The Week in Film by Robert Mann – Week Starting 31/7/09

G-Force 3D ****
G-Force 2D ***½

Talking guinea pigs who work for the FBI – if ever there was a film concept that seemed doomed to fail then this is most likely it. Yet, despite the initial ridiculousness of the concept, which truly does sound like a recipe for box office – and of course critical – disaster, G-Force is actually a family film that has seemed quite promising ever since the first trailer was released. Produced by Disney – who, face it, are behind the majority of movies involving talking animals – and Jerry Bruckheimer, the man behind such crowd pleasers as Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure, this film has already outperformed expectations at the US box office, although the critical reception has been predictably poor. When it comes to family movies, however, what do critics know? Talking animals always prove popular with children and with the trailers thus far showing off some quite decent looking CGI and action set-pieces, and a cast that features some pretty big names in vocal roles and some great comic talent in live action parts, this certainly promises to be one of the bigger and more popular family movies of the remainder of the summer. But, does this mean that you will leave the cinema with a big smile on your face or will you feel like a guinea pig yourself, having had to endure this?

G-Force is a group of guinea working for the FBI who have been specially trained to carry out covert missions. The team, brought together and looked after by scientist Ben Kendall (Zach Galifianakis) and vet Marcie Hollandsworth (Kelli Garner), consists of team leader Darwin (voiced by Sam Rockwell), weapons and transportation expert Blaster (voiced by Tracy Morgan), martial arts expert Juarez (voiced by Penelope Cruz), mole Speckles (voiced by Nicolas Cage) who is responsible for cyber intelligence and fly Mooch (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker) who does surveillance. When their project is shut down by FBI head Kip Killian (Will Arnett) and their equipment seized, G-Force are forced to go on the run to stop diabolical billionaire Leonard Saber (Bill Nighy) before he can unleash a weapon known as Project Clusterstorm on the world. Having to face both the FBI and Saber’s robotic creations, they are aided by fellow guinea pig Hurley (voiced by Jon Favreau) and hamster Bucky (Steve Buscemi), as well as Ben and Marcie. With time running out before Clusterstorm is activated the team must stop Saber before it is too late and prove to the FBI once and for all that they have what it takes.

Many had G-Force pegged to be one of the worst movies of 2009 yet it actually stands as quite a pleasant surprise. Greatly superior to other live action talking animal movies thanks to better visual effects and quite a decent plot, there are a number of things to recommend this film as piece of family entertainment. Firstly, for a film such as this the visual effects are quite outstanding. The CG animal characters look almost real and their interaction with live action environments is virtually seamless. The success of the effects can undoubtedly be attributed to first time director Hoyt Yeatman Jr. who has had considerable experience working as a visual effects supervisor and has won 2 Oscar for his visual effects work. The effects impress even more thanks to the fantastic use of 3D. Showing that 3D can work just as well with live action as it does with animation, this film was clearly made for 3D from square one, unlike some recent movies where 3D was just an afterthought, and it makes the action sequences all the more immersive and thrilling. If only you could imagine people in the place of rodents the action sequences, particularly a car chase and a final showdown between Project Clusterstorm and the military, could almost rival those from other recent action films. Surprisingly the storyline also isn’t too bad, at least for a film like this, with a great deal more effort clearly having been put into the script than for other live action animal movies like Garfield and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. There’s even a surprise revelation at the end. If there is one gripe with the film, however, it is that the film doesn’t work as well in the comedy department. The film just doesn’t create as many laughs as it should, even with the presence of comedy actors Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis in the cast. Perhaps it’s that both come from backgrounds of more adult comedy, Galifianakis in particular, having come fresh off breakout success in this summer’s The Hangover. Will Arnett plays a family friendly version of his trademark asshole character but it doesn’t work as well toned down. The rest of the human cast don’t shine much either, mostly out-staged by their furry co-stars, the vocals for whom are provided by some pretty big name actors, including Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan. Each of the vocal actors helps to add personality to their respective characters but such big names don’t really add that much overall. All in all, G-Force is not the travesty you might have expected, actually proving to be quite an entertaining movie that kids should enjoy and parents actually might not mind being dragged along to.


Land of the Lost ***½

Movies based on cult TV shows have a very hard time at the box office. Films based on such classic programmes as The Avengers, Speed Racer and Bewitched (not to mention numerous others) have all struggled to find an audience and now, following its poor performance at the US box office, Land of the Lost can be added to the list, further continuing the trend. But what is the reason for the poor reception to all these films? Is it that the films aren’t any good or just that people are too unfamiliar with the source material? Personally I think the latter, as Land of the Lost, contrary to what critics stateside are saying, is actually an extremely fun movie. Based on the TV series of the same name created by Marty and Sid Krofft that ran from 1974 to 1977 (and spawned a remake that ran from 1991 to 1992), Land of the Lost has quite a few things to speak for its quality. Director Brad Silberling previously helmed the wonderfully bizarre Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Will Ferrell continues to be one of the funniest comedy actors working in Hollywood, even if his choices in film projects are a bit hit and miss, and Anna Friel is at a high point in her acting career following a lead role in the wonderful TV series Pushing Daisies (which itself is probably destined to become a cult success). All this combined with a concept that offers much potential for adventure and humour makes for a film with much promise, and a film that does deliver on this promise.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) was once a highly respected scientist whose books were frequently bestsellers. However, this all changed when his theories about time warps and alternate dimensions resulted in him being laughed out of his profession, his dreams disappearing along with his career. Now he is an underappreciated teacher who no one takes seriously but everything changes when he is given the opportunity to finally prove his theories. Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a research student who was thrown out of Cambridge University due to her following of Marshall’s theories presents evidence that she had discovered which apparently proves everything he ever believed, motivating Marshall to finally build the device that will allow him to prove himself. Taking the device out into the field Marshall and Holly, along with redneck survivalist Will Stanton (Danny McBride) find themselves sucked through to an alternate universe filled with dinosaurs and other fantastical creatures. With the device that allowed them to get there lost, however, and their only ally being a primate named Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), they find themselves in a fight not only for their survival but also for the very existence of both universes as they encounter lizard people intent on domination. The only hope is to find the device before it is too late.

