Thursday 30 April 2015

Best and Worst of April 2015

April, the summer gateway season. It was off to a pretty good start to say the least, certainly an improvement on March and hopefully, something to foreshadow the months to come as the quality was raised to a good standard here. In fact there weren’t that many bad films, even my worst of the month was just below decent, you’ll see when you get there. We’ve also had a blockbuster of a gigantic scale, as I am writing this Fast and Furious 7 has made an astonishing climb to become the fourth highest grossing film OF ALL TIME, only beaten by Avengers Assemble, Titanic and Avatar. Sadly it didn’t quite make my top three, but you can see what did.
3: John Wick
Keanu Reeves is back on top form in what could be his best performance in a long time, possibly of all time. It’s the American Kingsman, a fun, self-aware action film that is excellently directed, written and unsurprisingly has started its own action franchise. With a plot that’s basic enough to allow the action to flow quickly and easily but not so much as to make us feel like idiots, we get a more intricate look at a man trying to escape a violent world, but is repeatedly pulled back. But as I said before it’s still fun and immensely enjoyable.
2: While We’re Young
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a good and balanced exploration of the generation gap, Noah Baumbach gives it to us with this heartfelt and hilarious comedy drama. It’s fast witted but leaves enough time for the emotion buried within to have an effect, even if you have to look a bit closer to spot it. It has to humour, style and morals of a modern Woody Allen film and we witness an interesting study of intergenerational envy to please people of all ages.
1: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Yes this may be the fanboy in me speaking out, but who cares. The second and final outing for Joss Whedon as a Marvel director is a blockbuster of the highest order and everything you would want a sequel to a film as big as Avengers Assemble to be. It raises the stakes, advances the characters, shines a light on anything that was left out of the first one (cough that sounds like the word Hawkeye). It’s darker, more complicated, offers an exploration of what it might be like to be a man among gods, wonderfully inventive in its action, as well as including all of the interaction and playful banter (yes I said banter) between our favourite heroes. All I can say is ‘More, more, more’ and boy do Marvel have just that to offer.
And the worst…

To be fair, Insurgent is not a terrible film in most respects. There’s some impressive direction and well-choreographed action sequences as well as a strong female lead in the form of Shailene Woodley. But there’s too much going on at once and too much attention on what the series is going to be rather than what it is now and to be honest what it is now is just another teen dystopian drama that’s far worse than the Hunger Games and only slightly better than the Maze Runner.

Child 44

"There is no crime in paradise."

It’s hard not to get excited over a movie like Child 44. Tom Hardy is possibly busier now than he’s ever been, with Locke and the Drop already out to critical praise as well as Mad Max and Legend still to come. It’s also based on a bestselling novel and is supported by Gary Oldman as well as being produced by the one and only Sir Ridley Scott. So can I expect great things, or am I about to be disappointed.
An officer of the secret soviet police (Hardy) is stripped of his power, position and authority when he refuses to denounce wife as a traitor. Exiled to an isolated provincial outpost where he discovers a dark secret. Determined to uncover the truth concerning the murders of several young boys he faces the realisation that he must also overcome a conspiracy of frightening proportions.
Rather than being an intricate and thrilling murder mystery with Hardy and Oldman teaming up to solve it, we get a rather sluggish and overly large in scale production. Several of the more interesting elements are reduced to side-plots such as the serial killer storyline and instead we focus on the moral dilemma of Hardy’s character, normally that wouldn’t be a massive issue but the paceis really slowed down to a minimum and that does not suit something with as many locations as Child 44 does. As well as that the film has the feel of being half and half over the story it wants to tell, does it want to be a character study or a murder case. The end result is a rather uneven plot and it fails to be just one of those attempts.
I can say straight away however that the performances are all spot on. Though it may be odd at first to hear that thick Russian accent rolling around in Hardy’s throat and spilling from his lips as the film progresses it steadily grows in composure and I could really appreciate the delicate character he was trying to portray here. The moral decisions he faces are certainly intriguing, but when executed in such a boring way then it’s hard for even bane himself to grab our attention for 137 minutes, which incidentally, is far too long for this film anyway.
There’s a rich cinematography to it as well but not enough of that exquisite atmosphere to be displayed in the environments that director Daniel Espinosa supplies. There’s also little imagination or innovation to anything on display. Hardy talks with some people, makes discoveries, talks again, stresses about something, walks about in the snow. After an hour it starts to feel repetitive, and following another one it acts as a tranquilizer.
Though the era of post war Russia is captured aesthetically, in terms of emotion and development there’s little on offer. Rather than attempting to reflect the paranoia of living in such a heavily policed state through the tale of hunting down a serial killer, they just choose to set the murder scenario in a fairly generic manner, the oly difference being that its participants are all wearing Soviet uniforms. It’s also overly grim, throwing in brutality and darkness when it isn’t necessary, it might be had they set up a paranoid and oppressive atmosphere, but as I said instead we just witness a stylish mystery play out.
The overly complicated plot only makes the ending even worse, a rather anticlimactic affair that ends in more of a whimper than a bang of any kind. It’s almost ludicrous that a plot that drags on and spends so much time as if it is building towards something can end in such an unsatisfactory manner.
Though Tom Hardy gives it his all, ironically picking up his pace in the second half as the rest of the film slows down, and it may be pleasing to look at and interesting at its core. But everything used to fill the gaps of Child 44 feels pretentious, predictable and agonisingly slow.
Result: 4/10

