Transcendence Review – Slower than Dial-up


Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman

Transcendence2014Poster


Release date: April 24th, 2014

Distributors: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Summit Entertainment

Country:  USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: The unique visuals. 

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

Sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence had the perfect ingredients to deliver a thrilling and enjoyable addition to this ever-lasting genre. With an intriguing first-time director, starry cast, and interesting ideas at the helm, this movie had enough potential to be something truly…transcendent (the word does indeed suit this situation). In fact, this computer-charged techno-thriller could’ve become the antivirus for the ever-growing trend of superhero/explosion-fuelled extravaganzas. However, as you can tell from my judgemental tone, the final product hurriedly short circuits.

Johnny Depp.

When judging this flick objectively, it’s difficult not to turn against this disappointing and bizarre creation. As yet another case of “interesting premise spoiled by poor execution”, Transcendence promises significantly more than it can possibly hope to deliver. Not only does it promise too much, but the very few answers it does deliver are bafflingly silly and superficial. Before I delve into this sci-fi actioner’s flaws, I’ll attempt to describe its patchy and cumbersome plot. Similarly to our unfortunate lead characters’ actions, unlocking its labyrinthine code could unleash dire consequences! We start off in the not-too-distant future as renowned researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) trudges through a post-apocalyptic Earth. The story then jumps back five years, and prolific researcher Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are close to developing the first machine to be driven by sentience and collective intelligence. Aiming to “unlock the most fundamental secrets of the universe”, Will and his team, supported by his mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), are willing enough to present their PINN project to the world. Examining the First World’s reliance on technology, the limitlessness of Artificial Intelligence, Biocentrism, nanotechnology, the Singularity, and the analog/digital debate, Transcendence almost seems intent on questioning romantic-drama Her‘s viewpoints. Most importantly, Depp being everywhere at once is a terrifying prospect! Unfortunately, Depp’s miscasting jumpstarts Transcendence‘s horrifying descent.

Paul Bettany & Rebecca Hall.

Nowadays, sci-fi extravaganzas like Prometheus and Elysium are criticised for touching on valuable ideas without examining them. However, unlike Transcendence, those projects are salvaged by action sequences, intense moments, and powerful visuals. I’ll admit the movie’s set-up appears entertaining…on paper. Sadly, with Transcendence drifting away from paper in all respects, the narrative’s technological side overshadows anything resembling believability, entertainment value, intelligence, or empathy. A radical extremist group called Revolutionary Independence from Technology (RIFT), led by Bree (Kate Mara), ruins Will’s life and projects immediately after his Earth-shattering presentation. Within the first third, director Wally Pfister (Oscar-winning cinematographer for such Christopher Nolan features as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) uploads tension and promising characters into the narrative’s perplexing database. With Nolan as an executive producer, Pfister strives for Nolan’s all-encompassing vision and direct touch. The first third is fuelled with convincing moments and momentous concepts. However, after Will’s consciousness is uploaded into PINN’s systems, the narrative becomes as exciting and naturalistic as watching lines of code zoom across a screen (spoiler: it’s dull!). Telegraphing predicable and aimless events, the story’s all-important concepts are picked up and dropped faster than Will’s internet access. In addition, Transcendence jumps from one bizarre and illogical plot-point to another. Will, hacking into the world’s governmental and financial structures, carries out logistically and ethically questionable actions without consequence. Jumping two years into the future, twists, turns, and character motivations contradict one another. Worse still, the final third’s absurd revelations and climactic moments undermine everything laid out within the first-two thirds.

“We’re not gonna fight them. We’re gonna transcend them.” (Will Caster (Johnny Depp), Transcendence).

Morgan Freeman & Cillian Murphy.

Sadly, Pfister, despite being one of Hollywood’s most talented figures, has succumb to Hollywood’s worst virus: studio interference. However, despite the directorial failings, the blame rests with Jack Paglen’s incessant and simplistic screenplay. Despite being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Paglen’s work is nowhere near as insightful or purposeful as it thinks it is. At one point, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), one of several underdeveloped characters, compares Will’s Deity-like existence to Y2K. This scene outlines the narrative’s most crippling flaw. Transcendence, aiming for the blockbuster and romantic-drama crowds, doesn’t draw the line between technobabble and valuable exposition. Its convoluted answers will confuse anyone lacking an intrinsic understanding of Computer Science. However, those studying this subject will laugh at the movie’s monumental factual errors and plot-holes. Its viewers can, at the very least, settle for its splendid visuals. Pfister, thanks to his immense background in cinematography, can bolster even the most unappealing of locations. With everything at his disposal, Pfister’s style makes decrepit warehouses, desert-set towns, and laboratories look immaculately picturesque. The action sequences, though nonsensical, do elevate this otherwise tiresome and dour sci-fi drama. Throwing in explosions, car chases, and shootouts, these more enlightening moments overshadow the meandering mid-section. Sadly, by this point, the narrative’s top-heavy structure has delivered a messy, nonsensical, and forgettable effort.

