Film Articles

Top 10 Stop-motion Scenes of All Time

Published on WhatCulture.com (24 Sep 12) for SONY Home Entertainment release of Community Season 2 

Do you remember being a child trying to make Transformers out of play-dough? It was fun and messy but insanely hard to do, now imagine making entire sets, characters and films out of it, doesn’t seem as fun anymore does it? However there are wonderful people who persevere and create gorgeous films, music videos and TV shows by moving clay or objects a tiny bit in each shot and we get to enjoy all the pleasures of their painstaking work. Despite being inanimate objects it’s amazing that stop-motion can be scary, make us laugh out loud or cry and even make us dance so join me in finding out the best examples of this fascinating process. To celebrate the release of Community Season Two on 24th September 2012 via Sony Home Entertainment get your play-dough ready as we count down the Top 10 best Stop-Motion scenes of all time!

10. The Adventures of Mark Twain (1986)

The Mysterious Stranger Scene:

Stop-motion looks spooky. (We’ll touch on this a few times in the list) It has a way of making things look enchanting but unnatural which is why it’s such a great way of giving children fantastical dreams or nightmares. ‘The Adventures Of Mark Twain’ is by Will Vinton and is a story which covers various snippets or short stories by one of the greatest American authors, all in stop-motion. It’s a mixed bunch of scenes with some feeling a little stunted by the medium however there are some truly inspiring moments which will stay with you forever. The Mysterious Stranger scene is one of these, it is beautiful, clever and horrifying all rolled into one and manages to teach children the true lesson in life, ‘You will die’. Click the link to watch the clip and see why I can still picture Satan’s face some nights when I fall asleep remembering those poor little clay people. Shockingly good.

9. Star Wars (The Original Trilogy 1977/80/83)

HoloChess Scene:

Star Wars may now be a smaltzy, CGI, Jar-Jar Binks thorn in our side but the original trilogy had some incredible practical effects which still stand up today. The AT-AT’s crossing the tundra on Hoth, the Rancor being a big scary alien on Tatooine and the TaunTaun’s running around being used as sleeping bags are all great uses of Stop-Motion but they’re not the one that sticks with me. As a child Star Wars is like catnip, it’s got everything you could want; cowboys, princesses, bad guys, robots, death, peril, love, incest and all set in space but it also made chess cool! Who can say that this scene didn’t make you want to play chess as a child and just like the hover-board from ‘Back To The Future’ you know you still want one.

8. Hitch-hiker’s Guide to The Galaxy (2005)

The Wool Scene:

Hitch-hiker’s is a good film, it doesn’t do justice to the book but that’s impossible, what it does do is use the book to make a really enjoyable film. There are some epic casting choices and some really standout moments in the film basically every scene which stars Alan Rickman’s ‘Marvin the Paranoid Android’ but the scene which sticks with me is when the Probability drive starts playing around. The animation is just so beautifully rendered and harks back to other Hammer & Tongs works with that handmade feel. It’s a great use of stop-motion in a live action film and who wouldn’t want to cuddle the little woollen Marvin?

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The Heist Sequence:

It’s always going to be interesting when an offbeat, American auteur like Wes Anderson attempts to tackle not only a fresh film making method but also one of Britain’s best loved authors, luckily for us it wasn’t just interesting, it was brilliant! The film has so many wonderful things going for it whether it’s Bill Murray as a gruff badger or a Jarvis Cocker puppet singing around a campfire so it’s hard to choose a standout scene. Saying that the whole sequence when Mr. Fox and his all star cast of friends attempt a perfectly executed Hollywood heist homage is a pure visual treat. It’s funny, clever and most of all really impressive considering the director’s usual style of live action film.

6. Moonwalker (1988)

The Speed Demon Scene:

The tag line for Moonwalker is ‘A Movie like no other!’ it should also say ‘Strap Yourself In’ because it really is a bizarre, brilliant and boogie inducing film like…well, like no other. Which other film starts with a retrospective of music videos, takes you on a roller-coaster ride through a Peter Pan-like mind and then has a child napping plot with Jo Pesci and John Lennon’s son? It’s a giddying undertaking that blows you away with the sheer scale of what’s stuffed into ninety minutes especially the Smooth Criminal leaning dance. The Speed Demon scene however fuses 80’s California Raisins style claymation with that old musical chestnut, a dance off! It’s just so weird and wonderful to see MJ going toe-to-toe with a big rabbit and it’s done so well even now it wipes the floor with a lot of CGI creations interacting with actors. Shamone indeed.

5. Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists (2012)

The Bathtub Scene:

Aardman animations could have taken up this whole list, their love for the genre and perfectly balanced family-friendly wit means all their creations are beloved like a British Pixar. Morph, Wallace & Gromit, Creature Comforts, Chicken Run & Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ video are all benchmarks for stop-motion and with their latest offering they’re still hitting new highs…in 3D! That’s right the only film shot in 3D stop-motion on this list means that we now see every leg of ham, pirate galleon and bushy beard in stunning high-definition. The film itself maintains the Aardman blend of wide eyed innocence, animal sidekicks and silliness whilst having some of the best scenes of mayhem and hilarity they’ve ever done. The bath-tub scene itself shows off the kind of roller-coaster thrills that Wallace & Gromit were always getting into but tenfold and the stop-motion looks sensational. OK there are moments of CGI in the film but that doesn’t take away the warmth and hands-on feel that make stop-motion films what they are.

4. Science of Sleep (2006)

The Cityscape Chase Scene:

Michel Gondry is an artist. He’s also a bloody good director and definitely has his own visual style which he usually turns into intricate but very watchable films. Science of Sleep really brings all of his inspirations together; French, Spanish, American, dreams, big hands, love, humour, heartbreak, music and of course stop-motion animation. It’s a very different style to the rest of this list because it has a very Lo-Fi feel using cardboard, tissue paper and felt to fit with the story but this just makes it all the more endearing. I wanted to put any scene where he uses cling film as water because the effect is so beautiful or the galloping horse. It’s difficult because the stop-motion is used throughout the film to enhance the dreamscape but re-watching it the cardboard city is definitely my highlight. It’s incredible how much can be done with such basic tools and for that reason it’s a real pinnacle of the genre.

3. Abed’s Uncontrollable Xmas (Community Season Two – 2010)

Christmas Pterodactyl Scene:

What says Christmas better than stop-motion? OK so it’s not the most intricately designed stop-motion animation ever but the way it completely captures the cast and the sheer enjoyment factor of the show is sublime. Also it’s one of the reasons why we all love Community, the skillful tips of the hat to film & television tropes and the way it executes them perfectly. This is no different, with homages to a plethora of christmas films that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling inside it ticks all the boxes. The scene which stands out has to be the use of a remote-controlled Christmas Pterodactyl to get rid of a baby doll Shirley, it’s just a lovely thing to see silicone models do to each other. In the second season there are many wonderful suprise episodes like this where your love for the cast and the zany dynamic of the show allows it to go into completely inspired comedy territory and makes you laugh all the more for it. A wonderful episode of a great show and one that brings stop-motion into the narrative, as well as having the cutest Chevy Chase teddy bear, who wouldn’t want to unwrap that on Christmas Day?

2. Jason & The Argonauts (1963)

Children of the Teeth Scene:

Ray Harryhausen, the legend. The man who became an inspiration for most animators and monster makers in film today and his creations still look amazing. It’s hard to pick a stand out from the multitude of characters and films he made but this one has to be one of the most powerful. The whole scene plays out terrifyingly with the jittery score and the stunning setting for the battle but it’s when you see ‘real’ skeletons slowly advancing with fully realised emotion that it gets exciting. The way they move, the malice behind the eyes and their high-pitched scream make these one of the best realised stop-motion characters ever. Take a look at the clip by clicking the picture and tell me that a CGI monster gives you those kind of goosebumps.

1. A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Oogie Boogie’s Song Scene:

Aardman are incredible but the true King of Stop-motion working today has to be Henry Selick. His work is so detailed and hauntingly beautiful it’s hard to think of anything that looks even remotely like it. Aside from his biggest success he’s also done incredible work on ‘James & The Giant Peach’, ‘Coraline’, ‘Corpse Bride’ and ‘Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ but he will always be remembered for the marketing sensation that is ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. It’s a great film and despite it’s clever story and wonderful characters it would be nothing like what it is without being so darkly portrayed through stop-motion. It really showcases the medium by not just being charmingly realised models being manipulated exquisitely but also it really embraces the eerie look and nightmare qualities of stop-motion to full effect. Oogie Boogie’s Song is like a smorgasbord of sights and animated treats with neon colours, dancing skeletons, unravelling yarn and the bewitching malleability of Oogie himself. Stop-motion looks unnatural and that’s why it’s so fantastical, long may it continue because I think we’ll desire that creepy feel and fun look for years to come. If only it didn’t take so long to do!

(Originally published on WhatCulture.com)

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Top 10 Movie Pirate Captains

 Originally published on HeyUGuys.co.uk (10th Sep 12) for Sony Hom Entertainment release of Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists)

Pirates. Buccaneers. Charismatic Criminals of the Seven Seas. The wind in your hair, the wheel in your hand and the salt on your face. The Ultimate Freedom. It’s no wonder we’re all fascinated with pirates, they fly in the face of authority, they don’t have to worry about NHS cuts and they get to wear really nice hats! We all say we want to be a pirate but who’d really want to be scrubbing decks all day, making fast the mainsail or sitting in a crow’s nest? We don’t want to be pirates, we want to be Pirate Captains because for the last 60 years we’ve been watching them on screen swagger and bluster their way through films. Sadly most of us aren’t up to this job as we’re not as charismatic, drunk or ruthless as they are so today I’m going to find out which of the scurvy lot would be best to sail the Seven Seas with. So Shiver your Timbers, Heave Ho and pour the Rum as we find the Top Ten Pirate Captains of all time!

