Cold in July Review – Payback’s a B*tch!


Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici (screenplay), Joe R. Lansdale (novel)

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw

cold_in_july_ver2


Release date: May 23, 2014

 Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The atmospheric visuals.

Worst part: The undercooked sub-plots. 

My screening of crime-thriller Cold in July was a precious and disarming experience. Sitting alongside my mother, several distractions reared their ugly heads before the lights dimmed and the movie reached its first frame. It’s strange whenever a movie instantly immerses you in its magic. The distractions fade away, and the narrative’s cinematic aura introduces itself willingly and charmingly. After the opening frame (part of a spectacular first scene), Cold in July fills its quarrels and catastrophes with a revolver’s worth of bullets.

Michael C. Hall.

With a dynamic story and engaging characters riding off into the sunset, this crime-thriller addresses the best and worst aspects of its ever-expanding genre. With new additions kicking their way through our doors each year, the revenge-thriller is hurriedly becoming a worn-out concept. In fact, recently, Blue Ruin roared its satirical and visceral sound at an unsuspecting film festival crowd. Here, the genre’s stripped-back nature is in full effect. The movie, not one to shoot second, delivers major questions before and after lighting up the screen with bullets, blood, and bad deeds. Intriguingly, to describe the plot, I may have to reach into the deep, dark recesses of my soul. This crime-thriller kicks off with a bang. With an intruder rummaging through his house, polite citizen Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) takes the law into his own hands. After blowing the intruder’s brains out, Richard watches on in horror as his actions ripple across town. Tested by his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw), and their child, Jordan (Brogan Hall), this simpleton craves for everything to go back to normal. However, this act of self-defence yields severe consequences for our lead character. As the victim’s disgruntled father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is released from prison, Richard watches over his family and home. Following through with its premise, masculinity, right vs. wrong, and gun worship are given as much credit as the lead actors.

C. Hall and Sam Shepard.

The premise – relying on charm and subtlety to push it forward – is certainly an interesting one. With revenge-thrillers making their mark on the transformer-and-superhero-ridden cinematic landscape, the little guy is making his mark over the big boys surrounding him. Okay, enough with the metaphors! I’m here to discuss Cold in July in a sincere and serious fashion. However, with something so delicious and gritty gracing our screens, it’s difficult not to notice its overt cheese factor. From the first few scenes onward, in which the town’s tasteless inhabitants tell it the way they see it, this story delves head-long into its most discomforting conceits. Cold in July tracks its characters, as its familial drama quickly reaches breaking point. With Ben swearing revenge, paranoia builds upon the already bizarre narrative. Echoing Cape Fear‘s intensifying structure, this guessing game rolls through the small-town setting with thunderous momentum. However, shockingly, this conflict only takes up the first third. The first third, housing Richard and Ben’s cat-and-mouse game, delivers more tension-fuelled moments and standard story beats than expected. The narrative then takes a turn for the kooky, as certain revelations alter Richard and Ben’s vicious battle. Taking on goons and genre tropes, this crime-drama lovingly transitions into a fiery western. Aided by War hero turned private investigator Jim Bob Luke(Don Johnson)’s kooky introduction, the movie’s second-half turns bolster an already arresting revenge-thriller.

“Are you really my father?” (Freddy (Wyatt Russell), Cold in July).

Don Johnson.

Upping the ante throughout the tight 110-minute run-time, director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) understands the benefits and limitations of the genre he’s playing in. Influenced by Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Drive, Mickle honours these significant game-changing features and directors throughout this alluring thrill-ride. Matching sickeningly dark twists with blackly comedic jabs, his efforts deliver gut-wrenching surprises and moral quandaries. Clinging onto Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Mickle and fellow screenwriter Nick Damici (also starring in a key role) occasionally veer into cloying obstacles. Several sub-plots, from the intrinsically important to the mildly distracting, are left wholly unresolved. By story’s end, questions and answers face off inside the viewer’s swirling mindset. Mickle’s feature, if anything, follows through on its promise to stick by Texas’ good ol’ fashioned timeliness. With certain settings becoming drenched in sleaze and sweat, the visuals strike up an unusual concoction of filth, degradation, and blood. Tracking our leads through strange situations, the cinematography is worth the admission cost. Slightly off-kilter, certain camera angles and movements heighten the tension. With a John Carpenter-like score upping the stakes, the movie’s 80s-era vibe comes close to tripping this meticulous story. Gracefully, the movie’s organic performances push this crime-thriller over the edge. In this hard-edged role, C. Hall’s adds tenacity and liveliness to every scene. Following his character, the story jumps whenever he does. In addition, Shepard and Johnson simultaneously parody and pay homage to their wonder years.

Overcoming the corny one-liners, gaping plot-holes, and obvious homages, Cold in July puts its foot down at opportune moments. Setting up several intriguing sub-plots and motivations, the first half pays off significantly more so than the second. However, despite these mild complaints, this crime-thriller eventually comes through. Unlike most modern movies, Cold in July is surprisingly honest about its best and worst qualities.

Verdict: A taut and intriguing crime-thriller

Trailer Trash – The Expendables 3 Official Trailer


expendables3-poster1-2In 2010, action-hungry superstar Sylvester Stallone gave us a taste of his excessive lifestyle. Surrounded by action heroes, explosions, and bland one-liners, The Expendables became a commercial hit in the vein of Planet Hollywood, the National Rifle Association, and your average strip club. However, eerily resembling a set of testicles, this testosterone-charged roller-coaster rubbed critics and pop-culture the wrong way. However, in 2012, The Expendables 2 upped the ante. Quality wise, it was vastly superior to the original. Sadly, it didn’t elevate the series’ reputation.

This year, Stallone and co. aim to please every being on this big, blue marble. Looking back on the first two with regret, this-and-last-century’s action stars are, at the very least, trying to make a different type of Expendables venture. Ridding this sequel of CGI blood, useless cameos, and irritating jokes, the style and tone have been drastically altered. Bred by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), The Expendables 3 sticks to this genre’s roots. With explosions, fist-fights, and wrinkled facades covering the screen, this trailer makes everything look somewhat authentic. From the get go, we see a train being turned into junkyard scrap-metal by our arthritis-ridden supermen. Ironically, their target is a jail-ridden Wesley Snipes. Giving this instalment a chance, this trailer gets off to a promising start.

Here, we also see some significant upgrades from the first two. Adding gravitas to this witless and brash franchise, newcomers Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer boost this instalment’s gargantuan potential. Sadly, Ford makes room to make fun of Jet Li’s height. Seriously, why would ANYONE pick on this martial-arts master? However, this sequel’s purpose rings true. Kidnapping the Expendables’ younger additions, Mel Gibson’s bad-guy character delivers some bite for this preposterous series. Beyond this, the trailer may be delivering the movie’s better moments. It could end up as a momentous disappointment. Then again, we’ve already sat through the first one. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


Tom Conyers (Director) Interview – Working-class Cinephile


Australian filmmaker Tom Conyers.

At 2012’s Revelation Perth Film Festival, I got the spectacular chance to chat with Victorian Filmmakers Mark White and Tom Conyers. These two, promoting their new flick The Caretaker, were as approachable and professional as possible. So, a couple of years later, I took it upon myself to get in touch with them to chat about their past, present, and future successes. Conyers, the director, was lauded for using Victoria’s searing landscapes to his advantage. Building an influential bottle film, Conyer’s style brought a tight-knit cast and crew together for this explosive genre event. Recently, I caught up with Conyers to talk about the movie, his career, and the places he’s going next.

How did you begin your career in film-making?

I wouldn’t call where I’m at as having a career in filmmaking, more a residual existence, but I’ve always been interested in the craft, from way back as a kid making super 8 movies.

Where did the idea of the caretaker come from?

I was trying to think of a cheap script. ‘The Caretaker’ is basically four people in a room with a vampire. We were able to make it a lot more cinematic than that with great locations, by shifting much of the action to the outdoors, and putting in a few scenes with extras, though. I also wanted to try to bring up issues that aren’t usually the preserve of genre films. To me ‘The Caretaker’ is about domesticity. Whether the house is always a home. Is marriage something that must be sanctified in a church or whether it can exist as an idea between couples. I wanted to look at less salutatory aspects of Australian culture, particularly to do with masculinity. And to invert the idea of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold into domesticity, as anyone will understand who’s seen how the film ends. Even the vampire is domesticated, being let out like a cat at night. One of my favourite plays is ‘The Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen and I think that fed into the film somehow.

Were your inspirations/ideas by the current popularity of vampires in any way?

I wouldn’t say I’ve religiously followed vampires. My favourite vampire novel would be ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. Very subtle, which it had to be for the time. In terms of vampire films, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Martin’ are my two favourites. And they’re quite old now. So I wasn’t terribly aware of the current trends.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

It mostly came together pretty well despite great obstacles. I feel I got about 70% of the film I wanted, and the rest I can live with!

What was it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s production?

There was good and bad. The depressing thing is that not only does a vast proportion of the public and critics write off Australian films, but so too do many actors and crew working on them. It means that making an independent film is just one long torturous uphill battle. There were a handful of people we worked with both in front of the camera and behind it who were great, and there have been some really supportive champions of the film since. But Australian films are never going to really thrive till there is better support at home. Which is a shame, because there seem to be independent films getting made all the time in this country but most people wouldn’t know it. I don’t know why the ABC doesn’t set up a channel like the Indigenous one they’ve now got, but devoted exclusively to homegrown, independent content. It might just be that Australian film generally fails because no one gets to see it. The problem with this stupid world where protectionism has been deemed a dirty word, where the market is left to decide what lives and dies, is that instead of the greater choice and lower prices this purportedly offers, instead we are left with monopolies dictating the publics’ tastes with increasingly homogenous and overpriced fair. But that’s how this dumb world works. ‘The market, the market.’ Likes it’s this living thing we have no choice but to be in thrall to.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

The food, the mice, the skepticism were the low points. The high point was just the thrill of making a feature film finally, and working with those people who were enthused and doing a great job.

How did you create the visual effects and set designs?

In terms of visual effects, we tried to do as much in-camera as possible and then enhanced things later on computer. But the real impressive computer graphics were done in Brazil by a friend of mine, Verginia Grando, and her team. The sets were put up and taken down and redressed in record time by the producer Mark White and set-dressing duo Jane Cherry and Jessica Moran.

How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

We took a year editing the film. We’d probably do it much faster if we had it over again. But because you’re feeling your way in the dark, you make mistakes like having your sound files in the wrong format and discovering you need to recode them and so on. Plus we had one big continuity problem. One of the actors in the film doesn’t have any costume changes. He’s in the same gear from start to finish. No one was really watching his continuity but the actor bizarrely kept rolling his sleeves up and down!

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I don’t know. I suppose genre films are appealing to the independent filmmaker because people will still watch them even if marquee names aren’t attached. The genre crowd generally seems less snobbish. I’ve seen some really good independent dramas and comedies that just don’t get a look in at all because no one knows any of the actors in them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

There are almost no advantages. There are almost an overwhelming number of disadvantages. I’m still trying to think of the advantages.

What is your next project?

I have multiple projects. Whether any come to fruition is another matter. But they are in all sorts of genres and styles. I’m taking to a few people, and there are a few people doing their best to make some of them real, but we’ll see. I won’t believe I’m making another film till the first day on set and it’s too late for investors to pull their money out.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

I think it’s become a lot cheaper to make a good-looking film these days. I starting out making 16mm shorts and the cost of the film stock, processing and telecine was exorbitant. Our whole budget for ‘The Caretaker’ would probably have gone on those three things if we hadn’t been able to shoot digital. But while digital has been a godsend in one way, it also means people can copy your work without any degradation in quality. Making money out of movies for the independent filmmaker still seems like an uphill battle.

Official website: The Caretaker


 

 

Mark White (Actor/Producer) Interview – Diving In Fang First


Actor/producer Mark White.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet, and chat extensively with, actor/producer Mark White. At the Revelation Perth Film Festival, his latest feature The Caretaker was on display for critics and cinema-goers to take in. The movie, dropping a bunch of ordinary people in a vampiric apocalypse, pushes the very best of Australian genre cinema to the edge. With a restrained budget, cast, and crew on offer, the production was lauded as being valuable and intrinsic to the Australian film industry. Calling Victoria home, Mark White graciously agreed to an interview about his motivations, the feature, and everything concerning the industry today.

How did you begin your career in film-making ?

IT WAS A VERY FLUID PROCESS FOR ME. AS A DANCE STUDENT I TOOK ALL THE TELEVISION COMMERCIALS AND BIT PARTS I COULD GET TO HELP KEEP A ROOF OVER MY HEAD. OVERR THE YEARS THE WORK BECAME MORE SOPHISTICATED AND I BEGAN TO GRASP THE VAST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEATRE AND RECORDED MEDIA, AND THE VERY DIFFERENT TYPES AND INTENSITY OF PERFORMANCE FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. AS MY DANCE SKILLS DEVELOPED OPPORTUNITIES TO CHOREOGRAPH AROSE, INTRODUCING ME TO PRODUCTION. AT THAT TIME I WORKED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WITH SILVER-SCREEN AND JEFF DIXON BEGAN TO ASK ME TO CAST UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS. IVE HAD NO FORMAL TRAINING AT ALL.

