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Archive for September 25th, 2009

I recently started a list of the best comic book based movies and suddenly realized how many of them are from the last ten years.  So my list changed and it is now “The Top 20 Comic Book Movies of The Decade” (or at least my interpretation of it).  Anyone wishing to nominate a film that I have missed or put forward their favourites please do so.  Some of you may even want to ridicule my choices or omissions.  So here they are, some obvious, some less obvious, some you will love, some you will hate and maybe even the odd one you haven’t heard of!

  • Ghost World (2001)
  • Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
  • Based on: a comic book by Daniel Clowes.
  • Not the usual comic book to be adapted into a film, Ghost World is a character driven film about people who just don’t quite fit in.  The two main characters Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated from high school, where they looked on their peers with great scorn.  As Enid develops a fascination with local oddball Seymour (Steve Buscemi) Rebecca begins to conform to the phoniness of modern consumer life.  She even gets a job in a Starbucks style coffee shop.  The comedy is sometimes melancholy and full of despair but it is always razor sharp and edgy.  The interaction between Birch and the always brilliant Buscemi really make the film.

 Ghost World

  • Blade II (2002)
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • Based on: Marvel’s Blade, created by Marv Wolfman
  • I recently described Blade as the most important Marvel film ever made, after some really bad comic book movies in the 90’s Blade proved a comic book movie could be good, entertaining and most importantly for the studios profitable.  Blade II improved on the original with visionary director Guillermo del Toro bringing his own unique style to the film. This is explored both in the great use of sets and locations as well as the new type of vampire, the Reapers.  The action scenes are well constructed and choreographed.  The film also explores some moral issues that the director re-visits in Hellboy II.

 Blade II

  •  Spider Man (2002)
  • Director: Sam Raimi
  • Based on: Marvel’s Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
  • Although the Spider man films are extremely well made I have to be honest, I am not really a fan, I would much rather see Sam Raimi making horror films, something he does better than most directors.  The action scenes are well constructed, the special effects are seamlessly integrated with the live action and the acting is pretty good throughout.  The reason I can’t get excited is basically prejudice, I am just not a fan of the character.  The reason the film makes the list is that although I’m not a particular fan I can see why others like it.

 Spider Man

  •  올드보이  (Oldboy) (2003)
  • Director: Park Chan-wook
  • Based on: Oldboy, by Minegishi Nobuaaki and Tsuchiya Garon
  • Yes its true, the Korean film that formed the middle part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is the based on a Japanese Manga comic series.  For those who don’t know it Oldboy is violent and disturbing but is also one of the best films of the last ten years.  It tells the story of Oh Dae-Su, a man who is imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years.  He has no knowledge of who his captors are or what their motives are.  He is then released without warning or explanation.  I won’t say any more so as not to give any of the plot away but if you haven’t seen this film, providing you are not squeamish or sensitive to violence go and see it now.  An American remake possibly staring Will Smith has been muted, it is been reported that it could be a direct remake or possibly a re-imagining of the source material.  Hopefully it doesn’t get off the ground as it would never live up to the original.

 Oldboy

  • あずみ (Azumi) (2003)
  • Directed by: Ryûhei Kitamura
  • Based on: the manga series of the same name created by Yū Koyama
  • One of the less well known comic book adaptations of recent years.  In America it screened at various festivals including Sundance and South by Southwest but only had a limited release nearly three years after it was made.  In the UK it went direct to DVD but is picking up a cult following having been screened on film 4.  It is the story of Azumi, after the death of her parents she was raised by a samurai to be an assassin in Feudal Japan.  As part of a small group of orphans that she has trained and grown up with she is sent on her first mission, to assassinate a warlord and prevent a war.  The photography is stunning and combined with well choreographed fight scenes the film has a style that feels like a cross between classic Korosawa and modern pop culture such as video games.  The main theme explored in the movie is morality of killing, this is put into context by Azumi whose assassinations prevent wars and therfore save other lives.  It doesn’t answer these moral questions, just leaves them lingering.

 Azumi

  • The Princess Blade (2003)
  • Directed by: Shinsuke Sato
  • Based on: manga Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike
  • Set in Japan in the near future; imagine the Village crossed with and Samaria movie.  Yuki, The Princess Blade of the title is the last surviving royal of the House of Takemikazuchi.  Living in isolation from the world they use there skills developed as  Mikado guards to become the most deadly assassins for hire.  She discovers that the new leader of the house killed her mother.  On leaving she encounters Takashi part of a rebel movement that gives her an opportunity for revenge.  The film loses its way towards the end but on the whole it is well worth seeing.  The action is great and the near future setting is handled well and is an inspired idea. 

