Sunday, 30 December 2012

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Horror these days must be hard work, to actually surprise people anyway. If you just want to gross people out, that might be a bit easier; but to do something genuinely different is tricky. Since Wes Craven reinvented the scary movie back in 1996 there has been a market for clever horror. Now in 2012 Joss Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard have changed the game again. Ostensibly a film about a group high school kids escaping to a Cabin for sex, drinking and getting high it turns out that they are part of something far greater than any of them expected.

These teen horror movies are not generally renowned for their fantastic actors, Cabin in the Woods does however have a decent performance from Chris Hemsworth (the only one of the high-school kids to really know how to act), and both Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are great. There’s not much more to say about the film without being spoiler-tastic; technically there’s nothing amazing, though the special effects are top-notch, it’s the concept and the story that makes the film so entertaining. I think I was expecting a big twist towards the end, whereas actually the twist is revealed near the beginning, but it still makes the rest of the movie thoroughly entertaining and a huge amount of fun.

Silent Running (1972)

With its clear Eco-message and minimal cast, Silent Running is quite a bold film, and it's clear why this is a bit of a cult classic. Certainly not the first film to tell us how Earth is going to hell and we really need to look after our natural resources, but by placing the story in space and having most of the film featuring only one character, it does something different.  Bruce Dern's character - Freeman Lowell - is one of a crew of four aboard the Valley Forge; one of several crafts harbouring huge domes which maintain various ecosystems: the last remaining from a blistered Earth.  However, Lowell is the only crew member who really cares about these ecosystems, and when the order comes from command to jettison the domes and detonate them before returning to Earth, Lowell dis-obeys the orders and escapes to the far side of Saturn alone with his forest.

Bruce Derns' performance as Lowell is very good and the ambience of the film is a strong influence on the more recent Moon.  Dern plays the misunderstood forest protector well, with suitable passion yet being slightly unhinged at the same time, and given that his only companions for a lot of the film are three droids (which are very cute) it's quite an achievement.  The special effects are really kept to a minimum which helps to not date the film to the 70s (OK, so the hippy vibe given off by the Joan Baez music will), and a lot of the exterior space shots look quite classy and timeless (perhaps not surprising given that director Douglas Trumball was special photographic effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladerunner).  The droids are quintessentially 70s but they are so cool that they look more retro than dated!

This all makes Silent Running a really enjoyable Sci-Fi story; the message is obvious but instead of being hit over the head with it we are engaged by the mental state of Lowell and the way he deals with the order to destroy the last vestiges of terrestrial flora.  The film is not action packed and takes its time, which is no bad thing; a great performance by Dern, some smashing sets and special effects all add up to a pretty cool film.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Evil Dead II (1987)


Despite being far more ridiculous than the first instalment, it is clear that Sam Raimi is a very smart director.  He shows how clever he is with the camera, and he isn't afraid to experiment with peculiar effects, paving the way for a future in mainstream blockbusters.  Having said that, Evil Dead 2 is quite insane.  It starts very quickly, and within five minutes you may be forgiven for thinking the film should be ending soon!  But this is all a prelude to using the Book of the Dead to transport the evil back to where it came from, via Bruce Campbell having a possessed hand, and having cut it off, attaching a chainsaw to where said hand used to be!  However, despite its daftness, Evil Dead 2 is furiously entertaining, lurching from one Bruce Campbell hammy comedy moment to the next (it is this film that really cements Bruce as a cult hero) via several zombie moments that look more Spitting Image than threatening!  But it's all part of the charm, and it ends by setting up Army of Darkness perfectly. Certainly not the scariest horror film every made, but certainly one of the most entertaining.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Just watched this as part of Film4's MI marathon tonight. Of all the MI films, this is the only one I own on DVD; I can only guess that I used to like it. It's not all bad, but certainly the weakest of the series. Directed by John Woo, so cue lots of jumping and shooting, shooting and jumping, slow-mo doves (some were backlit pigeons) and some very stylised action (including a dramatic motorbike chase that almost features Tom Cruise and Dougray Scott, but does feature an obvious switch between slick and offroad tyres mid-chase!).

Possibly the most straightforward plot of the series, Ethan is trying to figure out the link between Chimera and Bellerophon, actually a virus and its antidote, and what Sean Ambrose (Scott's character) wants with them. Of course he's trying to create an epidemic so that he can peddle the cure, making fat loads of cash. Actually with such a relatively simple plot it's amazing that so little happens in the film until the very end. I think far too much emphasis is placed on the romance between Nyah (Thandie Newton) and Ethan, and their relationship juxtaposed with the idea of Nyah sleeping with Ambrose so that the IMF can work out what is actually going on.

Cruise is good again as Ethan Hunt (this is really a film just to make him look cool), but otherwise everyone is fairly ordinary, even Anthony Hopkins phones in a performance. The best person is easily Brendan Gleeson (isn't he always?) as George McCloy, head of the molecular research company Biocyte. But he's the one really shining thing in an otherwise outwardly exciting and stylish, but inwardly ordinary and lacklustre film.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

This mission sees Ethan Hawke and his team try to clear their name after they are framed for bombing the Kremlin. As a result Ghost Protocol is initiated; which essentially means that IMF is shut down until the situation is resolved. Cue lots of stylish set pieces, high-tech gadgetry, slick subterfuge and Tom Cruise performing some unnecessary aerial acrobatics.

It is, however, all very entertaining. Director Brad Bird has made the transition from animation (probably best know for Up, Ratatouille and The Incredibles) to live action very well. He does nothing especially fancy, but is slick enough for this kind of film. The main cast are all given enough to do, and there is also time to flesh out Ethan's character a bit. As Ethan, Tom Cruise is in his element; and as someone who does all his own stunts, everything looks pretty spectacular. Maybe the MI series exists just to make Tom look good, but to be fair he does it justice. Good to see Simon Pegg out in the field, and not just to bring brevity to tense situations. Jeremy Renner is good but perhaps suffers from having to play second fiddle to Tom; still, they could have done a lot worse. He's even involved in Ethan's back-story. Paula Paxton is fairly kick-ass as the sexy Jane Carter and Michael Nyqvist as a fairly one dimensional baddie completes the main cast.

Overall, perhaps the most enjoyable film of the franchise, maybe only let down by a weak villain, but then most of the fun is had in tracking him down. Spectacular, intriguing, and clips along at a good pace despite its 133 minute run time.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Kick-Ass (2010)

With no power comes no responsibility!

So says Dave Lizewski, the teen high-school kid, who, wondering why no-one becomes super-heroes, decides to take on local criminals while dressed in a turquoise wetsuit and desert boots!  Made with typical Matthew Vaughn style, Kick-Ass is a very entertaining film which does the whole super-hero thing very differently.  Initially I wasn't sure whether I should be laughing or be shocked; the humour is very black and combines very well with some outrageous and sometimes sickening violence.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is good as the loser/super-hero Kick-Ass, Chloë Grace Moretz is amazing as Hit-Girl (the little girl you really wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley) and Mark Strong turns in a solid, yet perhaps unremarkable (for him) performance.  The one performance that I was really surprised at was Nicolas Cage.  Normally I can't stand the guy (except perhaps in Lord of War), he just seems to have a habit of appearing in rubbish films.  As Big Daddy though, he is really enjoyable as he trains his daughter in the ways of being an assassin/super-hero!

