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What makes a good X-Men film?

9 Jul

With the release of X-Men: First Class, and the success that it has achieved, both critically and commercially, it is now time to ask the question that is on everyone’s lips: what makes a good X-Men film?

There have been a total of five X-Men films now, all of them are linked and all of them share cast members. Each has a large cast and across the life of the franchise no less than four different directors have transitioned the characters to film. Brett Ratner, Bryan Singer, Danny Wood and Mathew Vaughn have all helmed, however out of them, there are those who are clearly better at directing superhero films.

So, let’s start with the directors. Danny Wood directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Mathew Vaughn directed X-Men: First Class, Brett Ratner directed X-Men 3 and Bryan Singer directed X-Men and X-Men 2. Prior to X-Men, Danny wood directed the Academy Award winning Tsotsi, Brett Ratner had cut his gums on the Rush Hour series, Mathew Vaughn directed the superlative Kick-Ass among others and Bryan Singer broke into the scene with The Usual Suspects. These are all very different films, and indeed none are specifically similar to any of the X-Men films. Yes, some elements are comic, as in Kick Ass,  some are touching as in Tsotsi, some are very action orientated, as in Rush Hour and the intrigue present in The Usual Suspects is very much alive in the X-Men films. Does that mean that anyone of these directors has a different expertise that benefits the franchise more? No, it does not.

On closer inspection, it can be seen that one thing holds two directors above the others, that is a love of comic-books. Matthew Vaughn and his writing partner Jane Goldman have in the past adapted the work of Neil Gaiman and Mark Millar for the silver screen to explosive effect and clearly love the genre, their dialogue and understanding is near unmatched in the film industry. Bryan Singer is a comic-book geek, he loves the characters and has grown up with them. Alone, a love for the genre and the characters does not guarantee a good superhero film, Zack Snyder loved Watchmen a little too much, suffocating the film while Christopher Nolan, only vaguely interested in Batman beforehand, revolutionised the genre. What elevates the films of Singer and Vaughn is the balance between love and technical ability. While Wood and Ratner are both technically competent directors, they don’t care much for the characters, and indeed X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are very much exercises in style over substance.

That is not to say that the characters present in X-Men aren’t exercises in style over substance themselves. Who among the X-Men has real depth? Xavier is an all-powerful rich boy, Wolverine is nigh-on indestructible, Storm is Halle Berry and Mystique can become anyone. There are those who have suffered real trauma and difficulty, such as Magneto, Nightcrawler, Rogue and Beast, yet they are never truly the focus. It is when an X-film gives more breathing room to its more troubled characters that they truly begin to rise. After all, that is what the X-Men are, the representatives of genetic diversity fighting against the bigotry and fear present in the world, frightened teenagers and troubled adults who have to come to terms with overwhelming responsibility. X-Men 2 and X-Men: First Class touch on these themes to varying degrees and are all the better for it, with the truly interesting characters being given plenty of time in the sun. Again, this is where Wolverine and X-Men 3 fail, both are nothing more than glorified action scenes pasted together with vague attempts at pathos.

So, it has been established then, X-Men: First Class and X-Men 2 are the best examples of the X-franchise, while Wolverine and X-Men 3 fall flat. The directors are what truly make the difference in these productions. From casting, to scriptwriting, to producing, the directors have had a hand in many aspects of the final product that constitutes each film, not least shooting it. Danny Wood and Brett Ratner fall short where Mathew Vaughn and Bryan Singer stand tall.

So what makes a good X-Men film?

The director.

So, where next? Fox has stated that they envisage a trilogy being produced from the newly released X-film, something which should surely be celebrated. Whether it will be Mathew Vaughn at the helm is something that is yet to be seen, but one thing is sure, now that we know what happens when toads are struck by lightning and that you shouldn’t mess with the Juggernaut, bitch, we can comfortably look forward to more X-drama, X-fun and most importantly, X-citement.

Sean Cameron

Green Lantern review

9 Jul

DC comics has been shitting itself recently (not literally). The reason for said shitting-of-selves has been caused by Marvel comics. Marvel have floated a wide range of superhero projects on the movie market, with the likes of Thor, X-Men, Iron Man and Blade among others achieving great success. That was over one decade. In the same period, DC have released one Superman movie and two Batman movies. They were good, and indeed in the case of Batman they were hugely successful, but they haven’t enjoyed the broad success that Marvel has enjoyed.

