antics are anything but real. He is a caricature, much like The supporting cast consisting of caricatures of typically oppressed demographics of a population; the minorities, the disabled, those with abnormal sexual preferences, those that dress differently etc. All put on performances beyond excellence but one cannot help but pity how Ben Kingsley has been so under utilized as an actor of late.

The Star attraction is of course, the satire aspect. Other satires may bare their political teeth, but The Dictator sinks its whole jaw into themes of racial oppression, the contradictory nature of democracy, the recent world economic situation, the rise of China and it's own brand of "democracy" etc. It is intentionally crafted to piss off the right people and entertain everyone else. Crude without being overly offensive, . Even the more "icky" stuff like a group sex scene and a particularly queer one about the joys of masturbation are played strictly for shits and giggles. You'd get it if you had a sense of humor. The hard hitting jabs at politics and social issues are interspersed with looney toons style slapstick and a tender emotional subplot that actually feels right in place. 

One downside is that this film does require the viewer to have a bit of knowledge of current world sociopolitical issues. Failing which, a good number of the jokes and jabs would just fly over the heads of the ignorant such as a rousing climatic speech by Aladeen extolling the virtues of dictatorship. (It is not as straight forward as you think. Those that get it will get it good).

 Without the aforementioned prerequisite, The Dictator would come across as just another "Prince and the Pauper" comedy clone.But for those in the know, for those willing to think through all the little mocking points raised by the narrative, it is the softer spiritual cousin to "Team America", the vulgar dysfunctional third nephew to "Fahrenheit 911" and the crude great grandson of Charlie Chaplin's 1940's classic "The Great Dictator". IF anything, The Dictator serves to establish Sacha Baron Cohen as possibly the finest comedy actor of our decade. May his reign be long, hard and full of.................well, you get the point.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: If you like witty political satire the likes of Team America and other black comedy movies
Avoid it: if you are expecting a non-scripted, semi reality type of show in the vein of Cohen's previous film efforts

Entertainment: A-
Story: C+
Acting: A

Characters: A
Music: B-
Replay value: A
"Brains": A-

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Dredd on Trial: Exhibit A and B"

Yes, Judgement is coming. And the world is looking to judge "DREDD", the second live action adaptation of the famous UK science fiction comic series JUDGE DREDD. 

Will it be better than the much maligned Judge "I Am the Law" Dredd movie starring Sylvester Stallone? 
Already we have some evidence against the new guy

A) Budget
- Stallone Judge Dredd had a budget of 90 Million, allowing the production team to splurge on the massive Mega City One sprawl and prop designs, location shoots in the desert, everything to replicate the larger than life portrayal from the comics.
- Dredd 2012 has half that budget at only 45 million and promotional photos so far has shown the cast in tight clustrophobic corridors. Will we be seeing a more down to earth Judge Dredd remake? Will the hover cars, skyscrapers and wacky technology get traded out in exchange for a grittier, more realistic "our near dystopian future" type of setting?

B) The look 

Both actors look nothing like the comic book Judge Dredd as seen below

Stallone's costume seems to be closer to the comic book with its oversized shoulder pads, chain and large gauntlets. Not to mention Stallone's larger body frame. Except for the groin guard, I guess we have a winner eh?
BUT WAIT. This is only the more recent portrayal of Judge Dredd. Let us rewind to the earliest portrayal of Dredd as drawn by Carlos Ezquerra

Curious. No enlarged shoulder pads. Dredd is skinny as heck. The uniform looks like a contemporary Police uniform of the late70s with shoulder pads, shield, futuristic gauntlets and boots thrown on. Fast forward to today, and we have Karl Urban decked out in what seems like a SWAT armor. Very contemporary looking too.

As Dredd's comic book appearance has changed from artist to artist and from era to era, it is really difficult to put down a "de facto" Judge Dredd look. Same with Batman. 

So, although neither looks EXACTLY like the various portrayals in the comic...........Stallone looks like a superhero, Urban looks like an actual Cop. I guess preference is really up to the viewer.

