Archive for March, 2010

Kick Ass: A Response

March 31, 2010

Odd one out?

This film isn’t the 1/10 my heart goes with, or the 9/10 others may award it. My head settled on a 5/10 – and I feel deep down a review between 6-.7.5/10 would probably reflect this film in the minds of most.

Kick Ass gives us the interesting premise of ‘what would happen if an ‘’ordinary’’ guy attempted to be a ‘super hero?’’. Its initial hour attempts to be ‘realistic’, comedy yes – but with a firm grounding. As soon as our hero attempts to save the day he’s immediately stabbed – reality sets in. However, at this very moment reality seems to set in for the writers too – ‘where are we going with this?’

Super hero films rely on a certain implausibility – Iron Man’s suit absorb’s blows, perhaps – but inertia would kill the occupier. Batman’s grapple could lift a human adult easily – but would tear an arm from its socket and radiation never causes positive mutations. What do you do with a mortal super hero? The writer’s conclusion is ‘let’s go nuts’. Now, that’s not a problem – hell, you can make a film about anything. Issue being – why give us this sappy ‘’chic’’ flick opening? Why set our world in realism only to deviate abruptly? But lo, we aren’t ready to completely give up ‘realism’ – our hero is mortal but his supporting cast need not be – thus ‘kick ass’ is the eye of the hurricane, an apparently clam centre surrounded on all sides by chaos.

It’s down hill from there. Out comes the frat boys – gay jokes, (yey!), semi naked teenage girl (yey), bit of ‘ya know, whatever’ grunge cynicism – oh its all here! Anyway, a ‘hero’ needs a villain – so we get ‘Italian American cliché mobster no#7’. Heath Ledger’s Joker was evil, he was vicious – he was also a little bit cool. This lot could have been saved with a knowing wink – but are played as if they have a credibility that they really, really don’t. Again, this isn’t a huge problem – but the film then features them slicing, dicing and er…icing (yeah, that will do).

Not enough to be simply ludicrous we now have to be vicious. I’m big enough and ugly enough to take violence in a film – what I can’t take is sadism. Immediately my thoughts were of the chav thugs your typical cinema is infested with. I’m armed with a brain and a moral compass that seems to point north (or to good, I’m not such which is more apt for this ramble…), but are they? Who’s getting ideas from this, is John Venables sitting behind me on a day release? What was this stuff doing in a ‘comedy’?!

Our film concludes with jetpacks, a bazooka, a kid lying in a pool of their own blood, matrix stunts and Hostel outtakes. Horrah! How did we get here? I sat down to watch a comedy and left having seen Nicholas Cage burnt to death – that’s got to be one hell of a plot twist! Qurky teen growing pains >Super Hero movie>Hostel – either that’s one hell of a bad triple bill or an embarrassing lack of internal cohesion. Perhaps the film got bored of itself or maybe in a cynical attempt to get that 14-21 demographic they jazzed it up?

Frankly I settle on the ‘the writers are jock bastards’ explanation.

5/10 – Kick Ass has a good premise and a likeable cast – and then became some chav farce. It’s not a bad film, and you’re not a chav for liking it (though you probably are!) but it was far too crude for me.

Review: Kick-Ass

March 30, 2010

I know this is going to sounds horribly naff, but Kick Ass really is a kick ass movie! 

Groan…

Kick-Ass follows Dave Lizewski – your average comic-book loving teenage nobody. Unnoticed by the girls, but sought after by the local thugs. Dave is not an athlete, particularly smart, or even the funny one in his circle of friends. He is just  an average guy, living a very average life.

Dave’s escape from the status quo begins after being publicly mugged by local crooks in front of a disinterested bystander. This humiliating event inspires him to adopted the not-so-super hero persona of Kick-Ass – the worlds first real-life vigilante crime fighter! 

Not letting his complete lack of discernible superpowers get in his way, Dave begins his crime fighting career.  

A few major bumps and bruises later, Kick Ass`s heroic actions propel him into the public spotlight, and he quickly becomes a national phenomenon. Unfortunately, he has also drawn the attention of the local crime syndicate. Kick Ass gets unknowingly drawn into a battle that is way over his head. 

Luckily for him, Kick Ass is not the only would-be super hero in town…

I will proudly admit that I LOVED this movie! I enjoyed every second of it. Kick Ass is not only a pitch perfect parody of the comic book movie genre, but a pretty bloody awesome comic book movie in of itself. The movie delivers laughs, heart, action and style – making Kick Ass the first unexpected highlight of 2010.

Everybody at some stage in their youth, dreamed of being a super hero. Who hasnt fantasized about standing up for yourself, and your fellow-man? This movie taps into those feelings with charm and attitude!

One of the main reasons why this movie works so perfectly is all down to is lead character Dave Lizewski – AKA Kick Ass. Lizewski (Aron Johnson) is just an honest to god, decent fella. A character whose only motivation is the desire to do the right thing, even if it means getting his ass handed to him. You cant help but get behind this guy from start to finish.

