Friday, 14 October 2011

Real Steel

In the year 2020, as crowds looked for bigger thrills, humans were replaced by specialist robots in the sport of boxing. A once great fighter, Charlie Kenton now buys scrap robots and puts them in illegal street fights to try and win money and pay off his debtors. One day, Charlie finds out his ex-girlfriend has died, and thus his son Max is placed in his custody for the summer. Together they fight robots and go searching for in junkyards for spare parts. One night, whilst junk hunting, Max falls over a ledge, but is saved by an overhanging robot arm. Max uncovers Atom, an obsolete sparring robot, and becomes determined that he can take him home and make him a prize fighter, despite Charlie’s objections...

Real Steel is somewhat of an oddity in today’s film market, in that it’s not a remake or a reboot or a sequel to anything. Instead, this is a 2 hour family-orientated film based upon both a short story from 1956, as well as the subsequent episode of The Twilight Zone written by the same author. Add to that it’s been brought to life by the director of Night at the Museum 1&2 and Cheaper by the Dozen, as well as starring one of world’s most recognisable actors and Real Steel is certainly an intriguing proposition. So does it hit its mark? Sometimes, but it’s extremely hit and miss.

There are as many positives as there are negatives about this film. On one hand, Real Steel is a well made Hollywood film with plenty of drama and action to keep the momentum going for its 2 hour duration, and there’s a classic Hollywood father and son plotline running through the middle of a story about fighting robots. But then, it’s the classic father and son plotline which adds to much schmaltz to the proceedings and somewhat burdens the film and overcomplicates what is a very simple premise, not helped by the fact that the robot plotline is something we’ve seen in countless sports movies for decades now. I was fairly surprised by this film, I didn’t think it would impress me as much as it did, but just as much as I’m willing to praise Real Steel, I need to balance things and say that at times, it was uninteresting, predictable, clichéd and almost boring.

Hugh Jackman plays Charlie Kenton, the former boxer turned robot controller out to make a quick buck. His character is a composite of various underdog sports films protagonists, combined with a composite of various unlikely fathers who suddenly find themselves with child, there’s nothing new in this character, but the development is done well and the transformation of Jackman’s character is something which really shines for the film and becomes a key piece of what works in this. Dakota Goyo plays his son Max, and does so with gusto and bravado, putting in a real adult performance whilst retaining the naivety of youth and inexperience in the big, adult world of robot boxing. Evangeline Lilly is nothing more than background and is extremely replaceable as the female lead and Jackman’s love interest. A good solid supporting cast back up the lead performances well.

In my mind, there’s some similarities here between this and Super 8, and thus all those Spielberg family film, as the sci-fi inspired outside event becomes the catalyst for bringing together an estranged father and son. There are certainly touches of Spielberg about it, but it isn’t done in Real Steel with the same kind of humanity and smart, realistic dialogue that is seen in Spielberg’s work. Whether it’s because of the ludicrous premise of fighting robots I’m not sure. Speaking of which, seeing a larger than life, CGI-created 21st century version of Rock’ Em Sock ‘Em Robots on a big screen is fascinating, and the robots do look very well done, the fighting realistic due to a combination of animatronics and mo-cap, and as is standard, the computer animation holds up well and does its part.

Having said all that though, Real Steel was as impressive as it is disappointing. It’s a great family film, and considering I went into this with low expectations, I was certainly pleasantly surprised. Having said all of that, I personally could not look past all the clichés and plot and character rehashes. I felt like I’d seen this film many times before in many different guises. The plot is predictable, more so than most films I’ve said that about in the last few months, and although the characters are strong, it’s because they’re old characters from old films. Frankly, Real Steel is Rocky with robots, with the upcoming fighter story and the change in attitude in the protagonist and the development of a relationship (only this time between a father and son rather than a husband and wife). Real Steel is, for lack of a better word... Robotcky. But is that a problem? Well, yes, because Real Steel does everything that Rocky does, but Rocky did it first, and Rocky did it better.

Rating: **1/2

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Johnny English Reborn

After a failed mission in Mozambique, Special Agent Sir Johnny English has fled to Tibet to learn martial arts as penance. However, when MI7 come calling for him for a new mission, he answers the call and returns to London to a vastly changed MI7, with all new personnel running the show. English is informed of a plot to kill the Chinese prime minister, and it’s down to him to find out who the willing assassin is and to stop them. What he uncovers is a plot of deception, lies and former enemies. But how does his failed mission in Mozambique 5 years ago link in with everything?

Johnny English surfaced in 2003 and become one of those cult British comedy films with plenty of silly action and funny one-liners, all held together by a great performance by Rowan Atkinson. I liked it, and I wasn’t the only one, as it grossed over 160 million dollars worldwide. It seemed to be ripe material for the beginnings of a new British comedy franchise, and yet nothing ever came afterwards, it disappeared into the ether. Finally, though, 8 years later, Johnny English has been reborn in... Johnny English Reborn. It’s been 8 years since the original, so can this pick up where the original started, can the tale of an idiot spy still be funny after 8 years. Surprisingly, yes!

After a short pre-titles sequence in Tibet explaining what’s happened in between films, the action picks up and becomes its own film without hanging on to the past. Everything’s rather nicely explained and everything ties together by the end, there isn’t a single loose end left by the explanation of the 8 year gap. Reborn contains the same kind of humour we saw in the first, only with less excrement humour, and it hasn’t aged a bit. Seeing Atkinson back in form is great, and seeing him share screen time with Tim McInnnerny making silly jokes takes you back to the days of Blackadder and those great, classic British sitcoms which this film clearly takes it cues from (again).

Speaking of Atkinson, he’s great again in this playing an idiot, something he’s perfected over the last 30 years, and so delivers the lines with the pretence of seriousness, all the while knowing how ridiculous and silly his dialogue is. His comic timing is still spot on, and he carries the film on his shoulders. Gillian Anderson is solid as Pegasus, the leader of MI7, but nothing more than that, as she misses the stiff British attitude that her accent can only allude to. Rosamund Pike plays the love interest, and does that well, but isn’t really given enough dialogue or screen time to develop, certainly nowhere near as much time as Natalie Imbruglia was given in the first film. Dominic West plays Simon Ambrose, the suave Agent 1, and does so with flourishes of panache and he really takes glee in his role. Daniel Kaluuya also does OK as the young agent assigned to be English’s sidekick, but is no more impressive than that.

The one thing that’s missing from Reborn is Johnny’s original sidekick Bough, played by Ben Miller. Atkinson and Miller had some great chemistry in the original and it’s seriously lacking between Atkinson and Kaluuya, and Kaluuya isn’t given as big a role as Miller was, so he doesn’t get the sharp one-liners either which is a real shame. Also, the plot of the film itself is kind of a rehash of a number of spy/James Bond films, but then if Johnny English is a parody of those films, shouldn’t the plot be a parody as well, full of clichés? The plot takes a number of twists which you should be able to see a mile off, and the film is full of Chekhov’s pistols (one for the film students there) throughout which set up various action points. There’s nothing surprising about this film, but a film like Johnny English isn’t truly about plot, it’s about dialogue and how funny that dialogue is. Thankfully, it surpasses the 5 laugh minimum a comedy needs, and although it isn’t a laugh riot from start to finish, there are a couple of laugh out loud moments, moments which are seriously lacking on most modern comedy films.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable film, retaining that trademark British humour that the first one was based around. Obviously some of the jokes won’t travel well outside the UK, but then what does that matter when this is so clearly a British film made for a British audience. The obviously increased production budget allows for more stunts and special effects, and when you add those to the funny script, it creates a really nicely done parody of the James Bond/espionage film genre. All that said, this isn’t a great film, and to be honest, I’d rather not see a sequel to this. I think now that Johnny English has been reborn, he should fade away again before he dies a slow, painful death.

Rating: ***

Friday, 30 September 2011

Red State

The Five Points Trinity Church is an independent Christian church known for their extreme views on homosexuality and regularly protest at funerals, while they all reside in their own fenced-off sanctuary known as Cooper’s Dell. Meanwhile, three high school kids are all looking to get laid. Jared finds a woman on the internet who says she’ll sleep with him, Travis and Billy Ray all at the same time. They go to meet her in a trailer in the woods, but as they prepare for their sexual awakening, they all pass out, and wake up to find themselves deep in the heart of Cooper’s Dell...

I am, unashamedly, a MASSIVE Kevin Smith fan. I’ve seen all of his films and own all but a couple of them on DVD. I follow him on Twitter. I’m an avid listener to the Smodcast Podcast Network of podcasts. I even find the time to listen to Smodcast Internet Radio every day to listen to him and his wife do his live daily breakfast show... at 4pm. So, naturally, I’ve followed the creation and conception of this film, his most radically different to date, from the faux-auction publicity stunt at Sundance to the Westboro Baptist Church protests to the self-distribution release to the Red State Q&A tour. This month, the film was released on VOD in America and finally received a proper cinematic release both here and the US. Well thank the lord I’ve finally seen it, because it is epic.

I won’t lie; I’ve been looking forward to this film the most this year. This was the 2011 film I wanted to see, more than Green Lantern or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which I am still eagerly awaiting), and my God has this lived up to the hype. This film is, for lack of a better word, insane. It is the most un-Kevin Smith ‘Kevin Smith’ film yet. It starts off like a proper Kevin Smith film, mind, with teenagers looking for sex, but then the film turns into a real drama focusing on the Five Points Trinity Church, a church with scarily similar views to those of the Phelps family from the Westboro Baptist Church. Then, it turns again into a gun-wielding, bullet spraying action film for the final third before rounding things up neatly. I’ll try not to spoil this as much as I can, because the less you know about the plot going into this, the more surprised you will be by this. As soon as you think you know where it’s going, it flips your expectations on their head and takes you somewhere completely different.

