Friday, 31 October 2014

The Babadook

"If it's in a word or a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook."

Seeing as its Halloween I thought I’d review a scary film. This Jennifer Kent film looked like a suitable candidate for my Halloween viewing, if recent years have proven anything though horror films have become a bit lower key. Is it just me or do the 2000s lack a definitive horror masterpiece? The 80s had The Shining; the 90s had Silence of the Lambs. But so far we seem to lack anything for the 21st century as a whole. Here I may have found it. All I can say for my introduction is that my most uttered phrase during this film was, ‘HOLY S**T’.
Six years after the violent death of her husband Amelia is struggling to raise her troubled child Samuel. Her six year old son is terrified of imaginary monsters. The situation grows worse when he reads a story called the Babadook which personifies into his dreams and fantasies. Gradually Amelia comes to share his fear and soon becomes enthralled in the idea that the monster Babadook is stalking her family.
Expanded from a short film called Monster also made by Kent, this one has much more ambition and much more depth knitted between every stitch. There’s so much to enjoy (or not enjoy depending upon how easily frightened you are) about this film. As I said before by now horror films have resorted to blood and guts, bangs and smashes to scare people. The Babadook remembers that terror comes from what we perceive. It comes from the unusual and as long as it is executed correctly it can cause many a sleepless night.
Starting of course with that most primeval modern fear, what’s under the bed, it takes that natural fear and amplifies it to a higher level than I dare to perceive. It also remembers that horror films are made so much better when you understand the characters and care about them. If you do then you share their fears and emote with them. The story is poignant and heartfelt, with some genuinely touching moments that make you connect all the more.  
It dives deep into the troubled waters that are the human psychological condition. It shares traits with traditional ghost stories, even ones we’ve seen recently like the equally fantastic Oculus. In fact, seeing as that used to be the best horror film of 2014, let me make a few comparisons. It’s sad to say that the Babadook is allowed to excel thanks to its bigger budget. It can get a few more scares out of the audience and includes an eternal sense of dread that lingers over you for the entire film.
It doesn’t rely mainly on special effects either. The entire atmosphere and colour scheme help to emphasise the eerie nature. There’s a lot of blue, black and grey (you were expecting blood weren’t you). It is very reminiscent of the horrors of early cinema that couldn’t even rely on sound to scare people. They had to use every single image and every action to generate terror, and that’s exactly what the Babadook does. It’s obvious that Kent knows exactly what she is working with.
They also seem to have created a true monster for the ages. The Babadook (or Mr Babadook, we have to be formal) is so scary not for his violence, or mystic powers. But the whole inevitable build up to his rampage makes even the smallest action seem massive. His power appears to be limitless and the manifestation of his entire being just induces fear from the moment his name is mentioned. Try saying the word Babadook in a normal voice.  
The film is so beautifully executed that the supernatural elements are just a small part compared to the true psychological horror evident from the nature of this film. It’s stylish, refreshing and horrifically scary. I could write more but that would mean watching it a second time, and I might have to wait until next October until I’m ready for that.
Result: 9/10 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

This is Where I Leave You

"Is it the whole world or is it just this family."

Ensemble casts tend to be a hit-or-miss kind of thing in my experience. They are either used because they’re the only suitable people to convey brilliantly written roles that require a huge amount of talent to perform. Or they can be used to prop up a film that even the makers know needs to have some stars to give it any credibility at all. Shawn Levy’s This is where I Leave You falls somewhere in between.
When their father suddenly passes away the Altman family are called home to mourn his passing. And as part of his final wish they must spend the entire week together, a prospect that no one is looking forward to.
Just to elaborate, this is not a dark comedy. The film may look like it will be based on the fact that it is set at a funeral, but make no mistake, this is just a regular, any style will do, comedy. Initially that left me a bit disappointed because I love a good old dark comedy. But looking past that, what does this film have going for it. Well for a start it’s directed by Shawn Levy. He’s created some really enjoyable comedies over the years, Cheaper by the Dozen and two Night at the Museum films make a credible career. He’s less of a voice for films and more of a hired man. He gets the job done and it’s always fine. But nothing really stands out.
The same goes for This is Where I Leave You. In some ways that works very nicely. By casting aside their usual comedic trademarks the cast can really feel like a film in general and not a film centred around one person. It tries its best not to be exceptional and leave the focus on anyone in particular which is good if they want a more realistic comedy. There’s some good chemistry between them and it does do a good job at painting a realistic look at siblings.
The most enjoyable performance has to come from Adam Driver. I can tell you know, anyone who’s worried about the casting for Star Wars 7 can tick him off of your list of concerns. You wait to see what his character does you want to see his humour, the presence and weight he has on screen without blocking out everyone else is really impressive. The writing is good as well. The film is not very plot driven but it uses that to its advantage. It shows sealed emptions and uses several stories to explain the antics of each family member. The small scale production and truthful humour make it a pleasant experience with your siblings.
However, this constant need to create a film where no one element stands out does have a negative effect. Simply put it means that barely anything from this film stays in your head five minutes after seeing it. I really had to wrack my memory to find what I liked about this film because to be brutally honest, it is really forgettable. I can see what they wanted to do by making something that relies on chemistry and real situations rather than abstract craziness and weird characters to generate funny scenes. But the result is that it becomes a little dull.
Despite creating a thoroughly entertaining film they also seem to have made one that you will have to really love and re-watch to remember a lot of it. Becoming a bit too formulaic, slightly too average and playing it far too safe to stand out.
Result: 5/10  

