Movies to see before you die

The Amazing Spider-Man

Posted on July 18, 2012. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

I tried so hard to stay in denial about this movie. I avoided the production photos. I didn’t watch the trailer until I had no choice at the cinema. I put my fingers in my ears and went “la la la” when people talked about how good it looked. Why? Because I am a big fan of the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire movies, and the continual stream of reboots was starting to grate. Particularly as the dearly departed Spiderman franchise was barely even cold yet. So I went in to denial.

Unfortunately, I gave over to the geek side a long time ago, and if you dangle a Marvel movie in front of me for long enough, sooner or later I’m going to cave. And I did. And I’m not even sorry.

The only criticism I can think of for The Amazing Spider-Man is its dated sounding title. And we can’t really blame them for that since the obvious choice was taken.  In fact, disloyal though it may feel to say it, I think I like it better…Sorry Tobey.

Before I talk about the movie, I want to say a couple of  words about the cinema I saw it in. We went to The Everyman in Baker Street, and I wanted to give it a quick plug for all my fellow Londoners looking for a slightly different cinematic experience.  It’s a cute little theatre (one of 9 in London) with two cosy screens and a basement bar.  It was a big contrast to my last movie outing to the Imax, but it was a really friendly and exclusive feeling atmosphere, particularly on a Monday night when there were only a few of us there. Definitely a recommend if you happen to be a Londoner. Check out the website here.

Seeing the film in such a small theatre also meant I saw it in 2D rather than post production 3D. And I can say with 99% certainty that I don’t think I missed out on anything. I can think of one moment that was put in to make the 3D seem worthwhile. And it would have been gimmicky. There’s no need for this film to be in 3D, so if you have the choice save yourself the extra ticket price.

Right, on with the review.

The big question with any reboot is always can the new guy do it better than the old guy?  In this case, I’m happy to say that Andrew Garfield makes an amazing Spiderman (lol geddit?)  Perhaps slightly too pretty for Peter Parker, but he is so fantastically socially awkward that his geek chic feels plausible.  The characterisation of Spiderman also felt a lot more like the comics (or the cartooons that I grew up with) giving him more cheesy wise cracks and finally managing to make him feel young. One thing that the previous films never quite captured was that Parker was only supposed to be a kid, and that while “with great power comes great responsibility” he also had fun with it. Particularly in the 2nd and 3rd films (AKA Spidey: the EMO years) he was a little bit too serious and strung out all the time. Garfield manages to balance a sense of fun with the gravity of suddenly being depended on, without becoming too dogged by it.  I also liked that fact that this film plays more in to the vigilante idea, in a kind of Daredevil/Batman way; letting us see Peter develop his webshooting tech and making his suit. It gives a grounding and a sense of realism so often missing in comic book movies which, despite their fantastical plot lines, need that anchor in order for the audience to relate.

As far as the plot goes, the basic origin story is the same, but with some added dark past to Peter’s parents and slight re jigging of the facts (more hard core geeks can explain which of the many comic incarnations we’re following here).  There’s no MJ though.  Instead we’re given Gwen Stacey, who is a fairly similar character if we’re honest, but just so happens to work in the lab of the guy who you can tell from the first second you see him is going to turn evil. Rhys Ifans plays a great Curt Connors, fulfilling all the standards of slightly tortured scientist trying to do good and cocking it up most spectacularly and the design for The Lizard was good, managing to stop him looking too much like Godzilla (but still giving them the opportunity to throw in a joke about it.)

The action sequences are well choreographed, and while we’ve seen Spidey swinging through rooftops before it still looks pretty cool, especially in the first person view shots which I suspect were put in for 3D but look just as good without the poppy out bits.  I’ve got to give a nod to the ever fantastic James Horner too, for a score which compliments the story arc perfectly, particularly in the opening prologue.

