23 June 2013

Total Recall (2012) Review

Sometimes, you should really re-consider your title. Or at least, consider it in the first place, because had it not been for the association with the turn of the 90s Paul Verhoven actioner, this could've been held in higher regard, because as an action-orientated adaptation of 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale', it actually works pretty decently.

Len Wiseman's always been one for boldly-staged set pieces - see his Underworld films, as well as the irritatingly badly written Die Hard 4.0 - and he doesn't disappoint here, with scenes that sweep through a decently realised, if slightly derivative dystopian future. He does, however, retain the sense to keep the films he references within the Philip K Dick adaptation stable - everything from Minority Report to Blade Runner to A Scanner Darkly, as well as Verhoven's effort, are given visual nods. There's simply too many of them for them to really be described as derivative - rather, it feels like an effort to have all of these films take place in the same world. 

Colin Farrell is solid in the lead role, believable as a bunched up and frustrated worker to whom there's more than is initially apparent. Kate Beckinsale - despite her husband's odd penchant for presenting her backside to the world - makes a fun switch from doting wife to futuristic femme fatale, and Jessica Biel, whilst hardly challenged, doesn't really bring anything particular impressive to her role as love interest/competition. It's nice to see Bill Nighy turn up once again in a Wiseman flick, and Bryan Cranston's evil dictator is like Walter White without the moral compass and more kung-fu skills, which is more or less as entertaining as it sounds.

It falters a little towards the end - the script not really sure what to do with itself, with screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (of Equilibrium and Ultraviolet fame) and Mark Bomback (of 'ruining Die Hard' fame) presenting us with possibly cinema's first quintuple agent, and ceasing to make any sense from there, resorting to just blowing shit up in lieu of figuring out its own clusterfridge of a story. The most interesting stuff happens when they attempt to play with the concept of rekall (with a K, no less), but this is ultimately restricted to a tense scene in the middle which sees Farrell's adversaries attempting to convince him that nothing he's done thus far is real.

But the action is fun, the story just about engaging enough to keep you occupied (if Becksale's butt doesn't quite grab you, as Wiseman insists it should), and the vision of the future is pleasingly technophillic. Just don't expect a satisfying resolut-...'Rekall'!! It should've been called 'Rekall'!

19 June 2013

Man of Steel Review

If you're going to be making a Superman movie and you want it to be decent, you need two things. Well...three. First of all, obviously, you need Superman himself. Second, some heart - we need to be forming an emotional bond with this character, because otherwise, we just won't give a shit when the third thing starts. The third thing? Action - because what's the point of an invulnerable man if you can't chuck him about a bit?

Sadly, the movie falls shortest in the heart department - though it's clear that the film had more at some point. Whilst Kal-El's exodus from Krypton is examined in detail, his time from landing on Earth to becoming Superman is more-or-less skipped over. You can practically feel Warner Bros - wary of Superman Return's lukewarm reception - breathing down your neck as snippets of this essential part of his story flash across the scene before being abruptly replaced. It ultimately means that Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are required to do quite bit with not a lot - the parental bond that humanises the character given a flashy, high-impact makeover here that smacks more of Spider than Super.

It's a shame, because what is present of that aspect of the story is beautifully scripted - the scene where Martha rushes to school to coax a young Clark, terrified of his new-found power, out of a janitor's closet is rather wonderful. "The world's too big, Mom." I think we can all relate.

There is of course the argument that Superman stories are about nothing if they are not about his heart. But it'd be unfair to say that the film has no heart. It's verging on bare bones, but it's there - hence my cunning use of 'shortest' - a groundwork upon which you are expected to lay your own familiarity with the character. It's difficult to hold this against them, given how firmly embedded our Friendly Neighbourhood Kryptonian is in pop culture's psyche.

It's more than enough to invest you in the action, and as said, there's a lot of it. Thankfully, it's really quite enjoyable - no choppy wire-fu, rubbish CGI Bizarros or forced camera angles here. These are glorious, large-scale, effects-driven punch-ups, with actually rather concerning amounts of collateral damage as various Kryptonians barrel through the toughest human constructions, and humans themselves, like so much tissue paper. Snyder, ever the pop-culture masher-uperer (is that a word? Is now), references everything from The Matrix to the film's own predecessors as he wrecks various locales with gusto.

He also cleverly subverts his own precedent - having filmed both of his previous comic-book adaptations with the stop-starting slow-motion that ostensibly became his trademark, here the action only ever plays out at full speed. Overall, this gives the action a velocity that nicely emphasises our hero's core powers, and serves as a neat counterpoint to Whedon's wit, and Nolan's muscularity.

Cavill is a revelation - not only convincing as a flying man, but making us forget the ones that flew before him. No longer a clean-cut stalwart, this Superman is a something of a dashing rogue (is that... chesthair?!). But he doesn't just bring looks that will have folk swooning the world over - he nails a new physicality of the hero too, a brawler lacking in finesse, little more than instinct and determination overwhelming odds. Then there's a very cute twisting of the whole Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy throughout the film - almost like Goyer was intentionally referencing Tarantino, but I digress - and Cavill plays it brilliantly.

The support is good too, despite Michael Shannon's Zod not quite feeling right - as if he's both taking it seriously, but phoning it in at the same time. Antje Traue's Faora is, surprisingly, the far more effective villain, an entity entirely replete of morals, the ferocity with which she fights for her cause unsettling in the best possible way. Amy Adams is decent as Ms Lane, and Lawrence Fishburne, whilst given precious little to actually do, is actually rather memorable as Perry White.

Final mention must go to the composer. John William's iconic score (you know those first two bars by heart don't you, you nerd) was a tough act to follow, but true to form, Hans Zimmer forges a new musical iconography, and it's a soundtrack that is worthy of purchase by itself.

What's here is great. So indeed, it's not quite what you might've hoped for - it was perhaps a mistake of the marketing that people were expecting blown minds on a scale akin to The Dark Knight - but saying that doesn't do it justice. It's less a reboot, and more a modern clarification of an existing character - throwing an otherwise fully-formed iteration of Superman onto the screen, and creating the foundations of a DC Cinematic Universe whilst it's at it. It does both of these rather triumphantly - keep your eye out for various name drops throughout. Thrillingly shot, neatly written and well performed - even, on occasion, funny - it's far more than we could've possibly asked for, and was more than worth the wait.

18 June 2013

The Charlesbearius Hug Grading Scale

The Charlesbearius Hug Grading Scale

In the event that customers feel that the insults provided by our service are 'too mean', a hug will be offered in compensation. These will fall into one of five 'grades' or categories of hug:

Grade 1: This is like getting hugged by a skeleton wearing an inside-out iron maiden, and will only be offered sarcastically.

Grade 2: A standard hug - only enjoyable if you've not had any physical human contact in years. Otherwise, little more than a nuisance.

Grade 3: A decent hug - comforting, encompassing and quite satisfying. Like being wrapped in a nice, thick duvet. If that duvet were a person.

Grade 4: The sort of hug you'd expect to get from a lover. There may be kissing. And nuzzling. Only offered in particular circumstances.

Grade 5: Like getting hugged by Christina Hendricks and her four clones.

Note: hugs are strictly one-time redemption, and have no equivalent cash value.

The gender of the person issuing the hug is pre-assigned. Once requested, there is no taking back of the hug.