Friday, 31 July 2015

Best and Worst of July 2015

We’re nearing the end of the summer season of 2015, but by no means are things quietening down yet. There’s still a lot to look forward to before the kids go back to school (as I am writing this I’m looking forward to seeing Rogue Nation very soon. But of course what’s been happening this month? Well most of the smaller scale blockbusters (quite literally in some cases) have emerged and some good mixes of indie and documentary films are heralding great results. The only real disappointment comes from the longest running franchise that got its latest instalment this month. But more on that later, for now, here are the best.
3: Ant-Man
Marvel just cannot do anything wrong right now can they? Well actually they can get a couple of things wrong, but a majority’s great. Ant-Man falls into the latter description, by stepping down in scale the super powerhouse studio proves they can still tackles stories on an intimate level and have created a funny, action packed and visually stunning caper with plenty of great performances to boot from Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. At Comic-Con DC may have given us a lot to get excited about in the future, but Marvel is giving us a lot to get excited about now. ‘Age of Ultron’ gave them the title of highest grossing film franchise of all time, and ‘Ant-Man’ is putting them further into the lead.
2: Amy
‘Senna’ director Asif Kapadia turned his direction to a subject that fascinated me a lot less than the greatest driver of all time, a singer whose music I admired but never really liked. But rest assured I liked his film about her a lot. It’s edited beautifully and played out on such a personal level thanks to remarkable use of home videos. The end result is a pulsating and energetic film that shines a light on some of the harshest forms of media as well as the complexity and pressures of celebrity life. Not only that, but the nature and poignancy of the footage and the way it’s structured makes for a haunting tribute. It’s not overly critical or sentimental, just beautifully truthful.
1: Dear White People
It’s not new to integrate race into film or to use film as a vehicle for messages involving race. But to do it in such a way that views the entire situation in a more satirical light, without resorting to stereotyping or sentimentality, that takes a lot of talent. In fact the racial issue almost takes a backseat in proceedings as this smart and original story examines the concepts of personal identity and human interaction. The screenplay is sharp and humorous but manages to maintain a certain amount of gravitas, it may not be a perfect film, but what it does right is exceptional.
And the worst…
Terminator: Gensysyisysisyesisiesisesises

Is that how you spell it? Never mind, I don’t care. ‘Terminator… 5’, let’s just call it that, was advertised as the ‘Star Trek’/’Days of Future Past’ of James Cameron’s (it’s not really his anymore though is it?) franchise. But it fails on so many levels, only further souring the ‘Terminator’ legacy. This film marks a turning point that turned the franchise as a whole into a bad one as there are now more bad Terminator films than amazing ones. The action is uninspired, the plot needlessly complicated and Jai Courtny is proven to be owed a huge favour by someone important in Hollywood, why is he in so many big movies, I don’t know? Why does ‘Terminator 5’ exist? Same answer. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


"Hope cannot possibly win."

