G.I. Joe: Retaliation

GIJoeRetaliationG.I. Joe: Retaliation didn’t get itself off to a good start when its much-anticipated released got postponed by 9 months.  The delay, apparently for the sake of conversion to 3D and adding in more scenes of Channing Tatum after studio execs realised how freaking valuable he was to a movie.

Anotherwards, it was delayed for nothing:  critics weren’t impressed by its 3D (I wouldn’t know; I didn’t bother watching it in that format) and Tatum’s Duke dies anyway.

I’m going to say at this point that I know that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a miss for a lot of people.  Yes, it was far from fantastic; borderline comical even, but as a guy who grew up on G.I. Joe toys and cartoons, it was the film I’d waited my whole life for and it did not disappoint.  More than that, it made me happy.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation took what the first film built – the characters, the subplots, the feeling like it could’ve been the start of something bigger, and most importantly of all, the franchise – and then put it in cryogenic-neuro-whatever lockup with Destro.  What happened to the Baroness?  What exactly was the purpose of introducing Lady Jaye and Flint when they didn’t have visibly specific skills that Scarlett, Ripcord, Heavy Duty, Breaker and Hawk from the first movie lacked?  On that note, where did those characters go anyway?  And why the fuck did they kill an important character like Duke when his death was not going to serve any real purpose to the story?  It didn’t motivate Roadblock to counter-attack Cobra; he’d have done that regardless of whether Duke was among the fatalities.  It didn’t change Flint’s character in any way; not that his character was of any importance to the story in the first place.  It was basically the first of many indications of director Jon Chu‘s painstakingly nonchalant attitude towards a well-loved franchise and the generation of hearts that grew up with it.

Oh alright, I’ll list more.  Y’know, in many movies, plot holes are tolerated.  You know them when you spot them, or they sink in after the credits roll, but you shrug and say, “ah what the hell”.  There’s usually something else that defines the film in a much more important way.  Here’s the thing though:  G.I. Joe Retaliation can pretty much be defined by the gaping holes in its plot.  They just cannot be ignored, and then they build and build and build.  Just off the top of my head:  Storm Shadow got himself incarcerated to an above-maximum security prison by way of assassinating a president, just to free his boss.  But all it took was 5 minutes of conversation with Blind Master to convince him to turn on the exact same boss, just to get revenge on someone he could’ve killed at any. other. point. of time. ever; like, you know, when said boss wasn’t about to pull off the greatest coup of his career.  If someone as detached from the President as Lady Jaye could quickly realise the subtle differences between the real President and his impersonator, then how ignorant were his wife, children and inner circle for not seeing anything wrong the whole time?  G.I. Joes in both movies have been established as military elite from all over the world.  Giving Snake Eyes some leeway here, there is still no explanation of who the fuck Jinx and Blind Master are and why the fuck they’d suddenly decide to join in the fight.  Then there’s that thing where Roadblock is a sergeant and Lady Jaye a lieutenant, yet the former became the latter’s commanding officer after…well, you know.  The writers apparently lacked the sense to know that “second-in-command” and “commando” are not ranks – and that was barely one minute into the movie.  And just so I call out that large pink elephant in the room…IT TOOK JUST TWO MINUTES FOR EVERY WORLD LEADER TO LAUNCH BUTTLOADS OF NUKES INTO THE ATMOSPHERE WITHOUT ACTUALLY KNOWING WHAT THEY’RE DOING IT FOR.  I’d like to think that was a horribly poor attempt at caricature, but that would be too much credit.

To be fair, Retaliation really wasn’t a terrible film.  It had well-placed humour, great visuals, some nice touches of tension and genuinely fun action sequences – especially all that ninja stuff on the mountain.  It had strong actors in Adrianne Palicki, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Lee Byung-Hun and the ever-invisible Ray Park.  The Rock and Bruce Willis, whose star-power dominated the screen, did what they’ve been doing best in film, which suited this movie fine without adding much to their resumes.  (RZA, Elodie Yung and DJ Cotrona however, could be added to the considerably lengthy list of Jon Chu’s un-inspirations.)

But all that went to waste in the shadow of careless writing and impeccably poor asset management.  It’s a real shame.

