Cinema Cocoa
Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (3D)

Sony Entertainment’s reign of average, acceptable film making continues. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shakes off its predecessor’s shackles of the origin story and has some great moments, but suffers from some old, overriding problems.

Peter Parker has his work cut out for him protecting the city of New York from criminals, but when a fan of his named Max Dillion suffers a terrible accident inside Oscorp tower and becomes Electro, a being of pure electricity, his greatest challenge emerges. Meanwhile, Peter searches for answers about why his parents left him.

I’m going to say it… and it isn’t a pleasant thing to say, but this film reminds me of Spider-man 3 (minus the jazz club dancing).

Oh snap I’ve done it now!
The Amazing Spider-man 2, as cliche as it is to say in a review, suffers from having too many villains. I’m sorry but it is true. We have an angry Russian who nicknames himself Rhino, we have Harry Osborne summoned into the series after his absence in Part 1, and we have Max “Electro” Dillion. Why is Rhino an angry Russian? Because he is Russian… and he is angry.

Max, played by Jamie Foxx, is excellent though and desperately wants to be the core focus of the film, and if it weren’t for Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield maintaining their good performances, he might have stolen the show. One of the film’s greatest moments is when Max finds himself with his new powers and face to face with his idol, Spider-man; it is a unique scene that challenges the way we perceive heroes and villains and even starts to weave a different relationship between our hero and his nemesis. It is truly remarkable.
It is a shame that Electro’s character never returns to this purgatory of self… once he goes into the deep end of villainy the screenplay never allows him to resurface again.

Why? Because we need to push Harry Osborne into the story. Played by Chronicle's excellent Dane DeHaan, Harry unfortunately feels rushed and not enough of the film's ridiculously long 140 minute cycle is given to his development. We must accept that Harry and Peter are life-long friends, why, the film gives us a whole entire scene for it!

Here’s my problem. A villain inspires and challenges our hero to change and to adapt their personality, but here, everything is so crammed with stuff (most of it deemed only for sake of convenience) that nothing feels connected or genuine. Plot threads are just tossed at us: Oh yeah, Peter works for the Daily Bugle now, that’s his job now (which he’s never actually shown doing, ever, we never see the Daily Bugle). Oh, without any outside influence, Peter is going to go crazy and start looking for his parents suddenly. Oh, because we have the city under threat (100 minutes in) we need to establish that Aunt May is in fact, a nurse at a hospital.
They have all the characters doing what they should be doing, but there’s no setup, there’s no build up to anything, its like watching a magician pull a rabbit out of his hat without showing the rabbit disappear first!
Harry Osborne is the definition of this issue… he gets no build up outside of a single scene, and when a story starts doing these things you find yourself not watching characters but watching the gears and gizmos controlling them.

Sigh. I really wanted to like this film more, but in today’s over-indulgence of superhero films you have to start looking for uniqueness, or at least integrity. The special effects are very good, Spider-man’s suit actually looks superior in this film compared to all previous films (I think its the white eyes) and Electro does bring a lot of gravitas to the proceedings.

There are scenes that are extremely good, Electro should have had the film all to himself, but once again… a film studio that isn’t Marvel Studios feels like its rushing to get stuff done.

Additional marshmallows: The 3D of the film is almost entirely during the web-swinging scenes, everything else is regular 2D near enough. If you are a fan of Rhino, you will be disappointed; he may as well have been cut from the film.
MOST of the action sequences Sony released in the millions of trailers feature in the last fifteen minutes. I’m not even kidding.

Review: The Machine

A simple and fairly by-the-numbers science fiction thriller that stands up to criticism with elegant design, soundtrack and competent cinematography.

The Machine is set in a near future where a cold war between the west and China has plunged the world into deep recession. Vincent McCarthy, an AI engineer, works for the Department of Defense in a bid to save and improve lives of those injured and crippled in the wars. He hires a bright, enthusiastic partner, Ava, to assist in creating a true AI. His personal motives are to perfect the technology and save his daughter’s life, but the DoD has other, more ethically unjust goals in mind…

Debut film for director Caradog W. James, it won the Raindance film festival award for Best UK feature, and the Toronto After Dark awards for Best Actress and Best Sci-fi film, and I imagine there’s a good future for the new director.

The story has been explored before; the third act is possibly the weakest part as we know these sorts of moralistic dilemmas revolving around creating a true artificial intelligence. But the opening acts are implemented with a lot of grounding and with moody, contemplative scenes. We see Vincent (Toby Stephens) working with brutally injured soldiers, overseen by shadowy implanted guards who were prototypes of his final project. Everything is draped in shadow but often very well lit and photographed given the budget.

Speaking of which, the computer generated effects are used very sparingly and effectively, something a lot of directors could learn a thing or to about. The action towards the third act is exciting and, while maybe a bit hectic, saves an otherwise too familiar screenplay.

