Friday, 2 April 2010

Clash of the Titans

Cards on the table early: Clash of the Titans is a bad film. It has very few redeeming features, and shows no aspirations toward being suspenseful, exciting or engaging.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the plot. It’s very simple, as you may expect, but to lay it all out on these pages would double the size of our humble magazine. Basically, demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington) and his band of merry men decide to go on a quest to deny the gods the satisfaction of wiping out the population of Argos – the town, not the store.
Perhaps it was planned this way, but the extremely simple, linear nature of the plot lends itself very well to the videogame format (coming soon, game fans). It essentially consists of Perseus going from place to place, fighting baddies and solving simple puzzles, aided somewhat by his fellow demigod and stalker Io (Gemma Arterton), and once by his beardy dad, Zeus (Liam Neeson).

There are parts of this movie that have a lot of potential. The sequence in Medusa’s grimy quarter of the underworld could have been full of The Descent-esque tension, but falls flat and instead feels like you are watching scenes from the cutting room floor of Beowulf, and maybe the giant scorpion fight in the desert would have been good if we hadn’t already seen it in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Speaking of ripping parts from other movies, how many times have we seen the diminuitive (relatively) hero flying through various flailing appendages and limbs of a giant monster? Oh yes, here we have a classic case of “let’s have the camera move around and look like it might get hit by whatever our CGI team can rustle up”. Seriously, do we need to see this kind of thing again? It was cool when James Cameron traversed us through a helicopter in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but that was nineteen years ago now. Maybe Hollywood should come up with some fresh ideas.

And now to the less than stellar performances on show. Sam Worthington, an English-born actor educated in Australia, manages to deliver an accent that falls somewhere between the two, but with an American twang thrown in for good measure. When all the other actors on show have flawless English accents, it surely wouldn’t be expecting too much for him to do an English accent too. Or maybe for the casting team to find someone who could. Even without the bad accent, Worthington is not good. Too much of a meathead to play a sensitive hero, and too sensitive-looking to play a meathead, his character is extremely unconvincing. He shows no emotion other than stoic resolution which, let’s face it, even Arnie can pull off.

Aside from Worthington, two of the finest British actors of recent times do their best to tarnish their reputations. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes have been in some of the great films of the last two decades, and have delivered stunning performances, but this is not a showcase for good acting, and it shows. Fiennes’ performance as Hades is so bad that it comes off as an amateur dramatics performer trying to be Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings, and Neeson seems to think that speaking all his lines in either a gruff whisper or an angry bark equates to having range. It doesn’t.

As for the redeeming features, there are two. The first is Pete Postelthwaite, playing Perseus’ human ‘father’ Spyros. Postelthwaite is a character actor of the highest calibre. He’s never been a leading man, but he always brightens up the screen whenever he’s around. It’s a small role that he has, but he does well with it, or as well as anyone can do with a role that requires being kindly and then dying. The second small piece of quality is the destruction of a statue of Zeus in during the set-up to the main plot. There are several attempts at conveying epic scale of the film, but this is the only one that really works. Most of the others consist solely of wide-angle shots of very small people walking in very huge places. Not impressive. Neither of these two features are worth seeing the film for, but if you’re really looking for an excuse to see it then these are your best bet.

If family-orientated action blockbusters are your bag, then it’s advisable to hold out for the latest Disney/Bruckheimer juggernaut The Prince of Persia. Not only does it come from people with a good track record, but it also stars Jake Gyllenhaal – one of the finest Hollywood actors working today. Clash of the Titans is not worth your hard-earned cash, or your invaluable time. If you want to waste a couple of hours, try staring at a blank piece of paper or lying face down on a bed of nails. It will probably be more entertaining.


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Lovely Bones

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the novel by Alice Sebold

Certificate: 12A/PG-13

Runtime: 135 minutes

Pennsylvania, 1973. Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon is raped and murdered by a man from her neighbourhood. As she tries to contact her family from the “in-between”, the grief is too much for her mother and father to cope with. Her mother leaves while her father and younger sister try to find who murdered Susie.

The Lovely Bones seems like an odd film for Peter Jackson to make, much like Heavenly Creatures was in 1994. Instead of being known for oddball splatter films as he was then, he is now known to be the man who made Lord of the Rings and King Kong – two of the more epicly scaled projects of the last decade or so. So where does The Lovely Bones fit into this? It doesn’t. It is really a very small, confined story about one family and one paedophile, and while it uses a lot of CG trickery and other-worldly landscapes, it cannot be compared to Jackson’s previous two films at all.

