Thursday, 8 November 2012

Film Roundup Turbo Edition - Part 3!

       And the madness continues! Even MORE films crammed into one article, following from the last one – click HERE if you missed it.

       So here we go… (Deep breath…)

       We will start off with ridiculousness that is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a historical/horror mash-up that asks the question of what if Honest Abe was actually an axe-wielding scourge of vampires before he became the famous president? With a distinctly comic book style and sleek visuals this could have been great if it had remained tongue in cheek all the way through, but instead its tendency to take itself too seriously at times and the occasional over reliance on CG lets it down. Still, the ‘axe-fu’ is kinda cool. See him shatter a tree trunk with one swing!
       Another film to feature vampires is Underworld: Awakening, the fourth film in the series that really should have died a death a long time ago. Kate Beckinsale looks to be on autopilot and the whole thing is snoozesome, murky and predictable. Seeing her fight giant ‘roided up werewolves is kind of fun but you unfortunately have to sit through the rest of the movie to get there.
       Werewolves also feature in The Howling Reborn, actually the eighth film in the Howling franchise. The EIGHTH! And unless you are a fan of 80’s horror, you've probably never even heard of said franchise, amirite? Well, should have guess it – pretty shoddy. I applaud them going for guys in rubber werewolf suits fighting each other instead of CGI… but here it just looks like… guys in rubber werewolf suits fighting each other. Tonally, it’s basically Twilight but substituting the vampires for werewolves and the big budget for… no budget.
       Also featuring werewolves (yet again) is British film Strippers Vs Werewolves starring mostly washed up soap stars and for some reason Robert Englund. Perhaps the entire budget went on paying for the two scenes that he was in as this film is so shoddy it’s unbelievable. Its bad in all ways imaginable - but perhaps its biggest sin is that for a film that has the word ‘Strippers’ in the title, there is a distinct lack of stripping. Poor show.

       Maybe I shouldn’t watch any more films that have werewolves in… but instead watch one with Piranhas! Piranha 3DD, the rather childishly named sequel to the hit remake Piranha 3D, is at least a bit more fun. But not by much. It's a watered down (no pun intended) version of the first film – its only saving grace being Champ Kind as the obnoxious owner of the featured water park and David Hasselhoff gamely playing a ridiculous parody of himself. The less that can be said of the part where one of the little nippers interrupts a sex scene in the worst way imaginable, the better.
       What is a better way to spend you time is watching Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, a British comedy that deals with three friends accidentally getting stuck in a time travel conundrum whilst down at the local pub. If you are a fan of sci-fi, British comedy or indeed anything time travel related, then you will love the intricacy and downright nerdery of this one. Anna Faris amazingly guest stars in this as well. Quirky and enjoyable.
       Anna Farris is also in The Dictator, another film featuring a ridiculously offensive character created by the chameleonic genius that is Sacha Baron Cohen. Whilst being largely puerile, a not-so-disguised political satire poking fun at both East and West and, as i mentioned, being repeatedly really offensive, its actually pretty funny and had me guffawing out loud in many places. Make sure you watch the extended version, just for the awesomely ridiculous Aladeen vs Etra fight.
       Plenty of punch-ups of the cartoon variety can also be seen in one of DC Comic’s latest animated movies, Superman Vs The Elite, where Supes has to contend with the rise to power of a new group of superheroes looking to replace him as guardians of the world. Despite some dodgy ‘British’ accents, this offering is pretty decent and is worth a watch if you are a fan of the Man of Steel.
       A similarly worthwhile watch is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, the first in a two part film adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 comic series that sees an elderly Batman coming out of retirement to defend Gotham once again. Very influential back in the day (elements of the story have undoubtedly influenced Nolan’s Batman) and it’s great that they have finally got around to adapting it. Although some of the 80’s stylings of the villains and their slang may seem a bit dated now and some fans expressing a dislike for Paul Weller’s voice acting (replacing Batman regular Kevin Conroy), this film is recommended for any Bat-fans as it nails the essence of the character so well. Having a female Robin is also a really interesting move too that totally works.

