Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Review: The Losers

June 15, 2010

It happens from time to time. Two films appear that are about the same thing but otherwise totally unconnected.

Deep Impact/Armageddon, A Bugs Life/Antz – I’m sure you can think of more.

Here it’s The Losers and The A Team. 

5 guys (not 4!) led by Jeffrey Dean Morgan are framed (I think they were?) for a crime they didn’t commit. Again, not clear what ‘’crime’’ this was. Anyway, they want revenge. Trouble is ‘’Max’’ (Jason Patric as ‘’the villain’’) is in America and they are in Bolivia. Little known fact – it’s impossible to get to America from this mythical country without doing some ultra risky high paying job. Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek) just so happens to have such a job, and a bottomless pit of money. And looks. Some girls have all the luck. If they take out Max they’ll get a trip back to America (are you kidding me?). Meanwhile Max has a handful of nukes and works for the CIA in their ‘world domination’ department. Suffice to say via every city on earth they get from Bolivia to Florida, shoot bad guys and save the day.

The Losers is very much trying to be, okay yes – The A Team, but what I want to say is amusing and light-hearted. It is. Score! This isn’t a film that’s trying to be clever – bullets always miss good guys and a rocket launcher has virtually no recoil. Plot is pretty much a luxury here. When the film is focussing on our characters it’s doing well. Chris Evans plays – well, think Chandler from Friends. He’s very funny and every scene he’s in immediately succeeds. In one, with a sniper covering him, he pretends to be telekinetic ‘shooting’ bad guys with his bar hands – ‘momma didn’t raise no foo’’.  Just about everyone gives a likeable enough performance with their paper thin characters. Zoe Saldana never seems to wear much more than her underwear so another plus – she is very, ahem, attractive.

The Losers is pretty much your run of the mill comedy action hybrid, you’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it better but its entertaining, it’s not dull and Chris Evans is great. It doesn’t try to be particularly dynamic and it certainly doesn’t achieve anything in particular. For throwaway cinema this is perfectly acceptable.

Oh, it has Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’ three times in the soundtrack. How come that song is everywhere? So, yet another +1.

It’s mindless, I won’t even remember seeing it come tomorrow and it cost me £5, but The Losers is a great starter act for The A Team,

6/10

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.

4/10

Reviews: Bad Lieutenant and Prince of Persia

May 28, 2010

Bad Lieutenant

Quirky, stylistic, funny, insane.

That’s what the myriad of reviewers think of Bad Lieutenant (Directed by Werner Herzog, starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendez).

Cop injures his back and turns to drugs to cope with the pain. Addiction spirals out of control and he abuses his power to get his fix. Ultimately everything works out for him.

When you can summarise a film so easily you know it’s not got much of a story to tell. Bad Lieutenant doesn’t try to be a story but a style.

Trouble is – I didn’t notice any style. Occasionally the camera zooms in on a reptile’s eye and a dead body dances, once. Apparently that’s the ‘drugs’, every now and again Cage will go all Castor Troy from Face/Off and shout a bit. Where reviewers have seen this as a descent into drug fuelled madness it basically comes across as a fairly toned down performance. If anything Cage is remarkably calm for a man heavily in debt, being investigated by IA and pursued by gangsters – oh, and addicted to heroin and in constant, agonising pain. This conservative showing keeps you off balance throughout – if it’s about dug fuelled excess – why is there so little? If it’s not about drug fuelled excess – why is there so much?

It’s open to conjecture whether we’re supposed to care about the characters or the story or just get lost in the style. Certainly we are given no reason to care whether the murder Cage is investigating gets resolved. When it ultimately is you struggle to remember what was even being investigated.

Cage gives a workmanlike performance – complete with ever changing accent. He’s not a likeable character and learns nothing throughout; actually he’s the one who doesn’t change. I found his performance far too understated.

All told Bad Lieutenant is played fairly straight up as a cliché tale of a bent cop – and why would anyone want to see that again?

