Month: April 2016

May film preview

Taken a bit of a break from film previews for the month ahead but I’m back!May is right around the corner and it’s leaving the dead, slow momentum of winter and its films in its wake, that’s right everyone, summer is right around the corner and summer movie season officially kicks off in May and we’re due for some big’uns. So let’s take a look at some films on the way.

 

Captain America: Civil War – released on the 6th of May (29th April in the UK)

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman,

The Marvel cinematic universe has its biggest shake up to date with Civil War as long time friends and team mates, Captain America and Iron Man fight in clash of ideals over superhero registration, battle  lines are drawn and sides are taken, splitting the Avengers down the middle as a few new characters make their debut.

 

Money Monster – released on the 13th of May

Directed by Jodie Foster

Starring: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito.

Modern day thriller as TV Personality Lee Gates is held hostage by a seemingly crazed man during a show, who lost out on money and threatens to harm Lee and himself if his demands aren’t met.

 

The Angry Birds Movie – released on the 20th of May

Directed by Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis

Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Josh gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key.

Yes, Angry Birds has a film and… this is a real thing, the film follows an idyllic community of flightless birds with some prominent personalities between them who have their lives changed when a group of pigs arrive.

 

Alice Through The Looking Glass – released on the 27th of May 2016

Directed by Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen.

Follow up and sequel to 2010s’ fantasy drama Alice in Wonderland as Alice returns to the fantastical world of Wonderland, now needing to save her friends from the creature time.

 

X-Men Apocalypse – release on the 27th of May 2016

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Rose Byrne, Olivia Munn, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp.

Singers new X-Men trilogy reaches its culmination as the X-Men face their biggest, most powerful threat yet in the ancient mutant Apocalypse, who plans to take over the world, turning people and mutants alike to his philosophy while Mystique tries to rally a young, untrained group of X-Men to take him down.

3 reasons why Rogue One is great news for Star Wars fans

You, me, your neighbours, your grandma, probably a lot of people already know about Rogue One and the hype is really building now with its December release just 8 months away now, hot on the heels of the ridiculously successful The Force Awakens, it’s weird to be talking about a new Star Wars film just months after the old one but hey, I’m all for it.

Anyway we’ve had our first look at Rogue One and it’s intriguing, a Star Wars film without Jedi (and barely any Sith, Vader may be in it), it”s a story a way removed from the main Episodic ones and it’s a breath of fresh air, though we’re having another film based around a Death Star but yeah. Regardless, here are some reasons why the films existence in itself is great for Star Wars fans and for the SW universe at large.

 

Varied storytelling

Star Wars is awesome, an overarching story focusing on big central themes and archetypes, good vs evil, familial bonds etc and it’s great, such things make for great bases for stories to tell and they make for really great films, what Rogue One opens up is a different type of story to tell, sure it’s good vs evil as ever but there may be a lot of sourness at the end if it’s a happy ending at all. The good guys may succeed but a lot of them may die, there may be a twist, who knows, we haven’t seen this story told at all so we have no idea where it will go – which is exciting, even though we know the outcome.

And that’s just for Rogue One, we haven’t seen a Star Wars film set in a different region of the galaxy, a film focused primarily on one character and not on a travelling group of main characters, we haven’t seen a trippy, mind bending type story. As you know, sci-fi can branch into a lot of sub-genres and that’s a lot of story variants that can be told. And that’s all within the Star Wars universe which is a pretty awesome thing.

 

A chance for more creativity

You can hate George Lucas for this or that… or well for many things but I like that he tried new things, brought new characters, planets, vehicles etc to the prequels and he brought things we’d never seen before, similar to some new things we can see in Rogue One, the world that these films inhabit is so expansive and possibility – something the expanded universe touched on a lot. And we really need to see that in films going forward, we’ll let Rogue One slide for now but no more Death Stars please or similar plot points or heroes arising from Desert planets, we could be in for brand new characters, planets, types of stories and that’s pretty exciting in itself.

