Friday, 27 April 2012

Avengers Assemble

After years of waiting and several films alluding to it, Avengers Assemble - Marvel's biggest gamble to date - finally hit UK cinemas this week, and judging by the fact Sheffield's Imax Cineworld was sold out on night one, a lot of people were keen to see the result.
The verdict? So much fun it was ridiculous. Thanks to Joss Whedon's direction and script, a great cast, effects, score and pacing.
It could have been a huge mess. Instead it's a beautifully handled comic book epic with Robert Downey Jnr and the rest of the cast firing on all cylinders.
The fact the movie has already grossed $178 million outside America in four days suggests Marvel's first $1billion success story is just a few weeks away.
Why is it bound to do so well? Largely because all the girlfriends and partners of Marvel geeks are possibly more excited by the movie themselves.
After all, beefcake hunks slugging it out is very easy on the eye for many a female viewer dreading the thought of being bored stupid.
The other is humour, an element sorely lacking in the previous Hulk movies. Whedon gets the tone just right here, with some splendid one liners.
Best seen in Imax and 3D, though to paraphrase Thor: Another screening in order methinks.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Lockout review

So many good films are the result of luck. Having the right cast, script, direction, editing and effects are important, but if all the ingredients don't gel, viewers will be disappointed.
Lockout, the new sci-fi action thriller from writer producer Luc Besson has a lot going for it. Guy Pearce is splendid as wise-cracking, world-weary Snow, while Maggie Grace is a sexy heroine.
The plot sees a framed Snow sent to rescue her from a maximum security jail in space. (She's the US President's daughter, so naturally a fine bargaining chip for the thawed out inmates).
Vincent Regan and Joseph Gilgun are well cast as the Scots villains and there are many well staged set pieces.
However, there are some scenes, such as a bike chase in the first act and a parachute landing in the third that are poorly executed.
There's also a lack of closure regarding one key villain and an annoying mcguffin that is either left open for a sequel or just exploiting the same idea of the Rabbit's Foot from Mission Impossible 3. Aka the writers think the contents of a memory card just aren't that important to explore in the closing minutes.
With a better editor Lockout could have been a classic, but while it fails on a few levels, Pearce and Grace ensure it's not a complete waste of time.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Fuzzy Logic: When Hollywood Lost The Plot

Aka The Trouble with Hollywood: or why AI: Artificial Intelligence should have been re-named NI :No Intelligence, and why Planet of the Apes (2001) made a monkey out of the audience

In the autumn of 2001 I sat through AI: Artificial Intelligence.
Steven Spielberg's take on Stanley Kubrick's long-cherished final project was a brave piece of work in which the world's most famous director had so much rope, he hung himself.
No other movie that year irritated me more.
I must confess that due to the poor state of Hollywood movies, I sat through a handful. Planet of the Apes, like AI, suffered from the same breakdown in logic.

I'm no scientist, or businessman but it seems to me that throwing millions of dollars at projects and then ignoring the basic principles of science is like shooting a movie without taking the lens cap off.
Your average film-goer may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even they know that when opening the door to a thousand-year-old spacecraft, there's a good chance it may have got sticky, or take more than a couple of seconds to open.
I leave my car door longer than a week in the winter and it needs a bit of persuasion before letting me in.
In Planet of the Apes such things were obviously seen as slowing the movie down and when Mark Wahlberg says "Open Sesame", it does so.

When Woody Allen had tried the same thing in his sublime 1973 comedy, Sleeper the result was hilarious.
While on the run from the authorities, our latterday Rip Van Winkle finds a hundred-year-old Volkswagen in a cave.
It starts first time.
POTA also suffers during the finale. There's a chance of SPOILERS here so you have been warned.
Mark Wahlberg escapes from the world of simians in his rocket ship (how something so small can achieve an escape velocity is clearly not a problem in this future world. For that we will suspend disbelief.) However, when he returns to earth and makes an emergency landing in a pool, within seconds he emerges from the craft and walks up some steps.
Hold on a minute. Forget that final revelation which I won't reveal here and actually is quite good.
Our hero has just re-entered the earth's atmosphere and splashed down. He walks from the spaceship like he's stepping off a bus.
There's no sense of disorientation, dizzyness or even a stiff neck.
If I drive for 118 miles back to see my folks, it takes me a minute to get my act together after getting out of the car.