 The Princess Blade

  •  X-Men 2 (2003)
  • Director: Bryan Singer
  • Based on: Marvel’s X-Men, created by Jack Kirby & Stan Lee
  • The beauty of the original X-Men movie was that it left the audience wanting more.  With X2, Bryan Singer really delivers the goods, we have more characters using more of their powers and best of all we get more of the none to subtle subtext of alienation.  This really was an accomplished film that set the bar for comic book movies to come.  The most impressive thing is the director’s ability to handle such a large cast of characters and not losing the thread of the plot.  And all this was done whilst facing budget cuts and script rewrites even after the film went into production.  The casting old and new works really well, as well as many returning actors the always brilliant Brian Cox took the role of William Stryker, Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and Kelly Hu Lady Deathstrike. 

X-Men 2 

  •  Hellboy (2004)
  • Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
  • Based on: Hellboy comic published by Dark Horse Comics created by Mike Mignola.
  • Guillermo del Toro is the perfect choice as a director for this film using all the visionary flair he demonstrated in Blade II and taking it to the next level with lavish sets and imaginative supernatural characters.  Ron Perlman is excellent in the title role playing something between a supper hero and a petulant teenager.  So many comic books are about a battle between good and evil, with Hellboy all this is going on within the one character.  A great film that sits between his masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth and his Hollywood films.  Last years sequel only narrowly missed out on a place on the list.

 Hellboy

  •  Batman Begins (2005)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Based on: DC’s Batman, created by Bob Kane.  Inspired by storylines from: Batman: The Man Who Falls, Batman: Year One, and Batman: Dark Victory
  • Often overlooked and now overshadowed by The Dark Knight, Batman Begins reinvented Batman and paved the way for the more successful sequel.  Starting at the beginning again discounting all previous movie incarnations of the character.  The gritty reality of Gotham City in economic turmoil (in a film that predates the current so called credit crunch) moves Batman as far from Tim Burton’s Batman as that incarnation was from the 1960’s TV show.  The interesting thing in this film is how long it takes before we see Batman.  I have never timed it but I am guessing about an hour, nearly half way through the film.  Up until this point we get to see how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) became Batman following the death of his parents (inspired by Batman: The Man Who Falls).  As well as giving us a coherent back story it also negates the need for flashbacks or an origin film in future, it is also directly relevant to the latter part of the film.  There is also a great supporting cast including Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Ken Watanabe, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman many of whom reprise their roles in the sequel.  Anyone who enjoyed The Dark Knight really should revisit this great film.

 Batman Begins

  • A History of Violence (2005)
  • Director: David Cronenberg
  • Based on: graphic novel by John Wagner
  • Moving away from his biological horror roots David Cronenberg marked a real return to form with this adaptation of a graphic novel.  Tom (Viggo Mortensen) becomes a local hero when he shoots and kills two killers who are attempting to rob his diner.  Cronenberg expertly juxtaposes extreme violence with idyllic family life to create a  film that in many ways is far more shocking than his controversial (but brilliant) Crash(1996 not to be confused with the 2004 film of the same name).  Viggo Mortensen is perfectly cast and relishes what is almost a duel role, the two sides of his character being so different.  Maria Bello provides good support as Mortensen’s wife but Ed Harris and William Hurt really excel in their small roles.

A History of Violence 

  • V for Vendetta (2005)
  • Directed by: James McTeigue
  • Based on: Graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore
  • Released in 2005 at a time when it looked like Watchmen would never be made Alan Moore had already turned his back on the movies after the appalling The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (sorry Katie, I have to say it is a terrible film) and the decidedly average From Hell.  Set in an alternative Britain that has become a fascist, totalitarian state (a bit like the way I imagine the Daily Mail’s ideal vision of the world to be)  the indifferent and apathetic populace get a wake up call from V, a masked vigilantly/terrorist.  Who blows up the Old Bailey before announcing his Guy Fawkes inspired plans for the 5th of November.  A note of trivia Euan (son of then prime mister Toney) Blair worked as a runner on this film about a plot to blow up parliament, a fact that always makes me chuckle!

 V for Vendetta

  • 頭文字D – Tau man ji D (Initial D – Drift Racer) (2005)
  • Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
  • Based on: The manga comic of the same name by Shuichi Shigeno
  • A Hong Kong film based on the Japanese manga comic (and anime series) of the same name, it is the story of Takumi Fujiwara a young tofu-delivery driver.  From an early age (before he could legally drive)  he delivered tofu for his farther to the peak of Mt Akina.  In doing so he unwittingly learnt the skills of drift racing.  His abilities become clear when he encounters some local street racers looking for a worthy challenger.  It came out in the UK around the same time as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift so comparisons are inevitable, they are however irrelevant as Initial D is a great film, Tokyo Drift is utter crap and cost three and a half times more to make than this film!

