Talking Movies

January 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Director Matthew Vaughn eschews the current gritty James Bond formula for an R-rated absurdist spy fantasy from Mark Millar’s comic-book.

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Kingsman begins as it means to go on; tongue firmly-in-cheek; as terrible CGI explosions rock a Middle Eastern fortress, only for the falling stones to form into the title credits. Our hero Galahad (Colin Firth) is on a mission that goes fatally wrong, leading him to pay his respects to the widowed Michelle (Samantha Womack), and give a promise of aid, if ever needed, to her infant son Gary. Nearly two decades later a Kingsmen rescue of kidnapped climate change expert Professor Arnold (a cameo too good to spoil here) goes awry. A replacement Lancelot must be recruited, and all the Kingsmen must put forward a candidate. At this precise moment Gary, now known as Eggsy (Taron Egerton), gets into deep trouble with his criminal stepfather Dean (Geoff Bell), and calls in Galahad’s favour. Galahad proposes Gary as the new Lancelot, and so begins a dangerous mentoring in privatised espionage…

Kingsman is a blast. There’s a certain X-Men: First Class vibe to the Lancelot competition presided over by Merlin (Mark Strong) at a country house, with nice class warfare between chav Eggsy and upper-crust Digby (Nicholas Banks) and Charlie (Edward Holcroft). Egerton is endearing as someone hiding his potential because of his circumstances, and Sophie Cookson as sympathetic toff Roxy is a winning foil. Less sympathetic is the leader of the Kingsmen, Arthur (Michael Caine). There’s an odd meta-textual dance here between Egerton having played toff in Testament of Youth and cockney Caine’s enthronement as a cinematic elder. But that’s as nothing compared to the meta-madness when Galahad discusses old Bond films with lisping tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson). Firth is effectively playing The Avengers’ Mr Steed, and loving it, while Jackson seems to be nodding to his Unbreakable role as a squeamish super-villain, with a surprisingly interesting motivation, who delegates murder to lethal blade-runner henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).

Vaughn’s use of music deserves special mention. Eggsy’s car-thieving exploits are rousingly accompanied by Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’, a surrealist gore-fest is played out to the strains of Elgar (in what feels oddly like a nod to Dr Strangelove), and then there’s ‘Freebird’… Vaughn tops Cameron Crowe’s demented use of that song in Elizabethtown, and, given that Crowe had a band rocking out on the guitar solo and determinedly ignoring the giant flaming bird flying past, that’s saying something. A vicious sermon by the great Corey Johnson is interrupted by utter carnage as Galahad gets embroiled in a fight to the death with the entire congregation. If The Matrix lobby scene used a high concept to banish guilt over massacres by heroes this pushes the envelope even further. Cinematographer George Richmond and Vaughn close up on the action and deploy a grainier look to hide cheats in their sustained bloodthirsty mayhem. And what mayhem it is – a choreographed wonder of continual stabbing, shooting, garrotting, strangling, bludgeoning that produces jaw-dropped, impressed disbelief.

There’re quibbles to be had, notably the rather tasteless use of Hanna Alstrom’s Swedish princess and the sudden ending, but Kingsman’s bloody good fun.

4/5

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December 3, 2014

Trailer Talk: Part III

In another entry in this occasional series I round up some trailers for some of next year’s most anticipated films.

