The Blind Spot #3 – “Shallow Grave”

I think it happened when I was on my way home having just watched “Trance”. Wow, was that almost 2 months ago? Time flies when you’re running a blog… Anyhow, I was just trying to remember some of the older Danny Boyle movies in order to put “Trance” in context, because that’s just what my mind does at times to keep things nice and segregated up there. And then… What am I missing? Surely I’ve seen most if not all of his work, because Danny Boyle is in fact one of my favorite directors currently in business. But only a couple of minutes later when I got home and popped my laptop open, a quick IMDB survey revealed everything to me – “Shallow grave”… How could I have not seen it before?

Sure, apart from that, two other films also have also slipped under my radar (“Millions” and “A life less ordinary”), but his grand debut… shame on me. Quick, Robin! To the Lovefilm-o-mobile…

Now that I have corrected this heinous aberration, I can yet again walk the streets with my head held high. Not that anyone cares, but I shall do it anyway. So, for those of you who, like me, have spent your lives completely oblivious to the fact that Danny Boyle did something before “Trainspotting”, “Shallow grave” should be a fantastic treat.

It’s a story about a trio of friends (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor) who share a flat in Edinburgh and are on the lookout for a fourth flatmate. After an extensive and hilarious search that involved some mildly condescending comedy they finally bag a suitable fit. What’s not to like about him? He promised to be quiet and is loaded with cash, apparently, so welcome aboard. Nothing lasts forever though and shortly thereafter, the new tenant kicks the bucket and is found by our trio lying on his bed all naked with his junk hanging out. While I’m here, I should point out that it appears that Danny Boyle’s obsession with full frontal nudity in his films can be traced right down to the debut. And it almost never involves sexual context (maybe with the exception of “Trance”) and even if it does, it’s always almost awkwardly placed as if Boyle wanted to have the movie acknowledged as an adult feature, but not quite.

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As if he would think: ‘What? Is my film getting a PG-13? Not on my watch! I’m making movies for adults, not adolescents. Quickly, let’s put a scene with a penis in it. That ought to teach them… PG-13 my ass now!’ Diabolical laugh then ensues…

Yep, I know it sounds weird, but genitalia in Danny Boyle’s movies always get you by surprise…

Right, back to the story… The dearly departed tenant leaves behind a suitcase full of cash, which leaves the trio with a dilemma: should we call in the guy’s death and have the police  confiscate the money, or maybe we should keep the money, dismember the body and bury it in the forest and continue to live as millionaires… Yeah, I think everybody knows how that dilemma is going to be solved, especially in a Danny Boyle universe…

Even though “Shallow grave” was shot on a shoestring budget and it looks cheap through and through, it is in all actuality a great film to watch. Clearly, the Danny Boyle’s storytelling genius was already well developed and at large. The story is paced fantastically and the characters evolve perfectly suited for the horrors of the film’s climax. Ewan McGregor was a delight to watch and his subsequent bromance with Boyle that lasted for a while is completely understandable as this youngster had a true natural talent. What caught my attention though, was Eccleston’s character – David, who slowly loses his senses as a result of the trauma disposing of a body must have clearly been. It was kind of reminiscent of Di Caprio’s character in “The Beach” in a way, which led me to believe Boyle’s fascination with insanity and trauma can be considered a theme of his career.

Speaking of themes in Danny Boyle’s film making career, I think am now able to divide his body of work into two chapters. The thing that separates the two is the lens flare. I mean seriously, go and watch “Trance” or “Slumdog” and you’ll know what I mean, because at some point in his career Boyle fell in love with working against the light and playing with it to a point of using lens imperfections for artistic effects. I think right around “Sunshine” (or even “The Beach” to a small extent) Boyle really made extensive use of what was to become his signature photography. Before that, “Shallow Grave”, “Trainspotting” , “The Beach” and even “28 days later” are all way more modest. In fact, they actually share a lot in storytelling and style, but when it comes to details, I think it’s safe to say that Boyle’s early work could be collectively called ‘the held-back period’. While all Boyle’s movies have a common theme of human instability and innate brutality, there came a point in Boyle’s career where the gloves came off and he started to investigate human weaknesses in a way more visceral, graphic way.  So, what in the world happened between “28 days later” and “Sunshine” that kicked Danny’s film making into another level? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that, but I surely will try and come up with something.

I can only say that “Shallow grave” allowed be to look at Danny Boyle a bit differently. It’s a fantastic piece of cinema and up till now I can’t believe I haven’t seen it for such a long time. It is not his greatest achievement – obviously, as one’s big screen debut is almost always not the opus magnum that would define him for generations to come. It did however, define Boyle’s style and set the wheels in motions, so that we could admire his latest work as mature films for mature audience with mature expectations.

