Do Superhero movies need saving? DC vs Marvel 2: Dawn of The Age of The Leotard Extended Universe

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years that has been a big trend in superhero movies. We are now at a stage where 3 or more come out every year, the question is do we need them? How will they keep us entertained? How can they differentiate themselves from the crowd?

Please enjoy this discussion and leave your thoughts below:

To get started here are all the Superhero films being released in the near future (starting this year)! Deep breath everyone!

2016

  • Deadpool (Fox/Marvel) aka Mr Pansexual Sweary Fourth Wall
  • Batman vs Superman (DC) aka Discount Civil War
  • Captain America: Civil War (Marvel)
  • Suicide Squad (DC) aka Harlequin and ”Not Heath Ledger”
  • X-Men Apocalypse (F) aka The Other Jennifer Lawrence Franchise
  • Dr Strange (M) aka Magic Sherlock

2017

  • Wolverine 3 (F)  aka The last movie before Hugh Jackman collapses under the weight of his own pecs and biceps
  • Guardians of The Galaxy 2 (M)
  • Not Black Widow Part 1 (DC) aka Wonder Woman
  • Spiderman (who knows?) – no not Tobey Maguire, no not him either… It’s Tom Holland
  • Thor Ragnarok (M)
  • Justice League Part 1 (DC) aka Team Up Timewonder-woman-amazons1

2018

  • Black Panther (M) aka slowly dragging superhero diversity into the 21st century
  • The Flash (DC)
  • Avengers Infinity War Part 1 (M)- I HATE HARRY POTTER FOR STARTING THIS 2 PART FILM NONSENSE
  • Antman and The Wasp (M) aka Tiny Tim and his gang of criminal stereotypes
  • Untitled Fox/Marvel film (read X-men/X-Force/Gambit/Deadpool 2/ god knows what?)
  • Aquaman (DC) aka not Seaman and Swallow
  • Animated Spiderman film

2019

  • NOT BLACK WIDOW Part 2 (M) aka Captain Marvel
  • Shazam (DC) copywright infringement as he was formerly known as Captai Mar-vel
  • Avengers Infinity War Part 2 (M)
  • Justice League Part 2 (DC) YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
  • Inhumans (M)

2020

  • Cyborg (DC) aka not Robocop or Ultron
  • Untitled Marvel Film
  • Green Lantern (DC) aka Deadpool’s worst nightmare
  • Plus 2 more untitled Marvel films

Which at my count makes 29 SUPER-HERO FILMS! AND THIS DOESN’T INCLUDE ALL THE SUPERHERO TV SERIES:

  • Daredevil
  • Jessica Jones
  • Luke Cage
  • Iron Fist
  • The Defenders
  • Arrow
  • Flash
  • Agents Of Shield
  • Legends Of Tomorow
  • Agent Carter

This is a lot of films, now you could argue that there would be twice as many action or horror films in the same length of time. But super-hero films are a much more specific type of film; they stand on and represent a set of principles and ideals and are meant to inspire and amaze audience. And as such with 6 films/ year they will need to do something to differentiate themselves from the crowd. The question is DO WE NEED THIS MANY?

Now to prefix this, I love superhero films; they are exciting, full of heart and a brilliant spectacle. And while they do not all hit the mark in terms of a cinematic masterpiece they are all a lot of fun!

Superhero films overcame their first obstacle right out of the gate with Nolan’s Batman Begins and Iron Man for the MCU. They got well respected and talented actors to play the leads roles, lending a certain weight to the projects which made people to sit up, pay attention and give the films a chance. This trend has continued with even the small bit parts being played by A-list actors. At last count there are 23  OSCAR WINNING  and  28 OSCAR NOMINATED actors involved with comic book projects alone (this excludes any production/writing/directing nominees). Unsurprisingly with this great depth of acting talent, and well rounded supporting casts, the performances are never an issue. The performances bring the heart, emotion and often the fun to these films.

Now a good cast can only work with what they’re given and if not given the best screenplay, there is only so much they can do. There is a wealth of source-material to pull from, up to 60 years of material in fact. There are so many arcs and characters that we could have a never ending stream of comic book movies until 2100! Although I think once we reach Squirrel Girl (M), Arm Fall Off Boy (DC) and Matter Eater Lad (DC)  maybe we should call time of death!

The name says it all!

The first major problem with super-hero movies is related to this. All of the studios have a huge roll-out plan for their extended universe’s with over arching themes and arcs to span years. Which means they want to have tie-ins, links, easter eggs, foreshadowing , cameos, and Stan Lee (DC gets a free pass here) splattered all over each movie. And while these can be harmless, like Howard The Duck at the end of Guardians, they can also cause serious problems. Take Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a solid film. Not Marvels finest and not Marvels worst. One of the many reasons it suffered were the ways it was trying to play lip service to set up future films: visions for Thor 3 and Infinity War, Wakanda and Klaus for Black Panther, Hulk disappearing into space for whatever reason. This takes time away from real character development resulting in 2 hours of continuous action spectacle…which is exhausting. *SPOILER ALERT*Especially since it meant we had no real incite into the Maximoff Twins but were then expected to cry when of them died? By the way the Maximoff twins are DEFINITELY..I REPEAT…DEFINITELY NOT MUTANTS.

Then you get things at the opposite end of the spectrum; poor/curve ball writing choices like Black Widow and Hulk falling in love in Ultron, the entire X-men Last Stand film and Thor films outside of Loki. Which the best actors in the world can’t do anything about

The result of this is that each film tries to up the stakes, the spectacle and the CGI in an attempt to feel new, interesting and relevant. When in fact, creating a smaller, human story would be a much more captivating and thrilling film. Is it any wonder that that best comic book films tend to be more at home in other genres: Captain America: Winter Solider is a thriller, while the Dark Knight is an out an out crime film, even Ant-Man is a heist film. Granted, Avengers 1 and the better X-men films are very much super-hero films but they thrive on a human heart and witty humour (especially Avengers) and not on Michael Bay Explosions and super-hero landings.

