Review of Jupiter Asending – Just don’t bother

Drink in that picture isn’t it very pretty? Yep it’s lovely. Congratulations you’ve got the best that this film has to offer. Which film is it you ask? Why it is Jupiter Ascending of course the latest offering from the Wachkowski’s of Matrix, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas fame.

Review

Typically, I put a plot synopsis before these reviews afterall it good to give everyone an idea of the film. I’m not bothering in this case though because, the plot of this one is almost completely non-existent. No one connected with the writing of this film spent anytime looking at the script of dialogue for this one and boy oh boy does it show.

I’m a fan of the Wachowski’s and I’m a fan sci-fi who enjoys space opera. It isn’t a genre that gets put out much in blockbuster form in the cinema anymore. In fact big budget action films don’t get put out anymore unless they are a Marvel properties.

Finding myself unexpectedly with a free afternoon and finding that Ex Machina wasn’t on for hours but Jupiter Ascending in 3D was I took the plunge and stumped up for a ticket plus 3d glasses. I’m not asking for my money back but it was close.

To give the film a brief bit of praise it is visually stunning and if you are going to see it you might as well see it in 3D. The extra dimension whilst not in any way necessary does at least provide an extra veneer of entertainment and as 3D goes it is done really well.

I can’t put it off any longer lets talk about the “plot”.

The main character is a princess who gets to inherit Earth as her birthright. Far enough you think lets run with that only it isn’t that simple because, technically she is a reincarnation of the mother of this family that owns the planet Earth along with thousands of other planets. How is she a reincarnation you ask?

Well as a brief bit of dialogue tells us it is spiritual for these space humans so we wouldn’t understand it but be assured audience that the main character is an exact genetic replica of the ruling matriarch of this space royal family and therefore she can inherit. Do her children like this though? Well the daughter kind of seems to. One son wants to marry his mother so he can then kill her and get Earth (talk about mommy issues) and the other son (Eddie Redmayne) just wants mommy dearest dead.

You might be confused by all that but let me assure I’ve given it as much thought if not more than the film makers did. Theoretically, this reincarnation idea that could be interesting and the directors have certainly shown themselves willing/able to deal with complex issues in other sci-fi films they have done.

In this case though there is no explanation or thought about the plot or Lord forbid any themes. Instead I found myself wondering about incidental things such as how stupid is the dad to fight over and get killed over a telescope when the robbers are leaving? If the main character is meant to be an exact genetic replica of the mother shown in the stature then why doesn’t the statute look more like her? Or even more puzzlingly if the main character has a Russian family but has lived and worked in the USA all her life then why does her Russian/American cousin have a broad Aussie accent? When you are watching a sci-fi film with talking dinosaurs, bee-man hybrids, wolf-man hybrids and you are wondering about such things than you know the film is in deep smelly trouble without a paddle.

If the film isn’t a classic then you might hope to enjoy it either as cheesy fun or as so-bad-it’s-good fodder. Sadly, it doesn’t do either. The actor performances are all very toned down save for Eddie Redmayne who is doing some bizarre low voice thing that might be his attempt at scenery chewing camp but succeeds neither in being entertaining or making you think he is a villain of any note.

The film then lacks any interesting characters, plot or stakes. The characters kind of wonder from one event to another without ever being in any threat.

Even when Channing Tatum’s character is dumped out of an airlock there is no sense of peril. There is no hint at how he will survive but you can’t believe that the film would kill a character off or come up with a clever way for the character to live and so it doesn’t. Tatum’s wolf-man hybrid survives because he kicked off a piece of the space ship as he was ejected and this piece of spaceship apparently doubles as a space suit. So the bad guys are so incompetent that when executing someone by spacing him they leave behind a spacesuit for him to survive! WTF! If I wasn’t so bored by this point that a nap seemed interesting I might have got annoyed.

Jupiter Ascending has little to it apart from looking good. Given how they adapted Cloud Atlas to the big screen one can only presume that the Wachowski’s felt the need to do something more narratively simple as a palate cleanser. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t cleanse the palate but leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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Review of Foxcatcher (SPOILER WARNING)

So in my attempts to keep this blog up to date with nothing but the latest cinematic offerings (and since it is Oscar season) here is my thoughts on Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher Synopsis (off wikipedia)

When wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to move to his estate and help form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics, Mark sees a way to step out of the shadow of his charismatic brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). However, du Pont begins to lead Mark down a dark road, causing the athlete’s self-esteem to slip. Meanwhile, du Pont becomes fixated on bringing Dave into the fold, eventually propelling all three toward an unforeseen tragedy.

