Comic Review: Captain America the First Avenger film tie-in

MCU logo

Probably for the first time in my life, I am a regular comic reader at the moment. I had long found comics too hard to get into, a niche subculture that I was interested in but that I struggled to find an entry point into. But after discovering a quality local shop nearby and getting into a bunch of ongoing series I am pretty hooked.

But this lack of real history with the form, means that I have no idea if film tie-ins are viewed with the same level of disparagement as they are with film tie-in novels (and a vast majority of tie-in games too). In any case, I grabbed the two issue limited series Captain America: The First Avenger the other day to check out. I am not entirely sure when the series came out, but it does seem a little strange that the series would be released more or less in association the second Captain America film. In any case, it is nice to dip back into the period world of the first Cap film. The two issues feature posters for the film as their covers. The connection to the film is made even plainer by the character design. Wisely, the character designs suggest the actors that play them in the film, without looking distractingly similar. Overall the art is assured, but relatively standard. It is a little old fashioned in a way, which helps to set the period atmosphere, capturing the hyper patriotism of the time and by extension the character of Captain America.

Apologies for the crappy phone photo -  I couldn't find any pics of the book online.

Apologies for the crappy phone photo – I couldn’t find any pics of the book online.

The major issue with this limited series is simply a structural one. There is far too much story to fit into just two issues. And when it is trying hard to do so, that is when the work splutters a fair bit. The plot needs space to breathe, but here there is not even enough space to cram the entire plot in, let alone add breathing space and other flourishes around the fringes. The writing is very wordy to try and get the film’s entire plot across. However, even with all the words, large swathes of development have to be canned because it is being adapted into such a short format. So characters come along with absolutely no introduction and events jump from one to another with large gaps in between. In reality, if you have not seen the film, the comics will be pretty hard to follow as there is just so much left out and not even really hinted at. The deficiencies in the storytelling are not just troublesome from a narrative point of view. It also means that the strength of the early parts of the comic – the war time atmosphere – is significantly diluted too, because none of it really makes it through to the story driven sequences. So much is being crammed in that only the action can be conveyed, nothing deeper.

There is plenty of really good stuff in this tie-in. But quite simply, the series needed to be three or four times longer so there was not a need to skip over such huge amounts of story. By doing that, a vast majority of the series’ issues could have been alleviated and this trip back to WWII would have been a lot more satisfying.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

Related articles for you to check out: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Spanish Film Festival: Preview and competition

Spanish film fest poster

Next week sees the beginning of the 2014 Spanish Film Festival. The festival will be touring around the country, with screenings at Palace Cinemas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth and Byron Bay. The festival features 30 films, bringing a whole new chapter of exposure to Spanish cinema, one of the strongest national cinemas in film.

Below are five highlights of the festival for you to look out for, in no particular order:

  • Living is Easy with Eyes Closed: The opening night film of this year’s festival is the only one I happen to have seen. It cleaned up at the 2014 Goya Awards taking out Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor and Best New Actress amongst many others. The film itself is a really light road-trip, as one man aims to fulfil his dream of meeting John Lennon and picks up a couple of young hitchhikers along the way. It is really life affirming stuff and a film I really loved. Make sure you check it out if you get the chance.
  • Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang: I mean really, how can you not want to see a film with that title. Based on Spanish comic book characters, this looks like a rollicking bit of family fun amongst the festivals more serious fare.
  • The Longest Distance: A Spain/Venezuela co-production, this film promises a slow paced road movie with plenty of incredible scenery. The film sees a young boy, who has lost his mother, set off on an arduous journey to meet his grandmother for the first time, not knowing that the woman is terminally ill. If the scenery is matched by a quality script, this could be a very special watch.
  • The Amazing Catfish: Whilst the festival focuses on films from Spain, it does also include Latin American Spanish language films. This Mexican film with an intriguing title looks like the pick of them to me. Once again dealing with terminal illness and the effect it has on young people close to it, the film has played at a bunch of big festivals worldwide and won the critics award at Toronto in 2013.
  • Festival guest Alex Gonzalez: I haven’t seen either of the films Gonzalez stars in at this year’s festival (Scorpion in Love and Combustion), but in my experience getting the chance to hear those involved in films talking about them is pretty much always worth making the effort for. Alex will be doing Q & A sessions following screenings of Scorpion in Love in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. The film also stars Javier Bardem in a drama involving neo-Nazis, boxing and attempted new beginnings.
The cast of the excellent Living is Easy with Eyes Closed

