DVD Movie Review: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

rexfeatures_409088doSuch was my recent enjoyment in writing a review for Roy Ward Baker‘s seminal Quatermass and the Pit (1967), I felt it was only fair to go back to the character’s beginnings with director Val Guest‘s film adaptation of the original BBC series, which became famous on its release for clearing the streets and bars, such was its popularity in the UK.

So, how does Hammer’s The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) (so called to cash in on its ‘X’ certificate, which was new in those days) compare? Well, first up, it unfortunately has American actor Brian Donlevy in the title role – Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale expressed his enormous displeasure at this casting, with Donlevy delivering a performance that was brusque, uncaring and automaton-like, which is not at all in keeping with Professor Quatermass as originally created by Kneale – his scientist was a driven, focused but caring, moral and compassionate man (much more like Andrew Kier, who played him in …Pit, or Sir John Mills, who played him in Quatermass (1979)).

No matter, however – the film has many strengths that have endured outside its lead performance, not least of which is the utterly creepy locked-room mystery at its core. Quatermass, the founder and head of the British Rocket Group, has launched the first manned rocket into space. Shortly after, all contact is lost with the rocket and the three crew: Carroon (Richard Wordsworth), Reichenheim, and Green. The rocket later returns to Earth, crashing into an English field.

Quatermass arrives at the scene, along with the emergency services. Opening the rocket’s access hatch, they find only Carroon inside; there is no sign of the other two crew members. Carroon appears to be in shock, only able to mouth the words ‘Help me’. He is taken to hospital while Quatermass investigates what happened to the rocket and its two missing crew – and it quickly becomes evident that Carroon has been altered by something he encountered in space; he can absorb any living thing with which he comes in contact…Quatermass realizes that the rapidly mutating Carroon creature is on the verge of sporing, which will threaten all of humanity. The clock is ticking…

The screenplay, written by Richard Landau and Guest, presents a heavily compressed version of the events of the original television serial. It was the first Hammer production to attract the attention of a major distributor in the US, in this case United Artists, which distributed the film under the title The Creeping Unknown.

It is a remarkably successful adaptation – Wordsworth is excellent as the plague astronaut, desperate to save himself from what is consuming him. And look out for a performance from a very young Jane Asher, as the little girl who falls into Carroon’s path.

Scary, genuinely creepy and thrilling – so long as you can get past Donlevy.

82 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

large_quatermass_and_the_pit_blu-ray_8With this review, it’s time for a tribute – Thomas Nigel Kneale (18 April 1922–29 October 2006, commonly referred to as Nigel Kneale) was one of the very best science fiction and horror writers of the 20th century and, while he was responsible for a huge amount of other great stuff, such as The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) and The Stone Tape (1972), his singular creation, that of the intelligent, highly moral, courageous but also somewhat ruthless British man of science, Professor Bernard Quatermass, is what guarantees his place in posterity.

And so it should be – in just four stories (The Quatermass Experiment (first as a BBC series in 1953, remade as Hammer film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)), Quatermass II (again a BBC series in the first instance, again remade by Hammer in 1957), Quatermass and the Pit (1959) (BBC first, then the film I am shortly about to bang on about) then Quatermass (1979) (an ITV series that was the first big programme for the channel after its strike of that year)).

Now, as you will see from my review of Quatermass if you give our link a cheeky little click, I wrote at the time that I thought the final series was the best of the entire canon. I no longer think so – it’s going to have to be Quatermass and the Pit (1967) for me from now on.

And why? Because Kneale knew, perhaps better than anyone, how to blend sci-fi and horror, and this is demonstrated amazingly well in …Pit.

Workers on site at an extension to the Hobbs End London Underground station first dig up a fossil skull – but then are amazed and horrified to discover a number of seemingly human skeletons deep within the earth. Work is halted immediately, and palaeontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) is called in – he deduces that the finds are the remnants of a group of apemen aged more than five million years, which is far more ancient than any previous finds of mankind’s ancestors.

