Future Presentations

That’s what used to be displayed on the screen after the “Pearl & Dean” ads (yes I really am that old!) and before they played any trailers in the cinema.

Anyway, enough of the nostalgia. This week brings the opportunity to catch up on one or two of the following. Blackhat, The Wedding Ringer, Project Almanac and Fifty Shades. A glance at my Flixster app tells me not one of these films is considered “Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, with the best of the bunch clocking in at a heady 35% Rotten…not a good week.

I’m not going to have the chance to see all four (which may be a blessing), but viewing two of them would be good. I’ll definitely be seeing Blackhat today, despite its 33% Rotten rating. This really surprises me when considering its pedigree; can Michael Mann really be responsible for such a dog? I’ll be finding out soon enough. I really should see Fifty Shades as well. Such a box office smash deserves a chance and I’m no prude. The only problem is that my wife is very busy and isn’t going to be able to accompany me to the cinema. Which means I’m going to have to go on my own and probably look like some sad old pervert in the process. Oh well, I don’t really care; I’ve come to realise that post-40 is a fantastic time of life purely based on the fact that the older I get, the less I actually care about other people’s perceptions of me. Perhaps I’ll take a box of tissue with me to make my fellow cinema goers and the multiplex staff feel really uncomfortable…

Moving on. If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t really been doing anything else on this blog other than reviewing films my reply is:

  • I’ve been watching lots of films and don’t really have time for anything else.
  • I haven’t seen a decent trailer that’s hit me like a freight train for ages. So what’s the point in posting mediocrity?

But fortunately I’ve found a bit of time today for this catch-up, so I hope reading something other than a review is a welcome change.

And my One Word Review for the Academy Awards this year is Forseeable. I’m not going to go through each award and discuss the whys and wherefores but I would like to ask, “How in the hell did Interstellar win Best Achievement in Visual Effects over Dawn of the Planet of the Apes?!?” What have the guys and girls at Weta Digital got to do to bring that one home? I really liked Interstellar, but Holy Guacamole!

Thank you for reading 🙂

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The Gambler – Confrontational

Gambler banner

Now, I consider myself to be a bit of a cinema enthusiast, but even I was unaware that Rupert Wyatt‘s latest offering was a remake of a film starring James Caan from 1974. I used to read a fair few reviews before I started this blog, but nowadays I don’t read any – I’d rather keep my thoughts free of any superfluous clutter. As such, these kinds of details sometimes get missed. I do, however, sometimes use Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb to ascertain the general consensus regarding a particular film and in this case, I think I may be missing something.

Gambler poster v01

With a 46% Rotten rating from (to date) 116 reviews and a (currently) 6.1 rating on IMDb from 8,983 users, where did all the love go for The Gambler? Ok, so it’s not exactly languishing in the sub-15%/ rating below 4 category, but still, with all that talent on show what went wrong for the audience? Well, nothing that I could see. If you *click* on the Rotten Tomatoes link you’ll notice the “Critics Consensus” tells us that “…The Gambler still suffers from comparisons to the James Caan classic that inspired it.” Herein lies the problem. Can we not just view cinema, unencumbered by comparison? Having not seen the original, I can do nothing but view The Gambler on its own merits and as far as I can see, those merits are good.

G Wahlberg and Larson

Mark Wahlberg as Jim Bennett

 

The Gambler isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill fare – a narrative construct that allows the audience to root for the good guy, hope the bad guys get what’s coming to them and we all live happily ever after. There’s a complication to the characters involved that requires a level of empathy we may not be happy to imbue. There is no black-and-white within this world and perhaps it is those elements that turn off the audience. That Mark Wahlberg’s character, Jim Bennett, has self-destructive tendencies would possibly be to oversimplify of his characterisation; one thing is for sure though – he’s not very likable, but he is our protagonist.

G Goodman

John Goodman as Frank

 

The concern/ humanity demonstrated by those Jim has to deal with to continue his “destruction-by-gambling” is refreshing and elevates each to a level that far exceeds any positive character traits demonstrated by our “hero”. His brutality with the truth cuts far deeper than any knife and will not endear him to anyone. The intelligence in the writing, a “non dumbing-down” if you will of the language used is refreshing, treating the audience as equals in the world that has been created. Once again, this does not conform with the usual and as such puts the audience on the back foot. There are no real winners and losers in The Gambler, just participants in this particular story.

