I don’t need to tell you that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” is the full-blown manifestation of many a comic-book nerd’s wet dream – I assume you’ve seen the film’s many marketing materials, which show Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Incredible Hulk heroically assembling, and have come to the exact same conclusion all by yourself. What I do need to tell you is that “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” (I think I’ll refer to it as the slightly less clunky “The Avengers” from here on in) is a superhero film that will not just appeal to this acne-riddled, sweaty-pitted, inevitably drooling crowd, in which I will hesitantly include myself. It is in fact a comic-book nerd’s wet dream that should also appeal to all you non-geeky, non-spotty, non-heavily-perspiring norms, so long as you are fitted with the mental ability and physical capacity to experience earth-shattering levels of eye-popping fun. If so, “The Avengers” awaits your presence. If not, jog on, and go do some knitting or something.
“The Avengers” is a film five years in the making (with Samuel L. Jackson’s character Nick Fury unofficially announcing it at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man”), although some would say it is in fact almost 50 years in the making, the first official “Avengers” strip having debuted on comic-book store shelves all the way back in 1963. Either way, whether it’s half a decade or half a century in the making, the project has been eagerly anticipated, meaning the pressure was on for writer-director Joss Whedon (creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) to deliver the goods, lest he be flung between the fearsome fangs of ferocious fanboys. And gee whiz, the goods haven’t just been delivered: they’ve been painstakingly and vigilantly carried all the way from the glittering gates of Hollywood onto your local cinema’s doorstep by a determined courier who’s gone to great lengths to obey the package’s order of “handle with care.” (Continue Reading…)
(10 outta 10)
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To my knowledge, “Safe” is the one and only Jason Statham vehicle to not only utilise the “odd couple” formula, but to effectively epitomise it. The film, a balls-to-the-walls actioner, is a classic case of brain and brawn, pairing a stubble-faced cockney geezer (who once rammed the barrel of a tarred-up shotgun deep inside a grown man’s rectum) with a 12-year-old Chinese girl fitted with a photographic memory. The more analytical of you out there may need no help distinguishing the brain from the brawn – if not, know this: weaponised molestation will not help you pass your SATs; well, not unless inflicted against your examiner, it won’t.
But how does such a bizarre pairing come about? Well, I’ll start with the story of the brain (ladies’ first and all that). 12-year-old Mei (newcomer Catherine Chan) is a Chinese math prodigy who is abducted on the streets of New York by a Triad gang. Led by the elderly Han Jiao (James Hong, “Kung Fu Panda 2”), the Triads wish to use her rare mental abilities for business calculations and number storage, which would mean no computer trail left for the authorities to follow. Mei is hesitant to agree, but the threatening of her dear mother’s life persuades her otherwise. (Continue Reading…)
(6 outta 10)
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As twenty-four young citizens from the twelve districts of Panem travel to the Capitol to take part in the annual Hunger Games, aliens from outer space are travelling to planet Earth to play a few rounds of Battleship. Following in the plodding footsteps left behind by “Skyline,” “Battle: Los Angeles” and “The Darkest Hour,” “Battleship” is yet another alien invasion dud, but with one key difference: while the three other films I just listed were semi-original pieces of work, “Battleship” has the nigh-unseen honour of being based on a board game, and one which has no discernable narrative or reason for receiving the big-screen treatment, unlike murder-mystery game Cluedo, which got a cinematic adaptation in 1985 in the shape of comedy whodunit “Clue.”
You may have, at one time or another, played the Hasbro game upon which “Battleship” is based: if so, you should remember that it saw two players placing differently sized ships on a square-shaped grid unseen by the other player. Both players then had to blindly/strategically state coordinates for torpedoes to be fired onto their opponent’s grid, the objective of the game to sink all of the opponent’s ships, the victor being the first to do so. “You sunk my battleship!” is a common catchphrase associated with the game, although this is sadly not uttered at any point throughout “Battleship”’s runtime. It appears director Peter Berg (“Hancock”) has instead made the bizarre decision of replacing it with alien attackers, an attribute not typically associated with the game, unless my cousin David and I were playing it horrendously wrong. (Continue Reading…)
(4 outta 10)
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The characters of the “American Pie” franchise have survived high school, college and a wedding, and now it seems a reunion is on the table. Well, I say survived, but the most dangerous circumstances these horny teens ever encountered merely involved unbearable discomfort, traumatizing embarrassment and, last but not least, sexually transmitted infections (the causes of which, if you recall the premise of the franchise, were an inevitable rarity anyway). Oh, and there’s that rib-tickling scene from “American Pie 2” in which the franchise’s hero runs across the porch roof of a house, entirely nude, with one hand super-glued to a porn tape, his other hand glued to… well, I’m sure you can remember, and if not, your imagination should suffice.