The new directors attached to the Star Wars stories films going forward seem to be pretty creative, forward thinking minds as well so I have every hope we’ll see progressive storytelling and new ideas, something the franchise really needs. What was Obi-Wan doing on Tatooine for 20 years or so between Episode III and IV? What are the origins of the Sith and Jedi according to the films canon? What about mandalorians, what’s their history, could a mandalorian be a Jedi or Sith?

You get where I’m going but you can just run and run with this, a little creativity won’t hurt Disney!

A break from the main story

Now the main Star wars episodes are the bread and butter of the franchise of course, the big boys, big bucks and the driving force of the franchise that we know and love but these potential side stories, prequels, origin stories are great ideas because one – it’s more Star Wars for everyone but to link to my first point, it opens up new avenues for storytelling and gives us a break from the main story as well. It’s great to get more ways to tell stories set in this franchise and to get different types of stories as it gives audiences something new and different to look forward to every time, new films may not follow familiar story structures, they may have vastly different characters and themes but I think getting something different is the key.

Well that was my two cents and just a few ideas I have on why and how Rogue One is great news for Star Wars fans going forward, as big SW fan I personally can’t wait to see the film myself and find out what it’s really like.

Triple 9 – review

John Hillcoat directs Triple 9, following a group of corrupt cops and members of the mob as they plan to pull off a daring heist by triggering a ‘Triple 9’ code, the film stars Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Triple 9 is very… gritty and you get that right from the get go with how things start off, giving the audience a taste of what’s to come, this isn’t your average police/crime drama and you find that how quickly enough, if you didn’t already know what the premise was before you started watching the film. And as unbelievable as the set up may seem in this day and age, it’s still something different and an alternative type of crime drama, though things proceed fairly predictably from the first act onwards as the corrupt cops try and go about getting a ‘Triple 9′ code, which is police code for an officer being down in duty and such a code will bring all available cops to the scene and draw them away from duty.

The problem with the story isn’t in it what it tries to achieve but in the way it’s told and conveyed, honestly it’s just really, surprisingly dull in fact in comparison to how good the film looked in trailers leading up to its release and with such a great cast, you’d expect some more dynamism and life in the plot but it’s not quite present. Though some action scenes and certain set pieces are well done and quite tense but are very few and far between, dotted through a lot of dialogue and exposition, the plot could definitely have benefited from some more action and tense set pieces as this is something John Hillcoat excels in directing.

That being said, there are some good performances present, Chiwetel Ejiofor is great as Michael Atwood, on both sides of the law but seemingly just wanting good things for his child, while Casey Affleck makes a really believable newbie cop trying to just do the right thing, finding himself in a not so great situation.

Anthony Mackie is also pretty solid as Marcus Belmont, partner to Afflecks’ Chris Allen but outside of these performances, none necessarily stood out, mostly because the other characters just didn’t have that much to do, Aaron Paul was pretty wasted in my opinion and Norman Reedus definitely was, which was disappointing. Also seeing more about the characters, their motivations and reasons why they ended up in the situations they were in would have helped in allowing me to empathise with or care about them, rather than just seeing a bunch of people doing things without knowing that much about them. I get the feeling that the story just wanted to go at 100 miles per hour without much explanation, thrusting the audience into the plot but without some necessary set up I feel

Triple 9 had some great ideas but ultimately it just didn’t quite go anywhere interesting with its initially intriguing premise, it has a great cast of acting talent but doesn’t really utilise them all to a satisfying degree.

6/10

. Plot doesn’t progress in an interesting direction

. Has a great but underused cast

. The ending feels rather abrupt, inconsequential

Gods of Egypt – review

Alex Proyas directs this fantasy adventure film set in a fictional ancient Egypt where Gods live and walk among the living, a human – Bek teams with the God Horus in order to battle Set, God of the underworld, who has plans to rule the world and unleash darkness upon it. The film stars Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Elodie Young.