Powered by a top-notch cast, riveting director, and memorable subject matter, Transcendence could, and should, have been an instant classic. Ambitiously, it’s over-arching reach explores concepts many big-name directors and writers are afraid of. But why are they afraid? Is it a primal fear of what they don’t understand? Or are they waiting for someone else to grapple them? Either way, Transcendence is the perfect example of filmmakers, and characters, delving into all the wrong places. This potentially creative and impactful sci-fi yarn ends up being as laughable, frustrating, and nonsensical as Windows Vista.

Verdict: A nonsensical and monotonous misstep. 

Only Lovers Left Alive Review – Nasty Bites


Director: Jim Jarmusch 

Writer: Jim Jarmusch 

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt

Only-Lovers-Left-Alive-Australian-Poster-copy


 Release date: April 17th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Soda Pictures, Pandora Film Verleih

Countries: UK, Germany

Running time: 123 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The eclectic performances.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

Here’s the thing about vampires: they suck! Admittedly, labelling a fictional entity like this is bashful and condescending. However, over the past few years, Hollywood has chewed up and spat out this bloodsucking creature. Though Twilight, Being Human, The Originals etc. don’t reach my demographic, they must be named and shamed for downplaying the vampire’s more dangerous and intelligent aspects. So who possibly can salvage the fanged beast? Thankfully, writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Ghost Dog) has taken the vampire lore back to its sickeningly dark beginnings. His latest feature, Only Lovers Left Alive, crafts an insightful and purposeful tale of two vampires on the edge of expiration.

Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston.

In no way intended for the common target demographic, Only Lovers Left Alive  reinterprets vampiric mythology and human existence. Here, Jarmusch subjects fans and newcomers to a nightmarish and transcendent ordeal. Those who label themselves “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” won’t, most likely, ever label themselves “Team Jarmusch”. Thankfully, the movie elevates itself beyond those dismal heights. In fact, Jarmusch, in any context, would hate for his efforts to be compared to anything related to pop-culture or escapism. Only Lovers Left Alive throws the severity of everything, including its threatening title, into question. From the opening frame, we are introduced to a twisted and delicious love story. Living a minimalist lifestyle in Tangier, vampiric temptress Eve (Tilda Swinton) exists in a lonely and pervasive society. Collecting blood samples from fellow bloodsucker Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), Eve longs for a more distinctive and ambitious lifestyle. In the other side of the globe – Detroit, to be exact – Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a lonely and sullen rock ‘n’ roll icon. Hiding in his dilapidated two-story abode, Adam’s long-term notoriety hurls him into cult-icon territory. Ordering charismatic servant Ian (Anton Yelchin) to do his bidding, Adam’s suicidal tendencies throw his ideologies into chaos. His life, distorted by Eve’s arrival, is further tested by Eve’s promiscuous and enthusiastic sister-in-law Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Mia Wasikowska & Anton Yelchin.

Written and directed by Jarmusch, this established auteur’s latest effort is a kitsch, listless, and tempered examination of its peculiar characters. These vampiric characters exist in a nonsensical and churlish version of the 21st century. Looking through the hourglass, Jarmusch and his creations lurch artistically toward the impactful finale. Today, rushed pacing and established tonal shifts infect genre cinema. Fortunately, this poetic filmmaker goes above and beyond the norm. Dextrously, the devil (or Dracula, in this case) is in the details. The narrative comes together via a labyrinthine structure of idiosyncrasies, existential moments, and visceral flourishes. Adam and Eve – commenting on humanity’s desire for conflict, wealth, and power – look down upon the surrounding “zombies”. Limiting our race to this derogatory title, Jarmusch and his characters seemingly share the same consciousness. Despite its aimless structure, several gem-like surprises reside within witty lines, shocking twists, and gloriously thrilling montages. Delivering a momentous series of set pieces, the narrative places us in the same room as these terrifying nightwalkers. Waxing philosophical about history, mythology, literature, cantankerous human tendencies, and emotions, Adam and Eve’s journey becomes a saucy and concentrated concoction to be slowly sipped on like a Bloody Mary (a drink downed more than once by our protagonists).

“I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hour glass or something.” (Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Only Lovers Left Alive).

John Hurt.

Delivering an Ann-Rice-like tinge, Jarmusch and his favourable cast relish in this genre’s more chilling and impressionistic conceits. Illuminating its characters’ stranglehold on pop-culture, Only Lovers Left Alive becomes as desirable and ambitious as Adam and Eve themselves. Throughout this tumultuous romantic-drama, these immortal beings deliberate on even their own artistic merits. However, delivering overbearing viewpoints on intrinsic topics, Jarmusch’s seminal words and ideas almost overpower his magnetic direction. His agenda, commenting on psychological and societal degradation, undermines this otherwise subtle and heart-wrenching character study. Fortunately, the talented and vivacious cast awaken these gritty, soulless figures. Swinton, once again, steps gracefully through this filmmaker’s universe. Her performance, defined by purposeful mannerisms and a silky-smooth voice, delves fang-first into the material. In addition, Hiddleston and Wasikowska deliver electrifying turns as the story’s more polarising characters. Graciously, Jarmusch’s visual style turns even the most dialogue driven scenes into sensory feasts. Dousing each frame in a pulsating colour palette, Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography lends inspired tones and patterns to this all-encompassing and alarming journey. In addition, with our scarred lovers obsessed with revelatory artistic endeavours, the movie’s bright, bold soundtrack/score delivers pleasurable interludes that breathe life into this meticulous creation.

