November 2011 November 30, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2011 , add a comment
It’s the final countdown! Do-do-doodoo, dododododoo, do-do—
This year’s 100 Films is turning into a race for the finish line — always kinda fun, if not record-breaking. Back in June I reached a high for this year of 20 ahead of target (’target’ being my running total for Where I Should Have Reached To Make Exactly 100 By December 31st… I probably don’t need to explain that every time I mention it at this point, do I?), after which it’s gradually slipped back, so that now — as I enter the final stretch — I find myself just one ahead.
To put it more plainly: there’s eight films to go to my goal. If I made that exactly, I’d equal my second-worst year… or, if you look at it another way, third best. Getting to 101 or higher (”higher” meaning “below 122″, which, c’mon, I’m not gonna get close to) will leave this year as both the third worst and third best. Right in the middle — somehow apt for a fifth year celebration. Not that apt, but shush, I want it to be.
#89 Gambit (1966)
#90 Cars (2006)
#91 Beyond the Pole (2009)
#92 Cruise of the Gods (2002)
It’s not just film watching I need to push up a bit, but review posting too. You may have noticed this happen in the last three weeks or so… not as much as I’d've liked, mind, so maybe not. I’m currently thinking I’ll aim to post a review every other day, in an attempt to clear some of my large 2011 backlog before 2012 kicks in. Even at that rate I won’t get all the way through, but hopefully there shouldn’t be too many left as we go into the new year.
Next time I post one of these it’ll be the very eve of 2012! Will I have made it to 100?
Try not to ruin your nails biting them…
#81: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) November 26, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Disney, Fantasy, adaptations, 3 stars, Adventure, video game films, 2010s, 2011 , 1 comment so far
Disney’s attempt to launch a second franchise in the mould of Pirates of the Caribbean, this time based on a long-running series of computer games, seemed to sink without trace last summer. Despite that failure, it’s not all bad.
To give a quick idea of its quality, Prince of Persia is analogous to an average entry in the Pirates series, only without the craziness and humour provided by Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. This probably explains Persia’s relative lack of success: Pirates began with an exceptionally good blockbuster flick, and has since coasted on goodwill and affection for Depp’s character; Persia has neither of these benefits.
There’s not much to get excited about here, however. Like On Stranger Tides, It suffers from a surfeit of ideas that are equally undeveloped. Even though this shares no writing credits with that film, it’s what it most reminded me of. There’s an adventure story that wants to reach an Indiana Jones-esque style but fumbles it. It often feels like the genuinely important bits of plot and character development are quickly brushed over, instead spending inexplicably long stretches on barely-relevant asides. It jumps about like a loon too, feeling like a lot of linking scenes or establishing shots have been excised for whatever reason.
There are some good action beats, but there’s also plenty of disorientatingly-edited, CGI-enhanced sequences, as per usual for the genre these days. For the former, see for instance Dastan’s climb up the wall into Alamut (or whatever it was called), or the knife-thrower-on-knife-thrower battle near the end. For explosions of CGI, see the massive logic-shattering ’sand surfing’ sequence in the climax. Visually they’re clearly trying to evoke 300, but without going quite so far in the stylization stakes. Also worthy of note is the opening, the latest CGI-enhanced rendition of the opening sequence from The Thief of Bagdad and Aladdin: Westernised Middle Eastern streetchild-thief chased acrobatically through streets of Middle Eastern Town by Middle Eastern Guards. (None of the above pictured.)
As this is a Hollywood version of the ancient Middle East, naturally everyone is a Westerner with deeply tanned skin who speaks with an English accent. Everyone in the past had an English accent. Jake Gyllenhaal’s accent is actually very good, in my opinion; Gemma Arterton’s voice doesn’t grate as much as it seemed to in the trailer (I have no problem with her in any other film, but there was something about the Persia trailer that made her sound… weird). That’s probably the best that can be said for either of their performances. They’re not bad, just not in anyway endearing. Dastan makes a fairly bland hero — I think he’s meant to be something of a cheeky chappy, but they didn’t get close to achieving that — whereas Arterton has the role Keira Knightley would’ve played five years ago. I think she’s meant to be a Strong Independent Princess but, much like Dastan, we’re told we should be inferring it rather than seeing any evidence of it.