Foxcatcher Review

It seems that Foxcatcher has received nothing but lavish praise. Critics love it and it has been nominated for five Academy Awards including for Script, Director, Leading Actor and Supporting Actor.

Given this and my knowledge of the ending I went into Foxcacther expecting to see something special. Review spoiler alert I didn’t.

Yes, the film is really well acted (and the makeup is great) but the characters are one note, the film is overly long and in short the film is not as interesting or clever as the critics and director think it is.

Foxcatcher revels in explaining or attempting to explain character motivations not with dialogue but with actions. The film begins with a long twenty to thirty minute sequence or wrestling and day to day routine. Little to nothing is said but the characters are being developed anyway.

The main character Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) for instance is shown to be leading a lonely life in which he is overshadowed by his brother Davis Schultz. This is interesting enough in theory and in particular you can see why the critics loved it.

As the film drags on though the one-dimensionality of the characters becomes painfully apparent and the film collapses under it. You see exposition through lack of dialogue only works where there is ambiguity where there are multiple interpretations for the actions of characters i.e. in situations where the characters are interesting. The problem is though that the Foxcatcher characters aren’t interesting.

Mark Schultz didn’t know his dad and is looking for a father figure whilst trying to climb out of his brother’s shadow. John ‘Eagle’ Du Pont (Steve Carrell) meanwhile has crippling emotional issues with the distant mother who he cannot please. This is told in cliched and hamfisted ways. A ‘key’ character moment for example is when Du Pont tells Mark that his mother paid his only childhood friend to be his friend. David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) meanwhile is essentially perfect.

If the dialogue lacking and the characters flat the director then doubles down on the film with an overly long run time and lots of scenic shots of the Foxcatcher estate.

After giving Foxcather a good kicking I will conclude by giving it some deserved but qualified praise. The murder scene at the end it is brutally arresting and dramatic. It comes about 30 minutes too late to save the film even more disappointingly it may have succeeded if the scene had been edited into the beginning and everything had been shown in flashback.

As it is then Foxcatcher just didn’t grip me.

Review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – Great Visuals, High Ambition, Weak Story (SPOILER KLAXON)

THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT ! THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT! THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT! THIS IS A SPOILER aLERT!

In keeping with my self-appointed quest to populate this blog with the latest and choicest cinematic morsels I bring you a review of Christopher Nolan’s  sci-fi blockbuster “Interstellar”.

IMBD Synopsis

A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity.

Review

Like practically anyone who has seen one of his movies I am a Christopher Nolan fan. Out of all the directors working in film today Nolan is the only director who is consistently making the sort of smart, challenging blockbusters with clever plots that I want to see.

It is fair to say then I was looking forward to see Nolan’s latest offering ‘Interstellar’. I deliberately avoided information, reviews and spoilers. I went into the cinema ‘cold’ and I’m glad I did so because, if ever there was a film whose enjoyment cannot survive spoilers it is ‘Interstellar’.

In writing this review though I am unsure of my feelings. Previous Nolan films like the Dark Knight and Inception left me leaving the cinema with my mind blown.

This emphatically did not happen with Interstellar. Throughout the film’s three hour run time I was intrigued but I wasn’t captivated or gripped. Whilst I saw the Dark Knight in cinema twice and have watched it and Inception many many times on DVD I don’t feel the same way about Interstellar. In fact after seeing it once I have absolutely no desire to see it again but I am glad that I saw it on the big screen.

What worked

So what did I like about Interstellar? It is brilliantly shot. The space visuals were fantastic. I really got a sense of the isolation and scale of space. Furthermore, Nolan doesn’t use CGI too much and therefore when he does use CGI it works. Compared to “Gravity”, which I didn’t see on big screen, I thought the space stuff in Interstellar was far superior.

On top of the visuals there is also the soundtrack which is fantastic and really adds to the film. The scene where Cooper docks with the space station that is wildly spinning is tense and gripping and, frankly, awesome. At least 50% of this awesomeness is due to the score. This bit of the film also has the best bit of dialogue from the film “That’s impossible. No it’s necessary”.

What didn’t work

Unfortunately, there is plenty of stuff that didn’t work. Much of the strength of Nolan films has been the excellent plots that kept you guessing. The plot for this one couldn’t keep a clever 10 year old guessing.

Right from the off it was obvious that the answer to the film going to be the ‘ghost’ in Murphy’s room. This Checkov moment could be forgiven however if it wasn’t for the blatant and explicit use of Dues Ex Machina. Or to be accurate Future Humans Ex Blackholina.

