Monthly Archives: March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BS: Yawn of Justice

You’ve watched all 28 of the various Batman V Superman trailers now your body is ready to extend those 3 minute snippets into 3 hours of the same content only less concise and with more dream sequences. Understandable, but don’t expect too much.

If you continue reading you will have the film spoilt like Justin Beiber… only less annoying. Fair warning!

Let’s quickly cover the good stuff. It looks great but that goes without saying; it’s Zach Snyder directing.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was fantastic. I am actually quite excited to see the solo film with her because she seemed to enjoy being a badass and I like that.

Finally; Batman (Ben Affleck). I know we all had concerns about the Batfleck but he is unquestionably the best aspect of the film. The opening scenes where he rushes towards collapsing buildings as Superman is busy accidentally destroying the city instantly makes him likeable.

It’s an interesting perspective shift that is unfortunately never developed much further but Affleck brought the right level of grizzled distrust to his performance. Finally; seeing Batman fight henchmen and Superman was awesome because he looks tough as nails.

On the flip side the amount of balls dropped in this film is more than a school where everyone hits puberty on the same day.

Batman – a man with infinite resources – seems to gain more information from lucid dream sequences than he does from his tech. It’s only slightly less ridiculous than the way that Batman and Superman became team mates: “My mum’s name is Martha”, “Woah! mine too”, “Did we just become best friends?”. I wish I could tell you it wasn’t this stupid… but it was.

Superman (Henry Cavill) has the lions share of issues though. Through some sparsely detailed and convoluted plot threads he is painted to be a dangerous weapon. But because of the lack of depth behind his journey I cared as much for Supes as I do for rampant foot fungus.

There actually could have been an interesting sub-plot about the subversive nature of media and how mis-information easily twists public perception in a age that is hungry for quickly digestible content. Unfortunately this depth is traded for padding and leaves Superman to be the bland superhero that people already believe him to be.

Padding is evident in the set up for the Justice League who are introduced through a series of poorly CGI’d email attachments taken from LexCorp. Does that mean that Lex should be the one credited with bringing the JLA together?

Who cares is the correct answer because Lex Luthor is fucking abysmal. Watching Jesse Eisenberg tick his way through his lines makes me wonder if Lex is secretly Autism-man or Dr Aspergertron.

Coming runner up in the “face-palm character awards” is Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Her only involvement was to get feebly rescued by Superman at key moments of the disparate plot. She is as useful as an earthquake to a face-painter.

She also had no knowledge that Wonder Woman exists yet at the end of film she goes to see Superman and just waltzes in like “Hey Batman, hey random unitard wearing lady with a sword and shield who I’ve never seen before… anyway, well done for killing the thing that looks exactly like the cave troll from Lord of the Rings only with laser eyes”.

Expectation is the key here because it’s not actually a bad film but most people, myself included, were expecting a lot more than a bland story full of plot holes and lacking any real emotion.

As it turns out the night isn’t darkest just before the dawn: it’s after.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Almost everything Batman
+ Wonder Woman
+ Looks great


– Almost everything else

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The Boy

Right to Bear Brahms

It’s Winter. Heavy snow barricades script-writer Stacey Menear inside her house. She pours a glass of red wine then embraces the warmth of an open fire as she struggles to find the hook of a new horror film.

Her story follows Greta (Lauran Cohen); an American who moves to a remote English village and takes a job as a nanny to a local family.

Menear knows that devil children are popular horror icons but then again… the only thing scarier than porcelain dolls are people with too much plastic surgery. Suddenly, it comes to her: “Let’s have a crazy child replaced by a spooky doll! Best of both worlds!”

To Greta’s surprise she will be caring for a doll named Brahms which strikes a resemblance to a real child of the same name who died many years ago.

OK, so I made up the bit about snow and wine but the choice to use both hooks is an inspired choice because Brahms is a freaky little fucker!

I don’t think the doll ever really changes yet Brahms appears to smile when something mischievous happens and sulks like a toddler when it is ignored or mistreated. The subtlety in anthropomorphism only adds to Brahms’ creepy persona.

It helps that Greta isn’t alone in her experiences because it adds an extra dynamic layer into the mix. Malcolm (Rupert Evans) is the local greengrocer and whilst a lot of his actions seem benevolent you can’t help but wonder how much he antagonises Brahms or if he is part of the problem.

The whole film is utterly creepy and un-nerving. It constantly plays with the viewer, suggesting that Brahms is haunted or alive or the boy is trapped inside the doll or maybe this is all in Greta’s head.

