Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Case for Love Left

Only Lovers Left Alive stars the twin thins of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as Eve and Adam, two long lived (or should that be long undead?) vampires in a world that is slowly decaying, as their food source is uninspired and tainted by modern pollutants.  

They are not the only vampires left alive, but Adam prefers a life of solidarity, creating moody music on classic instruments in a rundown part of Detroit, whereas Swinton spends her time amongst the books she loves, wandering out into the streets of Tangiers only when she needs to catch up with her supplier, Marlowe, played all too briefly by John Hurt. When Adam gets all depressed about the state of the world, Eve decides to go visit him, flying first class but only at night all the way.  The arrival of Eve shakes up Adam’s world, bringing a few surprises and shocks along the way.

The film itself is not a typical vampire flick.  Killing is at a minimum: blood tends to be obtained through black market means rather than from the veins of assorted virgins.  The vampires are very creative, with Adam some sort of indie rock superstar bemoaning the state of modern music (Eve is more into her literature, though she doesn’t seem to write herself).  Humans are zombies, though the type of zombies you occasionally hang out with in bars… the metaphor didn’t make a huge amount of sense to me when I concentrated on it, but I got the general idea.

Concentration though is needed, as while the film is great to look at and the performances all excellent, I cannot say it is the fastest moving of flicks.  There are several drives through the most depressed back streets of Detroit that illuminate little (literally as well as figuratively), quite a bit of heavy, slow music, and the performances are all quite low key and unenergetic.  

Still, through it all, the film is fascinating.  Its by Jim Jarmusch, who brought cinema the haunting Dead Man, and this one feels kind of similar, even if it is in colour and about a completely different genre.  

As fascinating as it was, I have to admit that I found my eyelids getting heavy about halfway through the film, as the slow, hypnotic pace got to me.  It also didn’t help that it was a relatively late screening at the Penthouse in Brooklyn after quite a tiring week.  However, while I did have that mid-movie moment, the film picked up once the leads got together and by the end I was once again alert and riveted.  

Verdict: Only Lovers Left Alive is a strange, enigmatic film, that slowly takes its time telling its rather simple tale.  All the actors (is that Chekov in there from Star Trek?) are fantastic, the music is depressing, and the world seems a sick, sad place at the end of it all.  Mission accomplished.  7 litres of blood out of 10.

And I failed to post this at Lego Movie review time, much to my chagrin!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Case for More Amazingness

The Amazing Spiderman 2: The Rise of Electro is actually a better movie than it deserves to be, if that makes sense.

Because the story and everything that goes on is pretty standard and very slow.  It starts off terribly, with a rather pointless scene showing the death of Peter Parker’s parents that goes on for far too long and really adds nothing to the story whatsoever, or at least nothing that couldn’t be explained in a two second flashback or something.

Things don’t really improve when we go into Jamie Fox’s character Max, before his becoming the superbaddy Electro.  His origin story is that he is a lot of a loser who gains extraordinary electrical powers once he is electrocuted.  It seems pointless providing him with a backstory that shows he is normally a bit unhinged when his erratic behaviour after his accident can be explained by the fact he is zapped by a gazillion volts, basically dies, and then returns as pure energy that can discorporate at will and then reintegrate again, bringing clothing and electronic devices surgically attached to what passes for his corporal skin along with him.  For some reason.

And then there is Martin Csokas, who seems to have stepped straight out of the Rocky Horror version of Captain America, all glossy lips and high camp evil German scientist.  Amusing, in a completely incongruous way.

But it is better than all this, even with its excessive running time, thanks to the amazing main (and young) cast.  Returning are Andrew Garflied and Emma Stone as Spiderman / Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey, and its their chemistry as a couple that actually keeps the film ticking along and interesting.  Gwen is also not a boring heroine, but is smart and determined and (thanks to Stone) has an incredible spark whenever she is on screen.  Parker is less interesting on his own, Garfield mumbling and stuttering and being all goofy when in his normal, everyday, huge haired persona, and then being all wise cracky and attempted cool (not sure how successfully there) as the webslinger. 

Joining them is the amazing Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn reborn, and while his motivations are a little unconvincing at times (and his final scenes seem to make no sense whatsoever), his pale eyes and severe haircut paint him as a man living on the edge from the get go, a boy betrayed and not above seeking revenge.

Quite what Electro’s powers are, or how the Green Goblin comes to be, or quite what all the secrecy around the Parker parents death was all about is never really clear or makes a huge amount of sense.  But the set pieces and action are all suitably spectacular and, for the most part, comprehensible to the average viewer.  

The film is evidently skewed towards a younger demographic, and it’s a bit refreshing to see a hero movie where the heroes and villains are not all pumped up and waxed with an obligatory shirtless scene to show off the steroids at work (everyone is fit, just not exploding with veins and eight pack abs).  And with the leads so comfortable with each other and so convincing with the love story, its easy to let yourself be carried along with all the Spidey action.  And I love the use of the ring tone…

Verdict: Amazing Spiderman 2: the Rise of Electro is not an amazing movie, but is a good one.  Superhero films are always a bit long these days, but it survives thanks to the charisma and talent of the leads.  But can the next movies keep that up?  7 spidey masks out of 10.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Case for Legging Go

How does a song as annoyingly cheerful and vapid as “Everything is Awesome” become cool?  By being associated with the Lego Movie.

