Rebrand, Bomb, Repeat: Why titles matter

Posted in Soapbox with tags , , , on August 19, 2014 by Ben Browne

If you haven’t heard- the film released earlier this year called Edge of Tomorrow (quick plug, finger guns, cheeky wink ;) ) will be renamed Live, Die, Repeat(at least in the U.S.) for its home media release. Logic being that since the film performed way below expected numbers, a rebranding is in order, presumably to start anew and give it a massive push for DVD/Blu-ray. They even went as far as changing the title on IMDB (UPDATE: it has now reverted back to “Edge of Tomorrow” but here’s a screenshot so I don’t look like a lying jerkbag). I have a problem with this. Now, I get the complete apathy you may have to this topic, but bear with me, ‘cos I think it speaks of bigger things than just a dumb name change.

…And it is a dumb name.  A lot of films don’t bother with taglines now for fear of not being taken super fucking seriously, but I’ve always liked them.”Live, Die, Repeat” is a great tagline. It’s to the point and snappy. What it isn’t is a good film name. Whilst the title “Edge of Tomorrow” does sound pretty generic, at least it rolls off the tongue better than “Live, Die, Repeat”, which forces you into a Shatnerian way…of… talking. Considering the film’s concept being a single repeating day, “Edge of Tomorrow” actually fits nicely and makes sense in the context of the film. Granted, the film should be called “All You Need is Kill” as that is the name of the source material, but I can see why they changed that one. It sounds like a parody of sorts.

The film underperformed but it got crazy good reviews. Several film sites I go to have had people excitedly talking about how much they enjoyed the film for months. I enjoyed it immensely. I suspect Edge of Tomorrow is a future cult classic. I’ve already seen far more people talking about over the past few months than I ever remember seeing when it came out in cinemas. It’s got word of mouth on its side here. It’s a legitimately decent film. Quality will out if you give it time. I just don’t see how a title change benefits anyone outside of the Warner Bros. execs and the marketing team. Let’s just count off the ways this may hurt the film.

1) Confusing: Yeah, the film didn’t rake in the cash they wanted, but a bunch of people saw this film. They saw a film called Edge of Tomorrow. It’s alienating those people who aren’t as fucking sad as I am and who don’t read film sites all the time and so may not know of the title change. What happens to the people who enjoyed the film and want to purchase it, unaware of the name switch? In general, consumers are like meerkats- one sense of something being off and they dash underground.

2) Negates some word of mouth: People have been reading about the “best film of the summer that they didn’t see”. Plenty of sites (including this one) sang its praises and urged people to watch it. I’m always trying to get people to watch stuff and it can be challenging. The name change alone invites this kind of possible scenario:

Gumbus: Hey, have you seen Edge of Tomorrow yet?

Merle: Nah, I looked for it on Amazon. It kept taking me to another Tom Cruise film called “Live, Die…something”.

Gumbus: Yeah, that’s the one. They just renamed it.

Merle: Oh, ok. I’ll get it later. *forgets*

3) Established name already: The film I and many other people saw in the cinema was called Edge of Tomorrow. There’s no way I can think of this film as anything else but that. Just can’t.

4) It’s a fucking shit name: It’s a fucking shit name

It doesn’t make sense. Surely they should be pushing it super-hard for the home release, with posters plastered with all the 4/5 star ratings it garnered. Box office bombs become famous for being just that. They appear on all sorts of end of year lists detailing the biggest box-office losers. The Lone Ranger suddenly became talked about because of how much it was costing Disney. Plus, here’s the thing- EoT didn’t do well, but isn’t a colossal financial failure. I could have possibly seen the logic if it had done so badly they wanted to distance themselves from the name, but even then I would have disagreed. Plus, box-office talk is mostly bollocks anyway. Eventually, most films make their money back via home sales, rentals, TV rights etc.

Ultimately, it shows a complete lack of confidence in the product. It’s like when Disney dropped the “…of Mars” off the end of John Carter because the film Mars Needs Moms had bombed the year before and their beep-boop logic told them that the “Mars” part of “Mars Needs Moms” was somehow something to do with the failure of Robert Zemeckis’ shitty-looking CGI nonsense that no-one wanted to see . I hate to bring up the phrase “artistic integrity” in a discussion about Hollywood, but it shows a lack of that too.

