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Sunday, 31 May 2015

Best and Worst of May 2015

So, we're well and truly into summer now. In a brief gap between the heaviest hitters of Avengers and Jurassic World there are more of what you would refer to as the lighter and perhaps riskier films of the summer. There are certainly some odd films and ones that I can definitely see on my final list of the year. though at the same time it has been a bit of a mixed bag and at the same time I can also see a few films that we probably be on the list for worst of the year. But putting that aside, here are the three best.
3: Tomorrowland
Despite some issues with its final act and the sudden incapability to retain a subtle message rather than ones that hit you over the head Brad Bird's vision of the future is one of the most unique and pleasingly optimistic to come out of cinema in recent memory. More importantly, don't forget just how good it feels to have another original idea and one that stands completely on its own merit. Excellently acted and with stunning visuals, the charm and hope of Tomorrowland is stunning.
2: Danny Collins
I wouldn't say it was a comeback for Al Pacino because he's always been good and he has been better, but this is a reminder of why he's great. Certainly the most entertaining film of the month thanks to a superb script and wonderful supporting cast, as well as a sondtrack that evokes some of the deepest emotions of any music fan (because if you're a fan of music you're a fan of John Lennon). It never looses its dramatic undertones but juggles it with the comedy excellently.
1: Mad Max: Fury Road
What could I say about this film that I haven't already said, or written even? George Miller's triumphant return to the madness is assisted by Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron ready to take his concept and run, or rather, drive with it at breakneck speed towards a desert full of excitement, spectacle, drama (yes really) that sets the benchmark for all modern action films and may in the future be looked upon as a milestone for the entire genre. Am I exaggerating, I don't care. Do yourself a favor and go and see it, or don't, I'm not the boss of you.
And now the worst...
Big Game
If there is an appeal to be found in Big Game, I certainly didn't spot it. Too serious to appeal to the child-friendly dynamic and too childish to generate a positive response from the hardcore action fans. If it does anything right I suspect it's not on purpose, now I can't go on, I'm off to re-watch Fury Road to try and forget that horrible experience.  

Danny Collins

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"Dear Danny Collins, stay true to yourself, stay true to your music. My phone number is below, we can discuss this."

Sometimes you think an actor has given everything that they can, their career best performances are behind them and they out to take the Connery or Nicholson route (not that either of those two were necessarily incapable of bringing another great performances). But hang on a moment, before you can even say Lifetime Achievement award here comes an event like Danny Collins for an actor like Mr Al Pacino.
A cheesy and aged rock musician (Pacino) suddenly receives a letter from none other than John Lennon that was written 43 years ago and has an epiphany. He calls off his tour, quits his lavish lifestyle in an effort to rediscover his musical heart and bind with a son he’s never met.
As I was saying, now Pacino comes back singing. Yes you heard correctly, or rather, read correctly. We all know he can shout, in fact it’s what he’s associated with as an acting technique now (‘Attaca’ and ‘Say hello to my little friend’). But for this performance he’s reminded us all just how talented he was and still is by toning the charisma and power to come out with some genuinely empathetic moments of purity. If anything Pacino almost replicates Danny Collins’ journey as, though he is incredibly famous and respected but it may be safe to question his true talent today. But by doing this film he certainly reminds us of his entertainment and dramatic flair.
The cast Al has to help him out is also exceptional, and they all deliver what’s expected and then some. Annette Bening, Jenifer Garner and Christopher Plummer are all hitting their marks, from Plummer as the long-time manager and best friend who traverses the turbulence of his client with dry wit and one liners, to the manager of Danny’s unassertive hotel retreat who exudes kindness and humour. Their chemistry and interaction harkens back to the best comedies of yesterday.
There’s a wonderful determination behind the film as well, as if it wants to succeed, it wants to be good, it wants you to love it, just like its titular character. There’s an urge to regain anything that might have been lost in previous outings and it’s helped by the fact that it is genuinely funny and heartfelt. Perhaps it resorts to sentimentality once or twice but you know what, to hell with picking on things for being sentimental (at east in this case) because the film is inherently sentimental and relishes in it as well as the fact that it really does evoke some deep emotions for anyone who has a strong and genuine connection with music and artistic integrity.
The sharp and slick script by Dan Fogleman (also director) has allowed this talented cast to sink their teeth into it and make sure that they can have fun with it as well. There’s freedom to move that supplies a playful and light hearted nature, but not so much that it feels chaotic. But perhaps the biggest asset is teaming Pacino with his estranged son played by Bobby Cannavale as the true drama lies here. His resentful nature and Pacino’s need to be forgiven play host to a range of tones from calamity, entertainment and sensitivity.
It may be predictable for the most part, but definitely not the ending. I can’t say anymore but hold onto your emotions as they will be shaken up one more time, right up until a final shot that may require a shoulder to lean on.
And then there’s the soundtrack, wow. A wonderful compilation of John Lennon is used to pull on your heartstrings even when there’s not as much for the film itself to do on its own.
Humorous, heartfelt, a reminder of why we love Al Pacino and why we love John Lennon.

