Average User Score: 8.4Sep 2, 2015This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Interstellar came at the end of 2014 to give us a Christmas blockbuster worthy of leaving our warm hearths for. Some films excel at spectacle, and this really deserved to be seen on the biggest, loudest screen possible, so count yourself lucky if you managed it.
The film is a science fiction epic, but it’s not an outlandish fantasy. Forget Avatar. Has anyone watched Avatar recently? Interstellar feels grounded in possibility with ideas full of personal conflict and universal philosophy. The story begins some fifty odd years in the future on an Earth devastated by crop blights. The world is becoming a barren dustbowl as humanity struggles to feed itself.
Our hero is Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) a widowed former pilot turned farmer who ekes out a living with his father-in-law and two children Tom and Murphy. The film does well to establish this world; a parent-teacher meeting where children are denied a college application so they can become farmers and an early action sequence where Cooper salvages a downed Indian drone for parts hint at the environmental, technological and geopolitical situation of this future world.
The main narrative starts when a mysterious signal leads the ever inquisitive Cooper to the remnant of NASA, helmed by Cooper’s old professor Dr. Brand (frequent Nolan-collaborator Michael Caine) who offers him the chance to join a secret mission to find a new homeworld for humanity. A wormhole has been discovered near Saturn which leads to a system of potentially habitable planets orbiting a supermassive black hole.
Here begins the struggle and the decisions Cooper and his family must make. Should humanity continue to fight the losing battle on Earth, or abandon it? Should a man leave his family for the future of humanity, or live out what life he can with them, as best he can on a dying world? At the heart is Cooper’s relationship with the daughter he leaves behind (Jessica Chastain) and her struggle to forgive him as she grows up to become a scientist herself. The relationship is paralleled with Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway) who joins the mission to look for something else among the stars.
Christopher Nolan is a twenty-first century auteur and his films are always ambitious, complex and engaging. Even if that ambition is sometimes stretched, he never shrinks from a bold idea. But it’s not just a philosophical narrative. While emotional through and through, the film also explores its conflict through gripping action and spectacular visuals, and its pioneering attitudes through the inclusion of cutting edge scientific thought.
Okay, so you don’t have to understand every part of the physics; some artistic licence has undoubtedly been taken for the sake of story or spectacle, but we’re here to watch a movie, not a lecture in theoretical astrophysics. The result is that the characters not only explore foreboding new worlds of ice and oceans but deal with the vaguely realistic implications of exploring wormholes and black holes, such as time dilation and intense space-time-warping gravity. This is used to great emotional effect; imagine communicating with your family at home when hours of your time is years of theirs and your messages can ‘only’ travel at the speed of light.
It’s enough that theoretical physicist Kip Thorne was present as a consultant to know we’re in safe hands. Thorne collaborated with Carl Sagan on the latter’s novel Contact, which became a film in 1997 and dealt with the communication between a father and daughter across the void of space and also happened to feature Matthew McConaughey in a supporting role.
Interstellar seems like a spiritual successor but stands on the shoulders of another giant, that unforgettable epic journey to the edges of the solar system and beyond: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); although that film’s astronaut Dave had no family keeping him on Earth. It’s worth mentioning here that the cubic robots that assist on the mission are markedly less homicidal. The robots have been brilliantly realised with inventive simplicity as real puppets played by actors and not CGI.
The effects as a whole are a cinematic experience; the spaceship blasts through the void to ludicrous organ overlays and emerges overlooking the black hole, a magnificently realised singularity of ultimate light and darkness simulated using Thorne’s mathematics. Then a moment of peace, all the more accentuated after the volume, allowing us to ponder the ‘gravity’ of the situation in more ways than one.
My only word on the film’s ending is that it comes very close to undercutting Cooper’s sacrifices by letting him have his cake and eat it, but after the mind-bending finale, we’re on board enough just to go along with the ride. The word ‘stellar’ is sometimes used to describe something of an extremely high standard, but it’s hard to say now without sounding like you’re quoting Stanley Kowalski. It’s time for a change, so this film gets full marks because it was Interstellar.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1Apr 28, 2015This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. I saw Gone Girl when I was home for a week last Halloween, a time during which I was watching a combination of old James Bond films and schlocky slashers like Scream (1996) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003) all films which are more cheesy than scary. During my one trip to the cinema that week, Gone Girl was the film which kept me on the edge of my seat. It was a real thriller with horrifying scenes making it almost a horror film itself.
I’m not going to spoil details of a plot which works best as a mystery, but the premise is that Midwestern everyman Nick Dunne (Ben Afflek) returns home one day (his fifth wedding anniversary no less) to find his glamorous wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. The ensuing media circus then throws Nick into suspicion.