Aron Johnson owns the role. The  convincingly geeky looking. Johnson expertly conveys the characters bravery and insecurity with natural ease, and delivers every line with passion and honesty. Johnson is a wonderfully endearing lead. I predict good things for the young actor in the coming years. 

But he is not the only actor firing on all cylinders. Christopher Mintz-Plasse man is fantastic as Kick Asses goofy side kick Red Mist. Mintz at times comes close to almost stealing the show from Kick Ass himself. Disappointingly, the actor is again playing on the awkward McLovin persona he has become famous for, but luckily the trait works quite well for the character in question. Definitely one of the funniest characters in the movie, and the character with the most interesting arc.

So far so awesome, but the real show stealers of movie are the psychopathic super heros Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl  (Chloe Mortez). Cage is hilarious in the role of the homicidal Batman-esque vigilante Big Daddy. Cage chews the scenery,  hamming it up as both as both the doddering single father, and brutal mob killer.  A darkly hilarious performance that affectionately pokes fun at the original Batman actor Adam West.

While Cage is great, it his onscreen daughter that everyone is going to be talking about. Chloe Mortez plays 11-year-old super assassin Hit Girl. She is the character with the coolest lines, the best action sequences and the foulest mouth. Watching a pre-pubescent girl massacring the living shit out of a room full of armed crooks is one the most uniquely enjoyable experiences you are likely to see for quite some time. Words can not express just how cool this character is. Mortez deserves every ounce of praise she is undoubtedly going to receive when this movie hits for real next week. Another break through performance on show here.

Special mention should go to Mark Strong as the mobster villain of the movie. Strong brilliantly juggles the characters two conflicting personas. A calm and caring father figure to his family, unflinchingly violent gangster to his enemies. Strong’s performance is multi dimensional, and just as interesting to watch as the costumed crusaders he pursues.

Jane Goldman’s script is as tight as a ducks bottom.  The story moves at comfortable pace from the off-set, and never out stays its welcome. The movies general premise is very similar to Watchmen, and therefor more complex and densely layered than you might expect from a comic book film. The script is filled with well written, rounded characters, and cleverly mixes laughs with moments of excitement, and drama.

Director Matthew Vaughn`s (Layer Cake) visuals have clearly been  influenced by the work of other directors. The action scenes and overall style is very akin to Tarantino`s Kill Bill movies, and the heart and drama have a similar feel to Sam Rami`s Spiderman series. A match made in heaven in my opinion.  I guess you could argue that there is very little of the directors own vision on display here, but what he delivers is so good, I simply do not care.

Vaughn has a great eye for action, and revels in the comic book violence of the picture. Death and destruction should not be this enjoyable, but Kick Ass has been made with so much passion, that you can’t help be get on board with it.

I have heard some complaints that the movie shifts tone slightly half way through, which I agree it does. The first part of the movie is very much set in reality, and deals with the genuine dangers and practicalities of a mere-mortal with no actual skills or strength, taking on real life cold-blooded criminals. The lead character is stabbed, and almost killed in his first confrontation for example. 

The reality levels fade massively with the appearance of  the “real deal” super heros Hit Girl and Big Daddy midway through.  The movie ventures into more traditional comic book territory from this point on. Lets face, could an 11-year-old girl really hold her own against a room full of armed mobsters? I think not. But guess what? – who gives a shit?! The two styles gel seamlessly, and contrast did not bother me in the slightest. If the movie didnt heighten its levels of reality, we would have been denied some of the coolest action set pieces in comic book movie history.

One additional aspect that stood out to me was the directors choice of music in the movie. I rarely mention a movie’s soundtrack in my reviews – but his choice of songs (ranging from Prodigy, to The Dickies) mesh so perfectly with what is happening on-screen (be it in terms of excitement, or emotion) that I just had to mention it. The sound track is awesome!

I can not praise this movie enough! I have seen film twice already, and would happily go and see it a few more times over the coming weeks. Kick Ass is funny, exciting and at times quite moving. The movie deserves to be a massive hit, so stop reading this, book your ticket, and go help knock the piss poor Alice in Wonderland off the number one spot this weekend!

Yes – this movie does indeed Kick Ass!

8.5/10

Why Video Game Movies are a Thing of the Past

March 25, 2010

Halo, Uncharted and Call of Duty – are just some of the video games currently in various stages of being adapted for the big screen – and I for one could not care less! Video game movies are a thing of the past, and here is why…

When I was a lot younger than I am now, I remember getting goosebumps the first time I saw the teaser trailer for the first Mortal Kombat movie. I couldn’t believe my eyes – the game I had obsessed over was now a big budget Hollywood movie! I was going to see my favourite characters battle it out on the big screen in three dimensions. I was going to hear them talk and interact, and experience their world on a scale that the confines of a 16 bit console could never allow.

