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Posts Tagged ‘Blake Lively’

Paul Feig’s A Simple Favor (I am going to stick with the American English spelling, even though it does make my teeth itch somewhat) is not a film I would necessarily have chosen to watch, even during the bacchanal of cinema-going which I am currently enjoying after an enforced one month drought. There’s no particular reason for that, but – and I do have to remind even friends of this sometimes – I don’t go to see absolutely everything, even when I’m at a loose end. Then again, there I was: all proper work done and dusted by noon, having agreed to go and see another movie with a friend in the early evening, and with a fairly sizeable space in my schedule until then. To be perfectly honest my first choice of movie-to-fill-the-gap would probably have been Mile 22, but it had finished the previous day (lots of big new movies starting today), and Feig’s film seemed like the best option.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie Smothers, a cheery, upbeat, perky, fluffy, home-oriented single mother whose life revolves around recipes, her son, and her vlog (which heavily features recipes and parenting tips). She is quite terrifyingly wholesome, upbeat and proactive, but is there something missing from her own lifestyle? Just what does she secretly aspire to? Well, the barest suggestion of an answer comes when she meets Emily (Blake Lively), another mum from her son’s school. Emily appears to be everything that Stephanie is not: elegant, sophisticated, a bit of a hedonistic rebel. The two women become unlikely friends, despite some occasional signs of odd behaviour on Emily’s part.

Then one day Emily asks Stephanie for a favour (Hah! Take that, American English!) – will she collect her son from school? Stephanie happily obliges, but then Emily fails to get in touch, and vanishes, apparently without a trace. Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding) doesn’t have a clue where she’s gone, and nor do her employers, and so the police are called. Soon everyone is beginning to fear the worst, and Stephanie and Sean find themselves drawn closer together in their shared grief. But is everything quite as it seems…?

It’s always a slightly curious thing when you find someone apparently trying to get out of their comfort zone and do something genuinely new and different, and from a certain angle this is what Paul Feig appears to be doing with this film. Feig, as you may or may not be aware, is best known as the director and occasional writer of comedy films, most frequently starring Melissa McCarthy: he’s the guy who did Bridesmaids, and also Spy and the All-Female Ghostbusters remake. So for him to be directing what looks on paper to be like a fairly mainstream thriller is a bit of a departure. Then again, the film stars Anna Kendrick, who is also not really known as a dramatic actress – okay, she’s done things like The Accountant, but even then I distinctly remember being somewhat nonplussed by the fact that this sort of thriller would feature someone who’s essentially a musical-comedy performer. (Blake Lively, on the other hand, isn’t primarily known for comedy. But then she seems to limit her film appearances rather strictly, so her profile in general is a bit more limited than I might have expected, and she hasn’t really been typed in the same way.)

My feeling is that comedy is much more difficult than straight drama, and so all things being equal I’d much rather watch a drama made by comedians than a comedy film made by drama specialists. The question is whether this film really is a drama made by comedians. Well, several key creative people on it are best known for comedy, as previously discussed, so that part is not really in doubt. But is it really a drama?

Well – I suppose it is, because lots of serious and often quite dark stuff goes on (Kendrick’s character has a particularly off-kilter element to her backstory), crimes are committed, unpleasant secrets come to light, and so on. The weird thing is that all the time you are laughing – not in a sustained, from-the-belly way, but nearly every scene contains a little bit of business or a snappy line or a reaction from Kendrick or so on. It may be that this is genuinely a comedy thriller, but if so then it is one of the blackest possible shade.

Then again, the fact that this is such a peculiarly and unexpectedly funny film works very much in its favour, because it works very well to give it its own distinctive identity. This is something that it definitely needs, because otherwise this tale of apparently-affluent couples with corrosive money troubles, mysterious disappearances in suburbia, Machiavellian scheming behind a domestic facade, and so on, would owe just a bit too much of an obvious debt to Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and its movie adaptation.