These tropes are so familiar and hard to avoid that even Deadpool, the most self-aware comic movie around, managed to fall into the same tropes whilst taking the piss out of them!

Granted there are often some great action sequences, (like the gem below) but with 6 films a year potentially relying on this back-up plan, how long until it gets tedious?

 

The other perhaps more troubling problem with these movies? Directing. It is inconsistent, now I realise it is unrealistic for the same director to do all the movies in one universe. But for every true hit movie there are usually a couple of misses! Consistency in the quality of director is crucial, poor direction makes a poor movie no matter what the rest of the film production is like. This then effects the appearance and quality of the whole universe, due to the studious insistence on interconnection. Here are some examples:

  • Incredible Hulk – Lous Letterier – Critically poor background
  • Iron Man 3 -Shane Black – Inexperienced
  • Thor: Dark World – Alan Taylor – who?
  • Captain America: The First Avenger – Joe Johnstone – acclaimed director of JURASSIC PARK 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Point made?

Brian Singer has made great X-men films, James Gunn and The Russo Brothers produced some of the best Marvel films (both of which were surprising efforts). Although it remains to be seen how the latter two will fair on their second outings. As both Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon (both acclaimed directors) created amazing first entries to the cannon. Yet studio intervention, pressure and scale resulted in the 2nd films which were good but unable to reproduce the magic a 2nd time around. Especially in Whedon’s case (1min 15 onwards).

I believe that to avoid superhero burnout we need to focus on smaller, grounded, personal stories within the grand scale AND directors must be held to a higher standard. Choosing experienced and quality directors who will make the smart choices. GRANTED even this does not guarantee success, take the first Thor and its director Kenneth Brannagh, an acclaimed Shakespearan director and actor; but an average film at best. But with all these movies vying for the limelight it is an issue which has to be addressed.

This brings me to Batman vs Superman. FULL DISCLOSURE I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET. I am excited to see the film and will go in open-minded but I am not surprised by the luke-warm critical reception it has received:

  1. They are trying to set up a super-hero team up in one movie, something that took Marvel 5 films. This probably means screen time will be spread too thin between all the plot lines and tie-ins leading to forced cameos and exposition and probably poorly explained motives.
  2. The cast is strong and the acting will be great (especially excited for Batfleck) but this can’t save a movie if it’s already flawed.
  3. Zack Snyder. If we are all honest has he ever made a really good movie? 300, is solid. Watchmen is okay but far too long. Suckerpunch is a bizarre fever dream. All 3 are style over substance. His debut Dawn of the Dead remake is probably his best bet but still isn’t great. So why are people surprised when he doesn’t suddenly pull a cinematic masterpiece out of his backside?

Like I said I will go in open-minded and will probably enjoy the film, even find lots of praise for it. But will I love it the way I love other super-hero movies or even other movies in general? Probably not!

Now the future for super-hero movies does look promising, the casts continue to grow in talent. There are some exciting releases to come this year with Civil War (YAY SPIDERMAN), Suicide Squad and the emergence of magic in the MCU with Doctor Strange. After which, the super-hero genre is finally beginning to embrace diversity with the first African-Amercan and female lead movies being released in the near future. There are also some great directors attached to new exciting projects: David Ayer (Training Day) for Suicide Squad, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed) for Black Panther and the Russo‘s have several films in the works.

But only time will tell if this film movement is a flash in the pan or whether it will last. But as long as audiences keep bringing in the huge profits you can be sure to see a lot more leotards over the next few years. Lets just hope the experience can always feel as new and exciting as it still does now!

Let me know your thoughts below!

Small Slivers of Silver Screen 3

Time for the next round of short and maybe sweet movie reviews:

1) The Messenger  (Oren Moverman)

Starring: Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Moreton, Jena Malone

Run Time: 113 mins

Oren Moverman’s directorial début is sharp, bleak and heart-wrenching as we follow Sgt Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) fresh out of active duty and assigned to complete his enlistment carrying out casualty notifications to next of kin. The depictions of Will and his supervisor, Tony Stone, (Harrelson) are detailed, troubled and often uncertain. They are never at ease, the psychological aftermath of war is never far below the surface, but they are unable to shake their desire to help others and follow orders.

This is a brave and dark subject to tackle but is ultimately timely. The film never shies away from it, the confrontations with family are heart-breaking to watch. The script and directing is raw and unpolished but feels real, a particular highlight is Steve Buscemi’s small cameo as a father to be notified. Also a closing scene between Will and Stone, detailing the ”heroic” fire-fight which ended Will’s active service really brings to light the struggle these two men are still going through.

Will develops a relationship with one of the next of kins, Olivia (Samantha Moreton), and while this is a very sweet, innocent relationship, the scenes do at times tend to drag a little.

This is a wonderful debut for Moverman, with a strong story and grounded performances. Interestingly, the score is very reminiscent of Apocalypse now, especially it’s opening song ”The End” by The Doors with exotic sounding soft guitar. Plus Tony quotes from the film, providing some much needed relief.

VERDICT: ”CHARLIE DONT SURF!”

 

2) 10 Cloverfield Lane (Daniel Trachtenberg)

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr

Run Time: 103 mins

A spiritual sequel to Cloverfield… whatever that is? This film was shrouding in secrecy from start to finish so lets take a look!

The trailer gives little away but all you need to know is Michelle (Winstead) wakes in an underground bunker having been saved by Howard (John Goodman) in the wake of her car accident. Howard is unable to let her leave due to a perceived chemical warfare attack above ground rendering the air unbreathable. GOING IN BLIND IS BEST FOR THIS FILM! (so this will be spoiler free).

