Tag Archives: review

Bargain Bin Reviews: Anaconda!

20 Nov

Welcome to a new feature! I will be having a gander at often-overlooked movies. I’ll dust them off and give them a chance to impress. So, let’s get going with my first Bargain Bin Review.

Anaconda is the story of a loveable, misunderstood giant snake that is mercilessly tormented by a bunch of documentary-makers. All it wants to do is devour Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, but for some reason they object. Just to warn you, there will be many spoilers ahead. But, given that this review is for a fifteen year-old film, I think you can forgive me.

The movie starts off by killing Danny Trejo. His boat is attacked by some kind of nasty creature and, faced with a choice between a gooey painful death or taking his own life, he decides to shoot himself in the head. Generally, it seems as though poor Mr Trejo gets the raw deal in situations with killer beasties, such as his early demise in Predators. Here, though? Well, his character probably caught wind of the script coming his way and decided to off himself. Oh, how I wish I could join you.

God speed, Mr Trejo. You made the right decision.

After a wonderful bit of pan-pipe music, we’re then greeted to the ragtag bunch of filmmakers. First up we have J-Lo and the dashing anthropologist Eric Stoltz. They are off on the noble endeavour of documenting the existence of a rarely-seen tribe in the Amazon. The makers of Anaconda, though, have no such artistic temperament, shown by the fact that the moment you see Miss Lopez she’s, for some reason, wearing a very skimpy nightgown. Who knows, perhaps I am being too cynical and that is perfect attire for the Amazon.

They are joined by Ice Cube, the angry cameraman and one of the few voices of reason within the entire film, the production manager and attractive-but-not-famous-so-will-definitely-survive Kari Wuhrer, the constantly aroused sound guy (played, amazingly, by Owen Wilson), snooty English presenter Jonathan Hyde, and the unbearably sleazy and definitely-not-sketchy ship captain (Vincent Castellanos). If you have made any early presumptions about who is likely to survive this film, you are probably right.

Give horror-movie-survival bingo a go, I dare you!

Only a short while after they set off on their journey, they find a boat sinking into the river. They rescue the lone occupant, a Paraguayan snake-catcher played by Jon Voight. I’d just like to take a moment to tell you exactly how frickin’ creepy this guy is. He’s like if The Joker from The Dark Knight and Tommy Wiseau had a South American middle-aged lovechild. The only way he could be creepier is if he was naked the entire time, his greasy ponytail flapping in the breeze. You half expect every scene to end with him having sex with some kind of reptilian creature.

Don’t believe me? Well I took the time to make a brief compilation of a few of his weirdest moments in the film. Take a look.

In spite of the fact that their new guest is clearly not a very nice man – shown by the way that ominous music starts every time he’s visible and the fact that he is constantly staring at everyone in an outrageously evil way – they decide to welcome him aboard, and even listen to his advice on their journey. The only two crewmembers that don’t seem to trust him are the aforementioned sceptic Ice Cube and the Indiana Jones-wannabe Stoltz.

Of course, this means Stoltz – the only man willing to tell Voight “you know what, let’s not take that meandering route through the Amazon that you say will lead us to our destination” – has an accident after trying to clear vines from the boat. Incapacitated, Voight takes command and lets the crew know of his real motive: to catch a ruddy great big anaconda. Choosing not to listen to Ice ‘Voice of Reason’ Cube, Sleazy Captain, Owen Wilson and Snooty English decide to join in on the plan. First stop on their whirlwind tour of idiocy? The remains of Danny Trejo’s ship.

Unsurprisingly, this does not end well. The sleazy ship captain is the first to go, chomped right outside the boat. Owen Wilson is next. Having already survived a failed attempt at a sex scene on the shores of the Amazon at night (surely the best idea anyone has ever had), he finally succumbs to the wily Jaws wannabe.

From that chin and nose combo, you can tell that it’s Wilson.

Apparently the death of Owen was enough for the rest of the crew to decide enough is enough with the creepy ponytailed guy. J-Lo seduces Voight – in one of the most awkward-to-watch scenes I have ever seen – as the rest of the crew pounce. Tying him up, they think they’re safe. Unfortunately for them, the giant snake hadn’t quite forgotten about their previous attempts to turn it into handbags, and attacks, enjoying Snooty English as a rather fine brunch. Voight uses this as a way to escape, killing poor not-as-famous-as-J-Lo in the process.

Lopez and Ice Cube manage to fight off the anaconda and, with the help of the woken-from-his-illness Stoltz, manage to knock Voight into the river and escape. Stoltz, unfortunately, doesn’t even have time to whisper “you guys seriously trusted the weird snake catcher? Seriously?” before he once again succumbs to his wounds and passes out.

Without his guidance, the wonderful J-Lo/Cube duo are captured by the soggy but still dangerous Voight. He uses them as bait to catch a mega-snake, covering them in monkey blood. For some reason, we need to see Voight kill two monkeys over the course of this film, as if to prove that he is such an evil madman.

Thankfully, the anaconda decides, halfway through suffocating Ice Cube and Lopez, that it would rather go after the creepy-looking guy sneering at it in the corner. It eats him, spits him back out again because apparently he tastes as bad as he looks, and instead goes after J-Lo. Between them, Lopez and Ice Cube manage to trap the snake and blow it up. In spite of being set on fire, exploded, and thrown fifty feet in the air, our plucky jungle friend tries to eat them one more time, and is bludgeoned to death by Ice Cube, who apparently was sick and tired of goddamn snakes at this point.

