The Amazing Spider-Man 2

120px-film-strip2Despite a night with no sleep courtesy of a vomiting baby, we staggered into the Glasgow IMAX screen for the 11:00 showing. Best seats in the house, as well!

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

“Soon, everyone in the city will know how it feels to live in a world without power, without mercy, without Spider-Man!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: The continuing adventures of Spidey, the return of Harry Osborn and the rise of Electro

See it if you like: Seriously? You need this information about a superhero film?

This films seems to be dividing the film-going public, at least as far as those I know who’ve caught it. Personally, I really enjoyed it. Gillian pretty much enjoyed it. One of my pupils labelled it “alright, I suppose” while a facebook friend dropped it into the “****” box. Even so, the one thing most people do seem to agree on is that it’s better than the previous installment.

One point to make clear – and a thing that was worrying me from the trailer – is that the film doesn’t feature that many villains, at least certainly not all at once in a big battle or anything. It’s all the better for it, too. You can have too much of a good thing, and with a character like Spiderman, plot is as important as action. I’d not want to see him battling four villains simultaneously – it would just be messy.

Instead, we have one main villain in Electro (Jamie Foxx) whose development and origin are paced and explored much as Spidey’s was in the last film. I won’t spoil too many details of the others in the film!

Visually, this is one of the best superhero films I’ve seen bar none. Especially in 3D on an IMAX screen, the web-slinging scenes of Spiderman (Andrew Garfield) swooping and tumbling from location to location are staggeringly well done. Perilous drops, acrobatic flips and physically accurate (as a “proportionate strength of a spider human being” can be, I guess) movement.

There are moment where I felt that the pace dropped a little too low, but this was offset with plenty of little references to keep an eye/ear out for and the excellent comic timing and intonation of Garfield. People have generally responded negatively to his portrayal of the Webbed Wonder, but in this film I think he’s nailed it. Definitely not trying to be Tobey Maguire, instead marking his own territory.

When I’m absolutely exhausted, I usually don’t enjoy watching films much as I’m too tired and fidgety. Despite this, I really did enjoy this outing for the Webslinger and would happily recommend it. But, as I say, you may not fall on the same side of the fence as me.

One disappointment – the mid-credit teaser for another film (I won’t spoil the surprise) is not included in the IMAX presentation. You’ll only see it on regular screens. Boo.

Rush / White House Down

120px-Film-stripTwo-film Thursday again, and this week only two films happened to be on that we hadn’t seen and wanted to see. Nice, easy choice for a change!

Rush

“Asshole.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: dramatised biopic of the 1976 F1 season focusing on the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda

See it if you like: tight, character-driven dramas with an edge of action. Or F1. Or cars.

I begin with the same disclaimer with which I started my review of Senna about two years ago: “I am not an F1 fan. I appreciate the technology and so forth, but I find the sport itself deathly dull.” I will, however, also reach the same conclusion – it makes for bloody brilliant films.

Seriously, without looking on IMDB to check his filmography, I don’t think Ron Howard has made a single bad film. And he continues the impressive trend with this.

Despite being set in the world of motor racing, the tale is very much focused on the two main characters – ladies man and bit-of-a-dick James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), and rat-like workhorse Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl).

From their first meeting during a Formula 3 race to their world famous clash during the 1976 F1 season, the story follows their personal lives, relationship with each other and memorable events on the track.

One benefit, as with Senna, of not being a fan of the racing is that I didn’t know exactly how things would pan out as far as results went. Obviously it must have been tight, but beyond that it added something to the film by not knowing. At one point the wife, who probably likes F1 even less than me, leaned over and asked “Does anyone die in this race?” She was genuinely wrapped up so much in the characters that she was nervous about watching. It’s that good.

While the track sequences are stunning they are purely the backdrop to the excellent performances by the leads (and supporting cast) who really portray two vastly different men who ended up very much respecting each other. The story on the way there is a roller-coaster of a ride of the highest order and left me just as thrilled and exhausted at the end as if I’d been on a real one.

I’ll finish with a quote from the Mrs: “I’d say more than pleasantly surprised, there were points when I was literally on the edge of my seat. Not into cars at all but this is a great film, I really enjoyed it.”

White House Down

“How do you lose a rocket launcher?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: mad loons break into the White House to kidnap the President. Only one man (and his daughter, and a tour guide, and another man, and some people outside) can stop them

See it if you like: Silly action films that don’t make much sense, but entertain nevertheless

By coincidence, we watched Olympus Has Fallen earlier this week, which has a very similar plot but takes a more serious tone than the more “jokey” one apparent in scenes of White House Down. In fact, the trailer for this film may make you think that it’s more of a buddy-buddy comedy action.

Actually, it isn’t. Although there are some light-hearted moments and good one-liners, it’s as much a comedy as Die Hard (which is always going to be the benchmark for 1-man or 2-men against overwhelming odds action films). The effects are better than OHF‘s as well, which to me looked more like a made-for-TV movie with some shonky CGI vehicles and the like.

