Average User Score: 7.4Jul 16, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. How many sequels have been accused of basically repackaging the last film we saw and charging us the price of a cinema ticket once again? That’s Hollywood, but at least Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, the directorial duo behind the first 21 Jump Street and the seminal The Lego Movie (which also came out this year – these guys have been busy), are acutely aware of this and unafraid of letting us know that they know.
The first 21 Jump Street (2012) took its name from the address of the old church in which the operation was headquartered. Right off the mark, the Ocean’s Eleven-style sequel numbering lands us across the street at number 22 which, mocking the often inflated budget of Hollywood sequels, is an even bigger church, kitted out with a king’s ransom in expensive looking surveillance equipment, and a chief’s office that looks like a ‘giant cube of ice’ – cue the derisive Captain Dickson (Ice Cube).
Our ‘heroes’ Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are cops and buddies, as close as two straight guys can be, and their bromance is truly something to behold. Their relationship was solidified on screen in the first film and provides the central conflict of the sequel – all other characters in the film are sent to test it.
The whole thing’s pretty consistently hilarious. Hill and Tatum are fine comedic actors who carry the film well. It’s not perfect, but there are some great gags peppered throughout (from Jonah Hill’s impersonation of a Latino gangster to Ice Cube losing his cool at a buffet), and a slew of more subtle shout-outs for the perceptive filmgoer.
A lot of the humour is drawn from the general self-aware ribbing, and even when it’s not directly commenting on the budget or the sequelitis, it’s ripping apart the clichés of college movies, action movies, and buddy cop movies.
Much is made of the fact that the characters are going to have to do the same thing once again: infiltrate an educational establishment to root out drug dealers. They’re looking a little old for high school now, so they’re off to college in all its clichéd frat partying, football playing, hard drinking, spring breaking glory.
Their emotional strife pans out similarly to last time, but with some role reversal. Jenko’s natural jock status was subverted in 21 Jump Street, when he found that the modern high school student is more receptive to the book smart sensitivity embodied by Schmidt. Here it’s played straight, as he effortlessly slides into the frat boy dynamic and finds a new best bro, leaving Schmidt by the wayside.
The plot might be formulaic, but this film revels in it. It’s a very easy film to watch and plays like a farcical lesson in making a comedy sequel. As the main goal of a comedy is to make you laugh; to this end, it delivers.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.4Jul 15, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. When the trailers for Edge of Tomorrow first appeared, they deceptively showcased a generic sci-fi blockbuster awash in a flood of similar fare with zippy names like Divergent or Transcendence. It didn’t stand out. A friend quipped that someone should just invent a mech-suit so people don’t have to keep making movies about them.
I could see where he was coming from – we’ve seen it all before in Elysium (2013), Avatar (2009), District 9 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and even Aliens (1986). Meanwhile, what appeared to be a sci-fi D-Day scene caused my brother to dismiss the film as Saving Private Ryan (1998) with aliens. This is absolutely true; there’s no coincidence that Edge of Tomorrow was released the week of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
So it seems derivative, but it is surprisingly creative. It manages to bring the best of these elements together and successfully decant them into what is, after all, an original film. It’s not a sequel to anything else, it’s not part of a franchise, and that’s always something to be happy about. It comes from director Doug Liman, who has directed many original action and sci-fi films, including The Bourne Identity (2002), Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) and Jumper (2008).
As suggested, the conflict is evocative of the world wars (including both the D-Day landings and references to a decisive battle at Verdun) with a futuristic twist. An alien menace has decimated Europe and is poised to invade the United Kingdom, and we’re thrown into the action on the eve of the last desperate attempt by NATO to push back into France.
Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage, showing us once again that he still knows how to star in a blockbuster. Cage is not a real soldier; he’s a PR man who thinks he’s there to sell the war to the public. He begins with typical Cruise charm and confidence, which then shatters when he’s sent to the front line by NATO commander General Brigham (Brendon Gleeson, the first we see of the film’s solid supporting cast).
He ends up in a squad of oddballs (squadballs?) under Master Sergeant Farrell (Bill Paxton, who was in Aliens). Everyone has mech-suits, because it’s the future and it’s cool. Cage can barely operate his, and swiftly ends up on the receiving end of an alien mandible. The alien special effects are high quality; they are scary, inhuman and move smoothly but unpredictably.
