Pet projects: Why they go wrong


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Pet projects: Why they go wrong

Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)


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Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Article: Actor Focus: Luke Thornley


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Article: Actor Focus: Luke Thornley

Reshoot & Rewind’s Best Movies of 2015


720x405-Joy-InsideOut_Charlize-MadMax2015 was certainly an interesting year for politics, economics, art, and everything in between. The world was forced to watch on in horror as the forces of evil attempted to destroy our way of life. People lost their lives, cities were attacked, and the world’s governments came together to make a difference. We stood against those responsible, questioning their motives and responding to threats.

The year in cinema pushed boundaries and formed unique and invigorating works of art. Films including The Martian and Sicario, both of which I watched on the same day, proved the magic and majesty of celluloid can illuminate the globe. However, films including Fantastic Four and Chappie fell flat on their stupid faces!

For Reshoot & Rewind, the year delivered its fair share of hits. Covering a greater number of topics and formats, I aimed to take chances and deliver the best articles possible for my loyal followers. I hope to make 2016 an even better year for myself and the site. Thank you all for embracing the craziness – delving into the reviews, lists, interviews, news pieces, op-eds etc. I loved putting together.

Here are the best of the best:

1. The Martian

Director Ridley Scott returns to form with this testament to technology, ingenuity, and the human spirit. The Martian is a fascinating and fun action-adventure-sci-fi romp, bringing Scott and leading man Matt Damon back from the brink of critical and commercial failure. Every element –  including its gleeful lead characters, rousing set pieces, light-hearted direction, and positive message – establishes this rollercoaster ride as one of 2015’s most innovative and spirited works of art.

2. Sicario

Sicario marks the true power of Hollywood cinema, spreading its wings and utilising its resources to discuss a crucial socio-political topic. This crime-thriller, yet again, showcased the brilliance and resilience of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins. Together, these power-house professionals paint a gorgeous, gritty, and confronting picture of the US-Mexico conflict. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro craft strong performances, bouncing off on another with style. The film draws the line between what is right and what is beneficial for the free world.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road is the year’s most invigorating and inventive blockbuster. Every ingredient of this post-apocalyptic actioner is awe-inspiring. Balancing between nostalgia and a contemporary vision, the film marks the glorious return of acclaimed filmmaker George Miller. A key part of 2015’s feminist angle, it bravely pushed it titular character to the side – crafting the most fun female action hero since Ellen Ripley from the Alien Franchise. In addition, any film featuring the line: “Fang it, schlanger” is alright by me!

4. 99 Homes 

99 Homes is a shocking and rousing account of middle America’s struggle against The Man. Shockingly, it’s based in the realm of reality! From its confronting opening sequence, the film delves head-on into the post-Global Financial Crisis wasteland. As a character study, 99 Homes excels thanks to efficient, brutal screenwriting and direction. As a performance piece, lead actors Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon deliver powerful, gripping performances as two sides of the same coin.

5. Bridge of Spies 

Steven Spielberg is one of few contemporary filmmakers still creating genuine works of art. Charging through a multi-decade career, the veteran genius returns to true form with Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. Bridge of Spies, teaming up Spielberg with Tom Hanks again, links a Cold War-era narrative with modern socio-political themes. The film fuses comedic moments with dark, searing drama, serving up one of the era’s least known but most enthralling true stories.

6. Creed

In the year of long-awaited/belated sequel/reboot/whatevers, Creed broke the mould, destroyed the competition, but was still gracious in victory. Easily eclipsing Jake Gyllenhaal-vehicle Southpaw, the film aptly harks back on the Rocky franchise legacy whilst heading on its own journey. Throwing their names into the Oscar buzz ring, leading man Michael B. Jordan and American treasure Sylvester Stallone deliver career-defining turns in a magnetic mentor-protege relationship. Creed was the biggest surprise of 2015.

7. Youth 

Unlike many ‘For Your Consideration’ projects, dramedy Youth acknowledges its foreign director’s style, allowing them to create a truly original achievement. The film simply would not work without Paolo Sorrentino’s outside-the-box vision and acute attention to detail. This dramedy ably comments on the highs and lows of celebrity and age. Lead actors Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel handle the balance between satirical bite, emotional intensity, and laugh-out-loud moments with ease.

8. Inside Out

As the modern version of Herman’s Head, Inside Out proves that a familiar idea can be reinvigorated and improved upon with the right people involved. Pixar Animation Studios, returning to form after a string of disappointments, showcases truckloads of imagination with this light, breezy effort. Featuring likeable characters and enjoyable set-pieces, Inside Out is a more exciting action extravaganza than Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, and Jupiter Ascending combined. In addition, its climax will have every viewer shedding a tear or two.

9. Selma

Robbed of success at this year’s Academy Awards, Selma is an emotionally affecting and necessary docudrama. Covering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rise to prominence in America’s conscious state, the film documents a tough, gruelling time in modern civilisation. Covering important events and key issues, Ava DuVernay’s direction depicts the essential details with class and maturity. David Oyelowo, another British actor perfectly embodying an American historical figure, is worth the admission cost alone.

10. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Winning Best Picture and Best Director deservedly, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a flawed but ultimately assured and detailed dramedy. Veering away from 21 Grams and Babel territory, acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu crafts an outside-the-box analysis of contemporary cinema, celebrity, and fandom. He along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create many “How did they do that?!” flourishes throughout this thought-provoking character study. Michael Keaton is back with a vengeance!

Honourable Mentions:

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Amy, Dope, Mississippi Grind, The Program, The Lobster, Straight Outta Compton, The Gift, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Love & Mercy, Slow West, A Most Violent Year, Top Five, The Avengers: Age of Ultron 

Biggest Surprises:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Spooks: The Greater Good, Trainwreck, Ant-Man, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Partisan, Unfriended, Ex Machina, The DUFF, Still Alice, Furious 7, Run All Night, American Sniper, Focus, Pride, Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Longest Ride

Reshoot & Rewind’s Worst Movies of 2015


worst-movies-2015-pic2015 was certainly an interesting year for politics, economics, art, and everything in between. The world was forced to watch on in horror as the forces of evil attempted to destroy our way of life. People lost their lives, cities were attacked, and the world’s governments came together to make a difference. We stood against those responsible, questioning their motives and responding to threats.

The year in cinema pushed boundaries and formed unique and invigorating works of art. Films including The Martian and Sicario, both of which I watched on the same day, proved the magic and majesty of celluloid can illuminate the globe. However, film including Fantastic Four and Chappie fell flat on their stupid faces!

For Reshoot & Rewind, the year delivered its fair share of hits. Covering a greater number of topics and formats, I aimed to take chances and deliver the best articles possible for my loyal followers. I hope to make 2016 an even better year for myself and the site. Thank you all for embracing the craziness – delving into the reviews, lists, interviews, news pieces, op-eds etc. I loved putting together.

Here are the worst of the worst:

1. Pixels

Family action-comedy Pixels represents every single thing wrong about 21st century Hollywood filmmaking. This bland effort teams up a short-film premise with Adam Sandler and his band of merry morons. Director Chris Columbus sinks further into mainstream hell with this derivative waste of time and money. Talents including Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage are left stranded in unlikeable roles. This is Hollywood’s worst impulses stuffed into a hurricane force of mediocrity. F*ck off, Sandler!

2. By The Sea

Writer, director, activist, and actress Angelina Jolie was given free reign to produce and market By the Sea. The Result: a critical and commercial disaster of epic, Gigli-esque proportions. This self-indulgent, trite romantic-drama lambasts the very idea of marriage… despite being created by the most famous married couple on Earth (very strange, indeed). The plot is non-existent, the characters are unlikeable and childish, and Jolie’s writing and direction bang the same note repeatedly. First Unbroken, now By the Sea – go back to humanitarian work!

3. Taken 3 

Despite the cheap thrills of Run All Night, 2015 marked the sad, violent conclusion of Liam Neeson’s reign as Hollywood’s leading geriatric action hero. Taken 3, bludgeoning a dead horse, is somehow worse than the excruciating Taken 2. Lacking the original’s bursts of energy, director Olivier Megaton (Columbiana) delivers a sequel entirely for the sake of monetary gain. Gigantic plot-holes and a derivative man-on-the-run narrative further obliterate contemporary action cinema’s reputation.

4. Fantastic Four 

After the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four disasters, 2015’s ‘dark and gritty’ reboot needed only to improve upon its lackluster predecessors. Bafflingly, those flicks now seem more refined and unique compared to this clunker. This tone deaf, bizarre superhero flick lacks the energy, thrills, and even pulse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-Men entries. Thanks to feuds between the studio and director Josh Trank, Fantastic Four is a confused and boring non-starter. Back to the drawing board, yet again.

5. Hot Pursuit

Reese Witherspoon, following up her latest Oscar nomination for Wild, destroys her reputation with Hot Pursuit. Producing and starring in this tired comedy, Witherspoon’s attempt at strong female characters fails spectacularly. She and co-star Sofia Vergara portray the year’s most annoying and insulting characters, tripping over one another thanks to bizarre accents and over-the-top pratfalls. The film’s attempts at edgy comedy also fall flat – adding menstruation jokes to almost every scene.

6. Chappie

Director Neill Blompkamp, following up his breakout hit District 9 with polarising blockbuster Elysium, further descends into the M. Night Shyamalan-writer/director doldrums with sci-fi-drama Chappie. His latest effort is a misjudged, over-the-top venture afraid to delve into any one discernible plot-line or theme. Shoving multiple feature film ideas into one narrative, this romp is a hollow mess of plot-holes, shallow characters, and a limited sense of style and vision.

7.  Jupiter Ascending

The Wachowski siblings, like Blompkamp, are on a downward slide from bad to worse to downright disgraceful. Are the failures of Speed Racer and the Matrix sequels, Jupiter Ascending finally puts the last nail in the coffin. This sci-fi flick stuffs seven TV episodes into one two-hour experiment – forming an irritating cacophony of exposition, one-note characters, atrocious dialogue, and laughable moments. Thankfully, the Wachowskis have now been banished to TV with Sense8.

