Below I have redone my list of my favourite films from 2010, this time ensuring that the films are all ones that were actually released in my country during that year.
My redone list for 2011 is here.
My current list for 2012 (which will definitely need to be reconsidered at the end of this year when I've caught up the many films I missed out on from 2012 last year) can be found here.
10. A Town Called Panic (2009)
UK release: 8th October 2010
This enchantingly insane animated feature tells the story of three housemates: horse, indian and cowboy. Horse is the sensible one, while indian and cowboy are ridiculously foolish figures.
While on the one hand these characters are represented by typical children's toys of a horse, indian and cowboy (the kind that can't move their arms or legs), the animation often ingeniously overcomes those barriers (partly because they have a variety of toys of each character to swap around when they need a new pose).
Once you reach the point in the film where a robotic penguin is being used to launch enormous snowballs at targets identified via satellite, it becomes clear that there are no limits to the extent this movie expects you to suspend your disbelief. Of course, it's not just a matter of bizarre randomness for the sake of it. "A Town Called Panic" is also absolutely hilarious.
My review here
Directors Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar's latest project is the cartoon movie "Ernest and Celestine" which is getting a DVD release in the UK this May.
9. The Infidel (2010)
UK release: 9th April 2010
Omid Djalili is a great comedian, though having watched several of his DVDs he seems to only have a pretty limited range of material. His work plays on racial stereotypes, so perhaps it's not surprising to see him playing the lead in a film about a Muslim who faces an identity crisis when he discovers that his real mother and father were Jewish. (Djalili's own religion is Ba'hai.)
There's great chemistry with Richard Schiff as the cynical Jewish American taxi driver who ends up teaching Djalili what is most important about being Jewish.
In the end, comedy is a very personal thing and it's hard to get consensus on what makes you laugh. Personally though, I found this absolutely hilarious.
My review here
Josh Appignanesi has only directed short films since "The Infidel", but the star Omid Djalili is expected to have a role in the upcoming "Molly Moon: The Incredible Hypnotist".
8. Toy Story 3 (2010)
UK release: 19th July 2010
I saw "Toy Story" when it first came out. I know the impact of that movie. To be quite frank, it didn't blow me away. That made all the more shocking when "Toy Story 2" turned out to be absolutely brilliant. "Toy Story 3" was going to have a tough time producing the same kind of upsurge in quality, particularly when the audience were already very familiar with Pixar's more recent classics like "Wall-E" and "Up".
However, "Toy Story 3" manages to be inventive and different enough to keep up with the best of the Pixar archives and while I'm still not sure whether I prefer the second or the third movie in this series the best, both are clearly superb.
Particularly inventive aspects included the moral ambiguity of Ken (Barbie's male counterpart), the nightmare fuel monkey toy, and Mr. Potato Head's secret mission. (Seriously does this mean that Mr. Potato Head can become anything his eyes and mouth are inserted into like that? Aren't there some problematic philosophical identity issues raised by this?)
Apparently there are plans to make a fourth Toy Story movie and this film certainly hasn't ruled that out, in spite of its very satisfying ending. I guess Pixar's mission to make us feel like neglecting our own toys was akin to abandoning children may still continue. Tears will be shed, because the mission has just been THAT successful...
My review here
Lee Unkrich's next directorial project is rumoured to be a project somehow connected to the Mexican Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.
7. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
UK release: 3rd December 2010
This Scandinavian horror-comedy proposing that Santa Claus is really a kind of demon from old folk mythology sits with "Let The Right One In" and "Troll Hunter" as an absolute must-see in scandinavian horror. Yeah sure, I love horror-comedies so I'm biased, but every time I watch this it just captures my heart.
And this is a proper horror comedy with equal emphasis on both elements. There's nothing quite so creepy as the old bearded Santa Claus in full Santa suit, staring out from his cage and smiling. *shudders*
My review here
6. Kick-Ass (2010)
UK release: 26th March 2010
Matthew Vaughn's filmography as a director began with the British movie "Layer Cake" about drug dealing starring Daniel Crais. "Layer Cake" may have played a big part in getting Craig the role of James Bond. Matthew Vaughn had been a producer on Guy Ritchie's first two gangster movies "Lock Stock" and "Snatch" and "from the producers of..." was displayed prominently on the poster for "Layer Cake". The last thing I was expecting was for "Layer Cake" to be better than either of Guy Ritchie's movies up to that point.
Since then Matthew Vaughn's career has continued to impress while Guy Ritchie is barely taken seriously any more. Matthew Vaughn went from "Layer Cake" to the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy story "Stardust" and most recently he breathed new life into the X Men franchise by making the best X Men movie to date: "X Men: First Class".
However, I think Matthew Vaughn's most highly regarded movie so far might be "Kick-Ass", with some claiming that his movie is better than Mark Millar's comic that was still being finished after the movie script was completed.
The bad language and violence from the young Chloe Moretz as the pre-teen female superhero "Hit-Girl" sparked controversy. However, the idea of a young girl who can talk tough and beat the hell out of adults was a really interesting concept and part of that was the shock value. It's just one of the compelling ideas in Kick-Ass which makes this movie stick with the audience after they leave the cinema.
My review here
Matthew Vaughn's next directorial project (presumably his backup in case he wasn't chosen to direct the new Star Wars movie) is an adaptation of another Mark Millar comic: "The Secret Service".
5. The Loved Ones (2009)
UK release: 4th October 2010
A horror comedy, but with some pretty seriously gritty horror. First time I watched this it ended up becoming too much and I had to stop watching. After watching "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" I felt able to return to it. The two films are kindred spirits with "The Loved Ones" involving a very impressive take on the theme of being captured by maniacs.
As if to show how meaningless the term is, this is probably the nearest thing I've seen to "torture porn". The treatment of the protagonist is pretty unrelenting and the scene is nightmarish, but within that there's something surreal about the context in which the torture takes place and the plight of the protagonist never feels hopeless no matter how bad things get.
"The Loved Ones" is a masterpiece for those who can stomach it. Part of what made stomaching "The Loved Ones" so hard was the knack of the director in making me empathise with the protagonist and feel his pain.
My review here
4. Mother (2009)
UK DVD release: 20th September 2010
While Chan-Wook Park (or is it Park Chan-Wook. People seem really inconsistent on this) is getting a lot of attention for his work, with Spike Lee working on a remake of his film "Oldboy", the Korean director who really stands out for me is Joon-Ho Bong.
Bong first got my attention with his movie "The Host" which actually ended up being my first ever movie review on this blog. First time around I, oddly enough, found the contrast between the central monster and the comedic elements rather jarring. On a second watch I was able to appreciate "The Host" much better.
"Mother" is the story of, well, a mother. When her mentally disabled son is accused of murder and appears to have been overly quick to confess to a crime he doesn't actually remember committing, she decides to do some detective work of her own. Blending gritty drama with comedy seems to be a trait within a lot of Korean films, but no one seems to do quite so expertly and consistently as Joon-Ho Bong.
My review here
Joon-ho Bong is currently working on a sci-fi movie called "Snowpiercer" based on a French graphic novel (starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Jamie Bell, Alison Pill, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris).
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
UK release: 25th August 2010
Edgar Wright is an incredible director with a keen eye for detail. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have admitted finding that filming is rather more relaxed in their other projects where Edgar Wright is not at the helm. And you can see why when you look at the detail in Edgar Wright's movies. The films flow along quickly and smoothly, but there are so many details, so many things going on at once, and to get that kind of beautiful detail on screen there needs to be very careful planning.
It's a testament to the quality of Edgar Wright's work that "Shaun Of The Dead" is my least favourite of his three films so far. "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World" is like a musical except that (even though the film contains very good songs indeed) the big showcases breaking up the movie are not songs, but fight scenes.
Scott Pilgrim is a love letter to video games and while that seems like a bizarre concept, it plays on screen beautifully. The concept is successful because of the strong characterisation and great comic timing backing it up.
On Michael Cera's performance, and I see no two ways about this, he is brilliant here. Scott Pilgrim isn't a nice person. He's not villainous and he doesn't feel like he deserves to be threatened by seven deadly fighters, but his approach to relationships is selfish and callous. Of course, this story arc also relies heavily on the performance of Ellen Wong as Knives Chau. It seems that Ellen Wong is now involved in tv series, but I'd like to see Edgar Wright bring her back to the big screen in one of his later movies.
My review here
Edgar Wright is expected to release "The World's End" starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg this August and is believed to be in pre-production on Marvel's new "Ant-Man" movie.
2. Mary and Max (2009)
UK release: 22nd October 2010
Absolutely amazing stop motion film that deserved much wider recognition. One of the best animated movies of all time with a dark humour, but also an endearing sense of honesty. Both the main characters, a young girl in Australia and an older man in New York, have odd ways of looking at the world. By becoming pen pals they add an extra dimension to each other's lives.
There's a tragic side to both their stories, but their unique understanding of the world around them colours the story and makes this a very uplifting tale. Meanwhile the stop motion style itself is extremely visually arresting and the visuals are non-stop. The use of liquids in the stop-motion particularly stands out. Water is normally made to come across as pretty in most animation, but here it is the gross substance that makes up bodily fluids, swishing drinks and unnameable soup.
Mary and Max is unique amongst animated movies and provides an absolutely unforgettable experience. It is funny, moving and absolutely fantastic.
My review here
1. Winter's Bone (2010)
UK release: 17th September 2010
Now that Jennifer Lawrence is known for playing Katniss Everdeen, Mystique and some random crazy lady (is it obvious that I haven't watched "Silver Linings Playbook" yet?) it might be easy to forget what is possibly still her best performance.
"Winter's Bone" is a simple and dark, almost fairytale (as in PROPER fairytale) like story. The basic gist is that it is about a girl looking for her missing father, but there's more to it than that.
Jennifer Lawrence's character Ree lives in a very male-dominant area where local people mistrust the police, family ties are strong even when relations between family members are poor, and cooking crystal meth is a common activity in the area.
Jennifer Lawrence is not even remotely dolled up for this part and there's a pretty grimy feel to the film as a whole. Ree is a tough and independent protagonist who will not back down easily.
Another great actor in the film is John Hawkes. His tough-guy-with-a-reputation here is not so far removed from his creepy-cult-leader in "Marcy May Marlene", but it was a far cry from his comedic role in the opening to Rodriguez's "From Dusk Til Dawn". I look forward to seeing him in more awesome independent projects in the future. (Perhaps his role in "Lincoln" will open more doors? I couldn't say, since I'm disinclined to watch what, according to most accounts, is a bit of a bore-a-thon.)
I should probably leave you with the Filmdrunk quote that first got me interested in this film:
“Winter’s Bone knows the quickest way to this reviewer’s heart: with a big f*cking chainsaw.”
My review here
Two honourable mentions this time. I would ask if that was cheating, but this is my list, so my rules. Deal with it! ;)
UK release: 26th March 2010
Exploring the concept of miracles within Catholicism with reference to a particular case at Lourdes shrine in France. This movie managed to win the Rationalist "Brian" award and the Catholic "SIGNIS" award, managing to stay entirely true to the experience of a Lourdes visit and even a miracle occurrence, yet never insists that miracles are real.
Even though all the characters are Catholic there are plenty of sceptical viewpoints, including one medical expert, several theological experts playing devil's advocate, but notably quite a few voices of common sense combined with jealousy.
Lourdes is quite an amazing film. It's not spectacular of fast-paced, but if you love religion or hate religion then, either way, you should watch this. If you are lukewarm on religion you still might want to consider it.
My review here
UK release: 6th January 2010
Some wonderful worldbuilding regarding a dystopian future where vampires have taken over the world and humanity are harvested for their blood. There's clear parallels with real life relating to social and political issues which some might find a little too on-the-nose, but I absolutely adored this.
My review here
The Sperig Brothers are believed to be in pre-production on two separate time-travel-related movies: "Echo Station" and "Pre-destination".
Another 8 good movies from 2010:
It feels like this could easily have been a top 20 list, but that's the point of best of lists. You HAVE to pick the very best of the year out from your favourites. In any case, if you want a few more choices which were reluctantly left aside, check out the following.
Black Death (2010)
UK release: 11th June 2010
Christopher Smith, one of my favourite British horror directors of the moment, creates a horror movie based around medieval England and the horror of the black death. The Church are convinced that the black death is caused by Satan, so when one village remains unaffected and there are reports of necromancy and black arts, a monk played by Eddie Redmayne guides a group of mercenaries led by Sean Bean to 'cleanse' the place of evil. Awesome film.
My review here (rating change here)
Easy A (2010)
UK release: 22nd October 2010
A very funny comedy starring the ultra-talented Emma Stone which pays tribute to the old John Hughes movies of the 80s. Fantastic stuff, even if the characters seem a little more puritanical than is really realistic.
My review here
UK release: 16th July 2010
Not Chris Nolan's best, but an incredible sci-fi heist movie all the same. There's rather a lot of expository dialogue, but the end result makes it worth it.
My review here
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (2009)
UK release: 21st May 2010
Werner Herzog's remake of "Bad Lieutenant" is the story of a corrupt police detective who injures his back rescuing a prisoner during hurricane Katrina. When he's unable to pick up medication for his back, he ends up self-medicating with narcotics. Making use of his regular drug taking to get into a gang, protecting his prostitute girlfriend, and handling ever increasing gambling debts, all leaves him with a lot of enemies. Who better to play this unhinged police detective than Nicolas Cage? And yes, the silvery iguanas everywhere are a nice touch.
My review here
Made in Dagenham (2010)
UK release: 1st October 2010
Sally Hawkins stars as an outspoke car factory worker who decides to demand fair pay for women. It's a very sweet film (think "The Full Monty"), but the brilliant performances keep it from feeling insubstantial.
My review here
UK release: 3rd December 2010
Gareth Edwards is currently working on a brand new big budget Godzilla movie, but with Monsters he worked with very low budget visual effects to produce a really impressive road trip movie. The monsters don't show up all that often, but when they do they are very convincing and, more importantly, the main characters also feel very convincing all through the film.
My review here
UK release: 18th August 2010
I've never seen the theatrical cut and I think that's why I enjoyed this so much. This is not just an exciting movie, but a hilarious movie - and intentionally so. We begin with the threat of secret soviet sleeper agents and by the end it feels like EVERYONE is a soviet sleeper agent. And yet even while being wonderfully silly, Angelina Jolie makes us buy into the emotional side of things too. A fantastically fun silly action movie.
My review here
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
UK release: 5th March 2010
I generally avoid putting documentaries on the list, but this documentary presented by the famous street artist Banksy is pretty much a piece of art. Apparently the tale of a filmmaker trying to document the rise of street art, but in the end the movie itself becomes a comment on street art.
My review here
Cold Prey 2 (2008)
During the last Halloween Candy October Horror Marathon one of my favourites was a rather awesome scandinavian slasher movie called "Cold Prey". The plot was pretty much the typical slasher movie plot, but what impressed me was the way the film focussed on the victims and made them all into interesting and very real characters. Perhaps the biggest problem with the slasher genre has generally been the lack of genuine character in the potential victims. Cold Prey had engaging and interesting characters who interacted well and even had a sense of humour.
