Friday, June 27, 2014

Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) Review

I suppose one of the best things about being on my own in University is that I get time to catch up with loads of films that I should've watched but never got round to. I've seen the likes of Chronicle, Se7en and The Matrix since being here but the big ones I wanted to watch were Fight Club and Django Unchained. Having now seen Fight Club, I am prepared to deliver my opinion on what is often sighted as one of the greats!.....if you say so...

Fight Club sees us following a man (Edward Norton) who suffers from mental issues leading to insomnia and trouble at work who attends meetings not aimed at him but he still goes for the sense of release. His life changes forever however when he meets an aggressive alpha-male soap maker named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) as the two bond over their strange lust for violence. This leads them to start up the eponymous fight club where men are allowed to just beat the crap out of each other for the thrill of it. The idea catches on as clubs are set up across the country but when Tyler wants to take it the next level, our protagonist is left at an internal conflict based on what's ethical and what's not.

Right of the bat I can tell you that I loved Brad Pitt and Edward Norton here. They work off each other very well and are the sole reason to watch this movie. The film revolves around them so it was crucial that the two leads had to be endearing enough to keep your attention throughout and the duo of Pitt and Norton win with flying colours. The rest of the cast kind of fall into the background. Helena Bonham Carter starts of in a way that it seems like she's a major character. Granted she plays a part but she's put to the side once the real plot starts. Also seeing Jared Leto and Meat Loaf advertised so high up in the opening credits is almost laughable considering that the number of their scenes probably land in the single digits.

Fight Club is probably most well known for the amount of philosophy and deep meaning that can be applied and/or extracted. It's a deep, deep film which is one of the best things about it. It would probably be the best thing about it if it weren't' for the last third of the film. Yes, we all know the big twist of Fight Club but, for the sake of those who don't, I won't give it away but I'll just say that it felt very unnecessary. The author of the book even admitted that he came up with it half way through writing it and it shows. A lot of what I was able to apply and take away from it was just thrown out the window. Of course, this gave rise to brand new ideas to consider but, even then, it felt a bit unnecessary....although it leads to some excellent easter eggs and Fight Club becomes one of those films you have to keep re-watching just to see everything.

I've come to the conclusion that Fight Club runs smoothly based on two elements, the lead actors and the depth. While the last third could've been handled significantly better with an twist that was literally thrown in for the sake of it, the amount of good things to come of it are high. David Fincher is clearly a very compotent director with films such as Se7en and The Social Network under his belt and I know people who are eagerly awaiting his next film, Gone Girl, so Fight Club is just another reason for me to show interest in his upcoming projects.

While the last third could be fixed, there are loads of elements that go into this film that really make it stand out.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012) Review

I may often complain that there are many genres that have declined in quality over the decades. Comedy seems very samey, Parody has become an abomination of human conception and Horror seems very dried up and poorly implemented as a result of the overuse of 'found-footage films'. It's quite debatable but superhero films are currently on top at the moment so what happens when you apply the 'found-footage' idea to a film chock-full of super powers? Let's find out.

Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHann) is a shy and lonely high school student who has only one friend, it being his cousin Matt (Alex Russell). Andrew buys a video camera to record his daily life both at home and school. Matt decides to take Andrew to a friend's party where he meets Matt's friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan). The trio discover a pit out in the woods with a strange object that knocks them out upon touch. The boys awaken to discover that they have gained supernatural powers to do as they please. Andrew slowly falls into darkness when he relies on his powers to get money for his mother's medicine while Matt and Steve use their powers for good instead.

Normally I hate 'found-footage films' because they normally subtract good characters and intriguing plots for the sake of style however this is where Chronicle stands out. When I reminisce about Chronicle, I don't think about the style, I remember the memorable and likable characters as well as the strongly built up narrative. It takes its time in developing Andrew and his transformation as a person as well as trying to balance his progression with an almost involuntary one for Matt. It's almost a story of 'Cain and Abel' which is a narrative archetype I normally always find fascinating. You may recognise Dane DeHann most recently as the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and I am proud to see him rise from his strong performance in Chronicle to the mainstream comic book films. The main three are very well cast and it also shows with Michael B. Jordan being cast as the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four film...waiting on you now, Alex Russell...go out there and be...I don't know, Nova? Nova would be cool.

