Month: September 2016

Now You See Me review

Now You See Me is a mystery thriller directed by Louis Leterrier, about a group of illusionists who pull of bank heists and give out the money they take to people, the film stars Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine.

The film works with a fun premise to craft an interesting heist thriller type film with a difference, the difference being the element of magic and illusion, though the film makes a point of making you question what’s going on and how the group carry out their illusions. And in that, there’s a great sense of mystery and intrigue as FBI agents Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) both don’t know how the illusionists pull of their heists but still pursue them anyway, their performances in particular are both good, with Ruffalo portraying a frustrated but dedicated agent quite well.

While Laurent is the more open minded agent, she also wants to get the job done but isn’t as intense as Ruffalo, the illusionists are an interesting group of characters, interacting in an interesting way with some good dialogue and they all have distinct but not necessarily that memorable aside from J Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt Mckinney (Woody Harrelson) and Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher). Dave Franco also gives a decent performance as Jack Wilder but not on the level of some of the other cast, not forgetting Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, who are also great in the film with Caine serving as a point of exposition at points which is a bit cliché but hey, it’s exposition from Michael Caine.

There are some pretty slick and cool scenes in the plot playing up the characters with them showing off their craft, these are well done and often smart scenes with some great dialogue as the film on the whole is quite well written, the writing pays off as the film progresses and twists and turns arise adding to the story itself and making it more than just a game of cat and mouse between the FBI and the illusionists.

Now You See Me has some great visual effects which work in tandem with the illusions that the group pull off, we see things and people vanish and seemingly impossible things happen and the feeling of spectacle of watching a group of talented magicians comes across, as if the film itself is one big magic show. The plot does a good job of convincing you that you’re watching talented professionals do their thing but this might also be a weak point for the film as you are essentially watching and possibly rooting for criminals, they’re actually likeable and fun characters but they are stealing money after all.

And for some, this may distance you from the characters and not allow you to be really invested in the characters but that being said, the plot is still fun and light hearted, capturing feeling of an old school heist thriller but with a twist, the plot is engaging throughout and ends in a way you might not expect.

7/10

. Has some great writing/dialogue

. Fun, engaging plot

. Ending may feel a bit shoehorned in

Django Unchained review

Django Unchained is a dramatic Western or a ‘Southern’, dealing with slavery and the story of a freed slave working with a German bounty hunter, in the effort to free his wife from a sadistic plantation owner, the film stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Michael Parks.

Django Unchained is a stylised Western drama, though Tarantino crafts an interesting slavery era story taking place in the south, following the exploits of Django (Jamie Foxx) as he works together with Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), the film is driven by its’ core story which plays out like a traditional Western in a moral, heroic character – Django trying to save someone but it takes interesting twists and turns along the way. The film is anchored by some great performances and is very much an ensemble piece with some great actors cast very well, from the titular Django, Jamie Foxx embodies the role well and is good in the action scenes, while the ever consistent Christoph Waltz brings the believable elements of sophistication and calculation as Dr Schultz.

And along the way, different, colourful characters populate the story, including a notable performance from Samuel L Jackson as Stephen, a servant to Calvin Candie, a ruthless plantation owner played well by Leonardo DiCaprio, he’s a borderline mustache twirling villain in the film but still brings intelligence to his character, fully committing to it and coming across like a pretty old school Western villain. That old school feel to the story is well portrayed, as you go on in the story with Schultz and Django and see how things turn out for them, the dialogue also contributes to this, with characters like Django talking in an antiquated style, fitting in line some classic Westerns (though this is a ‘Southern), while the settings and character costumes are also nicely done, adding to suspension of disbelief.

The way Schultz and Django navigate their way through tricky and sometimes hostile situations makes for a great plot, with Tarantino again including very long and drawn out tense scenes which begin with interesting dialogue, Tarantino has mastered the art of the long elaborate scene and realistic dialogue and it’s great to watch in Django Unchained. With the Calvin Candie dinner scene in particular being one of the more memorable ones, meanwhile the film also has some great action scenes and even longer action sequences, drawn out to near comical length near the end with that super bloody mansion shootout, the film as a whole doesn’t hold back on its’ brutality though in Tarantino style, showing some very gory scenes and horrific examples of what slavery really was like.