“The Great Gatsby” – the word I’m looking for is ‘kitsch’, old sport…

Who would have thought that having one’s laptop taken away for a week would cripple one’s ability to blog? Nevertheless, after this measly week with only one post I’m back to my regular writing regime; long story short – I can feel normal again. At this point I should probably stop and think about the gravity of a problem I might have just uncovered, because it would appear that my computer is so damn crucial to my existence. I guess this will be an addiction I will have to embrace, because in this day and age, a good chunk of one’s life takes place in front of a screen. Scary, right? Not for a nerd, it’s not… But I digress; the point is that I’m back and have got some ideas for posts already, so I shall just resume churning them out at a steady pace.

And what better way to break out of a rut, if not to review a recent big screen experience? For God knows how many months I have been teased and attacked by marketing campaigns for the long-awaited Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby”; I couldn’t be way off mark if I said that the first posters with Leo DiCaprio holding a glass of champagne popped up in cinemas nearly a year ago. It was supposed to be a jaw-dropping experience filmed in native 3D that would take the novel into a whole new dimension and so on and so forth… Now, every single time I hear so much waffle and attempted self-praise about any film, I get a bit skeptical  because everybody knows that a good piece of cinema can defend itself. Moreover, a recent example of “Star Trek Into Darkness” (I know I shouldn’t be comparing sci-fi to “Gatsby” but hey, I don’t care) can testify to the fact that playing your cards close to the chest can only benefit and empower the picture.

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I think we can all agree and call Baz Luhrmann an auteur; his work has a certain discernible style and he wears mixing periods and eras (musically and stylistically) as a badge of honor  I try to see him as a film-making equivalent of a modern painter who would draw a red square and smear some brown paint on it, give it a pretentious name and have people believe his work has a meaning. Therefore, I find it impossible to be indifferent to his films – you can either love him or hate him, and for sake of clarity I should admit here that my relationship with his work is more of the hating variety. I didn’t like “Romeo and Juliet” at all, “Moulin Rouge” bored me to death and I didn’t even bother with “Australia”. The question remains: what the hell was I thinking going to see “The Great Gatsby”?

Literature classics like “The Great Gatsby” can be nicely described by a collective hunting term of ‘easy game’ for the film making meat grinder. You can really bastardize a timeless work of literature in so many ways and still come out on top, because it’s not the film that is ultimately responsible for the commercial success, but its literary predecessor, and Luhrmann is no stranger to that phenomenon. After all, his modern 90’s MTV-esque take on the Shakespeare canon was really well received, regardless of what I think about it. But I do think it was crap, it’s just that simple (“Romeo and Juliet”, not “The Great Gatsby”, but I’ll get there in a minute). My point is that Luhrmann knew exactly how much he can screw with the book before it becomes too much. But was it enough for the film to stand on its own two feet?

Right, so if you somehow slept through high school or something of that variety and you don’t know what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is all about, here’s a quick plot synopsis. A young aspiring writer-turned-bond-salesman Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) rents a house in Long Island next door to a mansion owned by a mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Di Caprio). Nobody really knows anything about that fellow and he clearly keeps to himself. Well, not quite because Gatsby is known for throwing lavish parties that attract all the NY celebrities, artists, politicians and mobsters. Anyways, Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (beautiful as always Carey Mulligan) lives in the neighborhood  directly on the opposite side of the bay. She’s married to Tom (Joel Edgerton), a womanizing arrogant prick of a husband who spends way too much time bedding strangers and boozing at extravagant house parties, but I guess it’s the 1920’s, so everything’s OK. Nick spends his days in Long Island mostly on sipping tea with Daisy and her hubby, playing polo or golf, reading books, and looking at the mansion next door hoping to see its enigmatic owner. One day he receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s weekend orgies parties, where he ends up meeting Gatsby himself, who asks Nick for a favor of setting him up to meet Daisy. And it goes from there…

Once again, if you didn’t read the book or failed to see any of the numerous adaptations, then watching “The Great Gatsby” by Baz Luhrmann can sort you out in that regard. However, reading the book would take just as long as watching the movie, so if you really hate Luhrmann’s film making, just read “The Great Gatsby” instead.

I was actually pleasantly surprised with what “The Great Gatsby” had to offer. Make no mistake, it’s not a very good film at all, but it’s a very good Baz Luhrmann film, if that makes any sense. It is nowhere near as heavy-handed as “Romeo and Juliet” or “Moulin Rouge” in the plastic eclectic style, but it is still clearly visible, whose film this is. In it, the excesses of 1920’s are shown with great detail with a strong thread of modern hip-hop mixed in that sets the stylistic tone of the movie. While I don’t really understand the premise of the musical choices, the fact that Luhrmann was just being himself there didn’t really bother me that much. I could probably go and throw a fit about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé don’t belong in the jazzy 20’s and it looks like a cheap scheme to win over the young audience, but the apparent parallel drawn between those times and the modern bling and excesses of the hip-hop culture makes this mish-mash work in a weird way.

