Saturday 18 June 2011

Review: Green Lantern

Year: 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Geoffrey Rush, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard , Blake Lively

Synopsis is here

A common phase for a film like The Green Lantern would be Cookie Cutter. While I agree with the metaphor to a certain degree, there is a slight problem with it. Cookie Cutter may represent samey, but it also displays that there's a certain degree of taste to proceedings. I like cookies. They are dependable snack food. When a film is described as cookie cutter, it may not be fresh or original but it should provide some sort of sweetness. Green Lantern is more like play-doh cutters in which the end product may be non-toxic but still inedible.

I personally think the film is as earnest as Ryan Reynolds dimples. It wants to be a decent and fun popcorn flick and some of the more harsh reviews have made the film out to be some sort of super cancer. I think Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Goldeneye) tries to do a decent job with the action set pieces and I think the much of the cast is trying hard to give a silly story (seriously the opening narrative is laugh out loud) a certain amount of gravitas. The effects have been blasted as bad but I didn't mind them too much as I've seen much worse. All in all there's is enough within the film to make it a watchable feature.

Unfortunately for me, Green Lantern's fatal flaw is it's hash of a screenplay; which does nothing to explore the themes it brings up properly, nor does it construct the relationships within the movie with any grounding. Every aspect of the story is half-baked, pedestrian and predictable. Far too many character turn up spout wearisome dialogue and disappear never to be heard from again. Around half way through the plot suddenly realises that the characters within the film are actually connected to each in some way but unfortunately this appears way too late.

In fact, it's this aspect is so badly put together that one may question the who's and why's long after the film's finished., though more out of frustration more than anything. It is a script that turns Blake Lively from a character with any creditability into a woman in distress avatar. It is a screenplay that states there is a back story between three characters but decides to tell us this almost near the end of the film. It's a screenplay that states that Hal Jordan has a fractured family life of sorts, but cannot be bothered to do anything with such characters so gives them a typical lazy one note scene. Such soulless construction ruins a film which clearly just wants to have a good time.

The worst thing about Green Lantern is that you can see that fun film trying to come out. Those who aren't pompous film viewers like myself will happily ignore the problems and garner something from the film. But I almost got there. I like the goofiness that an actor like Reynolds can bring, I like that Geoffrey Rush, Mark Strong and Peter Sarsgaard bring the right amount of energy to the role. I also like Blake Lively's....erm...figure (seriously they give her nothing to work with). There's also the over used but still interesting theme of fear being an all consuming force, while will power can overcome such an aspect. The action lacks physicality (thanks overuse of effects) but still has a popcorn munching appeal. It's just a damn shame that the four writers on board of this movie couldn't find the tone or coherence for the piece.

Monday 13 June 2011

Review: Senna

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: Asif Kapadia
Written By: Manish Pandey

Synopsis: A documentary that deals with the life and tragic early death of Ayrton Senna

I've never had any real interest in Formula 1 racing. In the same way people moan about football being overpaid men on a field kicking leather around, F1 to me is rich people in very fast cars driving around a track. I guess my disinterest in the sport stems from a disinterest in cars. I have my drivers licence, even owned a car at one point, but the way people react and interact when in these massive hunks of metal has always been a turn off. Also as a man who reads the back pages first, I've always seen how the politics have affected the sport, but then again name me a popular sport these days that hasn't been infected by money men and the like.

Senna is the perfect film for people who don't have an interest in the sport. Why? Because the subject himself; Ayrton Senna, appears so wonderfully grounded. It also helps that director Asif Kapadia and editors Chris King and Gregers Sall compile a film, not as a typical assembly of talking heads but as a full bodied drama, playing out in front of you with all the tension of many high class Hollywood features. Senna creates a such a riveting portrayal of a man and the sport he loves, that I became more intrigued not only in the man but the sport itself. This is what a good documentary should do.

Taking the most prominent aspect of Senna's life; his privileged yet determined upbringing, his battles against Allan Prost and the FIA, to his tragic final moments. It's put together with laser sighted precision (out of 15,000 hours of footage) and provides poignant insight into a man whose fearlessness (observe his driving on wet surfaces) made him a champion, but his love for his country and faith seem to take him further. Kapadia assemblage of the footage gives Senna a humility that is sorely lacking in my chosen sport Football, although a quick glance at Messi and Kaka shows such personalities haven't completely died out.

There's no doubt that the way the film is put together makes Senna appear like he can do no wrong (it eschews an Eddie Irvine confrontation and a relationship with a 15 year old, which I found out after watching), such one sidedness stops us from seeing a Senna as a truly complete and flawed person. The Film makes Prost out to be a villain of sorts, but some his ominous comments about Senna help revel that the man's drive to compete could be as dangerous as it is inspiring. The film only touches on some of the political drama of the sport which provide some of the most revealing aspects of not only Senna as someone who wished for the safety of those who partake in the sport, but also the bullish and dogmatic talk that show up for the FIA. Being the person I am I would love to see what else was said within the offices and meeting rooms as opposed to some of the more fawning interviews.