But it’s not all over, he’s entered a time loop, which resets to the night before the battle each time Cage is killed in action, which he is, again and again. Ultimately, he is able to use this ability to turn the tide of the battle and the war by incrementally improving each day, both by developing his skills and finding out how to beat the aliens.
However, he couldn’t do a thing without Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who was doing the same thing until she lost the ability. She’s a believably hardened veteran, and a hyper-competent warrior compared to the initially bumbling Cage. Though Cruise is the star, she takes the lead in the developing relationship between the two characters, even if he has to meet her for the first time every day.
The time loop inevitably draws comparisons further potential source material, in this case the classic Groundhog Day (1994). It’s also evocative of playing a video game; loading from a previous save point and attempting to beat the same impossible level over and over.
The film plays off the natural humour created by such a scenario, but it is often very dark, as Cage must die each time to reset the loop. Yet the humour works well and is perfectly balanced with the action and desperation of the larger campaign.
Edge of Tomorrow is based on a popular Japanese novella called All You Need is Kill, and some of the aesthetics, including the mech-suits and Vrataski’s impossibly huge sword evoke this origin. There’s another nod when the incompetent Cage gets his suit’s language stuck in Japanese.
Indeed, it is a global film, not just the American affair featuring Tom Cruise that it might have been. There are plenty of European actors, including Blunt, Gleeson and many of Cage’s squad. The opening sets the scene quickly with a composite of BBC News footage, and the film is exclusively set in England and France, with deserted, destroyed and military occupied scenes of London and Paris among the most powerful.
Cage’s character development is an excellent deconstruction of what we expect from Cruise as an actor. He starts out with a confidence built on cowardice, but is thrown completely out of his comfort zone. Over the rest of the film, the character works hard to attain a typical Tom Cruise level of action hero, which he doesn’t attain until the climax.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.3Jul 14, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Once again, it’s time for another superhero movie – another superhero sequel to be precise. There have been a lot of these lately, but that seems to be the way of the world. Now, counting all spin-offs and prequels, we’re on the seventh X-Men movie, with an eighth confirmed to be on the way, continuing the franchise that started it all back in 2000. We’ve even got the original director Bryan Singer back in the chair, who previously abandoned the franchise to make the quickly forgotten Superman Returns (2006).
However, rather than take the easy route and reboot it, this film is an ambitious attempt to reconcile the existing storyline, tie up some of the loose ends of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and bring it all together with the cast of prequel X-Men: First Class (2011). The result ends up a little jumbled, and there are loads and loads of characters, and multiple actors playing certain characters, but perhaps that’s to be expected in any film involving time travel as a major plot point.
That’s right, as the title heavily implies, in a Back to the Future-style confusion of tenses, this film is largely set in the ‘70s, sometime after the events of First Class. It’s very easy for me to get behind such a film, chock full of retro vibes, cool cars, leather jackets, burgundy suits, sideburns and Richard Nixon.
Meanwhile in the future, the post-Last Stand world has decayed into a bleak apocalyptic landscape as a result of amazingly advanced mutant-killing robots, which have decimated the population by being too effective – not only do they kill mutants, but they kill those who recessively carry mutant genes and could give birth to mutants in the future.
Naturally, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must go back in time to the ‘70s and stop these robots from being developed and mass-produced, ironically by preventing the assassination of their inventor, Bolivar Trask, as it was his death that made the US government see mutants as a credible threat and commission the robots. The delightfully sinister and manipulative Trask is played by Game of Thrones’ excellent Peter Dinklage.
Indeed, the cast as a whole is excellent, even if it is large. I never saw First Class, so ‘my’ X-Men remain that classic cast of thespians including Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, et al. Happily, they’re all back after so many years, which is great to see, even if they are only given limited screen time. The exception is Hugh Jackman, who inexplicably remains the closest thing to a leading man despite having two spin-offs of his own. Of course, Wolverine’s effortlessly cool, and he’s our temporal fish out of water, so who really cares anyway?
In the past, Wolverine runs into younger versions of all his comrades and nemeses, rounding out the ensemble to include Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). The lines between friend and foe become blurred as Wolverine works hard to redeem the latter two whilst forcing the young Professor X to confront his demons.
Of note is the first appearance in the X-Men saga of the supersonic Quicksilver (Even Peters) who provides one of the most high-octane, humorous and entertaining sequences of the entire film, a super-fast prison break witnessed in slow motion. It’s a shame his character disappears shortly afterwards; probably because his presence would make everything else far too easy for the protagonists.