Jurassic World

Jurassic Park is now a heritage title. This is like launching Jaws: Feeding Frenzy in 1997, with Jaws III in 1983 having been the last instalment. A whole generation has gone without a Jurassic Park release. They have no loving nostalgia for the original (especially its extensive model-work), or partial fondness for its sequel (“Oh yeah. Ooh, aah, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming” and Spielberg’s delirious appropriation of Hitchcock’s 39 Steps scream), or bad memories of the final barely-scripted disaster. Chris Pratt’s hero seems to be combining the personae of Goldblum and Neill, which is an interesting move, and velociraptors running disinterestedly past him in their desire to escape the new hybrid dinosaur recalls a Whedon line about when scary things get scared… But, Bryce Dallas Howard’s career hasn’t lived up to her assured lead debut in The Village, and there’s a tough act to follow in Richard Attenborough’s Richard Hammond as orchestrator of the madness; not least as the swooping shots of the park (which I swear are the same as in The Hunger Games and The Phantom Menace) make plain that the original’s grounding CGI in tactile reality is passé.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Well this trailer carries bizarre echoes of The Dark Knight’s teaser at this time of year in 2007… Talk of how a superhero how has changed things, even if he doesn’t want to admit it, and how the supervillain will show him something – even James Spader’s voice slurs into Heath Ledger’s Joker delivery. Just like the original’s trailer, a city-wide apocalypse is some broken windows, flipped cars, and screaming people. A major let-down in The Avengers was its inability to depict an all-out onslaught, but nobody else cared – so here we go again. I found The Avengers pretty damn dull. It wasn’t the laugh-fest it was vaunted as; Guardians of the Galaxy is far funnier; it delivered only moments of memorable action, and balancing all the characters’ screen-time was tragic given that (prior to the Hulk-out) it only took flight when Robert Downey Jr was onscreen. The Person of Interest season 2 finale just aired on RTE 2, and Jonathan Nolan’s parade of awesome comic-book moments there shames not only the pedestrian Agents of Shield but also Marvel’s films which are becoming increasingly joyless as they become ever more obviously formulaic franchise-connecting CGI-laden corporate exercises.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens

Andy Serkis narrates some vague mumblings; because this is a teaser trailer; and the internet explodes with the idea that Benedict Cumberbatch has stowed away in the Millenium Falcon. He’s not. The internet is torn into two between the usual illiberal liberal lynch-mobs on Twitter and Star Wars fanatics trying (quite logically) to comprehend how John Boyega can be a Stormtrooper if Temuera Morrison was cloned to be the genetic exemplar for all the Stormtroopers. The prequels are no longer canon (thank God!) perhaps? All that needs to be said about the 60-second trailer is that it looks like more like a Star Wars film than the last three Star Wars films. If Abrams is throwing the prequels into the dustbin alongside every novel since 1983 it’s all to the good – the prequels showed what happens when everyone knows what happens. Indeed his own Star Trek sequel showed how paralysing the fear of total originality can be in this corporate climate. I’m still terrified that one of the big three returning characters is going to be offed as a plot point (par Blake Snyder), but I can live with threat for the pause after “and the light…” and the subsequent John Williams orchestral blast for the Millenium Falcon roaring over Tatooine. Fun has returned.

October 30, 2013

Suggesting Several Screen Siblings

I’ve noticed a few actors who I think would make damn good pairings as siblings, so here’re some suggestions for their team-ups and the movies.

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Tom Hiddleston & Rooney Mara

Who can stand against the combined powers of Loki and Lisbeth Salander? Not many… The Avengers star Tom Hiddleston and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara are con artist siblings specialising in long-cons. They’re within months of pulling off the single greatest job of their career, shaking down a despotic Arabic dictator for a massive investment in a ‘revolutionary fuel research firm’, when Hiddleston falls head over heels in love with the despot’s new American liaison. Mara, however, truly despises Hiddleston’s charming new girlfriend and sets out to sabotage the romance in any way she can. Can Mara succeed in dynamiting her brother’s happiness while keeping him in the dark that she’s doing it? Can Hiddleston keep his focus long enough for the completion of the con? And is the liaison’s arrival as a massive distraction just a bit too perfectly timed to be coincidental? All will be revealed in this sophisticated Hitchcockian comedy-thriller.

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Kristen Wiig & Sarah Paulson

Studio 60 and American Horror Story star Sarah Paulson is a successful but cold marketing executive. Her fabulously wealthy grand-aunt always liked Paulson’s warm-hearted slacker sister better. The slacker sister is, of course, Bridesmaids’ Kristen Wiig. The great-aunt dies, leaving behind a video message for the reading of her bizarre will. Paulson and Wiig will both inherit 700 million dollars in twenty-four months, but … Paulson will only receive her share of the inheritance if she can successfully launch her sister into an independently sustainable career of Wiig’s choice (i.e. not marketing with Paulson’s firm) within twelve months. If Paulson can’t pull it off, her share goes to Wiig; making a whopping 1.4 billion dollars for Wiig and a round 0 for Paulson. Paulson can’t tell Wiig why she’s helping her, and will be trailed by a hunky male P.I. to ensure she doesn’t. It’s an all-female Brewster’s Millions meets My Fair Lady, hilarity ensues.

