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Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Crap, crap and more crap. Literally.
MAJOR spoilers ahead!
This is actually not so much a review as it is a vehicle for me to express my utter disgust of what was supposed to be a great sequel to what I consider one of the coolest movies ever made. I absolutely loved Kick-Ass. It was fresh, it was original, and in spite of its crude and graphic violence, absolutely hilarious. Its sequel, is nothing short of an abomination.
For your convenience, I have comprised a list of Everything Wrong with Kick-Ass 2:
1. The gore. It's not that it was worse than KA1, it's that it was very different in tone. Whereas in the first movie where the violence was equally gut-wrenching the nature of it all was laugh-out-loud hilarious, mostly because it was executed by a foul-mouthed 12-year-old school girl. KA2 on the other hand, feels more like a snuff movie where good guys and innocent bystanders are brutally slaughtered, just for the hell of it. Which leads me to point number two:
2. The targets. In the first movie, the whole point was easy: killing bad guys. So, no bad feelings and no conflict of interest. For the second installment, it seems the moral compass has taken a 180 degree turn. Here we have to sit and watch the good guys dropping dead one by one, and it isn't the least bit funny. I'd like to give you a heads-up on the brutal murder of Dave's dad, the most innocent good guy of them all. Yeah, I didn't see than one coming either.
3. The bad guys. Good god. Rarely have I seen such an array of dumb, sickeningly stupid villains. Most of the slaughtering and mayhem is done by one block-of-concrete-with-boobs called Mother Russia (what's in a name?). Everything about her just makes you sick to your stomach, especially the way she offs her victims. She is part of the main villain's gang, and don't even get me started on this guy Remember Red Mist? He was pretty funny in KA1, wasn't he. Yeah well, those days are over. After accidentally on purpose killing his own mother (!), he proclaims himself the new great villain of New York, henceforth calling himself The Motherf***er (again, what's in a name ). He rallies a group of equally douche baggy cronies. Their mission is to kill Kick-Ass and all who follow him. Their first strike? Killing off the best new character.
4. Jim Carrey's screen time. The poor guy clocks out at exactly 7 minutes and 45 seconds. He plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, and he is by far the best addition to the cast. What's remarkable about his performance is that he's barely recognizable. His speaking voice is low and brooding, and there's not a funny face in sight. Really cool character all around. After waiting for what feels like forever for him to finally appear, guess what; not ten minutes later gone. Impaled, slaughtered and decapitated by Mother Russia. I'd like to have a hearty word with the "screenwriter" who's responsible for this. He needs to go back to school. Here's my advice anyway free of charge: YOU DON'T KILL OFF THE BEST CHARACTER HALFWAY THROUGH THE MOVIE. Dumbass.
5. The "humour". In KA1, the humour was cheeky, intelligent, and perfect satire. And where it was crude, it was right up at the top, but never really over it. Second time around, we have to make do with projectile vomiting and violent diarrhoea. Really, poop jokes ? Now this is a perfect example of what 'we' (we meaning people over 13 with normal intelligence and a healthy sense of humour) call "rock bottom". Yes. They go that low. I'm going to stop here before I start remembering all of the other "jokes".
6. Lack of proper Hit-Girl action. Hit-Girl was always the star of the show. In KA2, she is given a dumb sub-plot where she vows to quit her alter-ego job and become a 'normal', prissy little cheerleader, competing with other Barbie girls to become popular. I really, really hated this story line. I don't even care if it was in the original comics, it sucked. The reason why it sucked the most is because effectively, this means that the essence of Hit-Girl is completely vacant for about 60% of the movie! And that's WAY too much time for the most beloved character to mope around apologetically before she finally gets her s**t together roughly 10 minutes before the end of the movie.
7. Mister Kick-Ass himself. Something went wrong here. I don't know if it was the character that was poorly written or Aaron Taylor-Johnson that came up short, but he was very different from the first movie, in which he had a really cute, geeky charm about him. Here, he was inconspicuous and dull, like a bystander in his own story. Or perhaps he was just overshadowed by the abundance of new and reformed characters In any case, he was barely there to be noticed.
8. Soundtrack. The score of KA1 was so damn cool, with original, poppy punk music and electro that consistently added something to every scene. Here, I only remember one scene that caught that vibe and it still wasn't half as good.
9. It was seriously offensive. A "joke" about rape? Are you kidding me?! And I'm not talking about some guys hanging around, talking about wanting to 'do' some girl or whatever. No, I'm talking about The Motherf***er seriously intending to rape Night Bitch, except he can't because he's got no wood. Real classy.
There are some redeeming points to this otherwise complete crap fest, but honestly, they are so few and far in between they're not even worth mentioning. Well, I guess this is what you get for hiring some D-grade nobody to replace Matthew Vaughn. Don't waste your time with this garbage.
Don't believe the hate; Maleficent is magnificent.