As producer, how did you finance The Caretaker?

INDIE FILM IS ABOUT AD TOUGH AS IT GETS. I CAN YELL YOU THAT IT IS EASIER TO RAISE $20 MILLION THAN IT IS TO RAISE $200 THOUSAND. I’M CONSTANTLY STUNNED BY THE PERCENTAGE OF ARTLESS CRAP COMING OUT OF THE BIG MONEY END OF THIS INDUSTRY. EASY COME EASY GO I GUESS. I BEGIN EVRY INDEPENDENT FILM, BY BEGINNING! THERE WAS NO MONEY AT ALL. SO WE PULLED IN A FEW FAVOURS, ASSEMBLED A SKELETON CREW HIT THE ROAD TO MAKE THE TRAILER FOR THE FILM. IN MY OPINION THAT IS THE WAY TO GO. SHOW POTENTIAL BACKERS WHAT IT IS GOING TO BE, THE STYLE AND FEEL, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY….THAT YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU SAY! PEOPLE SAW THE TRAILER AND WROTE US CHECKS. THE FIRST THREE PEOPLE WE SHOWED IT GAVE US $345,000. I DONATED FOUR YEARS TO THE PROJECT AS WELL AS SHAVING COSTS BY ACTING – IN REAL TERMS, THAT REPRESENTS A MINIMUM OF $1 MILLION, AND THE DIRECTOR’S CONTRIBUTION WOULD BE THE SAME. THIS IS WHAT CAM BE SO MISLEADING ABOUT INDIE FILM. THE REAL COST IF YOU INCLUDE THE PRODUCER/STAR/WRITER/DIRECTOR/EDITOR ETC WOULD BE CLOSER TO $3 MILLION.

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

I’LL BE FRANK. THE VAST BULK OF AUSSIE FILMS THIS SIZE NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY, OFTEN SHELVED WITHOUT BEING COMPLETED. THEN IF YOU GET THERE IT’s DAMN TOUGH TO GET AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTORS AND AGENTS TO CONSIDER YOU. THE CARETAKER IS IN THE UK, NORTH AMERICA, CANADA, JAPAN, SPAIN, GERMANY AND MORE…PRETTY MUCH EVERYWHERE, EXCEPT AUSTRALIA. NOT ONE DISTRIBUTOR WAS INTERESTED. WHILE IT’s NOT EXCLUSIVE TO AUSTRALIA, THERE IS A GATEKEEPER MENTALITY IN MOST ARTS COMMUNITIES HERE, SO THAT INSTEAD OF ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTING THE TENACITY OF DYI NEWCOMERS AND EMERGING TALENT THEY ARE OFTEN IGNORED

You not only produce but play an important character in the film, what is it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s conception?

EXHAUSTING. I WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED PERFORMER BY TWENTY YEARS AT LEAST. IN ADDITION OF COURSE ITS MY DUTY AS PRODUCER TO INSURE THAT PRODUCTION ORBITS MY PERSONA IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PROTECT THE DIRECTOR AND HIS VISION. IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE ACTORS NEVER FELT THAT THEY WERE FILMING A SCENE WITH THE BOSS I HAD TO REDESIGN MY PRODUCER ROLE INTO ONE MORE PLIANT…NO DOWN TIME.

How did/do you distribute your films?

AS YOU’D BE AWARE. THE INDUSTRY IS AT THE MERCY OF SUCCESSIVE REVOLUTIONS IN MEDIA TECHNOLOGY AND INTERACTIVITY. ANYONE DISTRIBUTING FILM WITHIN PIRACY BEING FRONT AND CENTRE IN THEIR STRATEGY WILL FAIL. SO GIVING A DISTRIBUTOR NEARLY HALF OF YOUR REVENUE WHEN THE FILM IS ON EVERYONE’s COMPUTER BEFORE THE RELEASE DATE AINT GONNA CUT IT. THIS WAS PROBABLY THE LAST FILM THAT I WOULD DISTRIBUTE TRADITIONALLY. THAT SAID, THERE WAS NOTHING TRADITIONAL ABOUT OUR PROCESS. RANDOMS SUBMITTING UNSOLICITED FILMS TO DISTRIBUTORS IS SIMPLY NOT DONE. BUT YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN EHAT YOU DO, AND CONVEY THAT BELIEF. WE HAD THREE SOLID OFFERS FOR DISTRIBUTION AND A GLOBAL AGENT WITHIN A MONTH OF COMPLETION.

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES OF STARTING SO YOUNG AND GROWING UP IN THE BUSINESS IS A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTIST AND AUDIENCE. A STRONG AND GROWING FAN BASE IS AN INDICATION THAT YOU ARE MOSTLY GETTING YOUR JOB RIGHT. NOT PERFECT, BUT RIGHT. ALSO, NOW MORE THAN EVER WE NEED THE FAN BASE TO VALUE THE FILM, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM TORRENTED IT. THE FUTURE OF THIS RELATIONSHIP WILL RELY ON THE END USER CHOOSING TO GIVE THE PRODUCER MONEY.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

DIFFICULT. WITHOUT THE MANPOWER AND CAPITAL FOR A SUSTAINED BLAST TO ALL AVENUES OF SOCIAL MEDIA IT IS DIFFICULT TO REACH CRITICAL MASS. SO, AGAIN WE HAD TO DO WHAT WE COULD AND THEN LEAVE OURSELVES IN THE HANDS OF THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY. FB FANS ARE JOW GROWING OF THEIR OWN ACCORD, MANY OF THEM TORRENTED THE FILM, BUT DECIDED IT WAS WORTH SUPPORTING.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

HAVING A HANDFUL OF LAUREL LEAVES TO PLASTER OVER THE FRONT OF YOUR MATERIAL IS A GOOD ATTENTION GRABBER iIN TERMS OF BOTH AGENTS/DISTRIBUTORS AND AUDIENCE. I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT FESTIVALS. ONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE OF HOW MANY COPIES OF THE FILM ARE OUT THERE. IM CERTAIN SOME OF THE SHONKIER ‘FESTIVALS’ ARE NOT MUCH MORE THAN A FRONT FOR PIRATE BAY. WHILE THE A LISTS ARE A QUAGMIRE OF NEPOTISM. AS FOR THE B AND C LIST…IF YOU ARENT CERTAIN YOULL TAKE OUT BEST FEATURE, WHY BOTHER? THE EXPECTED ANIMOSITY BETWEEN MAINSTREAM AND ALTERNATIVE FESTIVALS OFTEN MEANS LIMITED UPWARD NETWORK MOBILITY. IF YOURE NOT GOING TO WIN, DONT PUT IT IN.

What is your next project?

HAHAHA. THAT WOULD BE TELLING! BUT I CAN SAY THAT IT IS CONFIRMED AND FULLY FUNDED AT MANY TIMES THE BUDGET OF THE LAST. AND THAT I WILL BE WORKING WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR ONCE AGAIN. I ANTICIPATE THAT WE WILL HAVE COMPLETED PRODUCTION BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

EVERYTHING IN THE INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS. TECHNOLOGY….ON ONE SIDE AS RELENTLESS WAVES OF TECHNICAL REVOLUTION CRASH OVER THE INDUSTRY IT GETS EASIER TO DO MORE FOR LESS, WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE ON THE OTHER SIDE-THOSE SAME WAVES CRASH OVER THE MARKET AND MAKES IT EASIER TO TAKE EVERYTHING AND PAY NOTHING. TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW CELLPHONE CAMS WILL HAVE THE SCOPE AND CAPACITY FOR FEATURES. WE HAVE ENTERED A PERIOD WHERE ALMOST ALL THE TECHNICAL HARDWARE FROM EVERY DEPARTMENT IS REDUNDANT BY THE END OF EACH PROJECT, WITH BETTER, CHEAPER VERSIONS WAITING FOR THE NEXT.

Official website: The Caretaker


Jersey Boys Review – A Bum Note


Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice (screenplay & book)

Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda

 


Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: The catchy musical numbers.

Worst part: Eastwood’s direction. 

Musicals – some people absolutely love them, while others despise them more than death, taxes, and the Republican Party combined. Gen-Y, a group infatuated with bright screens and tight clothes, is a generation with no interest in musical theatre. In fact, most youngsters would take Selena Gomez any day over Jean Valjean. Despite the preceding few sentences’ condescending tone, I must ask the following questions for the sake of objectivity – is this a major issue? Which demographic is the focus of musical theatre? Is anyone to blame the fall of specific genres, trends etc. throughout entertainment history?

Our troupe in action.

With all this in mind, Hollywood has thrown several big-budget musical adaptations at us over the past decade. With everything from Les Miserables, to Moulin Rouge, to Rock of Ages gracing us with their presence, this trend, like any others, has its fair share of spectacular hits and crippling misfires. So, who would be the best person to elevate this genre above its blockbuster-drenched competition? According to…himself, actor/director maestro Clint Eastwood is the man to make this potentially transcendent cultural shift happen. His latest directorial effort – and first musical adaptation – Jersey Boys, despite its charming high points, lands with a deftly sullen thud. Beyond the commendable intentions, this tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons delivers far more false notes than grand crescendos. I’ll stop myself there. Before I delve into my complaints, I’ll describe the topsy-turvy plot. Jersey Boys kicks off with three miscreants struggling keep their heads above water. Stuck in New Jersey, bad-boy Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and his sidekick Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) spend their days scoring gigs and breaking the law. Moving through “revolving door” prisons, these boys are destined to either join the mob or die. However, after timid confidant Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) wows an audience, their aspirations become reality. Along the way, after the group hires ‘Short Shorts’ creator Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), recording contracts and country-wide tours make stars out of our four rapscallions.

Mike Doyle.

Resting on several generations’ love of nostalgia and peace-of-mind slices of entertainment, this Jersey Boys adaptation feels like it’s been released about 5-10 years too late. I don’t mean to illuminate my age or insinuate a hatred of anything even remotely twee. In fact, I recently saw the West End stage production of Jersey Boys in full bloom. The musical – gripping onto its obvious archetypes, fun sense of humour, and lively visuals – sets the right tone for this harmless narrative from the get-go. Inexplicably, Eastwood leaves out everything vibrant and profound about the original material. For his forceful and misguided adaptation, his style drenches this light-hearted tale in a distressing brand of darkness. From the first breaking-the-fourth-wall narration sequence onward, the musical’s iconic tropes clash with the movie’s dour tone and meandering development. Here, the differences between film and theatre production stick out like Valli’s piercing falsetto. This time around, the younger Joe Pesci’s inclusion lacks any sense of verve or sky-high wit. Eastwood, who may be going senile, clings onto the musical’s intended audience whilst neglecting its most valuable conceits. Without stretching the musical’s boundaries, his adaptation takes an inappropriately maudlin approach. At the very least, Eastwood’s comforting themes about the good ol’ days, Americana, empowerment, and masculinity aid this otherwise peculiar adaptation. Regrettably, noticeable in comparing the musical with Eastwood’s efforts, this adaptation clearly isn’t concerned with attracting new followers.

“Oh, by the way, if you’re ever in Vegas, go to a casino. Say the name, “Tommy DeVito”. My hand to God, you’ll be outta there in 12 seconds.” (Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Jersey Boys).

The amazing Christopher Walken.

Like Walk the Line and Ray, this version follows our famous musicians through poverty, success, temptation, and salvation. With his style known for creating ever-lasting time capsules, this version could, and should, have been an epic tale of devastation, regret, and profound accomplishments. With tinges of Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell shining throughout, these filmmakers would’ve brought more enthusiasm and wonder to this note-worthy concept. With muted colour patterns, an acute attention to detail, and lingering camerawork defining Eastwood’s directorial efforts, his visual palette prevents this adaptation from hitting any high notes. Worst of all, our leads are hampered by dodgy old-age make-up in the final scene. Beyond this, the musical numbers are largely neglected in favour of the by-the-numbers-biopic execution. However, used sporadically throughout, certain songs become shining lights in this morbid affair. Paying homage to everything from the Ed Sullivan show to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, performances of ‘Sherry’, ‘Walk Like a Man’, and ‘Who Loves You’ provide context and gravitas for Eastwood’s out-of-touch vision. Graciously, like with every Eastwood production, the performers shine throughout. The four leads excel despite the awkward circumstances. Having played Valli on stage, Lloyd Young excels as this heartbroken celebrity figure. In addition, famed character actor Christopher Walken is a delight as high-end gangster Gyp DeCarlo. Meanwhile, Mike Doyle is enrapturing as the group’s “theatrical” manager Bob Crewe.

Whilst I was watching Jersey Boys, I spent a certain period of time imagining what Eastwood’s day-to-day production schedule must’ve been like: At 8am he starts filming, at 3pm he talks to a chair, and at 4: 30pm he goes to bed. I know this is a cruel way to talk about such a colossal Hollywood legend. However, here, like with Invictus, Hereafter, and J Edgar, he’s taken promising material and tarred it with soppy story-lines, leaden pacing, and a bafflingly dark tone. ‘Walk like a Man’? More like ‘Direct like an Amateur’. Sorry, Clint.

