31 October 2011

Green Lantern Review

Every so often, a movie comes along that utterly stumps me. Green Lantern was one of those films - all the constituent elements for a rollicking good time are present. Great director? Check. Decent writing team? Check. Reasonably good choice of thespians for the leads, villains and supporting character? Triple check. So how on earth did they manage to create such a thin-on-the-ground, back-end of the middle-of-the-road flick?

The answer to this question lies entirely at the script level, and perhaps with the ‘we accidentally threw too much money at it’...thing. There is literally no excuse for scripting this bad, particularly given the pedigree of both the character and the writing team – and the thing that seems to have eluded the production team is that you can’t solve the problems with your script by adding another gargantuan, effects-driven set piece.

Here is a story that has fewer plot points than Star Wars, and yet a thousand times more special effects shots - boiling down decades of mythology both intriguing and fatuous into a mere three story turns and a few bombastic action sequences. There aren't even any twists - it progresses exactly as you might expect, with about as many surprises as a night in with spaghetti Bolognese (what's this?!?! Mushrooms?!?! Oh no, wait..it's just more meat...).

So indeed, our jocky, vaguely arrogant hero learns the ways of the Green Lanterns from a slightly dead purple alien, learns some humility, and then beats up a big, bad alien menace, and ends up getting the girl. But there is literally just wiffle connecting them – ending up as something the Jesus of Suburbia might’ve stitched together, seventeen hours after his last Ritalin dose.

The most telling of these editing nightmares is the ‘training sequence’ that takes place on the Planet Oa. The scene skits fitfully from one character training our hero to another, and it’s in real time. After fifteen minutes of this schizophrenic character dropping, Hal is more-or-less shipped off back to Earth with a pat on the backside. It’s clearly an attempt at fan service, but ends up as more of an insult – making out that this intergalactic police force just hands its power rings out and says 'off you go', despite some earnest efforts to convince us to the contrary.

What’s worse, the entire thing – from the script to the staging - stinks of a certain Tom Cruise movie that involved an arrogant fighter pilot learning some humility. The only thing it’s missing is…y’know…the deeply homoerotic vibe, and even that would’ve at least given this kitsch appeal.

Still, it could’ve resulted in an element of simplicity that had the potential to be vaguely refreshing – Top Gun was hardly a bad film, after all - but it's rendered inert by a complete lack of interesting, connected characters (and yes, that is when compared to Top Gun). Ryan Reynolds does his best with the flaccid script, but ultimately just comes off as a set of teeth hovering in front of a green screen. Blake Lively's Carol Ferris is perhaps the dullest human being ever, let alone the dullest supporting female of all time. Tim Robbins and Mark Strong are completely wasted in roles that are almost entirely peripheral, with the latter’s potential for villainship clearly held back in a ‘we’ll definitely get a sequel!’ move. But the final, crippling blow is Peter Saarsgard's utterly, atrociously awful performance as red-herring villain Hector Hammond. Fine actor though he may be, he attempts to ham it up Anthony Hopkins style, and instead comes across as a screeching, irritating wet fish of a villain, who is ultimately and entirely brushed aside come the big climax.

Okay, so I’m assaulting it a bit here – it certainly wasn’t without its merits. Strong was actually really quite good as Sinestro, and Reynolds, had he had a better plot and stronger writing to work with, would’ve been actually a surprisingly good choice for Hal Jordan, as even in these shambling proceedings, he manages to nail the transition from bastard to do-gooder. The effects are impressively done (when they aren’t completely overwhelming the screen, that is), and there’s an element of fun to be had in all of the set pieces – particularly one that sees him saving a crashing helicopter, which allows Martin Campbell to really flex his action muscles.

It’s just so bloody insubstantial, at the end of the day. There’s so little to it, and yet it lasts for the better part of two hours, with the majority of the film spent faffing about. Had it not been so cynically sequel-driven, or even had a script better than this Top-Gun-with-superpowers knock-off, it could’ve been a decently entertaining movie. As it stands, it’s a sporadically enjoyable, yet ultimately empty affair. The Green Lantern genuinely deserved better than this – some of the most intriguing, integral stories of the DC universe have just been allowed to fizzle out. Let’s hope they still greenlight (hah!) a sequel. Is it way too early to consider a reboot? With distinctly less money thrown at it, and Mark Strong as the main villain? Probably…ah well.

