Monday, 18 February 2013

Star Trek (Smaltz)

"A big old fun space adventure." Smaltz, converted Trekist

Dir: Abraham's, Jay Jay
Starring: Chris Pining to be photographed, Zachary Quinto-ssentially American

Smaltz ain’t no Trekkie. You might think I would be but I ain’t. I’ve tried a couple of times to get into Star Trek, and it seems like something I should a bit nerdischleiner about. But I’m not. Before watching this film my knowledge of Star Trek was this: Capt. Patrick Stewart goes back to earth for a garden party in one episode; the ship is called The Enterprise; Star Trek 2 is the best film; Klingons…live long and prosper.

This makes it difficult to get into the latest Star Trek film. Characters reel off clichés - maybe the film is trying to reassure long time fans with these references, but Smaltzy was lost. Eventually, the film settles down and we meet James T. Kirk as a young rebel who is convinced to join “star fleet”. He goes on to impress, but also to cause trouble and ends up being taken aboard the Enterprise for its maiden flight illegally.

Lucky for us he does, because what ensues is a big old fun space adventure. I was dubious about sitting through two hours of Star Trek and even more concerned about making Mrs Smaltz watch it with me but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. New Kirk, James Pine, keeps the whole thing going with his cocky yet likeable and youthful charisma. Mdm. Smaltz also informs me that he’s extremely good looking, and I do indeed see something of a young Smaltz in him.

The most impressive thing in Star Trek is that it manages to be both a reboot and a sequel to the previous films at the same time. That’s very clever in my eyes. Sure, the way they do it is through some astrophysics nonsense, but that’s what Star Trek’s based on so it really isn’t a problem. 

There are sadly a few things that stop it being brilliant, and they are the same problems I found in Mission Impossible 3, also directed by J J Abrahams. For some reason in amongst all the drama and life threatening action there’s some slapstick silliness. In Trek, we have Simon Pegg’s Scotty (I thought he was awful but Mrs Smaltz liked him) flying through some hamster cage style tubes filled with water. In MI3 we had Tom Cruise scurrying around a Singapore highway. I think it’s meant to be light relief and to balance the film, but I find such silliness distracting and too much of a shift in tone.

The other dodge E. aspect of Star Trek is Eric Bana’s villain, Nero. If you wrote a character description he would be very scary... but he isn’t. Personally I would have liked an affected voice, but Bana seems content to use his normal tone.

I’m not sure how the hard core Star Trek community have taken to this new version but it’s got me excited for the sequel due out this year and I’ve never been excited by Star Trek before.

Rating: Good

Monday, 11 February 2013

Thomas Crown Affair (Smaltz Review)

"Even Sting couldn't ruin it" Smaltz
Dir: John McTiernan
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo

Ah remakes; the chance to fix the problems of the original. Unfortunately, what normally happens with remakes is they fall into one of two categories: 

  1.   Disaster; or, 
  2.   What was the point of that.

Thomas Crown is a rare exception. It takes the good ideas from the original and develops them. They are thus; Thomas Crown is a bored billionaire who decides to spice up his life by staging a heist. He is then pursued by a saucy insurance woman and they try to work out how to exist together on opposite sides.

It’s a good story and for me this is the better telling of it. The characters are more rounded and the film is pacier. The biggest change is the heist itself. In the original, Thomas Crown orchestrates a bank robbery, whereas here he steels a painting. This seems much more in keeping with the character. The thrill is in carrying out the crime, and stealing a Monet is far more worthwhile to a swanky billionaire than money.

The film is helmed admirably by Die Hard director John McTiernan who keeps things stylish and tense but also humorous which makes for very easy viewing. Brosnan and Russo have excellent chemistry and you instantly buy into their relationship. To further smooth things along there is an interesting original score from Bill Conti and an excellent array of existing songs.

The only thing to cause any offense is Sting’s version of The Windmills of your Mind, the brilliant song from the original. Thankfully this is held back until the end credits so sorry Sting, despite your best efforts even you can’t ruin the film.

Rating: Top Work!

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Dark Knight Rises (Narry B Review)

"Loses all respectability at that moment" Narry B
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway

"His only crime... was that he loved me" (*Narry B spontaneously pukes all over the TV screen*)

Rises' script features such powerful lines as the above. The film plays host to a whole heap of cliches, in fact:

  1. The invincible villain makes an entrance
  2. The superhero is defeated
  3. He trains hard while in exile
  4. He returns and beats him with ease
  5. There's a final "shocking" plot twist
  6. The film sets itself up all too nicely for a sequel, against all the odds
This is 'plot by numbers', straight out of the ABC of filmmaking. Of all these, no. 5 is the most ridiculous. The last minute identity twist adds nothing to the story. It only serves to undermine the character of Bane, who would otherwise be one of the better villains from modern comic book films.

Rises mimics some elements of  Hugo's Les Miserables in order to hint at a deeper political meaning. Yet the overall story is utterly facile. It would have been better off trying to be an all out entertainment feast, instead of hinting at revolutionary ideals.

Admittedly, the film is kind of compelling - the first half in particular. There's plenty of action and it's very pacy. You can't fault the production values, either - for £200m you'd expect that, at least. Anne H is excellent as Catwoman, and provides the movie's best moment wherein she pretends to be hysterical when the police turn up after she causes a ruckus in a bar. And, as Smaltz noted, Bane is a great villain - which is why it's so annoying that all his credence and cachet is taken away at the end.

But at the end of the day... "His only crime was that he loved me..." 

I'm afraid you lost all respectability at that moment, Christopher N.

