The Dead are Alive. These are the four words which flourish across the screen to open the 24th Bond film, Spectre (2015), directed by back-to-back helmer Sam Mendes. Four words that quite fittingly describe the movie you are about to watch. Because unfortunately just as the words connote, the film will make you feel like you are dead, as you sit there in the cold, dark theatre, hoping beyond hope that what you think has started off as a great film can’t possibly be descending into this much drivel. For whilst this latest foray into the big-budget world of Britain’s super-spy is not exactly a bad film per se (see Quantum of Solace for that); it’s a film that could have done so much better. We know as much from previous outing Skyfall (2013), which ratcheted up the emotion and the action and never let go until the end credits rolled. Spectre on the other hand is a film that whimpers its way along, leaving you a bit like the film itself by the end - rather empty on the inside.
If there is one thing to be said for Mendes latest instalment though, it is that it begins astonishingly strongly, with a scene that can only be described as an instant classic for the franchise. The five minute tracking shot has us follow Bond, and his obligatory sexy companion, through a crowd of people at the day of the dead celebrations in Mexico City. We follow them as they head towards a hotel, up a lift, into a hotel room, before Bond leaves his mistress on the bed to exit onto a roof and blow up a building. The explosion is so realistic that by this point you’ll feel like you want to shake rubble off your hair and brush the dust off your clothes. One take, five minutes, and not a clear discernible cut anywhere to be found. It’s beautiful, elegant, and classy, everything a Bond film should be, and the scene is easily the reason Sam Mendes is a celebrated sensation in the film-making world. The highs only keep unfolding though as Bond tackles bad guy Marco Sciarra and his helicopter pilot, all the while being thrown about as the machine performs loop-the-loops above the thousand-strong crowd below. It is one of the fiercest and most breath-taking sequences in the series history, and deftly showcases how original and intriguing Bond can still be.
Unfortunately for the film, and for us as an audience, everything goes downhill from there. Take the opening title sequence, which descends into what one can only label ‘tentacle porn’. And yes, I really do say that in all seriousness. From there we follow the whisper-thin plotline of an evil corporation called Spectre and Bond’s attempts to thwart the organisations leader, the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). There’s something about Bond’s orphaned history, as well as a side-plot which sees the 00-Program looking to be shut down by a new-wave of security conscious bureaucrats, and of course the flimsy ‘it only takes 24 hours to madly fall for a strange man who kills people right?’ love interest to boot. If you’ve seen a Bond film before, you’ll know how this film will unfold in your sleep.
The movie does have its good moments though, ones you should cling to as it diverges into the tedious, banal and downright boring second and third acts. Setting the Guinness World Record for the biggest explosion ever captured on screen, this moment is the single greatest vision you’ll get once you cross the half-way mark, Mendes guiding the scene with such precision as to have the actors walk up the stairs, deliver a throwaway line, before the screen is lit up like a Christmas tree. Once again, we witness why Mendes is a fantastic director. Similarly the performances from both Ben Whishaw as Q and Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann are gorgeously crafted, delivering the best of the films dry, dark humour. Seydoux effortlessly controls the screen with her presence, for once a Bond girl that can match Daniel Craig stride for stride, taking none of his character’s cocky bullshit. It’s a disappointment then though that her love affair with the MI6 agent feels rushed and overblown, aside from one craftily staged scene on a train where the characters finally get together.
The oversights win the day though, dragging the film down to the murky depths of despair, a place where Bond’s £3 million pound prototype car also ends up. The villains are laughably dispassionate; with Christoph Waltz trudging his way through what could have been a defining villain role. He had past history with Bond, and the build-up of all the three previous outings to potentially make him one of the most domineering forces in Bond’s life, so why the writers didn’t look harder into fleshing out the character astounds me. Similarly, the casting of Andrew Scott brought with it a huge bravado when it was announced, but for the man who played Jim freaking Moriarty in television’s Sherlock (2010), Scott’s Max Denbigh is a mistakenly underused character. One can only wonder how good the film may have been if Waltz and Scott had been allowed to switch characters. At least we know the latter can bring the maniacal when needed. Another underused character is Monica Belluci’s seductress Lucia Sciarra. A one-dimensional figure that Bond rough and tumbles with, she is no more than a five minute distraction, and one that arguably didn’t even need to be in the piece to start with.
What grates most of all though, is that the film can’t really decide what it wants to be. Is it an action piece where we see car chases through the Roman streets with Fiats pushed around like mere toys? Or is it a classic throwback to the golden age of 007 where the camera lingers unnecessary long on a stretch of desert, or pans artistically downwards into a conversation? Well according to Mendes it’s both. And whilst this is the most mature we’ve seen Bond in a long time, the strain of four films weighing on Craig’s emotionless face, as his ending melancholically waves goodbye to his quartet, it’s still sad to see that he goes out with a whimper, and not a bang. Because if this is Craig’s last outing as 007, the man who orders his martini’s shaken, not stirred (and sure as hell not dirty), then there’s little substance in the ‘spectre’ of the ghost he leaves behind.
Rating: 2.5 Tentacles out of 5
Guillermo Del Toro is a master of horror. Surprisingly, he is also a master of romance too. Gothic romance that is. Crimson Peak (2015), Del Toro’s latest foray into the directing world is a suspenseful, atmospheric, and beautifully crafted piece. It is also a telling exploration of love, and the forbidden temptations it brings with it. Because we all know that beneath the handsome façade of those we fall in love with, are the devilish and shadowy skeletons hiding in their closest. Which in this case turns out to be both literal and figurative.