Although it is consistently ominous there are few genuinely scary moments. I can’t believe I’m saying this but a handful of extra jump scares would have served the film well and make it feel more balanced horror as a result.

What I found most weird though is when Greta finds out that doll isn’t quite what it seems she embraces the thing and treats it like her own child. I mean if you went to a posh restaurant and ordered an expensive steak only to find out it’s some sort of laxative inducing, BSE laden side of horse’s kneecap you wouldn’t just turn around and say “Oh that’s novel. Down the hatch!”. Instead Greta slips into Stockholm Syndrome faster than you can say Valhalla.

As with all horror films there has to be a reveal and The Boy’s was pleasantly surprising. Perhaps that’s the wrong word. It’s not quite what I was expecting but equally as harrowing as whatever my imagination dreamt up.

However, the reveal is also in parallel to events in Greta’s personal life coming to a head which either needed to be cut entirely or introduced earlier because this felt like a hollow addition in an attempt to add depth of character.

The Boy seems more carefully planned than most of the crap that infests the horror genre so deeply. It avoids many common and generic traits choosing instead to weigh on your psyche. This is at the detriment of scares but to the benefit of an unsettling story.

 

 

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Brahms
+ The reveal
+ Constantly you on edge


– Not as scary as you would hope
– Greta’s back story
– Stockholm Syndrome

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10 Cloverfield Lane

All Clover Again

In 2008 Matt Reeves directed a relatively low budget monster movie called Cloverfield. It was like Godzilla and The Blair Witch Project had a baby which sounds weird but it quickly became a cult classic thanks to this unique blend of genres. I suppose it helped that 2008 was before found footage was as played out as auto-tuning pop songs for audio ‘style’.

Cloverfield was a well packaged film, giving you only rare glimpses of the monster only to reveal it’s true nature at the end of the film. This is how the best horror films tends to work. The thing is though; we have seen the monster now so the mystery is gone. How then do you make a sequel without making it Pacific Clover Rim-field?

Well that’s simple. You get different people to write the film, you change the director, remove that shaky camera nonsense, you don’t set it in a city, keep exactly none of the original actors, get rid of the original monster and having the new title as the only reference to the original.

10 Cloverfield Lane is not in fact a sequel; it’s a spiritual successor. It’s important to set expectations here because it is very different to the original Cloverfield. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a psychological thriller more than a horror, monster or disaster film but it’s also important to go in knowing as little as possible so this will be 100% spoiler free.

The set up is simple. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is running from her problems and in the process is involved in a car accident. She wakes to find she has been apparently kidnapped by Howard (John Goodman) but it’s not that simple because something has apparently happened to the outside world. Russian invasion? An atomic bomb? Chemical weapons? Aliens? Who knows, perhaps the apes have finally risen or One Direction fans are running riot. Terrifying.

So Michelle is holed up in a bunker along with Howard and, to her surprise, a local called Emmett (John Gallagher Jr). The film follows Michelle trying to make sense of the situation.

The majority of the film is set in the confines of the bunker so it is reliant on the script to take most of the strain. Writers Josh Campbell and Matthew Stuecken have done a fantastic job in this respect. They have managed to find a delicate balance between developing the characters and to keep you guessing what the hell is going on.

Of course any good script is also dependent on its delivery and all three of the actors excel in this regards but it’s Goodman who stands above all. This is easily one o the best performances of his career. He effortlessly flirts between a begrudging host, a strict ex-military serviceman, an under-appreciated good samaritan, threatening patriarch and oddball, end of the world conspiracy theorist.

I think the film should have ended with  the words “Oh come on!” and that’s about the only complaint I can go into without spoiling what is otherwise a finely crafted thriller.

Whilst the film holds very little in common with the first Cloverfield it does capture a similar feeling of mystery and intrigue. It’s definitely worth a watch but try not to read too much into it before you see it.

 

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ John Goodman’s performance
+ Keeps you guessing


– Ending is too drawn out
– Err… Other stuff

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Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fun Panda

I don’t really remember what happened in Kung Fu Panda or Kung Fu Panda 2 but then again, my memory isn’t necessarily to be trusted. One day I was at work and forgot about the minute’s silence in remembrance of World War 2. I proceeded to loudly state “cor… it’s gone deathly quiet in here!?” right in the middle of the office.

Obviously the next few minutes I was silent – assuming if you discount the awkward squeal of embarrassment and sounds of eyes rolling in my direction.