       At first glance, Griff The Invisible appears to be just another budget superhero movie, but in actually fact it’s so much more - dealing with disillusion, fantasy worlds and mental illness. Intelligent, sweetly humorous and at times downright heartbreaking – watch it if you are a fan of indie movies, but you probably wont enjoy it so much if you like your superhero movies simple and comicbooky.
       What is very comicbooky is the monumental failure that is Green Lantern. As a fan of the character I was really looking forward to this film but unfortunately it is marred by an unfocused story and drab set pieces. To be fair, Ryan Reynolds has a decent stab at bringing Hal Jordan to life, but it all just seems a bit slow to get going and rushed at the end. When the big finale is a fight against a CGI cloud you know you've got a bit of a stinker on your hands. It's a shame that since it bombed so badly at the box office a sequel (where Mark Strong’s Sinestro would undoubtedly be the villain) is unlikely to happen – not to mention a Justice League movie getting pushed away into the future.
       Also featuring Mark Strong is the adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs epic Princess of Mars, first changed to John Carter of Mars and finally just being released as John Carter. Marketing nightmares aside, this film also bombed spectacularly at the box office despite its impressive visuals, being well acted and with a big name cast to boot. I guess the current climate of movie watchers just isn’t receptive to this kind of thing. Taylor Kitsch is good in the lead despite being yanked around in a harness for most of the movie. Wish I could jump like that…
       Taylor Kitsch also stars in Battleship, an alien invasion film (very) loosely based on the classic Hasbro game of the same name. Whilst being largely dire popcorn nonsense, I liked how the alien ‘ships’ strangely jumped around. Cheeky nods to the game also come in the form of the enemy shells being like ‘pegs’ and a sequence where they literally have to map out the sea in a grid (like in the game) and yell out ‘hit’ or ‘miss’. A few interesting moments here and there but largely forgettable, much like the Transformers films – all sound and fury, little substance. Oh, and Rihanna is in it.
       Also featuring ships on the seas is the new film from Aardman Animations called The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! If you are a fan of Wallace and Gromit, stop motion animation or even pirates in general you will love this. Much like The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, nearly every frame is filled with a sight gag or charm of some kind and the jokes fly thick and fast, enjoyable for both adults and children alike. Thoroughly recommended!
       Also featuring ships is the latest adaptation of The Three Muskateers – but here they’re airships flying in the sky - Final Fantasy style! Whilst sporting a good cast (barring the thoroughly unlikeable portrayal of D’Artagnan by Logan Lerman) the story just feels – well …’meh’ – which is a shame since the visuals and sword fighting scenes are fun and stylishly over the top. Orlando Bloom gets a plum role here.
       Porthos, the ‘brawny’ Muskateer, is played by Ray Stevenson - who also stars in Punisher: Warzone – the latest in the line of adaptations of the brutal Marvel Comics character. The Punisher films have always focused on the character’s no-nonsense brand of harsh justice and Warzone is no exception. Stevenson, who embodies the character perhaps more physically than Tom Jane, puts in a good performance, but his realistic portrayal (they even minimized the skull T-shirt motif) sits at odds tonally with the overblown comic book villain with a patchwork face - played terrifyingly effectively by Dominic West.