Titles matter. When I was in school, the practice of coming up with the title for your story before starting the actual writing was drilled into me. I get why now. It forces you to start shaping an idea. Titles are important and can change the meaning of a film entirely. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since it hit DVD, the film officially became known as “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”. You see how that’s not quite the same and not quite as good? Indy is one of the titular raiders of the ark, he just happens to want it for a good purpose. Having the film’s title be Indiana Jones and the…blah blah blah is not as concise. I know it’s to bring it in line with the rest of the series, but I see it as a Rambo situation. First one establishes a famous character (Raiders/First Blood), then it becomes about chronicling the adventures of that character (...and the Temple of Doom/ Rambo III). Plus, the film’s title card just says “Raiders of the Lost Ark” whereas the others have the “Indy” prefix.

I know all of this isn’t the worst thing ever and it doesn’t even come close to some of the completely dumb shit studios pull on a regular basis, but it is irritating. I can only see it being a needless complication to the marketing of a film that didn’t get its due, especially when it had the potential to enjoy the success that Dredd did when it came to DVD. I liked Edge of Tomorrow and want it to do well. Not only because I believe in quality being rewarded, but because Hollywood needs to pay attention to films like Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die, Repeat/Whatever the Fuck and the only way they do that is if a film makes mad bank. If you can’t tell my position on it already, if you haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet, you should get on that.

The Aristocats

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on August 18, 2014 by Ben Browne
 
Crazy Old Cat Lady: The Movie
 

The Aristocats (1970)

It’s strange how the majority of Disney’s ’70s and ’80s output falls by the wayside when brought up in discussion. With a company like Disney, there are very few truly forgotten films, but the 18 year run of animated theatrical releases between The Jungle Book and The Little Mermaid struggle for a place amongst the “proper” classics. To be honest, it’s a quality issue. After Uncle Walt cursed the Jewish faith one last time and turned up his toes, the company staggered about trying to recreate the original Disney magic. The films from this time aren’t bad per se, but they are shallower in terms of heart and ambition. As there seems to be no proper term for this time, I shall refer to it as “The Hollow Era” as I’m sure I’m going to have to refer back to it. Hate to say it, but The Aristocats seems to have kickstarted the tailspin.

“Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them!

Pampered cat Duchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens live the life of luxury with an old rich Madame (Hermione Baddeley) in 20th century France. Madame Bonfamille draws up her will and having no family, she intends to leave everything to the cats, with the loyal house butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) to inherit after the cats die. Edgar overhears this and kidnaps the kitties, dumping them in the wilderness to cut out the middlecats and become the sole benefactor to her estate. Duchess and the kittens meet Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris), a streetwise alley cat who endeavours to return the family home. Here’s the thing with The Aristocats- apart from it being a pale facsimile of Lady and the Tramp, none of evolves past Duchess’ desire to get home. Homeward Bound had this too, but the characters learned something about themselves and each other. The Aristocats is a series of disconnected sketches featuring new characters and the occasional musical number. Most of it is just scenes that happen sequentially rather than having a reason why scenes are happening. The voice cast are great. Eva Gabor is cool, the richly-voiced Phil Harris does his Baloo schtick again, but it works. Fellow Jungle Book star Sterling Holloway also lends his unique voice to Roquefort, a plucky mouse who is determined to rescue Duchess and co. Scatman Crothers pops up as the jazz-loving Scat Cat, confusingly doing a Louis Armstrong impression to match the character design. Whatever the reason, it’s a whole lot of fun. Let’s not talk about the buck-toothed “me rikey” Siamese cat.

The Aristocats is charming, don’t get me wrong. The animation and art are beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of detractors calling the film rough-looking, but I think it suits. It’s not as clean as previous films, but I like it. Plus, the animation on the animals is fantastic and realistic. The songs are high points too, especially the catchy “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat”. To me, the film seems like a series of vignettes. We have the two dogs Napoleon and Lafayette who don’t impact on the story at all, apart from making it more difficult for Edgar to cover his tracks. The cats then meet two geese Abigail and Amelia, who don’t do much. It goes on like this. The story is dictating what the characters should do, instead of the characters’ decisions driving the story. It’s practically a recipe for ensuring your film has a limit on how much it can appeal and entertain. Plus, when it doubt, the film puts Marie in danger. It’s lazy, basically. That’s not to say these scenes are bad. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of the two dogs (despite Napoleon being voiced by the awesome Pat Buttram), I have a soft spot for the ditzy English maid geese and especially their Uncle Waldo. The Waldo sequence is genuinely funny and features some of the best drunk voice acting you’ve ever heard: 

My main problem with the film is that there’s no real heart to it or lesson to be imparted. Duchess and the kittens don’t learn anything from their big adventure, aside from maybe having their world view broadened. Madame doesn’t learn anything. O’Malley doesn’t learn anything. Nobody does. There’s an undercurrent about the difference between Duchess and O’Malley’s attitudes towards humans, but it’s mostly forgotten about. A lot of ideas in the film are like this. The sheltered kittens have a very specific idea of what an alley cat is, but aren’t surprised by O’Malley and like him from the get-go. They float an idea and then just drop it. It’s frustrating because there’s evidently some top quality work gone into making it, it’s just disappointingly hollow. A lot of decisions seem arbitrary. For example, why is the film set in Paris? Apart from making sense of Maurice Chevalier’s opening number, there’s nothing about the story that specifically requires a Parisian backdrop.

