Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Ioan Gruffudd’

When you go to the cinema as often as I do, one of the resulting perks is that your accumulated loyalty points earn you a free ticket that little bit more often. This brings with it an important philosophical question – namely, is it more satisfying when your free ticket takes you in to see a truly great movie, meaning you’ve had a fantastic time gratis? Or is it better when the freebie turns out to be for a complete yapper, meaning you at least haven’t had to pay to watch a really bad film?

San-Andreas-Poster-3-small

Which brings us to Brad Peyton’s San Andreas, the most recent film I managed to snag a free ticket for. Now, while Spanish-speaking readers may be wondering if this is a film about a golf course outside Edinburgh, most other people will rightly assume this is going to be a story concerning earthquakes and how best to prosper during and immediately after them. San Andreas‘ top tip seems to be ‘find something sturdy and hang onto it’, which is probably why it stars Dwayne Johnson, surely the – er – sturdiest leading man in Hollywood. Sometimes he’s so sturdy he’s practically immobile.

Anyway, this time round Dwayne plays Ray Gaines, an enormous rescue helicopter pilot working for the LA fire department, following an illustrious career in Afghanistan (etc, etc). However, Dwayne is struggling with some personal angst, which has led to his wife (Carla Gugino) filing divorce papers and planning to shack up with a rich but worthless property tycoon who you just know is going to let everybody down quite badly when the crunch arrives (Ioan Gruffudd). Now, you and I both know that when someone gets sent divorce papers at the start of a film, this is a flag to the effect that the film is going to be about their reconciliation and a second chance for their family, and so it proves here: there are a lot of special effects and things going bang (crash, crunch, tinkle, etc) in San Andreas, but the main thrust of the film is ultimately about Dwayne and his wife getting back together, not to mention his comely daughter (Alexandra Daddario) finding a nicely non-threatening boyfriend. It just so happens that the piquant backdrop to all this is one of colossal devastation with nameless other characters being mown down horribly by the truckload – but as they have no connection to the Rock family, we are encouraged not to care about them, rather to just enjoy the spectacle of their lovingly-rendered deaths.

Off in another section of the film entirely, Paul Giamatti plays a seismic boffin who is responsible for this film’s Gravitas Provision Department. Giamatti spends a lot of time looking grave and professorial before one of his young assistants bursts in and shouts ‘Sir, you’ve got to see this!’ about something. This is invariably followed by Giamatti looking pop-eyed with concern and crying ‘People have to be warned!’ before hiding under a table. This stuff has no connection with the Rock family’s various travails, it’s just here to provide context and some sort of bafflegab explanation for why most of California now seems to be sliding into the sea. (Giamatti gives a decent performance in the circumstances, by the way.)

Or, to put it another way, this is another Roland Emmerich disaster movie pastiche. Emmerich has never been a particularly lauded or cool director, but in films like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, he did at least manage to reinvent the disaster movie formula in a way that had a certain lightness of touch and tongue-in-cheek quality, and while those films may have been cheesy and absurd, they were also very entertaining. San Andreas is just grindingly earnest and more than a bit annoying as a result.

You find yourself noticing things like the way the Rock family cheerfully loot everything in sight – boats, cars, shops, planes, fire appliances – and questioning the film’s assumption that it’s perfectly acceptable for a hugely experienced First Responder to basically walk out on his duties and put his family’s interests ahead of those of the public he’s actually supposed to be serving. If the film acknowledged even slightly how improbable and laboured (and yet also, somehow, obvious) its plotting was, that might make it more acceptable: but it doesn’t, which somehow makes it worse.

San Andreas is a classically modern movie in that the whole enterprise is built around lavish special effects the like of which didn’t exist even twenty-five years ago. Back in ye olden days, films couldn’t just rely on empty CGI spectacle, and so they had to worry about things like engaging characters, innovative plots and interesting dialogue. What San Andreas repeatedly proves is that you can have all the wibbly-wobbly skyscrapers, burning buildings, collapsing bridges, and Kylie Minogue cameos you want, but if you use them as a subsitute for those old-fashioned narrative virtues rather than a supplement to them, you’re going to end up with something which is pretty to look at but ultimately rather uninvolving (this happens in the first few minutes, when a character we barely know has a spectacular, visually striking car crash and you find yourself thinking ‘Why should I care, particularly?’).

Give the Rock some credit, he takes a fair swing at some of the more emotional moments in the script, and the results are not exactly painful to watch. I expect most of the people involved in this film will work again, because it will probably make money: this film most likely scrapes into the ‘too big to fail’ category. But the story just isn’t good enough – it’s predictable and silly from the first scene to the last. Watching horrific natural disasters shouldn’t be fun, but somehow it is when watching a well-done disaster movie. This isn’t a well-done disaster movie, nor is it very much fun.

Read Full Post »

Step back in time with me, back, back, beyond the borders of the familiar world we know and understand, back to a strange new realm of different priorities and peculiar truths. Let the comforting certainties of the 2010s tumble away as we are whisked back to a place and a time undreamed of. I cannot guarantee your safety, but the wonders you will see will be their own reward.