In the words of Edith, Crimson Peak isn’t a ghost story; it is instead a story that features ghosts. Each one serving as a metaphor for the way in which our past indiscretions never really remain ‘dead and buried’. The tale focuses on young protagonist, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an eligible, sophisticated, and no-holds barred woman, who after tragedy befalls her, finds herself swept up into the arms of the dashing and debonair Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Whisked away to Allerdale Hall with the English lad and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain), Edith finds herself faced with life in an abode that is not only slowly decaying, but hiding within it a malevolent force. With the creaks and groans of the night growing louder, and the honeymoon dream slowly turning into nightmare, Edith is left with only one option; to uncover the real truth as to what lies beneath Crimson Peak.
Despite the film being labelled as part of the horror-genre, to class the film as such is a disgrace to its depth. Instead, it plays out as a fractured fairy-tale, from the moment the camera pans onto the title as if it were the cover of a book we were reading, all the way through to the lines plucked craftily from Elizabethan classics. This be a story of monsters, which come not always as the terrors lurking in the walls, or the spectres down the dark and unlit corridors, but buried within the people we love. Hate and desire are both passionate emotions, and they are after all, so very closely entwined.
The real achievement though is Del Toro’s proficiency for cinematography. If you see the movie for nothing other than the visuals, you will not be disappointed. At once both engrossing and meticulous, Del Toro masterfully crafts his scenes to be portraits of breathe-taking, striking and unnerving awe. Never once do we see the colour red in a scene that does not feature some form of other-worldly essence. And never once do we ever feel like the cinematic auteur isn’t giving 110%. The walls ‘breath, bleed, and remember’, like the real living entity they are, with red clay oozing from beneath the floorboards, snow gently falling through the decaying hole in the ceiling, and the ground outside the manor bleeding into a startlingly scarlet as winter fast approaches. Like watching a wound tear open in slow motion, viewing the film is intense and graphic, yet so remarkable that despite your best efforts, you can’t actually look away.
Whilst Hiddleston is easily the best thing to look at in the film (as Stephen Colbert said in his recent interview with the cast, he does show his *English Countryside* after all), and Wasikowska is fresh and enlivened as our hero Edith, the show belongs entirely to Chastain. She is almost unrecognizable from her turn in The Martian (2015), channeling a ferocity and sternness that shows you why she is one of the best emerging talents in Hollywood. Meryl Streep should watch her back, because the future of female film roles may have finally found a replacement. She is supprted strongly though by Hiddleston, who charms his way through the piece and is likely the reason the film has an estimated 60% female audience. It’s understandable too though, with his and Wasikowska’s sex scene alone making the price of the ticket worth it. The grin he pulls there is to die for. The only true disappointment though comes in the fact that Charlie Hunnam is under-utilised in his role as Dr Alan McMichael. The Sons of Anarchy (2008) star gives a strong effort, but there’s just not enough time dedicated to his character to make him more meaningful than a one-dimensional veneer for the classic ‘love triangle’.
What is also shameful with a piece this elegant, is how poorly it has landed with audiences. In America it opened to a solid, yet disappointing $13 million dollar weekend. Sure it was up against strong contenders, like family fare Goosebumps (2015) and megalith The Martian (2015), but it would seem that fans of cinema are continuing to turn away from more complex and graphic storytelling, for lighter popcorn fare. Whilst perhaps not the easiest of films to swallow; Crimson Peak is a film that once again reflects Del Toro’s style and storytelling, and the compelling way he can make the grotesque beautiful. The man's genius is in how his films symbolism eats away at your soul and your mind, not content to simply strive for a broken heart like most other pieces do. This one in particular does just that, ruining you from the inside out; just as the red seeps through every pore of Allerdale Hall, and the butterflies perish to the dying of the light.
Rating: 4 butterflies out of 5
When a film debuts to rave reviews at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that is generally a reason to sit up and pay attention to it. The same as when a book begins with the compelling and humours line, “I’m pretty much f*%&ed. That’s my considered opinion.” Whilst you may not see what ties the two together, both examples have a certain gravitas which draws the audience in, and both relate to 20th Century Fox’s latest feature, The Martian (2015). The film, which is Ridley Scott’s third major foray into space, and quite arguably his best to date, delivers the most you could ever ask for in a movie. There’s action, suspense, heartbreak and tears, humour and jokes, and my favourite of all; sciencing the s%*t out of things. Put simply, The Martian might just be the movie of the year. Yes, there you go, I’m officially calling it.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Martian begins with the disastrous outcome of the Ares III Mars mission. Just 18 sols (or Mars days) into their planned 31 sol exploration to the big red planet, the crew made up of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Dr. Beck (Sebastian Stan), Tech geek Johannsen (Kate Mara), German chemist Vogel (Aksel Hennie), Flight Operator Martinez (Michael Pena), and of course Botanist, Engineer and all-round charmer Mark Watney (Matt Damon), encounter a sand storm the likes of which they’ve never seen before. Forced to abort the mission early, the crew make their way to the MAV (their rocket to get back to the Hermes ship), only for Watney, to be struck with a dislodged antenna in the process. As the stray communications device pierces his suit, taking his bio controls out with it and thus rendering him ‘lifeless’ to the crew, the Ares III team make the hard decision to leave him behind, presuming him dead. The only problem though is that… well… he isn’t. So after a short while when Watney wakes up, he finds himself not only faced with a piece of metal stuck in him, but the fact that he is alone on a planet 140 million miles away from help, with no communications, limited food, and a high possibility of dying for real. Bummer, eh.
