Opinion Piece

FilmWatch – Whips, Claws And Porn

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Welcome one and all to FilmWatch, a new series I’ve started where I basically just get to ramble about what new Blu-rays and DVDs I’ve added to my slowly growing collection, and then throw out a some quick, simple mini-reviews of films I’ve watched. I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll do this series, but I think about once a month is likely, because after all this isn’t supposed to be a completely personal site where I ramble about everything that crosses my mind, and it gives me time to actually watch some movies, a challenging task these days as the time spent on a movie tends to be sunk into playing whatever game is in for review instead.

Of course I do already have the Random Loot ongoing series in which I can chat about a specific movie, but it’s not often I want to write a sizable piece on a film, so FilmWatch gives me a chance to just air some quick views. This isn’t thoughtful, critical reviews like my standard work, so do keep that in mind. These are just brief reviews, lacking in detail and certainly not going in-depth in terms of pros and cons.

So let’s get started with what I’ve added in to my collection since the start of the month.

First up I managed to snag Spartacus: Blood & Sand on Blu-ray for a respectable £11. The Spartacus series from Starz is one of my guilty pleasures. It’s violence and sex of the highest order, shaming even Game of Thrones in both departments, although the blood and guts aspect of it is more stylised, while GoT’s is more brutally realistic. Still, while it’s easy to judge Spartacus for its looks, underneath all the hot chicks and awesome gladiator fights lies a well-written show with plenty of intrigue. I also own Gods of the Arena on Blu-ray, while the final two seasons are on DVD, soon to be replaced with their upgraded counterparts.

After that I added Saving Private Ryan on Blu-ray to the collection. I’ve been meaning to pick this up on Blu-ray for ages now, and I’m greatly looking forward to watching it. I just need to get myself in the right mood for it. On the topic of war I also managed to snag a Blu-ray copy of The Thin Red Line for just £2, an absolute bargain, especially counting free postage.

Wall-E on Blu-ray was up next, a film that I adore. It’s a movie of two-halves, and while the second half is still a lot of fun it’s really the first half that has me grinning the most. I’ll be watching this one again soon, so keep an eye out for that in the next FilmWatch.

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on  Blu-ray for £30 was a solid purchase. I missed a chance to snatch this up at £23 previously, which I’m still kicking myself for. Still, a decent price for a great collection of movies. It’s a shame that we in the UK get lousy packaging compared to the US version, though, which features a book-style layout with each disc housed in the “pages”. The Star Wars Saga collection is the same, with the UK getting inferior packaging.

Stargate: Continuum was another grab on Blu-ray for £2.00. I’m a major Stargate fan, so for such a cheap price I couldn’t pass that up. I also own the entirety of Stargate: Atlantis on Blu-ray, with eventual plans to start working on getting all 10 seasons of SG-1.

Venturing into Asda I spotted a 2 for £10 deal on Blu-rays, with X-Men: First Class, X-Men, X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand on offer, so I grabbed all four and proceeded to sell off my DVD versions for £10. Not too shabby.

Rounding off is Zack & Miri Make a Porno on Blu-ray, also for £2.00. I’ll be chatting about that in a minute.

So, quite a few purchases this month. Indeed, more than I really should have grabbed given how lacking in money I actually am. With that out of the way, let’s chat about the four films I watched this month, not counting the many lousy TV feature lengths I viewed on Netflix.

Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Ark

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Its been a long time since I’ve watched an Indiana Jones film, despite them being a major part of my childhood, and so I slapped the disc in with almost a sense of trepidation. Sure, I’d caught bits of them on TV, but I had not watched one from start to finish in years, and as with any nostalgic memory there’s a concern that your judgement is clouded with happy thoughts. Just how well could Indy have aged?

But by time the credits rolled there was a grin plastered on my face. This is a classic adventure, and its held up well over the years. Better yet the Blu-ray looks fantastic with considerably more detail that could be originally be conveyed at home and stronger colors that pop off the screen. This is Indiana Jones at its very best.

The sense of adventure that Indy brings to the table is something missing in today’s films, largely due to a strong desire to paint more damaged, “real” heroes in dark scenarios, whereas all Indiana Jones wants to do is provide rousing fun with an awesome soundtrack. Indy himself the perfect rogue, scraping through every challenge using sheer determination rather than skill much of the time, making him easy to relate to. He gets his ass kicked, but always finds a way to come out on top. He’s the adventurer we all believe we could be.

