Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

I’ll start this post with an apology. I’m afraid that it has been a few weeks since I saw this and it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing it that I can’t really remember much about the film. Probably something to do with it being so lame. So, at the risk of sounding like one of those YouTube videos where someone tells the Star Wars story even though they’ve never seen it; I’ll try and make up remember what happened in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Keanu Reeves is camping in Antarctica with a big beard (for its delightful company you realise), when he discovers a big weird sphere buried in a wall of ice. He touches it and falls unconscious. When he comes around (still lying on the ice, not dead of exposure), the sphere is gone. An enormous version of this sphere then lands in Central Park, and an alien emerges: It’s Keanu! Did the aliens copy Keanu when he touched the sphere? Was he an alien already (might explain a lot, though he wasn’t on the bank of screens in the MIB headquarters)? No idea!

Jennifer Connelly is a scientist and works in some government lab or something (Kathy Bates is her boss?). She has a son who misses his dead dad something rotten, and takes his emotional frustration out on Connelly, (actually his Step-Mum). Somehow she gets to meet Alien Keanu as he leaves his sphere in Central Park, and takes him back to the lab. Turns out that Alien Keanu is here to, well, I was going to say warn the world that it’s about to be destroyed (because we’re all so violent); but I’m sure he says the process is already underway. He’s not here to save us either, so what is he here for? The world will be destroyed by some insect things that will eat through anything in seconds; trucks; baseball stadiums; tanks; people; oh, except for the bridge that Keanu, Jennifer and son hide under at the end of the film. Clearly a magic indestructible bridge. These insects emerge from a big robot with a big zappy-eye-type-thing that will destroy stuff if anything behaves violently towards it. This robot is alien Keanu's guard, but remains in Central Park, guarding the sphere.

Erm, anyway, Keanu wants to speak to the world’s leaders to give them his message (that we’re too violent and we’re all going to die). However, he’s not convincing (*bites tongue*), and so he resorts to escaping from the labs he’s being held in. He manages to track down another alien who has been living on Earth for many years; he has made his life here and is happy to die with all of the humans. Jennifer Connelly and son track Keanu down . Connelly wants to try and convince alien Keanu that the Earth is worth saving. Keanu isn't convinced. The kid believes the TV reports that say alien Keanu is an escaped terrorist and so rats him out to the authorities.

They all somehow escape the authorities again (there may have been some exploding helicopters at this point), Connelly and son arrive at dead husband/fathers grave and have a real moment together saying how much they both miss him. Alien Keanu witnesses this moment of tenderness and, based on this unconvincing performance, decides perhaps that humans are worth saving after all. There’s some running around, hiding under the aforementioned indestructible bridge, before Keanu makes his way back to the sphere in Central Park and touches it before being devoured by the bugs that can eat a stadium in seconds. Earth is saved, though is slightly knackered.

Well, I’ve just read a synopsis on IMDB, and mine’s not that far off! Though I did forget about spheres all over the world that take samples of other species to save them from destruction in a Noah’s Ark kind of way. I’ve not seen the 1951 version, though it’s probably better; it doesn’t have Keanu Reeves or Jennifer Connelly in it for a start. Some rapid research shows that 2008 scores 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, 1951 scores 94%; 2008 on IMDB gets 5.5 out of 10, 1951 scores 8.

This version probably leans too heavily on the special effects; yes the big robot looks cool, and yes it’s impressive the way the bugs eat a stadium very fast (I guess the reason I’ve mentioned that about 3 times is because it probably took up a good chunk of the budget, looked good, and so stuck in my head). However, the cast let it down. Keanu is his usual distant self. He was perfect in The Matrix because his character has only just “woken up” and so doesn’t initially understand what is happening to him; and Keanu’s style of acting is perfect for that. That should also work for an alien perhaps, but his character here should be in total control (of the fate of the world no less), but just seems a bit bored (actually perhaps fair enough for an alien to be a bit bored of Earth). Jennifer Connelly just isn’t charismatic enough to carry off the main human role, Kathy Bates is underused as is John Cleese, but then that’s probably their point in the film.


