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Russell Betney

400 points
76 Films Loved
15 Films Hated
The Wolverine
Yawwwn. Has it finished yet?
The Wolverine
over 5 years ago

Well, what was the point of that? I'm not really versed in Wolverine lore, and perhaps Logan does go to Japan to say goodbye to an old friend, but the film has nothing to recommend it. In fact, if it didn't have Wolverine in it, this would just be some random lame thriller that nobody would pay any attention to, probably starring Sam Worthington or Mark Wahlberg or someone equally vacuous.

At least X-men Origins (2009) had a bunch of mutants in it and the “Logan through time” intro. Seeing him grow up through history with Sabretooth was really cool (great tune by Harry Gregson-Williams) and nicely realised by director Gavin Hood. OK, so most the the rest of the film is terrible, but at least it had something to recommend it.

I really struggled through The Wolverine (my wife did fall asleep) as the plot wasn’t engaging and I had no investment with any of the characters; no emotion content.

“What was that? An Exhibition? We need emotional content. Now try again!” - Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon (1973)

He must have been talking about The Wolverine! But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

1
Zootopia
Very inventive
Zootopia
over 5 years ago

On the one hand this is a cartoon about a bunny wanting to be a cop, with lots of fish-out-of-water gags as the naive rabbit is variously patronised. On the other hand, the main themes of standing up for what you believe in as well as cultural/racial tolerance are really quite serious.

Of course this is a Disney animated kids film though, and as such it does everything right. The jokes are thick and fast, the creation of the utopian animal world is excellent with so much detail that repeat viewings will doubtless reveal ever more unnoticed touches, and the voice cast it excellent.

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0
Singin' in the Rain
I did not expect to enjoy Singin’ in the Rain as much as I did.
Singin' in the Rain
over 5 years ago

Almost 65 years on and Singin’ in the Rain remains timeless, a real classic, not only because it tells of an important point in movie history (in that way it almost sits alongside Cinema Paradiso (1988) or Hugo (2011)), but because of the empathy we feel for the characters, and of course because of some tremendous dance numbers.

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0
Gone Too Far!
An undiscovered gem
Gone Too Far!
over 5 years ago

With themes of identity and finding your place in the world, Gone too Far is a hilarious window into the young ethnic diversity of London.

When his brother arrives from Nigeria it threatens to upset Yemi's comfortable existence. Events force him to assess his heritage and struggle with local bullies and the girl of his dreams in the midst of racial prejudice between Africans, Jamaicans and second generation residents of Peckham.

Very witty with sharp dialogue and very very funny

0
RoboCop
What a waste of everyone's time!
RoboCop
over 5 years ago

Formulaic and derivative actioner which lacks the bite of the original, and for which there was no need.

Where was the tongue in cheek jibe at modern day excesses? Where was the finger given to the MTV (I guess now YouTube) generation? Where was the commentary on the fact that huge corporations are inherently evil? Paul Verhoeven’s original had all this and more.

For one, it had a believable lead role, not even Michael Keaton or Gary Oldman could rescue this. Jackie Earle Haley’s character was fun, but Samuel L Jackson’s talk show spots didn’t really work as a prop to hang the plot on.

Not to mention that the way that Alex Murphy becomes Robocop has changed, the EDs are never explained – they’re just there, and Robocop never says “Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.”

I suppose comparisons with the original are unfair and shouldn’t really be made; but when a “reboot” is this poor it’s hard not to. A missed opportunity, and a waste of everyone’s time.

0
RED
Yipee kay ay!
RED
over 5 years ago

A very fun, tongue in cheek action thriller. Inventively directed by Robert Schwentke and cleverly shot (I particularly liked “travelling by postcard”) and the all star cast hit pretty much all the right notes, including a great Richard Dreyfus role.

The story was fairly straightforward with enough intrigue and twists to keep it fresh. All this make for a surprisingly fun film, more so than I expected. But, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

0
WALL·E
The greatest love story of our time
WALL·E
over 5 years ago

A lovely story of intergalactic friendship, with a healthy dose of environmentalism, all set to the incredible sounds of Ben Burt. Top notch design and animation on both Wall-e and Eve creating real empathy with these personified robots.

0
The Day the Earth Stood Still
It seemed such a good idea...
The Day the Earth Stood Still
over 5 years ago

Perhaps my first review was over-harsh (goo.gl/72zToh), but nevertheless I feel this version misses a lot of what makes the 1958 film so good. Rather than being a critique of 1950s American paranoia, this version is rather more running away from the military, and some random destruction by robot bugs and less of the Earth actually standing still.

0
Captain America: Civil War
Fun, if you like this sort of thing.
Captain America: Civil War
over 5 years ago

At its heart is the story of a guy trying to get his best friend back, it just happens to precipitate an almighty Avengers smack down.

Directed by the same duo who brought us Winter Soldier, the action is all pretty intense, well choreographed and focused.

Cast are all great, and by now all belong in their roles. Additionally there are also a couple of surprises which deliver most of the lols.

I’d have to see it again to deliver a more in depth critique, but my first impression is one of, well, being impressed; and of enjoyment.

0
Paddington
Great fun
Paddington
almost 6 years ago

I’ve not heard of director Paul King before, but what he’s done with Paddington is craft a clever, witty and heart-warming film. With a plot which contains a couple of stories from the first of Michael Bond’s book about the bear from Darkest Peru, the main theme is that of wanting to belong and finding one’s place in the world as Paddington comes to London to find somewhere to live.

A hugely enjoyable film; the cast are all super, there are brilliant bears and there are some wonderful bits of film making. Great stuff.

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0
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Dawn of Justice? Still in the dark if you ask me.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
almost 6 years ago

There was one good scene, about halfway through I guess; but otherwise there is too much plotting, and when we finally get to the final showdown, it’s all wham, bang, bash, explosion! A a rather run-of-the-mill affair with little to recommend it. Still the creative genius behind the Dark Knight trilogy (Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer) can’t help this turgid series.

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0
The Revenant
Wow, just wow!
The Revenant
almost 6 years ago

I thought the whole thing was excellent, completely immersive and slightly overwhelming. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

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0
The Third Man
Classic Film Noir
The Third Man
almost 6 years ago

The Third Man is perhaps the best known film from British director Carol Reed. Set in an atmospheric, tired and cynical post-war Vienna, the film tells the tale of an American novelist who arrives to meet a friend, only to find that he has recently died; hit by a car. He stays to investigate his death which soon becomes a search for a “Third Man” who was present at his death.

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0
Waterworld
All very silly
Waterworld
about 6 years ago

Kevin Costner is Robin Cod, Prince of Waves in Mad Max on water: Beyond the Floodedzone.

All very silly. Essentially, Kevin Costner is a fish; self sufficient on his Heath Robinson style catamaran, while he is chased by Dennis Hopper (at the bottom of his game, not helped by woeful script) who wants to find the mythical Dryland by capturing a young girl who happens to have the map to this promised land tattooed on her back!

It almost had a nice moment when the Earth from the Universal logo became increasingly submerged as we zoomed into it while generic voice-over man explained how the ice caps had melted creating Waterworld. Doesn’t quite work though as some clouds are used as an obvious cut between this graphic and live footage zooming to Fish Costner pissing in a bottle! And that’s the highlight of the film!

I suppose the action is more dynamic than the un-dynamic underwater section at the end of Thunderball (1965). But, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

0
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Tremendously entertaining, How Star Wars should be.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
about 6 years ago

In all honesty, The Force Awakens is probably a better film than A New Hope, I just can’t bring myself to admit it. Hitting all the same notes as A New Hope, what it has is style, humour and entertainment in spades. What is doesn’t have is George Lucas dicking about with it, sticking in pointless GG creatures going “Bwaaak” or redundant Hutts, or Rodians that can’t shoot a smuggler from across a bar table!

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0
Iron Man 2
Good fun, but not as good as the first one.
Iron Man 2
about 6 years ago

Though it is undoubtedly the weakest Iron Man film, seeing it again over four years later with far more MCU movie experience under my utility belt, I found more to interest me. Perhaps, initially I had been a little bit dismissive of it.

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0
Centurion
An enjoyable romp but ultimately unfulfilling.
Centurion
about 6 years ago

An enjoyable romp but ultimately unfulfilling. All Vesuvius, no eruption; all aqueduct, no water; all Pomp-eii, no ceremony.

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0
The Andromeda Strain
A meticulously planned and executed film
The Andromeda Strain
about 6 years ago

Following a group of scientists as they discover and then try to understand a terrible disease may not sound terribly exciting; but in taking its lead from Bullitt (1968), The Andromeda Strain is far more concerned with the process the researchers go through, and as such is very compelling.

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0
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Quality ideas and execution
A Nightmare on Elm Street
about 6 years ago

Probably not much that I can add to more succinct reviews than mine. Suffice to say that ANES is furiously inventive, not afraid to pull any punches or disorientate the viewer, and as an aside gives us one of the most memorable villains in movie history.

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0
Kill List
A bit of the old ultra-violence
Kill List
about 6 years ago

Director Ben Wheatley’s first feature-length film is all about the perils of being unemployed and bored. Couple that to a dysfunctional family and add a bit of the old ultra-violence and we have Kill List.

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0
The Hunger Games
Great Entertainment
The Hunger Games
about 6 years ago

Very reminiscent of The Running Man or Battle Royale, the Hunger Games pits 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 against each other in a last man standing competition.

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0
Natural Born Killers
Naturally brilliant
Natural Born Killers
over 6 years ago

Stylistically all over the place, but in this instance it's no bad thing. Now black and white, now colour, this angle, that angle; filmed through a camcorder; animation and a whole section done as a naff 70s sitcom (complete with canned laughter) about child abuse and wife-beating.

Coupled with some potentially career best performances from Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis and Robert Downey Jr., Natural Born Killers is naturally and effortlessly brilliant.

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0
Rango
Quirky story, excellent animation, great fun.
Rango
over 6 years ago

Really good voice actors. I felt that the actors would be obvious and over the top as they can sometimes be in animations, (I was worried about Johnny Depp in particular), but they weren't. Rather than model the characters on the actor, I felt the actors really tried to fit the characters, which is how it should be really.

In addition to the animation being first class, the use of high contrast in the desert, and the use of shadows indoors gave it a very different feeling to most of Pixar/Dreamworks offerings; it felt more gritty and somehow more real. Perhaps this is because Roger Deakins was a visual consultant on the film, and also having ILM do the animation probably helped. The music by Hans Zimmer was pretty cool too. A very enjoyable animated adventure from Gore Verbinski.

0
A Serious Man
I seriously didn’t get half of this film, man.
A Serious Man
over 6 years ago

That’s not to say I didn’t like it: it’s typically Coen dead-pan, as only they can do; Michael Stuhlbarg is great as the beleaguered Larry Gopnik; there are the common Coen repetitive gags, “Sy Ableman?”; wonderful cinematography by the luminous Roger Deakins and a lovely score by Carter Burwell. I just felt that a lot of went over my head.

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0
Sanctum
Nothing special, but entertaining
Sanctum
over 6 years ago

Directed by the unknown (to me) Alister Grierson and executively produced by James Cameron, Sanctum is and does nothing fancy, but is never-the-less fun and entertaining. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

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0
Everest
Gripping Stuff
Everest
over 6 years ago

Directed by Icelander Baltasar Kormákur, Everest is the account of the 1996 disaster on the world’s highest mountain. Based on Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air” the film is a faithful interpretation, thankfully never straying into either Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit territory.

The cast really nailed it, direction was solid with a smattering of invention, and the whole thing looked lovely. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

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0
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Lazy story & silly, boring action
Resident Evil: Afterlife
over 6 years ago

I quite enjoyed the suspense of the first film, haven't seen 2 or 3, but Afterlife quite honestly makes me wonder how there can be life after this in the franchise.

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0
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
"She’s trying to intimidate me with quarter hours!”
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
over 6 years ago

So says Maggie Smith’s Jean Brodie, a teacher in an Edinburgh girls' school in the 1930s. Miss Brodie isn’t really a loose cannon, but she doesn’t really stick to the curriculum either. As such, Maggie Smith is perfect.

Oh dear. I watched this back in March (when I wrote the above intro); pretty shocking that I didn't get round to reviewing this film at the time. I do remember that Maggie Smith's performance was tremendous; as the dynamic, romantic young teacher who could influence her girls, she is mesmerising. As a support, Gordon Jackson's music teacher managed to hold his own against Smith's vivacious character, but it is the girls who are the focus rather than the potential love interest.

The girls in Miss Brodie's class, particularly the main four who make up the "Brodie set", are all very good. Pamela Franklin who plays Sandy gives a very measured performance, and arguably has more of a story arc than anyone else, as her impressionable school girl matures and sees Miss Brodie for who she really is.

A grand little film with a towering performance from Maggie Smith. I just wish I could remember more of it without plagiarising IMDb or Wikipedia! But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
The Raid: Redemption
As stylish as it is brutal The Raid certainly doesn’t pull any punches
The Raid: Redemption
over 6 years ago

It would almost seem an obvious thing to say the The Raid heavily influenced Dredd (which I saw at the cinema upon release in 2012; only just seen The Raid), but it seems that principal photography started on Dredd before The Raid was released, so similarities are pure chance, presumably. You just can’t help the comparison though, even the Dredd music is reminiscent of The Raid.

But I’m not doing a double bill, this is about The Raid, which is an indonesian film directed by Welsh-born and raised director Gareth Evans. Go figure. As stylish as it is brutal the film certainly doesn’t pull any punches. The setup is very simple: a squad of armed police aim to take out a crime lord by getting into his building and fighting their way to the top to get to him. That synopsis doesn’t do it justice; there are a few twists, but it is the simplicity that makes it so good allowing the director and choreographers (one of which was the director!) to create some incredible sequences.

Made in glorious bone-crunching, bloody gritty-o-vision, The Raid is a very watchable (if violent), sometimes toe-curlingly ferocious film. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
A Trip to the Moon
Worth seeing
A Trip to the Moon
over 6 years ago

I think it’s hard to review La voyage dans la lune in the same way I do other films because of its age and uniqueness. Certainly the film is an incredible achievement for 1902, with some impressive sets and some simple yet ingenious effects created by Georges Méliès. Most striking is the image of the moon and the elegant way the camera slowly zooms in to reveal the face, just before the space rocket crashes in to one eye providing an iconic image of early cinema.