The film’s strength is its manipulation of the viewer. We follow and side with Nick initially; Ben Afflek plays him as fairly neutral, a blank slate. Maybe he’s too passive in the face of his wife’s disappearance. Is he guilty or does he simply not know how to react? He seems likeable enough, but there’s something just behind it.
During the first act the couple’s relationship is told through flashbacks, incorporating segments of Amy’s diary, and we gradually begin to side with her. These dual narrative strands are apparently from the original wildly popular novel by Gillian Flynn, who wrote the screenplay. We must be in safe hands.
David Fincher, whose last film was the English-language remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, retains something of the Nordic noir to Gone Girl. The film is full of darkness, sex and violence. Camera angles are sweeping and the scenery both bleak and beautiful. At the heart of the film is an exploration of humanity which is divisive and ambiguous.
Though a long film, it is never boring. There was a point around halfway through when some kind of resolution seems to have been reached, but the film keeps going and the pace and intensity increases. Rosamund Pike’s role increases as the story progresses and without giving too much away, her performance is powerful.
Role and image are major themes. On some level, everyone is playing a part, deliberately projecting or hiding behind a facade. Amy has been fictionalised by her writer parents in the overblown, saccharine Amazing Amy books which she has never been able to live up to. She has a place in the public eye and this is why the press descends so rapidly on the case.
As the audience struggles to understand his psyche, Nick is struggling to appease the exploitative media. He hires Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a lawyer specialising in image and defending suspected husbands. Perry’s role is dramatic but played with a much needed balancing touch of humour. Of note too is Neil Patrick Harris’s rare straight role as Amy’s ex-boyfriend Desi.
The music, from serene yet ominous ambient soundscapes to throbbing electronica was composed by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and his producer Atticus Ross who have collaborated on Fincher’s last two films. In keeping with the theses of this film, they have created a score which is simultaneously soothing and unnerving.
I’ll finish by acknowledging that there are some plot holes in the decidedly complicated narrative, particularly paper trails, alibis and the possible existence of exonerating security footage. Again, I won’t go into too much detail, but at one point a detective begins to question such a hole but is quickly shot down.
Presumably these details would come to light sometime later during the inevitable long investigation. The case ends far from closed. But the film is more than just the plot, which is nevertheless engaging. As a piece of film making, the themes, music and visuals remain powerful.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.5Apr 22, 2015This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. The latest in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe… hold on, is it still the latest? I’m reviewing these things too late for even the DVD release. Anyway, yes, it is still the latest. Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t out until May, so I’d better get writing.
So this is the film I eschewed last summer in favour of Inbetweeners 2. I didn’t see Guardians of the Galaxy until it came out on DVD in December and quite honestly it’s the better of the two. I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it was adapted from a lesser known Marvel title that’s appeared in various incarnations since the ‘60s. I knew that I know next to nothing about comic books beyond the fact that Superman, Batman and Spiderman are a thing.
The vast interconnected multimedia project known as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a tangled web indeed, and Guardians of the Galaxy is only one small strand. People talk about these comic book movies as though they just couldn’t wait for this beloved classic to hit the big screen, but this particular team of Guardians are only from 2008, so they’re hardly cherished childhood companions.
Forget about that. See Guardians of the Galaxy as a standalone sci-fi romp. See planet spanning empires, sprawling sci-fi cities, celestial worlds, fantastic alien races, spaceships, space prison-breaks, an atmosphere informed by the big leagues like Star Wars and Star Trek, but with none of those franchises’ inherent baggage.
Well almost; we do have Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan, suitably aliened-up in green and blue body paint as the duelling adopted ‘daughters’ of galactic arch-villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), a who employs a genocidal enforcer called Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) to do his dirty work.
The story follows the Han Solo-esque Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a scavenger, smuggler and all round space scoundrel who finds a MacGuffin while searching an ancient temple. It’s a mysterious orb of unprecedented power, and soon everybody’s after him. Along the way, he acquires a disparate crew of bounty hunters and outlaws, including deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), genetically experimented-on raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), taciturn tree-being Groot (Vin Diesel) and vengeful warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).
The cast is further padded by bit players including Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, although here we hit a slight snag in that the large cast of heroes and villains is almost too much for one film and many of them don’t receive adequate focus.
Under the titular moniker of the Guardians of the Galaxy, they are forced to put differences aside and team up against the much more despicable warmongers Thanos and Ronan. It might nominally be a superhero movie, but with such fantastic surroundings, it hardly feels like one. The characters too are not naturally noble, but outsiders and oddballs who have to really rally themselves to fight the good fight. Well, maybe that part’s not too different from the internal struggles or your average gritty 21st Century superhero.
