Monday, May 27, 2013

Fast and Furious 6 Review

When we dream, it would appear that are whole sections of our brain that we just can't call upon. For example, have you ever noticed how easy it is to transition from one place to another in a dream? One minute you're in a train carriage, the next you're in a rain forest; and yet your mind calmly accepts this leap of location without so much as asking 'erm, did that just make sense?'. There is probably a proper scientific term for this, but I like to refer to it as dreamlike naivety. And if you're wondering why it is that I'm rambling on about the way dreams work when you were expecting me to be reviewing Fast and Furious 6, well it's because - in my humble opinion - Fast and Furious 6 is a movie best watched while in a state of dreamlike naivety...

Fast and Furious 6 follows on directly from the events of Fast Five (2011), during which the team successful separated a drug lord from his $100 million, and sees the various members of the crew enjoying a life of luxury and a life without crime. Now, of course, if things were to continue in this vein for the rest of the movie then it would be a pretty tedious movie but they don't because Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is soon tracked down by Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) who has a photo that suggests that Dom's former girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), is not as dead as she appeared to be in Fast and Furious (2009) and is actually alive and working for an ex-special forces soldier by the name of Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). It's enough to convince Dom to reform the team and they all head to London to try to stop Shaw from stealing a complicated set of ingredients he needs to put together some mcguffin or another (that always stays fairly vague, even when it's directly explained). And from then on it's a veritable feast of stunt driving, wise cracking, gun fighting, and ass kicking that not only defies belief but also pretty much all known laws of physics...

...and I liked it.

I will freely admit, this is not the kind of movie you should go and see if you pick at the contrivances and wince at the merest hint of what might possibly be a tiny plot hole. This is a movie that is basically a set of plot holes stitched together in a smorgasbord of insane action. It's a roller coaster of a movie that assails you with scenes which can only truly be enjoyed if you've set your brain to dreamlike naivety mode and can just watch them unfurl across the screen in wave after wave of automotive abandon. Forget that the villain's plan makes little or no sense, forget that the team seems to have gone from a bunch of street racers to a team that can challenge Ethan Hunt and the gang, forget that cars are not indestructible and that rolling one several times will likely result in more than a few bruises, forget that the decisions made by the team (and the villain) are exceptionally bad throughout much of the movie . Forget ALL that.

If you can do that, you can really enjoy it for what it is. If you can't you're going to hate this more than I hated Prometheus (which is to say, an awful damn lot). Thankfully, I had no problem switching my brain to autopilot and just enjoying the sheer ridiculousness of it all. I was going to give this a seven out of ten but the ending was surely worth an extra point on its own (you'll see what I mean if you go watch it). Fast and Furious 6 is like a supercharged muscle car - all horsepower, nitrous-oxide, and gleaming chrome - a product of pure brawn and not too much brain. But fortunately, a bit of dreamlike naivety can sometimes be just what one wants...

Rating:  8 out of 10

Monday, May 13, 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - first thoughts

First things first, I want to congratulate Disney on really going all out to try and make Marvel (or, at least, the Marvel properties it owns the movie rights to) a true transmedial property. I am something of a comic geek so it's great to see that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really starting to spread out and take shape...

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D is the first foray into television for this new incarnation of the Marvel Universe - with Hulk possibly following in 2014 (although the rumours are that development has stopped on that while Disney evaluate a few things) - and sees us join Agent Coulson. Yes, that Agent Coulson from The Avengers. It turns out Phil's not quite as dead as Nick Fury would have had us believe...

Set to première on ABC in September, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D will follow a team, led by Coulson, that operate at the periphery of the superheroes, "working the cases that S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't classified" and the first 30 second trailer is here:

So, what stands out...

Well, it all looks slick and as well produced as one would expect from a Marvel/ABC tie-up but the most interesting thing looks to be at 13 seconds (and again at 19 seconds) in when we get a look at J.August Richards who's currently down as playing an 'unspecified' role.

Unspecified? Unspecified? That is surely Luke Cage - aka Power Man. Please don't let me down Marvel - a TV or movie role for Luke Cage is long overdue! With skin as hard as titanium steel, superhuman strength, durability and healing, he's developed to become one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Universe (over the last decade especially).

The flaming thing at 21 seconds is also interesting - it made me think of Dormammu. I'm kind of hoping it could be as this show would be an excellent way to drip feed us elements that will eventually lead to other Marvel movies (such as Doctor Strange and Ant Man).

