An open letter of apology to Edgar Wright

Dear Mr Wright,

to be fair, this is more of a confession than an apology.  I didn’t go and see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in the cinema.  I’m sorry.  You see, we couldn’t really afford the cash or time to go and see two movies really close together, and I had to choose.  The Expendables or Scott Pilgrim.  This may not seem like much of a choice for fans of the Scott Pilgrim comic books, but I’m not really a big comic book fan.  Never have been, not likely to change now.  I grew up with Stallone movies, and I was suckered in by the advertising.

I love Bruce Willis (who doesn’t), and I was excited to get the chance to see a film with all the great action heroes of my youth in one place.  I didn’t expect it to last for only a single scene and for the rest of the movie to be the Stallone & Statham show.  Don’t get me wrong, Jason Statham is just purely awesome, and the movie was okay (not great, but okay).  Pacing was a bit confusing at the start, but I digress.

So I had a choice, a comedy action movie that I thought would work just as well on the small screen (i.e. your Scott Pilgrim flick), or a huge action movie that I felt would be better suited to the giant screen of our local cinema (i.e. The Expendables).  We chose the latter.

It was, the wrong choice.

I knew I was going to buy Scott Pilgrim on DVD (in the end, I got the special edition steel book), so I wasn’t too worried, it would get my money eventually.  I was sad when the US Box Office figures were so low, but I don’t live in the US so I couldn’t influence them really.  I was confused when I found out the release date for the DVD in the UK was after Christmas, but that just meant I had to buy it myself instead of getting it as a gift.

But none of that matters.

I should have gone and seen it at the cinema, because it was freakin’ awesome!

I laughed so hard it hurt.  I can count on the fingers of two fingers the number of movies I’ve watched and then instantly wanted to watch again, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one of them.  We’re seriously thinking of watching it again tonight (my wife loved it as well).

Some films I saw in the cinema and regretted doing so, because they weren’t very good.  Some films I got on DVD and asked myself why I had waited so long.  Never before have I bought a film on DVD and wished so badly that I could have supported it in the cinema at the time.

It is such an effortless movie to watch, belying the intense effort and attention to detail that clearly sits beneath the surface.  It was a joy.  Not just a pleasure, not just enjoyable for it’s own sake, but a joy to experience as an actual experience.  I don’t just want to talk about the film, about what happens and the cool bits, I want to talk to people I know about how I enjoyed the experience of watching it, what emotions it evoked, how it made me feel.

I am sorry Edgar Wright, for picking the wrong film to support at the cinema.

Please, go buy this movie.  Not because it’s good (it is), not because it’s epic (it is), and not just because it’s stomach achingly funny (it is).   Buy it, not because it is beautifully shot (it is), and not because the soundtrack is wonderful (it is), but because it will make you a better person (and also, it will help alleviate my guilt, thanks).

The Expendables

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of action movies.  Movies are a form of escapism, and heroic sacrifice driven action movies always take me away from the mundane world and keep me amused.  I can cope with a lot of cheese if the action is dramatic and the quotes memorable.  I don’t need much of a plot.  Some good guys, some bad guys, a reason for the good guys to be after the bad guys, and I’m a happy man.

Cool shots, dramatic action, sassy dialog and plenty of sarcasm and the movie is approaching action nirvana.

I grew up with two kinds of movies.  John Hughes / Harold Ramis / John Landis comedies, and Stallone / Schwarzenegger / Willis / Lungren / van Damme / Gibson action flicks.  My tastes are clear.

It was therefore with both excitement and trepidation that I sat down in the cinema today to watch The Expendables.  So much potential, so much that could potentially go wrong.  There have been three ensemble action movies this year.  The Losers, The A-Team and The Expendables.  Unable to commit to seeing them all – we picked The Expendables by dint of timing and health.

Was I going to leave the cinema regretting it?  Was it going to sour lasting memories of enjoyable 80’s action flicks?  (Could anything sour it more than Twins?)  Was I going to be left with a lasting image of 60 year old men trying to relive their best years?

No, no and well, yes actually in that order.

