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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trailer - "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"

In the second of todays notable trailer releases, Tom Cruise is back in his signature franchise. Now while I am in the minority of people who like Tom Cruise (say what you want about the man, but he never turns in anything less than watchable on screen), it seems that most people weren't exactly clamoring for another 'Mission Impossible' film. However with the introduction of Brad Bird, in his first live action film, there seems to be plenty of smash-bang-wallop brought on board for this sequel. The trailer crams in plenty of excitement which hopefully indicates how much fun the film should be. The film is set for release on December 26th of this year.

Trailer - "War Horse"

Steven Spielbergs first live action film in three years has it's trailer debuting online. It looks as though the master has not last any of his sensibilities and if the trailer is any indication of the film, then it will it's fair share of stunning images. The only criticism of the film is that it just screams out 'GIMME AN OSCAR'. Going by it's release date smack bang in the middle of awards season shows that this is completely intentional. Hopefully the film will offer more than just Acadamy Award showboating and live up to Spielbergs past credits. It certainly ticks off requisite themes in the mans previous work: A boys inspirational bond with his only friend who happens to not be human, John Williams' rousing music, epic images and World War II. At least it can be said that what he does, he does exceptionally well. The film is released in Ireland on January 13th, 2012.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Senna

A documentary on Formula 1 racing is about the last thing I think a lot of people would expect to call 'moving'. And yet "Senna" is a profoundly moving and stirring insight into the heart of a very special man indeed. Sure the film paints it's titular driver to a near Messiah-like status, but it is done with such fervor and conviction, that it is often hard to not get swept up with it's energy and vibrancy. And I don't even like Formula 1. That is perhaps the films biggest strength; in that those who get droopy eyed just thinking about those great hulking engines doing endless loops on a rainy Sunday on the TV, will find there is much to enjoy here. Director Asif Kapadia wisely sticks to the life and times of the man, so when those racing scenes are dispersed, they fold naturally within the narrative and serve to forward the story. They are also edited impeccably. Culled from an endless ream of interviews and track footage, the film makers did a stunning job of paring it all down to the basics. It is comprised entirely of archival material with some voice over from recently interviewed key figures in the man's life. Indeed, the film may be a documentary but it is easy to forget that when the wealth of footage available is presented so exhilaratingly. Aryton Senna was a very passionate man. He drove with his heart and refused to get drawn into the politics of F1 - sometimes to his own detriment. But while the film shows his genius and skill on the track it also shows the symbol of hope to which he had become to millions of Brazilians in his home country. His triumphant win at an all important race there is an ecstatic high; while his tragic end is felt ever more keenly in the eyes of those young fans whom looked up to him so much. And in his collisions both on and off the track with Alain Prost, the film has it's own fractured dichotomy - adding to the engaging narrative drama. That is what impresses so much about the film; it has a perfectly honed and engaging study of a man, mixed with all the excitement and drive (no pun intended) you could want from a fictional drama. That creates that ever important feeling, that when the tyre screeches have long left your ear, it's stirring sentiments still linger warm inside.

Verdict: 8/10
A fantastically engaging and surprisingly affecting film about a very talented man, taken far too soon. Compelling viewing even for those who aren't gear heads.

