Monday, 31 March 2014

The Raid 2 - review

I haven't heard an audience reaction like the one I heard at the Unlimited preview of The Raid 2 since... well, The Raid in 2012.

There were audible gasps, winces, laughs and cheers in all the right places as Iwo Uwais's character fights the mob single-handedly.

I know that's a phrase that is used in many tag lines and plot descriptions "One man's struggle to take down the mob single-handedly" but as the film enters its breathless final act, you truly believe that this man is capable of doing it.

When The Raid was released it was rightly acclaimed as one of the greatest action films of the last decade, one of the most surprising things about was not the amazing fight choreography from Indonesian actors/martial arts experts Iko Uwais (hero Rama) and Yayan Ruhain that put Hollywood to shame but the fact that it was directed by a Welshman!

If there were some to criticise the first film, and I was not one of them, they pointed to a lack of character development and story. The plot for the first film was as straightforward as you get. A crack police team enter an apartment block to arrest a crime lord and have to battle bad guys in order to achieve their mission. Simple yes but it didn't matter when the resulting action was as ridiculously entertaining as it was. Sometimes less is more and this was certainly the case with The Raid.

If the key word to describe the The Raid was "Relentless", then the word to describe The Raid 2 would be "Expansion".

Where the first film took place in the confines of one building, the sequel spans across the city as Rama goes undercover in a local crime family's organisation in order to try and discover and eliminate corruption with the police force.

The plot has echoes of Infernal Affairs and Kill Bill Vol. 1 as a range of characters and motives are introduced in this ongoing struggle for ultimate power, including some new action icons with snappy names like "Hammer Girl" and "Baseball Bat Man".

Because this film has a much more plot-driven story, there is more room for character and relationship building, thus creating more emotional impact.

And there certainly is impact but perhaps not as much as one might initially expect. Some people might get restless when 15 minutes goes by without a fight.

Their patience will be rewarded though because the fight scenes on the whole are on a whole different level than the original with the climatic third act resulting in a one man war more destructive than Commando with one particular one-on-one fight in a kitchen that had me bursting into a spontaneous round of applause in the cinema screen due to its adrenaline-pumping excellence.

With The Raid 2, director Gareth Evans has been able to deliver a sequel that not only expands the universe but also differentiates and improves upon the original. Take a bow Mr. Evans, you have made The Godfather Part 2 of action movies.

5 stars

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Yves Saint Laurent - review

The extent of my knowledge of Yves Saint Laurent amounted to the following... Famous French fashion designer.

Turns out even that was wrong as he was actually from Algeria!

By the end of this French-produced biopic, I knew a lot about the man but little about his actual work. Beyond one montage sequence showing the inspiration and production of his seminal (and much copied) ... dress, the film's main focus is the relationship between Yves and his relationship with business and personal partner Pierre Berge.

At times both characters come across as unlikeable to each other and the audience through a series of arguments and infidelities, which can make it difficult to empathise with them.

Given the subject matter, the film is beautifully produced and looks catwalk perfect but fashionistas might be disappointed by the focus on the people inside the clothes rather than the clothes themselves.

3 stars

The Legend Of Hercules - review

It's been a while since I read up on my Greek mythology but I must have missed the section where The Legend Of Hercules was actually based on the soldier who becomes a slave and fights for his freedom plot line from Gladiator along with the jealous sibling rivalry from Thor.

It's not often that you can tell how awful a film is from the first shot, but it was clear from the incredibly poor CGI tracking shot as it follows an army from the beach into a city that this was going to be a total stinker.

This film had the feel of a bad 80's BBC period action romp with terrible script writing, bad acting and lower production design quality than even Sharknado.

It is filled with actors who feel like they were cast as the came 3rd in a celebrity lookalike competition as it features a Hercules who wants to look and sound like Chris Hemsworth, his brother Iphicles who is a poor man's Tom Hiddleston and a guy who looks like Sean Bean.

