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  • 05/15/12--13:39: "Avengers Assemble" Review

  • Avengers Assemble (2012)

    Spoiler-free review, as always.
    (Though there may be some mild spoilers for Lord Of The Rings.)

    I must admit that I was initially rather sceptical about this one. How hyped people were for this film must have some relation to how familiar they are with the comics and how much they enjoyed the past five Marvel Studios movies. For me that comes to "not at all" and "middling to good levels of enjoyment", so I wasn't exactly buzzing with excitement. When everyone else started raving about it though, you can be damn sure I was keen to see what I was missing.

    I'm much more familiar with the comics for "Spider-Man" (who looks like he might finally get a movie suitable to my era of the comics). Also, while I've not read much in the way of Batman comics, I've grown up with the Burton and Schumacher's movies and Christopher Nolan's take on Batman has generally seemed the nearest to taking on what I view as the greatest superhero movie of all time: "Superman - The Movie" (1978).

    It seems like I must be one of the few people for whom Avengers was the least exciting prospect out of the three big superhero movies being released this year. I'm not familiar with the comics and the movies have sometimes been under-par. The Incredible Hulk mainly bored me, with Liv Tyler's performance being characteristically bland. Edward Norton's performance seemed quite impressive, but whenever he turned into the Hulk I found I lost interest. After hearing some pretty lacklustre reports on "Iron Man 2" I found it remarkably entertaining on DVD. In the cinema I found Thor to also be a pretty entertaining film, but once again it was just light entertainment and "Thor" seemed undermined by the release of Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class". I intended to see "Captain America" in the cinema, but when I tried they were only showing it in 3D. I'm glad I waited til DVD because I found it be a big disappointment.

    Thankfully it seems that, of all the five preceding movies, you don't really need to see the Captain America one. His backstory is fairly thoroughly recapped through flashbacks. On the other hand, without the Thor movie you are probably going to be a bit lost. I was VERY surprised how true this movie was to the Incredible Hulk movie, even filling us in on a scene that was cut from that film (which you can see here). In spite of the change in actor and the poor reception of the Incredible Hulk movie, this doesn't appear to be a complete ret-con.

    The opening of "Avengers Assemble" (that's the UK title of the Avengers movie. That's the title I had thrown at me when I watched the film, so you must suffer the ridiculousness of it too) is rather cool with some strange aliens making their evil designs on planet Earth known before the film cuts to some more familiar characters. Sadly after that the opening begins to feel a bit rushed. Having a scene at the beginning which is best described as "all hell breaks loose" isn't the best way to start a film. Also, I'm still not entirely convinced that Samuel L. Jackson really feels at home in these films, with this opening scene being the first time when he's really had anything to do. I found myself feeling Whedon (as both director AND writer) would have better off leaving this scene to the now beloved Agent Coulson. (The only films he hasn't been in are Incredible Hulk and Captain America, my two least favourites. Coincidence? I think not!)

    After the initial scene though we are gradually re-introduced to our superheroes from the previous films. Iron Man seems to be written specifically so that he doesn't end up hogging the screen, but Thor is absolutely fantastic and becomes my favourite element of the film. While all the characters are from such diverse backgrounds, no one is more out of place than Thor. This makes it absolutely perfect that it is his brother who is causing all the trouble, making him not only an outsider but an indispensable part of the team. The way Whedon plays with the connections and conflicts between the characters is part of what makes the film so much fun.

    My other favourite however, was Black Widow. Now this shouldn't be too much of a surprise seeing as I reckoned that Black Widow's fight scene in Iron Man 2 had been possibly the most exciting action scene from the Marvel Studio movies so far, outdoing anything from "Thor" or "Captain America". However, Whedon manages to use very little time to build up a very intriguing background for her character. This is particularly impressive considering that this film centres around four different well established superhero protagonists while she previous had very little revealed to her in a movie about just one. Still, to give credit to the creators of Iron Man 2, she was intentionally left enigmatic in that film. Now that the gaps have been somewhat filled however, we can tell that she's not only a kick ass hero in her own right but also a pretty complex character which I, for one, am pretty eager to see explored in her own specific movie now.

    All the best heroines are ginger. Clearly. :)

    Perhaps what makes this movie great, however, is Loki. Thinking about this, I think "Avengers Assemble" actually outdoes Lord Of The Rings here. Now I definitely need to qualify this. I think the "Lord of the Rings" movies were overrated, but that's not the point. The point is that the character of Saruman in the books has a quality not unlike the main power of Loki in "Avengers Assemble". Saruman's power lies in his manipulation of words. That is why Wormtongue turns out to be his sidekick. Even when Saruman finds himself trapped in the tower with his armies defeated, he is still undefeated because with the right choice of words he can still turn his aggressors into followers. It takes Gandalf winning a war of words with Saruman for his defeat to be complete. This was clearly seen as too ambitious for the movie so that aspect was left out.

    Here in "Avengers Assemble" Loki's schemes no longer feel back-to-front and convoluted like they did in "Thor". Instead every single thing Loki says is manipulative and calculated and there's a sense that at any point Loki is always directing the flow of emotions or events, even when (or perhaps especially when) another character begins the conversation believing that they have the upper hand. Loki in "Avengers Assemble" uses language in the way that apparently Saruman in the "Lord Of The Rings" movies could not. That should be a real source of pride for this film.

    Loki is also responsible for a term of abuse that puts the movie's age rating somewhat into question. It's in somewhat archaic language but with the two Asgardian brothers speaking in semi-Shakespearean language anyway, it didn't fail to shock me. On the one hand it was good to see that the bad guy could genuinely repulse me in a way that superhero bad guys rarely do, but on the other hand this level of bad language from Loki made all the more obvious the lack of any bad language from the central band of misfits. Sam L. Jackson as Nick Fury in particular feels like he should occasionally refer to something with the word motherf---er.

    While the character interactions were fantastic, I don't think the overall plot was particularly stellar. This is a fantastic piece of silly fun and it's finally returned us to the quality level of "Iron Man" only this time with a much bigger budget and some absolutely breathtaking CGI (including by far the best CG-animation for the Hulk). However, I still don't think this is on the same level of Nolan's Batman films and, I must admit, out of the two recent Whedon writing credits, I definitely preferred "Cabin In The Woods". Still this was a fantastic bit of silly fun escapism and it had all the elements to be fully enjoyable film. The different elements of the film tied together well, the characters were well-defined, the action always made clear what was at stake and kept me invested and I was certainly never bored.

    Is this the best superhero movie so far? Frankly... no. That honour still belongs to "Superman - The Movie". Is this better than the Nolan Batman films? Once again, I don't think so. (That said, I wonder whether a more memorable theme helps those films feel weightier for me. While I didn't think of it at the cinema, a number of critics have noted not being impressed by the theme music for "Avengers Assemble" and I have to say that it did give the film a bit of a generic-superhero-movie feel.) But outside of those? Yeah, I think this is probably the next best superhero movie after those. And that's no small feat. :)


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    We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011)

    Mark Kermode's top film of last year stars Tilda Swinton as the mother of a child who seem to have a grudge against her from the moment he is born. This is adapted from a novel (by Lionel Shriver), but I have absolutely no idea how this story would work within a book. Unlike most adaptations, there's something especially visual and tonal about the film. While there's clearly a plot line running through the film and we've seen films which use mixed-up timelines and flashbacks before, the whole film is quite disorientating in the way it skips from past to present with occasional glimpses of events in between.

    While not actually a horror film per se, "We Need To Talk About Kevin", but the film consistently evokes the same creepy atmosphere as you'd expect to find in classic horror titles like "Ringu" or John Carpenter's "The Thing" (and it's certainly a damn sight creepier than "Wes Craven's New Nightmare"). It's quite interesting to compare how relatively upbeat "Contagion", a film about a deadly viral outbreak threatening society as we know it, was by comparison. We get a clear sense in this film that children are terrifying, that the central figure of 'Kevin' is a monster, and that Tilda Swinton seems to be the only one sensible enough to recognise that her son is psychopathic and, quite possibly, the devil. (Okay maybe we don't go quite that far. If Kevin was the devil, that might indicate the possible existence of a God. As it is, Tilda Swinton's being cursed with the role as Kevin's mother indicates the distinct opposite of a benign power overseeing the universe.)

    The film contains so many wonderfully horrible images and ideas that listing them would only serve to spoil surprises. To just pick one image which I felt stood out. Tilda Swinton is pushing a pram around everywhere and we keep hearing the same noise of the baby crying wherever she goes. She simply cannot work out how to stop the baby crying, but eventually we see her with a kind of blissful look on her face because she has stopped right next to a loud building site where the pneumatic drill is in use. Everyone is looking at her incredulous, but what only she (and the audience of course) knows is that this is the first time all day that she's been able to block out the noise of her baby's constant repetitive unwavering whine. Anyone familiar with Peter Jackson's "Braindead" (or "Dead Alive" in the States) may find the scene with the baby in the pram in that an interesting comparison. There's a mixture of horror and humour, but the humour in WNTTAK is all the darker for the realism of the scenario.

    While there are humourous elements in this film they are VERY dark. It's not like a Coen Brothers film where you can just get on the right wavelength and you can laugh all the way through. Not on first watch at least and I think you'd have to be pretty heartless to manage it. This is more on the wavelength of Darren Aronofky's misery-fests like "Black Swan" or "Requiem For A Dream". You are basically watching the slow destruction of a woman (mentally) at the hand of her own child. Also there's a sort of Cassandra complex about it all. She knows that Kevin is unstable and dangerous, like a ticking time bomb, but no one believes her and so she's unable to stop the oncoming tragedy. It's made fairly clear early on in the film that something terrible has happened and it was most likely to do with Kevin, but it takes quite a while before we find out what that event was since most scenes take place in the past.

    The acting is great. In spite of the weird twisty timeline, the plot is great (and thankfully it all comes together properly by the end), the imagery and visual style is incredible. So why am I not giving this an "A+"? Well, as always my scores are based on my enjoyment. This film was relentlessly miserable (and this is coming from a BIG FAN of Aronofsky's work) and while that might be seen as a good thing, I can't pretend that it helped my enjoyment. Y'know how Rhoda marks a few things down if they are gory in a particularly nasty way, well this is the mental equivalent. They didn't need any gore (or, to go back to the Requiem For A Dream example, arms being surgically removed or people conscious during electric shock treatment) to make this horrible to watch. Still, unlike with "The Loved Ones" (which was a pretty good film from what I saw, but now sets my current standard for what counts as "torture porn" - having seen "Saw" but not seen "Hostel") I was able to reach the end comfortably. And I don't want to oversell the misery, since if it was a completely unbearable experience I wouldn't even be giving it this marginally lower score. This was a near-miss from the top score and the ONLY thing wrong with it is the relentless abject misery aspect.

    This is a fantastic film and in regards to its one weakness - you have been warned.


    Retreat (2011)

    What a cast eh? There's Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell and um... Thandie Newton. I actually remember quite fancying Thandie Newton in MI:2, but mainly because I thought she had a pretty face. If anything she's lost weight since then so she's looking rather gaunt. Naturally we shouldn't judge actresses by their weight, but that upsets me anyway. In any case, all three of these actors are clearly excellent and so this really ought to be a fantastic film as a result. Sadly, it isn't. The set-up at the beginning feels awkward, the pacing in the middle is slow, the behaviour of the characters (not just Jamie Bell's mysterious figure but the other two as well) is often confusing, the ending ends up looking like a silly cop-out, and I'm not convinced that the director is getting the best out of any of these performers. Yes, they are all brilliant, but I couldn't help but feel that the performances were in spite of rather than encouraged by the director.

    The premise comes off as silly, but the filmmakers clearly expect us to take everything very seriously. As a result it's all a little overly miserable and a rather exasperating experience. Strangely this feels like the sort of film that Danny Boyle might have done a good job with, but debut director Carl Tibbets clearly isn't up to the task. It's a bunch of characters who are clearly supposed to be flawed, but the way the film has been done none of them seem terribly interesting. While it's hard to imagine a version of "Trainspotting" where absolutely none of the characters are interesting, I've no doubt someone out there could manage it. And something like that appears to be happening here. I'm clearly supposed to be deeply concerned about the character interactions, but I just don't care, not least because no one's actions ever seem to make much sense.

    The story is that a couple are going to an old remote holiday spot in order to rebuild their relationship. Something bad happened between them and things are a bit tense. With the weather looking grim, the boiler messing up and a clear sense that the remoteness is actually a bit annoying, they both come to doubt whether they should really have planned this getaway in the first place. Then suddenly a mysterious figure arrives. The couple find him unconscious and bring him inside and it's then that they realise that he has a gun. And that's only the beginning.

    The lack of a connection I felt with the characters became particularly problematic when big revelations are made towards the end. This should be the point where all the gaps are filled, but instead it just made me feel like I was entering a new movie. Since I never felt any connection with the characters they were unable to lead me into the new state of affairs. Rather I just lost all interest. That being said, the final revelations are so ludicrous that I doubt that better development of the characters earlier on would have made much difference.

    Jamie Bell is terrifying, Cillian Murphy is cowardly in a fairly understandable and typical way and Thandie Newton is a strong woman who braves everything she faces and becomes slowly unsure which of the men she really should hate more. Unfortunately, the film these excellent actors are starring in is slow and plodding and has a stupid ending which ruins what little character development the actors are able to achieve with their fairly limited script.


    cross posted to Halloween Candy

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  • 06/01/12--10:00: Movie Posters

  • There's been a lot of Dark Knight Rises posters now, but that's the first one that's made me go "wow" since the first one they released.

    This on the other hand is a poster for "Iron Sky" which is finally out after all this time! Bizarrely they decided to show it one Wednesday and that was it, so I didn't get to see it in the cinemas. However, it's already available to rent so hopefully I'll see it soon enough.

    On the other hand here's one I'm definitely not recommending....