This film is a prime example of carefully and slowly built tension, it is always building and while there are minor reprieves and moments of levity the tension and sinister tone always creeps back in. This is the combined result of several factors. A sharp, clever and pointed script,  a score that ranges from classic songs with pointed lyrics to sci-fi synthesizers. But most of all it is down to the acting. Winstead acts as our POV throughout the film and delivers the right mix of spirit, fight, scepticism and terror. But this film rests squarely on Goodman’s shoulders and he is phenomenal, honest, bitter and unsettling. All the adjectives you associate with classic thriller characters. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen him give, as he swings unpredictably from gracious host to pompous saviour to controlling voyeur.

You never know where you stand with this film; is it one man’s paranoia or his extreme preparedness. Is it the generosity of a lonely family man or the lure of a troubled isolation. Is it the cynicism of Michelle’s youth or refusal to accept a new uncertain reality. This is what makes this film so good, you never know who or what is the truth. Which is why the ending left me a little disappointed. Not to say the ending was bad, the final act of the film is exciting and visceral and showcases Michelle’s strength and ingenuity. But the FINAL 10 minutes, whilst continuing this showcase ending, offer, what I feel, is too much explanation. It felt like these final 10 minutes were attached to set up this film’s world for a potential sequel. This could explained by this project becoming related with Cloverfield in its later stages of development so there was some shoe-horning.

Personally I would have preferred ending the  film 10 minutes early on Michelle’s face as she looks terrified saying, ”You’ve got to be kidding me”. But as I said even the final 10 minutes were exciting and well made and as such this film is well worth the watch. Creepy, original and exciting.

VERDICT: GO IN BLIND AND ENJOY THE SUSPENSE!

”Crazy is building your ark after the flood has already come.”

**SPOILER** highlight below to see it

Also perchloric acid features in the film, DO NOT LOOK UP WHAT IT CAN DO TO A PERSON IF YOU VALUE YOUR DINNER! AND TOMORROWS DINNER!

I’ll leave you with that pleasant thought! Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

Room…not that one the other one

room_still-639x360

Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, explores the bond between a mother, Joy, and her young son, Jack, (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, respectively) during and beyond a terrible trauma based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay). That pretty much sums it up. Here’s the trailer:

Just kidding its actually this one:

 

First of all I loved this film, it’s been receiving a lot of attention lately, courtesy of the Oscars, and I believe it deserves every little bit of it. The majority of the praise lands squarely on the two leads, Larson and Tremblay, who give exceptionally honest and natural performances. They are however backed by a stellar supporting cast of Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers and William H Macy.

The film is told from Jack’s point of view meaning that the film becomes one of the most in depth, heart felt, honest and often unsettling studies of the bond between a mother and child.  He, by nearly all accounts, is a well adjusted child. Inquisitive, playful, delicate. His entire world is Room and he is content, this is solely down to the universe created by Joy. Everything is either TV or real. Her dedication and resourcefulness to engage and complete Jack’s world is seemingly endless. Joy kept the fact of their imprisonment a secret (until during the film) and as such allowed Jack to grow and be happy in spite of their isolation. This burden weighs heavy and unstable on Joy’s being. The first half of the movie rests entirely on this bond between the too and is a categoric success. Some of the hardest to watch moments are found through this bond particularly scenes with Jack in the cupboard and the arguments between Jack and Joy.

You should note that ”Room” is not ”The Room” or ”A Room”. Jack calls their home ”Room”, as if the name of character, and does the same with everything. In fact, the 11 by 11 square used for ”Room” is arguably the most important character in the movie. Ominous, imposing and claustrophobic with just a touch of nature courtesy of ”Skylight”. Yet despite this, Jack’s never flinching imagination and enthusiasm turn Room into an entire universe filled with soaring possibility. This is also a directorial master-class; not only was Abrahamson able to produce such a beautiful film but he did the first act sealed in ”Room” with only himself, the actors and a camera man. He then had to manage, organize  and relay all the external information for sound, continuity, wardrobe within such a small space. THEN on top of that had to direct (with help from Larson) a child actor within that space. Jacob’s performance is not only a testament to his effortless acting but also to Abrahamson’s ability as a director.

If you’ve seen the trailer you can see that somehow Joy and Jack escape Room’s confines. Yet the scene in which Jack conducts the escape from Room, to the back of a truck, to a bewildered stranger is one of the tensest moments on film in the last year (if not decade). The cinematography, Jack’s expressions of excitement, fear and confusion, the score all fit together perfectly! Especially coupled with the visceral pain and horror Joy experiences upon being separated from her child for the first time, especially under such intense and dire circumstances.

Once in the outside world, the film becomes a study on change, handling and accepting it. Jack’s senses are completely overwhelmed every sight, sound and feeling is new and uncertain. Like anyone in those circumstances he wants the warm security of home, Jack wants ”Room”. But gradually, he comes to terms with the world and learns to engage with those around him plus there is this ridiculously cute scene with Jack meeting a dog for the first time. As he’d always dreamt of his imaginary dog in ”Room”.

His unbridled enthusiasm and happiness, that invigorated and uplifted the first act of the film re-emerges, evolves and is thoroughly engaging.

Joy’s journey, though, is much more difficult and begins to delve into the public’s morbid fascination with gruesome crimes. Jealously of the the lives her old friends have made. Anger at the time stolen from her. Being a parent herself but living in her parents house. Struggling to maintain her bond with Jack following all these new exposures. This all comes to a head when Joy does a TV interview and feature to bring in some money. Throughout the film she is bare-faced and relaxed but during this interview, fully made up with a brand new dress she looks terrible. Uncomfortable, scared and unable to understand why people will not leave her and Jack alone.

And unsurprisingly, the reporter ask’s her why she never told him to let Jack go, why she didn’t set him free. Joy is mortified by the question but begins to question whether keeping Jack safe by her side was the right thing. This leads to the most unsettling and difficult scene of the movie as Joy takes drastic action. Now this line of questioning is not surprising, both the media and audience are complicit in an obsession with tragedy and terror. Just look at the way news outlets, nearly, always report the worst (but most financially lucrative) take on a breaking story before there are hard facts. What the reporter failed to understand here is that by keeping Jack safe by her side, she knew he was safe and being nurtured and cared for properly. Not guaranteed by the alternatives: where either Old Nick disposes of him or Jack enters the foster system. But more importantly, she needed Jack. He kept her hope and dreams alive of one day escaping Room and without him Joy would surely not have endured.

