Tag Archives: cinema

Quantum of Solace

I liked Casino Royale although I thought structurally it had issues.  I thought the new look for the Bond franchise was beyond necessary, it needed to step away from the cliche and it did that very successfully.  As a result, I was looking forward to QoS and I was a little concerned when I read a couple of negative reviews.  The first said that it crams too much action into a short space without time to breath and the second that there’s so much double crossing going on you have no idea where anyone stands.

Well let me tell you, if you’re a fan of action movies, spy based action movies, Bond, or just thrilling cinema, then you’ll probably enjoy Quantum.  It’s not perfect, but it gets the pace much better than Royale did, and it’s no-where near as complex.  A big issue I had with Royale was the need for so much exposition at the end to explain what had happened.  Quantum avoids that, it’s more contained and you’re left to draw your own conclusions about anything they don’t simply tell you which is a much more mature approach.

Quantum picks up immediately where Royale left off and the British Secret Service begins the journey of understanding the new organisation they have discovered.  There are surprises and twists at pretty much every stage although they’re not overwhelming.  The action does kick off right from the outset and the pace is solid, but there are moments to reflect and catch your breath.  Craig is superb as Bond once again, and the two main female characters are well played.  I won’t spoil the female leads, but will just say that they both bring something completely different to the story.

I had some minor quibbles with the plot (which I won’t spoil) but they’re truly small issues.  I liked the ‘bond-light’ approach, there’s no discussion of gadgets and the one or two used are really small elements, there’s no huge organisation supporting Bond where-ever he goes.  For a lot of the movie he’s on his own, for the usual reasons (he’s rebelling, it’s in his nature).

The only real complaint I have about the content apart from the minor plot issues, is that the bad guy packs no punch.  Ok, so the organisation he’s in is huge and scary and in control of the entire universe, but the guy himself just poses no threat in my mind’s eye.  He needed a steel rimmed hat or something, maybe steel teeth.

I do have another complaint about the direction for the action sequences, and that is that I didn’t enjoy the style.  The chase sequences are made up of super-fast cuts, super-shaky shots and usually cut against a backdrop of some other activity (horse race, opera).  It’s just a little too quick for me, I would have preferred more tight-camera work and steadier, longer shots.  It does however give you a huge sense of danger and pace, it’s just not my style.

Even with those last two issues, Quantum of Solace was an excellent movie experience, and as I said, if you’re a fan of the genre or Bond you’ll probably enjoy this a great deal.  For people who’ve never seen either, it’s a pretty good introduction (although without seeing Royale it won’t make as much sense).

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the second del Toro Hellboy film, and it assumes you’ve seen the first one. There’s no setup, hardly any introduction (there’s a little bit) and it gets straight into the action. I like that, if you wanted character intro’s for the lesser characters you had the chance to watch the first one before you went to the cinema.

HB2TGA (can’t spend the entire review writing Hellboy II: The Golden Army) is visually amazing. I believe; I believe this stuff exists somewhere and del Toro just took a camera along. The special effects make this film work, they make you truly believe. The pace is good although the overall film felt a little shorter than I would have liked. The script is snappy and isn’t going to impress your literature teacher, but if you went in to this movie expecting anything deep, you weren’t watching the same trailers as me in advance. Character interplay is solid enough, however I think the Liz Sherman character was underused. There’s a shot towards the end of the movie with her and Abe standing around looking useless while Hellboy and another character do their thing, and I wondered if it wouldn’t have been possible to use her a bit more.

Speaking of ‘another character’, there’s a new addition to the team in this outing and he’s entertaining and interesting, but I do wonder if it detracted from the original team of three a little – I always get edgy when movies have too many main players.

The action scenes are excellent overall, and we get to see Hellboy showing more than just ‘crush ’em’ type combat skills, which was nice. Despite several good goes there still wasn’t much of a sense of threat to Hellboy or the major players though; but there were some subtle references to his destiny and Liz having to make some choices that may affect it.

There are two particularly good comic sequences (more than two in the movie, but two stand out) which had most of the cinema laughing out loud.

The bad guy is multi-faceted and well played, there is certainly no caricature of evil here, but a complex individual with specific morals and the drive to obtain his desire at the expense of the human race. I had read a review or two complaining about the ‘echo-warrior’ bandwagon, which is basically complete tosh. The sentiment expressed by the Elven Prince is a long-standing theme in celtic fantasy and celtic real-world crossover fantasy in particular. The elven princess is equally well played in my view and entrancing.

