Thursday, 24 March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles... Refreshingly generic

I like alien films, I also like army films.  This alien/army film, oh the joy!

I try to never put spoilers in my reviews, and this review is no different.  However if I was to say that Battle L.A. is Black Hawk Down meets Independence day, I've kind of given the game away.  But seriously, if you've seen the trailer then you've pretty much seen the film anyway.

The film has cliche after cliche.  It's actually quite funny how many are in there, even down to the fact that our hero; Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhardt) is on his very last day before retirement when alien invasion ensues, what rotten luck.  I'd like to tell you all about each and every generic back story and super obvious plot development but you can check it out yourselves and we can all share later, for now just know that they don't ruin the film.

Not many alien invasion films are original, the President is always wrestling with his conscience, our hero always manages to survive against enormous odds (as does his girlfriend and the dog) and America always finds a way through the attackers defenses.  With regard to alien films; Battle: L.A. manages to divert from the traditional, we start with our platoon and we stick with them; how we fight the aliens is explained and makes sense; nothing is mentioned of the soldiers lives outside the platoon; the girlfriend and the dog are not given pointless screen time, we are left to assume their fate.  It does however stick to the formula when it comes to army films, high fives and hoo ra's every time an enemy minion is taken down; bad ass girl with a gun; going beyond the call of duty; hollow characters with a lack of development (barring Nantz).  As an army film it is kind of obvious.

I kind of liked it, I went to the cinema with my baby boy in tow who seemed to get a kick from all the noise.  And what noise, the sound is fantastic, gunshots sound real and countered by the often immediate silences or 'ringing in your ears' effect gives an feeling that when teamed with the first person (shaky) camera puts you as 'on edge' as the characters themselves.  The special effects are great too.  The aliens appear to wear a sort of reverse scuba suit so that they can breath our air, they are believably conceived enemy soldiers and they move and interact like sentient beings.  Their technology appears to have had thought put into it too, individual ships break away and fit to each other like jigsaw pieces and side arms are surgically attached.  Nice.

Whether you see this (like many reviews that I have read) as yet another film to enhance the American populations fear of the foreigner or as I do, just a good honest extra-terrestrial war film, it was always going to be a no brainer.  It did deliver more than I was expecting, though it clearly could have been better.  The writing let it down, and it didn't have to, the flaws are obvious and plenty and should have been weeded out early on.

Oh and Ne-Yo is in it, weird.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

True Grit... It was too short!

Many highly regarded films have gone Oscarless, in that, True Grit sits along side the likes of Vertigo, Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  That it gets to join this club of forgotten greats I'm sure is of no consolation, the Coen brothers have a list of films that gain little accolade from The Academy.  Their only production to get best picture has been No Country For Old Men in 2008 with only Fargo 11 years prior, being recognised at all (that being for the screen play).

The only reason for not getting the best film Oscar should be that there was a better film made that year, and this year was a bumper year for contenders.  So should True Grit have won? Was it the best film of the year?  Well... I'm not the right man to ask, there are people out there who are much more qualified than me to make such decisions.  What I can say though is that True Grit is brilliant, the Joel and Ethan hit the mark again with some fantastic cinema.  What I like most about these siblings is that although they have their regular traits in film making, for example they try to have no heroes in their films, they make decisions with what's best for the film in mind rather than what's best for the "Coen" franchise.

The most surprising thing that I found about the film was the duration, at 110 minutes it is by no means short, but it does feel like it.  It seems to end abruptly.  We have only just met Tom Chaney played by Josh Brolin, his character hasn't had chance to develop, although maybe that can be forgiven as what he means to other characters is significantly more important than the character himself.  Matt Damon's character (LaBoeuf) too is a bit of a mystery, we seem to have only scratched through a proud, misunderstood veneer when we say our last goodbye.  Here too I find myself leaping to the defence of the directors; it is not always a mistake to leave the audience wanting more, LaBoeuf's last moments on screen are pivotal in defining his character, so when better to bid farewell.