Right, I’m jabbering now because I can’t really remember. Maybe Reeves and Connelly were both fantastic and gave the performances of their careers, and I just plain didn’t like the film. But I don’t think I’m alone. I feel that I should put the 1951 version on my LoveFilm list to really compare. Anyone out there have experience of both versions?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Following the very elaborate story and settings of YOLT, OHMSS is a far more down-to-earth story. This is perhaps quite surprising given that in 1969 mankind is landing on the moon, yet it was the previous film which was concerned with the space-race. Bond is on the trail of Blofeld once again, whose plan for extortion this time involves drugged/brainwashed women who will be commanded to release a deadly virus from a perfume bottle at various global destinations, unless the US meet his demands.

Casting George Lazenby as 007 must have felt like a bit of a gamble at the time (perhaps because he looks like the King!). It was his first feature film; he was an Australian playing a British agent; and perhaps crucially, he was the first “different” James Bond. This last point obviously gave the powers-that-be the heebie-jeebies! We see select scenes from the previous films projected over the film titles, a mish-mash of John Barry’s themes while 007 looks at some of his gadgets from previous missions, and of course “This never happened to the other guy!”.

They needn’t have worried, Lazenby fills the role with aplomb; he not only slips into the role with ease, he manages (along with a succinct plot) to recreate what was so great about Sean’s 007 in the very first two movies. He relies far more on his own ability for fast-thinking; for making optimal use of his surroundings; and of course for shagging around. We can only guess at how the series would have progressed if Lazenby had signed on for more films; would he have held on to his “infinite resource and sagacity” (as my old headmaster used to say); or would he have fallen victim to the increasing gadgetisation which seems to be the trend when one actor stays around too long? One thing is for sure, few 00 agents would have been brave enough to pull this off:

Nor was this the only gem in his wardrobe; he also possesses some quite tight shirts! With these tight shirts he is only two hairy man-nipples away from a Roger Moore film!

Diana Rigg is good as Tracy, the only woman to make an honest man out of James Bond; well for about 5 minutes anyway; and when he’s not shagging his way around Blofeld’s institute for allergy sufferers. In fact his charisma is such that Bond can seduce two women with exactly the same line! At least at no point do you feel that he is forcing himself on any of the women as Sean sometimes seemed to do. Far from being just another Bond Girl, Tracy is very much her own woman; of course, driving fast cars, gambling, and threatening to kill random secret agents are just the kind of things 007 finds attractive in women! It is not a stand-out performance from Rigg, but she does bring believability to her character. Tracy isn't any old shell-collecting - climb a mountain in my bikini - swoon all over Bond kinda gal, she is a definite character in her own right; and with that in mind Rigg is great.

Where Donald Pleasance created an icon, it is Telly Savalas that really gets to take Blofeld out of the (volcano?) garage and really open him up. His understated menace is a great foil for Bond’s self-assurance. When Bond thinks that he is in control and Blofeld doesn’t suspect him, Telly reminds him who’s boss and that he hasn’t gone soft despite being surrounded with beautiful women all the time. His cool is diminished slightly during the skiing scenes, which to my mind were a little reminiscent of the sped-up boat chase at the end of Thunderball; but Telly would be a hard act to follow (especially having killed Mrs Bond!) How would Charles Gray cope?

From seemingly being worried at casting a new James Bond, the movie turned out to be a very memorable adventure, and perhaps one of the better Bond films that stands the test of time. The stunning Alpine location helps the film feel more exotic yet realistic (compared to the fantastic yet brilliant sets in YOLT). It seems to me that as soon as the gadgets are cut out and 007 gets back to basics, the better the films are. My only disappointment is that there wasn’t so much furniture fighting in OHMSS!

                                    Secret Alpine base discovered by 007 and Les Dennis!