So when the trailer for Southpaw came out I was immediately told to not watch it as it broke out with a sudden Terminator/Amazing Spider-Man 2 syndrome and gave away half of the film. I managed to avoid it for a long time until just a few weeks ago, as I sat down to watch ‘Jurassic World’, right there, in all of its cinema screen glory, they played the full, spoiler filled trailer and it fulfilled that promise exactly. I mean why would they even play that trailer anyway, it’s not as if that’s related to ‘Jurassic World’, they could have played trailers for ‘Rogue Nation’ or ‘Ant-Man’ or literally anything. But I digress, Southpaw has finally arrived.
Lightweight boxing champion Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is riding the highs of career peak level success. However his life takes a dark and turbulent direction as he is challenged by a cocksure and arrogant rival. When personal tragedy strikes he finds himself fighting battles both in an out of the ring.
I was very excited for this film for a number of reasons, firstly I was hoping for another stunning performance from Gyllenhaal to continue that winning streak he has right now (‘Zodiac’, ‘Prisoners’ ‘Nightcrawler’, the list goes on). Secondly, it involves a dramatic physical transformation, made more prominent by his recent weightloss for ‘Nightcrawler’ and subsequent weightgain for this are usually Oscar friendly developments that may finally gain him an overdue nomination.
Long story short then, most of my excitement for ‘Southpaw’ stems from what Gyllenhaal may deliver and as far as that goes, then wow does he deliver yet another astonishing performance. It’s wildly different to anything he’s done in the past, both physically and mentally. His portrayal of a boxer is an unflinching one, not bothering to dodge the long term or short term effects of the sport. However, as good as he is inside the ring and with emotional turmoil, for some reason I never quite bought the whole street kid aspect of it. Maybe it’s because the writing of the character is a bit inconsistent as one minute he seems smart and tactical but will later make poorly thought out and irrational decisions.
It’s not just in character decisions that the writing seems to be lagging a bit. With a fairly standard and rather clichéd story and conspicuously obdurate plot developments it really is hard to imagine ‘Southpaw’ being regarded as anything above average without its main star. Furthermore the entire spectrum of the usual boxing movie tropes are used frequently. If it had a 70s rock soundtrack and less cursing it might be confused as a Rocky reboot (which incidentally is a terrible idea, and no ‘Creed’ is not a reboot, it’s a spinoff/continuation). As I previously said the writing is worryingly inconsistent throughout and fails to add any depth to the supporting characters.
Though Rachel McAdams and Forrest Whitaker are fine in their roles, there’s little for them to do beyond acting as plot points and motives for Gyllenhaal. Most of the time they remain fairly shallow objects that never really develop their own personalities beyond giving advice and becoming incentives for the story to move in a certain way. Though Whitaker is able to avoid being substandard by producing a much more understated performance it only limits the damage rather than increases the strength.
The directing is also fine and I can’t really fault it, but at the same time there’s not much to stand out and leave an impression. De Niro’s performance in ‘Raging Bull’ may be a masterclass but it is just a single piece of the many things that make the film a masterpiece. The same cannot be said here sadly.
‘Southpaw’ may have faults but in a way this only highlights how remarkable Gyllenhaal is, his acting elevates the film to a higher level and as a result he continues to prove his ability as a serious modern actor.
Result: 6/10

Sunday, 26 July 2015


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"My first question is this, is it too late to change the name?"

It’s been a while since my last review as I was on holiday but thanks to the widespread distribution of cinemas I managed to catch the last offering from Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may be the least intimidating superhero name ever (or Spider-Man’s less talented step brother) but here he is, Ant-Man.
Seeking a way to stop the technology that he originally created falling into the wrong hands, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits low life thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), as he struggles to find money to help his estranged and seriously ill daughter, to save the world by becoming the Ant-Man.
I can’t help but notice that people have become harsher in their judgement of ‘Age of Ultron’ in the months after its release, accusing it of being slightly cluttered and having to juggle too many characters and subplots at once. While that may be true I think it’s overlooking the fact that Joss Whedon coped with it remarkably well and added a good mix of humour with some spectacular action, but I digress as if you felt that you want Marvel to return to the intricate origin story then ‘Ant-Man’ is most definitely a one character story, sort of.
While there are other areas of development circling around secondary characters like Hank Pym (why waste the talents of Michael Douglas), ‘Ant-Man’ remains primarily focussed on its title character. Paul Rudd does an excellent job with this as well, he uses the sly wit to draw attention to the fact that you’d feel a bit pissed off if, in a world saturated with heroes like the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and the mighty Thor, you got to be one called Ant-Man. There’s also a wonderfully meta moment as he tells Pym that their first step should be to do what every audience member asks why they don’t immediately do in the separate individual movies ‘Call the Avengers’.
The humour may be the strongest aspect of ‘Ant-Man’. Everything about it seems to fit into what audiences are currently thinking about the Marvel film industry, by using a lesser known character it’s a chance for them to poke fun at themselves a bit, just as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ did last year. And also like ‘Guardians’, this proves that beneath all of their high profile stars Marvel still know how to create a pleasing and character driven story based on the credibility of the film alone rather than a big name alone.
To be fair though, many could argue that another great quality of the film, perhaps its best, was the whole shrinking sensation and the inventive action sequences that followed. They are visually stunning and is seamlessly blended with CGI. One would think that there’s only so much one could do with a miniature superhero but there are dozens of inventive, exciting and humorous action sequences from running straight down the barrel of a gun, a deadly duel through a model train set or leading a charge with an army of… well… army ants.
The elephant in the room is of course how does the film cope with its tumultuous production involving director Edgar Wright leaving the project. The main reason seemed to be that Wright was aiming to make more of a standalone film that something that tied into a shared universe, upon hearing this I was expecting to see a film that was drowned in references to other Marvel Movies. But actually what I got was a film filled with subtle nods to the Avengers, and mostly did its own thing. For Marvel fanboys though I have a feeling that more easter eggs will become clear as we approach Civil War.
One could criticise the almost deliberate small scope of ‘Ant-Man’ especially when compared to the huge scale of ‘The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Age of Ultron’. But then you look at its title character and for me the tone makes perfect sense, for obvious reasons.
So goodbye Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and despite its small size ‘Ant-Man’ is able to carry it off in fine fashion.