And while what is present is touchy, grim subject material which makes for some harrowing material, I like that Tarantino just showed the South for what it was and that he doesn’t censor or sugar coat things and in fact, the film is actually quite funny in a few parts in classic Tarantino black comedy style, with a well done tonal balance in the more serious, dramatic parts and the clearly comedic parts with the more silly characters/situations.

The story has a nice overall arc in it anyway which features eventual freeing of slaves and the conclusion to Djangos’ mission which feels satisfying, though he couldn’t have reached that conclusion without a few losses along the way of course.

8/10

. Has some great, very elaborate set pieces, well done action

. Great dialogue, has some great performances also from Waltz, DiCaprio and Foxx

. Engaging plot overall, long and it does drag a bit near the end but it’s interesting

Jason Bourne review

Jason Bourne is the latest film in the Bourne franchise, directed by the returning Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, as Bourne returns to action and is again hunted as he tries to uncover more truths about his past, the film stars Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed.

Ah Jason Bourne, the sort of long awaited update to the franchise that lands with a well…. Okay rather than a “Well that was awesome”, which is a bit of a surprise due to Damon and Greengrass returning to what was originally a pretty brilliant and very well received trilogy, this latest film simply suffers a lack of direction and well, excitement for all intents and purposes.

There’s a sense of familiarity here of course, Damon is back and good enough in his role and Bourne is on the run again as always, visiting different cities and being tracked by the CIA who actively hunt him down through random streets, buildings, train stations, etc, lots of intercut shots between CIA HQ and the agent hunting Bourne, scuffles between Bourne and the guy hunting him down, rinse and repeat. The formula was fun and exciting in the original trilogy because it was done well, the action was visceral, gritty and brutal, the plots were great and engaging but this time around, not so much and Jason Bourne actually feels quite generic and by the numbers, surprisingly.

The familiarity is there of course but it’s not exactly welcome with things just feeling a bit too same-y and alongside a plot that feels a bit too all over the place, you have a thing that the film makers would have wanted to desperately avoid – a boring and un-engaging thriller with some actors who feel like they’re sleepwalking through it – I’m looking at you Julia Stiles. And it’s a shame because the potential was absolutely there for a great film, that being said, Alicia Vikander is a decent addition and good enough in her role, although she doesn’t get to do too much. The action at least, should have been the saving grace for the film but it’s not quite up to par, with some decent sequences that do feel grimy and hard hitting, in line with the original trilogy but there’s nothing exactly spectacular apart from a car chase sequence in the final third, I still remember that bathroom fight from The Bourne Supremacy all those years ago and that say something.

Ultimately Jason Bourne is a disappointing missed trick, following up a great set of films, maybe it was unfair to try and have it compare against them but a weak, intermittent plot that slogs along with sparsely placed action simply isn’t enough to keep your interest or have you care about most of the characters, even for Bourne himself this time out.

6/10

. Plot lacks direction, a few plot threads feel unfinished

. Very by the numbers plot as a whole

. Some generic, un-enthused acting

Inglorious Basterds review

Quentin Tarantino directs this fantastical WWII war drama set in Nazi occupied France, around a group of US Jewish Nazi hunters, planning to assassinate high ranking Nazi leaders, they come into contact with a cinema theatre owner who also plans for similar action and events take an interesting turn, the film stars Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz.

Tarantino works his directorial magic in Inglorious Basterds, making use of touchy subject material and making a very engaging, entertaining, captivating drama with a great set of characters and this time around, Basterds is an interesting turn for Tarantino in its material and time period but it works really well despite it being a slight turn in subject type. The film has a good cast and some stellar performances in it, with everyone being at least good, Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine is particularly memorable and pretty funny with his over the top accent, while Christoph Waltz makes for an iconic villain as the mind gaming, intimidating Colonel Hans Landa, bringing a level of intensity and a lot of suspense to pretty much all scene’s he in.

