Sunday, 5 May 2013
I can't believe that I actually watched this! I turned on the telly as I started feeding my son, and it just so happened to take about 90 minutes, so I ended up watching it all. Is that a valid excuse? It's quite odd because pains have been taken to style the whole film so that everything is green: black and green T-shirt on Patrick Smash (the boy with the titular pants), green cars, all the décor in the school is green. This is all evidence that the style has been thought about quite a lot; and not only that, but there are quite a number of high-profile actors. The likes of Paul Giamatti, Stephen Fry, Celia Imrie, Simon Callow and Ned Beatty and all make more than a passing appearance.
Yet at the end of the day the story is that of a young boy with persistent flatulence who wants to become an astronaut! Totally stupid, and it's not a good film; but perhaps worse is that there are plenty of "serious" films that are aren't as good as Thunderpants!
Saturday, 27 April 2013
Many now respected directors started their careers in the zombie splatter genre. Peter Jackson made his bones with Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992), Sam Raimi first made Within the Woods (1978) and more famously The Evil Dead (1981). More recently Zack Snyder’s first feature film was a visceral remake of the George A Romero classic Dawn of the Dead (2004), and Edgar Wright’s first feature was Zom-Rom-Com Shaun of the Dead (2004) (though I’m intrigued as to what his video short “Fun Dead” starring Keith Chegwin is like!). So given that Zombieland is director Ruben Fleischer’s first feature length film, perhaps we can expect interesting things from him in future (though I didn’t hear amazing things about Gangster Squad (2013)).
Zombieland is definitely more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead than Bad Taste, less of the over the top gore (though there is plenty of that too). Narrated by the main character Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) we are quickly introduced to the 5 rules for surviving a Zombie attack (cardio, double-tap, beware of bathrooms, buckle up and travel light), and after that the film is full of dark, gory humour. Jesse Eisenberg is a likeable main character; a quiet conscientious kind of guy who seems to have applied logic to the zombie apocalypse, and so far his brain has kept him alive. Tallahassee (Woody Harrleson) is a maniac in search of a Twinkie, whose unbridled joy at battering zombies has kept him alive; and though he seems an unlikely friend for Columbus, they get on together and form an unlikely alliance. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin complete the human cast, and they are both fine, but don’t really have as substantial a role as Eisenberg or Harrelson.
From the opening steady-cam tracking shot, and the subtle background CG effects to the way that the text for “The Rules” is integrated into the film, it is apparent that thought has gone into the making of Zombieland. Ruben Fleischer is suitably inventive with his shots and camera work, so that the movie clips along nicely and keeps us down amongst the characters for much of the time; all helped by Cloverfield DP Michael Bonvillian. The zombie effects are a mixture of practical and visual effects, but despite all of the blood being computer generated everything looks suitably gooey and convincing.
Everything amounts to a great little film with a wicked sense of humour, Eisenberg and Harrelson play off each other really well and enough is done differently to keep the zombie genre fresh and exciting. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.
Saturday, 13 April 2013
Before Guillermo del Toro found mainstream recognition with his two Hellboy films, he directed the second of the Blades. This second installment is far more entertaining than the first, probably because it's simply a better film. The first 5 minutes are more creative and dynamic than the entire first film; the cast are a lot better, and at no point do vampires try to be day-walkers by wearing sun block!
Wesley Snipes seems to have settled into his role a little, and doesn't seem as stilted as he did in the first film. Surprised as I was that Luke Goss was great as Prince Nuada in Hellboy 2, I wasn't aware that del Toro had used him before; he was very convincing as the mutant vampire Nomak. And he's not the only surprise; Cat from Red Dwarf (Danny John Jules) features as a vampire in the first half of the film! I was a bit disappointed that Tony Curran wasn't used more though; he's great as Marcus in Underworld Evolution and wonderful as Vincent van Gogh in Doctor Who. Ron Perlman is Ron Perlman playing a vampire, and is therefore quite cool. So the standard of acting is a significant improvement from the first film.