There really did seem to me to be quite a lot of similarities between Gone Girl and A Simple Favor, but the fact that A Simple Favor doesn’t come across as being quite so thorough-goingly misanthropic, and actually contains some pretty good jokes, made me warm to it much more than its precursor. There are also signs of the film-makers being willing to admit just how implausible the story of their film is, which is always welcome (there is a joke at one point about a character writing a novel, which is apparently dismissed by other people because of its ‘far-fetched plot’).

I don’t actually mind watching movies with absurdly contrived storylines, as long as you don’t also try to tell me that this is actually a serious and mature story about deep unpleasant truths in contemporary society. Feig’s film doesn’t try to pull any of that – it’s more or less up-front about the fact that it’s a disposable piece of entertainment. This doesn’t mean that it’s a poorly made film, by any means – the performances are strong, the direction good, and the script hangs together pretty well (there are occasional slow patches). It is a little bit strange that such a dark film should also feel so upbeat and lightweight, but this is hardly a fatal flaw. Tonally odd and very derivative, but also rather entertaining.

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Oh well, let us move on and roll the dice for this year’s Woody Allen movie: because, let’s face it, you’re never completely sure what you’re going to get from Allen these days. The odds of something on a par with Sleeper or Annie Hall are, let’s be honest, vanishingly small, but with a bit of luck you might end up with a Blue Jasmine or (I am reliably informed) Midnight in Paris. You would probably receive something along the lines of Magic in the Moonlight or To Rome with Love and not feel too disgruntled about it. But there is always the grim possibility of another Irrational Man or Whatever Works lurching onto the screen.

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It probably goes without saying that Allen’s Cafe Society finds him in familiar territory, primarily being a Jazz Age romance for which he has managed to secure another of his stellar casts. The film is set in the 1930s. Jesse Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a well-brought-up New York Jewish boy from a fairly humble background who decides to move to California and seek his fortune there with the aid of his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), who is a successful agent. Possibly this strikes you as a surprisingly felicitous family connection, given the whole humble background thing; I know it did me.

There’s something slightly odd about the plot of Cafe Society: usually it’s pretty straightforward to give a quick indication of the set-up and a suggestion of what the central axis of the plot is, of what the main driver of the action is – the central conflict, if you will. But every time I’ve tried to give an indication of what the film’s about I’ve just found myself describing the whole plot, quite possibly because there’s nothing to suggest what’s going to happen next from one scene to the next. I’m not suggesting that the film is a chaotic, plotless shambles, because there is a logical sort of development of scenes and characters (well, up to a point), it’s just not clear until the very end what the story is actually supposed to be about.

Or, to put it another way, this is another film which feels like a first draft, and sorely in need of a good edit and polish. One of the more memorable scenes is an encounter between Bobby and a first-time call girl, which does not go entirely to plan – it’s more funny as an idea than in reality, and sticks out primarily because it is so incongruous, adding nothing to the main story. So what’s it doing in the movie?

You could say the same for a lot of the film. The story eventually settles down to being about Dorfman’s complicated romantic entanglements with two women, both called Vonnie (played by Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively), as he makes the rather unconvincing transition from being a go-fer at a Hollywood talent agency to suave man-about-about-town and night club manager in New York City’s underworld.

Now, there is potential here for a rather affecting story, as Dorfman and his first love meet each other again and reflect on how their lives could have gone differently: the stuff of a mature, thoughtful, bittersweet drama. Some of this indeed gets realised, primarily because of a rather good performance from Kristen Stewart. I’d only previously seen her in the Twilight movies, which may not have left me with the best impression of her abilities, but here she is genuinely affecting and natural; you can quite understand why men keep falling in love with her the first time they meet her. In fact I might go so far as to say that Stewart’s performance is the main reason to see this movie: Carell and Lively really don’t get the material they deserve, and Eisenberg is… well, everyone goes on about how Eisenberg is the natural latterday performer to serve as Woody Allen’s avatar in these movies, but I don’t really see it myself. Eisenberg never quite has that hapless quality that makes Allen such an appealing screen presence – instead he just comes across as a bit smug, somehow.

