Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Case for Lantern Light

It was going to be a tall order for Green Lantern to be as good a movie as X-Men First Class, so I went in hoping for something more akin to Thor, and I was right to lower my expectations.

Green Lantern and Thor have quite a few things in common: lots of extra terrestrial action and CGI baddies, and a lot of comic history sorted and resorted and then boiled down into a movie-length film.  Green Lantern also has some pretty good (and pretty pretty) people in the leads, with Ryan Reynolds cockily charming as Hal Jordan, Peter Sarsgaard creepily malevolent as Hector, Mark Strong all strongly purple as the lead Lantern Sinestro, and Taika Waititi does his afro proud as Tom.  Tim Robbins is there, playing a Senator so in bed with the military industrial complex that there is no doubt that this man has completely sold his soul to big business.  I thought Blake Lively was stunning but as a character was almost an absent void as Carol Ferris, which was a shame considering she was almost the only woman in the entire movie (Angela Bassett also appears as Amanda Waller but is disappointingly under used) - but then, the story isn't about her.

No, the story is cobbled together from lots of cinematic clich├ęs (and there are some spoilers in here, so avoid this paragraph if you like).  There's the scene where Hal goes all Topper Harley in his plane ("Pull up, Millivanillichilliwilli!"); there's the visit to his nephew's party and the estranged extended family whom we never see or hear mention of again; there's a fight scene with work colleagues he managed to annoy that is apparently completely forgotten the next day at a mega gala for the company winning a government contract that is a pale version of an Iron Man-style product launch; there's the dramatic "humanity is awesome if you give it a chance" speech that plays to a bored crowd (the cinema audience, as the Guardians of Galaxy look interested); and then there's the Hal saves the day scene and gets congratulated for it by his comrades who seem to have been hovering nearby and never actually assisted him at any stage of his deathly confrontation even though it would probably have been a really good thing if they had done so.

And so, as the scenes are pretty much separate entities, the transition between them can be a bit confusing, and the storyline wanders.  It's a bit long, and could have done with a bit (lot?) of trimming in some of the scenes mentioned above.  But it all looks magnificent, even if we didn't see it in 3D.  And the charm machine that is Ryan Reynolds keeps everything bolted together, though he is no Robert Downey Junior and so does not completely run away with the show, allowing Peter and Taika to make their own presences felt, however briefly they may appear on screen.

The film all comes together in a pretty package with amazing special effects and a few moments of humour.  Sure, the villain and its (his?) dispatch are rather stupid; the "Lost Sector" is a really idiotic name for a region so many people seem to visit (unless it was name after Edgar Lost, the first person to go there); and the Green Lantern oath and the Corps gatherings are set in large warehouses full of cheese.  And whenever the soundtrack got going, I kept waiting for it to burst into John Williams' Superman theme, so similar (or "inspired") it seemed.  But, that said, the film is very much an easy, visually and auditory entertaining, movie that sticks pretty much to the comic origins of its inspiration, so the need to engage one's brain and really get in to the film are not really necessary.

Verdict:  Green Lantern is passable and likeable in much the same way as Thor.  Easy on the eyes and the brain, it's a special effects extravaganza worth seeing on the big screen, though I am not sure if repeat viewings would really be necessary.  35 watts out of 60.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Case for Movie Films

It has been a movie feast recently, thanks to a visitation to a new cinema and then some tickets to see a free movie at Event Cinemas in Queensgate.  And the movie of choice on which to splurge said tickets was Super 8, the Goonies of this generation.

Well, not really.  The advent of computer generated imagery and the increase in production values means that this movie looks amazing.  Sets are large, effects are larger, and it is a slick production with not a hair nor a line out of place.  Compare that with Goonies, watched last night, where the effects were sometimes less than special, the worst (the octopus) was omitted, and on the commentary, Sean Astin noted that he had used Josh Brolin's real name in the movie - and it was still in there.

However, watching the Goonies last night reinforced what was lacking in the movie from the day before.  Fun.  A sense of amusement.  A sense of wonder.  As, despite the spectacle, Super 8 was all pretty lifeless.

