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October 2011 October 31, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2011 , add a comment

Boo!

Cos it’s Halloween, see. Well, it was when I posted this. Just.


Quintuple X

Still not watched any of those films I’ve been aiming to watch.

Still not at 100.

I think I would have made it to 90 though, or possibly even a bit further, but I re-watched X-Men: First Class on Blu-ray last Friday night and got a burning desire to re-watch the rest of the X-Men films in chronological order (having started with the chronological first, that only seemed to make sense). So using my film viewing time for that these past few days left no room for anything after #88. Ah well.

Nearly done, though (it’s X2 in a bit, hopefully), so maybe next month… maybe…


Meanwhile, this month… er, last month…

#82 Centurion (2010)Centurion
#83 Magicians (2007)
#84 The Brothers Bloom (2007)
#85 Batman: Year One (2011)
#85a DC Showcase: Catwoman (2011)
#86 Battle Los Angeles (2011)
#87 That Touch of Mink (1962)
#88 RED (2010)


Next time on the all-new 100 Films in a Year monthly update…

Maybe 100… maybe…

#67: Saw 3D - 2D (2010)

Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, Thriller, 2 stars, 3D, 2010s, 2011 , 2 comments

Before gangs of youths knock on your door to rob you under threat of violence, as is traditional on Halloween, why not enjoy my thoughts on a now-dead ’00s Halloween staple: the Saw movie.

I say “enjoy” — it’s almost as bad as those greedy kids…

aka Saw: The Final Chapter

Kevin Greutert | 90 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

Saw 3DWhat’s this, the first Saw movie, now in 3D?

No.

So it must be the third Saw movie then, in 3D?

No, not that either.

It’s the seventh, in fact. But it is in 3D, hence the only-slightly-confusing Saw 3D moniker. I guess Saw 7 plus the tagline “see Saw 7 in 3D!” wasn’t considered clear enough.

And to top the stupidity off, I didn’t watch it in 3D, but the 2D prints are still called Saw 3D. What?

I was going to say that’s not even the most stupid thing about the film, but the rest of it isn’t so much stupid as disappointing. The problem is that there are some good ideas, but few are executed as well as they could be or paid off appropriately. The setting for the opening trap — it’s played out very publicly in a shop window — is a marvellous twist on the format. Is this an escalation? Are we going to see Jigsaw playing to the crowd all the time? No. It’s a one off. It doesn’t even have any bearing on the rest of the plot — it simply occurs and is never even mentioned again. That’s appalling.

Likewise, the support group for Jigsaw survivors: nice idea, but they don’t find anywhere to go with it. At least the notion of a fake Jigsaw survivor making a mint out of selling his fake story is an idea that has legs. Not long legs really, but they at least get a decent amount out of it — that is, it’s a set up for the Game of the Film. As ideas for The Final Film go, it’s a perfect match — a bit meta and all that jazz. Accompanying this is, of course, the arc plot that has stretched across the series. As the final film it’s time to wrap that up… Sadly, it isn’t particularly satisfactory. Guess who's backWith so many characters killed off in the preceding films we’re not left with anyone to really care about — certainly not the new gang of coppers we’re introduced to. Actually, to say we’re “introduced to” them is a kindness — they just turn up and begin to lead that part of the plot.

That said, the final five minutes are pretty good — just when I was thinking Cary Elwes’ cameo earlier had been underwhelming and pointless, there’s a final reveal to pay it off, and also neatly tie together and round off the whole series. It’s easily the best bit of the film.

It might seem daft to say this about a Saw film, but it’s a bit too gory for my liking. I know that comes with the territory in a film like this, but I think others in the series have managed the level better. This is up with Saw 3 in the stakes of needless torture-porn-level blood ‘n’ guts. The near-pointless car trap is the worst offender, as much as anything because it’s almost entirely ancillary to the plot — it’s a trap for the sake of a trap, and it’s a nasty one.

The film’s extended version (no idea if it’s included on the UK release I watched) only adds 12 seconds, and that’s all gore. Most of that occurs in extensions of literally a few frames. Earlier extended entries added both plot and gore, so that’s… pathetic, really. (According to the BBFC, the PAL-speed DVD versions run 23 seconds longer than the theatrical version. My info on the 12 seconds comes from my usual source.)