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Werner Herzog & Pete Townshend

Jack Reacher villain Werner Herzog buried his brother in East Germany in 1964. So it’s a shock when his daughter, trawling thru declassified archives, discovers that an empty coffin was buried. Herzog’s brother, Tommy performer Pete Townshend, was actually recruited by the Stasi, who faked his death, and, after extensive training, sent him to England as a sleeper agent. He’s been there ever since, stranded by the fall of the wall… The recently widowed Herzog travels to London with his daughter to meet Townshend’s retired but still consulting Foreign Office official. Townshend is afraid of being rumbled at the very end of his career; even as a spy without a spymaster. Gradually, however, the ice thaws as the widowed Townshend unlearns the English accented German he had perfected and prepares to tell his daughter his true identity. But has she already guessed the truth from witnessing the strange transference of identity between Townshend and Herzog?

July 31, 2013

RED 2

Bruce Willis and John Malkovich return for a second knowing outing as the retired and extremely dangerous spies who just want to be left alone.

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Frank (Willis) is trying to play house with girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), but a trip to Costco sees Marvin (Malkovich) warning him that they’re in terrible danger because someone is sniffing around their botched Cold War Op codenamed Nightshade. And sure enough before long MI6 doyenne Victoria (Helen Mirren) cheerfully informs them she’s been hired to kill them, they’re running from a well-resourced bent spook Horton (Neal McDonough), and they’re also running from his employee – the world’s greatest assassin Han (Byung Hun Lee), who has a personal grudge against Frank. And that’s before Frank and Sarah’s relationship is strained to breaking point by Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), his Russian agent Ex, appearing. Can Frank and Marvin get their hands on Nightshade’s weaponry before it gets them killed? And what role does mad Professor Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) play in all this?

RED 2 is a fun caper that works best when it’s at its most absurd. Too often director Dean Parisot is content to merely insert Mirren into daft scenarios and watch the audience smile rather than forcing us to laugh with good gags. But when the gags are forthcoming they’re good. There are a couple of terrific back and forth scenes between Frank and Sarah, and a Zen disagreement between Frank, Marvin and Han. There is also a daft sequence in the Kremlin where Marvin attempts to leave Sarah in charge of guarding a vault while he does spy stuff with Frank that is priceless. Parisot also stages a car chase thru Paris with elan and wit as he never loses focus on the chase’s real interest: it’s another example of ‘helpful’ intervention by Marvin in Frank and Sarah’s relationship.

Willis and Parker continue to be an appealingly believable couple, well, ‘believable’, and Malkovich Fassbenders his way thru proceedings. There is, however, a reason that scriptwriters Jon & Erich Hoeber’s previous work Battleship was instanced in the recent Slate article decrying the baneful effect of Blake Snyder’s scriptwriting book Save the Cat! becoming the literal playbook for all Hollywood blockbusters. You can see all 15 of Snyder’s story beats arriving at the appropriate moments here, including the inevitable and infuriating ‘apparent victory’ – whose ruthless application in The Avengers, Skyfall, Gangster Squad, et al is driving us all slowly crazy. But thankfully, unlike Battleship, there’s enough stupid fun here to counteract the formula. Especially as the ‘thematic statement’ from Marvin to Frank is so wonderfully dumb in concept and wording that its resolution can’t help but be a knowingly parodic moment.

There’s life in the old dogs yet, and while this probably won’t run as long as the Fast & Furious franchise it deserves to match Ocean’s with a trilogy.

3/5

August 15, 2012

On Refusing to Assemble

I’ll admit it, I’m one of the few people who still haven’t seen The Avengers aka Marvel(’s) Avengers Assemble. It was by choice. I’m going to wait for the DVD.

If you ask why I chose not to see it I have to admit that there were reasons for not seeing it that pre-dated the movie’s release, and then new reasons spawned by the movie’s reception. Perhaps the most important reason for not going to see the super-hero super team-up was that I quite frankly never really cared about it. I don’t like Thor or Thor. From the first moment that Thor and Loki appeared as children I was rooting for Loki, and Tom Hiddleston kept me onboard for the rest of the movie; down to the bitter end I was with Loki. I enjoyed Captain America, but if you check the piece I wrote about it last year you’ll realise that everything I loved about it quite literally died a death in the final scenes. As for the Hulk, I didn’t love either attempt at the grumpy green giant, and Iron Man 2’s introduction of Black Widow did very little for me. I’d effectively be watching The Avengers purely to see Robert Downey Jr wisecrack. But then I could just wait for Iron Man 3 for that, or, indeed, just watch damn near any old Robert Downey Jr movie.

