Monday, 17 August 2015

Review round up on Fantastic Four, Trainwreck and Man From U.N.C.L.E

Here are my brief thoughts on some films that I’ve seen recently but haven’t got around to reviewing. 

Fantastic Four 

There’s been a lot of negative press surrounding the release of Fantastic Four ranging from stories of backstage drama and an overwhelming amount of bad reviews. I was surprised then when I found that I quite liked the film. I felt that it was paced really well. The film comes in jus under 100 minutes so it never overstays its welcome. I felt it moved along well taking its time it never went too slowly or too quickly. I found the tone suited me, whilst director Josh Trank may have been going for a more serious tone I don't think it got there and the film did have a touch of silliness to it which worked for me. I also thought the cast were all very good and the characters were likeable and I understood their motivations for their actions in the film.


I’m a big fan of Amy Schumer’s comedy work in general. I think her sketches strike a perfect line between being funny and having something meaningful to say and from the bits I’ve seen of her stand up I think she has a real talent for the craft of stand up. When it comes to Judd Apatow I’m a bit more undecided. Whilst I do really like Knocked Up and think that Apatow himself is a good comedy voice I think the films he has directed and produced tend to lack any cinematic skill I think they rely too heavily on improv and tend to outstay their welcome. However I thought Trainwreck was totally terrific. It’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen from Apatow I think it started funnier than it ended so maybe the jokes could have been more spread out but I found that towards the end whilst I wasn’t laughing as much the film was becoming more of a drama and it was an especially good one because I found the characters were all very engaging so I cared what happened to them. This was not only down to the good performances all round but the fact Schumer’s script was really strong. I think that together Apatow and Schumer really found something so I hope they work together again.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E 

As summers go I think 2015 has been one of the more lacklustre ones when it comes to action cinema. I loved Mad Mx but that came all the way back in may and Avengers and fast 7 were out even earlier. Since then we’ve had Jurassic World :-( . Ant Man (which I thought was really good but hasn't stayed with me the way Guardians of the Galaxy did last year). I was hoping Man From U.N.C.L.E would step up and really do something great, did it? Well sort of. The film is a spectacular ride. It propels itself along for a good 110 minutes with a cocktail blend of style, action and humour with results in a big cheesy grin and it was a totally successful piece of summer entertainment the only thing was the film leaves you a little cold because it doesn't quite have the emotion behind it that would really make it work on all levels.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Ant-Man review

Marvel Studios have been on a path of exponential growth over the last few years. The films have only been getting bigger and more ambitious. Expanding across time and space. It was only natural to wonder where else the studio had left to go. Would this ever increasing mass of plot, characters and action collapse under it’s own weight like a city of rock being lifted into the sky. So for their next trick after the gargantuan massiveness of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Marvel decided to make a film that was smaller in terms of scope, action but most importantly not character. Ant-Man feels like a film from Marvel’s first phase of films but it sits very nicely along with the other films but shows us sort of where the studio came from and what they do best. 

At the start of the film we’re introduced to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) he’s in prison but doesn't seem like a hardened criminal though and it soon becomes clear his crime was some sort of Robin Hood based revenge on a morally dubious company. What also becomes clear is for Scott everything he does is motivated by his daughter Cassie and his desire to protect her. We can see how much she means to him and how much he means to her and this grounds the film and gives it high emotional stakes. Paul Rudd is also such a charming performer we’re almost instantly on his side this makes the fact he can’t see his daughter all the more engaging as an arc we want him to be able to see her not just for his sake but for hers. It’s not long after Scott says his life of crime is behind him that he has to indulge those same criminal impulses once again but only because it will help him see Cassie. Soon though Scott is thrown into the path of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) the former Ant-Man a man with his own regrets about his relationship with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and a man whose prepared to help Scott by training him to become the new Ant-Man. It’s a really interesting decision that the film makes to have Hank Pam be sort of a mirror to Scott although because the script requires that broken relationship between Hope and Hank she does end up being sort of sidelined when it the world of the film it might make best sense for her to be the Ant-Man. After the film sets this world up it then moves into a middle act which is a very elongated training montage building up to the big heist at the end. This training bit is very watchable it moves along quickly cutting form bit to bit and showing us new things and keeping the jokes up but once the film gets to the heist you feel like you wish you’d got there sooner. The heist stuff though is really great and it’s the sort of action we haven't really had before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe . It also brings out more of the films humour especially from Michael Pena whose character Luis really steals (pardon the pun) the show. but just as you think the film might have forgotten the father-daughter relationship that makes it different the films brings it all home for an inventive thrilling final showdown where the person Scott cares for the most is at stake. 