This, the Green Lantern, was an attempt to launch a less well known property onto the general public. The Green Lantern, as directed by a geriatric Kiwi, Martin Campbell, had a budget of over $300 million. And you can tell.

This movie suffers slightly from a case of style over substance. The computer effects are great. Blake Lively is gorgeous (even if she wears so much make up she looks Hispanic at times), Ryan Reynolds is buff and easy going in the way that he always is. Tim Robbins hams it up as a crooked senator and Mark Strong uses his intense eyebrows to the same effect that he achieved in Robin Hood as Sinestro (probably the villain planned for the sequel). But while the cast are running around being likeable, there is a palpable lack of urgency in every major plot development, and oddly, although a great deal of exposition is delivered, not a lot is actually explained.

This is partially because the Green Lantern is perhaps the worst written of all DC characters. He has a magic ring (tech-based for those post-1959 revamp) that allows him to forge solid energy constructs, essentially granting him unlimited power. However if something is yellow (the power of fear, obv!) he cannot affect it. And through the wearing of a tiny mask, no one can recognise who he is, a la Clark Kent. Before that he is an ordinary guy (who drives fast cars, sleeps with hot girls and flies fighter jets with Blake Lively). We don’t get any sense of who Hal Jordon is. Sure, he doesn’t like responsibility, but beyond a weird flashback about his father, we don’t get any sense of motivation. Lively doesn’t bring much to her underwritten role, and most characters fall a little flat. Peter Saarsgard shines as a mad scientist, however he isn’t given enough air time and feels tacked on at occasionally.

It feels at times, that Martin Campbell didn’t understand the Green Lantern. We are treated to beautiful sweeping shots of space and a gloriously weird planet, however, we don’t spend much time there. We spend most of our time following some trans-dimensional smoke octopus guy who sucks the yellow out of people, an intergalactic bogeyman. Parallax is non-threatening and is merely a foil for a plot.

In short, Green Lantern is all fur coat and no knickers. They’ve spent a fortune making the film look good and spent far too little developing a script with meaning, character and wit. By all means go and see it, but expect popcorn entertainment and nothing more. The Green Lantern won’t be remembered as the greatest comic book film of 2011, but it is a pleasant light show nonetheless.

Sean Cameron

3/5

Hall Pass review

12 Mar

Hall Pass

The Farrellys were once the bright young talent in the comedy scene. They helped pioneer the gross-out comedy with such films as Dumb and Dumber and the infamous There’s Something About Mary. These films were notable for having a warmth to their characters that was somehow conveyed through all the pee and poo jokes. That was the 1990’s, for the Farrellys a much better era.

Jump to the year 2011 however and it is apparent that they have lost most, if not all, of that stinking lustre which they once possessed in buckets. They are the anti-Midas in today’s film industry, everything they touch turns to crap. Case in point: Hall Pass.

This film contained real promise. After real duffers such as Shallow Hal, Fever Pitch and The Heartbreak Kid, this film seemed to offer a glimmer of hope. Owen Wilson, noted funnyman, signed up, as did Stephen Merchant and Christina Applegate. The project seemed to have at least a little respectability and many heralded it (before release) as a return to form: it is not.  The fertile writing ground that this film offered has been completely squandered.

The story is this. Men are unhappy. Wives propose armistice. Men can go and indulge carnal desires. A man poos in a field. Men aren’t successful. Men go home, make peace and all is well.

Their other halves suffer in wholly underwritten roles, the two protagonists were apparently scripted in 2D and the gags just feel tired and flat. Hall Pass tries to be so much more than the sum of its parts, unfortunately those parts don’t equal an awful lot.

Mark this as the beginning of a long protracted end for the Farrelly brothers, no patch on Apatow are they.

Sean Cameron

1/5

Ironclad Review

6 Mar

Ironclad

Do you like violence? Do you like gore? Do you like re-workings of history? Then you’re going to love Ironclad!