8. The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel, arguably the most famous Dungeons & Dragons player in history, was given all the power and money to adapt his adventures for the big screen. However, The Last Witch Hunter proves Diesel should only be allowed to do Fast & Furious and Riddick installments. This cliched, uninteresting action-adventure is a confusing slog through exposition and predictable plot developments. Dragging talents Michael Caine and Elijah Wood through the mud, Diesel’s latest project shows some people have too much power.

9. Entourage

Vinnie, E, Turtle, Drama, and Ari Gold return in a TV adaptation released at least three years too late. Unleashed four years after the series’ final season, this franchise extender lands smack-bang in one of Hollywood’s most progressive eras. Carrying the show’s wish-fulfillment elements, whilst lacking the first-two seasons’ satirical bite, the film is a frat-boy fantasy drenched in pure sexism, bitterness, excess, and self-indulgence. Jeremy Piven aside, the movie also features the year’s worst performances.

10. Knight of Cups 

‘Ambitious’ writer/director Terrence Malick, after Oscar-buzz magnet The Tree of Life and polarising drama To The Wonder, returns with Knight of Cups to diminishing returns. Although aided by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, this pretentious, befuddling effort offers little else than Malick’s signature flourishes on repeat. The film lacks any sense of narrative, character, or theme other than: “Hey look, sunsets are nice”. Worse still, its biggest crime is under-utilising Christian Bale’s talents.

Dishonourable mentions:

The Dressmaker, Vacation, Legend, Pan, Survivor, Hitman: Agent 47, Self/less, Paper Towns, Ruben Guthrie, Ted 2, Terminator: Genisys, The Loft, The Cobbler, Jurassic World, Unfinished Business, Dumb & Dumber To, Aloha, Home Sweet Hell, The Gunman, Get Hard, Unbroken, The Theory of Everything

Biggest disappointments:

Joy, Truth, In the Heart of The Sea, Spectre, Spy, Crimson Peak, The Walk, Black Mass, Everest, Southpaw, Minions, San Andreas, Gemma Bovery, Tomorrowland, Woman in Gold, Blackhat, Pitch Perfect 2, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Inherent Vice

Interview: Maziar Lahooti (Filmmaker)


Maziar Lahooti

Interview: Maziar Lahooti

Trailer Trash: Fantastic 4


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Trailer Trash – Fantastic 4

Article: Dreamworks Animation Feels Financial Pinch


DreamworksAnimationSKGM3EMWAccording to Cineblend, DreamWorks Animation has been in financial deficit over the past few years thanks to several consecutive flops.

The studio has since reconstructed its feature film productions, decreasing their yearly output from three films to two.

According to Coming Soon, Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria have been appointed Co-Presidents of DreamWorks’ Feature Animation department.

According to Cineblend, Recent releases Rise of the Guardians, Turbo, and Mr. Peabody & Sherman lost a combined total of $153 million.

According to Deadline, Rise of the Guardians, though doubling its $145 million budget, could not cover its overblown production and marketing costs.

Turbo failed to tap into key international budgets, while Mr. Peabody & Sherman forced DreamWorks Animation to write-off $57 million.

According to Cineblend, 500 DreamWorks Animation staff have been laid off.

The studio’s future releases include Kung Fu Panda 3, Trolls, Boss Baby, and The Croods 2.

Its latest release, Home, will be released on March 27th.

Article: World War Z 2


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Article: World War Z 2

Article: Simon Pegg to Co-write Star Trek 3


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Article: Simon Pegg to Co-write Star Trek 3

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review – Shell Out


Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty

Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg


Release date: August 8th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

1/5

Best part: The mountainside action sequence.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

In 2004’s comedy gold-mine Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, Steve Carell’s character Brick Tamland screams: “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!”. He hurriedly follows it up with: “Loud noises!”. This moment of slapstick genius, raised by Tambland’s borderline-mentally-challenged persona, sums up almost every modern blockbuster. For every Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a turgid mess like Transformers: Age of Extinction escapes from hell soon after. So, how much worse could it get? Well…

Our turtles – Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello & Michelangelo.

Further damaging hack director/producer Michael Bay’s critical reputation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the latest big-budget extravaganza to shoot through theatres diarrhoea style. Causing more suffering than Ebola, ISIS, and Manchester United combined, this reboot/remake/prequel experiment delivers significantly more foibles than fun moments. A kitchen-sink-like basin for clinical blockbuster tropes, the latest TMNT instalment is as bland, banal, and boring as…this franchise’s other instalments. Destroying the original live-action trilogy’s good will, this cinematic hiccup/burp/fart concoction elevates the preceding entry(2007’s misjudged animated effort)’s status. The story, such as it is, is as damaging, slick, and sleep-inducing as a tranquilizer dart. Thanks to a clever opening animated sequence, the movie immediately delves into our favourite heroes in a half-shell(spoiled for choice, really)’s origin story. Four turtles and one rat, having escaped a life-threatening situation, fall into New York City’s sewers, become exposed to radiation, and mutate into bizarre human/animal hybrids. Looked after by Master Splinter (Motion-captured by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), our evergreen team – Leonardo (mo-capped by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – places itself in harm’s way to protect Manhattan’s citizens from crime and corruption.

Megan Fox & Will Arnett.

Scouring the city as ruthless vigilantes, our team searches for infamous terrorist group The Foot Clan. TMNT, born from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s black-and-white comic book series, has inspired TV iterations, toy lines, celluloid-driven fumbles, and pop-rock bands. Despite the immense success, there’s one thing everyone’s forgotten: the original concept was satirical. Warped by marketing strategies and contrasting  generations, this franchise is commercialism’s unholy nadir. Despite the stellar 2D animation, the aforementioned opening sequence sums up everything wrong about this reboot. Recycling obvious, well-known information, the movie drops its guard and surrenders to creativity’s biggest villain: The Man. Bafflingly so, the movie focuses primarily on several uninteresting and annoying human characters. Inexplicably, we follow eager TV reporter April O’Neil(Megan Fox)’s journey to find our reptilian renegades and discover the truth about her past. Pulling plucky sidekick Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) and suspicious plutocrat Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) into this lazy adventure, the narrative is a laboured collection of superhero origin tropes, franchise reboot cliches, and set pieces stolen from similar popcorn-chompers. In addition, the story’s coincidence-driven mythology is as believable as, well, weapon-wielding terrapins fighting robot samurais. Bringing April’s dad into the mix, the movie’s comparisons to the Amazing Spider-Man series rest in plain sight. Despite replacing ninjutsu with shootouts, this action flick starts kissing the asian film market’s behind before you can say: “cowabunga!”.

“Four turtles…one’s fighting a robot samurai? Why not?” (Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).

Shredder & Splinter.

Never delving beyond its slime-covered surface, the story pushes its titular team into the background. Restricted to a fleeting sub-plot, defined by overworked comic-relief   tropes, the turtles’ battle with arch-villain shredder is picked up and dropped sporadically. This entire project reeks of studio desperation and a lack of enthusiasm. Delivering another nostalgia-drenched franchise kicker, this – like many before it – is ruined by a shoddy director. Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) shell-shocks blockbuster fans and TMNT aficionados. Turning a lucrative idea into disposable dross, the South African filmmaker’s hack-and-slash style doesn’t deliver satisfying or even disarming entertainment. Unaware of the core demographic, Liebesman’s adaptation lurches from laugh-less jokes to punishing violence to overt sexual references to dreary warrior speeches about honour, fate, and destiny. Made strictly for financial gain, its ingredients allude to other, more successful, studio efforts including Transformers and G. I. Joe. Causing a Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper-esque debacle, Bay lays his overbearing style on thick throughout. Lathered with product placement, lens flares, useless slo-mo, and non-stop camera movement, his style resembles a teenager on Red Bull and uppers. The action, despite the heavy CGI and occasional impressive moment, is wildly hit and miss. The mountainside set-piece, reminiscent of the Morocco sequence from The Adventures of Tintin, provides a slight reprieve from surrounding dross.

Labeling this a ‘product’ would be playing into Bay and his production company(Platinum Dunes)’s desires. TMNT, thanks to its cringe-worthy narrative and personality-free style, might mark the high point of blockbuster fatigue. Stripping the franchise of wit, charm, or life, this entry turns this series into a shell of its former self. Driven by lacklustre performances, exhaustive direction, and a derivative story, this isn’t worth anyone’s free time. Save your movie and pizza money for something less…shell-fish.

Verdict: A cynical and messy reboot.

Before I Go to Sleep Review – Painful Memories


Director: Rowan Joffe

Writer: Rowan Joffe (screenplay), S. J. Watson (novel)

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Anne-Marie Duff


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributors: Clarius Entertainment, Eagle Films

Country: UK

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Strong’s dynamic turn.

Worst part: Kidman and Firth.

Amnesia – in real-life and entertainment – is a cruel, remorseless, yet fascinating mistress. Despite lacking physical pain, the psychological effects – of all temporary and permanent memory disorders – yield major consequences. For the victims and those around them, this affliction can’t simply be shaken off. In many big and small screen cases, ranging from Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind to 50 First Dates, amnesia is primarily used as a valuable plot device. In Before I Go to Sleep‘s case, it guides each character’s fate from go to woe. Unfortunately, there’s much more of the latter.

Nicole Kidman hiding from the critics.

Before I Go to Sleep‘s crippling afflictions reside elsewhere. Born from one tiny idea, the original material turned its intricate premise into a 2011 Sunday Times and New York Times best-selling crime novel. Attracting three A-listers and an ambitious writer/director, the project could have delivered a worthwhile adaptation. However, like with several of 2014’s  premise-driven productions, good concepts are met with poor results. Author S. J. Watson must be reeling from this wasted opportunity. His novel, known to book clubs around the globe, is worthy of careful analysis and lively debate. Before the conflict takes hold, the story kicks off from relatively modest beginnings. In the first shot, we see housewife Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) at her most vulnerable. After waking up, our main character wildly panics before darting around the house; looking for something to calm her down. Her insistent husband, Ben (Colin Firth), informs her of her situation through trust exercises and a romantic collage. Christine suffers from short-term memory loss (anterograde amnesia, to be precise), caused by a car crash 10 years earlier. Despite the efforts to absorb new information, her brain erases everything each night. Stuck at home, Christine yearns for determined psychologist Dr. Nash(Mark Strong)’s advice. Behind Ben’s back, she develops a video diary to piece her life together. Questioning her meaningless existence, she – after suffering horrific, contradictory nightmares/memories – demands answers about the accident, the aftermath, and everyone around her.