Back when computer games were in their infancy, the limitations of the technology gave cinema the upper-hand in regards to spectacle.

But now the tables have turned – modern video games are just as epic and ambitious as any Summer Blockbuster – if not more so!

Just compare Doom 3 with its cinematic counterpart Doom, as evidence. The Doom movie was nothing more than a watered down, smaller scale mockery of the video game series that it was based on.  The only remotely enjoyable moment in the movie being the 5 minute first person shooter sequence that came during the films climax. Why was it enjoyable? Because it reminded us of the superior game it was poorly imitating.

Technology has moved on so fast, that games are becoming more and more photo realistic with every release. They now have complex scripts, multi-layered characters, and the processing power to bring entire worlds to life. Worlds that are not only there to be viewed, but to be fully interacted with. A statement owners of the recently released  Heavy Rain, or Mass Effect 2 will no doubt support.

The only hurdle game creators face are the limits of their own imaginations. Entire worlds can be created by a group of guys in an office, with nothing more than some powerful hardware and a lot of know-how. Compare this with the limitations your average movie faces – the budget, strict release dates, the logistics of building sets and filming on location etc. All hindering the creative process.

With this in mind, can you ever see a movie being able to faithfully replicate the underwater city of the Bioshock games?

How much more spectacle could a Metal Gear Solid film offer in comparison to Metal Gear Solid 4?

What would be the point of adapting games like Drakes Fortune or Modern Warfare 2 when they are already incredibly cinematic?

Even the environments of older games like Half-life 2 and Gears of War would be far to expensive to even replicate, let a lone top on-screen.

My other qualm with the concept is that we still yet to see a genuinely good movie based on a computer game! Street Fighter, Doom, Super Mario Brothers, Alone in the Dark, the list goes on and on – all them stinkers! When Mortal Kombat is your best effort to date, and Uwe Boll is the poster child of your genre – something isn’t working!

The reason for the all round lack of quality, is that most talented directors are not going to touch a video game movie if their lives depended on it. There is still a stigma attached to this genre – and to be honest – rightfully so. The main problem with basing a film on a game, is that the game’s story is already a cannibalized version of a movie(s) that already exist!

For example –

How often do you hear a game be summarised with a sentence along the lines of –

…its like Predator, but on a boat.- the monsters look like the bugs out of Starship Troopers. Oh, and the final showdown is a bit like end of I Am Legend

you get the idea.

There are next to NO original tales to be told in the video game world.

This is why we just don’t need video game movies anymore. Modern technological advances have made them entirely redundant. Todays games are cinematic enough! Lets us just leave the two formats alone to be their own separate entities, so that they can evolve and flourish by themselves. Mixing the two the two will only lead to low quality imitations of the other that neither audience will embrace.

The world does not need another Street Fighter: The Movie!

Review: I Love You Phillip Morris

March 21, 2010

I Love You Phillip Morris has a lot going for it, but I suspect it will forever be remembered as the one where Jim Carrey f*cks a man in the ass.

The movie is a romantic dramedy based on the real life exploits of serial con man and imposter Steven Russell (Jim Carrey).

The film opens with Russell living a dual life as a respectable family man by day, and vivacious homosexual by night. A near fatal car accident prompts Steven to come out, and openly live the life the he has always wished for. Now free from the shackles of his facade, Russell intends to live life to its fullest, and embarks on a care free flamboyant life style that does not come cheap. Steven soon turns to a life of crime to fund his extravagance . His illegal activities draw the attention of the law, and he is arrested and sent to prison. While incarcerated, Russell meets fellow inmate, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). It is love at first site for the unlikely pair, and two quickly become inseparable.

When Morris is released early from prison, Russell cant bear to be without him, and uses his arsenal of criminal talents to escape, in order to be reunited with his beloved Morris.

I Love You Phillip Morris is the bastard love child of Catch me if you can, and Brokeback Mountain – with enough cock and blow job gags to make even Superbad blush! The movie is a much darker and explicit tale than the marketing suggest. Not suprising considering this movie comes from the same warped minds that brought us (the superior) Bad Santa.

Accepting the part of Russell Stevens was certainly a brave choice for Jim Carrey. Not only because the movie contains graphic gay sex, and explicit language, but because the character is such a self-ish and unlikable ass. This is undoubtedly Carrerys darkest performance to date. His character abandons his family to live an indulgent and extravagant life he can not afford, and aquires wealth by scamming others out of theres. Even when he is helping other people, he is only doing so because there is something in it for him and his partner. Russell Stevens is not some one you would usually be routing for, but to Carreys credit, he still manages to make the character likeable, despite his quite substantial flaws.

