Browsing all articles from August, 2010

expendables

The former Pendables.

Whatever effort Sylvester Stallone exerted when making The Expendables seemed to go into his appearance. Covered in the kind of body art that really brings a prison cell to life, more ripped than anyone in the SAGA catchment area has any right to be and seemingly wearing eyeliner offset by a slightly effeminate beard, he looks like a chiselled lump of wood painted to resemble a human, or a new romantic tribute act stumbling away from a terrible accident involving gamma radiation and varnish. As a physical specimen, he’s a fascinating subject worthy of further analysis, as a character, he’s about as deep as the minimum gene pool requirements needed to understand the film’s plot.

As much as was promised that this would be one last hurrah for the 80s action heroes, Stallone’s obviously held back by his desire to be taken seriously as an artist. This ambition kind of worked for Rambo, because the character’s essentially a child – albeit one who tears people’s throats out – and you feel sorry for him even when he’s being used to make lofty observations about war and human nature. But his character in The Expendables doesn’t seem quite as mentally defunct so his motivation for going to a small South American island to kill everything is the wrong kind of stupid and needlessly contrived*.

We don’t need to understand the plot machinations in The Expendables because they’re mercenaries. All we need at the start of the film is someone offering the team a bag stuffed with cash, weapons and a map highlighting a small island with a drawing of a bomb, and we’re away. The same applies to scenes showing the characters’ personal lives. As far as I’m aware Jason Statham is probably attacked by ninjas when he returns home every night so why they decide to show him have tedious relationship problems in The Expendables is beyond me.

I suspect that when he finished writing the script, Stallone probably had about 5 pages, so had to keep adding stuff that didn’t involve people getting shot to keep the budget down. This would also explain why the film is only bookended by the full team in action, the rest of the time it’s the Stallone / Statham show, which is disappointing unless you’re a fan of cheesy banter and homo-eroticism. There is a 3-way scene between Stallone, Arnie and Bruce Willis (which sounds all kinds of wrong when following the previous sentence) but whatever momentum is generated from their appearance together is soon lost thanks to poor jokes and Arnie’s distracting ‘Superman From Del Monte’ outfit.

When things do finally kick off in The Expendables it goes some way to fulfilling its potential, becoming loud and exciting, if not easy to follow.

Despite having awesome-on-paper match-ups like Jet-Li versus Dolph Lundgren, Li and Staham versus direct to video colossus, Gary Daniels, and 2 large bald men shouting at each other, the camerawork subscribes to the modern aesthetic that shakiness >  being able to tell what’s going on. It’s likely that Scott Pilgrim contains better old-school fight choreography despite a common perception that it’s less manly. Not that I’d know, because it’s not out in the UK yet, hence you and my mum reading a review of the new Eric Roberts film.

Despite its flaws, I did have fun with The Expendables. It is something of a thrill to see a number of actors rise up from the bottom shelf of the video shop (ask your parents) to get their moment on the big screen again. And despite some pandering to the modern action aesthetic and his creative aspirations, Stallone has made a film that holds up to the  80s action heyday. Just think Cobra and Red Scorpion instead of Die Hard and Predator.

* For the record the reason appears to be because he’s given a drawing of an attractive lady and Mickey Rourke tells him a story that makes his eyes leak man-tears. It’s a good scene from Rourke, but a bit random.

“It’s upside down, Mr Bay.”

I caught the first few minutes of Michael Bay’s Transformers the other day, something I vowed to avoid after having my sensibilities raped in a darkened cinema in 2007. But as bad as Transformers was (and come on, it was SHIT) I found myself wondering if the source material was as good as my 10 year old self had led me to believe. And by that token was Transformers 2007 as good as one could have expected?

Is Michael Bay guilty of dumbing-down a decent intellectual property? Or was the mythology getting the kind of half-arsed treatment that robots in disguise deserve? And if they were does that mean EVERYTHING I’ve come to believe in is a lie?

Obviously answers to such existential questions can only be formulated after a prolonged process of research, analysis and long walks through green fields, so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the world’s dumbest Transformers.

Apeface

apeface

With a name like Apeface you wouldn’t imagine this chap to be causing Stephen Hawking many sleepless nights. True to form, Apeface transforms from a robot into a plane and an ape, which must come in handy when shit pops off on airport runways and zoo enclosures. This ape head is formed by a Headmaster named ‘Spasma’ and with educational instruction like that is it any wonder he turned out to be an idiot?

Colossus

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As well as getting no love from Wikipedians this robotard changes from an evil robot obsessed with the destruction of mankind into the front end of a truck. That’s right, ‘front end’ as in ‘half a truck’. So if the Autobots are looking for this chump all they have to do is search the nearest council estate or monster truck rally.

Doublecross

doublecross

Changes from a robot into a dragon. Seems like someone didn’t get the memo: the idea is ‘robots in disguise’. Doublecross would be more obvious to spot if it weren’t for another Transformer who disguises himself as a rollover winning lottery ticket stapled to a leprechaun wearing a suit made of Red Rum. I’m kidding, but Doublecross is still a dick.