The plot was one of the (highlights is too strong a word given the inconsistencies I didn't like) lights of the first film, and there is no disappointment here either. A more consistent and engaging story, and even a little twist; David S Goyer showing that he is continuing as an inventive writer worthy of his plaudits. I have quite a soft spot for Vampire mythology movies (Underworld and Evolution are real guilty pleasures), so I was rather disappointed by the first Blade; happily Blade 2 belongs to the guilty pleasure pile, helped by creative direction a smart story and a pretty decent cast.
Sunday, 7 April 2013
Probably most famous for THAT scene, Scanners has more to offer than exploding heads. Ok, so it is an iconic scene and rightly deserves that status, but there is actually a great story in there too. Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) has a powerful telekinetic power but without guidance can't control it; because of this he is living as a bum. When Dr Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for ConSec (a company which OCP from Robocop is surely based on) takes him under his wing, Cameron learns to control this "scanning" power and is sent on a mission to find a very powerful and dangerous scanner called Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).
I really like this film; it is a well written story and David Cronenberg is creative in his direction. There are several instances of mundane scenes that are made noticeable by the movements the camera makes. I love the 70s vibe and the almost animalistic noises when someone is being scanned. Add to this Howard Shore's rather weird but perfectly placed score and the result is a slightly unsettling film whose atmosphere really sticks with you.
Scanners is not without its faults; probably most obvious is the acting, which is average at best. That is of course except for Michael Ironside who is brilliant as the unhinged Darryl Revok. Though the only substantial piece of dialogue he really has is during his final confrontation with Cameron, Michael's Revok has a presence that casts a shadow over the whole film. This can't be said of Stephen Lack though; I can't quite decide whether he just can't act; or if that is how Cronenberg wanted the character played, and Stephen's William Hague-esque voice just doesn't do him any favours.
The special effects are suitably gooey, very much in the style of The Thing. Of course the highlight is the exploding head, achieved with a shotgun behind a prosthetic head full of offal. Almost because of the early spectacular scene, it's easy to overlook the final confrontation which is also fairly spectacular, Cameron clawing at his own face is pretty gruesome. Though the final reveal is a bit perplexing.
Scanners does look very dated, a fact that I think would distance an audience looking for slick special effects and not much else; but look beyond this and you realise that the film is so much more. After all, no one ever accuses The Italian Job of being rubbish just because it looks old. Scanners deals with themes of social misfits (rather like the mutants in X-men) and corporate/scientific conspiracy; everyone loves a good conspiracy. Cronenberg would revisit the scientific meddling perhaps more famously in The Fly. Maybe not the most original ideas, but Scanners manages to squeeze a hell of a lot into 90 minutes, and does it with style. That maybe a 70s style, but with such a strong script and a great Michael Ironside, that style works really well.
Sunday, 31 March 2013
Far more traditional and technicolour than the Coen brothers' excellent 2010 remake, this version is never the less a great western. Not a hotel chain. There is some glorious cinematography of amazing landscapes, a rousing if repetitive score and a great performance from John Wayne. Even Matty Ross is really good despite reminding me of a very young Prof Brian Cox! I really expected her to be fairly wooden in light of how brilliant Hailee Steinfeld is in the 2010 film, so I was impressed with how effortless Kim Darby's performance is.
An early still from Wonders of the Universe!
Having not been too enamoured of Wayne's performance in The Searchers, here he gives us a far more understated, and in my view a more convincing one. Rooster Cogburn is a cantankerous US Marshall who spends half his hours drunk; who'd have thought that all-American John Wayne would have been excellent at this. Rooster is far more of an anti-hero than John's character in The Searchers (and I imagine a lot of his other roles), which is probably why I prefer it. Rooster is far more in the mold of The Man with No Name from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns than John's usual American hero image. Glen Campbell is good as Le Boeuf, and the banter between him, Rooster and Matty is sharp and witty. The film also throws up a few cast surprises in a very young Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall, both of who do very well in their minor roles.
Like I say, this isn't quite in the same class as the Coen brothers film, but is still a very enjoyable movie. At the heart of the film is the relationship between the three main characters. John, Glen and Kim are great together, and it is their quick, witty interaction that drives the film, making it a cut above similar westerns.
