donderdag 30 mei 2013

Today's mini-review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Here's a quickie for ya. Saw this movie two months back but didn't get around to post stuff about it.

Jack the Giant Slayer: ***/*****, or 7/10

Bryan Singer's reimagining of the story about the farmboy Jack who fought savage giants mixes the cheerful British fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk with the darker and more violent related tale of Jack the Giant Killer, resulting in a hybrid which incorporates the key narrative elements of both for its own plot purposes. The result is an entertaining adventure flick which sadly looses some of its pleasuring punch by trusting in overly trite but true fairy tale signifiers too much. Simple country boy Jack (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class) meets gorgeous princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), who prefers adventure over the boring life of royalty. She gets more than she bargained for when she seeks shelter at Jack's home during a stormy night, just when alleged magic beans he spilled take root and quickly form a giant bean stalk, rising to a strange land above the clouds and sweeping the girl along. The King sends a rescue party to retrieve his daughter, and Jack volunteers to save this girl that's oh so out of his league despite their mutual attractions. Unfortunately for their young love, the land in the skies is inhabited by a race of brutal giants, who were exiled there in ages past so their taste for human flesh would no longer plague mankind. Of course, upon learning a new connection between their two worlds has been established, the monsters soon plan to make use of it to return to Earth and scour the land for human snack food. Thrown in the mix is a subplot regarding a treacherous count (Stanley Tucci) set to marry Isabelle, who only wants to use her to become king himself, and eagerly turns towards controlling the giants via a magic crown to achieve his goal. A solid and simple plot, devoid of surprises, and regrettably hindered by cliché character building, clearly delineating the good guys from the bad, while centered around a fairly boring love affair that all too typically rises above class dinstinctions. It's all a tad too 'Disney' for a capable director like Singer, but there's still a few things to enjoy here. For one thing, there's the abundance of good character actors the likes of Ian McShane and Ewan McGregor (with intriguing facial hair!) that take good care of the supporting roles, but unfortunately can't make the bland performances by the main couple more lively. For another, there's the impressive array of nasty giants that make for a formidable enemy and fun action scenes galore, as well as a bunch of morbidly gory instances of suspense. It's clear the huge budget went first and foremost to the FX departments, who did a hell of a job with the overall design of the vicious creatures – the grotesque two headed giant leader particularly – and their grandiose final battle against their favorite food. If only Singer had spent more time finetuning the story to make it feel a little less old-fashioned and predictable, this movie might have done more slaying at the box office.

zondag 26 mei 2013

Today's News: Studios engage in Marvel Civil War

Here's a hot item of mine that just got posted on MovieScene:

It had to happen sooner rather than later, considering how much money studios make over superhero movies, especially the Marvel kind. Since the rights to various franchises and characters lie with various studios, a few characters would surely cause difficulty in terms of copyright, and now they have. The characters in point are none other than my favorite sibling superhumans, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Starting off as mutant terrorists and enemies of the X-Men, they soon quit a life of wreaking havoc among humankind and turned towards protecting it as full members of the illustrious Avengers (which still made them enemies of the X-Men at times). So now the question is, where do they best fit in?

Of course, if they are to be done justice and stay true to their comic book origin, they are the children of Magneto first and mutants foremost. So that would mean they would best begin with appearing in the X-Men franchise, but so far, they've been completely ignored despite their father having appeared four times before, as has his Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants. Apparently Fox saw little appeal to their presence, until Joss Whedon announced his plans to incorporate them in The Avengers 2 last month, at which point Fox catapulted them (or at least the male half of the pair) without advance notice in their latest X-travaganza, Days of Future Past. It really feels that was done solely to create further friction between Fox and Marvel/Disney, since there were no signs at all of their appearance in the movie before Whedon's announcement, nor were they featured in the original comic book story line (and neither was Magneto, but his Brotherhood at least was, run by femme fatale Mystique, who is in the film as I reported here last week). Whedon however has no plans of dropping his two beloved mutant Avenger members, nor should he, since they fit better in there, judging from their long run as Avengers in that line of comic books, which far exceeded the number of issues they served as nemeses to their fellow mutant do-gooders.

