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Friday, May 23, 2014

Under the Skin


This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

“An alien seductress preys upon the population of Scotland.” So says, the IMDB anyway. Personally, I think it's about whatever you want it to be about.

What we thought.

Well... this is a tough one.

Straight off the bat, before I try and wrap my head around explaining why Under the Skin is such a powerful piece of cinema, we have to get one thing out of the way first: if you are looking for a film with an identifiable narrative structure – you know, a story – then, please, for the love of all that is holy and unholy, avoid this film like the plague. To compare it to a similarly arty Scarlet Johansson vehicle, Under the Skin makes Lost in Translation look like a densely plotted thriller, packed to the gills with thrills, spills, twists and turns. This is impressionist filmmaking at it's most impressionistic and, as such, really isn't for everyone.

Indeed, to be entirely honest, this sort of thing is seldom my bag either. Under the Skin is reminiscent of Kubrick at his most abstract and Lynch at his most weird, but it's most comparable to the poetic latter day work of Terrence Malick. The only difference is that while I find things like The Tree of Life and To the Wonder to be a true chore to sit through, I was entirely enraptured by the poetic, often dialogue-free dreaminess of Under the Skin. Here's the major difference, I think: while Malick's beautiful, pretentious, artful, artsy filmmaking is laced through with austerity and earnestness, Jonathan Glazer's beautiful, pretentious, artful, artsy filmmaking is laced through with bug-eyed intensity and batshit insanity.

Walk of Shame

Because sometimes even dumb movies need some love.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After losing both her fiancĂ©e and her dream job in the same day, TV reporter Meghan (Elizabeth Banks) enjoys a rare wild night out with her girlfriends that culminates in a drunken one-night-stand with a poor bartender (James Marsden), Gordon. As it so happens though, her dream job isn't quite the lost cause that she assumed it to be, as a late night missed-call from her agent informs her of a second chance to impress her potential new bosses with her next broadcast – and with eight hours lead-time, it should give her plenty of time to prepare. Unfortunately, after getting locked out of Gordon's apartment with no money, no car, no phone and no idea where on earth she is, those eight hours suddenly start looking like no time at all.

What we thought

Walk of Shame has gotten a right kicking by overseas critics (scoring a paltry 25/100 on and a decidedly tepid reaction by ordinary cinema goers (it's a box office bomb even taking into account its limited release), but, as it so happens, it's far from the trainwreck that most critics paint it to be. Obviously, it's no masterpiece as it is, frankly, an immensely stupid piece of comic fluff but – and this is crucial – it's also effortlessly entertaining and pretty consistently funny.

It's simply ridiculous that Walk of Shame has crashed and burned, while a truly hateful piece of crap like That's My Boy – by my reckoning, the absolute nadir of Adam Sandler's film career - somehow managed to score six more points than Walk of Shame on Metacritic and made a big fat profit while doing so. Now, no one is going to confuse Walk of Shame for The Naked Gun, The Big Lebowski or Monty Python's Life of Brian, but for a dumbo Hollywood comedy, it easily annihilates most of its competition.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

And you thought the Avengers was packed...

While Guardians of the Galaxy is still the year's biggest unknown quantity in terms of superhero movies, X-Men: Days of Future Past was always the one had the biggest potential for really falling flat on its face. Sure, X-Men: First Class restored the X-Men franchise after a couple of truly wretched entries in the form of X-Men III: The Last Stand and X-Men: Origins - Wolverine but First Class was a focused and ultimately very contained story. However X-Men: Days of Future Past was going to turn out, it was destined to be anything but contained. Indeed, it looked doomed to suffer from the same kind of Mutant overload that helped sink the already rather sinkable X-Men III.

Based on one of the comics franchise's most beloved stories, Days of Future Past does indeed, it has to be said, feature a boatload of Mutants in a time-travelling story that spans decades and two quite different cinematic incarnations of the X-Men. Unlike that horrible Brett Ratner abortion, however, Days of Future Past is helmed by Bryan Singer, the guy responsible for what were the second and third best X-Men movies (X2: X-Men United and X-Men, respectively) and is based on a story by most of the very people who made First Class the best X-Men film to date. As such, though it's hardly surprising that Days of Future Past is a massive improvement over something like The Last Stand, it is still pretty astonishing just how well it turned out. I, for one, still think that First Class remains the best of the series but Days of Future Past gives X2 a serious run for its money for second place.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Last Days on Mars

Too much Europa Report, too little Moon...

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

In the final hours of their mission to Mars, a group of astronaut explorers finally find what they came for: evidence of life on the Red Planet. With that discovery, however, comes a great price that may prevent these intrepid explorers and scientists from ever going home again.

What we thought

There's a real sense of deja vu that comes with watching The Last Days on Mars. Of course, part of that undoubtedly comes from the dozens upon dozens of science fiction and horror stories that have already tackled pretty much exactly the same ground over and over again, but mostly it's because I watched Europa Report just a few weeks ago. Oh sure, the two movies aren't exactly the same. Europa Report was set on one of Saturn's moons, makes extensive use of the found footage gimmick and its heroes die through increasingly ridiculous mishaps but the similarities remain overwhelming.

Both feature astronauts exploring a nearby planetary body for signs of life in the not too distant future and both of their plots revolve around something that goes very wrong when the life in question is actually found and building conflicts between the members of their respective, nationally diverse crews. To be fair though, it's very much to The Last Days on Mars' benefit that it is so easily comparable to Europa Report. In comparison to most films/ novels/ TV shows of its type, it falls way, way short but when held up against the unbelievably terrible Europa Report, it suddenly starts to look like something of a masterpiece.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Fine but where's the fun?!