Can I axe you a question?

And that’s about it. Anaconda, as you may imagine, is a bad movie. It sits awkwardly between its A-List budget and B-List plot, and as a result it is absolutely brilliant entertainment. It’s a trashy, violent, stupid mess with bad performances and a hackneyed plot, and I enjoyed every bloody minute of it. Anaconda is the only place to go if you want to see Ice Cube attack a giant snake with a pick-axe, all the while with an incredible pan-pipe soundtrack.

 

Interested in more? Be sure to head over to GeekClique.net, where future Bargain Bin Reviews will also be hosted.

Skyfall: A Review – Plus News!

27 Oct

2012 has been a year of much-anticipated movies. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit – all of them would have been the most hyped-about film in any other year. Then, of course, there’s Skyfall. The trailers have had people salivating for months. Early reviews called it the best Bond film ever made. And it ever-so-nearly lives up to the hype.

Sam Mendes has done an absolutely tremendous job in bringing Bond back to the fore after the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s full of great performances, has a water-tight script, and best of all is absolutely stunning to look at. The direction is vibrant, varied, powerful, and even a little emotional at times. Even if it’s not the best 007 venture ever, it’s certainly the best-looking one.

Skyfall takes a lot of risks, too. It’s a serious film with a surprising level of depth for a franchise built on the foundation of “man kills man, man sleeps with woman, man makes pun”. Without going into spoiler territory, it touches a little on the aftermath of a service agent’s life after missions, and what happens to an agent left behind by his agency. Not only that, but (whisper it) Skyfall briefly delves into James Bond’s personal history, and even M’s back story.

It’s also very interesting in terms of scale. The finale is not a villain’s volcano lair; in fact, the film drops in size steadily. In the first half of the film, Bond is in his natural habitat: jet-setting across the world, killing people and getting frequent flyer miles at the same time. But slowly, the scale shortens. We go to London, and then to a plot of land in Scotland. The end, in contrast to most Bond films, is incredibly small-scale and introspective. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – it packs an incredibly powerful punch.

It’s rounded off with some great performances too. Judy Dench gives us another look at the stoic, witty M she so successfully portrays, and Daniel Craig simmers with pent up aggression throughout. Newcomers to the series Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw deserve plenty of credit as well: particularly Whishaw, who brings Q bang up to date.

Javier Bardem steals the show, though. His performance as Raoul Silva is absolutely terrifying. A Bond villain to be proud of, he is dangerous, charming, seductive, funny, and completely and utterly insane. His plot doesn’t revolve around world domination, or wealth – he is not the greedy Bond villain archetype in the style of Goldfinger. Instead, Silva is entirely focused on the destruction of M and the MI6. He’s not a Blofeld. In fact, if he’s to be compared to anyone, it’s quite possibly The Joker from The Dark Knight.

It’s not the only comparison this film bears to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, either. There are certain directorial similarities – in particular an abundance of breathtaking location shots, and a grounded sense of realism. The most important similarity, though, is the desire to build a film around themes instead of set-pieces. Skyfall has a message beyond “watch things get blown up”, and as a result, it is a much stronger movie than your regular popcorn-munching blockbuster.

There are a few quibbles to be had, of course. There are a few more light-hearted moments that jar a little with the overall tone, and there’s a particularly silly scene with Komodo dragons that doesn’t quite work. Thankfully, the film only has these few, minor problems.

In short, Skyfall is fantastic. It sits happily in the top tier of Bond movies alongside the likes of Goldeneye, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice, continues 2012’s magnificent run of excellent major releases, and most importantly does something new – and positive – with one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time.

Apologies for the lack of new posts in the last couple of weeks. There have been a few exciting developments recently, one of which I can talk about. A number of my film fanatic friends, along with yours truly, have formed a brand new site called Geek Clique. We’re going to bring fantastic reviews and opinion pieces on film, including both new releases and retrospectives. If you head over to the site now you’ll see a wealth of other James Bond content.

So, if you fancy having a gander it would be much appreciated!

You can also see my awkward attempts at 8-bit sprites.

More new content here, and at Geek Clique, soon.

Rob’s Rockin’ Retro Reviews: Super Mario Bros!

28 Aug

Hello, and welcome to Rob’s Rockin’ Retro Reviews! In association with the ruddy fantastic Retr0mance, I’m going to be playin’ and reviewin’ through my video game collection, from the NES era through to Xbox 360.

Let’s start with a real classic.

Super Mario Bros was the first game I ever played, and the first game a lot of my generation played. You know, we’re the old bastards who remember floppy disks and booting up DOS, recording songs off the radio onto cassette and having to rewind a VHS tape after we watched a film. Mario was our first look at the world of video games, and it taught us a lot of valuable lessons; that turtles are not to be trusted, that mushrooms are sometimes good and sometimes bad, and that you can survive being shot at by jumping on the bullet as it goes past you.

Neo ain’t got shit on Mario

Hell, without Super Mario Bros there probably wouldn’t be video games. After the video game crash, it picked up the industry, gave it a pat on the back and said “it’s all right, little one. There won’t be any more ET games. Here’s a fat Italian man committing acts of horrible animal cruelty”. And we loved it. I still love it. If it were possible, I would have sex with this game right now.

