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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.

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31 Days Of Horror 14: Monsters University (2013) by Jamie

Ok… I know I was stretching the definition of horror with Stoker. Yes, there is no way that Monsters University could truly be defined as a “horror” film but Monsters is right there in the title and I’ve been enveloped in gore, murder and all that kind of stuff lately and god damnit I need something light so I’m going ahead with this one… Did I mention that the word Monsters was in the title?

So, the original Monsters Inc. It’s a good movie I can’t deny that but I was never a massive fan of it.  It had some interesting ideas but it was kinda formulaic especially after Toy Story 1 and 2. It kinda falls above Bug’s Life for me but definitely near the bottom of the Pixar pile, a good pile though it may be. So how good could a prequel released twelve years after the original actually be especially given the fact that prequel is almost a curse word by this point?

Well, honestly I think I preferred it to the original. Scrap that. I definitely preferred it to the original. I’ll admit, I was sceptical as many were when I first heard of this film. It seemed as though lately Pixar had been falling into a sequel quagmire and their latest original film wasn’t exactly ground-breaking (Yes, I’m looking at you Brave). Monsters University was just another attempt at a soulless cash in by a company that was running out of good original ideas. I also wondered exactly why they were releasing a movie set at a university, a movie ostensibly aimed at kids.

Having watched it though, I can say that whilst this may not be Pixar’s most heart-warming movie, though it still has it’s moments, it is one of their funniest. I also realised that despite the colourful monster designs this isn’t a movie aimed squarely at kids like the Cars franchise is and it made sense to me when I considered that twelve year gap between films. The kids who saw the first movie are probably around University age themselves now. There’s no way kids are gonna get jokes about new age philosophy or subtly implied accidental incest jokes but the kids who watched that first movie twelve years ago are and this is a movie for them. There’s still plenty of jokes and stuff kids will enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but I firmly believe that kids today aren’t the primary audience for this film.

Pixar are really good at this ageing with their audience thing and getting a good balance between appealing to both kids and adults. Hell, just look at Toy Story 3 released ffteen years after the first film. It’s all about growing up and leaving behind your childhood, about parents saying goodbye to their kids. It’s a film that I absolutely believes resonates more with the generation who grew up watching that first film than it does with kids today.

Still, it does fall into a few traps that prequels inevitably do. The crammed in jokes that serve as a bridge between the two films. They aren’t anywhere egregious as the hoops Lucas jumped through to ensure that every little thing in the Star Wars prequels was connected to everything else (3PO was built by Vader! Obi-Wan was chased by Boba Fett and his dad! Yoda hung out with Chewbacca!) but there is a plot thread featuring Randall from the first film which seems like it just stops at one point, feeling like an excuse to have the character there because, you know, prequel.

Still overall this a damn enjoyable film and, to further justify this being included in my horror month, one of the final scenes is a pretty nice homage to horror movies in general. It even takes place at a summer camp. It’s a scene where a character finally realizes… Well, saying anymore would be entering spoiler territory but it’s a surprisingly different place than I thought the movie would go so good for it. Four pints out of five. Laterz.

 

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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.

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Review – John Carter (2012) by Jamie

John Carter has one of the most troubled histories in all of cinema. It’s long and storied past began all the way back in 1931 when Bob Clampett, a director of Looney Tunes, approached then still alive author Edgar Rice Burroughs with a proposition to turn his book ‘A Princess of Mars’ into an animated feature. Unfortunately test footage of this adaptation proved unfulfilling to a nation and MGM decided to make live action Flash Gordon serials instead. Throughout the decades the rights to the book would pass to Disney and Paramount with each attempt at an adaptation proving unsuccessful until Disney finally began filming in 2010. So yes, nearly 80 years of development hell is quite an achievement.

John Carter’s problems were far from over however. In 2011 Disney lost a lot of money on a film called ‘Mars Needs Moms’ and seemed to decide that the problem with that film was the inclusion of the word Mars in the title never stopping to think that a film titled Unidentified Planet Needs Moms would probably have done even worse. So the originally proposed title for the film John Carter of Mars was truncated to simply John Carter, a title which, if you knew nothing of the history of the project or its source material, would leave you thinking you were going to see a film about a man with a decidedly average name and nothing else. Marketing! The film was finally released in the early spring of 2012 and, according to some reports, lost Disney somewhere in the region of 160 million dollars.

So how was it that a film based on source material that inspired everything from Flash Gordon to Star Wars could be such a massive flop? Let’s take a look.