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


"I started this war killing Germans in Africa. Now i'm killing Germans in Germany."

It’s a safe bet that Fury is certainly not a traditional tale of bravery and sacrifice against incredible odds. This group of men stuck in a confined metal box and constantly being shot at. Tempers will be frayed, and egos will clash. There is no nobility, there is no victory, there is only survival.
In the closing days of the war as the allies make their final push into German territory a small group of men undergo a dangerous mission and… wait, this is not Saving Private Ryan is it, no. Oh, it’s in a tank. Okay. Anyway, mission behind enemy lines… ah, with only a tank with the word fury sprawled across the gun barrel.
It may seem cruel to instantly compare this to the best World War 2 film of all time (it just is). But the main selling point of this film was to depict a brutal and unseen side of the war. This phase is often thought of as being one to celebrate, but as this film depicts, the killing and violence is far from over. Actually, you know what, I cannot help but compare this to Spielberg’s epic drama. It may seem unfair, but so far this film looks as if it wants to everything that Private Ryan already accomplished. It has more effects and an ensemble cast to assist it though.
The cast all give a pleasing performance. Especially Shia LaBeouf, I believe that Fury could really be the start of a comeback for the actor. Brad Pitt manages to convey this brutal and horrific world into the tank and onto the screen. But the problem is that given that the last time we saw him in an army uniform was in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, one of the most charismatic roles of the last ten years. Here in comparison, with such a similar style he just looks a bit dull.
The other characters are difficult to pin down. There’s a new recruit who’s never been in combat before and at this point Spielberg should be more suspicious of how many plot points they have borrowed from him. Naturally the rest of the crew treat him as an outsider, but they do not connect with him at all by the end of the film. As a result you sort of dislike the main characters, I know it’s supposed to be a case of no honour in the tank but give us at least one likable character. Some members of the tank bully him more than others, but no one steps in to put a stop to it. Instead they just laugh along, so you just end up hating them all.
That does generate problems, in Saving Private Ryan you want the characters to pull through. Even if we do not know all of the individual characters you know enough about Tom Hanks to realise that every man he loses takes him further away from home. So you want them to survive for his sake. Fury seems to lack that kind of drama or development. There are a few clichés piling up as well, after all the plot is essentially a copy of Steven’s film, but in a tank.
There is fighting, big explosions, tense standoffs. It’s a nice mix of action. The film does do a great job of including a harsh realism in all of the scenes so the film can be held as a good look into the atmosphere of the war. It does a good job of immersing the viewer in this world. It manages to do what it wants by saying that there are no heroes in war. It is just about survival.
Fury may display its point of the horrors of war enough to send a message, but as a film it lacks enough dramatic depth to really standout. As an action film it works, as a message it works. But as a genuine tragic film about war, it misses the mark a bit.
Result: 6/10 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The Judge

"In my experience, sometimes you gotta forgive, in order to be forgiven."

