Tuesday 31 May 2011

Review: The Hangover: Part 2

Year: 2011
Director: Todd Phillips
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin, Scot Armstrong
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis

Synopsis is here.

So many lament the predictably of Hollywood (including myself) that we in turn become products of the same pre-determined nature. I really didn't raise too much of an eyebrow when I heard that there was to be a sequel to The Hangover but that may be because the signs were all very clear. I mean how many people were shocked, really?

I don't really condone everything that the big studios do, but there's a certain amount of importance (if your into film) into why. The original film's box office when adjusted for inflation, ranks at #177, it's ranked higher (#49) if not. It made numbers that some movies can only dream of. It had a cast of relative unknowns who  became names due to it's success and it was praised critically (79% based on 214 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes)  as well as commercially. With Hollywood leaning ever more towards the aspect of films as brand over anything else it's a no brainer that despite it's premise being a solid (but underwhelming IMO) that Warner Brothers were going to count it's gains and go for a sequel. Hell, now that the film has opened doors to it's cast , I'm guessing that WB were hedging bets that they could possibly bring in friends of the friends who went to see it the first time.

I really haven't a problem with this. Even if this blog site appears to allude that I do. My only wish is that the film can entertain, amuse and/or inform. The problem is that often with this money talks culture, what is given to the paying audience is lazy retreads. With films being known more for being a franchise or brand there's a good chance that films are now being made on name alone. For myself a recent case of this was Pirates of the Caribbean 4; a film so unbelievably bland, I questioned my feelings on the original film. It's very clear that board entertainment is a big want for modern audiences but after looking at the comments that lie in an article about the films lack of originality  I found myself asking "really?" The idea of a films sequel aping the original almost bit by bit feels not only a redundant but quite simply odd. No change at all? The comments going on about class and taste and how critics "don't know what the public want" (despite what was said about the first film I wrote above), but as a member of the public myself, I do think that there should be SOMETHING that gives a film it's own identity, not just a new title.

Thing is Hangover Part 2 is pretty much the same thing with the new setting (and casual racism) being the only thing that's different. The fact that Phillips' Due Date tread around familiar ground gives this venture a certain tiredness. At least the characters in the hangover films aren't as mean spirited as that film.

But due to the same structure and familiar events it does mean that affection for these guys and their situation is strained. The reason I don't watch soaps is there's only so often you can watch an Ian Beale character have the same mishaps. After a certain amount of time, you just want to punch the guy. There's no one in The Hangover part 2 I want to punch; save for Bradley Cooper's Phil whose ignorance to a different culture is aggressive and unwelcoming. However, due to these characters going through the same paces and pay-off; I had to wonder, why the hell didn't you check there in the first place? The lack of any basic change makes this a sequel of diminishing returns.

This isn't to say I didn't laugh. That's the point of the film and for the price of my ticket, I almost got enough giggles to justify the film's existence. I can't say the same for the almost deathly quiet audience I saw this with (seriously the teenage boys hardly laughed), but there's some throwaway lines and reaction shots that had me grinning. As did a ridiculous meditation sequence that showed how Alan (Galifianakis) viewed himself and his friends. Nothing of the film stood out as truly memorable moments but I still laughed at some of the crudeness and had a bit of fun with some of the absurdity.

Unfortunately that's really it. In the same way I hold the first film as amusing once but oddly quite throwaway, I say the same for this. I laughed a lot less, still only found one sequence to be a bit of a stand out moment and while he was much improved over the original and Due Date, I'm still wondering when Zack Galifiankis is going to be the comic wunderkind many have talked him up to be. Ed Helms is unfortunately diminished and   I honestly don't believe that Paul Giamatti really needs the money that bad. There is a two second cameo by one Mike Tyson but I'm still wondering why there was so much bother over a considered racist and wife beater (Gibson) being in the movie while a convicted rapist like Tyson is considered warm and cuddly. Particulary when The Hangover Part 2 shows just enough contempt at minorities, gays and women to have another argument that the film itself is no angel. That strangely seems to be the biggest surprise of the whole affair.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Review: Pirates Of The Carribean: On Stranger Tides

Year: 2011
Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey

Synopsis is here

I haven't fought the urge to walk out of a cinema as badly as I did today during POTC 4. Was it really that bad? In a way no. I've seen films way worse than this. This isn't bad from a technical standpoint like the films of Ed Wood or Troll 2, nor is it as shockingly appalling as something like Lesbian Vampire Killers. No, the reason behind such an urge to leave was the searing apathy this feature brings with it. It is a lazy laborious bore. To hate it would be to have something to feel towards it. Pirates 4 doesn't try to bring anything to the table. I felt no joy, no pain, no hate, no nothing. The film has a vapid emptiness so substantial that I actually asked myself "what's the point?"

