Saturday, 24 May 2014

10 Superhero Movie Recommendations

(10 Superhero Movie Recommendations From Neamo)

Before you begin reading this top 10, I must impress upon you that I am not a comic book aficionado. I have little to no interest in the sweat drenched pandering of Marvel and it's vague attempts to keep a fifty year old gravy train on the rails, and I won't be quoting source material or advising films based on fan service. In this sense, those of you looking for the Avengers to top this list should stop reading now as aside from a rant it has no place here. Instead, I've picked a collection of superhero films I genuinely enjoy, and while they are in places off brand, I don't feel that detracts from their value.

The Incredibles
(Honorable Mention)
A classically underrated film that deserves at least an honorable mention. Often overlooked in place of the larger Pixar productions, it's only with the announcement of a sequel in the works that people seem to be glancing back fondly, but for me this was already a fond favorite. Snappy dialogue, a warm heart and a great voice cast lend themselves easily to a film that by rights should have garnered more praise. I haven't included it in the running as I'm trying to keep it to the realms of live action, but I had to give it a mention. Please, watch this film.

(10th Place)
Venturing quickly into the realms of controversial choices, we arrive at my 10th place, Hellboy. Unconventional at best, the brooding anti-hero lives in a world of ingrained corruption, elder gods and monsters called forth by the Nazi mystics of yore, our hero being one such creature. With beautiful creature designs, a perfectly cast Ron Pearlman and a taste for witty repartee, this film would be higher on the list if it didn't suffer from pacing problems and a total lack of anything resembling romantic chemistry. A decent offering, though I would advise you avoid it's sequel.

Mystery Men
(9th Place)
My 9th place goes to the eclectic and dysfunctional troop known only as The Mystery Men. I shall go on record as saying I'm not a fan of Ben Stiller, and while he gives a passable performance as the lead main, his brand and branch of comedy remains firmly beyond my grasp. The supporting cast however provide the backbone to this, from the bumbling Hank Azaria to the ever intriguing Geoffrey Rush, who steals the show as the unquestionably alluring Casanova Frankenstein. Over the top, wildly exuberant and often flamboyantly awful, this film knows what it is, and revels in it. A beautiful if at times caustic lampoon of a bygone era of superhero iconography.

The Shadow
(8th Place)
This was a tricky film for me to place, as while it remains unrelentingly cheesy it also delivers a stylish neo-noir take that the genre til that point had seen precious little of. Dark and brooding, our hero appears more villain than vigilante, and the sobriety of his performance lays in stark contrast with the gaudy guile of his exaggerated foe. While the acting is nothing I can really adorn with any form of praise, the film's feel and direction at least help to smooth over the rough edges. Could it have been better? Certainly, but is it worth my 8th place? Without question.

The Rocketeer
(7th Place)
Taking place during the second world war, The Rocketeer is an unusual 7th place I'll grant you, but it's no less valid. During a time of innovation and wartime madness, a stolen jet pack falls into the hands of a man soon to be hunted by Nazi's who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. It sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well in a peculiar mixture of Iron Man and Indiana Jones, that is exactly what this film is. With a well cast adversary played by Timothy Dalton, a great plot and a generally relaxed and casual attitude to the genre, the real detractor would be the now extremely dated special effects. With that in mind, brace yourselves for a good time, albeit an ugly one.
(6th Place)
Hugh Jackman and Wolverine for me have become interchangeable. I'm not entirely sure I can give it a higher compliment. In my 6th place comes the debut act of a franchise that rose to acclaim, fell to utter disgrace and over the past two iterations has attempted to rise from the ashes like Jean Grey. With a star studded cast featuring the esteemed Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, it's casting remains a true joy to behold. In saying that, the film also sports some of the worst script writing Hally Berry's agents have ever approved (And that's saying something. Seriously.) and while it's hark to the era of spandex is rightly lambasted, it's iconic visuals and performances ease any literary tension. A strong superhero movie that deserves respect, regardless of it's faults, sequels and spin offs.
Iron Man
(5th Place)
Robert Downey Jr is a man of many talents, but for the larger part of his career he was known more for his excessive whore mongering and alcoholism than the acting prowess shown in later years, and much as is the case, life imitates art. My 5th place goes to Iron Man, the film that forced people to give a shit about the Avengers. With great action sequences, a plethora of pop culture references and beautiful special effects, this film was always going to be a contender for one of the higher places. Let down perhaps by a characteristically shoddy end fight, this is a fun romp through a middle aged actors era of hedonism.
The Crow
(4th Place)
And now for something a little more bitter sweet. Brandon Lee was set for stardom, and as my listing this in 4th place will reflect, the man could act. With a vibrant air of the goth culture and it's own rather unique spin on the idea of revenge, The Crow is a film that mixes the excessive flamboyance of camp villainy and pun filled dialogue with a far grittier feel. There are no leotard clad superhero's here to clear the streets or happy endings to bring resolution, just a spirit hungry to avenge his love. While at times the imagery can be a little over the top, the film itself remains a good watch, and a sad reminder of the lead actor's talent, who was accidentally killed on set.