Then there were the new and less important reasons spawned by the movie’s reception. The huge opening had the unfortunate effect of spoiling a key plot point, as with so many people chatting about it I accidentally overheard something. The problem was that ‘something’ struck me as the most aggravatingly clichéd thing that Joss Whedon could possibly do. There’s only so many times in your work that you can subvert a cliché before your subversion of the cliché itself becomes so expected when you’re writing that it is in fact now also a cliché. And anyone who read my review of The Cabin in the Woods will know that my Whedon tolerance has become very low after Buffy Season 8. Then there was the horror of finding out that Marvel had presented a business plan in the mid-2000s to get financing for their own studio which proposed making all the individual hero movies as prep-work for producing the cross-over flick The Avengers as the real money-spinner. So, before any one film even worked artistically, the cross-over film was planned as the payday. I don’t know what horrifies me more, such blatant prioritisation of business over show, or that it worked.

Finally there was Samuel L Jackson’s petulant Twitter war against the New York Timesfilm critic AO Scott, who described Nick Fury as a master of ceremonies rather than a mission commander. I’ve been told that’s actually pretty accurate. But Jackson decided to tweet his 825,315 followers “#Avengers fans, NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let’s help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!” Was it ever likely that Scott would lose his job? Probably not, which seems to have been Jackson’s belated defence for his actions, but then why call for it in the first place? The last drip of enthusiasm I had for dragging myself to see a film I didn’t care about ebbed away when I thought that I might thereby be endorsing the position that an actor who earns maybe $15 million a year very publicly trying to get his fans to start a witch-hunt so that a man who earns maybe $60,000 a year would lose his job is any way, shape or form acceptable behaviour.

I’ve read Mark Millar’s hilarious and exciting The Ultimates, and prefer his version of those iconic characters to the cinematic imaginings. The Avengers can wait.

May 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part IV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:27 pm
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As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Active Valour
I was quite taken aback after giving a qualified thumbs-up to Act of Valour a while ago to see the critical pasting it took elsewhere, accompanied by some veritable frothing at the mouth about American foreign policy and how this movie, as propaganda, was complicit in propagating the ethics of Al-Qaeda. Firstly, regarding the ethics of terrorism, equating a man jumping on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades with a terrorist setting off an explosive vest to kill civilians isn’t a valid comparison. To say that the American soldier being praised for giving his life for his country, his comrades and his cause is ethically the same as an Al-Qaeda terrorist who gives his life for his religion, his comrades and his cause is not just invalid, it’s insane; it requires ignoring the fact that one man is killing himself to save other people, while the other is killing himself to kill other people – and if you’re willing to ignore that crucial difference in your own case-study comparison then there’s almost nothing you wouldn’t ignore to make your case. Secondly, Chill everyone, it’s just a movie. I’m not as exercised as other people by the propaganda element because I just don’t think it’s that important. I’ve written before about how the rise of China is being accompanied by a decline in the ability of America to project its power, or even to agree on what to project courtesy of deadlock in D.C. Other people look at Act of Valour and see American soldiers rampaging around the world breaking international law and fume at being expected to endorse this as heroic. I look at all the hardware; the submarines, aircraft carriers and jets stationed all around the world to enable this rampaging; and just see endless dollar signs. It’s awfully expensive to maintain that sort of military infrastructure, and it’s inevitably not going to be maintained at that level in the near future because America simply won’t have the money to spare. So this is effectively the last cinematic hurrah of how that sort of world used to operate, and endorsing it or abjuring it is, really, irrelevant. Stand-up comedian Christian Finnegan did a very droll routine on Conan about just relaxing and enjoying America becoming just another regular country. Perhaps rabid haters of Act of Valour need to do likewise.