If "Cold Prey" was Friday the 13th at a ski resort, "Cold Prey 2" is Halloween 2 at a ski resort. This time the main setting is a hospital. The one survivor of the last film is severely disturbed by what happened to her last time around, but she's also kind of badass now too. She's a bit like Ellen Ripley from the "Alien" series, in that she has skills that she possessed before the trouble started, but she's also been hardened by her experience. She's no longer surprised by the villain, so she's cool-headed, pro-active and the best person to have on your side when facing the threat.
Sadly not all the new characters are as interesting as in the last film. This time many characters feel a little less genuine. However, they are still on top form by slasher movie standards. What's more, the villain is given a bit more character this time around. He's still a faceless behemoth of few words, but in the background old files and memories are being pieced together to uncover the truth behind the killer. Rather like with the Friday the 13th series, the legend of the villain becomes that bit more elaborate as the series progresses, making him more than just an ordinary psycho.
This was a very satisfying slasher film and seems like these filmmakers seem to be able to filter out all but just the best aspects of classic slasher movies. These "Cold Prey" movies have distilled all the best aspects of the slasher genre. The premise and settings may pay tribute to the older slasher movies, but I genuinely feel like these films deserve their place as exemplary slasher classics in their own right. If you've ever enjoyed a slasher film in the past, you owe it to yourself to check out the first two "Cold Prey" movies.
Juan Of The Dead (2011)
Inevitably when you start talking about a zombie comedy the tendency amongst reviewers is to make comparisons to "Shaun Of The Dead". I love "Shaun Of The Dead", but I am aware of a few problems with it.
Firstly, "Shaun Of The Dead" feels like an extra long one-off episode of "Spaced" except all the characters have changed. That's not much of a criticism since "Spaced" is bloody brilliant, but sometimes taking what was previously a tv format and transferring it to the cinema can feel a bit odd. I feel this is an issue that Edgar Wright had overcome when it came to his next two movies: "Hot Fuzz" and "Scott Pilgrim Vs The World".
Secondly, I don't find "Shaun Of The Dead" consistently funny all the way through. There are some wonderful moments, but there are other parts, like where the protagonists start throwing vinyl records at the zombies, where I feel a bit alienated from the material. Never the less, I feel that "Shaun Of The Dead" is fantastically made and definitely counts as one of my favourite horror comedies in spite of a little bit of comedic inconsistency.
With a title like "Juan Of The Dead", it's inevitable that it will be compared with Edgar Wright's excellent directorial debut. However, it is neither overly hyperbolic praise nor is it anything to be sneezed at when I say that "Juan Of The Dead" is actually BETTER than "Shaun Of The Dead".
In Cuba, Juan and a group of friends find that they are the last survivors dealing with life in the middle of a zombie-infested neighbourhood. The news reports claim that the violence is caused by "dissidents" who are believed to be supporters of the US. As such, not having the term "zombies" to hand, the zombies are often rather amusingly referred to as 'dissidents'.
Considering that the zombies are being dismissed as capitalists, it's rather ironic that Juan and his friends' response to the situation is to try to make money out of it. Once they get past the initial shock, they try to run a business whereby they will finish off zombies in exchange for money so that people can return to their homes. Their slogan?: "Juan Of The Dead, we kill your loved ones!"
In terms of side-characters, I was particularly entertained by the duo of China and Primo. The former being a transvestite who is as effeminate as he is badass. The latter being a large and heavily muscular figure who, due to fainting at the sight of blood, has to fight the zombies blindfolded.
Naturally Juan is the main character. He's a bit of a drifter. He wants to do what is best for his daughter, who is briefly in Cuba, though he is upset to hear that she has plans to live in Spain out of contact with him. His best friend Lazaro is also a slacker and similarly is hoping for the best for his son, which is presumably why his son is named California...
While there's occasionally some inevitable gore as zombies are dispatched, the focus is clearly on the comedy. "Juan Of The Dead" is a very funny film, but like "Shaun Of The Dead" before it, there's also a lot of heart.
Zombie fans and horror-comedy fans; this is another must-see....
Cross-posted from Halloween Candy
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Before I start going into my review here, I feel that I need to provide some perspective. Let's note first that the hype has been absolutely INSANE ever since Joss Whedon released "Avengers Assemble" (that's the title on all the versions released over here and yes, you shall continue to share my pain). Let's also remember that "Iron Man 2" was somewhat compromised so that the Iron Man franchise could be used to tie together the various other Marvel superheroes.
Now let's backtrack all the way to the first 'Marvel Studios' movie. Naturally I am referring to "Iron Man". In that year the two big superhero movies were "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" and the big appeal of "Iron Man" was that Robert Downey Jr's character was completely different from Nolan's cold and brooding hero. "The Dark Knight" was serious and angsty, but "Iron Man" was light-hearted and fun.
Now let's backtrack a little further to Robert Downey Jr's career prior to "Iron Man". RDJ had a part in Fincher's "Zodiac" which, like the whole of that movie, I've completely forgotten. He also had a small but sweet role in Clooney's "Good Night And Good Luck" and a relatively big role in Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly". However, RDJ wasn't really on the radar much at all until he starred in Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang".
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was exciting and hilarious and pretty much set the tone for RDJ's role as Tony Stark in "Iron Man". "Iron Man" may have rocketed him into super-stardom, but it was "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" which put him firmly back on the map and really made that possible.
"Iron Man" has been known from the beginning as a franchise that is based around fun and humour. Heck, that's arguably true of all seven Mavel Studios movies, particularly "Avengers Assemble". The Marvel movies are ALL about the jokes. And now Shane Black has co-written a script that is hilarious and all we're really missing is Val Kilmer. (For those who haven't seen "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", Val Kilmer is frikkin' hilarious in that movie and you should really check it out. You don't know what you are missing.)
Some reactions I'm hearing to Iron Man 3 don't seem to think it should have been quite so focussed on humour and punchlines. I say no, Iron Man has ALWAYS been about humour and punchlines. Some have said that the director doesn't understand the character. I say no, Shane Black as good as created this character. Iron Man would not have appeared on the big screen in the way he did without Shane Black.
I think the biggest thing I worried about going into "Iron Man 3" was Ben Kingsley. The trailer showed him playing a pretty cliched villain and his track record for picking out movies to work on is really not great. Ever heard of "Suspect Zero" as anything other than a title on a DVD box? Me neither. Kingsley did the Uwe Boll movie "BloodRayne", he was in Mike Myers' "The Love Guru" and he was in "Prince of Persia: Sands Of Time". He is really not fussy about his projects and I was really worried that he simply wouldn't take "Iron Man 3" seriously. Still, I shouldn't have worried. Ben Kingsley is brilliant here and you can rest assured that you can look forward to Kinglsey at his best.
One thing I didn't know which might have concerned me too is that there's a child actor who shows up in this movie. Child actors are often HORRIBLE. It's not said enough that Newt, the little girl in the movie "Aliens", was irritating as hell. It never ceases to surprise me when I hear that people were not relieved when Newt was killed off in the opening to "Alien 3". (Sure, it was shocking, but it was also a relief.) Thankfully, the kid in "Iron Man 3" is both well cast and plays a reasonably small role in the film. There are some seriously funny lines exchanged between RDJ and this child actor.
The problems with "Iron Man 3" are pretty similar to problems with the original "Iron Man" and "Avengers Assemble". One issue is that there are points where events just happen for the sake of it. At one point Tony Stark is looking into the background of the bad guy and the villains happen to turn up in the same place. Why are they there? While they had their reasons, the villains are mainly there at the same time out of pure coincidence. Which is fine, if a little overly convenient for the plot. Still it's not really any different from when Tony Stark's business partner suddenly decides to make some drastic moves towards the end of "Iron man" or when Hawkeye's possession is neatly stopped through a quick blow to the head. We don't worry about the little details sometimes because we are so caught up with the story and, perhaps more importantly, the humour.
Another issue was the central maguffin um... 'fire people'. I mean seriously, these people's clothes should be going up in smoke (though I suppose the fire is in their arms and their chest rather than actually touching clothes most of the time... and people who haven't seen the movie yet are getting seriously confused now, right?) Okay so the Marvel movies now feature gods from outer space, so we need to accept that things are going to get borderline supernatural. There's some explanation involving 'genetic manipulation' and we're supposed to leave it there. But seriously, DNA that gives you fire powers? Really?
Perhaps my biggest issue was with the way things turned into a big fight towards the end. I suppose when you need to end something like this you need the big explosions at the end. You need the payoff. Iron Man 3 makes sure you know when the payoff comes. There's plenty of exciting moments all the way through the movie and I must say, I think some of the earlier set-pieces rather out-do the final battle sequence. Still, it's ALL a lot of fun.
In fact, just in case you were in any doubt as to how much fun you had, the final credits re-cap the whole thing in a grindhouse style credits sequence. It was really awesome and really had me wondering what kind of Marvel movie Robert Rodriguez might make (after all, it's not too long before we see what Edgar Wright decides to do with the Marvel property "Ant-Man").
In between this 'final battle sequence' and those neat end credits, "Iron Man 3" really treats this like the end of a trilogy. A lot of things are tied up without always spending a lot of time on them. It seems that this is perhaps what has upset several of my friends on LJ the most. However, in the end we still get the final message "I am Iron Man" and I was happy with the way things wrapped up.
Before I finish, I should definitely point out that Don Cheadle is used a lot better in the role of Roadie here than he was in Iron Man 2.
Personally I'd say that this was definitely the best "Iron Man" movie and arguably the best Marvel Studios movie. In the end this is going to depend on your taste in humour. When it comes to comedy, tastes can vary dramatically. When it comes to movies, what you laugh at is a much more personal thing than what kind of stories or visuals you prefer. Personally, I was laughing a lot more in "Iron Man 3" than I did in "Avengers Assemble" and there is no doubt that both of them are laying on the punchlines.
As such, for me, "Iron Man 3" is the very best of the 'Marvel Studio' movies so far. Yet ironically it seems like "Thor 2" (of all franchises? Really?) might be about to give us the more serious and brooding counter-part to the ever sweet and cheerful fun of the Iron Man series. (Then again, didn't Iron Man 3's first trailer seem brooding and serious too?)
At this stage in the year (and we've got a long way to go), the best movie I've seen in cinemas over 2013 has been "Stoker". "Iron Man 3" hasn't been the one to knock that off the top spot. But as an action comedy, "Iron Man 3" is absolutely superb.
Ranking the Marvel Studios movies:
7. Captain America: The Last Avenger
I was seriously disappointed with this one. The characters felt flat, the action sequences were unengaging, and I was far too aware that Captain America's bright blue and red costume was ridiculously poorly suited to the stealth mission he was inexplicably pulling off by the end. In the end, I think this movie was taking itself far too seriously. It was a campy scenario and yet the movie decided to play it straight. I felt that was a mistake.
(My review of Captain America here)
6. The Incredible Hulk
I really liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, but unfortunately I pretty much disliked everything else. Tim Roth was remarkably flat in his role, since I know that he can do a lot better. Perhaps the biggest problem was that I was actually really bored whenever the Hulk turned up. That OUGHT to be the point when things get exciting, but the Hulk just felt so unrelated to Ed Norton's character in his body language and behaviour that I couldn't really stay interested during those sections.
4=. Iron Man 2 / Thor
Iron Man 2 and Thor were both fairly insubstantial fluffy fun movies. I should note that Johanssen's Black Widow character gets a more exciting action scene in "Iron Man 2" than we ever see in "Thor", and Mickey Rourke is an excellent baddie too. Still, I think "Thor" is perhaps the more fun overall.
(My review of Iron Man 2 here)
(My review of Thor here)
3. Iron Man
The film that started the run of successful Marvel Studios movies. RDJ gives his performance as Tony Stark for the first time and it's still a very fun little movie.
2. Avengers Assemble
Somehow managing to bring together several superheroes from different movies into one story. Joss Whedon's excellent knack for comedy ensures that we get some great interactions between them. Of course, we'd seen multiple heroes interact before in the "X Men" movies, but never quite so successfully as they do here. The way the plot resolves around a 'end of the world' maguffin with a *yawn* big battle scene, meant I liked the second half (that battle scene takes a LONG time) a lot less than the first half. In the end, the best bits of Avengers Assemble didn't involve any action sequences at all. But the character interactions were what kept the movie going and there was a lot of good humour to make it all work.
(My review of Avengers Assemble here)
1. Iron Man 3
Yeah you've just read the review, but let's compare this to the other movies in the Marvel Studios series:
- Great action scenes which genuinely made me say "wow". I think that's probably a first.
- Consistently hilarious throughout. Not exactly the first, but probably the most successful at keeping the jokes coming.
- Includes a child actor without irritating me. (Yeah okay, that's the first child actor to be included. But I think it deserves a mention.)
I'm mostly giving Iron Man 3 the top spot for its humour and when we consider the beginnings of this whole movie series, that feels appropriate to me.
I am also currently working my way through two horror franchises right now. Child's Play and The Omen. If you want to see what I thought of "Damien: Omen 2" you can check out that review here.
Oh wow! New poster for the fourth movie in the REC series: REC Apocalypse!
I am so excited!!!!
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
J.J. Abrams finally releases the long awaited sequel to his reboot of back in 2009. There's rather more reason to be concerned about this movie's success though because it feels tied to two franchises now. Abrams is now not only tied to Star Trek, but also to Star Wars and it seems inevitable that his approach to Star Trek will leave some clues at to what his upcoming Star Wars sequel will have in store for us.
Of course, we all remember what the best part of the first Star Trek reboot movie was right? Why, Chris Hemsworth of course! He had an opening emotional scene where he sacrifices his life for the people he loves.
Now in this new sequel "Into Darkness" we have another opening where a throwaway character sacrifices his life for those he loves (with a darker twist). This time the actor is Noel Clarke. I LOVE Noel Clarke. Not quite enough to have checked out "Kidulthood" or "Adulthood" which are the two movies he's seemingly known best for as a serious actor. Obviously most people will know him as Mickey from Doctor Who, but he was also in Neil Marshall's "Centurion", he has a small role in "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" with Andy Serkis, he was the ONLY good thing in "Heartless" and brought that same charm along for his much larger role in the fun little movie "Fast Girls" with Lenora Critchlow.
Noel Clarke is absolutely brilliant in his opening in "Into Darkness", but unfortunately he is given practically no lines. There's also an annoying series of dutch angles and the camera twisting around that really don't work as well as they were meant to. Still surely after this, just like Chris Hemsworth (who is now Thor), he should be moving into his own big Marvel Studios project right? He's brilliant at acting and yet with his current level of fame Marvel wouldn't have to pay too much to get him to take the lead in one of their franchises. Perfect! I've had few ideas on this...
