Saturday, May 27, 2006

Movie Review - X-Men 3: The Last Stand

Now, as some of you will know I regularly write DVD reviews for our North Scotland, North Devon, Hull, Lincolnshire, Scunthorpe, Stoke, Essex, Grimsby (etc., etc.) sites, and print the unedited versions here. I've never been moved to write a review independently on a current release before. This evening, after a year of fanboy expectation, I saw X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Here is my review...


Oh, my, word. The X-Men, those mutant heroes sworn to defend man and mutant in a world that hates and fears them, are back! Wooo-hoo! This time, with the help of Beast and Angel, they have to face evolution itself in the form of their former team-mate Jean Grey (Phoenix), plus Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants! And so, 10 of us assembled at the Showcase in Derby this evening, with baited breath...

Now I am an X-Geek. I've been reading X-men since I was 6, seriously since I was 14. I'm not a collector I'm a reader. Stan is my god. Claremont is the new messiah. Naturally, I was hoping for certain things. I wanted Sentinels, the Danger Room, Gambit, Skrull, a Colossus/Patch fast-ball-special, Lockheed, and a million impossible icons I knew I was never going to get. My expectation was that it was going to be pants, but that I could at least play 'spot-the-mutie', eat some popcorn, and revel in the genius of fine Shakespearian actors like Patrick Stewart (X) and Ian McKellan (homo superior himself) as Magneto.

Basically, and uncharacteristically, I was right.

Now that Ratner is directing, that certain X-factor has gone. The movie is, in short, something of an uninspiring and over plotted mess compared to the gritty world of moody atmospherics and emotional weight that Singer and his crew has already brought us.

Ratner fails to make the audience connect. Recurrent x-themes of division, alienation, responsibility, discrimination and even (dare I say) terrorisum, are lost in a blaze of throwaway CGI and star gratification. While watching, I was left with the sensation that certain cuts made it to the final edit through lack of coverage rather than preferred performance. I found I felt genuine pity for the likes of Sir Ian, forced to drag the performances of his Brotherhood, kicking and screaming, out of mediocrity. Aaron Stanford (Pyro) and Vinnie Jones (Juggernaut) are simply dreadful.

Noted additions were the performance of Ellen Page and the characterisation of Kitty Pride, who carried the roll beautifully and sympathetically. Kelsey Grammer (while undeniably Frasier Crane) was the perfect piece of casting I hoped for. He was, in all ways, Beast, and his witty asides and unexplored inner turmoil carried the theme of the piece, if ignored by the raging hodgepodge around it.

There was some beautiful CGI, when used sympathetically, truly beautiful. The score swelled across my senses as Magneto ripped the Brooklyn Bridge from its foundations and turned the planets magnetic field against these pitiful homo sapiens. Wolverine howled as the flesh was stripped down to his
Adamantium bones as he faced Phoenix, pressing forwards against the fire and pain towards the woman he loved. But, a truck load of fanboy masturbation and computer generated moments do not a quality motion picture make. It helps, but it doesn't.

Do not expect this to reflect the things you love in the X/Marvel Universe. Angel is an unaffiliated newcomer. Nice potential plot points such as Juggernauts immunity to the mutant crippling serum (due to his powers being magical in nature), Jeans love for Scott preventing her tipping over the brink, and the involvement of the Shi'ar Empire could simply not be explored in this format and so fell flat for me as long-term fan. Was I asking too much? Perhaps?

Still there was some nice character 'bits', but they were few. Storm actually using her powers, Wolverine teaching in the Danger Room, Multiple Man playing the 1 man army, and Eric's reaction to the 'demise' of Mystique are snippets of rare joy. Keep watching too, there's a nice little bit after the credits worth hanging about for.

I have been able to forgive the breaches of X-trivia in, and thoroughly enjoyed, the previous 2 movies, but I could not find it in myself to excuse this recent attempt by a far more naive director and such a lank-lustre supporting cast. Despite some 'lovely bits'.

I was looking forward to discussing the film afterwards with a fellow x-geek who saw it with us, but on exiting the cinema she was taken physically ill and had to go home and bitch about it on the message boards of SuperHeroHype instead. I'm sure we'll catch up and weep into strong alcohol in the very near future.

X-Men: The Last Stand took in nearly $45 million on Friday to become the 2nd largest opening movie ever, just behind Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, according to FOX News. Sounds good on the surface, doesn't it? This probably means we're going to have another half dozen of them, maybe a Magneto or an Emma Frost movie, no doubt progressively worse...

Movie: 2.5 out of 5

Lets pray it was worth sacrificing Singer for a really good Superman.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

DVD Review - The Ultimate Fly Collection

Has it really been twenty years have past since Cronenberg's remake of The Fly hit the big screen?

As ever, Twentieth Century Fox have decided to celebrate by releasing a somewhat bloated anniversary box-set, this time it's all The Fly films. The Fly Ultimate Collector's Edition is a seven-disc (yes, seven-disc!) set that boasts the groundbreaking 1958 original, its sequels (including the previously unreleased Curse of The Fly), the Jeff Goldblume/Blundelfly/Cronenberg version, and all its little wizards.