What I found interesting about the production of Chronicle is that, while I know it has a limited budget, it still looks great most likely as a result of sacrificing the camera budget for the handheld look. I suppose it's clever in that way since it knew where they good drop certain aspects in order to beef up the point of the film and that's the visual representation of the powers the trio gain. In fact, the way that the powers are implemented is also quite unique. Yes they can fly, crush things with their mind and use super strength but it all boils down to one starting power and that is telekinesis which clearly shows that they thought about how to impletent superpowers in the most realistic way I've seen in a film. Man of Steel came close with Superman leaping really, really far rather than straight up flying.

I know most people have bailed out of the idea of the new Fantastic Four movie but with the likes of Josh Trank and Michael B. Jordan behind it, Chronicle has paved the way for it. Josh Trank delivers us a fascinating pioneer of 'found-footage film' that runs with great new actors who I am keeping an eye on. Seeing Dane DeHann and Michael B. Jordan step into mainstream superhero films does make me happy but I do wonder if Alex Russell will join them. I do recommend Chronicle even to people who don't enjoy the likes of other superhero films as, outside of the powers, there isn't much evidence of this genre.

A fascinating story that displays a strong use of character development thanks to great acting and good directing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan, 2010) Review

For the last month now, I decided to watch the animated series 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. I have heard tremendous things about it as it's often considered one of the best TV shows, period. I can no confirm that that is true. 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' is truly one of the best TV shows I have ever seen. The pace is perfect, the characters are perfect, the animation is beautiful, the tone is balanced perfectly...but I digress. This isn't a review of the show, this is a review of M. Night Shyamalan's movie adaptation of the God-like TV series. Can a shoddy film maker contain the genius of an episodic adventure in just under two hours well?.......what the hell do you think?!

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them. But when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and two teenagers from the Southern Water tribe, a waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang (Noah Ringer). And although his airbending skills are great, he still has a lot to learn before he's ready to save anyone. But Katara believes that Aang can save the world from the ferocious Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis). (Maybe I stole the show's opening for a synopsis but I put more effort into accuracy than this film did)

I have taken a stab at many bad films. Foodfight!, 2012, Son of the Mask and many others but what makes The Last Airbender stick out as terrible is that it's an adaptation. The Last Airbender is the biggest insult to an amazing source material that could possibly exist. Everything that made the TV show as amazing as it was is almost completely left out. The diverse and memorable characters are all turned into blank, emotionless shells of their former selves, element bending is an absolute joke (six earthbenders can...throw a rock) and all of the incredible important moments of character development and world building are completely glanced over in single sentences via voice over. Aang and his rival Prince Zuko's (Dev Patel) back stories? Single voice over. How about the relationship between Sokka and Yue (Seychelle Gabriel) that took several episodes to develop and led to a heart-wrenching climax? Barely relevant. Other elements such as Suki and her warrior clan are even left out. I understand that, because it's an adaptation, you need to make changes and leave things out but you have to leave things out that make sense. Suki is necessary for Season 3 and since they clearly set up for more films, they kind of painted themselves into a corner. Need I talk about the inaccurate character designs or the constant mispronunciation of 'Aang' or the bone-head decision regarding the earthbender prison (was anyone even thinking when they wrote that?).

So I've ranted about the complete lack of care for the source material but what about this film on it's own. It's still horrible. All of the actors are incredibly bland and they manage to convey no emotion. There are even moments of stumbling over their lines or taking breaths half way through a sentence where it clearly doesn't work. There are some good actors in here such as Dev Patel so it's clearly down to poor direction. This is apparent in M. Night Shyamalan's other films such as The Happening but even then, the rest of the cast just aren't good. At all. The CGI is passable I suppose. They at least tried to bring Appa and Momo to life and they look okay for a live action equivalent and when they finally get down to some bending, it does look quite cool...shame about the wasted potential. The writing and characters are terrible too. Everyone acts too seriously and say nothing but exposition. There is no life in this film and just comes off as the poor man's version of the show. Plus there is yet another cliffhanger added to the list of unresolved cliffhangers...thank God.

So The Last Airbender is left as a horrific and insultingly poor adaptation of one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. I feel horrible just knowing that such a terrible mess is affiliated to the show (can't believe they didn't ever pronounce Aang's name right!) and I can safely say that you should avoid this film like the plague. If you're curious, what the series instead. You won't regret it. I guess the good thing to come out of preparation of this review is that I got to watch the series so...that's something. At least they haven't done 'Legend of Korra' right?......right?
A horribly made, poorly written and performed mess of an adaptation that goes out of it's way to insult the source material.