Part of the reason why Land of the Lost failed at the US box office can undoubtedly be attributed to Will Ferrell himself. Audiences seem to respond more to Ferrell when he is playing outlandish, over the top characters (such as those in Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory), but what we get here is just typical, generic Will Ferrell. It’s not that generic Will Ferrell isn’t funny mind you, as he is still extremely entertaining, but this is far from his best performance and certainly doesn’t stand out on his list of credits. Nonetheless he amuses, though, and he is ably backed up both of his co-stars. Anna Friel is as delightful as ever and for once she uses her native British accent rather than an American one (not to say that she doesn’t do a good American accent though) and Danny McBride is suitably brash and crude in his role. Here, however, lies one of the flaws of the film though. You would most likely expect Land of the Lost to be a family aimed squarely at a family audience, particularly considering that the original series was most definitely aimed at families. However, as indicated by the PG13/12A rating, there is in fact a lot of quite risqué content present throughout the film, with gags revolving around references to both sex and drugs. With this bizarre mix of family and adult humour, this is a certainly not a film to take the young ones to see. The humour is certainly a mixed bag, with the crude gags often not fitting in, but as a whole the film does manage to be pretty funny and for a change the best gags have not been given away in the trailer. There is a distinct sense that not everyone will appreciate the humour but for those who do – like me for example – there are quite a lot of laughs to be had watching this film. The film also succeeds in another area and that is its classic look and feel. Almost everything, from the old fashioned style Universal logo at the start to the soundtrack, not to mention the use of people in costumes rather than CGI for many of the creatures, creates the look and feel of an old fashioned fantasy TV show. The fantasy world is wonderfully surreal and the use of practical effects for much of it makes the impact all the better. Of course, there is some CGI, notably the dinosaurs, and this is decent but not overwhelming, getting the job done without blowing you away. For the purposes of this film, however, this is all that is really needed. Overall, Land of the Lost stands as a film with quite a few things to recommend it although, as with the very show that inspired it, it is very likely that it will only be truly appreciated by a small niche audience. If you are in this niche, however, you are sure to have a great time watching it.


The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 ***

It’s remake time again and this time it’s the turn of the 1974 Walter Matthau crime thriller The Taking of Pelham One Two Three to be given the 21st century Hollywood makeover treatment, and the person tasked with updating the classic film is the very capable Tony Scott whose distinct filming style lends itself perfectly to a film such as this. And with a cast headed by Denzel Washington and John Travolta The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 take two certainly seems like a film that cannot fail (although at the US box office it technically has) with the promise of great acting and thrilling action suggesting a potential must see movie. So, is Pelham 1 2 3 a train worth boarding or should you choose to wait at the station for the next one?

Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) is a New York City subway train dispatcher who has been demoted from a high ranking position following allegations of bribery. It is just a normal day as a dispatcher but this soon changes when a group of gunmen headed by a man calling himself Ryder (John Travolta) highjack the train Pelham 1 2 3. Their demands are simple – $10 million delivered in one hour or they will start killing one hostage for every minute after the deadline. As the Mayor (James Gandolfini) attempts to get the money together and to the destination before the deadline, a face-off begins as Garber tries to keep Ryder under control and prevent the loss of life. With the assistance of hostage negotiator Camonetti (John Turturro) and his vast knowledge of the subway system Garber manages to strike a chord with Ryder but as events delay the delivery of the money time begins to run out. As the stakes get higher the tension begins to mount beneath his feet and Garber soon finds himself implicated in Ryder’s plot further and further as the gunman’s true motivations begin to emerge.

Right from the opening it is clear that this is a Tony Scott film. The camera work and editing is pure Tony Scott with his trademark fast cut editing being successfully used throughout and some good cinematography that cleverly draws out sharp, clear images from blurry backgrounds and surroundings. From a technical standpoint it is hard to find any fault with this film but despite this The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is far from perfect. The key reason for this is that the film simply isn’t gripping enough. Much of what happens is pretty by the numbers and while Scott does indeed manage to get a lot of tension out of the situation (aided by an almost real-time format) the film fails to be thrilling enough to really maintain the attention. Essentially, the film is nowhere as entertaining as it could have been. This is not the fault of any of the actors though. While Denzel Washington and John Travolta hardly deliver career defining performances they are both strong nonetheless, Washington getting the chance to play an everyman type for a change instead of a cop and Travolta being gleefully over the top as the villain of the piece. In fact, the entire film pretty much rests on them as it is their interactions that really make the film worth watching. Without them it would probably be quite dull indeed. The supporting cast is also strong but the focus constantly remains on the two leads. Ultimately, with the exception of a slight plot twist which isn’t that hard to see coming, there is nothing to make the film seem special. Thus, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 stands as just a routine hostage thriller that is fairly tense but completely unmemorable.


Reviews by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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