Saturday, 21 July 2012

Batman, Bane, And Not Quite Catwoman.

For my 100th blog post it seems only fitting that I not only do what I love doing, but I also do it about something that has reared its head over and over again. The conclusion to a trilogy that had such a solid first movies that the third instalment become the most anticipated movie of the year, even the decade. If you haven't already figured it out, it is the final piece of Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

It's eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, eight years since The Batman stopped The Joker and agreed to take the blame for Dent's death and eight years of a nearly crime free Gotham. Or crime free until psychotic masked man Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives and begins causing trouble around the city that Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) loves so dearly. However, The Batman is in retirement, Wayne Enterprises is losing money faster than Usain Bolt runs, and the police are no match for Bane's men. Perhaps it is time for Wayne to don his mask and cape once more, despite Alfred's (Michael Caine) advice, and hop into one of Fox's (Morgan Freeman) new machines to take on Bane himself. He'll have the help of of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) as they try to take down Bane, his army, and cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). But nothing, and no one, could prepare Batman, Gordon, or even the government, for what Bane has planned for Gotham. As the trailer shows, he is Gotham's reckoning.

Tom Hardy was the Bane of Batman's existence.

Bale, Caine, Oldman, and Freeman all return again with fantastic turns. Bale and Caine in particular show new levels of development in their characters. Caine shows the true side of Alfred's affection for the final Wayne in some very touching speeches and Bale captures not only Batman's aggression, loneliness, and anger, but also Wayne's charisma, something that lacked a little in the previous film. And then there's the  new cast members. Firstly, there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt who takes the role of young, hot headed, police officer Blake and shows that he is intelligent, brave, and caring. Then there's a brilliant performance from Anne Hathaway as the cat burglar Selina Kyle. The dark horse of the new cast, people were unsure how her performance was going to turn out, but those people's issues should still be calmed. Hathaway showed Kyle's isolation, ferociousness and desperation like none of the previous Catwomen; a definite advantage of avoiding the change from anti-hero to full on villain. And finally, the marvellous Tom Hardy as the masked madman Bane. After Heath Ledger's incredible performance as The Joker, little could imagine Nolan finding anyway to top it. Admittedly, comparing the two is like comparing an apple and a pear on their ability to be a banana, they're very different characters. Hardy's Bane is intimidating on a whole different level and scale to The Joker. His huge imposing form, distorted speech, and plain calmness over killing and destruction would make anyone fear him. Hardy is outstanding and Bane is a fantastic character.

Batman and Bane decided to simply
 fist bump and settle their differences.

Every element of this film was so perfectly arranged and created. Nolan has learned from his previous two outings with Batman and has managed to combine those aspects to make this the most technically brilliant movie in the series. Hans Zimmer provides his best accompanying music to date. Not only is it fantastically composed, but it is integrated so well into the film that there it creates an undeniably unique atmosphere perfect for Batman's world. As expected, Wally Pfister's cinematography again raises the bar for action and superhero movies alike. It's simply breathtaking. And on top of all of this, the Nolan brothers screenplay is so engaging that, even in times when the movie dips, the dialogue keeps you hooked for every second. Not to mention the ingenious representations of some of Batman's most well known villains. Selina Kyle sticks to her origins of being a cat burglar and an anti-hero rather than Catwoman which saves having to create a back story to what caused her evil life choices. And Bane, famous for being the character who breaks Batman, is shown with great intelligence, great strength, and a great thirst for destruction. The adaptation from a man with a wrestling mask and toxin pumping in his blood to a man with a mask that helps him live will not only satisfy comic book fanboys, but also please the fans of Nolan's realistic and gritty Gotham. The action scenes are once again some of the most visually stunning and epic set pieces in recent cinema without the need for giant robots or aliens. Just good ol' heart-stopping action.

For some reason, no one took them seriously
 when they claimed to fight crime...

