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Review: Fifty Shades Of Grey by Jamie

I entered the booking number into the automated ticket dispensary, fingers trembling with apprehension and a sense of growing dread despite the alcohol coursing through my system, the result of a couple of hastily downed pints at the bowling alley opposite in order to try and steady my nerves. The kind of nerves that anyone would experience when willingly putting themselves through a masochistic experience such as this. My mind was a blur as I waited in line for refreshments, a large coke on my mind, something large enough to try and help me endure the two hour torture session I was about to submit myself to. Finally it was my turn. I ordered, fingers fumbling with my money as I handed it over. Could the person behind the counter sense my fear? Did they know what it was that I was here to do?

“I LOST A BET!” I yelled, slightly drunkenly, at the man who was taking tickets. “Ok…” He replied, a confused look upon his face until he saw the name of the movie on the ticket that I handed him and he chuckled knowingly, tearing it and informing me that I would be in screen one, seat M17. Of all the lies I had thought up to try and save face in front of the ticket collector, I lost a bet was the one that had suddenly come to me in my moment of panic. He bought it, I thought to myself, smiling and safe in the knowledge that this perfect stranger who I would almost certainly never have another social interaction with knew that I was not here of my own choice. I entered the screening room, the doorway decorated with a number of black, grey, lighter grey and white balloons. Apparently the party industry never anticipated a day when they would actually need balloons in a massive variety of shades of grey.

The screening room was packed, a few couple sprinkled through here and there and frankly a lot more men than I’d anticipated but the majority of the crowd were older women, the kind that apparently didn’t realise that porn was widely and freely available on the internet.Perhaps it was my imagination but I could almost swear that the scent of ancient vaginas lubricating themselves for the first time in years out of anticipation for what was to come permeated the room. Pity the poor bastard who had to clean this place afterwards. I tried to keep my head down and was distraught to find that my seat, seat M17 which I had chosen thanks to it’s position next to the aisle, was currently occupied by a creature that I could best describe as Jabba the Hutt in a sundress. Best not to disturb this beast, I thought, and took the seat opposite, still on the aisle, and hoped that no one would claim it for themselves. Eventually four teenage girls came and sat in the four empty seats next to me and it looked like I was safe from having to move or attempt to meet the sundress wearing Hutt in hand to hand combat. And so I settled in to watch Fifty Shades of Grey…

What can really be said about E.L. James novel Fifty Shades of Grey that hasn’t already been said? We’ve heard all the criticism, that it’s domestic abuse tarted up as kinky sex, that it has as much to do with realistic BDSM as The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (Not the first Care Bears movie, the BDSM scenes of which were extensively researched and portrayed in as realistic a way as possible) and that it’s poorly written with characters being little more than cardboard cut-outs with the internal monologue of pasta. Some of us, myself included, know these criticisms to be just because we’ve actually read the damnable thing. I read it because I’m a glutton for the worst entertainment has to offer and wondered if reading a bad book could be as enjoyable as watching a bad movie. Spoiler alert, it isn’t. It’s a lot longer and good luck trying to get a bunch of friends round for a drunken reading of Fifty Shades of Grey. Anyway, with the way that this book has been slammed by critics, laypeople and kink enthusiasts (And I mean slammed as in criticised not as in, you know, a good way) alike, the world was left wondering if a movie adaptation could be any better. Well it is.

Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey: The Motion Picture is better than Kinky Twilight Fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey: The Novel but please, don’t get your hopes up that this is the great BDSM work of fiction that the world has been clamouring for. Saying this movie is better than the source material it is based on isn’t much different that saying a rhinoceros with two legs has a better chance of survival than a rhinoceros with no legs. I mean, it’s technically probably true but the difference is negligible at best. The story is still largely the same story which means that it’s weak though it does have the advantage of not being narrated by it’s main character Anastasia Steele and her fucking “inner goddess” so we’re at least saved from that indignity.