26 October 2011

Contagion Review

Love him or hate him (or, in the case of the Ocean's trilogy, be utterly bemused by him), Stephen Soderbergh is one of those rare directors who, rather than leaving a trademark visual and narrative style, adapts himself to the subject matter as required. Don't believe me? Just go to IMDb, and have a look at his back catalogue. Ignoring sequels (oh please, for the love of God, ignore those sequels), it's incredibly varied, from sci-fi, to biopics, by way of heist movies and historical dramas.Only Peter Weir can claim to be as much of a cinematic chameleon. And now, Soderbergh can add pandemic flick to the list of sub-genres that he's mastered. If I were a director, I'd be green with envy at his eclectic back catalogue. As a critic, I'm simply impressed.

Contagion starts sparsely - there're no title cards, no opening credits, it simply opens with Gwyneth Paltrow in an airport and 'Day Two' in simple text at the bottom of the screen, and this simplicity is what pervades the film from start to finish. There's no focus on fancy cinematography, no impressive camera tricks, no complex motivations or back stories. The focus of the film is on two things - the virus itself and the effort to contain it, the human beings caught up in its wake.

If there is a single common theme to be found between this and Soderbergh's other films, it has the most in common with that depressathon drugs parable Traffic - interconnected stories, linked by character interaction. But here, Soderbergh capitlises on the idea of formite transmission as the connection between the story threads - the fact that what's linking them could be as simple as a handshake, or even that they grabbed the same safety rail on a bus.

Okay, I may have lied when I said no impressive camera tricks. There is just one, and it's a deceptively simply one - clever use of focus. Rarely are we shown the big picture - instead, we've presented with essentially what amounts to a series of close-ups, seeing characters facial expressions, the panic or resolve in their eyes, and most importantly, what they touch with their hands. Presented with the astonishing fact that the average human being touches their face a few thousand times a day, you'll find yourself paying more attention to a character's hands than to the medical jargon or panicked babbling that's exuding from their face, and this is entirely facilitated by Soderbergh's minimalist cinematography.

Obviously, this would fall apart without strong verbal and physical performances. Matt Damon and Lawrence Fishburne form the emotional core of the ensemble - the former a father who finds himself immune to the disease and attempting to defend what remains of his decimated family from the virus, the latter a put-upon CDC head-honcho who slips up and is forced to pay for it through the nose. Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and this reviewer's personal favourite Kate Winslet all shine too. If there's a weak link, it's two-fold. First Jude Law's spot on, but utterly confounding Australian accent. Quite why either a) he couldn't be British, or b) they didn't cast an Australian actor, is utterly mystifying. Still, Law does a good enough job, and it's only really a quibble that occurred to me after the film had finished. The second is that the ensemble cast is so very expansive that some characters never get a satisfactory amount of screen time - Cotillard, in particular, vanishes for the middle to late third of the film. But again, this only really occured to me afterwards.

To sum up - engrossing is the word that I would use to describe the film. It's being sold as a thriller, but it very rarely thrills, instead, it's incredibly intense, beautifully written (with a few zingers too: 'Blogging? That's just graffiti with puncuation!' Fucking OUCH!), and above all, entirely absorbing. It's not necessarily a movie that you'll enjoy, but it's an interesting 21st century take on an old chestnut that works incredibly well. Catch it on the biggest screen you can.

18 October 2011

The Three Musketeers Review

If you're an avid fan of this blog - all five of you... - then you'll know that I'm rather keen on surprises, particularly when it comes to movies. Good surprises are my favourite, but obviously there're bad ones out there too, and one must be prepared for both eventualities, especially when you go in to a movie with rather heavy expectations. It's perhaps as much a shock to me as it might be to you that actually, against all the odds, I ended up having a huge amount of fun with The Three Musketeers.