Aiming to live up to its title, the whole affair has clearly been designed with 3D in mind. That means a few moments of things flying at the camera, but they’re surprisingly rare. OK, so people explode or are pulled apart Big pointy thing, perfect for 3Da lot more regularly than they were in previous films, and bits of them swing in the direction of the camera, but that’s in keeping with the style of the series and doesn’t jar massively — if you didn’t know it was shot for 3D, you wouldn’t notice most of it.

Other bits, though, you really would. One trap sees three spikes headed for a woman’s eyes and mouth, so naturally we’re treated to some POV shots. This probably worked great in 3D, but in 2D they literally fall flat. Better is a trap that sees two men having to negotiate planks of wood on the second storey of a building that doesn’t have a floor. It works fine in 2D, but I imagine 3D added some lovely depth to the layered drop to the floor below. Never mind the odd things flying at the camera, this was the only time I really wished I was watching in 3D.

Some people lay into 3D for having stuff poke out at the audience for barely any reason. I have no problem with this in a movie like Saw — it’s all part of the fun. It gets tiresome if that’s all it’s doing, or if it happens too often, but once or twice it’s a good laugh; part of the gimmick of a thoroughly gimmicky format. In 2D, of course, that all falls dead. Luckily, as I said, not too much is randomly flung at the screen.

The worst side effect of 3D, however, is that the colour looks ridiculous in 2D. I’m glad they’ve shot it with 3D properly in mind — everyone knows the glasses make 3D films darker, but not every filmmaker seems to be compensating appropriatelyThe final final trap (see, for example, the criticism of The Last Airbender’s post-converted 3D), so it’s nice to see someone that is. But they haven’t un-compensated (as it were) for 2D. Much of the film just looks weirdly… not bright, exactly, but too light. It’s fine, just a bit unusual. But then some of the blood is a bit of a funny colour and, by the end, has turned a garish shade of pink. Oh dear. It continues to amaze me that no one’s come up with a simple grading solution to make colours look the same in regular 2D and glasses-effected 3D. It can’t be that hard, surely?

Saw 3D has a big pile of good ideas, but all of them are underused. The film just feels boring, somehow; workmanlike, maybe. It lacks the inspiration of earlier Saw films, despite on paper having some of the very best ideas of the entire series. It feels silly to say it about the seventh film in a yearly churned-out franchise, but Saw 3D is a disappointment; a lacklustre end to a variable franchise that started really rather well. Shame.

2 out of 5

I watched all seven Saw films within the past two years, donchaknow.

Saw 3D featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2011, which can be read in full here.

#31: The Damned (1963) October 28, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, Drama, Sci-fi, adaptations, 3 stars, 1960s, British films, 2011 , add a comment

aka These are the Damned

Joseph Losey | 91 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12

The damned posterSometimes, at least for me, films improve in retrospect. My opinion while watching may be different to when I look back days, weeks, months, or even years later. Films I thought I disliked may benefit from a kind of nostalgia; some films just gain something from extended reflection, even if that isn’t conscious; films I underrated may improve when I gain perspective on their qualities relative to other works; in some cases, it’s just that I’m getting older and wiser.

There are several films reviewed on this blog that I think would warrant a different opinion if I watched them again now, but The Damned is the most recent example. I think if I’d got round to this review any quicker it would be less enthusiastic than what I’m about to write.

That said, it’s not as if I’ve had a complete turnaround of opinion: The Damned is an interesting film, certainly, but one that is perhaps somewhat undercut by its age; a kind of ’60s SF that would probably require a distinctly different approach if you were to attempt to make it today. The damned capturedNot necessarily a bad thing, but it has that kind of disconnect from reality that’s markedly ’60s. In his review for MovieMail, James Oliver notes that “despite his background in low-budget genre flicks, Losey was at heart an art house director, keen to communicate big themes and ideas”, which perhaps explains some of this.

It’s also oddly constructed (perhaps due to studio interference — see Oliver again), starting out as a kind of small town British gang B-movie, with some eccentric and apparently irrelevant characters turning up in asides, before segueing into a nuclear-age SF parable. As a post on IMDb’s boards put it (yes, sometimes those are worth reading — it astounds me too), The Damned is “continually in flux — just as you think you’ve got it pegged as one genre of film, it becomes another.” Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but unusual.

