dir: Shane Black
Third-parters are almost never good. They never work out well, whether in comparison to the first two instalments, or compared to any other decent films in general. Aliens III? Matrix: Revolutions? Superman III? Can you think of a third parter at least as good as what came before it? The only one I can think of is Return of the King, which many callous people think of as being The Kiwi Flick with Three Hours of Endings. But I don't, since if one happy ending is a good thing, then lots of happy endings has got to be even more super amazing.
You could argue that the difference is when the third part of a film trilogy is an organic part of the story, rather than a second sequel, whose purpose is just to capitalise on diminishing returns. Where Dark Knight Rises fits into this I couldn't tell you. Where some would argue 'necessity', others would argue 'doesn't say anything it hasn't already said twice before'. So whether it's Shrek the Third or Jaws III or Robocop III, or Spider-Man III, we're generally programmed to expect much more of 'more of the same' -ness to predominate, as well as a certain tiredness to the premise and mistakes particular to thirds that just have to be made.
I would argue that Iron Man III is the best of the three Iron Man movies. I know it doesn't seem likely, but it gets everything right both inside and outside the context of 'super hero flick' that I could hope for. It was so hellishly entertaining, so clever in many of its aspects, and thoroughly satisfying on any comic-book level I could have desired that it really is quite surprising. A pleasant surprise, not a surprise like finding a nipple growing out of your elbow.
The other argument I generally make about third instalments is that they end up repeating the events of the first flick, just in a louder and more repetitive fashion. It goes beyond callbacks and references for the geeks. Basically, the screenwriting template for 3s is 'pretty much mirror the events of the first flick, but add stacks more villains'. That's not a formula for quality. It's a formula for printing money and sadness.
dir: Sam Mendes
It’s a decent enough film, it’s just that I’m not sure how much of a Bond film it is, and that’s something I’m ambivalent about.
The tone of the flick is also fairly grim, fairly dour. It even spends a fair amount of time on the northern highlands of Scotland, which is the grimmest, dourest place on the planet.
After fifty years of these movies, I guess they needed to do something substantially different, radically different despite the window dressing. Skyfall is steeped in Bond lore, and far more grounded than the usual Bond film. When I say ‘grounded’, I don’t mean realistic, or that it’s being punished for breaking curfew. What I mean is that excluding the high energy pre-credits introduction, the rest of the flick mostly avoids the elaborate stunts and absurd gadgetry-inspired last minute escapes that James Bond is renowned for. Mostly, it shows our ‘damaged’ protagonist plodding through the plot up until the strangest ending a Bond film has ever had.
It’s the first time I can think of where Bond doesn’t save the world, and doesn’t really win, in the end, if you consider what his objective is, which I won’t spoil unnecessarily, and I guess that’s refreshing too.
I just wish it had been a bit more enjoyable along the way. Look, it works dramatically, as in, the acting is a notch above what it’s usually like in these Bond films, and so coupled with a less ludicrous plot, it means it’s satisfying as theatre. Is that what we really want from a Bond flick, though?
Skyfall has been ridiculously successful, both critically and box office-wise, so I’m pretty sure I’m in the outer on this one, because I just really can’t see the brilliance that other people are seeing.
dir: Oliver Megaton
Taken 2: The Takening? Taken Too? Taken 2: Achin’ for the Taken?
It was begging for a title worthy of parody, but they stuck with the prosaically functional. That’s a shame. If they’d had a sense of humour about it, perhaps they could have winked at the audience and made something functional a bit more fun. It’d be the equivalent of a dentist cracking jokes as he or she cracks into your jaw with shiny metal.
As it stands, Taken 2 is just about exactly the thing you expect it to be; another go-round of Taken. There’s even a bit which Liam Neeson has to say into a phone, replicating the same scene with minor alteration from the first flick, “Your mother and I are going to be TAKEN!” just in case we forgot what the fucking title on the ticket clenched in our sweaty hands was. He should have found a way to say, instead, “Kimmie, I’m about to be taken, and your mother is going to be Taken Too!” The expression on Liam’s face as he intones the actual dialogue is something along the lines of “no amount of money justifies having to say shite like this”, when it’s meant to be a look of consternation.
Liam Neeson looks even older and crankier than he did the last time, and who can blame him. To quote Bruce Willis from Die Hard 2: Die Harder, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
Very easily, it turns out, if the production company thinks there’s more money to be had going back to draw from the same well. And it’ll keep happening until the company, 20th Century Fox in this case, gives Liam Neeson permission to die.
For accuracy’s sake, they’re not just going back to the same well to draw water a second time: they’re revisiting the exact same bucketload of water to see what else they can get out of it without having to go to all the bother of bringing anything up a second time.
dir: Pete Travis
Look, I know what you’re thinking: how could a Judge Dredd movie without Sylvester Stallone possibly work. It’s a hard sell, I know. But the miracle is that this film is about the most perfect movie version of the long-running British comic book character that we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes.
No, I’m not saying it’s a great film, one that’s likely to ever have the kind of crossover appeal of The Avengers or the Batman epics (I mean crossing over to the ‘normal’ segment of the population, as opposed to the geeky or the ones who just watch any action movie as the half-eaten corn chips fall out of their gaping maws). This will probably disappear into the ether unwatched and unlamented by the discriminating masses.
That’s not much of a shame, because, honestly, who cares across this sad and beautiful world? A handful of comic book fans like me? It’s enough of a shame that they actually bothered to make a decent Judge Dredd, with a decent actor as Judge Dredd for once.
It’s a shame because every time they adapt a character faithfully from the paper medium into the one of 3D and ‘splosions, do it well, and it fails at the box office, the scumbags at the studios think “Well, we obviously didn’t change it from the source enough. Next time we’ll put in more puppies.”