Result: 8/10 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dear White People

"She's like Spike Lee and Oprah had some sort of pissed off baby."

Just when I thought that all of the award winners of 2014 were now out of the way and I could finally focus on 2015, here comes ‘Dear White People’, a film that won numerous awards at the Sundance Film Festival, indecently that was in January of last year and came out in America in October, so over a year after its premier and nearly a year after its wide release, here it is.
This film follows a group of African American college students as they navigate campus life and racial tensions in a mostly white populated area. As the repercussions of a racist party on their campus play out we take a look back at the events that led to it.
Now, I say this in all best intentions and if it is deemed to be slightly offensive and an obvious and clichéd comparison then sorry (wow what a great way to start a review, I can feel the tension of whatever room the reader’s in change), ‘Dear White People is very reminiscent of a Spike Lee film. Not just because of the palpable element of race but also due to the fact that while they both incorporate that theme, it’s used as a backdrop for an even deeper and more universal message, identity. Here we see several African-American characters trying to deduce who they are and how they fit into the collective establishment around them. Every person will face these challenges but what Spike Lee did and what director Justin Simien does here is use the added element of race to make that process and phase more involving and relevant to society as a whole.
It’s a very smart and original film. The screenplay is sharp and quick in its pace with a robust and intrepid foundation. It is deeply refreshing to see a film acknowledge and confront certain issues that many directors will go to great lengths to try and avoid such as race, sexual taboo and class conflict. Simien’s directorial choices are strong and both evident and understated throughout, highlighting the intelligence of his script and the overall eloquence the film carries with it.
The cast also acts out these snappy one liners and heated debates in fantastic fashion. In a film addressing issues such as this the actors need to be convincing enough to create an illusion that the opinion they express in the film really is what they believe, it’s what they devote their life to and they are troubled by the fact that the rest of the world does not view it this way. Take one character, Samantha (Tessa Thompson), she has created a list of numerous forms of media that she defines as racist, on it are films such as ‘Birth of a Nation’ (no matter how impressive the spectacle is or as a cinematic achievement the racist label that is most definitively true for that film, it’s basically KKK propaganda) but she also adds ‘Gone with the Wind’ and Tarantino movies (more debatable but there is an argument there). This could come across as being slightly extreme to some viewers but the more I listened to her story and how she genuinely held on to these viewpoints made me start to question it myself. None of this would have been possible without the solid performance Thompson gave.
For most of the time ‘Dear White People’ is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. The racial tension is clear and obvious throughout but rarely consumes the film (another classic ingredient from Spike Lee’s masterpiece ‘Do the Right Thing’). There’s no attempt to force any particular view on the audience, just to allow them to watch one event from a different perspective.
However as smart and slick as the film is it does sag a little. There a numerous subplots that range from gritty to downright unbelievable and it stops the film from really telling a contained and compelling story. The effect can be a bit disorientating, but then again maybe that was the intention, there is enough ambiguity within the ending to let the flaw be disguised as more of a creative choice.

Witty, sly and comedic ‘Dear White People’ is an fluent, if not slightly messy, satire on racial tension.    
Result: 9/10

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Batman V Superman: Comic Con Trailer Review