Everything about the film feels like a cheap knock off of other movies (including the bit where it starts to rain at the beginning of the final battle a la Helm's Deep).

Hercules famously went through twelve labours but the only labour you'll achieve is the one where you sit through this film.

No matter how ridiculous the new Brett Ratner Hercules movie looks, The Rock will lay the smack down and be happy knowing it won't be the worst Hercules film of 2014.

1 star

Friday, 28 March 2014

The Double - review

Jesse Eisenberg takes notes from his Social Network nemeses The Winklevii as he plays Simon James and his doppelgänger James Simon in Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Double.

Simon is shy, awkward, quiet and timid. He works in a Brazil-esque office and goes through life unnoticed by his colleagues and the girl who lives opposite him who he has a crush on.

One day at work, Simon is introduced to a new employee James Simon who looks exactly like him. James is everything that Simon is not; confident, smooth, ambitious. After an initial curiosity and friendship, Simon slowly loses his mind as he believes James to be taking over his life.

The film's time period and setting is deliberately ambiguous (could be set in Europe or US) and the how and why of the doppelganger's appearance are equally unknown.

This generates an ever-increasing sense of paranoia and a genuine Polanski vibe with echoes of Repulsion and The Tenant.

Is James really a doppelgänger? Does he even exist? Are all the other employees playing an elaborate game on Simon?

Ayoade successfully recreated a French New Wave style with his directorial debut Submarine and with The Double evokes the feeling of Orwell, Kafka and Lynch, supported by terrific production design and a soundtrack by Andrew Hewitt that incorporates the environment with the sounds of typewriters, computers, etc.

A poster-friendly soundbite would be "It's Polanski's The Tenant meets Fight Club" and like the film's leading man (or men), The Double will stand up to multiple viewings.

4 stars

Sunday, 23 March 2014

About Last Night -review

If About Last Night is indicative of the love life of the average American, it appears that couples would sooner move into together than tell someone that they love them.

It will also have you leaving the cinema believing that you need to treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen and that moving in together is the way to ruin a relationship based on 100 minutes of constant reinforcement in this study of one year in the life of two couples.

With its frank talk about sex and relationships, this film wishes it was as witty, scathing and insightful as the work of Neil La Bute or David Mamet (it is actually based on Sexual Pervisions In Chicago) but instead it is more likely to be snuck out on early in the morning by writers and audiences after a brief and unsatisfying one night stand.

1 star

A Long Way Down - review

High Fidelity is my all-time favourite book, one of my favourite films and one of the best book-to-film adaptations of all-time.

A Long Way Down is a very long way down in terms of quality.

The suicidal "Topper House 4" consisting of a disgraced TV presenter (Pierce Brosnan), a single mother struggling to cope looking after her disabled son (Toni Collette), a party girl and politician's daughter (Imogen Poots) and mysterious pizza boy and cancer sufferer JJ (Aaron Paul) meet on New Year's Eve at the top of a tall building and agree not to commit suicide until Valentine's Day.

The film looks at the bond that grows between them when their story hits the tabloid headlines and whether or not this new found friendship will prove enough to change their outlook on life (and possible death).

All of the characters have problems but it is the film which has the biggest problems.

The tone of the film is horribly misjudged as it bounces around from light-hearted comedy to social drama to emotional melodrama to Brits abroad lark and never settles on one making it difficult for the audience to affectively relate and emote.

Plus despite each character getting to narrate a different part of the story and explaining their reasons, they never really show us the inner turmoil and struggle that has led them to the point where ending it all is the only solution for them.

Imogen Poots is the film's saving grace and the only one who manages to strike the right balance between comedy and tragedy, helped by the fact her character has mental health issues potentially brought on by a family tragedy and/or pills.

A "comedy" about suicide that tackles the subject matter with kid gloves? Unlike its protagonists, the film falls flat on its face.