There are a few things I don’t understand though.

First up, those Goombas. The little evil mushrooms. Those guys apparently betrayed the other fungi sects in the Mushroom Kingdom. They teamed up with the Koopas to take down the princess and all those little brown-nosing mushroom dudes you see in the rest of the game. Toad ain’t called Toad after toadstool, people. He’s a bootlicker.

Anyway, what did they get out of it? Because as far as I can tell, they’re the grunt troops, told to walk in a straight line until they are crushed by a man in dungarees or fall off a cliff. They go at their job with such dogmatic fervour. What exactly did the Koopas promise them? Gold? Power? Fame? Little mushroom women? There are many unanswered questions.

Like these little guys:

Are they conjoined twins? Are they a little Goomba couple holding hands? I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t want to ruin their day. For all I know they’re off to Barcelona for a romantic getaway, or finally having the operation so they can function separately.

Mario, though, is a huge part of my formative childhood. I don’t remember the first time I played it. I don’t remember the first time I found the secret 1-up in the first level. I can’t actually remember a time when I didn’t know where all the Warp Zones were. Seriously. Like how I’ve always known the names of Star Wars characters when they’re not even mentioned in the bloody film.

Bossk is BOSS.

Anyway. As a kid, this game was hard. I’ll always remember getting stuck in the castles because of those goddamn rotating fire skewers of hot hot heat. You go back and play it at any other age though, say from eight and above, and you’ll probably wonder how you had such difficulty. Apart from me, though. I still suck. Damn turtles. Never trust them.

Point is, it was the first game we played. We were getting used to how video games even controlled. It was a long time before we got our mitts on Contra (or as I know, it Probotector – being a Brit is sometimes very silly), and a long, long time before we beat that game without using the Konami Code. Mario helped us adapt to a new form of entertainment, so even if it’s easy by the standards of the time, it’s good that it was easy. It helped bring a whole new mass market into gaming and for that I am eternally grateful.

I wouldn’t be the…erm…upstanding citizen I am today without video games.

Aside from that, what is there to say? The controls are nice and responsive, the game-play is fun, the graphics are iconic and the soundtrack is boss. You know all this already. It’s a great game, and a classic. The NES had a lot of duff games, but when it was good, it was great. Super Mario Bros set a very high benchmark to measure other games against, and for a long time it was unsurpassed in the platformer market. It’s incredible that a game from 1985, three whole years before I was bloody born, can still bring such joy. Super Mario Bros, you have my sword, my bow, and my axe. God speed.

Not only that, but this review is now available in video format!

Up next: some more horror movie-related guff. Until next time!

Source Material and the Film Adaptation

6 Aug

As I’ve said before, I am not against adapting books/novels/comics/delete-as-appropriate into movies. I recognise that a lot of amazing films have been created from other sources. However, when a film is made out of a previous intellectual property, filmmakers have to tread a very careful line: to stay faithful to the source material whilst creating a story that works. And believe it or not, this is much harder than it looks.

What people fail to realise is that books and movies are very different media, and as such require very different structures and writing styles. Just because a novel has a brilliant plot, it will not necessarily transfer over into cinema. There are methods novels can employ that films cannot: use of descriptive text, use of internal monologues for characters, and a less stilted conveyance of emotion without resorting to dialogue for instance.

Excessive dialogue does not cover up other flaws in a screenplay.

Meanwhile, movies are an inherently visual medium, and must also successfully utilize the use of sound. Plots need to be more concise. Characters need to be more concrete and defined. The world of the film must be more structured, and, as it were, more real – or at least have a set of rules that must be adhered to for the audience to buy into the situations shown. Cinema is at the same time both simpler and more complex than fiction.

Having said all this, I can suggest a few main reasons why certain adaptations fall flat. First up is pacing. Fiction can have more meandering sections, where characters can be developed without it being detrimental to the overall plot. Even the most action-packed of novels can have chapters where the tension can drop and the reader can really get to know the characters. In film? Not so much. There is a bit of leeway, but characters really need to be defined by their actions, by how they look, and by what they say.

Next up, there’s the problem of back story. How exactly do you get a huge back story into a film? With a Star Wars-style opening crawl? Clichéd, but it can work sometimes. Expositional dialogue? Definitely not. The most successful back stories are created without the audience even realising: a look or an in-joke between characters, mise-en-scène to portray the world of the film – or in the case of specific props, a bit of a character’s history.  There are some examples otherwise but in general these subvert the tropes of dialogue.

One of the reasons The Joker is great is because of his two back stories. Which is real? Is either?

Then, there’s the length. Novels, in general, have quite a lot going on – a complex plot, lots of characters, back story, even large jumps through time. When the subject of an adaptation is a long text, then sacrifices need to be made. But where should these sacrifices fall? Successful adaptations take the core plot, keep other plot elements that are thematically important, and cut around that: characters that add little vibrancy or have nothing to do with the story, back story that doesn’t develop the plot of the film, and character-developing scenes. It’s incredibly hard, though, to work out what should be cut, and the director and scriptwriter are bound to upset fans of the original work. Perhaps this is why it seems that short stories often work out as better adaptations.