But the stuff about the romance too often gets shoved out of the way in favour of by-the-numbers routines about Jewishness and a dead-end subplot about Dorfman’s gangster brother (Corey Stoll). Sometimes these come together to produce one of the film’s funnier moments – ‘First a murderer! Now a Christian! What have I done to deserve such a son!’ cries the mother of a Jewish gangster on learning her boy has converted on the way to the electric chair – but on the other hand this is just getting in the way of what the film is supposed to be about. I suppose you could argue that Cafe Society is making some kind of point about how the movie business and the criminal underworld are actually quite similar, but if so it goes largely unarticulated.

To be clear, Cafe Society is not one of the very bottom-of-the-barrel Woody Allen movies, but neither is it likely to be seen as a return to form or a late-period classic. It’s fairly well-mounted (though clearly done on a low budget), but it either needed to be a much bigger, sprawling family saga taking place over a much longer running time, or to focus much more closely on the central relationships. As it is there’s an uncomfortable sense that it’s trying to do both: at times it feels like a film which has been savagely cut down in the editing suite, with a voice-over filling in rather too many details of the story.

If you follow the career of Woody Allen, you know what to expect these days: the films are probably not going to be great, it’s just a question of how good the script is at the point when Allen has to take it in front of the camera. In this case the script is just about okay, and the film passes the time relatively pleasantly, but you are likely to have forgotten most of the detail by the time next year’s offering makes an appearance.

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From Blake Lively’s Spanish for Surfers (forthcoming):

La recepción del teléfono es excelente en esta playa. – The telephone reception is excellent on this beach.

¡Que hermoso día! Sin duda, nada lo hará posiblemente puede salir mal. – What a lovely day! Surely nothing can possibly go wrong.

Espera, ¿qué es que en el mar preocuparse cerca de mí? – Wait, what is that in the sea worryingly close to me?

Me gustaría saber la palabra española para “shark”. – I wish I knew the Spanish word for shark.

¡Ay! – Ouch!

Por casualidad, yo soy un estudiante de medicina y por lo tanto no es completamente irracional para mí para aplicar puntos de sutura improvisados a mi herida por mordedura sangrienta. – Fortuitously, I am a medical student and so it is not completely unreasonable for me to apply improvised stitches to my gory bite wound.

Al menos las gaviotas son amables. – At least the seagulls are friendly.

(And so on.)

As I think I have mentioned, as a general rule I tend to stay clear of modern comedies and horror movies, mainly because neither of them really do it for me consistently. Still, the pickings are so slim at the moment that sometimes you have to waive a principle, and so I found myself going along to see Blake Lively in Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows – though, just to be on the safe side, I ensured things would not be too hairy by going in the company of a colonel from the Special Forces of a major Gulf nation. He had nachos.

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Blake Lively is one of those actresses who doesn’t appear to feel the need to be popping up in films all over the place, but who is generally worth watching when she does (I say this mainly based on my experience of watching her in The Age of Adaline, if we’re honest). In The Shallows, she plays Nancy, a surf-loving medical student who as the film starts is on her way to a secluded Mexican beach to indulge her favourite pastime. The audience’s suspicions are perhaps piqued when her guide, despite repeated questions, refuses to tell her the name of the beach, which is mostly likely The Bloody Beach of Toothy Death.

That said, the Bloody Beach of Toothy Death is very pleasant when she arrives on it and for a while the film looks like a commercial for shampoo and sunscreen, with some of the usual whistles and bells modern films tend to use to depict thoroughly-well-connected modern people sending texts and having video-phone calls. In the end, though, Lively hops on her board and heads off into the surf.
All is well at first, but then she happens upon the half-eaten carcass of a whale, and the large and bad-tempered shark responsible. The shark decides it would rather not eat the other half of the whale, on the grounds that Lively is a more appetising prospect (hmm, well), and has a go at eating her instead. Cue scenes of Lively being dragged underwater in a cloud of her own blood and the Colonel dropping his nachos everywhere.