Though, I wouldn’t be myself if I failed to point out that as a whole the film feels cheap. The noisy parties, colorful interiors, lavish outfits and top-notch choreography will never suffice to make a good movie. In fact, “The Great Gatsby” feels more like a 50’s movie filmed entirely on stage with its color palette, over-the-top acting and recitation of the lines from the novel. That is exactly what the film can be boiled down to once you strip it off the bling – it’s a bunch of actors walking around reading lines with theatrical emotional investment. As much as I would like to say that the acting was top class, it’s only true for Leonardo Di Caprio and to some extent for Tobey Maguire, who breathed some life into their respective roles, whereas the rest of the cast was just wood dressed in shiny outfits. And I know Carey Mulligan can act like a champ (“Drive”, “Never Let Me Go”), so I think I have to point the finger towards the director, who seemed completely out of depth when it came to actual directing (a sad realization indeed).

All in all, “The Great Gatsby” was maybe kind of OK and it is a subjective verdict biased heavily by my admiration towards Di Caprio’s acting. Other than that, the film looks like an excuse for the director to play with the 3D workshop, which is redundant, by the way. I saw it in 2D and I think I could spot the sequences where the 3D was supposed to shine and I can only say that it’s out of place. The 3D aspect seems to be just a marketing ploy as it brings nothing to the table; it’s just a couple of gimmicks with snowflakes and perspective that is irrelevant to the film and ends up more of a distraction. Moreover, the entirety of CGI employed in the film looks a bit out of date and has cheap written all over it. The only things that really save the movie are the parties, choreography, Di Caprio’s acting and the story. But then again, if you take the story away, there’s not much “The Great Gatsby” as to show for, so in the long run you’re better off reading the book, old sport…

“Star Trek Into Darkness” – it boldly went…

Note: The following review is kept spoiler-free. I have no interest in ruining anyone’s experience with this movie, so feel free to read along.

This morning I made a bet against myself, which stated that if I enjoyed “Star Trek Into Darkness” later today, I would make an effort and watch every single “Star Trek” film and all the TV shows. Yes, I admit I haven’t been the nerdiest of nerds so far and I somehow managed to survive until this day having only seen an odd episode of The Next Generation and maybe Voyager, back when it was on TV and there was nothing more interesting to see. Strangely enough, I have always been drawn more towards other types of Sci-Fi with the likes of “Star Wars” at my side.

Well, I think now would be the time to get acquainted with William Shatner and the gang, because I thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek Into Darkness”. In fairness, ‘enjoyed’ is a bit of an understatement, as I can honestly say that it’s the best Sci-Fi I’ve seen this year – hands down; and quite frankly it is one of the best Sci-Fi I’ve seen in recent memory. On top of all that, it being a sequel (and I think I’ve made myself clear on where I stand on sequels) makes it look even better, with the bar set a couple of notches higher than usual.

It is a very rare occurrence when a sequel surpasses the original and – make no mistake – “Star Trek Into Darkness” does not fall into that category… but it’s damn close, I have to say. If anything, people like Shane Black or Michael Bay should actually ring up J.J. Abrams and request some lessons on how to make a sequel properly, so that it doesn’t suck. My point is that if a given film deserves a sequel, than it needs to be to its original what “Star Trek Into Darkness” is to “Star Trek” (2009).

Even though it is not crucial, the knowledge of what happened in the previous “Star Trek” is highly recommended in order to feel comfortable. While there are plot-points that specifically address some events from the original, they are mostly of minor nature and refer to character development. Anyway, we are introduced to the crew of USS Enterprise a couple of years after the events of the previous film. Of course, we still operate under the assumption that the previous “Star Trek” formed an alternate timeline to what all the Trekkies consider ‘canon’, therefore it is only logical to dismiss any butt-hurt comments on the discrepancies between the old Star Trek and this one as stupid and out of place.

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Right, so we’re back with Captain Kirk and the gang who keep on going boldly where no man has gone before as they survey other species, observe, learn and stuff. Gut-feeling Kirk (Chris Pine) and cold-and-rational Spock (Zachary Quinto) have managed to develop a one-of-a-kind relationship that involves a lot of snappy comebacks and situation humor based on the fundamental differences between them. However, something goes wrong during the mission and as a result the crew gets disbanded, Kirk gets sent back to the Academy and the rest of the gang gets reassigned to other starships. Meanwhile over in England, a mysteriously looking fellow (Benedict Cumberbatch) pulls off a terrorist attack of massive proportions. The Starfleet brass quickly identifies the culprit as one of their own, a rogue agent called John Harrison, whose agenda is not exactly understood, but one thing remains clear – he’s one dangerous puppy. A series of events (that I shall not disclose) leads the Federation to reinstate Kirk and to send him on a hunt to the far reaches of the galaxy with a mission to find and bring Harrison down for his crimes. And it’s no easy task as he seems to be hiding on Kronos – the Klingon home world, and any misstep by our brave protagonists might extend the already tense relationships between the Federation and the Klingon Empire into an all-out war.

