Thursday, 19 May 2011

Thor: sore with a lisp

Often the anticipation of a film can end up ruining the experience, this may well have been the case if on my first two attempts to see the film I had succeeded.  The first time it was only showing in 3D, and having left the house without my wallet I was fifty pence short of the extra cost.  I wasn't too fussed, I hate paying extra to see an effect that will inevitably inspire a rant or two and I wanted to see Hanna anyway, so I did.  The second time I was late, and an incredible specimen of a snaking queue meant that I would have missed the first ten minutes of the film, so again I went with another option this time involving more wine and less popcorn.  On Tuesday I finally got to see Thor, anticipation curbed, objective head on.

Of all the Marvel franchise Thor is probably my least favourite.  It's the story that relies most on fantasy.  Of course we are talking about superheros and there is little subject matter that relies more heavily on fantasy, but it is a particular flavour unlike any other.  We have fantastic characters that have come about under freakish circumstances that reside in the real world.  Whereas Thor's home world plays a part throughout the comic book adventures.  We often get the point of view from Odin (Thor's father) at home in Asgard, which gives the reader a whole other perspective to think about.  Of course the story is also rooted in Norse mythology, and as such it is familiar with most.  These points move it down in the ranks as far as I'm concerned but will make the film more accessible to people who may not already have such an affinity with the Marvel world.

There are differences between the graphic novels and the film, Thor has no alter ego in the motion picture and because of this his love interest has had a change of career.  Nothing too major and by making Jane (Natalie Portman) a scientist rather than a nurse it becomes easier to write valid contribution for the character.  Having said that, the writers seem to have ignored this fact, Portman comes across as dizzy and clumsy from start to finish.  In fact all three scientists on the whole seem nonplussed, Prof. Selvig (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, who I always confuse with William Hurt) is resigning and a bit useless, where as Darcy (Kat Dennings) is simply useless although she does deliver one or two good one liners.  Which brings me to the comedy in the film, of which there is plenty.  From locals struggling to budge thors hammer to S.H.I.E.L.D agents descriptions of the most recent residents of New Mexico, humor definitely plays a part in keeping your attention for just short of two hours.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) slamming about like a viking and raising eyebrow to the skies when a roll of thunder bellows also cause a wry grin. In a fairly tongue in cheek role he acts well.  His performance will see him in working in Hollywood at least for the time being. Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Thors brother) goes through a lot in the film, some of which could maybe have been saved for a later chapter.  Anthony Hopkins plays a very good Odin, which was a relief because he either hits the bulls eye or misses by a country mile.  The last character I'd like to mention is Volstagg of "the warriors three" this role must have been written for Brian Blessed, he's 74 this year but he would have been awesome nonetheless, Ray Stevenson just appears to be doing a poor Blessed impression.

For all it's faults I still enjoyed Thor.  If I'd seen it in 3D I don't think I would have.  I like the Juxtaposition between the highly polished, beautifully designed Asgard and a sleepy, dusty New Mexico town.  Though I do think it was holding back, The Avengers film will be with us soon and I expect to see the founding member putting his hammer to much greater effect next time.

You will more thank likely like this if you like super hero films.

You definitely won't like this if you're thinking that Brannagh is going to add a Shakespearean twang to the Marvel galaxy.


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Monday, 16 May 2011

Harry Brown: My first DVD review

So far, with the exception of two or three articles, I have been predominantly focusing on spoiler free cinema release reviews.  This is not reflective of my viewing habits, so, with a view to writing more I'm going to start a series of DVD recommendations.  I'm going to try and depend less on marks out of ten so much because that system makes it difficult to be objective, instead I will finish each review with a why you should and why you should not see a film section too.  Also, there may be a spoiler or two in there, although I will give you advance warnings.  So without further ado, here's Harry Brown.

Ken Loach has for a long time been a favorite of mine, his gritty truthful takes on 20/21st century Britain leave you both desperate and nostalgic.  During the first half of this film Daniel Barber (in his so far only feature film) does a very similar job, and does it well.  