Meanwhile, Professor Bernard Quatermass is furious to learn that his planned colonization of the moon, with his British Experimental Rocket Group, is to be turned over to the military, in order to ‘police’ the Earth with thermonuclear missiles. He is further enraged when the abrasive, hawk-like Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) is assigned to join his group (“I’ll fight this right at top level!” – “I shouldn’t, it came from there”), but then Breen is called to the Hobbs End dig, as it would appear that Roney’s researchers may have uncovered a World War II V-weapon, a subject on which the colonel is expert. Curious, Quatermass accompanies him, and finds that the as-yet unidentified artefact is clearly not of this Earth, whatever Breen might think…

And so begins one of the very best combinations of science fiction, mystery and, ultimately, horror, ever committed to film – there will be no further spoilers from me, apart from to say that Kneale, as he did in The Stone Tape and Quatermass, expertly touches on the idea that ‘supernatural’ occurences, ghosts, may well be, in Quatermass’s words “phenomena that were badly observed and wrongly explained”.

But a science-based rationale does not mean an end to the terror – just check out the finale. The devil, you say?

This is horror from a time when the genre was still taken very seriously, hence the inclusion of actors of the calibre of Donald, Glover and, most of all, Kier – the latter was Kneale’s personal favourite Quatermass, and he was even allowed to return to the role in 1996, when Kneale wrote an excellent radio series that dances wonderfully around all four stories, The Quatermass Memoirs.

So, why not join the good professor on his journey into mankind’s origins? Enjoy Quatermass and the Pit here.

DVD Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

***SUNDAY CALENDAR  STORY FOR MAY 11, 2014. DO NOT USE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION********** A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' sci-fi action adventure movie "GODZILLA," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. _Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

After witnessing what appeared to be nothing short of a cracking trailer, promoting an exhilarating action/disaster movie, I finally got time to watch Godzilla (2014) this weekend. What was previewed to be a major Hollywood blockbuster, actually turns out to be a Godzilla-sized waste of time.

Godzilla wasn’t designed with an all-star cast in mind. Emmerich had kind of made that mistake, with his 1998 flop of the same name. Even a star-studded line-up wouldn’t have saved this picture, though. Englishman Aaron Taylor-Johnson does a rather unconvincing job as Ford Brody, a Lieutenant in the US military, and the central human star of the film. The usually solid Ken Watanabe performed his role well, though, he wasn’t given enough screen time to really shine. Even if Watanabe’s role was reduced, it still lasted longer than Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston’s, who gives a mediocre performance as Brody’s father, a conspiracy-obsessed, former nuclear plant engineer who has lost it all.

After a fairly adrenaline pumping introduction, the movie falls into something of a lull as it tries to catch up with events taking place 15 years after the opening scenes. There’s some woeful, cheap dialogue concerning bones exploding from the inside (referencing the Space Jockey scene in Alien (1979)) to boot. From there on out, Godzilla simply falls apart.

The plot was designed to be simple – it ends up flat. It is designed to be realistic, but it falls very short of the mark. It does ask questions, but then answers them almost simultaneously, leaving you wondering a great deal about how everything in the plot came to be.

In short, Godzilla wishes to help the human race rid themselves of a pesky species of electro-magnetic pulse firing insects, known as the MUTOS. Don’t laugh, I’m being serious. I’m not sure Max Borenstein was, when he wrote the script. Anyhow, we are told by Dr Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) that Godzilla has been around since before the dinosaurs, and so have the MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), who feed on radiation. Okay, sure. As usual, the humans don’t know what to do, so they attempt to blow both species to Hell, only for Godzilla to save the day, and just in the nick of time. It’s a good thing, too, otherwise an overly predictable nuke would have wiped out San Francisco. Yes, that old chestnut.