In the end Ant-Man is a highly effective piece of entertainment with important emotional beats mixed with inventive small scale action. 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Inside Out

Inside Out is a return to form for Pixar, The studio have been off they’re game since 2010 after their last good film “Toy Story 3” but honestly “Inside Out” makes up for all of that. “Inside Out” isn't just a good film from Pixar it’s one of their best. It’s a truly exceptional piece of storytelling that balances humour, emotion, pace and complex emotional ideas and wraps them up in a neat little package. 

What makes “Inside Our” so great is the way it truly explores the range of human emotion. People are complex, every single person around the world has different fears, hopes and ideas. “Inside Out” reduces the way people think to five base emotions of “Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust” we get to see how these different combinations of emotions control the way we are from day to day. The depictions of the emotions is one of the things the film gets so right without even shouting about it. You look at the emotions in the film and their colour, clothing, shape shows you everything you need to know. This also relates to another of the films strengths which is the way the way the human mind is imagined. The film always has another trick up its sleeve in the form of it’s own unique take and everyday parts of the mind. 

The story of the film itself focusses on Riley an 11 year old girl whose move to San Francisco triggers an emotional distress unlike any kind she has experienced before. When Riley reaches San Francisco she finds life isn’t perfect and that there isn't an easy fix for the problems she encounters. This means there’s trouble in the headquarters as Joy struggles to keep control of Riley’s emotions as the others take over. The problem is that Joy herself is also taken up by trying to keep Sadness away from the control panel. This leaves only Fear, Anger and Disgust in charge of Riley three emotions that bring out the worst in all of us and that only serve to confuse Riley as she stumbles further into her distress. Ultimately Inside Out pushes us towards realising something about us and ourselves while Riley and her emotions make for engaging captivating characters. One of the best things the film serves to do is to make us confront ourselves about the way we see the world. The thing that the film does is teach us the value of sadness because sadness is the emotion that shows us when things are wrong and it’s the emotion that gives us this sense of balance without it we’d be a total mess. 

Go and see Inside Out it’s the best film of the year it’s one of the best films Pixar have ever made. Not only will it make you laugh and cry it will make you consider why you are the way that you are. It is one of the most valuable films you could watch at the moment. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

London Road review

London Road follows the story of the street London Road in Ipswich around 2006-2007 when five prostitutes were murdered. It shows the anxiety whilst the killer was still loose but also the recovery  after the killings.

London Road may not be one the most exciting looking films of the year. Yet it is in fact one of the most emotional and personal films of the year. The people of London Road aren't heroes they aren't perfect they openly say things to the camera that do sound shocking and uncaring but they ultimately come from a place of honesty. These people didn’t stand up and solve the problems at the heart of their community until it was too late. But what makes London Road so good is the way that they are portrayed simply as people. People who aren't perfect but simply human people who say things that can upset but are speaking truly but ultimately in the end have what they thing are the best interests of them and others at heart.

the main reason for the emotional honesty at the heart of London Road is the fact that it the characters dialogue comes from verbatim interviews taken from real people surrounding the events. It’s as realistic as dialogue can get. Interestingly this hyper  realism is contrasted with the fact it this dialogue has been taken and turned into musical verse. The words aren't changed but sentences are repeated to form choruses and it’s all scored. The music serves many purposes throughout the story. It makes some very dark and troubling ideas more palatable. For instance very early on in the film we see two girls walking through Ipswich town centre as they walk around they feel the sense that the killer could be any one of the men around them. Some this becomes the musical number “It Could Be Him” suddenly when put to song we become caught up in the music and it becomes easier to accept the idea that anyone around you could be a serial killer. But the music also makes a symbolic point these people of this community broken by these murders suddenly become united in verse not only that but all speaking with the same voice showing the strength of this community through such exceptional circumstances. This united sing voice contrasts with the individual interviews with the characters which are all spoken. The performances of the actors also make London Road so strong. Each character feels different yet they all feel united in the same purpose of wanting what is best for the community. Every character has different aspects to their personality. Rufus Norris’s direction of the film is an interesting part of the film the camera shows us the mood of the film though the way it shows the street. We can feel the anxiety and fears of the residents of London Road at points because the street will feel grey and messy but as they move past these fears the street itself will feel better. 

