Friday, 22 August 2014
Thursday, 21 August 2014
Saturday, 16 August 2014
In terms of action sequels 22 Jump Street has a lot in common with Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Like that film 22 Jump dumps any pretence of reality, amping up the characters based on basic, demonstrable traits. So instead of multi-dimensional personalities we have action figures with special abilities.
Channing Tatum's ditzy Jenko is transformed from a well meaning lummox into a hyper-athletic superman. Likewise, Jonah Hill's Schmidt gets to be an invincible, elastic Looney Tune able to bounce alongside trucks and rebound off iron girders. Although handy for a couple of sight-gags, this sequel inflation undermines one of the basic appeals of 21 Jump Street - two shell-shocked goons stumbling blindly through a series of action set-ups. By making them active, indestructible, participants, 22 Jump falters.
Friday, 15 August 2014
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Monday, 11 August 2014
On one hand this trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare reads like a mean-spirited attempt to absolutely bury Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall. On the other there's the idea that Sledgehammer Games have sat down and played some stone cold classics like Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening and had a good think about how they can incorporate that total movement model into a first-person military shooter. Double jumps and air dashes in Call of Duty? Even the boring laser rifles can't take the shine off that.
Sold as all-things to all-people, Guardians of the Galaxy is a thoroughly pleasant reorganising of Star Wars that makes Leia damaged and vengeful, doubles down on Han Solo and Chewbacca and drops Luke altogether. Stuck delivering flavour for another Avengers ejaculation, James Gunn and pals punch up your basic Marvel adventure with Awesome Mix Tapes, Boogie Nights actors, and a few sideways glances at genuine pain.
As expected it's Rocket Raccoon that stands out. Bradley Cooper's voice work is complimentary but the real work is done by Sean Gunn's on-set acting and an army of digital animators. Even how the raccoon holds his head speaks volumes. Naturally subordinated due to his diminutive size, Rocket refuses to be dominated. He doesn't scurry around, craning his neck to meet eyes. He points his nose down and peers upwards, sneering. He isn't short. You're just too tall.
Rocket is a head-on collision between Lee Van Cleef and the Jim Henson Creature Shop's work on Splinter from the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie - a beguiling rodent with the body language of a gunslinger. I presume Gunn loves him too. The co-writer (with Nicole Perlman) / director gives the other Guardians beats that tell you who they are and what their objective is. Rocket gets a comedy bounty motivation and a vague, upsetting past that splutters out in visual asides and drunken mumbling. In a film full of heroic archetypes, Rocket is contradictory and exciting.
Guardians' only real problem is that by now Marvel movie action beats are becoming routine. As with The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians ends with a skyborne threat to a picturesque city. Thanks to this film's space opera bent, we get a multi-tiered assault that accounts for multiple, co-habiting planes of action. The CG overload is kept personal with some Chris Foss designed fighter jets that swarm over their prey like Japanese Honey Bees, attempting to cook the evil Ronan in his mausoleum ship. Still, the basic heft of the final attack plays like a Star Wars prequel.
James Gunn's film even has an embedded solution - embrace the cosmic realm. We see one of Jack Kirby's Eternals obliterating a planet and an entire civilisation is built around mining the disembodied head of a galactic space titan. The film teeters on the edge of intergalactic histrionics, but never really commits. Ronan the Accuser is a shonen villain, a space pirate swinging his dick about whilst in possession of reality bending jewellery. There's never a sense our heroes can beat him - he's on a different level entirely.
Marvel need to start looking to more melodramatic solutions. Bone up on Akira Toriyama or marathon some Attitude era WWF. Holding hands while purple electricity vaporises the baddie isn't particularly satisfying. Why aren't the Guardians throwing themselves at this monolith man as a unit, sneaking in the odd blow, but ultimately proving themselves ineffectual? Maybe then have a death or two, followed by a rage fuelled counter attack that gets Ronan wobbly and staggering back?