There’s reason to get excited over Robert Downey Jr moving to a more serious line of acting again. He’s demonstrated his ability to play the douchebag, whether he’s a likable one such as Tony Stark or not. But most of these roles have been family friendly films, with nothing to break the mould in recent years. There are other factors that give this film a promising premise, but it’s a safe bet that Downey is the main attraction for this drama.
A successful attorney from Chicago is called back to his hometown to attend his mother’s funeral. As he is leaving the local judge is arrested for the hit-and-run of a criminal, leaving the attorney to represent him. One more thing, the accused driver is his father. The setup sounds like a heavy set drama full of twists and tension. It has a great opportunity to explore a father-son relationship here, and it does so quite well. There are some delicate and dramatic scenes in which Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr (i.e. scripts for two leading actors would not have been able to just be marked Robert D).
Problems arise from the fact that Duvall’s character is written in quite a one dimensional way. He is stubborn, and it is that simple. There does not seem to be a legitimate reason for all of this bitterness either, he is just the way he is. But Duvall manages to do a pretty good job of portraying him. For the way that the character is written he creates a reasonable attitude and believable nature to him with some damn good acting. The simple elements are used to good use as his straight thinking attitude clashes nicely with Robert Downey’s free thinking attorney.
Their relationship is the highlight of the film. The scenes where they have a one to one, not talking about the actual plot, just the background stuff of their beliefs and attitudes towards each other. It will make you want to talk to your own father by the end of it. It was effective; you really felt the hard hitting nature of what was going on. But like I said you have to look at Duvall and think ‘no one can be that stubborn, you have to bend at some point man’.
The other problem is that the tense family scenes really overshadow the courtroom scenes. The actual plot of the film feels like an excuse just to have these few scenes, and they are powerful, but they distract you too much from the plot. You start to wish that they would move on from the case to focus on the more interesting family drama. With Billy Bob Thornton as the opposing attorney accusing Duvall of murder it appeared to be a good opportunity for a evenly matched case. Downey and Thornton’s characters are very similar, in fact if it were not for the circumstances they would be friends. They have similar ideals and morals and are both incredibly intelligent and ruthless. But the idea is not used as well as it could be and as a result you don’t really care. The courtroom scenes become a clichéd sequence that you want to end.
The Judge just has no idea what it is focussing on. Does it want to explore a family relationship, a slick legal story, a hard hitting drama? Ultimately it ends up missing the mark on a lot of them. Good acting manages to make the emotions effective and believable enough. If you like stories that make you feel good and clichés do not bother you then by all means watch this, otherwise, you are likely to be disappointed.  
Result: 5/10

Monday, 27 October 2014

Age of Ultron: Trailer Review and Further Speculation

"There are no strings on me."