That is not to say that this film is a mis-step on his part; it is a very well constructed and engaging story, and contains some moments that would rank among the finest of Jackson’s distinguished, and in my opinion unblemished, career so far.
Let’s focus on the CGI landscapes of the “in-between” for a moment.
King Kong and, to a lesser extent, the Lord of the Rings trilogy were both criticised for slightly ropey CGI in places, but there are no moments like this in The Lovely Bones. Even the water effects – notoriously difficult to construct – looked fantastic here.

However, as everybody knows, good CGI is far from a backbone to build a film around; a lesson that Roland Emmerich might want to learn from. Thankfully Peter Jackson knows what he is doing when it comes to film-making and there is barely a flaw in this film. Even the casting of Marky Mark is spot-on, and when it comes to finding actresses to lend some emotional weight to your film, you cannot go wrong with Rachel Weisz. I do feel that Saoirse Ronan may be a tad young to carry such a big film, and at times she does seem to over-egg this cake somewhat. Having said that, she certainly isn’t bad, but perhaps she suffers from a slight lack of experience. She does, however, outshine the fairly sidelined love interest, a young man by the name of Reece Ritchie who seems intent on becoming the Asian version of Orlando Bloom, given his ridiculous “I am acting now” voice.

The main attraction to this film, for me, is Stanley Tucci. This guy has been around a while, but this is easily his most impressive role as George Harvey. He underwent something of a physical transformation for this role, and while they do seem to have played up to a fairly stereotyped image of a loner/paedophile, his creepiness really is a winner. Some of the involuntary noises his character makes when interacting with Saoirse’s Susie Salmon are truly disturbing.

As I said way back towards the start of this review, this film contains some of what I would say is Jackson’s best work. A scene where Susie’s little sister Lindsey breaks into Harvey’s house, only for him to return home, is comparable to Hitchcock’s absolute mastery of suspense. The tension is tangible and excruciating, and the thrill of the ensuing chase is joyous. Equally, a scene immediately following Susie’s murder is one of the more horrific things youa re likely to see in a 12A movie. She enters a bathroom that is caked in blood and dirt, with a faceless body in the bathtub. There is little to say that won’t ruin the scene, but it evokes the same feelings as the Pale Man scene in Del Toro’s
Pan’s Labyrinth.

For all this eulogising, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a flawless movie. Rest assured, it is not. There is one moment that feels so out of place it could be easily mistaken for a different film. A montage of Susan Sarandon, playing Susie’s grandmother, struggling to get to grips with household chores, accompained by some fairly jaunty music is horrifically out of place in what is otherwise a sombre, serious film. If Jackson was aiming at some sort of tension relief or artful juxtaposition, he really missed the mark here.

The Lovely Bones is a very praiseworthy movie. It is no more than entertainment, but it is told so well that it needn’t be more than this. As long as Peter Jackson keeps making films, I will keep going to see them, because in the simplest terms, he is yet to make a bad one. Rest assured that this film could really be anybody’s cup of tea, and I would recommend to not judge it based on the trailer or the basic concept of it, as it is much more than either of them would suggest. Highly recommended.


Saturday, 20 February 2010

The Wolfman

The Wolfman is an update of 1941’s The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney. This version stars Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving, and is directed by Joe Johnston, best known for the classics Jurassic Park III, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji, as well as being in line to direct the 2011 Captain America movie.

The story is a fairly basic plot of Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) returning to England as an actor, only to be informed of his brother’s horrific murder. He travels to his hometown of Blackmoor to meet Gwen Conliffe (Blunt), his would-be sister-in-law, and hid father, Sir John Talbot (Hopkins) in an effort to solve the murder.

He quickly finds out that some kind of man-beast was involved, and is subsequently attacked by said man-beast. As is obvious based on the folklore of lycanthropy, he inevitably becomes the titular Wolfman. This really isn’t a spoiler – it happens half an hour into the movie, and is also the title of the movie.

Of course he eventually murders some poor folk, and is carted off to an asylum in London where he is poked and prodded by an apparently German doctor who concludes that he definitely isn’t a werewolf. He presents his case to a room of lesser doctors, while Talbot transforms into the Wolfman behind him. Thus follows what I call An American Werewolf in Latter-19th Century London – a ten minute segment where the final werewolf spree of John Landis’ classic is copied almost entirely, while a bearded Agent Smith tries to shoot him off the rooftops.