Really good fun, stylish (there's a brilliant comic book narrative section), a dark sense of humour and some superb action scenes make Kick-Ass another fine addition to Matthew Vaughn's impressive CV.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Skyfall (2012)

We have finally reached the end; this, the culmination of an epic journey of Bondiness. I had hoped to see the film a second time before writing this, but given that my wife’s waters broke last night I don’t think that’s going to be an option! It is also therefore perfect timing for the end of Blogalongabond as I feel my blog posting maybe curtailed for a while. So without further ado, here’s what I thought of the film that 22 months of 00heaven have been leading up to.

I thought that the direction by Sam Mendes was top notch; the film was skillfully, subtly and deliberately made. For example there were several slow camera moves that would lead the eye from character to character or location, linking events together. In particular there is a great scene in the club in Macau, where Bond and Eve move around speaking to each other through their ear-pieces; but as they glide around the club separately, they really dance around each other. It’s these kind of moments that help guide the eye through a scene and make viewing a pleasure.

Not only that but Roger flippin’ Deacons was cinematographer! So of course the whole film looks gorgeous. There was a five second scene of 007 slouching on a bed, drinking a beer after banging some random woman, but it really stuck in my head because it was so beautifully composed: the light from the sunset/rise angles through onto Daniel Craig, just enough to illuminate the knackered (notched) fantastic headboard. Quite an insignificant scene, but etched in my head because it looked so fantastic. Of course everything in the final act of the film looked ace too, everyone’s faces lit up with the orange glow of a burning Skyfall.

It goes without saying that the cast are pretty perfect. Daniel Craig continues to be the best Bond; not just brilliant in action scenes and looking great in a Tom Ford suit, but an actual actor to boot. Ralph Fiennes is good as Mallory (an M with a name!), and Naomie Harris does well as Eve. Javier Bardem is a fine villain, the hairpiece alone proves it, though not the terrifying cold-blooded killing machine of No Country for Old Men. Good that he was able to own an island in Cobb’s subconscious though! Despite his escape from the MI6 secret bunker being a cross between Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs and Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, his single-mindedness in pursuing M is quite refreshing in the Bond villain hall of shame. No ludicrous “Necklace of Death”, or Sun-focussing death ray, or even playing arms-dealers money on the stock-market; Silva is all about simple revenge.

Speaking of M, let’s face it, this is really Judi Dench’s film. The bond girl isn’t Bérénice Marlohe’s Sévérine (whose trembling lips strangely reminded me of Rodrigo Santoro’s Xerxes in 300); it isn’t even Naomie Harris. No, Skyfall’s Bond girl is M; and Dench is great, finally getting the kind of scenes she has always deserved (though the misogynistic dinosaur bit in Goldeneye was pretty good too). We’ve always know that M has balls (despite her admission to the contrary in Tomorrow Never Dies), and she gets to show it here. She’s quite happy to tell those who consider themselves her superiors or those who are investigating her exactly what she thinks of them, and does her own thing anyway. A wonderful swansong performance from Dench.

We also get a new quartermaster too:

Well something like that. Anyway, Ben Wishaw is pretty good.

The song by Adele is a grower. It’s no You Know my Name, or Living Daylights, or even Live and Let Die. Come to think of it there are plenty of Bond tunes better than Skyfall. However, the song has a melancholy inevitability to it, which is a perfect reflection of the film - especially the startling events of the final act.

I think where Skyfall succeeds is that it doesn’t try too hard, it is almost naturally good. There are still some superfluous scenes, but for the most part everything has a purpose in the film. There are no completely unnecessary car chases, or hydrogen-fuelled exploding hotels, or insignificant characters covered in oil. I don’t think I really have a bad thing to say about it, I’ve only put it 3rd in my list because I think the story in Casino Royale is neater and it was such an incredible breath of fresh air; also I have a real soft spot for You Only Live Twice. A brilliant 007, excellent performances all round, more tremendous action, a straightforward revenge story (though on the other foot from Licence to Kill), and such a crowd-pleasing final scene you wouldn’t believe. All in all, a very fitting end to Blongalongabond.

Blogalongabond will return in... actually it probably won’t this time!

Final order of preference:

Casino RoyaleYou Only Live Twice, Skyfall, GoldfingerThe Living DaylightsLicence to Kill, Quantum of SolaceTomorrow Never DiesOn Her Majesty's Secret ServiceGoldeneyeLive and Let DieThe Spy Who Loved MeFor Your Eyes OnlyFrom Russia with LoveDr NoThe World is Not EnoughThe Man with the Golden GunDie Another DayA View to a KillOctopussyMoonrakerDiamonds are ForeverThunderball

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Sunday Scene: The Most Bond non-Bond intro

With the imminent release of Skyfall, and thinking about Bond things, I was reminded of the amazing credits from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; or to give it it's full title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for people too stupid and lazy to read Subtitles (2011).  Actually it's a good film, and the opening credits are simply amazing.

Like I say, the most Bond non-Bond credits. Generally I dislike covers (almost as much as I usually hate remakes), but Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' cover of Led Zeppelin's The Immigrant Song is very good, and fits the ambience of the film perfectly.

We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow...

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Quantum of Solace (2008)

A last and a first. The last 007 film that we already knew before Blogalongabond started, and the first ever true Bond sequel. Starting immediately after the events of Casino Royale, we see a battered and bruised Mr White stuffed in the boot of Bond’s car, as 007 tries to track down the organisation responsible for the death of Vespa. Overall QOS is a very fun film; brooding Daniel Craig, tremendous action and enough intrigue to hold your attention. I feel where it falls down is the lack of tangible villain. Of course the bad guy is actually Quantum; essentially SPECTRE for the 21st century. The trouble is, Mr Greene is no LeChiffre.

The very beginning has some lovely touches: slowly zooming into the mountain, intercut with glimpses of chrome, Aston Martin and Bond’s eyes before BANG we’re into a frenetic car chase. Actually this chase sets the tempo for a lot of the set pieces in the film; all of them are very energetic and tremendously exciting. The chase through Sienna, climaxing on the scaffolding is amazing and really brutal. Though further along the line, I can’t decide whether I like the way that the crescendo of the opera is cut with 007 taking out Quantum stooges in Zurich. No doubt it’s stylish, but I’m not sure it really works.

007 is perhaps even more bullish and arrogant than in Casino Royale, and he has no compunction about executing ex-coworkers, special forces or Bolivian Police. Daniel Craig continues to suit this hard-nose character perfectly. Though Jesper Christensen’s role as Mr White is very brief, I thought he was completely brilliant; superbly maniacal as he laughs that “You don’t know anything about us at all!” If only he’d been the main antagonist rather than a wishy washy Mr Greene.