(A generous) 4/10

Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time

Jerry Bruckheimer’s name doesn’t appear in the opening credits of Prince of Persia. Perhaps his infamous lightning strike graphic is all that’s required – maybe he’s too famous to need to be named.

Or maybe he didn’t want his name up there.

Prince of Persia would support either or both of those conclusions.

Yes, the man who produced everything from 80’s camp classic Top Gun to Pirates of the Caribbean, Pearl Harbour and those awful, awful Bad Boys films is back. Jerry has made a lot of money making a certain type of film – simple plot, big name lead, unconvincing love angle and SFX everywhere. Mr Bruckheimer has done more for the negative view of blockbusters than any man alive.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the big name lead, Gemma Arterton the unconvincing love angle and director x provided the deluge of SFX. The formula doesn’t change.

A magic dagger can turn back time and evil Ben Kingsley is after it for some reason (does it matter?). Prince Daston must battle the Persian army to ensure – again, who cares? You know it will end with a couple in love, world saved and a glorious summers day. The dagger can reverse time – but this plot device is rarely used which is inexplicable because it could clearly have provided some excellent sequences. The highlight of the film is Ms Arterton’s midriff which is far more effective against men than the infamous Sands of Time!

All told this is a serviceable offering. Acting is solid throughout and Alfred Molina’s rebel leader is always amusing. Ben Kingsley plays…well, Ben Kingsley. If there is an actor more typecast please let me know. Mr Gylenhal’s attempt at an English accent isn’t poor – but it is bewildering (they are in Persia and no one else bothers with an accent…). Where the film really struggles is some horrendous CGI, it’s overused and of a very poor quality. Perhaps there were budget constraints, maybe it was rushed or maybe no one actually cared. Certainly the film suffers as a result.

The script is poor but the endless exposition seems more a homage to the computer game style than a genuine attempt to insult the audience. Most of what happens is suitably baffling that I for one was grateful for some explanation – but just how did the King cross his empire so quickly by camel? The film is littered with absurdities (sleeping in the middle of the desert? Tracking people’s footprints across a desert?) but this isn’t a film that cares about such things and just wants to see a guy jump about on buildings while brandishing swords.

Probably intended for a younger audience it’s about as average as a film can be.

5/10

Review: Four Lions

May 18, 2010

A comedy about bombers killing people at the London marathon. We are on shaky ground aren’t we?

I was apprehensive of seeing Four Lions and, as the credits roll, I had every reason to be.

Film starts well, four young men disillusioned with the West plot their way to the afterlife with a suicide bombing.  Straight away my fears seemed allayed – our four protagonists are utter morons, spouting preposterous slogans and utterly detached from reality. We laugh at their nonsense and their clownish ineptitude – in true parody fashion the audience is asked to look at these people with contempt. ‘Don’t go to the capitalist McDonalds! Go get the bargain bucket from the Halal restaurant – only £6.99!’’ We watch them edit their video messages where they squabble and fight, ‘these are the bloopers’ one says to his puzzled wife, ‘’infact they are all bloopers’’. Whether they are dancing along to campy pop tunes or scuttling along the ground to ‘evade’ the police everything is played for laughs. In one superb scene they attempt to train crows to attack a toy house – with predictable results.

Its not just terrorism that is parodied.  Fundamentalism takes some swipes, a friend refuses to enter a room because a woman is there, the Lion King is reworked as a Holy War tale. Islam itself however, is never sullied. The film is conscious to show Muslims are British citizens and as vulnerable as anyone to the extremism. To hammer this point home our group plots an attack on a mosque – in the name of Islam.

Three quarters through and we have an intelligent and daring film breaking down the ‘us’ and ‘them’, Britain is faced by wicked men devoid of justification – there is no glamour to their cause. I believed I could relax – this was not in bad taste, if anything it was as vociferous in its condemnation as any film could be.