 Initial D - Drift Racer

  • Sin City (2005)
  • Director: Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez
  • Based on: Frank Miller’s Sin City series
  • Directed by Robert Rodriguez Frank Miller and based on part of Frank Millers graphic novel series of the same name.  Taking the source material and filming it with very little alteration or omission and in a style taken directly from the page.  The dialogue works better on the page and can be a bit clunky and cheesy at times, this only adds to the charm of this modern Noir.  They even use the stark black and white images of the original comic; there are no shades of grey here! What there is though is the occasional splash of colour, a girls eyes or hair, a pair of Chuck Taylor shoes or bright red lips, the effect is striking.  The cast that they amassed is stunning and includes Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Kate Bosworth, Josh Hartnett and the real star of the film Mickey Rourke.  Anyone who thinks The Wrestler was Mickey Rourke’s comeback film should take a look at this.  This is a film that really polarizes opinion, I don’t know anyone who likes or dislikes it, you either love it or hate it. 

 Sin City

  • 300 (2007)
  • Directed by Zack Snyder
  • Based on: Graphic Novel by Frank Miller
  • A fictionalized account of the Battle of Thermopylae where Spartan King Leonidas and 300 Spartans fight to repel the invasion of the Persian army of over a million soldiers lead by self proclaimed “God-King” Xerxes.  The film is shot using the Chroma Key (blue screen) technique as used in Sin City (also adapted from a Frank Miller Graphic Novel) to help create a look similar to the one seen on the pages of the comic book.  The film walks a line between historical accuracy and total fantasy telling the basic story but existing more as entertainment than a document of history. 

300 

  • 30 Days of Night (2007)
  • Directed by David Slade
  • Based on the comic mini-series by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, published by IDW Publishing.
  • The concept is truly brilliant.  As the sun sets over and isolated Alaskan town the residents prepare for 30 days of night.  T the same time a group of rather gruesome looking vampires arrive safe in the knowledge that the suns harmful rays will not bother them for an entire month.  Thanks to authors like Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer vampires have become something more attractive and romantic and less menacing.  These vampires are a world apart from anything you may see in the Twilight saga, they are the most brutal and original vampires since Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987).  There are a few problems with the plot and there is a very poor sense of time and space but the action scenes are really well handled and there are some real make you jump moments.  Josh Hartnett and Melissa George make a good leading pair and Danny Huston is great as the leader of the vampires.

 30 Days of Night

  • The Dark Knight (2008)
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Based on: DC’s Batman, created by Bob Kane.  Inspired by The Long Halloween.
  • Sometimes a film comes along that transcends all expectations. The Dark Knight is one such film, it isn’t a great comic book film it is a great film.  When the film comes up in conversation the first thing people tend to mention is the brilliant performance by Heath Ledger; taking nothing away from him, he fully deserved his Oscar for his part as The Joker but there is so much more to the film than that.  Forget the action, the scene that cuts to the heart of the film is when Bruce Wayne is at diner with Harvey and Rachel.  After Bruce’s date, Natasha makes a comment about democracy they discuss how when threatened the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city until Rachel reminds last man who they appointed was Caesar and he never gave up his power.  This theme follows through the rest of the film as Bruce holds Harvey up as The White Knight the city needs and that will allow him to give being Batman.  But then we have the moral dilemma that does Bruce want to give being Batman because it is the right thing to do or because he knows it’s the only way to win back Rachel who is now in a relationship with Harvey?  The story is multilayered and brilliantly played out without losing any of the great action you expect of the genre.

 The Dark Knight

  • Iron Man (2008)
  • Directed by: Jon Favreau
  • Based on: The Marvel character originally created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby
  • No movie last year could reach the benchmark set by The Dark Knight but one film tried really hard.  I had low expectations for Iron Man expecting something along the lines of The (not so) Fantastic Four however I was really pleasantly surprised.  While The Dark Knight was dark brooding and had a lot to say for itself Iron Man was bright colourful and unashamedly good fun.  At the centre of the film and the reason for its success is Robert Downey Jr who is clearly having the time of his life playing the Playboy billionaire turned supper hero. 

 Iron Man

  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Directed by Louis Leterrier
  • Based on: The Marvel comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
  • The problem with The Hulk (2003) was that there was too much talking and not enough smashing (I stole that line from someone else, I am not crediting them as I can’t remember who it was and they probably stole it themselves!).  This is surprising considering the size and invulnerability of this incarnation of The Hulk.  The 2008 film (more reboot than sequel telling a different back story) was a huge improvement.  Edward Norton puts in a great and often funny performance as Bruce Banner, The subtitled scene when he gets his Portuguese wrong is genius.  The other thing that makes it work is the presence of a credible adversary resulting in a decent climatic fight. 