The Amazing Spider-Man is simply a really good comic book movie. In the Age of the Geek when all things nerd are on the rise, we are being treated (or subjected, depending on how you look at it) to a cornucopia of graphic novel adaptations, which don’t all manage to pull off their leap to the bandwagon, but this one does.  You might not be a Marvel fan, or you might think you’ve seen Spiderman before, but even if comics aren’t your thing, I can recommend Amazing Spider-Man simply as a solid blockbuster. A great way to spend a couple of hours in what has turned out to be a hideously soggy Summer.

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Posted on June 18, 2012. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , |

In my last post I had a big rant about open endings and leaving questions unanswered. A couple of days after that I watched Cloverfield, a film notorious for leaving its audience guessing and one which I remember very much dividing opinion at the time of its release. I went in to it expecting to come out  much the same as I did with Prometheus, but actually I was pleasantly surprised.

Cloverfield manages to do what Prometheus failed at: keep a sense of mystery and intrigue without being entirely frustrating.  We may never be explicitly told where the monster came from, but we’re given enough hints during the film to be able to come up with our own ideas, just like the characters in the film itself have to. It’s this factor which is so crucially missing from Prometheus. It’s fine to leave questions open for your audience to answer, but you need to give them something to work with.  Cloverfield famously had the viral campaign which took place months before it’s release, setting up a variety of fake websites, companies and advertisements to give clues as to what was behind the film.  I missed all of that, and yet I was still able to piece together what I think was supposed to be going on.  Just like with Prometheus, I also hit the blogs and message boards to find out stuff I might have missed, but while with the former I mainly found rants of confusion and half guessed theories, for Cloverfield there were obvious clues within the film and virals that gave the answers I was looking for.

Enough comparing it to Prometheus.  The film itself is so much better than I had given it credit for that I feel the need to talk it up a bit.  The Blair Witch style hand held camera work is often an issue for a lot of filmgoers, but I really liked it in Cloverfield. It put the audience right in there with the action, including us in the group and making everything more real. It’s the realism of Cloverfield that is its greatest strength.  No mean feat for a film about a giant monster from who-knows-where going on a rampage through New York.  It’s basically Godzilla from ground level, and while that means the plot is hardly something new, the story is told in a very new way.  We’re so used to seeing how America saves the world in these situations that it was really intriguing to see it from a much smaller perspective for once.  While Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were uploading Mac compatible viruses in Independence Day, it’s very unlikely that your average Joe on the street had a clue what was going on. They were just scared, confused and trying to survive, which is the story that Matt Reeves is telling.

The cast of relative unknowns are all strong. I liked that our hero Rob didn’t suddenly become excessively strong/emotionally stable/develop superpowers as is often the case with Average Joe heroes in disaster movies. And while the female characters did fulfill the industry standard of crying a lot, they weren’t just sobbing eye candy.  I also likes the odd interjections of black humour from camera man Hud, who is perhaps the most real character of them all. While we rarely see his face, his continual monologue reflects how  most of us (if we’re honest)would react if a giant lizard thing suddenly started picking off our friends and throwing bits of the Statue of Liberty at us.

aA for the monster itself, it’s a well known fact that as soon as you reveal the Big Bad you’ve lost your tension.  The mechanical Jaws was nowhere near as scary as the one we were picturing in our heads; so I was surprised that we got to see what the internet affectionately call “Clover” so early on in the film.  And yeah, she does look like Godzilla, but no matter how much they worked on that design, it was always going to be compared to Godzilla, so we can’t really blame them for that.  There’s only so many half-believable giant lizard things you can come up with.  Anyway, this film isn’t really about the Big Bad, it’s about the people, and that’s what it does so well. It’s a small band of friends just trying to get through this with no attempts to take it on single handedly and save the universe, the same simple idea that made Shaun of the Dead so successful.

There is a wodnerful attention to detail in Cloverfield too. The film runs at 80 minutes, the length of a standard video tape, andis littered with subliminal imagery from other monster films and the aforementioned viral campaign.  It’ll definitely take a couple of watches to catch them all.