The acting talent from Toby Stephens and especially Caity Lotz as his assistant Ava are compelling enough to keep you interested. Lotz (Arrow, Mad Men) definitely steals the show by the end of the film, I’m sure we will see more from her in the future. Another good aspect of the characters is that they may go into science fiction cliche, but they don’t throw in romance or needless complications.


The soundtrack and a lot of the sound editing reminded me of science fiction such as the Mass Effect series of video games, even some of the visuals made me think of this, which is automatically a good thing in my book. The film’s mood and overall theme reminded me a lot of 2009/10’s Splice, again, not a bad thing to me!

I’d give it a watch. Those who love sci-fi will eat up the soundtrack and implementation enough to forgive the familiar plotting, while others should appreciate the simplicity of the storytelling.

Saga Review: Spider-Man

I love movies. Comics I’ve never given time to, and as far as Spider-man is concerned you’ll have to forgive some of my ignorance; I’ve heard a lot of theories and followed lots of arguments about why Spider-man needed a reboot or about why the reboot ruined everything.

I can only give you my opinion, as someone who loves film, storytelling and creativity first and foremost… with a little dash of nostalgic traditionalism.

(I don’t care whether or not Spider-man has organics or web-shooters.)

It was great fun to watch the old Sam Raimi movies, and honestly I have to insist people watch them again! Spider-man came out twelve years ago. TWELVE. Even if you are eighteen when this post is made and claim The Amazing Spider-man is better, try to remember that you were six when it came out originally! Go and watch it again. Right now. Then watch Spider-man 2.

With that said, a message to Sony:
With Great Franchise Rights, Comes Great Responsibility.

Spider-Man (2002)

(pause for a moment: this film was released twelve years ago… oh god, I feel old)

Back in the days when films could be under two hours long, they could be bright, exciting and have pop songs associated with them, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man remains to this day a pulpy, comic book romp that is both entertaining in its goofiness and its theatrics.


Young teen Peter Parker is bitten by a scientifically created “super spider” and becomes the athletic, web-shooting titular hero. While he struggles over his affections for Mary-Jane, the love of his life, his best friend’s father Norman Osborne becomes corrupt through a dangerous military experiment and becomes Spidey’s nemesis the Green Goblin.

You know, looking back at this film, you can harp on about what’s wrong with it; Raimi has a very distinct style in his movies and it isn’t always going to agree with some people, but gosh darn it I like this movie. I really do. Why? Well, principally, it’s fun! God, remember when films were just fun? They aren’t murky and loaded with grim subtext and don’t feel like franchise machines? Raimi did what few directors manage: bring a comic book to life with a unique creative vision.

I like Toby Maguire as Peter Parker, I like the film’s heavy roots in family values and how the screenplay twists this into a cruel destiny for him and those around him. Parker’s family is almost wiped out, and Norman and Harry Osborne are like brother and father to him respectively (tell me, how often do you see a hero and arch nemesis sitting around a thanksgiving table??) and this becomes wonderfully complex as the film develops. I love the heart this film has, asides from the clear family values, I love how it sparks a community spirit; Spider-Man protects the people, and the people give back in kind. YES, I liked the part were New Yorkers start throwing things at the Goblin. Forget any possible subtext, I think it’s rewarding to see in a genre that’s so dark and depressing now.

And how can you not like Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborne? He tears the scenery apart, virtually born for the role. Or J.K Simmons as the Daily Bugle editor Jonah Jameson, instantly memorable and instantly entertaining!

Okay, okay, there are problems with it… Kirsten Dunst’s Mary-Jane is pathetic; she’s kidnapped or attacked, literally, every thirty minutes, so that’s a lot of screaming she belts out in 110 minutes. It gets old really fast. The rooftop talk between masked Goblin and Spider-Man is a little hard to take seriously… but even Raimi himself said it was hard to make completely convincing.
The CGI is not great, neither are the composite shots; give this film five more years and it will be unbearable to watch. But you have to understand, Spider-Man came out in 2002, a lot of this was revolutionary at the time.

What with the reboot out, I insist this version not be forgotten about! I maintain that Sony have done nothing but spin money and forget some actual gold they already made. Raimi gave us a memorable, colourful and characterful Spider-Man. Dare I say this film is like Spider-Man’s answer to Tim Burton’s Batman!

(but was that a Macy Gray cameo? … Okay? I guess? Films have changed a lot!)

Additional Marshmallows: I couldn’t help but sense parallels with other future films while watching this. Remember Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne doesn’t get the girl at the end? Funny, Spider-Man did it first. Iron Man proclaiming to himself that “He is Iron Man” all the time? Spider-Man got there first. Makes you think.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Sweet, delicious consistency. I love it.

Harry Osborne takes up his father’s mantle and funds a scientific project of one Doctor Octavius to develop a fusion reaction, but there is an accident and the good doctor is infused with his mechanical arms, turning him into a delirious villain of the city. Meanwhile, Peter Parker struggles with the duality of his life, so much that his powers begin to waver and fail. He will lose everything if he cannot decide on the course of his life.