Monday 27 April 2015

The Salvation

"We've been hoping, praying, for someone like you to come along and save us from our misery."

There’s no doubt that westerns are making a comeback. They may not be as numerous as they were in the days of John Ford, but they have gained a lot in respect and admiration as well as the fact that they attract big budget directors. This year we have two upcoming western revenge flicks that look sensational from Tarantino and the director of Birdman (I still can’t remember how to spell his name). But until then we have another that is sensational. I know because I’ve just seen it.
As an ex Danish soldier lays waste to the criminals who murdered his family he finds himself thrown in at the deep end as one of those criminals was the brother of a sadistic gang leader who is hell bent on hunting him down.
You may think it impossible to add to a genre and motivation that go together so often, revenge in the old west, I mean you do actually have to ask if anyone ever did anything other than kill each other for some deep rooted wrongdoing. But the Salvation is able to do just that, paying homages and drawing inspiration from the best such as Sergio Leone and the Treasure of Sierra Madre. There’s definitely a shifty atmosphere to say the least, there’s treachery and paranoia, also subtly reflected by the start of an immigration fear that of course, still haunts some parts of the world today.
But never fear, it’s not all about remembering the films your granddad watched and subtle social commentary, there’s a plenty of violence and action to go around. What we really see here is a traditional Spaghetti Western but set in what one might call a more accurate portrayal of 19th century America. There’s diversity and not everyone looks like they walked out of a John Ford movie, but there’s plenty to indicate that their morals, their actions and their influences all come from the same place. There’s a definite consciousness  of its own genus and it’s not afraid for the audience to notice it, the effect it creates only throws you further into this world that is crafted here.
Though there’s plenty of style on show it never crowds the picture. It acts merely as a backdrop for the excellent characters and events to play out their bloody course. The cast do a fantastic job to make sure that the cinematography doesn’t become the main character. Max Mikkelsen captures that old Eastwood lone hero trope very well, perhaps at times a bit more emotional rawness is needed in his character development, but for the most part the stone cold killer tone suits the rest of the film and is acted out expertly. It turns him into a resourceful protagonist who isn’t shy of magnetism where necessary.
Jeffrey Dean organ also gives a wonderfully gravelly performance reminiscent of Jeff Bridges in True Grit that offers a brilliant outlaw character with the perfect look to match. Eva Green offers us an interesting character that once again is excellently portrayed, but sadly she doesn’t get nearly enough time to stretch the character or her own talent out a lot.
It also peaked my curiosity for the most part. It may sag slightly in terms of pace and development during its second half, but more that makes up for it with an astonishing finale that involves a gruesome and imaginative showdown. Maybe a tad predictable in its structure and outline but when you’re paying homage to the best westerns surely that’s forgivable. Possibly, but one also has to remember that there is a point where a filmmaker can stop dedicating his film to something else and just go completely original, and the question of whether The Salvation should have abandoned its tributes at the halfway mark, with plot and character set up, to tell a less predictable and more original story.
But nonetheless this western revenge tale is full of stunning cinematography that provides a backdrop for the inventive events, believable characters and all wrapped up in a blood stained bow.
Result: 8/10  

Thursday 23 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

"Now I'm free, there are no strings on me."

