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

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Blackmail

kinopoisk.ru

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

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character posters

I posted the trailer for the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) the other week, along with some of my concerns about the film. The marketing for the film continued last week with the release of four character posters. Yeah they are a little uncreative, all featuring the same design. But to focus in on the hands and iconic weapons is kinda cool. It could be worse, it could just be head shots of all the Turtles. The focus on hands/weapons is particularly cool for me because the weapons are so intrinsically tied to the characters. I remember deciding that Donatello was my favourite turtle way back in the day, basically because his weapon was just a massive stick.

Check the posters out below and let me know what you think.

Leonardo

Leonardo

Raphael

Michelangelo

Donatello

Donatello

Raphael

Raphael

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Trailer for your Weekend: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and A Week at Bernie’s: Kung Fu Panda.

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Trailer for your Weekend: I Origins

i origins poster

I never got around to seeing Another Earth (2011). It was an intriguing concept, though from what I have heard, it was perhaps not delivered as well as it could be. Well the folk behind that film are back with I Origins (2014). I’m kinda digging this trailer. Right from the get go it is intriguing and appears to be a sort of mish mash of philosophy, science and love story. It may end up trying to be too indie cool for its own good. But if it can be made with a genuine sensibility to it, this could be one to keep an eye out for. The whole notion of belief in science above all and at the exclusion of everything else is something interesting for art to explore, so hopefully this can do it in a way that does those pretty heavy ideas justice.

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: 2011 in Review and Ordet.

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Searching for Sugarman

Sugar poster

It is a golden period for cinematic documentaries, but it is hard to think of one that has been better received over the last five years than Searching for Sugar Man (2012). It is a hard film to write about and avoid spoilers, but I will attempt do so. However if the review seems to be skimping on details, then that is my excuse as to why. I will put it right up front here though. Pretty much everyone should rush out and see this film.

The film focuses on American singer songwriter Rodriguez. He was an undeniable talent and released a couple of albums in the early 70s. Rodriguez found very little success in the States and was more or less totally unknown in his home country. His music found an audience elsewhere though. I was aware of him, as I knew a couple of people who had his albums and were really into his tunes. But more notably, the singer became a massive star in apartheid South Africa. That huge South African following is the focus of the film. More specifically it is the story of how in the late 90s, a couple of big Rodriguez fans attempted to discover the story of whatever happened to their favourite singer and work out how he died. Rumours swirled of an on-stage suicide and similar macabre ends for the icon. That is about all I will say about the story that the film brings as I do not want to give too much away. The film is very much a product of the time in which the events were taking place. Nowadays, if you wanted to know what had happened to a singer you were into, you would just google it. But in the late 90s it was not necessarily as easy as that, and I think that is a cool notion. Fifteen years ago if you were really into something, you had to work a whole lot harder to indulge that passion, which had its benefits (don’t get me wrong, so does having everything just a click away).

The great Rodriguez

The great Rodriguez

The film is excellently shot and whilst it is not a doco that relies on pretty imagery to wow you, there is no doubting that the filmmakers wisely invested time in photographing it all as nicely as possible. Design is another example of the attention to detail, with sharp titles on screen and creative flourishes such as drawings to show the passage of time all adding a level of sheen to the film. The film mixes up its documentary techniques nicely too. There are standard, but interesting talking head interviews, with people such as the producers of his albums, and then the more cinematic focus on the quest to find out more about Rodriguez. Searching for Sugar Man also examines the broader notions around the success of the singer, especially why he had so much resonance for the inhabitants of South Africa during apartheid. His records were some of the most famous in the entire country and took on a very anti-establishment role for South Africans. The two albums he released, especially “Cold Fact”, inspired people to rise up, at the very least in their own minds. Rodriguez comes across as a great character in the interviews with those who worked with him. An almost ethereal presence who touched all of those around him, their recollections will make you feel something for the singer songwriter on a deep level.

Searching for Sugar Man is one hell of a documentary and deserves all of the hype it has gotten. Emotional, surreal and touching, this portrait of a most incredible man is pretty close to perfect as far as docos go. No doubt many of you have already seen it, but if not then get on it.

Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present and Hunter: For the Record.