Drifting beyond its glacial pace and stoic narrative, Only Lovers Left Alive elevates its vampiric characters above those of recent cinematic iterations. Fuelled by existential angst, scintillating romantic interludes, and Jarmusch’s sensuous visuals, this movie examines our infatuation with nostalgia, gothic fiction, and the First World order. Jarmusch, as valuable to the narrative as Hiddleston’s skinny physique, examines yet another genre and delivers an idiosyncratic, intensifying, and indulgent work of art. As expected, this indie darling becomes a vampiric love story with…bite.

Verdict: A moody and electrifying romantic-drama. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro Review – All Tangled Up


Director: Marc Webb

Writers: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan

poster-TheAmazingSpiderman2


Release Date: April 17th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time:  142 minutes


 

 

2½/5

Best part: Garfield and Stone’s chemistry.

Worst part: The hokey villains. 

At one point in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, pithy geek turned super-powered saviour Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire), after fighting off the Sandman, empties sand out of his shoe and says to himself: “Where to these guys come from?”. Ideally, this question can be applied to every comic-book/superhero franchise. It’s a good call – pinpointing the absurdity of having super-powered ne’er-do-wells attack these superheroes one after another. Spider-Man’s latest offering, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, attempts to answer Peter’s question. Sadly, the final product is significantly less than amazing.

Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone.

Obviously, the conflict between the original Spider-Man trilogy and Sony’s new Spider-Man saga is a major talking point here. With the 2012 reboot released five years after the much-maligned Spider-Man 3, this franchise contains a strong “too soon” vibe. However, for commercial success’ sake, the relevant studios have ignored pop-culture’s critical backlash. Unfortunately, these studio-fuelled quarrels hit The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro like one of Spider-Man’s wily punches. The plot, to put it simply, tangles itself into a convoluted and incessant creation. Here, much like 2004’s Spider-Man 2, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. Should he protect New York’s citizens as the wall-crawling arachnid or look after long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Aunt May (Sally Field)? Breaking his promise to Gwen’s father, Captain George Stacy (Denis Leary), to stay away from her, Peter is torn between his life’s most important strands. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your relationship with Spidey’s comic-book saga, the narrative delivers several sub-plots and cartoonish characters. Some of these include Aunt May heading back to nursing school and Gwen being accepted into Oxford University. Believe it or not, eclipsing these already unnecessary subplots, the narrative throws even more strands into its already bloated and top-heavy structure.

Spider-Man vs. Aleksei Sytsevich/The Rhino.

Obviously, there’s way too much going on in Spidey’s latest cinematic endeavour. Notorious blockbuster screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek) spray their frustrating screenwriting ticks all over this sequel’s intriguing premise. Backed up by fellow screenwriter Jeff Pinkner, their needlessly convoluted and sketchy screenplay forms an inconsistent and cheesy web of plot-lines, character arcs, tragic moments, and predictable revelations. Sadly, it’s as if this particular universe means nothing to these infamous screenwriters (other than a hefty paycheque). This instalment, striving to overlook the now two-year-old reboot, is treated like yet another mindless and glossy jumpstart. Overtly, the narrative and Marc Webb((500) Days of Summer)’s direction are strongly influenced by preceding superhero/action-dramas. For the first third, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro strives to string Raimi’s trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe into its dense, labyrinthine structure. Despite containing several of the original’s foibles, I will give credit where it’s due. Unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t blatantly copy one of Raimi’s efforts. However, temped to make more web puns, I’m still perplexed by this movie’s flaws. With a $200 million+ budget anchoring this sequel, the movie’s tonal and pacing issues are more obvious than Spidey’s web-based “I Love You” signals.

Jamie Foxx.

