April 2012 April 30, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2012 , add a comment
33.3% through 2012…
Another month over with not many reviews posted. That backlog is getting quite ridiculous now. No significant strategy for getting caught up with it, I’m afraid to say, other than that I do aim to tackle it. Plus the leftovers from last year! Some may need a re-watch; alternatively, I may attempt another Ip Man-style summary.
Viewing progresses well though. Not as many new titles as previous months — down to seven features versus 10, 13 and 11 from previous months — but as #41 is the target for the end of May, I’m happy.
#35 Repo Chick (2009)
#36 Chatroom (2010)
#37 Thor (2011)
#37a Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant (2011)
#38 Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
#38a Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011)
#39 Drive Angry (2011)
#40 Special (2006)
#41 Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Recent weeks seem to have seen a fresh inundation of 2011 releases hitting home entertainment formats — The Adventures of Tintin, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol are all among my purchases this month, with The Artist, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, War Horse and more imminent. That’s not to mention stuff released earlier that I’ve still not got round to, like Cowboys & Aliens, Green Lantern, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (not that I’ve deigned to buy all of those). As the 2012 blockbuster season officially kicks off (I think we can call The Avengers‘ already-happened international debut & forthcoming US release that), it’s about time I performed my usual trick of catching up on last year’s big hitters.
Goodness knows. But some of the above, I should imagine. And I haven’t even mentioned all the exciting catalogue releases that have been happening recently!
#38: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) April 20, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Sci-fi, War, adaptations, 3 stars, Adventure, superhero films, remakes, 2010s, 2012 , 8 comments
The final entry in Marvel’s multi-film campaign leading up to big team-up The Avengers (Avengers Assemble this side of the pond, don’t forget) sees them tackle a big name in comics that hasn’t previously transferred quite as well to the big (or small) screen. And, to jump to the end, it did well: $358.6m worldwide, which is about two-and-a-half times its budget… though still $91m behind the next-highest grossing of Marvel’s new wave, leaving it fourth of the five films.
But box office does not tell of quality, as the highest grossing films of all time surely tells us. That said, rather than fourth I’d probably rank it fifth.
Despite how such a negative start may sound, I didn’t dislike Captain America. In fact, I largely enjoyed it. It was, as I’m sure you know, released the same summer as Thor (that’d be last summer), and they make quite a good pair within Marvel’s little universe. They both begin by grounding the viewer on present-day Earth, before spinning off to a different time and place for a second prologue, before heading off to a third time and place to kick off a different kind of superhero story. In Thor it was a sci-fi/fantasy tale of God-like beings; in Cap it’s a World War 2-era superhero-without-powers. Not to mention the fact that they’re tied together by brief second prologues in the same small Norwegian town and a super-powerful artefact called the Tesseract.
The connections don’t stop there. Some people complained that Iron Man 2 had too little focus on its own story and too much stuff setting up The Avengers. I disagreed, but I’d consider levelling such a criticism at Cap. While it doesn’t do it so overtly as the second Iron Man (this is set around 70 years before Nick Fury will come along with his Avenger Initiative), it feels at times as if it’s drawing together disparate threads from previous films in preparation for the team-up. Sure, most of the film works without knowing the connections — the fact that Cap’s shield cameoed in Iron Man 2, or that the super soldier programme plays a central role in The Incredible Hulk, won’t destroy anyone’s understanding of this — but, having seen those films (as surely most of Cap’s audience will have), it does feel almost as much a prequel to The Avengers as a film in its own right. Maybe the subtitle should’ve given that away.
Even aside from the inter-film connections, the story feels like someone gave the writers a checklist of “bits of mythology you must include” and they battled to shape a story around including them all. This results in a bitty narrative that jumps about, trying to include various WW2-era elements of Cap continuity ready for an ending that sends him to the present day in time for The Avengers. (Sorry if you consider that a spoiler, but I think the fact he’s in The Avengers rather gives it away.) To top it off, they also attempt to leave holes so that a sequel could be set in WW2 too, if so desired. While I appreciate that as an idea — the ’40s setting is a clear marker of why Cap is different to other similar heroes — it’s part of the reason it doesn’t feel like the whole thing quite ties together.