1 star

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Muppets Most Wanted - review

The Muppets say it themselves in the opening number of The Muppets: Most Wanted when they quietly sing "Everybody knows that the sequel's never quite as good".

If The Muppets was that feeling of seeing an old friend after a number of years and it's like you never been apart; sharing the same old jokes and anecdotes, etc, then Muppets: Most Wanted is that stage where after a couple of hours, the old jokes aren't as funny anymore and you realise why you never make the effort to hang out together more often.

Muppets: Most Wanted does have everything you are looking for from a Muppet movie: jokes, songs, an exhausting list of celebrity cameos, etc, etc but none of them feel as fresh and fun as the last one.

The human element is where the film is lacking the most ooomph, with no one matching Segel and Adams pure joy an enthusiasm for the product. It doesn't help that Gervais, Burrell and Fey are more caricatures than characters.

At least they continue their trend in developing new muppets with number one bad guy Constantine gets a lot of comedy mileage from his impersonations of Keeerrmit the Frog.

The Muppets might be together again (again) but if they don't recapture that magic soon they won't be everyone's most wanted for long.

3 stars

Friday, 21 March 2014

Starred Up - review

During the opening scenes of Starred Up, it felt like Jack O'Connell's Eric Love had clearly watched other British prison movies like Scum and Bronson before being incarcerated because within five minutes of being locked in his cell he has made himself a makeshift knife (or Shiv) and unpacked his baby oil to grease himself up when fighting the guards and screaming "Come on you F*CKING C*NTS!!!"

But there is no point in Eric shouting "I'm the daddy now" in this prison because that role is taken by his actual father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) who could prove to be both a help and a hindrance.

Mendelsohn is a complete chameleon as an actor, as there are times I don't even realise that it is him until halfway through a film (listing The Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond The Pines as example).

Both Mendelsohn and O'Connell are both fantastic as the father/son dynamic continually shifts and evolves in a film that is filled with so much testosterone and tension, you are on the edge of your seat with a feeling of anxiety and dread because tempers could flare and violence erupt at any moment.

This is no Frank Darabont movie. There is no redemption for Shawshank, Love or anyone else here. Only terrific performances and an interesting take on the reunited father/son dynamic. Consider it "The Green Street Mile".

4 stars

Labor Day - review

Labour. An experience that can take much longer than you want and involve some physical and emotional trauma.

Very akin to the experience of watching Labor Day. At least with labour you get a brand new life out of it and it isn't narrated by Tobey Maguire!

Actually it's not that bad but it is difficult to take this film seriously when it nearly ends with the line "It was the first time since that Summer that I tried baking"... Fade to black.

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin are good as the agoraphobic mother and world's nicest convicted murderer who teaches the son to play baseball, cooks, cleans and helps around the house as he stays with Winslet and her son one Labor Day weekend after he escapes from prison.

Brolin's con and his relationship with Winslet is a case of Stockholm Syndrome as saccharinely sweet and over cooked as the peach pie that features so heavily in the film.

2 stars

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - review

(Captain) America...
(Captain) America...
(Captain) America, F*CK YEAH!
Coming again, to fight the sinister Winter Soldier,
(Captain) America, F*CK YEAH!
Sequels are the only way yeah,
D.C. your game is through cause now you have to answer too,
(Captain) America, F*CK YEAH!
So run and hide or taste his SHIELD yeah
(Captain) America, F*CK YEAH!
What you going to do when S.H.I.E.L.D. comes for you now,
It's Marvel's movie of the year; it's second best to Avengers


Nick Fury, F*CK YEAH!
Captain, F*CK YEAH!
Falcon, F*CK YEAH!
Peggy, F*CK YEAH!
Car Chases, F*CK, YEAH!
Black Widow, F*CK YEAH!
Robert Redford, F*CK YEAH!
Explosions, F*CK YEAH!


