Do Superhero movies need saving? DC vs Marvel 2: Dawn of The Age of The Leotard Extended Universe

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years that has been a big trend in superhero movies. We are now at a stage where 3 or more come out every year, the question is do we need them? How will they keep us entertained? How can they differentiate themselves from the crowd?

Please enjoy this discussion and leave your thoughts below:

To get started here are all the Superhero films being released in the near future (starting this year)! Deep breath everyone!

2016

  • Deadpool (Fox/Marvel) aka Mr Pansexual Sweary Fourth Wall
  • Batman vs Superman (DC) aka Discount Civil War
  • Captain America: Civil War (Marvel)
  • Suicide Squad (DC) aka Harlequin and ”Not Heath Ledger”
  • X-Men Apocalypse (F) aka The Other Jennifer Lawrence Franchise
  • Dr Strange (M) aka Magic Sherlock

2017

  • Wolverine 3 (F)  aka The last movie before Hugh Jackman collapses under the weight of his own pecs and biceps
  • Guardians of The Galaxy 2 (M)
  • Not Black Widow Part 1 (DC) aka Wonder Woman
  • Spiderman (who knows?) – no not Tobey Maguire, no not him either… It’s Tom Holland
  • Thor Ragnarok (M)
  • Justice League Part 1 (DC) aka Team Up Timewonder-woman-amazons1

2018

  • Black Panther (M) aka slowly dragging superhero diversity into the 21st century
  • The Flash (DC)
  • Avengers Infinity War Part 1 (M)- I HATE HARRY POTTER FOR STARTING THIS 2 PART FILM NONSENSE
  • Antman and The Wasp (M) aka Tiny Tim and his gang of criminal stereotypes
  • Untitled Fox/Marvel film (read X-men/X-Force/Gambit/Deadpool 2/ god knows what?)
  • Aquaman (DC) aka not Seaman and Swallow
  • Animated Spiderman film

2019

  • NOT BLACK WIDOW Part 2 (M) aka Captain Marvel
  • Shazam (DC) copywright infringement as he was formerly known as Captai Mar-vel
  • Avengers Infinity War Part 2 (M)
  • Justice League Part 2 (DC) YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
  • Inhumans (M)

2020

  • Cyborg (DC) aka not Robocop or Ultron
  • Untitled Marvel Film
  • Green Lantern (DC) aka Deadpool’s worst nightmare
  • Plus 2 more untitled Marvel films

Which at my count makes 29 SUPER-HERO FILMS! AND THIS DOESN’T INCLUDE ALL THE SUPERHERO TV SERIES:

  • Daredevil
  • Jessica Jones
  • Luke Cage
  • Iron Fist
  • The Defenders
  • Arrow
  • Flash
  • Agents Of Shield
  • Legends Of Tomorow
  • Agent Carter

This is a lot of films, now you could argue that there would be twice as many action or horror films in the same length of time. But super-hero films are a much more specific type of film; they stand on and represent a set of principles and ideals and are meant to inspire and amaze audience. And as such with 6 films/ year they will need to do something to differentiate themselves from the crowd. The question is DO WE NEED THIS MANY?

Now to prefix this, I love superhero films; they are exciting, full of heart and a brilliant spectacle. And while they do not all hit the mark in terms of a cinematic masterpiece they are all a lot of fun!

Superhero films overcame their first obstacle right out of the gate with Nolan’s Batman Begins and Iron Man for the MCU. They got well respected and talented actors to play the leads roles, lending a certain weight to the projects which made people to sit up, pay attention and give the films a chance. This trend has continued with even the small bit parts being played by A-list actors. At last count there are 23  OSCAR WINNING  and  28 OSCAR NOMINATED actors involved with comic book projects alone (this excludes any production/writing/directing nominees). Unsurprisingly with this great depth of acting talent, and well rounded supporting casts, the performances are never an issue. The performances bring the heart, emotion and often the fun to these films.

Now a good cast can only work with what they’re given and if not given the best screenplay, there is only so much they can do. There is a wealth of source-material to pull from, up to 60 years of material in fact. There are so many arcs and characters that we could have a never ending stream of comic book movies until 2100! Although I think once we reach Squirrel Girl (M), Arm Fall Off Boy (DC) and Matter Eater Lad (DC)  maybe we should call time of death!

The name says it all!

The first major problem with super-hero movies is related to this. All of the studios have a huge roll-out plan for their extended universe’s with over arching themes and arcs to span years. Which means they want to have tie-ins, links, easter eggs, foreshadowing , cameos, and Stan Lee (DC gets a free pass here) splattered all over each movie. And while these can be harmless, like Howard The Duck at the end of Guardians, they can also cause serious problems. Take Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a solid film. Not Marvels finest and not Marvels worst. One of the many reasons it suffered were the ways it was trying to play lip service to set up future films: visions for Thor 3 and Infinity War, Wakanda and Klaus for Black Panther, Hulk disappearing into space for whatever reason. This takes time away from real character development resulting in 2 hours of continuous action spectacle…which is exhausting. *SPOILER ALERT*Especially since it meant we had no real incite into the Maximoff Twins but were then expected to cry when of them died? By the way the Maximoff twins are DEFINITELY..I REPEAT…DEFINITELY NOT MUTANTS.

Then you get things at the opposite end of the spectrum; poor/curve ball writing choices like Black Widow and Hulk falling in love in Ultron, the entire X-men Last Stand film and Thor films outside of Loki. Which the best actors in the world can’t do anything about

The result of this is that each film tries to up the stakes, the spectacle and the CGI in an attempt to feel new, interesting and relevant. When in fact, creating a smaller, human story would be a much more captivating and thrilling film. Is it any wonder that that best comic book films tend to be more at home in other genres: Captain America: Winter Solider is a thriller, while the Dark Knight is an out an out crime film, even Ant-Man is a heist film. Granted, Avengers 1 and the better X-men films are very much super-hero films but they thrive on a human heart and witty humour (especially Avengers) and not on Michael Bay Explosions and super-hero landings.

These tropes are so familiar and hard to avoid that even Deadpool, the most self-aware comic movie around, managed to fall into the same tropes whilst taking the piss out of them!

Granted there are often some great action sequences, (like the gem below) but with 6 films a year potentially relying on this back-up plan, how long until it gets tedious?

 

The other perhaps more troubling problem with these movies? Directing. It is inconsistent, now I realise it is unrealistic for the same director to do all the movies in one universe. But for every true hit movie there are usually a couple of misses! Consistency in the quality of director is crucial, poor direction makes a poor movie no matter what the rest of the film production is like. This then effects the appearance and quality of the whole universe, due to the studious insistence on interconnection. Here are some examples:

  • Incredible Hulk – Lous Letterier – Critically poor background
  • Iron Man 3 -Shane Black – Inexperienced
  • Thor: Dark World – Alan Taylor – who?
  • Captain America: The First Avenger – Joe Johnstone – acclaimed director of JURASSIC PARK 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Point made?