10. Captain Nemo (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – 1954)

The Captain: Nemo is definitely ruthless but he also has a Shakespearian way with words killing entire ships of people whilst lamenting the future of mankind and the value of money in the same breath. He’s a gruff old seadog but although he’s consumed by hate he does show rare moments of compassion. He’s a bit sentimental but James Mason does pull the heartstrings when he “Takes the Nautilus down for the last time”

The Crew: Well if we wanted adventure there’s plenty of that aboard the Nautilus but he has a fiercely loyal crew, a rarity in piracy, so you kind of have to go with what he wants and if that’s a watery grave well you better just suck it up and hold your breath!

 

9. Long John Silver (Muppet’s Treasure Island)

The Captain: He’s a wily one like any good pirate should be. Is he good is he bad? Who knows but he does have a lot of style what with the wooden leg, parrot and lovely hat to boot he definitely looks the part. His soft side shows when he does do the whole mentor thing with Jim Hawkins but it seems his main focus is always gold. To be honest though what else should a pirate be focused on?

The Crew: Well he’s not too bad a sort but you always have to worry about anyone who mutiny’s don’t you and he does lead his crew to an empty treasure chest so it’d probably be recession style piracy with Cap’n Silver.

 

8. Blackbeard (Blackbeard’s Ghost)

The Captain: Well he’s a bit rubbish really, he’s a ghost well more a poltergeist so I suppose it would be easy to raid other ships. Peter Ustinov portrays him as a very cordial chap who despite some mischievous tendencies you could probably bring him to your nan’s for tea which isn’t very piratey at all. He does do some good deeds though but maybe that’s only because of the curse he’s under, who knows maybe he went onto set up Pirate Bay like a real bad boy!

The Crew: Bit second rate because he’s a ghost you can’t see him so you’d end up having to infer most of his orders and get a lot done by yourself. A good bet if you’re looking get some Pirate Captain job experience though.

 

7. One Eyed Willy (The Goonies)

The Captain: Firstly he doesn’t stick to his own morals so tread carefully, Goonies ‘Never Say Die’ but Willy has quite obviously shuffled from this mortal coil so he’s a hypocrite we know that. He does tick boxes for dying with a big ‘Aaaararrrr’ piratey look on his face so fair play. One-Eyed Willy must have been a good captain as he has loads of treasure stored on his boat and also the ability to train giant squid which is always helpful if the dishes need doing.

The Crew: He’s obsessed with booby traps so most of your time you’d be spending carving pointy sticks, digging holes, hanging giant boulders and tunnelling death flumes. It’s not exactly piracy but it’s good exercise.

 

6. Captain Blood (Captain Blood)

The Captain: To be honest it’s a bit much to be a good doctor and then become a great pirate all in a relatively short space of time but he’s dashing so we’ll let it slide. I think Blood is a bit of a fish (or pirate) out of water, he looks good waving a cutlass and letting the wind blow his hair but his heart doesn’t really seem to be in it. I think secretly he just wants a nice dental practice somewhere with Arabella and a chance to grow aubergines.

The Crew: Well despite not having the most exciting pirate credentials he does help free most of the crew from slavery so he wins some points there but I think we’d all prefer a bit more rum and a bit less politics.

 

5. Dread Pirate Roberts / Westley (The Princess Bride)

The Captain: Well it’s technically Captains as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ is actually a nom de guerre for several pirates operating under the alias over period of time but hey it’s all good PR and that always works in a pirate’s favour. Dread strikes fear across the seas but seems quite easy to get around by just saying “Please don’t kill me” which does take a bit of the whole scourge of the seas thing. Plus a bandana is no costume for a pirate captain especially one with the prefix ‘Dread’ get a hat mate!

The Crew: Well they’re in on the secret aren’t they so you should have a relatively illustrious career as a pirate and if you get in the current ‘Dreads’ good books you could inherit the mantle which is a lot more than most captains offer.

 

4. Captain James Hook (Hook)

The Captain: It’s all about form with ‘Ol Jim. Good form or bad form he’s like a pirate version of Two-Face with such a selective way of judging actions. Nefarious and cunning, devious and ruthless all rolled into one but boy does he have age issues, he’s obsessed with Peter Pan just because someone younger got one over on him. Like Long John Silver he really rocks out the whole pirate style thing using a dangerous weapon in place of a lost appendage places him in a class of his own but he needs to be careful when using the bathroom!

