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Latest Purchases/Future Arrivals January 29, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 1 comment so far

Here’s my latest purchases/orders-

The Apartment (Blu-ray)

One of my very favourite movies, The Apartment was released on Blu-ray in the ‘States last week. Somehow sneaked under the radar, I didn’t know until yesterday. Fortunately its region-free, although its seems to be a Best-Buy exclusive which made ordering it a bit of a problem- luckily some ebay sellers have it for sale. Commentary and a few featurettes sweeten the deal (my DVD is bare-bones) but to be honest, the film alone in HD is sufficient draw, and reviews in the States are stating in its a great image. Really looking forward to this, possibly one of my Blu-ray titles of the year. If I could replace all my Jack Lemmon DVDs with Blu-rays I’d be a very, very happy guy. And who doesn’t fall in love with Shirley MacLaine here? I think it’s one of the finest female performances in any film ever

 Some Like It Hot (Blu-ray)

Buying one Billy Wilder film, it’d be rude to decline another. Released last year in the States, thanks to crazy scheduling of releases, Some Like It Hot isn’t out over here until the end of July -it’s like they are encouraging importing. I’d much rather buy local releases, preferring to support the home market, but having ordered The Apartment I figured I’d give up waiting and order this from the States too (the UK arm of MGM has only itself to blame- this should have been out here months ago). Thankfully region-free and blessed with extras lacking on my DVD copy, although, again, HD image alone would be enough with a great film such as this (albeit reviews have said it isn’t as stellar as The Apartments transfer). Still, it’s a no-brainer, and while on the subject of Billy Wilder masterpieces-

Double Indemnity (Blu-ray), temporary cover art

Yup, another Billy Wilder classic, due here at the end of June. Back when I was doing my Degree course some near-thirty years ago, we took a semester of Film Studies during which the lecturer screened this film noir triumph. When she re-ran the film explaining the imagery and subtext it just blew me away and I fell in love (with the film, not the, er, lecturer!). Extras seem fairly minor at the moment but let’s face it, Double Indemnity in HD? Who cares about extras? Brought to us by Eureka as part of their superlative Masters Of Cinema range. Their Touch Of Evil last year was pretty near a definitive catalogue release (five versions, four commentaries and additional featurettes) which I really must get around to reviewing, if only I can get through all it’s content… someday.

 The Lost Weekend (Blu-ray), temporary cover art

Here’s a Billy Wilder film that I have somehow never seen- The Lost Weekend is released alongside Double Indemnity this summer, so I can rectify that error with a fine HD presentation. And finally, to bring us back to Earth with a bump-

 

Okay, Transformers:Dark Side of The Moon might take some explaining. Recently viewed on a DVD rental that I reviewed here a little while ago, the film was fairly dire but the spectacular eye-candy of the last hour was just jaw-dropping, and I’m curious to see how it looks in HD. The current release is bare-bones, but the 3D version out in a few weeks, which (hopefully, as I don’t have a 3D tv) includes a 2D Blu-ray, also has a lengthy documentary and extras. I’m just really fascinated to see how they did it and how the carnage looks in HD. Guilty pleasure? Well, it’s  nice to relax with a daft film spectacle once in awhile. In my defence, as dumb as it sounds, I may never even watch the whole film again ever, just skip to that last hour… Besides, its my birthday the week this comes out and I may have some extra cash to spend.

Conan The Barbarian (2011) ** January 24, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 1 comment so far

 

Three writers and an army of eighteen producers, hardly the foundation of a cohesive movie, so you can guess how this one turns out. I still can’t get my head around eighteen producers, how the hell do you make a movie with that many hands in the mix? Must have been like making a film by consensus or committee. The frustrating thing about this movie is that it isn’t terrible, it just makes some awfully bad decisions and is neither one thing (honest depiction of Robert E Howards original character or tales) or the other (action-romp based on the comics), falling somewhere in-between and upsetting followers of both camps.

