Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Screentest: Zulu

Zulu is a crime caper set in South Africa, starring Forrest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom. It starts off with the brutal murder of a young woman and from there delves deep into the underbelly of Cape Town, the aftermath of the Apartheid and some genuinely jaw-dropping moments...

Now I had not heard anything about this movie before I saw it. After some research, it seems that it was even in the line-up for Cannes, which doesn't say much about the movie as it is, but it means that there is definitely some promise for it to be chosen. And there really is a lot of interesting stuff in this movie... It's what it is built around that is the problem.

About half an hour into this movie, it had lost me almost completely. Until that point, it plays out like the most cliché cop-movie you can imagine. Two very different partners in Whitakers workaholic, insomniac depressed Zulu (pretty much a direct quote from the movie describing him) and Blooms messed up womanizer. It keeps to every basic plot-point of the genre, edging towards noir sometimes. But at the half hour mark, the movie does something that is so unconventional and different, it actually managed to pull me back in a little.

There are some other parts that work in this movies favour. The setting elevates it and makes for a lot of atmosphere. Cape Town in this movie is violent, dangerous and depressing. Sadly the atmosphere is often lost as soon as the dialogue starts, which is more than just clunky at points. Especially the first connection made to the Apartheid regime feels very forced.

The two leads both do a good job, especially as their character arcs are probably the most unconventional and memorable thing about the movie. Bloom gets as dirty as he ever was as Will Turner, his tale one of redemption of a headstrong and generally unlikeable renegade. Whitaker brings his usual charm and stoic face to the role, a man whose repressed anger becomes more obvious as the movie goes on.

Another problem is that the movie introduces characters all the time, some of them potentially interesting, only to drop them after their second scene, never to be seen or heard from again.

All in all, the movie manages to elevate itself above what it actually is, a mostly cliché cop movie. The curveballs come often enough to keep you interested and the finale is actually quite impressive. Still this is probably one for DVD rather than cinema.

If you want, you can watch the trailer here, but it does give away a lot, so you've been warned.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Screentest: The Amazing Spiderman – Rise of Electro


The Amazing Spiderman 2 is the sequel to Mac Webbs reboot of the webslinging wisecracking wallcrawler. Spidey is faced with a plethora of problems in this one, including but not limited to Uranium-juggling, laundry, public image, relationship troubles and his fathers legacy. And then there's Jamie Foxx's Electro, crackling sizzling and powerful beyond limits.

There has been a lot of talk about the reboot of the Spiderman franchise a few years back, but Garfields first outing 2012 convinced most that his take on the character is fresh enough to forgive the cashgrab. Now he is back and he's bringing the thunder. Where the first one was shackled to the well-known origins story and had a relatively weak villain, this one goes into new directions, makes some bold choices and ups the ante for our hero.

Let's break it down.

First, our titular hero, Spiderman and his freshly graduated secret identity Peter Parker. Garfield clearly enjoys this role immensely and is committed to a level that might one day compare to Hugh Jackman and Wolverine. His Spiderman is full of his trademark witty banter and his Peter Parker sells the well-handled teenie soap elements. But Garfield went one step further and introduced a lot of physical comedy to the role, for which he flew in a coach himself. It's a rare sight in movies these days and a delight to watch. Pay attention to a particularly impressive scene around the middle, in which Peter distracts a few thugs from following Gwen Stacy. No Spidey-suit needed, it is amazing all the same.

Talking about Gwen Stacy, the chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone is incredible. It was the strong point of the first movie and it remains perfect in this one. Marc Webb proves that even a back-catalogue of Rom-coms can be useful in making a superhero movie. He nails the emotional connection between the two and is smart enough to really take the time for those personal moments. But Gwen Stacy is more than just the perfect romantic counterpart for the movie, her character is fully realized and shows off her brains and heart in so many ways. After the first clash with Electro, she is the one who tries to look further into Jamie Foxx's Max Dillons sad fate, while in contrast Peter is busy with the practical concerns of preparing for a possible second encounter.

One point at which the movie shows some of it's flaws is the villains. While it is in no way as overcrowded as Spider-Man 3 was, it could have ventured a little bit deeper into those characters, especially Dane DeHaans Green Goblin.
Electro starts out as OsCorp electrician Max Dillon, who then turns into the blue supervillain after being bitten by genetically engineered Eels while being electrocuted. That part by the way is surprisingly easy to buy, even if it sounds a bit stupid when you read it. There are a only a few hitches with his character. Dillon feels a bit overplayed, but is charming enough for you to look over that. His unveiling in Times Square is breathtaking, aided by an impressive Soundtrack, and it makes me hope for more of him.

After that though, he almost becomes a secondary villain, because of Dane DeHaans Green Goblin, who arguably does most of the rising in a movie called "The Rise of Electro". The movie juggles the origins of two villains, and at times it feels that DeHaans Harry Osborne should have had a bit more screen time. What we see of him is very good, I would have wished for a little more though.

Overall though, those are just some minor gripes. The movie has some tonal problems and feels a little crowded at times, but it more than makes up for it. Especially the action sequences are formidable. They feature a lot of CGI obviously, but they look amazing and the 3D is one of the best that action movies have seen in the last few years.
The movie has to set up a lot of threads for follow-ups, not just the next Spider-Man outing, but also a Sinister Six spin-off, focusing on the villains and very likely to feature at least the Green Goblin and the Rhino. This affects the movies tone a lot especially in the third act, but not in a bad way.

Personal Opinion:

Except for some points where the tone slips, this movie was a blast. I don't usually like 3D, but damn, this is one where it works. The Action is awesome and the personal moments work wonderfully. What sets the "Amazing Spiderman" apart from the Sam Raimi Spiderman is that the new movies take their source material much more serious. That is not necessarily a fault of Raimis movies, because even if the movies came out not even ten years ago, that was a completely different time for comic book movies.
This one definitely gets my recommendation, go see it, in 3D, in the cinema, and have a really good time.

Watch the Trailer here.
For a second opinion, go check out my friend Cinemartians review here.