Alfred Molina has the best shot at creating a likeable supporting role, but it’s a part that resurfaces for no good reason, acts inconsistently, and all his best elements are cribbed from better films. Like most of the film, then. An attempt is made to conceal that Ben Kingsley is the villain, and it might have worked if anyone else was in the role — heck, I almost believed it even with him… but only “almost”. Like most of the story, it’s all a bit stock-in-trade. It’s good to take inspiration from other action-adventure classics, but it also means that it all feels very familiar. The time travelling dagger, the film’s truly unique point, is too powerful as a plot point, meaning rules have to be established that limit its use… which means that the one unique element doesn’t actually turn up very often.
Prince of Persia is riddled with flaws, it would seem. It’s characters are unmemorable, their relationships unbelievable; its plot is disjointed and, while always followable, still half nonsensical; the other half is by-the-numbers predictable; its action sequences occasionally shine, but are largely whizzily edited or CGI burnished (though, in fairness, they’re far from the worst example of either problem). I should probably dislike it quite a lot, yet while part of me says I should rank it lower than even the Pirates sequels (owing to the lack of charming characters or any trace of humour), looking back I kind of liked it. It’s not Good, but it is sort of Fine, and it’s by no means bad enough to inspire genuine hatred.
Plus, the sword-and-sandals milieu makes a bit of a change. I know we’ve had plenty of swords-and-sandals-flavoured movies in the wake of Gladiator, suggesting this is hardly unique, but whereas they’ve all unsurprisingly shot at the Gladiator mould, Persia is aiming for the PG-13 adventure-blockbusters style. It’s a shame that it’s not better, because said milieu and some of the talent involved could have produced a film in the vein of quality of, say, The Mummy, if we’d been lucky.
If you’re less forgiving than me, knock a star off. Or if you think you’d like the Pirates films better without Depp’s silly captain, maybe leave that star on.
#79: Holiday (1938) November 22, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Drama, Romance, 5 stars, adaptations, 1930s, remakes, 2011 , add a comment
Holiday stars Cary Grant as an everyday chap who falls in love with a girl who, it turns out, is a wealthy heiress type… but who it also turns out may not share his views on the future. Her kooky sister, played by Katherine Hepburn, on the other hand…
You already know how Holiday ends, don’t you? You may not even have heard of the film, but having read those two sentences, you know. I knew. We all know. Unless there’s a twist, of course. Sometimes there is, especially in older films where they weren’t as slavishly concerned with hitting demographics and all that. So I won’t say if there’s a twist or not.
What I will say is, I loved Holiday. I’d never even heard of it before it turned up on BBC Two in a week of similar stuff, like His Girl Friday (which I’d seen, and reviewed), Bringing Up Baby (which I saw, and reviewed) and It Happened One Night (which is still sat on my V+ box). I’d heard of all of those, but not this, but I’m glad I watched it by association.
It doesn’t have quite the hilarity of His Girl Friday, but I thought it had more substance than Bringing Up Baby (as much as I enjoyed that too). I suppose you would say it “spoke to me”, what with Grant’s character’s desire to go off and do something he wanted to do instead of get locked in to the dull corporate world, and the family’s insistence that a sensible city job where he’d earn a fortune is more appropriate. I can’t say I’m in the same situation — I wouldn’t mind the chance of a highly-paid job, if you’ve got one going spare — but I could relate well enough.
Holiday is not the funniest of comedies — though I did think it was funny — instead hitting a level of dramatic/character interest that I didn’t predict. I think it’s more a personal favourite than an objective Great Film (but then, one might argue, what is?), so the best I can do is encourage you to seek it out if this kind of film from this kind of era is your kind of thing.
#23: Clash of the Titans (2010) November 18, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Fantasy, 3 stars, Adventure, remakes, 2010s, 2011 , 2 comments
The thoroughly blockbusterised remake of ’80s fantasy favourite Clash of the Titans came in for a sound critical drubbing on its release last year, much of it focused on the post-production cash-in 3D applied to the film. I didn’t watch it in 3D so won’t have much to say about that, but I found the film itself to be passably enjoyable.