At the core of this are two scarily phenomenal performances from the two leads: Michael Parks and Melissa Leo. Leo filmed this before she won her Oscar, so that wasn’t in her head, allowing her to focus on giving a fantastic performance as the creepy and devoted Sarah Cooper. However, the stand out is Parks as Abin Cooper, head of the church. He delivers every line with conviction and realism that you believe in the character and you believe he truly believes in the religious dogma he constantly spouts. In particular, at one point, Parks delivers a near 10 minute monologue which is just incredible to watch. John Goodman turns up as ATF agent Keenan and does well in a well-written, realistic role. Kerry Bishé also does well in her role as a member of the Cooper clan, as does a mute Ralph Garman and an intimidating James Parks. The kids all do well but aren’t anything truly special, and besides, it’s the Cooper’s Dell clan who all steal the show.

At the centre of this film is a sharply written script by Smith, something which was lacking from his last outing Cop Out, the first and only film where Smith was a director for hire. It’s a satire that clearly takes its cues from the Phelps’, but it’s also a horror as Smith takes it in a far more extreme direction whilst still retaining utterances of classic Smith dialogue and jokes about pussy and sex. There are an ungodly number of fucks used in the film, as every character seems intent on repeating it over and over again as if to overstate the importance of each scene, whether it’s through fright or frustration or liberation of self. Don’t let that fool you though; listen past the profanities and you’ll hear some smart dialogue delivered by master technicians. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s pointed, and at times it’s downright scary. Most of all, it’s engrossing and engaging. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it for a second, you end up not wanting to in fear you’ll miss something because Smith throws everything but the kitchen sink at you for the short 88 minutes it takes him to tell the story.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few faults with is. The editing is all over the place, with the faster rapid cuts seeming unnecessary and don’t fit in the film, but the slower edits with longer shots between cuts add to the tension and suspense and work well. It does seem to rush through its events quickly given the running time, there could have been a lot more time spent on certain scenes throughout the film. Also, while some of the characters are fully developed, most aren’t, and a lot of them aren’t given any dialogue, and just go through the film mute, which is an odd choice, given Smith’s particular way with words. In most other cases, I’d let little hang ups like this spoil my enjoyment of a movie, and yet I thoroughly enjoyed Red State despite all of this, which shows just how good a film this truly is.

Overall, I realise I say this as a completely biased Kevin Smith fan, but my god is this good. It is so unexpected, and that’s what makes this so good. Considering his back catalogue, this film has comes out of absolutely nowhere and surprised even the most hardened fans of his like myself. Considering I’ve been keeping up to date with the production of this film, I probably knew what to expect more than others, but it still surprised me as to where it went and how it went about it. I’ll also say that it’ll be a crime if Michael Parks at the very least isn’t considered for top awards for his performance here; it’s truly an outstanding piece of work from both him and Smith. Smith has well and truly pulled it out the bag, and given that this is due to be his second to last film, I can only hope that the kind of quality he’s produced here carries forward onto Hit Somebody, his planned last movie. There are faults with the film, it doesn’t explore the issues raised but rather exploits them for its own means, but it earns a stellar review by subverting my expectations constantly and by being his best film in years, possibly even ever. I urge you to watch this for yourselves and be converted.

Rating: *****

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Change-Up

Dave and Mitch have been friends since childhood, but their lives have gone in different directions; Dave is a family man, married with kids, and working hard as a lawyer, whereas Mitch is living a hedonistic lifestyle, sleeping with various women and only occasionally working with any kind if responsibility. One night, while peeing into a fountain after a drunken night out, they both wish they had each others' lives. They wake up the next morning to find their wishes have come true, and the hilarity ensues from there...

The age/body swap is a staple of the comedy genre. Seriously, do you realise how many times it's been done in various formats? Freaky Friday (3 times), Big, 17 Again, 18 Again!, Vice Versa, 13 Going On 30, even Being John Malkovich... The list goes on and on. My point is it's been done multiple times, so for a film like this to come out and work, it's going to have to be original. The Change-Up promises something original: The American Pie route. We've been promised the most disgusting, extreme, gross-out age/body swap comedy of all time! So, is it a gross-out film? At times, yes, yes it is, they've gotten that right. So has that made this an original piece of work within the genre? Absolutely not.

The Change-Up is so formulaic that you know exactly where it's going right from the start. There are no surprises or shocks in this, and adding lots of poo and urine jokes does not make it original, it just shows how lazy the writers were, looking to grab some of that Hangover revenue that's become so lucrative over the last few years (which is hardly surprising, given this was actually written by the writers of The Hangover). In the first two minutes, poor Jason Bateman gets covered in baby crap. That's the level we're at, people. This film is pretty uninventive and has 'pay day' written all over it. It's a real shame for Bateman, who's really let himself down by getting involved with a film like this after appearing in the fairly decent Horrible Bosses earlier in the year; it seemed as if he'd left films like this and The Switch behind, but alas not, and he deserves a lot better than this.

Speaking of Bateman, he does well in a complicated role. He spends most of the films playing Ryan Reynolds playing Reynolds' character, much as Reynolds spends the film playing Bateman playing Bateman's character. It all gets complicated when you try and explain/think about it, but once the characters are established at the start of the film as polar opposites, it becomes an easier task to follow just who exactly is playing who and when. All this means Bateman gets to play against type for the film, playing the wildcard rather than the straight guy, and he does OK with it but it doesn't feel like a natural performance, it feels as forced as it looks and shows why he's better playing the straight guy. Reynolds, however, does well in both roles, playing the wildcard well initially and then playing the straight guy very well, picking up on Bateman's usual mannerisms and portraying them on screen near-perfectly.

No-one said this was a clever film, but we were promised laughs. It does raise a few to be fair, but they are few and far between, which is mildly disappointing but not entirely surprising. Honestly, an alarmingly large percentage of the film only serves to make the viewer uncomfortable in watching it because of how unfunny it is. There's no real inventiveness either, the film covers a lot of old ground and doesn't do anything with it, doesn't put a funny or inventive twist on it and just disappoints. I feel kind of dirty having laughed at some of the jokes the film offers up - I'm disappointed in myself for stooping so low. It's real low-rent humour, but it could have been so much worse. It's certainly not on par with, say, The Hangover Part II, but it's still nowhere near the levels Bridesmaids or even Horrible Bosses reached earlier this year.

Overall, it is a disappointment, but an entirely unsurprising disappointment. This never looked like a great film, not even a good film, and it's not, so you only have yourself to blame when you leave the cinema feeling dirty, ashamed and disappointed. There's a couple of laughs, and on paper it's an interesting notion to see Reynolds and Bateman play against type, but put into practice and it really doesn't work. The film never really gets off the ground; it stays at one level and adamantly refuses to reach for anything higher or more intelligent. It's puerile, gross, disgusting, unintelligent, uninventive... The list goes on and on. Much like the list of age/body swap comedies this unfortunately joins. If you've chosen to watch this over any of the far superior films out this month, nay this week, then shame on you, you deserve exactly what you get with this.

Rating: **

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Fright Night

Charley Brewster is an ordinary kid growing up in Las Vegas with a girlfriend and hanging out with the cool kids. Then, a mysterious stranger called Jerry moves in next door. Charley’s former friend, Ed, tells Charley he believes Jerry is a vampire responsible for the disappearance of a number of fellow students, but Charley doesn’t believe him. However, the next day, Ed himself disappears, and Charley begins to believe. After a close encounter with Jerry, Charley searches out the one man who he thinks will be able to help him defeat Jerry: Vegas magician and self-styled ‘vampire expert’ Peter Vincent...

It’s only September. Surely a vampire movie like this is being released a month too early. Nevertheless, Fright Night is a 3D remake of the 1985 original of the same name. As to why exactly this was remade is unclear, but the original was certainly well received at the time and it seems as if today’s movie market is giving licence to any filmmaker who wants to resurrect any successful 1980’s horror franchise, whether it be with a reboot or remake or belated sequel (A Nightmare on Elm Street, anyone?) and so, here we are. So can it justify its resurrection after more than 20 years of lying dormant? Can it hold a place in today’s busy film industry? Surprisingly, yes, yes it can.

Fright Night is predicated on the notion that the concept of the horror/vampire film should be self-knowing and aware of its absurdity, and Fright Night has its tongue firmly in its cheek. That’s probably what makes this film work; it knows it’s a silly concept and never truly takes itself seriously. The acting is over the top from all involved (seriously, there’s more ham on display here than on the deli counter at Tesco’s) and it manages to engage its audience well from start to finish, providing a nice entertaining 100 minute motion picture that never drags its feet and says everything it wants and needs to say within its time limit. There’s even a clever, self-knowing nod to the original when Chris Sarandon pops up in a cameo appearance. It’s all in good fun, honest!

As far as the acting goes, it’s all pretty good, again surprisingly so. Colin Farrell plays the 400 year old vampire Jerry and does so with plenty of sickening charm and brooding seriousness. It’s a ridiculous performance, but fits well within the film, so it’s hard to tell if Farrell has adapted his style to suit the film or whether he played his role with lashings of ham and cheese completely by accident. Same goes for David Tennant playing Peter Vincent. He plays Vincent with aplomb, recalling The Doctor in sheer ludicrousness with the over the top character, delivering a performance which matches the character perfectly and really brings him to life. Anton Yelchin plays the protagonist Charley, and does OK with what is a disappointingly uninteresting character. Imogen Poots has the best anme I’ve heard in a while, but is insignificant and flat. Christopher Mintz-Plasse does well playing the same character he’s played in several film now, and certainly produces a surprise.