    This poster for "Chernobyl Diaries" isn't bad, but I'm pretty non-plussed (albeit kinda insulted) by the concept.

    - A group of people decide to go on a guided tour of an irradiated wasteland.
    - Um... what?
    - Then they get attacked by the inhabitants? Who want to... what... eat them?
    - Yeah because we can easily imagine Russians becoming immune to radiation and then surviving by cannibalism. What the hell?!?! *crosses arms and growls*

    Y'know there are some radio/tv channels who are apparently STILL worried that mentioning the potato famine might offend the Irish. How much more offensive is it to start insinuating that survivors of Chernobyl have become radiation-ravaged zombies/cannibals/ghosts/whatever? Ugh!

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    (video link)

    It's mainly the idea of Bowser being in a movie that sold me on this. Doesn't look like he does much, but I don't care. :)

    Wreck-it Ralph at a "videogame badguys anonymous meeting"...

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  • 06/08/12--18:04: Prometheus Review

  • Prometheus (2012)

    I was particularly worried going into this one. I've always been a big fan of the Alien movies. There are a few peculiarities with liking a movie series. Any movie series. First of all, I like some better than others. Just because I'm a fan doesn't mean I'm going to rave about every single entry. (So far, so obvious.) Secondly, there are some that I enjoy, but don't actually think are "good" movies. Or to put it another way, I like the films in different ways. Lastly, my tastes regarding these films don't exactly align with popular opinion (what with popular opinion seemingly being "watch the first two and then give up in despair).

    This last point is quite important, because I actually enjoyed the original "Alien" the least out of the main four films. (Any films involving Predators are an entirely different kettle of fish, naturally.) In fact, I've been rather disappointed by Ridley Scott an awful lot. I've been persuaded to see an awful lot of films by the guy that were rather less than satisfying (Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Hannibal, Legend)  and heard bad things about a number of others (Body of Lies, Robin Hood, GI Jane). However, a recent list of his best films on Rotten Tomatoes reminded me of a few I'd forgotten. I really enjoyed "American Gangster", "Thelma and Louise" and I even quite enjoyed "Black Hawk Down". "Alien" is a little slow-paced for me, even in the director's cut, but I quite like it all the same and "Blade Runner" is greatly improved in the 'Final Cut' version, though the best part of that by far is still Rutger Hauer (including the famous lines towards the end that Hauer wrote himself).

    The final worrying matter was the Rotten Tomatoes score. It wasn't bad, standing at 73% as I went to the cinema. However, I've always tried to aim for higher than 75% for cinema visits because that is what "Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" was on once the air had cooled and it was already released on DVD. Reviews seemed to consistently say "oh this could never meet the hype", so I went into this fully expecting my more typical annoyance with Ridley Scott's style yet still hoping for something more worthy of a cinema outing.

    As per usual the actual review will be spoiler-free. I will give my frank opinion. Read on to see what I thought...

    Now "Alien" involved a problem that I think is also present in Gladiator and Hannibal. Ridley Scott likes to spend a lot of time on atmosphere and can end up spending so much time 'building up' the scene and trying to make us marvel at beautiful backdrops that by the time anything actually happens, I've pretty much lost interest. Prometheus starts up with some spectacular scenery and I decided not to let my concerns get in the way. I was absolutely astounded by the scenes we are shown and then finally we are introduced to a strange figure by a waterfall. The shots of the scenery haven't been too lingering and we move into the initial events of the movie in good time.

    I had become somewhat worried that going back to the Alien franchise would also signal a return to the same ultra-slow pacing, but I suppose the most recent director's cuts of Alien and Blade Runner have already shown that Ridley Scott understands that those films are better off with faster pacing and has clearly progressed on that front. The pacing is set to a good speed throughout the film.

    I suppose in relation to this issue I also ought to address the fear factor. Now perhaps if you saw "Alien" before "Aliens", the concern about what is going to happen next would have been more fear-inducing. Perhaps it's because I basically knew what was coming that I found the early scenes of "Alien" rather dull. In Prometheus I really got a much better sense of the impending dread that builds throughout the film. I don't know that it's so much 'oppressive' since we know this is still the Alien universe and we have some idea what that entails, but even so there's still a great deal of uncertainty. The tension isn't so much on the surface, but rather in the background like the tick of a clock. I think a lot of people criticising this for not being terrifying like "Alien" are possibly misremembering the character of "Alien" or may be made of rather stronger stuff than I. Personally, I felt the whole of "Prometheus" to be deeply unsettling. Most of all when there was no clear threat and simply the surroundings in general seem to be both a source of fascination and utter terror.

    Speaking of deeply unsettling, a great deal has been mentioned of Michael Fassbender's performance. His android character, named "David", has a great deal of ambiguity to him. Unlike in "Alien" (or even "Aliens") where the robot character is just one of many, here within what must be the first fifteen minutes of the film we spend a fair amount of time being introduced to David. My gf made a comparison with Wall-E's lonely wandering and thinking about it, I can see the comparison. Some simple scenes which show rather than telling, give us an emotional connection with Fassbender's character. During this time it turns out that the robot is actually quite keen on "Lawrence of Arabia", fashioning his haircut after that of Peter O'Toole. That Fassbender's performance often seems to be imitating Peter O'Toole sounds sweet, but it just becomes another odd and creepy element in the character's general ambiguity. Still, it's clear from the beginning and made very explicit throughout the film that the action very much revolves around Fassbender's "David".

    I already knew that a number of other great actors would be in this film, but I didn't realise quite how many people I would recognise. Noomi Rapace acts alongside Logan Marshall-Green as the two scientists who make the decision to make the trip into space. I haven't seen Rapace's performance as Lisbeth Salander from the Millenium Trilogy and this was my first introduction to her. She's pretty good. Marshall-Green doesn't appear to have been in anything terribly impressive before though.

    Representing the company is Charlize Theron who plays a similar ice queen figure to what promotional material would have me believe she plays in "Snow White and the Huntsman". That said, Guy Pearce hasn't been in promotional material for Prometheus for nothing. He appears to the crew of the "Prometheus" in a hologram. I was a little concerned when we saw him that the effects were off. His aging make-up struck me as rather too overdone to be taken seriously. What I didn't consider initially was that this is a future where life-prolonging technology is much more advanced. Guy Pearce's character looks ridiculously old because he IS ridiculously old.

    Still, the reason this seeming flaw stood out for me so much is because all the other effects were so incredible. On the one hand, the ship looks absolutely gorgeous. The ship in "Alien" is a well-used bucket of bolts, but the Prometheus is a brand-spanking-new stunning top-of-the-range craft. That said, the eating area looked similar to what we see in "Alien".

    An interesting addition to the alien effects from the (now expected) Giger inspirations, was the effects used on the weird alien liquid. The effects involve an attention to detail that simply wasn't previously possible.

    Other actors include Idris Elba (most well-known as Stringer Bell from the tv series "The Wire", but also more recently as the badass black Norse God in "Thor"). Rather more of a surprise was the inclusion of Rafe Spall who has had small parts in "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz", but was more recently able to show his talents in the disappointing tv series "The Shadow Line"). Another surprise was Benedict Wong who I first saw in the excellent "State of Play" tv mini-series, but have seen more recently in a very minor role in Duncan Jones' "Moon" and being very entertaining as the representative of 'the Countdown club' in the comedy series "The IT Crowd". He's never really had an opportunity to properly show off his acting in a film role yet (to my knowledge), but I just really enjoy seeing him in stuff.

    A rather more surprising pleasure was the performance of Sean Harris. Turns out he was the eponymous villain in Christopher Smith's "Creep", but he was also the manager in "Brothers Of The Head". Here he sports a rather cool futuristic hairstyle/tattoo combination and has some pretty cool lines. I look forward to seeing him in more films in the future.

    So far I've pretty much missed out the main plot and I really don't want to give away too much. However, the (very) basic premise is that two scientists have been discovering clues that aliens have been making contact with a number of different ancient civilisations and revealing the location of a particular solar system. There's no lack of people who think the whole idea sounds nuts, not least since the scientists seem to have leapt to some pretty extreme conclusions from the limited evidence they've amassed so far.

    In any case, the Prometheus travels to a moon where they expect to find an alien race which has some kind of ancient connection with humanity. An important point which could easily be missed is that the moon they intend to visit is not the same one as discovered in "Alien". While the moon's name is very similar, starting with the letters LV followed by a three-digit number, the numbers are different. I felt this was handy to know, since otherwise I would have found yourself constantly trying to fit this story with the Alien storyline and that would have been very frustrating.

    With the aforementioned cast, great acting shouldn't be much of a surprise. Performances are brilliant and the characters interact with one another in very interesting ways. Charlize Theron in particular finally seems to be given the chance to show the depth of her skills without having to wear uglifying (is that a word?) prosthetics on her face limiting her expression.

    I didn't feel like the film was trying to outdo the design of the iconic Alien, but instead it outdoes the original movie with its smaller touches. The effects are absolutely beautiful, yet even as you watch them there's an inner voice screaming for the characters to run out of there as fast as they can. Much can be seen that is awe-inspiring, yet there's very little you can watch without feeling that something behind it must be very very wrong. (And that arguably even includes some parts of the ship during the initial journey.)

    One part of the original "Alien" which I think has held up better than most is the initial encounter with the egg, where a light glows inside it. It's that kind of effect which has been pushed further in "Prometheus". That whole aspect of the alien world that is not yet actively hostile, but is clearly not going to lead to anything good, has been greatly developed. While when James Cameron's "Avatar" was released many people were raving about how the filmmakers managed to create a whole new world, I found the ins and outs of the technology and culture being explored in Prometheus felt a great deal more interesting to watch.

    Some reviewers seem to make a comparison with "2001: A Space Odessey". Now personally I don't like "2001", so perhaps I'm missing important elements here, but this is how I see it. "2001" was very pretty and to that extent it is similar to Prometheus. "2001" also has a section which explores a creepy AI figure. However, the difference is that "Prometheus" actually has a storyline. The beautiful effects are actually being put towards some kind of narrative. Oddly there has been some criticism of the narrative of Prometheus, but in spite of expecting a film with more spectacle than story I found myself very satisfied with the narrative structure.

    One part my gf and I both seemed a little concerned about was the sudden revelation by one character that she can't have children. A reference to childbirth in a film within the "Alien" universe has some fairly obvious connotations, but my bigger issue was that I felt that this aspect was unnecessarily forced into the conversation. I actually felt it was fairly atypical for conversations to feel forced in this film though.

    Another thing many seemed to complain about (which would certainly be an inconsistent complaint if you want to sing "2001"'s praises) is that the movie raises questions but doesn't really answer any. To be quite frank, I liked that it didn't answer questions. I didn't want questions answered. With all the talk (ALREADY!) about a Prometheus sequel, I'm actually a little conflicted. On the one hand, I really enjoyed this film and I'd be quite happy for more. On the other hand, this worked pretty well on its own and I'm not sure I want the questions given definite answers. Right now, the floor is open for speculation and all sorts of things are possible. Do I really want to risk them spoiling that?

    All in all, I preferred this to the original "Alien" and heck, even if the next (now seemingly inevitable) sequels are less impressive, this could be the beginning of a pretty exciting new franchise to follow all the same. It certainly feels like a much better use of Ridley Scott's talents than some of the dreck in recent years. Still, even if Prometheus turns out to be best viewed as a film on its own, that'll suit me just fine.


    When you've seen this, are confused by the questions raised and want some interesting potential answers (i.e. essentially when you fancy some more spoilerific discussion), I highly recommend you check out Cavalorn's entry about this. (Once again I must warn you, spoilers!)

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  • 06/16/12--05:33: Well that's made my day....

  • Yes, that IS Karl Marx on a credit card. Lulz!

    (News Article)
    (Via Verbophage)

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    Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

    I was really not sold on this. I'd seen the first "Mission Impossible" movie when I was younger. I don't know if I saw it in the cinema or not, but it was pretty forgettable. The only thing I really remember about it was the extra-fast French TGV trains going through the channel tunnel which never happened back then and still doesn't now. I suppose this was a sci-fi element, but in general I don't remember the first film seeming terribly futuristic. The second Mission Impossible film definitely had James Bond-esque sci-fi in the form of neat little gadgets, but some of the stuff involving masks just got ridiculous (though naturally that's before we mention the bizarre motorcycle fight).

    By the time it reached the third film I really wasn't interested. I probably wouldn't have realised it was showing if I hadn't been irritated by a bunch of young teenagers loudly chatting while I tried to watch "Ice Age 2" at the cinema. When the showing of "Mission Impossible III" started in a different screen they went to switch screens (because it's too high a certificate for them to just simply buy a ticket for) and funnily enough one of them was trying to argue (unfortunately arguing from all the way across the aisles) that he'd rather stay and watch "Ice Age 2" instead. Eventually they all left and that was the end of that.

    Even when the trailer was released showcasing the dramatic stunts and effects, I still wasn't interested. Heck, "MI:2" hadn't been lacking in stunts or effects. It was lacking in plot and interesting character developement. There was also the presence of Simon Pegg, but Pegg doesn't guarantee that a movie will be good, even if he always gives a great performance. (Sadly his recent starring role in "A Fantastic Fear Of Everything" recently hasn't stopped a torrent of negative reviews for that film.)

    Having now seen the film, I must say that Simon Pegg is pretty good (as expected). The dialogue is actually a bit pants and the story is as meandering as ever. What really works, however, is the direction. There are great set pieces. "So what?" you might ask, after all MI:2 had John Woo providing great set pieces and little else, but the thing is that even the talky scenes feel like set pieces where everything fits together neatly and stylishly.

    The plot feels a bit by the numbers but the way everything unfolds is undoubtedly expert and there's a great sense of fun throughout. Still, there are particular action scenes which are quite remarkable not because of the level of firepower involved, but because of the way complex movements are portrayed clearly and simply. The most obvious example of this takes place in an automated parking lot with lots of moving parts, views from wing mirrors, long drops, etc. All the time, the camera gives us the best view of the action, seemingly swooping into the best spots as opposed to quick cutting like a Michael Bay film. However, the scene that really impressed was where we have a chase scene in the middle of a sandstorm. Surely we should be able to see nothing at all? Yet we see everything we need to see and it is absolutely gorgeous too.