It also has the same problem that the first Iron Man did: there’s a lot of backstory involved in establishing Cap’s origins, leaving the villain to hover around the periphery until he’s needed for the climax. When said villain is Cap’s equivalent of the Joker in terms of significance, it’s a bit of a waste. They should be equals and opposites, and there are attempts to build that in, but the two don’t face off enough for it to really work. They both go about their own business, until they more or less bump into each other a significant way through the film, eventually leading to a climactic battle.
In short, I appreciate the attempts at creating a different structure for a superhero movie, but by trying to avoid the straight-up “hero encounters villain, fights against villain to end” shape of a tale, I think they’ve made something a bit too disjointed. I felt it was a series of shorter narratives connected by being placed end to end, not a single film-length story.
While I’m on things I felt they got wrong, let’s tackle the special effects. There are too many of them, meaning a lot looked quite fake to these eyes. OK, they tell the story just fine, and you might argue it gives a heightened comic-book-y feel, but I feel like I was seeing stuff of this quality six or more years ago, and I don’t believe I should be feeling that way on a movie this big. In fact, to be honest, the first Pirates movie was eight years old when this was made, and that was light-years ahead of this. Now, I think that movie had exceptional effects work, and it was well ahead of the average at the time… but that time was eight years ago. It’s hard to say what exactly is wrong here, but it’s mainly an abundance of CG backdrops, green/blue screen stuff that doesn’t scan. Heck, in one shot you can see a blue glow around the edge of a character’s hair! That’s bordering on the amateurish.
The much-discussed ‘Skinny Steve’ — where effects wizards turned muscly star Chris Evans into a wimpy little guy for the film’s first act — is an intermittently good effect. Sometimes it’s astonishing, the equal of similar work from Benjamin Button; a completely plausible human being. Other times, not so much: in some shots his head is obviously disproportionate, or a character pokes the air when he’s surely meant to be poking Steve’s chest, or he looks oddly squished, or cartoonishly exaggerated… Like all the effects, the makers seem to have overstretched their means/budget.
I know special effects are a means to an end, and we don’t routinely criticise the fakery of back-projection and what have you in Old Movies, but I think the difference is filmmakers don’t have to go as far as they do nowadays. We’ve seen similar shots and scenes and effects that have been done more convincingly, and when lesser versions begin to distract you from the storytelling, there’s something at fault. Whether that’s the effects themselves or something else, like the story not being engrossing enough, is another debate.
Perhaps it was that episodic story, because one of the other main things I got from Cap was a long game of Spot The TV Actor In A Small Supporting Role. So prevalent did they seem that at times I was more focussed on that than anything else. Oops. Still, do look out for Spooks & Robin Hood’s Richard Armitage, Boomtown & Desperate Housewives‘ Neal McDonough, The Ruby in the Smoke’s JJ Field, The Tudors‘ Natalie Dormer, The Mentalist’s Amanda Righetti, Doctor Who’s Jenna-Louise Coleman, and Scott & Bailey’s Ben Batt (blink and you’ll miss him). There are probably others, but those were the ones I knew. I imagine there are so many Brits in relatively small roles because it was shot over here. Not sure why, but it was.
Of the main cast, Chris Evans is fine as Steve Rogers, a guy so Honourable that it’s almost a thankless role — much like Superman, he’s almost too nice to be interesting. Not as bad as Superman can be, though, because at the start his good intentions surpass his physical means. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays in future films, especially The Avengers, where he’s going to have to face the awesomeness of Tony Stark. But that’s for other films. Romantic interest Hayley Atwell is perfectly up to task. Among the rumoured contenders for the role was Emily Blunt, who I can’t really imagine playing a character so supportive and fundamentally nice (a perfect match for Rogers, then), so I’m glad she didn’t get it. Shame for Atwell they bumped Cap into the future, automatically leaving her out of future franchise entries.
Elsewhere, Tommy Lee Jones could play roles like this grumpy-but-good-at-heart-General in his sleep, but at least claims the film’s best line. Equally, Hugo Weaving could be in a similar state of unconsciousness and give a good villain, and while he does his best to chew the scenery I thought he was fine but unmemorable in an underused role. As I said, the screenplay positions him as a “we need a villain for a climax”-level enemy when his character should be The Hero’s Nemesis, leaving a waste of both character and actor. Co-villain Toby Jones is similarly ill-treated, although at least he may return, semi-reincarnated as another villain (no explicit clues in the film, but he is one in the comics).