I think the play that the characters saw in the series was more accurate than this film was.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Curt Geda, 2000) Review

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe is truly a fantastic thing and is the gift that keeps on giving, DC had the idea of multiple iterations feeding into one universe down perfectly before Marvel did. With shows such as 'Batman: The Animated Series', 'Superman: The Animated Series', 'Batman Beyond' and many Justice League iterations feeding into one giant master plan, there was a sense that there was strong continuity and closure so what better way to show this off than with another animated Batman film....I'm game for it!

Set in the future where Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle) has taken over the mantel of Batman over a now elderly Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy), Bruce is given a haunting meeting from a enemy long though dead...The Joker (Mark Hamill). Terry is warned by Bruce about the huge threat that The Joker poses but Terry is too intrigued by how The Joker is still alive after he was killed back when Bruce was Batman. Before taking on the clown prince of crime himself, Terry has the find Batman's previous partners and discover what really happened the night Joker died and how he's back.

I can't go on ahead without talking about on thing. Mark Hamill. Mark Hamill is absolutely tremendous as the Joker as he has always been up until he dropped the role after hit his peak in Batman: Arkham City. He manages to keep the Joker's comedic, clown-like edge while hamming up the frightening and intense psychotic side that is most evident here. The rest of the cast also do a good job. Will Friedle as Terry delivers a VERY different interpretation of Batman as having someone else under the cowl is risky yet diverse. It's also interesting to see the characters we've known and loved much older and to see how they've ended up after giving up a life of vigilance.

The biggest complaint that comes to mind with this one is that I feel it doesn't go far enough. Yes, it's intense and violent and all that good stuff but a lot is started yet it never goes the full way. In addition, outside of the big Joker scenes, nothing else really stands out. I remember Terry fighting against Joker's gang, the flashback scenes....and that's about it. Nothing else really sticks out except the action scenes, which are excellent, but nothing else sticks (wow, that's redundant). In addition, many, many viewers will be left confused if they have no idea about the animated Batman shows. While I did get by having not watched any of 'Batman Beyound' but I have watched almost episode of 'Batman: The Animated Series' so that helped.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a great watch for Batman fans but ONLY for Batman fans. Anyone not too familiar with the franchises goings-ons so they will be left ostracized from what the hell is happening. The animation matches well with the tv show (and the flashback has one of the best Joker designs I've seen) and the voice acting is tremendous as a result of the excellent Mark Hamill reprising his best work since Luke Skywalker....probably actually better than Luke Skywalker....much better.

May leave out people who aren't too familiar but it's a well crafted addition to the Batman animated film line-up.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero (Boyd Kirkland, 1998) Review

You thought I was done with Batman, didn't you. After reveiwing all of the live action films as well as the animated films Under the Red Hood and Mask of the Phantasm, you were certain there weren't anymore. Well, that is where you were wrong. I have two more lesser known ones up my sleeve purely because they were not released on Region 2 DVD...yet Amazon Instant Video still has figure that out. So, let's take a look at the OTHER film based on 'Batman: The Animated Series', Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero.

Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) has been in hiding in the Arctic with his cryongenically-frozen wife. When his base is disturbed by Arctic explorers, Freeze travels back to Gotham in search of a final cure for his wife's disease. He learns that he has to find someone for a heart transplant and the only person in Gotham who fits the criteria is Comissioner Gordon's daughter, Barbara (Mary Kay Bergman). Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Loren Lester) have to save Barbara from the clutches of Mr. Freeze and find a way to help his wife.

I love Batman: The Animated Series. I would say it's the best animated show of all time but I've recently been binge watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and...that's taken over as the best animated show. One of the reasons it's so good that manages to carry over to this film is the voice acting. Kevin Conroy has cemented himself as the dark knight himself and works well opposite Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The rest of the cast also continue their great work from the animated series. The animation is on a TV level of quality and it does suffer from it to an extent but it's forgivable as this was released directly to video so it's essentially an extra long episode of an amazing show.

When it comes to Batman animated films, this is probably the weakest that I've seen (there are many left unseen but I'll probably get to them eventually). Ironic since the weakest live action Batman film also features Mr. Freeze but...this one has dignity. I think it's not so much a problem with this film in particular, I think it's more a case of the bar being set so high for animated Batman films that this one feels lacking in Batman (the focus is more on Barbara) but it is tied into the animated series well. Plus it's nice to see Mr. Freeze actually get some closure for once. I have never seen that.

Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a perfectly solid entry into the Batman animated film line-up. Mask of the Phantasm is hands down the best of the lot and is more than worth a watch. This one I can only really recommend to Batman fans since there is very little Batman as Freeze and Barbara get the focus. It's more of an expansion of the Batman Universe which makes it a good addition. Yes, I am reviewing another animated Batman animated film on Wednesday...and its one of the big ones.