I’ve been thinking long and hard over the past couple of days over what this trailer means. And to be honest I still have not found an answer. Does it answer any questions, does it raise further questions, are we more excited, or less? Whatever you think of this trailer, I’m going to take this opportunity to offer some thoughts over any possible speculation that this creates.
Now of course the main focus has to be on Ultron itself. Our first view of him appears to be as a piece of broken down Stark technology. Slightly disappointing that hank Pym appears to be out of this film as Ultron’s creator. That would open a great story for Ant-man as well, Pym creates Ultron and then when it’s all over becomes Ant-Man out of guilt. But right now it looks as if that won’t happen. Regardless though the way Ultron is presented looks so strange and menacing, as the theme of the trailer suggests he does look like a puppet without strings. Of course the music for this trailer is a remix of the Pinocchio song, seriously. It’s done in a very strange manner but it works very well in my opinion. James Spader’s voice is completely and utterly terrifying. Put into that emotionless shell and presented in the way it is makes it so… wow.
For story I’ve managed to conceive some kind of rough outline. It could be completely wrong or it may be close to the mark. If you don’t want even my best guess in risk of spoilers then skip to the next paragraph. With SHIELD in ruins the Avengers are constantly being called to try and take down what remains of Hydra, as we saw in the Winter Soldier. New recruits like Scarlett Witch and Quick Silver are brought in but it’s still not enough. So Tony Stark creates a new form of artificial intelligence, Ultron, to try and solve this crisis. The project fails and Stark abandons it. Whether the Avengers do eventually solve this problem themselves or it persists, Ultron returns. His programming is to help the world no matter what and he concludes that humanity is a threat to the world. From there it’s a battle for control of the planet between the Avengers and Ultron.
If you like that story leave a comment below, or if you think it’s going to be completely different give a suggestion. From the looks of it Banner is still having anger issues. This story has been told so many times and it’s hard to believe that even Joss Whedon could find a new perspective on this. If he does then it will be astonishing. We see the Hulk-buster armour come out, and that could prove to be not only a great action scene but a very poignant one as well. Stark and Banner found a new friendship in each other (not like that!), he even had a cameo in Iron Man 3. So to see them fighting so intensely could be an emotional experience.
With so much going on Loki looks set to be left out. This of course means that Thor is possibly less emotionally attached to this crisis. But the fact that he attacks Stark indicates that he blames our favourite genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist for this crisis. In fact I’m guessing that a lot of people will. It could be this pressure that leads to Stark effectively signing his own death warrant by taking on the Hulk in a full on fist fight. I’m not saying that I think Stark dies, but it is undoubtedly a huge risk.
We don’t know what sends Banner over the edge but it looks as if Black Widow will play a big role in stopping him. There are rumours of a relationship springing up between them. Hawkeye is rumoured to take a front seat part in this film after being side-lined for a long time. Quicksilver has a lot to top, that astonishing sequence in Days of Future Past could overshadow the Marvel version. I cannot find anything to talk about when it comes to Scarlett Witch, only that she might be starting her journey as an Ultron acolyte. Captain America will probably be postponing his search for Bucky. The final shot sees his mighty shield smashed, could this be an omen to the condition of Cap himself.
There’s a part reserved for Andy Serkis it would seem, making him a big player in Hollywood next year, but we do not know what it is. There’s no information concerning Nick Fury either. Whedon has also stated that the film is centred on the children of Tony Stark. Maybe this is literal, but more likely this is referring to Ultron, and the other child, the Vision. We have still seen nothing from this AI. But could he be the pivotal piece in bringing an end to this threat.
That’s the best I can do. What did you think of the trailer? Did it answer any of your questions, or are you still confused? Do you have your own theory around the events of this film, comment below if you do, let me know. And then, set a date for April 24, 2015… 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


We dared to hope, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Franchise, as we have already seen, was ridiculous and bizarre. But it was memorable, it was fun and nostalgic. You either loved it completely or loved it ironically, or of course you hated it. But one thing that everyone did was remember it. This one manages to do only one of these things, make everyone hate it.
Let’s get through this. As darkness settles over New York City when the evil Shredder has a grip on everything from police to politicians it will take something new to break this vice. At the same time April O’Neil wants to be a real reporter and thinks she has hit the big time when she discovers four unique crime fighters.
For starters this is a TMNT film that has the least amount of Turtle content in it so far. We spend more time focussing on Megan Fox, who just… acts like Megan Fox, enough is said on the issue. Possibly the only thing this film got right was the personality of the Turtles, they were fun and seemed to have a genuine relationship, this may just be because I was expecting to hate them so much. But they were quite likable, but putting these personalities in bodies that resembles the Lizard from Amazing Spider Man made it more difficult to like the characters. Getting bak to the problem though, like the Transformers franchise by taking humans that we do not care about or like at all. More Turtles might have this film much better because they have character, they’re fun and wild and genuine teenagers. We want to watch them.
Be warned though, that is the last positive statement about this film. In terms of plot it’s so weakly put together that it could have come out of the mind of the only people who will actually enjoy this film. The origin story should never be mentioned in the world of films again, it makes no sense and tries far too much to play the idea of destiny. That leads me onto another problem.
If you are going to make a film about four giant reptiles, do not try to make it serious. It’s a ridiculous concept, you do not need hard-core action scenes. As a result every time you do see something appropriately over the top you just think off it as being over the top rather than actually suiting the TMNT franchise.
At other points the film looks too nerdy for mainstream success and too mainstream for nerdy success. Everything’s been done on a bigger scale but do not for a moment think that bigger means better. The first TMNT film holds up even better when you compare it to this one. It has themes of family and there’s an actual villain instead of some guy in the shadows. Here things just happen, without any sense of direction or themed compass (do you like that term, just made it up).
On more than one occasion it looked as if they took the easy way out with certain plot points and character development. The reason Marvel does so well is because they have embraced their universe and the eccentric nature of their material, casing point Guardians of the Galaxy. It proves that even if you have an out of this world concept with weird characters, you can still make us care about them you can still make us love them, you can still have a great summer blockbuster.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels as if it wants to avoid standing out as much as they can. In the end it just becomes mediocre. And that is by a long, long way the worst thing anyone could do to this franchise.