Brian Singer has made great X-men films, James Gunn and The Russo Brothers produced some of the best Marvel films (both of which were surprising efforts). Although it remains to be seen how the latter two will fair on their second outings. As both Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon (both acclaimed directors) created amazing first entries to the cannon. Yet studio intervention, pressure and scale resulted in the 2nd films which were good but unable to reproduce the magic a 2nd time around. Especially in Whedon’s case (1min 15 onwards).

I believe that to avoid superhero burnout we need to focus on smaller, grounded, personal stories within the grand scale AND directors must be held to a higher standard. Choosing experienced and quality directors who will make the smart choices. GRANTED even this does not guarantee success, take the first Thor and its director Kenneth Brannagh, an acclaimed Shakespearan director and actor; but an average film at best. But with all these movies vying for the limelight it is an issue which has to be addressed.

This brings me to Batman vs Superman. FULL DISCLOSURE I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET. I am excited to see the film and will go in open-minded but I am not surprised by the luke-warm critical reception it has received:

  1. They are trying to set up a super-hero team up in one movie, something that took Marvel 5 films. This probably means screen time will be spread too thin between all the plot lines and tie-ins leading to forced cameos and exposition and probably poorly explained motives.
  2. The cast is strong and the acting will be great (especially excited for Batfleck) but this can’t save a movie if it’s already flawed.
  3. Zack Snyder. If we are all honest has he ever made a really good movie? 300, is solid. Watchmen is okay but far too long. Suckerpunch is a bizarre fever dream. All 3 are style over substance. His debut Dawn of the Dead remake is probably his best bet but still isn’t great. So why are people surprised when he doesn’t suddenly pull a cinematic masterpiece out of his backside?

Like I said I will go in open-minded and will probably enjoy the film, even find lots of praise for it. But will I love it the way I love other super-hero movies or even other movies in general? Probably not!

Now the future for super-hero movies does look promising, the casts continue to grow in talent. There are some exciting releases to come this year with Civil War (YAY SPIDERMAN), Suicide Squad and the emergence of magic in the MCU with Doctor Strange. After which, the super-hero genre is finally beginning to embrace diversity with the first African-Amercan and female lead movies being released in the near future. There are also some great directors attached to new exciting projects: David Ayer (Training Day) for Suicide Squad, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed) for Black Panther and the Russo‘s have several films in the works.

But only time will tell if this film movement is a flash in the pan or whether it will last. But as long as audiences keep bringing in the huge profits you can be sure to see a lot more leotards over the next few years. Lets just hope the experience can always feel as new and exciting as it still does now!

Let me know your thoughts below!

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My 10 favourite films of the year: A failed attempt at objectivity

With the year drawing to a close and these lists springing up everywhere, I thought why not get on the band wagon (and potentially be the straw that broke the camels back).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t scene Star Wars yet or the Oscar race films such as Spotlight, Danish Girl and the Revenant which are not out in the UK yet.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Ant-Man, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Spectre (reviews in hyperlinks below)

Ant-Man was a breath of fresh air into the MCU; small scale, charming and genuinely funny and entertaining.

Age of Ultron (MCU’s main poster child for the year) was a good solid entry into the Marvel cannon. Great performances and cast additons and an entertaining story. The main problem was the expected overcrowding and (what I suspect) are extra bits stuffed into the film at the studios request. Everything was done well, just not as well as the original.

I feel like taking the best elements of Skyfall and Spectre would make a near perfect movie, sadly separately they are both just good. Spectre also criminally underused Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

These films were all good, just not quite enough to make it into the top 10.

Onwards and upwards:

10) It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

There is a full review to come with this one but to summarize… a brilliant and original concept which sheds some interesting light on modern day attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Couple that with a very creepy, John Carpenter-esque score, great acting and some genuine scares makes for one of the best horror/thriller films in a long time.

I couldn’t choose between these next two and couldn’t leave them out (hence my failure at objectivity).

9)…B)  Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)

Possibly the most picturesque and beautiful film this year? Either way it is a masterpiece in cinematography and the rest of the film ain’t too shabby either.

9)…A) Slow West (John Maclean)

Maybe this film coud revive the dying Western genre? All I know is that its slow build, short run time, pointed dialogue and brilliant characters make for wonderful film.

FUN FACT: This is the 2nd best tourism add for New Zealand behind The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy.

Click here for my full review!

8) Beasts Of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga)

Brutal and beautiful visuals, difficult subject matter and some astounding acting. This really was the best way Netflix’s original movie platform could have started.

Here is my full review.

7) Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

My second failure at objectivity. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time, as I am dinosaur obsessed. Jurassic World, although not as good as the original, certainly lived up to the hype and was thoroughly entertaining. Took me back to when I first saw Jurassic Park.

Here is my full review.

6) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

Somehow the 4th and 5th entries of this franchise are arguably on/above-par with the original. This is certainly helped by the continually growing all-star cast and a sensational performance by Rebecca Ferguson. Ludicrous stunts, a clever plot and a good story make this one of the best action films of the year.

Full review here.

5) Brooklyn (John Crowley)

This film, based on Colm Toibin’s book, is really a show case of Saorise Ronan’s ability. Despite her young age, she delivered an exceptional performance with depth and subtlety; she says more with one look than most can with a conversation. The screenplay is great and bolstered by a strong supporting cast and direction. This is a great film and deserves all the praise it is receiving.

4) The Martian (Ridley Scott)

Once again we are off to save Matt Damon (see Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan etc)! This is funny, smart and brilliantly helmed by Damon as stranded astronaut Mark Watney. A scene stealing performance from Donald Glover as the scientific whiz kid back on Earth is also worth a nod.

This scene says it all:

 

3) Carol (Todd Haynes)

This film is a beautiful piece of art. Haynes completely immerses  you in this gorgeous 50’s world allowing you to focus on the truly remarkable performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This film could have very easily become politicized, after all it is about a tale of love between two women in the 1950’s and the difficulties they face and could well still face today. Instead, however, gender doesn’t feature into this, it is just a story about two people falling in love and trying to make it work. Making it all the more beautiful.

2) Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

The directorial debut from the writer of 28 Days Later is impressive to say the absolute least. A thought provoking, stylish and clever Sci-fi film; it deals with complex subjects and doesn’t dumbdown or spoon-feed the audience as is so common in cinema today. Many films try and tackle artificial intelligence and, aside from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I cannot think of any other film that deals with it so originally, intelligently and tensely. All in all a resounding success.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

George Miller returns to his Mad Max franchise with a huge victory for pracitcal effect and story telling in general. This movie is one long exhilarating ride, with barely time to catch your breath; it is incredible to watch. Rarely do films show such a single-minded dedication to an idea but I’m glad this film does! The title may suggest otherwise but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the real main character, and this is not the only female empowerment you’ll see during this film.

