Friday, May 30, 2008

30th May 08 - Sex and the City

There’s an amazing start to this film, where Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) frolics across the road towards her beloved Mr Big, when suddenly bam! A bus hits her - ironically the very bus that carries her advertisement, which is seen in every opening sequence to the much loved Sex & The City series. Carrie is tragically killed, and in a fit of despair Mr Big goes on a rampage through New York, slaughters the other three main characters (Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda) before falling into a pit of nuclear waste, which changes his molecular structure so that he literally becomes Mr Big, towering above the buildings of New York and destroying everything in his path. Meanwhile a group of twenty-somethings have to escape from the city, all the while filming their escapades on shaky-cam. Mr Big is eventually felled by a hoard of angry gophers and some aliens.

Ok. That isn’t quite what happens. But wouldn’t it have been something special? Something you could only really do as a one-off special feature? Something to make use of a bigger budget? Something that gives a reason to make a film after a show has ceased to be? Yeah - it would have been. But instead the Sex and the City film is exactly the same as any Sex and the City episode. Only it’s two and a half hours long.

But here’s why that isn’t a problem. Sex and the City was a good show. Funny, dramatic, pioneering in terms of its strong female leads and graphic scenes, SATC established a huge fan base for a reason. Yes, the characters could sometimes get bloody annoying, occasionally seeming to parody themselves to a point of banality, but its character arcs and relationship-fuelled plots became addictive, and it was one of those shows where you could easily watch two or three episodes at a time.

The film picks up a few years after the show left off, and it’s a testament to the writers and actors that after four years the characters and tone of the series simply carry on, as if there hadn’t been a break at all. Characters face varying degrees of dilemma (some far more than others), there’s lots of weird clothes on show (it strikes me as odd that what many people call “fashion” I call “looking like a twonk… in bad clothes”) and even two, count them, two montages of Carrie trying on different outfits. Two. In the first twenty minutes. Smashing.

It’s frustrating and ridiculous that the majority of the major plot points are blurted out in the film’s overlong trailer, ruining any surprise revelations or potentially devastating turns of events. There is certainly a powerful mid-point, which spirals into a wave of darkness, before levelling off for the last third into a rather non-wow finale. But it still made the audience laugh and cry on more than one occasion. Whether it would have the same effect on someone who didn’t have six series’ worth of back story, I’m not so sure.

Like the Simpsons Movie, there was no real reason to make this (aside from money) and there wasn’t anything special done to the series to reason a voyage from the little screen to the big screen. But by being based on a super show, it automatically becomes a super film, notching above the baseline CF0. But only to a CF1. There are no extra points because, well, there weren’t any extras in the film either. And if I see production notes detailing a new B-Movie with a “Mr Big” and some gophers, I’ll bloody sue.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

25th May 08 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Picture the scene: George Lucas is sat in his study, surrounded by star and planet mobiles, rocketship wallpaper on the walls and the futuristic music from the queuing system at Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride playing in the background. On one side of his computer is a note from Steven Spielberg, which says: “Dear George. We have finally decided to make the fourth Indiana Jones, even though the series didn’t need it and Harrison is a gajillion years old so will look a bit weird. All the other big action films have made fourths, and I was starting to feel left out. Who likes any of the other Die Hards anyway? Please write me a script so we can film a new Indy and make loads of money. The fans will watch it regardless, so put whatever you want in there. Cheers. Stevie.”

On the other side of the computer is a shed load of sherbet dip, which George’s mum has told him not to have because last time it took him seven hours to go to sleep, but she’s on holiday so he can do what he likes. George proceeds to eat all the sherbet dip and then write the script for the fourth Indiana Jones.

If I was to describe the plot for Indy 4 right now, you would most likely think it a continuation of this elaborate scene above (which is of course false - George was joined by Jeff Nathanson on plot duties). But I wouldn’t be making it up. I couldn’t make it up. Seriously. Three words: What. The. Fuck.

Indy 4 is essentially a never-ending car chase interspersed with everything and anything that could exist in the real world (or not) and might cause some excitement - killer ants, scorpions, waterfalls, cliffs, booby traps, FBI, Russians, magnets, quicksand, angry tribes people, nuclear explosions, monkeys, Jim Robinson from Neighbours, and frickin’ gophers (what was with the gophers?!) It was like any and all ideas were used, rather than selected for most entertainment / relevance to the plot.

