Tag Archives: a dark adapted eye

Constantine (2005)

constantine-poster

“The wager between Heaven and Hell is on Earth.”

Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weiss, Tilda Swinton, Djimon Hounsou and Shia laBeouf

Grumpy, terminally ill misanthrope John Constantine works as a freelance exorcist, deporting demons to Hell if they cross a line and upset the Balance. When a plot to destroy the Balance forever comes to light, Constantine must rally for one final battle.

Continue reading Constantine (2005)

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The Maze Runner (2014)

At least one of the characters in this poster is never seen running the maze.
At least one of the characters in this poster image is never seen running the maze.

“Get Ready to Run”

Directed by Wes Ball
Starring  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter and Blake Cooper

Waking in an elevator cage, Thomas (O’Brien) is propelled into the Glade, a community of boys imprisoned in the heart of a vast and shifting maze.

Continue reading The Maze Runner (2014)

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

In addition to president and vampire hunter, Lincoln pursued a successful hip-hop career under the name 'Father ov da Nation'.
In addition to president and vampire hunter, Lincoln pursued a successful hip-hop career under the name ‘Father ov da Nation’.

“President by day. Hunter by night.”

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Young Abraham Lincoln’s (Walker) mother is murdered, and the pursuit of vengeance leads him into the world of vampires who stalk the night (and also the day, thanks to the liberal application of sunscreen) and rule the south. Trained by the enigmatic Henry Sturges (Cooper), he hunts monsters in the town of Springfield while becoming a lawyer and politician. Attracting the attention of the vampire leader Adam (Sewell), he moves up to taking on the vampires’ great prop – slavery – as President. Continue reading Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

I... think I saw a different movie from the one that this poster is talking about.
I… think I saw a different movie from the one that this poster is talking about.

“IF YOU DARE… taste the bloody passion of the BLOOD NYMPHS!”

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing and Dawn Addams

A young aristocrat, Baron Hartog, decapitates a beautiful vampire, one of the last of the Karnsteins. Years later, a mysterious countess (Addams, in an unnamed role with a handful of speaking lines) leaves her daughter Marcilla (Pitt) in the care of General von Spielsdorf (Cushing) and his daughter, Laura (Pippa Steel). Laura becomes consumed by her friendship with Marcilla and her fear of a great cat that smothers her in her dreams. Then she dies and Marcilla vanishes.

Soon after, Laura’s friend Emma (Madeline Smith) and her father, Mr Norton (Cole) meet a mysterious countess, who entrusts to their care her niece, Carmilla (Pitt). Emma falls into the same fears and fascinations as Laura, and when her father is away Carmilla seduces and then murders the Governess (O’Mara) and the butler, as well as killing the doctor (who gets no action first).

At last, the now aged Hartog leads Morton, the General, and Laura’s fiance to Karnstein Castle to uncover the tomb of the last Karnstein, Mircalla, and destroy her. Continue reading The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Beautiful Creatures (2013)

Alice Englert is a pretty young woman with a wonderfully wry turn of expression; why every poster for the film picked a selfie duckface shot, I do not know.
Alice Englert is a pretty young woman with a wonderfully wry turn of expression; why every poster for the film picked a selfie duckface shot, I do not know.

“Dark Secrets Will Come to Light”

Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, and Emma Thompson

Ethan (Ehrenreich) is that small town boy, too cerebral to feel comfortable with the popular crowd, but too popular to be a proper nerd, and yearning to break out of Gatlin, South Carolina (not to be confused with Gatlin, Nebraska, where they have their own troubles).  When he meets new girl Lena Duchannes (Englert), he realises that she is the girl he has been dreaming about for months, and he is slowly drawn into the world of her family, who are ‘Casters’, magicians who follow either the Light – becoming minor league American character actors – or the Dark – causing them to evolve into A-list British thespians with dodgy accents (Irons and Thompson); I can only assume that Emmy Rossum’s Ridley will morph into Lena Headey on her thirtieth.

On her sixteenth birthday, Lena will be claimed for the Dark or the Light, and there is a curse to be reckoned with that says Dark is the way. Ethan might be her salvation, but Casters aren’t supposed to love mortals, and the price may be more than Lena is willing to pay. Continue reading Beautiful Creatures (2013)

300 (2006)

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“Prepare for glory”

 

Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West and David Wenham

In 480 BC a small Greek force, lead by 300 Spartans under King Leonidas, held off a far larger Persian force at Thermopylae for seven days, while getting off a variety of good lines while under pressure; when King Leonidas was told that the Persian archers were shooting arrows in such vast quantities that they were blotting out the sun, he allegedly replied ‘won’t it be nice that we have shade to fight in’. In the end they were nearly all killed, but their epic bravery was well recorded by the Greek historians, with accounts in both Plutarch and Herodotus.