Aiming to be bigger, broader, and ballsier than previous flicks, this instalment’s reach drastically exceeds its grasp. After mistreated dweeb turned freakish monster Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) and long-time confidant turned slimy adversary Harry Osborn/Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are introduced, the story suddenly decides to crawl toward its explosive and miscalculated final third. Setting up conflicts for future instalments, the second half’s dour side clashes with its more over-the-top moments. Seeking a Tim Burton/Batman vibe, the kooky villains’ motivations, heart-wrenching twists, and bizarre alliances overthrow the first half’s light-hearted and comedically savvy tone. The movie, advertising itself as “the untold story”, almost immediately forgets about Peter’s missing parents. The movie’s emotional stakes rest on Garfield and Stone’s shoulders. Fortunately, their sweet-natured performances lend a romantic-comedy tinge to this laboured superhero-action flick. Despite their nonsensical roles, Foxx and DeHaan deliver fun performances as Spidey’s snivelling adversaries. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti, Martin Csokas, Chris Cooper, B.J Novak, Colm Feore, and Felicity Jones suffer through thankless roles. Sadly, the characters, though likeable and occasionally sympathetic, are as inhuman and ridiculous as their superpowers. Peter and Stacy’s relationship flip-flops between cheerful exchanges and soppy admittances. Worse, however, is Osborn and Electro’s involvement in Oscorp’s shady wheelings and dealings.

“You know what it is I love about being Spider-Man? Everything!” (Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro).

Spidey vs. Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin.

Ultimately, apart from telegraphing certain events, these interactions stall an already disjointed and vacuous tale. Fortunately, Webb injects his signature style into several sequences here. In fact, some scenes, when judged on their own, come off like acclaim-worthy highlights lifted from this shoddy misfire. With this instalment being a compilation of disparate concepts and set pieces, Webb’s style heightens its interest factor above tedium. Certain sequences, charting Peter’s descent from misguided simpleton to mischievous and miserable vigilante, add class and charm to this overcrowded extravaganza. Several montages, depicting changing seasons and super-heroic acts, track Peter’s bizarre life story. In addition, saving certain sections from becoming laughably earnest, Webb’s action-direction vastly exceeds his previous efforts. With Spidey flying through the sky, his web-swings deliver gloriously thrilling adrenaline rushes. Overcoming the under-utilised villains, the stakes are raised with each sprawling action sequence. Spidey’s first action sequence pits Peter against a car chase and his graduation ceremony. This conundrum, complete with Spidey’s sarcastic wit, commendably kick-starts this instalment. Meanwhile, Spidey and Electro’s showdown in Times Square almost rectifies this antagonist’s inclusion. However, nowadays, this whiz-bang stuff is expected of every big-budget tent-pole. Despite the movie’s glossy sheen and thrilling moments, its major issues intrinsically poison an otherwise enjoyable blockbuster.

Today, we expect our blockbusters to entertain us and re-shape the Hollywood system. Fresh ideas and brilliant minds keep audiences coming back to these exhaustive and over-long adaptations (thank you, Joss Whedon). Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro is a case of too many cooks, and crooks, spoiling the broth. With plot-threads, character arcs, and Easter eggs clashing with tonal shifts and tiresome pacing issues, this sequel, fittingly, gets stuck in its own gargantuan web (last one, I swear).

Verdict: An underwhelming and confusing sequel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review – Wild, Wild Wes-tern


Director: Wes Anderson

Writer: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe

 


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Anderson’s direction.

Worst part: The unnecessary bookends.

Words like “hipster” and “pretentious” are thrown around far too often nowadays. Intended as insults, these words are too often taken out of context and placed into judgemental analyses. Unfortunately, these words are often directed toward writer/director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). Sure, his style stands out from every other big-name filmmaker out there. But why should we criticise him for being different? This year, Anderson has pursued a new and improved form of critical and commercial acclaim.

Ralph Fiennes & Tony Revolori.

Simultaneously lampooning and embracing his distinctive style, Anderson’s new feature The Grand Budapest Hotel reaches out to newcomers and long-time fans. Here, this near-rabid fandom is what Anderson strives for. In  this delectable dramedy, his bold visuals, deadpan performances, and relevant themes are dissected and meticulously placed back together. To introduce readers to Anderson’s universe, I’ll describe this labyrinthine plot. In one timeline, a girl places a key on a statue before diving into a novel named ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We are then introduced to the novel’s narratorial force. The author (Tom Wilkinson) describes one significant event in his tumultuous life. From there, we meet the author’s younger self (Jude Law) residing in 1968. Meeting the hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the author enquires about Moustafa’s past. We then examine Moustafa’s younger self (Tony Revolori) whilst learning of the Hotel’s former glory back in 1932. This timeline, set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, deals with countries and businesses during wartime. As a lobby boy, Moustafa becomes friends with the hotel’s favourable concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Over the years, Gustave courts several rich, elderly women whom come for the hotel’s reputation and stay for his “exceptional service”.

Adrian Brody & Willem Dafoe.