The original (and in my opinion ‘best’) 1958 movie is quintessential black and white 50s horror/sci-fi. David Hedison, playing single minded inventor Andre Delambre, obsessed with his work in matter transportation. When testing the device on himself (duh!), a perfectly normal house fly gets caught in the machine and the scientist, with perfectly abnormal results. Now that’s cinema! "Man with big fly head, film at 11". Eventually, Andre’s wife Helene (Patricia Owens) and Fran├žois Delambre (the one and only, Vincent Price) discover the scientist’s secret and she must destroy the unholy mutant ‘thing’ her husband has become. Surely that parting shot of the tiny human-headed fly squealing "Help me!" from the web of a spider has to be the single most disturbingly memorable moment of 50s horror/sci-fi.

The Return of the Fly was a "son of" movie, where Vincent Price's character, Fran├žois Delambre, returns to help Andre’s son, Philippe (Brett Halsey), who naively carries on the family business of transmigration, only to befall the same fate as father (duh again!). Set fifteen years later, the story follows Philippe’s rampage as half-man, half-fly to seek an insane revenge on anything with binocular vision…

So far, so good. But here comes Curse of the Fly. Noticeably absent is the saving grace of Vincent Price. This time, three descendents of the Delambre bloodline are still trying to perfect the matter transporter, but things take a tur
n for the worse (for the audience too) when one of the trio marries a woman (who not only happens to be on the run from a neighbourhood mental institution but whose meddling uncovers a truck-load of botched human experiments) with inevitably disastrous consequences. After this film the whole Fly concept died an appropriate death, until David Cronenberg.

The basic concept for Cronenbergs new version is pretty much true to the original. Dr Brundle's relationship with Veronica (played by Geena Davis), the love of his life, is a lot stronger and the driving force behind the plot. Sometimes the plot does get a bit overshadowed by the prosthetics and model effects (but that’s Cronenberg). The film was a breakout success for Cronenberg, and justifiably so. It’s great, and the second best thing in the box-set with loads of documentaries and extras to support the movie geek in all of us.

As with the previous sequel, with a plot centred on the doomed doctor's son, The Fly II failed to effectively follow its predecessor. Controversially, I have a soft spot for it. That doesn’t make it a good movie though and it stars Eric Stoltz as the son and was directed by Chris Walas (who was responsible for The Fly's creature effects). Lets face it, few FX people make the transition to director, and know jack about working with actors, relying more the effects to carry the picture, and it shows with this movie. Stoltz could certainly have done with the support a ‘real’ director should have been able to offer.

This seven-disc set is reasonable value (with the two The Fly movies) but the rest are really just curios and fillers. It is a ‘nice’ idea to put them all together in one package (to get a historical perspective if nothing else) and there are some good extras. In honesty, unless you’re a genre or gore fiend, save some pennies and just buy the 2 ‘originals’.

Movies: 2.5 out of 5
Extras: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DVD Review - Camberwick Green

"Here is a box, a musical box, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a secret inside. Can you guess what is in it today?"

That’s how each episode would begin, with the black-and-red, hexagonal music box gently turning on the animators desk before up pops the star of that week's episode, one of the inhabitants of Camberwick Green, ready and able to deftly deal with some minor middle England village crisis. Guessing who the episode was about was all part of the fun of watching (in the same way that correctly picking one out of the three windows in Playschool made who a psychic god back then).

The big question here is weather it still works? Yeah, 'coarse it does…

Due to the sheer volume of repeats, this is a show that more than one generation can call their own. Even today, in an experiment worthy of Pavlov, I sat my little 8-year-old niece (hello Helena, told ya I’d say “hi”) down in front of Camberwick Green one Sunday afternoon and she was riveted to the screen for a full 13 episodes.

This programme is bordering on a national institution and if a statue of Windy Miller appeared in the centre of my hometown I would happily applaud the local council. This show is an icon of England right up there with Big Ben, fish and chips and red telephone boxes. Like some Orson Welles for pre-school generation x-ers, Brian Cant's voice is reassuringly comforting, bringing with it the feeling of there being a certain ‘rightness’ about the world so reflected in the harmless goings-on in Camberwick Green.

Friendship and post war stoicism is what binds the villagers together, with no one ever losing their temper with another (that wouldn’t be cricket). Captain Snort and the boys at Pippin Fort might get a tad bemused when their morning parade is interrupted, but they soon calm down when an explanation is forthcoming. There may be ‘a fussing’ as village gossip Mrs Honeybun (avec baby) takes a stroll between the shops on the green, but it's all going to happily come to nothing by the end of the day. Farmer Bell might be a midges annoyed when his truck runs out of petrol whilst racing Windy Miller on his trusty tricycle, but it's all settled, once again, over a glass of Windy’s home-brew Scrumpy and a cheese and pickle sandwich.

Anyone who remembers these from their childhood will probably want to buy them out of nostalgia and they might well be suprised with how much they enjoy revisiting the world of Trumptonshire and be pleasently pleased with how their own children (if they have any!) react to this classic.

Okay, so the animation (while cutting edge at the time) isn’t in the same league as the likes of Wallace and Gromit, but the series has been digitally cleaned up and regraded on video, so colours are strikingly vivid compared with the sorry state of the show’s previous video outings, and an enormous amount of film dirt has been removed.

As Helena and I waved goodbye to the character in the music box, sinking slowly back into the animators desk, we gathered our coats and headed for the old windmill at Heage. When we got back, we made our own bread for tea and (at her insistence) watched Camberwick Green all over again.

MOVIE: 4 out of 5
EXTRAS: 3 out of 5