It was hard to choose between this and Ex Machina; but through sheer ferocity and excitement Mad Max won out for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

1)The success ofAlicia Vikander’s as Ava and Charlize Theron as Furiosa should surely prove now that women can lead critically and commercially successful films of any genre: Action, Sci-Fi not just love stories! Also a well deserved not too Emily Blunt for Sicario and Rebecca Ferguson for MI: Rogue Nation.

2) I regret not being able to see these movies so far this year and will have to catch up in the New Year: Trainwreck, Sicario, Crimson Peak, Legend, The Lobster, Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Black Mass, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

Well that’s all folks. Please let me know what you think of this list in the comments: Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Either way, let me know.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Apologies for my absence: Part 1

I’ve been busy of late, so much so that my last post was about 2 months ago! Time to get back in the saddle. But do not fear, I have been watching many, many movies. So, today, I’m going to give you lots of mini-reviews. Right here. Right now.

  1. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper)

This film follows the story of aging, alcoholic country star ”Bad Blake” (Jeff Bridges) and his attempts to turn his life around after meeting Jean, a local journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

This film is really built around the exceptional performances of Bridges, who an an oscar for his role, and Gyllenhall, who was nominated. Their nuance, truth and heart raise the film above its mediocre source material. The film looks beautiful, but has a dragging pace which is often exacerbated by a clunky script. However, their is a wonderful soundtrack and the film does leave you fondly reflecting because of its’ feel-good charm.

VERDCIT: Who doesn’t like a bit of country every now and then.

2. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Anna (Naomi Watts) is searching for the family of a new-born baby whose young mother died during child-birth. Following the mother’s diary she ends up intwined with the Russian Mafia and their loyal driver (Viggo Mortensen).

Dark, clever and real, this British thriller is a wonderful film and provides an entertaining glimpse into the underworld of London’s organized crime and their exquisite tattoos. Anchored by strong performances from the entire cast, especially Mortensen, and bolstered by a lightning pace and strong attention to detail and realism. For instance, few films would unabashedly flaunt the male anatomy so completely during an assassination attempt in a men’s bath-house. Many would avoid the awkward dangle with close-ups, quick cuts and shaky cam. Add to this a wonderfully crafted twist and a morally ambiguous ending, definitely worth a watch.

VERDICT: Aragorn,”If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword…”. Frodo, ”Great, but did you have to tell me that when you were naked in the bathroom?”

3. FRIDAY THE 13TH (Sean S. Cunningham)

20 years after a tragic incident at Camp Crystal Lake, a group of teenage counselors are terrorized as they make preparations to re-open the camp.

I felt Lucky, having not seen this film until now. Following the last decade’s dirge of terrible, monstrously boring, ludicrous, CGI-fest, cheap jump-scare, sequel spewing, terrible horror movies (breathe) I was excited to watch another of the classics. Even watching this film today, armed with the tropes this film and others helped create, I was amazed to still find myself scared, tense and anxious. The tension was built carefully and cleverly, without CGI gore and a unearned jump-scares. Coupled with the creepy soundtrack, it makes for one hell of a scary film.

VERDICT: ”YOU’RE DOOMED! YOU’RE ALL DOOMED!”

4. Inherent Vice (P.T. Anderson)

Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), a hippy/stoner/P.I, is enlisted by his ex-girlfriend to find her, current, billionaire boyfriend has been kidnapped and ends up embroiled in a drug-filled, bizarre and typically 70’s criminal scheme.

This is not a bad film. Far from it. It is funny, charismatic, joyfully over the top and superbly acted by a typically large P.T.Anderson ensemble cast. But given Anderson’s previous work, including Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, it just left me thinking what it could have been. Anderson’s films are never simple but here the overly convoluted and chopped plot looses the audiences interest. The was so much to follow that you(I) ended up following the minimal amount. His previous film with Joaquin, The Master, was a great film and featured an outstanding performance from Joaquin and the late, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (a long time Anderson collaborator), check out the scene below. Maybe, this time, less really could have been more.

VERDICT: ”Motto panukeiku… motto panukeiku! MOTTO PANUKEIKU!”

5. Dear White People (Justin Simien)

This film follows the increasing racial tensions at a predominantly white Ivy league school, through the eyes of several African American students: Sam (Tessa Thompson) a DJ and filmmaker, Coco (Teyonah Parris) a youtuber and aspiring star, Lionel (Tyler James Williams) a journalist and Troy (Brandon Bell) the house president.

It’s hard to pin this film down into a genre. Political satire. Comedy. Drama. Think-piece. It is all of these things. As a whole it is a brilliant film. Refreshing, energetic and organic. Cinema oft-avoids the discussion of race but here it is tackled head-on with acerbic wit, careful thought and cutting honesty.  This film is thoroughly entertaining AND educational; something vital to help evolve the movie industry (and the audience).

VERDICT: Dear everybody…It’s on Netflix, go chill.

That’s all for now folks… please come back for Part 2!

Apocalypse Brando: The heart attack of darkness

A WORD TO THE WISE: when watching a 3+ hour movie on a plane, do not. I repeat DO NOT delay the start of viewing, or you will end up being made to put the laptop away for landing with only 100 seconds of footage left. After watch 190 minutes of cinematic masterpiece, you have to stop and watch the final shot 4 hours later when you get to your hotel. GOD DAMN IT!

Anyway, that is what happened when I watched Apocalypse Now (the extended Redux version). Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, a very young Laurence Fishbourne, Dennis Hopper and many, many more! So here is the trailer:

The film follows Captain Willard (Sheen) as he is sent on a secret mission, during the Vietnam War, to ”terminate the command of Colonel Kurtz…with extreme prejudice”. Kurtz (Brando) has gone rogue, despite an exemplary and exceptional military record, using brutal and horrific tactics to win the war for the US. His unsanctioned and rogue behaviour has been deemed too extreme by the higher ups and has to be removed from his position of power over US, Vietnamese and Cambodian fighters and tribesman who see him as a God-like figure. Willard must complete his top-secret mission by traveling up-river on a small naval vessel, crewed by Chief, Lance the surfer, Chef and Clean (Fishbourne). This journey brings them to a surf obsessed, Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Duvall), three playboy bunny’s and a journalist infatuated with Kurtz (Hopper); among a whole world of chaos.

This film is an all out masterpiece; gripping from start to finish, brilliantly acted, clever and quote-able screenplay. THE WORKS. But when you read about the problems during production it is amazing the film was finished at all. Here are some of the more major ones:

  • BRANDO – everything about him (Ill explain why later)
  • HARVEY KEITEL was initially cast as Willard then replaced weeks into filming by Martin Sheen.
  • TYPHOON OLGA destroyed the set
  • THEFT of one days entire payroll, required hiring of bodyguards
  • NO PROPER ENDING AFTER INITIAL FILMING
  • SHEEN HAD A NEAR FATAL HEART-ATTACK DURING FILMING
  • EXPENSIVE SCENES CUT ENTIRELY FROM ORIGINAL CUT
  • SLAUGHTER of a live buffalo
  • POOR SOUND LIBRARIES lead to lots of dubbed backing sounds
  • DENNIS HOPPER requested and was given cocaine to better play his role
  • ACTUAL CORPSES were used as set dressing in Kurtz’s empire. It turned out they were not medical cadavers but had been recently relocated from graveyards

The fact that this film was made at all is frankly incredible.