Heartbroken over his lover Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis(Tilda Swinton)’s death, Gustave, after acquiring prized painting ‘Boy With Apple’, is pursued by her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), assassin J.G.Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). Honestly, it’s difficult fitting this expansive, starry-eyed cast into this synopsis. In true Anderson fashion, commendable lead and character actors fill each role. Here, Anderson’s auteur status ascends to a notch above transcendent. Embracing narrative tropes and visual flourishes, Anderson takes full responsibility for each detail. Conquering screenwriting and directorial duties, this masterful dramedy icon embellishes what others fear. Idealistically, fun concepts are explored in this sprawling tale about hope, love, age, loss, and survival. The Grand Budapest Hotel, escaping Anderson’s conventional familial-drama confines, delivers an investigation into an entire country’s peculiar inhabitants. Despite including one-too-many timelines, Anderson’s deft touch and focused direction delivers an honest and fruitful idea of humanity’s lighter and darker shades. The author’s timeline fuses with Moustafa’s in a tricky yet purposeful fashion. As a showcase for renowned performers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock-a-block with impactful moments and hearty surprises. In fact, around every corner, characters, laugh-out-loud gags, and clues reside to bolster this quirky tale. In addition, the movie throws gunfights, murders, and tension into this whimsical concoction. Thankfully, the movie never becomes quirky for quirky’s sake. Gustave’s journey never becomes corny or materialistic. Instead, this harsh yet intelligent narrative explores Anderson’s most enigmatic ideas. 

“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!” (M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Jude Law & Jason Schwartzman

Of course, generating fans the world over, Anderson’s signature visual style eclipses this narratorial thrust and opinionated viewpoints. Beyond being the all-knowing creator of prescient dollhouse-like universes, the mis-en-scene, from the ground upward, builds glorious interiors and kitsch exteriors. As Gustave compliments people on their artistic merits, we can see Anderson applauding his own identity and style. Here, his universe becomes more wondrous, idiosyncratic, and gargantuan than anything a modern blockbuster can, and would, deliver. As blockbusters for the indie crowd, Anderson’s features exclaim more than expected each time. Overcoming obvious and ill-conceived preconceptions, his attention to detail almost becomes a cure for a conquering bout of Hollywood-itis. Overcoming the cynicism, his near-symmetrical compositions, clashing colours, stylistic experiments, and blank-faced characters develop near-wordless conversations. Here, his glorious style interacts with over-arching messages. Paying homage to everyone from Ernst Lubitsch to The Marx Brothers, Anderson uses hallways, elevators, cramped spaces, and lobbies to accentuate the story’s manic energy. Fitting its entire cast onto a bevy of key hangars, the poster reveals only a fraction of the movie’s content. Despite the vagueness, these performers, whether they be new to or accustomed to Anderson’s flourishes, admirably reinforce this tale’s enthusiasm, vision, and ideology. Fiennes breaks from tradition to embody this unhinged and comedically-charged role. Tapping into his slapstick chops, the iconic British actor jumps into each scene with charm, maliciousness, and reverence. Newcomer Revolori is also a standout as Gustave’s naive and witty number-two. Bolstering their already esteemed reputations, supporting players like Norton, Goldblum, Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel stand above this immensely talented ensemble.

Eclipsing Anderson’s best efforts, including Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an effervescent and efficient love letter. In addition, it outright refuses to become a sorrowful apology to Anderson’s detractors or even average filmgoers. Anderson, now reaching critical and commercial acclaim, holds his head up higher than even the most respectful hotel staff member. Ideally, it’s worth making reservations for, and checking-in to, this hysterical and dexterous dramedy.

Verdict: Anderson’s most gleeful and nuanced effort yet.

Muppets Most Wanted Review – Vaudeville Verve


Director: James Bobin

Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire

hr_Muppets_Most_Wanted_11


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The kooky humour.

Worst part: The exhaustive length.

Before I delve into the latest Muppet instalment, I’ll state one important fact – all Muppets are puppets, but not all puppets are Muppets. To earn this title, a puppet must earn the skills, know-how, and wit to stand alongside Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. Yes, this review already seems entirely earnest. Perhaps, it’s a bit too serious. However, this series deserves significant credit and attention. This franchise carries people through one decade after another. Despite the old-fashioned humour and dated plot-lines, this series still clings onto its undying charm. Judging by Muppets Most Wanted, this series shows no signs of slowing down…again.

The Muppets are back…yet again!

Created in the 1950s by legendary artist and puppeteer Jim Henson, this franchise touches people’s lives. Whenever Kermit runs across the screen, viewers glue their eyeballs to the screen. With The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper becoming instant classics, these colourful and spirited characters reside in pop-culture’s all-important aura. However, after seven big-budget movies and long-running TV series’, these characters have lost their intended target audience. Younger generations, judging by Muppets Most Wanteds US box office earnings, are neglecting this engaging property. However, 2011’s The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted prove that older generations still stand by these favourable, felt-lined characters. This movie kicks off one second after the kitsch reboot. At this moment, the Muppet cast realises its true potential. Kickstarting a sequel, the troupe still holds its Vaudeville act close to its heart. At the centre, Kermit looks after everyone. Controlled by tour manager Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bajee”) (Ricky Gervais), the Muppets are pressured into an around-the-world tour. Travelling, by train (a cracking gag, indeed), from America to Berlin, the crew begins to look to Badguy for guidance. However, made obvious by his kooky name, Badguy is slowly pulling on the thread. Escaping from a Siberian Gulag, villainous frog Constantine heads to Berlin to find Badguy and the Muppets. Sporting a brown mole on his right cheek, Constantine plots to steal from European museums and banks. Swapping out Kermit for Constantine, Badguy wholeheartedly wins the Muppets over. Kermit, residing in a harsh Gulag, is watched over by head prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey).