This doesn't stop Senna from being the absorbing feature it is. Senna comes across as a man with strong morals and a caring personality. A wonderful moment during the credits involves a selfless Senna jumping out of his car to help another driver whose just crashed, while his talk about pure racing will touch anyone who remembers why they took up a sport when young.  As a film Kapadia's wonderful usage of footage captures not only the tension of the boardrooms, but the high paced excitement of actually being in those races, while the home video and interviews show us a man with a warmth that I feel many wished the Hamltons, Messas and the like had. I for one; would particularly be chuffed if the England Football team took even half a page out of Senna's book. We still probably wouldn't win the world cup but they would definitely win more hearts within the nation.

Friday 3 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

Year: 2011
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence

Synopsis is here

Here's a turn out for the books. The summer blockbuster I had some of the most doubts about, turns out to be mega high on the entertainment factor.  I had already been burnt from the last two features from this franchise (the very bland X-3 and the dubious Wolverine) so my interest in the mutant adventures had cooled. It didn't help matters that after two lacklustre endeavours as of late (Pirates and The Hangover 2), that were meant to ignite the summer season, that my interest in this (nee the series) had cooled somewhat.

X-Men: First Class impressed me however, by being a simple, by the book, adventure film. We root for these characters because of their actions on the screen, not because we know who they are. The action is relatively bloodless (12-A) but it's clear, concise and to the point. What's more; the pace is brisk (didn't feel like two hours) and while Vaughn doesn't fully get the balance quite right of all those characters in my opinion (I think X-2 does it better) he does make sure that the conflict is high and investment in these people worthwhile. Despite the film being a prequel, Vaughan's direction (along with a decent screenplay by the four writers) helps build a strong background for people that we already know and a new found interest in them.

The ideas of placing the X-men in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis works well on two fronts as it means that every human is under the threat of war, while radiation would only advance mutations in those in already already have them. It's a neat plot thread that the film runs with well, using Kevin Bacon to do his smarmy, slimy worst (great cast pick). It's odd that despite being set in the middle of the civil rights movement, the film does draw that much from it. One of the things that made X-2 what it was that the parallels between Malcom X (Magneto) and Martin Luther King (Professor X) appeared to be much stronger, however you could say that this is a film where such facets are just about to be defined.

While that particular outlook is sidelined, Vaughan still sets about creating a solid structure of core beliefs an intimate relationships between the two main characters of the piece; Eric (Fassbender) and Charles (McAvoy) and their outer circles. Seeing how these relationships come together is a pleasure as these mutants are thrown into an era of change while slowly discovering their own personalities. Vaughan doesn't appear to be as developed in the theme of finding identity as the openly gay Byran Singer and it shows when looking at singular scenes. But what Vaughan do manage to capture is a similar spirit that was gouged out by the recent entries before it. I like the idea of Mystique echoing Rouge somewhat. I also like the fact that the friendship between Erik and Charles is a fast one that isn't just out and out friendly or combative but balanced on the edge of something. A subtle knowing that something big could come from both of them.

A lot of this is not only stems from Vaughn and the screenwriters but from a bright young cast who are up to the challenge. Much could be said about the films stylish retro 60's era setting (and man from uncle/bond plot) but it's the cast that give the film it's true freshness. both McAvoy and Fessbender are charming in their own special way. McAvoy has a smart, Hugh Grant thing going on, while Fassbender as a James Dean like, devil may care feel that draws attention to him in every scene he's in. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult hit the akward teen stage on the head, while the aforementioned Bacon doesn't have as much screen time as I would like but is just the right side of nasty. January Jones and Rose Byrne are pretty thankless in their roles but both show enough skin to make the teen audience not notice anyhow. Vaughan also decides upon himself to load the film with some great character actor cameos (Ray Wise, Michael Ironside, Oliver Platt) just to keep things ticking over as if his efficient use of pacing in the movie wasn't enough.

But what the main reason on why people will watch this is the action. I can witter on about all the over stuff till the cows come home. It means nothing to those who go "just to watch the movie" and in all honestly Vaughn does another good job here. He doesn't beat his strobe light Hit Girl set piece in Kick-ass, but he does give us clean, neat action set pieces which may not reach the dizzying heights of what many will expect this summer (Transformers 3 does bring a certain amount of promise whether I like it or not) but are certainly thrilling enough to keep one watching. The climatic sequence involving Magneto and a barrage of missiles is good enough to sit next to the likes of most the major moments within the franchise.

X-men: First Class is a taut prequel that had me entertained enough for me to go back and give The Last Stand another try. It provides an added depth to well known characters and wraps it up in a fast paced, tightly put together spy adventure package. It could be well worth the wait if Vaughn is allowed to take everything off the reigns.