Thursday, 30 April 2015

Blue Caprice (AKA The Washington Snipers)
Dir: Alexandre Moors
2013
***
Alexandre Moors's 2013 drama Blue Caprice is based on the true story of the Washington Snipers. Instead of dealing with the shootings themselves, Moors removes us from any of the gratuitous violence and deals specifically with the motive, or lack of in this case, and looks into the background history of the two murderers. There is something particularly eerie about this film, not only because we know what the outcome is but because of the sinister pace and feel of the direction and the performances. Moors and the two leading actors never try to proclaim the reason as to why the two men committed such acts but merely suggest. However, there is a very big gap in the film whereby the viewer is left with only their own assumptions, I don't believe this is the art of subjectivity in action either, I think it is just a little bit of lazy film making. However, the mood, performances and tasteful way everyone involved approached the story are all commendable and are worth investing 90 minutes of your time for.

Them!
Dir: Gordon Douglas
1954
*****
One of the first and one of the best Atomic monster movies from the 1950's. I'm very fond of these movies and was quite disgruntled when I saw this at a 50's B-Movie festival screening where the audience laughed and jeered throughout. I know the crowd were fans but it was like watching people make fun of an old man just because he couldn't keep up and it made me feel sad. Although the effects etc are dated, they are still based on creative and intelligent ideas that could teach modern film makers a thing or two. At least it didn't have a gratuitous love story going on and the gi-ants were not defeated by teenagers, the townsfolk look generally scared (as you would be) and it really did tap into a very real paranoia of the time. As a rule, it seems that every good B-movie is in fact a secret political statement heaped full of symbolic ideas. It's quite brilliant.
Marwencol
Dir: Jeff Malmberg
2010
****
Marwencol is a portmanteau of the names Mark, Wendy and Colleen and is the name of a model town created by Mark Hogancamp. Hogancamp was viciously attacked  one night outside a bar and was near death and in a coma for nine days. He recovered but was left with severe memory loss and brain damage. He couldn't afford therapy, so he made a model town based on WW2 era Belgium instead which he believes helps him with his condition. There isn't really much else to Mark Hogancamp's story after the first ten minutes of Marwencol but that said, something interesting always seems to happen just before you start to loose interest. I don't want to spoil it but the last 'revelation' is treated as much more of a big deal than it really is when the overall mood of the documentary was fine without needing to be controversial. I liked this film for the models to be honest, I love the idea and I thought the photos were brilliant. I think the best moments for me were not the ones Jeff Malmberg had intended to be and I do hope that not too much was lost in the editing room. I really liked his best friends interviews and he summed up the situation brilliantly when he said some guy had told him that 'I'm not interested in fake war, I want to see real war and he answered 'This is a real war man''. He should have had far more screen time in my opinion and it does suffer from a certain documentary structure cliche that is becoming a little too familiar of late, especially in American documentaries, but overall an informative, original and somewhat hypnotic story.


