To Jennifer (2013)

to jennifer

Directed by: James Cullen Bressack

James Cullen Bressack returns after the thoroughly unpleasant home intruder film ‘Hate Crime’ with ‘To Jennifer’, a film which covers obsession, voyeurism and ponders how modern life seems like it is seen through the lens of a smart phone. In fact ‘To Jennifer’ was shot on an iPhone 5.

There will be criticism of this, accusations of amateurism, but using the iPhone actually adds rugged authenticity to the film. You could argue that anyone could make this film, but this deceptively simple DIY approach has been cleverly edited to the point that it seems rawer than it actually is. One thing is for certain this is a tighter, better movie than ‘Hate Crime’.

We open with Joey (Chuck Pappas) talking straight to camera, addressing his girlfriend Jennifer who he suspects is cheating on him. Joey’s plan is to catch her in the act by staking out her house. Joey enlists the help of his cousin Steven (Bressack) to catch everything on camera. Steven and a jovial party animal buddy called Martin (Jody Barton) attempt to get Joey out of his funk, and distract him from Jennifer by introducing him to a variety of single women who are gagging for it and when that fails… prostitutes. They embark on a woozy voyage through the neighbourhood.

‘To Jennifer’ is a road trip which veers off into sinister territory. It makes a blunt comment on voyeurism in the internet age, as Joey becomes more and more fixated on Jennifer to the point that he hacks into her Facebook page. The camaraderie and banter between the three young men in the movie doesn’t feel forced, at times it feels like you’re watching a collection of YouTube videos that a few stoner buddies have made. I’m guessing a lot of the dialogue has been improvised, and again, what could be seen as something detrimental, actually turns out to help the film.

By the time you form an attachment with the goofy trio ‘To Jennifer’ becomes a trifle unsettling as Joey begins to freak out, becoming more and more detached from reality. The outbreak of violence that thus far in the film has consisted of a petty bout of drunken fisticuffs in a back garden, hits the viewer hard; Bressack’s restraint to not bombard us with shock and gore (like in ‘Hate Crime’) pays off in the bloody dramatic conclusion.

I suppose if you’re looking for comparisons, then it is a distant cousin to ‘Catfish’, and part of the Found Footage family that snowballed after ‘The Blair Witch Project’. Working on a shoe string budget, Bressack has made an engrossing little movie that although not ground-breaking, illustrates his continuing development as a filmmaker.

– RJW

To Jennifer on IMDB

Advertisements

Three Kings (1999)

threekings2

Directed by: David O. Russell

Ordinarily a film which features the acting talents of Ice Cube and Jamie Kennedy could swiftly be written off as some kind of god awful mean mugging , stoner extravaganza; but both actors offer something on ‘Three Kings’, the essence of what they are best at, how their limited acting repertoire is their strongest and indeed only suit – in the case of Cube, his one expression, you know, that vacant serious look, makes him a steadying presence in the company of Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Kennedy who, as a hopeless soldier driving a dune buggy across the oil rich deserts of Iraq on a wild goose chase in the company of a feisty news reporter and her bemused cameraman, provides an additional dumb dose of light relief.

‘Three Kings’ is a light-hearted albeit pseudo-serious look at the climax of the first Gulf War. Victory was in the bag in less than a year after Operation Desert Storm, and in early 1991 the US Army contained a host of restless troops camped out in the desert who felt rather nervous about going back to the States, and adjusting back to the prospect of civilian life. In a similar spirit to ‘Jarhead’ it reveals a different kind of military experience that we have in recent years grown accustomed to from the military occupation of Afghanistan. Whereas in Afghanistan, patrolling troops have found themselves involved in tense fire fights, seen colleagues blown apart and shot by rogue fire. ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Jarhead’ present the other side of life in a warzone, as idle troops crave war stories that they can take home with them as they unravel in desert tedium.

The film opens with a cluster fuck, as Troy Barlow (played by Wahlberg) shoots dead a surrendering Iraqi soldier. His deed is celebrated by fellow troops, until the stone faced Staff Sergeant Elgin (Cube) comes along and brings the party to a close. In another tent we see Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) shagging a desperate journalist.