Verdict: Yet another Eastwood-helmed flop. 

3 Days to Kill Review – Dead on Arrival


Director: McG

Writers: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen

three_days_to_kill


Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Relativity Media

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Costner’s hard-edged performance.

Worst part: The dodgy action-direction.

Known for tear-jerking baseball/ghost flicks and the movie that inspired Avatar‘s by-the-numbers storyline (Dances with Wolves), actor/director/producer extraordinaire Kevin Costner has been thrust back into the spotlight. Embarrassingly, I don’t think anyone was asking for his return. However, amiably, this All-American bloke is keen to repurpose his charming persona and limited range for a vastly different generation. In addition, this cool-calm-and-collected star hopes to reinvigorate a particular type of character – the father figure.

Kevin Costner.

Now emblazoned with crows feet and grey-tinged stubble, this brand of Costner elevates, but never legitimises, ultra-moronic actioner 3 Days to Kill. Donning a suitable facade, this veteran Tinseltown icon has fallen into a morose and vapid trap. Sadly, Costner is now wrapped around ‘acclaimed’ writer/director Luc Besson’s gargantuan middle finger. Labelled by pop-culture as a “factory” or “school”, Besson’s stranglehold on French film production is fuelled by optimistic executives and stylish action beats. Repeating himself over multiple decades, this auteur has developed a knack for handing responsibilities, and blame, off to other writers, editors, cinematographers, and directors. Kicking off Pierre Morrel (Taken) and Louis Leterrier(Unleashed)’s perfunctory careers, Besson now places his trust in one of Hollywood’s most despised directors. However, before I talk about him, I should examine 3 Days to Kill‘s meaningless and confused plot. Trust me, this synopsis won’t take too much out of you. Costner plays grizzled CIA operative Ethan Renner. Suffering a bizarre illness, Renner’s health could potentially disrupt his next major assignment. Renner’s team, aided by CIA assassin Vivi (Amber Heard), is assigned to track down a dangerous arms dealer, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his lieutenant, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). After the mission is obliterated, Renner coughs up blood and passes out before waking up in a hospital.

Amber Heard.

As it turns out, Renner has malignant brain and lung cancer. Given 3-5 months to live, he heads to Paris to send some quality time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  As you can tell, 3 Days to Kill‘s story neither says nor does anything original or intriguing. From the opening action sputter onward, the movie’s plot-points, twists, and character turns become visible from miles away. The narrative, copied and pasted from Besson’s previous efforts (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), makes for devising a fun game out of pinpointing certain French action-thriller tropes. However, given the budget, resources, and talent on offer, this derivative and inconsistent narrative just isn’t acceptable. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels series, Terminator Salvation) treads over and slips across tired, old ground. Yet again, McG’s bizarre and inconsequential style covers farcical situations, spies, and explosive action sequences. Failing to eclipse his TV series, Chuck, 3 Days to Kill delivers frustrating flashbacks to McG’s preceding flop This Means War. In addition, like Renner’s illness, Besson’s style infects the movie’s more valuable conceits. Like that atrocity, this actioner mistakes genre-hopping antics for jarring tonal shifts. With useless comedic hijinks clashing with heartfelt moments, the movie’s tone is as shaky and destructive as Renner’s ailing condition. Haphazardly, the movie also juggles Renner’s parenting issues, an African family squatting in his dingy apartment, and several wacky torture sequences. Bafflingly, this concoction of Taken and The Transporter lacks stakes, pacy thrills, and grit.

“The longer I was gone, it felt like the harder it was to come back.” (Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), 3 Days to Kill).

Connie Nielsen & Hailee Steinfeld.

Despite the directorial foibles and insufficient screenplay, 3 Days to Kill delivers enough enjoyment to last…about 2 hours in the memory banks. In fact, this movie is worth little more than a lazy, hangover-induced Sunday morning. Sadly, the extensive run-time outlasts the movie’s more gripping aspects. After the second act, the narrative falls head-long into predictable revelations and tiresome shootouts. Wrapping up plot-lines in ethically questionable and unfulfilling ways, this action-thriller could, and should, send Besson and co. back to the drawing board. Despite this, this mindless actioner still delivers entertaining action sequences and witty lines. The shootouts and fist-fights, utilising Paris’ gorgeous aesthetic, are fun distractions in this po-faced schlock. However, in typical McG fashion, the sound design and editing fatally misfire. Held hostage by misplaced gunshots and quick-cuts, McG’s approach undercuts everything Besson’s work promises. Overcoming the woeful direction and dialogue, Costner’s inherent charm saves this bland and uninspired effort. After scintillating turns in Hatfields & McCoys and Man of Steel, this veteran star can still deliver touching performances. With Liam Neeson seemingly unavailable this time around, Costner skilfully adapts to each set-piece. Despite his limitations, his action moments elevate this forgettable effort. Meanwhile, taking on a pseudo-Sin City vibe, Heard overtakes Denise Richards for the title of ‘Sexiest Blonde to Envelop Unconvincing Roles’.

With Besson and McG at the helm, 3 Days to Kill is as predictable, tedious, and groan-inducing as you’d expect. Treating constructive criticism like a mind hindrance, Besson’s money-grubbing system deals perfunctory efforts out to desperate hacks. However, with Costner anchoring the silly narrative, this action-thriller is still more tolerable than Columbiana, Taken 2, and Lockout. Well done, McG – you’ve finally made something that’s considered better than something else.

Verdict: A misstep in Costner’s career renaissance. 

Theatre Review – Les Miserables @ Queen’s Theatre


Directors: Trevor Nunn, John Caird

Music/Lyrics: Claude-Michael Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, Herbert Kretzmer

Stars: Simon Shorten, David Thaxton, Celinde Schoenmaker, Tom Edden

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Basis: Les Miserables (novel) by Victor Hugo

Adaptation: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Trevor Nunn, John Caird

Premiere date: 1980 (Paris), 1985 (west End)

Genre: Musical, drama


 

 

4½/5

Best Part: The rousing musical numbers

Worst Part: The stodgy love triangle

Courageously, a handful of musicals have stood the test of time. These select few, visually and thematically standing out from the crowd, have been proven worthy of pop-culture acclaim. Even the average Joe, who may or may not know anything about musical theatre, is aware of these productions and their effect on the world. However, big-budget musicals like Wicked, The Loin King, Jersey Boys, and Miss Saigon – despite their overwhelming auras – all pale in comparison to the world’s biggest theatre production. I’m, of course, talking about period-piece extravaganza Les Miserables.

The cast in control.

So, the question remains, how has Les Miserables become this prominent and insightful? Why is a musical about a French Revolution considered to be the most important creation in theatre history? Certainly, the narrative doesn’t inspire confidence or rave rounds of applause. The premise is steeped in one of history’s most depressing periods. In fact, its acclaim all comes down to the execution. The musical, thanks to acclaimed writers/lyricists Alain Boubil and Claude-Michael Schonberg, is a worthwhile delight in the midst of its exhaustive pop-cultural impact. After 25 years in the spotlight, this theatre extravaganza is still holding onto its best-and-brightest characteristics. Nowadays, after the 2012 blockbuster adaptation collected an enthusiastic choir of newcomers, future performances need to excel to satisfy its ever-increasing audience. So, does the West End’s ongoing iteration still hold-up to scrutiny? Well, in short, yes it absolutely does! Obviously, each performance tells the same story about heartfelt characters struggling to survive. However, this version delivers more refreshing nuances than operatic high notes (and that’s saying something). Queen’s Theatre, the heart of London’s artistic hub, now hosts this extraordinary endeavour. Walking up the steps, the anticipation builds like a grand crescendo. Greeted by courteous employees, I was immediately impressed by the venue’s atmospheric vibe.

A vibrant French Revolution.

Soon enough, after the rabid theatre geeks and groan-fuelled school kids took their seats, the lights steadily dimmed as the performance kicked off in style. Closing the surrounding curtains, the venue had prepped the audience. From there, the projector beamed bright colours and titles onto the stage’s immense canvas. The narrative rears its disgusting head in 1815, Digne. Matched by a momentous opening number, disgraced prisoner Jean Valjean (Simon Shorten) is released from his sentence by notorious lawman Javert (David Thaxton). Rejected by society, Valjean is ignored by everyone except the gracious Bishop of Digne (Adam Linstead). Those familiar with the musical will be able to track where this story goes after its traumatic  opening. After factory worker Fantine (Celinde Schoenmaker) is forced into prostitution, Valjean risks everything to help her daughter Cosette (Emilie Fleming) achieve a better life. Shockingly, I find it difficult to spell-out these details. This musical’s prowess lies within its darkest and most transcendent elements. Les Miserables‘ tiniest details reveal themselves at opportune moments. Suitably, viewers will lap-up this exhaustive, gripping, and touching experience. The story, revelling in the time period and courageous characters, is just one of several invigorating aspects of this stirring extravaganza. From there, several major and minor characters and plot-threads clash throughout the 150-minute run-time. Thanks to Thenardier (Tom Edden) and Madame Thenardier(Wendy Ferguson), a love triangle forms between Cosette, idealistic student Marius (Rob Houchen), and Eponine (Carrie Hope Fletcher).

“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!” (Fantine(Celinde Schoenmaker), Les Miserables)

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The Thenardiers.

Suitably, Les Miserables‘ musical numbers fuel its scintillating and unrelenting narrative. From the confronting opening sequence onward, the show’s top-tier numbers ring throughout the venue. Here, the performers deliver each song flawlessly. Within the first 45 minutes, this musical showcases its most profound and memorable songs. ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and ‘Castle on a Cloud’ tug on the heartstrings whilst telling gritty stories in themselves. Describing our lead characters’   conflicts and motivations, these numbers are first-half highlights. In addition, despite being brash comic reliefs, the Thenardiers work wonders for this sombre tale. ‘Master of the House’, fitting comfortably into this sprawling narrative, is a punchy and effective song. Utilising the entire stage, this version’s intricate production design boosts the experience. Switching sets with flawless technical precision, Les Miserables smoothly transitions between time periods, locations, and set pieces. Thanks to the swivelling stage mechanism, the larger-than-life execution crafts a momentous scope. The second-half’s battle sequences, combining the love triangle with Valjean’s dilemma, deliver timeless numbers and breathtaking choreography. Gun shots and bellowing cries help paint a portrait of this vital conflict. Graciously, the performers bolster this stirring stage production. Shorten, replacing Peter Lockyer for this performance, is a breakout success as the troubled prisoner turned protector. Within the first act, his revelatory performance matches Colm Wilkinson and Hugh Jackman’s turns.

Pushing itself to be better than previous productions, this West End version lives up to the original’s efforts and audience expectations. Eclipsing Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation, this version sticks to the original’s roots whilst delivering an exciting experience. As the world’s most popular and enlightening musical, the story, set and costume designs, musical numbers, and character arcs stand the test time on both sides of the Atlantic. Do you hear the people sing? Yes, we do. In fact, judging by box-office receipts, we cling onto multiple listens.

Verdict: An immense and note-worthy musical experience. 

22 Jump Street Soundtrack Review – Adrenaline Rushes


Group/Singer: Various

Label: 2014 Republic Records

Genres: Rap, Hip-hop, Pop, RnB 

4/5

Whenever we think about film scores and soundtracks, we normally concentrate on those that send goosebumps streaming across our bodies. Those of John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Danny Elfman usually cause this type of reaction, as their work is almost always bombastic and gripping. Nowadays, we look to these composers to propel certain blockbusters into the Hollywood stratosphere. But what about the little guys in Tinseltown? What about those who don’t aim to soar, but seek to enlighten in a believable manner?

Normally, scores and soundtracks serve as efficient back-ups for action flicks and hysterical farces. They don’t seek to overwhelm or enrapture, but to be as quaint as possible to let the visuals do all the walking and talking. In the case of 22 Jump Street, with comedic talents like Jonah Hill and physical specimens like Channing Tatum gracing the screen, the soundtrack puts the pedal to the metal exactly like its lead characters do.

The soundtrack, with an eclectic mix of RnB and hip-hop tracks, delivers the perfect walk-away-from-explosions-in-slow-motion compilation. From the first note to the last, this soundtrack utilises the most engaging commercial music on offer. This might seem like an out-of-touch description, but this soundtrack’s willpower is bafflingly astonishing. From an outsider’s perspective, this compilation looks like yet another marketing ploy used to sell tickets and albums. However, like the movie, it’s far better than it has any right to be.

Recommendations: ’22 Jump Street (Theme from Motion Picture)’, ‘Models & Bottles’, ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’

After delving into this soundtrack’s invigorating line-up, I took it upon myself to research how and when they’re used throughout the movie. The first track is, unquestionably, the most satisfying of the bunch. This may be considered a negative, but it gets the album off to a cracking start. Entitled simply ’22 Jump Street’, this number matches the movie’s light-as-air tone and humorous aura. Chronicling everything the movie has to offer, Angel Haze and Ludacris’ track is a sure-fire rush. Clinging onto this fun theme tune, the next few tracks honour the material’s rough-and-tumble vibe.