Today, June 4, I went to see Maleficent on the birthday of its star, Angelina Jolie. In itself, nothing more than a funny coincidence, although when you think about it, it is customary for someone who is celebrating their birthday, to hand out treats. And boy, this was the best treat ever.
Three reasons why I was completely stoked to see Maleficent after hearing about it for the first time about a year and a half ago: 1) I love Angelina. 2) I love Sleeping Beauty. 3) Maleficent is my favourite fairy tale villain of all time. On the other hand, I was also a little wary of the way they had apparently altered the story. See, if there is one thing I hate in films, it's when they explain and justify the motives and reasons why a certain character is "bad". I for one believe that some people are just plain evil and that's the way it is. And going into this persons' childhood and explaining how bad everything was (or something to that effect) only works to weaken that characters' force. Now, I don't know why a somewhat clichéd story about the love and betrayal of a young Maleficent (who apparently used to be good and pure-hearted), worked here, but somehow it just did. It completely surprised me, to be honest. I'm usually allergic to this kind of fluff, but it worked! Maleficents' back-story actually intrigued me, moved me even. And it succeeded at what it was supposed to do in the first place: it made Maleficent human.
In the end though, they could have written any kind of story about what is undoubtedly Disney's most beloved villainess, it never would have been raised to an above-par level without its most crucial element: Angelina Jolie. I might sound biased because I'm such a fan, but I am perfectly able to look at her performances in a critical way, and I can only say this about her performance as Maleficent: she was in one word, perfect. I honestly can't imagine any other actress who could have approached this role with the same flawless combination of properties (short of maybe Charlize Theron): she is beautiful and very charismatic, yet at the same time undeniably cruel and cold. She was everything I had hoped this real life characterization of Maleficent would be, and then some.
Compliments also go out to the three other main actors in this film. First to Elle Fanning, for being very convincing as the young princess Aurora. She is sweet, lovely and kind and she has the right personality to play this famous princess just the way she should be. Second, to Sam Riley, who was a pleasant surprise as Maleficents' pet raven Diaval in human form. I was thus far unfamiliar with his work, but he was very well suited to his role and I enjoyed watching him. Last, but certainly not least, Sharlto Copley, who has already thrilled me with his performances in District 9 and Elysium, and who has now definitely made a fan out of me. His range is awesome and he was totally terrifying as Stefan.
OK, there are some things you have to look past. My first, and most blatant, issue with this film is: if young Maleficent was a good, pure- hearted girl, then why did she, as an innocent 10-year-old, already have evil-looking horns, devilish wings and is she called "Maleficent"? Right Secondly, I found the three pixies to be very unconvincing and even somewhat annoying CGI-wise. Overall the special effects are well done but the pixies were definitely an eyesore. The dragon in the end also looked a bit unreal.
That being said, Maleficents' costumes and make-up were absolutely stunning. I just couldn't get enough of gazing at her intricate headdresses and beautiful gowns. The costume and styling department really deserve top credit and I truly hope there will be some awards for them in the near future. The music was also great, with flawless scoring by James Newton Howard and a terrific rendition of "Once upon a dream" by Lana Del Rey over the end credits. Also, awesome battle scenes and action sequences galore!
Going into this film, I thought it would be nothing more than a so-so, kind of fun summer flick. A 6.5/7 maybe. Sometimes, I love it when I'm wrong. Out of the three films that I've seen at the cinema over the last week (the other two being X-Men and Godzilla, both disappointments ) I can tell you, Maleficent was by far the most gratifying. Perhaps because I had relatively low expectations, perhaps because it was simply that good.
One serious warning for the rough, rugged men out there: this film features pixies, fairies, sparkly thingies and magical fluff out the wazoo. If you're going to see this, do it for Angelina. If not, treat this film like kryptonite. You will thank me later.
To everyone else: go see this film. It will rock your socks off. Maleficent is magnificent.
Form over function Once again.
OK, let me start off by saying that the new Godzilla is definitely an entertaining movie and well worth the price of an admission ticket. That is so long as you go into it with popcorn-level expectations. Now, it has to be said that the bar, since the most recent attempt by Roland Emmerich in 1998 (which was hilarious at best) wasn't set particularly high, to say it nicely. So in all honesty, with today's budget and special effects, it never had a big chance of being that bad. But I have to admit, judging from the trailer I thought it would be better.
It starts off pretty good. There is proper story build-up and character lay-out. Where we are what's happening... It's all there. In fact, the story revolving around the main characters is pretty dramatic from the get-go. Death in the family, trauma leading to obsession over finding the truth surrounding the circumstances. Bryan Cranston is impressive as the family father and science guy. He just knows something is up concerning some big beastie and he won't let up until he figures it out. That is if he gets the chance. Something happens around one third into the movie that is a pivotal turning point in the story. I knew this immediately when it happened and in the end I realised that I had been correct.
From this point on, it's out with the story and in with the action. An almost mind-numbing, pummelling assault of non-stop action. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just saying it's a lot less interesting than it could have been.