Sky Lynx

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This arsehole’s idea of reality obviously falls somewhere between an LSD flashback and that episode of 24 with the mountain lion. Sky Lynx is probably known as the clever one among his peers for his ability to change from a space shuttle into a bird and a wild cat. Genius. When he’s not blending into the background as a multi-million dollar space exploration vehicle, he can be found chasing himself round the garden.

Trypticon

trypticon

Trypticon has the ability to change between 3 forms: a battlestation, a dinosaur and a city. When he’s not being attacked by the combined might of the world’s armies, he can be found being attacked by the combined might of the world’s armies and being attacked by the combined might of the world’s armies. Trypticon’s attempts at stealth are about as plausible as finding ‘subtle’ in the Collins New Cybertronian Dictionary. Total prick.

Ultra Magnus

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A second in command, brought in to replace a more popular, charismatic and successful (though war-obsessed) leader turns out to be completely crap at the job. Yep, Ultra Magnus is essentially a less robotic Gordon Brown. And despite being able to change into a truck, he’s even less popular. During his short tenure as chief Autobot, Ultra Magnus led his people to a junk planet before admitting he wasn’t up to the job. What a complete wanker.

Conclusion

By now you probably think the writing’s on the wall for the Transformers. But you’d be wrong. If a Japanese toy line could predict contemporary political fallouts from over 20 ago, who’s to say that we can’t predict other events from the eternal war between the Autobots and the Decepticons? Reason dictates the answer lies somewhere between ‘common sense’ and ‘sanity’, but this way Michael Bay remains a cinematically retarded bumhead who wouldn’t know visual coherence and narrative structure if he were taught to read by the spirit of DW Griffith. And that’s the way I prefer it.

alternate2

Is Charlie Kaufman working in the straight-to-DVD market?

Why is it so difficult to find decent video games based on movies?

It’s probably based on unrealistic time constraints and the fact that publishers are pretty sure that people will buy any old shit. But instead of researching why and presenting my findings in a clear, concise and compelling fashion,  I’m going to talk about 3 movie based video games that have provided me with more enjoyment than their cinematic counterparts.

Alien 3

alien3

“Fuck your ideas, David.”

The film: Following the double-whammy of Alien and Aliens, Sigourney Weaver was in a great position to negotiate the terms for making Alienss. Her requests allegedly started with no guns, but whether they also ran to no hair, no aliens and no script remains to be seen. Basically, Alien 3 was a text-book example of the dangers of star power, meddling producers, no agreed script and a bullied director (David Fincher – what were they thinking?) After several interesting changes of direction (the infamous wooden planet, a William Gibson penned stab) the producers settled on an approach that aimed for the middle – and still fell well short.

alien3snes

OK, so when you look at it now…

The game: In a time before the miracle of ‘synergy’ ensured a consistant experience between different ‘media streams’ (re. crap game comes out at the same time as an average film), the Alien 3 video game makers could presumably work unhindered. They obviously decided that a game where you run away from a bunch of rapey slapheads while being shouted at by Brian Glover wouldn’t be much fun, and created an experience that was good in every way that the film wasn’t. Alien 3 the game had loads of weapons, loads of aliens to use them on and featured Bill Paxton’s sample, which was no-brainer, but a commendable one. I borrowed a friend’s SNES and this game and played the living shit out of it. Alien 3 was amazing.

Result: The restored version of Alien 3 on DVD wasn’t too bad, but, then again, shingles doesn’t seem so bad 10 years on. The AvP films have also been released in the interim, and were so bad that they could make you remember terminal illness through rose-tinted glasses from the afterlife.

The Matrix

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Second hardest vicar in cinema history.

The film: One of the major problems with The Matrix sequels is that by the end of the first film they’ve essentially created a Superman, albeit one you might see down the bus station, sulking. So when they came back for part 2 they were faced with a common problem: how do you pose a threat to Superman? You could either labour him with the kind of problems that affect mortal men, like in Superman Returns (an unexpected kid, a girlfriend with a large forehead), or just unravel what you accomplished in the first film. The theme of choice also played a large part in the sequels, at least I think it did. They mentioned it enough. Maybe the obsession came from the Wachowski brothers’ inability to make a good one?

matrixpathneo

Party like it’s 1999 with graphics from 2006.

The game: Imagine a Matrix sequel that didn’t involve attending a huge, stupid rave, didn’t involve awkward conversations about choice and half-hour lectures from Colonel Sanders about, well, whatever that scene was about. Imagine if it just cut to the chase while removing the fat.

The Path of Neo not only allowed you to re-enact the good parts from all 3 films while moving beyond the films in a way that was actually quite decent. Along with Drunken Master 2 inspired scraps and B&W dust-ups in pagodas, when you reached the end, instead of ‘winning’ by lying down and allowing yourself to be fingered by Agent Smith, he turns into a massive monster made of cars and starts throwing shit at you. This scene was supposed to be a joke, as confirmed by a comical introduction from the Wachowski brothers, but they only helped to dig a bigger hole for their films by displaying more passion in 20 snark-filled seconds than they managed to muster in both of their Matrix sequels.