Well Star Wars was exciting, but there’s no escaping the fact that the biggest event to some out of Comic Con so far has to be the Batman V Superman Trailer. The first one suffered by being leaked the same week as the second Force Awakens trailer and that really overshadowed it and made it looks as if there wasn’t a lot to talk about. This one however promises a lot more to look at and a much better platform of analysis.
First of all, though I had my fair share of complaints against ‘Man of Steel’, the destruction of Metropolis was not one of them, because I suspected that this carnage may be used against Superman is subsequent sequels, and now it has (take that internet). Clearly both the government and the public, though grateful to Superman for saving them want to know if he can promise a safer structure and an allegiance to humanity. It’s probably this widespread and creeping fear the Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) uses as leverage to gain government support to carry out… whatever he wants to.
Actually, thinking about it, the trailer did a good job of not giving away too much plot, in fact I don’t think it really gave away anything we didn’t already know. We discover that Bruce Wayne was at the battle of Metropolis and witnessed the destruction first-hand, Luther is influencing various government official and mostly just brooding, with hints at some deeper scheme. Clark Kent is rebuffed by his editor for writing articles that criticise the Batman and Bruce Wayne is receiving threats of a menacing nature (as if there are threats of a nice nature), possibly from the Joker, okay scratch that, certainly from the Joker.
There’s a definite sense of a differing opinion between the two heroes. Batman seems suspicious of this strange entity that appears from the sky and wreaks destruction upon earth (as you probably would) and is our admiration the only thing that stops him destroying us while Superman seems to take a view that if Batman is a force for good, why does he work in the shadows, and should such responsibility be dealt with by a human?
There’s also a good balance between both of them, earlier worries centered around who would be the focus of this film and by skipping a batman solo movie first, would he be the more prominent figure in the story. But based on this it appears that they both have an equal amount to say and do. Of course, there’s also the fact that we see them fighting, which is exciting. There are only a few snapshots but I could guess that they’re staying true to the comics in the sense that Batman is on the back-foot, immediately having to use all of his tactical and technological tricks to try and topple the scales against Superman’s obvious physical advantage.
There’s a slightly odd bit of dialogue at the end as Luther says playfully ‘the red capes are coming’. This seems a bit out of place at this point in the trailer but maybe they also want to emphasise the charisma of Luther here, remember this guy is also a skilled politician as well as a criminal mastermind, though the two are often the same thing (am I right, yeah, fight the system etcetera, etcetera). Charisma would be a wonderful inclusion as most of the DC character shots just have the expression of Alex DeLarge from the start of ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

There was a lot of pressure from DC to get this right, and they did. The trailer delivered in a lot of great ways that is full of great shots, good action set pieces, keeping a sense of ambiguity and from what I’ve seen the characterisations are excellently done. There are also dozens of easter eggs such as Kryptonite, a Robin suit, Zod’s corpse and so much more. Change the status of this film from ‘mildly curious’ to ‘actually quite excited’. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Comic Con Reel review

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"We are here on day one of Star Wars episode 7. how incredible is that?"

So it’s been a busy week for releases and news. One of the most important pieces of footage to come out of Comic Con is probably The Force awakens Reel. It sounds strange for a three minute glimpse behind the scenes to cause such a stir but when it comes to Star Wars it is understandable and very easy to see why when you really think about it.
We start by seeing a number of real locations, actual places with a physicality to them that allows the actor to interact with what’s around them. We also see some real and practical sets that are completely built, rather than taking the prequel option of just building sets to the height of the actor’s eye-line so they wouldn’t have to film at a higher angle. A change like that really limits your production and seeing fully built environments is certainly an excellent return to pace.
There are a lot of shots of that crashed TIE Fighter as well, showing it up close, from afar, the scale model and a digitally enhanced Millennium Falcon. It’s all very impressive and works to the advantages of the virtually unlimited budget Disney have given JJ Abrams, clearly he’s not looking for a way to cut costs and at the same time he’s not going overboard with every piece of design, it just looks and feels the way it should.
As Mark Hamill explains there is clearly a large emphasis on ‘keeping one foot in the digital world’. While there are some signs of green screen and CGI they are only being used to enhance an environment that is going on around them. Stormtroopers are being thrown around with wires and stuntmen, news like that is incredible as it would be far easier to use CGI for such an event, but Abrams and the rest of the team are going to the effort or making it feel genuine and truthful. It appears to be very much in touch and has an understanding of what made the originals so great.
So that’s virtually everything you need to know on a technical level but what about clues to the actual plot of them film. There’s a new shot of a Stormtrooper escorting someone to a cell, I’m suspecting a Rebel of some kind. We also get to see a variety of new character models, one of which is operated by Simon Pegg in what must be the best celebrity cameo in cinema history. This is very important as a lot of the charm of those original films came from the fact that there was a genuine feel to each creature and environment. They had a physicality that was always present, be it menacing or hopeful.
We get confirmation that at some point John Boyega and Daisy Ridley will be joining Han Solo aboard the falcon and Chewbacca is also along for the ride. Indecently we also discover that peter Mayhew’s suits are wearing out faster than the designers anticipated because he is constantly getting hugged on set (I mean who wouldn’t want to hug a Wookie right).
This leads on to another important point. There’s definitely a sense of fun within the making of this film, that every member of the production team is struggling to contain their excitement. Pegg announced that he was ‘in heaven’, extras in Stromtrooper armour proclaimed that they could die happy and John Boyega simply said that he ‘had to pause, take a breath, slow down and really not freak out’. As well as this, when JJ Abrams says that ‘this is day one of Star Wars 7’ you can hear the excitement and disbelief in his voice. He’s most definitely a fan that wants to do the best he can for the franchise and fully realises the immeasurable responsibility that rests on his shoulders.
I know many were expecting a full trailer but honestly I think this is better. If they released another trailer now we would either have six months of nothing else to look forward to until the film comes out or Disney would be pressured to release more clips and trailers, potentially spoiling the movie. Showing this is definitely the best way to get fans excited and keep as much of the Force Awakens secret for as long as possible.
So those are some of my ramblings on what the Star wars panel released, what was your favourite part of the footage we saw. Whatever you think comment below to let me know and find me on Twitter with @JoshuaPrice97, don’t forget to recommend Film Fanatic on Google with the icon at the top of the page. Thanks a lot