This particular pastiche could be seen as one of two things. Either you enjoy the referencing of a revered movie, or it doesn’t seem to be a pastiche, but more of a rip-off. Although it wasn’t intended, or at least I certianly hope it wasn’t, there is another such moment where two werewolves have a fight that looks a lot like some of the scenes from last year’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The final nail in the coffin of “seeing-things-we’ve-seen-before-that-didn’t-need-to-be-seen-in-this-particular-movie” is a horrific final 20 seconds before the closing credits; a horribly clichéd moment where the revelation of a certain character’s lycanthropic future is revealed is cringe-inducingly bad, and threatened to ruin the preceding 100 minutes.

The film in itself isn’t all bad however, but something about it just doesn’t work. There is apparently no wish on the part of Johnston or writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self to give the film any sense of genre. Seeing the name Andrew Kevin Walker on the opening credits did inspire hope, but looking back at Self’s credits of The Haunting and Thirteen Days it seems that the respective talents of the two may have cancelled each other out. As I said, the film doesn’t fit any genre, and while this might not be necessary for every film it really should be necessary in a film called The Wolfman. Where it should be straightforward horror, this takes up a position of halfway house somewhere between horror, period piece, drama and half-hearted love story, and suffers for it.

Horror movies aren’t exactly in vogue right now, at least not the kind of horror movie that I hoped this would be, but that should be no reason for bypassing the true nature of what this movie should have been. A slasher version of The Wolf Man would have been preferable to this, as would a comic-booky, outlandish, olde-worlde Legend of Sleepy Hollow style thriller, but going for this style just didn’t work.

It’s a shame because this was a massively anticipated movie and had great potential, especially with the somewhat wolfish Benicio Del Toro in the lead. Joined by Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving, the cast was looking good, but Anthony Hopkins’ insistence on royally hamming it up in every scene possibly did some considerable damage to the film.

I’m rambling so I will conclude with this: The Wolfman is a decent movie, but it isn’t a horror movie. In fact, it isn’t any kind of movie apart from, as I said, a decent one. Del Toro is, as ever, fantastic and has done nothing here to harm his reputation. Don’t go in expecting a masterpiece and you’ll be satisfied, but if you expect scary, suspenseful or anything superb (excuse the poor third adjective, but I was going for alliteration) you will be entirely let down. Have fun with it.


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Oscar Nominations: Bigelow vs Cameron

I was going to go through the ten Oscar Best Picture nominations, or rather the five that I have seen, but it seemed a bit dry. Instead, I will talk about the two big ones - Best Director and Best Picture - and the other two big ones - Kathryn Bigelow and Jim Cameron.

The films are, of course, The Hurt Locker and Avatar. There isn't a lot to say about Avatar that hasn't been said before - it's the biggest grossing film of all time, it's epic on a scale that is fairly rare these days, and it is terrifically dull.

On the other hand, The Hurt Locker is tense, compact, and did relatively little business. Kathryn Bigelow, who is most known for the offbeat vampire flick Near Dark, and the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze surfing thriller Point Break. The Hurt Locker compares well to Point Break in terms of the extreme levels of testosterone that it not only has, but also observes.

It is also superior to Avatar, unquestionably. Like I said, the pure tension in the film makes it a truly gripping encounter, and one that can't be forgotten. Avatar, on the other hand, looks very nice, but doesn't do a lot for the 148 mins that you are expected to sit still and enjoy it.

As for the direction involved in the two, I'd say they are fairly equal. Bigelow did an outstanding job of creating tension in something we had already seen, but Cameron's achievement was to create a whole new world. So maybe he did a better job, but he certainly didn't make a better film.

To be honest though, this whole ramble is entirely redundant; it is a foregone conclusion that Avatar will run away with the Best Picture award, and probably Best Director too. It is a sad state of affairs when films like Rachel Getting Married don't even get a look in at the Academy Awards, but that is the world we live in. Maybe all will be different when we take over Pandora.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Review of My 2009

So 2009 has finished, and I am going to do a quick Academy-esque awards review of the year. Please note that I haven't seen everything that came out this year, so cut me some slack. I've watched 42 films that were released in 2009, which I was quite pleased with, but only one was in a foreign language, so there will be no foreign language category.