Second most surprising thing about the film, even after the whole world harping on about it for weeks... Hailee Steinfeld's performance.  Just amazing, why she wasn't nominated for best actress I have no idea, she nailed it, the film could not be without her.  She was supposedly a "supporting actress", yet she appeared in near every scene and talks a damn sight more than anyone else too.  The support, I would say, comes from a near indecipherable Jeff Bridges.  I love drunks on film, and not since Blazing Saddles has one made me smile so much.  The genius behind Bridges' drunken Cogburn is that as much as he often seems to be overdoing it, the story requires it to oppose Damon's straight laced honorability.  Bridges plays some great roles, and to go from Tron, playing an almost Buddhist zen character, a god like creator, to the best, most sadistic drunk I've seen for some time shows what could only be described as, well... true grit.

I very, very much enjoyed this film, I wanted more.

8/10 by a whisker, just too short.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Avril Lavigne, Goodbye Lullaby: Buy yourself an advert

The album starts with a short intro track called "Black Star", which is OK until you find out that her perfume is also named "Black Star", this track is also the very track used to flog it.  Fair enough, the girl's got to make money but am I the only one that thinks this is a bit shameless?

I'm listening to Goodby Lullaby right now, barely getting over the contrived use of the word "shit" seemingly to punctuate her pop punk persona, and the not very poetic repetition of "I wish you were here" in track three titled (obviously enough) "Wish You Were Here".  I find myself groaning every few minutes at the bizarrely, shallow, 12 year old girl lyrics, "you know that I'm a crazy bitch, I do what I want when I feel like it".  We've moved on to "smile" now where she appears to be very happy about not remembering getting a tattoo the night before, fair enough again, she and her super cool boyfriend did get each others names tattooed on themselves after being together for a matter of weeks.  And as her demographic is clearly prepubescent girls, this is definitely dumb ass behavior that she should be promoting.

As the album continues it's more of the same repetition and poorly put together tracks, one sounds like a Katy Perry track, and on checking out the video to "What the Hell" that's a bit Katy Perry also.  The thing that's not very Katy Perry is that Avril, even for all her poncing about in her knickers and getting her downtrodden boyfriend to pay for stuff, doesn't appear to want to be there.  Her expressions are hollow and her eyes look vacant, I really think she's be better doing angry chick stuff.  It's also a shameless advert for Sony products, I was seriously shocked, so shocked in fact that I immediately had to go relax and play stuff on my Sony PlayStation.  If it manages to get to the TV I can imagine one or two complaints to the ITC.  Clearly the girl knows how to scrape every penny out of an album that's possible, fine on her part, but do you really want to buy an advert?

"Everybody Hurts" "4 Real" and "Darlin" (what's with the text speak? Can you BBM tracks now LOL?) could seriously be done by any recording artist on the planet, they're OK but enough to redeem the pain that she's put me through so far, I don't think so.

By track 12 we're in an emotional stupor, we're talking about "feelings running out the door" and other lines that end in "more" and "drawer", penultimately we have "Goodbye" where the strings and piano would be quite lovely if it weren't for the high pitch wailing of the track name.  This track ends with a full minute of silence before the last, supposedly hidden, track "Alice", which was the soundtrack to "Alice in Wonderland" this might actually be pretty good, but the fake ending to the album makes me begrudge the tracks existence, I don't care if it's good.  I want to turn it off.

2/10, I'd give it more as it's obviously kind of OK for its particular audience it it wasn't for the in your face advertising.

Unknown: Taken 2?

I was pretty excited about this film, I'm love Liam Neeson doing action, it's like a "proper" actor kicking ass.

Taken was an action film tour de force and on seeing the trailer for Unknown I was thinking of it as kind of a Taken 2.  It is set in Europe, there are car chases and explosions, Neeson even indulges in a little fisticuffs.  But don't be mistaken, Taken is a very well written film that it is based on some guy saving his daughter in the still original setting of human trafficking (only really comparable to Eastern Promises from the previous year).   It puts this narrative into an action driven yet superbly acted package.  Conversely Unknown takes an unoriginal plot, it's no spoiler to say that it's an amnesia film, which keeps you guessing in an OK whodunit kind of way.  It's a predictable flimsy actor driven action thriller.