(3rd Place) 
Blade remains the benchmark when all else fades to prove definitively that even in the face of Anne Rice's dreary erotic novella's and Stephenie Meyer's abominations, vampires are cool. Our fanged hero, called the day walker due to his penchant for a sunlit stroll, is a halfbreed and dukes it out with the legions of the undead using a samurai sword and a bag full of sass. The special effects haven't dated well admittedly, but they serve only as garnish to the main course, Wesley Snipes in a trench coat. A 3rd place that will never go out of style.

(2nd Place)
In 2nd place I have Watchmen, a film that keeps a close tie in my heart for first. An easy summation of this movie would be that a psychopath, a warmonger, a genius, a nerd and his girlfriend walk into a bar, and God doesn't care. With a plot that's far too convoluted, and in the same stance too good for me to pick apart in a paragraph, our band of heroes are dysfunctional relics from an era of beloved vigilantes. Lacking real super powers, they were discarded when a man through a horrifying experiment attained super powers, and effectively became a god. I'm not overstating. In the face of that, the film revolves around struggles and loathe in the presence of genuine divinity, and a god who is feeling ennui in the presence of mankind. Wonderful, but depressing.

The Dark Knight
(1st Place)
It had to appear on the list at some point. In 1st place comes the performance, quite literally of a lifetime. That seems like a cold and callous remark of my point, and I apologize if it came over with anything but loving respect, but Heath Ledger's role in the Dark Knight soars above anything else in this film. Crazed and maddened to the point of brilliance, unfortunately if rumors are to be believed it's this same mindset that caused the premature passing of a man who clearly had much more to offer. Does it matter that Christian Bale sounds like he's gargling with a mouth full of marbles? No, as this isn't his film. It seems like ardent flattery, and perhaps it is, but this movie is all about the Joker, and that's exactly as it should be. The rest of the film was okay too.

That's it. It's been a long post and it's been difficult to write, but I'm as happy with it as I can be. Why didn't I include other Marvel recent releases? Well, the Spider-man franchise while entertaining enough hasn't produced an offering I feel I can get fully behind. Thor and Captain America aren't so much film franchises at this point as they are explaining why we should give a shit about Iron Man's friends, and are notably of a lesser quality. Oh, and the Avengers is an over rated cluster fuck. I hope you find this list helpful.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Tedious Town

(Ghost Town Review By Neamo)

I'm sure that greater minds than my own have looked over this film and found a wealth of things to talk of. Perhaps some intangible subtlety otherwise missed or a hidden nugget of delight sitting within plain sight. I'm sure of that, and while I'm pleased that someone undoubtedly will find something good to say of this film, I am not that man. Like the visual delights of the color white, the vibrant flavor of tofu or the scintillating read that is the phone book, this film will stand the test of time as being one of those truly bland experiences.

Following the adventures of a constipated English dentist, we see a premise for the worlds most unlikable man fall like stepping stones leading us across a dreary pool. Unloved and unloving, Bertram Pinkus played by Ricky Gervais, aside from earning the award for the worst name in history, falls foul of a rogue colonoscopy, and dies on the table from a reaction to the general anesthetic. Revived minutes later, Bert can to his chagrin now see ghosts, and is roped into the recently deceased machinations of Frank played by a rather slimy Greg Kinnear. Agreeing to aid in Frank's plans of alienating his wife from her potential new love interest, Bert ultimately begins to fall for the maligned Gwen portrayed by Téa Leoni. Worming his way into her affections, Bert ultimately slithers into a corner he can't back out of when he has to explain knowledge of the deceased, and the two abruptly part ways. After a brief reunion, he dies, is revived once more and the two bond over the idea of Egyptian corpses. Oh, and for a few minutes Bert helps the resident spooks of New York, Sixth Sense style. A happy event for all.