In terms of performance, Carrey is on top form – cementing the fact that the actor is now at his best when playing the straight man – ok bad choice of words on this occasion, but you know what I mean. My only minor criticism is that Carreys persona tends to flutter from the serious (Enternal Sunshine) to the wacky (Ace Ventura) sporadically through-out the film. This unintentional dual performance hinders the movie slightly – suggesting that the film makers couldn’t quite nail the tone of the film. This is a minor criticism though, and Carrey delivers an honest and rounded performance that is shockingly different from what he have seen him do before.

Ewan McGregor plays the object of Russells affections – Phillip Morris. McGregor’s character is far more sympathetic than Carreys, and the actor delivers a sweet and likeable performance as the shy and trusting Texan.  McGregor and Carrey have fantastic onscreen chemistry together, and make quite the lovely couple. 

Director Luc Besson delivers a visually bright and engaging film, that moves at a comfortable pace that never out stays its welcome. Your jaw will literally drop at some of the things Steven Russell managed to achieve (like blagging his way to CFO of top pharmaceutical company) with nothing more than intelligence, charm and determination, made all the more incredible considering it is based on fact.

Some minor embellishments aside, the movie is a surprisingly accurate re-telling of the mans life. Click here for more information – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Jay_Russell – but be warned, doing so will spoil some key moments in the movie.

As mentioned before – my only real criticism is that it feels a little muddled in terms of tone. It is ironic that a major theme of the movie, is the search for ones true self – because the movies seems just a lost as its lead. The movie darts from being unflinchingly realistic and somber, to romantically cartoony and sugary – never settling on a consistent identity.  The movie is a little to dark and explicit to be a comedy, and a little to silly be an all out drama. I know it may sound a little closed-minded, but I honestly believe that if the movie had of toned down the graphic sex, and language – it would have been a far more accessable, and more than likely, successful movie. The best aspects of the film would have still been there without it.

In Summary – The movie is entertaining, interesting and well acted, and I can easily see this movie becoming quite the cult favourite in the years to come. But I still walked away from the cinema with very little affection for it. Personally, I found that the combination of an unpleasant main character, uneven tone and vulgarity only there to shock, left a bad taste in my mouth. A taste I would rather spit out than swallow…Oh my!

6/10

Retro Review: Crank 2 – High Voltage

March 18, 2010

Crank 2 is one giant f*ck you to conventional cinema.

Never burdening itself with things like depth, logic or believability – the movie is both a celebration, and a satire of the reckless, and shallow MTV generation.

Directors Neveldin/Taylor and star Jason Statham deliver a  gloriously violent, testosterone-fuelled marathon of  profanity,guns and balls to the wall mayhem. It’s rude, crude, and gloriously juvenile, and the most fun I have had watching a movie in a long time.

The plot is so ridiculous that I wont bother going into too much detail – but in a nutshell –  after miraculously surviving his apparent death at the end of the first picture – our hero Chev Chelios`s heart has been stolen by Chinese triads, and has been replaced with an artificial one. Chelios must keep himself topped-up with electricity to stay a live long enough to wreak vengeance on those responsible, and get his heart back. Ridiculous I know, but it is not the story that is important here.

The movie does not take itself seriously – not even for a second. The world of Crank 2 is more akin to a live action cartoon, than reality – and is all the better for it!  It has an entirely unique directorial style that is both wildly inventive, exciting and bursting at the seams with originality. The directors hand-held camera work is the cinematic equivalent of a bulldozer – tearing its way through its 90 minute runtime with as much frantic energy and determination as its hero.

The movie has a bohemian feel to its story – as thought the directors were making it up as they went along – but boy does it work! Even the craziest moments (like the hilarious Godzilla parody) feel entirely organic to its narrative. 

Jason Statham was born to play the part of tough as nails Chev Chelios. Chelios is the unholy communion of Clint Eastwood and Ray Winstone, all rolled-up into one tough, balding anti hero.The actor knows exactly what kind of movie he is in, and revels in it. Rash, crass and a fondness for the C-word – Statham is joy to watch. His co-star Amy Smart is cute, and in on the joke too – throwing herself into the role just as much Statham.

My only minor criticism would be that this is very much a movie for men. It panders exclusively to everything your average male would enjoy – brutal action, gross out comedy, video games, sexy ladies etc.  The film makes you both proud, and a little embarrassed to be a man. So much so that I could potentially see it offending some members of the opposite sex – it is slightly misogynistic at times.

That a side – Crank 2 is certainly a hard film to critique, because it is more a parody, than a straight up action movie. It comically lampoons the clichés and conventions that our damaged generation – with its short attention spans, and indifference to sex and violence – have unknowingly become accustom to. Thus turning its negatives – such as it lack of character and plot – into its strongest assets. Not having these things is the very point of Crank 2! 

I will proudly admit that I loved every second of this movie. Crank 2 is far superior to the first in almost every way. The non stop pace, and barrage of insane characters and set pieces will leave you both shocked, and in awe of its hilarious outrageousness. In my opinion – a modern action classic, that is a little smarter than it would like you to believe.