Well, anyway, Lively manages to evade the hungry shark and clambers onto a worryingly small rock just above the level of the water, where she is alone except for a friendly seagull. Her predicament is an original one: she is only a couple of hundred metres from the beach (close enough to see her own bag on the sand), in fairly shallow water, but she has no chance of making it all the way to the breakers without getting chomped. What’s a girl to do?

The Shallows is one of those movies which is, let’s be honest about it, highly derivative to the point of arguably being some sort of exploitation fodder (there is rather a lot of Lively looking very photogenic in her bikini, even while theoretically suffering from the early stages of gangrene). Even based on the capsule description I just presented, you can probably start off the list yourself: most obviously Jaws, then moving on to include Open Water, any number of blonde-in-peril horror films, and even arguably touching on the likes of Gravity. The thing is that it blends together influences from so many different sources so seamlessly that it doesn’t just feel like it’s cashing in on any one of them in particular. It has its own sort of identity, even if it’s not an especially distinctive one.

The presence of Lively, as opposed to a generic scream queen in training, does lift the film a bit as she gives a very good performance, pretty much carrying most of the film single-handed – for much of the running time her only co-stars are a seagull and the shark, neither of whom can emote as well as her – and doing a fine job of it. Part of me wonders if the decision to go more mainstream with this film may not actually hurt its chances – it’s rather less of a horror film than I expected and more of a thriller, with commensurately lower levels of gore and grue.

Still, the scene with the improvised sutures was enough to set the Colonel chortling to himself and proferring nachos in my direction, and there is surely enough grisliness to satisfy anyone who isn’t a pathological gorehound. The film works hard to keep up a good pace and a sense of plausibility, even if this means it’s quite a long time before the shark turns up – lots of scenes filling in Lively’s not-exactly-essential backstory and family situation ensue – and the film itself having a comparatively bite-sized 86-minute running time. In the end, though, it works quite well – only in the very closing stages do things start to get even remotely silly. (I’m still not completely convinced about the manner in which the plot is ultimately resolved.)

The film works best when it’s about Lively and the shark, anyway. You can see what they’re trying to do by incorporating Lively’s various personal issues into the storyline – as mentioned, they’re trying to do what Gravity did, where Sandy Bullock’s physical predicament was kind of a metaphor for her emotional situation, something which worked so perfectly it elevated the film to an even higher level. Unfortunately, Lively’s personal problems aren’t so well defined, and being stuck on rock or a buoy being chased by a shark isn’t a natural realisation of them, metaphorically. As a result, they just make the film feel a bit over-egged and even a touch pretentious (given this is basically a girl-in-swimsuit-has-fight-with-hungry-fish movie).

Nevertheless, both the Colonel and I emerged feeling we had not wasted 86 minutes of our lives (plus about 20 minutes of trailers and commercials) and that this was basically a pretty good film. It’s probably not horrific enough for some people, and perhaps a bit too horrific for others, but for everyone else in between it is a very decent thriller, inventively directed, solidly written, and with an impressively capable central performance. You’re never really in doubt about what’s going to happen next, but the film plays with your expectations inventively enough to make it a fun watch for most of its duration.

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I wonder how many slightly drunk or otherwise confused people will end up going to see Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline by mistake? The title is, after all, not entirely dissimilar to that of another prominent film of the day – the Age of part is interchangable, while the other key words share rather similar alveolar laterals, plosives, and occlusives in more or less the same order. Anyone who does wander in by mistake is probably in for a disappointing time, for while the two are both very broadly in the fantasy genre, The Age of Adaline is a rather more reserved affair which appears to be pitching for a more refined (and probably older) audience.