“Aloha, auf Wiedersehen, bonsoir, sayonara and all those good bye things, baby.”

Despite all this, I still like The Aristocats. As I said, it’s charming and that takes it a long way. Whilst it doesn’t hit the highs of other Disney films, it still has enough energy and playfulness to make it worth a watch.

Aladdin

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2014 by Ben Browne

After noticing that I’d bought rather a lot of Disney films lately, I decided to write about a few of them to plug the gaps between new releases. After the genuinely shocking news of Robin Williams’ untimely death, there seemed to be only one place to start, really.

Robin Williams was, and will remain, a hero of mine, having grown up seeing and enjoying a whole bunch of his films like this one, Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire. As I “matured”, I found new admiration for him in classics like Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting as well as some of his more offbeat films like World’s Greatest Dad and Death to Smoochy. He was one of only a rare few who I found just as funny and entertaining as an adult as I did as a stupid kid. I think one of the main reasons for this was the fact that as a performer, the guy was fearless. Whilst most of us lose it when we hit our teens, he maintained a childlike manic energy and an absolute confidence in what he was doing throughout his career, making him engaging no matter what age you were. It seemed fitting to me to rewatch not only a real childhood favourite of mine, but reacquaint myself with what is sure to be one of the longest lasting components of the legacy of a uniquely funny and talented showman.

Aladdin (1992)

After the runaway successes of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which both marked much needed changes in direction for the company, Disney relaxed and settled on adapting Arabian Nights for their next project, comforted that it didn’t have to bring in Mermaid numbers. What went on behind the scenes of Aladdin is interesting as they had basically completed the script and storyboards before being forced to chuck everything out and start over from scratch when then boss Jeffrey Katzenberg reportedly “hated” what he was shown. With cancellation looming, the team hired Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to punch up the script and trim the fat.

“Welcome to Agrabah. City of mystery, of enchantment…and the finest merchandise this side of the River Jordan! On sale today! Come on down!”

Aladdin tells the story of a young, kind-hearted street urchin (Scott Weinberg) who dreams of more than his life of crime and poverty allows. After he’s used and betrayed by the scheming advisor to the Sultan, Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), Aladdin stumbles across an old lamp and frees a magical genie (Robin Williams) who has the ability to grant him three wishes and the opportunity to improve both his stock in life and get closer to the Sultan’s daughter, Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin). The plot is an amalgamation of all sorts of Arabian legends and fables. For the most part, it works. The screenplay is pretty smart in places. It was certainly a lot funnier than previous Disney efforts and I suspect Elliot, Rossio and Williams are the culprits. There’s more of an anarchic feeling to the humour, with several instances of fourth-wall breaking and the Genie’s impressions of people like Jack Nicholson and Rodney Dangerfield. I would argue that in this respect, Aladdin was kind of a trailblazer. A big celebrity voice actor, computer animation (for some background shots and for the intricate design on Carpet) and the generation-spanning humour appealing to both kids and adults etc. It’s the Dreamworks template, basically. Visually, the film’s a stunner. I love the art style. It’s bright and colourful with character designs taking inspiration from American caricaturist Al Hirschfield and his elegant, simple linework. All of these elements add up to something that’s loud, colourful and a lot of fun. I can see why my VHS tape stayed put in the VCR for so long when I was an ankle-biter.

Story wise, it’s pretty solid. A lot of it is about people being true to themselves and various characters’ yearnings to be free of some kind of imprisonment- which is fair enough. The obligatory romance aspect is a bit thin, going through the standard Disney motions until the blah blah…”happily ever after” stuff. It has the same beats you’d expect, right down to a shared song implying mutual love. Having said that, it’s nice that Jasmine isn’t just the unattainable dream girl for our hero to work towards. She wants to be free from her father’s protection and from Draconian laws forcing her to marry within a certain immediate timeframe. Whilst they could have been a bit bolder with Princess Jasmine, it’s cool that she’s the one busting out of the palace, instead of staying put and waiting to be rescued like so many of her royal predecessors in the Disney stable. Linda Larkin does a good job of selling a tough character.  Jonathan Freeman is deliciously evil as Jafar, making for one of the best Disney villains ever. His double act with the raucous parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) is also massively entertaining. Aladdin himself is a bit of a square and looks like a mawkish ’80s sitcom character in fancy dress. He’s fine, I guess, but he’s hardly the most compelling hero we’ve had.

