There was a time when DC Comics were the big boys of the movie world. After a resounding success with the first two Superman movies (the next two weren’t so great, especially the fourth one), and then Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns, followed by Christopher Nolan’s rebooted trilogy, I got the feeling that characters from the DC Comics world were just more easily transferable to the big screen. Or at least, their big two, Superman and Batman, were.
Marvel had a whole raft of heroes that they should’ve taken advantage of. Most attempts at live action ended up looking cheap and cheesy. Stuff like the Spider-Man TV series, and the Captain America movie from 1990. Sure, there’s a lot of love for The Incredible Hulk television show, and the late Bill Bixby as Doctor Banner, but that too had its fair share of crappy moments, not least the TV movies which also starred Thor.
Why it ended up this way, I don’t know. Probably having movie and TV rights for different characters scattered across various studios and TV networks just scuppered Marvel’s real plans for a more cohesive and quality controlled superhero universe. Indeed, the rights to The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man are still entrenched deep in the studio vaults of Fox and Sony respectively. They don’t look as though they’re letting go of them any time soon. Just how often will Sony reboot Spider-Man before deciding to let the rights go back to Marvel? Probably when the comic book cash cow has been milked so utterly dry, it tumbles on its side, farting nothing but stale air from its withered teats.
However, in recent years, enough movie rights have ended up back under Marvel’s roof, leading to what’s known as “Phase 1″. A series of individual superhero movies, followed by The Avengers, where all the heroes get together for a world saving scrap, before grabbing a few beers.
Iron Man 3 marks the beginning of “Phase 2″. Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark, but he’s a changed man after the events of The Avengers, prone to nightmares and panic attacks. “I’m just a man in a can,” he says. Quite right. He’s no super soldier, or hammer wielding god. He’s a normal guy, reliant on his tech, and the pitfalls that come with such a thing.
Mind you, Scarlet Johansson is just a girl in a catsuit. I wonder if we’ll end up with scenes in later films where she too has panic attacks? I doubt it. We might get a scene where she gets stressed out by struggling to pull her catsuit zipper up over her boobs, but that’s about it.
All joking aside, I do like these slightly darker elements. In the comics, Stark has a big problem with alcohol addiction. The film doesn’t plumb those depths, but it’s still interesting to watch a hero battling his demons just as much as he’s battling the villains.
This time, Iron Man is up against one of his most dangerous foes so far, The Mandarin. No, he’s not a fruit based terrorist, with a lesser known brother, The Tangerine, but a villain with years of comic book history behind him. Most of that history is giving Iron Man the runaround.
Ben Kingsley certainly gives it his best shot, enunciating every other word of each sentence in odd ways. In the film, he’s portrayed as a shadowy harbinger of death, a puppeteer working from the sidelines to cause chaos. He hijacks TV stations to make boastful broadcasts of his success, impending or otherwise.
He’s the instigator of two of the film’s best action scenes: a huge assault on Tony Stark’s home (small tip: if your enemies are megalomaniacs with vast firepower at their disposal, don’t build your house on the edge of a cliff), and an attack on a plane which segues into a thrilling mid-air rescue by Iron Man. I’m always a fan of scenes where the superhero uses all his strength and wits to intervene in a catastrophe, and save ordinary people. It shows a more altruistic side to them. They’re not saving people because it’s “personal”, but because they can. Because they have the power. Those, for me, are the real air punching moments in superhero movies.
And then there’s a twist. I won’t say what it is, but when it happens, it’s a real “What the fuck?” moment, unlike anything I’ve seen in other superhero movies. It’s also pretty funny. It’s the sort of thing that’ll have hardened fans of the comic spitting their soft drink over the person in the row in front of them, and others chuckling at the audacity. I fall somewhere in the middle, as I think this is where the film’s problems really begin.