On the face of it Gods of Egypt is kinda cool, it’s got some decent actors, it’s set around something interesting (to me at least) in Ancient Egytpian mythology which is a hardly touched area for films let alone big budget films but predictably, the film is also a bit underwhelming in every way you probably expect it to be. You get thrown into the story rather abruptly as things get set up for the main players/characters, their motivations and the basis of the story but it all feels a bit jarring, maybe because Egyptian Gods just aren’t as recognizable or familiar to films or because the characters didn’t really get set up properly but things feel a bit rushed from the get go.

And that’s a main criticism of the story as a whole, things just feel very rushed and the plot moves at a breakneck speed, the action isn’t necessarily non-stop but it could use a few moments here and there to slow down and take a breath. I don’t fault the ambition in making a film like this though, it may feel very familiar in plot structure, character and tropes of fantasy adventure films in the vein of the 2010 Clash of the Titans but the Ancient Egyptian setting is a welcome change of scenery in my eyes.

A few positives here include the visuals with some cool looking set pieces and the epic scale of Egyptian Gods doing their thing being godly and all, including a fun sequence with the sun God Ra, also Coster-Waldau is great in the film as Horus and effortlessly fits into the cocky, quippy character type. The acting apart from that is… a tad theatrical and not in a good way, Gerard Butler as Set is larger than life as you’d expect, sort of like an evil version of Leonidas from 300 and Brenton Thwaites is adequate but I feel the guy keeps getting cast in roles like this that just under use his acting ability.

It’s not that the roles were miscast per-se, but they just didn’t really bring out the best in the actors that they were using. And as far as the plot itself goes, it’s just a bit dull and lifeless, things happen and progress as you’d expect but it’s just not really that fun, not as fun as it could have been at least. And well… that’s about it really, there isn’t much more to really say about the film as it’s more or less completely average in just about every way, it’s very by the numbers, predictable and you know what you’re going to get going into it, no surprises here but Nikolaj Coster Waldau really does have some lush hair, just saying.

5/10

. Has some nice visuals

. By the numbers plot

. Under uses its actors, has cliched characters

Elysium review

Elysium is a sci-fi action thriller directed by Neil Blomkamp, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna and is set in 2154, with Earth further divided social inequality to an extreme with the wealthy and privileged living on a space station called Elysium with better facilities, better technology and better living conditions. While the rest of the humanity lives on earth in mostly squalid conditions. Elysium has highly advanced medical technology, able to cure any disease, slow aging and re-generate body parts and Max (Matt Damon) strives to bring equality into the mix and restore social balance.

The story of Elysium is a predictable one, playing out in ways you’d expect it to go but with that being said it’s still an enjoyable and fun watch, Matt Damon is great as Max and embodies the role of the moral action hero quite well, while Sharlto Copley delivers another intense and great performance in a Blomkamp movie as Kruger, reaching Disney levels of villainy at times. And on the whole the acting is good but not everyone gets enough screentime or that much to do, Delacourt (Jodie Fosters) for example is important to the story but doesn’t get that many scenes due to the story is focused on Max some other characters get a bit left out.

The set pieces in the film are good and the film is shot well with some great visuals, Blomkamp lets his imagination run wild and the futuristic world of Elysium is great to see, as is the HULC – the mechanized exo-skeleton that Max uses to give him the edge, to the futuristic weaponry also used on Elysium and Earth. Blomkamp works well in helping visualize a sci-fi world and bring it to life, though it’s a shame his film plots don’t always live up to the standard that his films visuals do. The social allegory is there of course, society is unequal and poverty is rife, in the world today and in the future things could be drastically worse and watching Max go on his own personal crusade to bring about equality is a great story but it did feel a bit idealistic and possibly a bit too on the nose for some.

That being said, Damon is great in the role and presents Max as a real friend of the people, a man to cheer for and Copleys’ Kruger makes a great theatrical villain. If you were looking for an improvement on District 9, keep looking as ultimately Elysium feels like a bit of style over substance with a good looking film and an interesting concept that doesn’t quite hit the emotional high notes District 9 did. Though the film is still engaging for the most part and Matt Damon’s a great leading man, it could have been better.

