Saturday, 28 August 2010
The success of these films could be attributed to others, such as the legend that is James Caan as Ferrell's father in 'Elf', or the occassional appearance of Jack Black's bandmate Kyle Gass. Also, 'Zoolander' is packed with actors who frequently work together, such as Vince Vaughn and Stiller's now wife Christine Taylor, who worked closely with Stiller on the set of 'Dodgeball'. Also of note are Owen Wilson, who can be seen alongside Stiller in projects such as the 'Meet The Parents' series as well as the 'Night At The Museum' films. Christopher Walken can be seen in 'Zoolander', who later worked alongside Ferrell himself in the film 'Blades Of Glory' in 2007. Although the films are full of such big names, and close casts, Ferrell's fingerprints are all over them, and it has to be said that for comedies that shouldn't have worked, his recent role in 'The Other Guys' definitely follows suit. Ferrell once again turns a Hollywood role into an oppurtunity for alternative comedy, a move that becomes the maker of an unusually hilarious film.
From the opening scene, 'The Other Guys' sets itself out as a police action film. There are an impressive few scenes with NYPD partners Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson chasing criminals through New York streets, which is satisfying to see Jackson in a role that is frequent for him, the weapon-packed and loud-mouthed police officer, and which he is clearly experienced at. In a clever move, the impression of an action thriller is smashed, and Jackson makes it clear that he can play jokes on his own career, in one move, as the cocky Jackson and Johnson fall to their unexpected deaths. If Sam Jackson works effectively as an arrogant police officer, then I see no reason why he shouldn't play one here, and I was left satisfied by the decision to show that he knows it. Their death is a dose of humour in a way that's not usual to Jackson, and done by anyone else would have seemed farcical and pointless, but it was a way to poke fun at his film tradition, and left me feeling satisfied. It also went some of the way to redeeming Johnson for his recent spell of children's films, as it was obviously a great decision to be a part of a scene like that.
So into their shoes step Ferrell and his partner Mark Wahlberg. Similar to Jackson, Wahlberg was hilarious and refreshing to see in a comedy like this. Again in the same style as Samuel L. Jackson, Wahlberg has had a successful career in Hollywood police movies, Martin Scorseze's 'The Departed' being a high point in 2006. Wahlberg plays a police detective who becomes depressed with not being called out of the office for duty anymore, and without wanting to say anything bad about his impressive film history, it's unignorably an amusing role to see a police film veteran such as himself in.
Regrettably not contributing many of his own material, as he isn't allowed many lines in the film, British actor Steve Coogan helps Ferrell to add a touch of alternative comedy to the film. With a well-known stand-up career in Britain, and as writer and star of the timelessly funny 'I'm Alan Partridge' television series, it has been long-awaited that he could gain an international audience. He has worked on occassional international films, such as the recent children's hits 'Percy Jackson' and, again, the 'Night At The Museum' series, but I hope this recent accomplishment alongside Will Ferrell will help him to be seen on the international stage as the alternative comedian he is known as in Britain.
In 'The Other Guys', there are even jokes that I haven't seen done before; in a lot of Hollywood comedies, you can see lines reworked between films, but here there is fresh writing from Adam Mckay, who also had writing credits on Will Ferrell films such as 'Anchorman' and 'Talladega Nights' in 2006. From everyone involved, the film is hilarious in ways that are new and exciting, and should be remembered as a highlight of many careers in the film. I would recommend it and would say it is up to the standards of past films such as 'Anchorman' and 'Zoolander' themselves.
Friday, 27 August 2010
The fact that it is so skillful to create a truly scary film is one that many overlook when making a film; there is a tendancy to produce an essentially formulaic end product, using a frequently-used, and therefore predictable, set of ingredients. I don't by any means want to say that these films aren't effective at giving the scares that we want as viewers. Some of the greatest horror films use this technique, from the likes of 'Psycho' as early as 1960, to recent cult horrors such as 'The Descent' and 'Drag Me To Hell' in 2005 and 2009 respectively. Overall, if a horror has honestly scared you then it has been a success.
One of the key aspects of this formula is to spend the first half of the film building the atmosphere, and this was done extremely well in 'Piranha 3D'. The characters had started meeting each other, of course unaware of what was to come later in the film, the setting had been established, and there was enough discreetly strange events and suggestively dangerous camera angles to create a satisfying sense of building tension.