Like the plot, the characters are also poorly developed. Nobody has any clue what role Dr Serizawa plays in Operation Monarch, how he knows what he knows about Godzilla. More mysterious is his partner, Dr Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins). All in all, they both have a good day at the office, but it’s pretty hard to cock up in what amounts to 30 minutes on the screen, n’est-ce pas? After 45 minutes of main character intros, you kind of feel short-changed that nobody really has anything more than a bit-part role in this film, some even less. The first 45 minutes – as it turns out – is way too long for a meet and greet, especially for characters who have names you don’t (and won’t) need to remember. Godzilla has a way of introducing characters, cutting them out of the film in the second act, then bringing them back for the obligatory hugs and cuddles when the coast is clear at the end.

On the plus side, Gareth Edwards’ direction is good, Alexandre Desplat’s score is below-par but fitting, and the special effects are superb. They’d have to be, though, wouldn’t they? These things are Godzilla’s only saving grace, really.

When the baddies are defeated, and all the smoke and rubble is cleared, what you are left with is a half-arsed, more expensive version of Cloverfield. I felt as though I was watching a very costly Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episode, and that’s not what you want from Godzilla. I expected so much more. I want my money back.

The most surprising aspect of Godzilla is that it has received critical acclaim. I can’t imagine how. Having pocketed up more than $500 million at the box office, sequels are being planned. Perhaps the critics watched a different film from me?

As bad as Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) was, that cringe-worthy flick and this film have a lot in common. They both excel in smashing up buildings, they both see the army fire off countless rounds of ammo to no avail, they both emphasize the dangers of nuclear testing, and they both fail spectacularly to deliver anything that I would consider a positive waste of two hours’ worth of celluloid.

Neither film does Godzilla justice on the big screen. But, if you’re going to be settling down to watch a monster film, then to be perfectly honest – and I can’t believe I’m going to say this – you’d be better off watching Emmerich’s again.

123 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Her (2013)

herLove from the machine?

Spike Jonze has created a world in the not-so-distant future where a heartbroken loner like Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) has the ability to download an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) and – voila – has a girlfriend. Although the relationship is not, at first, physical, the two build the kind of rapport most couples only yearn to achieve. While their connection is palpable, the differences in processing their respective feelings become apparent. Samantha transforms to resemble Spock, or some type of robot, who is coping with the experience of having emotions for the first time. Meanwhile, Theodore is trying to avoid the reality that he is dating his cell phone.

Her (2013) isn’t a normal love story even in our tech-savvy world. When reading the film’s synopsis, I envisioned a Craigslist ad from one of the site’s less-than-wholesome offerings. Something to the effect of: “Operating system looking to provide you with a girlfriend experience. Will laugh at all nerdy jokes… No need to pay for my dinners. Just type in your password and I’m all yours.”

All of Jonze’s previous films (Being John Malkovich (1999) Adaptation (2002) and Where The Wild Things Are (2009)) all take on deeply psychological aspects of life. In Her, Jonze presents themes of mortality and explores our relationships– with each other and technology. Several scenes suggest that we are no longer vested in our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps, like Theodore, we vest more energy in our electronics than in those people with whom we interact. Theodore is the face for this lack of personal communication. He is a professional love letter author, but squirms with discomfort when given praise for his writing ability. He no longer knows how to react in a mature manner in various social situations. He has what appears to be one close friend in Amy (Amy Adams), but notices neither her interest in their burgeoning friendship nor her call for help. In contrast, any praise he receives from Samantha is gobbled up and a sense of accomplishment is exuded.

Theodore and Samantha further navigate each other’s networks and soon have a blossoming relationship. Theodore takes Samantha for long tram rides through town, while Samantha returns the favor by leading Theodore for long walks via her camera’s eye. The two’s connection strengthens and the word “love” surfaces.

As Theodore becomes comfortable with his unconventional relationship, he decides to go on a double date with his boss and his boss’ girlfriend. There is an innocent moment when Samantha poses a question which results in a slightly awkward situation for the couple. However, with her and Theodore, there is never an awkward moment, since she is programmed to know exactly what to say. Theodore soon begins to realize that Samantha’s interactions with him are purely manufactured.

