Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Twilight’

I recently saw Clouds of Sils Maria on DVD and was planning to write about it as part of my DVD Gems series of great films that didn’t make it to my local cinema.  I didn’t for two reasons; the film is too good, and has too much going on for a three hundred word review; secondly I keep coming back to one thing about the film, Kristen Stewart.Clouds of Sils Maria

The film stars Juliette Binoche as a world famous actress and movie star.  She splits her time between blockbuster/superhero movies and more serious films and plays.  She accepts a part in a play about a destructive relationship between an younger and older woman.  She is cast in the role of the older woman having previously made her name as the younger woman in the first production and subsequent film adaptation.  Binoche is as brilliant as you would expect but so is her co star Kristen Stewart.Kristen Stewart

Stewart plays the personal assistant to Binoche’s star.  The character is more introverted and less emotional that Binoche’s actress but is equally as passionate.  The character exudes an intelligence that is tempered by youth and naivety.  She cannot always express herself in the way she wishes to.  The greatest achievement of the part is that she is always believable.  She never comes across as an actress playing an assistant, she is totally natural and immersed in the role.  Interestingly the only other person I can think of playing her was also in contention for the part, Mia Wasikowska.  Wasikowska is probably my favourite young actress at the moment but probably couldn’t have done any better than Stewart who is totally sublime.  I am clearly not the only person to be impressed, Kristen Stewart won a César (a French Oscar), the first American actress to win one!Actress Kristen Stewart poses with her trophy during a photocall after winning the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in the film "Sils Maria" during the 40th Cesar Awards ceremony in Paris

We shouldn’t be surprised, this isn’t the first time Kristen Stewart has impressed in a supporting role.  She bought the same naturalism and innocence to Still Alice as the daughter of Julianne Moore’s Oscar winning lead.  This ability should not come as any surprise, she has always been a talented actress.  Take a look at early roles such as Undertow (2004), Panic Room (2002) and Into the Wild (2007).  Her previously most impressive role was in Adventureland (2009) released between the first two Twilight movies.  And that is the crux of why some people don’t like Stewart and why others are surprised when she is good, Twilight!   A lot of people who dislike Stewart actually or even hate the character Bella Swan not the actress.  All the lip biting and pushing her hair back is the character not the actress, ironically, the haters she has attracted for Twilight are actually a sign of how well she captured the character.Kristen Stewart Adventureland

As far as I can see Clouds of Sils Maria is eligible for next years Oscars having received a general release in April 2105 after spending a year doing the festival rounds.  It is unlikely, but possible that Kristen Stewart could receive an Oscar nomination.   If you don’t believe me, check out Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria as well as some of her other movies I have mentioned, if you haven’t already, I would recommend you watch them anyway. 

Read Full Post »

Nearly sixty years after its original release Nicholas Ray’s seminal tean drama Rebel Without A Cause has been given a limited rerelease in cinemas. Made around a decade after the term teenager was coined, James Dean’s Jim Stark probably cinemas most notable adolescent. The template set by that character has endured ever since. From John Bender and Gardner Barnes to Cady Heron and Bliss Cavendar all the notable teenage and young adult charters from cinema have been outsiders in one acceptance within a group.Rebel Without a Cause

This trend is most evident in the glut of children’s and young adult novels that have been adapted into movies in recent years. In the modern cinematic world, being a little socially awkward isn’t enough. While the 80’s may have been the era of the teen movie, today’s films deal with the same angst, but it often disguised with a thin veil of fantasy and the fantastic. Initially not knowing his magical origins and not totally understanding his destiny until the end, Harry Potter (2001-2011) never quite fitted in the Muggle world or magicians world. The same is true of Clary in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), Lena Duchannes in Beautiful Creatures (2013), Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game (2013) and “John Smith” aka number 4 in I am Number Four (2011).I AM NUMBER FOUR

Twilight (2008 – 2012) is an interesting addition to the theme. Edward Cullen is an outsider because he is a vampire, he is an outsider within vampire’s because he is a “vegetarian”, but he is already accepted by his family. Jacob Black doesn’t know he is an outsider until he becomes a wolf. Bella Swan is an outsider, simply by being a typicle teenager. This disparate group find their place by their acceptance of each other. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (2012-2015) is somewhat different, she is human and only extraordinary by her actions, but they are actions caused by the dystopian world in which she lives. So as strange as it sounds, The Hunger Games is closer in this respect to the teen movies of the 80’s than many of the supernatural movies of recent years.The Hunger Games

But this leads neatly onto the latest pretender Beatrice “Tris” Prior in Divergent (2014). Born into a society that where people are divided into factions divined from peoples personalities: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave). When tested Tris is discovered to Divergent, someone who has attributes of multiple factions. This is considered to be a danger to society, a clearly flawed society making her an instrument or catalyst for change. Not satisfied with just finding her place in society, she has a part in shaping it. Following so closely on from The Hunger Games is this the new direction for the genre?Tris Prior