Colin Firth still reeling from Magic in the Moonlight.

Colin Firth still reeling from Magic in the Moonlight.

Writing the book whilst working as an audiologist, Watson  knew how to take charge of his narrative. Carrying a firm awareness of the genre and topic, Watson should have taken control over this production. Sadly, the studio gave it to writer/director Rowan Joffe (Brighton Rock). Despite Joffe’s stature in British film and TV, the ambitious filmmaker’s sophomore effort doesn’t do Watson justice. Infatuated by Before I Go to Sleep‘s third-act twists, Joffe seems entirely disinterested with everything else. Skulking towards the last third, Joffe’s execution – creating an awkward contrast between suburban drama and mystery-thriller – is as exhaustive and frustrating as Christine’s affliction. In particular, the first half-hour – instead of establishing the pros and cons of Christine’s life – plays out like a lifeless soap opera void of subtlety, tragedy, or development. Clinging onto underwhelming revelations and dull conversations, the movie never harnesses stakes, emotional resonance, or originality. Despite the premise’s allure, Joffe’s insecure direction overplays small moments and obscures important titbits. Clinging onto the original material, his direction spells out wholly predictable twists. Following a banal relationship-drama structure, the repetitive first half might cause viewers to sigh loudly and check their watches. Bafflingly so, the movie copies and pastes concepts and sequences from similar efforts. Dr. Nash’s story-line, coming off like a gritty detective thriller, distorts the trajectory of this ridiculous psychological-drama.

“I have to remember who did this to me.” (Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman), Before I Go to Sleep).

For once, Mark Strong isn't playing a baddie!

For once, Mark Strong isn’t playing a baddie!

Despite the 92-minute run-time, Before I Go to Sleep‘s inconsistent tone and sluggish pacing cause more yawns than gasps. However, blitzing the abysmal first half, the second half switches gears before capitalising on the material. Moving the chess pieces around, Joffe’s screenplay matches the novel’s reputation; making us ask: “Who’s really trying to help?”. Switching from American Beauty to Insomnia to Memento, the movie – forming a tug of war between Ben and Dr. Nash – delivers several thrilling set-pieces and twists. In fact, its biggest twist is almost makes the first half worthwhile. Aided by Hitchcockian plot threads, the move pays homage to a long, lost form of big-budget cinema. Aided by a blistering score, muted colour palette, and Ben Davis’ sumptuous cinematography, the tension and atmosphere bolster the dour story. However, despite the compelling psychological disorder/gimmick, the movie has little to say about anything. Alienating its characters, the narrative merely hints at disability care, identity issues, and domestic violence. Sadly, Kidman – despite channeling Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde bombshells – never successfully inhabits the topsy-turvy role. Filling most scenes with blank stares and hushed tones, her subdued turn hinders the character arc. Firth, having a rough year with this, Magic in the Moonlight, and Devil’s Knot, never overcomes his character’s preposterous transitions. Despite his immense talents, the British icon seems entirely out-of-place. Gracefully, Strong becomes the shining star. Despite his underdeveloped role, the thespian delivers enough verve and guile to bolster this underwhelming effort.

Whilst Before I Go to Sleep drifted from my consciousness, I reflected upon its many accomplishments and failures. Sadly, this process did little but remind me of much better psychological-thrillers. Influenced by major movies, directors, and writers, Joffe’s adaptation never lets us absorb the scintillating premise. Thanks to questionable logic, an inconsistent tone, and mind-numbing pace, this adaptation proves just how different movies and novels are.

Verdict: A mindless and dreary psychological-thriller.

A Walk Among the Tombstones Review – Takin’ Charge


Director: Scott Frank

Writers: Scott Frank (screenplay), Lawrence Block (novel)

Stars: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, David Harbour, Boyd Holbrook


Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Neeson’s charisma.

Worst part: The near-laughable bleakness.

Believe it or not, grimy pot-boiler A Walk Among the Tombstones is a game-changer. Recently, a specific trend has pulled scores of action-loving cinema-goers back to the theatre. This particular current, sprouting up only a couple of years ago, has been kind certain demographics. In addition, the big-name actors involved  have been given full-scale career revivals. Thanks to Kevin Costner vehicle  3 Days to Kill and Denzel Washington/Antoine Fuqua’s  latest collaboration The Equalizer, this resurgence of veteran anti-heroes shows no sign of slowing down.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

Liam Neeson shuffling through action-thriller premises.

With A Walk Among the Tombstones, one headliner is making amends for recent poor career choices. Liam Neeson, despite being one of Hollywood’s most popular leads, has recently been dealt several hits and misses. Since 2008’s surprise hit Taken, the Irish badass has landed major studio gigs from The A-Team to A Million Ways to Die in the West. Picking every script he’s given, his immense charisma and professionalism support his A-list status. Having languished in Non-Stop‘s reputation-destroying aura, his latest effort makes for a remarkable return to form. The story, despite resembling Neeson’s preceding sleep-walk-like efforts, delivers enough thrills to win over detractors. In the first scene, set in 1991, troubled detective Matthew Scudder (Neeson) – whilst on duty – walks into a bar, downs an Irish coffee, then skims the headlines. Soon after, three latino gang-bangers kill the bartender, steal some cash, and leave. After Scudder thwarts the robbery, the movie jumps to 1999. We then follow Scudder – now an unlicensed private investigator aided by Alcoholics Anonymous – through the ultimate doomsday mission. Hired by notorious drug kingpin Kenny Kristo and his dodgy brother (Boyd Holbrook), our lead tracks down Kenny’s wife’s kidnappers. The perpetrators, Ray (David Harbour) and Albert (Adam David Thompson), are on a kidnap/murder rampage without end. Along the way, Scudder’s friendship with street urchin T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley) becomes a distraction.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Dan Stevens continuing his remarkable hot-streak.

Based on Lawrence Block’s highly-rated crime novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones tackles the famed writer’s tropes with vigour and confidence. The narrative, etching itself into the consciousness, embraces its airport-thriller roots whilst crafting its own identity. Teetering between Neeson-action and crime-thriller ticks, the movie’s intentions strike a chord. Unlike most ‘Neesoners’, known to delve into dull pure nonsense, the movie’s existential shades and killers-punishing-criminals premise elevate it above most big-budget schlockers. As one of 2014’s more invigorating efforts, the story steadily, and intelligently, moves from one plot-point and revelation to the next. Like with Scandinavian detective-thrillers, the narrative revels in the genre’s darkest-possible tones. As the investigation takes several disturbing turns, the movie switches between grounded character study, fun actioner, and bleak crime-drama. From the first highly disturbing frame onwards, writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout) succinctly, and passionately, delicately covers the material’s moral, ethical, and thematic depths. Examining every intrinsic detail, this adaptation turns mind-numbing and derivative ideas into worthwhile bursts of energy. His narrative, breaking off into slight sub-plots and character arcs, injects emotion and stakes into key moments. However, with Frank’s infatuation with Block turned up to 11, the darkness becomes laughable within the second and third acts.

“I do favours for people. In return, they give me gifts.” (Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson), A Walk Among the Tombstones).

Our killers on the loose!

Our killers on the loose!

Fuelled by unlikeable people, disturbing crimes, paranoia, and tragic backstories, this concentrated dose of evil becomes tiresome and nonsensical. By setting this action-thriller in 1999, themes of identity crisis and man-made chaos come with the territory. Sadly, the Y2K commentary escapes the central, police-procedural plot-line. Reserved for only a couple of throwaway lines, the themes rift against the cop-thriller vibe. However, despite the over-ambitiousness, Frank still crafts emotional heft whenever possible. Thanks to Mihai Malaimaire, Jr.’s cinematography, the movie’s atmospheric aesthetic bolsters Frank’s straight-laced direction. Adding unique camera angles and movements to peculiar sequences, his flourishes bolster this otherwise morbid experience. In addition, the sound design amplifies each action beat. Elevating Scudder’s significant presence, the gunshots and punches strike with brute force. Despite the positives, the movie occasionally delves into bafflingly pretentious tangents. Marked by slo-mo flourishes and a manipulative score, certain scenes do little but extend the movie’s egregious run-time. However, even in its corniest moments, Neeson’s otherworldly aura lends gravitas to this stock-standard crime-thriller. Fitting the tragic anti-hero role like a glove, his thunderous tone and impressive frame make up for the character’s cliched development. Boosting his polarising action-hero resurgence, the movie makes for a major step in the right direction. In addition, Stevens, a breakout star thanks to Downton Abbey and The Guest, excels in his underwritten, Red Herring role.

Resembling 90s-style crime-thrillers like Ransom and Payback, A Walk Among the Tombstones comes off like a Mel Gibson vehicle driven by a universe-conquering Irishman. Bolstered by Neeson’s monstrous aura, the movie excels whenever he’s on-screen. Thankfully, that’s most of the time. However, despite Frank’s competent screenplay and direction, some stylistic and thematic choices hinder this hearty effort. Adding to 2014’s film noir/crime-thriller resurgence, the movie flaunts Hollywood’s gothic/manic-depressive side.

Verdict: Neeson’s notable return to form.

Trailer Trash – John Wick


Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Known for playing idiotic teenagers and clueless action heroes, Keanu Reeves has certainly had a unique and fascinating career. Headlining hit actioners including Point Break, the Matrix trilogy, and Speed, the Canadian actor, director, and musician is at home in the genre. Lately, however, his interests have switched to directing kung-fu flicks like Man of Thai Chi and documentaries like Side by Side. So, having been six years since his last guns-and muscles action  role (as a grizzled cop in Street Kings), why has he returned? Well, despite the hefty financial gain, it appears his latest explosion-fest, John Wick, may actually be much better than what the title suggests. Even Wick’s signature line winks at Reeves’ latest career one-eighty: “People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m back.”

