Thursday, 19 March 2009

Thoughts on some films...

Been meaning for a while to give my thoughts on some films I've watched recently, so rather than doing full reviews I figured I'd just lump them together and give my general opinion on each movie.

I am Legend

Alternative titles for this film: I am Mediocrity; I am Missed Opportunity; I am Total Waste of 90 Minutes of Your Life.

I'd heard that this film was bad, but I didn't realise how bad. I am Legend bears so little resemblance to the classic SF/horror hybrid novel by Richard Matheson that you almost wonder why they bothered to give it the same title. Aside from the fact that the protagonists in book and film both have the same name, there's not a lot in common between the two mediums.

What makes the book so brilliant is the tense, claustrophobic feel as Neville cowers in his barricaded house, listening to the vampires howling his name as he prays for the dawn. This aspect just doesn't appear in the film at all, which is one of two fundamental flaws that undermine it.

The other flaw is the use of CGI for the monsters. The mutants just look like cheap cast-offs from the Mummy films - they just don't inspire fear at all. This really killed the film for me - why the hell didn't they just use actors? Sure, this would mean less flexibility, but a far better degree of realism.

Will Smith does his best with a rather dull script as he wanders about a ruined cityscape that just looks like a movie set, but the whole film just falls totally flat. There are flashes of what could have been, namely the sequence early on when Neville ventures into a dark building to find his dog, but overall it's a bland, unexciting mess with a really weak ending bolted on. If you want a post-apocalyptic film with ruined cityscapes and survivors struggling for survival against a mutated population, then watch 28 Days Later instead.

30 Days of Night

Now this is a rarity - a good vampire film. In terms of atmosphere, this film is bang on the money - it's tense, it's unnerving, it's visceral. Josh Hartnett is perhaps a surprising name to take the lead role, but he does pretty well. The script is good, building believable relationships between the characters and setting up some cool sequences.

The vampires are really well done, bearing more similarities to the terrifying creatures of European folktales than the melancholic types floating around in frilly cuffs. Unlike the monsters in I am Legend, real actors are used instead of dodgy CGI, and it makes all the difference.

In all, a really strong horror movie with a surprisingly moving ending.


Bit of an odd one, this. One of those movies which you quite enjoy, but don't really quite understand the point of.

I loved the scenes set in Meanwhile City; really liked the Victorian/Steampunk setting, and the really odd happenings going on here. These sequences were really evocative and atmospheric.

The storylines set in the real world were engaging as well though, with some surprisingly noir-ish prose and characters. The script cleverly links all the stories of the separate characters together, resulting in an intense climax to the film.

And yet, despite this, I couldn't help but wonder what exactly the meaning of at all was. Still, clocking in at just over 90 minutes it's well worth a watch, and a good opportunity to show some support for an upcoming British director. And it's certainly better than much of the drivel coming out of Hollywood these days (Pirates of the Caribbean 4? Yawn).

Iron Man

Bit underwhelmed by this one. Robert Downey Jr. is admittedly terrific, bringing real charisma and dynamism to the role, while the effects - as you expect these days - are excellent, and the actual Iron Man suit is just unbelievably cool.

But the plot is rather thin on the ground; the film starts well enough, though a lot more could have been made of Stark's imprisonment. But once he escapes, the whole thing goes downhill a bit. Main problem is a lack of a decent villain; Obadiah Stane just didn't cut it for me. The eventual mash-up between Stane and Stark was rather disappointing.

Feel like this was a bit of a missed opportunity, it's all just a bit lightweight. Hopefully the planned sequel will have a meatier plot and better bad guy, as that was all that was really missing from this first instalment.


I loved Pan's Labyrinth, which single-handedly proved that Guillermo del Toro is a massively talented film director. I was intrigued by the premise of Cronos (which involves a parasite contained in a mechanical critter, giving eternal life to anyone who uses it) and the many accolades the film received seemed to indicate that it would be well worth a watch.

Wrong. Cronos left me totally cold, it just didn't do anything for me at all. There's no tension or atmosphere, and the painfully one-dimensional plot offers little of interest. So much more could have been done with the relationship between Gris and his wife, after he becomes a vampire (there are hints but it's emotionally muted), and also with Dieter de la Guardia, the dying man who is desperate for the parasite's gift. Ron Pearlman's villain, Angel, is one-dimensional to the point of embarrassment.


T.D. Newton said...

Good thoughts, I will have to check out Franklyn and 30days.

I Am Legend was a movie I got dragged to see in the theater and afterward I felt like the only person who didn't like it.

I just watched Hellboy 2 the other night, total suckfest.

Iron Man, I liked a lot, except the cliché plot villain. I did think the way IM won the final battle was good and innovative, much better than the first Hulk movie, anyway. Anything that doesn't end like Matrix Revolutions, I'm okay with.

wend said...

I Am Legend was a mixed bag for me - I liked the way Nature took the landscape back, and some of the cinematography was memorable.

Plot wise, the whole premise behind what a 'legend' is, and the art of storytelling to produce said legend is not fully realised in the film. Hell, the last two paragraphs of the novel point at storytelling and the making of legends - that is, about things coming "full circle" and that he has become a "new superstition". Word-of-mouth tales that change over time to instil fear and superstition. The last paragraph simply underlining "I Am Legend".