Surf Nazis Must Die
Dir: Peter George
1987
*
Peter George's 1987 cult classic Surf Nazis Must Die comes under the very specific sub-genre of Beachploitation (not to be confused with the Beach Party sub-genre). It was certainly a new one by me before watching the film/writing this review and I can't think of any other film that may fit the category. With a title like Surf Nazis Must Die you have got to deliver the goods but I'm afraid Surf Nazis Must Die really doesn't. Apart from the fantastic character of 'Leroy's Mama', Surf Nazis Must Die doesn't have anything going for it. Nothing. They're not even proper Nazis. Even for a trashy Troma film this is quite bad and I'm not sure it deserves its cult status or its cult following. That said, a remake (with a bigger budget and better writing) should definitely happen.
The Snowtown Murders (AKA Snowtown)
Dir: Justin Kurzel
2011
****
The Snowtown Murders is a chilling and grim film based on the testimonies regarding the Snowtown murders and Australia's biggest serial killer, John Bunting. Justin Kurzel has directed a brilliant film. It is visually captivating, in pace and mood. It is uncomfortable viewing but he tells the story as it is, grim, frightening but impossible to look away from. The most uncomfortable fact for many is the fact that John Bunting, at first at least, could sound like someone you might meet in a pub any night of the week. His initial targets are paedophiles, not a group anyone has much sympathy for so a real moral question is at its core that will make you think about your own thoughts and beliefs in the matter. As he then gets a little more indiscriminate (and the film gets more and more uncomfortable), the film gets more and more provocative. It is a great film but a very hard one to watch. The performances are also very good, adding to the eerie sense of realism.
Accattone (AKA The Procurer, The Scrounger)
Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini
1961
*****
Arguably one of the most impressive debuts of all time, Pier Paolo Pasolini had something to say and didn't mind taking risks saying it (he was duly arrested after filming). A tough background made him into an interesting character with interesting stories to tell, never scared to stand against political regime or religious doctrine. Here we have one of his finest films, certainly one of the finest films of the era. A blend of political and social commentary of post war capitalism and how it left many people behind. Beautifully shot in a neo-realistic, almost brutal fashion, new wave ain't got nothing on this! Why this film isn't uttered under the same breath or regarded as highly as films such as The Bicycle Thieves or Taxi Driver is beyond me, it's barely a cult classic yet other inferior imitations are embraced and celebrated. It's a masterpiece that needs some recognition and deserves to be seen by all.
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy
Dir: Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck
2011
***
No one is more surprised about then me but I quite liked A Good Old Fashioned Orgy. It had lots of funny moments, wasn't cliched and was silly without being really stupid. It also had a cast that were convincing as a group of friends and I think that is why it works so well, although I guess depends on who you ask. For my Money, I was pleasantly surprised and laughed pretty much throughout. Think of it as The Big Chill but without the moodiness beyond the years of an average 30 year old, dull conversations and without anyone dying. It's not all talk either, there is actually an Orgy as promised in the title.
Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Dir: George Hickenlooper
2003
****
Rodney Bingenheimer is more of a 'lucky charm to the stars' rather than a 'fame-f*cker' like the detestable sexual vampire that is Pamela Des Barres or the egomaniac with a questionable past that is Kim Fowley (although I quite like Fowley, he's just not as nice as Bingenheimer). Bingenheimer has both the temperament and mannerisms of Andy Warhol and he also is the epitome of Warhol's philosophy, 'famous for 15 minutes' if you will. This is an interesting look into the world of a man who hung around with music legends and possibly influenced them to a degree. It's hard not to like the film because Bingenheimer himself is just so likable. The best bit of the film for me is when his sister is being interviewed, badmouths her Brother, stating that he is unreliable and never had a real job etc only to be rendered speechless when he hands her an autograph he got Elvis to personalize for her over 30 years before that he had just found.
Skinned Deep
Dir: Gabriel Bartalos
2004
***
Gabriel Bartalos is a very talented make up artist who has worked on many a horror classics in his career, Gore being his forte. In 2004's Skinned Deep, his debut feature film, he rips every single one of the classic horrors he's worked on off. Apart from a few redeeming features, (and I have to admit there are some absolutely fantastic scenes here including Warwick Davis throwing plates at people, man with giant brain running naked in New York, Headless bodybuilder the 'Creator'), it's all down to theft. Having worked with Frank Henenlotter, Tobe Hooper, Stuart Gordon etc I can't help but think he has 'borrowed' a few ideas along the way and to use the words 'inspired by' seem like an understatement. He has not one original idea in his whole body in my opinion. Throw in the tiny budget and some terrible acting, this is not the greatest horror/comedy ever made, in fact the blatant rip offs of classics such as Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead etc is just insulting and although I quite liked the evil characters in this film, I would wager money that they are rejected ideas from previous films he has worked on. If none of that matters to you, and there is no reason it should, you will probably like it a lot.
Rope
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
1948
*****
For me Rope was the beginning of the 'Hitchcockian' genre as we've come to know it. Admired for its single take by those who don't know and celebrated by its clever editing by those that do, it was certainly the film that raised the most debates at film school. Personally, I felt this was Hitchcock's two finger salute to stale Hollywood and the cliche riddled thrillers of the time. John Dall's brilliant performance and brilliantly written character are a complete contrast to the old school (and far more limited) performance of Farley Granger (as much as I love his films). This is a new way of thinking vs. the old, a perfect thriller and one where the darker side of you wants them to get away with it, alas they don't, thanks to the weaker characters actions, therefore a reflection that film making needed a radical transformation, a fresh idea, a logical progression. You don't get a genre named after you for nothing!
FuturamaBender's Game
Dir: Dwayne Carey-Hill
2008
***
Personally, I felt this particular Futurama feature length episode (the third of four straight to video specials) to be a little inferior compared to the others. I didn't like the story much and it was all a bit of a muddle and after a while I just tuned out. Not their strongest outing but not totally without laughs. Considering it is a big part of the return of the series it should have been better but that said I'd rather watch a not so great episode of Futurama than have no Futurama at all, I love it.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015