I’ve read and loved REH’s fiction since the late seventies, and I know a movie based on The Tower Of The Elephant, Black Colossus or some combination thereof, would be dark, passionate, horrifying, exciting, breathtaking entertainment. But it would have no similarity to the Arnold movie from 1982 and little in common with the comicstrip, and I think the shadow of the 1982 movie in particular hung long over this production. So we see a young Conan in his Cimmerian village and his father killed by the main villain launching Conan on the same quest for vengeance that the 1982 film had.  All of this that REH never wrote, so you can see why REH purists yell foul, but you can also see the film-makers torn between remaking the 1982 film and doing something fresh and original, while also being too influenced by The Lord Of The Rings films and 300

The story is fairly routine, and frankly insipid at its worst. After a needless prologue influenced by that of TLOTR, in which we learn of the fragments of a mask of Ancient Evil being hidden across the lands of men, the film opens with the central  villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) pillaging and burning the lands for said fragments in order to reconstruct said mask of evil. Of course one of those fragments just happens to be hidden in Conan’s fathers forge in Cimmeria and Zym’s army attacks the Cimmerian village, killing all but Conan and launching him on his trail of vengeance as per the 1982 movie. None of this of course has anything to do with anything REH ever wrote. 

The film looks pretty fine, with excellent production design, albeit a little too similar to TLOTR with it’s vistas, ruins etc. but on the whole the sets, costumes and fx are fine and of high standard; there was an evident effort made here to create a quality film, which makes how it all turned out all the more disheartening. But I think there is something wrong with the editing- some scenes are confusingly edited, as if footage is missing. The music score is typical modern background noise rubbish- no memorable themes, melodies; frankly, after Poledouris’ monumental 1982 score, this generic muzak is a major disappointment. And oddly, for all the violence, blood and gore the action scenes are somewhat, dare I say it, boring.

I didn’t expect to like Jason Momoa in the Conan role, he just looked wrong in photos but in the film he accomplishes it quite well, certainly more a ’proper’ Conan than the man-mountain Arnold was. And yet… I don’t know. Something still seemed a little off-key. He swings his sword around and looks the part but you don’t feel the action through him, or particularly care for him.

Stephen Lang is excellent though as Khalar Zym, really giving it his all to enliven the fairly dour script, as does Rose McGowan as Zym’s evil sorceress daughter Marique. When these two are on screen the film suddenly finds its soul, its life. There is an incestuous element to this pair that should have been developed further. Certainly the two look and act like something from an REH original, as opposed to the rest of the anodyne cast. Whatever was the point of Rachel Nichol’s Tamara, the object of Zym’s quest to resurrect his dead wife and the nominal love interest for Conan, is beyond me, as her character simply doesn’t work. Part damsel in distress, part adventuress, she lacks the passion and presence the part requires and is pretty much redundant. Marched off near films finale to be sacrificed, who cares?

Then again, the film pretty much lacks presence or emotion so it’s perhaps hardly her fault. For all the film gets right it’s undermined by the routine script. Zym and his daughter are great villains but need a script with more bite, while Momoa needs a script with more emotional involvement and empathy- Conan just looks and acts like a stock fantasy character we’ve all seen before. There’s no real drama to the whole thing. And, really oddly, the film just seems to end with a whimper, another signal of a poorly written script. It does, it just ends- Zym is dispatched, Tamara dumped back home, and Conan travels back to the ruins of his Cimerian village to strike a pose with his sword. Thats it.  

So it isn’t quite a remake of the 1982 film, it isn’t a comic-book-style action adventure, and it isn’t a Robert E Howard Conan (it isn’t equal to the 1982 film either, either in script, direction or music, though I can’t say that’s surprising). Hollywood has had two stabs at putting REH’s Conan onscreen and failed utterly with both. This 2011 version isn’t terrible, but it’s nothing special either. But with eighteen producers, I’m hardly surprised. Oh well. Maybe in another thirty years… (and that’s the most frustrating thing about it- they should have nailed it with this one, by Crom.)

Star Wars For Sale January 22, 2012

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Okay, I realise in the great scheme of things it isn’t important, and that the films themselves are hardly Great Art, but I was flabbergasted the other night to see a Vodaphone ad featuring Yoda. This is after Currys had Darth Vader interrogating their sales staff in their Christmas adverts last year (and C-3PO and R2D2 shopping there the Christmas before). What confuses me is, does Lucas really need the money, after all these years and all the billions in the bank, that he has to license out the characters and icons of his Star Wars films like this? Doesn’t it diminish the brand, the integrity (such as it is) of the series? Maybe I’m being foolish and it means nothing at all. Maybe the damage to the brand had already been done. It just feels wrong, at least to me.