The mutant saga is skilfully interwoven with mid-20th Century US history, including the Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. This sets the scene for a retro globetrotting adventure from Vietnam, to the Peace Conference in Paris, to a final showdown in Washington, D.C. All in all it’s an entertaining thrill ride, which (as its main raison d’être is storyline reconciliation) may alienate newcomers to the saga. However, as I said, I haven’t seen an X-Men film since The Last Stand and I still enjoyed it. It certainly makes me want to watch both First Class and the original trilogy once again. Maybe even the Wolverine spin-offs. Maybe.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Jul 13, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. What we’ve got here is a fantastic film, which could genuinely be enjoyed by anyone. That might be an obvious thing to say, but The Lego Movie might be the closest we’ve come to the elusive story which explores realistic, down to earth problems while being completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots. And there are plenty of robots.
Ironically, for a film based on a lucrative product owned by a giant corporation, The Lego Movie appears to bite the hand that feeds it and actually deconstructs (here come the puns) the corporate world. Who cares if the film will probably make a killing in tie-in Lego sets and video games? At least they decided to tell a compelling and engaging story instead of just palming us off with a heartless cash-in or an overblown explosion-fest.
Similarly, it feels like it’s far too easy these days for film makers to knock out a bunch of cheap CGI movies every year, at the expense of the increasingly neglected but labour intensive art of stop-motion. It’s understandable why this route has been taken, and there are a few gems in the cascade, but outside of Pixar, CGI films are not something I routinely seek out.
Apparently 90% of The Lego Movie was CGI, and a little bit of stop motion, but apart from the facial expressions and fluid movements which would seriously push the limitations of a plastic Lego man, you could easily have convinced me that it was the other way around. Everything looks like it’s made from Lego, even the oceans and the explosions.
It’s both sobering to have reached a point where the two become almost indistinguishable and satisfying to see CGI being used to make a great film which works as both a satire of modern consumerism and an exploration of that age-old Lego dilemma: should one build according to the instructions, or just smash everything into a big pile and build whatever.
Our main man is Emmett (Chris Pratt), your generic Lego man, right down to his classic Lego smiley face. He’s a construction worker living in a huge Lego city, who has very few ideas of his own. He follows his instructions, smiles and waves to everyone he meets, pays through the nose for coffee on the way to work and does whatever the vaguely Orwellian government says is the right thing to do.
In a typical narrative fashion, events kick off after a chance encounter with funky punk girl Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is a member of the resistance. Emmett is dragged along for the ride and passes through the masquerade, leaving the regulated order of the big city and discovering the crazy and colourful potential of Lego in the world of the master builders, exiled lords of creative construction who believe Emmett to be the chosen one to bring balance to the force and end the days of instruction-based oppression. The trouble is he’s never had an original thought in his life.
The film is rounded out with a great cast of characters and some cracking cameos, both showcasing some solid vocal talent. The enemy and instigator of the repressive order is a suitably zany Will Ferrell hamming it up as the Lego universe’s ‘President Business’ who is assisted by the conflicted split-personality of his chief enforcer Good Cop/Bad Cop. voiced by Liam Neeson at his Irish tough guy best.
With a wry nod to his frequent typecasting, Morgan Freeman plays a wise old sage and among the cameos are Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum (from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s other movie of the moment, 22 Jump Street).
The film really embodies the spirit of Lego, and as such is a huge nostalgia trip for anyone who’s ever encountered the stuff. Once they leave the city, the characters traverse the length and breadth of the Lego-verse, making their way through the many themes Lego has released over the years, providing settings as diverse as western, medieval and pirate.
There are some tender and serious moments, but most of it is a merciless but affectionate parody of whatever transpires, be it city life, epic destiny, overblown villainy or blockbuster action. Everything’s funny and a little wacky, riding easily and successfully on the inherent humour that comes with having everything made out of Lego.
There are even nods to unpopular, ill-conceived, or just plain random Lego themes, and references small and large to various other franchise tie-ins (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superheroes, etc.) showcasing the kind of mad-cap crossovers you can cook up when you have the licence. By this token, Batman himself (Will Arnett) along with a character from the classic 1980s Space theme (Charlie Day) are major players in the plot.
