Archive for May, 2012

Dark Shadows

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Unlike many in the UK, I was at least aware of Dark Shadows, though I’d never actually seen any of it as far as I recall, and in fairness I’m not sure how true this offering from Tim Burton is to the original show anyway, given it was, effectively, a gothic soap opera (imagine if a vampire moved into Albert Square…probably cheer the place up actually.)

In the 18th Century Barnabas Collins makes the mistake of spurning the love of a serving girl, Angelique, little realising at the time that she’s a witch. Soon he’s paid for this mistake by having his parents murdered, and his one true love hypnotised to walk off a cliff…oh and he’s been made a vampire and then been buried (un)alive…

Nothing ever stays buried forever though, and eventually a hapless band of construction workers dig him up…and pay with their lives, because after 200 years he’s very thirsty. Revitalised, Barnabas discovers that he’s now in the far future time of 1972! Making his way to the Collins’ family mansion he discovers that whilst his descendants still own it, their fishing business has gone down the tubes thanks to the success of a rival called Angie. Angie, of course, is actually Angelique the witch. Barnabas also discovers that his descendants are a pretty dysfunctional bunch, and sets out to restore the family name and thwart Angelique.

The trailers for this film really do give the wrong impression—it seems to be marketed as strictly a comedy; Austin Powers with a vampire instead of a spy. Except it isn’t really a comedy. It is funny, in fact very funny in places, but tonally it shifts several times, becoming by turns very silly and very dark.

The fact that its all over the place probably accounts for a lot of the negative reviews, but actually, despite this, and despite the fact that various plot strands never seem to go anywhere (take Johnny Lee Miller’s character) somehow it works, and if nothing else there’s something refreshing about a film that you can’t put into a neat little box. And there’s no better example of how messed up the film is than the soundtrack. Seriously, how many film soundtracks would ever marry Iggy Pop, Barry White, Alice Cooper and The Carpenters?

I want that album!

Pfeiffer is solid as the family matriarch, whilst Eva Green appears to be having a ball…although at times I’m not quite sure she’s acting … Chloë Moretz has fun as the surly teen and Jackie Earle Haley makes for a good Renfrew style lackey. Plus there are a couple of amusing cameos (although one is a missed opportunity ‘cos I’d have loved to see him of all people bitten by a vampire)

Yes there’s a degree of contemptible familiarly about seeing Depp and Bonham-Carter in a Tim Burton production with music by Danny Elfman, but Depp is genuinely hilarious as the man out of time, yet Burton never shies away the fact that he is a monster. This isn’t a sweet family comedy.

It takes a while to get going, and you might take a while to acclimatise to the film’s shifting tone, but once you do you might well enjoy it rather a lot…

The Avengers

Posted: May 9, 2012 in Film reviews

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston.

I promised my Avengers review wouldn’t be pretty, and it won’t be. Because pretty really doesn’t do this film justice…

First the bad: The title, what were they thinking? Marvel Avengers Assemble? Do they really think the UK audience would mistake it for a reboot of the Avengers TV series?

Ok that’s the bad out of the way.

Loki, the Asgardian, adopted brother of Thor and all round God of chaos, is in league with an alien race who want the power of something called the Tesseract (last seen in the Captain America film) a source of unlimited power. Loki promises to give them the Tesseract after he’s used its power to subjugate Earth. Ranged against an unstoppable foe, one Earth superhero isn’t going to be enough, so Nick Fury brings an eclectic, eccentric even, group of super powered beings together: Captain America, the man out of time; Iron Man, the narcissistic Playboy Tony Stark; Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner; and Thor, God of Thunder with a very big hammer. Oh and not forgetting the Black Widow and Hawkeye, who are somewhat less super endowed, but are pretty good in a fight anyway.

The trouble is the Avengers  aren’t so much a team as a fight waiting to happen, and in fact early on they do spend more time fighting each other than Loki. Can they find some common ground in Earth’s darkest hour?