Firstly, it’s brief — little more than 90 minutes before the credits roll. That can feel stingy in cinemas these days, where we have to pay so much for a ticket getting your money’s worth is important, but at home especially it’s suited for a quick bit of fun. Still, Titans could’ve done with more length to allow characters to grow — at times it feels like a genuinely epic tale reduced to a lengthy plot summary, speeding over the fine details in search of the next big plot beat.
There’s a fairly impressive cast — nearly everyone is famous or at least recognisable — and all of them are massively underused. Perseus’ team are dispatched in various fashions, but we don’t really care because their group dynamic has only been built a tiny bit. And I wanted to care, because there were actors I like and characters who had potential — even if most were built from band-of-warriors stereotypes — but the film didn’t do enough to allow me to. Every time it produces a good bit, it throws in some groan-inducing sentiment or cheesily pompous dialogue.
What the film is built to do is provide action sequences, though these are passable and rarely more. They’re fine while they’re happening, but pretty much forgotten after — none of it shows a great deal of inspiration. The history of film is littered with far worse examples, but that’s about the best I can say. I can see why it would be painful in 3D too: quite aside from the use of always-criticised post-conversion, and the apparent rush job on that, Letterier favours the modern action style of handheld jiggly shots and fast cuts, neither of which lend themselves to the 3D experience. Heck, even Michael Bay acquiesced to adapt his similar style when shooting Transformers 3 in 3D, so you know it must be true.
In fact, the action sequences would probably benefit from the expansion of character I mentioned before: caring about them would add jeopardy when their lives are in danger and some emotional impact when they snuff it. As it stands, Titans is an emotionally empty experience, much more so than, say, Inception, which was frequently criticised for similar shortcomings. In fairness, this is probably because critics thought Inception might deliver in such respects, while no one expected a pre-summer blockbuster like Titans to bother. And they were right to an extent, but while it’s never going to be an affecting human drama, it should bother more than it does.
Design is probably the film’s strong point, particularly sequences that feature the three witches and the ferryman. Clearly these dark, borderline-horror-film settings are the design team’s strongpoint. Elsewhere, the gods have an appealingly retro lens-flared-silver-armour look about them — I don’t remember the ’80s original very well, but one could imagine this iteration of the gods being dropped in without anyone noticing.
The CGI is complaint free, as with most well-budgeted modern flicks, apart from one glaring exception: Medusa looks almost as fake as the Rock’s Scorpion King from The Mummy Returns, which you may remember was lambasted even at the time — “the time” now being ten years ago. Oh dear. Maybe the passing years and abundance of CGI has affected my critical faculties here — that is to say, maybe side by side this Medusa would look a lot better than the decade-old Scorpion King — but, in the context of the rest of the film, that level of distracting fake-ness sprang to mind.
I’m laying into it almost as much as anyone now, but in spite of all that I sort of quite liked Clash of the Titans. It’s massively flawed in many areas, but good bits occasionally shine through. Unlike most blockbusters of the past few years, which tend to be bloated affairs in need of a good chop down, it would actual benefit from being a bit longer — some plot elements could do with greater clarity, most of the characters could do with some depth.
It’s probably all the studio’s fault for forcing major last-minute changes and reshoots. While I wound up enjoying what we got, the other version — as detailed by CHUD.com — does sound more interesting.
#83: Magicians (2007) November 16, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, 2000s, 3 stars, British films, 2011 , add a comment
David Mitchell and Robert Webb move from the small screen to the big one in this comedy from the writers of their sitcom Peep Show. Perhaps I should say now, I’ve seen one episode of Peep Show and I didn’t much care for it.
Magicians, however, is fine. If you like people saying rude words, particularly in relation to sexual activities, then you’ll find lots to laugh at here. If you don’t like that kind of thing, there’ll be lots to cringe at. If you don’t mind it… well, you won’t mind it. There are other funny bits, mind. None of it’s particularly big or clever, but it elicited laughs regularly enough to keep it entertaining.
