DVD Movie Review: Sin City (2005)

446534Short and sweet – unlike the film

OK, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time here. In a mere two paragraphs, I shall explain exactly why it is you should never waste any of your hard-earned cash on seeing this excercise in mental masturbation by usually reliable names. If it saves you even a few pounds/dollars/euro, I’ll consider my work done. Here goes:

Everybody I have come across who’s seen it raves about how much it’s like the comics. I suppose this is something to do with comic book author Frank Miller’s involvement in scene selection, storyboarding and direction. I would generally say this was a bad thing, not something to be celebrated. Let’s say you’re a massive fan of the band Talking Heads (and why wouldn’t you be, they were awesome) and you went to see a show. If it was just like the album, track-for-track and if you closed your eyes you could be at home listening to the album, you could have conceivably saved a few coins and done just that. Remaking something frame by frame (see: Psycho (1960)) does not make it good, it makes it artless and cold.  On the subject of ‘art’, the film opens with a scene in black-and-white, where the girl’s lips and dress are coloured bright red. A nice effect and a good use of green-screen technology. It would stand very well in music video but when it’s dragged out for over two hours, with various bits coloured for whatever effect they were attempting to achieve, it becomes pretty tiresome.

The story is deliberately noir with cheap-looking matte backgrounds and props and the actors dressed in pseudo-fifties costumes. Fine, a bit of pantomime, why not? the joke is pushed a little too far and any minute, i expected the curtain to lift, the colour to kick in and to feel overwhelmed by a sense of not being in Kansas any more.  The narration is supposed to be in the style of Sam Spade but just serves to accentuate the fact the actors are hamming it up. I wouldn’t mind if it was supposed to be funny – either that, or I missed the joke. The men are all rugged (except Kevin (Elijah Wood), who’s the best thing in the film by a country mile), the women are all sexy and are dangerous, giving them the kind of pseudo-empowerment that you could only get away with in cinema. All in all, it looked very much like director Robert Rodriguez was trying to emulate Tarantino, who also guest directs a short segment. It’s all jobs for the boys and nobody benefits. Overall, Sin City (2005) tries very hard to be clever, populist and indie and fails at all three.

124 mins.

The Green Hornet (2010)

What’s the buzz?

We cast an eye over the latest superhero caper movie. Michel Gondry has taken quite a risk with his approach to adapting the George W. Trendle original 1960s radio series The Green Hornet for the big screen – responsible for such intuitive, charming films as The Science of Sleep (2006), the director may have felt that his distinctive, original approach would be lost in the studio system. And, to a certain extent it has been, but that hasn’t prevented Gondry from turning out the most entertaining superhero romp since Kick-Ass (2010).

The two films share certain parallels, not least of which is the fact that its titular hero and sidekick do not actually possess superpowers but, like Batman, are masters of technology, which they put to use in their nightly fight against crime.

Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is a playboy who, following the death of his father, becomes the editor of LA’s The Daily Sentinel – when he and his martial-arts expert driver Kato (Jay Chou) foil a robbery, the pair decide to carry on with their battle against the bad guys and, in order to infiltrate the criminal fraternity, pose as criminals themselves before transforming into ‘The Green Hornet’ and sidekick by night. Along with the help of Reid’s secretary Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) they set their sights on taking down LA’s crime lynchpin Benjamin Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) who, unsurprisingly, has plans of his own for our Hornet…

OK, OK, it’s in 3D, and isn’t that a surprise but, thankfully, the revived gimmick is put to very good use here, enabling audiences to appreciate a different texture to the on-screen action, rather than simply having objects thrown in their laps.

In addition, the screenplay by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, which might have veered into camp territory in lesser hands, sparkles in its witty portrayal of the central characters (with the exception of Cameron Diaz, whose talents are really not used to their fullest), and concentrates primarily on a buddy-buddy set-up for its justice-dispensing duo.