Ronan instantly recovers like his name is M Bison and lands a devastating blow on Gamora, forcing an intervention from the unfathomable Thanos. Why else was the Mad Titan telling us who his favourite daughter was? It's about time Marvel put their big bad over, particularly if all he's doing is glowering until 2018. Ronan's world ending club? Thanos shrugs the blow off with a laugh then dismantles its owner with slow, measured body blows. If you're going to invoke Darkseid - even through Jim Starlin's avatar - he should figure as part of the destination. Otherwise he's just advertising. Marvel's films drip feed like television, they need to embrace something wild and cinematic.
Sunday, 10 August 2014
Friday, 8 August 2014
Monday, 4 August 2014
Sunday, 3 August 2014
Was Pearl Harbor Michael Bay's shot at legitimacy? Or a calculated attempt to transform James Cameron's insanely successful Titanic into a template? Bay's film moves in a similar way. Make the audience sit through a feature-length build-up, spiced with threadbare romance, before rewarding them with some exceptionally violent special effects. Bay and co take it further still, staging a heavily fictionalised revenge attack in which our fighter pilot heroes end up as crew on a Tokyo bombing raid.
Cameron's film is far from a masterpiece, but Bay's effort still wilts in comparison. Cameron is a stickler for detail, even using digital re-issues as an opportunity to correct star mappings. Bay doesn't give a shit. Who cares if something's anachronistic, does it look or sound good? Japanese admirals act like Martians drifting between meeting places copped from Akira Kurosawa's Ran and brutalist concrete dug-outs. Distinctively shaped, one-off prototype planes fly alongside Mitsubishi Zeroes and 1911 pistols ring with the distinctive rapport of a M1 Garand emptying.
Even basic history is put through the wringer. As well as chopping up and rewriting President Roosevelt's national address, the concluding aerial raid is contextualised as a decisive blow against Japan that forced a complete withdrawal. I suppose in this chocolate box universe the Pacific Theatre was oddly uneventful? Watching Pearl Harbor there's a sense that Bay isn't even particularly interested in mise-en-scene as a way to tell an overarching story. Shots aren't detailed in such a way that they inform the viewer of time or space, instead each successive image is composed with an eye to placing as much money on screen as possible.
I'm starting to think there's an economic consideration at play with Michael Bay's popularity. He may be emotionally tone deaf, but all of his films are obviously, relentlessly, expensive. That's what people are buying into, the opportunity to see the latest example of the most costly movie yet realised. Bleeding edge visuals married to an easily digestible human story with interchangeable attractive people. After enjoying the explosions they even get to laugh at it and pick the movie apart. Everybody likes to feel superior and Bay's work is often low-hanging fruit.
Friday, 1 August 2014
Armageddon is maximum ugly. Aside from the lionised heroes at NASA, there's a concerted effort to portray every single human being as revolting. Case in point, an ancient astronomer lives in a magnificent telescope, the blubbery human bullet at the base of this gigantic space cannon. When disturbed he shrieks hideously at his neglected spouse, apparently unable to rouse his crumbling bones long enough to go over and clock her one.
Pre-cataclysm, New York citizens argue in the street over neutered (no dorsal spines) Godzilla merchandise because fuck that radioactive lizard, he's this Summer's competition. When the cosmic debris finally hits, the Big Apple descends into a smog free, petrol pumped inferno. The Empire State catches a particularly large chunk, collapsing into a primitive jumble of rictus CG debris and chroma-keyed falling men. It's a Faces of Death image catapulted at the screen, flanked by flames.
Hero To All Mankind Bruce Willis twats golf balls at a Greenpeace barge for daring to protest his divine right to drill. Perhaps reeling from a preview screening note, there's even an aside to soothe this nasty. They don't want you to get the wrong idea about Bruno. He's not evil, he's just right! Everybody else screams aggressively all the time. You either accept it or you kick the fucking screen in.