I'm going to dedicate an entire paragraph of this review to the film critic in me that wears a top hat and monocle, and snarfs derisively at the so-called 'tosh' that frequently excuses itself as mainstream cinema these days. Artistically speaking, this movie has practically zero merit - every single shot is derivative of some other, frequently better movie, with director Paul WS Anderson riffing on everything from 300 to Master and Commander, and stopping at every station in between, including a reference to Anderson's own Resident Evil franchise. The dialogue frequently and unceremoniously thuds. There's the bizarre decision to give every 'French' person a British accent, except D'Artagnan, who is saddled with Logan Lerman's smarmy, smug American mannerisms. The story has almost inexcusably been compromised beyond recognition, driven by producer-fueled delusions that it might not sell Stateside. That Alexandre Dumas didn't rise from his grave in search of brain-munching vengeance is perhaps a small mercy...

But about 30 minutes into the movie, this particular aspect of my personality was given pause, and the rest of me spent three minutes ignoring the film, attempting to figure out quite what had silenced him so thoroughly. Then it hit me - the ridiculous choice of accents, the knowing winks to pop culture, the outlandish twists on an established story, the vaguely plastic sheen to the set and costume design, the outrageous moustache twirling of Orlando Bloom and Christophe Waltz as the villains.

This is a bloody pantomime!

Then it started to happen - I started to have fun, and by the time James Corden was on stage...sorry, screen, offering the rest of the cast some cheese, I was having an absolute ball.Yes, it dances a merry jig on Dumas' grave. Yes, for whatever reason, Anderson saw fit to add fucking airships into the fray. But somehow, it emerges as a schlocky, silly piece of genuinely fun cinema, that entertains whilst it's there, and will instantly be forgotten.

There are problems with it, mostly stemming from the moments when it takes itself a little too seriously - it features a grave performance from Matthew MacFadyen as Athos that frequently seems out of place given that there are fucking airships that shoot fire from dragon-shaped cannons. It's more the writers' fault than MacFadyen's, and when he is allowed to join in on the fun, he shines wonderfully.

Then there's Logan Lerman. A fine young actor though he might be - but he's utterly, utterly miscast in the lead(-ish) role. Had he been replaced by a young British actor in keeping with the rest of the cast (or at the very least, been forced to adopt the accent) the smarm might've come across as slyly ironic. Alas, we'll never know.

Still, there's so much on show that is genuinely enjoyable. From the mentioned fire-shooting airships (which subsequently do battle and, in one of the movie's most joyous pieces of silliness, end up crashing into Notre Dame), to beautifully choreographed and shot sword-fights, you can't say that Anderson doesn't have an eye for outrageous (say it with a French accent!) set pieces.

The cast - for the most part, at least - seem to have cottoned on to the nature of the film as well, and have tongues firmly planted in cheek as they bounce across the screen. As mentioned, Orlando Bloom belies his usual wooden performances to bring a villain so deliciously, ridiculously evil and pompous you just can't help but chuckle every time he's on screen. Luke Evans is great as Aramis, and Ray Stephenson is essentially doing a pantomime version of Titus Pullo from Rome as his interpretation of Porthos, which is exactly as fun as it sounds.

So...you'll have noticed my overuse of a certain three-letter word in this review: fun. The movie is by no means good. But it is fun, and a lot of it. Get a few beers in you, see it with other movie-loving mates, and you'll have a ball. Just leave the top hat and monocle at the door, yeah?

18 September 2011

Minecraft Boredom

So! Minecraft 1.8 came out. It's awesome - it feels much more 'game-y' now, if you get what I mean.

Anyways, I've been making maps and exploring (on Easy mode, because I'm a pansy). The below picture is how far I've gotten.

Essentially, I made a nether portal at the centre of map_0. I then went into the nether, and went a rather large distance north (or at least, what I thought was north - east is at the top of the map...like dwarves!). I then built a nether portal, and emerged in the centre of map 2. The aim of the game is to connect map_0 to map_2 in the real world. And we shall see what I find as I go!

I'll upload pics of anything interesting that I find, as well as anything I build and an updated map every so often. Enjoy :D

9 September 2011

Super 8 Review

A while back, in my review of the Star Trek reboot, I may have spurted that JJ Abrams is well on his way to becoming Spielberg Mk II. If Super 8 is to be believed, he’s pretty much pulled off that little coup – it’s a movie that resonates with Spielberg’s influence, from the beautiful, shot-on-film texture to the wonderfully weighted story, this is a wonderfully entertaining movie.