Another key ingredient that is frequently used is to make the viewer think they are about to be scared, and then to let the built atmosphere drop, as it turns out that it was an innocent series of events after all. It was usually the cat. This puts you into a feeling of insecurity, and therefore a sense of vulnerability about yourself. The makers can play on this later when something scary really does happen, and hopefully it has been the cat so many times that this time you're tricked into an opposite feeling of security, and it's not the cat this time. It was the killer. And you get the biggest fright so far in the film. This is also used throughout the first half of the film, so much so that I really felt like the rest of the film would be really effectively scary. There had been no darkness, and in my experience darkness really plays on that insecurity, but I got the impression there would be some later in the film. It had followed the formula so far, why would it stop?
I don't know why it stopped sticking to the formula, but everywhere the film hadn't quite succeeded in the first half, mostly the obvious lack of darkness and ridiculous explanation of events, was exactly where it focussed in the second half. I would have huge amounts of respect for a film that strays from the norm, and bucks tradition, if it pays off in the scare stakes, but 'Piranha 3D' simply didn't. The film really lost all sense of horror when the explanation was provided, which was so ridiculous that it just wasn't scary anymore. A film has to have some sense of realism, some sense of 'oh my god it could actually happen to me', or it is not scary at all. You can't help completely stopping to empathise with the characters in the slightest, and that is precisely what happened in 'Piranha 3D'.
The quotation everybody uses when talking about horror films is that the best make you 'afraid of fear itself', or that it's scariest when you 'don't even know what you're scared of', which is why it's such a good idea to use darkness. However, the entirity of the film was set in complete sunshine, in the clearest water the location scouts could find. This makes you wonder if the makers of this film were even intending to scare you in th second half. If they didn't want to, then they wouldn't have used prehistoric man-eating piranhas, or amounts of blood to make the 'Saw' series jealous, so what you're forced to conclude is that it was a horror that failed in trying to scare.
Where the film doesn't fail, though, is being a spring break-themed teen film. There are countless instances of nudity, in certain areas full-body nudity (cleverly no camera angles compromising enough to class the film as hardcore) and solely consists of drinking, dancing, swimming, and not a T-shirt in sight. Until the piranhas show their ugly faces. Then it's just a lot of dying. So, until the piranhas are introduced, the film is ideal for it's audience. It's actually impressive at creating a party atmosphere even before the first opening credit.
Another thing I was pleased to see was Christopher Lloyd, or Dr. Brown from 1985's science fiction classic 'Back To The Future', an essential part of my childhood. Joining him as someone else who I thought must surely be dead was 'Kojak', credited instead as Ving Rhames. I have seen him since, in the epitamy of action films, 'Con Air', in 1997, and one of my favourite films of all time, Tarrantino's 'Pulp Fiction' in 1995. Of course it was nice to be reunited with these faces in a film, but I was let down by what an un-scary horror film they'd both signed up for.
This became my sentiment for the entire film, I can see how effective it was at creating that college party vibe, and it was pleasure in itself to once again see Rhames and Lloyd, but my approval couldn't be gained for it as a film because it was so obviously a horror film that wasn't scary.
Wednesday, 25 August 2010
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has trouble adapting to film... it's lucky Michael Cera and Edgar Wright are at hand
It was an asset to have a director such as Wright at hand when making this film, as the story was clearly farcical, and had a tendancy to stray over the line between uncomfortable and unwatchable during the climax, even under Wright's watchful eye; it can easily be said that in less capable hands, this would have happened destructively more often. The story from Bryan Lee O'Malley was flawed from the beginning, a story that worked in graphic novel form wouldn't necessarily work as a film. The filmmakers made a good job of adapting the story, using original graphics from the series, and even seemed self-aware at times, which only added to the comedy of the end product. The team behind the film have to be commended on working the story into film, and when all is said about the fatalities involved with adapting the story to film, it's clear that Wright's move to Hollywood, and higher budgets, is a seemless transition. His input is defined, and the film is clearly his own, but allthewhile works perfectly with international names like Cera and 'Up In The Air' support Anna Kendrick.
Something else that let the film down when adapting it was the casting of Michael Cera. I don't think that he gave a bad performance by any means, but with such a history of films in his background, Cera is experienced at playing the nervous teen, and of course it shows; 'Superbad', 'Juno', 'Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist' and 'Youth In Revolt', among others, range from 2007 to 2009, and in what feels already like a whole career, Cera has perfected mannerisms and characteristics that are trademark to him. There are scatterings of these within 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World', but at the same time as being the funniest lines in the film, they made it hard to see him as anything other than who he's been in films before. He just wasn't believable as a grunge guitarist who the seventeen-year-old character Knives looks up to.
