Wednesday 28 May 2008

Hip hop hooray.....not

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together in a film for the first time since Heat. A Righteous Kill....mmmm sounds good don't it? Two heavyweights doing what they do best, upping the ante in each scene. Awesome....who else is in it?

This guy? Fuck sake....NEXT!

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Year: 2008
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: David Koepp
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent


George Lucas made what could be considered a very strange comment about the forth installment of his other extremely popular franchise.

Claiming that one of the biggest releases of the year is "just a movie" is a bit out of sorts coming from the man who help create the event movie. However I feel this was said due to the issues which came about involving the Phantom Menace. The "first" star wars movie is one that Lucas has not apologised for, despite displeasing a lot of fans. While I found the movie to be pretty bad, it's true he doesn't have to say sorry for his decision.

While this doesn't explain his more recent comment the man has only got himself to blame. This movie has spent years in development hell with Lucas and Spielberg rejecting scripts and picking other projects over it. Waiting for the moment that the films script will be "just right". Once the ball finally got rolling, everything was kept secret merely adding to the mystery and anticipation.

I think Lucas was just trying to give a little perspective to the situation. If people didn't expect so much from these two film makers then they would probably enjoy certain movies more. But unfortunately when you set the bar for family entertainment as high as this guys have it's tough to downplay expectations. I mean don't know anyone who truly dislikes Indiana Jones apart from Ray Carney and Jean-Luc Godard.

With all that said the comments which bothered me are the one made by one Micheal Bay.

While the comments on the video come across as a light hearted joke. After watching the movie I was quite surprised that the maker of "that toy movie" almost hit the nail on the head. The Crystal Skull isn't that great of a movie. Maybe I did expect too much. I mean what was I really expecting? just a pleasant feel good film or the second coming of great mainstream family cinema? The answer maybe a little bit of both. The expectations were always going to be no matter what and I don't feel the film stood up to them. My reasons my not be the most well explained out there but I'm sure a few people might share aspects of them.

Once the nostalgia leaves you, Indy 4 is only a cut above Sahara and National Treasure. For all the talk about stunts being done by real people etc, there's a lot of CGI that snuck it's way into the film. To be fair CGI is now so common place I expected quite a bit...I just didn't know it was going to be so dodgy. That's the only way I could describe some of the action sequences that lie in the movie. One scene follows a character swinging on jungle vines (a bad moment itself due to the character) but the cgi reminded me of Pitfall on the snes (another Nintendo reference?). That's a bit harsh, with this said however, in comparison to Bay's Fanboy Fest The Crystal Skull pales in comparison. Spielberg's work in Jurassic Park still looks and (more importantly) feels better. In many other films CGI can bring you into the film, here it distracts. It feels out of sorts with the other stunts on display. The beginning has a great chase scene which not only looks good but reminded me of when I first watched Indy. When the film keeps it simple and keeps it real the fun factor stays high.

It's the same with the storyline. Before certain revelations the film is engaging, amusing and fun. However the film gets bogged down with a series of extremely predictable plot points and twists (both with story and characters) that did nothing but frustrate and bore me. I knew what was going to happen in the story by act two and I don't find that to be a good thing. To make things worse Spielberg underplays ALL the revelations of the film. Films can be predictable and cliche but they can still DO something with them. Most of the story moments were met with a sigh as I waiting for the lazy half baked ending to come about. It was truly a shame. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree but they should think of another film they wanted to watch so much only to be disappointed by it's lacking. I find Spielberg to be a master craftsman, hell I even liked A.I. (until the last 20 minutes) for fuck sake. The whole adventure aspect of the film felt very lackluster.

To add to this the screenplay had added a bizarre new mythology that goes against what we saw in the first films. The stories plot really sits awkwardly with the religious aspects of the original trilogy. (star wars fans may be getting deja vu). This will have alot to do with how I think about the world but The crystal skull doesn't sit will with the ark of the covenant or the holy grail. Fuck even the temple of doom is about gods!