Here's the deal: instead of just one Big Monster, they bring in three. One Godzilla, and two huge insect-like creatures that are only designated as MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object). Seriously, they couldn't come up with a proper name? And instead of Godzilla being the big threat to mankind, the MUTO are. In fact, Godzilla turns out to be the good guy because he's the only one that can defeat these insect creeps. This story line is factor one in the reason that this movie isn't what it could have been. Factor two is the plot point that these creatures all feed on nuclear energy instead of "manburgers". Consequentially, the only real threat they pose is the massive destruction they cause in big cities (and obviously, the human lives that become casualties by default). It's because of this that there is never any real sense of threat or danger. They don't hunt us, they don't care about us. All they want is nuclear energy and a place to breed. What's worse is, these MUTO take screen time and attention away from the monster who's supposed to be the main antagonist and namesake of the movie! It might as well have been called "Big Creepy Insects" instead of "Godzilla"...
In the end, what we're left with is billions of dollars worth of collateral damage and a big-ass monster who's really kind of a nice guy. Weird.
Still, it's certainly not bad. Aaron Taylor- Johnson does his best at looking very serious and all grown up since his Kick-Ass days, although I am certain that this is definitely one of his less compelling roles. The problem is that from the 1/3 turning point that I mentioned, his character becomes very formulaic and cliché. Our hero even shares an intimate moment of eye contact with Godzilla in the end... Aww.
Ken Watanabe spends every moment of his screen time looking shocked and awed... and pretty much nothing else. Juliette Binoche is shamefully underused. I would have loved to have seen more of her. The biggest asset is definitely Bryan Cranston. He's the only one who managed to make his character 3-dimensional and a real human being. He, too, would have definitely deserved a bigger role. In fact, the film probably would have been much better for it.
Visually, everything is very awesome and impressive. The special effects (visual and sound) are top-notch. Every time Godzilla opened his mouth to let out a massive roar, I thought my eardrums were going to pop. It's bone-chilling and very cool. The design of the MUTO is a real treat, they look like giant praying mantises, totally intimidating. The films' SFX really make it worthwhile.
All in all, the story is quite weak and riddled with clichés, though I must say one thing: thank God for the complete lack of obligatory footprints. I was seriously dreading the moment these giant "claw prints in the mud" would appear on screen, but thankfully it never happened. The overall feel and setting of this film is quite dark and threatening, and adding such a cliché would have been really dumb and unnecessary.
I had really hoped that this was going to be the definitive Godzilla movie. Alas, it is not. But I still enjoyed it for what it was and I definitely recommend seeing it for the special effects alone. In any case, 'Gojira' looks awesome.
I rate it 7.5/10.
Sucker Punch (2011)
You can't spell "Sucker Punch" without "suck"
Wow Here I was, thinking I was going to get to see an awesome comic- like film about a group of girls kickin' a whole lotta butt surrounded by mind-bending fantasy scenery.
Technically, I was right But only technically. Sucker Punch is like Chinese food. You can eat three plates and it will still leave you feeling hungry. It's a great deal of empty calories, is basically what I'm saying. Substance? Nah.
Let me just get right into it. What's wrong with Sucker Punch is the screenplay. Not the actors, not the director, just the story. This story revolves around a group of five girls in an institution for the mentally insane, in a fantastical, steampunk-wannabe 1940's (my best guess) setting. They are treated horribly and their lives are miserable, and to cope with it all, the main protagonist Babydoll, escapes into her fantasies and in this trance-like state, devises a plan for them all to escape.
The concept is not bad. It might have even been really exciting, had it not been executed so laughably unrealistic. And by 'unrealistic', I don't mean the fantasies themselves. I'm referring to the fact that these fantasies were so obviously not dreamed up by an actual teenage girl, but rather they look like the perfect fulfillment of the wet wishes of a horny teenage boy. It is very likely that a teenage girl WOULD dream of being able to wield a samurai sword and beat up every monster, dragon and every other kind of bastard who crosses her path. She WOULD dream of coming out of every battle completely unscathed and with every hair on her pretty head still perfectly in place. She would NOT, however, be doing all of this scantily clad in sexy lingerie wearing fishnet stockings and high heels I am a girl, with very vivid imagination. Trust me on this one. It was, in one word, ridiculous.
Another thing that really bothered me was the way these characters were worked out. As obviously miserable as their personal predicaments were, I could not relate to a single one of them. They were all completely 2- dimensional and just flat-out uninteresting. I didn't care about what happened to a single one of them. I don't believe all of the blame for this falls on the actresses (although theirs weren't exactly Oscar winning performances...), again, I chalk it up to poor screen writing. The only one who was able to make her character slightly more than moderately interesting, was not even one of 'the girls', it was Dr. Vera Gorski, played by Carla Gugino. At least she was interesting to watch, and she was even somewhat of a scene-stealer, taking much thunder away from the girls simply because she (both the actress and the character) had the biggest personality. All the others, I felt were mostly just going through the motions, because they had zero character development and no interesting dialogue to work with. And that's bad when you're talking about the characters that are supposed to carry the story. A pleasant (and much needed surprise) came in the form of Scott Glenn, who only appears in the fantasy segments as several different versions of a wise man. That was a nice touch.
