Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Platinum Dunes. To you, these two words may mean nothing, they may just appear to be two random words strung together, but in the world of internet forums and discussion pages, these two words are the written equivalent of hearing the mindnumbing sound of four blades slowly being screeched down a chalkboard. You see, Platinum Dunes is the name of a much-hated film company started by Mr. Explosion himself, Michael Bay, which specialises in making modern day horror movies. As of yet, they have distributed the recent horrors The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hitcher, The Amityville Horror and Friday The 13th.

Now, just in case you can't all ready see why this film company is so widely detested across the interwebs, I'll tell you. All of these movies are remakes of well-respected, beloved horror classics. Because of this, their movies are, shall we say, mauled to death for daring to touch the much-loved originals. And now, Platinum Dunes has done it again, this time remaking the masterpiece that is Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street.

This remake's storyline is basically the same as the original, with a group of teenagers finding that they are experiencing similar dreams, all of which revolve around them being hunted by Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a heavily burned man wearing a red and green sweater and a blade-fingered glove on his right hand. In the opening scene, we see Dean (Kellan Lutz) in a diner, falling asleep and suffering a nightmare in which the burned stalker forces Dean to slit his own throat with a knife. However, not only does he die in the nightmare, he dies in reality as well.

After this unfortunate event, the local teenagers quickly realise that there is a scarred serial killer after them, taking them down one by one in their dreams. As time goes by, they try desperately to stay awake long enough to find out a way of killing Krueger before he butchers them in the dream world, but not drowsing off isn't as easy as it sounds.

The simple fact that this movie is a remake of Wes Craven's widely adored classic is enough of an excuse for many to try and bash the film over the head as much as they possibly can. I, however, disagree with these people, as a remake, in my opinion, was much needed. You see, the character of Freddy Krueger has become a joke over the years, with the several sequels that followed the original coming across as a parody of the iconic serial killer. With this, however, the tone of the movie is very serious, and although this can hold it back, it does show that the filmmakers aren't just larking around as the original sequels shamefully did.

Because of this, Haley's performance as Freddy is a different interpretation from what Robert Englund did with the original character. Haley's Freddy has a much darker nature to him, still taunting his victims, but lacking in the over-the-top humour which Englund's Freddy took on, which is what made his version so memorable. Still, I must say that Haley's performance is absolutely breathtaking. It's true, he cannot compete with Englund, but we still get a marvelously engaging and intimidating piece of acting from him. Without a doubt, Haley's performance is the best thing in this movie.

As for the rest of the cast, well, what is there to say? No one really struck me as all too memorable, which of course means that I didn't really care much for any of the characters. This is what many slasher or horror flicks can suffer from, as you are stuck with these characters who you know are gonna be killed off, yet you don't give two shits about them, thus taking away any tension. The only real tension in the movie is during the final dream sequence, with Freddy taunting one of the teenagers on a bed with his finger-knives, which is quite an anxious scene leading up to film's slightly anticlimactic finale.

Visually, the film is very strong, and has an incredibly cinematic feel to it. With the director Samuel Bayer being a music video director, he knows how to create striking images, which are a plenty in his version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. However, he has fucked up big time with one thing in this movie: the pacing.

Sweet holy Jesus, this film's pacing is horrendous. The first dream sequence with Dean comes up way, way too quickly after the opening titles sequence, and then after this, the dreams just do not stop coming. Within the first twenty minutes of the film, we have had about ten different dream sequences, and Freddy has appeared four times. Four fucking times! I love Haley's performance, but Christ, calm down! In the original, we only get a quick glimpse of Freddy to begin with, then we don't see him for ages, building up the tension. In the remake, he pops up every couple of scenes to say hi. Aaww, how sweet. Why they did this, I don't know.

Speaking of dream sequences, the nightmares in this movie leave much to be desired. The creativity is missing during some of these moments, not all of them, but most of them. In comparison with Wes Craven's original, the dream scenes really do not fair well and don't have the same effect as those of the 1984 version.

