Sunday, 29 November 2009

Worst. Criticism. Ever.

I'm quite looking forward to the new movie year. I always do because no matter how pessimistic I get there's always something that has the potential to be amazing. One film coming out next year that's really jumping off the page at me at the moment is Green Zone, the film that sees Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon teaming up again to tackle the Iraq war.


The trailer hit a few weeks back and looked very impressive but there was a disgruntled murmur going around that it looked just like Bourne in Iraq. Corrupt government employees, rogue Matt Damon, mysterious MacGuffins, shaky cams and brutal fistfights; they're all there, just in a desert setting. I see where people are coming from, but my question is so what?

Of course it is going to look familiar. Bourne is the roll Matt Damon has become synonymous with (Team America aside) and Paul Greengrass has a very distinct, documentary style of directing that he's made his own and used to great effect in The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. He's one of the few directors that can use shaky cam well (see Mark Forster's Quantum of Solace for an example of how not to do it) and it could well be a perfect match for an Iraq war thriller.

Damon and Greengrass have proven to make a good team in the past and it's clear from the trailer that the film is going for the suspenseful, claustrophobic and action-packed feel that they've captured so well before. This doesn't mean they aren't taking risks; Iraq war films have so far proved very difficult to get right. Linger too long on the sobering politics and you lose your audience, skim too lightly over the issues that matter and you lack substance and depth. Most difficult of all, it's proven extremely difficult to make a film about such a controversial war that just happens to be entertaining. If Greengrass can get the balance right it will be some achievement, but he is the man for the job.

If you had any more doubts, just look at the cast. Damon aside, we've got the incredibly underrated Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs and Amy Ryan. If that wasn't enough, it's got Greg Kinnear(!)

Don't get me wrong, I don't want this to be Bourne in Iraq but if some of the style and expert handling of a thriller is translated to the Iraq setting then it is only going to be a good thing. My only hope is Greengrass, Damon et al. don't prove me wrong.

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

NBC Bay Area on Chevy Chase comeback.

My attention has been drawn to this article on a mini Chevy Chase revival in the last few months.

You may recall my argument that it's time for Chevy to be welcomed back into the mainstream and it seems he may be gaining popularity once again. I haven't seen Community, the new NBC comedy that he has a role in but I was pleasantly surprised to see Chevy and Dan Aykroyd in a recent episode of Family Guy. The article seems to be making a big leap of faith to call this a full-scale comeback but it's more or less a plug for Community anyway. Considering the depths he's had to sink to in the pass it's good to see Chevy getting some positive press again.

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2012 IS better than The Day After Tomorrow (just)


But that isn't saying an awful lot.

Without giving too much away, my early concerns about 2012 blowing its disaster load too early like The Day After Tomorrow have been heeded. This is full-on, unrelenting disaster porn. After 30-odd minutes or so of the most unconvincing of set-ups and the standard bad science things start to go wrong. Then they get worse. And worse. And worse. For two whole hours.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. It's what people want to see in disaster movies and one-trick-pony accusations aside, Roland Emmerich has a pretty good idea of what people want to see in disaster movies. They want stuff getting broken in spectacular ways, (preferably recognisable Western monuments), a tsunami (because every disaster movie has to have one), people just barely escaping certain death and characters with just about enough depth for you to want them to survive.

So how does Emmerich do on these fronts?

Well stuff gets broken. A lot. In fact, this is the stuff-getting-brokenest of any film I have ever seen. Family homes fall into huge chasms, skyscrapers collapse, and, oh yes, you better believe some famous monuments get destroyed. Look out for a scene in Vatican City that may as well have METAPHOR flashing in huge red letters on the screen. You can't fault 2012 for the destruction it unleashes, and as you may have guessed from the trailer, there are tsunamis taller than mountains too. It's all rather fun actually, for a while. The effects are probably the best the genre has seen but after a while the spectacle of endless destruction begins to become surprisingly dull.

As for the narrow escapes, well it's pretty fair to say Emmerich went overboard. John Cusack's character is one of the luckiest I have ever seen and possibly the most heroic novelist since Stephen King slagged off Twilight. Think of a vehicle, any vehicle, and John Cusack probably came close to certain death in it in this film. Whilst watching the film, I wouldn't have been surprised to see him heroically outrunning a pyroclastic flow on a lawnmower as long as he was doing it to protect his children.

