Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Sin City 2Despite attempting to distance himself from his violent past by becoming a private investigator, Dwight (Josh Brolin) is quickly corrupted by Ava (Eva Green), an old flame ostensibly seeking protection, and lured back into darkness. Years later, disorientated by a deadly car crash, Marv (Mickey Rourke) retraces the steps that have lead him into the hills surrounding Sin City, where two frat boys now lie dead. Down below, Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is on a winning streak at Kadie’s, but when he dares to beat Senator Roarke (Powers Booth) at poker his luck shows signs of running out. In the next room, through a hole in the wall, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is taking aim at the father of the man who once tried to kill her, but who instead took the life of the man she loved (Bruce Willis).

Not so much a sequel as a second anthology featuring interlocking stories set before, during and after the events of the previous film, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is often so incoherent that it is able to resurrect characters, recast actors and reprise stories almost at will, usually without anyone noticing. Clive Owen and Michael Clark Duncan are gone — though their characters return (nominally, at least, though it hardly matters if you don’t recognise them) — but Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis return, despite both of their characters being killed of last time around (the former by virtue of chronology and the latter as an overprotective ghost). Thanks to the nearly ten years between movies, however, you’ve probably forgotten.

Of the myriad new characters, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gambler is perhaps the most memorable. Starting out as a winner in a city of losers (the closest the film ever comes to breaking the mould), the film delights in his unprecedented run of bad luck at the hands of returning villain Roarke. Also impressive, if only in passing, are Eva Green — an uncannily natural fit for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s world — and a near-unrecognisable Christopher Lloyd — who makes the most of a brief appearance as a low-budget surgeon-for-hire with a predilection for ice lollies. While Rourke’s Marv — by now officially the face of the franchise — keeps cropping up throughout, to rapidly diminishing effect, the supporting actors are reduced to mere cameos. Blink and you risk missing Juno Temple, Jeremy Piven and, er, Lady Gaga.
If Marv is the figurehead then Dwight is surely the dramatic lead. Unfortunately, Brolin — who replaces Owen — is nowhere near as compelling in the role.  A self-styled private investigator with unresolved and unrequited feelings for Ava, Brolin’s Dwight is the most Sin City character imaginable. He isn’t so much on a downward spiral of self-destruction as caught in a perpetual loop of it. Never the most charismatic screen presence, Brolin is here a crushing bore, and the main reason that the second act — where the majority of his story unfolds — is such a drag; he’s just another tortured schmuck in a city that’s full of them. Rosario Dawson returns as a friendly face, but the chemistry that once existed between the characters is in staggeringly short supply here. Their relationship is even less convincing than Alba and Willis’.
All in all, however, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is pretty much on a par with its predecessor. Even after nine years Miller’s visual style still looks remarkably fresh and inventive, and while the use of colour in this one might not be quite as striking it benefits from an impressive 3D conversion. Dramatically, though, the new film is just as inert: with its over-reliance on voice over, homogeneous characters and repetitive storylines, Sin City remains all style and no substance.

Oz The Great And The Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great And The PowerfulHaving returned to Kansas with his travelling circus, magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is shown to be a fraud when he cannot heal a young girl who is unable to walk. Forced to flee on a colleague’s hot air balloon, Oscar is pulled into an approaching tornado and transported to the land of Oz. Discovered in the wreckage of his balloon by a witch named Theadora (Mila Kunis), he is informed of a prophecy which predicts the arrival of a saviour — one which she believes concerns him personally. Theadora is not the only witch in Oz with the prophesy in mind, however, and both Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams) have plans for Oscar of their own. Read more of this post

Popcorn Addict’s 2012: Best Use Of 3D

Having now seen seven of the nine films nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Academy Awards, I am more convinced than ever that the film most worthy of the accolade is Ang Lee’s groundbreaking 3D extravaganza Life Of Pi.

It’s been a bumpy road for 3D, a longstanding film format that has had a hard time overcoming accusations of gimmickry  With the oft-quoted hindrance of light-loss and the miniturisation effect that result from the various types of glasses, it is seen by many to be seen as a nuisance rather than a novelty.

As a fan of 3D, I often find myself butting horns with skeptics who refuse to see the artistic merit of this particular medium. While IMAX is hailed as the future, 3D is relegated to the past. Luckily for my argument that it is actually (and rightfully) here to stay, Lee hasn’t been the only filmmaker this year to showcase 3D at its very best.

