REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Imposter [Review]

Perhaps the year’s most fascinating film thus far, The Imposter delves headfirst into a world of ambiguity; and, indeed, ambiguity is, for the majority of its 99 minute runtime, its sole offering to its audience.

Not that that audience would want to remain passive anyway – the information unloaded in this docu-drama is, for the most part, only bereft of the answers it cannot give: but the manner and timeliness in which it reveals the information that it can give gifts us so much more. The Imposter tells the tale, as it were, of 13 year-old Nicholas Barclay, who disappeared from Texas in 1993 only to [supposedly] turn up three years and four months later in Spain.

Of course, it’s no spoiler to tell you that the new Nicholas is in fact not the same being as the old Nicholas. No, this is someone else entirely, lest puberty hit Nicholas harder than most. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed 13 year-old Texan is now a dark-haired, brown-eyed man with a five-o-clock shadow and a heavy French accent. Something’s amiss, but Nicholas’ family doesn't even notice.

You might think that’s all there is to it. The family were just so desperate to have their boy back that they accepted a clear imposter into their home. That’s as far as a daily tabloid paper might run with the story, anyway; The Imposter, however, seeks to delve far deeper into the mystery, of how and why an average American family would welcome a stranger into their lives, and the true intents and background of the eponymous pretender.

And the revelations are stunning, if not likely to hit hard enough to throw you off your feet in disbelief. Rather than a series of blunt shocks, The Imposter builds tension from an increasing sense of discomfort and uneasiness, which trickles through its superbly constructed storyboarding and delivery of information (a brilliant mix of interviews, home footage and dramatisations), to the end that its audience cannot simply remain passive. We are forced to ask our own questions of the film; not just those it prompts, either, and all as it dangles answers so tantalisingly close.

Some never come, but this is a documentary, after all – as they say, the truth must out. Director Bart Layton does plenty with what he has anyway, keeping us in 99 minutes of superb suspense, and in the end there’s no real need for all the answers: The Imposter is incredulous enough to allow room for interpretation – a rare commodity of the documentary. Closure’s for fiction, anyway.

✰✰✰

Dir: Bart Layton
Cast: Frederic Bourdin, Carey Gibson, Nancy Fisher, Charlie Parker
Film4, 99 mins, 24/08/12

Synopsis: 1993: Nicholas Barclay, 13, disappears from San Antonio, Texas. 1997: A young Frenchman manages to convince Nicholas' entire family that he is their missing boy. How? Why? And just who is this imposter?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises [Review]

How many trilogies do you know where all three components stack up in equal measure? Possibly the only two that come close are the original Star Wars trilogy (Ewoks pending) and The Lord of the Rings.  It’s a rare thing, namely due to the curse of the threequel – see Spider-Man 3, Rush Hour 3 et al.

And just as the release of the other of the summer’s superhero blockbusters was surrounded by one question (was it necessary?), so too is the release of Christopher Nolan’s final instalment of his Dark Knight Trilogy surrounded by a singular matter: can it live up to the unbelievably high standards the director set himself with Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), or will it fall prey to the curse of the threequel?

I’d like to offer you an answer to this in a nutshell, but it isn’t that simple. Sorry, folks: you’re going to have to read the entire thing this time. (Skipping to the stars won’t cut it either, I’m afraid.) The Dark Knight Rises is a curious beast for a sequel in that it is actually its differences from its predecessors that form its main strengths.

The film opens, as did The Dark Knight, with a prologue (which will be familiar to IMAX viewers of 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) introducing its villain. Here said villain comes in the form of masked mercenary Bane (Tom Hardy), though following the structure of the previous instalments, he’s not the only threat to Gotham, nor the only other suped-up principal character – but more on that later.

Our introduction to Bane sees him kidnapping a man from a plane by destroying the aircraft around him. Subtlety’s definitely not his forte, then. But for a man who could conceivably take on the Hulk in a fistfight with even odds, that’s perhaps to be expected. Anyway, Bane journeys to Gotham with a villainous plan that even exceeds the scale of that of Begins – and certainly that of Knight.

Meanwhile, the caped crusader himself has not been seen in the streets of Gotham for eight years, following the climactic scenes of the previous instalment that saw him take the blame for the crimes of Harvey Dent (or Two-Face, for comic fans). The streets are relatively clean, with a thousand crooks behind bars due to the Dent Act – seemingly, there’s no need for old Bats anymore.

Which is probably a good thing, considering the state Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) himself is in. A crippled recluse, the billionaire has barely been seen in eight years (surely someone should be putting two and two together here), hiding out in his mansion following the loss of childhood friend Rachel in The Dark Knight.

It takes a thieving maid in the form of Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) to shake him out of his stupor, and it’s no wonder: where the use of Catwoman (though her alias is never mentioned) doubted many Batfans, she’s actually one of the most surprising and interesting characters. True to the source, she’s a typically grey character – we’re never quite sure where her allegiances lie (or indeed if they lie any way other than with herself).

And when Bane arrives in the city clutching a nuclear bomb and holding Wall Street hostage, it looks as if it’s time to don the cowl one last time. When Bats finally does arrive back on screen – accompanied by a great line from one cop to another which I won’t spoil for you – he does it in appropriate style, unveiling a new flying toy from the Fox department.

With all the build-up and character introductions finally out of the way – which takes a good hour, though with a 164 minute runtime there’s plenty left to come – we get to the meat of the story. So it’s a little slow starting, and there’s perhaps a little too much exposition and unnecessary characters, but with the scale of what comes next you’ll find yourself easily forgiving that.


For the first time in the trilogy we feel a genuine sense of jeopardy and danger for Batman – previously we’ve seen him fight dozens of goons simultaneously with relative ease; his only minor undoing coming in Knight at the hands (paws?) of a few canines. But Bane’s sheer physical strength is more than a match for Batman, who is still weakened from damage to his leg and muscle tissue. The Dark Knight trilogy shows not only the repercussions of heroism and vigilantism on a citywide scale, but also on a personal scale: finally, we see just how vulnerable Bruce Wayne really is. Not to give anything away, of course.

Bane’s imposing strength aside, which makes for some of the tensest and most exciting physical encounters you’ll ever see on screen, his other main sticking point is, of course, his voice. It's a cold, robotic drawl that still somehow carries plenty of sinister charm; indeed, Bane’s dulcet tones stand in stark contrast to the brute force of the character himself. Said force is, of course, what separates him from Knight’s Joker – it was always going to be difficult to top Ledger’s iconic performance, so Bane was a very suitable choice of villain. Where Joker was all about doing a lot with a little, and using mental and emotional tactics over physical acts, Bane is the reverse, and strives to do a lot with... well, a lot.

Or so it would seem. Joker’s agenda, unveiled in his speech to Harvey Dent that gave birth to Two Face in one of Knight’s best scenes, draws some parallels with Bane’s – essentially, inciting the 99% to cause chaos against the 1% - but that of the latter is less clear cut. Does Bane really want to ignite the streets and prompt a revolution, following Nolan’s social commentary that has run through his entire trilogy, or does he simply want to destroy Gotham? When we finally found out more about the character – which, given how little backstory Joker had, is no less than welcome – and how he ties in to the running story of the entire trilogy, it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed.

