Sunday, July 15, 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The first thing that hits you about The Amazing Spider-Man is the same thing people have been saying since the film was announced. It's too soon. And, yes this reboot comes just ten years after Sam Raimi released his first Spider-Man film, and only 5 years after his last.

That last film was pretty bad, but not bad enough to warrant a franchise reboot, but here we are. With a new take on the origin story of Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. But does it really add anything? Surprisingly, the answer is yes, and in a big way.

This time round the metamorphosis into Spider-Man isn't by chance, like in the first film from 2002. There, Peter Parker (then played by Tobey Maguire) just happened to be on a school trip where he just happened to be bitten by a radioactive spider. This time everything ties in with the main plot of the film, and it serves the film much better from a story and character point of view.

"At least I don't look stupid..."
After discovering some old papers of his parents, who mysteriously died years ago, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) follows the clues within them to Oscorp, and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), and whilst there suffers a bite from a radioactive spider, changing his life forever.

With everything tying in with the plot, the characters are far better than the previous Spider-Man films. Andrew Garfield makes for a far more interesting Spidey than Tobey Maguire, and the same can be said for Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacey over Kirsten Dunsts Mary Jane. And even better, Garfield and Stone have far greater on-screen chemistry as a couple.

Where the character and story are stronger, the action is slightly weaker than its predecessors. Obviously, when you have a director like Sam Raimi, you are always going to get a very interesting style, a style that new director Marc Webb has yet to attain. But the action sequences are competent, and the film even harkens back to the first Raimi with a big  'Don't mess with New York' moment.

One moment I knew that was going to tug on the heart strings from the moment it was announced was Martin Sheen playing Uncle Ben. Even if you're not a comic book fan, you should know what happens there, and it's highly emotional stuff. And there's a callback to it near the end of the film that if you don't well up, you have no soul.

If the film had one point letting itself down, it would probably be the lead villain of the Lizard. Through no fault of Ifans, it just doesn't become that interesting a character, and that side of things is let down a bit.

When it comes down to it, it all depends on what you want out of the film. If it's slam-bam action with crazy camera work, then the Sam Raimi films will do you. But if you want more interesting characters, and a richer plot then the new Amazing Spider-Man is well worth a watch.

A new and improved Spider-Man, with a new and improved love interest to boot. Great performances and story, slightly let down by a weak villain. Just edges out Raimi's original. Just.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Film Review: American Reunion

I'll be the first to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of the American Pie franchise. At the time, I found the original as amusing as the next person, although I fear for it's rewatch value. As for the sequel, memories aren't too great, and I never bothered the other sequels and DTV efforts that have been constantly released up till the announcement of a movie reuniting the original cast...

Jim (Jason Biggs), Stifler (Seann William Scott), Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) and the rest of the gang all return home for their high school reunion, but who has grown up and who hasn't? That's pretty much all the synopsis, you can kinda guess where it goes from there.

American Reunion is nowhere near as bad as I was expecting. It's not that great, but there are at least a few amusing moments. A failed attempt by Jim to watch some online porn whilst his wife Michelle is in the shower is thwarted by their baby son is a scene that elicited a couple of (immature) chuckles from me, and pretty much every scene with Jim's Dad (the ever brilliant Eugene Levy) were also good, including a part where he's signed up to a Jewish online dating site. And of course Stifler gets a few good lines in, but most of them fall flat.

There's a couple of new characters in the film that impress. Regular readers of the blog know how I rate Katrina Bowden as comedy actress (although she was utterly wasted in Piranha 3DD), and she has some great moments as Oz' (Chris Klein) new girlfriend, Mia, whose best moments are when her character is...utterly wasted.

The gang belatedly return
Also playing a brilliant douchebag boss (of Stifler) is Chuck alumni Vik Sahay. It would be good to see him in more stuff now Chuck has come to an end.

Everyone and everything else about the film is sadly pretty predictable. From the outset, you know exactly where everyone's storyline is going. You can see the inevitable 'bust up, only to be reunited' bit coming from several miles away, and the only surprising bit is how quickly and easily they patch everything up.

I guess it's admirable that they managed to get everyone back, but for someone who only saw the first two back when they first came out, I had no idea as to who some of the minor characters were. I had no idea John Cho was the first 'MILF guy' till now! So I imagine a lot of the jokes and references will work for fans of the franchise.