Okay, so I know we all think of Wesley Snipes as Blade, but I think he's been gone too long and he's too old for the role now. Blade needs to be reintroduced with a new actor for the Marvel universe version of the series, so why not Noel Clarke? Clarke's not American enough? I guess he could be the technology-savvy sidekick, but like Hemsworth I think Clarke deserves a major role...
I keep hearing about Black Panther and from what I understand that character isn't supposed to be American. I think he's supposed to come from some unknown foreign country, so it could well be part of the commonwealth and/or the Black Panther could have been educated in the UK. So that solves accent issues, so there's one option.
One last suggestion. There is a Marvel character called "Captain Britain".... Need I say more? Noel Clarke! Sorted! (No I haven't read the comics btw.)
Okay, that was the fun bit of the review, because I'm afraid things are going to get kinda depressing from here on out. I was really excited for this new Star Trek movie and I was hoping for the best. I've never thought any Star Trek movies were perfect, but I grew up with them and they pretty much all have a real charm to them.
Now don't get me wrong, the acting in "Into Darkness" is all great. Whatever they are expected to do, these actors give a brilliant performance. It's just that, unfortunately, the material is lame as hell.
It's revealed fairly early on that the Benedict Cumberbatch villain character has blood that can save people when ordinary medicine cannot. Later on that turns out to be a painfully obvious Chekov's gun and unfortunately the film seems to be banking on the audience somehow being surprised when that gun is eventually fired.
The trailers already reveal fairly clearly that there's going to be a scene (it's early on in the movie) where there's an attack on a room full of federation staff. When that scene happens there's a number of casualties, but the film decides to ignore all of them except for one major character. We discover shortly afterwards that another of the people in that room, played by Peter Weller, survives unscathed, but yet there's no sign that anyone asides from that one particular main character was given any kind of assistance or attention at the point where the gunfire stopped.
The focus of the filmmakers in each scene seems to be pretty narrow. At times there's almost the suggestion that some more in-depth plot might be involved, but in the end it just feels like one thing happening after another. Some have suggested that "Into Darkness" suffers from a similar failure to provide explanations that we found in "Prometheus" due to both sharing Lindeloff as the writer. However, it's not so much that nothing is explained as that nothing has any weight to it.
I actually loved "Prometheus" and part of that was the atmosphere. But while every frame of "Prometheus" shouted "CREEPY!" every frame of "Into Darkness" shouts "SCHMALTZ!"
I tried not to be too disheartened by the plodding plot towards the beginning. I remembered how I felt in "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" where I began by feeling underwhelmed by the paint-by-numbers plot (along with James Franco's underwhelming lead performance) and then later things picked up massively when the central ape Caesar took central stage all of a sudden.
Here in "Into Darkness" there's a point where things start to come to a head and it looks like we're about to go in a really interesting direction. At this stage humans and Klingons have an uneasy balance of power. Any interaction with them risks a major diplomatic nightmare. Naturally not everything goes to plan and with the stakes suddenly rising higher than ever we discover that Uhura is the only one available on the mission who can speak Klingon.
I don't remember this in the film. I'm pretty sure this
image must just have been posed for promotional photos.
So now, let me just completely deflate all the emotions you are feeling right now by revealing that this movie is NOT really about Klingons. They don't play a big part overall at all. In fact, even the potential RISK of all-out war with the Klingons as a result of this mission goes absolutely nowhere.
One of the best things about "Into Darkness" is the way it looks. This movie is VERY pretty. The locations whether inside or outside, natural or man-made have all been designed impeccably well. The only thing I thought could have been better was the Klingon warships (the Bird of Prey, as it is known). In the original movies they had this red and green colour scheme which I loved. In "Into Darkness" they look grey. That being said, they also move a lot more impressively in the reboot. With the help of CG those ships now really can swoop.
One of the worst things about "Into Darkness" is the action scenes. The film seems to follow the Michael Bay style for filming action scenes where all the quick-cuts leave you with very little idea of what actually happened. An important exception to this is where two characters are sent flying into space in space suits and are trying to aim themselves. That was filmed a lot more clearly than most action in the film.
While trying to run away at one point, Benedict Cumberbatch decides to put on what must be the most conspicuous shiny coat he could possibly find. Hey, I guess he wants to look cool, right?
Oh and Spock, in a misjudged attempt by the writers to make a callback to prior films, provides what must surely be Star Trek's equivalent of Darth Vader's "NOOOOOO!" from Star Wars. I'm not going say what he calls out (though some might be able to guess. And I cannot really discuss why it doesn't work here (though there are VERY good reasons). However trust me, it is utterly ridiculous.
I hate to say it, but I am now fairly convinced that I will hate the new Star Wars movie. However, there may be a silver lining. If Abrams is making Star Wars, presumably a different director can do Star Trek 3? Perhaps the next Star Trek movie will be better of without Abrams direction? Perhaps this series of Star Trek movies will reverse the old formula and instead it will be only the ODD-NUMBERED ones that are worth watching?
In any case, it is with absolutely no pleasure that I assure you all that "Into Darkness" is simply a really bad movie. It's threadbare in plot and not particularly funny either. Every actor puts his all into every scene and some of the interactions between Kirk and Spock are good fun, but the material is simply not good enough to carry an entire feature film.
Oh and seriously, what was going on here? Why in the hell does this screencap even exist?
Something For The Dads!
(BTW that comment would make more sense if you've seen Dara O'Briain's "Craic Dealer" stand-up.)
I am also currently working my way through two horror franchises right now. Child's Play and The Omen. If you want to see what I thought of Child's Play 2 you can check out that review here.
The first thing I need to explain about Excision before anything else is the revelation that Traci Lords is (these days at least) an awesome actress. She plays a mother troubled by the future of both her daughters in this dark coming-of-age drama about a disturbed girl.
If you don't know who Traci Lords is, here's the background. Traci Lords began her career in porn. For those of you are into that sort of thing, you are probably not going to get very far with this one. It turns out that she lied about her age and was actually 16 when she got started (though according to wikipedia she claimed that she was 20). As such, all the work she did in porn is now illegal. The authorities got involved around three weeks after her 18th birthday, so there really is absolutely no legal porn from this actress.
The scandal when her age was revealed made her quite a celebrity, so she used this to move into acting. Her 'first mainstream role' was in one of the ultra-low budget flicks produced by Roger Corman: "Not Of This Earth" (1988 version). However, since then she's been nothing if not prolific. However, while she may have been in plenty of films and tv series, I've never really known her to have quite such a major role as she does here in "Excision" before.
Anyway, it turns out she's more than capable of handling a major role. This is far more than just a celebrity cameo. Traci Lords is absolutely perfect in the role here and does a fantastic job.
The main actress in "Excision" however, is playing the role of one of her two daughters. AnnaLynne McCord's previous credits include a major role in the tv series "90210" (I've never really heard of it) and a role as the tall scantily clad badass woman with very few lines in "Transporter 2". She's normally playing quite glamorous figures, so you'd barely recognise her the way she looks in "Excision". Her hair is a mess and her skin has been made up to give her that "difficult stage of puberty" look. She also often looks rather pale and on top of all this her demeanour during the movie significantly serves to lower her sex appeal.
AnnaLynne McCord doesn't look unattractive in "Excision", but there's no trouble imagining her as an unpopular girl in school who might not have boys flocking to ask her out. (Super obvious hint to other filmmakers wishing to emulate this movie's good choices. If you want your female protagonist to seem like she'd be unpopular in school: Don't give her perfect glamour make-up! Duh!)
In her dreams it's another matter however. I had trouble sometimes believing it was the same actress in the dream sequences. The very first dream sequence is right at the start of the movie. Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord's character) has a dream involving two versions of herself, both sitting in chairs facing one another. One is convulsing and coughing up blood while the other is experiencing sexual pleasure. All these dreams are erotic dreams and it seems that her character strongly connects blood with sexual desire. Connecting sexual pleasure with blood and possibly death is common to all her dreams.
In this initial dream neither version of her is in fully-sexualised mode, since both have their hair tied back and don't really have the full glamourous make-up. Though both have uncovered legs one of them has her legs awkwardly crossed in pain and discomfort, the other is curling her legs in pleasure. These scenes aren't really appealing to a drooling male audience. The way they combine sexuality with blood is pretty disturbing and it'd be a pretty twisted individual who could ignore that. These sequences are revealing the inner mindset of this confused character who is experiencing some pretty twisted personal desires as she goes through the later stages of puberty.
Pauline is a complete contrast to her sister Grace (played by Ariel Winter), who is not only an extremely sweet little girl, but also seems to have all the feelings young girls are expected to have. She's much more concerned about her appearance, wearing full girly make-up, and she's really looking forward to getting married in the future. Her mother makes no secret that she's the favourite of the two daughters.
Grace is still a misfit in her own way though. She is suffering from cystic fibrosis and it is likely that, very soon, she will need a lung transplant. It's a dangerous procedure and even if successful there's no telling how long she will last after that. Grace seems to be the only person who really gets along with her sister Pauline. The two of them have a strong bond with one another and both are keen to stand up for the other.
Seemingly as part of Pauline's sexual fascination with blood, she also wants to become a surgeon. However, while on the one hand she's obsessed with reading all about surgery, she's not very interested in working hard at school. She's a fascinating character because she is a whole colossal mess of contradictions which somehow manage to make a twisted sort of sense. Another contradiction is that she is an atheist, yet she constantly prays to God for guidance.
Since it's cheaper than a proper psycho-therapist, Pauline's mother takes her for counselling with the local priest, here played by John Waters (clearly playing against type). There are a few other small roles played by well-known actors. Malcolm McDowell plays a teacher and Ray Wise plays the headmaster.
Excision is quite a haunting movie by the end. While there's something almost relateable about this confused girl and while there are clear comparisons to be made with stories about a misfit female protagonist "May", "Stoker" and also to the French film "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" starring Audrey Tatou (which I think is absolutely brilliant and hideously underrated).
The ending of "Excision" is pretty harrowing and I wasn't really sure what to think about it initially, but sometimes the best horror films are those ones that stick with you and haunt you long after you eject the DVD. This isn't traditional horror and you couldn't classify it as a psychological thriller. It's perhaps most similar to the dysfunctional family drama "American Beauty", except with definite twisted horror elements running all the way through it.
"Excision" is unique. A darkly funny yet deeply twisted film with a fantastically compelling lead character. I loved it.
(x-posted to Halloween Candy)
Gabe Toro (aka fabfunk) has written a rather awesome spoilerific takedown of the latest Star Trek movie. That was pretty cool and I'm sure not everyone will agree. However this led to claims by some commenters that this challenge to J.J. Abrams' film was somehow a stain on Gabe's reputation as a film critic.
I think this is all the funnier if you've seen the ridiculous spectacle of New-Spock crying out a villain's name that he first heard just a few hours ago. It really is the equivalent of Vader's "NOOOOOO!" in "Revenge Of The Sith".
See Gabe Toro's awesome article which preceded these comments either by clicking here or on the image above...
I don't always agree with Gabe, but I think he's completely on the money this time. The article also includes an ingenious reference to the movie "Spaceballs".
End of Watch (2012)
Y'know what? Jake Gyllenhaal is great. Sure, he always seems to play a pretty similar role but it's not a simple role to play by any means. He generally seems to play a mostly well-meaning, but by no means perfect, typical guy.
Perhaps what distinguishes Gyllenhaal from other actors trying to pull of the same sorts of roles is that he seems to make typical subtle flaws seem effortless. In "Jarhead" for example, there's a scene where a fellow soldier's wife had spitefully sent him a homemade porn video where she cheats on him. The soldier, keen to see the video his wife has sent, discovers this betrayal with all his fellow soldier's around him also watching. The soldier walks out furious and everyone is asked to leave, but Jake Gyllenhaal's character insists that he wants to stay and watch the video.
This isn't because Gyllenhaal's character is going to gain pleasure from watching it, but because he wants to watch someone else be destroyed in order to feel better about his own situation. It's pure spite and selfishness, but we don't feel shocked by this turn in his character and we don't feel especially less of him for it either. We recognise that Gyllenhaal's characters are typical human beings who are free to make good or bad choices at any moment. There's nothing clean-cut or saintly about them; they're just people.
Even in Gyllenhaal's earliest film "Donnie Darko" he played a character who would be rude and defiant, sometimes because he was just acting his age, sometimes because he was rebelling against authority and sometimes because of a strong moral sense - And sometimes because of all three. And when we see him trying to attack a vision of a creepy rabbit in the mirror with a knife, it's not clear how we should feel about it. There's a deep moral ambiguity to Donnie Darko in general and Jake Gyllenhaal, in hindsight, was the perfect choice for the role.
"End Of Watch" is a not-quite-found-footage movie about two police officers who have a strong friendship. As we begin the movie, everything we see is filmed by someone. It turns out that the bad guys also have cameras and film each other too. I've heard it asked who would be editing the film together afterwards and while it's plausible that the camera belonging to the bad guys could have been seized and the film edited together afterwards, I think you need to give the film some level of poetic license. As it turns out, there are some shots which are clearly additional to those being filmed by the found-footage cameras we know about and so accepting some poetic license is absolutely essential here.
Most of the film is Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña involved in friendly banter with one another. These scenes are fantastically written because while the two characters ramble on, not only is the way they tease one another very funny, but it's also very revealing about the two characters. The movie could almost work with nothing but scenes where the two officers never leave their police car.
The plot here is pretty simple. While there are suggestions that things might get more complicated in places, in the end this is an only moderately nuanced case of a police versus gang story. What makes the piece work is the thorough depiction of the way the police interact and the characters involved.
The film begins with a piece of narration with Jake Gyllenhaal overselling the role of the police. He describes himself as part of the thin blue line protecting the weak against the forces of evil and the police force itself as a family devoted to one another.
What follows is a somewhat more realistic vision of the force from essentially a fly on the wall perspective. We see police officers jovially chatting in a very informal way, but we also see that one police officer is very bitter about his position in the force. We see the way the officers back one up, but we also see officers play pranks on one another.
One particularly bold move, I felt, was how harsh the female officers were towards a new female recruit who they didn't feel had what it takes. There's a stark distinction between Uhura in the recent Star Trek movie who constantly gasps in shock and the female police officers here who have clearly been hardened by their experiences and have a no-nonsense "if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen" approach to their role, every bit as tough as the male officers.
I must admit, I'm still not convinced by Anna Kendrick. She is absolutely fine here. But I'm finding that "absolutely fine" is how she always comes across and it's looking more and more doubtful that I'll ever see a performance of hers that will blow me away.
"End Of Watch" is a great movie. It's a simple story told extremely well. In the end I think the story was a little too simple for me to mark it as one of the best, but what it does, it does extremely effectively and I'm certainly going to be highly interested to see what writer/director David Ayer puts his hand to next.
(BTW anyone seen "Harsh Times" or "Street Kings"? Those are the other two movies David Ayer directed. "Harsh Times" even stars Christian Bale!)