Have writers lost their imagination and need to create a dystopian world for our outcasts to inhabit because they have run out of ideas to make their ideas interesting? Or have we seen it all before and are too cine-literate to be interested in the mundane of real life? I think there is some truth in this, but with well drawn characters and a good script, everyday life can be just as interesting as the spectacular, take: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), Igby Goes Down (2002), Easy A (2010) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), all films that could all sit alongside the films of John Hughes. A perfect example of this, is Jennifer’s Body (2009), while I am a fan of and constant defender of the movie, despite the inclusion of supernatural, it isn’t as good as writer Diablo Cody’s previous film Juno (2007) but they both perfectly explore the anxieties and ideas I am talking about.Juno

I could be reading too much into this but ultimately I think the success of films like Rebel Without A Cause, The Breakfast Club and Divergent is that they have all tapped into a fundamental paradox of human nature. As a society we are desperate to fit in but we also want to stand out from the crowd.

For those who are wondering, I am not sure of the origin of the quote "I want to be a nonconformist. Just like everybody else" but first saw it attributed to the street artist Banksy.

 

Read Full Post »

Last week saw the second attempt to launch a franchise based on a successful series of young adult novels. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on The Mortal Instruments series of five novels (with a sixth on the way) written by Cassandra Clare. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) plays Clary Fray a seemingly normal teenager who discovers she is a Shadowhunter, a sort of daemon hunter. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with less (intentional) comedy. The other movie earlier in the year Beautiful Creatures is based on The Caster Chronicles: Alden Ehrenreich plays Ethan a seemingly normal high school student ( is this sounding similar?) who has a recurring dream about Lena played by Alice Englert (daughter of Jane Campion), a girl he has never met, until she turns up as the new kid at school. Both films are fun and entertaining movies with a suitably gothic tone. However they are also sadly unremarkable and unoriginal. Beautiful Creatures failed to find an audience making a sequel unlikely.  On the other hand the confidence in Mortal Instrruments is such that City of Ashes the second Mortal Instruments film is already in pre-production.  Shooting is due to start next month with a release next summer. This got me thinking about similar themed books that have been adapted into movies. Some have done better and more successful than others:

City of Bones and Beautiful Creatures

Harry Potter (2001-2011): The undisputed champion of the book to film adaptation in recent years has been Harry Potter having grossed nearly $8billion from its 8 films (based on 7 books). The success of the films comes partly from the great casting and the faithful (so I am told) adaptation from J. K. Rowling‘s books. But it goes further than that, a film should be its own entity and survive on its own merits not requiring the viewer to have read the books. This helps the audience grow over and above the fans of the novel. I didn’t see any of the films until 2011 but watched them all in a short space of time and have to admit I enjoyed them.Harry-potter-films

Chronicles of Narnia (2005-2010): Based on C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series of books and produced by Walden Media in association with first Disney then Fox. Three of the seven novels: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) have been adapted into films so far. Faithful to the source novels and like the source novels, the movies are distractingly preachy but good entertaining fun. Commercially successful grossing over $1.5billion, the first is amongst the top 50 all time highest grossing movies. It appears the series has stalled with complications since Walden Media’s exclusive rights have lapsed.The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Golden Compass (2007): Was an unfortunate mess of a movie. Well cast and beautifully shot but completely ruining Philip Pullman’s fantastic story. If reports are correct it was nothing short of a clusterfuck for New Line Cinema. One of their most expensive films ever with a budget estimated at around $180million, it took around $70million at the US box-office. New Line then sold the worldwide rights to cover the production costs, it went on to take over £300million. In one way it is sad that Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is unlikely to be adapted into a film anytime soon, on the other hand I am glad the series stopped before they made things any worse.

The Golden Compass

The Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012): Coming second only to Harry Potter in the book adaptation box-office, The Twilight Saga had its detractors who were almost as vocal as its fans. It also had its ups and downs artistically; Eclipse (2010) directed by David Slade representing the high point and New Moon (2009) directed by Chris Weitz the low point. The first film directed by Catherine Hardwicke was arguably the most important as its success secured the budget for the ongoing saga. Love them or hate them, you can’t argue with nearly $3.5billion from 5 films (based on 4 books). Not great films but completely inoffensive, I really can’t see why people get so worked up about them.twilight-saga-poster

Tomorrow when the War Began (2010 – ?): Based on the first of a series of seven Australian novels that have a striking resemblance to Red Dawn. The first movie was well received in Australia but failed to find an audience in the rest of the world. Two sequels have been suggested but are yet to materialise.Tomorrow when the War Began

Percy Jackson & the Olympians (2010 – ?): Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) are based on the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series of books by Rick Riordan. An updating of Greek mythology, Percy is a demigod, and son of Poseidon (based on his exploits in defeating various monsters, he appears to be based on Perseus, son of Zeus). The first film was a financial success but the second has only just managed to make back its budget making an adaptation of The Titan’s Curse less likely.Percy Jackson