However, the one thing that really stood out for me as the true axis of failure that sums up Sucker Punch, was the feeling of total confusion that was present from the beginning and never cleared up. I'm not saying I didn't 'get it', I'm saying it was a hot, incoherent mess. And I usually don't mind being thrown back and forth and to and fro throughout a film, I don't mind playing guessing games and wondering what it will all lead to. I DO mind when the roller-coaster ride is over and all I feel is queasy. Some people have suggested that this is a really deep and complex film, but honestly, I think they're just reading too much into it. The stupid thing is, for the most part it was completely predictable, and STILL it lacked structure and decent storytelling. That may seem like a paradox, but there's an easy way to explain it. In the words of the great Roger Ebert: "Now that's bad filmmaking."
The only element in Sucker Punch that was somewhat redeeming, were the visual effects. I must say, it was all very gorgeous and eye-pleasing. Also, the soundtrack was excellent, filled with very well performed covers of well-known songs and some perfectly chosen originals. Emily Browning, who plays Babydoll (and also sings a few songs on the soundtrack), was a good choice for the lead role, but I must say, in all honesty, that was mostly because she was visually very appealing as the main protagonist. More simply put she was very pretty. Still, I'm not sure that's enough to carry a film.
All in all, I'm left feeling Zack Snyder Dude. What were you thinking. You can do so much better than this. I guess I just finally have to come to terms with the fact that everybody's human and is bound to make one big mistake at least once in their lives. Zack this is yours.
Sucker Punch sucks.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Watching Thor: The Dark World tonight, I got the feeling that Hollywood might have finally gotten the hang of it. In theory, a sequel should always surpass its predecessor, although as we all know, many have tried and famously failed. But a new trend seems to finally be breaking through. X2 was better than X-Men. Spider-Man 2 was better than the first. And now that I've seen it, I can tell you Thor: The Dark World is better than Thor. (And the fact that these are all Marvel productions, that's food for anther discussion.)
I thoroughly enjoyed Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh, when I only saw it for the first time just this spring. In fact, I watched it again the same week. Which is saying enough to imply that my hopes were high for the sequel. So I was really looking forward to tonight and I was not disappointed.
Thor 2 was helmed by a different director, Alan Taylor, which typically always spells trouble in my book when they change the director, but I take my hat off to him. What I admire is that he managed to capture the tone that Branagh set in the first film flawlessly even perfected it in a way. He brings to the table a duality which almost never works successfully in any film, but here, does so perfectly: Taylor made Thor 2 notably darker, yet at the same time more humorous. I take my hat off to the writers as well they put in a ton of great jokes, all at the exactly right moment. Had this been done even a fraction less tactfully, the film would have sunk like a bag of bricks, like so many others have. I found myself (and the audience) laughing my butt off one moment, and feeling very serious and engaged with the on-screen emotions the next. Even when it happened abruptly, it still never felt inappropriate. Now that's good entertainment. Two thumbs up.
The actors all wear their roles like a custom- made suit. It's obvious that Chris Hemsworth has really grown into his character, third time around. This guy IS Thor, hands down. The same goes for all the other actors, they were all perfectly comfortable in their roles and respective environments. The one that intrigued me most, however, was Loki personified absolutely magnificently by Tom Hiddleston. Much like Hemsworth, it seems he was born to play this role. He captures all the slyness, all the arrogance and all the torment of a man almost unable to bear the weight of his own ego in a single flicker in his eyes. And then that grin Perfection. The way Hiddleston plays Loki is strangely captivating. You know he's totally wicked and cannot be trusted, yet at the same time you can't help but really like him you might even end up rooting for this guy, and I'm not sure many other actors would have managed this.
All the special effects were as good as one should expect them to be these days. I have nothing much to say there, except that it was all terrifically eye-pleasing, and Asgard looked even more beautiful than before. It was all convincing and very well done.
Still, I have not completely explained why T:TDW is better than the first. Actually, I might not fully be able to. It's mostly a feeling. As much as I was entertained the first time, I was even more entertained now. It was more action-packed, more exciting, darker and it just had a great deal more adrenaline.
The only thing that I think was weaker in this film, was the character of Jane Foster. Her character was just less interesting, kind of blank. I actually don't remember much of her at all, except that she slapped Thor a couple of times and she had all this creepy stuff coming out of her Also she was somewhat of a damsel-in- distress most of the time with the look of a scared kitten on her face, and that's not exactly how we like to see our ladies nowadays. It's so common to see women being perfectly independent now, that it's a little weird to see a grown woman with "three degrees in physics" (as Darcy so poignantly points out) scared and shivering like a little girl. Most of the time, Natalie Portman just didn't carry her scenes very strongly, and that's strange coming from such a fine actress. So maybe one of the actors was actually a little out of place after all, thinking about it.