However, it was refreshing for the film (and the novel) to minimize the role of Old Nick. So many shows and films try to humanize these killers and psychopaths to show everyone their own demons. But it was so, so good to focus on the victims and their love for one another rather than give an, albeit fictional, villain the limelight.

Now, my biggest critique (although a small one) is that while the film is mainly Larson and Trembaly’s to carry and that everyone else does a stellar job, the film criminally under uses William H. Macy; both a talented actor and a character with great potential. Robert Newsome (Macy) although overwhelmed with the return of his daughter  cannot look at his grandson Jack, let alone accept him. He couldn’t accept the offspring of a man who took away his daughter and so leaves, and Macy disappears from screen for good. This could have been an exceptional story to explore and give Tremblay even more chance to shine. While this is probably explained by the choice of Jack as the POV character (as with the novel) it doesn’t change that this could have been a missed opportunity.

This film is a wonderful film with great visuals, directing and acting. The story is intriguing and real. There is something for everybody and that something will be different. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I really do hope that Brie will win the Oscar as he performance is incredible.

VERDICT: ”When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know everything!”

 

 

CREED(ence Clear-Rocky Revival)

”Creed” sees the powerful ”Fruitvale Station” team, of director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B.Jordan, reunite. We follow Adonis ‘Creed’ Johnson, an illegitimate son of the legendary Apollo Creed, and his desire to fight, build his own legacy and step out of his fathers shadow. Obviously, this being a rocky film Sylvester Stallone takes a starring role and the cast is rounded out by Tessa Thompson, a rising star fresh from rave reviews for her role in ‘‘Dear White People”.

Here is the trailer!

First things first, I’m NOT a huge Rocky fan. I’ve seen the first two, once each, over a decade ago. So my immediate reaction to this, albeit entertaining, trailer was ”JESUS, ANOTHER ROCKY? GOD F*****G DAMN IT! HOW MANY MORE”. Then I saw Coogler, Jordan and Thompson’s name attached and then the hugely positive review. SO I decided to give it a chance…

And I loved it!

This film does not tread new ground; boxing and sporting struggle are well trodden cinematic paths. Yet despite this, Coogler brings something fresh and exciting to it. The cinematography was excellent, contrasting the privilege Adonis leaves behind with rough, down trodden streets of Philly and the turmoil of his childhood. On top of this are the expertly choreographed and filmed training and boxing match scenes. Shot up-close and personal, with dynamic camera work following every blow dealt, hit taken and the blood and sweat the fighters give to it. There are also many careful and inventively framed nods to the original Rocky. My favourites being the Adonis’ ”Rocky run” and the closing scene.

This is then supported by a brilliant score, full of original compositions and hip-hop beats, all heavy on the inspiration and power. There are snippets of the original Rocky score and they are used sparingly to great effect; this provides enough separation from Rocky whilst still being perfectly placed to elicit those goosebumps and drive.  The two best examples of this are the ”Rocky Run” (mentioned above) Read More

Star Wars: The Numbering Aligns

Last Saturday I saw my first film in IMAX and fittingly it was Star Wars and it was pretty damn brilliant. Even more surprising is that I had managed to avoid any and all spoilers for the last 3 weeks; allowing me to actually enjoy the story as it was intended.

Having said that, SPOILER ALERT…if you don’t want any clues as to what happens and want to enjoy the film without this knowledge then it’s probably best to go away and watch the film. Then come back and read this.

Here is the trailer…who hasn’t actually seen this yet? Anyway.

As I said in the pre-amble, I really enjoyed this film. It may not be as ground breaking as the first Star Wars instalment, A New Hope, but certainly reinvigorated the series for a whole new generation as well as bringing something new for the long time fans. That being said, this is not a perfect movie, something I will get onto later.

The easiest way to show you what this film did right in comparison to the Lucas’ prequel trilogy is direct comparison.

WHAT DO WE WANT FROM A STAR WARS FILM?

1)ENTERTAINING AND THRILLING ACTION SEQUENCES EG LIGHTSABRE DUELS, SPACE BATTLES, ETC. This is what the Force Awakens gives us with great aplumb. The prequels, however, ignored this and decided to fill the trilogy with trade embargo’s, senate voting and other political bullshit!

2) HAVE THE FORCE MAKE SENSE. The few Force Awakens characters in touch with the force, seem to live and work by the same consistent principles. They sense other force-ish people near by, they can build upon or lose there powers based upon their behaviour and composure in each instant. The prequels make me ask 2 questions: 1) What in the bloody Nora is a ”midichlorian” and why did they use that idea? 2) Why are all the sodding Jedi Masters not able to sense a Sith Lord using the force just down the road? I mean they talk to the guy on a regular basis AND he looks real shifty.

3) FULLY DEVELOPED AND GENUINE CHARACTERS. Force Awakens gets another gold star. All of the new cast additions are wonderful but Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are especially great. They carry the film with their charming, relatable and endearing performances i.e. we care about their story. Adam Driver, playing Kylo Ren, was also a wonderful addition to the cast.

The prequels instead gave us, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman, the worst on-screen couple in the history of cinema. Just look at this complete absence of chemistry! They make me sick!

Also they killed of the best thing about the prequels in one fell, terrible swoop, Darth Maul, in the first bloody film!

Oh yeh and Jar-Jar-f*****g-Binks!

THAT’S IT, I CAN’T HANDLE TALKING ABOUT THE PREQUELS ANYMORE!