The film tells the story of the aforementioned Miss Steele who ends up interviewing handsome young billionaire Christian Grey in place of her room mate who has fallen ill. There is an immediate attraction between the two (apparently) and he is soon stalking her, tracking her phone using GPS and picking her up while she’s drunk and bringing her back to strange hotel rooms and changing her clothes while she is passed out. You know, love. It is as the plot, well, progresses I guess that Anna learns that Christian has special tastes when it comes to the bedroom. He sleeps hanging upside down and often leaves the bed in the middle of the night. Could it be that Christian Grey is in fact the mysterious Batman who stalks Gotham’s criminals at night? I kid of course. Christian is actually in to kinky sex which could only really be shocking to post-menopausal grandmothers and people who’ve never heard of the internet in this day and age. A few bland sex scenes later and we’re left with Anna wondering if she can really go down this sexy path and also knowing that if she doesn’t she might just lose Christian forever! Whatever will she do? Will you care? No. No you won’t.

Ugh. Ok, let’s get in to the meat of this thing. Why is Fifty Shades of Grey the movie better than the book even if it is only marginally so? That, as near as I can tell, rest on the shoulders of two people. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson and Anastasia Steele actress Dakota Johnson. Taylor-Johnson, it seems, didn’t take the material as seriously as the author did and so she thankfully injects it with a slight camp, tongue-in-cheek tone the story sorely, sorely needed. She knows that she’s making a movie based on trash and so she’s going to have a little fun with it and that is much appreciated by those of us who have forced ourselves to see it.

Dakota Johnson is the real highlight of the movie though. She takes what was a weak-willed, personality-less character in Anastasia Steele and actually gives her some agency and, most importantly, a sense of humour. She’s quick witted and smart and Johnson has a real sense of comedic timing which really works to her advantage. Whereas the Anastasia Steele in the book feels as though she’s being manipulated and cajoled into doing things that she doesn’t really want to do through some stupidly blind love for an abusive partner, this Anastasia Steele actually feels as though she’s in control and is allowing things to proceed as she wants and at her pace. It’s a stark contrast and one that’s really important if you’re going to bring this story to the big screen.

As for the bad, well, there’s Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey himself. Well, perhaps bad isn’t the right word just kind of left without much to do beyond say fuck a few times and fret about Anna. Oh, and I guess he broods a few times too. What I’m saying is that he isn’t really giving much to work with here and that which he is given leaves him feeling much more like a charicature than a character, especially when placed up against the much more wilful Anna that inhabits the screen version of this story. All his assertions that he wants to make her his come of as silly rather than sexy or steamy. And he ends up just seeming like a complete tool, perhaps even moreso than if he had the love-blind, meek, enabling Anna opposite him. Perfect example is a scene where Christian is explaining his sexual inclinations. Anna asks if they can still go on dates, watch movies and such to which he replies “That’s not really my thing.” There is a moment’s silence in which Anna looks a little upset prompting Christian to ask her to keep an open mind. Excuse me? Did your character just say that he’s absolutely not interested in what the other character wants and then accuse the other character of being closed minded because they weren’t interested in what he wanted? Wow.

As for the other characters, ummm, yeah. They don’t really matter. As for plot, well, it’s a slight improvement over the original but it’s still the same basic thing. Nothing actually happens in this movie. Why would it need to? Our main character begins a relationship with a billionaire. Anytime the plot needs to move forward, he throws money at it. Job done. And when the movie wasn’t being tongue in cheek or the romance was trying to be taken seriously, well, let’s just say I spent a lot of time checking the time and figuring out just how much time I had left and as I already mentioned, the sex scenes were just kind of bland and it wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the girls in my row couldn’t stop giggling through each and every one.