Because, from its central premise of a world made up of Lego people doing Lego things, to it’s references to many DC properties (like Batman, Superman, Harry Potter) and to popular Lego ranges that aren’t that related to DC at all (like Star Wars, of course), the film itself is awesome.

Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt, who appears to be almost everywhere at the moment, wearing high waisted pants in Her or getting a Guardian of the Galaxy role by sending shirtless pictures of himself) is the hero of the film though, as a piece of plastic in a kitset world, he is, in his own way, unremarkable.  He does his best to fit in, using all the instructions that President Business (Will Ferrell) has dictated all people should live by, enjoying the music, the coffee and TV shows that everyone does, and fit in he does.  

But Emmett really wants to be special, and when he comes across WyldStyle (voiced by a seductive Elizabeth Banks), he stumbles across a plot to destroy freedom throughout the Lego realm, and quickly becomes embroiled in a plan to save it.

Much like Emmett, the story itself is pretty unremarkable on its own.  But layer in a huge dolloping of insane humour, with jokes firing off left, right and centre, aiming for adults and kids and everything in between, and all those references… well, it’s a huge amount to take in, absorb and enjoy.

I think I read somewhere that the film is written by the people who brought the world Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and that film was completely bonkers in a great way (I haven’t seen the sequel, but the first one had Mr T.  Oh my gosh).  And they have brought a sense of complete irreverence and stupidity to this realm, and my goodness, it is good.

Pratt brings his good hearted dope voice from Parks and Recreation and makes Emmett dim but… well, good natured.  Bouncing that character off a blokey Batman, a Superman who is having issues with Green Lantern, a good cop/bad cop/same cop (Liam Neeson!), and a very “Neo is here to save us all” plot… and the Lego references too!  From the map Japanese Lego, to the 80s Space Lego (with the helmet that always ended up broken in the same spot!), to the Duplo and other Lego lines for youngsters… They are all there, all interact amazingly, and are all utterly hilarious.

The only thing that I found a little jarring was near the ending.  I won’t get into what happened here, but suffice to say this was the first time during the film that I could hear the children’s laughter over that of the adults in the audience.  However, I come the final scene (or thereabouts), I think I let loose my largest guffaw of the thoroughly entertaining evening.

It was interesting though being seated next to a “big kid” (whom I knew not) in almost every sense of the word.  While he was evidently there with his girlfriend, the guy, who was about as tall as me though in his late teens or early 20s (I would presume), wriggled and writhed and tried to suppress chuckles and whispered away to his partner with all the subtlety of a 10 year old.  While for some of these antics I was not that impressed, I had to smile to myself when I realised that this is the kind of reaction the target audience would probably have.  And yes, it made me feel all the older.

Verdict: Everything is awesome with the Lego Movie.  Smart, funny, and while a little saccharine at the end, it entertains and amuses and is pretty incredible throughout.  4 bricks out of 5.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Case for Room Service

The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest film from Wes Anderson, is another mildly insane masterpiece.

For no real reason, it starts in the present, goes back 10 years, then goes back about 20 years, then all the way back to the 1930s where Ralph Feinnes plays Monsieur Gustav, head of the hotel at the height of its grandeur, and from there the story really gets underway.

And it’s a story full of colour, from the bright purple decorations of the hotel itself, to the wild and whacky characters that inhabit this fictional eastern European country.  Gustav finds himself in the middle of an inheritance squabble and from there on the run from the police and the military as war begins.  Along for this ride, and brought into the fray, is Gustav’s newly employed Lobby Boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), who tells Gustav’s story to a novelist, who is recalling how he wrote the novel based on this encounter, which is all being read by a young fan sitting under a statue of the novelist.

Feinnes has a blast as M Gustav, a bit of a dandy who is a hit with the ladies and loves his propriety and poetry.  His hotel is a well run machine, as are all hotels in this country it appears, with not a Basil Fawlty in sight.  But those in sight include an amazing array of actors, including Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe… and a whole host of others I may not have noticed amongst all the scenery.

Having seen the preview of the movie several times, I was surprised when Tilda Swinton, covered in impressive ageing makeup as a wealthy lover of Gustav, got almost as much screen time as Saoirse Ronan as the Lobby Boy’s love interest and assistant in their attempt to clear their names.  But that is mainly because Gustav is the focus of the story even if it is the Lobby Boy recalling the story, and the Lobby Boy and his own story therefore takes a back seat to the driver in the front.

And it is lots of fun.  From the animated action sequences and the changing garb of the hotel, everything is crafted with love if not necessarily with a huge budget.  The actors all seem to be having a brilliant time, and it mostly rolls along with an easy charm and a light air, so it’s a little bit shocking when, from time to time, a graphic image or act of violence pops up on the screen.  Indeed, these were so unexpected that I could hear audible gasps from some of the members of the audience with more delicate sensibilities. 

But overall, it was a resounding success with all my fellow watchers.  The others were more convinced that The Grand Budapest Hotel was a better film than Anderson’s last film, Moonrise Kingdom, though I was not so sure.  Nonetheless, it was still a very funny, witty and entertaining film and well worth the wait and anticipation.

Verdict: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a brilliant film, filled with great performances, sparkling dialogue, whimsical music and wonderful cinematography.  So really, it is pretty brilliant, though I have to admit, considering the film’s quirkiness, it will not be to everyone’s taste. But for me, definitely 4.5 hotel stars out of 5.