Sunday, April 24, 2016

Films I've seen of late

Interstellar (2015)
I was slightly dreading watching Interstellar, fearing its overly long runtime. The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's Batman sequel, made me expect something tedious and bloated but I was pleasantly surprised. A deeply emotional and thrilling story about a man sent beyond the limits of known space, leaving his family behind to search for a new home. Okay, the logic of the story is questionable in places and the ending feels a little ridiculous but Matthew McConnaughey is always likeable and some of the space/time bending stuff is fascinating.

Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
This is one of those perfect animated films that manages to tell a good story, while also reveling in the ability to go all-out visually. Plenty of computer games have had the Hollywood treatment over the years and unfortunately 99% of them have been terrible. This film, however, takes computer games as a basis and does something different. It's your typical hero's journey but this time the hero is a 'villain' (actually, a good guy who just plays a villain) and he has to save the day while also learning to accept the role he has to play in the computer game 'universe'. Funny, touching and great to look at, Wreck-It Ralph gets a high score from me (see what I did there?).

RED (2010)
Bruce Willis heads up this funny and ridiculous spy romp based on DC comic which doesn't pretend to be anything bigger or better than it actually is. No James Bond aspirations, RED just gets on with it at a good pace. Watchable, fun – but ultimately forgettable.

Wild (2014)
This deeply emotional tale is the true-life story of Cheryl Strayed who decides to hike over a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail all on her own. She's prompted to do this insane feat of endurance after her marraige fails and her mother dies, becoming a test of spirit and willpower as Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon) faces her demons during sometimes brutal and exhausting sections of the trail. Inspiring and thoughtful.

Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained is everything you can expect from a Tarantino film: blood, violence, gore and prolific swearing. Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz lend a hefty weight to this tale of revenge, plus Tarantino regular Samuel L Jackson is along for the show as well. The repetitive and violent racism is uncomfortable but justifiable (just about) given the context. Brutal and challenging, Django Unchained pulls no punches, and Tarantino's love of cinema is shown in virtually every line, shot and sound. Now that he's done a western (well, two now with the Hateful Eight) it seems he can turn his hand to pretty much any film genre – so, I think it's high time he had a go at Sci-fi. Now, that would be fun!

Boyhood (2014)
Pretty unique in its concept and delivery, Boyhood is probably one of the few films that has ever shown characters age over a period of twelve years. Sure, there have been sequels years apart featuring the same actors, but Boyhood is one – albeit long – single movie. We follow young Mason as a pre-teen growing up all the way through to his arrival at college, and as he ages we also get to see the rest of his family get older too. Very much a 21st century tale, Mason lives with his single parent mum (Patricia Arquette) and sister. His biological father (Ethan Hawke) comes into the frame on a regular basis, who can be both a source of tension and relief for Mason. It would be ungracious to criticise such an ambitous project, however it does have its flaws which mainly centre around the acting. Even with seasoned actors such as Arquette and Hawke, some of the dialogue felt stilted and flat. In some ways, however, you could argue that helps with the film's realism. Needless to say, it's unlikely anyone will attempt a film like it again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Superman V Batman - A movie review

Warning! Slight spoilers ahead!

Superman v Batman is the second major comic book movie to come out in 2016. We've already had the ridiculously successful Deadpool kicking things off and there's still X-Men:Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Suicide Squad, TMNT 2 and Doctor Strange to look forward to over the coming year.

SvB had a lot to live up to in terms of Deadpool's success, but probably didn't have to worry too much about it despite the harsh reviews. I mean, a film featuring the most well-known and iconic movie/comic characters of all time? A no-brainer, surely?

Well, it seems the critics' negative reviews have done their damage, probably contributing to SvB's steep second weekend drop at the box office (not that $680 million in takings is anything to be sniffed at). This is a shame, because I actually enjoyed the film.

I wasn't a big fan of SvB's predecessor, Man of Steel. The story felt bloated (the origin scenes on Krypton were interesting but unnecessary), and the splurge of CGI destruction in the final act were an unpleasant assault on the senses. Saying that, I've come to better appreciate Zack Snyder's choice of tone and direction for Superman. He's obviously gone for dark and gritty, which is fine - that's his choice. We've already had camp and comical (with Christopher Reeve's version) and also a slightly darker but still upbeat approach (with Superman Returns) – so why not go darker still? This is just one of many interpretations of a character, just like Batman has gone through a whole range of iterations.

One thing I did like about MoS was the question it raised about the uneasy relationship mortal humans can have with a god-like being. The previous films never really explored this idea and Superman wasn't ever considered a potential worldwide threat. Even when he went 'bad' in Superman III, it all felt very comical and slapstick. Christopher Reeve's Supes was just being a bit of a twat (straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa for example), rather than massacring millions of innocent puny mortals.

This theme is explored further in SvB, with Batman deciding to take Superman down because of the potential threat he poses to humanity. This rivalry is fuelled by evil corporate upstart Lex Luthor who manages to get hold of some kryptonite, Superman's only weakness, for his own dastardly plans. While the two superheroes are locked in combat (which Superman is drawn into rather reluctantly) Lex gets to work creating a Krypton/Human hybrid monster that he hopes will destroy Superman for good – and give him the power to rule the world. Throw in Wonder Woman (and lots of references to the forthcoming Justice League movie) and that's basically the plot, which wasn't the 'mess' all the critics seemed to be going on about.

Overall, I felt SvB to be a solid piece of epic storytelling with good characters and plenty of exciting set-pieces. It had an emotional depth too, which I wasn't expecting.

Yes, it has its flaws – like any movie, it's not perfect – but that's OK! Critics seem to expect perfection from big-budget 'event' movies these days, and the truth is you can't please everyone all of the time. Sadly, it seems a lot of people can't move on from the Reeve version of Superman, which is disappointing because the last thing we need is to see the same stuff over and over again.

Thankfully there are people like Zack Snyder out there who choose not to take the well-worn path – and do their own thing.

Good luck to 'em I say!