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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top 10: Aliens

A mainstay of all cinema since it's inception, has been it's exploration of science fiction themes. It is only natural for humans to ponder their own place in the Universe and whether or not there are any other forms of life out there. Through the varied forms of extra terrestrials in film, Hollywood has explored almost all sides of what our first contact with life from another world might be like; be they gentle and docile or ferocious invading monsters. Throughout the many genres Hollywood goes through the ages with such as musicals, pirate swashbucklers and epic period films, they inevitably will fall afoul of their time and cease to attract audiences. Sci-fi never goes out of fashion and is always a successful genre to utilise. However, this means it grows ever harder to provide new takes on any visitors from a different world. This Summer alone shows the genre has no signs of dying with Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Green Lantern, Attack The Block and even The Tree of Life, each pondering the hows and whys of the Universe, to varying degrees of success. Here is a list of my personal favourites:

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

OK, obvious choice here, but he truly is one of the most memorable creations ever to grace the screens. That a creature as ugly as he could elicit genuine emotion and feeling from the audience to such a degree that no matter if they're child, woman or man, will always be left bawling on the floor come that end, is quite an accomplishment. In a genre crowded with terrifying marauders and invading robots, E.T. is a reminder that there are a few nice guys out there in space.

The Thing

Released the same year as E.T., but to far less commercial success, it was only in later years that the cult of John Carpenters classic began to grow and people realised what a terrifying achievement it was. To this day, many of the prosthetics and effects hold up brilliantly and still continue to shock and unnerve. It's terror comes from the fact that this life form could be your best friend and you might never know. That coupled with it's brilliantly utilised and claustrophobic Antarctic setting make it's effect all the greater. While we never actually get to see the original shape of the creature, it's various graphic shape shiftings is enough to imply we never want to. That remake/prequel due for release later this year sure has a lot to live up to.


Somewhat sullied by those pointless and horrible Alien Vs. Predator mash ups, this guys power remains undiminished. While the film begins as a very standard boys action rescue flick, it quickly morphs into a tense face off between the hunter from another world and Schwarzeneggers lone special ops agent. History has it that one of the creatures most defining physical aspects, it's mandible face actually came from a James Cameron design. While the late great Stan Winston helped create the iconic design, it's original effort was far from the imposing warrior. In fact it more closely resembled a small version of a man in a Godzilla costume mindlessly running about - brief snippets of which can be seen on the DVD. Had that actually been it's final design then you can rest assured, it would be a very different film than the one we are left with.


Perhaps possibly the monster that comes to your head when you think of aliens on film, HR Giger's unsettling and disturbing design of a phallic, acid blooded and almost indestructible killing machine was the stuff of nightmares for years after that first Alien film. Yet again, those pesky Alien Vs. Predator films, plus it's franchises own turds (Alien Resurrection) have come close to dwindling the immense power of such a classic movie monster, but have failed. A truly unsettling creation; a creature that grows inside it's host before unceremoniously giving 'birth' to itself through it's hosts ribcage would be bad enough, did it not also grow into a two metre tall, unstoppable and incredibly pissed off monster. From the facehugger to it's adult stage, it goes through many incarcerations, each one of them incredibly effective.

District 9

The aliens in District 9 are not part of a hostile planet takeover of Earth. Rather they are a weak species who have crash landed in Johannesburg. Interestingly, we do not treat them as an historical first meeting with inter dimensional beings we could learn something from, rather a burden on our economy in which director Neill Blomkamp makes some not so subtle comparisons with racism in his native country. While they are described as drone workers for a much stronger infrastructure of aliens that have already died by the time they get here, they are nontheless strong and vicious enough to take care of themselves. However, if these prawns are the weaklings, then imagine what the big guns will be like like when they return to Earth in the mooted sequel. Our main guide into their world is Christopher Johnson, whom we discover shares a few parallels with human behaviour and is sometimes more human, than the humans themselves.