Transcendence
Dir: Wally Pfister 
2014
***
Transcendence took some flack when it was released, some of the criticism was fair but some was a little harsh. It is an impressive debut film for anyone but then Wally Pfister is one of the worlds leading Cinematographers and was more than capable in delivering a visually stunning motion picture. And it is stunning. The story is a familiar one as it has been explored quite a few times before but not since Brett Leonard's 1992 mind-numbingly confusing computer oddity, The Lawnmower Man, has a film had such a reaction. For all of its flaws I quite liked The Lawnmower Man, thanks mainly because of its disjointed quirkiness and I feel exactly the same about Transcendence. The science is baffling, whether or not what they do is possible or not is not really the point though, it is the question of whether they should do it rather then whether they could do it that is the main point of interest. I thought this film's idea of artificial intelligence (a copy of natural intelligence) was actually quite convincing but it was the conclusion of whether or not it was true AI or actually more of a transplant that I thought was the films real strength. For all the visual beauty and clever story though I do wonder if they missed a trick, I mean, this should have been the greatest B-Movie horror ever made! I'm afraid Johnny Depp was more computer when he wasn't a computer and the supporting cast weren't really given a fair crack of the acting whip. I just wish this film had been made in the 80s, with John Carpenter or David Cronenberg in the director chair. I guess if it had been I might be writing that I'd like to see a remake done in more of a serious, updated style, and Transcendence would be it and I'd probably still like the original better. I think maybe that my criticism is probably a little harsh in places too but I have to give the film credit, it stays with you and makes you think which is more than I can say with most sci-fi films these days and I did love the ending.

Burlesque
Dir: Steven Antin
2010
*
Before you decide to sit down and watch Steven Antin's 2010 musical Burlesque you should ask yourself a few important questions. In your opinion; is Christina Aguilera so great that she can do no wrong? Do you like films that feel familiar? Do you think being the brother of a Pussycat Doll would automatically make you somewhat of an expert in the art of Burlesque? If the answer is yes, then by all means don't let me stop you from watching. If however, you believe that Bob Fosse was a genius and a soulless impersonation of his work is an insult to his legacy, another awful example of Hollywood plagiarism and a crime both cinematic and in law, then you'd be right to avoid. Also, this isn't Burlesque. It takes a little bit more than suspenders and the occasional wink to be considered Burlesque but then this film isn't even about that, it's about Christina Aguilera and her music career. Support comes from a whole range of cardboard cut-outs and Cher, who has had so much botox injected in her face she sounds like her mouth is full of bees. Alan Cumming and Stanley Tucci are two actors I really like but I can't help but think that both were hired because one is Gay and the other plays Gay well. Enough with the stereotypes already. Why would you hire Alan Cumming and not give him anything to do and why would Stanley Tucci play the same character (The Devil wears Prada) twice only four years apart? I hope they both got paid handsomely. The story is reminiscent of the the Muppet's go-to story of choice, 'We've got to save the theatre' which is a little tiresome when the Muppets do it but at least they're lovable, entertaining and believable as real people. The script is also truly awful. The last musical number is the only memorable one of the whole film but then that's because it is pretty much exactly the same as the final number from Chicago. It is shocking that it hasn't been sued by Fosse's estate but then it would mean having to actually watch the whole film in its entirety, so I'm really not sure it's worth the time, effort or money. 