Spider-Man 2 remains one of my very favourite comic book movies, even more so than the first and mostly because of Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Octavius, aka Doc Ock. I simply love the good guy-turn-evil premise (see Harvey Dent also) and not only is Molina excellent for the part, but the filmmakers did an excellent job bringing the character to life; the CGI and (more importantly) the physical effects with the mechanical arms remains especially good! Sure, there’s a few shots with an uncanny valley CG-Molina, but it is in forgivable action  sequences.
Speaking of which, asides deja-vu with a burning building scenario, the action sequences are incredible! Unlike the first films rather “staged” feel, this film has battles on the sides of buildings and a prominent battle on top of a moving L-train. Everything feels dynamic and high speed.

Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane is more bearable now; at least she is only captured once an hour instead of every twenty minutes. Though the constant back and forth “will they, won’t they” between her and Peter gets old after a while; Peter’s overriding guilt about Uncle Ben’s death is more than enough fuel to keep the development afloat (as well as the growing anxiety with Harry Osborne!) without bleating over and over with their relationship.
I love how much they involve Aunt May in this film too. She gets entangled with the action and had a lot of moving words of wisdom to share with not just Peter but with the audience too.

The film feels better paced and more consistent than the first film, Doc Ock provides all the momentum it needs to progress without getting in the way of our lead characters’ developments. James Franco’s Harry Osborne stews and seethes in the background, his character perhaps loses out; a foreboding of things to come…

Honestly there’s so little I find wrong with this film. But I’d say Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead style shows a little too much here and there… what is with all the screaming women?? Seriously, I thought it back in 2004, and I still do now. Way too many screamers, as much as I like the ridiculously dark scene of Doc Ock awakening in the hospital.

Clocking in still under two hours, with an excellent villain (I love my villains) and maintaining its great entertainment and bright theatrics, great soundtrack, Spider-Man 2 promises the franchise will run and run.

Oh… if only it did…


Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Oh boy, I sense a big review coming up.

A complacent and over-confident Peter Parker, his life seemingly perfect with a city of Spider-man fans and preparing to marry the girl of his dreams Mary-Jane, finds himself under the influence of a parasitic organism from space that corrupts his suit. In the meantime, a fugitive named Flint Marko is changed by a freak accident into The Sandman. Peter soon realises that Flint had something to do with Uncle Ben’s death…


Funny how the film to introduce the black suit Spider-man would be the black sheep of the franchise, but having only seen it once before (in cinemas) I have to admit there’s a lot to dislike about the film, but reluctantly so; there’s all the makings of a good final act… buried deep down.

First off, the screenplay is completely shattered beyond repair, all of the consistency and integrity of the first two movies is blown out the window. Not only do we have the black suit (aka Venom) appear first and then disappear until later, not only do we have the Sandman’s ridiculous origin (Flint falls into a particle physics experiment by accident, seriously?) and the resurgence of Uncle Ben’s death (I’ll get to that) but we also have the anticipation of Harry Osborne’s ascension as the New Goblin curbed by him being immediately concussed and forgetting everything that happened to him!
What????
Let’s pull back a second. Spider-man 2 was about Peter and Mary-Jane’s struggling relationship, the back and forth and its resolution, but here we are right back to square one; Harry is back to normal and going after Mary-Jane. Why? Just to add some tension onto Peter. Flint/Sandman’s plot exists solely to aggravate Peter’s story too. Why then do you need both of those disparate story elements? Harry’s story flips halfway through the film too; he reverts back to being evil and hurts MJ and Peter all over again. Why then did you need to have him concussed? To give Peter more reason to feel complacent? He already IS complacent! Just have Harry evil and playing our two heroes against each other! There’s no need for continuous backs and forths!

The screenplay is horribly convoluted, and every single character suffers from it. Harry’s resolution feels haphazard with the way he yo-yo’s from one alignment to the other. The Sandman comes across as completely unnecessary and could have been cut from the film entirely, while Venom (probably the most interesting aspect for developing Peter’s character further) is bloated with… with Peter’s “emo” fringe and crazy bump-and-grind dance moves.

Okay! I have to address this, since I’ve mentioned it. The film has a lot of silliness in regards to Venom’s influence on Peter as a person, but viewers should remember it is stated that the parasite causes the very worst in the host’s personality to come out. Peter is a geek, a goof. Isn’t it fair to assume then that if he were “influenced” he might act with absolute selfishness? Especially since he is at a high point in his career as Spider-man?
Honestly, the emo fringe flicking aside, the film’s overall mess of a screenplay is a much greater sin.

It is a sad mess of a movie, because the soundtrack is still great, the visuals are still great (the Sandman is a walking testimony to visual effects!) but it could have been a much, much simpler and far more effective conclusion! Peter, Harry and Mary-Jane are your main characters! Don’t confuse it all with Gwen Stacey, Eddie Brock and Flint Marko!