Paul Giamatti is a scene chomping King John who is seeking revenge against all who forced his name onto the Magna Carta. Solomon Kane (sorry, James Purefoy) and King Agamemnon (*ahem*, Brian Cox) don’t take kindly to this. In fact they hate the idea so much that they start an armed rebellion in the best tradition of all Braveheart clones. Limbs and entrails fly, as does sanity, right out of the proverbial window.

That isn’t to say that the film isn’t fundamentally enjoyable, it is. Like 300 or the aforementioned Solomon Kane, Ironclad is at its best not when trying to have historical or emotional significance but rather when it is indulging in its baser side. The story increasingly devolves into ever more violent set pieces, as though the director figured this out half way through. As a result of this, everything becomes more than a little incoherent, it takes skill to hold a coherent narrative above all the action, skill that the mentioned director does not have. On the fun stakes it is fine to have people fight without reason, so long as the action is stylish, however trying to balance this on the story stakes as well requires the precision that only the Tarantinos, Gibsons and Snyders of this generation possess.

In short, Ironclad is a fine way to spend an afternoon, a bit of fun with no real significance. Don’t expect any high flights of cinematography or art, just be prepared to enjoy three solid central performances and a hell of a lot of blood.

Sean Cameron

3/5

Batman: What Next?

6 Mar

Batman: What next?

Batman is among the most famous of comic-book characters and he is certainly the most written about comic book character in existence. Countless tales involving the Caped Crusader have been woven for over seventy years now. Across film, comics, literature and videogames his story has been told and retold to successive generations.

It is in the medium of film however that Batman now receives his greatest accolades and attention, mainly thanks to the involvement of one Christopher Nolan. The director has reinvented the tale of the Dark Knight for a new millennium. Across Batman Rises and the Dark Knight and helped by an impressive performance from Christian Bale, he has remoulded Batman as a character. Gone is the anti-shark spray and gone are some ridiculous enemies (here’s looking at you Penguin). This version of Batman is dark, sanitised from the wackier realms of imagination and unafraid to philosophise.

This article will speculate as to the story of the next Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises and offer some insight as to what is next for the World’s Greatest Detective.

As has been established, Christopher Nolan isn’t one for frippery; it is presumable that the tone he has established will be continued. So far Tom Hardy has been cast as Bane, Marion Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon Levitt as the Black Mask, (it is less Batman and more Inception 1.5).

So let’s elaborate, Bane is a remarkable choice for a main villain. In Batman and Robin (1997) he was little more than a buffoon, in the comics though, he was a different story altogether. What is remarkable about the Batman universe, or at least the Nolanverse, is that very few villains can match Batman in a one-on-one conflict. Bane in every incarnation has been a muscle-bound, hyper-intelligent wrestler-a-like man. When first introduced in the 1990’s he broke open Arkham Asylum (like a gothic Alcatraz for all of Batman’s foes) and left Batman to clean up the mess. By the end (two months later) Batman was physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. In that time Bane had figured out his secret identity as Bruce Wayne and had also discovered the Batcave. He waited there and when Batman arrived, he promptly snapped his spine, crippling Batman.

The seriousness of this in the comic book universe is easy to overstate. Death is a recurring theme in comic books, however it is never an obstacle when you have parallel dimensions, magic, demonic bargains and all sorts of other avenues back to the realms of the living. However, presuming Bane performs a similar stunt on Nolan’s Batman, this would be a big deal. With no magic to heal or revive him, all injuries would be permanent.

Now we move on to Talia Al Ghul. The devoted daughter of Ra’as Al Ghul (Liam Neeson in Batman Begins) she is portrayed as an excellent hand-to-hand combatant and capable with advanced weaponry. What is intriguing about her is that she has been a recurring love interest of Batman’s throughout the comics for a number of years. In some stories she even bears him a son, Damien Wayne. It is more than likely that she’ll arrive looking for Batman’s blood, while this may seem slightly cliché, Nolan’s movies, while often bearing unconventional themes, often have conventional plotlines. He killed her father, so she arrives to kill Batman.