Of course, it seemed unlikely from the inception of their appearance in Whedon's next film that they would be featured as Magneto's kids, or mutants at all. That's really X-Men territory. So far there has been no word on mutants at all in the true Marvel Cinematic Universe, and maybe it's better if it stays that way, since it might become hopelessly convoluted for the general audience and so far the established MCU is extensive enough to last us a decade of movies and TV-series. Whedon will have to prove creative with these characters, which in his case I don't mind at all. I heard rumours he intends to render them Inhumans; a good solution considering they are the next best thing to mutants and they haven't been used yet, plus Quicksilver has had plenty of dealings with them considering he married one and sired a daughter with her. Plus, it would give Whedon a chance to return the favour to Fox and give them the finger, since the Inhumans have usually been used as antagonists to the Fantastic Four, a franchise still under Fox's control. If mutants are denied to the true MCU, Marvel might as well steal the Inhumans from Fox. You get some, you lose some.

My favorite solution to this whole mess? A super crossover between both studios' superheroes springs to mind, but I realize full well that's much harder to pull off on film than it is on comic book paper. So many characters played by so many stars, yet still retaining a lot of action and preferably a decent story too? Fat chance. So why not do what the comic books did: create separate universes that are so alike but leave ample room for explaining away all the inconsistencies. Fox started this whole comic book movie rage back in 2000 with X-Men, let they be the genuine Marvel-616 Universe. And let Marvel's Cinematic Universe be what in terms of feel and style it has always seemed to aspire to be, the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Comic book fans would surely appreciate such a crafty solution, though I know it would still cause confusion among regular audiences who simply are not aware of the intricacies of the Marvel Universe or the copyright issues surrounding the various Marvel movies. These are basically the same audiences who wonder when Batman will appear in The Avengers, the type of people I still have to explain why Spider-Man wasn't in the X-Men films, the folks who'll never know the difference between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel. They don't get it anyway, all they have to do is sit back and hope for a good entertaining superhero flick. That's not so much to ask and not so hard to deliver, Cinematic Universes and superhero legal battles aside. Let the fans worry and wonder about all that nerd stuff, and just enjoy whatever the studios throw at you without pondering about crossovers and such. Marvel/Disney and Fox, all I ask is that you Make Mine Marvel. You did a pretty good job at that so far.

woensdag 22 mei 2013

Today's Mini-Reviews

Hitchcock: ****/*****, or 8/10

Fascinating take on the production of Alfred Hitchcock's (in)famous masterpiece Psycho (1960). Of course, we all know how well that ended up, so there's little suspense about this particular film on the Master of Suspense, but there is a lot of love for his work and his persona to be found in this terrific 'film about film'. In the late Fifties, director Hitchcock (another grand role on the already hugely impressive resumé of master-actor Anthony Hopkins) is bored with repeating himself as the audience seems to desire. After releasing yet another spy film – North by Northwest, another legendary movie in his oeuvre – Hitch decides to do something else and finds just that in the novel Psycho, based on the heinous crimes committed by serial killer Ed Gein. Ridiculed by friends and colleagues alike for adapting what is considered a trashy, sensationalist pulp novel, Hitch proves undeterred and sets out in making this movie that is bound to shock the nation. However, his stubbornness soon threatens his marriage to his beloved wife and partner Alma Reville (the current 'grand dame' of British actors, Helen Mirren) who feels neglected and starts off on her own search for professional happiness. Director Sacha Gervasi clearly did not mean for this movie to be seen as a true biopic and thanks to the many instances of black humour, sometimes completely over the top, it's hard to consider it as such. Nevertheless, he convincingly captures the sense of pressure and discomfort the real Hitchcock might have experienced during this production, considered his most tasking and laborious shoot. Gervasi brilliantly showcases Hitch's emotional troubles by having him engage in inner dialogue with his darker self in the shape of the murderer Gein (the ever alarming Michael Wincott), at which point all doubt is taken away: Hitchcock is not an attempt at historical accuracy, but a loving fictional reconstruction of the turmoil that might very well have plagued the corpulent director himself during his most trying production. The whole is interspersed with many references to classic film lore for movie buffs to enjoy, as well as a number of fine actors portraying key people involved in making Psycho the shock ride of a thriller it ended up being, including Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) as Lew Wasserman and James D'Arcy (Cloud Atlas) as Anthony Perkins. For all those who loved Psycho, Hitchcock ought to be required viewing.

