The Darkest Hour (2011)

“Team work makes the dream work.”

There are some films that come along that put disappointments such as Michael Bay’s Transformers and McG’s Terminator Salvation into perspective, and make you realize that, although not what you were hoping for, they’re not that bad. The Darkest Hour is one of those movies, and even though I have only just got around to watching it, as I heard it was very disappointing, I had no idea just how catastrophically bad it really is.

Hyped by the atypical cool trailer covered in shots of people being swallowed up and turned to ash in the midst of general panic and confusion, it was enough to get most people, myself included, at least intrigued. But what actually followed was 90 mins of some of the worst acting, directing, production and scriptwriting sci-fi has ever seen. As a Russian-American joint effort, it definitely showcases the worst of both, and although the premise of “aliens” appearing out of the sky and harvesting the Earth is  a fairly safe, albeit unoriginal, idea, the plot is simply a combination of badly planned adventure that makes Skyline seem watchable, and cinematography that manages to repeat itself over and over again despite the relatively short running time.

Either Gorak or Jon Spaihts the writer had clearly seen Predator too many times, as the only seemingly original ideas are slightly tweaked versions of the heat-sensitive vision, the ability for protagonists to shield said aliens from said vision, and even a close representation of the “if it bleeds we can kill it” moment. All of this is green-screened for the 3D audience, which makes the 2D version look like the cut-scenes from Red Alert. The production is so poor, I felt like I was watching a bad kids TV programme from the nineties just after the discovery of CGI, let alone a thrilling movie. I wish I had something good to say about the film, but after the five minutes of “that was kinda cool”, I quickly lost patience with the lack of effort and movie value.

Shapstik Verdict: Only enjoyable during a semi-comatose hangover, The Darkest Hour fails on every movie front. Although visually acceptable, you can only see so many bodies turn to ash before you start looking elsewhere for cinematic satisfaction. The 2D experience borderlines on the painful, and its predictable dialogue climaxes with one of the most pathetic attempts at an ending I have even seen. Avoid at all costs, unless you fancy a laugh. 2/10

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Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: The Neverending Story (1984)

“Don’t start to doubt yourself….be confident!”

It’s so simplistic yet so enthralling an idea to have a scene based entirely on such a fragile thing as a young boy’s confidence. Sorry to be cynical as well, but I very much doubt that today’s fantasy movies would have the patience needed to deliver such carefully held suspense, or indeed be brave enough to display the almost adult threat radiating through the screen. When the fallen knight’s helmet pops up, you, Bastian and all the young children watching recoil in horror all at the same time, a storytelling master-stroke as it shatters everybody’s confidence, tying the entire theme and thread of the film together, epitomising the link between viewer and hero.

When I saw this scene as a child, I am not afraid to admit I did so from behind the sofa, chewing at my nails in anticipation and anxiety, as I and Engywook both worried and hoped that Atreyu would have the confidence to stay blind to the Sphinx’s eyes. But seeing as they open anyway, and Atreyu makes it through just by running quite fast, it seems a somewhat fallible defence mechanism. In fact, looking back at the towering figures, it probably would have been a bigger challenge for Atreyu to not look at the Sphinxes’ giants boobs than just to believe in himself. But all that can be forgiven when you watch one of the tensest, and most wonderfully cinematic moments in fantasy cinema.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

“On behalf of the fine people of New York and real rhinos everywhere, I ask you to put your mechanized paws in the air!”

My personal litmus test for how much I have enjoyed a movie, is whether I wish to see it again within 24 hours. This is definitely the case with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and although I could do without having to sit through the drippy teen-romance scenes starring Garfield and friends, I soon had a hankering to see the excellent supporting cast battling it out on the big screen.

A much more intelligent and less by-the-numbers Spider-Man instalment than its predecessor, Marc Webb’s second attempt at the webmeister is a potentially cluttered, but ultimately slick Marvel movie, which introduces us to some new faces as well as reinventing some seen before. It seems difficult to cover new ground in Spidey-lore when Raimi’s films are so fresh in the memory, so Webb and Kurtzman (who penned both the rebooted Star Trek films), decided to close their eyes and dip their hands into the bad-guy hat and let rip with a mix of typical villainous origin scenes that reminded me of Batman Forever. This approach is always risky as it threatens to clutter the movie with too many characters. But they are linked together well, which ensures that even when the film trips over itself with laboured metaphors and hammy lines, the movie always has an action scene ready to throw our hero’s way to ramp up the action.