    Another aspect which I thought was really good (which allows for the swooping cameras and clear portrayals of the action) was the CGI. At one point a building blows up that cannot possibly (trust me) have been blown up in real life. I felt it was absolutely convincing. First the apes in the opening scene of ROTPOTA and now this. More and more often I am finding that I cannot tell the difference between CGI and real life and though perhaps that has been a long time coming, we seem to be finally reaching that stage. CGI seems to be in a very exciting time right now and perhaps it's not surprising that it is an animation director like Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) exemplifying the potential useage in live action film like this.

    While I said earlier that the plot was a bit daft, I must say that most of the film was so much fun that I didn't care. Tom Cruise often bugs me and perhaps the only other film where I haven't minded him is "Minority Report". It's not always obvious why certain things are happening. The female member of the team is expected to seduce a rich Indian business tycoon in a building they are infiltrating at one point and it felt kind of unnecessary and a little forced. But in other cases the confusion is part of the fun, particularly when key gadgets start to go wrong at extremely important moments.

    I should probably mention the storyline though I could just as easily say "think of a James Bond movie, it's kind of like that". We start off with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) sitting in prison. The film doesn't stay there, in fact the setting varies dramatically over the course of the film. Nukes are involved. And Russians. And a terrorist group. Ooooh and disguises too! Well, that about explains all that. As for the title "Ghost Protocol"? That means that their actions aren't acknowledged by their organisation and they will be denounced as rogue agents if they are caught. Doesn't that happen in EVERY Mission Impossible film?

    For the most part I was really going along with this film and enjoying the hell out of it. I wonder whether my final score for this movie wouldn't be higher if it wasn't for one final scene at the end. The film was essentially over but there was one final sub-plot to resolve. The way it's resolved felt so easy and was so cheesily done that I wonder whether that was the ending the director originally intended. In the final scene Tom Cruise has become exceedingly smug in that obnoxious style of his that he'd somehow avoided earlier in the film.

    "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" is a rollercoaster ride of an action movie and has a fantastic sense of fun. The action is set up properly with some good humour and genuine chemistry between the characters. I'm not sure that the female member of the team is really ironed out as a character as well as she could be, but she certainly gets plenty to do. While everything is a bit silly, the direction is good enough not to give you time to worry about the flimsy-but-seviceable overall plotline, instead giving you rather more interesting character-driven set pieces to keep your mind occupied.

    If it weren't for the final cheesy scene at the end I might well think of this the same way as "Salt" (be sure that you are watching the director's cut of that one btw). I absolutely adored "Salt" because it didn't take itself seriously (as this doesn't), yet it still had me caring about the characters as it pulled me along. However, as with "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" and possibly even moreso, if "Salt" had ended with a smug scene with everyone patting themselves on the back, that would have ruined everything. Endings matter and "Ghost Protocol" severely messes that up. Still, it's not a complete disaster. In fact, the film as a whole is really good fun and more than worth your time.


    Another Earth (2011)

    I'd been looking forward to this one for a while, but there've been rather mixed reviews. Even those singing its praises are rather more keen on "Sound Of My Voice", which also stars Brit Marling (and which I'm quite looking forward to).

    The premise is quite simple, a young woman crashes into a car containing a family (this happens fairly early in the movie). She was even drunk driving at the time. She is incarcerated for her actions and comes out of prison feeling very withdrawn and borderline suicidal. Alongside all of this is the eponymous 'other Earth' which the protagonist first sees in the sky before her big crash.

    Over the course of the film, 'Earth 2' as it comes to be known, can be seen larger and larger. Some have even noted that it gets so big that it ought to be really screwing up our gravity and generally causing chaos. However, the film is not really about Earth2. It's mainly about the protagonist's search for redemption. The other Earth is explored mainly in terms of its philosophical significance and, as such, the film somewhat relies on only limited contact with Earth 2. Still Earth 2 is a very pretty background object which does a great job of giving weight to the central storyline.

    While Earth 2 looks pretty, the film itself is generally filmed in what can sometimes feel like a documentary style. In one scene in particular, I felt the camera was far too wobbly and it's only based on the rest of the film that I'm presuming that wobbliness was intentional rather than a sign of amateurishness. The poster is rather misleading in showing the beautiful shot with Marling looking glamorous in the foreground. In actual fact, there's a contrast in this film between the beautiful shots showing Earth 2 hanging in the sky and the more typical and grim experiences of our guilt-ridden protagonist who is anything but glamorous.

    The ending is very important and prior to seeing this I heard that the ending was "shocking". I didn't really find it shocking, but I DID find it to be an excellent use of ambiguity. On the IMDB boards different people seem to have different views on what the ending means and can sometimes be pretty insistent on their own interpretation. Personally I feel that's a good sign. This is a film that really makes you care and while the pacing isn't spectacularly fast, the characters keep you interested.

    I would discuss what I think is the most important of the philosophical questions raised, but I think that might lead to me telling people what to think. Needless to say, I think one of these philosophical questions is vitally important to the ending. A lot of the stuff we hear on the tv in the background of the movie about the philosophical implications of Earth 2 feels a bit overdone, but then again that's television for you. I felt very pleased with the way the central focus remained on the protagonist and her more down to earth concerns leaving Earth 2 as a mystery. If the film had spent a lot of time on the surface of Earth 2 I don't think it could really have lived up to the ponderings people had about it (and that may be part of the point). Needless to say, I'm not desperately seeking a sequel (and perhaps it's for similar reasons that I'm not desperately hoping for a sequel to Prometheus either).

    Also, this is another film where the Nintendo Wii makes an odd appearance. I felt this made it seem a lot more natural than in "Win Win" where it was shoved in almost like a set of commercial breaks. That said, if it really was product placement here, it doesn't seem anything like as trendy on this occasion.

    "Another Earth" was a great little philosophical sci-fi piece which felt remarkably grounded. I enjoyed it a great deal and would highly recommend it.


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    Religious leaders furious over Norway’s proposed circumcision ban

    by Barry Duke

    JENNY Klinge,  Norway’s Centre Party justice policy spokeswoman, has angered religious leaders by condemning the ritual circumcision of infant boys. Calling it “outdated” and “dangerous”, she called for its ban. She said:

    In my view, this is a custom that we cannot accept in a modern, civilized society. Our aim is to prioritise the rights of small children. Fortunately, it has become forbidden to circumcise girls, now it’s time for boys to get the same legal protection.

    Jenny Klinge says the ritual circumcision of infant boys is barbarous

    She stressed that boys who have been ritually circumcised can never remove what she called “a religious marker” if they choose to convert to another religion or have no religious beliefs.

    I’m not buying the argument that banning circumcision is a violation of religious freedom, because such freedom must involve being able to choose for themselves.

    But she stressed that she was not opposed to circumcision in cases where it was deemed a medical necessity.

    However, circumcision based on ritual and religion is actually about holding down a newborn baby boy and cutting off part of a healthy sexual organ, with all the consequences that this might have for an individual’s future health and sex life.

    With this in mind, performing a circumcision on religious grounds ought to be made a criminal offence, she added.

    Jan Helge Solbakk, a professor of medical ethics at Oslo University, agreed with Klinge’s criticism of the practice.

    It represents an irreversible operation on a boy who is not in a position to protect himself, and as such is in breach of basic human rights.

    Ervin Kohn, Chairman and Trustee of the Jewish community disagrees, saying a ban would serve as a very strong signal that the Jews are an unwanted minority in the country. He claims that 99 percent of all Jews in the world circumcise their male children.

    It is the visible covenant between Abraham and God. It goes directly on religious freedom and that Norway is a tolerant society.

    Kohn also points out that research has documented the health benefits of circumcision.

    Glen Poole, Strategic Director of The Men’s Network in Brighton & Hove, reports on his Ending Unnecessary Male Circumcision in the UK blog that the proposed ban had also been condemned by Espen Ottosen, Information Director of Misjonssambandet (Federation of Christian Missionaries), and a Muslim Norwegian physician, Mohammad Usman Rana, who voiced his opposition in a newspaper article entitled Circumcision: Those who will forbid circumcision of young boys in reality invite a totalitarian guardian-state.

    Poole points out that pro-circumcisionists claim:

    To circumcise boys is a minor operation. Internationally there is a plethora of medical studies which report few complications. We know that the procedure actually provides health benefits.  Urinary tract infections for example are far less common among circumcised boys.  The risk of HIV contamination is also reduced.

    Poole counters:

    We say all the reported health benefits have either been disproven, contradicted or considered too insignificant to justify the agreed risks and complications which include bleeding, infections, meatus stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and panic attacks. There isn’t a single medical association in the world that supports the procedure. 

    The British Medical Association, for example, stated in 2003 that ‘the medical benefits previously claimed have not been convincingly proven’ and ‘that the evidence concerning health benefits from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification for doing it.

    (Source: The Freethinker)

    Nothing much to add to this except that I find it amusing to see a religious objection that protecting young children from abuse is "totalitarian". 'My goodness, laws against the mutilation of young boy's genitals? Parts of young children cut off in the privacy of my own home should be of no consequence to the government. It's the nanny state I say!'

    Pretty much the only argument against this law is "what about freedom of religion?" and, to be frank, it's not looking like a strong case. You could make a similar argument for human sacrifice, though that has the added benefit that at least the person affected would be doing it of their own free will.

    (x-posted to atheism)

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  • 06/18/12--03:42: Say it....!

  • (Via Bors Blog)

    More details on the news story in this article here. That article also includes a poll where nearly 10% of votes currently say that it was okay to censor a woman for using the word "vagina" in a debate about abortion. Please do your part to lower that figure. :)

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  • 06/19/12--14:05: Here Comes The...
  • Your results:

    You are Spider-Man

    Green Lantern
    Iron Man
    The Flash
    Wonder Woman

    You are intelligent, witty,
    a bit geeky and have great
    power and responsibility.

    Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

    (Via inamac)

    I really hope I like the new movie....

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    New awesome Cracked video. YAY!

    (video link)

    Also anyone not following the new tv series from the freddiew youtube channel "Video Game High School". It's utterly crazy and it just gets better and better. (Now up to episode 7 btw.) :D

    (video link)

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    First of all, a couple of movies I thought were going to be released in 2013 but have actually (apparently) been moved forward and will now be in cinemas at the end of 2012. YAY!

    The Wachowskis' "Cloud Atlas" has apparently been moved forward to October this year. It's starring Tom Hanks and apparently it's got a big budget. This could be interesting.

    Another film that's now apparently being released in 2012 is "Gambit". Expected in November. The main reason to be interested in this one is that it's written (not directed) by the Coen Brothers. It's also starring Colin Firth and Alan Rickman, which is pretty cool.

    These really belong in my other list, but this is the first I've heard that they're coming out in 2012.
    Check out my list of "movies to look out for in 2012" here.

    So, in ascending order (i.e. the best is at the bottom of the list), you'll find below...

    My Top 39 Movies To Look Out For In 2013!

    (11/11/13 - USA)
    "A young man's body is made up a swarm of nanobots, giving him all sorts of powers." Roland Emmerich doing a sci-fi film rather than a disaster film? I don't think any of his films have really matched his debut "Universal Soldier". Perhaps this'll finally manage it?

    Tomb Raider
    I loved Angelina Jolie's stint as Tomb Raider and think she tried her best with the horrendous second film. Not sure that Olivia Wilde can follow in her footsteps, but I'll give it a shot.

    Silent Night Of The Living Dead
    Absolutely crazy-sounding horror comedy. Not an awful lot of hope that this will be good, but Tom Savini's on board so I'll have my fingers crossed anyway....

    David Fincher does the story of Cleopatra. Sounds pretty cool except for one thing. I haven't enjoyed a Fincher movie since 1999 when he released "Fight Club". Hmmm....

    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
    I haven't seen the first movie yet, but I'm looking forward to it and have been a fan of Jennifer Lawrence since her awesome performance in "Winter's Bone". Director is Francis Lawrence. Now, I kind of enjoyed "Constantine" overall, but that was more because of the good performances from Tilda Swinton and Rachel Weisz, the stunning special effects and the general pick 'n' mix of Hellblazer story elements rather than because of impressive direction. Still, I'll undoubtedly be checking this out eventually.

    The Wolverine
    Originally slated to be directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), but now being directed by James Mangold (Knight and Day, Identity). That's a pretty big step backwards. Still, apparently it's the same script that Aronofsky was so impressed by, so perhaps it'll be good (or at least better than that first horrendous Wolverine solo-movie).

    The Host
    Andrew Niccol does another intriguing sci-fi story. This time it's essentially a follow-on from the storyline of the sci-fi classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Starring Saoirse Ronan. The catch? It's based on a novel by Stephenie Meyer. Gah! Here's hoping it's been adapted for the big screen creatively enough that the origin of the source material isn't too obvious.

    I Walked With A Zombie
    From Adam Marcus, the director of "Jason Goes To Hell". A teacher comes to home-school children on a mysterious plantation, but soon finds herself trapped.

    Monsters University
    Keeping Pixar's high standards in mind, "Monsters Inc" felt like a bit of a disappointment for me. This prequel now has a trailer and it really didn't make me laugh at all. Sure, that's just a trailer, but I'm not hugely excited about this one. But heck, I've made mistakes trying to pre-judge Pixar movies in advance before, so who knows?

    All You Need Is Kill
    Doug Liman, director of "The Bourne Identity" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" has a new movie with a rather intriguing sci-fi plot. A solider fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes a better skilled along the way. Yeah, I'm basically a real sucker for sci-fi. Starring Tom Cruise... um... oh dear. Apparently this is adapted from a book. The sub-heading on the book cover reads: "Die in battle. Reborn in glory."