If like me, you ignored Cloverfield due to the backlash it received, maybe now is the time to check it out.  Especially if you’re feeling let down by Prometheus, because as far as I’m concerned, this is a much better thriller, with both a sense of scale and claustrophobia, and capturing ambiguity in a way that Ridley Scott failed so spectacularly at.

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Avengers Assemble (3D)

Posted on May 3, 2012. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This has taken me a couple of days to sit down and write for two reasons: 1) revision sucks. 2) I needed to calm down a bit so that the whole review wasn’t just the word “awesome” in 72 pt font.

We all know I’m a Marvel geek. And that I’ve been looking forward to this film pretty much since the dawn of time. I first wrote about it back in 2010 when it was just a glint in a studio execs eye, but since then we’ve had a pretty much relentless build up in Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America.

Despite my undying love for Stan Lee and all that springs from his page, I did start to lose the faith a bit as the much awaited climax drew closer. Captain America suffered with a slightly ploddy script, (although it’s not a bad film and benefits from a second watch) and although I seem to anger everyone I know when I say this, I found Thor undeveloped and was a bit skeptical about the central role Loki had to play in the final film.

I needn’t have worried. Not even the 3D could put me off this film. In fact, it was a rare case of non gimmicky use that wasn’t too distracting (or maybe I’m getting tolerant in my old age).  Avengers is simply a brilliant bit of comic book fantasy that gets everything just right.  As I’d hoped, mixing the characters together allowed the shortcomings of some to be made up by others. Thor didn’t seem so two dimensional when they played his fish out of water against Captain America’s child of the wrong time.  And the budding bromance between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was a thing of beauty.

There were so many fantastic geek out moments (I was about one “glaiven” short of a full Professor Frink).  Joss Whedon plays to his strengths and delivers just what the fans want to see. The big montage of all our heroes “suiting up” for their first proper battle scored a whole load of nerd points.  As did each new moment of our collection of demigods, suped up mortals, ginormous green rage monsters and billionaire genius playboy philanthropists meeting for the first time. The crossing over of characters, themes and even tech from the individual movies is really well handled, managing to amalgamate the work of several different writers and directors in an impressively seamless way.

Alongside the big four, we also have some important supporting characters. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been given ever increasing amounts of screen time with each new movie, and his dry wit and dead pan demeanour have turned him in to one of my favourite characters. Samuel L Jackson finally got to make it out of the stingers too and get some real work, making a suitably shifty Nick Fury.  In Iron Man 2, I found Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) little more than some black PVC doing an inexplicable amount of lunging, but she found some depth in Avengers and became not only an interesting character but one who could hold her own against the more developed favourites. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye also managed to fit in nicely, without falling in to the X Men pit of too many heroes. The chemistry between him and Black Widow was well cultivated and  understated enough that it set up for future inevitable plotlines without shoving it down your throat.

The story is everything you want, fast paced, full of action and equipped with witty one liners to keep things moving. It’s about as close as I think anyone has come to making a film that watches like reading a comic book feels. The final showdown is just fantastic, and I loved the way we swung through the action to focus on different characters and individual battles. It’s kind of like a cross between the sentinels fight in Matrix Revs and Pelennor fields from ROTK. Which is just as cool as it sounds. And has someone who has (shamefully) still not actually seen any of the Hulk films, it was pretty fantastic to see the big guy up on screen doing what he does best.

Even if you’re not a Marvel geek you need to see this film. You just do.  It’s definitely one of the big events of the cinematic year, and Whedon has turned out a proper Blockbuster which has just about everything you could want in a movie. And Robert Downey Jr. 😉

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In Bruges

Posted on January 14, 2012. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

(It’s in Belgium)

In Bruges has been on my to watch list for a really long time. I remember seeing a trailer for it when it first came out and thinking it looked good, but somehow I got put off by a couple of bad reviews and never quite managed it.  It’s stayed on my mind though, and thanks to the magic of Christmas I finally got my hands on a copy of the DVD.