Then, probably because Frank Miller loves nothing like he loves testosterone, it was made into a comic in 1998, only with added homophobia, but some very nice artwork. As is the way with Frank Miller.

After that, a film version was almost inevitable. The plot of the film is, by the way, basically, the same as the synopsis I gave of the battle of Thermopylae. It’s a bit like a very well oiled and slightly more homoerotic version of Herodotus.

What’s wrong with it?

OK. There is technically an awful lot wrong with 300. I mean, you start with the history (Spartan soldiers did actually wear more than leather speedos to fight in, King Xerxes of Persia probably wasn’t that into gold body paint, and I’m sure history would have remembered had he, or any classical ruler, actually had their own battle rhino), continue with the racism (brave Americans Greeks yell about democracy before slaughtering deformed foreigners who look like orcs but are apparently Persians), perhaps pause to examine the sexism (no matter how powerful or plot important a female character, it doesn’t mean she can’t be sexually abused at least once), and then amble on through the gratuitous violence, tripping over a plot hole every now and then (why did Theron take bribes in Persian gold he couldn’t spend? Unless there was a secret Spartan bureau de change somewhere…) before finally coming to rest, overwhelmed by the sheer macho nonsensicality of it all.

And yet…

What’s right with it?

 

…Leonidas would have loved it!

No, really. Every time I see this film I can’t help but imagine Leonidas sitting there, in the Elysian Fields, gleaming with pride. Every time he gets off a snappy line (and to be fair, if they were invented, they were invented by enthusiastic ancient Greeks, not enthusiastic Hollywood script writers) I can see him nodding smugly. Every time his enemies flinch, he probably flexes some undead muscles and I am totally and utterly convinced that if you were to show him this film and ask him about the battle rhino he would swear blind that he killed that thing with his own two hands and if you doubted him, well, you weren’t there, man.

In general, one of the hardest things about historical drama is that we, as a society, are not very good at empathizing with people who’s basic understanding of the world and who’s concept of right and wrong was very different to ours. We find it especially hard when it comes to popcorn flicks, where we don’t want to see women who couldn’t leave the house unaccompanied or cheer for heroes who believed absolutely in the divine right of kings, so most film makers tend to end up making their historical heroines feisty and their heroes pro-democracy, and everyone learns to believe in themselves until it’s all OK in the end. But 300 actually doesn’t do that. OK, so I’m not saying Dick Cheney’s fantasy life doesn’t look like this too (well, maybe not quite as many heavily oiled and scantily clad young men, although I don’t want to judge) but I am also pretty certain that this is closer in spirit to the Spartan perspective than any earnest young man with plumes on his helmet, questioning whether the helots really needed to be kept as slaves, before facing a number of conflicted and three dimensional Persian enemies would have been.

Also, Frank Miller’s idea on history is way more like Herodotus than Eric Hobsbawm. I bet Herodotus would have thrown in a battle rhino.

How bad is it really?

I think it depends what you’re looking for. If you want a history lesson, it’s bad. If you want a subtle nuanced portrayal of real men torn apart by the horrors of war, it’s bloody awful. If you object to sexual violence, racism, orientalism, or just strangely narrow cliffs which soldiers have to be pushed off one at a time in dramatic profile, you probably should avoid it.

If, on the other hand, you have a soft spot for Frank Miller style cinematography and can swallow a lot of testosterone with your popcorn, it’s an awful lot of fun and probably the least apologetic depiction of Greek warriors doing appropriately obnoxious yet spectacularly Greek warrior-y things you’ll find outside of the strangely detailed imaginings of a certain kind of classics student.

Best bit (if such there is)?

 

Ooooh….so many quotables, so little time. Do I start with the Persian Ambassador famously being kicked down a well (“This. Is. Sparta!” shouts a strangely Glaswegian Leonidas)? Perhaps Queen Gorgo snarking that “only Spartan women give birth to real men” (another historical quote)? And of course there’s the famous “we will fight in the shade” line.

Plus no matter what you think of Frank Miller’s politics, man, he makes pretty comics, which pretty much gets used as the storyboard for the film. It’s visually stunning.