As for Anne Hathaway, she is a somewhat leftfield choice for the character, it can be assumed that she’ll perform well in the role, but whether she can quite perfect the mixture of sex appeal and danger that make Catwoman unique is yet to be seen. At least it isn’t Halle Berry in the role. Nolan’s Catwoman will presumably be a million miles from either a Burton-esque feline resurrection or a (rubbish) moisturiser transformation. However she comes into existence though, one thing is important, in the comics, Catwoman and Batman have the hots for each other, (it seems as though Bruce Wayne, whether Batman or not, has dated every woman under the sun). It has been speculated that Batman might be missing at the start of the movie and that she might fill the void left by him, presumably not using his non-lethal methods however

Our last character to analyse is that of the Black Mask. The Black Mask is one of the lesser known Batman villains. He basically performs the same role as that of the Kingpin in Spiderman, that is to say he is the lord of all organised crime in Gotham. In the Dark Knight, the Joker makes something of a mess of the organised crime bosses. It is presumable that either in the period between the films, or the speculated absence of Batman, that the Black Mask will arrive and take over all crime in Gotham. The Black Mask is notable in that (at least in the comic books) as the result of a childhood accident, his face was horribly deformed and closely resembles a pitch-black skull. It can be assumed that such an unlikely injury will not be present in the Nolanverse, rather the black skull will be an actual mask. The Black Mask will probably be the villain equivalent of Batman, wearing the mask to hide his true identity so he can keep up appearances as a ‘respectable’ business man. The Black Mask is also significant to Batman since he was a figure his youth, they were both boyhood play pals as their parents were friends.

Given this analysis, the story may go a little something like this: Batman is absent from Gotham, undertaking either a personal mission, or taking a break from being Batman, or being so disenchanted with the image of Batman that he cannot make himself don the black cowl. Nonetheless he is also in mourning, both for his love Rachel Dawes and lawman Harvey Dent.  In his absence and in Bruce Wayne’s withdrawal from public life, the city has gotten much worse. Crime plagues the street and organised gang activity is on the rise due to the appearance of a new shadowy figure, nothing much is known of him, except that he wears a Black Mask. Attacks become more frequent and violent. As a result of this a new champion of the people arrives, Catwoman, however she is no patch on the man she replaced. With ambiguous morals she steals as much as she saves. It is into this chaotic situation that Batman returns. He quickly sets things on the path to recovery, the Black Mask’s thugs are useless against him, and his operations are greatly disrupted. Bruce Wayne resumes his public life, however a mysterious new woman has appeared on the Gotham social scene, intelligent, charming and beautiful she soon works her way into his heart. After this happens, Catwoman also encounters Bruce Wayne, this time as Batman. He attempts to force her chaotic ways, but soon her seductive ways prove too much for him and they end up romantically linked also. Emotionally fragile since the death of Rachel he enters into this unusual love triangle. Each of his women don’t know of the alter egos, Catwoman of Bruce Wayne and Talia of Batman. He is forced to ask the question, is Batman the mask for Bruce Wayne, or is Bruce Wayne the mask for Batman?

Meanwhile, the Black Mask has become ever more impatient and in his hysteria decides to bring someone in to kill Batman. Whom he chooses to perform this task is none other than Bane, a hulking figure with a formidable intellect. Bane enters the fray and soon Batman is on the run for his life…

Whether this is or is not the case is yet to be seen, however it is presumable within the bounds of logic that it may be.

Research for this article was based around graphic novels. It is highly recommended that you read some of these if you plan to conduct research yourself, excellent examples include, Year One, The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum.

As for what happens next to Batman, who knows? Christopher Nolan has plainly and authoritatively stated that he has no interest in directing another Batman film, especially with sequels to Inception in the works along with his involvement in the new reboot of the Superman franchise. How the story pans out is heavily dependent on the director. The films have made too much money not to see another picture produced. A new director would most likely remove the existing cast, (they are all going to be in Inception 2 anyway) and reinvent the origins of Batman once again.

It is needless to say that Batman will always continue to exist, so long as the character is reinvented.