Having said that, that's pretty much my only complaint. Every other element in this film was very solid, the story was very good and they absolutely nailed the pacing. Those two hours went by in the blink of a eye.
Thor: The Dark World is wonderfully entertaining and a definite must-see for every Marvel fan. In fact at the risk of enraging the Marvel Gods this might just be pretty stiff competition to X-Men
Watch out Wolverine, I think I have a new favorite superhero.
This is what the future might just look like...
Wow... Where do I begin? I just got back from the cinema and I can still feel the adrenaline rushing through me. I was already a huge fan of director Neill Blomkamp's previous effort, District 9, so my expectations were running pretty high. And for once, I was not disappointed. No, I got even more than I could have hoped for.
Elysium is a terrific film. Plain and simple. The story is fairly simple, which I consider a good thing because the plot was easy to follow and so it wasn't overly complex and trying to be too intelligent and contrived. It is the year 2154, and planet Earth is one hot mess. The rich reside on a space station called Elysium while the poor remain on Earth, basically grabbing at every straw just to get by. The story we follow is that of Max, who, after a terrible accident at work, is in dire need of medical help, which is only available at Elysium. In order to get there, he must go to extreme measures. I won't tell you anything else, because that would just spoil the fun.
Max is played by Matt Damon, and he is very good in this role. He truly carries the film, start to finish. It always pleases me to see an actor who is just as good at tackling the character elements as well as the action parts of his role. When you think about it, that doesn't actually happen that often. Matt Damon can do both perfectly, and he is convincing in every aspect. Jodie Foster plays the role of senator Delacourt, a rich bitch who thinks she can get away with anything just because she calls the shots on Elysium. Well, somebody's about to prove her wrong... I absolutely love Jodie Foster, so it's hard not to gush, but she is a delight to watch. Her character is cold, calculating and without a sliver of conscience. And Jodie is so convincing you just want to slap her. It was great, and the fact that her accent is a little weird and distracting at times, is easily forgiven. William Fichtner also appears in a relatively small, but crucial role.
The biggest surprise for me, however, was Sharlto Copley. Remember him from District 9? He played Wikus, a dorky and kind of sissy character... Well, not in this one. His character Kruger, is the meanest, most vile bastard you can imagine. A card-carrying sadistic psycho. It really was a great opportunity for Copley to prove his versatility as an actor, and he used it to the fullest. Also, somehow his South-African twang made his character even more menacing, so I'm really glad he didn't drop it in favour of a perhaps more crowd-pleasing American accent.
My biggest compliment goes to the special effects department. As was the case with District 9, the SFX are so convincing, it's actually hard to realise that you're watching something that was probably 96% computer animated. Unlike D9, the visuals were even better here, if you can believe that. Usually, when a director's first film is a success and they up his budget for the next one, they go completely overboard and essentially ruin the aesthetics that made the first film so successful *cough*Matrix*cough*. In this case, all and everything was a major improvement. The action scenes are incredibly solid, the spacecrafts were eye-poppingly gorgeous (without being all flashy and futuristic adding to the reality factor) and Elysium was a true sight to behold. 109 minutes of pure eye candy.
There were only two things that slightly bothered me. One, the somewhat stereotypical characterization of the Rich vs. The Poor. Simply put, rich = evil and poor = good, no exceptions. Especially with the rich Elysium folk I found it a little bothersome that there wasn't a single person who seemed to have a heart, they were almost mechanical and so the polarisation was pretty black-and-white. Two, the lack of emotional involvement. I didn't really feel much for any of the characters, except Max. There is a plot line with a woman he has feelings for, whose daughter is very ill, and that's a sad thing but the film failed at really convincing me why I'm supposed to care. Could be personal, but that's the way I experienced it.
However, these two minor plot points are not sufficient enough to deter me from giving this film any less than 10 stars. What I think is most thrilling about Elysium is the fact that it actually paints a frighteningly plausible picture of what our future might just look like. It is, in any case, much more realistic than pretty much every other post-apocalyptic film I've ever seen. Don't write this concept off too easily, this might very well be the world we live in one day.
In the end, Elysium is a terrifically made film. It's gritty, it's gnarly and highly realistic. And, to the zero-attention-span MTV kids out there, it's also an incredibly entertaining, action-packed thrill ride. Tiny side note: the violence is quite graphic at times, so some amount of parental guidance is definitely advised.
That leaves me with nothing else to say but: go watch this film. You won't regret it.
Iron Man Three (2013)
Could've, would've, should've .
There can be many reasons why the original director of a franchise may decide not to return for a sequel, though they all usually have in common that they're very Hollywood-politically-correct. So exactly why Jon Favreau decided not to helm the third instalment of what is, for all intents and purposes, 'his baby' Iron Man, I can't be sure. But I can tell you one thing: something definitely changed.