The film does try to recreate two dream sequences from the original, with one being the infamous Tina being dragged up the wall and across the ceiling, before having her belly slashed by Freddy's glove. In the remake, it's Kris (Katie Cassidy) who is lifted up into the air, thrown around the room, and has her belly torn open. The remake's version simply doesn't have the same impact as the original did. In the 1984 one, the image of Tina being dragged across the ceiling was seriously fucking creepy, but with Bayer's vision, this isn't so.

I know I'm comparing the original and the remake a lot, but Bayer had to have known this would have happened. I mean, when you film a remake of a classic such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, comparisons will no doubt be made, and this does hurt Bayer's movie. The campy, yet still horrific tone of Wes Craven's original is what made it work so well, but this campiness is substituted with a humourless, dark feel looming over the remake, an aid in the film's downfall. There is no time for comic relief, as there was to a certain extent in the original.

I had been anticipating this movie quite a bit, I was one of the few who loved the trailers, and it was quite upsetting when I saw how much of a disappointment the final product turned out to be. I certainly didn't hate the film, I did enjoy it and it held my interest for the most part, but the over-serious tone, unmemorable acting and excessive jumpscares do drag the film down. It's a visually striking film that could have easily been improved upon. This movie may not be a nightmare, but it's not exactly a dream either.


Monday, 3 May 2010

Iron Man 2

I remember back in a Saturday of May of 2008, I was sitting on a bus to Aberdeen next to my dad, listening to the music blaring out from my headphones, probably gazing out the window, looking at the trees and fields passing by, just killing time. I was on my way to watch the big new superhero movie, Iron Man, which I had been anticipating for weeks, despite my knowledge of the comic book simply being, "I saw a picture of it once." But I had seen the awesome trailers, TV spots and images of the metal-suited hero played by Robert Downey Jr. flying about and kicking some terrorist ass. And boy was I pissed when that bus I was on broke down just on the outskirts of Aberdeen.

It suddenly hit me that I might miss the beginning of what I thought at the time could be the movie event of the year. You might think I could have gotten a later screening, but the tickets were all ready paid for, and let me tell you, there is no way in Hell my dad would have paid for another screening. Cheap bastard. So I was livid. Luckily though, we ran to the cinema, quickly bought some nachos (mmmmm) and sat down to watch the film. We had made it. And my God, it was fuckin' epic.

I loved the movie, everything about it was just flawless. I was amazed at Downey Jr's charismatic, smart-mouthed performance, the fantastic special effects, the hilarious one liners, the breath-taking action sequences, the marvelous music and the predominant feeling of "FUCK YEAH!!". Sure, it doesn't come close to The Dark Knight, but Iron Man is still, without a doubt, an awesome movie, and is one of my personal favourites.

The sequel, Iron Man 2, however, is not quite as awesome. That predominant feeling of "FUCK YEAH!!" surrounding the first movie is gone, and in its place is a half-assed mumble of "Mehhh". Everything that made the first movie so spectacular seems to have been toned down, simply making the sequel's impact a blunt one.

The story starts with the introduction of Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of disgraced physicist Anton (Yevgeni Lazarev), who used to work with fellow physicist Howard Stark (John Slattery). Howard discovered that Anton was stealing his work and so had him exported to Russia, where he would live the rest of his life an alcoholic, and later die in the arms of Ivan. And now, Ivan is hell-bent on getting revenge and plans on murdering the late Howard's billionaire, superhero son Tony using a home-made suit with electronic whips. Kinky.

Meanwhile, Tony has created world peace, with no one daring to stand up against him and his Iron Man suit. That is, until Ivan attacks him on a racetrack in Monaco before quickly being arrested and taken to jail. However, Tony's business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) has other plans for Ivan and tries to use him to build Iron Drones to outdo Tony at the next Weapons Expo.