Drug War (Du zhan)
Dir: Johnnie To
2012
****
Johnnie To's Drug War is the ultimate fast-paced, action packed, crime thriller. It's got everything you could want from the genre, from mystery (who is Uncle Bill?), suspense (is Timmy really working with the cops?), action (shootout at meth lab with Deaf meth lab assistants being a highlight) and thrills (the climax is worth watching the film for and is destined to be thought of as a classic moment in cinema). The acting is impeccable, the transformation that Honglei's detective Zhang Lei goes through is amazing, playing it larger than life one minute and deadly serious the next. There are a few moments of humour which seem out of place at first but they're often balanced and only add to the impact when the mood changes. This leads to quite a heart-pumping experience and an unpredictable treat. Thrilling, relentless, brutal and quite tiring, Drug War is utterly brilliant.
The Tree of Life
Dir: Terrence Malick
2011
****
Terrence Malick is a great director. It's his money, it's his time, it's his film and I believe he is most welcome to his indulgences, as far as I'm concerned he's earned it after Badlands alone. The Tree of Life is visually stunning. Stunning. The 'Creation of life on Planet Earth' scene was awesome, it took a while to adjust to the jump from domestic violence one minute to Dinosaurs the next, but it excited me more than most films have in the last few years. I think the real problem is that because it switches from the bigger picture to the thoughts and memories of one character, it can confuse and put people off. I'm not a religious man, I'm an atheist in fact, so the religious element to the film did not really interest me, especially after the very scientific Darwinist birth of life sequence. In fact, the last scene came as quite a disappointment to me. I also hate whispering. The whispering and the constantly spinning camera annoyed me. I know it represented the distortion of memory etc but for me it made the film feel a little hollow and very much a case of style over substance. I base my star rating purely on the visuals, the Dinosaurs and the 20 minute creation scene. It is stunningly beautiful but I very much doubt I will ever watch it again.
The Scouting Book for Boys
Dir: Tom Harper
2009
***
Tom Harper (who was only 29 year old at the time of directing this film) starts the film off as if it was a light-hearted coming of age TV drama, with a few goofy and somewhat exaggerated characters stuck in for good measure and based within a holiday camp community that doesn't really exist in real life. I added up his age and lack of experience, judged the book by its cover and read this film wrong. More fool me. Tom Harper is quite the illusionist and the setting, characters and fake mustache upon Steven Mackintosh's face were all part of his clever plan to distract the audience from his slight of hand. There is a dreamlike melancholia from the outset of the film, helped greatly by Thomas Turgoose's distant, subtle but effective performance. This highlights the somewhat absurd characters but then that is exactly what they are to him. The Scouting Book for Boys is a film that you will work out, little by little, over the few days after watching. The conclusion is awesome and most unexpected and a truly original surprise. It's not perfect but it impressive and certainly leaves an impression, I just hope Tom Harper goes back to film soon as British film needs a little bit more of what he's got.

Blackthorn
Dir: Mateo Gil
2011
****
Mateo Gil's Blackthorn is a great return to the classic Western that sadly passed the world by back in 2011. I read somewhere, quite incorrectly, that it is a direct sequel to the classic 1969 Paul Newman and Robert Redford team-up; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The very idea would distinguish most people's interest based on sacrilegious grounds but it isn't a sequel and should never be seen as one. It is however, a rather wonderful story based on the idea that neither Butch or the Sundance Kid died in a gunfight on the 3rd of November 1908 in Bolivia but survived, and in Butches case, into old age under the name Blackthorn. There are some great theories based on what really happened to the infamous outlaws and this is one of my favorites, no matter how fictitious it may be. The direction is beautiful, with every frame thought through and quite epic at times. The performance by Sam Shepherd is one of my favorites of his, it's nothing like the Paul Newman version we all know and love but it is just as likable in its own, but rather serious way. Blackthorn is the Western for everyone. It has the history, the mythology, the likability and the grittiness. Shepherd's Cassidy is a little bit of Newman, Eastwood, Wayne and Stewart all rolled into one but without feeling like a copy of either and the story, direction and performances are just as good as many of the films those actors have been in. It made me want to smack a Horse on the bum and ride off into the sunset but unlike George Roy Hill's classic, the life of an Outlaw is far from glamorous and adventure isn't always a good thing.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wish You Were Here
Dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith
2012
****
It's been a while since I've seen a thriller that has genuinely kept me on the edge of my seat and made my heart pump at an uncomfortable rate. Kieran Darcy-Smith's provocative and frighteningly real drama is another example of the Australians doing great thriller. I've often thought that the Australian film industry is generally (and unfairly) overlooked and with films of this calibre having global releases, I still don't understand why? Kieran Darcy-Smith is a well established actor who knows a thing or two about film making. He is one of a few interesting Australian actors who have moved behind the camera of late (Nash Edgerton, David Michod), they all seem to have worked with each other in the past, it's almost starting to feel like a movement. It reminded me of Colin Eggleston's brilliant 1978 thriller/horror Long Weekend and I wonder if it was an influence as far as overall style was concerned. The non-linear narrative is very successful and really proves Darcy-Smith's worth as it isn't an easy thing to achieve. To jump from present day to past events and back again multiple times is one thing, but to do so and nurture a growing sense of dread without complicating the story is quite masterful. The film becomes almost unbearably intense towards the end but the reward is there, making it one of the most unique and powerful dramas made in quite a long time.