It’s biggest mistake is in casting Mitchell and Webb as two people who’ve fallen out, meaning they spend most of the film apart. They’re funny individually, and they’re each paired off with a more than capable comedy sidekick — Jessica Hynes and Darren Boyd respectively — but as this is kind of pitched as The Mitchell & Webb Movie it’s a little disappointing and doesn’t make the most of their talents.
That said, while I like Mitchell and Webb, I don’t think their main strength lies in acting. I love their sketch show, which, yes, is acting, but it’s a very different kind of acting; and, of course, Mitchell seems to do very well for himself on the panel show circuit, while Webb is adept at dancing sillily and, increasingly, hosting/voice-overing quickly-made cheap rubbish for various channels. These are all skills in their own way, but they don’t necessarily demonstrate brilliant acting. But, hey, they’re fine here.
The supporting cast is made up of a host of recognisable TV faces. I’d list them, but we’ll be here all day. However, if you watch a lot of British TV, especially comedy, you’ll be almost constantly going, “ooh, it’s him/her!” This has only been made more apparent by time: as the film’s now four years old, even more supporting faces have risen (however slightly) up the comedy hierarchy. For just one example, there are brief appearances by Miranda Hart and Sarah Hadland of hit BBC sitcom Miranda, which hadn’t begun when Magicians was released. I suppose retrospectively these small roles could be described as cameos, but they don’t play that way.
If you enjoy lewd humour, or can survive it in frequent brief bursts, then I’d say Magicians is fine. Probably best enjoyed late on a Friday or a Saturday when you really don’t want your brain to be taxed. Or even bothered.
#37: Young Guns (1988) November 12, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Crime, Western, 2 stars, 1980s, true stories, 2011 , 2 comments
Way back in March, the ever-excellent Ride the High Country covered a series of films about Billy the Kid, including this late-’80s effort. To quote from the comments section: “I would have been in that target demographic too when I first saw it… around 20 years old or so… I wonder how it would play now to an audience of a similar age.” Well, as someone who watched it when closer to 20 than 30, I shall step up to the task.
Considering this is ‘the Brat Pack Western’, one might well expect a modernised, sanitised West; something like Wild Wild West or Jonah Hex; something rated PG-13. Instead the film seems to have begun life as a serious attempt at a Billy the Kid biography, right down to bloody violence that earns it an R in the US and even an 18 over here. This intention seems to survive — bar a music-video-styled opening, a couple of lines of dialogue and the wailing ’80s guitar score — but how successful it was is another matter.
I don’t know about historical accuracy in this case, not knowing much more about Billy the Kid than I’ve gleaned from… well, this film, and Ride the High Country’s series. Playing loose with facts can work in a film’s favour — as many a filmmaker has noted in the past, they’re making entertainment not documentary — but it can be galling to one who knows the truth. In the way it presents events, this one feels accurate — things like characters appearing only to die immediately; the kind of thing that doesn’t sit well narratively but might be the truth. If it isn’t accurate, this is all the more dangerous: there’s a difference between changing facts so something works as a film narrative and presenting the wrong thing as the truth. Though if someone was planning to use Young Guns to research the real-life facts of these events, more fool them in the first place. Wikipedia says (without citation) that “historian Dr. Paul Hutton has called Young Guns the most historically accurate of all prior Billy the Kid films”. We’ll leave it at that for now.
As a film in itself, then, the narrative is a bit scrappy. Our heroes wander around killing some people, racing about the country sometimes for no discernible reason and with chunks apparently missing. For instance, they head to Mexico just for the challenge of it — we’re told it’s a hard road, laden with bounty hunters out to get them — but the film cuts from their decision to make this journey to their arrival with a rapturous welcome. Eh? I have no idea if this stuff was shot and cut for time, or if someone needed to have a long hard look at the screenplay. Or even a quick glance.
The finale is also implausible. One assumes the characters who survive must have survived in reality and the others must’ve died, but the way it’s played here it doesn’t make a great deal of sense. How did they defeat those overwhelming odds? How did they pull off that escape? It might pass muster with The Hero Is Invulnerable movie logic, but not as a claim to depicting real-life events. And that’s without mentioning the overuse of dated slow-motion that descends upon its eventual climax.