This is not for everyone, in that it’s a dark and ugly flick in a lot of ways. After all, it is set in a dystopian future (so naturally they filmed it in South Africa). It is also, however, darkly funny, somewhat compelling and capable of moments of horrific beauty.
Also, if you saw The Raid: Redemption a few months ago, it’s exactly the same plot (I guess they’re good guys battling their way up a hostile residential building to kill some bad guy) which sometimes confused me when the various people weren’t talking, grunting or screaming in Bahasa Indonesian.
Karl Urban has never been accused of having too many facial expressions, and so his career has reached its apotheosis in playing Judge Dredd. He never takes the helmet off, he never smiles, he never sounds anything other than perpetually pissed off.
dir: David Koepp
There's a point in this flick where a character, let's be honest, the baddie, yells at the main character, "New York hates you" with a great deal of venom and probably a touch of insanity, but some truth.
Why is he screaming this, and at whom? A terrorist? An Occupy Wall Street protester? A Wall Street banker? Obama? Someone who works at Planned Parenthood?
No, he's yelling this at someone who's a New York bike courier. New Yorkers - and by default, all drivers and pedestrians - hate cyclists, is the message.
Is it true? I mean, I guess that there has always been a tension between people on bikes and people in cars, mostly due to envy, I guess, but I didn't think it had reached the level of being a globalised rage against those who enjoy two good unmotorised wheels on a daily basis.
People on bikes hate people in cars because people in cars can and often do end the lives of people on bikes, and drive as if they're oblivious that this could be so. This happens, very obviously, because of basic physics. The formula for calculating Force, as far as I can remember from high school science classes, is Force = Mass times Acceleration. Cars have lots of mass, and go very fast, so they do a lot of damage to weedy types on deadly treadlies.
But why do car drivers hate cyclists, then? Is it guilt, is it resentment born of the relative freedom bikes enjoy in traffic jams, or is it because of a quality ascribed to those who eschew four wheels for two? It's not really that much of a choice for many of us living in the inner city, where a car is more trouble than its worth, and a bike is a relative and far more useful necessity in comparison, at least for those of us without that much money.
There's no guessing where the sympathies of the makers of Premium Rush side on. Totally on the side of the bikes, but then again, why not?
Don't start getting cocky, middle-aged men in lycra: It's not a celebration of people on the weekends who wear all that incredibly expensive skin tight stuff bulging over their many bulges so they can chug chug along to some place nearby in order to feel like they've achieved something meaningful and healthy. Instead, Premium Rush celebrates and lionises those brave and foolhardy men and women who cycle across the metropolis of New York as if the devil himself is on their tail.
The lead character is Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), presumably named after the coyote from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. He's tasked with delivering a seemingly harmless letter from one end of the city to the other. He has an hour and a half, and, as the flick is just over 80 minutes long, it's almost, we could assume, a exercise in real-time. That would be a mistake, though, because there are plenty of flashbacks and such dragging the story out. He rides with a passion and a fury, with seemingly no fear or favour or even brakes on his bike.
dir: Simon West
Yeah, well, it’s not like I was expecting Gone With the Wind…
The first flick in what appears to be this ongoing series worked for me mostly as a palette cleanser, but also because I watched it on opening day with a good buddy also steeped in the lore of 80s action movies. Plus we were drunk, which helps anything and everything.
This I watched alone, and bemused, though not pre-emptively. I went into it hoping, like I always do, for something magical.
What I got was a tired old bunch of men who aren’t really that old trading on glories so faded I barely remember what I liked about them in the first place. Look, time and age makes fools of us all, but the main attraction is meant to be "washed up action movie stars kicking ass one last time" one more time. A Once More Unto the Breach, you ancient bastards, or we’ll fill up the wall with our retirees type of deal. And it’s not really that appealing.
Does anyone really want to look at Stallone anymore, in any capacity, for any reason? Age, surgery, obscene and illegal amounts of injected Human Growth Hormone have all conspired to make his face look like a melted wax work of himself. Gods know looks aren't everything, and I am certainly no work of art myself (unless I'm something drawn by Robert Crumb or the artists who work on Adventure Time), but at this point Stallone looks like his make-up artist is actually a mortician who hasn't been told Stallone is still technically alive. Those sounds emanating from his mouth? That's just post-mortem gas escaping. Lords know it doesn't sound like human speech.
The first flick had a lot of shit blowing up, and a lot of people being shot up so badly their bodies (CGI of course) exploded into bolognese all over the place. There were twenty or so 'good' guys, a bunch of faceless bad guys, cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnie, laborious one-liner quips delivered lazily, and a killcount in the hundreds.
It’s not that hard, it pretended to be nothing more, and it delivered. I don’t think Expendables 2 delivers even on that modest level of requirement.
The opening sees a bunch of Nepalese people in an awful town acting awful to each other. Our Heroes, led by Barney (Stallone) arrive in a whole bunch of vehicles, and do their darndest to kill all these bad guys, the main one of which is callously bludgeoning some guy strapped to a chair with a bag over his veiny, Austrian head.
dir: Tony Gilroy
The lazy joke going around when The Bourne Identity first came out was that it represented an attempt to make a James Bond-like spy film without James Bond. Now the even lazier joke could be that they're making Jason Bourne films without even having Jason Bourne in them.
The Bourne Legacy is a very transparent attempt to reboot the franchise with a new lead, but only whatever next flick they make in the series will tell if that works out, because this one is all set-up with no payoff. It doesn't even have the decency to come after the Matt Damon flicks. This is set almost concurrently, as in the events depicted here occur at the same time as The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy. Goddamn those were pretentious names for kick-arse action flicks. So our new hero isn't following in Bourne's fading footsteps, he's walking in parallel.
