Sam Raimi Directs a Wizard of Oz prequel!
Jul 2012 05

Hadn’t heard a thing about this movie even being in production, from the news on the web it is slated for a March release and is a prequel explaining how the Wizard came to Oz.

RBT Answers the Big Questions About Prometheus… Sorta
Jul 2012 06

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is one of the year’s most anticipated films. With the personnel involved, and the link with one of the most successful Sci-Fi franchises in cinematic history (the Alien series), excitement levels amongst fan-boys rivalled a gaggle of Twi-Hards getting a glimpse of R-Pattz’s bare behind.

Upon its release, Prometheus was alternately praised, ridiculed, or shrugged at, depending on whom you listened to. But the debate didn’t stop there, with Ridley Scott at pains to point out that Prometheus wasn’t a direct prequel to Alien, instead making oblique references to ‘shared DNA’, the ways that this film tied up with its ‘DNA twins’ has inspired much debate.

So, with Prometheus having been out for quite some time now, we here at RBT thought that we should attempt to answer some of the unanswered (and unanswerable?) questions raised by the film that RBT’s own Tom Williams described as having the best trailer he’d ever seen.

Please note that these are just our opinions on the questions the film raises, and our answers are just our best guess. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment below. Questions and the answers themselves will be highly spoilerific, so if you haven’t seen the film what are you doing? Get yourself to a cinema, and then come back and get involved!

Read More…

Lawless: The New Film From John Hillcoat and Nick Cave
Jul 2012 07

John Hillcoat and Nick Cave. In the world of movies, these names could only be described as ‘household’ by those in the know about such things, or possibly their mothers. Yes, they probably are better known back in their home country of Australia, and yes, Nick Cave is a critically-acclaimed and famous musician, but it’s fair to say that their forthcoming film, Lawless isn’t going to cause quite the ruckus when it gets released that, say, The Dark Knight Rises will. A quiet buzz has been building though, and I’ve got a good feeling that these guys could be finally getting their due with this forthcoming release.

Lawless (formerly titled The Wettest Country in the World, formerly titled The Promised Land, formerly titled The Wettest Country in the World… again) concerns the three Bondurant brothers and their bootlegging business in Virginia, back in the times of Prohibition. On the other side of the fence, Guy Pearce’s Deputy, and Gary Oldman’s gangster are doing their damnedest to make life difficult for these hardy souls. And Hardy is right, what with Tom Hardy heading up the cast, bringing his considerable talents and status to bear. That’s not all, though, because alongside Hardy, Pearce and Oldman are Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, both respected actresses making names for themselves. The mix of up-and-coming talent and recognised stars gives the film oomph, but the inclusion of one Shia LaBeouf promises some intrigue. LaBeouf has been much-maligned in recent times, the Transformers trilogy not doing anything for his street-cred, but it seems that nobody will forgive him for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s high time for a re-think though, he was perhaps unfairly labelled as annoying, and if A Guide to Recognising Your Saints taught us anything, it’s that there are some real acting chops hiding behind that punchable face.

LaBeouf: punchable, yet misunderstood

Back to the guys behind the camera: the successful and well-received The Proposition gave Nick Cave and John Hillcoat status in Hollywood, with Hillcoat directing The Road starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron, hopefully this talented director’s career is gathering momentum. Nick Cave’s musical interests have meant that this is his first successful foray into film since The Proposition, but this guy clearly isn’t feeling rusty.

Respected outsiders, then? Noble mavericks? Hard-working creatives content to toil away, giving other, more famous people’s careers a boost? Maybe, just maybe, that’s about to change. With a release date set for August 2012, Cave and Hillcoat might just be about to reach their Promised Land.

Any thoughts, please leave a comment, and if you need further convincing, check out the trailer below:

TA

Content is King!
Jul 2012 08


I have two boys aged 4 and 5 and they love television and it’s fascinating to watch them interact with the content dancing before their eyes.  They will literally talk back to the television and dance if it tells them to.  One of the new things my eldest has started to do is quote facts from adverts. For example, my mother was talking about putting some Vanish powder on the carpet to get rid of a stain, and he pipes up with “you have to leave it on for 20 minutes”.  If only he listened to his parents as well as he does the TV.

 

The reason I mention my boys is that they have no idea about channels-only content.  They ask for the show they want to watch when they want it, not understanding if it isn’t delivered to them instantly.  They have no idea that when I grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s kids TV was only on for a couple of hours a day and Saturday mornings, the rest of the time we had to entertain ourselves.