Our film concludes with an attack on the London Marathon – bombers dressed in hilarious fancy dress costumes plan. It’s all going so well.

Then people start dying.  Passers by, shop keepers. Our clownish group launch a successful bombing in the capital. Yet the ‘’comedy’ doesn’t stop – as people are dying we have the Honey Monster running about while a teenage mutant ninja turtle runs from police. Our leading man tries to sort out a new phone contract to coordinate his strike while the shop keeper tries to sell him free minutes. A film that has tried so hard to demonstrate that suicide bombing is an abomination now uses their strikes as visual gags – ‘oh look Honey Monster just blew up a restaurant, while dressed as Honey Monster, isn’t that funny?’

It’s rare that I have been so disappointed by a film, it has such comedy for so much of its running time. Then we have scenes of the police killing the wrong people but then joking about the difference between a Star Wars Wookie costume and a bear costume. Imagine if the Jews started breakdancing at the end of Schindler’s List, the danger of taking your eye off the ball.

Looking past the story we can safely say the scrupt and acting are superb throughout – delivery is spot on and we ‘’like’’ the characters despite their motivations. Young actors, I imagine successful careers await them all.

Cinematography is another highlight. Many sequences are filmed as if they are the video messages while other scenes are shot ‘shaky cam’ style – in the style of a police surveillance tape. This lends a realism to offset the absurdity of the scenes themselves and gave the film a distinctive style.

So much of this film was so very amusing – perhaps not side splitting – but intelligent nod’s to real world situations and past events. It was so very sad to watch it all unravel. I do not want to get carried away here – but after such intelligent writing it was depressing to watch it all just melt away.

Four Lions was perhaps a bit like an Arsenal game – great entertainment for 89 mins then a clumsy penalty and they lose 1-0. I expected little only for it to give me much – and then snatch it away. 

Go and see, make up your own mind, but for me this gets 4/10.

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.

1.5/10

…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…

6-5/10

Iron Man 2 – what I remember

May 1, 2010

There are two types of sequel.

1. The Alien 3 style sequel – films that actually damage what came before

2. Revenge of the Fallen style sequel – films that make what came before look positively inspired.

Iron Man 2 is a Fallen sequel. 2008’s Iron Man was okay, had its moments, had a likeable cast, had Gwenyth Paltrow wearing tight clothing. It wasn’t a classic. Well, that’s what I’d have said a week ago. After Iron Man 2 – hell, Iron Man looks like something else.

Iron Man was simple, focussed and inoffensive. Iron Man 2 is bloated, dull and annoying. Perhaps answering calls it was weak on story director John Favreau piles in angle after angle and a seemingly limitless cast of characters to tell it. Let’s have a quick recap – we have Tony Stark dealing with blood poisoning, an uncaring father, a company that doesn’t seem to make anything but Iron Man costumes and a PA that thinks she runs the show. We have a Russian drunk with father issues and a love of whips. We have a one eyed Nick Fury trying to…I dunno actually. Plus there is a Scarlett Johanssen looking hot some nerdy other billionaire, the military, the senate and probably the cast of The Wizard of Oz too.

Yes, you’re right. This is Batman and Robin and Spiderman 3 – overbooked and overcooked. There is so much going on to so many people that even Iron Man himself rarely appears. Iron Man went with one basic storyline – here we have dozens, and only one – Tony’s medical probs – has any real depth. Perhaps none of this would matter if there were as many action set pieces. Sadly we are left with only 2. Thankfully both are pretty good. In the first ‘whip man’ or ‘angry Ivan’ or whatever he was called fights Tony in Monaco in an impressive sequence. At the conclusion of the film Iron Man and ‘War Machine’ fight the cast of the Metal Gear games. Trouble is, effects are poor. War Machine starts out looking like the Silver Surfer and the final fight at the Stark Expo never looks like a real sequence and I was left wondering when the ‘GAME OVER’ screen would pop up. It’s 2 hours between sequences and the pacing is where Iron Man 2 really falls down. We have plenty of yakking on about our uninteresting storylines but no body actually shoots anything.

