Tuesday, May 07, 2013

213 - The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Here is another film that I watched a month ago and have left as a scheduled post! Not only that, but it is actually one from the Empire 5-star 500!

As with most people in this day and age, my only experience of Victor Hugo's classic is through the bright and colourful version Disney released in 1996 and featuring talking gargoyles. While Disney was lauded for exploring darker source material than normal it still comes nowhere near the original story.

Even this version, made in 1939, tones down the story a bit but it is clear that Disney drew inspiration for Quasimodo's appearance from Charles Laughton's striking character representation and I can't help but compare the two for just that reason alone.

The story is similar - in 15th Century Paris the gypsies are being persecuted. One - Esmerelda (Maureen O'Hara) - manages to sneak into the city where she attracts the attention of many local men, including the Judge Frollo (Cedric Hardwicke), Captain Phoebus (Alan Marshal) and Gringoire (Edmond O'Brien), a failing poet. Quasimodo is a reclusive hunchback who is made deaf by his bell-ringing in the Cathedral of Notre Dame and is legally cared for Frollo.

Noone had the heart to tell Quasimodo his hair dye was running
What I never realised about the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the brutality of it. Victor Hugo's tale isn't a pleasant one, and this version exposes much of the gritty nature of the book - obviously far more so than Disney's colourful version. That being said, the book kills off both Esmerelda and leaves Quasimodo presumed dead which is a radically different ending than most people are aware of, so it could be argued that this film influenced Disney far more so than Hugo.

To back up this claim, Disney's Quasimodo even shares the same squint, wonky teeth and ruffled hair as Charles Laughton's heavily made up hunchback. Because Laughton has changed his physical appearance so much, the only thing that gives away the fact that it is the actor playing Quasimodo is that his podgy nose is identical which, again, is another trait that Disney copied.

In conclusion then, if you are interested in Victor Hugo's original text (probably translated), then this would be the perfect stepping stone. There are plenty of recognisable scenes from Disney's film, right down to the less-colourful Fool's Parade, but the added sense of realism will bring a whole new perspective on that story you saw as a child.

Monday, May 06, 2013

A to Z 2013: Reflections

First of all, welcome to my new followers. It's great to have you on board! I hope you enjoy my continuation of the 5-star 500 challenge over the coming months and years.

What a month April has been - on the blog and in my offline life. Both have been horrifically busy and the blog has been a great escape. Thanks for all your comments - they have been greatly appreciated, and I'm sorry if I haven't replied to you yet.

I promised in January to write down 26 alternative endings and in mid-March I realised that was a difficult challenge to give myself seeing as I had only written 3. I had to hastily come up with another solution and decided to do something far lighter by doing an A to Z of comedy characters.

Initially I figured it was easy. Countless characters seemed to fall on the letter 'D' - Dory (Finding Nemo) and Doug (Up) are just two examples - and I had plenty for 'M', 'A' and 'S' too.

Then the ugly letters started to rear their heads. I first got to 'I' and realised I couldn't think of anyone for that letter before stumbling across Inspector Gadget. Having already done a piece on Matthew Broderick, this was a bit of an issue, so I hastily threw "Inspector" into Google in the hope of some inspiration. Brilliantly, it suggested Clouseau - and even more inspired because I wanted to write about Peter Sellers and had taken all the letters for his characters from Dr. Strangelove.

Then there was nothing for Q, U, X, Y or Z. I couldn't do Uncle Fester because Christopher Lloyd was Emmett Brown, I couldn't do Zoolander because Ben Stiller was White Goodman and couldn't do Zohan because Adam Sandler was Happy Gilmore. Crap. I must admit, I bodged those. Still, I think I got away with it.

Apologies once again if my posting schedule goes out of the window. I have three 5-star 500 posts to go up (OK, I need to finish them first) and then I shall continue on with the challenge. May isn't overly busy in the cinema - except for Star Trek - so with luck I can keep you all entertained with the main focus of the blog rather than getting distracted and going out!

Finally, I hope to be announcing something exciting soon which I have been working on in a literary sense. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Until next time!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
Today is April 12. This post has been scheduled for release on May 7 since then. Apologies for the delay everyone, but the A to Z has well and truly taken over the month of April and held up all reviews since.