This is obviously not a revelation to most of us, but it makes me think: what is the future for channels as we know them?  Surely BBC1,2,3,4 etc. will just become BBC-licensed and produced content.  We will expect to be able to pick what we want from their selection of programs and radio shows.  I know some will have concerns over finding new content if  faced with a menu bloated in scale like a restaurant yet to be visited by Gordon Ramsey.

I believe most people find new shows through word of mouth anyway.  Music is currently in the situation TV will be in in a few years if we are not careful: a mass of content distributed in hundreds of different formats on thousands of platforms.  The good news is people are always finding new music though (they don’t pay for it, but they do find it).

I don’t know many people who watch live TV these days unless it is a sporting event. Why would you, when you can use the time to watch exactly what you want?  I have heard stats along the lines of 60% of TV programming is watched live,. I don’t believe this tells the whole story, most of the working people I know who have kids record shows because they lead busy lives, can’t wait for something to be on, and then don’t want to sit through adverts. I know lots of people (including myself) who will start a show 15 minutes behind its broadcast so they don’t have to watch the commercials.

Surely the winner will be the company who works out how to deliver the following: Simple user interface, global day and date released content, and better quality than illegal downloading.

Simple to say, seemingly impossible to deliver.

Jul 2012 08
New Rise of the Guardians Trailer
Jul 2012 09

I know what you’re thinking: “Rise of the Guardians? Isn’t that the rubbish CGI owl film that Zach Snyder tried to poison the world with back in 2010?”.

No, I haven’t decided that Zach Snyder’s critically-maligned kiddie-mation Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole  is ripe for re-visiting. I actually wanted to draw your attention to the upcoming Rise of the Guardians, because I’m putting my swingers on the line and saying that it will be good. Why? Well, how about the fact that it’s from the rapidly-improving Dreamworks Animation, of course. Or, if that’s not enough for you, what about the fact that this is the Studio that brought us the criminally-underseen How to Train Your Dragon (a film I rate as 3rd behind Avatar and Hugo in the best use of 3D stakes)? Still not enough for you? what if I were to say that it involves a world where Santa Claus, the Sandman, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Jack Frost do battle with a new threat for the safety of all child-kind?

Santa: he ain’t playin’

Getting somewhere, huh? Ok, it’s probably a bit soon to be making predictions about the quality of a film that isn’t coming out until November, but if it can capture something of the fun and awe of How to Train Your Dragon, then it will have a good chance of being successul. And c’mon, how long has it been since Pixar had a legitimate challenger in the computer-animated film genre? Too long, I say. I haven’t yet seen Brave, and I love Pixar as much as the next rabidly-loyal fan, but it could do with some genuine competition to make sure that we can avoid the kind of complacency that led to Cars 2 (a film that, unfortunately did obscenely well finances-wise, if not review-wise).

Check out the trailer below, and then feel free to abuse me, but I’m sticking to my guns. I’m going to believe.

TA

The Newsroom
Jul 2012 10

This just in: The Newsroom premiers in the UK on Sky Atlantic tonight at 10pm. After watching the pilot, and, following its less than enthusiastic reception in the USA, here are my thoughts:

Aaron Sorkins latest TV show irritates and pleases in equal measures. It is unashamedly American, and starts with a fantastic rant by lead (and surrogate Sorkin) Jeff Daniels at a room of college students. His angry words relate to America no longer being the best country in the world, but that it could be, and that an informed country is a better country. Sorkin is asking the audience to buy into his central thesis that news is the answer to America’s current problems. This is his excuse for the self-important and pompous nature of the characters who walk (and talk) around with faux gravitas for the rest of the show.

You wouldn’t need to know in advance that this is an Aaron Sorkin production, it is him through and through. Fast dialogue, walking and talking, and intelligent and snappy sound bites. I really want to know if Mr Sorkin can write for a stupid character; I can’t think of any in his shows, and if America (or indeed, any country) really did have this ratio of smart people to stupid, maybe it really would be the best country in the world.

With The Newsroom I think he may have an uphill battle getting us to like these characters. Throughout the episode, the fact that the public don’t respect or trust the news is repeatedly referenced, thus making their plight something we find hard to swallow. Speaking of hard to swallow, some of the flagrant flag waving is so sickly sweet, it makes you want to hurl red white and blue. Throughout his writing, Sorkin comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful human being, which makes it surprising when this show makes clear that he seems to genuinely think that the USA is the best country in the world, as if such a thing could ever exist.

