Sunday, June 21, 2009

17th June 09 - Looking for Eric

Facts I know about Cantona: he’s French, has hefty eyebrows, used to wear his collar up and once kicked someone in the face. Oh and he played football for some team or other. As you can see, I know lots. But it seems not quite enough to truly appreciate Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric. With a greater knowledge about the man I’d probably have found more hilarity from the film, but really my head is so full up with knowledge already about more useful and interesting things, ex-footballers just don’t warrant deleting any of the info to make more brain space.

Anyway, in light of this my enjoyment of this film may have been hampered a little, but not enough to give an “I’m Not There” effect (described as unbaked cake smeared on the wall in Jan 08). Eric (not Cantona) is a postman, struggling with two divorces and two horrible step-sons to look after. His supportive mates try to help lift his spirits, but it turns out a hallucinated Cantona, Eric’s idol, is the best answer to his problems. Or a handy way for Eric to vocalise his back-story, without resorting to him just spouting monologues all the time. Still, it’s fun to see a gruff Cantona playing a hallucinated version of himself, spouting sayings (something I’ve since learnt was his speciality) and saying things in such a thick accent that it’s sometimes too difficult to follow.

Though the trailer suggests this to be a quirky romp with uplifting music from the Coral and lots of fat northern men chuckling away, the film itself is a tad grittier than expected. This is Ken Loach, after all, the chap who brought laugh-a-minute Kes to the screens. Set in Salford, a known shit-hole, Eric’s rough stepsons provide enough drama to muddy the lighter tone of Cantona’s visits and give the film a bit of weight. Steve Evets’ Eric has enough humanity to make you want him to succeed, even if his constant swearing feels slightly forced and unnatural for such a nice chap.

There’s a nice contrast between Eric’s harsh reality and his amusing relationship with Cantona, but a neat and slightly unbelievable finish leaves the film more namby pamby than something truly special. An interesting idea nicely played out, perhaps with a little more weight behind it the points could have climbed higher. As such, Looking for Eric finds itself at a CF1. Worth the effort to look at.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

10th June 09 - Terminator Salvation

Iconic, groundbreaking, terrifying, parodied and referenced to death, the Terminator films are some of the best popular sci-fi films. If you wipe number 3 from the world, of course. Making a fourth in the series with a different cast and the director of Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle wasn’t always the most exciting of news. With Christian Bale signed on, though, there was a glimmer of hope that this wouldn’t be a big pile of robotic shite.

And you know, it’s not actually that bad. Despite having a ridiculous name, director McG notches up a gear, throwing in some interesting tidbits such as the opening helicopter escape, the cameraman somehow hopping into a copter and following the action in a seemingly one-take shot. We have the world post-judgement day, with massive scary robots ruling the world and picking off any remaining survivors, and a strangely organised bunch of army types attempting to settle the score. On the goodies side is the grown up John Connor (Bale), who is heralded as humanity’s saviour, although you’ll be in big trouble if you shine light in his face…

Into the fray also is Sam Worthington, the anti-hero, doing a good job of looking vaguely perplexed most of the time. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag of tokens, with token hot lady who’s supposed to be well hard (Moon Bloodgood – what a name!) and Token rapper-turned-actor (Common – too good for two names). The terminators themselves are suitably nasty, but lack the original fear factor of the lone hunters from the first two films. Transformers-esque uber-bots are pretty cool, but slightly familiar.

In fact, there’s a lot that’s slightly familiar about this futuristic world. A heavy industrial setting, with big factories blowing fire and sparks out of the floor for no real reason. Human survivors who huddle in small groups wearing rags or building Mad Max style weapons. A small child who doesn’t talk but remains remarkably calm in all the chaos. It’s a bit like McG has researched the gig by watching loads of films from the same genre and then packaging them all up into one big fat cliché.

Not that it isn’t an entertaining cliché at least, and there are some fun nods to the originals (some low-key, some bleedin' obvious). But rather than take an ingenious yet simple set up from two insanely popular films and run the plot into new and exciting directions, Salvation just runs ideas into the well worn ground of futuristic chaos. And similarly takes an actor who can bring weight and a silly voice to something amazingly good (Batman), but leaves him to casually bark orders and run about a bit. Bale could have been replaced by any bog-standard actor or token and it would have had the same effect. A bit of a waste, really.

This could very easily have been a big mechanical turd, and it could also have been the revival of an exciting franchise. As it is, Salvation is a reasonably well done version of a familiar genre, but proof that sometimes you should leave some classics where they stand and perhaps try to come up with something brand new. Or just base something on a toy. Terminator Salvation gets a baseline CF0. Good, but not great.

3rd June 09 - Star Trek

Star Trek is one of those phenomenons that is either insanely popular to the point of hysteria in one subset of the population, or a concept that is utterly alien and unknown in the rest. A bit like the Jonas Brothers. I straddle the gap between fan and non-fan, having been exposed to the various series and films throughout my childhood and enjoying it to a point, but not so far as to dress up and attend a themed event. Well, only the once...

This is a genius pairing of a franchise featuring a plethora of fascinating characters and decade-deep ideas, with a director who’s been behind some mega popular high scale TV shows (Alias, Lost) and the best of the Mission Impossible films (number 3). J J Abrams blasts the Trek into the realms of the popular, making a show that many shy away from or turn their noses up at into something any uninitiated Trekster can actually enjoy. Bursting with big-ass fights between ships in space and peppered with some basic hand-to-hand combat in unusual settings, Abrams packs in the action and doesn’t bore.

Though he’s marked himself as more of a Wars fan in the Star categories, Abrams still manages to litter the film with reference after reference to the good ol’ Trek, adding an extra layer for fans to giggle at without diluting the enjoyment for everyone else. The cast are mostly superb, playing the young versions of the original Enterprise crew without relying too much on straight parody or spoof. Zachary Quinto’s Spock is spot-on, and Karl Urban’s Bones hilarious, with the random choice of Simon Pegg to play Scotty working out as a nice comedy touch. Perhaps the hardest part was Kirk, being under Shatner’s formidable shadow, and though Chris Pine keeps away from any attempt to copy the Shat and try a new rebellious side to the young James T, his character seems to be more annoying than believably captain-like.

With a suitably extravagant baddy (Eric Bana as a Romulan) and some neat plays with time travel, Star Trek is big, brash, fun and thrilling. Sucking new fans into the somewhat marvellous world of the Trek, and pressing the right buttons to please the most die-hard fan, Abrams has struck gold with this one and earns himself a CF3. Kick starting the summer blockbuster season with a bang, let’s see if the others can match this one.