Is this the one with pre-drug crazed, porn star addled Charlie Sheen?…No this is his dad….Okay, makes sense.

With such an ensemble cast, it could have been difficult to really flesh out characters coupled with poor performances, however the acting is tremendous. Aside from the Willard and Kurtz, the two highlights for me are Clean and Kilgore. Clean was Fishbourne’s debut, only 14 at the start of filming. For such a young actor, his performance as the cocky, young soldier was very strong, really capturing the journey from innocence to hardened fighter. Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is such an iconic character; delivering classic lines such as ”I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and ”Charlie don’t surf”. His character epitomised American bravo, unflinching in the face of war and bombs around him. An, almost, arrogant sense that he knew he would not get a scratch. He also provided some of the few and fleeting moments of comedy through his obsession with surfing.

So… to Willard, who in essence is our eyes for the film. For the most part he is a passive observer, he has a singular purpose and anything beyond the scope of this is irrelevant. Sheen’s nuanced, subtle and understated portrayal of Willard really helps ground the film within the absurdities and horrors surrounding the viewer. His narration points out the hypocrisies of war, his glazed eyes match the shock the audience feels. While we relate to Willard, his dispassion becomes vexing at times; over-ruling Chief on the boat, demanding the crew focus on his mission solely, not helping stranded soldiers or civilians, minimal interaction with the boat crew and spending much of his time analyzing Kurtz. He didn’t take his mission out of pride, duty or honour he just took it because it was there. Even killing Kurtz is a passive action; following his superiors orders without question and simultaneously doing as Kurtz wanted.

”Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another”

For most of the characters, this film is a journey into the darkness and terrors of war, and how far they can be pushed before they reach their breaking point. Chef’s encounter with a tiger. Lance’s decent into drugs. Chief’s emotional meltdown. Whereas Willard was broken by his 1st tour at the start of the movie, in a coincidentally brilliant scene. Instead his journey, as he learns more about and begins to empathize with Kurtz’ fall from grace, is about whether he will give in to the madness and join Kurtz or whether sanity and the mission will prevail. Interestingly, the use of masks, shadow and face-paint is repeatedly used to denote a characters breaking point or new identity, Lance, Kurtz, Willard are all part of this symbolism.

Kurtz (played greatly but problematically by Brando) is for want of a better stereotype, an evil genius, yet his insanity is a debatable question. His understanding and involvement in war has lead him to feel great burden and responsibility for the prevailing ”horrors”. Fed up with the hypocrisies of the US army, he commands his own force. The severed heads and mutilated bodies attest to his madness and the horror that is now his life but when viewed in the context of the rest of the film and the other acts of war, they are normal, maybe even tame. These acts are the language of war and he see’s them as pure, constructive horror. Yet he speaks of these horrors as if they are from a different era and have no place in modern times. This way he is free from any morality, for which he sees no place in war, and therefore accountability.

Even with this rational, Kurtz wants to die but needs an heir to inherit his philosophy and continue his legacy, this heir is Willard. His final words, ”The horror.. .the horror” (along with many others are from T.S. Elliot poems), and his readiness to accept his death at Willard’s hand suggest that maybe he saw death as the only escape from his madness, his demons he let win and the atrocities he has tried to rationalize.

Brando’s portrayal produces a vision of a God-like character who is intellectually, physically and spiritually on another plane to everyone else. While much of this is due to his and Coppola’s brilliance it is also very much due to Brando’s failings. He arrived on set having no preparation, hating the script and ending, 40+ lbs overweight and generally problematic. He spent weeks re-writing the ending with Coppola. Brando demanded they only film him his face and coated in shadow. So they dealt with his weight by dressing him in black and using tall body doubles. These restrictions, along with his 18 minute improvised on camera monologues (much of which is cut from the film) lead to this is great portrayal. Despite, roughly, only15 minutes of screen time he really did earn top billing as his character drives the entire film.

Kurtz was meant to look withered by the jungle. Brando went the other way. Along way the other way!

The themes throughout this film, whilst not overtly anti-war, are certainly critical of all that comes with it. Willard’s mission is one snowballing hypocrisy; a waste of resources, energy and intelligence to kill a high ranking US official whilst US soldiers and Vietnamese civilians are being slaughtered all around. The river and its surrounding fog and haze help to highlight the soldiers descent into madness. As they journey further up river and become more hardened or eventually broken the film takes a hallucinatory turn to solidify this transition. Their madness is further driven by the emptiness of the American values featured in the film. Vietnamese are fighting for their homes, the US are fighting because they feel they have a right to fight in Vietnam and are fighting for Surfing, rock n roll and playboy bunnies. Even, Kilgore demands his soldiers surf or fight!

One final point of interest is the soundtrack, which often seamlessly fits and ties in with the hallucinatory tone of the film. For instance the opening scenes over ”The End” by The Doors, especially as this song moves from atmospheric sounding (over scenes of Vietnam jungle) to eery (Willard devolves in a drunk stupor). BUT perhaps the most recognizable music from Apocalypse is the use of Rise of The Valkyrie as Kilgore flies into battle, an absurd soundtrack for a reckless decision and a pointless airstrike. Additionally music is used throughout to symbolize home and the US values soldiers are fighting for.

Regardless of all of this. No matter what you think of this exceptionally lengthy essay. Watch the film. You will not be disappointed, it is exceptional!

NB/ The redux version has 45 minutes of extra footage, which while not vital to see does add some interesting ideas to the film.

VERDICT: ”I will not hurt or harm you. Just give me back the board, Lance. It was a good board… and I like it. You know how hard it is to find a board you like…”

Disneyland? Fuck, man, this is better than Disneyland! 

The Great Red Dragon: Blake’s PR Guy

Next up in the Hannibal series, is ”Red Dragon”, directed by Brett Ratner, which was released in 2002. So despite being the first entry into the Hannibal trilogy’s canon, serving as a prequel to ”Silence”, it was actually the last film released. Presumably because a previous adaptation of the same Thomas Harris book, released in 1986, entitled ”Manhunter” needed time to fade out of memory. Anthony Hopkins stars as the infamous Hannibal Lecter, while Edward Norton plays Special Agent Will Graham and Harvey Keitel takes over the role of Unit Chief Jack Crawford.