6/10

. Has some great looking visuals

. Has relevant but shallow social commentary, a bit on the nose

. Isn’t quite a great drama or a compelling action film, feels a bit middle of the road

In defence of… Zack Snyder

Ok so I just had to get this off my chest with the fallout in reaction to Batman V Superman among other things, Mr Snyder’s getting a bit of a bad reputation now as a director and I think it’s a tad unfair, maybe somewhat justified but I think people do rag on him a bit too much for one reason or another. Maybe this is due to comic book fanboys fiery devotion and passion for the characters and stories they love or it’s just the internet being extreme or overreacting to everything but…. what if I told you, Zack Snyder isn’t really that bad of a director?

If you look at examples of genuinely bad directors, Uwe Boll…. M Night Shayamalan (let’s not talk about a revival, his latest film wasn’t all that), you can’t really say Snyder is anywhere near that bad, if there’s one thing he is, it’s… devoted, he’s very driven and passionate for comic book films as we’ve come to see, making 3 now pretty prominent, soon to be 4 with BVS comic book films that have been received to varying degrees. And he’s somewhat singularly driven in the eyes of a lot of people, to translate comic book panels to the big screen and he does that well in my opinion, though that may be his big shortcoming to critics – that he’s a bad storyteller, shallow and too focused on the aesthetics of his films, wanting them to look cool while they lack depth.

But in this regard, I think he’s just a different type of director, seeming to have a penchant for visuals, sure, while other directors may have a penchant for characters, certain types of stories or their own unique motifs, specialising somewhat in how a film looks isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

And while some Snyder criticism may be true, what I like about Snyder is his ambition and drive to try new things to varying degrees of success – but the fact that he tries anyway, yes he may be a visually focused director but he brings style, pizazz and something more to the look of his films for one and he tends to add an edge or extra touch to things. His Superman come Man of Steel is different, contemplative and doubtful of himself, his Batman is… a bit murdery but again, different, Snyder brings alternative storytelling to his films when it comes to his comic book adaptations and I think it’s a thing to welcome. Straight adaptations can be good but y’know, a bit boring as well, a mark of creativity is to take adapt something based on the source material faithfully and add a touch of something else while keeping the core story intact, comprehensible and solid.

Jut like Christopher Nolan – you may be thinking you can’t even compare the two but I think you can, Nolans made success and a name for himself in his unwavering distinct style, with realism, a focus on character and character motivation with thought provoking stories and importantly, you just know when you’re watching a Nolan film because of his motifs. He took Batman and made the adaptations his own, portraying him in the traditional ways with his origin story, Alfred, gadgets etc but not focusing so much on Batman being a detective with a tonne of gadgets (apart from some moments in The Dark Knight), he de-constructed Batman and Bruce Wayne and gave us a depiction of a realistic looking breathing Gotham as well.

And somewhat similarly, I think Snyder adds his unique spin to his comic book film adaptations, giving something new each time, if Man of Steel was another Superman Returns esque film with no real controversy or edge to Superman, would people still talk about it? Would anyone even care? Bar a comic book film being a complete bomb, having people talk and debate about it can actually be a healthy thing.

In summary, Snyder’s a driven guy and while he does have some shortcomings as a director (as most do), I think the amount he gets is just a bit disproportionate in relation to the quality of films he makes – which really aren’t that terrible, there a lot worse directors out there and I think Snyder just aint that bad in comparison.

The Prestige review

A mind bending, mystery drama, The Prestige is a film following two competing magicians in late 19th century America, trying to create the ultimate stage illusion, the film stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, Rebeca Hall, David Bowie.

