Wednesday 31 October 2012

Movie Review - Batman Begins

After the explosive conclusion of his renowned Batman trilogy earlier this year, Christopher Nolan is no stranger to any fan of the film industry; and despite his other strong efforts both independent and alongside Hollywood, he will forever hold a strong bond to the caped crusader and the benchmark achievement of reintroducing him to contemporary cinema with style. It's Halloween today, so without further ado, we shall take a trip to the past and explore the dark, fearful and sometimes frightening first installment to a stunning trilogy: Batman Begins.

After the sudden murder of his beloved parents whom he fails to avenge, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world to understand the mind of the criminal and manipulate the essence of fear to utilize in combat. His efforts are picked up by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a member of a vigilante society known as the League of Shadows, who tutors Bruce to 'become more than just a man in the eyes of the opponent'. The society's draconian ideals become too much for Bruce to stand alongside; returning to his home of Gotham City alone, he is joined by his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Applied Sciences colleague Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to become Batman, his caped alter ego dedicated to eradicating crime in a decadent city, though he soon realizes what he tries to stop is linked to those who taught him in the first place.

Batman Begins reeks of dark undertones; the film is constructed in a realistic fashion to portray the titular hero as a real human being with internal struggles and physical competition, not an unstoppable icon with the bulk of a superhuman. This portrayal makes for an interesting narrative that unveils in a way that pits Bruce Wayne, not his caped alter ego, in the center of the frame. The hero's journey explores Wayne's sense of loss and his consequent actions because of it brilliantly, capturing the emotional integrity of key scenes which is all backed by some very strong acting, particularly from Liam Neeson. Though a realistic tone is maintained across the plot, don't feel any suspension of disbelief has been abandoned; Batman retains an arsenal of badass gadgets and a brilliantly redesigned Batmobile (dubbed the Tumbler) as well as an expertly designed suit which gives him the intimidating yet iconic appearance on screen.

Visually, Batman Begins looks very tangible; there is a limited use of CGI in favour of stunts, models and detailed set design. Everything is modelled with a great level of attention in mind, making even the smallest aspects of a set very appealing and showing just how much care went into the filmmaking process. The suit of our iconic superhero is also designed with realism and appearance in mind; it's crafted together by the characters themselves, who even explain the materials used and piece it together as the story progresses, but still captures the fearful essence the original costume adopted so well and never looks silly or embarrassing. Batman Begins only suffers in the visual side of things in one major aspect, which is the camerawork in certain action scenes. Namely prominent in the climactic fight scene, the camerawork can be clumsily positioned and made worse by overly rapid editing which reduces the aforementioned battle scene to a mishmash of grunts, punches and nonsensical martial arts attacks. Some of the film's combat scenes also feel very synthetic, with no real ferocity or speed.

Batman Begins is backed by a plethora of strong performances, a fantastic soundtrack by the amazing Hans Zimmer and a story that is well focused, fluently told and explorative of entertaining themes and ideas. Seven years down the line and with the trilogy finally over, Batman Begins is still a remarkable effort from Nolan and his team and a great way to spearhead an acclaimed film franchise. Batman became a laughing stock of campy costumes and idiotic villains after his second cinematic release in 1989: Batman Begins not only ended this nonsense, it saved the character and reintegrated him to modern audiences brilliantly.

Friday 26 October 2012

Movie Review - Skyfall

It's been four years since Bond hit our screens with the thrilling albeit convoluted 2008 hit Quantum of Solace, and now after a long wave of complications and now anticipation, 007 finally returns with Skyfall, not only the pinnacle of Bond films in general but the finest release of 2012 by far.

After a disastrous mission in Turkey culminating with a terrible misfire, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is missing and presumed killed, leaving MI6 open to a cyberterrorist attack which strikes from the core and leaves several agents dead and the rest exposed from their cover. Sent back into the fray following his sporadic return to England, Bond soon finds the true mastermind behind the threat: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a man whose past and motives challenge Bond's own loyalty to M (Judi Dench) and, in turn, MI6 itself.