Anyway here is the trailer:

The film opens with Hannibal as a free man; his exceptionally refined taste, disturbing dinner parties and his interactions with a young and brilliant FBI agent Will Graham. I wont go into any more detail here as this scene is a delight to watch and like a fine cut of meat, deserves to remain unspoiled.

The film jumps a few years in time following the opening credits; Will is retired and lives with his family in Florida and there is a new killer du jour. The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes) is butchering families in their homes in sync with the lunar calendar. The victims are from different states, with no common factors and the FBI is stuck. Jack Crawford persuades a reluctant Will to return to catch this killer before the next full moon. As much as Will learns from the crime scenes he knows he needs a special kind of insight.  He needs to talk to Hannibal; considering how their last meeting lead to Dr. Lecter’s arrest and some serious injuries this is not a pleasant prospect.

We wouldn’t want to be rude, so we’ll start with Anthony Hopkins as Dr Lecter; given this is his 3rd outing on film the character no longer has such the shock factor that it did when he first appeared onscreen. However, the physical menace, the unsettling voice and mannerisms and most importantly those piercing eyes are all still here! The story gives Hopkins more screen time than silence and has plenty to work with and delivers another wonderful (maybe the wrong word for what it is) performance. There are some negatives however, as the writers have tried to flesh out his character a little more, make it more over the top and pronounced. For the most part this works by delivering us something new and intriguing but at times it seems too much.

For instance when ending a conversation, with Graham, Hannibal says, ”I’ll call you if I think of anything else, would you perhaps like to leave me your home phone number?”. This just seems a stretch, Hannibal is not stupid and knows Will is not stupid. Furthermore Hannibal is usually very precise and pointed with his words, he would considering a wasted sentence like this at best a chore, and at worst rude!

The two main additions to the cast here are Norton as Will Graham and Fiennes as the Tooth Fairy.

Norton is a brilliant actor, I dont think I’ve ever seen him give a bad performance. Even when he was nothing to work with, like Ang Lee’s ”Incredible Sulk Hulk”, he is still good. He manages to bring some solidity and heart to a film which could easily have been lacking in quality. His on-screen chemistry with Hopkins was palpable and the scenes between the two were always tense and thrilling. This relationship was never going to beat Starling’s from ”Silence” so they wisely took it elsewhere. Will and Hannibal worked together prior to the the latter’s incarceration, they have a student-mentor relationship. This not only brings about clashes in pride and ideology but also sparks competition. Seeing who is truly the master manipulator.

There relationship is characterized by this one quote:

Dr. Frederick Chilton: Dammit, man, you must have some advice. You caught him. What was your trick?

Will Graham: I let him kill me!

The Tooth Fairy aka Francis Dollarhyde  aka The Great Red Dragon is played excellently by Ralph Fiennes. His affectations, his body language, the way he shies away from attention due to his disfigurement, it is all first class. The way he slips between calm sociopath and a complete embodiment of a delusion is fascinating and impressive. The most interesting relationship here is not the communication between Francis and Hannibal but in fact between Francis and a blind film developer, Reba (Emily Watson). She is confident, extremely well adapted and despises pity, a trait she shares with Dollarhyde and  a trait hat brings them together. As their relationship develops, these feelings of genuine care and affection begin to conflict with The Red Dragon delusion. Even at the height of his chaotic devolution, Francis cannot give Reeba to the dragon. This grounding relationship adds great depth to Francis and pushes him to the brink.

This film greatly features The Great Red Dragon paintings by the great William Blake.  They are strikingly powerful and beautiful; they have a sense of ordered chaos within these scenes from The Book Of Revelation. I would recommend learning about them, here is somewhere to start (Sorry it is only wikipedia).  The painting predominantly featured in the film is ”The Great Red Dragon And The Woman Clothed In Sun” (although in the original book it is titled  ”….clothed with the sun”, a different painting, whilst describing the former). Here it is:

It is easy to see how you could become so completely captivated by such an image.

Francis’ abusive childhood, isolation, disfigurement all lead to his desire to transform. Transform into a all powerful entity from which he can avenge those who wronged him and take the power he feels he deserves; power contained within the painting. I almost feel sorry for him. Except he then kills families and bites people and burns peoples and eats a priceless painting. On the whole he’s a pretty bad person.

Light relief is few and far between but focus around Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Freddy Lounds, a crime reporter for The Tatler who has some history with Will and the Lecter case. This humour is more based around the shock and awe depths Lounds will sink for a story, more of a laughing out of discomfort than wise-cracks. But his character has a crucial arc in the story and Hoffman did great work here. Probably the most disturbing scene of the movie features Lounds in one on one with The Red Dragon and it is a masterful scene. Here it is:

This is a good film, dark, suspenseful and well acted. It was never going to live up to the bar set by ”Silence Of The Lambs” but is far superior to ”Hannibal”, the other entry in the film series. Generally, the film is beautifully shot and directed with great set pieces and dialogue. But there are those few instances where the writing lets the actors and film down a little, and some cliche cop briefing and detecting scenes being the worst offenders. Especially when compared to the caliber of the FBI written in the first film, even though the same screen writer, Ted Tally, was around. Maybe the magic just wasn’t there.

But do watch this film. It is well worth your time! Plus there is a great little tie in to ”Silence” at the end!

VERDICT:

”Hannibal, confess. What is this divine-looking amuse bouche?”

”If I tell you, I’m afraid you won’t even try it.”

Silence of The Lambs: I’m having an old friend for dinner

Recently, Hannibal served us it’s last course and closed out a pretty phenomenal 3 seasons. Despite its beautifully dark tone and phenomenal acting, NBC has cancelled it. So to say goodbye to Hannibal, I’m having an old friend for dinner. By which I mean I’ll be reviewing the trilogy of films starring the incredible Anthony Hopkins as our favourite cannibal. One of my favourite cinematic character portrayals of all time.

Let’s start with ”Silence of The Lambs”, our first introduction to Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, based on the Thomas Harris book of the same name. This film, directed by Jonathan Demme, is an incredible cinematic achievement, leading to its status as the only horror film to win the Best Picture Oscar (the only other even nominated is ”The Exorcist”). On top of this, the film won Best Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay. Making it one of 3 films to win the Big Four: ”It All Happened One Night” and ”One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.

Here is the trailer:

Jodie Foster stars, in an Oscar winning performance, as Clarice Starling, a determined, resilient and sharply intelligent trainee FBI agent. FBI behavioural analysis unit chief Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) recruits Starling for a sensitive, nuanced, almost surgical task. To interview and analyze Dr Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins); a pure psychopath responsible for a heinous series of cannibalistic murder, now residing at Baltimore Mental Asylum under the care of the sadistic and opportunistic Dr Chilton (Anthony Heald). Meanwhile, the FBI desperately search for Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer who kidnaps, starves and skins his victims. As events unfold, Clarice winds up caught in a game of cat and mouse between Jack, Hannibal, Buffalo Bill and even Dr. Chilton. All the while, Lecter knows much more than he is letting on about the case and Clarice herself.