The film then shifts to show how people naively believe they are made for eachother, but eventually one of the two in the relationship begins to grow and a decision needs to be made– stick around and be stagnant or release oneself to greater heights. Theodore’s ex-wife (Rooney Mara) left him due to the fact he was unable to emotionally deal with her personal changes. Now Theodore is confronted with an operating system that is eager to learn and process all the information she can handle. Theodore now squirms knowing his operating system is talking to other operating systems and– worse– other lonely people. Decision time.

In Her, it is the warmth that presents itself within the dialogue and cinema that is most intoxicating. It provides a world that is very real, but also one you feel shouldn’t exist. It always feels wrong to be so emotionally vested in an object that is likely to slip out of your hand into the toilet after one too many lagers. Just as in Before Midnight (2013), we see the consequences technology has on the spontaneity and delicacy of relationships.

Spike Jonze has captured a feeling of true loneliness and confusion in his depiction of Theodore finalizing his divorce. He was also able to bottle Theodore’s euphoria when Samantha and he were at their peak. The notion of the film was aptly conveyed, as I found myself reaching for my iphone, ipad, and ibook to shut them all down for the night. Then I found myself reaching out for bisous from my wife and child, feeling fortunate that I don’t have to rely on technology to fulfill my sense of self worth.

126 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

GRAVITYHold tight

Gravity (2013) isn’t just another space junket for science geeks. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men (2006)) has captured the face of survival against the awesome backdrop that only space can provide. Gravity is extraordinary in every way possible. From the performances to the atmospheric surroundings, as an audience member, you will suffer through the hollowness of space to the claustrophobia within a space suit just as the characters do.

A medical engineer, Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and an American astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are in the final stages of repairing the Hubble telescope. As they relish their full-time jobs and begin to wrap-up their final assignment, the worst possible scenario occurs. In the flash of an eye, the comforting voice of Houston Control (Ed Harris – seemingly reprising his role from Apollo 13 (1995)) warns the two of an approaching issue that leaves Dr. Stone and Kowalski in full survival mode for the remainder of the film.

To capture the terror and obstacles both Ryan and Kowalski encounter, Cuarón masterfully switches from inside Ryan’s helmet to her chaotic surroundings without ever breaking the shot. Not for a second did I think there were two actors in front of a blue screen. Not once did I feel anywhere else other than floating through space.

It is a bit of a shame that Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for such a (in my ornery opinion) horrible movie in The Blind Side (2009). Her character was one we’ve seen a thousand times before (and we will see a thousands times after). As Ryan Stone, however, she delivered the depth and despair the role required. Sandra Bullock deserves to have received her Oscar achievement for this. Although her character didn’t have a drastic arc throughout the storyline, never once did your eyes shift from her when she was on screen. The film could not be effective unless she has the perfect balance of presence and fear—and she does.

I loved this film, and seeing it in 3-D only made it more enjoyable. If it weren’t for the jaw-dropping effects, my chin would have been sore from the amount of tension. The vast space between the characters and earth is a stark reminder of the likelihood of death and doesn’t allow you to rest until the credits roll off the screen. It twists and turns your insides.

There are no gimmicks in the narrative. There is no love story, no flashbacks, not even any frames with Houston in it. It’s only two people drifting in space doing everything to muster the courage to survive. The film set out to take you to a place you’ve never been before, and it achieved its goal. I recommend you sit back, and let Gravity cast you adrift.

91 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Elysium (2013)

Matt-Damon-in-Elysium-2013-Movie-ImageHazardous material

In director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the ridiculously fantastic District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013), he has created a convincingly surreal world. In the not so distant future, the rich and powerful residents from Earth have created a space station in orbit (called Elysium) while the rest of the world’s population remains on a resource-depleted Earth. Elysium is a fantasy land – it has no crime, no poverty, no problems. All residents are completely healthy due to machines that rid them of disease and age spots. Meanwhile, back on Earth, everyone is sick or dying – imagine Disney’s Wall-E (2008), mashed-up with District 9.

Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-felon trying lead a straight life even though the current establishment on earth takes advantage of people in his situation. Max has a manufacturing job on Earth assembling the robots that police Elysium and Earth. After a mishap at work exposes him to life threatening radiation, Max is likely going to die in the next few days. With the help of some classified information, an underground crime boss, and a childhood friend, Max is intent on reaching Elysium.

Now, let me stop here for a second. Elysium serves as a fine summer blockbuster. There are some demi-original ideas. There are even some enjoyable action scenes. But once the story tries to build a plot and rely on your vested interest in the characters, this summer blockbuster loses its wheels.

Elysium’s only strengths are captured during the action sequences on earth. With precise direction and editing, the battles between robots, humans, and Elysium’s thugs are always entertaining. Also, the worlds on Elysium and Earth created by Blomkamp may be some of the best images ever for a sci-fi film. However, there are several issues outside of the aesthetics. First, the villains needed to be given more of a story. Jodie Foster, who reminds me of a female Dick Cheney in this role, serves as an awkward antagonist whose accent during the film may be up for a 2013 Leonardo DiCaprio Award for worst linguistic failure in a film. But then we never understood her motivation, which caused inconsistency in her actions. Also, there are far too many holes in the storyline that left me questioning whether the director ever stopped and re-read his story. I would ruin some of the more fun twists in the story if I go on, so I won’t go into further detail.

Elysium doesn’t provide the original punch that made District 9 so unique. The action scenes and the worlds created are some of the best ever I’ve ever seen on screen, but the characters never establish their footing, due to space-station sized holes in the story. If you see this film, drink some bourbon, stick a crayon all the way up your nose, sniff some glue – and then enjoy.

109 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Prometheus (2012)

prometheus_engineers_deleted_opening_scene1Second chance?

In a slight break with form, Picturenose is proud to present its first ‘alternative take’ on a movie we have already reviewed, namely Sir Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus (2012), which was released last year to adulation in certain quarters, villification in others. Your faithful correspondent hoped that his original review was firm but fair, but there is always room for different views here at Picturenose Towers. So, without further ado, allow me to hand you over to  Grant Holdsworth, who joins the team with his thoughts on Scott’s controversial return to the director’s chair and (kind of) the same universe that gave us Alien (1979).

Like a black monolith floating through space, Sir Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated Prometheus arrived on our screens. Yet it is more Matt Le Blanc disoriented in Lost in Space (1998) than Keir Dullea entering another world and coming out the other side in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

On IMAX 3D, the only striking visual element was the appearance of the IMAX logo which would strike anyone with a sense of fear of being smacked in the face. It quickly descends. The 3D is as evident as a feasible plot with believability. A Boeing 747 could be flown between its gaping holes. I resort to cliche like the screenplay. Barely drawn characters lacking common sense and making ludicrous decisions putting themselves in peril. Terrible dialogue (“oh look, this creature likes me”). Overuse of mini ‘race against time’ elements to add thrill to a thrillless experience. An abortion scene that nobody acknowledges despite the heavy gore on display.

The attempted sense of wonder is provided by Lost writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Lost dissenters will find the aimless direction distracting. Existential themes of themes of religion, God, where do we come from and what it means to be human have been done better before by Scott himself and many others. For those who vigorously defend and believe in the ideas, the themes and symbolism of the movie, without any kind of real structure, it is akin to reading a great philosopher’s work being distorted beyond recognition.

The music, while unobtrusive, had a tendency to dissipate any real sense of creepy atmosphere which is usually a strength of this director. The visuals, although stunning, lacked the grimness to convey the desolate nature of the planet and the impending doom to follow.

Michael Fassbender’s star grows with his portrayal of the franchise’s customary android, although he comes across a little too delicate at times to be truly malevolent, a character trait which is never fully investigated. A lack of soul is an explanation offered early in the proceedings. Noomi Rapace gained credibility for her challenging role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and Hollywood success with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). Yet here she is as annoying a screen heroine as you will see – Ellen Ripley’s seat on the alien throne is safe. Ultimately, her stupidity, naivety and abysmal decision-making grates. Nor is she aided by her on-screen partner, Charlie Holloway, who is equally tedious.