Ricky Gervais & Constantine.

From there, kooky hijinks, strict investigations, and touching revelations steal the show. With this sequel, director James Bobin and executive producer Nicholas Stoller, carrying on from the original, needed to justify this franchise’s existence. With Jason Segel and Amy Adams stepping down from the fuzz-covered mantle, the Muppets themselves are thrown into leading roles. Thankfully, though not as good as the reboot, this sequel makes several successful and impactful strides. The Muppets, including newbie Walter, highlight our immense preconceptions and the narrative’s more obvious tropes. Backing up the evil doppelgänger and prison escape plot-strands, Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle parody European customs agents whilst investigating crime scenes across the continent. From the opening musical number onward, the movie acknowledges its ridiculousness and semi-unwarranted existence. Thanks to meta-textual humour and self-reflexive characters, this instalment answers to each generation’s requests and complaints. Covered head-to-toe in fur-covered nostalgia, this instalment embraces Gen-X’s infatuation with the seminal troupe. Throwing us into an over-the-top narrative and tried-and-true character arcs, we see this kinetic franchise becoming wiser and heartier with age. Fuelled by determination and joy, these cushy characters bop along at a leisurely pace. Fittingly, the movie, for the most part, heartily clicks during the jokes and musical numbers. Unfortunately, the movie’s 113-minute length delivers too much of a great thing. Stretching the conventional narrative beyond reason, the jokes, conflicts, and motivations become tiresome even before the final 15 minutes.

“Hi-lo, Kyer-mit thee Frog heree.” (Constantine (Steve Whitmire), Muppets Most Wanted).

Ty Burrell & Sam the Eagle.

Of course, Muppets Most Wanted relies on humour, visuals, and all-out chaos. The humour, despite occasionally falling flat, controls this instalment like a puppet on a string. the meta humour and slapstick gags work wonders throughout. Gracefully, the rambunctious surprises and pithy one-liners overshadow the more witless moments. Like with previous Muppet creations, the cameos deliver enjoyable, albeit self-indulgent, gags. Here, lacking the original’s glorious sheen, character actors and TV personalities prance across the screen. Christoph Waltz and Salma Hayek acknowledge The Muppet Show’s eclectic veneer. In addition, stuck with Kermit in the Gulag, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Tom Hiddleston, and Jermaine Clement display their musical theatre chops (who knew, huh?). Speaking of which, the musical numbers, though insightful and clever, never ascend above the original’s catchy interludes. Written and composed by Flight of the Choncords’ Bret McKenzie, these bizarre songs maintain his imaginative and hysterical style. The opening number, ‘Do it all Again’, delivers a zany commentary on Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels, prequels, reboots, established properties etc. Meanwhile, Fey’s seminal number, ‘The Big House’, provides several subversive and light-hearted moments. However, more importantly, Muppets Most Wanted brings back our favourite furry friends. Kermit, voiced by Steve Whitmire this time, undergoes a transcendent journey. Like with previous instalments, the world’s nicest frog underlines the movie’s salient points and overarching messages. His doppelgänger is the franchise’s most engaging new addition. Sporting a thick Russian accent and martial arts skills, his mannerisms deliver major laughs. Interacting with these two, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo etc. light up the stage and screen.

Throughout Muppets Most Wanted, this instalment’s cast and crew enthusiastically pat themselves on the back. Elevating this franchise’s already sterling reputation, its self-aware gags, fun musical numbers, and enlightening performances make for a worthy cinematic offering. However, falling short of the reboot’s seminal aura, this sequel proves that, more often than not, original features are almost always better.

Verdict: A rambunctious and honourable sequel. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Super-Bourne Ultimatium


Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson


Release date: April 4th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 136 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The inventive action sequences.

Worst part: Garry Shandling’s cameo.

Set two years after the spectacular yet catastrophic Battle of New York in mega-smash The Avengers, Marvel latest Phase 2 juggernaut, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, looks up into the universe for ideas. No, unfortunately, this instalment has nothing to do with Thor, Thor: The Dark World, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Honourably, aiming to become truly extraordinary, the movie seeks recognition. This instalment, ignoring the massive success stories that came before it, changes the game for future sequels, adaptations, and TV series’.

Chris Evans.