The story concerns one John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former confederate soldier who has taken to prospecting since the end of the civil war. Whilst trying to escape the US cavalry who want a man of his experience to help them fight Apaches, he gets in a fight with a mysterious man with a mysterious medallion and said mysterious medallion whisks him away to a planet that the natives call Barsoom but which we know as Mars. It is a dying planet were disparate city-states (and half the cast of BBC/HBO’s Rome) fight each other for domination. There are the red skinned, human-like cities of Helium and Zodanga, Helium being the good but losing side and the Zodanga the evil but winning side thanks to there Jeddak (leader) Sab Than (Dominic West) mysteriously attaining a powerful weapon. There are also the four-armed, green skinned Tharks led by Jeddak Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who I guess are the noble savages who seem to remain as neutral as possible during this civil war. Because it’s an allegory, you see.

On Mars, John Carter has incredible strength and leaping abilities because of his anatomy and the gravitational differences between the two planets and so, whilst really just wanting to get home, he eventually gets embroiled in the conflict when the Princess of Helium (Because apparently they have a special word for king or leader but not Princess) Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) runs away after her father promises her in marriage to Sab Than in an effort to end the war. All the while the progress and outcome of the war is being place by a mystical race of space-faring immortals called the Therns, led by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who gave Sab Than his mysterious weapon and prevented Helium from discovering the same technology for themselves. Oh, and the whole plot is book ended with the story being told to Edgar Rice Burroughs as he reads his Uncle John Carter’s diary.

As you may be able to see from that synopsis, the plot is a bit bloated and convoluted. I mean it’s not Star Wars prequels with endless scenes of political maneuvering bad but it’s a little flabby around the waist. It seems as though there’s a pretty simple plot in there but it’s overly complicated which work to the films detriment because it seems as though it never really knows who it’s target audience is. There will be moments of comedy involving Carter discovering his amazing leaping abilities or a really fast stubby penis-dog (that is seriously the only way I can describe the character of Woola) or an action scene involving John Carter fighting four-armed, white furred King Kongs in an arena but then there’s also long scenes involving the religion of Mars or the weird technology called the ninth ray. Add these things all together and you get a bit of a disjointed mess that may work well in a book which can take as long as it wants to explain things but in a two hour film you need decide where to trim or your left with things which seem important but are never really satisfactorily explained. To be fair, I’m sure some of the hanging threads in this film would have been explored in sequels but, well, that’s not going to happen now.

Now, I should take a moment here to say that the movie itself isn’t actually terrible. It kept me decently entertained and it looks very, very pretty with some great special effects. The main problem with the film is the source material. As I said earlier, Burroughs’ Mars books have been massively influential on pretty much the entirety of science fiction that came after them. As a result the film seems a bit unoriginal. There’s not much here that we haven’t seem before which is a shame since the books were probably the originator of some of these tropes. We’ve seen an alien out of his element with increased strength and jumping abilities fight to save his adopted planet before. We’ve seen an evil emperor with devastatingly destructive technology before. We’ve seen space princesses, four armed aliens and people fighting for their lives against alien beasts in arenas before. The sad truth is that everything that John Carter sets out to do has been done in film time and time again because the books influenced those very films.

Still, as I say, it’s a decently entertaining film of waste a couple of hours two and perhaps the thing that annoyed me most was the framing device of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sticking him in there isn’t going to make me believe that the books are an actual history of events that actually took place Disney. It worked with Bilbo writing his story in The Lord of the Rings because it just did for some reason. Weirdly it doesn’t work as well in The Hobbit. Can’t adaptations of books just be that without throwing in all this meta-bullshit? I can’t help but feel as though it’s some kind of reverence for the age of books as we progress further and further into a digital world but the reason Burroughs’ books should be revered is because they’re good and because they influenced an entire genre of humanity’s collected fiction not because they tell a secret history of events that actually transpired.

So John Carter is, in the end, a watchable film that does nothing particularly new but isn’t as stupendously awful as it’s box office failure would have you believe. I honestly think that removing Mars from the title was a reason for it‘s failure because who wants to see a film called John Carter? It could be about an accountant or a mechanic or a tramp or anything.Anyway 2.5 out of 5. Laterz and let’s just hope Disney doesn’t plan on releasing any other space opera films with princesses and warring factions and decide that the sci-fi element isn’t what will sell it… Oh. Damn. Well, I guess we can all look forward to Wars: Episode VII in 2015!