Anyway; the point is that I vaguely remember the first film being decent but the second being awful. I was eager to see the latest offering thanks to its trailer which made number 3 look like a big ball of stupid fun.

In this regard the film met my expectation. The fun doesn’t get any bigger or dumber than everyone’s favourite Dragon Warrior: Po (Jack Black).

Po is a fantastic character. Not only because of his hugabley cute and podgy exterior – an instant hit with younger audiences – but for the enthusiasm and amazement he has for even the simplest of things such as ordering a bowl of noodles.

It’s an infectious optimism that reminds us of when the world still held magic and wonder instead of the face smashing boredom of 9 to 5 work, calorie counting and oven cleaners. It was only for an hour and a half but Po allowed me to view the world with childlike awe and how can that be a bad thing?

Kung Fu Panda 3 really tries to capitalise on this feeling by bringing Po back home to his homeland which is packed full of pandas. Instead of practicing Kung Fu these adorable little buggers practice sleeping, eating dumplings and rolling down hills.

Whilst all of this is certainly adds to the film’s main focus – fun – it is at the detriment of an in depth storyline and character development.

The reason Po heads back to the Panda village is because of the arrival Li (Bryan Cranston); his real dad, but the film only dips its toe into more progressive or mature themes such as the possibility of having two dads or the conflicts that come between parent, child authority and honesty.

Even though Li features heavily in the film he never feels like an important part of the show and therefore underdeveloped as a consequence. The same is also true of Kai (J.K. Simmons) who is Po’s adversary. We learn precious little about who he is or what motivates him.

But that doesn’t matter though. What is more important is some spectacular fight scenes that are brought to life thanks to some stunning choreography and meticulous animation that combines acute attention to detail, vibrant colours and jaw dropping imagining of the spiritual realm.

Jack Black manages to bring Po to life courtesy of his ability to sound genuinely excited by… well; everything! He is clearly having as much fun providing the voice over for Kung Fu Panda as I had watching it. It won’t be a future classic but it is an enjoyable, clean piece of entertainment for all the family. 🐼

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Good family fun
+ Excellent animation
+ Well choreographed fights


– A fairly standard plot
– Doesn’t really develop the characters
– Enemy background underdeveloped

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The Divergent Series: Allegiant – Part 1

Sufficiant

Funny story. I went to see Allegiant referring to it only as Allegiant. I came out of the theatre thinking “well, that wrapped everything up nicely”. A couple of days: “What the shit?! Part 1? Oh for fuck sake”.

I understand why Hollywood is trying to drag out franchises, I mean how else are studio heads supposed to sit on piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck whilst smoking a cigar and laughing at poor people?

However we, the consumer, are getting a bum deal. We are seeing a downward spiral in quality when it comes to these franchises. The Hobbit was 1 film too long, The Hunger Games was again one film too long.

The Divergent Series has decided to follow the Hollywood formula and by proxy this will be 1 film too long. Perhaps there is a great story left to tell (I haven’t read the books) but by the end of Allegiant part 1 I find it hard to believe.

Our heroes Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) seem to have settled. Early signs of order have started to sprout. Our antagonists plans haven’t been thwarted but have at least been exposed. There are a few open questions but none are obtuse enough for you to desire more.

This would be a satisfactory end to an average series if it really was the end.

As a kid I used to really enjoy painting by numbers. I was convinced my pictures were awesome and even though they probably looked OK they didn’t exude any real flair. Sill; I enjoyed them… until I found out I was colour blind. After which I took up less productive pursuits such as eating sweats and becoming a podgy little bastard.

This is very much how Allegiant feels. No not like a fat kid but like it was painted, or rather filmed, by numbers. Everything you’d expect from a teenage, sci-fi drama is present: a blossoming romance, emotional strain on said romance, friends who aren’t friends, slightly questionable CGI work, under-developed questions of equality and humanity, flying ships and cool sci-fi gadgets. Check. All present and correct.

Actually, the latter of the list was impressive considering the generic nature of the film. Most memorable was the personal drones carried by army folks. It’s a fascinating concept and got me thinking about the viability of this in the real world.

Surely with the ever-increasing accessibility of drones this has to be the future of warfare right? I mean warfare isn’t going away any time soon.

Outside of the innovative gadgetry Allegiant has some fantastic settings. The beautifully coloured wasteland outside of Chicago and the hyper modernity of the Bureau are both wonderful but it’s the village of tents in the fringe that blew me away. It’s a setting that wouldn’t look out of place in Star Wars or the best of sci-fi films.