There was a lot of production disagreements between Sony and Sam Raimi, and it shows. But despite all of that, Spider-man 3 was the highest grossing film of 2007. That’s up against Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Not too shabby.
But worst of all… Spider-man 3's legacy is a general public opinion that Sony's rebooting of the entire franchise is valid. As haphazard as Spider-man 3 was, there’s never validity to rebooting a series only five years after its supposed finale. Especially when you have so little creativity to give such a reboot…

Speaking of which.


The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Five years after the original trilogy we have a reboot of the franchise, critics claim it is Sony’s desire to hold onto the rights after Marvel Studios conception and success and… when you get down to it, I agree with them. While there is future promise from this film, the film itself is overall lazy and uncreative.

It is back to the beginning: we see a recluse and mumbling Peter Parker begin his journey trying to learn more about his parents and why they left him. His journey directs him to on of his father’s work colleagues, Oscorp’s Dr Curt Conners, a scientist researching gene splicing. Specifically looking into reptile and human DNA…


There’s a lot I like about this film, but there’s a lot I dislike too, which makes it hard to explain (unlike the universally unlikable Spider-Man 3 or the highly favoured Spider-Man 2). Andrew Garfield takes over as the lead role, and bends into Parker/Spider-man as well as the script allows him to, but Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey is dynamite; frankly she’s the one thing this new film gets right over the original series ten times over. I feel as though there’s a lot of potential with these two and the overall look and effects provided to this film. The sequels have a lot to live up to!

But, if there’s one thing that this film irks me most on… is its nature as an origin story. It almost feels labored with it! The first act is dull as dish water; unlike Raimi’s colourful, honest and memorable experience that rattles by with energy, this film drags its heels through the not With-Great-Power-And-Responsibility speech again. It goes through the same motions as the Raimi film: “Quick reflexes”; “Did you humiliate that boy?”; “You could have stopped him!”, “That’s not my policy”, not only does it lack the first film’s heart (its focus on family and respect) it uncreatively rehashes scenes.
While watching it again I found Curt Conner’s visual transformation into The Lizard more appealing, it is still a lame villain (up there with the first Iron Man and Hulk films) if the film hadn’t been an origin story and just continued the franchise, The Lizard could have been fleshed out to the level of Doc Ock from SM2. Or… if the script wasn’t so mindlessly cliche and completely unmemorable. 
You might think I’m exaggerating, but just compare the Raimi films scripts to this one, this one is boring; relying on cliche and convenience to get where it needs to go.

As someone who clearly has issue with the film, there’s a lot I do like. If I treat this as a continuation of the franchise (like it could easily have been) it promises a lot for the future; Spider-man as a character is still intact, the mystery about his parents is intriguing, the effects are amazing and the action sequences are still gripping. Battles between him and The Lizard are creative and exciting!
But it just sits in this unhappy place in my heart; a place that screams “Sony wants money and the franchise rights, so they’ll just repeat everything!”

A very generous 3 cocoa cups; mostly for special effects, future promise and Emma Stone!

Additional Marshmallows: As someone working in a cinema when this released, I remember hearing a boy talking to his mother when the first posters for the film appeared. The boy, only about nine years old, wasn’t impressed by the idea of a reboot: “But I already know what happens with Spider-man”, he argued.
Give that boy a cookie.
Review: Idiocracy

As a comedy, Idiocracy isn’t a blow-out winner, but as a film made in 2005 it is an alarmingly accurate, entertaining and almost sobering vision of how completely hopeless humanity’s future really is.

Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) is an incredibly average man, so average that he excels and fails at nothing, he lives shut away working in an isolated military base library. But when the military looks to experiment a cryogenic stasis system, they enlist Joe (the most expendable). However, the year long test is waylaid, and Joe finds himself waking over 500 years into the future, a future where the world is populated only by the socially inept, dumb and clueless human beings. He finds out he is the smartest person alive, and he alone can save everyone from their own stupidity.

It sounds like Futurama without the aliens, right? 

The film has plenty of laughs, but the heart of the matter lies in its premise; which is a very intelligent one. It is heavily narrated, which is welcoming as it intensifies the satire, and opens with a blatant example of how our current society is expanding: smart couples don’t have time for having kids, or don’t think its financially viable; while the social underbelly produces loads of kids either by accident or for life benefits. This cascades over the decades and centuries and society becomes completely stagnated and retarded.
People don’t drink water anymore, they only drink one brand of energy drink. People just sit at home and watch television shows all day with a guy getting kicked in the balls. The greatest film of modern times, Oscar winning, is called “Ass” - ninety minutes of just that. Language is completely destroyed, justice and personal hygiene are nonexistent, huge landfills tower over cities. Everyone just lives aimlessly, caring only for some money, casual sex and utterly brainless television.

To think it is brought to us by the man behind the cartoon Bevis and Butthead, but you can see some similarities with the year 2500 citizens. I would have liked more focus on the language and dependency on technology; if everything goes as badly as this film makes out, our global language will be completely gone and probably unrecognizable in 500 years. There’s little or no mobile phone technology or any sort of advanced personal appliance either.