Reeves plays the titular character in this potentially enthralling action-thriller. Going by the poster, we can discern that his character – an unshaven, ultra-slick badass – is gunning for blood. Peeling back a significant part of the movie’s wafer-thin plot, the trailer lets our characters off their leashes. After his puppy/gift from his dying wife is killed by intruders, Wick comes out of mercenary retirement to recover his weapons and eviscerate those responsible. Fuelled by tough-guy posturing, revving engines, neon-soaked nightclubs, and gunplay, the trailer has enough chutzpah to boost even the most cynical critic’s expectations. With a cast rounded out by John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, and Adrianne Palicki, this movie might become one of this/next year’s biggest surprises. In addition, moving away from the Raid series’ relentless aura, the action and violence seem – by Hollywood standards – refreshingly watchable.

We’ll find out when John Wick premieres in the US on October 24th. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


 

A Most Wanted Man Review – Spy Hard


Director: Anton Corbijn

Writers: Andrew Bovell (screenplay), John le Carre (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright


Release date: September 12th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions, Entertainment One

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

 

4/5

Best part: The electrifying performances.

Worst part: The monotonous pace.

Over the past thirteen years, filmmakers and studios have milked the proverbial zeitgeist teat. Though major political, economic, and cultural events have been re-enacted previously, the 21st century’s biggest issues are being flogged for our entertainment. United 93 and World Trade Center re-created America’s darkest day, Zero Dark Thirty depicted the hunt for Osama bin Laden, while The 25th Hour tackled the saddest New York imaginable. However, spy-thrillers like A Most Wanted Man face the nitty-gritty of post-9/11 paranoia.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's all-powerful swan song.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s all-encompassing swan song.

Luckily, A Most Wanted Man takes the high road throughout. Looking into a distressing magic 8-ball, the movie refuses to offend anyone. However, it still tells an effective and meaningful tale. Adapted from acclaimed author John le Carre’s recent novel, this spy-thriller honours the legendary writer whilst taking a different path. In addition, the movie efficiently tackles the War on Terror. The title cards, layered over an arresting shot of the ocean crashing into a dock, inform us of important historical events. After learning Islamic extremist Mohammed Atta had planned the World Trade Centre attacks in Hamburg, Germany, the US Government developed a task force there to destroy future potential threats. In this fictional account, we meet the people in charge. In its latest mission, lead espionage agent Gunther Bachmann (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) tasks his team –  bolstered by Erna Frey (Nina Hoss) and Max (Daniel Bruhl) – with tracking illegal immigrant Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Working off the local Muslim community and CCTV footage, Gunther’s team finds Karpov in a decrepit housing complex. Simultaneously, the team tracks Muslim philanthropist Dr. Faisal Abdullah(Homayoun Ershadi)’s suspicious activities.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Robin Wright taking time off from House of Cards.

Despite being Europe’s most prolific counter-terrorists, Gunther and co. must make their case before German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and American diplomatic attache Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) take over. Obviously, A Most Wanted Man is devoid of a James Bond or Jason Bourne. Lacking gadgets, lavish vistas, or explosions, the average filmgoer might reject this intricate and claustrophobic effort. However, its narrative grips the viewer from the first to last frame. Its surprises, lacking the typical action-thriller bombast, are hearty breaths of fresh air. The mystery, placing professionals in realistic yet unpredictable situations, never relies on standard tropes. Standing alongside its competition, the story – aided by Andrew Bovell’s meticulous screenplay – rests on its characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Fuelled by intensive conversations and chases, the spying is as mature and concise as our characters. However, the story – depicting Gunther’s team forming alliances with distressed lawyer Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) and renowned banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) – never delivers enough emotional resonance. Avoiding major thrills, the movie occasionally tests the viewer’s patience. Based around political conflicts and slow-burn espionage, some may beg for fistfights or shootouts. The first-two thirds, though peppered with harsh truths and tense sequences, won’t raise anyone’s blood levels.

“Every good man has a little bit of bad, doesn’t he? And in Abdullah’s case…that little bit might just kill you.” (Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), A Most Wanted Man).

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Rachel McAdams making major career strides.

Despite the minor flaws, A Most Wanted Man‘s positives make for pitch-perfect sequences. Fuelled by witty lines and surveillance jargon, this glacially paced drama soars when required. The last third, driven by a heart-wrenching climax and bitter resolution, delivers 2014’s most gripping moments. Director Anton Corbijn (The American, Control) applies his strengths to each frame. Known for uncompromising flourishes, his style rescues certain sequences from tedium. Dodging The American’s  immaculate sheen, his depiction of Hamburg is worth the admission cost. Enlivening each setting, he revels in the city’s architecture, grit, and history. In addition, Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography highlights each scene’s viscera and value. Beyond this, Hoffman delivers one of the year’s most profound performances. In his penultimate feature, Hoffman injects vigour and malice into this invigorating protagonist. In particular, one scene solidifies Hoffman and his character’s immense worth. After drifting out of bed, he rolls his eyes, downs a shot of whisky, then plays several notes on a piano. In this few-second scene, Corbijn cements Hoffman as one of this generation’s greatest talents. The supporting characters, though serving to boost Hoffman, further propel the story. Wright and McAdams bolster certain plot-threads with energetic and potent performances. In addition, Dafoe’s core strengths saves his plot-device role.

Delivering a fresh take on post-9/11 paranoia, A Most Wanted Man is an entertaining and comprehensive discussion of the past decade’s biggest issues. Blitzing similar pot-boilers including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Body of Lies, and Syriana, this spy-thriller embraces the simple to tackle the complex. More importantly, Hoffman’s scintillating performance highlights a remarkable career cut short. Like with his character, the movie’s nuances draw the line between success and failure.

Verdict: An intelligent and well-crafted spy-thriller.

The Guest Review – Perfect Psychos


Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Simon Barrett

Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributor: Picturehouse

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Dan Stevens.

Worst part: The slight tonal shifts.

Most movies, from coming-of-age dramedies to soul-sucking horror-thrillers, rely on their lead characters and actors. Existing to entertain and/or inform, these people become avatars for viewers to envelop. Stepping into their shoes, we follow them through thick and thin as they trudge from the conflict to the climax to the resolution. Mostly, we follow the good guys as they hit multiple obstacles and conundrums. However, with The Guest, we tread a much darker path towards one helluva pay off.

Dan Stevens transforming from Downton Abbey to Demonic warrior.

Dan Stevens switching from Downton Abbey to the dark side.

Watching The Guest could be seen as one of 2014’s most confronting experiences. Throwing several emotions and tonal shifts at us, this psychological-thriller might just push audiences over the edge. In crafting this  efficient homage, the filmmakers and actors involved hit their strides. In addition, beyond the movie’s glowing positives, its production and distribution schedules took several fascinating turns. Blitzing the festival circuit, the movie’s wide-release-level success speaks wonders for its overall quality. The marketing, showing off its silky smoothness, gives away a small fraction of the narrative’s true genius. From the get-go, the story delivers enough chutzpah to please average film-goers, cinema aficionados, pretty psychopaths, and everyone in between. In the opening shot, two bootstrapped feet run along a dirt road. Who owns these feet? Where are they going? And why are they running through such hallowed ground? Of course, these answers come to light in the next scene. These camouflage blazoned feet belong to David Collins (Dan Stevens), a drifter searching for somewhere to call home. David, a discharged soldier thirsty for retribution, knocks on the Peterson family’s door. Having watched their oldest son, Caleb, die in Afghanistan, David fulfils a promise to pass on his last messages. The matriarch, Laura (Sheila Kelley), invites him to stay. However, the patriarch, Spencer (Leland Orser), isn’t impressed and the younger Petersons, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer), are suspicious of his sinister behaviour.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer speeding making left and RIGHT career turns.

Newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer making left and RIGHT career turns.

Like our pseudo-titular character, The Guest reels us in before throwing us out into the cold. As an intensifying roller-coaster ride, the story has more brains, heart, and brawn than most blockbusters. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal works (Shadow of a Doubt, in particular), the twists and turns revolve around our characters. After the gritty first few minutes, the movie stands by its lead anti-hero. Chronicling each word, decision, and movement, the movie steadily raises the stakes whilst injecting doses of pathos. In the first third, the story delivers a familial drama devoid of clichés, unlikable people, or sappy moments. Subtly, the blackly comedic moments alleviate its distressing aura. Beyond this, In buying beer kegs for Anna, having a beer with Spencer, and crippling several of Luke’s bullies, David becomes a fascinating and intriguing specimen. In fact, for the first-two thirds, he’s presented as a vengeful warrior in the vein of Ryan Gosling’s Driver. Thanks to his hyper-intelligence, quick wit, and stunning physicality, it’s difficult not to like him. Eventually, with the tension building throughout, everything crashes down around our invigorating lead character. In the last third, With kooky plot-twists coming thick and fast, the tone too often switches from sickening drama-thriller to Terminator-esque action spectacular. However, the climax and resolution deliver the break-neck pacing, nail-biting jolts, and applause-worthy moments to warrant multiple viewings.

“I’m a friend of the family.” (David Collins (Dan Stevens), The Guest).

Stevens' David sparking up a psychological thrill-ride.

Stevens’ David kick-starting a psychologically warped thrill-ride.

Credit belongs to Stevens for making such a courageous career transition. He, further stretching his range, delivers a devilishly appealing performance as the friendly, neighbourhood psychopath. Each facial expression and mannerism adds to the character’s enthralling arc. Playing to a more mainstream crowd than their previous efforts, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett(You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die)’s latest reshapes and elevates their dynamic. Impressively, Wingard and Barrett’s latest balls-to-the-wall extravaganza tops their 2013 horror-thriller smash. To a certain extent, this action-thriller pays homage to everything they grew up with. Beyond the Hitchcockian narrative threads, this inventive partnership tackles nearly every 1970s, 80s, and 90s Hollywood trope. In particular, their directorial and screenwriting flourishes allude toJohn Carpenter flicks including Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. Bundling together revenge-thriller, horror, and action tropes, audiences will be left awe-struck by the movie’s vitality and determination. Throwing in effective jump scares and action beats, Wingard’s style toys with many zany concepts. Fuelled by neon-lit interiors and neo-western vistas, the world building bolsters this pulpy and relentless sensory assault. From the prologue opening to the Halloween-themed-prom finale, each frame further solidifies the movie’s immaculate legend.