The other thing that had me grinding my teeth was the sentimental use of the dog throughout most of the film. Granted, Will Smith/Robert Neville needed something to talk to on film to sustain some semblance of a relationship, rather than talk to self and have a lot of voice-over for internal monologue etc., but in the book a dog comes and goes in a blink. Neville only has physical contact with the petrified dog for one night, and then it's simply stated the dog is dead within a week. The whole depressed, bleak and oppressive atmosphere of the book was about loss and loneliness which didn't have the same impact on screen.

But, I suppose, it must have been a difficult novel to adapt. Hence, so different from the novel.

Overall, I thought the film okay - I try to think would I still like the film if I hadn't read and loved the novel. In that case, it was okay.

Loved 30 Days of Night ... and I'm looking forward to seeing Franklyn.

Dark Wolf said...

I saw only "I Am Legend" and "30 Days of Night". And I have the same opinions as you. The first fell very short for me, I loved the book and I believe that this no way to make an ecranization. I am so-so when it comes to vampires, but "30 Days of Night" is a very good vampire movie. I liked and it kept me tensed, which it rarely happens with the later horror movies.

May I recommend "El Orfanato" ("The Orphanage"). One of the producers is Guillermo del Toro, who you mentioned in "Cronos". This is a great horror movie and I absolutely loved it.

James said...

TD: I've only seen the first Hellboy, and it didn't do a lot for me.

I can't even remember how IM won the final battle, which I guess goes to show how the film didn't really stick in my memory.

Can't remember how Matrix Revolutions ends...

Wend: The movie barely has any links to the book, as I said. Certainly, the claustrophobia and hopelessness never really appears in the film. Instead, it's just a bland action romp with awful CGI and little depth. And his relationship with the dog perhaps was over-emphasised.

Sure, maybe the novel was hard to adapt, but I don't even feel the director tried to adapt it. He just took the basic premise and Hollywood-ised it. And don't even get me started on the piss-weak ending...

Dark Wolf: Yeah, been meaning to check out The Orpanage for a while! Have heard very good things - thanks for the reminder!

T.D. Newton said...

Right, don't waste your time on the 2nd Hellboy. Worse than FF:Silver Surver (as hard as that is to believe).

IM uses the atmosphere (OMG SPOILERRR)

Matrix Revolutions doesn't end, that's the problem. It's almost humorous to use this phrase, but it is deus ex machina of the most offensive degree.

Iain said...

Hey James,

Richard Matheson's book is nigh on perfect. The film while not being atrocious was a real let down. Why mutated, hyper fast CG zombies instead of proper honest to God vampires? Bloody Hollywood execs.

TD you are so wrong about the Hellboy movies. Fair enough the first one was a bit light, but that was due to studio interfence (according to Empire) who insisted on cuts. But the sequel where Del Toro was allowed to cut loose with his imagination was quite simply fantastic. The characters were superbly drawn, the creature design and VFX were stunning and to cap it all off the finale took place near where I grew up in Co Antrim. Fair enough it was probably a sound stage in Romania but the good old Giant's Causeway got a mention. And to say that it is worse than FF:Silver Surfer is just plain wrong !!:)

30 Days of Night was real good fun. Especially as the vampires weren't asexual fops dressed like bygone New Romantics but hyper- killing machines with really, really big teeth.

Haven't seen Franklyn, though it has received some decent reviews.

Anyone seen Watchmen? I have read the comic (I have no problem with calling a comic a comic) but am loath to have my enjoyment of it spoiled by Zac whatever his name is and his endless slo-mo shots.

Alex said...

Ron Pearlman was pretty hilarious in 'Cronos' - and not in a good way...

Re. 'Hellboy 2' - I actually liked it even though it's a little soppy. The elf king seemed strongly influenced by Elric of Melnibone (especially the relationship with his sister...) and the Troll Market was good Mos Eisley Cantina style fun. The first film's a lot better though, loved the Lovecraftian elements there.

Agreed re. '30 Days of Night', although I did find it slightly dissatisfing for some reason that I can't quite pinpoint. It's good to see vampires that basically just look like ordinary people, rather than frilly fops as you say or sodding goths. It makes them far scarier for a start.

'Iron Man' annoyed me. I find Robert Downey Jr. incredibly irritating sometimes, and in this film he's punchably smug. After 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight', quite honestly I can't stomach this kind of cheesy, puerile rubbish.

I have to see Franklyn soon, it looks like exactly the kind of thing that I enjoy in literary form. Even though I know it's probably more Steampunk as you say, I must confess that after seeing the advert on TV my first reaction was "ZOMG, New Weird movie!!!!!!". I'm not exaggerating the exclaimation marks.

James said...

Iain: I wondered that myself. The creatures in the book are clearly vampires, but for some reason in the film they're rather generic 'mutants.' Right, whatever.

As for Hellboy 2, maybe I'll have to give it a go...I did like the trailer...

Hopefully gonna see Watchmen tomorrow...

Alex: I can imagine you frothing with excitement at seeing the Franklyn trailer! Yeah, it is kinda New Weird.

Tbh, I thought Downey Jr was the only really good thing about IM.