From the opening track onward, the album takes advantage of this-and-last-year’s best dance-floor hits. The Bingo Players and Far East Movement’s  ‘Get Up’ fuses a lively electronica rhythm and catchy lyrics to become a seminal party anthem. Beyond this, tracks including Blind Scuba Divers’ ‘Models and Bottles’, Diplo and Nicky Da B’s ‘Express Yourself’, and Flosstradamus and Waka Flocka Flame’s ‘TTU (Too Turnt Up)’ are visceral and vivacious electronica/pop smashes that move faster than the action-comedy they’re featured in. However, sadly, some of these tracks are difficult to distinguish from one another. Nacey and Angel Haze’s ‘I Own it’ is a forgettable and uninspired pop number.

Effortlessly, the album’s back-end alone is worth a lot more than most blockbuster soundtracks. Electronica anthems including Shermanology & Grx’s ‘Can’t You See’ and Steve Aoki, Diplo, Deorro, and Steve Bays’ ‘Freak’ are relentless numbers that boost this dynamic compilation. By album’s end, it comes back around to being one of the year’s best compilations. RnB hits including Travis Barker, Juicy J and Liz’s ‘Live Forever’ and Whiz Kalifa’s ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ are two of modern music’s best efforts. Going down like a smooth vodka shot, this Spring Break-worthy compilation pummels and romances its way into the consciousness.

Verdict: A raucous and electrifying soundtrack. 

Inception: Music from the Motion Picture Review – Pure ‘Zimmetry’


Composer: Hans Zimmer (composer)

Label: Reprise

Genres: Score, Orchestral

4½/5

 

In the 2000s, one British director came out of nowhere to rise up through the ranks of the Hollywood system. This director, taking on twist-fuelled narratives and iconic characters, has garnered a large fan-base of critics and enthusiastic filmgoers. Of course, I’m talking about Christopher Nolan. Gracefully, several of his features helped shape the past decade’s impact on cinema history. Arguably, his magnum opus is the mind-bending heist-thriller Inception.

To further deliberate on my affection for Nolan, I should bring up his overwhelming process. Seeking originality and resonance, Nolan’s style seeks to fold cities, destroy superhero laws, and turn amnesia on its head. His artistic endeavours boil down to his pitch-perfect team of professionals, working around the clock to build upon his grand visions. One such player is award winning and idiosyncratic composer Hans Zimmer. Known for birthing some of Hollywood’s most infectious scores, Zimmer brings a level of sophistication to every note, track, and compilation.

With Inception‘s soundtrack, Zimmer and Nolan craft a lively aura and epic scope to immerse the listener in. Here, Zimmer’s style throws each track into idealistic dreamscapes. The album, developing a strategic list of the movie’s scenes and twists, clicks with this game-changing sci-fi flick’s structure. The first few tracks slowly build up to the sprawling crescendos and ‘Bwah’ sounds prevalent throughout the film. The first track, ‘Half Remembered Dream’, utilises the score’s opposing forces. The touching, profound moments clash with the bombastic notes Zimmer’s oeuvre is known for.

Not to be overshadowed, tracks like ‘We Built Our World’ and ‘The Dream is Collapsing’ further examine Inception‘s intensifying universe. With expansive rhythms and experimental riffs controlling the score’s climactic moments, this compilation appropriately establishes itself as a gripping labyrinth. From there, Zimmer’s style grows steadily more potent as the proverbial clock ticks down. ‘Radical Notion’ and ‘528491’ highlight the album’s immaculate attention to detail and tonally consistent turns. Moving between orchestral leaps, these tracks amp-up an already stellar compilation.

Recommendations: ‘Half Remembered Dream’, ‘Mombasa’, ‘Time’

Taking this confident score in a wholly different direction, ‘Mombasa’ further elevates Zimmer’s sterling nuances and intricate tangents here. Hurriedly turning to a more percussive and pace-oriented number, this track successfully pushes the score toward its meaningful denouement. Raising the stakes, this multi-faced track is one of many highlights in this immeasurable gem. The next few tracks, however, reset the moody vibes before launching into memorable flourishes. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that this score has gone deeper than expected.

‘One Simple Idea’, flicking this epic compilation from one tonal shift to the next, sticks to a consistent and infectious beat throughout. Addressing the movie’s dulcet tones and relentless nature, this memorable track is worthy of multiple listens. Upping the ante, however, ‘Dream Within a Dream’ and ‘Waiting for a Train’ are the album’s two gutsiest and most insatiable highlights. Switching the mood from collected to disturbingly creepy; these tracks succeed where their imitators falter.

Efficiently, this transcendent score reaches its due course. Providing a succinct and note-worthy end to Nolan’s production and Zimmer’s artistic endeavour, ‘Time’ hits like a jump from the floor to the ceiling. Achieving the correct balance between addictive and conclusive, this track warrants a significant level of focus and reflection. Assuredly, this album deserves careful and definitive analyses. Even those unencumbered with Nolan’s works will have something to add to the conversation. Rightfully so, we must conquer several layers to truly appreciate Zimmer’s haunting work here.

Verdict: Zimmer’s most engaging score, so far. 

Tron: Legacy Soundtrack Review – Totally Daft!


Group/Singer: Daft Punk (composer)

Label: Walt Disney

Genres: Score, Electronica, House, Trip-hop, Classical, Orchestral

4½/5

In 2010, the music world came into contact with a refreshing and infectious fad. The DJ-fuelled electronica movement, still in full bloom, is comprised of super-star sound mixers and singers experimenting with everything around them. One of the world’s most popular electronica/house groups is Daft Punk. A few years ago, this era-defining, helmet-and-jumpsuit-donning duo – Thomas Bagalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo – cast aside its iconic sounds to deliver a soundtrack that lived up to our ridiculous expectations.

Daft Punk, exploding long before this fad began, has added several dance anthems and number one hits burst to the pop-culture stratosphere. However, the duo’s best work belongs to an overlooked sci-fi action flick. Tron: Legacy, now known primarily for its score, showcases all of pop-culture’s hidden desires. Beyond the alluring aesthetic and eclectic direction, its standout score elevates it above the competition. Fortunately, Daft Punk succeeds in placing a greater emphasis on the movie’s positives.

Robbed of Oscar consideration, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack has radically altered our blockbuster-laden landscape. With electronica groups like M83 and the Chemical Brothers learning from Daft Punk’s efforts here, this soundtrack is more of a game-changer than the movie its made for. Setting up certain sequences and deconstructing others, this score bolsters the movie’s ominous aura and exhilarating action beats. The first track introduces/re-introduces us to a brave and impressionistic universe. ‘Overture’, building upon the awe-inspiring Tron universe, is a refreshing burst of energy.

Recommendations: ‘Son of Flynn’, ‘End of Line’, ‘Derezzed’

From there, the soundtrack makes a habit of tying each concept and thread to the movie’s intricate layout. ‘The Grid’, chronicling the movie’s mind-bending prologue, touches upon the ever-lasting connection between score and narrative. With Jeff Bridges voice delivering a tinge of brevity, this magnetic track leads us through the score’s most alarming motifs. From there, the soundtrack obliterates expectations and examines our love of modern dance music.’Son of Flynn’, setting the tone for the entire score, is a wondrous and brisk creation. Speeding through its short duration, this track warrants multiple listens whilst on the go.

From there, Daft Punk’s greatest effort mixes and matches different sounds to create extraordinary tracks. Fusing thunderous orchestral sounds and electronica motifs for ‘Recogniser’, this album becomes nothing short of exhilarating. In addition, the following two tracks, ‘Armory’ and ‘Arena’, shift gears and bolster the soundtrack’s burgeoning scope. Building upon Daft Punk’s sterling vison, these tracks reprogram and reinvigorate everything we believe about soundtracks and electronica. Further on into this sprawling creation, tracks like ‘Outlands’ and ‘Adiago for Tron’ outline the benefits of Daft Punk’s think-outside-the box processes.

However, despite the aforementioned tracks’ overwhelming prowess and sturdiness, the album’s central tracks live up to Daft Punk’s unbelievable reputation. ‘End of Line’ clicks from the get-go, as its infectious beat pushes this soundtrack through its darker periods. In addition, ‘Derezzed’, I dare say, is the album’s most electrifying and intensifying effort. As its synthesiser beat pulsates, the track’s repetitious rhythm becomes stuck in the consciousness. Boosting Daft Punk’s enthralling vision, tracks like ‘Solar Sailer’, ‘Disc Wars’, and ‘C.L.U’ set the mood for the rest of the album’s phenomenal twits and turns.

By album’s end, thanks to influential and succinct tracks like ‘Flynn Lives’ and ‘Tron: Legacy (End Titles)’, Daft Punk establishes itself as modern music’s most ambitious and transcendent group. Highlighting electronica’s immense worth, their music continually reshapes and improves the genre’s layout. The Tron: Legacy soundtrack, delivering idiosyncratic harmonies and unique sounds, places scores and soundtracks back into the neon-lit spotlight.

Verdict: Daft Punk’s most impressionable and addictive work yet. 

Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes


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Hollywood Musicals: Grand Crescendos & False Notes

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Review – Soaring Sky High


Director: Dean DeBlois

Writers: Dean DeBlois (screenplay), Cressida Cowell (novel)

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson 


Release date: June 13, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The wondrous visuals.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

Certainly, Mega-conglomerate/animation playground Dreamworks has delivered its fair share of soaring highs and crushing lows. As critics and filmgoers know, this multi-billion dollar studio spoils its spectacular achievements (Antz, Kung Fu Panda) with forgettable time-wasters (Megamind, Rise of the Guardians) and pitiful misfires (Shrek the Third, Monsters vs. Aliens). Laughing all the way to the bank, Steven Spielberg and co.’s company, at one point, took on a habit of looking past constructive criticism whilst delivering passable-at-best efforts. However, the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has rebooted Dreamworks’ once-declining reputation.

Jay Baruchel & America Ferrera.

Assuredly, How to train Your Dragon 2 establishes this studio’s true potential. Catching up to Pixar and Blue Sky Studios, this company’s greatest creation soars higher than birds, planes, and daydreams. As we all know, this series deals with far more interesting winged beasts. This sequel, examining everything that made the original a momentous success, puts the pedal to the metal from frame one to frame…let’s not keep count. For despite the exhaustive number of man-hours and intricate, scene-stealing creations, this instalment successfully utilises every strand of the animation filmmaking process. Before I finish singing its praises, I should describe the plot’s most basic conceits. This instalment picks up five years after the groundbreaking yet patchy original. We are re-introduced to geeky Viking/dragon tamer Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he watches over the peace-laden village of Berk. Nowadays, he and his scaly friend Toothless whistle through the skies whilst exploring strange and significant lands. Supported by his father – and village chieftain – Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), blacksmith Gobbler the Belch (Craig Ferguson), and girlfriend Astrid (America Fererra), Hiccup is faced with his greatest challenge yet: growing up. In the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, Hiccup must contend with his father’s overwhelming expectations and the village’s safety.

Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.

Gerard Butler & Cate Blanchett.

The original, placing flavour-of-the-month actors in hearty roles and utilising 3D technology’s endless possibilities, was one of 2010’s most enthralling success stories. Riding on the back of Avatar‘s immense critical and commercial glory, the original displayed the big-budget entertainment’s boundlessness. So, what separates the sequel from the original? Surprisingly, this instalment scorches the first movie’s foibles and constructs a more meaningful and succinct experience. This time around, several new and old characters are charged with purposeful positions in the narrative. Here, we have humans and monsters fighting each other for control of the world. Building upon its influences, this sequel seeks to expand this already glorious universe. In its first few scenes, this instalment breaks genre barriers to soar above its twee competition. Introducing multiple plot-lines, the story heartily rushes from one to the next. Tying up loose ends and burgeoning character arcs, the plot divulges into several touching concepts and sequences. With Stoick expecting Hiccup to take over his chieftain duties, the story clings onto several impressionistic and bold conceits. Touchingly, the baseline plot-thread revolves around its protagonist’s actions and reactions. As the over-arching conflict begins, involving notorious dragon hunter Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) and trapper Eret(Kit Harington)’s plans to enslave humanity by controlling the world’s dragon populations, our characters become well-rounded personalities. As familial feuds and allegiance switches rear their ugly heads, sparked by Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), the narrative takes several dark turns without becoming dreary. Unceremoniously, like with most family-friendly adventure flicks, the messages lumber into frame alongside the final third’s heartbreaking battle sequences.

“This is Berk. Life here is amazing. Dragons used to be a bit of a problem. But now they’ve all moved in.” (Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), How to Train Your Dragon 2).

One of many impressive action sequences.