The Expendables gets plenty right and only a few things wrong.  I thought it was actually too slow in places, some of the bonding scenes didn’t have enough pace or enough wit to elevate them to the right level of interest.  However, that’s a minor quibble in what otherwise was an excellent homage to the 80’s our rose tinted glasses show us.  Don’t be fooled by the trailers, this is actually quite a small cast.  Willis and Schwarzenegger have tiny walk on roles (and I’m not even sure they were all in the same room).  The focus is Stallone, Statham and Jet Li and for me that ended up working really well.

I love Statham and he plays this role to the hilt, I wouldn’t describe his acting range as ‘broad’ but this isn’t the Transporter or Crank or Lock Stock.  His by-play with Stallone is great and if they’re not great friends in real life I’ll eat my socks.  Jet Li is suitably amusing, Stallone is superb, Dolf is hulking and brooding, Randy Couture was surprisingly entertaining and Terry Crews was okay.  The weakest roles were the bad guys, they were pretty flat cardboard cut-outs and never really delivered any serious menace.  I could have done with a Hans Gruber or a Karl, maybe even a Mr Joshua.

After the setup to demonstrate how Bad Ass our heroes are, and an underused relationship bit with Statham and Charisma Carpenter, we are given the rest of the plot in 3 scenes and then slowly watch the tension build (too slowly at times).  Just before the final epic action sequence started I was thinking ‘there hasn’t been much actual shooting yet?’  But they fixed that!

Mickey Rourke added an interesting reflective moment, which you can take on the surface to be banal and patronising or you can choose to accept it for what it is – a statement that if we give up on others, then we’re basically giving up on ourselves as well.  I was glad they used Mickey as the wizened old wizard archetype, I’m not sure it would have been credible watching his pot belly take on the bad guys.

As I said, the interplay between Statham and Stallone was excellent, and the chemistry between all of the main good guys was very good.  These guys clearly respect each other and clearly know how to poke fun at themselves.  The conversation with Schwarzenegger felt forced but it got some good laughs (he wants to be president).

There’s plenty of exploding bullets, vehicles and bodies once the action gets going, and I laughed as much as I cheered.  I’ve seen reviews which say the movie was tired, awkward or ancient.  I can’t disagree more.  Rather than remake the movies of the 80’s and get it so glaringly wrong (hello Clash of the Titans), Stallone has lit a candle for the memories we have of how good those movies were, and given us something to cheer for in an otherwise bleak world of terrible reality.

The Expendables – it is what it is and it’s very good at being it.

Kick Ass

There’s something both distressing and fascinating about watching a 13 year old actress play an 11 year old kid dressed as a superhero getting beaten up.  But then, distressing and fascinating really describes pretty much the entire movie.  There are plenty of shocking things on screen in Kick Ass, although it’s the first and second deaths in the movie that carried the most weight for me, but there are plenty of laughs, some great dialogue, and plenty of comic book humour for those who enjoy it.

Kick Ass is an over-the-top comic superhero action movie.  We are presented with a young guy who turns himself into a superhero, because he can’t work out why no one has done it before, and is tired of being the victim, a father who has turned both himself and his daughter into real killer vigilantes, and an evil crime boss.  The movie doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a re-telling of many of the superhero stories we’re used to, it both pokes fun at those stories and poses questions about the consequences of the behaviours involved.  The result is a familiar plot of rescue, betrayal and redemption, but the delivery of that plot is slick, shocking and thoroughly entertaining.

It’s not without flaws, I felt it was a little long and could have done with being tighter in the middle when I was left wondering if I was enjoying it or not, but it crests that hump and shoots off into a rapid and excellent finale.

What really made the movie enjoyable for me were three things.  I loved the style and the cinematography.  The sound track was superb.  And Chloe Mortez rocked. Compared to the acting we saw in the early Harry Potter movies, from actors of a similar age, her acting is a world apart.  She rocked, she owned her scenes.  Everyone else was excellent, I loved all the characters, from Red Mist, Kick Ass himself, through to Big Daddy but Hit Girl (Chloe) really did steal this movie.

The action sequences are brutal, but there’s plenty of warning that’s how it is going to be, and I’ll be honest, it’s not easy watching an 11 (13) year old kid get their ass kicked on screen.  Nor do you escape unscathed by watching her shoot, stab and slice her way through the bad guys, I was left with an unsettling feeling of having seen something wrong.  But that isn’t a mistake, or a fault, I’m certain it’s intentional.

The ending was superb, very satisfying and dripping with cliche.  You should go see this movie, it should make money in the cinema because it’s a good film.  I loved it, despite the pacing issues.