Either way, I am excited to see what they do with this and how it connects with the other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties...

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen Review

Redemption is an all too familiar theme of movies. In this movie, we join a secret service agent who has failed in the past with fatal consequences yet now finds himself in a position where he can redeem himself for his previous failings...oh, no wait. That's In the Line of Fire...and this is Olympus Has Fallen in which we join Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) a secret service agent who has failed in the past with fatal consequences yet now finds himself in a position where he can redeem himself for his previous failings. When terrorists take over the White House, it just so happens that Banning is the only person left who can possibly save the President...

On a side note; it has to be said that the White House is really not a great place to be this year if you're paying attention to Hollywood - not only does it take a severe beating here, but it will also come under similar attack when White House Down (starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx) launches later this year. It's like buses. You wait years for a movie about terrorists taking over the White House, and then two come along at once...

So, anyway, back to the review. Our protagonist, Mike Banning, used to work as the head of the President's security detail - that is, until a tragic road accident, in which the First Lady died, saw him demoted to a desk job working at the Treasury department (where he gazes longingly out of the window at the White House, sitting only yards away). But, when a terrorist attack rocks Washington DC, Mike finds himself on the scene and soon is the only man left inside the White House and the only man capable of saving the President (played by Aaron Eckhart) from a gang of highly armed and trained terrorists.

This is an out-and-out action movie that makes no pretence of being anything else; there is very little attempt to flesh out any of the characters involved and enjoying the movie does tend to rest on you not questioning some elements of the plot too hard. The method of the terrorist attack, and the utter ineffectiveness of pretty much everyone on the outside of the White House that subsequently follows, does stretch the bounds of plausibility a little, but this really isn't the movie to go and watch if you're expecting anything less than black and white morality and lots of violence.

It's predictable. And I don't say that necessarily as a criticism; after all, predictable can be fun. A roller coaster is predictable - we know what's going to happen; this turn, this dip, this loop; but we can still enjoy that wild, predictable, ride. So, if the conclusion of Olympus Has Fallen is never in doubt to anyone, is the ride at least a wild one?

Well, it has its moments. There's enough gunplay, martial arts and knife fighting to keep most people happy -although I did find some of the brutality felt a little out of place; not that I have anything against brutality in films as such, it's just that it's all about context. Some of the violence that was depicted, particularly to women, seemed rather callous - which, obviously, was the point that was being made about our villain but I felt it was rather a blunt means of demonstrating it and seemed slightly at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie.

Mike Banning is also no John Mclane; witty one liners are few and far between in this movie and I think it perhaps suffered a little for that. I find that humour serves as an excellent tool alongside action - to provide contrast against the darkness of the action, if you like. Having very little humour meant very little contrast, and so all the scenes sort of spilled up against each other haphazardly.

Olympus Has Fallen is not a bad movie. But I'd have a hard time telling you that it's a good movie. It's a very, very average movie - a composite of Hollywood clichés and tropes that are assembled professionally and then executed reasonably well. If you are looking for something to waste two hours on and are prepared to turn your brain off at the door, then this is reasonable entertainment. If you're looking for something filled with twists and turns, with revelations and intrigue, and characters that you can get invested in, then this isn't the movie for you.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Oliver's Eurovision 2013 Drinking Game

And so, only two weeks from today, we'll once again be descending into the organised chaos that is the Eurovision Song Contest. And, if you took part in last year's Eurovision Drinking Game then you're probably asking yourself  "Has it really been a year already, Oliver? Surely not?".

And you're right. Because if you took part in last year's Eurovision Drinking Game and followed the rules stringently, you likely have at least three days missing from your life that has been lost to an alcoholic fugue. But, trust me, we're nearly there again so it's time for me to wheel out my yearly update to the Eurovision Drinking game rules...

As with previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 23 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Now, - as ever - I need to issue a word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Sweden is brännvin and the highest grade of that is vodka. So, this year, we'll be seeing in Eurovision with the help of some Absolut!

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Bonnie Tyler is mentioned. Drink an entire shot if there are any attempts to make dreadful puns about how the UK has been 'holding out for a hero'.

2) The host attempts to sing.

3) The host pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

4) The host loses track of their autocue or messes up their timing.