Overcoming the corny and tiresome admittances, How to Train Your Dragon 2‘s underlying subtext is surprisingly soulful and potent. Giving hope to our fearless characters, the narrative’s life lessons are worth noting. The movie, unlike most animated efforts, touches on several confronting and intriguing topics. Hiccup, having had his leg amputated in the original, now contends with a multi-functional prosthetic. In addition, several supporting characters relate their crippling injuries to destructive motivations. This series, thinking outside the box, relishes in its violent action sequences and tear-jerking twists. Beyond the sorrowful flashbacks and high stakes, this sequel’s attention to detail and sumptuous visuals are worth the price of admission. Worthy of big-budget cinema’s majesty, some sequences deliver pure escapist thrills and heart-throbbing joys. Improving upon the original’s accomplishments, acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins’ influence makes it easy to bask in this fantasy-epic’s glow. Not to be outdone, the intricate animation style develops epic landscapes and a wide variety of dragons. In each frame, dragons, weather patterns, and scenic vistas tell extraordinary stories. Also, unlike most Dreamworks efforts, the voice actors suit the characters on offer. Baruchel, normally miscast, is perfect for this charming and amicable role. As modern animation’s most likeable lead, his puberty-ridden quarrels suit the overarching conflict. Butler’s thundering vocals bolster Stoick’s magnetic presence. In addition, Blanchett, Hounsou, and Harington are welcome additions to this unique franchise. However, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig are stranded in bland and unnecessary comic-relief roles.

Redeeming Dreamworks’ critical and commercial slump, How to Train your Dragon 2 casts aside all blockbuster-related preconceptions to bolster its entertainment factor. This series, breaking off from the sugarcoated animated-adventure formula, raises the bar thanks to its unique visuals, intensifying action sequences, and likeable lead characters. With an enjoyable voice cast anchoring the fantastical story, this tale of familial bonds, sacrifice, and heroic acts never feels like it’s…draggin’.

Verdict: Dreamworks Animation’s most exhilarating effort yet.

Flickers & Footsteps – Cannes, Southern France 2014


IMG_6375Nearly every big-budget feature film rests on the Cannes Film Festival‘s iconic and impressionistic vibe. With critics buzzing around the city, and audiences holding onto ridiculous expectations, each major cinematic effort aims to please. From Hollywood Oscar hopefuls to small-time international gems, each film comes to the Cannes Film Festival with the best of intentions.  However, not all of them succeed. Having just held its 67th festival, Cannes is a picturesque backdrop for celebrities and their frivolous lifestyles. A wander through the streets will take you from gritty neighbourhoods, to classy shopping districts, to sun-drenched beaches. However, the best part of Cannes is the sumptuous views. Overlooking the seaside city, tourists and locals share the joys embedded in this city. Recently, I headed to Cannes to take in its cinematic glow, awe-inspiring culture, and gorgeous scenery. The casino district, setting up the film festival’s red carpet hotspot when I was there, put on a show as construction workers, security guards, and festival volunteers put on a show of their own.

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Flickers & Footsteps – Bond in Motion @ The London Film Museum


For the past few months, the London Film Museum in Covent Garden has showcased some of Earth’s sexiest, most dangerous, and most enviable cars. Of course, these cars are from the James Bond film franchise. After 23 Ian Fleming-inspired films, 007 has smashed, crashed, and bashed his custom-made Aston Martins, jet-skis, planes, helicopters, motorcycles etc. across the world all in the name of Queen and country. I went along to the film museum to take some snaps of these prestigious models. Honouring the Bond Legacy, the Bond in Motion exhibit displays some of the many storyboards, set pictures, props, and vehicles used to propel this franchise into the cinema history books.

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The exhibition will be on through the duration of 2014.

Devil’s Knot Review – Courtroom Kerfuffle


Director: Atom Egoyan

Writers: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson (screenplay), Mara Leveritt (book)

Stars: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan

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Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributor: Image Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


 

 

2/5

Best part: The enrapturing performances.

Worst part: The laboured pace.

Today, our news-media system delivers more threatening news stories than ingenious ideas. Instead of travelling in the appropriate direction, commercialised new reports unnervingly pump stories into the airwaves. One momentous story shook the world back in 1993, but has taken a couple of decades to come into prominence. The West Memphis Three saga hit Middle America harder than any political dilemma, Fox News controversy, or racial conundrum could ever hope to. This story, thanks to the good ol’ money-hungry Hollywood forces, is now the subject of a star-studded yet bloated docudrama.

Colin Firth.

Mishandling the invigorating material, Devil’s Knot, based on Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book of the same name, becomes yet another ambitious yet underwhelming biographical account. Given a dodgy release date by the Hollywood cash machine, this crime-thriller has seemingly been forgotten by everyone associated with it. With its starry cast and intriguing director/writer team, this docudrama could, and should, have honoured this devastating true story. Following on from such influential documentaries as the Paradise Lost series and Peter Jackson’s 2011 hit West of Memphis, Devil’s Knot doesn’t even leave a fingerprint on those features. Examining this potent subject matter with ambiguity and verve, the aforementioned documentaries gave us conclusive insights into this topic. Embarrassingly, Canadian stage and screen icon Atom Egoyan (Exotica) tries to push those expository efforts out of the way. Arrogantly, this acclaimed director, thanks to his blinding gaze, delivers a one-sided account of touchy events. His feature starts off with the true story’s horrific facts. The narrative begins with modest married couple Pamela and Terry Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola) stressing over the whereabouts of Pamela’s son, Stevie Branch, and his friends, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. Contacting the authorities, the couple watches on in horror as a missing persons report is filed. Finding their bodies several days later, the police, along with private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth), further examine this life-altering tragedy.

Reese Witherspoon.

As we know, a month later, gothic teenagers Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. were arrested and charged in connection with this appalling crime. From the opening scene, it becomes painfully clear that Egoyan and screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson are afraid of the material they’ve taken on. The saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Sadly, by developing a fictionalised/dramatic account of this event, Egoyan and co. step too far outside their comfort zones. Bringing his unique style to this heartbreaking true story, Egoyan’s effort delivers more stylistic flourishes and brash opinions than groundbreaking touches and invigorating sequences. This TV-movie-like interpretation, by painting in broad strokes, doesn’t tell us anything new about the case. Avoiding neutral touches and invigorating concepts, Devil’s Knot awkwardly jumps from one depthless plot-point to the next. Unsurprisingly, the opening sequences reflect those of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River. Introducing potent themes and dangerous characters, this crime-thriller delivers an exhaustive amount of red herrings and societal boundaries. Throughout the first third, the camera lingers on a broken town hindered by this destructive event. as rednecks clash with authoritative figures, Egoyan’s account immediately begins pointing fingers and naming names. Forcing one-or-two people’s viewpoints into each frame, this crime-thriller’s narrative rubs critics and filmgoers the wrong way. Looking down upon the deep south’s cultural practices and disturbed communities, caricature-like performances and heavy-handed symbolism ruin this otherwise well-intentioned docudrama.

“The state is gonna kill three men, and I can’t stand by and watch that happen.” (Ron Lax (Colin Firth), Devil’s Knot).

One of many courtroom scenes.

The narrative, moving beyond the monotonous detective-drama plot, sluggishly transitions into a cliche-ridden and laughable courtroom drama. Amicably, this section analyses the police department’s disgusting miscarriages of justice throughout the investigation. However, attempting to turn into a concoction of To Kill and Mocking Bird and Primal Fear, the movie’s ever-pressing conflict tries and fails to develop clear-cut heroes and villains. Bookmarking certain clues and scenes, some factions are depicted as stereotypes and apathetic hindrances. Egoyan and co. may as well have written “Bad Guy” on certain characters’ foreheads. In addition, Egoyan’s unsubtle visual style draws bizarre conclusions throughout the intricate narrative. Telling and showing us certain actions and reactions, the characters’ testimonies become irritating, narration-driven interludes. Sucking the tension out of this discomforting crime-drama, his experimental visuals – adding specific filters, grains, and editing tricks to dreary scenes – drown this feature in inappropriate flourishes, kooky moments, and trite storytelling beats. Further harming Egoyan’s vision, our eclectic performers are mistreated within significant roles. Firth, despite tackling a different type of role, is woefully miscast as the straight-laced investigator and bitter divorcee. Sharing valuable scenes with Mireille Enos, Amy Ryan, and Elias Koteas, Firth struggles to maintain his raspy, hick-drenched accent. Witherspoon, putting on weight for this project, is stranded in a one-note role. Her character, despite being the emotional core, is left to sob heartily throughout a needless subplot. In her defence, she fares better than Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, and Steven Moyer.

Placing its director’s vision and sycophantic viewpoints above the material, Devil’s Knot carries a wavering pace, dour tone, and tiresome genre conventions toward its shallow finale. Preceding cinematic endeavours, analysing the issue and developing vital interpretations, drastically overshadow this insufferable effort. Predictably, this unnecessary and obvious docudrama says nothing new about the West Memphis Three saga. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it just to gain attention.

Verdict: An ambitious yet bland misfire. 

Tokyo Drift Soundtrack Review – Revv-worthy


Group/Singer: Various 

Label: Universal Motown 

Genres: J-Pop, RnB, Hip-hop, Soundtrack

4/5 

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The Fast and the Furious franchise – you either love it or hate it. If car racing and action flicks tickle your fancy, this series will sweep you up in a wave of testosterone and exhilarating explosions. If your someone who can’t stand this series, you’ll uncontrollably let out an audible groan each time a new instalment comes around. With this series collecting an exorbitant number of fans and dollar bills, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore this gargantuan creation.

With an exhaustive amount of money given to each instalment, Universal throws every idea at the wall in the hopes they’ll stick. With this in mind, its noticeable that their cinematic and music-related endeavours are continually taken for a spin. So, for 2006’s Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the studio pulled its resources together to deliver a memorable soundtrack to salvage this otherwise forgettable instalment. For this threequel, Universal took its influential franchise to the other side of the world. Speeding through Japan, Tokyo Drift‘s soundtrack utilises J-Pop’s best offerings. Here, we’ve got several hits just aching to be blared through sub-woofers across the world.

The first track, developing a solid base-line for this impactful soundtrack, sets up this instalment as a catchy and entertaining offering. As a cognitive part of this mechanised beast, the Teryaki Boyz’ rev-head anthem ‘Tokyo Drift’ stylishly kicks off this sublime soundtrack. From there, the soundtrack paints a badass mental picture of this series’ aesthetic and thematic glory. After Kid Rock’s ‘Bawitdaba’ blares into your headspace, RnB discovery Juelz Santana diverts this soundtrack back to where it should be going. Combining an idiosyncratic rhythm with a head-bobbing beat, this track is one of many highlights in this lively compilation. But what does this all mean? Should we be thinking this hard about a set of songs placed together to sell merchandise?

Graciously, the album picks up speed and delivers pitch-perfect reasons to stick around. With several hits helping us recall certain scenes from this kitsch sequel, its pleasant vibes and pacy beats suit the dumbstruck material. The album goes on to deliver several refreshing and laid-back hip-hop tracks. Embracing the franchise’s penchant for enviable settings, impressive sights, and sexy characters, tracks like Far East Movement’s ‘Round, Round’, Evil Nine’s ‘Restless’, and N.E.R.D’s ‘She Wants to Move’ are infectious numbers that suit the movie’s light-as-air tone.

Recommendations: ‘Tokyo Drift’, ‘Six Days’, ‘Speed’

Delving into multiple genres and influences, this compilation contains enough inspired choices to depart from its commercialised roots. In true Fast and Furious Fashion, Puerto Rican rap/reggae star Don Omar is treated to a couple of vital spots on this spectacular list. His tracks, ‘Bandolero’ and ‘Conteo’ suit this album the way singlets fit Vin Diesel’s muscular frame. Further examining this series’ punchiness and flair, the album hurriedly delves into several fast-paced yet forgettable electronica/rap numbers. Dragon Ash’s ‘Resound’ and Atari Teenage Riot’s ‘Speed’ stall this vivacious compilation, but only slightly.

However, the final few songs amp-up this album’s core merits and believable charms. The film’s opening track, ‘Six Days’, is a surprisingly poetic and unique track fit for this conquering compilation. DJ Shadow and Mos Def’s remix hits several high points and powerful interludes. Perfect for the album’s dynamic aura, this is a note-worthy highlight fit for every car stereo. In addition, GRIFTS’ ‘My Life Be Like (Ooh Ahh)’ is a fun rap number separating itself from everything else. Drifting from one track to another, the Tokyo Drift soundtrack proves that sub-par movies can be elevated by powerful and momentous music-driven moments.

Verdict: The series’ greatest soundtrack, so far. 

Man of Steel Soundtrack – Soaring Superhero Score


Composer: Hans Zimmer (composer)

Label: WaterTower

Genres: Score, Orchestral

4½/5

Each year, acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer picks a handful of blockbusters to cover. Having scored for everyone from Christopher Nolan to Ridley Scott, Zimmer’s glorious style caters specifically to what audiences want from their summer tentpoles. However, by taking on such a high number of popular superhero-action-dramas, people begin to confuse one score with another. For every good Zimmer score (Inception) there’s a tedious one that knocks him back down (The Amazing Spider-Man 2).

