Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Alien vs. Predator 2: Requiem



Alien vs. Predator 2: Requiem


AvP2 is the film that the first instalment in the franchise mash should have been realistically, if not ideally - flawed and predictable and ignorant in the possibilities of theme and character development found in some of the comics, but trashy fun nonetheless. Essentially, Predators crash-land and die on present day Earth, Aliens escape into a small, isolated town in the USA, more Predators come to clean up the mess.
The first film, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Arctic pyramid-set travesty, felt similar to his previous Resident Evil adaptation . There’s a tangible quality absent, an unerring feel of inauthenticity or plasticity, as if the whole thing is held together with CGI effects too shiny and uniform to give the production any weight.
AVP2 at least feels more ‘real’ with its effects work and it features so many franchise and general horror film clich├ęs that it feels familiar and so grounded. From the conventions of small-town America - the local sheriff, diner waitress and local badboy/rich family’s daughter tension - to a Predator’s ungainly fingers flitting over its wrist console and the distressed elephant squeal of a dying Alien, the film crams in as many reference points as possible to keep the fanboys on board.
We have facehuggers (though the gestation period seems to be much shorter in the present day centuries before the first films were set), Alien secondary-jaw head chomping, a Predator swanning about being a bad ass warrior until finally taking off its mask near the end for a good mandible-roar and bit of fisticuffs, the Predator console-bomb going off, a brief swimming Alien shot referencing Alien: Resurrection, a National Guard commander hearing his whole squad being swiftly taken out from his command centre, shots of Aliens slowly moving their faces up against the heads of very distressed people, ignoring the fact that the background to this shot ripped from Alien3 is that Ripley was impregnated with a queen and so spared the usual quick dispatch.
This last example sums up the general tone of the film, intent on recycling any “Woah, cool!” moments whilst seemingly oblivious to the qualities that made these franchises memorable besides the effects work.

New inventions include the Predator’s pleasantly luminous disintegration liquid - a small measure and any pesky bodies that would be evidence of the accidental introduction of Aliens to the planet are swiftly dissolved. One other invention is another example of the affectionate yet blinkered view of the creators. Alien3 put forward the idea that an Alien would incorporate some of the characteristics of the host species, meaning that whilst similar to the Aliens of human origin from previous films, the dog Alien from the third movie was inclined to move on all fours with a slightly elongated trunk. AVP2 has taken this idea and come up with the Predalien, a result of a Predator being the host species. Rather than a variation on the original Giger Alien design this one is not only significantly larger (despite little variation regardless of the age/gender/size of a human host) but sports the mandibles and rubbery dreadlocks of the Predator. Yes, dreadlocks.
The unknown cast help to create a level of tension as you are kept guessing about who’s next on the menu - if a baby ward at a hospital is at risk then everything’s up for grabs, but on the other hand the lack of any real character development makes it hard to care who’s next.

Whilst certainly better than the first film this is faint praise indeed, and it’s a shame that more hasn’t been made of it considering the wealth of ideas that have been generated around these two xenomorphs in the last two or three decades.

A very, very average action/horror B-pic, remarkable only due to its nasties.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Departed



The Departed

My second viewing of The Departed, on terrestrial TV one night, one of those situations where you don’t intend to watch a film but get sucked in, allowed me to gain some perspective away from the intimidating comparisons with the Infernal Affairs or indeed any notion of what a Scorsese picture would ideally be. Able to appreciate the film anew I dimly remember dismissing many of the central performances the first time round, aside from what is arguably Mark Whalberg’s finest hour.
This time I was able to see past the grown-baby constipation face of Scorsese’s new millennium muse, DiCaprio, and witness a performance as a man utterly terrified of the violence surrounding him and his vulnerability to this atmosphere as the rat that Jack Nicholson’s Boston-Irish gang is trying to ferret out.
Leo as Billy Costigan never gets a break, constantly fearful and twisted inside at the effort of maintaining his cover. Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan in contrast is having a ball, strutting and joking and thoroughly enjoying his privileged position as the double agent on the other side of the fence, yet he nevertheless manages convey the character as a clueless idiot, out of his depth despite his bravado and usually expelling inappropriate remarks, only dimly aware of the status of the relationships in which he finds himself.
Nicholson’s performance as mob boss Frank Costello also benefits from a new take. What initially seemed like Jack coasting through his role by simply taking the OTT elements he’s been famous for since Witches of Eastwick and cranking them up to 11, it now feels like a study of a man so out of touch with reality that he has gone off the deep end and can no longer see the surface. Rarely sober at any given moment and wolfishly enjoying his status as alpha male - later in the film he tellingly states that he hasn’t been motivated by cash since he stole his first lunch money in grade school - he is all about the mayhem.
Unsurprisingly for Scorsese the cast is rounded out with starry support. Besides Whalberg we have Adam Baldwin in fine form (both exhibiting a fine line in workplace ribbing that echoes Mamet), Martin Sheen as Billy’s undercover handler and father figure/mentor, Vera Farmiga as the counsellor and love interest to both undercover rats and Ray Winstone as Frank’s right hand Mr. French, his gruff menace outweighing the dodgy accent, Boston by way of Bow.
There are many recurring tics, flourishes and motifs to be found from the rest of Scorsese’s work, not least in the East coast gangland setting but with pop music montages and the intense paranoia, but this is lesser Scorsese, more akin to Bringing Out the Dead than Casino or Goodfellas. Like that film, however, there’s still much to enjoy here.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Eye