In this WHD, Channing Tatum plays Cale, a wannabe secret service agent and actual army drop-out with a failed marriage. His dream job is to be on the presidential guard to impress his daughter (a marginally annoying, but only in a way all teenagers are, Joey King). The President in this case is played by Jamie Foxx and he’s probably the piece of the puzzle (barring the usual “no human can take that many beatings issue) which provides the weak link.

Foxx isn’t bad at all. And he works well alongside Tatum in their scenes together. It’s the character himself that requires belief suspension. First of all a black president (one of the background reporters towards the end actually refers to him as “Obama”!), and one who wants to withdraw all troops from the Middle East thus setting up the reasons for the assault on the White House. Yeah, right.

However, if you can’t suspend belief during an action film then you may as well sit at home. It rollicks along at a fair old pace once it gets going with suitably bad bad guys, buff good guys, and ineffective authority figures bickering amongst themselves instead of getting the job done.

Oh, and if there’s one whopping great reference to Bruce Willis‘s best film it’s the computer hacker. Flamboyant, egotistical, and listening to classical music while he taps away.

As expected, the bangs and crunches get bigger and stupider as the film progresses. No surprises, no major twists that you can’t see coming a mile away but still a fun ride.

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Horrible Bosses / Captain America

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsWith the kids safely ensconced at Grandma’s, we took the opportunity to indulge in junk food and two very enjoyable movies.

Horrible Bosses

“I’d like to bend her over a barrel and show her the fifty states.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Three guys with three awful bosses decide to kill them. With hilarious consequences.

See it if you like… the concept of Throw Momma From The Train mixed with The Hangover.

This is one of those films with a storyline a lot of people could relate to. I’ve certainly had bosses in the past who’ve made my life miserable, though not as miserable as certain ex-neighbours, and in honesty if pushed hard enough the brain does start to wish evil things up on them. So what if a couple of your friends were in the same situation? How would you help each other?

Well, the three friends in this film (played by Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis) find themselves up against an overbearing asshole (Kevin Spacey, in a role possibly out-evilling Lex Luthor), a drug-addled toss-pot (a brilliantly hateful Colin Farrell) and a sexually harassing vixen (Jennifer Aniston, who I have never, ever seen sexier. Wow. I mean… WOW). They are aided and abetted by dodgy man-in-a-pub Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx). So a superb supporting cast, then.

The story is nicely paced and the boss characters wonderfully portrayed as the evil individuals they are while our hapless heroes try their best to convince themselves to go through with this. Seth Gordon has done a great job with the pacing of the story and the little incidents throughout are both hilarious and – in many cases – feed back into the story as plot points.

OK, it’s a little predictable. As soon as you see the mobile phone being dropped (no, that’s not a huge spoiler) you just know where the story is going. But it’s not the end that’s important, it’s the journey getting there and this is a genuinely funny one. I wouldn’t say I laughed quite so much as with The Hangover, but it still got a large amount of giggles. We weren’t along, either, as it seemed the whole (fairly busy) cinema audience at our showing thoroughly enjoyed it.

Definitely worth watching for the laughs. And for putting Jennifer Aniston into the spank bank. Did I say “WOW”?

Captain America: The First Avenger

“And Hitler looks for trinkets in the desert.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Origin story of the superhero used by the US as a morale-booster during WWII

See it if you like: well, superhero films. Dur. Oh, yes, and mom. And apple pie. And kicking nazi ass.

The final “prequel” to next summer’s The Avengers hits the screens and it’s not bad. It’s certainly better than Thor which I thought was incredibly weak, but also not as good as the two Iron Man films, which lead the pack predominantly due to the excellent script and banter.

Most of the story is told back during WWII when the US is recruiting as it finally gets off it’s arse and realises it’s part of the “world”. Young men are queueing up to become cannon fodder, including one young Steve Rogers (Chris Evans – not the ginger twat who ruined Virgin Radio). Thing is, little Stevie is a wimp. Up for the fight, but physically a wreck.

Special effects are used to reduce the somewhat buff Evans to a 9 stone weakling, and they work surprisingly well. Except for one close-up sequence in a car with leading lady Hayley Atwell (who plays Agent Peggy Carter) where Rogers appears to be taller, shorter, nearer and further away from her all depending on the camera angle.

A fleeing Nazi scientist (aided by Tony Stark Sr., father of the modern-era Iron Man) imbues him with muscles, power and the likes and off he goes to start kicking nazis around (via a music hall tour to raise war bond sales). Of course, Hitler’s not good enough as a super villain, so we’re introduced to Johann Schmidt (a.k.a. The Red Skull, played by an as-usual excellent Hugo Weaving) who was the first human to be given the power serum and who didn’t come out of it quite so well.

Visually the film is stunning, although the animation of Cap jumping is reminiscent of the recent Spiderman films and a little jerky. The sets are fantastic and very much the kind of thing you’d expect from a film of the era in places. That is, not exactly an accurate depiction of the times, but a slightly comic-book version. Perfect.

There’s the usual moral message that you get from the Marvel comics (this one – “bullies are mean”), but mainly it’s a good spy/action/superhero film which introduces the character well.