Result: 8/10

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Tomorrowland

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"You wanted to see Tomorrowland? Here it comes."

It’s hard to remember the last time I walked into a film as high profile as Tomorrowland but knowing so little about the plot, premise or characters. This is the first blockbuster for a while that is not a reboot, part of a franchise, or based on something else. Though it borrows elements of the Disneyland attraction it is only based on it as much as Pirates of the Caribbean was based on the ride. So does this represent a bold stand against the Hollywood trend of today and can it inspire others to make more original things, and more importantly, silence all of the people who keep annoyingly pointing out that noting is original anymore and moan at everything.
After discovering a mysterious pin that transports her to an alternate, futuristic, dimension, young Casey (Brit Robertson) seeks out grizzled Frank Walker (George Clooney), the man who may be able to provide her with the answers and explanation to what it all means.
To be fair, that summary is just the first twenty minutes. As I said, this is an original and unknown plot, so I want to keep it that way and make sure that you can experience this first-hand. Brad Bird has famously not yet made a bad film, The Iron Giant (though not commercially successful) was insightful and thoughtful, The Incredibles and Ratatouille were inspired and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol was the best of that franchise and perhaps a modern action classic.
So, Tomorrowland. There’s no denying that Brad Bird is still a fantastic director, his vision and masterwork behind the camera is truly spectacular. The impressive mix of set-pieces and CGI make for one of the most spectacular cinematic worlds of recent memory. Tomorrowland’s environment is one that you want to explore and discover as the film progresses and therefore you are plugged into the action and science fiction elements that are dealt with and the way Bird builds suspense and excitement makes it feel like a ride of its own.
The philosophy behind Tomorrowland is also an interesting one, with a perspective that allows you to reflect upon the changing ideologies of modern times. Certainly Bird seems to have taken less of an inspiration from Disneyland and more its namesake. Walt Disney was a man that looked forward to the future, Bird was of a generation that still did. People like Bird and Disney would ask why then, have we started to fear the future.
Maybe because the modern day has given us something to fear for, is today worse than the past and therefore guarantees an even grimmer future. Perhaps, but those are the themes Bird raises time and time again. In fact, a little too often as the messages of peace and environmentalism may start off as subtle and meaningful, but by the end they reach levels of preachiness and certainly are not delicately placed, choosing instead to hit its audience over the head with these teachings to such a point that it almost feels as if other aspects of the film were pushed aside to make room for these.
That’s not the only thing that gets derailed by the end of Tomorrowland either. The entire film seems to take a nosedive off a cliff during those final twenty minutes. Well maybe that’s a bit harsh, but there’s no denying that most of the unique and inventive plot points that are established and developed for the most part of the film are suddenly resolved with what is sadly a rather conventional and uninspired climax. I won’t spoil it but let me just say that if you are expecting the film to wait until the last moment to pull its best trick out of its hat then you will probably be disappointed. Perhaps we should have seen this coming given that one of the main creative minds behind this project was David Lendelof, co-creator of Lost, another interesting premise with a rather lacklustre ending.
But if you focus on the poor ending alone then you are really missing the true charm of the film. The imagination is made believable by Brit Robertson’s careful coherence between confusion and confidence and George Clooney’s departure from the usual charm into a more embittered veteran figure. At the same time though he seems to have a lot of fun here, remarkable considering that the last blockbuster he did of this magnitude was Batman and Robin.
Inventive and visually stunning, Tomorrowland is definitely an original concept and can sum up what has been missing from recent filmmaking. Just be sure to remember that during those last few minutes.
Result: 7/10

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Poltergeist (2015)

"Clear your minds, they already know what scares you."