Helicarrier Hell — Marvel’s Avengers Assemble

HelicarrierIt’s widely accepted that stereoscopy works best in films with airborne action sequences — such as James Cameron’s Avatar and DreamWorks Animation’s How To Train Your Dragon — and the Hellicarrier sequence in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is a truly spectacular case-in-point. The entire set-piece — which sees Captain America dodging grenades, Iron Man repairing external damage and Hulk playing leapfrog with S.H.I.E.L.D jets — is added an extra level of jeopardy by the dizzying use of 3D.

Rooftop Handstand — The Amazing Spider-man

The Amazing HandstandI’ve already sung this film’s praises, both in my original review and another post looking at the better uses of the third dimension, but it bares repeating. Whatever the film’s structural weaknesses, it is in moments such as this that its winning spirit renders such issues moot. Where Marc Webb trumps predecessor Sam Raimi is in the way he captures the sheer wonder of wall-crawling, web-slinging life, and this particular sequence captures the fun and the freedom that the character of Spider-man embodies.

Fall From Grace — Dredd

Dredd 3DAs impressive as Dredd was, it was the scenes shot as if under the impression of the film’s SloMo drug that used stereoscopy to the best effect. One scene in particular — following a climactic confrontation in the film’s third act — features one of the film’s primary antagonists falling down a shaft at the centre of Ma-Ma’s Peach Trees compound, emphasising the size of the fall beautifully.

Opening Sequence — Rise Of The Guardians

Jack FrostDreamWorks Animation’s second and final release of 2012, Rise Of The Guardians told the story of a group of legendary figures forced  to unite against a returning bogeyman. Seeing it initially in Russian, I appreciated the winsome score and dazzling visuals all the more as I struggled with the film’s Russian dub. The introduction of Jack Frost — as well as a tracking shot introducing the Tooth Fairy through one of her hummingbird helpers — proved one of the most remarkable sequences of last year.

The Sinking Ship — Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi 3DAs its eleven Academy Awards nominations might suggest, Life Of Pi is by far the the most critically successful entry on this list. In addition to earning praise for its lead actor’s performance and stunning visuals, it was also one of very few films to be commended for its innovative use of stereoscopy. After teasing his own approach to the technology with a skyward shot  from the bottom of a French swimming pool, Lee’s eye for visual depth comes into its own the moment Pi hits the oceanic water as the Japanese freighter carrying his family sinks before him.

And the winner is: Life Of Pi

You can see the rest of Popcorn Addict’s 2012 here.

December 2012 – I’m gonna finish him like a cheesecake

Life Of Pi - December 2012I haven’t been to the cinema nearly as much as I’d have liked to this month.

For starters, I was in remotest Russia for the first half of December, finishing up at Angletica and trying not to get frost bite the fortnight before my scheduled departure. I arrived home on the 22nd, but then had to spend the next week getting ready for Christmas and New Year.

I did see the odd film, however, and managed to prioritise so that I caught the bigger releases first. Since my return to Scotland, I have caught up with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (in English, this time, and 48fps), Pitch Perfect and Life Of Pi. I also saw Jack Reacher, but have not yet had the time to actually review it.

I also tried my best to sum up the year just passed, tipping my hat to The Amazing Spider-man and The Avengers in particular for outstanding achievements in chemistry and quotability, respectively. Still, I couldn’t resist the draw of a more traditional top ten, and eventually crowned Josh Trank’s Chronicle my favourite film of 2012.

Having similarly summed up 2011 with a review of the year, I wrote “If 2012 Were A Movie…” for HeyUGuys. I followed suit with a slightly more personal precis for my travel blog, Finding A Neish, in which I touched on the year’s broader narrative. It’s been an amazing year, and one which I hope to top in 2013.

That really just leaves me to thank you for reading. I mean it: thank you. Even despite my recent absence, Popcorn Addiction has continued to grow and expand with almost every month.

Happy New Year, dear readers, and I look forward to agreeing, disagreeing and just generally connecting with you over the coming months.

