Friday, 10 May 2013

New films - There shall be spoilers

Iron Man 3

This is unashamed pulp from Shane Black. There is a joy in the outrageous elements, such as men and women glowing bright and burning people, a suit travelling halfway across the country in pieces to help the hero and then mostly turning up late, and having the villain turn out to be an ham actor. It throws away major developments in voice-over in the final few minutes. It doesn’t even bother to explain the villain’s motivations and plans in real detail and that’s fine.

Outside of Captain America, this is the Marvel film most confident in what it is. It switches what kind of film it is in every act while staying in the spy genre, beginning as a hero under internal pressure, moving to a buddy bonding with a kid movie with the hero on the run before becoming a Bond movie for the final act. Yet it all feels like one story, and knows when to move on before an element gets stale. Outside of Downey Jnr, who’s more interesting here than he’s been since the Iron Man, Guy Pearce is the stand-out, playing a 1930’s style villain. He knows what kind of film he’s in and goes for it, tongue always slightly in cheek but keeping the vengeful menace in view.

Star Trek Into Darkness

What a mess. There’s a lack of inspiration in this film that’s fairly pathetic.  

It begins with a story that’s not a story, that are instead a series of twists that are not reveals as there is nothing to develop, and have motivations that are taken back. It has a relentless pace that is worked mechanically, as things occur with no space to develop or create emotional attachment.  It introduces Khan as the villain halfway through the film, which is a cul-de-sac, as they can’t kill him because he’s needed for Wrath Of Khan.

Instead the film works variations of The Wrath Of Khan but without any guts. Is Khan betrayed, a betrayer, a villain, a misunderstood hero? Everything is attempted but the gimmicks are po-faced, laboured by creaking plot devices, and are only an actor’s workshop. There’s no through-line to character and situation, unlike in Iron Man 3.  Chris Pine as Kirk is stupid throughout, being the dumbest hero to disgrace a movie. Pine works hard, pulls off far more than the script should allow. Peter Weller turns up as the dumbest secondary villain, which is no way to treat a good actor. He’s obviously the villain from the first and makes idiot mistakes in every scene.

The film is monotone in its second and third acts. It needs to literally turn on some lights as there is scene after scene in darkness without variation, where a good film would adapt visually to allow elements to pop. It’s samey throughout in a wearying manner, that every scene is a drag, where every character as a similar run-down feel.

The stupidity and dumbest aspect is that the film kills Kirk yet brings him back in a method that is set-up twice and is absurd, by giving Kirk Khan’s super-blood, so you know it’s coming yet it makes so little sense that you’ve had time to hate it before the final supposedly emotional reveal, when the hero is saved. Nothing feels earned in this film. Everything is a cheat.

The frustrating aspect of this film is that there are genuinely good elements. The first thirty minutes are strong and sets everything up well. There’s a spacewalk scene that’s no original but is well done. The enterprise loses gravity as it falls towards earth, which is great but is so brief that it’s annoying.

This is a very unfortunate film.


This film is fun if none-too-bright. Unlike Star Trek Into Darkness it plays fair with its clich├ęd elements, has variation, takes its time, works hard to have emotional content. It’s too bad that it’s essentially a rip-off of every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen, and never quite delivers on the emotion. It cheats a little at the end and has a late studio mandated but kinda dull action scene but sets both up carefully enough so that you know what it’s gonna do but doesn’t overplay it. For a dumb sci-fi blockbuster that’s fine. There’s nothing here that is sillier than elements from sci-fi movies from the sixties/seventies such as Planet Of The Apes, The Omega Man or Rollerball, who also had dubious plot or moral aspects, gaps in logic but are well-regarded.

The best areas are in the acting and design. It’s basically a three-hander with a Morgan Freeman cameo but that is handled well and is an interesting if limited claustrophobic play on two’s company three’s a crowd. The design is beautiful and unforced, and has an aspect that has been lost in modern sci-fi, machines and atmosphere that is pleasurable to view.

So this one is a low-grade winner.

Django Unchained

This is a sign of devolving talent.

There’s no coffin being dragged, no iconic lead, no inventive villains. Instead it’s a slog with a minor Django with an obvious story, fighting idiots who won’t just kill him due to being none-too-bright. He murders people to find his wife, who he has the chemistry of “let’s not even bother with a one-night-stand.”

Jamie Foxx has been good in other films but he’s such a boring Django. He’s like a moody teen who just wants to kill people. As soon as he loses his sidekick he loses his only bit of humanity. You’re meant to be reading complexity but he comes across as Sticky Fingaz playing Blade and wishing he was Wesley Snipes. You have to assume that he’s not killed because he bored the villains into forgetting about him.

Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio are the best things in the film. They are theatrical, petulant, stupid, have many over-written scenes but are fun. Ironically their scenes are what drags the film down as they go on for way too long in their narrative purpose for suspense, as the viewer forgets to think about the situation, wondering are they still talking. How long’s it been? An hour?

Samuel L. Jackson turns up but it’s dull work. The character never clicks into being interesting. He’s just this vengeful guy who spots what’s obvious and then forgets to kill the hero, after the hero has killed half a plantation.

There is action but its brief and lacks impact, as its ultimately quoting better films without genuine inspiration.

After the oddball inventiveness of his the Nazi-film history exploitation-fest Inglorious Basterds and the woefully under-rated Stuntman hunting women Grindhouse segment, it’s a shame that Tarantino missed on what seemed to be an obvious fit, of a revenge-filled slave-based western.

Oz: The Great And Powerful

This film is from a talent that is not peaking but moving at a steady, unspectacular pace, repeating from past victories. It’s a minor film from Sam Raimi. There are plenty of problems, from an under-developed story, a running time that’s about twenty minutes too long, to scenes that are too leisurely.

The upside is that these don’t matter so much. The film has a lead character that is intentionally selfish and obnoxious. It’s basically Ash form Raimi’s Army Of Darkness put into Oz, still making dumb mistakes that causes catastrophe for all and then denying all blame, then running away until he is finally forced to take action. That could be a disastrous character but Raimi knows how to work it, keep it funny, keep the joke on the lead character. James Franco is game to look like a fool throughout, so the centre of the film works.

Also terrific are the minor characters, from the china girl to the monkey that Franco treats like a pathetic slave in a series of great gags, to the wicked and good witches. It’s very female focused in characters, which is useful, as it gives the film different challenges and focus from the usual blockbuster macho nonsense.

Oz is realised in a solid, spectacular but unoriginal way, Raimi playing on nostalgia for the iconic Wizard Of Oz. That works as a base, with Raimi finding areas to expand upon with chases through fog, magic bubbles and illusion tricks.

It’s a good film but not at the same level as his previous film, the riotous Drag Me To Hell.

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