Ostensibly telling the tale of a group of kids trying to make a zombie movie on a Super-8 camera, it inevitably turns sinister when the kids accidentally capture a catastrophic train cash. Attempting to use the subsequent, unexplained military lockdown as a backdrop for their movie, the find themselves and their parents tangled further and further in fracas involving a strange, belligerent creature that seems to have been released from the crash.

It’s most certainly a perfect blend of both Spielberg’s heart and Abrams’ head. Told almost entirely from the perspective of the kids, it’s a clear riff on the Goonies-style kids-in-over-their-heads formula, with each of the wonderfully played children having a distinct and intriguing personality, with motivations to act beyond simple desire to survive. Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning are particular revelations, though this is one of those rare movies where the kids ensemble outshines the adults.

It’s also really quite well written, with what might be clichéd or entirely outlandish lines given a cute twist by filtering them through the language and mannerisms of early teenagers. Choice lines abound, and there’re even some quite affecting moments amid the frequent bouts of monster- and train-based carnage.

That there’s also quite thoughtful sci-fi underlying the personal dramas of these kids is pleasantly surprising. Avoiding spoilers, the creature is well conceived, if hardly that original, and sharp digital effects bring it to life in unexpected and intriguing ways. Abrams brings his mastery of the slow reveal to the fore too – drip-feeding us glimpses of a rich back-story that, when it pays off, is almost entirely satisfying. There’s perhaps a bit too much effort put into it, and it perhaps informs us a little too much whilst sacrificing the truly remarkable stuff going on with the kids, but you don’t really notice this when you’re watching it thanks to pacy editing for the duration of its 112-minute tenure.

The only irritation that really occurred to me was the niggling sense of vague déjà vu – both in terms of the echoes of Spielberg, and indeed Abram’s own producing back-catalogue. A monster movie? From a slightly different perspective to the traditional one? Just because you’ve ditched the shaky cam, doesn’t mean it’s not essentially the same idea! But like I say, this is a practically unnoticeable blemish on a sparkling gem of a film. It’s also worth saying that it’s almost cynically Spielbergian – and if you don’t like Spielberg, you’ll find more or less nothing that you like here.

Exciting and yet heartfelt, this is Abrams’ best work to date, and if you’ve been in search of a good sci-fi fix this year, this is your ticket. Even if you’re not, there’s much to like here – it looks fantastic, it features some incredible performances and it keeps you riveted to your seat. Catch it on the big screen, though – this is most definitely a cinema movie.

12 July 2011

Tree of Life Review

Reviewing a ‘film’ such as The Tree of Life is not without its difficulties. Chief among said difficulties is that whilst this does indeed share the trait of being a collection of moving pictures and sounds combined together and then projected onto a large white canvas, this is no film in the traditional sense of the word.

Rather, in true Terrence Malick style, this is a visual poem – a musing on faith, life, death, the nature of memory, the universe and the inter-connectivity of everything. There is a story, but it’s a mere conduit to the poetry. Boiled down to its most basic level, it’s about a man named Jack, who - after many, many years - finally comes to terms with the death of his brother.

There are performances contained herein, and they are, for the most part, good. The child actors in particular go completely against the norm to give a frighteningly accurate portrayal of pre-pubescent rebellion, all mumbles and passive-aggressive barks. Brad Pitt gives his most understated performance to date as Jack’s father - all pent up, like a spring that is ready to snap at any moment, and snap it does.

In truth, though, this is a piece where dialogue and performance are practically inconsequential. They simply meld into and accentuate the visual poetry on display – and what a work of visual art this is. Suns are born and die, microbes flitter and dance across the screen, sunlight plays through forests that tower overhead. It’s a sensual experience, full of the little curiosities of nature that we usually take for granted - and you can almost feel them: the roughness of stone, the silky veneer of a butterfly’s wings, the heat of the sun on your face, the odd sensation of wet grass stuck to your bare feet. And to go into the other-worldly beauty of Jessica Chastain – playing either an angel or Jack’s mother, it’s tricky to tell – in this piece would require a separate, 700-word essay just to do even a vague amount of justice to.