A little like Futurama’s man-out-of-time Philip J. Fry, Pratt’s character Quill keeps it grounded with plenty of well timed 20th Century references (In fact the whole gang keep it light with plenty of well timed comedic interplay), as does the soundtrack which is all ‘70s and ‘80s rock pop and soul. In universe, it’s the playlist from Quill’s walkman, a cassette tape labelled ‘Awesome Mix, Vol. 1’ which he listens to while speeding through the galaxy. Needless to say, I swiftly downloaded said playlist.
It all looks fantastic and more importantly is great fun throughout, with plenty of light hearted comedy balanced with the action and a solid cast who work well together. I’m sad to have missed the spectacle on the big screen.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2Apr 6, 2015This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. As an unashamed fan of the original Planet of the Apes films (which I once picked up for under a fiver), I am more than happy to enjoy this Sequel to the Reboot of the Remake of the Planet of the Apes. What’s been delivered is another entertaining film; almost, but not quite the equal of its predecessor, with a decent story and characters, and special effects at the top of their game.
An expedition of humans has ventured deep into ape territory with the intention of restarting a hydroelectric dam to restore power to the ruins of San Francisco. With a deep mistrust of humans at the very core of ape doctrine, the plan becomes a tense diplomatic mission as the humans and apes negotiate to avoid another brutal conflict and needless loss of life.
Caesar is played by master of motion capture Andy Serkis and amazingly, the motion capture was largely filmed on location in the forests of Vancouver, the CGI seamlessly integrated with live action. As a character, Caesar is rare among apes in that he was raised by a human and can see the good in them.
Our human hero is Malcolm (Jason Clarke), a survivalist and engineer, who is in charge of the expedition, but is not much of a leader. Neither is he a diplomat, but he is level headed enough to develop a relationship with Caesar, with whom they share a common goal which transcends the interspecies squabble – each has a family they would do anything to protect.
The real leader of the humans is back in San Francisco: the militaristic but pragmatic Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who has already lost his family (he swipes through their pictures on a prominently placed iPad – in shops now!) and has little desire to understand or relate to the apes.
The previous director Rupert Wyatt is replaced here by Matt Reeves, who gave us found footage monster movie Cloverfield, where the tantalising excitement of citywide destruction just off-screen was undermined by the idiotic decisions made by the protagonists. There are shades of this frustrating characterisation here with one member of Malcolm’s team, Carver.
He is nothing more than a catalyst; right from the opening scene, where he shoots first and thinks later, wounding Caesar’s son Blue Eyes in the process, everything about him screams “I’m the **** who’s constantly going to jeopardise this fragile diplomacy” – which is barely saved from the brink of collapse more than once before the inevitable final showdown.
Koba fills this role for the apes, but he is a stronger character and an established personal rival of Caesar, who tries to corrupt the younger apes, including Cesar’s impressionable young son Blue Eyes.
We also remember the dramatic “No!” – The first words spoken by an ape in both Conquest and Rise, when Caesar flexes his vocal chords to deliver an ultimatum to the humans, but the apes here tend to converse in sign language amongst themselves. Perhaps they see spoken language as a hallmark of humanity, but they prefer to save their English skills to dramatically intimidate humans, reminding them that they share a level of intelligence which apes may even have surpassed with their sense of community. While the apes have built a new society from the ground up, the surviving humans continue to scavenge in the ruins of their decaying civilisation, relying on old technology.
There’s a great scene about halfway through the film. Power is restored to an old petrol station in the woods, and as it flickers into life a song plays from a stereo: The Weight by The Band, a song which is both religious allegory and an exploration of the music which flows from the American South. Its thematic relevance extends to include references to Judgement Day and the American civil rights movement.
Hearing recorded music and seeing artificial light, symbolic of humanity’s legacy, offers a spot of hope, which is inevitably undercut by the melancholy of the world lost and the inevitability of an impending finale, which I’m going to talk about now, so stop reading to avoid spoilers. Hey, I’ve already told you that they managed to get the power back on so Gary Oldman can charge his iPad.
The audience wants a fight, we’ve paid to see apes with machine guns, and a fight is what we get, courtesy of the hot headed Koba and unrelenting Dreyfus. Lamentably although hell inevitably breaks loose, credibility is stretched. The previously pacifist apes are far too good at using the machine guns they have only recently stolen from the humans.
We know the apes have both intelligence and physical strength on their side, but it’s hard to explain hold their own so well against the trained human guards. Ultimately, they overwhelm the humans with sheer numbers, when they might have concocted a strategic assault using some kind of unique and established ape advantage, such as their non verbal communication, or climbing ability.… Expand
Average User Score: 7.8Jul 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: 8.5Jul 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: 8.4Jul 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