Will Preston

Films

Is wearing red pants over your trousers finally back in?

by on Aug.26, 2013, under Films, Review

Ok. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this that you have some knowledge of comic books and superheroes. Even if you don’t, which probably makes you a liar in this age of the superhero reboots where a Spiderman film franchise can get re-painted and re-canon’d before it’s had a chance to hit the sticky hairy wall of puberty, you’re still likely to recognise some of the names if they’re shouted at you by me in the street. What can i say? Sunday’s leave me to my own devices.

Anyway, past your Batmans, your Iron Mans and even your Captain Cave Mans (No idea if Chris Nolan has plans for a gritty reboot of him, but I’m not going to miss a chance to coin an idea), is the one that kicked off this caped cacophony back in the first half of the 20th century – Superman. And he’s just been delivered a swift reboot to face.

ManOfSteel-3Yes, it’s been the go-to idea with many studio execs when people want to make the next ‘recognisable-hunky-man-punching-bad-men-in-the-face-with-his-justice-fists’ movie. Just about everyone has done it. Even James Bond was put back to a pre-00 agent and had to deal with his feelings. Nothing wrong with it, of course, but just imagine trying to do a film where Roger Moore spends half of his time staring moodily into the distance instead of smirking like a blazer-wearing fop. Maybe you could do it with Connery as he seems to be able to, you know, have some emotions.

But back on track. Keeping up with the trend, Watchmen director Zack Snyder and Dark Knight Trilogy creator Chris Nolan joined forces to tone down the red pants and cape on one of the most iconic figures of 20th century fiction. Man of Steel takes us back to the very beginning of Clark Kent’s story. On the distant planet of Krypton, there is a violent coup being pushed due to the fact that the planet is become more hollow than Kristen Stewart and almost as lifeless. Years and years of depleting resources have caused the planet to become unstable and will lead to it’s destruction (don’t ask me for the science). In the middle of this CGI-heavy chaos, Jor-El (played by a permanently frowning Russell Crowe) launches his newborn son onto a pod headed for another less blowy-uppy planet with a whopping great MacGuffin (Something about a codex with genetic material for blah blah blah oh look another building has exploded), because what loving father wouldn’t do that?

After the inevitable $40 million pop, Krypton is no more and we now have a baby flying through space in an unused prop from Independence Day. Crash landing on Earth, luckily in a country without any civil wars or a third world country, the child is fostered by the Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane lane) in Kansas, USA. What follows is the typical character arc of identity and learning responsibility of his powers (a la Peter Parker) with Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill – woof!) doing an Incredible Hulk and wondering from town to town as people are unable to understand his colossal strength and ability to do just about anything.

ManOfSteel-1It goes without saying that the film’s narrative is extremely similar to that of Batman Begins. We have the hero (technically) orphaned at a young age, travelling around as he learns about himself and learning about what he will eventually become. Ok, when I put it that way, it sounds like the most pretentious gap year ever conceived by an Oxford graduate, but even the narrative presentation shares a lot with Begins. We are constantly skipping back and forth to various parts of Clark’s childhood until he becomes Superman and starts joyriding himself about the place. At this point the film goes along in a fairly predictable manner with absolutely no surprises whatsoever.

It’s a very impressive spectacle of a film though. Zack Snyder has somehow toned himself down, yet still retained an air of over-the-top-ness. A lot of the flight scenes were shot in that fakey shakey camera to make it look like a supposedly real bit of documented footage. Those shots even do that slight zoom in/out motion every single time. But hey, it looked good and sooner than later the film starts exploding fight scenes in your face that feature huge buildings being pancaked, armies decimated and large vehicles used as weapons. It’s just a shame it was a film and not a videogame. Still, I don’t think any of the major developers could render Cavill perfectly enough…with those dreamy abs and gorgeous chin.

A few things stopped it from being as grand as the other comic book films we’ve seen recently, though. For a start, it doesn’t feel like a big film. Quite a lot happens, but you come away a little unfulfilled. It follows the template for an origin story so close that you start seeing Clark Kent as being Spiderman or another superhero and you feel that not enough new ground has been trodden to make it feel like a complete film. I also came away feeling that the film could have been more entertaining and less serious, but that’s just nitpicking. But a major one for me was Amy Adams playing Lois Lane.

ManOfSteel-2Far be it from me to let a single character almost ruin a film for you, but I’ve never encountered such an unlikable woman in a film. At the start she’s introduced as a go-getter journalist who can rough it like the lads, but she quickly becomes a weasel-faced harridan who serves little to the plot other than to provide a little bit of love interest. It was almost like someone got Lindsey Lohan to play Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. maybe if she wasn’t playing the female lead and a lesser character instead. But in another way, she seemed a lot more ballsy and a lot less damsel-in-distress-y than most superhero movie love interests.