Finally, there’s the audience. Many adaptations fail because they ignore one simple rule: the audience is a blank slate. Lots of them, or even most of them, will not have read the original text, and they shouldn’t have to. It doesn’t matter if fans of the novel understand what is going on; if Average Joe the cinema-goer doesn’t understand it, your film doesn’t work. If a viewer has to have done homework in order to decipher a big-budget adaption, then the filmmaker has, unfortunately, done something wrong somewhere during the production. This is the one criticism I have of Edgar Wright’s fantastic Scott Pilgrim – it looked great, the correct elements were cut from the plot and cast, the art style reflected the comic perfectly, but some viewers came out of the movie not quite understanding what they had just seen. This one mistake in an otherwise wonderful film could be one of the reasons why it didn’t do that well at the box office.

Those are the major reasons that adaptations fail. So, let’s do a case study, shall we? Let’s pick David Lynch’s Dune: one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Lynch was so unhappy with it that in certain pressings his name in the credit is replaced by Alan Smithee. Let’s not get on Lynch’s back, though – Frank Herbert’s original novel has many traps that any movie-maker could all into. It has time lapses, meandering character-developing sections, a massive back story, it’s absolutely massive, has a huge number of characters, its own vocabulary, a high-concept plot, and it’s absolutely insane. This book is potentially unfilmable – at least, as a single movie.

Lynch’s Dune fails at each and every one of these problems. Time-lapses are explained by an omniscient narrator, character developments are either explained by the same narrator or by the characters themselves – through both dialogue and internal thought. Back story? That’s the first fifteen minutes. The complete version of the film clocks in at just under three hours, and cuts still had to be made for the theatrical release that chopped up the story even further. Hardly any characters were cut, even those who, due to plot streamlining, had no point anymore. The vocabulary remains, some of it explained, some of it not. It’s still insane, and difficult to follow even if you’ve read the original text.

Worst of all though, are the additions made by Lynch himself. Obviously, additions need to be made, in terms of art style and dialogue. Sometimes even plot points and characters need to be added to make an adaptation work. Lynch, though, made some very strange choices. The evil Baron Harkonnen was given sores across his face (not mentioned in the novel), and due to the Baron being gay there were allegations of homophobia – with the sores representing the AIDS epidemic.

Then there’s this scene:

Why is a cat being milked for an antidote? Who knows. It wasn’t in the novel, that’s for sure, and doesn’t add anything to the film other than making Sting look even more mental.

How about the giant eyebrows of the Mentats? Or the seductive Bene Gesserit being made bald?

Eyebrows mean logic and baldness is sexy.

Lynch seemed to choose these additions over other points that were vital. The Mentats were included despite the Mentat/Bene Gesserit rivalry being practically removed from the film. Hawat (he who needs the cat-antidote) was kept in the film in spite of his role in the novel – helping the Harkonnens after believing that Paul Atreides’ mother betrayed him – being taken out of the movie. Gone was any feeling that Arrakis was a hard planet to live on, and indeed the value of water is not really present. And the point of the novel – that Paul Atreides is not truly a god, but has made himself seem one, is taken out. Unfortunately, Dune is far removed from the source material in all the wrong ways. It is also similar to the source material in all the wrong ways.

Film adaptations, for me, fall into one of three categories. There are the great adaptations – the films that are respectful of the source, build upon it, and adapt it into a working movie. The films that make you want to go back and read the original work, regardless of whether you’ve read it before. Then there are the films that were heavily criticized for their deviation from their source material, but are still good films in their own right. Finally, there are those that just don’t work – nonsensical plots, poor scripts, changes to the source that make no sense, and that are just bad movies.

Join me next time and I’ll take you on a whirlwind tour of the three categories of adaptations – the good, the bad, and the it-got-ugly-with-the-original-fans.

The Dark Knight Rises: A Review

20 Jul

WARNING: this review may contain spoilers. I’m going to try to avoid it as much as I can, but I don’t know if I can avoid every detail. Rest assured there won’t be any major spoilers below, but if you want to escape any knowledge of the film then maybe read this after you’ve seen it. Deal? Okay then.

Warning: your car may look awesome after reading this review.

The most anticipated film of the year has been released. The final part of one of the most-loved film series in history. Part of a franchise that is adored by millions of people and who get very angry when things get messed up. Some pretty big expectations that Christopher Nolan had to deal with right there. He needed to get it spot on.

And, rest assured, he did. The Dark Knight Rises completes the Dark Knight trilogy with ease and confidence, bringing a satisfying conclusion to the series and cementing its place in cinematic folklore.

Just one word of warning, though: if you expect this film to start off with the same intensity as The Dark Knight, then you’re going to be disappointed. This movie is long. Nearly three hours, in fact. It is slow, introspective, and character-based for a good eighty minutes. There is an intricate level of build-up before the real action starts. The thing is, the movie is all the better for it. For one thing, we get a view of Bruce Wayne without Batman, and without the simple life that he longed for in The Dark Knight. He has deliberately isolated himself from his previous lives, and is a hollow shell of the man from the previous films; rather than living a double-life, he has lost both.

Don’t be so sad, Bruce!

Instead of focusing entirely on Wayne, though, plenty of the plot developments come from two of the newcomers to the series: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a street cop with ideals of justice, and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, a professional thief.

