Monday, 16 July 2012

Jackboots on Whitehall Commentary

Oh, the things you can find when you don't know what you want to watch so you're flipping around Netflix.  When I saw the description for this and the running time, I knew it was destined to be.  It's an alternate reality where the Dunkirk evacuation failed and Britain was left helpless to a German invasion.  The Germans inevitably invade and a small band of English farmers, Punjabi Guard, an American and Winston Churchill try to find a way to beat back the invaders.  Sounds great, doesn't it.  And it doesn't disappoint.

It would have been easy to turn this into a dark, almost post-apocalyptic piece.  But, instead, they make it comical in a way that only the English can.  There are the obvious, no holds barred, jabs at the Germans with Rommel, Goebbels and Goering being portrayed as a Larry, Moe and Curly type of triumvirate.  And the German jabs keep coming.  But what I really like is that there is no ethnic group that is safe from the stereotypical humour (and that makes it great satire).  The American is a "balls to the wall" moron.  The English farmers are farting morons, the Scottish are stuck in the time of William Wallace and Winston Churchill is just a doddering old man wanting his pension.

The superior level of satire is very reminiscent of Team America (another great movie).  This is compounded by the fact that they use stop motion and puppetry for the film rather than live action.  That was a fantastic choice because it adds to the lunacy and allows them to easily do violent, war actions without making the audience cringe.  It's dolls, so who cares?  It keeps the viewer from taking it seriously and adds to the humour.  Because it's a British movie, it feels a bit more refined and high brow than Team America but oddly still pedestrian and crude.  It's a style of humour that only the British can do.

From the start, I laughed all the way through.  The comedy is spaced very well and they don't let it drag on; something that is easy to do in a satire.  Definitely see it.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man Commentary

I would almost be willing to bet that if I asked 100 people to give me the basic origin of Spiderman, about 90% would be able to tell me that he was bitten by a spider and received spider-like powers. Why, then, do we need an hour and a half of an origin backstory for a reboot of this franchise? I know that the essence of a reboot is to start a story over. But we all know the origin. I'm not saying get rid of it completely. Just don't make it most of the movie. By the time they got moving into any kind of plot, I had pretty much lost interest and did't care about the fate of any character anymore, good or bad. And that's a shame because, weak story aside, this movie is quite good.

Andrew Garfield is a fantastic Peter Parker. He looks like a more mild mannered person with potential for greatness whereas Tobey Maguire just looked goofy most of the time. I also liked how they developed Parker to be flawed in that he doesn't make a quick jump into knowing how to be a superhero and separate Parker from Spiderman (it just took too long to do). Garfield and Emma Stone have a great chemistry and are good on screen together. The comic relief is very well done in both writing and delivery. It blends the spoken with the physical perfectly and makes the movie light when it needs to release some of the tension. And it's got probably the best Stan Lee cameo of any of the Marvel Comics movies.

I must say though that I was very disappointed in the villain. I do need to put a disclaimer that I do not know the Spiderman franchise very well. I just know about how he got his powers and that he takes pictures for a local paper. I don't know the villains at all and had no idea about the Lizard. To me though, this villain seems very, very weak for a super hero franchise; especially one to start off a reboot. Add in that the CGI and makeup effects for the Lizard were downright laughable and it really disappoints. (I hate to say that because I am a Rhys Ifans fan.) Otherwise, the effects are very good. They could have taken some of the money spent on web effects, etc. and put it towards a better Lizard. The fight scenes are well done and Spiderman swinging used some very good camera angles and the 3D judiciously. I did roll my eyes at the whole thing with the cranes as that was a bit too cheesy for my taste but I've said many times that I can forgive some of that in a comic book movie.

All in all, it disappointed simply because they dwelt on the origin and Spiderman learning to harness his powers for way too long. Most people go to see these films because they want to see more of the kick ass action that is in the trailers. And they want to see their favourite superheroes fight their favourite villains. It took way too long to get moving and, when it did, it was like they never really had an idea as to how they wanted it to progress in the first place.

After I saw it, I would have given it a Don't See recommendation as a knee jerk reaction. After reflecting further though, you may want to give it a look for the effects. Just know that you're going to have to sit through the tired old origin exposition again.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Dark Knight Commentary

This movie was well received for two reasons.  First, it was a highly anticipated sequel to a very successful movie.  Second, it centred on a pop culture villain that is only slightly less popular than Darth Vader.  Add in a very good interpretation of that villain by Heath Ledger and it was destined to be remembered as better than it was.  I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but, if Ledger hadn’t passed away shortly after this movie, it would still be remembered as a good performance.  But it wouldn’t have the legendary status that it has received as his swansong legacy.

Again, I don’t want to take anything away from it because the performance is top notch.  We’re used to the Joker being a real clown with no basis in reality.  Instead, Ledger seemed to take Jack Nicholson’s Joker from the 1990 Batman, threw in some Johnny Depp inspiration and made him devoid of any morality.  The end result is a sociopath that just wants to make the world a worse place.  The only problem I had with the performance was that, about halfway through, Ledger started constantly licking his lips for some unexplained reason.   That was very distracting.  I also didn’t care for the teasing of the audience with him “explaining” how he got the scars.  In a genre of film where character background is so important, they took a big one and completely changed it from the canon.  But that isn’t Ledger’s fault.  He took what was written and made it chilling.