So in the long run, this movie was not as bad as it could have been but that by no means makes it good. I’ll say that, since it’s fair to compare this to Twilight due to it’s fanfic roots, it is better than all but one of the Twilight movies (that one being the last one. Thanks Michael Sheen!) and that is largely because Dakota Johnson > Kristen Stewart. Hell, this movie even managed to get a couple of laughs out of me. Still I can’t recommend this to anyone . If you want romance with a hint of sexiness then… well, fine. I guess there isn’t a dearth out there particularly for female audiences. But if you want porn, then the internet is out there and those things can have some pretty deep story lines sometimes I hear. One and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

Foxcatcher

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31 Days Of Horror 16: Frankenweenie by Jamie

So I figured I might as well male this animated diversion a trilogy since I was reminded that Frankenweenie existed at some point and out of the three, it could be said that this film has the largest horror pedigree because it is obvious that Tim Burton loves classic horror films, 1931’s Frankenstein in particular.

The story concerns Victor Frankenstein… wait a minute, Victor Frankenstein? Huh, fine. So yes, Victor Frankenstein loves his dog Sparky. Unfortunately Sparky is hit by a car and killed. Inspired by an experiment in his science class, Victor decides to try and reanimate his beloved pet and, living up to his namesake, he is successful. His classmates learn of this and, worried that Victor will show them up at the science fair, they decide to try and get the secret of animal resurrection for themselves.

So like I said, for the most part this is a pretty straightforward take on Frankenstein (the movie more so than the book). It follows it pretty much directly with a few diversions here or there to reference a number of other horror films (from Godzilla to Gremlins). There are differences of course. Re-animated Sparky retains his former personality rather than becoming a lumbering, misunderstood beast-dog, though he still does wind up being misunderstood of course.

Now I don’t have a problem with Frankenweenie basically being Frankenstein with a dog, in fact it’s really rather enjoyable because I love 1931’s Frankenstein too. It even manages to put a more modern spin on the story. The message of Frankenweenie isn’t “Science has dared to spit in the eye of God!” Rather the message is science is awesome and it is neither good nor bad but it can be used both ways. The middle of the movie even contains a great scene that is essentially science vs ignorance with one character complaining about how Pluto isn’t even a planet any more thanks to science. It’s great.

he movie does have another message however, one about loss and letting go, a message that seemed to have sunk in by the end of the movie in rather a nice, heartfelt way until it is completely negated by the film’s ending which is a shame. If Burton had had the guts to stick to where the movie looked like where it was heading, it would have been a vastly superior film.

Still this is probably Burton’s best film in years, reminiscent of his earlier stuff like Edward Scissorhands and, by virtue of it being stop animated and being filled with horror references, A Nightmare Before Christmas. This makes sense since it’s based on a short film of his from 1984 and it was nice to see him returning to an original idea of his rather than taking an existing property and ‘Burtonizing’ it. Hopefully, he’ll stay on this path for a bit longer. Three and a half pints out of five. Laterz.

Frankenweenie_(2012_film)_poster



Review: Epic by Jamie

I often moan about 3D. I find it unnecessary and it generally takes away from the cinema experience rather than enhance it. When I saw Toy Story 3, for example, I’d forgotten that I was even watching it in 3D after around ten minutes. If that’s the case, then what’s the point? Of all the 3D movies I’ve seen, only two have ever impressed me. Piranha 3D which used the 3D as the gimmick it is, and Transformers 3 though that may have been me trying to grasp onto anything I could possibly enjoy from that shit pile.

And so it is that for the most part I see movies in 2D whenever possible. But sometimes that isn’t possible like when a preview screening of Epic sells out in 2D because the world is an annoying place. So after much bitching and moaning I buckled down, paid the extra money for the “3D experience” and the stupid 3D glasses as well. And goddamnit, it was actually worth it this time. For the first time that I can remember, the 3D actually added something. It probably has to do with the nature of the movie. In a forest, you really can make a depth of vision that’s noticeable especially when you’re experiencing it at the height of a bug. So yes, first off I’ll admit that the 3D was actually good throughout and I’d recommend seeing it this way if you do choose to see it.

Still 3D isn’t the reason people go to the cinema. They want to be entertained. They want to see something new. Epic succeeds on the first part, the second well kinda. Obviously this is a story we’ve all seen before, inhabitants of a forest trying to save said forest. An outsider being shrunk down and helping in that battle is also something we’ve seen before. Yes, Epic is very, very similar to “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest” except now we have a snail and a slug instead of a bat as the comic-relief.

