Due to various circumstances, I stopped my monthly subscription to a certain cinema chain that allowed me unlimited watching of films on actual proper film screens, with noisy people using their smartphones and coming in late and everything. This meant that I didn’t see many of the films that were in my area of interests (boo-hoo for developed-world problems). However, when my local Blockbuster (history note for children: Blockbuster was a chain of real-world shops where dinosaurs could rent physical copies of recently produced film in a legal transaction involving money, instead of pirating them) sent me a letter announcing it was closing down but including 10 free rentals if I went to another nearby Blockbuster, I couldn’t refuse the generous offer. Which led to me watching eight films over the Christmas period that were released in the past six months. In alphabetical order, here are some thoughts:
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
On paper, this is a wonderfully silly idea, which is perhaps why it was a book before it was a Timur Bekmambetov film. Taking one of the most famous American presidents and inserting him into an alternative history genre actioner (where the real reason for the Civil War is because vampires want slaves for food) is inherently funny, at least to non-Americans, so it was a shame that the film seemed lacking in humour. The other disappointing factor was the over-reliance on blatant CGI in ridiculously over-the-top action set pieces, such as a young Lincoln fighting a vampire while they chase each other over the tops of stampeding horses. It leaves you feeling sorry for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Dominic Cooper and Rufus Sewell.
The Amazing Spider-Man
AKA The Unnecessary Reboot So That Sony Keeps The Franchise, this is a strange concoction. The DVD has deleted scenes that show an almost different movie, with key scenes completely different to those in the film, hinting at something more sinister behind the deaths of Peter Parker’s parents (alluded to in the credit sequence); this along with the muddy plotting of the film suggest a final product unsure of itself. Marc Webb, who directed the utterly charming (500) Days Of Summer, does well with the non-costume stuff, particularly the relationship between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy), who are both very good in their scenes together. However, when we finally get into the costume, the set pieces are solid instead of inspiring and the Lizard looks unimpressive, and it turns from a grounded superhero film into the full bonkers stuff of the comic books. I’m glad I didn’t see it in the cinema.
The Bourne Legacy
Another unnecessary film, this time trying to continue the Bourne franchise without Bourne himself, having to create another one from scratch (albeit in the shadow of events occurring in the third Bourne film). This is a perfectly serviceable action film, with Jeremy Renner as a fine if uninteresting lead character, but it tries to include too much of what was in previous Bourne films: Tony Gilroy, who directs and co-writes this film, was a co-writer throughout the previous films and seems to duplicate the hallmarks. There’s running over the roofs and through narrow alleys of an exotic city location, there’s brutal close-action fight scenes, there’s an intense motorised chase scene (except this time with motorcycles instead of cars). The film even ends the same as the first film, with our two leads in a sunny location off the grid (although that doesn’t bode well for Rachel Weisz, who plays a scientist involved in the programme who is rescued by Renner – she’ll get killed in the sequel, as happened to Franka Potente, which is the only thing I hate about The Bourne Supremacy), which seems a bit blatant in its echoing. The thing I’m still trying to figure is why Ed Norton was in it, along with Albert Finney, David Straithairn and Joan Allen …
When I saw initial details about Brave, I thought that it looked like quite a traditional Disney Princess Movie but done via Pixar, which meant it would look great and be a well-constructed story but nothing unusual. Then the reviews came out, suggesting that it was all right but nothing special. However, there are two things that should be pointed out that alter this perception. First, the film takes a complete swerve about halfway through (which perhaps makes it even more Disney-like) and alters the course of the film, meaning it is definitely not a usual princess film. Secondly, as I recall listening to the feedback Mark Kermode got on his review of the film, the film was reviewed as ‘all right’ by mostly male reviewers, who missed the point entirely: this is a film where the stars are a daughter and mother, and the basis of the film is their relationship, albeit told in a highly original and dramatic fashion. If you’re not moved by the ending, then there is something wrong with you. Brave is not up there with the great Pixar films, but it is a very good film and deserving of your attention.