“American Pie: Reunion,” as I’m sure you can decipher, sees this beloved band of hormonal buffoons reassembling for their high school reunion. As ever, our hero is Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs, “Wedding Daze”), who now leads a stable, comfortable life with his wife Michelle (Alyson Hannigan, “How I Met Your Mother”) and their two-year-old son. However, Jim and Michelle’s once-fruitful sex life has all but ground to a halt, resulting in the embarrassment of the opening scene, which involves, among a few other things, secret masturbation becoming not-so-secret. (Continue reading…)
(6 outta 10)
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In her bestselling 2008 young adult novel “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins imagined a futuristic world in which a post-apocalyptic North America (now renamed “Panem”) revels in the thrills of televised adolescent violence, in much the same way that our present society revels in the intimate, private dramas of “Big Brother” contestants. In his adaptation, director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) has translated Collins’ spine-chilling vision to the big screen in a startling, vividly realised fashion that faultlessly balances both heart-racing action and deeply penetrating social satire, with stellar results.
The nation of Panem is fitted with a class system that ranges from “very rich” to “very poor,” with nothing in between. On the upper end of the spectrum sits the grandiose city of the Capitol, a lavishly designed metropolis inhabited by a candy-coloured populace whose lives are treated with limitless luxury and wads of wealth. On the other end lie the twelve powerless districts that surround the Capitol, the citizens of each district slavishly providing for the Capitol as they lead a life of miserable squalor and hopeless poverty, all observed closely and mercilessly by the Capitol’s ever-watchful eye. (Continue Reading…)
It’s clash of the accents in “Wrath of the Titans,” an action-packed blockbuster sequel that’s so multicultural you’d swear you were attending or listening in on a United Nations meeting – well, you would be, had it not been for all the fire-breathing monsters and lava-spewing demons on frequent display. While apparently set in ancient Greece, “Wrath” features not a single utterance from a Greek accent, the film instead featuring voices that originate from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and one that has travelled a long, tiring journey from Down Under. The character of Greek god Zeus (Liam Neeson, “Unknown”), for example, speaks with Neeson’s natural Irish twang (I think), while his brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”), speaks through Fiennes’ menacing use of the Queen’s English; meanwhile, Zues’ son, Ares (Édgar Ramírez, “The Bourne Ultimatum”), appears to be Venezuelan.
In addition, our leading man, Sam Worthington (“Man on a Ledge”), has (like Halle Berry and her magically disappearing Kenyan tongue in the “X-Men” sequels) mercifully dropped the faux American accent he completely cocked up in the first film, settling for his natural Aussie voice instead. This cultural diversity is very peculiar (albeit morally admirable, from a certain perspective), and should tell you two things about the film: 1) Its level of dedication to staying true to the Greeky Greekiness of the Greek stories from which the film originates, and 2) How enthralling the film is, given that I found myself frequently distracted by the actors’ conflicting pronunciations of the word “Tartarus.” (Continue Reading…)
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You’ve gotta hand it to screenwriter Michael Bacall: he redeems himself pretty goddamn fast. Just two short weeks after the release of his last co-writing project, namely the earth-shatteringly dreadful found-footage party comedy “Project X,” Bacall has proven that his mouth-watering 2010 effort “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” wasn’t just a fluke, coming up with an absolute beauty of a film: police procedural action-comedy “21 Jump Street,” helmed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directing duo who previously gave us the wonderfully wacky computer-animated hit “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” back in 2009.
