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Prince of Persia: A Response

June 8, 2010

My word, James was very easy-going on this one…

You know a movie is as mediocre as they come when you walk out thinking – “Man! I actually enjoyed Clash of the Titans more than that!!?”

I personally find a mediocre movie far more offensive than a bad one. Nothing screams laziness and soulless filmmaking more to me than mediocrity. I therefore found Prince of Persia to be – lets just say – awkward viewing.

The action was incoherent and badly edited, the characters were dull and unconvincing (just like the CGI) and it`s lead Jake Gyllenhaal was just bloody awful!

Jake, obviously concentrating more on keeping-up his stiff-as-a board British accent than actually emoting, has the persona of a slightly dim 10 year boy. A 10-year-old mind in a $2000 a month, gym-sculpted body. Jakes acting is terrible and projects only two identifiable emotions through out – confused and smiley.

Yes, it appears the world has found its first mentally challenged super hero with Prince of Perisa; what an open-minded world we live in!

His co-star, and generic love interest Gemma Arterton is a little more spunky, but looks as though she has mistakenly wandered from the set Clash of the Titans and just decided to stay there and make a go of it, seeing as she already dressed for the occasion. Is it just me? Or was Gemma playing EXACTLY the same character that she played in Titans!?

Hell, she even ends up being given away as a prize to her leading man at the end of both movies! Talk about type casting, not to mention sexist!

As for the plot; again, like its lead – simple sums it up quite nicely. But simple in that annoyingly whimsical and floaty way that gets so silly I just couldn’t summarise it even at gun point!

From what I can remember, it basically consists of our rag tag team of chemistry-free protagonists darting from one set to other, searching for a mystical dagger (and yes, it is referred to as mystical in the movie too) A dagger that rarely gets used, and whose true potential and origin is never clarified.

One of the most suprising (by which I mean weird) aspects of Prince of Persia, is that it is attempts to be an odd satire on the Iraqi war. The main thrust of the movie concerns the Persian army being tricked into invading a peaceful city under the false pretense of there being concealed weapons of mass destruction hidden there. Hum, that sounds very familiar.

The movie even ends with Jake essentially apologizing to the entire town for his army’s actions. If Avatar was subconsciously a white-guilt movie; it appears Prince of Persia is an invasion-guilt movie.

How very on the nose – not to mention inappropriate for a Disney/Bruckheimer summer fun extravaganza!

A very odd, and very un-exciting adventure movie that is more The Mummy Returns than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A very generous – 5/10


Review: REC 2

June 2, 2010

I really wanted to like this one…

Being a huge fan of the original movie, I strided into REC 2 with my head and expectations held high – only to shuffle out with my head slumped low and feeling more soulless than the zombies of the picture.

Such a shame, because the first REC movie did something truly special. It managed to not only use the already tired shaky-cam gimmick to great effect, but also made the  equally tired zombie genre frightening again!

REC`s expertly staged set pieces and pure ferocious energy grabbed you by the balls so hard that it actually tore them off and then ate them in front of you. Truly intense, creatively shot and filled with images and moments that chilled me to the bone.

A modern horror masterpiece some might say. 

The sequel? …meh… not so much.  

Some sequels have the annoying habit of diminishing your affection for its predecessor. Unfortunately, this is one of them.

The movie picks up the second the first movie ends. Before I go on, if you havent seen the original, don’t bother reading anymore of this review. Just go out, rent it, buy it – hell, even bloody steal it if you have to. Its great, and makes this movie entirely redundant. Now, if you have seen it (and presumably liked it) continue reading and heed my warning.

Adopting the same fly-on-the-wall directorial style of the first, we are introduced to our (surprisingly) small SWAT team of protagonist’s – lead by a mysterious government official (aren’t they always)- as they prepare to enter the zombie-infested apartment building in which the events of the first movie took place.

The teams naturalistic dialogue and blase attitude to the job at hand helps establish a real world feel to the events we are seeing. This is important because the authenticity and believability of its characters was a key part of the first movies success. I was therefore pleased to see that REC2`s opening moments successfully recapture that tone.

Sadly, as soon as our team steps foot inside the dreaded house of horror, the movies quality drastically diminishes.

There is no point outlining too much of the movies paper-thin plot because even a single sentence could spoil entire sections of the movie. All I will say is that realism (and therefore investment in the fate of our heros) goes completely out of the window, very quickly.

The combination of Rec 2`s ridiculasly stupid plotting, logic defying character decisions and some horribly hammy and OTT performances leave you cringing rather than cowering. From start to finish, not one moment in this film makes any real sense, and at no point do you buy that you are watching real people, reacting in a realistic way. A major problem for a movie like this.

On top of that, REC 2 completely lacks any sense of narrative  focus. It just clumsily stumbles from one moment to the next without any sense of drive or  purpose. Stuff just happens, only ever coming to life during its fleeting moments of action. Not that there is much of that either. It did dawn on me quite quickly that movie was not going to win me over with its lame characters and clunky staging. My only hope was that movie was really going to blow me away with its heart pounding action sequences. Let me tell you now, it didn’t. Never exciting, frequent or coherent – the action fails to deliver.

Sadly, that isn’t even my biggest problem with the film. No that honour goes to the simple fact it just isn’t scary!

One thing I loved about the first REC was its creative and frightening set pieces. Here, we get nothing more than the same shot of a zombie/demon quickly lunging at the camera over and over again. Very disappointing. The movie lacks the creeps and Oh shit were in trouble moments the first one revelled in. There is nothing on show here that wasnt done more effectively in the first.

The only original aspect the sequels throws into the mix is that it whacks the supernatural aspects of its premise up a few thousand notches. The ambiguous nature of the cause of the outbreak is (wisely) only hinted at in the first – here it thrust into your face so hard that it actually gave me a black eye! You see the zombies here aren’t just infected with a virus, they have been infected by evil itself! Que a lot of Exorcist-lite religious mumbo jumbo, bog standard exorcism scenes and an incredibly silly climax involving the magical properties of a infra-red camera. I’m not kidding either – the climax of the movie does involve a mystical infa-red camera!

To be fair, I was more than willing to go with the whole religious angle – but I couldn’t help but feel that the ghost and ghoulies aspects of the sequel clashed with its real-world setting, and ultimately worked against the movie as a whole.