The twist, strange and funny and subversive as it is, near enough kills the movie. Not quite enough to make the action that follows unenjoyable, but enough to make me not really care any more. Before this, there has been a slow build of subversive one liners and cleverness that, after a time, starts to get tiresome (in a way that it didn’t in The Avengers). One joke almost destroys the excitement of the last ten or so minutes that precede it. Jokes for the sake of jokes. So, the big twist, when it happens, is the last straw. Very neat, very clever, very funny, but ultimately very hollow.
As a result, when the action climax arrives (as is the way), I actually found my mind wandering a bit. I think there was even a few precious seconds where my eyelids fluttered and closed for a little power nap, such was the boredom that I was beginning to feel, as Robert Downey Jr. leapt in and out and on top of various Iron Man suits like a Stark-in-the-box.
Overall, the first three-quarters of the film are difficult to dislike. Shane Black’s knowing humour is all present and correct. But eventually, it just wears the film down. Recommended viewing, sure, and it’s another example of just how far — in terms of production values — Marvel has come since the bad old days. They’re taking the fight to DC Comics, no doubt about it. I left the cinema feeling that I’d maybe had a good time. But there was also a sense of disappointment that I found hard to shake. Still, at least he got that dwarf arm cured.
Posted in: Film Reviews
I love Robocop. It’s one of my favourite movies. Corporate satire, extreme violence, swearing, and an almost endless supply of quotable lines.
“Take a look at my face. Dick!” Or, if you prefer, take a look at this Robocop statue below. It’s as near as dammit to the final version, which will be cast in bronze. Eventually, it will end up on a plinth somewhere in Detroit.
I think it’s great that a movie character can be so iconic that it gets its own statue. Has this sort of thing been done before? Have any other famous characters from the movies been immortalized in bronze (or whatever material), and taken pride of place in the city the film was shot in?
Regardless, here’s a couple I would like to see. They could just be plain statues. But they could also be AMAZING EXPERIENCES OF SOUND AND VISION, JUST LIKE THE MOVIES THEMSELVES. WELL, SORT OF.
1. Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally
Specifically, the fake orgasm scene. I’d like to see a huge diner table, with Meg Ryan sat on one side, head thrown back in fake ecstasy. She could have a motorized elbow joint, so that her lower arm goes up and down, slapping the table as she moans and groans from a speaker concealed in her open mouth. Billy Crystal sits opposite, and his eyebrows are also motorized, getting higher and higher, until Ryan finishes her fake orgasm. The eyebrows then lower, and the whole process repeats itself.
2. That guy’s exploding head from Scanners
This would be one to catch out the unwitting member of the public. Basically, you’ve got a nice, big, open plaza in the middle of the city with cafes, people rollerblading like in the nineties, office workers eating their lunch next to water features. Shit like that. In the middle of the plaza there is a big statue of Michael Ironside sitting next to a dude with glasses. They’re sat at a table. People remember Ironside from Total Recall, and sit by his feet, basking in the mid-afternoon summer sun. Tourists stop by to put their arm around him, and have their photo taken.
But the other guy’s head is actually a giant balloon filled with sheep guts, horse meat, gallons of pig blood, and dynamite. A council worker sits in an office, employed solely to press a big red button when the fancy takes him, and then BOOOOOM!! Ironside’s eyes glow bright white (thanks to lightbulbs in his head), and the plaza is rocked by the exploding head of that dude with the glasses. Rollerbladers from the nineties tumble into bushes, shocked. Office workers, drenched in blood, pick sheep brains out of their ham and pickle sandwiches. But everyone agrees that it’s an amazing experience of sound and vision, just like the movies themselves. Well, sort of.
Posted in: Blog
I don’t do full reviews of every film I watch. Some don’t deserve it. Some probably do. Either way, here’s some of the films that have, or haven’t, tickled my fancy so far in the month of May. I’ve decided that rather than wait until the end of the month as I did in April, I’ll probably do a roundup two or three times a month instead.
I’ve also watched Iron Man 3, and Evil Dead, but these films will be getting the full review treatment at some point!