Director:  Jon Chu
Producers:  Lorenzo di Bonaventura & Brian Goldner
Screenwriters:  Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick
Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis, DJ Cotrona, Lee Byung-Hun, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum

Rating:  1

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Dark Shadows

Oh blah blah blah.  Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, gothic settings, kooky outfits, vibrant colour sets.  What was once a major deal-breaker is now swimming in a bargain bin.  I love all those things in a movie, I do, but when put together they’ve become really really stale.  It seems like Mr Burton himself is running low on his own invention – Dark Shadows played out like a 200-year-old patchwork quilt he found in his attic:  homages, nods, and re-enactments of Batman, Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands, Alice In Wonderland, Beetlejuice (and probably a few more I didn’t care to count) lurked in not-so-secret passages of each scene.

It is unfortunate that in a particularly lacklustre effort (or more accurately, lack thereof) by Time Burton, Johnny Depp’s performance as Barnabus Collins was nothing short of a distinction.  Channelling the very best of his past roles, he reached a delightfully entertaining balance that can be summed up most simply as the intensity and countenance of a demon barber with the comic perfection of a drunk pirate and self-awareness of a mad hatter spewing some of the most memorably quotable lines of the year.  My particular favourite being his “goest thou to hell and swiftly please” instruction to Eva Green‘s Angelique Bouchard character.

The rest of the cast – rounded up by the likes of Jackie Earle Hayley, Michelle Pfeiffer and Johnny Lee Miller – did a good enough job of fleshing out the story, but it was not enough to help what looks to be a crumbling Burton mansion.  A fantastic tag-team on the part of Depp and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, Tim Burton delivered everything we have come to expect of him – and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing any more.

Director:  Tim Burton
Producers:  Richard D. Zanuck, Graham King, Johnny Depp, Christi Dembrowski &  David Kennedy
Screenwriter:  Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring:  Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Hayley, Johnny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz,  Bella Heathcote

Rating:  

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The Cabin In The Woods

Joss Whedon is on a roll, isn’t he?  Hot on the heels of The Avengers comes another piece he’s written:  The Cabin In The Woods, a typical horror show that…isn’t.

Five youths embark on a short vacation to the titular Cabin in the woods; a site unbeknownst to them as being under the control of an agency dedicated to engineering the cabin’s inhabitants to behave as decadently and cluelessly as is required for them to trigger their own demise at the hands of a set of monsters.  Their deaths are an apparently necessary blood sacrifice to appease “the Ancient Ones”, who will otherwise unleash some kind of hell to the rest of us on earth.

In an interview with TotalFilm.com, Mr Whedon explains that this film is “a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies”.  With that in mind, it is joyous what he has done with the place.  He’s right, you know – with many modern horror franchises holding an unspoken competition to outdo themselves with spectacular gore, there is almost nothing particularly graphic about The Cabin In The Woods; its effectiveness still very much intact.  While a complete mockery of all the conventions we’ve come to expect from horror, the film cleverly, thrives on their very existence.

Brilliant as the idea is, this movie is not without its shortcomings (which should be expected really, given what’s in play).  Too often in the story, we find ourselves unsure of its genre – is it a serious horror piece?  A comedy?  A really bad homage?  A soap opera?  An admission of defeat?  The plot, insidious as it is, keeps shifting its tone, leaving me unable to fully grasp its intent and rather dissatisfied.

I noted, ultimately, CITW’s usefulness as a metaphor – on one level, its breakdown of horror stereotypes; on another, its questioning of what we really want or need as a horror audience; fans of marijuana will champion this on another; and on the same plane as the one where the “Ancient Ones” reside, any fan of The Vigilant Citizen website would have a field day drawing some conspiracy theories from this too.

Definitely worth a watch; the rest is up to you.

Director:  Drew Goddard
Producer:  Joss Whedon
Screenwriters:  Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon
Starring:  Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford

Rating:  

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The Avengers

As a lifelong fan of comic books, I had quite a few reservations about how The Avengers was going to turn out:  Was Robert Downey Jr going to be portrayed as the primary character?  Was Hawkeye (my all-time fave Avenger) going to be merely a supporting member?  How would they use the Hulk?  How would Mark Ruffalo compare to Ed Norton?  How much action is Nick Fury going to get in on?  Is the pace going to be ridiculous?

One thing I was certain about:  when they announced Joss Whedon as the film’s director, I knew it was going to stay pretty clear above the water.

