Shrek 2 (2004)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Shrek 2

Not so far, far away…

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 93 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 19th May 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 2nd July 2004
Budget: $150 million
Worldwide Gross: $919.8 million

Stars
Mike Myers (Wayne’s World, The Love Guru)
Eddie Murphy (Beverly Hills Cop, Norbit)
Cameron Diaz (Charlie’s Angels, The Holiday)
Antonio Banderas (The Mask of Zorro, The Skin I Live In)
John Cleese (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, A Fish Called Wanda)
Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins, The Princess Diaries)
Jennifer Saunders (Muppet Treasure Island, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie)
Rupert Everett (An Ideal Husband, St. Trinian’s)

Directors
Andrew Adamson (Shrek, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian)
Kelly Asbury (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Gnomeo & Juliet)
Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs Aliens, Sausage Party)

Screenwriters
Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Pip)
Joe Stillman (Shrek, Planet 51)
J. David Stem (The Rugrats Movie, The Smurfs)
David N. Weiss (All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Smurfs 2)

Story by
Andrew Adamson (Shrek the Third, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away)

Based on
Shrek!, a picture book by William Steig — even more loosely than last time, though.


The Story
Newlyweds Shrek and Fiona travel to meet her parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away. They’re less than pleased about their daughter marrying an ogre, especially as the King made a deal with Fairy Godmother for her son, Prince Charming, to be Fiona’s husband — and she insists that bargain be fulfilled.

Our Heroes
Shrek and Donkey, off another whirlwind adventure! After Shrek has a lover’s tiff with his new bride, he sets off to try to make himself what he thinks she wants: human.

Our Villain
Fairy Godmother might seem sweet and helpful, but she actually runs a factory with oppressed workers (they don’t even have dental!) and is manipulating the King so her son can become his heir.

Best Supporting Character
When Fairy Godmother orders the King to deal with Shrek, he seeks out a renowned ogre hunter: Puss in Boots. He may look like an adorable little kitty, but he’s a devil with a sword.

Memorable Quote
“It looks like we’re up chocolate creek without a Popsicle stick!” — Gingerbread Man

Memorable Scene
As a party begins at which Prince Charming will kiss Fiona and make her fall in love with him, Fairy Godmother entertains the guests with a rendition of Holding Out for a Hero — as Shrek and friends storm the castle to rescue his wife.

Memorable Music
The use of pop songs was a defining characteristic of the first Shrek, so naturally that continues here. However, there are also a lot more diegetic songs this time: Jennifer Saunders gets two musical numbers as Fairy Godmother (one an amusing riff on typical Disney numbers, the other mentioned above), plus Tom Waits and Nick Cave both sing (as the same character). The film also includes two really good covers of Holding Out for a Hero (the second, by Frou Frou, plays over the credits), which is some kind of achievement.

Making of / Letting the Side Down
For the UK release, two minor roles were redubbed: Doris the Ugly Stepsister, voiced by chat show host Larry King originally, was replaced by chat show host Jonathan Ross; and the red carpet announcer, voiced by Joan Rivers in the US, was replaced by Kate Thornton, who also must’ve done red carpet stuff at some point, I dunno. I guess it seemed like a fun idea at the time — the idea, presumably, was to localise famous voices with ones that would be better-known in other countries — but they shouldn’t’ve bothered: it’s just distracting, and neither replacement gives a very convincing performance. I think this was the first time such voice localisation had been done, and it seemed to kick off a minor fad for it. I thought it had gone away, but they recently defaced Kung Fu Panda 3 with a similar trick.

Previously on…
Shrek 2 picks up pretty closely from the end of Shrek — you probably need to see that to make full sense of this one.

Next time…
A further two sequels followed, plus a spin-off movie (which has its own spin-offs, including a six-season TV series). There’s also a 4D theme park attraction (which uses a plot that was rejected for Shrek 2) and numerous TV specials. There are always rumours of the franchise getting resurrected, too.

Awards
2 Oscar nominations (Animated Film, Original Song (Accidentally in Love))
2 Saturn Award nominations (Animated Film, DVD Special Edition)
7 Annie Award nominations (Animated Feature, Animated Effects, Directing, Music, Storyboarding, Voice Acting (Antonio Banderas), Writing)
Nominated for the Palme d’Or (again!)