The fact that it is actor driven is the problem, mainly because most of the actors are really pretty rubbish.  Don't get me wrong I still love Neeson, like a good chutney he gets better as he gets older, he carries the film, I can't think of anyone who would do a better job.  January Jones though, who plays his wife, is just terrible, I can't even get started on why, she's bland, boring and unbelievable, completely miscast.  Diane Kruger (mostly in my mind for being Helen in Troy) does well.  There are a couple of bad guys in there which are OK too, but Neeson's main adversary Aiden Quinn is soft, his sad puppy eyes just got irritating.  Bruno Ganz who plays an unapologetic ex-East German spy is good, as is Frank Langella (who I will only ever be able to think of as Richard Nixon).  If they'd have held out for stronger actors for one or two of the supporting (but very important) roles the film could have been really very good, but they didn't so it's OK, just OK.

A disappointing 6/10

Monday, 7 March 2011

Tangled 3D: Let down your... guard

Disney...  I'm not really a fan.  Or at least not a fan of their recent animations.  The new stuff is very difficult to figure out, for a good few years now they've either been losing the fight with Pixar or trying to be them.  Notable recent pictures include Bolt which I really enjoyed the first five minutes of but the rest was forgettable and Up, which is fantastic but is clearly a Pixar film which Disney merely 'presented' meaning that they stumped up cash to get their name on it.

The problem is that with the advent of 3D animation technology, they lost their identity.  When you look at Mickey Mouse, Belle, The Beast, Dumbo, Snow White, Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc they are clearly Disney.  You don't need the opening credits to tell you, you just know.  It's more than this too, it is the way they move, the colours and the dialogue.  Disney films weren't all cotton wool and smiles either.  Two of the scariest scenes I can think of in film are the dream sequence from Dumbo and the donkey scene in PinocchioSamuel Armstrong directed many of these early films and he achieved a balance of sentimentality, drama and comedy perfectly to ensure entertainment for all ages.  The juxtaposition of harsh, scolding wicked stepmothers with the funny, cute friends of our heroes and heroins ensure that it is never too serious for delicate little ones and not too cutesy for us big hard men.

Anyway, I was not looking forward to Tangled, I put off going to see it for a couple of weeks just because I couldn't be bothered.  I went to a midday showing on a cold Monday afternoon with nothing better to do.  And it was great.

Everything that I like about the old films is there, but it's shiny and new, they've not gone back to the old times, they've brought themselves up to date.  Rapunzel (Mandy Moore; I have no idea who she is) is great, she is an up to date princess, strong yet vulnerable, pretty and intelligent.  Flynn (the male lead, Zachary Levi) is again a move forward for the Disney male, he is flawed but ultimately honorable, the chiseled jaw is not so chiseled and has a shade of boy band stubble.  Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is a menacing captor, scary and funny, I'm also pretty sure she's modeled on Cher, which is nice.  Like the old films, the animals do not talk, Pascal the chameleon and Maximillion the horse are excellent supporting cast and comic relief, anthropomorphism is not over used and is effective.  

If you've ever read the Grimm fairytale you'll be in for a few surprises, this is largely an original plot with only the bare bones being true to the classic story.  The writing is funny, I laughed out loud at least once, N.B. keep an eye out for a scene where Pascal wakes Flynn up, I was willing it to happen but never thought it would.  The music is full production with an early sequence reminiscent of 'A Chorus Line'.  The animation is smooth and flowing, the hair technology particularly is put to very good use.  Even the 3D, which it is no secret that I think is over used to the point of insulting, doesn't get in the way too much, though the film clearly doesn't need it.  The much talked about paper lantern scene, which definitely benefits from cinema viewing, could still live without it.  I'm very happy I saw it, and like with most films, very happy I saw it on the big screen.

If you like Beauty and the Beast, Snow White or any classic Disney you'll like this.  If you like modern 3D animation you like this too.  If you only like films with car chases and explosions, maybe give it a miss.  Show it to the kids, watch it yourself, it's a good film.