Oblivion has been on my calendar since the end of 2012 when I saw a preview in Empire. A simple image of a destroyed Earth seems to be all it takes nowadays to entice me into the cinema and I wasn't even put off by Tom Cruise headlining - whose films I don't usually rate.

Since that moment I had decided I was watching the film and starved myself of all information about it until, well, a couple of hours ago when I hit the cinema.

Oblivion describes a world where the moon has been reduced to a satellite of rubble by aliens. Humans, who destroyed Earth to win the war, have fled to one of Saturn's moons (Titan) and machines are somehow harvesting Earth's water supply to sustain the population. These machines are being guarded by drones who fight off the remaining alien hoard known as Scavs.

Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) live in the sky and Jack is sent to Earth each day to repair drones that have been damaged by the Scavs. During his sleep he has a constantly recurring dream of a time before the invasion where he spends time with a mystery woman.

Let me start off by saying that I wasn't disappointed by all of the hype that I had put on myself surrounding this movie. It is a film that is based on an unpublished graphic novel and therefore is heavy on the special effects and using Joseph Kosinski as director is an inspired decision. I also loved his film Tron: Legacy (which was practically all CGI), so he was definitely the man to head up Oblivion - and it looks stunning.

Yet again, Oblivion is part of the growing trend where the studio gets in on the act by changing their introduction scene to 'fit in' as part of the storyline. This time, Universal has been very intelligent. I remember watching it and thinking it was different to normal - only for my suspicions to be confirmed shortly afterwards. Keep an eye out for that if you watch the film.

Many of the posters for Oblivion feature a waterfall coming down a skyscraper and it was that kind of grandeur that I was expecting to see on the big screen. I can't actually recall that picture being used, but as Jack travels from the utopian sky to post-apocalyptic Earth, through menacing thunderclouds every single sense is aroused by the imagery that has been created.

With films that are heavy on the CGI it is easy for the plot and character development to get lost and this is probably my biggest criticism of Oblivion. It was far too predictable. I managed to predict practically every part of the film (err, except for the touching final scene) - but this was because it panned out exactly how I wanted it to. For me, this made it enjoyable. For others, I can see why you wouldn't be too impressed.

Overall, a mixed bag. I can't recommend the film because of its predictability and I fully understand any criticism that it gets. However, as a method to transport you to another world for a couple of hours... it's perfect.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Iron Man 3 (2013)

In my review of Iron Man two days ago I said that the reason I liked it so much was because I could see it potentially becoming real at some point in the future. I take that back.

With Iron Man 3, it is like director Shane Black (in only his second directing shift) took that very thought and said to the team, "right, how mad can we make this franchise?". The answer, is a resounding "very mad".

After an explosion leaves his top security man and highly regarded friend, Hogan (Jon Favreau), fighting for his life, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) gives the terrorist who lays claim to the attacks his address and asks for a meeting face-to-face. The terrorist, known only as The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), agrees and Stark soon finds his house being demolished along with much of his life.

Meanwhile Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark's girlfriend and manager of Stark Industries, meets a face from the past in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce). When she goes missing shortly afterwards, it seems as though the Iron Man has lost everything.

I will admit, that contrary to my prior thoughts, I did enjoy the first Iron Man and its sequel for bringing something fresh to the comic book genre. It does seem that you can have too much of a good thing, as Iron Man 3 delivers more of the same but without the originality. I imagine that Iron Man 3 will probably fade into the background of its predecessors' success.

That's not to say that there aren't good bits - or even that you shouldn't see the film at all. It is still peppered with one-liners and its humour still feels fresh. I don't think I'll ever get bored of listening to the Tony Stark Show as he and JARVIS (Paul Bettany) exchange quips as Stark bullies a robotic arm.

On the subject of the robotic arm, it goes to show how much effort was put into the previous films as much of Iron Man 3 relies heavily on the empathy that eminates from them. One scene shows the audience exactly how much he cares about his inventions in a typically laugh-out-loud but tender moment that has come to typify the franchise.

Much of the film comes undone in the last act. The final scene seems like a last hurrah and it was far too over-played and drawn-out. There is only so many times that a man can come back from a beating - and I'll leave it to you to decide which character that is aimed at.

At the end of the day though, the audience must come to realise that, like Stark, there is only so much empathy that can be shown towards machines. Perhaps then, despite all of his brilliance as the character (and he has been superb), Robert Downey Jr. can give no more as Iron Man.