The women are a bit rubbish. Camille isn’t really much of a bond girl (she only gets a kiss right at the end); instead she has her own revenge story to mirror Bond’s, which is a nice twist to a Bond girl’s character. Fields is even more pointless, her only function seems to be so that a nod can be made to Jill Masterson’s demise in Goldfinger. The trouble is, it’s not worth it! All that results is that M has even more contempt for Bond’s style, but I hardly think this is the pinnacle of Quantum’s machinations! The only woman worth her salt is Judi Dench; M is still a hard-ass with some great lines: “When someone says "We've got people everywhere", you expect it to be hyperbole! Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn't mean that they've got somebody working for them inside the bloody room! “

The title song is cool, but the credit sequence is far too involved; there is so much going on it’s hard to make out any kind of narrative or symbolism. Worst of all there is no gun barrel anywhere near the beginning, it’s tacked on the end as if it was forgotten about and then suddenly discovered on the cutting room floor. Just in time for some lift music over the closing credits! In fact, I felt that David Arnold’s score was mostly invisible (or inaudible?) throughout the film.

Not as spectacular as the previous film, but still maintaining the gritty, brutal themes of Daniel Craig’s 007; Quantum of Solace continues the quality of the “reboot”. At least for one more film the self-parody is still absent and the realism is still there (unshielded hydrogen cells in every hotel room notwithstanding!). I can just see the brochure for the hotel: Come and visit the Perla des las Dunas. En suite bathrooms, minibar, free wifi, and a serious explosion risk in every room!

Order of Preference so far:

Dog Soldiers (2002)

We are now up against live, hostile targets. So, if Little Red Riding Hood should show up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I expect you to chin the bitch!

Six squaddies are on a training exercise in Scotland, but a group of special forces plan to use the soldiers as bait for a rumoured lupine predator. Of course it goes horribly wrong and our group of soldiers become besieged by werewolves in a remote cottage.  The first act of the film is easily the best; the introduction of the 6 main soldiers is certainly on a par with Predator, probably better because of the British humour; the atmosphere created by Neil Marshall and DOP Sam McCurdy is very sinister, spooky and adds real tension to the unfolding story.  The chase through the woods is really well done; lots of sinister back lit trees, werewolves flitting in and out of view, desperation of the soldiers, and all mixed up with a wolf view point adding a different dimension.

By the time the guys are holed up in a deserted cottage we are into the familiar territory of any number of siege films; not least Zulu, Tremors or a "Living Dead" film.  In fact Zulu is explicitly mentioned once and there are a few other nods to the classic film, but not the only film that is referenced.  However, though they are stuck in a cottage the film doesn't stagnate; a smart story and the British sense of humour wins out, and everything clips along at just the right tempo.  Sean Pertwee is magnificent as Sergeant Wells, and Kevin McKidd is very good as Private Cooper, but there is also a very clever understated performance from Liam Cunningham as Captain Ryan.

Overall Dog Soldiers is a really cool film, not amazing, not even that scary, but really good fun.  The characters are all well written and introduced in a way that allows a lot of fun to be had with them.  The effects are good (given what presumably is a modest budget) and the werewolves look like nothing seen before.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Great Expections (1946)

Recounting the tale of an orphan, apprentice to a blacksmith, who becomes the recipient of great wealth from a mysterious benefactor, this version of Great Expectations is a classic re-telling of the Dickens novel. David Lean's interpretation is subtle yet dynamic, at the heart of which are great performances from John Mills as Pip (the orphan), Valerie Hobson as Estella and of course Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket. Actually Alec Guinness looks so young that it took me a while to figure out who it was! 

A thoroughly engrossing film, a classic in every sense of the word. My only issue was the age of Pip. Seen as a boy of 16 at the blacksmith's, it is only 4 years later that the mysterious benefactor leaves him a fortune, yet when he then moves to the city he looks about 40! David Mills is excellent in the role, but could they not have found someone closer to the right age? It doesn't take long to get past this issue though, and you can sit back and really enjoy the film.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Looper (2012)

Time travel films are always fun. Whether it's Marty McFly trying to get back to the future, Colter Stevens trying to prevent a bomb going off on a train, or Bruce Willis collecting insects in 12 Monkeys. Looper does something different again. Joseph Gordon Levitt is Joe, a "Looper"; a hired gun in the present who's job it is to kill the mafia's unwanted from the future. Sounds simple enough; but of course it gets more complicated, especially when Joe's older self (Bruce Willis) is sent back from the future and present-day Joe is meant to kill him, so-called closing the loop.

The main story then revolves around the idea that old Joe has come back to kill a man (known only as the Rainmaker) who in the future is hunting down and killing all the retired Loopers; it just turns out that he's a kid right now. JGL is starting to demonstrate that he's a very versatile actor, though for a while I wasn't entirely convinced that it was him as he has been made to look like a convincing younger Bruce Willis. That aside, he manages to imbue his character with the right blend of suave, confidence and intelligence befitting someone in his profession. Emily Blunt is fine as Cid's Mum (the kid who'll grow up to be the Rainmaker), and Bruce Willis is effortlessly cool. The real surprise was an excellent performance from Jeff Daniels as Abe, the guy who runs the Looper operation in present day.

There are many nice subtle details made possible by the time travel in the film, mix this with some moments of excellent violence and beautiful cinematography and Looper becomes a very entertaining and worthwhile movie.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Casino Royale (2006)

I have reviewed Casino Royale before, but I felt that re-posting it would be a bit of a cop out for Blogalongabond; and since that review was a lot of synopsis I really had to write another one. Also, of course now I have my wealth of Blogalongabond knowledge to say more! *cough*

Where there were precious redeeming features in DAD, there are few things wrong with Casino Royale. The violence is bone-crunching, Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen are superb, the plot doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator and David Arnold’s music is again wonderful. In Daniel Craig the producers seem to have once again found someone who can act rather than just “do” Bond; in particular Craig’s scenes with Judi Dench and Eva Green bristle with wit and tension. Danish-born Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant as Le Chiffre, the gambling, knotted rope-wielding baddie. Rather than having any designs on world domination Le Chiffre is actually on the back foot for half of the film, trying to win his money back; and I think that this role-reversal (almost) makes the story all the more interesting.

The first 30 minutes of the film are absolutely brilliant, and some of the best of the entire series. The pre-credits scene depicting James Bond’s (no 00 yet) first two kills is sublime; the clinical straight lines of the office building in Prague clashing with the high-contrast gritty bathroom and the very messy scrap. Added to this is a moment of inspiration using the bathroom as the backdrop for the famous gun-barrel shot.

Straight into some of the coolest credits of the series and a great song by a man with such an ace voice; I’ve been a fan of Soundgarden and Audioslave for years, probably because I think Chris Cornell’s voice is brilliant. The title of the song is perfect too: “You Know my Name”. After a four year break and a change of Bond we don’t have it shoved in our faces - we know who he is, we know what he’s about and we know his name; very apt that the James Bond theme isn’t played until the final scene. Following the theme song there is a spectacular chase in Madagascar as Bond pursues a free-running bomb-maker through a building site; all of which is just amazing.