What makes this film watchable is the sharp script, which is self-knowing and referential to the vampire film canon, making references to Twilight and proving/dispelling various vampire myths in order to fit around the plot. It plays with its concept nicely and never slips into anything too serious, aside from the mild peril the protagonists are placed in while fighting Jerry. The most disappointing thing about this film? It was shot in 3D. At least it was actually shot in 3D and not converted in post-production, but the 3D is so unnecessary. I saw it in 2D and it was dark enough as it was, which is understandable given that this is a vampire film, therefore most of the action has to take place at night and in the dark. Even watching it in 2D, you can see which parts were designed to use the 3D technology, and it’s all cheap and nasty effects which add absolutely nothing to the plot. If you can watch this in 2D, do it, stay away from the glasses.

Overall, it’s not too bad and certainly justifies its resurrection. As long as there aren’t any sequels, this will be a fine addition to the franchise; I just can’t see how they could make a good, justifiable sequel given the events of this film. It’s entertaining, full of funny performances and is certainly worth paying to see on a Friday night as long as it’s the 2D version. Unfortunately, this is another case of 3D spoiling what could have been a great film. As it is, 3D viewers will walk away feeling cheated and that’s the real shame. There is a good film behind the gimmick, and the sooner this particular gimmick disappears the better, as it will give films like this a better chance of succeeding.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, 26 August 2011

Final Destination 5

A group of co-workers, including Sam, his ex Molly, his best friend Peter and his girlfriend Candice, along with others, head out on a bus trip to a company retreat. However, on the bus, Sam has premonitions of a bridge collapse that would kill them all. Sam convinces his friends and a select few others to get off the bus and the bridge, just as the bridge collapses, much as his premonition had suggested. Sam and his friends have cheated Death, but Death doesn’t like to be cheated. Sam and his friends were meant to die, and one by one, Death will claim the lives of those who should have died earlier...

The Final Destination is a very simple franchise with a basic premise that has been repeated in what is now 5 films: Someone has premonition of death, convinces friends to escape scenario and cheat Death, scenario occurs, friends wonder what happened, Death comes to claim the lives of those who escape in a number of unfortunate accidents, and Tony Todd stands by the side, telling everyone he knew this would happen. Five films of that, no differences. It’s a wonder the franchise has gotten this far, but alas we have the fifth instalment in non-glorious 3D in cinemas now. So is it still a fresh idea? Surprisingly, yes.

The problem with the Final Destinations compared to a franchise like Saw is that FD only has one basic story that has to be repeated over and over again to tie together the gruesome deaths or else it’s an entirely different film. The Saw franchise could invent different plots and convolute storylines to tie together the deaths. The main selling point of the Final Destination franchise, much like the main selling point of the Saw franchise, was the inventiveness of the death scenarios. Let me tell you, there are some real diamonds this year. Although apparently, Death is a screenwriter, because he’s come up with some awfully convoluted scenarios in which to kill his unwitting victims. He also likes the classic horror swerve, where you assume everything’s leading in one direction until suddenly, at the very end, something comes out of nowhere.

This is true of the first two deaths most certainly, as there’s an awful lot going on and the way the deaths pan out leave a few elements either unexplained or unused, there simply to fool the audience into going in one direction before taking them in the completely the other. Saying that, I’m not complaining about that, as it shows there’s been a fair amount of thought put into each of them, and some of them are really original and clever with a decent amount of blood and gore thrown in, and I’m always appreciative of that. On top of that, the film actually look pretty damn good, the CG work looks convincing and the direction of Steven Quale, whilst nothing special, is better here than in certain previous instalments, clearly taking a cue from his experience as second unit director on Avatar.

The performances are, throughout, nothing special. None of the lead actors/actresses deliver anything special, but I put the blame for that squarely onto the script. Whilst the story holds together, much as it has done for the four previous films, and the death scenes are done well, the dialogue stinks. It’s classic horror tropes played out over 90 minutes; there’s the guilt of the party, the love story between the two leads, the “we cheated Death” moments, there’s an asshole who deserves to die, there’s an innocent who is too stupid to live, there’s a schemer who gets their come-uppance... These characters have all been done before and, frankly, they’re all played. Even Tony Todd comes back and plays the same role he played in 1 and 2 and isn’t given anything special to do, which is somewhat of a waste. However, amongst this criticism, I will say there’s a very nice, clever little twist at the end which I won’t spoil, but quite honestly I was impressed by it and I really didn’t see it coming. If you did, you’re a better man than me.

Overall, I had low expectations for this, but this surprised me by being mildly entertaining and able to justify its creation. It’s certainly better than the last two films I’ve seen, and definitely better than the last two Final Destination instalments. Obviously, it could never reach the ‘heights’ of the first, much as in any horror franchise, as the element of surprise is lost, but it plays out fairly well, ambles along towards its conclusion and ties things up in a neat little bow. Hollywood needs to learn the distinction between so bad it’s good and just plain bad. To be fair, there are points in which this is actually stand-alone good, but for the most part, it’s a good piece of silly, cheesy fun where you know exactly where things are going. However, for a film called FINAL Destination, it’s already at its fifth instalment. You can almost guarantee there’s going to be a sixth, but I won't complain as long as it's as inventive as this one.

Rating: **1/2

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Conan the Barbarian

Conan has had a troubled childhood: His mother died during childbirth, while his father raised him to be a warrior and to realise the importance of steel to the Cimmerian people. When a group of warriors ride in, destroy the village and kill the villagers, Conan’s father must sacrifice himself in order to save the young Conan. From that point on, Conan becomes older, wiser, stronger and better with a blade as he endlessly seeks out the warlord who brought destruction upon his life. His quest leads to Conan becoming a true barbarian...

I’m truly at a loss. I'll be honest, normally when I watch a film, I'll sit down as soon as possible to write a review so that you get my immediate reaction to it without anything influencing my judgement. With this, I struggled. I'm not a fan of these fantasy/swords/sorcery films or other media at all. I don't like The Princess Bride. I've never read a Terry Pratchett book. I'm not watching Game of Thrones. And, coming back to the subject at hand, I always found the original Conan the Barbarian dull and uninteresting, I couldn't even find any laughs at how bad it was. All this is why I'm at a loss. I'm at a loss as to why this film even exists, and I was at a loss as to how exactly I could write a fair and balanced review without bringing in my personal prejudices. I shall try, but no promises.

I just find the whole genre uninteresting. The only thing which is somewhat close to this which I liked was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and that's almost an entire world apart, so this was always going to be a struggle for me. Upon watching it, I wasn't at all surprised by this. The plot was very samey and cobbled together from various classic stories, the screenplay cheesy and packed full of clichés and the characters were two dimensional and uninviting. However, I can recognise that this film does exactly what's expected of it: There's plenty of fighting, lots of it with swords and such, there's some nice looking ladies, there's a big action hero, and lots of revenge killing. But that's not enough when there isn't a gripping story behind it, rather too much of the action on screen hinges on either a silly convoluted premise or nothing at all, providing some mindless and senseless action. To some that my appeal, but certainly not to me.

That's the main thing I took away from this film: There was a lot of blood, and a surprising amount of boobs on show. This is definitely a film for the guys. Saying that, the female antagonist is played by gorgeous Rose McGowan, and here she's completely unrecognisable, she looks hideous as the powerful witch and it's a waste of her looks, but she actually comes across well as the villain. Now we're taking about performances, let's go to Jason Momoa, who plays the Barbarian himself, and is very good and swinging a sword and looking strong. His delivery of dialogue isn't particularly impressive but it doesn't need to be, because this really isn't about the story, is it? Ron Perlman turns up as Conan's father, and I like Perlman as an actor, and he's OK in this, seemingly playing a human Hellboy. Rachel Nichols plays the female protagonist Tamara and again, she doesn't need to be a good performer, she just needs to look good and she does. Stephen Lang is probably the best actor in the film, playing the antagonist Khalar Zym. I have a theory it's easier to be bad than to be good on screen, and this film proves my theory.

To be honest, this film is just flat. I think that's why I'm having such a hard time forming an opinion on it; it's hard to form an opinion on nothing and that's what this film is. The action isn't major in the grand cinematic scale of things, it's relatively minor, and yet the gore produced is ungodly. The drama isn't there to captivate the audience, and there's no humour in it as if to provide a self-knowing nod. This film has taken itself far too seriously, and that's where its fault lies. Conan has true delusions of grandeur and potential sequels, but based on this, they'll be better off burying this franchise once and for all. Conan has existed since 1932 and in film since 1982, and I've yet to see anything nearly good produced surrounding this character, including this installment.

Overall, it's an unnecessary reboot of a long dormant and ridiculous franchise, made purely to rake in the summer blockbuster money that most cinema goers will gladly fork over for any old rubbish. It's not the worst film I've seen this year, hell not even the worst film I've seen this month, but by no means is it the best. By no means is this even good. I realise this review was short and not at all in depth, but I was never going to like this film, and I could never be subjective about it. There's a good amount of fighting and violence and nudity for a 15, very 300-like, and I appreciated that, but the film just never grabbed me in the way it should do as an outsider looking in to this foreign genre. Apologies, but this film was barbaric.

Rating: *1/2

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cowboys & Aliens

Arizona. 1873. A man wakes up with no memory of who he is, where he is, or what the metal bracelet attached to his arm is. He makes his way to the small town of Absolution, where he meets a mysterious stranger called Ella, and is recognised as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw. Turns out he’s stolen gold from local cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde, and now Dolarhyde wants revenge. However, before he can take his revenge, an alien spacecraft attacks Absolution, and very quickly their feud becomes secondary to the extra-terrestrial invaders who seem hell bent on abducting the locals and destroying everything...