I came home after seeing it, determined to write a blog post about people releasing trailers containing footage not in the final movie and how it annoys me. There was, I believed, a shot in one of the trailers I’d seen of the Prince in a room full of other elves and mythical beings calling for war and being given a good reception. It implied the Prince had a lot of backing and support, and that was missing from the film (you’ll see). So I got in, and watched all three trailers – and of course the scene isn’t there. I can see why I got that impression, and I recognised all the bits they had put together. I don’t know if they intentionally decided to give that view, when it’s not there in the film, but I guess I can’t complain about entire scenes that were missing when they never existed in the first place. It does say something interesting about how trailers and moving images can leave vivid impressions about something that never existed.

Anyway, this is a high quality movie with stunning visuals, a more than average complexity villain and some real laugh out loud moments interspersed with exciting action. If you can only go and see one movie this year, go and see The Dark Knight, but if you can see two, make this one a choice high up on the list.

The Dark Knight

My advice is, go and see The Dark Knight in the cinema. I echo Mark’s view that we should make sure good quality blockbuster movies (as opposed to low quality blockbuster movies) continue to get made because people are prepared to go and see them in the cinema. You do need to see this on the big screen to do it full justice, but it’s a solid, character driven movie with depth and quality acting that will work well in any format.

The Dark Knight is the second Nolan directed Batman movie and is without a doubt the darkest of any Batman movie to-date. This is no jolly on-screen action romp, no adrenaline fueled crazy rush of action, it’s a dramatic, well paced, solid and dark look into heroes, heroics and sacrifice. This is a modern, real Gotham city filled with modern and real people. There’s just that edge of decay that makes sure you know it’s Gotham but it could be anywhere in our current time, the story is contemporary and the people and emotions are built on a foundation of reality that makes the violence and horror of the Joker even more dreadful.

Heath is fantastic as The Joker, but he’s not a god. His performance is fantastic because the backdrop on which it plays out is also fantastic, everyone around him puts in amazing performances to make sure he doesn’t steal every scene. Bale is excellent, giving us a flawed and emotionally torn Batman without turning him into a caricature, and his counterplay with Heath is totally engaging. The story is as you would expect, a slight parallel to the first Batman movie (and probably some of the comics, although I’ve never read them), The Joker taking on the Mob, the City and Batman all together. There are no major flaws, although there are one or two places where I wonder if we missed an edit or are supposed to have to read between the lines a little.

The pace is good despite a slow start which worried me. There’s not as much direct action as I was expecting, and far more personal drama which is no bad thing. What action there is feels deadly enough and The Joker’s body count is certainly high enough to give the story an edge and a feeling of danger. All of the major characters see character development of one kind or another, and there doesn’t feel like any wasted space on screen or wasted time with any particular person. The dialog is dramatic without being melodramatic, and there are some really nice touches and emotional triggers (which I won’t spoil for you).

I was slightly dissapointed with the Bat Pod and one or two ‘moves’ felt pretty contrived (the wall flip) but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, I just hope we get a new Batmobile in the next one (assuming there is going to be a next one). It’s a tiny complaint in what is otherwise a really, really enjoyable flick.

The end is simply brilliant in my view, simple, honest and deeply satisfying.

It doesn’t quite live up to the insane hype, but then what movie could; it does however deliver an excellent and entertaining 2 and a half hours of dramatic quality movie going fun.

Wanted

I’ll be honest, I was nervous. I feared that Wanted would be just another Smokin’ Aces or Shoot ’em Up. Not that I didn’t enjoy those two movies, I did, but I hoped Wanted would be something more. I wasn’t disappointed. What I was disappointed about (as I’ve already blogged) is the limited release it has in the UK, hardly any performances and no premier seating. Anyway, we decided to catch it today and I’m glad we did.

Wanted is the story of a collection of assassins (The Fraternity) who are under siege from a rogue member, and they need Wesley (James McAvoy) to come and save them. It’s based very loosely on a comic book of the same name (there are some major differences, it’s not a comic book adaptation, it’s a screenplay based on some concepts in the comic book). It’s rated 18 in the UK, and it deserves that rating with some reasonably graphic scenes. As you can imagine, being about a group of assassins, there’s a lot of killing and I’m sure the movie will be lambasted as glorifying gun use.