Rating: Average

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Dark Knight Rises - Smaltz Review

"Violence... is never justified in the film" R. Smaltz
Dir: Chrisdagopher Nofun
Starring: Chrisdeurn Bail

The Dark Knight trilogy for me is the best cinema trilogy of all time. I wouldn’t argue against Toy Story, either... and I like the Godfather... but, for me, Christopher Nolan’s re-invented Batman series is more intense, more surprising and more powerful, which is an epic achievement when you think about how run of the mill its comic book contemporaries have been.

Rises seems to be the one that has divided people the most. I know people who love it and a lot of people who don’t. After seeing it at the cinema I liked it, after seeing it a second time, on Blu-ray, I loved it. So much so I think it’s the best of the three.

Never before has the sacrifice Bruce Wayne makes (or the hero in any film for that matter) been so integral. Crucially,  Rises gives you a real sense of that.

These are violent films for a 12 certificate. Children have always had an attachment with the central character, and I think it’s very important that the consequences of the violence are shown alongside the element of self-sacrifice. Because of this the violence is never taken lightly, nor is it justified even within the films.

A lot of the criticisms levelled against Rises are that it’s too political and doesn’t have anything comic or eccentric in the way Batman normally does. But this feels like a natural way for the story to progress. Batman’s appearance has drawn out the nut cases - they’ve gone away and it seems inevitable that someone stronger and more dangerous will take their place, in this case Bane.

It’s fascinating how the villains reflect a side of Batman: In "Begins", the Scarecrow is fear, in "The Dark Knight", the Joker is the psychotic side, and in "Rises", Bane is strength both physically and in his determination. He’s relentless and seemingly unbeatable. Tom Hardy’s performance as Bane has split audiences, mainly because of the voice, but as far as Smaltz is concerned he’s terrific and terrifying.

The supporting cast is excellent as always. I’d like to mention how good Anne Hathaway is as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I was very sceptical how that character would fit in this real world Batman but she’s fabulous as a femme fatale and a grifter. Also top work by Hans Zimmer for unashamedly bashing every big drum he’s got and producing a fantastically exciting score.

I’d like to finish by echoing a thought from Mark Kermode; that, despite what you may think of Rises, we
should all be thankful that someone is willing to spend £200 million on a film that is very brave, so full of interesting themes and characters and doesn’t dumb down to what it thinks mainstream audiences will like.

Rating: Genius!


"Grainy picture and authentic beards" Narry B
Dir: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston

Advertising works. Narry B found himself inevitably drawn to the movie house to watch Argo after seeing it advertised on a bus billboard. Why? Because it features the mighty Bryan Cranston, a versatile and (until recently) underrated actor.

But is it "based on a true story"? Really? Isn't that just another way of rewriting history? Seems like some key facts were left missing from this tale, Mr. Affleck, if that is your real name.

That aside, Argo is one of the best films Narry B's seen at the cinemaplex for many years. And it all comes down to one thing: tension. Narry B was so tense he had to have a massage afterwards.

A lot of modern films fail because of two things: wanton violence/sex, and poor scripts. Argo has neither of these. In fact, it feels very much like a 60s/70s film from one of the great filmmakers like Hitchcock, or Coppola. The grainy picture and authentic beards lend it even greater vintage-appeal.

Argo watch it yourself.

Rating: Top Work!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Skyfall (Smaltz Review)

"It isn't fun. It's annoying." Roger P. Smaltz
Dir: Sam Mendes
Starring: Craniel Daig, Bavier Jardem etc.

Much like Smaltz, Bond's back after a four year hiatus. Schmaltz, of course, is a fan of the books and the ten or so films that resemble Ian Fleming’s stories. So I had high expectations for this. It saddens me to say, then, that I found it to be a crushing disappointment.

Just to clarify, Skyfall’s not a bad film. The cast is excellent - I really like the way Bond and our perception of Ralph Fiennes’ character changes throughout the film - it’s beautifully shot, and the theme song is really good. In fact the production as a whole is impeccable.

The problems nearly all come down to the writing. Firstly, this is a celebratory Bond, it being fifty years since Dr. No. As such the writers thought it would be fun to re-introduce all the old clichés the last two got rid off, namely Q, Miss Moneypenny and slightly cringing one liners. It isn’t fun, it’s annoying.

Not only does it ruin the good work done by the last two films did but completely undermines the new direction the film tries to take. By new direction, I mean it wants to be like The Dark Knight. As such, it never feels like an Ian Fleming Bond story.

The second big problem is that the character of Bond is not quite right. One scene springs to mind, in particular. It involves Severine, a mysterious young woman who has been in the employ of Silva (Bardem) since she was twelve. Her story is clearly tragic yet Bond seems to think it’s okay to get in the shower with her unannounced. To me this felt very inappropriate and out of character. In fact, even if Smaltzy tried that out, he'd get a slap in the ying yangs.

His relationship with Camille in Quantum of Solace (another very vulnerable character) is handled much better, bringing to mind the restraint shown in the Moonraker novel where Bond’s fellow undercover agent is wearing an engagement and he doesn’t know whether it’s genuine or part of her cover.

Other problems include the plot about a stolen hard drive full of undercover agents that gets forgotten about half way through, the nonsensical timeline (how is Bond too old in this film when in Casino Royale he has only just got his 00 license? And how does he have the Aston Martin from Goldfinger??) and a ponderous score.

The biggest kick in the pants however is the films last scene which might as well turn to the audience and say ‘you remember the last two films…you won’t be getting another one like that’.

Rating: Average