It’s the introduction that sets the tone for the entire movie, brilliantly choosing to keep Indies face hidden until SNAP! The famous whip comes out, and Indy moves into the light to reveal…oh wow, I forgot how young Harrison Ford was. What follows is a fantastic sequence that successfully lays the foundations for Indy; a tomb-raiding (heh) adventurer that’s good at what he does and a bit of a badass to boot. Indy’s daring raid through the trap-infested site before his desperate retreat from the rolling ball. It’s just brilliant. There’s something to it that’s missing in some many of todays blockbusters.

There’s a lot of memorable scenes through the film, and what really grabs my attention is the sense of danger that having real people performing stunts brings to the movie. The fact that we can do so much with CGI these days is amazing. I mean, the final battle of The Avengers is largely CGI and is utterly amazing to watch, however, seeing a real performer clamber around and under a moving truck in the big chase sequence near the end of Raiders is something else.

That’s not to say it’s a flawless film. With a far more critical eye than I ever had as a child there’s a lot of moments that don’t quite make much sense, and small errors that irk me. Take that big chase sequence, for example; watch the background, and they go from seemingly endless deserts to a town and then loads of trees and back with no warning. The cliff over which Indy dangles precariously comes out of nowhere.  Of course, with such an awesome scene going on, who gives a damn? 4.5/5

X-Men

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Watching X-Men after so many years it’s clear that this film was stuck in a transitional period for comic-book adaptions, straddling the line between goofy and darker, giving the entire thing an inconsistent tone. Despite this, though, I still see the first X-Men as a strong movie that, along with Raimi’s Spider-Man, helped lay the groundwork for what was to come.

Of course it also gave us Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, who has now appeared as a primary character in six films, plus as a cameo in another. And man has he changed over the years. The difference between him and what we see in The Wolverine is startling. As casting choices go, though, Jackman was the right choice. His first attempt at Wolverine doesn’t have the savagery needed, but it was a solid start.

The rest of the characters and casting is somewhat mixed. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are both superb in their roles as Prof. X and Magneto respectively, although it must be said that McAvoy and Michael Fassbender eclipse them as the younger versions of themselves in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past. Mystique is pretty awesome in how she is portrayed, her graceful movements lending almost a creepy air to the character, and while more could have been done with Sabertooth they got his look just right. But why did they choose to go with Toad? He feels out of place, a living embodiment of the film’s dilemma to either go goofy or go serious. Halle Berry doesn’t work that well as Storm, either, and given her awesome powers she doesn’t have a lot of good moments. As for Cyclops I actually thought they went with the right actor, but failed to give him a script worthy of the character, with the same going for Jean Grey, whose entire Phoenix story would later be eviscerated in the third X-Men film.

As much as I love Wolverine, the movie places too much emphasis on him and not the actual X-Men as a group. I’ll always view it as a great shame that the X-Men trilogy wasn’t handled as an ensemble piece. With the focus firmly on Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm fade into the background, with Jean Grey also suffering much the same fate.

As for the plot, the film’s a little weak in this regard. While I like the idea of turning the mutant hater into a mutant himself, the machine used to do this is something of a mystery. It would have made more sense, I feel, to have Magneto’s plot be to secretly turn politicians into mutants in order to sway favor, rather that attempting to do it on such a large-scale. What good would Magneto’s attack really do? Sure, he’ll transform people into mutants, but that’s not likely to help him in the long-run.

The action is rather unspectacular, but its solid, with Wolverine’s battle against Mystique being one of my favorite moments from the movie. 3/5

Zack & Miri Make A Porno

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My guilty pleasure of the week came in the form of this mildly gross comedy romp, watched on Netflix and then picked up on Blu-ray for dirt cheap. So here’s the setup: Zack and Miri are best friends who live together, neither of them having managed to find a decent paying job. They’re struggling to pay the bills, when suddenly everything in their trashy flat is turned off, leaving them freezing in the dark. The answer, Zack reckons, is to make a porno, an idea that came to him after meeting a porn actor at their high-school reunion.  They get together some people, and get filming, reckoning that if nothing else they could sell the movie to everyone who attended the high-school reunion using a mailing list. Naturally the big premise here is the unspoken romance between Zack and Miri as they negotiate trying to have sex with each other in a film without it being weird.