There has been lots of conversation about Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, personally I think he was s a clever casting decision. His performance helps give Ren the huge potential for growth and development that it does. He has his own internal conflict making him interesting and real, he isn’t just bad because the script says so. As hilarious as his Light-sabre tantrums are they are also completely understandable as his training isn’t finished so can’t channel and control his raw power yet. It was also satisfying to finally see a man criticised for removing his helmet mid action sequence to have perfectly tousled hair and guy-liner.

I think it says something that BB-8, a droid, is potentially my favourite film character of the last year. He was funny, cute and became a part of the story, not just a robotic bystander. BB-8 is so good that I almost forgot about R2-D2 and C-3PO. Beyond this, BB-8 represents the huge success of both the practical and visual effects used in this film. They make it a truly awe-inspiring experience, especially in the IMAX. It was a beautiful, engrossing cinematic experience.

Obviously you can’t talk about Star Wars without the score. As expected it was top-notch. What was surprising was that the highlights came during the quieter, more personal scenes accompanied by softer and subtler music. You could hear the original Star Wars motifs being developed and evolved to create something new and exactly suited to accompany the scenes.

I have a couple of minor problems with the film. Firstly, Domnhall Gleeson’s face. Just look at it. It’s like they kept saying, ”You need to look more evil.. more…more…tighter…more wooden…less expression…YES THAT’S IT”. His expression doesn’t change the entire film.

The previous cast members were also the weakest links of the film, Harrison Ford had a few shaky moments but did also have his moments of brilliance as Han Solo. Carrie Fischer as General Leia was given practically nothing of substance to do and never really had a chance to stand out.

My final gripe, is Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, a supposedly infamous Storm Trooper commander. All she did in this film was get captured and then give Finn, Han and Chewie everything they want. I don’t know if Ill be able to take her abilities seriously in later films because of how easily she gave in, even in her roles increasing importance.

J.J.Abrams, should generally be applauded for this effort into the Star Wars canon, no little feat by anyone’s standards. His perverse love of excessive lens flares aside (see below), he whole-heartedly committed to being Star Wars and creating the same joy and wonder for a new generation. Yes, it has its’ flaws and it will be too similar/unoriginal for some (see PS below verdict) …and some people were never going to like it (or admit to liking it) full stop. But he took some big risks and generally they paid off to produce an exciting and captivating film.

Ignoring all of the above, he at least deserves credit for making the bold decision to enter a beloved franchise and …(SPOILER………………………..)

 

kill a beloved character for a real and heartfelt emotional impact. (Even if the best part of that is Chewie’s howling reaction).

Finally, in a world where quality cinema and fun, not-so serious movies tend to live in separate worlds, separated by politics, global issues and pretention. It was so, so good to be taken in and thrilled by a fun, heart-warming and, importantly, high-quality film. Something of a rare experience these days outside animation studios.

VERDICT: ”Midichlorians” No wonder Luke went into hiding, he accidentally kissed his sister!

PS/ HERE ARE ALL THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN A NEW HOPE AND THE FORCE AWAKENS (this could be a long list) **SPOILERS**

  • Important character stranded on a desert planet
  • Shots of walking on desert planet with droid in tow, and many more borrowed scenes
  • Discount Darth Vader (+ Guy liner)
  • Droids have secret information
  • A planet size weapon and an a weaponized planet (Note – showing me this side by side to be ironic doesn’t mean you get away with it)
  • Death planet, weapon , bass, ship has an exploitable weakness so you can blow it
  • Canteen scenes filled with weird looking aliens
  • Luke/Leia/Han Trio = Rey/Poe/Finn
  • An Old guy dies
  • Everyone goes to rescue captured female lead, who doesn’t really need much help in the first place
  • The Millennium falcon
  • Ugly evil guy with little screen time is actually calling the shots

New Series: Small Slivers of Silver Screen 1

Having enjoyed writing my mini-reviews to apologize for my absence, I am going to continue this into a new series of postss

SMALL SLIVERS OF SILVER SCREEN

I think this is suitably difficult to say!

So let’s begin:

1) Goodnight, and Good Luck (George Clooney, 2005)

Staring: David Strathairn, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Jeff Daniels

Run Time: 93 minutes

This film follows Edward R. Murrow (Strathairn), an experienced and respected CBS journalist, and his political conflict with Senator Joseph McCarthy (himself through archive footage) during the height of communist fear. Now whilst this political, drama may not boast of the most intense story, it is exceptionally well made. The script is sharp and intelligent, the sub-plots serve to further the main narrative rather than distract or confuse it and the acting is brilliant. It is easy to see why this film is so highly regarding, choosing grace and subtletly over bombast and fanfare.  Starthairn’s performance is worth watching the film for alone!

Plus watching a real, sweaty, slimy politician fumble his way through real footage is very entertaining. Interestingly, this black and white archive footage determined the black and white style of the film; one of its’ greatest assets was down to mere coincidence!

VERDICT: Like ”House of Cards” except shorter, less table banging and less monologuing to the voices in your own head.

2) Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995)

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Elizabeth Shue

Run Time: 112 minutes

Having watched the trailer, I thought it was going to be a crappy Rom-Com and was reluctant to watch it and was confused how Cage won the Best Actor Oscar for this film. I was, however, very surprised with what I saw.  There is some humour and there is some romance but really this is a serious drama about troubled people struggling to cope with their demons. This really is thought provoking, well made film with a poetic and fitting story and conclusion.

In the past I have given Cage a hard time (see here) for making terrible career decisions and worse acting decisions! But.. credit where credit is due, he is very, very good in this film and deserving of his awards and acclaim for his performance. His predisposition for being over the top (i.e. TERRIBLE) is bubbling under the surface here but fortunately is kept restrained enough to deliver a (PERHAPS HIS ONLY) great performance.

VERDICT: Don’t alcoholics normally have a preferred drink. not this care-free attitude?

3) Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham, Liam McMahon, Stuart Graham, Brian Milligan

Run Time: 96 mins

Steve McQueen is now known for his Oscar winnning film ”12 Years A Slave” and the critically acclaimed ”Shame”, about a sex addict(reviewed here). Unsurprisingly, his debut ”Hunger” focus’ on another cheery topic; The Troubles between the UK and the Republic of Ireland over the loyalty and rule of Northern Ireland. In particular, the build up to, and the human cost of the 2nd IRA hunger strike lead by Bobby Sands (Fassbender), following the No-Wash protest.

This film is gruelling; the grim realism of the No-wash conditions, the brutality of the beatings and allegiances and the desperate devotion to a cause regardless of the danger. This film thrives on the visceral emotion of the performances, headed by a stellar turn from Fassbender, and lingers on every second of horror experienced by both the prisoners and guards. Two very striking scenes, other than those of confrontation, feature a guard having to clean urine and faeces from floors and the walls (respectively). The camera holds still for minutes at a time; this hold on (what could be described as) a mundane task forces you to focus on just how devastating this situation is for everyone… between a rock and a hard place.

The highlight, however, is a scene that shows McQueen’s dedication to making bold, single minded cinema. Sands discusses the reasoning and morality of the proposed hunger strike with Father Moran (Cunningham), in what is a brilliant, 20 minute, single take shot of clever and powerful dialogue. I would really recommend watching it as part of the film but in case this one doesn’t sound like your cup of tea here is the scene! It is a marvel.

VERDICT: I feel hungry just looking at Fassbender!

See you all soon!

 

My 10 favourite films of the year: A failed attempt at objectivity

With the year drawing to a close and these lists springing up everywhere, I thought why not get on the band wagon (and potentially be the straw that broke the camels back).

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven’t scene Star Wars yet or the Oscar race films such as Spotlight, Danish Girl and the Revenant which are not out in the UK yet.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Ant-Man, Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Spectre (reviews in hyperlinks below)

Ant-Man was a breath of fresh air into the MCU; small scale, charming and genuinely funny and entertaining.

Age of Ultron (MCU’s main poster child for the year) was a good solid entry into the Marvel cannon. Great performances and cast additons and an entertaining story. The main problem was the expected overcrowding and (what I suspect) are extra bits stuffed into the film at the studios request. Everything was done well, just not as well as the original.

I feel like taking the best elements of Skyfall and Spectre would make a near perfect movie, sadly separately they are both just good. Spectre also criminally underused Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, a missed opportunity if there ever was one.

These films were all good, just not quite enough to make it into the top 10.

Onwards and upwards:

10) It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

There is a full review to come with this one but to summarize… a brilliant and original concept which sheds some interesting light on modern day attitudes towards sex and sexuality. Couple that with a very creepy, John Carpenter-esque score, great acting and some genuine scares makes for one of the best horror/thriller films in a long time.

I couldn’t choose between these next two and couldn’t leave them out (hence my failure at objectivity).

9)…B)  Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)

Possibly the most picturesque and beautiful film this year? Either way it is a masterpiece in cinematography and the rest of the film ain’t too shabby either.

9)…A) Slow West (John Maclean)

Maybe this film coud revive the dying Western genre? All I know is that its slow build, short run time, pointed dialogue and brilliant characters make for wonderful film.

FUN FACT: This is the 2nd best tourism add for New Zealand behind The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy.

Click here for my full review!

8) Beasts Of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga)

Brutal and beautiful visuals, difficult subject matter and some astounding acting. This really was the best way Netflix’s original movie platform could have started.

Here is my full review.

7) Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

My second failure at objectivity. Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time, as I am dinosaur obsessed. Jurassic World, although not as good as the original, certainly lived up to the hype and was thoroughly entertaining. Took me back to when I first saw Jurassic Park.

Here is my full review.

6) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

Somehow the 4th and 5th entries of this franchise are arguably on/above-par with the original. This is certainly helped by the continually growing all-star cast and a sensational performance by Rebecca Ferguson. Ludicrous stunts, a clever plot and a good story make this one of the best action films of the year.

Full review here.

5) Brooklyn (John Crowley)

This film, based on Colm Toibin’s book, is really a show case of Saorise Ronan’s ability. Despite her young age, she delivered an exceptional performance with depth and subtlety; she says more with one look than most can with a conversation. The screenplay is great and bolstered by a strong supporting cast and direction. This is a great film and deserves all the praise it is receiving.

4) The Martian (Ridley Scott)

Once again we are off to save Matt Damon (see Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan etc)! This is funny, smart and brilliantly helmed by Damon as stranded astronaut Mark Watney. A scene stealing performance from Donald Glover as the scientific whiz kid back on Earth is also worth a nod.

This scene says it all:

 

3) Carol (Todd Haynes)

This film is a beautiful piece of art. Haynes completely immerses  you in this gorgeous 50’s world allowing you to focus on the truly remarkable performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This film could have very easily become politicized, after all it is about a tale of love between two women in the 1950’s and the difficulties they face and could well still face today. Instead, however, gender doesn’t feature into this, it is just a story about two people falling in love and trying to make it work. Making it all the more beautiful.

2) Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

The directorial debut from the writer of 28 Days Later is impressive to say the absolute least. A thought provoking, stylish and clever Sci-fi film; it deals with complex subjects and doesn’t dumbdown or spoon-feed the audience as is so common in cinema today. Many films try and tackle artificial intelligence and, aside from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I cannot think of any other film that deals with it so originally, intelligently and tensely. All in all a resounding success.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

George Miller returns to his Mad Max franchise with a huge victory for pracitcal effect and story telling in general. This movie is one long exhilarating ride, with barely time to catch your breath; it is incredible to watch. Rarely do films show such a single-minded dedication to an idea but I’m glad this film does! The title may suggest otherwise but Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is the real main character, and this is not the only female empowerment you’ll see during this film.