Result: 2/10 

Monday, 20 October 2014


"They don't care about you. You're just a piece of meat to them."

Britain still bears the scars of The Troubles. It’s a sensitive subject that can still lead to hot disputes today, we’re still recovering, and many believe that we always will be. In terms of films, well until now it’s been a subject that no one has dared to go to. With good reason, it’s not simply a case of right and wrong, but it’s not even a case of perspective either, opinion will just be divided wherever you go and they are strong opinions. But the crucial part of that sentence was ‘until now’.
At the height of The Troubles the British Army is sent to maintain order. Gary Hook is one of many young British soldiers sent to Belfast, during a riot he becomes stranded in an extremely hostile estate. With the line between friend and foe warped he has to navigate his way out of danger through a foreign landscape surrounded by members of the IRA.
This is not something like the Vietnam War, generally held in a similar view of being a tragedy that one massive military force blundered into. But the Troubles have no specific or general view. Any attempt at capturing this on the screen would be a daunting one to say the least. But the writing and direction of ’71 manages to perfectly capture the different atmospheres of this environment. A city divided purely by the lines of Protestantism and Catholicism, between the Loyalists and the Republicans.
The perspective through which this scenario is captured manages to give urgency and remembrance at the same time, much like the best war films. The thrilling aspects grab you right from the start, and do not let go. Nearly everything is presented beautifully, the pacing and action, as well as a spectacular direction that really elevates the film to unprecedented heights. It allows the viewer to rest now and then, but not long enough to recover completely. So when the horror returns the tension is still present. Normally this may be a negative element, but here it proves to be a brilliant asset, this is a no-holds-bar thriller. You want to be relaxed, go and see some romantic comedy.
This ensemble cast is superb, but the most valuable player, by a long way, has to be Jack O’Connell in the lead role. It’s through his eyes that we witness the destruction, going from a peaceful suburbia to an environment with the same outline, but different fillings. He’s wounded and scared, remaining silent for long portions, yet somehow he can easily convey the emotional turmoil he’s going through. It is eloquently enthralling from start to finish. There’s no overconfidence in his violent speech patterns or actions, you just get the sense of his will to survive.
A riveting music score only emphasises all that O’Connell and director Yann Demange work to achieve in the film. If there is a flaw it could be from the fact that occasionally it delves too deeply into the thriller genre, after all this is about a genuine tragedy, one that still exists very firmly in human memory. Like I said before it does very well to remember the gravity and full severity of these events, but a little more would create the perfect film.
It also cannot help but take sides slightly. I’m not saying that there is a correct side to take. But the very best films of this tone remain more impartial, you do not see Francis Ford Coppla pop up in the middle of Apocalypse Now and shout ‘war is bad’, or ‘war is good’. That certainly is not the case here, but if you look a bit deeper, you begin to notice a slight biased.
But this is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year for me.It succeeds in looking at the politics of war just as much as the actual gunfire.  By recreating the conflict instead of dramatizing or emphasising it, the film manages to put itself on par with great suburban war films like Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. It really is that good.
Result: 9/10   

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Maze Runner

“Every morning when those doors open, the runners look for a way out. No one’s ever survived a night in the maze.”