As you might have already noticed, I’m no Trekkie (at least for now, but I can’t promise anything), but what I can say is that I can’t help but admire how brilliantly Abrams handled this film; I’d even go as far as to say that I enjoyed “Star Trek Into Darkness” so much because I have little knowledge of the classical Treks. The film is packed with action delivered at a steady pace with the pathos and epic scenes dosed rationally. In fact, it’s the story and the characters that make up for the bulk of awesomeness of this film, because most of the action takes place in confined spaces. There are, of course, some epic sceneries and sequences of catastrophic proportions, but they somehow fail to overshadow what is the most important in this film – the characters of Kirk, Spock and Harrison, and the game they play.

 

Speaking of John Harrison, Benedict Cumberbatch has done a splendid job in creating a real flesh-and-blood villain that a viewer can have an emotional response to. His character is seriously malevolent, scary, vindictive and unpredictable. Plus, his character is responsible for most (if not all) of the story’s dynamic qualities, as his actions trigger very important changes that protagonists will undergo, and this ultimately stands behind the film as its biggest asset. It only goes to show that you can throw away millions of dollars on CGI effects, but the story is what will make the film float or sink. Here we seem to be having a damn near perfect storm of both, with exquisite CGI, action and solid important characters.

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is very much a sequel well done; still a sequel and very much an Abrams’ movie with the characteristic photography, lens flares, dynamic cutting and bold twists. J.J. Abrams clearly knows how to handle a universe of that size and still create something gripping and enjoyable. Additionally, this film does not fall into the trap of ‘bigger, louder and more explosions’ and does its job as a proper expansion on the story-line  characters and the general universe. Sure, there’s action and suspense and the entire bang required of a modern-day big label sci-fi, but “Star Trek Into Darkness” has much more to offer than only that. What I’m about to say might be considered heresy in some circles, but from the point of view of character development, story progression and the overall tone of the film, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is “The Empire Strikes Back” of the Trek universe. The story sets many important things in motion, the characters undergo massive and very important changes that would define the tone of the next installment  some potential momentum is generated, and the atmosphere as a whole is far more dark and ominous than the original “Star Trek”. I can’t say more at the time in the interest of not spoiling anything.

In summary, “Star Trek Into Darkness” is a very good movie on its own and a fantastic addition to the vast Trek universe. The film pays due homage to the classics with the signature lines now part of the wider pop-culture that would make a nerd squeal, and it sports a fair share of laughs, however, not even once does it cross the line. The movie retains its independent style that looks more ‘starwarsy’ than ‘startrekky’, but it works only to the benefit of the film as a whole. The rapid action, witty humor and gorgeous effects are in perfect balance with engaging story, seriously sinister villains and their actions. It truly is a star trek into darkness.

Writer’s block and its ramifications…

Just because I seem to be suffering from a violent case of mid-week writing constipation and I don’t want to rant anymore about “Iron Man 3” I decided to kick back and watch a movie… for a change…

As I didn’t want to dive into new territory, a quick Netflix trawl decided that Wednesday night would become the ‘re-watch and reminisce’ night. So there I am, sitting comfortably watching “Ronin” (one of the coolest spy/crime/car-chase film of the 90’s) and who do I see? No-one else, but Sean Bean himself – the world’s favorite kill-me-now actor. I don’t really have to remind everyone, how many times this poor fella got slaughtered on film… But for the record, Sean Bean was killed by: bullets on numerous occasions (including regular gunning down, precise shooting or maiming followed by finishing the job in other ways), knives (throat-job and various stabbings that included one suicide), drowning, arrows (Boromir says ‘hello’), crushing to death, explosions, beheading, live burial, hanging, freezing to death, quartering, and of course by a herd of cows…

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So it came as no surprise, given that I haven’t seen this movie in a decade or so, to wait for poor Sean to depart in a spectacular fashion. Note here that the following will contain spoilers from a movie you should have seen a long time ago, so in reality no-one cares. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but laugh my behind off when I saw what the writers had in store for him at that time. I can’t imagine a worse departure of a character than that one: walking away in disgrace from a group of hard-ass mercenaries after revealing to the whole group that that you’re a tit, not a soldier and the last time you held a gun was when you played cops and robbers when you were a kid. Oh, and soiling oneself mid-action didn’t help either… I’d beg the writer to kill me off instead. But Sean took it like a champ…

Nothing makes you happier than a good twist in a movie…

The Summer Blockbuster Challenge!

A couple of days ago while listening to a podcast on /Film I was alerted to a possibility of partaking in a challenge. And I love a good challenge. This particular one refers to the summer blockbusters and the participant’s accuracy in predicting the Top 10 highest grossing movies of the summer. Well, challenge accepted.