Many minor characters are indistinguishable from each other thus creating a sense of confusion. They make major decisions without question for reasons which are not really explained. Charlize Theron and Idris Elba do their best with thankless roles, but to no real avail and quite why Guy Pearce was cast as an old man is never explained. The presence of Robert Duvall in John Hillcoat’s The Road (2009) surely proves it is better to cast an aged actor as an old man, rather than mask a younger version in heavy prosthetics.

Collectively, the chemistry and banter between the ensemble cast is far weaker in comparison to Ridley Scott’s Alien, his genre-defining zenith. In the latter, everything seemed completely plausible, despite the fact the film was about humans visiting another planet and being attacked by an alien, two current implausibilities. Here, the group comes across as a Big Brother-style ‘lets put in as many unbelievable characters as we can muster, hope they gel and hope we get away with it’.

It is difficult to put aside comparisons. The spectre of the original Alien stands tall over Prometheus like a gigantic beast. As a stand-alone film, Prometheus hops on one leg. All that being said, it is not completely terrible. Two hours passed amiably enough as opposed to three hours of James Cameron’s seat-squirming Avator. Maybe Cameron should be brought on board for a more action-packed sequel, as with Aliens (1986)? The opening sequence is a great spectacle and should have set up a more intriguing story. All in all, it is a barely acceptable disappointment.

The reaction from some critics and cinemagoers has been severe – so much so, I heard it dubbed ‘Poometheus’. Upon a second viewing, the same criticism seems valid.

124 mins.

Cinema Movie Review: Upstream Color (2013)

Upstream-colorFear worm

Shane Carruth’s sophomore film, Upstream Color (2013), is a rich and layered story told through a series of double-entendres and paradoxes that makes the film a unique experience for its audience. Told in the same breath as a David Lynch film, attention to the details and the acknowledgment of different levels within the story are needed to interpret what appears to be, at times, apparent absurdity.

We are introduced to a shady individual (Thiago Martins) who has weaponized a drug through worms he grows in his garden. One night, while trying to sell his drugs, he ‘tasers and administers a potent dose of worms to an unconscious young woman, Kris (Amy Seimetz). The drug hypnotizes its victims, and the dishonest man begins to rob Kris of all her financial means. Once all resources have been exhausted, the robber leaves the young woman untouched, but deeply troubled.

When Kris awakens, the worms have grown to a disgusting size and upon seeing them move under her skin, tries to take it upon herself to rid her body of them. I will not diverge into the story much further since it will take away the majority of the story’s plot and much of the film’s rewarding surprises. However, the young woman randomly meets Ryan (Carruth) on a bus one day and they realize they have a connection that is beyond their comprehension. It appears Ryan has gone through the same ordeal. Together they try to piece together their unconscious appeal for one another and the relationship to random noises and feelings they both hear and feel.

I’m not going to try and pretend that I understand the film’s intentions at this moment. However, I do note that there are several underlying meanings that try to incorporate characters and situations that would appear to be completely unrelated. The use of David Henry Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden, plays a key character in the film to great effect. Again, not that I am able to piece together this puzzle completely (perhaps the border and a few handful of pieces here and there) the book conveys certain significant expressions that points the audience towards the film’s intentions. That is, if there even is one.

Overall, this film will be on many critics’ favorite listings come year-end. I’m afraid, however, that a large majority of audiences will be let down by its lack of natural storyline. But, if you are a David Lynch fan, there is no excuse for you to miss this film – it may very well be a classic for you!

96 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Tron: Legacy (2010)

tron_legacy01Really not very good

It’s a competition, sometimes. James and I have a bit of an ongoing battle to see who can come up with the wittiest or most knowing title for a review. Sometimes, if pressed, we’ll just use something generic and get on with the business of writing. With Tron: Legacy (2010), I really couldn’t be bothered to waste my time racking my brains to come up with something creative, as it’s evident the production crew and writers couldn’t be bothered to come up with an entertaining and worthwhile sequel. The 19-year-old me (work it out for yourselves, if you’re interested) watched in awe as the original Tron (1982) unfolded, my head full of the possibilities of a cyber future filled with Tron-like cyberscapes that would make life so hyper-real real as to make William Gibson look like a Luddite.