To my relief, the film took its time to establish everyone as equal members of the team.  They found ways to isolate the characters in twos, threes, or alone, to show us their developing dynamics.  I particularly enjoyed Black Widow’s interrogation scene, and the one where Stark and Banner were sizing each other up in their lab aboard the SHIELD aircraft.  Without room to introduce Hawkeye to an audience that has already seen what the other members can do in their respective films, I thought it was a clever plot device to have him under Loki’s control for the first half of the movie, killing two birds with one arrow.

The action was brilliant.  From the scuffle between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to the team’s defense of New York City, we were not left wanting from any of the physical displays.  Quite the contrary, they were infused with masterfully comical dialogue, tastefully giving us more entertainment than we could’ve asked for.

This flick owes everything it is to Mr Whedon.  Having already been a fan of his work in Firefly and some comic books he’s contributed to, as well really enjoying a bunch of the films he’s written (Toy Story, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Speed, Waterworld, Titan A.E.), I was elated at his  appointment in this one.  Marvel Studios wouldn’t have allowed The Avengers to be a letdown after the great buildup across its previous efforts, but Whedon’s long-standing genius with scriptwriting, impeccable comic timing and genuine respect for the comic franchise has given this movie a soul that would’ve been unprecedented with any other director.  It seems like he knew all the strengths and weaknesses of his cast and played them up to perfection.

Acting-wise, above the talents of the whole cast, it was Robert Downey Jr, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo who stood out by a mile.  It’s as if Downey and Hiddleston were simply told to be themselves when reading lines, and Ruffalo – we’re never going to see him the same way again, are we?  He nailed it, everything; no matter how superbly Norton played Banner in his last movie, it’s all been forgotten after this one.

There are just 3 things I am dissatisfied with in The Avengers, and perhaps I express them more as a fanboy than as a film critic:  1)  Hawkeye sure could’ve used a more colourful costume  2)  I’m not sure I can get used to looking at Nick Fury and not imagining him screaming about snakes on planes, or quoting bible verses before committing murder, or wearing a purple fedora hat  3)  If The Hulk was established as being uncontrollable, why was he so cooperative in the final battle?  Yes he’s swayed between aggression and self-control in the comics, but that’s over longer periods of time and under different storylines; isn’t it a bit far-fetched that he could work as part of the team so well in this movie?

Nonetheless, this has clearly been one of the best – if not the best – Marvel comics films that’ve been released thus far.

Director:  Joss Whedon
Producer:  Kevin Feige
Screenwriter:  Joss Whedon
Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard, Samuel L Jackson

Rating:  

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John Carter

Ah, John Carter.  It’s a story unlike any I’ve seen before.

Except the times I watched Atlantis, Avatar, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, Pocahontas…is it a coincidence that Disney was behind 3 out of the 4 I mentioned?  As well as John Carter itself?  Nope.  There are probably loads more titles I could roll off, but I can’t be bothered.

What makes this one stand out from the rest?  Well.  Nothing much actually.  I’m getting tired of these white-man-goes-to-a-strange-land,-champions-the-natives-and-bangs-the-resident-hot-chick templates.  It’s been done to death, resurrected and then done to death again.  What makes it worse than its predecessors is a distinct laziness on the part of its director (Andrew Stanton).  It wasn’t just enough for him to construct an entire feature-length out of textbooks, he couldn’t even be arsed to patch up any of its plot-holes or add any kind of originality to it.  Unless you count an oversized white six-limbed ape as originality, although I’m certain you’ll find that somewhere else too.  Maybe throwing Mark Strong in there counts; I don’t think anyone’s done that before…oh wait.

I also feel that too much was made of the titular character’s obsession with being a maverick.  It’s a trait that was already established in the first act; we didn’t need the constant reminders in front of our faces throughout the entirety of the movie.  More than anything, it underminded Taylor Kitsch‘s performance, making the character a tiresome one.  There was too much imbalance to his abilities as well, making his easily-concluded fight scenes especially silly.  While the John Carter character in this sense reminds me a lot of Sam Worthington in Avatar, Worthington’s (while not exactly a hallmark in development) looked a lot better simply because he was held back more.