Broken: ****/*****, or 7/10

Harrowing and depressing British social drama about a young girl named Skunk (wonderful debutante Eloise Laurence) whose cheerful life is shattered when she witnesses a brutal case of violence in her street. Sadly for her and everyone else in her neighbourhood, it's only just the start of a series of disturbing events that spiral ever more out of control until all hope for a peaceful resolution seems lost. The cause for all the trouble is an increasingly anti-social single parent household run by a father with severe anger issues (you can't really blame him) and his three teenage daughters, one more loathsome and dislikable than the other (great acting but rarely do you encounter characters you wish would die a horrible death so badly!). Despite Skunk's caring father (Tim Roth playing a good guy for a change, succeeding in making him look sympathetic despite failing to contain the situation and protecting his daughter) and her uplifting relationship with a young teacher (Cillian Murphy), things go ever more awry with deadly consequences. Romantic involvements break down, the innocence of youth is destroyed and everyday life soon turns lethal. But hey, if you read the newspapers you'll find this sort of thing happens on a daily basis: this can basically happen to everybody, including children. With Broken, director Rufus Norris has made a gripping and thought provoking drama, but its contents are so disheartening it's hard to sit through it all. To his credit it sticks with you for longer than you would expect, but that's not necessarily a positive thing, considering all the bleakness he serves. Even though it's meant as a serious study into the deterioration of everyday life in an average neighbourhood following a single, at first seemingly isolated, violent event and the distressing repercussions it has on those involved, some notion of hope would have been most welcome. One cannot, and should not, deny that Broken is a thoroughly engaging film experience regarding a relevant social topic, but it would not be a bad idea to let people know in advance what realistic horrors they will need to endure.

dinsdag 21 mei 2013

Today's News: Jennifer Lawrence back in blue!

A tidbit of news appeared on MovieScene today and it'is my fault:

Good news, for various reasons. I'll quickly name the first and get over it, since it will immediately come to the minds of people who know me: I'm such a nerd sexy blue mutant women get me excited, even over ordinary girls. That's that over with. Moving on, it's nice to know Jennifer Lawrence isn't afraid to get all naked and covered in paint again - an arduous process, if we are to believe the few women who have gone through it all and survived - as she's now playing Mystique for the second time (the first was in X-Men: First Class). This time though, she's bound to have quite a bit more scenes in the (blue) buff, considering she's abandoned the X-Men and joined Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants, thus becoming a terrorist. And who needs clothes for that if you can produce them at will? Third, it's also good to know Bryan Singer is still adhering to the X-Universe he set up with his own first two X-films, despite other directors having followed suit since. Judging from this and the other pictures released so far, Singer hasn't made any changes to the design of the characters he made us come to love a decade ago. Despite Singer's successors tampering with the time line a bit, Singer appears to stay faithful to both the fantastic original X-Men and the fabulous semi-prequel First Class. That makes for some great consistency in Fox's X-universe,which is very useful for setting up that other Marvel Cinematic Universe Fox wants to create so desperately to compete with Marvel's own Avengers. Too bad Fox's Fantastic Four won't get similar respect, but hey, it hardly deserves it as much.

If the original Mystique Rebecca Romijn's known tribulations - nine-hour make-up process, bitter cold on set - are any indication, Lawrence will be in for a rough ride, again. And she does so at free will, despite her jump to stardom caused by The Hunger Games and her recently acquired Oscar, so apparently she likes the character enough. Or it was one of those nasty contractual obligations, that would also make sense, playing Mystique at this point in her career. Maybe it was both. I like to think she likes Mystique. Who wouldn't like a naked blue woman that can alter her appearance to look like anyone dressed as anyone?!

Another reason to be excited once more over X-Men: Days of Future Past is Tyrion Lannister's Peter Dinklage's continued involvement. Especially since we still don't know who he's set to play. Us Marvel fanatics might be in for a real surprise. Or a huge letdown. But hey, it's Dinklage, so we know the performance can't be truly bad. I'm guessing he'll play Apocalypse, anyone wanna take that bet? Come on, you know this looks awesome!:

zondag 19 mei 2013

A Game of Time, but a Feast for Fanboys

Today, I visited Westeros. And I wasn't alone, as thousands of others joined me on a tour to George R.R. Martin's fabulous world of epic fantasy as seen on HBO's Game of Thrones. It was well worth the trip; at least in my case, since I reckon there were others that did not get to enjoy it to the fullest extent as they ought to have. And that's mostly to blame on poor execution in the set-up and planning of the event. Though the Posthoornkerk in Amsterdam proved an appropriate setting with its Gothic look, it left a lot to be desired in terms of space, only accomodating 150 people at a time. Trouble is, the church was surrounded by vast legions of eager fanboys/fangirls (the series apparently appeals to both nigh on equally) which were held at bay by a small army of security guards, who gave each group only a mere 15 minutes to take in all the wealth and riches in design that the Seven Kingdoms have to offer. Alas, it turned out that for many such a brief time simply isn't enough even to get your picture taken on the Iron Throne...