The cast of the excellent Living is Easy with Eyes Closed

You can check out the entire program for the festival here.

Thanks to the Spanish Film Festival, I have three double passes to give away for Aussie residents. Please check out the official website here, to see when the festival will be in your city. There are two ways to enter. You can like the post on my facebook page which links to this article. Or you can favourite or retweet the tweet from my twitter account that links to it. Feel free to enter more than once. The competition will be drawn at 5pm on 29 April and tickets will be posted the next day.

Related articles for you to check out: Gloria and Chico and Rita.

Like what you read? Then please like on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie

Friday the 13th Part 2



13th 2 poster

After not enjoying the first film, I was not particularly enthused as I popped Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) into my blu-ray player. I have no real issue with bad films. I watch plenty of them and enjoy writing about a lot of them too. I have real problems both watching and writing about boring films though, and Friday the 13th (1980) was certainly that, at least for me.

13th 2 JasonThankfully though, this sequel is a definite improvement on the first film, even if it perhaps never reaches the heights of many of its slasher brethren. The setup is essentially the exact same as the first film. Set five years later, a group of camp counsellors again gather for training. Whilst not at Camp Crystal Lake, the new camp is a short distance away, actually on the same lake that Jason jumped out of at the end of the first film, scaring the utter shit out of absolutely everyone. You know the drill, the counsellors start to get knocked off, generally whilst either about to have sex, or having just finished up. Like the first film, though possibly even more so, there is little character development of the counsellors before they meet their doom. I am not really sure why they persist with this approach and utilising a much larger number of characters than they really need to. Especially since on the occasions they actually build up a character, it greatly improves the story. Thankfully though, this time the dialogue and interrelationships between the counsellors is much improved. You can actually buy the connections between them and they are able to convey the lust or love they are feeling a lot better in this film. This is equally down to an improved script and also the fact that the film is generally quite well acted. I really liked the ending to this film. There were some really original moments that actually worked, especially the ‘child psychology’ bits. It was good to see something new. I was also pretty excited to learn that the next film in the series is a straight sequel to this film, because the ending genuinely did leave me wanting more. Turns out I won’t have the same dread of putting part III on as I did with this film.

13th 2 axe wheelchair

Oftentimes with sequels to successful low budget films, you find they are rushed out to cash in on the success of the first and there are no improvements in terms of production values. Whilst you can still see that this is a cheap film, there is a definite step up in terms of the production. There is a lot of tight in camerawork used that helps to create a heap of atmosphere. You are always wondering what lies just beyond the edge of the frame, which is really effective. Unfortunately though, the film still relies on cheap ‘jump’ scares, rather than building to the kills through actual narrative, like better horror films do. Perhaps this will change in the series going forward, given that the identity of the killer is really set in stone now and there is not as much need to keep a sense of mystery around that fact. Most of the film takes place in a pretty stock standard camp setting, but there are small amounts of really cool set design in this as well, another improvement on the first film. The grimy, decrepit, homemade vibe of Jason’s shanty style shack in the forest looks great and like a place you would most certainly not want to find yourself. The score continues to riff on Psycho (1960), indeed there are again multiple allusions to Hitch’s film in this one, but overall it is better than the first, helping to set the tone and hitting all of the right beats.