5) The video shown before an act contains shots of people in traditional Swedish costume. Drink a shot if anyone is doing a traditional Swedish folk dance. If you're unsure of what a traditional Swedish folk dance looks like then check out an example here. If you're too lazy to check that link, then just imagine a bunch of septuagenarians swaying and walking in circles as if they've had one too many glasses of brännvin.

6) You see Sweden's national animal, the Elk. Drink two shots if it’s a person dressed in an Elk costume.

7) The song has the word ‘love’ in the title.

8) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man.

9) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

10) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or industrial objects acting as large drums.

11) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

12) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

13) The act possesses a large moustache.

14) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

15) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, French words in a song by Malta). One sip per language. If in doubt, just take a sip.

16) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

17) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

18) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronism, appear never to have heard the song before tonight.

19) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

20) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

21) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

22) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

23) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place.

24) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

25) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

And, just like last year, I am going to be incredibly nice and also make a printable version of the rules available if you go here. And if you like it, then you can always feel free to take advantage of my brand, spanking new 'buy me a coffee' button - God knows I'm going to be needing a few of them after Eurovision!

Enjoy! And don't blame me (too much) for the apocalyptically bad hangover you will no doubt suffer if you follow the game's rules properly...

Friday, May 03, 2013

Evil Dead Review

One question we should perhaps try to clear up at the outset is as to whether Evil Dead should be considered a sequel, a remake or a reboot. Well frankly it's slightly confusing as, although it is being talked about as a simple reboot of the series, it manages to follow the first The Evil Dead (1981) fairly closely and yet is being talked about as a series that will (at least according to director Fede Alvarez and producer Bruce Campbell) eventually cross over with the original Evil Dead series (sometime after Evil Dead 4 - which will be called Army of Darkness 2). So it's a surprisingly difficult question to answer accurately - let just say that it's clearly not an out-and-out sequel but that it does appear that it is set in the same universe as the main series.

Evil Dead follows a group of five friends who choose to stay at a remote cabin in the middle of the woods in order to help one of their number, Mia (played by Jane Levy), overcome her drug addiction. She is aided in her quest to go cold turkey by her friend and qualified nurse Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), as well as her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Of course, before long, we know that drug addiction is going to be the very least of their concerns...

When exploring the basement turns up a bunch of dead cats, the smell of burnt flesh, a shotgun and plastic wrapped package that is further sealed by a knot of wires, our group of friends - rather than bugging out and heading off to find a cosy motel somewhere - decide that it's not a problem and the place is just going to need a bit of sprucing. Clearly, none of them have ever watched a horror movie.

Which is also the only explanation that can be found when Eric decides to take some wire cutters to the package and finds, inside, a hefty book that is (rather originally) bound in human skin - the Natorum Demonto. It's a nasty evil book filled with crude sketches, strange incantations and is liberally daubed (possibly in blood and, helpfully, in English!) with warnings not to read any further and definitely not to attempt to recite any of the phrases contained therein. But, of course, Eric is so excited to find a human skin bound book that he goes and ignores all the warnings and actively goes seeking out dubious Latin phrases (which, unfortunately don't really sound scary any more, ever since JK Rowling cornered the market on the use of Latin in fiction). From this point on, all manner of bloody mayhem ensues...

And bloody the mayhem is. One thing Evil Dead does not skimp on is the gore. Flesh is seared, pierced, sliced and burnt and an array of objects - from glass shards to machetes, from pieces of a porcelain toilet to electric meat knives, from shotguns to nail guns - are utilised to inflict gruesome injuries on all and sundry. But the trouble is that, as the violence tries harder and harder to top itself for brutality, it becomes so over-the-top that it actually becomes comical - indeed, there is one moment (and you'll know it when you see it) that reminded me so much of the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail that I ended up laughing out loud at a moment I'm sure the film makers didn't intend to be amusing when they shot it.

And that's another problem. It's all so po-faced (especially compared to some of the previous movies in the Evil Dead franchise) with everyone taking themselves so very seriously and, at times, that's at odds with the sheer overwhelming lunacy of the violence.

And so, while the question of exactly what Evil Dead is turned out to be a difficult one to answer, an altogether easier question to answer is whether or not this reboot/remake/sequel manages to live up to its tagline as "the most terrifying film you'll ever experience". And the simple answer is "no". For reasons that I'll explain.

