Sunday, November 13, 2011

New blog, guys!

If you still wanna read my ramblings about animation, film and TV, head to my new movie blog and follow me if you have a Tumblr. I will be updating from there only from now on, so consider this blog just an archive of previous reviews.

Hope to see you there,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cowboys And Aliens And Blockheads

Let's do a little Q&A, for those who haven't seen this movie yet and are curious about it.

Is this movie about 'Cowboys' fighting 'Aliens'? Yes.

Did they make it silly or play it straight? They played it straight.

Does it have good special effects? Yes.

Does it have a good story? Hardly.

Is it fun to watch? Yes.

Is it a good movie? No.

Those last two sound like a contradiction in terms. Well, they are. I found myself immensely enjoying this film while it played. The only parts I really, REALLY couldn't stand were Olivia Wilde's character and the scenes that contained her, but we'll get to that.

As you have no doubt gleaned from the posters and trailers, the film features an old, grumpy Harrison Ford and a badass Daniel Craig. These characters are very entertaining and steal their scenes wholesale. Watching Daniel Craig beat the shit out of a whole bunch of guys at once never gets old and he makes a great hero. Harrison Ford shows a side of himself we have not really seen before, a grumpy old bastard not wholly unlike Jeff Bridges' character from the True Grit remake. Not as growly and washed up, but every bit as mean and brazen.

The actual 'western' scenes are very well done, and the 'science fiction' scenes are also very well done. The problem is that they don't really gel - they seem incompatible, at least in the form they have been put together in this film. Arch, whom I saw the film with, is a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns, particularly those by Sergio Leone such as The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. What characterises these movies, and the movies that draw from them such as Inglourious Basterds, is that there is a sense of slowly rising tension that builds, and builds, and builds until it cannot build any more, then it explodes into a maelstrom of violence that barely lasts a few seconds and leaves you thinking, "what the hell was that?!"

These tricks have not been utilised in C&A, the film opting instead on a series of 'setpiece battles' more in line with your average brainless Hollywood attempt at a scifi blast-em-up. Don't expect this film to be very intense at all, the intensity is in fact quite monotone throughout right up to the big final confrontation at the end.

I won't go on too much about Plot - because frankly, there's not much to go over. It's a very straightforward film, and if you actually sat down and attempted to write a synopsis of it, you'd find that the summary of the third act would be shorter than the other two by a magnitude. They know what they have to do, and they do it, for something like half an hour. Still, there are a couple of things that really bother me about the film's approximation of a story.

I found myself totally irritated at Olivia Wilde's presence. Daniel Craig is initially very surly toward her character and I found myself sympathising with his cries of "who are you?" and "what are you doing here?" I found myself asking those questions a lot too.

I joked with Arch upon seeing a shirtless Daniel Craig scrubbing up that this was a scene for the ladies. I was wondering, does this scene actually need him to be shirtless? Or is it a Twilight werewolf excuse to show off pecs and abs for the women in the audience? Suddenly, out of nowhere, Olivia Wilde comes in and they share a 'tender moment'. I felt defeated. Oh, so that's why he's suddenly shirtless, I thought. Every shot she is in, she is only there because the eight-or-so scriptwriters needed her to be. She's a walking, living, breathing plot device, and oh, did I mention she is a BLOCKHEAD?

It turns out Arch was much more tolerant of her role in the film because he thinks she's good looking. He would allow himself to be distracted by her prettiness, but personally, I don't see it. I see the currently and totally bewildering Hollywood vogue for women who have jaws substantially squarer and firmer-set than Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford combined. Maybe it's the Celt-Scand hardwiring of my brain to think that "pretty" girls ought to have round faces, but obviously it's a taste thing. Unfortunately, because she wasn't to my taste, I found myself constantly trying to justify her character in the plot.

Which brings me to...

>>> SPOILERS <<<




Before Olivia Wilde reveals she is an alien, she feels like a forced, wedged-in love interest. There is no other explanation for her constant sudden appearances and cryptic bullshit. Then when we find out what she is, she is suddenly the bottomless pit of exposition, spewing forth loads of background on the aliens for us at a time.

I found myself so against her character that I was actually relieved when she died. 'Great', I thought, 'now we can get on with the movie'. Then she suddenly COMES BACK TO LIFE and tells us that she is an alien too, and had to take her current human form in order to walk among us.
When she said this, a guy in front of me in the cinema actually facepalmed. Slapped his face in horror, and dragged his hand down, staring in horror at what the scriptwriters had dared force down our throat. I wanted to say, badly, "yeah I'm with ya, buddy". There were murmurs around the theatre. I do not think I was alone in thinking the revelation was trite and ruinous to the movie.

From then on she is suddenly a Keira Knightley-style 'action babe', and when she sacrifices herself (very slowly - why did that super-fast alien take so frigging long to catch her scampering through those claustrophobic tunnels?), I at least had the satisfaction of seeing her stupid character die twice. This time she was gone for good but it was too little too late.


Arch and I were a little annoyed at how cold and heartless the aliens had been. They weren't even that alien in their psychology. They were just mean assholes. Why did they attempt to experiment on the humans and cut them up? Apparently it's because they want to know human weaknesses. Even though they can slaughter humans with relative ease and the inferior human guns seem to be pissweak against them. But hey, let's just keep loading up this massive crowd of brainwashed experiments because, you know, we just want to cut them up in lots of different ways.