This one, perversely, doesn't have Our Hero, gruntingly played by Jeremy Renner, do anything particularly Jason Bourneish until after an hour of film has unspooled. I mean, he does a few action-man type things, like jumping from the top of a mountain to another quite casually, but what we really associate these flicks with is: shaky camerawork, bone-crunching fist and foot fights and car chases. Oh, and amnesia, I guess.
Legacy changes the formula by a lot. In this flick the premise is that every boss has another boss above them. The shadowy-powers-that-be within the American intelligence community who tried to make Bourne's life hell for three movies have shadowy powers behind them, and so on and so on in an endless sequence of Russian matrioshka dolls. When the character Matt Damon sexily plays in the other films causes ructions and vexation amongst the CIA, it causes headaches and internal bleeding to the people who created him as the perfect flat-topped killing machine, who shamefully don't want the world to find out how they've been spending their days and nights.
dir: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight Rises is a very good film, let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. It was like nothing I expected, and exceeded what were insanely high expectations right from the beginning and especially at the end. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s the best Batman flick we’re ever going to have access to in this universe.
In that other parallel universe, they’ll keep making great Batman flicks, Heath Ledger’s still alive, and the law of diminishing returns doesn’t apply. We, on the other hand, are stuck here in this sucky one for the duration.
Eh, it’s not too bad. After all, we have two great Batman films, at least.
I didn’t like Batman Begins that much, and I had a couple of issues with the second one too (over-edited, visually incoherent at times), but this third one not only gets everything right, but it is entrenched within the story told by the first two movies. It doesn’t stand entirely alone, and is the better for it.
It’s interwoven with the other two, with actions and decisions made in the first two films coming back to haunt all the main characters. Within that is a lot of stuff, to put it mildly. It doesn’t feel overstuffed, but it does feel like they’re trying to encompass every single level of seriousness and complexity anyone ever aspired to have in a superhero movie but was too afraid to ask for.
If Batman Begins was Year One, just to draw analogues with the comic books from which these stories sprang, and Dark Knight was a blend of Killing Joke and The Long Halloween, then Dark Knight Rises is something of a meld of The Dark Knight Returns, the Knightfall storyline and Cataclysm / No Man’s Land, which sees both Gotham and its protector broken. A starting point doesn’t dictate an ending, though. The two Nolan brothers took those storylines and transformed them into something completely their own, which is a great, great thing.
In Batman Begins, the main villain Ra's al Ghul, leader of the League of Shadows, decides that Gotham, like Carthage before it, must be destroyed. It's part of the natural balancing-of-the-world function that they like to think they provide, gratis, of course. Gotham, not really a stand in for New York, and more the metropolis of all Metropolises, is seen as being way too big for its britches. Arrogant and hubristic like an American college student on holidays overseas, the League decides the city and everyone in it must burn.
dir: Marc Webb
It’s getting to be like we’re watching these comic-book superhero flicks out of a sense of duty, rather than desire. Once The Dark Knight Rises opens next week, I don’t want to see a superhero flick for at least a couple of years. Surely, by this stage of the American summer, and the winter of our dissing content, we’re superheroed out for the year?
The Amazing Spider-Man surely was an exciting prospect to someone, everyone, a couple of people. A reboot of a recent series that did pretty well at the box office, of a familiar and almost kid-friendly property that’s recognisable the world over? But of course! But they didn’t want Sam Raimi at the helm, Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, and they did want it in 3D, and perhaps that’s what we wanted too, deep in our heart of hearts and pants.
People at Marvel / Fox: sure, Spider-Man 3 wasn’t that great, but our problem with it wasn’t Sam Raimi, or Tobey, really. It was the overstuffed plot, the crappy nature and number of villains and, for some people, the bit where Peter Parker becomes a strutting domestic abuser. I still liked bits of it, and I had a few laughs.
We like Raimi. We want Raimi. We need Raimi. Marc Webb, you’re probably a lovely guy, but you sir, are no Sam Raimi. You’re not even Ted Raimi.
And, as the new lead, the new head of the franchise, I’m sorry, Andrew Garfield, you’re not really right for the part. I thought you were, because I’ve liked you so much in almost everything I’ve seen you in, from The Social Network to Never Let Me Go, but you’re not aces as Peter Parker or as Spider-Man. Not a good fit, or the direction was lacking, whichever.
And Emma Stone as the love interest Gwen Stacy? You’re wonderful in lots of other films, so at least you have that to console you on those cold winter nights. That and truckloads of money. Generally, you’re able to transcend a lot of the generic stuff they give you in movies, with your natural charm and girlish ways, but this time I don’t think transcendence was an option. The material smothered everything that had the potential to be interesting, or the direction did, whichever.
The villain here, too, is a pretty uninteresting one, being The Lizard, or Curt Connors, as played by Rhys Ifans. It looks fine for the CGI fights, I guess, but he’s a pretty dull foil for Spidey, who goes from wanting to repair the physical handicap of an amputated arm through Science!, to wanting to kill everyone or turn them into mutants for no discernible entertaining reason.
dir: Joss Whedon
You know what this needed? More superheroes.
Not enough superheroes. Also, more scenes of Scarlett Johansson’s character Black Widow elaborating upon her back story. Because the masses needed to know.
Also, it needed more shots of Samuel L. Jackson flipping the tails of his long leather coat outwards in an ever so attractive manner.
Other than that, it’s about as good as we could have hoped for.
Despite the idea that this is a discrete ‘let’s get the band together’ supergroup combination, it’s really the sixth instalment in a series that started with Iron Man. All of the flicks I’m talking about had different directors, but the link between them all is that comic book titans Marvel set up Marvel Studios specifically to make the movies for their own properties. No longer would they have to rely on other studios to bring their stable of heroes to the big screen.