Perhaps what confused the people writing those few bad reviews I read was that In Bruges was marketed (at least in part) as a comedy.  And yes, it is a comedy. But a very black one which looks at death, suicide, redemption and the nature of humanity.  Those themes don’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but the genius of Mark McDonagh’s writing leaves us with a wonderful film that flips effortlessly between moments of raw emotion and pure laughter.  It’s little wonder that it won the BAFTA for best screenplay and also got an Oscar nod.  The script is pretty much perfect.  Every time it’s at risk of getting too heavy, a quip breaks the tension, but not in such a way that it undermines the motion or the meaning in what is going on.

The idea of Bruges as a kind of purgatory for our main character, Ray, is clever and done with incredibly delicacy.  I also love how we aren’t really introduced to the characters, just thrown in with them, with everything we need to know about them  revealed through snippets of conversation.  You get to know the protagonists in much the same way you get to know people in life, which adds realism to an already earthy plot.

All the clever writing in the world can’t save bad acting, but luckily the three central characters are played by three great actors: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes.  I’ve written before about how highly I rate Farrell as an actor, and I think this film is a huge testament to his talent.  He plays Ray with a childlike innocence which is endearing and all the more striking given what we learn about him during the film.  Like the writing, he manages to find a perfect balance between humour and pathos, creating a character who is entirely sympathetic yet in another film could easily be the villain.  Gleeson has similar qualities as Ken, taking a more fatherly role to Farrell’s child, while Fiennes manages to give humanity to a character who could easily be written off as a psychopath.  The brilliance of In Bruges is that you really care about, and like, all the characters, even though we are never deceived about the bad things they have done.  Even the supporting cast; racist dwarf Jimmy and drug dealing thief Chloe, have us rooting for them.

The plot also keeps you on your toes, so that you’re never quite sure where things are going to go next.  It’s not so much that there are lots of twists, more that like the characters, you can’t really see how they’re going to get out of the situation they are in.  It’s a fantastic film and I’m glad I finally got around to seeing it because it’s going straight on to the Movies to see before you die list.

Happy New Year Everyone!

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Posted on December 22, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , |

Hooray for Christmas holidays! My long absence from the cinema has finally come to an end, and what a film to do it with.

It’s no secret that I loved the last Sherlock film, In fact, I was so emphatic about it that Ross suggested I might be working for their promo department.  So I’ve been excited about the sequel ever since I discovered they were filming it down the road from my flat.  With all the positive feedback from the first film, it had a lot to live up to, and as RDJ said himself “sequels usually suck,” so this film really needed to deliver. Luckily it does.

Game of Shadows has everything we want from this franchise.  Great one liner humour combined with some more slapstick comedy, a convoluted plot with enough clues for the audience to think they’re on the brink of solving it before we realise we’re nowhere near as clever as Holmes, and a fantastic Victorian bromance between Holmes and Watson.

The chemistry between Jude Law and RDJ was what made the first film so wonderful, and in this film they’ve managed to build on it without overplaying it. There are some lovely moments, both humourous and more serious, which add heart to the storyline.

As for the supporting cast; Noomi Rapace is good as Sim and Stephen Fry does a good turn as Mycroft, although it’s hard to see him as anything other than Stephen Fry.   After all the furore over who would play Moriarty following the first film, and the melodramatic secrecy with which they hid the actors face both in the first film and during initial work on the second, it could almost be a let down that Jared Harris is revealed with fairly little ceremony (and that he isn’t a big name Hollywood superstar).  I’ll admit when I heard who was playing the infamous Napoleon of crime I was a little disappointed because I was expecting something different, but Harris earns his place in the movie and is a good foil for Holmes.

