Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Case for Different PJ

Okay, okay, I know I should not have had high expectations of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, not just because the first film in the series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: the Lightning Thief, was naff and made several years ago now, but because the poster and previews were uninspired and word of mouth was pretty negative too. And when the previews before the feature were amazing (for Enders Game (though Ben Kingsley playing an NZ Maori with a pretty shocking Australian accent was a bit distracting), Hunger Games 2 and Thor 2, the film itself had a lot to live up to. 

But then, I like the Greek gods, Nathan Fillion and Anthony Head so I proceeded anyway.

Logan Lerman as Percy did a fairly good job as the lead in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but here he seems as dull and devoid of talent as most of the rest of the cast.  Admittedly, the main cast are all struggling with a story that is definitely sub Potter in its character development, but they really seem to be more intent in keeping with the rather obvious and mechanical nature of the script rather than trying to break through and show some kind of spark.  Stanley Tucci makes a surprise and welcome appearance at the start of the film, bringing a hint of mischief as Dionysus, but Anthony Head gets very little to do as Chiron and he also is really only seen in the beginning.  Once the main characters leave camp, there is only one brief spark of fun and energy when Nathan Fillion makes his brief cameo (and a pointed comment to the beloved Firefly series), and then it’s back to the normal plod. 

I remember the books being entertaining, but then the books allowed me to have “wiggle room” with how I pictured things to be.  The film obviously has to visualise everything the book may have only hinted at, but some of the decisions seem to make no sense whatsoever.  

For example, the heroes end up on the baddies’ ship at one stage.  In my mind, I had imagined this to be a large vessel, perhaps even an old ocean liner or something, with a huge amount of space that could be empty or nooks and crannies right for hiding in.  In the movie, this ends up a large launch-type boat, with three levels and, as it is crawling with hostiles, almost no feasible place to hide.  Perhaps this is because a smaller boat is cheaper, but really, it robs anything set on the boat with anything approaching a sense of drama or tension, as it is blatantly obvious they will be found, and it is equally (and painfully) convoluted as to how they get off again. 

Likewise, Percy says hello to literally one other person outside of his inner circle in a film, and that one person turns out to be a person who pops up later for the sole purpose of showing that people in the camp make it out.  The irritating thing is that the line is so forced that there is no need for the later encounter, as it’s obvious to all that this is what this person has been set up for. 

In trying to sum up the film in one word, I think I settled on the word “empty”.  Some of the special effects are decent (I saw it in 2D so perhaps the worst ones were made with the 3D release in mind) and the story passable, but it is executed with a complete lack of flair or style and the majority of the actors seem to have less life in them than the zombies that briefly appear.  Percy’s powers are used in haphazard, illogical ways, though all the white actors seem to have had their eyes digitally enhanced so that they all shine in an unnatural shade of bright blue – and they all seem abnormally large too. 

It also does not help that the principle bad guy appears to have all of his dialogue dubbed, as he speaks with a deliberate and dull slowness that seems to indicate his voice has been digitally lowered to make him more threatening.  And the less said about the attempted humour (by anyone but Fillion), the better.

However, the row of 10 year olds who sat behind me rustling their cellophane food bags behind me seemed to be mostly engrossed by what was going on, and there was one tragedy that audibly saddened them, though a second was too forced for even them to really care.  So the film evidently has an audience, and I am evidently not quite the one it is aimed at, though I went anyway…

Verdict: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is a paint by numbers movie with no surprises, so splashes of innovation or colour or life whatsoever.  Here’s hoping this puts the nail in the coffin of the series.  Please, just give up on the books already.  4 tasks of Heracles out of 10.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Case for the Riddickulous

It must be that the Chronicles of Riddick, the sequel to Pitch Black (well, featuring Pitch Black’s “break out” character and star), was seen as a misstep in the path of the franchise, as just plin Riddick, the latest film in the series, pays a brief nod to that attempt at expanding the universe (with a very small appearance by Karl Urban, he of the furrowed brow) and then casts that all aside in favour of the man-against-nature-slash-horror feel of the first flick. 

It takes a little while to get started, mainly as it tries to convince you that this is not the Chronicles of Riddick (man alone in a hostile environment!) and then puts the current situation into the context of the last film.  Riddick (Vin Diesel, pumped to epic proportions and speaking in his lowest tones possible) has to overcome a few obstacles to get to the promised land up just a few steps (though I was not entirely sure why he didn’t just go around another way), and then it’s back to the Pitch Black basics.