The Goonies (1985)
When I was doing my reviews of Tobe Hooper's films, I saw a lot of people who were inclined to argue that "Poltergeist" was actually a Spielberg movie, not a Hooper movie. All that might be true, but here we have Spielberg teaming up with Richard Donner not long after his success with both Superman and The Omen and not long before his success with the first Lethal Weapon movie and the Bill Murray movie Scrooged. In spite of Richard Donner being at the height of his career at this stage, "The Goonies" appears to be an absolutely horrendous mess.
"Gremlins" still felt like a Joe Dante film. At its best moments, "Poltergeist" still felt like a Tobe Hooper movie. Though I've not checked out his entire filmography, I'm not sure that "The Goonies" feels like a Richard Donner film at all. I suppose it feels sort of like if someone was told to make a version of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom only with less than a quarter of the budget and with a bunch of children in place of Harrison Ford and then decided to direct those children by leaving them to do whatever they wanted, including making up their own lines.
Richard Donner being overrun by child 'actors'.
Admittedly using a bunch of children as your lead protagonists is always a risky business. Children haven't had the same amount of time to develop their acting skills and even when they do develop the way they appear to their audience can change dramatically.
Another issue that arises when we are dealing with a whole bunch of children like in "The Goonies" is that even if they successfully give us the impression that we are looking at a bunch of children randomly shouting over one another, that isn't necessarily something we in the audience are going to find entertaining.
In the end, the movies serves to distinguish the various child characters from one another by making each one into a cheesy caricature. There's the asian child with the flawed inventions (the same squeaky yet endearing actor who would go on to seriously out-act the female lead in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"). There's Corey Feldman of Friday the 13th fame whose major trait seems to be that he can speak Spanish. Josh Brolin (Planet Terror, No Country For Old Men, Milk) is the older more mature figure who feels repsonsible for the others. Sean Astin is the nervous yet determined and brainy child, whose role is to move the plot forward and inspire the others, but who I found irritating, particularly since the plot points he introduced were ridiculously contrived. (Sean Astin would go on to be pretty similarly irritating as Sam Gamgee in LOTR.)
I feel really sorry for Jeff Cohen here because his role is to be "the fat kid". He's introduced by being expected to jiggle his flab for the amusement of the other child characters. Throughout the movie he is chasing after ice cream and failing to get through small gaps. Yet he is also expected to provide much of the comic relief and while the material he is given to work with is utterly dreadful, he clearly puts his absolute all into the part and gives a far more interesting performance than anyone else in the cast.
I couldn't help but feel that the composer of the soundtrack must be the same guy who worked on "The Neverending Story" because there are some points where the two seemed to be just a few notes away from each other's themes. However, it turns out that it's definitely a different composer on those two projects.
The story of "The Goonies" is as follows. A bunch of annoying children decide to break into and vandalise one child's parent's loft which they've been expressly told contains expensive items and that they should therefore keep out. In the loft the main child protagonist (i.e. the least interesting of the bunch) discovers a treasure map, so everyone around him stops destroying the place for a moment to gather round. They all suddenly remember some random and wholly contrived story about a 17th Century pirate called (*ahem*) "one-eyed Willie" (are you KIDDING me?) It turns out that the crudely named pirate is supposed to have been surrounded by the British fleet and ended up being trapped by falling rocks in the Goon Docks in Oregon (where these children live, hence why they call themselves "goonies", see?)
Since the main boring child's family will have to leave their home if his father cannot find funds soon (and that's going to be all the more difficult now the children have trashed several expensive items in the loft), they decide to venture together to find the missing treasure.
The map leads them to an abandoned restaurant where a gang of crooks are hiding out. The crooks decide to pretend it actually IS a restaurant initially (with distinctly less than hilarious results). Eventually they let the children go, then start pursuing them again later on. There's little logic to any of this.
In the restaurant the children discover a route underground. However, 'the fat kid' isn't able to come with them because he's too fat and cowardly (coz the two go together donchaknow... *groan*) and he ends up getting caught by the robbers and forced to sit next to their deformed one-eyed relative who they have chained up in front of the tv.
They go past a number of different traps and hazards and skeletons. They end up walking past the skeletal remains of a figure who they know tried to look for One-eyed Willie's treasure before. Apparently he'd struggled to find the treasure but ended up perishing, presumably in one of One-Eyed Willie's traps. They then find themselves at the bottom of the town's wishing well. Yes, that's right, it turns out that this is all happening just underneath the main town. Apparently surveyors in the town failed to notice the series of tunnels directly connected to the town's wishing well. *shrugs*
Anyway, this is around half way through the movie. There's still around a whole hour left to go and I sat through it all so I could justify this review. It SO wasn't worth it. Things do NOT get any better in the second half. To finish with a mild spoiler: All the horrible little brats survive and remain just as annoying from start to finish.
Also, check out this entertaining article from the spoof-news website "The Daily Mash".
Below are my reviews of two adaptations of Shakespeare's plays set in modern day. One is "Coriolanus" released earlier this year and the other is the adaptation of "Richard III" from the mid-nineties. I'll admit that I haven't seen a lot of Shakespeare plays on stage, but I've seen the odd one and I studied Shakespeare at school, so I don't feel like I'm speaking as a complete ignoramus here. Just as a mostly ignoramus. So here goes...
Ralph Fiennes both directs and stars in this modernised story of the Roman general Martius who receives the title Coriolanus. Ralph Fiennes is undeniably awesome, having starred in a string of great films like: "The Constant Gardener", "In Bruges" and, of course, "Schindler's List". He also had smaller but significant roles "The Hurt Locker" and "Skyfall". He's also the best thing in the 'Silence Of The Lambs'-prequel "Red Dragon", where he gave a very compelling performance as the villain.
"Coriolanus" is Ralph Fiennes directorial debut and I was all on board for it to be fantastic. His next directorial effort, currently in post-production, is the story of an affair by Charles Dickens and the film has Kristin Scott-Thomas in the cast (who is making some damn good movies recently). It could still be good. I'm not going to say that the directing was poor in "Coriolanus", but rather misjudged for the subject matter.
The problem is that this film mostly seems to allow the language of Shakespeare to speak for itself. People say their lines while standing around in suits and quite a few scenes, particularly scenes of Coriolanus' family, are not really stage blocked in a way that makes the meanings of the language clear. Vanessa Redgrave makes it work as best she can, but even she cannot quite deliver the full meaning of the lines at some points, unaided by props and with very little inventiveness in the way the scenes are directed. Brian Cox is another actor who works miracles with his delivery of the lines.
Plays and films are both visual mediums and even (or perhaps especially) in Shakespeare's time the plays would rely on the visual elements, not just the language. In performances of "Coriolanus" Shakespeare would have undoubtedly have appealed to his audience with a particular visual element that the modern setting of the film ends up ruining (at least the way Ralph Fiennes decides to present it). Shakespeare would have made use of blood. That would have been the main visual spectacle. Blood effects were the major special effects of the day. So what better way to rip that side of things out of play than to replace an armed conflict using swords with a gun battle? That's the problem with modern warfare: Opposing forces do their best to fight from as far away from one another as they possibly can. So in this film we get impersonal gun battles, when the original play would have involved hand-to-hand sword fights. But even a gun battle would normally be more exciting and engaging than what we are given in this film.
Sure, we do get Coriolanus (actually Martius at this stage since he hadn't earnt the title yet) deciding to take part in a knife fight (out of 'honour' supposedly), but to be frank it wasn't all that excitingly presented and the decision for fighters in modern warfare to ditch their guns when they are so close to defeating their opponent just felt silly. In the original Roman context, the resort to a duel feels more natural, but in the modern setting it seemed to require a justification that the original play just simply does not provide.
Inevitably some elements of the original play with have been cut out since a Shakespeare play would be rather longer than a film. So perhaps we could have done without some of the shots in between scenes intended to build up location since they never quite seemed as dramatic as seemed to be intended and the music used during those scenes (with regular irritating clanging) was dire.
Perhaps the alterations to the play explains why the role of Aufidius (played by Gerard Butler) seemed so confusing initially. Martius (later to be known as Coriolanus) first appears in the movie when a crowd of protesters are complaining because they are being denied bread. Martius essentially calls them scum. Then when we are shortly introduced to Aufidius he is set up as Martius' opposition and so, especially with the way the modernisation is working, it seems to make sense to imagine that Aufidius is a terrorist and, by his own reckoning at least, a hero of the people. His first major act in the film is to kill a Roman soldier captive.
However, it turns out that Aufilius is a figure who intends to invade Rome and Martius is a determined soldier defending the people of Rome from Aufilius' invasion. Many of the same people who were shocked to be called scum by Martius before, still seem to respect him for his victory in holding back Aufilius when he is given the name of Coriolanus in honour of his military achievements.
At one point Aufilius receives a face-to-face visitor into his camp from Rome and that visitor then leaves and is taken back to Rome by a nearby helicopter. Considering that this means that Rome's authorities now know exactly where Aufilius is located, as well as that Aufilius is living in a completely abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, typical modern warfare tactics would mean that a carefully targeted rocket would most likely be Rome's solution to the problem.
That said, we constantly find ourselves reminded that we are dealing with a modernisation of Shakespeare here. The setting simply doesn't fit properly so we commonly have to remind ourselves of what the original Roman setting would be like in order to make sense of it. When Coriolanus receives a trial seemingly in a tv studio in a kind of chat show format, the whole set-up seems absurd. It only makes sense at all when you re-imagine it as the public hearing in Ancient Rome as it would have been in the original play.
And another element that really served to pull me out of the film was the choice of music when Aufilius' men are celebrating. The song "Fiction" by Sheer K (I hadn't heard of them before) reminded me of the band Morcheeba. (You can hear the song here. It's not exactly bad, just completely inappropriate for its context within the film.) It's like a combination of light rock and Portishead and I think a gang of middle aged militia men would have made more sense listening to "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf. (Though I think something heavier, like perhaps Machine Head, would have worked better.)
One reason why Coriolanus is perhaps more challenging to adapt than something like Hamlet is because while Hamlet finishes like a proper tragedy with all the characters dropping like flies, Coriolanus doesn't quite work that well. I think perhaps part of the dramatic mechanism of the play is supposed to be that we think it is all coming to a head and then things don't quite go to the climax you were expecting. However, the result is that this already rather overly cold movie ends with a rather flat ending.
Any scenes of fighting are boring in this adaptation. The story seems mostly simplistic which would be fine if we were able to be caught up in the emotions, but often performances seem to elicit emotion in spite of the general quality of direction rather than being aided by it. This film was a disappointment and that's not least because of the level of ambition involved in trying to adapt this less renowned Shakespeare play. However, I'm not going to judge the movie on what it wanted to achieve. I'm judging it on its successes and, to be frank, I don't really see many successes outside of individual performances here. You know who was least convincing of all here? Ralph Fiennes. I don't think directing himself was a terribly good plan.
Richard III (1995)
When I first heard about Richard III I didn't hear so much about his background or reputation. One of the best history lessons I can remember featured the battle between Richard III from the house of York and the soon-to-be Henry VII from the house of Lancaster. This was the Battle of Bosworth field. As a class we were guided through a very small scale reinactment of the battle. This was the beginning of a whole series of lessons on the Tudors. It was only later that I heard more details about Richard III's reputation as an evil hunchback and how this reputation had been set in stone by Shakespeare's play. (The group responsible for discovering Richard III's remains not so long ago appear to be fanatical in their adoration for Richard III and their insistence that he has been hideously scandalised by the ways he is most often remembered.)
What I'd never realised was that Richard III was actually a charming villain. I suppose it shouldn't have surprised me. I'm familiar with Shakespeare's "King Lear" where Edmund makes for a highly deceitful villain, but I'm not sure that he could ever be portrayed as so consistently two-faced. Then again, I've never seen "King Lear" performed and reading the text I couldn't understand why Lear's daughters Goneril and Regan find Edmund so appealing. Perhaps Edmund can also be portrayed as deceitfully charming?
I'm not sure that there could be a more fitting actor for the role than Ian McKellan. He has such an exciting screen presence. He's constantly on the move and at many points he will directly speak to the audience, gladly boasting of his various deceits and designs on the other characters.
There's more careful visuals here than in "Coriolanus". In every scene it is made very clear what is going on by what is visually happening on screen, so that even if you didn't understand all the dialogue you'd still have a pretty good idea where the story was going. And naturally this is pretty typical in films. It's generally a pretty bad idea if people spend long periods talking about things which are not able to be shown or represented in any way. The script has clearly been cut down here a lot and this will inevitably have happened in "Coriolanus" too, but it seems like they've been very careful in how they cut it down since it all flows so well from scene to scene. There is absolutely fantastic pacing.
Interestingly enough, the opening scene features pretty much no dialogue at all. However, it helps us to understand what is happening later on with Kristin Scott Thomas' character. (Kristin Scott Thomas is in this! Okay, it's not as impressive as her more recent roles, but she's still awesome all the same.) And this opening scene also does a great job of establishing Richard as the villainous anti-hero of the piece.
Looking at the DVD box, I'd always thought that Richard III was reimagining Richard as Hitler. Actually though the play is set in a 1930s-1940s setting, it's very much in Britain and it's more that it's using motifs from the era. Eventually Richard's reign does seem to have Nazi-esque elements, but initially the references are closer to the situation with King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Making use of American and British actors helped to make clear the disjointed family set-up of the royals at this time, though it's not clear that all the York family figures are British and all the Lancaster family figures are American.
The modernisation works very well. The Tower of London has been redone as a modern (or at least 1930s) prison. And while the Tower of London was essentially a prison, it isn't made quite clear enough that many parts of it were actually very comfortable. This means that when it's suggested that the princes be sent to the tower, it's not obvious within the film why they are being sent off to prison (since they are actually being taken their for safety and their lives ought to still be pretty luxurious during their stay).
That the Tower of London is the least well-translated of the modernised settings is a very good sign. For the most part the new modern locations fit in very well. The conversations between the characters are clear and simple even with the flowery Shakespearian language in use.
The least impressive performance is probably that of Annette Benning. I know that she can be fantastic from her performance in "American Beauty" but here I didn't really feel she was able to deliver the Shakespearian dialogue quite so convincingly as others, especially considering the importance of her role.
There's an absolutely fantastic cast here including Jim Broadbent, Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne and Jim Broadbent. Robert Downey Jr. has a pretty small role and I was surprised to see Dominic West (i.e. McNulty from "The Wire") turn up here too.
The ending felt a little sudden and a little odd, but the whole film is just so much fun that it doesn't matter. After Coriolanus, I was certainly not expecting Richard III to be a rollercoaster of excitement - but it really is. This is an absolutely wonderful and fantastically fun adaptation and I found it to be a real treat. Ian McKellan himself worked with the director to adapt the play and you can see McKellan's passion all through the film. I don't think it helps the film at all that the DVD cover makes it look so grim. It is not in any way a dour film at all.
I am also currently working my way through two horror franchises right now. Child's Play and The Omen. If you want to see what I thought of "Child's Play 3" you can check out my review here.
