Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Uncanny X-Factor

A while back I got the chance to go and see the new X-Men film Days of Future Past directed by Bryan Singer and I really loved it, so much so that I mark as one of my top three films of the year and went back to see the film a 2nd time in cinemas.

But this also had me thinking about another thing and that has been that this series for the most part is arguably my overall favorite Super Hero film series now don't get me wrong I really love the first two Superman films as envisioned by Richard Donner and I also thought Joss Whedon's the Avengers was great as was The Dark Knight and 2012's Dredd reboot but I just keep thinking that there's something that little bit more about this series and allow me now to explain.

- The first reason for me is that this series unlike a lot of comic book movies feels much more rooted in Science Fiction, a genre which I am a near lifelong fan of and like the best Science Fiction works be it literature or movies this series is willing to deal with themes and ideas that also feel rooted in our own history be it Alienation, Genocide, Fear of the Unknown or Racism and Homophobia.

All of these themes and ideas were very much rooted in the X-Men comics and these movies for the most part have been willing to bring them to the forefront and as a result I really feel that these movies actually seem to be about something at their core rather than just be another Visual Effects show piece with a few Comic geek fanboy references that some of these films can feel like at times.

- The second is that there is a terrific roster of villains for the X-Men characters to face off against and on both the mutant and human sides to be they Magneto/Eric Lensherr who is a long running foe or Dr Bolivar Trask who in turn creates the monstrous Sentinels to exterminate the mutant race not to mention Colonel William Stryker who has a history with Wolverine and Senator Robert Kelly clearly inspired by Joseph McCarthy but then there's Apocalypse, he who is eternal.

And when it comes to the Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe to make the more direct comparison this has been the one constant area where that group of films has fallen very short of the mark and like a good action picture be it an Arnold Schwarzenegger film or a James Bond installment a good villain is essential to the long term health and success of that film and with the MCU I've found they've fallen very short of the mark in the long term, hopefully James Spader as Ultron in the Avengers sequel Age of Ultron next year and Josh Brolin as Thanos can see Marvel Studios can finally break that curse.

- And the last reason I have to say is Bryan Singer himself, Singer started the series in 2000 with the first film and built on that with his 2nd in 2003 before leaving the franchise to make Superman Returns in 2004 and it has to be said that without him the franchise not only lost its way quality wise but also the fans of the series started dropping off from seeing them in the long term despite X-Men 3 and the 2 solo Wolverine films both doing solid numbers.

And my last reason has to do with Bryan Singer himself, Singer started this series with his first installment in the year 2000 and then topped that work with his second film in 2003 before leaving the series in 2004 to go and make Superman Returns for Warner Brothers and it has to be said that without him the franchise not only lost its way in terms of the quality of the films that were being made but also the fans started walking away in the long term despite X-Men 3 and the 2 solo Wolverine spin offs doing fairly solid numbers.

Along with that Singer's own career as a director lost its way with Superman not flying high with filmgoers nor did his 2008 thriller Valkyrie or last year's Jack the Giant Slayer which I found to be a complete borefest but despite that his return to his pet franchise was in the works starting with 2011's First Class before his commitment to JTGS saw him step away from the director's chair but with Days of Future Past he was now available to take back the big chair and with it the fans have come rushing back as well for despite solid reviews for First Class in 2011 the film did not perform well financially.

But where does this leave the franchise at the moment, well I'd say in good stead with X-Men Apocalypse due for release in May of 2016 and fans are already very excited for that film and the potential it promises, hopefully the dark cloud of the abuse allegations surrounding Singer will quickly be resolved and he can honor his deal to direct that film as is currently planned.

And so that's that for my column on the X-Men movies, hopefully it was worthwhile for you as a read.

Film Review - She Devil (1990)

She Devil stars Roseanne Barr as Ruth, a clumsy housewife who meets her favourite author Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep) at a party one night but she also discovers that her Husband Bob (Ed Begley Jr) is cheating on her with Mary so she masterminds a plan to bring him down.

She Devil is a terrific example of what I call the "Oh No" comedy in that a scene plays out and then something happens in it that makes you go "Oh No" and sure enough that happens and this film also had me smiling almost all the way through it as it is a terrific dark comedy with not only a great comic performance by Streep who does the manic timing very well in contrast to her near perfect looks but Roseanne Barr is simply fantastic as the scorned wife and watching her in this film it's easy to see why she became so successful on television a couple of years later.

Another thing I noticed watching this film is how brisk it feels in its pacing, no moment ever feels wasted here and I also noticed that this sort of story plays a lot better nowadays given we're more cynical than we were in 1990 when this film was first released and also movies about female empowerment also have much more resonance now than then, its a big pity this movie won't get re released in cinemas as I think it would get a much different reaction to the one it got on original release.

All in all She Devil is terrific fun and is well worth a watch, 3 and a half out of 5.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review - The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

A remake of the 1968 film which starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (who also appears in this remake) and directed by John McTiernan, the story here sees Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) hijacking a priceless Monet painting said to be worth 100 million dollars which catches the eye of the Insurance Officer assigned to the case named Catherine Banning played by Rene Russo.

I really had fun with this version of Thomas Crown and there are three people responsible for this:

- The first is John McTiernan himself and he is clearly having a ball here as he keeps a very firm hand on the whip and gives the film a real sense of movement and as a result there isn't a wasted frame of film here at all and it's nice to see him cut loose like this in the way that he did in Predator, Die Hard and the Hunt for Red October and it's a big big shame Brosnan didn't recruit him to direct Die Another Day as I can only imagine how much better that film might have been with a proper action director in the captains chair.

