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, 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