Everything about IM3 feels different from its predecessors. The atmosphere is darker, which is not to say it's really just a lot less humorous (which is let's be honest precisely what we love about Iron Man). The new characters are terribly underdeveloped and overall it's just a great deal less interesting. The storyline was completely vague to me; I'm still not really sure what the whole point of it was. And probably the biggest flaw of all the first two films had really cool, interesting villains. This one's just really quite weird and not charismatic at all. Possibly at the core of the problem is the fact that it wasn't just one bad guy, it was many. The leading roles are shared by Guy Pearce and Sir Ben Kingsley, and big shock it was the latter who disappointed me the most. Not only was his role quite small, I thought it was also incredibly lame. I'd love to explain to you why, but that would be a major spoiler. I noticed some people in the audience laughing at the plot twist of Kingsley's character, but I thought it was just completely stupid and weak, and a total waste of such a great actor. Pearce is not bad, but never really manages to elevate his villain to a higher level, largely because he had zero character development to work with. Same thing with Rebecca Hall. Or the rest of Pearce's cronies for that matter... Too many to count. Sigh.
Well, at least we still have Robert Downey Jr. He's as reliable as ever when it comes to carrying a film, but even he can't help it that his character is almost boring in this one. Where's the humour!? Where's the cynicism we all know and love?! Where's Tony bloody Stark! This is not the familiar overconfident, pompous macho we adore. All of a sudden, and for NO apparent reason whatsoever, this guy is insecure and suffering from anxiety attacks! What the F! Not to mention the fact that his superhero alter ego is almost completely absent for half of the film, because he's off somewhere in the middle of Tennessee finding himself or whatever... I mean, geez... I know the director left, but didn't any of the screenwriters return either? The fact that Pepper Potts had only about two minutes of relevant screen time also certainly didn't help. And when she was there, she was humourless and annoying. Big sigh.
The more I think about it, the more I'm having a hard time trying to think of good things to say about this film. At least the visual effects were solid, and the sound effects were awesome.
This was actually the first time I've seen a film in 3D. I've always avoided it because I was sure that it would be a complete distraction from the story. Turns out I was right in my assumption. I found it hard to focus on what was really going on, and this might have definitely been an influence in trying to follow the plot, so there's a big chance I missed a few things. Nevertheless, I can't help being very disappointed with Iron Man 3, especially since I love the first two so much.
This is definitely a filmmakers' case of "could've, would've, should've". They obviously tried very hard, but never quite manage to get there.
No story, no interesting characters, no filler. Nothing. Too bad.
The Help (2011)
Lacks the books' sense of urgency.
I just watched The Help, almost immediately after finishing the book. Now, when comparing The Film to The Book it was based on (generally speaking), one major rule of thumb almost always applies: The Book is better. The Help is no exception.
Accordingly, with the novel still so fresh in the back of my mind, separating my mind from the book in order to enjoy the film was an almost impossible task. No matter how hard you try, you just can't quit comparing the two, nitpicking every detail and being frustrated with everything they changed. Nevertheless, I was still able to enjoy the film for what it was, though I am glad that I possessed full knowledge of the actual story.
The Help tells the story of black domestic servants in 1960's Jackson, Mississippi. It focuses on white Miss Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan, and her efforts to give a voice to black maids by writing their stories from their perspective and thus giving them an opportunity to be heard for the first time in their lives. Among the black women, Aibileen and Minny are the two key characters.
So let's just get the "bad" stuff out of the way. One of the elements in the novel that I enjoyed the most was the incredibly delicate bond of trust and understanding that builds up (over an extensive period of time) between Aibileen and Skeeter. It really does take Skeeter a long time before she finally wins Aibileen over and convinces her to share her deepest feelings with a white woman. In the film, this process felt rather rushed, like Aibileen just woke up the next morning and decided to do it. What bothers me about this is not just the fact that (oh, cliché) it was "better" in the book, but mostly because the film forgets to underline WHY it took so long. Not only is it much more clearly explained in writing that these black women face an incredible danger in divulging their true feelings about the white women they work for, the film also fails to capture the palpable tension and sense of urgency of the book. These women aren't just risking their jobs, they are risking their lives, AND the lives of their loved ones. They're in danger just for being seen talking to a white lady. I found this to be a rather big flaw of the film.
The film also lacks a lot of the character development I was hoping for. Quite a few character changes were made, so that in the film they all just kind of appear out of nowhere, and more or less seem to go about their business without again the big "why" of it all. One of the most underexposed characters was a woman named Celia Foote, who is a poor white trash girl who married way out of her league and because of it, has to face the constant disgrace and condescension from the other stuck-up, "sophisticated" white ladies. Celia is just the sweetest, loveliest person in the entire story, and her relationship with her maid Minny is heart warming. The fact that they barely included this in the film is a real shame.
OK if I keep comparing the film to the book, this review will never reach its end. Obviously, there is a lot more I could (and certainly want to) say, but it's not really relevant to the effectiveness of this review. So, moving on.