Verdict

Having said Shrek has aged and dated, I think Shrek 2 has fared better. Arguably the first one has more pure originality, giving birth to an irreverent fairytale meta-verse, but Shrek 2 expands on those building blocks and plays with the ideas. There are lots of fun movie spoofs (though many are from the same era, so their effectiveness could partly be nostalgia), the climax is a legitimately good action sequence (see Memorable Scene), and there’s even a decent thematic throughline about what you’re prepared to do or give up for the one you love. Plus the animation looks a lot more polished — three years makes a huge difference in computer animation, especially in the early noughties. The first one has its moments, for sure, and perhaps some of them are better or more memorable too, but as an overall film I prefer the sequel.

Shrek (2001)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Shrek

The greatest fairy tale never told.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 16th May 2001 (USA)
UK Release: 29th June 2001
Budget: $60 million
Worldwide Gross: $484.4 million

Stars
Mike Myers (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Cat in the Hat)
Eddie Murphy (Coming to America, Dreamgirls)
Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, Gangs of New York)
John Lithgow (Cliffhanger, Rise of the Planet of the Apes)

Directors
Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away)
Vicky Jenson (Shark Tale, Post Grad)

Screenwriters
Ted Elliott (Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Terry Rossio (The Mask of Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)
Joe Stillman (Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Gulliver’s Travels)
Roger S.H. Schulman (Balto, Mulan II)

Based on
Shrek!, a picture book by William Steig.


The Story
When his swamp is overrun with fairytale creatures, ogre Shrek sets off to confront the man responsible, Lord Farquaad. To get his land back, Shrek must rescue the Princess Fiona from her dragon-guarded castle, so that Farquaad can marry her. But all is not as it appears…

Our Hero
Shrek is a grumpy Scottish-accented ogre who just wants to be left alone in his swamp, but events conspire to get in his way. Of course, as things transpire, he really has a heart of gold.

Our Villain
Men of his stature are in short supply, though there are those who think little of him — it’s Lord Farquaad, who wants Fiona to be his bride primarily so he can become king.

Best Supporting Character
Shrek’s new best friend (whether he likes it or not), wise-cracking ass Donkey, gets many of the best lines.

Memorable Quote
Gingerbread Man: “Do you know… the Muffin Man?”
Lord Farquaad: “The Muffin Man?”
Gingerbread Man: “The Muffin Man.”
Lord Farquaad: “Yes, I know the Muffin Man. Who lives on Drury Lane?”
Gingerbread Man: “Well, she’s married to the Muffin Man…”
Lord Farquaad: “The Muffin Man?”
Gingerbread Man: “The Muffin Man!
Lord Farquaad: “She’s married to the Muffin Man…”

Memorable Scene
As Shrek, Fiona, and Donkey travel back to Lord Farquaad, they’re jumped upon by Robin Hood (who, for no apparent reason, has a French accent) and his Merry Men, attempting to rescue Fiona by, in part, singing a merry song. But she doesn’t want rescuing and so goes all Matrix on their merry arses.

Memorable Music
As part of its generally irreverent take on myths and fairytales, Shrek is laden with contemporary popular music. It was all very modern at the time, but, 17 years on, it’s obviously dated itself, sounding distinctly early-millennium-y now.

Technical Wizardry
The overall animation quality may be looking a bit dated now, but Shrek hails from the era when every major new computer-animated movie was breaking ground in the field, in one way or another. In Shrek‘s case, it was the ability to realistically animate hair and grass.

Next time…
To date there have been three sequel movies, a spin-off movie (which then has its own world of attendant spin-offs, including a six-season TV series), a 4D theme park attraction (which was included in 3D on some DVD releases of the film), plus numerous TV specials and the like, as well as a stage musical version. There are constant rumours of the franchise getting a big-screen continuation, too.

Awards
1 Oscar (Animated Feature)
1 Oscar nomination (Adapted Screenplay)
1 BAFTA (Adapted Screenplay)
5 BAFTA nominations (Film, Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy), Music, Sound, Special Visual Effects)
1 BAFTA Children’s Award (Film)
1 Saturn Award (DVD Special Edition)
4 Saturn Award nominations (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Eddie Murphy), Writing, Music)
8 Annie Awards (Animated Theatrical Feature, Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature, Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature, Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Feature (Eddie Murphy), Individual Achievement for Effects Animation, Individual Achievement for Music Score an Animated Feature, Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature, Individual Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature)
4 Annie Award nominations (Individual Achievement for Character Animation (x3), Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation
Nominated for the Palme d’Or (seriously)

Verdict

DreamWorks’ irreverent riff on fairytale animations was a breath of fresh air back in 2001, allowing them to net the first Best Animated Feature Oscar ahead of Disney or Pixar. A decade and a half of imitators have taken the shine off that somewhat, as have advances in technology (old CGI ages worse than old cel animation), but it remains an amusing and quotable film, with a surprisingly strong moral message at its heart.