Transformers:Dark Side Of The Moon (2011) *** January 16, 2012

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I feel like I’ve been assaulted- the blitzkrieg of action that comprises the last half of this film is so dizzyingly, mindbogglingly impressive , so utterly insane…  I only saw it on DVD rental, God only knows how audiences felt at the cinema… was this film at Imax screens? I cannot imagine what that was like.

Of course, it’s all completely stupid. It’s a videogame/cartoon/comic brought to blistering cinematic life but it has all the drama and realism of… well, its just nuts, frankly. I kept watching the female love-interest, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Megan-Fox mode) throughout the apocalyptic bedlam, incase she might just bust a nail, smear her lipstick, get a bruise or scratch, dirty her designer outfit, maybe even even tear her clothes up a little… she gets to the end so untouched its actually funny, the films best joke, unintentional as it is. But then again, the same is true of all the human stars in the film, they are, in a way, more indestructible than the robots, as the robots get violently ripped apart numerous times but the human stars come through unscathed. It’s hard to actually ‘feel’ anything watching graphic cartoon violence like this, it’s so divorced from reality. As Chicago is laid to waste by the Decepticons we see crowds of humans being obliterated by their death-rays but we feel nothing. We should, surely?

But its bubblegum blockbuster movie-making here, and I’m not going to pretend there isn’t room for this nonsense alongside more artistic cinema like Tree Of Life. As is usual for the work of director Michael Bay, it’s just all too fast. The camera never stops, it spins, it races by. I may be missing something obvious, but very often I watched some of the battles between the robots and I just couldn’t tell who was the good robot, who was the bad, or where the one robot ended and the other began. I sat back and enjoyed the cg spectacle but it didn’t mean anything, and it confused me to the point that, visually, I couldn’t tell what was going on sometimes. Yes it’s pretty and impressive technically but what just happened? Is that me or bad movie-making? I quite enjoyed Bay’s earlier films, even though they have always been more style over content, but these Transformers films are just so madly, wildly, kinetic.

But whatever next from here? How do they try to top this one? I cannot imagine, but I’m sure they will try.

Avatar 2 in 2016? January 13, 2012

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Jon Landau has made it known that Avatar 2 is likely four years away at least; sometime around 2016 it seems, though I suspect that might slip back even further, as these things tend to do. I wonder what effect such a gap might have on the film’s box-office? 3D’s bubble may have well and truly burst by then of course- certainly the novelty of the format, and its due impact on the success of the original Avatar, will have waned. Of course, the public are a fickle lot too, and there may well be some other ‘cool’ franchise around by then. That said, Avatar was all about simple story and epic visuals and that hardly seems to be going out of fashion anytime soon- just witness the success of the POTC and Transformers franchises that seem to make amounts of money inverse to the artistic worth of the film’s themselves. Regards Avatar though, the film will have been gathering dust in the DVD/Blu-ray collections of fans for six years by then- how does the marketing dept keep the intellectual property/franchise alive? Isn’t there a danger of leaving it too long?

I think the success of the impending 3D release of Titanic may be an interesting test of the 3D format and the long road to Avatar 2. Here is a film that fans will have owned for some years on DVD and seen several showings on television, being released in cinemas reformated in 3D. What exactly is the appetite of the public for that? Titanic was fine for its time, but hardly a cinematic classic that deserved the OTT success it received. Kate and Leo are hardly the lovestruck teenage idols they may have once been, surely. So why think cinemagoers will flock to see it again simply for the extra dimension? I’m not at all convinced, but then, I’m frankly befuddled by the success that Disney’s 3D re-release of The Lion King enjoyed a few months ago. Whatever you think of 3D, why pay to see a film at the cinema that you already own/have seen many times?  

Likewise Lucas’ 3D version of the frankly execrable The Phantom Menace. Other than the 3D format, it seems the exact same film fans bought on Blu-ray back in September. So why think fans will flock in their droves to see something they actually own in HD anyway? What gives?