Both of them give fantastic performances, particularly Hathaway, who comes out of her comfort zone of the-nice-girl-who-is-a-bit-clumsy and adds depth to a character often given a one-track treatment. Her Kyle is dangerous and smart, able to use different personas to get what she wants. John Blake, meanwhile, is a character whose faith in the system is slowly eroded, and Gordon-Levitt can add another dramatic, developed performance to his résumé.

Let’s talk about the villain though. A character ruined in Batman & Robin, Bane received a mixed reaction when announced as the antagonist of The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy, though, delivers to us a Bane far away from his previous, campy version. Instead, Hardy is terrifying – articulate, charismatic, intelligent, yet brutal and deadly. There’s no hint of the character’s use of the muscle-enhancing drug Venom, as in the comics, and is instead given a variation on his original back-story. I’ve got to say, this is probably my favourite version of Bane: grounded, real, yet still a real adversary.

Spoiler: Batman and Bane become best buddies.

The rest of the cast are superb as well – you know what you get from the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, but Matthew Modine also gives a good performance, as does Marion Cotillard. And what is there to say about the direction? It’s fantastic, and trademark Nolan. Grand, sweeping shots, fantastic action sequences, tension built up to the max, and all of it augmented by sharp dialogue and another brilliant score from Hans Zimmer.

So where does that leave us? Well, in my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises gives us the best trilogy…well, ever. Now, I know that is a very extreme claim, but let me back it up. Each film is fantastic, yes, but it’s more than that; they each build upon the one before. The origins of Batman Begins, the new adversary of The Dark Knight, and now the conclusion of the story, and the conclusion of the character arcs – The Dark Knight Rises joins up effortlessly with the stories of the other two films.

Often trilogies fall at the final hurdle – X-Men, Blade, and Spider-Man are some comic book examples – by failing to give an acceptable conclusion. The trilogies that do succeed – the ‘Dollars’ trilogy, Romero’s Dead films, Die Hard, and Indiana Jones for instance – often contain three films that are not really dependent on each other. Rather than tell a complete story, they tell three very separate ones. Thankfully, The Dark Knight trilogy joins the likes of Toy Story, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings in giving us a complete arc.

But could Batman blow up the Death Star? Yes. Yes he could.

So, let’s have a moment to think about this: Christopher Nolan has made a brilliant trilogy out of a guy who dresses like a bat and beats people up. Not only that, but has suffered the potential wrath of fans of the original comics by making radical changes to it. By removing the supernatural from it entirely. By casting actors who raised eyebrows like Anne Hathaway and Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight trilogy has proved that you can take comic books and make serious movies about them, with genuine themes and values, and with unique characters.

Give that man a goddamn medal, right now.

The Amazing Spider-Man Review: Not Quite Amazing, More ‘Fairly Good’

11 Jul

I loved Spider-Man. Seriously, as a kid I was obsessed. The mid-nineties cartoon was, for me, up there with Batman as the best kids TV show of that generation. I got massively into the comics at the same time (including the apparently awful Todd MacFarlane Spider-Man series). Somewhere in my house there is a photo of me in a full Spider-Man costume. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it to upload, but if I do come across it, I’ll unleash the cuteness on the world.

So, in spite of the reasons behind the making of The Amazing Spider-Man – the cynical cash-in and requirement to keep hold of the Spider-Man license – I couldn’t help but, on some tiny level, be a tiny bit excited. Andrew Garfield! Emma Stone! Martin Sheen!

As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man is every bit as good as the original Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire film. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker has depth beyond the generic ‘I am such a big nerd’, Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a believable love interest and a character in her own right and Martin Sheen steals the show as a wonderful Uncle Ben.

The Amazing Spider-Man Prequel: Uncle Ben on a mission to kill Doctor Octopus.

All in all, the human cast is believable, deep, and interesting; you feel a hell of a lot more for Peter in this than you ever did in the previous trilogy, for instance. The chemistry between Garfield and Stone is wonderfully charming, and even one-mode characters such as Flash Thompson are given little tweaks that make their characters more than just cardboard cut-outs. The world of the characters feels like real life.

Unfortunately, the film is a lot better when Spider-Man isn’t involved. There is plenty of action in this film – from Parker getting bitten by the radioactive spider, to developing his new-found powers and creating his web-slinging devices, to fighting street-crime, to taking on a greater responsibility and fighting The Big Bad Guy. The problem is that even immediately after the film I had great difficulty remembering any specific scene.

This is an unfortunate exception.

The Sam Raimi trilogy is full of iconic moments. The upside down kiss, the fights with Doctor Octopus, Willem Defoe’s descent into madness, and even the horrifically cheesy “go web go” scene. Even though the films were flawed, the action sequences were, in general, handled perfectly. The only action scenes that wowed me in The Amazing Spider-Man were when Uncle Ben dies, which was genuinely tragic, and the brief moments where Spider-Man seems to act like a spider – building a web in the sewers and crawling over The Lizard during a fight in a high-school.

Speaking of which, some of this problem stems from the villain. As a child of the nineties, I have quite a specific view of The Lizard. For my generation, he is the total antithesis of Spider-Man – another genetic hybrid who, unfortunately, develops horrific side-effects in contrast to the purely positive changes to Spider-Man. The incredibly intelligent Dr Curt Connors, in an attempt to re-grow his severed arm, transforms himself is a big, green, reptilian beastie. It was incredibly similar to the werewolf myth, or even Frankenstein, only trashier and with bonus pseudo-science.