On to the story.  The plot is at times hard to follow, and about three quarters of the way through I did find myself trying to make sense of which diplomat did what to whom and why this was a bad thing.  Pretty much everything is explained by the end though, and a second watch coupled with a bit more post game dissection with my sister should tie up any loose ends.  The action comes thick and fast, as we would expect from Guy Richie, and there are some awesome set pieces.  Anyone who has seen the trailer has seen most of the train scene, but for me the chase through the woods is a fantastic piece of cinema.  The use of slow motion is clever and adds just the right emphasis to certain moments, making it a real edge of the seat sequence.  The final showdown between Holmes and Moriarty is brilliantly executed too, playing with the Holmes voiceover device to turn the fight in to a proper meeting of minds.

The story is basically the same as LXG (for those who’ve seen it, and no, I’m not going to start that debate again) but obviously with a bit more work gone in to it, and based on one of Conan Doyle’s more notorious books.  Despite not having read the book (surprise surprise) I did know where we were heading and so I was really happy with how the ending was handled.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but the last scene definitely drew a gasp from me and those around me, and was the perfect way to bring as neat a close as possible to a necessarily open ending.

Finally a few words on music. I love the score to Holmes; it conjures up Victorian London brilliantly.  Hans Zimmer can basically do no wrong, but he manages to get a great balance between a period feel and a punchy accompaniment to the on screen energy.  The nods to Don Giovanni are also a nice little in joke for musos.

I probably don’t need to do much work to convince you to go out and see this film.  It’s a great pre-Christmas movie and I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.  Roll on Sherlock 3.

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Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Posted on November 7, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

Another quickie review for you, this time a movie which as been sitting on my to watch list for a while.  I’m going to apologise in advance for how badly written this is. I’m sort of ill, tired and hoping that you’ll have the energy to turn my words into something resembling a coherent thought.

Scott Pilgrim is in danger of falling into the Juno trap or trying to be that little bit too indie.  However, I reckon it just about gets away with it.  The script is funny and off beat with quotable lines for the cult fans, and it features a selection of “alternative” characters with ironic clothes. For me the best thing was the use of animation though.  The video game sequences are a lot of fun, with each opponent bringing a new style (my favourite being Vegan superpowers), but I also liked that the surrealist kind of world carried over into the “normal” lives of the characters as well.  The pop up bits of information about each of the characters as we’re introduced to them is a good example of little video game quirks working their way in.  The overall effect is that of watching a comic strip, with clever editing making you feel like you’re moving from panel to panel and quips from Evil Exes that definitely belong in big white bubbles.  Why exactly the Evil Exes have it in for Scott is never explained, nor do we know if this is Scott’s imagination or real, but we accept it because of the dreamlike world we have come to inhabit.

Having never read the books, I can’t compare, but I’m reliably informed that it manages to stay pretty true and the use of original artwork no doubt helps with that.  Although this is a movie for gamers, you don’t need to be  hardcore  to get the jokes. I’m sure there were references that went over my head, but at the same time there were other little gamer tropes that raised a smile.

The characters themselves are fairly two-dimensional, but the whole film is a 2D world brought to life so it actually enhances the fantasy feel. Michael Cera play s the same character he always does, managing to stay hopelessly awkward on the right side of annoying.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead is well cast as the quirky Ramona; a character who is not that original but who she manages to keep fresh.  For me the star of the show though is Kieran Culkin as Scott’s roommate Wallace.  I haven’t really seen anything with him in before (I’m told I need to see Igby Goes Down) but he was undoubtedly my favourite character.  Again, dry-witted gay roommate isn’t necessarily original, but the film relies on familiar characters in an unfamiliar setting and Wallace is a good proxy for the audience.  Chris Evans, who I have been vaguely unimpressed with in the past, surprised me with some good comedic moments, as well as making me geek out at the idea of Scott fighting both Captain America and Superman (Brandon Routh) during the movie.

Scott Pilgrim is always compared to Kick Ass and there seems to be a bit of a consensus that the latter is the better movie.  When I see it, I’ll let you know where I stand, but for now I’ll say that Scott Pilgrim is a brilliantly different movie which I can definitely recommend, whether you’re a gamer geek or are just looking for a twist on the traditional rom-com format.