Gangs of New York (2002)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #35

America was born in the streets

Country: USA & Italy
Language: English
Runtime: 168 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 20th December 2002
UK Release: 9th January 2003
First Seen: cinema, 2003

Stars
Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic, The Revenant)
Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, Lincoln)
Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, My Sister’s Keeper)
Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge!, Another Year)
Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Kingdom of Heaven)

Director
Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed)

Screenwriters
Jay Cocks (The Age of Innocence, Silence)
Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Kenneth Lonergan (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Margaret)

Story by
Jay Cocks (Strange Days, De-Lovely)

Inspired by
The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld, a non-fiction book written in 1927 by Herbert Asbury.

The Story
New York City, 1846: after his father is murdered in a fight by fellow gang leader Bill ‘the Butcher’, young Amsterdam Vallon is dumped in an orphanage. Sixteen years later, he returns to the Five Points district. With revenge in mind, he tries to establish himself with the ruling gang and get close to their leader — Bill.

Our Hero
In the first of his five (to date) collaborations with Scorsese (or six if you count that advertising short they were paid an insane amount for), Leonardo DiCaprio is Amsterdam Vallon, son of a murdered gang leader who, decades later, plots his revenge. His nemesis is a cunning so-and-so, however…

Our Villain
Although he’s a ruthless killer, and the unquestionable villain from the outset, Daniel Day-Lewis manages to render Bill a perversely charming creation, who unavoidably captivates your attention whenever he’s on screen.

Best Supporting Character
Priest Vallon, Amsterdam’s father, only appears in the opening sequence, but his influence and death hangs over the rest of the movie. That’s why you need an actor of Liam Neeson’s calibre for the part, and of course such casting pays off.

Memorable Quote
“I’m 47. 47 years old. You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear.” — Bill

Memorable Scene
Scorsese captures an entire lifecycle in New York’s Five Points within a single tracking shot, which begins with immigrants arriving fresh off the boat and ends with coffins lined up on the quay.

Memorable Music
I have mixed feelings about U2 (because, y’know, Bono), but the theme they crafted for GangsThe Hands That Built America — is a pretty good track, and sits very appropriately at the end of the movie. It was Oscar-nominated, but lost to Eminem’s Lose Yourself from 8 Mile.

Letting the Side Down
Scorsese tried to make Gangs of New York for ages. At one point, he wanted Meryl Streep for the lead female role. He ended up with Cameron Diaz. Say no more, eh.

Making of
Unable to film in New York, which no longer looked like it did back in the mid-1800s, the production was mounted on a large set at Rome’s Cinecittà Studio. According to Wikipedia, production designer Dante Ferretti constructed “over a mile of mid-nineteenth century buildings, consisting of a five-block area of Lower Manhattan, including the Five Points slum, a section of the East River waterfront and two full-sized sailing ships, a thirty-building stretch of lower Broadway, a patrician mansion, and replicas of Tammany Hall, a church, a saloon, a Chinese theater, and a gambling casino.” Now that is a set!

Awards
10 Oscar nominations (Picture, Director, Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Film Editing, Sound, Original Song)
1 BAFTA (Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis))
11 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Music, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, Sound, Visual Effects, Make Up/Hair)
2 World Stunt Award nominations (Best Fight (the opening), Best Stunt Coordinator and/or 2nd Unit Director)
1 Teen Choice Award nomination (Choice Movie Liplock)

What the Critics Said
“The ambition is immense. This is Scorsese’s version of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and there are echoes of Kurosawa, Eisenstein and Visconti, as well as the nod to Welles […] As with Heaven’s Gate, judgment on this film must await Scorsese’s longer version. Nevertheless, this remains an astonishing achievement, a film with a passionate sense of life, by one of the greatest filmmakers at work today.” — Philip French, The Observer

Score: 75%

What the Public Say
“This movie, even if it ended with Amsterdam’s degradation rather than his triumph, would be fabulous, probably only inferior to Raging Bull and Goodfellas among Scorsese’s oeuvre. The problem is that the movie is nearly three hours long, and that the movie continues after Amsterdam’s maiming. There is a marvelous story to be told about American tyranny, about the immigrant experience, about just how firmly entrenched the powerful are. Do you choose bellicose racism as Bill does, or do you throw your lot in with benevolent corruption as Tweed does? It hardly seems to matter; you will be expunged and forgotten in the slop and grime of the Five Points all the same while someone else wears a tall hat and eats well.” — speakerformediocrities, Seeing Things Secondhand

Verdict

Gangs of New York ended up with a bit of a mixed reception when it finally came out in 2002, which is only to be expected after Scorsese had been intending to make it for over 20 years, and the version he had shot was stuck in editing for a year (considering all the Director’s Cuts we get nowadays, why have we never had Scorsese’s original 48-minutes-longer cut?) It’s undoubtedly a compromised film, then, but one that retains a rich atmosphere, engaging performances (even if it suffers from two of the leads, DiCaprio and Diaz, being two of the least accomplished), and an impressive sense of scale. It may have a relatively simplistic revenge-tale throughline, but class swirls around it.