Some of the returns did cause a few raised eyebrows. Tara Reid (Vicky) has of course a few nasty looking run-ins with the plastic surgeons knife since the original film (Google it, it's pretty grim) but somehow emerges  looking exactly the same as she did in 1999. Shannon Elizabeth (Nadia) on the other hand now looks nothing like how she used to, and it's a good thing she was only in one scene, as it seemed liked a replacement actress scenario!

The nagging factor for me during this film is that no one would go to the cinema to see a film with these guys on their own (with the possible exception of Seann William Scott, who still manages to get the odd big film in), but together it's somehow OK? It's not even like they are a great ensemble cast or anything. The franchise tried to do the films with different, younger actors and that didn't work. And now the original cast, and it' still not very good. It may be time to finally end the American Pie franchise...

I'll give it 2 stars as there was some amusing moments peppered throughout, but it's just all too predictable and generic. Hope this is the end of the road for the franchise.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Film Review: Two Evil Eyes

Two Evil Eyes is a film I have been meaning to watch for some time now. A collaboration between horror legends George A. Romero and Dario Argento, who both take a short story from Edgar Allen Poe as their inspiration (The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar and The Black Cat respectively), the overall film really is a game of two halves. Let's take a look at them both separately...

The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar

Now, I'm a huge fan of Romero, and totally expected this to be the superior part of the film, but what I got was 52 minutes of melodrama, with some admittedly impressive scenes chucked in.

Mr. Valdemar has seen better days...
A wife (Adrienne Barbeau) colludes with a doctor (who she is also having an affair with, and played by Ramy Zada) to hypnotise her deathbed bound husband (Bingo O' Malley) into signing over all his money to her. Things become unstuck though when the husband dies whilst still in a trance, and becomes stuck between this world and the next, haunting the wife and doctor whilst his body lies in a freezer in the basement...

Half of that synposis even sounds like a daytime soap opera, and it does come across like that times, despite the best efforts of Barbeau, who is great in the lead, and a couple of nicely shot scenes by Romero. It does also have Tom Atkins crop up near the end, unsurprisingly playing a cop, for a nice and gory conclusion to the story. Not Romero's greatest work, not his worst either.

The Black Cat

When it comes to Dario Argento, I am a bit of a novice. Several years ago I tried to watch some of his work, and I'm not going to lie to you, dear reader, but I didn't have a clue what was going on. Now several years later, I loved his part of Two Evil Eyes, and fully intend to go back through his work again, now I have a greater appreciation of all things horror.
"Give us a smile love!"

In The Black Cat, a forensic photographer (Harvey Keitel) starts to get a resentful and angry when his girlfriend brings a stray cat home. Multiple (unexplained) attempts to do the cat in follow, and the photographer grows more and more deranged, as the cat always crops back up again...

Some of The Black Cat doesn't really make that much sense on film, such as why Keitels character is that annoyed by the cats presence, or how the passage of time manages to pass THAT quickly (a book is seemingly published in record time), but Argento's fantastic shooting and Keitels frankly batshit crazy (or catshit in this case) performance make it all worthwhile.

The Black Cat also contains some truly memorable scenes, including a naked woman who has been cut in half with a pendulum slicer (we get that mere seconds in), another whose teeth have all been removed whilst their mouth has been held open by metallic grips and a truly grisly 'behind the wall' discovery. Great stuff.

The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Valdemar - **
The Black Cat - ***1/2

Overall - ***

A below-par first story made up for with a crazy second, even with it's plot holes. Underrated stuff overall.

Film Review: A Thousand Words

When Tower Heist was released at the end of last year, there was an interview with Eddie Murphy where he stated he wanted to make "edgier" films, and move away from the family stuff he had been churning out for the past few years.

For long-term fans of Murphy, this was probably the best news in ages. Having to tolerate steaming hot garbage like Meet Dave, Pluto Nash and the reprehensible Norbit for well over a decade, we were long overdue the return of a guy who (believe it or not) was at one point one of the funniest people on the planet.

Coincidentally, what I was doing by the end of the film...
So along comes A Thousand Words, and technically this one isn't entirely Murphy's fault, at least historically speaking, as it was made 3 years BEFORE he made his statement about edgier films...