He encounters a gang of bad ar$es, including an evil Spaniards, a hulking wrestler Diaz (who else but someone like Bautista could make someone look small?), a spindly cleric (Nolan Gerard Funk (great real name) along… for some reason), a seemingly reasonable man with a code and a mission (ex league player Matt Nable, as Boss Johns, looking as earnest as possible and, in comparison with everyone else on the film, the most restrained actor on set) and the awesome Katee Sackhoff as a beautiful hard nose le$bian Dahl who no man will tame… but then, she has never met Riddick. 

Riddick the character is meant to be awesome and smart and a man you don’t mess.  That does not make him likeable.  In fact, I was frequently rooting for the “other side” as Riddick really comes across as a know-it-all d!ck a lot of the time.  So they team him up with a CGI alien dog, who quickly becomes the most engaging character in the film and some of whose facial expressions are clearer than Diesel’s utterances.  

For the sake of the plot, the professional bounty hunters are all either idiots or overawed when dealing with Riddick, so things fall into his hands just in time for the planet to turn against the remaining humans and Riddick to prove the saviour.   

There is a bit of yelling at one point that I think was meant to bring some emotional depth to the characters, but Riddick is such a douche that the whole scene fails to fire any sympathy or any emotion whatsoever, except perhaps heighten the bloodlust for the deaths that will soon eventuate as things turn to custard.

[SPOILER ALERT – the next paragraph has a few hints, though they probably won’t come as a surprise at all considering the type of movie this is.] 

And when the custards hits the fan, as it were… well, it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense and is robbed of some tension by an unfavourable comparison to the situation the survivors found themselves in in Pitch Black.  There is a long fast bike ride out to pick up important equipment that takes about 20 minutes to walk back; there are light-generating lightning guns that basically just illuminate the user, making them an easy target; and then there is the very unfortunate scene where it appears all Dahl needed was a good man in the muscular form of Riddick to show her the error of her ways (though she is surprisingly absent from the final scenes).   

Nonetheless, the film itself does what it says on the tin – it’s a big, dumb actioner with ridiculous amounts of machismo and testosterone floating around amongst all the muscles and baby oil.  Guns are REALLY loud, the English language mainly consists of swear words, padlocks are powered by nuclear reactors and alien life forms just can’t get enough human flesh.  What’s not to love?

Verdict:  Riddick is a complete non surprise in that it might not be particularly good, and feels a bit slow a lot of the time, but then it is just like Pitch Black in enough ways to make it enjoyable.  Not good, definitely not good, but fun.  6 night vision eyeballs out of 10.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Case for Seeing Double Red

Going into a sequel, I suppose that I expect more of the same with a bit of a fresh twist.  

Going into Red 2, I definitely got more of the same in the gloriously ageing visages of Bruce Willis (as Frank), John Malkovich (Marvin) and Helen Mirren (Victoria), but the other stuff that was the same was not quite what I was expecting, and the new elements seemed to make the whole thing more inert than reinvigorate the franchise.

Oddly enough, most of the film seems to be about Sarah.  While the actress playing her, Mary Louise Parker, is always awesome, her apparently rather botoxed face seemed frozen into a perpetual expression of unimpressed surprise, and her character in this film is less charming and more clingy yet grossly incompetent, and her attempts at seducing men are embarrassing for all concerned.   

Meanwhile the “star” of the film, Willis, seems to almost absent from the film.  His repartee with Malkovich is uninspired even though they had a good chemistry in the first film.  Really, only Mirren comes back with a character that is at all likeable, and she is absent from a great part of the movie.

There is lots of action, in rather slow pieces that show a lot of craft if not necessarily a lot of excitement.  There is also a surprising number of deaths in the film, the innocent being mowed down almost as frequently as the enemy in this film, though that may just have been me mistaking baddies in everyday clothes as normal London / Paris / Moscow citizenry. 

The plot itself gets off to an insanely and unnecessarily slow start by trying to reintroduce characters in ways that do nothing to actually reintroduce the characters.  This moves on to the main story, which is actually quite intriguing, involving a weapon of mass destruction created by a loopy Anthony Hopkins (as Bailey) that is buried somewhere under the Russian capital city.  But once the device is located, things begin to go off the rails a little, with a few “yes, we knew that all along” moments that make you wonder why the story progressed as it did the first time around.  The whole Parisian side trip kind of ends up in this category, though at the time it seemed to have a point. 