Stan Lee, F*CK YEAH!
Washington, F*CK YEAH!
Geek Out, F*CK YEAH!
Frank Grillo, F*CK YEAH!
Phase 2, F*CK YEAH!
Phase 3, F*CK YEAH!
Stars n Stripes, F*CK YEAH!
Espionage, F*CK YEAH!
Pulp Fiction reference (F*ck yeah, F*ck yeah)

Agent Hill, F*CK YEAH!
Scarlett, F*CK YEAH!
Triskelion, F*CK YEAH!
Russos, F*CK YEAH!
Steve Rogers, F*CK YEAH!
Red Skull, F*CK YEAH!
Super strength, F*CK YEAH!
Whedon, F*CK YEAH!
Comic Books, F*CK YEAH!
Mid credit scene (post credit sting)
(f*ck yeah, f*ck yeah)
Age Of Ultron

4 stars

The Zero Theorem - review

The plot of Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem centres on Christoph Waltz's character trying to prove "The Zero Theorem" in that 0 = 100% i.e. if nothing equals everything then everything also equals nothing and that this life and the universe is everything and nothing all at the same time therefore meaningless.

This is certainly true of the film because it is everything that Terry Gilliam is (unique, eccentric, baffling, odd, quirky, full of ideas, incomprehensible, frustrating) and also nothing, in that it is a truly awful film that will be seen as truly pointless and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

1 star

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Under The Skin - review

Warning, this review discusses some scenes that contain minor spoilers so it is best read with prior knowledge of the film.

The Urban Dictionary definitions for the phrase "under the skin" are as follows:

1. when you meet someone and you're drawn to them. you can't stop thinking about them even when you don't know them. something about them just sparks something down deep. your imagination starts to run wild and you're physically and emotionally altered. they fascinate you

2. someone really pisses you off. they said something and you can't ignore it so you have to say something to defend yourself and your feelings. it makes you mad and almost at a loss for words. some rubs you the wrong way

Both of definitions will be equally applicable to Jonathan Glazer's new film Under The Skin.

There are some who will declare it a masterpiece while others will say it is the worst thing they have ever seen. It will become 2014's Only God Forgives in terms of splitting audience opinion.

My first reaction to the same as the one I had for Only God Forgives which was I wasn't exactly sure what I had just seen but I knew I had to see it again.

So that's exactly what I did.

Initially Under The Skin is a rather undefinable viewing experience.

The film begins with 2001-esque visuals before following Scarlett Johansson driving round Glasgow with hidden cameras as she hunts for young, single men to lure back to her place where Mica Levi's haunting score and siren's call leads them to their demise in a nightmarish sequence.

Sure people use names like Kubrick, Roeg, Lynch to try and explain the use of visuals and surrealism but Glazer has crafted a completely unique piece of filmmaking that turns the ambiguity factor all the way up to 11 and allows for endless theorising about the plot, motives and true nature of Scarlett Johannson's character.

It's upon the second viewing that, ironically, you start to get under the skin of the film.

Is the woman the biker picks up at the beginning of the film Scarlett Johansson's predecessor? Who is the biker? Is he the bodyguard of the female siren? Are they prone to curiosity and empathy?

When the film changes course and the alien goes on a voyage of self-discovery, it was slightly jarring first time round but feels completely natural on repeat viewing.

Where initially all she sees are targets and victims, the longer she carries out her task the more she begins to see life.

There are two montages of people wandering round the city. The first is shot in a cold, harsh manner but the second time round the people slowly give way to a gold shimmering light and from the ugliness of life comes beauty.

They say the eyes are the window to the soul and the eyes play an important role in the film.

Her eyes are initially cold and blank, the "uncanny valley effect" so to speak where CGI is unable to recreate the sparkle and life inside the eye. The biker checks her over at one point and pays close attention to her eyes, perhaps checking for any glimmer of "life", and following her encounter with the man suffering from neurofibromatosis sees something different and new in her eye that sparks the natural evolution of her character and the movie into something completely alien... to her at least.