No longer would they have to share as much of the profits, either. As the sixth instalment (if you count the Hulk flick with Ed Norton, which we probably don’t have to), or fifth sequel, or whatever you want to call it, the groundwork has already been laid for all these characters, and for the promise (or threat) that they would eventually be brought together in an all-star cast match-up/mash-up. There were teases dropped in post credits on most of those flicks, or outright explicit references to getting the Avengers together for whatever reason.
And here are the fruits of their labours.
There's a lot of set up all the same, the only difference between that and the usual origin story stuff is that the set up is specific to the plot here, and not the individual sagas explaining how these chaps became the superheroic clods they've become.
dir: Boaz Yakin
Jason Statham playing a character who kills lots of people? That’s a radical turn up for the books.
In the eternal pub argument of Caveman versus Astronaut, Ninja versus Pirate and Pussycat Doll versus Spice Girl, there’s the unfortunate real world competition of which is worse: Russian gangsters or Chinese triads? This film makes the same comparison, but posits it by asking: which is tougher? The answer is, of course, Jason Statham.
Or at least the thinly veiled stand-in character for himself, some guy called Luke Wright. You know, because he’s always Right! He gets on the bad side of the Russians, and they not only ruin his life by murdering his family, they intend to keep his life in a heightened state of ruination in an ongoing fashion. It’s a curious state, because I can’t imagine Russian gangsters having the follow-through long term to keep hassling someone like they do the main character here, and not just killing him as an example to all the other noble loners out there. They tell him, as he walks the earth in the time remaining to him, that any person with whom he shares even a single human moment with, they’ll be there to kill them.
It’s not going to do wonderful things for your state of mind, I imagine. Misery upon misery, he sees the only obvious way out, but demurs at the very last moment, because he sees a girl in trouble. Thank gods there was a girl in trouble, because otherwise: short film.
This girl, Mei (Catherine Chan) is a prime asset prized by the triads, and much sought after by the same Russians who despoiled Luke’s life. What an odd convergence of paths, eh? I wonder if Luke will endeavour to redeem himself by protecting the girl at all costs?
Why is eleven-year-old Mei so sought after? Why are the triads prepared to kill hundreds of innocent bystanders to either get her back or kill her themselves? Why are the Russians prepared to give up their own firstborns in order to get their vodka-soaked, borsht-smeared hands on her?
She’s good with numbers. Really good with numbers. And plus, she’s really good at tax returns. You should see how she finds deductibles and rebates.
You can make a horrible thing worse. It’s true. It’s very obviously possible. And here we have further evidence of this sad fact as the cinema births a new monstrosity aimed at our limpid eyes.
Who takes something horrible and makes it worse on purpose? An evil fairy godmother? A ticket inspector? Dentists? And why would you?
The first Ghost Rider movie, inexplicably shot in Melbourne, was terrible in ways even dedicated viewers of Nic Cage’s films were surprised by. This second flick in this godawful franchise is worse in some expected ways, and terrible in ways that are new but should in no way be confused with inspirational entertainment.
Considering the ‘talent’ on offer here, well, I guess it could have been even worse, but it doesn’t seem likely. They could have strapped cameras to a pack of rabid dogs. They could have told Cage ‘act even crazier, the kids will love it’. They could have made the character an alien who crash-landed on Earth wanting nothing more than to understand this emotion we humans call ‘love’.
Actually, no, it really couldn’t have been worse. The unholy directorial team of Neveldine/Taylor, responsible for such films as those Crank ones, and such shit films as pretty much everything else they’ve ever touched or been associated with, don’t even seem to give enough of a fuck to make a deliberately bad film. It just kinda happened anyway in their rush to finish this exciting new instalment in a stillborn series that should never have been bothered with in the first place.
dir: Joe Carnahan
Bleak, brutal, beautiful.
But enough about my previous relationship…
The Grey is one of the bleakest things I’ve seen since The Road, which was that horrifying post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy adaptation, which was the bleakest thing I’d read since Blood Meridian, which was the bleakest thing since my previous relationship. Plus, it’s got wolves, just like my previously relationship.
Yes, enough about ruthless predators that won't be satisfied until your bones are scattered, limb from limb, across a desolate landscape…
But how could there ever be enough? The Grey is not really the film that it seems to be, at least, the film that they are marketing it as.
Yes, it seems similar to films like Alive (where a Uruguayan rugby team survive a plane crash in the Andes Mountains, get over their squeamishness and learn to love cannibalism), or Flight of the Phoenix (bunch of guys survive a plane crash in the desert, only to face death from the sun and guys on horses with guns). No, this is totally different.
In The Grey, a bunch of guys crash in Alaska, and face harsh conditions and wolves, and struggle to survive in a place where survival is unlikely.
The difference, the profound difference is, this isn't a survival story. It's a story about the struggle itself to survive: what is it, do we all have it in varying amounts, what's the point of it; the usual drill.
Actually, it's a very unusual drill. There is a difference, This flick has variously been described as a macho resurgence in cinema (it's not, it's always been dunderheadedly macho), a celebration of alpha dog masculinity (well, kinda), a recruitment poster for the NRA (bullshit), a celebration of animal cruelty (bullshit), or a flick trumpeting Man's victory over nature (nup, not by a long shot). There’s also a bunch of people saying there’s a strong spiritual component to the flick (there is), and that the flick can be seen as a celebration of faith in the Christian God.
If so, I wonder what holy incense these crazed and hallucinatory dullards are mixing in with their pious milkshakes to achieve such visions, since the flick seems to be the opposite, if nothing else, it’s arguing that God, like Nature, doesn’t give a fuck about us.
dir: Daniel Espinosa
Who doesn’t want to watch Denzel being tortured?