This brings us to the second problem with the plot it is both needless contrived and too simple. There’s a plan A and a plan B and the possibility that plan A is a scam and then there is the ongoing crucial research on gravity and Coopers desire to go home to his children and Brand’s desire to go to her lovers planet.

There is all this going on and yet at the same time the like the ‘ghost’ the characters explicitly say love is the answer just follow your heart. Nolan is a god enough director that this didn’t produce waves of nausea from me but I;m not going to pretend that this hokeyness is good writing.

In short the plot of the film was just poor.

Conclusion

Nolan aims for deep space in Interstellar but doesn’t make it out beyond the moon. Interstellar is deeply flawed and isn’t a classic. Its ambition is so vast though that you’ve got to kind of like it. Plus these are the kind of films that we want to see made. So go out to the cinema and give Interstellar a watch.

Review of Emperor (2012) – If only Aaron Sorkin had written it

Plot Synopsis (from IMBD)

As the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Gen. Fellers is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Influencing his ruling is his quest to find Aya, an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S.

Review

Emperor falls into an odd category for a film that is ostensibly based on true events. The more you think about it the less the narrative fits together.

Emperor starts off very strongly before the script loses its way. The premise of Emperor is so fecund with socio-political and historical nuance that setting the scene could be near impossible.

Emperor however, succeeds in doing the near impossible by setting the scene very quickly using historical footage of the dropping of the atomic bombs and maybe a two paragraphs of narration from Matthew Fox.

It then brings in some tension into events with a strong opening scene. Supreme Commander Douglas McArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and a small group of soldiers are flying into Japan to begin the US led occupation. Are they flying into a trap though?

McArthur summons his advisors around him including General Fellers (Matthew Fox’s character) and on Fellers advice decides that they are going to land despite the risk. The scene is dramatic and tense.

It is at this point also that the writers made their last good decision by placing a clock of 10 days on the film. This ticking clock then provides all the impetus to the narrative as the writers abandon the premise of the story for Hollywood cliche.

Trust the audience

Where does Emperor go wrong then? Take your choice it is either that they  didn’t trust the audience and/or understand the material themselves.

You see the premise of the film is both fascinating and complex.  How much was the Emperor responsible for execution of WW2. Theoretically, he was a living God. In practice his advisers ran the show as the Emperor was lived a cloistered existence. But were they still following his orders?

The political machinations that brought such a system about and how it played into the events of Pearl Harbour, the invasion of Manchuria, the rape of Nanking, the treatment of POWs. All this could be fascinating but the film never goes into these details in anything approaching the detail it deserves.

Instead of setting up and examining the key players of pre-war and war Japan the film creates a dull love story and makes General Fellers a traitor in a way that insults the memory of the man.

The love story

In Hollywood nobody could be interested in something because, they find it interesting. No General Fellers (who in real life was about twenty years older and twenty years happily married) only finds himself interested in Japan because, he wants to get into the pants of a hot Japanese woman. Then when she leaves American to return home Fellers chases after her because, love.

This plot line might be forgiven however did the film not decide that the love was so deep as to make General Fellers commit treason. You see it is casually mentioned that in an attempt to protect his love Matthew Fox’s character directed bombing raids away from the area of Japan he believed she was in.

That folks is treason. If that had actually happened (an internet search of the real Fellers finds no evidence that it did) then Fellers would have been responsible for the deaths Allied soldiers.

This a big deal. It’s court-martial and execution stuff. When McArthur finds out about this though he decides to simply ignore it. Why? I can only presume that the tragedy of their unfulfilled love was just too beautiful to him.

Conclusion

I don’t expect historical accuracy from Hollywood. These are the people after all that made the rescue of the enigma codebooks a US operation rather than the British operation it actually was.

However, the problem with Emperor is that they make so many changes that I have no idea if anything they actually depict is true. At least when someone watches U571 you get the basics of the narrative i.e. sinking submarine, codebooks, mission to get codebooks.

In the brief bit about the actual Emperor that is covered the story gives some fascinating details such as an attempted army coup on the throne just before the Japanese surrender is announced. Is it true though? Who knows?

Emporer  is a case of great premise, strong initial setup, weak execution. If only Aaron Sorkin had written it then we could have had a classic because, this story deserves to be told and Sorkin is probably the only writer who could have come to grips with such a huge topic.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is the big budget Farscape film I’ve always wanted

***SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON ***

So in keeping with my self-imposed quest to fill this blog with nothing but the latest film reviews I bring you what is no doubt going to be, or at least deserves to be, the biggest blockbuster of the summer.