Let me first address what I considered to be the good bits. The way in which Bridges’ face was de-aged and digitally enhanced was near-perfect. There were a couple of truly dodgy lip-sync moments but overall the SFX guys and gals did a stand-up job of making it believable. Some hated it, I personally thought it was acceptable. The soundtrack. A score exclusively containing arrangements by the French synthpop/house/electro (OK, they’re hard to pigeonhole) band Daft Punk. Accomplished musicians as they are, they brought several musical elements together to provide a coherent, intelligent and, above all, texturally fitting score to the piece. Better yet, it stands alone very well and was immediately shown the respect of being remixed and spent some time at the top of the UK dance chart in its original format.

So, on to the bad stuff. First and foremost, I would apply the word “insipid” to the whole thing – soundtrack excepted, of course. When I found out that shooting time was around sixty days and that over a year was spent in post-production, I realized what the problem was. They had metaphorically sucked the very soul out of it. The entire piece looked surprisingly washed-out compared to the lurid Super Mario colours of the original. As a side note, I’d better explain that as I feel that as this is supposed to be a sequel, it should be at least something a little bit like it. It isn’t, not really.

The script is clunky and irritating. While the story was linear enough, concessions seem to have been made in order to work in some old characters and pay at least a little homage to the old Tron. Quite honestly, it would have been better if they hadn’t bothered. It would have been better to introduce different characters but to keep the same feel of the universe, a little like Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) (but not Alien³ (1992), oh no). For a huge-budget film that’s supposed to be accessible to all ages and audiences, it was a terribly muddy affair in places – a thing that stuck out like a sore thumb when you have to watch stars like Jeff Bridges and Michael Sheen struggle to deliver a frankly piss-poor script that apparently took six different people to bring to life. Awful.

The other thing to watch out for is normality. Things are so normal it’s wrong. The mechanics and metrics of the light bikes are like those of the real world, they make noises and turn and skid. Light bikes make sharp, angular turns and frighten the bejeesus out of you. There’s water, tramps, unheard-of tribes, wind, rain, blood – this is all utterly wrong. The world of Tron was electric, stark, angular, neon and just, well, other. Trying to make it more like the real world is an exercise in futility. Why would you want to suspend disbelief and immerse yourself in a new world when you can look out of the window and see the same thing?

The whole thing is a concept that was designed by a committee and had a shitload of cash thrown at it to make it work. That the investors got paid and the studio turned a few shekels does not make a film a success. As it stands, it appears that the whole shebang was an excuse to foist more crappy 3D nonsense onto us, the ticket-buying public, while at the same time shoehorning some glaringly obvious product placement into a sow’s ear very much made up to be a silk purse. If all that sounded a little garbled, imagine how I felt after watching it. I made some popcorn and opened a beer while watching this, and that was easily the best part of the evening.

127 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Cosmopolis (2012)

Cosmopolis-stills-cosmopolis-31750511-1198-800Too much of a stretch

Oh dear, I have a problem. It had to happen eventually, I suppose – David Cronenberg delivering a dud. As regular Picturenose readers will probably be aware by now, Cronenberg is one of my all-time favourite directors, with his 1970s body-horrors such as Shivers (1975) and The Brood (1979) having helped make me a fan of the genre for life, and his sublime A History of Violence (2005) and the almost-as-good Eastern Promises (2007) managing to fulfill the promise the director demonstrated with works such as Videodrome (1982) and Spider (2002).

And the promise of a Cronenberg-Don DeLillo collaboration was, it must be said, mouth-watering – the writer of the novel Cosmopolis has also given the world such post-modern masterpieces as Libra (the Kennedy assassination, told from the point-of-view of his assassin(s)) and White Noise (modern life? Don’t go there) and if there is one mood that Cronenberg has proven himself more than capable of delivering, it’s post-modern chill.