G Wahlberg and Lange

Jessica Lange as Roberta

 

As for the participants, I for one think Rupert Wyatt has fashioned a worthy piece of cinema. He is clearly a talented director. There is an uncomplicated approach to his presentation that works extremely well and his particular use of music within The Gambler is outstanding. Mark Wahlberg – as usual – is great to watch and this performance harks back to a level we first saw in Boogie Nights. Brie Larson shines in her role as student/ “love interest” Amy, while it’s great to see John Goodman with a role to get his teeth into, although a bit more screen time would have been great. The same can be said of Jessica Lange, who is fantastic as Jim’s mother Roberta, but you have to take what you can get I suppose. That’s by no means a criticism though, just a personal preference to see both Mr. Goodman and Ms. Lange eating up the screen more often with this kind of quality writing.

Film Review The Gambler

Brie Larson as Amy

 

Would I recommend The Gambler? I certainly would! It’s probably no going to be showing much beyond this week, but if you get the chance to see it, please do.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Kick-Ass 2 – It’s pretty good, actually!

Kick-Ass 2 poster

This was never going to be an easy sequel – but it was an inevitable one. Early buzz for the original grew and most reviewers were falling over each other to fan the flames of favour with their superlative-strewn thoughts. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 77% fresh with an average rating of 7.1/10 from 243 reviews, while over at imdb it’s at 7.8/10 from a hefty 280,311 users. At a time when Marvel adaptations were getting into their stride and Warner were sitting pretty with its DC Batman franchise, Matthew Vaughn looked to subvert these Hollywood iterations with something fresh and totally unforgiving. A production budget of $30m saw a worldwide return of just over $96m – and with a hoped-for franchise opener like that, I’m sure the Execs screaming for a sequel could be heard around the world.

And then there’s the current numbers for Kick-Ass 229% rotten with an average of 4.7/10 from 132 reviews, but tellingly an average audience rating of 3.8/5 from 68,001 users. A quick surf over to imdb tells a similar story – 7.4/10 from 15,252 users. The pertinent information here is the reaction from the media towards Dave Lizewski’s latest “adventures”. It seems even BoxOfficeMojo are getting in on the act, citing an awful opening weekend putting Kick-Ass 2 at #5 on the list. Admittedly it is down $6m on the $19m taken by the original on its opening, but that was an April 2010 that offered Death At A Funeral, Clash of the Titans and Date Night amongst others. One could posit that a summer holidays release, backed up by not exactly stellar reviews wouldn’t help. And let’s be honest, taking nearly half your production budget in an opening weekend isn’t that bad! So, where did it all go wrong as far as the printed and online media are concerned? Damned if I know!

But here’s what I do know. Kick-Ass 2 is good. It was never going to have that “below the radar” feel of the original and we were certainly better prepared for Hit-Girl’s foul-mouthed antics and blood-soaked endeavours. While some could point to “stunt casting” when it comes to Jim Carrey‘s portrayal of Colonel Stars and Stripes, I would say “bravo” to the powers-that-be. Mr Carrey was a perfect fit for the role, with particular mention being made for the wonderful prosthetics used to give his face a fantastic “world worn” look. My only disappointment with the movie was Christopher Mintz-Plasse. As much as he was clearly trying to fill the hefty boots of “super-villain” it just wasn’t convincing enough. I understand he is clearly the antithesis of all that is “super-villain”, but it still felt too lightweight. This however did not really detract from the whole. In all fairness, Kick-Ass 2 is more about Hit-Girl’s journey than Kick-Ass’, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Some may balk at its excessive violence, but hey, it goes with the territory. For me, Kick-Ass 2 works and overall, works well. As with a very large proportion of Hollywood’s output, it ain’t going to change the world, but it is worth seeing.

Is After Earth really that bad?

After Earth 1

As of writing this piece, the date is 11th July 2013. On 7th June 2013, Will Smith‘s current star vehicle, After Earth, opened in the UK. We are 5 weeks down the line. Some films have come and gone in that time – Michael Shannon’s The Iceman and Dwayne Johnson’s Snitch to name two – but After Earth is still showing. In a summer period that is currently offering Man of Steel, World War Z and This Is the End, that isn’t something to be sniffed at.