Armageddon is a good sixty minute movie about men training in impossibly expensive artificial caves rolled into a two and a half hour epilepsy simulation. One of the nine writers probably thought he was writing The Dirty Dozen. Another might've been trying to see how far he could push this snarling cockfight. Picture him, a cocked up giggler bouncing around on set serving up dialogue passes for Bay that read like YouTube comments. Dare the cast to take it further Mikey! Make 'em improv! Keep doing take after take until Liv Tyler caves and just fucking bites someone!
Armageddon is pure id filmmaking. Generously, it's Michael Bay's thesis on the emotional instability of humans working in high pressure situations. After my most recent viewing I felt like I'd been watching some epic, alien sport. Gridiron football scaled up to include rocket ships and an asteroid that strikes like a serial killer. Reaction shots swiped from Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. It's not about humanity coming to terms with their emotional response to extinction, it's about a musclebound collective proving their gut instincts trump book learning. Armageddon is impulsive, Neanderthal stupidity triumphing over rational thought.
Thursday, 31 July 2014
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Monday, 28 July 2014
Easily Michael Bay's best film, The Rock strikes a balance between the director's inherent vulgarity and some genuinely compelling character work. As was the norm with the Bruckheimer / Simpson machine, The Rock's script passed through many hands before arriving on-screen. Known contributors include Robert Towne, Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin. Since Sean Connery's onboard, John Milius might've had a pass too. On the Criterion commentary track Nic Cage and Ed Harris both state that their readings informed revision, Cage even stating outright that he reworked pages. So while the dramatic shape of The Rock is malformed and ludicrous, the characters sing.
The three leads, Dr Goodspeed, Captain Mason and General Hummel, have been worked and reworked to the point where they're multi-dimensional personalities rather than just rote archetypes. There's no doubling, characters don't share histories or hang-ups. Instead they're three different kinds of professionals dealing with an extraordinary situation. Stanley Goodspeed could be just a neurotic sidekick prone to outbursts. While that's still there, it's tempered with an underlying sense of duty. Goodspeed is ill-equipped to deal with the violence inherent to this situation, but he shoulders it because lives are at stake.
Goodpseed finds his centre in the ability to dismantle the VX poison rockets. A skill no-one else possesses. A character that could have been ghettoed in comic relief is then elevated to reluctant hero. The audience can invest in his failings and delight in his triumphs. There's an emotional consistency to Goodspeed too. He isn't mutated by the experience. Crucially, killing never becomes comfortable for him. It's always his last recourse in a desperate situation. These writing decisions keep Goodspeed human, informing the relationships he develops, most crucially with Mason.
The Rock also functions as a far better send-off for Sean Connery's OO7 persona than his last stab at the role, Never Say Never Again. That film only lightly touched on the idea of a defunct, decrepit Bond. The Rock revels in it. It proposes a Bond that has found himself abandoned by his Universal Trading superiors. John Mason has had decades to ponder the fallacies of nationality and patriotism. The archetypal company man was discarded, despite his talents. There's an element of Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun at play. A slower, meaner spy, past his prime and searching for a good death.
Mason has had time to consider and re-evaluate his place in the world. An element of sentimentality has crept into his thinking. He wants to engage with his estranged daughter - the result of a one night stand during his last escape. After breaking a few arms, Mason manages to give his FBI handlers the slip. He uses the opportunity to reconnect with his offspring. When Goodspeed and a legion of San Francisco's finest crash the meeting, Mason is thankful for Goodspeed's discretion. These are new emotions for a Bond character - vulnerability, the desire to make connections, gratitude even.
Connery's Bond, especially under Terence Young's direction, was a bastard without peer. He roughed up allies and manhandled women into the path of bullets. He was a user. A man programmed to think and act like a shark. Now his back pains him after a fire fight. James Bond has never really been given a last case. He's never died or been confronted with finality. The character's forever locked into his late thirties, voraciously consuming. The advancing age of his actors barely figures into the portrayal beyond the odd joke. Mason is Bond confronted with age as reality. His body doesn't work the same way anymore and he's ostensibly alone.