The Crew: He’s completely ruled by his obsessions so you’d spend a lot of time chasing kids and kidnapping faeries which has it’s advantages as they’re not usually as dangerous as other pirates. However you’d be forever plagued by a hulking great crocodile which has a taste for rum soaked flesh!

 

3. Captain Shakespeare (Stardust)

The Captain: Terror of the skies, dastardly and bad to the bone or so his reputation would have you think but like Dread Pirate Roberts he has a wee secret. He’s homosexual and loves to dress up and dance around his quarters in pink boas. This does nothing to diminish the fact he keeps up his reputation and also seems to make a good profit along with it. He’s not quite our Number 1 but for sheer class and being an unusual good role in Bobby De Niro’s career of late he’s in.

The Crew: Well some would say it’s bad luck to sail the seas/skies with anyone in a dress but he seems to be brash but fair with his crew and anyway they all know anyway but they just allow their captain his whims which can only mean it’s a very happy ship.

 

2. The Pirate Captain (Pirates! In an Adventures with Scientists)

The Captain: Well his name is ‘The Pirate Captain’ which is pretty good going from birth really, it’s like if Ussain Bolt was christened ‘The Running Man’ before they’d even see if he was any good. ‘The Pirate Captain’ looks a bit bumbling but probably because he sounds a lot like a character in a Richard Curtis film which also makes him rather dashing which as we’ve seen is a plus for any good pirate captain. He nearly got our number one spot just because he has parrots, pet monkeys & a luxurious beard but also because most pirates skulked around Jamaica sticking it to the man whereas this one literally takes on the Queen!

The Crew: Well he seems to have troubles with actual names so will just call you something which realtes to your physical appearance but he seems a kind-hearted captain and keeps his ship well stocked with ham which we all know is a pirates 2nd favourite thing to find out what is their favourite thing and who wins our Top Pirate Gold Medallion you’ll find him up next where X marks the spot!

 

1. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy & On Stranger Tides)

The Captain: ‘The immortal Jack Sparrow’, ‘The worst pirate you’ve ever heard of’ and even “Jack Sparrow, The Last Pirate” his reputation precedes him mostly because he fuelled all the rumours about his reputation anyway! Effortlessly cool, rock star status amongst his peers and devilish rogue around those who seek to put an end to his treasure seeking shenanigans. Jack is a true pirate. Like Indiana Jones he doesn’t seem to plan much but without fail is always on some quest or hunt for treasure or fame or both but that’s what we want our pirates to be, oh and he seems to have destroyed most of his moral & rational brain with rum which helps too!

The Crew: Jack may be the best pirate captain around but that doesn’t mean his ship is the best to sail, mostly because he hardly ever seems to be in possession of his own ship. Jack’s not necessarily an evil person but his moral compass is much like his own real compass, it points to what Jack wants most so as a crew member even a loyal one you’re always expendable. It might be a selfish ship but you’ll always find adventure and despite his odorous breath he’s a sucker for a good yarn so just make sure you’ve got a hip flask and some good stories.

(Originally published on HeyUGuys.co.uk)

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Top 10 Reasons To Watch Community

(Originally published on MSN.co.uk (25 Sep 12) for Sony Home Entertainment release of Community Season 2) 

We all know America has the market cornered for incredible drama and fantasy television shows from ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ to ‘Damages’ and ‘Breaking Bad’ but where has all the brilliant comedy gone? Well it’s here and the hilarious hit show ‘Community’ could be the funniest show since the likes of ‘Frasier’ or ‘Friends’.

The Spanish study group are still tearing their way through Community College trying to wrestle their classes, relationships and debilitating character flaws to achieve their chance at the American Dream. There are more rap battles for Abed & Troy, more jaw dropping lines from Pierce and more “Ooh that’s nice” from Shirley. In the second series the show really benefits from longevity allowing for more outlandish episodes, more hilarious insights into Dean Pelton & Señor Chang and some truly genius guest appearances from other TV shows which I don’t want to ruin for you!

The series has aired on Viva & Sony Entertainment TV but if you haven’t caught it yet don’t worry as Community Season 1 is already available and Season 2 will be released on 24th September 2012 via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Around the world the show has been hailed by critics and audiences for it’s ingenuity and ‘game for anything’ cast who genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves whilst making the show which reflects on the screen. Once you’ve watched a few episodes it’s hard to stop and you can genuinely understand why fans flash mobbed the NBC HQ in New York to protest a mid-season hiatus, although with the DVD that’s not a problem.

