Friday, September 19, 2014

Film Review - The Boxtrolls (2014)

The Boxtrolls is about a group of creatures called the Boxtrolls who prowl the streets at night and abduct a baby boy who grows up with them and becomes known only as Eggs after a box of Eggs but an evil man named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) is determined to find them and destroy them.

2014 has set a high watermark in terms of animated films with both the Lego Movie and How to Train your Dragon 2 proving to be strong family films with fun to be had for both young and old audience members which is why it saddens me to say that this one does not measure up, don't get me wrong it is far from terrible and there is fun to be had but there were a couple of reasons I feel this way:

- The first is that unlike the studios previous film Paranorman, this movie lacks a strong beating heart at its centre and tends at times to divide its focus between the Eggs and the Boxtroll creatures and as a result I began to not really care all that much about the films climax.

- The second is that the story here is also very predictable and by that I mean that I began to predict what was going to happen in the climax of the film and again as a result of this I didn't really care about how it all played out which ties it back to the lack of heart that the film has.

But as I said this is not a terrible movie by any stretch of the imagination as the film has some great animation (it was animated with stop motion) and some of the fast motion is very good here as well especially during some of the running and sliding scenes but I would also say that this film might be a little too scary for under 5 or 6 year old children so I would think twice before taking them to it.

So all in all the Boxtrolls is nicely animated and has some good motion but I found the story predictable and lacking in heart, 2 and a half out of 5.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Film Review - The Giver (2014)

The Giver is directed by Phillip Noyce who you may remember from such films as Newsfront, Dead Calm, Rabbit Proof Fence and his horrible adaptation of Patriot Games but here this film takes place in the future where everyone and everything is exactly the same and Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) is chosen to be given the memories of the past by his mentor (Jeff Bridges) but some feelings may be stronger than others.

The Giver is merely okay, Noyce does an okay job here (better than he did with Patriot Games I'll say that much) and I do like the Black and White photography the film opens with as indeed I enjoyed Jeff Bridges in his role as he seemed to have started talking more like a normal person than just doing his True Grit voice like he has in his last couple of movies and I also liked Alexander Skarsgard (son of Stellan Skarsgard I must add) in his role though Meryl Streep is pretty much sleep walking through her role in the film which is a shame as I enjoyed her very much in She Devil when I watched it recently.

And so the Giver is decent overall but very forgettable and like the upcoming Maze Runner film seems designed to just keep the YA base in cinemas whilst they watch the time tick away until the next Hunger Games movie comes out in November, 2 out of 5.

Film Review - Into the Storm (2014)

Into the Storm stars Richard Armitage (Thorin from the Hobbit) as the principal of a High School in Silverton, a town in America which comes under threat from a Tornado but this Tornado might be the first of many.

You know, part of me was actually looking forward to this movie going into it as I like the idea of a giant storm destroying us all being the subject of a horror type film (this was the same appeal factor that Russel Crowe's Noah had for me) as unlike guys like Mick or Freddy or Jason or Michael there is no bad person to defeat but Mother Nature herself who is malevolent and not easily defeated as she who is eternal can never be claimed Dominion over by man and is as far beyond humans as we are beyond bugs (hey some storms can feel like the Age of Apocalypse is coming) but at the same time the film did look like a bad Twister knockoff.

But to my surprise I actually didn't mind this film for the most part, I enjoyed Armitage in his role and the scenes of the giant storm in action were kinda cool but I also had a couple of problems with the film:

- The first is that the film's climax does get very silly with the Giant Tornado that looked like it was the size of NSW and would surely devour everything in its path but kinda doesn't and as a result I was pulled out of the film by the end.

- The second is that some of the characters seemed utterly clueless at times when it comes to the nature of Thunderstorm systems, at once point one of them goes "But how can a storm system regenerate" or something along those lines and my reply was "Pretty easy sweetheart" as if the place in the path of a storm has enough instability then it can easily fire back up again with the thunder and the lightning and oh god its terrible Feeling that it can generate.

So all in all despite those, I did enjoy Into the Storm but would recommend the Day After Tomorrow instead as that was a more believable film in this field and has much stronger characters but I still hope for the day when a storm front gets the proper dark horror treatment it deserves, 2 out of 5.

Film Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

They're the world's most fearsome fighting team,
They're heroes in a half shell and they're green,
But when the Evil Shredder attacks,
These Turtle boys don't cut em no slack.

Going into this film I feared the worst I genuinely did as I was a big fan of the TMNT cartoon series as a kid in the early 90s (I even had one of the Roadshow Home Video releases of that series, Heroes in a Half Shell was the one I had) though the earlier films in live action weren't that great and the omens for this one weren't much better as it was produced by Michael Bay who pretty much gave us the film that never ends in Transformers: Age of Extinction recently then there was the design of the Turtles themselves and the rumours of them being space aliens (I began to call the film Teenage Mutant Zeist Turtles as a result) and finally Megan Fox as April O'Neill, could it become Cowabunga Dudes or a Cowa-Bungle.

Well it was more a case of the Cowa-Bummer as I just could not say this was a very good film and there are a number of reasons for this:

- The first is that the film changes the back-story of the characters quite significantly and I just sat there thinking as those scenes played out "THIS IS NOT HOW IT WENT" and it put me off a lot of the film as I began to not really care about the rest of the film which was pretty much a twisted loveless millionaire wanting to rule the world with the Turtles playing 2nd fiddle, gee that takes me back to the treatment of the Autobots in the Transformers movies then again what else to expect from Bay these days.

- The second is that the Turtles themselves look too bulky and their group dynamic just again didn't feel right, the Turtles in the animated series were a well trained fighting force that got on well as a team and each had a specific feel to them whereas they talk over each other a lot, have interchangeable characterizations and come across as very loud and as a result I didn't really enjoy watching them all that much save for Donatello who comes across as the most well realized of the four.

Splinter and Shredder meanwhile aren't as lucky, for starters neither of them are Japanese which leads back into the changes to the back-story made for this film which made me mad but what felt as bad if not a little bit worse is that Splinter is boring to watch and Shredder looks more like a cross between Megatron and Wolverine plus his voice is the same dark bass voice the Decepticons had the recent Transformers movies, I kept wishing Ken Watanabe was in this film but alas he wasn't.

- Third the action sequences in this film are so overproduced to the point where your head starts spinning as they have that very fast motion crossed with super slow motion and heavy bass on the sound mix and like in Transformers it takes you out of the action and it becomes less exciting to watch.

- And lastly Fox is a complete blank as April and it only seems like she was cast as a fence mending measure by Bay following her comments about him which saw her fired from the Transformers series, I have thought for a long while now that Anne Hathaway would be a great April O'Neill but it's doubtful she would've done it but Fox doesn't even bring anything to the role and give the large focus she has in the film it gets very tiring very quickly.

But there was one bright light in this film (strange to read I know) and that was Will Arnett who tries at least to do something with his role and doesn't always succeed but at least he is trying and has some fun in that Bill Paxton esque way, it's just a pity given his stellar voice work as Batman in the Lego Movie that he isn't used better here.

And yet it didn't have to be this way, the path forward for a Ninja Turtles film for me could not be more clear: You make it fun and light hearted, make Shredder and the Foot Clan the villains, let the Turtles be central to the story and let them play off each other like they did in the cartoon series and you'll have a winner on your hands but instead we get this mediocre trash and it makes me feel very sad saying it.

So all in all, this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot is not that great and I just cannot recommend it, it's always a sad feeling when your gut instinct is realized and you just feel horrible afterwards, 1 out of 5.

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.