Land of the Lost
Dir: Brad Silberling
2009
**
I don't know anything about the original TV series this film is based on, knowing TV adaptations these days it's probably nothing like it but I really have no idea. It does however make me want to visit the old TV series out of curiosity, as I'm guessing it pokes fun at it somewhat and when you get the references it is all the better!? Again, I don't know. I quite liked the sets; the random 50's cars/diners etc in the dessert, the Aztec looking lizard people, the dinosaur etc, visually it was pretty neat. Quite typically though with Will Ferrell films I feel that they would be loads better if they didn't actually have Will Ferrell in them. I believe that if you replaced the three leading actors with just about anyone else it would have improved the film vastly. Just think, if this was a Johnny Depp fronted film for instance, I'm sure it would have done much better. Will Ferrell just isn't funny.


The Night of the Generals
Dir: Anatole Litvak
1967
***
Sam Spiegel's 1967 War thriller is beautifully directed by The Night of the Generals and has a cast to die for including; Omar Sharif, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence, Peter O'Toole, Tom Courtenay and Christopher Plummer), all giving competitively impressive performances. The original story by Hans Hellmut Kirst has been brilliantly adapted by both Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) and Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, Escape from the Planet of the Apes) and is a wonderful mix of the very different but equally impressive body of work both men produced in their lifetimes. It's the sort of film rainy Sunday afternoons are made for, however, in my opinion the story takes a bit of a wrong turn just after half way as the Valkyrie sub-plot lets the production wander dangerously away from the main story. I feel this is somewhat detrimental to the overall film, that could have been as long as it is had it stuck to the main plot but is overlong as it in its final cut. Still, well worth watching for the unpredictable and chilling performances.


Carlos (AKA Carlos the Jackal)
Dir: Olivier Assayas
2010
*****
If a story is worth telling it is worth telling properly, especially when said story is based on factual events and real people. Olivier Assayas' Carlos (as in the Jackal) epic is perfect to the slightest little detail. Edgar Ramirez is perfectly cast as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez and gives the role his all. Indeed, the passion to tell the story correctly seems to be a shared one for everyone involved and the film and it's makers deserve the success and praise they received. At five and a half hours, Carlos the Jackal isn't the shortest of films but my eyes were firmly fixed to the screen for the entirety and not one minute is wasted.
Raiders from Beneath the Sea
Dir: Maury Dexter
1964
*
Raiders from Beneath the Sea is a misleading title to say the least, in fact the 'Raiders' are in the sea for about 3 minutes at the very most and they quite obviously didn't come from there. Maury Dexter's infamous (and rather soggy) Heist film is as bad as they say, maybe even a little worse. The overall idea for the Heist is great, it is just executed in the worst possible way ("Didn't you know it's illegal to wear a wet-suit in town?") and takes forever to get to the action. A great deal of time is spent either ogling tastelessly at Merry Ander in her swim-suit or watching someone ogling tastelessly at Merry Ander in her swim-suit. The 'Raiding' takes very little time at all and apart from a brilliant moment of 'so bad it's brilliant' special effect work, it is all very disappointing. The direction is poor, the acting is worse and the soundtrack will make you want to pour cement in your ears.
Vacancy
Dir: Nimród Antal
2007
*
Nimród Antal's 2007 horror Vacancy is poorly cast, badly acted, has an awful script, is cliched as hell and you will have seen it all before but done better. There isn't even a redeeming twist ending to make it all alright. Your husband has just been stabbed, do you a) Wait for the stabber to leave and then help him b) Attack the stabber c) Run like crazy and get some help or d) Have a little nap in the attic. If your answer is D this movie was made for you. About as scary as a pair of fluffy slippers, should have been called simply Vacant.
River of Grass
Dir: Kelly Reichardt
1995
****
He's got the Car, he's got the Girl and he's got the Gun. He's just got nothing to run from and can't get out of town anyway. Kelly Reichardt's 1995 River of Grass is a great satire, filmed beautifully but I think with tongue firmly in cheek. Kelly Reichardt has made a post-modern Bonnie & Clyde for a new generation and although it can seem slow-paced at times the last scene makes it all worth while. Stylish and funny but never obvious, this is exactly what I want to see from a low budget indie. It felt like a breath of fresh air while watching and then I still find it hard to believe it is over 20 years old. How did this slip under the radar and why isn't anyone, apart from Reichardt, making little American indies as good as this anymore?
Mr. & MrsSmith
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock
1941
***
The premise of Alfred Hitchcock's 1941 Mr. & MrsSmith had legs but the story became pretty stupid halfway through. It was the first of its kind in many respects, the role-reversal between Man and Wife was new but the sad old cliche that women are totally unreasonable and that men are stupid is somewhat tiresome. I quite liked it all the same though, the script was sharp and Carole Lombard and Gene Raymond gave good performances. For me though, Robert Montgomery's brilliant performance was enough to make the film for me, although Hitchcock fans should understand, this isn't really a Hitchcock film and I hate to say it but it may well be the birthplace of the insulting (to women I might add) and loathsome (to all) genre known as the 'chick flick'.
Carriers
Dir: David Pastor
2009
*
David Pastor's Carriers is a simple horror and a simply dreadful horror. A virus/contagion film with such inane characters that you soon wish the virus would hurry up and get them so you don't have to put yourself through any more of the overused concept/cliched characters/boring story. I'm all for young film makers making low-budget intelligent films, just don't forget the intelligent bit! It saddens me that Chris Pine looks like he's going to be the next big action star. Avoid horror fans, it's dull beyond belief. A film about Zombie Pigeons would have been much more exciting.
Elmo's Christmas Countdown
Dir: Gary Halvorson
2007
***
This is another of a long tradition of Sesame Street Christmas specials, the season wouldn't be the same without them and as always some of it is good and some of it isn't so much. It's worth watching for the Steve Schirripa and Tony Sirico Bert & Ernies sketch and the bizarre (and I mean bizarre) Jamie Foxx music number. Ben Stiller also makes quite a convincing Muppet.