A treasure map that is found wedged in between the arse cheeks of another surrendering Iraqi soldier brings the three men, and a slack jawed goon called Conrad Vig (played by Spike Jonze) together. They discover that the map leads to one of Saddam’s bunkers that is rumoured to contain stolen Kuwaiti gold. Figuring they could become rich, they head off, but along the journey find themselves drawn into the post-war conflict when they abruptly decide to help Iraqi civilians who are still being oppressed by the local Republican Guard.

The film is rather unsubtle in its political message. But that doesn’t dilute what is actually being said. As the Coalition Troops, particularly the Americans, found out; the problem with winning a war, yet leaving a maniacal dictator in charge, is that when your army pulls out of the defeated country, the people will continue to suffer as the dictator attempts to reassert control of his population. The message of ‘Three Kings’ was made all the more relevant post 9/11, when US Troops returned to Iraq and in blunt terms finished the job by eliminating Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or depending on which way you look at it, going on a pointless treasure hunt in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

On set bickering between director David O. Russell and George Clooney blighted the production of ‘Three Kings’, which first established Russell’s reputation as a visionary auteur who is notoriously difficult to work with. There isn’t much evidence of tension in the film, George is a pro throughout and makes for an accomplished lead, and the film is shot artistically, including the use of authentically disorientating handheld cameras. Although the colouring of the film is odd. The bright sun embellished scenes, create a strange uneasy on the eye sheen.

Though not on the epic scale of some of the great Vietnam war films, Russell created a tight film that has a very effective anti-war message which also perfectly illustrates the consequences of violence, showing that a gunshot wound fucking hurts, and isn’t something that a movie action hero can easily walk away from.

The characters in ‘Three Kings’ are all searching for gold. For the news reporters and journalist it is the golden story, for the soldiers it is compensation for risking their lives, and a financial security against dull civilian life, for the Iraqi people it is the gold of freedom. It is all gold really, ‘Three Kings’ is a gilded classic.

– RJW
8/10

Three Kings on IMDB
Buy Three Kings [DVD] [1999]

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (2013)

This is the second of three (hopefully) Hansel and Gretel films that I’ll be reviewing for this site. We’ve already had the Asylum version of things, where nothing makes a lick of sense, and we’ve got Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton’s version to come. But this…well, it’s about marijuana! Films about potheads are never not funny, right?

hansel-gretel-get-baked-pstr05

Gretel, played by the daughter from TV show “Castle”, is a bit of a pothead, although an extremely clean-cut one. Her boyfriend Anton brings round some amazing new weed, called Black Forest, and they like it so much they get the grower’s address from their dealer. Turns out it’s a little old lady! Well, as anyone who’s read the fairytale knows (and if you haven’t, then I am deeply sorry for your childhood) the little old lady is not all she’s made out to be. The spin on this tale is that the woman is an ancient witch, and sucks the life force out of people to remain forever young, then turns those lifeforce-donators into zombies which she uses to guard her maze of enormous weed plants.

Hansel appears to not smoke weed, but he doesn’t mind his sister doing it…he’s a bland everyman sort of character, I guess. This really isn’t me being a bad reviewer, they didn’t give him much in the way of defining characteristics. He helps his sister, though, when Anton goes missing on his buying mission at the witch’s house. Circling round the outskirts of this story are Anton’s dealer and his girlfriend; the Hispanic heavies that the dealer has previously been doing business with before buying Black Forest; a guy from the power company looking for his missing co-worker (the witch’s first onscreen victim, played by Cary Elwes, who the film could clearly only afford to pay for a day of work); and a couple of cops.

You know how this goes. Gingerbread houses, breadcrumb trails, deaths, and so on. My wife noticed that Gretel seemed to favour medieval-esque clothing, which is a weird nod to the story’s origins that doesn’t really fit with the film…but as to the quality of the film itself, it gets a big thumbs down. Firstly is the gulf between what the film is marketed as, and what it actually was. A film called “Hansel and Gretel Get Baked”, about the witch growing excellent weed, is an idea for comedy, and this just isn’t funny. It’s so bad, in fact, that I can’t tell if it’s a straight horror film that they decided to market as a comedy, or if it’s just a comedy with no jokes. Note to filmmakers – marijuana isn’t that funny a thing, purely on its own. Also, with California (where this film is presumably set, given the opening credits) allowing medical marijuana, I’m a bit surprised that the kids have to buy their product from a sleazy street-corner dealer, and that the police give a damn about someone growing it.