It’s no secret that the film belongs to Robin Williams’ Genie.  I mean, wow. I love the fact that they kept Williams’ improvisational nature when bringing the character to life, especially the opening with the (also Williams voiced) merchant. It’s impossible not to like Genie. The combination of the madcap, unhinged animation and Williams’ constant riffing and changing of voices works incredibly well. Genie’s “Friend Like Me” number encapsulates all of this perfectly and is easily one of my favourite Disney songs.  In fact, all of the music is top quality. Aladdin continued the tradition of having big Broadway-style numbers (arguably) kicked off by The Little Mermaid. Alan Menken takes Howard Ashman and Tim Rice’s clever lyrics and puts them to catchy Arabian flavoured jazzy music and it works beautifully. Whilst it has the modern rep of being saccharine as anything and of being played at thick peoples’ weddings, “A Whole New World” is a great song in the context of the film. It’s lovely. There- I said it.

“Oh, Al. I’m getting kinda fond of you, kid. Not that I wanna pick out curtains or anything.”

So, I can’t really mark Aladdin down on too much. Aladdin is one of the first films I remember seeing at the cinema (the other coincidentally being Ferngully ) and I have watched it countless times since over the years. It’s a cherished early memory of the cinema coupled with a deep childhood affection. I am qualifying my bias here- I couldn’t be further from being objective if I tried. There is no way I can view it as an outsider looking in. Luckily, when rewatching it, I found that I had to forgive very little (some of the character designs are questionable, especially as Aladdin looks nigh-on Caucasian) and was swept along for the ride all over again. I hate to end on a rubbish pun, but I thought of the word and now I can’t get it out of my head- it’s magical.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted in Marvel, Review with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2014 by Ben Browne
 
I am Groot.
 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t get any less true: it’s crazy to think that back in 2011, Thor was considered a “risk” for Marvel. Two solo films and a billion dollar team up later and the God of Thunder is right at home alongside more “classical” heroes like Iron Man and Captain America. Anyway, the point of all this is that in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy really feels like a proper gamble: a bold step into the whole “cosmic” element to the Marvel universe and a departure from the costumed heroics we’re used to seeing by now. Whilst I have a working knowledge of Marvel stuff, having read Spider-Man comics for years, I must admit I wasn’t too familiar with the Guardians, only having heard of Rocket Raccoon before, so this “going in blind” to a Marvel movie is a new experience for me and one I relished. Anyway, blah blah blah- point being is that the film is awesome and, if you’ll allow me, I’ll endeavour to tell you why.

“Why would you want to save the galaxy?”

“Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth by aliens at a young age and now lives life as a Ravager, a kind of space pirate. Quill finds a mysterious orb and steals it, unaware that he’s setting wheels in motion that may have huge, and possibly genocidal, consequences. Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) sends a green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after him to retrieve the orb. Unbeknownst to Quill, his boss Yandu (Michael Rooker) has also put a sizeable bounty on his head, leading two bounty hunters, a talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a humanoid tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to pursue him. By chance, we also meet Drax (Dave Bautista) a muscled madman with only vengeance against Ronan on his mind. After the group are captured and thrown together, they soon decide to put aside their differences and put a stop to Ronan’s nefarious plans. Sound complicated? It isn’t really. I just wanted to fit in as many of the principal cast as I could and I still missed out Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly!. It’s mostly a fast-paced chase for the all-important orb and that’s fine. All the cast are fantastic. Chris Pratt is just teetering on the edge of serious superstardom and watching this, you can tell it’s well deserved. The guy is likeable and charming but can bring the emotional heft when needed. Peter Quill (or Star-Lord) is an interesting concept. Being a product of the ’80s, it’s like he’s emulating Han Solo, but not quite pulling it off. Both Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel do stellar voice work as Rocket and Groot, especially Diesel, who does a lot with very few words. Pleasant surprise of the film is pro-wrestler Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. He gets most of the film’s biggest laughs, usually involving his race’s inability to understand metaphors and his propensity to take everything literally. Bautista plays it perfectly and is a joy to watch. The film does a great job of balancing these big personalities, but some do slip through the net. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems to not be given as much attention as the rest of the Guardians. She’s still a solid presence, but I get the feeling a lot of her stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Big baddie Ronan wasn’t quite as menacing as I’d have liked him to be. He’s no Loki, but he’s no Malekith (the elf guy from Thor: The Dark World who was fucking rubbish) either. He’s more of a Vader to Thanos’ Emperor. Karen Gillan’s Nebula also gets slightly lost in the mix. Let’s hope the sequel does Gillan’s performance justice.

