Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Escape from New York (1981)

Kurt Russell is Snake Plisskin (in my head I want him to be wearing snakeskin trousers), a high profile criminal who has just been given an offer he can't really refuse.  He can have his criminal record expunged as long as he ventures into Manhattan Island (now a prison city) to rescue the President, whose plane just crashed there.  A cool idea, and the film is full of John Carpenter's smart direction, moody lighting and familiar faces.  However it does suffer from looking quite dated; and not in a forgivable Terminator kind of way.  Some of the dialogue is really quite clunky, and Kurt Russell never truly looks comfortable in his role (amazing that only a year later he's excellent in The Thing).  Lee Van Cleef also never seems to settle and delivers his lines like an automaton.

Familiar faces such as Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton (Alien) and Blofeld Donald Pleasance as the President, flesh out the Manhattan prison.  But I'm afraid not even John Carpenter's score that he composed himself can make this more than an average film in my eyes.  Not to worry though, JC and KR will return next year with a superb interpretation of Who Goes There.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Django Unchained (2013)

Slightly over-indulgent and about 30 min too long Django Unchained is nevertheless a great film and hugely enjoyable.  Jamie Foxx is great as crab man Django, Christoph Waltz is fantastic as Dr Schultz and the relationship between them is perfect.  Di Caprio also turns in a pretty good turn as the unpredictable Calvin Candie, and of course the usual Tarantino favourite Samuel L Jackson is present as well as Tarantino himself making an appearance.

It's another revenge story, but unlike Kill Bill the narrative is linear and more straightforward.  Also unlike Kill Bill which is fairly fantastical, you could imagine many stories such as Django's actually happening when the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was at its height.  As such I really felt the emotion as he was whipping one of his previous tormentors.  But for all its portrayal of slavery in 19th century Southern States, (and violent revenge), there is a lot of humour.  It's OK though, it doesn’t detract from the violence and swearing!  If Sergio Leone was the first to show a gunshot and a man being killed in the same shot, then Tarantino has taken that to the next level with so much blood and lumps of flesh (from men and horses) flying about the place.

Unmistakably a Tarantino film, Django Unchained is really good, well written characters played by an excellent cast, and there is some wonderful photography giving a grand scale to the story.  I just feel (and this is a very minor point) that with a tighter script and so a slightly shorter run time is would have been truly excellent.

She (1965)

Starting off my Hammer boxed set is the, well, thriller I suppose; She.  Full title: She who must be obeyed!  Her Sunday name I guess.  Played by Ursula Andress, She (actual name Ayesha) is an ancient Egyptian who has hung around for a couple of thousand years waiting for her lover to come back to her (after she killed him for infidelity!).  Her lover is Leo (John Richardson), part of a trio of World War One vets (also including Major Holly - Peter Cushing, and his valet Job - Bernard Cribbins) who are based in Palestine and who go looking for the fabled city of Kuma.  If the story sounds kinda familiar, that's because it is!  It's essentially The Mummy with some gender reversal.
This certainly isn't anything special, but it's interesting and I wasn't bored by it; probably for the most part due to Peter Cushing.  When he's on screen, it's clear who the main actor is, even though he's not the main character.  Bernard Cribbins over-acts if anything, but is good; and John Richardson is okay.  Christopher Lee is also in the cast as the head priest of Ayesha's cult; but it's a shame that he doesn't really get much to do.  The camera work was fairly point and shoot, and the special effects were quite ropey (I couldn't tell if the ruined Egyptian city we were looking at at one point was meant to be a model or real (or whether the effect was a bad model or a worse matte painting!)).

                                                                 I dunno, you tell me.

Overall, quite an ordinary film with a re-hashed Mummy plot, but interesting enough not to be boring due to a pretty solid cast.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

A totally crazy, mental, but delightful film from Wes Anderson.  Essentially it is a story about a boy scout who escapes from his camp (Fort Ivanhoe). He runs away with a girl and they go camping together around the island they live on, but the film is so much more than that.  It's a film about escaping from the ordered routine of our lives; shown by the ordered rows of tents and the scoutmaster's insistence on everything being neat, tidy and working.  Order is also demonstrated in the opening credits as the camera moves around the house at Summer's End (where Suzy lives) portraying it as a doll's house with everything in its place.

The cast is fairly stellar.  The main characters Sam (the escapee scout) and Suzy (the girl he goes to meet) are played by unknowns Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward who are both great; but it’s the cast that surround them that are truly amazing.  The scoutmaster is played by Edward Norton, the island policeman is Bruce Willis, and Suzy’s parents are Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.  They are all wonderful, even though they don't all have that much screen time.  A brief appearance by Tilda Swinton as “Social Services”, and a fantastic narration by Bob Balaban completes the main cast.  I love the way that the characters are all slightly uncomfortable with each other apart from Sam and Suzy who are very mature for their age.

It's hard to describe how cool the film is.  The story is fairly bizarre, but smart camera work and editing keep everything ticking along nicely, as well as helping to introduce much of the humour.  Quite a wonderful film, and one I'd highly recommend.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Lord of War (2005)

I've said before how I don't really like Nicolas Cage.  I can probably change that to I don't like him when he's being bat-shit crazy; because in Kick-ass he was good and in Lord of War he's great.  As Yuri Orlov he has the right amount of arrogance, confidence and gift of the gab that an arms dealer (presumably) needs.  He manages to make the character deplorable for what he does and how callous he is, yet at the same time makes us sympathetic towards him; and his narration is pitch perfect.  Jared Leto is also very good as Yuri's drunk, cocaine-addled, washed-up brother Vitaly. 