Lara Flynn Boyle, initially under layers of makeup, plays the witch. Now, I appreciate there must be a hell of a pressure on older actresses to maintain their youthful appearance, so I’m not going to criticise. But she’s had an allergic reaction to botox and her lips are enormous, so even when she’s out of makeup as her younger self, she looks odd, and wildly overacts for no real reason too (it’s certainly not to generate laughs). She’s been good in the past, and can do comedy and drama, so this is just sad.

I believe I made a similar criticism of the other Hansel and Gretel film, but if you’re killing as many people as Lara is killing to maintain her youthful appearance, then people are going to start to notice, and the fact that the police seemingly don’t give a damn about wealthy middle-class kids disappearing is somewhat baffling. In fact, the whole story of Hansel and Gretel is, like a thousand other stories (a lot of Shakespeare’s stuff, the work of the Bronte sisters, Dickens, among so many others), really difficult to adapt wholesale for a modern re-telling. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” relies on a father being able to marry his daughter to whoever he likes; Jane Eyre would have had other chances in her life; and Oliver Twist would hopefully have been caught by the welfare state.

What I’m getting at is, those stories need to have tweaks made in order to have modern re-tellings of them, as does Hansel and Gretel. They got some of it right – the black forest, the maze, but the central bit of the story is just left, like they realise it’s too big to fix and just can’t be bothered, or hope people will go “it’s magic! Why do you worry about this stuff?” I worry, I suppose, because it’s lazy and there’s no need for it. Clearly, time and money was spent making this film – it looks a million times better than the Asylum version and has a fair few names in it that film and TV fans will recognise – but the writing got to the stage of thinking of a clever title and went “our work here is done!”

There’s also some link to the Tribeca Film Festival with this film, the festival started by Robert DeNiro which has some arthouse remit. Lord knows how it and this came together.

HGGB-1000x500

So, Hansel and Gretel films are batting 0-for-2 with the ISCFC so far. This film was bad, poorly written and boring, and should be avoided unless you’re…actually, whatever weird thing you have, avoid this film. The brain cells you don’t expend on this film will thank you.

 

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked on IMDB
Buy Hansel & Gretel Get Baked [DVD] [2013] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Bangkok-Dangerous-Nicolas-Cage-1695

Directed by: The Pang Brothers

Nicolas Cage is often criticized by critics and fellow actors about his choice of movies, which has meant his career trajectory shows many peaks and troughs. A graphical representation of this would probably look like the heart monitor of a patient being revived after a rather severe cardiac arrest.

‘Bangkok Dangerous’ is missing something; it features an oddly subdued, restrained performance from Cage. Now, I haven’t seen the original 1999 film, also directed by The Pang Brothers, and this remake, Hollywood only in the sense that it opens in Prague, and features Nic Cage; seems rather like a stodgy latter day Seagal arthritic ass kicker that you might pluck from the bargain bin.

Cage plays Joe, a lonely hitman who doesn’t really mind doing his job. Joe was taught four basic rules:

“One: Don’t ask questions. There is no such thing as right and wrong.
Two: Don’t take an interest in people outside of work. There is no such thing as trust.
Three: Erase every trace. Come anonymous and leave nothing behind.
Four: Know when to get out. Just thinking about it means it’s time. Before you lose your edge, before you become a target.”

In Bangkok, just like a conservative sexually repressed middle aged newly divorced man who visits the city, Joe breaks all of his rules. One, he asks his lackey Kong whether or not the people he is paid to kill are bad men, two, he becomes a father figure to Kong, three, he loses his anonymity by dating a deaf woman who works in a chemists, four, falling in love makes him lose his edge.

Kong is the dubious character that Joe picks to be his personal courier who acts as a middle man between the assassin and his employer; in Prague we see that Joe’s courier was a scummy junkie, in Bangkok he picks a pickpocket who preys on gullible tourists. Joe works for Surat, a dangerous ganglord who wants to take control of Bangkok, by assassinating three of his rivals and also an influential politician who wants to clean up the city.