It was hard to choose between this and Ex Machina; but through sheer ferocity and excitement Mad Max won out for me.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

1)The success ofAlicia Vikander’s as Ava and Charlize Theron as Furiosa should surely prove now that women can lead critically and commercially successful films of any genre: Action, Sci-Fi not just love stories! Also a well deserved not too Emily Blunt for Sicario and Rebecca Ferguson for MI: Rogue Nation.

2) I regret not being able to see these movies so far this year and will have to catch up in the New Year: Trainwreck, Sicario, Crimson Peak, Legend, The Lobster, Diary Of A Teenage Girl, Black Mass, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2.

Well that’s all folks. Please let me know what you think of this list in the comments: Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Either way, let me know.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Beasts Of No Nation or an exceptionally intense Christmas Eve

Already excited to see this film, watching season 4 of Luther was all I need to take the plunge and watch the film. ”Beasts of No Nation”, available only on Netflix, is directed by Cary  Fukunaga (True Detective Season 1) and stars Abraham Attah and Idris Elba (aka LUTHER). Here is the trailer:

This film sees Agu (Abraham Attah) alone and separated from his family due to an escalating civil war in Ghana and his transformation once he is taken in by a rebel NDF Commandant (Idris Elba).

Now, I knew that , given the subject matter, this was not going to be a joyful sailing across a rainbow on a cloud of happiness kind of movie. BUT I didn’t expect to leave the family, exhausted from tension. Maybe not the perfect Christmas Eve movie choice…apologies one and all!

So where to start?

Well, the acting is brilliant. Elba is fully committed and convincing as a Commandant of these child soldiers; fatherly, strong and inspiring yet abusive, cruel and power-hungry. He commands the attention of each and every scene. Every movement and word is meticulous, carefully chosen and designed to further his purpose. A purpose he preaches as their purpose (huge nod to the tremendous screen-writers here).

”Second-hand smoke will kill, you know!”

Abraham Attah, an (relative) unknown Ghanian actor, is the real stand out of this film. An intense and heart-breaking portrayal of a child whose youth is stolen from him and forced into a broken and desolate adulthood. His performance was subtle and mature, capturing a level of pain and confusion, something I haven’t seen in a child-actor in a long time.

This is a story about the loss of innocence. His journey from happy, joyful child to ruthless, if conflicted soldier, to a scared being, neither boy nor man and without a certain future. Without doubt this film thrives on it’s lead performances and screen play and is bolstered by its realism and its willingness to tackle difficult and traumatizing subjects; sexual abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, war, violence, death. The brilliance of this film, however, is its’ unpredictability. Its warm and carefree opening, the scattered moments of humour and tenderness serve to make the violence and horror even more heart wrenching.

The best example of this comes about 1/2 way through, in the thick of the rebel campaign. Agu and his friend, Strika (another child soldier) are playing games in a field only to hear gun shots for the scene to turn to madness.

This film is so harrowing because the horror is never certain; on the drop of the hat, on the back of political betrayal, the tension before the battle or in its’ aftermath. Although the violence is cold, brutal and realistic the level of violence doesn’t create the tension. The tension lies in each individual scenario, who is perpetrator and who is victim and the uncertain wait for action. In the end the violence becomes a release of tension, a troubling release for the viewer at that.

Beyond these appalling situations there is the beautiful, picturesque scenery which frames the tragedy. Combined with a score that combines African music with moments of an epic, swirling score gives the film a wonderful sense of scope. These moments of beauty do make the film more palatable, although the film is never easy to watch, see below.

Throughout the film, Agu’s voice-over highlights his transition but also brings a voice and window into the consequences of these actions. Maybe comparing their actions to those of beasts and wild animals helps to cope with the horrors they’ve done and seen.

Following ”True Detective” Season 1 and its acclaim, the addition of ”Beast Of No Nation” to Fukunaga’s film canon show that he is a force to be reckoned with. The cinematography is as beautiful as it is shocking; a drug fuelled battle scene with a red-wash colour palette and a march through mud filled trenches are my personal highlights (see below). Now while the ending was a little lacklustre, and Elba’s final scene left me wanting, this ending felt earned and deserved; with an uncertain future but scope for the positive and the negative. This ambiguity feels natural.

The trench scene:

VERDICT: DEFINITELY WATCH…BUT NOT ON XMAS DAY!

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Apologies for my absence: Part 2

Once again, it seems I’ve been away a while but here we go again with plenty more mini-reviews.

1) Casino (Martin Scorcese)

”Ace’ Rothstein (De Niro), a professional gambler, is enlisted by the mob to run the Las Vegas casino, The Tangiers, aided by his friend Nicky Santaro (Joe Pesci), an erratic and unstable mob enforcer.

If this mix of The Mob, De Niro, Pesci and Scorcese sounds familiar…that’s because 4 years previously they made a little film now as ”Goodfellas”. Unsurprisingly Casino features many of the same trademarks; ex-positional voice-overs, a wonderful and well used soundtrack, a focus on the importance of family and the cost of it falling apart and of course a lot of ”f***s”.

This is a great film, thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing. I just feel it suffers due to the obvious comparisons to make with ”Goodfellas”, an arguably superior film. However, the real gem in this movie is Sharon Stone as Ginger, Ace’s hustling, self-involved and self-destructive wife. Also, the brutal and typically violent final 10 minutes is a wonderful piece of cinema.

VERDICT: ”For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.”…That’s from Goodfellas?…Fine, how about this?”Funny how? What’s funny about it?”…Goodfellas again?!…Just see the movie!

2) Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)

It’s Macbeth…

Michael Fassbender, as Macbeth, with Marion Cotillard, by his side as Lady Macbeth, lead an all-star cast in this Shakespearian adaptation. I cannot imagine that this story has ever been told in such a visually stunning and compelling way. The cinematography is fantastic, each scene is perfectly framed and fantastically lit. Coupled with the fantastic performances and clever directing and this really is a captivating film.

VERDICT: Maybe brush up on your Macbeth and your Scottish accents first. It will serve you well and I wont be testing you on it either.