Right off the bat Guardians of the Galaxy had me on side. Why you ask? From the trailer I’ve seen the movie hasn’t been spoiled. Unlike say the Avengers where the trailer showed the Hulk catching a falling Iron Man the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy gave little to none of the plot away. Instead the trailers focused on introducing the characters and the tone of the film.  Let us hope this begins a new trend for trailers.

If you were unaware then Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter “Starlord” Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket (the racoon although I wouldn’t recommend calling him that to his face) as they first fight over an intergalatic orb of world destroying power, then they join forces to escape space prison, try to sell orb to “The Collector” and then complete the transition to heroes/friends by joining forces to stop the genocidal Ronan from committing genocide on a galaxy wide scale.

As you might guess from that brief synopsis the plot isn’t anything fancy. We aren’t talking about Momento here. Things are pretty much just a linear progression from A to B to C to D.

The thing is though this doesn’t matter because, unlike hundreds of other awful films Guardians of the Galaxy goes from A to B to C to D at 10,000 miles per hours in an adventure that is crammed with actions scenes, genuine laugh out loud moments and characters that have there own unique and believable motivations. Plus thanks to the walkman that Starlord carries with him everywhere the film has a jazzy 1970/80s upbeat pop score.

No doubt Guardians of the Galaxy is being compared to the original Star Wars and Firefly but a more accurate comparison for Guardians of the Galaxy is to the late great sci-fi series Farscape. The characters, tone, humour and vision of space are all much closer to Farscape than Star Wars or Firefly and I loved it.

Like Farscape there are great setpieces (although Guardians of the Galaxy has much better effects). Like Farscape there are humourous moments that border on the adult and like Farscape there is believable violence. We actually get to see alien blood something which apparently was cut from the Avengers to stop it receiving an 18 rating. Even the characters kind out fit into the Farscape archetypes.

Witness

Gomara is Aeryn Sun (Kickass love interest) Aeryn Sun

gomara

Rocket Racoon is Rygel (mouthy ass with heart of gold)

rocketDominar Rygel XVI

Drax is D’Argo (angry warrior wanting vengeance)

draxd'argo

Groot is Moya (clever non-verbal being that protects them)

groot moya

Ronan is Scorpios (scary bad guy)

ronan scorpio

and Peter Quill is John Crichton (cocky hero)

quill crichtongun

Aside from the humour, action and Farscapeiness Guardians of the Galaxy does a good job of pulling back and giving a better understanding of the scale of the Marvel universe. In particular it was great to see them begin to set up what a huge and scary villain Thanos is. In many previous Marvel movies the villains have been pretty flat characters (with the exception of Loci) and this always robbed them of being properly menacing.

In the interests of being fair and balanced (although not in a Fox News sort of way) though I must criticise one thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and that is Glenn Close’s character. Glenn Close is a great actor. She was great in The Shield she was great in Damages. In Guardians of the Galaxy though her, thankfully, brief appearances on the screen brought the film to a screeching halt. She didn’t seem to be sure whether she was playing her role for laughs or playing it straight. Furthermore, she did not seem to want to be there. Glenn Close was doing the good old cash grab in a film that everyone else seemed to be really trying in and it annoyed me.

Overall, then Guardians of the Galaxy is a very good to great film. I saw it in 2-D but I kind of think the visuals were so good that it would be worth seeing it in 3D (and that is high praise because 3D is a mostly rubbish Glenn Close style cash grab). For me Guardians of the Galaxy is now the benchmark of success for future Marvel pictures. I had a great time watching it.

 

 

 

 

 

Review : X-men Days of Future Past (SPOILER KLAXON)

Rest easy fellow nerds for it has been done. The monster has been slayed. That which was wrong has been righted. The stain has been removed. I am of course talking about the abomination of X-Men 3. News has been coming in for the last few days from cinema’s all around the globe, X-men 3 is no longer.

independenceday

X-Men : The Last Stand is going down all around the world

It has been obliterated out of continuity and replaced by the very good and very enjoyable X-Men Days of Future Past.

To briefly give the plot of Days of Future Past. The future is a hellish nightmare where humans and mutants alike are hunted and enslaved/killed by Sentinels i.e. its the plot of Terminator (for the record this might sound sarcastic but I have no problem with this).