The only disappointment (other than the frankly baffling way that having directed this clever and sophisticated film, Martin Campbell goes on to direct the confusing, over-blown and frankly boring Green Lantern), is the sound. I don’t ever remember it when I saw Casino Royale in the cinema, but the three other times I’ve seen it (two different DVDs and on a plane) the sound keeps getting suddenly quiet, particularly in action scenes. A quick google tells me I am not alone in this, and that is terribly disappointing; it really spoils what is otherwise an excellent film.

Stunning set pieces, a very smart script/screenplay by Crash director Paul Haggis, excellent performances by the three main actors as well as a wealth of supporting cast make Casino Royale one of the best films in the series.

Order of Preference so far:

Saturday, 29 September 2012

A Night to Remember (1958)

A truly British account of the disaster that befell the "Unsinkable" ship; the Titanic.  Rather than concentrating on two pointless characters who fall in love and whose plight we are supposed to care about, A Night to Remember shows us how different people cope with the tragedy, how professional the crew were, and perhaps most strikingly the difference in traveller class (First Class could cost upward off £800 whereas steerage was only £12!).

The cast is very much an ensemble; though if there were any main character then it would be Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, who just seems to be un-flappable in any situation.  The other characters with which we become familiar are Captain Edward John Smith; the chairman of the shipping company - J. Bruce Ismay; and the ship's designer - Thomas Andrews.  The only other "star" would be Honor Blackman, but her character doesn't really get much screen time. As well as depicting everyone's way of dealing with the horrendous situation, the film also shows events on the Carpathia (the ship that rescued survivors) and the Californian; who despite being in visual range of RMS Titanic did nothing as they had unplugged their radio for the night.  In the aftermath of this disaster all ships were instructed to man their radios constantly.

Despite being over 50 years old, the special effects really hold up; undoubtedly helped by the massive model that was constructed during production.  I wonder how the digital effects from the 1997 film look now?  A very good film, without the need to focus on relationships between characters it almost documents the disaster rather than weaves a story around it, and is all the better for it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Dredd 3D (2012)

I think I've only ever read one Judge Dredd story so I don't really know the Mega City One canon; but having suffered through the 1995 abomination with Sly Stallone, I wasn't especially keen to see this one.  With Stallone's butchering of Dredd's most famous line "I am nnlaaaaa!" still ringing in my ears I found myself going to see this because I had read and heard such good things about it. My verdict? This is the film Max Payne should have been!

Brilliantly gruesome, tremendous sound all round (guns, explosions, bone-crunching and thumping soundtrack) and Slo-Mo.  I was worried that there was going to be too much Slo-Mo after the first 10 minutes, becoming over-used as the film's gimmicky feature, but happily it calmed down.  Karl Urban was pretty good considering we only ever see his chin, he was grim, gritty enough, and seemed to fit being an aggressive bastard perfectly.  Though his constant frown must have been exhausting.  Lena Heady was a suitable psychopath (looking a lot like Nina from the first series of 24), but apart from the flashbacks I didn't feel that there was enough menace about her.  Olivia Thirlby was also good as psychic newbie Judge Anderson; wanting to become a Judge, she is really thrown into it when Dredd is told to take her into the field for assessment.  Initially not sure about making decisions under pressure, she slowly comes into her own, before finally coming to a choice about her future.

The level of detail in Peach Trees (the tower block investigated by Dredd and Anderson) is very good; the kisoks, info-booths right down to the cages protecting the CCTV cameras.  The cityscapes of Mega City One look tremendous, but obviously take more than a little inspiration from  Bladerunner.  The 3D was OK, I guess the Slo-Mo scenes were specifically made for it, but otherwise I'm sure it wouldn't have lost anything by being in 2D.

Director Pete Travis has done well to turn a very simple story into and exciting, engaging film that manages to steer clear of being naff, cheesy or clichéd.  This was probably helped by a smart screenplay by Danny Boyle favourite Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go).  Everything adds up to a surprisingly good film, proving that even simple blockbusters can be fresh and intelligent.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Lawless (2012)

Set in 1930s America during the years of prohibition, Lawless tells the sometimes violent story of three brothers in Virginia who distil their own moonshine and make quite a tidy profit by distributing their product.  The Bondurant brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf) are operating quite efficiently (even selling their illicit liquor to the law), until a new Special Deputy from Chicago (Guy Pierce) comes to town with the remit to close down all of the stills in the area to stymie the flow of illegal booze to the city.

The driving force behind the story is Forrest, he is the main guy that pulls all the strings of not only the Bondurant operation, but all of the distillers in the region.  He is obviously a dependable and well respected member of the Virginia moonshine trade, and as such Tom Hardy is brilliant.  I feel he is almost this years Michael Fassbender; appearing in several very different films and absolutely capable of delivering a superb performance no matter the character.  As Forrest he has a wonderful screen presence (much like Bane), and you never really know what is going on behind those restless eyes; you never know how he is going to react to a situation.  It is this unpredictability that makes Forrest such a powerful character, and Tom Hardy plays it wonderfully.

The film has many great qualities, but perhaps the most amazing one is that director John Hillcoat (of The Road fame) gets a pretty good performance out of Shia LaBeouf!  I enjoyed him in Transformers, I felt he was just right as the excitable kid who becomes friends with giant robots, but then he became a whiny bitch in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon; and he is just lamentable in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Here he plays the youngest of the Bondurant bothers just right. The runt of the three, he initially has a hard time convincing Forrest and Howard that he is serious about getting involved in the business; but while the elder brothers are out of the picture for a while he takes the initiative to drive to Chicago and sell their hard liquor to notorious crime lord Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman - magnificent as always), and comes away with a huge amount of cash.  Jack then spends all his money on fancy clothes, cars and on efforts to woo local church elder's daughter Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska). Much like Sam Whitwicky, LaBeouf plays this exuberant and excitable character very well.

As Howard Bondurant, Jason Clarke doesn't actually say very much, and given that he is constantly drinking their own product, when he does speak he isn't that coherent!  I've already said how great Gary Oldman is, but his first scene where he is driven into town, callously guns down a competitor with his Tommy gun, gives Jack a barely noticeable wink, and then drives off is wonderful.  He doesn't say a word at any point, just winks at Jack, but he really doesn't have to. Guy Pearce is also wonderful. Well his character isn't, he is a slimy, sinister and sadistic guy, but Pearce is perfect with it.  Thinking about it, his character is very similar to Forrest's, though on the side of the the law; but despite that he is clearly the villain of the film.