So, what did I think of the final Product? Well, I have to commend Marvel Studios, and Captain America: The Winter Soldiers cast and crew for pulling off a visceral and all-encompassing sequel. Eviscerating the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s preceding sequels, this movie shows Hollywood exactly how it’s done. Watch out Spider-man, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy, the “star-spangled man with a plan” means business. Ascending above Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a lively and ambitious effort unafraid of The Avengers’  conquering shadow. Here, aliens, gods, and monsters aren’t even mentioned. Some may believe this to be an idiotic decision. However, this instalment seeks to pull apart everything we’ve already learnt about this franchise. Here, unlike the kitsch 2011 original, there are no guidelines, black-and-white strokes, and corny dialogue. In fact, the movie kicks into overdrive at exactly the right moments. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), now completely thawed out of his icy tomb, finds the 21st century to be an even greater threat than Loki, alien hordes, and the Tesseract combined. Transitioning from 1940s Brooklyn to 2010s Washington D.C., Rogers feels uncomfortable even in seemingly normal surroundings and situations.

Scarlett Johansson.

Sensitively, despite Cap’s red, white, and blue facade, this instalment strips stars and stripes off the flag before dousing it in shades of grey. Carrying around a to-do list listing pop-culture’s most transcendent aspects (Steve Irwin, Rocky etc.), Rogers looks to others for guidance. From the opening scene, in which Rogers overlaps selfless war veteran Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) on their morning jog, Rogers’ character arc becomes insatiably potent. The movie re-introduces us to this straight-laced superhero in a succinct fashion. Sporting an enviable physique and approachable personality, Rogers overshadows Cap’s star power and superhuman abilities. From there, the movie delivers many shocking and tangible twists and turns before the explosive finale. With athletic agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) by his side, Rogers notices several peculiar occurrences. Unsure of whom to trust, Rogers and Romanoff suspect security agency SHIELD, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in their Triskelion headquarters, of carrying out ethically questionable actions. Soon enough, tempers and allegiances reach breaking point before Rogers and Romanoff are branded as threats to democracy. Thankfully, before even the titular assassin is introduced, Captain America: The Winter Soldier strives to be the most intelligent and thought-provoking instalment yet.

Samuel L. Jackson vs. The Winter Soldier.

Thanks to politically-charged overtones and pragmatic characters, the movie draws the line between worldwide peace and overwhelming chaos. Seeking a 70s conspiracy-thriller vibe, the narrative throws in several unexpected chills, thrills, and kills. Despite being comparable to All the Presidents Men (thanks mostly to Redford’s inclusion), the relevant socio-political commentary makes it, essentially, the year’s best Jack Ryan flick. In this instalment, each character’s actions spark major ramifications that could potentially re-configure entire governmental, economic, and social layouts. Rogers, introduced to a paranoid and cynical version of his stouthearted country, brings 40s ideals to every motivation, action, and judgement. In fact, the original feature’s hearty messages are seamlessly injected into its slick and ultra-relentless sequel. However, unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t rely on bubbly supporting characters, boisterous montages, or light hearted moments. This sequel, significantly darker than expected, delivers gritty and momentous tonal currents. Beyond these energetic and revelatory surprises, this series’ over-arching narrative has been radically altered by this instalment’s fundamental revelations. Shifting this series from popcorn-starved schlock to adrenaline-charged, character-based drama, Captain America: The Winter Soldier systematically adapts to preconceptions and delivers an enthusiastically purposeful experience.

“You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection.” (Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

Anthony Mackie.

Of course, despite its thorough examination of the First World’s shattered political state and endless desire for information, audiences turn out to see Marvel’s 90-something military-trained badass hit people with his custom-built shield. Fortunately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s action sequences don’t disappoint. Oddly enough, the movie’s directorial flair delivers several intense and enlightening sequences. With Jon Favreau creating indie-dramas, Kenneth Branagh heading back to Shakespeare, and Shane Black planning his next hysterical actioner, whom did Marvel Studios get this time? Why, TV directors, of course. Despite Anthony and Joe Russo’s previous credits (Community, Arrested Development), their meticulous action-direction is startlingly effective. The first sequence, displaying Cap’s awe-inspiring fighting style on a hijacked cargo ship, throws this action-adventure into a steady ascension. In addition, Falcon’s outlandish abilities and Romanoff’s extraordinary martial arts bolster this instalment’s immense “WOW” factor. Despite the final third’s occasional plot-holes, the well-crafted set pieces distract from minor gripes. In addition, like with the other successful instalments, the characters elevate and define certain scenes. Evans grips onto his role differently to Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. Switching from glorious symbol, to no-nonsense hero, to idealistic spy, his performance provides the movie’s most touching moments. Johansson and Mackie deliver enjoyable turns in well-meaning supporting roles. Meanwhile, Redford accustomed to the spy-thriller genre, relishes in his role’s more impactful conceits.

Whether you think it praises liberal principles or right-wing motivations, audiences will lap up Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s analysis of the US Government’s most pressing issues. Brave enough to be intelligent, the movie’s greatest sequences deliver depth, intense action beats, and glorious characterisations. The movie, speeding past previous Phase 2 instalments, justifies its existence. Appropriately, Marvel Studios has defined the similarities and differences between the world’s “good guys” and “bad guys”. If only our real-life public figures could do the same.

Verdict: The best Phase 2 instalment yet! 