Using the time traveling mutant powers of Ellen Page (don’t know or care about her character’s name) they send Wolverine back in time to 1973 in order to prevent the creation of the machines. To do this they need to stop Mystique assassinating the sentinel creator Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) because, it was Trask’s murder that convinced the politicians to fund the Sentinel program (It’s like Mystique never saw Terminator 2 and so never learnt that killing Miles Dyson doesn’t stop Skynet).

This is a great set up for the film because, essentially the story is now a character piece about Mystique and whether she is going to go to the dark side or take a more righteous path and turn to the light side.

Mystique has always been one of the more interesting X-Men characters and not just because, she looks…

mystiqueWhat was I saying? I seem to have lost my train of thought.

Anyway Jennifer Lawrence really anchors this movie with a great performance as the enigmatic shapeshifter. The drama is basically centered around her.

Essentially it is Mystique’s movie and this really makes everything work. The fact that Magneto and Xavier have to relate everything through the prism of Mystique’s character and their relationship to her allows the film to be interesting throughout and move beyond the standard superhero fare. Unlike other Superhero films where the bits between action scenes are forgettable in DoFP they continue to be watchable.

This isn’t to say that DoFP is perfect though.

The film could have done with having more of an sense of scale and epic grandeur. The future we are told is the end of civilization but to give the audience a sense of scale and epicness of this the audience should have been shown more about how awful this future was.

Instead of having all the characters in Patrick Stewart’s timeline sitting around waiting they should have had them doing something to create a sense of the characters being hunted. This would have allowed them to show what a hellhole the future was. Essentially, they should have taken inspiration from Inception as well as Terminator.

Even worse than this though is the criminal under-utilisation of Peter Dinklage. Trask is essentially a Josef Mangele figure. He is pure evil. More should have been given to Dinklage to set this up. Not only would this have been cool but it would have given the plot another dimension.

It would have heightened the stakes in the Mystique assassination storyline. If the audience had been hit over the head to show just how evil Trask was then we could have been really rooting for Mystique to succeed whilst also hoping that she failed. Such tension could have lifted the film into the all-time classic bracket.

As it is I feel these ideas were not done in order to ensure that rating was kept as family friendly as possible. The suits didn’t want to make things too dark. It is the same reason for why there was no blood at all in any of the scenes where people are being horrifically stabbed or impaled on things. I understand the thinking behind this but that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed by it.

Overall, there really is a lot to like about X-Men Days of Future Past and little to dislike. It is still obviously a superhero film but it tweaks the formula enough to be fresh and interesting.

To me DoFP is a more successful version of Captain America the Winter Soldier (reviewed here). It succeeds where Winter Solider failed though because it manages to keep its ambitious plot on the rails by anchoring the story in the characters and keeping the actions scenes contained.

I just wish though that they had been even more ambitious and pushed the envelope more to give the film a proper sense of the epic (notes this doesn’t mean bigger fight scenes). I would have even been up for the film being split into two parts so that Singer and co could have painted with a broader brush.

Ultimately, I would fully recommend seeing Days of Future Past. You will not be disappointed.

 

Review of The Lone Ranger – Mindless Fun

lonerangerIn keeping with my quixotic mission to fill this blog with nothing but the latest movie reviews I’m reviewing the blockbuster that never was, the film that would have bankrupted any mortal company and would have shipwrecked the career of a lesser star than Johnny Depp. No not Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (my time machine only goes back in time) it’s summer 2013’s mega-flop “The Lone Ranger”.

If you don’t know, and judging from box office receptions that might be the case, The Lone Ranger charts the emergence of the titular Lone Ranger (Arnie Hammer) as he grows from bumbling unathletic lawyer to outlaw who brings his brother’s killer to justice under the mostly benevolent guidance of Tonto (Depp).

There is really no need to go into more details of the plot which at times barely exists and is cookie cutter anyway (spoiler alert the good guys win). The story feels like two or three script treatments that were forced together like bits of an ill-fitting jigsaw because, nobody could decide which one was best but they kind of liked each.

There is a darker script which includes a villain who eats the hearts of dead heroes and has mythical demon powers that are corrupting nature. This is the version of the script that I enjoyed.

Then there are at least two tamer scripts. One revolves around silver mining and suggests that Tonto is insane. The second revolves around the railway and staged Indian War.

Technically all these disparate story elements merge together but it never really works. Firstly, having these three disparate storylines runs the film runs to a ridiculous 2 hours 29 minutes.

Additionally, you can tell they were never designed to tie together. To make the film work they have to introduce an annoying framing device where old Tonto tells a young boy the story. Because, otherwise the story is filled with plotholes.

As it is the film watches like a commercial juggernaut run amok and this brings me to Gore Verbinski. The director who is responsible for everything the film does well and everything it does badly.