Avengers ‘Assemble’
And yes, it’s time for another bit of Avengers bashing hereabouts. It’s occurred to me that not only is the British and Irish title remarkably clunky, but that assembling, as a concept, isn’t very exciting. It’s certainly nowhere near as exciting as the marketers appear to think. The TV spots proclaim “Get ready to….” and you’re waiting for “ROCK!” or something of that order to appear next on the screen only to get the word “Assemble” thrown at you. Thing is assembling isn’t exciting, it’s like queuing; it’s a preparatory stage, unlikely to excite anyone except Arthur Dent.

April 10, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part III

As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

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Fear of Marketing
In a nigh endless series of blogs last year about the state of Hollywood I noted the utter laziness of marketers when it came to doing their job. To wit, their reluctance to actually market something from scratch; they’d far rather market something that someone in the past had managed to make a successful brand than make something a successful brand themselves – which one might have imagined was what they were paid for. Anywho, I laughed hysterically when I discovered that The Avengers had actually been re-titled for the British and Irish market (we’re hard to tell apart apparently) as Marvel Avengers Assemble. Obviously Marvel Avengers Assemble is funny in its own right as a ludicrously clumsy title. Far funnier though is the idea that The Avengers, a show which ended its 9 year run in 1970, and which, even if one counts its second incarnation in the late 1970s as The New Avengers, has been off-air for over 30 years is considered to have such abiding brand strength that a $100 million marketing budget can’t defeat it. Apparently the marketers have decided that bus posters, Tube posters, cinema trailers, bus-stop posters, TV spots, huge outdoor advertising hoardings, radio spots, and endless media interviews across radio, print, digital, and TV won’t be enough to get punters to comprehend that The Avengers starring Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson will not feature Downey Jr in a bowler hat wielding an umbrella, even if it might admittedly feature Johansson in tight leather kicking people. I’ve started thinking about other films that have titles that could equally profit in the renaming stakes from such fear of confusion. Perhaps The Magnificent Seven in order to avoid confusion with The Seven Samurai could be re-titled Seven Gunslingers Assemble for the Japanese market.

Not all taglines are coherent
At the risk of harping on about this lack of effort on the part of people supposedly in charge of enticing us to the cinema, did anyone else raise an eyebrow at the tagline for Chronicle? ‘Not all heroes are super’. It’s meant to be enticingly dark; implying this is a movie about people like Fassbender’s Magneto. But…think about it for a second. ‘Not all heroes are super’. Yes, obviously. Heroes generally tend not to be super, but just ordinary people. Well, ‘ordinary’ in the sense that they are usually charismatic, have an exceptionally developed skill (like archery, or even just running like Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man) or are an intellectual or practical genius, with a sound moral compass; even if rusty. The tagline meant ‘Not all super-humans are heroes’, but that’s not a good tagline, even if it accurately expresses the intended meaning.

January 9, 2012

2012: Fears

W.E.
Madonna (!!!) directs Andrea Riseborough as Wallis Simpson in a farcically sympathetic portrayal of the American who eventually became King Edward VIII’s wife. Edward is Master & Commander star James D’Arcy, who’s probably immensely relieved to have escaped from the ghetto of movies like Rise: Blood Hunter, but for us another trot around the bloody Abdication Crisis is a truly appalling vista. Edward VIII wanted all the wealth and privilege of being a King without the responsibility, and failed to challenge the absurdity of being forbidden to marry a divorced woman when the Church of England only existed because Henry VIII wanted to divorce a woman and remarry. Screw him…

Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close
Stephen Daldry tries to win yet more bloody Oscar nominations with an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel about a boy searching for the secrets left behind by the father he lost on 9/11. Daldry directs, Tom Hanks plays the father and Sandra Bullock the mother, the screenplay is by Forrest Gump and Benjamin Button scribe Eric Roth, it’s about a weighty subject, and is released within the three month attention span the Academy’s members have long since proven they possess – what’s not to hate about such a naked attempt not to make a good film but to make the sort of film that wins Oscars?

Battleship
Somewhere in Hollywood a studio executive called Delaney is about to crash his sports-car as he drives past a huge billboard poster for this movie. Delaney will stagger out of the wreckage, lurch into the traffic to stare at the promise of an incredibly fake-looking CGI alien invasion limited to the radius of an inexplicable force-field in the ocean being foiled by US Navy ships led by an equally inexplicable Liam Neeson, slumming it alongside Rihanna and shouting orders to Too Tall Skarsgaard while rattling thru an inane arc about responsibility with Taylor Kitsch, and Delaney will incoherently rave “Holy God Jesus! I thought I’d killed this movie in development!!”