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If there’s one thing I hate its remakes that are unnecessary. The original Poltergeist by Steven Spielberg (he probably directed it okay, just look for some theories online and judge for yourself but in my opinion, he did it) is a marvel of intimate and paranoid horror involving more of a suburbia take on the usual horror tropes. The effects still hold up today and the themes are still relevant today, and it’s not as if it’s impossible to make a ghost story and not accused of ripping off Poltergeist, so why, please tell me, why would you remake it now?
A family is plagued by evil forces that lurk within their home. The attacks begin to escalate and eventually their youngest daughter is taken captive, resulting in the rest of the family having to come together to save her before she is lost forever.
The Psycho remake is regarded as one of the worst remakes of all time, why, because there is no reason for it to exist. It’s a shot-for-shot remake with nothing original innovative in sight. The same can be said for Poltergeist. A child touches a TV, we get it you’re a remake but just do something else instead of constantly trying to remind us of the original. You need more than nostalgia to survive in this world. It takes imagination and originality and some unique ideas to rise above the plot points and scares we’ve seen before. The only difference is that here they are not executed as well as they were in 1982. Whenever they do try to take a different approach it feels weird and pointless, if you were going to change anything, why would you change that tiny detail that makes no difference.
Actually that’s a lie. The other difference from the original is a near total dependence on CGI. Nearly everything is digitally enhanced in an effort to try and outdo its predecessor. But this remake never does, instead the effects look fake and unbelievable. I don’t dislike CGI, in fact I love it as long as I don’t know what is CGI ad what is real. Remember T2 and Jurassic Park, CGI heavy right, wrong, nearly half of those effects utilised practical creations and this resulted in a far better visual experience. Poltergeist just slaps the CGI on everything and it is very easy to separate the real and fake, much like real ghost stories.
Furthermore, by asking your actors to imagine everything that happens around them and not presenting them with anything to react against, the result is only made worse by the fact that you can tell the actors are only staring at a green screen, struggling to convey real emotions from their position when faced with just some basic directing.
To be fair though, despite a rather lacklustre attitude and reaction to the horror around them, the acting in the movie is credible. By far Sam Rockwell is the best part of the film and if the rest of the film was better we might even praise him as amazing. As well as that the rest of the film is made in a proficient way. Don’t be mistaken, there’s nothing horrible or terribly wrong about the film, but at the same time it does nothing at all to stand out or make an impression and when you’re remaking a horror classic like this then all you’re really doing is tarnishing the original.
As you can see with my list of top five best horror remakes the best ones will always try something new, whether it be increased body horror, faster pace, paranoia or introducing A-list talent in the production. But here there’s nothing new on offer, and nothing that can scare me because I’ve seen it all before.
Result: 3/10

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Top 5 Horror Remakes

The Poltergeist remake is hitting cinemas very soon, are you excited? Me neither. But to be fair the horror remake idea is neither a new concept nor a terrible one as commonly believed. I know it would be easier to name more examples of shameless cash-ins that merely borrow the name of the original in order to rake in more profit from teenagers that have probably never seen the original anyway. But there are exceptions to this rule.
Of course a clever person would point out that the various horror classics of the 1930s were based on novels that were previously adapted in the silent era. Then these classics were once again remade in the 1950s by the Hammer Studio. But I’m ignoring those because… well to be honest once you play that card it’s hard to ignore it and in the end my list would end up  being made up of films that you didn’t even know were remakes. Another clever person might point to Evil Dead 2, but (though that is one of my absolute favourite horror flicks) is still a sequel to the original, though I can understand the reasoning behind calling it a remake.
A few that didn’t make the list include Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead (1991), House of Wax (1953) and The Blob (1988).
5: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zac Snyder has now moved on the bigger budgeted blockbusters, but many still cite this remake of the Romero classic as his best work. Though it may have been an unnecessary remake that would have benefitted from adopting a new title and using its own merit to gain attention, it still gets your heart racing. Terrifying and action packed with a rejuvenated pace thanks to a nifty idea of allowing zombies to run (pretend it wasn’t on 28 Days Later first). Dawn of the Dead also captures the paranoia and stress of the original being cooped up in a shopping mall. It would be very easy to credit this film with assisting the recent zombie resurgence of The Walking Dead.
4: Cape Fear (1991)
This psychological horror was definitely an undisputed classic in its own right. If you want to remake something the right way then martin Scorsese is the man to call, with the Departed also attributing to his career. He is undoubtedly the master and pioneer of those traditional Hollywood methods, particularly in terror and suspense. Not only does he pay homage to the original (including cameos from Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum who both starred in the original), but by taking full advantage of his $35 million budget he could distinguish his own vision and themes of obsession.
3: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The best remakes take the premise, concepts and themes of the original and apply them to the modern context in which they are presented. The 1950s Body Snatchers expressed paranoia of creeping communism but this version is more concerned with fears of conspiracy and cover ups instead. The chilling and sometimes gruesome nature of what the mysterious pod people carry out for an extended look at the extent of such a plot and the way it somehow manages to be both bleak and stylised all at the same time is remarkable. That scream at the end is still terrifying.
2: The Fly (1986)
Few remakes eclipse the original as completely as David Cronenberg’s The Fly did, and the original is by no means a bad film, choosing to surround itself in mystery and intrigue instead. But the body horror style is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. The tragic of the love story that Jeff Goldblum becomes entangled in, as well as the dark sense of humour and the sheer terror of a prolonged and gradual transformation as the mad scientist’s body slowly but surely deteriorates only adds to it. The process of merging with a fly may be an allegory for any illness, possibly the AIDS epidemic of the time. The creature feature, monster model is seconded only by one…
1: The Thing (1982)