I went there with a good friend, who loves the show nearly as much as I do. Being the smarty-pants that we are, we thought we would do well to arrive early so as to avoid most of the large crowds we knew would appear on the church's doorsteps this Sunday morning to worship the televisual teachings of the Song of Ice and Fire. It proved a smart move, since the number of fans that banded together in a long line around the block surpassed probably everybody's expectations, undoubtedly numbering in the tens of thousands before the day was over. So there we were, at half past nine, while the exhibition opened at ten, and there already was a huge group of people patiently waiting for the doors to open. When they did, the first group of 150 enthusiastic fanatics - which did not include ourselves, as we were part of the second wave - was let in but their enthusiasm was tempered when they were told they only had a quarter of an hour to soak it all up. Naturally, the first thing that happened was this former line of people immediately reassembling itself in front of the Iron Throne - or to be more precise, an iron throne (and definitely not made of metal), since it was an obvious replica if ever I saw one -  were you could have your picture taken while sitting on the damn chair. Who wouldn't want that, eh? The answer: nobody, so everybody got in line for their own photoshoot. The moment you have your picture taken on the throne has to be the most orgiastic feeling a true Game of Thrones adept could ever strive for. But sadly, the allotted time of 15 minutes was insufficient for all 150 people to get this photographic highlight of their life over and done with. I and my pal, having waited for this moment for 50 minutes, were lucky as we had to wait only ten more minutes to succeed in this endeavor, and we got another 5 minutes to drool over the fascinating props and costumes on display. Again, inadequate in terms of time. So what's a loyal GoT fan to do? Simple, get back in line. To both our dismay and delight, the line had grown in size. A lot. The number of avid fans that turned up - even from neighbouring countries like Germany - surprised even me, its fanbase has apparently been growing strong in the last few years. You should hear them roar as they were again told they could not yet come in.

Unbowed, unbent, unbroken we finally got in again after another 70 minutes of practicing patience. This time we knew what was in store for us, having caught brief glimpses of the rest of the exhibition (and having recorded some on camera so we could spend some time exploring the expo while standing in line). So now we knew to avoid the photoshoot area. We had managed to have our picture taken and in hindsight it had proven to be a little kitschy, so now we could focus all our attention on what deserved it the most: the treasures of the Seven Kingdoms, Essos and even Old Valyria before the Doom. There they lay for our gazing pleasure, as well preserved historical artifacts of a world long gone, as valuable as the Mona Lisa, the Hope diamond or Sue the T-Rex. Or just as what they were: exquisite samples of family, duty, honor; of the great care and craftsmanship that goes with creating the wide world of Westeros. Both the beauty of this realm and the cruelty that inhabits its noble houses as they strive for its dominion were well represented: elaborate dresses were displayed next to humongous swords, precious gems next to severed body parts. Though we had unfortunately missed the appearance of some of our show favorites the day before (no Arya Stark meet & greet for us suckers), the clothes they wore, the weaponry they carried and the ever present fear of sudden death they might one day face on telly for our pleasure they had left behind.

The richly embroidered fabrics of the vile Cersei Lannister and the elaborately patterned tunic of her even more despicable son Joffrey adorned one end of the hall, the by comparison dirty but still impressive Dothraki rags of our favorite khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen the other. Also to be found were the simple garments of the members of House Stark that suggested only hints of nobility to them, while the furs and thick coats of the Night's Watch and the Wildlings betrayed their owners lacking noble blood completely but sporting sense enough to arm themselves against the bitter cold of the North with great caution. Many weapons we would love to have hanging on our walls could be gazed at, including Needle, Hearteater, Ice and Longclaw, while we also had the opportunity to marvel both over props of great beauty, like rings, cups and jewelry as high as honor, and some of a more bizarre, morbid nature, like Davos Seaworth's bag of fingers, the brutally severed arm of the poor Grand Septon and of course Ned Stark's head. Game of Thrones might be rated '16' in the Netherlands (and justly so!), but that didn't stop some fans from bringing their young offspring, who beheld the more grotesque items with as much fascination as they did the others. Again, 15 minutes proved inadequate to take in all the design details of the, in truth, small amount of utterly intriguing items on display (less than a hundred in total), but at least it allowed us to take decent pictures of them all, for further study at home. Though the time we had spend waiting in line exceeded the amount of time we experienced to enjoy the wealth of Westeros by a factor of six, we considered it well worth the trouble, and we lamented the poor souls that didn't get to have their picture taken on the Iron Throne and had to get in a two hour line again just to at least see the rest of the show. Since this exhibition is only going to be open to the public for five days, I doubt this situation will change, so be warned: if you decide to go there, arrive early. If you really feel you need that coveted throne shot (and you will once you're there), run to the back of the hall the moment you get in - yours is the fury! - and if you find 50 people have beaten you to it, don't bother and go check out the things this expo really ought to be about: the props and costumes that make the characters we've come to love and loathe feel convincingly sincere, sympathetic or sinister.