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After the seriousness and slightly vanilla approach of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Garfield’s likeable hero is a refreshing change, and Webb delivers jokes and levity that borders on the outright slapstick. This almost juvenile style mostly works and keeps the story moving, even when it is mixed with some fairly unoriginal plot-lines and clichés. This comedic element is offset by the typical Marvel sequel trope of ominous threat, which is ultimately epitomised in Jamie Foxx’s show-stealing performance as the fantastic Electro (who is basically a gangster version of Darth Sidious). Dane Dehaan is also superb as Harry Osborne, as he reprises a similar role to his tortured soul in Chronicle. Weirdly, both Peter and Harry look like their namesake opposites from Raimi’s trilogy.

The inaugural internal struggle between the responsibilities of being the hero and the lover is central to the plot, although it quickly becomes tiresome when most of it has been covered in not just its predecessor but Raimi’s films as well. This is a shame considering that Stone and Garfield have developed a natural humour in front of camera together, which seems spoilt by the constantly blubbering and teen-movie moments. It is also slightly concerning that Garfield seems funnier when you can’t see his face, as the jokes are well delivered when he has donned the outfit. In other words, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is funny, it is really funny, when it is soppy, it is soaking wet. But thankfully, the sobering conclusion and blend of comedy and tragedy makes this a great entry into the Marvel franchise and possible one of the best Spider-Man movies to date!

Shapstik Verdict: Fun, bright and modern, but with the familiar dollop of sinister villainy so essential to comic-book sequels, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a massive step up from its predecessor. It may be slightly flabby around the waist with its overtly vain slow-motion shots and drippy romance, but it nonetheless covers mostly familiar ground in an electrifying and refreshing style, leaving most Marvel fans more than satisfied.  8/10

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Tropic Thunder (2008)

“Ok, flaming dragon, f***k face”

One of Tom Cruise’s best performances, and for many unrecognisable as the explosive Les Grossman in the underrated action-comedy Tropic Thunder. I have always been a fan of Cruise, despite his consistent typecasting in action roles, and I have always felt there was more to this loopy guy than first meets the eye. Only Downey Jr can hold a candle as Kirk Lazarus, with his uncanny change in character. But for me Cruise steals the show,  if only for his dance and knowing stare as he slowly nods in the way only Cruise does.

I have chosen this scene for not just its showcasing of Grossman’s character, but because it genuinely looks as if McConaughey’s Peck cannot hold his own in the ridiculous negotiation with the group known as “Flaming Dragon”, before Grossman takes the stage, and holds back before exploding a torrent of abuse. For me, the most hilarious moment comes at the end, when after the tirade, he throws the phone over his shoulder to a speechless Peck and gently asks: “Could you find out who that was please?”. Priceless.

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of the Week, check out my other clips in the links above! 

The Impossible (2012)

“I’m a doctor. I’m not practicing right now. Just taking care of the kids.”

The emotive story of human tragedy is at the heart of Bayona’s The Impossible, which means that the infamous 2004 tsunami itself acts more as a catalyst for events, rather than the lead role in a popcorn disaster movie. This may disappoint some, and perhaps it was the thriller fan in my that sadistically yearned for excitement during the film’s quieter moments, but by the end I had to give credit to an extremely direct account of one family literally torn apart by one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play Henry and Maria Bennett, who are spending Christmas at a resort in Khao Lak when the tsunami strikes. The true story itself is actually based on the accounts of a Spanish family, the Alvarez Belons, but was transferred to English speaking actors in order to target a wider audience. But that does not mean that the Orphanage director does not stamp his own mark on the movie, and there is a certain class to much of the film that reaches beyond a simply re-enactment.