A lot has been made of the more comedic tone of Guardians in comparison to the more straight-faced Marvel stablemates. When the lights went down in the cinema, I plastered a pre-emptive smile on my face, just to save time for when the laughs started. The film then cold opens on a young Quill, in a hospital at his mother’s deathbed. My face fell. It’s a genuinely moving scene and I soon realised that Guardians may not quite be the lark-about space opera I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, when the film gets going, it’s a blast, but it has the balls to strive for something deeper than that. Now, I have reservations in telling you this, for fear of some bigger boys coming to my house and beating me up for being a wuss, but I teared up at several points during the film which was unexpected to say the least. Guardians is brave as hell in the way that despite having a CGI raccoon and tree monster as part of the main cast, it never once treats them as two dimensional cartoon characters.They all feel like real people, not just caricatures spouting witty one-liners. It should come as no surprise to fans of The Iron Giant, but the combination of Vin Diesel and some seriously impressive animation manages to make Groot a hugely sympathetic character, despite being limited to three simple words.

The rest of the film is fast, fun and furious. The action is varied and exciting, the attention to detail is awesome and it all adds up to a hugely enjoyable experience. There’s a brilliant prison breakout sequence and some thrilling aerial dogfights that are just delights. I’m trying hard to not spoil specifics, but this is one of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a goddamn planet that is the severed head of a humongous ancient beast, just floating through space. The Collector’s huge collection has some great visual gags and brilliant attention to detail. Every dollar of the budget seems to have been put up on the screen and that’s to be commended. Marvel Studios has learned the lesson that Hollywood in general consistently fails to take on board: if you’re going to hire a talent like James Gunn, Shane Black or Joss Whedon, for fuck’s sake step back at let them do their thing. In the same way Iron Man 3 was undeniably a Shane Black film, Guardians is definitely a Gunn production, complete with his trademark dark humour. The screenplay, co-written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, is smart as anything and doesn’t feel meddled with. It’s not perfect, as there are some clunky attempts at theming etc, but the very fact that a film with a budget this big, based on characters even the hardcore nerds are only vaguely aware of, has such an uncompromising script is nothing short of miraculous. Also, the soundtrack is amazing.

“Metaphors go over his head”

“NOTHING goes over my head!… My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”

People who complain of superhero fatigue (dumb people, but entitled to their opinions nonetheless) just won’t have a leg to stand on with this one. It’s a fun space opera that is more sci-fi than anything else. It’s exactly what blockbuster entertainment should be- a fun adventure with characters you can (G)root for. I can’t express this enough- I am now a huge fan of these characters and can’t wait to see where they take them next. The already confirmed eventual meeting of the Avengers and the Guardians has me positively salivating at the prospect. This may just be my new favourite Marvel film. I will have to watch it at least 7 more times before I can be sure. Highly recommended.

The Purge: Anarchy

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on July 26, 2014 by Ben Browne
 
Grillo is brillo

 

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

As you may have guessed by my redux review of the original, The Purge: Anarchy was next on my list. As I said, I liked the idea of The Purge, just got a bit frustrated with the execution. Now it’s Anarchy‘s turn, with its promise to widen the scope of the annual purge and not have it devolve into the same “home invasion” bullshit we’ve all seen countless times before.

“Couldn’t find any quotes.”

Purge night 2023. We join a group of five people all with different motivations but share a common goal: to survive. Frank Grillo plays a mysterious man, armed to the teeth with Purge-ready weapons, as he cruises the empty streets with a very specific target in mind. As he makes his way through the city, he rescues mother and daughter Eva and Cali (Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul) and the gang soon pick up two new members in the form of desperate couple Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) and on the promise of help to get to his target, Grillo’s stranger must get them across town to safety, which turns out to be no mean feat.

People (myself included) complained that the first Purge was too limited, setting the action in one house. Writer-director James DeMonaco clearly thought so too, so now we see entire areas of the city in Purge mode, with patrolling masked thugs and any number of nasty things happening on the streets. It feels like a proper raising of the stakes and that’s to be commended in the “same but different” world of horror sequels. I actually cared a little more for our bunch of survivors this time round. Grillo is definitely the MVP here, playing well, pretty much The Punisher, complete with mobile arsenal and souped up vehicle. He still affords the character some nice humanising moments however, balancing out the cartoonishly badass bits. Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul are the beating hearts of the film, with a genuinely sympathetic back story involving Eva’s elderly father. Estranged couple Shane and Liz are a bit on the bland side, their purpose to be to get to Shane’s sister to inform her that they’re splitting up. Not sure why a phone call wouldn’t suffice, but whatever. Interesting new element is Michael K. Williams’ Carmelo, an outspoken anti-Purge and anti-New Founding Fathers revolutionary who leads an underground army determined to take the NFFA down. He’s good, but isn’t in it much. I suspect his role will increase in the telegraphed third film where it looks like his forces will meet the government head on.