It gives me hope that one day I might be able to enter the film industry whenever I see a film like Cowboys & Aliens come to the cinema. You can picture the pitch meeting, can’t you? “What’s it called?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” “And what’s it about?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” “Well, who does it feature?” “Cowboys & Aliens!” I could go on. Seriously, the film is succinctly and aptly described by its title. This film feature cowboys and it features aliens. Cowboys & Aliens is the be all and end all of this movie. But is there an interesting plot? Is there a reason to watch it? No.

It annoys me that this is so poorly executed because the premise has limitless possibilities to be infinitely cool, and yet it spends so much time trying to balance out the western and sci-fi aspects of the film that it ends up failing on both fronts and being criminally boring and, frankly, awful. It’s too ludicrous to be a western. It’s too dull to be a memorable sci-fi. I realise usually I spend some time ambling towards my point and eventually making a judgement on it, but in this case, I wasn’t even disappointed by the film, I was more infuriated. I’ve been mulling this over for 12 hours as I write this and I don’t think I’ve seen a more frustrating film all year. The story is painfully clichéd and the characters are wooden and two-dimensional.

This wasn’t helped by the casting and/or the performances the cast gave. Daniel Craig is meant to play the classic western brooding, gruff loner/outsider, but you can’t attach yourself to him, even though he’s meant to be the protagonist. They give him a soapy back story and make him the reformed hero, but there’s no emotion involved at all. As for the antagonist, someone needs to help Harrison Ford because I’m fairly sure he had a stroke back in 1983 and no-one checked for the side effects because he went all the way through this, and pretty much every film he’s been in since Return of the Jedi, mumbling his lines and delivering the same facial expression, a seemingly fixed scowl, almost as if he didn’t want to be there. Olivia Wilde is only alright as the female lead Ella, delivering a similar performance to the one she gave in Tron: Legacy but then you don’t need much from her; she just needs to look good. And she does. Above all of this, however, there is a far bigger crime involving one particular piece of casting. Sam Rockwell. He’s here as a secondary character called Doc who doesn’t really do a lot. What a waste. I think Sam Rockwell is a fantastic actor, and has proven himself worthy of lead roles time and again, and to be given a lifeless role like this is shocking. He does well enough with what little screen time he’s given, but good lord is he ever misplaced in this.

I feel like this was a real missed opportunity. They could have avoided every cliché that they so willingly walked into here. Admittedly, the film does deliver exactly what an audience is going to want to see from a film called Cowboys & Aliens. There’s a bar fight. There are abductions. There’s destruction. There are plenty of aliens. There’s a partial romance. In between all that, the writing is just lazy, clearly just a bunch of writers giggling at themselves at the premise and doing nothing extraordinary with it. The script contains some really corking lines like “It’s not your fault” and “I know where they are”, every plot element is flimsily tied together by flashbacks and ‘shocking twists’ and those ‘shocking twists’ are so inane, you’ll either guess them straight away or be dumbfounded as to how ludicrous they are. Naturally, they’re key to the story and deliver information and elements needed to reach the conclusion, but by the time you get there, you’ll be wishing they’d gotten there sooner.

Overall, in case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t like this film. You know when your parents say they’re not mad, they’re just disappointed? Well I wasn’t disappointed, I was maddened by this. It’s infuriatingly banal and uninventive, and that’s what I’ll take away from this. I will say this though, the aliens looked mildly impressive and the landscapes are fittingly stunning, as they should be for a Western, so it doesn’t fail completely. On almost every other level , though, it does. People will naturally flock to see this, and I understand that, but I hope those people walk out as disappointed as I did so that they learn their lesson like I did. Trust me on this: I have seen Cowboys & Aliens SO THAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

Rating: *

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Will Rodman is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. His drug, AZ-112, may be the cure to Alzheimer’s, but his chimpanzee test subject turns hostile and the experiment is finished. However, she was merely protecting her child, who Will is forced to take home and rescue. Will lives with his father, himself suffering from Alzheimer’s, who takes a shine to the intelligent young chimp and names him Caesar. Over the years, Caesar grows older and wiser, whilst Will’s experimental drug appears to cure his father. However, Caesar is growing too smart for his own good, and after a misunderstanding involving a neighbour, he is sent to a sanctuary. It’s not long, though, before Caesar is using his intelligence to plot his escape with the other mistreated apes...

The Planet of the Apes franchise is legendary. The Tim Burton remake is, frankly, forgettable, but the original five films are solid. The original is a true classic. ‘Beneath the...’ is an apocalyptic horror film. ‘Escape from...’ was silly but good fun. ‘Conquest of...’ is a revolution-filled thriller and thoroughly misunderstood. ‘Battle for...’ showed signs of a failing franchise and ended the original series on a sour note. It makes sense that it would be brought back now, what with the advanced special effects and CGI on offer and that it has the potential to spark up a long dormant franchise with multiple sequels. For all of that to happen though, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is going to have to be good. So is it? Well, quite simply, it is good. Really good.

The interesting thing about this film is that it takes a new spin on the story of apes rising up against their human oppressors. Rather than have actors dressing as apes and talking, representing the evolved ape, the apes here are entirely CGI. They are all motion captured, which gives them realistic movements and facial expressions. The problem they were faced with going down this road, creating apes as we know them, was that there was no way of getting them to communicate with the humans. Enter Caesar, plot device de jour. Caesar is born with the Alzheimer’s drug changing his mind, so he learns sign language and develops superior intelligence. Therefore, we have a link between species, and the overwhelming plot gap is bridged.

This all comes down to yet another phenomenal mo-cap performance by Andy Serkis, then man who brought Gollum to life (and will do again in the two upcoming Hobbit films). He gets the mannerisms exactly right, and never over-exaggerates the facial expressions, keeping Caesar more ape than human in that regard. James Franco is deadly serious in his role as Will, not his usual laid-back stoner character, and he puts in a solid performance. He proves himself to be more than a one-trick pony and takes a lot of cues from his 127 Hours performance here in his facial expressions and mannerisms. Frieda Pinto does well enough as the female lead, and John Lithgow is convincing as Will’s Alzheimer’s stricken father. An honourable mention goes to Tom Felton in his first big post-Potter role as the nasty son of the sanctuary owner. Apparently he plays a bastard well, who knew?

At just under 100 minutes, this isn’t too long and offers enough to keep an audience interested throughout. My only slight problem with this, intelligent apes aside, is how long it takes to develop the idea that the drug is revolutionary and that Caesar is smart. It’s an idea which is brought across to you in the first 20 minutes and yet it still goes on explaining that the “drug is experimental” and that “Caesar has advanced intelligence”. We get it, we do. It takes a while to reach where everyone knows it’s going, where everyone wants it to go, and frankly you’ll be relieved when it does get there. I did like the character of Caesar though, the evolution of his intelligence is handled well and he is a human enough character that you begin to associate and sympathise with him by the end. Of course, the end is well written to leave it open for potential sequels, but then it wouldn’t be a PotA film if it didn’t. Also, there are numerous nods to the past: Mention of a missing space mission, a Statue of Liberty, and even the immortal line “Take your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” I’ll be honest; the delivery of the line made me completely mark out, the film won me over there and then.

Overall, it’s a fairly solid summer blockbuster, definitely one of the best this year, as it offers a coherent and well-structured narrative and, movie logic aside, neatly explains itself without bordering on the ridiculous. The apes looked good, an improvement on how fake they looked in the trailers, which was a pleasant surprise, and they were given true emotion and heart. This is close to being a great film; it’s an engaging and intelligent film which you can’t really go too far wrong with. This was a really pleasantly surprising film, it completely caught me off guard as to how good it was, and it's ended up being the best film I've seen in months. If you had told me back in April when the trailer was released that this would end up being my favourite film of the summer, I'd have slapped you in the face and called you a liar. I'd say I deserve the slap now.

Rating: ****1/2

Friday, 5 August 2011

Super 8

In 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Joe has just lost his mother in an industrial accident. His father, the town’s Deputy, is struggling to cope and Joe is retreating into making a zombie film with his friends on a Super 8 camera. However, shooting one night at a train station, they witness and accidently film a major train crash, where they find hundreds of mysterious white cubes. The accident brings the U.S. Air Force into town and triggers a series of strange events: People, pets and electric devices have begun disappearing, and no-one knows where they’re going. The team of young filmmakers become determined to figure out what’s going on when Alice, the star of their film, disappears... Or perhaps she was taken by a mysterious creature...

Oh, J.J. Abrams, how you love your secrets. First, you produced Lost, which started out with a huge plane crash and led to one of most addictive and infuriating TV series in recent history, the conclusion of which still has people talking a year after broadcast. Then, he came back and produced Cloverfield, a film which was known for months before as its release simply as 1-18-08 and offered no details of its plot in its trailers other than the Statue of Liberty’s head being torn off (though to be fair, that’s all you needed to know). Now, we have Super 8, another Abrams super-secret semi-autobiographical project about a train crash and some sort of alien creature. So has this been overhyped? On reflection, I'd say no. It's a great summer movie that has proper potential and lives up to it.

I'll be honest, this definitely wasn’t what I was expecting from an Abrams project. Though, on that last point, my expectations began getting subverted with every trailer that got released. Super 8 turned from another Cloverfield-style monster movie to a Goonies-style kid-driven adventure film which isn’t E.T., but shares a lot of common DNA and I’m not entirely sure if I was comfortable with that. Upon watching it, it’s a lovely story, and it still does have a bit of that Cloverfield monsterishness though in a far nicer, less apocalyptic chaos kind of way which actually makes for a far more comfortable and engaging viewing experience instead of going ‘OOH look, it crushed a building’ every two minutes.