Film of the month: Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi (2012)

Life Of PiBullied through primary school because his name sounds like “pissing”, Piscine Molitor Patel (Saruj Sharma) takes matters into his own hands by changing his name to Pi on the first day of secondary school. A practicing Christian, Hindu and Muslim, he also has a tumultuous home-life thanks to his strictly atheist parents. When his father’s zoo business is put under pressure by a land dispute with the Indian government, Pi is uprooted from Pondicherry and shipped with the animals to Canada. Their journey is doomed, however, and Pi is soon shipwrecked at sea with only an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger left for company. Read more of this post

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The HobbitInvited on an adventure by Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) soon finds his home raided by dwarves as they answer the call of rightful heir Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). On the road to the Lonely Mountain to defeat the dragon Smaug, the company will have to overcome trolls, orks and goblins, including the creature responsible for the death of Thorin’s father and grandfather. Bilbo, meanwhile, finds himself lost in the cave system that is home to Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the one ring to rule them all. That about sums it up, really. Read more of this post

Bait (2012)

A year after his girlfriend’s brother was attacked and killed by a shark, Josh (Xavier Samuel) has quit his lifeguarding responsibilities and taken a job stacking shelves at the local supermarket. Tina (Sharni Vinson), meanwhile, has recently returned from a year in Singapore with new boyfriend Steven, the tragedy all-t00 fresh in her mind. Reunited during a hold-up at Josh’s place of work, the robbery is foiled when a freak tsunami floods the shop floor and traps a Great White Shark in with the surviving shoppers. Downstairs, in the waterlogged parking lot, ex-employee Ryan (Alex Russell) and a bickering young couple (Lincoln Lewis and Cariba Heine) find themselves fighting off a shark of their own. Read more of this post

ParaNorman (2012)

Able to commune with the dead, horror nut Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has been ostracised by his parents, his peers and his community of historic witch-hunters; a state of affairs that he rather prefers. When he is informed by his dead uncle (John Goodman) that it is his duty to perform an ancient ritual to keep the dead from walking the earth — by overruling a legendary witch — Norman sets off for the local graveyard to undo the age-old curse. Followed by his sister (Anna Kendrick), the school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), friendly student Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and Neil’s older jock brother (Casey Affleck), they soon find themselves confronted not only by the zombified remains of the town’s puritan founders, but a mob of terrified townsfolk desperate for answers. Read more of this post

Dredd (2012)

Tasked by the Chief Judge (Rakie Ayola) with evaluating rookie recruit Judge Cassandra (Olivia Thirlby), an orphaned mutant who has failed the more traditional entry tests, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) takes her on a routine assignment to shanty tower block Peach Trees in order to investigate a triple homicide. Sealed into the complex by Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a drug-lord looking to protect her fledgling Slo-Mo empire, Dredd and Cassandra are targeted by a mix of hardened henchman and terrified inhabitants as they attempt to scale the tower and serve Ma-Ma the justice she deserves. Read more of this post

Top Ten Memorable 3D Moments

Ever since James Cameron almost single-handedly changed cinema projection forever, by necessitating a world-wide overhaul of equipment and systems to facilitate his 3D extravaganza, Hollywood has seemed determined to cash-in on this most recent (though hardly new) dimension.

Unfortunately, audiences have proven far less enthusiastic about the additional charge for glasses, considerable light-loss and tacked-on gimmickry that seems to have come hand-in-hand with the 3D format. With the situation exacerbated by low quality, last minute conversions in post-production, cinemas have seen profits wane as customers favour the traditional 2D versions of the latest releases.

But while 3D might not be the future of cinema as was prematurely forecast, it can nevertheless add to the cinemagoing experience when done correctly. Films shot in the format, by a director who knows what he or she is doing, can produce some stunning results, create a more immersive environment and go a long way towards justifying the additional costs. Here are ten examples of 3D done right.

10. My Bloody Valentine – The Naked Mile

A throwback of sorts to the format’s gimmicky heyday, My Bloody Valentine is a schlocky slasher that throws just about everything it has in the prop department at the screen, and by extension the audience too. The most memorable scene from the movie features not material assets, however, but those of supporting actress Betsy Rue. Attempting to escape the film’s killer at an out-of-town motel, Rue inadvertently treats audiences to one of the longest, most gratuitous nude scenes to ever grace mainstream multiplexes.

9. The Amazing Spider-man – Two Fingers To Gravity

While Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man was prematurely dismissed by many as a cynical and unneccessary reboot of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy (which was barely a decade old at the time), there is still plenty to admire in the wall-crawler’s most recent outing. One of the film’s biggest strengths, in addition to the warm chemistry generated between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, is Webb’s use of 3D. One scene in particular–involving a costume-free Peter Parker doing a handstand atop one of Manhattan’s tallest skyscrapers, before diving off the end–would leave many a fanboy clambering for the rooftop if only they had Parker’s abilities and OsCorp’s industrial webbing.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II – Courtyard Apocalypse

Having run out of time to convert Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I into 3D ahead of its 2010 release, Warner Bros. were able to apply the extra dimension to the final instalment in the decade-spanning Harry Potter franchise. Although the battle of Hogwarts in its entirety makes solid use of the format, a single tracking shot of Harry, Ron and Hermione crossing one of the school’s many courtyards as wizards, giants, Acromantula and enchanted suits of armour do battle around them almost has you ducking and dodging with the three struggling heroes.

