Monday, 20 June 2011

Green Lantern - Dir. Martin Campbell

“In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight…” Unless you’re a comic-book aficionado, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to finish the Green Lantern oath off through simple guesswork, but Martin Campbell’s film is structured in such way to appeal to both comic-fans and comic-newbies alike. The cinematic adaptation of the DC comic-book Green Lantern follows a member of the Green Lantern Corps, everyman Hal Jordan goes from being a test-pilot, to a universal peace-keeper, while having to juggle the conventional girl in between. It is a fun and easy-to-enjoy comic-book movie, neither Campbell nor Reynolds take the film too seriously and it will no doubt be appreciated well by children across the globe, but it’s fun, free loving spirit can’t save the film from having an absolutely dire script an un-even pacing during the second-act which in turn drags the comic-to-film property from decent fanfare to adequate beginnings.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a first-rate test-pilot who never seems to be able to live up to not only his own potential, but others expectations of him as well. Battling the various demons associated with his past, he coasts through life and his job to the displeasure of many including his female co-pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), and that is until the Green Lantern member Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) crash-lands on Earth and chooses Hal as his successor. Abin Sur is a member of an inter-galactic peacekeeping authority called the Green Lantern Corps, with over 3,600 members, the group promises to protect all life-forms in the entire universe(s) against evil, and now Hal Jordan has been chosen as humanity’s first member. Armed with a ring, a green lantern, and almost infinite power which is driven through the strength of its participants will-power, Hal must join the Green Lantern Corps and prove himself as he battles the parasitic-entity Parallax which feeds on its opponents fear.

Despite obtaining some criticism from writers and critics about ‘Green Lanterns’ lavish and brightly coloured CGI and non-CGI sets, it does allow the film to set this planet apart from the other worlds in which other comic-books envision. Oa, where the Green Lantern Corps central base of operations is situated, is a brightly lit utopia fuelled through the will-power of thousands. It looks beautiful, as the computer generated imagery really sets the city a part from other recently envisioned comic-book realms. While the characters themselves, Sinestro (Mark Strong), Killerwog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and the Guardians of the Universe also establish themselves within the comic book universe with their unique and vibrant appearances, allowing them to drive the film’s plot along where needed, but their characters are incredibly underused, which is most likely a product of the fact that a ‘Green Lantern’ sequel is no doubt being lined up ASAP, but it is also a big drain on the film’s impact. While the CGI aliens and action heavy plot does its part to create a pretty-easy-going-popcorn-flick, the human characters and the film’s script do not.

Despite ‘Green Lanterns’ running time being a mere one hour and forty-five minutes due to the boring and drawn-out second act of the film it seems like the film lasts a lot longer in reality. While it is a Green Lantern/Hal Jordan-centric film, very little time is spent even trying to intersperse a small amount of characterisation into the human characters of the piece. Senator Hammond (Tim Robbins), Dr. Waller (Amanda Bassett) and even the film’s Earth-trapped antagonist, science teacher Henry Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), are barely allowed any time to present and develop their own motives or thoughts. This isn’t helped by the film’s exceptionally clichéd and poorly written script which fails to not only add further depth to related characters, but it also fails to provide Reynolds with enough humorous sequences to drive his comic-book persona. While ‘Green Lantern’ does work on some levels, it also fails on others, and while the film is very easy-going and enjoyable comic-book adaptation, it is also severely restricted by its slow-moving, poorly written middle segment which is then undermined further its frenetic conclusion.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Point Blank - Dir. Fred Cavaye

In 2008, Fred Cavaye’s directorial debut ‘Anything for Her,’ was both critically and commercially successful to the point that it was instantly bought up by an American production company and released within two years in 2010 under the title ‘The Next Three Days’. This year he returns with another crime-thriller, ‘Point Blank’ (‘A Bout Portant’), a fast-paced, chase-centric, Besson-esque film, which had the potential to add something new to the genre, but instead fell into the same-old, safe trap of regurgitating the old, rather than attempting something new.

Samuel Pierret (Gilles Lellouche) is happily married to his wife Nadia (Elena Anaya) who is seven and a half months pregnant, while he works in a Paris hospital and within a matter of weeks he will take his nurses exam. However, when he saves a mystery patients life (Roschdy Zem) for a brief moment he is seen as a hero until it is revealed that the patient is a wanted criminal, and Samuel’s life begins to fall apart as he told he must break the unconscious prisoner out of hospital or he will never see his wife again. With his pregnant wife kidnapped, he is framed for various crimes he did not commit and he must fight both sides of the law as he flees through Paris with only one thought on his mind; the safety of his wife and unborn child. ‘Point Blank’ is a relatively generic crime-thriller which spans a modest eighty-four minutes. The action sequences are fast, fluid and uncompromising just like the antagonists of the piece. While the main protagonist in the nurse Samuel and his hostage, the criminal gangster Sartet, play their roles perfectly, but where the film falls flat is in its failure to reward their effort.

Little attempt is made to place any depth into the various characters employed in the story, we know the basic motivations behind the main protagonists and antagonists, but nothing else is revealed beyond that. They simply become, despite the actors efforts to place some characterisation in place, caricatures of the stereotypical roles used in the majority of distinctly average crime-thrillers that are released today. Also this is a fault in tandem with the film’s running time, eighty-four minutes in length doesn’t provide enough screen-time for the audience to become accustomed, recognised and relatable to the characters on-screen nor does it allow enough time for the narrative to slowly unravel itself. Instead during the final act various motives and side-stories are bounded about with diminutive conviction and this detracts away from an already non-existent central plot. Cavaye’s second feature-length film is a competent effort that simply lacks any innovation or speciality; instead it falls into the same old trap of relying on generic conventions that make it an average crime-thriller at best.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Senna - Dir. Asif Kapadia

Seventeen years after the passing of one of the greatest Formula 1 racing drivers of all time a documentary has been released that examines his ten-year career in the sport. Directed by Asif Kapadia (‘Far North,’ ‘The Warrior’) and produced by Universal and Working Title, ‘Senna’ shows the audience the untapped potential and brilliance of the Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, while also examining the rise of this shy, young Brazillian boy; from go-karting circuits to a televisual audience of millions. ‘Senna’ is as moving and touching, as it is interesting and captivating.

Born Ayrton Senna da Silva to wealthy middle-class parents in the Santana district of Sao Paulo, he always had a dream of becoming a racing driver and began by driving in the Karting World Championships until he was approached to join Formula 3 for the 1983 season and then Formula 1 for the following season. From his first controversial podium finish in the Monaco in Grand Prix in 1984, two things were born; an intense rivalry with the future French Formula 1 champion (and soon to be team-mate) Alain Prost and a desire to race, dominate and win which would see Senna not only claim three World Championships, but also lose his own life on the track.

Where Kapadia’s ‘Senna’ documentary works is in its ability to appeal to wide array of audience members. For the fans of the Formula 1 racing there is a copious amount of footage documenting select races and the events taking place around his career. Rather than use cutaway segments to show various celebrities and sports men and women discuss their memories and recollections of Senna, Kapadia instead utilises a voice-over to accompany the archive images on-screen. By allowing the voice-over of the various people associated with Senna (most notable this consists of McLaren’s team principal Ron Dennis, his mother, father and sister, F1 team Doctor Sid Watkins, and Brazilian commentator Reginaldo Leme) to supplement the footage, it both preserves he power of the on-screen image and provides the audience with additional information regarding the situation or event that is being presented.

While for the casual viewer who may only know of Ayrton Senna in passing, there is the psychological unravelling of a man trapped in a boy’s body. Senna is shown not to be ignorant of the politics of Formula 1, but simply uninterested, he was always that middle-class boy from Brazil who only wanted to race, win and repeat. There is also an interesting inclusion of footage of Senna as a modern hero of the Brazilian people, he’s shown as the racing driver who transcended the social and political problems of a nation on the edge of poverty and economic instability and provided them with ray of light and joy that was unfortunately extinguished on the 1st of May 1994. ‘Senna’ is a brilliant and moving examination of a rising sporting star caught up in the whirlwind of politics, rivalries and stardom, when all he wanted to do was race and win by any means necessary, not for the adulation of millions, but his love for sport so close to his heart.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

X-Men: First Class - Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Beginning with a crime-thriller and a fantasy film on his directorial résumé, it is safe to say that Matthew Vaughn may have already found his niche genre in the superhero field despite only directing four films in seven years. His first super-hero project, ‘Kick Ass,’ opened in 2010 to solid critical acclaim and a finalized gross of three times the film’s ordinary $30 million dollar budget. And after only two years, Vaughn returns with ‘X-Men: First Class,’ an origins story to accompany the Bryan Singer/Brett Ratner X-Men trilogy released between 2000 and 2006. It’s intelligent, enthralling, well-acted, stylishly directed, and most importantly by focusing heavily upon the relationship between the two central protagonists, it does not feel like a conventional super-hero film. Just as his previous outing with ‘Kick-Ass’ turned the super-hero from super-human being to normal, high school teenager.

Set within the political context of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the early 1960’s, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is an up-and-coming Professor whose life is drastically altered when he is introduced to the other members of society who also share the same mutant gene as himself that supplies them with super-human abilities and traits. After stumbling upon the shape-shifting Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) within his mansion, the telepathic Xavier then encounters Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), the son of Jewish parents who were murdered during the holocaust by the narcissistic former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Erik, who can manipulate all metal objects around himself, wants retribution and nothing more from Sebastian who is now a successful and evil underground figurehead who commands a team of mutants (Azazel, Emma Frost and Riptide) to do his bidding for him. But, once his plan for world domination is revealed, they find that it far exceeds the constraints of humanity, and Xavier, Erik and a rag-tag band of young, hide-away mutants (Havok, Beast, Darwin, Angel and Banshee) who were discovered by Charles, must combine their powers in one last attempt to stop Shaw from destroying the planet and humanity as a whole.

Instantly where ‘X-Men: First Class’ works is in regards to its two central characters; Charles Xavier played by an incredibly affluently sounding James McAvoy and a rage-fuelled Erik Lehnsherr played by a stern-faced Michael Fassbender. Their instant on-screen chemistry provides the drive and ammunition for the plot to carry itself forward. Both characters have differing ideologies and their constant clashes due to this aspect allow the script to be brought to life. Instead of simply infusing their relationship with formulaic violent clashes, Vaughn has instead opted for more articulated verbal battles between the two characters regarding their stance within the society they are now becoming a part of. Xavier is an intellectual being who believes that humans will eventually be accepted within society as equals alongside humans, while Lenhsherr believes that mutants will always be hunted and unable to live peacefully side-by-side with the human race, his evidence for this resides in the anti-Semitism and hatred he received at the hands of the Nazi party during the holocaust. This heavy-set contradiction in ideologies allows their relationship to be imbued with pessimism, while they may be shown as friends and fighting together initially, fans of the comic books and films in general know this does eventually turn into a bitter rivalry and it’s this development which drives the plot forward.

Aside from the script, it would also be rude to not praise the action-sequences which take place within the confines of the 1960’s X-Men universe. With a modest running time at two hours and ten minutes, there are more than a few well-choreographed action sequences that would adequately satisfy any of comic-book-to-film aficionado’s wishing to see this film. Each character’s power or ability is at some point represented in a destructive or defensive capacity, taking full advantage of the fact that while many super-hero movies tend to concentrate on the aesthetic nature of the artillery characters can be seen to withstand from governmental agencies or blindsided human opponents, here it is shown and constantly emphasized that human reaction would be futile due to the overwhelming power the mutants possess. These scenes also allow the less important characters to show their physical presence on-screen. For example, during the climactic fight sequence at the conclusion of the film, every mutant character that is identified to the audience is finally shown using their abilities to full capacity, most notably the henchmen of Shaw and the rag-tag team of Xavier and Lehnsherr. This therefore accounts slightly for the lack of depth that has been attempted in these secondary characters due to the time and story constraints.

While it is a very good and accessible comic-book/super-hero movie, ‘X-Men’ does also contain two central flaws. The first is superseded in a way by the strength of both McAvoy and Fassbenders performances, as Kevin Bacon is constantly overshadowed as the one-dimensional antagonist of the piece. His plot to ultimately destroy humanity becomes second fiddle to the ever intricate complex relationship between Xavier and Lehnsherr, and his appearance seems too modelled upon that of a James Bond villain. He has the slick hair, the beautiful women and the villainous underground Club to boot, but Bacon unfortunately doesn’t have the charisma to be accepted as a worthy opponent to the protagonists. The other flaw has to do with a minor aspect of the production itself, as the non-diegetic music, most notably during the action sequences, begins to diminish in its impact as the film carries on, leading to it eventually becoming the generic, genre-related fanfare associated with the conventional comic-book films.

‘X-Men: First Class,’ is not your typical comic-book movie, it may contain certain elements associated with the comic-book genre, but by placing a heavy emphasis upon the strength of the plot and the script at the film’s core instead of the action-set-pieces taking place, Vaughn has intended, and succeeded, in transcending the stereotypical conventions of the genre and has created a film which will appeal to a wide range of audience members.