The group of kids all put in great performances here, especially impressive considering lead actor Joel Courtney, who plays Joe, had never acted before. However, as with all film featuring a group of actors, there is a stand out, and this time around it’s Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota (Where’d she go, by the way?). She’s really fantastic as Alice, daughter of an alcoholic dad and actress in the Super 8 zombie film who develops a young romance with Joe. In particular, there’s a small scene where the actors are rehearsing dialogue for their film, the Super 8 isn’t even rolling, and Alice delivers this amazing heartbreaking monologue which just dumbfounds the kids and left me gobsmacked that someone that young could access as much as emotion as she does in that small moment. And then, as soon as her monologue’s over, she snaps back into normal Alice, the moment passes and it’s as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Fantastic. Other than that, Kyle Chandler is good enough as Joe’s dad, and Noah Emmerich is mildly frightening as the intimidating Colonel Nelec.

As for the alien creature itself, much in the same way you only saw glimpses of the monster in Cloverfield, you only get passing glimpses of this one before a full-on look at its face in the third act, taking a page once again out of the Ridley Scott/Alien book, less is more. However, once it's been revealed, you start seeing nothing but the monster, and ruins the mystique to a degree. There’s something distinctly spider-like about it, and seems like a distant cousin of the Cloverfield monster. I did have a small problem with the train crash, the catalyst for the events of the film. It was well executed, truly it’s a ballet of flying metal and explosions and utter chaos. The problem is it just keeps going. And going. And going. It’s an endless train wreck, which I assume is because Abrams got excited by the bright lights and the loud noises. It’s an important part of the film, is not the most important part, and any realism it might have had is thrown out the window because it becomes distinctly Michael Bay like. Urgh.

Overall, it’s a lovely throwback to both the 1980’s teen adventure film in the same vein of The Goonies, and family-orientated Spielberg films like E.T., which is hardly surprising given Spielberg's role as producer here, presumably to stop him suing Abrams from ripping off E.T. It’s a strange hybrid but it’s pretty cohesive. Spielberg’s influence is clear as the film deals with a young boy dealing with personal emotional problems as well as the wider alien conflict pretence. Abrams has gone and made a film which has a little bit of something for everyone and I know that’s a horrendous cliché, but Super 8 genuinely does. It’s E.T. meets The Goonies, so everybody wins, right?

Rating: ****

Friday, 29 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

It’s the 1940s, America’s at war with the Nazis and Steve Rogers is a puny, 90-pound weakling desperate to sign up for the Army. However, he meets constant rejection. After fortuitously meeting a scientist, he ends up in a secret program to create the first super soldier. His bravery and fortitude see him chosen for the experiment, and he is transformed into a tall, muscular super solider. Unfortunately, the program dies, and he’s left to go on tour dressed as Captain America, promoting war bonds. However, when he performs a show in Italy and hears his best friend has been captured, he defies orders and goes behind enemy lines to rescue him, where he runs into the sinister Red Skull...

Marvel have had a very good 2011 so far. Thor, which no-one expected to succeed, went down well with critics and fans and made huge bank at the box office. Then, no less than a month later, the newest X-Men film came out, and again, it went down well with everybody (though not with this critic) and did well at the box office, if not as well as Thor. Now, less than two months after that, here comes Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s third superhero release since Easter. Is it overkill? Perhaps. The only reason I’d complain about that is if they rushed these films out without considering the quality, if Captain America was a poor entry to the genre, made purely for the money. Luckily, it’s rather bloody good.

I like it because it’s different, it’s not set in the modern age, it’s a World War 2 story with plenty of evil Nazis (or rather rebel Nazi terrorists aka HYDRA) and, although the character was (and still is) basically one long propaganda exercise, the film has a rather lovely post-modern twist which plays up to the fact that Captain America is a propagandist comic book superhero, which will help this film translate into non-American cultures. Ultimately, we get more captain, less America. I also like it because it’s nice and silly! It’s proper, good old fashioned, family orientated, switch your head off and enjoy kind of entertainment, which is absolutely unsurprising given the director is Joe Johnston, director of The Rocketeer and Jumanji. The man knows not only how to make a film look good, but how to make it a good old fashioned romp for the whole family. I say well done to Marvel/Disney on yet another astute choice of director.

It’s helped along by Chris Evans, who plays Steve/Captain, and the fact that he is ripped. He looks like he could easily be a real-life Captain America, and even when Rogers is weedy (done with some weird CGI which puts Evans’ head on a smaller body, making his head look huge), Evans delivers a performance with heart. Then there’s Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. It must be said, the Red Skull make-up looks impressive, and Weaving plays a frighteningly good Nazi, a really perfect superhero bad guy. Tommy Lee Jones doesn’t really do much in his role, he plays a bad-ass good guy well, and he does again here with a couple of funny lines thrown in for good measure. Hayley Atwell is Rogers’ love interest Peggy Carter, and tries so desperately hard to pull off the sassy female who can hole her own, but it just comes across as wooden and emotionless and stands out against the rest of the cast who seem to have fallen into their roles a lot easier.

Since Iron Man 2, it’s been hard to judge whether or not the Marvel films have been done out of a genuine belief that the films would be a choice addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe or whether they’ve been made purely to reach the endgame: The Avengers. With this, it’s half and half. It’s a good introduction to the character, the back story’s done well and the adventure/main plot is good, but it all gets rather silly near the end. WARNING! HERE BE PLOT SPOILERS! In order to get Captain America from 1940s America in which the film is set to 2010s America where The Avengers will be taking place, the film ends with Rogers crashing a plane into the Arctic, being found 70 years later and defrosted by Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s all very convoluted and a means to an end. Plus, it ruins a potential franchise, Captain America could have stayed in the 40s and fought a variety of different enemies, creating a really different stand-out franchise in the Marvel canon, but no. Now, any future Captain America films will be of the bog standard variety. Also, throughout this film, Captain America does an awful lot of jumping and leaping about. Now, he’s a super soldier yes, but he doesn’t actually have any super powers like Superman or Spider-Man. There’s no way in hell he’d be able to jump anywhere near that far, even with his super soldier super legs, it’s just poor scripting and decidedly dodgy wire/green screen work which brought my viewing pleasure back down to Earth with a bump.

Overall, it’s not at all bad as long as you’re willing to just switch off for a couple of hours and simply sit and enjoy it. There’s a love story tangent in there somewhere which is never really touched upon, purely because even though it’s a 2 hour film, they still barely fit in the origin story and Captain’s fight against HYDRA and the Red Skull. There’s a lot of silly comic book science used to explain everything which is forgiveable of a genre film like this, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Except at the end. Where it all goes tits up. I’d say this goes alongside Thor as the best superhero film of 2011 so far though, and I can’t see anything knocking either of them off their perch. Well done Marvel, you’re winning me over from the DC side.

Rating: ***1/2

Friday, 22 July 2011

Horrible Bosses

Nick, Dale and Kurt are all stuck in awful jobs under the cosh of their horrible bosses. Nick’s boss at his financial firm is a psycho. Dale’s boss at his dental practice is a nymphomaniac. Kurt’s boss at an industrial company is nice, but then he dies, leaving his son to take over, who happens to be a cocaine addicted tool. Together, they joke about killing their bosses and being free of them, but it’s not long before the jokes turn to serious discussion. Hiring convicted criminal Motherfucker Jones as their ‘murder consultant’, they stake out their bosses and try to find a way of killing them and getting away with it...

Not a month ago, Bridesmaids was released, and oh how the nation laughed. A group of ladies came along and surprised everyone by actually being funny, making for a rom com which was genderless, which in my eyes was a first. Now, we have Horrible Bosses, which I’d argue is the male equivalent to Bridesmaids. We have the vast ensemble cast, the recognisable faces, an SNL star in one of the lead roles, the buddy element and the premise which carries plenty of potential for comedy. So can it match up to the highest grossing female-led R-rated movie of all time? No. But it is still funny.

This is mainly down to its cast. We’ll start with the three would-be killers. Jason Bateman plays Nick, the downtrodden financial worker who willingly takes shit in the hopes of one day gaining a promotion. I think everybody loves Jason Bateman, even after the number of decidedly dodgy comedy films he’s been a part of in the last few years. His part in Arrested Development cleanses all sins and will do so forever. Here, though, he’s given a really solid role as the pseudo leader of the three whilst still getting the famous Bateman lines he’s always given which he can deliver with his signature sarcastic/unbelieving tone. Jason Sudekis, the SNL feature player, plays Kurt in his second comedic lead role of 2011, but we’ll forget about Hall Pass. Here, he plays a ladies man who actually likes his job but not his new boss. Put it this way, he’s a dick but a likeable dick, which shows how well written his part is. However, the breakout here will be Charlie Day, playing Dale, a naive young idiot who’s on the sex offenders register after an unfortunate accident (it’s funny, not dark, trust me) and can only find work with a nympho dentist. He’s been playing this role for years on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which if you haven’t seen, you should) and he carries it over and becomes the loveable loser of the piece and puts in yet another solid performance here. These three characters have been perfectly cast and really well written.