In short what I was expecting was this:

RARRRRR!

And the reality?

OH HAI!

The Lizard of the film lacked any of the tragedy of my view of the character. There was little exploration of his descent into the feral. His motivations were muddled, the supposed history between him and Peter Parker’s parents wasn’t properly explained. Rhys Ifans does a decent job of bringing Dr Connors into the film but it doesn’t transfer well into the final, transformed villain. Plus, he looks awful. I have no idea how this design for The Lizard made it past the draft stage. Most damning of all, though, is that the fight scenes were…well, a little boring.

So I guess that’s the biggest problem with the film. None of the action seems particularly interesting. The bad guy isn’t that interesting. What is interesting? The relationships between the human characters.

What could have made it better? There is a brief moment, before The Lizard becomes a big part of the film, where Gwen Stacy’s father (a police captain) mentions that one of the small-time crooks Spider-Man takes down was actually bringing the police to the head of a crime syndicate. Could this have been the main plot of the movie, perhaps? Spider-Man goes after the head of the syndicate to make up for his selfish, revenge-driven mistakes, and ends up coming across, oh, I dunno, The Kingpin? The focus of the film could have been on the superhero Spider-Man taking down regular humans who are still completely terrifying. Tie in strands that Oscorp has dodgy dealings with gangsters, setting up Norman Osbourne as an untouchable villain. Then, for the next film, bring in a more fantastic bad guy.

Let’s face it, Spider-Man has plenty of choices.

This film most reminds me of what could have happened to the Batman reboot, had Christopher Nolan not given us such a brilliant retake on that franchise. In fact, I expect the next Batman film (where I suspect we’ll see a much more traditional, fantastic take on the series) to be a very similar film to this one.

As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man is a solid, enjoyable film that does well in unexpected areas but falls down a little in the basics.

Prometheus: A Fan’s View

9 Jun

So you may have read my review of Prometheus. Here is a runthrough of some of the interesting issues that can be discussed about the film.

 

Fire From The Gods

Let’s start with the title. Prometheus, the Titan in Greek mythology who not only stole fire from the gods, but also created man from clay. A figure that historically has represented scientific endeavour. The Modern Prometheus was the subtitle for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

So what does that have to do with nasty space monsters?

The title of the film is also the name of the exploratory vessel that takes the Scientists to LV-223. In a way, Prometheus is the collective name for the crew of the ship, and the mission that they have embarked upon. To go and speak with the creators of mankind; to go and speak with God. It soon becomes clear to the crew that the gods are pissed. They are intent, or were intent, on wiping out all life on Earth, by sending a number of ships filled with bioweapons to the Solar System.

This can be seen as a lovely, Ridley Scott version of Prometheus being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten eternally.

If we are to believe that the Engineers/Space Jockeys are indeed the ‘gods’ of this story, then they are pissed off with mankind for some reason. Some way in which we have advanced technologically enough to be considered a threat? Is it the knowledge of space travel? The creation of artificial life?

In my opinion, no. When carbon dating the dead body of the Engineer outside the ‘worship room’ of their ship, they say that it’s been there 2000 years. Now, what happened approximately 2000 years ago in the history of mankind…

Jesus is yo’ homeboy.

Now, I’m not saying that the birth of Christianity and the life of Jesus Christ was what caused the Engineers to want to bring xenomorphy death down on us all, but there seems to be a hint in the film, namely this:

“It’s fun to stay at the YMCA!”

Yes, that’s a xenomorph, seemingly in a Christ-like pose.

Which brings the question, are these Engineers actually our gods? It seems they created us, but do they see themselves as the creators? Do they have any gods of our own? Was the birth – or the sacrifice – of Christ the reason for them to try to wipe us out? Why Christianity over any other religion?

But the question of the Engineers brings us to a further question…


Engineers or Engineered?

Now this is by no means foolproof. But isn’t it a bit strange that the Engineers/Space Jockeys appear in the same monochrome colour scheme as the xenomorphs, and the other nameless creations in their facilities on LV-223? The total lack of pigment in their skin and eyes, and the lack of hair. Apparently they have identical (or I assume near-identical) DNA to us. This is why the bioweapons that they have engineered to react to DNA (such as they did when the crew of the Prometheus went into the vase room) also react to the Engineers, leading to their eventual demise.

I have a wild theory that the Engineers themselves were created by something else. The way that the final living Engineer reacts to the proto-facehugger at the end of the film is very strange. There seems to be a lack of emotion, an almost automatic response to having to deal with the Lovecraftian nightmare trying to eat its face. They are all the same sex as well; they appear to be identical, in fact.

“I dare you to say we all look alike again, you SPACE RACIST!”

The only time you see real emotion, or any kind of reaction in fact, is when David speaks to them. It attacks violently afterwards, decapitating David first before turning on the humans. Why this reaction? Is it, perhaps, that it saw David as something similar to itself; a construct by another being. Had humanity finally stepped into the realm of the engineers by creating something themselves?

Finally, I have one more thought about the Engineers, and it perhaps ties into my previous, Christianity-based hypothesis. We are mankind – we were created in the image of a higher being, but given autonomy to live our lives the way we wanted. The Engineers are the angels in this allegory. Also created by the same being, treated as guardians until an eventual revolt. Are all the Engineers out to kill us, like those found on LV-223? Not necessarily. But given that the Engineers visited Earth at some point in the past, beyond the shown life-creation scene at the beginning of Prometheus, it seems as though they have had some kind of protector role for our species and our planet before.

