Thursday, 24 April 2014

In Your Eyes and on your internets:
Joss Whedon's missed opportunity

Joss Whedon recently took forty precious seconds out from filming Avengers: Age Of Ultron to record an introduction to one of his smaller projects, "metaphysical romance" In Your Eyes, for the Tribeca Film Festival. At the same time that the film premiered in New York, he announced, internet boffins were opening its e-cage and releasing it into the digital wild via Vimeo, allowing any old numpty to watch it for the princely sum of five "bucks" (just under three of the Queen's pounds).

Online film distribution is hardly new but it's yet to be fully embraced by Hollywood, so when a brand new Joss Whedon project pops up for you to watch immediately without even having to put your pants on, it naturally attracts attention. It's worth noting, however, that although His Jossness wrote and exec-produced In Your Eyes, it was actually directed by Brin Hill (me neither); from the SEO-friendly headlines the film has garnered you'd be forgiven for thinking it's another Much Ado About Nothingesque side project from the genial ginger genius.

While Whedon is to be commended for dipping his hairy toes into the digital water, you have to wonder if it's because without a headline-grabbing release, nobody would have batted an eyelid at In Your Eyes in the slightest. It's not that it's a bad film at all; it's a perfectly adequate, textbook romance with a supernatural twist, the script for which Whedon probably knocked out in less time than it took him to record its introduction. It's just that it's a little too bland to add much fuel to any kind of revolution in the way we consume films.
Whedon's script sees the achingly elfin Zoe Kazan, all doe-eyes and voluminous fringe, embarking on an unlikely affair with Cloverfield scruff Michael Stahl-David via the medium of unexplained telepathy: they can mysteriously hear each other, see what each other sees and feel each others' feelings despite never having met and being thousands of miles apart. He's an ex-con from the wrong side of the New Mexico tracks, she's the wealthy but unhappy wife of a prominent New Hampshire surgeon whom Whedon probably struggled not to call Dr. Douchebag. The characters are broader than a barn door plus all the barn walls laid end to end, and the plot less challenging than a battle of wits against said barn, but the parapsychological pen-pal quirk is just about enough to keep you watching.

It's occasionally eye-screwingly cringey (a spot of psychic nookie belongs in the movie equivalent of the Bad Sex In Fiction awards), but Kazan and Stahl-David are likeable enough to overcome the hurdles of playing cut-out characters in what is a predictable but - it must be said - almost flawless example of Screenwriting 101. Brin Hill's direction is workmanlike, but he's not the star here - if indeed he even exists and isn't one of Joss Whedon's pseudonyms.

So what we have is something of a curio: a script by a bona fide legend which is technically exemplary but disappointingly blunting-edge, released via a strategy that would have earned it far more column inches if only it had been, y'know, really good. In Your Eyes is destined to become, at most, a footnote in the Online Film Distribution history books, when its provenance suggests it should have been so much more. Let's see Marvel throw Avengers: Age Of Ultron onto the internet on the day it lands in cinemas; then we'll have something to talk about.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Your handy guide to the Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa's quite marvellous Seven Samurai is out on Blu-ray this week courtesy of those sexually devastating BFI types, and it's one of those films that not enough people have seen even though they know they really should. I suspect what's holding many people back is the fear of not being able to follow which of the titular septet of samurai is which, what with them all being Japanese and in black and white.

Because I'm good like that, I'm prepared to overlook the potentially racist undertones of your fear and shall attempt to alleviate it with this convenient cut-out-and-keep guide to the seven samuraiest samurai in all of samuraidom. Banzai!

(NB Do not attempt to cut out)

Kambei: Baldy Samurai

Kambei is the leader of the titular ronin, and is wise because he is old and bald. He is thoughtful and considerate, and slays people in silence and slow motion. His interests include cartography and painting.

Katsushirō: Baby Samurai

Katsushirō enjoys flower arranging and tumbles in the hay with pretty young boys. He is headstrong but naive and narcissistic; his morning routine is two hours long, and he is exceptionally pleased with the inverted boobs shape made by his hairline. He is a Pisces.

Gorōbei: Manly Samurai

Gorōbei works out regularly and can bench press a Nissan Micra. He enjoys archery, but not its western equivalent, darts, which he says is for "fat, drunk gaijin". His favourite colour is azure.

Shichirōji: Chunky Samurai

In the face of fierce competition, Shichirōji has the daftest hair of all the samurai. He was probably on his way to the hairdressers when Kambei bumped into him and recruited him, the poor bugger. Shichirōji enjoys running, building barricades and watching the EastEnders omnibus.

Heihachi: Silly Samurai

The joker of the pack (in the same way that every office has a joker, i.e. he's not very funny), Heihachi uses his humour to leaven tense situations, like awkward inter-samurai arguments about whose pubes are in the miso soup. He spends his spare time splitting logs and sewing, the big girl's macho blouse.

Kyūzō: Scary Samurai

The name "Kyūzō" is Japanese for "Do not fuck with me". He is an excellent trainer of armies but is a loner ever since he got close to one of his recruits and had his advances rebuffed. He tells everyone he got that scar above his eye when he was attacked by Godzilla, but in fact he merely cut himself shaving while distracted by a bee.

Kikuchiyo: Phony Samurai

Kikuchiyo's interests include fishing, being naked outdoors, amusing small children and near-fatal amounts of heavy drinking. Often he likes to combine all of these at once. He dislikes miserable people, horse riding and real samurai.