To nitpick – I’m prepared to forgive the fact that Cap has a shield made from something called “Vibranium” that absorbs all vibrations. But if that’s the case, why does it make a ringing sound when it’s shot by a bullet?

Stay past the end credits and you’ll see a trailer for next summer’s picture as well.

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Friday film roundup

The Soloist
The Soloist

Friday this week as it suited the workload a little better. The downside is that Friday was a holiday in Glasgow so the cinema was rammed more than it usually would be. Added to the fact that only two people were selling tickets when I got there, this meant that I was going to miss almost 15 minutes of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, so I skipped it for another time.

The Firm

First up, then, was this cinematic remake of an old made-for-tv movie by writer and director Nick Love. It’s low budget, rough’n’ready (like its subject matter) and hair-raising in places.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Teenager Dominic decides that the local West Ham “firm” of football thugs is more interesting than his mates, so he decides to join up.

The film looks like it was made in the 80’s, let alone being set during the period – and I mean this as a compliment. It’s like a big, grown-up, violent episode of Grange Hill. Complete with mouthfuls of filth and more slang and colloquial language than an Irvine Welsh novel. Unless you were raised in London, you really just have to roll with it and make guesses at the dialogue at times.

The film is a complete story, and a fairly simple one. Most striking are the street fight scenes which do look pretty nasty although the sound effects are a pinch too overblown. Watching them is like seeing old news footage from the era, uncomfortably so at times.

In an interesting take, Love also takes the story into the home of one of the ringleaders showing a completely different side to the character. It’s still fairly shallow, though, and there are no real surprises as the story unfolds.

Worth a watch, and at least it’s not basically a stepping stone for The Firm 2 which would be the case with a US-made feature.

Surrogates

Bruce Willis is back in this quirky near-future thriller which relies more on plot than effects.

That plot-in-a-nutshell: In a world where nobody leaves their home any more, instead mentally controlling human-like “surrogates”, someone has found a way to kill the humans via this safety net.

Willis’ character is an FBI agent in this future world where crime has been reduced by 99% simply by people failing to leave their houses. How they don’t all turn into fat freaks isn’t adequately explained, but the surrogates to look a bit fitter than the real people – if a little more plasticcy.

There is, of course, a rebellious group of luddites who have issues with the whole surrogate thing so the finger of blame initially falls on them but the case isn’t quite so clear cut. There’s also the man who invented the surrogates who was sacked by the company who make them. And an FBI conspiracy.

It sounds impressive, but in honesty it’s all pretty much run-of-the-mill. The surrogate idea itself is a good one, but underneath it’s just another by-the-numbers whodunnit which you can piece together half an hour in.

Still, it’s better than Die Hard 4. But then, so is self-inflicted colonic irrigation.

Fame

It was a tossup between this and Creation as they both had similar start times, but I plumped for the dancey one as I would be seeing another drama next. In honesty, my hopes were moderately high after how much I enjoyed Bandslam recently. It also has a great pedigree… or a lot to live up to depending on your view of the original 80’s version.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: teenagers go through the audition process to get into the most prestigious Performing Arts school in New York, go through, and graduate. All in 137 minutes.

I’ll sum up at the start: Fame is awful. It could have been so much only it tries too hard and fails to cram a TV series’ worth of characters and storyline into 2 1/4 hours. It is, simply, a mess. To begin with, it’s promising as the lead characters go through their auditions with varying degrees of success.

Then *pow* we get the big musical number. It’s like showing the monster from the horror film in the second reel. After this, the whole film goes into one sloppy decline. Each “year in the life” is given what feels like 20 minutes of screen time which simply isn’t enough. What should be major events are breezed over and you’re left waiting for the repercussions… of which there are none.

Full credit must be given to the cast, from the older generation to the younger. There’s an incredible array of talent on show here. The direction and choreography are also lovely. Just such a shame that they’re all wasted on this dog’s dinner of a script.

The Soloist

Final film of the evening (I couldn’t be bothered staying till 23:30 to watch the re-release of John Carpenter‘s The Thing) was this adaptation of a book by one of the central characters.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr) is an LA journalist who writes little stories about life in the city. One day he encounters a down-and-out, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who turns out to be an incredibly talented musician. The story follows their journey together as Lopez tries to “help” Ayers make the most of his talents.

This is definitely the kind of film that wins OSCARs. However, I don’t think The Soloist is quite good enough to do it. Certainly, the performances are superb. Downey brings in the sarcastic wit and superb timing he employed in Iron Man while Foxx plays the “character with a disability” card in his aim for another award. They certainly both put on amazing performances, and the supporting actors can’t be criticised either.

However, the film just seems to lack something. For every moment of genius there’s something just a little too bland or stereotypical. There’s a beautiful scene during a musical performance where Ayers closes his eyes and we see a display of colour – visualising what he’s seeing. Amazing.

If only the rest of the film could have measured up.

Still definitely worth seeing, if only for a short dose of Downey Jr before Iron Man 2 hits the cinemas.

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