Friday, 24 April 2015




AvengersAge of Ultron
Dir: Joss Whedon
2015
****
At the time of release, Joss Whedon's first Avengers adventure stood as the third most successful film of all time, so no pressure with the follow up then. There is a somewhat daft notion that is often discussed in film magazines and social media that sequels are never as good as their predecessors. There is evidence of this but also evidence to the contrary. Age of Ultron being exhibit A. The first film, especially of this magnitude, will have an initial impact that a sequel can rarely match, it's what they build on that that counts. The Avengers have been together on screen before, that thrilling experience of seeing them all together for the first time and thus making a million little nerd's (like me) dreams come true, was a one off event. Everything after that is more of the same, with invariable highs and not so highs. There really aren't that many lows. In AvengersAge of Ultron, Joss Whedon just gets on with it. Iron Man, Captain America and Thor have had their time in the limelight, we know what is happening in the Marvel universe, there is no point in discussion, Whedon starts with thrills and continues in the same vain at breakneck speed until the end credits. It's not an action overkill movie either, the idea behind the story is very intelligent and fairly jargon-light. There are hints of things to come for hardcore fans but these little snippets aren't so obscure or random that they ostracize those that aren't. The balance of humour is perfect as we've come to expect from Whedon and why he is still the perfect choice of director. This helps greatly in pointing out the comradery in the group as well as the conflict. Whedon also slips into his old horror director ways too, with elements of the film delving into thrilling nightmare that adds an extra dimension to the overall production.
 What I really liked about the film though was the fact they gave Bruce Banner, Black Widow and particularly Hawkeye some much deserved screen time. Each character is explored a little more in detail which will do nicely in the absence of any stand alone films. Other highs include the continued issue with the unsustainable Hulk (and a rather brilliant conflict with a possible solution, produced by Stark and Banner), conflict between Iron Man and the rest of the team and the inclusion of some much loved Marvel characters. Scarlet Witch and her Twin brother Quicksilver are billed as one of the big pull new elements of the film, and they are interesting additions but it is The Vision that impressed me the most. It is lovely to see Paul Bettany become more than just a voice and, if we're talking about voices, then we have to talk about James Spader. Ultron is a fantastic bad guy (he's like a bad version of Iron Man and the computer system Jarvis - like Bad Ash in Army of Darkness) but getting his voice right was imperative to the character and they got it spot on with Spader. There are a couple of low points; the ending was a little too Superman Returns for my liking and certain scenes have been so heavily edited I do wonder why they made the final cut, especially when the cut scenes are in the original trailer. I also think they made a mistake with regards to the new Avengers but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. 
 In conclusion, Whedon has done what everyone said was impossible, bring a big superhero team together without giving too much to just one character at the same time as being true to the fans and original source material as well as appealing to new fans. Again. It is more of the same but with more action, more humour and more surprises. Which is exactly what we all wanted as far as I can tell, so I'm one happy little nerd.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Maleficent
Dir: Robert Stromberg
2014
