Sunday, 24 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

I went to see this on Wednesday night in my local Odeon, an Art Deco George Coles design that was brutally chopped in the 70s to permit the installation of two smaller screens. This has made the beautiful main cinema a balcony-only affair, which means the audience endures odd, echoing acoustics and the sense of being very far away from the film. Luckily this time I got screen 3, which was cosy and nearly empty. So, the movie…

1. The jokes:

The film is pitched as a comedy/scifi, which is a nice idea, but it's hit and miss stuff. The best comic actor in the cast, Peter Serafinowicz, is criminally underused, and while the script isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. It just illustrates that it's hard to get consistent laughs in films, doubly so when your lead has to interact with CGI characters. Making jokes snap and pop when interacting with a racoon stand-in on a green screen backdrop must be HARD. Still, kudos for trying.

2. The cast:

Are good. Pratt, Saldana and the Diesel/ Cooper voiced characters all do fine, and although the movie is in such a rush it kind of misses setting up the group properly, the emphasis on friendship is something I like. The raccoon is probably the best-rounded character, both Pratt and Saldana developed little further than nods to tragic background tales. Still, it’s surprising how well they fit as a group and how much more likable they are for their light-touch bickering. The supporting cast of Rooker, Hounsou and Gillan are all nice picks. I only felt a little sorry for the villain, who had no good lines at all.

3. The music:

Falls weirdly flat – or at least it did for me. I am a massive fan of the songs in the soundtrack, yet to me they added little to the film. They didn’t generate goosebumps and they didn’t make me smile. I don’t know, maybe it was the sound system in screen 3. In the end I think that it all felt a little tacked on. Perhaps that’s harsh, but I do prefer Luc Besson’s approach in the Fifth Element, where a riot of spliced world music helped create something that felt really new.

4. The Galaxy:

Overall this galaxy looks pretty good – the hollowed out space head was nice to see, and I enjoyed Star Lord’s time residue device, which scans ghostly echoes of the dead in a ruined city. One setting that's a bit of a letdown is the home world, which ends up looking like any spick-and span Star Trek city - but the only real niggle is that it feels like they missed a trick with Star Lord’s ship. Couldn’t they have designed him something with a touch more personality?

5. The emotion:

One moment in the movie, shared between a tree-creature and talking raccoon, choked me up good and proper. I didn't see that coming. Starlord’s childhood trauma had no effect. Go figure.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Outlander (2008)

1. Looker

Outlander (2008) is the first movie I watched on my brand, spanking new telly. I chose it despite a clutch of poor reviews, because it seemed to be about Vikings fighting an alien monster. What, I wondered, is not to like? It turned out to be well worthy of an HD screen - the scenery and sets are gorgeous, cinematographer Pierre Gill doing grand work. There's striking imagery throughout, including a huge, picked whale carcass in a sacked village, and a monster which is a very decent effort for a movie of this size. 

2. Crasher

Ah, films that start with crashing space ships. Pitch Black, Alien 3 - and Outlander. I am a simple enough creature and I have to confess that any movie opening with such a scene will need to work hard to lose me. Good casting helps too, and this was no slouch, with John Hurt as a pigtailed Chieftain (always good) and Sophia Myles doing a decent turn as his warrior daughter. However, any film that casts Ron Pearlman as a rival Chief, then does absolutely nothing with him, is going to frustrate me. 

3. Portrayer

After the Pearlman madness my mind wandered a bit and I started to think about the way Vikings are depicted in the movie. I really enjoyed the shields game sequence - second and final element in our hero's acceptance into Viking culture, after slaying a bear. But the Viking warriors reminded me of Costner-esque Merry Men or Jackson's Gimli - gruff with hearts of gold. I know academics frown upon portrayals of Vikings as rampaging savages - but might it have worked here? Could it have been interesting to have the hero caught between two breeds of beast, as opposed to protecting noble primitives from a "dragon"?

4. Liner

Look, I enjoyed the movie - I probably only started thinking about different stories because there is a definite lack of good lines in the movie. I don't really mind the cuddly Vikings as long as they have a strong script to get their teeth into. In this case, for me, there just isn't enough for Hurt, Myles and Caviezel to say. It's not a terrible script - it doesn't make you groan too often - it's just that it doesn't ever fizz. Frustrating, because I really think one more draft could have significantly improved the movie's overall effect.

5. Caviezeler

I still don't know what to make of Jim Caviezel. My instinct is to say that he's atrocious, but then I must have watched his super-hammy Count of Monte Cristo movie a hundred times. Yes that's mostly about the scene chewing Guy Pierce sneerathon, but I couldn't get the whole way through if Caviezel was poor, surely? Plus I kind of like the way he mutely blinks through the first ten minutes of Outlander, after learning norse through a robot eye device. Maybe he should do more silent movies...