A mixed bag of front room films

There was a plethora of films that I had not seen, but seemed worth a looksee, on Film 4 and also on Sony Entertainment TV recently and so I Sky-Plussed them. I also rewatched Sucker Punch (maybe fueled by the need for even more Cosplay eye-candy) and a got a couple of rentals.

First let me express a few opinions about the much maligned Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood starring Russel Crowe with the famous changeable accent. The biggest mistake with this film was not to subtitle it something like ‘The Legend Begins’ or ‘Rises’. Okay it was tag-lined ‘the untold story behind the legend’ but I only found that out today. I spent most of the film (like anyone else who hadn’t read about it prior to seeing it) expecting a reinterpretation of the classic elements of the Robin Hood story. I was waiting for the evil Sheriff of Nottingham (who was a bit-player in this version), the splitting of the arrow at the archery tournament etc. What we got instead was a generic period piece with a similar feel to Kingdom of Heaven (but without the major historical backdrop) which could have easily been a reworked Gladiator 2 script (if Maximus had somehow survived).

The story was confused and seemed to have a hidden sub-text drawing on the story of the build-up to the American War of Independence (basically fought over the concept of ‘no tax without {parliamentary} representation’) – swap ‘the English government vs. the US separatists’ with ‘the Crown vs. the Northern Barons’ (featuring some Lord of the Rings veterans) and you have the meat of the ‘historical backdrop’. The other thing that bugged me was there was hardly any archery featured and the love story with Cate Blanchett was not very well developed.

Another turkey was F. This is the story of a bullied alcoholic teacher who finds his paranoid fears have become reality when his school is attacked one evening by four evil faceless hoodies. The storyline evolves into a cheap ‘when are they going to get killed?’ slasher. There is no humour to save it (e.g. Scream) and the film is seriously dull apart from the great make-up effects for the dead victims that are truly grizzly in places. There is no character development beyond the teacher’s ‘told you so’ moment. His relationship with his estranged wife and hateful daughter do not seem to be any better by the sudden ending of the film – in fact his wife is still potentially going to be murdered and his daughter has been quite clear that if he drives away from the situation she will hate him forever. The end feels like they ran out of money (spent too much on fake blood?) and at least half the hoodies are still at large. We learn nothing about their motives or identity and the main character is still as broken as when he started. This is not good story-telling. F for epic fail.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything is another low budget film which features a paranoid main character which I rented. Simon Pegg plays a children’s author obsessed with Victorian serial killers in London and has delusions of being stalked by a shadowy character from the past, so much so he doesn’t want to leave his house. There are nuggets of good comedy amongst the darkness, but on the whole it falls flat in comparison to Pegg’s other comedy outings. Most of the time the film feels like it is based on a stage play and although it is very atmospheric and interesting to look at, this is no substitute for a good yarn. Pegg’s good handling of the difficult script puts a stark spotlight on the acting talents of the supporting cast and finds them somewhat lacklustre.

Bounce is an old Ben Affleck film. The set-up is that he gives his plane ticket to a guy who wants to get back to his family, the plane crashes and so Benny-boy feels guilty and tries to do something nice to help the family left behind in the tragedy. A very skinny looking Gwyneth Paltrow plays the leading lady (very well I might add) who falls for Ben. Ben doesn’t tell her the truth and falls for her too. Inevitably when the truth comes out (in a predictably clunky fashion) Paltrow’s character doesn’t want anything to do with Affleck’s character. Suffice to say it turns out okay in the end. Yes in comparison to F this follows a traditional arc, but it is satisfying and on the whole well done. it’s not oscar winning stuff, in fact in places Affleck’s performance is far from great, but the story is well written and feels deeper than most ‘tear-jerkers’ I have seen touching as it does on alcholism (a subject close to Affleck’s heart no doubt) and the cynicism of big business / advertisement agencies.

I missed Sucker Punch at the cinema which is a shame because the eye-candy in terms of special effects is great. I rented it on Blu-ray and then bought it cheap in the January sales. The story first time around left me a little confused, but having watched it again I get it this time. It is all about the fantasies of one particular unfortunate soul who has been put into a home for the ‘mentally insane’ which seems to be exclusively for hot girls. The fantasies revolve around action pieces which mix Cosplay and cyber-punk with WWII, ancient Japan, futurescapes and dungeons and dragons. The group of girls who want to escape have to pick up a number of objects within the asylum (which also at times is a dodgy high-rolling knocking shop – think Moulin Rouge) – a map, a knife, a lighter and a key – these objects are transposed into the fantasy worlds -e.g. the lighter is represented as the fire rocks from the throat of a baby dragon (whose death enrages mummy dragon). In the ‘real world’ these objects are pilfered while the main character dances – it is a dance so captivating (she weaves the fantasies while she’s doing it) it renders every man who watches into a stupefied state. It is an ambitious film by Zack Snyder (of 300 and Watchmen fame) and while not without its flaws is worthy of a place in my Blu-ray collection.

My other recent rental was The Raid. This is an unapologetically violent film about a SWAT team who goes into a block of flats in Jacarta, Indonesia, to clear out the criminals (who all seem to be well-versed in martial arts) who live there. I watched the extended directors cut and this might explain why some of the fight scenes seem to go on for ages and start to feel a little monotonous. Don’t get me wrong – this is a good action flick, but there is a lot to say about editing and pace – there are only so many elbows in the back or knees to the chest one can watch before a yawn starts bubbling up to the surface. There is an attempt at a plot which is nice and some of the fighting is gob-smackingly good. On the flip-side the SWAT trainees do seem to have forgotten their training in terms of not holding the finger on the trigger until they have spent a full clip firing wildly and standing in front of windows when a sniper is obviously at large. Still good mindless violence nonetheless.

The Runaways is a rock and roll biopic of the titular band which went on to spawn Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Kristen Stewart and an almost ‘all grown up’ Dakota Fanning play the leads. The film is stylishly shot while following the usual ‘rags to riches to drugs to break-up’ of most rock and roll stories. Stewart is surprisingly good as Joan Jett, the filmmakers capture the mood of the Seventies well and Michael Shannon is great as the dodgy agent Kim Fowley who wants to make lots of cash out of his trailer-trash all-girl rock band. I was oddly captivated by the whole thing and also slightly disturbed by one particular scene (but I won’t spoil it).

The other thing to say about Sucker Punch, The Raid and The Runaways was that they all feature great soundtracks. Sucker Punch has reworkings of some great tunes like ‘Sweet Dreams’, ‘Where is my Mind’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ by the cast members and a great extended remix of Bjork‘s ‘Army of Me’ – so good in fact I downloaded the nine tracks today. The Raid’s soundtrack is by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame and helps intensify the action without being distracting. It is a good mix of traditional percussion and electronic jiggery pokery. The Runaway’s soundtrack is a mixture of Seventies tunes, original Runaway’s material and some performances by the cast; it is a great snapshot of the music that was around at the time and influenced the band.

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