Both Rogen and Chou have a whale of a time and its very difficult not to be dragged along, with Christoph Waltz (who was unforgettable as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009) also excellent as the malicious villain – in short, Gondry mixes comedy and action to near perfection, and The Green Hornet is escapist fun of the very first order.

110 mins.

Kick-Ass (2010)

Super-heroic stuff

Another day, another Picturenose recruit. We are delighted to welcome talented young author Eleanor Salter to the fold, with her take on the latest comic-book adaptation.

By now, nearly everyone must have seen or heard of Kick-Ass (2010) via its clever advertising and the famous actors in the cast, and the hype leading up to the release of one of the biggest films of the year was well worth it. The actors include Aaron Johnson (Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)), Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider (2007), World Trade Center (2006)), Mark Strong (Stardust (2007), Sherlock Holmes (2009)) and 13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz ((500) Days of Summer (2009), Bolt (2008)).

It’s a film for anyone who’s a fan of gory comedy, action and slightly awkward romance – a very impressive take by actor-director Matthew Vaughn on the famous comics by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. The storyline revolves around comic geek Dave Lizewski (Johnson) who aspires to be a real-life superhero. Despite the innocent motive behind his schemes, ‘Kick-Ass’ soon gets caught up with REAL superheroes, who kick ass cooler than he could have dreamed.

Hit-Girl (Moretz) and Big Daddy (Cage) aren’t there to mess around, they’re trying to take out big-shot gangster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Kick-Ass is now a wanted man but manages to get caught up in romance whilst still trying to keep his identity a secret! With some phoneys, torture, revenge and a massive bazooka, the end of the film sees Kick Ass discovering not only his true self, but also that normal human beings really CAN kick ass.

I enjoyed the film hugely and couldn’t stop laughing – the gory humour could easily have been extreme but was played in such a way that I wanted even more! I found Aaron Johnson’s performance very impressive and, despite the nerdy weakness of his character, I managed to leave the cinema without hating him.

It is definitely a movie I would recommend you watch, just for Chloe Moretz’s humour. Although young, she is extremely experienced and her performance in Kick Ass reflects what we can expect from her in the future. Watch Kick Ass. You won’t regret it.

117 mins.

Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen (2009)sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I grew up a fan of the graphic novel, having cut my teeth on Marvel and DC comics. I appreciated that it was possible to tell an engaging and adult story in comic format and the pinnacle of this renaissance for me was when a friend bought me the graphic novel Watchmen for my birthday. Alan Moore’s story and Dave Gibbons’s art made the story by turns dramatic, amusing and pithy. Then Zack Snyder came along and turned the whole thing into an introspective and smug piece of shit.

Just because he’d made a semi-respectable fist of 300 (2006), Warner Bros. studios eventually came around to the idea of hiring Snyder (he wasn’t frst choice by any stretch). You’d have thought they might have at least seen what a dog’s breakfast he’d made of Dawn of the Dead (2004), almost single-handedly killing the zombie genre stone dead, but no – movie execs obviously don’t go to movies. This is not the plaintive cry of a comic book fanboy – there have been some truly remarkable adaptations of comics and graphic novels – V for Vendetta (2005) was a gem, as was The Dark Knight (2008) which drew heavily from the visual styles of the graphic novel artists Frank Miller, Dave McKean and Brian Bolland to paint a sumptuous picture of a tortured vigilante. My main issue with Watchmen (2009) is that it’s a huge mistake of style over substance on an epic scale.

The main problem – and this is strange – is that Snyder has tried too hard to to make a film of the book. It was always going to be difficult, given that Alan Moore neither sanctions any cinematic re-workings of his stories, nor contributes in any way to the screenplays. The majority of the film was exceptionally two-dimensional, compared to the flatter, nine-frames-to-a-page style of the novel. You would think that – in an ideal world – the silver screen would inject some animation and spirit into the characters, instead of robbing them of any shred of character, personality or anything at all that makes you care about them. Let’s face it – Watchmen (the novel) was about subtlety and understatement. Snyder couldn’t do subtle if his life depended on it. It’s a real testament to the chasmic difference between book and film that if you talk to anyone who’s seen the film without first reading the book, they invariably detest it. To take a wonderful story and suck the life out of it is just wrong.