It's not all bad. The film is very funny when it wants to be. The dialogue crackles between the characters but this also stems from how good the performances are. Despite the weakness of story and action the acting is top notch. LaBouf has great screen presence. Allen is still spunky (and an attractive older woman may I add) and you don't see people like Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone putting a foot wrong. Blancett works well as a villain and is very commanding when on the screen. As for Ford....well it's like riding a bike isn't it. Ford is Indy, that will never change. after a few odd moments at the beginning I completely forgot how old Ford is in the film. It's a great performance and I really enjoyed him in it.

People love the film because it's Indiana Jones, others will believe that the Spielberg, Lucas and Koepp have placed another stunning addition to the trilogy and enjoy the updates. I unfortunately will remain indifferent. Much like when I saw the Phantom Menace or Attack of the clones. The often cracking dialogue, fun characters and great acting are almost overshadowed by an unsurprising story (with a shite third act btw), average set pieces and little thrill.
But it's ok...because George Lucas' plagiarising of movie taglines's only a movie.

P.S. John Hurt despite becoming a little bit of a rent a loony wasn't too bad either.

P.P.S. Lucas didn't steal a movie tagline..he's more into nabbing a little of their storyline

Monday 26 May 2008

Review: Speed Racer

Year: 2008
Director: The Wachowski Brothers
Screenplay: The Wachowski Brothers
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox

If Micheal Bay ate nothing but sugar coated cartridges of Super Mario Kart (SNES) while watching Anime non-stop for five years, this is what would be puked up. Dazzling yet ridiculous, Stunning but stupid. Speed Racer is a beautiful mess, constantly innovate and yet surprisingly derivative. The Wachowski brothers have created something that has taken digital film making to the extreme but at a loss of good storytelling which in turn takes away much of the thrill of the movie.

The basic tone of the movie is inconsistent and the story unimportant and stale. Pretty colours are fine but at certain times the movie makes a shift that would feel more at home in a 12a movie as opposed to squeezing it into a movie such as this one for the sake of it.

To add to this as this movie tries to make out it's a family film but it's lack of a strong lead character and odd moral scope make the film stand out unattractively. Every Harry Potter (a series of movies I dislike) try to help encourage children more than this film can. Potter is a dull lead character but his story encourages, growth, wisdom and creativity (even when most of the time it's not from him). Speed in Speed Racer almost appears to have similar traits but it's so thinly spread and smothered between the visuals (and anti-capitalism stance) that it gets lost.
It doesn't help that everything about Speed Racer is an oddity. It's crammed with characters, loopy visuals and set pieces but it doesn't seem to be saying anything. Stephen King said of Kubrick's the Shining "A big beautiful car, with no engine" and the same goes for Speed Racer. This is a living, breathing video game that could suit the world of Halo or otherwise if done right. However while many modern video games have been doing what they can to incorporate pathos and depth into aspects of their storylines (see GTA4), Speed Racer is nothing but visual distraction.

Maybe I'm expecting to much from what is ultimately a kids movie but I don't think so. Pixar manage to bring about emotional impact, humor and unique characters to their stories. Why can't the Wachowski brothers? To say I didn't gawp in awe at the digial achievement on display would be wrong. however the film is completely shallow.

I wouldn't have a problem with the movie if the characters inside the (dull) story were engaging but not so. The directing duo do nothing to make me give a shit about Speed and his family and the performances from the actors are extremely one note. Their "emotional" scenes are pointless and I spent most of the film waiting for the next race to start as they are the only reason to watch the movie. However due to the lack of any true danger that might effect the character, the actions sequences have a nasty pre-ordained feeling. Making any sense of excitement come across as false. Flat characters in a film like this are almost forgivable but flat action as well? Bad Times. As awesome as the film looks the film doesn't actually generate any genuine feeling of excitement. I remember how I felt when I first saw the matrix...I don't get the feeling here at all.