Total Recall
Director Len Wiseman proved with Die Hard 4.0 that he has talent, but that does not mean remaking Total Recall is a good idea. 22 years after Arnie’s original our hero is now Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale (of course) is the dame, and there will be no mucking about on Mars because that’s not in the original story. But justifying your over-hasty remake by your fidelity to the source text is deeply suspect. Philip K Dick’s short story is clever, hilarious, and wonderful, but it’s a short story. It would barely sustain an episode of The Outer Limits. Wiseman’s foray may actually justify itself by being less ludicrously violent…

The Avengers
Joss Whedon co-writes and directs Marvel’s huge gamble to tie together the fate of all their various franchise characters in one huge blockbuster. I’ve voiced my doubts about this enterprise repeatedly and at some length. Whedon has experience writing the X-Men characters to superb effect, and he will draw great performances from his cast, probably insert a large number of good lines and hilarious moments, and may even pull off the truly great action sequence that has thus far eluded nearly all the in-house Marvel movies, but, this appears in Fears because of its lack of commercial and interior logic, and the artistic pitfalls of its choice of villains.

Snow White and the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart was once a very capable young actress. Then she became a global star almost overnight, and a horrible stiltedness overtook her. The question is now that the end of Twilight is nigh, can she manage to overcome the brittleness it inspired? Well, if she can she probably won’t start the acting comeback with this overblown nonsensical ‘version’ which sees Snow White as Warrior Princess teaming up with Thor Chris Hemsworth to take down Charlize Theron’s evil Queen with the help of a coterie of British actors of a certain age as the dwarves. Warwick Davis won’t be happy about that because Ricky Gervais will.

Men in Black 3
Will Smith seems to make a Men in Black film whenever he’s panicked about his career. I didn’t think Hancock and Seven Pounds not being well received constituted that big a crisis but apparently he did, and so here we are – once again with Smith travelling thru time in 3-D to fight aliens who are pursuing Josh Brolin aka Tommy Lee Jones in the 1960s. Four capable writers have fiddled with this script, and Barry Sonenfeld hasn’t directed a hit in a long time, so this one comes with ‘Approach with Caution’ stickers plastered all over it despite Jemaine Clement and Bill Hader’s presence in the cast.

The Dark Knight Rises
If this film isn’t a disaster I’ll be very pleasantly surprised. Anne Hathaway as Catwoman seems vindicated as a casting choice from the trailer, and there are pleasing hints from the chants being translated for Bruce Wayne as ‘Rise’ that perhaps Ras Al’Ghul’s methods really are supernatural, but, the Bat-wing seen hovering above the Bat-mobile at the end of the trailer looks like something out of Rocobop (by which I mean 1987 special effects in a 2012 movie), and the destruction of the football pitch by Bane is embarrassingly fake-looking. Perhaps Nolan has crammed in so damn much to this final instalment that he couldn’t find time to pull it off more practically, but such obnoxiously obvious CGI is the polar opposite of the legion of compositing shots he used in The Dark Knight. Would it really have been so hard to film the football player running in the stadium in Pittsburgh, then build a replica grass pitch set and blow it up in Hollywood, and composite the two together so that it looked real because what you were seeing was real – just from two different places at two different times cunningly yoked together by digital trickery. I think this is a film that no one will like, but that some people might admire; because Batman dies at the end. Bane can’t kill Batman and get away with it, audiences would rebel. But, I’m convinced that Nolan’s watched Sherlock and the end of the movie will see Batman sacrifice himself in order to rid Gotham of the intolerable evil of Bane. Batman and Bane will topple off Gotham’s Reichenbach Falls locked in eternal combat. But I think along the way to this unforgettable and traumatic finale the sense of fun that must be part of what keeps Bruce Wayne being Batman will be entirely absent, the level of grotesquery from the brutal villain will be unbearable, and everyone will start muttering about how it ruins the first two movies.