As for the Brat Pack themselves, Emilio Estevez’s version of Billy the Kid seems to descend during the film from above-himself hot-head out for revenge to giggling loon. This isn’t really character development, more as if halfway through Estevez realised how much fun it was to laugh and so kept doing it. Charlie Sheen gets the honour of (spoilers!) being killed off halfway through. As one of the most recognisable members of the ‘Brat Pack’, here playing the leader of the gang, it works as an effective surprise.
Kiefer Sutherland has the best part though. He’s given the only subplot that approaches anything meaningful and also almost all the best lines (not that there are many). The remainder go to Jack Palance, who isn’t around enough to create a great villain but makes a commendably good hash of it in his brief time. Equally brief is Terence Stamp’s part. I have to say I’m no fan of Stamp — everywhere I’ve seen him he seems awkwardly flat, often phoning it in — but here he’s not bad. This may be because his role’s quite small and relatively subdued as it is. Patrick Wayne appears as Pat Garrett appears for a knowing cameo; the kind of small role which any viewer can tell Means Something, but if you don’t know what he means there’s no explanation proffered (until the final scene, anyway, when Sutherland narrates a “what happened next” for the surviving characters).
Young Guns is not a particularly likeable film, managing to miss both its potential target audiences: it’s not serious-minded enough for Western enthusiasts, let down by the Brat Pack cast and (it seems) historical accuracy; but it’s surely not fun or modernised enough to appeal to a younger (or younger-minded) crowd. Though clearly it did well enough as it spawned a sequel two years later. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t particularly like it.
Young Guns is on Channel 5 tomorrow, Sunday 13th November, at 11:15pm.
After four years and three months doing 100 FIlms, this became the first new film I’ve seen which has a title beginning with the letter Y — the last unaccounted-for letter. Hurrah!
#70: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) November 10, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Fantasy, adaptations, 4 stars, Adventure, British films, 2010s, 2011 , 2 comments
While the final Harry Potter film continues to obliterate records at box offices around the world, I finally caught up on the penultimate instalment in the phenomenal fantasy series. It’s Part 1 of 2 at the end of a series that’s become increasingly serial, rather making this the Two Towers of Harry Potter films: it doesn’t begin, and it doesn’t end either.
Indeed, at times Deathly Hallows Part 1 is too heavily reliant on knowledge of the previous films, or even, for full detail, the novels. It’s understandable — you’d be a fool to take this as your first Potter film — but at times it could work a bit harder for those who don’t live & breathe Harry Potter; it could help along those viewers who could do with a little memory jog here and there. The pay off, however, comes in lots of neat or resonant callbacks across the films — Harry reminding Umbridge it’s wrong to lie, for instance — as well as within the film itself — Hermione obliviating both her parents and some Death Eaters.
Despite the series knowledge required, the well-established Potter team have created one of the series’ best instalments here. Long gone is the cartoonish frivolity of Chris Colombus’ opening pair of Children’s Films — this is Potter at his darkest, and not just in terms of the cinematography. Film franchises have come under fire for incessantly describing each new entry as “darker”, and none more so than Potter, but at least it’s deserved: this is a grim, oppressive world, where our trio of heroes are completely removed from the safety of school and on the run as fugitives. It rather negates author J.K. Rowling’s original conceit of having seven books each covering a school year, but hush, let’s overlook that (everyone else seems to).
Technically the film is well executed. Harry Potter films have had action sequences before, but few stand comparison to the bevy we’re treated to here: an in-flight fight/chase as a gang of heroes escape Privet Drive; a fast and claustrophobic duel in a cafe; the much-trailed run through a forest (interestingly realised without any score). It’s not quite an Action Movie, but if any Potter were to lay claim to that genre it could well be this one.