It’s tense stuff however it is also beautifully executed, with the film jumping between two separate storylines to keep the suspense high. The main portion of the film focuses on the Cast Away (2000) style solo man saga, filled with quips, awful 70’s disco music, and danger around every bend. The second view instead brings the problem home to earth, covering the drama at NASA headquarters when they realise they’ve left someone behind on another planet. Just days after having a full military funeral for them. Well done NASA. In saying this though, the earth moments are anything but boring, nestled elegantly between the video logs of Watney discussing his Mars activities, and the longer, grander sequences of him exploring various parts of the red planet to find supplies to get home. These interweaving subplots bolster Watney’s story instead of distract from it, allowing the strong supporting actors the chance to have their moments. We see Chiwetel Ejiolfor show of his skills as Vincent Kapoor, the man in charge of the rescue operation, alongside a sarcastic and grumpy Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. There’s also a fantastic turn from Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a tweaked-out coffee addicted scientist who comes up with the most realistic and efficient plan to bring Watney home. But leading the pack would be the Ares III team, with engaging and delightful performances from Chastain, Mara, Stan, Hennie, and Pena, who help to bring the humanity of the piece home.
The movie is based off the novel by Andy Weir, and for the most part it is largely faithful to it. However, as with any great filmic adaptation some liberty has of course been taken. I mean, who would want a film that gets too stuck in the details of how cramped a Mars rover can be for 19 days, or how you can evade a sandstorm using solar panels anyway? Artfully sacrificing the brunt of the science allows the film to instead focus on the lighter, layman descriptions which give way to the heavier heart-pounding sequences. This is not to say though that there is no science. There’s plenty of it. Just not as detailed and meticulous as the book makes it out to be. In fact, the science that does feature remains incredibly and exquisitely accurate, something which fans of the book will certainly feel rewarded by. The movie walks the perilous line that approaches too much science, without ever tipping, instead utilising the compelling humanity of Watney’s moments to continually remind us that saving one man actually is worth all the risks.
Ridley Scott works his magic once more with this film. With a strong novel to go off, and an equally strong screenplay from Drew Goddard, Scott masterfully helms the piece to its current critical acclaim. The cinematography is so breathtaking that at times the film can genuinely surprise you by making you forget that we haven’t quite sent people to Mars yet. But it’s the acting that makes the film what it is. Matt Damon is back at career best with his phenomenally powerful performance as Watney. His humour hits the mark time and time again, and his vulnerability as a man 140 million miles away from home breaks through just as the film reaches its boiling point. The rumours abounding for his name come award season, are well and truly justified, and his turn might certainly have the stamina to bring some gold statues home.
It’s hard to fault anything in The Martian. It has an outstanding cast, a strong script, beautiful cinematography, strangely perfect music choice, wise direction, and a hell of a lot of heart. So I may as well not even bother. I mean, it even teaches you that duct tape can fix pretty much anything. People will inevitably ask though whether the movie just boils down to one man walking around in a space suit talking to himself? Well, honestly, yes. The movie is that. But it’s so much more too. It’s a film about retaining humanity in the face of utter despair. It’s a film about holding on to your identity when there’s no one else around to help you form it. It’s a film about getting back up once you’ve been knocked down. Simply put, in Watney’s words himself, it’s the lesson that; “I can guarantee you that at some point, everything’s going to go south on you. You’re going to say; ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that. Or you can get to work. You just have to begin.” So begin with The Martian, cause man, it’s worth it.
Rating: 5 70’s Disco Hits out of 5
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Review - This is the part where we go on pretending that a little friendship never killed anyone
We call it movie magic. The moment a film transcends words and sounds and pictures to become something more. A part of us. Very rarely do we find it though, that film so close to perfection you can’t help but wonder how every tiny insignificant little detail happened to just fall magically into place. But that’s exactly what Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) turned out to be. The most unpretentious, vulnerable, heartbreakingly honest look at society a studio can serve up. It doesn’t matter if Fox Searchlight makes a huge profit off their $12 million dollar steal from Sundance, they’ve made the best decision a film company can, in putting their name to a piece of art that will hopefully stand the test of time. Not for its action, not for its one liners, and certainly not for its special effects. Just plain and simply for its heart.
The story is a straightforward one. Based on the book by Jesse Andrews, the title pretty much says it all. There’s a guy named Greg, a teenage boy who skirts the edges of life. He’s the ‘me’. Not one to fit in with any group in the high school cliché, or even call his clearly best mate his friend, Greg is someone avoiding the best parts of life, so as not to feel the worst. Then there’s Earl, the said best friend and nonchalant ‘co-worker’ who helps Greg construct some of the corniest and arguably kookiest homage’s to classic cinema greats around. Lastly, along comes Rachel, the titular ‘dying girl’, and with her is the slow progression into the sad fact of life that is cancer. When she is diagnosed with Leukaemia, hardly ever having spoken to either boy before, Earl’s mother decides it’s time to see him be a human, and forces him to visit her. The two awkwardly begin a friendship, and so starts the calendar countdown of their doomed friendship. Whilst it would be unforgivable to reveal the ending, like all classics in the making, it’s the journey that counts and they get there in a humorous, inventive and bolstering life-affirming style.