Thursday, 9 July 2015


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"I'm not a girl trying to be a star, I'm just a girl that sings."

It would be hard to thing of a musical artist in recent years that managed to achieve even half of the success, fame and cultural impact of Amy Winehouse in even twice the time that she had to do it. Speaking as someone who isn’t exactly crazy about her music, one may think that a documentary like this can only be for people who loved her music, but rest assured this can be venerated on so many levels.
An in depth examination and view of Amy Winehouse’s final years, dealing with her own success, personal issues and how her friends, relatives and critics reacted to it told through new interviews and archive footage.
The best way to sell this movie is to point out that it’s from the Director of ‘Senna’, a film that impressed everyone from Formula 1 fanatics to those who had no interest in the sport. The racing was a backdrop for this character study of competitiveness and passion, ‘Amy’ is very similar. She was a soul style musician with the life style of a rock and roll artist from the 1970s. With her name on the front of newspapers just as often as it was on albums many misconceptions have built up about her over the years.
I don’t need to tell you that this is a sensitive subject, but like ‘Senna’ the film deal less with the whole talent-cut-down-in-their-prime feel, it has the  nerve to actually hold up an uneasy mirror to the admirers of its titular character. His last film asked why fans wold watch racers put themselves in danger consistently and repeatedly, and Asif Kapidia’s latest film asks questions concerning judgement and artistic integrity as well as dealing with triumph and the celebrity lifestyle. It may also act as a critique of the way in which modern society sometimes mocks and ridicules these genuinely talented people. One particularly heartfelt moment comes from a piece of footage with a young Winehouse in which she laughs ‘I don’t think I’ll be at all famous. I’d go mad.’
What Kapidia does so successfully is drop his audience into the centre of the situation to witness an progressively fragile and unhinged artist as the world around her slowly dissolves, guaranteeing a profound sense of responsibility and involvement with the late singer. It does this so well that on more than one occasion I found myself forgetting that I already knew the sad and inevitable outcome of her death, believing that the ‘writers’ would give us a happy ending. In other words it’s such a good documentary that I made me forget that it was a documentary.
Kapidia undoubtedly has a gift for telling documentary’s on a personal level. Amidst the glamour and range of the music industry around her, the media that followed her every move and the fans that worshiped her, he tells this pure and ultimately tragic story. At the same time though he allows the obscurity of reminisced incidents to have their say, making it more than a simplistic story and turning it into one of more complexity, detail and depth. It can be a tough watch at times, with one example being the singer bundled into a private jet to a concert in Belgrade where she struggles to stand upright.
Even more impressive is the proficiency of the technical aspect of the film. By unearthing old archive footage we get a first-hand look at the inner turmoil she experienced and the constant clash of her personal and professional life. The way that it’s edited together is a masterclass, it plays out more like a collage of information and personal struggles. Don’t be mistaken, telling a story through existing footage is very difficult. You have to know how to place it and cut it in a way that is only made more difficult by the fact that you didn’t shoot it and it can rest entirely on you concerning how to set a tonal mood for it.
A pulsating and engrossing look at an admired figure with a definite poignancy that forms a haunting and heart-breaking documentary but most of all there’s an underlying and unspeakable sadness that is certainly present, but never completely engulfs.