Pirates 4 reminds me very much of how I felt about The Omen remake, in the grand scheme of things it isn't the worst film ever made, as that's a stupid claim. However, this film is so transparent in its purpose (to make money) it doesn't even try and mask its reason of being with anything approaching solid entertainment. I 've always considered the pirates franchise to be one of diminishing returns. However I despite my disappointment of the installments as the series went on there was always something to be had from them. Gore Verbinski doesn't come anywhere near my fave directors list but you could never say that his approach to the material lack energy. Even through the overcomplicated plots overdone double crosses, at least there was a set piece to take something from or a moment of humor or two.

Pirates 4 offers nothing to hang a hat on. It is a lackadaisical Pirates-lite retread full of sub-plot-points which go nowhere (Blackbeard's magic, the mermaids physiology) , eye rolling attempts at humour (cracker joke bad) and "fresh" characters who are nowhere near as appealing as those who have left us. It also contains the fear that bothered me the most, Jack Sparrow as the lead and not the comic foil. This is Depp playing a caricature with nothing to do and no one to bounce off of. You would think that "bouncer" would be Penelope Cruz but unfortunately the screenwriters decided to leave her character at home.  Here Sparrow claims love to this new character but does little in terms of action to prove it. There is one moment that tries to salvage some sort of chemistry, unfortunately it's too little too late. But then this is what you get when you have a film that has a first half of merely introducing characters with no character. Yes Worlds end and Dead Man's Chest were overstuffed with plot, but leaving us with hardly anything doesn't restore the faith.

Other reviews have lamented at the loss of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan and I have to agree as while Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly weren't a romance that would set hearts a flame, but at least it was there. You could sense an attraction even if you didn't think it was the best. Their flat performances can always be attributed to being the "straight men" and in a round about way it worked. On Stranger Tides shoehorns in a weak substitute in a Priest (Claflin) and a Mermaid (Berges-Frisbey) but their need within the movie is superfluous and poorly executed.

Even the action within the movie suffers; with nothing coming close to the final fight in Worlds End, the endless wheel sword sequence of Dead Man's Chest or you know the whole first movie. None of the events carry any weight or risk, but nor do they bring any inventiveness either. Action happens, but you can almost forget it in a blink of an eye. Verbinski gave a cartoonish verve to proceedings before. What does Marshall bring? But then again when Rob Marshall brought to us two very uninspiring modern musicals before this what did I expect?

Acting wise, what we get is beyond flat. Depp trots out Sparrow again but this is forth time and the well is clearly running dry. But then how could Depp still be as entertaining whenhe goes up against a villain as flavourless as this installments Blackbeard? Ian McShane plays the legendary pirate as a grumpy Lovejoy with little wish to inject any animation within the portrayal. You could say that all the scenery chewing is left to Geffory Rush's Barbossa, however Rush is so sidelined he makes Owen Hargraves look like he played for more than ten minutes last season. Penelope Cruz sleepwalks through scenes with one eye on her baby and one eye on the next time she can hook up with a director like Woody Allen again.

So what do we get? We get a bland retread, but it's worse than that as it's step down. It does nothing to suggest that money was the only reason this forth film even existed. Now lets not get things mixed up here. I enjoy the fruits of capitalism (check my DVD collection) and I'm well aware that it's called show business for a reason. But when you are given a film that simply doesn't try in any aspects of creating a sense of fun, that's when things become frustrating. I do not write this to get a rise out of fans of the franchise. Why should I? I'm sure there's films I love, that they probably despise. However,this is cinema as commerce at its worse, trading in on the fact that it has that Hans Zimmer score and Johnny Depp merely being on screen to give the belief of real enjoyment. 2003 is almost 10 years ago. Marshall's film help remind us that the fresh air of that year would clearly be stale now.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Cinematic Dramatic 3x08 - Attack The Block

Cinematic Dramatic 3x08 - Attack The Block

Released: 20/05/11
Hosts: Iain Boulton & Byron Pitt

Click here to listen to the Cinematic Dramatic podcast. This episode we talk about Thor, Hanna and Attack the block.