**
It's a sad day in the world of Cinema when Disney are making films based on Disney films. The opening to the film even says something along the lines of "You think you may know the story but..." which I found particularly annoying as most people now think that most Fairy tales were either written by Uncle Walt and/or that his version is the same as the original version. If we don't know the real story then it is in fact mainly thanks to years Disney rewrites. However, this isn't the work of the Brother Grimm, just another complete re-write of their original story, the character of Maleficent is a Disney product and so the bastardisation goes on. Robert Stromberg is a very talented special effects guy, however, talented special effects guy doesn't always make talented director and this is an example of that. Watching Maleficent is like being smashed in the face with a CGI hammer. The special effects are hugely overdone, when less would have been more. The CGI overpowers the film so much that by the big visual grand finale the viewer is left less impressed then they otherwise would have been. The character of Maleficent isn't particularly well written either, the transformation from good to bad is feeble and as good an actor as Angelina Jolie is, I don't think there was much here for her to get her teeth into. Overall it is a bit of a mess with few redeeming features.
The Butler (AKA Lee Daniels' The Butler)
Dir: Lee Daniels
2013
***
The Butler is a great film but it (or should I say Lee Daniels), shoots itself (himself) in the foot somewhat. The film is based on the life of Eugene Allen, a Butler who worked in the White House for 34 years serving several Presidents. There are plenty of 'What the Butler saw' scenarios to be had, and while I thought it was clever to have the character's son go on a very alternative journey than his fathers, I thought everything else was somewhat contrived. For instance, our Butler Cecil Gaines's eldest son joins the Civil rights movement and then the Black panthers before running for congress, showing in great contrast the fight for Black rights verses subservience. This works brilliantly and is enough, but then Gaines youngest son (Allen actually only had one) seems to have been written specifically to see him go to War even though the reason or indeed Gaines views on the subject are not mentioned. When you span nearly 90 years of American history you do have to skip over certain issues but Daniels seems to forget important issues halfway through. The stereotypes are a little shocking too, to the point whereby you wonder who this film is actually for. The Presidents themselves are played by a range of famous faces, all are successful but they also distract from the story and seem to be as much about having a list of big names on the poster as they are for entertainment purposes. I think Lee Daniels is a great director but this just seems like Oscar bait to me, without as much depth or substance as the story deserved. To be honest, I immediately dislike a film when the title includes the name of the director as way of ownership. That said, there is much to like about the film. The performances by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo are fantastic and are the main reasons you should watch the film and why I enjoyed it.



The Last Picture Show
Dir: Peter Bogdanovich
1971
*****
Peter Bogdanovich's American classic 'The Last Picture Show' is a combination of two things; the end of childhood and the death of the Western. The film is set in the 1950s and Bogdanovich quite wisely filmed it in glorious black and white, giving the film a dreamlike feel which helps the viewer see it as a memory, which it is, as it is based loosely on Larry McMurty's autobiography. It is based in a depressed small town just north of Texas and shows the hardship and struggle and overall lack of prospect that a typical small western town had to offer. A harsh truth that contradicts what most people associated with the area, thanks in general to the optimistic Hollywood Westerns made at the time. Ben Johnson's character represents a sympathetic version of the old school ethos of the area, thanks to the fact that he built his career as the silent Cowboy in many a classic Western. He plays it Cowboy here too, he fought with Peter Bogdanovich a fair bit to have less lines and you can see why as he is one of these amazing actors who can say so much more without the need of a script. His Oscar for supporting actor was well deserved. The whole cast is perfect, each actor bringing their best performances. Timothy Bottoms gives a wonderful performance too as he adopts Johnson's silence and plays cheeky teenager perfectly. I think it is Cybill Shepherd who impressed me most though, as the siren of the town who is conniving but also a victim of her own surroundings. She is sultry and poisonous but with an air of innocence. A real femme fatale. The Last Picture Show is the epitome of what an American classic is and should be.