Result: 10/10   

Monday, 6 July 2015

Jaws: 40 Years On

In 1975 the culture of filmmaking was forever changed. Pop culture gained a new element that involved an almost pathological fear of water and we would forever associate two distinct notes with impending disaster. We also saw the first massively successful feature from the director that would define his career through massively successful films. The summer blockbuster was born, the name Steven Spielberg meant something and we would never go near the water again.
It’s hard to imagine the success of ‘Jaws’ given that it had such a troubled shoot. Famously of course the mechanical shark malfunctioned and as a result the script had to be re-written to incorporate less of the shark to make up for it. During this turmoil Spielberg was told numerous times by studio executives that he would never work in the film industry again. But ‘Jaws’ would go on to become the highest grossing film of all time upon its release, becoming the first film to gross more than $100 million.
When you look at it that way it can be very easy to forget that even without its commercial hyper-success, without the extraordinary history of the film’s production and without the association of the most successful director of all time, Jaws is a masterpiece.
Let’s start with that shark (and I say the shark because contrary to what casual movie goers will tell you, the shark is NOT CALLED JAWS). The tension builds and builds throughout the film as we see the aftermath of its monstrous attacks, we hear experts describe its ferocity and the fear it instils amongst is prey. The most frightening aspects of ‘Jaws’ are when the shark is not even visible, merely close by and aware of an imminent attack. Instead of showing us the shark from the outset Spielberg employed a number of methods to allude to the size and strength of the shark such as debris being dragged behind it, the impact of it crashing against Quint’s boat and another shark that we are told is only a fraction of the size of the one they’re looking for. It’s only made better by that incredible John Williams score.
Any other director might have featured a tense, prolonged and obvious build up to the shark’s first appearance. The problem this would create is that no matter how dangerous or horrifying the shark is it would ultimately disappoint as it could never live up to the hype. But Spielberg drops the shark when you’re least suspecting it, a moment of calmness punctuated by the true magnitude of what our heroes have to face is perhaps the scariest, most shocking and thanks to that iconic line ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’, the most darkly humorous moment of the entire film.
Speaking of those heroes, another key feature of Jaws was the multiple re-writes it went through to change the characterisations and attitudes of the various characters. Spielberg described the characters in the book as being so unlikable and unsympathetic that ‘I was rooting for the shark’. These characters exemplify how despite the well-directed action of ‘Jaws’ and the frightening scenario it presents, we only really become drawn in due to the excellently crafted characters. There’s  a likability and relatability to them as Hooper, Quint and Brody set out to take down the shark there’s a sense of danger because not only is the danger real, but it directly threatens these characters that you’ve grown to care about. From that earlier scene at the dinner table you know Brody is a devoted family man that is loved by many people and is only trying to do what’s right. You sympathise with him when he’s blamed for the death of that young boy by not closing the beach. By the end we’re not necessarily celebrating because there’s a dead shark, we’re celebrating because it means the characters are safe and have survived the ordeal.
Perhaps the best scene of the film comes from those three characters sitting down to discuss their various experiences with sharks. We have Quint’s haunting monologue that further raises the stakes, a little divulging over each character’s personal experiences and all wrapped up with some sea-shanties (alright it sounds better on the screen). It encapsulates the sense of various genres and characters brought together by this force of nature.
‘Jaws’ could have been so many lesser things, a standard 70s disaster flick or with the production problems, just a disaster of a movie. But Spielberg’s less is more approach nudged the film into an entirely different genre, going from thriller to horror to character study and back to horror again. It sets the standard for all Hollywood blockbusters and we owe them to this film that first rolled onto the screens 40 years ago.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Terminator: Genisys

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"Come with me if you want to live."