The original was certainly a significant standpoint of paranoid cinema and one of John Carpenter’s favourite movies. But by swapping politics for gore Carpenter not only created the most impressive creature feature of all time (seriously, the practical effects are more horrifying than anything CGI can ever craft) he also managed to maintain that sense of paranoia as the men turn on each other out of fear over whether or not the shapeshifting alien is impersonating one of them as it chews through the Arctic base. So many elements of this film inspire shock and awe, to name just one, the doctor slams the defibrillator down onto a wounded man’s chest only for it to split in two, revealed to be a set of jaws, and starts to chew him up. Nothing else demonstrates John Carpenter’s ability to master scare value. Or does it why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens… 

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Breakfast Club: Thirty Years On

Anyone that was a teenager when they saw John Hughes’ masterwork for the first time in 1985 is now facing a midlife crisis of some sort. If that applies to you then you may be eager to revisit The Breakfast Club at its thirtieth birthday.
Though it is a product of the 80s in many ways, possibly the quintessential movie of that era alongside Back to the Future and E.T, in many other ways the Breakfast Club is as ageless as any film can possibly be. The comedy drama was famously written by Hughes over just two days and while each character could be seen to represent more of an archetype, that may be its strongest asset. When watching it recently I realised that rather than represent an individual, each character could simply represent a group that must interact and accept the existence of the others. You also need to remember that the whole point of this film is that each character, though vastly different, experiences the same turmoil and heartache. The problems they face, issues they tackle and emotions that run high are all part of that basic and maddeningly complicated teen experience.
What starts out as a playful interaction between these different teens turns into a deeper narrative that’s structured so expertly. An example is Brian the brain, the one that is stamped on and put down repeatedly throughout the story, when Andy and Bender get into a heated argument, Brian tries to remain neutral only to be told by both parties to shut up, when he assists the principle in counting the number of detentions he hands out once again Brian is dismissed. He is left to last to reveal his secret, his trauma. Other characters include parental hatred, abuse, compulsive lying, peer pressure. But Brian’s secret of having attempted suicide is left to last. He’s the character that is neglected by everyone, and in the end, when he reveals what Vernon found in his locker that made him get a detention, and the look that the others exchange, says it all. The drama and brilliance of this story are summed up in one, gut wrenching and heartfelt moment.
The characters are so well written because none of them are perfect. Bender may appear to be a wise rebel, but we find out he’s completely hypocritical. The perspective they take of the principle (not quite the bad guy he may have appeared to be when you watched the film as a teenager) demonstrates the film’s ability to connect and understand its audience. In fact it would be safe to say that no film has ever understood its audience as well as John Hughes has here.
Though it may sound dramatic, there’s those wonderful moments of humour and the way that they blend so seamlessly from heavy moments (what, heavy is an expression from the 80s). The fact that there’s even some remarkably absurd moments like that dance montage and somehow Andy is able to shatter a glass window with his voice following a hyper induced series of backflips. Why, maybe because he’s a teenager and he feels good, so he feels invincible and from this perspective he is.
It’s difficult to make an argument that any other film really knows and captures what it’s like to be a teenager. To be honest, any other argument would be for another Hughes film such as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. Decades on these themes are still ringing true and are still affecting millions today. There will always be teenagers, and that’s why the Breakfast Club will always be needed.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

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"What a lovely day."