No giftshop?! The more fools HBO! They don't charge admission in the first place - did I mention this expo is free yet? - and they don't sell merchandise to a public that craves it. I guess they didn't feel like selling swords to a large audience that over the course of three seasons has learned how to make proper use of them. Especially when confronted with waiting in line for so long they might get the urge to swing at their fellow fanboys in a fit of competitve rage. Apparently, HBO does not sow such fire and blood.

I can't wait for winter to come again. Or that theme song to get out of my head. Which at least isn't on a spike, like this one:

vrijdag 17 mei 2013

Today's News: Riddick returns

Found another scoop for MovieScene the other day:

Looks pretty good where actors (Katte Sackhoff, yay!), action and FX are concerned. Story wise, I'm less convinced. First of all, this movie seems a rehash of the first Riddick film, Pitch Black (2000). It too saw Diesel's titular character stalked by creepy aliens on some visually intriguing planet while also having to deal with loudmouth overmuscled bounty hunters that were after his skin. Yes, PB was a good movie while its successor, the simply titled The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), proved less fascinating fare in retrospect (a bit too grandiose and bombastic for most people's taste). But it does not do to just go back to past successes by carbon copying former glory as this movie appears to do. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe there's more here than meets the glow-in-the-dark eye, but for now I don't see it.

Second, from what I can gather from this trailer, the previous film (the aforementioned Chronicles of...) is blatantly ignored, which is rather frustrating considering how it ended (spoiler! - Riddick basically becomes emperor of the galaxy - ). Again, the trailer might just be skipping out on particular plot information, but so far it seems not to, which in this case I find ungrateful towards the second film - even though it may not have been perfect I found it to be all kinds of fun - and confusing for the audience, including myself. The ever reliable IMDb lists Karl Urban returning as the formerly MacBethean Necromonger second-in-command Vaako, which would at least acknowledge a connection with Riddick's past chronicles, but I didn't spot him in the trailer. I guess I'll just have to what and see just what the frak is going on here.

And did it say IMAX thar? Nerd likes this! Whatever the film might lack in terms of plot, it might very well make up for in imagery and style (again), which would make it well suited for the IMAX format. It doesn't even say 3D, which would also be a welcome change of pace by now. So okay, the trailer might be utterly misleading with regards to the story, or suggesting they screwed with Riddick's established character history (it's been nine years after all, so who but avid movie buffs would remember what happened previously?), but hey, it's gonna look and sound superb. Who cares about using them brain cell thingies when you can watch Vin Diesel bashing bounty hunters and badass beasties on an excessively large screen? You're not afraid of this decadence, are you?

And yes, posting more (mini)reviews is still very much on my mind. I was just too busy writing a few new Jurassic Park action figure reviews for JPtoys this week. I really ought to post those on my blog as well, all 200 of them. They may not be movie reviews, but it shows I can review other things than movies too. Heck, if I had time I'd review anything I came across, from 17th century garden gnomes to present day public soap dispensers. Sadly, time is always against me.

woensdag 15 mei 2013

Today's News: Hunger Games 2's promotional campaign is catching fire

Here's a pretty picture I posted on MovieScene today:

It's an interesting new poster conceptually. It looks old and weathered, like a Seventies' political propaganda pamphlet (which is a good sign), or a worn out romantic dime novel (which is not so appealing). I like the subtle way the advertising campaign of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hints at the plot development of the movie itself. Katniss Everdeen starts as a celebrity in the Capitol, very much against her will, as demonstrated in the previous two posters released, where she donned one of those ugly, creepy Capitol beauty dresses to fit in with the local fashion which obviously didn't suit her. Those previous posters were dubbed 'teaser material' by the studio execs responsible for their release. Now we've arrived at the first "official poster" (such an odd term really, as if the previous material wasn't official Hunger Games stuff), and Katniss has shedded the attire the Capitol would have her wear in favour of her old, simpler garments, returning to who she really is and hence who her followers, the exploited masses yearning for freedom from tyranny, want her to be. Armed with her trusty bow she will make her stand and fight for those fans that follow her as the symbol for liberty she has become, rather than the fake champion of a morally deplorable Capitol show designed to keep the Districts in line by killing their kids publicly the shady rulers of this world designed her to be. This poster amply shows her stand, soon not quite so solitary anymore as the country will be plunged into full-scale war thanks to the choices she made. And so the perceptive audiences will have half the plot spoiled for them already simply by looking at a bunch of posters. No matter, those that watched the first film knew this was coming anyway; it's all about execution from this point on.

I'm fairly excited at the prospect of this movie. I've come to appreciate Jennifer Lawrence as a capable young actress and a witty girl (and I sure did like her covered in blue paint!). I liked the first movie despite minor shortcomings. I only hope those flaws, especially the dreaded love triangle, will not be the main focus in Catching Fire. After all, there's still plenty of elements of this particular dystopian society left unexplored apart from indecisive teenagers hungry for one another. However, there's a strong risk that will be the prime ingredient of the second installment, since The Hunger Games continues to carry a Twilight-esque stigma as being a 'teeny action flick', despite Twilight being - fortunately - over and done with. And being copied to death in unsuccessful rip-offs (The Host, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments), something The Hunger Games clearly isn't in any way, except for the inclusion of a love triangle. But there's a real chance that's exactly what the studio means to exploit in order to attract all those teen girls that helped make Twilight so much dough. Who needs regular audiences if you have legions of obsessive fangirls backing your finanical interests?

At least this poster is spared two hunky guys standing behind Katniss, her face suggesting she's more concerned with which one to pick instead of kicking Capitol scumbag ass. So far, I like the posters, I like the trailers, but I will refrain from my expectations catching fire whilst caught in the hype, since there's still plenty of story elements that might lead to severe disappointment.

zaterdag 11 mei 2013

Today's News: S.H.I.E.L.D. show is a go / La Cinquieme Saison mini-review

This news has been on MovieScene mere minutes and it's already available here:

Personally I can only say: bring it! Yes, the overall story synopsis sounds like a bland retreat of shows like The X-Files or The 4400, but hey, I liked those shows and I like Marvel so I still have no reason not to be thoroughly excited. Plus, I've been a great admirer of the way Marvel is constructing its larger cinematic universe in theaters and I'm quite intrigued by the question of how they will continue keeping this up on the small screen. After all, it's one thing to have a series of movies that are referring to one another culminating in one big giant super movie (The Avengers, remember?), but it's quite another to incorporate a TV series into this whole. TV shows just work via different logistics, different methods of production, different ways to keep their principal actors in check, etc. It's laudable ABC dares to take the risk, but also rather understandable considering the box office results from both The Avengers last year and currently Iron Man 3 (though the latter didn't deserve it as much as the former unfortunately). Be it in the TV business or in Hollywood, you can't keep a good exec away from the promise of being showered in precious dough, eh? And what's up with that likeable Agent Coulson playing the lead of this show, despite having died in The Avengers? Seems there's already one big mystery to solve to begin with.

With Marvel, Joss Whedon and TV (the last two categories alone would pique my interest already, really) all mixed together, I can safely say that however Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will turn out, it will be interesting on multiple levels, regardless of its eventual quality or lack thereof. I for one think it might actually happen to be a good show, and I'll definitely seek it out to shield me from boredom!

By the way, it's been quite a while since I posted a review (mini or otherwise) on this blog of mine. Guess I should go and remedy this critical drought, and why not start now? So here's a little review to let you know I have not forgotten about posting other things than my pieces for MovieScene. I saw this fascinating little film at Provadja recently:

La Cinquième Saison

Rating: ****/*****, or 7/10

A poetic European look at Apocalyptic cinema, this film deals with a small rural community which is confronted with the sudden emergence of a new season. Nihilistic in nature, it falls between winter and spring and is basically a season of nothingness: there's no snow or rain, but nature stays dead as nothing grows, except for the desperation of the townspeople as their resources dwindle. Soon people go to ever increasing lengths just to stay alive or to explain this unusual break in seasonal patterns, to shocking results. Young girls prostitute themselves simply for food, while the town's outsider is branded a cause to all the town's dismays, targeted as a human sacrifice and burned alive. Though much more esoteric in tone than regular end-of-the-world dramas, the film proves all as haunting and unsettling as it successfully registers the dark side of man and his unwavering ability for cruelty when faced with inexplicable catastrophe and basic survival. Also explored is mankind's role in this world under the uncompromising rule of the environment (though it is never addressed whether mankind itself is at fault for the creation of this fifth season), which can still play hell with our sense of civilization and kindness when it comes down to creating unsustainable living conditions that make society crumble. The visual imagery the film resorts to is both gritty and raw as the material demands, but at times surprisingly off-beat and confusing. The Apocalypse has truly gone arthouse, as La Cinquième Saison proves.

vrijdag 10 mei 2013

Today's News: new R.I.P.D. poster is very much alive

Posted this on MovieScene the other day (actually the same day I posted the unfortunate news about Jurassic Park 4, but I'm not about to post two news flashes on my blog on the same day, that would be overkill):

Nice poster.

Overall, R.I.P.D. isn't of particularly great appeal to me. The whole basic premise is just a little bit too much like Men in Black to me, except with ghosts instead of aliens. And I generally prefer aliens over ghosts. That said, if not an inspired movie, it can still be a fun action flick and those too are always welcome. I'm not high on Ryan Reynolds (he seems like a sympathetic guy but he's not exactly a great actor, to say the least) but Jeff Bridges is (almost) always a guarantee for damn fine acting and he seems to have a ball in this role, which has characteristics of both The Dude and Rooster Cogburn. If all else fails, his persona might still make for a worthwhile experience. I'll keep an open mind, but for now I'm not expecting a life changing experience from this film. Nor a death changing one.

donderdag 9 mei 2013

Today's (bad) News: Jurassic Park IV put on hold, again

Well, this sucks...:

As if the death of Ray Harryhausen wasn't depressing enough, Universal just made my week a helluva lot worse by putting Jurassic Park 4 back into the fridge. Again. Twelve years of pre-production hell apparently wasn't enough for the studio. Things finally seemed to go in the right direction with actual screen writers producing an actual script and an actual director being hired, but now us JP fans get slapped in the face once more, just having to wait a while longer the studio claims. As we have seen in the past, 'a while' can take quite a few years in this particular movie's case, but at least the project hasn't  been cancelled entirely as has also happened before. The gate hasn't fully closed on Jurassic Park 4 just yet.

The reason Universal suggests for this delay is a matter of time. More time is needed to make a satisfying movie experience, the studio's official statement said. Problem is, insiders' tweets have already proven the real cause is the age old 'creative differences' routine. It had to happen, really. A young talented director (Colin Trevorrow) wants to make an intelligent film with a solid plot, but the studio opts for action over substance, since they deem the general audience incapable of taking in too clever story lines and assume dimwitted dinosaur action is enough to please any and all viewers. Of course, such a line of thought worked out sooo well in the case of Jurassic Park III (back in 2001!), which encountered its similar share of production troubles, when the studio interfered with the established script and changed it drastically halfway through the shooting process, thus making director Joe Johnston struggle to produce a finished film at all. Fun simple dinosaur action it contained in respectable spades given the circumstances, but the story left much to be desired. And now (pre)history seems to be repeating itself, except a younger, more inexperienced director is being bullied and bossed around by the power hungry inconsiderate studio execs just out to make a quick buck. It doesn't bode well for Jurassic Park 4. It seems we'll be lucky if the finished product turns out a decent dinosaur action flick at the very least.

Oh well, fortunately we can still go and see Jurassic Park 3D in theaters at the moment. I went to see this greatest of masterpieces a second time this week, and I really ought to go again at least once more. I saw it three times back in 1993, I might as well repeat history myself a little bit if it helps the box office numbers convince studio suits to kick Jurassic Park 4 back into gear soon...

woensdag 8 mei 2013

In Memoriam: Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)

Sad news reached MovieScene late last night and my blog today:

The greatest living legend of special effects lives no more, but the legend remains forever.