#36 will be… 攻殻機動隊.

The Green Hornet (2011)

2014 #117
Michel Gondry | 119 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

The Green HornetBased on a radio serial that spawned film serials, a famous TV series, and, eventually, comic books, The Green Hornet is a ‘superhero’ saga with a difference. For one thing, technically he’s just a vigilante — no superpowers here — and for another, as noted, it didn’t originate as a comic book. But that’s the milieu the character slots into these days, and so this attempted revival plays in that ballpark.

In this version, rich-kid playboy Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) used to want to be a hero, until his domineering newspaper-magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) crushed his spirit. After daddy dearest drops dead, Britt and chaffeur/coffeemaker Kato (Jay Chou) accidentally save a couple from a mugging and decide to fight crime, using Britt’s newly-inherited newspaper, in particular the research skills of secretary Lenore (Cameron Diaz), to help their cause. But LA crime kingpin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is not impressed with this new threat…

Produced, co-written by and starring Rogen, and directed by quirky Frenchman Michel Gondry, anyone familiar with their CVs will find “a superhero movie made by Seth Rogen and Michel Gondry” to be a pretty adequate summation of The Green Hornet. To clarify, it’s pretty comical, sometimes in that man-child frat-boy way, sometimes with a leftfield quirkiness. The combination makes it unique in the world of superhero movies, but hasn’t gone down well with critics or many viewers.

Run away!Well, screw them — The Green Hornet is brilliant. If you’re after the po-faced angsty worthiness of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy or the Spider-Man reboot, or even the X-Men films, then you need not apply. This has more in common, tonally, with Kick-Ass, or even Iron Man with the comedy bits dialled up further. That said, those two films were quite popular, so why isn’t this one?

For one, apparently Seth Rogen is doing his usual Seth Rogen schtick. That may be the case, but I’ve never actually seen a Rogen film, so I’m not over-familiar with his MO. His style isn’t top of my list of “how to do good comedy”, but it’s diluted enough here that it largely didn’t bother me. A couple of sections indulge it a little too much, but c’est la vie — it doesn’t ruin the whole film.

Another may be the film’s irreverence. That’s not to say something like Kick-Ass doesn’t have its share of genre disrespect, but while it allows its heroes to be comical it takes its villain seriously (so too Iron Man, actually). In The Green Hornet, everyone’s somewhere on the comic spectrum: Waltz’s villain is obsessed with being perceived as scary, in the end re-christening himself “Bloodnofsky”, dressing in red leather and coming up with an elaborate catchphrase to reel off before killing people. Waltz is, depending on your point of view, subtly ridiculous or phoning it in. It’s not as memorable a creation as his Inglourious Basterds Nazi, but you can rely on Waltz for a quality comic adversary.

The car's the starThen there’s Gondry’s direction, which is often as idiosyncratic as you’d expect. He’s at his peak during the action sequences, which explode in an array of effects and slow-motion to create multiple memorably unique fights and chases. Highlights are the first time Kato unveils his martial arts prowess, and the crazy car-driven climax. Chou and the tricked-out car, Black Beauty, are undoubtedly the stars of these bits — indeed, the film has an overall good line in making Kato the brains behind the operation. I imagine this is subverting the depiction of the Asian sidekick from previous versions, considering when they were made, but as I’ve never seen any I can’t comment fairly.

I imagine those who are enamoured of previous versions were also less keen on this one. There’s probably too much Rogen-esque comedy and Gondry-esque oddness for anyone used to a classic character from a previous era. I can’t blame them for being less-than-pleased by someone trampling all over something they love. For those of us without a previous attachment to the characters, however — and, crucially, with an open enough mind to accept a ‘superhero’ movie that brings a different perspective and style to an arguably-overworked sub-genre — this incarnation of The Green Hornet is a fine piece of entertainment. In fact, I’m tempted to say it’s one of the best superhero movies of the current generation.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of The Green Hornet is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.

It merited an honourable mention on my list of The Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.