Now, it’s a big deal to say a film is the better Fault in Our Stars (2014). Especially when John Green fans everywhere will be poised to stab you in the eye for even suggesting such a thing. But Hazel and Augustus’ story doesn’t hold a flame to this young adult achievement. Probably because they got lost somewhere within the expectation and unreasonable perspective that romantic love is the be all and end all. That’s not the point, and it’s never made clearer than in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. The point isn’t to fall madly, deeply, and endlessly in love, so that you get your own piece of infinity. Most of the time, it’s just about witnessing the beautiful sad tragedy that life usually is. This films greatness and ability to trample all over The Fault in Our Stars stems not from its epically hard-hitting monologues (or eulogies), or display of how awful cancer can be (we get it by now, cancer sucks), but from it’s sheer, profound and moving normality.
It’s been a long time since cinema has witnessed a film where every actor is at their peak. There’s generally always one person who lets the team down, and spirals into stereotypes, idiosyncrasy, or lack of expression. Perhaps that’s why Me and Earl hits such highs, because not a character is out of place, nor an expression overblown. Mann owns the screen as protagonist Greg, for once not the clear-cut charmingly gorgeous yet understated goofball. He’s a gopher faced weirdo. A dog in human clothing. And that’s what makes him so charismatic, his weirdness splattering on us and never once apologizing for it. Cooke too comes as a breath of fresh air, neither the classically beautiful leading lady, nor too caught up in her rising stardom to forget how people are actually human beings. It speaks volumes to her quality that the young lady actually shaved her head for the role. Her Rachel is a sadly melancholic drawing you stumble upon at the museum, tucked away on the highest level, way back in the corner. You know it’s the best piece as soon as you see it. Rounding out the trio though is newcomer RJ Cyler, who quietly shines as perhaps the true breakout. Don’t let the fact his face barely registers more emotion than Kristen Stewart in the Twilight (2008) franchise fool you, his comedic timing is impeccable, and he has the amazing ability to turn his continual awkward referencing of ‘dem titties’ into one of the best running jokes of the film. But as always, it’s the older supporting characters who steal the show, with Nick Offerman an oddball gift that redefines the crazy cat lady benchmark, and Jon Bernthal the best damn teacher you could every really ask for. Respect the research on both parts.
But it’s time to truly bestow credit where credit’s due. Someone needs to give Alfonso Gomez Rejon an award, if not to simply make sure his head doesn’t get too big that he begins to fall in a hole. The Spielberg-esque protégé surely has a solid and lengthy career ahead of him, with his quirky and distinctive style and fine eye for the perfect shot. Sometimes it’s nice to see the world at ninety degrees. Whilst some have termed his latest feature an annoying trial into pandering to the self-absorbed movie fanatic, the films continual referencing between Kubrick and Herzog is both a statement to how films can come to be masterpieces, and how authenticity is potentially lost amidst the cinematic greats today. Good films don’t come from artsy re-imaginings of benchmark pieces. They come slowly, and inexplicably, from a powerful and urgent understanding of life.
Not everyone will love this piece, not everyone will credit it as I have. But that’s just life, and it’s the same lesson Greg learns within the 105 minutes we get to spend with him. But in the end, if you see it for anything, see it ‘only because cancer’. Because cancer done right. Because good films kill people, eating us from the inside out, and leaving us with the plain and simple truth that people, like films, are worthy of remembering.
Rating: 4.5 Moose Trampling Feels out of 5.
After watching Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I’ve got to admit it, but I am well and truly dying for the day when Ethan Hunt finally gets asked the customary question; “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it…” only to decline the offer, and send audiences reeling. Hold up, hold up. Hear me out. This is not to say that I think the film is so bad that turning down the mission and causing it to end up a five-minute movie would be better, that is far from the truth. It’s a fantastic film that blends the best of the espionage and action genres, all without ever taking itself far too seriously. It’s just that out of five assorted instalments, five different directors, and five separate ‘impossible’ missions, there’s never once been a time that Hunt has turned around, stuck it to the powers that be, and been forced to participate anyway. That’s the kind of interesting and fresh plot that a series needs five or six features in. There is after all, only so many times an audiences will accept the stale scenario in which a bad guy (or corporation) appears, wreaks a little havoc, kills a few people, all before the IMF band together to save society whilst facing the threat of being disavowed. Bring in as many new ‘hanging off a plane’ action sequences as you like, but nothing speaks awesome quite like a storyline we haven’t seen before.
This time round is no different sadly, picking up where Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) left off, with Ethan hunting (no pun intended) down the enigmatic Syndicate, a mysterious conglomerate labelled the ‘anti-IMF’. CIA Chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) all the while is working in the background to convince the Senate to disband the IMF for good, believing Hunt to be the perennial boy who cried wolf. Stranded after Hunley succeeds and events go sour in London, Hunt calls in the good old team of Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), to take down Soloman Lane (Sea Harris), the trench-coat wearing cliché of a British villain, who is fronting the group of renegade rogue agents that are unleashing their own brand of deadly attacks around the world.
Thrown in the mix for good measure (and let’s be honest - gender balancing) is Rebecca Ferguson’s mystery maiden Ilsa Faust, a femme fatale that is step-for-step Cruise’s equal, choking men with her thighs, and hiding her allegiances so well that I’m still not sure I know where she stands even after having finished the film. From Austria to Morocco to London (that sounds like the start of a very bad Pitbull song there…) the film plays out as a three-part action centric piece, with each new country signifying a fight is sure to be looming somewhere on the horizon. The concept works wonders though, bringing the series back to the heyday of classic ‘edge-of-your-seat blockbusters’, where a thriller is a thriller and you don’t really need to ponder every detail fastidiously. For all the annoyance at the overused plot, the one thing it does right above all is provide you exactly what you paid for. Action, thrills, and intrigue abound.