Ultimately London Road isn't the biggest film of the year it’s not the showiest but it’s ideas are bold and it shows the complex nature of people and how they act in a community. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Jurassic World Review

Jurassic World is generally a failure on all levels. Not only does it fail to live up to the magnificence of its predecessor it ultimately fails to work as its own piece of entertainment. In fact the film seems to think that because Jurassic Park is so good there’s no point in trying so the film doesn't even put a fight to be worthy of being in the same series. It lives in the shadow which only serves to remind you of how much you’d rather be watching Jurassic Park. This isn't just down to the fact Jurassic Park is good it’s down to the fact Jurassic World is such a failure of storytelling. 

The film attempts to set up an idea that bigger isn’t always better. The new genetically modified dinosaurs on exhibit at the park are portrayed as corporate tools designed to get people more interested in a time when people are apparently bored of normal dinosaurs. It’s a fair and interesting and relevant point and once the new scary Idominous rex breaks out everyone seems to have learnt the lesson that Ian Malcolm taught in the first film which is that if you can do something doesn't mean you should. Everyone except the film makers. Because after creating a villain that’s been tampered with to the nth degree so much that it’s impossible to stop the film has to end in one of the worst final set pieces I’ve ever seen in a blockbuster. It ends in a ridiculous dinosaur v dinosaur fight which is dripping in dodgy cgi with carless direction. The worst part is it doesn’t even work in a sort of fun nonsense way it’s just utter rubbish. There’s a complete disconnection. It proves the bigger isn't better theory by showing us that the big massive finale is nothing compared to the skill of better films. 

Ultimately Jurassic World’s biggest problem is the fact it fails to involve us in the conflict at the heart of the matter. We simply don’t care about the characters. Chris Pratt is the lead of the film but the script doesn’t allow him to be the Chris Pratt that we know and love. The film wants him to be a typical leading man which Chris Pratt can do but it doesn't allow him to have any personality despite the fact his character is supposed to be some sort of lively loose canon. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire a character who's treated dismally she is shown to be some sort of boring suit to be livened up by Chris Pratt you always get the feeling she has to play second fiddle and she’s an archetype only there to advance him. Then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio’s military contractor who walks around constantly talking about weaponising these dinosaurs it seems to appear every second scene it doesn't move the plot or characters forward except making him more annoying because you wish he would shut up. Yet it also distracts from the film because it’s the sort of silly ridiculousness you wish the film showed a sense of this sort of  because it falls between a rock and a hard place. It’s not quite straight enough but the silly stuff isn't silly enough. The pacing is dreadful. The film is astonishingly slow it takes ages for the dinosaur to escape and then once it has everyone seems to have all the time in the world to deal with it. It lacks the sense of urgency that we need in order to be invested in it. In terms of basic film making language the action sequences lack any sort of skill or tension the cameras roams around the cgi landscape theres a total lack of precision to Trevorrow’s direction.

When thinking about Jurassic World it’s easy to say it’s not the original but oh well its fine. Yet whats the point in making any sort of sequel if it wont be as good and this dangerous sort of thinking leads us into the trap that means we end up with spectacularly awful films like Jurassic World.

2/5 Stars 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 & The Last Five Years

Below are reviews for two films that I couldn't quite flesh out a whole review on but thought I'd put them together for anyone who was interested in reading them. 

Pitch Perfect 2 

Pitch Perfect 2 is exactly the right blend of pop and fizz that you'd want it to be. It moves fast perfectly paced with musical numbers picking things up when it slows down. The jokes keep coming thick and fast. The characters are all entertaining and likeable so you never feel bored. I don't remember much about the first Pitch Perfect but I remember it having a bit more heart. When you come out of Pitch Perfect 2 you feel like you've been intoxicated and drugged by a load of perfectly calibrated E-Numbers and whilst there's nothing wrong with that in the cinema because it's so damn watchable afterwards it all feels a bit flat. 

The Last Five Years 

The Last Five Years in an good yet flawed adaption of what seems like a strong musical the songs are absolutely terrific and the narrative technique is interesting yet ultimately the film feels very light and a bit lacking. Anna Kendrick is great and Jeremy Jordan is good but you never get over the sense that your watching a very quick run through of the songs it never pauses in order to allow us into the drama of the piece. In fact the trailer seems to sell the tension in the piece better than the film does. This isn't to say the film isn't watchable it's very enjoyable and a perfectly decent way to spend and hour and a half but afterwards you feel like maybe it would have stuck with you more if it had paced itself better and sold its big moments more.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Tomorrowland Review

What’s the vision we’d like to hold for the future? That’s a key question Tomorrowland asks. It explicitly puts forward the idea that if we think of the future as a dystopian wasteland then that is a self fore filling prophecy. Tomorrowland  longs for a past vision of the future a vision of clean white and glass buildings and people in strange colourful outfits, the films wants us to look to the future with a wide eyed sense of optimism.

