kingsman-image

There’s something queasy about the bright, digital dullness of Kingsman: The Secret Service.  Matthew Vaughn’s style worked well enough in his (other) 60s throwback pastiche, the singularly interesting if not terribly exciting X-Men: First Class – and it’s a testament to his particular visual sense that the similar era wasn’t nearly as fun or vivid in Singer’s Days of Future Past installment – but here he runs into the same trouble as he did with his previous Mark Millar comic book adaptation, Kick-Ass.  The contrast of extreme violence with the bright, silly worlds created isn’t, for the most part, shocking enough to register as anything other than nihilist geek gore.  Read the rest of this entry »

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 2, 2014

GuardiansOfTheGalaxy

The announcement that Marvel was truly cashing in its credibility chips – even moreso than they did with Thor, for despite that character being well known, introducing a whole intergalactic mythos is a far cry from following the origin of an earth bound superhero – with Guardians of the Galaxy, a little known (and unknown completely to me) property into the Cinematic Universe that has become the Hollywood juggernaut of the last 8 or so years, was a huge surprise to many. Giving a huge budget to little known character that were based in worlds entirely unknown and populating it with B list stars was a ballsy move, especially considering there’s little earth-based grounding to ease the transition. This significant departure from the normal formula is probably why this has been the most anticipated of the Marvel films in a while, if only because there was a huge question mark around how it would be received. Handing over co-writing and directing duties to James Gunn, who cut his teeth at micro-budget schlock studio Troma and whose directorial efforts have thus far been intriguing, if not always successful, idiosyncratic genre exercises. The fact that we get a pretty traditional space opera drenched in the kind of Whedonesque post-modern humour that’s been one of the keys to the success of the Marvel enterprise is almost disappointing in its obviousness. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is actually very much so – but for those of us looking to see what this multi-film franchise could really do, it gives us a clearer idea of just what the limits are, even as it expands beyond what’s come before. Read the rest of this entry »

Lucy

July 30, 2014

Lucy-Scarlett-Johansson

After a decade of becoming one of the top producers of mid-budget B-movie actioners and directing a couple of poorly received and even less seen “personal” films, Luc Besson has made Lucy, a film that combines his best quality (women learning to kick ass) and his worst (“ideas”). To say it’s his best film since The Fifth Element is damning with faint praise, but it is, and it’s just as dumb. What it lacks in smarts, however, it makes up for in briefness of running time. Read the rest of this entry »

olympus-has-fallen-review-header-graphic

That strange phenomena of two films arriving at once that deal with the same subject (think Dante’s Peak and VolcanoArmageddon and Deep ImpactCapote and Infamous) rears its head again in the mindless thriller genre, this time dealing with the oddly specific premise of the White House under siege.  There are dramatically different approaches to what amounts to the same story: terrorists in one form or another have taken over the iconic building, taken the President hostage (or are attempting to), and only One Man can save the day.  It’s Die Hard at 1600, and though I can’t think of a reason why they came along at the same time (other than the opposing views that the White House has been taken over by insurgents, a not unpopular opinion in this country), the Compare And Contrast element of me is tickled.   Read the rest of this entry »

hunger-games-catching-fire-trailer-1

As surprise box office juggernauts go, you can do a lot worse than The Hunger Games franchise.  Though the first film was flimsy and mostly tacky, there was at least an interesting concept – brutal state repression to protect the wealthiest individuals and the moral backflips one has to do when forced to kill others, and the grotesquerie of Reality Television bloodsport.  None of this is particularly new, and as I wrote in my review of the first entry, it’s too hard to ignore the similarities to Battle Royale, a film which is in every far superior.  Still, a popular film about income inequality that is intent on sowing the seeds of revolution is timely and, for someone with my politics, nothing to be sniffed at.  That said, even though the broad strokes are good, there’s a trouble with the sequel Catching Fire, and though this may just be a symptom of “the middle book” syndrome, it’s hard to get too excited because of it.  Despite Jennifer Lawrence being more than capable in the role, and the fact that this film is an improvement over its predecessor in almost every way, the biggest sore spot is Katniss Everdeen herself.   Read the rest of this entry »