       Another film that suffers from a slightly unbalanced tone is Man on a Ledge, which is basically about a man… standing on a ledge of a building threatening to jump. Except (spoiler alert) it’s really just a diversion so that a heist can occur in a nearby building. Although an intriguing premise, it sometimes feels like two different films that don't quite gel so well together. One being a heartfelt drama, the other almost playing out like a lighthearted comedy romp. Still, worth watching once just to find out whether Sam Worthington ends up jumping or not and also for Genesis Rodriguez and her unnecessarily skimpy heist ‘outfits’.
       Choosing the perfect outfit is also what preoccupies Charlize Theron in Young Adult, where she plays a women who, despite her immaculate beauty regimen, doesn't realize that the real problem lies with the lack of her inward beauty as she goes on an ill advised quest to reclaim her high school sweetheart. Who is married. And has a baby on the way. Sounds like a terrible film – but the script written by Diablo Cody and direction by Jason Reitman make the characters and dialogue fizzle, leading to one of my surprise favorites of the year. Theron does well sustaining the focus on her character throughout the entire film despite being a thoroughly unlikeable one and there is strong support from Patrick Wilson and Patton Oswalt. Recommended.
       What I can’t recommend is Chernobyl Diaries, a film devoid of any genuine scares or horror. The set up is a good idea (I have always found abandoned places such as Pripyat to be fascinating) and the build up has a little bit of tension (in a Hills Have Eyes kind of way), but there is no pay off to be had as you don't care about any of the characters and none of them get killed in any interesting ways.
       Equally disappointing is haunted bungalow movie The Pact, which again, despite its effective set up just ends up being really dull for the majority. There are only two genuinely creepy scenes in the whole movie but its nice to see an older Casper Van Dien get a role in this.
       Surprisingly effective is horror anthology V/H/S, a collection of 6 short films based loosely on the idea of them all being filmed on handheld cameras, hidden camera or webcams - and then later converted to VHS. Although ‘found footage’ horror is nothing new, the intimacy of the format works really well here, and as each segment is fairly short the buildup and payoff of each story comes around pretty quickly, effectively maintaining your interest throughout. Fans of low budget horror anthologies will love this. Watching this alone in the dark will surely creep you out.
       Don't Be Afraid of the Dark’s premise is these tiny goblin-like creatures that come out at night and terrorize a little girl in a big house. Despite being produced by Guillermo Del Toro and starring Guy Pierce and Katie Holmes, this film takes a bit too long to get going, however the child actor is strangely effective and the creatures suitable vicious. They are overly reliant on CG for them though and perhaps some puppetry would have added a bit more realism. Still, when they are coming at you with scissors and scalpels they are reet nasty!
       Speaking of nasty, Deadgirl delivers that in spades, as the story is about a couple of kids that find a girl tied to a table in an underground bunker who, much like a zombie, cannot speak and unable to die. At first they just poke and prod out of curiosity, but things escalate quickly to untold horrors. Decent and original movie if you can stomach it – the real monsters in the film being human nature of course.
       Human nature is also studied in Ben Drew AKA Plan B’s big screen directorial debut Ill Manors, which follows the stories of various characters as they cross paths in East London. Taking a look at crime, gang culture, drug dealing and prostitution – it's a very bleak movie indeed and yet Drew continues to keep things interesting, interjecting every so often with his narration via rapping. My only criticism with this is that although he knows how to make individual scenes effective, the film as a whole lacks an overall arc or purpose other than saying ‘look at how bad life is here’. A strong debut nevertheless.

       Red Lights, a film about paranormal investigators debunking psychics and mediums is also an interesting watch with a great central cast of Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver and Robert DeNiro. The ending twist may come out of leftfield a little too much for some, but personally I loved it – I just feel they should have integrated it a bit more into the rest of the movie so it isn’t quite as jarring when it eventually does get revealed.
       Con artists also feature in The Brothers Bloom, a quirky film about two brothers, one of which falls for the mark that they are supposed to be conning. Directed by Rian Johnson, who also directed Brick and Looper (the review of which can be read HERE) this film is probably the weakest of the three but is enjoyable enough – with Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz all on top form. It’s Rinko Kikuchi, however, that steals every scene she is in as the silent Japanese explosives expert named ‘Bang Bang’.
       The Japanese influence of Battle Royale can obviously be seen in the film adaptation of the hit book The Hunger Games. All the debate as to whether or not author Suzanne Collins did rip off BR aside, the film itself comes across as kind of muted, having to be violent enough to live up to the source material (a story about kids having to kill each other) whilst having to be toned down enough in order to allow the target audience of young teens to be able to go and watch it. For me, watching it was a very so-so experience, but as a BR fan I will admit I am biased. Still, this film was a hit and sequels are inevitably in the works.
       Speaking of hit games, Tekken: Blood Vengeance is a CG animated movie featuring characters from the popular Tekken series. Whilst there are one or two decent fights in there (Anna vs Nina! Three way battle between Jin, Kazuya and Heihachi!), there is way too much dreary filler throughout the rest of the film to warrant taking the time to watch this. Just YouTube the relevant scenes (for example HERE) and save yourself the bother.
       Similarly, is the second Resident Evil animated movie, Resident Evil: Damnation. A little better than the Tekken movie, but still not interesting enough to sustain the feature length running time, in my opinion. The Lickers vs Tyrants at the end is epic and there’s also a female kung-fu president but that's about it. Fans of the franchise should definitely check it out but for those not that knowledgeable about the Resident Evil game series should probably avoid.

       So there you have it – 29 films! …I think I need a lie down…

       Until next time, folks!

8 Nov 2012

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