"Senna" Trailer

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bridesmaids

It is disparaging to hear that people are as shocked by "Bridesmaids" as they are. A truly funny comedy with women, which out-grosses and outshines any other male dominated funny this year? Is it really so hard to believe?  Almost inevitably, others have lazily dubbed it, 'the female "Hangover"'. Well this is not the case, because plain and simple "Bridesmaids" is a very funny film, regardless of any comparison to any others in breaking new ground. There is no novelty to be found here; women are funny and any men going into this surprised that Kristen Wiig could make them laugh harder than anything else in multiplexes this year, really needs to get out more. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are both successful graduates of SNL, working in two of the highest rated shows on TV. Sarah Silverman might have her detractors, but that hasn't stopped her going on to becoming one of the most thriving female comediennes in recent memory. Jessica Stevenson (née, Hynes), wrote and starred in "Spaced" with Simon Pegg well before Hollywood came knocking on their doors. Joan Rivers is still delivering sardonic quips on stage and television after all of these years. If this is still under discussion after "Bridesmaids", then ignorance has completely given over to sexism. Surprise, surprise, these women are funny. Have been for years. Will continue to be. Not to say that there aren't unfunny women in comedy out there, but this pertains to there being plenty of men who also share that unfunny bone in their body. And with this film, they get the best platform in years to prove that point. Kristen Wiig has for some time now, become a quality answer to that guy who suggests that women might lack any mirth or merriment. Week after week, she completely outshines her male co-stars on SNL, being the only consistant member in the whole cast. She is a natural and gifted performer; completely giving herself over to any role, whether it be at the expense of vanity or class. That is perhaps her biggest asset; that in disregarding all these things in her search for the 'realness' in characters, she always manages to retain a sense of humanity and dignity in her comedy, even when she may look and act anything but. That the film is the success it is, is down to her.

The balance that the film so finely straddles, is in finding the truth in even it's most outrageous moments. It carries it's fair share of disgraceful and foul mouthed humour, but it's gags would not work as well were it not for it's cast. Kristin Wiig is Annie, recently chosen by her BFF Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be her Maid Of Honour. Unfortunately for Annie, this brings back up a swirl of passive resentment and panic that her own life, is not going as neatly or as well as it should. Along the way she has to contend with the gang of Bridesmaids and Rose Byrne's Helen, who vies with Annie for Lillians attention and approval every step of the way. With her subtle undermining of Annie, along with work, money and man woes, she begins to crack under the pressure of organising the run up to her best friends big day. Annie's reaction of trying to be happy for that special someone's achievements, when you are so very far away from them in your own life, is a searingly relatable position. Sure maybe women might inherently get it's neuroses that bit more but this should not deter men from their own enjoyment of the film. Anyone can laugh at the scatalogical gross out of that dress fitting scene no matter what your sex, especially when delivered as well as it is. Although Wiig herself co-wrote the script, she is a very giving actor, letting each of the Bridesmaids to get at least one chance to shine. In fact it is only truly in one scene that she let's herself radiate as her airplane trip from hell translates into comedy gold for us in quite possibly the funniest scene in the film. As far as the cast goes, it is Melissa McCarthy as Megan who gets the breakout here, gaining the lions share of laughs. Chris O'Dowd shows why he is making waves across the Atlantic in a confidant and charming display of his talents. Although serving only as Wiig's potential love interest, he nontheless makes the most in every scene he is in. Sure some of the maids don't register as deeply as others but the film just couldn't reasonably fit them all in, and any more would certainly outstay it's already generous 2 hour running time. But they are cast impeccably and add to the films considerable charms.

The film has been already proclaimed as the break out comedy hit of the Summer - there is usually one that the distributers bet their money on to clean up at the box office despite it's moderate budget. While there have been plenty of comedies this year that have tried and failed to make us laugh, it seems that "Bridesmaids" is the first one to truly stand out from the crowd. The film mixes deft and engaging humour, with a sweet emotional undercurrent to the madcap shenanigans. There is no trick to the films success; it is simply a perfect marriage of script and cast. Director Paul Feig, himself a graduate of TV's "The Office", "Arrested Development" and "Mad Men" handles events more than competently. In fact I'm sure on set the issue of whether or not these girls were funny was never raised; rather that they are too funny. Judging by the comfortable improvisational skills they all had, along with most being friends prior to filming, means that there must have been a heavy abundance of great stuff that just couldn't be wedged in, left on the cutting room floor. It doesn't matter whether you be boy or girl, you will find this film funny. Sure, those without X Chromosomes may wince that slight bit more at the antics on screen, but only in the same way guys may feel that only they truly get a film like "The Hangover". A good film is a good film and that fact of whether you are male or female is irrelevant to having a great time experiencing it.