To say more would be to spoil things a little too much, but suffice to say there are more villains in this tale than just Bane (and to an extent, Selina Kyle) – including a handful of familiar faces. Meanwhile, returning actors Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are all on top form as some of Wayne’s only allies, with Caine in particular stealing the show as butler Alfred. Though his motives and allegiance to Wayne’s cause may have altered slightly in the eight years since the billionaire last donned the Batsuit, there’s plenty reason for it, and a few teary eyed exchanges are likely to cause the audience to follow suit.

Franchise newbie Joseph Gordon-Levitt also threatens to steal the limelight from Bale, slotting naturally into Nolan’s Bat-verse. His character arc may drag slightly towards the finale and be painfully predictable, but it also provides a very interesting alternative – the likes of which have never really been seen in the trilogy until now.

But characters aside - where Knight was tightly written and cohered into a logical story, the progression of Rises is questionable. Too often we are asked to further stretch our suspension of disbelief, which doesn’t stack up against Nolan’s emphasis on grounded realism. Time passes sporadically with little indication and characters wind up in locations with little explanation of how. In this sense the scripting can often feel clunky and haphazard – perhaps in due process of the grand themes Nolan attempts to tackle, even in the course of the already bloated runtime (which luckily passes smoothly after the first hour of exposition).

Speaking of clunky scripts, there are one too many plot holes – those so inclined can read a few of them here, but beware the obvious spoilery nature of the article – in a universe that was heretofore almost exempt of them. But for all its flaws – and you will come to realise how many more of them are evident as more time passes since viewing, once you get past the initial awed reaction – The Dark Knight Rises is still a monster of a film: not quite as tight as Knight, but a fitting end to the trilogy that ramps up the scale and hammers on the intensity. 2012’s best superhero blockbuster? You bet your Batmobile it is.

✰✰✰

Dir: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard
Warner Bros. Pictures, 164 mins, 20/07/12

Synopsis: Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and it's time for Batman to come out of retirement (don't worry, that doesn't mean George Clooney's back), as terrorist leader Bane threatens to destroy Gotham with a nuclear device, while a mysterious Cat-like woman prowls the streets, and Bruce Wayne's mansion...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man [Review]

The main question on moviegoers’ minds with Marc Webb’s arachnid-hero reboot is, of course: is it worth it? But even after finally viewing the controversial remake, it’s still a tough one to answer.

You know the setup – high-school student Peter Parker struggles to find himself, and then along comes a spider to do it for him. If you’ve seen Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man film (which is still only a decade old) or indeed anything remotely related to the franchise, you’ll know this already. What you might not know, if you’ve only seen Raimi’s trilogy, is just how far from the original comics Spider-Man veered.

So that’s Webb’s first goal here: to take a leaf out of the comic books themselves, which are constantly rebooting, and attempt to get things back on track (as reflected in the title, which is taken from that of Spidey’s first series). So Mary Jane’s gone; instead, Gwen Stacy returns from Raimi’s series, this time as Peter’s (original) love interest and in the form of a very blonde Emma Stone, rather than the two-dimensional plot device that was Bryce Dallas Howard in the lacklustre Spider-Man 3.

Elsewhere, we have a renewed focus on Peter Parker’s backstory; the original film skimped heavily on the man behind the suit, at least where his life before it was concerned. Instead, Webb has reversed the situation: the film’s desire to give us a more complete picture of Parker’s life is so great that it is essentially split into two halves – before and after the suit. And it’s the before that really hits home, with more focus on the human side of things, including an eight-year-old Parker being left with his aunt and uncle by fleeing parents – who received no mention whatsoever in Raimi’s trilogy.

Before we get to that, however, let’s concentrate on The Amazing Spider-Man’s strengths (with deliberate avoidance of the now clichéd use of the ‘does/doesn’t do what it says on the tin’ titular reference). Namely, Mr. Andrew Garfield, aka Tobey Maguire’s replacement. And what a replacement. Doing a fine job of showing just why Webb’s reboot is justified, the babyfaced actor neatly sidesteps the fact he’s playing a character half his age and blows Maguire’s interpretation out of the water.

More convincing, likeable and yet still one to feel sorry for – particularly after the obligatory death of a relative – Garfield pretty much nails the comic version of Parker. If there’s one flaw in his character, it comes purely from the script (as do most of The Amazing Spider-Man’s flaws) – once he dons the suit, his character comes across as a little too cocky and arrogant, and it becomes more difficult to empathise with his plight to avenge the aforementioned death.

Indeed, as Parker’s ‘transformation’ into the Man Spider takes place, the film undergoes its own transformation – from a high school romance drama between Garfield and Stone into a popcorn action flick. While you might be inclined to assume that surely the latter would be more suited to a superhero film, in the post-Avengers world of summer 2012, the former was a welcome relief from brainless superhero action. Thus, once The Amazing Spider-Man’s villain finally emerges in the form of the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), it feels like a step back for the tone Webb has established in the first half.

The action scenes are hardly Webb’s forte – his previous film credits include (500) Days of Summer and, well, nowt else – so it’s clear why the film’s first half, concentrating on the human relationships, is superior. When the Lizard does come into play, his motivations are underplayed, his delivery too camp (and slightly too Raimi-era Green Goblin-esque) and his appearance too fantastical. The tone doesn’t sit flush with what’s come before, and it’s hard not to wish Webb had gone with a different villain. There’s plenty to choose from, after all.

Meanwhile, more script problems hinder the film’s coherency. Plot points feel underdeveloped; a final scene involving New York’s Joe Public assisting Spidey would have had much more impact had we had any inclination that they had had any prior resentment towards the friendly neighbourhood hero. Without any avenue to show this, however (J Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle are conspicuously absent, aside from a cameo from the paper, with Parker taking photos for... his bedroom wall?) the only person we really see lamenting the existence of Spider-Man is Gwen’s father, Police Captain George Stacy.

But a few flaws with the film’s second act aside, the first half and tone of The Amazing Spider-Man might well be enough to justify its existence, and just what this critic (and perhaps audiences alike) needed in this post-Avengers world. So that’s two of three major superhero blockbusters this summer, and both have succeeded – if for different reasons – though neither have attained close to perfection. The final of the three seemed the only one likely to in the first place, though... and it’s only a week or so till we find out either way.

✰✰✰

Dir: Marc Webb
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Columbia Pictures, 136 mins, 03/07/12

SynopsisSpider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can... all over again. We're back to square one with Marvel's most popular superhero franchise, in the second of the summer's trio of super-blockbusters, as the experiments of a scientific acquaintance of the young Peter Parker get slightly out of hand...

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Rock of Ages [Review]

Rock of Ages has transparent characters, a tired plot, and features the vocal talents of (among others) Tom Cruise, Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin. Why, then, is it so damn enjoyable?

In fact, bar February’s The Muppets, this is quite possibly the most fun I’ve had at the cinema all year. Partly it’s down to the setting: 80s Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and everything that comes with it. Think ballsy rock ballads, denim jackets, perms, and plenty of our old friend Mr. Jack Daniel.