Once the film hits its genre stride, it shows that it is (to borrow further from that IMDb post) “true science fiction, in that it’s about ideas, and a commentary on current culture, and where that culture may be leading. In other words, science fiction for adults”. Obviously that’s the “current culture” of 1963, but in that sense it perhaps offers an insight into the thoughts and attitudes of the time, The damned castand the kind of inhumanity that might be reached in the quest to survive nuclear war.

My mixed reaction to The Damned leaves its score in the middle of the board, but I’d encourage those with an interest in intelligent science-fiction or ’60s genre films to give it a go.

3 out of 5

#54: The Princess and the Frog (2009) October 25, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Musical, Disney, Fantasy, Romance, 2000s, adaptations, 4 stars, 2011 , add a comment

Ron Clements & John Musker | 97 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G

The Princess and the FrogWith box office and critical acclaim sliding, Disney abandoned traditional 2D animation for their significant films in the early ’00s, switching to the computer-animated 3D that was doing so well for Pixar and Dreamworks. I don’t know if it helped the box office any, but it didn’t help with critics — it wasn’t the medium that was at fault, it was the storytelling. Notoriously, as soon as Pixar’s John Lasseter was put in creative control of the whole of Disney he instituted a return to 2D animation. The Princess and the Frog was the much-heralded first film after this change.

The resultant film is very enjoyable — not because it’s in 2D animation, but because it’s just good. Set in ’20s New Orleans, it retells the well-known story of a prince turned into a frog who needs a kiss to return to human form in typical Disney style: expanded, funny, contemporary, with songs. And that largely works. OK, so no individual song is exceptionally memorable, but their jazzy style suits the film down to the ground. There are no bad or dull ones (not something that can be said of even some classic Disneys, in my opinion) and all are certainly entertaining while they last. Though it’s a little brief, the villain once again gets the pick of the bunch. I’m biased that way though; others may well disagree.

It’s also a bit long. A tighter opening and, especially, journey through the bayou in the middle would’ve improved it. While I enjoyed sequences like the crocodiles, guiding fireflies or frog-hunters when considered in isolation, Hooray for a villainous villainthere are just too many stacked up back to back for my taste. The voodoo material seems like it might be a bit on the scary side for kids, though maybe that’s just because too many children’s films are sanitised these days — I agree with the regular argument that it was better when films and TV aimed at kids included a bit of a scare or sadness, rather than more modern entertainment’s attempts to keep them wrapped in cotton wool for too long. The death of a character in the climax also sits in the same vein.

One thing that can’t be faulted, however, is the animation. It’s beautifully done: backgrounds are gorgeously painted, character animation is fast and fluid. There are some stunning individual shots, like when the fireflies become involved in creating glorious lighting and patterns in the bayou, for instance. There’s a nice use of different styles when appropriate too: a blocky art deco rendering of Tiana’s dream restaurant during Almost There; a splash of something hallucinogenically psychedelic during Dr Facilier’s number.

Many other Disney films have stand-out sequences; things to latch an appreciation on to. The best often have several of these stacked up, in some cases non-stop from start to finish. The Princess and the Frog Don't kiss someone you've only just metis missing anything like that (though some may grab on to Almost There or, like me, Facilier’s song), but what it has instead is a very consistent tone, where the musical numbers fit effortlessly into the flow of the story rather than stopping the film for a showpiece. This is also true of the very best entries in the canon — Beauty and the Beast, for arguably the greatest example — and while I don’t claim Princess and the Frog reaches such giddy heights, I think its consistency makes it entertaining as a whole film, rather than as an up-and-down collection of varying-quality set pieces.

Not Disney’s best film, then, but one I believe has come in for an unfair amount of flack. I really liked it.

4 out of 5

The Princess and the Frog is on Disney Cinemagic today at 5:40pm and tomorrow at 4pm.

#69: Tangled (2010) October 21, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Musical, Disney, Fantasy, Romance, adaptations, 4 stars, 2010s, 2011 , 1 comment so far

Nathan Greno & Byron Howard | 100 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

TangledDisney’s 50th animated feature is Rapunzel in all but name, for no particularly good reason. It seemed to be met with universal praise on its release last year, critics hailing it as a return to Disney’s previous quality after a run of lacklustre releases, in particular the underwhelming return to 2D in the year before’s The Princess and the Frog.

Well, to get that comparison immediately out of the way, Tangled isn’t as good as The Princess and the Frog in my estimation. I’m not sure why it seems to have been more widely praised — it’s solid and good fun, but I thought Frog had more going for it.