    Philip Noyce, director of "Salt" and "Patriot Games", is doing a sci-fi movie too. This time it's about time travel. A widower discovers that he has been left a fortune by his dead wife and decides to go back in time to settle a matter with her.

    The writer of "Eastern Promises" and "Dirty Pretty Things" directs a film for himself. According to IMDB this is a thriller centered on an war veteran who has reinvented himself as an upper-class Londoner has to embrace his violent past when his girlfriend is murdered. Starring Jason Statham and Benedict Wong.

    Freezing People Is Easy
    A comedy about a man experimenting within the burgeoning field of cryogenics during the 1960s.

    Jack The Giant Killer
    (22/03/13 - USA)
    I've been a bit on the fence about all of Bryan Singer's films. I wasn't a huge fan of The Usual Suspects, I wasn't quite as impressed as I wanted to be with the "X Men" movies and I was thoroughly non-plussed by Superman Returns. However, now he's doing one of these fairytale films, this time starring Nicholas Hoult (X Men: First Class, A Single Man). Could be good.

    Cobra: The Space Pirate
    Alexandre Aja, the director who managed to make a suitably entertaining flick out of something that looked from the outside to be the most ridiculously stupid film imagineable (i.e. Piranha 3D), is now doing a film about a space pirate called "Cobra". This ought to be worth keeping an eye on...

    The Evil Dead
    Sam Raimi helped to write it and he approves of the hispanic director, Fede Alvarez (who's only done short films so far). Only thing that confuses me is why Diablo Cody is one of the writers. Seriously, everything I've seen from her has been utter trash (though "Young Adult" could as yet change my mind about that - possibly). I'm keen to see what comes of this reboot.

    Chloe Moretz stars in a new version of "Carrie". Sounds cool.

    Thor 2
    More Thor action and I'm definitely up for that. Director Alan Taylor is mainly known for his TV work in some pretty awesome shows (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, etc.).

    Oz: The Great and Powerful
    Personally I HATED Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, but after the fantastic "Drag Me To Hell" I'm really interested in Raimi's prequel to "The Wizard of Oz". It doesn't sound like another of his incredible horror comedies, so I'm not entirely sold yet, but I'm intrigued all the same.

    The Bitter Pill
    I was a bit worried about Stephen Soderbergh when he started doing a whole series of "Ocean's... " films, but his recent entry "The Informant!" was actually pretty good. His more recent film "Contagion" was excellent. (I haven't seen "Haywire" yet.) I'm actually quite interested in following his work again. This time around it's the story of a woman who is anxious about her husband's nearing release from prison and uses medication to handle the anxiety.

    Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham and Brian Cox all star in this film about two police officers investigating a crime they committed. Director's only prior film-directing credit is "The Awakening" which I haven't seen.

    Man of Steel
    Another attempt to return Superman to the big screen. Richard Donner's "Superman" movie was a milestone and, to my mind, remains the best superhero movie ever made. Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" ended up copying a great deal from the original classic and didn't really seem to have much of its own to offer. This new feature is perhaps on a more solid footing in redoing the storyline involving General Zod. Let's hope this doesn't feel like it's a rip-off of Superman II, though with Zack Snyder's unique visual style I think even a rip-off of Superman II ought to be fairly satisfying. Oddly (unlike Bryan Singer's film) this does the origin story again. I know I've been fairly chilled about the new Spider-Man movie redoing the origin, but Raimi's Spider-Man wasn't the classic that Donner's Superman was. In spite of my worries, I'm still expecting great things, especially since Zack Snyder isn't writing this time.

    Hidden Force
    Paul Verhoeven does another film in Dutch. After the excellent "Black Book" I'm really excited about this. It's adapted from a book by Louis Couperus and according to the director it's about "rebellion against colonial rule, the emergence of fundamentalist Islam, the behaviour between people, adultery and psychic powers. It is a story about things that we do not understand but it does happen". Weird, but intriguing.

    Untitled Henry Selick 3-D Project
    (04/10/13 - USA)
    The first Henry Selick film since Coraline. I'm excited.

    Neill Blomkamp, director of "District 9", makes another stab at sci-fi. Having learnt from his (admittedly pretty decent) debut feature, I'm interested to see what he comes up with.

    The latest feature from the director of "The Descent" and "Doomsday", Neil Marshall. Apparently it's set at a theme park where a costumed killer slaughters visitors who arrive on Halloween.

    Untitled Star Trek Sequel
    I think what people enjoyed most of all about the first Star Trek reboot was the potential it opened up for a new series of films about our favourite Star Trek characters. This follow-up has a lot to prove because if it fails, I think it will lower the previous film in our estimation too...

    The Invisible Woman
    I've heard mixed things about Ralph Fiennes previous go at directing "Coriolanus", but this time the film stars Kristin Scott Thomas and that's been a good sign for a number of films in recent years (I've Loved You So Long, Sarah's Key). "The Invisible Woman" is about Charles Dickens' secret mistress. I'm presuming there's rather more to the story than that.

    Iron Man 3
    Director of "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" Shane Black reunites with Robert Downey Jnr. for the third Iron Man movie.

    I Walk With The Dead / Only God Forgives
    Upcoming movies from Nicolas Winding Refn (director of "Drive" and the "Pusher" series). I know that Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education, "Blink" Doctor Who episode) will be in "I Walk With The Dead" (YAY!), but I don't really know anything about "Only God Forgives" (except that it's already compeleted and they just need to release the damn thing).

    Director of "Elite Squad: The Enemy Within" (far superior to the first Elite Squad movie), there oddly seem to be some key similarities between the themes of Robocop and the ideas explored in the Elite Squad films. I think this might actually do a good job of building up the serious elements rather than just having us impatient for the satirical bits. The cast list now even includes Hugh Laurie, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman now.

    Machete Kills    /    Machete Kills Again.... In Space!
    Robert Rodriguez turns out to have a trick up his sleeve to keep us interested in a second Machete sequel. Considering the insane title for the second sequel, plus the decision to put out both films in the same year I'm reckoning Rodriguez has an ace up his sleeve with the first sequel too. I'm keen to see what he's planning.

    From Joon-Ho Bong, the director of "The Host" and "Mother". Quite an incredible cast list involved now including: Jamie Bell (The Eagle), Chris Evans (Avengers Assemble), Octavia Spencer (um... The Help?), Alison Pill (Scott Pilgrim Vs The World), Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting), John Hurt (Hellboy 2), Tilda Swinton (Julia) and even Kang-Ho Song (The Host).

    (19/12/12 - France)
    Jeff Nichols' follow up to last year's "Take Shelter". According to IMDB the plot is about two teenage boys who encounter a fugitive and form a pact with him. The pact is both to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love. Apparently we should expect something a great deal more upbeat than his previous effort. The director also admits to taking a great deal of inspiration from Mark Twain. As with "Take Shelter", Nichols is working with Michael Shannon. The film also stars Matthew McConauhey and Reece Witherspoon.

    Untitled Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze Project
    All we know so far is that this is about a man who falls in love with the voice of his computer, but this combination of two names alone is enough reason to be excited. Previous features together include "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation". ZOMG!

    Inside Llewyn Davis
    (08/02/13 - USA)
    The latest Coen brothers film. That's all you need to know.

    Pacific Rim
    Latest film from Guillermo Del Toro (director of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy II). Sounds a bit like Evangelion (i.e. fights with aliens using metal robot suits). I have super-high expectations for this.

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    (video link)

    So the idea of Keanu Reeves directing movies wasn't the most exciting news I'd ever heard, but this new technology he's pioneering looks pretty amazing.

    The camera will catch the kind of footage which normally has to be filled in by CG. Now I actually think the level of badmouthing CG gets i's pretty ridiculous sometimes. When you compare the long history of practical special effects with the, so far pretty short, history of CG visual effects, the progress CG is making is quite astounding. However, CG modelling of the face has always been pretty tough and if there are ways to capture genuine footage of martial arts fights instead that's definitely preferable. If CG artists don't have to waste time using CG to digitially reconstruct a fighter's face, they'll have more freedom to do more interesting stuff with the live action footage these cameras capture. It's just great news for cinema in general.

    And yeah, Keanu Reeves knows Kung Fu. (Obligatory reference is obligatory.)

    (Via Filmdrunk)

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    The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

    Okay so Spider-Man has always been more of a favourite for me than The Avengers anyway. I've never read comics for any of the Avengers characters asides from The Incredible Hulk (never mind read a comic where they band together).

    First of all, I should probably explain why this is better than Raimi's previous three Spider-Man movies. I was a bit concerned when Mark Kermode said that this beat all of them except the second one. I must admit that of Raimi's Spider-Man movies I'd always liked the second one the most (with a clip of Spider-Man ineffectually reaching out to catch an engagement ring in the middle of a fight being enough to put me off the third). The reason why I was so horrified is that I still didn't really LIKE Spider-Man 2. Looking back on it on DVD I found it embarrassing. However, I need not have been worried.

    While Raimi's Spider-Man movies constantly seemed to be giving the audience "oooh isn't that emotional" or "look he's making progress towards being a real hero" moments with orchestral flourishes, but in The Amazing Spider-Man I finally feel like those moments are earnt. Even before Spider-Man becomes the hero I feel concerned about his plight to find out about his missing parents and to undercover their mystery. Andrew Garfield is a fantastic actor whose facial expressions convey the rich inner life of the character. Martin Sheen and Sally Fields are also fantastic choices for his aunt and uncle who are concerned about the emotional changes their nephew goes through as he becomes a man. When things get emotional it really feels like it matters and I found a stark contrast with Raimi's first movie where Uncle Ben suddenly and unexpectedly announces that "with great power comes great responsibility" (seriously: cheesiest line ever) only to be instantly killed without ever having been properly developed. And Uncle Ben doesn't feel like an unrealistic saint in this movie either. He isn't afraid to be harsh with Peter because he cares about him and that's why his death is genuinely tragic this time around. No surprise then that Peter Parker spends more than a single night trying to avenge him this time around.

    Thinking back, it's actually incredible to think how much happens in this film. A great deal occurs before we have Spider-Man donning the uniform, but even during that early period we also see the development of the bad guy of the piece "The Lizard". While many have worried that the end product would look daft, the way The Lizard's mouth always curves upwards like a smile is extremely effective. The fight scenes with The Lizard remind me of the way some fight scenes in Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked, with Spider-Man seeming to learn more about the potential and the limits of his powers as he fights. On top of that, the fight scenes are truly spectacular with Spider-Man rushing from side to side of the screen and the use of his "spider sense" being clearly demonstrated. Which brings me to another point. There's a scene on the subway where Spider-Man first discovers his spider-sense and it is not only brilliantly choreographed but absolutely hilarious. People worried that this Spider-Man would be too dark have nothing to worry about because all the darkness (which Spider-Man has always had even in Raimi's movies, just not done as well) is perfectly balanced by laugh out loud moments galore, whether those be in the interactions between the characters or more slapstick-like moments in the action.

    Before I miss it, Gwen Stacey. Emma Stone plays a love interest who actually feels like a proper character who can hold her own. Her interactions with Peter Parker are really well done and with only very limited time on screen she is able to milk that screen time for all it is worth. I personally think it was a really good idea not to make everything about the love interest this time around. Spider-Man needed bigger issues than "when will I ever get a girlfriend" to justify the angst in Raimi's movies, but this time with the main focus being placed on his absent parents his angst feels more justified and less like self-indulgent whining. We can understand in this Denis Leary's character (Gwen Stacey's dad), being worried that Gwen's boyfriend is no good for her, but on the other hand recognising that Gwen is strong enough to make her own decisions.

    Okay, okay, okay, so I liked it a lot, but better than Avengers Assemble? Well I don't doubt that Joss Whedon's film was epic with great dialogue, very entertaining, with some great action sequences, the real achievement of that film was balancing a vast array of characters and giving them all their own part to play. As successful as the film was to achieve this, the fact is that focussing on a single character will always give you more scope for development. While the Hulk has all that intrigue bubbling under the surface as he delivers his lines, we never get to explore that because too much else is happening. I also must say that I never felt I understood the emotional background of Captain America. Everything in Avengers Assemble is played for laughs, but I'm not sure that the laughs were better and the emotional side of things was less powerful as a result. And let's not forget, I really enjoyed "Avengers Assemble". When comparing it with "The Amazing Spider-Man" I am resorting to MASSIVE nit-picks. But that's my point. The Amazing Spider-Man is really THAT good. Finally there's a Spider-Man movie that I can really enjoy and don't find it embarrassing to watch. It doesn't let itself get cheesy, taking the time to develop and earn its moments rather than just indulging in unwarranted pathos.

    There was one point where I was worried we were going to get a repeat of local New Yorkers shouting "you take on one of us, you take on us all". There's a moment where it looks close to doing that, but this time New Yorkers aren't able to take on the main villain by chucking empty beer bottles at him. Spider-Man always has to fight the battle himself (though admittedly Gwen Stacey gets her moments).

    There was every reason to think that "The Amazing Spider-Man" would fail to meet the hype, but it met my expectations perfectly. I absolutely LOVED this film.


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    You may remember, a while back I organised a poll to decide the next horror series to review and Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the winner. In the post where I counted down the votes I also reviewed the very first of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Now it's sequel time!

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

    The DVD cover is entirely taken up by Dennis Hopper, but it looks like that may have been a later decision, rather like the prominent position of Jennifer Aniston on the front of the DVD for "Leprechaun". Sure, Hopper wasn't exactly unknown when Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was released, but his main credits up to this point had been as the quiet and heavily bearded guy in "Easy Rider" and admittedly his brief but significant appearance as the journalist in "Apocalypse Now". However in the very same year as Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was released, Hopper was to make a big splash with his central role in Lynch's "Blue Velvet" so the decision to make him seem like the undisputed star of the film may have come pretty quickly. However, in the film the character the audience is really supposed to relate to is a local radio DJ calling herself "Stretch".