Or, if you prefer, it’s a chick flick. Certainly filmgoers of the distaff persuasion outnumbered the blokes five or six to one at the screening I attended. I certainly felt a bit out of my comfort zone, and – I have to say – the thorough-going awfulness of all the trailers for other chick flicks which preceded this one does not really incline me to repeat the experience.

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But on to this film, which is based on a premise that the trailer can’t help but spoil. Blake Lively plays the titular character, Adaline, a woman living in present-day San Francisco. As things get underway she is preparing to relocate to Oregon, but also involved in some rather odd situations – she’s buying a fake ID, for one thing, and also has slightly peculiar relationships with a couple of apparently older women (most  prominently Ellen Burstyn), the tenor of which does not really match her age.

One of the problems with The Age of Adaline is that it is saddled with an omniscient voiceover, which jumps in to fill in plot points with no warning at various junctures in the film. Normally I would say this was an example of telling rather than showing, and thus bad storytelling, but given some of the stuff it has to impart I’m less inclined to be severe. Basically, we are told, Adaline was born in the last hours of 1907 and lived a perfectly normal life for nearly thirty years, until she was involved in an accident, and, well, according to the film a combination of rapid cooling and high voltage electricity (wait for it) electro-compressed her RNA and locked her telomeres in a non-flexible configuration. What this means is that ever since she has been completely immune to the ravages of time and hasn’t aged a day (though, we are invited to infer, she is still potentially a martyr to car crashes, disease, beheading, and so on).

Somehow the FBI got word of Adaline’s peculiar condition in the mid 50s and she has been living under a succession of fake identities ever since, somewhat to the dismay of her now-elderly daughter (Burstyn’s character). Naturally she feels she can’t get seriously involved with anyone, or live too prominent a lifestyle, but inevitably this changes when she meets Ellis Jones (Michiel Huisman), a… oh, well, for the purposes of both the review and the film all that matters is that he is a lovely, attractive, kind, rich bloke who clearly has a thing for her. She might even find she has a thing for him too, if she just relaxes a bit and lets her guard down. But is there any future in it? Oh, what’s a 107-year-old woman to do sometimes?

Yes, this is one of those films where two gorgeous young (or in this case seemingly young) people have a cute-meet near the start and then spend most of the film contriving reasons why they can’t actually be together after all. If the film made a serious attempt to be funny it would be a rom-com, but it isn’t, so I suppose it must just be a rom. As you may have guessed, I came to see The Age of Adaline solely because of the fantasy element – stories about immortals and other very long-lived people of any stripe do interest me. (And this is clearly a fantasy, by the way – all that stuff about telomeres and electro-compression makes about as much sense as her unknowingly being an alien from the planet Zeist, and they should just have gone with her being hit by magic lightning or something.)

Lively gives one of the best performances as someone who is effectively out-of-time and much older than her appearance suggests that I can remember : she has a slight sense of detachment and aloofness, in addition to convincingly being a fearsome polymath with Sherlockian powers of ratiocination and an encyclopedic knowledge of recent history (maybe having compressed RNA boosts your brain function, too). However, as the film goes on the story requires her to increasingly show a more accessible and human side to the character, and the actress manages this without making it too obvious or abrupt. The script, meanwhile, manages to come up with a few new angles on this kind of idea, in addition to actually having a strong subtext all about history, heritage, and nostalgia.

Essentially, however, all this stuff is just window-dressing to the central conflict of the story, which – as I say – is a they-can’t-be-together romance. As you may have gathered, my expectation going into this film was that it was basically going to turn out to be Highlander for girls, and in the absence of implausible Scotsmen and broadsword-wielding heavies crashing through the scenery, all we would be left with was the ‘Who wants to live forever?‘ beat of the older film dragged out to feature length. Happily, this does not happen: schmaltz and sentiment is pretty much kept under control and this remains a fairly credible drama for most of its length.