The thing about Paul is that while the film may not be a classic by any means, the great animation on the character mixed with Seth Rogans delivery of him means he is one of the first CGI characters to hilariously riff and improv with our main live action characters. I love that thousands of dollars went into a character that moons, curses, smokes weed and quotes various sci-fi films at our heroes. Because of this, it is easy to forget that Paul is entirely CG. Putting so much pressure on the character to succeed was a risky move, but they pull it off; so much so in fact, that most of the films success is down to the little guy.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Spielberg's second appearance on the list with yet again, another cuddly pacifist view on what visitors from another world might be like. The true drama in the film comes from Roy Neary's (Richard Dreyfuss) obsession with his first initial and brief encounter with them as it threatens to overtake his life and destroy his family. So come the end, when the little grey guys (the most typical design on this list, but no less effective) turn up, they bring awe inspiring spectacle and dazzling technology shrouded in glorious light. These guys are more curious and insightful than hell bent on enslaving man kind for their own ends. The end result is one of the most incredible climaxes in cinema history, using music as communication to stunning effect.

The Abyss
Again, another variation on more peaceful aliens, this frequently overlooked James Cameron classic, is still an incredibly tense and often claustrophobic thriller, set deep under the oceans. The film supposes that aliens have been here all along, living unbeknownst to man in the deep abysses of our oceans. When they finally appear for the films climax, they appear almost angelic and help save our heroes. Of course they also manage to show mankind the error of their ways and come off more as observers than any life forms willing to make contact with us. This scene is perhaps the most memorable in the film.

Independence Day
OK, so some of it's power may have diminished with director Roland Emmerich deciding to do almost the exact same thing with each disaster film since this films release but the fact remains, that this films has has one of the most epic alien invasion build ups ever and some pretty great set pieces. Thank god that alien technology was compatible with Apple otherwise we would have all been screwed. This one is for the boy inside you.

Before both M. Night Shyamalan's career went down the pan and found footage movies were overdone, we had this great moment from Signs. Up to this point we know something is happening in the world, but don't know what and this brief but incredibly hair raising moment from the film works wonders in upping the horror stakes. It's cam recorded footage on the TV only adds to it's effect; we could imagine watching the news and reacting much like Joaquin Phoenix character does. It's effect comes from us putting ourselves in that situation and wondering just what the hell we would do? Of course, the film then squanders all this in the third act showing that the only thing that can kill the aliens is water. Good work then on invading a planet that is almost entirely covered with the stuff.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Inbetweeners Movie

Whenever a successful British TV show is transplanted to the big screen, the resulting answer on how to update proceedings without repeating what has gone before seems to be always the same; 'let's go on holidays!' A recent example of this was Kevin and Perry Go Large, a film painfully stretched from it's sketch format across 90 uneventful minutes. Well unfortunately the makers of The Inbetweeners Movie have learned nothing from past disasters such as this. Snatched from it's small screen origins the film repeatedly mistakes bad language for genuine comedy and never reaches the highs of the original series. While the original E4 comedy show was never classic in my book, it still featured embarrassingly crude situations, a novel core relationship between it's four friends and amusing potty mouth. It had relatable teens doing relatable things and that was what was part of it's charm. Unfortunately, this does not translate to the big screen. Here the film finds Will, Simon, Jay and Neil finished with school and deciding to go to Malia for their holidays - as any young, girl obsessed teenage boy would. While there was plenty of comedy that could have been mined from their unfortunate trip, the film never manages to find it's gear and outside of one funny empty dancehall scene, is noticeably short on decent gags. It speaks wonders in fact that that one humourous scene is classic slapstick, while the rest of the jokes the film has to offer is based almost entirely on crude variants on words for female genitalia. At least the show balanced this out with relatable issues that any teen goes through, such as girls, social status and school. Here our morons act, for the first time like annoying morons - completely out of touch with reality, never learning a thing and end up as winners. As a result, any camaraderie you might have felt for the lads is gone. At least before they seemed to want to do the right thing and it was always their own bad circumstance and attitudes that tripped them up. Here they are just stupid and shallow and hard to empathise with. Overall the film gets by on the likeability of the actors who do just barely enough with their characters to make things bearable. However at the end, you can't help but feel that the film is the equivalent of when a young child screams out 'POO!' in public. He might think it's hilarious, but everyone else just wants him to shut up.

Verdict: 3/10
Sexist, far fetched, immature and crucially, not very funny. Timing for jokes is off, everyone seems to think they are crafting comedy gold and the guys likability factor dwindles. A shadow of what has gone before.