Friday the 13th Part 2 is a marked improvement over the first film and a rare franchise entry that actually leaves you both satisfied and hanging out for the next film. It is still not a particularly scary film at all, but much improved writing and a slightly more committed approach to building a plot made this a far less boring watch than its predecessor.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Just like with the Nightmare on Elm Street films, I will be keeping an updated ranking with links to the earlier reviews:

1. Friday the 13th Part 2
2. Friday the 13th

Like what you read? Then please like on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie

Live Tweet Review: Frankenstein’s Army

Franken army poster

Related articles for you to check out: The Monster Mash (reviews of The Wolf ManThe Fly and The Host) and Live Tweet Review: The Birds.

Like what you read? Then please like on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie

Inherent Vice poster

A new Paul Thomas Anderson film does not get me as excited as most movie buffs. He is one of those directors that just seems to have passed me by. Even though plenty of people rate him as possibly the greatest contemporary director, I have only seen one of his films for some reason. All that being said, I still follow the news when one of this films is coming up and always intend to check it out. Same with Inherent Vice (2014) which is due toward the end of the year.

Check out the poster below for the film. For some reason I really like this design. Much of the space is made up of blue sky which is pretty bold, as is not slapping Joaquin Phoenix’s mug on there. I like the inclusion of the cityscape, which taken in context of the title, suggests some sort of urban noir possibly being on the way. I’m actually not 100% sure if this is an official poster or a fan one, but it doesn’t really matter, because it has certainly piqued my interest in the film. What do you guys think of it?

Related articles for you to check out: Three fantastic Enemy posters and Captain America: The Winter Soldier character posters.

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Trailer for your Weekend: Palo Alto

palo alto poster

James Franco is a busy and multi-talented dude. He will soon be starring in Palo Alto (2014), an adaptation of his own collection of short stories directed by Gia Coppola. Films based on short story collections seem to miss the mark a fair bit, but this seems to have a fair bit of promise. I am a fan of Franco and Emma Roberts has impressed me in a couple of things as well. The trailer looks good and it may manage to bring something original to the teen, coming of age film which would be really refreshing. Who knows how it will turn out, but at this stage, I am pretty keen. Thoughts all?

Related articles for you to check out: Spring Breakers and Trailer for your Weekend: The Double.

Like what you read? Then please like on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie

The House I Live In

House poster

The House I Live In (2012) is one of those docos where I just want to write a long list of all the lessons I learned whilst watching this film. That probably would not make for a very interesting review though.

The film takes a look at America’s so called ‘War on Drugs’, its (in)effectiveness and its victims. It examines the incredible rates of incarceration, the ruin that has been reaped on entire communities and the racial implications of the war, all the while having essentially no impact on drug use rates. It is plainly an issue that is of interest to a great many people, just take a look at the executive producers of this doco – Danny Glover, John Legend, Brad Pitt and Russell Simmons. The House I Live In mixes broad societal and historical beginnings of the War with personal, contemporary insights. In this regard, the film does a good job at capturing the scope of the issue. We spend time with dealers, cops, academics, judges, and grandmothers who have lost their family to drug use. There are also plenty of talking heads, amongst them creator of The Wire David Simon, who is an exceptionally perceptive voice on this issue. Frankly, when you consider the facts – the war has cost $1 trillion (!), drugs are more widely available than ever, levels of use are unchanged and America now jails more people than any other country on earth (5% of the world’s people, 25% of its prisoners) – it is difficult to comprehend why the War on Drugs continues, with little to no strategic change. Surely if the real issue was drug use, and after 45 years you still had not dented it, you would try something a little different. Unquestioned power is a strange thing though and perhaps drug use is not the real issue, or at least not all of it. This is why it is so important that films like this exist and are seen – to get people thinking about these issues and getting incredulous about them.