Verdict: 8/10
The funniest comedy so far this year, deftly mixes off the wall, sidesplitting chunks of humour, with a genuine and none too mawkish sentiment. Although the notoriously prickly Academy tends to ignore comedy, the consideration for Kristin Wiig for Best Actress begins here. She really is that good. Of course, this is something we always knew.

"Bridesmaids" Trailer

Friday, June 24, 2011

First Look - "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"




For many people, the most exciting news they may hear all year, has just been released. Peter Jackson has released not one, but three exclusive pictures from "The Hobbit" films. While it is fantastic to see Ian McKellen looking exactly as majestic as his Gandalf did ten years ago, it is the first new shots of Bilbo that will generate the most buzz. And Martin Freeman looks perfect in his role. Taking on comfortably from Ian Holm, it seems he fits in impeccably with Jackson's take on the Tolkienverse. And that also seems to be the first (blurry) shot of some of the thirteen Dwarves watching behind Bilbo. It appears that Jackson has assuringly stuck with the same feel and tone as it's predecessors. After waiting for so long, it is incredibly exciting to be returning to Middle Earth. Jackson it seems, has used the films many delays wisely in honing the script and it all looks set to hopefully live up to the (almost impossibly) high standards of the original trilogy. The only downer of all this is that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" will not be released until December 14th 2012, and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" on December 13th, 2013. That sound you hear is millions of followers noisily scribbling down those dates in their calenders.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bad Teacher

With next weeks "Bridesmaids" and this weeks "Bad Teacher", armchair pundits all over Hollywood are proclaiming 2011 to be the year of the 'funny gal'. Of course this is utter ridiculousness - women have always been funny. However, if this is the year of funny women, then it is off to a most unfunny start. "Bad Teacher" follows on much like "Bad Santa" did eight years ago; a person in authority working with children is bad mouthed, bad mannered and a generally bad person. The joke is that children should be the last people they should be around. However while initial trailers seemed very raucously funny indeed, something seems to have got lost in the mix. Namely Cameron Diaz's comic timing. The plot, as slight as it is, follows professional gold digger Elizabeth (Diaz) as she works as a teacher while trying to find a sugar daddy to leech off for the rest of her life. When new hunky and rich substitute Justin Timberlake shows up, she thinks she has found the man of her dreams, but only if she can get him to like her.......namely by raising enough money to get breast implants. Jason Segel shows up along the way, as the gym teacher she should really be with, but it as the story suggest, is all very forgettable stuff. It's not that there is only a bare bones of plot to work with; in other hands it could have been the perfect frame on which to hang some cracking jokes, rather that the film seems completely lost and gormless. Writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg may have hit a gold mine as the creators of the US Office, but after this and their previous effort "Year One" they are nought for nought on cinema screens. Cameron Diaz has been funny before and will be again I suspect, but here she seems uncoordinated and confused as to how to make the supremely unlikeable Elizabeth likeable. Timberlake tries too hard to make his jokes soar, but ends up going no where with his character and it is only Jason Segel who effortlessly seems to steal the film. Bringing charm and humour to his brief time means he is missed whenever he is not around. Overall the film thinks that Cameron Diaz cussin' is funny and over relies on this too much, when it it is plainly anything but. In other hands the film could have been the filthy and crude laugh riot that was suggested, instead of just floundering from one scene to the next. "Bad Teacher" is just plain bad.

Verdict: 3/10
A waste of talent both in front and behind the camera, everyone here seems as confused as the next in trying to make this film work. Actors are miscast and gags fall flat as the experience just ends up leaving a bad taste in your mouth. This teacher deserves an F.