By now studios are routing through all of their old properties to see if they can bring one back to cash in on the franchise trend. This has now happened with Terminator series, despite many wanting it to end with ‘Judgement Day’, then wishing it had ended with ‘Judgement Day’ by ‘Rise of the Machines’ and then begging the studio executives to put it out of its misery with ‘Salvation’ here we have a new one that is aiming to launch a new trilogy and make Terminator a hot topic again.
As we’ve seen in the first Terminator, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back in time to protect Sarah Conor (Emilia Clarke), mother of future resistance leader. But when he gets there Reese finds that everything is different, with Sarah Conor being a hardened warrior, well aware of her future thanks to a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) training her from a young age. Together they aim to travel forward in time in order to stop Skynet once and for all.
First of all, it’s spelt G-E-N-E-S-I-S. But in order to avoid confusion with the video game ‘Robocop vs Terminator: Genesis’ (yes that actually exists) I shall refer to Terminator 5 as ‘Genisys’. It seems particularly desperate to let fans know that this is not a direct reboot, paying homage to various scenes from the original and recreating others with a fresh twist added by the altered timeline. That is an interesting concept as well, a timeline that has become so convoluted by the war between man and machine it eventually crumbles under its own weight and resets. Fans of ‘Doctor Who’ would refer to it as wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey.
But while this concept is interesting ‘Genisys’ fails to come into its own and really has the feel of merely hanging onto the coattails of its superior predecessors rather than ever reallystanding apart from them. It also bombards viewers with references that range from the obvious to the tediously obscure. This one should be aiming to draw in new viewers, possibly ones that have never even seen the original (if that is you, watch the original, after reading this obviously) but of course if that is the case then they won’t understand the significance of certain scenes to appreciate or understand why they are present and given attention in the film.
The film also has to juggle far too much at once. For starters there are four Terminators present within this film (excluding the non-time-travelling ones) and is set within three different time zones, as well as flashbacks to a fourth and the result is a rather uneven tone, with several plot holes that the makers seem to have merely gone ‘we’ll fix that in the next film’. Something so convoluted and messy is not a good platform from which to launch your new franchise.
Now there’s the marketing issue, giving away the film’s biggest twist. Many have pointed out that ‘Judgement day’ also did this by spoiling whether Schwarzenegger or Patrick was the good guy. But on that occasion even when you knew the truth the build up to the reveal was still stressful enough, not knowing who would get to young John Conor first, his protector or his killer. Also one may have worked it out from the fact that rather than the T-800 killing anyone to obtain clothes and transportation as he did in the first he simply incapacitates them, whereas the T-1000 instantly murders a police officer to do the same.
Arnie is probably the best part of the film, doing what he does best and surprisingly the T-800 on T-800 fight is pretty good. Jai Courtney lacks the necessary grit to play Kyle Reese here, even his clean-shaven, muscular image contradicts the idea of a man who has been fighting his entire life, in constant fear and living on scraps of food. Emilia Clarke offers a slightly different take on Sarah Conor, taking a hardened yet still vulnerable and slightly bitter over her decided fate portrait of the character, for most of the time it works just fine.   
There’s some decent humour, especially from Arnold’s older and weary T-800. The action set pieces (which are all spoiled by the trailer anyway) are decent but very by the books and certainly not memorable. You know it’s a bad sign when the effects are not better for the T-100- here in 2015 than in 1991.
It may avoid following the formula of the others in the same extent that ‘Rise of the Machines’ did and has more flair than the dull ‘Salvation’, but ultimately this is yet another disappointing Terminator sequel.

 Result: 3/10

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Creed Trailer Review

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"See this guy here, that's the toughest opponent you're ever gonna have to face. I believe that's true in the ring and I think that's true in life."

With so many franchises getting new instalments this year (some after lengthy hiatuses) like Mad Max, Terminator, Jurassic Park and of course Star Wars, you may be forgiven for overlooking the seventh instalment in the Rocky franchise. But I’d pay more attention now as Creed, both the movie and the character, is shaping up to be a serious contender.
This trailer is masterfully crafted, hitting all the right notes at just the right moments. There’s an undeniable sense that this is not just a sequel to Rocky Balboa, it has a certain grit to it, taking a more serious side that is more in tune with the first Rocky but going just a bit further to depict a more brutal climb to the top for the young boxer. But despite this the spirit of those original films are still there, meaning that when Sylvester Stallone does turn up it is not out of place or awkward.
Speaking of the Italian Stallion himself, one of the strongest parts of this trailer for me was the absence of Rocky. That is a bold move as it is the Rocky legacy that generates most of the excitement around this film, but out of the 200 seconds of footage Rocky comes into view only by the 110 second mark and even then he’s only seen in fleeting glimpses for the rest of the trailer. As the trailer itself states, ‘Legacy is more than a name’ and Stallone may be a welcome return, but he knows not to drag the spotlight away from Michael B Jordan because at the end of the day the movie is called Creed (even though that’s technically not his character’s name).
He looks prepared to deliver a knockout performance (get it, boxing references, because it’s a Rocky fil and… never mind) that could stun critics and audiences, bringing his own tone and talent to the character. It just looks like it’s the first step of a new path and Stallone is merely there to hand over the torch. If that is what the trailer is trying to tell us then it has done a spectacular job as it quotes the original and pays homage to it with some visual mimicking, but putting that aside it looks like a strong standalone movie regardless of whether you’re familiar with the franchise or not.
By taking on the role of mentor the Italian Stallion could be given a whole new dimension and that is another thing to look forward to. but the fact that the focus clearly remains on Jordan not only gives the new blood to flex his acting muscles but be fully poised to takeover. The cinematography has an elegant yet gritty edge to it, further emphasising the idea of a tenacious and determined climber, and that rigorous and fast pace editing only adds to the themes running throughout.  