Order of Preference so far:

Brassed Off (1996)

It is 1994, and the Grimely Coal mine in Yorkshire is in danger of being closed. With various problems in their homelife compounding their misery, one of the few pleasures that the miners can look forward to is playing in the Grimely Colliery Brass Band. Despite various deteriorating circumstances (wives moving out taking the kids with them; seriously ill father, attempted suicide, female member of the band turns out to be working for the British Coal Board who are involved in closing the mine), the band win various local competitions, and head to the final in the Royal Albert Hall.

I expected Brassed Off to be funnier; I guess I had just pegged it wrong. What it does do is paint a fairly grim picture of what it must have been like through the 80s and early 90s as coal pit after pit was facing closure. It is certainly eye-opening; as I grew up in the 80s I was aware of the phrase “miners strikes” being used a lot on the news, but was too young to really understand the politics of it all; so I had no idea that these hard-working men were being let down by their government so badly, and how hard life must have been for them.

There are funny moments of course but the main focus is very much on the drama; and very good drama too. Pete Postlethwaite is typically brilliant as Danny the band leader (he has a great speech at the end of the film in The Royal Albert Hall, highlighting the plight of their society to the London public), and there are similarly solid performances from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Stephen Tompkinson, Tara Fitzgerald and others. A great film in the same vein as The Full Monty: A comedy-drama set against the backdrop of industrial upheavals in recent British history. Though Brassed Off is more about the drama than its more glamorous Sheffield cousin!

Friday, 17 June 2011

AVP (2004)

There have been various “versus” films over the years; Godzilla vs Mothra; Kramer vs Kramer; Scot Pilgrim vs The World; Monsters vs Aliens; Joe vs the Volcano (no, seriously, with Tom Hanks and everything!); then in 2004 we got possibly one of the most awaited films in a long time: Alien vs Predator. To clarify; when I say “most awaited” I mean ever since we saw a Predator getting slapped around by Arnie in 1987, people thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to pit a Predator against some Aliens?!”. There were comic books, there were computer games (frickin scary computer games too!), and in Predator 2 Danny Glover finds a Predator trophy cabinet with an Alien skull in it. Surely eventually there would be a film? So please, do not confuse “most awaited” with “eagerly anticipated”. But surely an AVP film would be amazing vs awesome?!

I really want to like this film. Paul Anderson directed Event Horizon brilliantly; he’s British (Yay!); and he comes across as a nice bloke. His visual style is still great in AVP; great opening scene as the satellite looks like a Queen Alien; the interior of the pyramid is very detailed; and I really like the way the camera zooms out of one room to a wire-frame model before zooming into another room. The script is alright; I guess anything too involved could have seemed contrived; after all neither Aliens nor Predator are exactly The Usual Suspects. I seem to remember there was a level in the first AVP computer game called “Hunt”; I’m guessing that could be the inspiration for the plot. It’s the characters that really let the side down. Sanaa Lathan is presumably the strong female character a la Ripley (she sooo is not!); Ewen Bremner and Tommy Flanagan have sons (that’s all the back story they get); the only character that is interesting is Lance Henriksen’s, and that’s because he has a future rather than a history. The consequence is that we don’t really give a shit when they inevitably get killed (all a bit Sucker Punch).

But hey! There’s Aliens fighting Predators! And that’s what we really want to see right? All the action is pretty cool, great seeing an Alien swung round by its tail; (I’ll just skip over the part where the face-huggers impregnate in a matter of minutes and then the chest-bursters follow a minute later!). But anyway, everything looks really good, the cg is barely noticeable (only at one point I think I remember), and both Aliens and Predators look as though they’re really big and solid as they smash into things.

So, all good fun, really well made, designed and put together; great action; just rather let down by the one-dimensional characters that we don’t care about at all.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Harry Brown

Harry Brown (Michael Caine) is a pensioner living alone in a block of flats in a very rough neighbourhood of London. The area is a honey pot for all the worst of British youth anti-social behaviour: knives, guns, beatings, muggings, drugs, sex and rock’n’roll. In short; the stereotypical image of hoodie-gangs hanging out on street corners. Harry’s wife Kath is in hospital with cancer. When he gets a call in the middle of the night from the hospital he rushes out into the pouring rain, but never-the-less walks the long way round to avoid the gang hanging out in the underpass. The heartbreaking consequence of this is that Harry misses his wife’s final moments, and her hospital bed is already empty by the time he arrives. When his friend Len (David Bradley) is murdered by the gang, Harry has had enough, his old Marine training kicks in, and he becomes a vigilante. And so the revenge begins...