In between the bloody jobs Kong and Joe bond. Joe teaches Kong Wing Chun, a Chinese Martial Art, and they shoot water melons in the back garden of Joe’s rented property. Joe refers to Kong as his student, which is rather lovely of him. Bangkok, a land of vice and loose morals, seems to be the place that melts the icy exterior of Joe’s cold soul. When he grazes his arm fleeing the scene of a kill he sensibly looks for some disinfectant and some painkillers in a chemist, a giddy deaf assistant called Rain tries to help him, eventually he is able to communicate to her what he needs. He asks her out a couple of days later and the two find time to dine out. Cage eats some hot Thai curry, they feed bananas to an elephant in the street, he meets the future Mother-in-law yadda yadda yadda, but their relationship eventually turns sour when Cage spills some muggers’ blood on Rain’s white cashmere top and she gets hysterical, proving that not all Thai women can be wooed by ugly rich foreigners.

Due to Cage’s ungainly physical movements it is a real struggle to picture him as a stealthy assassin going about his business in a covert manner. His limbs flail around like one of those Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubemen. For someone who wants to remain under the radar, he just stands out as a gormless, straggly haired giant amongst the diminutive men of Thailand.

Throughout the duration of ‘Bangkok Dangerous’ I was waiting for Cage to cut loose, for him to reveal some of his much loved eccentricity, but no, he’s cold eyed and dopey the whole way through. Playing it straight is probably the worst thing he could have done. Given that Joe is somebody bound by a strict code, a set of rules that govern his every move; the chaotic blend of emotions that come with love and friendship and the job going awry should have meant that Joe would have psychologically unravelled in reaction to all of his meticulous plans getting torn up. The biggest disappointment of this movie is Cage repressing his natural inclination to go over the top. Yep, that’s what ‘Bangkok Dangerous’ is missing.

– RJW
4/10

Bangkok Dangerous on IMDB
Buy Bangkok Dangerous [DVD]

Deadheads (2011)

deadheads

Directed by: The Pierce Brothers

‘Deadheads’ is a zombie road trip movie. Some might call it a zombedy and draw comparisons with ‘Shaun of the Dead’. Others will call it a zomcom and say it was a precursor to the recently released ‘Warm Bodies’.

The film begins like most post-apocalyptic undead flicks, a guy wakes up disorientated, unsure of where he is, and how long he’s been under, all around him is chaos. In the case of our lead character Mike, he crawls out of a body bag unaware that he’s dead, but looks pretty zombified. This causes a few funny moments where he bumps into several flesh eating zombies roaming about in the wilderness that scare him shitless.

Mike meets Brent, a typical stoner slacker character who makes for an ideal sidekick, a Nick Frost to Mike’s Simon Pegg. Brent died after an unfortunate auto-erotic asphyxiation accident; he proudly exclaims that he died doing something he loved. The duo head over to a dive bar, and keep a low profile amongst the living. Mike figures out he’s been dead for three years, and decided that what he needs to do most is meet up with the Ellie, his girlfriend, whose engagement ring he keeps in his pocket. As zombies invade the bar Mike and Brent catch a ride from a nostalgically horny Vietnam veteran named Cliff, they head off in search of Mike’s lost love. What follows is a typical road movie, as the characters share a bond, and the journey represents deep personal growth.

The Pierce brothers, Brent and Drew, the co-directors of ‘Deadheads’ are the sons of Bart Pierce, who provided the visual effects on Sam Raimi’s original ‘Evil Dead’. They’ve attempted to create a likeable Bruce Campbell lead in the shape of Mike, but Mike comes across more like the aforementioned Simon Pegg, an everyman figure, who has the potential to grate quite quickly. ‘Deadheads’ is very 80s influenced, not the least with the several pop culture references from that time including a fondful nod to ‘The Goonies’. The harmlessness and joviality prevalent throughout the film gloss over any tender or serious scenes, and when a supporting character meets his bloody demise, we’re left corpsing, as opposed to fighting back tears.

‘Deadheads’ loses its way in the final third. Not the least because we have to sit through a toe curling school reunion scene involving Mike dressed up as a Beaver, and then the ending, a sickly saccharine all’s well that ends well tied up with a ruby red ribbon finish. Nevertheless the directors have done a reasonable job on a budget, and though ‘Deadheads’ isn’t anything other than quite good, it is at least watchable.