The Bourne Legacy
The Bourne franchise is really starting to really resemble the world of Robert Ludlum now, in the sense that the great man has passed on and yet still work emerges bearing his name. Jeremy Renner plays an agent who is not Jason Bourne, but has a tenuous enough link to Bourne’s world to justify the attention grabbing title. Renner is a fine actor, and it’s nice to see him headline a big summer blockbuster, but this has pointless cash-in written all over it. Tony Gilroy, writer on all previous three films, now directs this one as well in the knowledge that Damon will only return for Greengrass directing…

Django Unchained
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz star in Quentin Tarantino’s movie about escaped slaves, underground railroaders, and bounty-hunters battling for freedom and money. Sounds good! So why is a Leonesque adventure in a nonsensical 19th Century in the Fears side of the ledger rather than the Hopes? Because just once I’d like Tarantino to make a film where you didn’t have to wince at the prospect of the unspeakable violence that was undoubtedly about to come your way along with the great dialogue, cut-up structure, and bravura directing. Is it too much to ask that he rein in his sadism for a PG-13 story one of these days?

Lincoln
Spielberg had been making this movie for a decade with Liam Neeson before he finally actually started making it and abruptly went with Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th POTUS. No longer based on 2008’s immensely long book of the moment Team of Rivals, this is now a details biopic of a working President, as Lincoln in his final months tries to legislatively copper-fasten the victory against slavery. Day-Lewis will powerhouse his way thru proceedings, leading a strong cast including the peerless Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but what worries is Tony Kushner’s script. Munich obsessively shied away from discussion of the causes and conduct of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Can Kushner really do ‘details’?

300: The Battle of Artemisia
Zack Snyder has co-written with his original 300 compadres this sequel for another director to helm while he’s busy trying to make Superman soar again at the box-office. The fact that all of the 300 Spartan warriors died in the first movie bar the narrator, who went on to lead the hilarious charge in the next battle that closed the original film, doesn’t stop Snyder & Co making a sequel – about different characters, at a different battle, before Thermopylae. Apparently sequel has some new and strange meaning that Snyder will instruct us in thru an epic, unintentionally hilarious, battle between freedom-loving Americans Athenians and tyrannical Persians.

The Great Gatsby
I venerate F Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, but that is why I can’t think Baz Lurhmann’s film of it can be anything but a disaster. Leonardo DiCaprio is a good choice to play the enigmatic titular old sport, as is Joel Edgerton as his nemesis, but the blanker-than-thou Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway may narrate us all into a coma, and Carey Mulligan for all her strengths will struggle with the eternally thankless role of Daisy. My great fear is Lurhmann’s inability to handle subtlety. Gatsby is all about Fitzgerald’s prose, which flows like sparkling champagne, not swooping thru raucous parties and zeroing in on high camp comedy scenes…

Breaking Dawn: Part II
The decision to split Breaking Dawn into two films would hopefully be unwise after the awfulness of the padded Part I, but the need to see how things end will defeat any desire to punish such commercial crassness. What now for the rapidly ageing Renesme and her creepily smitten werewolf protector Jacob? How will Bella adjust to being a very, very thirsty newborn vampire? Can Michael Sheen Fassbender this film to campy heights as the Volturi travel en masse to Forks to abduct her? Or will director Bill Condon’s bizarrely perfunctory approach produce another bloated, inert, embarrassing disaster and end the series on a very low note?

December 20, 2011

On Doubting The Avengers

I can’t get excited about The Avengers, allegedly the biggest or second biggest film of 2012 depending on who you talk to, even though it should be catnip to me.

The Avengers consists of one successful film franchise, Iron Man, two newly launched franchises (that with their Norse Gods magic as opposed to super-science technology don’t really synch with the interior logic of the successful franchise), Thor and Captain America, and one franchise that has failed to launch, twice, Hulk. That mixture just does not cry out for a super-team-up super-franchise. If in 1991 John McClane and Riggs & Murtagh had joined forces for a super-team-up action-movie buddy-cops super-franchise, Die Hard with a Lethal Weapon, it would have made far more commercial sense than Marvel foisting The Avengers on us.