Verbinski suggested the casting of Depp. A plus. Depp carries the film.

Verbinski also directs big action set pieces better than anyone else in Hollywood. Don’t misunderstand me Paul Greengrass and others do better action scenes but if you want a sprawling action set piece with a multiple trains hurtling along different parallel tracks towards a none-existent bridge then Verbinski is your man.

The two or three actions set pieces of this film must span nearly 45 mins and they were great. They were really enjoyable. The final set piece brings in the famous Lone Ranger/William Tell Overture music and it is fantastic.The action never takes itself to seriously so there is excitement as well as some tongue in cheek moments. If a cynic like me can enjoy it then it’s done well.

Verbinski is also responsible for the bad though. Namely the overly long running time and the silly framing device which is a symptom of this.

It is apparent that the Disney execs thought that they could transplant director and Depp into the Lone Ranger and the film would bring in similar money to Pirates 2 and 3. You see, like The Lone Ranger, Pirates 2 and 3 also have massive long running times and bizarre tonal mismatches.

What Disney failed to realise was that those films succeeded despite of those things. If Verbinski’s creative freedom had been reined in to Pirates 1 levels then the Lone Ranger could have been great. Instead they threw money at the film and let Verbinski do whatever he wanted. Sometimes less really is more.

As for the framing device of an old Tonto telling the tale to a child dressed in a Lone Ranger costume it reads as a last minute attempt to explain away the plot inconsistencies and doesn’t work as intended.

It did however create an interesting phenomenon which explains why I enjoyed myself. The framing device makes the film more akin to a series of ½ hour tv episodes. Really expensive well acted tv shows.

So oddly enough the silly framing device saved the Lone Ranger for me by making it more of a TV box set. This of course kind of means that as a film is a complete cinematic failure but I don’t really care. I just wanted have fun watching something and I did.

Go into the Lone Ranger with the right expectations and you can have fun watching it also. It’s nowhere near as bad as the critics and box office suggest.

Review of The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

The only good bit of CGI takes almost 2 hours to show up

The only good bit of CGI takes almost 2 hours to show up

As part of my self-proclaimed quest to fill my blog with out of date movie reviews I spent Good Friday watching The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug.

As a fan of Tolkein and Peter Jackson movies this should have been perfect for me. I came into this film really wanting to have a good time.

Rarely have I been so let down.

The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug continues the unexpected adventures of Bilbo Baggins’ and the band of dwarves as they trek to the Lonely Mountain to kill a dragon and allow the dwarf King Thorin to reclaim his ancestral throne.

Also thrown in are numerous side plots that add to an already super-long film. Some like Gandalf uncovering the return of Sauron are mildly interesting but poorly executed. Others like the pointless romance between the new for the film female elf warrior Tauriel and random dwarf number five, Kili, are just thuddingly boring.

Much of the talk I heard about the Hobbit 2 focused about how long the film is and what a travesty the introduction of the female elf Tauriel and return of Legolas was. For me these lines of attack don’t represent the main problem with the film.

I will deal with the Tauriel character first. Tolkein’s book are sausage parties. Given the times in which they were written and the fact that they were designed to be myths this doesn’t really bother me. I don’t see them as a sexist symbol that needs to be expunged from history. On the other hand I don’t have a problem with bringing female characters into the story if you want to change this.

The thing to do then would have been to make some of the characters such as the essentially interchangeable dwarves female. And/Or make the Bard character female. And/Or the Azul character female. And/Or make Steven Fry’s character female.

What an already long film absolutely didn’t need was for Jackson to shoehorn in

I'm going to leave the stupid reappearance of Legolas well alone. It's super stupid though

I’m going to leave the stupid reappearance of Legolas well alone. It’s super stupid though

another character with a fairly major subplot. Doubly so when the subplot is a bizarre elf-dwarf love story that nobody outside of the more exotic shadows of the internet was asking for.

The second point that many people focused on was the length of the movie. It is long and this is bad. It is not bad because, of length however. It is bad because the story is dull. If Jackson wanted to write a prequel to the Lords of the Rings by including stuff from the book appendixes then I do think there could have been an interesting story here.

It would have involved being more adventurous with the outline of the Hobbit though and changing things around more rather then just telling the appendixes alongside of Bilbo’s main tale.

For me the film has two main interlinked problems. Firstly, everything is CGI. There were barely any real sets for this film. As such unlike in Lords of the Rings none of the landscapes are impressive and the action scenes look like video game trailers that have been directed by George Lucas. You try to focus on the main action but it is slightly blurry and there are five different things happening in the background.

