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Dark Shadows (2012)
In Defence of the Dark
Having just read page after page of negative reviews, I thought it necessary to add this -
DARK SHADOWS IS A LOT OF FUN!
It's a campy, affectionate adaptation of a hammy horror soap from the 1970's. Granted, Johnny Depp is not Jonathan Frid, and the script never even attempts to give him that role. His Barnabbas is not the tortured monster of Dan Curtis' series, but a fish-out-of-water 18th century dude having trouble coping with 70's grooviness. Fans of the TV show may consider this a cop-out, but there's still a lot to enjoy.
The supporting cast is uniformly fun - from Michelle Pfeiffer pulling faces at the camera to Johnny Lee Miller as the stuffy, twitchy Roger. The romance between Vicky & Barnabbas is hardly present in the film, but that's because Eva Green dominates as Angeline - and she's absolutely terrific as a demented, lovestruck witch.
I think a big part of the issue people have with this film is that they were expecting a bit more darkness and a lot less froth from Burton. So try this - pretend you are going to see "Robert Zemeckis' Dark Shadows" instead. It'll give you a better idea of what to expect and if you just let go of your preconceptions you'll find yourself giggling through this as much as I did.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Taxi To The Revisionist Side
So let's deal with the torture first, because that seems to be what everyone is talking about. The scenes depicted in this movie should not be shocking to anyone who has been watching the news for the past 8 years. If anything they are quite mild compared to what you might see in an average episode of "Criminal Minds". What some have found shocking is the claim that it was torture that "found" Osama. Again, this has been in the news for over a year now - but there are things to consider -
a) Kathryn Bigelow's movie is based upon the CIA version of events so take from that what you like. b) The US has been more successful in taking out al Qaeda targets after torture was removed as an option than it was under Bush/Cheney. (Google it if you don't believe me). c) We see a successful interrogation at Bagram. We don't see any interrogations of innocent dudes who also ended up tied to the ceiling there (see documentary "Taxi To The Dark Side").
So my feeling is, if you go in accepting the movie as unexpurgated truth, you're a bit daft. But then I'd say that about all movies anyway. Moving on.
As drama, it is semi-successful. The issue here is that the subject matter is pretty dry for the first 3/4 of the story. People mostly sit in rooms discussing leads, politics and techniques. In an attempt to humanise the story and draw us in, we are given the character of Maya to follow. She's a young CIA agent who becomes obsessed with finding Abu Ahmed, Bin Laden's courier. But is he still alive? Does he even exist? He's so shadowy her superiors think not and we follow her frustration over the years as other leads are followed to no avail.
I think the reason this part of the movie felt a bit dry to me was that essentially it was covering documentary territory and the character of Maya is so one-note (driven and dedicated) that it's hard to find an emotional foothold in the film.
Compare it to the more emotive "Argo" and it's nowhere near as compelling. But then we reach the last act. The assault on Osama's compound. It's brilliantly staged and, given that we know how it ends, incredibly tense. The whole audience was holding their breath the whole way.
So I was glad I saw "Zero Dark Thirty". It is a good film and worth seeing. Is it "Best Film Oscar" material? I think so - but for me "Argo" & "The Sessions" are much more satisfying films.
The Sessions (2012)
Refreshing, Honest and Most of All Funny
Mark O'Brien developed polio at the age of six. The disease ravaged his body, leaving him with little control over his muscles. But he didn't let it stop him. He travels about on a motorised gurney which allows him to attend college and earn his degree, and from there he earns a living as a writer and poet.
We find this out about him in the first two minutes of the movie.
At the age of 38, Mark goes through a number of experiences that lead him to believe he is missing out on something. Sex. After falling in love with his carer (she handles it badly) and writing a series of articles on sex and the disabled, he decides that he has been a virgin long enough. But as a committed Catholic he discusses it with his priest first. He gets an unexpected response -
Mark engages the services of a professional sex surrogate. Cheryl works at the referral of a sex therapist, and helps disabled people gain confidence to the point where they can have full sexual relationships by having six sex sessions with them. No more than six.
It's an awkward situation and Mark is terrified. But Cheryl is thoughtful and kind and if her manner is somewhat clinical she is also understanding and patient. She finds herself not hindered so much by Mark's condition, but by the guilt that plagues him. Not about sex outside of marriage, but that someone like him could deserve any sort of love at all.
How the two get through this is by turns, sad, touching and really REALLY funny. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that this is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time and way better than some of the actual comedies I've sat through recently. And it wasn't just me. The crowd was HOWLING at some of the lines. Mark is a funny dude (brilliantly played by John Hawkes) William H Macy can be funny just by raising an eyebrow, and the frank discussions of sex are refreshingly blunt and to the point.
But this isn't actually a film about sex. It's a film about love. And while Cheryl and Mark might try to separate the two and have a therapist/client relationship, feelings cannot help but develop. Because sex isn't purely a physical act. While you might never weep with joy over a fish supper or whoop with ecstasy over a bacon roll, you just can't sleep with someone and not feel connected. It's an issue. Cheryl worries about Mark's "transferance", but she needs to worry about her own feelings - and the feelings of her husband too.