And here? I am sorry, but it just doesn’t gel. Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old money-market billionaire (this is technically sci-fi, but they do exist in the real world, more’s the pity) who has decided that his hair needs a trim so, in spite of the New York traffic being backed up big-time because of the US president’s visit and his security team delivering regular bulletins of escalating threats to his life, he chooses to ride through Manhattan in his stretch limo/office/house to reach his favourite coiffeur. From his eerily silent transport, we see a view on an economy in disintegration, brought to the brink by players like Packer, who is the target of multiple demonstrations involving ‘the rat’ being presented as the new world currency. We also get an insight into Packer’s emotional and sex life, with guests such as Didi Fancher (a very sexy Juliette Binoche, seriously, how come she is still this hot?) and his ‘wife’ Elise (Sarah Gadon) who is refusing to have sex with her man, and a daily check-up from Dr. Ingram (Bob Bainborough), who informs Packer that his prostate is asymmetrical (whatever that may mean, ulp!).

Packer doesn’t know it yet, but he is headed for a rendez-vous with one Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti), who may yet inject a little fire into his sterile, wealth-saturated but largely pointless existence.

I know, I know, sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? And there is nothing wrong with any of the performances – no, the problem lies with the script.

Perhaps it proves that DeLillo’s work may in fact be unfilmable, given that a writer-director of Cronenberg’s stature has not been able to deliver on it, but there is the impression from the word go that DC is only interested in tying his viewers up in semantic knots. As the Divine C said, after watching the film with me: ‘I am just about alright watching this at home, but if I had seen it at the cinema, I would have been really pissed off.’

Essentially, Cronenberg has tried to convert a novel that should only be played out in the cinema of the mind into real (reel?) time, and has unfortunately succeeded only in distancing his audience from characters and compassion. A pity.

109 mins.

DVD Movie Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Was the force with it?

The first animated Star Wars feature hit cinemas back in 2008, and paved the way for a television series that began in the same year, which featured 30-minute ‘mini-movies’ from Lucasfilm Animation. Picturenose takes a look back, to hopefully open discussion and debate.

Truth be told, while this reviewer was a great fan of the first three Star Wars movies, with Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) the clear champ, I feel that Star Wars creator George Lucas was distinctly ill-advised to have made parts one and two, even though he finally got it right with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). So, was the advent of TV series a worrying sign at the time, and how well has it slotted in to the overall mythos?

And, also for the first time, Frank Oz did not provide the voice of Yoda – Tom Kane it was.

Of course, the defensive gushing began very quickly – Lucas led the field. “I felt there were a lot more Star Wars stories left to tell,” he explained to StarWars.com. “I was eager to start telling some of them through animation and, at the same time, push the art of animation forward.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars showcased an entirely new look and feel to the galaxy far, far away, on the front lines of the intergalactic struggle between good and evil, with favorite characters as Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter), Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) along with new heroes such as Anakin’s padawan learner, Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein). The villains, led by Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and General Grievous (Matthew Wood) are poised to rule the galaxy. The stakes are high, and the fate of the Star Wars universe rests in the hands of the daring Jedi Knights.

Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution Pictures President Dan Fellman told StarWars.com: “This is a breakthrough project – returning Star Wars to the big screen in a completely new way while beginning an exciting new chapter in George Lucas’s legendary saga. We immediately felt that it would be a fantastic theatrical event and are thrilled to be bringing it to moviegoers.”

“Nothing like this has ever been produced for television,” added Turner Animation Young Adults & Kids Media President/CEO Stuart Snyder. “For 30 years, Star Wars has shown that it appeals to a huge breadth of fans. The Clone Wars…will be appointment television for everyone in the family. We’re thrilled to be working with Lucasfilm again and very excited to be playing a role in bringing this remarkable adventure to viewers.”

So, how was it? Any one who wishes to put Picturenose in the picture would be very warmly welcomed – do drop us a line.