So here we go:

Best Screenplay: I'm going to give this to Sam Mendes' Away We Go, written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. I really enjoyed the dialogue in this. It managed to be funny and sweet, which is a combination I usually go for. And the opening dialogue was about the taste of vaginal juices.

Best Soundtrack/Score: I don't even need to think about this. It goes to Watchmen, for the score. Songs by Bob Dylan, Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel and Nena were enough to make this my favourite soundtrack of the year by a mile.

Best On-Screen Chemistry: Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson as Oskar and Eli in Let The Right One In. A beautiful film, and the relationship was played perfectly. The fact that the two actors are 14 is just incredible, they played it way beyond their years.

Best Villain: This goes to Eric Bana's Nero in Star Trek. I'd watch Bana in anything, and this was no exception. A performance so good that I forgot it was him.

Best Horror: Drag Me To Hell. Although it is arguably not really a horror, it is head and shoulders above anything else claiming to be horror from last year. And that includes Paranormal Activity. Funny, jumpy in places, and has a talking goat. Blood brilliant.

Best Sci-Fi: This is going to Duncan Jones' Moon. Just gave something different to the genre, and it really worked. Almost perfect.

Best Comedy: (500) Days of Summer. Like Away We Go, this film was so sweet it almost hurt. It isn't a laugh out loud comedy, not for the majority anyway, but the Han Solo moment is worthy of even the greatest comedies.

Best Supporting Actress: I'll give this to Ahney Her, who played Sue in Gran Torino. I thought she was fantastic in this, and really made the film for me. A perfect contrast to Clint, and yeah, just good.

Best Supporting Actor: Justin Long. No question, he really made Drag Me To Hell what it was for me. I love this guy, and he really pulled it out of the bag on this one.

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married. One of my favourite films of the year, and it was all down to this lady. A really fantastic performance in a really fantastic film.

Best Actor: I know he was just being Clint, but Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino was my favourite performance of the year. Just brilliant. Clint is the man.

Best Director: I say Zack Snyder for Watchmen. I know a lot of people didn't like it, but I thought it was great, and the direction was superb.

Best Film: I think Let The Right One In just edges it over Rachel Getting Married here. A really incredible film. Loved it from start to finish, and I can't wait to see it again.

And, just to end on a downer:

Worst Film: The Uninvited. Plain fucking awful.

There are a few films I really liked that haven't had a mention on here, so some special mentions go to the following:

The Wrestler - Mickey Rourke was second in line to the best actor throne.
A Perfect Getaway - Really surprised me with how bad it wasn't.
Inglourious Basterds - He shot Hitler in the face.
Milk - Entertaining, moving and true. What more could you ask?
District 9 - Entertaining, but I was still let down.
Monsters vs Aliens - The best non-Disney/Pixar animated film I've ever seen.
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist - Funny and sweet.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Sorry? Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and Penelope Cruz in the same film? Yes please.

And some crappy, crappy films:

My Bloody Valentine - Just cheap, and we've seen it all before.
The International - Made literally no sense.
Bruno - Offensive and unfunny.
Saw VI - Horrible. I felt repulsed.
The Boat That Rocked - Too boring for words.
Observe and Report - Again, borderline offensive and not particularly funny.
Paranormal Activity - A horror film that forgot to be scary.
2012 - Just shit. Long, dull, bad acting, bad effects...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Films I like

I've decided that I like happy films. Just thinking of films we have watched in lectures recently:

Blow-Up: I hated this. It wasn't necessarily unhappy, but it was quite glum. And very "take me seriously, for I am a film".

Veronica Guerin: She dies. Enough said. Miserable. And boring.

The Third Man: Funny and clever. Not a happy ending, but bouncy enough to enjoy.

To Die For: Again, not a happy ending, but a sunshiney film.

The Devil Wears Prada: What's not to like? Funny AND a happy ending.

I do not like miserable, dour films. Even if it is very offbeat comedy that is really just poking fun at how crap life is, that's good enough for me.

So, no more Haneke for me. I will be filling my life with the remaining Disney films I have yet to see. Not quite, but I feel like I would be a much happier person if I didn't immerse myself in desperately miserable, serious films.

I was going to watch Grave of the Fireflies, but I don't want to cry for the next two hours, I want to enjoy something. That is what films should do. Fuck misery, bring on the smiles!