Skyfall abandons the unbalanced, action fuelled vibe of its 'predecessor' in favour of a story that not only makes sense but carries a great deal of backstory, emotional resonance and plenty of tension. James Bond himself is developed beautifully as a character; Daniel Craig's past two outings have largely explored Bond as an agent, his role in the career of an MI6 operative. Skyfall delves further into his life as a man and his past as a child, all of which is intertwined with kinetic, well directed action scenes and a ton of wit.

This modernized and realistic interpretation of the franchise is continued flawlessly, but fans in particular will be surprised by the nods and throwbacks to the past iterations and their organic role in advancing the storyline. There's some major twists throughout which aren't gimmicky with a sole purpose to shock the audience but extremely well plotted and executed with sheer style. The action intertwined throughout is choreographed fantastically and bursting with imagination; it's not generic car chases and dull fistfights but a great deal of adrenaline pumping explosions, crashes and all manner of insane set pieces. It's especially important you view these in IMAX, for this is where they truly shine.

It's all beautifully acted and backed by a strong soundtrack, including a masterful theme song by Adele. Craig proves he can perfect the gritty and violent Bond but never portrays him as a robot with one strict emotion, providing a lot of humour to each scene and brilliantly executing some of the strong emotional moments. Silva is portrayed by Spanish actor Javier Bardem with an equal amount of excellence, the only flaw being the character's vague backstory which in turn weakens his motives. Other than that, he's a complete loony, albeit an intelligent and awesome one.

Skyfall blends the old and the new into a perfect outcome; it's easily the series' finest outing and a marvellous way to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Those who were disappointed with Solace will no longer feel short changed, and those picky fans who still doubt Craig's ability in the role should hopefully shut the f*** up.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Movie Review - Paranormal Activity 4

Today I made the decision to watch Paranormal Activity 4, the latest in the money printing supernatural horror series that began in 2007 and has since evolved from subtlety to outright silliness. As the film concluded with its daftly awkward ending, a humourous usher at the cinema remarks 'I'll see you back for the next three!'. The next three. Paranormal Activity 5, 6 and 7. Everyone and their mother will be gazing at the statement in terror, with feelings of negativity pumping through their veins; and yet, the films will still catch money like diseases. But what exactly makes them such enticing films? Who knows, but Paranormal Activity 4 certainly doesn't exemplify the answer.

Alex Nelson (Kathryn Newton) lives next door to an isolated house inhabited by deranged child Robbie (Brady Allen) who frequently sneaks into her own property alongside an apparent invisible 'friend'. When Robbie comes to stay with Alex and her family following the hospitalization of his mother, an unsettling atmosphere arises and mysterious sounds begin to plague the house corridors. Determined to locate the source of the paranormality, Alex and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shivley) set up a network of CCTV cameras across the building to uncover the true motives of Robbie and the mysterious entity he speaks of.

What made the first Paranormal Activity so effective in areas was the actual realism behind the use of home video footage and the subtlety of the events, such as the simplistic but tension mounting opening of a door. As the series progressed these tactics became naught but abused clichés, and the fourth installment enjoys lounging back on these instead of injecting any effort or innovation into the storyline or content. Devoid of any scares, Paranormal Activity 4 baby feeds you with irritatingly loud noises, quiet moments which only serve to prepare the aforementioned jump scares and a home video footage style which is utterly contrived. Seriously, why the hell are these people carrying expensive cameras everywhere they go?

There is little else I can say of this film that isn't utterly obvious. The premise is tired and the conventions were dead and buried long before this latest iteration: supernatural horror isn't a lost cause, but films like this make you doubt its success in contemporary cinema. The acting is stupid, the product placement is horrendous and the lack of scares makes this a bloated and unnecessarily long borefest. Might I also add that the reasonably scary scene shown in the trailer is not in the film. Total bullshit.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Movie Review - Hotel Transylvania

With the advent of 3D dominating modern cinema, animated films are far more commonplace than ever before; the genre has fallen victim to a lackluster reputation of thin scripts, predictable narratives and cheap morals shoved into the faces of the young audience, and while every so often you're greeted with an animated flick that can reach dual audiences, far more likely are films like Hotel Transylvania where the BBFC rating manages to sum up the narrative, gags and morals in an instant.