It is by far a perfect film, but certainly a very interesting and socially viable experiment! I recommend everyone watches it, I really do. It is like someone has taken the musings and ramblings of philosophers and intellectuals (the sorts of articles only other philosophers would read) and made it legible for the masses to watch. The comedy is a choice, it would have been a cynical, art house production otherwise, the levity here makes it enjoyably unnerving!

What’s best about it is, we can go back to it and see how much closer we are to living this reality! Or better yet… avoid it.

It is one of those movies were I could ramble on and on about specific scenes and moments! I really want to, but you’ll just have to believe me for now

Review: Captain America - The Winter Soldier (3D)

This Marvel train ain’t stopping for anything! The Winter Soldier is quite possibly one of the best entries into the film series yet!

Captain Steve Rogers tries to find a sense of place in the modern world working for S.H.I.E.L.D. But when Nick Fury is targeted by a mysterious assassin, Rogers discovers that his patriotism could just be used as a pawn for corrupt political forces.


Captain America, as a singular character in the current Avengers team, has the most groundwork and the most to build upon in a sequel. There’s a lot to work with! Tony Stark and Thor had mostly completed stories when going into their sequels, but the Captain did not; he’s been left untouched since his debut in 2011. This is a great boon for The Winter Soldier.
The film opens with a very stealth driven action sequence with the Captain and Black Widow taking on a terrorist takeover at sea. This is heralding more to come; the film’s entire storyline is about espionage, spy networks and ambiguous political intent. The story is intelligent and interweaving, frequently summoning up ghosts from Steve Rogers’ past, but in no unlikely manner, in fact the linkage with The First Avenger is were a lot of the film’s intensity comes from. That and its not-so-heavy-handed social and political subtexts.

Of course, it isn’t all talking and mystery (though I was surprised at how moody the film became) there is still plenty of action. The Winter Soldier himself is an excellent addition to the Marvel mythos, the soundtrack adding to the foreboding atmosphere around him and the film shows how deadly he really can be. The Captain too gets a much better sense of strength here too (I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt he was a little underpowered in Avengers Assemble) being thrown about, running through walls, using his shield in such marvelously silly ways. It is greatly entertaining when the bullets and punches start flying.
It is also a surprisingly brutal film. With Captain America’s origins and current story trapped in comparatively realistic settings (we are dealing with countries, governments and spies, not gods and space aliens) even to Iron Man standards, the action is intense and scenes get quite dark. People are shot, often viciously, they are wounded, they bleed, even tortured. A clear sign that Marvel aren’t only delivering more mature content, but are confident in doing so.
That said, there’s a healthy sense of humour in there too. Maybe not as riotous as some of Tony Stark’s adventures, but it is there.

I have trouble thinking of what’s wrong with the film. The action scenes sometimes fall into a lot of shaky camera work, again, but other times it is fine. This could be due in part to the 3D, which I had no time for; just see the film regularly, the 3D does nothing. Some of the plot might seem predictable, but I imagine the younger audiences will be totally captivated.

All in all a great movie, and it stands alone and as an Avengers continuation very well! What is remarkable is that Marvel is successfully giving each of its character’s movies a distinct theme and mood. Like reading the different comics, there is a difference. You know you are watching Marvel, but the heroes have their own presence and strength to give.

Additional Marshmallows: As if you need to ask, yes there’s two extra clips during the credits! Like with Thor 2, there’s an important, longer clip after the initial “graphical credits” (connotations to Avengers 2: Age of Ultron!) and then a shorter, slightly less important clip after the regular credit role. However, the credit role isn’t too long.  

Review: The Zero Theorem

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A story of a man’s existential crisis in a high tech future as he tries to comprehend the meaning of life, and whether or not everything is meaningless. Hard to fathom, but I found this original story to move me just enough to be intrigued.
 
Qohen Leth (a bald Christoph Waltz, who disappears into the role) is a technician, one of many, who works on monotonous, systematic tasks for a controlling corporation. His life has been forfeit for this task, and he is now a shell of a man without hopes or dreams; but he waits for a phone call, a mysterious phone call that will never come, but when it does it will give his life meaning. While those around him are boisterous and obnoxious, he is recluse and sociopathic, yet they try to get through to him, and prove that he is… in fact, trapped in a delusion.
 
Like a lot of Terry Gilliam films, The Zero Theorem has a lot of subtext that is exaggerated in gaudy bright and chaotic set pieces and costumes. Like someone took The Fifth Element, covered it in glue, and rolled it around in a scrapyard. But I like it, it reminds me of the scrapbook animations he made for the old Monty Python series.
The film opens with establishing the world that has isolated Qohen so harshly. Everything is digital; advertisements follow you down the street, parks are festooned with “Do Not” signs, and everyone uses mobile phones and tablets all the time. One moment in particular during a party; people standing together in a group, but displaying themselves through tablet screens.
There’s a lot of sociopathic influences, and the film tries to balance whether we sympathise with Qohen’s sad isolation, or reject him as “weird” and non-conformist. Personally I sympathise with him, I found the film’s clear distaste for a loud, obnoxious, corporate fueled world compelling.
But like a lot of Gilliam’s films, it is a hard sell. It is incredibly unique and that’s what I look for in cinema nowadays and I am very glad I watched it. But for a lot of today’s audience they will be left in the dark, utterly perplexed by its weirdness and lack of traditional storytelling tropes.