Fulfilling its many promises, including honouring our fallen comrades overseas whilst tearing apart the military-industrial complex, The Guest is a slick, ferocious, and manic action/horror-thriller romp. Overcoming its minor flaws, the movie bolsters Wingard and Barrett’s reputations. Nailing its self-aware, nostalgia-drenched vibe, this psychological-thriller comes off like its lead character – tough, surprising, and willing to tear chunks off its adversaries. As 2014’s Stoker, its trashiness and joyousness make for one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A lean, mean thrill-machine!

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.

What If Review – Friend Zoned


Director: Michael Dowse

Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis

what_if_movie_poster


Release date: August 20th, August

Distributor: Entertainment One

Countries: Canada, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.

Worst part: The slapstick gags.

Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s blistering chemistry defeats all!

From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.

Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis lending a helping hand.

Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing  quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What If takes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and  artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening  rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.

“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).

what-if-megan-park

Megan Park as the loud mouth sister.

Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What If takes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.

Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.

Verdict: 2014’s most invigorating rom-com.

Into the Storm Review – A Cataclysmic Disaster!


Director: Steven Quale

Writer: John Swetnam

Stars: Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Matt Walsh, Alycia Debnam-Carey

Into-The-Storm-Poster-2


Release Date: August 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The rip-roaring tornadoes.

Worst part: The cliche-ridden screenplay.

Since Hollywood’s awe-inspiring beginnings, studios and filmmakers have thrown good guys and bad guys at eager audiences. In addition, some filmmakers have gone one step further to divert us from reality. With film technology evolving exponentially over the past 50 years, several major disaster epics have delivered monsters, weather patterns, and meteors for their characters to dodge and destroy. Recently, the tornado has become the go-to threat for Hollywood moguls to take down.

Richard Armitage and Sarah Wayne Callies surviving the wrath!

Tornadoes, in the cinematic sense, violently pull us in. As 1996’s Twister proved overwhelmingly, natural disasters can be spiced up with energetic action-direction, emotional resonance and plucky comic reliefs. Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s latest disaster epic, Into the Storm, tries desperately to be the iconic Jan De Bont-helmed thrill-ride. Sadly, this epic gets picked up, thrown around, and dropped violently without warning. This movie, despite the pure optimism, never grasps onto anything of substance. On one side of Silverton, Oklahoma, we have high school vice principal Gary Morris (Richard Armitage) and his family. The story picks up with Gary struggling to connect with his two sons, Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress). Failing to cope with his wife/their mother’s death, Gary sincerely asks them to record messages and graduation day services for the school’s time capsule. Donnie then volunteers to help his crush, Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam-Carey), with a make-or-break project across town. At the same time, a band of storm chasers, led by Pete (Matt Walsh), discover a vicious tornado outbreak heading for the area. The team – rounded out by Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), Daryl (Arlen Escarpeta), and Jacob (Jerry Sumpter) – is bolstered by a tank-like vehicle called ‘Titus’ designed to resist the tornado’s eye.

Matt Walsh as the antagonistic storm chaser.

Along the way, we meet two redneck YouTube sensations, Donk (Kyle Davis) and Reevis (Jon Reep), vying for a whirlwind adventure. Into the Storm is a bizarre and interminable two-hour distraction. Inexplicably, the movie sets out to reach wildly contrasting demographics including Deadliest Catch/Ice Road Truckers addicts, found footage fans, disaster flick aficionados, climatologists, and horror-obsessed teenagers hungry for Friday night thrills. In doing so, this arrogant effort wholly fails to please anyone. Jumping erratically between scenes, the movie’s gears awkwardly turn as it reaches for different age groups. From the prologue onwards, where four hormonal teenagers are ‘ambushed’ by a whirling vortex of doom, the movie establishes its ultra-dumb horror vibe. Indeed, the movie’s intelligence levels cater specifically to popcorn-hungry, half-drunk adolescents. However, despite the zany marketing ploys, this thriller can’t even sustain itself for 90 minutes. Stretching its predictable sub-plots and character arcs around the action sequences, its narrative is about as exhilarating and intensifying as a light Autumn breeze. In fact, this thunderous creation picks up several cliches, contrivances, and corny moments throughout its monstrous assault. Copying and pasting plot-points and archetypes from Cloverfield, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, Into the Storm is an unholy concoction of some of Hollywood’s biggest money makers.

“Grab a broom. It’s like a zombie apocalypse out here.” (Reevis (Jon Reep), Into the Storm).

Goodness gracious. Great balls of fire!

A big-time filmmaker like Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich would’ve injected some much-needed humour and vigour into this banal effort. Sadly, director Steven Quale(Final Destination 5)’s latest wants to have its cake and eat it too. The movie relishes in the CGI-heavy creations and wanton destruction plastered across multiple frames. However, it also wants its audience to feel for the survivors. Unfortunately, its characters are troublesome hindrances. These unlikable/underdeveloped/idiotic people – though bolstered by trained thespians like Armitage and Wayne Callies – aren’t worth worrying about. Cranking the cheese factor up to 11 in the second half, the movie awkwardly throws a Right Wing message into its last few minutes. Presented like a Fox News piece, these artificial interludes hamper this already intolerable final product. Despite the problems, this disaster epic boasts engaging CGI-laden creations and set pieces. The  sentient tornadoes, speeding up whilst hurtling towards the screen, deliver several effective jump scares. At one point, a fire-hungry tornado barbecues one of our unlucky leads. However, the movie’s impressive effects are hindered by several editing and cinematography choices. At points, it’s difficult pointing out who’s holding a camera or why they are pointing it at these major threats. In addition, several wide shots distort the found footage conceit.

Bizarrely, Into the Storm‘s overwhelming stench of desperation provides an interest factor worth clinging onto. In striving for a larger audience, this disaster epic’s exorbitant reach exceeds its grasp. Hampered by useless characters and tried-and-true story-lines, the movie doesn’t even capture Twister‘s concentrated glow. However, the visual effects crew deserves credit for bolstering this tedious exercise in studio-driven filmmaking. I dare say the tornadoes are far more intelligent than the director, writer, and actors combined.

Verdict: A destructive force of unthinkable (financial) proportions.

The Rover Review – Mad Muthaf*cker


Director: David Michod 

Writer: David Michod

Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field

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Release date: August 15th, 2014

Distributors: A24, Roadshow Films

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Pearce and Pattinson.

Worst part: The leaden pace.

For the past decade, Australian cinema has hidden in the darkest depths of Hollywood’s monstrous shadow. Despite several attempts to increase the Australian Film Industry’s popularity, our cinema continually fails to make valiant strides toward critical and commercial success. However, some home-grown dramas, avoiding labels like “boring” or “depressing”, garner significant acclaim the world over. In fact, 2014’s ambitious, dirt-covered crime-thriller The Rover might just fuel our industry for another few years.

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Guy Pearce as Australia’s last badass.

The Rover, despite the minor flaws, makes several effecting and applause-worthy leaps toward critical and commercial success. Hitting harder than most of 2014’s celluloid offerings, this crime-western places itself on the right pedestal. With much more guile and heart than the average ‘Summer’ tentpole, it’s a shame this is being passed up in favour of conventional Superhero extravaganzas and nostalgia-driven actioners. Elevating  the overt sparseness and attention to detail, its worth resides in its desire to be different. Without looking down upon its competition, the movie depicts one of 2014’s most confronting and alluring narratives. This crime-western follows vicious loner Eric (Guy Pearce), as he pushes himself through Australia’s outback wastelands. Close to giving up on his aimless existence, he and his car hurtle down dirt roads in search of salvation. However, his plans change during a routine petrol stop. After a robbery gone wrong, Henry (Scoot McNairy), Archie (David Field), and Caleb (Tawanda Manyimo) dump their damaged getaway vehicle and steal Eric’s. On a mission to track down his car, Eric comes across Henry’s injured brother Rey (Robert Pattinson). Holding Rey as collateral, Eric hunts down the robbers across dangerous heartlands. Along the way, run-ins with military personnel and anarchic citizens pull our two lead scumbags together.

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Robert Pattinson in career-reviving form.

Back in 2010, crime-drama Animal Kingdom boosted the AFI’s box-office stature and its immaculate cast members’ careers. Its writer/director, David Michod, hit the ground running with a grand vision and noble intentions. Here, Michod ventures into a vastly different genre. Mining the same ground as George Miller and John Hillcoat, Michod’s latest effort comes off as a wondrous ode to classic crime-westerns from the past 50 years. As a spiritual continuation of the Mad Max series, The Rover crafts similar tire tracks and bullet wounds. However, with a stripped-back aura in tow, Michod’s writing and direction separates it from true-blue exploitation. Of course, based around an unholy economic collapse, Michod’s story hurriedly veers into darkness. Becoming the next Andrew Dominik, Michod’s rough-and-tumble storytelling highlights valuable moments within dour surroundings. In fact, The Rover‘s twists and turns are bolstered by unique flourishes and profound dialogue. Igniting intensifying shootouts and car chases throughout, this crime-western takes opportunities at pitch-perfect intervals. Uninterested in genre clichés, Michod’s screenplay – aided by Joel Edgerton’s Story credentials – is more modest and meaningful than most of its type. If a threat arises, the screenplay lingers on it like a sniper eyeing down a stationary target. Thanks to a near-wordless first five minutes, the lead character’s actions are worth jotting down for later reference.

“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. It’s the price you pay for taking it…” (Eric (Guy Pearce), The Rover).

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Two men, one economic meltdown.

Despite Michod’s mesmerising stranglehold, all crime-westerns of this magnitude suffer similar flaws. Bordering on pretentiousness, the second and last thirds’ wordless sections threaten to drain depth out of the intricate narrative. In addition, with cynical dialogue spattered across vital sequences, the movie’s blisteringly misanthropic outlook almost stalls this otherwise poignant and visceral crime-western. In some instances, Pearce’s lines come off like brutal concoctions of Cormac McCarthy writings and Jim Beam. However, Michod’s direction is worth the admission cost. From the opening sequence onward, his style bolsters this discomforting drama-thriller. Holding his camera steady throughout, his earthy tones throw his follow-up feature into a whole other realm of ingenuity. In certain sections, it’s clear Australia’s latest cinema icon is infatuated by our big, brown land. Switching from bright, desert-laden vistas to blackened mining strips, his ticks heighten the movie’s sensory impact. The score also bolsters Michod’s near-flawless execution. Juxtaposing between the past and present, the indigenous-industrial notes add depth to the meandering plot. However,  the lead performers turn Michod’s vision into reality. Pearce, on a career turnaround with a string of Hollywood hits, reels in every emotion and mannerism for this heartbreaking performance. In addition, utilising specific physical and psychological traits, Pattinson’s scintillating turn establishes an immense hunger for worthwhile roles.