Following the tragic death of his wife many centuries ago, the overprotective and xenophobic Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) vows to keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe from the persecution of mankind by constructing a gargantuan castle within a haunted forest: dubbed Hotel Transylvania, the landmark acts as a way for monsters to kick back and relax in a human-free zone. When the comforting tradition is broken with the arrival of Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a lone human traveller, Dracula is tied up in a hectic conflict to keep his daughter protected, but soon realizes there is more to the human race than he originally thought.

Sony Pictures Animation have crafted a highly comedic visual look for the film, with absurd facial expressions and zany, slapstick gags, joined by added 3D depth which, you guessed it, is absolutely worthless. The look adds a certain charm to the characters and humour, but ultimately isn't strong enough to redeem Hotel Transylvania from its many flaws. An endless wave of screaming, cartoon violence and occasional fart gags bombard the audience at a relentless pace to a point where it almost feels demeaning; there's no shortage of funny jokes, but even the mediocre slapstick is crushed underneath irritating pop culture references.

At times it's difficult to tell where the film is trying to go with its narrative; it all seems to come an abrupt halt throughout the middle to make way for endless slapstick and silliness, as if cobbling the misplaced ideas of a child. The hollow script is already highly dull, but towards the end the writers seemed to have given up completely; there is what I shall dub a deux ex machina as the story reaches the conclusion which is so contrived, unbelievable and lazy that the film immediately loses any remaining decency with its plot devices. Be honest now: can you really sit there and tell me you don't know what the ending is already?

The voice cast is strong and great fun; Adam Sandler becomes comedically involved with the character which makes him vastly entertaining alongside the strong supporting cast including Samberg, Steve Buscemi, David Spade and Kevin James. The only real downer is Selena Gomez herself, whose character is not only boring and often annoying but also performed with no real excitement or interest. Hotel Transylvania is definitely one for the very young or very mad, exuding no real depth or creativity whatsoever with a premise that seems half decent. A weak story and endless reliance on slapstick humour drowns the audience in mediocrity and pure laziness, which the film utterly reeks of.

Friday 12 October 2012

CarrCom Blubs - The Attic

So we've already covered the timeless Five trilogy, but now it's time to move onto something that actually has a plot, decent acting, actual atmosphere, unfunny villains...sorry, got carried away. Let's move onto the blub list of The Attic, CarrCom's biggest and most acclaimed film to date! We shot over 2 hours of footage for this monster and it was cut down to a 45 minute film, so there's plenty of room for stupidity.