With a raft of spy films either due out or already released this year (Spy, Spectre and The Man from UNCLE to name a few), predictions on Rogue Nation being among the best of the bunch were low. And whilst it doesn’t quite come off as the high-piece of the series, it does bring the certain charm and ‘je ne sais quoi’ we fans have become accustomed too. The action sequences are slick and aesthetically pleasing, weaving as seamlessly between the car and motor-cycle chases, as the piece does between its humour and drama. Helping it on its way are Pegg and Renner, who continue to prove the smartest move the franchise has made since its introduction almost twenty years ago. The duo fire out one-liners with startling precision, never once letting any of them miss their mark. Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments though is the fact that there is no classic ‘jump and hang’ move from Cruise or co. with us having to accept a meagre rope drop in its place. Well, that and the fact that the plane sequence which opens the film doesn’t even come close to topping the building climb in part four. For most of those ten minutes they could just have used green-screen to the same effect. Ultimately, however, the dive sequence featuring amidst act two makes up for them both a-plenty, the crucial key to balancing the film out.
Amidst the conflict and conspiracy are timely nods to the distinguished British pieces considered the four-fathers of the spy-genre, both Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Many of the fights take place in London (cue phone-boxes and double decker buses), and between the product placement of all the BMW’s you even get a glimpse of a silver Aston Martin if you’re paying close enough attention. Best of all though is Rogue Nation’s nod to Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace Austrian Opera scene, this time round filled with less talking, more fighting, and a envisioned storyboarded so beautiful, even Hitchcock would be proud of it. The Holmes-ian ties in are just as good, but to recount them here would be to spoil all the fun.
Christopher McQuarrie, who has taken the reins from Brad Bird, proves he’s not just a one trick pony here, deserving more than the accolades he normally receives purely for his writing abilities. Sensible, structured, and with just enough fun to tide you over, his take on the Mission: Impossible series is a favourable one. The movie never lags, and the tension never drops, something hard to accomplish in cinema nowadays, and he even manages to give the franchise a fresh start by the end, lining us up for a sequel we actually wouldn’t mind seeing. Yes, even if Hunt once again accepts the ‘mission’. I’ll have to refute it if anyone asks though, because we all know “I can neither confirm nor deny any details about any operation without the permission of the secretary…”
Rating: 3.5 Polygraphs out of 5
When a critic sets themselves up to watch a sequel to a poorly executed and sometimes painful-to-watch stripper film, one usually goes in trying valiantly to shove those feelings aside and bring with them an open mind. Usually they fail. Instead leaving the cinema so thoroughly disappointed at even bothering that they go home to write a scathing review, all the while shaking their fist in condemnation and vowing never watch something like that again. Ok, a little dramatic, but also a little true too. This time however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Magic Mike XXL was not a film I would feel falls into this category. I mean, by no way is it a box office blow-out, or Academy Award worthy piece, but Magic Mike XXL was, however, not entirely mind-numbing or vacuous either. For the most part. Of course the cynics will be saying “did we need another Magic Mike (2012) film in the world?” The answer is no, probably not. But it’s certainly a lot better than a whole number of films floating around out there. And despite relying on clumsily clichéd lines like ‘its show-time not bro-time’, the film actually does manage to bring a good mix of both.
Story-wise, there is little new or imaginative to go on. In fact there is little of substance at all really. But as someone paying to go to this film are you really telling me you expect there would be? Three years have passed since the events of the first film, with Mike now settled into running his custom furniture business and the dull, dreary, depressing world that this entails. His business is ok, but not hitting the benchmark of successful. His love life has ended but he’s trying not to think about it. And he still occasionally has a dance in his garage, but doesn’t want to really on that for the rest of his life. Then he gets a call from the ‘Kings of Tampa’, the rag-tag group of strippers *cough male entertainers cough*, who are making their way to Myrtle Beach and the annual Stripper Convention for their ‘one last job’ style ploy. Can anyone say road trip! Along the way there’s old friends by way of a sultry country club strip-house, new friends by way of some southern, sex-crazed middle aged women, and in between there’s plenty of entertainment by way of dance numbers and group bonding.
For the most part a majority of the old faces return for the ride, including Matt Bomer as Ken, Joe Manganiello as Big ‘Dick’ Richie, Kevin Nash as Tarzan, Adam Rodriguez as Tito, and of course Tatum as Mike. Only Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey sit the film out, their absence explained away in a brief throwaway moment that begins the film. Without the streamlined abbs of McConaughey, Manganiello and Bomer get bigger bit parts, and we as an audience relish the change, both hating Ken’s Reiki pseudo bullshit and loving his soulful charming side, whilst eagerly awaiting Manganello’s comedic moments, especially after a well-constructed and executed Gas-N-Go convenience store performance positioned halfway through the film. Behind the director’s chair Gregory Jacobs has taken the reins from Soderbergh, and we can certainly feel the difference, with the piece a warmer, more brotherly, and basically not so downright depressing and moody take than the first film. Jacobs wisest move is playing-up the fun loving side in exactly the way audiences desired from the first flick.