TLDR Note: If you can’t be bothered reading how I ended up with my list, scroll down to the end of the post. You’re welcome!

I also figured I could try and employ some logic into the way I’d pick up my favourites, because that’s just the way I roll. While my insider knowledge of the movie industry might not be my strongest suit, I always feel more comfortable when I look at data and draw conclusions. Therefore I thought I could do some number-crunching to come up with my list (it turned out that the process didn’t involve that much crunching after all… more of looking at things).

First things first: as I understood it the ground rules are as follows:

–        A participant gets to pick 10 movies that are released between the first weekend of May and the last weekend of August (inclusive)

–        A participant predicts the order of said films from highest grossing to lowest

–        The financial results taken into account refer only to the aforementioned timeframe and the American market (worldwide box office would be a tad more complicated a presume)

–        A participant gets to name 3 ‘dark horse’ entries that are not included in his original top 10, but might end up in it at the end

–        A participant gets awarded points on the basis of the accuracy of his prediction (the most points for the first and last position, and accordingly the most points for accurately pinpointing the film’s position in the chart)

Ok, so I had a quick look at this summer’s releases and managed to count 73 movies being released across 18 weekends. Some of them are released on a Wednesday, but I still glued those up with a weekend that followed. Having played around with Box Office Mojo (really cool website) I noticed that across the span of 12 years (2012-2000) there had never been a movie in the top 10 blockbusters released after August 14th. Another useful piece of information was that rarely there had been instances of movies released during the same weekend that made it into the Top 10. These two pieces of data pointed me to, quite logically, try and pick one film released every weekend from May 4th to August 9th. These are what I got:

May 3rd – “Iron Man 3”

May 10th – ”The Great Gatsby”

May 17th – ”Star Trek Into Darkness”

May 24th – ”Epic”, ”Fast And Furious 6”, ”The Hangover 3” (little crowded here, huh…)

May 31st – ”After Earth”

June 7th – ”The Internship”, ”The Purge” (slow weekend I presume)

June 14th – ”Man Of Steel”

June 21st – ”Monsters University”, ”World War Z”

June 28th – ”White House Down”

July 3rd – ”Despicable Me 2”, ”The Lone Ranger”

July 12th – ”Pacific Rim”

July 19th – ”Red 2” (”The conjuring” doesn’t stand a chance because it’s a horror)

July 26th – ”Wolverine”

August 2nd – ”300: Rise of an Empire”

August 9th – ”Elysium”, ”Planes”

Now, using only these two pointers I boiled down by list of suspects from 73 all the way down to 21, but I did leave a good couple of weekends with more than one entrant, because I think they all stand some chances in the contest. In order to set the records straight I had to tackle them individually. And so:

The May 24th weekend seems to be the toughest nut to crack, because there are three major releases hitting the screens at that time, two of which are sequels to popular franchises. The remaining one (”Epic”) is the Disney – not Pixar – animation, which is also a good pick. Looking at them separately I can say that ”Fast and Furious 6” is the weakest of them all, because it is a sixth instalment of the franchise and only the first two had made it to the Top Ten in their respective summers, whereas both previous ”Hangover” movies had made it very high. So ”Epic” and ”FF6” can be crossed off the list – 21 drops to 19.

June 7th – that was difficult to guess as well because I don’t know what to think about ”The internship” and an outside-the-box concept of ”The Purge” might be too high a risk for a solid box office revenue, but I don’t know. Just because that in the timeframe of 2000-2012 there usually is 1 or 2 comedies in the top 10, I think ”The Hangover 3” would satisfy the criteria and I can go forward with ”The Purge”. 19 down to 18.

June 21st – ”Monsters University” vs. ”World War Z”. As much as I’d like to say that I don’t know, I think the latter of the two is going to become the biggest bomb of this summer. It’s been years since this film was due and it was over-hyped whereas everyone wants to see the long-awaited sequel to ”Monsters Inc”.  Brad Pitt gets the boot. 17.

July 3rd – ”Despicable Me 2” and ”The Lone Ranger”. Just because ”The Lone Ranger” looks too much like ”Pirates of the Carribean” meets ”Wild Wild West” knock-off, I think it’s the ”Despicable Me 2” that is going to win over here. Plus, almost always the top 10 sports 2 animations. 16.

August 9th – ”Elysium” and ”Planes” – another animation vs. Neill Blomkamp’s post-”District 9” sci-fi. While that one didn’t get into the top 10 in its year, it was probably partly due to the fact it was both a debut and an original concept, but now everybody knows what to expect and it looks to be promising. ”Planes” get the boot here just because it is a ”Cars” knock-off (by the same people, right?) and we like our top 10 lists full of sequels, not knock-offs. True story. 15.