8/10

Review: Green Zone

March 16, 2010

The journey through cinema continues with GREEN ZONE – the 10th time I have found myself in the cinema in, what, 11 weeks? Gotta pick up the pace…

Green Zone

People chose a version of events to fit their pro/anti war agenda – director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum) manages to play off on anti war rhetoric with a film so close to what is now accepted as ‘’the truth’’ that its never clear where fiction begins and ends. Matt Damon (The Departed) plays Captain Miller leading a squad to secure ‘WMD’s’ in the weeks following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A frustrated Miller returns empty handed despite assurances the Intel is good. Being the ‘good soldier’ he plans to get to the bottom of this and his investigation uncovers evidence the Bush administration has falsified the case for war – yadda yadda yadda.

Honestly, a story about the search for WMD’s and why they can’t be found is all a bit dull. They weren’t found because they weren’t there – Green Zone attempts to flesh out the conspiracy theories – but its message is about 7 years to late. We’ve had close to a decade of recrimination and the ‘’accusation’’ the government is up to no good can only be greeted with a ‘well duh, you just opened a newspaper?’. Conspiracy theories need to play off on paranoia – increasingly the US/UK’s dubious rationale for war seems more like fact

Thankfully, the film cares little for the path to war – oh the hand wringing is there for sure but in the ‘we need a pained shot for the trailer’ style. Green Zone has a message but I never bought any sincerity. The winning horse has been picked and all concerned are happy for that to carry the story along. Storywise – Green Zone is in the dead zone. Clueless officials, brave soldiers, Iraqi’s yearning to be free –check.

Review sounds fairly negative so allow me to rebalance. I didn’t watch Green Zone for the ‘’story’’ (evidently just as well), I came for the cinematography.

Green Zone looks gorgeous – it FEELS like Iraq in 2003. US Chinook’s dart across the sky, angry crowds threaten violence at any time – an abandoned tanker has you crying out ‘look out for bombers!’, it feels very authentic. This wasn’t accidental and that care and attention is clear to see. Action scenes are plausible and generally very well done – bullets fly and concrete is vaporised. Second half of the film is set at night and the impressive squad action is replaced by more Bourne-style fisticuffs. I can’t help but feel this film needed a big set piece – choppers flying in, tanks crushing walls – the tech is all around, and, as Bart Simpson once said, ‘I want to be around when all those guns start going off’. I did too.

Greengrass is a proponent of the shaky cam – and it’s used to great effect. Firefights feel like you are a camera crew along for the ride, the chaotic search and clear missions bring home the difficulty of the conflict. The style is helped by the score which never overshadows a scene – allowing the events to be the emotional driving force, don’t expect some tub thumping Wagner to be piped in.

No one is really called upon for an acting master class in Green Zone. Matt Damon character doesn’t seem to have much in the way of character – but he’s a likeable enough lead and that seems to fill the gaps. Additionally the US military is portrayed as a skilled and effective force so we never struggle for someone to root for.

Ultimately, Green Zone really didn’t need a superficial story drapped over it. The Iraq War is dynamic enough that following our brave squad would probably have been enough – it’s sad the need to ‘resolve’ the WMD issue was so paramount in the writer’s minds. Did this story really need that sort of conclusive resolution? Give us more of the impressive sets, the intimidating crowds and the pressurised search and clear ops.

Solid, if unspectacular, Green Zone will leave to another film the task of truly capturing the excitement and the horror of the most controversial conflict in decades. 6/10

Resume, Reboot or Retire – Predator

March 15, 2010

If a film makes any sort of return – oh, you can bet we’re getting a sequel. That might make sense if your film is say – Spiderman, but Big Momma’s House? Welcome to a new series of articles where we take a look at film series and ask Reboot, Resume or Retire?

PREDATOR

‘Pick on someone your own size’, 1987’s Predator introduced us to everyone’s favourite bullies – Predators. With the chilling news that the summer will bring us another Predator film we’ve seen our dreadlocked friends in no fewer than 4 previous outings. Being a healthy mix of 1980’s action excess, sci-fi and Arnold Schwarenegger Predator ticked all the boxes for an enjoyable, yet throwaway, blockbuster. It doesn’t have much to say for itself but gets by on Arnold’s one liners and testosterone. Memorable scenes include our crack team vaporising a large stretch of jungle and Arnold impaling an enemy followed by the line ‘stick around’. It’s gloriously daft – if you liked Die Hard and Lethal Weapon you will know what you’re getting. We don’t see much of the Predator – it’s never clear what its motivations are and it’s largely reduced to ‘the threat’, a plot device – but one with a lot of style. I suppose it’s the Predator’s part ninja part alien badass that explains the characters appeal.

Predator is a solid 8/10.