It’s finally here. With so much talk about their Civil War, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Infinity Gauntlet, you could almost forget that Marvel has to get through their second instalment in the Avengers film series. It’s here, the only film that could stand a chance of beating The Force Awakens and in more focussed terms, the sequel to the most successful superhero film of all time.
When Tony Stark creates an artificial intelligence machine to defeat the damage inflicted upon SHIELD by Hydra, it becomes sentient and suddenly he and the rest of the Avengers find themselves facing a much bigger threat as the machine called Ultron declares that humanity is not fit to inhabit earth.
As promised, this film is considerably darker than its predecessor. It is here that we witness the ground work for the colossal break up that will come in Captain America 3. Before that we have to see the cracks appear as this team of heroes that has faced all foes and won, now face a villain that they simply cannot conquer. Don’t worry though, the humour and playful attitude between the team is still there for the most part, it’s just that they know it needs to be toned down a bit more for the grittier nature of the sequel and that’s fine, it suits the feel of the film finely.
This is also a much more intimate examination of each hero. With recent outcry that Black Widow and Hawkeye deserve their own movies in this franchise and that their role is merely a supporting one, here we witness their backstory played alongside their current emotions and turmoil’s to not only add gravitas to their stories, but open the doors to the terrors of their past returning to haunt them on a larger scale.
It would be difficult to criticise this film for leaving out certain questions that we might have wanted answered, especially from the chaos of the Winter Soldier. But it would be quite a safe bet to assume that Marvel has a spot marked out to deal with that in the future, and with so much going on here it would be inappropriate to demand more exposition. However of course there are those who would argue that this should work as a standalone film as well as the smaller part of a larger jigsaw. After all, Avengers Assemble was most definitely capable of supporting new viewers as well as old. Given that the franchise and mythology is older by this point it’s more forgivable, but all the same it is safe to assume that even after all this time there are still new fans coming out to witness this event.
I say event because this is exactly what the film feels like. It really is an event of epic proportions of amazing scope. There’s a reason why this could rival Star Wars, because it is amazing and has gained such a fan base over a relatively short time (if you assume that a majority did not read the comics).
Of course we’re also delaing with four new major players here. But amazingly they all get their time to shine and stand out. Olsen and Taylor Johnson both have a chance to flew their own hero muscles throughout this film, being seen on both sides of the conflict and you believe that their reasons for fighting on both sides are justified. Spader as Ultron has to rival Hiddleston’s Loki in terms of wit, charisma and ruthlessness. But unlike Loki he possesses such a physical intimidation that as a viewer you are left with no doubt in your mind that he is a threat. You fear him not out of his own actions, but what he means to the heroes that you connect with so well, Ultron doesn’t need an army to conquer us, he just needs to stand there for a while.
It may be difficult to ever recapture the magic of seeing these characters to together for the first time, but the gravitas and chemistry are still there and it manages to develop its characters more and allow them to grow beyond mere spectacles.
Amazing in almost every way with a great villain, spectacular heroes and of course a vision of the long and hopefully continually prosperous future of movies with Marvel.
Result: 9/10

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Fast and Furious: The Franchise So Far...

