Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the Air Episode 4: The Age of Men

Alright folks,

Here is the audio from my 2nd last Radio show for 2014 (my last show will be next month as the program it airs on goes off air over December and January) and in it I talk about:

- The teaser trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Gone Girl
- A Walk Among the Tombstones
- The Judge
- X-Men Days of Future Past

To listen just right click on "download audio" and save it to your computer or if you have Firefox click on it and it should come up for you to listen to.

The link is here: http://blogs.abc.net.au/sa/2014/10/friday-flicks-gone-girl-a-walk-among-tombstones-the-judge.html?site=southeastsa&program=south_east_mornings

Superhero Films: Is Genre Fatigue soon to come?

Today Marvel Studios head producer Kevin Feige announced the full roster of what would constitute the third phase of their film franchise.

Needless to say I have very mixed views on this while I will be excited for the 2nd Guardians of the Galaxy film and the Infinity War Avengers 2 parter the rest of the lineup left me feeling fairly cold especially the announcement of the Inhumans film to come in November of 2018.

Allow me now to talk a little more about Inhumans as the comic basically dealt with a race of super humans located in space with powers not all that different to the X-Men as they too had genetically engineered powers and to put my cynic hat on I wonder if Mr. Feige and Marvel Studios are pushing ahead with this property as a stick to beat 20th Century Fox over the head with given that Fox controls the film rights to X-Men and Marvel Studios does not but we will simply have to wait and see on that front given that I'm sure some comic book fans would love to see the X-Men back in Marvel's hands.

But the main point I want to make in this column is that when I looked at this lineup as well as the recently announced slate of films from Warner Brothers and DC Comics the word "fatigue" started coming to mind.

And the reason I felt that way is that there is going to be an onslaught of these films coming from 2016 onwards for not only will we get the start of DC's slate of superhero films as well as the start of Marvel's Phase 3 but we will also get Fox's X-Men Apocalypse in cinemas and I can't help but wonder if during that year we start to see audiences get fatigued by all of these superhero films opening in cinemas virtually at the same time (Captain America 3 and Apocalypse will open within 3 weeks of each other in May 2016.)

Earlier this year when I was waiting to see Edge of Tomorrow I saw a little bit of this happen as along with myself there was an older man there waiting as well and he said to me "I'm sick of all the superhero ones" (ones being movies to clarify the point) and that comment has stuck with me ever since.

They've also had me wondering if those comments will not become as small a scale as they are at the moment during the 2016 to 2020 phase of this genre as all it can take for a genre to go off the rails is for one of them to fail dismally at the box office as happened with the buddy cop genre of the late 80s and early 90s which was going on strong with multiple studios putting out those films until 1993's Last Action Hero crashed and burned at the box office after that you didn't see very many of them being made.

And although Marvel are good at oiling their cinematic universe machine very well DC may not be I mean look at the changes that Dawn of Justice has gone through on its path to production and if one of theirs fails well it may accelerate the feelings of fatigue that could be bubbling under the surface.

But as to whether it will actually come to fruition on a public scale well we will simply have to wait and see but as for myself well I have to say yes in that as much as I have enjoyed these superhero films as a sort of cinematic soft drink that's fun to have as your sitting there in the cinema or at home on a DVD possibly with a real soft drink in your seat's cup holder very few of them have held up for me in terms of replay value because of reasons I have documented elsewhere.

And also looking at both of these Marvel and DC lineups also made me yearn for an old fashioned action film where the hero didn't wear a mask or a suit of tights as well as a more adult film like a good drama which sadly has been pretty much relegated to the independent and art house circuits whereas 10 or 15 years ago they were much more a part of the mainstream of our cinema going lives.

As this column is getting fairly lengthy I will wrap it up here but I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on this whole matter and it gives you something to think about at the very least.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Film Review - Adjust Your Tracking (2013)

Adjust your Tracking is another VHS doco but unlike Rewind This which focused on the history of the format this one focuses much more on the collectors themselves.

And boy oh boy did I have fun watching this doco as the collectors interviewed here were kind of interesting telling their tales of how they find their tapes (stories that yours truly can identify with) as well as some who show off their collections and there are some fantastic ones on show here with some of the interviewees admitting they have thousands of tapes on large shelves, makes mine look puny in comparison.