In fact, Cera's performance was great in his own right, a fact that was not let down by the wrong decision to cast him, and this was equalled, if not overshadowed, by the inclusion of Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the role of Ramona, and I look forward to her roles in the future. Also making a welcomed appearance was Anna Kendrick, the award-winning supporting actress from 'Up In The Air', who is also a name from the set of the undeniably, and annoyingly, successful Twilight saga. For such a fatal story, the cast and whole team behind the film handle it in a way that has trouble translating to screen, but the personal touches from all involved makes it a film to note, and hopefully a step to bigger things for everyone.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
Fassbender and West were both cast as part of the hugely successful Spartan epic '300' in 2006, and it, undoubtedly, is not dissimilar from 'Centurion'. One thing that made '300' what it was, is the almost laughable cliches used throughout; even though they have been replaced with satisfying repartee between the cast, the comfort brought by them in such a rarity of an epic was not lost. Vast landscapes and impressive CGI was replaced by earthy darkness and shakey filming, to create a sense of realism that was, commendably, to the same standard in both films. If this film doesn't gain as wide an audience as '300' did, then an attrocity has been committed.
There was a very graphic sense to the film, created by the use of close-to-the-action filming and very grimey violence. This is something done well in British-made films such as 'Eden Lake' itself, and sets it apart from peers, even including the likes of '300'. 'Centurion' is a UK Film Council production, which has produced some modern, and sometimes timeless, classics; these are titles like 'This Is England' and 'Somers Town', both including the afore-mentioned Thomas Turgoose, and Noel Clarke's cult 'Kidulthood' and 'Adulthood'.In fact, Noel Clarke also takes up a role in 'Centurion' itself.
Although, it is only natural to be prepared for disappointment when the logo is shown in the opening credits, after ventures such as 'The Imagnarium Of Doctor Parnassus'. This was a film with so much promise, directed by Monty Python's Terry Gillian and including the likes of Johnny Depp, Heath Ledger, Colin Farrell, Jude Law and a classic performance as the devil from Tom Waits. The film was unfortunately ruined by the performances of the lead cast, a huge disappointment from the film Ledger actually died in the process of making. As one of the greatest actors of his time, I hope 'The Imagnarium Of Doctor Parnassus' is swiftly omitted from being part of his legacy.
The UK Film Council's occassional let-downs is only more reason, however, to celebrate the triumph that is 'Centurion'. The director, Neil Marshall, made a fantastic job of this warrior epic, with scenes of suspense worthy even of horror films. Fassbender handles these with heart-pumping pleasure, showing why we should all expect to see him in more 'Eden Lake'-esque horrors, and helped no doubt by Marshall's experience directing and writing the suspenseful 'The Descent', something I greatly enjoyed seeing in 2005. Marshall also directed 'Doomsday' in 2008, where he worked with 'Centurion' actress Axelle Carolyn; Carolyn has worked in a few horror films, but I hope this film makes her name. Her performance is one that makes the film what it is to watch.
Perhaps the team behind this film having a background in horrors is something that makes it so successful to watch as an epic, and if it is, then it's a move between genres that I'm looking forward to seeing in the future. 'Centurion' is a warrior epic up to the standards of the international '300', and has a fantastic team behind it, with a fantastic reputation in the best of modern British classics, but it's the experienced horror aspect that makes it worthy of international competition.
Monday, 23 August 2010
So, when given the oppurtunity to see 'Vampires Suck', I used the same philosophy that it took to make me watch the saga in the first place, and I sat through the spoof. However, for a film that so heavily wants to take every spare second to poke fun at the original films, all I was thinking was 'why would I want to see 'New Moon' for a second time?' This is exactly how it feels to watch the film. You get the impression that the makers weren't impressed by the film, but every effort has still been made to cast actors who look like their real-life counterparts, to shoot scenes from the same actors and to convey exactly the same storyline as 'New Moon' itself.
You are left wondering whether the makers (the highly acclaimed team behind films such as 'Scary Movie' and 'Epic Movie') actually liked the original saga, which in turn presents another way in which 'Vampires Suck' is a complete farce; why attempt to write jokes that poke holes in everything from the make up used to the plot? The film, therefore, doesn't work from any angle you look at it. And still, no matter whether the makers did intend to write an attack or a tribute to the Twilight saga, the jokes themselves are written badly enough to make you want to turn the film off or leave the cinema.
There were no jokes in the writing of the film, the dialogue was there solely to give the same storyline as 'New Moon' or to give half a try at attacking it, a contradiction in itself. Then, there is the monotony of the slapstick in the film. Physical humour is possibly the least successful way of getting a laugh during a film, and as there was either comic-book punches, rubber shovels or dancing in every scene, what is left is a film where I didn't laugh once. In fact, I felt embarrassed for the cast at parts, which would have been successful if it was the intention. It clearly wasn't.