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Furious 7 is still topping the box office and is well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of the year so far. If you don’t believe in cinematic comebacks, then look at this poor excuse of a racing film turned action franchise of a generation. It started at one end of the spectrum and has finished(?) at another.
There’s no denying that 2001’s the Fast and the Furious was a sleek and stylish film. There was plenty of high speed action and spectacular crashes. One of the main problems with this film though, and the rest of the franchise in general until number 5, was that they thought they could be gritty and realistic while maintaining their fairly thin plot and character development. To make a serious action movie you need to build it that way from the ground up, not make a generic and clichéd script before trying to add violence and bad language.  But it was still fairly successful at the box office, as you would expect as, because without some substantial takings with this instalment we wouldn’t have got another.
At the time though this may have been seen as a bad thing as the less said about 2 Fast 2 Furious the better. It felt a bit like a shameless cash-crab and in many ways it was, raking in another hefty profit for Universal. Many critics agreed that aside from the fast cars, Vin Diesel was the best thing about the first film, but he sits this one out and Paul Walker is left to wonder rather aimlessly without him. As well as this, compared to the (moderately) low budget but gritty sequences of the first and the mega budget, real stunts of the new ones and the first, the CGI car stunts on display here are laughable.  Once again the dialogue boils down to weird and unnatural trash talk, and a less serious tone that lacks as much fun as other instalments.
Tokyo Drift introduced us to a new generation of racers. This may have been some attempt at a shared universe franchise or just a reboot after the disappointing fan reaction to number 2. There’s some decent interaction between the younger cast, only one of which would become a major addition to the rest of the franchise. Tokyo Drift has a steadier and focussed style and was CGI free as well as a frantic and energetic pace but this improvement over 2 did not show at the box office, not even a Vin Diesel cameo as enough to tie it together with the rest of the series.
This attempt as a reboot did not pay off as immediately we were back to the old cast just as it looked like they had faded away for good. Diesel, Walker and most of the original cast, as well as one or two new faces from the sequels arrived to join in as well. The title annoyingly opts for Fast and Furious rather than putting a four in the title, something that has confused many people over the years when trying to google this film. For me there’s a real potential of matching grittiness with  a decent script. This is a darker and more serious instalment, examining the consequences of the characters actions in part one. The performances are also notably stronger and the plot is more complex, possibly over complex for this type though.
Fast Five is the instalment that people point to as the moment that this franchise became truly successful and loved. Abandoning their street race credentials for an emphasis on crime and heists, the gamble paid off big time. Huge profits were matched by bigger stunts and bigger men, introducing Dwayne Johnson as a worthy adversary (and later ally) for Diesel, so much so that he keeps coming back for them. As well as this Walker and Diesel share a much better relationship here, thy have a good time right from the off and their respect and admiration for one another is only undercut  by their constant attempts to be faster than one another. Each player has their moment and development, turning them from lesser side characters of inferior films to beloved team members. It’s a great example of big budget action done well.
Fast & Furious 6 was appropriately the 6th highest grossing film of that year, and with some good reason. This instalment’s villain may be rather underdeveloped compared to that of the Rock last time, but given that he’s still there to fight alongside the crew we can forgive it. There’s more focus on the relationship of the team itself with the reappearance of Diesel’s love interest and they have obviously found the right formula with Five, because here it is just copy and emphasise. For any other franchise that may be a disadvantage, but with the tone set in number five it was ideal for this kind of film. It may be devoid of tension but is undoubtedly awesome to watch, and honestly, in this kind of film with characters you actually care about you don’t want to be bogged down with drama.
My full review of number 7 is available on this blog. What are your thoughts on the Fast and Furious franchise , which is your favourite instalment and character from the series, leave a comment below to let me know and don’t forget to recommend Film Fanatic on google. 

Friday 17 April 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer 2 Review

Image result for star wars the force awakens trailer 2Image result for star wars the force awakens trailer 2

"Chewie, we're home."