But what’s perhaps most astonishing about this cinepoem (yes, that is an actual thing) is that it rhymes, and the effect that this has on you, the filmgoer, if you allow it. It’s so difficult to describe this in words alone, but there’re visual motifs that echo throughout the piece, allowing it to lull you into an almost meditative state. Your breathing will slow, you’ll be able to hear your heart beating slowly but regularly, and the editing seems almost designed to synchronise with this state.

If there is a failing of the movie, it’s that about three-quarters of the way through there is a sudden attempt to shoehorn in forty minutes or so of vaguely coherent narrative. There is an argument that’s in favour of this – given the transient nature of memory; it’s essentially Jack’s thoughts finally cohering into something tangible, instead of vague flashes of emotional imagery. But from a structural point of view, it’s vaguely confusing, and it takes a little effort to adjust back from the zen-like trance that the first part of the movie will almost certainly put you into.

It’s also about twenty minutes too long, but it’s difficult to point at any particular part and say ‘that needs to go’, although the slightly bizarre sequence involving dinosaurs is probably a candidate, and there’s probably quite a bit that can be trimmed from the coming-of-age film that got stuffed into the final hour. And yes, it is about as pretentious as cinema can possibly get without actually starting to smoke a gauloise.

At the end of it, though, I’m not going to give this a star rating. If I were going to, it would be a five, simply because you should go see it, to make of it what you will. You might hate it, you might love it, it might bring you to tears or you might be entirely indifferent. It is one of those magical movies that you have to make work for yourself. If it hasn't become clear to you yet: I enjoyed myself – but it’s not entertaining in the traditional sense of cinema. It is, however, thought-provoking, heart-wrenchingly beautiful and truly fascinating. It works on about eight different levels, and all of them are intriguing and well thought out. Please see it – it’s an experience quite like any other so far this year.

17 June 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 Review

The second coming of Po the Dragon Warrior (and also panda) never seemed like a good idea to me. That first movie was so complete, so visually dazzling, witty and inventive, but more importantly, self-contained, that it didn’t seem like the franchise builder that Dreamworks, back in October ’08, announced that it was going to be. It’s been a while since I’ve been happy to be proved wrong, and by ‘eck, Kung Fu Panda goes about it with serious aplomb.

Going the Toy Story 2 route of sequel stories, it ups the emotional stakes and the scale, whilst at the same time managing to focus on character arcs that are distinctly fleshed out and interesting. Specifically to this, too, there are quite a few bold moves, particularly for a movie that is ostensibly aimed at children – from dealing with genocide to a reasonable effort to remove the on-the-nose nature of the original’s message.

The story goes that the mythical land of China has come under threat by none other than a rather vengeful peacock named Shen, who plans on using gunpowder and technology in an attempt to force the various kung-fu masters to submit to his reign. Staging his coup, it’s down to Po and the Furious Five to stop him, only they can’t until Po finds his inner peace, and becomes a true kung fu master. There’s also the question of quite how Shen and Po’s histories are intertwined, and details of this a slowly drip fed to us throughout.

It’s a logical continuation – legendary warriors continue to protect their country – but it’s beautifully thought out, with the exact nature of Po’s past being both intellectually and emotionally engaging, thanks to some superb animation work that very nearly makes you forgot that you’re looking at anthropomorphic animals. There’s also a depiction of Po as a cub that is so aggressively cute that if an ‘awww!’ doesn’t escape from your face, you probably left your soul in the popcorn stand.

The cast are all superb, with the Furious Five in particular allowed to shine rather more than they were in the previous movie. Angelina Jolie gets most of the meaty dialogue as Tigress, but even David Cross and Lucy Liu as Crane and Viper respectively have their moments in the spotlight. Jack Black brings his usual slacker charm to Po, but best of all is Gary Oldman as the rather psychotic Shen, his evilness tempered by a slick charm and sly wit that makes him one of the most intriguing villains in animation of late.

But the real star of the piece is the rather magical direction from Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who was responsible for the rather excellent shadow-puppet style dream sequence in the first movie, and makes her feature debut here. With the assured hand of a veteran, she blends CG with absolutely gorgeous, traditionally animated segments, as well as upping the game with the actions sequences – a scramble up a gargantuan collapsing tower and a showdown in a metal works being the two highlights.