Riding on the massive success of The Hunger Games comes this latest teen-flick. It seems that rather than sex-driven or rebellious films, teenagers key market place is the dystopian future. Hunger Games (obviously), Divergent and Transcendence, now the Maze Runner joins them.
Based on the bestselling book, we watch as Thomas wakes up with no memory of who he is or where he is from. All he does know is that he now lives in the Glade, the centre of a giant maze which they must escape from, dodging danger and disaster all the way through. A rather riveting premise to say the least, it also features a rather interesting conundrum by including several other boys in the maze, presenting an almost Lord of the Flies-like scenario when the decision to work together or split into factions arises.
A rather young cast does a good job at portraying these young men fighting for their lives. The panic and immediate call to action leaves little room to expand as a character but there are a few breathers where the talent becomes obvious. We do see some well-established and rather unique characters, but there are too few of them, and even those few who can, would only be described as developing characters in quite a loose term.
The directing of the film is impressive and shot in a stylish manner. The high octane nature of the actual Maze Running captures the intensity in a manner that can easily grip you, especially with an interesting set up. The tension it amasses works in an effective way, and there’s a nice puzzle solving element to use logic and sensibility as a driving emotion.
However all of this action comes at a cost, spending too much time with plot and mystery results in little plot development throughout the first half of the film. Then in the second, where they could have focussed on the more long term effects of the constant running and fighting on the characters, and too further develop them, instead they sacrifice the interesting premise for more action and trying to hastily explain everything as quickly as they can before time runs out.
The entire mystery over what lies within the maze cannot help but be unfulfilling as we’ve had an hour of hinting at them. Not only that but the monsters are not that scary up close, they use an excellent tense atmosphere in the build-up, but it just does not deliver when they are finally revealed. The pace builds at too high a rate for the rest of the film to support it. eventually it has to stop towards the end, and that’s where we find the biggest problem of all.
This is obviously an attempt to start a new franchise, and that is a perfectly reasonable goal for films today. But the best franchises can do it subtly, finding a happy medium between ‘adding in another instalment for no reason’ and ‘making it blatantly obvious that another is needed’. The Maze Runner swings much more towards the climax. The ending is so anti-climactic and unsatisfying. I know why they have done it, to hammer in the fact that there will be a sequel and you must see it.
So despite the intense action and pleasing direction, led by a talented cast, the Maze Runner sacrifices too much of its plot and character development in order to try and launch a new franchise. But with a plot too closely linked to the Hunger Games, and with a much too obvious sequel setup, it certainly is not outstanding.
Result: 4/10  


Monday, 13 October 2014

Gone Girl

In many ways David Fincher is the epitome of the modern film director. Rivalled only by Christopher Nolan, in my opinion, he could very well be the best director of the last twenty years (although Tarantino has done very well, Scorsese’s still going strong, as is Spielberg) okay, he’s a good director and let’s leave it at that.
And if there’s one thing that Fincher excels at is the psychological thriller genre. Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s an impressive list. And is Gone Girl the latest to be added to it. Based on the bestselling book, it follows the troubled relationship of Nick and Amy Dunne when on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary Nick discovers that Amy has disappeared. The following investigation can be summed up in one question, did he do it?
Well I can instantly say it could very possibly be the latest of Fincher’s films to get some healthy Oscar nominations. The stylish direction, the intelligent story line, this could be the clincher for Fincher as the Oscars. It’s easy to see why Fincher jumped at the idea to direct this film. The dark and twisted nature of it fits in nicely with the style of his other thrillers. Every current hot topic is explored in this relatively simple premise. It explores so many different dimensions and perspectives that you can really begin to question your own allegiance belongs to, whether they are innocent or not.
These kind of stories appear regularly on the news. The whole idea of making a film about them and automatically branding one side of this argument is quite a taboo subject to say the least. Making a book about this is one thing, but a mainstream movie? We seem to be forgetting just how bold this entire concept is. The whole experience is heightened with the power and influence that the media have in the modern world.
Naturally, this being Fincher, there are several twists throughout that really keep the viewer guessing. Too many thrillers of this kind get lost within their own trail. But in Gone Girl most of the plot point work very well. I say most, a few times it delves into the unbelievable and takes the thriller element a bit too far. I know it’s trying to get your heart rate going, but maybe one or two more pauses to let us absorb what’s just happens would really benefit.
Rather than having a what’s in the box moment there are some carefully plotted and slow twists rather than sudden ones. Through the intricate planning of a PR agent for example, or a single scrap of evidence. It builds tension all the way through as well. The result can be a slightly underwhelming finale, but it still works very nicely.
However there are some aspects that are really great. I love dark comedy, and this film has a really twisted sense of humour. You do have to look deep to find it but it shows, that is why I wish there were a few more pauses. That way we could think for a moment and realise, that was rather comedic. At some points it’s almost a satire of the entire culture behind this media frenzy of recent years. It points out how prejudice runs much deeper in our society than we like to think.
Supporters like Neil Patrick-Harris and Carrie Coon fit in very well and deserve praise of their performances. But the true outstanding point is the two leads. Any criticisms of Affleck or Pike that you have from other films are used to their advantage here. Though we may ridicule Affleck for Pearl Harbour and worry that he will ruin Batman, here he is at the top of his game. He is truly starting to regain his reputation as a great actor.
As the biggest star of this film, Fincher well and truly puts his mark upon it. What’s so brilliant about this mark though, is that it’s not obvious the way that Tarantino or Scorsese or Spielberg does with their films. He alters his mark a bit, polishes it to suit the material, and it’s worked very well here. The tone of the film is perfect with the plot, assisted by a wonderfully gritty soundtrack.
Though it may appear to be standard murder mystery, Fincher turns this into the ultimate battle of the sexes movie. It’s an exploration of marriage, media and morality.
Result: 9/10 

Friday, 3 October 2014

TMNT: The Franchise so far...

