Talking Movies

May 30, 2008

How to Watch 300

So you want to watch 300 but you’re put off by the insane pumped up butch machismo you fear is all it has to offer? Fear not gentle reader for you can view it instead through the absurd prism of Michael Fassbender. Who is Fassbender you ask? How can I explain the man, the legend, the fun? Fassbender is the Irish actor who swam to New York to say “Sorry” in that famous Guinness ad. He then popped up in Sky One’s ‘British Buffy’ Hex as the Big Bad, fallen Angel Azazeal, where he enjoyed himself far too much for a man meant to be working for a living. In the trailer for 300 you will notice the inimitable Fassbender delivering the line “Well then, we shall fight in the shade” with the air of a man once again enjoying himself far too much. When 300 wrapped the producer probably came over to Fassbender with his paycheque and was waved away with, “No, really, I couldn’t. It’s just been such a blast. Can I keep the cape?

You are doubtful. Can one man really have that much fun? Oh yeah. As the film opens with the 300 marching off to battle Fassbender is already grinning… It’s not possible to overstate how gleeful the role of Stelios allows Fassbender to be. Stelios is the Spartan from the trailer that leaps over the Persian soldiers and lands right beside the camera. He jumps in slow motion to chop off the arm of the Persian who threatens the Spartans with a thousand nation army, “Our arrows will blot out the sun”. Stelios delivers the famous riposte in a supremely nonchalant manner. Stelios is even one half of a Spartan Legolas/Gimili style partnership in mayhem and has a slo-mo fight alongside Tom Wisdom’s Astinos where they attack and sever Persian limbs left, right and centre.

Fassbender gets to do one cool thing after another. When the Persian mystics are throwing bombs Fassbender runs out, catches one and throws it back, then shelters behind his shield as the arsenal of bombs explodes. This is the ultimate glee moment as in the darkness lit only by bomb blasts we can’t see Fassbender’s face underneath his helmet until we see his teeth, as he grins. Who does something awesome in the denouement to allow Leonidas to do something even more awesome? Fassbender. Who holds hands with Leonidas for their butch last lines? Fassbender….If you’ve got into the spirit of things you should shout “I LOVE dying!” at this point. You will have no objective judgement of 300’s quality, but you will have enjoyed watching it far too much…

May 22, 2008

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Talk about your lucky timing! Indiana Jones 4 is released during Anti-Ageism week, thereby precluding anyone with a sense of decency from making catty remarks about Harrison Ford being too old at 65 to play the role again. As I’m not burdened with a sense of decency it’s just lucky for him that it’s really not an issue in this film. The other great doubt that plagued this movie was that George Lucas was going to destroy our fond memories of the original trilogy just like he did with Star Wars by producing a totally unnecessary, badly written sequel. Well, Spielberg hasn’t let him, by bringing in his own favoured scribe David Koepp to polish Lucas’ story. The film zips along at a breathless pace for 2 gleeful hours before falling apart in a misconceived and distinctly underwhelming finale which fails to do justice to what has gone before, especially the great new villain Col Spalko.

 

The first half-hour is utterly superb, setting up the 1957 setting with wit and imagination while paying its respects to the original trilogy. This heady amalgam of ‘pop’ 1950s history from ‘I Like Ike’ to nuclear tensions, rock and roll, McCarthy witch-hunts, Red scares, Roswell conspiracies and teen gangs is impressive stuff and superbly introduces our replacement for the boo hiss Nazis of the 1980s. Meet some comic-book bad guy Soviets led by Cate Blanchett’s distractingly sexy villain Colonel Dr Irina Spalko, sporting a raven black bob hairdo and wielding a very sharp sword.  While many elements feel comfortably familiar there is an odd lack of the trademark squirm-in-your-seat gory moments, and the use of CGI is just painful in places (CGI gophers?!), especially the finale which it completely destroys as one of the joys of Indy’s derring-do was that it always looked somewhat real.

 

Indiana is dragged to South America by Mutt Williams to search for the missing Professor Oxley (played by an under-used John Hurt) who has reportedly discovered both the titular crystal skull and a mythical lost city which hides an awesome paranormal power sought by psychic weapons researcher Col Spalko. Shia LaBeouf verily astounds as taciturn tough 1950s ‘greaser’ Mutt, a world removed from his usual neurotic persona, while Karen Allen proves a good foil for Indy as his Raiders of the Lost Ark flame Marion Ravenwood – especially in a hilarious scene that combines slapstick with revelations.

 

The highlight of the film is a lengthy action sequence in the Amazon which is as well orchestrated as any Spielberg has choreographed and features, among other pleasures, a superb swordfight between duellists in separate cars. Crystal Skull can be very silly indeed (there is an unbelievably ludicrous use of a fridge as well as a cringe-worthy CGI heavy Tarzan homage) but it’s all done with such a wild sense of infectious fun that you forgive it all its flaws, such as the completely inconsistent character Ray Winstone is saddled with, until the last 20 minutes….which reveals Lucas’ beloved Maguffin plot device which is as woeful as was feared. This is fun but it never manages to justify resurrecting the franchise after 19 years. Not the disaster you feared then, but not an Indy story so awesome it just had to be told either…

 

3/5

May 2, 2008

Iron Man

 

Robert Downey Jr is a decadent, irresponsible, drink-swilling loose cannon with a lot of talent and more money than God…in this film. Downey Jr was inspired casting for Marvel Comics’ high-risk first self-financed comic-book blockbuster. Tony Stark aka Iron Man was always one of Marvel’s more interesting characters, in the hands of a deranged comics writer like Scotland’s celebrated Mark Millar he could become almost like a morally good riff on the Lex Luthor persona. A genius inventor alcoholic billionaire with a dodgy ticker has always been the short description of Stark and a good deal of Downey Jr’s screen presence as a fast-talking ironist seems to have been infused into the role and the film is a triumph because of it. The hilarious opening scenes between Stark and American soldiers in a humvee set the tone of this film which has immense fun in showing a playboy turn his life around. Downey Jr is nicely blank and subdued when Stark is kidnapped and forced to build a weapon but instead builds iron armour with high grade weapons capabilities to escape his captors, an experience that makes him resolve to stop making weapons when they can fall into the wrongs hands so easily.

 

For the most part though, especially the slapstick injuries he suffers when refining his new suit, Downey is having a ball Fassbendering his way through the movie. Yes, that’s a word, now. To Fassbender: to very obviously derive too much enjoyment from one’s work. See Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who spends the entirety of 300 grinning like an idiot. Downey is surrounded by equally stimulated actors. Gwyneth Paltrow is very winning in a surprisingly small role as Stark’s long suffering PA Pepper Potts. Paul Bettany whoops it up voicing Stark’s interactive computer Jarvis while fellow Brit Shaun Toub is very charismatic as Stark’s cell-mate Yinsen who helps him build his suit. Only Jeff Bridges disappoints, by neither chewing the scenery nor being truly menacing, in his role as corporate villain Obadiah Stane who is fated to become Iron Monger.

 

The 1960s origin myth of Stark being kidnapped by the Vietcong has been nicely updated to the Taliban (by another name). These insurgents appropriate Stark’s technology so Stark takes the fight to them in a gleeful action sequence. But there is just not enough action in this film to detract from a sense of deflation at the final set-piece showdown between Iron Man and Iron Monger that plays all too much like a deleted scene from Transformers. There is a lot to love about Iron Man, especially a running gag about a government department with an absurdly unwieldy title that pays off as a wonderful in-joke, but while this is solid it’s not quite as much delirious fun as the awesome trailer promised. Highly recommended fun nonetheless…

 

4/5

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