Men In Black 3
Men In Black II was not very good, which is perhaps why there was such a delay between it and this sequel, which got middling to negative reviews. Apart from my major objection to it – that it completely alters the nature of the relationship between J and K from one where K finds J by accident and J proves he has the stuff to be an MiB agent to something totally different – this film isn’t as bad as you might have heard. Josh Brolin does a great young Tommy Lee Jones (Jones is barely in this film), Will Smith is allowed to do Will Smith again in the sequences set in the past (it’s a film that has time travel in it, which seems out of kilter with the MiB universe, something that is acknowledged within the film), and it’s generally quite fun and light (for example, the fun scene where Bill Hader as Andy Warhol is revealed to be an MiB agent who wants out of his undercover role). It has an underdeveloped role for Alice Eve in love-interest mode, Jermaine Clement is not used to his best in the role of the villain, it has a plot point that is similar to the Doctor Who element where the world is saved by placing something on the Apollo 11 rocket, and it has a rushed feel to it (the film started without a proper script in place), but it manages to hang together enough to sail through on the charm of the familiarity of the lead characters.
The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists!
Based loosely on Gideon Defoe’s The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (the first in his series of books about the characters), this is the first adaptation by Aardman Studios (Chicken Run, The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Flushed Away and Arthur Christmas are all original stories) and it’s a lot of fun. With a good voice cast (Hugh Grant stars as the Pirate Captain – all his crew have descriptions instead of names: Martin Freeman is the Pirate with a Scarf; Brendan Gleeson is the Pirate with Gout; Russell Tovey is Albino Pirate; Ashley Jensen is the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate – along with David Tennant as Charles Darwin and Imelda Staunton as Queen Victoria) and a strong story – the Pirate Captain wants to enter the Pirate of the Year contest but he’s not very good but sees a chance at fame when they capture The Beagle, where Darwin recognises their parrot Polly is a dodo, and enters Scientist of the Year, despite it being in London and proximity to the pirate-hating Queen Victoria. This allows for fun and lots of lovely gags – my favourite being Mr Bobo, Darwin’s trained chimpanzee, who communicates with speech cards, so when he falls down a big hole he releases a large batch of cards with ‘A’ on them – and all the usual Aardman attention to detail. It’s not as good as The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, but very few things are.
Snow White and The Huntsman
Female characters have got short shrift when it comes to stories over the centuries, particularly in action films and fairy tales, so I’ve no complaint with the recent trend in female action stars and rejigging old stories to put them in a more pro-active role. In this instance, instead of falling asleep and being rescued, Snow White (in the form of Kristen Stewart) is smart and resourceful and ends up leading a rebellion against the evil queen (Charlize Theron) who killed Snow’s father, took the throne and turned the country into a wasteland. It’s handsomely put together (it’s particularly beautiful when they visit the land of the fairies), but it’s not a completely satisfactory film: Stewart isn’t as inspiring as her speech is supposed to be before the charge against the queen (and her strategy is to just charge at a massive castle full of trained soldiers shooting them with arrows and hurling explosive material down on them), you get distracted by trying to identify the famous people playing dwarves (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones), and Chris Hemsworth does a dodgy Scottish accent in his role as the huntsman. However, points for a female-led fairy-tale action film that successfully mixes in elements of the story you know to make something new and interesting.
A beat-for-beat remake of the original Arnie-starring film (which I kept seeing being described as a ‘classic’ when people were talking about this film – the Paul Verhoeven Total Recall was many things but it was never and will never be a classic), except there is no Mars and we’re in an apocalyptic world where on Britain and Australia are habitable and they are connected by a tunnel through the Earth’s core. Colin Farrell is a better actor than Arnie and there is more doubt that he is an action hero, there is more for the female leads (Kate Beckinsale as the bad woman and Jessica Biel as the good woman) to do, and the production design is fantastic to look at, but it never surprises and never inspires. It also has lots of little homages to the director Len Wiseman’s favourite films (I detected hints of Die Hard and Blade Runner, among others), indicating a lack of imagination on his part.