"The Sessions" is the best film I've seen in a long long time. The screenplay (adapted from O'Brien's own article) is very real - after a while the characters feel like people you've come to know and like. The direction is honest and straightforward - no manipulation, no dressing things up - almost like they've plonked the cameras down in someone's home and left them running. And the acting is bloody superb. I never really liked Helen Hunt before, but she gives a fantastic performance here. There's been a lot of writing about the fact that she's in the nip for a lot of the film - but it's not Hollywood Nip. It's Real Life Nip, where people walk around in their keks before bed and slip off for a wee without bothering to put pants back on.
Do yourself a favour and go and see this. It's up against Zero Dark Twenty and Lincoln at the Oscars, but I really hope it walks off with everything.
Rock of Ages (2012)
I Want To Rock & Roll All Nite (Until 10:30) and Party Every Day (Within Reason)
I remember Stephen King commenting rather angrily about "Grease". He didn't like it , he said, because it presented an antiseptic version of the 1950's. And I remember thinking he was a twit or something equally well-argued. I mean, musicals aren't SUPPOSED to be reality, right? I'm quite sure that "Calamity Jane" presented a sanitised version of the Old West too, and that Sister Maria was probably a total skanky ho-bag in real life. But not in musicals. This is acceptable.
What is NOT acceptable is doing it to MY decade! Yes! The 1980's have been totally scrubbed up, washed down and Glee-ed in "Rock of Ages" a hideous PASTICHE of the BEST MUSICAL DECADE EVER. I think the problem with the film is not that they reimagine 80's rock hits - this I can live with. It's not the totally hackneyed story (the moral majority tries to shut down a Whisky-A-Go-Go type bar). It certainly isn't the supporting cast - Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Paul Giamatti, Tom Cruise and Bryan Cranston are all terrific - and Catherine Zeta-Jones totally steals the show as a Tipper Gore type politician's wife. It is NOT EVEN the fact that this film's script made me wonder what Americans would be left to actually SAY if someone stole the words, "God", "Oh" and "My" from them.
It is the fact that the two leads are possibly the most charmless, irritating pair of non-blooming-entities I have ever seen in this or any other film. Lacking all charisma and chemistry, they make you realise just how good John Travolta and Livvy were, back in the day. This pair murder their way through rock classics and look all dewy-eyed and idiotic. I did not care for them, is what I am trying to say.
This did not quite ruin "Rock of Ages" for me - it had some good moments - notably the "I Want To Know What Love Is" scene. But it came darn close. So I suggest the rock star version of SingStar if you are in the mood to indulge your 80's groove. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to prance around the kitchen tops while strumming a colander and pretending to be Rick Springfield.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Theron vs Stewart
To echo most of the other reviews on here, Kristen Stewart almost wrecks the thing. She is a charisma-free zone, charmless and uninteresting to watch.
But then there's Charlize, who seems to have convinced herself she's in an entirely different, and much better, film. Despite having some bad habits like draining the life-force from virgins, you'll actually feel some sympathy for her character. It's such a shame that there is nothing to counterbalance her performance - except Kristen - which is pretty much the same thing as nothing.
Having said that, it is pretty to look at, and despite his rubbish "Sean Connery has spent time in Ireland" accent, Chris Hemsworth is convincing enough. It's an interesting enough adventure to keep you watching for 120 minutes and I enjoyed it more than I didn't. Just please god stop casting Kristen Stewart in roles that require her to speak, act or move around.
Wrath of the Titans (2012)
What did you expect?
It's a sequel to a remake of a cheesy 80's sword and sandal adventure movie. We were never talking "classic" here.
What we are talking are decent special effects, lots of action, a cliché- heavy script, some fairly wooden performances and a Greek demi-god with an Aussie accent like Yahoo Serious. The plot is one of those dumb, "we have to get to the place to assemble the thing that can kill the monster" type stories. You can fill in the blanks yourself - the writers sure did.
It's actually pretty good fun. I'd rank it alongside the lesser Marvels like Fantastic Four or Thor and certainly way better than Harry Hamlin's original.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
A Classic With A Vanilla Twist
I had to post - 7.2 is a ridiculously low score for a genuine classic.
John Carpenter made 3 classic movies in the 70's - "Dark Star" and "Halloween" are two, but this is the best. Funny, exciting and inventive it tells the story of rival LA gangs (white, Hispanic & black) who join forces and put a police precinct under siege after the cops gun down their buddies.
To make matters worse, the precinct is on the verge of closing down with only a skeleton staff and no ammo. Plus, they are holding notorious mass-killer "Napoleon Wilson" in their cells.
The attacks on the station are masterfully suspenseful - the gang- bangers use silencers so all you here are ZIPs and PINGs as glass shatters and people fall dead. The inmates of the precinct try to find a way to escape but it seems like the gangs have anticipated their every move.
All of this is orchestrated by another classic Carpenter synth score and the script is full of witty lines. Especially great is Darwin Joston who seems to be channelling the spirit of Bogart. It is such a shame Joston never went on to better things - he has the charm and pr essence of another Carpenter favourite Kurt Russell.
