Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Trailer Talk: Revenge of the Scrutiny

X-Men: First Class

If you were worried that X-Men: First Class was going to be as dreadful as the posters would have you believe, think again. An international trailer has been released for the hotly anticipated X-prequel, and it is Epic (note the capital ‘e’ there).

Unless you've been living in a media proof bunker for the last 6 months, you'll know that X-M: FC takes us back to the origin story of Charles and Erik (aka Professor X and Magneto). Y'know, before things got awkward. Set against the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film seems to be having a lot of fun mixing real historical events and X-Men lore into a twisted version of the 1960s. Kind of like Watchmen.

We catch brief glimpses of Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence as the young Beast and Mystique. But it appears director Matthew Vaughn has focused the film’s attention on the troubled friendship between Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Eric Fassbender). In the trailer we see how they first meet, their developing friendship, and the inevitable differences they begin to display. I have a lot of respect for McAvoy’s acting talents, but I think Fassbender's brooding and unruly portrayal of a young Magneto might steal the show. “Peace was never an option” – anyone else think Fassbender would make an excellent Bond?

What struck me most about the trailer was the scope of the film. Juggling complex relationships, self discovery, and a heavy political context; have they overstuffed this origin story? With talks already underway for a sequel (and potential new trilogy), let's hope they leave some plotlines left for the series to explore.

Cowboys Vs Aliens

If you were like me and thoroughly unimpressed with Jon Favereau’s extended Avengers teaser, Iron Man 2, then you’re probably not too bothered about his latest Blockbuster romp either. However, those clever clogs up in Hollywood have dreamt up an idea that combines BOTH the Western genre and the Sci-Fi genre. OMG. I mean, Serenity technically did it first, but whatever.

Set in the 19th Century Wild West, a spaceship lands and tries to take over the world. All that stands in their way is a posse of cowboys, including a mysterious lone ranger with amnesia (Daniel Craig). Harrison Ford stars/grumbles alongside Craig in the first Bond vs Indiana Jones showdown since The Last Crusade. If this sounds like a novelty film, that’s because it is.

However, if there’s one thing it’s got going for it, it’s the action. From start to finish the trailer is a 2 and a half minute thrill ride of intergalactic proportions. Luckily it retains a good balance of CGI spaceship spectacles and good ol’ fashioned gun slinging. And the rocking soundtrack (a Favereau trademark) gives the film a nice tongue in cheek b-movie feeling to the whole affair. As for the performances, Craig once again pulls out the ‘tough man with a conscience’ role, and Olivia Wilde heats things up as the potential love interest.

But it shouldn’t go unmentioned that it contains possibly one of the dumbest lines of dialogue in recent memory: “You know who you are. You just have to remember.” Jeez, thanks Olivia.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Little White Lies

Not to be confused with the independent film magazine.

Little White Lies
(or Les petits mouchoirs, if you insist on being pretentious) is this year's 'must-see French film'. This is mainly because us English folk can only stand watching one subtitled film a year. And whilst it is certainly very well observed, it's 154 minute running time is a gross overestimate of an audience's attention span for a dromedy.

Starring an impressive ensemble cast (including everybody's favourite token French chick, Marion Cotillard), it is a story of a group of friends who make the rather unethical decision to go on holiday whilst a dear friend of their's recovers from a horrific car crash. However, the seemingly pleasant holiday spirals into a mass of revelations and confessions - potentially ruining all of their friendships.

"Look, it's that token French chick!"

Despite the film being about quite a repugnant group of self-obsessed people, there is a lot to enjoy from this movie. The comedic elements are superb, especially from Fran├žois Cluzet's character Max, who spends the whole film trying to exterminate an intruding family of raccoons. And some of the relationship storylines are heartbreakingly well observed. But by the 3rd act the story finds itself in a viscous loop of repeating the same scenes again and again. So much so that the film loses all emotional impact by its finale, which should have had the whole audience in floods of tears.