It's here, we've been waiting a long time and it has finally arrived once again, sort of. Admittedly this is also another tease and not the full trailer, but on another note who the f**k cares because it's more Star Wars images and another chance to speculate over what is going to happen in JJ Abraams vision of the universe George Lucas built up. So here it is, a space opera built up from inspirations of Westerns and Samurai movies, something that defines a generation and has probably had a bigger effect on our culture than any film, ever .
There are a lot of moments within this trailer as opposed to the other comprised of six shots so let's just cover the trailer as a whole. Given that the film is still seven months away then I am certainly not disappointed by the fact that it's still a teaser. Expect a longer version in two to three months (at a rough guess). But what I really loved was that it was all new footage, most trailers of this type show us shots that have already appeared in the last one, but everything here was new and different and that only gets me more excited.
Luke narrates, someone (probably Luke) sits around a campfire with R2-D2, someone is handed a Lightsaber and of course there's the burned Vader mask. We know that it was cremated at the end of Episode 6 on Endor, so unless the Ewoks are the antagonists of number 7, it may have been a relic that Luke has kept or something retrieved by... we don't know who. But the way it's shot is beautiful,with a skeletal, almost haunted look.
Red is a prominent colour in all the Imperial shots. It's led me to believe that either the Empire has split into factions and the one we see here is different to the one Vader and Palpatine ruled over in the original three, or it could be the weakened Empire being forced to partner with another organisation in order to survive. f course, it could still be just an evolution that has taken place over the past thirty years, take your pick. 
Planets are still unconfirmed, many believed the first shot of the first trailer was Tatooine, but now rumours have arisen that indicate it could be another planet. But regardless, the scope and cinematography of that first shot really is Star wars in all of its cinematic glory. That defines the whole trailer, the first one set the tone, this one sets the scope. Will the third set the story?
Our main antagonist is visible from the front now in the classic force stance. Oscar Issaac looks like he's having the time of his life in an X-Wing, some mysterious chrome soldier and the Empire is being attacked by a TIE Fighter with John Boyega freaking out. All very impressive but something tells me that a majority of the shots are taken from the first act of the final movie. With a few exceptions most of the aspects come together to form the outline of what I think the first thirty or forty minutes will be like.
Here is my theory. We establish the state of the new galaxy free from Imperial rule (the exact details are beyond me and there are just too many possibilities for me to try and work it out now). Boyega is a stormtrooper who realises how flawed and corrupt the Empire is but can't get out. That is until the Star Destroyer he is stationed on is attacked and crashes on the planet below. The site is a gathering point for scavengers, one of which (Daisy Ridley, who may or may not be related to Luke, Han and Leia) rescues Boyega and they partner up as well as stealing a valuable object from the crash site. But her hideout is attacked by Imperial forces looking for it and they are rescued by the Millennium Falcon (piloted by I don't know who) but it plunges them into this larger galactic conflict and from there...
Like I said, this is all speculation. For a start the shot in which we see Han and Chewbacca on the Falcon strangely tugs at the emotions. But furthermore does this imply that Solo has been seperated from his old girl for some time or is he referring to something else that only becomes clear in context.
Whatever the answer is, we may have to wait a while to find out. But based on the strength of this and the previous trailer, I hope that it will most definitely be worth the wait.  

Wednesday 15 April 2015

John Wick

"People keep asking if I'm back. Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back.'

The recent trend of action films seem to involve featuring a main character who is, shall we say, of the more experienced generation. You want proof, the 62 year old Liam Neeson is starring in every other action film put out, middle aged gentleman Colin Firth is possibly the most outrageously violent spy in recent memory and now we have Keanu Reeves who (though he doesn’t look it) has recently turned 50. The other thing that’s going back more than one generation is the quality, because like any action film of yesterday, it’s far better than the ones we have today.
A group of violent and uncontrollable gangsters break into the home of a man, steal his car, beat him to a pulp and just for the fun of it kill his beloved dog. They think they’ve got away from their night’s activities scot-free and think no more about the man they humiliated, Unfortunately for them their victim was a retired assassin, infamous among the underworld, John Wick. And now they’ve made him very angry.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start. John Wick is about as basic an action movie you can get in terms of plot. It reminds me of the Raid Redemption in many ways, but instead of a group of soldiers attacking a building we witness a man who woke up on the wrong side of bed (the side that happened to have a group of bloodthirsty mobsters on it) and now he wants to take his frustration out in the healthiest way possible, killing anyone who gets in his way of having a full and frank discussion (followed by a full and frank fight) with these gentlemen.
Most directors think that by shaking the camera and using loud noises they can create a great action film. But this is not true and you realise it when you watch a film directed as well as John Wick. Directors Chad Staheliski and David Leitch both have a great background in stunts and choreography and it really shows. Every sequence just looks and feels perfectly and painstakingly designed and executed with precise and powerful techniques. The action is all wonderfully inventive as well as being fantastically peppered with a sense of dry humour.
What I really love is that there isn’t a great need to give exposition to everything. Everything that effects Wick is addressed but then left alone once he leaves them. An example is the fact that much of the film takes place in a ‘hideaway for hitmen’ and that brings out so many colourful characters that may bog down some films of this genre, but not John Wick. Instead it ploughs on at a fast pace, throwing punches, raining bullets and generally beating up baddies along the way. That is how an action movie should move.
But it’s not all action with no room for acting. Willem Dafoe is on hand to offer a charismatic and strangely terrifying performance and of course, there’s Keanu. This could very well be his best performance EVER. The physicality for one thing is amazing, it’s obvious that Reeves is fully committed to this role and his not afraid to take what could have been a comical character in the hands of any other actor and deliver every line with such passion and belief that you really do believe in everything he says. There are several monologues over how important his dog was to him and as the film progresses you fall under his influence and shockingly you agree with Wick’s view of that they deserve to die for killing his poor pooch.
Some say that the recent trend of comic book movies has made it increasingly difficult to make an action film. But by borrowing some key aspects, mythology and style of the genre John Wick seems to exceed others that hold the view of staying as far away from superheroes as possible. It suits the story as well because if this was treated in a different manner Wick would be seen as a superhero and therefore un-relatable. But here it just works.
Keanu kicks arse.
Result: 9/10