At least they got the actors right! Each and every one of them was cast spot-on to their character. Emma Stone is wonderful as Skeeter capturing her youthful daring and naiveté perfectly. There's also something about her voice and attitude that make it clear that this girl is different from her snooty bridge club peers. Viola Davis is the perfect Aibileen all I kept thinking was, damn, she should have gotten that Oscar. Her performance is very moving and heartfelt. Octavia Spencer did actually win an Oscar for her role as Minny, and it was well deserved. She is exactly as I imagined Minny to be sassy, smart-mouthed and with an attitude that could render any white woman speechless, even if it means losing her job a dozen times. Celia Foote is played by Jessica Chastain, and I fear I'm at risk of doubling over in superlatives to describe how perfect she was, so I'll just leave it at this.
The Evil Witch in this story is Hilly Holbrook, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. I'm not sure how big of a compliment it is to say that she is very good at playing a snide, cunning racist so let's just say she is a very good actress. Another actress worth mentioning is Allison Janney, who plays the role of Skeeter's mother. Though she is not quite like I imagined her the way she was in the book (there we go again...), I always enjoy her performances very much and this one's no exception. Oh, and Sissy Spacek plays Hilly's mother, and she is a delight to watch. I got the feeling that the director extended her role to a little more than what it was in the book, just to give her more screen time. I don't blame him.
Overall, the film is properly paced and reasonably well-constructed, though some creative liberties are taken here and there considering the timeline. In comparison to the book, it is a little disappointing, but I can't think of a single book-to-film adaptation where this wasn't the case.
I still rate The Help 8 out of 10, because I think it is an important story to be told and the performances are stellar, but if you have a little more patience, I strongly recommend reading the book instead.
The Runaways (2010)
Cool band deserved a better film.
Back in the 70's, The Runaways was one of the first all-girl rock bands, initiated by then 16-year-old Joan Jett, who later went on to gain world fame with her band The Blackhearts. Now, I might be somewhat biased on this particular subject, because I am a huge fan of 70's (punk)rock, and especially female rock artists, but I am also a very critical film reviewer. The Runaways therefore, leaves me feeling in limbo.
I love musical biopics as much as I love the music itself, and since The Runaways falls exactly into my favourite genre of music, I thought this film would be nothing other than a win-win flick for me. However, I felt rather quickly discouraged from the build-up on. When you are telling a true-to-life story, I consider it an important issue to let the audience know who we're dealing with, what's going on and perhaps most importantly, why. These are real people and I want to know why they are who they are, and what motivated them to walk their chosen path in life. The film starts off with alternating scenes of Joan Jett and her soon to be band mate Cherie Currie. Doing stuff that, well... isn't that interesting. It doesn't tell us much about these girls except that they like punk rock and David Bowie. Honestly, having only seen the film last night, it's all I can remember about the first 15 minutes or so. And so the film continues.
They form a band, are taken under the wing of weirdo record producer/manager Kim Fowley, become famous and at some point, break up. The way director Floria Sigismondi tells the story, you'd think it was actually that easy. And this is exactly where the problem lies: bad direction. Possibly even worse editing and screenplay. We are given almost zero back-story of the lives of these young girls, and strangely, literally nothing at all about the personal life of Joan Jett. What makes it even stranger is the fact that the real Joan Jett was actually executive producer of this film, which completely puzzles me considering her part was so badly written. Her character comes across as not much more than a bystander in her own story.
At least we're offered snippets of information about Cherie Currie. We know that she comes from an instable family and that her sister (who is in fact her twin something I had to learn from Wikipedia since it's never told in the film...) is the only one she is at least somewhat close to. Again though, strangely, what is never told here is that this girl was raped when she was 14 an incident which strongly determined the person she would become later on. Very weird to leave out of a biopic.
It is my understanding that the rest of the band didn't give permission for their life story to be used in the film, and it shows. On the one hand, it's a shame because the back-story of the band is already so badly underexposed. On the other, I can't blame them, because this film would have done them no justice whatsoever.
The story of The Runaways is told as though it all happened overnight: formation, fame, break-up; in what feels like no more than a short year maybe. When in fact they released four albums, three of which with Cherie. Truly awful screenplay.
The actors though, are not at all to blame. Kristen Stewart embodies Joan Jett perfectly, she's got the looks, the voice (she sings all her parts herself) and the swagger. Dakota Fanning as Cherie does a very good job also. Although she may not look or sound that much like the real Cherie Currie, her acting more than makes up for it. But then again, anyone who's seen Dakota before, whether as a child actor or teenager, already knows she's a very convincing young actress. The rest of the band, much like their characters, are barely there to be noticed...