In the vein of The Proposition and The Road, The Rover is a crime-western with the right amount of sass, class, and vigour. Continually breaking new ground, Michod’s latest pushes wider audiences toward Australian genre cinema. Here, his atmospheric direction cements a ground floor for like-minded filmmakers to use. Elevated by powerhouse performances, volatile outback vistas, and prescient storytelling, this crime-western, despite rubbing against the pop-cultural grain, is worth the time, energy, and money.

Verdict: A worthy effort from Michod, Pearce, and Pattinson.

The Expendables 3 Review – Rough ‘n’ Tumble


Director: Patrick Hughes

Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson

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Release date: August 14th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Snipes and Banderas.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

Anyone remember the hospital scene from The Dark Knight? In particular, the part where The Joker mashes on a detonator to set off a firestorm of explosions? Now, do me a favour: picture that scene, then apply it to the Expendables franchise. Over the course of three movies, the directors, actors, and ‘writers’ involved have done little more than mash on detonators and watch studio-approved pyrotechnics light up the sky. Here, our pathos-driven Expendables come out all guns blazing for one last hurrah. The Expendables 3 is, at the very least, an efficient and amusing way to waste two hours.

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Sylvester Stallone at his baddest!

Nowadays, action flicks – leaning on extreme expectations from young, middle-aged, and old cinema-goers alike – are continually shot down by harsh critical backlash. Despite making piles of money higher than Scarface’s cocaine mountain, this series is seen as being the nadir of blockbuster filmmaking. More so, its cast members are laughed at for drifting through an extreme aura of denial. However, thanks to cinema heavyweight Sylvester Stallone’s influence, there’s something just so intriguing about these movies! This time around, Stallone and co. delivered a gargantuan marketing campaign. Willing to roll tanks through the Cannes Film Festival, this cast and crew lap up the attention they so desperately crave. Obviously, The Expendables 3 is not looking to be a straight-laced meta-narrative about the perils of getting older. Here, Stallone’s army is simply having a grand ol’ time in the spotlight. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the aforementioned team losing members left and right. Breaking original Expendable Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) out of a fortified prison locomotive, Barney Ross (Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) meet up with Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) to track down more bad guys and send them to hell! Unsurprisingly, their Somalia mission goes horribly wrong when arms dealer/former Expendable Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) severely harms one of our muscle-and-wrinkle-bound heroes.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes' friendship on a...knife's edge.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes’ friendship on a…knife’s edge.

Obviously, this series has suffered its fair share of hits and misses. The 2010 original, thanks to cheap CGI and a diminutive scope, tripped over its own intriguing premise. However, 2012’s sequel delivered several testosterone-driven set pieces and ‘f*ck yeah!’ moments. Thankfully, The Expendables 3 defies the odds whilst  sticking to its guns…and knives…and colostomy bags. Running its premise ragged, this instalment could, and should, follow its poster’s advice and establish itself as that “one last ride”. Upping the stakes and scale immediately, this sequel displays more signs of life than our ageing screen icons. It delivers everything you’d expect: train/helicopter chases, car chases, knife fights, shootouts, explosions, funny lines, emotionally gripping twists, and more deaths than The Wild Bunch… and that’s all within the first 20 minutes! The opening set pieces, developing a consistent tone, launch this sequel into overdrive. Sadly, Stallone takes everything a little too much to heart. Firing his near-retiree buddies, Stallone’s roided-out stature goes looking for fresh meat. Sadly, despite mercenary turned recruiter Bonaparte(Kelsey Grammer)’s sage advice, the middle third stalls an otherwise promising actioner. Stripping away its nostalgic glow, the youngsters – rounded out by hacker Thorn (Glen Powell), Vegas bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousey), ex-Marine John Smilee (Kellan Lutz), and weapons specialist Mars (Victor Ortiz) – lack their elders’ overt charisma. Adding zero gravitas to the conventional narrative, the middle third is salvaged only by zany badasses Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas). In addition, the original members transition from vicious warriors into jealous buffoons.

“Jing-a-lang, jang-a-lang…” (Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes), The Expendables 3).

Antonio Banderas as kooky mercenary Galgo.

Beyond the vicious piracy scandals, The Expendables 3 is still one of Lionsgate’s biggest box-office weapons. However, Despite director Patrick Hughes(Red Hill)’s commendable intentions, the screenwriters and post-production workers spray a hellfire of bullets into this fresh corpse. Delivering dodgy CGI, cheap stock footage, distracting film grains, and off-kilter voice dubbing, this heavy-duty juggernaut hasn’t been taken care of. Delivering a near-inexcusable final product, Stallone and co. should know better by now. However, thanks to Hughes’ searing direction and the cast’s enthusiasm, The Expendables 3 is a franchise standout! The action, though choppy to accommodate the PG13+ rating, fires on all cylinders. Utilising its performers’ abilities, the fight choreography lands several effecting blows. With Hughes hitting his stride, these sequences deliver enough explosions, knife attacks, and gunshots to take down a small army. In fact, that’s exactly what our plucky heroes do in the hell-bells final third. Throwing in tanks, helicopters, Harrison Ford, and Jet Li, this extended action sequence delivers well-charged thrills and energetic back-and-fourths between fan favourites. Despite the stupidity, motorcycle stunts and falling buildings add to the immense spectacle. In addition, as expected, our leads’ rapport is worth the ever-increasing admission cost. As the franchise’s saviour, Stallone carries the lead role with style and gusto. Getting along with Statham and co., his immense presence elevates hokey material. In addition, Snipes and Banderas are wholly aware of the movie they’re in. Blissfully, their charm offensives sit well with the series’ baffling  stupidity.

With Stallone and the gang keeping everything afloat, at this point, this series has, unquestionably, said everything it could ever hope to say! With a fourth instalment and The Expendabelles on the cards, I can only hope they recruit some better screenwriters and post-production staffers to salvage the mission. Obviously, hiring Shane Black or John Woo would deliver that truly brilliant Expendables flick we’ve been waiting for. However, compared to 2014’s other nostalgia-driven actioners, you could do a helluva lot worse than this low-three-and-a-half-star explosive thrill-ride.

Verdict: A charming yet transparent explosion fest.

God’s Pocket Review – Truer Grit


Director: John Slattery 

Writers: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf (screenplay), Pete Dexter (novel)

Stars: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro

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Release date: August 8th, 2014

Distributor: IFC Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


 

 

3/5

Best part: The arresting performances.

Worst part: The incoherent narrative.

Once upon a time in sunny-side-up Hollywood, acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese said: “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard”. Positioned above all the philosophically viable quotes one can muster, these two short sentences achieve true purpose. In fact, Scorsese’s words describe the filmmaking process as a journey of unconscionable measure. So, how does all this relate to kooky crime-drama God’s Pocket?

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman & John Turturro in cool-cat roles.

Well, with Scorsese’s influence casting itself over everything, God’s Pocket tries too damn hard to be simple. Betwixt by its own elaborate sheen, the movie aims for succinct but lands just short of pretentious. With too much going on at once, the movie wholly relies on familiarity and grit. In fact, this type of simplicity makes for a confusing and unexacting tale of woe and whimsy. However, despite matching up to Scorsese’s quote, it’s still a halfway descent first effort. The story, such as it is, examines one man and his sketchy practices. An outsider to the titular Philadelphian district, small-time crook Mickey Scarpano (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) has found solace in his surroundings. Struggling to maintain his marriage to Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), Mickey looks to his mates, gambling, and alcohol for guidance. Floating through day-to-day life, the man runs errands with best mate Arthur ‘Bird’ Capezio (John Turturro) and mob enforcer Sal (Domenick Lombardozzi). Sadly, Mickey’s existence is hindered by his abrasive stepson Leon(Caleb Landry Jones)’s industrial accident. Along the way, whilst Mickey is arranging payment plans with funeral director Smilin’ Jack Moran (Eddie Marsan), Jeanie calls for an investigation into her son’s death.

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Christina Hendricks in post-Mad Men form.

Admittedly, I may’ve been a little harsh on God’s Pocket‘s overt modesty. The narrative’s low-stakes aura is, to a certain extent, refreshing compared to today’s big-budget offerings. Here, Mad Men star John Slattery slips past his TV series’ lavish world to pay homage to 1970s Middle America. Being Slattery’s first feature, his  direction far eclipses his screenwriting. Co-written by Alex Metcalf, the screenplay takes to cliches and contrivances the way its characters take to booze and cigarettes. With several story-lines in play, Slattery and Metcalf throw in too many insufficient perspectives. After the dysfunctional family dynamic is introduced and deliberated on, we’re introduced to notorious God’s Pocket columnist Richard Shelburn(Richard Jenkins)’s peculiar lifestyle. Shelburn, an avatar for the novel’s author Pete Dexter, becomes an unnecessary antagonist in this free-wheeling narrative. In following the original material so closely, Slattery and Metcalf pick up and drop certain story-lines without warning. Infatuated with his own creation, Slattery gestates on certain plot-threads without giving them definitive beginnings, middles, or ends. In fact, several plot-lines are left wholly unanswered for. Despite the taut 88 minute run-time, the movie comes off like an underwhelming brawl between Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and Ben Affleck’s directorial flourishes.

The working men of God’s Pocket are simple men. They work, marry, and have children. And, until recently, they die like everyone else.” (Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins), God’s Pocket).

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Richard Jenkins as God’s Pocket’s top columnist.

Despite this hearty love letter’s overwhelming negatives, the final product’s positives reside in its all-around willingness to succeed. With Slattery paying respect to a long-lost era, his head and heart are certainly in the right place. In fact, thanks to emotional resonance and technical savvy, God’s Pocket achieves just enough to earn a low-3-star rating. Accustomed to period pieces, Slattery’s directorial motivations craft a rich, textured version of Middle America. The movie never screams out an exact date or time. If anything, this 70s-set crime-drama allows its audience to pick up certain nuances skidding across each frame. Depicting a horrific place to call home, Slattery’s version of God’s Pocket is defined by earthy colour palettes and specific iconography. Halfway through, you begin to notice the time period in all its glory. With browns, yellows, and greys amplifying certain scenes, Slattery depicts a world in which men are men and women succumb to those around them. Finding the ugliest of ugly folks, his attention to detail and taste for black comedy excel. In addition, Slattery draws dynamic performances from his talented ensemble. In one of his last roles, Hoffman delivers a mesmerising turn as the ultimate average Joe. In addition, Jenkins, Hendricks, and Turturro excel as downtrodden characters begging for justice and respect.

