Saturday, 27 July 2013

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

I thought I remembered X-men Origins: Wolverine being far worse than it really is.  For example, I'd forgotten that Stryker (Danny Huston) puts together a team of mutants at the beginning of the film.  I'd forgotten that the intro credits are really cool showing the passage of time as the two brothers (Jackman and Schreiber) grow up and demonstrates their indestructibility.  I'd forgotten that Ryan Reynolds was in it and his sword wielding character is pretty cool.  I hadn't realised that Game of Thrones screenwriter David Benioff wrote the screenplay for it.  All I really remember are the badly rendered claws, the farcical action (including the most ridiculous casual walk away from a huge explosion), and a really shoehorned in ending so that it ties in with the first X-men film.  And that’s the problem with it; they’re the bits that everyone remembers.

So, like I say, not all that bad, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston are all accomplished enough actors to prop the movie up, and the story is interesting enough; it just gets woefully let down by the ill judged central act.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Pacific Rim (2013)

Having already been a little disappointed with the only other blockbuster I’ll probably see this year despite having respectable names attached to it, I was wary about getting too excited about Guillermo del Toro’s latest offering.  The Hellboy films and Blade 2 both demonstrated that del Toro was able to create intelligent mainstream films with a mostly believable yet fantastical plot and at the same time fill them with plenty of inventive and (crucially) understandable action.  So it was my hope that Pacific Rim would up the ante in terms of spectacle yet still retain the attention to detail and storytelling that typifies some of del Toro’s previous work.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The design of the film was tremendous, the level of detail in the Jaegers (Hunters; huge robots) and Kaiju (huge monsters) is incredible.  There was also plenty of design to create the world inhabited by these two creations; downtown Hong Kong was as detailed and as full of character as the Troll Market in Hellboy 2 and I really loved the fact that there was a healthy black market in Kaiju body parts.  I was surprised that two guys had to physically be in the Jaegers to control them, I thought it would have been far more sensible to control them by remote.  On the plus side for the movie, there is far more danger and threat given that the drivers are literally in the heart of the action.  This gives the film a far more human element, especially as the two drivers have to mentality "drift" together (some sort of shared thought/memory thingy to be able to control both "hemispheres" of their Jaeger), an idea without which the film wouldn't have the same impact .

The cast were fine, and did well in bringing this human element to life, where otherwise we may not have cared.  Idris Elba was certainly the standout performance, perfectly cast as Stacker, the military general running the Jaeger project who provided an immovable point in whom everyone else could depend.  The "hero" duo of Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi were OK but were fairly prefabricated and copy/pasted from any other action/adventure film.  Of course del Toro favourite Ron Perlman is in the mix, but his is a rather light-hearted role as Kingpin of the black market.  Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are the fairly irritating and cringeworthy stereotypical science nerds, but at least they’re fairly integral to the plot.

As well as introducing a very human story to the film, del Toro managed to create a lot of spectacular fight scenes that was still perfectly understandable.  The movie steered well clear of any Michael Bay-ish tendencies for fast over-editing and generally “fucking the frame”, so that we haven’t a clue what’s going on.  Though the whole premise of the film is rather over the top, the action never is; for example, even when a Jaeger takes out 2 Kaiju in Hong Kong, relatively little of the city gets destroyed, which seems to be a prerequisite for action movies these days (Superman destroyed far more of Metropolis killing far more bystanders in Man of Steel).  Throughout the action the CG was generally flawless, these massive beasts given a real presence, and the wind and the rain really lashes off the robots.

All in all I really enjoyed Pacific Rim.  Sure there were daft bits (Ron Perlman’s cameo), clunky bits (Idris Elba saying he’d die if he stepped into another Jaeger - simply for the payoff in the next scene), and cheesy bits (Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!); but the smart story, characters to relate to and care about, some tremendous action set pieces as well as del Toro’s eye for detail all combine to make a worthwhile robot/creature feature.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010)

Luc Besson's film about a woman who travels to Egypt to dig up a Mummy (a doctor) with the idea to bring it back to Paris for resurrection so it can cure her sister (who is currently in a vegetative state following a tragic tennis accident), is kooky in the way that only a French film can be; but perhaps not enough to be that memorable.  I never felt invested in the titular character Adèle or what happened to her sister, and when Adèle went flying through Paris on a Pterodactyl that had been brought to life, the film went from kooky to a bit silly.  There was some obligatory love interest and some "humour" involving a group of inept policemen, but none of the peripheral characters were engaging either.  There is the kernel of an interesting story, I just think it should have been developed a bit more, along with the characters.  In which case The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec could have been a more memorable film, as it is, I'm struggling to think of anything else to say as I can't remember much about it!  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Dracula (1931)

I am Dracula. I bid you welcome.

Believe it or not, there was a time when cinema wasn’t replete with Vampire films.  Bram Stoker published Dracula in 1897, but in a time when movie studios didn't instantly jump on any novel idea, it wasn't until 1922 that the story was adapted for the silent film Nosferatu.  Then in 1931 director Tod Browning adapted the stage production featuring Belá Lugosi as Dracula and Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing for Universal's Dracula.  It sounds like it should be a classic. Unfortunately it’s far too clunky to be anywhere near it.

The opening couple of scenes are spooky enough, and I can live with the obvious matte painting (it is 1931 after all); however, any pretence of atmosphere goes out of the window as soon as the rubber bat makes an appearance “driving” the carriage!  I kid you not.  The bat makes many appearances, but that’s not all; there’s plastic spider of unknown scale, and some armadillos.  Yup, you heard me.  Honestly, I don’t know; perhaps they’re meant to be giant rats?  Or maybe Dracula has pet armadillos in his castle.

I think Belá Lugosi is trying to be enigmatic, but most of the time he’s daft.  He manages to be creepy weird when he is bending over someone to bite them (no teeth or blood though), and he does something sinister with his hands (think Saruman’s claw hand as he tries to use the palantir), but when he speaks with his stilted Hungarian accent he doesn’t sound enigmatic at all.  He’s more Manuel from Fawlty Towers: “I speak Eeenglish, I learn it from a book” than iconic vampire!

Most of the acting is high school amateur dramatics, and some of the direction is too.  Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing is probably the best thing, and he certainly rescues most scenes he’s in from tedium.  That’s not much of a compliment though, as everyone else is so bad; the worst thing is the Cockney Music Hall orderly at the mental asylum saying “Your maaad aint cha!”; it’s a wonder he doesn’t slap his thighs at the same time.  Probably the best part of the film were the sets, in particular inside castle Dracula and a magnificent staircase in Carfax Abbey.

I started watching with high hopes, sure I was about to see a masterful understated and sinister performance from Belá Lugosi.  I was sorely disappointed, and I look forward to seeing the 1958 Christopher Lee version.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.