Let me reiterate: ”Iron Man 3”, ”The Great Gatsby”, ”Star Trek Into Darkness”, ”The Hangover 3”, ”After Earth”, ”The Purge”, ”Man of Steel”, ”Monsters University”, ”White House Down”, ”Despicable Me 2”, ”Pacific Rim”, ”Red 2”, ”Wolverine”, ”300: Rise of an Empire”, ”Elysium”.

Out of those 15, 9 our based on already existing concepts. The remaining 6 are ”The Great Gatsby” (based on a book, but hey…), ”After Earth”, ”The Purge”, ”White House Down”, ”Pacific Rim” and ”Elysium”. Roughly 60-70% of the Top 10’s in the past decade were sequels, reboots or remakes, so it is safe to assume that 3 original concepts need to be crossed off and hence ”The Great Gatsby” (not very summery release, albeit flashy), ”After Earth” (I sense it’s going to bomb), and ”The Purge” (too high risk) have to go. Now we’re down to 12.

Out of the remaining 9: ”Red 2” and ”300: Rise of an Empire” will have to go as the least likely to succeed simply due to lack of buzz; a summer release needs buzz. Down to 10.

Looking at my corrected list (”Iron Man 3”, ”Star Trek 2”, ”The Hangover 3”, ”Man Of Steel”, ”Monsters University”, ”White House Down”, ”Despicable Me 2”, ”Pacific Rim”, ”Wolverine”, ” Elysium”) I see holes have formed in some weekends, therefore it is theoretically possible for some of the superfluous titles crossed off in the first instance to make additional money while nothing interesting is out. So, say hello to ”Fast and Furious 6” and ”The Lone Ranger”. On second note, ”After Earth” might not do all that badly just because there’s nothing around, and Shyamalan’s name missing from the trailers and posters can only help.

Since I have the number of entrants sitting at 13, I can proceed to put them in order. If the past is any indication, most of the top 3 films in the last decade had been released before mid-June, so that’s a hint number one. The other one is the distribution of animations with one usually making it close to the top and the second one hanging out around 6-7th place. Third hint – original concepts usually close the ranks so the sequels go first. Another one – Superhero movies top the chart. Last one – ”Hangover 3” looks to be a top 4 candidate, looking at how the previous ones ended up.

Here it is:

1)    ”Man Of Steel”

2)    ”Iron Man 3”

3)    ”Monsters University”

4)    ”The Hangover 3”

5)    ”Star Trek Into Darkness”

6)    ”Pacific Rim”

7)    ”Despicable Me 2”

8)    ”Fast And Furious 6”

9)    ”Wolverine”

10) ”Elysium”

Dark Horses: ”White House Down”, ”After Earth”, ”The Lone Ranger”

I was really hesitant with putting ”Man of Steel” first, but Chris Nolan’s seal of approval might be enough to elevate it past the horrible ”Iron Man 3”, even though the latter had the best opening ever. Other than that I think ”Monsters University” will break the top 3 and ”Star Trek Into Darkness” will do worse than I’d like it to do (My dream top 3 would involve ”Star Trek” right below ”Man of Steel” with ”Pacific Rim” or maybe ”Elysium” to close it). I think ”Pacific Rim” is going to do fine, because it’s Guillermo Del Toro and it is considered a substitute for the ”Transformers” – everybody loves robots… ”FF6” might break the top 10 thanks to ”After Earth” and ”Wolverine” underperforming, but I still think ”After Earth” can surprise me, so I included it as one of my Dark Horses together with ”White House Down” (because Roland Emmerich) and ”The Lone Ranger” (because Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp). Game on!

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Rant

Right, so I thought I could use some venting. The years of indentured servitude one has to go through in order to become a scientist, all the while biting his tongue and pickling his emotions, have taught me that keeping things in can be at least referred to as unhealthy. So, as one might probably realize by now, I tend to rant. A lot. I like to think it’s therapeutic, but other than that I don’t really know.

Last week ended up being really interesting. I spent God knows how long waiting for the rest of the world to catch up with the greatest (so far) stink-bomb of the year – “Iron Man 3”, because I really wanted to see how it is received globally. It would seem that here in Europe we’re mostly good guys and instances of brutally spoiling this film for our fellow movie-goers across the pond were rather scarce; if you don’t count Youtube – that place is just full of butt-holes, but who am I to talk… I sincerely hoped “Iron Man 3” would bomb, but quite expectedly people loved it. The critics write sonnets about how fantastic it was and the box office revenue reflects the popular (sigh!) vote; and that scares me.