To summarise, Kung Fu Panda 2 is a triumph. A sequel that is not only better than its predecessor, but one of the best animated movies since Toy Story 3. It works on a comedy front – there are at the very least five belly laughs in the film – an action movie front and indeed on a character development front, and if the ending of the film is to be believed, then a third instalment is an incredibly tantalising prospect. But for now, see this movie. It’s...well, awesome.

15 June 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

I can’t say that I went into On Stranger Tides with high hopes. All the other film critics – both budding and professional – that I’m a follower of haven’t exactly rated it highly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my expectations were more or less at rock bottom. So when I say that I was still disappointed, I hope I get across my full meaning.

Okay, I’ll come out and say it. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie is...well, boring. Not bad – it’s had far too much money thrown at it to ever be considered truly bad – but completely lacking in the sense of fun and silliness that even the second and third movies retained from the first, despite getting totally bogged down in the close to impenetrable web of deception and betrayal that it was trying to pass off as a story.

Here, that web is tangled thicker than ever, and the writers and director both seem un-fussed about carrying it to any sort of sensible conclusion. The story continues from the end of the last one – or does it? One can hardly be sure – with Jack in captivity awaiting trial for his many crimes. He escapes – hardly a spoiler – and heads off in search of the fountain of youth. Only he’s not the only one after it – well, he is at first, but then suddenly everyone from the Spanish Armada to the feared Pirate Blackbeard gets wind of it and wants in.
But none of them have a clearly defined motive besides ‘I want it’. Okay, so they’re all pirates or blaggards to a man, but there’s no fleshing out of their reasoning behind the venture beyond that most basic of premises, and this gives the movie a distinct lack of urgency, because the filmmakers fail to invest us in any of characters – both positively for the good guys and negatively for the villains. What’s more, there’s a deep, deep lack of consistency between this ‘plot’ and those of the first three films – characters that are carried over seem to have simply forgotten most of what happened.

Particularly uncomfortable is Barbossa’s transition from angry and slightly mad ex-undead pirate captain to fawning, idiotic privateer. Geoffrey Rush does his best, but the writers – and also, bizarrely, the makeup department – have managed to render him completely inert by passing him through a character and appearance change that is simply not in keeping with what was the second-most interesting character of the first three films.

But most cripplingly, the director Rob Marshall seems completely out of his depth. As with Quantum of Solace, the producers deemed fit to bring a dramatic director on board what was, in essence, an action franchise. Say what you will about Gore Verbinski, the man knew his way around a set piece. Rob Marshall has no such talent – his action sequences lack the charm, wit and velocity of Verbinski’s - but what’s more, he fails on both the technical and dramatic fronts as well. There’s a laundry list of continuity errors, strange camera angles and bizarrely structured dialogue sequences, all contributing to a movie that completely lacks any sense of pace. And at over two hours long, you’re going to feel every minute of it dragging past.

There are a few nice moments here and there – and they are, for the most part, when the writers momentarily remember that they’ve got an entire three-films worth of backstory to draw on – but they're so few and far between that’ll you’ll simply forget them amid the quagmire of turgidity being flung towards you. See it only if you think they can do better with a fifth one, otherwise, avoid.

28 May 2011

Attack the Block

Yet another in the long line of enjoyable yet ultimately unsuccessful comedy-horrors, Attack the Block’s sheer volume of comedy completely overwhelms the horror element.

The story manages to sabotage itself right from the off – the first thing that happens is that the aliens land, and gets murdered by a group of inner city ‘yoofs’. Suffice to say, this proves important later – but the fact the monsters are revealed so soon removes any tension from later, scarier scenes.

You could argue that it is a comedy/monster flick, but even then it falls down, as the creatures are under-designed, presumably with the intention of making them scarier.

There is, however, redemption to be found in the film’s wonderfully funny script – zingers and odd-ball goofs abound, with the stand-out being Luke Treadaway’s lost and slightly confused stoner. Funny but hardly scary, so you don’t need to bring the safety blanket.

(Sorry about the shortness. Was imposing a word-limit on myself. Huzzah!)

29 April 2011

Holy mother of god...

I haven't posted here for ages. Again. That's bad. Real bad. So bad that I might cry. No, not that. Faint, maybe, but never cry.