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Live Tweet Review: The Birds

birds poster

When I ran a poll a little while ago on which three 1001 films I should live tweet, The Birds (1963) was the runaway winner. That was a pleasnant suprise, because even though I ama massive fan of Hitchcock, I have never seen this film. Until earlier today when I did the live tweet. Here are the results.

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Live Tweet Review: Night of the Living Dead and My Favourite… Hitchcock film.

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Never Sleep Again

Just like metal music, the horror film genre has always inspired a fierce cohort of rabidly devoted fans. That is probably the only way to explain the existence of Never Sleep Again (2010) and films like it. This doco is a four hour, exhaustive run through of the Elm Street films.

The behind the scenes film is in many respects a dying breed. There are more of them made than ever, but most are 10 minute snapshots designed for DVD/blu-ray extras rather than stand alone films in their own right. Never Sleep Again makes a few different attempts to separate itself from this middling medium, from the length, to the ‘claymation’ opening credits and interludes to the pretty comprehensive list of talking heads. As you would expect from the running time, the film is seriously in-depth. It starts with a short history of New Line Cinema before launching into a chronological treatment of all the films. Unfortunately the end does sort of peter out into a gushing praisefest of New Line and Robert Shaye. This is even more noticeable because one of the best aspects of the over three and a half hours that had preceded it is the frankness. Conflict and difference of opinion, especially between Shaye and Wes Craven are laid bare. And it is not in the scandalous gossipy kind of way. Rather it shows the different realities of being a producer who is trying to see his small, start-up studio stay afloat and a director totally focused in on the creative side of film.

never sleep posterAny film of this length or even of this type is going to have aspects that appeal to individual viewers more than others. The discussion in the film does at times degenerate into lengthy, giddy recounting of plot points, which I did not get much out of, perhaps because I have seen the films so recently. This is not the fault of the participants though, it is something that should have been tightened when editing all of the material down. It is when those involved get into analysis and discussing the creative process of generating ideas and bringing them to life that the film is a lot more interesting. A lot of the insight from Craven was really good here (including him ragging on the films he did not like), and I especially enjoyed him discussing the creative mindset that brought him back to the series with New Nightmare (1994). And yes there is a discussion of just how ‘gay’ the second entry into the series is. That was actually an interesting section as the writer was conscious of the subtext (well what was meant to be subtext) and the main character (strangely a male protagonist in a slasher) was an openly gay actor, but a vast majority of the homoerotic elements passed by those who were working on the film. The talking heads really are great and Englund is perhaps the best of the lot. He is clearly a very clever and insightful dude. As a film buff, to hear him tell how he based much of Krueger’s physical presence on a hybrid of Klaus Kinski and James Cagney, I absolutely love that shit. Other influences mentioned on the series of films (not just mentioned by Englund) include Hitchcock which sort of makes sense and Fred Astaire, which makes you ponder  a little deeper.

As a film lover, it is great to see a series of films get such adoring treatment. There are great tidbits throughout (Peter Jackson drafted a script for an Elm St film!) and the insight into practical effects is such a contrast to the relative ease in which much CGI is made. In the end, if you are after a four hour doco about the Elm Street films, Never Sleep Again is going to leave you pretty satisfied. But it probably won’t convert you if that sounds like a terrible way to spend half a day.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

This brings an end to my Nightmare on Elm Street reviews. Below are links to all the other reviews I did of the canon films, in order of preference. You guys are obviously slasher film fans, because the Friday the 13th series won the poll I ran to see what franchise I would tackle next. Keep an eye out for the first of those reviews tomorrow.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
5. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
7. Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

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Worth Watching March 2014

My March viewing pretty much covered the cinematic spectrum. Some rubbish big budget releases were offset by somewhat obscure Hitchcock classics, phenomenal documentaries and even academic film. Share your thoughts on these in the comments section below.