"The Inbetweeners Movie" Trailer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Final Destination 5

That a franchise with 'Final' in the title is now on it's fifth entry is deeply ironic. This is certainly one series that should have been left well alone long ago. Indeed, after eleven years of studios mindlessly hashing these things out, it is easy to forget that the first release was actually an effective little thrill ride. Sure it was never going to win any awards, but in a genre that at that time, was overcrowded with self knowing slasher flicks, this 'Mouse Trap' compendium took a novel approach to the way it offed it's respective teens. However, one sequel was more than enough before it started repeating itself and here we are somehow - on entry five. Each chapter follows the exact same formula as the last and this one is no different. Sam is on his way to a team building exercise with his company when he finds himself in the middle of a huge  collapsing suspension bridge disaster. We find out the tragedy was in fact a premonition and Sam luckily manages to save himself and a few of his friends by warning them just before the actual disaster occurs. From then on, it's business as usual as Sam and the gang discover from scary deep voiced coroner (Tony Todd) that they have not escaped death, merely slowed it down. Pretty soon, one by one each of the team slowly succumb to overly elaborate and very painful deaths involving freaks of chance. It's many intricate murders is what the series has always been known for. There was something original about it being fate itself hunting those victims, rather than any personification of evil. Here, those scenes seem to aspire for winces and groans, but end up becoming very yawn inducing, very fast. Sure the first few are fun, but after a while interest begins to wean seeing yet another one of the gang being conveniently left alone to fall prey to rickety massage tables/laser eye surgery/gymnastics and gain yet another supposedly hilariously gruesome death. And all in gore-popping-3D. It doesn't help that each one of the very annoying characters is played by very annoying actors. We hold absolute no sympathy for anyone and mostly look forward to their fates catching up to them. The first one was novel for not knowing who or when anybody could go; here we know exactly who and exactly when, subtracting all tension from proceedings. The only thing left is how and that is all the film seems to care about. Director Steven Quale is a protege of James Cameron no less and while he shows proficiency with effects and the like (that opening bridge collapse is admittedly, pretty impressive stuff) he couldn't care less about plot or character. Overall this is a dead franchise that should have been itself killed off long ago. After watching this, it begs the question; who did it have to kill for Death to pass it over?

Verdict: 3/10
Outside of a very well handled opening disaster, the film quickly fizzles out from there leaving you wondering what the point of it all is. At this stage of the game everything has become tired, monotonous and predictable and is yet another example of a franchise being hammered mercilessly into the ground, leaving no survivors.

"Final Destination 5" Trailer

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I don't think anybody saw this coming. That a reboot/prequel of a forty something year old franchise would go on to become the best blockbuster of the Summer completely came out of left field for me. Sure, that first glimpse of CGI from the film was incredibly photo real but a good film is not made on special effects alone. Added to this, the first trailers released seemed hokey and moronic. Now while I have never seen any of the original Planet of the Apes films (minus the horrid 2001 remake), I couldn't see how a film like Rise could or would ever be relevant to cinemagoers today. Well this has turned out to be one of the films biggest strengths - low expectations. Everybody was more fixated on giant fighting robots, boy wizards and Captain Jack Sparrow this season, than a film about CG monkeys. Despite it's few minor flaws, this late addition to Summer is frequently visually stunning, offers a strong plot and features one of the most gasp inducing scenes in recent memory. Director Rupert Wyatt made waves with his debut feature The Escapist in 2008. Filmed primarily in Dublin's Kilmainham Jail, it was notable for it's fantastic ensemble cast, a rare lead for Brian Cox and how accomplished it was despite it's low budget roots. After a number of directors had come and gone for this gig, Wyatt finally got the unenviable job of crafting another chapter in the somewhat sullied Apes franchise. Here, he aces it, proving that The Escapist was no fluke and that he is just as home with huge budget effects laden extravaganzas as he is in more intimate character driven features. That his film is the success it is is down to one very important thing; Andy Serkis. Despite his British theatrical roots, Serkis has garnered more critical success with his CG animated characters, than any of his live action ones. The words 'oscar nomination' have been bandied about since this films release and upon viewing the film it is easy to see that such claims are not exaggerated at all. Serkis is simply remarkable, breathing impressive life into a simian who can barely communicate. His Caesar is not only a true watershed moment for CGI, but also for performance capture. It is after all, a true performance, eliciting genuine emotion and true depth behind those eyes. Using very little other than his movements, Serkis manages to imbue his CG character with important character tics and traits to staggeringly real results. It is magic come alive on screen.