Thor: The Dark World

November 18, 2013

Thor-The-Dark-World

I have long approached the Marvel Cinematic Universe project with fascination and a minor degree of excitement about the possibilities of such a venture without being overly impressed with the end products, The Avengers excepted.  Of all the individual character films, I felt the first Thor was the most successful.  It expanded the universe – quite literally – with a deftness and humour that can so often sink a big-budget spectacle when it comes to introducing vast worlds and new mythologies (Green Lantern, anyone?).  Comic book superheroes are arguably most accessible when they’re weighted in the real world, so for instance Spider-man is easily relatable because he’s just a kid in New York City with some amazing powers and the wider audience doesn’t have to stretch too much to go along with it.  Of course we live in a different world than we did 15 years ago, where the nerdy intergalactic aspects of these types of things were shunned by the mainstream as being “ridiculous” and “nerdy” since nowadays all of the old comic book geek stigma is gone.  Still, introducing the 9 realms to a wider audience wasn’t an easy task, but by contrasting the busy, Roger Dean-esque world of Asgard with the bright, clean lines of the New Mexico desert, and by extension the operatic family drama of Odin and his ilk with the fish-out-of-water silliness of a demi-god wandering through small town America with a bunch of scientists, the pill was easy to swallow.  Thor: The Dark World operates on the basis that the heavily lifting has already been done (many people loathe the origin stories and wait for the characters to properly act already established in the sequels), but it turns out the character introduction wasn’t the only reason the fantastical/grounded dichotomy worked.  The new Thor spends most of its time not understanding the careful balance of the first entry, and suffers for a long period for it.   Read the rest of this entry »

the-hobbit-freeman

Not being a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I wasn’t terribly keen on seeing the prequel, especially the story is smaller and perhaps less interesting then the huge events that take place in the “main event” series of Tolkien’s work.  Doubly worse was finding out that this relatively tiny children’s book had been somehow bloated beyond all recognition into a three-part, three-hour a piece movie extravaganza that was going to suck up nine hours of my life.  I don’t want to seem cynical, but considering Peter Jackson’s relative failure to reach the heights of success he had with the original trilogy, one might think it a desperate gambit to get back in the A-list game (and get some easy money) to revisit it.  That’s harsh, though, as he clearly loves the source material, which is a problem.  Read the rest of this entry »

Iron Man 3

May 3, 2013

IRON MAN 3

The Marvel Machine rampages on in Iron Man 3, which is already taking in incredible amounts of money because, I think, Marvel is exceptionally good at product management.  It says something about the skill of digital effects companies that you can make a solid action blockbuster product without the specific skill-set of an “action director”, and thus we have reached the point where the talent is brought in for their ability to keep a certain level of quality, not take risks and, most importantly, keep the writing snappy.  Though some of the films have had minor aesthetic differences, they all more or less look the same:  generally bright, inoffensive, with a dash of pop art stylization without going full-blown Ang Lee.  The last two entries, especially, have had one major authorial difference and that’s in the writing.  The Avengers largely kept to Joss Whedon’s not inconsiderable talent for wit, and now Iron Man 3 flows right into Shane Black’s wheelhouse.  The fact that it’s distinctive is down almost solely to the script, and if it doesn’t set it necessarily to a higher standard than other Marvel fare, it’s at least different.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Expendables 2

November 29, 2012

When the new recruit to the rag-tag group of buffed up mercenaries presumably called “The Expendables” is asked why he left the military to join, he relays a story about being stuck for three hours in a firefight in Afghanistan.  He called for aerial support but his superiors wouldn’t allow it for fear of harming the locals.  Several of his fellow soldiers died “for nothing”, and to top it all off, his superiors killed the stray dog he had adopted.  This fear of the military institution and the lionization of the fighting man is reminiscent of classic, Reagan-era Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II, and indeed there’s nothing about The Expendables 2 that doesn’t just wish it was living in those halcyon days of pumped up heroes righteously killing en masse to hold up the classical values of American masculinity.   Read the rest of this entry »

The action film must be one of the hardest for anyone to justify enjoying to him or her self on a moral level.  We can talk all day long about the technique and the artistry and, in the best cases, the moral depth that create a great action film, but at the end of the day, there’s always going to be that element of thrilling to the violence.  In a fashion, the closer to a realistic depiction of violence an action movie achieves, the farther away from its purpose it gets.  If you think of the brutal physicality and sad desperation in the fistfight-cum-wrestling match of a drama like All the Pretty Horses or the bathhouse finale of Eastern Promises, or even that moment in Saving Private Ryan where Adam Goldberg’s character kills the sense of war-action heroics by pleading with the German soldier not to slowly plunge a dagger straight into his heart, the last thing you feel is “fun” or “thrill” – the reality of violence is that it is generally a sad, ugly thing that represents the absolute worst in humanity.  Therefore, the more outlandish and choreographed and lovingly filmed and edited an action scene is, the better.  Many of the good ones have more in common with a Hollywood musical number than an actual fight.  Even the recent turn towards the more guttural action, like the Bourne films or Craig-era Bond rely heavily on swift editing and choreography to keep the fast-paced excitement going so it can be punctuated by a violent knock to the stomach.  It is on the level of thrills that the action scenes in Act of Valor and The Raid: Redemption hope to deliver, but due to the circumstances of each of the films, there is a drastically different effect on the viewer. Read the rest of this entry »