- Speaking of Brosnan, he is the 2nd reason this film works very well as he is so smooth and slick and charming here that I couldn't help but think "Why didn't the post Goldeneye James Bond films he made capture this quality" as the post GE Bond films just saw him going through the motions whereas here he gives a great performance.

- And lastly I have to talk about Russo who is just wonderful in this role and just with a few facial expressions gives you so much in terms of how her character is feeling in that particular moment and she is also every inch Brosnan's equal in the mind games the two characters play with each other, it was such a shame to see her so criminally wasted in the recent Thor movies.

Sadly however the film's second half is not as strong as the first and at times it gets a little convoluted and lost in itself in terms of what is going on and although it wraps itself up well a part of me would have liked a more clear cut way there.

But hey that's only a quibble compared to the fun on show here and fun I had whilst watching it, 3 out of 5.

Film Review - The Player (1992)

The Player is directed by Robert Altman and stars Tim Robbins and Griffin Mill, a Hollywood studio executive who hears a lot of story pitches but one day he is sent a Postcard that says "In the Name of All Writers, I'm Going to Kill You" which sends Griffin mad as Hell and determined to find who is responsible.

The Player is simply terrific stuff and I just loved sitting there watching it unfold, Robbins is superb as Mill and along with his work on the Shawshank Redemption and Jacobs Ladder he proves that he can be one of the best actors going around, I also really loved the performances by Peter Gallagher and Brion James as two of the other studio execs as well as by Vincent D'Onofrio as a frustrated writer and Whoopi Goldberg as a Pasadena detective.

But I have to also talk about the script by Michael Tolkin and on who's novel this is based as it is incredibly clever in its mixture of satire and insight and I wonder if Altman's long experience as a director up to that point helped him as well as while I was watching this film I started wondering "I wonder if that is how it really goes down as it would feel right if it did" plus there are some fantastic cameos that really made me laugh.

So yeah I had a big smile on my face watching the Player and any film fan owes it to themselves to check it out, 5 out of 5.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Film Review - The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

The Hundred Foot Journey is the tale of an Indian family who leave Mumbai to make a new life for themselves in France near a Village, one day they come across an abandoned area that they believe is perfect to build an Indian restaurant, the only problem is the French restaurant across the road led by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren.)

I don't have an awful lot to say about this movie but I will say that it is nicely charming in its own way and not too dark in its tone to put off some viewers, Mirren is her usual likeable self despite the bitchy French accent and Om Puri is very good here as the Indian Papa and the bickering between the two provides a lot of the film's best laughs.

I also enjoyed the performance by Charlotte Le Bon as another French Chef though one word of warning is that do not see this movie on an empty stomach as during it you will be hungry and will also want a big lunch afterwards.

So that is all on the Hundred Foot Journey, it does what it says on the box, Mirren and Puri are fun and it's a light hearted feel good film that will also make you want to eat afterwards, 3 out of 5.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On the Air Episode 2: GOOOOOD MORNING GALAXY!

GOOOOOD MORNING GALAXY!

That is the title I have given my 2nd Radio show which I pre recorded last week and went to air on ABC South East SA last Friday.

In it I talked about:

- Remembering Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall
- And So it Goes
- Lucy
- Guardians of the Galaxy

As with the 1st episode to listen to it right click on it and Save to your Computer, enjoy.

http://blogs.abc.net.au/sa/2014/08/friday-flicks-with-simon-waite.html?site=southeastsa&program=south_east_mornings

Friday, August 15, 2014

Film Review - Expendables 3 (2014)

Expendables 3 is the third film in the series and again stars Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross and this time he comes up against an old enemy named Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) who may well be the deadliest enemy the Expendables come across as well as their most personal.

I have to confess sitting in the Comfy Chair that I was kind of looking forward to this movie primarily because I like the old school 1980s Action film probably more than I do the Superhero stuff we've gotten a lot of recently and also the addition of Gibson to the cast as I always like seeing him on screen despite his off screen problems in recent years, did this one shoot its way to victory or die fighting the good fight?

Well to be honest I thought the film was pretty average, don't get me wrong it's not horrible by any means of the imagination but nor is it that great burst of old school Action filmmaking that the first Taken with Liam Neeson was or the 2012 Judge Dredd reboot with Karl Urban both films I think recall that era a lot better than this series does and this one returns to the style and tone of the first film which is more Stallone driven than the second film which had a very fast moving plot and a terrific climax whereas here like in the first film there are a fair few slow parts and the action climax isn't very exciting and runs on a little too long.

Another problem this film has is its villain and despite Gibson's absolute best efforts and he looks in great shape for the role which prompted the natural question "Why did you turn down Mad Max 4?" he doesn't really get an awful lot to do here apart from smile and scheme and punch and kick and frankly another action star could've easily filled his boots in that role, Harrison Ford also gets very little to do when he like Gibson should've been a very exciting addition to this series.

And thinking about that makes me sad somewhat as rumours have surfaced that the Highlander himself Christopher Lambert may be joining this series in a future instalment and I can only hope and pray that he gets a meaty role as Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod deserves nothing less.

Probably the best new additions to the series and about this film are Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas, Snipes gets the bulk of the laughs here and shows that his time in Jail for Tax Avoision (Avoision it's a crime look it up) has kept him in good shape while Banderas looks terrific, really lean and mean and both of them I thought were the best thing about this film.

So sad to say, Expendables 3 is very average watching and for me it's hard to recommend it, go and see Guardians of the Galaxy instead, 2 out of 5.