The acting is piss poor and the directors look like they did nothing to get any true response out of the performances on show. John Goodman does his worst audition for a Super Mario Bros remake, while Susan Sarandon sleepwalks through her performance (although her thankless role is strongest). After four season of Lost, Matthew Fox decides to take a break with a tediously terminator-esque role as the emotionless Racer X. Christina Ricci is underused as the main love interest Trixie but the real disappointment is Emile Hirsch. His performance reminds one of a rabbit in the headlights, dazzled, sunned and unsure. I find this a shame as I feel that Hirsch is a great young actor. Quite simply, the movies background are more animated than the actors.

I'm pleased with what the Wachowski Brothers tried to do but I don't believe for a second that it works. the grand visuals are a great distraction from the bad acting, risible dialogue and thinly spread plot. The Wachowski's have produced a film which will inspire film makers for the future and thats a great thing. But for fuck sake guys can you just hurry up and make Carnivore already?

Thursday 8 May 2008

Review: Iron Man

Year: 2008

Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: Hawk Ostby, Mark Fergus
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow

The moment I knew I enjoyed Iron was when Tony Stark (Downley jr) and Rhody (Howard) are drunk while a glitzy hip hop video is playing behind them. This will mean fuck all to many people but those who love The Wu Tang Clan will know that Ghostface Killah (my fave member joint with RZA) has the nick name Tony Stark and named one of his albums Ironman after his love of the comics. The tiny fact that they place Killah in the film shows it's sense of fun. With this said Iron man has an interesting more realistic (in a comic book/film sense) approach to it's proceedings than say The Punisher.

Directed by Jon Favreau Iron manages to balance a laid back sense of fun with an origin story that comes close to competing with Christopher Nolan's Batman's Begins. I say comes close because Iron man manages to get me interested into a story and character I've never shown any real interest in. With a character such as Batman I knew all I needed to know, I just wanted it done right. With Ironman I didn't even know which war fucked him up royally (It was Nam) let alone supporting characters.

That for me was always the first hurdle that the film had to cross and it cleared it well. Iron man as a character is charming, funny and engaging. The story also manages to be as entertaining, keeping itself from being a bland retread of other general origin stories despite having all the similar plot points. A lot of this comes from Favreau wish to give the film the same easy going feel that inhabited Doug Liman's Swingers (written by Favreau). Ironically Liman's awful Jumper could have done with the same sense of fun (as well as story structure and better acting).

I expected this from Favreau who clearly likes the idea of keeping things loose (see working with Will Farrell). Nothing about the film is rigid at all, the dialogue has an obvious amount of improvisation, the humor doesn't come across as staged, and the actors feel like the built upon their characters as opposed to just merely reading from the script. In doing this the film feels more organic, more plausible and generally more entertaining.

The masterstroke in keeping this all together is of course casting Robert Downley jr as the lead. It worries me that in the next ten years we'll see less of actors like this and more good looking cardboard cutouts. Downley jr IS iron man, just like he WAS Wayne Gale or Harry Lockhart. His performance is full of energy, charm and cheeky improv. He encapsulates the playboy feel of Stark perfectly. At times he outshines Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne but only at times. Paltrow is an interesting (although a little flat) choice for the "love interest" while Terrence Howard provides a stable performance as Stark's Army Buddy. Bridge's has a ball as Obadiah Stane and avoids the easy option of completely hamming his character up.

What Bale (and Batman Begins) has however, is that psychological edge that is not seen in many of the Marvel Comic book adaptations. You still know where you stand with Brucie and friends. Iron man's lighter balance of comic material at times skips over a very intriguing aspect of the story: The war mongering. I'm still not sure if Favreau's light touch should have glossed over the talk of weapons, wars and legacy. Stark at the beginning is the epitome of American patriotism in the beginning, before seeing what happens on the other side. The double dealing and grey areas give an interesting conflict not seen in the happy go lucky violence of The Punisher etc. But the conflict doesn't last long enough to truly question the polemic views that will always stand in America. The film clearly leans left but before "getting serious" the film gets to what everyone is watching it for......the set pieces.