The Roommate (2011)
Ever wondered what happened to Leighton Meester after Gossip Girl? No, me neither. But then I never watched Gossip Girl unless I landed on ITV2 on a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing better to do. Even then, I probably turned over to watch Top Gear repeats on Dave.
But the young Miss Meester is undeniably the best thing in this very poor Single White Female rip off. She doesn’t become fully unhinged until the last twenty minutes. By that point, I was willing her every success in killing off the rest of the bland, forgettable cast.
Sin City (2005)
A late night retwatch, and still a complete blast of comic book fun. Three stories of mayhem and noirish murder, set in Basin City. Mickey Rourke is fantastic as a brutish force of nature, snapping necks and breaking faces to avenge the murder of a prostitute. Bruce Willis turns in one of his very few great performances of the last decade (the other is in Looper) as an aging cop with a dicky heart. Jessica Alba tries to get fruity with him, but he turns down her advances. Imagine the strength needed to do that!
The film does get somewhat ridiculous with Frank Miller channeling his inner 14-year-old fantasies of super hot hookers wielding swords and guns. But the film is well into its groove by that stage, so it’s forgivable. Miller would try something similar with The Spirit, and fail miserably.
The Conversation (1974)
This is the “other” film Francis Ford Coppola made in 1974. I can’t remember the one he made before this. Something to do with the mafia. The Conversation is Coppola working at the peak of his powers. And Gene Hackman rocking a translucent rain coat that he hardly ever takes off, even when he’s fooling around with a lady on her bed. He bloody loves that rain coat.
Hackman owns the screen as Harry Caul, a guy who records sensitive information in the most awkward and impossible of places, before selling it to the government. Introverted, intensely paranoid, hugely and ironically protective of his privacy, and wracked with guilt from a previous job, he also plays a mean saxophone. A stone cold classic.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
The Godfather Part 2, Empire Strikes Back, Evil Dead 2. Just a few of the sequels that are as good as, maybe even better, than their prequels. Add Hellboy II to that list. Ron Perlman again plays the titular hero. But this time he’s joined by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame, providing the voice of his new boss, a German whose ethereal form is given physical weight by the suit he wears.
The director, Guillermo del Toro, serves up another treat for the eyeballs with some of his trademark outlandish creature design. The action is clearly staged and, save for one or two big battles, most of it doesn’t rely on CGI (at least none that is obvious). You’ll also be humming a Barry Manilow song long after the credits have rolled! Believe me when I say that’s actually a compliment to the movie’s funny and heart warming use of “I Can’t Smile Without You”.
Spartacus — Seasons 1–3, plus prequel season
Okay, so it’s not a movie, but a TV show. But Spartacus is a highly stylized, and very cinematic experience (taking its visual cues from Zack Snyder’s 300), so I think it’s worth a recommendation. More importantly, it’s amazing fun to watch. You may have been put off by its extreme violence, and Playboy style sex scenes full of beautiful Romans and even more beautiful slaves getting it on (not mention a fair amount of gladiator cock!). Maybe you think that’s all the show is.
Granted, it’s a big part of it, and the show doesn’t flinch from being as tasteless as possible. But it’s also full of fantastic dialogue, larger than life characters, and riveting storylines with some genuinely heart stopping twists. I guarantee that if you look beyond the sex and violence, you will fall in love with the story and its characters.
The show has now finished, and in awesome style it has to be said. Season 2 takes some getting used to, as Spartacus from the original season, Andy Whitfield, tragically died of cancer. His replacement, Liam McIntyre, whilst looking a bit unsure of himself at first, soon gets into the role. By the mid-point of season 2, and the whole of the final season, he is Spartacus.
Important note: if you watch all four seasons, remember, watch them in this order! Otherwise, you’ll run into massive spoilers for season 1. 1. Spartacus: Blood And Sand, 2. Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena, 3. Spartacus: Vengeance, 4. Spartacus: War Of The Damned.