Additional to some great performances the film looks amazing thanks to DOP Benoît Delhomme, particularly  some of the tree-scapes that are in the film!  The music is also very cool; Nick Cave and Warren Ellis score one of my favourite soundtracks (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) as well as The Road, and there are moments in Lawless that sound very familiar, though the overall ambience is nothing like either The Road or TAOJJBTCRF.  I was also surprised that Nick Cave wrote the screenplay for Lawless too, but he certainly did a great job.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lawless, excellent cast (even LaBeouf is good), unpredictable (even up to the final scene),  explosive moments of violence, cool music and beautiful to look at too.  I'd heard that there were mixed reviews about this film, so perhaps my expectations were lowered and the film accordingly exceeded them.  Either way, I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is perhaps thinking of going to the pictures and isn't sure about Dredd or a remake of a classic Arnie film.

Friday, 7 September 2012

District 9 (2009)

I'd heard good things about District 9, but I still expected something akin to Battle for LA.  What I didn't expect was a documentary style sci-fi film that was more of a commentary on the politics of Johannesburg townships and refugee camps than a film about shooting aliens.  Though what was even more surprising was the fact that the first name that appears on the screen was Peter Jackson!  How did I no know that?!

The film opens by saying that everyone expected aliens to land in the US, so for them to appear in South Africa took the world by surprise.  Though when no aliens appear from the mother ship, humans make their way in and discover aliens in an extreme state of malnutrition and disease.  A health station is set up in Johannesburg to help the aliens recover, but over time this area becomes a slum, known as District 9, and has all the usual problems associated with slums.  The main human character Wikus (Sharlto Copley) works for MNU (Multi National United - a kind of OCP company) and his role is to convince the Prawns (as the aliens are derogatorily known) to move to a new township.

Sharlto is really good; the wit, attitude and emotion he brings to Wikus is brilliant, as is his accent when he swears.  His character arc is very reminiscent of Seth Brundle in the fly, and I feel that there were several nods to that film.  I thought that the Prawns looked really good, nothing that fancy or grotesque, but they were very realistic and really looked like they inhabited the township they were in.  I think because I was expecting a shooty-aliens style film, I was really amazed by the completely novel take on the genre and really quite complex plot; not to mention the complex dynamic of humans living alongside the aliens including all the people who exploit the township for personal gains.

A very good film; well shot, cool special effects (WETA of course, being a PJ Wingnut production), nice documentary style and a very different take on the alien invasion genre. Well worth a look.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Legacy was perhaps a completely unnecessary sequel, but I actually enjoyed it nonetheless. Jeremy Renner made a good "Bourne", and had Matt Damon not been available, then Renner would have been a pretty good choice for the original trilogy. Rachel Weisz was as alright as usual, playing a similar character to Evy in The Mummy but rather more capable. There was some attempt to give a reason for why the "assets" are as bad-ass as they are. Now I am usually one of the first to complain about "Spacker Science" in films, but I thought that the claims they made (however implausible) made sense within the scope of the film. It is certainly nowhere near Midichlorian territory! 

Impressive action scenes and solid performances from many respected actors including Edward Norton and Albert Finney make Legacy an enjoyable younger brother to the Bourne series. Fun and exciting, but lacking the impact of the original.

The Imposter (2012)

This really is an incredible story, but then often the most amazing stories are true.  This one is about a French guy by the name of Frédéric Bourdin, who is a serial identity thief.  In this case he pretends to be an American kid called Nicholas Barclay, a boy who went missing from Texas three years ago. Despite being  in Spain, Frédéric finds out that an American family are looking for a lost child and so he poses as Nicholas.  The most amazing thing is that the family take him in, so desperate are they to find Nicholas!  No matter how crazy it is that Frédéric pretends to be Nicholas, it's very weird that the family take him in - no questions asked!

The film is shot as a documentary but there are sections of drama which are often seamlessly merged into the documentary sections.  Director Bart Layton also makes tremendous use of light; whether it is dawn over San Antonio, light shining through blinds and showing the passage of time, or simply dramatic sunlight through oppressive cloudy skies.  This all adds up to a movie that is more than just a documentary, it looks stunning too.  Definitely worth seeing; a film in the mould of Catfish, but  better looking.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that everyone has seen, apart from me. When I admit this, friends ask me "What did you watch on Christmas Day?". Well, I was watching Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark; sue me! Also, as I've probably said before, I am no fan of musicals (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors and Moulin Rouge notwithstanding), so I would have given “Oz” a wide berth. So, was I wrong to avoid it for so long? Well, maybe. I think having not grown up with it, the magic that I guess a kid would get out of it wasn't there for me. I am also tempted to say that it was all a bit obvious, but that's probably only because at some level I knew what was going to happen; lion and his bravery, tin man and his heart and all that.

No doubt Judy Garland can sing, and a lot of the sets are quite impressive, but because it is a film that is so ingrained in the psyche, it's hard to be objective. Viewers probably fall into two categories: those that have grown up with the film and love it, or those like me who come to it later in life and don't really get it. Would I set out to watch it again? Probably only with kids. I can see where the magic lies, it's just not for me at this stage of my life.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Hugo (2011)

Hugo is the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the clock mechanisms in Gare du Nord in 1930s Paris. He is obsessed with a toy maker who has his stall in the station, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that this toy maker is none other than Georges Méliès the famous film director (played by Ben Kingsley). The film then becomes a quest to reignite Georges passion for film-making, and as such becomes a celebration of film.

Featuring quite an impressive cast including (as well as Ben Kingsley) Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Richard Griffiths, Chloë Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer and Sacha Baron Cohen (yup, you heard right!), Hugo really conjures up the ambience of a bygone era of classic cinema, in a similar way to Cinema Paradiso. All the cast are great (yes even Baron Cohen), though for the most part are restricted to cameo appearances as regular features of railway station life. Rather the story concentrates on Hugo (a very mature performance from Asa Butterfield), Georges Méliès, and his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz).

This is not the kind of film I would normally associate with Martin Scorsese, there is none of the hard gritty feel of many of his films, Hugo is far more fantastical and none the worse for it. Super cast, some amazing special effects, a heartwarming story transporting you to a simpler time and intelligent direction from Scorsese as ever. I’m writing this almost four months after I saw the film, and it’s making me want to see it again.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Dish (2000)

When I heard the sad news on 25th August that Neil Armstrong had died, I immediately thought that I had to watch The Dish again.  Set in 1969, this is the very uplifting story of the largest radio telescope in the southern hemisphere, (which happens to be in the middle of sheep paddock in Parkes - a small town in Australia), and the people who are involved in bringing the live pictures of Neil and Buzz taking their first steps on the moon to the world.  I absolutely love this film, it is heart-warming, uplifting and cracks me up every time I see it.  The cast are all superb; Sam Neill is Cliff Buxton (the director of the dish), and it is down to him, his colleagues Mitch (Kevin Harrington) and Glenn (Tom Long), as well as NASA representative Al (Patrick Warburton) to make sure they stay in contact with Apollo 11.  The film works so well because of the Australian sense of humour, particularly from the Mayor of Parkes (Roy Billing) and the Prime Minister (Billie Brown) who are both wonderful; and the cultural differences between the Australians and the visiting Americans.  A truly wonderful film that always brings a smile to my face and a lump to my throat as we see some of the effort that went into bringing us pictures of the greatest moment in modern history, culminating in perhaps the most famous phrase of modern history.