The concept of talking zombies with fully operating minds is quite inventive, and ultimately the movie is a rather fun time waster. There are some genuine laugh aloud moments, such as the running joke of Mike losing his arm, and a few witty quips from a gun toting sweary Government worker called McDinkle; the main problem is we’re saved from worrying too much about why people have turned into zombies, and instead are encouraged to focus on willing Mike to catch up with the girl he loves, arguably this is the clumsiest and least believable part of the movie.

– RJW
6/10

Deadheads on IMDB
Buy Dead Heads [DVD]

Fear X (2003)

fearx2

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

There are several places from which I could start this review. I could tie in something about how much I’m looking forward to Refn’s latest Gosling showcase ‘Only God Forgives’, I could talk about how the original screenplay for ‘Fear X’ was written by Hubert Selby Jr. or I could even talk about the paranoid thoughts that go through the mind of a Security Guard given my experience in the Industry.

I wondered, after spending eleven hours patrolling around a department store and also during the very same shift trawling through hours of CCTV footage to prove if a criminal mastermind had nicked a cardigan, whether it was sensible to watch a film about a Security Guide wandering around a shopping mall and then later trawling through several hours of taped CCTV footage.

The film touches upon an important aspect of life in Retail Security, which is mainly, just how uncomfortable it is. You’re standing there, watching everybody, and suspecting everyone, waiting for changes in behaviour, for a little clue or sudden tick. When you saunter past, at a pace that is slow enough to be deliberate, people make comments; they call you a “jobsworth”, or “pathetic”. You find, after a while that your senses become deadened, that the people who blur around you in a busy shopping environment each day don’t really matter. Because if you listened to every little they said, then you’d fall apart.

If nothing happens during the course of a shift, your mind wanders. You think about all kinds of shit. Sometimes these thoughts question the point of what exactly it is that you are doing? Why does this matter? How the hell am I getting paid for this when people around me, the toiling shop workers, are actually doing some “real” work and all I do is watch and wait? Then you remember, you have to be disciplined to do this. Most people wouldn’t last a week. I’ve seen rookie guards reach breaking point during their first shift. It truly is a mental game.

John Turturro plays Harry Caine, a Security Guard who works in a generic American shopping mall. His wife was shot dead in the mall car park, and Caine is completely obsessed with finding out who killed his wife, and then maybe this will give him the chance to look that person in the face and asking why?

‘Fear X’ is a film about a man searching for answers, and during his search, the more clues he finds, the more uncertain he becomes. In some ways the film is similar to ‘Memento’ or ‘The Machinist’. Turtorro is excellent; he gives an unwaveringly focussed performance, of a man who is determined to find the truth, but at the same time fearful of what he might uncover. The scenes at Harry’s home, where he spends his free time in front of a fuzzy screen, visited by visions of his wife, in between meticulously piecing together evidence, photo stills and profiles of suspects, are wonderfully gripping.

Up to Montana ‘Fear X’ is superb; when Caine gets to the Big Sky Country the story wobbles. I don’t have any quibble with the ending of the movie, although there is always an argument that might suggest the audience deserves a satisfactory outcome, or even any kind of outcome, even if the director artfully feels otherwise, but I think Refn really loses control on the approach to the end, clumsily trying to present the rage that has built up inside Caine’s head.

Despite carrying several of Refn’s trademarks, the Danish director is able to capture Middle America equally as good as heavyweights like the Coens. Caine’s hometown in Wisconsin is a place void of life, winter is harsh and the shopping malls are populated by people going through the motions. It’s all a bit drab. There is however a cinematic beauty to what Refn captures, even if it appears nothing much is going on.

Harry Caine pieces together the clues, assisted by a work colleague who operates the CCTV system and provides tapes that had been given back to the mall by the Police, who themselves are also still working on the case but none the wiser as to who might have fired the fatal shot. Analyzing the tapes through the night means that Caine is in no fit state to work. He wanders around in a daze, staring suspiciously at everyone, not because they might nick something, but because they may have shot his wife.

It is quite obvious that Harry is unravelling mentally, and when he decides to investigate what’s inside the house across the road, the place he sees his wife heading towards in a vision, ‘Fear X’ moves into the supernatural, as lights come on automatically (without a sensor, obviously) and a ghostly figure knocks on the door whilst Harry is snooping around inside. “Lynchian” is a word you might use to describe the second half of the film after Harry discovers seemingly vital clues on a discarded strip of camera film slide, and it is from this point where Refn drops the ball.