All in all, a great adventure/thriller, and while I enjoyed the 2005 remake, it is an entirely different film that doesn't have the charm or individuality of the original.
Makes AVP Requiem Look Good
It's not just the anticipation that explains my disappointment in this film. It's the contempt the film-makers have shown their audience in presenting this half-baked, pseudo-philosophical nonsense to the public that makes me angry.
The plot - such as it is - is stolen mainly from an X-Files long-running story-arc, shoehorned together with a bit of Van Daniken stuff from AVP, plus some gore/squish scenes to remind us that this is supposed to be a "horror" film. But remember how tense and mysterious the original "Alien" movie was? In which we couldn't be sure how the alien would behave because - well - it was an alien? Here, the potential mystery that could have been exploited is gone. We get tentacles, we get goop - lots of it - and we get lots of unconnected, pointless scenes of nastiness that contain no tension, no sense of claustrophobia, no horror. It's a "so what" of a horror movie.
Screenwriter David Lindeloff tries to fill the void by reminding us this is a "deep" film. It's about the search for god, don't you know. But as Lindeloff demonstrated in "Lost" he's better at promising to deliver than actually delivering. We get some trite rubbish explaining that god isn't necessarily who we want him to be. Whoop.
Then there are the characters. Cardboard cut-outs compared to the rounded characters created by Dan O'Bannon. Charlize is given nothing to do except be "icy" for no good reason. But undoubtedly the worst is David the android (no spoiler). He compares poorly to Ash and Bishop from the previous movies. Those androids were cool, logical and unemotional (as you'd expect). Here, for some reason, David seems to have been programmed as "snippy and supercilious" - prone to making sly digs at his human colleagues. He seems to resent the emotions which he is not supposed to have (other than "resentment" apparently). They even trot out that old android cliché, the "Pinocchio" reference. It's painful.
On the plus side, a lot of Prometheus is quite pretty. But it just demonstrates that Ridley Scott's movies can only ever be as good as the screenplays that inspire them. The "Alien" franchise needs to stop here.
There are a number of rather sniffy reviews of this film on IMDb which are entirely unfair. It seems some viewers were misled by the preview and were expecting a French version of "The Mummy" or "Raiders". It really isn't at all. Despite featuring tomb-robbing, exciting escapes, prison breaks, pterodactyls and mummies this film is more like "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" with better jokes or "The Fifth Element" set in France at the start of the 20th century. It's a surreal adventure comedy that never takes itself seriously.
The plot has journalist and adventurer Adele attempting to retrieve the mummy of an Egyptian physician so that he can be brought back to life by an eminent professor who has studied arcane Egyptian rituals. Unfortunately, the eminent professor has been practising his life- restoring skills on a pterodactyl which proceeds to terrorise Paris and he (the professor) is sent to prison. Can Adele rescue him?
You'll have to watch to find out.
I really enjoyed this. It is definitely sort of kooky so please don't expect "Pirates of the Caribbean" or something like that. It's an extremely silly, but very entertaining 1 hour and 45 minutes that has more in common with the campy comic-book adventures of "Doc Savage" than Indiana Jones. The very matter-of-fact mummies are a hoot as is the pterodactyl. Most importantly of all, the jokes are actually funny and I found myself laughing out loud (something I rarely do).
p.s. For those of you who think this film sounds suitable for little 'uns, well it probably is apart from the fact that this is a French film and therefore the heroine gets in the nip. Tell the little tykes to turn their backs.
Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)
The Best Frankenstein Adaptation
"Frankenstein - The True Story" starts with the redoubtable James Mason introducing himself and explaining that what we are about to see is all from the imagination of 19 year old Mary Shelley. It really isn't, you know. This film is a hybrid of the novel, the 1930's movies and the 1950's Hammer version, all mixed up by Christopher Isherwood of "Cabaret" and "A Single Man". The result is a sumptuous Gothic tragedy with a literate script.
In this version, Dr. Frankenstein brings a corpse back to life using power from the sun. This is no lumbering monstrosity but a good- looking young chap, eager to learn and with a love of opera. So Victor and his creation get along very well - Victor teaches the creature refined etiquette and takes him out and about.
But then Victor realises his monster is degenerating as time passes, and turning back into a walking corpse. As the creature's once-fine features crumble, Victor turns his back on the monster who responds first with confusion and grief, then fury.
What I really liked about this version is that it makes the motives of all the key players fall into place. You really sympathise with this creature, rejected by an indifferent creator as a failed experiment. And while the film is not particularly gory or scary, there are some genuinely unsettling moments - like the insinuation that the monster's soul is an amalgam of all the dead that went into making him.
There's a terrific cast including James Mason as the malevolent Dr. Polidori (and no-one seems quite so delighted with themselves when being evil as good old JM). Michael Sarrazin as the creature, David McCallum as Victor's mentor and Jane Seymour Medicine Woman as Yokel With Cleavage. Lots of other familiar faces turn up too including John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Tom Baker, Agnes "Endora" Morehead and even Yootha "Mildred" Joyce. I've never been a Frankenfan before, but I really enjoyed this one.