But the reason I wasn’t disappointed is that Wanted is deeper than just a movie about killing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a deep movie, but it’s not simply another Shoot ’em Up either. The screenplay is interesting, McAvoy’s character (the only one who really has any depth) is well played, the pace is superb and the adrenaline pumping action is very, very good. But what brings this movie just a notch above the standard is the tale of morality and what happens when you achieve absolute power.

The twists aren’t unexpected, and they aren’t ground breaking, but they turn an otherwise flat action movie into something just a little more thoughtful and I’m looking forward to seeing it again as soon as it comes out on DVD.

Once the credits were rolling and what it was about began to sink in, I found myself playing earlier scenes in the film back in my head straight away; realising how some of the elements and threads had been laid down from a very early stage. That was enjoyable and gave the movie more credibility in my view, that it wasn’t merely an excuse to see Angelina Jolie shooting guns and looking hot – although that’s a credible aim as well, obviously.

Don’t take the kids, don’t take your pre-conceptions, but do go along expecting something fun, entertaining and not entirely without morality.

Wanted dissapointment …

I’d been quite excited about Wanted, although I had a nagging suspicion it was going to be slightly cheesy. So it was disappointing to find out that it appeared to be on limited release in the UK, or at least, on our local Showcase. It was only on three times a day and no premier seats. Maybe we’ll try and go tomorrow to see it.

Iron Man

It would be wrong to say that Hollywood only delivers big blockbusting movies that appeal to the lesser emotions, but it would be right to say that sometimes Hollywood manages to deliver big blockbuster movies that are gripping, visually impressive and exciting to watch. Iron Man is really entertaining.

Iron Man avoids the mistakes of so many comic book conversions and bad sci-fi movies. The story is simple and yet engaging, that simplicity ensures there aren’t any moments where you wonder what happened, what’s going on or why something is happening. That simplicity also provides a good structure to keep the story moving at all times with a good pace. The effects don’t obliterate the excellent performances from the main cast either. Downey’s performance is superb, full of charisma and character. Maybe he’s a little over the top, but this is a comic book hero.

So anyway, it’s exhilerating, interesting and exciting, the visuals are stunning and crisp and the sound track was moving and thrilling. I really enjoyed Paltrow’s performance as a counter-point to Downey. There aren’t any huge guffs in the plot, we know who the good guys are and we find out who the bad guys are, and righteous justice is delivered to all who deserve it.

A visual feast, without being overly busy on-screen, and thoroughly entertaining.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

It’s 1981, the local Odean is showing Any Which Way You Can, Arthur, Chariots of Fire, Cannonball Run, Clash of the Titans, Excalibur, Flash Gordon and For Your Eyes Only. Ronald Regan becomes president of the United States of America. Bucks Fizz win the Eurovision Song Contest for Britain. STS-1 launches, the first Space Shuttle mission. The first recognised cases of AIDS are reported. Prince Charles marries Lady Diana. MTV is launched and you can buy an IBM PC for the first time, for $1,565 in America.

Oh, and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is on at the pictures.

That’s the context of the first movie. Three years later (1984) Temple of Doom is released. This is the same year the Apple Macintosh goes on sale, Michael Jackson burns his scalp, the 10th shuttle mission is launched, GCSE’s replace O levels in British schools. In the cinema, we’re watching Ghost Busters, Beverly Hill’s Cop and Footloose.

And then in 1989 the third Indy movie airs, The Last Crusade, alongside Batman, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Lethal Weapon 2. Also in that year George H. W. Bush succeeds Ronald Reagan, the first GPS satellites are placed in orbit, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound the Exxon Valdez spills 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil after running aground. Seinfield airs for the first time. East Germany opens its borders, and the destruction of the Berlin wall begins.

That’s the world when the first three movies were released. A time many of us were in our late teens or early twenties. My generation. Those of us who knew who to call when we saw a ghost, knew never to mix gremlins with water, and knew without a doubt that aliens would want to phone home and lay their symbiotic spawn inside our chests at the same time.