Flashy blood boiling red cutaways disturb the momentum and tiring dialogue spoil the film. Refn doesn’t need make Caine’s rage so obvious, because up to the scene when it appears in a burst of violence, it had been building up rather nicely. This is part of a bizarre series of scenes which mostly take place when in a hotel Harry is staying. An implied prostitute visits Harry’s room; the scene is uncomfortably awkward, but unnecessary. A devilish temptation that clumsily shows that Harry still only cares for one woman, unfortunately that woman is dead.

“Sometimes reality is the strangest fantasy of them all” was the tagline to Antonioni’s ‘Blow-Up’. Harry Caine’s eyes are not reliable and his mind is a muddle; in ‘Fear X’ we, the audience can only cruise through the ambiguity of it all.

– RJW
6/10

Fear X on IMDB
Buy Fear X [DVD] [2004]

The Purge (2013)

As the end credits of “The Purge” washed over me, I wracked my brain. I wanted to kill…the person who’d recommended this film to me, but I couldn’t remember who it was. Whoever you are, you’ve had a lucky escape.

purge_ver2_xlg__span

I suppose I ought to review it. It’s 2022, and “the New Founding Fathers” of America have decided that one night a year when all crime is legal would be a good thing, where people can “purge” the sins from themselves. Quite cleverly, they don’t mention what political background these new rulers come from, to allow us to project our prejudices on the other side (although it seems likely they’re some libertarian, Ayn Rand spouting bunch).

This seems to have had remarkably few other effects, psychologically speaking, on the people we see, including security salesman Ethan Hawke and his wife Lena Headey. They lock down for the night, but their daughter’s boyfriend and a homeless black man on the run from a mob cause all sorts of shenanigans for our brave family. A bunch of rich college students were chasing that homeless man and want him back, in order to kill him good and proper; and the boyfriend wants a man-to-man chat with the Dad.

A world where all crime is legal for one night a year is an interesting idea for a film, but it’s dealt with in the least interesting way possible. An upper-middle-class family and a home invasion-style film is just a bit on the dull side for your average movie-goer. Maybe focus on the homeless guy? The film makes hints towards being socially conscious, but it’s not really developed. Perhaps, have a group of people stranded on the wrong side of town (literally), trying to get back through the utterly lawless streets?

I think my main problem with it, though, is how little thought has gone into creating this world. I’m not the smartest guy, but a hundred problems with this world popped into my head as I was watching it, such as the lack of  psychological problems from killing someone. The reason we don’t murder people from dawn to dusk is not because of the laws against it, but because, by and large, we don’t want to. Committing serious violent crimes against someone can mess you up, but the indication from this film is that blowing off steam works a treat. It doesn’t (so says my degree in Criminal Justice), because when you start thinking of violence as a solution to your problems on one day, you’re going to think it’s a solution on every other day – take our villains, for instance. There is absolutely no chance in hell they’re not committing crimes the other 364 days a year (the film tells us crime rates are at an all-time low).

As my lovely wife and I were on our way home from the cinema, there were lots of little things that bubbled into our heads. Fire, for example. If there’s no fire service for the 12 hours of the Purge, then I’m thinking one or two pyromaniacs could go hog wild in that time. Cities would burn to the ground. Religious fundamentalists might decide to sabotage the water supply to a place like Las Vegas to get rid of the scum there, and cause billions of dollars worth of damage. Women who went into labour at the beginning of the Purge might suffer severe problems. Is there insurance in this world? Also, if you were rich enough to live in a gated community like our heroes, why wouldn’t you just go on holiday for the time of the Purge? Go to Canada! I would think that professional criminals would just loot the hell out of everything they could find and export it or sell it the next day, which would absolutely destroy the economy. Bank managers would just rob the heck out of their own banks. And so on, and so forth.