Not me, for one, since he’s a National Treasure. And so dreamy.
But not all of his flicks are a safe bet, these days, ever since, oh, I don’t know, he won the Oscar for Training Day and lost all sense and reason and started believing he was the badass he was portraying onscreen, and that he could keep playing that same badass no matter how good or bad the flick he’s currently in.
In a few years, he might even be picking up the flicks Nicolas Cage considers are beneath him.
Safe House is not a great movie, it’s not even a particularly bad movie, but it’s okay. It’s okay for what it is. It doesn’t really exist or linger past the actual watching of it, and it has a thoroughly pointless ending that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I did not hate it as I was watching it. I could easily hate it now, but there’s not much percentage in that.
I actually remember enjoying whole parts of it. Denzel plays a rogue CIA agent called Tobin Frost, which is a name I don’t think any African American has had in the history of African-Americans. He’s been off the grid for nine years, and surfaces in South Africa. A young(ish) and cowardly CIA agent called Matt (Ryan Reynolds) ends up babysitting the guy, and then some stuff happens to them.
And then the flick ends. A lot of lazy, glib comments have been made that this flick comes across and looks like a ripoff of the Bourne films, except with Denzel, a man in his fifties, stepping in to Matt Damon’s petite shoes. This is a ridiculous assertion. This isn’t a cheap knock-off, it’s a direct copy, since the thing all four films (this and the 3 Bournes) share in common is the same cinematographer, being Oliver Wood.
dir: Guy Ritchie
Mr Ritchie, is there something you’re trying to tell us? Your last three films have had, shall we say, a curious subtext considering the material (all violent action-y crime capers), and yet now, in the sequel to your inexplicably successful Sherlock Holmes flick, that subtext has now just become text. Congratulations? Are you making progress? Are you getting somewhere with your, um, feelings towards other men?
Long have people joked or slyly nudged nudged and winked winked over the potential for the fictional sleuthing characters of Holmes and Watson to have been, shall we say, better than the best of friends and companions. The last flick with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law as the principles humorously alluded to it in a plethora of ways. In this one, it’s flat out right up there on the screen. Holmes is jealously needling Watson over whether he’d rather be spending time with him or his wife on their honeymoon, he’s dressing up in drag whenever he can, compelling Watson to lay down with him. And, just before the film’s climax, at some diplomatic ball at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, they even dance a loving waltz together. And no-one bats an eyelid. Which is progress, of a sort.
At the conclusion of their dance, Holmes jealously says to Watson, “Who taught you to dance like that?”
You know what’s coming, don’t you? Watson whispers lovingly to him, “You did.”
Love, oh careless love.
Holmes pursues, through this shadowy game of a story, his greatest nemesis, his only worthy adversary, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris), who seems to be operating from the middle of a very complicated web. From there, or from Oxford, at least, he pulls the threads connecting countless people, with waves of his malign influence expanding across a Europe which he is priming for war. The year is 1891, so I guess he just can’t wait for 1914 to start his hoarding, profiteering and the selling of weapons to both sides of the conflict.
Holmes, as played by Downey Jnr, is just as nervy, just as dishevelled as in the previous flick, though he’s possibly even more Aspergers-like in this instalment. This characterisation rankles with a fair few people, and I’m not going to defend it. It’s a take on the character that fans, devotees of the many renditions of the character or of Arthur Conan Doyle find harder to stomach than the general public, methinks. The thing is, though, whether it is or isn't a worthy characterisation, the question for us should be whether we’re entertained by it or not.
It’s a hard question for me to answer. It’s impossible for me to see the character beyond Downey Jnr’s array of tics and affectations, in that this character feels more artificial than his suit of super armour in the Iron Man flicks.
dir: Brad Bird
Sweet Zombie Jesus, if you’re going to make more of these monstrous Mission Impossible flicks, then continue getting Brad Bird to direct, because this one’s pretty amazing. From a pure action point of view, this is probably the best action flick I’ve seen in a long while, and I watch a lot of violent action flicks. Sure, a lot of them involve Chipmunks or are on the Nickelodeon channel, but my point still stands.
These lapdog American retreads of the James Bond espionage action genre have peaked right here, and it would probably be best if they just put it aside and backed away from the franchise. But they won’t, like we all know. Success breeds laziness, so Tom Cruise will probably be making these when he’s in his 80s and still puttering around looking like a 40-year-old thanks to foetal grindings and other secret Scientological super serums. I still find Cruise somewhat scary at the best and worst of times, but I can’t fault him for his work here. This flick exemplifies its own formula, excelling with the stuff that it’s known for, which is a bunch of incredibly orchestrated heists / break-ins, high-tech trickery, complicated impersonations, and saving the world at the very last second after travelling around it first.
The travelogue this time around requires visits to Russia, Dubai and finally Mumbai for their globe-trotting fix, before returning to that wretched den of scum and villainy, known as San Francisco. This isn’t some Eat Pray Love-type journey of self-discovery where they see the world, eat rich food for the first time in their lives and sleep with gorgeous Spanish men with bedroom eyes and washboard abs. They’re out to save the world from nuclear destruction, you sighing, overly romantic ninnies!
Brad Bird is probably best known for directing one of the best of a good bunch of films; they being Pixar films, and it being The Incredibles. This is his first non-animated flick, and he handles it very well. It’s pretty emotionally spare, it just flies along and doesn’t get bogged down by anything. It waits for no man or woman to catch up, and just keeps powering ahead whether you want it to or not. It’s not going to be mistaken for one of the Bourne flicks, but nor would you want it to be.