Terminator Salvation

I’m beginning to think I’m unsophisticated, easily led, maybe even a little stupid.  I read the reviews for Terminator Salvation and they say ‘doesn’t capture the magic of the original’ or ‘haggard, nothing new’. They say that it’s a tired franchise and that it was a confusing and fractured movie.  I know cinema is an artform, and in art there are as many opinions as there are people.  Everyone reacts differently, but still, I think about the movie I saw yesterday and I wonder what other people went in expecting?

The first two Terminator movies are similar in layout, in my view, to the first two Alien movies.  Terminator is a very personal story about a single machine trying to kill a single person and anything that gets in the way.  Alien is a claustrophobic story about a single alien trying to kill the crew which eventually comes down to a single person.  Both Terminator 2 and Aliens ramp up the action and move away from the heavier horror elements.  I’ve seen reviews complaining that Terminator Salvation doesn’t capture the glory or the originality or the heart of the first movies.  Well, I hate to break it to them, but Terminator Salvation isn’t trying to do that.  It’s trying to be a modern action-based continuation of the Terminator story.  On top of that, how much heart was there really in T1 or T2?  Yes, we get the emotional bond and relationship between Sarah and Kyle in the first movie and we get a bunch of cheesy surrogate-father activity in T2 but they aren’t the mainstays of those two films.

I loved T1 and T2, I think they’re fantastic movies.  I think T3 should have been different, but it had some okay elements.  Personally, I think T4 (Terminator Salvation) is at least as good as T2.  But the rush of bad reviews make me question my own experience, maybe I missed something they saw, maybe I saw something that wasn’t really there?  I have to keep reminding myself that it’s art, and everyone experiences it differently.  I think if you go in expecting something, and  you don’t get it, then it leads to disappointment, and I think too many people went in with too many expectations.  I’m not saying I lowered my expectations, but I went in prepared to watch MCG’s film, not my idea of what it should be, or my idea of how it should play out, but what he wanted to do and the film he wanted to make.

So with that said, here’s my actual comment on the film, and there are minor spoilers.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

There are major spoilers in this review, past the jump on the main page, but if you’re reading the article page or via RSS there will be no jump, stop reading now, you have been warned.  You will not be warned again.

We took the chance to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine at our local Showcase De Lux (sic) in Derby.  The sound and picture were really good, the leather reclining chairs were okay (not as comfortable as we’d hoped), the service and prices in the bar were shocking (prices not so surprising, service disappointing).  Combined with the price and the cost of parking (during the day) we’ll probably stick to the premier seats in the Nottingham Showcase.


I thought X-Men Origins: Wolverine was okay.  The movie tells the story of the (apparently) most popular X-Men member, Wolverine.  Unfortunately, a lot of that was already covered in the first few X-Men movies, so there’s a little bit of repetition.  Sure we learn some new stuff (for people who’ve never read the comics) and we see a little back story about how Logan started out, and we get to see how he turns from man-with-bone-blades to man-with-adamantium-bones.  The problem is that there’s no tension.  Spoilers follow.

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Max Payne

Oh Max, what have you done?

Warning: Review probably contains spoilers and definitely contains foul language.

I don’t want to crucify this film because I don’t think it deserves it.  However, as you can imagine as the start of a review, that sentence can’t bode well.  I wanted to see this in the cinema because I think action / thrillers deserve a shot on the big screen.  I think that was the right choice, but I also think we might have enjoyed Zack and Miri make a Porno more.

Max Payne (for the 2% of the people in the world who might ever read this blog and don’t know) is based on a computer game of the same name.  The gimmick, if you like, in the game is the ability to slow-down the action so you can aim or react more accurately.  The main character in the game (it’s a 3rd person shooter) is Max Payne, a cop whose wife and child are murdered.  The movie has a similar premise and while the general elements of the game are the same, the overall plot structure is different.

Ok that’s enough background.  So, what’s wrong with it?  Well, the pace is wrong.  It’s too slow for an action movie, but not tense or suspenseful enough to be a thriller.  The pace doesn’t flow either, it jerks around like a lame fish and that doesn’t help the overall image.  I have a feeling this is mainly an issue with how the final movie was edited, but I could be wrong, it could be the screenplay.  On top of that, Max is plain dumb.  He’s stupid.  He behaves like a stupid dumb fuck.  He’s miserable, he’s an idiot.  When he finally gets the evidence he needs to prove he’s innocent and begin the search for what really happened he doesn’t even send it to the police, FBI or internal affairs before running off to exact his revenge.