House I live in prison

The House I Live In is not the most cinematic of documentaries in terms of style, but then again it does not need to be, the information presented does all that is required. The stories told though are cinematic. From the cowboy drug-busting cops to the heart-wrenching stories of the impact that this ill-advised war on drugs has on so many people’s lives, there is no way this film can be flat. No one is saying that drugs are all good and they cause no harm. But that does not mean everything done in the name of combating the issue  is acceptable, indeed so much of it is not. David Simon sums up the plight of many communities perfectly when he says “what drugs haven’t destroyed, the war against them has.” It is ironic that the communities most afflicted by drugs fare the worst from the impacts of the supposed war. Ironic, but if you consider the history of these kinds of things, wholly unsurprising. The film does not propose twee, easy answers to what should be done, though it is adamant that the current approach should be canned. The answer they suggest though makes sense not just in terms of drug use, but from an improving society perspective – the enfranchisement of the poor. Can you imagine the opportunity that could be created if you pumped $1 trillion into that cause? Addiction is in many cases a symptom of unhappiness. Cure the unhappiness and you cure the addiction. It’s not just about unhappiness either, it is economic. The jobless poor will always turn to illegal ways to make money if that is the only option to provide for their family. I certainly would if I found myself in that kind of situation.

House I live in dealer

I feel like a bit of a knob saying that a film is ‘important’, but I think this one really is and I wholeheartedly encourage all of you to check it out. I am sure you will learn just as much as me. It feels like it should be compulsory viewing for anyone in the States and really, with murmurs surrounding drug laws continuing here in Aus, and no doubt in many more places too, the messages contained in this film contain relevance for many more people than just Americans. Be warned though, this is no staid analytical view. It is as devastating and enraging as it is informative.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Related articles for you to check out: Criticism of criticism of Fruitvale Station and Chasing Ice.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Reception for The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) was pretty mixed, which perhaps serves to explain why the enthusiasm for the sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) has not exactly been at fever pitch. Personally, I enjoyed the first film at the time. But I don’t really look back on it with much fondness, simply because in retrospect I just feel it did everything Raimi’s first Spider-Man film did, but in a far less enjoyable way. All that said, I was still moderately looking forward to this film, albeit I was a little concerned at the prospect it would fall into the too many villains trap that plagued Spider-Man 3 (2007) terribly.

spideyWhilst too many villains is not really the major issue with the film, unfortunately that terribly lame joke I made on twitter above pretty much encompasses my feelings on this film. It is clearly well made and is a polished piece of blockbuster work. But it is far from amazing and in this world of ever increasing Marvel Cinematic Universe quality and consistency, this film is downright average in comparison. The plot is totally tired, refusing to take any of the risks that films like Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) or Iron Man 3 (2013) take with their narratives. Peter Parker is graduating high school, having trouble with his missus as he is haunted by a broken promise he made to her father, fighting various bad dudes you will have seen from the trailer and NY is having the good old vigilante/superhero debate on talkback radio. It takes a bloody long time to do all that though, clocking in at a bloated 140 mins. It felt that long and more, starting with a really unnecessarily long prologue that is a definite taste of what is to come. One thing the first film in this series, and even more so the trailers for that film, did well was insert some nice humour into the script and the characters. This film though, with a pretty weakly written script, bombs hard on that front. Peter Parker/Spidey’s one liners that are meant to zing just make you want to kick the character in the face they are so deplorable. Actually for me to call the script weak is a little unfair. Aspects of the film are really well written, especially the on and off again relationship between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. As a romance, the film is surprisingly successful for the most part, and a lot of that is down to the writing of that aspect of the film.

spidey electro posteWhilst my overall impressions of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 are pretty unenthusiastic, there are parts of the film that are really good. There are a bunch of performances that deserve to be in a much better film. Jamie Foxx is great as Electro and whilst I didn’t feel like the film needed less villains, it would have still been nice to see this character get more screen and character time. The use of CGI for this character is pretty special, managing to somehow still capture so much of Foxx’s performance and attitude whilst still being incredibly arresting and otherworldly to look at.  Dane DeHaan is likewise really good as Harry Osborn, although he does struggle to get the tone right in various sequences. Although again, you could apportion plenty of blame on that front to the writing of his character. Emma Stone has her usual spirit as Gwen and does well to elevate her scenes with Andrew Garfield who is neither terrible nor particularly charismatic as Peter Parker. I won’t give away the huge plot twist/spoiler that comes toward the end of the film, although if you have managed to avoid it you must have been living under a rock with only sporadic internet access for the past year or so. There seems to have been very little attempt to keep it a secret. But just on that big twist, I will say that it is horribly foreshadowed early in the film and I also think that it a really cheap ploy after what has led up to it. Those criticisms aside, I think the whole sequence is delivered incredibly well and works on that level. I would be keen to get your spoilery thoughts on all of that in the comments.