The team in question, being the team of agents? Operatives? Supergeniuses? I dunno, but they have to break someone out of a Russian prison. That’s our starting point. Although, when you start watching a flick that you know has Tom Cruise in it, and you don’t see him within the first five minutes, you start to get nervous. Where is he, when will he appear, is he okay, that sort of thing. And you also know that it would have to be him that they’re trying to rescue. Or else our minds will be blown.
There’s high tech guy Benji (Simon Pegg), and attractive agent Carter (Paula Patton), and that’s it. Sure, some guy died in Budapest, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with the rest of the story we’ll be watching unfold in Mother Russia.
Why would they do something so unkind to Ethan Hunt (Cruise)? I mean, that’s where the guy wants to be, in a Russian prison, having Russian things done to him. As some kind of punishment, I guess, they end up getting him out, and some other Russian guy as well. Two for the price of one.
dir: Paul W. S. Anderson
You might ask yourself: why would you voluntarily see a movie that you know can’t be good? You might specifically ask me: Why would you, a person of moderate intelligence who thinks every movie made by Paul W.S Anderson is shite of the highest order, see another flick made by him, especially one that seems like the dumbest thing since someone passed a law allowing children to legally own guns?
It would be a good question. It’s not one I have a satisfactory answer for. I’ve hated this shmuck’s flicks for decades, and his flicks are definitely not improving.
But an opportunity presented itself, and so I watched it.
Historians and philosophers, centuries from now, if there are people still around then, and let’s hope they’re not, will wonder if this is the dumbest version of the Three Musketeers story, or if it’s the awesomest. Rivalries will angry up the blood. Factions will form. Lines will be crossed. Feelings will be hurt.
It’s a prelude to the war to come, you see. The two sides will eventually meet in a war to expunge the earth of those they perceive as their blood enemies, without all realising the deepest, most saddening and salient fact: it doesn’t matter, because both sides are right and both sides are wrong, simultaneously.
The Three Musketeers might be an old story written by Alexandre Dumas centuries ago, but surely he, rolling around in his musty grave, was hanging for the moment whereby the story could be rendered in eye-popping 3D? Surely all he wanted was that a film version be made that demanded the 3D surcharge for those ill-fitting glasses that work about as well as a granite condom, and that finally has the technology to add CGI airships to his ye olde story of swordplay and derring-do?
dir: Joe Cornish
Did you ever wonder what all those British youthful scumbags were doing before they started rioting through the streets of London?
Apparently, they were saving us from the alien scum of the universe.
Someone had the idea recently of ‘what if aliens invaded the Wild, Wild West?’ That movie was made, and was known as Cowboys and Aliens. Someone else had the idea ‘what if aliens invaded people’s arses?’ And that masterpiece was made. It was called Dreamcatcher. And now some dickhead thought to himself or herself ‘what if aliens invaded a British public housing estate?’
And lo and behold, Attack the Block was made.
It’s impossible to set a flick in or around a council estate, or housing commission flats, or the projects, or the Parisian banlieu or any form of public housing, without much of the underlying story being about the social commentary opportunities the location throws up. Having said that, this flick uses it as an opportunity to comment more on the actions of the protagonists, who live in these places, rather than the supposed ethics of the people or the system that places them there.
What this really means for us, the viewers, is that our protagonists, unless we share extended sympathies with them out of experience or through, what’s that term again, oh yeah, liberal guilt, is that our protagonists are fucking brats we ourselves wish we could punch in the face, let along watch an alien rip their throat out. The film has to, you’d think, if it matters to you, manage and manage well the transition from hating them to actually caring if they survive or not.
dir: Rupert Wyatt
Never has humanity’s downfall been so enjoyable or well-deserved.
Really, could it be a spoiler? Does anyone whose interest perks up at the elaboration on the title not know that, at some point, there’s this Planet, and it’s going to be Of The Apes? That there was a book about it, and a film about it with Charlton “My Hands Are Cold and Dead Now” Heston, and a bunch of other films to lesser success, and then Mark Wahlberg appeared on the scene to fuck things up?
And he wasn’t even playing an ape? How inexplicable is that?
Otherwise, the title wouldn’t resonate, and presumably, the multitudes wouldn’t care. Nah, what we craved, without knowing it, is an explanation; a grounded, believable explanation as to how the Apes came to ‘own’ our Planet, and what ‘we’, being arrogant, hubristic humans, did to allow them to take over.
Lest it sound like I’m being sarcastic as a prelude to ripping the utter shit out of this flick, let me stave off any confusion by bluntly stating the following: this is one of the best big budget flicks of the year. It works on an action level, it works (I can’t believe I’m typing this) emotionally, and it works conceptually as well. I’m not saying it’s a masterpiece, because it’s fairly familiar in plenty of ways. The brilliant aspect is the parts of the flick devoted to Caesar’s rise to power amongst his ape brethren as they get ready to become the dominant primates on the planet.
Yep, the monkeys don’t get shit in this equation. Once the humans are dealt with, anything with a tail will probably be reduced to the status of Lithuanians.
dir: Joe Johnston
This makes up for enduring Green Lantern, but not by too much.
Captain America, despite being Captain America, was enjoyable enough. The film, especially the back end, doesn’t entirely satisfy, but it was so much more enjoyable an experience, and not as actively irritating as the aforementioned shitheap masquerading as just another franchise, that it could not help but look better.
I am aware that Captain America is a relatively ancient comic book property, dating back to the World War II era, famous for a cover that showed Cap punching out Hitler. The fact that this was drawn and published during the war makes it all the more important that, thankfully, Cap’s origin story (which most of the flick is) occurs during that vital time.