Hannibal is intriguing, horrifying and impossible to turn away from, in equal part due to Harris’ original writings but also through Hopkin’s stellar performance. For most of Lecter’s screen time he is limited either through the confines of his cell or by restraints. Yet despite these confines, Hopkins has a powerful  physical presence that is never anything less than menacing. His statuesque posture and deliberate steps, all carefully constructed to fully bring Lecter to life. Each and every word is delivered with purpose and point, wholly embracing the role of an exceptionally intelligent but malevolent Lecter.

What is most terrifying though, are his eyes. You know the hideous monster he is but he reveals nothing. Instead you can see his piercing, eyes focused directly on Clarice, searching her mind, seeing through her facade. He sees everything and reads more from every minuscule detail and in return Clarice gets self-reflection and a small trickle of information Lecter deems necessary. Carefully weighed, enough to intrigue but not enough to complete the puzzle.

The writing and dialogue here are exceptional, the best example being the verbal sparring between Lecter and Clarice. Clarice is scared and captivated by Lecter and never backs down from his abrasive questioning or intellectual challenges. But this is in essence what Hannibal is. He elevates himself to a higher plane of existence, intellectually and spiritually. He toys with those unworthy. Kills and eats those he deems rude or discourteous. For those few he finds interesting or deserving of his time he continually provokes and challenges to prove his superiority. To prove that they are beneath him, And to prove that he is in control.

Here he is in full flow:

Although cleverly shot, thoughtfully crafted and brilliantly acted throughout, the stand out for me (besides Lecter) is the strength of Clarice Starling as a character. Not only is she strong, dedicated and equally, if opposingly, brilliant to Lecter but she does this in a world designed to belittle and dismiss her. The Law enforcement of this film, and real life, is a strikingly male dominated world, with a multitude of evidence for this. Often the only woman in the room. Lustful or comical looks from male counterparts. The attitude towards women in the Bureau is summed up, in a typically confrontational, question by Lecter about whether Clarice has considered that Jack wants to sleep with her. She replies, ”That does not interest me Doctor and frankly, it’s, its the sort of thing Miggs would say”. In reference to her previous visit with Lecter where his neighbour Miggs threw semen at her; Lecter responded by convincing Miggs to kill himself… This exchange typifies Clarice, no matter the trauma or situation, she will become stronger, she will evolve and triumph. Further more, she challenges superiors to change and adapt their attitudes towards women because as she rightly states,” It matters, Mr Crawford. Cops look at you to see how to act. It matters.”

Here is my favourite scene of Clarice’s, discussing her childhood during quid-pro-quo with Lecter and explaining the films title:

Clarice is a strong character. She isn’t strong for a woman. Or strong for a man. She is a strong person in her own right. Defined by her drive and her goals. Now although times have moved on, the world of movies hasn’t really improved in this area. I can’t think of many women in film as strong since Clarice, apart from maybe Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road (I’m sure there are a good few examples I’m blanking on). These characters are great not because they are physically strong (although I’m sure they are), like say Hope Van Dyne (Ant Man) or Isla Faust (MI:Rogue Nation), but because they are real people. They have complex emotions and beliefs, they are driven and have faults and stand against the obstacles in their path. They earn their place in cinema in there own right, not by serving as a foil for someone else or even worse as window dressing.

No horror film is complete without a big, scary villain. In this case we have two! Alongside Lecter we have Ted Levine giving a jarring and unsettling performance as Buffalo Bill. It was almost like playing two characters; the low-key and conspicuous public persona and the unstable, confused and angry murderer in private. He does this brilliantly, switching between the two seamlessly. Bill does not just kill for pleasure, he has a deep and complex pathology. A confusion and intricacy Levine brings to all his scenes; allowing us to empathize with him on some level knowing the years of abuse he suffered and his difficulty with self acceptance.

This film has received some criticism for featuring the often used trope of having trans-gender or homosexuality cause psychopathy (something especially common on procedural shows where fresh ideas for criminals run out fast), which is obviously COMPLETELY WRONG. LGBT rights and tolerance have come along a way since 1991 but the fact that this is still a writing device shows that there is a ways to go yet! I think these criticisms of the film are valid but I also think there is more to Buffalo Bill, as Lecter states;

”Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn’t born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity, you see, and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.”

Bill hates who he is and thinks being someone else will bring him acceptance. He covets women and sees them as better and worthy of acceptance and so attempts to transform himself into one to gain self acceptance. But gender identity is an intrinsic part of us, the change in our external characteristics or appearance come later, if at all, and completely depend on each individual. Bill’s pathology has lead him to believe that wearing a suit of women to change his exterior will change his fundamental identity. He is too unwell to grasp that his self-hatred does not means he has a trans-identity.

Anyway….this is an exceptional film. Dark, scary and intense. Watch it.

VERDICT: ”A CENSUS TAKER ONCE TRIED TO TEST ME. I ATE HIS LIVER WITH SOME FAVA BEANS AND A NICE CHIANTI.”

”WELL, CLARICE – HAVE THE LAMBS STOPPED SCREAMING?”

SKIP to 1:20 for the classic exchange

Blue Ruin: Revenge Murder Spree For Dummies

Now, for me, most social media tools are basically vanity projects to manufacture a fictionalized image of yourself: Instagram, Vine, Twitter etc. (Granted I am a hypocrite because I have Facebook.) And as a consequence I have never really understood their use as a marketing platform whether directly or through Kickstater. Up until now this was my entire experience of Kickstarter:

NB/ This is exceptionally unsafe for work, as you’d expect from South Park and Cartman. You have been warned!

However, last night this all changed… I watched the film, ”Blue Ruin”; whose production was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. This little known thriller, directed by Jeremy Saulnier and starring Macon Blair, is brilliant and currently on Netflix (UK anyway). You should watch most definitely watch this. SO here is the trailer:

The film opens on a seemingly tranquil, domestic life of Dwight (Blair) in the bath, only to be startled by a noise outside. Your assumptions are immediately turned upside down as Dwight escapes out of the bathroom window as a family returns home from holiday. Dwight was the outsider there. Dwight is an outsider everywhere. You then cut through different aspects of his day-to-day life. Collecting plastic rubbish of the beach to exchange for coupons. Bathing in the sea. His entire life, home and place to sleep within a rusted blue pontiac, our eponymous blue ruin. All poignantly framed and without a single word of dialogue.

But the highlight of this montage, in what is one of the most beautiful shots I have seen in recent years, is Dwight alone, at night, outside the illuminated, happiness of Funland. Riffling through the bins for food amongst the screams of joy. It is a devastating but beautiful moment.

The following morning, Dwight is woken by a Policewoman and escorted to a station. Reassured that he is not in trouble but that he should be with someone and somewhere safe when he hears the news. The news that a man is being released from prison. The look on Dwight’s face tells us everything we need to know; that this man is responsible for a tragedy in Dwight’s past.