I mean, I can understand that people don’t want to step on anyone’s toes with this one, because the great Shane Black wrote the script for this piece of crap, but let’s face it: for the good of everyone around there should be no sanctity when it comes to art or entertainment. If Spielberg makes a s**t film – people should know, but it turns out that RDJ only needs flutter his eyelashes for everybody to fall hopelessly in love with Iron Man… Shame… And to think someone who brought us “Lethal Weapon” or “The Last Boy Scout” could contribute to this…

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who saw that (here’s a video rant from Peter Rallis), but still countless masses made Marvel and Disney think they’ve done it right, because the only thing that matters in here is money. They’ll make a lot of it with this one and I’ll bet you money right here and now that the PG-13 spirit of “Iron Man 3” will make its way to the next “Thor”, “Captain America” or the next “Avengers”. Who knows, maybe they all will feature little boys, Christmas themes and meaningless non-violent substitute for action. It’s not OK. If you want to see a good comic book movie – go and watch “The Crow” (I re-watched it last Sunday to wash the Iron Man off my brain). Actually, do it before they remake it in PG-13, because they are remaking it. Since R-rated movies are frowned upon, the teenagers moan and groan and people lose money, I’m afraid the remake might not be exactly dark.

Now, I could even try and come to terms with the superhero genre replacing the good old-fashioned action cinema, but if this is the way we’re headed – count me out. Now I’m literally dreading the release of “Thor 2”, “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel”, because what if they suck as badly as “Iron Man 3” did? And I need my action films to feel normal. I was raised with them and can’t imagine the world without them…

And in that spirit, and following the raging disappointment Iron Man had caused, I caught up with two films that had slipped through my fingers: “Jack Reacher” and “End of Watch”. Now, I really appreciate the effort, because lately it is rather difficult to see something relatively original leave Hollywood. Well, maybe not exactly, because “Jack Reacher” was based on a novel if I remember correctly, but then again adapting literature is nowhere near as bad as plastering numbers on films or re-heating old noodles are. I desperately tried to like it and as a result I ended up even more frustrated with it than I originally was. Somebody needs to tell Tom Cruise it is time to go. I appreciate “Rain Man, “Jerry Maguire” or “Vanilla Sky”, but enough is enough. Tom just can’t create a believable character for crime/action film any more. It’s all Ethan Hunt over and over again and the attempted noir atmosphere just doesn’t sit very well with him. Between this, the last “Mission Impossible” and “Oblivion”, I think I’ve had enough of Tom Cruise in action films.

“End of Watch” on the other hand… Now that was something else. It was brutal, violent, gripping, maybe a bit heavy-handed with all the flag-waving and police self-apotheosis, but at least it stayed true to the values of action/crime cinema. Maybe the found-footage thing was a bit sketchy, but hey… Everybody vlogs now, so why not the Mexican gangs… So, just because I can swallow a fair bit of pathos before I get sick, I wasn’t bothered by the ‘serve-and-protect’ nonsense. The dialogues were nice, Jake Gyllenhaal was awesome, and most of all when bullets flew, people got hurt. So that’s a plus, because I hate when movies show battles or gunfights and everyone’s OK (which is exactly what I saw in “Iron Man 3”, and no – I do not intend to stop bashing it, it deserves it). Plus, the entirety of the film takes place in a car or in its direct surroundings, so clearly no-one needs to blow up oil rigs or destroy CG-made cities to keep the adrenaline up.

In fact, even “Crimson Tide” (that I happened to re-watch this week as well) proves that you can put your characters in a can and use no effects whatsoever in a film, for it to be gripping. Flag-wavy, but still gripping… But then, Denzel Washington sort of drives the movie on its own, which is yet another piece of evidence that we need character-driven action films and not this plastic colorful flashy bulls**t.

Speaking of plastic colorful flashy crap, Lovefilm sent me “Skyline” this week and I don’t really want to talk about it. I had it on my rental list for ages, because why the hell not and now I got it. What a pile of crap that was… It should be shown to people in film schools as a reminder that special effects are not enough and special effects guys rarely make good directors. Notable exceptions of the like of James Cameron can only prove the theory as a whole, because no theory is complete without exceptions. I shouldn’t even speak about “Skyline” any longer, because it might be mistaken for a review, but I’ll say only this: even though it tried to look like good modern sci-fi with all the bling what-not, but the appalling story and wooden acting can make any good film look mediocre… And a mediocre film look terrible… And a terrible film unwatchable… Therefore, just to make sure I still like Sci-fi I quickly re-watched “Sunshine” and “War of the Worlds” (with the latter additionally easing my Tom Cruise pain, but Spielberg can actually direct actors so that they look convincing, so I don’t know) and everyone was happy again.

Still, when was the last time I watched some genuinely good Sci-fi? As much as I’d like to say “Prometheus”, I couldn’t live with myself for doing that. All the nonsense that went on in that movie has most probably stretched the whole thing into a trilogy, which Ridley Scott will never finish (because he won’t have a clue, how to make it look kosher again) and hence “Prometheus” should be promptly disqualified. But anyway… Good Sci-fi… Maybe “Battle LA” could qualify even with the tonne of pathos it carried, but I think the last time I was literally blown away by a Sci-Fi film was the time I saw “District 9” – four years ago!