Of course, there’s also the odd order that those films are being released in. Lucas insists on releasing them as Episodes 1-6 as if the films even make sense that way. I had a conversation at work the other day when a colleague mentioned hearing something about Star Wars films being re-released in 3D, and when I informed him that it would be one per year starting with TPM, I was answered by a telling silence, followed by the inevitable ”What? He isn’t bringing out Star Wars first?” By which he of course referred to Ep.4/A New Hope.  If anybody wants to see any SW film in 3D, its that one. Instead Lucas seems intent on shoving the proclaimed importance and worth of the Episodic format of the saga forever. Having been fool enough to buy that blu-ray set last Sept, I watched Star Wars/Empire/Jedi and after TPM gave up, unable to stomach AOTC or ROTS, and I still haven’t summoned up the courage/interest to give them a go. The idea of watching the first three annually in 3D, and actually paying inflated 3D prices for the ‘privilage’, before reaching the decent two films is just bloody madness to me, and I’m fairly confident Lucas will never get to convert Episode 4 to 3D- I think his grand plan to fleece the fans once more will fail spectacularly. You’d think he might have learned caution by the cinema release of The Clone Wars.

But then again, you never know. And Avatar 2 might be an even bigger box-office hit than Avatar was. It’s a crazy, crazy world Out There. 

Green Lantern (2011) * January 10, 2012

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Ugh, what a banal movie; how not to make  superhero movie. Let me count the ways-

1) Don’t have, as your chief villain, a big galactic cloud of tentacles with a big ugly face at the centre. There’s all the drama and intimidation/threat of a cereal commercial.

2) Don’t mire the movie with endless dizzying cgi fx that makes the whole thing look like a motion comic or a pre-viz. After the Star Wars prequels, you’d have thought someone in Hollywood would have figured it out. It’s all very pretty but utterly un-involving (and for a film that cost upwards of $200 million, it looked pretty fake to me). And so many cg characters… hello? The name Jar Jar means nothing to these Hollywood creative types?

3) Don’t fill the fill the movie with an endless parade of presumably expensive a-list actors playing z-movie cardboard characters. Tim Robbins? Angela Bassett? Does artistic integrity mean nothing against the mighty buck? Some of this stuff is so underwritten the script might as well have been empty air. A troupe of amateur drama theatre types from the local Uni could have outperformed the thespians on display here. 

4) Well, while on the subject of the script.. maybe an actual, honest-to-goodness story might be a nice idea to start making a movie with? You know, with a plot, a beginning, middle and an end, maybe a character arc, some drama, some emotion? 

5) Don’t end the movie with one of those post-credit teasers that offers a much more interesting film than we’ve actually seen. Nothing pisses me off more than forcing myself through a turd only to find out the film-makers had a much better film in the wings waiting to be made, but chose to film the bad one first.

6) Don’t ever greenlight (sorry) a film about the Green Lantern.

7) er, number 6 again, just incase you missed it. I’d hate the most important lesson of this film to be missed.

8) no, I give up.

The film just wasn’t worth it. Silly un-involving vacuous noisy messy nonsense. How on Earth things like this get made I just don’t know, you’d think it would have got smelled out as a turd from the start, before $200 million got pumped into the sewer. Last year I saw Jonah Hex and thought Superhero movies couldn’t get any worse. I should have known better…  

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) **** January 7, 2012

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There’s something refreshing about an old-fashioned superhero caper. Ever since Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton’s Batman, there has been a tendency to over-think superheroes, to put them into the ‘real world’ and even examine the villains to the extent that they are no longer just ‘bad’, rather misunderstood or victims of ill fate. Even Superman Returns, which deliberately referenced the simple pleasures of Richard Donner’s two Superman films, couldn’t resist interpreting Superman as a Christ figure with plenty of religious allegory.

So yes, there was something wonderful in the simple pleasure of Captain America’s four-colour, simple patriotic fervour. Having been familiar with the history of the character from reading the comics back in the ’seventies I was also surprised and encouraged by how faithful the film treated the character’s backstory. It isn’t the finest movie based on a comicbook (I think I’d raise Donner’s Superman:The Movie for that award) but it is fun- a word you can’t always use describing some of the comicbook movies we’ve seen over the years. I’m not knocking Nolan’s Dark Knight films, treatments like that are fine but not the be-all and end-all of the genre, I just think there should be plenty of films that just encompass the fun and simplicity of their source material. Not every superhero has the pathos of a Shakespeare, you know? (I’m pointing at Miller’s unforgivable The Spirit movie, that turned one of comicdoms greatest, truest works of art into a b&w nightmare).

So Captain America is great fun. Chris Evans is a great hero, and with Hugo Weaving chewing up the scenery with his badass manic Red Skull the film has a great villain with ambitions to be more evil than Hitler. You don’t need much else in a comicbook movie, although Tommy Lee Jones and Hayley Atwell are great in supporting roles.