I used the phrase “horror sequel” in the paragraph above, but I used it as this film being a sequel to a horror, not a continuation of the genre. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t a horror film in the strictest sense. It’s an action thriller with jump scares. This may put you off, but let’s not forget how weak the scare sauce was in the first one. It’s evolved into a B movie and a damn entertaining one at that. That’s not to say there aren’t bits that are unsettling. Many scenes are pretty intense. Anarchy is about escalation. There are motorbike gangs, Gatling gun trucks and any number of psychos prowling the streets and it’s fucking great stuff.  We find out more about the New Founding Fathers, but they remain a scary, shady organisation. As with the first, it’s the details that make it work. Camped out snipers on rooftops, traps laid throughout the streets and gangs roaming to pick up stragglers so that rich people can butcher in the safety of their homes. It doesn’t shy away from political allegory either. I mean, when you have a bearded redneck type, clutching a shotgun and screaming about his rights, you know this isn’t the smartest approach to satire, but at least it’s there in some capacity. Like in the original, there are also parallels with the rich/poor divide, which in this film we get to see from the poorer perspective.

“Yeah, I could probably find some, but it’s hot. Fuck you.”

I don’t have many bad things to say about the film. The dialogue is a little sloppy and I could have done with Carmelo’s resistance have had a little more of a presence, but I think that’s about it. It’s hokey and grotty, but it is a B movie after all. I enjoyed it immensely. You can look this film in two ways: 1) it realises the potential of the original’s premise or 2) it’s a damn good Punisher movie that doesn’t feature the “proper” Marvel comic character. I’ve found a new pet franchise to follow. I’m hoping it doesn’t pull a [Rec] (my previous pet horror franchise) on me and go completely off the rails for its third part.

The Purge (Redux)

Posted in Redux with tags , , , on July 24, 2014 by Ben Browne
 

The Purge (2013) (Redux)

Since it came out last year, I’ve softened on The Purge quite a bit. Whilst I still stick by a lot of my original review, I read it back and thought I was a little harsh, considering the things I liked about it. I bought the Blu-ray recently and have actually been looking forward to the sequel a fair bit, so I figured I’d give the original another crack of the whip.

“Decriminalised murder- an outlet for American rage.”

It’s 2022. America is enjoying a new golden age. Crime rates are low, unemployment likewise and the rich are getting richer. This is attributed to a group called “The New Founding Fathers” who introduced the concept of “The Purge”, an annual event in which all crime, including murder, is legal for 12 hours. The logic behind this being that all the events of the Purge act as a release valve for society’s pent-up anger, aggression and violence. Ethan Hawke plays James Sandin, a man who has earned his wealth selling home security to protect people from any harm during the Purge. He returns home to his wife Mary (Lena Headey) and two children Zoey (Adelaide Kane) and Charlie (Max Burkholder) to prepare for Purge night, safely hunkered down behind reinforced metal doors and various other barricades. The trouble starts when Charlie disarms the security to let in a wounded stranger (Edwin Hodge), not realising the consequences. Soon enough, a group of enthusiastic purgers, led by a polite and eloquent man (Rhys Wakefield) arrive and give the Sandins an ultimatum: either give them the wounded man so they can exercise their constitutional right to “release the beast” or have their defences torn down and suffer the consequences.

I’ve seen people slate the basic idea of The Purge, calling it “unrealistic” amongst other things. It’s a dumb criticism to make, really. Is Star Wars realistic? Is The Dark Knight? No, but they set up their own rules about how stuff works in their universe and they run with it. Sure, the idea of the Purge being voted into any kind of law, let alone working as a way to boost the economy and improve the lives of average people is ludicrous, but at no point does the film feel like it’s just about one cool concept (and it is a cool concept, fuck you) regarding legalised murder and government approved lawlessness. It has something to say, albeit occasionally muddled. I love the idea that the Purge may have just been a way to deal with the poor and keep the rich in the money. Think about it- the rich can afford super-swanky home security (as well as better weapons should they want to actively participate in purging) whilst the poor are pitted against each other, pretty much becoming a “problem” that fixes itself. Admittedly, the way these undercurrents are conveyed is almost insultingly simplistic, with numerous news reports expositioning the shit out of the situation. It may be dumb, but at least it has something to say and has a few unique concepts of its own, unlike 90% of the crap out there.