It was also obvious that the film was casted based upon there similarities to the original 'New Moon' characters. If they weren't believeable, it would have been accounted for by their comic timing, but the lack of comic timing merely contributed to making a comedy that just wasn't funny. I have been looking forward to seeing Ken Jeong from 'The Hangover' in more films, but after his hilarious character in 2009's hilarious film, I was let down by this. I wouldn't like to see a single member of this film's cast in another film. All of the flaws joined forces to make an overall amateur film so uncomfortable that I couldn't wait for it to end.
There is a YouTube channel called 'Monkey And Apple' who make Twilight spoofs with comic timing that genuinely makes you laugh after seeing the actual films, and this film was so amateur as a film, it felt like a YouTube video that didn't know when to stop. These videos are a good deal shorter than 'Vampires Suck', and a lot funnier, so for an amateur Twilight spoof, my advice would be to watch those instead.
Sunday, 22 August 2010
Then, there is a slight gap in status before we reach the second group, who have certainly made a name for themselves, including Jason Statham in films such as 'Crank', 'The Transporter' and 'Snatch', throughout the 21st century thus far. It is merely the short time he has been working that has set him apart from the true giants in the film. Although, he has had the chance to work with such big names in the past, as Jet Li's 'The One' starred Statham in 2001. He has successfully gained a name for himself in the world of action, and fits in well with names such as Stallone, the two of them becoming somewhat of a pairing throughout 'The Expendables'.
Also in the second group is Steve Austin, who started his career as a WWF (now WWE) wrestler, and much like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, stepped into film. However, we can commend Austin for not having moved into the recent ill-advised speight of children's films.
'The Expendables' quickly took it's cast to be it's selling point, and it worked, because with such huge names, it was hard not to be excited. Schwarzenegger films are the induction to anyone's liking of action films, the staple diet of any action fan, and if that is just one of the names Stallone managed to bring together in one film, it is already a triumph. I found it hard to believe that Schwarzenegger could have found time outside his job as Governor of California to film, and the solution was revealed during the film; there is merely one scene in which Arnie can be seen, and it's poorly done. He doesn't act well, as he is clearly out of practice, and his character is completely unnecessary. With both of these things being true, it was honestly not even worthwhile to have included him as a token cinema giant. Also, the things that make his previous films so classic and timeless is the writing. I wouldn't by any means say they were written well, but they were timeless because they were so corny. And when making the film, Stallone and the writers could have included this, and didn't. This is just the first point that lets the film down.
The next is the way the older generation has aged. Stallone and Rourke have been Hollywood A-listers for a substantial time, and this has rendered them, after decades of working on their looks, simply unbelievable as action stars. This was compensated for by writing them in as the most charismatic of the team, to try and give the viewers something to believe in, but this was ruined by two things. Firstly, Rourke's character must be somewhat notorious to be included in this exclusive ring of thugs, which I have already said is unbelievable. Secondly, Stallone is in almost every scene, which is understandable as the screenplay is his. This means that he has a very important role within the film. His wit is written to make up for the lost believability, but for an actor who is recurrent throughout the entire film, his poor acting during scenes where he is not fighting lets the entire film down.
So, if the film does not fulfil it's criteria as 'the best action cast ever assembled', according to the posters, then we have to look for what else it is relying on. This must be it's merits as an action film. This said, it doesn't compare well. There are explosions throughout, tough characters, constant violence to the point of being gratuitous, but when there are other alternatives out there, and the public is expected to see it as being the standard of the cast's previous accomplishments, while even the likes of Statham don't appear to be doing their own stunts, the cast simply let themselves down.
Saturday, 21 August 2010
Back in 2008, that was a film that shone a light on Jolie's talents as an actress, rather than an emotionless killer that she had played before in films such as the Tomb Raider series in which she broke into the world's consciousness. 'Changeling' showed Jolie's character as vulnerable, which, although she stuck to a hard exterior, hadn't been widely attempted with her before, and was pulled off well. This gave a sense of optimism when watching it, as you really believed Jolie as something different to what she is casted as over, and over, again.
'Changeling' was followed in the same year by 'Wanted', which was disappointing, because as with 'Salt', Jolie showed only one expression throughout the film. Maybe it was naive to expect something different this time around, but it can only have been hoped that 'Wanted' was a setback. I hope that really is true for 'Salt'.
It was especially disappointing to see Jolie's performance as I was so impressed by the film as a whole. I would like to be able to say that she was merely playing to the script she was given, but with so much potential in a film, I am still glad to say that it was not spoilt by the lead role.