Also discussed here is how communities and friendships have sprung up because of collecting these tapes and also how some pay huge amounts of cash just for that one rare tape that's very hard to find.

I don't have a lot to say about this doco other than I really enjoyed it but it isn't for everyone but I will give it a 4 out of 5.

Film Review - Video Nasties (2010)

Video Nasties is a UK Documentary that details an infamous period of UK history which surrounded what was deemed to be "Video Nasties" which were horror VHS tapes released during the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain and the campaign that to that country's Video Recordings Act of 1984.

Video Nasties is simply a must see documentary by anyone that any level of interest in history for not only does it talk about these Horror tapes that here in Australia were released by major distributors (House by the Cemetery which was one of the Nasties on the UK's list to be prosecuted was a Roadshow release to name one example) but it also talks about censorship as a whole.

And that wider point is why I think this documentary is a must see for historians as the tale of censorship presented here is one that is sadly far too often repeated around the world, we saw it here in Australia a few years ago when it came to internet censorship and the R18+ certificate for video games, the same hysteria, the same brave few trying to be heard above the den and the same eventual acceptance after a long period of trying to effect change then again it is often said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

But before I wrap things up I have to talk about these three VHS documentaries I've seen this one as well as the 2 American ones "Adjust your Tracking" and "Rewind This" as while watching them the Australian example of VHS releases came to mind and for the most part we were fairly lucky to escape a lot of the problems the US and UK had in terms of their video releases.

For example, Palace created their own sub label called Palace Explosive in the early to mid 80s and some of the horror titles like the Beyond which was another Video Nasty were released on that label and given an R certificate and then distributed to video stores, another example is that our releases tended to advertise upcoming and/or now available titles on the same label (Roadshow would pioneer this in 1982 when they launched their Home Video division) whereas the US tended to go more for the sell through route (though CEL would pioneer that in Australia in September 1985 with Roadshow following suit a year later.)

And so that was Video Nasties, a must see documentary that tells an important tale of both the past and the future, 5 out of 5.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Film Review - A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A Walk Among the Tombstones stars Liam Neeson as Private Detective Matt Sculler who is hired by a Drug Dealer to find who kidnapped and later murdered his wife but this mystery will not be an easy one to solve.

A Walk Among the Tombstones is not a terrible movie but it's also not a very good one either but before I get into that side of it I will talk about what I did like and that is mainly Neeson himself who brings a nice seasoned grizzly quality to this role and he is the main person that holds your attention in this film.

Sadly however the film around him is not that great and its mainly due to the script here for not only is it a very generic tale of kidnapping, murder, ransom and "I will find you and I will kill you" climax but also it feels very anticlimactic as all through this film I kept waiting for another element to come into play that would elevate the material into something special and instead it just sits there in first gear and just plods along to its predictable ending.

But lastly I really need to talk about Neeson's action career and more and more I am becoming reminded of Stallone's action film career instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger as like Sly, Neeson hit it big with Taken in 2008 and it still holds up as a great action film but almost all of them since have been either second rate or flat out mediocre which is where Sly's went following his Rambo success, by contrast Arnold's breakout success with the Terminator was followed up with the likes of Predator and the original Total Recall, I really hope Neeson will make another great action film soon but I won't hold my breath.

And so this Walk Among the Tombstones suffers from a not so good script and plodding direction, go and see Gone Girl instead, 2 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Film Review - Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Interview with the Vampire is based off of the book by Anne Rice who also authored the films script and stars Brad Pitt as Louie, a vampire who has lived for centuries after being made one by the mysterious Lestat (Tom Cruise) but a life of immortality is both a blessing and a curse.

Interview with the Vampire is a very interesting take on the Vampire mythos which has frequently descended into a blood and guts fest or either a tragic love story like we saw in the recent Twilight series here Rice and director Neil Jordan give it a great Gothic feel that really does these creatures a real justice that has been lacking in this genre in recent years.

The film also has some fantastic production design by Dante Feretti with its grand houses and dark halls and old fashioned look to the world Louie walks in as well as some great Vampire make up and effects by the late great Stan Winston, Pitt is on good form as is Cruise and the two make a surprisingly effective pair, Kirsten Dunst is good here despite her young age and I also enjoyed Christian Slater in his role.