The Lego Movie Review – Brick by Brick


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman

The_Lego_Movie_poster


Release date: April 3rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The wink-and-nudge humour.

Worst part: The slightly exasperating length.

One toy company, over past few years, has caused more societal shifts than every government put together. The Lego Group, creating miniature architects and production designers, has an affecting stranglehold on almost every household in the Western World. Venturing into big-budget filmmaking, Lego’s latest spectacle, The Lego Movie, is history’s first BLOCK-buster (you can all have that one!). Fortunately, this animated roller-coaster ride delivers hysterical jokes, fun action sequences, and a modest tone.

Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski.

Nowadays, with Lego’s video games (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc.) conquering the small screen, this franchise delivers hefty amounts of nostalgia. I grew up with these yellow, plastic men myself. I, normally one to turn my nose up at nostalgia-drenched blockbusters, fell head-over-heels for this enthusiastic thrill-ride. Here, The Lego Group steps back about one-or-two cubit meters. Allowing the cast and crew to show off their unique talents, the multi-billion dollar company is displaying its modest side. This could be seen as an ongoing moment of weakness. However, this is a surprising move for this expansive corporation to undertake. Interestingly enough, the movie comes off as a running commentary on capitalism, industry, and social progress. However, before delving into its thematic relevance, I’ll describe the plot before this review smashes into tiny pieces. The story focuses on kooky everyman Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). Emmet, following orders printed in specialised instruction manuals, fits into his city’s way of life. Listening to pop tunes, buying overpriced coffee, and working at a local construction site, Emmet lacks significant qualities. One day, after running into alluring warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers the key to the universe’s survival.

Elizabeth Banks & Morgan Freeman.

Labelled “The Special” by the master builder’s leader Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and told to collect the fabled “Kragle” weapon, his journey kicks off in spectacular fashion. As you can tell, The Lego Movie‘s plot is lifted from influential action-adventure flicks. Slotting genre tropes and familiar sequences together, the plot rollickingly speeds along toward the explosive climax. In the first third, the Matrix-style narrative kicks into overdrive. Defined by an all-knowing prophecy, the movie is wholly aware of its conventional tropes. Shifting from one action trope to another, The Lego Movie taps into multiple generations’ senses of nostalgia. With Lego being a major part of our childhoods, the movie captures a child’s acute and inventive imagination. Exposing Lego’s lighter and heavier shades, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), by throwing these lego creations onto the big screen, accentuate their humorous and clever style. Here, the dynamic duo examines Lego’s pop-cultural impact. Commenting on its own existence, The Lego Movie humbly points out the each twist and turn’s absurdities. This modern animated classic takes its relentless nature and builds upon it. Lord and Miller’s senses of humour place rectangular blocks into affable and important places. Following an intrinsic instruction manual, the duo’s screenplay delivers several eclectic comedic jabs and one-liners. Admittedly, it’s shameful to criticise The Lego Movie for its silliness. Basing a big-budget extravaganza on a famous toy, Lord and Miller keep up the tempo throughout its extensive run-time.

“Whoa, are we inside my brain right now? It’s big. I must be smart.” (Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), The Lego Movie).

Will Ferrell & Liam Neeson.

Fortunately, Lord and Miller, saving this plot from falling apart, kickstart one action sequence after another. After zany characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Will Arnett) are introduced, certain set pieces fit together seamlessly. Developing a gigantic chase across multiple worlds, these set pieces mix humour, stellar animation, and stylish choreography. The Old West jet battle, featuring a steam train, police planes, and the Batmobile, is an early highlight. Beyond the pulsating action sequences, the animation style enthusiastically bolsters this questionable premise. Fusing CG animation, stop-motion effects, and detailed miniatures, Lord and Miller’s Lego universe is chock-a-block (zing!) with surprises and exhilarating moments. Venturing into “Middle Zealand”, the high seas, and corporate mogul Lord Business(Will Ferrell)’s lair, The Lego Movie trounces Pixar’s more recent efforts. In addition, the little yellow figures, stuck in these chaotic events, are the movie’s most engaging creations. Tapping into Lego’s extensive history, the cast list includes the 2002 NBA All-stars, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, 80s-something spaceman (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). Beyond this, the movie provides a meta-commentary on Warner Bros. properties. Along with characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR, the movie comes close to creating a Justice League spinoff. Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) are welcome additions. Eclipsing these references, the lead voices cap-off this wondrous comedy. Pratt, Banks, Arnett, Freeman, and Neeson stretch their immense acting talents in these enlightening roles

By all means, The Lego Movie should’ve bombed spectacularly. At first, this overwhelming concept seemed like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, put in Lord and Miller’s careful hands, this animated gem, from its conquering landscapes to slick vehicles, has been built with precision, imagination, and care. Of course, credit also belongs to Pratt and co. for bringing these plastic heroes and villains to life. This may be cheesy, but this Lego creation reaches skyscraper-level heights.

Verdict: A humorous and enjoyable animated adventure.