On the whole, this has been an exceptionally lame effort by Disney and Andrew Stanton to create and tout an epic adventure film.  Y’know what, I don’t regret watching it in IMAX, for the special effects were rendered beautifully.  The cast couldn’t be faulted for very much either.  I don’t regret having paid money to see it, but given Stanton’s failure to add any spirit to what would’ve otherwise been a very decent weekend movie, I do regret having coughed up that inflated IMAX ticket price.  More tellingly, I regret that movies like this – brimming with all the toppings but devoid of good-quality meat – are allowed to pass.  It’s robbery, and it’s ominous.

Director:  Andrew Stanton
Producers:  Jim Morris, Colin Wilson & Lindsey Collins
Screenwriters:   Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews & Michael Chabon
Starring:  Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Dominic West, Mark Strong, Samantha Morton,  James Purefoy

Rating:  

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Man On A Ledge: two sides of the same coin

Last weekend, I watched Man On A Ledge, and I finally got round to watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as well.  (I’ve been distracted by The Walking Dead series lately)

It was amusing to note that both films had similar elements:  corrupt agents, betrayal, conspiracy…but each film took a polar opposite approach to its story.

I started with Tinker Tailor.  I was immediately struck by its very British style:  slower-paced; a humble approach to physicality; much more room for quiet dialogue.  I appreciated how its pace allowed the characters space to develop on their own and contrast each other, like the few otherwise unnecessary seconds where we observed how Smiley and Guilliam reacted to a fly in their vehicle.  I also enjoyed its camerawork:  subjects were often framed up with other objects in the foreground, and action sometimes filled up just a third of the screen as if to say the story is part of a larger framework of life.  Loved it.

In a movie with such an expansive cast and rich plot, it was important for each to have a bit of his own time for the benefit of the audience.  One of my favourite parts of this movie (and maybe all the movies I’ve watched in the last few months) was Gary Oldman‘s monologue as Smiley as he described, peering through thick spectacles straight at the camera, his encounter with his nemesis Karla.  It was mesmerising.

Perhaps ironically, it was later revealed that it was precisely an understanding of character that led to the strategies Karla adopted against Smiley.

Unfortunately, the ending of Tinker Tailor was a letdown.  After everything we’d been through in the story, all the heavy tension that each character had collected within us, the movie climaxed with just about the same intensity and suppression as the sniper rifle that was instrumental in it.

When the show was over I found myself wishing for a bit of the more fast-paced, bam-bam-bam-bam-WOW style of Hollywood action thrillers.  The next day I got my wish with Man On A Ledge, which was exactly all that with Genesis Rodriguez (and her hot-pink underwear) thrown in.

Nothing about Man On A Ledge was slow: the first ten minutes brought us to exactly what the title promised.  Despite the action being delivered in the quicker-cut style I was itching for, and the works were thrown in as far as stunts go.  The cameras played up their contrast to Tinker Tailor too – everything (and then some) was in our faces and wider-angle lenses roamed free.  I was happy to note that the details of exactly why he was on that ledge were revealed more comfortably; allowing each new turn of events to sit for a while before the next one.  That’s the thing though – the action had itself some breathing room, its players (all except the titular Man) didn’t.  I don’t have much else to say about this one; it didn’t do too much wrong but didn’t do itself any favours either.

As a whole, I have to say that in a battle of pace, it was slow and steady that won the race.  The time given for the audience to warm up to the characters of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was vital in creating a longer-lasting impression of the show; even though I had never read the books beforehand, I found myself drawn to and still wanting to find out more about the likes of Smiley and Guilliam and Haydon and Prideaux.  By contrast, Man On A Ledge made for very entertaining viewing, but I never cared much for Sam Worthington before and I still don’t now.  The movie never bothered much about its own characters (whose names I forget by now – see what I mean), so why should we?

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The Chase

A solo 3D animation effort by Tomas Vergara, The Chase is a joy to watch.  A short story of a simple hitman job gone wrong, Tomas makes expert use of camera movements and lighting to frame his 12-minute crescendo of tension.  Perhaps the characters and their direction could have been better worked, but that takes nothing away from a very, very impressive and entertaining piece of work.

Watch “The Chase” here.

Director:  Tomas Vergara
Producer:  Tomas Vergara
Screenwriters:  Tomas Vergara & Ian Mery

Rating:  

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