Community: The Complete Second Season contains tons of hilarious special features, including cast and crew commentary on every episode, deleted scenes, outtakes on every disc, season 2 cast evaluations, “The Paintball Finale: From Script to Screen” featurette, “Creating Wonderland” featurette, animatics and more. It even has DJ Steve Porter remixing the entire first season, an absolute must see!

If you’ve not seen Community yet or have only caught an episode here and there, here are the Top 10 reasons to watch and if you have seen it then you’ll remember how hard you laughed at these the first time around…

 

1. Abed

One of the true great comic creations, Abed has been a stand out character from the very beginning. He is socially awkward, obsessed with films & TV and once you’ve seen him spoof Batman you’ll never watch a Chris Nolan film seriously again! Danny Pudi, who plays Abed, imbues the character with emotion and warmth whilst at the same time showing amazing versatility with impressions, deadpan wit and incredible improvisations. When will Abed & his best buddy Troy be up for adoption?

2. Best of British

Community is an American show, with American details and a majority of it’s homages, tropes and plots are centred around America and it’s unique world-view. However the humour in the show really lends itself to British audiences, it’s full of satire and pithy, dead-pan wit which reveals the shows inspiration from UK Comedy. There are touches of The Office, notes of Monty Python and huge dollops of references to British culture throughout. Richard Ayoade (Moss from the I.T Crowd) even directs an episode in Season 2 and you can see why, it blends the best parts of British and US comedy together to make not just a funny show but one that will undoubtedly be a classic in years to come.

3. Film & Pop Culture Homages

The show is chock full of homages and meta moments where seemingly every television and cinema trope is squeezed for all it’s comedy worth. The wonderful thing is, it never feels forced. The writers, directors and cast all commit to the homages so wholeheartedly and the episodes themselves are so cleverly constructed that you marvel how they fit so much into 21 minutes.

4. Chevy Chase is Funny Again

When you see Chevy Chase in the first episode of Season 1 you worry that he’ll be out of place and make the contemporary humour sag. Worry not, Chevy is a raucous, racist, relentless riot who steals many a scene and delivers his lines with such perfect comic timing you’ll wonder why he’s been gone all these years. A relic from the eighties heyday he may be but it doesn’t show like so many of his contemporaries, here’s hoping he gets Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy & Dan Akroyd onboard so they can be funny again too!

5. Creativity is King

So many comedy shows become stale because they forget that TV and comedy are actually an artistic medium that can be used to make people laugh. Community has some of the most stylistically impressive episodes on TV right now ranging from Claymation Christmas specials to Spaghetti Western shootouts all injected with perfectly tailored jokes. You only have to see the Blanket Fort episode to see the love and enthusiasm for the sublimely ridiculous and beautiful set-pieces that this show does so well.

6. Señor Chang

Most people will know Ken Jeong, who plays the devilishly wonderful Señor Ben Chang, from his portrayal of Mr. Chow in The Hangover films but let me tell you he is even more insane in Community. He is a firework in every single episode flitting from a strange Gollum like creature who just wants friends in one scene to a spitting, shouting loon in the next. He also likes to use his name, Chang, instead of usual words which becomes infectious in your own daily life.

7. Quotes & Catchphrases

On the face of it Community seems to be above the whole catchphrase style of comedy but after a while you realise you’re referring to yourself in the third person like Chang or saying “Cool, Cool, Cool” just like Abed. It isn’t like Little Britain where the catchphrases are rammed down your throat they just evolve naturally and you wonder if they were in the script of just improvised by the cast and then expanded upon. Watch the first two seasons with your friends and tell me you don’t all start saying “Pop Pop” just like Magnitude.

8. Morals

Not since He-Man: Masters of The Universe has there been a show where morals are such a big part of each episode, luckily in Community they’re always delivered with tongue firmly placed in cheek. Like South Park before it, there’s always some truth to the moral outcome of each episode (usually delivered by the well-groomed, chiselled Dad figure Jeff Winger) but it’s done in such an amusing way that morals and life lessons are cool again. I don’t want to dwell on this too much in case Jeff Winger gets any ideas and dresses up as He-Man for the next series!

9. Lessons Learnt

Community seems fluid, it feels like it tests waters and changes things based on what’s worked before and what still works and in doing so it adapts to keep you laughing out loud. We all know from Friends that some characters can become stale overtime and need to be challenged and moulded like Olivia Newton-John in Grease. Community does this in spades with characters like Annie, a straight-laced do-gooder in Season One, who is allowed to evolve overtime and reveal the hilarious skeletons in her closet.