The ending, which I won’t spoil, does get a little schmaltzy, but it’s forgivable. Otherwise, nothing disappoints, and everything one might want or expect from a Lego movie is delivered in spades. Oh yes, and I managed to get through an entire review of this film without using the word ‘awesome’. Dang. Good soundtrack, though.… Expand
Average User Score: 3.3May 29, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. I’m not going spend a huge amount of time on this one, because it came out four years ago, and honestly, it’s really not worth it. But it’s not often that I’d rate a film so low. I’ve seen a lot of films that would be easy to criticise, but I always salvage some kind of entertainment value. At the very least, you’re along for the ride. With Skyline, I can’t even say that.
This film just happened to be on TV this month; I’d heard of it, and I saw that it had Donald Faison in it, who was always funny as Turk in Scrubs. Skyline isn’t a comedy, and he’s wasted, although he’s clearly the most engaging member of the cast. As if to rub salt in the wound, he disappears fairly early on, but not before setting up a trite soap-opera love triangle, the tension of which is completely destroyed when all the parties are unceremoniously offed. The rest of the cast is even more forgettable.
The film opens with a mysterious blue light filtering through the window as our characters wake up in a penthouse apartment. Just as something interesting might be about to happen, we flash back to the previous day for some character exposition. We have to sit through everyone partying in the penthouse the night before, meeting each other and even more unnecessary extras that will vanish completely come morning.
I understand why they wanted to have an intriguing credits sequence. Nobody would sit through twenty minutes of inconsequential partying if they film started that with without any other explanation. We’d have no idea where it was going or what the film was even about. The problem is that we still have to sit through the inconsequential partying in order to find out what it’s all about.
The answer is that it’s an alien invasion film. The blue light has a kind of enticing beauty that causes anyone who stares into it to walk willingly into the aliens’ death machines. I do think this is an interesting idea. The concept that the aliens possess intelligence so superior to our own that they can manipulate us as easily as we draw moths to a deadly electric lamp (or how deep-sea fish lure their play with a glowing lure) is truly chilling.
The effects are good, as they should be considering that the directors are really visual effects artists by trade. The visuals cost $10 million of the film’s budget, while the live-action stuff was done on the cheap, shot in the directors’ apartment building for half a million, almost as an afterthought. There are big monsters, alien spaceships swooping around, tentacles grabbing people and all the rest.
The film just falls down completely on any kind of convincing plot or characters. You simply do not care about anyone. They behave unpleasantly towards each other and formulate ludicrous plans, such as making for a boat to escape the flying aliens, or driving across town in loud, high-powered sports cars. You spend more time questioning the stupidity of these half-baked choices than invested in the story. But this is just talk: the characters barely leave their apartment, and don’t even die as the result of their bad decisions. They seem to be dispatched at random, as if nothing matters.
Conceptually, everything’s incredibly derivative. Some aliens fly around trailing tentacles like the machines from The Matrix (1999), the large monsters stumble around and crush cars like in Jurassic Park (1993) and climb buildings like King Kong (1933), and the government unsuccessfully tries to nuke the mother ship like in Independence Day (1996).
Similarly, it can be no coincidence that the film came out around the same time as Battle: Los Angeles (2011), a higher profile LA-set invasion film. I haven’t seen that one, but the effects for both were done by Hydraulx Entertainment – the visual effects company owned by Greg and Colin Strause: the directors of Skyline.
If the characters blandness wasn’t egregious enough, you even question the logic or motivation of the aliens. They possess invincible ships with regenerative abilities and lights with the ability to utterly entice humanity. They can suck billions from the streets of a city in minutes, but need to devote resources to sending scouts door to door to pick off every last individual human, and they feel the need to supplement this with a pack of gigantic monsters whose motivation is to wreck up the place. Finally, they want to harvest our brains, which for some reason can perfectly interface with their technology.
The simplicity of the name ‘Skyline’ carries a certain amount of elegant gravitas which it utterly fails to capitalise on. It may have some merits as a special effects exercise, but nothing more. There’s nothing here that isn’t done much more successfully in other movies. If you want tune out your brain (before the aliens abduct it) and watch an overblown invasion, do yourself a favour: go back and watch Independence Day (1996).… Expand
Average User Score: 6.3May 27, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. This film was simply called Neighbors in the US, but was renamed Bad Neighbours in the English speaking commonwealth to avoid confusion with the popular Australian soap of the same name. The international title’s more on the money. The neighbours are bad, and the movie is bad.