This film has been a long time coming, a film that’s been hinted out in pretty much every Marvel film of the last few years, Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor, Captain America, with Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury a constant background figure in the post credits of every film. When a film is this hyped, this anticipated, I worry. Throw into the mix the fact that you have so many heroes sharing the spotlight and it almost seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, a film that could only ever disappoint, that was doomed to be less than the sum of its parts.

Instead what we have is a film that’s fun, exciting, and yes even moving in places, a film that doesn’t shirk from spectacle, yet understands that spectacle alone if worthless, and provides as many subtle character moments as it does huge city toppling explosions.

I’m not always Joss Whedon’s biggest fan, but he does a great job here, both behind the typewriter and behind the camera, and its truly amazing just how much is packed into the film’s near two and a half hour long running time (though it never feels that long, in fact at times you kind of wish it’d go on a bit longer.)

The cast are excellent, with the standouts for me being Downey Jr who manages to portray Tony Stark as a complete arse, whilst simultaneously making us love him, and Chris Evans, who manages to play Steve Rogers’ 40’s era daring do and moral certainty without ever making him feel like a caricature. His Captain America makes me want to sing the Star Spangled Banner.

Hemsworth’s Thor is somewhat poorly served, and this film does serve to remind me that the Thor film was at its best when Thor was a loveable idiot aboard, rather than the somewhat po-faced, stiff God he is for much of this film, though to be fair he looks good in a fight.

Johansson’s Black Widow gets a surprise amount to do and perhaps gets some of the best character moments in the film, her interrogation of Loki is excellent. And even Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye comes across better than I expected, though it would have been nice if he’d had more of a costume.

Samuel L Jackson is, well he’s Samuel L Jackson, you always know what you’re going to get from him.

That leaves the new boy, the one member of the Avengers we haven’t seen before (Hawkeye was in Thor, though you would be forgiven for not remembering) who is Mark Ruffalo debuting as Bruce Banner, and though we’re made to wait a while for the ‘other guy’ as Bruce calls him, when the jolly green giant shows up he’s worth the wait. In fact Hulk gets two of the funniest moments of the film, and despite being cgi’d he feels very real.

Throw in Hiddleston who makes Loki a joy to watch, crafting a villain who looks like he could take the Avengers on all by himself, even though he looks weedier than any of them, as well as a host of others, and it really is a cast to die for.

Are there flaws, well yes, the start creaks somewhat, and the alien foes are a trifle generic, little more than faceless drones for the Avengers to pound on, but these are minor quibbles that shouldn’t distract from what is an exceptionally well crafted blockbuster, a heck of a rollercoaster ride. 9/10

A Curious Addiction

Posted: May 8, 2012 in Regarding writing

I’ll level with you, I’m addicted to writing. Wherever I am, most of the time I’m thinking about writing. Ideas swirl around my head like water in a washing machine, tumbling over and over, jockeying for position, trying to be the idea that gets heard, that gets written.

Like any addict who indulges there’s a definite ‘hit’ to sitting down and putting words on paper. This morning I was feeling harassed on my way to work, but just jotting notes down on the train was incredibly calming. I like to do some writing every day, and when I don’t it can be frustrating, and annoying, and can definitely make me a little antsy!

The flipside to this is procrastination, which is something I know a lot of writers suffer from, and sometimes it takes a real effort to sit down and force myself to type. Hell, I’ve been known to prioritise household chores over writing!

Which makes it an odd kind of addiction. I’m not sure other addictions work in quite the same way. Do those who need alcohol waste time washing the car rather than popping to the pub? Do chocoholics think “I’ll just wash the pots, do some ironing and put up some shelves and then eat that Mars bar.”?

 I’m not talking about delayed gratification here,  promising yourself a treat if you do some chores first, I’m talking going out of your way to avoid doing something you find satisfying.

Maybe its fear, the terror that what you’re going to write will turn out to be turgid rubbish, or maybe it’s because writing, when all’s said and done, is a bit too much like hard work sometimes, which likely explains why an awful lot of people who probably could write, don’t.

Those Trainspotting guys really had it easy…