You have probably already decided long ago whether or not you would be catching The AmazingSpider-Man 2. But if you were at all on the fence about it, my suggestion is that it is not really worth your time. In this golden age of comic book films, this has very little to offer you. It brings nothing new or exhilarating, and everything else has been done better elsewhere.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

Related articles for you to check out: Worth Watching July 2012 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Alfred Hitchcock is the filmmaker with the most entries on the 1001, and the first of those chronologically is Blackmail (1929).  The film was far from Hitch’s first though, he had already made nine silent features before this one. Whilst it is definitely minor Hitchcock, Blackmail is notable for being not only the director’s first sound film, but Britain’s too. My understanding is that the film began production as a silent film, before the decision was made part way through production to make it a sound film instead. A silent version was completed, but I m not sure that it is available and this review is of the better known sound version.

Like many films of the period, including from Hitch, Blackmail is based on a play. Some of these early films, Number 17 (1932) springs to mind, really struggle to escape their source and come off feeling more like filmed plays rather than being at all cinematic. For the most part, this film succeeds in convincing you that this is definitely a film not a filmed play. Early on though, it struggles to escape it’s beginnings as a silent film moreso than its theatrical roots. The early part of the film just feels like a silent film sans intertitles. I suspect that these sequences were already filmed when the decision was made to convert the production to a sound one. Plot wise there is nothing too intriguing to report. The film is a crime story and a pretty straightforward one, at least after being pretty difficult to follow over the first section. The most important part of the plot is of course the Hitchcock cameo and I can happily report it is a cracker. One of my favourites actually, as Hitch rides a train and gets bugged by a little kid. After what is a frankly pretty boring first half, this film thankfully picks up a fair bit over the second and third acts. Part of the issue early on is that it takes a long time for the pieces to fall into place. But once there is a murder and a scramble to cover it up, we are in familiar Hitch territory – blackmail, knives, jilted cops, mistaken identity and so on – and it is a nice place to be in this master’s hands.

blacmail picMany people have not seen any of Hitchcock’s extensive British filmography. I generally like this period of his career, with the films generally possessing a low-key charm that was not a part of bigger, ‘greater’ productions such as Psycho (1960) or North by Northwest (1959). Much of the enjoyment from watching this era of films is seeing the progress of Hitchcock’s development. Here there is little of the visual trickery and really noticeable camera movements that would be characteristics of his later work. But the young director already had the ability to frame a shot both perfectly and in a really interesting manner so that they did not feel at all staid. I often ponder the connections between Hitchcock and Tarantino as I think that they share some really interesting similarities and differences. Here, Hitch seems to be quite the forerunner of the contemporary superstar director. There is some really wink wink dialogue, especially about movies, that Tarantino himself would have been ultra proud of. Some of the other dialogue is strangely stuttering for a film from this great director, whose work is usually so sharp. The result is a film that feels more old fashioned than most of his other films. The female lead Anny Ondra gives a really excellent performance, especially in some of the more challenging scenes she is required to deliver. There is a rape scene, which is really quite forward for the time, and Ondra’s performance in the immediate aftermath is impressive, conveying the violation and confrontation she has just endured. Her performance is one of the reasons that the film remains relatively watchable today.

Some of Hitchcock’s earlier British films really only work as curiosity pieces, but thankfully not this one. After a slow start, the plot contains many of the tropes and themes that the director would continue to return to over the following decades. It is certainly not his best or even the best of his British films, but Blackmail is still worth checking out if you are a fan of the great man or just of crime cinema of this vintage.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

2014 Progress: 10/101

Progress: 106/1001

Related articles for you to check out: Sabotage and Shadow of a Doubt.