This time Murphy plays a literary agent, Jack McCall who makes a slightly dodgy book deal with a spiritual guru (Cliff Curtis) which results in a tree growing in his backyard. Every time Jack says a word, a leaf falls from the tree. When the tree drops its last leaf, it and Jack both die. Cue "hilarious" hijinks as Jack tries to live his live without being the egotistical motormouth he is.

You'd think a film these days where Eddie Murphy doesn't speak would be a good thing, but it's not to be. It's just brutally unfunny mugging at work dealing with his assistant Aaron (Clark Duke) and his boss Samantha (West Wing alumni Allison Janney slumming it) and at home with his wife Caroline (Kerry Washington) and young child.

Most attempts at humour throughout remain exactly that. Attempts. A brief, tiny ray of light comes in the form of Jack McBrayer playing a coffee shop barista attempting to work out Jack's orders but that is as far as it goes. The film is just not funny.

To make matters even worse, the third act of the film turns into the most sentimental, stomach churning mush I have had the misfortune to witness in years. Deciding to change moods almost completely, we see Jack come to terms with his impending demise, in the most heavy handed way imaginable, before reaching a soul saving conclusion the viewer reached about 20 minutes into the film.

It's getting to the point where it's like shooting fish in a barrel slating Eddie Murphy films, it's just too easy. But when utter drivel is served up, you can't help it. One can only hope that now, unreleased films released, Murphy can feature in something that recalls the glory days. I'm not expecting anything like his stand-up but anything reminiscent of films like Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Place would be nice, right?

Another Murphy film, another single star. Not only painfully unfunny, but ridiculously sentimental and sickly sweet at a drop of a hat. Sigh.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Film Review: The Pact

Every now and then, a film comes along at the cinema that leaves the viewer totally bewildered. Not because of a labyrinthine plot, or it's something they have never experienced before. No, it's just sometimes a film comes along that has no business being walked past the cinema in a plastic bag, let alone shown on its screens. The Pact is one of those films.
It's probably behind you!

The Pact concerns the story of Annie (Caity Lotz), who recently lost her mother and is currently staying in her house. After his sister Nicole vanishes, followed by her cousin, and strange paranormal events start to occur, Annie discovers more to her families past than meets the eye...

Whilst I had heard bad things about the films 'shock' ending, it's more a case of the entire film being a bit rubbish. Offering literally nothing that even the casual horror fan hasn't seen before, the whole film is a bit of a waste of time.

There's a couple of unintentional comedy moments with a young medium (Hayley Hudson) being brought into the house to investigate the spooky goings on, and the mere presence of Casper Van Dien (playing a cop investigating the two disappearances) in a film that was shown in cinemas in the year 2012 caused a few chuckles.

At the end of the day, there's really not much to say about The Pact. It's short, at least, but it's in no way original or interesting. In fact the only really interesting aspect of the entire venture is exactly how it managed to weasel it's way into cinemas, rather than plunge into usual (deserved) bowels of DTV hell...

Generic horror is generic. Unoriginal pap. There's so much better out there. Hell, even average is a step up!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Film Review: Piranha 3DD

I rather enjoyed the loose remake of Piranha that was released a few years ago. Yeah, there was probably a bit too much 'character stuff', but the climatic feeding frenzy was off the charts gory. The makeup effects were superb and in my opinion, it raised the film a bit higher than the usual gory fare.

So I was quite looking forward to a sequel, especially with it's ridiculous title, a play on the format it could be seen in the cinema and bra sizes, the fact it was directed by John Gulager who had made the Feast movies (well worth checking out, by the way) and the veteran cast announced in the returning Christopher Lloyd and Ving Rhames, Gary Busey, Clu Gulager and David Hasselhoff (playing himself!)

The best thing in the film. Bit worrying.
Piranha 3DD seemed to have a bit of trouble getting to cinemas. The first I heard it was being released in November 2011, then it was postponed, only to be announced as a direct to DVD title. But then, all of a sudden, trailers began showing and a release date was announced. But, in an age where horror sequels promise more of everything, ultimately Piranha 3DD was a bit of a letdown.

After the events of the first film, the ravenous piranhas are back and are attacking a newly opened 'adult' waterpark. The adult section of that is just the excuse for women to walk round naked. So far, so the first film, right?