Overall, this is not only a perfectly fitting ending to an incredible trilogy, it is also an absolute masterpiece in cinema. Much like its predecessor, it will shoot to the top of people's lists of favourite movies as well as favourite superhero movies. Arguments will rage on internet forums over which of the series was the best and which villain was the greatest - or evillest - and opinions will fly. The simple truth of the matter, is that The Dark Knight Rises is a glorious film and an epic conclusion to, what has already been widely described as, the best superhero series ever. Expect to see Hathaway more badass then ever before, Caine more touching, and Hardy at his most psychotic. You're in for a treat.

Best Bit? There was a cameo that made me jump out of my chair in geekish excitement, but I think my personal favourite section was Bane and Batman's first intense encounter. Not only was the action outstanding, the dialogue exchanged was so wonderfully written and delivered by Hardy.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Paranormal Actrilogy

Horror movies have a habit of spinning out of control when the term 'franchise' is mentioned. I mean, look at Saw, Friday The 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street. They all have seven movies or more and the sad truth of the matter is that most people will not want to watch past the fourth or fifth one. I mean has anyone seen Jason X? There is little parallel to the fear that reaches deep inside any horror fanatic when it is announced that there will be a series of films following a successful horror. Today, we look at one example of this in recent years: The Paranormal Activity franchise.

What follows are three reviews, one of each of the current Paranormal Activity films, and they will be chucked full of spoilers, so if you want to know nothing about the plot or, more importantly, the scares, just scroll to the end for spoiler free reviews. Right, let's get started.

Paranormal Activity

The film that started it all. Released originally on a tiny budget in 2007 and was almost unheard of until 2009 when Paramount picked it up for general release and it exploded. Oren Peli, who shot the film in ten days in his own home, could never have predicted the success and profit that his small, handheld horror would have. With enough actors to count on one hand, there had to be some secret to the success...

Bonus points for the first movie because
Katie Featherston is beautiful

One could argue that it is simplicity that slay the industrial beast of cinema. With only two actors for the majority of the film and a plot, if it can so be called, that a five year old could follow, the film appeals to a wide audience, horror fan or not. What does the demon want? Katie. That's all. Micah and Katie don't try any whichcraft or exorcism, they just get terrorised. And then the hauntings. Playing with the unknown is possible the simplest, yet hardest, horror technique. How do you make someone scared of something that isn't there without being too explicit about it? Magically appearing footprints are a good start, along with other things that appear out of the corner of your eye. The audience question what they're seeing and, in doing so, get sucked into Micah and Katie's world and experience the same scares.

Or perhaps it's the avoidance of over used horror clich├ęs. Hauntings in the day time and genuine human emotion rather than rash, night time decisions provide something fresh on the screen. And it is not all down hearted like a lot of horrors; even when things get more intense, Micah provides comic relief. While it does suffer from being slow and losing tension in the majority of the day time footage, the fresh and simple perspective on ghosts is something that  cinema was craving. Horror fans went crazy for it and horror 'haters' went to see it in order to say, 'Well, it wasn't really a good movie...' But the biggest shock to all movie fans is that this was a good movie as well as a good horror. It ticked the boxes for both categories. The real question is: did the sequels?

Paranormal Activity 2

The first sequel is a lot bigger in every sense than its predecessor. It delves into the life of Katie's sister, Kristi, and her family after the birth of her first son, Hunter, and happens only weeks before the events of the first movie. Jumping straight into the reviewing, this film is no where near the first one in terms of quality. In fact, it is pretty awful. Think back to what worked about the first one: the simple plot, the combination of subtle hauntings and explicit demonic activity. Evidently, the writers of this instalment threw those out of the window and decided on a far too complicated plot and next to no hauntings at all. 

Looks like I wasn't the only one to doze off...