7. Coraline – Garden State

Split between the muted real world and a vibrant alternate reality, Henry Selick’s stop-motion sees Coraline seduced by her Other Mother. While this idealized version of her boring home-life eventually falls into decay and ruin, the early scenes are full of magic and wonder as Coraline is introduced to more attentive, sympathetic and exciting versions of her family and friends. On a tour through her Other Father’s manicured flower beds, she comes face-to-face with a giant praying mantis-esque contraption that will stay in your mind long after the garden has withered.

6. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – You’re Bantha Poodoo

Re-released on February 9th, 2012, The Phantom Menace was once again savaged by critics and fanboys who saw it as a cynical cash-in by George Lucas and yet another personal assault on the memory of his cherished original trilogy. While the dialogue is still terrible and the performances just as wooden, the film’s strengths have always been its franchise-best score and spectacular special effects. While John Williams’ work remains untouched by the 3D overhaul, the various set-pieces are enhanced as the numerous areal attacks spill out of the big screen. In particular, the much publicised pod race excites and impresses anew as the racers flit around the breathtaking backdrop of rocky Tattooine.

5. Step Up 4: Miami Heat – Pimp My Ride

While the previous instalment boasts some particularly impressive dance numbers and is undeniably the better movie, Step Up 4: Miami Heat wins hands-down as a great example of the format’s careful implementation. Capturing each and every performer as they dance through the film’s many set-pieces, the 3D brings the performances to life in a way that 2D never quite could. A mix of dancing and performance art, the bigger scale and more scenic Miami settings help to create a number of moments that are quite simply stunning. This is best exampled in an early flash mob that sees The MOB hold up a busy street as they dance across the hoods of suped-up cars.

4. Hugo – Safety Last!

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is a celebration of cinema in all of its forms. Set in 1930s Paris, the film explores the early beginnings of cinema (through the works of Georges Méliès) using state of the art computer graphics and cutting edge 3D technologies to bring the sets–which include almost every square inch of the Gare Montparnasse–to life. Perhaps the most bewitching scene recreates Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor’s Safety Last!, as Hugo hangs precariously from the hands of the station clock in an attempt to hide from the ever-vigilant Station Inspector.

3. Piranha – Fellate-O-Fish

While 3D films can of course be Oscar-worthy and relatively highbrow (see also Ridley Scott’s artily breath-taking Prometheus), it’s rarely better than when languising in the shameless grasp of a master of horror. Alexandre Aja’s follow-up to the likes of Switchblade Romance and The Hills Have EyesPiranha puts you in the midst of a swarm of mutant fish as they terrorise the pretty and mostly naked residents of a small fishing community. Undoubtedly the most memorable sequence is that which sees a set of regurgitated genitals spat out into the audience.

2. How To Train Your Dragon – Battling The Green Death

I’m maybe a little biased here, but in a film that contains memorable, jaw-dropping spectacle from start to finish it’s difficult to single out a particular scene for special mention. One of the only digital animations to utilise an Oscar-nominated cinematographer (Roger Deakins collaborates frequently with the Coen brothers), every scene is structured to make full use of the 3D technology. It is well documented that 3D is at its most effective during aerial scenes and DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon exploits this to wonderful effect. While one such flight sequence–which shows out heroes soar high above Berk to the inspiring melody of John Powell’s Test Drive–comes immediately to mind, it is the finale which sees Hiccup and Toothless face off against the monstrous Green Death which arguably takes the most breath away.

1. Avatar – I See You

In development since 1994, it is little wonder that 2009’s game-changer Avatar should take the top spot here. The first film that I ever saw in Real D, it blew me away with its expansive world-building, astonishing bio-diversity and innovative use of what was once (and perhaps still is) considered the ultimate gimmick. Most scenes could be cited as the most spectacular moment in a film brimming with spectacle, but it is the aerial assault in the film’s final act which, as in How To Train Your Dragon, manages to steal the show. As great swarms of Banshee-mounted Na’vi and Scorpion Gunships swoop in and out from between the floating Hallelujah Mountains, you could be forgiven for thinking you had just experienced the eighth wonder of the modern worldIn eye-popping 3D.

So what’s your favourite 3D moment? Or are you waiting for the release of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi before you make up your mind?