So, great central idea with a surprising amount of satire and social commentary. Good. What else? Well, the opening 20 mins are decent, if (if you ignore certain things like clunky dialogue and contrived set-ups, but I’ll get back to those) building dread for the Purging to come. It does a good job of world building, even including neat details like displaying a specific blue flower outside your home to show your support for the Purge. As I mentioned before, the Stepford feel to the neighbourhood is a nice touch, complete with uncanny valley-eque residents with fixed, unconvincing smiles. I still love the opening CCTV montage set to Clair De Lune. The cast are a mixed bag, but Rhys Wakefield is the standout. His “Polite Leader” is a creepy villain, completely immersed in his constitutional right to murder and maim. If there’s one trope I have a weakness for, it’s when a bad guy shoots one of his allies just because, in this case because one of his lackies forgoes his polite protocol. Lena Headey also does well with a severely underwritten role and gets a nice moment of dark humour near the end that is genuinely funny.

The rest of the film doesn’t fare as well. Zoey is a typical, eye-rolling teenager that doesn’t bring anything to the party but her kinky Catholic school uniform. Worst character by far though is the young son, Charlie. He’s an important element to the story as he’s just the right age to start thinking for himself and becoming aware of the horror of the Purge, whereas the rest of his family have seen it happen many times before, become desensitised to the Purge and accepted it as a necessary evil over the years. He’s our way in as an audience, so its a shame that the writing really doesn’t do him any favours. The contrived nature of the opening scene where he has a burnt baby doll RC tank, really clunks like a motherfucker. It’s so obvious that this bit is just excusing stuff that happens later. Same with his weird obsession with wearing a heart-rate monitor and checking his vitals regularly. These things are promptly forgotten about until just the right moment when they become suspiciously useful.  It’s lazy stuff.

The biggest problem I (and a lot of other people) have with The Purge is the fact that after a decent premise and promises of a brutal but interesting world, they stick to one location and have it devolve into just another home invasion movie. Instead of taking full advantage of the concept, the Purge night suspension of emergency services is used merely as a way to avoid the “they cut the phone lines” explanation as to why the cops aren’t showing up, which is disappointing. It fails as a horror, too, quickly changing tact from creeping dread to easy jump scares. Plus, it features a cardinal sin of tension resolution during a frantic grapple- the “baddie” getting shot by someone off-screen. I’ve always felt cheated when that shows up in films and The Purge does it about 3 times (sigh). Also the dialogue is pretty damn terrible, ranging from functional to boring. That said, some of the Polite Leader’s monologues are good.

“Tonight allows people a release for all the hatred and violence that they keep up inside them.”

Despite the arguably huge problems I have with The Purge, I still like it. It’s a mess, but an interesting one. I’d much rather watch a film like this that shoots for something and misses than the zero-effort crap like the Paranormal Activity sequels and spin-offs that are out there. The wheels do fall off rather spectacularly, but the core of it is strong and entertaining.

Need for Speed

Posted in Review with tags , , , on July 21, 2014 by Ben Browne

 

Skidmarks.
 

Need for Speed (2014)

So Need for Speed didn’t exactly bomb, but certainly underperformed when it was released earlier this year. People have put this down to it being a video game adaptation. I can’t really see that logic when Transformers: Age of Extinction (based on a cartoon created to sell toys to kids, lest we forget) can make enough money to buy at least 7 pairs of “Beats by Dre” headphones. It’s odd that games don’t seem to work when adapted for film because the two mediums have been aping each other so much that I’d assumed they would have converged into a singularity by now. Why don’t video game films work? It’s a pertinent question. Sadly, it’s probably because they’re never passion projects, just business opportunities to cash-in on a known brand to the oh-so-important teenage demographic. Nobody on the creative teams for these things cares enough about them or respects the medium.They break the bones of the game to fit their restrictive blockbuster mould and discard potentially great elements because they don’t know what to do with them. This almost always ensures that a grey, generic sludge is produced, only vaguely related to the source material, that understandably pisses off game and film fans alike. Case in point, Need for Speed.

“They took everything from me.”