Saturday, 30 March 2013
I must admit that the reason I got the Blade trilogy boxed set is that I was most interested in seeing Guillermo del Toro's Blade 2. I hope it was worth it, because Blade isn't really. Actually there are several things to like, it's just that the overall result is a bit meh.
Wesley Snipes is good as Blade, he is able to do the martial arts required, able to be gruff and deliver his aggressive lines well; well some times. Actually Blade is rather like a terminator; he seems to be fairly indestructible and is belligerently violent and aggressive, which admittedly does take any tension out of the film. I thought Kris Kristofferson was ok as Whistler, though I'm sure there are plenty actors who could do just as good a job. The same goes for Stephen Dorff who is Deacon Frost, the main antagonist; he's a fairly unconvincing bad guy.
The story itself is well paced; it sets up Blade's character well at the beginning and waits until a natural break in proceedings to give us more background; which leads to a surprise near the end. This is all thanks to David S Goyer's writing, this is the guy who is half responsible for giving us the story behind the superb Dark Knight trilogy. He also wrote the story for the next two Blade films, so there should be some consistency between them at least.
However, I'm not sure if he's responsible for one of the things that bugs me about the film, and that's the inconsistencies there seems to be with vampire lore. Why is silver important, isn't that werewolves? The pure-blood vampire, Dragonetti, (the head of a vampire "family") starts to smoke when he's taken to watch the sun rise even before he's been stripped, yet all the others are fine wearing biker gear. Then Frost happily talks to Blade in the middle of a sunny day because he's wearing sunblock! On his eyeballs too? I don't know if this is lore from the comics, but it just looked sloppy and inconsistent in the film.
The main problem though is Stephen Norrington’s direction. It is uninspiring, and unimaginative; he just generally seems to point the camera, and it’s usually static. Given what's generally happening on screen he could have been been much more dynamic; the initial reveal of Blade could have been so much better; and given that the chamber for creating the blood god is a tall cylinder, so much more could have been done with sweeping, diving camera moves. With a little more imagination this could have been a very slick movie. That being said, I did like the speeded up nightfall and the sharp shadows cast on the skyscrapers, I thought that was very effective.
When you consider that The Matrix came out the following year, there are some particularly ropey special effects towards the end with some blatantly computer generated blood. Though I did really like the way the vampires all died by turning to cinders and skeletonising. For all my slagging, Blade is a watchable film, I just feel with a better cast (Underworld managed to get Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi for goodness sake!) and some more inventive direction, it could have been very cool.
Sunday, 17 March 2013
Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe, a private detective hired by General Sternwood (a retired and ailing old man) to investigate blackmail, but the case quickly becomes far more involved. Soon enough, people start being killed and Marlowe starts to think that the General's daughters Vivian and Carmen may be involved. The plot is certainly very complicated and it really has to be seen twice (I watched it once with subtitles because everyone speaks so fast), and you really can't stop concentrating for a moment. It sounds like hard work, but it's great because if it slowed down, any over explanation would just seem clunky and would really kill the film.
At the heart of the film is a brilliant performance from Bogart, it's like he never stops talking, but as everything he says is pure gold, you really don't want him to stop. His Marlowe is quick, witty, sharp and passionate. He absolutely dominates every scene he's in, except those he shares with Lauren Bacall who plays Vivian, the General's elder daughter. The on-screen chemistry between these two is just wonderful; their verbal sparring always left me with a smile on my face, it is a joy to watch. Surrounding them is a solid support cast, perhaps most notably John Ridgely as Eddie Mars, but there is no doubt that this is Bogey's film.
I think this can be classed as a film noir, but most of the sets are brightly lit, and I think it only rains a couple of times, two things that for me go hand in hand with the genre (though I haven't seen many). It's hard to appreciate the probable other nice touches in the film because you get so engrossed in the story, impressed at the razor sharp script, and above all, captivated by Bogart's performance, even after a second viewing.