I also repost my review of "Bride Of Chucky" though it's the same review as you'll find here on my own blog. However, in the new entry I preface the review with some new comments in the light of having seen more of the Child's Play series.
I've heard mixed reviews on both Wreck-It Ralph and Paranorman. I've heard some very high opinions of both and I've seen some shrugged shoulders over both of them too. Then again, I'd heard people even less impressed with Brave and I loved that, so once again my weird tastes are always the wild card here. After all, there's no such thing as objective quality when it comes to films. A film can be objectively very well made technically and yet be complete trash when it comes to entertainment value. Alternatively a film can be very poorly made and yet be really good fun. (For example, I actively accept that "Masters Of The Universe" is not a particularly well-made film, but I love the hell out of it and genuinely think it is a brilliant movie all the same.)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
I absolutely adore the initial section of this movie. It's great to see how the mythology of the film is established. We see a video games arcade with a community of videogame characters who can visit people in other games by travelling down the power cables. This initial set-up is very creative and seems to open up all sorts of possibilities.
Just like the premise of the "Toy Story" movies that wondered what happens to toys when you leave them on their own, "Wreck-It Ralph" considers what video game characters do when you leave the arcade. And the idea is that there are also a load of homeless game characters sitting in the power cable adapters having evacuated their disused arcade machines. So yeah, these days Q*Bert is homeless.
The eponymous character is the villain in a more retro yet popular game called Fix-It Felix, Jr. Ralph's job in the game is to destroy parts of a block of apartments and Felix's job is to fix the damage as quickly as possible with his special hammer. When a level is completed, the people who live in the partners get together to chuck Ralph off of the building. So when everyone leaves the arcade, the people in the apartments still resent Ralph for the damage he causes and at the same time Ralph resents them because he lives in a dump outside the building.
Ralph wants to be seen as equally responsible for the game's success as all the other characters and one particularly resentful character from the apartment block insists that he could never win a medal. So Ralph disappears into other games in the hopes of proving that he can win a medal.
Initially there are all sorts of game references and that's great, but I get the impression that the filmmakers got a bit tired of constantly having to come up with game references. At one point the game references seem to be switched for references to sweets. Ralph spends a large portion of the movie in a game called Sugar Rush, which for the record, features the most insanely catchy J-Pop theme song:
I have a big problem with the decision to switch from jokes about video games to jokes about sweers, not least because I didn't really recognise half the sweet references. Case in point, the king of Sugar Rush threatens to send "devil dogs" after the protagonist. Turns out that a devil dog is actually a brand name for some kind of chocolate eclair sweet. There's also some kind of marching army of Oreos. Admittedly I HAVE heard of Oreos, not least because American programmes seem to make reference to them constantly, but they aren't really terribly popular here. And let's face it, I didn't sit down to watch a movie about sweets. I was expecting a movie about videogames. So that was irritating.
There's the little child racing driver character in Sugar Rush who befreinds Ralph whose name is Vanellope. She's voiced by Sarah Silverman and the voice acting is fine, but the character didn't feel very fleshed out to me. She felt a little uninspired. The basic gist is that her character is a glitch in the game and the idea is that Vanellope is an outcast for being a glitch just like Ralph is an outcast for being a game villain. However, the game starts becoming more about Vannelope's situation than it is about Ralph's situation and the two situations really don't complement each other that well. I felt the plot here wasn't really streamlined enough.
Not only that but the world of the Sugar Rush game is nothing like as pretty as the game had been before. It's very bright and very colourful, but yet somehow rather dull. Also the whole game appears to feature one single track, rather than the variety you'd normally expect in an exciting racing game. Essentially this new setting seems to be an excuse to make a load of sweet-themed jokes and it's a pity because I was really enjoying the film a hell of a lot prior to this change of setting. I enjoyed the mythology, I enjoyed the way the "Fix-It Felix Jr." game looked, I enjoyed the whole set of the "Bug Hunt" game. It had just generally been great fun.
I was much more interested in seeing Ralph get in trouble for trying to steal fruit from the Pac Man game or getting freaked out by the violence in a First Person Shooter. Also within the "Bug Hunt" game there's a rather awesome marine commander played by Jane Lynch who I would liked to have been more central. I recently saw the first season of "Party Down" and saw how great Jane Lynch is there and while in that she is in no way a no-nonsense character at all, somehow she just felt perfect for the role of hardened no-nonsense marine all the same. (Watch out for her 'game backstory'. It's hilarious.)
"Wreck-It Ralph" initially had a lot of promise and Ralph was a really interesting character, but in the end the movie just ends up being alright. It's entertaining enough. There's a plot that works well enough, with foreshadowing and a clear through-line from A to B. This is a good film and it's pretty funny too, but it didn't exactly blow me away, especially considering the possibilities that seemed to be set up at the start. It could have been funnier, it could have been prettier and the plot could have been more interesting. In the end, it's just fine and many people may enjoy it a lot (and with good reason). But it could have been better, particularly if it had decided to actually explore more of the exciting possibilities it lured me in with at the start.
Paranorman is a stop-motion animation movie from the creators of Coraline (albeit not with Henry Selick as director). It starts off with a very funny spoof of an ultra-low-budget zombie film. The scene is perfectly appropriate for children, extremely amusing, but really captures the joy of low-budget horror films all the same. I am absolutely keen on horror aimed at children because I think they can handle a lot more than the censors would often give them credit for. I have many happy memories of watching "Gremlins", a 15-certificate movie, when I was around 7 or 8. Of course, this certainly isn't as scary as "Gremlins" and it doesn't need to be.
Watching the zombie movie at the beginning is our protagonist, Norman. Norman is able to see dead people and while that sounds highly familiar the take on it is very different from that seen in "The Sixth Sense". Heck, stories about children who can see ghosts have been around a very long time. Even Terry Prachett's "Johnny And The Dead" was around a lot earlier than "The Sixth Sense" and while the book seems to be so out of print that I cannot even find a plot synopsis, I'm sure the children's book "Ghosties and Ghoulies" that I had when I was young featured children seeing ghosts.
On top of the seeing dead people thing, Norman also lives in a town with a history of witch trials. He's informed by his crazy uncle that he is going to need to take over his uncle's reponsibility for keeping a witch's curse at bay. And not everything goes to plan with surprising consequences...
Norman is a big zombie fan. He's got a cool zombie alarm clock, posters related to zombies everywhere and the film is littered with references to horror movies which I found very appealing considering my recent sets of movie series, though I don't think there's anything too obscure here that children couldn't enjoy it too.
The effects in the movie are brilliant and inventive and the comic timing is fantastic. The film generally gorgeous, the plot doesn't progress the way you might expect it to and the fact that it's a children's film doesn't stop us seeing zombie limbs coming off every now and then.
The finale is extremely moving, which kind of a big requirement for animated movies these days, so high is the general level of quality of animated movies right now. Both this and Brave were nominated for the Animated Movie Oscar and while I loved both I'd probably just about rate "Brave" higher, but that's mainly just because "Brave" felt like a bigger movie. There's not a great deal in it. They are both great films. "Paranorman" is a fantastically funny movie and I loved it.
I am also currently working my way through two horror franchises right now. Child's Play and The Omen. If you want to see what I thought of "Seed Of Chucky" you can check out my review here.
Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
"Much Ado About Nothing" is the latest film from Joss Whedon. Like a few other films I reviewed recently, it is a modernisation of a Shakespeare play. The film essentially all takes place in a house and there's the feeling that the events are all unfolding essentially at one party. And considering the whole film was apparently filmed over 12 days while Joss Whedon was on a short contractual vacation from the "Avengers" post-production process, one might easily imagine that the party atmosphere existed off-camera too.
The film features a number of romantic couplings (or potential romantic couplings), but the central one is between the characters Benedick (played by Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (played by Amy Acker). These two characters spend most of the movie finding exciting new ways to insult each othr (all in Shakespearean dialogue of course). They claim to hate one another, but there's so much tension between them that it always seems implied that they have some kind of past romantic history. In this adaptation any umming and ahhing about whether they have some a romantic history is entirely cleared up in the opening of the movie which shows the two of them in bed together after clearly having slept together the previous evening. I feel it was a good idea to start the film this way as it helps to make the relationship between the two characters a lot clearer and helps to give us a helpful starting point from which to begin the story.
Admittedly this is essentially a Shakespearean romantic comedy. it's all about matching various characters up with one another. So the central storyline is that the friends of these two central characters, Benedick and Beatrice, who are always at one another's throats decide that it would be a great idea to pair the two of them up.
Meanwhile, the bastard son of the king (inevitably when adapting Shakespeare it's easier to keep some aspects the same in spite of the shift in setting, so there's still a king and a prince even though it's a bunch of people at a house party) has decided to cause shame on his legitimate brother. The prince's friend Claudio hopes to be matched with a particular woman called Hero. The prince wants to help him. As such, the prince's illegitimate brother Don John, on the basis that anything that is bad for the prince is good for him, decides to do whatever he can to mess up this romantic coupling between Claudio and Hero.
Inevitably I find myself comparing this with the Kenneth Branaugh version of "Much Ado About Nothing". I haven't seen that film since I was much MUCH younger and inevitably I can probably understand the Shakespearean dialogue a lot better now. It's a testament to the quality of Kenneth Branaugh's adaptation of this play that I enjoyed it as much as I did when still very much a child.
A lot of my memories of the Kenneth Branaugh version are clouded, but there are at least two elements on which I think Whedon's version is a definite improvement. In Kenneth Branaugh's version Michael Keaton played the character of Dogberry, the local constable, and I simply got the impression that he was supposed to be mad. I seem to remember him having a weird hat and even an eyepatch. In Whedon's version this part is played by Nathan Fillion and he delivers his lines so much more clearly and gives such an expressive performance. The constable, along with the rest of the local police force, are all supposed to be bumbling idiots and I absolutely loved the way Fillion would clearly use words that were the opposite of what he actually intended to say.
All over this adaptation there are actors who I recognise from other Joss Whedon works and Fillion's underlings are no exception. On the one hand there's Tom Lenk who's most well known for his role as Andrew in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the other hand there's Bri and Nick from the youtube channel "BriTANick" (to rhyme with "Titanic") which has previously featured Joss Whedon as a guest. (Their most well known video on that Youtube channel is probably "Movie Title" advertising a generic trailer which ties together the elements of various generic Oscar bait movies. As good as the underlings are, Nathan Fillion as the Constable becomes a big highlight of the film.
Another part of Whedon's movie I feel was greatly improved from Branaugh's movie is the character of Don John (the bastard). Branaugh's version features Keanu Reeves in this role. Now I'm not going to blame Keanu Reeves too much here. While not having a fantastic range as an actor Keanu managed to make his emotions as a character very clear in Branaugh's adaptation. However, the quality of an adaptation is about more than how the lines are delivered or quality of performances. It is also about how the play is staged; how you place people on the set, how you move things along and how you engage the audience visually. You need to make the visual and general conceptual side of things work rather than just expecting line delivery and performance to sell the story to the audience. Keanu does not get to casually lay out his malicious plot while nonchalantly fingering his girlfriend, like Sean Maher does in Whedon's adaptation. Naturally part of the reason for that is because the character of Conrade would not be female in Branaugh's adaptation, but that's precisely the point. Whedon knows how to make all the elements clear and well expressed for a modern audience.
Seeing Sean Maher in "Firefly" as Simon Tam, a doctor and sister to the character River Tam, I had always thought he had a rather limited range himself. However, it turns out that playing a malicious and villainous character suits him far better than the goody two-shoes whiny character of Simon Tam.
The two central roles of Benedick and Beatrice are played by a couple of actors who had a romantic connection in the final season of Angel. I must admit, I was a little caught offguard by Alexis Denisof's American accent. Certainly his English accent had never quite sounded right (though it was a damn sight better than James Marston's ridiculous attempt), but hearing the sharper side of the American accent here felt odd to me.
At the start of the film I thought Denisof was a little too gruff and not cheery enough for a character who is supposed to be a bit of a joker. Then again, I remember that even in Kenneth Branaugh's version, he's always supposed to be a bit full of pride. While I didn't quite buy into his character at the beginning, when things get going his character progresses and develops very well. Both he and Amy Acker have a great on-screen chemistry which works very well.
While the film is in black and white, there's absolutely no lack of vibrancy to the film. Apparently the look of the film was achieved by mainly relying on natural sunlight for the lighting. The whole film is filmed at Joss Whedon's house and I have to say, his house looks absolutely gorgeous.
There's not a lot of backing music, but at certain points in the movie certain scenes will feature longer songs. It turns out that there are two Shakespearean poems which have been adapted into more modern sounding songs, the most memorable of which, I found, was "Sigh No More" (you can find the lyrics here)
I don't really pay attention to lyrics much so I had no idea that I was listening to Shakespearean lyrics. I just thought it sounded like a neat little song and even wondered whether I'd heard it before.
The film as a whole is all very well produced with good music that fits in well, with a modern day setting that fits the play very well, very good filming techniques (so it doesn't feel like some friends who've just decided to pick up a camera). It doesn't feel like people having a bit of fun in their spare time. Rather, everything is so smooth that you can tell that they must have put a lot of effort in to make it so. If there was just the actors having fun together then they must be able to recite and perform Shakespeare in their sleep because it is all delivered so carefully, clearly and smoothly.
However, the one way the film does feel like a party is the amount of alcohol that is drunk. If you played a simple drinking game of "drink when the characters drink" you'd most likely die. The actors seem to be constantly drinking something in every scene. Drinking some wine, drinking a cocktail or even casually laying out a line of shot glasses and filling up each one. I found myself wondering whether these characters ever stopped drinking and apparently the answer is no. However, very rarely is anyone actually seen drunk. Seeing someone drinking alcohol is pretty much every minute of the film, but seeing someone drunk in the film is extremely rare.
Overall this is about as good as you could possibly hope from a modernised Shakespeare adaptation and it turns out that this means it is very good indeed. Joss Whedon has amassed a large group of actors who he enjoys working with, so these are all actors who are used to one another and who work fantastically well together. I must admit feeling a little embarrassed that I didn't find myself laughing until the film began to make use of some more slapsticky elements, but it must be said that once things had got going I was seriously laughing out loud at the humour and was thoroughly satisfied with the experience by the end.
I have now put up the last of a series of reviews of the "Omen" and "Child's Play" movie series. This final review is a picspammy analysis of the differences between the original "Omen" movie and the 2006 remake (considering that the remake is practically shot-for-shot the same as the original - with mostly only fairly small yet significant differences). After the review, you can also see how I ranked the various movies i both series as well as links to earlier reviews. Click here to read more.
July 2013 - May 2014
I did a Movie Guide for the whole of 2013 already and you can find that here. That featured not only top picks for each month but also a list of runner-up movies. With some new release dates available and the trailer for "Thor 2: The Dark World" having impressed me so much and a clearer picture available of what movies are not getting to the UK until 2014 (but are probably still 2013 movies in the US in most cases), my top picks have changed somewhat.