Just to retract the barbs slightly, of course the original Indy’s weren’t brimming with coherent stories or anything other than a series of tombs and fights. And like its predecessors, Indy 4 has a bit of spirit about it - some good fun can be had in some of the sequences, there’s slapstick and wry humour, and a small portion of the Indy / Mutt (Shia LaBeouf- “the new Indy”) banter was entertaining. But on the whole it dragged horribly, feeling twice as long as Iron Man (when Iron Man was actually longer) and matching the witty old-school opening title sequence by being pretty damn dated. We like character development nowadays. Or, you know, plots that aren’t from a sherbet-fuelled insanity trip.

Indy 4 brings nothing new to the table except a lump of crusty bread that we’ve already seen before, only now it looks like it’s picked up every bit of fluff off the floor and some space dust along with it. Didn’t need to be made, entertained for only a quarter of its running time, and yet will probably make a killing at the box office. It was going to get a CF-1, but having written this I’ve angered myself into dropping it further. CF-2 for you, Indy. No more sherbet, Lucas. Your mother knows what she’s talking about.

21st May 08 - Iron Man

All together now: duuuh… duuuuh… duuuh duh duuuh… yes, the opening power chords of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man have been in my head for several days preceding and post-ceding (it should be a word) my recent cinema trip, the first for the month after a spate of non-cinema outings due to vaguely important events.

Coupled with the echoes of an ace riff was a heady mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because this was another comic book film (and there have been good ones - Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman Begins) directed by John Favreau (who did the underrated Elf among others) and starring Robert Downey Jr, whose on screen charisma is only overshadowed by the fact he is bloody gorgeous. Trepidation because this was another comic book film (and there have been some average ones - Hulk, Superman Returns - and some pap ones - Daredevil, Fantastic Four) and it features a bloke in an iron suit, which could be a bit naff. What we end up with is a film that doesn’t quite reach the joys of Spidey et al, but transcends pap and average into the “pretty good” zone.

“Pretty good” is replaced by “excellent” when taking in Downey Jr’s performance. Matched perfectly against his character Tony Stark, Downey is at his best when smug, gorgeous, arrogant, successful and gorgeous, juxtaposed with occasional flashes of fear, guilt and, well, being gorgeous (he does that a lot). Matching his turn in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Downey Jr manages to be a believable arse hole but still causes the audience to obtain an emotional attachment.

So with a strong lead in the bag, the film scores further points with a good mix of comedy, origin story and lots of things that go boom. As a comic product it naturally strays into the ludicrous and implausible (who knew that typing “translate” into a computer can make it automatically translate video? How clever!) but we can forgive that because it’s Iron Man, and he looks awesome when he’s all kitted out and hovering around his basement on rocket shoes.

What isn’t as easy to forgive is the dubious use of Afghanistan bad guys, living in caves and wearing t-shirts that say “designed to make Americans feel better”. Tony Stark makes kick-ass American weapons that can be used to wipe out thousands, but when he realises the same weapons have been sold to the Evil Foreigners he gets pretty upset, because then they might be used to kill “us”. And killing lots of foreigners is Ok, but killing Americans? This calls for a superhero!

It’s not quite as black-and-white as that, but when we stray into murkier territory with a traitor selling weapons to the enemy, we end up straying right back out and paint said traitor as a crazy man, rather than a realistic portrait of the weapons industry.

This slightly half-arsed foray into making a point and then making a really rubbish point taints Iron Man, but only a little bit. It is, on the whole, enjoyable, funny, thrilling, with a strong cast and superb effects, although probably didn’t need quite as many suit construction montages. With a whopping clue to a sequel, it’ll be interesting to see where they take this franchise. One thing’s certain - if Downey Jr’s still on board then get me a ticket to the boat.

Iron Man scores an extra point for being a solid comic book film, and an additional one simply for having a lot of Downey Jr in it, climbing up to a CF2. Duuuh… duuuuh… duuuh duh duuuh…