    Dennis Hopper's character is more of a mysteriously outsider, but unfortunately Hopper doesn't appear to exude the same manic and unhinged performance that I so enjoyed in "Speed" and which I suspect can probably be found in "Blue Velvet" too.

    So why would an over-the-top Dennis Hopper performance suit a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Well, this time it seems that Tobe Hooper decided to make a comedy. Now I LOVE horror comedies and I would have been fully up for that. Sadly a lot of the comedy falls flat. It seems that the producers weren't keen on the comedy angle being introduced to this series, so thanks to their interference this is now pretty laughable horror movie *slow clap*.

    Admittedly there are a few elements of humour that work. The initial appearance of Leatherface is brilliantly over the top and has a real sense of fun, even as it terrifies. Unfortunately the initial characters we are introduced to, sports fans taking a road trip and shooting sign posts, were generaglly just annoying. When the sports fans are getting into trouble they are in the middle of prank calling Stretch's radio station. An irritatingly stupid plot device means that the radio station is unable to work out how to disconnect the call. Seriously? Surely that's something you'd need pretty regularly at a radio station? Meanwhile though the radio station find themselves both broadcasting and recording the sound of the victims being attacked while driving, with Leatherface launching attack from another car moving parrallel with theirs on a bridge. It's pretty crazy and certainly misled me as to how much fun this film would be.

    Still, we get a similarly crazy scene right towards the end. The villains' hideout is remarkably tame this time around. While clearly a lot of money has been spent on their hideout, there's nothing to match the creepy touches such as rooms full of animal remains from the first movie. However, right at the end we are suddenly introduced to some kind of shrine above the main hideout. The scene put me in mind of a Robert Rodriguez movie like "From Dusk Til Dawn" or "Planet Terror". This new return to a combination of horror and humour was pretty cool, but felt out of place with the majority of the film.

    Most of the plot is rather dull. Admittedly the re-appearance of one of the old characters at a cooking competition raised a smile, but the decision to make Leatherface into a semi-sympathetic character was particularly poorly-judged. Stetch's initial decision to encourage Leatherface to help her begins with a very problematic scene. One moment Stretch is screaming like a banshee as a chainsaw is waved in front of her, then suddenly she seems able to remain calm and scheming as Leatherface edges his chainsaw towards her nether parts. The scene simply made no sense to me and yet it represents a major turning point in the story.

    Another aspect which makes no sense is the relationship between Stretch and Dennis Hopper's character. Initially Dennis Hopper claims that he is desperate to catch the main villains. Then Stretch claims she has vital evidence and he says he isn't interested. What the hell? Then eventually he ends up coming to her and saying he wants her help after all, making this whole exchange seem pretty well pointless.

    In the end I was somewhat bored for the majority of the runtime and the main reason was because I was confused. There's rarely a moment that goes by that I'm not confused by the actions of a character. For example, if you've promised to save a girl from a mineshaft it's probably a bad idea to start destroying all the supports. Also, if you're planning on ever leaving that mineshaft, you might want to start with supports further down and make your way up rather than vice versa. Plus if you are hoping to get away with your scheme to destroy a villain's hideout with them inside, shouting out what you are doing at the top of your lungs isn't a great move either nor is a chainsaw the best tool for subtlety either (though in the film Hopper seems to be lucky enough not to be noticed during all of this). I'm sure the intention of the movie was to be endearingly silly, but it came across as painfully stupid for the most part.

    I was happy to see something new from this entry, but it simply wasn't entertaining. With that in mind, it's ALSO a massive disappointment to see such a drop in quality from the first installment.


    Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

    The last one had Dennis Hopper. Now this one has none other than *drumroll* Viggo Mortensen. I have as yet to see any DVD cover take proper advantage of this star power and certain Mr. Mortensen was not the big star he is now when he made this film. However, his move from Lord Of The Rings to a number of David Cronenberg films seems rather less odd now.

    I already know that the next movie in the series is called "Texas Chainsaw Massacre - The Next Generation" and yet that feels like the title this ought to have. Leatherface does not play a particularly major role here. In fact he's been adopted by a brand new family with some figures seeming far too similar to figures we recognise from before, but with other figures feeling brand new and imaginative.

    Two figures are on a road trip to deliver a car to a family member. Their relationship is a bit rocky, but apparently a long time stuck on the road together might fix things. Yeah okay whatever. Anyway, they stop to fuel up and Mortensen offers them some help with their driving route and eventually ends up saving them from some potentially less-than-welcoming southern hospitality. However, it turns out there's worse still to come down the road.

    On the way, they come across a black soldier who is on his way home from a training exercise. I absolutely loved this character and apparently test audiences also loved this character so much that they decided to refilm the ending only with him miraculously surviving his extensive injuries. The idea of having a character who doesn't freak out at the possibility that he might be about to be hunted down by psychos and who might genuinely be able to take them on was refreshing.

    Like I said before, we get a few characters re-hashed, but on top of that we also get a few plot elements re-hashed. However, this new family of nutters takes a few elements in a new direction.  It was at the point where it starts re-hashing the whole captive-who-is-forced-to-stay-for-dinner scene that I found myself remembering a film I saw a while back called "The Loved Ones". More on that later, but I do think the idea of being held captive by a creepy family was an important element to re-hash and I have to give this film props for re-doing this scene in a way that made it stand out from its predecessors. (The corresponding scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was decidedly derivative of the original only tamer. It felt more like the actors were just going through the motions.)

    Another thing present in this film is humour. There was something kind of quirky almost to the point where you could find it humourous in the first film and this sequel builds on that element too. While the first film was out-and-out horror and the second film was a really dreadful horror-comedy, I think the third film is, in the end, more of an action film. It's got funny elements, but essentially it's more action-orientated than tone orientated. Cars crashing, guns shooting, people running. This is pretty fast paced in places. Unfortunately, that makes it all the more annoying when the pacing slows down, though it could be argued that we share in the protagonist's frustration when they are held captive too.

    The problem with this film was that, while it had a few neat little touches and was a great deal more engaging than the last sequel, the story doesn't really ever get particularly interesting. For all the running around, this felt like it had less of a plot than the already pretty simple original. The first movie raised a lot of ideas that tied together nicely. This film felt like more of a melting point of ideas that didn't really mix that well, so while I was interested by individual bits there was no overall plot that tied those bits together. This definitely had the potential to be better and there are clear indications that this was a compromised work, but I enjoyed myself watching it. The title "Leatherface" makes no sense to me whatsoever, but there you go...

    Oh and in this film they've gone back to making grandpa look genuinely dead. It felt like he got a facelift in the first sequel....


    The Loved Ones (2009)

    Yes, I know I said that I was going to be reviewing Tobe Hooper films (and I do have some reviews coming up for other Tobe Hooper films), but watching these Texas Chainsaw Massacre films finally gave me the guts to finish "The Loved Ones", an Australian film that I had found myself too disgusted to finish. I had actually got pretty far it turns out, but a particular element was just too much for me. Having never seen "Hostel" this was the first movie that I could really call "torture porn". However, watching it now it feels like a more fitting successor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even watching the original, I found myself comforted by the fact that "The Loved Ones" had already been much more shocking.

    What's especially horrific about The Loved Ones is the way it makes you feel like this could happen anywhere. The villains don't seem so far removed from ordinary people and I'm sure Tobe Hooper wanted us to feel something similar about his redneck murderers. Sure they're a little odd, but they aren't totally unrealistic. You could imagine running into these people in real life and when you discover their preferred pasttime and the casual manner in which they engage in it, you cannot help but be horrified. That horror being especially bad if you are tied down and forced to watch, or even become a part of the action.

    In this film the context is moved from slaughterhouse workers to everyday families. Children at a school are inviting each other to the end of year school dance. Then um... well not to spoil too much, a lot of really f-ing nasty s-t happens, involving nails, drills and the like. :S

    I don't know if I'd ever heard the cheesy pop song with the lyrics "Am I not pretty enough? Is my heart too broken?" before watching this film, but I don't think I'll ever be able to forget it. Some people felt that Tarantino's use of Steadler's Wheel's "Stuck In The Middle With You" was a bit shocking. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet....

    What "The Loved Ones" does expertly is making you empathise with the main character. The film isn't using jump scares. It's just unrelentingly forcing you to care about a protagonist as they are put through utter hell. Another cue from Texas Chainsaw Massacre is where a particular horror exacted on the protagonist "isn't done right" and therefore has to be redone all over again. Aaagh! *bites nails*

    On the one hand "The Loved Ones" is a pretty unpleasant film, but on the other hand, even when I gave up on it the last time I knew that it was a good film. In spite of all the nighmarishness, there's a real heart to it. Also, the film absolutely earns every grimace and when you find yourself unable to watch you know that there was real artistry involved to get you to feel that way.

    I feel like "The Loved Ones" deserves an honourable mention in this series, because while it's not a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film it builds on the legacy of the first movie in a much more interesting way than the two sequels I have seen so far.


    (Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)

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  • 07/08/12--15:39: A Selection of Movie Reviews

  • Quick Change (1990)

    Bill Murray comedy about a bank heist. Bill Murray enters a bank dressed in a clown costume and proceeds to jovially make big requests for a helicopter and a monster truck. He's clearly got something up his sleeve, but what?

    I hadn't seen this in years. Bill Murray stars alongside Geena Davis (Thelma and Louise, The Fly) and Randy Quaid (???). The trio work together pretty well and the whole film is very sweet and good fun. It's a farce with real heart behind it. Definitely a must-see for any Bill Murray fan.


    The Lady (2011)

    Luc Besson has done some pretty awesome films. Leon was, at one point, my favourite film of all time, The Fifth Element is a fantastic sci-fi movie (albeit with Chris Tucker going a little over the top), and while Joan of Arc: The Messenger hasn't had unanimous praise, it's a movie I enjoyed greatly. Then, after a long gap, Besson released "Angel-A" which was lacking in any clear direction and became cheesy as hell right at the end. But then recently Luc Besson redeemed himself greatly with The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec which, while lacking any logical consistency was appealingly barmy from start to finish.

    So now Luc Besson gives himself the challenging task of adapting the story of Aung Sang Suu Kyi for the big screen. It's always confused me how this mild-mannered figure could be seen as such a threat by the Burmese government. Sadly that's the weakest aspect of the film. The Burmese military leader is depicted as an almost comical bad guy, guided by superstitious notions rather than sensible reasoning. In fact, the suggestion seems to be that the main reason she's not killed is because of superstitious notions by the military leader.

    There is admittedly one great scene regarding her part in the struggle against the oppression of the people of Burma. Unfortunately, there's only ONE great scene regarding her part in the struggle against the oppression of the people of Burma.

    Where the film is much more capable is in it's depiction of the relationship with her husband who is often forced to leave Burma and is eventually used as a way to persuade Aung Sang Suu Kyi to leave the country. There's a balance her family has to accept between the importance of her work in Burma and how much they miss her as a wife and mother. Michelle Yeoh does an absolutely fantastic job of portraying the internal conflict of this important figure and I really hope we see her roles which make the same use of her talents in the future.

    There's some great emotional scenes and a wonderful central performance, but I finished the movie still very confused as to what Aung Sang Suu Kyi's role in Burma really is. It's a real pity that the family issues are handled so well while the issues in Burma that make her such a renowned political icon for peace and democracy are only touched upon in a very limited way.


    The Messenger (2009)

    A soldier just come back from action abroad is given the task of giving condolences to the next of kin of soldiers who have died in combat. Woody Harrelson acts a kind of mentor showing this soldier the ropes, while Ben Foster is protagonist taking on this responsibility for the first time. He's not really interested in the post but as he comes to understand its importance he becomes rather more fascinated with the process. After all, he too is coming to terms with the deaths of soldiers who he came to know as friends.

    Over the course of the movie a variety of possible responses to receiving the news of a loved one's death are explored. One next of kin figure is played by Steve Buscemi and another is played by Samantha Morton, both of whom are brilliant. The issue of how people respond to men in uniforms coming to break the news of their loved ones death face to face is quite fascinating.

    The film builds up some compelling characters and there are some Woody Harrelson is able to really push home the humourous aspects. That said, while there's never a dull moment in this drama, I did feel that not enough had actually happened overall by the ending. This is more of a character study than a plot-driven story. For what it is, it does it very well so my final score may be more of a representation of my own tastes. However, while I give this a lot of credit for its deep emotional core, I wanted there to be rather more at stake. I still recommend this as a very good film.


    Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (2010)

    I'd been looking to this one for a long time since Filmdrunk recommended this film after seeing it at Sundance. I made a point of watching the first Elite Squad movie as soon as I could and, though I had mixed feelings about it, I thought it was really good overall. I think I may have overrated it in my initial review ( because I was so impressed by the concept. While "City of God" was about the internals squabbles of drug cartels and the effect on ordinary poor people, "Elite Squad" was about a special armed police force known as BOPE that is just as opposed to the corrupt police as it is to the drugs cartels. The protagonist is a very right wing figure, justifying the violent approach of the armed police with the scale of the crime levels they are trying to redress. The way this figure has a strong moral stance on the one hand and yet glorifies violent reactions by armed police on the other seemed to be part of the development of a realistic and human figure at the centre of the issues.

    So this is where Elite Squad 2 becomes really interesting. We start with our protagonist once again taking a very right-wing approach towards his work yet with a strong moral code of sorts and then we are introduced to his polar opposite, a liberal academic who is moved by moral sentiments to counter what he sees as oppressive and unjustified methods of crime prevention. Our protagonist sees the drug dealers as scum, while the liberal academic sees the police as fascists. It's probably easier for the average viewer to side with the liberal figure, which is what makes the first Elite Squad movie important prior watching, even if it isn't really necessary to understand what happens in "The Enemy Within". I think even new viewers will recognise that there's an element of naivety in the way the liberal academic seems to trust certain violent thugs.