Like any movie goer who pays their money to be entertained for a couple of hours, I will believe there's a planet where monkeys can talk, but I won't forgive such disregard for the necessary nuts and bolts which make you suspend belief in the first place.
It's just not good enough.
Clearly under pressure from 20th Century Fox to get his movie out for the summer box office, director Tim Burton clearly rushed the ending and as a result jettisoned what little credibility he had generated in the previous 100 odd minutes.
Even movie moguls like Steven Spielberg are responsible to studios like Warner Bros.
AI had been in the pipeline for years. Based on a short story by sci-fi author Brian Aldiss, Stanley Kubrick had planned to make it when special effects could realise his vision of a drowned world.
According to John Baxter in his Kubrick biography, Aldiss believes Kubrick was schizoid, like Rene Descartes, who said I think therefore I am. For Kubrick it was a case of "I film therefore I am."
Alas, by then effects wizards had caught up and he was ready to go, he had spent so long making his other pet project, Eyes Wide Shut, that time inevitably caught up with him
Before his death, Kubrick gave the project to Steven Spielberg, a friend of Stan's since they had been working in neighbouring studios in 1980. Kubrick was working on The Shining and Spielberg on one of his finest offerings, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Vivian Kubrick (the director's daughter who was filming a documentary about her father's movie) was shocked when Spielberg seemed to show little respect for the snakes features in the Well of the Souls sequence.
There were dead snakes on the set and the RSPCA were called. Production was shut down for a day at a cost of millions of dollars.
Her father was damning in his putdown.
"Steve's a jerk."
Despite such rocky beginnings, Kubrick spent several years picking the 'jerk's' brains.
The more he worked on AI, the more it became clear that this project was more up Spielberg's alley.
Once Kubrick died, Spielberg sat down and wrote his first screenplay since Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977.
While the bulk of Kubrick's vision made it to the big screen, there's an epilogue which runs for half an hour and completely ruins the movie.
Kubrick's glacial logic makes way for Spielberg's warm, fuzzy sentiment.
The pristine Kubrick world, like a snowflake, is dissolved by the hot air and audience-friendly conclusion more akin to one of Spielberg's Amazing Stories.

You can tell where his input starts and where Kubrick ends.
As the camera pulls away from our young protagonist (Haley Joel Osment) trapped in his ship under a ferris wheel, that's a really good time to either leave the cinema or turn the TV off.
Here all logic that had been built up before hand goes out of the window.
Many years pass and aliens, or man's final stage of evolution, (it scarcely matters which) arrive in their craft made of boxes.
These computer-generated beings are benevolent brothers to the Close Encounters aliens and rather wimpy to boot.
They proceed to reveal many years of exposition in a rather ridiculous voice which sounds like it was dubbed by the first person that turned up at the recording studio that day.
Kubrick once said that for a movie to work, you need six non-submersible units to keep the project afloat. In the case of Star Wars, the final attack on the Death Star is one, in James Cameron's Titanic, it's naturally the sinking of the eponymous vessel.
It's ironic that Kubrick had developed five non-submersible units and instead of devloping a sixth, Spielberg came along as the iceberg itself and sank the whole, expensive ship.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Logan's Run

When BBC1 screened Logan's Run for the first time in 1982 it touched a chord in me like millions of other teenagers.
Released in 1976, this sci-fi epic was the last major studio sci-fi film before Star Wars changed the genre forever.
Having missed it on the big screen and video so much in its infancy that a screening was impossible, I had to wait until the Beeb screened it before I could witness that bizarre world for myself.

I had seen every episode of the TV version which aired in the late 1970s, but this was a different beast. More exotic, risque and colourful, not the sanitised version seen in the TV show.

Michael York and Jenny Agutter lent the movie a degree of much needed gravitas.
So, when I got the chance to talk Logan's Run with Jenny in the spring of 2012, it was something of a dream come true.

"Logan’s Run was great," she recalls. "Michael Anderson was directing it and he had great fun doing it. I remember talking to him and he said it was like being a child in a toy shop, and this is the man who did The Dambusters and all sorts of things. Very English. And also Peter Ustinov was in it. He was a riot. Very funny. Full of anecdotes and stories. He just wouldn’t stop. He was a raconteur and just charming. And Michael York was also lovely to work with."

"I was terribly excited because it was MGM Studios. I think it really was the last of the big studio movies at that time because people went about film making in a different way. If you think it’s just before Star Wars and how different that is, and we were all blue screens and big lights and big lots, and people would be working on the set who had been working on there for years and would tell all these stories about old MGM stars."

She adds: "You drive yourself into work in America; It’s quite different to England actually. So I’d drive onto the lot in the morning and the guy at the gate would say: “I just don’t get it. You drive in here with no make up and in the old says the stars would be fully made up and looking glamorous”. 
He wasn’t having a go at me but I thought. 'Oooh. You’d get made up and then have to go into make up again'. But what he was referring to was a very glamorous time where part of your contract was to always look glam."