Oh, I forgot to mention that midway through, a new cast of expendable (and down-right irritating) younger characters get awkwardly shoe-horned into mix. Their inclusion adds nothing more to the movie than an extension on its body count, and forcing us to re-tread moments we have already seen. 

If I had to say one good thing about REC2, I would say that I appreciated the work that went into pulling-off almost all of its special effects practically and in-camera. The odd use of CGI doest jar – and if nothing else – the movie does look visually impressive; if not a little too similar to your average first person shooter. Video games have clearly been a strong influence on directors  Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza
visual pallet. So much so that you often find yourself recollecting more effective moments from your computer game library.

To summarise, REC 2 is basically just the first movie with guns – minus the scares, realism and intensity. Never boring, but never engaging – there are far worse ways for zombie fans to get their fix this summer, but a re-watch of the original is certainly be more advisable.


Retro Reviews: Where the Wild Things Are, The Incredible Hulk and A New Nightmare

May 23, 2010

A brief look at some of the random movies that hit my radar this week.

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are (based on the popular children’s book of the same name) tells that tale of Max, a troubled and lonely single child who escapes into his own personal fantasy world when real life because a little too much for him.

While absolutely gorgeous to look at, I personally found this movie a real chore to get through.

This is a movie about being a  child, and is told entirely from our young leads point of view. The movie abandons conventional storytelling to concentrate on visualizing the random and scatter-brain thoughts and ideas of a child at play in his own mind. Unfortunately, this intriguing concept is actually my biggest problem with the movie. With a child’s mind being the instigator of the events of the movie, things like logic and narrative simply do not have a place here. Events just happen because our protagonist wills them too. There is no actual story arch to follow – just one random moment after the other.

One minute Max and his furry friends (who each symbolize a different aspect of his character, which sounds cleverer than it actually is) decide to build a giant fort – just for the hell of it! Then they decide to run around the forest for a bit, then they stop to talk non-sense for a few scenes then some more running around the forest! In fact, there is so much running through the woods in this movie that it gives The Blair Witch Project a run for its money.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Max makes some new friends, does stuff then decides he wants to go home – and so does. End of movie. We have not been taken on an imaginative and mystical journey, the character hasnt learnt anything about himself and the entire middle act of the movie has no pay-off. To make matters worse, the fact that this is all taking place in Max`s mind means that there is never truly any sense of danger or concern for the characters because it is literally impossible for anything bad to really happen to them. This fact alone makes it difficult to really invest in what is going on because the reality of what we are seeing is of no consequence.

On top of that, the movies lead (played by the incredibly named Max Records) is impressive from an acting perspective but also horribly unlikable. This bratty boys life is a hell of a lot better than some poor kids upbringing and so his anger and poor me mentality gets very annoying, very quickly – leaving me with the overwhelming desire to ship him off to Gary Glitters house for a reality check. 

Dont get me wrong, the creature effects and the cinematography are a real joy to behold and the almost experimental approach to its storytelling is nobel. It just didn’t really work for me.

To summarize, I was sadly completely un-engaged by anything that happened in this movie. I didn’t connect with it emotionally and found it be about as coherent and entertaining as the sugar-fueled ramblings of a toddler. Oh, and the less said about its mildly pleasant, yet massively pretentious indie pop soundtrack the better.


The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The 2008 sequel\reboot to Ang Lee`s overly long, overly cerebral take on the Hulk character improves on its predecessor in almost every way. Although the action in this movie never quite reaches the all-out badassery of the desert sequence of the first, the action here is impressive and the character development of its lead Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is thorough and well handled without ever bogging the movie down.

The movie looks fantastic. Director Louis Leterrier has a great eye for colour and composition, making this a very attractive super hero movie. Almost every choice Louis made works – from the darker, scarier look of the Hulk himself, to his casting choices. I still can’t believe Edward Norton of American History X fame agreed to be in this, but I am glad he is because Banners character is well-rounded and multi layered thanks to Norton’s portrayal. William Hurt and Liv Tyler also do a great job with the material and Edward and Liv have a lot of chemistry together.

Tim Roth lets the team down a little by never truly committing to his role. Roth seems a little embarrassed to be there and appears to be phoning his part in throughout most of its run time. These big budget super hero movies don’t appear to be quite his cup of tea. It’s just a shame he appears to have had this epiphany during the shooting of the actual movie. 

All-in-all, the movie has a good script, moves at a comfortable pace and managers to be a mature take on the material without ever being pretentious or dull. A little more action wouldn’t have hurt but as it stand this is certainly a better than average entry into Marvel`s movie universe.

Best of all, this Hulk movie ends with its hero battling an actual monster, instead of the poorly rendered CGI cloud he had to face in the first.


Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

The seventh(!) sequel in the increasingly poor Nightmare on Elm Street series is easily the best of a bad bunch and a return to form for director Wes Craven. 

The movie is almost a test run for Craven’s popular Scream series by being both self-referential and by playing on the clichés of the horror movie genre.

The movie takes place in the “real world” where Freddy Kruger is played by actor Robert Englund and is nothing more than the forgotten icon of the aging horror series. The film follows Heather Langenkamp (star of the first Nightmare) playing herself.  Heather is both bored and a little embarrassed of her horror legacy and is keen to forget the Nightmare series entirely. Unfortunately, news of a new movie being in the works sparks a series of threatening phone calls, disturbing nightmares and mysterious deaths in Heathers life, leading her to fear that Freddy Kruger has somehow managed to escaped the confines of the silver screen.

Director Wes Craven clearly knew that his baby (Freddy Kruger) had lost his mojo and so goes all-out to make his character frightening again – which he does very successfully. The silly sounding premise works surprisingly well and is an extremely clever way of both acknowledging the diminishing quality of the series, while at the same time being solid and original entry to it, in of itself.

The movie is a slow burner, taking its time setting up the slightly confusing premise it is based around. The movie effectively sets up the real world it takes place in by including most of the original cast and crew from the original playing themselves. Everyone from producer Bob Shaye, to Robert Englund to Wes Craven are here and their reactions to the supernatural elements of the movie are both realistic and believable.  Heather Langenkamp is especially convincing as the movies main protagonist and her mental and physical change through the movie is impressive.