A sequel was always likely and director Stephen Hopkins (Nightmare of Elm Street 5) is determined to stick with the Predator formula – big 80’s action name and bloody OTT violence. Events unfurl in a city setting this time and we have a bit more story too – something about gangs in LA in the year 1997. The Predator gets a bit more development – seems they are seeking worthy prey (the predator spares a pregnant woman for instance) and they have even encountered Ridley Scott’s Alien. It wouldn’t be fair to say Predator fails simply because Schwarzenegger wasn’t involved – but it certainly fails. Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) is hopelessly miss cast – he’s not a leading man and Predator 2 really needed one. The whole cast makes Predator 2 feel like some sort of 80’s has-been convention – Busey, Paxton, Davi , I could have been watching Licence to Kill, Die Hard or just about any other film of that era. The OTT style was part of the charm in Predator but in Predator 2 it just falls flat. Without the humour the excess just feels like, well…excess. I often draw parallels with Predator 2 and Die Hard 2 because to me they are very similar – loud, obnoxious and with absolutely nothing original. Without a genuine ‘star’ there is precious little reason to care about anything that happens in Predator 2. Ultimately the story concludes without every really concluding – the Predators simply go home.

Predator 2 is quite simply a bad film – 3/10.

14 years on and Paul W S Anderson (Resident Evil) is tasked with bringing back our dreadlocked friends to the big screen. Perhaps driven by the realisation that the Predator hadn’t really been developed into much of a character they are paired up with the aliens from Aliens – a match made in heaven (or at least the countless comics that had come before). 2004’s Alien Vs Predator is pure MTV. Paul Anderson isn’t just content to make Predator 3 – he’s going to update the series with every trick going. Fast cuts, high tempo, superficial story and characters – AVP is the son of the MTV generation. AVP has no interest in being anything like Predator 1 and 2, or the Aliens films. Gone is the OTT element from Predator, gone too is the gore, gone is the fun perhaps?

To be honest – I admire AVP. Alien and Predator fans wanted a gory death match on Earth with shoulder cannons and tail impaling galore. AVP doesn’t give us that – and people disliked it as a result. What AVP does do is give us a ultra polished, ultra modern instalment – finally the Predator gets the back story and culture they have lacked. The Predators are shown as being far more vulnerable than previous instalments – here we have juvenile Predators learning the hunt, and quite simply – making a complete mess of it. Perhaps the ‘cool’ factor takes a dent but a humanised Predator was more interesting for me personally. People didn’t like its MTV style but here is a film that achieved everything the director set out to do – we might not approve, but this is the coherent and relevant film Predator 2 should have been.

Modernised and put back on track, 7/10.

 2007 was AVP2, the fourth outing for the Predators. With AVP giving a shot in the arm to two flagging series there were high hopes for this. Critics of AVP seemed to focus on the lack of wholesale slaughter – so AVP2 would deal with that. The Brothers Strause were put in charge and things seemed to be all set.

Simply put AVP2 should have finished this series. The budget was slashed to such a degree it’s difficult to imagine what even James Cameron could have done here. We have such a limited budget that we never actually see the aliens clearly at any point. Nothing is added to this series and it’s nothing short of incredible that there were sufficient funds to actually make a film at all. Everything is deliberately dark for fear the audience might catch a glimpse of something. One can blame the directors or one can simply accept that as with Alien 3 – if Fox want to wreck something, they’ll do it. If a director as talented as David Fincher couldn’t save Alien 3 what chance did the Strauss Brothers have?

Quite simply AVP2 isn’t worth dwelling on. 2/10.

With a total rating of 20/40 the Predator films are now a legacy of missed opportunities and cinematic junk. Yet the appeal lives on – buried within dire scripts is a character audiences still connect with. It’s difficult to understand why – we’ve never really explored the race in any depth. Perhaps there lies the appeal – the belief that there is a story to tell and that one more film will do it. Perhaps because we’ve never really ‘met’ the Predator a succession of poor films haven’t really damaged its image. I feel there is a great Predator film just waiting to be made. It is for that reason I don’t feel a reboot is warranted – the character hasn’t been damaged and may have actually been enhanced. Retiring this series while it still has that one great film left in it would be a mistake. 2010 will give us ‘Predators’ – free of the Alien baggage we just might be getting the focused film we deserve. My hope is that we finally get a true insight into their culture – and a true demonstration of their abilities. With some big name stars and a more realistic budget 2010 may finally see this series get the justice deserve. Bring it on.

Resume, Reboot or Retire – Resume!

In Defence of… JAWS the Revenge

March 14, 2010

“I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!” – Michael Caine.

The 1985 sequel Jaws the Revenge (the fourth movie in the popular Jaws franchise) was a massive flop at the box office, received terrible critical reviews and is often cited as one of the worst movies of all time…but is it really as bad as its reputation dictates?