What’s up with…? 

 

  • So, the traitor Theron sells out Sparta to the Persians for gold, which he conveniently keeps about his person in easy to recognize gold coins, nicely stamped with Xerxes very recognizable face? Why? And also, where? He’s wearing a blanket for most of the film. Man must have had amazing muscle control.
  • I understand that the Spartans were body fascists extraordinaire, but did Leonidas have to kick the earnest little hunchback, Ephialtes, to the kerb quite so firmly? Couldn’t he have given him a bag to carry or something? Or just killed him if he must? Him running off to Xerxes in a fit of pique did seem rather inevitable.
  • I get that battle rhinos improve almost any given story, but could maybe some of Xerxes exciting shock troops (which include Africans, Indians with elephants, and the oft mentioned rhino) have maybe come from the actual Persian Empire?
  • What happened to all the other Greek forces at Thermopylae? According to Herodotus the total number of troops opposing the Persians numbered in the thousands (still massively outnumbered by the Persians who modern historians estimate as being in the tens of thousands) and included troops from Thebes, Arcadia and Corinth amongst others. Did they just…stay home?

Ratings

Production values: Whatever 300’s faults, it’s a very very pretty film and beautifully put together. 4
Dialogue and performances:  I might be being harsh here. There’s not really much for the cast to work with here, and they actually do pretty well with what they’ve got. Gerard Butler is consistently macho and stern. Lena Headey is scornful and imperious. Dominic West oozes whenever he comes on screen (seriously, Sparta, how did you not notice he was evil for so long?) and whoever is played Xerxes is…convincingly pierced. It just isn’t really a film you can perform in. 10
Plot and execution:  I mean, there isn’t a lot of plot to cram in, really. There is a Persian army. They go to war. There are some oracles and a bit of politics along the way, but really, how can you mess up a bunch of dudes stabbing each other with spears now? 8
Randomness: And that was mostly because the film occasionally just throws something totally insane from left field in. 12
Waste of potential: 300 is exactly what it says it is going to be from beginning to end. Madness? No! SPARTA! 2

Overall 36%

Not Falling, but Doing – Comic Books and Bad Adaptations

(This post originally appeared in my other movie blog, My Life as a Doge.)

Say what you like about the yellow spandex, at least you knew who was on which side.

“It wasn’t like that in the comics” is a common enough rallying cry for the aggrieved geek community these days.

Let’s be clear: I’m not having a go at geeks. Have you read this blog? I’m a geek, or possibly a nerd; it depends if the geeks will have me. I’m talking about a particular facet of geek culture, which has as many flaws and foibles as any other cultural group.

So, increasingly I start to ask myself if it isn’t a good thing sometimes when an adaptation breaks away from the original text, especially in an original text as convoluted as a comic book continuity. After all, it isn’t as if the comic books themselves haven’t cleaned house from time to time, with either a universe shattering Crisis event or an outright reboot. It’s needed too, with the two main continuities – DC and Marvel – each spanning dozens of titles and decades of publishing history, including a lot of highly contradictory, controversial, and on occasion just plain dumb stuff.

So, what change is okay when adapting a comic book for the screen? What change is too much change?

Continue reading Not Falling, but Doing – Comic Books and Bad Adaptations

Ghost Rider (2007)

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“Hell is about to be unleashed”
“His curse is his power”
“Let’s ride!”

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson
Starring Nicholas Cave, Eva Mendes and Wes Bentley

Johnny Blaze makes a deal with Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to save his father from lung cancer, only for Blaze senior to die in an accident during the family stunt-cycle show. Years later, Blaze (Cage) is called on to hunt down renegade demon Blackheart (Bentley) and his Nephilim minions as the Ghost Rider, to prevent a contract for a thousand souls granting vast power to either Mephistopheles or Blackheart.

What’s wrong with it?

Eve Mendes is a feisty, but not much more, as Blaze’s lost love, although she gets at least one shot in, which is something.

Pretty much everything with Blackheart in is ludicrously melodramatic, to the point of unwitting farce, and the occult shenanigans are basically just silly. There is also barely an instance of the Rider getting a decent fight. Blackheart knocks him downa  few times, but basically he owns the three Nephilim without much effort, including burning the one made of water.

What’s right with it?

First up, it’s great to see a film that knows how to do a tagline. I mean, it has some less-convincing ones, but look at that pick up there.

