Ice Age 4 – Review

Ice Age 4 – Continental Drift (2012) 

Directed by Steve MartinoMike Thurmeier. Starring Ray RomanoAziz AnsariJoy BeharPeter DinklageAubrey GrahamQueen LatifahDenis LearyJohn LeguizamoJennifer LopezHeather MorrisSeann William Scott.

On its fourth outing the saga begins to feel a little bit tired, the formula is wearing slightly thin and as the subtlety and freshness are obviously long gone, it all begins to merge into one.

There is nothing really wrong  with Continental Drift, but for the first time I felt slightly too old for this type of fare and I almost wished I had a child with me so that I could enjoy the film a lot more than I really did.

The film starts off with the wrong foot straight away, introducing us to so many different characters that at some point I thought I was going to get lost. It’s obviously trying to pull together all the threads from the various earlier episodes, but by doing that not only it delays the actual story, but also it makes it feel clunky, chaotic, crowded and a bit confusing, and given its target audience that is inexcusable (you may argue that the target audience probably watch the previous parts almost daily on DVD and they are not lost at all…).

However once the plot gets going, it all runs quite smoothly, without too many surprises but also without anything offensive or boring.

This is old-style storytelling for kids and there is nothing wrong with that. The baddie is vicious enough, the hero is brave, the music is fitting for the adventure it’s depicting, and just in case you get bored, you can always count on the interludes with Scrat (though, I must say, even those felt slightly re-hashed from the past).

The animation has advanced a bit from the previous instalments, but it’s in the details more than the actual design and film-making. And while the 3D, as in most animated films, works rather well,in the end  it’s just as un-memorable and unimaginative as the rest of the ride.

But I shouldn’t really criticise it: I guess this is what people want from an Ice Age movie: the familiarity, the cosy feeling that comes being together with some old friends, the easy laughs (fewer out-loud ones I must say), the cute animals and at the end of the day even if you feel you’ve seen it all before, your kids will probably love it.

6/10

Cosmopolis – Review

Cosmopolis (2012) 

Directed by David Cronenberg. Starring Robert PattinsonJuliette BinocheSarah GadonMathieu AmalricPaul GiamattiSamantha Morton.

How can anyone enjoy such a self-indulgent pile of unintelligible garbage is really beyond me. A few years ago I used to think Cronenberg was one of the most inventive directors around in America: his early films, though not very accessible in a mainstream sense, have always been at least incredibly imaginative and created some images of nightmares of an almost visceral quality, which would stick in our minds for years and years to come: whether it’s an exploding head (Scanners) or a TV screen literarily eating your head (Videodrome), or piece of ears and fingernails falling off Jeff Goldblum  decomposing body  (The Fly). Even the non-completely successful  Naked Lunch or eXistanZ despite their absurdity, were intriguing enough to keep you glued to the chair and had ideas and inventiveness to fill not just one but two films. And then Crash, of course, I film I really hated  and yet I cannot deny its power.

More recently David Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his visceral style for one which is more cerebral… and his nightmarish images have been replaced by tedious logorroic dialogue and by doing that he’s really lost me… It was only a few months ago that his spectacularly dull A Dangerous Method was released. A film that not only managed to bore the hell out of my me, but which also made Michael Fassbender look quite a banal actor: quite an achievement indeed. But if you thought A Dangerous Method was slow, talky and un-cinemtic, Cosmopolis will go you even further and take you to unexplored corners of boredom and self-indulgness, like few films have done before! How could Philip French from the Observer have called it “riveting cinema” is a real a mystery… Are you kidding me?

I would be willing to bet that if the film had been made by a different unknown director, (and not starred Pattinson) hardly anyone would have even noticed it, let alone raved about it as some people are doing.

There are possibly one of two interesting ideas about the film’s concept, which all come from the novel by Don DeLillo, from which the film was adapted: the journey of a multi-bilionarie crossing New York inside a limousine to have a haircut (yes, that it is).