I suppose I should throw some kind of update up. Yes, that seems like a good idea. Been going to the cinema quite a bit lately, but have been unable to concoct anything even vaguely resembling a review for a while. This may be down to my state of mind, but also down to the fact that I've been directing rather a lot of creative energy towards the old novel, which is now coming along rather nicely. Yes, I know I've said that in the past, but this time it's actually true, instead of someone with writer's block making excuses. So woo-hoo for that! But yes, managed to get a review of Thor written, which - as you've probably gathered - I thoroughly enjoyed. I also have a new way of expressing hunger, thanks to that movie: 'This mortal form grows weak! I require sustenance!'. Seriously, go see it, it's awesome.

Other movie news, other movie news. Oh yeah, I saw The Eagle - which was competent if a little average, with some beautiful visuals mitigated by hammy acting and a rather muddled story. Then there was Source Code, which I, personally, think confirms what an exciting director Duncan Jones is turning into.

I managed to acquire Portal 2 - and that was absolutely brilliant. A little shorter than I thought it would be, but so fantastically well written that the enjoyment-to-time ratio is probably higher than any game you care to mention. Favourite line? Is of course 'An eternal nemesis worthy of my intellect. Holmes and Moriarty. Aristotle and MASHY SPIKE PLATE.' Genius. I'll see if I can splurge up a review, but for now, I'll just give it a massive thumbs up.

Next up is Brink, and if you don't know what Brink is, clicky. Apart from the worst backronym ever, I reckon it's shaping up to be pretty damn awesome. Looks like it's gonna play like Mirror's Edge should have. Good news all round.

That's about it. Or at least, all I can think of at the moment. Sorry for lack of any graphical variation to the post. I'm tired and can't be arsed to find pictures. Yes, I'm that lazy.

Anyways! Adieu!

Thor Review

The superhero genre has been a touch on the dormant side lately, with only sporadic, inconsistent brilliance peppering an otherwise fairly lacklustre release schedule. Watchmen was a touch over-wrought, Iron Man 2 all showy flash and little to no substance, and the Green Hornet? Well that was just plain disappointing.
Thank Valhalla, then, for Kenneth Branagh, and Thor, which enters the fray practically from nowhere, and in a flurry of intense set pieces, beautiful visuals and fantastic performances, breathes new life into a genre that seemed to be losing its way somewhat.

The story goes that Norse mythology is more or less real – Asgard is an actual place, home to incredibly advanced beings who wield technology that, in a bizarre reversal, is almost indistinguishable from Magic. After accidentally triggering a war between his people and the rather large, blue and scary frost giants from the planet Jotunheim, the mighty Thor is banished to Earth by his father Odin, and told to stay there until he can prove himself worthy. When he arrives, he’s found by a group of scientists, and more importantly, by SHIELD.

It’s a decent enough story, and it’s competently written, but the true star of the show is the direction. Balancing beautifully on the line between out-and-out camp and down-and-dirty seriousness, Branagh oversees a marvellous dichotomy between the two settings of the film. When on Earth, there’s a tongue very distinctly housed within a cheek during Thor’s interactions with the team of scientists who find him, whilst the scenes on Asgard and Jotunheim are played almost as a Shakespearean tragedy, with betrayal, subterfuge and...well, and Anthony Hopkins.

Ordinarily, a film featuring such distinct tones would feel disjointed, but Chris Hemswoth consolidates them rather elegantly, imbuing Thor with a fantastic sense of overblown grandiose that seems appropriate in Asgard, and yet deliciously silly on Earth. He also gets to shoot off some wonderfully amusing lines – though I won’t spoil them for obvious reasons.

The supporting cast are fantastic too – with Stellan Skarsgard being the highlight as the sceptical scientist who is brought round by Thor’s infectious enthusiasm. Natalie Portman is more than passable as the sassy but brilliant Jane Foster, who is probably the most believable supporting heroine that any Marvel movie has had to date. Also keep your eyes peeled for a rather brief cameo from one of the players from the upcoming Avengers movie – it’s not really blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but he’s in there without fanfare.

Then there's the set-pieces, and oh, what set pieces they are. From a frost-encrusted battle with giant blue meanies on the frozen planet Jotunheim, to a showdown with some of Asgard's most feared tech right in the middle of small town America, each is directed with a steady hand and a keen eye for fairly awesome action. Coupled with the magnificent costume, set and sound design, each one is an exciting romp through a key locale. That they are each unique in tone and structure is all the more impressive.