There are some great actors in Super 8, all with very wide eyes, and I am a huge fan of Kyle Chandler in almost anything, so the acting itself was not a problem.  And perhaps I was influenced by the fact I am now definitely not the target demographic for the film.  And the fact someone left a window open in the cinema so that I was almost frozen for most of the film on one of the coldest nights we have had this winter did not help either.

But really, while the kids in Goonies were annoying, at least they were goofily annoying.  The kids in Super 8 are boringly annoying, sticking to the stereotypes of the 80s without any of the retro fun (even though this is set in the very early 80s methinks) and making the kids world weary and burdened rather than, well, like kids.  Sure, the Goonies had their problems, but the Super 8 brats are weighed down by them, and adds to a massive drag factor in the film.

The plot doesn't help that much.  The train crash is incredibly impressive, though at the 5 minute mark I had to wonder at what speed the train was travelling and, at that speed and with that mass, how would an almost motionless pick-up truck (even an American made metal beastie) be able to do any damage - and, subsequently, how could any occupant of said pick-up truck survive.  After that, the adventure plays second fiddle to a budding romance, which (for me, in this context) entirely the wrong way around.  And the ending... well, it's very much a, "so, what next?" kind of anticlimax.

Luckily, what follows the end, played over the credits, is the zombie film that the kids have been working on with their Super 8 camera for the duration of the movie, and that film is huge amounts of fun.  Low budget, bad dialogue, tragic acting, terrible storyline...  It's like that zombie film has all the good bits of the Goonies really, and the leftovers - and the budget - went into Super 8.  Shame.

Verdict: Super 8 was a disappointing coming of age movie, that probably shows my age more than anything else.  4.5 frames out of 8.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Case for X Class

Well, I should just start off by saying that X-Men: First Class is all class.  It is an absolutely brilliant action movie, with a great cast that bring a huge amount of fun to the proceedings, and with nods to the films that have come before, even if continuity-wise they come after.

Much like the Star Trek reboot, the X-Men: First Class story is not about exploring anything deep.  Far from it – the characters are unburdened with the woes and trials and tribulations of mutant-hood that bogged down the characters in the other X films.  These characters are driven by very straight forward and obvious, but no less powerful, motivations.

Eric, played by the furrowed brow of Michael Fassbender, is the man seeking revenge on Sebastian, ex Nazi and megalomaniac, played with an amazing relish by the man everyone knows one way or another, Kevin Bacon.  Eric’s quest is helped by the fact he apparently knows every language ever spoken and his not inconsiderable gift with things ferrous.  He encounters James McAvoy’s telepathic Charles and his blue-skinned sister (a really good Jennifer Lawrence as Raven) and they then recruit some other people to help them take Kev down.  And that’s really all there is to it.

To say the main three men dominate the story and what passes for development is not entirely true: Rose Byrne as CIA agent Moira gets to run around in skimpy underwear for a bit, and the always awesome Michael Ironside bares his mighty gnashers and masticates on the plywood ship around him during his brief appearance as a US Navy Captain.  There are other brief cameos that also make an impression: Hugh Jackman gets to play the only character that swears and the gorgeous Rebecca Romjin pops up for a second or two. 

But, as good (or passable, in some of the minor characters’ cases) as the thesping talent may be, the real star is the non stop action story, shifting from Germany to Russia to the USA to Cuba all very swiftly and with a minimum of problem.  

To be honest, the only problem I had was how it ended.  I will try and avoid any spoilers here, but stop reading if you want to know nothing whatsoever.  I mean, why didn’t Charles just let go?  And I have to say, come the final showdown, I was actually on Eric’s side – those pesky homo sapiens deserve to die, as they all seem to be complete bastards (except those who wear great underwear under their regular clothes) and really aren’t that nice.  I am not really sure if that was the moral of the story, but it is what I came away with.