Well, probably not, as we’re only going back to 2007, the year which gave the world the third Pirates of the Caribbean film (gee, thanks) and the first Transformers (you know, you really honestly shouldn’t have bothered). So far, so exactly the same, you may be thinking – and up to a point you may be right. Nevertheless, as inhabitants of a world which has grown accustomed to Marvel superhero movies crossing over with each other and making $1.2 billion in record time, this is in some ways an odd year for us.

Marvel Studios is, as yet, still only an untried name without a single blockbuster hit to its credit. Marvel comics characters are still being leased out to other studios, such as the makers of the X-Men and Spider-Man series. Both of these have had critical wobbles recently. This is as nothing, however, to the mauling doled out to Tim Story’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a further movie based on the seminal comic, starring… hang on, isn’t that the guy out of The Avengers?

fantastic-four-rise-of-the-silver-surfer-original

Yes, it’s time for another round of Is It Really As Bad As All That? Let us examine the case for the prosecution: a quick sampling of internet opinion reveals Rise of the Silver Surfer to be ‘an awful, tedious drudge’, a ‘tedious, incoherent bore’, ‘relentlessly dull’, ‘existentially and aesthetically unnecessary’, a ‘plotless, brainless, witless bore’, and ‘drearier than corn dying in the Iowa sun’. Yowser. (Even so, many people, even while sticking it to this movie, cheerfully acknowledged it was much better than the original film).

Hmmm. As the movie opens, our elementally-powered quartet (Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis) are getting on with their lives as celebrity superheroes. Top of the current agenda is Reed and Sue’s impeding wedding, plans for which keep getting disrupted by international crises, invasions from the Negative Zone, paparazzi, etc, etc. However, an equally serious problem appears with the arrival on Earth of a mysterious blob of space energy, which criss-crosses the globe causing all sorts of strange CGI effects shots. The space energy also wakes up the dormant Doctor Doom (Julian McMahon) in his Latverian castle, no doubt causing a ripple of apprehension on the audience’s part: not because he’s a terrifying villain, but because the handling of the character was so fundamentally botched in the first movie.

The US Army insists that Mr Fantastic do his bit in tracking the intruder from space, though juggling this with the wedding arrangements is a challenge even for a man with rubber fingers. Nevertheless, both projects proceed apace and come to fruition at the same moment. It’s just the rottenest of luck that the space blob objects to being tracked and crashes the wedding to fry Reed’s  gear, transforming into a silver dude on a surfboard in the process (the reasons for this are never really dwelt upon, but as Jack Kirby’s reasoning behind the character’s look basically boiled down to ‘I’m bored of drawing spaceships’, you can kind of understand why).

It eventually transpires that the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and Laurence Fishburne) is the advance scout for a world-devouring alien superbeing, Galactus, who is already en route to Earth. The Four have to persuade the Surfer to help them repel this threat, always assuming they can put to one side Reed and Sue’s romantic issues. And a problem the Torch has picked up where he keeps swapping powers with the others. Oh, and Doctor Doom quite fancies getting his gauntleted hands on the Surfer’s power, too…

Now, I quite liked the 2005 movie about these characters. While it made a right royal mess of one of comics’ greatest heavies by completely reimagining Doom’s background and powers, it was pacy, looked good, and got at least half of the feel of the Fantastic Four comics pretty much bang-on. By this I mean that the book itself gains much of its flavour and entertainment value from the sparks generated when a tongue-in-cheek family sitcom rubs up against grandiose cosmic spectacle and psychedelic weirdness. The first film got the sitcom right but fluffed the spectacle.

If there’s a real problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer, it’s that this time the situation is reversed. In this film the globe-trotting adventure is well-mounted, with some really effective sequences – the Torch’s aerial pursuit of the Surfer through New York City being just about precisely what you’d want to see in a Fantastic Four movie – but the character interaction and comedy is, for the most part, completely inert when it isn’t actually slightly painful to watch. An authentic Fantastic Four movie would be much sharper, more intelligent, and – crucially – much funnier than this one ever manages to be. Family-friendly it may be, but it’s the enemy of your grey cells.

That said, it’s not actually as boring as its critics seem to think – the story rattles along pacily enough courtesy of the multi-stranded plot and does its best to tick as many demographic boxes as it can – knockabout action for the kids, so-so jokes for the adults, comics in-jokes for the fanboys and some tasteful T&A from Jessica Alba for the benefit of internet film bloggers. It just never quite convinces as a serious movie, mainly because of the jokey tone of the opening. At one point there’s a sequence about the US Army torturing the captive Surfer for information, which in a darker film might have been quite effective – but here, it just seems incongruous and a real misjudgement.

I suppose Julian McMahon was already under contract as Doom, so they had to put him in the movie, and you can see the logic behind having a go at adapting the classic story from issues #57-60 where Doom usurps the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, but once again the good Doctor is one of the weak points of the film. Neither script nor performance ever really come close to doing Doctor Doom justice, although – once again – the final tussle between him and a rather Super-Skrull-esque Human Torch ticks all the right boxes in terms of property damage and digital virtuosity.