Back in 1981, when The Evil Dead exploded onto our cinema screens it was a breath of fresh (albeit blood-flecked) air; its level of gore and violence was something that had never been seen before, it earned a citation as a 'video nasty' and was even banned on video in a number of countries. The story of a group of five students who, inadvertently, summon up a demon that then begins brutally dispatching them really cemented itself as one of the most influential horror movies of the 1980s, and helped to establish a number of the tropes of horror movies.

But, skip forward thirty two years to the present day and many of the things that were so original about The Evil Dead are now clichéd and predictable. But it's not just that. This reboot/remake/sequel just didn't have any magic to it - the characters are dull and stupid and it's impossible to really care about them; the gore, while substantial, never really felt particularly imaginative. And perhaps most telling of all, while there are literally buckets of blood, there are very few substantial scares.

Can I recommend a cinema viewing? No, please don't encourage them.

Can I recommend it for a watch on DVD/Bluray/Netflix? Well, if you fancy watching a horror movie where the gore is more outstanding than the cast and you are prepared for an awful air of predictability then feel free to give it a go.

My rating: 5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

Three, if we are to rely upon the veracity of De La Soul, is the magic number.

But the truth is, three is often a dangerous number when it comes to movies. Too often it seems that the third movie is the one in which a franchise reveals its flaws; sometimes (like in Beverly Hills Cop III) it shows itself  as a franchise that has run out of steam and out of ideas, sometimes (like in Jaws 3) it shows itself to be almost a parody of the movie that spawned it, while other times (like in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr) it's just so apocalyptically bad that it's hard to believe that it shares even the vaguest creative DNA with its predecessors.

So, with Jon Favreau (director of the first two Iron Man installments) having stepped aside and Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon and writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) taking over the directorial reins for this third installment, the question was whether Iron Man still had its mojo workin' or whether it was set to join a long list of third movie failures...

Iron Man 3 picks up on events post-The Avengers and we meet a Tony Stark who is struggling to sleep, is struggling to maintain his relationship with Pepper, and is trying to cope with occasional bouts of anxiety attacks (which I would imagine are very much a risk after having hand-delivered a nuke to another dimension and then falling several miles to near certain doom). Yes, the old Tony Stark is still there - the playfulness, the witty repartee - but things clearly aren't the same for him since the Chitauri hit town last summer.

And while Tony struggles to come to terms with his inner demons, a new terrorist is in town - The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley), who is seemingly always several steps ahead of the US government, and whose actions soon bring him into direct conflict with Tony Stark. But, as well as a terrorist to worry about, there's also Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce), a blast from Tony Stark's past whose motives are initially rather unclear but who is clearly playing with some dangerous technology...

For me, Iron Man 3, deftly avoids the obvious third movie pitfalls and, despite us joining a slightly more world weary Tony Stark, this was - for me - the lightest movie in the franchise so far, with more than a few nods in the direction of family entertainment (while still managing a fewer slyer winks for its older fans). Robert Downey Jr. simply is Tony Stark, to the point that it's hard to see where Robert ends and Tony begins and that's good because there were a few places where it was up to Downey to carry the whole movie (luckily, that's the kind of challenge he's up for).

Guy Pearce delivers as Killian, while Ben Kingsley manages to present a truly multi-faceted performance in the role as The Mandarin. There is plentiful action, more explosions than you can shake a stick at and enough CGI to keep even the most devout CGI fan nourished for some time...

...but, it was not quite the comic book perfection that we got with The Avengers. The motives of the main villain were more than a little unclear and, at times, his plan seemed to be rather torturous when something far simpler could have delivered exactly the same benefits. Also, despite there being more people in suits in this movie than all the other Iron Man movies put together, there was less Iron Man in Iron Man 3 than I was expecting (and far more Tony Stark).

I also imagine that comic book fans will have their own opinions on this interpretation of The Mandarin, which stands out as quite different to the character we've come to know through the Iron Man comics. Some will see this version as a master stroke, others are likely to come away feeling they've changed the character too much...

But, none of that can take away from the fact that Iron Man 3 delivers quality, popcorn-fuelled, entertainment and is the first true blockbuster of this movie year that really has to be seen in the cinema to be properly appreciated. It's fun, it's action-packed and - while it has a few moments where the pace dips - it's still a solid 8.5 out of 10 for me.