If there is a problem with the film, it’s the fact that the action that takes place on Earth seems quite close to unnecessary, and this makes all the Earth-bound characters feel a little bit peripheral. But it’s clear why this choice was made, and thus it’s hard to truly hold this against the film. There are also a couple of moments of rather thudding exposition that perhaps could’ve been a bit more delicate, but this is mostly down to the writing and doesn’t really detract from the experience.

But at the end of it, there’s more than enough great moments, and an infinitely more fleshed out story than Marvel Studios’ previous efforts – that’s right, I’m still looking at you, Iron Man – which makes for a far more satisfactory experience. It also bodes incredibly well for the Avengers movie – I’d even go so far as to say it feels almost like a dry run. So! Let’s hope that this is indeed the second comic-book movie renaissance, and that this time, it’ll stick.

12 March 2011

Paul Review

So, we’ve had their love letters to Romero and action movies. Now it’s time to give Spielberg the old romantic treatment. But do abundant ET and Indiana Jones – among countless other - references a comedy film make?

Just about, is the answer to that question – the film walking the knife-edge between accessible comedy and cult obscurity rather inelegantly, threatening to keel over into the latter at several moments, but just about making it to the other side.

Don’t get me wrong, cult obscurity is not only not a bad thing, but this very reviewer’s very own type of specialised knowledge. But I can get all the cult references I need from the beloved, glistening jewel that is the internet – I went to the cinema to see a movie.

The film tells the story of two British ‘companions’ – their words, not mine – Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) who’ve taken it upon themselves to grace Comic Con with their presence. That done, they head on a road-trip to visit the UFO landmarks in New Mexico. Much to their surprise, they acquire a hitchhiker – a rather world-weary alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped government custody and is trying to get home. The government organisation – being, y’know, evil – take exception to this, and the film charts the chaos that ensues.

It’s neatly written, but perhaps a touch predictable. However, being a character piece - let alone a serenade to Spielberg – one can forgive it for that particular quibble.

And, yes, there are plenty of Spielberg references, as well as a wealth of other treasured sci-fi franchises. Keep your eyes peeled for the warehouse from Raiders, the Close Encounters theme, the Star Wars cantina music, and countless others that will no doubt raise a chuckle. Just be prepared to be the only one laughing – I counted three occasions where my laughs were only echoed by about six people in an absolutely packed cinema.

Thankfully, broader laughs are acquired thanks to the easy chemistry between Pegg and Frost, with some of the film’s better moments stemming from the fit of jealousy that Clive experiences when both Paul and a newly converted atheist (Kristen Wiig) threaten to come between the two friends.

That’s not to say that Pegg and Frost are the only ones flexing their comedic muscles. Wiig is fantastically convincing as the one-eyed God-botherer who Paul forces to see – both literally and figuratively. Her transition – given the circumstances – from prim and proper Christian to foul-mouthed sceptic is played convincingly, and as the films sole attempt at satire, it’s actually fairly successful.

The four antagonists do a decent job as well, with Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglia going for brainless bravado as the two hapless agents under the command of Jason Bateman’s Lorenzo Zoil, who not only does a fantastic job as the deadpan foil to the former pair’s antics, but also delivers the best Star Wars reference in the film. Sigourney Weaver - despite her presence feeling like little more than a thinly spread Aliens joke – seems to have relished an opportunity to chew some scenery as the faceless agency boss.

But the true achievement is Paul himself. He’s expertly animated, and seamless integrated into the action, with Seth Rogen lending both his vocal and ‘athletic’ talents to the character. He’s the lynch-pin on which most of the conceits of the film hang, and Rogen does a great job of imbuing the character with not just a foul-mouthed yet oh-so-witty sense of humour, but also brings in a fantastic world-weariness which makes for an interesting juxtaposition. An alien that knows more about being human than two grown men? Who’d’ve thunk it?

At the end of the day, how much you get from Paul really depends on how into sci-fi and movies you are. For the average person, there’re a few decent laughs and a well-told story played out in entertaining fashion. No more than three stars. But if you know your movies, and are willing to look for the references, there’s a whole other level that the film can be enjoyed on. That’s the level I was on, so that means...