In all, it’s a fairly ridiculous film, but it’s not the film that’s to blame, it’s the source material. The man of steel was originally created by two high school students in the thirties, it’s not Dickens! The whole entertainment factor with Superman is watching him do amazing feats in the manner of brightly coloured circus sideshow. See how he bends a building in half! See how he freezes a vat of Tizer just by sighing! See how he lowers the interest rate on that loan I took out the other week just by winking at me and touching my bum a bit.

What can you do this day and age with a character that has no well-though out weaknesses (A fictional radioactive ore?! Why not just make his enemy his invisible friend or say he was created after someone farted against the force of a hurricane?!). And someone who seems to be less of a troubled soul and more of some kind of clean cut metaphor for American flavoured justice (It tastes like salty strawberries) is going to have a hard time fitting into today’s trend of fleshing out the man behind the mask/cape/bondage gear/stylish hat.

Man of SteelThe issue could be with Snyder’s lack of experience with building up a comic book character. The last superhero film he directed was The Watchmen which had it’s depth and rich characterization laid out beautifully in the original comic – a fantastic example of perfect source material. So in the end, Snyder wasn’t required to spend extra effort in planning when the final blueprints were available for decades. The film ended up becoming something slightly less compelling than the comic. So when it came to adapting a character that had been adapted to death, Snyder didn’t have much originality to work with. I guess he now knows how Michael Bay feels.

However, the film features hyperbolic explosions and lots of ridiculous effects, so maybe Snyder was the loud man for the job. Or maybe there is so much that has been done with Superman that it’s obvious it can’t keep up with the other DC and Marvel characters in the reboot game – the kind of, seemingly forced, gritty realism that will come define cinema in the first quarter of the 21st century

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Batman or: How I learned to stop worrying and love Nolan

by on Aug.16, 2012, under Films, Review

Can anyone name me any third film in a trilogy that stands out from its previous releases? Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, possibly. Maybe even back To The Future Part III? Now how about third films which pale in comparison to their previous titles? No! Wait! I can’t hear anything with all of you yelling at once.. I think I heard Godfather Part III the loudest…possibly even Alien 3. But even when a third film reaches its mixed climax, you are assured that this will be the final outing for the saga. Which begs to ask how do you end a superhero film series? With so many changes in history and resurrections, the comic book world is completely foreign to the notion of letting protagonists retire.

He's tall enough without standing on a car

The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final outing for Nolan’s grim spin on Bob Kane’s answer to vigilante justice. So far, the series has reinvented the character to (almost) exist in the real world and has proved that even comic book films can achieve academy awards (well, Heath Ledger did anyway). So now it’s finally time to do that tricky stylish dismount that plagues the directors attempt to leave us with a well rounded set. After all, Nolan has set the bar for himself with the astounding Dark Knight. Also, what Batman villains can you use before the series takes a turn for the Schumacher…I mean worst. After using Scarecrow, The Joker, Two-Face and the “immortal” Ra’s Al Ghul, what nemesis can give the bat a beating without pushing the film into ridiculous territory?

8 years have passed since Gotham City was terrorised by The Joker and Harvey “Two Face” Dent and life has never been better. Thanks to the events that exploded in the previous film, the city has given its police force better means to take out organised crime. So, with no crime to Batarang and batter, Batman has been left in a lock up, with Bruce Wayne feeling empty and useless after his one true love, Rachel Dawes, perished in the previous film. The first time we see Christian Bales playboy billionaire enter the scene, he’s a dishevelled, Howard Hughes of a man, who is 1 walking stick step away from urinating in jars, obsessively counting his peas and getting paranoid about freemasons. For a man who regularly turns from wealthy buffoon to an icon of righteous justice at the flick of a searchlight, this is one transformation that is hard to take in.

Nothing say's "Gritty reboot" like rain and leather

The film’s opening scene introduces us to Bane, a masked mountain of a man who has so much brains to his brawn, you’d think he was storing extra cerebellum in his biceps. Tom Hardy’s portrayal has him wearing what appeared to be Darth Vader’s bondage mask, so a lot of his acting came from his inhumanly booming voice and use of statuesque gestures. Bane is a terrorist leader who wants to see the most corrupt city in America – Gotham – razed to the ground in the name of natural order (sound familiar?). Leading an army of misfits in the sewer, he is known as an urban myth until his earth shattering reveal where he announces himself as Gotham’s reckoning. But back to his opening scene. In the comic’s Bane reached his near-superhuman levels of strength thanks to a wonder drug called Venom. Rather than sacrifice even more realism from the movie, this aspect of Bane is removed completely, leaving us with a villain we can believe in. Anyway, back to the opening scene.