The worse bit of the film was the river barrel fight. Everything was CGI save for a couple of split second close up shots of the rapids which were actually real. The switch between computer world and the real world would have been bad in a student film. For a director of Jackson’s talent to do it is inexcusable.

The second problem is that the special effects make you realise how fake the characters are. Just as they don’t look real on the screen you realise that you don’t care about any of them anyway. Smaug could incinerate them all to dust and I would not have been bothered at all. In fact I would have cheered.

Even the good bits of the film just remind you of how bad the film is. For example, intermingled with the dull CGI fight scenes were a few really cool kills that just reminded you that yes Peter Jackson is directing and that he can direct good action packed fight scenes.

The stand out bit of the film is the third act arrival of the Benedict Cumberbath voiced Smaug. Smaug is genuinely menacing and looks fantastic. The film takes two hours to introduce Smaug and by that time it is too little too late. Plus the brilliance of teh Smaug CGI just reminds you of how bad the rest of the CGI was. I can only presume that the CGI for the dragon took so long that there was no time to CGI in the rest of the film properly.

I really wanted to enjoy the Hobbit but I just couldn’t. Bad CGI, poor plot and dull characters are the stuff of movie poison and The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug is a big fat cyanide pill.

 

Review of Captain America : The Winter Soldier (Obligatory spoiler klaxon)

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier_Teaser_poster_2If somebody asked me how to describe and review Captain America : The Winter Soldier probably the first thing I’d do is pause. The second thing I’d probably do would be to go “um”. In many ways I feel this response says everything you need to know about Captain America : The Winter Soldier.

Since I’m bothering to write up a review though I’ll try (and likely fail) to put things more eloquently. So here we go. Watching Captain America I never felt bored but then I never really felt entertained either.

With blockbusters or franchise films the temptation is to describe them as being like empty calories or fast food. You enjoy it at the time but they aren’t really filling. This isn’t the case with Captain America though.

The film didn’t feel like insubstantial fluff but neither did it seem like a proper meal. It was like a heavy pie or cake that hasn’t risen fully in the oven. It was stodgy.

The problem is that there is little in the film to truly anchor you to the action. Captain America isn’t an especially interesting or cool superhero. He is vanilla. This is fine if either you have a great plot or great villain, ideally both, but Captain America doesn’t really have either.

The plot has events but it never really shocks you. Characters drop in and out. They disappear for a time and then reappear. If you have seen actions films previously or really any films these entrances and exits are not in the least bit surprising.

So if the plot isn’t delivering then you look to the bad guys to hold your attention. To bring a sense of threat and charisma to proceedings. To introduce a little anarchy into the system. The villains completely fail to do this.

Robert Redford is doing a great impression of a man scooping up a really big paycheck. Even when he shoots a poor maid who forgot her phone his heart doesn’t seem to really be in it. Or maybe I just can’t find Redford menacing.

The semi-titular “Winter Soldier” is incipiently threatening with his cool robotic arm but then is neutered by the reveal that he is the long lost (brainwashed) best bud of Steve Rodgers. Whilst the traitorous mercenary is so forgettable that I can’t remember his name.

The most interesting villain is the Nazi scientist AI who not only feels genuinely evil but also has a retro “Wargames” style aesthetic which I enjoyed and the film (credit to it) actually calls out. Sadly though he is only there briefly and basically functions as Basil Exposition.

falcon

I’m guessing this was from the comic

As I said though I wasn’t bored. The actions trucks along at a fast enough click to keep you paying attention. Captain America shield smashes and pancakes more disposable bad guys then you can easily count. Plus there is a cool new sidekick with metal wings and a jetpack.

Added to this are Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff. Two genuinely interesting characters who just steal every scene they are in. Not only are Jackson and Johansson great actors but their characters hint at the more nuanced and darker film that I wished this film was. Johansson in particular was mesmeric (and no I’m not being pervy although she is gorgeous). She acts circles around Chris Evans. I haven’t seen such a mismatch of acting talent since I caught an old episode of King of Queens which had Byran Cranston and Kevin James in the same scene.

This of course is part of the problem though. I was more interested in a side character and a supporting character than I was in the main protagonist or antagonist. This then brings me to the end of the film which is of course a huge battle scene.

Like the film it is by the numbers. I only mention it because, something puzzled me. The Winter Soldier is shooting Captain America who looks to be unable to switch out the targeting microchips. It is check and mate.