Also, Tony is experiencing some problems with the arc reactor in his chest which is meant to keep him alive. Ironically, it is also slowly poisoning his blood, and will cause him to die very soon if he does not come up with another option. Plus, the government is desperate for Tony to hand over his Iron Man suit, claiming it is a weapon. Additionally, Tony now has a new assistant, Natalie (Scarlette Johansson), who Tony can't stop ogling at. Oh, and there's something with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), she becomes CEO of Stark Industries, although that's, err, not really important.

So Tony has to deal with a vengeful villain trying to kill him, a rival businessman trying to outdo him, that businessman teaming up with the new villain, the government attempting to steal his Iron Man uniform, he has a new assistant, his old assistant is now running his company, and while all this is going on, he's slowly dying. Complicated much?

And this is the fundamental flaw of this movie: It's so god damn complicated. Seriously, it just took me four paragraphs to explain the several unnecessary plot lines of a superhero movie. There is way too much going on. One moment you're concentrating on one storyline, then another, then another, and finally, you just stop paying attention. Now, I'm fine with a film having many things going on, lots of plot lines, but this really just is not handled well, it doesn't mesh properly together. To see an example of a film with so many storylines perfectly in-sync with each other, look at The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's superhero masterpiece. That movie had so many intricated, intertwining storylines, but they measured up incredibly well once combined. With Iron Man 2, this is not the case. And also, there are just so many fucking characters involved with their own shit going on, it's tedious.

With all of these plot lines happening and so many different characters, it does beg the question, "how much action is there?" And the answer sadly is, "not much." The first action scene comes in about half an hour into the film and although it's handled pretty damn well, the next action sequence doesn't come for bloody ages. It's more not-very-interesting talking scenes, which can drag the film a little. This first action sequence is the attack in Monaco, and I love the way that Ivan just abruptly breaks into the racetrack, takes out his electric whips, his uniform burns away, and he starts slicing into the race cars, not minding the explosions and pieces of metal almost smashing into him. He's just so set on killing Tony, you can feel his determination as he cracks the whips into the Iron Man suit, trying to break through it. It's an awesome sequence, and I admired it very much.

I've heard a lot of complaints that the final battle sequence is anti-climactic, but for me, that wasn't so. I very much enjoyed the end fight, I thought it was a grand spectactle, and not anti-climactic at all. It shows off some great effects and gives the film a nicely played last action scene.

I've mentioned that the non-action scenes can drag, but this is not necessarily true for all of them. For example, there's a well-written scene in which Tony is attending a hearing, with the governent asking for him to hand his suit over, yet he refuses. It's one of the most interesting parts of the movie, as it lets Downey Jr show off his acting talent, giving his typical one-liners and sparkling personality, which seems missing at other parts of the movie.

This scene also introduces Sam Rockwell into the film and I have to say that although Downey Jr is intended as the film's main attraction, it's Rockwell who really shines as the typical business-obsessed prick Justin Hammer. Rockwell chews the scenery of each sequence he is in, maybe hamming it up a teensy weensy bit, but his performance is certainly nothing short of spectacular. As for Rourke, he does a nice job of the film's main villain, a dark and somewhat unusually stubborn character with a stereotypical Russian accent. Although he could have been given a tad more screen time, he does well with what he is given.

One of the most important aspects of this movie is the special effects, which kinda work, kinda don't. In the first scene with Iron Man, where he's jumping off a plane and flying through the air, I couldn't help but notice how blatant the CGI was. It didn't look too bad, but it was pretty obvious that Iron Man had been done with a computer, which makes it a little distracting. The rest of the special effects, however, seem fine. Ivan's electronic whips are well-animated and the effects in the final fight are quite impressive.

From what I've said in this review, it does sound like I did not enjoy the film too much. The film is certainly flawed with too much characters and not enough action, but I have to say I did find it very entertaining. Sure, it drags at points, but overall it really isn't that bad, it's still enjoyable. It's just that it's pretty disappointing in comparison with the first movie, with everything that worked for that not having as much of an impact with the sequel. It's a case of too talky talky, not enough boom kaboom, and when I'm watching an Iron Man movie, you bet I want some boom kabooms.