The entire opening disaster scene is so impressive for its realism, and again credit must be given to all involved for not just keeping the action purely from the family’s perspective (it must have been very tempting to do the usual disaster trope of flicking to the earthquake underwater before hand), but also using real water delicately mixed with the odd CGI enhancements. As Maria and her son Lucas (played by the fantastic Tom Holland) are swept away by the waves, the two engage in an emotional battle, which draws them together in a way that only a crisis can. Holland’s refusal to see his mother’s wounds, despite his bravery in the face of danger, is a stark and realistic reminder of both the fragility and strength that is integral to the human condition, especially during a disaster.

Although Watts is incredible as the horrifically battered mother, and both Holland and McGregor give top performances, especially Holland’s almost shell shocked demeanour and appearance, there does seem to be a fairly methodical mission to the story, that would have benefited from a slight step away from the family perspective. Again, the purpose of the film must take precedence, but does the viewer not deserve to have their own limits of imagination pushed? Instead, as realistic and thought provoking as some of the direction is, the film never really steps outside of its comfort zone.

Thankfully, just as my fondness for the film began to waver toward the end, we are treated to a mind-blowing sequence as Watts is put to sleep for an operation and begins to process the traumatic events of the disaster. Here, Bayona’s artful direction is put on show with stunning underwater visuals that take the breath away. This rounds the film off and brings it full circle, which for me makes it not just a fantastic looking film with top performances, but also a well structured, if slightly uneventful affair.

Shapstik Verdict: The Impossible is a film more deserving for acting credit and cinematography, than it is for slick direction and storyline. But this should not stop the film’s adherence to the perspective of tragedy, striking home to most viewers and reminding them of the human impact of this terrible disaster. 7/10

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Starship Troopers (1997)

 “Here’s a Tip: Aim for the nerve stem” 

I first watched Verhoeven’s wonderfully satirical bug-basher during a mid-night showing at my local cinema. I did not know what to expect at all as it had, for me at least, flew in under the radar. Johnny Rico and company’s almost comical rise through the ranks serves partway as a simple backdrop to the director’s typically satirical mix of media and military. In fact, I had not fallen in love with one of his films since Robocop, and after the “so bad it’s almost good” Showgirls, it was good to know the Dutchman still had it in his locker.

I have chosen this tiny clip from one of the media-skits within the movie because although it may seem random, it in fact perfectly encapsulates everything the film is about. The use of public announcement and interactive media to give specific military advice about killing an Arachnid is central to the ideal of the movie. Neil Patrick Harris as Colonel Jenkins is probably my favourite character from the entire movie, and his stern and serious demeanour in the face of comic brutality is so perfectly screened it leaves the jaw on the floor, as the viewer is simultaneously shocked and entertained in exactly the way Verhoeven imagined.

A short but clinically ideal clip from a truly unique and marvellous movie, from one of the great modern directors.

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip choice! Look out for the next one, and if you have any ideas for future scenes to cherish let me know!

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: Goodfellas (1990)

“What did I tell you!?”

Although it took great restraint not to opt for the “how the f**k am I funny” scene from my favourite Scorsese picture, I am glad I went for Jimmy’s outburst, as it displays one of the most magic partnerships in De Niro and the great director. Jimmy Conway for me is by far the most interesting character from Goodfellas, and up to this point the viewer is still making their mind up as to where he sits in-between Pesci’s explosive Tommy and Liotta’s fairly quiet and brooding Henry.

Deceivingly, Jimmy is all smiles during the post-heist celebration bash, greeting everyone with hugs and kisses in his usual way. But when one of the crew shows off a new car, Jimmy has questions. The beauty of the scene is that De Niro is actually quite patient and simply wishes an acknowledgement of the wrong doing, even when he only receives excuses. But when he is asked: “what are you getting excited for?”, his face changes in the way only De Niro can, his patience wearing off as he clearly feels insulted by the naivety standing in front of him.

This scene is one of the best De Niro acting sequences in the film, showing patience, emotion and creating offbeat and awkward silences during the dialogue at just the right time to crank up the tension in the room to breaking point. The way he turns away and then looks back with “that” look, makes me smile with admiration every time I watch it.  At the end of the scene, when Frankie Carbone’s wife arrives donned in a brand new fur coat, Frankie immediately does the smart thing when Jimmy confronts him and apologies, grabs his wife and leaves.

The combination of possibly Scorsese’s best gangster movie, starring the one and only De Niro losing his rag, makes this classic film the star of my Movie Clip of the Week!