I intend to do a new Movie Guide at the beginning of 2014. But for now here's a list of my most anticipated movies for the upcoming months. In many cases I've picked these movies because of the director, so I've listed movies I've seen by them before and at times I may have links to reviews I've done of their movies.)
Pacific Rim (2013)
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
UK release date: 12/07/13
When an alien attack threatens the Earth's existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.
Stars: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day
The World's End (2013)
Director: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World)
UK release date: 19/07/13
Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind's only hope for survival.
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike
Only God Forgives (2013)
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn (Pusher 3, Drive)
UK release date: 02/08/13
Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death. (90 mins.)
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Yayaying Rhatha Phongam
UK release date: 23/08/13
Director: Neill Blomkamp (District 9)
Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga
No picks for September
UK release date: 18/10/13
Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children Of Men, Y Tu Mama Tambien)
Astronauts attempt to return to earth after debris crashes into their space shuttle, leaving them drifting alone in space.
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Basher Savage, Eric Michels
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Director: Alan Taylor
UK release date: 30/10/13
When Jane Foster is targeted by the denizens of the dark world of Svartalfheim, Thor sets out on a quest to protect her at all costs.
Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
Director: John Michael McDonagh (The Guard)
UK release date: 01/11/13
After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him. (100 mins.)
Stars: Aidan Gillen, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Domhnall Gleeson
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Director: Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Braindead)
UK release date: 13/12/13
(Click here for more deviantart from fan-poster artist)
The Dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf have successfully escaped the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo has gained the One Ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon, Smaug.
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Elijah Wood
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (A Serious Man, True Grit, Burn After Reading, The Big Lebowski)
UK release date: 24/01/14
A singer/song-writer navigates New York's folk music scene during the 1960s. (105 mins.)
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Garrett Hedlund
Director: José Padilha (Elite Squad, Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within)
UK release date: 07/02/14
In a crime-ridden city, a fatally wounded cop returns to the force as a powerful cyborg with submerged memories haunting him.
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, Douglas Urbanski, Abbie Cornish, Gary Oldman
The Lego Movie (2014)
Director: Phil Lord, Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street)
UK release date: 14/02/14
An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman
Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain, The Wrestler)
UK release date: 28/03/14
The Biblical Noah suffers visions of an apocalyptic deluge, and takes measures to protect his family from the coming flood.
Stars: Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Director: Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man)
UK release date: 18/04/14
A sequel to the 2012 blockbuster that follows the continuing adventures of Peter Parker, also known as Spider-Man.
Director: Marc Webb
Stars: Emma Stone, Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan
Director: Gareth Edwards (Monsters)
UK release date: 16/05/14
A giant radioactive monster called Godzilla awakens from its slumber to wreak destruction on its creators.
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins
STILL WAITING FOR A UK RELEASE DATE
"VHS 2" is out in the US already and I'm wondering when it's going to be available here in the UK. I've heard that it is better than the first one and I am seriously keen to see it. As for the other three, they are all from favourite directors of mine and I'm surprised they are still missing a UK release date.
Director: Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener...
(12/07/13 - USA)
Machete Kills (2013)
Director: Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Planet Terror, Machete)
(04/10/13 - USA)
Director: Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Mother)
(30/10/13 - France)
Director: Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where The Wild Things Are)
(20/11/13 - USA)
WAITING FOR A RELEASE DATE ANYWHERE:
[REC] 4: Apocalipsis (2013)
Director: Jaume Balagueró (REC, REC2, Sleep Tight)
All Cheerleaders Die (2013)
Director: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson (May, The Woman, The Woods)
The Last Voyage of Demeter (2013)
Director: Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday)
FILMS I'M ALREADY EXCITED FOR IN 2015
Director: Rodrigo Blaas
(amazing short film here)
Director: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World)
The Avengers 2 (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon (Serenity, Avengers Assemble)
Crimson Peak (2015)
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
The Fantastic Four (2015)
Director: Josh Trank (Chronicle)
Finding Dory (2015)
Director: Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, John Carter)
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2015)
Director: Jennifer Yuh (Kung Fu Panda 2)
Director: Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code)
Recap: My Movie Guide So Far...
Okay, so the point of this guide was not really to definitely point out all the good movies of the year, but simply to get excited for the year's movies by recognising a whole spread of cinema releases which I was excited to see.
Stoker (2013) (01/03/13)
My favourite movie of the year so far is "Stoker" a movie that I was on the look out for because it had Chan-wook Park as director, but after being disappointed by his more recent movies like "Thirst" I was not expecting too much. It was only a matter of luck that I ended up seeing it in the cinema, but it turned out to be very happy piece of luck. You can check out my review of "Stoker" here.
Django Unchained (2012) (18/01/13)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) (25/01/13)
My January picks were Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty and those turned out to be pretty great choices. I loved both of them.
Review for Django Unchained
Review for Zero Dark Thirty
Warm Bodies (2013) (08/02/13)
I missed my February pick and I'm looking forward to eventually checking it out on DVD. I'm still excited about this one.
John Dies at the End (2012) (22/03/13)
I'm pretty sure this wasn't actually shown in any of my local cinemas. I'm really keen to see this latest movie from the director of "Bubba Ho-Tep", but there's no sign of this being released on DVD. What is going on?
Evil Dead (2013) (19/04/13)
Iron Man 3 (2013) (26/04/13)
A remake of a horror movie? Well, with the original director and the main star both on board as producers I was confident that it would be worth checking out and the trailer simply looked amazing. It did not disappoint.
Meanwhile Iron Man 3 was essentially the follow-up to Avengers Assemble and I was not going to miss that. Personally I found it to be a fantastic comedy and I've generally found comedy to be the main appeal in the Marvel Studios superhero movie series.
Review for Evil Dead
Review for Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) (09/05/13)
The first dud (by my reckoning)! I was quite pleased with the original "Star Trek" reboot (my review here), but I'd always thought that now that they'd set up the new Star Trek universe there was so much potential for future instalments. I was not expecting a remake of "Wrath of Khan". What a poor creative choice!
Review for Star Trek (XII): Into Darkness
I had no big movie picks for June, but I did have "Much Ado About Nothing" as one of my runners up.
Much Ado About Nothing (2012) (14/06/13)
A black and white Shakespeare adapatation from Joss Whedon? How good could it be? I'm feeling like I may have made the right choice of ditching "Man Of Steel" for this.
Review for Much Ado About Nothing
I am hoping that the upcoming months' movies will be even better than those I've seen so far. I hope all movie lovers are having a good year and wish you all the best for the future. Thank you all for reading and please give your thoughts in the comments section below. :D
I cannot wait for this upcoming album to come out. This is great!
Zombie Contagion (2008) (aka Ninjas Vs Zombies)
Quite a while back I checked out a movie called "Ninjas Vs Vampires". It was a low budget feature, but it made the most of its low budget and had a really good sense of humour. In fact, there was something akin to Buffy The Vampire Slayer in the style of it.
(Click to see "Ninjas Vs Vampires" poster larger.)
(Click here for the entry with the "Ninjas Vs Vampires" review.)
I had thought that "Ninjas Vs Zombies" was the sequel, but actually it turns out that I should have watched this one first. After inexplicably disappearing from my rental list for a while, it finally resurfaced with the new title "Zombie Contagion". It's a particularly unsuitable title since these are more magic zombies than virus zombies. (The tagline "burn the dead, before they spread!" is particularly misleading.) Certainly the zombies are dead and they change their victims into zombies too. However, like in the Lucio Fulci movie "City of the Living Dead" there is a 'master zombie' who is more intelligent than the zombies and directs them where he wants them.
Some posters with the original title are posted below (click on the images if you'd like to see them larger):
In "Ninjas Vs Vampires" the main villain seemed to be lacking in acting talent, but here in "Ninjas Vs Zombies" the villain is perhaps the most entertaining thing in the film. The main villain is, of course, the master zombie and I'm pleased to hear that his character is (somehow) returning in the director's next sequel "Ninjas Vs Monsters".
The plot is simple but effective. Some magic falls into the wrong hands and creates an evil zombie master, so someone else with magic abilities decides to stop the master zombie before it's too late. To do this, he casts a spell to turn all his friends instantly into ninjas. There's some great comic moments when the ninjas each discover their new powers. Finally they discover what has happened and get to be badasses fighting against the zombie army.
A lot of the gags are funnier in "Ninjas Vs Zombies" than they are in the sequel. However, some of the action sequences (particularly the part where they train a newcomer) are a lot better in the sequel. Also one thing that definitely improves is that the female characters get a lot more involved in the action in the sequel. Having seen the films in the wrong order, I was very surprised when only male characters were selected to be given magical ninja powers. It's not until "Ninjas Vs Vampires" that the female characters start getting unique talents of their own (though that is hinted at the end of "Ninjas Vs Zombies" too). But with a low budget film like this, the gags are probably the main thing that keeps the audience engaged and so I think "Ninjas Vs Zombies" wins out as the better of the two.
"Ninjas Vs Zombies" is a lot of fun. Like the sequel, it's a very low budget film which benefits from a great deal of charm. However, it's very funny and I would say that it is well worth your time. I'm now quite excited about a third instalment. Apparently "Ninjas Vs Monsters" has already been filmed now and hopefully it's only a matter of time before I can rent that one too.
These films might not be masterpieces and the low budget is pretty obvious, but the enthusiasm of everyone involved really pays off. These are good fun entertainment and have real charm to them.
(Cross-posted to Halloween Candy)
When I went to see Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing", one trailer stood out. It's a trailer for the "Alan Partridge" movie. Now I don't know how well this is going to do. Alan Partridge isn't a character who has been on tv for a while and I'm pretty sure he's not well known in America.
Alan Patridge is perhaps the most well-loved character to be created by the legendary comedian Steve Coogan. I don't know what films of his people would be most likely to have seen. "24 Hour Party People"? (I've never seen that one.) "A Cock And Bull Story"? (That one's pretty obscure.) "The Parole Officer." (Even if you have seen that one, it's really not Coogan at his best.) Perhaps the best examples to point out are "In The Loop" where he is the guy who owns the collapsing wall. I felt he was in danger of stealing the show there, even with just a tiny role. Another high profile example is "Tropic Thunder" where he is the director (named "Damien Cockburn") who, um, disappears early on in the movie. (Personally not really a big "Tropic Thunder" fan to be honest.)
I remembered seeing adverts on tv promoting "Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Patridge" back in 1994 and unfortunately I didn't realise it was a comedy at the time. It's misleading that it initially appears to be a typical chat show and it takes a short while to recognise that the whole thing is a complete send-up. The host is self-centred and consistently massaging his own ego and in spite of seemingly promoting a politically correct show, constantly reveals casual bigotry, misogyny and general ignorance. His guests either hate him, discover that they hate him during the show or like him for the wrong reasons.
I've since caught up on this initial appearance of the character "Alan Partridge" including the excellent 'Christmas Special' (entitled "Knowing Me Knowing Yule with Alan Patridge"). The final conclusion of the Christmas special is shown as a flashback at the beginning of the first series of "I'm Alan Patridge" with a BBC executive (played by the awesome David Schneider) insisting "you shall never work in television again!" So how can there be any more shows? Because Alan moves to radio! Working on Radio Norwich (for non-UKers, that's a pretty mundane area btw) we spend very little time seeing how ridiculous he is as a radio broadcaster, spending a lot more time watching Alan Partridge have meetings and try to salvage his fledgling career. It's been a long time, but I remember absolutely loving the first series of "I'm Alan Patridge" in 1997, though I'm not certain whether I saw the second series which apparently aired in 2002.
Now the Alan Patridge movie seems to show him still working in radio. Unsurprisingly he decides to backstab one of his co-workers to get him made redundant, but he then becomes a hostage in an armed siege. Alan Partridge is a delightful combination of horrible, egotistical and stupid. As an audience we love to watch him make a fool of himself and suffer for it. This looks like it'll be hilarious...
TV Shows Update:
I don't talk much about tv shows because I generally wait until they reach DVD before I watch them. So here are my comments on all the shows I've enjoyed in the past few years:
Game Of Thrones
I've finished the first two seasons and I kinda love it. A bit weirded out by the sex bits, but I don't think you need to focus on that so much. Clearly Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance and whatshername, the girl character, *googles* Arya Stark, are the most awesome parts of it. I tried reading the first book before watching the first series and couldn't get into it at all. I am better with faces than names and after the initial part of the book where every character I've been introduced to promptly dies, the author then gives me a bunch of names to remember without describing what any of those characters are like. I then struggled to work out who was who and got wholly frustrated. Yeah, I didn't really give it much of a chance, but even my mum whose a big reader seemed thankful to have been introduced to some of the main characters in the initial tv episodes before she dove into the book series. I loved Neil Marshall's episode "Blackwater"
My main reason for checking this out was because I heard it had a reference to "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" before the book was written. And it's true. In the version they describe in the relevant episode Edgar Allen Poe and Abraham Lincoln both hunt vampires together. Essentially the series is about washed-up actors and writers who work in catering to make some money. I gained additional enjoyment when watching "Wreck-It Ralph" as a result of gaining familiarity with her in "Party Down". She's great.
So far I've only seen season 1, but it's pretty cool. Interestingly Lena Dunham has a short cameo in Ti West's horror-comedy "The Innkeepers". It might as well be Hannah from "Girls" though she's essentially just known as "that annoying girl who works at the coffee shop" in the movie. (Actually she's also credited as "911 voice operator" in Ti West's other movie "The House Of The Devil".) Lena Dunham both wrote and stars in the series "Girls" and while she's pretty, she has a refreshingly normal figure for a protagonist that young on American television. Pretty much every character in Girls has massive flaws, including the central protagonist and that's part of why the series is so enjoyable. Nearly episode seems to feature Hannah having awful sex with her weird boyfriend - which is um, unique. This is equal parts drama and comedy, but the comedy is funny enough to make those moments worth the wait - and in a good episode, you really won't be waiting long.
Okay, enough of the American stuff. While we are on the subject of less conventional body types in female protagonists, it seems like perfect time to talk about Miranda Hart. I first saw her in the tv series "Hyperdrive", a sci-fi comedy series which slightly recaptured the magic that "Red Dwarf" now appears to have thoroughly lost. (For me, "Red Dwarf" only has six series worth mentioning. Ending ironically with the words "To Be Continued...") In "Hyperdrive" Miranda's character was a stickler for the rules and in one episode tries to spark up an old romance with a childhood friend from the Camp for Young Agnostics she used to go to.
Alongside Sarah Hadland who used to regularly feature in "Mitchell and Webb" sketches, Miranda (in the tv series) runs a joke shop which she paid for with her life savings. Miranda is a character who gets flustered by social expectations and just wants to enjoy herself without the pressures of life getting in the way. She is an extremely tall and quite large woman and so many of the jokes are connected with her insecurity about her appearance and the way she is regularly put down because she doesn't conform to classic beauty standards. Some people hate this series, but it's just so sweet and endearing that I don't understand how they can feel that way. Each to their own I guess.