This was another title on our Love Film list; a recommendation from a friend, I hadn’t a clue about the film. I only realised The Caine was in it when I checked IMDb to find out the running time! I’ve talked before about how this is perhaps the best way to see films, as you have no biased opinions, no matter how small, about actors/directors/genre etc. In the case of Harry Brown this lack of information may account for why I couldn’t shake the feeling of the film all day after watching it. The portrayal of inner city London council blocks is really grim. You really wonder why anyone would choose to live in a place like that; then of course it strikes the viewer that when Harry and Len first moved there it was probably a great place to live: a new development, perhaps the future of living in London. Following on from this you empathise with Harry and feel his bitter disappointment at how the neighbourhood has degenerated; and finally understand that for some people, perhaps especially the elderly, there is no way out from these “slums”: no family, no social support system, no finances to speak of plus a dogged determination not to be run out of their own homes by the youth of today (think Gran Torino meets Attack the Block).

So having painted a really bleak picture of inner city life, I will now tell you how cool “The Caine” is! As a world-weary pensioner who has been dealt quite a poor hand in life (daughter died young of pneumonia, wife just died of cancer) he is perfect (Charlie Croker this is not!). When he goes all vigilante, outwardly he is barely different, but as soon as the marine training kicks in he is ruthless (think Get Carter, but he could give Luca Brasi a run for his money!). There is a great scene when he is trying to buy a gun from two guys (notorious drugs and arms dealers); he plays the whole scene as an old man, completely out of his depth; which makes what happens at the end of the scene so completely unexpected. David Bradley plays Argus Filch Len well, but there isn’t quite so much of his character in the film, so we don’t find out too much about him. Emily Mortimer is good as Detective Inspector Alice Frampton, the police officer who asks to be transferred to this area. She figures out that Harry is the vigilante, despite her colleagues thinking otherwise, but by the end finds herself in way over her head.

As Daniel Barber’s first full-length film Harry Brown is very impressive. A top-notch actor such as Michael Caine in the lead role is a real coup. Barber also creates great tension, and I certainly didn’t know what to expect next; particularly in the scene I alluded to earlier. I’ve already talked about the “slum” atmosphere surrounding the block of flats, and at the climax of the film this atmosphere is truly intimidating and terrifying. A very good film, well written, great acting, and very well crafted; not so much a feel-good film though!

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, the lone crew member on a Lunar Industries moonbase; a human presence to ensure that the largely automated operations all run smoothly. The company is mining Helium-3 which is abundant on the moon, but also happens to be the magic bullet to solve Earth’s energy crisis. His only company is the on-board computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), as there is no working communications link with Earth. Sam has a three year contract to work alone on this isolated moon-base; so what happens if he is seriously injured, or gets ill? Not a problem, because as it turns out, Sam is a clone and there are plenty of copies of him waiting in stasis to carry on operation of the mining facility. Of course, he doesn’t know this.

So, Sam has an accident while driving one of the lunar Rovers and a new Sam is woken up, told he’s recovering from an accident and his memory has been affected. We find out about the clones when new Sam goes to investigate the Rover crash site and finds old Sam in a bad way, but still alive. Sam(s) then embark on a journey of self-discovery, helped along the way by GERTY. Although he is initially keeping up the ruse that Sam is human (and, we discover, has been doing so for many years and through several Sam clones); with the clone’s increasing self-awareness GERTY actively helps Sam escape back to Earth, just as a rescue ship arrives to investigate the crash involving old Sam.