But then that really feels like this movie all over – the production values are excellent, the story (just about) hangs together, and the actors playing the title roles have nothing to be ashamed of. (Nevertheless, the toxic wake of this film seems to have effectively destroyed Ioan Gruffudd’s career as a leading man in major movies.) It’s just that the characters seem to have no depth and interact with each other in the most mechanical way, which is bad news for drama, but absolutely grim tidings for anything with ambitions to be light and/or amusing. The main problem with Rise of the Silver Surfer is not that it doesn’t work as a superhero movie, but that it fails as a comedy and a drama.

Read Full Post »

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 4th 2005:

It’s getting so that summer at the movies isn’t summer at the movies without a movie with Stan Lee’s name on it having a massive day-and-date release. With the exception of 2001, every year so far this century has seen Stan The Man and his numerous fictitious progeny enjoying extended stays near the top of the cinema charts. We’ve had the X-Men, the Hulk, and Spider-Man (plus considerably less successful out-of-season appearances by Daredevil, Elektra, and the Punisher), but now Lee’s first and arguably most important creations get their moment in the spotlight – yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Fantastic Four, in a film by Tim Storey.

The film opens with the world’s most brilliant scientist Reed Richards (Yowain Griffiths1) and his sidekick Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) trying to get funding for his latest space mission. As NASA are understandably preoccupied with another attempt at inventing a double-sided sticky tape that works on thermal tiles, they are forced to seek help from billionaire tycoon Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon). Yes, Reed may be a scientific genius but he still can’t recognise someone who might as well have ‘destined to become a supervillain’ stencilled across his forehead. Anyway, Reed, Ben and Doom pop up to the latter’s private space station in the company of Reed’s ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) and her slightly annoying younger brother Johnny (Chris Evans – no, not that one, another one).

Before you can say ‘this is one superhero origin story that hasn’t aged especially well’ the station gets hit by a cloud of cosmic energy and all the inhabitants duly find themselves Fantasticised on their return to Earth. Ben is permanently transformed into a colossally strong being of living rock! Johnny can set fire to himself (this is more use than it sounds)! Sue can turn invisible and project invisible energy fields! And Reed can go a bit stretchy. Three out of four ain’t bad, I suppose. Of course, Doom also finds himself a changed man, although unfortunately the evil megalomaniac component of his personality is wholly unaltered…

A film of the FF has been a long time coming for the simple reason that until quite recently it would have impossibly expensive to do – back in the 60s, even a cartoon of the Four needed the Human Torch removing in order for it not to be impossible expensive to do! Now, of course, technology has caught up, and CGI is able to bring Mr Fantastic’s elasticated limbs and the Torch’s fiery sheath to the screen in fine style. Interestingly, the film opts not to create the Thing digitally, but rather through the old-fashioned method of putting Michael Chiklis inside what must have been a gruelling prosthetic make-up job. The result is not entirely authentic – Chiklis just isn’t big or rocky enough to pass for the classic comics Thing – but it does allow Chiklis to give a genuine, and actually rather affecting performance. Just as well, because this is a film built around performances rather than big set pieces.

What may surprise people used to the rather dour tone most comic book adaptations have adopted since Tim Burton’s first Batman is how light and breezy most of this movie is. With the exception of Ben, whose life is understandably messed up by his new circumstances, the Four have a rather jolly time, not bothering with tedious things like secret identities and spending most of their time in their spacious skyscraper HQ amiably squabbling. The film’s faithfulness to the source material is, up to a point, impressive and successful. This is a genuinely funny character-based film that touches most of the bases Lee and Jack Kirby covered in the comic – the characterisations of the Four are pretty much spot on, even down to Reed and Sue’s romance being a bit passionless and unconvincing.

However, the greatness of the classic Fantastic Four books came from the way they mixed wise-cracking sitcom characterisations (Lee’s forte, one suspects) with mind-boggling kitsch cosmic grandeur (Kirby’s stock in trade). Storey’s film has the former in spades but virtually none of the latter (it’ll be interesting to see how the planned sequel handles Galactus’ assault on Earth). This really leads to the film’s only weak link, namely its presentation of Doctor Doom. Bereft of his original origin (oh, good grief), powers, background, and (for most of the film) appearance, this is a very poor showing for a character who deserved much better (the comics Doom was a horribly maimed scientist-sorcerer, traumatised by the death of his mother, who chose to encase himself in armour and embark on a ruthless quest for power – it’s a miracle George Lucas didn’t get sued by Marvel). As it is Doom comes across as a poor amalgam of Magneto and the Green Goblin, who appears to go bad simply so the Fantastic Four can fight someone in the last reel.

But anyway, this is very solid stuff, at least as good as the first X-Men movie. Thoroughly enjoyable and a nice change of pace from most of the summer’s other movies, this isn’t quite the absolute delight it could have been, but it’s still well worth a look for comics fans and normal people alike.

(Another one for the ‘over-generously reviewed’  file, no doubt…)

Read Full Post »