You may or may not remember the late-‘80s TV show upon which the film is based; if you do, then you should know that it starred a pre-”Edward Scissorhands” Johnny Depp and helped launch his status as a teen idol sensation and eventually scored his name on the Hollywood A-list. You should also remember that the show was not a comedy, instead played wholly straight-faced by all involved. Well, Bacall has thought “screw that” and has spun the series’ dead serious tone into a furious fireball of screwball slapstick, foul-mouthed shenanigans and “odd couple” comedy, and, against all odds, it works like a charm. (Continue Reading…)
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With a title like “Project X,” you could be forgiven for assuming that music video director Nima Nourizadeh’s feature film debut is a science-fiction film; there was, after all, a science-fiction comedy released in 1987 also called “Project X,” starring a fresh-faced Matthew Broderick alongside a trained chimpanzee named Willie. The “Project X” of 2012, however, is a non-sci-fi comedy and contains not a single primate in sight, although, given the quality of the film, it does feel like it was written by a few, each of whom are evidently less intelligent than good ol’ Willie.
This is surprising: “Project X” was co-written by Michael Bacall, the American screenwriter who two years ago gave us “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” That film was smart, funny, witty, creative, appealing and amusing, everything “Project X” is not, much as it tries to be. Perhaps Bacall simply had an off-day, maybe “Scott Pilgrim” was a fluke or maybe his heart just wasn’t in “Project X,” shifting his attention instead to his next project (not called “X”), the soon-to-be-released “21 Jump Street.” Either way, “Project X” is a deeply unpleasant nightmare of a film that should be avoided by anyone fitted with any sense of morality or human decency; if you have either of those, just know that “Project X” is flipping you the bird. (Continue Reading…)
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“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” is an absolute headache, and I’m not just talking about the sloppy 3D. What I am
talking about is a furiously mediocre sequel-slash-reboot to a comic-book stinker from 2007 that saw Nicolas Cage wearing shiny biker gear and having his dodgy hairpiece set on fire along with the rest of his goofy face. Its newly released follow-up is a minor improvement, sure, but that still doesn’t stop the film from being so helplessly inept that it will make you feel like setting your own head on fire – heck, your head may very well just spontaneously combust from the unrelenting tedium of it all.
Last time, the main man behind the camera was Mark Steven Johnson, the director who also gave us second-rate superhero flick “Daredevil” in 2003. This time, there are two main men behind the camera: these are Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the dynamic duo who previously gave us nutty 2006 exploitation flick “Crank” and its even nuttier 2009 sequel, “Crank 2: High Voltage.” As expected, their madcap, B-movie style is out in full force here, intended to solve the overwhelming woodenness that plagued the first “Ghost Rider” five whole years ago; trouble is, the film’s script – written by Scott Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer – falls flat as a pancake and consequently spoils all the mischievous surrealism that Neveldine and Taylor have tried to infuse into the film. The end product is a bit of a train wreck – or a motorcycle accident, I suppose – that’s hopelessly disjointed, increasingly wearisome and, most shocking of all, quite a bit dull. (Continue Reading…)
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Probably the most interesting thing about 3D family film “Hugo” is that it is directed by Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker famed for his viciously violent and prodigiously potty-mouthed 18-rated flicks suitable only for mummy and daddy. Look down his filmography before the release of “Hugo” (ignoring 1993’s U-rated romance “The Age of Innocence,” which, to be frank, no one really remembers), you’ll notice that the most kid-friendly flick Mr Scorsese has ever released is a three-hour-long Howard Hughes biopic which features a butt-naked Leonardo DiCaprio getting his willy out and pissing into milk bottles – oh, and there’s that rather disgusting scene in which a bloody and broken Leo has the palms of his hands horribly burnt before he is engulfed in flames following a nasty plane crash. Point is: Scorsese has never been known as a filmmaker who caters to young audiences.
And yet “Hugo” is entirely innocent, with nary a swearword uttered or a hand violently beaten to bits with a hammer. The film’s most child-unsuitable scene is probably a train derailment in which we witness a fair amount of wreckage but no violence. All insults in the film are worded playfully and innocently, with words like “urchin” and “buffoon” replacing Scorsese’s usual assortment of F words and C words. There is no sex and there is no violence, these instead replaced with an overwhelming sense of wonderment and magic. If anything, the sheer brilliance of “Hugo” – and it is very brilliant – shows that Scorsese is not only one of the most gifted filmmakers working today but also one of the most versatile. (continue reading)
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