I really liked the look of the cast for this film so it was so disappointing that it was the characters that let this film down. Emmerich fails to give us a team of survivors who we really want to see alive at the end of the film. He makes a rather ham-fisted attempt at political commentary, complete with ruthless and bureaucratic governments and bad impersonators of real world leaders so it's not surprising that we're meant to not particularly like a couple of members of the American government. However, the whole of the main cast is so two-dimensional and self-involved that you begin to think about all those being killed in the carnage on-screen and wonder what makes these guys so worthy of survival. I honestly can't feel for people who decide that, in the midst of an event taking billions of lives, that they should have a heart to heart on why their marriage failed.

But I guess what I should have learned from Emmerich's films before is that it's not about plot or character development or plausibility or anything unimportant like that. It's about carnage. If stuff is getting broken and there are tsunamis left right and center who cares? As a form of escapism I must admit it is fun, but be warned, the moment you start to think about what you're watching you'll regret it. So abandon all logical thought and take in the effects and you might just enjoy this film.

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Monday, 16 November 2009

Edward Woodward, 1930-2009


It is with regret that I feel I cannot comment at length on Edward Woodward's career. Much of his work through the 70's and 80's, particularly on TV, were admitedly before my time. I am of course, familiar with his more famous roles, and I have enjoyed his sporadic appearances on our screens in recent years, particularly his small but memorable roles in Hot Fuzz and the excellent BBC thriller 'Messiah.'

However, I, like many, will always associate Edward Woodward's name with The Wicker Man, possibly the greatest horror film Britain has produced and one of the greatest the genre has seen. For all Sir Christopher Lee's scene-stealing eccentricities in the film, it was Woodward's perfomance that helped elevate it to another level. As the chaste Sergeant Howie, Woodward brilliantly displayed the outrage of a man aghast at the rituals and debauchery taking place on the island. The character was not particularly likeable yet his intentions were honest and his offence was genuine, which only served to make the famous finale more shocking. The look of horror on Woodward's face and the uttering of "O, Lord! O, Jesus Christ!" upon seeing the titular wicker man for the first time will live on long in the memory as one of the great horror moments.

So it was with great sadness that I read of the death of Edward Woodward today. I wish I was more familiar with his other work and could provide a more fitting tribute but I wish to thank him for the enjoyment he has brought me. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Clash of the Titans remake could be fun...


There were groans all round when news of this film first hit. The original has its cult following but it's hardly a classic. But then we started to see the cast list Louis Leterrier started to gather together and although there was no-one quite in Olivier's league it was pretty decent and with a good budget and a capable director it began to look like CotT MIGHT be a fun blockbuster movie.

I've always stressed that a great remake doesn't have to be a remake of a great film. On the contrary in fact; when we get pointless remakes of classics such as Gus Van Sant's baffling shot-for-shot remake of Psycho it all just seems like a cynical money-spinning exercise. If you're going to remake a film universally loved by all you better not screw up because an awful lot of people are going to end up pissed off.

But on the other end of the scale we have Ocean's Eleven. It was a decent enough effort in 1960 but was little more than a vehicle for the Rat Pack. Steven Soderbergh saw the potential of the film, gave it a fantastic cast, a modern update and a crowd pleasing storyline and he was on to a moneyspinner. The original Clash of the Titans has the potential, and an update for the CGI era could be just the ticket.

Why? Well thats simple. Greek mythology is fun. I always felt Troy missed a trick when it skipped the gods in favour of a more realistic adaption of Homer's epic. These aren't serene, loving gods watching over us, they are jealous, vengeful, violent, and passionate. Greek mythology is a cinematic soap opera that has been underplayed of late. If this film does justice to it we could see more Greek myths on screen. It's not a bad thing at all if that happens; they're great stories that have survived for thousands of years and they deserve to be told again.

Anyway, the trailer looks good. Not so sure about the rock soundtrack but we'll see...

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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Film Stubs: The Return

It has been far too long since I last updated this. There are many reasons for this but filmstubs will be returning with some more content this week and in the future. I may be making a few tweeks to the blog and changing things around a bit over the next couple of weeks. Watch this space.

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