Thirty years is a long time. Thirty years of rumours, speculation, redesigning and recasting before we finally reached this point. The trailers came, we watched in awe, now the Road Warrior roars back onto the screen in a triumphant, adrenaline fuelled path of carnage. He’s Max, and he’s Mad, and he’s back.
In a post apocalyptic wasteland deprived of oil and water, the warlord Immortan Joe rules over the area with an iron fist. Following the escape of his five wives under the protection of a mysterious woman called Furiosa (Charlize Theron), Joe sets out in pursuit, accompanied by his army and their newly found prisoner Max (Tom Hardy).
There’s no denying that Mad Max is a crazy universe to be in, it’s a wild ride from start to finish and rather than do what so many modern interpretations of a classic series have done by trying to make it dark and brooding we have a…. well, Mad movie in Mad Max. To be fair though, I say it’s not dark and brooding but don’t expect sunshine and flowers. This is a brutal, violent film but the action and eccentricity of it are astonishing to watch, they are unbelievable, they are completely amazing in every aspect. 
Every generation has their action movie, the pone that defines the tone of filmmaking of their time. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Terminator 2 and now Fury Road. I honestly have not seen action made to this kind of standard for a long time and now I can finally say that yes, action movies are as good as they were thirty years ago. They can be classed alongside the most prestigious and artistic films of the day and they can win. This is the pinnacle of what it means to be an action film. Go away Three Days to Kill and Lucy and any other excuse for an action film, here we have the action film by which all others can be measured against.
Am I hyping this up too much, fine I don’t care. Do you expect me to give proper reasons for why I like this film instead of just fanboying everywhere? Alright then. The action is non-stop, right from the get-go Max is captured and then transported, caught in massive battles and torn between his devotion. George Miller is a firm believer is the purity of action films the visual nature is what drives it forward. The scale of scope of it is also completely immersive thrusting you into the world that is undoubtedly survival of the maddest. Despite the zany nature of it though, it feels like it’s assembled and designed in some way. Think of it as organised insanity.
Amid all of the action and excitement Miller manages to find some feeling and emotion within this. Charlize Theron’s character is more emotionally attached to the situation than she likes to admit and the tender nature beneath her tough exterior. Theron delivers in every aspect, bringing a humane element to the whole story and manages to raise the chases and carnage to a new level as (believe it or not action filmmakers, if you make us care about the characters, we’re more involved in the intensity even more) She is written to be the centre of the film and Max is just caught between them. Speaking of which, Hardy manages to embody that understated, physical acting of Mel Gibson that made the character so great. He may not have a lot to say but he speaks a language of a different kind with his physicality, almost becoming another cog grinding away against the rest of the world. 
By using a silent method it means you can trust you viewer’s intelligence, unanswered questions remain unanswered. Which is good because otherwise it would slow the film down. Mutual friendships remain mutual and unspoken, nothing is declared, it’s just acknowledged.
It’s ironic that Rosie Huntington Whiteley as she was also in Michael Bay’s third Transformers movie, where she was filmed as an object, a model, something to gather around and save for some reason. But here, though she’s wearing less, she and the rest of the women are excellently adjudicated and involved within the plot and action. 
From a certain standpoint, I guess that if you never saw the original Mad Max films then you might find it difficult to take this world seriously. My advice would be to watch Road Warrior, imagine that but with a bigger budget, more talented actors and a scope of epic proportions.
The best action film I have seen for a long, long, long time.
Result: 10/10

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mad Max: the Franchise So Far...

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With Fury Road hitting theatres very soon (I’d be lying if I said I’m not excited) I thought this would be an ideal time to examine the classic trilogy and see what makes it so great, and why, over thirty years after the first time we watched the Road Warrior (character) appear on the big screen, we are still watching him make his way in the post-apocalyptic world.
The first md max film was undoubtedly low budget, assembled from whatever George Miller could get his hands on in the Australian outback (such as Mel Gibson). Despite the brilliance of most of the film’s aspects I have to admit that sometimes this micro-budget shows, especially when compared to the high stakes films we have available today. But in many ways I also get the feeling that perhaps Miller intended this. It really does give the impression of the remaining scraps of humanity fighting amongst themselves. The mechanical and raw power of the movie is only matched by the engine of the interceptor that the steely Gibson manoeuvres through the outback on his revenge quest. Despite the limitations, the crashes and destruction are executed with a sense of perfection and more importantly it brings this world to life in such a vibrant and violent way that it sets things up excellently for a sequel to improve.
The Road Warrior is in almost every respect a perfect film. You want to argue, then you’re the only person who does because Road Warrior holds an astonishing 98% (for a long time it was 100% until one ignorant critic gave a nasty review, yes I instantly dislike this person) approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Originally it was not advertised as a sequel, in fact, half of the people that saw it probably didn’t even know it was a sequel. But the action and energy never lets up but rather than use dialogue to build this world up, it uses the scenery and set pieces to establish the full extent of humanity’s depletion. The vision is a brutal and desolate one, but it ties so well into the theme and tagline of the film ‘One man can make a difference’. This story is not just random destruction, it’s about Max finding a purpose in his life after revenge, it’s about him learning not just to survive, but live. Some have criticised Max as being too much of an archetype hero, but I think we witness a reluctant man coming to terms with the fact that people still exist in the world, and trying to reconnect with who he once was. When I watched it again recently It occurred to me that the Road Warrior is very reminiscent of a western anti-hero, a troubled loner who sets out to help fair but fearful folk from bandits. Whatever way you look at it, Road Warrior just seems to work perfectly.
Beyond Thunderdome generates some controversy. I’ve seen people praise this film as the best of the Mad Max series (such as Roger Ebert) but others (such as myself) regard it as a decent film, but not on the same level as Road Warrior. Originally it was written to be a spin-off story about a group of children in the post-apocalyptic war but Max was added at the last minute to give it more of a commercial appeal. While there are amazing scenes throughout, particularly the fight between Max and Blaster, the lack of brutality doesn’t quite match the tone of the previous films. It also panders out slightly during the last hour, having used all of its tricks earlier. But as I said, it’s more mayhem, more madness and more Max.
So those are my thoughts on the Mad Max Trilogy, what do you think, which is your favourite and are you excited about Fury Road, let me know leaving a comment and don’t forget to click the button at the top of the page to recommend this blog on google. Now I’m off to drive into the sunset.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Spooks: The Greater Good