The end of the credits explains that Tony Stark will return, but this only seems to add fuel to the speculation that Downey Jr. will not be reprising the role. I fear that without Downey Jr. the franchise will fail. As I've said in the past, it now seems as though character and actor have become married into one co-existance.

Perhaps though, this is what the franchise now needs.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
The second instalment of Iron Man was watched almost immediately (OK, two days) after the first - so now I'm all clued up and ready for Iron Man 3 in cinemas later this month! I should probably note that I'm actually writing this mid-April and have scheduled for May because of the inconvenient timing of the A-Z Challenge.

Iron Man 2 is much the same of its predecessor. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has to fight another humanoid - this time War Machine - and has to overcome personal problems and medical difficulties in order to battle his enemies.

When the first Iron Man came out, it entered a saturated market with plenty of other heroes and it came out on top thanks to its smart humour and interesting protagonist. Despite being a new character, Iron Man was still very warmly received.

Iron Man 2 takes this successful formula and very much recycles it. There are more pieces added in for the fans, while it still keeps its accessibility for a broader casual audience.

Where Iron Man 2 falls down is that it feels very much like a stop-gap in the franchise before The Avengers - exemplified with the introduction of Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson. Their characters were interesting but they weren't given enough screen time to really have an impact. It really does feel as though they have been jammed in to try and justify their inclusion in The Avengers.

The one positive that this film gives over its predecessor is that is that it has a proper villain - and someone with a dastardly plan that doesn't involve around a business plan to overthrow Tony Stark. Mickey Rourke's Whiplash is mysterious and interesting while his change in character from focused workman to utter maniac is outstanding.

In summary then, Iron Man 2 is still just as witty as the original, but its lack of originality and its seeming conformity to the genre are not what Iron Man fans should expect.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Iron Man (2008)

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
I remember when Iron Man was released in 2008 and my snobby outlook on comic book films concluded that it was a fad that wouldn't last. I didn't really know anything about Iron Man and as far as I was concerned that was just how it should stay. Thus, until late in March 2013 (this review has been scheduled since the end of March because of the A to Z) I hadn't actually seen Iron Man.

Having seen The Avengers, I decided that perhaps Tony Stark's alter-ego (with emphasis on the ego), wasn't such a bad character. So, in preparation for the release of Iron Man 3 later in April - or rather, because of the scheduling, last month - I figured now was a good time to catch up with what's been happening in Tony Stark's life.

I'd heard that Iron Man was a film - and a character - that provided far more laughs than many other comic book heroes, and during the introduction it is clear to see that this is the case. A multi-millionaire, Stark (Robert Downey Junior) develops advanced weapons systems for the military. On a demonstration of his latest missile, however, he is captured by the enemy and told to design the same missile for them.

Instead, Stark decides to build himself a way out of there and the first Iron Man design is created. Upon his return home he finds that his company's weapons have often been ending up in the wrong hands and he informs the media he no longer wants to manufacture weapons - much to the disgust of his second-in-command, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).

Alongside Downey Jr. are Gwyneth Paltrow as Iron Man's assistant, Pepper Pots, and Paul Bettany as Downey's artificially intelligent housekeeper JARVIS.

Unlike many other films of the genre, Iron Man doesn't seem to revolve around the supernatural. The fantastical suit is a concept that is clearly plausible with enough time or money - even if it uses an element (adamantium) that doesn't exist. The arc reactor could be created with some currently unknown power source. Perhaps it is these plausible theories that made Iron Man so easy for me to understand and laugh along with.

As the main man, Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic and his dry humour is comical. At the end of the film I thought to myself, "who else could play Iron Man?", and the answer is simply no-one. Even when he is inside the suit, you are fully aware of the man rather than the machine which makes it very easy for the character's human aspects comes through.

There is still an element of fad about the film - yes, it feels corny - but perhaps this is something that I am confusing with the fact that comic books now appear to have their own genre. Iron Man fits perfectly into this category as the nerdism cult hits an all time high.

In truth, Iron Man was a huge gamble for Marvel in that they chose to begin an unknown entity rather than reboot something more well known. They definitely stacked the odds in their favour with a huge budget and the signing of huge Oscar-nominated names and, thanks to Marvel's guts and gusto, Iron Man was - and still is - a resounding success.