Like the original Rocky it also seems to harken back to a more simplistic premise, we’re not setting up grudge matches, fighting Mr T or stopping the cold war here, it’s just a slow climb to the top. The fact that a man who had lived on the streets for most of his life could write and star in a film that would go on to make him a millionaire, win several Academy Awards and inspire a franchise that is still running just shy of forty years after the first is hard to believe. The idea that these instalments could still be amazing is almost inconceivable. But this trailer certainly looks like Creed is ready to go against the best, and win.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Terminator: The Franchise So Far...

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In preparation for the idiosyncratically spelled Terminator Genesis (I refuse to spell it the other way, don’t like it, then read another review. On second thought, no, do not read another review. Or read another one but leave this one open, and refresh the page a couple of times). Where was I, Terminator. The franchise consists of a great film, a masterpiece, an unintentional comedy and a complete failure of a movie. There’s a lot to get through.
Though the first Terminator may be dated slightly, and bogged down by a truly terrible example of practical effects (the scene where the T-800 must remove its organic eye is some of the worst puppetry I’ve ever seen, seriously look it up if you don’t know what scene I’m referring to). This film’s rights were once bought for just a dollar. That could well be the deal of the century, as it went on to gross $78 million and spawn a franchise that continues to this day. The concept was high but somehow manufactured on a micro-budget and was somehow brilliant, the lack of money allowed James Cameron to skip pointless scenes in favour of action set pieces to advance the plot, streamlining the entire process. Schwarzenegger had been criticised for having the physique of a star, but lacking the dramatic weight to really carry a film but here he is perfectly cast, saying less than 100 words and still being the most memorable figure by a long way. Mind you there is an extremely strong supporting cast, one wonders why Michael Biehn’s career never really took off after this.
So one film is out the way, and it’s a great film. But Terminator 2: Judgement Day, is a masterpiece. The pace and speed of the film is unparalleled, essentially becoming one thrilling chase after another. Once again Arnold uses all of his strongest assets, but this time he makes the T-800 the ultimate anti-hero rather than the ruthless killing machine we saw in the first. That role is taken up by Robert Patrick as the T-1000, who as well as mastering the ice cold death stare, is turned into an unstoppable force thanks to some truly spectacular visual effects that still hold up today, the liquid metal effect not only looks terrifyingly artificial, but also disturbingly alive as it morphs from one physical being into another and then turns rigid to become a lethal and brutal weapon, and it was all for the first time. Audiences had never previously seen CGI of this standard, resembling natural human motion. At the time T2 was the most expensive movie ever made with a budget of $94 million but was extended to $102 million due to a troubled production. But it paid off as T2 ended up raking in $520 million in total. Few sequels improve upon the original as much as this one did, taking a bigger scope, more complex plot and further developing its themes and characters.
So, two amazing films and with one more this could have become the ultimate film trilogy. Despite the fact that T2 left the story relatively closed, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came in 2003, twelve years after the last instalment. In contrast to the other two, James Cameron was not attached at all and as opposed to critical acclaim, this one received a much more lukewarm reception. In one sense it is similar to the others by being a sequence of chases and fights one after the other, but it lacks the pace and brutality of the others, opting instead for simplistic dialogue and campiness. Arnie’s attempts at comedy are almost as painful as the audio commentary he gave (he either states what is obvious or makes frankly bizarre comments about the situation that are just as boring). At the end of the day, Rise of the Machines is a B level movie, loud, unintelligent and obvious.
But worse was to come. Terminator: Salvation may have upped the special effects and large set pieces by setting the story in the middle of the apocalyptic war, but it lacks the heart and character depth of the first two, and it isn’t enjoyable as an unintentional comedy like Rise of the Machines. Christian Bale’s acting strength is nowhere to be seen, not having the correct character development to really add anything to the role and Sam Worthington… well let’s just say that there’s a reason he’s not the blockbuster star he was back in 2009. It also features a CGI version of Arnold Schwarzenegger that is physically painful to look at and the action is just so generic, as well as a plot that fails to sustain itself for three acts. One has to wonder if they would have had more favourable reviews if they had just substituted the movie for that Christian Bale rage blooper (if you haven’t seen that yet then look it up). As James Cameron put it when he was asked about whether he would return to the franchise “The soup’s already been pissed in”.

So can GENESIS, that’s how you spell it makers of Terminator 5, restore this franchise with a fresh reboot/sequel/hybrid/prequel perspective of the original simplistic story? Only time will tell, and by time I mean less than a day away.