Drive Angry – review

27 Feb

Drive Angry

Once upon a time there was a boy who grew up in great luxury. He was the nephew of a very famous director and could have anything that he wanted. What he wanted was to be an actor. So he tried and tried, but felt that he was treated differently because he was privileged. So he changed his second name to that of America’s first black superhero and set off into the acting world.  He made some good films (Raising Arizona), some bad films (National Treasure) and some preposterously titled films (Bangkok Dangerous). Drive Angry ranks among the latter category.

Titles that deal in B-movie schlock are ten-a-penny these days, films such as Machete, Planet Terror and Deathproof revel in their roots and have found a considerably sized audience on both sides of the Atlantic. It is to this audience that Drive Angry attempts to appeal. With tits, guns and gore by the bucketload this is a no-holds-barred crass comedy that attempts no great feats of cinematography. This in itself is no crime, however coupled with an inane sense of humour, bum-fluff plot and Cage’s nonsensical blond wig it makes for a frighteningly bad film.

The story, as was inferred earlier, is pure hokum. Angry Dad (Cage) comes back from hell to get revenge on the bad men (Satanists) who killed his daughter. There is also something to do with a demonic accountant and a pretty girl/stripper-in-denial who happens to drive a 1969 Dodge Charger (as waitresses do). Cage swears and drinks himself to hell and back again, shoots people and does his best to look as cool as possible with some sort of dead mammal on his scalp.

All in all, if you like bad cinema, this is for you, however if you value your eyeballs and eardrums, then this film avoid.

1/5

Sean Cameron

Top Ten Worst Horror Movies

24 Dec

10 Worst Horror Movies

10. Final Destination

Final Destination is on this list not so much for being an incompetent film as just a weird film. There are several elements to this weirdness, but all of them are centred on the core premise. A guy has a vision of his own death. Having received this vision he avoids said death, along with several other teenagers. Since they were ‘supposed’ to die and didn’t, Death (that is the elemental personification of Death) thereafter takes a personal interest in seeing to their demise. So far, so weird. This is just the beginning however. Over the course of the film it becomes apparent that Death doesn’t have a lot in his schedule and watches too many cartoons. Overly complex and convoluted deaths abound, often with an Acme twist, forcing an already silly plot to supreme levels of idiocy. This, along with stilted and wooden acting, unimaginative scene setting and a hammy script ensure Final Destination’s reputation as a bad horror movie.

9. Return of the Living Dead III

A little known film in many circles, Return of the Living Dead III was a film among the 80’s splatter era, and is a prime example of why that era sucked so bad. Basic premise: boy’s girlfriend dies, boy goes to Colonel Father and asks him to re-animate her. Colonel Father, in the best traditions of army whack-jobs, agrees and they promptly give her a dose of zombie gas. She wakes up, makes a snack of a few Latino gangsters and begins a new zombie apocalypse. Despite the obviously masterful plotting, what really lets this film down are the special effects. In that time of ketchup-for- blood, the special effects department managed to come up with zombies that looked as though they had wandered in from a children’s play. What ensues is just plain embarrassing, the cast seem to agree. Watching bored people run away from clay-mation monsters that they evidently don’t care about is not a way to spend an afternoon.

8. Black Sheep

This 2006 fable of killer sheep is a good example of a special kind of film. This kind of film is based around one single joke, ala Killer Tomatoes etc. The single joke that Black Sheep is based around is instead of turning into a Were-wolf, someone turns into, yes, a Were-sheep. How hilarious! Oh, and they could set it on New Zealand! And run the tagline “Get ready for the violence of the lambs!” or “Get the flock out of here!” or even “There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand…and they’re pissed off!” As this concept demonstrates, there may be beauty in simplicity, but there is also a hell of a lot of stupidity. Black Sheep fails to engage on every level. It is clear that once the writers had come up with their core idea they let everything else write itself albeit badly. The humour is confusing at best, and in a comedy horror, that is simply inexcusable. Save yourself and your eyeballs the bother and stay away, you have been warned.

7. I Am Legend

I Am Legend is a film about Will Smith showering. Oh, sorry, got it wrong. I Am Legend is a movie about Will Smith exercising and driving a fast car. Ah, damn, again. I Am Legend is a movie about world renowned biologist Will Smith being the last and therefore coolest man on earth fighting bad CGI albino vampires by night and showering, exercising, driving a fast car, playing golf on an aircraft carrier and getting emotional with a dog by day. Yes! Got it right! Oh yeah, the film is rubbish too, for the definitive last man on earth experience watch 28 Days Later, to see Will Smith be Will Smith, watch this.