I love the opening credits showing the manufacture of bullets from the moment they are first pressed out of a sheet of metal to the moment it blows a child's head apart. Make no mistake, this isn't really a pleasant film, it is based on real events that go on in the world.  The nut job dictators that murder their own women and children (well those children who aren't willing to use an AK47) in the name of freedom exist in the world.  The movie is therefore quite political; to the extent that when I first saw the DVD of Lord of War, this Amnesty International short was before the credits.

Technically the film isn't amazing, though there are some nice sweeping shots and a very cool time lapse of a plane being stripped overnight.  What director Andrew Niccol has done is successfully told a story about appalling events that could be happening right now and made it into an enjoyable film. Though as well as being entertaining there is always an overriding sense of dismay.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Contagion (2011)

Blogging is not writing.  It's just graffiti with punctuation.

An ensemble cast telling the story of a fictional pandemic; essentially Survivors, but in 105 minutes instead of several TV series.  The cast are all fine, but because of the way the story is told they all punch way below their weight; not as well balanced as Ocean's 11 (also Steven Soderberg) or The Avengers.  Laurence Fishburne's character was the main focus I guess, where all the rest of the cast are very much fringe players, to the extent that they could almost be cameo performances.  The likes of Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Elliott Gould, Matt Damon or Gwyneth Paltrow just don't get much to play with.
As a scientist I am forever picking holes in what passes for science in the movies, but generally I thought that Contagion was alright.  Though I did wonder why it was too expensive to use Matt Damon's blood to identify his immune response while millions of people were dying.  Surely nothing is too expensive in that situation. Otherwise I think that everything else seemed legitimate enough, though I'm not a virologist. 

An interesting enough story without doing anything new, which is unfortunate because with a cast like this it could have been great.  Actually I thought the best part was right at the end when we saw Day 1 and how the virus started its human infection; though the fact that it was a bat-pig virus just made me think of the a rat-monkey a little too much.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Predators (2010)

I think that the writers hoped that by stringing together various scenes from the original Predator it would somehow be a good film, when in actual fact it’s really quite boring. The initial premise is interesting enough; the "heroes" having been dropped from a plane while unconscious have to come together and figure out what's going on. Of course they're being hunted by Predators who obviously enjoy hunting humans as much as Aliens.

Everything is going quite well (in terms of the film, not for the humans), until they find Laurence Fishburne in his hideout. At this point the film loses all momentum and just becomes boring, the balance of the film shambling from one encounter with a Predator to the next. There is almost a bit of a twist towards the end, but then there isn't, and tedious parity is restored. Compare this with the superb script in Predator, which manages to introduce the characters so well (almost as good as Aliens), whereas I don't feel that we really got to grips with any of the cast of Predators.

As well as bad writing, Adrien Brody is the wrong actor to lead this film. I didn't think he was an action star in King Kong, and I don't think he is here either. Putting on a gruff voice and working out for six months doesn't make you an action hero. Laurence Fishburne might have been able to carry the film, but I doubt he would have wanted to. Like I say, Predators just tries to regurgitate what was good about Predator: rehashing Alan Silvestri's superb score from the first film, same setting, a guy with a mini-gun, falling off a cliff into water, a guy who turns round to face a Predator with his shirt off, even using Little Richard over the closing credits. However, this can't stop Predators being average at best.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Mummy (1932)

This is the first telling of the love story between the ancient Egyptian Prince Imhotep (buried alive 3000 years ago) and the woman he loves, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon; a love story that spans thousands of years as well as death itself. I'm guessing that most people are likely to be more familiar with Stephen Sommers' 1999 version, so the best way of describing this film is as an abridged version, and with a run time of only 70 minutes it really crams a lot in.

There is quite a minimal cast who are all much of a muchness, that is of course excepting the enigmatic Boris Karloff. As the Mummy, his performance is very understated but perfectly pitched; he opens doors with such a sleight of hand that it appears that they just open before him. His movements are all slow and deliberate as his presence dominates all his scenes. The main thing that bugged me, however, was that having been revived, Imhotep then waits ten years before trying to revive Anck-es-en-Amon. This could be because he was waiting for another British expedition so he can direct them to dig where Anck-es-en-Amon is buried, but this isn't satisfactorily explained. In the mean time, Imhotep has found himself gainful employment in the museum in Cairo and obviously been integrated into society for all this time!

Karl Freund’s direction is very careful and deliberate and makes great use of light, particularly on Boris Karloff, however the film is very dated. Some of the dialogue is very clunky and the ending in particular is very unsatisfactory. Having said that, the film is still enjoyable and worth checking out for Karloff’s performance.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Robin Hood (2010)

If I was being really facetious I would say that the closing credits were the best part of Robin Hood. The paintbrush effect animation of key moments of the film, exactly like the Scott Free logo, was really cool. The fact is, that between my wife’s insistence on having the subtitles on because she couldn’t understand Russell Crowe’s mumbling accent, and the boy crying/not wanting to go to bed, I wasn’t really in this film. Rubbish accents aside (Scott Grimes’ character was supposed to be Welsh?!), I’m sure it’s really quite a good film (Gladiator in Tights Mel Brookes?), with some explosive action, impressive looking sets and a refreshing take on how Robin becomes an outlaw. I think I was just distracted. I thought that Cate Blanchett was a very good Marion Loxley; a strong character as she should be, but not the usual obvious Disney princess type that we usually get lumbered with. The other stand out character was Godfrey, played by the excellent Mark Strong. Like I say, I’m sure this is quite a good film and I’ll have to give it another go sometime when I can give it more attention.