Which isn’t to say Tangled is bad. It’s funny, which is its biggest asset, and exciting at times — as usual, the highly movable camera of CG animation adds fluidity, speed and excitement to the action sequences, making them one of the high points.

It’s not all good and shiny though. The setting — a comedic-ish fantasy-kingdom world — can come across a bit like lightweight Shrek, lacking the anachronistic postmodern real-world references that made that film zing. Worse, the songs are distinctly unmemorable — I’d forgotten some of them by the time it came to their own reprise. A gang of thugs singing about their dreams is the best thanks to its comedy, but I couldn’t hum or sing any of it for you now. I especially lament the lack of a decent villain’s song, Why not just call it Rapunzel?a number I usually particularly enjoy. It has one, I suppose, but it’s one of the weakest examples I’ve ever heard.

Tangled isn’t bad by any measure, but I don’t feel it should be the praise-magnet it became. There are certainly better Disney musicals — it can’t hold a candle to those — and there are better funny fairytales too — but at least it holds up as a solid addition to that sub-genre.

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Tangled is on Disney Cinemagic this Sunday, 23rd October, at 5pm and 9pm.

#85: Batman: Year One (2011) October 17, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Action, Drama, Thriller, Crime, adaptations, 4 stars, Adventure, superhero films, 2010s, 2011 , 3 comments

Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery | 64 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Batman Year OneDC Comics’ latest direct-to-DVD animated movie is an adaptation of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s seminal 1987 Batman story, acclaimed as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, and one of those that is often credited with helping the comic book medium grow up in the late ’80s.

The story concerns two men arriving in a sprawling metropolis that has become a rundown hive of criminal activity and police corruption. One a police officer, who sets out to be an honest force in a corrupt organisation; the other a billionaire who has trained himself to become a vigilante; both setting out to solve the city’s crime problem in their own way. They are, of course, Lieutenant James Gordon and Bruce Wayne, and the fact we know where this is going is incidental.

The film tells, quite literally, the story of Batman’s first year fighting crime — there are on-screen dates and everything. I say “quite literally”, but that’s not really true: Batman doesn’t turn up until a few months in. The plot description I’ve written above is actually a pretty decent variation of how the film pitches itself. Of course we know where it’s going, but it tries to make the emergence of the Batman concept more natural by treating it as if we don’t know. Because in the real world, dressing up in a cape and pretending you’re a bat is far from the first idea that springs to mind if you want to fight crime.

As with the comic, this is a very down-to-Earth version of the Batman story. It’s even less sci-fi-y than Chris Nolan’s much-praised realistic films, in fact. Bruce pondersThere’s no Batmobile, no Batcave, no Bat signal, only a few gadgets (and those that are used are fully plausible), no cartoonish super-villains… This Gotham is a city where crime comes from gangsters, drug dealers, muggers and a thoroughly corrupt police force, and that’s what Batman sets out to fight. As in the Nolan films, the costumed foes will come later, a response to the Bat himself. It’s not afraid to take its time telling this story either. Especially at the start, the pace is very measured — there’s no rush to action or to Batman, but instead a slow build of character and drama. Some may see this as a flaw — those after a Batman Action Movie, largely — but it sets the tone for what is a more character-driven tale.

Top billing for the film goes to Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, the voice of Jim Gordon. That might seem odd, but when you watch the film it becomes natural: there’s not just surprisingly little of Batman, there’s surprisingly little Bruce Wayne. It may concern the origin of Batman, but this is played as Gordon’s story; he’s the one who must face police corruption, a troubled marriage, personal threats, and hunt for the new vigilante stalking Gotham’s streets. Meanwhile, Bruce’s decision to adopt the Batman guise, plus his initial struggles to do it professionally, are conveyed in a couple of brief — albeit effective — scenes scattered throughout the film.

Cranston, given easily the fullest character, gives the best performance too. Jim GordonStar of The O.C. and Southland, Ben McKenzie, was chosen to portray a 25-year-old Bruce Wayne in part due to his own youth. He’s fine when delivering dialogue, but his voiceover narration is oddly flat. Other ’star’ name casting, like Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackoff or TV genre stalwart Eliza Dushku, only appear in small roles. Dushku makes for a surprisingly fitting Selina Kyle/Catwoman, considering the character design looks nothing like her. It’s a shame her story is such an aside — it would’ve been better to see some more of her and bring her up against Batman properly. Sackoff’s character, on the other hand, is just barely in it.