Everywhere-man Dominic Cooper channels Robert Downey Jr and John Slattery to portray a young Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, notch), who had a bigger role than I expected. The rest of the cast appear for fan box-ticking (see my mythology comment), which means they also go underused. There’s only so much room in one film of course, and the focus is rightly laid on Cap’s journey. The small roles given to his team of army mates would have been fine as setup for a sequel, but as it’s been confirmed that Cap 2 will be set in the modern day, once again it’s good casting and character establishment gone to waste. Again, the film is attempting too much.
And I haven’t even mentioned the over-graded sepia hue, because it’s Set In The Past. Digital grading brought much potential to the film industry, but instead it’s pathetically and predictably overused. Whenever you compare a film itself to some B-roll footage in a behind-the-scenes documentary or somesuch, you suddenly noticed how not-like-real-life the film looks. In every thriller whites are actually blue, for instance. Here, I imagine if you compared it you’d find whites are actually bronze. I don’t imagine this kind of thing is going away now though.
I realise I’ve consistently laid into Captain America here. It has good points. I forgot to mention Stanley Tucci, for instance, who as an early mentor for Rogers is vital to the story and well played. There’s also some solid action sequences (eventually), and not too much 3D tomfoolery, and some humour, though not as much as Iron Man or Thor unfortunately. I did, overall, enjoy the film… just not as much as any other in Marvel’s Avengers lead-up. I wound up wondering if it would’ve worked better as a condensed 15-minute pre-titles to that film.
But hey-ho, here it is. Like I theorised at the end of Iron Man, maybe with this setup out of the way they can produce a better sequel… but considering the skinny-little-man-turned-muscly-superhero is one of the more interesting aspects of Cap, and they’ve done that now; and the World War 2 setting is another unique facet, which they’re leaving behind… sadly, I’m not holding out quite as much hope.
Captain America: The First Avenger is on Sky Movies Premiere from today (hence why I’ve reviewed it before Thor).
Avengers Assemble is in UK cinemas from Thursday 26th April. The Avengers is in US cinemas from Friday 4th May, and on various other dates worldwide.
#44: La Règle du jeu (1939) April 17, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Drama, 4 stars, 1930s, world cinema, 2011 , add a comment
I watched La Règle du jeu a year ago today, possibly the longest time I’ve ever waited before posting a review. I actually wrote this months and months ago, but sort of intended to re-watch it (especially as it’s been on Film4 plenty) to try to craft something better. But I still haven’t, and with a whole 12 months gone by — and plenty of new films needing to be watched — I’ve decided just to post this and be done with.
And it’s halfway through April and there’s still three more reviews from last year to post, never mind the nearly-40 from this year.
Sometimes you watch one of the most acclaimed films of all time and find yourself with very little to say about it. La Règle du jeu — or, as it’s commonly known in America thanks to Criterion’s incessant title translation (in fairness, that’s probably the most sensible way to combat the mass attitude of “argh! it’s in Foreign!”), The Rules of the Game* — is certainly one of those films. Regularly voted into the top three on Greatest Films Ever Made lists, it sits at exactly #3 on the last iterations of both They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?’s 1000 Greatest Films and Sight & Sound’s decennial Top 10 (one of only two films to have appeared in all six to date; the new one’s later this year).
RULES OF THE GAME, the mutant, French cousin of DOWNTON ABBEY
What little I can say is that it’s a farce, but also a drama, which clearly has Something To Say — I believe I read that Renoir said it’s intended to be more about the lifestyle and the time it’s set than it is about a story. That kind of idea can often lead to pretension, but here it works. The story is simple yet complicated — it’s all about people having various affairs, basically, but there’s a lot of them and they’re constantly shifting. I’m not sure how Proper Film Critics would feel about this link, but I felt a certain affinity for Gosford Park while watching. Either I’m being plebby and there’s nothing substantial there, or that’s something that merits a more considered comparison. There’s some great camerawork — not flashy, not drawing attention to itself, but a lovely use of long takes, fluid movement and deep focus to keep the action flowing seamlessly.
And I agree, it is very good, but unlike Citizen Kane (which I instantly admired, though really need to see again to shake off the shackles of its Importance and just appreciate by itself — hello, Blu-ray!), I didn’t really see why it’s often rated so highly. I imagine there’s something I’m missing; possibly some historical significance. There’s a lot packed in, and I can see how multiple viewings could reveal even more going on. Perhaps a better researched awareness of the period (beyond the obvious Eve Of War, though that’s important) and of French class structure at the time is necessary to get the full richness of Renoir’s vision. The fact it was banned by the French government due to being bad for morale, then also banned by the occupying Nazis, suggests it did have a lot of social relevance.