It’s not atrocious, there are a couple of laughs, but there are only a couple, and that’s hardly enough to justify forcing yourself through all the **** condom and erection-based humour the movie throws at you. We know sexual comedy can be done well – just look at the American Pie series, which remained consistently well written and hilarious over four films and for over ten years – so what’s going wrong here?
The basic premise is that of a young family (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) who are unlucky enough to have a college fraternity (led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco) move in next door. The frat boys want to party all night, and the couple want them to keep the noise down so they, and their daughter, can sleep.
It’s a decent enough if simple premise, further developed by the family’s desperate attempts to remain ‘cool’ and down with the kids, even attending a few of the frat parties, and the frat boys legitimate attempts to build bridges, even if they refuse to stop partying.
Once the family call in the cops with a noise complaint, all bets are off, and what ensues is a chronicles of steadily escalating one-upmanship which makes bitter enemies out of both parties. What’s slightly jarring is that there are plenty of occasions when there is a genuine chance to bury the hatchet, but both sides often chose the pettier, and more destructive option. We’re supposed to go along with it all; although it’s not clear which side we’re supposed to take (it could depend on your own generation), rendering the conflict inconsequential.
This is part of the deconstruction the film is attempting of fraternities in general: that they are essentially a bunch of overgrown children with little to no maturity – and this extends to the characters played by Rogen and Byrne. Ultimately, it all feels a little too despicable, and alienates all the characters from the audience.
The film also brings the relatively dated atmosphere of Animal House (1978) into the 21st Century, making the fraternity setting contemporarily relevant and showing its effect on the wider community. If you think that means more drugs, more drink and more sex, then you’d be half-right, but there was plenty of that in Animal House to begin with. Here, it essentially translates to more neon, and to an extent, more fireworks.
While it’s very much a film of the moment, there are a number of currently chuckle worthy references which will severely date the film in years to come. Of some note is Lisa Kudrow’s brief appearance as a truly useless college dean.
I went to see this movie for some comedy and to keep my head in the modern world. It’s just shy of okay, but if I wanted something that fit that glove, I should have stayed at home and continued watching the cheesy vampire and zombie movies I’ve been watching for the past couple of weeks. What is a relief is that it’s not too long. That’s not because I was desperate for it to end, but because so many films these days simply don’t know when to rein it in. This restraint is commendable.… Expand
Average User Score: 6.8May 25, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. A problem with these new Spider-Man films is the sense that we’ve gone through all of this before. Sure, the sets and the actors are different, but everything is played out on screen exactly the way it was ten years ago. With the open-ended conclusion of Spider-Man 3 still fresh in our minds, this retelling of a story we’ve already heard reminds us what the future probably holds for superhero movies; a series of reboots with unsatisfying conclusions when the franchise loses steam.
Criticism aside, Harry’s arc here is different. He suffers from a debilitating genetic disease, and the anger at Spider-Man is not due to the death of Norman Osborn at the webslinger’s hands (this Harry hated the guy), but because Spider-Man refuses to contribute his unique DNA to the project.
I am a James Franco fan, but the new guy (Dane DeHaan) gives a compelling performance. He’s great as a troubled rich kid, who’s just inherited the company and has to deal with the sneering disapproval of his board of directors. His complete absence from the first film is a little jarring when he’s supposed to be one of Peter Parker’s oldest and dearest friends: ‘Hey dude, it’s me, Harry, remember? That guy who you haven’t seen in ten years? Remember the good times? Yeah, the good times were good, weren’t they buddy?’ Remember that good old Franco was there from the beginning.
Harry does get one of the most satisfying moments in the film though – a brilliant comeuppance (albeit temporary) for the corrupt corporate executive who ousted him from control of Oscorp. Harry’s set up as a villain, but he’s one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, certainly more so than the main villain, Electro (Jamie Foxx).
Electro started life as a downtrodden and introverted technician at Oscorp, who was given electrical superpowers in a freak accident. Oscorp’s definitely the place to start hanging around if you want something to give you superpowers. He teams up with Harry, whom he sees as a kindred spirit, I guess, and while it’s hugely satisfying to see him calling the shots for once, after all the trouble everyone’s been giving him, he does act a little creepily in his spare time, and has a misguided sense of what the world owes him.