"I was in MI5 just long enough to realise, you can do good or you can do well. Sooner or later they make you choose."

Adapting a TV series into a film is usually an uphill struggle. At the forefront of this struggle is convincing people that the film works on its own as well as a tie in (and in some cases, a finale to) the show itself. It seems that rather than accepting TV-like-states on out big screens, entertainment has made the opposite move and now television is becoming cinematic with the highest rated shows including Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. So can a small time spy series become an international thriller.
British Intelligence officer Harry Pearce is being blamed for the escape of a terrorist from a highly secure facility. Believing that the terrorist was being helped from within MI5 Pearce enlists an ex-agent (Kit Harrington) to catch a traitor and thwart an attacker.
I have to say that I was a fan of the Spooks TV series when it was still running. I think it deserves more credit for popularising the notion (used so often today) that major characters can be killed off randomly. Each year a new brand of recruits and agents would be introduced and after enduring certain amounts of betrayal and espionage would be either assassinated, blown up, killed in a deep fryer or even revealed to be identity thieves and try to sell military secrets before being caught and executed by his own organisation. The problem this presents for the film is that there’s only a limited number of related characters that audiences will want to see on the big screen. In fact, only one, that’s right Harry Pearce was the only one to make it through to the end. So I’ve just spoiled the series for you anyway.
Don’t mistake Spooks for a series that lacked talent, Hollywood heavyweights like Richard Armitage and David Oyelowo started their careers there. Kit Harrington joins the cast to add to the list of talent associated with the story and though he is a fine actor who gets the job done, there’s not much for him to do. Admittedly Pearce is assisted by ten seasons worth of backstory but he just inherently seems like the more interesting character, a veteran spy who must go off the grid may not be original but there’s always fun to be had with it. His resourceful and improvisational methods are interesting in most respects.
However, maybe as a marketing ploy or just attempting to rekindle the spirit of the show (Harry was the side character at the top, the ‘M’ character) it’s Harrington that gets the top billing. His character is hardly fleshed out and, though the film will try to convince you otherwise, it is certainly not character driven. Its substituted for multiple levels of conspiracy that, though intelligent at first, delve into ridiculousness towards the end. That is the main advantage of being in a shorter format, you couldn’t fit as many twists into one hour if you tried, so instead they remain intelligent. An extra forty minutes means you have to go further away from the realm of realism.
Though London is captured in fine fashion, there’s a definitive cinematic lacking within the film as a whole. Rather than seeing evidence of big budget action we just witness more high tech version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which is decent but there’s not enough class and elegance to carry off the same effect. It’s certainly not a spy thriller to match the likes of others coming out this year such as Spectre, Kingsman or UNCLE.
To give Spooks credit it is aware that it seems to work best on an intimate level and tries to keep the situation that way for as long as possible. Most of the time it suits the general tone and works rather well but at times, especially during a rather anti-climactic finale, there is evidence that either their ambition was lacking, or their budget was.
Sure to get diehard fans of the series excited, and probably pleased. But if you’ve never watched it or are expecting an ambitious thriller, or are not completely obsessed with Jon Snow, avoid.

Result: 5/10 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Big Game

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"I've been betrayed today, locked in a freezer,, ejected from the same plane twice. I'm doing quite well."