The plot concerns Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) as he tries to discover a cure for Alzheimer's, as he watches his father (John Lithgow) slowly succumb to the disease. Through his many tests on Chimpanzee's we see it having a side effect and making one in particular, more intelligent that the rest. As can be guessed from the title, events lead to a full on simian revolt against the humans but what surprises the most is how easily Wyatt manages to make even the more far fetched elements of the script, plausible. Whereas those trailers seemed daft and illogical, the film takes the time to fully develop it's themes, so that when some of the more outlandish things happen, they are entirely inevitable in the plot. The respective monkey poo does indeed hit the fan here, but Wyatt manages to stay focused on the story side of things, never leaving the films core relationship of Will and his pet Chimp Caesar (Serkis) off screen for too long. To say the effects are stunning is an understatement; throughout they constantly dazzle and impress, but crucially never overwhelm the story. There are many instances were the various assortment of Chimps and Gorillas are actually photo real. Throughout, each simian performance fully convinces and while any casual observer on set must have had some alarming thoughts on why such a large group of middle aged men are dressed in leotards acting like baboons, the finished result is nothing short of miraculous. The films protagonist isn't it's human Will, it is entirely Caesar. It is he who shows a true character arc and whom the audience fully emotes in - Franco is there to better sell the Chimp action to the audience. Sure there are flaws; Freida Pinto's girlfriend gets nothing to do, while the films assortment of bad guys: David Oyelowo, Brian Cox and Tom Felton have no depth and come off more as villainous pantomime characitures. But overall this is a film that asks interesting questions about animal testing using it's technical accomplishments to further the story, rather than over power it. Sure the other Apes films had more social/political undertones enriching any allegorical context, but we are after all only on film one of a new proposed franchise. There are plenty of directions to take Caesar in which none of the bigger themes will be shied away from. In evidence of this, a sequel might not be such bad thing for once.

Verdict: 8/10
A fantastic addition to the Apes canon and perfect as a stand alone story for anyone unfamiliar with the franchise. Incredible special effects, stylish direction and a stunning performance from Serkis makes this, hands down, the best film of the Summer.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Trailer

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Super 8" OST

A cue off Michael Giacchino's fantastic score for Super 8. Taken from it's emotional climax, the similarities to John Williams are completely intentional and help mould some of the magic JJ Abrams was trying to achieve on screen. Some he gets wrong and some he gets right; here is one moment where he gets everything perfect to goosebump effect.

Cowboys & Aliens

Following on from the likes of Snakes on a Plane, Alien Vs. Predator and Ernest Goes to Africa of films that let you know their plot from their title, we have Cowboys & Aliens; a film that does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. While I am not usually a fan of these titles that do the marketing teams job for them, I have to admit, something about cowboys facing off against aliens intrigued me, as it would the young boy in any cynical, jaded young man. Then it was announced that none other than both Indiana Jones and James Bond would be taking these alien marauders on and I suddenly sat up and took notice - boyhood dreams are made of this. Unfortunately the final product does not wholly deliver on those rabid fanboy expectations. Director Jon Favreau could have had a gleefully wild and fun adventure ride, and instead the film takes itself too seriously, which only ever expands on it's flaws. Not that it isn't a fun night out, rather the film seems tonally unsure of itself and never truly knows in what way to play these two opposing genres off against each other. Despite a stellar line up of talent both in front and behind the camera, it seems that everyone was betting everything on this films title rather than a fully rounded concept. Favreau has himself, promoted the film through old fashioned ways; rather than the film being presented in nice and shiny 3D with a million bells and whistles, Favreau decided to shoot on film and have only his two leading men's star power as being sufficient enough to entice audiences. It worked for me, but there is a whole other generation that doesn't hold Harrison Ford close to their hearts as we do and Daniel Craig hasn't been seen in any (action) roles in three years. Will it be enough? Well the answer is both yes and no. You see while there is a certain amount of nostalgic delight in seeing Ford in a fedora again and extraterrestrial predators falling prey to Indian arrows, there just isn't enough adventure on display to this journey.