Basing each show around a real news event is a novel concept, but it’s convenient that one of the lead characters was able to get two sources for separate companies within seconds of the event occurring and then report the full scale of the story in hours rather than the days it took to unfold in real life, where you have to contend with like, real problems.

I’m an unabashed fan of Sorkin’s work, but am starting to worry that he is getting sucked into showing us how smart his characters are, or how smart he is. Some of the dialogue in this feels unnatural (even by his stylised standards!) and, having some involvement in broadcast News myself, feel that Anchorman is closer to the truth than Newsroom.

Having written all of the above, I will still watch the rest of the series, as it is well made, well acted and leagues above most other dramas on TV at the moment. Sorkin believes that America isn’t the greatest country in the world, but that it could be. I think The Newsroom is definitely not the greatest drama on TV, but that it can be better.

As an aside the iPhone will auto correct Sorkin to Dorkins. Try it.

Frankenweenie: A Long Overdue Return to Form for Tim Burton?
Jul 2012 14

Ahhh Tim Burton, what are we to do with you, eh? We used to love you so. You were the champion of the alternatives, it was you who made the outsiders feel understood, the geeks and goths represented out there in the world.

In short, you were one of us.

But now, ever since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and maybe even earlier), you’ve got a load of new friends. The cool kids. The rich cool kids. So I wonder: whilst you’re lying on your bed (which is no-doubt fashioned from a big pile of money), do you ever long for the days when you were the poster boy for the downtrodden?

Let’s face it, the answer’s probably no. If he’s even listening. And when you’ve just directed Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, you don’t have to listen to nobody, no how. But even if the man himself doesn’t long for those days, I do. Yes, Dark Shadows does contain some of those quirky, alternative stylings that marked out his earlier work, but (and I’m not alone in this), just doesn’t really work, nor does it quench our thirst for his older output. We, the old-school Tim Burton fans, want BeetlejuiceEdward ScissorhandsThe Corpse BrideSleepy Hollow and The Nightmare Before Christmas. We want Batman, Ed Wood and Big Fish! What we can do without, is more glossy, day-glo, big budget, Depp collaborations.

So, it is with this deeply-felt longing in mind, that we look forward to Frankenweenie, Burton’s forthcoming film. Having had our fingers burnt before, we, the Burtonites (the few, the proud, the geeky) approach with caution, but also optimism (although there is still plenty of time for us to be disappointed). Frankenweenie sounds promising enough, it tells the story of a child scientist named Victor who reanimates his beloved (but very dead) dog, Sparky. As you can probably tell, not all goes to plan, and, no doubt, hi-jinks ensue.

A boy and his (undead) dog

Having seen the first trailer, and now the second one, it ticks a lot of the boxes that indicate his mainstream dalliance was just that. Here are 3 reasons to feel positive:

1. It’s animated. Not just that, it’s stop-motion animated. Has any medium suited Tim Burton’s aesthetic better than stop-motion animation? He clearly knows it well, and can follow his creative visions through to fruition with very little compromise. Plus the lo-fi, old-fashioned feel always dovetailed very well with the worlds he wanted us to visit.

2. It’s in black and white. This could be a sign that he’s isn’t aiming to so shamelessly target the mainstream. As we all know, most people won’t watch black and white films, even modern ones, even when made by one of their favourite filmmakers. So with this one change, Burton’s sending out a very clear message. It also makes sense, with Frankenweenie seemingly owing a debt to classic horror such as Frankenstein.

3. It doesn’t star Johnny Depp. Harsh, perhaps, as Burton’s recent travails are hardly Depp’s fault. But their mainstream-wooing partnership seems to have coincided with a marked downturn in the the quality and artistic merit of their output. It does star Winona Ryder though, so fingers crossed.

There are other reasons to feel good about this whole Frankenweenie thing, but those are the headliners. Let’s hope that this is a new phase in Burton’s career, maybe he’s made all the money he feels he needs and can now have a Soderbergh-esque ‘one for them, one for me’ arrangement with the big studios? Whatever’s going on, October 5th will be a date well worth checking out, to see if Tim Burton has rediscovered his artistic mojo and wants to make creatively-fulfilling films, rather than financially-fulfilling ones.

Check out the trailer below, and if you disagree completely, leave a comment eviscerating me with stylish wordplay.

TA

The Amazing Spider-Man Puts the Reboot on the Other Foot
Jul 2012 15

So, after spending the last few months telling anyone who would listen that I thought that superhero movies were coming to the end of a cycle, last night I saw The Amazing Spider-Man. Aha! At this point, you probably think that my preaching is about to go into overdrive. Crazy bulging eyes, wild gestures ‘n’ all… But it won’t.