Result: The Matrix sequels are a perfect showcase for computer graphics and, by the same token, are robotic and lifeless with barely an ounce of passion. The Neo game was something of a rough diamond, showing that video game conventions were probably better suited to telling a story that was so clearly video game inspired.

Goldeneye 007

goldeneye-pierce-brosnan

Second hardest catalogue model in cinema history.

The film: Timothy Dalton was ahead of his time as Bond. People generally weren’t ready for scenes of violence commited by a man who didn’t look like he spent his weekends in the window of C&A. In this regard, Goldeneye was a step backwards. But in every other way it took the series forward in the most entertaining way possible – including the best 2 Bond girls evvah. Goldeneye may have dated slightly with some obvious model work (not just from Brosnan) and by not featuring villains in turbans, but it was clearly the best of the Brosnans, as evidenced by director Martin Campbell’s return for Casino Royale.

klobb

 

Never bring a klobb to a gunfight.

The game: Not really sure how to put into words just how good Goldeneye was on the N64. Basically, 1997 was a blur due to a perfect storm of this game and a ‘relaxing’ social habit. I invested countless hours with my equally aspiration-less chums running around pyramids in search of golden guns, and swearing at well-dressed Japanese midgets.

The single player was no slouch either. Despite offering little variation in terms of replayability it kept you hooked by offering solid mechanics and by dangling cheats at the end of maddening speed-runs through its levels. In fact the mechanics were so solid that few experiences in my life have been as satisfying as using a silenced PP7 to ventilate Russian soldiers with weirdly realistic faces. Goldeneye was a truly a game for the ages, often emulated, never bettered.

Result: Goldeneye the film was good at the time but its legacy is in heralding better things: a game that became a social phenomena – to the least social members of society – and a revolution for the Bond franchise.

Also published here.

1. Inception

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Christopher Nolan’s mind-fuck is more like a metaphysical version of Heat than The Matrix in a pressed-suit. In many ways a conventional heist film with one of the most compelling and unique ‘jobs’ ever put to film. But if you’re after a display of its meta-powers, it’s like Nolan went into every other filmmaker’s dreams, stole their good ideas and replaced them with shit ones. (At least, that’s how I’d like to explain how we’re halfway through the year and I only have 3 films in my Top 10).

Pick something at random, point at it and in all likelihood, Inception is probably more intelligent than it – unless of course you’re pointing at Bamber Gascoigne, Stephen Fry or that small child with the curly hair from the 90s that was really good at antiques. However, if you’re pointing at 1 and 3, you probably haven’t moved for 20 years and are either: dead, dreaming (Ooooooooooh), or intellectually outclassed by your belly-button fluff.

2. Lebanon

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A tour through one of the world’s most beautiful locations from the inside of a dark, damp, sweat-filled box. Thankfully, Lebanon, isn’t set in Judith Chalmers’ under-passage, but it is (one would imagine) equally haunting, scary and disorientating. Unlike said tour (still imagining here) the film is also incredibly exciting and equally moving. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before; unless of course you’re the director, who based it on his real-life experiences as a tank gunner in the Lebanon war, which, as shit jobs go, must rank alongside being Jamie Oliver’s toothbrush for sheer unbridled horror.

Despite the obvious hardship in revisiting his youth, Samuel Maoz’s filmmaking-as-therapy makes for incredible cinema that stays with you. It’s just a place you probably won’t want to visit again.

3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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In the past year, I’ve been confronted by 2 glassy-eyed people, both recommending books with such conviction that I felt a little bit scared. One of these books was Dianetics by Lionel Ron Hubbard, the other was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. One book’s filmic adaptation: Battlefield Earth, offered much in the way of LOL-age, whereas the other raised barely a chuckle. But what The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo loses by not featuring a 9ft tall alien John Travolta with dreadlocks, it makes up for by being completely unshit.

There’s nothing revolutionary about Niels Arden Oplev’s film; it’s basically the immensely entertaining culmination of great work from all involved: It tells its tale in an engaging and confident way, is beautifully shot, well acted and keeps you entertained to the last frame. There’s not much more to be said really, except that despite undoing the good work that the Swedish tourist board have been doing over the years, with Abba and that Chef from the Muppets, the film made me want to visit Sweden, despite the now apparent risk of rape/murder/beer in hair.

4. Precious

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Another gruelling film which stays with you and forces you to think – though in the case of having to write about it, I’m left thinking: “If only Iron Man 2 wasn’t so crap”. The story of Precious, a girl growing up in Harlem in the 80s, is basically the last-word in cinematic hardship. And as the challenges she has to overcome get bigger, she becomes more emotionally resilient and, for better or worse (though normally worse),  you’re with her every step of the way.

Compared to what she goes through in the preceeding hours, Precious’ emancipation ends the film  on something of a high-note. Though if you’re expecting the strange, orgiastic dance scenes of of Mamma-Mia, you’d be way-off and probably have comparable problems to those of the protaganist. In short, it’s highly, but hesitantly, recommended.