From here Dwight goes on an increasingly unhinged quest for revenge, to close this terrible chapter of his life. This journey is incredibly tense. Each scene builds upon the previous to a finale where your nerves are so tautly wrung that it is almost unbearable. This is really a master class in story telling, something any film-maker (whether independent or blockbuster) could learn from. The film was made on a small budget and is only 90 minutes long, meaning every single scene and word had to count. And it did, absolutely nothing was wasted.

There is violence, there was no way around it, but more important is the constant feeling that the story could explode into violence at any second. Nothing is safe. Nothing is peaceful. What’s more is that the eruptions of violence are realistic. The wounds looks agonizing, you can feel them in your flesh. And they have consequences, people don’t just get up and run off after being shot or just shake an arrow wound off. This realism is biting and brutal.

Usual on-screen murderers are hit-men, mercenaries or soldiers, all trained in the art of bloodshed. Or they are an ordinary person who is inexplicably good at it because it serves the story. Both of these take away from the experience, as it brings the story out of the realms of possibility or relate-ablity for your average Joe. Dwight has no training just his basic common sense. He makes decisions we all could make. There are no elaborate plans just flawed attempts at doing what he thinks is right. His mistakes and normality really bring you into the film. What would you do in this situation? How would you handle it? This is perfectly demonstrated by two key points in the film.

  1. Dwight misses a ”fish in a barrel” shot from 2 yards because he is nervous, terrified and shaking. Not the incredible, long-range, head-shot action we usually see.
  2. This quote from Dwight’s friend, Ben, ”I know this is personal and that’s how you’ll fail. No speeches. You point the gun, you shoot.” How many times have we seen the ”Good/Bad guy monologue” on film just to be thwarted at the last minute. It is infuriating but this is how it happens in films, therefore it is not surprising Dwight, like all of us, would need warning to avoid doing this.

Watching how this journey effects Dwight is captivating. Its initial toxicity and nausea, through to a grudging and numb familiarity and the eventual resigning to its depths. These are human responses to such extreme terror and loss of innocence.The performance by Macon Blair is gut-punchingly strong, he makes you feel all of these lows and his desperation for it to end. It is near perfect.

Murder is a messy business. Maybe he should have taken a leaf out of Patrick Bateman’s book and worn a murder anorak.

The action pieces are cleverly set-up and executed. The plot is excellent, realistic and very carefully thought out. This really is one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years and cannot recommend it enough. Stylish, beautifully filmed, jarringly tense and full of great dialogue. Do yourself a favour and watch it.

VERDICT: ”YOU KNOW WHAT’S AWFUL? JUST ‘CAUSE MY DAD LOVED YOUR MOM…WE ALL END UP DEAD.”

The Lord Of The Rings (Full Trilogy) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Recently I was fortunate enough to do a guest post for Cinema Parrot Disco. The subject? The entire Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Please follow the link below to take a look. Hope you enjoy!

Ill be back soon!

Cinema Parrot Disco

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from James of Slate The Silver Screen. Thanks for the review, James! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about The Entire Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, IMDB ranks 9, 13 & 21 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

WARNING: SPOILERS

Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy is adapted from J.R.R. Tolkein’s incredible books. These films take…

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Inside Out: The Animation of Neuroses

The latest Pixar film to hit cinema’s is ”Inside Out”, directed by Pete Docter and starring Amy Poeler and Phyllis Smith. Here is the trailer:

Ill be honest here…this is the first animated movie I’ve seen in the cinema in about a decade. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it.

But I was wrong…I really did enjoy it. It was funny, emotional and clever. Yes it isn’t as good as Toy Story or Finding Nemo or Monsters Inc! And Yes I thought parts were too childish, but I guess that is the point? THIS IS A KIDS FILM; one that is well made, very thoughtful and definitely worth a watch. I enjoyed it and I’m a grumpy 24 year old man-child.

The pre-show short is about a Volcano looking for someone to ”Lava”, complete with catchy ukulele song that stuck in my head for far too long, was nice although a little twee for me. Id rather watch the one about a young lamp jumping around.

I would lava it if you stopped singing!

Anyway onto the main event! ”Inside Out” follows the story of 11 year old girl Riley and her struggles to adapt to her new life in San Francisco following her move from the beloved family home in Minnesota. Except there is one big difference, the story is mainly told from the point of view of the personified emotions who control Riley. Joy (Poeler), Sadness (Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling) run Riley from ”head-quarters”, where they help control her mood, responses, personality and memories. Up until now Joy has run the show, happy memories and minimum Sadness. However, the move to California coupled with Sadness’s increasing incompetence leads to Joy and Sadness getting stuck in the labyrinth known as long-term memory storage. Disastrously leaving Anger, Fear and Disgust in charge. Joy and Sadness try to make it back to HQ before any permanent damage is done to Riley and her family.

I really liked how clever this film is. Not in a ”Memento” or ”Inception” way which makes you pay attention and either gives you a migraine or a coma. Here their complex idea i.e. YOU is portrayed in an interesting, original and entertaining way. Personified key emotions run the show. Core memories used to create personality islands to form the basis of you. Memory balls, long term storage. A literal train of thought.  All presented and brought together in a simple but very clever representation of the infinitely complex YOU.

The choice of emotions for personification was great; if you’re really honest with yourself then Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust play a part in every decision, reaction and situation. Big or small! The vocal performances were great and surprisingly 3D for characters literally defined by one emotion!

Whilst watching the film I did have a bit of a problem with Joy, although funny and brilliantly voiced, and just how over-zealous and obnoxiously happy she wanted everything to be. No wriggle room. Happy is good. Sad is bad. But then I realised two things. 1) I am British and showing any outward sign of emotion, especially unbridled joy is frowned upon! 2) Little kids are really happy nearly all the time. They don’t deal in the grey, complex emotions. They deal in Happy or sad. But mainly JOY. Maybe this is why Joy didnt always sit well with me.

For me it wasn’t all sunshine and puppies though. At times the film is slow, spending too much time focusing on Joy and Sadness’ journey back to HQ from long term memory storage. Yes it was charming and had some great parts, but there were far too many examples proving that Joy and Sadness are different and incompatible. And not enough examples of the important role of sadness in combining with joy to create meaningful and complex emotions during the final pay-off (And no development of the other emotions’ roles). Having said this I enjoyed Bing Bong, the pink-elephant/imaginary friend. A fact that makes me question ever part of my being.

For the sake of transparency,  my imaginary friend was called Arthur and, fortunately, he looked absolutely nothing like this nightmarish monstrosity.

My favourite parts of the movie were the hilarious discussions in HQ on how the emotions should handle Riley’s situations and seeing how different they all are. I would have loved to have seen more of these, with lots more different emotional combinations taking control. But hey…it is a minor complaint.