Foxx does well, although it’s not as compelling a performance as some of the highlights of his career (Collateral, Miami Vice, Law Abiding Citizen, Django Unchained, he’s had quite a ride, and I haven’t seen all of his movies. It’s a shame I missed White House Down, but I digress). To be honest, you can barely tell who’s playing the character once the accident turns him into a computer-generated cloud of sparks.
The final fight with Electro, amongst the transformers of a high-tech power station massively over-exploits the contrast between orange and blue which is used so often in film, especially in posters, to the extent that it’s become a cliché. Here, they’re almost the only two colours on screen. The soundtrack during this fight however, is really inspired; a rock and dubstep influenced score with a huge, satisfying power chord echoing through the cinema every time Electro destroys a transformer. He even teases Spider-Man by using this musical ability to play The Itsy Bitsy Spider.
While I’ve waxed about how the ‘new’ Spider-Man is just like its predecessors, I haven’t touched much on the differences. They’ve drawn fresh villains from the existing rogues’ gallery, so that all five Spider-Man films pitch the titular hero against a unique villain, the one exception being Harry Osborn’s goblin. His appearance immediately after the fight with Electro does feel a little tacked on; Sam Raimi’s trilogy spread the Osborn arc over three movies, with Harry’s vengeance bubbling in the background for quite some time.
Andrew Garfield is a more self assured Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire was, at least at first. He approaches crime fighting with a teenager’s light-hearted humour, frequently improvising and dropping mid-fight wisecracks. There’s a great moment when he disappears for a few moments and then blasts Electro out of the sky with a fireman’s hose – when the camera cuts to Spidey, he’s wearing a fireman’s helmet.
There’s a lot going on in this film – in addition to everything I’ve mentioned, there’s a clock tower, an abandoned subway station, eels, a mental asylum complete with evil scientist, and one of those investigative walls of crazy where keywords are drawn on post-it notes and everything is connected by lengths of red string.
There’s also a romance in there somewhere – Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) and the dilemma of the promise that Spider-Man made to her late father are at the forefront of Peter Parker’s human dilemma. It’s got problems, but this is mainly baggage associated with the superhero/reboot/sequel world the film inhabits. Treat it as a standalone piece of work, and it’s still a decent film, and I forgive it everything for the director being named Marc Webb. That’s got to be providence.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Apr 20, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. There’s no point in denying that the new Captain America movie is anything less than another instalment in the superhero saturation of the last ten years, but although the Captain himself has been considered the blandest of the bunch, at least as far as The Avengers (2012) is concerned. It’s still a fantastic world of unbelievable stunts and perfectly timed one-liners, but the new film offers a lot more depth than some of the weaker superhero fare on offer.
In addition to the ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe, the rich tapestry of interwoven stories that Disney’s Marvel Studios has been crafting at the rate of about two blockbusters a year since 2008’s Iron Man, we have seen everything from the unrelated narratives of Marvel’s Spiderman and X-men series, to the gritty reboots of rival DC classics like Superman and Batman. The Marvel Universe alone is an unprecedented shared universe multimedia franchise, extending from the silver screen to various short films, television series and tie-in comic books.
Wanton American patriotism is far from internationally popular, and the challenge with Captain America as a character is to give this bastion of United States glory modern appeal. The first film took the character back to his roots, giving us a brilliant pulp action adventure, set during the character’s 1940s heyday.
This was an easy place to be Captain America, but after being dragged into the twenty first century in time for The Avengers, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) must work out what America stands for today, and decide what he represents. The temporal displacement is a rich vein to be mined for soul searching and character interpretation.
As a pawn of SHIELD, the superhero intelligence organisation: our Nazi-punching hero has been reduced to a shady covert operative who is unsure if the missions he is sent on are aiding or abetting the forces of evil. This insecurity comes to a head when he learns of SHIELD’s Project Insight, a sinister initiative which operates under the twin axes of surveillance and pre-emptive strikes, undeniably referencing drone controversy and the concerns over US internal surveillance. Thus The Winter Soldier is an espionage thriller, firmly rooted in modern day concerns, but with a style heavily influenced, according to the directors, by cold war conspiracy thrillers from the 1970s.