Tuesday 14 April 2015

While We're Young

"For the first time in my life I've stopped looking at myself as if I'm a child imitating an adult."

Apparently there is a danger in youth. There’s also an even greater danger in adopting the lifestyle of a youth and several films have tried to address this such as last year’s Bad Neighbours. But it’s safe to say that very few have tackled the generation gap head on for quite a while. But has this charming and star studded comedy drama managed to even scratch the surface?
Childless documentary filmmakers Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) find themselves rejuvenated when they befriend a young married couple Jaime (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) but issues arise as Josh and Jamie start to collaborate on a new project.
In many ways you can think of this as the culmination of director Noah Baumbach’s two previous films, Greenberg (also featuring Ben Stiller) about a man heading towards a mid-life crisis, and Frances Ha about a youth with no idea concerning what to do with his life. Here those two tones and ideologies collide head on, but rather than being crowded and cluttered, the result is a great mix (slightly more in favour of the older couple) of generations and the jealousy between them. We see both  of them shine in their own right once again and interact in wonderfully inventive and entertaining ways. There’s even a small insight into the next generation up in the form of Charles Grodin as Stiller’s father in law.
That generation gap really does act as the emotional centre of the film. Through all of the comedy there’s the heartfelt realisation for the younger couple that they’re not going to live forever, in many ways they’re already past their prime from a certain perspective. But the same goes for the older couple as they have to accept that they have to accept the prospect of being out of touch with the what’s new and accepting their own age.
Where most comedies will simply drive a joke into the ground for as long as possible While We’re Young knows where to draw the line and thankfully it’s while we’re young and not bored to death with the same style of humour. Instead they just let a great moment remain untouched, and there are a lot of them, some of them come into play later and some don’t but you still enjoy them all.
The dialogue is wonderfully written. There’s an almost seamless blend of comedy and drama, neither really dominating or obscuring the other for a massive portion of the film, even the most heavy handed scenes have comedy woven throughout and there’s a nice amount of social commentary to wrap it all up. It feels like a genuinely intelligent film, remember that, when comedy used to be intelligent as well as hilarious. True we did see it in Birdman, but it’s back here as well. Joy of joys.
Stiller’s performance really stands out here though. It may not be the one that would win an Oscar, but he is able to fully flesh out and give life to a character that on the surface appears to be there to represent the oldies. But instead there’s an honesty to his role here that makes it feel unique and general at the same time, one that we can relate to but also enjoy watching. His and Watts’ relationship feels genuine as well, with enough enjoyable moments there to fill their own film, possibly, or not. It’s still good though.
Driver also introduces a nearly irresistible sincerity and awkward joviality himself. Though he contrasts with Stiller he makes it obvious that they share a passion for a common interest and that means you can really understand why they have a friendship and furthermore, you feel as if you would want to get to know them both as well.
Intelligent, funny, heartfelt, wonderfully believable and all topped with a great soundtrack, it just feels like something that came out of Woody Allen’s scrapbook and has been given new life by a fresh face.
Result: 9/10

Sunday 12 April 2015

The Water Diviner

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"It was my job to steer my boys to manhood, I failed them."