It’s hard to know how to tackle action films today. Do you go for a self-aware sense of knowing and hope that people mistake you ludicrous plot elements for purposeful brilliance, or make a full on action film and hope people take it seriously. Samuel L Jackson’s latest film Big Game seems to be walking the line halfway.
When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists over a forest in Finland the president of the USA (Jackson) barely escapes and now finds himself being hunted for sport. But he comes across a teenage boy, having been sent into the forest on a hunting mission as a rite of passage who decides to assist him in defeating his adversaries.
Though Big Game may appear to be a more unique action film on paper, with a teenage hero and a massive outdoor setting, but when you watch a clip it appears to be more like a comedy or an unintentional one at the very least. There’s no escaping the fact that Big Game is an absolutely ridiculous attempts at an action film. It struggles to cross into the realm of fun boy’s adventure either. Really is just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself.
The action of this film, despite the literally endless environment for a director to play with, are fairly unimaginative and mediocre. Rather than establish itself as a fun movie with odd ideas woven throughout it just sits on the line unknowingly. One could of course argue that it is deliberately over the top and eccentric in order to express an appeal. If you want to take that view it’s fine but I would have to ask why would it be so mad with some moments and completely mediocre with others. Rather than use any of the apparent unique cards it had at the table we just watch Big Game try to wait as long as it can before ever making a move of any sort.
There are too may moments in  which I could theorise that rather than being made to be self-aware the film was made in the exact same way and studio executives felt they could only market the film as a knowing one that isn’t trying to take itself seriously. But for the most part there is strong evidence to suggest that when it was being made they were taking it seriously and they had no idea that what they were actually making was, in the simplest terms, crap.
Even if it was self-aware, that isn’t enough to make it forgivable for shoddy directing and a plot that feels so overwhelming and underdeveloped simultaneously. Look at two recent films such as Kingsman or John Wick. They were self-aware but at the same time they were both excellently directed and written by their respective makers, each one put a genuine amount of time and effort into their project and they more than got their money’s worth out of it as well as pleasing the critics. Big Game just pretends to know what it is when in reality it’s more like the worst kind of parody.
It also looks like it realised that no one over the age of twelve would be able to take this film seriously and therefore they reduced the age limit to a 12A rating. But instead it just looks like as film that would bore and confuse that age range as well as depress them with a sincere lack of fun or excitement. It’s only in the last 15 minutes that bullets and arrows start to fly and even then it’s toned down to the point of which Sam Jackson and his pint-sized pundit are clearly invincible.
The best drab, boring, not-knowing-that-what-we-are-really-making-is-about-as-serious-as-Disney-animation, 80s B-budget action movie not to come from the 1980s.
Result: 1/10

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Relatables - The Prince of Egypt vs Exodus: Gods and Kings

Ridley Scott’s biblical misfire is now out on DVD and given that the story of Moses has been adapted so many times I thought it would be the perfect subject of another Relatables segment. But instead of comparing it to what might be the obvious alternative The Ten Commandments I’ve chosen the Dreamworks animation adaptation. He reasons for this would be that the Ten Commandments covers a much larger and longer segment of the story than Exodus does, by coincidence The Prince of Egypt covers exactly the same period of time, i.e the exodus from Egypt and then a flash forward to the revelation of the stone tablets. As well as this, though many will deny it, Ten Commandments has aged slightly. If it were made today we might brand it eccentric and convoluted, but for its time it is a definitive classic. So let’s switch to the two more modern versions of the story and why one succeeded and one didn’t.
For a start the basic principle of Exodus seemed misplaced as just an opportunity for Scott to show off the actors he can work with and the effects he can master. Though the plagues of Egypt are impressive the overall theme of the story should be the personal journey of Moses. They are a backdrop to his struggle rather than the centrepiece. In Prince of Egypt they are reduced to merely a montage, but the intimate turmoil that Moses undergoes as he witnesses the place that was his home being destroyed is excellently (and rhythmically, it’s a musical just so you know before you rush out to watch it, expecting grit and realism).
The relationship of the two brothers is the strongest part of Prince of Egypt in my opinion and that was really lacking in Exodus. It’s reduced to a simple case of Rameses being spoilt beyond belief and Moses as the rejected child. Prince of Egypt displays a much better view where both brothers are effectively lavishly spoilt brats, misusing their power and status to get away with whatever they want. But Rameses is actually subjected to harsher treatment than his brother by his father because he is the inherent ruler. His unwillingness to concede to Moses’ demands stems from his father’s teachings that an undisciplined ruler can be the ‘weak link’ that destroys a dynasty of empire building. It’s such a motivation and almost ironic that the brother who was worry free in his youth is suddenly burdened by the pain of thousands and his less lenient brother is now able to wield all power without fear of repercussion, or so he thinks. The characters are complex and beyond clich├ęs that lord over those of Exodus.
Though Ridley Scott is renowned for completely submersing his viewers within the world he creates such as Gladiator or Blade Runner, here he falls short a bit. I’m not going to say that Prince of Egypt does a better job, in fact it’s considerably worse on that front. However its simplicity is more suited to the overall tone, certainly much better than falling short the way Exodus does. The small and intimate nature of it allows these miracles to appear grand and majestic through small and simple actions that come to mean more for the character and evoke deeper emotions within the audience.