Friday 20 May 2011

Thanks and other articles

This entry is merely a brief thanks to everyone of you who visit this small space on the web. I started this blog  almost three years ago as a past time of sorts, and didn't expect too much. However since it's beginnings to now; this past time has allowed me to write for other people, have various interesting chats with film lovers from all over and it may be one of the reasons why I work in T.V Media right now (it was mentioned in the interview).

This is a thank you to all whose stopped by. I truly appreciate very one of you guys, even if you disagree with my views.

With this said I feel now is a good chance to whore myself even more! If you have been following the site and enjoying my ramblings, you can also find me spewing word vomit at these places.

Geek Planet Online - Catch me at The Film Pitt or listen to me on The Cinematic Dramatic Podcast
Filmshaft - My most recent article has been about Pirate Myths

Last and not least a big thanks to Matt Dillion, Gillian Coyle, Dave Probert, Craig Sharp, Martyn Conterio and long suffering podcast partner Iain Boulton. It's the passion inside us that keeps us doing what we do and I'm glad to share such a ride with people like yourselves.

Byron Pitt will return in his next review: Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Review: Attack the Block

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Cornish
Screenplay: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost

Synopsis is here

Film Critics eh? Who'd be one? Constantly told that one cares about your opinion and yet the moment you say something out of joe six bloggs regular opinion, you're jumped on. Case in point: Robbie Collins one star review on Joe Cornish's Attack the block. The review considers the film as utter rubbish and that it's other hyped by PR, American bloggers and reviewers that should know better. Suddenly out of the woodwork come people who probably haven't seen the movie yet considering Collins as "the worst critic ever" etc. It's not Collin's best critique (in fact his facebook elaboration is far more interesting) however the abhorrent attack from twitter wankers complaining, most probably due to their blinded love for the Adam and Joe show is irritating*.

Such blinkered views have neatly avoided the fact that Collin has posed some points that should be looked at. The most probing for me is the idea that the film lacks likeable characters. Characters within Attack the Block would not look out of place in say Harry Brown, a film with notoriously 2-D gangland chav villians for middle England to revel in their bloodlust at when Michael Caine goes medieval on their asses. If ATB merely transported those same flat characters into a sci-fi flick and yelled "care for them now" then I could easily agree with Mr Collins.

However, Attack the Block is not that film and I disagree with Robbie quite a bit (yep, he's replied to a tweet once so clearly first name terms). Attack the Block is a down and dirty genre picture that I found consistently appealing and entertaining throughout. I loved the vibrancy and urgency, really got into the characters and the stakes and admired the style that Cornish placed into. The film comes off as a robust mixture of Goonies, Predator and Kidaulthood and despite the opening gambit appearing quite harsh (rooting for 5 hoods who mug an innocent nurse) the film displays more than enough footing to allow us to invest in these characters.

There are flaws within the film that did make me question the high prise that many have given it slightly. The dialogue honestly sounds scripted, some of the performances are a little raw, I chuckled a bit but not as much as I had hoped and some of the secondary characters really could have been bulked up. However Cornish manages to over ride these niggles with the difficult main relationship between Moses (John Boyega) and Sam (Jodie Whittaker) which hints at troubled upbringings and urban fears and more importantly keeps such aspects complicated. Interestingly the gangs dramatic change (mainly Moses) come from an attack on their own mortality that they clearly never had before. It's also more subtle than a more usual Holywood-equse "sudden realisation" that one would obtain from something like Avatar.

Serious talk about characters aside, the films enthusiasm shines through so much of the future. There's a neatly put together extended chase sequence, more than enough tension throughout (with some good jump scares) and a wonderfully large scope for a film set within one council estate block. The makers of Skyline for all it's CGI effects could learn a lot from Cornish's use of space. The film also has more than enough chucklesome moments to keep the energy high when we're not running from the aliens.