It’s been a good few years since I read the original comic, but it seems to me this was a pretty faithful adaptation — one of the reasons it’s shorter than the average DCU animated movie, in fact, is because they didn’t want to artificially draw out the story. This faithfulness certainly has its pros, but also cons. To put them succinctly, watching Year One can help you appreciate the work Christopher Nolan & company did expanding and rounding out the story when they more-or-less adapted it to make Batman Begins.

For those who’ve seen Begins but never read Year One, it’s not just the obvious “Bruce Wayne becomes Batman” plot that’s paralleled by Nolan’s work: there are numerous sequences, plot threads and themes that are taken almost verbatim from this telling of the story. These elements are integrated as one part of a different whole in that film, though — there’s nothing to do with Ra’s Al Ghul or the Scarecrow here. Batman in Year OneIndeed, you can tell Nolan cherry-picked most of Year One’s best scenes for his version, because they’re generally speaking the ones that shine here too. (It makes me want to watch Begins again to see just how much of this made it in there.)

The other con of being so faithful is that, unfortunately, some of what kind of works on the page doesn’t necessarily in a standalone film. The birth of Catwoman is a subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere, for instance. It has potential to, but it’s never adequately developed and certainly isn’t resolved. The comic gets away with this a bit because you’re aware her later development and adventures were already told, or will be told later, but in a standalone film it could do with rounding off. Despite the obvious fact that the whole point of the story is to setup Batman for future tales, Year One does manage an ending. Obviously it’s not completely resolved — as with any superhero film — but it rounds out much of what it set in motion… mainly, again, on Gordon’s side of the story.

As a film in itself, the animation is beautifully fluid, in particular creating some excellent fight sequences. Of course there are times when the limited budget of a direct-to-DVD feature show through — the streets are always very empty during car chases; occasionally we see static shots where there should be some movement, especially during dialogue — but all told there’s nothing to really criticise and much to like. Christopher Drake’s music also occasionally shines through. I confess to missing the work of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, Bruce mournswhich is Batman’s musical soundscape for me now, but Drake sensibly doesn’t try to ape their style and instead makes his own work.

Unfortunately Batman: Year One has arrived at the party a bit too late to be the definitive screen telling of Batman’s origin — by taking the best bits of Miller & Mazzucchelli’s tale and expanding it with some work of their own, Chris Nolan & friends take that title. But as a film in its own right, Year One is largely successful. Children (of childish fans) seeking animated Batman thrills may be disappointed by its slower pace and focus on character, because this is solid adult-focused entertainment.

4 out of 5

Batman: Year One is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US tomorrow, Tuesday 18th October, and on HMV-exclusive DVD in the UK on Friday 21st October.

#45: Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) October 13, 2011

Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, 4 stars, British films, films about films, Biography, 2010s, 2011 , add a comment

Craig McCall | 82 mins | TV (HD) | 1.78:1 | UK / English | PG

CameramanDocumentary telling the story of the career of cinematographer and director Jack Cardiff.

As the title implies, it focuses mainly on the former — despite the fact he directed 13 features, this part of his career is largely glossed over with a bit of discussion of one film, Sons and Lovers, which earnt some Oscar nominations (including one, slightly ironic, win). But that’s probably fine, because it’s for his work with the camera on films like A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and The African Queen that Cardiff is best known.

As a film, it doesn’t do anything fancy: talking heads, clips, photographs. There’s nothing wrong with that when you’re topic is engrossing and your content stands on its own. It’s a biography of Cardiff’s work, moving chronologically through his major contributions to cinema. The insights are numerous thanks to the number of films covered and a lot of footage from an interview with Cardiff himself. Though there are other interviewees, including some big names (just look at the list on IMDb), what Cardiff has to say of his own works dominates, which seems only proper.

Man, cameraMy overriding memory of the documentary is of a slew of beautiful-looking films, some well known and others not, but every one jumping onto want-to-see lists thanks to what’s shown here. Which just demonstrates how deserving Cardiff and his work are of a dedicated feature film of this quality.

4 out of 5

Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff is on Film4 and Film4 HD tonight at 1:20am, and Film4 +1 at 2:20am (of course).

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