It isn’t for everyone, of course. If you growl, squeal or squirm in an uncomfortable manner at the very mention of the likes of Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Poison et al, then chances are this won’t be up your street. Indeed, aside from an often-enough-hilarious script, it’s purely the distracting musical numbers that’ll draw your attention away from those niggles I mentioned earlier.

Rock of Ages, based on the West End musical of the same name, is at heart a love story – or rather, three parallel love stories. Two of these are mere secondary plot points; on one hand we have rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise) and a Rolling Stone journalist rolling around on a pool table, and an unlikely romance brewing between two characters that I feel it would be a crime to spoil.

At the forefront are the youngest - our two leads, Sherrie (Julianne Hough) and Drew (Diego Boneta); innocent, naive and making all the wrong choices. She’s just turned up from Oklahoma with stars in her eyes; he’s a struggling musician working in a bar. Yep, you’ve seen it a thousand times before. Tack on some sidetracking stuff about ‘the man’ trying to shut down the Strip while the film’s main hangout, The Bourbon, struggles with financial woes and it’s like we’re really back in the 80s. Probably.

Anyway, where the plot lacks surprises, the rest of the film packs them in by the barrelful. Mainly in the form of how bloody good everyone seems to be at singing. Maybe it’s slightly autotuned. Who can say? Either way, at least everyone seems to have plenty of fun – not least Mr. Cruise, who once again shows how balls-to-the-wall weird he can be (see Tropic Thunder for more), playing what is essentially a screen representation of Axl Rose. Either way, he understands that this kind of movie should be fun, and, along with Brand and Baldwin, provides the most laughs - it's cheesy, but it's supposed to be.

Hough and Boneta are bland but prototypical of the kind of memorably mediocre glam rock songs that fill the slightly-too-long 123 minute runtime. I say mediocre – how much fun you have with this movie will depend entirely on how much fun you have with the songs. It’s karaoke on the silver screen, so if you can relate – be it from a drunken Christmas party or one too many nights playing Singstar – then it’ll certainly fall on better ears. But give it a shot anyway - you never know how much fun you might have. Just don't stop believing...

✰✰✰

Dir: Adam Shankman
Cast: Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin
New Line Cinema, 123 mins, 13/06/12

Synopsis: It's the 1980s, and the modern American Dream is very different to what it once was: now it means Hollywood, fortune, fame... and rock n' roll. Sherrie Christian (Hough) travels to the Sunset Strip in search of stardom, but life in the big city isn't what she expects...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheories (Spoiler Alert!)

After watching Prometheus for the second time, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what could possibly have come before the film (prequel to the prequel, perhaps?). Take these with a grain of salt, as they’re the result of a few conversations on a bus ride home, but also beware: they’re chock full of spoilers. For a spoiler-free review, see this link...


So as it turns out, the past is a lot more interesting than the future. Where will Dr Elizabeth Shaw and David’s head go from here? The ending of Prometheus made it pretty obvious. They’re off to the Engineer homeworld. Or, as one film blogger (known by the Twitter handle FilmFan1971) speculated, perhaps we’ll see a sitcom launched to the tune of Pinky and the Brain, which sees the duo having all sorts of wacky adventures around the galaxy.

But in all seriousness, it’s pretty clear-cut where Rapace and Fassbender are most likely headed. What’s less clear-cut, and thus far more intriguing, is what exactly happened to lead up to the events of Prometheus. Who are the Engineers? Why did they create the human race, only to U-turn on the whole situation and suddenly try to destroy us? And what exactly happened on LV-223?

From a little bit of deduction and a lot of guesswork, here’s what I think happened. Don’t take my word for it, but do let me know whether you agree or disagree. Could be that I’ve missed some major plot point, or there’s a gaping hole in my theories. So do let me know if you spot anything like that.

So, first and foremost, the Engineers created humanity. I believe this is what we are seeing at the very start of Prometheus. The planet quite clearly bears no similarity to that which we see later: so is it Earth? And are we witnessing an Engineer’s DNA mutating into the very first forms of life on Earth (which is to say, bacteria that will evolve into humanity, ala Darwinism)?

Anyway, the fact that the Engineers created humanity is pretty much set in stone from the DNA match. If that particular plot point turns out to be a red herring, it would eradicate any consequence of the events of Prometheus, so I can’t see that happening. But why did exactly did the Engineers create us? I can think of two reasons: first, as an experiment. As Dr Holloway remarks to David on the robot’s creation – because they could. From the holographic images seen in the main room of the Engineer spaceship, it might be inferred that not only did the Engineers create humanity, but also our entire solar system. Perhaps, then, the Engineers saw themselves as Gods?

However, a (somewhat more far-fetched) theory could be that the Engineers created humanity as a weapon. Picture it: they’re embroiled in some sort of galactic war. And these guys don’t seem to carry guns; when the last living Engineer goes berserk at the end of Prometheus, he’s defeated by that giant Facehugger. Why? Because he’s got sod all to defend himself with. So maybe the Engineers created humanity as a slave race to act as their army. Of course, for this to prove true, billions of years of evolution would have to happen in just a few years – but maybe there’s some kind of timey-wimey loophole, what with the distance between Earth and LV-223? (I don’t pretend to understand the science of it all.)


But anyway, for whatever reason, the Engineers did indeed create the humans. But then they wanted them dead. As Dr Shaw notes, this begs the question: why? My best guess is that they became so despaired with humans forever warring and blowing each other up that they realised their ‘experiment’ (see previous theory) had failed. So they brewed a strange black liquid, which is supposedly intended to have the effect that it had when Dr Holloway consumed it. Presumably, the Engineers were perhaps intending to poison the Earth’s water supply with the black liquid (again, they don’t seem to carry weapons, so this would make a suitable alternative), but the Facehuggers and Xenomorphs were an unseen side effect. Maybe from the conditions of the storage facility in which the vases were kept, which, as seen in Prometheus, was perfectly breathable and capable of supporting life.

Of course, the alternative theory here is one suggested by director Ridley Scott himself in the early days of the original script – “were the aliens designed as a form of biological warfare? Or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?” This fits nicely into the reasons for the creation of the Xenomorphs (so in this instance they were not a side effect, but the intended effect, of the black liquid – though this doesn’t explain the infection of Charlie Holloway).

As Fifield and Milburn note when they find a pile of Engineer carcasses, one of the bodies has a hole in its chest. This points to the Facehuggers doing their chestbursty thingy and turning into Xenomorphs, and then presumably eradicating the Engineers (at several points in the film we are told that whatever weapon of mass destruction the Engineers were creating, it must have at some point turned on them). So that’s the story of the Engineers over. They came to this planet to, as the Captain says, install a military outfit, but were then wiped out. Perhaps more of them exist on another planet. We’ll have to wait for Prometheus II (or whatever it will be called, what with the Prometheus having kamikazed into the Engineer ship) for that.


Which brings us to the start of Prometheus. The Engineers (at least those on LV-223) are wiped out, the Facehuggers are squirming around and, come the film’s conclusion, we see a Xenomorph. The only thing left to explain, then, is the dozens of different alien types we see. Where in Alien things were slightly more clear-cut, with simply the Facehuggers using a human host to give birth to the Xenomorphs, here we have all sorts of alien lifeforms doing all sorts of things. So how does it link up?