It also has Sam Eliot as Carter Slade, the Phantom Rider and Blaze’s predecessor, and no film which casts Sam Eliot as a Texas Ranger has got everything wrong.

How bad is it really?

Chunks of it drag, mired in crummy dialogue, and the action scenes are mostly pretty stilted, but there are occasions where it sparkles (a witness describes the flaming skull head thing as ‘an edge look, but he totally pulled it off’) and it’s cheesy fun.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Slade reveals his identity by lighting up for one last ride, then he and Blaze charge across the desert to an electro-metal rendition of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’. Sadly he doesn’t actually fight, but it’s still awesome.

What’s up with…?

  • Burning the water demon?

Ratings

Production values – Marvel Studios have set the standard in superhero special effects. Not, however, with this film. 15
Dialogue and performances –  The Johnny Blaze story is actually pretty solidly written and performed. Unfortunately, the demon stuff drags it down. 11
Plot and execution – The film rambles from set-piece to set-piece. As with the dialogue, the cursed and redeemed storyline is better than the more directly demonic stuff. 12
Randomness – Once you accept that Johnny Blaze is the Devil’s Bounty Hunter, it’s all pretty straightforward. 7
Waste of potential – So, it’s a Ghost Rider movie; what were they going to do? On the other hand, Sam Eliot doesn’t shoot one person. 8

Overall 53%

The Time Machine (2002)

Time_machine

“Where would you go?”*

Directed by Simon Wells and Gore Verbinski (uncredited)
Starring Guy Pearce and Samantha Mumba

Alexander Hartdegen (Pearce) proposes to his intended, only to see her shot dead by a mugger. Dedicating himself to training as a fighter and detective, he becomes the Batma… No, wait.

He dedicates himself to saving her by building a time machine to alter history, but failing once he decides it must be impossible and instead travels into the future to learn why. Witnessing the rise and fall of humanity, he is then thrown forward into the distant future, where he encounters a humanity divided into two races, the atavistic, subterranean Morlocks, and the entirely human Eloi, and must decide whether to try to change the past, or fight for the future.

Actually, I’m kind of overstating it a bit. It’s more like he has to decide whether to walk away and let a creepy brain-boss Morlock turn his Eloi friend Mara (Mumba) into a sexy-dance monkey or not, which is a no brainer in anyone’s books.

What’s wrong with it?

So, you see above where I emphasise that the Eloi are entirely human? That’s the crux of it. I mean, it starts with the addition of a tragic backstory, which reduces the wonder of time travel to one man’s hissy fit with the universe, but it’s the Eloi and the Morlocks who are at the heart of it.

In the book – and I promise, this is not just a ‘the book is better’ rant – the Eloi and Morlocks are two sides of the class divide taken to extremes; the idle rich who have devolved into heartless, contented children, and the labouring poor who have become naught but bestial muscle. It’s an allegory. In this film, there really isn’t one. The Eloi are a little fatalistic, but ultimately unflawed, whereas the Morlocks are self-made monsters who chose to become cannibal trolls, and look ridiculous to boot with their huge, rubber faces and bullshit, dehumanising caste structure.

The Eloi also get their theme from the Civilization computer games, which is a little bizarre.

The film also manages to trump the nastiness of the Morlocks eating the Eloi, with brain Morlock (Jeremy Irons) explaining that they keep the cute ones as ‘breeding stock’.

Mark Addy, as Hartdegen’s friend Philby, has a terrible American accent.

What’s right with it?

The first part of the journey into the future is nicely done, with the collapse of the moon a nice alternative to the more obvious ‘nuclear holocaust’ option to create a divide in history.

How bad is it really?

Even leaving aside the value of the film as an adaptation of the book (it fails, but then again the book was of its time and its allegory no longer directly applies), it’s not a very good film. After a contrived introduction, it makes a good stab at the time travel bit, but it doesn’t have anything to say with the Eloi and the Morlocks, so it just becomes a nasty, rapey cannibal plot.

Best bit (if such there is)?

A holographic library interface sings a snatch of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Time Machine: The Musical.

What’s up with…?

  • The brain Morlock, built to be the psychic smarts of the race, being as badass as any of the muscle/hunter Morlocks?
  • The Morlock caste system in general?
  • The Eloi’s superstitious fatalism? A species that can build sophisticated windmills and complex, cliff-hugging villages, ought not to be this helpless in the face of the crude Eloi hunting parties.