I am Number Four (2011): Based on the first of four (to date) novels about alien children hiding out on earth from a second alien race who took over their home world. Finding a good balance between sci-fi action and high school drama the movie is entertaining if disposable. The cast is quite good but Timothy Olyphant is criminally underused and Teresa Palmer’s ‘number six’ is a more interesting character than Alex Pettyfer’s ‘number four’. Made on a relatively small budget (the money was all spent on producer Michael Bay‘s robot hitting exercise) for this type of movie it made a reasonable profit. A sequel was announced but then shelved.I AM NUMBER FOUR

The Hunger Games (2012-2015): Thanks largely to the perfect casting of Jennifer Lawrence the Hunger Games was a huge success. Grossing nearly $700million and becoming the best selling DVD/Blu-ray of 2012 a sequel was guaranteed. The first sequel Catching Fire is scheduled for release later this year with the final book Mockingjay split into two parts, Part 1 will be released in November 2014 with part two twelve months later. My only concern the second and third books were much weaker than the first creating a real challenge for the script writers.The Hunger Games

So what’s next?

Seventh Son: Based on the first (there are twelve so far) of Joseph Delaney’s children’s dark fantasy novel series The Wardstone Chronicles. The highlights of the casting are Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Scheduled for release next January (February in the UK) next year.Seventh Son

Vampire Academy: Based on a series of six young-adult paranormal romance novels by Richelle Mead. I haven’t heard of any of the principle cast but the supporting cast includes Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne and Joely Richardson. Scheduled to be released February next year.Vampire Academy

Divergent: Unlike the other films mentioned, Divergent is based on the first of an intended trilogy. It has been adapted into a film before parts two and three have been published. It is the debut novel by American author Veronica Roth. The film version is directed by Neil Burger and has an interesting cast including: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet and Maggie Q. it is scheduled for release next March next year.la_ca_0708_divergent

I’m not sure we have seen ‘The Next’ Twilight or Harry Potter yet but The Hunger Games is looking like the best and the most successful.

Read Full Post »

Movies seen in May:

Dead Man Down: Two damaged people (Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace) looking for revenge find each other. A disjointed crime thriller that has its problems but gets away with them because they are outweighed by the charms of the leading actors.IMG_5538.CR2

Star Trek Into Darkness: Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise go after a terrorist (perfectly played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Lots of well placed nods to the original series but the movie feels a little hollow and undoes some of the great work of the excellent first reboot movie.Star Trek Into Darkness

Mud: Two young teenage boys find a fugitive living in a boat stranded in a tree on a river island. They agree to help him despite the obvious dangers. Further proof that given a decent movie Matthew McConaughey is one of the most underrated actors of his generation coupled with the emerging talent of Tye Sheridan who you may have seen in The Tree of Life.Mud

The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann’s take on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is as good as it can be for a story that belongs on the page not the screen. The best things about it are the visually stunning party scenes and the stunning performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Sadly the best things about the film work against each other not with each other making a good and stunning film but not a great and mesmerising one.The Great Gatsby

Fast and Furious 6: Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Vin Diesel & Paul Walker) and their crew are once again hired by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). This time they are after British thief Shaw (Luke Evans) who is working with (back from the dead) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The story is rubbish leavening the film feeling flat after the surprisingly good previous film. There is enough car action for fans of the series and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano is good.Fast & Furious 6

Byzantium: After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. Neil Jordan returns to the vampire movie in the atmospheric and melancholic British horror that may just be the antidote to twilight.Byzantium

The Purge: Set in a near future America where on one day every year there is a 12 hour window when murder is legal. A suburban family get caught in the crossfire when the son decides help a man fleeing from a mob. What could have been a great sleazy B movie or a classy allegoric tale tries to be both and ends up being neither. Interesting and fun but flawed.The Purge

Byzantium Just misses out as movie of the month to Mud:Mud Poster

Read Full Post »

After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. It quickly becomes clear that the duo are mother and daughter (posing as sisters) and they are being hunted by other vampires. Living a lonely existence they do what they can to survive, in Clara (Arterton)’s case them means reverting to the only profession she knows, prostitution. Meanwhile Eleanor (Ronan) forms a bond with young local man Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).byzantium poster

It is interesting that in a month when biggest cinema release (The Great Gatsby) tries to get to grips with a character wishing to relive the past that there is a better film that will go largely unnoticed that has a more telling angle on the same idea. While Clara is always looking to the present and the future trying to forget or deny the past, her daughter Eleanor wallows in the misery of the past and is chained to the limitations of it preventing her from enjoying the present and planning for the future. This is explored in a particularly well handled scene when a character who is clinging on to what life he has mocks Eleanor for the desperation and unhappiness she carries with her into immortality. Like Gatsby, the prison the characters create for themselves is in the lies that live by hiding their past, and like Gatsby the freedom that may come honesty is fraught with danger.Byzantium Gemma Arterton