Events are still very much rooted in the events of the first film, mysterious forces have been working in the background since the end of the war, and the Captain finds himself battling enemies both old and new. Symbolically, he trades his brand new twenty first century black and navy blue uniform for his bright red, white and blue wartime clobber before the film is out.
As is the case with many comic book movies, I am impressed to learn that much which transpires on screen, no matter how incredible or brief, is in fact distilled from the original comics over their seventy year history. I’m certainly not the one to personally notice all this detail, but it’s apparently crammed full of nods to various eras, arcs and character backgrounds.
The characterisation of Falcon, real name Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), was strong. An Air Force veteran, he shares Rogers’ military background and helps him adjust to the modern world. Later, he demonstrates his loyalty when he is called upon once the Captain becomes a fugitive.
Of course, the question having over every post-Avengers solo movie is why characters neglect to call in their superpowered chums to save the day in a fraction of the time. There is a slight aversion in that Captain America does spend the whole film working closely with fellow Avenger Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who has been largely sidelined in her previous appearances. The truth is that having fewer lead characters mean more attention can be given to others, and Johansson is finally given some significant screen time. Black Widow’s alluring presence is welcome throughout, her moral ambiguity and chequered past providing a stark contrast to the Captain’s clear cut integrity.
Similarly, SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is much more important to the story than the cameo status he has held until now. By contrast, the eponymous Winter Soldier, a bionic badass bearing Soviet livery has little screen time, initially filling the role of unbeatable enforcer to the villains, and the only individual strong enough to challenge the Captain, but his tragic presence is vital to the overarching saga. Also noteworthy is Robert Redford’s appearance as a sinister SHIELD executive.
Freedom, the most American of values, nevertheless carries a global relevance, and remains a major theme, but any overt patriotism is relatively, and wisely downplayed, despite the character’s name and apparent raison d’être. What’s left is a solid conspiracy blockbuster, with the superhero status incidental aside from enabling higher octane action sequences than a subtler spy movie.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.1Apr 19, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Modern day action man Liam Neeson is back in Non-Stop, a fairly generic mystery thriller set almost entirely aboard a transatlantic flight from New York to London where Neeson must root out a terrorist who has vowed to kill a passenger every twenty minutes until his demands are met.
Even if the plot is a little contrived, it does have unexpected twists and turns; including the methods through which the killer carries out his murders. There is plenty of suspense, and Neeson bring his natural gravitas to the role.
It may seem grandiose to apply such analysis to an obvious B-movie such as this, but there’s something elegant in its adherence to the classical unities of drama, which are rarely explored in mainstream works. Indeed, the film is almost set in real time, each twenty minute increment of the film roughly corresponding to each twenty minute ultimatum given by the antagonist.
The initial sequence in the airport is an engaging opening; a collage of disorientating images which emphasise the disconnection Neeson’s character feels from the world around him. Once aboard the aircraft, we are treated to a less subtle series of shots introducing us to the motley crew of passengers, who invite suspicion with their mysterious aside glances. You can tell already that these characters will later become the major suspects in the investigation.
Neeson’s as forlorn and enigmatic as ever, though his character is unlikely: a jaded alcoholic US Air Marshal who’s terrified of flying, when he really needs all his wits about him. In contrast to other films which cast him as an American with no explanation, Non-Stop takes a rare opportunity to justify his Northern Irish accent by listing his birthplace as Belfast, and even making a small plot point out of the revelation.
Indeed, despite the very American themes which ultimately come to define the picture, this is an inspiringly international affair. It was produced primarily as a French-American collaboration, but helmed by Juame Collet-Serra the Spanish director of Neeson’s previous action outing, the Berlin-set Unknown (2011). In addition to the Northern Irish leading man, there’s a British vein running throughout by virtue of the plane itself being a British staffed flight to London, providing the chance to cast some UK talent as well as some Americans feigning over the top faux accents.
When he’s not working furiously against the clock, Neeson’s character humanised with a few compulsive characteristics: a shameless tug at the heartstrings each time Neeson interacts with the terrified child aboard the flight, a weakness for smoking in aeroplane toilets, presumably as a stress relief, and a ribbon he ties around his fingers during takeoff.
Naturally, the latter provides an icebreaker, sparking a conversation with fellow traveller Jen (Julianne Moore). The ribbon is also an all important connection to the character’s daughter, whose story will later become an important plot point, paralleling the sadness in Neeson’s own life.
