Saturday, 28 June 2014

Outside Hollywood Episode 3 - Edge of Tomorrow

Outside Hollywood is back and only slightly behind schedule, due to a move to a new provider, Yourlisten.

This time, we talk about why you need to watch Edge of Tomorrow and review A Million Ways to die in the West, Maleficent, Brick Mansions and The Fault in our Stars.

Music Hosting - Audio Hosting - Podcast #2 - Edge of Tomorrow

Friday, 20 June 2014

The Fault in our Stars

"The Fault in our Stars" is directed by Josh Boone and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. They play Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two teenagers who meet at a cancer support group and reluctantly fall for each other.

It is unfortunate that just because this story deals with young adults and is superficially a love story, "The Fault in our Stars" is somehow being affiliated with the Twilight franchise and similar cheap moneygrabs. This is the kind of movie that Twilight could not even dream to be.

As I said, the love story in this movie is merely the surface. Gus and Hazels romance is wonderfully realised and a joy to watch, but the real narrative here is Hazels search for the answers to the troubling questions that come with her inevitable demise. This comes in the form of "An Imperial Affliction", a book about Anna, a young girl with cancer, that Hazel relates to and reads over and over again. The book however ends on a cliffhanger and Hazel wants to know what happens to the people surrounding Anna. This question can be directly transposed to her own life.

Apart from a story that is about more than just young love, the script also has a layer of symbolism to it that has to be commended. Especially a sequence featuring the stairs in the Anne-Frank-House in Amsterdam impressed me.

Talking about leaving an impression, the acting in this movie is top notch. Shailene Woodley gives what is probably her best performance so far. She handles the rapid mood-shifts this piece demands perfectly. Ansel Elgorts Augustus Waters feels a little bit idiotic in the beginning, which is only weird until you realise that he is a little bit of an idiot... very smart, but still a little bit of an idiot.
But it doesn't stop there. The supporting cast never misses a beat and especially Laura Dern as Hazels mother is amazing. Just seeing her enter Hazels room packed enough of an emotional punch to reduce some members of my audience to tears.

Finally, Josh Boones direction plays up the fact that not all character work has to be done through dialogue. He doesn't hit you over the head with clichés, actually he manages to keep away from them very effectively most of the time. He also manages to keep the tone light more than you would think in a movie with this subject matter. Some of the most heartbreaking lines in this movie are played down in the editing, which actually serves to make you ponder them more.

So is there anything negative to say about this movie? Well, the music is a little bit on the nose at times... Even though it takes a conscious effort to avoid clichés that come easily with the genre, it can't avoid all of them. But apart from that, this is simply a great movie. I remember being very impressed by the book and this movie actually illustrates some points to great effect that I didn't pick up from the story the first time. Pay no attention to the young adult and chick-flick marketing this movie received. "The Fault in our Stars" is a great movie and you should watch it, no matter if you are a teenager, an adult or even a parent.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions stars Paul Walker and David Belle and is a remake of the french film Banlieu 13. It sees Walkers undercover cop and Belles Robin-Hood-esque hoodlum unite against The RZAs gangster boss who threatens to shoot a missile at the finer part of town. The action is set in Brick Mansions, a neighborhood that has been walled off and abandoned by the rest of the city after crime has hit an all-time high.

It should not matter that this is one of Paul Walkers last films, the last one that he completed before his tragic death. However I feel that this is obviously part of any conversation about the movie, so here's a quick disclaimer. I have tremendous respect for the man and from all I know he was an exceptional human being. His legacy lives on in his charity and the memory of his family.

This movie however, will not be part of anyones legacy. This is the kind of movie that I would like to really trash right now, but I can't really enjoy that given the circumstances, so I'll be brief.

The story is completely ridiculous, and not in a good way. The central conflict is that RZAs gangsterboss points a rocket with a nuclear payload at the rich part of the city... the same city he lives in. Our protagonists seek to stop him by using their extensive knowledge of Parkour and the magical ability of being impervious to bullet fire. It's exactly as bad as I make it sound.

The only part that I want to elaborate on, because I think that it's symptomatic of a recent trend in Hollywood, is David Belles stuntwork. This could have been the great strength of this movie. But Director Camille Delamarre, whose work includes being an Editor for movies like Taken 2 and Transporter 3, has no idea how to shoot him. He uses the kind of quick cuts that have spread through Hollywood since the success of the Bourne trilogy. Today, they are often used to mask poor stuntwork, see Alex Cross if you want to know what I mean... on the other hand, don't see it, it's terrible. The paradox here is that David Belle can do everything that is asked here. I've seen his Parkour videos on Youtube, long before he became an actor. His stunt-scenes could have been done in long takes, in one shot even. People would have been amazed by his commitment and proficiency. But it isn't shot that way. It's shot the way an action scene is shot the way it is when you need to hide a switch to a stuntman. A better director would have known that, and someone whose background is in editing should have known that as well.

The way this movie plays, it's terrible, don't see it. If you are a fan of Paul Walker, wait for Fast Seven, of which I am sure it will be great.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

"A Million Ways to Die in the West" is Seth MacFarlanes follow-up to Ted, a surprise hit that was extremely entertaining and beloved by audiences. In this one, MacFarlane is on-screen, instead of doing voice work, playing sympathetic sheepfarmer Albert, who just got dumped by his girlfriend Louise. He then meets Anna, played by Charlize Theron, who helps him man up in an attempt to get his girl back. Inevitably, he falls in love with Anna, which solves his relationship problems with Louise, but brings with it Annas husband, an infamous outlaw and the best gunfighter around.