So yeah, you know the story. There’s a scientist named Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis) who’s obsessed with discovering a race of tiny men that he believes live in the forest. His daughter MK (Amanda Seyfried) comes to stay with him after her mother dies but believes him to be insane because of said obsession. Events unfurl that lead to MK being shrunk, finding out that her dad was right and having to help the tiny race known as the Leaf Men fight their enemy, The Boggans, who spread rot.

Honestly, the film sounds like it’s literally been reassembled from the assorted carcass of other movies like some kind of Frankenfilm’s monster. Take a bit of Ferngully, a bit of ‘Honey I Shrunk The Kids’, a little ‘Lord of the Rings’, stitch it all together and you get Epic. Despite all that there is an enjoyable story here and there’s some innovative stuff that I’ve never seen on film before like the theory that Bomba comes up with that we can’t see the race of little people because they live faster than we do. Hence when MK is shrunk, all the larger animals seem to be moving in slow motion. It’s not completely insane. Pigeons, for example, see in slow motion. That’s why they leave it until the last second before moving out of the way of danger. They’re not completely stupid… Just partially stupid.

The voice talent is all pretty good. Biggest surprise was Steven Tyler as an old caterpillar (caterpillars do not work that way) called Nim Galuu. His voice fit the role well and he did a pretty decent job. The slug and the snail voiced by Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd respectively were entertaining enough. Sure, they had a few jokes that fell flat but the kids in the audience seemed to enjoy them so fair enough. The stand out, however, is of course Christoph Waltz as Mandrake, the villain. What can I say? He’s Christoph fucking Waltz for fucks sake, of course he’s good. Perhaps most interesting for the character itself was that he has a son and he actually seems proud of him. This is surprising because normally when a villain has a child, they find them bumbling or incompetent and quite an embarrassment. This was a nice change. Also Mandrake wears the skin of a bat which may have been a mistake on the film makers part. You expect me to root against a character wearing a bat cape and cowl? For shame.

Another big surprise was Colin Farrell as Ronin, the leader of the Leaf Men. He brings a lot of humanity to a character that, in a lesser film, would just be a gruff hard ass who’s always getting on the case of the male lead, Nod (Josh Hutcherson). Instead he’s a layered character who cares about Nod due to his relationship with Nod’s father and it’s his unresolved emotional feelings towards the Queen of the forest (Beyonce Knowles) and his strong sense of duty that really drive him on his quest.

So yeah, overall a perfectly enjoyable film and one that is actually improved through it’s use of 3D. There’s a battle sequence early on between the Leaf Men and the Boggans that’s fast paced and extremely lively just because of the way they’ve used the depth and vibrancy that the 3D provides them and I applaud them for it. Still, it probably doesn’t quite deserve the title Epic. Maybe Good but who’s going to see a movie just called Good? No one. There are moments where the film seems to slow down just a little too much and he relationship between the two leads never really develops naturally like it should. I’d probably rank this just below your better non-Pixar CGI films. It never really reaches the heights of ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ or ‘Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs’ but it’s certainly better than stuff like the Ice Age or Madagascar sequels. Three pints out of five. Laters.

Poster



Review – Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) by Jamie

It seems as though I’m stuck in a world of watching adaptations of books I haven’t read at the moment. First of it was the surprisingly entertaining The Hunger Games, then Disney’s alright but somewhat lacklustre John Carter and now we’re back with another Disney attempt with Oz the Great and Powerful. It serves as a prequel of sorts to the 1939 original movie and takes elements from L. Frank Baum’s novels as well as bits from Gregory Maguire’s ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ as near as I can tell.

It basically tells the story of Oscar Diggs, stage name Oz, a magician/con-man with a travelling fair who is accidentally transported to the Land of Oz when he and his hot air balloon are caught in a tornado in Kansas. He finds out that there is a prophecy foretelling the arrival of a great and powerful wizard bearing the same name as the land itself. Oz decides to take advantage of this fortuitous coincidence when he discovers that the prophecy states that the Wizard will be named King and get mountains and mountains of treasure. He soon finds himself caught up in a war between three witches and has to decide whether he is going to try and get home or become the man he’d like to be and he has fooled others into believing he is.