Said scenes are crafted expertly as Tarantino showcases his expertise in extended scenes of dialogue with the tension being upped to 11 as two or more characters may battle each other psychologically, to get the upper hand, the bar shootout in particular is a great example but the opening scene involving Hans Landa and a Jewish worker is brilliant and really emphasizes the great use of dialogue in conveying a characters intent and personality. The characters are brought to life well and play off each other so satisfyingly because of the brilliant writing, an obvious strength of Tarantino with some funny and memorable lines and great character interaction, which is a bit odd to say because of the subject material, though fictional, it’s still based on a past real life situation but it’s so over the top it’s humorous in places, bringing a bit of an odd tonal balance to things.

The plot is great as well and engaging from start to finish, it acts as an almost hyper real revenge story – as Tarantinos films sometimes often are but it’s also a great drama and the secret freedom fighter, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) and her story brings a more dramatic, emotional element to proceedings, also playing off Hans Landa in some great scenes. And despite the film very much so being a drama, it also has its action elements in the nazi hunters themselves and their plans/goals, the shootouts in the film are tense and feel gritty, despite the hyperbolic feel of the film, death is very final and you really get the sense that freedom fighters or the Nazi hunters themselves can be caught out and killed at almost any moment which ups the suspense.

That sense of paranoia works well through the characters and adds to the tension, with some borderline comedic events later in the film that also work doubly as very suspenseful scenes as the Nazi hunters go about their plan, Inglorious Basterds is a brilliant drama, very well written and with some great performances, it’s based on a touchy subject but manages to make an engaging and gripping film out of it nonetheless.

8/10

. Has some fantastic performances, especially Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, great character interaction

. Excellent use of tension and building of suspense

. Plot is very engaging

Predators review

Predators is the latest entry in the Predator franchise, directed by Nimrod Atal, it follows the story of a group of randomly selected skilled mercenaries/warriors who find themselves on an alien planet, hunted by Predators, the film stars Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Laurence Fishburne, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo.

The plot is engaging and works initially on that feeling of mystery and not knowing what’s going on, you’re in the characters shoes and wonder why they’re all put together and why they were specifically ‘chosen’, as the characters are all from different cultures and all skilled in their respective fields, from military soldiers, to mercenaries, to a yakuza member, to a cartel member. The mix of different characters was a nice touch for the film and brought that feeling of a intrigue to the plot as no there was no explanation as to what was going on, the character interactions are also pretty good, believable as the characters initially don’t trust each other and are ready to go all out and waste any one they can.

They don’t though and work together, helmed by a leader in Royce (Adrien Brody) who brings a calming, logical approach to things and is actually a pretty decent in an out and out action role, while the rest of the cast is also decent, Topher Grace as Edwin especially bringing the laughs. As things progress, the story takes interesting turns and does keep you guessing as to what comes next and for a first time viewing, you really have no idea what’s coming, the film manages to stay above generic mystery thriller territory and keep you engaged as it goes on. The final third of the film is probably the worst part about it but even then, seeing the actual Predators fully is somewhat satisfying and the action scenes are done well, a scene with Yakuza member Hanzo and a Predator in particular is a nicely done. Laurence Fishburnes inclusion in the story was interesting to say the least but not hugely needed, it sort of derails the plot a bit though and might feel like its there just to take things for another turn.

The Predators society and how they function is explored in some more detail this time around and they look better than ever in the film, functioning as expert hunting machines, with their tracking lasers, invisibility cloak and blades, you get the feeling that people stand no chance against them but it’s nice to be surprised at the drive and resilience of characters in seemingly hopeless situations. Predators works quite decently as a new entry in the franchise, bringing an interesting spin on the traditional Predator story, the plot is engaging and there is a real sense of tension through the film as it goes on, though the end plays out in a more cliché way, the film also has some decent performances in it.

7/10

. Interesting and well executed premise

. Action scenes are good

. Some characters are one dimensional

The Conjuring 2 review

James Wan makes his return to The Conjuring with The Conjuring 2, following real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their encounters, this time setting them investigate the actually documented Enfield Haunting in 1977 after Jane Hodgson was reported to have a poltergeist, the film stars Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga.