I really like Seth MacFarlane. I think he is one of the few people operating in Hollywood who can put together an original comedy. Granted, part of his humor is based on poop and penises, which I don't find particularly funny, but those are usually kept in a working balance. Especially his use of pop culture in Family Guy and his other works is insanely funny.

Which is why it makes me so much sadder that this movie is such a disappointment. There is enough stuff in here to not make me lose faith in MacFarlane completely, but all in all, it just doesn't work. The reason for that, in my opinion, is not even necessarily that it isn't funny. Of course there is plenty of below-the-belt-humor, but some of those jokes are even saved by Neil Patrick Harris, who is hands-down the only person in this movie who delivers on every single joke, and Sarah Silverman. There are a lot of really amusing scenes in this. Watch Giovanni Ribisi and Seth MacFarlane pretend to be engaged in a barfight and tell me you didn't at least chuckle. The whole premise of all the different ways that you can die in the west is amazing and some of those gags catch you completely off-guard.... if you didn't already see them in the trailers, that is.

No, the problem here is not a lack of humor, it's the western element that did not work for me. Compare this movie with Rango, which was a wonderful western in its own right even before it inserted jokes. The reason for this is partly in the forced love triangle, that is so obviously inconsequential from the moment Anna and Albert have their meet-cute. It's also just plain boring in a lot of it's story related scenes. A Western is usually a morality piece, the good guy, always a hero, beats the bad guy, be it a corrupt sheriff or an outlaw. Here, our hero spends most of his time whining about how hard his life is, which is very amusing at times, but it prevents the audience from investing into the story.

So after all, I still believe that Seth MacFarlane is one of the funniest guys in Hollywood, which isn't that hard, because great comedies are Irish or British, not American, but this one was definitely a misfire. Maybe he needs a writing partner who can match him on his strength and alleviate his weaknesses.

As always, check out my friend Cinemartians review over here.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Introducing Outside Hollywood

Hey fellow movie aficionados,
My friend Cinemartian and me are proud to present to you Outside Hollywood, our new podcast.
Its still in its early stages and there is still some work to be put in, some technical problems to be ironed out and definitely notes to be taken before recording, but this has been enormous fun to do, so we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

In our very first episode, riddled with sound problems and me confusing Gareth Evans (The Raid) with Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) throughout the whole podcast, we give our opinion on Godzilla and tackle some movie news that is not so new anymore by the time I had this all edited and sort of ready to upload. Still, it's definitely one for the history books, the beginning of the greatest Podcast the world has ever seen. Enjoy

Music Hosting - Audio Hosting - Podcast #2 - Edge of Tomorrow

Monday, 2 June 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow stars Tom Cruise as a PR man for the American military in a losing war against an invading alien force called "Mimics". After he tries to blackmail his way out of a dangerous assignment, he is demoted and sent to the front line, only to die after mere minutes of combat... and then to wake up again, living through the same day, again and again, reviving everytime he dies.

If this was the worst movie ever, it would still be good for people who hate Tom Cruise. Alas, it isn't. It is actually one of the best blockbusters to come out in recent years. In terms of originality, its individual parts don't add up to much. There is some Saving Private Ryan, a decent splash of Phillip K. Dick and an obvious influence of Groundhog Day. But Edge of Tomorrow is more than the sum of its parts. Director Doug Liman manages to use the time loop element to great comedic and dramatic effect at the same time.

The video game influence on this is very obvious, and it bears a certain irony that the worlds first good movie based on a video game is not based on a video game. There is a wonderful death-to-progress element to it. On his first run-through, the only thing Cruises character Cage manages is to accidentally switch his weapons operating system into Japanese. A good deal of trial and error later he has upgraded his skills significantly and unlocks a trainer in Emily Blunts "Angel of Verdun", Rita Vrataski.

There is a clear formula here and it could get repetitive or meaningless, but the screenplay shakes it up constantly. It deliberately leaves us in the dark about just how many times Cruise has been in this scene already. And in a movie in which death equates to a mere reset to a save point Liman constantly finds ways to keep dying impactful.

Another strong point here are the characters. Where the source material took a rather bland new recruit and made him into a hero, here we get a smug scumbag who does PR only to not have to fight. He is arrogant, weasely and a terrible soldier. But all that changes gradually over time, especially after he finds his mentor in Blunts Rita Vrataski. Who. Is. A. Badass.

She has been through the same ordeal that Cage is going through and quickly becomes his guide, putting him on his mission and fighting alongside him. At the same time, there is a great montage of him coaching her through the battlefield that is at the same time heart-wrenching and funny, which might be a first for any blockbuster ever.

Finally, the movie looks beautiful. Liman has built a reputation by introducing the shaky-cam to every hollywood movie ever with the Bourne Identity, which for the most part was a bad idea, because apart from Paul Greengrass, no one has made it work since then. But Liman knows what he's doing, when to show us a shot, when to give us quick cuts. The Aliens are menacing and have a nice unique style and their twitching movements work really well with the 3D.

So that's it, see the movie, it's my second favourite action movie this year so far, a close second behind The Winter Soldier. Cruise has never been bad in a stunt scene and for a blockbuster, this has an incredibly smart story.

And as with any great movie, my friend Cinemartian has seen it and given his thoughts over on his blog.