But mostly what I came away with was a wonderful feeling of having watched a really great and entertaining film.  Sure, it may not even try to be mildly deep, but it’s a huge amount of fun and that’s really all I wanted.

Verdict: X-Men: First Class is a first class effort, outstripping Thor and even the Iron Mans in its enjoyability.  The film proves that people are both evil and stupid, and that girls always go for the bad boys.  But Kevin Bacon gets to prove his evil chops, and the whole X-Men franchise gets a great new film to add to its belt. IX.5 out of X

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Case for Another Hangover

There is a lot to be said about a funny film.  There is a lot to be said about The Hangover Part 2.  Unfortunately, the things to be said are pretty much mutually exclusive.  

No, I was not a fan of this film.  I was surprised when I found myself enjoying the odd moment watching the first Hangover film, but then, I was watching it at home and able to fast forward or otherwise ignore the film in the comfort of my own lounge.  

There is no such option of escaping in a cinema, and hearing the cackling of those around me made it even worse.  The Hangover Part Two is lewd, crude, and I am not sure if "rascist" quite encapsulates how it treats the Thais (as noone really comes out terribly well, it has to be said).  It's evidently designed to capitalise on the success on the first film: the scene of the boys boarding the plane indicates they are flying alone, and it seems they only meet up with their wives once they collect them from the checked luggage carousel.  The characters are all annoying... and no, I really can't be bothered talking about it anymore.

I have to admit, the NotKate and I really only went because we wanted to see a movie at the Roxy Cinema in Miramar, and Super 8 was sold out two hours before the film screened.  I can say a whole heap of good things about the Roxy - and I kind of have to, as it has the kind of atmospheric lighting that made it really hard for me to take any photos with my little cameraphone.  Ah well, I may try and post some of them later, but lets just say that it is an amazing place, with an incredibly roomy interior, lovely comfy chairs, a matire d' who managed to make me ashamed for being alive... and then the cinema we ended up seeing the movie in is wonderful, with large plush seats and an impressive screen.  And yes, I want to go again...


Verdict 1:  The Hangover Part 2.  Terrible.  2 out of 10, with points only given for being screened at the Roxy Cinema.

Verdict 2: The Roxy Cinema.  10 out of 10.  I am definitely going again, though I may be a bit wary about the scary woman in charge of the cafe...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Case for Whiter than White

Following on from yesterday's post, I remembered an awesome show from a few years ago called John Safran versus God, where John tried to join the KKK, and wondered if his Jewish upbringing would count against him.

Verdict: John is like the Australian version of Jeremy Wells, but more so.  Good on the Aussies.  Three Ks out of the KKK.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Case for Danish Fraternity

There are so many film festivals that come through Wellington that one has to be a bit picky as to what one chooses to actually go and see.  While the International Film Festival (still to come) tends to have a really decent selection of some varied, crafted films, some of the others serve as "art packages", hiding dross that would otherwise be relegated to the straight-to-video bin were it not presented as part of a greater culture, be it Italian, French, documentary or Amnesty International themed.

One of the festivals to be particularly wary of is Out Takes, where the label of "festival" is sometimes applied to give what is practically just p0rn a veneer of respectability.  The Out Takes programme at least warns (or alerts) potential patrons to which films will be hard core and which will actually have a story line, making it easier for people to choose by which type of movie they would rather be challenged and/or stimulated. 

From my perspective, there have been some gems in the past: I remember many moons ago enjoying the hilariously pink But I'm a Cheerleader ("Is that really RuPaul?  No!  But yes!  And there's Melanie Lynskey!  Hi!") and the offbeat Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, but not every year contains a film that piques my interest.  This year, intrigued by the independent indication of quality granted by a prize awarded in the Rome Film Festival, I took the plunge with Brotherhood (Broderskab in the original Danish).

Brotherhood is not an easy film to watch, dealing as it does with neo-Nazis. But I was particularly impressed that it dealt with its subject matter in a very grown up way: the neo-Nazi leaders were shown as charismatic men who could attract extreme loyalty, at the same time as distancing themselves from the actions of their acolytes; Lars, the lead, is shown as a young man searching for a place to belong, an easy shared sense of family, even though he falls in with a group with whom he does not really see eye to eye.  And then when Lars falls in love with one of the other guys in the chapter... well, things are bound to get messy.