The characterizations were muddy, the only saving grace being the hyper-violent and quite magnificently deranged Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley) – the only character who makes anything like the impression he makes in the book, if a little less eloquent and smart. If you haven’t seen the film, I won’t bore you with the rest of the names. The plot is pretty much the same as the book – which should have made it easier to make a good film – fraught times during Nixon’s third term as president, Mutually Assured Destruction and America’s secret weapon. Moore made this a fascinating study about people’s perceptions of apocalyptic war and, more importantly, what happens if another holocaust begins ‘for the common good’. Moore’s touch was delicate and thoughtful – Snyder’s was trashy, flashy and an exercise in thinly disguised jingoism.

The whole sorry affair drags on for well over two and a half hours, by which time I was wishing I’d re-watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009). Steve the talking monkey was more entertaining in 10 minutes of screen time than this two-and-three-quarter hours of my life I’ll never get back.

162 mins.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

WolverineSharp-fisted fella

Prequels, eh? We all know that The Godfather Part II (1974) by and large started the ball rolling, with its look at the early life of Brando’s Vito Corleone, as played by Robert De Niro in the second film. However, that is one of the best films ever made (it was the first and thus far only sequel/prequel to win the Best Picture Oscar) – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), surprisingly enough, is not quite in the same league.

Now don’t get me wrong – if you’re already a fan, both of the original Marvel Comics and the big-screen adaptations to date (X-Men (2000), X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)) then it is unlikely you’ll leave the cinema disappointed but, nevertheless, there is more than a whiff of prequel pointlessness hanging over proceedings here, even though Wolverine is still among the most charismatic of comic-book characters, and Hugh Jackman still plays him, by and large, to perfection.

The film begins, somewhat surprisingly, in 1854. The young Logan/Wolverine takes the life of a man whom he believes to be the murderer of his father. Logan, it would appear, is an early X-mutant who can flourish sharp, bony claws from his knuckles at will. In addition, he has acute animal-like senses and can recover from almost any injury. Logan’s brother Victor (Sabretooth/Liev Schreiber) also happens to be a mutant who has very long fingernails. In addition, they appear not to age, and remain stuck, indefinitely, in their 30s. Think Tom Cruise, know what I mean?

The pair flees to join the army together, and fight in the seemingly endless wars of ‘normal’ people – the American Civil War, the Great War, World War II and Vietnam. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is tiring, however, of the seemingly interminable bloodshed, but his brother seems only to be acquiring an ever-greater appetite for destruction. Following the Vietnam War, the brothers are recruited by the government to become part of a top secret squad comprised entirely of mutants. But Wolverine has had his fill – after the squad executes some Nigerian villagers, he quits, but six years on it would appear that Sabretooth has gone rogue and is gunning for former squad members. Guess who’s next on his list?

This is certainly an enjoyable enough romp – South African Gavin Hood (Tsotsi (2005)) would appear not to have had a vast experience of directing mega-budget blockbusters, but the action sequences are very well staged, with a merciful absence of Michael Bay-esque shaky-shock editing or an OTT ‘action’ soundtrack.

The ending is something of a disappointment, with director and writers David Benioff and Skip Woods appearing to have run out of ideas, resorting merely to a hackneyed ‘mutants face-off’ – Wolverine does, however, boast great SFX, decent acting and an another interesting perspective on just what it might mean to be a ‘superhero’.

107 mins.