Today I will do the unthinkable… I will put forward the case that Jaws the Revenge is actually quite good!

Now lets not get carried away – I am not proposing that the movie is brilliant, just not the toxic mess some would have you believe. It is not even the worst movie in the series – JAWS 3D wears that crown.

For those who havent seen it (and I imagine there are quite a few of you) the movie follows Ellen Brody, the wife of Chief Brody from the original. Ellen decides to leave Amity Island  – after her youngest son Sean is attacked and killed by a Shark in the towns waters – to join her eldest son Michael and his family in the Bahamas.  Michael is now a Marine biologist, and has been studying Conch migration (someones gotta do it) with his partner Jake. Despite her picturesque surroundings, Ellen can not shake the feeling that something is wrong. She fears that her family is being targeted by the killer sharks, and that they will not stop until have all been taken. Ellen pleads with her son to give-up his job and to get out of the water for good. Michael is of course sceptical, and tries to reassure her that sharks do not have agendas, and that she is just being paranoid. Ellen warily agrees, until the sudden and mysterious appearance of a large Great White Shark in the area suggests her worst fears might not be so crazy after all!

Jaws the Revenge admittedly has a lot of problems. It would have been a thousand times easier to write a piece on how terrible it is.

The Shark is fakest looking one of the series, with the crystal blue oceans of the Bahamas showcasing the beast in all it’s not so impressive glory. In some cuts of the film – the Sharks wires and internal  mechanic are visible in almost every shot.

The film is horribly melodramatic at times, and nearly all of the action set pieces (if you can really call them that) are shoddy, and muddled. The films ending is infamously one of the most confused climaxes ever put to screen. In fact, unless you read up on it afterwards, it’s not even clear how the shark actually dies. Depending on which version you see, there are two different endings – one where the Shark is impaled on the end of the heros boat, and slowly dies. One where it hits the end of the boat, and then explodes for no reason whatsoever, and im not kidding. The additional footage was added to the second ending in an attempt to make it more dramatic and comprehensible. Unfortunately, it appears Universal were only willing to spend roughly $45 on the re-shoots, because the special effects are, well…shit. Take a look at the screen grabs below for confirmation…

…oh dear…

To be honest, even the very genesis of the plot – the idea of a shark pursuing one family half way around the world – is completely ridiculous in of itself.

But I would argue that for all the bad, there is a lot of good on show here.

While Director Joseph Sargent may have struggled with the action side of things, the film looks far better than it should with the budget it was handed. The scenes in the Bahamas are beautiful captured, and the film as a whole looks polished and slick …excluding some so-so special effects work.

The slow burn approach that worked so well for the original is here too. We are dealing with real people, in a real town facing a problem that is completely over their heads.   The movie spends time with its characters, and the life they lead – allowing you get to know and care about them, thus increasing the tension when they are put in peril. This point is illustrated by the fact that the Shark barely makes and appearance until roughly half into the movie. Some have criticized the film for its lack of Shark action – which I do understand – but I for one appreciated the time spent building character.

Sargent also pulls off the drama and suspense to good effect. The movies opening is particularly well done.  It is Christmas Eve, and Chief of Police Sean Brody is called out to recover a broken line from Amity`s oceans. The scene is set at night, and the combination of the towns glowing Christmas lights and a choir singing carols in the distance give the scene a really creepy, surreal feeling as shark approaches. This opening attack scene is dark, haunting and vicious – perfectly re-capturing the suspense, and foreboding of the first movie.

There are also a few other decent scenes to speak of. The first, is the moment where Michael is chased through a sunken ship by the killer shark. Yes,  the logistics of the size of the shark in comparison to the ship don’t quite gel, but the scene is extremely tense, and well put together. Again, a scene that wouldn’t feel out place in the first JAWS.

The banana boat attack is also well done. The shot of the shark rising from the water and taking its screaming victim is a really terrifying image. The director lingers on  the Shark as it is suspended out of the water a tad to long to be believable,  but it is still one of the most frightening and effective attack scenes in the entire series.

One criticism that I have never understood is the bashing the acting gets.

It’s actually quite good in my opinion. In the same way that Edward Furlong gets criticised for his “bad” acting in T2, I just don’t think it’s that terrible! This is Loraine Gary`s (Ellen Brody) movie, and she really throws herself into the role 100%. She is entirely convincing in all aspects of her character – from the grieving mother, to the strong-willed shark killer she evolves into.

Michael Caine is a little on auto pilot here, but he is still as fun and charming as ever playing pilot Hoogie. The blossoming relationship between him and Ellen is engrossing and believable. In-fact, the acting is generally good all round. Lance Guest  is a little stiff as Michael Brody, but not jarringly so. His partner Jake (Mario Van Pebbles) is really fun to watch, with the actor bringing life and humor to a role that could have so easily been annoying and forgettable. You really feel it when his character dies near the end of the movie. Although (due to test audience demand) his character survives in some cuts  – which is of course, completely ridiculous.