 The Incredible Hulk

  • Wanted (2008)
  • Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
  • Based on: Comic book series by Mark Millar
  • Only loosely based on the comic book Wanted is the story of Wesley, a frustrated office worker who hates his life that he is drifting through aimlessly when not been pushed around or crippled by panic attacks.  Then he discovers that his farther was professional assassin with abilities beyond normal people.  Having inherited the same abilities without realizing it he is asked to a secret guild called The Fraternity.  Russian director Timur Bekmambetov bring al the visual flare and unusual style that he demonstrated in Night Watch and Day Watch.  James McAvoy is an unusual choice for an action star but is surprising effective.  Angelina Jolie finally gets the part she deserves combing the action of Lara Croft with a decent and watchable film. 

 Wanted

  • Watchmen (2009)
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Based on: The Graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore
  • Based on the much revered graphic novel that appears on Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels list. Set in an alternate 1980’s: America have won the Vietnam War and is moving towards a seemingly inevitable nuclear war with Russia. A symbolic doomsday clock is set just before 12 and the end of the world as we know it, Glasnost is not a word used in this films reality.  So more than twenty years on is the story relevant? Fossil fuels and world finance are mentioned keeping the film up to date but it is relevant for a far simpler reason.  The film is not about world politics, it is about people.  More specifically it is about heroes and villains. That is the geniuses of the film or more to the point the graphic novel it is based on.  Who is a hero and who is a villain? That is easy, Batman and Superman are heroes and The Joker and Lex Luthor are villains. In Watchmen it isn’t that simple the heros are villains and the villains are heros. Read my full review of the film.

 Watchmen

An honourable mention for a couple of films that didn’t make the shortlist:  American Splendour (2003) and Persepolis (2007).  I have heard great things about both films but they are not eligible as I haven’t seen them.  This isn’t the Oscars where people vote for things they have never seen!

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Is greed still good?

roaring trade clara jackson allanThis blog is normally about movies but I often stray into the world of television so why not theatre too? The simple answer, I haven’t been to the theatre since I started the blog. So what got me to the theatre tonight? Simply a friend of a friend was in the play so a group of us went along to a show support (and to see if he was any good, fortunately he was!). The play in question was Roaring Trade by Steve Thompson, a relatively new play that début in Soho, London at the start of the year. The production I went to see was at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham. Set in the ruthless and cutthroat world of the bond floor of a fictional London investment bank; it is the story of four very different traders. Even eight months after it made its debut in London is there anything more topical than bankers and their bonuses?

 

Donny (Matt Dudley) is the old hand trader, with the company for ten years, always pushing the boundaries and bending the rules. Coming from a working class background he has a chip on his shoulder and feels he has a point to prove.

Roaring Trade Matt Dudley

PJ (James Allen) is in his forties and approaching burnout and he probably has a drinking problem. He is thinking that it is time to throw the towel in but his pushy wife won’t let him. The heart, sole and possibly the conscience of the group.

Roaring Trade  James Allen

Ollie (newcomer Eden Voss) quickly nicknamed Spoon (as in silver) is the new boy. With a first from Cambridge, a farther in the trade and pitch perfect Received Pronunciation he is the opposite of wide boy Donny. It is probably the hardest character to play as he develops the most throughout the play. Although he doesn’t have to express the same range of emotions as Donny and PJ he is a very different person at the end of the play from the one we first see when he joins the play in the third scene.

Roaring Trade  Eden Voss

Jess (Chara Jackson-Allen) is far less emotionally fragile than her male counterparts. Jess knows that sex sells and flirts her way through trades. She is probably the most grounded of all the characters. For me Chara Jackson-Allen is the star of the show, although appearing in most of the key scenes her character actually has the smallest story arc of the four main characters. This doesn’t stop her from strutting around the stage as if she owns it.Roaring Trade crescent birmingham

Although the play is essentially one act lasting around eighty minutes it is broken up into relatively short scenes keeping the breakneck pace going. The dialogue sharp and witty but ultimately bitter. You know from the subject matter it isn’t going to end well but what unfolds towards the end isn’t exactly what I expected. The final scene is both poignant and telling. Obviously intended as a cautionary tale of greed and ruthlessness it in some ways is a moral tale. With even the most cutthroat trader playing by the rules and breaking the rules being the ultimate demise of at least one character.

Anyone who can get to Birmingham who want’s to see it will have to act fast, there are only three performances left, Friday and two on Saturday.

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