Now, the three bosses. Nick’s boss is Dave, played by Kevin Spacey. Spacey does brilliantly well in playing the rich, self-obsessed corporate psychopath and really compliments Bateman well. Kurt’s boss is Bobby, played by Colin Farrell. To me, this is probably the only underwritten character in the film and it’s disappointing. The joke is he’s a cocaine addict playboy, and that he’s bald with a comb over. The character doesn’t really progress further than that and ends up really 2-dimensional and flat. Then, there’s Dale’s boss, played by Jennifer Aniston. She is so unbelievably ‘un-Aniston’ in this film, if that makes any sense at all. She plays the highly sexual Dr Julia, who also happens to be quite psychotic herself. She has good chemistry with Charlie Day and it’s because she steps outside her comfort zone that she’s able to give one of her best performances in a long time. That whole story thread with Dale and Julia is probably the funniest of the three and that lies at the feet of Aniston and Day. Kudos, also, to Jamie Foxx as Motherfucker Jones (the story behind his name change is probably the cleverest, funniest joke in the film) for doing well enough with what he’s given.

Let’s be honest, this is a pretty dark premise for a film. Lots of murder involved, lots of plotting and y planning and scheming and misery. But, the ridiculousness of the premise, for a comedy film, sparks various situations in which there are some real laughs. Maybe not laugh out loud belly laughs, but still it’s humorous. It definitely surpasses the ‘Kermode Five Laugh Rule’ test with ease and just keeps going from there. Admittedly, quite a few of the jokes in the film which are misogynistic, but they fit within the ethos of the film. There are also some racist jokes in there, but again, they fit and they’re appropriate to the tone of the film. Another small gripe I have with the film is that the funniest story of the three, the Dale and Julia thread, isn’t given as much attention as the other two threads and doesn’t really play into the main dramatic story of the film. That seems like a silly statement, but you’ll understand once you see it yourself. I think they’ve missed a trick not placing that thread as the central one, but it’s understandable why they did it and everything works how they’ve done it so who am I to judge? And then there’s the ending. It just seems to happen, leading to somewhat of an anti-climax.

Overall, it’s a funny comedy with plenty of silliness in it, and I think it’s probably in the top 3 comedies of 2011 so far, behind Bridesmaids and jostling for second with Paul. Unfortunately, Bridesmaids casts a big shadow over this, and it falls short of meeting its high standard. This won’t appeal to everyone, I definitely see this as more of a guy’s comedy, girls will be far less likely to find this funny due to the content of the jokes and level of humour, but it’s worth giving it a go nonetheless. It never gets too dark, and the story never loses focus of what it has to achieve both joke wise and sense wise. This isn’t a classic, but it’s one of the funnier comedies of the year so far. Admittedly, that’s not saying much, it’s like saying having a cold is better than having a flesh-eating virus.

Rating: ***

Friday, 8 July 2011


Frank has only ever had two good moments in his life: His wedding day, and helping a cop chase down a criminal. When his wife, Libby, leaves him for a local drug dealer, he turns to God to help him get her back and decide what to do next. Whether it was through divine intervention or his own fantasy, he comes to the conclusion that he must become a real-life superhero to fight crime and ultimately save his wife, who he believes has been kidnapped by the drug dealer. Thus, the Crimson Bolt is born, and with his trusty sidekick Boltie, his crime-fighting wrench and his catchphrase “Shut up, crime”, he begins getting attention in the local neighbourhood... but for all the wrong reasons.

James Gunn is a clever son of a gun (pun intended). In 2006, he wrote and directed Slither, a sharp, well-observed, self-reflexive horror comedy about killer slug-creatures, inspired by various 1970’s B-movie horrors. It went down well with this critic and various others too, and now Gunn has returned with Super. It would be easy to say that this is just another superhero film in amongst many, MANY others, in particular Kick-Ass, to which this shares more than a certain kinship. It would be easy to say all of that, but upon watching it, you’ll find that it’s way more than that. Super’s a funny, bleak, dark, horrifying, self-reflexive take on the superhero genre that’s got ‘cult’ written all over it.

Super, on the surface, does admittedly seem like a rip-off of Kick-Ass: Normal man decides to make his own costume and become a superhero, fighting every day crime, gaining a fellow hero to fight alongside and eventually leading up to a battle with the local mob. Watch this though, and you’ll see within two minutes (I guarantee: Two minutes is all it’ll take) this is nothing like Kick-Ass. Super is dark. Pitch black, even. This goes way beyond dark humour, this is proper gallows humour. It’s bleak, and unrelentingly so. At times, the humour becomes ludicrous, when the Crimson Bolt goes on a justice spree with his weapon of choice, a wrench, but even then, it quickly becomes disturbing and somewhat shocking as you realise ‘Hey, this film is fucked up’. It’s not exactly a laugh fest, but then at times it is. You’ll understand when you see it, it’s hard to tell if you’re laughing at the jokes on offer, at how ludicrous the pretence is, at how messed up the depiction of violence in a film which truly springs it onto you, or if you’re just laughing out of major discomfort. Either way, it will make you laugh, but probably not for the right reasons.

Rainn Wilson plays the depressed/delusional/disturbed Frank/Crimson Bolt well enough, as the role requires him to be somewhat deranged and thoroughly downbeat. That was a lot of ‘D’ words. Ellen Page turns up to play Juno. Yeah, her character Libby/Boltie is an exact replica of Juno. On the plus side, Ellen Page knows how to play Juno and play her well, so it all works out. Liv Tyler turns up as Frank’s drug addicted wife, and doesn’t really do much as she spends most of the time high or getting high. Then there’s Kevin Bacon as drug dealer Jacques. What the hell?! What is with this renaissance of interest in Kevin Bacon? First X-Men, where frankly he was a bit rubbish, and now this, where he’s better and definitely a more convincing bad guy, but he’s still not the level of evil you need to pull it through, here he’s just an eccentric drug dealer when something else was needed from his performance.

Other than Bacon, the film’s pretty tight, there’s a couple of cool cameos (including Rob Zombie playing God, I mean come on!) and Super ends up looking and feeling like something in between a full blown Hollywood flick and a little independent film. It’s all shot in the shaky documentary camera style to suggest this is all real, which it really isn’t, and there are even some half decent effects and CGI being used here, in particular during the scene in which God appears before Frank in his vision. There’s also a surprisingly high amount of graphic violence; lots of blood, gunshots, corpses, bombs, vehicular violence, wrench shots and stabbings. Look out, as well, for some weirdly-placed Scott Pilgrim/Batman style animated words popping up in the same style as the fantastic opening credits.

Overall, this film is deceptively depressing. On the surface, it’s a nice, friendly, family friendly concept. Dig a little deeper, it’s a dark, bleak, bloody tale of revenge and despair that’s definitely for adults only. James Gunn is making a name for himself with these self-reflexive stories which aren’t afraid to poke a little fun at the genre the film falls under, but with Super, Gunn’s gone and made something which tears up the rule book and just goes all in, balls out and is unrelenting until the small glimmer of optimism right at the very, very end. The crying shame of Super is that people will go to see this, not get what they expected, and walk away hating it. Even worse, people probably won’t even see this at all. I urge you, if you see this at your cinema, and you’re thinking about watching something else, watch this instead. Go in with an open mind, and just set back and try to enjoy it, as uncomfortably dark as it gets. It's an 18 for a reason.

Rating: ****

Friday, 1 July 2011


Annie is a single woman in her mid 30's living in Milwaukee living with a weird Englishman and his weirder sister having failed with her bakery business and losing her boyfriend and all her savings. Life isn't going well. And now, her best friend Lillian is getting married and has asked Annie to be her maid of honour. Soon, Annie gets to meet Lillian's wedding party, which includes the ultra-competitive Helen. Can she balance her responsibilities to Lillian, her rivalry with Helen, her non-relationship with fuck buddy Ted and her blossoming relationship with policeman Nathan?

For years and years now, Kristen Wiig has been one of, if not THE, best things about Saturday Night Live. It's nowhere near its glory days, but Wiig's versatility, writing skills and numerous characters have kept the show fresh. Recently, she's begun to make the leap from small screen to big screen. After popping up in cameos in various Judd Apatow films and taking a few voice roles in a few animated films, her first starring role came in SNL film MacGruber last year, then she appeared again earlier this year in Paul. Now, she's back, having co-written and starred here in Bridesmaids. So can she carry a film? Do her talents translate to the big screen. You're damn right they do. They do in a big way.

This, for all intents and purposes, has 'chick flick' written all over it. Group of women preparing for a wedding. Laughs ensue. Well, frankly, this is a chick flick with balls. It crosses the gender divide without looking back, not because the humour is aimed specifically at one gender or the other, but because the humour in the film is actually funny. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman, this is a damn funny film, and there's something for everyone. There's the Office-style cringe-worthy humour. There's the 30 Rock-style silly humour. There's the Arrested Development-style clever humour. There's even the South Park-style toilet humour. This film literally covers all bases in order to try and illicit as many laughs from the audience as possible at it works. There's a coherent, well thought out plot keeping everything together as well, and the various situations the wedding party find themselves stay true to life and never get truly ridiculous. It all just fits together and works.

Of course, this is all down to Wiig. With co-writer Annie Mumolo, she's written a film which could, and if there's any justice should, launch her into leading lady status. Her acting is bang on as well, as you'd expect from someone who does an hour and a half of live sketch television every Saturday night. Therefore, the same level of performance is given by Maya Rudolph, a fellow SNL alumnus, who plays Lilian. Rose Byrne's pulls off the upper class bitch Helen with joy, you can see how much she's enjoying her role as the scheming, conniving rival with every scene she's in. However, one of the understated things about this film is the performance of Melissa McCarthy. Her role as the toyboyish yet raunchy Megan is brilliant, was well written for McCarthy and she plays it through the film straight as an arrow and has what are probably the two best and funniest lines in the film. These four do, unfortunately, leave the other two members of the wedding party, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper, in the dark. Chris O'Dowd makes a good turn as the charming police officer trying to woo Annie, but he's outshone by an uncredited Jon Hamm as Annie's fuck buddy Ted. You know this film is well written when it manages to turn Jon Hamm into an absolute dick within the first minute. You can tell he enjoys being the chauvinistic bastard for a change as well.