It's ironic to know that, even in this effects saturated age where audiences have been completely spoiled by an overabundance of computer generated imagery, there's very next to no effects pioneers whose names have become household terms to the realm of special effects in the same regard as 'Harryhausen' has become over the years. Truth is, Harryhausen was just one man responsible for some of the most memorable fantasy action sequences in film lore, whereas his contemporary fellow effects technicians remain a vast, faceless army of pixel pushing drones. Their work, though at times undeniably impressive, just lacks the utter charm and persona of Harryhausen's stop motion creatures that have thrilled and inspired audiences for decades, and will for many decades to follow. Though never truly realistic - which was not particularly the master's intent since he realized full well the limitations of stop motion photography and generally aimed for a dream like atmosphere to add to the feeling of fantasy - his creations always felt more alive than most of their later counterparts.

Harryhausen was always a guarantee for a thrill ride of a movie experience, and even though he only worked on sixteen theatrical movies in total from 1949 till 1981, they are sixteen of the finest Sci-Fi and fantasy pictures ever, really the Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park equivalents of those days. Though I am saddened by his death (even though he lived to an appropriate old age), I am glad his work will survive him and will always be remembered with general enthusiasm, not so much because it has withstood the test of time but because it has surpassed the test of time, proving that true effects craftsmanship doesn't have to be photorealistic to make for mesmerizingly exciting action sequences and leave a lasting impression.

My only regret when it comes to Harryhausen? I should have went to that masterclass of him in 2005... Oh well, at least I got some autographs on my copies of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I should go and have myself a Harryhausen monster movie marathon now.

zondag 5 mei 2013

Today's News: more Black Suits coming soon

This was posted on MovieScene mere minutes ago:

As far as I'm concerned, a MIB 4 is not warranted. Yes, its predecessor was a commercial success, but it ended on a fairly 'full circle' feeling type of closure, hearking back to the first film (and mostly ignoring the dismal second installment). Why risk hurting this proper ending with a fourth film that might needlessly unravel it? I mean, for any reason other than money, which in Hollywood naturally is the only reason that matters, I'm well aware. I guess the studio feels they had better milk the franchise a bit faster this time, while MIB III is still on the audience's mind. Fair enough.

Of course, with a franchise like this, you can still go in ample directions. In fact, were it not for the truth everyone expects to see them, you wouldn't even really need Agents J and K (though their characters deliver the starpower studios think their audiences crave). There's plenty of letters left in the alphabet*. Numerous new agent characters and equally novel zany aliens with wacky issues all their own that make for crazy situations that need to be policed by Men in Black can still be introduced if Smith and Jones happen to turn down their parts in the fourth film (which of course they're not likely to do if their pay grade is tempting enough). This concept actually might work well as a TV series (and I don't mean a cartoon, which has already been done). But obviously, the studio doesn't feel like thinking in such expansive terms if they can still make a decent amount of money by just playing it safe. Oh well, there's a good chance MIB 4 will turn out a fun blockbuster movie (like MIB III). Then again, it might also suck extraterrestrial balls. Like the balls that one alien carried on his chin in MIB 2, which was a painfully unfunny flick due to a number of this type of poopy gags the thought of which you couldn't even erase with one of those flashy thingies that wipe your memory. Hopefully Sony understands that isn't the way to go in Men in Black 4...

* Yes, that was me appropriately quoting Star Trek: First Contact.

vrijdag 3 mei 2013

Today's Column: Jurassic Park and its new Dutch rating

This just went up at MovieScene, thus making my first column a fact:

The thing about a column like this is it leaves little to comment on here when linking it from MS, since it already is one long public rant comment of mine, strongly featuring my own opinion. I can of course go a little deeper into the fact this is my first column in general, instead of solely for MovieScene. I wasn't even asked to write a column for that site - they have actual columnists doing that on a regular basis - but I felt very strongly about this rating issue with regard to my all-time favorite film and I needed to blow some steam about it. And preferably spread the word about the insanity of this situation, so I would get people to agree with me it's just silly Jurassic Park was once rated 'All Ages Admitted' while now it's for 12 years and up. So I simply wrote an opinionated piece on it and send it to the guys at MS just in case they might think it appropriate for the site (despite the piece running well over the established word limit, but that's usual in my case, as it has always been since my college days). If they had passed on it, I would have posted it here in its entirety instead of just the above link, despite the piece being written in Dutch. After all, a column like this is truly the stuff of blogs, and this blog so far has witnessed little that might qualify as a bonafide column. Of course I have given my opinion on matters I personally care about many times before, but those were usually hidden (not so cleverly I must add) in reviews and news postings, which constitute different formats of writing. Will I write more columns in the future? Probably so, but it depends on my experiences and my perception of those being column material. No promises!