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Real Steel

Posted on October 21, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , |


First of all, a big thank you to the couple of hundred of you who’ve carried on visiting this site despite my appalling lack of updates. I won’t whine about my degree anymore.
Today I went to see Real Steel at the IMAX. This was a doubly exciting experience because a) It involves Hugh Jackman teaching robots how to punch each other and b) I’ve never been to the IMAX before.

When I first saw the trailer for Real Steel, my first thought was this looks like the one cool bit of Transformers but with very little chance of Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, which can only be a good thing.

Having just returned from the cinema all I have to say is this: YYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Real Steel is the cinematic equivalent of drinking 8 cans of Red Bull.  I am on such a buzz right now that I’ve completely forgotten about how earlier today I basically fell asleep trying to write-up my lecture notes.  A significant proportion of the film is given over to people yelling/cheering/screaming and one epic moment of Hugh Jackman shouting “BRING IT!” that it’s almost impossible to resist joining in. If I hadn’t been scared that I would be thrown out I probably would have been on my feet on numerous occasions.

It’s just the perfect adrenaline junkie movie. It opens with a robot fighting a bull. Seriously. Bot vs Bull. Who get’s away with that?! But it’s amazing. And every fight is so ramped up and energy fuelled that you can’t help but get sucked in. I think the IMAX’s epic screen definitely helped with that, and I strongly recommend you see this movie in a cinema on the biggest screen you can, but on top of that the camera angles put you right in there with the baying crowd so that you feel the full force of every mighty hydraulic assisted punch.

Scratch the surface of this film and you wont find much, but that’s exactly what makes it so good. I was a bit worried at first when Hollywood staple plot padding the good ol’ Daddy Issues were brought in to add some drive, but thanks to perhaps my favourite on screen kid ever (Dakota Goyo, who looks so much like baby Anakin Jake Lloyd I almost don’t believe he’s a different person) it never gets in the way of the steel crunching action that we all came to see.

At times the dialogue is so cheesy it’s practically painful.  But you don’t care. This is a film that doesn’t take itself seriously. Even Hugh Jackman plays most of it with a wry smile on his face that says, “Yes, I’m boxing with robots, but don’t pretend you wouldn’t rather be watching this than some deep and meaningful awards chaser.”  He’s not exactly stretching his acting muscles, but given how ripped the rest of him is in this movie I think we’ll let him off.  When it does get it right though, there are some really nice moments, my particular favourite being the exchange between father and son at the door, which has all the right sign posts for the classic redemption arc but with none of the saccharine.

Evangeline Lily is basically there to cry, cheer and wear shorts. She does all these things very well.  But this movie isn’t about her. Strip it down and you’ve got your basic underdog fighter claws his way to the top. The  twist being that our junkyard dog is literally a heap of scrap metal.  Huge kudos though for doing what Transformers never could and getting me to care about a lump of iron. I don’t know whether it was the blue doe eyes or the fact that he was serving as the personification of our estranged family, but I really wanted that little robot to keep swinging punches.

The plot is predictable as expected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t engaging. The big final showdown fits pretty much to formula, but I was still holding my breath every time things took a turn for the worse and equally thrilled when Jackman step up for the big finish.  The one thing that did surprise me I don’t want to spoil, but for those who have seen it, the way they capture Atom’s “flair” is definitely the best thing to happen on a big screen in a long time. 😉

The look of the film is also impeccable. The CGI is seamless and interacts beautifully with the surrounding environment. The setting in the not-too-distant future is also good, with references to historic fights in the late 20-teens, allowing the super advanced tech to seem that little bit more plausible.

As you can probably tell from this stream of consciousness set of superlatives, I’m still on a pretty big high from this film, but I wanted to write this as soon as possible to try to get that feeling across to you. What we have in Real Steel is a flawlessly uplifting popcorn movie that I could happily watch on repeat without ever getting bored. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It’s Hugh Jackman punching robots. And it’s fricking awesome.

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District 9

Posted on July 31, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , |

This one has been sitting on my shelf for far too long so I thought it was about time I sat down and watched it.