It’s an airfield in a foreign country. A CIA operative (played by Aiden Gillen AKA Tommy Carcetti from The Wire) is buying the lives of 3 masked hostages in order for one of them to spill the beans about the location of Bane. Once they’re in the air, one of the hostages reveals himself to be Bane and overcomes his captors. Half a minute later, a larger aircraft looms over them with a team of highly trained soldiers rappelling down to the CIA plane, storming it in midair. So far, it’s a pretty impressive opening, but it doesn’t stop there. Attaching their cords to the CIA vessel, the soldiers allow the mystery plane to yank their target aircraft out of control, until it helplessly faces downwards – with the ill-angled drag stripping it of wings, fins and pretty much anything making airworthy. The back of the plane is ripped off before Bane steals a Russian scientist on board – what he came after in the first place – before attaching himself to the cord and disconnecting the ruined plane. As opening scenes go, it beats any James Bond movie hands down.

Obligatory sexual tension

As is the tradition with most of the recent Batman films, there is never one villain. Well, I say villain. Selina Kyle (played by the stunning Anne Hathaway) is a highly skilled thief – a cat-burglar, if you will. Posing as a waitress at one of Bruce Wayne’s many functions at the rebuilt Wayne manor, she infiltrates Bruce’s bed quarters and successfully steals his prized pearl necklace that belonged to his late mother. In his partially crippled state, Bruce is unable to fight back, but thanks to precautionary measures (the old “GPS tracker in the necklace” and “dusting for fingerprints” tricks) he is able to track down the thief that the press has referred to as “The Catwoman”. Anne plays her part like a typical femme fatal and uses extreme cunning to get what she wants. Not to mention she spends most of the film in a figure hugging leather cat suit (Woof! …I mean meow!). technically speaking, she’s not a villain. Think of the typical thief with a heart of gold…but crossed with a sexy ninja. She is a mix of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (minus the camp insanity) and half the cast of The Matrix – a perfect match and partner for Batman.

Thankfully, all the old cast is included in the film. Michael Caine’s Alfred once again makes the role his won and gives one of the films best performances, especially towards the end (there were tears from everyone). Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) plays a very active role alongside Batman as he works together to stop bane. Oldman almost seems to have aged into the role and gives a fine performance. The new faces on the scene include John Blake – Gotham’s up and coming detective – played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking ever so much like a young Robert Patrick, and Miranda Tate – Bruce’s first love interest since Rachel’s’ death 8 years ago. There are a couple of surprise cameo’s from characters in the previous films, but I’m not going to ruin them for you here.

...I told you he was tall enough

The tone of the film is the darkest yet. Batman Begins showed fear and hope, Dark Knight conveyed chaos and the tricky definitions of good and evil, whilst Dark Knight Rises reeks of despair of an apocalyptic nature. The film’s main plot shows Bane and his army holding a majority of the city under a violent siege with scene’s evoking memories from films like Escape from New York and certain levels of the video game Modern Warfare 3. Shots of a city fallen past chaos and into an anarcho-city state run by criminals provokes quite a shocking response. There was a slight sense of realism woven into the fantasy nature of the film. Sometimes I forgot that I was watching what is technically a comic book film. Most of the movie showed Bane’s plan slowly coming together with all the enforcement the US could us being cut down by his scheme. I reached a point where I genuinely felt there wouldn’t be a happy ending.

Nolan managed to unleash some jaw dropping plot twists that spanned the entire series without resorting to retconning his own story. It’s almost like he had the whole trilogy planned before the release of Batman Begins. Simple throwaway lines that were uttered in the first film echo back later in such a reverberation that you almost applaud such wonderful execution. It’s almost as if Nolan has surpassed the achievement of making an Oscar-winning superhero film and has done the near-impossible – perfect a trilogy. At the time of writing, I am still questioning whether this new release surpasses The Dark Knight. I only have 2 quibbles with the movie. First of all is the pacing. What made the first 2 films such an experience to watch was the fast paced story against a long film. You left the experience feeling like a lot happened in a decent space of time. Plenty happens in this new release, but some of the time, the story doesn’t feel it’s moving as fast as it should do.

The other niggle is the length of the film does end up feeling like an endurance test. At nearly 3 hours, it’s technically an epic on the most objective basis possible. But superhero films, by their nature, are quick fixes on a Friday night. Popcorn fodder. Yes, Nolan has busted out of this convention and delivered what is the best comic book film ever, but it’s almost like he’s trying to break away from the simple action film loving crowd who surround the Batman franchise. Thankfully, this doesn’t ruin a superb action monolith, but does leave you feeling out of breath when you drag yourself out of the cinema. Marvel Comics. Joss Whedon. Stan Lee. You can stop now – superhero perfection has been achieved.