The film has an intriguing plot, driven by an element of mystery and magic, The Prestige presents a believable setting for the story featuring working magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Boden (Christian Bale) who perform their separate shows, eventually getting linked with each other, a fierce rivalry develops between them. The world and setting of the film looks great, from the varying costumes of the time, to the outside locations, all contributing to believing the story, while plot elements in the film take you for a bit of a ride, as if the film is one long magic show itself, you know magic isn’t really real but what if it is?

The plot goes in some interesting directions but doesn’t explore much out of the main rivalry perspective, it could have been interesting to see other magic acts in the story, to get a scope of popularity or lack of thereof of magic acts in America at the time.

As things go on, you start to question whether Robert and Alfred can really do out of this world things and the story works well to convey that, as well as the growing rivalry between the two which is a great part of the story, this is really brought home by some strong performances, with Hugh Jackman and Bale (as ever) in their element, really enveloping their roles. Things progress in an interesting and engaging way that draws you more into the plot as things progress and as Robert and Alfred compete to increasingly unhealthy, out of hand levels. With the subtext here totally being about rivalry, relationships and when rivalry gets out of hand, going to extreme levels – a pretty fascinating topic in itself if you look at real life examples of rivalries in modern history and how people can get driven to one up each other and push themselves to extremes.

With weird technology, misdirects and an ever changing plot direction, the fillm is a bit of a mind bender, characteristic of some Nolan films, namely Inception and Interstellar. The Prestige is a great character driven story, well crafted by Nolan with strong, interesting characters and a good plot, the ending may feel a bit jarring for some audiences and a tad out of place though but that aside, Nolans’ period drama is an intriguing one albeit with some flaws.

6.5/10

. Strong performances, especially from Bale and Jackman

. Interesting plot albeit a bit convoluted

. Plot has some pacing issues

Doctor Strange teaser trailer

We have our first look at the upcoming mystical Doctor Strange, slated for an end of year release and it looks… trippy, very much an origin story for Steven Strange – a former successful but arrogant surgeon, who after an accident goes on a journey to find a cure to fix his now crippled hands and eventually becomes the sorcerer supreme. It seems like a pretty different type of Marvel story with almost the reverse of Tony Starks origin in becoming Iron Man as Steven Strange, famous, professionally successful and feeling invincible loses everything and goes soul searching, eventually becoming Doctor Strange, going from having everything to nothing but really finding himself in magic. I think just that sort of thematic through line generally is great and just on paper it makes for a great story.

First of all, Benedict Cumberbatch looks great in the role and I fully buy him as Strange and it’s interesting that we see him pre-hero phase and as actual Dr Strange all in the one teaser trailer but importantly we’re teased a fair bit but still don’t know everything. We also see several scenes reference the reality and mind bending features we’ll be seeing in the story (Inception anyone?). City scapes being mirrored, astral projection, just a day in the life of the sorcerer supreme. We see Strange with Baron Mordo (his arch villain from the comics), seemingly friends in the film and it appears that they work and train together, learning from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and this is how Strange gets into the magic arts/mysticism.

Doctor Stranges’ world opens up a whole world of characters, magic and other things that will probably look pretty spectacular on the big screen and I love that we’re getting to really devel into the straight up magical and mystical side of Marvel with this story and I’m excited to see what comes up. Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One is an uh…. interesting choice and I wonder how that will play out but I think it could work. The cast on the whole is fantastic with Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen so I think we’ll be in for a treat.

Overall I’m intrigued, I’ve been looking forward to the film for a while and this first glimpse at the film has gotten me even more interested, I think Cumberbatch will nail it as Strange and I think it’s great the character’s finally coming into the MCU and getting his own solo film.

Suicide Squad Blitz trailer

 

The 2nd trailer for Suicide Squad has dropped and it looks good, I mean like actually really good, I was already on board with the film from the initial trailer but I’m now eagerly anticipating this after some great marketing in what has been an intriguing change of tone from the first trailer to this most recent one.

With reports of the film going back for re-shoots for supposed additional humour (I doubt that), you can’t deny that the film’s definitely being marketed more as a zany, wild anti-hero affair now rather than a sombre, dark film, though I think WB needs to tread carefully in how they portray the film as to not end up falsely advertising it.