Gareth Edwards' feature directorial debut Monsters was a flawed but undoubtedly impressive monster movie that played like an indie film but looked like a huge Hollywood blockbuster. Most astoundingly, not only was it made on a shoe-string budget, its fantastic monster effects were created on his home computer. With that kind of calling card to his name, it's hardly surprising that Hollywood came a-knocking with an opportunity for Edwards to direct the latest update of the MacDaddy of all monster movies: Godzilla. The wildly increased budget and all-star cast, however, has proven to be both a boon and a bane to this incredibly talented young director.

The good stuff first - and there's a lot of it. Edwards' keen directorial vision and attention to detail is very much on full display here as Godzilla is simply an incredible film to look at. The monster designs are beautifully thought out and are neither generic, nor overly complicated and Edwards captures the sheer scale of these titans perfectly, as they dwarf everything around them. Plus, Edwards and his undoubtedly huge special effects team also give these creatures a sense of physicality and weight that is often sorely lacking in CG-heavy effects films. The film also simply looks beautiful as cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, The Avengers) doesn't even let the constant night-setting distract from some real visual razzle-dazzle. It even makes some impressively layered use of its 3D effects on occasion!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lone Survivor

Marky Mark goes Apocalypse Now! The result's a lot less funny than you'd think.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Navy Seal, Marcus Luttrell, and his team embark on a mission to capture or kill a Taliban terrorist leader but their mission is soon compromised as a group of mountain herders happen upon them. Before long, the hunters become the prey as the Seals are faced with a fight for their very lives against overwhelming Taliban forces. Based on a true story.

What we thought

Lone Survivor is a difficult film to review. On the one hand, it's technically impressive as veteran director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) bounces back from the utterly atrocious Battleship with a war film that actually convinces as a realistic depiction of the horrors of war. It's well acted (it's pretty much impossible to dislike Mark Wahlberg these days), beautifully shot and boasts some of the year's best sound design. Unfortunately, it's also a total bore.

First and foremost, while it's all very well that it's based on a book of the same title, which is itself based on largely true events, the film's title is a total spoiler that robs the action of even the slightest amount of suspense – and that's not even taking into account the fact that the first five minutes of the film reveal exactly who survives (hint: he's on the poster). This may be a “serious” war film but it's unquestionably the case that, at least on one level, it's trying to work as an action thriller. Not that it comes close to succeeding. The action scenes are well shot but because you know exactly what's going to happen, it's hard to get too invested. Worse though, are the quieter moments that are theoretically supposed to amp up the tension but, as there's no actual tension, they end up being merely excruciatingly tedious.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-man 2

Well, "Amazing" may be pushing it slightly...

Plot synopsis: Following the events of the first film, Peter Parker is caught between his blossoming relationship for Gwen Stacy and his promise to her dead father that he would keep her away from his dangerous life as the web-slinging vigilante known as Spider-Man - a promise that becomes increasingly difficult to keep as he is confronted with new villainous forces and an old face from the past.  

Review: I may have enjoyed Sony's premature reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise more than most, but The Amazing Spider-Man was still hurt by being a re-telling of the Web-Slinger's origin story that came out less than a decade after Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie. It was done slightly better, sure, but it still felt like a pointless retread. With the origin out of the way then, director Mark Webb should by all rights have followed Raimi's footsteps with a Spider-man movie that really lets him do a new story his own way. Sadly, while Spider-Man 2 was a tremendous improvement on its predecessor and remains one of the very best superhero films to date, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 only improves slightly on its similarly flawed predecessor.

It is, very simply, a hot mess of a film. It spends both far too much and far too little time on its largely underdeveloped villains (the Rhino has featured heavily in the promotion of the film but his role is merely a cameo, thankfully) as both Electro and the latest incarnation of the Green Goblin follow the first film's Lizard at being basically engaging characters turned into rather naff and badly written super villains. Jamie Fox and Dane DeHaan do their best with their respective characters but both are under-served by the material. Spider-Man is known for having one of the best Rogue's Galleries in comics but you wouldn't know it from Webb's films.

The other major failure with the film is that at nearly two and a half hours long, it struggles under its own weight with some major pacing problems in its middle sections. While something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier made great use of its epic running time, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would have been much improved by being edited down to a more respectable two hours. It's simple enough, as they failed to properly develop his motivations anway, they could have simply have had Electro show up as a supporting villain for Spidey to deal with while working his way towards his real threat, the Green Goblin. The tendency to over-explain every villain's origins and personally connect them to the hero is the very thing that sunk Spider-man 3 and it comes dangerously close to doing the same here.

The Colony

A movie so boring, I can barely be bothered to post my review.

And yes, I realise I'm way behind again but look out for an Amazing Spider-man 2 review coming very, very soon. 

This review, however, is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

After a second ice age devastated the earth, humanity took to living in underground bunkers called colonies. When Colony 7 receives a distress call from Colony 5, their leader heads up an expedition to investigate. What awaits them, however, is something far more sinister and deadly than they could ever have imagined.

What we thought

The Colony is yet another of those D-grade, direct-to-video turkeys that have somehow managed to get a cinematic release in this country, while, of course, some genuinely good films are left out in the cold to make their way through select video stores and movie festivals. That this direct-to-video turkey was also released in cinemas State-side doesn't change how unwelcome it is.

Straight off the bat, though the movie gets more and more insufferable as it goes along, the Colony starts off pretty badly, as it wears its obvious influences on its sleeve and steadfastly refuses to do anything even remotely interesting with them. As it goes along, it evokes and outright steals from more classic science fiction and horror novels, movies and TV shows than is possible to count. Hugh Howey's Wool novels are the first and most obvious similarity but by the end, the Colony pilfers freely from The Thing, Serenity/ Firefly, I Am Legend and just about any other apocalyptic story you could think of.