It won’t, because the film’s good… it’s really good.

“But it’s a reboot!” I hear you cry.

“A reboot of a film franchise only launched in 2002, whose final entry was only released in 2007!”.

Yes, when you put it like that, it does sound terrible. You’ve got to believe me though, I approached this film with all that skepticism in mind, but it won me over. Let me tell you how.

First though, I should probably tell you what it’s about (although since most people saw the 2002 Spider-Man, you could probably dictate it to me). Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives with his aunt and uncle in Manhattan. In this incarnation, Peter is a high school outsider with interests in photography and science, whose primary mode of transportation appears to be skateboard. He seems to be less of an overt geek than in the 2002 version.

Andrew Garfield: on the up

Pursuing said interest in science, Peter befriends Oscorp company scientist (and former friend to his deceased father) Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors lost his arm earlier in life, and is intent on re-growing it through research on lizards, who are able to grow a new tail after losing it.

During all this, Peter begins to get romantically entangled with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), his progress with her being rudely interrupted by an incident at Oscorp where he is rather inconveniently bitten by a radioactive spider. This bite gives him superhuman strength and agility, and a ‘spider-sense’ that allows him to anticipate short-notice danger. To say any more would be to ruin the plot, which, it has to be said, is not terribly original.

Emma Stone: bright as a button, not given enough time to shine

However, since we’re dealing with a story that has recently been told, more or less beat-for-beat, it would be harsh to hold that against this version of the film too much. It does detract from the impact of some of the initial story developments, though, as the (by now) well-worn superhero origin story is trotted out again. You get the sense that the director, Marc Webb, knew this, as well, because it’s not overly dwelt on. A neat touch is that this time, Peter uses his scientific prowess to construct web-slingers, rather than organically producing his spider web himself, something he also did in the comic books. Martin Sheen and Sally Field do their best to enliven the Uncle Ben and Aunt May schtick, but it proves difficult. I felt that Uncle Ben’s arc packed more emotional punch this time around, though.

So, how does Garfield do as Spider-Man? Very well, actually. Helped by a redesigned suit, and improved CGI, his physicality is more wiry and fast than Tobey Maguire. In short, he’s more spider-like. His Peter Parker is less shy, more brooding, and, in these less cliquey times, this makes him seem all the more modern. His Spider-Man is given more quips and more practical effects shots too (including some cool first-person sequences), allowing the viewer to get to know him. Emma Stone does a lot with a little, meaning that her Gwen Stacy is more than a damsel in distress, without ever quite becoming the fully-rounded character we crave in a female lead. With less screen-time having to be given over to the origin story, hopefully the inevitable sequel will allow her to develop more, as Emma Stone deserves room to stretch her undoubted talents. Rhys Ifans suffers from the lack of character-arc often given to villains in origin stories, as his transition from friend to foe seems slightly undercooked, although his performance makes up some of the shortfall. Performances on the whole are uniformly strong, even in the midst of some frenetic action scenes.

Ahhh the action scenes. If (500) Days of Summer made you think that Marc Webb wouldn’t know how to shoot action, allow me to reassure you. The Amazing Spider-Man has some genuinely tense and blood-pumping action scenes. An intentional use of as little CGI as possible gives them a more visceral feel, and a recurring use of close-up makes the fights feel real, and all the more painful because of it. With more time to develop the story, you trust that this adrenaline-laden nous could be augmented with some real emotional resonance in any future instalments.

Authentic Spidey poses, from the comics and everything!

So, any flaws? Well the script suffers from the familiar problems that befall the first film in any superhero franchise. Too much screen time needs to be given over to building the character of Spider-Man, which creates problems elsewhere. Some genuinely funny quips aside, the focus seems to be on quick and economical plot exposition, leaving little time for characters to breathe. Sally Field’s Aunt May is just one of the crowd of characters given short shrift when it comes to impactful character moments, and a compelling villain is something that should never be neglected. Still, Spider-Man doesn’t make his first appearance until around 40 minutes in, so they haven’t rushed things too much. I can’t comment on the 3D, as I am carrying on my one-man campaign to only patronise 2D screenings where possible.

Overall, this is probably my favourite Spider-Man film. Sam Raimi is a great director, and in fairness, his Spider-Man was released in a slightly different time, when superhero films were thinner on the ground and we didn’t quite know what to expect. This Spider-Man is a hero for the here and now, and the whole film has a more modern sheen. The bright colours and eagerness to avoid straying too far into the kind of dark, angsty territory frequented by Batman contributes to giving this the Marvel touch. Let’s hope that the film’s success gives Marc Webb more leeway to assert himself on future projects.