    There's much more of a political angle in "Elite Squad 2" and that's an important element that was missing from the previous film. There's also a great deal more time spent on the way the uncompromising BOPE squad finds itself relating to the corruption in the police force.

    This new film evens up the ideological one sidedness of "Elite Squad". It's also got some really exciting moments, some family drama elements, political intrigue and it's a great deal more streamlined than the previous film. "Elite Squad" was an okay movie with a unique approach to the subject matter. "Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within" is an excellent no-holds-barred drama. It's a brilliant film and bodes well for the upcoming Robocop remake by the same director.


    My Week With Marilyn (2011)

    This is an awkward one to review. On the one hand there's a wonderfully endearing quality to the film. Eddie Redmayne proves his versatility after playing the conflicted monk in Christopher Smith's "Black Death", since he now plays the privileged aristocrat overflowing with enthusiasm for the possibility of working on a film. While it's clear that his eventual role owes something to his family ties, the way he constantly puts in extra effort to be seen as worthy in that role makes him a very charming character.

    On the other hand, not an awful lot happens in this movie. I suppose this is a similar complaint to what I had with The Messenger, but I feel it's even harder to give this film credit because so many of the characters surrounding the protagonist seem to lack depth.

    There's an awful lot of great actors throwing in a performance here: Kenneth Branaugh, Toby Jones, Judi Dench, Phillip Jackson, Zoe Wannamaker Derek Jacobi. With all this acting talent being drawn from, the end product is oddly more of a sweet and cheerful piece and there doesn't seem to be the weight involved that there ought to be.

    And then there's Michelle Williams. She seems to be playing Marilyn Monroe as the Michael Jackson of her era. An absurdly huge star losing her grip on reality and social convention due to her success. Marilyn Monroe is shown as playfully eccentric and emotionally sensitive, but at it's (intentionally) never quite clear whether she is naive.

    The movie recounts her work in a film with Laurence Olivier. It's the theatre world clashing with the movie world and in the middle of it is our protagonist trying to ease the conflict. There's something sublime about the way Eddie Redmayne's character becomes enchanted by Marilyn Monroe and Michelle Williams does a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of Marilyn Monroe for us. However, all of this is in, as I said, a very sweet and cheerful movie and while there are some fantastic moments in the film, it doesn't really seem to add up to much by the end.

    This is a great fun piece that will be enjoyable for all the family to watch. While it's not really one that you'd want to come back to time and time again, it succeeds in being very good fun and, in spite of a somewhat inconsistent tone, it has enough heartstring-pulling moments to make it feel like a proper cinematic experience overall.


    Puss In Boots (2011)

    A little uneven, occasionally a little immature, and not all the jokes hit the mark. Still, it's great to see Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek back together, even if it is for seemingly the most bizarre El Mariachi film ever. (In case anyone didn't get the reference, they star together in the second and third movies of Robert Rodriguez' "El Mariachi" trilogy: "Desperado" and "Once Upon A Time In Mexico".)

    The plot is rather inconsistent, but there are fun moments and the film doesn't fail to entertain. I think this showed a lot of promise and could potentially have been a much better film. It's not the best animated film, but standards have been high lately and this is good enough to make for a reasonably satisfying evening in.


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    Cat's entertainment, with tabby Martin Harper


    A feline perspective on the latest cinema releases, by cat Martin Harper.

    I’ve been trying to get into Prometheus (15) for weeks but the cleaners keep chasing me out. I bet Peter Bradshaw doesn’t get harangued out of screenings by an overweight woman with a hare lip and a broom. Anyway I finally had success this week after nine hours of waiting by the screen door, purring. The film itself is quite confusing. Something about Noomi Rapace getting spayed with a lazer coupled with some musings on the origins of mankind, which it’s hard to care about when you’re a cat. I found a pair of discarded 3D glasses on the floor but they were much wider than my head so I could only look through one lens at a time, which didn’t seem to have the desired effect. I went to sleep twice although I don’t count that against the film because I like sleeping.

    There’s another film out called Fast Girls (12A) about some human females that like to run EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT BEING CHASED. Sorry, but just running for no reason could cause a nearby dog’s prey drive to kick in. Then it would chase the girls and, if they couldn’t get on a fence, tear them to shreds. The main characters in Fast Girls do not get savaged by terriers but they should for being so stupid. Another issue, less directly related to the film, is that I couldn’t get into my seat because I wasn’t heavy enough to pull the bottom bit down. I had to dangle off it, swinging back and forth, until it gradually lowered. Then when I hopped up it slammed shut like a damn Venus flytrap. Sorry my problem I know but it’s hard to focus the critical eye when you’re being eaten by a chair.

    (Via Daily Mash)

    The above is not my own work. Please check out the Daily Mash for more super amusingness. Other film-related articles include:
    Darkest Ever Batman!
    Pre-Nup Gives Tom Cruise Sole Custody... Of Thetans...
    Also (rather more political, but still with a movie tie-in):
    House of Lords Reform Will Involve Muppets

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    As part of my series of Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie reviews, I'm also trying to work my way through the rest of Tobe Hooper's backcatalogue. As with last time, I finish this post up with a bonus review, so on top of reviews for "Salem's Lot" and "Poltergeist" I have also written a review for George Romero's "Creepshow".

    If you missed the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reviews, I review the first film here (after the poll results) and I review the second and third films in that series here.

    Salem's Lot (1979)

    I’m generally missing out made-for-tv films in my selection, however rhoda_rants did this version of “Salem’s Lot” in one of the older marathons. Though, the actual review wasn’t so positive, one of the vampire icons she created at the end had me pretty intrigued. “Salem’s Lot” is about a house where mysterious things are happening. A writer who has returned to the town is planning to write about it, convinced that the building is an evil place that attracts evil forces towards it. This is a Stephen King adaptation which tries to tie the vampire mythology to an everyday modern setting.

    For me, this film was separated into two parts though there were some clear points where there would normally be commercial break (and other points where the lack of commercial breaks made the film seem a little bit slow and repetitive). Before the first part  starts we have what looks like a “previously on Salem’s Lot” set of clips, but in actual fact it’s more of a “later on Salem’s Lot”. It seems like an odd decision to show clips of the film before the show has even started, but this is television so I suppose they need to grip people quickly, particularly when things are going to slow down so much when the story begins.

    This first part was trying to slowly set up an atmosphere, but in the end it felt far too slow paced and everything became rather too predictable. In fact one of the most tense moments in the first part was more of a minor circumstantial part of the plot, but Tobe Hooper seems build it up to something far more tense and scary seemingly for the fun of it. The creepy Englishman who has moved into ‘the house on the hill’ in Salem’s Lot has hired a man to deliver a special crate to the house, but instead of going himself, he employs two separate men to do the job without him while he goes on a private errand. The only reason for this really is so that it is harder for the Englishman to explain away when the two workmen are missing later on. But it means that we have a scene where their boss goes home to confront his wife and her lover. There’s a fantastically tense scene where he is aiming a shotgun at the man having an affair with his wife and taunting him with a big grin, sweat on his brow and a mad look in his eyes.

    Meanwhile it seems that visiting people in the night is made very easy by the strange architectural decision to have large French windows in pretty much everyone’s bedroom. I suspect that most people reading this would find their vampire had to twist themselves into strange contorted shapes to fit through the gap. Still, I can’t deny the visual effectiveness of these scenes. Also, as slow moving as the plot is, it is a good little story all the same. I like how the Englishman is called out on his random decision to set up an antiques store in this small remote rural town.

    The Englishman is played by James Mason who is deliciously charming yet suspicious all the way through the film (and comes across particularly creepy when he uses the exact same tone in the presence of a vampire). The other actor I recognised was the female love interest who was played by Bonnie Bedelia. It turns out that (about ten years later) she played John McClane’s (ex-)wife in the first two Die Hard movies. As such, it was annoying to see her being a bit wet in this film. I’ve seen less tough female love interests admittedly, but there are points where she really could have been more active and the script just didn’t allow for it. Of course, part of the reason why this is a concern is because she is so much more assertive in her “Die Hard” role, so the contrast feels jarring.

    Anyway, the second half is where things really get moving and after how slow the first part had been, I was surprised when this part went as far as it did. For all my ranting about Bonnie Bedelia earlier, she does have a particularly awesome tense scene in part two where she speaks with a woman who is in the process of becoming a vampire. The woman is talking mostly normally, but she’s feeling worn down and lethargic, not yet realising what this means. There are some subtle nuances in her movements and she is already showing the vampiric stare and all the while Bedelia is trying to remain deadly calm and act like everything is normal.

    Also, when the head vampire is finally revealed that’s another fantastic moment. I’m going to have to disagree with Rhoda_rants review on this one. Partly because I thought he looked extremely intimidating, but also because it was the icon she created featuring him that intrigued me about this film in the first place.

    While there are some excellent individual touches, some wonderful effects and a pretty cool over-arching plot, the film is just SO slow-moving. A lot more happens in the second part, sure, but it doesn’t half have a lot of gaps. I know that this is partly because it’s setting things up for commercial breaks, but somehow the prospect of this film taking EVEN LONGER to get through doesn’t exactly thrill me either. While in my previous Tobe Hooper-related entry I gave this same score to “Leatherface”, I must admit that this has greater highs than that film achieved. The thing is that “Leatherface” was a great deal faster moving whereas for “Salem’s Lot” the slow pacing is it’s biggest weakness by far.


    Poltergeist (1982)

    I’ve heard plenty of people saying that this film is basically a Spielberg film and that Tobe Hooper’s task was mainly pointing the camera occasionally. I don’t think that is fair at all. This was released in the same year as E.T. and I personally cannot stand E.T. I can see some similar touches in the way this film has been made, but I feel like much of it is due to Spielberg's role as editor (at which stage Hooper was not involved).

    On the one hand you have the cheery Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack which gives the same feel as films like E.T. only to subtley run into much more creepy moments. Goldsmith's score worked in a similar way in Gremlins that was also Spielberg-produced. Goldsmith does a really good job of making sure that the music doesn't remove the ambiguity of the scenes, reflecting the seeming conflicting feelings of the adults in the film. There's one point where they are contacting the "ghost" of their daughter and the mother says she feels the ghost move through her. The whole scene is extremely uncomfortable and deeply creepy, but the mother onscreen is extremely happy to have felt this strange other-worldly presence since it is at least some kind of contact with her daughter. The music manages to stay ambiguous enough to allow to either reaction. In that scene you could be happy that she's made contact with her daughter's spiritual presence or you could (as I was) feel highly troubled by the whole scenario and the musical score works for either. Later on in the film the score is more explicitly creepy and is used to excellent effect.

    Another element is the way the family looks. They seem very clean cut and everything is very tidy, but like in Gremlins, this serves as a contrast to the horror that lies behind it. It came as a surprise to me when the ghost effects went beyond objects moving around inexplicably, or even bizarre lights, but actually became physical in full-on Ghostbusters style. Ghostbusters clearly owes a great deal to Poltergeist and I'd be very surprised if some of the effects team from this movie didn't work on both films. The combination of light effects and very physical-looking "ghosts" is not really something I've seen anywhere else. When the family have to face up to man-eating trees, dead bodies and full-on monsters with massive sharp teeth I find it very hard to credit any of this to Spielberg. Sure, the sweet suburbs stuff looks like Spielberg's style, but plenty of other directors were emulating that at the time. I'm no more inclined to say Spielberg must have made "Poltergeist" than I would be to say that he must have made "The 'Burbs". There are plenty of elements that simply go beyond what I think Spielberg would be comfortable with.

    Still, one more element that might seem Spielbergy is the paranormal "experts" who come in. The way they seem both approachable and yet sinister at the same time reminded me of the way the government agents always seem in Spielberg's films about aliens. There's a definite sense that they may not have the family's best interests at heart to begin with and a sense of trust then has to be built up from there. Still when a new and far more bizarre expert is brought in much later on, the concept might feel somewhat Spielbergian but the execution? This absolutely terrifying scene is very carefully built up from somewhat innocuous beginnings. It seems that this could easily have been a much more clear-cut, feelgood, silly film overall, but the execution in many scenes makes into something that really gets under your skin and makes you feel really unsure of your footing. While there are parts which are clearly intended to be funny, for the most part the film is generally pretty disturbing.

    I definitely wouldn't recommend this to young children. As a child I had trouble with aliens pulling their skin off in Cocoon, so there is at least one scene in this where my childhood squeamishness would have been set off in a big way. Still, for those of us who are familiar with horror this is actually fairly tame. The mood is set up well, but I think it would be easy enough not to let it get to you if you don't allow yourself to be pulled in. The film hasn't aged fantastically well and the decision to have characters whispering for most of the movie meant that it was easiest to just put on subtitles rather than keep on pushing the volume down whenever an apparition turns up.

    Poltergeist is pretty good and there are elements that really stick with you. Overall though, I think it was a bit uneven. I'm really glad I saw it and I'd certainly recommend it as a very good film, but it's not one that I'm inclined to herald as an enduring classic.

    (By the way, turns out it's cheaper to use real skeletons than construct them... *urgh!*)


    Creepshow (1982)

    Okay, here's an unrelated extra. Salem's Lot was a Stephen King adaptation and Poltergeist had elements of comedy, so on a similat theme I present George Romero's "Creepshow". It's a combination of horror comedy stories, including one particularly awesome one actually featuring Stephen King in a central acting role. Turns out that he's really good too!

    The first segment had me a bit puzzled. The backstory is told about a cruel father who, in old age, shouts at one of his daughters "I want my cake Bedelia! It's Father's Day!" Flash forward to the present and the father is dead. The daughter murdered him. However, every Father's Day she visits his grave. It's very odd the way the backstory is presented, but the bizarre and somewhat predictable turn of events afterwards is extremely silly and great fun if you can get into the right mindset.

    If you still aren't quite getting it, hold on, because the second segment is the one starring Stephen King. His character discovers a meteor and makes the decision to sell it to academics. However, a substance comes out of the meteor with some rather strange effects. I won't reveal what happens, but believe me it is utterly crazy and involves some ultra-silly dark humour.