Craig plays Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal who wakes in the middle of the desert, with no recollection of himself or how he got there, with a mysterious clunk of mettle slapped on his wrist. As his townsfolk is suddenly attacked by strange flying shapes in the night sky and family members abducted, Lonergan must join forces with enemy Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) to save the day and find out about his mysterious past. Throughout, Craig is all grimaces and scowls. As The Man With No Past, he says very little and carries a 'don't mess with me vibe' that comes in handy when those aliens show up looking for their bracelet back. He is effective as the lead but doesn't wholly gel with Ford. As much as it pains me to say it, there are times when the once Dr. Jones' performance seems off. He is always value for money, but he fails to carry any sense of conflict either about getting his son back, Craigs loose cannon team mate or this historical first contact with the miners from a different Galaxy. Any initial tension between Lonergan or Dolarhyde quickly seems forgotten and the film never derides any hostility or unease between the two. Olivia Wilde looks misplaced amongst the grit and her character only provokes a million more questions about her past while all Sam Rockwell seems to say is 'they took my wife'. However, it is a good cast. In between Craig and Fords superstardom everyone else is filled up by a nice line of reliable supporting character actors. What carries everything through is that same central idea. While Favreau still seems unsure of how to direct action he delivers the Western side of the genre very well without playing it up or making fun of itself. As a result everything is quite gritty and much more tough than you might expect. The sci-fi side of events unfortunately has more than it's share of plot holes. If it's aliens are so smart and powerful than why don't more of them use their weapons instead of ripping everyones throat out? Why are they really here for? Just where did Olivia Wilde come from? The film never satisfactorily answers these questions, but it is fun and interest in events is maintained. It seems that while the script seems unsure of which way to play things, Favreau was right all along; it was it's cast's mere presence that help sell the action, and it's simple title that would get you into the theatre in the first place.

Verdict 5/10
The film is fun, but never fun enough and has a tonally unsure script to match it's plot holes. However, you gotta love that cast and in it's concept alone, there is plenty to see on screen which hasn't been seen in a while.  The western works just fine, but the sci-fi needed more polish.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Super 8

Inevitably and almost unfairly Super 8 has to be able to stand up to some of the greatest films ever made. JJ Abrams certainly has set the bar high for himself. You see, by crafting something as deliciously nostalgic and warm as Super 8, it must first come out out of the shadow of it's forebears and stand on it's own. That shadow is Steven Spielberg, the man who's DNA permeates every frame of Super 8. Abrams has made a film-cum-love letter to the man and for 112 minutes, we are in one epic homage to the legend. Not many filmmakers could stand up to such glaring reverence on screen, but Spielberg has influenced so many directors now, that it seems a film like Super 8 was inevitable. And while the man himself has not made a film since 2008, this is certainly the Summer of Spielberg. He has produced many of the years tent pole releases and the rest owe a great deal to him. The one thing that ties these films (Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 3) together is extraterrestrials; a genre that has always been synonymous with the man. Here it reaches it's apex in Super 8, a lovingly crafted throwback to simpler times and better movies. So while Spielberg produces, Abrams has taken it upon himself to try and recreate some of the magic the bearded man has put up on screen. As a result, the film is a perfect hybrid of both their styles. Abrams wrote and directed and it is obvious the story is personal to him. What is surprising that for such an 'event' film like this, it is the story and characters we take away from it, rather than it's set pieces. Not that this film doesn't have any 'wow' moments; far from it, but they refreshingly occur at the service of the plot, rather than being for the sake of it just to keep the young 'uns interested.

We all sat up and took notice at that that trailer last year. The teaser with the giant train crash. Abrams immediately courted interest and efficiently drummed up plenty of hype with a simple unannounced and unknown teaser trailer. After that the film was coated in secrecy. No one could tell you a thing about the film and speculation about what had escaped from that destroyed carriage, took root in message boards all over the internet. Not that there was any big secret about the film; rather Abrams simply wanted the audience to walk into the film and not feel like they had already watched the damn thing. Plenty of films this Summer had shown their hand in promotional materials well before their release; Super 8 is notable for the fact that it is the only one we knew quite little about. It's hype came from the not knowing. So what we now know is this: set in 1979, the film centres on a group of young boys that are filming their own super low budget DIY zombie film. Upon filming one night, the boys (and girl) are caught in the midst of a catastrophic derailing of a train and from that wreckage, a mysterious creature emerges and begins to wreck havoc on a small town. In between the vicious alien attacks and frequently stunning (but low key) special effects there is the very simple story of one young boy, Joe (Joel Courtney), struggling to come to terms with his mothers untimely death (the fractured family is a Spielberg mainstay) and reconnect with his workaholic Father (Kyle Chandler) by way of getting the girl and catching the 'evil' monster. Abrams cast the young group impeccably. In a film in which most of the characters are under 15, you better make sure that A) they can act and B) they aren't annoying. While some deliveries and moments of humour are a bit off, they are all wonderful for the most part; impressively cussin' and hollering - reacting as most kids would to the larger than life situations they find themselves in. While the third act of the story doesn't wholly deliver on what had gone before it and raises just a few plot holes, the overall effect is unexpectedly moving and touching. Aided by Michael Giacchino's best John Williams impression, the score is suitably grandiose and intimately heartfelt. Overall this is a very welcome and exciting blockbuster that favours story and character over bombarding it's audience with explosions and violence. And in that train crash we glimpsed in the trailer we have the best action scene of the year; heart stoppingly tense and incredibly executed. As all the hulking shards of metal tumble into each other and collapse over the fleeing group, it is that human element which helps sell the danger - we care about these kids.