Anyway, I would now like to address the two most common criticisms that get thrown at the film  –

  1. Ellen flashes back to moments from JAWS that she was not around for.
  2. The Shark roars during the film’s climax.

Ok, there’s no denying that Sharks do not roar in real life. But hey – this a monster movie, not a National Geographic documentary. Sharks don’t follow people half way around the world either. So lets cut the makers some slack shall we. I personally feel that the shark  roaring during the final confrontation adds to beast intimidating presence, and whacks  the – oh shit! its coming right for us – tension up a few notches.

As for the infamous flashbacks – ok so Ellen wasnt actually there in person to see the events that occurred to her husband – but im sure he told her about them! How else are the film makers going to convey her recollections without cutting to footage from the first  film? Other movies have used a similar method to convey memory – so why does this movie get such a hounding for doing the same thing?

In summary – JAWS the Revenge isn’t perfect by any stretch – but if you watch it with an open mind, I think you will be pleasantly surprised to find a good-looking, half-decent thriller, that contains some entertaining performances and is at times, quite frightening.

Our First Look at Predators

March 14, 2010

Update – The full length trailer has been released, and is embedded at the bottom of this post. Check it out!

The first footage from Nimrod Antals Predators appeared online last night. The 3rd movie in the Predator series is being produced by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Dusk til Dawn) and stars Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong) as the movies lead, along side Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix) Topher Grace (Spiderman3) and Danny Trejo (Grindhouse, Devils Rejects)

The movie’s plot (which was falsely rumored to be a remake ) turns the premise of the first Predator on its head – a random group of deadly warriors – consisting of serial killers, criminals and mercenaries wake up to find themselves stranded on a mysterious planet. Lost and shaken, the group must set aside their differences and learn to work together, because they have been brought to this world as game, to be tracked and hunted by an alien race known as the Predators.

Rodriguez is saying all the right things in the video below, lets hope he delivers what he is promising.

The movie opens this Summer, and I for one can’t wait!

Go to http://www.predators-movie.com for a better quality version of the video above.

Review: Shutter Island

March 13, 2010

Oh how we moan about movie clichés! Despite this, we expect, nay – demand them in our films. An asylum on a wind ravaged island HAS to be evil. If a lighthouse is said to be abandoned – it HAS to be occupied, and if someone wants to help us – oh, they must be hiding something! US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) arrives on Shutter Island accompanied by an overbearing musical score – oh evil just must be afoot.

A psychotic has escaped from the facility and the US Marshall’s office has been called in to find out how a person escaped from a locked room. Straight away hostile guards and evasive doctors just confirm our preconceptions – they are up to something. Seems a fairly straightforward plot so far – but it just keeps building and building, this isn’t going to be the ‘Fugitive 3’. Turns out Daniels wasn’t assigned to this case by accident – he has a history with an inmate, he’s worked hard to get assigned here – he knows there is a conspiracy and he’s going to crack it. However, something’s very wrong – Daniels is having hallucinations, seems people know his objectives – has he been lured to Shutter Island to silence him?

Director Martin Scorsese could only have been chuckling as he edited Shutter Island together – he knows exactly how the audience will react. No matter how a scene progresses we side with Daniels – hallucinations must mean Daniels has been drugged, a vague response is proof someone’s hiding things. While Daniels may not – we, the audience, know what’s going on! Shutter Island twists and turns and it won’t just be Daniels questioning himself by the end. Prepare to have your preconceptions turned on their head. By the end – you wont be sure which way is up. Think the ‘Usual Suspects’ has a twist? How about a film that leaves you wondering how effortlessly you were tricked – when deep down, you really should have seen this coming.

Simply put Shutter Island is a masterpiece. This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking through Scorsese, the audience are toys to be played with here. Leaving the cinema you are forced to reckon with the underlying paranoia and demand for convention that must follow you into each film. Shutter Island gripes from the start and never lets up – it’s not just Daniels that cant see the wood for the trees.

Di Caprio gives another fantastic performance. Frankly, if one can find fault with his performances these days you must be able to show me a better actor. Teddy Daniels is a ‘man of violence’, a troubled past boils over in paranoia and single mindedness – and I bought every word he said. Ben Kingsley delivers a superb performance as Dr Cawley, a character always hiding something – we’re perpetually off balance with his character.

Critics claim scenes are ‘overcooked’ – and certainly the music in the opening sequences is positively distracting. We expect a storm – when we get it its more like judgement day than a credible backdrop. I feel these comments are unfair – just as the pickpocket distracts you with a ‘clumsy’ collision, Scorsese throws up a smokescreen – depriving us of that moment of clarity that would help us see through things. Part thriller, part horror – it’s the ambience which is so compelling, the tension never lets up. Simply put – Shutter Island is among the best films I have ever seen.

9.5/10