From my second viewing of Prometheus, I think I’ve managed to establish the evolutionary chain of the Xenomorphs. Unless I’m much mistaken (which I could easily be), it’s something along the lines of this...

  1. ENGINEERS create BLACK LIQUID
  2. BLACK LIQUID gives birth to FACEHUGGERS
  3. INFANT FACEHUGGERS grow into LARGE FACEHUGGERS
  4. LARGE FACEHUGGERS use human (or Engineer) host to give birth to XENOMORPH
The last part of that should sound familiar. This is all basic stuff. But there’s a few plot holes that need explaining. Millburn was clearly killed by a Facehugger: so why didn’t anything burst out of his chest? That one could easily be explained by the Facehugger being seemingly not fully developed (at least in comparison to the one seen at the film’s close, disregarding the size of the one in Alien) – and thus couldn’t produce a Xenomorph. More difficult to explain is the whole impregnation thing. And this is where I’m a bit stuck. Perhaps the chain above could be spliced to include an offshoot, whereby if an infected host (who has consumed the black liquid) consummates with another then thus results the huge bastard Facehugger we saw at the end of Prometheus.

Honestly though, that one’s stumped me - as has how a reanimated Fifield came back to attack the ship, or indeed any explanation of the star map being found across various ancient civilizations. Perhaps the Engineers periodically visited their creation (that being Earth) to make sure everything was running smoothly? (In which case it would be safe to assume that something wasn’t running smoothly the last time they visited.)

This could easily be a lot of hokum (do people still say that?). Some of it may not make sense. Leave me a comment if you agree/disagree with anything I’ve said, though. I’d love to hear any other theories. Unless you think I need to step away from the laptop and go outside for a while...

Prometheus [Review]

If you are reading this review, chances are you may not have yet seen Prometheus. If this is the case, allow me to offer you one piece of advice that should come before any other judgements I make of the film’s calibre: to heed Ridley Scott’s adamant stance that the film merely shares ‘strands of Alien DNA’. This is not Alien. This is not a remake, nor a reboot.

Is it a prequel? That depends on your point of view. I feel the answer would perhaps give away too much, so I’ll leave that to you to decide. Certainly, links are abundant between the two – but do not expect, therefore, to go into the cinema to watch Alien with a different cast. I say again: this is not Alien. Having skimmed several reviews already published, the most definitive conclusion I can garner from the majority is that they were disappointed that, yep, it wasn’t Alien. Skewed expectations will only lead to disappointment, dear readers, so before I continue with this review, I must stress that you should put aside any instinct to instantly compare Prometheus with its forecursor.

I use the term forecursor (one which I may or may not have made up) as there are, admittedly, multiple indications which would point to this being an obvious prequel right from the off - Ridley Scott’s return to his cinematic universe rewinds things by around 35 years, and strikes key parallels with his 1979 classic: here leading lady Noomi Rapace takes a 17-strong crew aboard the ship Prometheus (this won’t exactly be winning any ‘most original film title’ awards anytime soon, but then again neither would Alien) to a world of menace, thrills, mystery and, yes, horror. Sound familiar?

But, again, don’t let that taint your expectations. Let’s say you go in blind, having never seen Alien. You’d be better placed for watching this one. Can’t/don’t want to unsee the marvellously tense masterpiece that was Ridley Scott’s second foray into filmmaking? Just pretend this is a different director, different universe; different everything. If you’re simply looking for answers to the questions raised by Alien, you won’t find them all here: Prometheus does more to add to the mystery than solve it, but a touch of ambiguity isn’t amiss. Not everything needs a clear cut answer.


Which is, predictably, a theme you’d expect with such colossal questions asked as those in Prometheus. Rapace plays Dr Elizabeth Shaw, who’s managed to persuade wealthy investor Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to send her and a crew to a distant planet, in order to meet the ‘engineers’ of the human race – our creators, if you will. Of course, what she finds isn’t what she expects – to a certain degree – and things quickly turn catastrophic.

Visually, Prometheus is breathtaking. Even the 3D works: in particular, the majestic opening vistas and a storm spring to mind. As sci-fi, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking; the world is immersive, the tropes of the genre present but meticulous and smart – even if they do boil down to purely prototypical characters (here’s looking at you, Idris Elba) – and has the prerequisite touch of comedy (though Rafe Spall’s presence pushes it slightly too far). Rapace is thrust eagerly into the limelight as leading lady, and she does a wonderful job (with a sterling Brit accent), though Michael Fassbender steals it as bot David - not only from his masterful capabilities in the role, but from his character perhaps being the film's most complex (and intriguing). David's motives are not clear-cut, though could maybe boil down to curiosity; at any rate, his actions provide a few well-devised twists and turns in the screenplay.

More exemplified in Prometheus than its similarities with Alien are its differences. Where Alien was claustrophobic and cramped, Prometheus breathes in the majesty of its open spaces. Everything from the cavernous ruins of the planet which the crew have slept in cryo stasis for two years to reach, to the hallways of the very ship on which they travel, feels much more open than Ridley Scott's other cinematic venture in the Alien universe. Indeed, where Alien is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction (as described by Scott himself), Prometheus is, at heart, a true sci-fi: incurring vast landscapes, religious themes and advanced technology.


Sadly, the one particular jarring point of Prometheus is that it probably wouldn’t know how to answer itself even if it wanted to. With a 124 minute runtime, this is perfect blockbuster length: but an extra twenty minutes might have actually benefited this one. Prometheus’ plot strands are numerous, as are the characters, and thus we’re given barely any time to absorb it all. Case in point with the latter example; it’s no spoiler to tell you that a few of them along the way are going to cork it, but when they do we have little sympathy. Of the 17-strong crew, we’ll come to know maybe six or seven at best. The rest are faceless cannon fodder: something a film like this can easily do without.

All through the first 90 minutes, I could only help but feel a terrible sense of dread that the film’s conclusion could not possibly live up to or deliver on the grand themes laid out by its first two acts. And indeed, the third act pretty much leaves things back at square one, with very few answers. Prometheus’ problem is that it raises too many questions to possibly answer; instead of being self-contained, it’s opened more doors than it could possibly hope to close in one film, and as such we’re left wanting more. We don’t need all the answers, but Prometheus barely gives us any.

So where next? The aforementioned world of menace, thrills, mystery and horror of Prometheus is not the same as that visited in Alien – so in any case this is not a direct prequel, however you interpret it; instead, perhaps it’s better to think of this as The Phantom Menace to A New Hope, and so Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are still needed to fill in the gaps. Which is to say, Prometheus II and III. And personally, I can’t wait.

✰✰✰✰

Dir: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, Rafe Spall, Idris Elba
20th Century Fox, 124 mins, 01/06/12

Synopsis: The year is 2093. A pair of scientists have discovered a link between ancient civilizations that leads to a certain point in space: a moon by the name of LV-223, where Dr Elizabeth Shaw and her colleague hope to find the secrets to the beginnings of life on Earth...