My, it almost sounds like a fantasy version of John Carter when I write it out like that…

Anyway that’ll do for a synopsis since the film’s currently out at the cinema and that. The question is, is it worth you plonking your hard earned cash monies down on a cinema counter in order to go see it?

Well up front I’ll say I saw it in 2D because in a 3D film your eyes spend ten minutes adjusting to it and then you forget that it’s even in 3D in the first place so what’s the point in wasting that extra couple of quid? Still there were scenes that definitely seemed to be built for the medium so who knows, it might add something to it. Of course the film is also very, very colourful, something that tends to get lost in the 3D films I have seen so I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.

The film itself was surprisingly entertaining. I guess the surprise shouldn’t have been so great because it is Sam Raimi directing and, generally speaking, the man does good work. Franco is also generally entertaining as the titular Oz, in fact all of the actors are pretty good though for the first half of the film Mila Kunis seems bizarrely wooden like she’s trying to pull of naïve but isn’t quite getting it and comes of instead as someone who may have suffered a very, very slight brain injury. I mean, she’s still good but something seems a little off.

Still this film could have been a lot worse. Hollywood’s track record with prequels hasn’t exactly been great. The Hobbit left me wondering why the hell it couldn’t have just been one film, perhaps two at the most. Prometheus should have been a lot less stupid. And then there’s Star Wars. Oz manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that these other films fall in to and I think the reason possibly is that there really isn’t that much to the original Wizard of Oz film itself (I mean with regards to plot. Of course there‘s all kinds of deeper meanings that can be read into it). It’s a fairly straight forward story about a girl on a journey of discover through a weird and marvellous world. You get the sense that there is a back story, from the brief scene when the Good and Wicked Witches are in the scene together in Munchkin Land and of course with the Wizard himself, but none of it is really explored within the film itself. There’s a lot to explore there and you can do it without really stepping on the originals toes too much.

The film does have its problems. Perhaps most distracting was, whilst it was referencing the original film just fine, how it almost seemed as though it was trying to be every other movie. One character is deceived by someone they trust, becomes disfigured and turns to the dark side. At one point Oz says something like “I may not be the Wizard you were expecting but maybe I can be the Wizard you need.” Also he spends a lot of time acting opposite a digital monkey. I know that these may rather be more a problem with my film obsessed brain rather than the movie itself but it all just seemed a bit, well, obvious. I think the broader point that I’m trying to make here is that this film suffers from a similar problem to John Carter. It’s all very pretty, and I mean very, very pretty, but once more it never feels as though it’s anything we haven’t seen before. Oz get’s away with it a bit better though since it has a) a more likeable lead and b) it doesn’t seem to be taking itself to seriously like Carter did at points. It’s all just a bit of a fun romp through a weird fantasy land with a con-man.

Speaking of Oz’s character, there’s something about him that puts me in mind a little of a more family friendly version of Ash from the Evil Dead series. In fact, since this is a Raimi film, I wouldn’t be surprised if the character was thought of with how he might have a young Bruce Campbell, who of course gets a cameo, play it in mind.

Despite it’s flaws, like the makeup of the Wicked Witch of the West looking like a cross between the Mask and the Green Goblin, Oz the Great and Powerful is a pretty enjoyable return to Oz. Speaking of which, would it have killed you to have some references to that film in here Raimi? Maybe Tick-Tock or, God forbid, some Wheelers? Anyway, it’s certainly more enjoyable than John Carter or the film it has been most compared to, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Three out of five. Laterz. Oh, and if Zach Braff’s character Frank from the Baum Brothers Circus at the beginning of the film is shown in a sequel writing a book based on his friend’s adventures, I will probably go insane.

Oz



Review: Alice In Wonderland by Jamie

Spoilers ahead.

No long, extended set up to this review. My head hurts again. You all know the basic history of Alice in Wonderland, especially the Disney version and if you don’t then where the hell have you been hiding all of your life?