We have the teen drama the makers feel the need to shoehorn in, but this time not much time is given to developing their characters. Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock plays one of them, and after her likable turn in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, you can't help but think she's been wasted in this.

The films true highlights occur when the aforementioned veteran cast appear. Gary Busey and Clu Gulager are amusing in the Richard Dreyfuss role from the first film, Christopher Lloyd is an absolute hoot as the mad scientist who seems a bit more concerned about how many hits his YouTube videos are getting, and David Hasselhoff pretty much steals the entire movie in a brilliantly self deprecating version of himself. Although there's probably too much Hoff if you stick around for all the end credits.

As for the real meat of the film, the climatic piranha attack? Well you just don't see enough gore. Plenty of people running around screaming, and more of the Hoff acting the idiot, but compared to the savage mauling in the first film, it's a bit of a damp squib.

Mention should be made however of a particularly wince-inducing piranha attack during a sex scene, a sole moment of truly outlandish grue in a film that just does not live up to the original. What a shame.

If more time was given to the veteran cast members and a piranha attack to at least equal the first film, as opposed to forgettable teen characters, this would have been a worthy film. When it's good, it is entertaining, but sadly that's not often enough.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Film Review: Prometheus

Try as you might you're always going to come across spoilers for films that you don't want to know about. It seems the moment I made the decision to avoid all things Prometheus until I saw at the cinema, it became about ten times harder to avoid. It's with that in mind I issue the following warning...

Whilst I'm clearly not going to be going into the plot of the film, this review will contain references to the film, so if you're looking for a straight forward thumbs up or thumbs down, this isn't the place for you. Lets just say minor spoilers?

Equally hard to avoid is comparisons to Alien. Much has been talked about whether this film is a prequel or a standalone movie in the same 'universe', but I think by the end of the film most people will be able to see a lot clearer. As regular readers know, I try to avoid making comparisons to other films, but with Prometheus it may well be unavoidable. Sharing the same universe AND director in Ridley Scott offers too much in common with the 1979 classic.
"Yes Noomi, I am seeing this, stop asking!"

When a team of explorers discover the latest in a series of drawings that may explain the origins of mankind on this planet, they travel with a team of space truckers (kind of, more on that distinction in a moment) as well as a robot given the appearance of a human called David (Michael Fassbender) to the distant moon hinted at in these drawings to see if these beings can give them the answers they've been looking for.

Instantly, comparisons can be drawn. When you start to watch the film, similarities are instant. The design of the ship, down to the cryo-pods for extended slumber, as well as the presence of a robot does make you think of Alien, it can't be helped. But Prometheus does have its own story to tell, which is where things start to get slightly flawed.

Whilst the performances are great (Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw, one of the explorers and Michael Fassbender in particular) everything is let down a bit by the writing. The characters are not especially well developed, which causes confusion with the minor characters on the ship(apart from the aforementioned Rapace and Fassbender, as well as Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, everyone just kind of gels into one), and just the dialogue in general is just a bit clunky. It just doesn't have as much to say as Alien did.

When I mentioned space truckers a few paragraphs back, I say that but it's never really specified that well what exactly the minor characters do. One of them carries a gun at an early stage, for protecting the team, but there's never really any kind of moment where you know what each characters function really is.

But apart from that, things are great. The film itself looks stunning. I saw it (proudly) in 2D, and it just looked jaw dropping, and after hearing comments from Scott himself which made it sound like 3D may not have been his choice, I'm glad I did. The design of the film is superb, and even has the return of H.R. Giger to create some more awe-inspiring and slightly unsettling models.

And Prometheus shows that Scott can still ratchet the tension up and produce some truly horrifying scenes, which more than live up to those of his other 'Alien universe' film. In particular there's a scene with Rapace that is stunningly gruesome, and there's plenty more horror too. I think it's the best film he's made in many, many years.

Prometheus won't please viewers expecting another Alien film, that much should have been obvious from even the shortest teaser trailer. But even that won't stop some purists picking apart the film for years to come. But as a standalone film, it's a very impressive spectacle, only let down by slightly sub par writing.

Overall, a successful return to the Alien franchise for Scott, a truly impressive film. But the writing lets the side down, with some poorly written characters and dialogue in places. It shall be interesting to see where this story shall lead next.