Is Kermit The Frog secretly Batman?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Top 10: Opening Credit Sequences

Opening credits are incredibly important in setting the look and tone of a film. It disheartens me to see so many films nowadays completely forsake the opening credits and after a brief 'title fade up', they dive straight into the action. I for one love to settle myself into my movie going experience with it's opening titles, and if done right they can be incredibly effective. On rare instances where they do appear, most audiences seem to take it that the film has not yet truly begun, and so carry on noisily chatting or texting. When done right, these opening credits can be the perfect way to set up mood, atmosphere and tension. Some of these choices might not necessarily come from great films, but still convincingly handled their opening titles in original, innovative ways. In no particular order, my list is as follows:


"Se7en"
This credit sequence goes some way in setting the following two hours of unsettling horror that lies in store for the audience. Immediately throwing the audience into it's sick and depraved world is made all the more incredible, by the fact that it ever so subtly gives hints at it's psychopath John Doe; something that is only more noticeable upon a second viewing. Director David Fincher would collaborate again with Trent Reznor to great success in "The Social Network" and the upcoming "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", but it is arguably at it's best here, sampling Reznors 'Closer' to chilling results. An impeccably conceived sequence.




"Raging Bull"
It has been said before that "Raging Bull's beauty lies in the fact that you could freeze frame at any point in the film, and it would always be an impeccably framed work of art you would be looking at. Scorsese begins his masterpiece in glorious style, in this gorgeous and saddening slo-mo take, of Jake LaMotta practising in the ring before the big fight. As the film suggests, that while the film may be about boxing, it is, and always was LaMotta who was his own worst enemy. In the film he metaphorically fights with his demons, but here he actually wrestles with them, for the world to see.



"Watchmen"
While the film does have it's detractors, few can argue against director Zack Znyders fantastic introduction to it. Mixing real world with the alternate history presented is fantastically handled, and is the one time in the mans career when he successfully used his 'flo-mo' style for something worthy of it, and not at all gratuitous. There is a lot of exposition to tell befiore the film even starts and the credit sequence does an incredible job of doing so, while immersing it's audience in it's world. The times, they are a' changing indeed.



"Catch Me If You Can"
Spielbergs fantastic chase drama is beautifully introduced. Although taking inspiration from Saul Bass' best works, it is nontheless a fantastically fun introduction to the caper; pretty much showing the entire films plot in it's animated glory. Special mention too, to John Williams jazz motifs; something the man never explored previously in his extensive back catalogue.



"The Fall"
Although quite underseen upon it's release "The Fall" must surely go down in history as being one of the most stunningly photographed films of all time. Simply put, there is no other like it. It's opening here tells the important backstory of one of it's lead characters, while also successfully immersing you in it's poetic and gloriously beautiful world.


"Alien"
Here Ridley Scott's haunted house story in space, begins in uneasy style. The slow introduction of lines forming the title leads the audience into the quietly menacing ride they have in front of them. Although very simple, it is still the perfect way to begin proceedings.





"Lord of War"
While the film may be entirely forgettable, it still has a fantastic opening credit sequence, that in of itself, could serve as a nice little short. While the film sometimes gets bogged down in trying to mix it's political sensibilities with it's more crowd pleasing ideals, this sequence here deftly handles both as we follow the life of a bullet.



"Psycho"
Hitchcock's classic thriller is begun, in typically stylish fashion. The great Saul Bass created the iconic titles here; as the each credit revealed becomes fractured and dislodged from itself, reflecting Norman Bates mental state. Bass is the grandfather of classic movie titles.



"Reservoir Dogs"
Quentin Tarantino's career truly begun with his intro to his debut feature. Here was announcing his own arrival in the coolest, hippest way possible. This signified a new voice in cinema, and here he was, in all his bravado. The slow motion mixed with that now iconic use of 'Little Green Bag' perfectly introduces us into his skewered yet achingly assured view of the world. This is his invitation to us, to enter into it and view these no good scum bags as heroes that we could idolize. And because of this, it worked.