There are a few amusing bits (I found), not least the fact that all the scientists look like Dumbledore at the beginning, and there is a graphic drawn on a blackboard where I could only think “You can see here the Death Star orbiting the forest moon of Endor...”! And I do love the fact that having landed on the moon, all the scientists bed down for the night, sleeping under their coats!

The version I found on YouTube (see below, if I remember), had only very sporadic music, though I’ve no idea if it is the original score. I would guess not; though quoting from wikipedia “Méliès never required a specific musical score to be used with any film, allowing exhibitors freedom to choose whatever accompaniment they felt most suitable.” I was surprised that there were no intertitles though as there are to describe scenes of other early films I’ve seen such as Sherlock Jr (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925), or Metropolis (1927). This is no problem though as the story is told perfectly well.

Difficult to describe given its age, La voyage dans la lune is well worth seeing, not least because it is perhaps the first ever science fiction film but one of the first examples of a narrative film. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Along Came Polly
Fair enough, nothing hilarious
Along Came Polly
over 6 years ago

Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor who has only made it big in one movie, and is trying to rekindle his former greatness starting with a community production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Unfortunately this rags to riches tale (perfectly judged by PSH - he steals every scene he is in) is spoiled by some run-of-the-mill rom com story involving Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston.

0
Congo
If I see this film ever again in my life it will be too soon.
Congo
over 6 years ago

Two years after the amazing success of Jurassic Park (1993), another of Michael Crichton's novels gets the movie treatment. I don’t know who is to blame, distributors and producers looking to jump on the Jurassic-Crichton bandwagon, scriptwriter John Patrick Shanley, or director Frank Marshall. Probably all of them had a hand in this boring, excruciating and generally bad film.

Frank Marshall’s IMDb page says he is known for Back to the Future, The Sixth Sense and both Raiders and Last Crusade. As a producer. As a director his portfolio is rather less glamorous. Arachnophobia was alright wasn’t it? Can’t really remember. Similarly his direction of Congo is alright, just uninspired given some of the locations the characters go to.

The cast are largely ineffective, and no real dynamic exists between any of them in the expedition. OK, that’s not strictly true, Laura Linney’s company persona is set against the altruistic outlook of Dylan Walsh’s scientist; but unfortunately that is lost amongst red shirts and terrible accents from Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson. The worst offence is killing Bruce Campbell after only five minutes.

The story is very rambling, slow and boring. Sure there’s the overarching stories of returning Amy (gorilla) to the wild and Dr Karen Ross’ mission to find a research team who mysteriously vanished (including her fiancée), but there is 90 minutes of journey and non-events until killer gorillas are found. By which time I was more interested in watching the clock to go and make dinner. I haven’t read the book, but reading the brief synopsis on Wikipedia, it sounds like most of the details were recreated in the movie. I couldn’t help but think that the experience would have been more fun if it had been more of an Indiana Jones adventure into the jungle.

The final criteria of my rating is for specific details in the film, such as cinematography, special effects, music or sets. Well, I guess the film contained all of these elements because indeed a film did get made, but none of it stands out. I didn’t notice Jerry Goldsmith’s score at all. Not even the fact that Stan Winston and his studio did all the effects for the gorillas counts for much. Amy and the killer gorillas are no T-rex, Terminator or Queen alien, they’re not even a Thing/dog (yup, that was Stan Winston too).

A terrible beige affair from beginning to end, no sense of character, excitement or threat (unless perhaps you demanded a clause to say “Hail to the King baby” at some point). If I see this film ever again in my life it will be too soon. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Witchfinder General
Fun and at times unexpectedly stylish
Witchfinder General
over 6 years ago

With themes of isolation, helplessness and anarchy, this seemingly silly revenge movie is none-the-less fun and at times unexpectedly stylish. Vincent Price is the eponymous protagonist and as such is a great dead-pan witch hunter who genuinely believes he is “doing God’s work”. He never once loses his cool (until he gets an axe buried in him) which adds to the detached way he views human life, apart from his own.

Despite it being a revenge story (a very effective one as the viewer really routes for Richard - Ian Ogivly) involving witch trials, there are many surprisingly well composed shots, and some lovely silhouettes and tree lines.

The very first scene juxtaposes a beautiful hillside shot, peaceful with a silhouetted gallows, with the screaming of an accused witch being dragged to her sentence; nicely edited by Howard Lanning. The following scene, introducing the Parliamentarian troops is a really nice tracking shot through some lovely forest scenery before the horses trot into view.

There is also a strangely deliberately lit shot as Richard, Sarah and the Priest are having dinner; it's at the same table but all 3 are lit in isolation with complete darkness in between each character. I'm really not sure what the director/DP were trying to convey, perhaps that the three characters have their own separate stories and it won’t end well; but it certainly looks intentional.

All of this waffle is meant to give the indication that there is more to this film than just a 17th century story about burning witches. The direction by Michael Reeves (who died within a year of the release of the film) is smart enough to make this an unexpectedly imaginative and inventive film, and actually worth checking out. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Klaatu, barada, nikto
The Day the Earth Stood Still
over 6 years ago

Far from the CGI-heavy, plot-light 2008 version, this 1951 Sci Fi classic is a character-driven critique of cold war paranoia and burgeoning environmentalism. Unfortunately due to its age it also slightly suffers from the shoot first ask questions later mentality that plagues movies of this era; though certainly not a deal-breaker in such a fine film.

Following Klaatu (Michael Rennie) as he learns about the human race, our insecurities, our aggression and our reckless treatment of our planet is really a window into 50s American society. It’s quite striking how on the one hand the inhabitants of the B & B in which Klaatu stays accept him unquestioningly and let him look after the young lad, but at the same time everyone is mistrustful of strangers who might be a “Red”. To be fair, the film doesn’t shy away from these issues; the Secretary of State admits to Klaatu that the “world is full of tensions and suspicions”; and indeed like all good Sci-Fi, the movie highlights our politics and society.

Michael Rennie plays Klaatu just right, his cold observing demeanour matches the planet-observing alien perfectly. Patricia Neal is also good as Helen Benson with whom Klaatu shares his secret; but it is Billy Gray as the young Bobby who really shines.

Robert Wise’s direction is nothing special, but Leo Tover’s lighting is often beautiful: Klaatu stepping in and out of shadows, and the lighting of the spaceship interior in particular. Having said the direction is fine, I did really like the documentary feel that the opening minutes have; various TV and radio broadcasts increase the tension describing the approach of the spacecraft. If this was done today there would be 30 minutes of preamble as the the main characters were introduced way before anything interesting happened. I’ve just re-read my review of the 2008 film, and it seems this is indeed the case, lots of needless exposition.

Bernard Herrmann’s score is occasionally a bit too brash and startling when nothing is really happening on screen; but for the most part it is a fantastic eerie composition that really set the standard for Sci-Fi music making brilliant use of the weird electronic theremin.

A real Sci-Fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still stands the test of time. Perhaps not in its effects, but its storytelling, cast, score and its stylish production (Gort’s padded suit aside) are all top notch. All of which result in a very slick, enjoyable movie. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Kingsman: The Secret Service
I enjoyed the hell out of this
Kingsman: The Secret Service
over 6 years ago

How did I not know that this was a Matthew Vaughn film? If I'd have known, I might have made a sooner effort to see this. As it happens I managed to find the smallest screen at the Odeon in Leicester Square that happened to still be showing it. And by God I'm glad I found it. I enjoyed the hell out of this.

Following in the great tradition of Matthew Vaughn films, Kingsman is different to any of his previous films, at least in terms of genre. Perhaps there should be a new Matthew Vaughn genre, a Vaughnre if you will!

Having recently suffered through Tomorrowland, I was pleased to see more invention in the first few minutes of Kingsman that all of Brad Bird's snorefest. Vaughn's direction is controlled but fluid, and his ideas are as clever as ever. The cinematography is lovely and the action/fights are excellent, as might be expected from someone who as doubled Jackie Chan and has been stunt coordinator for del Toro films such as Hellboy 2 (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013) as well as Vaughn's own Kick-Ass (2010).

The cast are spot on. Who else could be the quintessential Englishman complete with bowler hat and brolly but Colin Firth? Mark Strong is also superb as Q come Mr Miyagi and looks mean in his Markies jumped with a big fecking gun. Naturally Samuel L Jackson and Michael Caine are superb.

I've never heard of Taron Egerton before, and a quick check of IMDB shows me why. However, he really grows into the role of new recruit upon whose shoulders the fate of the world will rest (not a spoiler, it was always going to happen given the events of the first ten minutes). He's perfect as the cocky Ned, who despite his unorthodox attitude progresses through the secret service training program with relative ease. He even brushes up well in his tailored Saville Row suit, but the glasses are perhaps a bit too far.

There is more than a hint of Bond in this (after all it's a British secret service story), but while giving a few 007 nods, it wisely doesn't try to emulate it and stays away from the usual clichés. I'm not familiar with Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' source graphic novel, but I now want to seek it out.

A seriously enjoyable film that has the hallmarks of a Matthew Vaughn film, but that is no bad thing. An excellent cast, brilliant inventive action and a booming soundtrack from Henry Jackman, not to mention a cameo by an unrecognisable Mark Hamill. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

-1
Waltz with Bashir
A very powerful story, beautifully told
Waltz with Bashir
over 6 years ago

Award-winning animated film telling the story of one man struggling to remember his part in the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut in 1982. In the present day following a conversation with his friend about flashbacks, Ari has a flashback that night about his complicity in the notorious Sabra and Satila massacre. He then travels meeting old friends to piece together what his role had been. As the movie finishes, animation gives way to actual footage of the aftermath of the massacre.

Though it is an animated film, it is beautifully shot; there are many rich colours, and many inventive uses of the "camera". It is a very powerful story, about an event that I knew nothing about - I would have been 5 years old. However, it is the kind of film that makes you want to find out more. Very powerful and made with tremendous attention to detail, definitely worth checking out. I should really watch it again. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

0
The Ipcress File
Great cold war espionage
The Ipcress File
over 6 years ago

The Ipcress File has all the hallmarks of a great cold-war iron-curtain espionage thriller, except that it's set in London. Michael Caine is Harry Palmer, a counter espionage agent who is investigating the disappearance of some of the country's top scientists. The whole film has a tremendous ambience due to a terrific score by John Barry, sets by Ken Adam and a great washed-out look. Michael Caine is effortlessly brilliant; not the same cheeky character as The Italian Job but never-the-less someone who knows when to go against protocol to get results. Gordon Jackson is good as Palmer's partner as are both Nigel Green and Guy Doleman, Palmer's two superiors.

There are plenty of twists, though not so many to make the plot impregnable; my only issue was that when we found out what the Ipcress File was and what it involved, I didn't feel that it was explained WHY the perpetrators were doing what they were doing. For me that left the end of the film rather flat. Otherwise I was completely engrossed, and completely in love with John Barry's music. but, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

0
Tomorrowland
Overpromises but under-delivers
Tomorrowland
over 6 years ago

From the director of Ghost Protocol and The Incredibles comes a film which celebrates the fact that the future will depend on dreamers, inventors, artists; generally creative types. And I think that this should be applauded. However, for a film about the future and its endless possibilities, Tomorrowland shows a distinct lack of imagination. OK, so the future looks kinda cool, at least for the dozen people that seem to live there, but the execution of the film was just boring.

I almost felt like I was watching a road trip movie. After every "exciting" action scene, it seemed like the characters had to have a debrief in a car; far too much exposition which just took all the momentum out of the film. Things looked up for a while when Clooney appeared on the scene, but they only escaped his Heath Robinson house to have another car-exposition moment. The Eiffel tower moment was quite cool though. I also felt that there was a few strands of plot that went nowhere, and the less said about the tachyon-reasoning finale the better.

Clooney is obviously as watchable as always, whether he is robbing a casino, having his fingernails pulled off or looking for anyone trained in the metallurgic arts, his style is effortless. Hugh Laurie does well with the time he is given, but credit must be given to Britt Robertson playing the idealistic dreamer who is central to all the events.

Unfortunately the cast cannot stop this from being a boring turgid mess of a film that lurched from one inventive yet misfiring action scene to another. Great concept for a film - telling us that dreamers are the ones who will make a difference - but it falls foul of overpromising and under-delivering. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

0
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Don’t bother. Really. Don't bother
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
over 6 years ago

I don’t think there is really much I can say about this movie, other than it probably would have been much better if it hadn’t taken itself seriously. Why would a film that tells this secret life of one of the most famous Presidents not do so with its tongue firmly in its cheek?

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, the same guy who brought us Nightwatch (2006) and Wanted (2008) some parts do have some style, but these incidental scenes are the exception rather than the rule, and besides, they’re obviously CGI.

The cast is all fine without being outstanding. Benjamin Walker is alright in the titular role. The biggest name is Rufus Sewel as Adam, the main bad guy, but has little to get his teeth into. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Anthony Mackie round out the actors that are familiar to me; well apart from a cameo (why would you cameo in this film?) by Alan Tudyk.

In all fairness the movie is not as crap as it could have been; I’m now desperately trying to think why not. I guess everything came together to make it not terrible. Fair enough cast; a few nice transitions; quite a cool fight scene in black and white at Adam’s plantation (think Matrix Reloaded with some 300 in black & white); plot (beyond the ridiculous premise) works alright… No can’t do it. I’ve just tried explaining it to my wife, and it is truly silly. Vampires in the American civil war? Silver bullets but not daylight? Naff training montage that essentially consisted on axe-spinning, never mind being able to fell a tree with a single chop just because he’s angry! All such rubbish.

In short, don’t bother. In my head I equate this with Dracula Untold; I wonder how bad that is? Just noticed from IMDB that Dominic Cooper who plays Abe’s trainer is also in Dracula Untold. Mmmm, make of that what you will. I know what I think; but, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion man.

0
Dredd
The film Max Payne should have been
Dredd
over 6 years ago

I think I've only ever read one Judge Dredd story so I don't really know the Mega City One canon; but having suffered through the 1995 abomination with Sly Stallone, I wasn't especially keen to see this one. With Stallone's butchering of Dredd's most famous line "I am nnlaaaaa!" still ringing in my ears I found myself going to see this because I had read and heard such good things about it. My verdict? This is the film Max Payne should have been!