Well, I say too complicated a plot, but really it is a very satisfactory plot. One that explains more of the demons intentions and why the events in the first movie happen. And yes, it is completely needless. However, its biggest flaw is the terrible timing. Nothing even remotely important is mentioned until half an hour in (and even that is more important for the third movies plot) and nothing particularly scary happens until about 50 minutes into the movie. That scare, a shadow moving over Ali while she sleeps, is followed by nothingness for a bit, unless you count terrible writing and horrid characters as 'something'. Ali leaves the house, while baby sitting, and the door slams behind her. Rather than doing anything logical, she wanders off until her parents get home. And this still isn't the most annoying her character gets. Her disobedience, rudeness and laughing at others will encourage nothing but the hope that the demon kills her.

In fact, the only character worth a damn (minus the dog) is the dad, but even he is completely blind to the events happening around him and doesn't trust his family. The other major flaw with the plot is that the main point -that there's a curse from the grandmother on the first born male in her family, Hunter - is so irrationally jumped to after an hour or so on Google. No one even suspects that there's another explanation. And after all this, the family is safe. Good. A nice wholesome ending. Wait... Nevermind. The entire point of being able to transfer the curse is pointless because, as well as killing your sister in law, you also kill your own family. Smooth. Not scary, badly written, and completely unsatisfactory.

Paranormal Activity 3

A prequel that shoots back much further than a few weeks. We're now in Kristi and Katie's childhood. This time the writers have remembered what made the first film work and used it and built on it. Something that is completely understandable with a bigger budget and an ability to use larger special effects. So it turns out that Katie and Kristi, their mother, Julie, and their step-father, Dennis, were haunted, rather violently, as kids. They never talk about it though, even when it comes back in the other two movies. The glaring issue with this film, and the second, is everyone's ignorance of the issues. Everyone has cameras, but only Micah in the first movie really checks it. Well, that's not true. Dennis checks his footage daily. But whenever he tries to show it to Julie, she ignores him. Then she dies. And he dies. Well played, Julie. Four for you. 

The ghost normally stops being scary by the third movie...
But this is a new low.

But don't get me wrong, the third instalment is a massive step up on the second. The plot is simpler, the scares are both bigger but some are more subtle, and stuff actually happens. The basic plot, is there's a ghost or a demon. Kristi talks to it and calls it Toby. Scary stuff happens. Easy right? Well, until they throw in the side plot to tie the films together. Something about a covenant of woman who marry girls to demons who take the first born male. (See the link now?) This side plot is actually the beginning of a downfall for the otherwise fantastic ending. After Julie goes to check on her mother and doesn't return, Dennis goes investigating and finds an empty house. A shadow in the window when there turns out to be no one there gets you to the edge of your seat. And then he opens a door and there's a load of crazy old ladies who chase him. Honestly, it seemed like it was plucked from another movie completely. Then Julie's body is floating, dead. Then Kristi shows up and they hide in a cupboard, then Katie scares the pants off of you. Then Julie's mum turns up, Dennis gets broken, and Julie's mum walks off with Kristi, Katie, and, apparently, Toby.

Yes, that was a massive spoiler, but I needed to point out how ridiculous the ending became after such a tense promising start. The best thing about Paranormal Activity 3 is the ghost activity. Some of it is fantastic. There's a sheet, like a child dressed as a ghost, which suddenly collapses. The entire kitchen lifts into the ceiling while off camera only to slam down with perfect timing (something the second film REALLY lacked) and a mysterious figure appears behind Dennis but only briefly. And those are just the more obvious ones. There's the fast shadow that shoots past doors and Katie skipping down the corridor at night. And there's something great in the build up. Kristi talking to the ghost and playing with him creates some kind of suspense that is difficult to create. Though 'Toby' seems very fickle. He attacks Katie and protects Kristi and then later it switches without any real reason. That's too simple a plot. Elaborate, please. 

Spoiler Free Below:

A quick word about all three movies. The camera work is a big thing with this series, obviously, being shot from handheld cameras. The first movie had a single camera which caught just enough to intrigue the audience, but not enough to scare them silly. The second one caught far too much. Most night time scenes were five minutes of nothing but different views of the house. It was like watching Big Brother at three in the morning. The third one got the cameras right. It gave purpose to having the handheld, unlike the second, and he developed his filming as the hauntings progressed. He started with one camera, switched to two, and then ended with three, the last on a neat swivel so that it could catch a panoramic view, and also created large blind spots for a few seconds. This captured just the right amount of ghost activity. It's a pity that the story wasn't better. Will the fourth one get it right? And let me know your opinions on anything Paranormal Activity related and especially what you think of the upcoming one.