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hobo With A Shotgun [Review]

Timeliness is out of the window tonight, ladies and gentleman: with a film now over a year old up for scrutinisation. But when that film is rollicking grindhouse brawl Hobo With A Shotgun, I expect timeliness is the last thing on people’s minds.

Rutger Hauer is the man behind the beard. You might remember him from such films as Blade Runner, Sin City and, um, Goal II: Living the Dream. Anyway, he’s acted in approximately 138 films (according to IMDB), so chances are you may have seen him in something. Suffice to say, he’s  a bloody good actor. And he doesn’t let up in Hobo With A Shotgun; a film which, you may have realised by now, does exactly as it says on the tin.

Hauer, the unnamed titular hobo hero, rolls into ‘Scum’ Town on a train and is soon bestowed with a show, courtesy of local crime kingpin Drake and his villainous sons. Within minutes both Hauer and the audience (both on and offscreen) have played witness to a decapitation. We soon move onto broken arms, shattered feet, hellish funfairs and torched buses. The violence doesn’t let up: and when our friendly neighbourhood hobo finds himself in the middle of a pawn shop robbery, he decides to take action into his own hands. His bare, merciless, shotgun-wielding hands.

Of course, there’s a bit more motivation to clean the streets than that everyone in Scum Town is a colossal fuckface. Hauer befriends a local lady of the night, Abby, in scenes reminiscent of Scorsese’s great Taxi Driver. In fact, just imagine Hauer as Travis Bickle turned up to eleven: if De Niro’s unhinged driver had indeed laid down his wrath upon more than just a few pimps in a whorehouse. Hobo With A Shotgun has a subtext, if you care to read that far into it, much in the same vein as Taxi Driver. But where the latter was a masterpiece of subtlety and character, Hobo With A Shotgun is... well, a hobo with a shotgun. Need I say more?

Indeed, the definition of grindhouse, this violent brawl through a suburban hellhole is bloody, grotesque and yet sickeningly moreish. Partly due to the cinematography – rather than a dull, murky world for Mr. Hobo to shoot the living crap out of, every colour pops with as much vividity as, well, the head of one poor victim who finds himself between two oncoming bumper cars at the funfair (I warned you it was hellish). Because yes, the villains in this really are villains (“when life gives you razor blades, make a baseball bat. And stick razor blades in it”). And don’t expect a hero to come jumping in at the last minute every time...

Brazen, ghastly and downright hilarious (one newspaper headline reads “HOBO GIVES UP BEGGING, DEMANDS CHANGE”), Hobo With A Shotgun was my introduction to the world of grindhouse. And I think I shall need none further. Take it with a pinch of salt, as it does itself, and you will be entertained. That’s a Cryteria guarantee.

✰✰✰✰

Dir: Jason Eisener
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth
Whizbang Films, 86 mins, 15/07/11

Synopsis: A hobo rolls into town and decides to clean up the place. With none other than our good old friend, Mr. Shotgun...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Casa de mi Padre [Review]

Casa de mi Padre is pretty much one of the strangest films you will ever see. The plot is weird, the characters are weird, the sex scene is balls-to-the-wall (though thankfully not balls-to-the-camera) batshit weird. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s that one scene where a coyote, a lion and two Bengal tigers fight it out. Yep. That happens. Probably.

Matt Piedmont’s first cinematic release (following a handful of TV efforts), which is entirely in Spanish and therefore subtitled, by the way, depicts a pair of Mexican ranch-dwelling brothers, one half of whom has become embroiled in the world of drug-trafficking. The other half is Will Ferrell, looking completely out of place but sounding completely in place, and generally being himself. But Spanish.

Raul Álvarez (Diego Luna) is the drug-embroiled one, and he’s brought home apparently the only woman in Mexico, Sonia Lopez (Genesis Rodriguez). Which explains why everyone else seems to want her. Either way, she’s trouble for Raul, she’s trouble for Armando (Ferrell), and trouble for pretty much their entire way of life. So, this is a film about trouble in Mexico. There’s guns, there’s horses, there’s a ranch, and there’s corrupt American cops. The whole shebang.

Sadly, it never quite gels together. It’s labelled as a comedy – the tagline being ‘the funniest film you’ll ever read’ – but you wouldn’t know it otherwise. There’s the odd few laughs here and there, but only mingled among talking wildcats, seriously WTF? dream sequences (though further reading indicates these are apparently replete with Will Ferrell’s films, unbeknownst to me) and a very loose plot.

Indeed, the main problem with Casa de mi Padre is its complete lack of direction. It just about hangs together for its 84 minute runtime (though even that ends up feeling bloated), but ultimately lacks focus, and we’re left wondering: who the hell is this film for? Is it an unfunny comedy? Is it a terrible spoof on Mexican-based westerns? Is it simply the result of Piedmont and Ferrell getting high one afternoon and writing something resembling a script?

Although if it was the latter, it would probably have had more laughs than this. Worth a watch, perhaps, but one that might have been better condensed into a short or skit.

✰✰

Dir: Matt Piedmont
Cast: Will Ferrell, Diego Luna, Genesis Rodriguez, Gael García Bernal
NALA Films, 84 mins, 08/06/12

Synopsis: Two brothers find themselves in an all-out war with one of Mexico's most fearsome drug lords in an attempt to save their father's ranch. And the heart of the damsel in distress, of course...

Monday, 30 April 2012

Avengers Assemble [Review]

This is it, then. The big one. Or at least, the big superhero one. Joss Whedon has assembled the greatest Marvel superheroes of the silver screen and I'm happy to tell you that it doesn't disappoint... too much.

Since 2008, the various post-credits sequences and Nick Fury guest appearances in the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor have all been leading up to one climactic moment: this film, Avengers Assemble. Marvel's cinematic universe has, for all intents and purposes, been one huge setup to this final showdown, though of course it will continue from here with next year's Iron Man 3 (and talks of sequels to Thor and even Avengers itself already happening).

The film opens with its MacGuffin: the Tesseract (or Cosmic Cube) introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger, just as it all goes a bit haywire. An opening skirmish later and it's up to Director Fury to call on Earth's Mightiest Heroes to save the day from an alien invasion.

So things get a bit sci-fi here too, though that's no bad thing (and is arguably what Whedon does best). Loki, antagonist of last year's excellent Thor, returns as the primary villain here, though this time he's brought an army with him. I won't spoil the identity of said army - Marvel seem to have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep it hidden - but unless you're a die-hard comic book fan, you probably won't have any idea who they are anyway. Which is disappointing really, considering the secrecy surrounding them - and in the end they're a bit throwaway in this one, but make sure you stay till after the credits to find out why they're really important.

Whedon's biggest achievement is the amount of screen time each protagonist gets. It's all handled perfectly: no one gets left out, but it also doesn't turn into, say, Iron Man 2.5. Even Black Widow and Hawkeye, neither of which have had their own film to introduce them, get plenty to do, and Nick Fury finally gets his chance to shine. Of course, as we've already been introduced to the rest, and most recently Thor, Cap and Iron Man, there's very little character development. In fact, it's only really Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner (that's Black Widow and Hulk to you and me) who get any copious amounts of time to shine in the development front. But they're the only ones who really need it.