The film is set around a Russian plot to raise agents and plant them within America, to eventually bring the country down from the inside, known in the film as 'day X'. It was very clever of the writers to include such a heavy dose of Russian espionage, as so much of the world's media is currently dominated by the Middle East. 'Salt' manages to give light relief and escapism for the viewer, and returns to the days of thrillers and early James Bond films in which the Russians were the enemy. The presidents of both Russia and America both fall victim of assassination attempts, but they are never named, there is never a date given in the story, it merely says 'present day', and there are even strong references to Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. This makes the film timeless and comfortable to watch, while having the intelligence of plotlines based deeply in 20th century Russian history.
'Salt' could admittedly have done with a less-complicated plotline, as side-switching in a film doesn't always make for a film that's easy to watch, but it wasn't at all hard to follow as a story. Even though the ending was frustratingly set up for a sequel, that still didn't spoil my enjoyment because I'm not convinced there will be a sequel judging by the failure in box offices, and if there isn't a sequel, a cliffhanger ending is a perfect way to end a timeless thriller.
Thursday, 19 August 2010
From the outset, Inception was obvioulsy going to be a success; it was directed and written by Christopher Nolan (of Batman fame), and the team of actors included Tom 'watch-this-space' Hardy, who was the well-casted lead in 2008's 'Bronson', will be playing Mad Max himself in 2012's Mad Max movie 'Mad Max: Fury Road', and was clearly enough to impress Guy Ritchie, when directing 'RocknRolla' in 2008. I suggest we all wait with baited breath to see what Hardy has in store for the future, and where his characters will apparently be from; a lifetime of moving countries has rendered him a diverse actor, through voice and clearly now through acting ability.
Ellen Page, otherwise known as 'Juno', was honestly unexpected. I was admittedly wrong to assume that the lead in a that-film-gets-us teen film would be unwise, but there are scenes when her 'Inception' character, Ariadne, is upset in a way that is reminiscent of the drama of 'Juno',while not being enough to spoil the film you're watching, and also impressive scenes where she navigates the action genre in a way that I would love to see again.
Also claiming a piece of the film's success was Cillian Murphy, or 'what have i seen that guy in?' as you may know him. Not only does Murphy have a face that i have very commonly heard mistaken for that of Christian Bale, but just to be more awkward, he also had a part in both Batman films in which Bale plays Bruce Wayne. Both of these films were also directed by Inception's Christopher Nolan; the Murphy-Nolan pairing makes for a lucritive summer of cinema, and even though that is not a phrase synonymous with a good film, they have set themselves a good reputation in these cases.
It is worth mentioning that Michael Caine is also included in both 'Inception' and Nolan's Batman films, although he is included in a not-very-important way in both instances. Other than Alfred the butler being a classic and vital part of the Batman legacy, I can't see a point in Caine being in either film, and honestly that was a part that could have been taken by anyone. He was there in Inception to add a touch of cinema class, and I will credit the film that he certainly did, Michael Caine is cinema royalty, and as Nolan is obviously aware, any more inclusion would have been excessive and unnecessary. Playing a father-in-law and learned professor, Caine's occassional pearls of wisdom are an effective source of comfort in what has been extensively reported to be a confusing plotline. Helping Caine to increase the cast's average age was Pete Postlethwaite, who gave a fascinating performance as Murphy's dying father that haunts you after watching the film.
On the release of 'Inception', there was a cry of mass confusion where the 'encore!' should have been, which I resent. The plotline is clearly complex, but surely that's the intention. There were some parts of the film where you don't have a clue what somebody has just said, or why they are doing what they are doing, but if I can ask one thing of you when you watch the film, it is that you have faith in the storytelling; if you feel like that when watching it, then not five minutes later, something will happen which will clear everything up.
I will admit to being an advocate of hating happy endings. I can see why someone would include them in a film, but it is not hard for a film to refrain from being self-aware when including a happy ending, and it more often than not ends up making you feel uncomfortable. For this reason among others, I was left fulfilled by 'Inception'. The entire premise of the film is based upon the uncertainty of the reality they are experiencing within the film, and how fragile that reality is when it is in the hands of someone else, or fate itself. The fact that at the end of the whole film you are left unsure of whether or not what was being portrayed as reality for over two hours actually was reality was strangely satisfying. Of course it was frustrating, but that was massively overwhelmed by the disappointment I could hear from everyone around me, and thinking of how smug the creators of the film must be, knowing they are subjecting the public to that frustration on mass, as many times a day as they can, at most cinema screens in the country, every single day.