Is Russell Crowe losing influence? That’s not a statement it is just a genuine question. To me it feels as if it’s been a while since we’ve seen the actor give a genuine performance that can carry a film. That would explain why he’s taken the step of directing as well. But like I said, I’m not confirming his ability (or inability) to act, merely questioning it. But then again we could gain a genuinely talented director here (remember Ben Affleck) with the Water Diviner, his directorial debut.
Following the suicide of his grief stricken wife an Australian farmer (Crowe) goes in search of his three sons having been reported as missing in action at the battle of Gallipoli. To find them though he must confront British bureaucracy, Turkish revolts and the other widows left by war.
It feels as if its aiming to be more of a classical tale on war, full of passion and bravery. There’s less of a pull towards the centre of battle and instead, watching it from the side-lines and aftermath. That being said there is a very impressive portrayal of the battle of Gallipoli through the eyes of a Turkish soldier. There’s plenty of focus on the more intimate side of the impact war has on humans and without a great need for constant action to keep the audience hooked, instead we witness what could be a more personal tale of struggle.
Keeping in the tone of classic films, there’s a heavy and melodramatic theme running throughout that appears to be hit and miss for me. Though it plays well in the whole war-is-hell segment it makes other scenes, particularly the gushy love story (we’ll get to that later), messy and almost lost within the barren landscape that assembles the rest of the film. The story may seem ridiculous in any other context but amidst the chaos we witness at the start of the film is naturally feels more acceptable, a clever move in the nonlinear story, though it’s a standard technique by now it works very well.
An interesting comparison springs to mind because similarly to Unbroken, another war film directed by another actor turned director, The Water Diviner has a very striking look to it. There’s a blandness and desolation that emphasises the themes and motives that are on display here, through of beautiful and natural symbolism. The direction itself has a more standard feel to it, as if Crowe is only just finding his feet here. Make no mistake, eventually he may get there, but right now he’s just going along with the stabilisers on his bike, playing it safe and going along at a reasonable pace.
This may be a slightly biased complaint, but all the British characters are almost laughably unsympathetic, as if we go home and twiddle our moustaches, chuckling at how we made that bloke who looks like Maximus suffer. For most of the time The Water Diviner does an excellent job of acknowledging the pain felt on both sides of the conflict and giving neither a singular claim on the grief. But when it comes to dealing with British officers (who were probably very annoying and uncaring at the time anyway) it comes perilously close to delving into that good vs evil routine, nearly destroying the grey picture it has built up so far.
As I mentioned earlier, the love story really drags this film down. Where earlier the melodrama almost heightened the sense of realism for the first half of the film, it just makes this sequence look clichéd and over acted, with no consistent character development or relatable aspects. It really feels fake and forced.
Though there are moments of sincerity and pain, complete with the potential to create a harrowing picture of an often overlooked side of history, The Water Diviner lacks the depth and structure to really drive its point home. But you can look out for Crowe as a director, showing some promise here.
Result: 5/10

Sunday 5 April 2015

Fast and Furious 7

Image result for furious 7 poster

"Just when you didn't think it could get any better."

 In my opinion few franchises have reinvigorated themselves at the halfway point, to go from being a bad excuse for an action film to being one of the most talked about and loved action films of this generation. Since Fast 5 they’ve really embraced their over the top stunts and plot that acts more as a filler, simply saying if you can’t beat them, join them. With Paul Walker’s death and the chronology of their own timeline catching up with them, the fate of the franchise could rest with number 7.
Following the death of Han at the end of the last instalment at the hands of a mysterious man (Jason Statham) Don Toretto and the rest of the team must be extra careful as they are recruited by a government officer (Kurt Russell) to rescue a kidnapped hacker who has created a revolutionary tracking device. This means that Don is now at liberty to take his own revenge.
Walker’s death presented a heart-breaking and daunting task for the entire team. It is a miracle that through a mix of stunt-doubles, siblings, CGI recreations and the small amount of footage that was already captured, he is here to give a final bow as his best known role. Even more amazingly, it isn’t distracting from the actual film, only a few very small shots and the most eagle eye viewers would be able to give away the fact that most of this film was shot without the actual man himself. It acts as an elegant tribute to him and a sign of his importance to so many people due to the effort they undertook to restore him.
As usual cars are defying gravity and flung from every possible angle, topped with what can only be described as mountains of muscular masculinity go hand to hand. It’s all very impressive and enjoyable to watch. There’s no catch to that statement either, it’s just great fun, the most fun I’ve had so far this year. That’s either a complement to the film or really sad for me I suppose.
The pace is up in every aspect and the result is not only a heart-pumping movie, but a consistent one. Rather than draw a clear line between fast cars and fast dialogue, James Wan ensures that everything runs at the exact speed that you want it to, and that speed is as fast as humanly possible, as it should be.
Mind you, there is time for some character development and humour. Vin Diesel’s Toretto and Michelle Rodriguez both continue their difficult relationship as she struggles to regain her memories. Statham, while arguably rather humourless for someone who always stands out to me as Turkish in Guy Ritchie’s acclaimed crime comedy Snatch, is perfectly cast as an utterly relentless villain and possibly the only person who genuinely feels as if he could go toe to toe with the Rock and Diesel.
The supporting cast all over laughs and action along the way, and that’s definitely needed. Almost on par with the way they must have felt on set, the three leads Statham, Johnson and Diesel offer grittier an more bittersweet performances than we’ve previously seen. Did I even mention Kurt Russell yet, let me just say that you could expect a real showstopper in Tarantino’s western The Hateful Eight, hitting cinemas later this year. With a relatively small role he stands out as a charismatic and leading figure.
The story may be rather nonsensical, but what separates these from something like a Michael Bay film is that a waver thin plot it not dragged out for as long as humanly possible (seriously, Age of Extinction was the same length as Boyhood, one sentence of plot takes the same amount of time as twelve years, but I’m losing focus) they know how long to play the game and let you go with what must be one of the most unexpectedly beautiful sequences in recent cinema through a final, tearful farewell to Paul Walker.
Implausible stunts, thin plot and an almost comedic level of action, I love it.
Result: 8/10