I will say that there are a lot more laughs in the first hour and a half than there are in the last half an hour, I don't remember laughing that much during the third act as things turn rather serious and far less jovial, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I'd say that shows Judd Apatow's influence, as he was on board as a producer. He probably pushed for a more serious third act similar to those seen in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and Funny People. Not to say there are no jokes, it just eases up on the gas pedal a little. Plus, there is the underlying story throughout of people growing up and moving on from past friendships. Her friendship with Annie is Lillian's last and only link to her old life, and it's sad to see how she's begun to move on whilst Annie either can't or won't. It's really sharply observed and well played out on screen.

Overall, this is a really funny, really heartfelt comedy that is anything but a chick flick, despite the decidedly oestrogen-filled premise and cast. Kristen Wiig has proven her comedy skills once and for all on a major stage, and the door is now open for her to move on to bigger things. Melissa McCarthy also has an opportunity after this to become a huge star, though her sitcom may put the kibosh on that. This goes from witty to silly to gross-out back to witty throughout, it really strives to make as many people laugh as often as possible, and for me at least, it more than achieved its aims. Definitely the best comedy of the year so far by a long, long way. Considering this is two hours as well, it packs the laughs in far more than, say, the two hour Dinner for Schmucks. Yes, I will keep coming back to it.

Rating: ****

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Green Lantern

Millions of years ago, the Guardians of the Universe harnessed the green energy of willpower to create the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic police force with one Lantern assigned to all 3600 sectors of the Universe. In the modern day, when Abin Sur, defender of Sector 2814 is mortally wounded, he crash lands on the nearest inhabited planet and sends his power ring to find his replacement. The ring chooses Hal Jordan, a brash and cocky fighter pilot, who becomes the newest Green Lantern. After being brought to the Lanterns' home planet of Oa, he quickly learns his new job comes with mighty power and even mightier responsibility...

We've seen the big heroes on the big screen, now it's time for the little guys to shine. I say little guys, they're still pretty big. Not Superman or Batman big, but they have their own fan base who have been eager to see them in their own feature film. Marvel presented Thor back in April to us, although that was a creation of necessity rather than choice what with the Avengers film coming up next year. DC now give a chance to one of their lower-tier heroes with the Green Lantern, probably the biggest hero yet to receive his own film. Well, now he's got one, and quite frankly, the general consensus has been that maybe he should have stuck to the comic books. Well, don't listen to Rotten Tomatoes all the time, kids, because frankly, I rather enjoyed it!

I will preface this by saying I'm a Green Lantern fan. Going into the film I knew the back story, I knew the characters, I knew what I wanted to see. In all fairness to its detractors, I can understand where the hate and bile is coming from. It really whistles through the history of the Lanterns and Oa and Parallax, the overriding evil entity, and it's a lot to squeeze into a two hour film. There's also the complaint that this is essentially a faux film, roughly 60% of it has been digitally animated. There's also the complaint that the film relies to heavily on the love story between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. Well, yes, it is a lot of history to get through, and considering the epic scale of the Lantern Corps history, it gets through it at a steady pace and never really patronises the audience, it merely offers a sound explanation. Also, yes, a lot of it is CGI and effects heavy, but looking back, that really was the only way they could have done it. Creating the planet Oa, creating the alien-looking Lantern Corps, creating Parallax (who isn't a person anymore, he's an ENTITY, an ESSENCE), doing flight, creating all the things Hal can imagine and summon using the ring, even the suit and mask which are technically aren't items of clothing but are parts of him to hide his identity. All of that was meant to be done with props and costumes and sets? The scale would have been immeasurable and unobtainable. Finally, yes, it does focus on the Jordan/Ferris story, much in the same way Batman focuses on the Wayne/Dawes story and Superman focuses on the Kent/Lane story - Jordan needed a damsel in distress to save. Shut the hell up, haters. Rant over.

That's not to say this is the best superhero film ever, not by a long way, but it's entertaining and has plenty of action, and that's exactly what you want/need from a summer superhero blockbuster film. Ryan Reynolds is a perfectly fine Hal Jordan, and adds his Reynolds trademark low-talking sarcasm, and it's fine. Blake Lively is also perfectly fine, if a little wooden at times, as Carol Ferris. However, Peter Sarsgaard is fantastic as Dr Hector Hammond, the film's villain who gets infected with Parallax's yellow fear-driven DNA, and becomes a swollen headed megalomaniac, he really delights in his role and you can see it on screen. Tim Robbins is in this, weirdly, and just isn't good here. This ain't no Shawshank level of performance. Mark Strong does well as Sinestro as well, straightly playing a red guy with a pencil moustache.

The thing which really brings this film down is, at times, it does get a bit boring when the pace gets slowed right down. But it doesn't last long, as it whistles through the plot, given that there's so much to get through in two hours. Another point here, it doesn't feel like it's two hours either, which is always a good sign. The film does get itself in a bit of a mess sometimes because there is SO much history to explain for all those non-geeks who don't know the character, and I feel the blame for that can be placed on the fact that this was written by 4 writers throwing ideas around left, right and centre. Too many cooks. Don't put the blame on Martin Campbell, haters. Just because you were expecting another Goldeneye/Casino Royale. It was never going to be that kind of film, never, and when your too-high expectations weren't met, you all laid into him. He did nothing wrong here, he did exactly what was asked of him, doing what he could with the material he was given.

Overall, Green Lantern will obviously disappoint people, but if you don't think about it too much, it's not that bad. It's not great, but it's not that bad. A bit of prior knowledge about the man and the Corps will help you to not drown in all the information thrown into this, but no matter if you do go in blind. Also, I like how DC have stolen Marvel's trick of including a small post-credits sequence, so don't leave straight away! Proper critics may have panned it, but I've yet to talk to one person who's seen it and absolutely hated it, it's just silly entertaining superhero fodder. I liked it more than X-Men, but then maybe it's just me. Not too shabby for a man who can be defeated by the colour yellow.

Rating: ***

Saturday, 18 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

In 1962, as the world is gripped by the Cold War, Erik Lensherr is hunting down the man who killed his mother and manipulated his magnetic powers. Meanwhile, Charles Xavier, a professor in genetic and mutation, as well as being a telepath himself, is hired by the CIA to help find and stop the very same man: Sebastian Shaw aka Dr. Schmidt. As Charles begins looking for fellow mutants to teach them how to control their abilities and to help stop Shaw, Xavier and Lensherr cross paths and join together as they fight to stop Shaw from initiating the Cuban Missile Crisis, plunging the world into nuclear war...

Since superhero films are a dime a dozen these days, the next logical step towards is the superhero reboot. Batman is actually coming near the end of its reboot cycle, Spider-Man gets the reboot treatment next year along with Superman, and now the film series which launched the new wave of genre films gets rebooted with X-Men: First Class, adapted from the comic series of the same name, detailing the origins of the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. In recent weeks, this film has been praised and is among the most well-reviewed films of 2011 so far. So what did this young, semi-comic book geek make of it? Well, the original trilogy set the bar high immediately for any superhero films that might proceed, and while this is a really original take on the genre and the material, I was less impressed than everyone else seems to be.

All in all, the film just seems a bit rushed and, after a small bit of research, it turns out it was. The aim for this film was to steer clear of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which this film undeniably shares a lineage with, and to attempt to recapture the tone of Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2. It does this, but it just falls a bit flat, and for the life of me I'm not entirely sure why. There's lots of action, it's a lot smarter and braver than the last couple of X-Men films and has a very Mad Men-esque feel, something furthered by the casting of January Jones as Emma Frost, but it feels like a film which has been pieced together from various sources which, after some more research, turns out it was. Again. This script was an amalgamation of the comic book series and a planned X-Men Origins: Magneto film which is clear due to the amount of screen time Magneto gets above anyone else here. The film seems at pains to homage James Bond and Mad Men and X-Men and even Star Trek with its new, younger cast and nothing really seems to fit cohesively.

That's not to say the casting isn't top notch... at times. James McAvoy makes a really good Professor X, plays him exactly like a young Patrick Stewart. Michael Fassbender also is a commanding screen presence as a young Magneto, a troubled man out for vengeance. Jennifer Lawrence gets a huge amount of screen time as the young Mystique happily, but she doesn't command the same kind of presence her co-stars do. On the other hand, Kevin Bacon plays the bad guy, Sebastian Shaw, fairly well, but there's a constant niggling doubt as to why exactly this important role was given to Kevin Bacon. Really? Kevin Bacon? The Footloose guy? He's done nothing of real significance in years, so why is he here? Also, as I mentioned earlier, January Jones turns up as Emma Frost and to be perfectly honest, I don't like her as an actress, I think she's wooden, I think she's the worst thing about the exquisite Mad Men and she's one of the worst things about this.

What I didn't like about First Class was the number of smarmy, self-knowing, post-modern in-jokes. First Class makes a number of jokes regarding the original X-Men trilogy, as it is perfectly allowed to do being set before those films events, but it just seems out of place and only served to make me groan to be perfectly honest. There's two jokes about Xavier and his current full head of hair. Two. That's two too many. There's also two cameos, one of which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in regards to the film featuring the X-Men as they were when they were younger, and the other having absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to fill time and to let the scriptwriter *cough* Jane Goldman *cough* feel smug. What also annoys me is when superheroes cross over into real life events and provide an alternate history. Maybe this is just me being overly critical now, but the X-Men solving the Cuban Missile Crisis? I don't like it, stick to beating up bad guys on your own plane of existence, don't mess with history.