While lacking in a few elements, it's as good as any other animated Batman film....although probably the weakest.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Hercules (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1997) Review

I reviewed two Studio Ghibli films last month so I figured I would tackle a film from the OTHER best animated company, Disney. I've tackled a few in the past such as the Aladdin trilogy and the horrendously bad Chicken Little but I just felt the need to take a look at some of the more popular ones. I'm not doing loads right now, just over time. Don't be surprised if you see The Lion King trilogy somewhere down the line but, for now, let's take a look at Hercules.

On Mount Olympus, Zeus's (Rip Torn) new born son Hercules is kidnapped and lost on Earth as a result of Hades (James Woods), the God of the Underworld, trying to overthrow Zeus and take over Mount Olympus. Hades fails in tuning Hercules human, leaving him as a demi-God with super human strength, leaving Hercules coping on Earth with his adopted parents. Hercules discovers his true past on Olympus and seaches out a trainer by the name of Philoctetes (Danny DeVito) to train and return to his birth parents while being infatuated by a mysterious woman named Meg (Susan Egan).

My opinion on Hercules has been so erratic over the years that I almost didn't review it. I couldn't make up my mind about what I thought of it. I've come to the conclusion that Hercules is worthy of being part of the Disney Renaissance but is in the bottom half of said category. In comparison to Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, the animation is lacking in terms of depth and lighting but Hercules has it's own style that suits the Greek story setting that they were going for. The jaded lines, the abundance of curls (just look at Herc's chin) and the simple colours work well.

One thing to note is that this is primarily a character based film. Hercules revels in it's characters. The most memorable is the villain Hades voiced by a perfectly cast James Woods. Without James Woods, there would be no film. He hams up every second he's on screen and he extremely enjoys the role, therefore his enjoyment connects with ours, making for an enjoyable film as a result. Hercules himself is a very likable hero albeit a bit simple. He's not the most deep hero out there but he has a certain charm. Now I think about it, the characters in general aren't deep or complex, they're just likable. Meg and Philoctetes also have a certain charm but I think it's mainly down to the voice actors that deliver this. Danny DeVito is basically playing himself with Mickey from Rocky thrown in. The film's shining glory is the songs. 'Go The Distance' and 'I Won't Say I'm in Love' are some of Disney's best, the latter especially. The soundtrack as a whole is catchy and memorable.

Hercules is a strange step on Disney's part but I think, overall, it came out fine. The characters, while a bit simple and not very complex, are memorable and likable with James Woods as Hades being the greatest element in the film. The soundtrack contains a couple of very strong songs with the others just being catchy and memorable. The animation does take a step down as it goes for a more simple style but it works with the context of the film. I'm glad there wasn't a Hercules 2, which...actually now I think about it actually very surprising. Not because it's not deserving but...I jut don't want to review it. Disney sequels, you see (well, except the Aladdin and Lion King sequels). And another thing, with all the pointless movies Disney churn out, why not make a Gravity Falls movie? It's the smartest and one of the best properties Disney has at the moment!

Filled with likable characters and a great soundtrack. The animation is a bit confusing though, especially from Disney post-Lion King.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane, 2014) Review

If we were to look over what film genre churns out the least films, it could arguably be the western genre. Yes, we do get the occasional great film such as Rango, True Grit and Django Unchained but that's just it. "Occasional". I, for one, would love to see much more from this genre so here comes Seth MacFarlane's latest film after the success of Ted, A Million Ways to Die in the West. Does it not only live up to Seth's previous works but also to the western genre itself? Let's find out.

In the western frontier in 1882, a cowardly sheep farmer named Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a man who hates the west due to how easy it is to die and how many forms of death there are ranging from being impaled by a stampeding bull to getting a splinter. After getting split up from his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried), a mysterious woman known as Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town and Albert instantly makes a connection. The problem? Her husband is the most notorious gun slinger in the west, Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson). Anna must train Albert to survive in the west while dealing with his own vendetta against his ex-girlfriends new lover, Foy (Neil Patrick-Harris).