8/10

Agree, disagree, or other? Comment below and let me know!

TA

Retro Review: Career Opportunities
Jul 2012 16

***Every so often, we here at RBT like to revisit older films to see how they hold up by today’s standards, to keep our film knowledge fresh, but mostly just to give us more things to argue about. Due to being born mid-way through the 80s, a lot of the cinematic fodder from that decade and the early 90s (classics aside) has perhaps passed me by. Tom Williams decided that enough was enough, and he prescribed Career Opportunities to be the inaugural entry in this continuing series. So without further ado, on with the review….***

John Hughes’ Career Opportunities is a hard film to have an opinion on. On the one hand, it’s a fun slice of nostalgia pie, a young male wish-fulfilment fantasy with a danceable and well implemented soundtrack. It also has that 80s/90s sheen that all John Hughes’ best films have. On the other, cold, hard, and cynical hand, it’s a slight, unremarkable piece of fluff, devoid of real drama, lacking originality, and displaying a sagging midsection.

Jim Dodge: caught in a rare moment of silence

John Hughes is one of my favourite directors and writers, ever. The hyperreal world he created that are inhabited by the characters of his best films is a joy to visit, his use of smart dialogue, pop culture references and pop music still defines teen-orientated content today, and he seemed like one of the few adults who really understood teenagers. Ferris Bueller’s Day OffThe Breakfast Club, Plans, Trains and Automobiles, Uncle Buck, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science… These are the classic John Hughes films, and Career Opportunities falls into the ‘Lesser Hughes’ camp, alongside She’s Having a Baby, and Curly Sue, among others. Not that these films are bad, they just aren’t anywhere near as good as the real Hughes youth-centric classics.

Our protagonist on this merry tale is Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley), a young man with a talent for talking and not much else, whose grand plans stop him from actually achieving anything in his day-to-day existence. Aged 21 and living at home, Jim’s prospects don’t look too bright when, out of desperation (and via a brilliant cameo from John Candy) he lands a job as Night Cleanup Boy at his local target. Meanwhile, the local beautiful, but tormented-inside, rich girl, Josie McLellan (Jennifer Connelly) wants to escape her domineering father and, in her desire to do something, anything, about her situation, ends up botching a shoplifting attempt and getting stuck inside the store with Jim overnight. See what I mean about male wish-fulfilment? Cue a lot of gags involving rollerskates, ovens, clothes, food and hair-brained attempts to speed up the cleaning process. An underdeveloped plot point involving a store robbery attempt doesn’t quite succeed, but the way that the two protagonists change and affect each other is enjoyable, even if the basic plotting has been done many times before.

A real, bonafide Hughesian heroine

Jim is a Hughes protagonist in the Ferris Bueller mode, a gift for talking and an innate audacity giving you the feeling that whatever his failings, he’ll be alright in life. He’s believably deluded, and gives even some of the weaker lines an earnest like-ability that masks any script weaknesses. Jennifer Connelly definitely has the looks for the part, but she has also always been a real actress. The better aspects of the script are where she is able to persuade Jim that he isn’t happy with his lot in life, and that he should aspire to more. Some of the clunkier lines of exposition come her way, but she powers on through, delivering the lines well enough that they almost seem plausible. Hughes’ trademark quirky side characters are well-realised in what little screen time they have, with Barry Corbin as Officer Don and John M. Jackson as Bud Dodge, Jim’s father. Dermot and Kieran Mulroney give good, eccentric villain, but aren’t allowed much screen time to establish their characters’ threat.

The music is fantastic, and like a lot of John Hughes films, perfectly complements the onscreen action. Problem is, it’s genuinely one of the best things about the movie. So much time is spent on the (admittedly fun) mall escapades that the momentum of the story is stalled, and ancillary characters aren’t developed into anything more than cyphers. In a lot of ways, its Hughesian (it’s a word, I invented it!) touches highlight its shortcomings. The Breakfast Club this ain’t.

Still, if, on a Sunday afternoon, you want an easy watch, with a guaranteed happy ending, very mild peril in between, and you’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off too recently, then this might hit the spot, albeit less effectively. Growing up in the mid 80s/early 90s, these films are fun in an ironic, nostalgic, wistful sort of way. If you were to judge it harshly, it would be an easy target to dissect, yet its aims are so amiable, it’s intentions so true, that it’s hard to dislike. Sort of like shooting a puppy.

7/10

TA

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