It has to be said that this movie does not work as an advertisement for Tourism Denmark - unless, perhaps, if you are a skinhead.  The place is shown as a dark, cloudy, cold and bleak country, with barren, claustrophobic houses and apartments, and where even its Nazi groups have to draw inspiration from the Confederate States of America, loyalty oaths are pledged in English and the rules of joining the club are mundanely bureaucratic, with many a form to fill and pieces of propoganda to memorise.

And that is, of course, the film's greatest strength - it all feels so real.  Sure, there are a few contrivances along the way, but it all makes sense and all seems entirely plausible, in its understated and bleak way.  It's really very good, but definitely not for everyone.

Verdict:  I don't recall seeing many Danish films, but that may have to change.  Brotherhood felt brutally real in its portrayl of the neo Nazi lifestyle, and how, for certain disenfranchised people, joining such a cult could seem a really empowering, emotionally uplifting idea.  Of course, that club comes with a lot of baggage, baggagae that can come around and beat you up in the end.  Not a nice film, but it definitely gives the audience a bit to think about.  8 pastries out of 10.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Case for D2

 And when you square a Double Down, you get something decidedly... 

Verdict: I think a picture paints a thousand words.  Or perhaps, in this case, a thousand calories.  But it was yummy...  48 grams of fat out of 50.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Case for Cats Amongst the Fishes

A few people had reservations when I suggested the documentary Catfish as the movie of the week.  The synopsis paints a picture of discomfort caused by the revelation of human frailty, much like the Office, though this one promises to be real. And let me say that those reservations were completely justified.

The basic premise is this: Nev, a New York photographer, goes to meet the one of the people that he has befriended on Facebook.  But is she all she appears to be via the wonder of the internet?

As you can probably guess, there are a few speedbumps on the way – otherwise, it wouldn’t be a terribly interesting documentary.  The fact that Nev is not always terribly likeable is, I think, a nice balance to the fact this is his story about the people he meets and so, for the most part, he is considered the “hero”.  On the flip side, the people he encounters may not have been entirely truthful, but it is hard to find them completely unsympathetic.  And I will say no more on it, as I think that I have already given too much away.
Let’s face it: there are some weird and wacky people on Facebook (and the blogosphere I am sure) who will say just about anything, and some of it might just be that they are crazy people in real life and some of it might be that they have an active imagination and have no qualms about making their fantasy life appear to be their reality when no proof is required.  Look at World of Warcraft.

Catfish tries to peer behind the electronic veil about the people who we might only fleetingly know, only tangentially have encountered, and who may for all we know be a bearded tattooed man lurking behind the image of a school girl with blonde pigtails,  Nev employs his own deceptions to try and lift (or should that be degauss?) that veil.  It’s all very duplicitous, but then, again, that makes for a riveting documentary.

It’s an indication of how important the whole social network thing is when the final “facts” roll, and Nev is credited with having over 700 Facebook friends.  As that flashed before me, I questioned the bearing that the number had on anything that had come before.  The number of Facebook friends in and of itself does (in some circles) lend an aura of status.  But, as this film kind of proves, how much do people know about the Facebook friends they have?  Do they actually know them at all?  

Verdict: It is hard to write too much about this movie without giving all of it away.  Just summarising what its about gives away the major twist, but it’s the nature of those turns that have to be seen (and so should not be explained away here).  Suffice to say, Catfish is definitely a hard film to watch, exposing as it does what the freedom of the anonymity of Facebook can provide to some people, and that while it can make the world a smaller place, that does not mean everyone on Facebook is living on the same planet.  7 Friend Requests out of 10.


As an aside (another one!), John Clark and co continue to be completely hilarious and depressing in their view on reality.  Thanks to d3vo for pointing this little gem out.