This movie is similar to the original in terms of its serious tone and approach to tension building. The scares are also realised in a similar fashion the first. There is no OTT CGI assisted nightmares sequences on show here, just practical and subtile moments of horror that remind you of just how frightening the concept of Freddy Kruger can be when done properly.

In retrospect, the movie could be viewed as an indulgent and masturbatory love letter to Craven himself. The original nightmare is extremely highly revered by the cast in the movie and the Freddy character appears to be considered the scariest thing ever created since Michael Jackson’s face. There is even a scene where Heather meets Wes at his apartment, where he delivers a long prose about how his creation was so scary that it actually managed to cross over into “our” reality. His dialogue spoken with the stern intensity of a money-drenched sorcerer. Admittedly a little much – but believe it or not – the idea does actually work!

A very original and clever entry into the Nightmare series and one that never quite received the praise and respect it deserved.


Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

May 9, 2010

I had a horrible dream last night. I dreamt that the 80`s slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street had been remade by talentless hacks…wait a minute – it was just a dream right?

Sadly not.

Nightmare for the noughties has reared its hideous head, and boy is it ugly!

This modern re-telling takes the terrifying concept of the serial killer stalking his victims in the one place they can’t hide, and does absolutely NOTHING with it! This is a movie that has been brought into existence with the sole purpose of cashing-in on its name – leaving us with a shallow and un-inspired re-tred of the original.

Plot wise, the movie doesn’t stray too far from its source material. A group of sexy teens (all looking at least 5-10 years older than they should) are being massacred in their nightmares by the supernatural, child-molester from beyond the grave – Freddy Kruger!  The group, led by our heroine Nancy, must work together if they are to stand any chance of stopping the diabolical dream demon before it’s too late!

So far, so familiar right? Not so – one way in which the remake does stray from the original is by neglecting to include any actual scares, suspense or character.

The remakes plot is as simple as they come, filled with non-sensical character motivations and dialogue consisting of nothing more than exposition. No time is devoted to setting up its world or its protagonists, and simply rushes from scene to scene without ever stopping to breathe. 

The contrast of the supernatural with reality works so effectively in the 1984 movie because of the time that went into setting up the believable world in which its other-worldly tale takes place. The slow burn approach of the original allowed its audience to spend time with its characters, and immerse themselves in the recognisable reality of their day-to-day lives. The characters are at first only unsettled by their nightmares, as Kruger is kept in the shadows until later on in the movie. Logically, the characters attempt to continue their lives as normal, dismissing their dreams as nothing more that what they are – dreams.

Part of the fun of the original is watching the characters slowly having to accept the extraordinary circumstances of their situation as their friends start mysteriously dying around them. The characters soon realise that that they are only truly safe while conscious, and must fend off the threat of sleep just as fiercely as Kruger himself. Finding nothing but scepticism from their parents, the characters exchange personal experiences, and study the science of nightmares in an attempt to better understand, and ultimately combat their demonic foe themselves. 

None of this setup and organic exploration is aparent in the remake, and the movie feels like it has just skipped the first few acts, and  jumped straight into the middle of the story. Right from the get go, Freddy publically claims a victim within the very first scene, thus destroying any sense of mystery the character may have had. In the original, Freddy spent the majority of the film in the shadows, and simply toyed with his victims first, before going in for the actual kill. All of the fun of the build-up is gone in a single stroke, and to make matters worse our protagonists always seem to miraculously figure everything out with any prompting. They accept their supernatural circumstance far to readily to be believable. No one in this movie earns their knowledge. Much like a porno, the remake is only interested in the money shots; which in horror movie terms of course means the scares.

Speaking of which, the scares themselves are generally terrible! The remake jettisons the disturbing and nightmarish imagery of the original, in favor of lame, and visually bland, jump scares. Evey scare goes something like this; a character will wander around a mildly spooky enviroment for 30 seconds or so, the score will drop and Freddy will suddenly dart into view and attack. Thats it.

No skill or artistry has gone into anything that occurs on-screen. In fact the scares become so repetitive, that they almost become tragically comical after a while.

Even the iconic moments regurgitated from the original fall flat. Director Samuel Bayer can not resist the urge to add his own OTT spin on everything. A good example of this is in the creepy moment of Kruger emerging from the wall over Nancy’s bed. In the original, this simple, yet effective practical effect is played out quietly and in one simple shot; its subtlety making it all the more menacing. In the remake a poorly rendered CG Kruger bursts from the wall behind Nancy as Jackie Earls face takes form, and begins to scream as CG claws tear from underneath the poorly rendered background. Lame, lame, lame! A perfectly creepy moment, ruined but being completely over blown. There is not one moment in this version that comes anywhere near to being as imaginative, or as frightening as anything from the original.

Which sadly leads me on to the biggest surprise of all – Jackie Earle Haley sucks as Freddy Kruger!

Jackie is an awesome actor – as anyone who has seen his portrayal as Roshak (Watchmen) or his minor, but memorable role in Shutter Island will testify. He seemed the perfect choice, and many nightmare fans rejoiced at the announcement of his casting.

Incredibly, Jackies Freddy is just not scary!

A lot of this comes down to his look. The film makers have gone for a realistic take on Kruger’s burns (which admittedly sounds like the way the go) but it just doesn’t work!  Original actor, Robert Englunds makeup may not have been realistic, but man was it more intimidating than this. Jackies makeup looks more reptilian than man, and I personally found it incredibly under whelming.

On top of that, Jackies take on the character lacks the menace and the diabolical humor of Englunds portrayal.  Robert Englunds Freddy was a truly devilish creation. His monster took sadistic pleasure from terrorizing his victims and the actor chewed the scenery in the role. None of which comes across here. Early’s take is just plain boring; lacking presence and personality, his character does nothing but spout weak one liners and clunky exposition.  

Also, his decision to voice the character as a mumbled, slightly retarded version of his Roshak character from Watchmen was a real misfire.

Come to think of it, then only new trait the actor brings to the character is that he says the word “Fuck” a lot. Great…?

I also couldn’t help but notice that Krugers razor glove (the most iconic part of Kruger character) barely registers in the movie at all. This unique weapon of choice is used to great effect by Englund in the original series, and is a truly frightening symbol of terror. Here, its origin and construction isn’t even shown. Kruger is not shown building it, and the protagonists barely even mention him having it through out the entire picture. To me this, is yet another example of the film makers simply not getting what made their character so scary to begin with.