There’s a feeling of familiarity with The Conjuring 2, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning as the Warrens as they go to investigate a new paranormal case, with Lorraine still feeling a bit off and as if she herself is being haunted by something but at the same time you get a sense of something new as we find ourselves in 1977 and in North London, Enfield as we follow the Hodgson family. Believability is key here when doing a film based on real events, to have the casting be on point to a level that you can believe in the characters that are essentially real people, whether you believe the supernatural side or not and I think the film does a good enough job at that.

Not that there are too many standouts in the cast overall aside Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga who give some great performances, Farmiga especially, though the girl playing Janet Hodgson did a good job, the costume design also should be given some props as they did a good job in capturing the feel and look of the late 70s as well as the look of the people involved in the Enfield haunting. From the accents and intonations in talking to their style of clothing, it helped to suspend disbelief of this being the 70s.

What works with The Conjuring films above other failed poltergeist centric films including the re-make Poltergeist is that it just doesn’t try too hard, not trying to jump out at you every 5 minutes with a jump scare or loud noise, the horror here is in knowing something is out there and seeing it just out of view or blurred, that for me at least makes the fear all the more visceral and ‘real’. That and not relying too heavily on CGI help to curate some better scares and while I didn’t find the film as ‘scary’ as The Conjuring, I still get that there some disturbing and freaky scenes peppered throughout the plot though, all the more disturbing because a little girl was at the centre of all of this and because of the trauma it caused the family, that emotional core to the story helps to draw you in and empathise with the situation.

Also bringing the Warrens more into the fold/events was an interesting touch, while fictitious, it brought an interesting angle to proceedings as Ed and Lorraine – more so Lorraine, found herself affected by their lifestyle and the spirits they interact with, you could argue that this aspect is a bit un-needed with the haunting and all but a little dash of Hollywood drama didn’t detract too much from the films quality, being overall engaging and often frightening.

7/10

. Easy to follow, engaging plot

. Strong performances from the cast, Farmiga especially

. Plot may feel a bit by the numbers as far as Poltergeist stories go

The Legend of Tarzan review

The past few years have seen the return, reboots, re-makes and spin-offs of some classic oldies from Ghostbusters, to Jurassic Park and now we have The Legend of Tarzan, directed by David Yates starring Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz.

More than anything, Legend of Tarzan just strikes me as an odd film, a film no one really wanted, for an IP that most people had forgotten about, the concept behind Tarzan is cool and all but I just don’t really get his appeal to modern audiences and therein lies the problem with this iteration, it just felt a bit direction less to me and without any real purpose behind it. If you wanted a Tarzan origin story, this isn’t it, if you wanted a story looking at the colonial greed and war in the Congo, this isn’t it, the story tries to mash a few themes and ideas together but it just doesn’t quite work. The result being a very loosely structured plot that feels a tad too long and feels a bit too action-ey, the core love story between Tarzan and Jane, with them being so mis-matched personality wise and with them being in the jungle is what made the original story so interesting and fun, but throw in gritty ‘realism’ and have it look like a John Wu action film and it’s pretty forgettable. Not to mention there being a laughable final act that’s something right out of a Roadrunner cartoon.

I just think the story missed a trick here, wanting to take a different route to the Tarzan mythos of the wild man who clashes with civilization, the traditional origin story would have been fine, the cast was there and it could have woked but I just don’t get what the writers/director was going for here.

In terms of the aspects of the film that are somewhat positive, the casting is great, Skarsgard is a brilliant and believable aristocrat Tarzan with a bit of a wild man in him, while Robbie is great as Jane, there aren’t too many other star names here but Samuel L Jackson brings some nice levity and is good as he tends to be, while Djimon Honsou and Waltz bring some gravitas, albeit to wasted, one note characters. The visuals are…. passable, the CG is fairly obviously CG and looks pretty bad in some places, although a few action scenes are Okay, though that’s probably not why you wanted to watch the film – if you wanted to watch it at all. But yeah, there honestly isn’t that much to say about the film either positive or negative.

The Legend of Tarzan, although having some nice visuals and some good casting is a forgettable film and a missed opportunity to update a classic 20th century story, albeit a story most people have now forgotten and or haven’t even heard of, the question I find myself asking after watching it is, why?

5/10

. Confusing, scatter brained plot with no real weight to it

. One note, cliché characters

. Good casting choices