That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Die Another Day (2002)

So, it’s happened. There are Skyfall posters in my local multiplex; which can only mean one thing: Blogalongabond will soon be over. :-(  But not to worry, there are two cool films and an unknown quantity before we finish. However, I must first clear the hurdle of Die Another Day. I think of all the 007 films, this was the one I was really not looking forward to seeing; I do not have great memories of the film, despite the fact that afterwards my girlfriend and I told our friends we were engaged! Overall I remembered it as a real mess of a film.

But against all the odds, I enjoyed it more than I expected. If it were sitting an Ordinary Wizarding Level exam, it would have passed by Exceeding Expectations. Excellent action (as usual with the later Bonds), another excellent score from David Arnold, a very different take on Bond in the first half of the film, and quite a novel way of hiding the main villain from 007. Of course we should start at the beginning, and immediately we see something wrong; a CG bullet being shot out through the iconic gun barrel! I’m sorry; was this released in gimmick-D vision? (see also 007 kicking a fencing foil at the camera later on!). What follows is spectacular, and though perhaps not as enjoyable as the pre-credit sequences of TWINE or TND, never-the-less pretty fantastic. The surfing looks great, and the music over it is very funky, and then we’re into a hovercraft chase. I love how dirty the whole sequence looks, as well as Bonds grit and brutality. Though how did Bond know that there was a waterfall on the other side of that gate?

I think that the credits are some of the best in the whole series; the torture going on in the background as part of the story rather than just having plot-associated images works really well. Of course there are some of these images as well and I think the ice/sunburst graphics are really smart; and then when the scorpion tails pop up along with the music it all comes together nicely. It’s just a shame the song sucks so hard; part of the torture I guess!

The first half of the film is certainly edgier and more intriguing than a lot in the series; what mental state is 007 really in? Does M really think he’s useless now? Is Jinx actually the first woman he’s picked up for random casual sex rather than someone involved in the investigation? Or is it just more blatant here? Who the hell is Graves? And how cool does 007 look with a big beard?

                                              Brozza fairly rocks the Jeff Lebowski look.

Everything is going well, until Bond and Graves have their fencing match. Despite it being choreographed by the legendary Bob Anderson, I find the whole sequence silly, and for me it marks the turning point in the film. From now on we just see the usual Bond tropes; gadgets, pointless henchmen (“I’m Mr Kill!” That’s lovely dear, now let me kill you with some lasers which are here for no reason), and illogical sequences. Then when Bond para-surfs (real thing?) through some Ice-Age quality digital icebergs, accompanied by some inexcusably poor super-imposition (not seen since Roger Moore went skiing), the film loses all credibility.

Speaking of gadgets, it’s nice to see a few old favourites hidden away in Q's man-cave; the crocodile from Octopussy, a Rosa Kleb style shoe, little Nellie and the jetpack from Thunderball. Mercifully John Cleese doesn’t reprise his Mr Bean from TWINE, and is starting to turn into a half decent Q “Better than looking cleverer than you are!”. I’m almost a bit disappointed he doesn’t make the transition to the Daniel Craig era, but not quite.

Shifting to some of the other peripheral characters, I think they’re all pretty good. Toby Stephens’ Gustav Graves is brilliantly arrogant and sneering, and due to some questionable gene therapy science, I’d completely forgotten that he was actually Colonel Moon from the film’s opening. I also thought that Rosamund Pike was appropriately frosty as Miranda Frost; she was suitably inconspicuous until we realised where her allegiance really was. Then she turns up wearing her pyjamas to fight Jinx at the end! Ah Jinx. Stunning as she is, with clear references to Ursula Andress with her appearance in the film, she’s not that great a character. OK, so she makes her way into the gene therapy clinic in Cuba, kills the Doctor, and blows the place up; but more often than not she is just a damsel in distress who needs rescuing by Bond.

                                                                  It's only a model!

Anything more to say? I don’t think so. Promising opening gambit, which ultimately falls flat and gets stuck in a mire of silly directorial choices and some shocking special effects. There are a few nice quick camera moves (scooting over the ice to the Aston Martin as it approaches Clark Kent’s Fortress of Solitude); but for every nice touch there’s a pointless slo-mo bit of Jinx being threatened by lasers. By no means as awful as I remember, yet certainly Brosnan’s worst 007 outing. Perhaps this is why Brozza doesn’t get to Die Another Day, and Broccoli & Wilson look to my hometown for the new super-spy.

Order of Preference so far:

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Die Hard 4.0 (2007)

Having watched Die Hard 2 last night, ITV4 in their wisdom clearly didn't deem Die Hard 3 worth showing, and went straight onto number 4! I think it was ITV4 anyway.  I didn't mind too much, as much as I can't remember what happened in number 3 (apart from starring Sam L Jackson, and at some point him and Willis have to solve a puzzle with 2 different sizes of jug and have to end up with 3 litres of water in one of them, or something!), I've never seen Die Hard 4.0.  I'd heard good things about it though, so I was all set to be entertained. And entertained I was.

Rather than being restricted to an office building or an airport, the film follows a more mobile storyline; McClane has to bring in a young computer nerd, one of many throughout the country who could be in danger, and it turns out that he could help prevent some cyber-terrorists from crippling the country and taking it back to the Dark Ages.  Cue lots of gunfights, crashing cars into airborne helicopters, fast driving and the occasional less than sensible decision; but above all lots of Bruce Willis being badass.  Now, I will be the first to say that I've never considered myself to be a Bruce Willis fan, I always thought he was better in films where he wasn't the only main character (Pulp Fiction, Sin City or 12 Monkeys), but with the three Die Hard films I've seen recently I've come to the conclusion that actually he's quite good in these roles.

Underworld director Len Wiseman, has done a pretty good job of recreating what was so good about the first Die Hard, McClane getting under people's feet, generally being a constant thorn in the baddies' side, and being completely gung-ho; as well as some tremendous set pieces of course.  Though the car falling down the lift shaft did have more than a little "The Lost World T-rex's pushing a van over the edge of a cliff" about it!  Overall Die Hard 4.0 was very enjoyable, perhaps not quite as good as the first film (well, there's no Alan Rickman), but close.  I'll have to see if I can track down Die Hard 3 soon, surely it must be on telly at some point.


We’re starting to race towards the end of August,and I realise that I’ve not written anything this month yet. Between watching lots of Olympics, a weekend away walking in Crianlarich (West Coast of Scotland) and my folks coming to stay, I have had little time to blog. Well that’s my excuse anyway. I’ve no idea how I’ll cope when I become a Dad for the first time in December!

It is almost the second anniversary of FilmsrRuss. Yes I’m almost into the terrible twos! So I hope I don’t get all cranky and stroppy, and hopefully normal service will resume soon. It’ll have to; Die Hard 2 last night, Die Hard 4.0 tonight (clearly ITV4 doesn’t think it’s worth showing Die Hard with a Vengeance!), Bridge on the River Kwai at the moment, and I must watch Die Another Day for Blogalongabond tomorrow! So I have to get busy.