Commercial sense (and interior logic) aside I have grave screenwriting concerns about the movie. Does anyone really think that one film can successfully contain so many characters? Think about it. Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, Pepper Potts, Agent Coulson, Loki and The Krulls. What exactly can be done in 2 hours in terms of actual story once you’ve finished establishing ground rules for all those characters (in case some people, as is highly likely, missed some of their cinematic instalments), introduced Hawkeye and somehow not made him ridiculous, and given the stars ego-balanced arcs?

If by some miracle you manage to synch all the fictive micro-universes together into one coherent macro-universe, and massage all the egos involved in juggling several franchise characters, what villains are you left with after the customary slaughter of bad guys in the denouements of the existing franchises? The Krulls. Oh, great. What works well in comics doesn’t necessarily work well in cinema. The Krulls immediately invoke the Mission: Impossible 2 peril. If everyone in every scene could really be someone else wearing a mask then you cease to emotionally invest in anything that happens because it mightn’t be real.

Given these problems does anyone really think that co-writer/director Joss Whedon has it in him to pull this off? Whedon has after all directed only one two film, which had a fraction of the budget and star power of The Avengers, while his most recent filmed screenplay has been sitting on a shelf for over a year, allegedly while the studio debates whether to convert it into 3-D because all horror films have to be in 3-D now. Paranormal Activitys rake in the money without being in 3-D which leads to the suspicion the studio thinks The Cabin in the Woods sucks just as much as Buffy Season 8. Whedon apologised for that arc (so awful that Wolves at the Gate, the largely stand-alone volume written by his Cabin co-writer Drew Goddard, is the only remnant worth salvaging) citing unlimited VFX giddiness…

Thus giving Whedon an unlimited special-effects budget, without Goddard’s counter-weight, may be as counterproductive as giving Richard Kelly the money he always needed to ramble on about aliens, time-travel, philosophy, and water.

November 16, 2011

Justice

Nicolas Cage gets involved in vigilantism masterminded by an increasingly sinister Guy Pearce but director Roger Donaldson doesn’t tighten the Hitchcockian screws.

Nicolas Cage plays ye typically inspirational English teacher at ye typically deprived inner city high school in New Orleans. He’s married to January Jones’ cellist and plays chess with his principal and good friend Harold Perrineau. And then a rapist brutally attacks Jones, and at the hospital a shaven-headed Guy Pearce approaches Cage with an offer of true justice – in return for owing a small favour at an unspecified date in the future to Pearce’s shadowy organisation. Cage of course soon discovers such favours include not just surveillance or logistics but a murder in return, and, as the net tightens, finds himself running from the police over a murder he didn’t commit, estranged from his wife who’s convinced he’s keeping something from her, and subject to wonderfully justified paranoia as Pearce’s organisation seems to pervade every strata of New Orleans.

Pearce’s introduction recalls Steed offering a hospital surgeon help in avenging his wife’s murder in The Avengers pilot, and Mr Chapel in Vengeance Unlimited offering victims a chance to get even at the cost of a million dollars or a favour, while there’s also a touch of the Twilight Zone in that the person you just killed may not actually have been guilty of anything – but now you sure are. Cage reins in his craziness for the most part but effectively channels his eccentricities into portraying the increasing nerviness of a peaceful man forced into violent confrontation after violent confrontation. This time the bad lieutenant is the always great Xander Berkeley who may be utterly corrupt or perversely honourable somehow. Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter is criminally underused as Jones’ best friend, but Harold Perrineau fares better in another studiedly ambiguous turn.

Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, 13 Days) is a good director experienced in paranoia, but raw material that Hitchcock would have relished exploiting for suspense and black comedy is perfunctorily rushed through. The escalation of Pearce’s machinations invokes Strangers on a Train’s trading of murders to elude detection, and the fact that no one can be trusted, that whistle-blowing journalists, trustworthy cops, anyone at all could suddenly mutter the Edmund Burke derived shibboleth “The hungry rabbit jumps” and reveal themselves to be part of the organisation is prime Hitch. The best wasted set-up is Cage breaking into a newspaper office, and then having to walk through the distribution bay where his face is on every front page… Donaldson instead prioritises shoot-outs, chases and unlikely action-man heroics.

This is solidly entertaining, but feels far longer than its running time. The great high concept so obviously buried in here but failed by the execution honestly just frustrates me too much to give it the 3 stars it probably deserves for about scraping being good.

2/5

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