So, for me, the film is of two halves; halves not of duration, but of what ‘works’ and what doesn’t. The half that looks after the evolution of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) from scrawny Brooklyn kid so feeble he couldn’t even peel potatoes for the Navy, to super soldier, works. The bit that governs the detailing of a supervillain’s plans for world domination, that villain being Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), doesn’t work as well, for me. For my money the flick made something of a mistake by shielding us from some very obvious aspects required when you set something like this during the war. I’m ignoring the stuff they do to keep the rating down (making people disappear in puffs of smoke due to convenient made-up technology is more about getting a PG-13 rating than it is about looking ‘cool’, which it doesn’t).
I know that the Red Skull is the primary villain for Cap. I just think it was a bad idea for this flick, to give this particular villain such complete prominence. The main reason is this: um, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t there already a set of potential bad guys running around the world wrecking up the place and exterminating peoples willy-nilly?
(Jusannin no Shikaku)
dir: Takashi Miike
Whenever I hear that Takashi Miike has a new film out, I wonder out loud to myself, especially when I’m on public transport, “Well, what new piece of fucked-upedness has he come up with now?” I mean, after all, this is the demented Japanese director responsible for, in a criminal sense, films like Audition, Ichi the Killer, the yakuza Dead or Alive trilogy, Visitor Q and a whole host of other flicks so vicious I don’t even want to quote scenes from them, because it’s too traumatic to remember.
Suffice to say, there’s never, apparently, been a moment where he’s thought of depicting something on screen that is vile, horrifying, obscene or demented and thought, “Nah, that’s too fucked up, even for me.”
Whatever depravity he’s previously been responsible for, he still remains a completely flexible director with the ability to make any kind of Japanese flick in any kind of Japanese genre, which, to use an overused phrase, ranges from the sublime to the truly, hideously ridiculous.
Instead of spending time talking about the truly horrifying and nightmare-inducing stuff I’ve seen in all his other films, which is tempting in the extreme, I’ll just talk about this film, which is surprisingly solid.
I say ‘surprisingly’, because it surprises me how straight Miike plays it. It’s the kind of straight-ahead samurai flick that I’d expect more from directors like Yoji Yamada and Hiroshi Inagaki instead.
Yes, household names, I’m sure, but at the very least they’re old-school guys who made old-school (though, in Yamada’s case, certainly revisionist) samurai flicks.
If you have any familiarity with Japan, and with samurai flicks, and with Japanese samurai flicks, you know one thing clearly above all others: it’s all about Death. Death permeates and suffuses every single goddamn word of dialogue, moment and scene of almost every single goddamn samurai flick. Yes, I know that someone dies in almost every flick, especially action flick, you care to think of.
But death is inextricably linked to these flicks even more than the usual war flick. The entire social order depended up shame and death, for which the overwhelming two rules of this particular cultural Fight Club being “die at the soonest opportunity for your clan” and “die at the slightest provocation for your clan”.
And yes, as I’ve said in the past, it’s almost absurdly comical to see the lengths samurai go to in order to hold up their or someone else’s honour by killing themselves at the slightest faux pas or stubbed toe or sneeze out of order.
The difference in this story is, well, sure a bunch of samurai want to die, and they want to take a bunch of people out with them, but they want to do it for a good goddamn reason. And if they don’t die, well, that’d be sweet too.
dir: James Gunn
It’s almost time enough to get sick of all these goddamn superhero flicks. One’s coming out every week or so. I’m also starting to tire of the slightly sarcastic flicks that comment on those flicks by having some doofus with no powers, skills or abilities, decide to mimic the best and worst of Marvel and DC et al, by donning a costume and fighting crime on their own terms.
I didn’t like Kick-Ass that much. I also don’t think much of Super is that brilliant, which similarly has some mentally ill subhuman dress up and ‘fight’ crime. It’s probably a better flick than Kick-Ass, mostly because it wasn’t such a shallow wish-fulfilment pandering piece of shit. Of course Super’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have an unhinged Nic Cage performance in it.
In his place is Ellen Page, bringing the crazy in an entirely different way. She’s not the main character, though. She’s just the demented sidekick.
Our main character is Frank (Rainn Wilson), who has both the air of the sadsack and the schizophrenic about him. Through circumstances too fantastical to contemplate, he got married to a woman that looks like and is played by Liv Tyler. To partially explain how such a circumstance could arise, her character, called Sarah, is an addict in recovery, who latches on to Frank because her judgement is severely impaired, and because Frank is the first guy in a while who treats her kindly.
Such a fairy tale can’t last forever, and there comes a time when Sarah leaves him for the local crime boss, inexplicably played by Kevin Bacon, who looks inexplicably sleazy as well. Sarah ends up back on the needle and presumably on the pole as well, and this fills Frank with an inchoate rage.
dir: Martin Campbell
Well, this was a bad idea.
I know the people at DC Comics must be deeply envious of all the tainted money Marvel is earning through the morass of movies it’s been putting out lately (Iron Men, Thor, Captain America, et bloody cetera), but that’s no reason to try and convert every hero on its roster into a Hollywood product. This was, just… fuck… bad all the way through.
Imagine peering off a ledge into an abyss, and feeling the fear it naturally engenders. Step back, but then realise that it’s not an abyss, because it’s filled with shit, shit all the way down.
That’s kind of how I felt watching most of this flick. In a year which has already seen the release of a terrible flick with Green Something as the title, this terrible property wasn’t going to get an easy run. It doesn’t help that it’s such a dumb premise.
I will admit that I’ve never read word one of a Lantern comic, nor am I ever likely to. I don’t doubt that there’s possibly abundant wonderfulness to be found therein, but I’ve just got no goddamn interest. You could rightly wonder why, in that case, I would go out of my way to watch a film about a character and a storyline I have no interest in. Also, considering the poor reviews, I should have known that there wasn’t going to be much of worth to latch onto.