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DVD Review – The Interrupters (2011)

by on Dec.05, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

Chicago has had a long history of crime. From the early 20th Century days of Al Capone to the current gang problems in the city. Just like any other major city in America, gang violence is a major concern to the community. So much so, that some ex members of the gangs have vowed to try and stop the violence once and for all. The Chicago based organization known as Ceasefire has a goal to stop the gang violence completely by interrupting potentially violent situations, that could results in shootings and killings.

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DVD Review – Panic Button (2011)

by on Nov.02, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

The paranoia around social networking has started to arise recently. Rather then just view sites like Facebook and MySpace as a way of keeping in contact with old friends, there’s the fear that people can be subtly controlled by them. After all, who really reads the terms and conditions right down to the bottom? Thought not. Just because some of your Facebook profile is set to private, does not make it entirely safe. In the low-budget horror, Panic Button, every technophobe’s fear springs from the woodwork.

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DVD Review – The Poet (2003)

by on Oct.31, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

Ever since the outstanding Leon, contract killers in the film world always carry a lot of emotional baggage, usually tucked away next to their folding sniper rifle. For every body dropped, another part of them dies inside. Maybe all film hitmen are just as emotional and vulnerable the camera cuts to the good guys. Or is it just another good idea that’s becoming a tired cliché due to unimaginative overuse? In the 2003 Paul Hill film, The Poet, we learn just how absurd this character device can be.

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DVD Review – Devil’s Gate (2003)

by on Oct.24, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

One of the least appealing settings for any film is in a small and isolated community. If the inhabitants aren’t committing some kind bizarre ritual, they’re usually making any token outsider feeling extremely unwanted. From burning policemen in The Wicker Man to raping and terrorising a couple in Straw Dogs, highly populated cities never felt safer in comparison to the middle of nowheresville. So when a woman has to travel from the mainland to a remote north sea island, the isolation is so thick you could batter an outsider to death with it.

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DVD Review – Deep Winter (2008)

by on Oct.18, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

When is a film not a film? When it’s an extreme sports video with a story stapled on in a panic at the last minute. Now I’m a lay man when it comes to the nuances of snowboarding and downhill skiing. Obviously, a film exclusively dealing with the subject isn’t going to be my first choice when it comes to vegetating in from of the telly all evening. The main problem with Deep Winter, is that it seems to think it can just sell an entire film on it’s only saving grace. It’s almost as if fusty things such as narrative, dialogue and character development don’t really matter at all to Mikey Hilb.

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DVD Review – South Central (1992)

by on Sep.30, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

In the film world, Los Angeles seems to be the city of lost hope, rather than the city of lost angels. Unless your looking at the rise of an up and coming star, you’re looking at the down trodden ghettos; an extreme contrast to the glitzy Hollywood-land image of the town. Whilst no large city isn’t a stranger to the strife of gang warfare, Los Angeles always seems to be one of the first five cities to pop into your head when it comes to the dreaded G word. So what better time to look into the gang problems of LA than the early Nineties?

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DVD Review – Juice (1992)

by on Sep.23, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

Whether it’s a sharp dressed Italian or a street-wise hood, both meanings of “Gangster” always seem to deal around the same theme: the downward spiral of corruption. In The Godfather, a seemingly pleasant Michael Corleone ended up murdering half of his family after becoming a crime boss. This has always been the way of representing crime on the big screen; it doesn’t pay and everything and everyone you love is at risk. And what better place to let the fetid cloud of corruption prey havoc then in Harlem.

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DVD Review – 8 Million Ways to Die (1986)

by on Sep.08, 2011, under Films, Flickering Myth, Review

What better way to start off a cop movie than to drop the hero from a great height. In the popular film series, Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson played a suicidal cop whose daredevil behaviour gave his character that much needed edge. When a man has nothing left to lose, things tend to get more interesting. However, Hal Ashby’s alcoholic cop yarn barely hits the bar.

8 Million Ways To Die sees an LA drugs cop, Matthew Scudder (Jeff Bridges looking like a blonde Charles Bronson), foil a drugs raid in the worst way possible. This leads him into losing his job and his family, on top of making his alcoholism slip out of control. Six months later, he’s sober, single and unemployed. After being contacted for protection by a hooker called Sunny (Alexandra Paul), he’s drawn back into the criminal world that he stopped enforcing.

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