    The next segment stars Leslie Nielsen! He's a very overbearing figure who seems to be obsessed with video equipment. He informs the protagonist (played by Ted Danson), who is his ex-wife's new boyfriend, that he has his ex-wife held captive and if Danson wants to see her alive he needs to come to Nielsen's private beach. I certainly didn't expect what came next, but it's both very twisted and very funny. Nielsen plays his megalomaniacal character with aplomb and it's definitely him at his comedic best. Danson also proves to have pretty good comic timing.

    A mild-mannered professor at a university is terrorised by his uncouth and far more outgoing wife. He is played by Hal Holbrook who played the priest in "The Fog" but is perhaps better known for his role in "All The President's Men" and more recently in the tv series "The West Wing". He is eventually informed by a friend at the university about a mysterious crate which turns out to have some very surprising contents....

    The final segment appears to have a science-fiction element where a rich Scrooge-esque businessman has an apartment that is supposed to be germ-proof. He discovers that the apartment has cockroaches and insists that exterminators come to his apartment as soon as possible to deal with the problem. This was rather less fun than the previous segments, but I was nonetheless very impressed with the way the cockroach infestation is shown visually. I felt the effects rather outdid the central performance.

    The end of Creepshow is very satisfying and overall this film is absolutely great fun. Definitely another fantastic horror comedy to recommend.


    (Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)

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    Hitchcock is known for some of the greatest movies in cinematic history with films like "Psycho", "The Birds" and "North By Northwest" getting a regular mention. Recently a friend lent me his boxset of some of Hitchcock's latest works and I had the idea of working my way back from his last film to his earlier (and ever more elusive) films. Hitchcock's career spans around 50 years, his last film being Family Plot released (according to IMDB) in 1976 and his earliest being a film called Downhill released in 1927. I don't expect to get that far back, but I think seeing all the films back to The 39 Steps (released in 1935) might be a more reasonable challenge to set.

    So for the first installment of these reviews, here's the last four films Hitchcock released: Family Plot (1976), Frenzy (1972), Topaz (1969), and Torn Curtain (1966). These are all films which I had never seen before. Below I provide my reviews in order of preference, starting with the best.

    Topaz (1969)

    A film actually often dismissed, however this may be partially because there are a variety of possible endings to this film. (From the sounds of it, I got the best one and certainly the one Hitchcock preferred.) Another reason is because the film was rather rushed initially and has been nicely tidied up for the DVD release.

    To be nice and vague about the endings, the original ending which you most likely won't find in a version you watch unless you have purposely chosen an alternate endings version, involves a duel in a stadium. This sounds like it would jar with the rest of the film, but I suspect it was Hitchcock attempting to be ambitious with a visually memorable piece at short notice (since apparently they were shooting this film while the script was still being written). While Hitchcock apparently used a fairly recent real life duel as inspiration, it presumably didn't work on the big screen.

    The version I have ends with a scene in an airport. The ending surprised me, but I thought it was a good way to wrap things up. Anyway, apparently this ending confused some test audiences so while the airport ending was used in the UK cinema release, in France and the US they had yet another ending cut from some other footage and some extra scenes filmed without the original actors. This third ending involved a suicide. One commenter claims that Hitchcock was intentionally doing a bad job on this last version because he wanted the studios to pick the airport ending. If your film ends with characters talking at an airport, it's likely you are watching the same version I did: The ending Hitchcock would have preferred.

    "Topaz" begins with a family intending to defect to the US. On holiday in Copenhagen the family struggles to lose their accompanying Soviet agents in order to be picked up safely by the CIA. This initial scene is very tense and does a great job of setting the mood of the film. The rest of the film comes to centre around François Picard, a journalist who seems to have a remarkably large network of friends and relationships, allowing him to play a huge part in the highly political situation arising. It turns out that the central focus of the story is new Soviet activity in Cuba. Guess which historic issue this film centers around?

    There's one point in the film where I felt one of his relationships was rather closer than made sense for his character. Apparently his previous film "Torn Curtain" was criticised for not being as exciting as the James Bond movies, so perhaps this is part of that influence? Certainly if this is Hitchcock trying his hand at James Bond then I'm with it completely. It's like a James Bond movie with a heart. James Bond expects there to be casualties and is stoic in the face of tragedy. Bond is also capable of fighting his way out of a tought situation. The journalist here is a much more down-to-earth figure who knows what is at stake and, with him, we feel the full force of any deaths along the way.

    The build-up of the mystery in "Topaz" is excellent, but admittedly not all of it is entirely believeable. The thing which really served to pull me out of the action the most, however, was the way the different characters who all speak French would decide to talk with one another in French anyway. This took a while to accept because in earlier parts of the film the people speaking to one another are from such a variety of nationalities, so it's not until quite a way into the film that the decision to have everyone speak French becomes obvious.

    Topaz is a great cold war thriller which often leaves you doubting the trustworthiness of the characters involved. It's not quite as tight plotwise, nor quite as spectacular, as some of Hitchcock's more well-known classics. Still, I would strongly recommend this. The characters are endearing, the dialogue is engaging, the tension mounts well and there's a decent pace. I think that the lack of well-known American actors in this film is probably the main thing keeping it from being respected as highly as the others reviewed below.


    Family Plot (1976)

    There's a very odd start with an extended sequence of Barbara Harris contacting a male spirit and putting on an odd voice (to represent being contacted by this man in the beyond) as she takes on the role of a psychic/medium. At the end of the session she is given a task by the rich lady who has employed her. She is tasked with finding the long lost heir of the rich lady's estate in exchange for a sizeable reward. The initial scene of contacting the spirits is a rather poor way to set up the plot as it's quite hard to follow. What's more, those who found what was said during the seance clear and comprehensive will be getting quite bored during the later part of the scene where it is explained precisely what was revealed during the session.

    In the car later, it turns out that Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern are romantically entagled and working together. Fortunately here we begin to see the lighter tone as the two make conversation and playfully antagonise one another. Barbara Harris appears to insist that her psychic powers are real, even though in the session we clearly see the old lady feed her most of the information. However, she's not about to claim that her powers will find the lost heir. For that, she needs Bruce Dern to play detective. It seems that the two of them really need the reward money.

    As it turns out, the lost heir is not keen on being found. Meanwhile Karen Black and William Devane are involved in a number of jewellry scams and may turn out to be somewhat involved. I only really know William Devane from "Payback" (starring Mel Gibson) where he plays a mob boss. He's a lot younger in "Family Plot" but has a distinctive face and is deliciously creepy here as he plays the cold, calculating criminal mastermind. Karen Black is his love interest and the two are equally committed to their criminal enterprise. Karen Black went on to star in a number of horror titles including "Burnt Offerings" which is supposed to be a bit of a classic. Interestingly she was also in the science fiction movie "Capricorn One" a few years later.

    There's an exciting scene at one point where a car has been tampered with so that it cannot brake and so the car continues to accelerate once it's been started. Part of the problem with this scene is how obviously fake it was. In Hitchcock's classic "North By Northwest" there is quite an exciting scene of a car that is somewhat out of control (in that case, the driver is drunk) and the stylistic choices meant that the obvious background screen didn't matter. Here it all looks a bit silly, but the bigger problem was that I'd seen it done better in "Capricorn One". Now this seems a bit unfair to some extent because, coming out the following year, Capricorn One's scene was clearly inspired by this one. That said, the whole of Capricorn One has a bit of a Hitchcock sensibility and deserves credit for doing a better job with it's own runaway car sequence.

    There's some good comedy and some good tension in this film, but in the end the opening is a little jarring and the ending is a little too twee. While the acting is great, the story isn't as finely-balanced as it could be. There are a few points where the film drags a little bit. Overall I thought the performances were really great, the chemistry between Barbara Harris and Bruce Dern and their comic timing was particularly impressive, and with a bit of a rewrite I think this could be a really good film. However, I think this is missing something, is a little too cheesy and doesn't quite meet the standard we'd expect from a Hitchcock film.


    Frenzy (1972)

    I'd been recommended this one quite highly, but when another friend said it contains "the funniest rape scene you will ever see" I was a little worried. If a rape scene will trigger you, you should steer well clear of this film, and probably this review too.

    The villain of the piece is a murderer who kills his (always female) victims by strangling them with a tie. We have an early scene where a couple of gentlemen are discussing the modus operandi of a serial rapist and murderer for the sake of the audience. There's a bit of a dodgy bit where the female bartender in their pub joins in saying "he RAPES them too doesn't he?" almost as if she finds the idea exciting. One of the two men discussing the case replies "well at least there's a silver lining" at which point the female bartender laughs, clearly semi-shocked but enjoying the taboo nature of the conversation. Some have tried to excuse the film here, saying that the point of the discussion is the public's typical morbid fascination with serial killers. They claim that the laughter at this stage is brought into perspective by the horror of the later scene. I just felt that this whole introduction was rather poorly judged and that it would have been nice to have been introduced to the basics of serial killer psychology by a character who we would be following in the long term. Neither of the two men in this initial discussion appears to be seen again.

    When the rape scene in question turned up, I could see what my friend meant to some extent. Sure, it's not a funny scene and in fact the build up to the rape is very disturbing. However, the end of the rape scene might, with a nicely timed snarky comment, have elicited a laugh. When the woman dies from the strangulation, Hitchcock decides to represent this by pausing the film. It's like Hitchcock didn't realise that audiences can tell the difference between an actress not moving and the screen being paused. What's more the camera then goes to pull away from a close-up of the eyes to show the woman with a tie around her neck and her tongue sticking comedically out of her mouth. I'm not a doctor and perhaps I'm missing something here, but I cannot imagine how being strangled would lead to your tongue sticking right out of your mouth.

    The intention is clearly that this film should have comedy elements, but the comic timing feels a bit off. One of the main characters is the detective involved in the case. We see a number of scenes where he is having dinner with his wife who is trying to cook French cuisine. The detective is completely horrified by his wife's cooking so we get scenes where he is trying to explain the case while chewing over and over on the same piece of meat before eventually spitting it out when his wife isn't looking. There was a lot of comic potential here, but somehow it just didn't work in the scenes themselves.

    There's a rather cool scene in the back of a truck full of potatoes which was very tense. There's also a neat little moment where Hitchcock has the camera back away from a room all the way down the stairs outside of the door and across the road to hear the hustle and bustle of busy London life outside. This film is not without it's neat little classic Hitchcock moments. However, overall this is a very cheesy film which ties up a little too easily by the end considering how mixed up things get towards the beginning.

    At one point in the film the man who becomes the central focus of the film comes to be given the dramatic option of doing nothing by the introduction of his old army buddy played by Clive Swift. Clive Swift's character turns out to be in a relationship with a woman played by Billie Whitelaw. Billie Whitelaw has been in "The Omen", the mini-series "Shooting The Past" and most recently in "Hot Fuzz" and she was instantly recognisable. I was extremely annoyed when her part turned out to be a mere distraction from the main plot. She seemed to out-class the entire production.

    In the end, this film had very little to say about serial rapists and murderers. It was a fairly run of the mill crime thriller with some rather poorly timed comic elements and I felt some scenes ran on a little bit. It might have helped to make better use of the characters set up and the idea of a detective sharing all the details of the high profile case he is working on with his wife at dinner just seemed to suspend my disbelief that little bit to far. There were definitely some good elements in this film, but the overall film is really not one I'd recommend.


    Torn Curtain (1966)

    Okay so I wasn't exactly gushing with praise for the last one, so what didn't I like about this one then? Well actually I enjoyed it a lot to start with. Julie Andrews finds that her fiance, Dr. Armstrong, is acting a little strangely. With a bit of snooping she discovers that he is taking a flight to East Berlin. She follows him there to find him announce quite publically that he wishes to defect, with reasons in relation to his nuclear research no less... Naturally things get very difficult for their relationship, but Julie Andrews cannot seem to bring herself to simply leave. But how can they express their feelings clearly when they are under constant observation by the Stasi?

    Gromek, the "guide" employed by the Stasi to accompany Dr. Armstrong, is absolutely brilliant. He claims he lived in New York for several years and regularly mangles New York phrases. A personal favourite was "itz for the boids" ("it's for the birds"). His good humour is neatly contradicted by his profession, making him especially creepy.

    At one point there is a fight scene in a kitchen and it's the most absurd fight scene I have ever seen. Having managed to break the one knife in the kitchen, a woman is forced to look around for an alternative weapon. She picks up a shovel and uses it to bring her assailant to the ground. For seemingly no reason, she doesn't continue to use the spade on the guy's head. She looks around the kitchen. What else can she use? (There's another person in the fight who the assailant is scuffling with on the floor at this stage btw.) She looks desperately around the kitchen and what does she do? Now even accepting that she cannot use the spade again, let's think of what we'll find in the kitchen. She could have hit him with a kettle. Most likely one of those heavy-duty ones that is heated on the stove too. She could hit him with a teapot. Earlier in the scene a bottle of Apfelweine is mentioned and after hitting him with that she could use the glass shards. To prevent him making a phone call, the phone was pulled off the wall. Presumably she could hit him with that. She could have poured kitchen condiments in his eyes - and even salt or pepper would probably do the trick (not to mention her own fingernails).

    So what does she actually use? She turns on the gas in the stove and slowly drags the man towards it so she can suffocate him to death with the gas. I was absolutely stunned that the fight took such a ridiculous turn and the film doesn't really ever make sense again.

    It turns out that one secret method of getting people across the border is to run a bus that is slightly off-timetable from the normal bus route, but travels in the same direction. We're supposed to be worried about the authorities discovering that this is a fake bus, but this whole scene ends up feeling comical. How would it be remotely helpful to have a fake bus that goes the same way as the normal one?