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Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director Wes Anderson has ever really wow’ed me with any of his previous works, often they are too wild and unprecedented, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel he has excelled.

Our story begins from the perspective of a writer who, in visiting a rundown Hotel, meets the owner who tells a tale of the Hotel’s exciting, quirky and unorthodox history. He was once a Lobby Boy who becomes the Hotel concierge’s confidant when he hides a valuable painting left to him by a deceased guest. However, the guest’s “extended family” are wanting the painting for themselves, and they will do anything to get it.

It is easy to say that Ralph Fiennes owns this movie as hotel concierge Gustave. He is ridiculous and hammy, but enthusiastic and buzzing with self-confidence. The film is loaded with actors who frequently blend into their roles: Edward Norton; Tilda Swinton; Bill Murray; Harvey Keitel, even Jeff Goldlum, Jeff Goldblum does well in this film! They all have such small but crucial roles that they blend in, and their familiarity only adds to the film’s perplexing atmosphere.

But it is far from just the acting talent that makes the film shine. Wes Anderson has shot the film in such a way that intensifies the quirky weirdness that this Hotel exudes; ninety percent of the shots in the film are very symmetrical! Shots are long and still as the characters rant and quip to each other. There are dozens of tracking and panning shots throughout bright, gaudy and antique settings, making the narrator’s accounting of events seem dreamlike.
The way some of the comedy is paced and executed reminded me of some old Monty Python-esque humour. Chase scenes are very stylised, cartoonish, or similar to pantomime. Everything is given a very jovial, honest vibe whether it be love, imprisonment or murder!

It may not say very much, but The Grand Budapest Hotel was a fine and riotous experience and I would surely check in again.

 

Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

It’s time to trim your beards, wear eyeliner, shave off your chest hair and bludgeon and stab people to death in slow motion! With 300: Rise of an Empire, I’ve also reviewed the 2007 Zack Snyder film.

300: Rise of an Empire

Here’s a good example of when a director puts his name only to the role of “executive producer” and not the main task. Director Noam Murro has done adequately with extending Zack Snyder’s original experience, but it is a different animal, and far more jumbled.

While the three hundred Spartans commit to defending their land from the Persian armies, Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) takes charge of defending the coasts of Greece against the Persian navy led by the malicious Artemisia (Eva Green). Over time, when the Spartans are defeated, their martyrdom inspires the rest of Greece to band together and fight against God-King Xerxes and Artemisia.

What surprised me was the film’s initial focus on the Persians and the backstory of Xerxes himself. This is played much like Leonidas in the first film, we see Xerxes’ motivation and otherworldly transformation into “The God-King”. The Persians are less monstrous in this story, though they still have forces that appear brutish and ugly.

But don’t worry, the towering, gold adorned God-King functions as a bridge from one film to another, while Eva Green’s protrayal as Artemisia rules the roost. She does steal the show from her broad-chested male counterparts, she is easily the most involved and deeply portrayed character in both films. It is safe to say that the villains own this film.

What cannot be denied is new director Murro hasn’t quite captured the simplicity or the integrity of Snyder’s action sequences; here he falls into the old trap of waving the the camera about to invoke frenzy. While you could argue this represents the Spartan control and precision, but then I would argue why are Athens warriors dressed the same as Spartan warriors? Spartans in fact wore armour, but I forgave 300 because it was exaggerating how hardy Spartans were, but here, some contrast between the two armies (asides blue or red cloaks) would have been nice!
I would also like to make a special mention, this film loses an entire cup of cocoa because of possibly the most ridiculous sex scene I’ve ever seen (true, it does involve Eva Green, but still) Some things are best left as metaphors!
It is passable as an action film. Those of you obsessed with all things Sparta and ancient Greek warriors will love it still; plenty of action and plenty of naked bodies on show. But I’d warn you, it doesn’t have 300’s artistic cinematography, a lot of the action sequences are at sea rather than on land, and the blood is… well… overly computer generated. For me, its quite forgettable (asides from Eva Green) unlike its predecessor.


300 (2006)

Director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of a graphic novel’s embelished vision of the historic battle between three hundred Spartan warriors and the entire Persian army encroaching on Greece is a bloody, ridiculous, testosterone fueled killing machine.