Two years after Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) was framed for the death of his friend, he is released from prison and immediately sets out for revenge on the true culprit behind the fatal car crash, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). In order to get back at Dino, Marshall needs to qualify for and enter the legendary De Leon race, headed by the mysterious Monarch (Michael Keaton). The one massive flaw in the plan, however, is the fact that Marshall is on parole and forbidden from leaving the state. There’s also the fact that he has a bounty on him, with a supercar promised to whomever manages to stop Marshall and his passenger, Julia (Imogen Poots) from getting to the start line. The film is a basic revenge narrative set in the world of superfast cars, which is fine by me. As a massive Breaking Bad fan it pains me to say this, but Aaron Paul just doesn’t work as the stoic hero they’re going for. I’m not sure whether it’s just a case of miscasting or the script not being meaty enough for Paul to work with. Dominic Cooper does well as the suited slimeball Dino. He’s one of the better villains I’ve seen in a while, but the writing rears its ugly head to make sure he’s only a partial success. Imogen Poots is decent enough, but is definitely slumming it. The oddest performance is Michael Keaton who is somehow hammy and understated at the same time- and not in the good way that might imply. I get a real sense of lack of effort on Keaton’s part, although it definitely doesn’t help that he’s in the same room for the entire film and only very occasionally interacts with any of the cast. He’s a weird, floating presence mostly used to explain any shit they couldn’t be bothered to fit in anywhere else in the film.

I get what Need for Speed is trying to do. It wants to be a throwback to the Steve McQueen era, even going so far as to have Bullitt playing at a drive-in theatre and the soundtrack being modern covers of classics like “Fortunate Son”. It’s a half-hearted attempt to return to that very vague yet oddly specific era of Americana that probably didn’t exist in the first place. It also wants to have a B movie vibe, like some of McQueen’s filmography. This is fine, but it doesn’t really commit to it and these elements barely feature in the rest of the film. Despite what you might think, the film is more of a road movie than anything else, focusing on Tobey and Julia’s race to get to the er… race. The sticking point is that neither character is particularly fleshed out. There are concessions to normal storytelling occasionally, but most of the time it’s like watching two amnesiacs trying to figure out who they are. Same with Tobey’s apparently loveable pit crew. I watched this film a few hours ago as of writing this review and I would struggle to fill a Post-It Note with what I remember about them. All I know is that there’s one call Pete or Petey that is so tediously wide-eyed and innocent he may as well have a bullseye stapled to his forehead. Plus there’s some bullshit about Pete’s “visions” that never convinces in being anything but a cloying, hackneyed addition to the script that doesn’t work in any capacity.

The usual counter-argument to all this is the Transformers argument: “but’s it’s just a dumb action film blah blah blah”. True, it is an action film and yes, you can hardly expect Shakespeare and ruminations on the human condition in a film made to appeal to teenagers who love fast cars and violence. I’m aware of the limitations and am accepting of them (big of me, I know). 2013’s 2 Guns wasn’t going to win any writing awards, but it was solid enough to make the non-shooty bits almost as entertaining as the shootier bits. Need for Speed, on the other hand, is bad through and through. It takes elements like a cross country race whilst pursued by cops and rouge drivers and somehow makes them boring. I found myself forcing to accept some of the weak characters and head-scratching decisions just so I could get to the film’s racing bread and butter. I didn’t care about any of the characters and as such was left numb by it all. The film tries to give the characters depth but fails massively. The introduction of Imogen Poots’ character outlined this for me. So Tobey and Pete et al. have just finished working on a legendary car and are admiring their handiwork. She sidles up, acting all ditzy and asking basic questions like “is it fast?”. They start being rather patronising in response.She soon convinces them to pop the hood and proceeds to expertly list all the components to the surprise of Tobey and Pete. She then gets on her high horse and scolds them for assuming she knew nothing about cars. Thing is, they don’t know her at all. If you’re going to play dumb when meeting new people then the only real assumption they can make about you is that you’re dumb. It reminds me of this comic: click. The film is full of stuff like this and it became harder and harder to forgive as it went on.

I looked up who was responsible for the warcrime of a screenplay and it’s George Gatins, a first time writer who just so happens to be the brother of one of the producers, John Gatins. Don’t you just love Hollywood nepotism? There’s an overabundance of writers out there that could take the basic elements of this and create something really entertaining, but they give it to some rich prick’s brother. Awesome. As for the action, it’s the film’s only saving grace. There’s an impressive commitment to practical stunts and some of the races and crashes are incredibly well done. This is hardly surprising as director Scott Waugh has a long history of stuntwork, so there’s a legitimacy to the action sequences. That’s about it though. The car stuff is decent.

“*Some other fucking awful line that I can’t be bothered to look up*”

So yeah, Need for Speed isn’t good. It’s boring, terribly written and it made my head hurt. You’d have a hard time convincing me that anyone involved (apart from Paul and Cooper) genuinely wanted to make a good film. Disappointing on many different levels. Not recommended.

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