Strangely, but also refreshingly, the film even reads as a somewhat crude and warped feminist piece. Never once do we see the female body exposed like the men are, with the women treated just as Rome continuously refers to them as - ‘Queens’. Additionally there is a raft of supporting female characters who add to the piece rather than become the relegated ‘filling a quota’ trope. Jada Pinkett Smith and Andy McDowell stand out as two such strong, independent women. Perhaps best of all in this production, is the beautiful array of realistic body types, ages, and ethnicities, given to the girls who beseech the special stripper treatment from the boys. No longer does the bland ‘white, hot, crop-topped babes’ Tinsel Town is used to beautifying their films with hold up here. Perhaps this is because the studio and production team know their intended audience. Perhaps it’s because for once the tables are turning in Hollywood to challenge the theorized 'male view'. Whatever the reason, I’ll let you be the judge.
Although this film tries to build story where there honestly isn’t any, unlike its predecessor, when its focus on trying to be ‘thoughtful’ and ‘deep’ begins to dig at the audiences desires for more dance moves, it lightens the mood and provides. There’s class and style to the dancing, and even though it would have made for better entertainment had there been just a little more of it, there is enough to tide over even the most unenthusiastic ticket-holder. The choreography is beautifully designed and skilfully executed, and there is little doubt that Tatum has talent and flair for such dance films. The other characters continue to play the background to his dance sets, and whilst there are some nice final routines from Manganiello and Bomer’s characters, none of them hold a flame to Mike’s magic moves.
What sells the film above all is that it never tries to paint itself as anything it’s not. The drugs are loose, the partying’s hard, and the grinding intense. And let’s not forget the amount of times the F-Bomb is dropped. This is an adult’s movie through and through, and it certainly provides more substance and depth than Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) foolishly thought it could bring to the genre earlier this year. Audiences know what to expect going into the movie, and for those who want to see a fun, light-hearted, and hyper-sexualised stripper flick, Magic Mike XXL works its charm. For everyone else, try Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) for some action, or Southpaw (2015) for some drama, and save us all the criticism.
Rating: 3 Sexy Strippers out of 5
Superhero flicks are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, what between the DC, Marvel, Fox and Sony studios duking it out over who has the best visual effects, box-office ratings and big name actors. Such films, in a constant effort to be the latest and the greatest, have arguably reached past the point of their once lauded strength, honour and humanity, and are instead verging on the precipice of the extreme, whereby they have left audiences not simply accustomed too, but now expecting, entire cities to burn and be demolished in the name of entertainment. That is why it’s such a great pleasure when we see a studio go back to its roots and provide a big budget superhero escapade that focuses more on heart than action. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is truly filmmaking at its finest. Something which Marvel may have just achieved with their most recent release; the Peyton Reed helmed Ant-Man (2015).
The film itself follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a good-natured burglar (he’s not a thief – that would admit violence) who is devoted to his daughter Cassie. However, upon his release from prison he is unable to visit her, due to a backlog of unpaid child support and notions of being a not so responsible parent. All of which leads him to take part in one final heist. Little does he know that the man whom he sets out to rob, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is pulling the strings to get him there, and before long he finds himself roped into a mad-scheme involving shrinking suits, and a whole lot of running into doors (and fists). Rudd gives a great performance in one of his first dramatic roles, pulling off the fatherly love, and leading man status with aplomb, and Douglas is also in fine form as the reclusive inventor, straddling both the humour and darkness that his character demands. Corey Stoll, our villainous Yellow Jacket has far less to work with though, and his character certainly suffers from a sense of one dimensionality. All too often are we waiting for him to go off the rails, and when it finally comes it never really satisfies.
However, there is respite in the form of a well-placed cameo, one which helps to continue the development of a lesser Avenger’s character, for whom we are now eagerly awaiting to see Ant-Man team up with again come Captain America: Civil War (2016). But at the end of the day, it is without a doubt the scene-stealing performance of Michael Pena that gives the film its quirkiness, and helps set it aside from any old superhero film. Unlike anything we’ve really seen him do before; Pena’s Luis grounds the picture, as the manifestation of that one friend we all know we have. You know, the one you’ll catch up with at the pub, or consider as your wingman, but under no circumstance will invite round to the house to have dinner, or babysit the kids. If Ant-Man is the standard to go by, we certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him in more comedy roles in the future.
After the complete and utter havoc that was wrought in the grandiose Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Marvel has toned down the violence and destruction (one could say miniaturised it) for their latest feature, and in the process have created a beautiful homage to the Superhero films of old. We have the classic archetypes of the grouchy older mentor, the younger wayward protégée, and the beautiful-but-sarcastic love interest. We even have the goofy but lovable sidekicks, and the stereotypical training montage. And of course there is the heist-like caper to save the day. Yes, nowhere in there is any sense of a new plot device, but to its benefit, Ant-Man holds one thing over every other Superhero movie out there at the moment – its scale. And what a beautiful picture it paints. Instead of cities being dropped from the sky, we receive toy trains being thrown across their tracks. Instead of mid-air jet plane attacks, we have a fight contained to the inside of a briefcase. And instead of calling in the Avengers, we get the Ant-vengers, a gang of insects that really do steal the show. Ant-Man shows us that sometimes you don’t have to be big to be bold.