I've onlys seen series one of "Miranda" so far, but I actually first found out about it through the Christmas specials.
A show with real children allowed to be random in a very naturalistic way. It's quite remarkable how well it's done. Essentially it's about a set of generally awful children who ask awkward questions. The younger boy in particular is known for being boistrous and troublesome. And yet, in spite of being about horrible children it remains endearing. Perhaps the best element in this is Claire Skinner (who some may recognise from the Doctor Who Christmas special before last: "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe") who plays the mum of the family. She's a fantastic actress and I think it is her performance that best serves to hold the show together. There've been four series of this and all of them have been great.
To get an idea of what this show is about, this video of the girl Karen's spiritual journey is probably a good indicator. There's actually another rather cool episode where a priest is asked, if Jesus came across someone evil like Darth Vader, whether Jesus would "zap him".
Naturally I've been following Doctor Who. Who hasn't? I think the best of the new series is still Series Five where Matt Smith first turned up. I think there's definitely been an increased consistency in the quality since Steven Moffat (creator of the "Coupling" series) took over as showrunner. I know he's not been fantastically popular with everyone, but I think he has a better idea of what appealed in Classic Doctor Who.
Back to American shows. A show that just got better and better as the seasons went on. I think Season Four was probably the best (the one about schools). There's some very thorough world-building involved in the series and the first season drags a little as a result, but it all feels worth it in the long run. Unfortunately I was rather less impressed by the first season of Treme and stopped watching it after that. Apparently Treme is from the same people, but while The Wire introduced me to a world I was completely unfamiliar with and had the drama to keep my interest, Treme seems to have real trouble hooking me in. Often I have no idea why characters do anything and the plot feels extremely slow paced. The Wire had political intrigue whether amongst police, politicians or gang members, cunning police investigations, deaths, and interesting characters. That's why it's possibly the best American tv show of the past 10 years.
I've only seen the first season of this so far. I've been waiting for the later seasons on my rental list for quite a while now. But the first season is a great balance of serious storytelling and bizarre fun. The whole premise of a chemistry teacher who decides to cook meth to ensure that he provides for his family before he is killed by cancer, is beautifully ridiculous and highly entertaining as a result.
Kristen Schall from "Flight Of The Conchords" (which is also awesome) plays the amazing character of "Mabel", a highly excitable girl who has a colossal sense of fun and refuses to let her mood be brought down by anything sensible or anyone mean. Mabel lives with her brother Dipper at their shameless money-grabbing Uncle's tourist-trap shack. While Uncle Stan parts tourists with their money with fake "wonders", Dipper discovers that the surrounding area is filled with weird and creepy creatures and objects. The humour is pretty highly developed for a children's cartoon and I don't feel like the audience is talked down to at all. The chracter of Dipper feels reminiscent of Dib from the cartoon "Invader Zim" which had a similar kind of absurdity with a dark edge.
Yes, I know this is actually pretty old but we only really got around to seeing it this year. We watched all three seasons in quick succession and loved it. I'm sad to hear that apparently the new fourth season hasn't been up to the same standard.
Bringing back Jessica Walter to essentially play the same self-centred mother character she played in "Arrested Development", Archer is about a completely undisciplined playboy spy. Things get out of hand a lot, the humour is very risque, and it's really great fun. Another actress who is brought in from "Arrested Development" is Judy Greet who played the secretary in "Arrested Development". She's playing a secretary in "Archer" too, albeit one with a regularly voiced desire to be strangled. She's possibly the most bizarre character in this extremely strange series. I've seen three seasons now and at this stage she appears to have her own ocelot, so that's just a small hint at how weird things get.
Big Bang Theory
Big Bang Theory is about four university academics who are obsessed with geeky things like superheroes, computer games and sci-fi tv series. One of them gets obsessed with the girl next door, who is pretty much out of his league and thankfully the series quickly becomes more about the girl next door being more accustomed to geekiness and becoming, against the odds in some respects, friends with the group as a whole. I've seen five seasons of this and I must admit that in season four it seems to have lost a fair bit of its quality. It's stil fun though. Judy Greer (mentioned above) has been a guest, as has Riki Lindhome, who recently appeared in Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" adaptation as the bastard Don Jon's girlfriend (the character of "Conrade"). In early seasons, another welcome guest star was Sara Gilbert (who played Darlene on "Roseanne").
The IT Crowd
Chris O'Dowd (who also appeared in "Girls") is very funny and Richard Ayoade is a comedic genius. Katherine Parkinson is particularly impressive and I love the way her voice changes when she gets angry. IT Crowd is similar to Big Bang Theory in that it's about a non-geek who becomes embroiled into the world of two geeks, but that's where the comparison ends. Katherine Parkinson's character Jen is genuinely the audience's window into the geeky world of the two IT technicians. We begin the first show with her claiming to have experience with IT and suddenly being made Relations Manager for the IT department. However, while Richard Ayoade's character, Moss, is so technically minded as to be almost socially inept, Chris O'Dowd's chracter, Roy, still likes to think of himself as cool. The way the three of them interact is great. All four series are great though things don't get REALLY good until they replace Chris Morris with Matt Berry in the second series,
Am now part way through season five. Michael Western is now such an awesome character and I still have no idea what the actor is called. A little annoyed when anyone refers to Fiona's background in the IRA. Normally it's no problem because she just wants to solve problems by blowing everything up and shooting people if necessary and it's clear that she has a darker past behind her. But whenever there's a more explicit reference to her IRA past it gets problematic since the show's writers clearly seem to think that there's "good" IRA and "bad" IRA as opposed to just a generally horrible situation for everyone involved. (Watch the movie "Shadow Dancer" for a better idea of what the IRA is like.) And of course, "Burn Notice" also features the ever-awesome Bruce Campbell as an ex-Navy Seal. The inclusion of Michael Western's mother in the show felt annoying in the first season, but the way she's used in this series has just got more and more interesting as the show has gone on. The big selling point about Burn Notice is not because it's about a spy. He does very little actual spying. It's because it's about an ex-spy making use of his skills locally rather than doing missions around the world. In this new setting Michael Western is essentially a confidence trickster, only he helps people rather than stealing from them. The show has an ex-spy consultant who helps to provide plenty of random ideas, like using newspaper to make your car bullet proof (no seriously) or choosing the cheapest mobile phone you can find in order to make a listening device (good mobile phones are better at picking up the voice of the person making the call rather than surrounding background noise). This show is just so much fun. Season two was a bit slow, but asides from that it's just been getting better and better.
The Thick Of It
Recently we had series four and while I don't think it was as good as the previous three series, I have loved every bit of this crazy political satire with ultra-sweary politicians failing to get anything done. My initial encounter with the series was through the movie "In The Loop". Having not seen the series first, I didn't really understand the humour as well as I might have, though I still enjoyed it. The whole four series are essentially about exploring the character of Malcolm Tucker who, in trying to handle the political PR, winds up being this generation's foul-mouthed equivalent of the similarly cynical Sir Humphrey from "Yes Minister".
The showrunner for "The Thick Of It", Armando Iannucci, has managed to do the same thing again with the Vice President of the US in the show "Veep". It's really funny, but when the first season came to an end I was just dying to see more. It just comes to an end so suddenly and I just really really want to know what happens next!
Joe Ahearne's various tv series....
Ultraviolet - Re-imagining vampires for the modern era with Jack Davenport, Susannah Harker and Idris Elba. Vampires not only leave no reflection but they do not appear on CCTV footage. Rather more annoyingly for them, they cannot make phone calls either. At least, not without the help of a computer or human assistant to read out their words for them. Their voices cannot be transmitted down phone lines, just as their appearance cannot be captured by a mirror. There's some really interesting ideas here.
Apparitions - Joe Ahearne is an atheist himself, but he has done a lot of research and amazingly manages to put the audience in a position where they support the exorcist. The storylines are rarely predictable and you almost feel sorry for the demons in one episode. Once again Joe Ahearne manages to create a show which takes a well-worn scenario and move it in a whole new direction.
The Secret Of Crickely Hall - This is the latest from Joe Ahearne and is actually an adaptation of a novel rather than being completely original. Unlike the other two this is a three-part mini-series, not a full series with six episodes. This time it's ghosts (and I cannot stand ghost stories normally) and somehow I thought it was great! Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in "Game of Thrones" plays one of the children and Tom Ellis, who is Miranda Hart's love interest in "Miranda" plays the sceptical dad. The first episode takes a while to get going, but episodes two and three are brilliant. There's also David Warner who is utterly brilliant in everything. Oooh and Bill Milner from "Son Of Rambow"!
The gist is that when a child goes missing the rest of the family are horribly upset and so, on the anniversary of their son's disappearance, they decide to go away to a random place in the countryside. It turns out that it used to be an old orphanage and it's haunted. Okay, so time to leave, right? Except that the mother becomes convinced that the ghosts know where her son is. (That's not as odd as it sounds, but it'd take a long time to explain why.)
A lot of this show takes place in the past and essentially the ghost storyline is a way to tie the events of the past with the modern day setting where most of those involved are old or long-dead. There's an element of mystery to the story, working out how the events in the past have led to the ghostly presence in modern day and precisely what happened when the children died. There was enough plot to focus on so as not to have to worry about the bizarreness of ghost stories in general. There's a really involved story here and some great characterisation. I don't think this was better than Apparitions or Ultraviolet, but it's a great addition to Joe Ahearne's repetoire.
I've seen up to the fourth series and, asides from a few clever ideas, I think I'd rather have missed series four. A lot of the characters have gone by series four. As a result Rory (played by Joe Gilgun) who'd done such a good job of filling the void left when Nathan (played by Robert Sheehan) left at the end of series two, ends up being the only thing that holds series four together. The new characters simply aren't interesting enough, there's a lack of decent continuity with the previous series, and the comedy isn't really as funny overall. Series four starts off with Curtis (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) still on board, but I wish he'd just disappeared since he is killed off so ridiculously unceremoniously and, for me, Cutis' death marks the death of the show. It's really sad.
Still the first three series are brilliant and I have to give Joe Gilgun proper kudos for keeping the series alive when the actor playing one of the most popular characters decided he wanted to move on. The character of Nathan is admittedly a pretty remarkable part of the series, making him so hard to replace, because he actually starts off as the most unbearable character. He is annoying and such a horrible human being and yet as the first series progressed, I found I became more attuned to him and he became absolutely hilarious and the main draw of the series. Since most of the characters in this show are young offenders doing community service, it would be unrealistic not to have some of the characters being utterly obnoxious, but the way Nathan manages to be the main draw is quite inspired.
Misfits isn't about superheroes. The idea of superpowers being more like a curse is particularly important here. Heck, one character's power is that anyone she argues with loses their hair and in the first episode it turns out that uncontrollable rage isn't anything like as sweet as the "Hulk Smash!" scenarios in the Marvel universe. (A bit more like rage virus from "28 Days Later" really...) I've seen a few people complaining about the power that Alisha (played by Antonia Thomas) is lumbered with, but to be frank getting a lame power is pretty normal in this universe.
The Addams Family
Yes, the old black and white series from the 60s. Watched the whole first season and it is just as good as I remembered it being when I was young and was obsessed from having seen the movie. Heck, it's possibly even better. Sure, the laughter track doesn't always coincide with the funniest bits, but there's just such a wonderful and endearing sense of fun to the whole thing. Classic!
First three seasons are brilliant. This is an absolutely amazing series. Unfortunately I gave up on season four after the first three episodes. Bringing in Matt Lucas seemed like a particularly bad plan in the third episode. The jokes generally felt rushed and lacking the timing and direction that made them work so well before, but Matt Lucas' lines seemed to lack any humour at all. I hear that the original showrunner is returning, so perhaps the show will be back on track in season five.
Community is about six students at a community college who are part of a study group together and who are involved in wacky antics for various reasons. There seem to be absolutely no limits to what can happen in the show and the entire college has been overrun in a massive painball battle at least twice. There are a lot of self-referential jokes due to the character of Abed who actually seems to know that he's in a tv show.
Pacific Rim (2013)
As is often the case, my main motivation for seeing this movie was the director. I absolutely love Guillermo Del Toro's work, even on a bad day. "Hellboy II" is one of my favourite superhero movies of all time, "Pan's Labyrinth" is one of my favourite movies of all time, and "Blade II" is pretty good fun too. So if there's anyone I'm going to trust to give me a good giant robots vs giant monsters movie, it's Del Toro.
Now the giant monsters side of thing I'm entirely on board with. I loved the original Japanese "Godzilla" as well as "Mothra Vs Godzilla" and I'm highly anticipating the upcoming American reimagining of Godzilla by Brit director Gareth Edwards whose debut feature was the awesome "Monsters" (which featured giant monsters, though they weren't often seen in the movie). Asides from "Monsters" other giant monster movies I've found highly enjoyable include "Troll Hunter", "The Mist" and also "The Host" from the awesome Korean director Joon-Ho Bong (though in "The Host" the monster isn't really anything like as huge as in the other films mentioned).
The bigger concern was giant robots. Naturally the most obvious recent giant robots movie was Michael Bay's live action "Transformers" movie and there's a very simple reason why I haven't seen beyond the first one: I found it boring as hell. In order to make an action film interesting you have to set up what is at stake and you have to make us feel for the characters. These aren't elements that are lacking in most Michael Bay films no matter what else might be wrong with his movies, but in Bay's "Transformers" movie I felt nothing for the characters nor did I really get a sense of what was at stake. And so it left me cold.
The other giant robots thing that comes to mind is "Power Rangers". So giant robots aren't really something that has a long history of being done well in movies. Not as a major focus of the film at least.
I had a few concerns with "Pacific Rim" from what I saw in the trailer:
1. The trailers looked rather dark making it hard to make out what was happening. - Admittedly later trailers had already shown the footage more brightly and clearly and I think they must have been gradually making the effects work look better and better. What I finally saw in the cinema was bright, clear, colourful and absolutely breathtaking.
2. Idris Elba's speech made his English accent VERY obvious. - There'd been some complaints that his accent in Prometheus wasn't very convincing and I'd been worried that his accent would be even dodgier here. Fortunately it quickly becomes clear that Idris Elba is not putting on an American accent at all. An important element in his character is that his past is clouded in mystery, so the idea that he has not simply landed his role by virtue of a position in the US army if anything makes him more interesting. The UK is next to the Atlantic rather than the Pacific and it makes sense that a British engineering or even military strategy team could easily be brought in to support the US program in the instance of a threat in the Pacific.
3. The voiceover narration about the portal under the sea sounded daft. - Admittedly this is still the premise of the movie and there is even a voiceover narration section at the beginning of the movie, but somehow it doesn't sound as daft in the movie itself. I cannot help but feel that it was better written in the movie, but perhaps it was just the way it was presented. So that issue was solved. The portal itself becomes important enough to the plot of the film that it doesn't remain an annoying macguffin that we must all just accept
4. Asides from Idris Elba there seemed to be no real named actors in Pacific Rim at all. - Now actually there were several people I recognised in smaller roles. First of all it should be noted that Ron Perlman has a relatively small but pretty damn significant role in this movie. He's playing quite a cartoonish figure and many of the side-characters are quite cartoonish in tone. I think it's possibly an inevitable part of paying homage to mostly Japanese films and tv with this "giant monsters" and "giant robots" theme to them that you also take on board some of their silliness.