My major quarrel with the characters of Avengers Assemble is with the villains. As I've said, the alien race is a tad throwaway (and Whedon never really gives us a close look at them anyway), but I have more of an issue with Loki. As anyone who's seen Thor will know, he does have a few family issues - mainly that he was adopted into a family of an enemy race to his own - but in Avengers Assemble, his character strays a little too far towards pantomime levels. Particularly when Hulk, er, 'interrupts' one of his speeches atop Stark tower. Tom Hiddleston does wonders with what he's given, but Whedon has made the character a little too whiny for my tastes. Perhaps that's how he comes across in the comics, but to me he was a lot more badass - in Thor at least.

Anyway, the plot is nothing special, with Loki threatening to take over the world (etcetera etcetera), though it's essentially split into two halves: the first being the assembling the title refers to, and the second being a lot of fighting. Which is what this film boils down to really: a lot of 1-on-1 skirmishes. Iron Man v Thor, Captain America v Loki, Thor v Loki, Black Widow v Hawkeye. At times it feels like Whedon's just tried to cram as many possible setups in as he can, but I'm very pleased to say that not once did my initial fears about this film come true: that is to say, it didn't dissolve into a painful exercise in the Avengers learning to work as a team.

The main problem with all the fighting, particularly when the alien army finally descends to earth, is that it seems all too easy for our heroes. Seemingly there are no weaknesses here; we get a good twenty or thirty minutes of battle scenes, but nothing that ever troubles the Avengers. Even the huge scaly space-worm you might have seen in the trailers has a rather, shall we say, disappointing impact. The action is still good, and still scripted perfectly - as with the rest of the film - but it seems a little pointless in the end, and to that extent any sense of danger or threat the antagonists present is somewhat diminished.


To that end, Avengers Assemble is more about its characters, be it Jeremy Renner's decidedly suave Hawkeye or the out-of-his-depth Steve Rogers (aka Captain America). Mark Ruffalo brings something new to the Hulk in its third cinematic iteration, following Eric Bana and Ed Norton, easing himself into the role with a calm, collected and humorous take on Dr Banner and 'the other guy'. Which is a trio of adjectives one might never expect to hear associated with the Hulk, but trust me when I say it all just works. And let's not forget Scarlett Johansson, propelled to the forefront of the Avengers lineup with Whedon's love for female protagonists. Good thing too, 'cause she's bloody excellent.

I came out of this film awed and amazed, and wanting to suddenly watch every Avengers-related film past and present, animated or not (feel free to let me know whether this is a good or bad idea). But while writing this review I've come to realise it does have its flaws, as the sizeable portion dedicated to them above clearly shows. But don't let that put you off seeing it: with one of the greatest scripts of the century, unrelenting and entertaining (if slightly hollow) action, and superb direction from the master fanboy that is Joss Whedon, Avengers Assemble has set the bar for 2012's superhero showdown surprisingly high.

✰✰✰✰

Dir: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston
Marvel Studios, 142 mins, 26/04/12

Synopsis: Loki returns to Earth with a vengeance. And an alien army. So it's up to Nick Fury to assemble the greatest team of superheroes the world has never seen...

The Wicker Tree [Review]

Originally, The Wicker Tree was to be called Cowboys for Christ - the name of the novel on which it is based - but studio execs pressured the filmmakers into renaming it. Presumably to target an existing fan base and cash in on the cult following The Wicker Man has attained since its release in 1973. So now, 39 years later, here we are: a film never destined to have more than an alliance of themes with The Wicker Man becomes a fully-fledged sequel. Or a sequel-cum-remake, if you will.

But if you are indeed one of the many people who so enjoyed The Wicker Man, in whichever of its many cuts and director's cuts, you would do well to steer clear of The Wicker Tree - unless you remember that the film was never intended to have such an outright link to the original. Indeed, if you can abandon all connections between the two films, The Wicker Tree on its own is, at the very least, passable.

The Wicker Tree deals with religious overtones, comedic undertones and horrific inbetweentones, as we join Steve Thompson (Henry Garrett) and Beth Boothby (Brittania Nicol), two young Americans on a missionary trip to, um, Scotland. There they encounter a village with alternating views to their own, which has not born fruit (so to speak) in a long time - and decides that the only way to counter this is with a human sacrifice. Sound familiar? There are more than a few parallels with The Wicker Man's plot here: hence the sequel-cum-remake branding. But the similarities end there.

Though I confess it surprised me to learn that Robin Hardy himself considers The Wicker Man a black comedy - maybe I was just reading the film wrong - that tone is much clearer with The Wicker Tree. Taking digs at the Scottish, the Americans, and pretty much anyone else who's in the film, Hardy's script is dry, but every now and then crosses the line into farce. To this end Hardy has done a fine job of destroying the atmosphere of his film, so that when things do turn serious, it has nowhere near as much impact as intended.

Indeed, it's due in part to how little time is left when things finally do turn serious that The Wicker Tree's impact is lost. A climactic hilltop scene concerning the film's title feels rushed and gives its characters no room to breathe, while the final shot is predictable at best. All hope is not lost, though: the main cast are convincing and give strong character to their roles; particularly a stirring turn from Graham McTavish as baddie Sir Lachlan Morrison. Sadly, Christopher Lee's role is reduced to a cameo due to injury while filming, and, if you were hoping to see a brief glimpse of an aged Lord Summerisle, you may well be disappointed. 

Aside from a few nods in terms of its themes and plot, The Wicker Tree bears little similarity to its predecessor. It's a good laugh, but leaves little lasting impact - where The Wicker Man will stay in the consciousness of anyone who has seen it, The Wicker Tree is forgettable at best. Fans of the original should therefore forget any connections to The Wicker Man before viewing, or else steer clear entirely: a much safer option.
 
The final instalment of the Wicker Man Trilogy (which, like The Wicker Tree, is only intended to share similar themes with the original) is to be called The Wrath of the Gods. The studio execs should bear the example of The Wicker Tree in mind: perhaps if this had still been called Cowboys for Christ it would have gained a few more favourable reviews. As is, it looks like the studios have sacrificed this one.
 
✰✰

Dir: Robin Hardy
Cast: Henry Garrett, Brittania Nicol, Graham McTavish, Christopher Lee, Clive Russell, Christopher Lee
British Lion Films, 96 mins, (DVD) 30/04/12

Synopsis: Two young Americans travel to Scotland to preach the word of Jesus. But soon they find themselves embroiled in a world of paganism and sacrificial rituals, with seemingly no escape...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Film of the Month #1: Avengers Assemble


Welcome, one and all, to Cryteria's first ever Film of the Month feature! Here entails info, trailers, predictions and more on what I think will be the greatest cinematic event of the month.

What's that, you say? This accolade would make more sense at the end of the month, when the best film can be judged fairly after watching all on offer? Well, that would a) impede on my annual 'Best of' lists and b) be a fruitless endeavour, as reading my reviews will tell you the best one anyway.

No, this column focuses more on predictions, trailers, and what is to come. And right now, it's April. So, kicking things off is, of course, Marvel's highly anticipated Avengers Assemble (let's ignore the dubious retitling for now), due in cinemas April 26th.


There's not much I can say that you won't already know about this film: it is, of course, almost every Marvel superhero of the past five years crammed into one big blockbusting flick. This should point to only good things; i.e. two hours of explosions, fighting, flying, Hulking and more explosions.

Yep, lots and lots of these. Yay!
But though Avengers Assemble may have bagged my first ever (highly acclaimed) Film of the Month trophy,  it is not without hesitancy - as I do have a couple of worries about it, which I'll address... right now.

WORRY THE FIRST: With so many protagonists - the Avengers team alone has six main members (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Hulk), let alone Nick Fury, Loki et al - how will director Joss Whedon cope?

It's all well and good saying he managed it with acclaimed TV series Firefly - that was, after all, a TV series, and gave plenty of time for characters to shine. Here there's only two hours (or so) to work with - so will Whedon be able to avoid turning Avengers Assemble into, say, Iron Man 2.5?

WORRY THE SECOND: This is my main issue with the concept: the team are coming together for the first time (and there's been hints in the trailers of the problem I'm about to address), so, heaven forbid, are we going to have to sit through an hour of the heroes overcoming their egos and learning to work as team?

Personally, I can't think of anything more excruciating.

So now you see why I'm hesitant. The main UK press screening for this happened last week, and though I was out of town and couldn't attend myself, I've heard good things. I'm hoping a tight script by Whedon will be able to hold things together, even if the two above issues do arise.

It'd be silly of me to ask if people were excited for this one - of course you all are. Or most of you. And with good reason, else this wouldn't be first ever Film of the Month: minor niggles aside, I'm very excited to see it.

But a far more pertinent question (and one that's likely to garner more interesting answers) is: do you think Marvel's Avengers Assemble will live up to the hype? Or will the two issues I've raised, or anything else, cause it to fall flat on its face? Let me know in the comments. You can see the final theatrical trailer for Avengers Assemble below.



Monday, 2 April 2012

Dismay! The Woman In Black Sequel Announced


Hammer Studios today announced a sequel to 2012 hit The Woman in Black, a film based on a book which didn't in itself have a sequel. Why? Because it didn't need one. And neither does the film.

You can read my full review to see precisely what was wrong with James Watkins' The Woman in Black (and what was right with it - I did enjoy it to an extent), but allow me to sum it up for you anyway.

As a film, it has its strengths - but falls a bit flat as a horror. Dan Radcliffe is good when he isn't speaking (a trait which he's carried over from the Potter films), but it leaves little to the imagination on a whole. The book did a much better job of building tension (and on that note, Watkins' adaptation is definitely not one for purists).

But no matter how good or bad the film was, a sequel is most certainly the last thing it needs. There was nothing more needed to be said - the tale was told; done and dusted.

Once again, money presides over artistic vision. The original has now grossed more than $120 million worldwide, becoming the highest grossing British horror film of the past 20 years - the sure motivation for the written-for-screen sequel.

Titled The Woman in Black: Angels of Death, the film will be set 40 years after the original, and focus on a couple staying in the eerie Eel Marsh House. With that in mind, it's unlikely that Radcliffe will return when the film is released, which is likely to be in the next two years.

Original author Susan Hill is said to be working with Hammer on the screenplay, though even then I'm dubious. What more tale is there to tell? The sense of mystery from the first film will surely be lost... and perhaps an audience too.

Source: Cine-Vue

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Interview with a filmmaker: Chas Whatmore

The 2012 First Light Awards, held at the British Film Institute on London’s Southbank on March 5th, celebrated the innovative talent of up and coming filmmakers in the UK - some as young as eight. I attended the ceremony for Top10Films.co.uk, interviewing the winners and presenters with the rest of the press.

The winner of Best Film by Under-11s, Granny Mac’s Meringues, was produced by 66 youngsters from Burntisland Primary School in Scotland. I caught up with Chas Whatmore, a filmmaker who helped the children to complete their award-winning film, after the event, for a more in-depth interview.

Chas, who has been making films for over five years, graduated from Abertay University in Computer Arts in 2008 and has since worked on documentaries, dramas and conference films. He completed a Masters Degree in Electronic Imaging in 2010, while working alongside his mother, Liz Whatmore, for the past four years. The mother-son duo helped the children of Burntisland create Granny Mac’s Meringues, which tells the tale of a milliner mixing up a cake box and a hat box just before the Royal Wedding, with disastrously hilarious results.

I spoke to Chas about the filmmaking process and how he came to be involved with First Light. You can read the interview below, and find my full write-up of the ceremony, including interviews with Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean, Skyfall), John Boyega (Attack the Block) and Ralf Little (The Royle Family), at Top10Films.co.uk.

How does it feel to have won this prestigious award?

We are all thrilled to have won. It’s the third time lucky for Liz, but it’s so good for the kids’ confidence.

How did you get involved with First Light?

Liz made her first film with First Light in 2004, titled Un Mystere dans le Jardin, which was shortlisted for Best Under-12s. We were looking for funding, and a local media centre in Glenrothes suggested First Light.

Who or what inspired you to create this film?

A class project on the environment sparked ideas, which developed and morphed into Granny Mac’s Meringues.

How did you find the filmmaking process?

The filmmaking process is always exciting, especially with children; from developing the initial idea to the creation of characters with personalities and everything between. Working with children is never a dull moment! We were getting the kids to develop their skills, from storyboarding to voiceovers, via animation. It was a great team-building tool!

Where do you see yourself in future?

As Liz is nearing retirement, she is trying to inspire others to take up the baton. She would love to be involved with another project along similar lines.

So will you go on to create more projects with the kids?

Funding is the main issue. First Light have only just secured some funding for this year, which is a bit late for this year’s classes. The general economic gloom makes funding from other sources difficult.

How important do you think events like this are for young filmmakers in the UK?

Showcasing young folks' creative talents is wonderful for boosting their self-confidence. The First Light Awards are a great way of celebrating filmmaking by young people across the UK.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to get involved in the film industry?

Don’t give up! It’s also very important that they have facilities to express their creative talents.

Hit play below to see Granny Mac's Meringues for yourself. You can find the rest of the award-winners on the First Light website.



You can also find Chas on Twitter at @ChasWhatmore, and see more of his work at Vimeo. Photo supplied by Chas Whatmore.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Poll Results: Who's the best Bond?

Well, the results are in. It was a close call, but, according to you, the reader, the best 007 of the past 50 years is none other than… Pierce Brosnan.

While not my first choice, that’s the point of polls; to see what everyone else thinks. Good old reliable Pierce pipped Craig and Connery to the post by just one and two votes respectively, with George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton bringing up the rear with two, four and six votes of a total 48.

In all honesty, the results have been pretty predictable. The overwhelming turnout has obviously been for the more recent incarnations, as a younger film audience is more likely to have seen their efforts. Then there’s the vote for the original; the staple classic, Sean Connery.

Perhaps most surprising were the six votes for Timothy Dalton - having starred in just two films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, Dalton’s is perhaps not the face that instantly springs to mind with the classic line: “Bond. James Bond.” Perhaps it’s a testament to his legacy, then, that he managed to gain 12% of the vote off the back of two films.

Conversely, George Lazenby, who took up the 007 mantle for just a singular outing with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, drew a measly two votes - 4% of the overall turnout. So not quite the impact he’d hoped to have. Though he does have some defenders - Edward Wilkinson, 21, said: “I think it's ridiculous how underappreciated Dalton and Lazenby are. They were both a class act.”

With new Bond film Skyfall due for release towards the end of 2012, perhaps Craig can turn around the disappointment felt after Quantum of Solace and edge out a win over Brosnan in a future poll. After all, where Pierce had a good four films to establish himself in the role, Daniel’s only had two. Plenty of time left to prove himself - though, with 25% of the vote, he’s clearly gone some way towards that goal already.

Skyfall is due in cinemas on 26th October 2012. Until then, you’ve got a whole 22 Bond films to plough through. It’s Britain’s biggest spy film franchise, and it’s about to turn 50…

Photo: Pop Culture

Monday, 5 March 2012

Assassin's Creed III Trailer


As promised on Friday, Ubisoft has revealed more details about the upcoming Assassin's Creed III, including a very tasty trailer.

According to a press release from the series developers, the main protagonist is called Connor and is of British/Mohawk (Native American) descent. His full name is Ratohnaké:ton, which isn't exactly the easiest moniker to remember.

Also, we never knew Native Americans had random punctuation in the middle of their names. Probably why Ubisoft went for Connor, though we're not sure how 'typical 18th Century' that name is.

Regardless, the game is to be set in the middle of the American Revolution, as we told you last week, and has been under development for three years on an entirely new engine. As you'll see from the following trailer...



Yes, it appears we finally have an assassin who can climb trees. Oh, and the huge battles on open terrain might be slightly new, too.

The game will apparently span coloniel and frontier towns, one of which we can see in the distance at the end of the trailer. So the classic freerunning through buildings and streets will still have a place in the new game, but now it looks as if snowy forests and open landscapes will be coming into play too.

Finally Ubisoft are giving us a full sequel, and it'll definitely be a day one purchase. Make sure to follow Cryteria for all the latest news on the game and a review when it hits shelves.

Assassin's Creed III will be released on 31st October 2012 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, and Nintendo Wii U.

Source and Photo: Official PlayStation Magazine UK

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Why the Oscars are a shambles


As you’ll undoubtedly know by now, what with the internet going ablaze over the event, the 84th Academy Awards happened last week. I stayed up 'till 5am to watch, but as you’ll notice, I haven’t bothered writing a lengthy post about how fabulous the winners were and how terrible it was for the losers but how delightfully sportsmanlike they were anyway and how all the ladies looked glamorous and how Angeline Jolie’s leg made more headlines than The Artist winning five awards.

Mainly because none of that matters.

Why doesn’t it matter? Because, dear reader, the Oscars are a farce. If you know me at all, you’re perfectly entitled to bellow cries of “J’accuse!” and complain I’m just bitter that Drive didn’t win anything. Because I am. But my argument isn’t completely ungrounded. Recently I’ve been reading Mark Kermode’s latest book, entitled ‘The Good, The Bad and The Multiplex’, in which he makes some very good points on this very topic. Mr Kermode describes the Oscar nomination process as follows…

The Academy, comprised largely of Americans, decide it isn’t worth watching every film, so only watch a handful, and wait for the Golden Globes shortlist to decide the rest. The Golden Globes selection process entails, as Kermode puts it, “90-odd Pharisiac hacks [getting together] once a year to draw up a list of famous people they really want to meet and hang out with. They then proceed to invite these famous people to what is essentially their annual work knees-up, by nominating their crap films for Golden Globe awards.”

Thus, the very nomination process for the Oscars is skewed; let alone who actually wins the awards - which is another matter entirely. I find further fault with ‘Oscar season’, as it’s come to be known among cineastes and cinephiles, for its horrible banality to focus only on recently released films. While a handful of films released throughout 2011 were nominated, the majority of winners were films released towards the end of the year (or early 2012).

Take the evening’s major winner: The Artist. Premiering at Cannes in May 2011, the film saw wide cinematic release just in time for the Oscars (how convenient!), from December 2011 to February 2012 around the world. In fact, almost all the major winners at this year’s Oscars were released in the last quarter of 2011 or later in the UK (Hugo won five Oscars and was released 2nd December 2011, The Descendants took one after being released 27th January 2012, and David Fincher’s remake The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo also won a single award after a release date of 26th December 2011).

The major films of 2011 released before this period could be counted on your fingers, and those that actually won awards on one hand. For an award ceremony celebrating a year of film, the focus of the Oscars seems conveniently focused on what’s just come out recently - perhaps because the Academy do indeed have an average age of a hundred and seven, as Kermode laments, and can’t remember what they saw past last week.

Hence why I haven’t reported the Oscar winners. Aside from the fact that there’s a thousand other avenues to find out the information, and I’d simply be wasting my breath (fingers?), the very process of the ceremony doesn’t accurately reflect the state of modern cinema. And what use is a film awards ceremony that doesn’t care about film?

Photo: Babble

Friday, 2 March 2012

Assassin's Creed III News Round-Up


If you're a fan of the series, you've probably heard some or all of yesterday's announcements surrounding the new Assassin's Creed game. But, for those who haven't, and to collate all the details in one place, here's a round-up of everything we know about Assassin's Creed III.

There's a new protagonist - and a new location.


With the stories of prior protagonists Ezio and Altair all wrapped up in one neat little package dubbed Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the path is set for a new face, and a new locale for him to zip about in.  Ubisoft, rather surprisingly, have gone for the American Revolution. As for that face: we know nothing yet, apart from what we can insinuate from the above shot. For instance, his garb, clearly evolved from the robes of Ezio and Altair, hint at Native American origins - so maybe Chris Columbus was a Templar (though this would probably cause riots from our Stateside compadres)?

There's a whole host of new weapons.


As we're a fair few years on from the previous games, the weaponry available to our stabby hero has obviously evolved. From the boxart above, it looks like a small, handheld axe might be replacing the hidden blades - while initially seeming a backwards step, as it's a bit harder to conceal an entire axe, it's certainly more suited to the time period. The character also comes equipped with a Native American bow and arrow; a weapon likely to replace the crossbow of previous efforts, but one that needs a much longer range to be effective. Maybe we'll be seeing more open landscapes? The location certainly lends itself well to that sort of Red Dead Redemption-esque setting.

It's also obvious that while this is one of the last historical periods to place emphasis on bladed weaponry, the use of gunpowder is a lot more widespread by now. Case in point: the gun wielded by both pro- and antagonist in the above shots. Ezio had a primitive gun courtesy of Leonardo Da Vinci, so it's not a completely new prospect for the series.

It's been three years in the making.

"We will push the title a lot, because it's a fantastic product that the team has been working on for three years," said Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot. "What we have seen is just fabulous."

You won't be waiting too long for it.

Assassin's Creed III is due for release on 30th October 2012.

And there's still more to come...

Ubisoft are expected to announce full details of the game at 5pm on Monday, 5th March 2012.

Source: T3/The Guardian