    Later there's a scene where the protagonists are trying to find out where the post office is. They go up to ordinary people in East Berlin and neither can speak German. I'm sorry but that is ridiculously suspicious. There would not be a lot of English-speaking tourists in East Berlin during the Cold War. The whole idea is absurd. In the same scene a Polish woman shows up and starts drawing ridiculous amounts of attention to the protagonists by enthusiastically and loudly asking them to be her sponsors to get her to America. And one last thing: Shouting "fire" in English in East Berlin during the Cold War will probably not lead to the entire audience running unquestioningly towards the fire exit. If shouted in German then perhaps, but shouted in English? They might be a little more sceptical (presuming they even recognise this individual word shouted randomly in a less familiar language).

    The film started so well and then just descended into nonsense around half way through. The acting was good enough (asides perhaps from the eccentric Polish lady who was a little over-the-top), but the plot was extremely daft. This is definitely the least impressive of the Hitchcock films I've examined so far.

    (Edit: Previously gave this E+, but looking back I think that was unfair.)

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    The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

    Okay, this is the one we'd all been waiting for. For me, it was the one I had the highest expectations for, not only of the three major superhero releases, but of pretty much any movie release expected this year. I have followed Christopher Nolan's career avidly since his film "Memento" and when "Inception" came out I was happy to limit my review to: "It's Christopher Nolan making it. Just watch it."

    I'm afraid I can't do that this time.

    I'm going to start off with the bad news. The Dark Knight Rises is Nolan's worst film yet (but that's coming from someone who really really enjoyed "Insomnia", which I previously considered his worst film). "The Dark Knight Rises" is the worst of the four superhero movies I've seen this year i.e. "Chronicle", "Avengers Assemble" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" (though once again, I really enjoyed ALL of those). This is the worst film in Nolan's Batman trilogy (though that's kind of inevitable from my earlier comment).

    That said, the first positive point I ought to mention straight away is that the action scenes are better than ever. Nolan has often been criticised for not being an action director and there was a film critic within the past year going into a deep analysis of the various technical issues they had with the police convoy scene in "The Dark Knight". Here though, I have to say I thought the action sequences were expertly put together and there seems to have been a clear development in the quality of the spectacular action sequences as the films have gone on. We also have the bat-bike back with some pretty fantastic manouevers in store. There's no doubt that The Dark Knight Rises is an exciting film to watch.

    Before I go into more detail on the problems with The Dark Knight Rises, I want to quickly talk about a few of the old Batman movies. I decided to rewatch some recently and the only one I haven't managed to rewatch yet is "Batman and Robin".

    It all started when I watched the 60s Batman movie for the first time ever. It has all the campiness I remember from the TV show (and seriously, why hasn't that had a DVD release yet?) and I don't think I'd ever been previously aware how little seriousness Adam West and Burt Ward put into their performances. In this film the Riddler's riddles are pretty much Christmas cracker jokes, yet Burt Ward's Robin states the answers as if he's an expert at cryptic crosswords. The scene of Batman being attacked by a shark or Batman running around with the typical cartoon bomb with a fuse are both hilarious and make very clear not to take this seriously. It was an absolute delight to watch this movie.

    Rewatching "Batman Forever" I could see some elements of Adam West's Batman in Val Kilmer's performance and Nicole Kidman's scenes with him seemed to have a comic undertone. Heck, even Robin seems to have something to him. The villains, however, are the weak point, particular The Riddler played by Jim Carrey. Every point when Jim Carrey is on screen in Batman Forever was utter torture for me. Also for all the attempts to gloss up Batman franchise with all the guns randomly having neon down the side of them and with gangs who are covered in glow sticks, the batmobile is oddly given the tackiest fin on the back of it which wobbles as it drives along. It's interesting to see Tommy Lee Jones' version of Two Face now that Nolan has done the character. The thing is, in "Batman Forever" both Two Face and the Riddler feel like rehashings of The Joker, only the Riddler has absolutely none of the charm.

    I've been pretty public about my dislike of Tim Burton, so I was worried about sitting through his original two Batman movies, but I was happily surprised. My first memory of Tim Burton's first Batman movie is it being the big movie on TV one Christmas, but then I remember coming back to it some years later and finding it rather dull. Looking back at it now, it's got a lot of charm. It seems to have a lot of Burton's stylistic touches, but it's missing the misjudged sentimentality that put me off so many of his films. This film doesn't really have much in the way of action scenes per se and the plot is thread bare (not least due to a villain with little in the way of motivation), but here the style of the film really does add something very special and overall it's just really good fun. I do wonder though, whether Tim Burton thought Batman had super strength? Not only is he able to lift a man fully off the ground, but he actually gets shot in the arm at one point (while just wandering about as Bruce Wayne at the time too) seemingly without noticing.

    Batman Returns is problematic, but Burton put more action into it this time. The main storyline surrounding the Penguin just gets more and more ridiculous as the film goes on. And that's a storyline which begins with a baby being raised by a variety of penguins in an abandoned zoo which is somehow connected to Gotham's sewage system and somehow learning to make a quite technologically advanced set of custom umbrellas. Still, I've got to give props to Danny DeVito for doing everything he can to make the character feel real. It's a very good performance. Still, the parts of the film that really stick out are ANY BITS INVOLVING Catwoman. Michelle Pfeiffer isn't in many films that I really rate that highly (there's Matthew Vaughn's "Stardust" but that's about it), but I still think she's a damn fine actress. Heck, I saw "Dangerous Minds" on tv one time and while part of me couldn't help but notice that it was extremely unrealistic, even as young as I was, Michelle Pfeiffer had me going with it anyway. In Batman Returns, her Catwoman is just amazing. Also, I think Burton's quirky ideas regarding her character pay off rather better than those to do with the Penguin. I wouldn't say Batman Returns was an especially good movie overall, but I would say it has a LOT of great moments and it held a lot of potential. For Catwoman alone, the whole thing was very worth watching.

    So with all that out of the way, I guess it's time to start going into problems with "The Dark Knight Rises". There's been a lot of talk on the internet about plot holes in "Prometheus" and "Amazing Spider-Man" and, I'm very sorry, but there are MUCH MORE plot holes in Dark Knight Rises than either of those. Personally I don't really think counting plot holes is very productive. If you want to find issues with a movie you'll find them and The Matrix is often a favourite for that little activity. The question is, how blatantly do these problems stick out while you are watching? For that reason, I'd say that the second half was better than the first half. The film did a much better job of pulling me along in the second half, while in the first I felt like everything was a bit of a muddle.

    We enter encounter an 8 year time gap straight away. Batman has not been seen during most, if not all, of that time. In fact the supposed murder by the Batman has lead to a piece of legislation known as the Dent Act which has made it easier to put away criminals. Crime levels are apparently way down from what they once were as a result of this. Bruce Wayne has apparently been living as a recluse, rarely leaving his room at Wayne Manor. He now has a walking stick and genuinely seems to have a problem with his leg. Did I forget something really really important at the end of The Dark Knight or do we have no explanation as to what happened to his leg?

    Interesting side-note, apparently Wayne Manor ISN'T filmed in the same place as the mansion in "X-Men First Class". Can you guess which is which?

    Left: Wollaton Hall  Right: Englefield House

    The plot hole that stood out the most for me was Alfred's researching skills. Okay, so they are able to quickly work out the identity of Catwoman (which she's actually never called in the movie) based on old newspaper cuttings. Perhaps she's been to prison before and just bust out of there? But what's rather more confusing is when Alfred, as if describing things that Bruce Wayne does not know, explains that Bane was previously a member of The League of Shadows and was kicked out of the group. Now hang on a minute. The League of Shadows is an ultra-secret organisation which Bruce Wayne only discovered by virtue of being approached by them while in a Chinese prison. In the first movie it was made pretty clear that there was very little information to be found on this group, so how does Alfred suddenly have detailed insights into their internal membership decisions?

    Also, people said that Peter Parker was a douche in the recent Spider-Man but I was pretty shocked by Wayne's treatment of Alfred in this film. If you've seen the previous installment, you know that Alfred received a message from Rachel Dawes in the form of a letter, which he decided not to pass on. But you'll also remember that Rachel said herself that she was already with Harvey Dent and she wasn't really interested anymore. So with that in mind, I'll limit my description of the scene in question to this: how Rachel felt about Bruce comes up in conversation and Bruce doesn't seem keen on what Alfred has to say about it. Needless to say, Alfred is Bruce's loyal terrier as always and so I find it hard to empathise with Bruce's reaction in this scene.

    Getting even more vague on this next point. At one point in the film Bruce ends up going abroad. (I suppose we had that last time with him flying to China.) His mode of transport there and back was not always entirely clear to me and the timing involved in travelling seemed a bit dodgy. As always, I'm keeping the review as free of spoilers as I can, but I think this will make sense in context.

    So far I haven't mentioned Bane's voice which was brought up prior to the movie as a big issue. The first scene it comes up I felt worried that they'd overdone the changes to the film. It sounds like his voice is absolutely filling the room even though you might expect it to be somewhat muffled at that stage. Still, it seems that his mask must also amplify his voice and in certain scenes you can clearly hear that his voice is reverberating around the room. There are some points where his words aren't entirely clear, but he's not the only character where I cannot pick out every word perfectly. I found that I could catch the most important lines and he is supposed to be a character with a distinctive accent. I'll look forward to trying to catch the lines better next time I see this. It should also be noted that Tom Hardy does a great deal with his face, in spite of the large mask covering a lot of it. Hardy's performance means we can see Bane as an unstoppable behemoth, on the one hand, but yet a more thoughtful and inspiring figure on the other.

    Finishing off the negatives, I mentioned earlier that I found the beginning a bit muddled. The plot isn't exactly convoluted, but the way it's set up feels more puzzling that it needed to be. Also when Alfred connects something to a particular new character, I had absolutely no idea who he was talking about. Admittedly remembering names has never been my strong suit, but in previous films I didn't have the same puzzlement about how things fit together. It's easier to ignore possible niggling issues if the basic gist has been set up, but I felt that in the first half there were many points where I wasn't yet clear on the basics. It could be the script or it could be the editing, but something was making this film unnecessarily hard to follow, particularly in the first half.

    So let's get back to some positives. Concerned about whether Princess Diaries girl (Anne Hathaway) can do Catwoman? Well naturally this is a different Catwoman to the one in Burton's version, but she does a great job. Her acting is fantastic and she really pulls off the moral ambiguity of the character.

    Some people were a little concerned that she'd be fighting in high heels when I showed that movie poster a while back and there I'm afraid I have bad news. At the time I said that it couldn't be literally the high heels she would wear, because the heel was portrayed as a knife blade. Yep, you guessed it. Her heels are knife blades. I couldn't quite tell but I think the heels might have been retractable, but in any case the positive point here is that the knife-like heels are a quirky weapon and are used in an interesting way when Catwoman is making her way around the place. Catwoman's knife-heels are like her equivalent of Batman's batarang or bat-darts. How does a bat shaped object act as a boomerage still and why make bat shaped objects when you could just use ordinary boomerangs or darts? Well we let that go because it's a specific item used by the character and I'm afraid that's the best I can offer for why you might want to give the heels a pass this time.

    Also we have yet another appearance by Cillian Murphy. The scarecrow DOES appear again and when he does I felt like applauding. Gary Oldman returns as Commissioner Gordon and gets to be more important than ever before. In the first movie I felt, "why doesn't Oldman have more to do?", but in this film he is properly a major player. I was pleased to see that Morgan Freeman's character hasn't resigned after all and is just as brilliant as ever. Also, I need to mention Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is a really good addition to the cast and gets to appear as a rather more convincing badass than he did in "Inception" (where his badassery left me thinking "where did THAT come from?").

    I find myself comparing "The Dark Knight Rises" to "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" in a way. They are very different films and they have very different pros and cons. ROTPOTA had a first half where it had to set stuff up and you just had to ignore that James Franco has a massive house and no job all those years and yet is able to provide upkeep for a super-intelligent ape. You had to ignore that drugs tests don't work like that. And towards the end of the first half you had to ignore that ape sanctuary workers normally LOVE animals and aren't there against their will because of family connections. And then in the second half the prison break stuff starts and it goes awesome.

    Christopher Nolan clearly makes this his own and it's got the same distinctive feel of the previous two in the trilogy. Yet it also has it's own theme. While Batman Begins had a yellowish tinge, The Dark Knight was mostly blue, this one feels like it has white as its colour. It's clear that there are a lot of scenes where Batman is standing around in clear daylight and I'm quite impressed by how natural this film makes that feel. I have to say, when Nolan decided to increase the number of scenes in which Batman simply talks to people in "The Dark Knight" I found it a little odd. Expecting people to be intimidated by a figure rushing in and out of somewhere, remaining mostly in the shadows, generally makes more sense than when he's standing around in a superhero costume in plain sight. Yet somehow here, in clear daylight, it works and I have to credit Nolan that he made it work so well.

    Still, I'm afraid that in spite of what certain right-wing political commentators might want you to believe, this isn't a clear liberal message and the way the story arguably ties into the Occupy Wall Street ideas probably doesn't pay off the way you might hope. Still, I don't think Nolan's Batman films have ever had messages directly applicable to the political issues of the day and we are pretty lucky to now have some superhero movies that bother to touch on those issues for a change.

    How much you like The Dark Knight Rises will depend on how much it can pull you in. However, if there's one thing I think this review might have helped to do, it's to lower your expectations a bit. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this film was not going meet your expectactions. I absolutely recommend seeing this film, but we've all been expecting an awful lot from this film and I'm here to break it to you: It doesn't reach those heady heights. This is a very good film overall, but I've already seen plenty better this year. Consider this to be on the lower end of a B+.

    Of course the cat at Daily Mash writes a far better review than me...

    Important Notice:
    In case anyone isn't already aware of the tragedy that occurred in Denver today here are some links. This is absolutely shocking news and the event is made especially horrific when you look at the last excited comments from one of the victims still visible on twitter.

    Twelve Shot Dead In Colorado
    Terror and Confusion During The Violence
    All The Details As They Appeared To The Press

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