The film also has a great sense of period, harking back to the simple joys of Johnston’s earlier The Rocketeer that was set in the same era- maybe that’s part of the trick with these kinds of superhero movies, remembering the context of the times in which they were created. Superman was a Depression-era hero, Captain America a War hero. I have always thought that the Spiderman films should be set in the early ’sixties, looking like a superhero Mad Men kind of thing, give it that ‘look’ and cool style. I know that could never happen with a Hollywood blockbuster today, but whenever I think about Spidey, I think of the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko-era originals. Putting Spidey and his villians into the modern-day world just isn’t the same.

But whatever they do with Captain America in future movies (and The Avengersis looking pretty unmissable at present), at least they got the first one right.  And I must say, Cap’s shield looks so cool and iconic it put shivers up my spine seeing it in action. Great movie. Seems last years summer blockbuster season was pretty good after-all.

Point Blank (2010) *** January 3, 2012

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A wildly kinetic French thriller, Point Blank (À bout portant) is a very efficent chase movie that reminded me of the likes of Taken and Unknown(to such an extent that I’m expecting a Liam Nielson-starring Hollywood remake anytime now). The chase begins at the very start of the film with a wounded man being pursued by what appears to be two criminals. Just as the two hitmen catch up with him, the wounded man steps into the path of a motorcycle and is rushed to hospital. The main protagonist of the film, a male nurse, Samuel (Liam Nielson in the Hollywood version, mark my words), notices another assassin trying to kill the wounded man whilst he lies unconscious in his hospital bed. Samuel chases the would-be killer off and saves the wounded man’s life. However he’s now got himself involved in a web of intrigue, with his pregnant wife soon kidnapped by the hitmen and Samuel forced to get the wounded man out of the hospital, chased by cops and criminals alike as he atempts to evade capture and save his wife. 

Once it begins it never really lets up, very entertaining with plenty of genuine twists and turns. With an extremely tight and brisk 84-minute running time it never gets chance to outstay its welcome or give you chance to pause and think how daft the whole thing probably is. It has a docu-drama look, filmed mostly on location, very gritty, hard-edged. Yeah, a good rental, and no doubt destined for the Hollywood treatment.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (2011) **** January 2, 2012

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Christmas has given me chance (thanks to putting lots of Blu-rays on my wishlist) to catch up on many of the films that passed me by in the summer as I don’t go to the cinema much these days (expensive tickets/noisy teens etc blah blah you know how it is). So I’ve pretty much got a summer blockbuster season to enjoy in the dead of winter, and first up is ROTPA, a film which really got my interest after it got surprisingly favourable reviews on its cinema release. 

I say surprisingly, because when I first learned that the film was in production it seemed a pretty daft move to me, having thought the nails were firmly in the POTA franchise coffin following Tim Burton’s dire 2001 remake/re-imagining. And yet the film-makers, deciding to relaunch the franchise completely, somehow managed to pull it off. Setting the film in the near future (I don’t think it ever establishes a specific date but guess it is ten-twenty years from now), it tells, as the title suggests, the story of the Apes first rebellion against their human masters and explains with some style how the Apes get so mentally developed.  It also cleverly sets the seeds for the Apes future domination, hinting that the very virus that evolves the Apes, and is deadly to humanity, is rapidly spreading across the globe at film’s end creating an impending human Apocalypse. Infact, I’d say the only real fault of the film is that its sets everything up so well it feels almost like a big tease- there’s so much of the story unresolved, waiting to be dealt with in the inevitable sequel. I always feel nervous when Hollywood pulls off things like this, as there’s no guarantee that the sequel will match or complete the original in a satisfying manner. It’d be a shame if all this good work got wasted like how Iron Man 2 undermined the first Iron Man (or as the later Matrix films did to their original, though I don’t agree with that last widely-held opinion). What we need next is the Apes equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back.

I’d have liked the brisk pace of the film to have been eased off somewhat -I think the film might have been better served with an additional twenty minutes character development for the human cast to be honest. But as someone who hates remakes/sequels/re-imaginnings I have to admit this film is very good indeed and promises a great franchise for the next few years if it can be treated with the care it deserves. And certainly it’s a good argument that cg isn’t all bad, demonstrating that it certainly helps create films that, frankly, would have been impossible a decade or more ago. One of the better so-called summer blockbusters I’ve seen in the last few years.

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