To be honest, it’s almost exclusively Lively’s film, the only other character with any real depth being William, Ellis’ father, who is played by Harrison Ford (given the actor’s famous care when it comes to rationing his appearances, this must be the one and only film we’ll see him in this year). Ford gives his character a bit of gravitas and the whole film a bit of ballast, and, well, it’s just always nice to see him, isn’t it? Actually, the youthful version of Ford’s character (extensive flashbacks are pretty much a trope of this sort of story) is played by Anthony Ingruber, who does such an astonishingly good job that a lucrative association with the Disney Corporation must surely beckon.

In the end, however, given that the premise of the story is predicated on a fairly outrageous deus ex machina, it’s not entirely surprising that its resolution should feel fairly contrived as well. What occurs between these two points is, for the most part, fairly well written, directed, and performed – with Blake Lively being especially good, as I mentioned. Personally, I found the film’s assumption that the most important consequence of potential immortality would be the impossibility of chocolate-box romance, and that unnatural longevity was therefore at least as much a curse as a blessing, to be rather questionable, but it would take a very different and rather less commercial film to tackle such ideas. The Age of Adaline is not that film – but, for what it is, it is a very pleasant, classy, and well-made picture.

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The colour green, so my researches on t’internet have revealed, has many and various symbolic associations – with immortality, with nature, with love and with financial prosperity. Most significantly right now, it is also famously the colour of envy. Given the truly colossal revenues raked in by the various movies spawned by Marvel Comics over the past decade and a bit – and here I’m thinking of the legion of blockbusters based on X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and so on – it would be deeply surprising if their long-time rivals at DC Comics weren’t a striking verdant shade right now. The only successful movies DC have put out in the same time period are the two Christopher Nolan Batman pictures – massive popular and critical hits, to be sure, but even so…

Well, not surprisingly, DC are having another crack at big-screen success, in the form of Green Lantern, directed by Martin Campbell. Campbell, as you may know, directed two of the best Bond movies of all time, in addition to the brilliant TV thriller Edge of Darkness, so he can do the business – even if a SF-themed superhero fantasy seems a bit of a departure for him. I, as you probably don’t know but will soon be painfully aware, used to be a pretty hard-core Green Lantern fanboy. My search for a particular back-issue (the infamous #51 of the third series) is a running joke for my family. So this could turn into a bit of a bumpy ride. Oh, well, can’t be helped…

Green Lantern boils down to being the story of brilliant but irresponsible test pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) whose devil-may-care antics cause all kinds of problems for his boss and sharer of unresolved sexual chemistry Carol (Blake Lively – cripes, that actually seems to be her real name). But things change when a gobbet of green energy plucks Hal off the streets and transports him to the side of a dying alien cop (Temuera Morrison, briefly), recently crashlanded thereabouts. The cop is looking for someone to take over his job, to which end he bequeaths Hal a green lantern. Why? you may be wondering. Well, let the man himself explain, in the words of the original comic:

‘A green lantern… but actually it is a battery of power… given only to selected space-patrolmen in the super-galactic system… to be used as a weapon against forces of evil and injustice…’

Well, that’s that sorted out, then. (The dialogue in the movie isn’t quite as hokey as the stuff John Broome was writing back in the 50s, but it’s a close thing.) The lantern comes with a matching ring, the wearing of which gives Hal the power to summon up anything he can think of (in any colour he wants, as long as it’s green) as well as fly through space. All these powers will come in handy as the giant space nasty that mortally wounded the cop is heading for Earth, preceded by a scientist (Peter Saarsgard), whose exposure to the cop’s corpse gives him enormous psychic powers and a bit of a swelled head…

Well. From being green-lit to hitting the screen, the gestation period for one of these enormous summer movies – which this definitely is – is about three years, which means that Green Lantern got the go-ahead just about the time that the first Iron Man was racking up some serious revenue. It’s very hard to shake the suspicion that the latter is responsible for the former. All of these movies are very similar in their structure, of course, but the characters, their development, and relationships in this film are all terribly familiar.