And so on. I suppose we talked about this film a lot more than we talked about many other films we’ve seen recently, so there’s that, but it just seemed poorly thought out and made characters act in odd ways to drive the plot along. This includes running off in their house – it’s obviously a pretty big place, but it’s super-difficult to figure out where anyone is (more a fault of the director’s, I suppose). It also had a lot of that thing where one of our heroes is about to get shot or bludgeoned to death, until a shot comes from someone who wasn’t in the scene and was off screen at the last second, killing the baddie. This is becoming a ludicrously overused trope. And more jump scares than you can shake a stick at.

purge1_2576156b

I hinted at it before, but there’s an interesting film to be made from this idea. The way people change when a fundamentalist government takes over and ramps up the propaganda to 11, for example. But, this film absolutely was not it.

The Purge on IMDB
Buy The Purge [DVD] [2013]

Man of Steel (2013)

man of steel

Man Of Steel was originally conceived to be the direct sequel to 2006s Superman Returns but Bryan Singer’s appalling love letter to the character did nothing to warrant an audience let alone a follow up so the project was shelved. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan hit box-office uber-bankability with his Batman series that Warner dug up the Red and Blue corpse and gave him free rein over the reboot.

Superhero go-to-guy David S. Goyer was drafted in to plot the story and write the screenplay but alarm bells weren’t just ringing, they were clanging ferociously when it was announced Zack Snyder was given directorial duties. For those not familiar with his style, this is just it; he’s all style and no substance. He’s unapologetically a teenage wank. When he’s not making cold and emotionless adaptations of good comic books that are really so far above him it’s an insult he’s even read them (Watchmen, 300) he’s making self indulgent fan-boy fantasies like the nut-crushingly excruciating Sucker Punch.

We open on Krypton, complete with funny looking space creatures and tentacle like space tech, and discover that Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have just had the first Kryptonian natural birth for years (Children Of Men anyone?) but no sooner has Kal-El popped out than a rampaging General Zod (played with menacing aplomb by Michael Shannon) attacks the leaders of their race in a military coup.

Then ensues one of the worst opening sequences you’ll see in a cinema this year but it really shouldn’t be as Crowe gets his own mini film in about 15 minutes here. He has a kid, devises a solution to save his planet, evades capture, falls off a building onto his flying dog, downloads his soul onto a stick, sends his kid off in a rocket ship, has a big fist fight with the main baddie (incidentally this is the best fight in the film) then gets shanked and dies. Sounds fun right? Well it would be if Snyder hadn’t killed it with inept direction that focuses too much on spectacle and not enough on character.

Not only does Snyder suck the fun out of the film, we have Chris Nolan producing which amps up the joyless, self-absorbed, pompous style. Nolan has always been one to concentrate on the broader strokes while ignoring the finer detail and Man Of Steel is no different, in fact he even manages to coax the worst out of Snyder by encouraging him to follow suit by giving us two and a half wasted hours of big explosions, lens flare, colour filters, fighting, boom-boom, bang-bang, more fighting and more explosions.

To really compound Snyder’s insistence on remaining a teenage boy the fighting between the Kryptonians becomes a video game. The female could be mistaken for Albert Wesker from Resident Evil 5 (she even fights people in the back of a cargo plane) and the fight between Zod and Superman is lifted straight from the latest Mortal Kombat, going as far as having a ‘breaker’ special move complete with an uppercut through a building.

Henry Cavill looks the part and does the best with what he’s given and Amy Adams brings humanity to her role but the shallow script doesn’t allow for spark or emotion between them and when they do finally kiss it feels shoehorned in just to complete the Superman mythology checklist. It was good to see Kevin Costner in a big release and he gets a good death ‘un, in fact he basically steals the film and is involved in the best scenes but Larry Fishburne does nothing with nothing and Shannon chews the scenery at every available turn.

DC can’t catch a break with their films, while Marvel are constantly producing every year and admitting and resolving mistakes as soon as they’re made, DC seem to brood and drag their heels always making the wrong choices and never learning from previous ones. Darren Aronofsky was turned down in favour of Snyder for example and that is unforgivable, it’s like hiring Michael Bay over Kubrick.

Man Of Steel echoes the fundamental flaws of its director and producer in taking itself far too seriously while buildings and spaceships blow-up behind over-staged video game punch-ups between flying aliens in tights and these big flashy scenes are flimsily strung together by a thin thread of limp dialogue. It’s obvious the main task was to fit in as much colourful action as possible and connecting it all together was the after thought. This is cheap, tacky and obnoxious filmmaking.

– Greg Foster

Man of Steel on IMDB
Buy Man of Steel [DVD + UV Copy]