The Eye

Danny and Oxide Pang were known for their frenetic take on East Asian cinema with the release of Bangkok Dangerous, their first feature as co-directors and one of the many success stories which went on to ‘enjoy’ a Hollywood remake (which they also helmed). The Eye, their second film together, came in on the height of the wave of Eastern horror in the wake of the Ring, before the market became saturated with gore-fodder and spooky girl movies.
Whilst there is some personality in the cinematography, the screen often washed with a sickly green reminiscent of some of Christopher Doyle or Jeanne Pierre Jeunet’s work, the story treads old ground with its premise. Our heroine Mun is the beneficiary of a cornea transplant and thus able to see for the first time after a successful operation, but after a time it’s clear that she sees more than most.
She sees dead people.
Admittedly previous entries in transplant horror tend to focus on the new body parts being evil or corrupting the host (see The Hand, Rabid, Idle Hands) rather than a gateway to the undead, but The Eye is unsuccessful as a horror film. Choosing not to go down the road of gore the film is surprisingly light on genuine scares with only a midway lift scene causing the skin to crawl, whilst the bombastic Mothman Prophecies-style ending seems to belong to another film entirely.
Beyond a few visual flourishes (Mun’s new sight allows the Pangs to play with focus) there is little to recommend The Eye above dozens of other Eastern horror entries released in the last decade and a half. Its popularity likely down to its appearance early on in the wave, for once there is the possibility that the Hollywood remake may fare better than the original (unlike the reportedly dire Nicolas Cage version of Bangkok Dangerous).

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Jumper




Jumper

Jumper practically begs to be damned with faint praise, a textbook example of “not as bad as I thought it would be”. Essentially it is an X-Men movie, albeit one that instead of featuring a multitude of mutant talents instead focuses on one, and one that would normally be a peripheral feature exhibited by one of the kids n the background of a filler scene.
Props to the film makers that banked on Hayden Christiansen post Star Wars. Would the negative fallout from those prequels turn audiences off or would the massive exposure help attract fans to his new film? It’s a precarious balance but whatever the case Hayden is fine in what is an undemanding teen blockbuster, his petulant pretty boy image fitting the role of the selfish main character who embraces new found teleportation powers to leave his small town life behind to live as an international playboy.
After a few set-up scenes we rejoin Hayden’s David Rice just as he finds out that there is a secret order of religious zealots (led by Sam Jackson after another visit to the blind barber) who hunt and kill all the teleporters they can find. Their supposed millennia-long vendetta is apparently fuelled only by the belief that only god should be able to be in two places at the once, and it’s this simplicity that’s emblematic of the film’s core problems. After years of sampling the best of what the world has to offer David is apparently unable to find love anywhere, instead fixated on his first crush back home. Jamie Bell’s fellow teleporter Griffin is cartoonish, all leather-jacketed sneer as the experienced jumper who helps David learn about the secret war and also rescue his love interest after a kidnapping.
The film is also blatantly intended as a franchise; the story is left with a multitude of loose strings, the conflict unresolved as a battle won whilst the war still rages, Jackson’s Roland defeated but not stopped despite his unwavering desire to murder jumpers, and intrigue involving David’s mother revealed at the close of the movie but unexplored.
Ultimately Jumper can only leave you unsatisfied regardless of how low you’ve set your expectations.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Deaths of Ian Stone


The Deaths of Ian Stone

Mainstream films often go for the lowest common denominator in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible and not only recoup the investment but make a profit, or at least try and wrap up any difficult ideas in a safe bubble of celebrity. Whilst independent features often sidestep the need to please as many investors as budgets are much smaller, this reduction in expenditure can also make things a lot harder for the production as it takes a lot of skill to dress up nothing like a million dollars and for every low budget indie success story there are dozens of damp squibs going straight to video or failing to even secure release.
Unfortunately, in The Deaths of Ian Stone we have a case where the ambitions overreach the abilities of the production. The idea is interesting - a man finds himself dying and then returning. living a different life each time but with a few similarities, the same people returning with him but in different roles. He discovers the existence of inter-dimensional shadowy creatures, feeding on fear and resorting to murder to feed their addiction to the sweetest fear of all. The reason for his apparent reincarnation becomes clear as the film plays out, he used to be one of ‘them’ but rebelled for the love of a human.
The film plays out like a TV movie or an extended pilot for a show that never was. Despite the obviously British origin of the production and majority of the cast the photography has the hazy sheen of pre-digital American television whilst Ian Stone himself is played by Mike Vogel, an anonymous handsome jock type seemingly only in the film as a desperate attempt to extend the film’s appeal across the Atlantic. Whilst the effects are largely CGI they also seem to be bland, slightly ‘off the shelf’ creations rather than designs unique to the world of the film as the shadows share a glut of features from the ring wraiths of LOTR, giant insects of Mimic and arm/spear morphing from Terminator 2’s T-1000. Worse, when Ian discovers his true origins he becomes a half wraith/human hybrid, donning a generic Buffy-esque monster mask and Bon Jovi mullet in a spectacular example of design failure.
Aside from the lead the performances are okay and whilst the TV-feel doesn’t necessarily equate to bad quality, without a series run to flesh out characters or plot The Deaths of Ian Stone suffers from all the negatives of not being a show but doesn’t benefit from being a movie.