Verdict: 7/10
The group of kids (The Goonies) all nail their characters. The emotion (E.T.) is touching. The sci-fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is suitably mysterious and the monster (Jurassic Park) is a ferocious treat. Abrams set out to out-Spielberg Spielberg and while the mans oeuvre is too classic to touch, he still does a pretty decent job. Taken on it's own merits, Super 8 is a wonderfully made and lovingly retro hark back to a long gone era of film making. He also turns in the best blockbuster this Summer so far.

"Super 8" Trailer

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

Well it's finally happened. Marvel have dropped the ball. In setting all sights on next years epic superhero team-up The Avengers, they have been racing to get all story lines in order before it's release. It was bound to happen really. So far each of the four films in the Marvel Studios Universe (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor) has done their job to the best of their ability in succeeding being stand alone films first and teasers for The Avengers second. But here in Captain America, shows for the first time that they were clearly more preoccupied with getting all those heroes in the one room for next year, than actually developing a decent story for Steve Rogers et al. Director Joe Johnston has made a career out of being a poor man's Spielberg. Long before JJ Abrams came along with the homage to end all homages in Super 8, Johnston was the go-to-guy whenever getting Spielberg was deemed too expensive. As a result, he turned in such efforts as a poor mans Indiana Jones (Hidalgo, The Rocketeer), a poor mans Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park III, Jumanji) alongside Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and last years contender for worst movie of 2010: The Wolfman. Not exactly an impressive track record. And yet Marvel decided he was perfect for Captain America. Each of their choices so far to helm these huge budgeted superhero flicks has been both interesting and fitting. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh both seemed left field choices to take on films of this nature and yet they knocked their efforts out of the park and both Joss Whedon and Shane Black set to continue that trend with their upcoming efforts across the next few years. And yet when Johnston was announced, I didn't think 'how interesting'; rather a sickening groan of 'oh no'. However, while I had my serious doubts about 2011's previous contender Thor, that actually turned out to be surprisingly good fun, so surely the Captain couldn't be as bad as I might have thought? He is after all, one of Marvel's last untouched top shelf superhero's that they have not yet adapted for the screen in their new line. And so I reigned in my doubts for 'Cap'. How wrong I was....