Stepping up to a blank canvas, Slattery makes a valiant first effort out of such broad material. Experimenting with specific stylistic choices, dealing specifically with its gritty veneer, this busting of the proverbial cherry could’ve been a helluva lot worse. However, unlike Mean Streets or Gone Baby Gone, this dissection of Middle America comes almost flatlines at opportune moments. If anything, Slattery would do well to sat back, relax, and reflect on the final few Mad Men episodes remaining.

Verdict: An unfocused love letter to simpler times.

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps


Article: 

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps

The Inbetweeners 2 Review – The Trip Down Under


 Directors: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Writers: Damon Beesley, Iain Morris

Stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas


Release date: August 7th, 2014

Distributors: Film4 Productions, Bwark Productions 

Country: UK

Running time: 96 minutes 


 

3½/5

Best part: The leads’ inherent chemistry.

Worst part: The overlong gross out gags.

As the perfect release from reality, sitcom TV relishes in bizarre situations and unadulterated slapstick. With the enjoyment factor turned up to 11, shows like Parks & Recreation and Community fuse light-hearted thrills with imaginative characters. One recent sitcom – British cult hit The Inbetweeners – achieved success by latching onto a particular age bracket. As a slice of UK escapism, the E4 franchise has been lucky enough to launch two mega-smash cinema releases.

The Inbetweeners down under (pun definitely intended)!

Admittedly, I realise these big-screen Inbetweeners adventures come off like extreme acts of desperation. These ventures, taking our downtrodden characters from sitcom modesty to American Pie glory, could have easily become tiresome and frustrating. However, bafflingly so, the original’s massive profit margins pushed many boundaries. Now, after three years of watching our four leads fail to develop multi-layered careers, we get a front row seat to watch this sequel shunt its way past the competition on opening weekend. This movie, if anything, displays the nerds becoming the jocks of the British franchise universe. All that’s needed now is a televised Inbetweeners vs. Doctor Who showdown. Fortunately, unlike everything else this series has offered, The Inbetweeners 2 is a likeable and sensitive effort. Our favourite nobodies – Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas), Neil (Blake Harrison), and Jay (James Buckley) – have somehow stooped lower than before. Will – his university’s least popular undergraduate – is aching for a much-needed escape. After falling for yet another clever prank, Will, Simon, and Neil receive an extensive email from Jay. Jay, enjoying a “mental” gap year in Australia, tells them of his sordid adventures within his uncle’s lavish mansion.

Jay making himself king of the “Sex Capital of the World”.

Simon and Neil, escaping psychotic girlfriends and meaningless existences, agree to Will’s plan to travel half-way around the globe. Leaving Jay’s uncle’s house behind, our four adolescent schlubs head from Sydney to Byron Bay – in the ‘Mobile Virgin Conversion Unit’ – in the hopes of achieving their impulse-driven goals. Obviously, The Inbetweeners 2 isn’t trying to wow its target demographic with intricate plot-threads or heartbreaking character arcs. Aware of their series’ immense appeal, directors/writers/show creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris take the reins with suitable street-smarts in tow. Unlike the original, this instalment sticks wholeheartedly by its four dunderheaded leads. Despite smashing into several cliches and dry spots, this sequel takes a hands-on approach to this standard road trip tale. Running on buddy-comedy wise-cracks and tried-and-true plot-lines, even horny 13 year olds can predict where this shame-fuelled journey is heading. However, laid out like any given episode of the original series, the joy comes from seeing our clunge-obsessed ravagers rise and fall spectacularly. Unsurprisingly, the Australian stereotypes come thick and fast. In the first third, Jay shows off his encounters with boomerangs, sun-drenched beaches, frenzied nightclub scene, and bikini-clad babes. His first scene alone, playing out like a Wolf of Wall Street montage, makes this sequel feel wholly cinematic.

“Will be careful, muff before mace is actually a crime in Australia.” (Neil (Blake Harrison), The Inbetweeners 2).

Emily Berrington as Katie.

However, providing pure laugh-out-loud relief, the last third brings specific Aussie cliches, and our awesome foursome, together. During the climax, the hilarity spills fourth as our leads become stuck in a harsh desert landscape. I half expected them to run into Mick Taylor and his trusty -. Sadly, despite the positives, this sequel ventures into several ill-advisable gross out gags and soppy moments. The water park scene, in particular, yields several unfunny and ethically questionable set pieces. In addition, like with the original, the supporting characters – rounded out by several antagonistic back-packers – stall this otherwise quaint adventure. Worse still, the movie almost breaks down whenever its misogyny catches up to everything else. Presenting multiple female characters as hindrances, it’s offensiveness becomes unrelentingly vapid. However, making this sitcom-based series whole, our lead performers seize this opportunity to show off their sublime talents. Bird, hitting his stride as the crew’s nerdiest combatant, is a charismatic and witty force throughout. Eclipsing his three comrades, Will’s arc instantly takes centre stage. In addition, Buckley’s Jay delivers several cracking moments as the group’s most obnoxious yet ambitious member. Oddly enough, Simon and Neil get pushed to the background in favour of their more-intriguing buddies.

The Inbetweeners series sits best with the hormonal teens and clueless adolescents scrounging around this bleak, blue marble. Driven by expletive-driven humour and manic characters, this pacy and hysterical creation has transitioned gracefully from sitcom success to celluloid gloss. The Inbetweeners 2, though not an award winner, makes for a worthwhile 90 minutes. surprisingly so, fans and newcomers will enjoy Will, Simon, Neil, and Jay’s final on-screen adventure. God knows where they’ll end up!

Verdict: A mostly triumphant last hurrah. 

Stephen Amis (Director) Interview – Reaching for the Stars


Stephen Amis, Camera operator Con Filippidis & Director of Photography David Richardson.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet Australian true-blue filmmaker Stephen Amis. Promoting his latest cinematic effort at the time, his independent cinema seminar transfixed a room of enthusiastic press folks and cinephiles. In addition, his sci-fi extravaganza, The 25th Reich, took the Revelation Perth Film Festival storm. So, with a couple of years having past between then and now, I made it an all-on-the-line mission to, once again, get in touch with Amis . I chatted to this underrated genre-cinema icon about his love of filmmaking, his multiple production roles, and the Australian Film Industry’s response to big-idea projects.

Where did the idea of the 25th Reich come from?

I made the 25th Reich as a kind of sci-fi homage to the Super-8 movies I made when I was a kid. It was also a celebration of the B pulp films I grew up with – made by directors like George Pal and Sam Fuller…

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

It was very difficult financing the movie – but isn’t that the case with every movie? Australian film agencies generally see genre films as being ‘soft’ as the box office – so it was hard convincing them to come aboard, and ultimately they didn’t. In addition, with Aussie films barely finding any cinema space these days, and DVD sales plummeting, The 25th Reich was a very tricky film to produce and distribute.

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

Our budget was tiny compared to what you would ordinarily have to spend on this kind of production, and consequently our crew was limited. I wore many hats – co-writer, director, co-producer, not to mention post-production supervisor – so I was the only one who really had the entire film ‘in my head’. I also have a solid background in cinematography, so I was able to very clearly write on the page what I knew could be achieve in production for the specific budget.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

For me, the highest point in the making of The 25th Reich was getting the music composed and synchronised – that’s when the magic happens and all the hard work comes together – particularly as this film was very music driven. Up until then, you’re always asking yourself will it work, is it emotionally engaging…

And the low point? Shooting was very difficulty and treacherous. 50 degree days and 2 degree nights in the wildness. Scorpions, snakes, spiders – it was quite arduous!

How did you create the visual effects and set designs on location?

I set-up 8 small VFX teams worldwide to produce the visual effects. We worked mostly by cloud computing and developed a lot of short cuts and new tools to bring the film in on budget. Oddly enough, we barely used any green-screen as this was too time consuming on set and I decided quite early in the production to rotoscope everything in post – when ended up achieving a better look than traditional green screen keying.

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

Post-production was like pushups – particularly in regard to the VFX. Every VFX shot you do, is one less you have to do… It took 18 months to finish all of the special effects, along with many edits of the film and replacing and refining each VFX shot from previz, to crude animation, to final animation to fully rendered animation.

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

I think genre films in general are important worldwide. Genre films, as opposed to other kinds of films, have the unique ability to contain sociological subtext about the times they were made in: Think about the subtext in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, made during the cold war, or the original ‘Planet of the Apes’, made during the Vietnam war. The 25th Reich is no different, and was made in an era of out-of-control right-wing, neo conservative ideology. In terms of subtext, The 25th Reich has more to do with contemporary fascism rather than specifically Nazi Germany.

How did you distribute the film?

The film went through the conventional distribution route – with international and domestic sales. But that old model is dying, and I’ve just setup a new distribution company called ‘Label’, to distribute my next film. Label will be using an unconventional mix of old and new distribution techniques to get films into the market and to attract and engage audiences.

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

We had a social media campaign running via Twitter and Facebook. The film had quite a good showing on the festival circuit, and I found our social media campaign helped drive and consolidate that. Aside from being able to speak directly to our fan base, which is hugely important to me, there are also other businesses based issues of specifically directing your target audience ‘somewhere’ to achieve an identifiable goal – whether that may be buying a cinema ticket, purchasing a DVD or the soundtrack…

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

Our fan base (and genre film fan bases in general), are very loyal. It’s an important base which we plan to take with us on the next instalment of the movie which we are now writing. So in that context, we are trying to harness and grow our fan base across the franchise.

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

With Australian films struggling to find cinema space (it’s now almost impossible to book a movie) , and the DVD market plummeting – the festival circuit is one of the last avenues for filmmakers to showcase their work on the big screen. It’s important that Australian film festivals showcase more Australian content. At the moment, the large festivals pay lip service to Aussie films, but not much more. There are many Aussie films seen each year that don’t see the light of day and they really should.