10. It’s not all laughs

You will laugh, a lot. It’s a comedy with an incredible gag rate and wicked lines throughout but at it’s heart it is a show about characters so like the best comedies there is warmth and love behind all the jokes. In it’s own indubitable way it deals with relationships, politics, out-dated beliefs and deep personal issues but it never feels preachy. It highlights the foibles of it’s eclectic cast of misfits and allows you to see the humour behind them without being insensitive or trivialising them. Still it does have some wickedly dark humour that rivals Family Guy and South Park for sheer ‘Oh no they didn’t’ so it’s definitely not all saccharine and light.

(Originally published on Msn.co.uk)

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The Dark Knight Suprises

The views of this article are not endorsed by any website or limited company. They are the writer’s and the writer’s alone because everyone else is too busy trying to fit both of Nolan’s balls in their mouth. I’ll tell you now, they taste like bland.

If the Dark Knight is really rising, he needs to get his Viagra prescription checked. I should be the target market for this film, a comic book fan, a cinephile, a middle class white male and someone who knows how to enjoy Blockbuster, popcorn cinema. OK so I’m not a right wing, Nolanite but I should still have got something from this tripe right? #innolanwecum right?

The Dark Knight Rises in my opinion scrapes two stars and can happily rest on the podium of comic book third instalments along with Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand. I don’t know which one is Gold, Silver or Bronze but I’d probably go with Spidey as Gold, Dark Knight as Silver and Ratner’s effort bringing up the rear. I’m deadly serious, this is that bad a film. It even has a homage to X-Men: The Last Stand where a chase scene flips from bright day on Wall Street to pitch black when Bane drives away. I really enjoyed Batman Begins and The Dark Knight was clever by moving into Michael Mann territory so I understand Nolan had a lot to live up to but when you step up to the plate you only get three strikes. (well unless the pitch gets blown up in a poorly constructed scene, the shots from above show half the bloody stadium is empty but it’s full when the game was playing)

Trilogy curses and comic book geekness aside, just viewing this film as a normal blockbuster I shudder to remember how bad it was. The acting is mostly solid but the script is so clunky & saccharine it honestly feels like Michael Bay was the advisor on set, gritty political masterpiece this ain’t. The action is so so but never feels truly exhilarating, the political subtext is not even subtext it’s just Nolan trying to look smart much like he tried with ‘Inception’. All the interesting opportunities which could have come from pitting the fascist Batman against anarchy, revolution and political movements like Occupy are missed as the script forgets all the political set up and relocates to a prison with Tom Conti. It’s an unforgivable crime to instil faux politics into a film and then completely forget about them come the middle, such a wasted opportunity so STRIKE ONE!

Nolan has managed to pull together an incredible roster of stars who should make even the most convoluted film worthy of praise and a second viewing but once again Nolan misses the ball. Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to make his terribly written part watchable but there are so many lines that would fit into a Love Actually sequel it’s a wonder you don’t want to rip his throat out. That feeling only comes at the end with the shoe-horned “twist” that the producers seems to think is the cleverest thing since casting Arnie as a robot!

Marion Cotillard who is usually electric in most roles feels like she is starring in Batman & Robin her acting is so appalling, it’s like she’s in a B movie version where she’s been told to ham it up to cringe worthy proportions. It’s testament to Nolan’s mishandling of the film that he can make such good actors seem like Tommy Wiseau or is it Nolan’s own poorly written script which assists them in being so terrible! Only Anne Hathaway comes away slightly better off having made the Selina Kyle role her own even though Nolan won’t call her Catwoman because that wouldn’t fit into his realistic version of Gotham despite having Batman, Robin, The Joker, Two Face, Scarecrow et al, Catwoman is a step too far. Dick. STRRRIIIKE TWO!

My final bugbear is the fandom around this film. I have told a few people my views on this movie and have been met with either anger, incredulity or been told I’m just being negative to be different. I assure you I’m not, myself and the three other people I saw The Dark Knight Rises with all found it infuriatingly rubbish. I adore Terry Gilliam and some of his films are astoundingly perfect but I can see the flaws, well things I didn’t appreciate, in other projects he has done. I think Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins and The Prestige are all wonderful films but that doesn’t make Chris Nolan infallible. We should be able to critique individual films according to what they contain or how much we personally enjoy them, not based on who directs or stars in them. Francis Ford Coppola may have directed ‘Apocalypse Now’ & ‘The Godfather’ but he also made ‘Jack’ with Robin Williams for fuck’s sake! Despite two well-made preceding Batman films, a talented director, a stellar cast, huge budget, insane promotion and a man surviving a nuke without the aid of a fridge this film is just not very good. Straight up. Plus it’s three hours long and not better for it but the last ball is missed mainly because Robin somehow knows who Bruce Wayne is by noticing he has no parents. STTTTTRRRRRIIIIIKKKE THREE. YOU’RE OUT OF HERE

Next batter up is Zack, I love slow-mo and nu-metal, Snyder taking on Superman with Mr. Nolan overseeing. Let’s see what you got because #innolanwethrust… well let’s wait and see but I can say to you right now my hopes are at a very achievable level.