Brilliantly gruesome, tremendous sound all round (guns, explosions, bone-crunching and thumping soundtrack) and Slo-Mo. I was worried that there was going to be too much Slo-Mo after the first 10 minutes, becoming over-used as the film's gimmicky feature, but happily it calmed down. Karl Urban was pretty good considering we only ever see his chin, he was grim, gritty enough, and seemed to fit being an aggressive bastard perfectly. Though his constant frown must have been exhausting. Lena Heady was a suitable psychopath (looking a lot like Nina from the first series of 24), but apart from the flashbacks I didn't feel that there was enough menace about her. Olivia Thirlby was also good as psychic newbie Judge Anderson; wanting to become a Judge, she is really thrown into it when Dredd is told to take her into the field for assessment. Initially not sure about making decisions under pressure, she slowly comes into her own, before finally coming to a choice about her future.

The level of detail in Peach Trees (the tower block investigated by Dredd and Anderson) is very good; the kisoks, info-booths right down to the cages protecting the CCTV cameras. The cityscapes of Mega City One look tremendous, but obviously take more than a little inspiration from Bladerunner. The 3D was OK, I guess the Slo-Mo scenes were specifically made for it, but otherwise I'm sure it wouldn't have lost anything by being in 2D.

Director Pete Travis has done well to turn a very simple story into and exciting, engaging film that manages to steer clear of being naff, cheesy or clichéd. This was probably helped by a smart screenplay by Danny Boyle favourite Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go). Everything adds up to a surprisingly good film, proving that even simple blockbusters can be fresh and intelligent.

0
Resident Evil
Overall I enjoyed Resident Evil far more than I expected to
Resident Evil
over 6 years ago

Resident Evil isn’t the first film based on a computer game, and in 2002 is wouldn’t be the last; not least because of the various sequels of this particular franchise. Tomb Raider (2001) had its merits, though the sequel Cradle of Life (2003) didn’t. I seem to remember the only good thing about Doom (2005) was the first person shooter moment that Karl Urban has, which is really what Doom was all about anyway. In this illustrious company Resident Evil doesn’t exactly stand out, but it also doesn’t fall into the mire of awful adaptations (I’m looking at you Streetfighter).

The setup to the film works really well. Umbrella is a huge corporation that owns so many products that 90% of homes contain something made by them; additionally they have huge lobbying clout. So, Unilever or Nestle then. Of course the real work of Umbrella is military hardware, illegal and morally questionable genetic research. So, Dow, Monsanto or any Western government then. Sorry, I’ll stop being so political. Essentially, the idea of an ethically suspect multinational is just as relevant today as it was in 2002.

I’m coming at this having never played the computer games, so I have no idea if any of this movie rings true to its origins or conforms to accepted canon. So I felt that the first half an hour had plenty of tension and intrigue as I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to play out or what caused the disaster. About half an hour in and most of the exposition and explanation has happened, the plot then becomes a bit more of us against them zombie shooting, but still has enough in reserve to keep it interesting.

The plot device of having Alice (main protagonist played by Milla Jovovich) lose her memory at the start only to have her remember in burst of flashback means that the viewer is drip-fed background info as the movie progresses. Perhaps an obvious thing to do, but it does mean the second half of the movie isn’t just all about killing zombies, we do engage with the characters a bit.

I know that Paul WS Anderson isn’t the greatest director (and he did himself no favours with The Three Musketeers (2011)), but generally I like his style. He uses the computer generated plan of the research complex to track the characters to give us an idea of where they are. He uses the same idea - but slicker - in AVP (2004). I also liked the opening shot as the camera slowly zooms into to an isolated workbench where a researcher is manipulating a pathogen. There are other occasions when the camera does interesting, or at least less than boring, movements, sometimes blending current events with historical so we get a feel for the situation. He's generally quite inventive.

For the most part, the cast is fair enough. Strange seeing Daniel (Eric Mabius) from Ugly Betty in a different role. Milla Jovovich is fine, as are all the military grunts involved. I suppose one of the other main characters is the computer Red Queen. A bit HAL, a bit Mother or even Skynet and is certainly very important for the story.

Sure, there are plenty of moments when my spidey science-sense was tingling. Not least in the design of the vials of virus. They look like they’ve been designed by someone who has heard of the DNA double helix, thought it sounded cool, without actually knowing what DNA was, or indeed the words “double” and “helix”. Completely ridiculous and impractical. Sure there are those moments where a character behaves stupidly just so the plot can progress. But overall I enjoyed Resident Evil far more than I expected to. Cool sets, and OK cast, interesting story (for one who knew nothing about the games) and a thumping soundtrack. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

0
Van Helsing
Bad, very bad
Van Helsing
over 6 years ago

It starts off in an almost promising way. It's quite a nice idea for the beginning to start at the end of Frankenstein, hypothesising what might happen next. However by the time it cuts to a year later and Van Helsing is introduced it all goes to shit. So the promise only lasts about 5 minutes then, it soon fades and crapness abounds.

Even Hugh Jackman can't polish this turd of a film. He desperately tries to channel his inner Wolverine into Van Helsing, but there’s really nothing to work with in the boring plot and clunky dialogue. Richard Roxburgh as Count Dracula tries to ham it up, but really just fucks it up. Having been perfect as Faramir and even good in 300, David Wenham is woeful as friar Carl. I guess Kate Beckinsale is meant to be eye candy, but she is as far from the almost identical character of Selene as possible; if that's possible.

There is also plenty of rubbish plotting. Why does VH work for Alun Armstrong in The Vatican? Why is Q-branch from James Bond underneath the Vatican with David Wenham’s ropey friar heading up the research? I suppose at least friar Carl does a better job than Q ever did in Bond (see Octopussy). Why do we see Kate Beckinsale in the clouds rejoining the rest of her dead family, why, why? NB, this is not a Carl Weathers and alligator waving at Happy Gilmore kind of a moment, this is a serious naff cheesefest kind of a moment! Why, when Dracula walks up walls and onto the ceiling, does it look like it predates the special effects that allowed David Bowie to do it in labyrinth 20 years earlier?

So many parts are lifted from other movies: Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman are obvious, but Labyrinth, The Good The Bad and The Ugly and James Bond too? So many other parts are nonsensical, not followed up or just plain stupid they're too numerous to mention.

Stephen Sommers must take the blame for most of this as both writer and director, but the same is true of The Mummy, so I don’t know what went wrong this time. Overall this is just worth avoiding, the first 5 minutes do not make it worthwhile seeing. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Underworld: Awakening
Kinda fun, but ultimately lacks the bite of the first two films
Underworld: Awakening
almost 7 years ago

I have quite a soft spot for vampire/werewolf films (apart from An American Werewolf in London which still scares the bejesus out of me); I really like Underworld, Evolution and even Rise of the Lycans had its moments. So though I didn’t imagine it would blow me away, I hoped Awakening would still be Underworldly.

It is kinda fun, but ultimately lacks the bite that the first two films had; this is despite Selene killing more than she does in her previous outings (IMDB trivia). This lack of impact is possibly because a lot of the kills are human. I guess it is a logical progression for the humans to find out, but its slightly less fun than the vampires and lycans beating seven hells out of each other. It’s rather like droids being killed in the Star Wars prequels rather than Imperials.

When there is some lycan action, they all look a bit too cg. Actually a bit like the hell dogs from Ghostbusters. Indeed some of the action is so obviously geared for a few 3D money shots it feels like it is all choreographed to this end, and entertainment can go hang. However, some of the sets (vampire hideout) and cinematography (lab exteriors) are pretty cool.

Kate Beckinsale is great (and hot) again as Selene but much as I appreciate her in a tight black outfit, there was a few too many shots of her landing in hero pose and standing up slowly. Actually, I’d never really thought of it before but Selene really is a cross between Trinity and Lara Croft. No wonder I like Underworld.

Charles Dance tries to channel his inner Tywin to fill Bill Nighy’s boots, but doesn’t quite pull it off. He just looks uncomfortable with a mouth full of pointy teeth. Stephen Rea is good, though his attempt at an American accent comes and goes; more goes really; and he doesn’t say bollocks nearly as much as he does in V for Vendetta (shame).

India Eisley (never heard of her) is essentially the mcguffin of the film, though her presence is a fairly obvious plot “twist” and her performance just involved pouting and snarling. Kris Holden-Ried doesn’t really do any acting as the guy who turns into a massive lycan; the most interesting thing about him is that his IMDB profile describes him as “Pentathlon Champion. Father. Werewolf... “!

As I say, kinda fun; I like the story generally, it just doesn’t seem to gel properly, and there’s far too much bloodless exposition. Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein presumably know a thing or two having directed several episodes of the hugely popular series The Bridge, but by the time the credits roll on Underworld Awakening the overall feeling is one of ambivalence. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
The Theory of Everything
Hugely enjoyable and superbly acted
The Theory of Everything
almost 7 years ago

In much the same way that 127 Hours is James Franco’s film and Moon is Sam Rockwell‘s film, so The Theory of Everything belongs to Eddie Redmayne. Of course Franco only cut his arm off, so he only got as far as nominations for Baftas and Oscars, and Rockwell was never going to get a nod for a Sci-fi film; only by going with the full Illness was Redmayne assured of award. Not being Sci-Fi meant that Theory would do alright come award season, but given that the film is about such a brilliant scientific mind, the film is rather light on the Sci.

Of course he fully deserves his awards, I didn't for a second think I wasn't watching Stephen Hawking. Somehow Redmayne manages to capture the brilliance and humour, as well as the physical aspects and emotion of Hawking. Truly exceptional. Felicity Jones is also excellent as his wife Jane, always outwardly 100% supportive of Stephen but inwardly often struggling to cope. She also deserves her BAFTA for leading actress.

Look beyond the main two performances though and there's nothing that particularly stands out. I'm sure it's probably a good adaptation of the book. Other than getting those two ace performances James Marsh's direction is fine, it just isn't that thoughtful or inventive; this isn't 127 hours, Buried or even The Imposter. The editing is fine, using a good ole montage to show how the family is coping with each progressive stage of motor neurone disease is basic yet effective. I'm afraid I don't remember the music at all.

The overall impression is of a very splendid film; not spectacular, but well-crafted and superbly acted. All the ingredients for a theatre-filler are there: heartbreak, humour, romance and cockle-warming triumph over adversity. It sounds like I'm being a bit frivolous, but make no mistake, it is a hugely enjoyable film. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Immortals
Theseus, Gods, Titans, swords, spears, stylised fights? What could go wrong?
Immortals
almost 7 years ago

It took me a while to decide whether Immortals was complete crap or entertaining nonsense. I think it was the latter. Theseus, Gods, Titans, swords, spears, stylised fights? What could go wrong?

It seems that director Tarsem Singh was heavily influence by Zack Snyder’s 300, though he didn’t pitch it too over the top or hammy. Except that nobody told Mickey Rourke, whose Hyperion (bad guy) was hammier than a side of pig. He also had the most ludicrous helmet, somewhere between a shark’s mouth and a lobster claw. To paraphrase Blackadder; it is the most ridiculous helmet “...since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside.”

Henry Cavill is fine as Theseus (hero), with a chin chiseled enough for a prison break and for a future Man of Steel. Not as dynamic as Gerard Butler’s Leonidas but not as vacuous as Sam Worthington’s Perseus. Luke Evans is pretty good as Zeus - a rejuvenated John Hurt, but none of the other gods really get a name never mind much divine intervention. Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are also there; Freida as the Virgin Oracle who loses both her virginity and oraclity to Theseus (think Solitaire in Live and Let Die), and is then forgotten about; Stephen as, erm, someone else.

There’s a great deal of exposition and much of it is in semi-darkness (to hide bad CG?) or mumbled; Mickey Rourke almost mumbled as much as Jeff Bridges in True Grit. There is also much beard stroking about the Epirus bow (mcguffin) and how it can free the Titans (bad); until Theseus finds it in his village and then almost immediately drops it so that Hyperion can obtain it. It’s worth noting that Hyperion is only the bad guy because he was on the losing side in some ancient war for which the “good guys” were just as much to blame for starting, only they won.

This is all explained in the prologue, which is narrated by John Hurt to give it some gravity and credence. But the nonsensical reason for the good and evil sides is symptomatic of the half baked ideas, sloppy storytelling and plot holes. I started this review saying I wasn’t sure if it was total crap or entertaining nonsense, I think I’ve talked myself into the former. Sure, there are some nice action moments with a few steady cam shots as Theseus carves through opposition soldiers, again taking the lead from 300; but I don’t think they can really salvage this clumsy swords and sandals romp.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an abomination like Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans (though Trevor Morris’ Immortals soundtrack is nowhere near as good as Ramin Djawadi’s in COTT), and if I watch it again it might enjoy it more, but as it stands I think it’s a missed opportunity for a good old mythological adventure. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Very Engrossing
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
almost 7 years ago

To be honest I didn't really notice the filmmaking particularly because I was so engrossed by the story. Which probably means that director Francis Lawrence did a great job. Not amazing, I like to think I might have noticed that; but clearly good enough to be commissioned for the next two movies.

As with the first film, the cast were all solid: Jennifer Lawrence is a great Katniss; Woody Harrelson is very believable as the drunk, jaded tribute; Stanley Tucci is brilliantly smarmy as the game show host Caesar. Most notable new additions to the cast are Jeffrey Wright and the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman. Once again Toby Jones is criminally underused, but I guess in a story with such rich and diverse characters it's hard to meaningfully fit in everyone you like.

I haven't read the books so I can’t really comment on the merit of the adaptation, though I’m beginning to think that perhaps I should read them. One thing I did notice was the lack of triptychs. They featured heavily in the first film, presumably mirroring the way the public viewed the games in the different sectors; but here they were notably absent.

I can’t really think of much more to say, which I’m sure is a good thing. I did really enjoy it, I should probably watch it again to be more critical. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Nightcrawler
Great film. Seedy, but great.
Nightcrawler
almost 7 years ago

Nightcrawler is one of those films that gets under your skin; indeed it crawls into you and makes you feel slightly dirty for enjoying it so much. It is a film that I thought was very much inspired by Drive, and indeed Jake Gyllenhaal is as unpredictable at the titular character from Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2011 film.