Last year, one blockbuster he conquered was the controversial Man of Steel. Despite the movie’s mixed response, everyone agreed that his soundtrack was a super-heroic knock-out. Soaring well-above most sombre orchestral scores, Zimmer’s work redefines the blockbuster soundtrack for the next ten years. The first few tracks, chronicling the movie’s intensifying mood and dreary tone, throws John Williams’ original Superman score into the stratosphere to float away from this new universe. The first track, ‘Look to the Stars’, delivers something most superhero movies fail to deliver – a recognisable theme tune. This uplifting track, building to a ravenous and quintessential crescendo, is one of many highlights in this transcendent compilation.

Surprisingly, this soundtrack flexes its muscles early on. The second track, ‘Oil Rig’, bangs on the drums – emphasising the danger of certain sequences. Cranking up the rousing orchestral aura, this track further bolsters Zimmer’s encompassing vision. Noticeably, like our titular character’s cape, this soundtrack flutters as it soars gracefully from one track to another. Without compromise, Zimmer’s emotionally resonant harmonies and deft nuances seek to lend as much character as inhumanly possible.

Recommendations: ‘What Are You Going to do When You Are Not Saving the World?’, ‘Oil Rig’, ‘Look to the Stars’

From the touching strands of ‘DNA’ and the percussive, mind-melting interludes of ‘Goodbye my Son’, the soundtrack flows in rapid succession from one revelation and unique touch to the next. As is custom for this note-worthy composer, many tracks mould into an idiosyncratic and familiar mass. Drawing us in, each track’s opening chords rise with Superman before zooming into explosive climaxes. Despite the inherent joys and affecting moments, several tracks blend together without lending any time to reflect.

However, hitting the audience like Superman punching his adversaries, these walloping tracks hit where we’re most vulnerable. ‘Krypton’s Last’, coming in at a vital moment in this compilation, tells an intimate narrative about pain and vengeance. With Violin-based notes kicking off this track, its only a matter of time before the intense percussive beats kick in. After a repetitive yet wondrous mid-section, with tracks including ‘Launch’ and ‘I Will find Him’ blending into each other, this compilation ends with its most enthralling and memorable track. The aptly-titled ‘What Are You Going to do When You Are Not Saving the World?’ is an extensive homage to the movie’s awe-inspiring vision.

As one of Zimmer’s more interesting and nuanced scores, Man of Steel blends thunderous percussive beats with impressionable rhythms to set an appropriate tone for this relentless blockbuster. Despite the slight repetitiveness,  several tracks stand above the bold competition. Delivering a thundering aura, this soundtrack will make you believe in Hollywood’s true potential again.

Verdict: A rigorous and energetic score. 

22 Jump Street Review – Second Shot


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare


Release date: June 6th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5 

Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some of the wink-and-nudge gags.

Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.

The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.

Spring Break!

With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.

“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).

Ice Cube.

Ice Cube.

Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.

Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A hysterical and reflexive comedy sequel. 

Theatre Review – Jersey Boys @ Piccadilly Theatre


Director: Des McAnuff

Music/Lyrics: Bob Gaudio, Bob Crewe

Stars: Michael Watson, Jon Boydon, Edd Post, Matt Nalton


Premiere date: 2005 (Broadway), 2008 (West End)

Basis: Four Seasons songs


 

 

4½/5

Best Part: The dynamic musical numbers

Worst Part: The cheesy comic-strip back-drops

New Jersey, known to many as “that place near Manhattan”, has birthed and bred some of America’s greatest talents. In amongst the factories, strong accents, and family ties, true passion resides. Transforming the music scene, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons obliterated the pop charts for several decades. Releasing hit songs throughout five decades and selling over 175 million records, the group reached the little people of suburban Jersey and the world.

Jersey Boys on the West End.

The Four Seasons, taking the name from a neon sign overlooking a bowling alley, is still seen as one of music’s most influential acts. Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys tells their scintillating and heartbreaking story with style and vigour. Keeping it in the family, Bob Gaudio’s hand in the production elevates this seminal jukebox musical above the rest. Gaudio, as one of America’s bravest singer/songwriters, is one of several gems amongst this production’s overwhelming cultural glow. Jersey Boys, soon to be blessed with a Clint Eastwood-directed adaptation, hits everyone similarly. It’s easy to become immersed in the group’s phenomenal hits and overwhelming aura. The musical, tracing the rise-and-fall ride of the group’s time in the spotlight, keeps toes tapping and hearts racing throughout the 2½-hour duration. In a reflective twist on typical jukebox musicals, the musical kicks off with ‘Ces soirees-la’, a cover of Four Season’s hit ‘December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night). Told by rebellious bandleader Tommy DeVito (Jon Boydon), the story then jumps back to a simpler time of diner-set gigs and “revolving door” prisons. Thrown in and out of jail, DeVito’s troupe, changing its name every week, is a major source of trouble in downtown Jersey.

One of many hit musical numbers.

Beyond the seasonal changes and alignment switches, the group’s journey swiftly glides through the momentous, easy-to-follow structure. Peppered with larger-than-life characters, this musical hits high notes from DeVito’s first words onward. Of course, DeVito’s greatest discovery comes in the form of timid singer Frankie Valli (Michael Watson). Pushing him into the spotlight, women and recording contracts threw themselves at this enlightening ensemble. As a Martin Scorsese feature set to pleasant pop tracks, Jersey Boys embraces its iconic locations and hearty stereotypes. As a heartfelt tribute to Middle America and the notorious group, the musical never forgets about the troupe’s origin story and connections with the mob. “I’m gonna be as big as Sinatra”, Valli confidently says to his first squeeze, and future wife, Mary (Victoria Brazil). After that sweet and hysterical statement, the musical’s immense nostalgia factor rises like Valli’s distinctive voice. Breaking the mould, the narration paints a succinct and detailed picture of each member’s perspective. Brushed with fame and frustrations, the group’s astounding prowess is lovingly touched upon. The other members, acclaimed singer/songwriter Gaudio (Edd Post), who wrote ‘Who Wears Short Shorts?’ when he was 15, and wily bass player Nick Massi (Matt Nalton) round out the musical’s impressive aura. Massi, at one point, even labels himself the “Ringo” of the group. Outlining everything from the “British Invasion” of pop groups in the 1960s to their induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the musical’s beating heart is never overshadowed by its rousing covers or eye-popping production design. Shifting sets and time-periods faster than anticipated, the production comes off as an inescapable trip down memory lane.

“Like that bunny on TV, it just keeps going and going and going. Chasing the music. Trying to find our way home.” (Frankie Valli (Michael Watson), Jersey Boys)

The ultimate crescendo.

Despite stellar production values, cartoonish images – depicting pretty girls, band names, and important dates – become false notes in this otherwise harmonious tribute. However, the real flair resides in this unfolding narrative etched into music history. Along the way – as we speed through Summer, Autumn, Winter, and Spring – the band ascends and descends in spectacular fashion. DeVito’s gambling problems and Valli’s relationship issues round out a jaw-dropping second half. Matching catchy tunes with heartbreaking twists and turns, Jersey Boys accepts the good and bad of this story. However, pushing past the feuds and foibles, each track casts a timeless and insatiable spell upon the already manic audience. Their greatest tracks, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’, and ‘Walk Like a Man’, tell a hearty story about the transition from misfortunate troupe to Top-100 success story. Depicting a time of studio pressure and racial tensions, the musical depicts the Four Seasons as a group daring to be tangible and ever lasting. In this visceral journey, Valli and Massi take over story-telling duties. Valli’s story – bolstered by sterling renditions of ‘C’mon, Marianne’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, and ‘Working my Way Back to You’ – juggles divorce, gargantuan expectations, and debts as tragedy strikes. Despite this, the performances relish in this production’s comedic heights. Watson’s Valli is a mesmerising one. Capturing Valli’s falsetto sound and rambunctious dance moves, Watson is a standout performer. Boydon, a spitting image of DeVito, is a charismatic and lively force. Maintaining DeVito’s outlandish voice and emotional current, Boydon is an entertaining young actor. Keeping focus on the Four Seasons, Post and Nalton become charming foils in this gargantuan tale.

Soaring beyond minor quibbles, Jersey Boys lives up to its stellar reputation. As the most intelligent and invigorating jukebox musical to date, this glorious production invests in its all-powerful quartet by revelling in a hearty dose of nostalgia. Thanks to boisterous comedic moments, clever set designs, and wondrous performances, this West End production skilfully carries the undying Jersey Boys legacy.

Verdict: A rambunctious and potent jukebox musical. 

The Two Faces of January Review – Hide & Seek


Director: Hossein Amini

Writers: Hossein Amini (screenplay), Patricia Highsmith (novel)

Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Bevan


Release Date: April 16th, 2014

Distributors: Studio Canal, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: USA, UK, France

Running time: 96 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The immaculate scenery. 

Worst part: The underwhelming love triangle.

Film noir, like many genres reminiscent of classic Hollywood, relies on several visual and thematic ingredients. Marked by alluring visuals, trench coats, and seductive femme fatales, the genre thrives today thanks to aspirational filmmakers. Keen to bring back Hollywood’s greatest motifs, The Two Faces of January is one such homage to film noir and all its charming prowess. However, whilst honouring the genre, this drama-thriller seeks to envelop and grapple with several other genres simultaneously.

The Two Faces of January, despite the impressive cast and sumptuous scenery, has slipped under the radar. Like a shadow dancing across black-and-white film reels, this feature’s motions and emotions match up to its all-powerful influences. Sweeping across the festival circuit, it’s strange how almost no one caught onto this intriguing chase-saga. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1964 novel of the same name, the narrative shares a handful of similarities with one of her most notorious works. Like The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January tells a softly spoken parable about dirty deeds and picturesque landscapes. Set in 1962, the movie investigates the highest peaks and seediest alley-way-laden depths of Europe. We follow enthusiastic and amoral tour guide Rydal (Oscar Isaac) as he attempts to start a meaningful existence within Athens’ momentous ruins. Ripping off, and occasionally seducing, young tourists, Rydal’s quaint lifestyle almost comes off as charming and enriching. However, his daydreams drift off over the horizon towards something more powerful. I may be delving into this a bit too much, for the movie says and does a lot less than it promises. However, alarmingly so, we sit alongside Rydal as he becomes infatuated with wealthy businessperson Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Colette (Kirsten Dunst).

Kirsten Dunst.

It’s in one delectable moment, in which Rydal sees the couple wandering through the Acropolis of Athens, that he halts his ponderous lifestyle and sparks wondrous ideas. After introducing himself, Rydal even begins to picture their holiday schedule. The plot, kicking in shortly after the jaw-dropping opening scenes, takes several turns toward romantic-drama territory. With Rydal’s affection geared increasingly towards Colette, a love triangle begins to sizzle under the European sunlight. Sadly, this laboured start, defined by candle-lit double dates and forced character development, comes close to getting this twisted narrative off on the wrong foot. In fact, the love triangle is sorely under-utilised in this otherwise rich and decadent stand off. Soon enough, thanks to its tight and eloquent screenplay, this keep-you-guessing thriller steers toward its more exciting promises. With Rydal falling into the MacFarland’s sticky situation, the three of them embark on a daring escape from the law. Admittedly, this drama-thriller deserves to be stuck with the most overused and lugubrious of descriptions: Hitchcockian. Attempting to match the master filmmaker’s subtle touch and distinctive visual motifs, director Hossein Amini sticks close to everything we’ve seen countless times before. Despite his best efforts, Amini – having written actioners like Drive and Snow White & The Huntsman – fuses Hitchcock’s deft sensibilities with bombastic action-thriller tropes. Leaving the page for the camera, Amini mistakes a derivative and inconsistent style for resonant, slow-burn storytelling. With its pace more wave-like than Greece’s gold-and-aqua beaches, this drama-thriller becomes mind numbing and predictable well before the second half arrives.

“I’m sorry I disappointed you.” (Chester MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen), The Two Faces of January).

Oscar Isaac.

Fortunately, despite the stylistic flaws, The Two Faces of January smuggles several intensifying and immaculate parts into its sleek and pristine suitcase. As a sprawling romance between Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and North by Northwest, the movie tackles its fun premise by delving into its three-character feud. In the spirit of classic Hollywood, this Europe-drenched story pits our well-dressed allies against themselves, gun-toting baddies, and the foreign labyrinth around them. Along the way, several sequences remain dialogue free. Puffing on cigarettes and honour codes, our characters look through one another as the clock ticks down. The tension even reaches breaking point early on, as Chester says of Rydal to Colette: “I wouldn’t trust him to mow my lawn”. Gracefully, this tension-defying conflict, between these three power-starved anti-heroes, boosts the entertainment factor. Certain sequences, in which our characters come close to becoming recognised by security personnel, deliver the most memorable highlights. Indeed, thanks to everyone around him, Amini’s debut has looks to die for. Set against Europe’s most valuable and awe-inspiring cities, the cinematography, sound design, and mis-en-scene deliver something to write home about. Beyond the aesthetic wonders, our three A-listers bounce off this performance piece. Mortensen – known to impress first and attack his own movies later – excels as the relentless antagonist in this vicious concoction. Dunst delivers her most nuanced and likeable performance in a decade as the unpredictable squeeze. Meanwhile, following up his immense success with Inside Llewyn Davis, Isaac is a magnetic force as the other side of the coin.