Wednesday 1 April 2015


Image result for insurgent movie poster

"You are living proof that the Divergent problem has grown beyond all control."

I only recently saw Divergent in the wake of this very quickly produced sequel. I have to admit that the ending did not make a lot of sense, from what I can gather the heroes incapacitate the evil dictator (something that all teen films now include) and decide to run rather than simply taking the opportunity to kill her, or at least kidnap her, or leave some kind of threat, or hold her ransom. Anything would have been more logical than simply running away to an uncertain future, an ending that is in no way like the first Hunger Games at all. Then it hit me, it ended this way because they needed a sequel as quickly as possible, so they could cash in on the inevitable grieving Hunger games fans as the franchise closes, so could this sequel at least offer that.
In their divided world of factions the two Divergents Tris and Four (is that really a name, okay then) are on the run and fighting for survival against the ruthless government and leader (Kate Winslet) that is hot on their trail (another reason why it would have made sense to kill her when they had the chance).
To be honest, it would be easy to say that the production speed has resulted in a lazy film, an aspect that is the worst crime imaginable for my cinema tastes. But that would not be true because there is an interesting and inventive way in which the film is made and acted. I have to say it, the two leads are good in their roles, particularly Shailene Woodley who generates remorse and regret for her actions in a similar way to Jenifer Lawrence in Catching Fire. I’m not saying she’s better than Lawrence but there’s definitely an element of imitation that is pretty good in its own right. Octavia Spencer and Naomi Watts are also credible, there’s no phoning it in or half-arsed performances here.
As far as sequels go, in my opinion, it should build on the original in every way for scope and intensity as well as focussing on the depth of its characters to a greater extent and add another crucial element to the story. The series does pack more action into this instalment than the first one as well as demonstrating some frankly excellent direction on them. The sweeping camera shots, use of slow motion and fast, sharp angles all attribute to the intensity.
The character study is also interesting. We have to witness them come to terms with decisions made in the first film and coping with the long term consequences. The depth and complexity, as I said earlier, is all conveyed with precise accuracy by Woodley and they manage to avoid sinking into a constant series of complaints, as Katniss has been accused of. The downside to this of course is that every other character seems to be pushed aside.
The love relationship is what you would call lacklustre though. This relationship involves each party withholding information from one another, constantly reprimanding each other for letting emotions interfere and spend most of their time running rather than actually talking to each other and bonding, yet still somehow falling head over heels for each other by the end.
Kate Winslet is decent, but she just doesn’t feel necessary. I feel as if her presence would be like the Emperor being present for all of Empire Strikes Back rather than just that one conversation. This would be fine if they added some depth to her character, but there’s nothing, just a villain twiddling her thumbs and getting no exposition at all.
The main problem from Insurgent seems to stem from the fact that at the end of the day, when you think about it, it makes no sense at all. The plot seems overly elaborate and reveals itself in a rather uneven manner.
 The story of Insurgent is pulled in so many directions that it is simply ripped apart, held together only by the strand that is Woodley’s performance and some impressive directing.
Result: 4/10