So why was Ted such a success and why did this one flop? Personality, I think it's because of the genre. The general movie going audience would be up for a contemporary, smack talking film with a sense of humour derived from Family Guy yet they may more skeptical to see something that defies this with it's archaic setting and more flesh out humour. It's a shame really because the setting is easily the best thing about the film. Seth does a great job of recapturing the west through the use of wonderful landscapes and a great soundtrack (knowing Seth, this was inevitable). It brought back the lust for being a cowboy that westerns did so well. I also mentioned the flesh out humour. For the most part, this is true as many jokes stick the landing and had the audience at my showing roaring with laughter (funniest bit? All I'm saying is "Abe Lincoln"). However, there are some very cringe worthy, gross-out moments and, it's safe to say, I hate gross-out comedy. That's the main reason I declare The Hangover Part II the worst in the trilogy and find the Scary/Disaster/Epic Movie franchise to be the scum of cinema and the lowest form of film.

While the first two acts had me hooked, A Million Ways to Die in the West overstays its welcome a tad bit. The last act feels to bloated and crammed with what seems like another plot. Yes, the first two acts get closure but really, they should've just fleshed them out into a three act structure. The ending also feels a bit rushed to be honest. The final duel has loads of build up and, while it comes to a satisfying yet hilariously well written conclusion, the closure is rushed out instantly, almost as if they were aiming for a specific running time. Then again, the ending gave us one of the best cameos in film history. In fact, there are three excellent cameos that I dare not ruin but I lost it at all three of them. The cast is interesting, to say the last. Seth MacFarlane holds the film fine but Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried feel wasted. Neeson leaves an impression but still doesn't appear that much. Then again, Neil Patrick-Harris and Charlize Theron are putting their all into this while the supporting cast including Giovanni Ribisi, returning from Ted (and his connection to Ted leads to an amazing reference to it...try to spot it) and Sarah Silverman also fair well.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is a flawed yet entertaining comedy with a well realised setting. Do I think the critics are being harsh? Yes but some of their points are still valid (the last act sounds like a universal complaint to me). This was one of my most anticipated films thsi year as Seth MacFarlane proved himself able to deliver a great film with Ted and, while missing a mark by a tiny gap, I do look forward to his next film project. Looking back on his two films, part of me wishes he would put his TV career to rest and continue his film making career. I will be remember A Million Ways to Die in the West much more than I will the past several seasons of Family Guy, that's for sure.

While it has some major flaws, this comedy does the western setting justice with the highlights being the fantastic cameos and the great soundtrack.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Review

I've been making the effort to try and to the cinema every week (yeah, everything is more expensive in London EXCEPT cinema tickets. X-Men for 3 quid? Yes please!) and you may remember that I reviewed The Wind Rises as a result. Again, it's no secret that I love Studio Ghibli and this is the one that is considered their greatest achievement. Is it truly worthy of that title? Let's find out. 

Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) and her parents are moving home to a small Japanese town out in the country even if Chihiro doesn't want to. On their way to their new home, the family find themselves lost in the woods and discover a seemingly abandoned village. Chihiro is separated from her parents when she meets a boy named Haku (Jason Marsden) who warns her that she and her parents are in danger. Chihiro returns only to discover that they were turned into pigs. She is forced to work in a bath house, the centre piece of the town, run by an old witch named Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette). Chihiro now has to rise up, face Yubaba and return to the real world with her parents

It's no secret that Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest creative minds out there, especially in the film industry where we have peaked in unoriginality (Mrs Doubtfire 2? Really?), and Spirited Away is often heralded as his best. It's very clear to see why. Firstly, this is the best animation I've seen in a Studio Ghibli scene. I will admit that I prefer the character designs of previous and later films, the animation itself is gorgeous. Miyazaki creates a fascinating setting with a wonderful design that is a marvel to watch. It will be a dark day if Studio Ghibli ever submits to CGI animation like Disney did as you just can't capture this many imaginative and beautiful designs yet keep your own style.

The story is also fascinating. While it may get a tad depressing at times, it leaps out with satisfaction and is accompanied with likable characters. Chihiro is our gateway into the world of Spirited Away, serving as the only sane person who we can relate with. This means that we aren't alone in our reactions and thoughts on the bizzare oddities we encounter. She is more than just a narrative tool as she does display strong emotion that allow us to empathise with her.

Spirited Away is a beautiful film. From the amazing animation to the marvelous soundtrack, it's a wonder from start to finish. While I still believe The Castle of Cagliostro to be Miyazaki's magnum opus, this doesn't straggle too far behind. I think it just lacks the charm that the latter has. It's imaginative, wonderfully crafted and uses Chihiro as a gateway into the well devised and thought out world of Spirited Away. An essential watch.

Imaginative, wonderfully put together and uses good narrative techniques to construct a memorable world.