Paranormal Activity 1: For the best storyline, a fresh look at horrors, the best characters, and actually being scary, I reward you with:

Paranormal Activity 2: For terrible in almost every sense, but still managing to make me care about the dog, take this petty prize:

Paranormal Activity 3: For best special effects, camera work, and ghost activity, you should be the best. However, your plot lost its way too often and you ruined a great ending. Take this:

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Arachnid Dude

The current zeitgeist of the film industry seems to be able to be split into two things: Superheroes and reboots. So our film for today has the fortunate privilege of fitting into both these categories by being possibly the fastest rebooted franchise of a superhero related basis. As in most of these cases, it is, of course, an origin story and, like many other superhero reboots, takes a completely different tone to its predecessor. It is The Amazing Spider-Man

Several years after being left in the care of his Uncle Ben (Michael Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) by his parents, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) lives a very plain and uninteresting life. He is an awkward high school dwelling student who is ignored by the ladies but not by the bullies. He has trouble talking to the girls, particularly the beautiful blonde Gwen (Emma Stone), and he is constantly trying to come to terms with his parents’ abandonment. Then he finds some of his father’s old and secret work. This sparks an investigation into the works at Oscorp and their experiments which lead to him getting bitten by a radioactive spider. (But you knew that bit, right?) After this incident he develops some superhuman qualities and, after his Uncle Ben is murdered, he sets about stopping crime in the hope he can avenge his uncle. Elsewhere, his father’s algorithm on cross species work is put into development by Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) which causes some disastrous results. Feeling the burden, the newly named Spider-Man jumps into action.

Who said books couldn't be sexy?

It is suffice to say that the casting director for the film should be given an award. Andrew Garfield is almost the perfect Spider-Man. At first he seems a little too attractive to be the typical nerd type character, but the second he opens his mouth to speak, all becomes obvious. His speech represents the idea of a geek fantastically. Stuttering, shy looking away, misunderstandings, ramblings, it’s perfect. And he is great with the more confident, sassy side of Spider-Man as well. Full respect for doing a lot of the stunt work too. Emma Stone is brilliant as Gwen Stacey and, like Garfield, is great with the awkward conversation and they are an excellent pair. The supporting roles are all superb too. Michael Sheen as Uncle Ben and Rhys Ifans as Dr Connors are the two that particularly stand out. Sheen for his subtle performance that shows his love and complete frustration with Peter and Ifans for his psychotic nature and his internal struggle with what is best for himself and science.

To appeal to a wider audience, Spider-man
 raises money as a pole dancer

The biggest flaw with The Amazing Spider-Man is its length. Admittedly, it has few flaws, but they are big ones, the length being the most prominent. A film should never seem to drag and, if it does, cut out a few of those slow motion shots of Spider-Man doing something we have seen him do a hundred times before. Not to say these shots weren’t visually stunning, but they were superfluous; they served no benefit to the movie.        The other biggest flaw was the lack of development spent on certain moments and decisions. While the audience’s imagination should be led by a director in a particular direction, they should not be left to guess which direction that is. Apart from these two issues, Spider-Man is technically fantastic. The score is spot on and the camera work is incredible (though the first person is a bit disorienting.)

Overall, it is a good movie. It is a solid reboot and is one of the rare occasions where it outdoes the previous attempt. The film also includes Stan Lee’s funniest cameo to date and some fantastic fight scenes. While it could do with a bit more flesh and a bit less fat, metaphorically speaking, it is an enjoyable ride through Spider-Man’s origins with some touching and uplifting moments along with the action.

Best Bit? The most outstanding part of the film is when we see Parker go from vigilante after revenge to actual hero after saving several cars and a child from plummeting to their doom.