Monday, 26 August 2013

Affleck as Batman – My Two Cents . . .

Joss Whedon’s had his say, so’s Patton Oswalt and even Adam West . . . but now it’s my turn.

In the lead up to this huge casting announcement, there were two directions I thought the new Batman should be cast. They should either play young and, to match the inexperience of that Batman, cast a relative unknown to play him. This could have worked well, I think, as a way of worming this new Batman into the public consciousness, especially when this new incarnation didn't have to support a whole movie by himself.

Or they should play old and go with a ‘Dark Knight Returns’-style out-of-retirement Batman. A role suited to someone older like Bryan Cranston, for example.

Ben Affleck is somewhere in the middle ground.

However, I feel he is in a very interesting place in his career, one that embraces both the old and the young. I feel he has both the experience and the charm to provide a balanced take on the Batman that we've never seen before on the big-screen.

Affleck's experience comes from his critical mauling during the middle of his career (Gigli and Pearl Harbour etc.) and his steady rise back into the business to become an first-rate director. And, through all this, he seems friendlier and more engaging than ever in interviews.

This is why I think Ben Affleck could make a great Batman, but it’s his responsibility to do that. If he has a clear idea of where he wants to take the character then he should stick to it, no matter how much mayhem Zach Snyder and his writers throw into Batman vs Superman. Admittedly, this relies a great deal on his integrity, but I think Affleck’s Batman could stand as a shining light when the movie explodes onto our screens in 2015.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Hunger Games – A Great Adaptation

Adapted from the first book in the immensely popular young-adult trilogy, 'The Hunger Games' is more than just your average blockbuster. The story features a tournament/reality show involving a 24-man fight to the death, and takes what is already a taboo subject - children dying - and pushes it to its limits.

All the action takes place in a voyeuristic future society where the 1% can’t think of anything more exciting to do than watch children fight to the death. There is a satirical edge that runs throughout the film, especially when dealing with societal sadism, and it’s one of the strongest aspects of the film.

For the most part, the performances are also solid, from both the older and the younger cast members. Both Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci bring a bit of experience, and the young stars, Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, perform admirably.

But, it isn't all plain sailing. Gary Ross (director) opted for a hand-held approach to the action - I suppose to give it a sense of realism - but it just leaves the action jerky and confusing, often making it difficult to work out who’s hitting who. Though, it must be considered that this did act as a way for the film to get away with a teen-friendly rating because, with the camera moving so much, you don’t really see any blood and guts. Fortunately, the film is strong enough narratively and emotionally that you kind of forget about the wobbly camera. But, especially towards the beginning of the film, the shaky-cam is very off-putting.

There were a few other, less intrusive, problems - including some dodgy CGI - but these are all quite minor niggles for what is a thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable, teen movie.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Animal Kingdom – Interesting, but Uninvolving

Animal Kingdom is an interesting beast. It tells the story of Josh who, after his mother’s death, finds himself drawn into his crime-ridden extended family, and the film seems to serve as an exploration of the effect a criminal lifestyle can have on the young.

Australian newcomer, James Frecheville, plays Josh as a dull-eyed charisma-vacuum - intentionally or not, I can’t decide – which often makes the film quite difficult to watch, because he always seems so uninterested by everything around him.

But, Frecheville excluded, the rest of the cast are fantastic. Both the big names - Joel Edgerton and Guy Pearce - and the lesser-known Australians really ground their characters in the gritty world the film inhabits. And, ironically, their greatness may be the reason Frecheville's performance is so jarring.

It’s a shame, because the film deals with some really interesting issues. However, there are some that could have been explored in even greater depth, especially the movies sexual politics. There are three main female figures in the film; Josh’s mother (who dies in the first few minutes), Josh's girlfriend (who is led on, lied to and generally treated awfully) and then there’s Josh's grandmother, the most interesting of the three. For the majority of the film, she seems to be the all-powerful matriarch, but in a tragic turn of events we see her for the weak and ultimately power-less figure she is. At the start of the film, she is regularly seen asking her many sons to give her a kiss; at this point, these strange, and surprisingly lustful,  requests seem to reinforce her hold over the family and almost seem like some kind of mafioso gesture of dominance. Later on, however, they are instead viewed as a mother’s desperate attempt to be loved and, ultimately, accepted by the men in her family.

As far as I'm aware, David Michôd (director) chose the name ‘Animal Kingdom’ in reference to the parallels he draws between animals in the wild and the crime-family unit. In the end, that comparison works because Animal Kingdom is full of promise, but, in reality, is really rather dull.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Pacific Rim – The Blockbuster of the Summer

There’s one moment in Pacific Rim - the new film from Guillermo Del Toro (director of Hellboy) - where the pilots of one of the giant robots, or ‘Jaegers’, have a choice between taking the sensible option and running from danger, or doing something ‘crazy’ and hoping for the best. It’s telling that (spoilers) the crazy option works remarkably well, because that’s exactly what Del Toro did with this movie; he took a pretty massive risk, yet we’re left with something magical.

The thing is Hollywood doesn't make movies like Pacific Rim; a mash-up of two obscure Japanese sub-genres, the ‘Mecha’ films (giant robots) and the ‘Kaiju’ films (giant alien monsters). The fact that somebody had the balls to spend $180 million dollars on a genre film like that is insane, really, but thank God they did.

Like ‘The Avengers’ last year, Pacific Rim has an irresistible grin-inducing charm and it’s the main reason why it’s the best blockbuster of the year so far. The penultimate fight is the highlight of the film and it had me squealing with delight as 250-foot robots traded blows with enormous monsters.

There are a number of tonal discrepancies inherent to a project such as this, yet the film does an admirable job of balancing them all out. Admittedly, the main draw is the totally ludicrous action, however there is also a certain amount of time that needs to be dedicated to the science-fiction-heavy mythology. Then, there is also the humanity that Del Toro instils into these characters; you want the Jaegers to pummel the Kaiju into the dust because of the relationship built up with the pilots. Though the greater goal is to save the world, it’s the pilot’s safety that matters, and this is just one example of the intimacy that shines through the incredible scale of the film.

Del Toro is well-known for his attention to detail, and to see him continue that tradition with so many resources at his disposable is a wonder to behold. The entire film is exquisitely designed and crafted, and - while it may be unnoticeable, at times – it makes the movie feel complete and gives the sense that it could live on without an audience watching.

For a film that relies so heavily on computers to exist, Pacific Rim is remarkably human and it’s this that makes it as emotionally thrilling as it is technically and visually mind-blowing.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Wolverine: Origin #1 Review

It still saddens me that comic book movies make ridiculous amounts of money, yet their inspiration is still seen as such a niche medium. There really is some great stuff out there in the oft-infantilized world of comic books, both superhero related and not. 

So I'm going to give you a review of the first issue of Wolverine: Origin, a well-loved version of the backstory to one of pop-cultures favourite, and most well known, heroes. Oh, and he's got a movie out at the moment . . .

This book reads more like a bite-size Dickens novel than a superhero origin story, but it’s a really interesting direction that Paul Jenkins, the writer, has taken. The Dickensian social commentary Jenkins manages to deftly instil in the story is all ably supported by Richard Isanove's gorgeous Americana artwork. He expertly creates a beautiful country feel and gives this opening issue a sense of place that any number of words would've struggled to do justice to. A delight to read. 

If this has persuaded any of you to read this excellent story, you can either find the complete trade on Amazon or, if you'd prefer a digital (and cheaper) version, you can use a great site called Comixology which is where I read it.