Jake himself is superb; a wiry, gaunt, intense anti-hero; he is singular in his purpose & determination, and though the first few scenes demonstrate what he is capable of we are forever worried about just how far he is prepared to go. As Lou Bloom, Jake is quite unpredictable; the scenes with Rene Russo often bristle with tension and anticipation and we're never sure where the conversation will go. He also gives a superb soliloquy as he is giving his demands to Rene Russo’s news editor, and certainly deserves his BAFTA nomination for Best Leading Actor.

As all the filming of the incidents takes place at night, there are many dusk/dawn shots which take full advantage of that magic hour when the light is so sumptuous; almost makes LA look pretty at times. Perhaps this is to be expected of the DOP who brought us There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Town (2010).

Perhaps it was my imagination but as Lou became more accomplished with the camera, knowing how to frame shots to draw the viewer’s eye into the picture, I felt that the movie itself became more stylish. In particular there was a great shot as Lou is driving (his very conspicuous red car) and the camera stays down low and sweeps around from front to back.

Director Dan Gilroy has made a very smart, stylish yet somehow seedy film. A beautifully shot movie with great performances from the actors, this is a damn fine film for a first time director, perhaps one to watch. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Krull
Perfect Sunday Afternoon Nonsense
Krull
about 7 years ago

Directed by the guy who gave us Bullitt; featuring Liam Neeson, Alun Armstrong, Robbie Coltrane and Todd Carty, with music by James Horner and cinematography by the same dude who did Empire Strikes Back, what's not to like?

Well I guess there's the ropey plot, suspect SFX and naff fight choreography, and the fact that the love interest/damsel in distress never actually appears to be distressed by the fact she has been abducted by some alien monster with Michael Elphick's voice; but other than that this is perfect Sunday afternoon nonsense.

1
The Three Musketeers
Real Rubbish
The Three Musketeers
about 7 years ago

There is absolutely nothing to recommend this film at all. There is none of Paul W. S. Anderson's sometimes visual flair, no interesting characters (Mads Mikkelsen's Rochefort and James Corden's Planchet are possible exceptions), nothing exciting happens and the story is just two episodes of Dogtanian stuck together (with a shoehorned in Fistful of Dollars joke) with everybody speaking in their own accents. Even Christoph Waltz' performance is flat.

0
Insidious
Not as toothy as Saw
Insidious
about 7 years ago

Best known for directing the the inventive torture horror Saw (2004), James Wan’s haunted house ghost story lacks the teeth of his first success. Starring Patrick Wilson as Josh and Rose Byrne as his wife Renai, Insidious tells the story of their family moving house for a fresh start. This all turns sour as their son mysteriously falls into a coma; provoking thoughts of possession etc.

Written by previous Wan collaborator Leigh Whannell, the first half is very creepy, mysterious, and manages to keep the viewer guessing. There are some very unsettling moments, all the while the screechy discordant music composed by Joseph Bishara ramps up the tension. However, the second half of the film attempts to explain the hauntings and consequently destroys any atmosphere; the movie then runs like a paranormal X-Files episode.

I find it strange that Josh and Renai can afford such big houses on one teacher’s wage, but at least the big houses allow the camera to sweep around which it regularly does: there are several lovely tracking shots. Keeping the camera moving makes for a very stylish film, despite the usual tropes of a haunted house thriller. I say usual tropes, there is more going on than the usual ghost story, it’s just that the scares are nothing new.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are both very good, and play off each other in a convincing way, each carrying their own baggage into the situation they find themselves in. It is their relationship that sells the film; if we weren’t invested in the characters, the events would all be meaningless. I was initially going to call this movie Insipidous, but a second viewing convinced me otherwise. A suitably inventive and creepy movie, let down by a third act that tries to explain and understand the events surrounding the Lambert family. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

0
Interstellar
A spectacular film that wouldn't let my brain slow down for a long while afterwards.
Interstellar
about 7 years ago

Does it say something about my taste in movies that the two movies I really wanted to see this year were purely because of the director? The first was Godzilla. I was so impressed by Gareth Edwards’ debut Monsters (2010) that I was really excited with what he’d do with Japan’s most famousest monster. The only other film on my definite hit list was Interstellar. I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan ever since I first saw Memento (2000) and was desperate to see a film of his out in space; especially since Gravity (2013) blew me away last year. I wasn’t disappointed.

I should point out that there are a couple of spoilers in this review. I generally try not to spoil anything in my writing, but if you’re anything like me, you won’t read anything to do with a film that you want to see and form your own opinion on. So, to infinity and beyond!

With the Earth increasingly unable to feed itself due to an undefined “blight” ruining crops (and presumably a desperate lack of Food Security policy), an underground group of NASA scientists are looking to the stars for an alternative home. That might sound like an IMDB descriptor, but that, in a nutshell, is the setup for everything that follows.

It’s probably hard not to make comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but I’m going to try. The only comparison I will draw is scientific (ish), and that is the lack of any noise (other than music) when we are exterior to the spacecraft. There is no sound of boosters, or thrusters and indeed a spectacular crash later on has all the more impact because it is so sudden and silent. That’s probably where the good science ends; I’m not an astrophysicist though, so my enjoyment wasn't ruined; and after all this is science fiction not fact.

I had no problem following the plot, certainly more straightforward than Inception (2010); this could be because we at least have some concept of space travel, while delving into different levels of the subconscious is a little more obtuse. Having said that, there is a similar theme of temporal distortion running through both films; though here it has the rather accepted name of relativity as a consequence of speed and gravity rather than lower levels of dreams moving slower.

In terms of the film-making, Interstellar looks as good as anything we see on our screens these days, with excellent production value. Almost all movies set in space since Alien and Star Wars have that space-truckin’ lived in look, and the NASA craft here are no different; everything is functional and important, even more so as the agency is essentially an underground movement. Initially surprised that Nolan favourite Wally Pfister wasn’t DOP (I’m guessing he was busy with Transcendence when this was being filmed) I thought Hoyte van Hoytema (Let the Right One In, 2008; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 2011) does an amazing job of lensing this epic.

Certainly some of the money shots (in terms of punter-pulling as well as cost to put on screen) are some of the exterior shots as the Endurance transits across Saturn or Gargantua, and these do look phenomenal (I’m praying this is still on at the BFI IMAX in London when I’m there next month). Interestingly, Endurance is also the name of the ship that Ernest Shackleton sailed on perhaps his most famous voyage to the Antarctic. Following calamitous ice conditions, Shackleton’s expedition changes to one of rescuing his ship-mates and getting them home; similar to the feat undertaken by the Endurance of the movie as they try to rescue astronauts from their various planets, hoping they can bring them home.

I thought it refreshing that things go wrong because of human error rather than that of a machine. Error, or blind devotion to the mission. In this way Dr Mann is the HAL 9000 (sorry, 2001 reference) of the story in that the mission is everything, crew expendable. It actually turns out that TARS (the robot) is benign/useful/sarcastic and actually happy to sacrifice himself!

Having praised everything so far, I did think it was overlong, and a bit twee that Cooper was in fact behind the books communicating with his daughter; I just felt it tied everything together a bit too neatly (like the perfect rug). Though I did appreciate the attempt to render time as a fourth dimension, and it allowed for some more excellent Escher-like moments.

The cast are fine without being outstanding. McConaughey is good as Cooper and I forgot that I was watching a big star; in contrast I always thought of Anne Hathaway as Anne Hathaway. I actually thought that the 10 year old Murph (Mackenzie Foy) was better than Jessica Chastain, however I thought that Casey Affleck as the older older brother Tom was excellent, but criminally underused. I also had no idea Matt Damon was in this, so his introduction was a real curve-ball for me, especially given his actions. However, I would have liked to have seen more of John Lithgow, whose work I’ve admired ever since Footloose!

The score was excellent but quite un-Hans Zimmer-ish. Initially l was sure it would be long-term Nolan collaborator Zimmer who was composer. But about halfway through I became convinced that the score was composed by Philip Glass. The music sounded so much more like some of his delicate compositions from Kundun (1997) or Watchmen (2009) rather than the traditional big bold themes that Zimmer is so good at. Though of course there is still the occasional BRAHHHMMM!

I think that’s all I want to say, other than my brain didn’t stop running for several hours afterwards; not through incomprehension, just processing it all. I actually thought it was pretty great, though there’s something that prevents me from saying it was amazing. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps it was a little more style over substance, although for the most part the substance blasts a lot of other sci-fis out of the solar system. But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

1
Fury
A great film, with some very tense moments
Fury
about 7 years ago

With events that take place in the final months of the second world war, Fury tells of the exploits of a tank crew and the hell they have to endure. Having fought their way from Africa, through France and Belgium, the crew of the Fury commanded by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) are now in the lion’s den and are fighting their way through Germany.

Many war films concentrate on how horrible war really is, and though few have the impact of those first scenes in Saving Private Ryan (1998), Fury is none the less very visceral and hellish. However, when he does it right, director David Ayer creates some very dramatic, tense battles. There's a tremendous sequence when four allied Sherman tanks face off against a singular but far superior German Tiger tank; I think I really did hold my breath.

Brad Pitt is Brad Pitt; his tank commander a toned down version of his character from Inglorious Basterds (2009). Though despite enjoying the killing, Wardaddy does still like behaving like a human, as witnessed in the scene with the two German girls in their flat.

Perhaps not a revelation, Shia LaBeouf shows again that he can be good, as he was in Lawless (2012). As gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan and resident pastor, he's a well written character and the most memorable along with Wardaddy and Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) the newbie to the crew, through whose eyes we see the world of Fury. Norman is very wet behind the ears, thrown into a situation he never thought he'd be. His first task is to clean out the remains of the guy he's replacing: finding half a face by your seat is enough to make anyone throw up.

Steven Price who composed the excellent score for Gravity (2013) is the maestro here as well; though to be honest I don’t really remember the music as the percussion of firing tanks and artillery provide most of the accompanying sound. There isn’t as much gore and viscera as I expected and that’s probably a good thing otherwise it may have strayed into sensationalist territory. However, since the film was essentially about 5 men in a tank, I had hoped for better focus on the characters with more of a cabin fever vibe to proceedings.

Having said that, I thought this was a great film, with some very tense moments, made all the more real as so little computer imagery was used. I think I remember reading/hearing that the only CG used was for the tracer fire from the guns. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
What We Did on Our Holiday
Sad, funny and uplifting
What We Did on Our Holiday
about 7 years ago

Following on from their success with Outnumbered (and Drop the Dead Donkey), writers/directors Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin now bring us What We Did on our Holiday; a suitably sad, funny and uplifting film that places the kids at the centre of all the events.

With an ailing father (Billy Connolly), David Tennant takes his family (including estranged wife Rosamund Pike) to Scotland to celebrate his Dad's 75th birthday. Both Tennant and Pike are solid as is Ben Miller - Tennant's brother. Billy Connolly plays Billy Connolly, but that's no bad thing, and as it happens there's probably no one else who could encapsulate this character better.

Of course it's really the kids who are the crucial part of the film, and as such are spot on. They are obviously the primary source of the LOLs early on, including the youngest who has stones and breeze blocks as friends; but as the story progresses, the kids are the driving force behind the unfolding drama. You always hear that you should never work with children or animals when making a movie; but whatever experience Hamilton and Jenkin have with working with kids on Outnumbered, pays off here. They manage to get spontaneous, funny, yet sometimes nuanced performances out of these children

There are some glorious shots of the West coast of Scotland, so much so that it could almost be a visit Scotland advert. The landscape provides a beautiful backdrop for this dysfunctional family's tragedy, as well as a world inhabited by lovely peripheral characters such as Celia Imrie and Annette Crosbie.

The movie is typical in terms of its tragedy, humour and general upliftyness, very much in the style of Waking Ned (1998), The Dish (2000) or The Angels’ Share. But that's no bad thing, and it's certainly that little bit different as the kids are the focus of the movie. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Quatermass and the Pit
Generic thriller sci-fi with little to recommend it, or indeed little to remember.
Quatermass and the Pit
over 7 years ago

The eponymous Professor Quatermass (Andrew Kier) has been tasked to help Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) with the development a new rocket programme. Their first collaboration is interrupted when they call by to check on an incident in Hobb’s End underground station. They soon unearth an alien spacecraft; a craft that has been there a very long time.

Director Roy Ward Baker (A Night to Remember, 1958), is a steady pair of hands which are never-the-less tied by a forgettable story and wandering plot. There is the interesting idea that the human race is a result of experiments carried out on our ancestors by the insectoid Martians 5 million years ago (a theme also explored the following year in 2001: A Space Odyssey), but the concept of the race memory is a step too far.

Sure, I like the way that the opinion of the scientists are trusted, and the fact that we see some lab research (spurious science notwithstanding). But nothing memorable happens, apart from a very rushed ending involving a floaty psychic alien (ghost?) thing which is destroyed by crashing a crane into it! Perhaps not exactly a Deus ex machina, the resolution only occurs to Quatermass in the final few minutes of the film.

I realise that in terms of special effects, a Hammer production can’t really compete with those of Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey (both of which were released the following year), but I feel those in Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) or even The Plague of Zombies from the the previous year are better than the cardboard insects on offer here.

Generic thriller sci-fi with little to recommend it, or indeed little to remember. Competently directed with a good cast and some nice ideas in the story, let down by some more ridiculous ideas and some spectacularly bad special effects. In fact the most interesting thing could be this line from the parents guide in IMDB: “The giant locusts could be frightening to some viewers even though they are dead”. Locusts or viewers? Says it all. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Brighton Rock
Mesmerising Attenborough
Brighton Rock
over 7 years ago

Based on the novel by Graham Greene and directed by John Boulting, Brighton Rock is the story of Pinkie Brown (Attenborough) a small-time gangster in Brighton who has just become the new leader of a small-scale mob gang.