A two star review in Empire Magazine, 11% rotten on the Flixster/ Rotten Tomatoes app/ website and an imdb.com user rating of 4.9 from over 30,000 users surely says it all about M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest offering. What heightened my curiosity was how can a film that has been universally panned still be taking money 5 weeks later? I have to admit, based on the dearth of poor reviews, I’d decided that missing After Earth wasn’t going to be the end of the world. Yet here I am, attempting to make sense of it after watching it at my local cinema last night. Let’s not kid ourselves; as far as Hollywood is concerned, it’s all about the money. That’s why we still get the likes of Scary Movie 4 or any number of Eddie Murphy “comedies”! So the Sony/ Colombia execs must be heaving a collective sign of relief to see a near $200m worldwide return on their estimated $130m investment numbers from boxofficemojo.com). One can suppose that leaving a poorly reviewed film “out there” to try an eke as much out of its dead-on-arrival opening is one way of looking at it. But I’ve seen plenty of tent-pole releases that are quickly pulled from theatres and have sunk without trace. On glancing around last night, I would estimate around 30 people were in attendance. Once again, not bad for a poorly reviewed film in its 5th week of release.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks. Is After Earth as bad as the reviews suggest? Well we’re nowhere near the “how bad is Movie 43?” arena! First thing to say is that I’m not convinced about the acting prowess of Jaden Smith. He’s OK, but nothing more than that. And also, the emotionally constipated character Will Smith plays seems somewhat two-dimensional. It’s clearly a Smith & Smith vehicle – not surprising since Will Smith has a story credit. Smith junior is the one with more screen time, which makes you think this is a blatant attempt at using his father’s caché to push his career along. Or am I just being cynical? Don’t get me wrong, I like Will Smith; even the likes of I Am Legend and I, Robot, although I will admit to giving MiB II & III a body-swerve. I even enjoyed Jaden’s Karate Kid remake, but that may be due to the legend that is Jackie Chan. I’m not really doing After Earth many favours am I? As I write, it seems to me that I’m being quite negative about it. It also occurs to me that some of the bad press could be down to the negativity shown towards Shyamalan after his two previous efforts, The Happening and The Last Airbender flopped. I will admit to not seeing the former, but I did attempt to view the latter and had to switch off. It. Was. Bad. But I have to say that After Earth is OK. I quite enjoyed it. I liked the premise. I liked what they did with Earth 1000 years from now. I don’t actually feel that it’s as bad as you think it is. Perhaps I was pleasantly surprised by this and so am being kinder in my assessment. I’ve sat through worse, there’s no doubt about it. So, “Is After Earth really that bad?” No, it really isn’t. It’s worth a watch, but perhaps in the comfort of your own home.

Man of Steel & why I loved it!

An alternative review

Empire Magazine gave it 4 stars and Mark Kermode was “disappointed”. The Flixster app – in conjunction with Rotten Tomatoes – is showing that, to date, out of 81 reviews, only 56% have been positive. Two people I’ve spoken to this morning both disliked it – both citing a lack of a decent script – while my best friend gave it an 8 and summarily changed that to a 9, post a quick text conversation with me.

An alternative poster

An alternative poster

I’ll put it out there straight off the bat…I LOVED it! (Use of Caps & Italics definitely intended!) I got it! I see where it’s coming from and I’m so along for the ride. It’s got all the ingredients and ticks all the boxes. Christopher Nolan (intelligent filmmaker), Zack Synder (great cinematic debut, loved 300 & Watchmen), Henry Cavill (eye-wateringly handsome), Michael Shannon (oscar-winner in waiting – watch Take Shelter to find out why), Amy Adams (great actor), Russell Crowe (in majestic form) and Kevin Costner (just keeps getting better & better). I loved the “real world” setting. I loved the playing with the chronology of the narrative. I loved the “vulnerability” of Clark/ Kal. I loved the screen-chewing presence of Zod. And I particularly loved the relationship between Clark/ Kal and his fathers.

Man of Steel alternative review

Russell Crowe as Jor-El

Maybe it was because I had been taken to the cinema by my daughter on Father’s Day, I don’t know. It just felt lovely. Jor’s sacrifice for the greater good felt so noble. Being able to see Kal interact with Jor later in the film was great – you can never get enough of Russell when he’s on that sort of form! But it was the portrayal of the relationship Clark had with his “Earth father” Jonathan that sealed the deal for me. Kevin Costner was just fantastic! As far as I’m concerned there wasn’t enough of his character in the film. And I know the final act is a bit long. I know the visuals are a bit what-the-hell-is-going-on-it’s-too-damn-much-and-too-blurry. I know it may seem too reverential. But, you know what? I. Don’t. Care. It was that central bond between Clark and his father. That sense of good. That belief that he knew his son was put on his planet to strive for the greater good.

Man of Steel alternative review

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent

It was that core of Man of Steel that I loved!