(Originally published on Comics: Shut Up!)

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Review of Hobo With A Shotgun

Where did all the Troma films go? Who else remembers the bizarre hours spent as a young adult watching grainy VHS copies of films like ‘Toxic Avenger’ ‘Class of Nuke ‘Em High’ or ‘Monster in the Closet’? Hours of B-Movie fun with ludicrous characters, high-concept concepts and scenes of depravity which can only be described as utterly hilarious, genius or ungodly depending which side of the fence you sit on. I’ll never forget the kids playing hit and run games with 5 year old children in ‘Toxic Avenger’ or the first time I ever saw the levels of gore they were going to show and not leave implied. As a 15 year old boy it was everything you ever wanted and what made it amazing was it was so tongue in cheek Lloyd Kaufman must have looked like a hamster giving fellatio!

I grew up and went to Uni and although I could still enjoy the silliness and extremity to a point, it had got to a time where it was feeling a bit overdone. Then Grindhouse came along and now it’s all the rage again, where did all the Troma films go? If you liked them you’ll probably like this.

‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ is unashamedly Troma. It may be riding off the backs of Tarantino and Rodriguez but whereas they are crimping on exploitation films of the 70’s, this feels like it could have been released as a double feature with ‘Toxic Avenger’ or ‘Surf Nazi’s Must Die’. This is not a negative at all, I’m just trying to give the film’s features some context. Jason Eisner, the director, does a great job of realising the seedy world in which the film is set giving everything a grainy almost hand-held sheen which like Tarantino & Rodriguez before him gives the film the exploitation quality they’re all after.

The world into which we’re thrown is one of seedy, degenerates where rape and paedophilia are daily occurrences on the street and where crowds gather to see a man decapitated using a manhole cover and a car! It’s not a nice place and that’s the way our hero sees it too, all he wants to do is buy a lawnmower and mow peoples lawns but the sense of disgust and helplessness against the scum and cops who run the city are too much for him to bear… So he buys a shotgun.

That’s the film in a shotgun shell and to be honest that’s it’s greatest strength. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, it has all the things we’ve come to expect from these films and none of the ridiculousness subtext that some feel inclined to shove down our throats. Sure you could read it as a film against the mistreatment of homeless people or the helplessness of everyday people against criminals who the police are powerless to stop or too corrupt to want to stop. It’s not. It doesn’t need to be. ‘Harry Brown’ could have taken a few notes from this film by remembering that we don’t want to go and see UKIP/Conservative propaganda when we see an action/revenge flick we’re dispensing our belief. To be honest as ludicrous as the villains in this film are at least they are clearly fictional, whereas in ‘Harry Brown’ and so many others they try to make you believe that all hoodies or council estate kids are evil incarnate and forget that they are not making a documentary. In this film the ‘baddies’ ham it up to delightfully Troma levels, suffice to say the School bus scene is a high point for bad taste in films this year.

I lied earlier when I said the tongue in cheek part of ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ was it’s greatest strength, it’s Rutger Hauer without a doubt. He manages to bring the gravitas he showed in ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘The Hitcher’ to a film where it shouldn’t be present, but it works brilliantly. Whether he is eating glass for a “bumfight” video, dispensing revenge with a shotgun, or incensed at the poor future for a ward of newborn babies he never lets the character slip and this is vital. Without Hauer I’m sure most of us wouldn’t get through the whole film but he manages to make even the token dramatic, poignant scenes work. All I’ll say is I’ve never seen someone make me feel emotional by shopping for lawnmowers!

The film is a mess but that’s what it should be. The bits that should be done well, directing and the main character are pulled off with real style and entertaining flare, while the rest of the ludicrous elements and gross out scenes fit into place. It’s not highbrow and new converts to the delights of exploitation and Troma style will probably never even get past looking at the DVD cover, but for those of you who are bored of the torture-porn and feigned realism of films like ‘Harry Brown’ or ‘Hostel’ will find nostalgic enjoyment in it. Revel in the dastardly villains, bathe in the blood spattered set pieces and drink from the cup of silliness which runs clear through this film, not because it’s brilliant cinema, but because it’s fun!

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Review of Melancholia

Walking into a cinema to watch a film called ‘Melancholia’ by the man who “understands” Hitler, who hung Bjork and who did unspeakable things to a bereaved couple in the woods is a slightly unsettling prospect. Don’t let this put you off seeing this film.