While three hundred Spartans did give up their lives for a glorious death against impossible odds at the
Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) and they used incredible tactics and fighting prowess to do so, the film 300 (and by extension Frank Miller’s comic adaptation) does embellish history for dramatic and visual effect. While the Spartans are noble, stoic and fierce warriors, the Persians are regularly depicted as grotesques, as monsters more suiting to myth and fairy tales. All for dramatic comparison. Those looking for a historically accurate vision… might be put off.

However, as a show of artistic cinematography born from a graphic novel’s panel art, you cannot get a more fantastic looking film. It has been a while since I’ve watched Snyder’s Watchmen, but for now I can easily say 300 is his finest work so far.  Every shot is brazen and bold, the compositions are dramatic and ooze with earthy reds and metallic bronze, like Gladiator on steroids, it is a mythic action film with every intent to wow you with gut busting fight sequences. Yet the sequences are paced wonderfully; they aren’t frenetic or confusing (like a lot of modern action cinema) Snyder’s love for slow motion is in overdrive here, and scenes play out more like stage productions, replicating its source material.

The acting is as good as it could be with what the film passes off as a script, but then the film has no intention to be more than what it is: a battle. Gerald Butler gives a intensely memorable performance, roaring and yelling with a primal sense of honor, but the more sensitive scenes in Sparta, featuring Game of Thrones elite Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, fall into forgettable territory next to the bloody warmongering and over-the-top villainy.

It knows what it is; a bloody, kinetic action film that takes no prisoners. Zack Snyder should be proud (although how much directorial work is required when taking stills from an artist’s existing work is debatable) as this film, nay, this artwork is surely his most polished and most comprehensible piece yet. There might be little under the surface and it might be an indulgence, but it sure is memorable cinema!


Additional Marshmallows: 300 was released before the Cinema Cocoa blog as it exists today, but the records still remain. It was rated tenth in 2007’s final leaderboard. Tenth of a massive one-hundred and twenty films watched that year!

Review: The Men Who Stare at Goats
Having just seen The Monuments Men, I opted to find another unorthodox “war film” starring George Clooney. This time though, it was a lot of fun!

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a reporter out to prove himself to his cheating girlfriend, and may have found the story to make a name for himself. Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) was once a military officer who was trained in psychic warfare as part of “The New Earth Army”. In following Cassady, Bob must travel to Iraq and discover whether the story is true or utter lunacy.

The film opens with the teasing text: More of this is true than you would believe. That is exactly how this entire film plays out, in a constant state of egging you on, testing how far you can believe a real military organisation would go to win a war.
A lot of the comedy comes from bending your suspension of disbelief, and the deadpan, honest delivery of so much nonsense. The root of the story, for example, is that the American military decide to start researching into psychic powers because the Russians had begun similar tests. Tests the Russians begun because the Americans had attempted it first… which wasn’t the case at all; it was a French hoax. Eventually entire divisions were created and funded for the development of real psychic powers!

Enter Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, a Vietnam veteran who started the project and inspired Lyn to be come a “Warrior Monk”, or “Jedi”, through military practices more closely resembling a hippie movement! Believing they can walk through walls, stare animals to death, being able to remote view distant places and will people into submission.
Bob is unfortunately stranded in wartorn Iraq with Lyn, living with the man’s delusions while trying to discover if any of it is in fact true!

The film is a bizarre, oddball experience but seen through the sane lense of McGregor’s character. Had this film been directed by Terry Gilliam or The Coen Brothers it would have been a surrealist experience, but as it stands it is a comedy simply about the characters. Clooney delivers some great lines, true nonsense yet given with such deadpan sincerity. Bridges, of course, chews the scenery and has a riot as a new age pacifist, and it is hard to restrain the giggles when Ewan McGregor asks, with a straight face, “What is a Jedi warrior?”

I definitely enjoyed it. It isn’t a war film, but it encapsulates a lot of the lunacy and blind convictions that people can have in times of crisis. It is a great example of actors delivering so much humour with such conviction.
It is good fun, full of familiar faces, and far from the norm!

Banter: Compare and Contrast

So I finally have some time off to talk about this.

I have had some criticism about my opinion regarding remakes, and this post has been a long time in the making.

I hate remakes. “Hate” may be a strong word, and I am well aware that there are exceptions and examples that blur the lines of what isn’t acceptable… but for the most part remakes/reboots/re-envisioning, or whatever you want to call them, are dreadful, unnecessary cash-ins that lack all sense of respect or creativity.

Let’s go head first into the most recent debacle:

 

RoboCop.

The 1987 original was not based off existing source material, it was not an adaptation, it was the film industry (and a pioneering screenwriter’s) unique and original story. It was popular too! Spinning off two sequels (of questionable quality) a kids cartoon, a toyline and a television show. All from a screenplay no one had any preconceptions for. All from a script that could have failed, bombed and to never resurface.

Why? Because it was given its own personality. Director Paul Verhoeven is an artist with a distinct style, elevating Robocop above the rest, and allowing its message to be remembered and cherished over the decades.

RoboCop 2014 on the other hand. Sure, it is reminding us how popular the original is by merely existing, it is as much a tribute as the original’s sequels (and about as good).
And of course, the original still exists, why be bothered about a new interpretation?