Kill List

If you took elements from some of the best British horror films and thrillers from the past few decades and mashed them up, but also made a film that stood on its own two feet, the result would be Kill List.
Ben Wheatley's low budget thriller centres on two hit men assigned to bump off a series of undesirables, each labelled with their own on screen title card.
Thanks to a solid opening chunk in which we get to know the characters, the drama which unfolds feels all the more believable.
Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley give top turns as the anti heroes while MyAnna Buring is a sexy and feisty female lead.
Yes, there are elements of Layer Cake, The Long Good Friday, The Descent, Dog Soldiers, The Wicker Man and more, but as mentioned this is a solid film that works well addressing similar themes instead of just ripping them off.
Be warned the violence is not for the faint of heart, so you may want to watch through latticed fingers at some point, but unlike torture porn films where the violence becomes the narrative, this is a different animal. Yes, it's violent and not pleasant, but more disturbing is the reaction of the victims.
Kill List may have more questions than answers, but that's no bad thing considering most Hollywood films with 100 times the budget answer what few questions are posed and don't demand repeated viewing. 4/5

Saturday, 14 April 2012

restaurant review. Little Chef. Tadcaster.

Labelling Little Chef as a restaurant seems a little generous considering its rep as a cosy family diner from the days before McD's got a stranglehold on the fast food market. However, thanks to Heston Blumenthal breathing new life into a handful of LCs a few years ago, suddenly they are worth checking out again.
I last visited a Little Chef years ago; they've always had a big place in my heart, and admit that it was worth the trip.
Beer battered fish and chips were great, while they do great pancakes (a must considering my fave treat at LC as a kid).
Prices are around the same as Frankie and Benny's so it won't break the bank and is a lot cheaper than Heston's own restaurant The Fat Duck.
And for those in the Yorkshire area, it's a lot closer. 4/5.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Prometheus: the preview footage screening

Waiting 33 years to meet Ridley Scott and then being invited to a sneak peak at footage from his new movie Prometheus is quite an experience.
For a start, the week before the event has a strange effect: it makes your brain start formulating questions, all the time. From the inspiration behind the movie to working with Noomi Rapace, there is no off button.
A through the night journey to London also didn't help matters. More questions, all the time.
Of course the event itself was so packed the chance of actually asking a question in a room of 400 other journos was more like winning the Lottery.
As for the footage itself? Well, here's the thing. On the one hand it's pretty stunning; the sort of epic visuals you'd expect from a master film-maker. And on the other? Well, it's a bit meh.
The 3D is fantastic, though rather distracting, but little touches like using a Rubik's cube as a hologram projector came across as a little too Blake's 7. There's also a long shot of the ship crossing a star field which looks like it's taken from a 1930s sci-fi serial (maybe that's the intention).
Thankfully we weren't given so many spoilers as to spoil the movie when it's finally released but personally I think the idea and anticipation of Prometheus is going to be more interesting than the finished project.
As for the cast? Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender were great, but Charlize Theron simply stunning as they fielded the few questions from journos lucky enough to ask a few queries.
With so many clues flying around regarding the plot there is a danger of fans suffering overkill; some are already tired of the hype.
As with Avatar a few weeks before release, fans are having to recalibrate their view of what Prometheus should be and what it actually is.
The bridge between the trailer and the Alien saga may be a very different thing to what some expect.
Personally i'm wondering if some little touches, such as Guy Pearce in old man make-up and a tacky Rubik's cube projector needed reassessing.

Update: after weeks of hating the Rubik's cube idea, i now like it.
The new trailer released during Homeland ads in the Uk offered some new clues but the sight of the weird snake that slips inside Rafe Spall is a little dubious.
Given the Twitter feedback it looks like fans are going nuts over the teaser. Let's hope it pays off on June 1.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Michael Fassbender's most gripping performance to date is not for the easily shocked. A New York based sex addict so wrapped up in his obsession he can't connect with his troubled sister (Carey Mulligan).
Director Steve McQueen does a masterful job, especially in the opening scenes where our lusty protagonist seduces a subway commuter with his eyes. It's a brilliant scene because it's not hampered by corny dialogue.
Alas, as the film progresses, the addict's obsessions have nowhere to go. He seduces an office worker and when he fails to perform in the bedroom, goes off the rails.
When an inevitable tragedy occurs, our hero's redemption seems impossible.
The final scenes pay off nicely, but by then it seems Fassbender's alter ego is too far gone to care about. 4/5