To be completely fair, I don’t blame the actor entirely for this forgettable Freddy. To be honest, excluding the slightly bland actress playing Nancy, the cast in general is fine, and do the best with what they had to work with.  It’s just the terrible script the actors had to go on is atrocious, leaving very little room for character to be built upon. 

One thing I will give the movie credit for is attempting to deliver a little more back story to Krugers character; specifically the reason why he is targeting this particular group of kids. There was even a moment when I thought the movie was going to attempt something interesting, and challenge our preconceived notions of who Freddy is. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD – The movie plays on the idea that Freddy Kruger was in fact innocent, and that the parents of Springwood murdered an innocent man on the grounds of their children’s lies – hence why Kruger is so pissed and returning from beyond the grave for vengeance.

I really liked this concept, adding a new layer of depth to the almost pantomine-esque evilness of its villan. An interesting (and new) idea, that in more capable hands could have led to some fascinating moments of internal conflict amongst its cast. Possibly even leading to a more satisfying and thought-provoking ending than the by-the-numbers resolve we get. Here was a chance for the remake to shine, and stamp its own unique mark onto the series…

But of course this idea gets lost amongst all of the nonsense, and vanishes as quickly as it appears. I imagine the producers feared that making Kruger an almost tragic figure was too much of a gamble –  and so one clunky exposition scene later – everything is reset. Kruger is back to being the creepy super-nonce he always was. What a shame.

Oh, and it should be noted that as the movie progresses, any sense of logic and believability gets thrown completely out the window as it draws to its conclusion. NEOS 2010 has some wild ideas about the biological effects of sleep deprivation on the human body, and the back story of Kruger makes not a lick of sense if you stop to think about it. So if you have managed to endure the movie up until this point in hope of a satisfying conclusion – its not coming! – I therefore suggest you leave now and beat the traffic.

Anyway, to summarize I really have nothing good to say about this movie. I admit that the original Nightmare (while still a classic) hasnt aged that well, and is terminally trapped in the 1980s. Some fresh blood and modern production values could have really brought this aging series back to life!

Unfortunately, this is just not the case. NOES 2010 and is more of a re-hash than a re-boot.

This new nightmare is just plain pointless, and NO thought or craft has gone into a single frame of it. It pains me to think that this Nightmare on Elm Street will be a lot of younger viewers first taste of the series. In some ways, if this was simply a modern sequel to the existing series, I would have found it far less offensive. The fact that this terrible movie is essentially replacing the original really bothers me!

This is NOT the iconic Freddy Kruger the world embraced. This is the frat boy, high school dramatization of A Nightmare on Elm Street; brought to you by people with no understanding of why it source material worked in the first place. I would happily take any of the original series lack luster sequels over this garbage any day of the week.

A truly nightmarish experience in all the wrong ways.


…and just to wash the awful taste out of my mouth – here is the original 1984 trailer for good measures.

Review: Iron Man 2

May 1, 2010

Iron Man 2 is the movie equivalent of a fast food meal – tasty, but certainly not good for you.

I am not going to spend too much time reviewing this movie because it simply doesn’t warrant it. All I will say is that if you liked the first one, you’ll like the sequel.

Everything from the first is here, only on a bigger scale. But remember bigger does not always equal better.

The pace is terrible. Scenes that only needed to be a minute long are stretched-out way past their welcome, while important plot information zips by before you have time to acknowledge it. Not that there is much of a plot to follow mind.  About 90% of the movie feels like it was ad-libbed and made-up on the spot. This approach miraculously seemed to work for the original – only here it feels lazy.

Director John Favreau knew that no matter what he did – this movie was going to make millions – and so obviously didn’t worry too much about the quality of its content. Iron man 2 suffers from Transformers 2 syndrome – by which I mean the director has been given full reign to indulge his every whim because of the first movies success. Scenes are slapped into the film because Favreau and Co obviously had a blast filming them – not because they are well executed cinema. On top of that – the director even has the kahunas to give himself a heroic fight scene near the end of the movie! Get over yourself sir!

Cast wise, the movie is hot and cold. Robert Downey Jr (Tony Stark) once again plays-up on his self-assured, play boy persona – only this time it is without charm. This is the sequels biggest problem – the first movie worked because of the charisma of its lead. Sadly Stark comes across as nothing more than an annoying and arrogant dick here, and his barrage of constant quips and puns get old fast.  There is even a line during the movies finale where a character refers to him as being an annoying prick – a line that works on more levels than was probably intended.

As expected, Mickey Rourke gives it his all as Whiplash – but sadly his character is so one-note that his efforts go completely wasted. The same can be said for Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow. Johansson double-agent character looks hot and has one pretty cool action scene – but that’s it. Her character has no personality, and looking back on it, little to no actual dialogue.

Gwyneth Paltrow comes off far worse. Pepper Pots is even more boring than she was in the first movie – meaning her troubled plight as the CEO of Stark Industries falls flatter than her attempts at being funny. Also her relationship with Stark is so poorly setup that I couldn’t even tell  whether or not they were ment to be a couple until the very last scene of the film.

Woodenness aside – supporting actors Sam Rockwell, and Don Cheadle are the real stars here. Rockwell in particular almost steals the show as slime ball stark wannabe Justin Hammer. Almost every scene Rockwell is in didn’t need to be there – but the actor is so damn funny that I`ll give this indulgence a pass.

For the 2 or 3 of you out there who don’t know – Don Cheadle plays the part of Lt.Col James Rhodes, who later adopts the super hero persona of War Machine. Say what you like about the movies flaws, but there is no denying that War Machine is f*cking awesome! Picture Iron Man – only less gay looking – with machine guns and cannons strapped to his body and you`ll get the idea.

War Machine only really comes into play during the movies final scenes, but the action set pieces that he partakes in are almost worth the admission price alone. My biggest complaint about the first movie was its work man like action scenes – the same can not be said here. Although there isnt much action to speak of (Iron Man himself is only present in 3 or 4 major scenes) what is here is exciting and well shot, and just about saves the movie from being atrocious.

In summary Iron Man 2 is inoffensive and perfectly entertaining. But it is also indulgent and sloppily made.  This is a sequel you wont necessarily regret seeing, but one that will leave you with little desire to see the upcoming Avengers movie. The constant winks and nods to this superhero wankfest are painfully shoe horned into every other scene, and do nothing but get in the way of the non-sensical plot we are desperately trying to follow. Tone it down Marvel!