Well, good point. I can’t argue against it. I went in expecting something substandard, and found it was even worse than I could possibly have imagined.
The reasons why aren’t really due to the silliness of the premise (bunch of people with magic rings) or the Big Bad (an angry cloud), it’s just the array and the sequence of bad decisions made along the way that deliver this abortion as an end result.
It doesn’t help that Ryan Reynolds is terrible as the lead character, either. I have, no shit, seen him deliver a good performance as an actor. I’m sure he’s capable of great acting, since, after all, he did convince Scarlett Johansson to marry him, and that’s pretty good work, for a Canadian. Mostly, though, his performances and his voice make me feel like someone is yanking a nerve out of my neck with some pliers.
dir: Michael Bay
Michael Bay returns to fuck the proverbial metallic donkey again for fun and profit…
The last time I reviewed a Michael Bay – Transformers film, I made the point that Michael Bay is a donkeyfucker of long standing, who delivers exactly what he promises: 2 and a half hours of shiny, shiny donkeyfucking. As such, considering the vitriol his directorial abominations garner, I was simply stating the obvious that, whatever Bay’s actual intentions, pretentions and beliefs regarding the quality of the donkeyfucking he delivers on demand, he delivers exactly what he promises to the great unwashed texting, tweeting masses.
No-one expects either the Spanish Inquisition or decent acting performances from anyone in these flicks. No-one especially expects Shia La Fucking Beouf to act any better than he’s ever managed to in the past, because he’s always been terrible, and will always be terrible, unless they somehow mutate him in a lab or a meteorite crashes into his hideous head.
So what do people expect from a Transformers / Michael Bay donkeyfuckfest (I promise this will be the second-last time I use that phrase)? They expect a stupid plot that a child would feel insulted by, they expect an unnecessarily-elongated running time, and they expect big shiny robots transforming into other stuff, and then transforming back into robots in order to fuck shit up. And explosions, lots of explosions.
And he delivers exactly that level of prophesised crap. Nuns shouldn’t go to brothels in order to be shocked, SHOCKED at what happens there. You don’t voluntarily go to a sex show in Tijuana and turn around apoplectic with incredulity at the ripe piece of donkeyfucking you’ve just seen unfold before your disbelieving but slightly aroused eyes.
All you can do is complain about technique, style and duration, not about your abject surprise as to the content.
In this third unbelievable instalment in this mega-successful franchise that’s earned billions and billions of dollars, Michael Bay has his way with our precious human eyes and history the way the recent X-Men flick had its way with our 20th Century history. Instead of implying that the Cuban Missile Crisis was caused by and solved by good and evil mutants, this flick implies that the reason the moon landing even occurred was because of something that happened as part of the war on Cybertron, the planet where Giant Robots come from. So, sixty years ago or so, a robot spaceship crashed on the dark of the moon. Not the Dark Side of the Moon, but, as the title indicates, the Dark of the Moon.
Is that the only instance of profound leotardedness this movie is going to offer? Heavens to Betsy, No!
dir: Matthew Vaughn
Saying this is one of the best X-Men flicks is sort of like claiming some guy is the richest corpse in the graveyard, or that a particular stripper is the biggest drug addict at her strip club. A better competition that First Class wins is being one of the better, if not the best, of the flicks based on comic book properties that have come out this year thus far.
To be honest, it’s been pretty slim pickings, so it doesn’t mean the flick is that great. Just that it’s okay.
American summers result in the biggest blockbusteriest shitpiles being shat out upon the world, which is why most of the ‘best’ bets, like comic book flicks, come out at this time. Are audiences at their most pliable, most docile, most leotarded? Whatever it is, here we are, and here it is, a gift to those of us who usually have to grit out teeth and endure these types of ‘events’.
It also serves as something of a history lesson for the less well informed. As an example, you thought that the Cuban Missile Crisis (if you thought of it at all, which is unlikely, considering how long ago it was) arose from the US and the USSR waving their dicks at each other, casting long shadows over the happy totalitarian nation of Cuba, and leading the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. What you didn’t realise is that it happened because of a bunch of goddamn mutants.
Yeah. Mutants. Especially an evil Nazi mutant called Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). His diabolical plan is to kill all the normal people in the world with radiation or the preceding explosions triggered by a contretemps between the superpowers, allowing the new mutant race to triumph over the boring, tired species known as Homo sapiens.
Oh, Shaw is thoroughly evil, clearly. We know he’s evil because even though he didn’t agree with the Nazi’s Solution Finale (it sounds slightly classier in French), he had no problem, obviously, with torturing and killing Jews for the purposes of Mutant Science.
When he views a young Polish Jew warp the metal concentration camp gates separating him from his beloved parents using some kind of power, he sees in this chap the chance for glory. It’s what every psychopathic mutant longs for. He takes - what would be for other people extreme steps - to motivate this young Erik Lehnsherr into using his power at will.
The problem is, it doesn’t work at will. It only works when he’s really, really upset, or enraged. So what the fuck does Shaw do? He kills Erik’s mother, right in front of him, to compel him to move a goddamn Nazi coin.
Is that all? That’s pretty small beer, isn’t it, Sebastian? And what is it about guys named Sebastian always being depraved, louche individuals, whether it’s Evelyn Waugh novels or X-Men comics? What's with this hatred of guys called Sebastian?
Surprisingly, none of this leaves Erik with any deep admiration for Shaw or for the Nazis. Their epic failure in relation to the war doesn’t cause Erik’s hatred for them to abate, so as an adult, so awesomely played by Michael Fassbender, he turns into a very motivated and very violent Simon Wiesenthal-like Nazihunter.