So it’s a shame that this isn’t the best of sci-fi films because promising ideas and fantastic settings ultimately have to live alongside safe and predictable cinematic conventions that are painted well within the lines of what is acceptable.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Interesting settings
+ Some cool sci-fi concepts
+ Overall an acceptable watch


– Filming by numbers
– Some bad CGI
– There is going to be a Part 2

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Hail, Caesar!

Blacklisted

Have you ever heard of something called GlowBowl? No? Well it’s a gadget that makes your toilet bowl error… glow.

Seems pretty pointless to me unless you want people to think that your rectum is being haunted by Casper or if, after a heavy night out, you find it difficult to locate ‘Chinatown’ before bringing your drink back up.

At the same time though I weirdly like the idea of a ‘toilight’. This is how I felt about the Coen brothers latest film Hail Caesar! It’s really enjoyable but totally pointless.

The plot focuses on the kidnap of Hollywood star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) by a group called The Future and Eddie Mannix’s (Josh Brolin) hardship in keeping up appearances and handling the stress of managing a film studio in 50’s Hollywood.

I’m going to spoil what little there is to spoil in the next two paragraphs so be warned.

The Future is a group of ex writers who sympathise with communism. Whitlock becomes indoctrinated to the cause but eventually returns to the studio of his own accord.

So let’s recap on events. Kidnap. Guy returns on his own decision. Life goes on. As plots go, this is as thin as my ever receding hair and as hollow as cheap Easter eggs.

Hail Caesar! is a Coen brothers film though, which means is that you will be treated to some fantastic dialogue, most notably the criminally short and under-utilised scene where Mannix tries to gain approval for the titular Hail Caesar film from priests and rabbis. This scene is both beautifully worked and hilarious.

The humour is helped by some fantastic characters that carry the Coen brand of being whimsical, bordering on absurd, yet untrustworthy and bordering on menacing. There is something inexplicably fascinating about the characters that the Coen brothers create in all their films.

Some excellent performances by Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes… In fact everyone only serve to promote this aesthetic.

One thing I was impressed by was the way is very reminiscent of old Hollywood musicals without it ever feeling like a musical itself. The times we are let in back stage to see Scarlett Johansson synchronised swimming as a mermaid or Channing Tatum dancing as a sailor (complete with permanent cheesey smile) were the most enjoyable for me personally due to the behind-the-scenes glimpses of Hollywood in that era.

I am ready to concede this last point because I have a degree in film and I’m boring. Tip of the cap moments to the old studio system and Hollywood blacklisting that was prevalent in the fifties is fascinating to me, no matter how subtle. Others might not care at all.

Hail Caesar! is a film for the film buffs, the film students or the Hollywood insider and not necessarily for Joe public because simply saying: “here are some things that Hollywood used to do” is not enough to keep it from feeling ultimately pointless. Yet through it all it is still a Coen brothers film and it is still indescribably watchable even if it’s not their best.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Some great Coen-esque dialogue
+ Some great Coen-esque characters
+ Some great 50’s-esque film scenes


– Pointless
– Hollow
– Built for film students and insiders

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London Has Fallen

Team America: London Police

Oops, it seems London Has Fallen was accidentally released 4 months early because, unless I’m on tripping balls, it’s not the 4th of July yet, right?

I enjoyed the film but it’s a classic example of America having a raging hard on for America.

London Has Fallen feels like is a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen. Yes, I know it is a sequel but what I’m trying to say is that this is Olympus Has Fallen In London and not London Has Fallen.

The film has very little to do with London except for the fact that it is set there. There are a few bizarre British approximations such as the head of police being given a tea on arriving at work.

Even some of the dialogue follows this trait: “…so everyone muck in!”, “The wheels are in the garage”. No-one talks like that.

They may as well have gone all in and include officers saying “‘Ello ‘ello, what’s goin’ on here then?”.

Moreover the writer’s loins are clearly swelling with national pride as many of the lines un-apologetically gush about how amazing America in moments that could induce diabetes quicker than downing 17 boxes of Lucky Charms in one sitting.

I was quite surprised therefore to find out that the director wasn’t Brock Johnson or something equally as American but instead Iranian born director Babak Najafi?!

Anyway; that only accounts for half the script. The other is actually quite entertaining. There is a good chemistry between Gerrard Butler and Aaron Eckhart and the jokes and quips that sporadically grace the film are a welcome reprieve from constant action.