 

Paranoid Android

David, played by Michael Fassbender, was by far the most interesting character for me. Despite being an android, he seemed to have by far the most depth as a character. What were his intentions?

It isn’t quite as simple as a robot being programmed to do things by the corporation, as it was in Alien. Ian Holm was terrifying as Ash, but David takes it to a whole other level. Instead of the cold aggression that Ash shows, David has a calculating edge. He chooses his words wisely; he is duplicitous, dangerous, and more than a little clever. The way he tricks Holloway into ingesting some of the primordial goop is ingenious. He almost always has the upper hand in his relationship with Shaw, and it is one of the few relationships that actually develop in the film – particularly the way she begins to trust him until his betrayal. You get the sense that, even at the end of the film, David is hiding something. He has, perhaps, developed a sentience of his own. He tells Shaw how he wants to see his ‘father’ dead, which makes you wonder exactly what he said to the Engineer.

Look at his lovely, robot face.

The only time David is not in full control of the situation is after he has been decapitated and is left on the ship. Even then you see another development in his character – he clearly does not want to ‘die’. Sensing that Shaw is the only chance for him to survive, he helps her to escape the lifeboat and then come to his assistance, so they can both get off LV-223.

The other relationship that threatens to be interesting in the film is that between David and Meredith Vickers. With Vickers as Weyland’s daughter and David as his ‘son’, there is a clear tension between the two. But, is Vickers all that she seems? Remember, we never see her come out of her stasis pod. Her only two modes are self-preservation and supporting the decisions of Weyland himself. The only time she ever diverts from this is when the ship’s captain asks if she is an android herself. I’m not saying she is…but think about it.

 

Anyway, I think that will do for now. I’ll leave you with this: I may well have been massively overthinking this film, and it could be nothing more than a big dumb sci-fi actioner. But, I’d like to think that instead of the plot-holes being plot-holes and the problems being problems, instead it is all part of a larger plan, that we may – or may not – see in a sequel.

Prometheus: A Review

9 Jun

This is going to be an oddly serious one. So, let’s get all my ‘funny’ points out of the way first:

  •  I love Michael Fassbender and I love his magic space flute
  • The inevitable Prometheus sequel should be a buddy comedy starring Shaw and David’s decapitated head. It will be called Prometheus 2: A-Head of the Times
  • So many smart scientists, so many stupid decisions made. “I know! Let’s poke the weird alien lifeform, I’m sure nothing bad will happen” etc.
  • I wish I had a robot friend whose head I could keep in a bag.
  • I really wish there hadn’t been that ‘heroic sacrifice’ scene as a way to kill off three characters who they didn’t know how to end.
  • On a related note, Charlize Theron really should have run to the side. “It’s slowly coming this way! Noooo!”
  • I never thought I would see a scene where a woman gives herself a robot c-section to get rid of a tentacle space monster. Thanks, Ridley!
  • I am upset that our creators are basically Lurch after he’s gone to the gym.

“I can benchpress 20 androids!”

Right, enough of that! Let’s talk serious.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Visually, it was stunning. An atmospheric and vibrant, unique world was created and in turn this formed a wonderfully immersive film. The soundtrack was great as well, it suited the film perfectly and bar a couple of cheesy moments it kept to the ‘space epic’ style brilliantly.

Michael Fassbender was wonderful.  Somehow the cold android had the most depth and was by far the most interesting character in the film. He also put in the best performance. I still wanted him to succeed with whatever crazy plan he had right up to the end, because he was the only character with a complex personality. Credit also goes to Charlize Theron.

Plus, he has a MAGIC SPACE FLUTE!

I would say, though, that the rest of the performances weren’t great. I don’t think this was necessarily the fault of the cast per se, but that the script they were given seemed very direct. There wasn’t much room for character development and it seemed to me as if the film was primarily focused on the big picture rather than the little. In my humble opinion the little things like character as intensely important, even in films with such big concepts as this. Just look at, for instance, Sunshine, which created a whole cast of unique characters who you genuinely cared for. I could barely remember what the characters in Prometheus looked like, let alone remember their names or character traits.

I think a lot of this comes from the hybrid nature of the film. Is it a space exploration film? Is it a monster movie? Is it a straight-up action flick? It worked best with the first two parts – the opening scenes and the first hour of runtime was brilliant. The way the tension was built when exploring the derelict space craft was fantastic. The intensity up to the moment when they find the ‘worship room’ (filled with the black vases) was expertly done.

Creepy Space Crucifix?

After that point, though, there seemed to be a few annoying clichés that crept in. The two guys who get lost in the craft (I suppose) were obviously going to die from the moment they left the rest of the group. They then proceed to make the horrible decision to not run from the obviously creepy alien goo snake and, surprise surprise, try to touch it. That’s the kind of shit that gets you ganked in the Alien universe and it’s the kind of stupid curiosity you haven’t really seen in this universe up to this point.