Despite working from jagged rewrites, and a notoriously difficult concept (there’s a reason Marvel waited until the end of Phase 2 to bring the small guy to screen), Peyton Reed does what he can with the characters and story he was given; choosing to bring the action smaller, the humour bigger, and the simplicity to the fore. It does take the film a while to find its feet though, and it is not until about twenty minutes into the film when we see Lang shrink for the first time, that the film actually starts to pick up the pace and interest. At times, the slowness and lack of gender originality (the only strong female character, Hope, does barely anything when you think about it) makes us feel just like Lang, asking one question that turns in to four; “Who are you? Who is she? What is going on? And can I go back to jail now?” However, one of the perks of Ant-Man is that this slowness makes it easy enough to follow, explaining the science and background without ever looking down on us. We learn about the Pym technology as Lang does – through the eyes of the everyman. For once the character and audience are almost the same in the Marvel Universe.
Ultimately, what works so well for Ant-Man is that it never pretends to be anything that it’s not. It is without doubt the underdog of Marvel films, it always has been; coming from one of the most disliked characters and storylines, and consistently having problems finding writers, directors and cast members. But thankfully it never took it lying down, turning the tables and making something of itself. It doesn’t just show us how it feels to be reduced to one of the ants beneath our feet; it reminds us that we are all there sometimes, and that we can all come back from it. It may not be Marvel’s biggest champion piece, but it’s certainly one of its most human.
Rating: 4 ants out of 5
Inside Out Review - Disney Pixar craft a wondrous world of mixed emotions in this stunning animation
After watching the beautiful short, Lava (2015), the type which always precedes any feature length Pixar piece, one could be fooled into thinking that the cinema experience couldn’t get any more heartfelt or poignant. It does. Welcome to the beautiful, transcendent and touching experience that is the world of Inside Out (2015).
The film takes us on a 90 minute journey traversing the inner workings of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) - our young protagonist’s - brain and psyche, notably how her central emotions; Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Fear (Bill Hader), impact how she lives and remembers moments of her life. From her first instants as a newborn baby, to her passion for hockey, and her loving family, Riley's life has mostly been a joyous one. All five of her glowing yellow core memories reflect this. But as she verges on the last days of true childhood, her family decides to pack up and move to San Francisco from their home in Minnesota, leading to a conflict between her emotions on how best to handle the situation. As she struggles to find herself in a new city, school and home, her first sad core memory develops, and inside the Headquarters that are her brain, the ensuing scuffle to fix this sends both Joy and Sadness out into the depths of her Long Term memory. As things go awry in Riley’s real-life, so to do things begin falling apart inside her head, memories begin turning blue as Sadness touches them, and the islands that define aspects of her personality begin to crumble. If Riley is ever going to be Riley again, Joy and Sadness need to find their way back and remind her who she really is.
Firstly, the film is filled with countless inside nods to how our brains work, but are simplified exquisitely for the young audience. The emotions themselves are representative, each a different colour, and charged with a different role. Whilst you could expect Fear or Disgust to be mainly negative emotions, they instead play a crucial role in keeping Riley safe. Outside of these portrayals however, there is also a stunning use of common ideas we often overlook. There is a literal ‘train of thought’, a brain freeze, the easy ability to confuse facts with opinion, Déjà vu, long-lost imaginary friends, a gated subconscious, the Dream Production Studios (which make features such as ‘I Can Fly’, and stars actors such as Rainbow Sparkle Unicorn), and Déjà vu. Whilst some of these aspects will surely go over children’s heads, the stuff that does sink in makes for an important educational tool.
To lighten the mood, sprinkled generously amongst the film and its gloomier moments is a humour that delights both old and young. We finally receive an understanding of why annoying commercial jingles play on repeat in our heads, by way of memory sifters who take pleasure in continuously throwing the recollection to headquarters. Or why we only ever remember ‘chopsticks’ out of four years of piano lessons. But better than that, we get an observant and hilarious look into the minds and emotions of other characters, such as Riley’s Mum and Dad. This happens by way of an elaborate scene placed almost half-way through the film which, arguably, is a point that makes the movie. When her mum asks her how her day has been, and she receives an unhappy response, she cues Riley's father to talk to her. Snap into Dad’s brain, and all his emotions are too busy reminiscing on a sport game, that he doesn’t quite grasp the question; “Is it Tuesday? Did we forget to put the bins out again? Oh no, did we put the toilet seat down?” The scene plays out as a gorgeous interaction of the varying ways people think, jumping back and forth between Mum, Dad and Riley’s brains, and utilising fantastic writing to make lines such as “was that sass?” and “the foot is down” so noteworthy.
Inside Out is a film rich in its expression and understanding of things. Down to the rather nuanced DNA-structured ladders used to reach the long term memories, and the synapse structure of the brain's headquarters, the film is constantly endeavouring to teach kids things without them realising it. For those that say the messages and education the film provides is too complex, and may go over the heads of the young intended audience, such critics are not giving enough credit to the subliminal and subconscious power our brains have, something the film impressively conveys.
Above all, Inside Out is Pixar returning to its best, reaching both children and adults alike with its wonderfully fashioned, thought-provoking, and utterly heart-wrenching tale. Whilst Pete Docter’s story and direction is a straightforward one, it is a surprise that the message and theme has not been tackled before. When depression and other changes in emotions are often disregarded or demeaned in conversation, it’s a refreshing change to see someone finally discussing them. Its triumph therefore lies in convincing kids that it’s not about trying to joyous all the time, but rather, how important it is to strike a balance. How, in the end, it is okay to have mixed emotions about life.