6.  The Village

M Night Shyamalan has been taking a lot of stick recently. Every movie that he has done since The Sixth Sense has been derided to varying degrees, and the Village is a prime example why. It starts with an intriguing premise (as Shyamalan’s screenplays tend to), there is a village in ye olde times. This village is surrounded by a large forest, a dark forest in which exists unnamed creatures. The villagers have a truce with these creatures, they stay out of the forest and the creatures stay out of the village. Then one night the truce is broken and all hell breaks loose. It is at this point that he makes the mistake that he has been making ever since, confusing plot twists for actual plot. We are lead through a story so labyrinth that it is impossible to follow and the film suffers as a result. A poor showing given such an original premise, as such it is rightfully panned.

5. The Howling

The Howling makes for an easy entry on this list, both for being terrible and spawning a million sequels which were even worse. In this most abhorrent of features we follow our protagonist Karen. Karen is a news reporter. One day she is felt up by a bad man. Then she is upset and goes to a resort to recuperate. She is sad when she arrives because the people there are weird. This is because they are werewolves. Then she kills them all with a macguffin, turns into a werewolf herself and is killed also. As a story, The Howling is uninspired and contrite, as a movie it is awful. With many incoherent and unexplained moments, terrible effects, protracted painful dialogue and muddy lighting the film as a whole is amateurish, dull and confusing.

4. The Wasp Woman

It is a shame to drag this film up from the depths of history, however it ultimately necessary, let us elaborate. The Wasp Woman was made in 1959 on a shoestring budget (these shoestrings evidently belonged to a hobo) and is one of the single most boring films ever made. Poorly received in the day, it fares even more poorly in the present day. The basic premise is this: an anti-aging cream is invented which uses “wasp enzymes”, a female CEO of a cosmetics firm takes notice and uses the cream herself to great effect. However as time passes she changes and inevitably becomes the titular wasp woman. Halle Berry Catwoman comparisons aside, this film is let down by an awful screechy soundtrack, a flat script, hammy acting and above all, a truly laughable attempt at a monster costume, look it up if you dare!

3. Gothika

Halle Berry is another whose star has waned in the last decade. Ever since her Oscar win for Monster she has starred in a series of successively awful films. Gothika is case in point. The film opens in an absurdly gothic psychiatric hospital, with Halle Berry playing the role of one Miranda Grey. Miranda Grey drives home one night, encounters a little girl ghost, is possessed by said ghost and wakes up in the psychiatric hospital the next morning as (shock!) a patient, having murdered her husband. What follows is an attempt to attach plot to this drivel, without any success whatsoever. Plot is essential to horror, as we have seen, and Gothika is a good example of why this is the case. Without originality or suspense, no scares ensue.

2. Teeth

Teeth is a horror that attempts something new and tries to be funny about it, on the former it triumphs and on the latter it fails miserably. The premise is this, a girl has teeth in her vagina and can bite off a man’s penis with it. Where this movie fails is execution, what could have been a somewhat meditative movie is turned into a rote high school flick in which said girl lives in a town with an improbably high number of perverts and has an origin story of sorts as she bites off the penises of these men and the fingers of one gynaecologist. It is unfortunate that this is the case, as at times there is genuine promise. The reason Teeth fares so poorly is that while it is a great idea, the execution is simply terrible.

1. Feast

Feast is the result of Project Greenlight, a competition set up to encourage amateur horror directors. Throughout you can see the touch of the amateur; the strange camera shots, the occasional lighting problems and oh yeah, the absolute lack of any redeemable features. There is no humour, plot, chemistry, atmosphere, inspiration or (something essential for a horror) scares. The plot is this, monsters attack a bar. One sentence, that’s all. There is no attempt to stray beyond this, and indeed this mentality pervades the film as a whole. The characters speak in one liners. The creatures are one note. The film is set in one room (practically). One minute is too long to be watching. End of.