Performance wise Whittaker does really well with a character that isn't naturally sympathetic; robbery an all. John Boyega carries the film well despite it being clearly obvious that it is his first film, while I was quite fond of the character of Pest played by Alex Esmail. A low-key turn by Nick Frost is also welcoming as he seems to have stolen all the best lines.

Attack the Block is the kind of Brit B movie I hope to see more of. Full of moxie and more than enough style to go with it. It could have been funnier and it is a little rough around the edges, but that's not enough to distract from the fact that the film will be a Friday night fun flick for many cult nights in to come.

*Yeah, that's a generalisation, but no more so than the "worst critic ever" tags labelled on people because they like/dislike something that they did/didn't

Saturday 7 May 2011

Review: Hanna

Year: 2011
Director: Joe Wright
Screenplay: Seth Lochhead, David Farr
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander

Where do I start? Where do I begin?* With my opinions on films like Knight and Day, Battle L.A, Sucker Punch, The Expendables...I wouldn't be surprised if people felt I'm adverse to most action films as a whole. I'm sure some of my regular visitors to my web site garble (yes, I'm surprised too) expect a certain amount of negativity from the guy who really enjoyed Archipelago....

However, after emerging from the darkness of my now new regular cinema (which I may add is very old) I do  think it will be safe to say that for me that Joe Wright's Hanna may very well be one of the films I'll still be yammering on about at the end of the year.

I describe Hanna as a teenage female Bourne flick with a fairytale structure. I do not use the Bourne similarity lightly, as the films main story and Euro/Africa destination jumping give that same feel to the proceedings as the spy trilogy. The fairytale aspect is also a large part of the film, borrowing heavily from Snow White (hell even the first landscape is in white snow.). So much so that the characters that we see aren't so much symbols of the grim fairy tale...they are those people. Implanting fairy tale elements into modern day "real" (I use that term very loosely) features isn't anything new. However, for me it's the innocence that is infused into it's lead character that separates this from some of the other modern fairy tale imaginings. Yes she is carefully taught to be a killer, but when Hanna is removed from her closed off world and shoved into our one, she becomes a blank slate.

The way she is taken and once again remoulded is a profoundly liberating. The film's focus never wavers from this fact and constructs it's appeal from this. Yes, the film is fuelled with grandiose sequences (an amazing ship cargo bay scene I found particularly arresting) but the connection to Hanna, her coming of age, and her having to try and understand and navigate this alien world is the allure. The down time with Hanna meeting a family with a girl her own age is a telling one, highlighting that teenage disconnect that many feel while also adding to that the confusing nature of what she has been told by her father. The strikingly choreographed action almost happens to be an added bonus. Wright however doesn't skimp however with the all the action not only having a sense of place but coming off off the films more quiet moments. The set pieces pop off like springs and is extremely satisfying.

Wright's ace in the hole however, is the dazzlingly mature performance from Saoirse Ronan. It's true that I wasn't armoured with Ronan in The Lovely Bones but her display in this reminds me that that may have greatly due to the character and material rather than Ronan. She is magnificent here, balancing the strength and force of her character with the emotional fragility it deserves. Reviews have stated the similarities being Hanna and Kick-Ass' hit girl and it is true. However the affecting aspect of Ronan's performance tips the bar carrying a movie that is actually quite scant on plot details (it tells you enough to keep you enticed) and based more on her characters feelings. Wright has stated that he was inspired by David Lynch on the movie and constructing the movie this way really shows it, as does the brilliant sound design.

Which begins me to the thumping score given to us by the Chemical Brothers. Wright, The Brothers and the various sound designers build a stylish sonic landscape that ebbs and flows beautifully with the image (Alwin H. Kuchler's cinematography is so wonderfully crisp). This is a score that manages to do what Daft Punks Tron score: get me involved. The music of the film (often accompanied by in film sounds by items and character merging with with the music) does't distract, it excites, becoming an integral part of the films DNA.