Make sure you're paying attention from the start, if you're still making a cup of tea/pouring a pint you'll miss the lightning pace exposition. However, once the intro is over it slows right down, as Pinkie and his gang follow their primary target, charting his every move around town before disposing of him in Dante's Inferno (a ghost train ride!). It's a beautifully choreographed scene, and you might be forgiven for thinking that nothing goes unnoticed in Brighton by Pinkie's gang. The film settles down when Pinkie meets Rose (Carol Marsh), though the relationship is driven by Pinkie's need to suppress any evidence Rose can give against him.

I admit that the only time I've seen Richard Attenborough in front of the camera before is as Richard Hammond or Big X in The Great Escape. So to see him as a devious gangster takes some getting used to; this is helped by the fact that he's so great. Sometimes he may not say much, but his thoughts are conveyed via the medium of shifty eyes! He often reminds me of Al Pacino in The Godfather.

Pinkie never really seems in control but Dickie's brain is always working behind those shifty eyes, looking to exploit a situation or looking out for anyone that may cross him. At the start of the film it is actually a while until Pinkie finally speaks, and then he suddenly explodes, all the stress of suddenly being de facto leader boils over.

Surrounding him are characters that trust Pinkie as much as Muldoon trusts a Velociraptor, who are all played by an accomplished but unknown to me cast (apart from a pre-Dr Who William Hartnell). Carol Marsh is pitch perfect as Pinkie's naive and scared girlfriend; always jittery, but drawn to the sharp-dressed bad-boy image. Hermione Baddeley seems to have got lost on the way to a Carry On film, but she is functional enough in her sleuth role.

The first time I watched Brighton Rock I enjoyed it, though I was very sleepy. I watched it a second time yesterday and loved it. Richard Attenborough is fantastic, I was able to follow the exposition better, and everything flows smoothly. Some may find the final scene a little cheesy, but for me it works perfectly. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
First Blood
No fan of Stallone, but First Blood is very enjoyable
First Blood
over 7 years ago

OK, so I'm 37 and I've never seen a Rambo film until now. Does that make me a bad movie nerd? I've seen Son of Rambow which is brilliant, but I don't think that really counts. The whole premise of First Blood, that a Vietnam vet is treated badly by the Sheriff's Office of some small town so he runs into the woods and takes revenge, is fairly ridiculous; but it is a testament to the direction by Ted Kotcheff that the film is so much fun. It's all a bit A-Team as I don't remember many people dying despite all the explosions and violence, but it doesn't suffer because of it.

Probably one of the reasons I've never made an effort to see a Rambo film is that I've never been a fan of Stallone. If I'm honest, I've always preferred Arnie; he seems to feature in more films I'm interested in (I hate boxing, so Rocky is wasted on me), and even if Schwarzenegger isn't a great actor, at least I can understand him when he speaks!

Having said all that, Stallone was perfectly watchable as John Rambo; and though he isn't the most eloquent, the fact that I really routed for his character helped a lot. It does feel like the first part in a series, and I've no idea whether First Blood Part II was already planned, but as First Blood works great as a stand alone film, it really doesn't matter.

The only other main player of any real note is Brian Dennehy, who is great as Sheriff Will Teasle, the guy who arrests John for being a bum; even when he realises he's bitten off more than he can chew he belligerently goes after Rambo. All the other cops are fairly incidental; Richard Crenna plays Rambo's previous senior officer when in 'nam, but really only turns up at the end as more of a link to the next film

First Blood doesn't do anything particularly special, other than cement Stallone as a bona fide action star and convince me that he isn't all that bad. Well paced, and some brutal action, First Blood is very enjoyable. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Life of Pi
Spectacular
Life of Pi
over 7 years ago

A spectacular film, Life of Pi is told in retrospect as the titular character, Piscine, tells his story to a journalist. As a young man he suffered a life changing event which found him adrift in a lifeboat with some animals from his father's zoo, a story which he explains to the journalist will make him believe in God.

I've not read the book, but I'm sure the screenplay didn't come easy, so credit is due to David Magee and Ang Lee for having the vision to bring it to the screen. More than anything it is a film with moments of sheer beauty, in a similar way to Into the Wild (2007); Claudio Miranda fully deserving the Academy Award for cinematography. It almost makes the leap to a work of art as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) does, but isn't quite there. The kid Ayush Tandon is really very good considering it must have been him in front of a green screen for most of the shoot.

There were a few moments where a continuous shot would have been brilliant and to me, obvious; so their absence was a bit of a shame. Also the final "make you believe in God" bit, felt suddenly thrown in like it had been forgotten about. But these are only minor quibbles, overall the film is truly spectacular, visually stunning and completely engaging. I really wish I'd been able to see this on the big screen that it deserves. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Forbidden Planet
Slightly underwhelming, but fun all the same..
Forbidden Planet
over 7 years ago

The central premise of Forbidden Planet, that there is a darkness in all of us, lends itself perfectly to Sci-Fi; but for all the excellent sets and realised alien landscapes, I thought that I would have been more whelmed!

It was not the ravages of time that got to me (though it was particularly un-dynamic the way everyone shot at the Disney-rendered monster), rather that I just didn't buy the key relationship. Of course Robbie the Robot is the real star of the show, his whirring and blooping is completely brilliant and the real stuff of Sci-Fi legend. Walter Pidgeon is good as the stand-offish Dr Morbius and Anne Francis is suitably naive and uninhibited as Altaira. An unrecognisable Leslie Nielsen is uncharismatic as Commander Adams, and it is the relationship between him and Altaira that just wasn't believable. And that's rather crucial in terms of plot resolution.

This, and a rather ponderous tour of some excellent Krell technology means that Forbidden Planet fell short in my expectations of this cult classic. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
The Witches
A nice thriller with an sinister atmosphere
The Witches
over 7 years ago

More a thriller than one of Hammer's more traditional Horrors, the first hour of The Witches excels at generating an air of "what the hell is going on?". Miss Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) is employed as the new headmistress of the primary school in the idyllic village of Heddaby; but with strains of The Midwich Cuckoos and decades later Hot Fuzz (2007), Miss Mayfield realises something sinister is going on.

Joan Fontaine is really good as the innocent incomer, and is our window into the peculiar goings-on. As a large part of this mystery, the two main kids Ingrid Boulting and Martin Stephens are both very good, and the surrounding support cast also help weave a sinister tapestry of deceit. Perhaps most deceitful of all is the dodgy doctor played by Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp (1974-78); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Barry Lyndon (1975). He is a microcosm of the the weird village and as such is perfect; he just seems to have a natural air of conspiracy about him.

I’m finding that the more famous of these Hammer films (Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) excepted) are a bit underwhelming, whereas the more obscure ones (The Nanny (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and now The Witches) generate far more atmosphere and are far more entertaining & enjoyable. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Despicable Me
Apparently I should watch the second one.
Despicable Me
over 7 years ago

Well, that was underwhelming. Nice animation and a heartwarming story (perhaps wouldn't have been so warming if I didn't have a son), but otherwise, meh.

0
Re-Animator
More of a Sci-fi romp than anything else.
Re-Animator
over 7 years ago

If Frankenstein was the modern Prometheus then Reanimator is the modern Frankenstein. Except that the hard work has been done and all Dr West has to do is inject some luminous yellow liquid into the brains of dead people to bring them back to life.

Based on H P Lovecraft's story Herbert West: Reanimator, the film is very much in the 80s splatter movie style of Scanners (1981), The Evil Dead (1981) or Bad Taste (1987). Full of Dark humour and quite outrageous scenes, Reanimator is great fun despite being essentially daft and looking rather dated. The special effects, however, don't look dated. In the great tradition of practical horror (American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2 (1987) and even Aliens (1986)) the effects are all tremendously gooey and as far as I can tell all done in camera, which all adds to the fun.

Perhaps not so horrific by today's standards, Reanimator is more of a Sci-fi romp than anything else, more frenetic than atmospheric; but this doesn't detract from it at all. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Surprisingly good fun.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
over 7 years ago

I think in my head Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was similar to a Herbie film, so I wasn't really expecting a great deal. What I certainly didn't expect was a slew of 007 connections. For a start, the novel was written by Ian Fleming, with a screenplay created in part by Roald Dahl (You Only Live Twice) with additional dialogue by Richard Maibaum (various screenplays from Dr. No through to Licence to Kill); and the production design was by the mastermind of the volcano base - Ken Adam. It was even a Cubby Broccoli production!

I’m not even on to the cast yet. The nasty Baron Bomburst is none other than Goldfinger himself: Gert Frobe; Desmond Llewelyn makes a cameo appearance as Coggins the garage owner who is selling CCBB, and even Vic Armstrong (seasoned 007 stuntman - later stunt coordinator) is involved. Phew, I think that’s it; answers on a postcard (or in the comments if you prefer) if you think I’ve missed any Bond connections.

As far as the movie itself goes, well, I'm the first to admit that I don't like musicals, but I actually rather enjoyed CCBB. For two reasons probably. The first is Dick Van Dyke. His cheery eccentric inventor is quite an infectious character (and surely the inspiration for the most famous of inventors; Doc Emmet Brown - even his dog is called Edison), his personality perfectly encapsulated by the name Caractacus. I know him primarily as Dr Mark Sloan, and I was aware that he could sing, but I didn't realise how well.

Which brings me to the second reason I enjoyed the film; the songs aren't that irritating. Even the main song which is reprised endlessly is rather a fun ditty. Those tunes that aren't so good are for the most part completely forgettable, so can't get lodged in your head and drive you mad (Suddenly Seymour I'm looking at you). The children were for the most part pretty good and not so whiney and annoying, the introduction of the sinister child catcher keeps them on edge and if anything allows Caractacus and Truly Scrumptious (yes that's actually the name of the love interest) to act like children themselves. Speaking of Scrumptious, Sally Ann Hayes is a good counterpoint to zany Caractacus, even if she doesn't do women drivers any favours by repeatedly driving into the same pond.

Apart from all the obvious (dance numbers, nice special effects on CCBB) Ken Hughes' direction isn't too shabby either. The camera work is usually quite fluid, and was creative enough even during the slower songs. Choreography of the dances was very good, in particular the performance in the circus was quite amazing, not least because it must have been really hard for DVD to have been half a move behind everyone else at the beginning.

So there we have it; I don't think I'm particularly becoming a convert to musicals by any stretch, but given the right cast, choreography and tunes I can quite enjoy them. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Senna
A fascinating insight into a sportsman
Senna
over 7 years ago

I’ve never cared for Formula 1 at all, but the strength of Senna is such that for 100 minutes I did care. Though I was aware of the final outcome, the way the story is told; Senna’s rivalry with Alain Prost, as well as showing the politics of the various teams, was engrossing. The documentary is made completely with historical footage of races, interviews and home videos; but there is also interview voice over if the footage is silent. In this way, Senna is more akin to The Imposter rather than a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock film, which perhaps results in a less biased documentary, but I’m not the person to know. I’m not familiar with anything else that director Asif Kapadia has made, though on the strength of BAFTA-winning Senna I quite fancy seeing Odyssey, and his forthcoming Amy Winehouse documentary could also be interesting.

A fascinating insight into a sportsman I knew nothing about, told with skill and emotion, Senna is definitely worth seeing, even if you hate F1. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Godzilla
There is much to enjoy and celebrate in Godzilla
Godzilla
over 7 years ago

To be honest it wasn't the fact that Godzilla was being remade that I was bothered about, it was that Monsters (2010) director Gareth Edwards was making it. Monsters is easily one of the more interesting, atmospheric and thought-provoking sci-fi films of recent years (along with the superb District 9, 2009), and the guerilla seat of the pants production made it all the more impressive.

One of the key themes of Monsters is that nature should be allowed to take its course, and none of the creatures are naturally aggressive; it is only when humans attack them that they retaliate. In one of the final scenes, two monsters are engaged in a display of courtship, and the two main characters (the only two characters!) appreciate how beautiful these beats actually are. This idea of nature being left alone is revisited in Godzilla, eloquently put by Ken Watanabe's character: "The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control, and not the other way around".

And herein lies a flaw in the film. Laudable as it is to let nature get on with it, this translates into Godzilla and his antagonists having an almighty smack down in the middle of San Francisco, destroying half the city (a contractual obligation in these sorts of movies nowadays it seems) and all the human characters are completely inconsequential. The military have plans involving nukes, but are frustrated at every turn; and though a human element is introduced as (having just watched his father die) soldier Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is trying to get home to his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son; but it's all fairly banal.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it, because I really did. Gareth Edwards is a creative director and there were several stylish moments that had no particular reason to be, they just serve to enhance the film. He also manages to create a sense of tension on several occasions, even though we essentially know how things are going to pan out. Consider the scene where Ford Brody and the other marines are HALO jumping; we see the character’s claustrophobic eye view through the mask, seeing only snippets of the monster and the devastation below, all the time hearing only his breathing. Simple, yet effectively done. Rather than do his own cinematography, this time Edwards managed to secure the services of Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, 2007; Avengers, 2012), and consequently the film looks suitably atmospheric; nicely contrasting the dusty orange glows of a city being destroyed with the bright clear lines of the military installations. Adding to the atmosphere is a pretty great score from Alexandre Desplat, which is suitably big and thumping.

I also really liked the traditional design of Godzilla, reminiscent of the 50s and 60s Japanese movies and indeed the cartoon I remember watching when I was a kid. I also like the design of the two MUTOs, I thought they were very much like the Klendathu “Bugs” from Starship Troopers. There is therefore much to enjoy and celebrate in Godzilla, not least that Gareth Edwards demonstrates that Britain continues to produce some excellent directors; and the fact that the human element is rather inconsequential (other than a mechanism for us to witness the events) isn’t enough to reduce the impact of this Gojira.

1
The Bride of Frankenstein
To a new world of Gods and Monsters
The Bride of Frankenstein
over 7 years ago

I feel I’m starting to become a bit of a connoisseur of Frankenstein movies. Though, as I’ve said before, I was spoiled early on by seeing Danny Boyle’s stage production starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Both versions (the two leads swapped roles of Frankenstein and the monster) were fabulous and were closer to the source material than any of the movies I’ve seen yet.

The Bride of Frankenstein is the sequel to the original 1931 Frankenstein, again starring Boris Karloff as the monster and Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. The film begins with some rather unnecessary exposition involving Mary Shelly, her husband and a Lord Byron who is ridiculously pompous and overacts. The point is to remind us of the events of the first film, but despite some nice camera transition zooms, it’s a rather clumsy way to start the movie.