Well asides from it being generally a BAD movie, I’ll tell you.

Do we honestly believe that RoboCop 2014 will be remembered three decades on, in 2044, as fondly as the Paul Verhoeven version was? Does a skeptical, cynical audience going in to see a film only to come out saying things like: “Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be” really a testament to memorable, masterful film making?
No! It most certainly is not.
I ask again, will anyone care, quote or remember RoboCop 2014 in the year 2044? Sure, the kids who went to see it might. In the same way I hold the original to my heart. But you want to know the difference there?
RoboCop 1987 was an 18, an R-rated film. I had to wait to experience it. RoboCop 2014 is a bland 12A experience. A kid getting it immediately has none of the anticipation, or any of the gleeful daring of simply getting to watch it.

In 2050 when we look back at the film history between the years of 2000 and 2020 what will we say for it as a medium? Oh, well they adapted comicbooks, they copied and remade creative properties, they even rebooted adaptations not five years old (cough, Spider-man, cough). Is that a good legacy to remember?

Need another example?
Remember the Total Recall remake only two years ago? No? It had Colin Farrell in it. No? With the crazy elevator-thing that went through the centre of the Earth? Nothing? Point made.


Of course, these two are money spinners, plain and simple. Total Recall 2012 had the opportunity to follow Phillip K. Dick’s original book “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" more closely than the Schwarzenegger film. But it decided to lazily remake the existing film. Best to try and hit average than to burn out trying to be your own adaptation, right?

I’ve yet to watch the Spike Lee Oldboy remake… I hold the original Chan-wook Park film in such high regard… but from the overwhelming amounts of criticism that panned the remake before it had even released makes my point for me.
(I will watch it… one day… you need my opinion, after all.)
The same goes for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Funny. The original Swedish film managed to weave the entire trilogy together with a remarkable sense of continuity, something rarely seen in even the most popular trilogies and sagas.
How many entries of the trilogy did the David Fincher remake get through?

Oh… Oh I see, just the one? No worries; you join my pile of ammunition too.

(Don’t even get me started on how those two examples are merely because people are too lazy to read subtitles). 

Now at this point I could keep going and skirt around what many of you are now arguing against me with. But I will address it, don’t worry:

Judge Dredd / Dredd.

Possibly the biggest exception to any rule. But hear me out.

Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 Judge Dredd is awful.
Now sure it has been long enough that the film has entered “So bad its good” territory, but that doesn’t ignore the fact that it is an awful film. It is awful in how it doesn’t respect the source material, and as a result it has fallen into obscurity.

2012’s Dredd was a necessary remake. The source is excellent and lends itself to film interpretation, and director Pete Travis and actor Karl Urban obviously saw it as such. What we got is so far removed from the 1995 version (Judge Dredd was a 15, though by today’s standards it could easily be a 12A, while Dredd is very, very much an 18 or R-rating!) that they are almost indistinguishable.

They didn’t “remake” Judge Dredd, they made a more faithful adaptation of the source.


People argue with me that “You shouldn’t compare” the remake to the original. But how can you not? Dredd by its own merits is an incredible achievement, but it earns that by being so much better than the 1995 film, no? Look who’s comparing now.
I insist that when it comes to remakes or reboots, comparison is absolutely vital. If not, then your Total Recalls, RoboCops, Spider-Man-Infinitums will not stop, and we will end up with a creative medium that simply regurgitates itself, making obscene profits from an audience rolling over and mumbling: “Eh, it wasn’t too bad.”

Finally, people ask me what could be done instead?
I’m certain that there are many, many, many original screenplays out there that Hollywood outright ignores in preference for remaking classics. Screenplays written by talented individuals who deserve recognition and/or a visionary director to make their dream come to life. Your RoboCops of the 1980s. Something fresh and exciting with new characters and new worlds, to define a generation with and make new franchises with.
Even if it is a screenplay even remotely similar to an existing property, that is better than straight up remaking that property. You want an example of that concept? How about instead of remaking RoboCop, why not have a soldier from the wars in the middle east come home terribly wounded only to be reborn as a half-man, half-machine soldier? Why not? Relevant to the times, new characters, new settings. New franchise.

No. That wouldn’t work, I hear you cry. Everyone will know it is a rip-off RoboCop.
You see this original film from 1991? One of the first major films from Academy award winning director Kathryn Bigelow? Point Break?
It could be regarded as the original to this:

It is a common comparison, but no one cries that The Fast and the Furious is just a rip off of Point Break, do they? No, of course not. What happened to this very similar “remake”? Did it fade off into obscurity? No, it just made millions, had video games franchises, and inspired just six sequels.
(by the way, there’s only ten years between these two films)

Does my belief in an original screenplay similar to RoboCop doing better than a direct remake seem so ridiculous now?

And just to end this with a big, fat nail in the coffin…

Point Break is getting a remake next year.