We meet Harry Brown, his wife in hospital, taking the long way round to be with her, avoiding the local youth.  Lingering shots of his lonely life, struggling out of bed, eating solemn meals.  Drinking alone in the local pub, waiting for his only friend to join him for a game of chess. ** SPOILER START **  Without giving too much of the game away, Harry soon loses his wife, he witnesses a violent attack in the courtyard outside his Elephant and Castle tower block flat, and then to top it all his only his friend taken from him.  While mourning, a drunken Harry becomes the victim of an attempted mugging.  Exit Ken Loach enter Guy Ritchie.  This really is where a line is drawn in the film.  Michael Caine's expression leaves Harry Brown behind and becomes Jack Carter all over again.  Shots go from brown and grey and start to include stalking, horror inspired, dark frames tinted with ambers, reds and blues.  Harry becomes sadistic in his plight to gain vengeance, as he get's a view deeper and deeper into London's violent undercurrent he becomes more and more his former Marine self, but where will it all end? ** SPOILER END **

Largely the acting is superb, Michael Cain delivers convincing performances on both sides of his persona.  David Bradley (the caretaker in Harry Potter)'s desperate performance tugs at the heart strings.  Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) is good, but as a detective that has requested this, one of the worst beats in London lacks development.  Plan B (Ben Drew) is unbelievable when put besides such fine acting talent, for one whose career is built on modern British youth dialect/accent his delivery seems contrived and unnatural.  The best performances in the film come from Sean Harris and Joseph Gilgun who are scarily believable, while I hope a little over the top in their depictions of drug/arms dealers.

DVD extras are pretty good, the commentaries are candid and often funny and the interviews give perspective to the area in which the film is shot.

If you like gangster or retribution films, you'll like this, it's a like a hard Gran Torino or Kidulthood meets Get Carter.

If you like Ken Loach then the second half will let you down, so don't expect your perfect film.

I very much liked it. 


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hanna: An action film about music

One of the first things I thought about Hanna, before seeing it, was that I could guess the shock ending...  I was wrong.  Although, Joe Wright isn't exactly one for a twist ending, he is a story teller, and he tells it well.  

There are obvious comparisons with this film, Luc Bessons Leon and La Femme Nikita being the most clear.  Studying Bessons style, Wright's take on the unlikely killer pulls no punches, but with his history in period drama (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) I would expect him to have delivered more character development.  Having said that, it could be argued that this, his fourth feature film credits the viewer with a brain of his own.  Rather than developing the character before our eyes, he uses metaphor and script to imply adolescence and inexperience.  Sets include a Hansel and Gretel-esque cabin in the woods and a defunct fairground.  The main foe, Cate Blanchett, is referred to as "the witch".  Hanna herself is scared of the things that have been neglected in her education, fast cuts and erratic pans put us into her panicky position.  Her upbringing and education become clear without the need for flashback or montage.

When we meet Hanna, she has never heard music before, asking "What does music feel like?" the answer comes as a dictionary definition.  From here the film has a subplot told in tune.  The soundtrack really is great, featuring the Chemical Brothers it often emphasises and sometimes juxtaposes scenes, there is harsh and fast music, slow and sweet, dance, rock and classical.  Activity takes on rhythm.  One character even has a signature melody, which adds a very creepy tinge to the whole proceeding.

I think it's pretty clear that I liked the film, and there are many reasons for this.  Look out for the fight choreography, it is second to none, I'd be surprised if none of the actors picked up real and painful injuries.  Saoirse Ronan, who plays Hanna is very good, she's sweet and innocent, naive and deadly.  Tom Hollander is super freaky, he reminded me of the boys in the Austrian film Funny Games (later remade in Hollywood).  The direction is good and the on location shots are done delicately and well.  Often films set in many different countries become touristy, this does not, it relies on language, culture and script to let us know where we are as and when we need to.  

All the good stuff said though, I wasn't as convinced as some about the greatness of the film.  Eric Bana wasn't as bad as he was in Hulk, but only because he was forgettable.  He had some good scenes too, this could really have been a film to bring him up the Hollywood ranks.  Cate Blanchett was a great foe, we've seen her do hard before and she does it well, but she acts with a very thick southern U.S. accent which leaves you staring at the screen thinking "she's is acting with a funny accent":  The thing about this point, is that I get the feeling that it was a considered decision to give her such a thick regional tone, and I can't for the life of me figure out why.  Finally, Hanna's allies in the story are a middle class British family on their travels.  They don't inspire sympathy and they are completely unlikable but ashamedly with that comes believability.

I like the film but was left wanting.