Iron Man 2 is a fun, but rusty movie…


Repo Men: A Response

April 18, 2010

Repo men is no way near as cool or clever as it thinks it is. In fact, the movies stupidity is far more painful to endure than any of its graphic surgery scenes.

As mention in James`s review, the movie had the potential to be a fun, trashy B-movie. But the lack of talent behind the lense, and a contrived and plot riddled script are just to potent to be ignored. This movie is a real stinker!

The basic concept is relatively interesting. A company offering the desperate an extension on their lives at a price is not to hard to buy into. In-fact I would be more surprised if there wasnt some form of this service in the not so distant future! It’s just that the movies morbidly satirical setup gets dumber, and dumber with every scene – to point where its climatic moments almost made me walk out of the cinema in sheer frustration! I wanted to keep the few remaining brain cells I had left intact while I still had the chance!

In the films defense – Jude Law (Remy) gives it his all, and delivers a tough and earnest performance. It’s just a shame that the reality he brings to the role is over-shadowed by the bullshit plotting and dialogue. On top of that, while charismatic – the characters morales are, lets say – confused! Lemy goes from a cold and callous murderer for hire, to a thoughtful and compassionate champion of humans rights in the space of literally one scene! There is no subtilty or emotional conflict on display here. This sudden change of heart (no pun intended) gets even more muddled as Lemy then proceeds to kill almost anyone (and I mean anyone) that stands in his way during the second act! Hum…

These moral contradictions are clearly not intentional either – just bad screen writing.

Forest Whitaker plays Remy`s cocky and un-balanced partner Jake. Whitaker is a great actor, but is horribly miscast here. Whitaker just can’t pull of the crazy, urban-badass thing. It’s just not him. Forrest, put your Training Day DVD away and leave these kind of roles to Samuel L. Jackson and Denzil. 

Whitaker is simply embarrassing in the movie.

Ok, so Repo Men sounds pretty bad so far – but what about the action? Well those who will happily endure a terrible plot, as long as the action is good – should also avoid this one! The minimal action that the film offers is un-inspired and usually ripped off from far better movies (e.g – Old Boy) I also found the violence to be far to gritty and mean-spirited to be enjoyable. Dont get more wrong, I have no objection to movie violence. In fact, I love it – assuming it doesn’t feel sleazy or sadistic. Sadly this movie is exactly that. 

My main qualm is that most of the violence in Repo Men involves the glorification of knives. A gun shot isn’t as vicious or as personal as a blade to the flesh. Watching bad guys get blown away in a blaze of gun fire can undoubtedly be fun. Watching innocent people getting their throat slashed and stomachs gutted (in slow motion) to a hip, heart-pounding sound track doesn’t quite have the same appeal, and just feels wrong. Nasty stuff.

Admittedly, the movie does end on a half-decent plot twist that accounts for some the retardedness (thats a word right?) we have had to endure up until that point. You almost get the impression that the filmmakers realized that they had maybe pushed the boundaries of believability a little too far, and slapped on the ending in a last-ditch attempt to salvage its audience. Unfortunately the damage is already done, and the twist is too little too late.

Incase you havent clocked it yet – I really didn’t like this movie. In the hands of a more capable director (such as Paul Verhoeven for example) this grisly concept could have worked – but as it stands, it fails on all counts. What a shame that a good cast and a clever premise was so wasted on this stupid and violently sadistic mess. AVOID!


WGT-TV: Predancer!

April 14, 2010

Forget Hammer time! Forget doing the Bartman!

There is only ONE awesome 90s dance craze to get your groove on to – The Pre-da-tor!

The following clips origin is a bit of a mystery, but it is obviously an outtake from the 1990 movie Predator II.  I had always wondered what kind of tunes an alien race would like bop to – now we know. Keep your eyes peeled for a special appearance by Dial Hard star Danny Glover!

Enjoy people!

Annoying Hollywood Trends #1 – Unnecessary CGI

April 13, 2010

News has recently emerged that the iconic suit to be worn by Ryan Reynolds in the up and coming Green Lantern movie will be created entirely with CGI animation. This shockingly stupid decision inspired me to highlight Hollywood’s infuriating tendency to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on unnecessary digital effects!

From the god awful CG monkeys of Crystal Skull, to phony looking Clone Troopers of the Star Wars prequels – Hollywood has developed an unhealthy fascination with this idiotic concept.

Take the example mentioned above – in the comics, the Green Lanterns suit comprises of nothing more than a simple white logo, slapped onto green and black spandex. That’s it!

This is not Iron Man we are dealing with here. His costume doesn’t move, change shape or fire missiles. All that is asked of it, is that its stays on the actor’s body. A couple of hundred dollars should do it. But no – Warner brothers are happily going to waste god knows how much money digitally painting in the Lanterns costume over a specially made body suit that can be edited out in post production.

What a waste of time and effort!

This decision simply does not make sense – financially or practically. If Reynolds is going to be wearing a spandex suit to begin with,  just make that suit look like the suit you are going waste time painting in afterwards! Job done right?

The physical suit worked fine for Spiderman, Superman and Batman. Can you imagine how terrible The Dark Knight would have looked if Warner Brothers had decided to add-in Batman’s cape digitally in post? The effect would be jarring and distracting, hindering the reality of the picture. Something that the new Batman movies have won much acclaim for. The Dark Knight was a global sensation, and undoubtedly the blue print for Lantern – so why mess with a winning formula?

Sadly this  ridiculous example of Hollywood splashing out on effects just for the hell of it is not an isolated incident.

I Am Legend (2007) was universally praised for its tense atmosphere and Will Smiths powerhouse performance. One thing it certainly was NOT praised for was its monsters!

For some reason, director Francis Lawrence decided that bald guys in rags would be far to complicated to pull off practically, and that computer effects were the only to go. No, No, No!

The CGI Vamps of I Am Legend are infamously one of the biggest mis-judgements in modern movie history. Legends atmosphere and tense sense of foreboding is completely destroyed the second these quite horrible (but not as intended) looking villains make their appearance. The vampire/mutants unnaturally smooth skin, and floaty physics took both myself, and the movie going public in general out of the picture. The threat was no longer real, and the movie had lost its sense of danger. Smith was no longer running for his life, he was running away from NOTHING – and it was painfully obvious.