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Review: The Avengers (AKA Avengers Assemble) by Jamie

This review is spoiler-free.

For around five years or so now, Marvel has been laying the groundwork for what many had hoped would be the greatest comic book movie event of all time. I speak, of course about The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble as it’s known here in the UK so that our simple British minds don’t confuse it with the Patrick Macnee starring series from the 60s of the same name).

From Iron Man in 2008 all the way up to Captain America last year, everything has been leading up to this and the question on everyone’s lips was could a film of this magnitude, bringing such a wide cast of characters, possibly live up to the hype?

Well, the answer in this humble comic book and movie geek’s opinion is an emphatic yes. I don’t think it could be a more emphatic yes if I had taken some kind of emphatic-enhancing drug that gave me powers of emphacy far beyond that of a mere mortal man. Is emphacy even a real word? I don’t give a fuck. That’s just how emphatic I am.

So where to begin with a film that I find hard to express in words the level of awesome that it was? Well one of the major advantages that this film has over other comic book films is that it doesn’t have to waste much time explaining any of the characters origins. It starts assuming that you’ve seen the films that preceded it and so get’s on with the job it’s there to do, dealing with the origins of the team itself which is a far more entertaining kind of origin story due to the interplay of the characters involved.

This interplay is where much of the humour in the film comes from. This is undoubtedly a Joss Whedon film. It’s as witty as any of his work before and he once again proves that he is possibly one of the best directors going when it comes to putting together an ensemble cast and making it work. Some of the characters do get a little less to do than others, Hawkeye and Maria Hill for instance, but as a whole it’s incredibly well balanced.

There is one character who does stand out and nearly steals the show, the big green bastard himself,
The Hulk. On his surface The Hulk is a deceptively simple character. Mild mannered scientist gets mad and turns into a giant jade rage monster. It’s Jekyll and Hyde for the modern age. Most portrayals of Bruce Banner have played the tortured and tormented aspect of the character to the fullest but Mark Ruffalo does something a little different with him. Yes, he is still haunted by the green spectre of his other self but this is a Banner who’s been living with this for a good few years now and seems to have somewhat accepted his curse, even being able to control it somewhat, and can banter wittily with Tony Stark with the best of them. He also seems to be somewhat glad to have found a place for himself amongst the other Avengers whilst still being rightfully afraid of what his alter-ego would do if he emerged hundreds of feet in the sky on the Helicarrier.

The rest of the actors are all on fine form as their respective characters as well. Tony Stark is still his arrogant, funny self whilst still seeming to have matured a lot since his first film outing. Captain America is still coming to terms with being a man out of time, finding himself frequently frustrated by the phrases and technology around him and perhaps even a little freaked out by Agent Coulson’s hero worship of him. Thor is the same Thor we saw at the end of his film, a little more humble and a little more understanding of humanity whilst being conflicted about his brother’s treachery. And Loki is still as greasy and Machiavellian as he’s always been.

It’s the two main SHIELD agents who perhaps get the most revealed about them. We finally see the people that Nick Fury has to answer to and just how much he is willing to disobey them and just how far he is willing to go to prove his team worthy. Black Widow is also far more fleshed out here than she ever was in Iron Man 2 and we are given several hints about her dark past and her ties to Hawkeye.

Speaking, as I was, of The Hulk and the Helicarrier earlier, it’s probably good to mention the effects here. They are, in a word, incredible. The Hulk looks like he’s there and actually looks like the actor portraying him. Every CGI shot in this film is beautiful and just helps to build a believable world where these characters could exist and these events take place. As for the 3D, it’s good as post-conversion jobs go but doesn’t really add anything to the experience. There’s also the issue of the glasses making things kinda difficult to make out when scenes take place in dark places.

The only real weak spot in the entire film is Loki’s army and the story itself. The army are really nothing more than an obstacle for the heroes to fight and smash and the story is your basic alien invader story but for once, that doesn’t really matter. What’s important here isn’t so much the story but the things that surround that threadbare story skeleton. The meat is the characters themselves, their interactions and how they grow individually and together over the course of the films 143 minutes running time.

Well, that’s about all I have to say without getting in to spoiler territory. If you enjoy comic books, comic book movies and in particular the Marvel movies that have come before this go and see it. Go and see it now. If you are working, scream I quit at the top of your lungs, walk out and see it. I’m sure once you explain your actions later you’ll be able to get your job back. Just see it. Five pints out of five. Laterz.




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