Butler’s action scenes are really solid and will certainly keep you entertained throughout the film but it might not be good enough to make your jaw drop if you are an action aficionado.

There was one action scene that deserves a mention and this is a scene where Butler (and a small army) is progressing up a London street amidst constant gunfire and grenades. What’s good about that? Well it is one, long, single continuous shot and I love those more than I love apple crumble. Mmmm apple crumble.

The scenes featuring iconic London monuments being destroyed were entirely underwhelming though. This was partly due to less than stellar CGI work but mainly because of the methodical plotting that went into their destruction.

At the start of the film Mr Evil Bad-Guy wants western politicians dead so he starts blowing things up in events that feel more convenient than they found loads of oil weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Events such as only one of the two towers of Westminster Abbey blowing up because it happened to have the Italian President on it. Or a bridge blown up because another government official was stuck in traffic on it.

London Has Fallen is like a half/half pizza with one side pepperoni and the other side pigeon lips and baboon anus. At times it’s an enjoyable and interesting action film but then you get other times it’s patriotic tripe. I mean even the music swells to orgasmic crescendos whenever the Mr President is on screen.

I was half expecting John Wayne to start dropping freedom bombs from atop a bald eagle in what, in places, feels like a live action version of Team America visit London.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Decent action (in places)
+ Enjoyable script (in places)
+ Entertaining throughout

– Terrible, convenient, action (in places)
– Rubbish script (in places)
– Too patriotic

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Grimsby

The Brothers Grim

Sacha Baron Cohen made a name for himself as Ali G. He was ferociously clever whilst sounding incredibly stupid. This meant he managed to do what other interviewees could not; he made unsuspecting politicians drop their guard and say what they really thought of youth culture and policy making.

Amazingly he reproduced this success with Borat; another heavily stereotyped creation who drew out xenophobic ire and mirth in equal measure of those he came into contact with. Cohen also had lesser success with Bruno but followed the theme of provoking peoples inert prejudices through ever increasing shock tactics.

Grimsby is another iteration of Cohen-ness. It features another highly stereotyped  and shocking character. Given his career trajectory, this isn’t surprising, just don’t expect any pseudo-real life comedy like Borat as Grimsby is firmly planted in fiction.

Nobby (Cohen) is a beer swilling football lad living in a poor part of Grimsby; a rather undesirable town in central England. He is looking for his long lost brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) who just happens to be a super spy. Paths inevitably cross and Nobby becomes entwined with the spy game.

What surprised me about this film was how good the action scenes were even if they were few and far between. The first scene in particular – all shot in first person – was amazing with Sebastian kicking people downstairs and shooting them in mid air.

I would have liked to see more of this but I guess I’ll have to wait for Hardcore Henry – trailer can be found here.

Nobby, as a character, isn’t as good. This is definitely one of Cohen’s least nuanced characters and feels almost cheap to stereotype working class people as lazy football lads with 11 kids and sofas on their driveway.

There aren’t many attempts to redeem this stereotype but at least the humour isn’t meant to be at the expense of working class nor at Grimsby itself because that would definitely be cheap.

Instead Cohen tries to out-gross himself and utilises situational comedy to flesh out Nobby as a a bit of character.

Now, if your mum said “Oh, he’s a bit of a character” she probably means he wears sandals with socks, shouts poetry when drunk and once went to a fancy dress party as a ballerina. What she wouldn’t expect is the kind of grim humour that is on show here.

Without wanting to give anything away you can expect testicles, Donald Trump (I know; pretty much the same thing, right?!), a face full of pubes and some good old fashioned lols regarding AIDS.

That all pales in comparison to one specific encounter with elephants. It’s actually a cleverly worked joke if you pay attention before it turns horrific. The few moments that I caught my breath between laughing were soon taken over by the vomit that I was projecting over the people in the next 3 rows. It’s a scene that, ironically, I will never forget.

Outside of these moments there will undoubtedly be parts of the humour that will be lost on those outside the UK, particularly with stereotypes of council estate life complete with some of the hilariously abusive kids.

Grimsby is at times hilarious and for the most part a pretty entertaining watch but it’s not something that will appeal to everyone and in fact is something that might not make complete sense to unless you are in the UK. However, if you like gross humour then don’t be a dumbo: check it out.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Action scenes
+ Elephants. Never forget
+ Abusive kids


– Cohen’s least clever character
– Really gross
– Non-Brits will miss part of the humour

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