Every vampire story has to create its own “lore” whoever it by Nosferatu’s (1922) invention of sunlight killing vampires (that’s right it wasn’t in Bram Stoker’s novel) or Twilight’s glittering vampires. Other than the drinking of blood Byzantium does away with most conventions of the genre. These vampires don’t even have fangs. They do have another more subtle but equally as effective way of taking their preys blood. They are also more human and vulnerable than we have seen in other vampires in other years, making them more interesting. This vulnerability and humanity along with the tone of the movie and lack of cliché’s helps create a fantasy setting that feels closer to reality and more believable than many other vampires. The difficulty of introducing this lore is handled with the lightest of touches. There is almost no exposition, it is all implied of neatly worked into the plot of the movie. There is a scene where we see Eleanor watching Terence Fisher’s classic Hammer Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), interestingly they show a scene not involving Christopher Lee as the eponymous Count. This is a scene that like the rest of the film is handled supremely well. With a more heavy handed aproch it could have come across as either exposition or could have been an alienation device. These pitfalls are avoided, instead we get to see a nice juxtaposition of the perception of vampires and the reality of them (within the confines of the movie). This is further explored in aspects in reaction to things the characters say for example: When Eleanor explains that she learnt to play piano so well (she plays Beethoven’s complicated Piano Sonata Opus 2, No. 3) by practicing for 200 years, frank brushes it of as it feels like 200 years when you are practicing.Saoirse-Ronan-In-Byzantium

When you see Neil Jordan’s name attached to a vampire movie, you immediately think Interview with the Vampire (1994), while it may have plot similarities, Byzantium feels closer in tone to his earlier film The Company Of Wolves (1984). The story of lonely vampires travelling through a world where they have no place looking for love or acceptance chimes with many other vampire stories. Notably Tony Scott’s movie The Hunger and Mark Burnell’s novel Glittering Savages. Let the Right One In (2008) is certainly (in my opinion) the standout vampire movie of the generation, there are lots of parallels that can be drawn between the movies both in theme and tone. There is something about the seaside in winter that feels bleaker than any other place, this is used to full effect in what is essentially a melodrama of extreme melancholy. The charred remains of Hastings Pier (that burnt down a couple of years ago) give us a foreboding feeling of an inevitable ending. This has a similar effect as the snow and concrete architecture of Let the Right One InGemma Arterton Byzantium

Arterton and Ronan are both perfectly cast and play of each other brilliantly. Arterton is brash, loud and overtly sexual, Ronan is quieter, more reserved and introverted. The difference between the characters forms the crux of the plot and had we not believed in them the whole movie would have fallen flat. As it is the movie works supremely well. It isn’t going to bring any new fans to the vampire genre and those who come with certain expectations will be disappointed. It doesn’t have the action of Blade, the comedy of From Dusk Till Dawn , the sexuality of The Hunger, the horror of Near Dark and it certainly isn’t Twilight, but it does have the tone and style of Let the Right One In. And it is on that level that the movie works, it is beautifully shot, perfectly acted, expertly directed modern gothic melodrama that may just be the antidote to twilight and its imitators.  It lacks the depth or clear subtext that enervates some films to greatness, but don’t let that put you off, it is still a very good movie in a genre that hasn’t had many really good movies in recent years.   

Read Full Post »

The Defence of Twilight

Today I witnessed the end of an era, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the final installment of a movie franchise that has taken more than $2.5billion and counting. A controversial series that has acolytes and detractors in equal measure. Whether it be Transformers, Star Wars or any number of super hero movies there has always been a trend towards boys/men when it comes to big budget event movies. I’m not sure if Twilight is the first movie of its type or scale to be aimed at teenage girls (and their moms) but it is certainly the most successful and the one that everyone has an opinion on. For this reason if for no other, it has a place and a relevance in today’s cinema. As a thirty something male I should be so far out of the demographic to be able to give and balanced view on the matter, but I may not be for two reasons. Firstly there are a lot of people of a similar age to me and whose opinion I would normally trust who are happy to dismiss the movies without even seeing them. Secondly I have to confess I actually quite like the movies. Back to the people who dismiss the movies, it is reminiscent of something that happened in the late 90’s, I read and loved Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The books were not on my radar and I would not have considered reading them even if they were, until I heard that people were burning them. I took the point of view that anything that can cause such passionate hatred must be worth reading, it was. So I came to Twilight from a similar angle, the films were not being burnt but the vitriol that they were creating in people who hadn’t seen them was of near biblical proportions. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. On top of all this, Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first film is a good director whose work I have enjoyed in the past.

It is not by chance that I mentioned Transformers at the top of this article, as that is the touchstone of the comparison. Looking at the target demographic, Twilight is a good mirror of Transformers and however you look at it, it is hard to argue with the opinion that Twilight are better and less cynical films. Michael Bay’s franchise started with a surprisingly good film but went downhill from there. I have heard people accuse the films of being, sexist, misogynist, raciest, but worse than that they have been dull. Twilight on the other hand prides itself on its morality and empowerment. From a sexual point of view it gives mixed messages, but morally, it portrays ideals of truth, justice and honesty. All this is insignificant in comparison to how enjoyable the movies are, many people refuse to give twilight a fair chance, but to be honest all but the dull first sequel New Moon are actually decent films. Things took an upturn as the franchise reached a pinnacle with its third film, Eclipse directed by David Slade who had previously made Hard Candy and the bloody vampire film 30 Days of Night.