Things start off with Amanda Waller talking about Superman, who was also referenced in the first trailer, remarking that who could stop Superman if he decided to attack the white house – the Suicide Squad are a ‘counter-measure’, well we’ll see how that goes. Anyway if this trailer is an indication of what the film is going to be like, it looks like a lot of fun, something that DC films have been severely lacking in recently – Suicide Squad may just be Marvels Guardians and I think this tone will work a charm with the type of film that this is set up to be. Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag really seems to be taking on the leader role here surprisingly, stating how everyone needs to follow his orders or… they’ll die, though all other times it looks like Deadshot (Will Smith) is in charge so you can expect some rivalry there for sure and of course not every member of the team will get on.

And we see see an example of this with Deadshot riling up El Diablo to get a reaction out of him, though he seems to be doing that for a plot specific reason.

In fact none of them will really get on from the looks of it, but they’re forced to work together anyway as a dysfunctional unit, which adds to the impromptu nature of the plot, seem more of Jared Letos’ joker is an interesting touch, he looks every bit as manic and deranged as he did in the first trailer but y’know, in a good, Joker way. And also Batman, I mean Bat-fleck… seeing more of him is always a good thing, as is seeing Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) who seems to be quite central in a few scenes, making funny quips and it looks like she’ll be the source of a lot of comic relief unsurprisingly.

I’m intrigued, interested and fully on board, DC are going for the wild, fun ride with this film and the trailers have been great so far, hopefully the trailers don’t really misrepresent the final product but I’m eager to see what it’s like either way.

Super 8 review

Super 8, directed by JJ Abrams is a mystery thriller taking place in the summer of 1979, after a group of kids investigate a train crash and other bizarre events going on in their town, the film stars Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee.

Super 8 has the feel of an 80s’ sci-fi movie about mysterious goings on and that tone is captured effectively by JJ Abrams, who created a film shrouded in mystery, the film had viral marketing and no one really had any idea what the film was about, a plan which turned out in the films favour in the long run. But in saying that, the film doesn’t necessarily get better as it goes on, the plot is driven by its’ younger, child cast as they explore what’s going on in their town after a train crash, with Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) being the main characters, hopeful and ambitious, they believe in bigger things – aliens and the like,while the towns adults discredit and doubt them.

This more traditional story of the ambitious kids being onto developing strange events and the cynical adults that don’t believe has been done many times before and does the film do it any better, well no, not really, although Abrams should be credited for crafting a believable town in America, in 1979 from the cars, to the shops around town, to the clothes characters wear and even the Super 8 cameras that are used, where the film gets its name from.

The story works well enough as an ongoing mystery drama and the intrigue over what’s going on is what’s keeping you engaged, the child actors are good enough but will either add to the story for viewers or turn them off of it and as the plot progresses and things are revealed. Things are a bit… odd, especially in the way the kids react to and deal with the situation as things unfold, following the kids as the only ones with the information and the power to do something about it does feel a bit cheesy and that attempt to capture the feeling of sci-fi stories of years past may come across as a bit forced and derivative.

That being said, what the film does well is keep that sense of intrigue in the plot for a while and it also has some great visuals, not hugely surprising for a JJ Abrams film though, the plot isn’t a compelling as you think it will be from watching trailers of the film though and a lot of the films characters are thin on material. The premise is an intriguing one for sure and Abrams is a master at building up hype and anticipation for films, though unfortunately that doesn’t always pay off and Super 8 is one of those examples.

The film is totally The Goonies meets Close Encounters Of The Third Kind with a distinctly 70s style coming of age film with sci-fi elements mixed into it and if you like the sound of that and haven’t seen it, check it out, it’s far from JJ Abrams best but it’s still an interesting effort nonetheless.

6.5/10

. Film has some great visuals, certain scenes

. Lacks characters with depth though one or two are interesting

. Certain events later in the plot felt a bit telegraphed