  • Factual mistake (2:07) - Not really a true blub, but an interesting bit of revealing trivia. At this point we hear the train announcer state that the next station is Southampton Central. This was of course dubbed over, as it was in fact two stations away.
  • Revealing (5:08) - Bit tricky to see, but this close up shot shows Joseph calling David Hughes' house phone. The phone states it is a Saturday (which it was on the day of filming), but in the context of the film, Joseph attended college that day which means it had to be a weekday.
  • Continuity (6:17) - In this shot, Joseph exits the kitchen at David's house. At first he clearly closes the door whilst facing away from it toward the staircase, but in the next shot, he is right in front of the door and facing the bathroom one.
  • Continuity (9:04) - In this shot, the train is supposed to be at the station. However, if you look on the far right of the screen between a white pillar and the brick wall of the waiting room, you can see the very edge of the platform and the train is now gone.
  • Continuity (9:50) - Joseph is standing on the footbridge, confused at David's repeating words down the phone. As he stands bewildered in this shot, his left arm is reaching out and holding the wall of the bridge, but in the very next shot his arm has dropped to his side.
  • Continuity (11:53) - Joseph grabs his bedroom door and opens it with his right hand, but in the next shot, he is opening it with his left hand.
  • Continuity (19:35) - When Joseph opens his wardrobe, an Amazing Spider-Man poster is seen beside him which was not there in previous scenes.
  • Continuity (19:39) - Joseph's bed has consistently had a zebra striped duvet and Union Jack cover on it, yet in this shot it is shown to have a brown cover instead. You can also see the duvet very slightly to the far left of the screen; it is now dark blue.
  • Plot hole (19:41) - Joseph grabs a torch and packs it in the bag, yet in the final night scene he is shown using matches to see.
  • Continuity (20:44) - When Joseph enters David's room upon returning to the house a second time, the posters in the background have been shifted around. This is quite hard to spot without both shots to compare.
  • Continuity (20:51) - David's bedroom duvet has been consistently dark blue textured with images of stars and moons up till now, where it has suddenly turned jet black.
  • Continuity (22:44) - Joseph has a sip of his glass of water, holding it in his left hand. In the next shot where he exits the house, it is in his right hand. Then, when he appears on the lawn of the garden, it is back in his left hand.
  • Continuity (25:49) - This shot which scrolls over the final tattered note clearly shows that Joseph is holding it with one hand, yet in the next shot he is holding it with two. This is of course because I was holding the camera to film the close up pan.
  • Continuity (29:05) - When Joseph enters the empty bedroom of the house, a new poster has appeared out of nowhere on the wall to his left.
  • Revealing (35:27) - We see the audio recording of David's panic play on Audacity, and then abruptly end. Obviously Joseph just repeated this part of the recording, but you can still see the Audacity file playing with no sound.
  • Audio problem (37:35) - Though this occurs in minor doses throughout the film, it is most noticeable here. When the camera pans up to the lit room of the house, you can easily hear the movement of the tripod craning.
  • Deliberate mistake (match scene) - Does this house have no smoke alarms? Of course for filming purposes they were manually switched off to avoid annoying interference, but it's still a mistake.
  • Continuity (several) - There are a couple of errors with continuity throughout the film thanks to Joseph's phone. When Joseph calls Mike at 17:16, the date is shown to be May 18. Joseph then returns home and immediately departs to David's house, where the weather changes instantly from rainy to bright and sunny (20:01). The day after, Joseph receives another ghosting call from David (36:31) and the date is shown to be May 23 - it should be May 19. Also, when Joseph checks the time at 22:21, it is shown to be 4:32pm. However, when he called Mike on the same day a few hours before, the time was shown to be 5:15pm on his phone. Oops.
Wow, the biggest blub list of them all! That concludes the CarrCom Blubs blog series until next year, when Nightmare shall get its own list (of course it needs finishing first). Thanks for reading!

Monday 8 October 2012

Movie Review - Sinister

Supernatural horror is something so abused and so overcooked that a contemporary entry to this genre will struggle to gain limelight; clichés of endless jump scares and generic demonic antagonists are adopted by most films of this tired category, but these conventions don't necessarily equal bad quality - solid execution of such conventions by someone who knows what they're doing can truly bring a supernatural horror to life, as proven by this year's Sinister.

True crime writer Ellison (Ethan Hawke) moves into a new home with his family, secluding the secret that a murder took place on the site many years before. Using this as inspiration for his next book, Ellison soon stumbles across a box of dusty super 8 home videos depicting further murders from the past, all linked by a strange symbol and a ghostly, pale skinned figure. As the atmosphere of the house becomes increasingly unsettling, Ellison soon realises his desire for a narrative basis unveils a menacing chain of mysterious homicides; his attempt to piece together the evidence, however, only lures the disaster closer.

Sinister is conventional; that's one to clear up before anything. Dark settings, nighttime scares, loud noises, scary screams. It's all here, compiled alongside a fairly standard but gripping storyline with some emotional depth. There is some expert tension during the film's silent sequences, particularly toward the very end, and the jump scares pierce the dreading silence in an effective manner. It goes without saying though that the jump scares develop into something extremely irritating as everything progresses, becoming lazy ways to culminate a wave of tension and in most cases have no solid outcome.