Criticism of the cast is unfounded and unfair, both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have proved in other roles that they can act, I would even go as for as to say they are perfectly cast here. The great thing about the cast though, is the supporting cast, the latest film features the always brilliant: Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning and Lee Pace and the delightful MyAnna Buring. All five films feature Nikki Reed who had never lived up to the promise shown in Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown but is undoubtedly talented. Anna Kendrick is always watchable but a little wasted here. Billy Burke is always dependable and often provides a great straight man for the comic moments. I struggle to defend the wooden Taylor Lautner, but you have to respect the kid, when it was suggested his character would be recast to reflect the developing and growing character he hit the gym and reportedly gained 30 pounds of muscle and was retained.

It isn’t perfect, I have a problem with the effect the movies have had on vampire movies. I have been a huge fan of vampire movies ever since I saw Christopher Lee as Dracula in Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I was ten or eleven years old. The problem with Twilight is the imitators that they have tried to cash in, diluting the genre. The films are also often slavishly loyal to the books leaving the odd flat moment that may work on the page but not the screen. Having said all that it does handle body horror quite well in Breaking Dawn: Part 1 in its depiction of a vampire pregnancy, all kept within the constraints of the target demographic and the essential 12A certificate. Writing in The Observer, Mark Kermode, a self confessed fan of the series suggests the film should have been offered it to David Cronenberg but praises the “safe pair of hands” Bill Condon as doing “his best to keep things on the right side of respectable, although I struggle to remember another 12A certificate film being quite this twisted”. it is also worth remembering that the stories are teenage romances before they are action or horror stories and as such they need a certain amount of moody and moping teens. I often hear the same people complain about this side of the movies celebrate similar ideas when framed within a real world set indie movie.

I have previously speculated on the gender politics of the movies with Bella constantly needing the protection of a man (be it vampire or wolf) but that was earlier in the series. As the plot has developed although physically week, Bella has proven to be the strongest character in the story, before metamorphosing literally the strongest. As all the questions are answered the story arc reaches its conclusion it has proved to be a solid series of films. Plot holes are minimal and the characters actions were largely within character making the story believable within the fantasy parameters it has set itself. In the same article I mentioned before Mark Kermode claims to have “had a lot more fun watching and arguing about the Twilight movies than I ever had with the Star Wars saga”, whilst as a Star Wars fan I disagree with him, it is a well thought-out and grounded opinion I respect unlike if anyone had suggested Transformers was better than Star Wars. He also makes the point that without Twilight The Hunger Games would not have been made. I don’t know how Suzanne Collins’s came to write the Hunger Games novels but wouldn’t be surprised if she is one of the legion of writers inspired by the success of Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling.

But fans of these books/movies don’t get too excited the housewives haven’t taken over Hollywood yet. The Hunger Games’ budget is estimated to be around $78million. This is a big increase on the $37million (estimated) for the first Twilight movie but a lot less than the $125million (estimated) of the first Harry Potter and the monumental $150million (estimated) spent on the first Transformers movie. Are studios scared of investing too much money in an action adventure fantasy/sci-fi film whose main character is a teenage girl? Probably, it isn’t that long ago that we had the $180million (estimated) disaster of The Golden Compass that underperformed (to use the industry euphemism) in the UK and North American markets. As a matter of interest, it was directed by Chris Weitz the man responsible for New Moon the weakest (but most profitable) twilight movie.

Ultimately most of the things that are wrong with the Twilight Saga can trace its roots back to the source novel but I find it hard to criticise Stephenie Meyer as like Harry Potter, the books have got kids reading, that can’t be a bad thing. They aren’t classics that I will revisit the way I do with Star Wars but they an important moment in the evolution of cinema and they are more fun and more entertaining than most of Michael Bay’s output for the past decade. Anyone who hasn’t seen the films take a look before you rush to judgment.  

Read Full Post »

I read the book A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs many years ago when I was at school although I enjoyed it at the time hadn’t given it a second thought until the trailers for the movie John Carter appeared a few months ago. Judging from the trailer it is a lose adaptation at best taking characters and ideas but not the plot from the novel originally published nearly a century ago (1917). Given the number of versions Edgar Rice Burroughs other creation, Tarzan it surprising to learn this is the first big screen outing for John Carter and “Barsoom” series of novels. Tomorrows releases got me thinking about other books I have read that will be hitting the cinema this year:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: From a novel I read a long time ago to one I have only just read. I saw the box set of the three Hunger Games novels while Christmas shopping last year, having seen the movie trailer I purchased the books and read them over Christmas. Although it loses its way in the third book and isn’t as good as Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale with which it will be forever compared (despite Suzanne Collins insistence that she was unaware of the Japanese novel) it is still worth reading. The casting looks to be perfect most notably Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a character with clear parallels with Ree Dolly, her Oscar nominated role in Winter’s Bone. Release date: 23rd March.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: The adaptation of this seminal novel of the Beat Generation is a bittersweet one for me, I have often thought it could make an excellent movie but my anticipation is tempered by fear that it will never live up to the book. It is in short, one of my all time favourite novels. Fortunately producer Francis Ford Coppola (who has owned the rights for many years) has chosen a perfect director in the shape of Walter Salles who did a fantastic job with The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and has assembled a talented young cast. Release date: 21st September. 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2: The startling revelation, I have read the Twilight books. As for the movies, the first and third actually aren’t bad. Depending on your point of view, spitting Breaking Dawn into two movies is the only way to do justice to the epic final novel or a cynical attempt to extort the maximum amount of cash from the franchises loyal following. I’m going for the latter. Still as with the final part of Harry potter, Part two promises to better than the dull part one. Release date: 16th November