Verdict: With the producers of the new Dredd film promising "District 9 Meets Dirty Harry", we are definitely seeing a less grand, less epic in scale, movie. However, until we see the actual film, Trial is adjourned until further evidence is presented.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prometheus (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 9.5/10

The Good: Gripping tone of mystery and suspense, exceptional visual effects, delves into deep philosophical questions, metaphorically heavy yet easily appreciated on all levels, impeccable cast chemistry and top notch performances, curious sequel set up

The Bad: Not scary at all despite being advertised as Sci/fi horror, plot twists become predictable,

According to Greek myth, Prometheus the titan molded man from clay and stole fire from the God's; a fire which can nurture life as much as destroy it when misused. For his actions, Prometheus is punished to suffer eternally. After the discovery of ancient star maps across several ancient civilisation ruins, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Halloway postulate that extraterrestrial beings were somehow the progenitors of the human race; the star maps reveal other planets that the so called alien "Engineers" may have visited . They are tasked by the Weyland Corporation, under supervision from the cold calculating Merdith Vickers, to lead a team to a distant world in order to discover the mystery of humanity's origin. Yet some among them would follow in the mythical Prometheus' footsteps and dare to plunder the secrets of these alien "gods" for their own gain.

Big ideas and double metaphors abound in Ridley Scott's spiritual successor and very loose prequel to his 1979 "Alien" masterpiece. Though set in the same universe, Prometheus has less in common with Alien's chilling, shock horror genre and more in common with the contemplative 2001: A Space Odyssey; yet it's marketing campaign leads us to believe otherwise. Thankfully, a lack of scares does not mean a lack of suspense. Questions are slowly unraveled through the course of the film while maintaining palpable tension and a sense of "something is not quite right".

The well paced mystery plot is complemented by some fine performance, most notably Michael Fassbender as the android David and Charlize Theron as Vickers. One a creation embracing his creator's traits, the other a woman burying her humanity. Similarly, most of the characters exist as mirror opposites of each other that break the typical stereotypes for such familiar characters in a science fiction movie; the faithful Shaw and the skeptical Holloway, the overly cautious hot headed Fifield and the overly curious Milburn. Even Captain Janek, whom the scientists originally think of as merely a dumb space jockey (pun pun), breaks the stereotypical "tough black guy" mold. If it were not for their terrific chemistry and realistic portrayal of their characters, the dialogue heavy nature of the film would have weighed it down.

Where Alien's look was dark, claustrophobic and eerie, Prometheus is generally bright, wide and grand though still equally unsettling. Weta, the company behind the special effects of James Cameron's AVATAR have once again brought their best efforts to the table giving Prometheus much visual splendor. From the intricately designed vehicles to the surreal alien constructions, every effects shot is a work of art in itself. The film score by Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson Williams keeps this feel of grandeur; the kind of wondrous uplifting theme that invokes images of explorers braving uncharted frontiers in search of the unknown. It is a positive theme, which makes its coupling with the unsettling tone of the film so much more disturbing.

But what is there to set this apart from your typical space exploration, extraterrestrial encounter movie? It is how this movie challenges the audience to think. Within Prometheus' many philosophical touches runs a cautionary tale of mankind's increasing hubris. When analysing the DNA of a dead alien Engineer, Dr Shaw exclaims, "It's us". Thus, the metaphor is complete: the Engineers represent humanity's dark future. Like their extraterrestrial creators, humans have created life in their own image, personified in the uncannily human "David" android. They seek to transcend mortality, they seek to create, to conquer; their greatest pride is the creation of their greatest weapons. Should their creations not satisfy, they have no qualms about eradicating their "mistake". In the process of self advancement, they lose their fundamental humanity, becoming cold, distant, inhuman. Alien. But in seeking to become like Gods themselves, their greatest pride will one day become their undoing.

Aside from a predictable final 5 minutes, Prometheus is almost perfect in every way. Overall, the film might not be the Alien prequel some were expecting. But it manages to be Science Fiction at it's finest with something for everyone to enjoy. Hardcore science dudes would have a thrill picking apart the metaphors and throwing out wild predictions on the various mysteries presented.For fans of the Alien franchise, be on the look out for the numerous references to previous titles and a delicious little teaser. For the casual crowd, there is enough eye candy here with great performances set against a  gripping suspense tale. Only adrenaline pumped action junkies may be a little disappointed by the lack of said action. Like Alien before it, Prometheus seems set up to open a whole new universe of sequel possibilities.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you have grown tired of loud but intellectually empty summer blockbusters and would like to see a true science fiction movie that never panders to it's audience; one that will keep you guessing long after the film is over
Avoid it: if you were mislead into expecting a nail biting space horror in the vein of the original Alien or if you prefer your "all boom and no brain" summer blockbuster

Entertainment: A
Story: A-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: A
Replay value: A
"Brains": A-