A lot, and I mean, a lot has changed since those times. The 90’s came and went, and we’re at the neck end of finishing the first decade in the 2000’s. The world became smaller, and more cynical, and the technology of our dreams turned out to be the agonising painful support problems of our daily lives. We discovered we were really wrecking the planet like a bunch of petulant kids, and that maybe it was time to grow up and take notice.

Expectations changed, reality became so unreal that our heroes had to become doubly so to seem fantastic. The Lord of the Rings and the Matrix changed the expectations of movie fans all over the world. And we began to re-invent.

In 2005 we re-invented Batman. In 2006 we re-invented Superman.

And then there was a rumour, a fourth Indiana Jones movie, with Harrison Ford no less. Would we be seeing a re-invented Indiana Jones?

I’ll be honest, I was excited. I had memories of loving the original three films, although I’d not seen them in the cinema. I’d watched them over and over whenever I could, I loved them, they were a part of my life and my youth. I was nervous, I felt the Star Wars films had been handled badly even if they were mostly enjoyable. But we’d seen it was possible to get away with it, Batman Begins I loved and Die Hard 4 was a credit to the franchise.

So we went tonight, I took my hat but didn’t have the courage to wear it. I want to write a positive review, I want you to go and see this film, and I want you to enjoy it, as I just did, but you have to keep in mind the context. Spielberg has given us a sequel to the Last Crusade in all ways. The same style, the same dialog, the same approach. He hasn’t tried to re-invent the characters, he’s dealt with them honestly, presenting them as older but the same people. He hasn’t tried to give the story a modern context, or a modern ethic, he’s kept it tied to the 50’s and kept it in sync with the previous three.

It’s brave I think, he said he was writing this for the fans, and he has. Because compared to the three previous movies, it’s excellent, superb, entertaining. Compared to action movies of today, it’s lacking and misses the mark.

Which is a real shame, because it deserves to be enjoyed more than I fear it’s going to be. It’s fast paced, it’s got Indy’s dialog, it’s got action, it’s got good guys and bad guys and incredible artifacts of power and mystery. It’s the fourth Indiana Jones movie at its core and it should be loved and enjoyed for it. But it’s gentle and soft. There is no Die Hard 4 here, no Batman Returns, no serious danger or deadly menace. There is no adrenaline fueled fear for our hero, no doubt he will win through, just curiosity about how and about why.

So here’s some detail, too many characters I fear. We could lose three or four and the story wouldn’t suffer and the film would be tighter, leaner and better paced. We’d have more room for Indy and Mutt (Shia LaBeouf) to play off each other’s dialog, and more room for pace and movement. Instead it feels clumsy and crowded, with both Ray Winston’s character and Karen Allen’s reprised Marion taking up space on screen and giving little in return. Cate Blanchett’s bad girl isn’t convincing or terrifying at all, and I’m not sure the movie would have been much different without her. Her role appears to be a confusing combination of Arch Villainess and Deadly Black Widow but her interaction with Jones is cold and uninteresting.

The story is the most complex of the four movies, and overly so in my view, it could have done again with being tightened up and thinned down and the film would be no worse for it. It’s also the most far-fetched of the four, if that’s possible, and while I won’t spoil it for you I think it makes an attempt to tie the previous mysteries together which isn’t necessary.

With all that said, it’s worth seeing on the big screen, the action is full of action and the presence of Indiana Jones is undeniably engaging. It certainly didn’t feel like it ran for two hours, it never lost me, I was never bored, and I was always interested in where it was going next.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a sequel to movies written in a different age, for a different audience, and I fear modern audiences will be left wondering what the fuss was about. It is a good movie, you should go and see it, but it’s not great, and it’s certainly not going to be the greatest movie this year. Spielberg hasn’t let down the original fans, but neither has he delivered something younger and newer audiences will be clamouring to see.

Die Hard 4.0

Bucking the trend of trilogies in 2007 we get the 4th Die Hard movie. The anticipation, the worry. The fear! Bruce Willis over50 years old, could he really pull off another John McClane? I was definately nervous going to see this, more nervous than the third Bourne movie. This one had a real chance of being embarassing.

A friend had said it was good – which alleviate the concern a little, but still, there was much trepadation in the air.