Keeping friends close and enemies closer, The Two Faces of January’s vigorous premise is on par with many of classic Hollywood’s shining lights. If anything, this drama-thriller will be seen as a commendable effort for our three charismatic and dexterous leads. The movie’s compelling visuals and tough-as-nails screenplay deliver several delights hidden around famous landmarks and decrepit streets. However, Amini’s first-time jitters stall an otherwise enlightening thrill-ride. Let’s hope his Hitchockian blues no longer chase him across Tinsel-town.

Verdict: An intensifying yet glacial drama-thriller. 

A Million Ways to Die in the West Review – The Not So Wild West


Director: Seth MacFarlane 

Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild 

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson


Release date: May 30th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: The turgid gross-out humour.

The American West is a setting continually romanticised on the big and small screens. From the gritty magnetism of Deadwood to the kooky thrills of Cowboys and Aliens, Hollywood makes gun-toting outlaws, violent bar fights, and the Great Plains seem extraordinary. However, the real story of the Old West is a disgusting and questionable one. Pointing out the obvious, mega-successful entrepreneur Seth MacFarlane’s latest effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, exhaustively and turgidly overlays the point I just made.

Seth MacFarlane & Charlize Theron.

Despite his new feature’s quality, MacFarlane, known for animated TV series’ like Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, is one of pop-culture’s most talented and intriguing figures. Releasing jazz albums and hosting the Oscars ceremony in his spare time, the 30-something celebrity appears to be everywhere at once. Bringing back Cosmos and Star Trek, his likes and dislikes have been plastered across every adult’s frame of mind. Obviously, MacFarlane can create inventive and pacy creations. Here, his ambitious and eye-catching reach drastically exceeds his grasp. The plot, such as it is, proves exactly why Family Guy never relies on plot, character arcs, or thematic relevance. Stuck in the Old West, down-on-his-luck sheepherder Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is forced to talk his way out of a gunfight. Looked down upon by the townspeople, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) is embarrassed by him. Dumped soon afterward the standoff, Stark throws it in and reveals his hatred of the Great Plains. Meanwhile, somewhere else in the west, vicious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) forces his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to head toward Stark’s hometown.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

From there, the narrative relies on the most basic of western and romantic comedy clichés. MacFarlane, following up his first live-action feature Ted, has made yet another conventional and unexciting gross-out comedy. Released after mega-hit Bad Neighbours, it’s hard not to compare the two. Sadly, unlike that farce, AMWTDITW takes its conventional premise and never ventures into unfamiliar or even dangerous territory. At this point, MacFarlane, with this and failed sitcom Dads, is only holding himself back. The movie, stretched to an unwarranted 2-hour length, kicks off each scene with lugubrious set-ups and ends them with banal punch lines. The first third, outlining the somewhat intriguing premise whilst introducing vital tidbits, rests solely on its actors’ immense talents. Throughout the first half-hour, the audience is left to wait patiently for the story to begin. Sadly, the story never rises above tedious revelations and inappropriate jokes. After Anna comes to town, she and Stark hit it off over the course of a week. Admittedly, this plot-line is significantly more interesting than the rest. Louise’s new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Stark’s friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth are fitted into useless and unfunny sub-plots. With its set-piece-fuelled structure and satire-free agenda, AMWTDITW gets off to a sluggish start. Unfortunately, the movie never speeds up. Lacking flavour and consistency, the twists and turns are visible from a mile away. Speaking of open plains, crickets and tumbleweeds are the only two things that react to AMWTDITW’s absurd and childish sense of humour. Before you can say “pistols at dawn”, the movie’s dick, poop, weed, and fart jokes ware themselves to the bone. Starting and/or ending certain scenes, these mishandled gags only elongate this already tiresome effort.

“I’m not the hero. I’m the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt; that’s who I am.” (Albert (Seth MacFarlane), A Million Ways to Die in the West).

Liam Neeson.

Co-written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, this posse throws only one six-shooter of jokes into this banal effort. Aiming to conquer Mel Brooks’ style, this Blazing Saddles wannabe misses the mark well before its climactic finale. Writing itself off as ‘yet another’ dull gross-out comedy, AMWTDITW never forms a unique and satisfying identity. Pushing its racial and sexual humour to breaking point, Django Unchained’s use of the ‘N-word’ seems subtle and dexterous by comparison. Obviously, MacFarlane is the star of this show. Directing, producing, co-writing, and starring in his sophomore effort, all eyes and ears are aimed at him. Unlike Ben Affleck and George Clooney, MacFarlane cannot handle everything at once. Repeating certain jokes and obtaining almost all of the clever lines, his overwhelming influence casts a miserable shadow over the material. Surprisingly, his filmmaking technique has drastically improved. The cinematography, score, production design, and action sequences come together charmingly. Featuring charismatic performers and star-powered cameos, MacFarlane’s latest effort comes close to becoming one of Ricky Gervais’ failures (The Invention of Lying). Fortunately, his actor-direction delivers several light-hearted moments. Despite their underwhelming roles, MacFarlane and Theron develop a significant rapport. Their romance, breezed through via montages, is solidified by their innate charisma and quick-wittedness. Meanwhile, Neeson lends significantly more energy to everything else he’s done this year than to this screwball farce.

Strolling through its period setting, AMWTDITW lacks charm, subtly, and nuance compared to similar works. MacFarlane is stuck in the ultimate ‘emperor has no clothes’ situation here. With his piercing agenda, blinding hubris, and confronting sense of humour tripping him at every turn, MacFarlane is now shooting blanks when he should be firing on all cylinders. Maybe, he should stick to voiceover work.

Verdict: A disappointing and vacuous sophomore effort. 

Edge of Tomorrow Review – Live. Die. Repeat Viewings


Director: Doug Liman 

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: Cruise and Blunt.

Worst part: The throwaway one-liners.

Hollywood, over the past decade, has sheltered one of the most influential and polarising public figures. This particular celebrity, known for jumping on Oprah’s couch and keeping Katie Holmes out of the spotlight, is outrageously attacked by critics and filmgoers the world over. Tom Cruise, despite his peculiar comments and religious allegiances, is still one of our bravest movie stars. His latest action flick, Edge of Tomorrow, alights his magnetic screen presence and immense buying power.

Tom Cruise.

In this intensifying action-adventure, based on Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Cruise transitions from media spokesperson to blood-drenched saviour. This role suits the real-life Cruise more so than you’d think. Overlooking his recent comments about A-listers and the US Military, Cruise can sell entire audiences on any character, storyline, and leap in logic. However, despite plastering his impressive physique across the posters, Edge of Tomorrow is much more than a one-man show. The surrounding elements ground Cruise and the premise in an expansive and invigorating layout. The narrative, like similar apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganzas, begins by tying major political issues to the movie’s vicious alien invasion. Creating the United Defense Force to combat the Alien hordes (labeled ‘Mimics’), the world’s military units are straining to control the situation. From there, we meet advertising executive turned military PR advisor Major William Cage (Cruise). Ordered by UDF leader General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson) to join the front lines, Cage must suit up and fight alongside war-hungry privates. Thrown to the wolves, Cage is bullied by his fellow J-Squad members. Storming the beaches of Southern France, his character suffers a horrific death at the hands of a boss-level Mimic.

Emily Blunt.

Cruise haters will love seeing this A-list juggernaut become shockingly eviscerated by alien forces. However, Cruise’s character, after suffering this fate, comes back to life. In this instance, he wakes up 24 hours into the past. Holding onto specific details about the following day, Cage’s proactive nature throws him into each repetitious situation. The first third elevates Edge of Tomorrow above most sci-fi epics of its type. Co-written by Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), the screenplay races through impactful dialogue, gritty warfare, and tender moments. Immediately ascending above Oblivion, this Cruise vehicle embraces its tried-and-true concepts. Like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow’s time-loop-based narrative delivers immense surprises and twists on genre tropes. The military base sequences, featuring Cage’s encounters with optimistic Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton) and obnoxious grunts, provide their fare share of witty lines and heartening revelations. From there, the storyline delves headfirst into each explosive action beat and character interaction. The first third’s beachside set pieces, pitting ExoSuited battalions against nasty alien warriors, become nail-biting moments that overshadow the time-shifting premise. Playing with video-game mechanics, Edge of Tomorrow’s relentless storyline lends intelligence to an otherwise derivative concept. These life-or-death scenarios, building to the explosive second-two thirds, are bolstered by Cage’s momentous character arc. Cage, struggling to cope with his newfound talent, looks to persistent Special Forces member Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for guidance. Gracefully, Cruise stands aside to allow Blunt’s charismatic persona to stand front and centre. Developing chemistry over several time-loop scenarios, this mismatched paring sidesteps everything we’ve seen before. Pitting a cowardly soldier against a sword-wielding badass, their training sequences deliver entertaining comedic jabs.

“Come find me when you wake up.” (Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Edge of Tomorrow).

Our cute, blood-thirsty couple.

Despite Edge of Tomorrow’s exhilarating pace and jaw-dropping action sequences, the narrative occasionally falls into dour patches and obvious plot-holes. Switching from a gritty sci-fi war flick to an unending chase story, the movie slowly pushes its time-loop guidelines into the distance. However, beyond these minor complaints, the final third throws landmarks, high stakes, and sacrificial acts into an extended set piece. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) perfects his action-direction here. As his most entertaining effort, Edge of Tomorrow brings back the frantic editing and swift camerawork he first brought to Go and Swingers. Beyond this, his alien-invasion thriller even constructs a backstory without dropping it halfway through. Comparing Military pragmatism to the conscription era, this tale of masculinity and second chances becomes a step above similar blockbuster schlock. Creating symbols of American idealism and Military prowess, our characters are transcendent and captivating examples of the modern political and social environment. More importantly, however, our characters are extremely likeable. Cruise’s everyman persona and convincing delivery moulds a multi-layered lead character. Before evolving into the typical Cruise/action-hero type, he first steps outside the norm to play this cowardly and manipulative anti-hero. His role – transitioning from blackmail, to acceptance, to pure determination – is nuanced compared to his more recent characters. In addition, Blunt, taking on the action-hero role, stretches her already significant range for her intriguing and damaged character. Mastering fighting skills and yoga poses; Blunt’s character is a mysterious and bubbly foil for Cruise’s outlandish role.

Weapons training and filmmaking rely on repetition. Fortunately, Edge of Tomorrow takes this conceit and delivers thrilling set pieces and refreshing characters. Along with a subversive sense of humour, the movie rewinds time and examines Cruise’s star power. Placing the narrative on a world-sized scale, this sci-fi actioner succeeds without superheroes, transforming robots, or brightly coloured CGI vistas.

Verdict: An entertaining and gripping sci-fi actioner. 

Maleficent Review – Tim Burton: Lite


Director: Robert Stromberg

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (fairytale)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley


Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Angelina Jolie. 

Worst part: The mind-numbing visuals.

Angelina Jolie is certainly one of Hollywood’s hardest workers. A mother of two, Oscar-winning actor, and conquering humanitarian – Jolie’s determination and guile place her ahead of most A-listers. After taking an extensive break for charity work and her latest directorial feature (Unbroken), the slinky celebrity returns to the big screen for Maleficent. Turning people green with envy the world over – Jennifer Aniston, in particular – this actor deems herself worthy of playing one of the Grimm Brothers and Disney’s most popular antagonists. Maleficent, despite giving Jolie a fun role, will disappoint hardcore Disney fans and average blockbuster-hungry cinema-goers alike.

Angelina Jolie.

Maleficent is the distinctive and slimy villain of the memorable tale Sleeping Beauty. Marked with large horns and flowing black dresses, the character lauds over her expansive kingdom like none other. Like every other recent fairytale adaptation (Wicked, in particular), Maleficent spins the narrative around to focus on another character. Re-telling Sleeping Beauty’s story from Maleficent’s perspective, this blockbuster is reminiscent of several similarly underwhelming adaptations of late. For those unaware of the story, I will go over it briefly. In an impressive kingdom overlooking the Moors below, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) aims to conquer the surrounding lands populated by wondrous creatures. Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then sent into an eternal sleep, broken only by true love’s first kiss. Led by Maleficent (Jolie), the Moors’ citizens fend off the aggressive human hordes. That’s the overall story surrounding this movie’s true narrative. Here, King Stefan is Maleficent’s mission. This time around, Maleficent, being a tragic figure, is also ashamed of her deceitful and destructive actions. Harmed by Stefan, after falling in love with him, the vengeful Maleficent manipulates Aurora’s future. Bizarrely, this charming antagonist stalks Aurora throughout her burgeoning childhood.

Elle Fanning.