This is Russ for FilmsRruss; we're done here.

Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

I thought Bridge on the River Kwai was very entertaining; a very British British film highlighting that it is the seemingly insignificant nuances of culture and integrity that are even more important when in an impossible situation. A tremendous performance from Alec Guinness, wonderfully shot, and a far more involved plot than I assumed. I liked the way that we initially sympathise with Guinness' character, but by the climax of the film we are firmly on the side of the British soldiers who are trying to destroy the bridge. Guinness' hubris is perhaps understandable but bizarrely at odds with what the Allies as a whole are trying to achieve.

As I said, the quality of acting is top drawer and the style and scope is epic. My only minor issue was that the climax wasn't quite climactic enough! I felt that the final act could have had more impact given the investment we had in the characters, but this is really a small failing in an otherwise excellent film

Friday, 24 August 2012

Die Hard 2 (1990)

Whereas the first Die Hard really grabbed hold of you and wouldn't let go, as well as creating icons in terms of heroes and villains, Die Hard 2 isn't really bothered about engaging the viewer at all. Once again John McClane is in the wrong place at the wrong time, an airport this time, but has trouble convincing the airport security that things are about to go horribly wrong. But however charismatic Bruce Willis is, his mettle is only measured by the bad guy he's up against, and William Sadler's Col. Stuart is not even a tenth as convincing as Alan Rickman in the first film. He's predictable, boring, and completely un-menacing.

I was annoyed by too many silly parts in the film (SWAT team not wearing body armour, McClane out on the runway one second then back in the control room 10 seconds later), that I just couldn't get on board with it. I also felt the pacing was all over the place, jumping from the excitement of a plane crashing into the runway then back to McClane bitching to airport security again. Certainly the plane crashes were filmed well and looked suitably spectacular, but this is definitely the poorer cousin of the first film. The only other thing worth saying is that Die Hard 2 features the appearance of a very Robert Patrick; who dies quite easily.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Brave (2012)

Let’s not beat about the bush here, Brave looks fantastic. I think I spent the first 10 minutes admiring how amazing Merida’s hair was. Clearly all the characters still looked like animated people, but the world in which they lived could easily have been real. The stone circle, the forests, the mountain landscapes all looked phenomenal.

Though there are plenty of funny moments (the three younger brothers notwithstanding) there aren’t as many LOLs as Monsters Inc or Finding Nemo for example. Rather Brave focusses on the teenage growing pains of Princess Merida and her desperation to live her own life and not be forced into being the Princess that her Mum wants her to be. Though I did really enjoy the film, I wonder if the story was really the best they could have come up with; a couple of times in the second half of the film I found myself asking “Why?”, and though it wasn’t boring, it wasn’t excellent.

The voice actors however, are all excellent. I was worried having seen the trailers that the Scottish accents were going to sound horrendous, despite most of them being Scottish actors (Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connelly, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd to name a few); but they were all great; as of course were the non-Scottish actors such Emma Thompson and Julie Walters.

Overall a very enjoyable film, not perhaps Pixar’s finest hour (you still have to go far to beat the enjoyment of Monster’s Inc in my opinion, or the genius of Wall-E), but certainly their most luxuriant.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Live Hangout Film Review: Black Hawk Down (2001)

Many thanks to Steve and Jaina for taking part in the second film review hangout. This time we really pulled apart Ridley Scott's excellent war movie Black Hawk Down! Or perhaps not! Anyway, see for yourselves.

Happily this time my internet connection remained intact, so I can bring you the entire conversation. Enjoy!

Friday, 27 July 2012

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Following the cool reception of TND by my fellow Blogalongabonders, I’m expecting a frosty one for The World is Not Enough. Having said that, I quite liked TND, so what do I know?

A plot involving competing oil pipelines through the Caspian has 007 tracking the progress of Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), daughter of Robert King, who is a close friend of M. Playing the victim, Elektra is actually working with known terrorist for hire Renard (Robert Carlyle) and has a plan to detonate a nuclear device near Istanbul, rendering competing pipelines useless, so all oil must flow through the King pipes.

Once again, the action can’t be faulted, Vic Armstrong again showing us how inventive he can be. His remit for the boat chase was simply that Bond’s boat would leave MI6 pursuing a female assassin, and that the Millenium Dome and a hot-air balloon had to be involved! After this dramatic boat chase along the Thames, there is one of the series best opening songs. The World is Not Enough is belted out by Shirley Manson, the only trouble is, it doesn’t get better than this.

Brozza is fine, and Judi Dench is as good as ever; but everyone else is either pointless or disappointing. Carlyle has the potential to be a brilliant villain, but pulls his punches too much; Renard has none of the edge of Begbie or the psychopath from Cracker. Sophie Marceau also has potential as Elektra, but her performance is just vapid. My James Bond Encyclopedia says “With Elektra, Bond thinks he has found Tracy (from OHMSS) but he’s really found Blofeld.” Erm, didn’t get that at all; Elektra is about as Tracy as Christmas Jones. Speaking of which, there have to be few Bond Girls as pointless as Denise Richards. Why does 007 let her hang around (beyond the obvious)? She’s a nuclear physicist, once she has disarmed the bomb in the pipeline she has no other function. She’s just a hanger-oner. Then there’s a mute heavy that hangs around Elektra, at least Stamper had some function in the plot of TND; and the less said about John Cleese’s appearance as Mr Bean the better.

In the midst of all this I did enjoy the recurrence of Valentin Zukovsky, Robbie Coltrane is almost always worthwhile; and Goldie was fun as Bullion, one of Zukovsky’s stooges. But this really is like finding a pound coin in a dog turd. Most offensive was the ludicrously idiotic idea to build a pipeline on a glacier. I had to rewind several times to make sure I had seen correctly!

I also thought it was very silly of M to travel out to see Elektra, simply because Bond hadn’t made her a post-coital breakfast. She’s head of MI6, doesn’t she see

In case you hadn’t noticed, I didn’t really like TWINE. A nice idea using the world’s dependence on oil as a tool for the villain, but of course 6 months after the completion of the pipeline, the glacier will have shifted enough to break the pipe and we won't get any oil at all thanks to a contaminated Bosphorus! Fantastic action set pieces, but far too many under-developed or pointless characters to make this any more than a mediocre film.

Order of Preference so far:

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Stardust (2007)

One thing Matthew Vaughn can't be accused of is being typecast.  Having started his directing career with the brilliant Layer Cake, he next made the fantastical Stardust before going on to the brutal Kick-Ass then X-Men:First Class. What's more, he has excelled himself each time. 