Near the beginning of the film, when the alien exposes its delicate arms in the boat and strokes the boy's face, I thought, "oh sweet, these things might actually be slightly sympathetic. It seems they are curious about the human race to a degree". Then Harrison Ford scared it away and I thought "no, don't do that man, you're just pissing them off". By the final confrontation, with everyone killing everything and the boy knifing one of them in the chest, all such thoughts at a complex relationship with the aliens was completely gone. They went from curious aliens with a dangerous mean streak, to debased villains with no shot at redemption. Independence Day, The Prequel: I felt cheated.

The final fight started out cool but protracted very quickly into a tiresome confrontation that seemed to tide, according to narrative convenience, between the monstrous aliens being INVINCIBLE and relatively easy to kill, even with a cudgel or spear.

The movie seemed to revel just a tad in its own brainlessness so I suppose I will have to ignore the implausibility that a bracelet-gun designed for a totally alien pathology and psychology, would be able to work through a human being's empathic commands. I'll put that one down to Hollywood scifi silliness.

But whatever. At the end of the day, I still thought this was a fun movie, I enjoyed it at the time. It just doesn't stand up to the simplest scrutiny once you put it under the scalpel.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sucker Punch

This has got to be the most difficult post I've ever written. This is literally the third time I've started this article, having trashed what I had written twice because it was too charged. Reviewing this film is actually hard work. I just hate it so much.

Okay, third time's a charm. Wish me luck, guys. Forgive me if I cut right to the chase and get to the heart of the matter here.

Sucker Punch is a movie about a girl who gets sent to a Home For The Criminally Insane And Criminally Sexy where she is surrounded by hilarious caricatures of chauvinist pigheadedness and impossibly beautiful porn stars who are introduced to the audience with that most tasteful of girl-on-girl action, the Catfight.
But wait, it gets better. For no fucking reason (I mean literally, for no motherfucking reason whatsoever, no relevance to plot, particular metaphor, anything) it shifts to an imaginary setting where instead of a nuthouse it's a brothel and they are all burlesque dancers and the creepy warden is suddenly a greasy moustachioed pimp.

Babydoll (our heroine) is told that she has to dance to entertain guests and when she dances, she does this dance that is so mindblowingly sexy that the audience is never actually shown. Instead it cuts away to these dumb fucking filmclips from Zack Snyder's Personal Playlist while Babydoll and her fellow inmates are transported to some hackneyed ripoff of every anime ever made where they are suddenly gunslinging samurai babes who have to kill everything ranging from giant robot samurai to steam-powered clockwork nazi soldiers to robot gunmen from outer space to pirate ninja vampire klu klux klan jester mimes. Okay I made that last one up. But I didn't make up the others.

There are going to be two schools of thought here, the first one thinking "OH MY GOD, NOW I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!" and the other half thinking "How the hell would that work as a movie?" I'm obviously in the second camp and I'm trying to answer the question days later. Hint: Zack Snyder does not have the answer.

There are so many things wrong with this it isn't funny. First of all, the fantasies-within-fantasies that Babydoll has when she is dancing serve even less purpose to the main story than the burlesque thing. At least the Burlesque side story apparently mimics what is happening in real life; but in Babydoll's fantasies, she is kind of "imagining" what it must be like to achieve the very simple objectives her friends are performing (looking at a map, stealing a lighter) by turning them into high-flying, actionpacked adventures that might appeal to a mentally deficient and extremely immature twelve year old boy, but I don't understand how these are her fantasies and not Zack Snyder's.

It's virtually impossible to ascertain what period the film is set in; it could be modern day but some of what the characters are wearing would suggest a few decades earlier. In any case I guess it's just naturally assumed that throughout her childhood, Babydoll has had access to an incredible library of action movies, video games and over-the-top anime series because that appears to be all she dreams about. In some cases the rip-offs are all but shameless; two that come immediately to mind are the fact that the robot nazis look EXACTLY like the Helghast from Killzone 2 and another being that the ENTIRE SCENE with the dragon has been lifted right the fuck out of Lord Of The Rings: The Twin Towers. The effects aren't even that good; I mean, they're okay, but considering that's what this film is all about, those brainless segments, they really aren't the effects powerhouse I was expecting. There are a couple of particularly tragic shots where Zack insisted on a ridiculous closeup of something like a Samurai Sword or whatever and you can actually tell that the girl is a CG model; or the scene in the train where the blue lens flare is actually so strong and omnipresent that it distracts the viewer from the action.

They even pull KOOL POZEZ whenever they land on the ground because they know Zack Snyder is watching.

The dialogue in this movie is average at the best of times, but I found much of Babydoll's to be fatuous. Of particular note is her first meeting with the creepy old guy who tells her what to do where half her lines are mumbled "what?"s, "huh?"s and a few "uhhhh, what?"s, while her slack face is drained of any acting talent; I am half convinced these are simply shots the cameraman took by accident when Zack Snyder was trying to explain the plot to her that wound up getting used in editing.

The worst sin of this movie, in my opinion, is something that has become a very, very bad habit of Zack Snyder's, and that's including everything he can from Zack Snyder's Personal Playlist. Imagine you are on a bus or a train. Someone is right next to you with an iPod and they have your most hated song playing at full blast, to the point where you can actually hear the lyrics, but they're all distorted. You really want to tell this guy to fuck off, to take his shitty music elsewhere, you want to take his iPod and stomp it into the fucking ground. That is exactly what watching any film by Zack Snyder is like.

If your idea of a good movie is one where a blonde teen flips sideways through a storm of gatling gun bullets being fired by a ten foot samurai mech warrior while a loud, screaming guitar solo blares in the background, then see this film. It's been made for you. If, on the other hand, you think it sounds like one of the plots the autistic kid came up with from Real Ultimate Power, then perhaps you ought to give it a miss.