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: With four adaptations to date do we need another? The 1974 version staring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow is a good film but is somehow lacking, it fails to capture the mood and the magic of the novel that is as important to “The Lost Generation” as On the Road is to the “Beat Generation“. I was a little dubious of the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire but actually think it could work. It is a novel that deserves a great adaptation, Baz Luhrmann could be the visionary director to give it to us, but why does he have to make it in 3D? UK release TBA, USA: 25th December

Read Full Post »

When I posted Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (ten pairs of very different movies with the same or similar titles) last year Katie from The Stories That Really Mattered commented that she “hadn’t realised there were so many movies with the same titles”! there are lots more where that came from. Here are another ten:

Convoy (1927): A silent-film set in the in the time leading up to the first world war starring Dorothy Mackaill about a New York socialite who is recruited Secret Service agent to befriend a man believed to be a spy for the Kaiser.

Convoy (1978): Sam Peckinpah’s road movie/ modern western is based on a country song of same title by C.W. McCall and stars Kris Kristofferson as an independent truck driver and Ali MacGraw as his passenger.

The Black Swan (1942): Notorious pirate Henry Morgan turned governor of Jamaica staring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara.

Black Swan (2010): Natalie Portman Oscar winning perforce as a ballet dancer on the edge in Darren Aronofsky’s physiological thriller that owns a debt t European horror movies of the 70’s.

Notorious (1946): Loosely based on the same source novel as Convoy (1927) (see above) Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant star, Alfred Hitchcock directs.

Notorious (2009): The rise and fall of rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.

Shame (1968): Haven’t seen this one so my synopsis is copied from IMDB “Ingmar Bergman’s psychological study of how humans react in a situation of war. The film takes place on Gotland, where invasion forces arrives.”

Shame (2011): Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are devastatingly good in Steve McQueen’s portrayal of a man living with sex addiction.

Heat (1986): Burt Reynolds was for a time one of the most bankable stars in the world, this Las Vegas set mid 80’s crime thriller came shortly after that time.

Heat (1995): Focusing on two men on opposite sides of the law, Michael Mann’s crime thriller is both the directors finest hour and the last great performance (so far) from both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Crossroads (1986):Director Walter Hill’s little known gem sees classical music student (Ralph Macchio) teaming up with old bluesman Willie Brown (Joe Seneca) on a road trip to the Crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil.

Crossroads (2002): Britney Spears vehicle about a group of friends who go on a road-trip to LA to take part in a karaoke contest. Originally dismissed as a movie for Britney fans only it is actually now more significant for an early appearance by Zoe Saldana.

Jersey Girl (1992): I had not actually heard of this Dylan McDermott, Jami Gertz romance until Mark Kermode mentioned it. I have no plans to see it!

Jersey Girl (2004): The other Ben Affleck/Jennifer Lopez movie! The good news it is considerably better than Gigli. It doesn’t live up to Kevin Smiths earlier films but has its moments and Liv Tyler is good.

Twilight (1998): A retired ex-cop turned private detective gets involved with a twenty year old Hollywood murder case. Worth a look for Paul Newman who is as great as ever and Susan Sarandon and Gene Hackman who provide good support but the plot is a little to thin and it runs out of steam.

Twilight (2008): Catherine Hardwicke’s surprisingly good adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire yarn.

The Avengers (1998): Disastrous movie adaptation of the classic 60’s TV show.

The Avengers (2012): Due for release later this year, the origin of Marvel’s team of superheroes.

Wonderland (1999):Michael Winterbottom’s stunning social realist movie that features a stunning performance from Gina McKee.

Wonderland (2003): The true story of porn star John Holmes and the wonderland murders.

Check back soon for Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood 3

Read Full Post »

Whilst discussing his new book Monsters in the Movies on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews (aka Wittertainment), John Landis suggested that zombie are bigger and more prolific than vampire movies at the moment. He suggested that there are nine zombie movies in production at the moment including one starring Brad Pitt (World War Z). It could well be that zombies will be the go-to monster of the near future but there have been plenty of vampires movies recently:

Vampire Movies

The new century began with one of the most original vampire movies in years, Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) is a high concept movie, the premise; the actor Max Schreck who played Graf Orlok/Nosferatu (Dracula in all but name) in F.W. Murnau classic Nosferatu (1922) was really a vampire posing as an actor playing a vampire.