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight (2008)The Knight is always darkest just before the dawn…

We’ve come a long way from Zok!, Pow! and Splat! The Batman has always been a bit of an outsider in the comic-book realm. He has no special magical powers, relying instead on his wits, instincts and physical strength to fight crime, alongside some impressive gadgetry.

The Dark Knight moves on from Batman Begins (2005) and explores not what drives The Batman (Christian Bale), but what happens when he has achieved his mission and the streets are safe from gangs and organized crime. The answer is that society, like nature, abhors a vacuum and, sooner or later, someone or something must fill the gap. Enter The Joker.

Why does The Joker (Heath Ledger) do what he does? Nobody knows. That Christopher Nolan deliberately chose to introduce him ‘as is’ with no back story to explain his existence or motives was certainly the right move. He works well as an enigma, someone driven not by a lust for money or power, but maybe just because he enjoys it. In his own words: “Do I look like a guy with a plan?” The Joker’s character is an obvious anology for terrorism. How do you fight against someone who’s hell-bent on his purpose, even if it costs him his life?

The Joker is a million miles away from the earlier portrayals, with a much more anarchic and subversive edge. Looking back on Jack Nicholson’s portrayal in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), he gave a reasonable performance, if a little too camp. Compared with Ledger’s performance, however, he looks positively tame. Take the scene where Nicholson asks: ‘You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?’ and compare it with the first time Ledger’s Joker tells the story of how he came to get the scars on his mouth (‘Why so serious?’) and you just know it’s a different class. His study of madness is quite delicious – quirky, twitching and full of odd foibles, suggesting not merely insanity but a pent-up desire to unleash something awful.

Aside from male leads, there is a very strong supporting cast, pretty much all of whom do as well as you’d expect. Aaron Eckhart stood out for me as Harvey Dent, the ‘White Knight’ politician and lawyer determined to stamp out the remaining criminal element in Gotham. Throw in Michael Caine (Alfred) Gary Oldman (Lt. Gordon) and Maggie Gyllenhaal as love interest Rachel Dawes, for whose affections Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne are both vying, and it’s good, solid performances all the way. The only disappointment was the usually excellent Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. He’s competent enough, for sure, but it looked as though he wasn’t really giving it his best shot.

Nolan’s use of the IMAX format for several scenes brings a sense of depth to the action sequences and a couple of the more intimate moments. Overall, the cinematography is very tight and much less dark and moody than expected. Indeed, some of the action is shot in such lurid daylight, it comes as quite a shock to the eyes. Nolan’s direction and the excellent camera work of Wally Pfister work extremely well to produce a practically seamless piece of cinema. The score is distinctly unmemorable, but that isn’t a criticism. It ties in very well with the cinematography and enhances rather than drowns out the narrative.

While The Dark Knight is hardly a major philosophical piece, it does have a very strong story. Threaded nicely alongside the main ‘good versus evil’ thrust of the narrative, there are a number of sub-plots in which all those close to Batman must make difficult and sometimes impossible choices, including Batman himself. The dialogue is tight and well scripted. Jokes, such as they are, are few and far between. The only genuinely funny parts are the interplay between Bruce Wayne and Alfred. The Joker has his moments, but they are mainly schadenfreude.

All the usual embellishments are there – the suit, the gadgets appearing like deus ex machinae (wait until you see the Bat Pod!) and the obligatory action sequences – all of which are well done. The Batman doesn’t kill, but I can’t help wondering how he manages to pull that off given the trail of devastation he leaves in his wake.

The question on everyone’s lips – will Heath Ledger pick up a posthumous Oscar for his role as The Joker? I don’t see why not. His performance was solid, quirky, odd and very well constructed. Even if he doesn’t win, this will be the film for which he is best remembered, easily beating Brokeback Mountain (2005). One thing’s for sure – The Joker is now Heath Ledger and nobody will ever be able to play him again.

With hardly a drop in pace in the two-and-a-half hour running time, you might want to get the bigger popcorn and drink, but do see it – it’s worth it.

152 mins.