The movie starts off by covering the years between #3 and #4 in 20 seconds, introducing us to McClane’s teenage daughter and setting his location and status. I found it useful, it dispensed with the background quickly and made sure that all we had to worry about was the story going forward. McClane is still a cop, still sarcastic and still getting shot at for no good reason. In 4.0 John is sent to pickup a minor league hacker, who has become embroiled in a Fire Sale (everything must go!) hack accidentally, and neither John nor the hacker are aware of how far the Fire Sale perpetrators are prepared to go.

The action kicks in immediately and the chase begins, because this Die Hard movie is basically one huge chase movie. The bad guys are constantly on the move, John McClane is constantly under attack through a number of mechanisms and the action follows them from location to location. The humour of Die Hard is present and as deeply ingrained in John’s character as ever. John’s sidekick is a worrying addition but it turns out ok despite my fears. The bad guy is suitably cool and yet deeply frustrated by John’s existance. The special effects are superb and the encounters are typically over-the-top; McClane survives an attack by a figher jet while driving a truck for example.

The plot is nothing amazing, but it’s twisty enough to be interesting, the final endgame is revealed pretty early on but then that’s not why anyone is watching (right? you weren’t hoping for an indepth and intricate thriller whodunnit)? The movie really just focusses on the core of Die Hard, John McClane fighting increasingly absurd attempts to kill him while getting ever closer to stopping the bad guy.

Without too much of a spoiler, the introduction of his daughter at the start was foreshadowing, and if you have to save a family member well the stakes are just that much higher …

It’s not as good as the original, but it is better than #2 and #3 and it is nearly as good as the original.

The Bourne Ultimatum

It’s the year of the trilogy and the Bourne Ultimatum was no exception. I saw the first movie (Bourne Identity) on DVD a while back and enjoyed it, but it was only on seeing it a second time that I really decided I liked it. The second movie (Bourne Supremacy) I saw on TV and enjoyed it, although it’s obviously not as fresh as the first. I had mixed feelings about a third, I wanted it to be brilliant, I feared it would be substandard. I was worried that they would be dragging the story thin, the freshness of the first movie comes partly from the lack of identity of Jason, but he gets closer to knowing who he is, and in the second closer again. Would there be enough left to provide a background? Would it just be a rehash of the first story?

And it was ‘good’, not superb, not as good as the first one, but it was entertaining. I still love the solid confidence of the main character and how well he’s portrayed by Matt Damon. It’s that confidence which brings the character to life, the absolute solid knowledge of what to do next, given any situation, and how to deal with it. It doesn’t matter if he’s right wrong or out-smarted, but his every action is steeped in raw confidence. His movements, running and decisions all come from that rigid absolute knowledge that he has to do exactly what he’s doing. It’s intoxicating.

The story is good, we get to meet a couple of familiar characters and a bunch of new ones, we get some new locations including London, and we get to see a yet-deeper conspiracy within the CIA, convoluting the entire story and situation even further than the second movie. The supporting cast is ok, some of the roles are a bit tired and some of the presentations are pretty much stock-out-of-the-bag, but it holds the story together and gives Bourne a platform on which to perform.

It turns out there is enough story left to delve into and we finally learn how Jason Bourne was created and who created him. We return to his birth, and finally learn what he was prepared to sacrifice for his country.

An excellent action movie, a good spy action movie, and a fitting if slightly-pale follow-up to the first two. A must see for the fans, a should see for people who like this kind of movie.

300

While based on a comic, the comic is based on the historical Battle of Thermopylae of 480BC. The battle holds a special place in my heart because David Gemmell used it as the basis for some of the battles in his books. From the moment I heard about the movie I was looking forward to it – and I wasn’t dissapointed. As a cinema going experience, it was superb. As a deep character movie with an intricate plot, it failed, but I never believe it was intended to aim at that target.

The imagery was excellent, the action, pace and direction suit the material and give the whole movie an otherworldly appearance. The characters are easily accessable (which is necessary because of the short time to get to know them) and the dialog clips along and keeps you interested. A movie about a single battle is never going to have much scope for a complex plot but 300 does well with it’s scope and offers a little bit of politics and intrigue to grease the wheels of action.

And it’s the action that drives this movie, the solid unrelenting nature of the Spartans, their charismatic king and their desire to die the glorious death. The cast is good, we get a range of warriors and characters to enjoy, and we get to see some of the best large scale battle scenes in cinema history, without losing any of the personality of the warriors in them. 300 is an excellent action movie, tense battle scenes, interesting characters, and superb visuals.