Tomorrowland opens very strong. We meet Casey (Britt Robertson). It’s clear that Casey see’s the world differently to everyone else she asks how we can stop the impending doom people talk about. Casey is frustrated about the space program being shut down so she tries to do something about it. After she get’s arrested she is started on her path to Tomorrowland. This first act is really good fun. The film roars along at an entertaining pace. It set’s up these interesting ideas about the future whilst being filled with nostalgia. There’s mystery in the form of the mysterious girl Athena and the films very engaging. The problem is the film sets up lots of thing up which we would usually expect to be resolved later on but the whole thing struggles to move forward it drags along and the majority of the film feels like a first act it then races towards a conclusion which feels like an oddly apt metaphor for the film. The characters reach Tomorrowland which all along has been set up to be some utopian wonder yet it looks more like an empty shopping center much like how the film has been asking question yet it never really answers them. In the end the conclusion is about 10 minutes of speeches with a tiny bit of cgi action. This isn’t to say it’s a bad time at the pictures because it’s an engaging piece of entertainment. The cast are great. Britt Robertson is terrific as Casey she’s highly likeable and captures the sense of enthusiasm the character needs. George Clooney plays Frank the embittered former child genius and Clooney is great in the role but you don’t get the feeling to role especially fits him it doesn’t utilize the sort of charm you might expect from Clooney. Brad Birds direction is solid as well its never the quality of The Incredibles and Ratatouille but he keeps the film moving along and manages to capture an interesting sense of time and place.

Tomorrowland is ultimately a highly enjoyable innocent action film but outside of the cinema it leaves you more confused than interested but it’s worth seeing and it’s intentions are in the right place.  

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Avengers Age Of Ultron Review

A lot has changed in the world around comic book superhero movies since the first avengers film hit in 2012. Now shared universes are the box office gold every studio wants to mine. The Marvel Cinematic Universe itself is expanding at an exponential rate with numerous tv shows and soon the number of films a year will jump from 2 to 3 with Spiderman expected to appear on screen next year as well. So its natural to wonder after a time away how would the group dynamic of changed in the film? Well the simple answer is no and yes. The magic of the first film is still here though the characters are stronger and more fractured because it’s the stakes are higher.   

The Avengers burst back onto the big screen with a bang wrapped up in an A* tracking shot. The camera spins and looms jumping up and weaving in and out of each member of the team as they dispatch a load of hydra goons in a forest. It’s an incredible sequence in the way it balances the individual little comedic character beats with the large scale action reminding us of the fact Marvel’s best with its characters.

In fact it’s no coincidence that  Marvel have so far only deployed their secret weapon Joss Whedon (Famous for his ensemble character sci fi shows like Firefly and Buffy The Vampire Slayer) for their avengers films which are obviously focused on the large ensemble cast. If you read interviews with Whedon he came back to the franchise because he felt he still had places to go with this cast and that’s what makes the film great the action sequences are captivating the storyline line gripping but what sells this film is the characters. Often it’s easy to say with the solo films like Iron Man 3 and Captain America to ask if everything is so bad why don’t the others turn up and help out and this film shows why. Ultron is a threat strong enough to call them together. He tears them apart from the inside. One thread throughout the film is the question of what the avengers stand for and that isn’t decided by the end but it’s clear Ultron definitely isn’t it/ Ultron is more than some standard bad robot. He’s created by Tony Stark in the hope of creating a force of global protection but he rebels like a bad teenager. James Spader’s motion capture performance as Ultron is one of the best motion capture performances I’ve seen the way the film utilizes his voice and body to create this genuinely captivating character is impeccable.

In terms of the Avengers themselves there’s a change in where the focus fall on the members of the group . Captain America and Thor don’t have much to do because they’ve had their own solo films. But Hawkeye who was basically an extra in the last film is a main character in this one. So much so I’d proudly say he’s one of my favourite avengers now Renner’s shows a new comedic side to Hawkeye that I look forward to seeing more of in future films. Possibly the most emotional arc though is that of the relationship between Hulk and Black Widow it goes beyond the charm of the two to become a very deep relationship impeded by their own personal pasts. There are new avengers as well Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) opens up new angles for the action with the use of slo mo (The quicksilver stuff here is so much stronger than the stuff in Days of Future Past). Quicksilver opens up the team and brings a youthful vibe. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) is another star in the cast. Scarlet Witch’s powers cause some initial problems for the avengers at the start but soon she proves herself in one of the most uplifting moments of the film. Yet the new member stealing the show is the vision (Paul Bettany) honestly it’s hard to describe how great the vision is on screen. He’s just so wonderfully weird looking and he seems like such a young character, it will be exciting to see him learn and grow on screen.