It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of Blade (1998), not only was it an early entry into the current trend for vampire movies but it was also the first credible comic book movie in a long time and the movie that started the Marvel phenomenon. Its sequel Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo del Toro took a big step forward reintroducing the idea that the monster in the movie may not be the monster of the movie.

Before the battle between vampires and werewolves in The Twilight books and movies there was Underworld (2003), like Blade it is more action orientated than scary but also explores the idea of who the real monster are. It is also incredibly stylish and has a well thought-out back-story that has helped it spawn a sequel (Underworld: Evolution (2006)), a prequel (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)) as well as a further sequel Underworld: Awakening due next year.

Directed by Uwe Boll Blood Rayne (2005) is loosely based on a video game of the same name, it isn’t very good, neither are its sequels: BloodRayne: Deliverance (2007) and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010).

Ever since the release of Nosferatu in 1922 vampires have been destroyed by sunlight (unless they just glitter and sparkle), with this in mind, where would you go if you where a vampire? How about Alaska in winter where the sun doesn’t rise for a month? That is exactly what happens in 30 Days of Night (2007). An original and entertain vampire with scary and bloody monsters.

Probably the most successful vampire movies of the century but far from the best, Twilight (2008) and its sequels tells the story of “vegetarian” vampires in a Mormon inspired morality tale. Not as bad as many would have you believe but not a classic vampire movie.

Also based on a novel, the darker and more subversive Swedish movie, Let the Right One In (2008) (original title: Låt den rätte komma in) exploring themes of childhood and bullying, the vampires are almost secondary to the plot. By far the best vampire movie of recent years.

The obvious and overt concept of Daybreakers (2009) is that of a world where vampires outnumber humans who have become little more than food. Behind this, there is a story of hope and humanity.

Thirst (2009) Bakjwi (original title), Oldboy (2003) director Chun-wook Park’s take on the vampire movie is thoughtful and original as well as being full of very dark humour.

Combining a road movie with an apocalyptic story, Stake Land (2010) at times has more in common with zombie movies than vampire movies. There is also a well crafted subtext about fanaticism, one of the best and most original vampire movies of recent years.

Priest (2011) is an underrated action horror that does little to expand the genre but is good fun.

Vampires on TV

Based on a poorly received 1992 movie of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) had a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror; its spin-off Angel (1999–2004) was more of the same if a little darker. Lasting 145 and 111 episodes respectively and having the opportunity to develop their characters, both series can be considered a success and are greatly missed by their fans. A movie version is often talked about but has never materialised. A further spin-off based on Eliza Dushku’s character Faith was proposed but never happened. Far less successful but also worth a look Blood Ties (2007– 2008) lasted just 22 episodes over two seasons. The similar themed Moonlight (2007–2008) had just one season of 17 episodes. They were both well made and enjoyable shows but offered nothing new. That is where True Blood (2008– ) succeeded, like Buffy before it, True Blood combined some original ideas with a great cast of varying characters, at times there is so much going on it is almost like a soap-opera, and not in a bad way! Having just finished its fourth season and with a fifth scheduled for next year it is still going strong.

Zombie Movies

Okay lets kick of with the big question, what is a zombie? For the purposes of this post the simple answer, if I say it’s a zombie, it’s a zombie. I know a lot of people don’t agree that “infected” are zombies, but they are closer to Romero zombies than Romero zombies are to the witch doctor zombie slaves of 30’s/40’s cinema. There is another reason, the zombie side of this debate would be a bit light without the inclusion of the infected.

When people are killed and buried in “The Forest of Resurrection” they come back from the dead thanks to an evil Sprit. If you put a group of gangsters in the middle of this, that’s that happens in the bonkers but brilliant Versus (2000).

28 Days Later… (2002) is so good that I am sorry to say its downhill from here, but it does set the bar pretty high, Following a group of survivors after an zombie apocalypse, its as much a road movie as a horror, the key to its success is putting likeable characters that we care about in (surprisingly believable) dangerous situations.

Less well received but surprisingly good, the video game derived Resident Evil (2002) is the start of a franchise, the fifth part of which is due out next year. The classic fight for survival against a zombie hoard is given a little extra edge by setting that amounts to a claustrophobic underground maze but the success of the movie hangs on the appeal of Milla Jovovich.

Don’t dismiss Shaun of the Dead (2004) as a comedy horror, it is a knowing and cleverly constructed story from a team well versed in zombie movies.

If you take Dawn of the Dead (2004) on its own merits it is a great movie, it does feel a little lightweight and less relevant than the classic 1978 original but it will make you jump more often.

If subscribe to the philosophy that people infected by a virus aren’t zombies, you really won’t like the idea of aliens turning people into zombies as they do in Slither (2006). A silly and insignificant movie elevated by a charismatic and funny performance from Nathan Fillion.