*Although there’s no explicit spoilers in here, if you haven’t yet seen the film you may want to read with caution*

The thing that struck me most about District 9 is how real it feels.  Which is no mean feat for a movie about aliens.  The documentary style  gives a realistic setting to begin with, but it’s the characterisation that drives the message home.  Director Neill Blomkamp uses unfamiliar actors so as not to fall into that trap of not being able to separate the famous face from the character, and in Sharlto Copley, who plays our leading man Wikus he has found the perfect everyman.

Our first introduction to Wikus paints him as  good-natured, if a little naive and bumbling, and the initial interviews seem more focussed on the early years of the alien settlement; but a subtle tone shift starts to build a sense of unease, as Wikus becomes more frequently referred to in past tense.  The fact that I found myself thinking, “oh no, what’s going to happen to him?” is a testament to how quickly Blomkamp grabs hold of the audience and makes them sympathise with his man.

The transformation of Wikus, aside from the physical, is wonderfully subtle and yet at the same time very striking.  He goes from a very gentle man to one who is all too familiar with violence.  We are exposed to increasingly gory images along with him, so that we almost become desensitised in a similar way.  Again the documentary style aides this kind of symbiotic relationship we have with the character, as we feel more connected, although as the film progresses the trope becomes less prominent.

It’s not enough for us to just care about Wikus though, we need to care about the aliens too.  Blomkamp could have taken the easy road by making them easier on the eye or more humanoid in appearance, but that would have undermined the theme of prejudice and fear that is what makes this movie more than just another alien flick.

The so-called “prawns” aren’t pretty to look at. Their language is unintelligible and not subtitled until the very end when both the audience and Wikus has come to understand them better.  There is no point during the film where you feel you are looking at CGI monsters, and despite the lack of comprehensible communication the early scenes of family life juxtaposed against the “eviction” process are clearly readable.

Of course it’s no secret that this film isn’t just about aliens.  The setting in Johannesburg has obvious implications, and there is a clear message about racism as well as our attitudes towards immigration.  The aliens are essentially refugees, being held against their will at the same time as being told to go home, and the insights into the inhumanity (if that is the right word) of how they are treated become increasingly worrying, hitting a deeper note when we see that neglect forced upon Wikus

It’s easy to see why District 9 had such a big impact.  It’s unlike any other science fiction movie I’ve seen in that it plays out like a history not a fantasy.  It manages to be emotional in an entirely raw and uncoerced way which can at times make it hard to watch.  It may have taken me a while to finally see it, but I’m glad I have.


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X Men: First Class

Posted on June 14, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

Cinemas. I remember them. They were those things I used to go to all the time before I started my medical degree.

When I first heard about X Men: First Class I dismissed it as Saved By The Bell with mutants.  But when they decided to combine it with the back stories of Xavier and Magneto (previously pitched as two or even three separate movies) it started to get interesting again. So off to Camden Odeon I went. And here’s what I thought.

X Men: First Class is awesome. I know I overuse that word, but it really is. For X Men fangirls/boys it’s got just enough new mutants to keep us geeking out without falling into the trap of Last Stand by having too many.  Of course, some are more interesting than others.  Although Havok’s existence in the movie was cool, the actual character didn’t do much to grab my attention, and Angel (mark 2? ‘cos I know we’ve already had one underused character called Angel) was just wallpaper.  Emma Frost was forgotten for half the movie, but she was cool to have around while she was there,  Banshee was more fun than I thought he’d be, and other more minor characters fulfilled their roles of having cool powers and then getting out of the way of the plot.

From the outset I’ve had issues with the casting of Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I’m not even sure what it is about her, she just feels wrong. It doesn’t help that I’ve always imagined Raven with black hair (as she had in Last Stand, and hence the name) but Lawrence’s version was a bit too whiny and not cool enough for one of my favourite X Men.