IMO the creatures would have looked far more frightening if they had of just been some creepy looking bald guys in robes. Especially with some minor CGI embellishments layered over the top. Take the Reapers in Blade II for example. Both creatures have a similar look, but the Reapers in Blade are a far scarier bunch thanks to their physicality and excellent make-up work. The CGI assisted facial appendages are just the icing on the cake – there to simply help sell the practical effect and not replace it. This is how CG should be implemented – to enhance, not to over power.

Ok, I can at least kind of understand the film makers thinking that a un-worldly mutant might have looked better in CG. These creatures do not exist in real-life afterall,  at least not yet. I don’t agree with the decision, but I at least understand it…

But what is the thinking behind rendering existing animals like Deer and Lions? These animals actually exist here and now, and (by Hollywood standards at least) easily obtainable. Plus by default, they will always look far better on-screen than the work of even the very best CGI artists and animators. Reality should always be the preference. This lazy habit really gets my computer enhance goat!

Another example of damaging CGI abuse can be found in the Star Wars Prequels. George Lucas is surely the poster child for bad and un-wanted CG – single handily ruining both of his beloved franchises with the practise.

First off – Star Wars. The prequels effects (while semi-impressive at the time) now look no more cinematic than your average video game cut scene. Almost every shot in the movie has been filmed in front of green screen, with digital matte paintings filling in for actual sets. And we are not just talking about large other worldly landscapes here –  almost every set in the picture is computer generated – no matter how minor. Hell, even some of the supporting cast were added in later. The prequels have a cartoony, false look that lacks realism and gravitas. Lucas doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that the lived-in feel of the original trilogy’s physical sets, props and wardrobe combined with the special effects, is part of what made those movies so memorable.

Digital sets aside, my biggest peeve with Lucas was his decision to create all of the Clone Troopers entirely with CG. How much is some white plastic, and black body suits really going to set you back in the big scheme of things George? I can understand using CGI to enhance the number of troops in the big battle scenes, but why does every trooper have to be computer generated? Even shots of a single Troop speaking to a cast member has been digitally created. There is a reason why the Storm Troopers of the original movies are iconic, and clone troopers of the prequels are not.

I can’t even bring myself to write too much about the swinging CGI monkey scene of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. How distressing that moment was – even more cringe worthy than Indy surviving a nuclear blast by hiding in a fridge!?!  BTW – if that really works, then we should all stop worry about nuclear war because almost everyone has a kitchen these days.

Anyway – the Indiana Jones movies are fondly cherished because of their impressive practical stunt work and set pieces. The kind of effects both Spielberg and Lucas were promising during the build-up to Skulls release. Luckily for us, their words were simply cover for what they knew we really wanted to see – CGI Monkeys, Gophers, Ants and Shia La Beouf dicking around in front of a green screen pretending to be Tarzan. Thank you George! You were right – that was better!

Everything mentioned above could have been done for real on set/location, and that is what bothers me. Lucas simply decided not too – and I imagine it comes more from a place of laziness, than creativity.

Lucas personifies Hollywood’s naïve view that we as an audience will feel cheated if a big movie DOESN’T have CG. What they don’t get, is that it is how real the effect looks within the context of the movie that matters, not the method of its execution. It doesn’t matter whether the effect is CG, an animatronic or even sock puppet – if it looks and feels authentic, then we will be impressed. The amount of money spent on it is irrelevant.

Weirder still is the phenomenon of CGI human beings. The rubbery Neo of the burly brawl in Matrix Reloaded, and the bad CG Peter Parker in Raimi`s original Spiderman come to mind. Despite what Avatar purist may preach, we are not even close to perfecting photo realistic humans (or hominoids) yet, and so should be avoided at all costs. This is one of CGs biggest crimes, and a topic that I will delve deeper into in a future post.

So in summary – don’t get me wrong, I know there are some things that have to be done with CG. The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, or the Auto Bots of the Transformers movies for instance. If there is no practical way of pulling off the effect without it, then fine, go nuts! Just please Hollywood, no more CGI Gophers or body suits. That’s just plain lazy…

Review: How to Train Your Dragon

April 6, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon sadly proves that sometimes a movie can do everything right, and still never find an audience.

Which is depressing because HTTYD (I am not writing the full title out every time) breaks away from the usual Dream Works mold by being funny, witty and well – good!

I know, I know – it sounds crazy! How on earth could the studio that spawned such shallow and contrived efforts such as Sharks Tale and Madagascar, produce such a well made, charming little picture? I`m not so sure, but by all rights – the studio should have had a real winner on their hands here.

The movie is set in a mythical Vikings village where dragon attack is an almost daily occurence. The movie follows Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t quite fit in with his heroic dragon slaying peers. Hiccup is a scrawny, cynical outcast, desperately seeking the acceptance of his legendary dragon-busting father Stoick.

Hiccup attempts to win his father over by setting out on a quest to hunt down the fiercest dragon known to his tribe – the Night Fury. During his search he stumbles upon one of creatures, only to find that it is wounded. Seizing the opportunity, Hiccup traps the beast,  and goes in for the kill. But Hiccup simply can not do it. He  sees a kindred spirit in the outcast dragon and decides help nurse the creature back to health. The two slowly start to form a bond. A bond that challenges everything he and his fellow Vikings have been raised to believe.

With Hiccups father on the brink of unleashing all out genocide on the dragon species, Hiccup and Toothless desperately race to intervene before the irreversible damage is done!

It is so rare these days to see a non-Pixar animated movie actually bother with a meaningful story, layered characters, and fully realized  worlds.

Real effort has gone into establishing the richly detailed Viking world in-which the tale takes place and its trouble history with the dragons. Equal effort has also gone into is animated cast. Every character in the movie has their own defined personality, and evolves during the course of their adventure. Our lead Hiccup for example, learns that you don’t have to be built like a rock to be strong-willed or brave, and his tough but ignorant father Stoick learns to let go of his hateful ways and see the world through the eyes of others.  Character arcs developed by a well written script that expresses a fantastic message of tolerances and understanding, without ever feeling forced or preachy. HTTYDs message is snuggled comfortably amongst the movies engaging characters, exciting action and touching moments. 