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Friday the 13th

13th poster

The contemporary marketing for Friday the 13th (1980) is quite interesting. The blu-ray copy I bought recently has cover art heavily emphasising the franchise’s iconic hockey mask, a mask that does not even feature in the film for one second.  It’s a strange franchise where the first film is not the most iconic of the bunch. After watching the film, I can sort of see why they have fallen back on this marketing strategy, as there is not all that much to be overly enthused about in this first entry in the series.

13th crystal lakeFriday the 13th takes place at Camp Crystal Lake, which is just about to reopen after a number of strange and deadly incidents saw it shut down.  As a group of horny young teens work to get the camp ready to welcome new kids, they start getting violently knocked off one by one. One of the concepts that determine how successful the narrative of a horror or thriller film turns out to be, is the way the villain or threat is revealed. In terms of mystery, there is obviously a big benefit of masking the identity of the killer as long as possible. But the downside of this approach is that it makes it harder to build a sense of that character and therefore the menace at play. Unfortunately the balance in this film is not quite right, veering to the latter of these two. There is so little character developed, no clues as to who is on this murderous rampage, that the audience becomes too disassociated from the threat. In addition to that, the core narrative is weak and neither builds any sense behind the crimes, or sense of character to make you affected in the slightest when yet another of the teens is murdered. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) was clearly a big influence on the film. The score feels like tracks that didn’t quite make the cut for that classic, full of screeching and pace to ratchet up the tension. The ending of the film, definitely the strongest section of the film for me, is essentially a reverse Psycho, cleverly inverting elements of that film’s iconic closing sequences. Throughout this period there is a richness in plot that was totally lacking up until then and it also puts the two best performers onscreen together. Whilst the conclusion was an improvement on the rest (including a great, but somewhat cheap shot near the end, which scared the shit out of me), it also presents some illogical moments that I found hard to let slide. The killer is so inept at the end, so weak and slow, that it seems inconceivable that they could have so easily killed so many other people.

13th bacon

Just like relatively close contemporaries Halloween (1978) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Friday the 13th would launch a massively profitable horror franchise, which continues more or less to this day. Despite those similarities, this film falls short of those two classics on a number of levels. For starters, even though they are of a similar vintage, there is something timeless in the first outings of Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger. This film, with its cringeworthy 80s teen dialogue, does not hold up anywhere near as well on that front. Probably the one aspect of the slasher that this film does better than those ones though is the gore and kills. Throats are cut, axes meet heads and arrows fly. At times it does seem like the rest of the film is just filler before Tom Savini gets to weave his warped, bloody magic onscreen. Just as it shows its age, the film also shows its low budget roots as much of it feels like an episode of a TV show in the way it is shot. This is not totally true, the prologue shows some of what could have been, with a stylish kill incorporating slow motion, point of view shots and some cool use of stills. Overall though, outside of the use of point of view shooting, which is actually utilised better here than in most films which utilise the technique, there is little stylisation through the rest of the film. This film pushes the whole promiscuous teenagers getting killed cliché more than other films I have watched. I was looking for some sort of insight or commentary for this. But I couldn’t really find any. Sure it is explained from a plot perspective. In terms of connecting it to anything broader though, there was little evidence. Obviously a film does not have to make any broader point, but I think that some sort of commentary around the choice of victims would have perhaps made this a more satisfying film.

The star of this film is undoubtedly Tom Savini and it is plain to see why his reputation as a premiere ‘gore guy’ remains to this day. Unfortunately the rest of the film was pretty middling for me. The marketing suggests I need to wait around until Jason appears rocking his hockey mask. Hopefully he brings more than just a cool prop with him though.

Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught

Related articles for you to check out: Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Like what you read? Then please like on facebook here and follow me on twitter @beer_movie


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