Whether you read Cosmopolis as a premonition for the economic crash or simply as the descent of a man into bankrupcy, there is no denying that this film is one of those clear examples of an adaptation that should have really stayed on the written page of a book. Because once the cumbersome dialogue gets transposed onto the screen, it really begins to show how proposterous and self-indulgent it all is. And unfortunately that’s all the film has to offer: dialogue dialogue, dialogue… and more dialogue. I have nothing against films built around dialogue and speeches (12 angry men is a masterpiece and that takes place inside a room where people talk at each other!). The problem here is that the dialogue in question is so full of itself , so obtuse, so preposterous, so un-real, so arty, and just so uninteresting, that after a while it really starts to go through you, as opposed to you. While watching this film I literarily found myself wondering “What is it they’re actually saying to each other?!”.

Beyond the dialogue, there’s very little else to admire in this film. The cocoon-like atmosphere inside the limousine is not supposed to be real, but it’s jarring at the best, it’s distracting and after about 5 minutes it becomes just tedious. The multitude of characters that come in and out of the journey, all seem to live in some sort of limbo, and despite their obvious differences, all talk with the same monotone voice those uninteresting lines of dialogue. So much so that it’s actually impossible to tell whether anyone is good in this film. I’m sure they are, because they’re all great actors… Sadly, their skills is totally wasted here. Lots of people asked me: “How is Robert Pattinson? Is he good?”. Well you know what? I have no idea? Mainly because that part is playing is so dull, so unreal, so uninteresting, so un-engaging that after a while not even the charm of Twilight-icon is enough to carry you through.

I’m all in favour of film directors trying new things, experimenting with cinema, trying to follow their personal paths, but when it comes to pointless crap like this, they should really spare us from joining their egocentric selfish trip!

This is an insult to all those Pattison fans out there and a deadly kick on the balls to all of us common mortals who happen to stumble across it. They should really pay us to watch this kind of stuff and it should not be the other way round… (actually I might ask Philip French to pay my ticket!).

Stay well away from it, for your own sake. Let’s not encourage Mr. Cronenberg to pull any of this shit on us again!

4/10

The Amazing Spider-Man – Review

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)  4.0_MG_SMALL

Directed by Marc Webb. Starring Andrew GarfieldEmma StoneRhys IfansDenis LearyMartin SheenSally FieldIrrfan Khan.

When the news of a reboot for the Raimi-Maguire Spiderman was first announced (and not just a reboot, but another ‘origin’ story, only 10 years after the first one), the obvious question on anybody’s lips was “Why on earth?”. What followed was a sort of anti-campaign from fans and critics alike: we all seemed to have decided we were going to hate this film, at all costs. When eventually first teaser was released in 2011, with all that badly CGIed, cartoony, extended point of view shot, looking more like a video-game than anything resembling a real film, we had already made up our minds that new incarnation of Spiderman was going to be not just redundant, but the final nail in the coffin for possibly the most beloved superhero of them all.

Well, I am happy to eat all my words back and say that I could not have been more wrong: The Amazing Spider-man is possibly the best Spiderman movie we’ve ever seen (I would have to watch the second one by Raimi again to really work out which one is now my favourite), but more importantly Andrew Garfield is the absolute ultimate Spiderman.

The line that everybody has been saying over and over again to describe this film is that it is a more realistic version of Spiderman (if you can call realistic the story of a man in spandex swinging through the skyscrapers of New York); what director Mark Webb has managed to infuse in it, is not the usual gritty and dark realism we’ve come to expect from those Nolan-directed Batman movies, but one steeped in real characters and real feelings, where people can be hurt both in a physical and emotional sense. And if you thought the Raimi-directed films were love stories first and foremost, and ain’t seen nothing yet!

The comparison with the previous incarnation of your friendly neighbour,  given the fact that we are meant to buy into another origin story so soon after the first one, it’s not just unavoidable but also quite fair. The ghost of Raimi is constantly behind the corner, but cleverly Mark Webb (who has obviously studied his source deeply and intensely) has manage to avoid most of the obvious comparison by giving the story a completely new spin (you will forgive me the pun), steering away from anything which could give us any sense of Déjà vu, making the story and the characters different enough at each opportunity, giving us a new baddie and a new girlfriend too.

While I was watching it, the only thing I felt I was missing from this version, was that sense of wonder and excitement that came with the first one, when Peter was swinging across NY for the first time. But having now seen it all, I am willing to admit that the film is keeping all that for the end and I was just waiting for it because of my knowledge of the 2002 version.