The Spanish horror [Rec] (2007) is one of the few found footage movies that really works. Filled with jumpy and scary moments and anchored by a fantastic performance from Manuela Velasco. The sequel [Rec] ² (2009) picks up where the original left off, it isn’t as good but is still far better than your average Hollywood movie. Speaking of Hollywood, [Rec] was remade as Quarantine (2008), I haven’t seen it so can’t comment on how good it is, but understand it follows the story of the original film pretty closely relocating the action from Barcelona to an unnamed American city. Interestingly, its sequel Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) takes the story in a new direction telling of a new outbreak on a passenger plane.

28 Weeks later (2007), the sequel to 28 Days later tries to be bigger and more expansive than the original movie but actually suffers for its grander scale. Well worth seeing but not as good as the original.

Planet Terror (2007) is for me, the weaker half of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grind house project (although it has a higher rating on IMDB than Death Proof) it is a real throwback to the 80’s toxic waste zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

Pontypool (2008) where does this one come on the is it, isn’t debate? A zombie virus spread by “infected” English words forcing the inhabitants of a Canadian town to communicate in French. There is probably some political statement that goes over my head, putting this aside, as a film it is original and brilliant.

The French movie, The Horde (2009), isn’t a great movie but it is a effective one. There is no explanation of where the zombies come from but killing them follows all the genre “rules”, the escape from a confined space is also an archetype.

George A. Romero is still making zombie movies more than forty years after his first, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Land of the Dead (2005) is a good addition to the “of the dead” series. In keeping with the social commentary of the earlier movies it is a good allegoric tale of the distribution of wealth. Diary of the Dead (2007) is less successful, using mocumentary/found footage as a basis it is a stand a lone story. Not a bad movie but the format has been better used in [Rec]. Set on an isolated Survival of the Dead (2009) has good concept but is all a little lightweight. He is also credited as an executive producer on The Crazies (2010), a remake of his 1973 movie of the same name. Not a zombie movie but it does share a lot of similarities with them, a surprisingly good movie even if it lacks the killer ending of the original.

Zombies on TV

The Walking Dead (2010– ) is the only zombie show on the list, but what a show, based on a comic book series of the same name, the story follows a small group of survivors and presents a gritty almost realistic aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

As I started writing this article I had no idea if there had been more vampire of zombie movies in recent years. I was of the opinion that recent vampire movies where better than their zombie equivalents. What I soon came to realise is that they both have a few great movies, a few rubbish ones and lots of mediocre ones. The whole zombie issue is further clouded by the debate of what is and isn’t a zombie movie. For me it is a genre that is as wide or as narrow as you want it to be. As for what is coming soon, the vampire movies of note are: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and Underworld: Awakening. Far more interesting is World War Z. Based on the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks that was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel as well as the movies of George A. Romero. The movie that is in production now is set for release this time next year, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt whose Plan B Entertainment reportedly won a bidding war over Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way. Only time will tell which genre will be best or most prolific and you will have to make your own mind up as to which has been better so far, personally I am happy to watch many more of both types of movie.

Read Full Post »

Back in January 2010, with all the vampire movies in production I suggested that it could be the year of the vampire. Looking back at the old article I suddenly realised that I have now seen all (but one) of the movies I wrote about, but were they any good?

By the time I wrote the article I had already seen Daybreakers and was impressed with the original and high concept.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days was a sequel to 30 Days of Night (2007) (a movie I really like), it retains the original character from the first movie Stella Olemaun, however Kiele Sanchez is a poor stand in for Melissa George who turned it down. The film also suffers from a rubbish story.

The director of the original 30 Days of Night, David Slade took a second stab at the vampire movie when he took over the reigns of The Twilight Saga. Not as good as 30 Days of Night but The Twilight Saga: Eclipse was certainly an improvement on the lame and unfocused New Moon.

Lost Boys: The Thirst is the one movie on the list I haven’t seen.

Let Me In, the Hollywood remake of Let the Right One is well made and well acted but all a bit pointless. It looks great but lacks both the heart and the edge of the original, a good movie for those too lazy to read subtitles.

Priest didn’t make it to the UK until May this year as it went back to the f/x drawing board to retrofit it with ineffective and pointless 3D. The film itself is actually surprisingly good and certainly better than most reviews would have you believe.

Another movie we had to wait for here in the UK was Stake Land, it was well worth the wait. I was lucky enough to catch it during its blink and you miss it seven day theatrical release. The best vampire movie since Let The Right One In. 

The Bleeding is a cheep looking, poorly directed, terribly acted, direct to video movie. It is utter rubbish but still sort of entertaining.

Not included in my original list but also released in 2010, Bloodrayne: The Third Reich. The third in Uwe Boll’s computer game based film series sees Rayne fighting against Nazis during World War II. Its about as good as the first two movies, yes that bad!

So what’s next for fans of Vampire movies? The first half of the final Twilight movie Breaking Dawn opens next week. January 2012 will see Kate Beckinsale return to the underworld franchise in Underworld Awakening. Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, currently in post production is yet to receive a release date but will probably see the light of day some time in 2012.

Read Full Post »