After Disney’s resurrection with Tangled and Frozen, modern audiences realised that the mega-conglomerate could, once again, compete with Dreamworks Animation and Pixar. Touching on Disney’s 20th century glory, the animation team brought a family-friendly audience back to the cinema after a period of dark, pop-culture-driven fare. However, on the other side of Hollywood, big-budget adaptations like Alice in Wonderland and Snow White & the Huntsman infected popular tales with action-adventure clichés, CGI landscapes, and epic scopes. Unfortunately, Maleficent is the culmination of the most exhaustive and uninspired aspects of the two aforementioned trends. As the pot-stirring concoction of studio interference and Jolie’s overwhelming prowess, this adaptation becomes familiar and dreary. Borrowing heavily from the 1959 classic as well, this fantasy epic, despite the clever premise, never forms a clear and memorable identity. Director Robert Stromberg – Production Designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great & Powerful, and Avatar – replicates his previous creations for this uninspired and intangible project. Taking on this gargantuan production, his conventional style proves his worth…as strictly a visual effects artist. Relying on CGI world-building and monotonous battle sequences, Maleficent takes interesting concepts and presents dour and heartless creations. At this point, shots of characters looking longingly at CGI landscapes and winged creatures are meaningless sights to behold for $20 a piece.

“I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!” (Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), Maleficent).

Sharlto Copley.

Blame should also fall on Linda Woolverton’s mechanical script. Lacking the original story’s merit, the uninteresting twists and turns illustrate this trend’s greatest flaw – it’s difficult rooting for the bad guy. Her screenplay, presenting Maleficent as a lively warrior in the first half, displays promise as a Jolie-driven vehicle. Developing tragic and determined characters on both sides, the narrative bursts to life early on. However, borrowing from Stardust and Mirror Mirror, the tonal shifts will confuse kids and bore adults. Flickering from sickeningly sullen to whimsically light-hearted, this adventure becomes a studio-controlled creation. In particular, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville’s fairy characters deliver generic, Three Stooges-like jokes unworthy of their spectacular talents. Bowing to Jolie’s every demand, the studio executives understand why this adaptation exists. Jolie, Hurling her immaculate range and passion into this role, overshadows the supporting cast. Coveting the promotional material, her immense prowess pushes her away from believability. Failing to connect with her fellow cast, certain characters, Sam Riley’s crow/human hybrid especially, become needless and obvious foils for her enrapturing character. Stranded in Jolie’s line of sight, Fanning is stuck in a one-dimensional role. Perplexed by the most mediocre of sights, Aurora’s presence becomes grating. In addition, Copley’s performance, harmed by a wavering accent, falters whenever he and Jolie share the screen. His character’s tedious arc makes us miss Maleficent whenever she drifts into the shadows.

Lacking a Rupert Sanders/Kristen Stewart-level controversy, Maleficent lacks significant resources to stand above this year’s blockbusters. Stromberg and Woolverton, aiming to appeal to current trends and multiple demographics, develop an unoriginal, plodding, and unappealing fantasy epic. However, this does indeed mark a noticeable return to Tinsel-town for Jolie. Thanks to her slender frame and rousing delivery, Jolie’s performance sticks out like a broken wing.

Verdict: A plodding and conventional fantasy epic. 

Blue Ruin Review – Harsh Times


Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Writer: Jeremy Saulnier

Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack 


Release date: April 25th, 2014

Distributors: Channel 4, RADiUS-TWC

Country: USA

Running time: 90 minutes


 

 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The confronting gore.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

Groundbreaking drama-thriller Blue Ruin’s production process is worth its weight in Cannes Film Festival statuettes. Kick-started by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, the project, after being rejected by the Sundance committee, hit the festival circuit to major acclaim last year. Like its lead character, the movie has vigorously stormed back into the spotlight. This crime-thriller, sporting several surprises and a point to prove, is a revelatory gem unafraid of its big-budget competition.

Macon Blair.

Macon Blair.

Confucius says: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”. Blue Ruin sticks with this idea the way its lead character clutches his rifle. Aware of the sprawling revenge-thriller craze sweeping the globe’s film movements, Blue Ruin takes a back seat to examine the past decade’s best and worst examples. From the sublime (Drive) to the stupefying (Faster), the vengeful anti-hero flick is a popular one. Attacking the post-GFC world we trudge through, these movies look down upon the bigwigs and support the passive-aggressive little person in us all. Following this trend in a highly effective fashion, Blue Ruin’s characters are about as normal and empathetic as possible. From the get-go, we follow a homeless cretin on the verge of oblivion. Dwight (Macon Blair), sporting a bright, orange beard and frizzy hair, is a resourceful and guided man. Brought into a police station, Dwight is shocked to learn of the release, from a lengthy jail sentence, of his parents’ murderer. From there, Dwight looks for a weapon, map, and petrol to track down and destroy him. Along this dark and painful road, Dwight must protect his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her children. In addition, whilst looking for the target and his redneck family, he must consult his life-long friend Ben (Devin Ratray).

Devin Ratray.

Knocking the audience around throughout its brisk 90-minute run-time, Blue Ruin’s gripping twists and turns will keep even the most impatient viewer engaged. Refreshingly, the revenge-thriller aspects of this revisionist character study inflict only the first 30 minutes. The first half-hour, delving into one man’s obsessive behaviour and depressing situation, becomes a tempered and methodical action-drama. Using a minimal amount of dialogue, this section subtly re-defines genre conventions and festival-worthy cinema. From there, after his motivations are made infinitely clear, the narrative rollickingly sprints toward its violent and thought-provoking denouement. Throughout the second-two thirds, the eye-for-an-eye narrative delivers vile antagonists and nail-biting stand-offs. Naturally, some may react negatively to the “Well…now what?” transitions. In fact, these ascending and descending turns are more divisive than conclusive. However, the plot becomes more tenacious and intelligent once the central conflict is established. Commenting on this ever-present revenge-thriller trend, certain characters, plot mechanics, and action sequences subvert expectations. After Ben is introduced, Dwight’s naïve nature lends several comedic jaunts to this intensifying story. Thanks to this strong satirical edge, Dwight’s reactions and judgments allow the tight narrative to take deep breaths when required. Moulding the Coen’s darkly comedic mean-streak to Nicholas Winding-Refn’s meticulous direction, Saulnier’s style develops this world in a productive and enthusiastic manner.

“You know what’s awful? Just ’cause my dad loved your mum…we all end up dead.” (Dwight (Macon Blair), Blue Ruin).

One of many ultra-violent moments.

One of many ultra-violent moments.

His heart-breaking tale, keeping details locked away for extended periods, is refreshing compared to its competition. Intrinsically, his visual motifs and taste for violence develop this devastating universe. The gore – comprised of exploding heads, bullet wounds, and devastating cuts – delivers several flinch-inducing moments and profound sequences. Once scene, in which Dwight tries and fails to pull an arrowhead out of his leg, highlights Saulnier’s deft directorial touch. Presenting a desecrated and angry Middle America, Blue Ruin keeps strange objects hidden in private places. Presenting a paranoid and paranoia-inducing state of mind, this sickly dark thriller points the finger at gun worship and Right-wing ideals. Handling its ripe agenda, Saulnier’s creations walk the line between chaos and control. Dwight’s journey, despite littered with realistic elements, is never sympathetic. Sporting a significant backstory, his dour livelihood is fascinating to endure. Breaking into other people’s homes, his tragic existence anchors this bloodcurdling and debilitating experience. Blair delivers a touching and lively performance as our sorrowful lead character. As the bumbling revenge-getter, his character relieves us of the modern anti-hero. Lacking a “particular set of skills”, Dwight’s shaky persona shapes each invigorating set piece and eclectic dialogue-driven moment. Following up his pleasurable turn in Nebraska, Ratray’s deadpan performance grounds this polarising and discomforting thriller.

Before the ambiguous and blood-curdling finale, Blue Ruin establishes itself as an ambitious and realistic revenge-thriller. Taking on multiple genres and viewpoints, the movie looks at our infatuation with violence on the big screen. Thanks to Saulnier’s effortless direction and taut screenplay, this breakout effort displays a filmmaker’s style devoid of obvious ticks. Headed for critical acclaim, Blue Ruin’s journey leads to a purposeful and memorable destination.

Verdict: An intensifying and refreshing thriller.

Frank Review – Band Recognition


Director: Lenny Abrahamson 

Writers: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan

Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Michael Fassbender


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributors: Element Pictures, Magnolia Pictures

Countries: Ireland, UK 

Running time: 95 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Fassbender’s manic performance.

Worst part: Gyllenhaal’s lacklustre character.

Some movies, whether they deliver momentous scores or pop songs designed to sell albums, use music to accelerate their effect. Blaring through each cinema’s sound system, a song, or even an entire compilation, can worm its way into our heads. British indie dramedy Frank utilises this concept to build upon its funky and potent core. Accentuated by out-there performances and manic directorial ticks, Frank delivers a fun, insightful, and momentous insight into music’s effect on human beings.

Domhnall Gleeson & Michael Fassbender.

Screening for festival fanatics and steely critics at this year’s South by Southwest festival, Frank had a high note to reach to impress these auspicious crowds. Sweeping through the circuit, this dramedy throws caution to the wind whilst its characters try to conquer their burgeoning issues. Pressing against typical festival-dramedy tropes, the movie’s inner-peace is repeatedly disrupted. The narrative, when not looking into an ever-so-slightly unhinged trajectory, follows the mediocre existence of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson). This struggling keyboard player/songwriter, stuck in a depressing office space, dreams of hastily escaping his tragic existence. Everyday, Jon draws up the soundtrack to his monotonous life. Taking inspiration from the most mundane of occurrences, Jon’s life halts when he witnesses a man trying to drown himself. The man, keyboarder for popular grunge group ‘Soronprfbs’, is deemed unworthy of future gigs by the band’s eccentric manager Don (Scoot McNairy). Invited to play at their next gig, Jon watches on as the group crashes and burns on stage. However, Jon, invited to their cosy recording-studio abode, draws inspiration from misanthropic percussionist Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and electrifying lead singer/songwriter Frank (Michael Fassbender).

frankstraws

Experimenting with music.

The word ‘predictable’ doesn’t belong in any context, or review, of this peculiar romp. Over several weeks, Jon learns from everything he sees and each bizarre personality he runs into. In each scene, little surprises and jokes reside to amp-up this already impressionistic creation. Working with a creative screenplay and boisterous cast, director Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did) takes aim at Ireland’s ever-lasting cultural stamp, the world’s music scenes, and genre clichés. Here, Abrahamson looks to his bubbly characters for ideas. Looking through the pages of this enjoyable material, his bright direction searches for and develops eye-catching gems. For the most part, Frank sticks to its promises by staging itself in affable and quaint locations. Stuck together in the recording studio, the drama relies on discomforting personalities and interesting ideas. The brightest moments revolve around the band’s quaint jam sessions. By using epiphanies and spiritual practices, this eclectic bunch seeks to conquer the alternative-rock game. Pushing past everyone around him, Frank – wearing a large, paper-mache head – holds his group together with charm and everlasting appeal. Without turning conflicts into melodramatic exchanges, the narrative takes several sharp and mood-altering turns towards darkness and disparity. Punishing its opportunistic new keyboard player, the group’s antics keep Frank above similar fare. Heading to SXSW itself, the movie’s fish-out-of-water-esque humour throws our ensemble into the heart of pop-culture. Aided by Twitter and Instagram, Jon’s social media coverage may draw a line between the band and its comforting surroundings.

“You play C, F, G?” (Frank (Michael Fassbender), Frank).

Maggie Gyllenhall.

Playing off revelatory music-dramedies like Almost Famous and This is Spinal Tap, as well as renowned TV personality Frank Sidebottom, Frank examines music’s affect on pop-culture and social quarrels. Experimenting with varying tools and sounds, Frank’s recording techniques are peppered throughout joyous montages. Alarmingly, pushing its characters to breaking point, the movie delivers an insightful commentary on philosophy and mental health. Blaming one another’s questionable antics, its characters test one another without being condescending or complacent. In the final third, as Frank’s intentions become clear, we see the downfall of a potential genius. Jon and Frank, as their bromance reaches a crux, reflect upon music, life, and escapism. Describing each other’s facial expressions, their alluring mannerisms lend heart and brawn to this ear-drum-strumming farce. Unexpectedly, Jon’s confidence-fuelled efforts do more harm than good. Drawing fame and fortune towards this quirky group, Frank’s personality becomes increasingly unpredictable and concerning. Credit goes to Fassbender for bringing a charismatic glow to this difficult role. Suited to blockbuster fare, Fassbender, like his character, reaches outside the box to deliver extraordinary quirks. In addition, soon after his heartbreaking performance in About Time, Gleeson delivers a likeable turn as the audience avatar and the group’s most opportunistic member. Made whole by Gleeson’s whimsical accent, his charm and wide-eyed glory ground this abstract feature. However, despite her best efforts, Gyllenhaal fails to overcome her nasty character. Thankfully, at opportune moments, McNairy comes along to lighten the darkest moments and deliver genuine thrills.

Similarly to Fassbender’s performance, Frank is an engrossing, enlightening, and intelligent commentary about the world around us. With music being Frank’s guiding light, the movie maintains its optimistic glow and heartening motifs throughout. Looking for new sounds and compilations, the band reflects the movie’s will to succeed by looking beyond the norm.

Verdict: A charming and unique dramedy.