Alright fine, quick summary. Little blonde girl called Alice ends up falling down a rabbit hole and ends up in a surreal nightmare world called Wonderland where everything is crazy as shit, cats disappear, people celebrate days that aren’t their birthdays and people play golf with flamingos. After all the craziness she finds her way back home.

There are we all caught up now? Good. Anyway, earlier this year saw the release of Tim Burton’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’ which I guess you could call a kind of pseudo-sequel to the Disney cartoon version. The film takes place when Alice is nineteen years old and, after running away from her engagement party, once again she finds herself following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and ending up in Wonderland again. Well, sort of anyway. For some reason Tim Burton has decided to rename Wonderland to Underland, explaining that Wonderland is what Alice mistakenly called it when she was there when she was a little girl.

I’d just like to know why? Why would you change the name of Wonderland. I’ve never read the books but a quick search of Wikipedia, guardian of all human knowledge, implies that the lands real name was never Underland in the books, it was always Wonderland. It’s the same problem that the recent ‘Last Airbender’ suffered from. Why would M. Night change the way the names are pronounced? More comparisons to the Last Airbender to come later.

Like right now. The main problem with this film is the first half. Much like the Last Airbender, scenes seem to skip through without any real character development at all. It seems as though Burton is just trying to hit notes and include as many familiar things from Wonderland as he can before getting where he really wants to be, the Tea Party scene with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter. Thankfully after that things seem to calm down a bit and things develop a little more like a film should. Still keep in mind that the Tea Part scene doesn’t occur until half an hour into the film so that’s a lot of time spent on stuff that Burton doesn’t seem that bothered about.

To be fair, things do become a bit more entertaining after that scene and the story seems to come together with the characters involved becoming a lot more fleshed out, particularly The Mad Hatter who, from what I can recall of the Disney film wasn’t that big of a character. Still I haven’t read the book so maybe I can’t judge.

Still, whilst the film does come together a bit more towards the end, it never really seems to deal that much with Alice until the films very final scene. Sure, what comes before does build her character up a little and influence the way in which she acts in the final scene but it’s not really clear how. You see, the entire point of the film is that you should take charge of your own life and do what you want to do. Alice does this in the end by deciding not to marry the man who had been set up for her, instead deciding to go into the opium trade or something. I’m not sure if that’s exactly the case but it’s the Victorian era and she goes to China on business so I’m assuming opium is involved somehow.

The point is, I’m not sure where she has gotten the idea to be in control of her life. Upon reaching Wonderland she is told that an ancient prophecy says that she will slay the Jabberwocky, defeating the Red Queen and allowing the White Queen to reclaim her throne. She then does this which essentially means she has done exactly what everyone has told her to do. In fact, whilst a little hesitant, she seems far more willing to do what other people have told her in Wonderland than she did on the surface before going there so the whole sudden realisation that she has to be her own master (Or mistress, I suppose but that just seems oddly sexual for some reason… possibly my depraved mind) seems to come completely out of left field.

All in all, the film isn’t bad. The special effects are beautiful and Tim Burton doesn’t seem to go into full kooky gothic Burton mode. You know what I’m talking about. Well, I guess now that I think about it again, he does but it seems a little more subtle some how. The acting is all pretty good, no one stood out as particularly bad and Stephen Fry is awesome as the Cheshire Cat. His performance just seems to convey exactly the way a cat with magical powers would be. Johnny Depp is pretty much as good as you’d expect him to be as well though he does look eerily like an insane, ginger Elijah Wood. Still, the film isn’t particularly good either. It’s just lacking something somewhere and it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what which is a shame because I really wish I could tell you what it was. Maybe it‘s just another case of style over substance from Tim Burton. Yep, that‘s probably it.

All in all, I suppose it’s worth a watch if there’s nothing else on, maybe a rental but I’d definitely watch it first before deciding whether or not to buy it. Still, I bet it looks good on Blu-Ray. Two and a half pints out of five. Laterz.




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