The first word that comes to mind when watching Lars Von Trier’s new slice of cinema is, scale. Watching the opening ten minutes which comprises of High Definition, slow-motion imagery from the coming narrative to the sounds of Wagner is not unlike his other film ‘Antichrist’. However the power of the music along with poignant insights into the main characters of the film and a feeling of impending dread similar to the feeling you get when watching ‘The Shining’ raises Von Trier’s bar even higher. Images of Kirsten Dunst looking bedraggled offset by images of planetary disturbances once again reminds you of that feeling of scale as if the pain in Dunst’s eyes is matched only by the cosmic ballet of the stars. It’s a story about humanity but on a universal scale.

The film itself focuses on two characters each with their own separate chapter, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are two sisters both with their own flaws and who over the course of the film reveal the true nature of their personalities and desires. Dunst will receive all the awards and acclaim and rightly so, she’s unleashed a different beast than we’ve seen from her before and her character’s pain is worn on her sleeve from the get go. There is a poignant scene where she is reaching out to her caddish Father (John Hurt) for more than just unconditional love, the desperation in her eyes as she asks him not to leave is heart-breaking. Gainsbourg, however, is once again a revelation. She grounds the film by being more relatable to and also because at times Dunst’s character will make you hate her. In a scene where she takes a bath during her wedding I nearly punched the screen! With Gainsbourg though, you really feel her struggles as a sister who despite having the life she desires cannot get past despising her sister but at the same time will never let her down.

The first chapter of the film focuses on the main cast of the film at a wedding and their foibles as families/lovers and the assembled actors are a wonder to behold. At times it feels like Robert Altman’s ‘Gosford Park’ with the needy rich bickering and sulking in bathrooms whilst the ‘real’ people serve the drinks and keep their masters lives running smoothly. It has to be said that Udo Kier as the wedding planner steals many a scene with a delicious dislike for Kirsten Dunst’s Justine to the point where he refuses to even look at her. Subtle turns from the likes of Stellan Skarsgard & Charlotte Rampling infuse the first half of the film with a pace that almost makes you forget that it’s a film about the end of the world.

The second half of the film is a more delicate affair with the focus on only four characters. The loss of the Altman feel and rich scenes of the first half of the film mean that some will be perplexed and lose patience with the second chapter and it’s tectonic shift in tone. The mirth and warmth of the cast of characters from the first chapter and the focus now on paranoia and despair, or dare I say it melancholia, remind you what the film is all about. The fact that the film depicts armageddon is no secret as it’s shown in the opening montage but as I said before the style of the first chapter lets you forget about it. The second chapter is eclipsed by planetary destruction, the depths of depression and conspiracy psychosis, you visibly see the characters change to reflect this. Gainsbourg’s Claire who was in control and content suddenly becomes more fragile than you can imagine and the relationship with her sister becomes as exposed as if it were under a surgeons knife. The film is about characters, the film is about relationships and the second chapter sets itself the task of getting past the usual interactions of these relationships and finding out what really lies underneath them.

‘Melancholia’ is a gorgeous film. Nobody can deny the cinematography is crisp and beautiful and the swirling shots of the universe feel like works of art jumping out of the screen. The cast of characters is wonderfully selected, Keifer Sutherland shows real courage and depth in a deliciously repugnant role, and the script feels wonderfully natural despite the sci-fi elements. It would be a surprise if both leads aren’t nominated for best actress as they anchor the film with realistic but stylised portrayals of flawed characters with heightened emotions and a tendency to be self obsessed. It’s a gorgeous film but it isn’t without it’s flaws. The contrast between chapters will upset some but in some ways this is why Lars Von Trier is always described as an acquired taste, like Lynch if you aren’t ready to follow him all the way you will feel confused or even bored. I’m sure everyone will wish there had been more interaction between the Mother and her two Daughters but this is more a positive critique of Von Trier’s ability at filming drama than a negative about this film in particular. The first half could have been extended into a new ‘Rachel Getting Married’ and been a film in itself but it wouldn’t have been as refreshingly original or have the emotional impact that this culminates in. Maybe we will see a few deleted scenes of Charlotte Rampling on the DVD, we can but hope.

As a fan of Von Trier’s films I can happily say this is one of the best. It has the drama of ‘Dancer in the Dark’ and the unflinching characters of ‘Antichrist’ but strangely with a more Hollywood sheen. Whether this is to do with the cast or the fact that all past reliance on Dogme ’95 seem to have been discarded is unclear but it’s clear to see that Von Trier has hit a stride in his film making with this style and luckily it seems adaptable. If ‘Antichrist’ was his horror/drama and ‘Melancholia’ has more sci-fi leanings then who knows where the sumptuous visuals, deeply flawed characters and painful tugging of heartstrings will take us next? I’m certain that there will not be a film with a more powerful opening 10 minutes or closing 10 minutes this year but what is even better is that the hundred minutes in between are bloody brilliant too!

‘Melancholia’ is a story about humanity on a universal scale and they went and pulled it off didn’t they?

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