"The Shining"
Stanley Kubrick's epic opening shot sets up the themes of isolation and despair that the film goes on to explore. Our hero is a tiny spec compared to the vast openness out before him, a vastness that will later go on to devour him and everything he ever loved. This is our first trip into the mouth of the monster. I don't think I have ever heard music as terrifying and otherworldly since. Taken on their own, and the images are truly stunning enough to stand up isolated from the rest of the film.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

X-Men: First Class

It might be churlish of me, but where was Matthew Vaughn five years ago? Making "Stardust" probably; a reasonably successful fantasy/romance hybrid. But more importantly he was not making "X-Men: The Last Stand". You see when Bryan Singer decided to make the eternally lamentable "Superman Returns" and ditch the franchise that had been his calling, he left a very big void in his absence. Of course, everybody knows how bad that decison was in retrospect: arguably Singers career has not fully recovered from the response that film received. After working steadily up with some classy and stunningly well made indie thrillers, his jump to the big time resulted in (along with "Blade") two films that kick started the craze for comic book films that have been ever popular for over a decade now. "X-Men" was fantastic success for a number of reasons. It appealed to people who thought they didn't like comic books, it led to one of the best sequels of all time, and it proved that comic book movies could be a valuable commodity. So after two highly successful movies Singer was faced with either making the third and possibly fourth chapter in the franchise, or with rebooting Superman for a new generation. Fox denounced him to do both and so Singer chose Superman and placed a young up and coming director in his place. Someone he could trust with the franchise. Someone with an eye and a vision on where to take it all. Vaughn, fresh off the success he had with his directorial debut "Layer Cake" was that man. And he.......didn't take the job. After all that, the man walked away from the project. Vaughn cited the reasons for his departure as the simple fact as that he was still learning the ropes of his profession. The deadline for the release of "X-Men 3" was rapidly nearing and the time he was alloted to film the movie was too small. So Vaughn walked and Fox brought on board hack for hire, Brett Ratner to helm the final installment and thus irrevocably screwed up the entire franchise; destroying any possibility for a fourth chapter and beginning the downward spiral continued by "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" three short years later. Early last year and word comes that Fox are planning a prequel/reboot to their franchise. Gossip hinted that none other than Singer was back on board to save the flailing franchise. But then wouldn't ya know it, yet another film steals him away. That film "Jack, The Giant Killer" is not due out till next year but that still left a void in who would take over for First Class. Enter yet again, one Matthew Vaughn, riding high on the critical and cult success of "Kick-Ass", a gloriously morally questionable and hilariously anti-superhero film. Now this is where it gets ironic. With just a little over a year to deliver the film (most of these types of big budget and effects laden extravaganzas usually take two years to finish) the man actually takes the job. So in a round about way, it brings me back to my original point: Where was he when we needed him? It seems odd that he is a directing a film that has the same deadline as the very similar one he stepped away from did, five years ago. Where was he then? As this film testifies to, he is more than up to the job and could have saved us the travesties of the last two films. But is his return too late?