So all in all Interview with the Vampire is a good watch and worth a recommendation, 3 out of 5.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Blu-Ray Review - X-Men Days of Future Past

The Film:

Released back in May of this year, X-Men Days of Future Past is based off of the 1981 comic arc of the same name though big changes have been made for this film version directed by Bryan Singer who makes his proper return to the X-Men franchise after having to abort his plan to do so for 2011's X-Men First Class to honor his commitment to Jack the Giant Slayer for Warner Brothers.

This film sees Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) go back in time to 1973 (1980 in the comic) to prevent the assassination of Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) who will go on to create the Sentinel program which has almost exterminated the entire Mutant race in the future but reuniting Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric (Michael Fassbender) to accomplish this goal will not be easy.

I really enjoyed this film when I saw it in cinemas though it has to be said part of me was reluctant walking into it partly because while I greatly enjoyed the first 2 X-Men films that Singer had directed the ones without him were either fine (First Class) or forgettable (The Wolverine) or bloody terrible (X-Men 3 and Wolverine: Origins) and coming out of it and thinking about the film in the day or two afterwards it really grew on me and I became reminded of the big impact the first 2 films had on me.

I've also began to think of these films particularly the ones Singer has had a hand in making as being much more Sci-Fi oriented than Comic Book oriented which I would say the non Singer films feel more like in terms of their tone and structure, his direction is also fantastic and he keeps a very tight rein on the film as it runs the risk at times of everything just falling apart into a great big mess as screenwriter Simon Kinberg's script gets very clunky at times and the film has some great music and editing by John Ottman as well as nearly every major actor in the film bringing their A game to the piece.

The Video:

Presented in 2.35:1 which was the original cinema aspect ratio, the film looks near faultless on Blu-Ray which is combination of muted 70's colors, stock footage which was a great move by Singer and his DP Tom Sigel and colorful futuristic scenes.

Speaking of which, the colors in this film especially in the future scenes are just gorgeous and watching them on the disc really made me think I was looking at a cinematic comic book on screen which did have strong colors in some of their panels plus the look of the 70s is near spot on with its boxy cars, stock cameras and carefree attitude which by contrast the 60s in First Class looked almost too clean for my taste whereas here you can see the grime and the grain of the period at times, this is a great transfer.

The Audio:

Presented in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio this is a fantastic sound mix with a very nice balance of the loud action scenes and the quiet dialogue moments which sometimes on Blu-Ray releases can be a problem as you almost always have to adjust the audio so it's not too loud during the action scenes and not too quiet during the dialogue moments.

That is not the case here as you can very easily leave it on a consistent volume and not worry about having to change it and that is very reassuring as sometimes having to do that can take you out of the viewing experience your wanting to enjoy though watching films at home is fraught with problems sometimes which is why I'll always prefer the cinema experience as you can sit in a dark room for a couple of hours and let the wider world fade away with the sound of a projector going off.

The Extras:

There are a small handful of extras here so let's get into them:

1981 Days of Future Past Comic: I got this little beauty as the pre order bonus from one of the Australian retail outlets and boy I was glad I did as this was a very interesting read even though its only 2 issues and it shouldn't take you more than an hour to finish reading.

And talk about some MAJOR changes from this version for the film first of all Dr Trask is nowhere to be seen as is Bishop (who was invented for the version the 1990s animated series did of this story) there are only 6 X-Men on the team in the story (which should put to bed the notion that there are too few on the team in the movies) and also Ellen Page's character is the one that goes back instead of Wolverine who is one of those 6 X-Men as is Storm in the comic and as I said it is 1980 and 2013 that are the respective past and future time periods the story takes place in.

After I read it I also began to think about the version created for the animated series in the 1990s which like this film version has the basic story structure and framework but also makes its own fairly big changes Bishop being first and foremost who also appears in a small role in the film version and there is a specific Sentinel named Nimrod in that version as well which takes the role that the futuristic Sentinels play in the film version not to mention that its 2055 and the 1990s that are the future and past time periods this version of the story takes place in.

The reason I bring this up is that some of the reviews I read for this film were complaining about the fact that so much was changed from the comic version to the film version and while Marvel Studios themselves have had success in translating their specific comic properties to the big screen in a way that feels like the comics themselves we sometimes need to remind ourselves that translating these books to film can sometimes be tricky.