Seven Samurai is out now on Blu-ray in normal boring plastic case and deeply sexy steelbook hewn from the finest Hattori Hanzō steel, very possibly.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Blog post #2 of hundreds about The Rover

I'm generally loath to do marketing companies' work for them, but in the case of David Animal Kingdom Michôd's The Rover I'll make an exception. This is the film I'm most excited about this year (although let's be honest, X-Men: Days Of Future Past looks immense), so I'm duty-bound to ensure that every single person who reads this blog knows about it in the hope that both of you will go and see it.

Hot off the back of the announcement that it'll be premiering in a midnight screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival, A24 Films dropped the first, WB Yeats-misquoting full trailer today, complete with "OFFICIAL SELECTION CANNES 2014" insert, almost as if they knew. It's gorgeously moody and leaks out a little more plot than the teaser (obviously), but this is clearly a film that isn't going to be described in two-and-a-half minutes.


Fans of Robert Pattinson are going crackers for this on Twitter right now, which seems unfair when fans of Guy Pearce's facial hair are relatively silent. So here I am doing my bit: get ready for The Rover, motherfuckers. It' going to be amazing. Or possibly rubbish. Hard to say. Regardless, here's some more marketing material.


Sadly not an entire feature film about Lost's greatest character, Locke is in fact a fantastic slice of claustrocore with Tom Hardy in a chunky-knit sweater. I wrote some words about it for The Shiznit when it was on at the London Film Festival; why not read them? Then you'll know how good it is and want to go and see it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Abandoned idea #216

I'm sure I had a point to make when I started this, but by the time I'd finished I had no idea what it was. Sorry.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2:
Electro Boogaloo

It seems important these days to preface any discussion of a given film by outlining your feelings about that film's prequels or previous incarnations (in various media), just so that people know whether you're on their wavelength or talking out of your shitpipe. So, for the record, here are my qualifications for having an opinion on The Amazing Spider-Man 2; you can decide for yourself whether what I'm about to say in the rest of this post is likely to reflect your own views or make you want to kick me in the dick.
And so it was with the taste of two-year-old dog shit lingering in my mouth that I approached The Amazing Spider-Man 2, still cross about the premature rebooting of Spidey's barely-cold corpse and even crosser about what a colossal waste of time it was reliving his origin story for one hour and watching him piss about with an abysmal CG lizard man for another. Fortunately the great thing about superhero Part Twos is that with the origin story out of the way, we can crack on with superpowered angst, human relationship drama, villains afforded a decent amount of time and all that stuff that gets added to Part One as an afterthought, and in this case it's doubly good news that Part One is over because it was so skin-flayingly awful.

It also means that without the bits that made me want to chuck stuff at the screen last time, I can now appreciate what Marc Webb's version of Spidey does so much better than Sam Raimi's, and those things are plentiful. Most obvious is ol' Webhead himself, who, after years of clunky CG, finally convinces as he lobs himself through the canyons of New York, and who is also the wisecracking chucklemonkey from the comics - something Tobey Maguire never quite pulled off. Andrew Garfield is brilliant here, selling the comedy and the emotional stuff so well that you barely notice that the middle of the film is almost entirely Spider-Manless. The question still remains, though: how does he fit all that hair into Spidey's mask? Turns out, as these exclusive stills show, they use CGI to digitally shrink his head in post-production.
Sally Field's Aunt May and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy are also in a different league to their preboot counterparts (for the sake of argument, Stone's counterpart is Kirsten Dunst), not least because you don't want a bad guy to pull all their limbs off one by one because they're so hair-tearingly annoying. In fact two scenes, one with each of them simply sharing well-written dialogue with Garfield, caused me to get something in my eye. It was popcorn, because well-acted, well-written dialogue scenes really exacerbate my hand-to-mouth co-ordination disorder.

Main villain duties fall to Jamie Foxx's Electro, although for a main villain he too is largely absent from the film's mid-section. His character has the pathos with which Stan Lee liked to imbue many of his bad guys, and his first face-off with Spider-Man is well-handled: the Electrovision is a cool touch, sparingly used, and Hans Zimmer and Pharell have given him a bonkers theme song that sounds like Eminem having a row with Daft Punk in the cellar of a lunatic. Unfortunately he's got the world's dullest supervillain costume (except for his magically self-repairing electropants), a million miles from the lightning-masked loon of the comics, but what he lacks in style he makes up for in mentalism: his bedroom is eerily reminiscent of that of Jed Maxwell, Alan Partridge's unhinged stalker.
Once again, I find myself asking of a supervillain: how does he wank?

Dane Dehaan, who still hasn't grown into his ludicrously deep voice, borrows Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man 3-era emo haircut to play Harry Osborn, with mixed results. It's hard to buy him and Peter as BFFs, and he's too sinister not to turn psycho, but the Parker / Osborn mythology is given an interesting new twist to prevent another retread of the Raimiverse. When the inevitable Goblinisation rolls round, you'll have to decide for yourself whether it's a terrific addition to the supervillain canon or if it is, in fact, just a little bit too silly.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far from perfect (it isn't even amazing); like every modern superhero film it's too long, it doesn't really add anything useful to a bloated genre and it wastes a fun hero/villain dynamic at the expense of a subplot that sits apart from the rest of the film. But it's very funny, boasts a handful of excellent scenes and performances, and delivers some first class comic book action. It's not quite the Iron Man 3 to its prequel's Iron Man 2, but it's enough of an improvement to re-pique my interest in the franchise, and frankly I imagine that was its only goal.