Marvel has high hopes for 2012’s ‘Avengers’ film – too much of Iron Man 2 plays out like a trailer. Did we really need this? It’s somewhat disrespectful to both he ‘Iron Man’ character and also the audience who didn’t pay for a trailer, no matter how lavish it is.

Moving on, Iron Man manages to use both of my least favourite villain clichés. The first being enemies are rubbish but numerous – thus rather than one rubbish villain we get dozens. Yey. The other is that the villain will be bigger than our hero. First War Machine and then ‘Angry Russian’ feature larger robot suits – we can’t create tension so we’ll go with a visual thing instead.

I could go on about the odd lack of AC/DC in the soundtrack (or the presence of AC/DC at all) or the strange ease with which you can create new elements, instead I’m going to rap this up. Iron Man 2 is bloated, dull and a total waste of the Iron Man character 5/10

In defence of….Licence to Kill

April 24, 2010

In 1985 a 60 year old Roger Moore had starred in ‘A View to a Kill’, it was a solid Bond offering but it was becoming apparent that Bond was aging. 1987’s ‘The Living Daylights’ rebooted Bond, for the first time we saw Bond played by Timothy Dalton – the James Bond character Ian Flemming had in mind.

The ‘Living Daylights’ was an excellent but cautious film, not yet ready to stray too far from conventions – Bond may have been darker but he was still driving cars with rocket launchers and fighting Aryan super men. 1989’s ‘Licence to Kill’ had the confidence to do away with all of that – we weren’t going to get the Bond we’d known for 20 years, we were getting something radical for the 16th Bond film.

James Bond and Felix Leiter secure a major coup with the arrest of drug lord Franz Sanchez. Sanchez’s connections (and money) soon see him make a daring prison break and he sets out for revenge. Sanchez murders Felix’s wife and then feeds Felix to a shark at the marine research facility he uses as a front – Felix, still alive, is then dumped at his home as a message. Those familiar with the Bond series will remember Felix as Bond’s friend since ‘Thunderball’ – and Bond is out for revenge. M16 feel this is a CIA matter and refuse Bond’s request to pursue Sanchez. Bond resigns and heads off to South America where it won’t be a jet pack, invisible car or exploding pen that will save him – he’s going to have to rely on his wits.

In an age of Jason Bourne Licence to Kill seems more like a template than a radical departure – but audiences were left stunned by this offering. Licence to Kill is harrowing in its violence. People have been fed to sharks (and piranha) in plenty of Bond films – but we have never seen it quite so graphically. Licence to Kill features a guys heart being cut out, another guy being exploded and a henchman dragged through a mincer – as blood sprays across the walls. So violent, it was only in the last 2 years it was released unedited. This isn’t ‘Bond’ violence either – it’s intense, graphic and designed to be as unsettling as possible. We’ve seen violence against women before in a Bond film – after all, Bond’s own wife is killed in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ – but here Sanchez brutally whips his own girlfriend after she tries to escape him. The entire film has an air of menace a Bond film wouldn’t see again. At one point Bond ends up rescued by Sanchez, who is yet to realise who Bond is. We know Bond is in a ridiculous degree of danger and with absolutely no back up – and these scenes boil with tension, for god’s sake man – get out of there! In attempting to reboot Bond audiences decided director John Glen had gone too far.