The truth is, when all is said and done I'm left overwhelmingly unenthused by the entire sensation. That doesn't connote that it was bad in of itself, although it certainly remains drab and lackluster, but it leaves me with a great void or chasm of things to discuss. This isn't so much a movie as it is an amalgamation of poor ghost fiction that allows Ricky Gervais to front his mainstay as the most annoying man in the world, and while everyone enjoys a good bastard now and again, the laughs don't support the screenplay. It's possible I've been desensitized to that particular brand of comedy, it's also possible that I lack a sense of humor, but for the life of me I can't understand how it's been branded as a funny film. With little to no comedic timing and a wealth of awkwardness in it's stead, each gag either overplays or falls tragically short, aiding only in the feeling of general ineptitude. The romance that sparks between Gervais and Leoni feels forced and without any on screen chemistry, and ultimately the film just fizzles to an anticlimax. Any other plot cohesion falls flat in the face of his Scrooge like emotional rebirth, and while I can see many would compare this to Scrooge, I would argue that Ebenezer was inherently interesting and this wasn't.

The acting of this film was fairly mediocre. I feel that might come across negatively, and while that isn't my intent it remains the best statement of pooled talent within. Greg Kinnear remains a friendly face and soothing voice, despite his dysfunctional and sleazy portrayal of a shameless womanizer. Perhaps it stands only in contrast to the other lead, but he remains an identifiable source of comfort in a film otherwise destitute of easy viewing. Téa Leoni in slightly less favorable tones portrays a woman who, while beautiful, is just weird enough that you could conceive a world where Ricky Gervais stands a chance. I'm not overstating it, that is the point of her entire character development as an Egyptologist. Ricky Gervais is Ricky Gervais. The sentence ends as it begins and reveals all whilst saying nothing. With harks back to obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety and perhaps a knowing nod to autistic tendencies, the accrued sum of his portrayal stands alone- as a portrayal of Ricky Gervais. If it weren't for the laughable special effects and rare humanizing moments delivered with the tender subtlety of a muggers fist, I would swear blindly that he had no idea he was being filmed.

Of gripes I have few. It was tired, yes, and it was dull, but I've mentioned those things at length throughout. The only other things I could truly pick apart were the laughable attempts at redemption by Gervais in which he solves the problems of a handful of spooks. Throughout the entire film he had been haunted by ghosts asking for his aid, and in a three minute montage he solved their earthly woes, allowing them to pass on. It felt cheap and insulting, frankly, like a writer attempting to plug a literary hole.

In summation, Ghost Town lingers only as a pale emulation other movies. Tedious, humorless and generally unmentionable, it's a film that will be forgotten in moments, as well it should be. Don't watch Ghost Town, watch Ghost.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Books Grief

(The Book Thief Review By Neamo)

I'd like to start with an explanation as to why I'm reviewing this film rather than the promised critique of Ghost Town. If I'm entirely honest, I felt it might be insensitive on my part to review a film entitled such just after writing a memorial for an actor I held in high esteem. It might seem overtly cautious, but it's simply a mark of my own respect. As such I'll complete that review at another time, and lead on with my take on The Book Thief in it's stead.

Opening in the pale of winter, our narrator, Death, takes us on a whimsical and light hearted journey into the depths of Nazi Germany in order to tell us in tones of drawl nostalgia of a member of the Hitler youth he became enraptured with. Liesel, played by Sophie Nélisse, is a girl of communist parents who serves as our titular protagonist, the book thief, and lives alongside the jovial Hans played by Geoffrey Rush and the staunch Rosa portrayed by Emily Watson. Encouraging Liesel to come out of her shell by teaching the girl how to read, Hans ultimately feeds a literary fire within the impressionable Liesel, who in warming to the magic of the snow draped swastika's takes it upon herself to fuel her passion where-ever available. Befriending an Aryan sprint racer with a penchant for black face, Liesel's foster family pay an old debt in taking a Jewish refugee into their house, and life goes on as it may with the sickly but carefree fellow. As time passes, ultimately her friend Max is forced to leave in the increasing pressure of house searches, and Hans too is drafted into war, and while I would like to tell you the crux of this story is of how Liesel steals books, it isn't. It's a bomb. I'm not joking. In a segment that breaks through all traditional story telling rapture of five minutes, a bomb falls on their house killing all but Liesel. Liesel, momentarily filled with despair and ennui, is delighted to find a book after walking past her perfectly preserved friends and family, shrouded by their ruined homes of rubble and splintered timber. Cutting forward, Liesel meets up with Max once more who strides in looking decidedly more debonair than is to have been expected, and it's all finished with a happy and heart warming monologue from the Grim Reaper. It's a family film.