3) Focus (Glen Ficarra and John Requa)

This crime/drama/comedy follows Nicky (Will Smith), a veteran con-artist, as he mentors Jess (Margot Robbie) a inexperienced but talented grifter.

Lead by heavy-hitter Will Smith and up’n’comer Robbie it is no surprise this film did well at the box office. The film is slick and stylish and anchored by charming performances by the cast, and a nice final twist. The real problem here is that there is no new ground being trodden, everything here has been done before and often better. As with many films today ”Focus” suffers from an over-abundance of style, flare and showmanship to make up for its lack of substance. Despite this, it is a fun watch and entertaining if you catch it on TV but I wouldn’t make a concerted effort to seek it out.

VERDICT: ”I can convince anyone of anything. I once convinced a man that an empty warehouse was the federal reserve, so I’m good.”

4) Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée)

Based on memoirs of Cheryl Staryed, ”Wild” follows Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) as she attempts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone, in an attempt to heal her many wounds.

Told as Cheryl follows the trail and keeps a journal and featuring many flashbacks, often just as heart-wrenching as they are warming. These flashbacks introduce us to Cheryl’s mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern), to produce some of the best scenes of the film. They demonstrate just how far Cheryl fell and the opportunities she wasted to provide the satisfying pay-off as she develops through her trail. The performances of Witherspoon and Dern are phenomenal, drawing you further in to Cheryl’s world with depth and feeling. Without these two performances, the films would not have succeeded. This really is a must see, especially for the isolated and beautiful scenery of the Pacific trail.

VERDICT: ”Honestly? I’m lonelier in my real life than I am out here.”

 

That’s all for now folks, come back soon. Like and share if you enjoyed the read.

 

 

Apologies for my absence: Part 1

I’ve been busy of late, so much so that my last post was about 2 months ago! Time to get back in the saddle. But do not fear, I have been watching many, many movies. So, today, I’m going to give you lots of mini-reviews. Right here. Right now.

  1. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper)

This film follows the story of aging, alcoholic country star ”Bad Blake” (Jeff Bridges) and his attempts to turn his life around after meeting Jean, a local journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

This film is really built around the exceptional performances of Bridges, who an an oscar for his role, and Gyllenhall, who was nominated. Their nuance, truth and heart raise the film above its mediocre source material. The film looks beautiful, but has a dragging pace which is often exacerbated by a clunky script. However, their is a wonderful soundtrack and the film does leave you fondly reflecting because of its’ feel-good charm.

VERDCIT: Who doesn’t like a bit of country every now and then.

2. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Anna (Naomi Watts) is searching for the family of a new-born baby whose young mother died during child-birth. Following the mother’s diary she ends up intwined with the Russian Mafia and their loyal driver (Viggo Mortensen).

Dark, clever and real, this British thriller is a wonderful film and provides an entertaining glimpse into the underworld of London’s organized crime and their exquisite tattoos. Anchored by strong performances from the entire cast, especially Mortensen, and bolstered by a lightning pace and strong attention to detail and realism. For instance, few films would unabashedly flaunt the male anatomy so completely during an assassination attempt in a men’s bath-house. Many would avoid the awkward dangle with close-ups, quick cuts and shaky cam. Add to this a wonderfully crafted twist and a morally ambiguous ending, definitely worth a watch.

VERDICT: Aragorn,”If by my life or death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword…”. Frodo, ”Great, but did you have to tell me that when you were naked in the bathroom?”

3. FRIDAY THE 13TH (Sean S. Cunningham)

20 years after a tragic incident at Camp Crystal Lake, a group of teenage counselors are terrorized as they make preparations to re-open the camp.

I felt Lucky, having not seen this film until now. Following the last decade’s dirge of terrible, monstrously boring, ludicrous, CGI-fest, cheap jump-scare, sequel spewing, terrible horror movies (breathe) I was excited to watch another of the classics. Even watching this film today, armed with the tropes this film and others helped create, I was amazed to still find myself scared, tense and anxious. The tension was built carefully and cleverly, without CGI gore and a unearned jump-scares. Coupled with the creepy soundtrack, it makes for one hell of a scary film.

VERDICT: ”YOU’RE DOOMED! YOU’RE ALL DOOMED!”

4. Inherent Vice (P.T. Anderson)

Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), a hippy/stoner/P.I, is enlisted by his ex-girlfriend to find her, current, billionaire boyfriend has been kidnapped and ends up embroiled in a drug-filled, bizarre and typically 70’s criminal scheme.

This is not a bad film. Far from it. It is funny, charismatic, joyfully over the top and superbly acted by a typically large P.T.Anderson ensemble cast. But given Anderson’s previous work, including Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, it just left me thinking what it could have been. Anderson’s films are never simple but here the overly convoluted and chopped plot looses the audiences interest. The was so much to follow that you(I) ended up following the minimal amount. His previous film with Joaquin, The Master, was a great film and featured an outstanding performance from Joaquin and the late, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (a long time Anderson collaborator), check out the scene below. Maybe, this time, less really could have been more.

VERDICT: ”Motto panukeiku… motto panukeiku! MOTTO PANUKEIKU!”

5. Dear White People (Justin Simien)

This film follows the increasing racial tensions at a predominantly white Ivy league school, through the eyes of several African American students: Sam (Tessa Thompson) a DJ and filmmaker, Coco (Teyonah Parris) a youtuber and aspiring star, Lionel (Tyler James Williams) a journalist and Troy (Brandon Bell) the house president.

It’s hard to pin this film down into a genre. Political satire. Comedy. Drama. Think-piece. It is all of these things. As a whole it is a brilliant film. Refreshing, energetic and organic. Cinema oft-avoids the discussion of race but here it is tackled head-on with acerbic wit, careful thought and cutting honesty.  This film is thoroughly entertaining AND educational; something vital to help evolve the movie industry (and the audience).

VERDICT: Dear everybody…It’s on Netflix, go chill.

That’s all for now folks… please come back for Part 2!