Not one of my favourites, then, but a definite “must try again”.
* OK, this ‘criticism’ doesn’t stand-up to much scrutiny — it’s not like every UK DVD/Blu-ray release of a foreign film has the original language title on it. But I was inspired by the fact the BFI DVD does call La Règle du jeu by its original title, and numerous other foreign films retain their original titles on UK releases too, whereas you rarely see a Criterion release without a translated title. I also appreciate there’s some kind of cultural snobbery involved in this comment even coming to mind. For these reasons I was going to delete the comment, only I liked part of it too much. So much for kill your babies.
Um, anyway… ^
#94: Nativity! (2009) April 8, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Romance, 2000s, 4 stars, British films, 2011 , add a comment
Yes, this is exactly the kind of review I should be posting in April. But hey, it’s Easter! That’s about Jesus too, right? (It’ll have to do, I’m not hanging on ’til next Christmas.)
Nativity! comes from writer-director Debbie Isitt, previously responsible for the entertaining part-improvised comedy Confetti, and this fits in a similar vein… albeit more family-friendly than a movie featuring Robert Webb and Olivia Colman as nudists. This one sees Confetti’s Martin Freeman as a primary school teacher charged with producing his school’s nativity, which always gets bad reviews in the local paper (do any local papers really review nativities?) while their rival private school always gets glowing endorsements. To make matters worse, the other school’s nativity director is an old friend/rival (Confetti’s Jason Watkins), and he must deal with an enthusiastic but unprofessional new classroom assistant (Confetti’s Marc Wootton), and there’s some stuff about his ex-girlfriend (Extra’s Ashley Jensen) who’s gone to LA, and it’s all quite straightforward when you watch it but I’m making a right pig’s ear of describing it. This is why I didn’t use to bother trying to include plot summaries.
It’s not wholly my fault — it’s kind of a daft plot, really. It’s played relatively straight and realist, but it goes off that beaten track at times. Which I suppose is fine — why not, after all? No one promised grim social realism — it’s a Christmas family film, with some moral messages and a sort of romance and sweet kids and a cute dog. And regular readers know how much I love a cute dog.
It’s also cheesy and silly, with an ending so packed with sentimentality it could make Spielberg look like a grumpy spoilsport. But in a feel-good Christmas-time film I think that’s mostly allowed. It’s not deep or meaningful, and it’s not cutting edge or shocking, but it has a charm and a sweetness that sit well at that time of year. The kind of film you flop on the sofa, shove your brain in to neutral, and tuck in to a box of chocolates while smiling along.
Try watching this at any other time of year (like, er, now) and you can knock a star off, but over the Christmas period it’s a fluffily entertaining diversion. Maybe I should’ve held this review back after all.
March 2012 April 1, 2012Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2012 , add a comment
2012 is one-third done already. Honestly, where does the time go?
March hasn’t gone quite as well as previous months, with 11 films watched. Nonetheless, 11 isn’t bad at all — the average needed to reach 100 by the end of December is just eight, and I ‘only’ watched 10 in January, and with a boost of 13 from February I’m still well ahead of target (which, for the end of March, is 24).
Things feel worse than they are because I haven’t really been writing or posting reviews. Just five all month, in fact, which has left me with a quite extraordinary backlog of 36. And to think, the reason I started that “coming soon” page was because I’d reached a ludicrously high number of unposted reviews, and that number was 10. Shame on me, etc.
#24 Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
#25 The Lady Eve (1941)
#26 The Other Guys (2010)
#27 Stepping Out (1991)
#28 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
#29 The Court Jester (1956)
#30 Serpico (1973)
#31 The Last Airbender (2010)
#32 Rules of Engagement (2000)
#33 Megamind (2010)
#34 Despicable Me (2010)
Every last one of those is courtesy of Sky Movies, the lingering after-effect of the Oscars. That’s gone now though (I think), so it’s time to start work on my DVD/BD pile and LOVEFiLM’s whims. I should start (as mentioned last month(!)) with those Marvel films I’ve not watched. Other than that, I make no promises. And it would be foolish of me to even promise them, based on my track record.