When the story properly begins it follows on immediately from the first film and we discover that the monster isn’t dead. There is a certain amount of knees bent running about involving some more rent-a-lynch-mob action; but crucially the victimisation of the monster is far more convincing than in the first film. The introduction of speech increases this misunderstanding. Apparently Karloff thought that if the monster spoke it would ruin its “charm”, but I feel that the introduction of the blind man that helps him begin to communicate helps create empathy with the creature as he becomes more self aware. In this scene in particular I thought Karloff showed his skill and really managed to create a sense of sadness and generate sympathy with the monster.

Aside from Karloff, the other crucial characters are Henry Frankenstein (still don’t know why he was renamed) played by Colin Clive, and Ernst Thesiger as Dr Pretorius. Colin Clive has a great manic energy that he continues from the first film and improves on; even when he is refusing to do the experiments his guilt is rather eccentric. Dr Pretorius is a calm collected counterpoint to Frankenstein, and is the driving force behind the new experiments. His introduction is a touch bizarre; he shows Henry several live homunculi he has created, complete with individual personalities and squeaky voices. It sounds better than it actually is, but I can understand the reason behind introducing Pretorius’ skill, and at least the special effects are surprisingly good. Clive and Thesiger work really well together, and it is their relationship that helps drive the film to its conclusion.

This conclusion is of course the creation of the monster’s bride, and is a wonderful blend of glorious sets, brilliant lighting and dynamic direction. As in the first film, James Whale makes excellent use of light and shadow, and nowhere is this better seen than when lightning is striking the creation. Frankenstein and Pretorius are filmed from above (looking down at them from the gods?) in shadow and their excited faces are suddenly lit by flashes of lightning. It is a far more dramatic creation scene than the first film, and indeed Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein. It then culminates in Colin Clive’s iconic “It’s alive!”. After all this superbity (new word), the final scene is a bit of a let down, and a self-destruct lever in the lab seems like a quick fix end to the film. Shame.

A vast improvement over the first film, apart from a clunky beginning and a quick fix end, The Bride of Frankenstein captures far more of the spirit of the novel; both Frankenstein and his monster are victims, and Karloff’s performance generates real sympathy with the misunderstood creature. The story demands less leaps of faith than the original film, and James Whale’s direction is sharper and more creative than before. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A great adventure and terrific fun.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
over 7 years ago

In all honesty, The Winter Soldier wasn't one of the two films I was looking forward to seeing this year. But since its enforced hiatus, Agents of SHIELD has been really good, so I was really wanting to know how the latest movie fit in.

I've not been aware of anything else that the Russo brothers have done, and, apart from the sequence on the ship at the start of the film which gave me a headache because the camera was all over the place, the direction was fine. Nothing particularly fancy or inventive, but not ham fisted either. Just fine. However, the direction was probably helped by a great story.

I'm certainly not a Marvel fanboy, though I have recently been sucked into this Universe. I guess that may make me slightly biased, but I've probably only been sucked in due to the, generally, great quality of the films. With that in mind; I thought the plot couldn't really be much better. It hit all the right points, tied in nicely with Agents of SHIELD, answered the questions I had, raised new ones, subtly referenced the other Avengers films and even Pulp Fiction! Sure there were a few plot fail moments, but they can be easily forgiven.

For their part, the cast all hit the right notes too. Chris Evans has the right chiselled jaw to be the all American hero and the chops for all the action too. He may be becoming typecast as a superhero, but while he’s doing it, he’s doing a grand job. Scarlett Johansson reprises her Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow role and is just as kick-ass as she is in The Avengers; very good. Joining these two is Anthony Mackie (took me ages to figure out why I recognized him: The Hurt Locker, 2008; The Adjustment Bureau, 2011) who becomes a significant ally as The Falcon. He’s fine, but doesn’t seem as natural in a full on sci-fi actioner such as this. Surrounding the main three is an impressive array of talent including Toby Jones, Cobie Smulders, Robert Redford, and of course Samuel L. Jackson. Also good to see Alan Dale pop up again, clearly it’s been a while since he was onscreen as a high-ranking pulling-the-strings character.

Naturally, a film such as this is heavy on the special effects, and they are top-notch, as would be expected from ILM. I can imagine there are sequences that were done digitally which could have been done in camera, though you don’t notice at all. The only obvious moment was the youngification of Captain Rogers, but I thought it looked superb; perhaps not the Winkelvii from The Social Network, but better than Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.

I think the only Henry Jackman score I’ve heard would be X-Men; First Class, but I can’t remember that at all. I felt that this score was equally subtle to the point of absence; I’m sure it worked perfectly within the movie, but I didn’t notice it at all.

I thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a great adventure and terrific fun. A great cast which work well together, interesting story and great production all round, continuing the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Bridesmaids
A very different and uproariously funny comedy that surely passes the Bechdel Test.
Bridesmaids
over 7 years ago

From the minds of Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo and presumably producer Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin, 2005; Knocked Up, 2007), Bridesmaids sounds like it should be a Chick Flick but it is far from that. Proving that it can mix it with the best gross out movies, and that women can be just as indecent and obscene as men, it features a great cast that play off each other really well. Though we assume Annie’s life (Wiig’s character) is going to be on the up by the end of the film, we never the less become invested in the character and care for her predicament. True also of Chris O’Dowd; he isn’t IT Crowd’s Roy, but his character is a grounded foil to Annie’s self-destructive persona, and though it isn’t a huge role we completely empathise with his reactions.

A very different and uproariously funny comedy that surely passes the Bechdel Test. There are some great characters, and some tremendous set pieces; perhaps the story is resolved a little quickly at the end, though this is quite a minor criticism. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Iron Man 3
Another solid entrant to the Marvel Movie Universe; fun, funny and very entertaining.
Iron Man 3
over 7 years ago

With the success of Marvel cranking out superhero after superhero movie it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember the chronology of all these films. Though after a brief search on the interwebz I did find this nice infographic. This just leads up to The Avengers, and it is in the aftermath of the events in New York that Iron Man 3 begins, and we find Tony having recurrent nightmares and panic attacks following his fall from the wormhole.

To be sure, it’s a vast improvement on Iron Man 2, which had an hour of meandering before Fury finds a bored Tony; this is despite the fact that there isn’t as much Iron Man action as I might have expected. Not a problem though as the story works well within itself and there is certainly never a dull moment. We see a Tony who is as resourceful out of his suit as he is in it.

Guy Pearce is reassuringly brilliant as Aldrich Killian, as is Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery aka The Mandarin. Both bring their A-game and lead Tony Stark a merry chase. Of course RDJ continues to prove that there is no-one else who could embody Tony Stark and is still the ideal mix of cocky, suave and action hero. Pepper Potts also has quite a major role in this outing, Gwyneth Paltrow has made this character her own; and she has seriously worked out for this film.

I’ve only seen Iron Man 3 the once and as I was concentrating on the plot I didn’t notice the direction too much, which tells me that it was capable without being spectacular. Shane Black has only directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which I’ve not seen) before this, so maybe it’s too soon to know what kind of director he’ll be. DOP John Toll has been fairly active and has helped bring the likes of Braveheart, The Last Samurai and Cloud Atlas to our screens; so I guess Iron Man 3 was in safe hands as far as lighting/camera goes.

Another solid entrant to the Marvel Movie Universe; fun, funny and very entertaining. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

0
Planet of the Apes
Get your filthy hands off this Tim Burton!
Planet of the Apes
over 7 years ago

We put this on our LoveFilm list in anticipation of seeing ROTPOTA in the cinema in the not too distant future. Mistake. I had been urged not to see it by fellow blogger Maynard Morissey over in his Horror Diary, but it was too late; it was already in the post, inexorably trudging towards us. The movie started off alright, after some random credits, but then after about 5 minutes an ape said “Get your filthy hands off me you damn dirty human!”, and the film went downhill from there. No character development, rubbish script, no fantastic Tim Burton design, rubbish script, nothing interesting at all, erm, rubbish script!

The film spent about 20 minutes cramming in everything that happened in the first 90 minutes in the 1968 film, and then the next hour making up some crap version of the ending. It was obviously meant to be more of an action film than the original, but leaving out all of the intrigue, emotion, plot, brilliant cinematography and acting ability! I was bored after 20 min, but there was still 80 minutes to go. And all the humans can talk!? Huh, in one fell swoop destroying one of the main narrative points of the first film. Mark Wahlberg was boring, Helena Bonham Carter was boring, Tim Roth was more interesting as Thade, the military general who just wanted to kill all humans; but it certainly was not a performance to rescue the film.

Rubbish, boring, and unimpressive. A waste of time. What a film for my 100th review! If you haven’t seen this film before, please do not.

0
The Pink Panther
One of the worst films I've ever seen
The Pink Panther
over 7 years ago

I was lent this film by a friend, who said that it was a bit of daft fun. I'm sorry Dave, but I wouldn't wish this film on anyone! I've never been a fan of Steve Martin, but here he is just embarrassing! His performance is based on the worst kind of slapstick, and no matter how many times he says "I would like a hamburger" in a stupid accent, it just isn't funny. The whole premise of the humour seems to be that it is funny when an American does a bad French accent, who then goes to New York and becomes an American doing a bad French accent trying to speak "American". It really isn't funny. I sniggered after 21 minutes, and again at 33 minutes! Yes, I made a point of noting when I "laughed". I would much rather watch 90 minutes of the English policeman who thinks he can speak French from 'Allo 'Allo!

Perhaps the only silver lining to this turd of a film is that Kevin Kline is good as Charles Dreyfus, the chief of police who counts on Inspector Clouseau failing, ie the villain of the film; and I really can't imagine what Jean Reno's agent was thinking! Otherwise this is a ghastly film, and I really can't think of anything else that needs to be said.

Actually there is one more thing to say; I'm staggered to find out that Shawn Levy who directed this abomination also directed Real Steel!

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12 Years a Slave
Seen as in-flight movie
12 Years a Slave
over 7 years ago

Perhaps not fully appreciated on a small screen set in the back of the chair in front, but it was still possible to appreciate the horror that plantation slaves had to endure daily. This abhorrent episode in human history is captured not only in some horrible scenes of trading the human cargo but also by a couple of stand-out gruesome torture scenes. Steve McQueen lets the camera linger on one of these moments, prolonging the agony while the audience is desperate for it to stop. The opposite is true for the other awful scene as the camera is whipped around between victims and perpetrators, echoing both Chiwetel Ejiofor’s state of mind as well as the torture itself. Surrounding the excellent Ejiofor is tremendous support including Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch and Lupita Nyong’o (Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress). A lot happens for a film just over two hours long, but it never feels rushed, which is a testament to both the screenplay and the direction. An excellent and important film which I must revisit on a screen worthy of its power.

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The World's End
Tremendous Fun
The World's End
over 7 years ago

Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two fabulous movies from the minds of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, the so-called blood and ice-cream movies. Now along comes The World’s End to complete the Cornetto Trilogy. With possibly the most star-studded cast of the trilogy (featuring Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, David Bradley, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan and Pierce Brosnan among others) the movie remains true to Wright’s roots and is quintessentially British. Simon Pegg’s character is the driving force of the movie but the interaction between the whole group of friends is excellent, though this estimable ensemble results in the usually brilliant relationship between Pegg and Nick Frost being diluted a little bit. The truth about the residents of Newton Haven doesn’t sit quite as naturally as a plague of zombies or an extreme neighbourhood watch; but once, introduced the idea works well, and certainly won’t get in the way of Pegg’s character finishing that pub crawl. Perhaps not as incessantly clever, inventive and relentlessly funny as it’s predecessors, The World’s End is still tremendous fun and of course features ice-cream, falling over fences and a pub brawl.

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Oblivion
Lacking that little bit extra to make it a really good film.
Oblivion
over 7 years ago

Oblivion is one of the many films I wanted to see last year, but I just didn’t get the chance. I’d heard mixed responses to the film so I was keen to take a gander myself. Tom is usually good to watch, and Oblivion is no different. Morgan Freeman is the other big name, but I felt he was mostly wasted, rather like in Wanted. Andrea Riseborough is good as Victoria, the soulless robotic woman who is Tom’s partner, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) is fine as Morgan Freeman’s head of security without really being able to excel as he does in GOT. The design was terrific and the effects were top notch, though overall I thought the film was missing something. All the best Sci-Fi has something to say about human nature, and I'm just not sure what this was saying. Maybe it's because it borrowed from some of the best Sci-Fi: there were definite strains of Planet of the Apes, Moon, Logan's Run and perhaps even Silent Running; the result is quite a mish mash of themes. A very enjoyable film (with an excellent soundtrack), just lacking that little bit extra to make it a really good film.

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Chronicle
Not spectacular, but it's very cool, great fun and entertaining.
Chronicle
over 7 years ago

Chronicle is not like other superhero movies; actually I don't think the characters are superheroes at all, rather they have superpowers. After the discovery of some weird alien crystals, 3 friends soon find, after blacking out, that they have mysterious powers (think Force pull/push). Naturally the first thought is not to use these powers to benefit mankind, but to do what any teenage boy would in this situation: abuse it for their own entertainment! This is where the film is strongest, and certainly the most entertaining; perhaps it's because I'm a bloke but I could completely relate (I think empathise is too strong) to the sense of awe and excitement that the 3 main characters feel. By the climax of the film this sense of wonder has been replaced by a requirement for the film to actually go somewhere, which (like Angry Birds, is hilariously fun initially but becomes a bore as you try to get maximum points) isn't so interesting. But I can understand why. The main 3 lads are fine, as I say, as I was able to relate to them; anyone else was really incidental. The special effects are all great, very understated in a Monsters kind of way, used to bring the story to life and concentrate on the characters rather than overwhelm it with CG. Chronicle doesn't do anything spectacular, but it's very cool, great fun and entertaining nonetheless.

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Twilight
Interesting in the same way as a snail crawling up your window.
Twilight
almost 8 years ago

The other day I referred to Twilight as Twi-shite, I can’t remember why; but my wife quickly pointed out that I couldn’t really comment because I’d never seen any of the films. Quite correct. I have never had the slightest inclination to read or see the series at all; so when it was on Film4 I decided, in the interests of science, that I should watch it.