John Glen was certainly no novice when it came to Bond – this would be his 5th consecutive offering (and in this authors opinion, the second best Bond director after Martin Campell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale). Glen is determined to keep Bond’s feet on the ground, while we do get the spectacular we don’t get the Moore era absurdity or campy humour. While Glen had demonstrated his skill with set pieces in 1983’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, Licence to Kill would feature less grandiose action. That’s not to say this isn’t a film heavy on action or great sequences. At one point Bond is discovered infiltrating Sanchez crime buddy Milton Crest’s yacht and has to escape – pursued by divers he harpoons a plane, skis behind before climbing aboard and hurling the pilots to their deaths. Licence to Kill’s greatest sequences is reserved for the end – Sanchez attempts to escape with close to a 100 tonnes of cocaine hidden inside oil tankers. As these tankers hurtle down dusty roads Bond fights off drivers, gun men and gravity with explosions galore. It’s probably my favourite sequence in the Bond series. Incidentally watch for similarities with a sequence in Jason Statham’s ‘The Transporter’.

The cast is simply excellent. Timothy Dalton is perfect as the ruthless and vengeful Bond and it’s a tragedy he never got to reprise Bond a third time. Timothy Dalton’s Bond doesn’t do the humour or womanising as well as Sean Connery – but then that isn’t the attempt. This is a more introverted Bond, that’s not to say that many young ladies pass him by. Robert Davi is the most evil villain in Bond history; his ruthless and worryingly plausible portrayal was perfect for this film. Anthony Zerbe and Benicio Del Torro play Sanchez henchmen – Del Torro is perhaps even more sinister than Robert Davi’s character.

No Bond film would be complete with Bond girls. Talisa Sota plays Sanchez girlfriend Lupe, who wants Bond to kill her keeper. Lupe is stunningly beautiful but also dangerous – the kind of woman that gets men in trouble. Carey Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, tough and resourceful she has her own reasons for wanting Sanchez dead. One of a new breed of Bond girls she can take care of herself and actually saves Bond at one point. We had seen Bond girls with brains before – Barbara Bach’s Soviet agent in The Spy who Loved Me for instance, but Licence to Kill continued a trend that has continued to this day.  

Licence to Kill is intense and violent and shares little in common with the Roger Moore era. Audiences weren’t ready for a film ahead of its time and its summer release alongside a series of blockbusters meant its one of the least remembered Bond films. Interestingly, the stripped down and violent formula of Licence to Kill was back with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace where it was meant with almost hysterical praise. Licence to Kill was 15 years too early and I hope modern audiences will be able to see it for what it is – a stunning film and if its not the best Bond film that’s only because of the huge budgets subsequent entries had. Licence to Kill is my third favourite Bond film after GoldenEye and Casino Royale and is easily one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

Violent, unconventional and daring, Licence to Kill will shock and amaze for 2 hours. Nobody does it better – 9/10

Review: Repo Men

April 18, 2010

Can a film be so bad it’s good? I think we all have come across a film that clicked with us – even though we see just how bad it is. ‘Repo Men’ is so very close to being one of those. If you want unintentionally hilarious cinema you could find some chic flick – or you could watch Repo Men.

Jude Law plays a debt collector in some future time. A debt collector for organs bought on credit. You don’t pay – these organs get repossessed…

…in the street, with a kitchen knife. Think about that.

Seen Equilibrium? Minority Report? Judge Dread? Robocop 3? Guy works for the system – becomes disillusioned, fights back. Well, your getting that all over again. Yes, this is sci fi clichés 101 and it’s embarrassing. Jude Law fights the machine and ultimately gets his ass handed to him. Lesson to learn there kids. I’d love to go on, but plot wise this film never gets beyond a premise.

Director Miguel Sapochnik thinks he’s delivering some metaphysical tale of what it means to be alive, or dead, I’m not sure. The evil corporation, ‘’The Union’’, are some sort of metaphor for the American healthcare industry – if you want health it comes at a terrible price. A billion dollar company operates like a used car dealer – handful of staff and a single manager. Seems everyone needs organs (for some reason) and though you have no money this company is happy for you to pay on credit (paying how?).

How does the company make money here?