The action sequences are well executed and fun. Nothing we haven't seen before but still exciting. This is mostly down to the background work done by the screenplay.
Iron man is a better start to the blockbuster movies than Jumper. It has a story with an actual conclusion and structure, much better acting (my little blurb doesn't give the actors their due at all), and has a greater sense of fun. At the end of the film I found myself looking forward to a sequel if one ever appears. The likelihood of this looks good due to the box office figures so here's hoping the the sequel will expand on the good work done here.

Review: In Bruges

Year: 2008
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenwriter: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jordan Prentice, Thekla Reuten

Three great central performances, captured in a beautiful city (trust me I've been) combined with a deviously dark wit and a well paced story (until some messy plot issues at the end) make up Martin McDonagh's In Bruges. The film took me by surprise owing more to No Country for old men than say Lock Stock or Snatch. McDonagh's film demonstrates that the bad guys become even more interesting when they have a crisis of fate.

After an a botched assassination hit, Ray (Farrell) has headed to Bruges with a fellow hitman named Ken, to hide out. The grumpy Ray ponders his fate while the gentler Ken spends his time sightseeing and tiring to reassure his younger assassin that everything will be fine. Unfortunately Harry (Fiennes), the boss that ordered the hit has other ideas.

While No Country for Old Men took an old school Mcguffin and turn that aspect of plot into a grand epic revisionist western. In Burges is more introspective keeping the focus purely on it's leads. When the film wasn't hitting me with punchy dialogue and one liners, there are brief moments of poignancy that stayed with me longer than the comedy. McDonagh develops his characters well, allowing them to stew in their situation bring forth characteristics slowly and allowing the chance for the characters to evolve into well rounded individuals. Ray and Ken feel like an Irish odd couple during the first half of the film, the banter comes in thick and fast, and you get to know them as they evolve and shift roles. At one point the two feel like an old married couple, two scenes later a spoilt brat and mother. The interaction is feels almost like a buddy cop movie, In Bruges comes across as Lethal Weapon for the other side.

The two leads give off two very different but effective performances. Farrell, in his most mature performance in ages, is brilliant. His comic timing and visual tics are hilairious and his acting range throughout the film is broad and engaging throughout. Glesson on the other hand uses his screen prescene to mass effect. His performance is gentle and fatherly, two things he's done before with ease but not with this much resonance. It's great to watch, as the two role complement each other so well it's constantly engrossing. You can't wait to see what the next guy is going to say next.

To round it off we are given brute energy of Ralph Fiennes as a fiendishly loutish cherry on top of the main duo. Fiennes role is like a tornado, with chaos happening everywhere he goes. Be it at home with the family (delightfully awkward Xmas moment) or when he finally appears in Bruges. Not only has he some of the best lines in the movie, his delivery gives them more punch and humor. A character that can easily be forgotten is given a wonderfully animated touch. The support range from the thankless (Clemence Poesy) to the memorable (Jordan Prentice)

The screenplay written by McDonagh (who is also theatre playwright) is one full of cracking one liners and amusing, un-p.c moments. These moments are forced to meld with moments of poignancy. However McDonagh clearly understands context, these are despicable characters and their moments of offensiveness only illustrate and highlight their phobias and isolation (expect for Fiennes who is clearly just an 'orrible cunt). The story overdoes it's ending, in particular a death which goes on for too long and ends with a very unconvincing plot moment. But up until that point the story moves at a steady pace and redeems itself after a few missteps.

In Burges doesn't have massive set pieces or the now familiar traits of the new wave Brit gangland movies. Howevcr its story is ten times stronger then most of the Guy Richie imitators/nick love films and for the most part the film is laugh out loud funny. I was almost embarrassed with how loud I laughed at some of the jokes. To add to this In Burge reminded me of how much I love small films when I get the chance to see them. The general jaded feel that can happen with some of Hollywood's bigger movies is lost when going into something like this. The laughs come naturally, the drama works well and the story is fulfilling. While it may not be remembered in those big books of blockbusting box office stats, In Burge is more likely to remain in the memory of those who were lucky to see it.