Of course this shouldn’t matter, and it really wouldn’t if the story was involving and witty and well-played. One of Green Lantern’s main problems is that the script is trying to do too much. The fictional GL universe is a vast and complex one with a lot of detailed back-story, and to me the movie tries too hard to include it all. Rather than letting the story open with Hal so that audiences can learn about things just as he does, everything kicks off with a sonorous voice-over talking about alien immortals and the green energy of willpower, and the fear-monster of the lost sector… I knew all this stuff already and it still seemed a bit over the top to me. Lord knows what newcomers will make of it – the villain’s not the only one who’s going to end up bulging at the occiput, I suspect.

It’s a fairly busy plot with a lot of different threads and not all of them really pull their weight (I apologise for that horribly mixed metaphor). I suspect a lot of them are here just to tickle the happy buttons of the Green Lantern fanbase, who are a dedicated bunch: a previous attempt to make this movie was abandoned when news of the project was greeted with bared fangs online (but then it was going to be a comedy, starring Jack Black). So we get voice cameos from Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kilowog, and a just-about-in-the-flesh appearance by Mark Strong as Sinestro, including three well-known comics characters when the film only needed to use one of them to tell the story. (The ultimate bad guy is Parallax, not the original version – obviously – nor, so far as I’ve kept up with these things, the retcon that replaced him. So they’re really just using the name, then.) That said, the movie focuses very much on the core iteration of the Green Lantern character. The power comes from the ring, which has been worn by many characters down the years: Hal Jordan is the highest-profile of the main Green Lanterns but also (I would argue) the least interesting. No sign of the Alan Scott, Guy Gardner, John Stewart or Kyle Rayner versions here; perhaps one of them will make it into the sequel which this movie takes some pains to set up.

For me, however, the biggest problem with this film is that – well, parts of it are set in California. Parts of it are set elsewhere in Space Sector 2514, in the Lost Sector, and on the planet Oa at the heart of the universe. But events most frequently occur somewhere close to that peculiar realm known as the Uncanny Valley. The what? you ask, again. Well, basically, you know when you see a CGI picture that’s just a little too perfectly rendered to actually feel realistic? When it looks so real it feels fake? That’s when you’re in the Uncanny Valley.

There are great chunks of Green Lantern where practically everything you see on screen is CGI, up to and including Ryan Reynold’s costume and mask. The film looks astounding even in 2D, but you never buy into it and forget you’re watching a movie. For a film about a fairly obscure character with a silly name (I once asked Garth Ennis and John McCrea why they cracked so many jokes at Green Lantern’s expense during his guest-appearance in Hitman #s 10-12, and they basically said ‘because he’s inherently ridiculous’) you need to ground everything in reality, not keep constantly kicking the audience out of the film by throwing a new improbable-looking alien vista or creature at them.

And spectacle does take place of story to some extent. A lot of the plot unfolds via the mechanism of characters making expository speeches to one another with vast CGI landscapes in the background. There’s relatively little ring-slinging action in the movie, and it’s certainly not what you’d call a breathless thrill-ride. The focus on character brings its own rewards, of course, and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively do well (even if Lively does seem a tad decorative).

Green Lantern is amusing and aesthetically pleasing up to a point, and the story hangs together well enough, but it’s sprawling and talky and a bit too much in love with its own universe to really satisfy as a superhero adventure. And I say this as someone who already knows the mythos and was thus in no danger of suffering info-dump overload. Newcomers may just find it a very thin and rather familiar story, swamped by rinky-dinky visuals and too many characters with funny heads. It’s not actually a bad movie, it has nice performances and a certain visual novelty to it – but it’s not close to the standard of the best of the Marvel films. Not DC’s darkest night at the cinema, but a long way from its brightest day, too.

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