And this evolution is perfectly realised by Scarlett Johansson in her finest performance to date.

There is a blankness to her gaze and she can shift between fake flattery to cold indifference in the blink of an eye which makes her the perfect spider-like predator as she weaves her seductive web to ensnare horny young Glaswegians.

Later she has a childlike innocence and curiosity as she tries to experience human life which include wonderful moments as tension builds over a mouthful of Black Forest gateau or her utter bemusement at watching Tommy Cooper on TV.

Ultimately Under The Skin is undefinable, utterly unique (unless Captain America The Winter Soldier features a scene where Black Widow and Cap discuss the locations of Asda and Tesco) and completely unforgettable.

Like the title says, this film will get under the skin and stay with you forever.

5 stars

Need For Speed - review

It is always a risk for a genre movie to include a clip from another genre movie. It is an open invitation for comparison and the majority of the time they are not flattering.

In one of the opening scenes set in a Drive-In Movie Theater, the crowd are watching Bullitt, which features one of the most iconic car chases of all-time.

Need For Speed however features some of the slowest, most boring car chases of all-time. Based on a series of video games, the filmmakers were aiming for something as fast and exciting as a PS4 but ended up with a film as basic and clunky as a Commodore 64.

One of Aaron Paul's crew flies helicopters and planes to keep a birds eye view on the action and constantly refers to himself as Maverick but unlike Top Gun, I don't feel the need, the Need For Speed.

Fast and Furious? More like Slow and Tedious!

1 star

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Escape From Planet Earth - review

There is a growing trend in movies that technological advances such as mobile phones and the internet are being attributed to alien species. See The Network in The World's End and a group of aliens forced to work in Area 51 in Escape From Planet Earth.

They might be able to create the iPhone or Facebook but its a shame that they cannot create any new or interesting ideas for this animated film which grows increasingly tired and formulaic as it goes on.

The alien/human juxtaposition has been frequently used in kids animation over the last few years in the likes of Planet 51 and Monsters vs Aliens and even the family sub plot that sees the geeky techie older brother having to rescue the macho heroic older brother brings nothing new to the table.

The vocal cast are bland and add little to their characters. So much in fact you may not realise that actors like Brendan Fraser, Jessica Alba and Sarah Jessica Parker were in it till the end credits.

There is nothing in this movie to hold the attention of adults in the audience who may find the whole experience as bum-numbing as an alien probe.

Escape From Planet Earth? You'll wish it was still locked up in Area 51.

1 star

P.S. if anyone can tell me why a very specific musical cue and visual gag from The Artist was used in a sci-fi alien animation, answers on a postcard please.

Friday, 7 March 2014

300: Rise Of An Empire - review

In history, the legend of the 300 who fought at the battle of Thermopylae was the spark that united the Greek Empire against Xerxes's Persian Army.

In Hollywood, 300 was the spark that ignited the careers of Gerard Butler as a leading man, director Zack Synder and his love of slow motion and a general feeling of inadequacy from male cinemagoers when confronted by 300 sets of perfect abs!

Prequel/Running Concurrently/Sequel 300: Rise Of An Empire was always going to be a difficult film to name. 301? No. 300 2: The Empire Strikes Back? No. 300: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger? Maybe. 300 On A Boat? Perfect.

This film follows Athenian Themistokles as he takes his selection of over-oiled and under-dressed warriors to the seas to fight against the Persian Armada led by Armetesia.

The entire film can be summed up by paraphrasing these lyrics from the band Lonely Island.

"We're on a boat (we're on a boat)
We're on a boat (we're on a boat)
Everybody look at us cause we're fighting on a boat!
We're on a boat (we're on a boat)
We're on a boat
Take a long hard look at these motherf*cking boats!

We're on a boat and, it's going fast and
It's a nautical themed 300 fight plan
We're the kings of the world, on a boat like Leo
If you're on the shore, then you're sho not me-oh!"