Is this the best Pixar film? No. Is it ”Finding Nemo”? No. Is it worth watching? YES. ”Inside Out” is a great film, with lots of heart and lots of fun. More importantly it is a good story that we can all relate to: growing up. moving house, new schools and learning how to handle the complex emotions and thoughts that come with getting older. The problem of learning that the world isn’t black or white, or rather yellow and blue, but rather both.

Wait blue and yellow makes green?…But green is disgust?…Ah shit now I’m confused.

VERDICT: ”THE FOOT IS DOWN! I REPEAT THE FOOT IS DOWN!”

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. A Tom Cruise Triathlon

Most franchises start with the best entry and get progressively worse, eg Jurassic Park or Spider-man trilogies. Some produce entries of equal quality, for example all the Lord Of The Rings films are excellent and all of the Twilight  and Transformers films are complete and utter, abominable and intolerable shit!

Mission Impossible, however, ignores these popular models; good first entry, average second entry, slightly worse third, an excellent 4th… and now an excellent 5th movie! Amazing considering the characters are already old and the star, Tom Cruise, is even older! Let’s be honest, action movies tend to be a young man’s game, Neeson and Arnie aside. This entry is directed by Chris McQuarrie.

Here is the trailer:

Looks fun doesn’t it!

It is. Action movies are not new, they are too many, they are big budget and little thought. Even worse is that M.I is not a new franchise! Yet despite this being Cruise’s 5th outing as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, we are given a smart, stylish, witty and entertaining action movie. Definitely give it a watch.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg) and field operations director Brandt (Jeremy Renner) have been following a bread crumb trail of disasters left by an enigmatic and shrouded organisation known as the Syndicate. Hunt’s briefing in London is compromised by the Syndicate, who capture him with the aim of turning him or breaking him. A mysterious double agent within the Syndicate, Isla Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), helps him escape drawing significant suspicion upon herself. Meanwhile in Washington, the IMF is deactivated and acquired by the CIA who believe the Syndicate is a figment of Hunt’s imagination to justify the existence of the IMF. With no one to help and no where to go, Hunt and his team, including old friend Luther (Ving Rhames), must find and defeat the Syndicate before the CIA can get to them.

So… first of all, the action set pieces. They are great and small but IMPRESSIVE; from sprawling ciity vehicle chases, to complex heists and Tom Cruise actually strapped to a plane. All filmed with clever direction, shooting and editing. I especially enjoyed the fight scenes, beautifully choreographed, like a dance. What made them so great to watch is that the camera was steady and without editing cuts. This means  you can actually tell what is going on, whereas most movies like a fight/battle to have shaky/spinning/zooming cameras with constant jump-cuts and grey-wash colour pallets to ensure maximum confusion and utter pointlessness. It doesn’t matter how much danger your characters are in if we can’t tell what is going on! My only complaint here would be that the CGI is occasionally shoddy, particularly the motorbike chase scenes which look like something from a video game.

Next up, Tom Cruise. Your local, fun loving, confident, Scientology socio-path (see below). Of late, Mr Cruise has been a bit unhinged which has diminished his appeal somewhat. Personally I still enjoy his films, I just wouldn’t want him to check my Thetan levels. He was commanding onscreen, charismatic and charming. Funny where needed and the die-hard physical, intelligent action hero we know the rest of the time. It was a very strong performance and neither this film nor the preceding Ghost Protocol would have worked without it.

Also, if the guy wants to strap himself to the outside of a plane for the sake of a realistic action film. Good for him, Ill cut him a bit of slack.

This genre of movies is rife with cliché, many of them due to Mr TC himself. So here is a list of them for your entertainment: NB/ Those in bold are MI specific

  • Shots of TC running (x3)
  • Shots of TC riding a motorbike 
  • And to complete the action hero triathlon. TC swims 
  • The villain is British.
  • Gratuitous shot of woman’s bum whilst in an appealing dress
  • ”Gratuitous” shot of a woman in a bikini
  • The word ”disavowed” is used
  • Good guys disobey superiors for the greater good
  • Foreign mercenaries for TC to beat up (Eastern European preferable)
  • Using every single trick in the book to make TC look taller than 5’5”
  • An amazing face mask that somehow makes your body-shape match too (Kind of anyway)

This brings me onto my next point. This is a great film and still it contains the clichés above and probably many others. However, they are not over the top or silly and they all serve a valid plot point. For example, the ”girl in a bikini” is not just a ”money shot”, like any Bond girl in any Bond movie (There are too many examples to list here! Google it! Carefully!), but serves a purpose. Ilsa is using a pool in Casablanca to test her breath holding capacity to successfully complete her mission. The camera doesn’t linger as she leaves the pool and she quickly dresses in a towel before continuing her conversation with her male counterparts. Good job film!

One of the best things about the film is in fact the treatment of Rebecca Ferguson, the female lead. She doesn’t need anyone’s help because she is just as and often more capable than her male counterparts. She is smart, witty and NOT just window dressing. Her character serves and furthers the plot in her own right not  by just helping a man see the right thing to do. Furthermore she was incredible in her fight scenes; elegant, powerful and strong. Even better is the fact Rebecca isn’t 20 and incredibly thin but she is 31 and looks strong, athletic and healthy. A great message for all! She does look great but that’s a by product of being in film, because everyone does, but she brings a maturity and mystique to her character which is captivating to watch. Also she is the centre-point during the first part of the final action sequence and TC is the human shield, a lovely twist.

Granted, she doesn’t have a female co-star to talk with so bye-bye Bechdel test. BUT this franchise has a poor track-record with women. Remember, TC’s romance with Thandie Newton in MI2? NO, well that’s because they swapped her in for TC’s new on-screen wife Michelle Monaghan in MI3. Who, because she did nothing on screen, was consequently dropped from this film. As well as dropping Paula Patton after her good performance in Ghost Protocol. Hopefully, they have learned their lessons!  Plus, Ferguson takes her heels off during an action scene which playfully shines a light on some of Jurassic Worlds artistic license! They both fit with the tone of their movies; MI5 is realistic and tense where Jurassic World is about losing yourself in an out of this world and extraordinary story, where running away from a super-powered dinosaur through a rainforest is completely plausible.

I know I’m taller than you without them but will you please take my shoes? …Well let’s see you abseil in 6 inch heels!

Pegg and Renner’s characters help to provide natural moments of comic relief within the chaos, these breaks in intensity and tone are not forced (see Age Of Ultron for reference) and help propel the movie forward. This way their characters help provide the heart and soul to Hunt’s cold, dedicated intensity.

Anyway, this is a great film. Watch it. Enjoy it!

VERDICT: ”THIS MESSAGE WILL SELF DESTRUCT IN 5 SECONDS”

”I CAN NEITHER CONFIRM NOR DENY ANY SPECIFIC ACTION WITHOUT THE SECRETARY’S APPROVAL.”