Uh. Kay.

This isnt’ a smart film, instead it relies solely on its absurd idea to carry the humour. It’s frequently gross, as you would guess from the subject matter, and tends to use swearing way too much, seemingly believing that having your characters toss in a fuck or two every sentence makes things funnier. It really doesn’t.

But what works is the chemistry between Zack and Miri, played respectively by Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks. Rogen may often come across as the same character in every film, but he’s a master of playing the chilled everyday man, making himself appear completely natural on camera. Likewise Elizabeth Banks works well in her role. The back and forth banter between these two is delivered perfectly. They are completely at ease with each other, and bicker just like real best friends do. This then transfers into the romance. Despite the absurdity of it all, it’s a romance that works. You want these two odd-ball, relaxed people to figure their shit out and get together.

Around them the rest of the movie is mostly just okay. There’s quite a few laughs so long as you’re willing to switch off your brain and just enjoy it.

By all accounts I should score it lower, but I really had fun with this. It’s the kind of film I can see myself throwing on every now and then when I’m in the mood for something lighthearted.  3/5

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Having been pretty unimpressed with the first movie I tentatively picked up the sequel a while back after hearing a lot of good things from friends and reviewers I trust, such as Jeremy Jahns and Christ Stuckmann of Youtube fame. The Hunger Games had a solid storyline, but I found the characters dull, the acting kind of flat and the action awkward, with iffy pacing to boot. But having just watched Catching Fire earlier this month, I’m now completely onboard for the next two movies, and find the first one more bearable.

The writing is considerably sharper, and through that the actors deliver vastly better performances this time around, especially Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson , whose potential relationship I could buy into far more here. In any will-they-wont-they scenario those involved need to have chemistry, even if one character is supposed to be utterly uninterested in the other, as Katniss was with Peeta. That chemistry was missing from the first film, but in Catching Fire their genuine off-screen friendship is allowed to shine through more. Having said that, the clinched love-triangle is still cringe-worthy. The premise of having an All-Star version of the Hunger Games allows for some pretty awesome and interesting characters to enter the fray as well.

Speaking of the fray, the action is infinitely better, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the slow build-up to the Hunger Games themselves had me invested in the world and characters. With the poor direction of the first film long gone the action was far better framed. I loved the entirety of the Hunger Games themselves, from start to finish, utterly absorbed in the action and interaction.

Most of all I like getting to see more of the evil empire at work. In the first film they were a vaguely menacing force whose dark shadow felt a little inconsequential, but here the evil has been turned up to 11. While this does make  them feel evil for the sake of being evil, watching how the world works and plays out is fascinating, especially Katniss and Peeta being shuttled around to put on a smile, and even getting married in order to appease the president.

The biggest problem is the ending, which feels abrupt, and frankly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Now, I know exactly how the book ends and what the film is leading to, but I felt it was poorly translated onto screen with an awkward cliffhanger.  Without a proper explanation the incredibly coincidental rescuing of Katniss is a gaping hole in the plot, as it comes across like they just knew she would blow out that piece of the dome at that exact moment, and parked the rescue ship at the exactly spot. Those who read the books can fill in the gaps, but everyone else is going to sit there and cry bullshit. Meanwhile, what if Haymitch had ended up in the games? And Katniss was in some genuine peril throughout the games, potentially dying multiple times. Great plan guys. What the hell would have happened if Katniss had tripped when running from the acid cloud? Or drowned during the spinning cornucopia scene?

Without the plan being at least semi-explained within the movie, it makes for a crappy ending. It should all get explained in the next film, but that doesn’t excuse Catching Fire.

Still, these problems don’t overly damage the amount of fun I had watching Catching Fire. The choice to saddle Katniss with PTSD was great, even if it needed to be used a little more, the acting was better, the action intense and the script better written, minus the ending. 4/5

So, there we have it. Since starting this I’ve actually managed to pack in quite a bit more viewing, including The Wolf of Wall Street and Edge of Tomorrow, but they’ll either appear in the next FilmWatch or in a Random Loot article, along with a film I really want to talk about.

Catch ya’ll later.

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