Cut this film down by an hour and you'd have a 5 star movie. But as it is: 3 and a half stars. Great Soundtack though...

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Source Code

Sci-fi used to be a dirty word amongst the general cinema-going populace, connotated with images like this:

However, ever since Zowie Bowie's (aka Duncan Jones, but I refuse to call him by his 'normal' name) directorial debut, Moon, hit cinemas in 2008, Sci-Fi has been going through somewhat of a renaissance period of late. From Nolan's Inception last year to Burger's Limitless released a couple of weeks ago, we have been spoilt with some very interesting reinventions of the contemporary Sci-Fi movie. Lucky for us, Zowie is now back with his difficult 2nd album; Source Code - a high concept, big budget Sci-Fi thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Some might scoff and cough the words 'sell out', but this is by no means the dumb Hollywood produced mess that you might be expecting.

Using science we can see how the modern Sci-Fi movies weigh up.

An on form Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a military helicopter pilot who mysteriously wakes up on train to Chicago. His confusion is only short lived, however, as the train quickly erupts into a ball of flames, which then reveals his true location: a secret military bunker with no means of escape. To go into much more detail would spoil the excellently paced drip-fed plot, but rest assured, things are explained with [fairly] logical conclusions.

Zowie has created an extremely tight and ambitious film that crosses a multiple of genres; from thriller, to Sci-Fi, to comedy, to romance. The comparisons with Moon are quite apparent but not over-whelming: main male protagonist finding himself in a bizarre scenario with a clear desire to escape the controlling forces that be. But there is much more of a central romance theme in this film, and thanks to Michelle Monoghan it is startlingly real and compelling - regardless of the shallow set-up. I feel if this film was left up to a more 'traditional' director, the romance would have be sidelined for a more action packed (and probably shite) affair.

The ending might implode from cheating the very laws the film sets out to establish, but only a true Sci-Fi geeks will turn away in disgust. The film deserves such a finale - no matter which way you look at it.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Sucker Punch

Watchmen confused me immensely. It had everything that the comic book had - aesthetically, story wise (except the ending), and filmed nearly shot for shot. So why didn't I like it? I had to watch Sucker Punch to find out...

I was unprepared.. but not in a good way.

Sucker Punch is about Baby Doll - a wrongly committed victim of abuse and neglect. To escape the confines of a mental institution with fellow patients, she must use the power of her imagination to delve into 2 further forms of reality: a vintage burlesque house, and a futuristic war zone. Confused? I was too. It makes no attempt to tie any of these together, but instead assumes the audience will accept this as a plausible plot. What follows is a checklist of fantasy cliches and CGI montages in order to find the '5 items' she must obtain before she can escape.

Sucker Punch is a tricky film to review, because it's not really a film. It's more of an inlet into the mind of Zach Snyder: a wasteland of Nazi zombies, ass kicking babes, and bad cover versions of amazing songs. Because Zack Snyder isn't really a filmmaker. He's a 15 year old boy who loves the films of Bruce Lee and has just discovered the music of The Pixies. But somehow his mind is trapped inside the body of an extremely powerful and influential Hollywood filmmaker.

An artists impression of the inside of Zack Snyder's mind.

There is no emotional investment in Sucker Punch because there are no characters. Just cardboard cut outs of scantily clad 'powerful' females who move around and shoot robots. There is never a moment where they feel in real danger, which makes the action scenes (as amazingly choreographed and as beautifully shot as they are) feel completely numbifying. It's like watching someone else playing a computer game. And the only technique Snyder has to stop people becoming incredibly bored is to unsubtly place a well loved song over the top of a scene. It's just lazy filmmaking.

I can't help but Zack Snyder has completely blown it. This was his chance to prove he is more than just a glorified music video director - but he really isn't. I feel Hollywood will soon curse the day they gave him the realms to the new Superman reboot.

But at least some of the cover songs are half decent...