Captain America has a distinction from most other recent superhero films; it is set almost entirely during World War II. We open with a small, skinny and sickly Steve Rogers (Chris Evens) as he repeatedly tries to join the army, to no avail. Here is a man who detests bullies, stands up for what he believes in and has great values of good and justice. It is for this reason, that Rogers is selected by Dr Abraham Erskine, (Stanley Tucci) to be a contender for some sort of super soldier serum. The serum turns Rogers into the all powerful and muscular Captain America. Meanwhile, evil Nazi's dubbed HYDRA (basically even badder Nazi's than usual - hiss!) have set their sights on an all powerful tesseract with the power to win the war and take over the world. Being led by the sinister Red Skull (Hugo Weaving - he looks exactly like he sounds) nothing stands between them and total world domination. That is, apart from Cap and his team. The cast do their best with the lacklustre script yet fail to add much gravitas to any of the action on screen. Weaving snarls and delivers evil one liners with relish but amounts to little much more, while romantic interest Hayley Atwell contributes zilch to proceedings and is obviously shoe-horned in to appeal to the female demographic. Other supporting roles don't fare much better. Not one character makes any impact on proceedings and each one is vastly under developed. Evans works well enough I guess, but can't really do much with a character as bland as the Captain himself. With Thor, everything was played as a fish out of water comedy to balance out it's more fantastical action and help sell the inherent ridiculousness of such a character - a very wise move indeed on Marvel's part. Captain America has always stood as a cheesy, patriotic, flag waving square to everywhere outside of the US and was always going to be a tough character to swallow for most (that the film is merely named The First Avenger in many territories of the world speaks wonders at how unsure Marvel were to sell their brand). However, instead of playing up just how much of a nerd the man is, Johnston fully indulges him. Within him, there is no confliction or darkness, just an over eager appetite to do good no matter what. This shreds the character of any depth or interest he might have had. This might have been easier to overlook if the man was actually truly super. Compared to the Hulk's might, Thor's power and Iron Man's vast gadgets, Cap does.....very little actually. Apart from running faster that is. Even his shield seems more super powered than the man himself. Throughout, I kept on waiting to see him stretch his powers and do something truly incredible but it never came. This almost certainly will see him stick out like a sore thumb along his more fantastical team mates next year. Action sequences are all poorly staged and have no originality to them - most occur for no other reason it seems than someone deciding 'we need an action scene, let's do one here'. Also, despite it's PG rating, the film is by far the most violent Marvel film to date, with deaths well up into the double digits. I guess when it involves Nazi's you can do whatever you want with them and avoid the pesky wrath of the MPAA. The film carries a pleasing retro vibe throughout, which makes things that bit more tolerable and Tommy Lee Jones is his usual craggy, reliable self, but as the film goes on, it sinks further into it's unimaginative stylings. Not that any of those Marvel films so far were high art, far from it in fact - but they were at least fun and entertaining. Captain America had plenty of potential and only a small percentage of which has been delivered on. Some things work along the way and those looking for nothing more than an effects laden action film could do worse but with so much riding on this guys introduction, he should have landed harder. Thor is a missplaced God with Daddy issues, Hulk is a tragic take on Jekyll & Hyde and Iron Man has his egotistical mouth to match his impressive arsenal of weapons - what does Captain America have? A guy who wanted to be strong and now he is so he beats people up if they're bullies? Not exactly the stuff of legend is he?

Verdict: 4/10
Impressive retro stylings and special effects do not mask what is a clunky mishandle of a character that had plenty more to offer than what is seen here. Under developed and poorly written, this Captain would have been better off being kept frozen.

"Captain America: The First Avenger" Trailer

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Trailer - "The Sitter"

Initially introduced by an alarmingly thin Jonah Hill, this eventually settles into standard movie trailer territory and actually looks to be very funny stuff indeed. Everybody knows that putting kids into adult situations with bad language always equals comedy gold and this looks set to continue that trend. The film centres around Hill's loser slob, who is forced to babysit local children in an effort to boost cash. Of course things go astray and it is not long before Hill and the kids he is supposed to be minding are led into a night of crime and debauchery. Can he get the kids home unharmed in time? Will he get a tip? How much weight did he have to lose for the upcoming 21 Jump Street to look like that? Anyways, the film looks like a barrel of laughs and will hopefully turn out to be marginally better than director David Gordon Green's last comedy effort from this year; the dodgy Your Highness. And anything in which Sam Rockwell is allowed free reign for his rarely used comedy bone always goes to must see in my book. The Sitter is pencilled in for release on January 12th 2012.

Friday, August 5, 2011

First Look - "The Dark Knight Rises" - Catwoman

I'm sure Christopher Nolan is growing ever more weary of those pesky paparazzi that are flanked outside any locations The Dark Knight Rises is shooting and has decided to pre-empt them by releasing an official pic of Anne Hathaway's 'Catwoman', before they get the chance to leak them. And it is very intriguing indeed; it seems Nolan has gone in a completely different direction than any previous vision of Catwoman has gone before. Gone are the feline ears and mask and in, is a new set of blinky goggles. While I'm sure there will be some who are a bit alarmed at such a change of iconic character design, I am staying in the pro-Nolan side of things. Everything the man does is clearly thought out and elaborately planned before it is executed and I'm sure this costume is no change from that. Also important to note is that nowhere on any official studio statements is Hathaway referred to as Catwoman; rather Selina Kyle. Of course everybody knows it is she who becomes Catwoman, but could Nolan be choosing to forego the name in an effort to distance himself from any expectations the character might have? And just why is she piloting the Bat-Pod - did Batman lend it to her or did she steal it? Unfortunately, Nolan's release of one of the biggest tidbits of the film has led to even more questions, which I am sure is what the man had always planned. The guessing continues until July 20th next year......