Rating: 4.5 emotions out of 5
Jurassic World Review - The claws are out as tried and tested prehistoric plots are let loose in this blockbuster
It’s been 22 years since the first film and 14 years since the last movie was released, but finally the Park is open. And once again, they’re not about to make the same mistakes, they’re going to make all new ones. Richard Hammond would be proud. Isla Nublar, the original site A from Jurassic Park is the now fully transformed Jurassic World, a theme-park commoditised around dinosaurs. There are rides on baby triceratops, giant aquariums with mosasaurs, and even gyrospheres to give you an up-close experience with the once extinct creatures. But in today’s consumer driven society, people are no longer content with just seeing dinosaurs. The once extinct animals are just not ‘wow’ enough anymore. People are demanding something newer, bigger, better, scarier, and basically has, well, more teeth. So the good old scientists, led by B.D. Wong reprising his role as Dr Henry Wu, alongside the corporate machine that runs the show, decide that the way to increase attendance is to cook up a genetically modified dinosaur.
So, what could possibly go wrong? In the words of Dr Ian Malcolm; “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and um, screaming.” Jurassic World (2015) brings the same old tried-and-tested concept as its precursors, and unfortunately little else. The park is for once running smoothly (no one is getting eaten) but losing interest from the public, so the scientists, keen to up the ante, go and play God, creating a smarter, bigger and all round more pissed off dinosaur, that, as animals do, falls prey to its basic instincts to figure out its place in the food chain (hint its up there at the top). Subsequent dino-escape scene and cue the havoc.
The once daring and revolutionary formula of the original is instead disenchanting and overused here, plainly stated throughout the film and its casting. Instead of Sam Neill as the gruff child-hating palaeontologist, we get Chris Pratt (in fine form both literally and figuratively) as raptor-wrangler Owen Grady, a gruff-but-comedic Indiana Jones like character, who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather vest, and for some reason gained experience to work with dinosaurs by being in the navy? Similarly Bryce Dallas Howard takes the reins as female lead Claire, who is not quite as spunky as Laura Dern’s Dr Ellie Sattler, or as daring as Julianne Moore’s Sarah Harding. Instead she is a bland authoritarian hell-bent on preserving her femininity in the face of all the chaos by remaining clad in high heel shoes despite being chased by a T-Rex. Rounding out the protagonists are Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as brothers Gray and Zach, the nephews of Park Manager Claire, and the stock-standard link for children to the movie.
Such a formula has so much potential, if it was executed on the same level as the original. Instead, the characters fall into one-dimensional frames, the neurotic business woman, the sexy animal whisperer, the teenager more concerned with looking at girls than at the once extinct creatures around him. Despite fantastic acting on the parts of Howard, Pratt and Simpkins, only Owen crosses the line as a character you want to root for, representing a more normal, less chaos-y, and sexier looking Jeff Goldblum. The rest are caricatures to the ‘making a transformation’ trope that adventure films rely on, and lack any real chemistry or connection with each other and the audience. Why Owen and Claire are painted as love interests baffles, considering the complete lack of build-up or passion, with their backstory being reduced to a single line informing audiences that they have only ever been on one date (which she micro-managed and drew out an itinerary for). The villainous character of Hoskins, whilst effectively brought to life by Vincent D’Onofrio, somehow manages to conjure even more one-dimensionality, introducing a sub-plot about using dinosaurs as weapons, which shifts so far from the virtuous themes about humans playing God that made Jurassic Park the defining film it is, that it almost lands the film back on the mainland and away from any semblance of sophistication.
What Jurassic World does do however, it does well. What would a good dinosaur movie be without a bit of mayhem, and Jurassic World certainly serves it up. There are more dinosaurs, more action, and a stunning use of animatronics that damn-near brings a tear to the eye. The eye-level-hunting dinosaur scenes that made the first film the success it was, and guaranteed the T-Rex a place in nightmares the world over, are used to great effect. The fear is absolutely palpable when you see just how big the Indominus teeth are. The dinosaur fight scenes are also slick and ferocious, like the beasts themselves. The final clash in particular is executed so wonderfully, that it is a fitting pay-off for making it through the film, and a great nod to the ending of the first film. Whilst the CGI raptors don’t always look convincing here, they are finally utilised for something other than the traditional villains’, and it’s a refreshing change.
Above all, the film is a clear homage to Spielberg and his 1993 classic, and a satisfying addition for fans. From classic soundtracks that drift in and out of the movie, to long lost banners, night-vision goggles, and beloved beast cameos, there has been care taken to tell the audience that we are still a part of the world Spielberg created all those years ago. Whilst Spielberg took back seat for this movie as executive producer, handing the reins over to relative newcomer Colin Trevorrow, whose most stand-out film to date was the impressive Safety Not Guaranteed; it is easy to see his influence stampeding throughout. From scenes that fundamentally mirror moments from the first film; such as the glorious entrance through the Jurassic World gates, through to life-like animatronic dinosaurs suffering as humans look on; Spielberg is constantly reminding us that it is he that is the true king of dinosaurs. It’s a shame therefore that he didn’t direct. Whilst Trevorrow has crafted an interesting, and entertaining film, that certainly keeps the adrenaline pumping and the eyes open, it’s a shame that with a film like Jurassic Park as its precursor, it instead chooses to rest on the laurels of that great, instead of pushing past it to become its own masterpiece.
Rating: 3.5 Dino-Footprints out of 5
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