Ratings

Production values – The Time Machine is a thing of beauty, and the futures wonderfully realised. It’s just a shame then that the Morlocks look so bollocks. 11
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue is largely uninspired, and the leads give it what it deserves. Stand outs are Orlando Jones as the library computer and Omero Mumba as Mara’s brother, putting the older and more prolific cast to shame. 12
Plot and execution – The films greatest weakness is a failure to do anything with the Morlock/Eloi divide. There is supposedly something about unbridled technology, represented by the mining of the moon, but it doesn’t connect to the split into two races, which makes the core of that section pointless. 16
Randomness – The film doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but that’s a failing in the core premise of the second half, rather than randomness. 5
Waste of potential – Two words: George Pal. It wasn’t perfect, but the 1960s version was so much better, and I’ve never understood the point of remaking something worse that the last version. Plus, it’s a good book, even if the allegory is utterly dated. 17

Overall 61%

* The question is not where… but WHEN?”

World War Z (2013)

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“Remember Philly!” (No, really; that’s what they got. I’m starting to suspect that the tagline is a dying art.)

Directed by Marc Forster
Starring Brad Pitt

In the wake of a zombie apocalypse, former UN, umm… guy Gerry Lane (Pitt) is sent to track down patient zero in the hopes of developing a vaccine. From Korea to Israel to Cardiff, he tracks the spread of the virus, leaving a trail of zombies and corpses in his wake.

Alternatively, an asymptomatic plague sufferer travels the world, fantasising about a zombie apocalypse to explain the death that follows him without having to shoulder any blame for it.

What’s wrong with it?

Based on a book written as the collected oral history of a zombie apocalypse, World War Z the movie attempts to create the kind of ‘one informed narrator in an apocalypse’ vibe that John Wyndham used to rock, and instead create a global catastrophe that revolves around just one person.

Jumping from place to place, with few ongoing characters apart from Lane and his family, who are essentially off-limits, the film has little in the way of emotional stakes. If the world dies, who cares? Even the death of a family who help the Lanes (because every life that Typhoid Gerry touches is destroyed) barely raises a quiver.

Through a random walk around the planet, following rumours and destroying already shattered lives even more than they already were, Gerry is blessed with obvious revelations that have not occurred to anyone else, and thus saves the day (mostly). His role as a harbinger of doom is established in Israel, where his arrival immediately presages the complete collapse of the country’s entirely awesome zombie defenses, and by his almost psychic detection of a spreading infection aboard a passenger airliner.

The original script, by John Michael Straczynsky, was described as ‘genre-busting’. It is incredibly apparent that this is not that script.

What’s right with it?

The zombies spasms are creepy, and the wall-climbing waves are actually pretty amazing. In addition, the fact that the original Russian-gulag-to-rape-revenge-rampage ending was removed made it a less terrible film.

How bad is it really?

Despite some good set-pieces, the film is lacklustre, with none of the dead characters around for long enough or well-enough introduced for us to get to give a shit about them, and in a disaster movie you have to care. It’s not enough for Jennifer Jones to fall out of the elevator; we care because she saved the children and had a sweet little love story with Fred Astaire.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Probably the ‘ant pile’ as the zombies hurl themselves against the Israeli wall, clambering one on top of the other until the speed of climb surpasses the rate of collapse.

What’s up with…?

  • The complete failure of anyone other than Gerry to notice anything?
  • Sending a doctor into the field with a pistol and no weapon safety training? Even in a desperate situation, you’d think they’d go over ‘finger off the trigger’.
  • The zombies’ psychic ability to sense illness and injury? Given that they are basically ravening corpses responding to sound only, it seems remarkably selective.

Ratings

Production values – as usual with commercial entries, I can’t fault the film here. 3
Dialogue and performances –  There is nary a line of dialogue that isn’t exposition, with the exception of a few semi-coherent references to what Lane used to do. The acting is all good; there’s just nothing memorable to be said. 12
Plot and execution – The plot is basic, but the execution fails on a fundamental level when the film fails to make us care about really anyone16
Randomness – Lane’s revelations are not random, but the fact that no-one else sees what he sees (not just Joe Public, but Mossad agents, WHO researchers and other trained observers) is. The plot is also held together by chance in a number of cases. 8
Waste of potential – An interesting idea is not merely rendered dull in the name of accessibility, it is actually rendered inaccessible, as anyone we care about proves indestructible, and anyone who dies proves unimportant. 18

Overall 57%