The narrative can feel a bit dreary and sluggish when things kick off and toward the middle portion; the malevolent deity is used a bit too sparingly and thus doesn't feel as cemented into the overall plot as it could've been, instead being shunted a little bit to the sidelines despite having some truly shocking moments. The storyline is backed by some very strong acting, particularly by Hawke himself who grasps the personality of his character brilliantly whilst portraying a convincing scaredy pants act. The only area where the acting dips is with his wife Tracy, played by Juliet Rylance who seems to rehearse her strange accent rather than act an interesting character.

Sinister is a wonderfully shot and well plotted fare, supported by strong performances and well executed genre conventions. It isn't perfect - but for an entry to a genre so lacklustre in modern times, it's a refreshing experience and one that will truly exude some chills. 

Saturday 6 October 2012

CarrCom Blubs - The Reign of Five

At last we arrive at the final blub list for the Five trilogy: The Reign of Five was a lot more polished than its predecessors when it comes to technical aspects but had a few dumb plot holes and errors. Let's check them out!

  • Revealing (1:02) - It may not be that obvious a blub, but it is evident in this scene that Nathan is not even typing but just gently tapping the keys.
  • Factual mistake (5:11) - George was beaten to death but merely has red stains across his face. In reality, he'd have some serious bruises and broken bones along with a lot more blood.
  • Plot hole (6:52) - Despite claiming earlier that Five could never gain freedom with one soul, his master then asks for Nathan's own. Granted, the map is also part of the deal, but it is never made clear why Nathan's soul is so critical to it all.
  • Plot hole (7:12) - Five, in Nathan's body, claims he cannot touch the map when not in a physical state - so then how does he move it when in his invisible demonic form to lure his victims?
The smallest one yet...but I'm sure there'll be plenty more blubs to admire when The Attic's list arrives...

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Movie Review - Looper

With franchise and popular genre films raking in the cash for Hollywood nowadays, it's very rare to see something that bravely innovates with a unique concept - this year's Looper, a time travel action flick by Rian Johnson, seemingly stands out from the crowd with its original premise, but has it truly put the innovation to good use?

By 2072, time travel has been invented but immediately rendered illegal - that doesn't stop the technology spreading across the black market, where criminal organizations utilize it to zap a person they want executed 30 years into the past to be quietly killed off by a collaborative paid assassin: a Looper. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a rookie Looper, makes the ultimate mistake one day when he lets his future retired self (Bruce Willis) escape execution and flee into the present day to instigate revenge against his captors - his life depending on the completion of his assassination, Joe must now hunt down his future self whilst fleeing from the punishment of his remorseless employers.

Looper begins as an enjoyable and subtle science fiction flick - the film is primarily set in the year 2044, which is thankfully never exaggerated into a mishmash of CGI skyscrapers, spaceships and alien societies. Instead, the setting has a polished conservative feel, and the film mainly pinpoints toward the action genre with enjoyable set pieces and gunfights. But as Looper goes on, it loses steam. There is a distinct lack of focus when Joe's older self swoops into the fray, along with an almighty squandering of the creative premise throughout the middle and final moments of the film. The science fiction element is lost in translation, and the introduction of the character Sara (Emily Blunt), who serves as a sort of love interest, is where the story slides back onto lousy clichés and dull character development.

There is absolutely no chemistry between the two Joe's, just a bunch of argumentative banter and distant conflicting views - when the two are split apart throughout the bulk of the film, the focus is confused beyond measure and Bruce Willis becomes criminally underused and shunted aside in favour of gratuitous sex scenes and sluggish pacing. The film lacks any sense of urgency or thrill as the villain is never really explored, and in fact it seems Bruce Willis' character is sometimes just there to shoehorn a bit of excitement and action into what is without a doubt a boring film.

Is it bad? No. It's wonderfully acted, has its moments of emotional and narrative brilliance and definitely has a vastly creative premise. The younger version of Joe is an interesting character, one that is ravaged with flaws despite being the protagonist which makes him less of a pretentious hero and more of a diverse one; sadly his older self has very few moments to define him as anything more than a vengeful, generic action hero and the two share no real exciting moments. The film is visually impressive and very well shot, but unfortunately it squanders an impressive premise on a flimsy storyline and boring pacing. A decent flick, but not as 'mind boggling' as it's rendered out to be.