Well, if any franchise proved to be a mix of nostalgia and nightmares it’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle film franchise. Based on the dark comic book that became a children’s cartoon that went on to become the worst musical act of all time (Coming out of our shells, look it up) and the films can prove to be a mess of fondness and creepy rubber suits.
Released in 1990, the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film had a lot of serious stars behind it. Produced by Golden Harvest, the team behind some of the greatest Martial Arts films ever made such as Enter the Dragon. It displayed its ninja pedigree with pride, but a lot of serious fights were cut from the final film due to parent complaints. Knowing that can be a bit off-putting, remembering that amid all of the childish humour there might have been some kick-arse fight scenes. But regardless, this film is refreshing in some aspects. There’s no boring introduction, within five minutes you know everything you need to. there are four Turtles, named after Renaissance artists, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello. They live in a sewer, trained by a rat and eat mainly pizza, as well as occasionally fighting the evil Shredder.
With the help of April O’Neil they foil a crime cartel, although cartel is a lose term as remember, these are giant turtles in a film frightened to show any kind of violence. It may have dated quite a lot, but still. If ever there was a film that summed up the definition of nostalgic, it’s this one. The retro charm and practical effects make the first turtle instalment good, I challenge you not to use Cowabunga once in your life after watching this film.
Directly after the events of part one, and riding on a wave of success, we were treated to the sequel TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze. Firstly, due to parent complaints about the first film there is no violence of any kind, not even what we would class as cartoony, over the top fighting. Any serious martial arts have been scrapped in favour of fighting with plastic bats, belts, yoyos, ties, blankets and sausages. Incidentally these ninjas are also terrible at being ninjas, they are ambushed constantly at several different locations. It’s a mess of corny freeze frames, dated nineties references and did I mention the bad fighting.
You do have to question whether the people who made this film even liked the cartoons, or the comics, which were famously conceived on a napkin. Secret of the Ooze pays tribute to those rumours by being written on one. Just to throw it out there as well, the secret of the Ooze is never really explained, despite the fact that it’s established that it turns turtles into ninjas. And even though it’s been mentioned several times already, the fear of any fighting at all results in a climax that involves defeating the shredder with a guitar solo. As well as this the film features (some would call this a low point, others may call it a high point) a Vanilla Ice concert. Of course, silly Mr Ice thinks that all of the crazy fighting (loose term) is just a new kind of breakdancing. But luckily, all is resolved with a dance to his newest song, ‘Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go’. Yay(!)
Part three is a not o welcome returned. Not only has to budget been horrendously slashed as people begin to realise the turtle franchise is slightly ridiculous. April (who at this point is played by… God knows who) buys a magic sceptre from the shops that transports the turtles back in time and from there… I have no idea. Bad effects, a plot that makes no sense, I think they have to find a new sceptre for some reason, even though they already have one, and a very specific two days to do this, because… ninja power? One bit that I strongly remember is the finale. After knocking the villain into the water below, I promise you there is at least a good four seconds of silence between him hitting the water and an actual splash sound. Watch it, it actually happens. Hen to celebrate their return home Splinter puts on a lampshade and sings an Elvis song, this perfectly represents, um….
After a lengthy hiatus a new generation of turtles rock up. The computer animated TMNT is something based solely for the video game generation and I have mixed feelings about it. For a start it does feel a bit cheap and devoid of any real imagination. It felt more like a product than someone wanting to finally make the good TMNT film. Mystic portals, Aztec statues and demon monsters make it feel a bit jumbled and a product of advertising. But there are good points, the CGI element allows them to feature some child friendly action, and the turtles are much less cumbersome than men in rubber suits. For the first time on-screen this adaptation gives each one a distinct personality as well, Leonardo is responsible, Michelangelo is the joker, Donatello is clever and Raphael is aggressive, they seem like real teenagers for the first time.
So, that’s four films and varying degrees of success. Can you do better than that Mr Bay?