Now, I am far more of a Kate Beckinsale in tight black trousers, Badass Bill Nighty Vampire vs Michael Sheen Werewolf kind of a guy, or perhaps Dog Soldiers; so it hardly broke my heart that my impression of Twilight was “Meh”. Actually I enjoyed it more than I expected (I expected to fall asleep), but after the first half of teeny high school crap I found that I actually wanted to know what happened at the end! Don’t get me wrong, I only found it interesting in the same way as a snail crawling up your window, but interesting none the less!

Like I say, I have no interest in ever reading any of the books, but I do feel that the story might work better as a book. Clearly the main focus is the developing relationship between Bella and Edward, but the way it was done was not nearly interesting enough to be a film. At high school I kept expecting Christian Slater and Winona Ryder to be sat in the corner of the canteen, and when we finally got to the vampire stuff (Bella was extremely calm and accepting of this), it was quite comical to see Edward scampering up trees and leaping between them like a lumberjack on speed.

Speaking of Bella and Edward, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were both OK, but both were trying too hard to be moody and intense to be realistic teenagers or interesting; Pattinson in particular, he clearly had really heavy eyebrows leading him to permanently scowl. Some of the wide landscape shots were really nice though, but otherwise I think Catherine Hardwicke's direction was fairly aimless and uninspiring. I think that’s all I have to say on the subject; other than I probably wont see any of the other films.

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The Curse of Frankenstein
Very entertaining and very watchable
The Curse of Frankenstein
almost 8 years ago

Hammer’s seminal Frankenstein movie is just as much a departure from Mary Shelly’s novel as the Universal “classic”, but for me it doesn’t grate half as much. That’s not to say there aren’t departures from the text or silly points in the plot, but at least there are no huge leaps or ridiculous name changes, and it starts with the right idea of Victor telling someone about his terrible deeds.

At the heart of it all is a, yet again, superb Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein; and in particular his banter with Robert Urqhuart’s Paul Krempe is excellent. Unfortunately Hazel Court’s Elizabeth is rather a wet fish; your usual Hammer damsel, rather than the relatively strong character she should be. Christopher Lee is good as the creature, though as he is silent (like Boris Karloff’s monster), it’s hard to fully appreciate him. Strangely when we first see the creature, he looks more like Al Pacino than Christopher Lee! Even the young Frankenstein (not the Gene Wilder one; he actually looks a bit like Armando Ianucci) is actually very entertaining, it’s a shame there isn’t more of him.

The Curse of Frankenstein is very well paced, packing in enough plot while still allowing Cushing and Lee to chew the scenery (if a mute part can chew scenery). While not the whole story and not a patch on Danny Boyle’s stage production, Hammer’s version is very entertaining and very watchable thanks to the strong main cast. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Meh!
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
almost 8 years ago

Holmes and Watson are trying to solve another mystery; this time investigating what appears to be a series of unconnected bombings, but which eventually put them on the trail of Holmes' nemesis: professor James Moriarty. Just like last time, Holmes uses some very unorthodox approaches to solve the case, but unlike last time the banter between Downey Jr and Jude Law just isn't the same which I think made the whole film feel a little flat. Director Guy Ritchie made an effort to make this film even funnier than the last, but I don't think I really laughed once. No, sorry, the state that Watson turns up to his wedding in made me snigger; but this isn't funny or necessary:

Despite Holmes having to try and outsmart Moriarty, I just found the story quite boring. I don't know why, because thinking back it sounds like it should be quite exciting, but it just seemed to really trundle along. Perhaps I was spoiled by having seen BBC's Sherlock (fantastic btw), which also sees Sherlock pitted against Moriarty in the climactic episode; but unlike Game of Shadows it is superbly crafted, impeccably acted, and fascinating & intriguing from start to finish. There is quite a cool action set piece about 2/3 of the way through the film, as lots of heavy artillery are used to try and destroy Sherlock and Watson as they flee through some woods; however, the sequence felt a bit shoe-horned in rather than flowing naturally.

Noomi Rapace is interesting as the gypsy Madam Simza Heron, she is probably the most developed character in the film; having said that Jared Harris' portrayal of Moriarty is also very good. Stephen Fry makes an appearance as a rather eccentric Mycroft Holmes. Again, both Downey Jr and Jude Law are good, and as before Jude Law comes across better, I think because he doesn't have to force his performance as Downey Jr does. As in the first film, Victorian England (and a lot of Europe this time) looks super, apart from one "night" shot of a train which is very badly done; clearly filmed in broad daylight but filtered to look like night; it stuck out like a sore thumb and it just looked cheap.

Overall I thought that it was a tepid, drawn out adventure, which tried too hard to be funny and exciting, and fell short on both. Guy Ritchie's usual style is clearly on show, but the film lacks the razor sharp banter of some of his earlier work and indeed the first Sherlock film; and his dramatic fight scenes look like a sub-standard imitation of Zack Snyder's quick/slow/quick techniques. I came out of Game of Shadows thinking "Meh".

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The Running Man
Good fun, and possibly cleverer than you would imagine
The Running Man
almost 8 years ago

The Running Man is a brilliantly 80s take on America's addiction to TV, so it's somewhat appropriate that it's directed by a TV star: Dave Starsky from Starsky and Hutch. Paul Michael Glaser has made quite a daft film, with a definite Paul Verhoeven vibe, but is none the less great fun. Preceding the likes of Battle Royale (2000) and The Hunger Games (2012), The Running Man is a gameshow (the world’s most popular TV programme) rather like Gladiators, except with more fatalities.

Originally penned by Stephen King, and adapted for the screen by Steven E. de Souza (Commando and Die Hard), the movie actually has more going on than you might expect; though I’m not sure how faithful the film is to King’s source material. In a world of increased crime & violence, the government sees no option but to fight fire with fire, cracking down on criminality with belligerent and enthusiastic ruthlessness. Of course they don’t care how many innocents are shot as long as they get their man; collateral damage eh? As well as the more obvious sideswipe at The United States of Television, the totalitarian state also does a mean job in re-writing history a la 1984. Naturally the media is crucial in enforcing this pseudo-reality so that the general public swallow everything.

Arnie is Arnie; a great action hero with some typically cringeworthy kiss off lines and lots of running. Yaphet Koto is rather wasted as Arnie's friend who predictably gets thrown into the arena and suffers. Maria Conchita Alonso is functional enough as the victim turn heroine/love interest, but the most interesting character is the TV presenter Damon Killian. As presenter of the TV show The Running Man, he is smarmy, arrogant and convinced he is in the right, giving the people what they want. Personified perfectly by Richard Dawson he really is what the film is worth watching for. That and some cameos by Jesse Ventura, and bizarrely Mick Fleetwood and Dweezel Zappa!

By no means a fantastic film, but enough going on under the surface to prevent it from being completely brainless. Apart from KIllian, the characters are all predictable and could be copy/pasted from any number of 80s actioners, but then that’s the joy of 80s Arnie, isn’t it? But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Such a beautiful movie
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
almost 8 years ago

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (AJJ) does exactly as it says on the tin, but does so in a truly spellbinding way. The film charts the final days of Jesse James’ life (Brad Pitt) following his last train robbery, his descent into paranoia & depression and finally his murder by Bob Ford (Casey Affleck) who has ingratiated himself into Jesse’s gang before his ultimate betrayal. Brad Pitt is as excellent as he usually is, but it is Casey Affleck’s performance that stands out. He really nails the nervous determination of Robert Ford; in the scene just before he kills Jesse he looks truly terrified as if he’s about to throw up. Surrounding these two main players are an impressive support cast including Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner.

Robert’s character is quite an interesting one; rather than being a coward, as the youngest member of the James gang, he is butt of all the jokes and never taken seriously. It is this insecurity and desire to prove himself that drives him to murder Jesse. This is despite the fact that he worships Jesse. For years Robert has collected comics of the adventures of Jesse, and at one point Jesse says to him that he doesn’t know if he wants to be just like him or to be him. There is never any mention of the fact that he could be gay, but the way he constantly glances at Jesse certainly raises that possibility. Actually Robert is no less cowardly than Jesse himself, as during his descent into paranoia Jesse takes an ex gang member “for a ride” and shoots him in the back!

The movie is beautiful, really stunning. Andrew Dominik’s direction is sweeping, yet simple; and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is as amazing as usual and gives the film an epic feel. The pace is slow, but perfect for the film, and a shorter run-time would make everything feel very rushed. Complementing the bleak, melancholic feel the film has is the beautifully haunting, lugubrious soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who bring an incredible atmosphere to the film. These are the guys who composed the soundtrack to The Road, so you can imagine the ambience, but the AJJ soundtrack is easier to listen to.

A really interesting film, with amazing scenery, great cast, beautiful music and tremendous atmosphere.

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Methodical, ponderous and predictable
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
almost 8 years ago

Having had to go all the way to Glasgow to fast track my passport renewal, I ended up with 3 hours to kill. At least that's my excuse for going to see such an amazingly average film. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was the only film that would really allow me to get to my train home on time. Jack Ryan has previously been played by 3 actors, (though to be honest I can't remember Ben Affleck's portrayal) and now it's Chris Pine's turn to bring whatever he brings to the role.

The story is concerned with Ryan's beginnings and his first mission to prevent a national economic disaster precipitated by a terrorist attack on New York. The plot is methodical, ponderous and predictable; nothing inventive at all. Chris Pine is fine, Keira Knightley isn't sprightly and Kenneth Branagh, erm doesn't rhyme with anything other than spanner, but he's OK, just not a villain really (and has no lips!). Crinkly faced Kevin Costner was the best thing, but that's rather like saying a ray of sunshine is the best thing on a rainy day.

The film was full of fast edits contrasting with several steady cam moments; which was presumably a conscious decision by Branagh, who was behind the camera as well as in front of it. Otherwise nothing stood out in this film to analyse at all. A barely passable way to waste some time in Glasgow. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Priest
Disappointingly Flat
Priest
almost 8 years ago

Historically Scott Stewart is more involved with visual effects as a cofounder of The Orphanage (credits include Sin City (2005); Pirates of the Caribbean (2006 & 2007) and Iron Man (2008)), but increasingly he is spending time in the director’s chair. Priest is his third feature film and is very loosely based on the graphic novels written by Hyung Min-Woo. Not the first film to be based on a graphic novel by any stretch, and I'm sure it won't be the last. However, it is one of the few movies that I can think of that actually features a cartoon; Hellboy 2 being another obvious example.

The exposition cartoon at the beginning is very stylish, very cool and gave me hope that the rest of the film would be similarly stylised, and perhaps to an extent it was; but for all the great ideas, the movie is disappointingly flat. It essentially boils down to a revenge movie of sorts, but it could have been so much more. What saves it from being dreadful are the technical achievements. I really liked the harsh, high contrast of the badlands which were reminiscent of Pitch Black (2000) and generally the cinematography by frequent Robert Zemeckis collaborator Don Burgess is great (also responsible for lensing the harsh look of The Book of Eli (2010)). I also liked the idea that the vampires were a race themselves and didn't just suck blood of of their prey, they tore them apart!

Paul Bettany was fine, as was Cam Gigandet. Christopher Plummer and Alan Dale both phone in their cameo performances. As did Karl Urban, but his character just reminded me of Rattlesnake Jake from Rango! Some great ideas (the premise is more interesting than the source material sounds!), I just think that the film falls short of what it aimed to be. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Sherlock, Jr.
Very worthwhile 45 minutes of your life!
Sherlock, Jr.
almost 8 years ago

Over the past couple of years I’ve managed to increase (albeit only slightly) the number of silent movies I’ve seen. For the most part I’ve loved them, both Metropolis and Nosferatu were magnificent as was The Artist; and while I appreciated the impact and relevance of Battleship Potemkin I really didn’t get on with it. However, despite Buster Keaton being quite a legend of silent cinema, I’ve never seen any of his films. Until now. Many thanks to Tom over at At The Back for mentioning this gem in his “Top ten ‘New to Me’ Films of 2013”; and also thanks to the internets for being able to watch this for free!

Made in the middle of Keaton’s “golden era” between 1920 and 1929 (though actually his 22nd of 31 films in that time!), Sherlock Jr. is the story of a theatre projectionist who is framed for a very minor theft. While he is in the projection booth that evening his mind starts to wander and he imagines himself as super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes solving the mystery of some stolen pearls.

This sounds relatively mundane, but therein lies Keaton’s genius. The short (only 45 min) film contains so many inventive gags that despite seeing this 90 years later I was still surprised and laughed out loud. Often a joke would start off as fairly routine only for there to be a sudden unexpected twist, leaving the viewer giggling and admiring the downright creativity of it all. Naturally, being a silent movie, all the jokes are slapstick; not your custard pie in the face humour; but slick, perfectly choreographed and clever visual jokes. All his escapades are carried out with the same deadpan face (a trademark of Buster Keaton), with perfect timing and seemingly with a cavalier disregard for his own safety. Apparently during a particular scene involving a water tower at a railway stop, he broke his neck, but only realised later on!

Perfectly judged slapstick comedy, I thoroughly enjoyed Sherlock Jr., and I want to see more Buster Keaton films sooner rather than later. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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The Wizard of Oz
Not my cup of tea
The Wizard of Oz
almost 8 years ago

The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that everyone has seen, apart from me. When I admit this, friends ask me "What did you watch on Christmas Day?". Well, I was watching Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark; sue me! Also, as I've probably said before, I am no fan of musicals (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors and Moulin Rouge notwithstanding), so I would have given “Oz” a wide berth. So, was I wrong to avoid it for so long? Well, maybe. I think having not grown up with it, the magic that I guess a kid would get out of it wasn't there for me. I am also tempted to say that it was all a bit obvious, but that's probably only because at some level I knew what was going to happen; lion and his bravery, tin man and his heart and all that.

No doubt Judy Garland can sing, and a lot of the sets are quite impressive, but because it is a film that is so ingrained in the psyche, it's hard to be objective. Viewers probably fall into two categories: those that have grown up with the film and love it, or those like me who come to it later in life and don't really get it. Would I set out to watch it again? Probably only with kids. I can see where the magic lies, it's just not for me at this stage of my life.