From then on, the whole film appears a little rushed. You see the rest of the crew go to find them again, dickhead scientist man start turning into an orc and being set on fire by Charlize Theron (in a moment of rare intelligence for a character in Prometheus), Dr Shaw give herself a c-section to get rid of the tentacle baby from Men In Black, her randomly stumble across Weyland, have the shocking relevation that wrinkly Guy Pearce is Charlize Theron’s father (or is she? More on that later), them all go off into the ship to talk to the last space-albino, angry bearded alien man kill a bunch of mooks, space albino wake up and attack in a grumpy rage, heroic sacrifice of remaining expendable characters, baby tentacle monster all grown up…and breathe. It all felt like too much in too little time. I’m hoping the eventual director’s cut will help solve this problem.

The number of people unhappy with the theatrical release of Kingdom of Heaven.

There were a few more problems I had with the film: for one, as an Alien fanboy, I hated the way the Engineers looked and how the excellent ‘space jockey’ look was apparently just a suit. Another was that some of the dialogue was a little on the nose. Noomi Rapace saying to David “you can’t feel. You’re just a robot” felt a little off for instance. But, in spite of all the flaws, I couldn’t help but really like this film. Not a classic, and I won’t love it at much as some of Ridley Scott’s other films, but it felt truly like a part of one of the great film universes – and better yet, built on it in an interesting way.

Up next: an Alien fan’s in-depth look at how Prometheus affects the universe – and a few theories about the film, from characters to themes.

The Hunger Games: Review

4 Apr

Disclaimer: I am coming to this as an outsider of the Hunger Games franchise. I have not read the books. I do not know the extent of the back story. This is about the movie, and about whether it works as a stand-alone film without knowledge of the source material.

I have always been a fan of the ‘horrible-death-game-to-help-maintain-an-evil-regime-in-a-dystopian-future’ genre. I count The Running Man, Rollerball, Battle Royale, and Series 7: The Contenders as some of my favourite films. So, I was more than a little dubious about a 12A title taking on the same premise. Without time to read the book (beyond other things I have been reading the Eisenhorn trilogy and couldn’t face parting with it) I went into the film relatively blind.

So let’s start with first impressions. The film starts with the pastoral setting of District 12, and our hero Katniss Everdeen spending her time hunting. It’s a horrible, grim, gritty place. The games are subtly put into the setting – a nightmare of Katniss’ sister, Prim, and a mention from a hunky love interest who looked like a young clone of David Boreanaz for instance – which was refreshing. It was well-handled and the message was put across without bludgeoning the GRIMDARKFUTUREGLADIATOR message into the viewer.

Unfortunately the setting jars a little soon afterwards. In the middle of this run-down imagery, we suddenly get a view of, well, these guys:

How do they keep those outfits so pristine?

And this woman:

I know who I'm dressing as for Halloween.

So we’re hit with two different worlds; the colourful, vibrant dystopian society and the gritty, pale outlands. I found (and it might just be me) that when these two worlds combined, it didn’t quite work. The guards looked out of place in District 12, and the jump from the very real opening setting to the CGI-laden capital city was a bit difficult to grasp.

Having said that, I loved the capital. The build-up to the games proper was handled superbly. It was easy to grasp, even the difficult notion of the sponsorship idea – that each of the ‘tributes’ could help their odds in the games by getting sponsored by the rich and powerful watching the games themselves. I felt the film really came into its own during these parts – the training sessions, the interviews with the absolutely brilliant Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson mentoring Katniss and Peeta, Lenny Kravitz giving the tributes a cynical look at how to succeed. The suspense in the build-up to the games was wonderful. You really started to understand the world, the decadence, and the way in which these games helped define the society. There were satirical jabs at reality TV, celebrity, and the like, in quite a similar way to The Running Man and The Truman Show. It takes a long time to reach the games proper, and it’s worth it – for me, this glimpse of a well-structured fictional society was the best part of the film.

Stanley Tucci is frickin' boss

But the show must go on, and the Hunger Games themselves had to start. Unfortunately this is where the film falls down a little. It’s not really anyone’s fault – as all of the areas where the film fails were inevitable. The idea of The Hunger Games itself is difficult – a book series for young adults about a world where kids will potentially have to kill each other in a variety of horrible ways. There was no way the filmmakers were going to be able to show the real horror and brutality of that premise without losing a 12A rating – and with it, the key demographic of the film itself.

So, instead of seeing these kids kill each other, we are instead shown shaky-cam fight scenes, cut-aways, and other tricks to help imply that something brutal has happened without really showing it. It’s a shame, because I think that this damages the overall film. Given how well the previous scenes were handled – showing the stakes that were held, the potential horrors that the heroes would have to face – the Games themselves were a major let-down. You put the brutality and intensity of Drive into this film and it could have been a classic.

If you get this reference you are awesome and I want to be your friend.

That said, there is nothing the filmmakers could have done about this, so it can’t really be held against anyone in particular apart from the censors.

To sum up, the film is worth watching. There are some fantastic performances, and even within the young cast no-one really lets the film down. The plot is solid, the setting is great, and visually (at least most of the time) it works. It is unfortunately let down by a weak second half and the fact that killer mutant dogs do never a good finale make. Definitely an enjoyable film, but maybe not worth the amount of praise it’s been given.

PS – And I’m sorry if this insults anyone who is a fan of the books, but why do they all have bloody stupid names? There seems to be very few deviations from current English language aside from them, so why did they feel the need to make everyone have a modern variation of a current name (I’m looking at you, Peeta and Haymitch).