Worth Watching:

  • The Look of Love (2013), Michael Winterbottom – Coogan and Winterbottom make a pretty good double act. Coogan has evolved into quite the performer whilst Winterbottom is a very assured shooter and the early parts of this film are nicely stylised. There is not too much plot, but the film is nicely put together and has a decent script and period design. Overall it is a bit unfocused and perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity to peer deeper into what is shown. But as a portrait of a not particularly nice rich man, it succeeds. And some moments rise above, such as Imogen Poots singing over the final credits.   
  • The Little Mermaid (1989), Ron Clements and John Musker – This is a combination of sublime design and terrible (even by Disney standards) morality. There is great, evocative presentation of life under the sea with an artistic, almost hand painted animation style. Disney’s sense of character is so spot-on here, establishing Sebastian and Flounder as characters to latch onto in very quick time. But the themes are terrible. I think this picture my fiancée scribbled in my notebook pretty much sums up the film:

    20140407_214008

  • Miss Representation (2011), Jennifer Siebel Newsom – This doco, which focuses on the representation of women in the media, straightforwardly presents the overwhelming power of the media simply due to the quantum of consumption. This force is able to shape what is most important about women and also shape how young men consider women. From a filmmaking perspective, this is not scintillating stuff. But backed up with shocking stats (depression amongst girls doubled from 2000-2010 for e.g.) and personal insights from a varied range of talking heads including Margaret Cho and Condoleezza Rice, it effectively gets the important message across.

  • Lifeboat (1944), Alfred Hitchcock – This is one of Hitch’s first high concept flicks, set entirely on a lifeboat funnily enough. It works on a bunch of levels and is also really quite shocking for the time on a similar number of levels. Not everyone lives. There are some great philosophical discussions when a Nazi soldier is picked up. For this to work, the script had too be really sharply written and it is. And even when limited by his conceit, Hitch can direct the shit out of a film. The film functions as a portrait of life at sea as well as a morally complex, bleak portrait of war. Up there with Hitch’s best, not something I say lightly.
  • The White Diamond (2004), Werner Herzog – This may be my favourite Herzog doco. The German director seems to be a genius at bringing the most incredible stories out of people. The film starts off with an examination of the history of the airship before focusing on the specific story of a modern day adventurer looking to bring them back. Herzog is also highly original in the way he structures his docos, hinting at the past and even giving small spoilers of what is to come. Like a Simpsons episode, a Herzog doco is never about just what it appears on the surface. This is one of his best.

white diamond poster

  • Sin Tierra, No Somos Shuar (2010), Stacey Williams – A refreshingly watchable ethnographic film. Both very specific, but also quite relatable to numerous other places where there is a conflict between traditional land usage and mining interests. Presents the indigenous population as masters of incredible self sufficiency, which is something all should learn from. It’s pretty short and you can check it out on Vimeo here.

Not Worth Watching:

  • Non-Stop (2014), Jaume Collet-Serra – This is far from a complete write-off, with a smattering of sharp, tense moments. But much of it is a combination of terribly clichéd characterisation and a vastly underdeveloped narrative world. The ending in particular hits home with all the power of a wet fish. The whole thing is just far too pedestrian in its pace. The joke has been made by many – Non-Stop is not quite non-stop enough.
  • Monuments Men (2014), George Clooney – This is no near miss, it is an utter failure. The script is inept, there is no goal, no stakes and most absurdly no real enemy. As the trailer suggested would be the case, the film struggles deeply to control the tone. So you are left with a WWII film with no with weight and an ol’ fashioned farce with no laughs. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would never have believed that a film with this cast would be so not worth your time.

monuments men poster

  • Pompeii (2014), Paul W.S. Anderson – Utterly terrible. The script is nothing short of embarrassing, with one eye rolling line after another. The beginning and end of the positives is Kiefer Sutherland hamming it up like a beast. There is a decent disaster flick to be made about Pompeii. Buy here it is saddled with an unnecessary and lame gladiator plot. The eruption is actually an afterthought, barely mentioned. The whole film is utterly stupid. Who knew a volcanic eruption could be so boring. Props to them for ending though, which took some guts (or would have if anyone cared). 

If you only have time to watch one Lifeboat

Avoid at all costs Monument Men

Related beermovie.net articles for you to check out: Worth Watching March 2011 and Worth Watching March 2012.

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Trailer for your Weekend: Hercules

herc poster

I am a massive fan of the Rock. I think he is probably the most charismatic action star going around these days and can lift films that otherwise would be terrible, to at least watchable levels. But after watching the first teaser trailer for Hercules (2014), I fear even the huge former WWE star may be out of his league because this film looks terrible. When you can’t even make a minute and a half of a film watchable then you are in a bit of trouble. Who knows, perhaps the Rock can save this from being a miserable dirge of crummy CGI beasts, but I hold out little hope. Anyone a little more positive than me?

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