Avengers Age of Ultron is an entirely captivating film that proves that blockbusters can be just as smart and emotionally moving as normal dramas. This is the film that we’ve been waiting three years for and its worth the wait.  

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Daredevil First Thoughts


I’m undeniably team Marvel. I think the way they have redefined mainstream cinema storytelling over the last few years is amazing. I think they’ve proved that blockbusters can be smart character driven and entertaining. Since Thor in 2011 (A low point for the studio) they haven’t put a foot out of line in terms of the films they’ve released (We are yet to see what the result of the Edgar Wright Ant Man debacle will be) but Daredevil is a real failure.

Everything that’s wrong with Daredevil comes down to the tone that has been decided for the series. What Marvel often get right is the way they keep the tone upbeat but they still leave room for interesting character stuff and a sense of tension. Daredevil seems like an exercise in melodramatic seriousness it’s as if the series has been written by a 14 year old boy who likes “Graphic Novels”. Every scene seems legally required to take place in a dark alley way at the middle of the night. This might be acceptable if the show had any sense of irony but it doesn’t. The show also doesn’t hold back on the violence often inflicted by our protagonist. I can understand moral ambiguity in order to create conflict but Daredevil just  seems like an pain. The show is awfully paced every scene seems really slow and in-between the scenes there are long even more boring flashbacks to Daredevils childhood.

One of the stranger elements of Daredevil is the cast. Charlie Cox play Matt Murdock (Dardevil) and he makes a good Murdock, when he’s Murdock he’s an enjoyable screen presence. Deborah Ann Woll plays Karen Page and she probably does the best out of the whole cast because she manages to make the most of a real dud of a part. Karen is young woman who is being helped by Murdock and his friend Foggy (Elden Henson) she is haunt by grief. It’s a damsel in distress role we have seen time and time again. Henson as Foggy is another strange element of the show he is by far the weakest of the main three performers but he is undeniably the most entertaining as the comic relief in a very dour show. When these three performers are in normal conversational scenes together the show is at it’s most watchable but when anything else is onscreen it’s generally terrible (with the exclusion of some very well directed fight sequences that would be better if someone had told the director and cinematographer what light looked like)

Daredevil is more bad than good. I  haven’t watched the whole series yet and if it gets better I’ll redact this but for the meantime I’d suggest for the inevitable second series that the show should try and find it’s more comic booky camp side.

(The whole of Daredevil series 1 is on Netflix now)

Sunday, 12 April 2015

John Wick Review

John Wick

The set up to John Wick might sound a little strange. It follows eponymous retired hit man (Keanu Reeves) coming out of retirement to enact revenge after some Russian gangsters kill the dog given to him by his dead wife. Let me assure you though the movie is so ridiculously entertaining, the story is well told the action so stylized and violent John Wick is one hell of a thrill ride.

When the film starts John  is living in his cold and clinical modern house we get the sense that everything around him is too safe, the white walls of the house could be livened up with a bit of blood soon though he’s called out of his retirement. I said the set up sounds laboured  but the film sells it firstly we get a sense of quite how much the dog means to him and secondly the scene where his dog gets taken from him is done so well that you want John to get revenge on these people.  And boy does he get revenge. The film is a tour de force of immaculate action set pieces. The film is directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski they’re former stunt men so that’s where the film finds its strength, the hand to hand combat scenes feel more like dance.  Yet their work on the film extends beyond these action scene they manage to perfectly balance the pacing of the film it’s fast moving but when it allows itself to get some air it’s still good to watch because the film is full of little moments of comedy and ideas about this world which breathe some life into the film for instance there’s a hotel exclusively for hit-men which has a very particular set of rules and a helpful yet sarcastic receptionist.

John Wick is a young persons film about an older man getting back to his past so its especially good that Keanu Reeves who is fifty years old leads the film with the skill he does. He really makes the role of Wick his own making him the relentless badass that it could be said that action cinema has been lacking there’s also a sadness to John Wick though and among all of the action we get a sense of how he is struggling to cope with the loss of his wife. John Wick is a ruthless out of control film that never gives in and never apologizes it feels like an action film for out time and it’s sure to go down in cult history.