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

The disadvantage is that we have no protection for Australian cinema. It’s not like in France where film is considered a cultural art form and protected by a fairly rigid quota system. North Korea set up a quota system too, and like France, their industry is now thriving. We desperately need a quota system here in Australia to protect Aussie cinema.

What is your next project?

I’m developing a small number of projects. Two science fiction films and one big broad Aussie comedy – all to be shot in 3D…

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

There’s been many many changes – many of the big obvious changes on the distribution landscape and the way content is seen and disseminated. Film is not the cultural pop icon it was 20 years ago. It’s competing with many other consumer products now. And that is really what’s at the core of the revolution we are now having. I wouldn’t say film is dead – but it’s certainly going through some kind of metamorphosis…

Official website: The 25th Reich

Get On Up Review – I Feel Good!


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer

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Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: US

Running time: 138 minutes


 

 

3/5

Best part: Boseman’s scintillating performance.

Worst part: The jumbled structure.

Musical biopics commercial hits share one particular similarity – they gain significant traction by following a specific formula. Despite the quality of certain examples, these docudramas skate by on the success of the people/groups etc involved. Get On Up examines one musician, and the blues-soul hits he carved from nothing. Despite clinging onto several alluring conceits, this musical biopic is nowhere near as energetic as its title suggests.

Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul.

Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul.

Obviously, James Brown aka the Godfather of Soul is an inspirational person worthy of significant cinematic treatment. Breaking down racial and artistic barriers, Brown was a caricature and musician willing to transform his world. His songs, hitting hearts and minds from the 1960s onward, work their way into the consciousness like no one else’s. In addition, his work paved the way for everyone from Stevie Wonder to Pharrell Williams. So, does Get On Up do him justice? Short answer: Yes and no. Yes, on a performance level. No, because of the rift between its director and writers. For those unaware of Brown’s story, the movie chronicles the best and worst parts of his existence. The movie’s first scene comes off like a belligerent, Eddie Murphy-driven Saturday Night Live Sketch. Kicking off in 1988, we meet a worn-out Brown (Chadwick Boseman) in the midst of a concerning drug problem. After finding out someone had used his bathroom without his consent, Brown threatens the attendees of an insurance seminar with a shotgun. Looking past is peculiar event, the movie then tracks back through his better moments. With Vietnam in full swing, late 60s America turned to musicians like Brown to distract itself from problems abroad. Beyond this, the movie extensively applauds his fascinating success story.

Viola Davis as Susie Brown

Viola Davis as Susie Brown.

Abandoned by his parents, Joe (Lennie James) and Susie (Viola Davis), Brown shifts from working for brothel owner Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer) to jail time to singing gospel alongside Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis). Tracking Brown from his troubled youth to his notorious 90s comeback, Get On Up painstakingly throws everything regarding his existence onto the big screen. In fact, director Tate Taylor (The Help) appears to be making a habit of wholeheartedly tackling African-American history’s most involving stories. From the opening hostage sequence onward, Taylor latest docudrama seeks to deliver a ‘greatest hits’ version of Brown’s invigorating legacy. Refreshingly, his style crafts several Oscar-worthy moments. In certain sections, Taylor examines everything from Brown’s extraordinary personality to his significant achievements to his deplorable brushes with temptation. This biopic’s shiny veneer is a testament to Taylor’s own guile and heartiness. Refusing to make big-budget dross, Taylor is a game-changer himself. Unfortunately, the material he’s working with fails to honour Brown’s unforgettable aura. As Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s second major screenplay for 2014, following up enjoyable action-thriller Edge of Tomorrow, their work copies and pastes entire sequences from similar musical biopics. Following a tried-and-true formula, their writing lacks Walk the Line and Ray‘s bright spark. Tackling Dreamgirls‘ structure, this rise-and-fall formula deserves a significant shake up.

“If it sound good, and it feel good, then it’s musical.” (James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), Get On Up).

Dan Aykroyd on mission from...the studio execs.

Dan Aykroyd on a mission from…the studio execs.

In trying to reinvigorate this genre, Taylor and co. shuffle things around to fit a non-linear format. Delivering a convoluted narrative, this note-worthy biopic lacks its competitors’ coherency and depth. By switching up certain story and character beats, Taylor reduces its overall message to fit the Brown family’s wishes. Depicting a conservative analysis of Brown’s life choices, The movie, for the most part, leaves his problems with domestic violence and drug abuse on the cutting room floor. In addition, the race-relations angle is, bafflingly, picked up and dropped without warning. Addressed in small doses, the movie’s agenda restricts itself to, every so often, having minor white characters say the N-word. However, beyond the prickly race issues and stirring conflicts, the movie hinges on its performers successfully enveloping these parts. Fortunately, Taylor’s specialty resides in pulling brilliant turns out of stellar ensembles. Boseman, kicking off his career with last year’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42, is revelatory as music history’s biggest ego. Capturing Brown’s signature voice and mannerisms, his scintillating turn is worth the admission cost. In fact, his dance moves elevate the movie’s catchy renditions of ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’,  and ‘Please, Please, Please’.

Handling Brown’s reputation with care, Taylor and Boseman succeed in delivering a meaningful and efficient biopic. Fortunately, as the narrative rises and falls, Get On up delivers several applause-worthy moments. However, despite the lead’s inherent charisma, the movie around him hits some unbearable screeches. Boosting this docudrama above the pack, Boseman – like Brown – is a true game-changer.

Verdict: A soulful yet inconsistent ballad. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Review – I Am Groot


Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel

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Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios

Country: UK

Running time: 121 minutes


 

 

 

4½/5

Best part: The dynamic soundtrack.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

All-powerful mega-conglomerate Marvel Studios has, for the past few years, been keeping everything close to the chest. Its mission, to build an intricate cinematic universe whilst entertaining the masses, is worthy of immense critical and commercial acclaim. Unlike most blockbusters, the Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Avengers tentpoles work as stand-alone adventures and vital instalments. Marvel’s latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, fits into this gutsy and entertaining franchise.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Hitting and sticking, this sci-fi epic puts the pedal to the metal from the get-go and refuses to listen to the studio big-wigs. As Marvel’s craziest venture yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is ballsy enough to stick to its overarching plan. Unlike Marvel’s preceding efforts, this movie refuses to stay Earth bound. Here, the narrative and characters reach for the stars and soar into the sky to achieve the nigh-impossible. Thanks to the alluring marketing campaign, its premise is significantly more bizarre and questionable than expected. Shortly after his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill escapes his family’s grasp before being abducted by an unknown entity. The movie then jumps several years, and thirty-something Quill (Chris Pratt), going by “Starlord”, is a lowlife criminal working for himself. Dodging bounty hunters and murderers across the galaxy, his immediate future consists of treasure and loose alien babes. Unsurprisingly, his latest prize, a sphere-like artefact, places him atop the universe’s Most Wanted list. After a tussle between Quill, assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Racoon-like badass Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and tree-like creature Groot (Vin Diesel), our brawlers are thrown into a vicious floating jail.

The Guardians kicking ass!

The Guardians kicking ass!

After a daring escape, aided by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), these abrasive warriors come together to tackle villainous figures including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Predictably so, comic-book aficionados and giddy cinema-goers define Guardians of the Galaxy‘s set fan-base. Pushing its kooky and intriguing narrative into warp speed, this sci-fi actioner delivers on everything it promises. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither, Super) injects his off-kilter style into each scene. From the emotionally resonant prologue (placed in front of Marvel’s logo) onward, the movie delivers a balance of charm and poignancy. Mixing sci-fi, action, and comedy tropes, Marvel latest is even more boisterous and hearty than preceding efforts. Scouring the universe, the movie examines the comic-book series and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe simultaneously. As varying factions and figureheads fight for control, the story etches in several cartoonish heroes and villains. Despite the sequel baiting and distracting contrivances, the goodies (led by the Nova Corps) and the baddies (led by high-ruler Thanos (Josh Brolin)) never distort the narrative. Instead, the pacing and tone establish a Star Wars vibe with hints of Serenity and Indiana Jones. Bolstered by a 70s/80s soundtrack, its nostalgic glow pushes everything along with style and gusto. Venturing into the vast reaches of space, this Star Trek-like space opera connects aliens, humans, and animals together organically.

“I am Groot.” (Groot (Vin Diesel), Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan the Accuser.

Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s universe-building techniques inject gravitas and awe into its simple-yet-effective plot. With our five leads at each other’s throats, their zany actions and reactions are worth the admission cost. Drifting between expansive star systems and planets, the movie’s production design eclipses that of both Thor instalments. The Knowhere, a mining district built inside a gigantic skull, is a sight to behold. Handling magic and mystery deftly, Marvel’s latest achieves everything Green Lantern failed at. Despite the confusing space-opera/source material jargon, its story beats and character motivations mature naturally throughout. Without becoming a slapstick farce, the comedic jabs craft memorable and applause-worthy moments. Pulling people from different realms together, our five leads’ camaraderie bolsters this inspired instalment. Outshining its set pieces and genre cliches, the quieter moments make for significant strides. Whenever  our characters sit and talk to one another, the movie’s negatives hurriedly dissipate. Graciously, its unique performers elevate certain set pieces and dialogue moments. Pratt, coming off Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, excels in his run-and-gun lead role. As the group’s Han Solo, Quill has the attitude, and dance moves, to match Marvel’s other anti-heroes.  Surprisingly, Bautista, Cooper, and Diesel steal the show from one another as the team’s wackiest members. Their foul-mouthed, vengeful characters solidify this sarcastic yet determined ensemble.

From Quill opening credits dance number to the third act’s spaceship showdown, Guardians of the Galaxy takes to shooting first and taking names second. Fuelled by its retro visuals and puffed-up swagger, this sci-fi actioner signifies the start of Marvel’s immense evolution. With Phase 2 coming to a close, this mega-studio is heading in the right direction. The pressure now rests on Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s God of Thunder-sized shoulders. I anticipate a Rocket/Groot/Iron Man team-up flick by 2019.

Verdict: Marvel’s most ambitious and peculiar effort yet!

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends


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Article:

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Good and Bad Trends

Article: Indie Redemption


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