Jun 2012 07

This looks like kid film heaven! Properly licensed video game characters in a Disney film.  I predicted a box office smash for this movie.  The pressure will be on to make a good game out of it as well though.

New film from Rober Zemeckis ‘Flight’
Jun 2012 07

This looks great! good cast and an interesting morale dilemma.

Thronedown Smackdown!
Jun 2012 20

As the dust continues to settle on the 2nd series of Game of Thrones, I’d like to congratulate my esteemed colleague in his commitment to providing critical updates and reviews of each episode. A balanced view is to his credit, but I might suggest that the focus and obvious adoration of this long and rambling fable is somewhat misplaced.

Why I hear you cry?

Because it’s not really that good. Okay – it is good. But just how good?

As an adolescent, fantasy literature was my read of choice, with Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy being my favourites. But I left it all a long time ago. My frustration with the lack of cinematic reproduction of this genre was bordering on painful at the time. In the 80’s Fantasy highlights on the big screen came in the guise of the likes of Dragonslayer, Legend and Ladyhawke. Not exactly great fodder for those lapping up the epic tales on paper. In the 90’s the bar was lowered even further with Connery’s talking dragon in Dragonheart.

As clichéd as it sounds, it wasn’t until Peter Jackson’s mighty Lord of the Rings trilogy hit screens in 2001, with The Fellowship of the Ring that things took a turn for the better. Suddenly alien landscapes, cultures and languages were done justice, with the scale and budget they truly deserved. It’s only a pity I’d left my fantasy obsession behind me the best part of a decade before. Still, I watched and appreciated with interest. Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy was good, but, they weren’t perfect, and the same problems that Game of Thrones suffers from, were evident here. Narrative. It’s all down to the writing. And as hard as screenwriters may try, epic fantasy is never, ever going to suit the big or small screen. And it’s the small screen which causes Game of Thrones to frustrate even more. But more on that later.

Television drama (in the US) has been reinvented in the last 15 years, attracting stars previously only willing to grace Hollywood and the big screen. The reason? Writing. Some of the best screenwriting in any format has driven the success behind the likes of The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Californication and one of my own personal favourites, Huff. Each of these series framed their characters (and what characters) in unique, but earthly and recognisable situations, providing a backdrop to the individuals telling the stories, while allowing some ongoing (and sometimes incidental) stories to roll along. In some ways the locations are backdrops only – allowing the small scale and intimate details of the characters to play out. Mcnulty is the main draw, not the crimes he investigates – true dat. Okay, so the West Wing is a fantasy of sorts – but there are no goddamn dragons.

It’s the writing which lets Game of Thrones down. Not that it’s bad – in fact some of the one-liners given to Tyrion Lannister in particular, are gems. It’s just the characters are rendered bit parts in a fantasy world that looks good – but not great. Because despite budget and scale – this world is not entirely believable. Why? Because too much time is spent framing characters who, too often, are stereotypes of the genre. Joffrey and Jaime Lannister are nothing more than pantomime villains, Cersei a poor man’s Lady Macbeth and Littlefinger the archetypal scheming villain. Tyrion is the one true character that intrigues. And he is the talk of the town by fans of the show. And by the way, Eddard Stark was Boromir-lite.

As my honourable colleague fairly pointed out – the plots of Jon Snow and Daenerys in this second season were irritating distractions – pulling us from any plots we might care about. No doubt in the novels, they were major draws, but for them to work on the small screen, you’d be better off taking all their individual scenes and editing them together for an hour long episode each acting as an epilogue to the whole series and it would have been better. For this is the problem with epic fantasy, and why it works on the page but not on the screen. Too much is going on. It’s what made the multi Oscar-winning Return of the King the weakest of Jackson’s trilogy, and The Two Towers the strongest. More of the latter was based in reduced locations, before the characters split off on their own epic journeys, which stretched viewing patience beyond acceptable levels. Game of Thrones Series 2 suffered from fragmented stories that diluted their characters beyond anything of any substance.

Game of Thrones looks good on telly, and it’s well acted with some nice dialogue. But it’s too ‘big’ for the small screen, or for itself. It’s ‘wow factor’ is wearing thin. How many people will persevere with it, who knows?

But in the meantime let’s save our celebration for the writing of truly great drama, which needs no massive budget to distract us from what we care about when committing hours of our lives to television – and that’s the characters, for it is they who are the true draw on any TV series. We care about them and grow with them, and for the most part, want to see them based in some sort of reality, because it means more. Game of Thrones is all style, spectacle and shock value, but increasingly often rings hollow.

Having said all that, I suddenly feel massively protective of one of my all time favourites – the re-visited Battlestar Galactica.

Go figure.

NP

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

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

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

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