And of course on this one we get the added dimension given by the 3D technology, which seems to be have been created for this kind of films: I’m not your number 1 fan of 3D, but seeing this in an IMAX Theatre, I have have to tell you I found myself flinching from time to time and having a sense of vertigo that I am sure it would not have been so strong if it had been in 2D. So for once, kudos to the gimmick!

The final result is a film that manages to be just as fresh and exiting as if it was a completely new story, and it still manages to keep us guessing, thrilled and entertained throughout.

Somebody may argue that, clocking at around 136 minutes, it is all probably too long, but not me. Never once I felt anything was superfluous or in need of a trim. Andrew Garfield is so good and likeable in the main role and the chemistry with his co-star Emma Stone so sweet and believable (Yes, I know those 2 are together in real life too, and it shows) that I was just happy to be in their company. And even if Mark Webb took his time before the new Spidey costume made its first appearance, I would have been absolutely fine without seeing it for even longer. And if the film works as it does it’s because we do actually spend some proper time with these characters. It’s crucial that those scenes don’t feel rushed.

Rhys Ifans as the one-armed scientist/lizard, has enough screen-time  to flesh out his character into not just your stereotypical baddie, but a proper two-dimentional persona, making that extra twist at the end even more believable  (and giving Alfred Molina from Spiderman2 a run for his money for the top spot on Spidey’s best enemy list).

One the downside, James Horner‘s music, while one one hand was nicely judged on some of the more intimate and poignant moments, felt too saccharin and sweepy in what should have been much quieter scenes, but more crucially, it seemed to lack that Hero-theme which this type of films require. The kind of theme you can still hum by the time you leave the theatre, just like in Superman or Indiana Jones or even Harry Potter  (God, is John Williams really the only composer who’s able to do that?).

I’m also in two minds about the costume itself (I know, now we are on geeky-territory, but what do you expect from a moviegeek writing on his blog?!): though it look cool from far away and even on the poster, more often than not it seemed to fit awkwardly on Garfield’s body, creating strange creases and looking more like plastic than anything else…

The CGI work though has still a few cartoony moments is pretty good, and certainly the best we’ve seen so far in any Spiderman movie. I was pleased to see how little of that video-game-like point of view from that first trailer was actually left into the film. It must have been a case of listening to what the fans had to say and acting consequently.

Three editors are officially credited in the film and that’s always a sign of a film going that’s gone through several permutations. As someone very close to the art of editing I could see that despite those 136 minutes some of the transitions were a tiny bit too quick: the explanation of how Parker was able to make his web seems to be the sequence that suffered more than any other.

But I know, I am really picking needles here! It might not be the most original story you’ve ever seen (well, it not!), but it’s a thrilling romp and thoroughly enjoyable. And yet, despite all the action, the spinning, the spectacle (and the film has a lot of that!) what really shines at the heart of The Amazing Spiderman it’s the relationship between Garfield and Stone: it might be just marketing campaign to draw in the female audience as well as the the comic fans and the geeks, but it also gave the film such an emotional depth that I completely won me over. In fact in a way it’s the simplicity of the story itself that makes this such a pleasure to watch (I did enjoy the Avengers, but I still have trouble at explaining some of that story…).

If you add to all this, Andrew Garfield‘s spotless performance (in fact in a couple of moment really Oscar-worthy! If only Hollywood was brave enough to allow those types of performances in the Oscar race…) the perfectly balanced and well calibrated direction, and some wonderful supporting cast (Martin Sheen, I love you!) and some thrilling visuals, what you get is one my favourite superhero movie ever.

4 Stars (out of 5)

Killer Joe – Review

Killer Joe (2011) 

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Matthew McConaugheyEmile HirschJuno TempleThomas Haden ChurchGina Gershon.

I came to this film knowing very little about it and pretty much spoiler-free (which incidentally it’s always the best way films should be watched). However I was very aware of the director Friedkin‘s pedigree and having seen all those 5 stars flashing on the poster, I was building myself up for something really good, if not a masterpiece.

Unfortunately the film left me not just cold, but actually rather annoyed by how uneven and all-over the place it all was. In the end I just can’t help but be baffled by the critical response that it’s gaining.