It’s odd that a film with so much action and so much movement would seem so slow.  But, the action doesn’t really seem to have much excitement in it, and some of the scenery and sets seem to be put together so cheaply that it seems as if the whole thing was shot in someone’s back yard, a la Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

Nonetheless, despite the lack of thrills and excitement, it is still fun to see Helen Mirren kick butt in her restrained ladylike way, and the others (plus Byunh-hun Lee as Han Cho Bai bringing some youthful martial arts action to the more mature fighting styles of our main heroes) contribute enough to make the film a pleasant diversion as well.

Verdict: Red 2 did not have me seeing, well, red, but more a harder edged type of beige.  Exciting is not a word I would use to describe it, but methodical and solid and occasionally painful are more accurate.  4 colours of the rainbow out of 7. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Case for Instrument Mortality

I am a bit of a sucker for an intriguing movie trailer.

I suppose that is the art of spin and advertising that people can make trailers for films that make the film they come from seem fast paced and action oriented and nowhere near as terrible as the concept of the movie itself would suggest.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
is a film that I gave a shot due to a trailer that made it looked a bit above the Twilight fan fiction I thought it would be, even though I saw the running time stretched out to over two hours long.  The audience with me did not instil me with confidence, considering most seemed to be either of the cynical persuasion hoping for a good film but expecting rubbish (like me) or young ladies with harsh haircuts and an air of angst and anger about them, but who like nothing better than a story about an abusive boyfriend and mystical elements and supernatural enemies conspiring to bring two beautiful yet tormented souls together.  I sat next to one of the latter, who tittered at every lame joke and writhed at every predictable shock.  Sigh. 

And yes, the film itself was very lame, if surprisingly gross in parts.  Lily Colins, playing our heroine Clary, is completely unengaging, but she is surrounded with some pretty good thesps (mainly British: Lena Hedy (not enough of her), Jonathon Rhys Meyers (ditto), one of the Hobbit dwarves Aiden Turner, Jamie Campbell Bower and others) who try and make the most of the mess they are given. 

Actually, considering how the trailer come out, it is possible none of them realised how slow and contrived the film would turn out.  The action scenes are very action-packed, but there are whole acts (our heroes versus the Vampires!) which literally play no part in this movie (honestly, what was the point?) but quite obviously set up developments for characters in the (possible) sequels.  Some of the supporting characters are thrown bits of back stories, but they are clumsily handled and again serve no purpose in propelling the story anywhere.  And then there is the introduction of the cool Warlock of New York who could tell Clary everything about everything (but doesn’t), stops by for a healing session when he could actually help defend the castle (but doesn’t) and throughout it all, and for some unfathomable reason, seems to have all his dialogue dubbed.   

And then there is the dire-logue.  I had forgotten most of what happened in the movie due to its complete unmemorableness, but then someone reminded me of the line, “I had never seen an Angel until…” and then my stomach rebelled and I could dwell on it no further.  In fact, the entire theatre, including hard/soft woman beside me, snorted at this line when (one presumes) it is meant to be more romantic than risible.   

Mostly, though, the whole movie is inoffensive.  The actors say their lines with a complete lack of conviction and passion, but propel things along at its unhurried and drastically-in-need-of-editing pace.  Much like the Twilight series, it is when the actors actually try to act that things get painful, the flaws in the script and the characters showing the seams, or (to use another metaphor), not allowing the actors to bring a third dimension to the two they have to work with. 

That’s my way of saying that I was not uncomfortable watching this film (unlike Elysium, which made me angry) as I was probably too close to dozing to get worked up about anything.  

But then, before The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, I saw a preview for the next Percy Jackson film.  Now, this trailer made that film look so bad that perhaps the film itself will be better than the first one was, many moons ago?  I have serious doubts though, considering.  But I will find out soon enough.


Verdict: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is a long title for a film, and a really long film too. Unnecessarily.  Perhaps the writer decided to stick slavishly close to the book for the fans, but the result is a movie that seems to be floundering, with the actors apparently waiting for pages to turn before springing into action.  The effects are pretty good, and I got the impression most of the cast were actually decent actors too, but the film just doesn’t support their promise, though perhaps the Twihard fans will be satisfied.  6 Runes out of 10.