His dumb fuckedness and miserableness mean it’s almost impossible to empathise with him.  Fuck, he got shot and even I thought ‘good, maybe he’ll die and we’ll be put out of his misery’.  Yeh I get that his wife and kid were taken from him, and I get that he’s brooding, but fucking get over it man really.  Mark Wahlberg does fine with the material, assuming that’s how it was written, but you can’t like the character, there’s just nothing to like.

The screenplay – well.  The story is contrived, yeh I know it’s based on a game, but come on, some of this shit is basic stuff.  Here’s a few:

  1. there’s an internal affairs guy, whose sole reason for existing appears to be to ensure in the last few moments of the movie he can go ‘don’t shoot Max, make sure we bring him in alive’, in case you know, the thousands of armed police involved decide to put him down.  He adds zero value (other than a minor role allowing us to learn who the real bad guy is).
  2. near the end, the FBI get called in but don’t do anything other than galvanise everyone else into stupid and pointless fucking gun-toting action.  WTF.
  3. the mid-level bad guy sweats, a lot.  Come on, I’ve seen CSI, his sweat is all over every crime scene he’s in, they would have nailed him months ago.
  4. Max is ‘framed’ for a death (of a cop), but at the same time he’s almost beaten to a pulp, except the only injury he appears to sustain is a sore hand which goes away in the next few scenes.  Based on that, somehow the entire police force thinks Max did it.  Despite that, he’s allowed to walk around with his gun and the police just stare at him in a menacing manner.  And a useless IA guy asks him some questions (two to be exact).  The whole thing is a contrivance to somehow make us feel Max is being set up or prevented from doing something.  However since we have no empathy for whiny-fucktard Payne, we don’t care.
  5. Max Payne, super-cop, misses that his wife’s work has been taken from her desk the night a robbery goes down, and only notices 3 years later.  Come on!

I could rant like that for a lot longer but I’ll stop.  Suffice to say, the screenplay is contrived, we’re forced to make too many assumptions, believe too much bullshit and accept too much stupidity from our hero to make it work.  It’s possible some of this was explained in cut scenes and it’s been butchered or it’s possible it was never in the screenplay and the director made the best he could.

Did I say yet that Max Payne (the character) is fucking stupid?  Not unlucky.  Not in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Just dumb.  And he shoots a lot of people without asking questions, after he’s invaded their place, yeh sure most of them are bad guys, but moping unhappy revenge driven cops who shoot first are hard to empathise with.

Not only is the screenplay contrived, it’s just not very good.  The dialog is cliched, there are sections of exposition to explain stuff we already got (we’re not as fucking stupid as Payne is) and then there are things which just don’t get explained that make little sense.  Again, could be an editing issue (too much on the cutting room floor) or the original screenplay’s problem.  It looks to me like the director has more experience than the two writers though, so I’m going to hedge a bet and say the screenplay sucked.

So why am I so angry?  I mean, the screenplay for Doom was pretty stupid but I coped okay with that (mostly).  I’m angry because this movie was three feet away from being really good.  Not Oscar material, but certainly a top quality Action Thriller with some nice quotes and some good memories.

The visuals were great, really.  I loved the look of the movie, it captured the bleak, harsh world and the contrast between that and the burning hallucinations of the drug addicts were superb.  The hallucination scenes were beautifully rendered and the little falling flaming mote motif ((yeh I did that on purpose)) was really nice.  The action scenes were pretty good, although there weren’t enough and they were too short (but that might have been an issue with getting the American PG-13 rating).  The acting is pretty good, considering the movie genre, original source material and the shoddy screenplay.  Despite the crud that Mark Wahlberg had to spout, he did a good job of it.  He looked the part, credible.  The supporting cast was good enough.  The soundtrack was solid but nothing special.

But it fell short.  Either the good screenplay was ruined by bad direction, or a terrible screenplay was directed as well as possible.  Whichever it was, Max Payne is a movie that could have finally brought us a credible computer game conversion, but didn’t.

Fuck you Max Payne, and your miserable bloody existence.