This has been in the works for a while. A fan made love letter to Judge Dredd, and the world he inhabits. It focuses on a Judge called Minty, and what happens when he has to take The Long Walk, the judge equivalent of retirement from active street duty. They’re sent out into the radioactive wasteland known as The Cursed Earth, to spend the rest of their days dispensing justice in a lawless land.
Check out the 30 minute short film below.
Incredible to think it’s all fan made, and not for profit. It makes me wonder whether Dredd might even work as a TV show, given the right backing.
Posted in: Blog
My review writing methods have been handed down to me by ancient Tibetan monks, who teach their pupils that sitting around on your bum, meditating about the review creation process is just as worthwhile as dragging yourself in front of a keyboard, and smashing it with your hands until words pop out.
But I’d still like to share what I’ve seen in the month of April, that I’ve not written reviews for. So here’s my April 2013 edition of I Have Been Watching…
Cockneys vs Zombies is another addition to the ever-growing zombie genre. They increase in number almost like the shambling hordes themselves. For a film that’s called Cockneys vs Zombies, you might be worried that this stars Danny Dyer. Rest easy. It doesn’t. It does star failed bionic woman, Michelle Ryan, and a clutch of OAPs including Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, and the late Richard Briers (in his last big screen appearance), brandishing machine guns. Highlight is Briers trying to escape the deadly hordes on a Zimmer frame. It’s one of the better zombie films out there.
It was great fun watching Super again, a film which shares a lot of themes with Kick Ass. Kick Ass could be dark, but Super runs with the idea, and is tonally a better movie in some ways. In Super, there’s no outlandish jet pack and gatling gun combos to save the day! It’s basically a superhero version of Taxi Driver, and well worth seeing, if you haven’t already.
As for X-Men: The Last Stand… just as soul crushingly average as I remember. It had “flavour of the month” Vinnie Jones in it. Remember him? Few wish to.
Perhaps off the back of watching Zardoz, I decided to rewatch another of Connery’s “forgotten” movies, made during the period between the end of Bond, and The Untouchables.
Outland is a tense, science fiction western set on a mining colony on one of Jupiter’s moons, notable for one long on-foot chase that runs the full length and breadth of the impressively grungy set. The film has the feel of Alien from 2 years earlier, but without the aliens. Writer and director Peter Hyams message is that once we start reaching out into space, it’s still ourselves — and not a lizard with sharp teeth — that will prove humanity’s biggest obstacle.
Recommended, if you’re browsing through Connery’s back catalogue. It’s probably one of his better attempts at trying to shake off his Bond image. The film around him isn’t quite as good as his performance, however.
I sometimes like to enjoy films long after the hype train has departed the station. A film’s flaws seem more obvious a few months down the line. And so it is with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. An over indulgent snooze-a-thon stretched to absolute fucking breaking point. What next? Will Jackson remake Lord Of The Rings into nine films? Nah, fuck it. Let’s have five films for each book. Go wild! A total of fifteen films!
Just don’t expect me to watch them. I give up!
You might have heard of some guy called Ryan Gosling. He’s been in a bunch of movies, fancies himself as something of a big shot. He was in Drive. He was awesome in that. And now I’ve seen him The Place Beyond The Pines. He’s awesome in that too. But wait! It also stars Bradley Cooper from Alias (he could star in a million Hangover movies, he’ll always be the hapless reporter from Alias), Eva Mendes, and that kid from Chronicle.
The Place Beyond The Pines is a real movie that somehow ends up sandwiched between the blockbuster releases, stays onscreen for a couple of weeks, then vanishes. Luckily, I caught it, and I thought it was fantastic. It’s not quite five banana material (probably a four) due to the way it splits its story into three distinct acts, each of them following a separate character, or characters. It’s an interesting thing to do, but I did find myself struggling to get back into the story with each act break. It’s like watching three mini films in one.
And finally, I finally got around to watching Battle Los Angeles. I wish I hadn’t bothered.