This fantastical story is about our hero Tristan trying to find a falling star to impress the girl of his dreams.  Turns out that the fallen star is actually a person - Yvaine - who is also being sought by the remaining sons of the King so that they may prove their worth to succeed the throne; AND by three witches (one of which is Michelle Pfeiffer) for whom the star will bring eternal beauty!  Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, it is fairly convoluted but tremendous fun, and all made with Vaughn’s inimitable style.  There are lots of sweeping camera moves between scenes, in particular there is a great one from the village of Wall all the way to the palace in Stormhold (a magical land on the other side of the wall, for which the village of Wall is named) and straight through the roof onto Peter O'Toole's bed where he lies dying.

Again Matthew Vaughn has managed to attract a hell of a cast and though the main character Tristan (Charlie Cox) is unknown to me, he is excellent and his relationship with Yvaine (Claire Danes) is believable and very sweet.  I think it’s a really nice touch that Yvaine starts to shine (she’s a star remember) when she’s happy and in love, but she actually starts to shine when she’s with Tristan before either of them realise that they’re falling in love.  There's no way to go through all of the cast (just check here) but Mark Strong as one of Peter O'Toole's sons trying to claim the crown is wonderful; as is Robert De Niro's camp pirate Captain Shakespeare (his ship sails the skies!).

I must admit to hearing of this film when it was first released and not paying the slightest bit of attention to it, thinking it was probably a bit of a girly fantasy film.  I put Stardust on my lovefilm list purely on the basis of Matthew Vaughn being the director, having become more familiar with his work over the past few years.  I'm very glad I did.  Stardust is great fun, looks fantastic, is funny, clever, sweet and the cast are all perfect. I really shouldn't have avoided it for so long.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Spider-man - Amazing and Regular (2002 - 2012)


I must admit that when I first heard about The Amazing Spider-man project I was intrigued. Andrew Garfield sounded like an interesting choice as Peter Parker, and I wondered how 500 Days of Summer director Marc Webb was going to handle the super-hero genre. When I saw the trailer however my thought was “aren’t they just rehashing Sam Raimi’s genesis story from 10 years ago?” What’s the point in that? Won’t it be completely redundant? Well, yes and no.

First of all, Peter Parker. Andrew Garfield is certainly a better actor than Tobey Maguire, but perhaps almost too good. I feel that Peter Parker works better as an awkward geek (just my opinion from the films, I’ve never read any of the comics), and Garfield comes across as being too confident and almost a bit cocky; Tobey is far more awkward and this makes his transformation into a physically stronger super-hero more convincing. The relationship between Parker and Gwen was good (perhaps this is Marc Webb’s forté), but again I felt that it was a bit too familiar. This of course is explained by the history between Gwen and Peter. Compare this to MJ not really knowing who Peter is despite him living next door, and Peter only gets the confidence to talk to her once he has his alter-ego. Both of these scenarios are valid enough I guess, I just prefer the route of the geeky awkward PP.

The transformations themselves were dealt with differently, and again, I think I prefer that of regular Spider-man. Like I’ve already said, I’m not familiar with traditional Spider-Man canon, but to me it makes more sense that one of the abilities that is conferred having been bitten by an engineered spider is being able to spin webs. Having to make your own web-slingers is rubbish! Though I preferred Peter going home, feeling rotten, falling asleep and then finding everything had changed; I did like the apologetic way that Garfield’s Peter beat everyone up on the Subway! However, I don’t remember Garfield’s spider-sense ever tingling; not very amazing.

I feel like I’m continually dissing the Amazing Spider-Man here (only purely in comparison to Sam Raimi’s film), but Rhys Ifans’ Lizard is nothing compared to Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Ifans certainly doesn’t have the presence or gravitas that Dafoe does. There was even a scene in the sewers as Dr Curt Connors (Ifans’ character) argues with himself about taking another dose of whatever it is that makes him the lizard, clearly mimicking the brilliant scene in Spider-Man when Norman Osborne has the schizophrenic argument with his Green Goblin persona.

I could maybe compare more, but I feel that I’m really slagging The Amazing Spider-man, which isn’t my intent. There is much to like. I’ve already mentioned that I think Garfield is a better actor than Maguire, but the choice of Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben was also a good one. He breathes far more life into his brief screen time than Cliff Robertson does. I also liked the character of Captain Stacy (though I want to say his name in a Cap-tain Scar-let kinda way!), he gave Spidey an internal ally as well as a verbal sparring partner when they first meet. However the conclusion to this scene is Parker’s reveal to Gwen, which I thought was all too sudden and impetuous.

“Wristslap”; I’m being negative again. The Amazing Spider-man is a good film, it is a great cast, cool story, and lots of great action (thanks to Vic Armstrong), and there are some nice camera moves & first person web-shooting/swinging. The mistake I’ve made is watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man immediately afterwards, and I just prefer the decisions made in this film compared to the Amazing one, that’s all. That’s, just, like, er, my opinion man!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Pink Panther (2006)

I was lent this film by a friend, who said that it was a bit of daft fun. I'm sorry Dave, but I wouldn't wish this film on anyone! I've never been a fan of Steve Martin, but here he is just embarrassing! His performance is based on the worst kind of slapstick, and no matter how many times he says "I would like a hamburger" in a stupid accent, it just isn't funny. The whole premise of the humour seems to be that it is funny when an American does a bad French accent, who then goes to New York and becomes an American doing a bad French accent trying to speak "American". It really isn't funny. I sniggered after 21 minutes, and again at 33 minutes! Yes, I made a point of noting when I "laughed". I would much rather watch 90 minutes of the English policeman who thinks he can speak French from 'Allo 'Allo!

Perhaps the only silver lining to this turd of a film is that Kevin Kline is good as Charles Dreyfus, the chief of police who counts on Inspector Clouseau failing, ie the villain of the film; and I really can't imagine what Jean Reno's agent was thinking! Otherwise this is a ghastly film, and I really can't think of anything else that needs to be said.

Actually there is one more thing to say; I'm staggered to find out that Shawn Levy who directed this abomination also directed Real Steel!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

13 Assassins (2010)

Taking more than a little inspiration from Seven Samurai, 13 Assassins tells the story of a group of samurai who, under instruction from the Shogun Sir Doi, set out to kill the evil Lord Naritsugu. Naritsugu is out of control, and since he is about to enter the political arena, the Shogun fears that the country would be plunged into chaos.

The first half of the film is very much plot-oriented, and if I’m quite honest; I had trouble keeping up with all the different characters. Having said that, the plot is straightforward, so trying to remember the important characters doesn’t disrupt the plot at all. With the stage set, and the assassins ready to ambush Naritsugu in a village that he is travelling through, it just remains for the trap to be sprung. The second half of the film is essentially the battle between the 13 assassins and the 200 samurai protecting Naritsugu, though I’m sure more than 200 were killed! The action is all fantastic, very well choreographed at times very brutal; and some of the traps set in the village are very inventive including a stampede of flaming cows!

Visually, the film has a sepia look to it, perfect for presenting medieval Japan; this also makes the blood and explosions stand out all the more. Director Takashi Miike is inventive in his style creating a dynamic, stylish and brutal (sort of) revenge movie.