So those are my thoughts on Exodus: Gods and Kings and why it wasn’t the Ridley Scott epic we were hoping it would be. Let’s hope he can do better with a return to science fiction and Matt Damon in The Martian, and that the increasing number of planned biblical movies (so far we’ve had Noah as well as this in the space of a year) can be better.  

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Top Movies of Summer 2015

Anyone who saw my Oscar predictions will know how brilliant I am at this sort of thing (for those of you who didn’t, if my memory serves me correct, I correctly guessed just two of the 8 categories I tried to pick a winner for). But believe it or not this has not discouraged me and I want to see if I can guess the top ten highest grossing movies of this summer. Last time I selected just five potential hits with no ordering so this year I’ve stepped up the game by not only adding double the amount of predictions but ordering them as well. How correct do you think I am, or better yet, how wrong?
First though just a few other suggestions (and why they didn’t make my top ten). Terminator Genesis, CORRECT SPELLING (are we tired of the Terminator by now) Fantastic Four (have the production problems reached mainstream audiences and are we all tired out after Ultron and Ant-Man) Spy (Ghostbuster lovers hating on Paul Feig, or same old same old, let’s not see it syndrome).
10: Mad Max: Fury Road
True, the stakes are up against Tom Hardy and George Miller, opening just a few weeks after Age of Ultron and being rated 18 it will struggle to find an audience outside of Comic-con. Then again the amazing trailer and highly talented cast could draw in crowds and if it is as good as it looks the classic word of mouth method of films being successful could prevail. Plus it looks awesome, which is good.
9: Ted 2
The surprise comedy hit of Seth McFarlane’s outrageous stuffed bear could really offer a verdict on whether or not he is a comedic actor and writer or should he just stick to Family Guy. But as for audiences, though you may not rush out to see it, you may get bored and want to give it a chance.
8: Magic Mike XXL
Though Soderbergh is no longer directing, there are more than enough assets to pull in an audience for this film. The first Magic Mike is a good drama as well so it may be enough to keep fans of good human emotions in as well.
7: Tomorrowland
Some may attribute the fall of cinema to the fact that when an original film comes along no one knows what to do with it. That is very true with Brad Bird’s science fiction… something. There’s my point. But I only had to watch that teaser to be intrigued and I hope others are too.
6: Inside Out
Pixar know how to make animated films, it’s just a fact. Their one year absence was a long one and they appear to be back in fine fashion with this inventive, comedic and almost certainly poignant film about emotions, literally.
5: Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation
Tom Cruise’s last big budget action film Edge of Tomorrow may have bombed commercially but the MI franchise has real profit potential now, riding on the success of the work of Abram’s and Bird for 3 and Ghost Protocol and there’s that plane stunt that should look amazing on the big screen.   
4: Ant-Man
Though there’s a lot of doubt over how much money this mini but mighty Marvel movie can make, most people now just see the word and assume success and most people are unaware of Edgar Wright leaving the project. It could also be great, becoming another surprise hit before the Guardians of the Galaxy craze has cooled down.
3: Jurassic World
Many are doubtful of the quality of Jurassic World. But remember the first film became the highest grossing one of all time upon its release, Chris Pratt is a money maker with two of last year’s biggest blockbusters behind him, Guardians and LEGO. And never doubt the power of nostalgia.
2: Minions
Our favourite part of Despicable Me now have their own movie. The family friendly fun is off the charts with this one and perhaps… just maybe… could the power of those small yellow people be enough to topple Earth’s mightiest heroes? Speaking of which…
1: Avengers: Age of Ultron

It would be very hard to deny that Age of Ultron has the best chance of coming out of this summer as king of the hill. In fact many argue that it can come out of 2015 on top, even ahead of the Force Awakens. That is certainly an argument for another day but for now Marvel’s sequel to the biggest and most commercially successful superhero film of all time will undoubtedly make their shareholders very happy, and probably most audiences as well.