Except. Wait a minute. One moment the Winter Soldier is slaying a helpless Captain America. The next Captain America is rallying to switch out the microchips and save the day. We cut back and now the Winter Soldier is prostrate under falling debris. WTF?

It’s possible I missed something but if I did so did the person I went with. At worse (and its unlikely) something was missed. At best the editing was shoddy and writing poor. I mean it is never good if your hero is saved by falling rubble. And it is even worse if said lame ending isn’t shown on screen.

So overall it is fair to say I wasn’t wowed. As a Marvel film it was better than Iron Man 2, 3 and Captain America 1 but worse than Thor and Thor 2. It was very average. I should say though that when Nick Fury is dead but (spoiler) not really dead a young eight year old child was sobbing very audibly in my packed screening.

I mention this because, that audience member was obviously really taken with the film. I reckon 7-12 boys would love this film. I know I would have. As a bonus I think that it is pitched at and suitable for that age group as well. The violence is mild, bloodless and (crucially for 7-12 year old boys) frequent.  For parents there is no swearing and I don’t remember there being any porny Michael Bayesque shots of female cast members.

So there you have it average. It does nothing really well and nothing really badly but, for the most part it holds your attention.

Thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty (Spoiler it’s overrated)

zerodark30As part of my mission to populate this blog with nothing but reviews of the latest films I thought I would take some time to express my thoughts on Kathryn Bigelow’s supposed masterpiece Zero Dark Thirty.

I had intended to catch Zero Dark Thirty (hereon after referred to as 0D30 as I can’t be bothered to type out 16 characters) on the big screen and then on DVD but for whatever reason I never got round to it.

So I finally caught 0D30 a couple of days ago and I’ve got to say I was supremely underwhelmed. The film should have been right in my wheelhouse. I enjoy politics. I enjoy serious films that talk about serious subjects. The West Wing is one of my favourite TV shows but whilst West Wing was, sadly, fictional 0D30 was based on real life so it should be theoretically better.

Instead, I found the film to be dull and boring. It completely failed to capture the tension or importance of hunting for the mass murderer Bin Laden. In short I thought it was a very poor film.

Before going on I just want to get state this point. When I am criticising the film please do not think I am criticising the people who hunted down and killed him. My criticism is leveled just on the actors, directors and script writers not on the real people.

So here is my big point if Bin Laden wasn’t who they were hunting this film would not have got any kind of recognition. It was only the mystic of hunt for Bin Laden that meant this film was so well liked. People who liked this film were just celebrating the death of an evil person rather than the film itself.

The film doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a character piece or a factual documentary and as a result it fails to do either.

As a character piece I singly failed to connect with the central characters. The idea was that hunting Bin Laden was Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) Jonah, her white whale, her obsession. Jessica Chastain failed to communicate this to me.

In part this seemed to be because the film wanted to follow events it didn’t want to take any dramatic license because of the weight of its subject.

So instead of developing the character you just sit around watching Maya do the actual leg work of finding Bin Laden i.e. what a documentary would do. However, whilst a documentary would briefly explain the leg work and fast forward to the end result or next clue in 0D30 we see all the leg work played out in dull detail with little payoff.

The film is mind numbing. There is no sense of urgency. There is no tension. It is vaguely accepted that the terrorists are plotting things but the film completely fails to introduce a ticking clock or give a sense of the strength of the terrorist organisation.

Now this might have been acceptable if the film was going to be taking any sort of opinion on the politics of the War on Terror or water boarding trainees. If it was drawing out the events to investigate them however, it wasn’t doing this.

I remember at the time there was a lot of controversy over the film supposedly advocating or criticising torture. As a result I was expecting the film to explore this issues in depth or to at lest take a position on torture. I doesn’t do this. It was incredibly even handed in its treatment of the issue of torture.

This might be an advantage in a documentary but in a film I am expecting something more. Even if it was just two characters discussing the merits amongst themselves. However, presumably because this didn’t happen in real life the film felt completely unable to do this. It was shackled by its desire to be a documentary.

So when you get down to it there is no political discussion, no character development and no tension. If you want to be entertained and informed about the hunt and assassination of Bin Laden watch anyone of the documentaries about the Hunt for Bin Laden. I’d particularly recommend the one the UK’s Channel 4 did.

Don’t bother watching Zero Dark Thirty though. It is perhaps the most overrated film I have ever seen. It never makes its mind up about whether it is a documentary or a character piece. In all truth it was probably made to soon after the events of Bin Laden’s depth for it to offer any worthwhile comment or insight on them.

In the cold light of day how it got nominated for five oscars is baffling.