Contrary to Dream Works usual model of employing the biggest names they can afford, HTTYD opts for actors who actually suit the material. The acting on display her is very engaging. Gerard Butler is perfectly cast as the brutish and over baring Viking Stoick, as is Jay Baruchel  playing the geeky, quick-witted Hiccup. Brauchels whiney voice is admittedly little off-putting at first, but once the story gets set in motion this mild annoyance quickly fades, to be replaced with complete immersion into the character and his plight.

On top of this, the movie is also genuinely funny and exciting – including some fantastic dragon-related set pieces that out do anything in Camerons Avatar.

The movie also packs a real emotional punch. Much of the movies heart lies between the unlikely friendship between our hero, and the loveable Toothless the dragon.

Toothless can summed-up with the following mathematical equation – 


What do How to Train your Dragon and Avatar have in common? Both movies shamelessly exploit the cuteness of Cats to win favour with its audience.

Toothless is undoubtedly the star of the show. As mentioned above, the designers have obviously modelled the characters movements and mannerisms on those of a kitten. Toothless is playful and affectionate in a way that all cat  lovers are going to recognise and enjoy. A wise choice – by basing your character design on a cutesy animal – half of your winning the viewer over work is already done. Almost everyone is partial to the cuddly charms of a cat, so when someone (or something) looks a little like one (be it Toothless or Avatars Navi) the audiences is subconsciously going to embrace it.

Thats not to say that we are cheated into liking this beastie. Our affection is earned by the real personality that the filmmakers injected into Toothless. The dragon even has an arc of his own – going from a human fearing loner, to loyal friend and protector of Hiccup and his tribe.

One of the sweetest moments in the movie is a montage showing the progression of Toothless and Hiccups friendship. This wonderfully scored and staged scene visualizes the characters realisation that while different on the outside, they are in fact very much the same on the inside. Both a little different, and both in need of a friend. This scene will force a lump in even the most cynical SOBs throat.

One thing I havent yet mentioned is the animation. Now I will admit myself, that when I first saw stills and artwork from the movie, I was very – meh! The slightly bland Viking decor and generic looking human characters did little to fire up my enthusiasm. But when watching the film as a whole you realise that the animation is actually quite wonderful. Fluid, sharp and beautiful textured – I was shocked at how pretty the movie really was. From the detailed Viking villages, to the foreboding islands of the dragons – there is some fantastic cinematography and direction on display here.

Does it compete with Pixar? No, not quite but impressive none the less.

The only mildly critical aspects I will mention are the minor inconsistencies with the production design.  For example, most of the additional dragons in the movie look completely different in style and design when compared to our hero dragon. So different in fact that it is almost as though Toothless came from a different movie. The same can be said for some of the human characters aswell. Some are proportionately true to life, others are wildly OTT charactertures. There are also a few pacing issues, with a very noticable lull midway through.

To be honest, I also have my issues with the ending – which is far less focused than the rest of the picture. You get impression that the film makers had to end on the obligatory action set piece, rather than wanting to. Less love has noticeably gone into these final scenes. The climax also feels surprisingly safe. I was expecting a slightly darker resolution than one we get, given the more mature tone of the movie.

That said, none of these issues bothered me enough to hinder my enjoyment and I walked away from the cinema thoroughly entertained.

So the big mystery is why a movie this good has done so badly at the box office? The showing I caught was only a quarter full at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon showing. Not good; and although myself and my companions dug it, the younger viewers sitting behind us vocally hated it and moaned and squirmed all the way through. 

Ironically, I believe the movies quality may actually be its downfall.

HTTYD isn’t an immature, plotless parade of lame gags and slapstick. This is a movie that strived to be more, and there in lies the problem.  Thanks to some weak marketing and the reputation of Dream Works previous efforts, on face value the movie is only going to appeal to the very young (5-11) and not the teens and young adults that the material is a little more suited for. Kids just want to see big dumb characters, falling over and farting – that’s it. From a younglings point of view, the character building and emotional beats just get in the way of the big set pieces. HTTYD does have the spectacle, just not enough to win over its demographic.

A real shame, because this really is the jewel in Dream Works crown. Perhaps some better marketing would have led to the movie finding a more suitable audience, but as it stands, Dream works venture into producing proper movies has failed…

…Madagascar 3 anyone?


Trailer below…

The Forgotten Nightmare on Elm Street Prequel – Part 1

April 4, 2010

With the impending release of the Nightmare on Elm street remake hitting next month, I thought now would be the perfect time to delve deep into the nightmare chronicles and explore the little known NOES prequel directed by horror legend Tobe Hopper.

Tobe Hopper (the overrated director, of the overrated Texas Chainsaw Massacre) directed a Nightmare movie? Yes, kind of.

Back in the late 1980s, the world was suffering from a bad case of Freddy fever thanks to the release of NOES 4: The Dream Master – the most successful entry in the series. As you would expect, New Line Cinema were extremely keen to milk their Kruger cash cow as much as humanly possible, and so the idea for a Nightmare TV show was born, ingeniously titled – Freddys Nightmares!

The short-lived horror anthology series was hosted by everyone’s favourite child molesting psychopath Freddy Kruger (shockingly still played by original actor Robert Englund). Even New Line had the good sense to not produce a show where its icon simply butchers a bunch of random teens every week, and so decided to have each episode be its own stand alone horror tale, with Freddy simply playing the part of the shows host. In the same vein as Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow.  This in-theory sounds like it could actually be kind of fun right? … yes, but there was one problem…

Freddys nightmares was absolutely atrocious!

I guess 95% of the series production budget must have gone on Englunds salary, because it is definitely not on-screen. Freddys Nightmares is one of the cheapest, and ugliest prime time shows ever made. Every episode looks like it was shot on a home video recorder, and the sets, the acting, and the general plots were all consisting terrible. Unsurprisingly, the show failed to gain a following, and was mercifully cancelled after a whopping two seasons. The show quickly disappeared into obscurity.