This is why I enjoyed Hanna so much, because while the film isn't fresh or original from a story or thematic standpoint, the combination of Wrights clean, swift direction of the piece, the thumping techno sound scape and absorbing lead performance come off almost effortless. I haven't even got around to the efficiently creepy turns from Cate Blanchett and Tom Hollander who are both wonderfully sinister (loved how the well the two work in sometimes ghoulish visages in combination with Wright's well placed camera. There's also a neat stoic role for Eric Bana.**

Hanna was almost perfect for a movie goer like myself. It slips from action to drama without difficulty, it shrugs off it's unoriginality and sketchy plot with well drawn out themes, strong character and visual flair. The music is immediate and kept me in the moment and I adored the films quiet loud quiet rhythm. Hanna doesn't say much different, but it has the ability to be more articulate when it's shouting it's message from the hills.

*Yes it's a reference.
**Much as been said about the odd accents but considering the film is based within a fairytale world and structure...I really wouldn't worry about it.

Monday 2 May 2011

Review: Thor

Year: 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne
Starring: Chris Hemworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, Idris Elba

Thor is another Marvel comic book movie that lands us right back into the realm of The Avengers. How Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and the rest of them are all going to fit into a coherent feature is still beyond me (worried about time constraints, a workable villain etc) however, as long as the Marvel output can still bring about singular features that are as mildly entertaining as this, then the future remains bright.

As someone who knows little about Thor comics, I found myself more than a little weary about how even this movie would come off. It’s quite clear that something like Thor may need an origin story to make sure that those who know nothing can enter in and be kept in the loop. It’s clear however in picking up a director like Kenneth Brannah that we are provided with an entry point that strikes enough balance for those in the know and those who know nothing.  In fact, the opening of Thor displays the epic intentions that The Avengers film will need to strive for. The introduction of Asgard is a grandiose one that we would expect from the God of Thunder. This first act however spoils us, as it doesn’t reach such a height again.

It’s an awkward compromise as Thor has a good sense of humour which grounds everything, a study cast who all give enough to be entertaining (if not thin on character) and a father son relationship that provides more than enough backbone to rest a (stronger) plot.  The problem is that when we explore Thor’s time on earth, everything feels scaled down a tad too much. All the time spent with Natalie Portman and friends is sweet but after a while glazes the eyes, while the rest of the film’s second act seems to do all it can to muddle the villainous intentions and keep the conflict and stakes almost to a bare minimum. Despite the first act’s action sequences suffering from the horrible hacky slash editing, that reminds us that this is a PG-13 movie, there was still a build of momentum that came with it. Even all the plot nonsense of different realms and intergalactic races with powers that put Sub Zero’s to shame was watchable, as it felt it was building to something. Unfortunately the weakest aspect of Thor is that from an action point of view it seems to decrease in risk and scope as opposed to the opposite.

Don’t attack me for being too negative yet, as Thor’s charm is what pulls it through the quagmire of a muddied screenplay. Chris Hemsworth is solid as the leading man here, giving Thor the charm, arrogance and swagger needed for such a role. Kat Dennings has little to do (there seems to be no point to her character) but provides the most humour. Anthony Hopkins’ Odin has Gravitas in spades, while Tom Hiddleson’s simmering villainy would have been even better if provided with a clearer arc in the script. Idriss Alba and Skarsgard also need more to do but are still formidable enough. The oddest aspect within the casting (apart from Thor’s four friends) is Natalie Portman, whose bright smile and spunk are nice to watch, but suffers slightly be being the cutest scientist in the world ever.   Her youth and sex appeal feel slightly at odds with her character.

The most attractive element of the film (save Dennings and Portman) however is how all of Thor looks visually. The vision and cinematography put forth by Brannah and his DP Haris Zambarloukos; is not only epic in scale (mostly when we’re not on Earth) but are full of colour and canted angles that seem to have been missing from the mainstream movie scene for some time. I take my early masters of the universe jibe I shot at film back. The amount of times we’ve had to endure that orange/blue colour grading has been unfair and this boarder approach to the visuals make watching Thor so refreshing.

Thor is visually appealing, humorous and neatly grounded considering its subject matter. The Marvel cameos and nods are all present but shouldn’t suffocate like they did with some people in Iron Man 2. And despite its murky plot (minus the father/son subtext) and decrease in energy, Thor keeps the most important factor in its sights: Fun.