Repo Men is the stupidest film I have seen at the cinema in years. It’s also trying to be the goriest. Over 2 hours we see every part of the human body cut open so the precious organs can be retrieved. No need for a hospital – just beat the guy over the head and cut the organ out. Hygenic, clean, quick. It’s beyond absurd that this futuristic society would have debt collectors murder people in the street and then just leave the body where it falls.

The film is gorey, but in the same way watching a BBC documentary about heart surgery is – there is no real emotional impact because you care nothing for this film.

It’s not often the soundtrack of a film causes me to comment. The score appears to have been assembled at random – it’s not just that things distract from the scene, at times the tone is flipped – some upbeat tune accompanies a guy’s heart being removed, while he’s still alive.

Repo Men is the sort of film that goes straight to DVD. That’s absolutely where it belongs. Bafflingly absurd, hilariously dreadful, I want to reposes 2 hours from Cineworld.

3/10

Review: Clash of the Titans

April 6, 2010

Titans is a film almost impervious to criticism. This film is the blockbuster in its purest form – acting, plot, tension – it’s all been chemically distilled to just leave effects. How, therefore, do you tackle such a beast? When a film is designed to have no plot then surely the lack of it is merely the film achieving its dubious aim? Suffice to say humans have turned on their awful gods who decide that to win the love back they’ll be even more awful.  Zeus son, Perseus must travel through the underworld to get a weapon to stop them.  I would love to tell you that within lies a commentary on modern man turning his back on established religion but that’s pretty much it.

Director Louis Leterrier gave us an equally shallow experience with 2008’s Hulk, but here he’s assisted by Liam Neeson (The Phantom Menance) and Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation). The first thing you will want to know in an effects heavy film – ‘how are the effects?’ Under whelming – in parts they are simply dreadful (Medusa) while in others they are far too blurry to make whatever temple, monster or city on display have any real gravitas. The director’s style does not help us here. The visual palette throughout is remarkably bland, like a drive during the twilight hours – details seem to just merge together. No doubt an attempt to hide budget limitations its gives the film a blandness which came as some surprise for a pure effects epic. Perhaps the rapid editing was also there to cover some dodgy CGI. In promising set pieces the director cuts back and forth to the extent that we can never fully appreciate whatever mythical creature our hero is slaying next. In the same way Michael Bay proved with Transformers 2, fast cuts and a poor colour palette just results in banality.  

Speaking of the banal, everyone’s favourite actor Sam Worthington could have been replaced by a cardboard cut out and the audience probably wouldn’t have realised for at least an hour. He has little to work with – but manages to convey nothing approaching an emotion in nearly 2 hrs. Happily, Liam Neeson’s troubled Zeus lifts any scene he graces and Gemma Arteton’s Io illuminates her scenes with her striking beauty (in a film this basic it makes all the difference). Oddly in such a formulaic film there isn’t even the token love scene – greek men have more important quests it seems!

Bland, blurry, banal – there isn’t any inspiration anywhere in this film. Tension, excitement – that’s missing too. Evil witches declare our hero will perish in his quest – a somewhat desperate attempt to stir something within the film. Ultimately we know the good guys will win, but we probably wouldn’t have cared if they didn’t. Sam Worthington is accompanied by a gang of presumably elite soldiers who largely exist to be munched or turned to stone. I suppose they should come across as brave souls risking all for their homeland – however the film presents their quest as another day at the office – giant scorpions and even Hades himself doesn’t seem to surprise them much. When their own mortality seems to be of secondary concern the audience is never likely to develop much of an emotional connection.

A coy attempt to get money during a quiet spell in film, Titans is also a pure fantasy film – taking you away to a realm where your criticisms are deflected as harmlessly as a hapless Greek guard’s arrow. The director just wants your money; he doesn’t want your praise. This isn’t a film trying to be clever, profound or even memorable and its so banal I can literally think of nothing further to add – but if you want to pass 2 hours I’ve seen worse films,

5/10.