So why am I talking about it now? Well, Nightmare fans have lobbied for a prequel movie for years, not knowing that their wish had already been granted. Not many people know that Freddys origin story was the basis for the pilot episode of the series.  But as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for…

After a horribly hokey news broadcast opening, the episode begins with a pre-toasty Kruger on trial for his crimes in a court of law. The trial is in full swing, as the prosecution lists the many, many victims that died at Krugers hands to the jury .  The un-scarred Kruger is bizarrely locked inside a strange glass cage that must have come from the same line of cells as the one Hannibal Lector had. Kruger’s face is kept in the shadows as he wearily taps his knee in boredom. Straight away, I have a couple of issues…

Why oh why is Kruger locked in glass box? It seems a bit much if you ask me. No matter how ruthless you might think he is, at the end of the day he is in a court of law, surrounded by armed police and in handcuffs! Seriously – what do they expect him to do?

Secondly, for some strange reason, the court deemed it appropriate for Kruger to wear his casual attire. Not only does he have his hat, but is wearing his favourite red and green sweater and scruffy trousers. The guy is standing trial for mass murder, you would think he would  have made a little effort to look normal right? At least slap on a tie and shirt Mr K. Even if you weren’t on trial, you would look like a nonce in that get up. Tone it down.

Anyway, once the victims lawyer has finished his piece, the case looks pretty clear-cut. Kruger is a murdering ass hole, and is about to go away for a long, long time… Until the slimey-est looking lawyer you will ever see (of course Krugers defence) stands up with a shock announcement – Kruger was not read his rights before being arrested! Dun dun dah!  So, despite the piles of evidence against him, and the fact that Kruger was caught red-handed attempting to murder the twin daughters of the arresting officer Lt. Blocker – this is all made worthless because of one trivial piece of police procedure? Hum…

The judge regrettably announces that this tiny flaw is enough to throw the case out entirely, and Kruger must therefore be acquitted at once. Ok…

There is a gasp from the jury, and seemingly the second the announcement is made, the doors on Kruger’s cage fly open, and shackled killer arrogantly steps out. Man, the justice system works fast! Kruger openly chuckles to himself as he leaves the court room, temporarily stopping to creepily eye-up the two twins that escaped his clutches. Why they were there to begin with, im not sure. You would think their parents would want them to – you know – NOT be in the same room as the guy that almost killed them only a few days ago. I guess the thought of that glass box was enough to put their minds at ease.

Oh, and did I mention that Kruger is breathing heavily to himself the whole time too? Man, what an ass-hole! At least try to trip him up on his way out or something.

As Freddy leaves the court room, Lt Blockers wife gives him a verbal tirade of abuse for not shooting Freddy dead when he had the chance. Yeah! What kind of cop wouldn’t simply shoot a suspect dead there on the spot? It’s not like there are laws against that or anything. What a terrible human being he is!

There is admittedly a brief, but fun shot of Krugers POV, where we are shown the world as he sees it. Basically,everyone in the entire court room has been horribly murdered. This dark moment is ruined slightly by a fuzzy effect that gets overlaid, probably in an attempt to hide the gore. You couldn’t get away with much in-terms of blood and violence back then. Incredibly, this episode was considered edgy at the time…oh dear god!


Back to the story – Kruger is allowed to walk free, and disappears back into society. The entire courtroom (including both the prosecution lawyer and jury) instantly storm outside, and have a very public discussion about delivering some major mob justice on Krugers butt. This scene is so ridiculous, its painful. If you are going to plot a murder, do it somewhere discreet. Dont do it literally on the steps of the court-house you have just come out of, in front of hundreds of witness, and more than likely a camera crew. I would also like to double-check that lawyers law credentials, because he seems to abandon his entire moral, and legal intergirty in a heart beat. During the mobs clunky exchange, we are treated to cleverly written gems like – “I`ve given my life to law. I’ve always believed in it – until today!” with the reply of – “What are you saying? That we become some kind of a lynch mob?” – I cant believe this show didn’t take off!?

Anyhow – for some reason, no one notices or cares about the public mob rally, and world continues as normal.

The episode then cuts to a completely un-supervised Freddy returning to the entrance of his lair, where the first piece of new Freddy lore is revealed – Freddy had an Ice Cream truck!

Unveiling the truck for no other reason than to show it off to the viewers at home, this macabre reveal is actually quite a cool piece of info. Although never explored, the scene suggests that Kruger used the van to lure his victims to their deaths.

 It should be noted that while this is all taking place, Kruger is randomly shouting terrible lines like “Ah! Together again! Are you ready for Freddy?!”  like a drunken hobo. Talk about subtle. You would think the guy would want to lay low or something, but no – he is literally running around, loudly broadcasting his love of death and murder to his ice cream truck.

Similar to the later movie sequels, Freddy does nothing but spout awful one-liners during this episode. He doesn’t utter one coherent or believable line from start to finish, making him more cartoon than monster. This wouldn’t be so bad if the one-liners were at least good. Sadly they are rarely funny, witty, scary or even that relevant to what is happening at the time. For example – the line mentioned above – “Together at last! Are you ready for Freddy?” Ok, so he and the ice cream truck are reunited – that explains the together part, but why then say – Are you ready for Freddy? What is the context of that? Is he actually asking the truck if its ready for him to…I dont know…do something? Every line is just random goofy statement, after random goofy statement, aimed directly at the viewing audience and not something any human being ( psychopath or not) would ever utter in-real life.

Moving on – We are then shown Freddy chill-axing inside his infamous boiler room. It appears the police never thought to investigate his nutty abode, because the place appears to be completely untouched. Creepy dolls, cages and torture equipment are all still there. Even Freddys murder weapon of choice – his razor glove – is left out on display. Damn, if only the cops had of thought to check this place out! Oh well.

Here we are treated to another clumsy POV sequences where Freddy walks around his lair looking at random nasty objects, and spouting more insane mumbo jumbo like,  “Patience – tonight we`ll have a little party!” and “Time to feed you some meat!”. Who are you talking to Freddy? I know you’re nuts, but talking to some old rusty chains is weird even for you.

For some reason Freddys face is kept in the shadows through out, and is never revealed from beginning to end. I can not figure out why this decision was made. We know that this is the pre-dream demon Freddy, and so will look normal, and there is no shock reveal or twist setup at work in this episode, so why did they think that seeing Robert Englund’s face would bother people so much? If your going to pay the actor an ice cream truck load of money to be in the show, why not show him off to the fans? Very odd…

Moving on – again defying logic and reason, Freddy decides to not waste anymore time, and head straight back out that same night to claim the two victims who escaped his wrath – Lt Blockers twin daughters.

Continued in Part II…..