Burn Gorman is playing a particularly silly figure, seeing as he is not only supposed to be an English scientist, but an absurdly reserved and posh-voiced one who even, in spite of not being terribly old, walks with a cane. My first experience with Burn Gorman was in Torchwood in an episode which really didn't show him at his best. He's since given a pretty good, albeit small, performance in "Dark Knight Rises" as a sleazy businessman sentenced to 'exile', but here he really enjoys hamming up the role.
Gorman's scientist character works along another American scientist and the bickering between them is a big source of comic relief in the movie. The American scientist is played by Charlie Day who seems to be most well-known for his role in "Horrible Bosses" (which I haven't seen). The two of them work really well together. Day has the bigger role of the two and he does a good job with it.
Some particularly significant side-characters are the Australian Jaeger team. Once again they are played for comedy (though not quite so obviously as with the scientists or Ron Perlman's character) and so there's a protective father figure and his cocky arrogant son who team up in the Australian robot. They all perform their roles very well, even if, once again, those roles are a little on the hammy side. That being said, I'm not really much of an expert on Australian accents so having discovered that the father figure on the Australian team is played by a New Yorker and the cocky son is played by a Brit from Sussex, I hope their accents weren't overblown and cartoonish. They didn't seem like it to me.
The main three actors on the poster are Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba, so I'll need to explain them in a moment. But first I think a few issues have been raised by discussing the Australian pairing.
The giant robots are known as Jaegers, "Jaeger" being the German word for 'hunter'. Their full title is "Kaiju Jaegers", "Kaiju" being the Japanese term used for the giant monsters in movies like "Godzilla". In the very brief introduction at the beginning we are informed that the early Jaegers were manned by just one person, but controlling a Jaeger was too taxing on the human brain. As such teams of two are now used to control the Jaegers. Two compatible minds go through a process known as "drifting" which allows them to act in unity as two hemispheres of a larger mind which can then control the Jaeger.
Del Toro, unlike Bay, knows that a good action scene requires that there be something at stake. So a great deal of the time towards the beginning of the movie involves setting up the characters who are going to be driving the robots and dealing with tensions between them. The main source of tension? Well not to give too much away, a major focus is the recruitment of a new Jaeger pilot. Their recruitment is important and urgent because someone has died and they need a replacement at short notice. On top of that is the issue that both their level of skill AND their ability to 'drift' with their co-pilot are in question.
Charlie Hunnam, like Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, The Wire), started out in Rusell T. Davies hit tv series "Queer As Folk". Unlike Aidan Gillen, he didn't go on to gain massive success elsewhere. He has actually had some small roles in two movies I liked. He was secondary-evil-bastard to Ray Winstone in the movie "Cold Mountain" and he was another highly untrustworthy guy in "Children of Men". In both cases, you are unlikely to recognise him due to his bizarre hair. In "Cold Mountain" he had some ultra-white whispy hair under his puritan hat, while in "Children of Men" he had some major dredlocks action going on.
Here in "Pacific Rim" I found Charlie a little bland, but admittedly that is in part because he's playing a bit of a boy scout figure. However, he works well with the character of Mako played by Rinko Kikuchi. While I've only ever seen Rinko in one other movie, she made a big impression. I doubt anyone who has seen the movie "Babel" will have forgotten the storyline involving the deaf girl. It was by far the best part of the story not least because of Rinko Kikuchi's incredible central performance in that particular storyline. Some actors and actresses can lose some impact when they try to speak in another language or even simply another accent. I tend to feel that Colin Farrell is better when he can use his Irish accent and there's a big contrast between Penelope Cruz's performances in English-language movies and her incredible performance in the Spanish movie "Volver". It may well be that Rinko Kikuchi is even more awesome when she perform in Japanese and I'd like to be able to compare because if so her performance in her native tongue would be off the charts. Here, being expected to stick mostly to English, she is absolutely fantastic.
Del Toro clearly relies a lot on the performances of his actors and the main figure holding the film together is Idris Elba. While commanding authority and remaining mostly mysterious, small subtle facial expressions help us to understand the full range of feelings involved. He is a character with split loyalties and conflicting interests, often balancing cold logic with personal emotions. It's a very interesting role and Elba clearly had to make careful decisions as to how much to show on the surface and how much of his character's feelings to keep buried. Once again, this is a trope of Japanese media that while you often have the side-characters providing comic relief there is normally a highly serious authority figure who may have a soft side, but who bears the weight of the world on his or her shoulders.
So, the one thing I haven't mentioned so far is the actual aliens and monsters. In part this is because the movie needs to be able to work without those sequences. The story needs to be good enough that if all the fight scenes were done with the old man-in-a-big-monster-suit effects I'd still be really happy to sit and watch the film. I think that side of things has been very successful indeed.
That being noted, the fight scenes are incredible. As already stated above, these sequences are colourful and clear, even when they take place at night. The monster designs are gorgeous, as we'd expect from Guillermo Del Toro. The Kaijus differ each time and they always did something new to surprise me.
While I'd seen each of the giant robot designs on posters, the way they move is much more impressive. I'd actually thought that the American Jaeger looked the least interesting of them, but I quickly changed allegiances when I saw the movie. Okay, so part of that is because I'm gunning for the main characters to succeed, but another important part is that their Jaeger reminds me of Samus' Power Suit.
Okay so they're not massively similar, but during the movie it seemed close enough. Also occasionally, I won't say how, we get glimpses of the alien world on the other side of the portal and these sequences also reminded me of the stunning visuals of the Metroid Prime games (particularly the third one).
Image from Metroid Prime 3.
I may be slightly misleading you about what is happening in this pic.
During the fight scenes I could make out everything that was happening in the fight scenes and what makes this particularly incredible is I was watching it in 3D! Now I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the 3D. I still intend to watch this again in 2D so I don't have some dark smeary glasses getting in the way of enjoying the visuals. (I highly appreciated being able to take off the glasses at one point so I could get a better look at Idris Elba's facial expressions. It meant the background appeared all blurry, but that didn't matter too much for this particular scene.)
This is a post-conversion job, but unlike in John Carter where it was really hard to focus on anything, here most of the 3D was properly coming out of the screen rather than those depth-effects where you have to take the glasses off occasionally in order to remind yourself the 3D is even there. There's some fish that swim by right at the beginning of the film which look like they are right in the middle of the room. My eyes were able to properly explore the screen without causing everything to go out of focus, the fight scenes were able to show me everything that was happening without blurring, and I finished the movie without a headache. None of these things can be said of "Avatar", just for the record.
The monster/robot fights are exciting because Del Toro knows how to set up a story, how to develop his characters and how to make sure we feel there is something properly at stake. It also does no harm that it's not just the monsters and the robots, but also the whole way the movie looks during those sequences. "Pacific Rim" is an absolutely gorgeous movie and the fights happen in a number of different settings. The way water splashes on the camera or the way light reflects off buildings all contribute to the spectacle of each monster/robot battle scene.
This is definitely more of an action film akin to "Hellboy II" rather than a thoughtful fairytale movie like "Pan's Labyrinth". That's also reflected in the child-friendliness. "Pan's Labyrinth" was horrifying in places and while "Hellboy II" was pretty creepy too, it's quite clear to me why "Pan's Labyrinth" has a 15 and "Hellboy II" has a 12A certificate. This is a full feature film for any family who reckon their children are old enough to handle giant monster fights. It has a mixture of well-developed characters, stock characters and comic relief characters. It has moments that will have you laughing out loud (like some of the stuff involving Ron Perlman - trust me) and it has others that will make you genuinely emotional (when it starts exploring Rinko Kikuchi's character's memories of hiding from a kaiju). This isn't a dark brooding tale (like "The Dark Knight), an all-out comedy (like "Iron Man 3"), nor is it a live action cartoon (like "Speed Racer"). This should be seen more like Spielberg's "Jurassic Park": a whole blend of serious moments, comedic moments, scary moments with a central spectacle shot intelligently to work as an important part of the wider story as opposed to just as one-off set pieces.
"Pacific Rim" is not Guillermo Del Toro's best movie, but it keeps to the high standards that we've come to expect from his more recent efforts. This sets a high bar for Gareth Edwards' Godzilla movie due next year. I hope you all check "Pacific Rim" out yourselves (though naturally I don't promise you'll love this as much as I did) and don't forget to wait for the mid-credits sequence before you leave the cinema!
Ranking Guillermo Del Toro's movies
8. Mimic (1997)
Starts off with a lot of the Guillermo Del Toro hallmarks. The idea of an insect amongst us, acting like a human, with humans as it's new prey, is quite a cool idea. The idea is set up pretty well. However, in the second half the film is relying on jump scares and really loses any sense of plot. Del Toro refused to ever work with the Weinstein's again as result of his experience making this movie.
7. The Devil's Backbone (2001)
While some people think of this as one of Del Toro's best films, my prejudice against ghost stories came up quite strongly with this one. I could probably do with rewatching this story of a ghost in the middle of a Spanish civil war scenario, but I remember finding it frustrating.
6. Cronos (1993)
Del Toro's debut is a rather more arty film than some of his others and has a slower pace than other films. Still the central premise is highly compelling. A machine in an old antiques shop allows an old man to gain immortality. However, a particular buyer with greater understanding of the device wishes to take it and gain immortality for himself. Ron Perlman plays the rich buyer's self-centred son who cannot wait to inherit his father's fortune. While this is a pretty cool film, the pacing is quite glacial at times and there isn't really enough payoff to justify the long wait.
5. Blade II (2002)
There are problems with this film, particularly when things are resolved towards the end. There's a rather naff twist about two-thirds through the film and things pretty much go downhill from there. In this Blade movie, Blade is expected to work with the vampires in order to suppress an even greater threat. A more powerful version of the cancer-like mutation causing vampirism is creating monsters that themselves kill vampires. However, once the vampires are gone it seems pretty clear that humans will be next on the hit list for this new breed, so Blade reluctantly agrees to the alliance. Ron Perlman is fantastic as a vampire that isn't happy with this team-up and the power play between him and Blade becomes one of the most enjoyable elements.
4. Hellboy - Director's Cut (2004)
While a lot more bland in the version that went to cinemas, somehow the longer director's cut makes all the difference. With each action sequence being given the proper context, it means the audience is more fully invested in the story and the film is a great deal more enjoyable as a result. Hellboy turns out to be quite an intelligent action film in some ways, but generally it's just great fun. Del Toro's passion for Lovecraftian imagery comes across quite strongly here.
3. Pacific Rim (2013)
Well I've already described how much I liked "Pacific Rim" above. It's a fantastic feature film. But now I need to explain what I preferred about the final two entries in this list.
2. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
I've heard Hellboy II criticised for including Hellboy at all. In many ways it feels like an extension of the world introduced in "Pan's Labyrinth". We are introduced to a race of fairytale people with a whole world-mythology behind them and later we get to see the troll market where they interact together in a whole society that is hidden from ordinary human beings. We also see another bizarre figure added to Hellboy's team in the form of Dr. Johann Kraus, a figure who is essentially a ghost, except that he is able to interact more normally with the world through a kind of astronaut suit. (The main reason I have trouble getting on board with the hate sometimes directed at Seth MacFarlane is because of the way his voice acting sold this character for me.)
Eventually the Hellboy character is tied to the world of these fairtale creatures by the idea that he is the last of his kind. That, just like the fairytale creatures, he should not need to hide from the humans. Of course, the other side of the coin is that humans might be right to fear Hellboy since it is regularly prophesised that he represents humanity's ultimate demise. Perhaps eventually we'll finally get a third entry to the series which resolves this plotline? (Or perhaps the reason we've never received that final entry is because Del Toro would go for a downer ending where Hellboy actually destroys humanity as he is prophesised to do? Surely not!)
1. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Prior to Pan's Labyrinth, not least since most people had not seen the director's cut of "Hellboy", Guillermo Del Toro did not have the same reputation he has now. "Pan's Labyrinth" is what put Del Toro on the map and quite extravagantly so. Like "The Devil's Backbone" this is a Spanish-language movie set during the Spanish civil war. However, this time the horrors of that period are not set against ghosts, but against mythical fauns, fairies and magical books.
A girl obsessed with fairytales comes to believe that she is a fairy princess trapped in the human world and a faun of questionable trustworthiness proposes a number of trials to test her before she is accepted back into the fairy realm. In many ways this is like two films at once, subtly connected. The Spanish civil war story works fine by itself, but with the fairytale story added to it the story becomes even more special.
It's very easy for magical realism to feel disjointed. (I found the french movie "A Prophet" felt very dodgy whenever it brought in magical realism elements because I didn't find they sat well with the main storyline.) However, in "Pan's Labyrinth" the uncertain world of the fairtale creatures has a very interesting parallel with the uncertain world of facism in Spain and the tyranny of Captain Vidal. The girl is vying for the love of a fairytale father while she rejects her new father in the the mundane human world, a fascist captain who has fallen in love with her mother.
Presumably everybody on my f-list knows that I enjoyed the Spider-Man reboot a lot more than most other people? That I preferred it to "Avengers Assemble"? Right? - Well, thankfully that's kinda irrelevant to this. This announcement is still awesome whether you care about the rebooted Spider-Man film series or not...
To fill you in, because the internet is full of douchebags, there was a stupid negative reaction the casting of Shailene Woodley (from "The Descendants") as Spider-Man's later love interest Mary-Jane (played by Kirsten Dunst in Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy) because apparently "she's not pretty enough". *groan!* (Surely a bigger problem is the jailbait issue? She's 8 years younger than Andrew Garfield! I suppose she's only 3 years younger than Emma Stone and, in any case, apparently she's actually 21 now and Andrew Garfield is playing a character who is supposed to be a lot younger than he is. Anyway, it doesn't matter.)
So apparently they've decided they don't need MJ to show up in the second Spider-Man movie after all. (I guess Emma Stone's character isn't being killed off just yet.) And Shailene Woodley says she'll be busy on other projects when the third movie comes around (which I like to think is, at least in part, a big 'eff you' to the online douchebaggery).
So now Andrew Garfield has the solution! Why not make MJ a male character? He initially said it as a joke, but then Garfield considered it more seriously. I think it sounds like an awesome idea!
Unsurprisingly, due to more internet douchebaggery, this entertainment news vid has over 1500 dislikes. Is Andrew Garfield bisexual himself? I mean, it's one thing to suggest that a character you are playing could be bisexual, but to say "and he's going to kiss.... THAT guy over there! Because I respect him so much. Please?" Sounds to me like somebody's got a crush! :)
Apparently Andrew Garfield thinks Spider-Man's next love interest should be played by
Michael B. Jordan from "Chronicle".