It’s the fault of the writing and film making in general.  I really think Christopher Nolan dropped the ball on this one.  The writing and story is a not even thinly veiled commentary on giving up civil liberties in the face of terrorism.  The absolute preachiness of this film made it difficult to watch.  Then, there’s the model of Gotham itself.  Nolan took a city that he portrayed as dark, cramped and depraved in Batman Begins and made it a much lighter and less congested Chicago (oops … I mean … Gotham).  I believe he was trying to show how the city was digging itself out of hell but the change is just so drastic for a period of one year.  It also really takes away from the continuity of the series.  That’s something almost unforgivable when both movies are made and written by the same director.

Finally, with the exception of Ledger, the acting is quite poor.  Christian Bale took his annoying gravelly voice of Batman from the first one and managed to make it even more difficult to listen to and believe.  It was almost as if the new suit Fox made for him was cutting off circulation to his brain.  Then, they decide to bring in one of the worst big name actors Hollywood has in Aaron Eckhart to play Harvey Dent.  The combination results in very forced and cheesy dialogue, especially when any kind of emotion from either Batman or Dent is involved.

It needs to be seen if you want to watch the trilogy.  But, if you want to watch a stand-alone movie, don’t see it.  There’s nothing better in the action or story to make it stand out from Batman Begins.  The great performance from Ledger is outweighed by the poor film making and political agenda.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ted Commentary

So this is what it would be like if they made a live action Family Guy movie.  Like Family Guy, Ted has basically nothing for a story with any depth.  Rather, they rely very heavily on politically incorrect humour, obscure (and not so obscure) references and commentaries on pop culture from the 80s and 90s and completely irrelevant and unnecessary jabs at celebrities.  It's even filled with Seth MacFarlane's own Happy Madison-esque troupe of actor friends with Mila Kunis, Patrick Warburton and Alex Borstein.  But, let's face it.  Going in, if you expected anything else from MacFarlane, you probably should have known better.  After all, when asked to do a second animated sitcom, he basically just kept doing Family Guy but called it American Dad.

Similar to when I watch Family Guy, I got conflicted with the jokes.  Sometimes, I got this annoying holier than thou vibe in the digs at other people and society in general.  Then, the actors poke fun at themselves and their own past roles making one feel that they don't take themselves too seriously (like when Mark Wahlberg gets angry over Kunis' use of a word Wahlberg was famous for using a lot in the Departed).  So it's a real up and down ride of comic emotions.

But it isn't all like that.  There are a lot of jokes that are just good, clever humour.  These are the things that I wish MacFarlane would stick to most.  Fore example, the thunder song was great.  But then he ruins it by having Ted refer to the fat kid as Susan Boyle and picking random things from the 80s and 90s to complain about.  I firmly believe that MacFarlane has loads of one-liner talent but just not enough creativity to weave it properly into a story for a 30 minute sitcom much less a two hour movie.  So he relies on irrelevant flashbacks, references and digs at people he doesn't like.

Don't get me wrong.  I laughed a lot.  There's that much humour going on all at once with this movie.  But only see it if you like Family Guy.  I do.  I watch it every week.  If you don't, don't see Ted because you'll hate it.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Batman Begins Commentary

I know I’m late to the party with this one but I wanted to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight again before going to see the conclusion this summer. 

I was sort of a Batman fan growing up.  While I didn’t collect the comics, I did have a few and had some action figures.  He was my favourite super hero but I wasn’t super excited when the 1990s movies came out or when this reboot happened (I still haven’t seen the second 1990s one with Danny DeVito as the Penguin). But the new ones looked cool and I like Batman so I gave them a shot.  To be honest, I don’t understand why they are so highly regarded and super-successful.  I will concede that the first one is a well-made movie with a decent story.  Although one beef I have with these super hero reboots is that they constantly beat us over the head with origins exposition that we already all know.  In Batman Begins, we do have that but it is woven well into the character motivation buildups.  Overall, though, Batman Begins does take a little too much time to get to any actual plot with a typical comic book villain that Batman has to fight.  That makes it suffer as a stand alone movie.  However, when you realize that it is the first part of a trilogy, you can see it as an introductory piece and forgive that aspect of it. 

I did notice that some of the acting and writing in this movie seemed over the top and forced.  But, even if they tried to get away from the camp factor, it is still based on comic books and you can never fully get rid of that aspect.  Given the source material they had to work with I’d say they did a decent job of minimizing the camp and still delivering Batman to us properly. 

I also found the movie somewhat difficult to watch.  In showing the dark depravity that Gotham has descended into, I think they may have gone a bit too far.  Everything in this movie is so bleak that by the time you get to the end, the viewer is so depressed and feels that there is absolutely no hope.  Even the stuff that was supposed to be a little lighthearted (like the train ride with Bruce and his father or the scene at the hotel) comes off as oppressive.  So you can imagine that the scenes that take place in the Narrows and at Arkham are even more so.  I know the intent is to make the viewer feel like they are immersed in a story of a saviour bringing society out of an absolutely hopeless situation.  In many respects they hit it spot on; maybe a bit too spot on because the visuals get very depressing at points. 

I think the biggest problem I have with these movies though is the fact that Christian Bale is in them.  I will admit that I am biased in the fact that I have this irrational and unreasonable dislike for the man’s work.  (Yet I still go see many of his movies because the movies themselves look decent.)  He just irks me for some unexplainable reason.  And his acting as Batman irks me even more.  I know Batman has to talk different than Bruce Wayne to keep his identity a secret but Bale’s version of that is pretty annoying.  He does this gravelly, mouth breather thing that irritates me.  I know it’s irrational. 

All in all though, this is a decent movie if you like the dark aspect of the Batman saga.  It also has some decent action and some very good supporting performances from Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman.  See it.  But know that if you do, you must invest time in the next two movies because it is a setup piece.