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
I think the key is that we can relate to Sam; all he wants is a car and a girlfriend; and the fact that he becomes a nervous mess when he first meets Mikela makes him more endearing to us. He is then suitably astonished and full of wonder when he meets the Autobots. Shia really sells the character and makes the situation relatable to. The film is also genuinely funny, ok so the scene when the Autobots are hiding around the house as Sam looks for the glasses is fairly cringeworthy, but there are plenty of other good moments. John Turturro and Anthony Anderson are great at breaking up the action with light hearted relief. The voice actors are also important, Hugo Weaving giving life to a Megatron who isn't actually present for much of the film, and of course Peter Cullen is perfect as Optimus Prime.
Far from Michael Bay's self confessed film style of "fucking the camera" which make the Bad Boys films and the next two movies of this franchise so unwatchable, Transformers actually has moments of style. The initial attack on the air force base by Blackout was trouser-shakingly good (the volume in the cinema was cranked up!), Ironhide somersaulting over a screaming woman while avoiding rockets is very nicely done, as is Starscream jumping all over the F-16s in flight.
On top of this, Steve Jablonsky's score creates a suitably epic atmosphere while at the same time managing to echo some of the awe and wonder that Sam experiences. It's possible that the score is better than the film, and it's one I listen to regularly.
As I say, this is a real guilty pleasure and it's not like there aren't things wrong with it. During this latest viewing I was painfully aware of Bay's insistence on getting military hardware or lingo into scenes as much as possible; no doubt he was off camera getting his rocks off every time there was a helicopter nearby! However, despite his penchant for blowing stuff up, there is a section in the middle that is strangely calm. But since Bay doesn't know how to direct calm, it drags quite a bit when the Autobots are hiding round the house, until John Turturro arrives.
For me though, these faults aren't enough to spoil what is a fun film. It manages to weave a story that is fairly concise, with a central character we can relate to, into a film about giant alien robots. Excellent special effects, great action sequences (where we can actually see what's going on) and a great rousing score.
Sunday, 10 March 2013
Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) has an opportunity to try an exclusive new drug called Limitless which allows you to use all of your brain rather than the 50% we apparently normally use. The consequence is vastly increased intelligence and the ability to see things before they happen; however, it is not without its side effects and Eddie is by no means the only person talking Limitless.
This is an example of a film that takes a fairly simple idea and runs with it, and also manages to weave an interesting story around its central premise. It's not the most cerebral film, but at the same time it's not completely mindless. Bradley Cooper is very good as the main protagonist Eddie; he is suitably surprised at having increased intelligence, but manages to be very suave with it. Robert De Niro is also very good as Carl Van Loon, the chief exec of the firm Eddie ends up working for.
The film is bright and the palette is full of colour, especially when Eddie is talking Limitless, at which point there are some very cleverly edited zoom transitions to convey his heightened sense of awareness. I also liked the way that seemingly unrelated events were linked and everything could be traced back to Limitless.
A very enjoyable film whose story builds nicely on its basic premise, until everything becomes connected. Well acted and stylishly shot, Limitless is well worth a look.
Friday, 8 March 2013
I remember really not liking this film in the past, but I have to say that this time it bullied me
into thinking it was alright. There were some nice moments of editing and
cinematography, and Tom Hanks is OK; but the whole thing is just too contrived to make it
that enjoyable. The way he comes up with the "Shit happens" phrase, or teaching Elvis
how to dance, basically getting Forrest involved in everything ingrained into the American
psyche; it just all constantly jars.
It's really a story about living the American dream if you just bimble along in life; ok so your
wife is a junkie tramp who dies of AIDS, but it seems that's what you get for standing up for
what you believe in and creating your own path. I think as I'm writing this I'm liking the film
less and less; I'd like to see it again to appreciate the film making more without
concentrating on the stupid story. I did like the way that essentially Forrest is sat on a
bench at a bus stop telling his inane story to whoever will listen, and we keep cutting back
to that, but otherwise there's not much to write home about. Robert Zemeckis is just
directing by numbers with a couple of set pieces thrown in. In fact, the best thing about
Forrest Gump is this: