Thursday, April 17, 2014

SPOILER WARNING

SWINGING LOW
When Marvel decided to reboot the Spider-man films after the disastrous Spider-man 3 back in 2007, the choice of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker in Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-man was met with some skepticism. The 2012 film wasn't perfect by any means: its running time was too long and some of the CGI looked decidedly ropey. But Emma Stone was an inspired choice as Gwen Stacy and there was an interesting vulnerability to Garfield's Peter Parker. Fast-forward to 2014 and we have Amazing Spider-man 2. Webb's second Spider-man outing suffers from many of the same problems as the first film (it outstays its welcome by about forty minutes and Jamie Foxx's Electro has a very poorly designed costume) but it is actually a far weaker film than its predecessor. Garfield's Peter Parker has become cocky and rather arrogant and the inclusion of a second villain with a conclusion that foreshadows the inevitable introduction of the Sinister Six in a second sequel means that the film feels cluttered and dramatically all over the place. There are some nice touches when it comes to exploring Peter's father's scientist past but overall you are left shrugging your shoulders. Marvel's decision to press the restart button on Spider-man was criticised as a pointless exercise and Amazing Spider-man 2 really makes you miss Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. The sad thing is that with another sequel packed full of even more villains than you have here, the omens aren't looking good that they'll be able to reverse the drop in quality. In fact, it is becoming reminiscent of what Warners did with Batman when Joel Schumacher came on board. Amazing Spider-man 2 is bloated, uneven and mostly unengaging…

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 04, 2014

NOT GOING BY THE BOOK
Bible stories strangely are having a little bit of a mini renaissance. We have Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings, starring Christian Bale, but first out of the gate is Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe as the flood prophet who attempts to save all of Earth's animals when the world is flooded through man's wickedness. Aronofsky has tinkered a little bit (alright a lot) with the bible story, adding barren daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson) and Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the venal chieftain who doesn't consider his actions in any moral light and feels the Earth is theirs to do what they will with. It wouldn't matter how close it was to the bible story since that's no more credible and factual than what director Aronofsky has created here except for the fact that Noah features laughable dialogue (often delivered by Crowe), risible performances especially by the excruciatingly wooden Watson, who seems to be trying to give Keira Knightley a run for her money in the shocking performances stakes, and a tone that veers between earnest and turgid. Noah is two hours and twenty minutes and by the time you hit the last forty minutes, you are constantly checking your watch. It doesn't help that it also has some truly wretched effects which look artificial and ungainly thanks to the pointless but inevitable 3D. There may be an interesting and thought-provoking film hiding in here somewhere but much of it feels like a 2014 remake of The Land That Time Forgot without the kitsch charm and the sense of fun. Noah is overlong, tedious and a real chore to get through. Here's hoping that Scott's Moses epic is a lot better…

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

WARNING: SPOILERS 

ARMY INTELLIGENCE?
It's been three years since Captain America: The First Avenger and we've had a number of other huge Marvel movies since (Avengers (Assemble), Thor: The Dark World, The Wolverine and Iron Man 3). So audiences have been trained to expect bigger and more bombastic Marvel studio efforts. The first Captain America film was enjoyable, albeit a little cheesy in places and felt like an extended trailer for the Avengers (Assemble). Fast-forward three years and the film-makers can jump right in. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pits Steve Rogers, Nick Fury and the Scarlet Widow against a threat that seems to have come straight out of the Cold War: Russian assassin the Winter Soldier, who may or may not be Cap's old friend Bucky Barnes. In a nod to Seventies classics like Three Days Of The Condor and All The President's Men, the film introduces Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Winter Soldier also brings in Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson aka The Falcon. They do manage to introduce a feeling of paranoia straight out of the Cold War, upsetting the status quo and questioning who the audience can really trust. Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow and her role here is much more satisfying than her previous appearance and Samuel Jackson's Fury has far more to do here than in any other Marvel film to date. There are some nice touches, with Redford adding a little bit of gravitas and Johansson is less wooden and more likeable here. But it does outstay its welcome with a running time of two and a quarter hours, the 3D is totally pointless, The Falcon just doesn't work here and the plot isn't as ingenious or well-conceived as the films it nods to. The obligatory sting at the end feels short and a little bit pointless. However, for fans of Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivers an entertaining cinematic ride, channelling the comics with no little aplomb and panache. Even former Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker gets a small, blink-and- you'll-miss-it cameo, which adds a little fun to the mix.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier is guaranteed to have a steel grip on the box office when it opens both in the UK (out now) and US (4th April) and while it's not perfect by any means, it is a film with its heart in the right place…

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 21, 2014

REMEMBERING BILL BAKER
Over the years, we have lost people who have written for the magazine. Sadly it's a bit of an occupational hazard. But we have never lost anyone who has also been a close friend. Bill Baker wrote a number of articles for TRIPWIRE, including interviews with Jim Lee and J Michael Straczynski. He hadn't contributed to the magazine since before the Annual launched in 2007. He died back at the end of February this year and I admit that I have been putting off writing something about his passing because subconsciously perhaps if I wrote something, it would be admitting that he is no longer around.  So apologies if this entry is a little longer and a little more maudlin than what you are used to seeing here. I first met Bill at San Diego Comic Con way back in 1999. It was while we were both loitering at a publisher's table, I can't remember which one. It was the first US show I had been to but we just got chatting and we instantly clicked. There are a number of other people who cover comics with intelligence and putting them into the correct cultural context but Bill had a very sharp mind. He was able to bring something new to his coverage of whatever he wrote about. We would see each other at San Diego and then when we both stopped attending that show, we would catch up at other shows like New York Comic Con. We would speak once a week and I would use him as a sounding board sometimes and he would also fill me in on what was happening with him. What is so sad about his untimely passing is that he was about to sort himself out and relocate from his rather bleak location in Michigan to somewhere where he would be closer to the action. His loss is a great one for journalism and for coverage of comics as sadly the internet has meant that we are now drowning in a torrent of ill-conceived and bland corporate coverage, written by people with a poor command of English grammar, who are not interested in putting things into a cultural context. Comic sites, by and large, and there are exceptions like Tom Spurgeon's Comics Reporter and Milt Griepp's ICV2, are run by fanboys unable to really grasp the bigger issues at play here. Bill Baker was a real journalist, interested in highlighting those creators and creations who weren't getting the coverage they deserved on other sites and in other places. He was ambitious, erudite and he had a very good heart. He will be missed, both on a personal and a professional level. Goodbye, my fellow journalist…
Here's a photo that our mutual friend, Paul Michael Kane, took of Bill…

Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 10, 2014

JUST DOESN'T ADD UP
Every time Terry Gilliam releases a new film, there is an initial burst of interest. He is a very inconsistent director and out of the 19 films he has helmed, only a few can be called classics. The Zero Theorem, his first film since 2009's Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, which was overshadowed by the death of its star Heath Ledger, is another sci-fi film. Qohen Leth (played by a shaven-headed Christoph Waltz) is a computer programmer looking for the meaning of life, living in a dystopian city. His bosses meanwhile are bent on distracting his quest by sending the gorgeous Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) and annoying teenager Bob (played by Lucas Hedges) to divert his attention. Matt Damon has a small part as his boss, Management. The Zero Theorem does throw up a few interesting questions for the audience and Waltz is excellent as the befuddled Leth but like most of Gilliam's films, it is frustrating with themes mentioned but not sufficiently explored. It bows under the weight of its own ambition and while there are some admirable moments, it is ultimately a very unsatisfying film. He is working on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a project he has already tried to make before and it would be nice to think that he could rein in his more indulgent foibles to make something that is cohesive and dramatically satisfying. If you like Terry Gilliam, then you should see The Zero Theorem but it's not going to win over any new fans for him…


Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 08, 2014

ALL GREEK TO ME?
In 2006, adaptation of Frank Miller's 300 was a surprise hit, making $200m at the US box office. So after a long gap, we have 300: Rise of An Empire, a follow-up which is also set at the same time as the first film. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the battle against the invading forces of  the Persian navy, led by their god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his crazed general, Artemisia (Eva Green). Despite the fact that the Greeks are outnumbered, thanks to some canny tactics they manage to acquit themselves impressively in their first sea battle. 300 Rise of An Empire, like the first film, is visually impressive with Israeli director Noam Murro making a striking feature debut thanks to some arresting CGI, some exciting action sequences and good-looking costumes and ships. However, like its predecessor, the plot is pretty thin and characters are fairly nonexistent. So if you enjoyed the first one, then you'll get something out of this film but if it wasn't for you, then as this is basically more of the same, then it won't appeal. 300: Rise of An Empire is a visceral film that you enjoy while the ride lasts but it doesn't make any lasting impact once you've left the cinema…

Labels: , , ,

Friday, February 14, 2014

CLOONEY'S ZEROES
There are two George Clooneys. There's the actor who has appeared in serious weighty dramas like The Descendants, Ides of March, Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana and then there's the Hollywood heartthrob who has been seen in fluffy, vacuous Hollywood blockbusters like Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve and Leatherheads. The Monuments Men is a film based on the book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter about the army unit whose job it was to rescue valuable works of art from the clutches of the Nazis. Clooney plays Frank Stokes who gathers together a group of mismatched soldiers of different nationalities like Frenchman Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Briton Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Americans Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and James Granger (Matt Damon) to assist him. It is obvious that Clooney is a massive fan of films like The Great Escape and Kelly's Heroes but the problem here is that The Monuments Men lacks the anarchic edge of something like Kelly's Heroes and the epic drama of The Great Escape. Despite a very impressive cast and an intriguing premise, the film comes across as cheesy, flimsy and lightweight with no real chemistry between the cast. Cate Blanchett is also wasted as Frenchwoman Claire Simone, who takes a shine to Granger. It may just be a temporary blip in his career but The Monuments Men is a lazy love letter to far better films. Disappointing to say the least…

Labels: , , ,