While he has a daughter somewhere, at best she's tentative. The route he took to meet her did reveal somebody he can impart and unburden too though - Goodspeed. Stanley's underlying decency is at odds with superiors who routinely tear up pardons. Mason takes note, making him for a man he can trust. This is one of The Rock's strongest points. It has Heroic Bloodshed ideas in its head. The twin protagonists aren't competing, they're complimenting each other. It's a male relationship film that takes a cultural icon from the 1960s and transforms him into a patient father figure, guiding the nervous young buck.
A lot of the reasons Mason has for staying are contrived - he's decided he's too old to swim the San Francisco Bay - but they play into Mason's emerging vulnerability. He's found a friend in Goodspeed and doesn't want to leave him to his death. There's a hint of shame too. Goodspeed doesn't stand a chance but he's still game. How can a former super-spy excuse doing less?
Which brings us to Ed Harris' General Hummel, a character so well defined and played he unbalances the entire third act. Just so you know he ain't fucking about, Hummel is spoken about in absurd terms. Crisis meetings at the Pentagon are full of hype men talking him up like he's Golgo 13. Hummel appears to have been a sticking point in The Rock's writing. At some point everybody got into a pissing contest trying to explain the psychology and motivations of a man that would do something ridiculous like set up chemical weapon rocket pods on Alcatraz.
Hummel isn't just clarified, he's made sympathetic. His cause is just. He's simply seeking reparations for dead soldiers from an uncaring government. Like Goodspeed, Hummel is made exceptional by his altruistic desires. He's also contrasted with the unit that works around him. Goodspeed's superiors want to melt the island, regardless of the hostages. Hummel's crew want to get paid. They couldn't care less about Hummel's high ideals, they've sniffed out a windfall.
This is where everything starts to fall apart for Hummel. Rather than have Goodspeed and Mason come in and bust heads, Hummel's group unravels from within after he pilots a rocket away from an American football game and into the drink. Despite his posturing he had no intention of killing innocents. He was bluffing. The Rock lasers in on this moment, hurtling away from the idea of Hummel as a megalomaniac, and making the two heroes obsolete in the process.
As well sketched as Goodspeed and Mason are, they are just old ideas with a new coat of paint. Hummel's problems are unique and exciting. Henchmen shouldn't mutiny, they're unthinking limbs. When subordinates start unpacking pistols and pointing them at SPECTRE Number 1's head, we're in uncharted territory. This is The Rock's best moment. A Reservoir Dogs idea given centre stage in a $75 million blockbuster. On release it probably seemed glib, Tarantino regurgitating his John Woo steals for the blockbuster crowd. It works though. We've spent time with these men. We understand the falling out. We noted the tensions. Every scene with the Marines has built towards this.
When Goodspeed and Mason sneak in you're almost disappointed. You don't want them to resolve the situation. They can observe if they want, but you'd rather they just disappeared altogether. Ed Harris has stolen the film. He looks like he's been carved from wood. You can tell he can kill at whim. The frailties that have made Goodspeed and Mason human now read like weakness when regarding this Terminator.
Hummel has won. He has been so magnetic, so unwavering in the face of danger, your allegiance has instantly switched to him. His prowling, arrogant determination got you recalling Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare. Now two Nazis have turned up to stick their fucking noses in. The Rock's myriad writers put their characters first and ended up making something bizarre, a Summer blockbuster in which you root for the bad guy. Rather than resolve with a big win for the home team, events taper off into utter chaos, primarily driven by spite and greed.
Sunday, 27 July 2014
Pretty good of Warner Bros to get this out quick so I didn't have to hunt down an off-screen version someone's recorded in portrait on their phone. As expected, Mad Max: Fury Road's trailer is so insanely kinetic that I feel like I could run head first through a wall after watching it.