And to wrap this point up X-Men Apocalypse which will be the next film after this one I expect will follow down the path that Days of Future Past has crafted here in that I feel elements from both the animated series version of that storyline (which did have Apocalypse and his four horsemen in the present day as well as Mystique being a servant of that character though not as one of his Four Horsemen) as well as the Age of Apocalypse comic which was written a couple of years later so there is room for Singer and his team on that front and boy oh boy can I not wait to find out.

With that out of the way let's dive into the disc based extras:

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Bryan Singer: 5 Deleted Scenes are presented here and each are presented with an optional commentary track by Singer.

Quite frankly the 5 scenes presented here had no place in the film at all and they also weren't that interesting either save for the alternate ending of the film which while fun to watch Singer felt he wanted to change for its "been there told that" feel and that he wanted to change the story for X-Men Apocalypse so if you hear anything about Hugh Jackman being Wolverine in that film do not be surprised in the slightest.

Sadly the much discussed Rogue scenes are absent here and this section feels incomplete without them as quite frankly I was more than happy to just see those scenes presented here instead of cynically putting them back into the film to squeeze more green blood from the film's financial returns and for my money it will play out like 99.99% of extended versions, special editions and director's cuts of films in that it will be fun for one watch and then you'll think "Yeah you were right to cut it in the first place."

Gag Reel: A fairly standard gag reel that is mainly worth a watch for Jennifer Lawrence mugging for the cameras and showing more of her fun loving side that has made her a charming presence in the movies in recent years, she is definitely someone I would enjoy hanging out with that's for certain.

Kitchen Sequence: Sadly this is not a featurette about the creation of the famous Quicksilver scene but a 6th deleted scene which Singer suffered fron an ulcer during the shooting of and had to not speak at all and direct his actors via iPhone notes (some of which were in the director's issue of Empire magazine a while back)

He explains the scene and shows us some outtakes from directing it where he talks in a very high pitch voice which makes Lawrence laugh and then the scene itself which like the other deleted scenes presented here it was best left out.

Double Take - Xavier and Magneto: This is the first of 4 featurettes about the making of the film and this one focuses primarily on the 2 sets of actors who play Xavier and Magneto in the film.

X-Men Reunited: This second featurette focuses mainly on the origins of the film and how Singer wanted to get back the original cast to take part along with the First Class part.

Classification M: This third featurette focuses on the new group of mutants that are introduced in the film ranging from Quicksilver to Blink to Bishop and in a very nice touch Omar Sy and Fan Bingbing talk in their native tongue with subtitles to translate what they are saying.

Sentinels for a Better Future: This fourth and final featurette focuses on the creation of the Sentinels for the film and the combination of practical and digital effects to pull them off.

Trask Industries Galleries: 3 Small Galleries are present here that focus on the mutant profiles from Dr Trask's files to the Blueprints for the Sentinels and finally their construction for the film, these are nice but I wish the propaganda posters created for the film's advertising campaign were also present here as I thought they were quite good.

Theatrical Trailers: The films 3 theatrical trailers round out this small package of extras and these were quite good so it it's great to see them presented here on this disc.

Any Regrets:

Yup I've got a couple and they all relate to the extras package and first and foremost is that I wish Bryan Singer had gotten to record a commentary track for the film itself as he is a very fast talker in the Deleted Scenes commentary and he is clearly very passionate about the film but sadly I suspect his having to withdraw from the film's advertising back on its cinema release due to his legal battles may have prevented that from happening which is a shame.

The second is the absence of those Rogue scenes in the Deleted Scenes section which should have been here and lastly is that I wish the featurettes had been a 1 hour making of doco like the one made for the X-Men First Class disc release but given that the studios would rather everyone go to digital files for their films these days which to my mind has more to do with reasserting their control over distribution that the Video Revolution in the 80s took away from them I am not surprised at the next to zero treatment special features get on disc releases these days which is very disappointing as without a physical copy of a film for people to own I really don't see the point of a digital copy but that is a column for another time.

Overall:

X-Men Days of Future Past is given good but not great treatment on Blu-Ray with its rock solid A/V presentation but sadly fairly light extras package but still if you want to own it it is worth picking up but not with any major enthusiasm.