While the first one wanted to be a serious action movie that happened to be the most homoerotic film since Top Gun, this sequel embraces the campiness and plays the whole thing with a knowing wink to the audience. Just witness Thermistokles reaction when he is asked how his meeting with Artemesia went.

The slow motion and digital blood are dialled up to 11 to pacify those who came for the action but anyone looking for award-winning dialogue should look elsewhere with such gems as "He had the stink of destiny", "Shut your cockhole", "Have you come to stroke your cock watching real men?" and "You fight harder than you f*ck" are uttered over the course of battle.

Are there 300 reasons to watch Rise Of An Empire? No, in fact there is only one... Eva Green.

Green's performance as the scorned Grecian Armetesia who seeks revenge as leader of the Persian Navy is SO crazed, demented and OTT that she towers over the entire cast including the 10 foot tall God King Xerxes. Equally comfortable killing soldiers who fail her in battle, manipulating Xerxes for her own ends, seducing Thermistokles or fighting him in sword to sword combat, it is a truly ferocious turn that will go down in legends of its own in terms of scenery chewing and scene stealing.

Will it be as big a smash as the original 300? No. The only things being smashed in this Greek tragedy will be the plates down the local taverna.

2 stars? it certainly doesn't deserve 300!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Ride Along - review

Given this basic story outline of "Kevin Hart plays a high school security guard (and hardcore gamer) who dreams of joining the police academy and gets taken on a Ride Along by his girlfriend's cop brother Ice Cube in order to prove he is worthy of her", I believe that even the most casual of moviegoers would be able to provide a detailed plot breakdown of the film as it is one of the most generic, cliched genre mismatched buddy cop movies ever conceived.

For example:

  • After figuring out he has been given all the stupid cases in order to discourage him, will Hart go into a real hostage situation acting all tough because he believes it to be fake? You betcha.

  • Will it be a surprise when certain other cops turn out to be working for the bad guy? No.

  • Would it shock you to find out that Hart is able to use his experience of playing military video games in a real gunfight? Of course not.

  • Ice Cube is working on a case searching for a crime lord that nobody knows what they look like except for a photo of a young Laurence Fishburne. So given that his name is in the credits, is there good chance that he will turn up at some point? Yes.

  • With numerous references to it throughout the film, Ride Along wishes it was in the same league as Training Day but instead the training wheels come off this film fast and it falls as short as its diminutive lead actor in just about every department.

    1 star

    The Grand Budapest Hotel - Trip Advisor review

    "Wes Anderson's new hotel is very Grand"


    User: Dallas King

    "My girlfriend and I booked ourselves in for a 100 minute stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel on Sunday 2nd March and were among the first to visit the hotel now it was open to the public following its grand opening in Berlin and Glasgow.

    The hotel was incredibly busy with guests but we were provided with an excellent room that gave us a wonderful view of the entire place.

    While the initial areas felt slightly drab and reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel, they soon gave way to the beautiful and memorably bright pink decor that will become synonymous with this location which was made all the more stunning by the Academy ratio it was presented in.

    The entire staff at the hotel were of a very high standard, from the silent owner down to the junior lobby boy. Even the hotel lawyer was excellent although he disappeared during our stay after some trouble with his cat. I hope he's ok.

    If I were to single out a particular member of staff, I would like to praise the efforts of the concierge Gustave H. who was simply charming, hilarious and smelt divine and made our stay an absolute delight.

    If you are staying here I highly recommend a trip down to the local town of Zubrowka to sample some of its many delights including skiing, a local monastery and Mendl's bakery which has some heavenly cakes.

    Sadly our visit was over before we knew it so we are already planning our next trip and would highly recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel looking for a fun cinematic vacation this year.

    P.S. Check out the beautiful painting behind the concierge desk called Boy With Apple."

    5 stars