The part of Kim Fowley is played by Michael Shannon, and he approaches it with a "love it or hate it" attitude. Personally, I think he was an absolute scene-stealer (which is not necessarily a good thing, because obviously this film is not about him though it is the direction that is to blame, not the actor), acting completely over the top, crude, and horribly inappropriate. Though I can see why some people absolutely hated his character. Simple: there is nothing likable about him. He's an a**hole, and a big one too. As an acting part however, it was obvious that Michael Shannon had a ball playing this guy, and I think that's what makes his role very enjoyable to watch.
The actors really do make up for a lot in The Runaways. All parts are equally well-played and very enjoyable. But when the technical aspects of a film are this poor, not even the best actors in the world can make it a success. Zero story, zero character development, shoddy editing and, worst of all, not enough music! Probably the stupidest thing about the whole film you'd think that, in a film about The Runaways, there'd be more than two or three original Runaways songs! Yet we have to listen to "Cherry Bomb" over and over again, and we get only titbits of their other songs. Sheesh.
The Runaways may not have been the most groundbreaking band in history, but they certainly were a cool band of young rock chicks, and they deserved a better film than this one. I would say it's fun to watch once if you're into this kind of music, but that's it. Such a shame.
Alpha Dog (2006)
Intense, shocking, must-see film.
Going into this film, I had no idea what it was about, only that it was based on a true story. And the more I think about this fact, the truth behind it all, the more it saddens me.
The story that unfolded before my eyes last night is not one I'm likely to forget anytime soon. The characters, as I understand, are eerily like the real life people depicted, and all of the actors have done a great job terrifying me, surprising me, and making me feel sadder than any other film I can remember in recent history. Which is by no means meant to discourage you from watching this film, as I believe it is an absolute must-see for anyone who cares about the society we live in.
Jake Mazursky, an explosively charged skinhead, owes a large sum of drug money to a young thug called Johnny Truelove. After they get into a fight, Jake retaliates by trashing Johnny's house. Johnny then takes revenge by kidnapping Jake's 15-year-old brother Zack. Surprisingly though, Zack is OK with this, as he trusts his brother to come up with the ransom. In the meantime, Zack forms an unlikely friendship with one of Johnny's cronies, Frankie. But then, as fear starts to spread of having to do hard time, Johnny and his allies make a decision that spins the situation horribly out of control...
The character of Jake is played by Ben Foster, and I think he did an amazing job. Some people have suggested that he overacted his part, but I disagree. I think he was very convincing as a strung-out, aggressive, creep of a skinhead. Johnny Truelove, the young gangster, is played by Emile Hirsch, and his role is light years removed from anything he's done so far, and he's as equally impressive and convincing as Ben Foster - just as menacing and intimidating. Actually, he appears almost as though it's not a part he's playing, he's really some thug they plucked off the streets and put in front of a camera. Very impressive. This character in real life is known as Jesse James Hollywood, and he is the youngest person ever to be on the FBI's 'most wanted' list.
Zack is played by Anton Yelchin, and he's everything his character requires him to be; young, naive, even a little endearing, and most of all desperate for a little excitement in his life. The role of Frankie is performed by Justin Timberlake, and I must admit, he was better than I would have initially given him credit for. Actually, there wasn't a single actor or actress who was miscast in my opinion. All roles, big and small, were equally well played. I must not forget to mention the parents: Johnny's father is played by Bruce Willis, and even though his part is small, is it crucial. Sharon Stone plays Zack's mother, in a role that is gut wrenchingly emotional and very well played. Although there is one scene at the end where she wears a fat suit, and it's so obvious that it's distracting, and this is a discredit to an otherwise excellent and very important scene (but that's not her fault, of course).
What makes Alpha Dog so important, I think, is that's it's a testament of the times we live in. A time where, apparently nobody seems to be shocked anymore about the fact that young people in their teens and twenties lead a lifestyle of drugs and guns and no respect whatsoever for other people's lives and wellbeing. The ease with which some ideas and actions are executed, exemplifies and also amplifies the anarchy and devil-may-care attitude that lives within the hearts and minds of these people. Who cares if you beat a person to within an inch of his life. Who cares if you hurt, damage or even kill another human being, just so long as you can save your own neck. It's dog eat dog in the hierarchical food chain that is life, and this film is a disturbing reminder of that. I thought we'd moved on since the Dark Ages, but apparently I'm mistaken.
Aside from the heavy, moral message of this film (which, for once didn't tick me off, but really engaged me), I must also praise it on a technical level. It really is very well made, and it draws you in from the very first second with the beautifully edited opening scene. Director Nick Cassavetes ('John Q') has constructed the story into a balanced, properly paced whole, seemingly letting his actors run free and do what they do best, creating a spontaneous, natural feel and environment. The music is excellent and well dosed.
Alpha Dog is a film that you must see at least once if you care about this world and the people in it. It is a portrait of frighteningly laconic individuals and the shockingly low bar to unnecessary violence, and it shows just how easy it is for young people to get involved with all the wrong influences, simply because they have not yet lived long enough to know any better, or lack the proper role models to show them alternative ways.
I cannot recommend this film enough. It's heavy - but very, very much worth it.