That is my only minor quibble. Other than that this film is brilliant.  It’s being hailed as the best of the franchise, and I’ll definitely agree that it’s up there with the best. McAvoy and Fassbender are well matched as Charles and Eric, without whom this movie would be completely flat. McAvoy in particular shines, with a great balance of dry wit and genuine heart that it is easy to imagine transforming into the Patrick Stewart version we know and love.  The brotherly relationship developed between our two leads is very well written, and sets the scene nicely for how they react to each other in later movies. It’s a kind of old fashioned bromance that works well, knowing as we do what the pair will go through together later

Nicholas Hoult as Beast was almost shockingly good.  Beast isn’t a character I’ve ever got that into, and as much as I love Kelsey Grammar I found his portrayal in the third movie clunky.  Hoult however captures a nerdy shyness within a strength of character that finally makes Beast sympathetic.  His Jekyll and Hyde sub plot is a nice device and although the affinity between him and Mystique is obvious he plays it well.

The plot moves along at a good pace and keeps refreshing itself with new obstacles to overcome.  There are a couple of great throwaway jokes which have managed to recapture the sort of humour that made the first two movies great, while still giving us the action set pieces that we have come to expect from the big budget superhero movies.  The final battle is a feast of visual effects.

As perhaps the only blogger on the planet who didn’t trash Wolverine, I found myself trying to fit this film around the timeline of that one, bearing in mind that some characters cross over.  There are a couple of bits I couldn’t quite match up (probably mostly due to not having seen Wolverine in a while) but on the whole I think the continuity of this film with the rest of the series is much better than what has gone before.  There weren’t any gaping inconsistencies that jumped out at me (apart from possibly one that I need to check) and everything else fit in well with my (albeit limited) knowledge of the X Men universe. Made this Marvel geek very happy.

There’s not much else I can say without wandering into spoiler territory.  Most of the reason I love X Men is  centred around a certain adamantium clawed anti-hero , yet I didn’t find myself missing him. It looks like the X Men movies are finally back on track after one or two slight derailments.  All I know is I left the cinema a couple of hours ago and I already want to go see it again. And again.

Oh, and if that was enough for you, this movie contains the best cameo appearance ever. Ever.

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MedFest: The National Medical Film Festival

Posted on May 12, 2011. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , |

Before Christmas, I wrote a series of posts under the heading Medics in the Movies as I went through an elective module on the presentation of doctors in film.  A few days ago, I found out that my tutor from that course, along with a panel of those in the know would be leading a discussion on the public perception of medicine and the impact of the media, including the screening of three short films.

It was a fantastic evening (I’ve literally just got back) and I really enjoyed the discussion both during and afterwards, which included a brief chat with up and coming director and ex-UCL student Mat Whitecross.

What I really took away from the evening though, was one amazing short film, which I’m going to share with you.

Shadowscan was written and directed by Tinge Krishnan and stars Shobna Gulati and Paul Bazely, telling the story of two Junior Doctors on call.  What follows is ten harrowing minutes of two people struggling to cope, in the ultimate example of the doctor becoming the patient; the healer being sick.

It won the Best Short Film BAFTA in 2001 and it’s easy to see why. From the very outset it’s clear the meticulous detail that went into the making of this film. The use of sound at beginning and end is so perfect you barely even notice it, the colour is a sort of bilious greeny-yellow that makes everything on screen seem sickly and the jerky camera movements and extreme close-ups hammer home the feelings of claustrophobia and paranoia. The drowning metaphor is genius.

It’s a powerful piece of cinema, with great performances and a beautifully simple story that is all the more poignant because of its simplicity.  Although the presentation is very surrealist, the message is terrifyingly real.  Krishnan is an ex-doctor, and the dedication “to fallen comrades,” leaves a nasty aftertaste of truth in what could be dismissed as a nightmarish fantasy. (Note: there’s a bit of text and sound missing from the YouTube version.)

It might not be easy to watch, but Shadowscan is one of the best made films, (not just short films) I’ve seen in a long time. And I’m glad that someone drew my attention to it. I hope you appreciate me returning the favour.

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