Elsewhere, several deftly constructed montages set the scene for what’s going on in the wider wizarding world while Harry, Ron & Hermione are on the run in secrecy. Similarly, the film massively cuts down on the novel’s interminable sequences of the trio wandering around Britain pondering things endlessly. Consequently the halfway point of the novel — Harry and Hermione visiting Godric’s Hollow at Christmas (if I recall correctly) — occurs under two hours into this 4½-hour adaptation. It’s one of the film’s best sequences though, the snow-coated village setting and almost dream-like pace evocative of both the magic and melancholy of Christmastime; its ultimately nightmarish events reminiscent of wintry fireside horror tales.
Talking of exceptional sequences, the animated one can’t go unmentioned. It’s wonderfully done, inspired by old silhouette animations, though achieved in 3D animation here, which is a pity. It’s still beautiful to look at, and it’s very fluid, but I can’t help but feel it would’ve been even more effective if they’d gone all out and done it in 2D.
Visually the whole thing is, of course, dark and gritty. I was always glad the films went for a ‘real world’ aesthetic rather than the ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ stylings of the books’ jacket illustrations, but the first couple of films still had quite a bright, primary-coloured palette. As I said earlier, everyone’s talked about each film bring thematically darker to the point that it’s become a cliché, but it’s true of the production design and cinematography too. There were a couple of scenes here where I literally couldn’t see what was going on.
Yates spoke of making this one like an “urban thriller” — and, having helmed the original State of Play, he’d know — and I think they have, more or less, in a mainstream fantasy movie way, achieved that feel. There are abandoned and decrepit industrial sites and burnt-out trailer parks to really push the feel, but it bleeds out into all the fantasy settings too. It’s cold, grey, bleak, tough — all appropriate for the dark times the characters find themselves in, if not so much for the pre-teen audience the initial books and films were suitable for. Themes of Nazi/Stalinist-style oppression are played up in the story (trials of those whose “blood status” is in doubt; listening to the radio for news of loved ones; Bellatrix’s torture of Hermione) and production design (the muggle-crushing new statue in the Ministry; the art style of anti-mudblood propaganda leaflets; the uniforms of the Ministry guards), but it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t batter you around the head.
The cast are, as ever, really just pawns in a bigger game. There are nonetheless some nice character beats — the dancing scene, for instance, which uses a Nick Cave song (in a kid’s film! Excellent). Anyone in the cast under the age of about 25 struggles to convince at one point or another, but the adult cast are as exceptional as their pedigree would suggest, even in their brief cameo-sized roles. Most impressive is CG character Dobby: Deathly Hallows takes him from being the most irritating all-CG character since Jar Jar Binks, to one who has a heroic and moving death at the climax of this film. That said, it was — much like the death of Sirius Black in Goblet of Fire — more effective in the book. However filmic the deaths Rowling writes may feel, the filmmakers seem to struggle to convert them as effectively to the screen.
And so, the ending — which isn’t, because we’re in the middle of the book. So how well does it work as, y’know, an ending? Quite well, as it turns out — indeed, one might even compare it to something like Empire Strikes Back: the gang are reunited and free of evil clutches (for now); the quest for the Deathly Hallows and the speculation of their meaning is all set up to continue in the next film; plus there’s an appropriately dramatic death. But this one was never truly designed to be an ending, so if you think about it too much it begins to work less well than if you just accept it. Still, having your villain acquire the MacGuffin we’ve been told is all-powerful and indestructible makes for a decent cliffhanger.
It’s interesting to consider that the ending was originally designed to be earlier, when Harry & co arrive at Malfoy Manor and Bellatrix sees his scar. It was moved it find an emotional connection for the ending, and I think it works. If it had ended where planned it would feel like a cliffhanger-ish point in a longer work; while there’s undoubtedly some of that in how it ends now, it’s a bigger, more dramatic point. A change for the better, then.
(As an aside, I think the order of the cast in the end credits reveals who has the best agent and whose could’ve worked harder. Have a read and think about the relative size and importance of their roles.)
Deathly Hallows Part 1 is, indeed, Part 1; but despite that it functions rather well as a film in its own right: there’s story development, character development, action sequences, and even a semblance of an ending. In terms of Being The Middle Instalment, it’s at least as successful as any other I can think of.
The final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US tomorrow, Friday 11th November, and in the UK three weeks later, on Monday 2nd December.