But there is a silver lining to that, because Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” hits theaters this summer, so at least I’ll have something to look forward to. And I can try to feel better about seeing “Star Trek” next weekend – hopefully it won’t suck.

Meanwhile, the Sunday rant slowly crept onto Monday territory and I think I can stop now. Maybe next week I’ll do something similar and I’ll see where it gets me.

Rant over.

“Good Vibrations” – because Belfast had a reason…

Since this weekend has absolutely zero releases that I consider relevant, with “Iron Man 3” already out since last week and “Star Trek Into Darkness” hitting the theaters next weekend, I decided to focus my weekend movie-going on films that I wanted to see before, but failed due to something seemingly more interesting being released at the same time. And what would be more interesting than to go and see a piece of local cinema?

Now, films that are in any way showing Northern Ireland almost invariably pick up the notorious political subject of The Troubles and movies that do not bring the conflict into the light are hard to come by. Sure, I reckon you’d find some films that completely disregard it, however it would seem almost impossible given the impact the civil war had on this corner of the Earth. And here it is…

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I would be lying if I claimed that “Good Vibrations” is free from any mention of The Troubles. After all, it is a story of Terri Hooley – a brave and vivacious young music lover, who believed that people of Belfast deserved more than the grim war zone. So, in the interest of being exact, “Good Vibrations” is not a film that uses The Troubles to tell a story, but a film that tells a story that happened in spite of it. In it, we meet Terri, a vibrant young man, whose life underwent a dramatic change in the 70’s when Belfast was miles away from being a happy place. Having spent the previous decade going to concerts and being a popular DJ playing his beloved prog-rock to the countless masses, Hooley somehow woke up years later surrounded by silence of the empty clubs and the sounds of distant gunfights. I guess it might have happened to many people in that time, when the country got brutally divided and everyone was somehow forced to take side in a conflict – just by virtue of one’s religious affiliation or political views. There were only Catholics and Protestants and Terri Hooley didn’t feel like he wanted to join any club.

But, he believed in people. Hooley apparently thought that somewhere in this war-torn country there were people like him – people who didn’t care about politics, or religion, or any of that bulls**t that made the news every day – people who shared his passion for music. So, in order to give those people a chance to get out of hiding and have a place where they could feel welcome, and in spite of the whole conflict, Terri Hooley opened a record shop in the center of Belfast and called it ‘Good Vibrations’. Not long after he had started his business, Terri became aware of where the love for music had been hiding, because underneath the layer of violence that made the bulk of everyday life in Belfast, he found a thriving, vibrant and pristine punk scene that had gathered the Northern Irish youth. Following his little discovery, Terri Hooley turned his record-selling business into an underground label focused on promoting the young local talents and thus the ball started rolling. By the 80’s Terri Hooley’s work was well known both in the UK and in the world and everybody knew that Belfast music scene was a force to be reckoned with.

 

Maybe the film emphasized Hooley’s role in establishing the NI punk scene too much, or maybe it didn’t – I’m in no position to judge  The real point of this film is that even in times of peril, loss, war, violence, prejudice, fear and intimidation, people kept looking for something that would unite them in something positive. And that thing was punk, of all the things. The ideas of disregarding the current state of things, rebellion against ‘the man’ and disdain towards the grim reality of life all brought masses together and this is where “Good Vibrations” shines the most. Not the acting, not the direction, not the production value, nor the technical things, but the uplifting atmosphere caught in imagery is this film’s strongest card. Not that I don’t think all the other qualities of this film are brilliant, because they are. In fact, I couldn’t find a single thing I disliked about “Good Vibrations”. Richard Dormer’s performance was just magnificent; light, natural, hilarious and adorable. Just because his portrayal was so engaging, I kept smiling the whole time and by the end of the film (even though not everything was ‘sunshine, rainbows and unicorns’ in Hooley’s life) I couldn’t help but feel happy. The entire ensemble cast was really good, and the fact my favorite stand-up comedian Dylan Moran had a small part in it I can only consider as the icing on the cake.

The lines were really good, the story was well paced, and the entirety of film was funny, entertaining, engaging and unforgettable. In addition, the film was shot in a way that added some color to the story and cleverly situated it within the political mayhem of the 70’s, but retained a healthy distance. It’s clearly visible, how difficult these times must have been, but in the end it only serves to bring the feel-good atmosphere of “Good Vibrations” to a whole new level. As a whole, the combination of all these factors makes “Good Vibrations” a fantastic film to watch. Beyond doubt, the directorial duo of Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn should be proud of themselves. In reality, they probably are with all the awards “Good Vibrations” has scored…

So, if you’re into music, and even if not… Go and see it. Or rent it sometime in the future if you have the chance. Any way, you will not waste your time, but on the contrary, you might learn something new about this little complicated country. On top of everything, “Good Vibrations” was a good bit of fun and I’m sure as hell, I’m going to re-watch it at some point in time.