The cabin lights are dimmed, bathing everything in an ominous blue colour palette. The atmosphere is emphasised by the slow and intoxicating soundtrack, under which lies the heavy throb of the aeroplane engines. Though the wall of sound can become grating at times, this weaves an appropriate tapestry, undoubtedly highlighted by the complete absence of dialogue during this first stage of the flight as Neeson converses with his unseen adversary for the first time through an instant messaging conversation; a thoroughly twenty first century touch.
Non-Stop is nothing special, but it delivers a competent if uncomplicated thriller, even if it does take some liberties with our disbelief, and indulges in some eye-rollingly gratuitous slow motion action shots near the end. Still, it comes in to land a few increments above trite.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.9Apr 18, 2014The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese; Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner
Rating: 4/5 The fifthThe Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Directed by Martin Scorsese; Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner
The fifth collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street tells the true story of the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio), a New York stockbroker who made it big in the wake of the financial crisis of the late ‘80s by shady and frequently illegal means. More interesting is what he does with his new found fortune: what follows is a heady tale of excess and debauchery based on Belfort’s own memoirs.
Despite the more recent financial turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the image of the ‘80s stockbroker has resurfaced for a new generation. Belfort’s story strays into the early ‘90s, but the general aesthetic of the era has the same nostalgic feel, and the messages seem to be the same. Even if we openly loathe bankers, there’s a voyeuristic fascination in watching their decadent lifestyle – or what we imagine such a lifestyle to be like: high stress, fast living, dubious morality and plenty of drugs and sex to boot. The Wolf of Wall Street gives its audience a welcome window into this world.
The story begins when Jordan arrives in the city as a bright eyed, newly qualified broker; having already achieved his youthful dream of working on Wall Street. After an initially unwelcome brief induction into a life of cocaine and lunchtime cocktails by his new boss Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) the rug is pulled out from under his feet, and he soon swaps blue chips for penny stocks, trading shares worth a fraction of a dollar from a Long Island brokerage on a strip mall.
Upon realising that these unlisted stocks can fetch a much higher commission than blue chips, he decides to go into business with a bunch of unscrupulous buddies who know a thing or two about sales, using their silver tongues to make millions by trading them on a massive scale, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of the law. For in truth he is committing outright stock fraud – the details of which are fairly complicated; even Belfort himself chooses not to bore us with the details with his tongue in cheek narration.
The stellar cast is rounded out by players including Jonah Hill, as Belfort’s toothy associate Donnie, Rob Reiner as his complicit accountant father Max Belfort, and Jon Favreau as lawyer Manny Riskin.
The movie treads a thin line between satire and glorification, but Jordan is undoubtedly the hero of the piece, and the FBI agents on his trail the antagonists he must outwit. As an audience, we are invited to his party, and we witness nothing of the effects that Belfort’s deceptions have had on those who were duped into buying his shares – bearing in mind these ‘customers’ are average people parting with their savings, not huge companies dealing in huge sums of money. This disconnection effectively puts us in Belfort’s shoes: much as they must have appeared to him, they are mere voices on the end of a phone.
But Jordan is not portrayed as completely heartless. No matter how large his company grows, swelled with a never-ending number of skilled and promising applicants, his loyal gang of hometown reprobates are never left behind, and maintain high-ranking positions until the end. Even when arrested, and forced to wear a wire by the FBI, he attempts to warn Donnie, rather than let him incriminate himself.
Gratuitous drug use and sexual content aside, the film’s vulgarity can perhaps be summed up by its smashing of the record for the most uses of the f-word in a mainstream non-documentary film, at the rate of around three a minute. The only film scoring higher is a documentary devoted to the word.
Much of the decadence is played for laughs, or at least as a showcase of extravagance, but coupled with the basic shock value of the actions themselves. One memorable sequence sees Belfort snorting cocaine to counteract the effects of a powerful sedative, paralleled with the Popeye cartoon playing on the television in the background.
The film does little to condemn Belfort – although his lifestyle unravels, and he is ultimately incarcerated, any true comeuppance is minimal. This is a reflection of the truth: Belfort’s sentence was just four years, of which he served less than two, which, if the film is to be believed, were in a comfortable minimum security environment for white collar offenders.
These days, he still makes a handsome living as a motivational speaker lecturing on sales technique, and of course, anyone who gets their autobiography made into a Scorsese picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio must have lucked out in the long run.… Expand