It won’t take you long to realise what type of film you’ve stepped into and you’ll be able to tell straight away this is certainly not one for everybody and especially not one for the Matthew McConaughey‘s hard-core fans (who are there anyway?!): within the first 30 minutes of the screening I was in, I watched at least 4 different couples standing up and leaving the theatre.

The people depicted in the film certainly don’t belong to your typical American family. You know the ones I mean: the loyal husband kissing goodnight his lovely wife in her nightgown, always looking as if she’d just stepped out of a 2 hour beauty session and all together having a lovely meal around a dinner table… These are people who don’t really talk to each other, but rather  “at” each other: they shout, swear, lie. They’re happy to plot the murder their own mother, or their own ex-wife, willing to let their own daughter to have first time sex with a stranger in order to pay what they can’t afford to buy.

Friedkin doesn’t shy  away from showing you not just the worst side of everyone, and certainly there is no sugar-coating around any of the depiction of the characters. Just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, let me tell you that the first shot we get of  Gina Gershon, introducing her character as she opens the door to her son-in-law in the middle of the night, is an uncompromising view of her private parts. We get it straight away.

The film indeed did leave me with a quite uncomfortable feeling right form the word go, but not so much because of this approach, of the unlikable characters, or grim subject matter, but more because of the way the actual story was all being handled by the director. I couldn’t quite work out how I was supposed to take all this.

On one hand it was clear that Friedkin was talking about that “America” we rarely get to see in movies: shockingly ignorant, naive, violent and brutal. And while this doesn’t certainly make a pleasurable viewing experience,  I was very willing to go with it. I was constantly being reminded of films like The Killer Inside Me and yet there was something slightly off about Killer Joe. There was something fake about it: at times the characters seemed to be over-the-top caricatures of themselves: hard to like (of course), to care about and more crucially to believe in them.

It was at least 40 minutes into the film that the  audience I was with, started to laugh. Call me thick, but only then I began to realise that all this was actually to be taken as a satire.

Of course, the Killer Joe Cooper himself  is at times is filmed like a character from a comic book, and yet other times the camera lingers on him for very long takes, giving the film a much more grounded sense of reality.

But this is a long step away from the harsh realism Friedkin‘s previous masterpieces, like The French Connection and to a degree even The Exorcist, which despite the absurdity of its story, always treated its subject matter with so much respect  and honesty that it actually felt incredibly real (which is what made the film so powerful).

What we have in Killer Joe is a weird and uneven hyper-version of reality: and we as the audience are left to watch it from the outside, as you’d probably watch some kind of freak show.

But this isn’t another Natural Born Killers,  Killer Joe constantly shifts (especially in the first part) from real to almost parody and even slapstick (the joke with the jacket, however funny, seems to belong to a different film). Some people may argue that this is called “being subtle” and it’s what makes Killer Joe a masterpiece, I personally call it being “all over the place” and eventually found it very hard to digest.

Don’t take me wrong, I am not against satirising violence or ignorance: the Coen Brothers did it in Fargo with splendid results, but while in Fargo there was no fudging, just a perfect unity of tone right from the start, here I couldn’t help feeling that this was a film made by different people pulling in too many directions. All the subplots to do with Emile Hirsch‘s character (which is incidentally the most under-developed in the story) belong to one kind of film, while Thomas Haden Church (who once again plays an idiot) belongs to a different one, and of course Matthew McConaughey seems to have his own show all together.

It all comes together into a final act which is (intentionally) so over-the-top that it cannot leave you but completely baffled. The audience I was with went absolutely wild as if they were watching Airplane! or a Naked Gun movie, which leads me to think I am certainly in the minority of those people who didn’t find it all that funny. It’s a completely personal thing, I understand, but I find it quite fun to laugh at what’s essentially rape… Whatever the message underneath might be.

The episode with the Kentucky Fried Chicken leg will probably remain imprinted in your head for years and years to come, and it might even become as classic moment in cinema as the Royale with Cheese speech in Pulp Fiction; it’s certainly a non very subtle visualisation of the message the film is trying to carry, but to be honest at that point I had already lost my patience and when the ending finally came, as abruptly as it did, I was as happy to leave the theatre as I have rarely been. Was I offended? Not particularly. That would give the film more credit that I’d like to give it. I just thought it was all a bit pointless.

5.0/10

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