This really is Sam Rockwell’s film. Apart from a few video messages from Lunar Industries executives (including the fantastic Matt Berry), recorded messages from his wife and a call to his daughter, there is really no other cast. He plays the role of Sam in a very calm way. Compared to, for example 127 Hours, (also a one-man film), Sam Bell is very accepting of the situations he finds himself in (apart from when he crashes); presumably all traits that would be selected for when considering applicants for a three-year solo contract on the moon. Even when the two Sams are trying to figure out what the hell is going on, he rarely freaks out. I’m reminded of Morpheus telling Neo that he accepts what he’s seeing because he expects to wake from a dream at any moment. Though Sam Rockwell is excellent, his performance is very understated; it’s quite different from the dynamic performance of James Franco in 127 Hours, or Daniel Day Lewis in There Will be Blood, both of which I would consider are “their” films; just as Moon is Sam Rockwell’s film.

Moon takes a lot of inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sam (Dave) is alone on the moon (orbiting Jupiter) with no way to communicate with Earth. His only companion is GERTY (HAL), though where HAL takes control of Discovery forcing Dave to disconnect him, GERTY is very benign (though initially I wasn't sure). Orchestral music is played over some of the exterior moon shots, and there is even a homage to Dave entering the obelisk on Sam’s returns to Earth when everything gets really trippy. None of this detracts from the movie at all, rather it enhances it.

                                              HAL never had a holder for coffee cups

A great film, and very impressive given that it was Duncan Jones’ first film (Source Code is his second); I can’t think of anything I disliked about it at all. A very interesting story, all of the special effects look fab, and Sam Rockwell is great (did I say that already?).

Thursday, 2 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

After a successful and enjoyable X-Men Trilogy, started off by the inspired Bryan Singer, and an alright but fairly forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Matthew Vaughn has gone back to the origins of all the mutants. Back in the 60s, bad guy mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, who can absorb energy; Shaw, not Bacon) is playing the Americans off against the Russians so that they start nuclear war. At the same time Charles Xavier is completing his PhD in genetics at Oxford; whereas Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is trying to track down Shaw to make him pay for killing his mother at a concentration camp during the second world war. Charles and Erik are recruited by the CIA and are then able to locate and recruit other mutants (brilliant cameo F-bomb during this montage); and ultimately confront Shaw narrowly preventing the escalation of the Cuban Missile Crisis to nuclear war.

I thoroughly enjoyed First Class. Despite Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart being so iconic in the first three films, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender completely make Xavier and Magneto their own, and are every bit as good. As well as the main good vs evil story, there is the other story regarding Charles and Erik and their different views about whether or not humans will accept the mutants into society. McAvoy and Fassbender work really well together, and the fact that we see them become really good friends makes their separation at the end of the film all the more emotional.

Kevin Bacon is usually entertaining (Ahh Pyrates!), and here is no exception. He plays the manipulative Shaw very well; I can’t comment on his Russian but I thought that his German was very convincing. His character reminds me slightly of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds (wonderfully depicted by the brilliant Christoph Waltz): quite cocky and very sure of himself the whole time; though he doesn’t get the opportunity for his world to come crashing down around him as Landa does. The rest of the cast are alright, though there are some fairly rubbish mutations; Angel, Banshee (sorry but he was just an ugly Ron Weasley), Darwin, and Emma Frost (telepath and made of glass; that’s handy!). Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) get more screen time than the other newbies, and so are able to get to grips with their character a bit more; but the other mutants are really just a canvas for the the art of Xavier and Magneto. It was nice to see some other familiar faces: Van Stanten (Corey Johnson) from Dr Who; Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija) from Snatch; and of course Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside) from Scanners (these films are just where I first saw them btw).

The story is good, and there are plenty of great action sequences, thought there is the occasional ropey cg effect. The only other niggle I have is the continual finger-to-the-forehead visual cue that McAvoy employs whenever he is reading minds. I can see that it could be useful/fair enough a few times, but every fecking time just gets boring. I can also see that initially Xavier is still learning to control his power, but so is everyone else, and all the other guys develop theirs, whereas Xavier is still being all spoon-bendy at the end of the film!

Minor niggles aside, I though the film was great; stand out performances from Fassbender and McAvoy, good story, great action, and a great return to the X-men series.