I'm more than a little conflicted in reviewing the plot of this film. I have been assured that the book this originated from portrays the story with the depth this seems to yearn for, but as I haven't read the book I shall have to take those words at face value. Feeling much like a thing of grandeur pulped down for the sake of being concise, the film consistently brings red herrings into the foray in order to build tension, only to let them wane and fade away. Max and his introduction? Merely a footnote. The book given to Liesel, inscribed with Hebrew? A momentary flutter of the imagination. Even the principle act of stealing books builds to nothing as no repercussion save brief scolding amounts of it, and it leaves a man feeling dour. I'm certain these thematic elements were better placed and more deeply drawn within the pages of the original book, but on film it feels like random tangents designed to fill space until the ending act. When the film is entitled the book thief, and aside from a love of literature it has no deep bearing on the plot, one can be forgiven for feeling decidedly misanthropic about the entire affair. The film instead showed a girl's coming of age and development within Nazi Germany, nothing more and nothing less.

The ending of the film is perhaps my largest gripe, and it's also the source of my inner struggle. It's garbage. I know I'll piss off some of the story's more ardent fans who will applaud that it keeps true to character, and shows that death may come for any at a moment's notice. I'm not denying that, nor am I denying the validity considering it's setting. The reason this ending is garbage is entirely involved in it's set up and aftermath. The bomb wipes out the town, and abandoning all reason now that those countless plot devices and mechanisms built carefully from before are now lain to waste, we are left back at square one. That would be fairly bad, but I could live with her clambering from the wreckage and perhaps the ending scene there. Instead after a moment or two of grief we are treated to a sickly sweet reunion and monologue finish in the expanse of five minutes. I felt cheated. Deservedly so. I had felt the tension of the prior moments, and felt eager for the plot to build and gather pace, but it didn't. It simply ended, after an event that was by all other measures an act of deus ex machina. I'm flabbergasted that this was the agreed screenplay, and while the ride til this point had been faintly enjoyable, I quickly regretted investing any time in it.

To talk of the acting, it is for the most part masterfully executed. While I didn't attach to Liesel's dry and rather listless performance as the most ignorant girl on Earth, it wasn't wholly unbelievable. To speak of the girl as an actress however feels to be too much of a kindness, and I would instead compare her to a talking prop. Overtly harsh? Possibly, but she truly gave the weakest performance of the principle cast, and she was the lead protagonist. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson's performances in turn however were things of beauty, as beneath the kindness both seem tired and drawn. In each scene a haunted expression lurks beneath a down trodden smile, or a furtive glance to each tender gesture that otherwise betrays a prior history only hinted at on screen, and it adds true character depth. Ben Schnetzer gives a fair performance as the sickly Max, and although the plot remains a little contrived over the issue, he remained a presence. Nico Liersch gave one of if not the best performances of the film however as Rudy. Proving that children can act in the wake of the lauded but lackluster lead performance, Nico's character remains one of the films true moral centers, and assists in the immersion of the viewer. Oh, and where would I be if I didn't mention Death? Voiced by the legendary Roger Allam, it's a voice that I both instantly recognized and held favor to. A good casting decision.

The music and mise en scene are appropriate to the era. I can't say I was blown away by the setting, but it was a snow capped village in Nazi Germany, and it was never going to be a festival of light and sound. For the large part the music evaded me, save for the juxtaposition of one beautifully shot scene where a choir of the Nazi Youth are singing soft and lilting tones to the cut overture of the Kristallnacht and the horrors therein. I also noted the original German national anthem being sung at the burning of books, which while entirely appropriate became quickly drawn out. It was as it was.

I can't recommend this film with an open heart or ease. For the most part it's fairly unoffensive and actually provides very decent performances from it's leads. It's set well, and the ride though infuriating can provide some satisfaction. It ends however not with a bang, but a whimper. I'd suggest Schindler's List if you are looking for something of that time period that actually provides depth. Or perhaps The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. Watch something else.
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