Overall, the film looks very stylish but there's too many early cuts at the ends of scenes, indicative to a rushed shooting schedule with no time for re-shoots, and it just pulls down the quality and enjoyment of the film, for me anyway. The casting's hit or miss, the storyline starts off with good intentions but then spirals into ludicracy before remembering what it set out to do near the end, and half the dialogue seem forced because it can't create its own path, this film's events need to directly lead to whatever happened in the original trilogy or else people will start getting angry. I will say this for it though: It has the best use of the word 'fuck' I've heard so far this year.

Rating: **1/2

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Hangover Part II

The wolfpack is back. Two years after their forgotten night in Las Vegas, Stu, Phil, Doug and Alan make their way to Thailand for Stu's upcoming wedding to his fiancée Lauren. Inevitably, what starts out as a quiet toast to the upcoming nuptials turns into a horrendous night for the boys as they end up in Bangkok with no clue what happened or how they got there. However, this time it isn't Doug they've lost, it's Lauren's little brother, child prodigy Teddy. They've got two days to find him amidst the chaos of Bangkok and get back to Stu's wedding. Can they find him before the city takes him?

I have news for you. The Hangover wasn't THAT good. Everyone seems to rave about how funny it was and how original and refreshing it was and how it was the highest earning R-rated comedy of all time. I'm sorry, but for me, it was only alright. It was funny, I'll grant you that, but it wasn't the funniest thing ever, not by a long shot. I dare say I got more laughs from I Love You, Man, released a few months earlier. Inevitably though, we have the sequel now, or rather Part II as it's being billed. So is this any better? Is this one of those rare sequels which is better than its predecessor? No. In fact, in their efforts to try and out-do Part I, they've just ended up making the same film. But in Bangkok.

Believe me, this is The Hangover Part I as set in Bangkok. The Hangover Part I rested on two things: Firstly, it relied on its setting. Las Vegas, Sin City, 'what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas', all of that. The perfect place to have an apocalyptically bad night. Secondly, it relied on Zach Galifinakis and his character being an idiot, linking together the sheer amount of stupidity the boys got up to during their night. Well, The Hangover Part II simply moves the action from Las Vegas to Bangkok without really changing any of the jokes, aside from including a few stereotypes involving ladyboys, drugs and monks. Also, Zach Galifinakis's character is exactly the same and the film relies even more heavily on him this time around as the catalyst for the events before and after the actual hangover. It's the same damn film but just a bit louder and with a few more fucks. In my book, that's just lazy, shoddy film making and more than anything, The Hangover Part II just made me angry.

Zach Galifinakis has this on-stage persona of an idiot who comes out with various non sequiturs at the most inappropriate times. This persona translates directly onto the screen, and Zach ends up doing his usual schtick for an hour and a half, and to be completely honest, I didn't laugh much at it the first time round and I definitely didn't laugh at it the second time round. Bradley Cooper doesn't really act in this, his job is to stand around, shout, swear and look handsome while looking hungover. The unsung hero is Ed Helms, who plays Stu. He's probably the funniest character in these films because of all the misfortunes that befall him. Helms does well when the focus is so clearly placed upon Galifinakis, and by the end he gets the screen time and recognition he deserves. Which brings me to Dr Ken AKA Ken Jeong AKA Leslie Chow. I hate this guy. He's not funny at all, I don't understand his appeal and he's absolutely fucking appalling in this. Again. He has a bigger part in this though, which ruined my viewing of the film. I can't really say much more without spoilers, but the film falls down majorly in the second half because of who appears or reappears.

There are, as expected, a bunch of cameos in this (No Liam Neeson though, oooooh....) and the joke isn't funny anymore. There's even a cameo at the end which is so unsurprising and unoriginal that it won't make you laugh, it'll just make you moan and despair as to why the writers and Tod Philips the director thought it would be funny. It's just so painfully clear that this wasn't done out of love and passion for the project, it wasn't done because they felt they till had a story to tell. This film exists purely for the money. It's arguable any film exists for the money, but this one is just so damn lazy, it has 'paycheck' written all over it. The funniest thing about this film was, much like Part I, the credits, which has a photo album of the night before. That actually made me laugh, whereas there were only two or three times throughout the entire film. For a supposed comedy, that's appalling.

Overall, I understand that people will go out and watch this film and find it funny, find it hilarious. My experience of this film though was ruined as soon as I realised that the film had one joke in it and it was the same one they told in the first film: They can't remember what they did last night. It's unoriginal, it's more crass, it's more offensive, it's more extreme, it's louder, it's more purile and more trashy than the original. The only good thing I can think to say about it is that it was slightly better than Dinner for Schmucks. Awful.

Rating: *1/2

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Thor, son of Odin, prepares to ascend to the throne of Asgard from his father, above his jealous brother Loki. However, after an attempted invasion by Frost Giants, Thor travels to Jotunheim to even the score, against his father's wishes. Odin, as to punish his son for his insolence and stupidity in bringing war to Asgard, strips Thor of his powers, banishes him to Earth and places a curse of his hammer so that it may only be wielded by those who are worthy. Upon his arrival on Earth, he meets Jane Foster and her team of scientists, who attempt to find out where he came from. However, as Odin falls into 'Odinsleep', Loki seizes the throne and begins to plot Thor's demise. Can Thor reclaim his powers and return to Asgard to stop his brother's evil plot?

With every passing year, the likelihood of the next big cinema release being a superhero film becomes increasingly likely. It all started with X-Men back in 2000, and as that franchise took off, more and more characters in the Marvel and DC Universes were optioned and turned into potential franchises. There's been the good (The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, Iron Man), the bad (Spider-Man 3, Hulk, Elektra) and the downright ugly (Daredevil, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk). Finally, here in 2011, Thor is given his chance to shine as we come towards the Avengers film everyone's been waiting for next year. So what exactly can Thor offer that we haven't seen before a hundered times before? Well, how about something a little Shakespearian?

Yes. A Shakespearian superhero film. Well, it might not have been in anyone else's hands, but Kenneth Branagh brings all the experience of making Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and various other big screen adaptations of the bard's work into a Marvel franchise film, and for whatever reason, it fits in perfectly with the scenes set in Asgard. The Norse gods' dialogue and behaviourisms, the grandiose setting... It works! Then, when Thor comes to Earth and the action happens there between the fish-out-of-water Norse god and the exasperated human scientists, the dialogue becomes far more down to Earth (pun intended) and is even funny at times. The contrast between the two realms is very well observed and differentiated, and Branagh's done very well. For the most part. What annoyed me about this film (though it didn't ruin my viewing experience) is Branagh's insistence on differentiating between the two realms by having rather fine classical camera set-ups and shots while on Asgard, but using an absolute f*** load of Dutch tilts. I'm guessing it's done to make the shots on Earth look more like a comic book since there's nothing particularly interesting about the backdrop in comparison to Asgard, but the film overkills on the Dutch tilts and comes dangerously close to resembling Battlefield Earth. Close, but not quite: Thor, at least, has a coherent plot and dialogue.

As far as the acting performances go, Chris Hemsworth never really needed to be a great deliverer of dialogue to play Thor, he just needed to be hench. And he is, he looks like a Norse god with the long blonde hair and the height and the henchness, so that's him pretty much covered. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is convincingly evil enough to be Thor's polar opposite, it's no Heath Ledger Joker villain, but the role didn't demand something like that, it needed subtlety and a quiet, resentful evil and it comes across well on screen. Anthony Hopkins is a legend who doesn't need a hack like me praising or criticising him, so I'll just say he was good. Natalie Portman doesn't put in an Oscar-worthy performance but plays the exasperated scientist well enough to carry the film through to its conclusion. Stellan Skarsgård is a pretty cool piece of casting for Portman's colleague, and does his thing pretty well, plus it's nice to see Kat Dennings in a major motion picture after she seemed to disappear after Nick and Norah. Also, Edris Elba is a boss, absolutely ice cool and has a hell of an on-screen presence.

I'd like to be able to call this Marvel's Superman: A man born with these godlike powers, sent to Earth by his family, able to fly. It's not Superman though. Nowhere near. Thor is a nice enough superhero film ,but it seems like the only reason they've made this film is so that he can make his appearance in the Avengers film. That's probably also the reason why Jeremy Renner shows up in a Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye cameo, complete with crossbow. It's also the reason why, in the no-longer-a-surprise Marvel standard post-credits scene, Samuel L. Jackson AKA Nick Fury turns up to talk to Stellan Skarsgård (plus Loki) in something which seems more like a set-up to a Thor sequel rather than a link to another upcoming Marvel film franchise (ala how Iron Man 2's post-credit set-up Thor). It's weird but sometimes change is good. Other than that, the origin story is rushed through and the film jumps straight into its main plot, which is refreshingly different. Instead of Thor becoming Thor, Thor is immediately Thor and jumps into his battle with Loki over the 100 minutes. I say thank god that despite seeming destined to be 'just another comic book adaptation', this was actually different, especially different for a Marvel film.

In conclusion, Thor is nicely done and refreshingly different and may just have reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the genre after ploughing through so many run-of-the-mill superhero films in the last couple of years. It looks goddamn beautiful, especially the scenes in Asgard which have wonderfully created. If only Branagh could have laid off the Dutch tilts, it would have been a really easy film to watch, but then maybe I'm over-analysing things. It sets up the Thor character nicely for the Avengers film and leaves the door wide, wide open for a potential sequel. It's not fantastic, but it's nicely done and it impressed me. I feel bad for The Green Lantern now, it doesn't look too good anyway but now it has to follow this? Uh-oh.

Rating: ***1/2