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Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
Promising beginning but soon gives way to mediocrity
Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
almost 8 years ago

Based on the novel of the same name, Stormbreaker is an adaptation of Anthony Horowitz's teen espionage thriller. School kid Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) still coming to terms with the sudden death of his uncle, is thrown into his secret spy world, and trains (very briefly) to become an agent himself in a bid to track down the killers.

The premise is interesting enough; helped by a star-studded cast (as well as Jimmy Carr) and some well designed scenes by director Geoffrey Sax, the movie begins strongly enough. Unfortunately it doesn't sustain, and by the time Alex has picked up his Bond gadgets from his Q (Smithers; a trying-too-hard-to-be-like-Desmond-Llewelyn Stephen Fry), the film has become predictable and stale. Plot points are set up to give an obvious payout/henchman comeuppance, and even the eccentric Mickey Rourke doesn't impress as the villain of the piece. Alex Pettyfer is fine as Alex Rider, nothing spectacular; it is really only Bill Nighy as Alan Blunt (head of MI6) and Damian Lewis as mercenary for hire Yassen Gregorovic, who save the film, the other members of the supporting cast are shamefully wasted.

There is a whole series of Alex Rider books, so I’m sure all involved in the movie were sure they were onto the next big franchise cash cow; except that Stormbreaker was so brazenly average, that no other films were ever mooted. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Horror of Dracula
A great Dracula movie
Horror of Dracula
almost 8 years ago

Having previously been disappointed with Tod Browning's Dracula (1931) I was very keen to see Terence Fisher's vision starring a young Christopher Lee and a slightly less young Peter Cushing. I wasn’t disappointed.

Where Lugosi's Prince of Darkness has designs on moving to London (and Mina's "beautiful neck"), writer Jimmy Sangster shuns Stoker's source material to a degree and crafts a story similar to Nosferatu in that all the action takes place in Germany (Karlstadt, only a few hours coach drive from Castle Dracula). The familiar names are all there, but the relationships have often changed. Jonathan Harker is engaged to Lucy, who is Arthur's sister and Mina is Arthur's wife! Dracula and Van Helsing are of course the same, but despite all these changes they do not grate the same way it did in Frankenstein (1931).

It goes without saying that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are fantastic. Despite Dracula being one of the roles most synonymous with Lee, this is actually his 33rd film (I think) which is fairly incredible! Where Lugosi was enigmatic and stilted, Lee is charismatic and full of energy; his Dracula is very active and physical which leads to a very dynamic movie as he desperately tries to stop Van Helsing. Lee actually says very little. Beyond welcoming Jonathan Harker to his castle and getting him settled in, he doesn’t actually say anything. Which surprises me more that apparently he refused to say any lines in the script for Dracula: Prince of Darkness, as his Dracula is hardly verbose anyway.

Of course, where Lee is very physical, Cushing can match it. Despite him looking not too far off Grand Moff Tarkin age, he is able to mix it with Lee in running around the excellent Gothic sets and fighting him off for a dramatic climax. That’s not to say he is just “knees-bent running around”, most of the time he is the perfect Van Helsing using brain rather than brawn and displaying the same cold logic that he portrayed so well in Frankenstein Created Woman. An honourable mention should go to Michael Gough (will later be Alfred in Tim Burton’s Batman films) who plays Arthur; he fits his story arc perfectly as a grieving family man who comes to realise the horror (slowly) of the situation and is then determined to protect those he loves.

I've already mentioned the Gothic sets, which are brilliantly created by production designer Bernard Robinson, who will become a Hammer Horror regular, working on the classics as well as Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Plague of Zombies, The Reptile and Rasputin: The Mad Monk to name a few. Actually some of those were filmed back to back on the same sets; so he knew how to save some pennies too! Terence Fisher’s direction is smooth and accomplished. He seems to favour fluid tracking shots across a room, moving past pillars, columns and such like. This way he shows off the great sets and creates a sense of scale that a static camera wouldn’t do; as well as mirroring the dynamic performances from the two main leads.

One of the happiest improvements over 1931 Dracula, is the moment Van Helsing explains that Dracula's ability to change into a bat or a wolf is a myth. So no stupid rubber bats, or even armadillos (I'm still not sure why there were armadillos!) which instantly enhances the film’s credibility. Great performances, smooth direction, smart story and wonderful sets. I really enjoyed Dracula. Now I’m looking forward to Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Cosmopolis
What was that all about?
Cosmopolis
almost 8 years ago

I’m afraid that this was just lost on me. Body horror virtuoso David Cronenberg (Scanners (1981), Videodrome (1983), The Fly (1986), and Existenz (1999)) directs an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel Cosmopolis. Following 28 year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) across town in his luxury limo just so that he can get a haircut (encountering his new wife, riots, a terrorist threat, sexual encounters with other women and horrendous traffic due to a Presidential visit) the film is generally concerned with the perils of capitalism (I think), but I just didn’t get it. A lot of the dialogue was really mumbled, and without subtitles on I really would not have had a clue what Pattinson was talking to Paul Giamatti about. The narrative was really confusing; I thought at the time that the story was very non-linear, but by the end I realised this not to be the case and everything was just very disjointed.

The one thing I did enjoy about this film was Robert Pattinson. I’ve only seen him before in Twiglet and Harry Potter but this shows that he has the chops to carry a serious (if random) film. Actually there was a second thing I enjoyed, the design of the limo and the way the sense of space inside was created was cool, as was the lighting by regular Cronenberg collaborator, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (Existenz, A History of Violence, Crash and even The Empire Strikes Back). Speaking of previous collaborators, Howard Shore composed the music, but to be honest I hardly noticed any music in the film. Confusing, boring, aimless and hard going, I really didn’t get on with Cosmopolis, though at least Pattinson was good. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Wanted
Fun, but nothing new.
Wanted
almost 8 years ago

In a post-Matrix post-300 world, Nochnoy Dozor writer/director Timur Bekmambetov brings us a flash, funky, duplicitous tale of assassins, family values and curving bullets. Yup, you heard that right; curving bullets! Wesley (James McAvoy) is an average nobody in a dead end job, until someone tries to kill him in a supermarket and Fox (Angelina Jolie) suddenly appears to improvise a rescue. Wesley soon learns that he has a historical connection to the "Brotherhood" of assassins to which Fox belongs.

When Wesley's world is turned upside down James McAvoy immediately turns the air blue and I feared he wasn't going to be right for the role at all. However, he soon settles down and was actually pretty good. Whether the fact that he is the best thing in a film that stars Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp and Angelina Jolie is because he’s a better actor or because the others don’t bring their "A" game is probably obvious, though McAvoy does prove he can mix it with some of the best.

Released in the same year as (the inferior) Max Payne, Wanted has more of a resemblance to the Matrix-inspired computer game (2001) than the Wachowski Brother's game changer itself. This is not as bad as it sounds; it means that some logic is given for the assassins' ability to slow time down and make a single fatal shot at an otherwise impossible angle; and since Mitchell Arundel is DOP (Transformers, Mission Impossible III and Ghost Protocol) it looks pretty cool too. However, because there have been other films with slow-mo effects, Wanted doesn’t really do anything new, which lets it down and left me wanting more. Having said that I found it entertaining enough to keep me awake to past 1 o'clock in the morning, which is saying something. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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District 9
An Unexpected Gem
District 9
almost 8 years ago

I'd heard good things about District 9, but I still expected something akin to Battle for LA. What I didn't expect was a documentary style sci-fi film that was more of a commentary on the politics of Johannesburg townships and refugee camps than a film about shooting aliens. Though what was even more surprising was the fact that the first name that appears on the screen was Peter Jackson! How did I no know that?!

The film opens by saying that everyone expected aliens to land in the US, so for them to appear in South Africa took the world by surprise. Though when no aliens appear from the mother ship, humans make their way in and discover aliens in an extreme state of malnutrition and disease. A health station is set up in Johannesburg to help the aliens recover, but over time this area becomes a slum, known as District 9, and has all the usual problems associated with slums. The main human character Wikus (Sharlto Copley) works for MNU (Multi National United - a kind of OCP company) and his role is to convince the Prawns (as the aliens are derogatorily known) to move to a new township.

Sharlto is really good; the wit, attitude and emotion he brings to Wikus is brilliant, as is his accent when he swears. His character arc is very reminiscent of Seth Brundle in the fly, and I feel that there were several nods to that film. I thought that the Prawns looked really good, nothing that fancy or grotesque, but they were very realistic and really looked like they inhabited the township they were in. I think because I was expecting a shooty-aliens style film, I was really amazed by the completely novel take on the genre and really quite complex plot; not to mention the complex dynamic of humans living alongside the aliens including all the people who exploit the township for personal gains.

A very good film; well shot, cool special effects (WETA of course, being a PJ Wingnut production), nice documentary style and a very different take on the alien invasion genre. Well worth a look.

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The Polar Express
A stupid Train Adventure
The Polar Express
almost 8 years ago

I'm under the impression that a lot of people love this film in a romantic Christmas kind of way. And that's what I expected and hoped for. However, I rather think that director Robert Zemeckis was trying to channel the spirit of his earlier action adventure films into this, and this is not the Christmas spirit. Action sequences akin to those in Romancing the Stone (1984) or the Back to the Future series (1985-1990) are completely incongruous, and just seem to be padding in a film which should be about the magic of Christmas.

However, when it comes (in the last 15 minutes of the movie) instead of magic, we are bludgeoned over the head with a pseudo-religious "I want to believe" message! OK, I get that the kid doesn't believe in Christmas at the start of the film, but by the time he's seen the elves and present factory etc, you think he might have cottoned on. Instead we are repeatedly told that he wants to believe, until he can finally hear the sleigh bells.

There are a few nice touches, including one when the camera follows the fate of a train ticket all in one shot. Until you remember that this is a cartoon and you can do what you want with a camera; and the whole reason for the ticket flying about is a stupid bit of plot that had me screaming at the telly! I am no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but The Polar Express did not fill me with a warm glowy feeling; rather like Blackadder in his Christmas Carol I became increasingly annoyed. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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The Taking of Pelham 123
A good start. A lazy end.
The Taking of Pelham 123
almost 8 years ago

Adapted from the novel by John Godney, The Pelham 123 is a train that leaves Pelham at 1:23 pm, and the taking of it is by a terrorist called Ryder. I’m not sure whether Tony Scott developed the same affinity with trains later in his career as he has with Denzel Washington, as they were both involved with his next film: the insufferable Unstoppable (2010). Also starring Denzel Washington, The Taking of Pelham 123 starts as an enjoyable thriller as Washington’s rail network-coordinating character happens to be at his desk when Ryder (John Travolta trying to reprise his Swordfish persona but woefully wayward) hijacks the train. The banter between these two is lively and really drives the first half of the film, however when Washington sets off to deliver the ransom to Ryder (hindered by some lazy writing and inept police) the plot becomes formulaic and boring. By the time the climax is reached (with more incompetent police) I really didn’t care how it turned out. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

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Gravity
Gravity is Gripping Cinema
Gravity
almost 8 years ago

Sci fi is always most effective when it says something about the human condition. Whether it’s fear of new powerful technology (2001: A Space Odyssey; 1968, and Westworld; 1973), environmental concerns (Silent Running; 1972), or the fear of male rape (Alien; 1979). In the case of Gravity, the themes explored are of human fortitude in extreme isolation, and how terrible circumstances can be overcome. These are by no means unheard of situations as told in the true stories of Aron Ralston trapped alone in a Utah canyon in 127 hours (2010); Joe Simpson left for dead on a mountain in Patagonia (Touching the Void; 2003) or the Antarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton as portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in the TV movie Shackleton (2002). The fact that we can relate to Dr Ryan's predicament (less mainstream than hiking in the desert or climbing a mountain) I think is a testament to writer/director Alfonso Cuarón.

Of course the most striking aspect of the film are the visuals, and they are simply stunning. The first shot, the one that lasts 20 minutes, is simply phenomenal. There are some tremendous continuous scenes in Children of Men (2007), and also some clever camera work in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), but in Gravity, Cuarón’s vision is out of this world. These extremely long takes I think really help the story. In that first shot, Alfonso gives us the backdrop, introduces the principle characters, gives us the background to a potential problem, and then bang! It happens, and we are spinning off into space. The fact that it's all one shot, apart from being amazing, makes us feel like the director is holding our hand and guiding us slowly through an environment with which we are not completely familiar. I think this makes the film far more accessible and coherent than it would if there were lots of fast edits; Gravity is far more elegant.

Needless to say Clooney is great, his suave persona is perfect for Matt Kowalski, the astronaut who stays calm and initially takes control of the situation. Arguably one of the best achievements of Gravity is the discovery that Sandra Bullock can carry a film almost by herself. Dr Ryan Stone is almost the opposite of Kowalski, nervous, initially unsure of anything outside her comfort zone and sometimes has trouble keeping her food down on a spacewalk. We can all relate to this, and Bullock epitomises this unease brilliantly. She slowly realises that she is capable of taking control of her situation, and while she isn’t ballsy like Ellen Ripley, she is determined enough to do what she has to. I don’t claim to know all of Bullock’s roles, but I don’t think that she often gets to do anything this intense; except for perhaps Crash (2004), so I was very impressed with her here.

Gravity is proper edge of the seat stuff, there are few films that engross the viewer as much as this. Certainly part of this success is due to the sound design and score. Having helped edit music alongside Hans Zimmer for Batman Begins and Howard Shore for The Two Towers and Return of the King, we can assume that composer Steven Price knows a thing or two about film scores. For Gravity, Price has demonstrated restraint, in the knowledge that less is more. In the quiet moments in space, his music has an almost ethereal quality, full of wonder, reminiscent of James Horner’s score for Avatar. As the action builds up so does the music, almost as a distorted heartbeat echoing that of Ryan, until rather than reaching a crescendo, the music drifts off into space again.

Ultimately, this story of human resolve and fortitude has a happy ending, as perhaps the more memorable stories often do. Ryan has been through a terrible ordeal and comes out the other side with a new outlook on life. Sandra Bullock is very good at conveying all these emotions; coupled with an amazing vision from Alfonso Cuarón and incredible, flawless special effects; Gravity is one of those films whose impact remains long after leaving the movie theatre. But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

1