Prequels, by their nature have an uphill struggle ahead of them. Put simply, fans of the original films will always know how a prequel must end, if it wants to segue effortlessly in with it's older siblings. However, more times than not this robs it of any natural tension the story line should have. It is one of the main reasons why Lucas' new "Star Wars" films didn't work. We knew how everything would turn out. So going into this, we have a certain expectation for the characters in knowing how they are going to get to the people that begin the original film. This is a problem that "X-Men: First Class" very neatly manages to sidestep almost entirely throughout it's running time. Sure there were a few moments here and there I caught myself anticipating a plot point as a result of having seen all the other films that happen after this one, but for the most part Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman's script managed to keep me enthralled. In this film we follow a young Eric Lensherr (a typically fantastic Michael Fassbender), better known to you and I as Magneto, and Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and find out how they became friends, before turning into the characters from the original trilogy. Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, this is the first film in the franchise to successfully have a distinct look and feel, completely separate to that which has gone before it. Vaughn has great fun with his swinging 60's, putting the soon to be called X-Men into all sorts of adventures by way of the old James Bond flicks. The main bad guy even has his own villainous submarine. So as evil Kevin Bacon plots to start a nuclear war for his own nefarious reasons, it also coincides with the discovery that there are those in the world with mutant super powers. Vaughn takes time introducing his cast, contrasting following Prof X as he tries to find more of his kind with Lensherr on his own personal man hunt to get revenge on the Nazis responsible for all sorts of horrible antics to him when he was a child. To be fair, Lensherr is the more interesting of the two; barely containing a past full of intense rage and sadness. So while we get to know Prof X and Magneto fairly well, some of the other mutants feel slightly short changed, with only an extremely cringe worthy scene in a mess hall serving as to introduce them. Only Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones) make the most of their limited time to truly make an impression. Everyone else feels entirely forgettable. Worse still is poor Kevin Bacons 'Hellfire Club'. Sure his Sebastian Shaw is an acceptable villain - his subordinates are atrocious. One mute (who's name I'm nearly certain is never mentioned) does nothing but make poorly rendered CG storms, Azazel (Jason Flemyng) does nothing but look cool and Emma Frost (January Jones) seems completely lost in the mix. Jones drowns amongst the cast, serving as the only real weak link among them all. In fact, it stands out more when the casting is one of the main reasons the film works as well as it does. With such a huge ensemble and interweaving story line to work from, Vaughn had an awful lot to fit into the running time, even at it's 2 hours and 20 minutes. But somehow, just when it seems like he's going to drop the ball, he manages to keep everything on track. But as much as the film is good, it never really manages to feel anything less than rushed.

Vaughn had an extremely tough deadline to make this film. Initial glimpses of characters seemed atrociously photoshopped together as an afterthought. For more proof, see the main poster up above. Fox had no time to market this film as they would have liked. Every interview Vaughn gave from set told how unforgiving the schedule was and how he was feeling the pressure of it all. But somehow, I kept the faith in the movie. And how right I was, because even though the film has it's fair share of faults, it goes some way to getting the franchise back on track. The film has a few plot holes, (why exactly is Shaw doing what he's doing?) characters are forgotten (where does Rose Byrne go for the second act?) and some lines of dialogue are pretty harsh on the ears (baby Xavier and baby Mystique's first meeting comes to mind) but overall, the film is pretty darn enjoyable. A fantastic split screen montage of the newly formed X-men training their freshly honed powers works far better than that opening bonding moment mentioned earlier. The main dichotomy between Magneto and Professor X is what gives the film it's soul. Xavier's naivety mixed with Lensherr's frustration at being an outcast is always compelling. An interesting argument about acceptance that is only fueled by the fact that both are neither entirely right or wrong in their opinions. Vaughn paces the film incredibly so you won't have time to pick up on continuity errors (linking it into the films gone before it casts immediate 'No, it couldn't have happened like that because in [insert X-Men film here], [insert X-Men character here] is doing/saying [insert impossible X-Men continuity error here]' over all the other films) and other minor quibbles. Anyway, by the time that fantastic extended action climax happens you won't care too much about such things. However after it's underwhelming opening last week, it might be a case of too little too late from Fox. Fans have been burned by two sub standard "X-Men" films before and might be unwilling to take another chance on one. It's a shame, as this film mixes interesting discussion on themes of intolerence and discrimination, fun fan boy details (love that cameo!) and fantastic effects-laden action sequences. If this is what Vaughn can do with such a small amount of time, then imagine what he'll do with the sequel.

Verdict: 6/10
Matthew Vaughn manages to turn in the complete polar opposite of his last comic book movie. The film is always fun and interesting and gets the franchise on track in a big way, but some annoyances in plot and dialogue only enhances the fact that the film could have been something really special, had they just had a little more time.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The 100 Greatest Movie Threats Of All Time

Some bright spark has compiled an edit of the greatest threats in cinema over the years. It really should not be as watchable as it is...........