Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The Avengers are back, and on top of the world! Here we find them raiding a Hydra outpost in search of Loki's sceptre. However, they come across two Hydra experiments: Twins Pietro, who is very quick and dresses in silver, and Wanda Maximoff, who dresses in scarlet and can manipulate minds like a witch. The twins get away though, and the Avengers come away with the sceptre. Once back at HQ, Tony Stark realises the sceptre contains an artificial intelligence which he and Dr Bruce Banner can extract and use within their idea for their global defence programme: "Ultron". Very quickly though, things escalate and the Avengers receive an unwanted, and unknown, guest at their celebration party...

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of Phase 2. Feels like just yesterday the MCU was born, doesn't it? Seven years since Iron Man came out and changed how we viewed the superhero film (a few months before DC's The Dark Knight did so again), we've come through two 'eras' of Marvel superhero films, bookended by an Avengers film at both. So what have been the main differences between Phase 1 and Phase 2? What makes Avengers 2 a different beast to Avengers 1, if anything? And where do we go from here? I mean, we all know, Marvel have mapped out the next half decade with an array of talent new and old, but what about the tone and direction of each of the planned films? How will everything tie together? Will we ever reach a conclusion to the MCU or will it continue for time immortal? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Somewhat frustratingly, Avengers 2 only has the slimmest of answers to not that many questions in regards to the future, and even then, there's so much wiggle room...

So you might have guessed that this will not just be a review of Avengers 2, but a look into the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself, because, as Marvel will so regularly tell you, #ItsAllConnected. So Age of Ultron is the maxim of Phase 2, much as Assembles capped Phase 1, but has much changed? I've said through the array of Phase 2 films (every single one I've written a review for on here) that I like the direction the films were heading; they seemed more intent on storytelling rather than character establishment, which is a given since the introductions made up Phase 1, and seemed to finally be telling a larger story instead of simply building up to the next Avengers adventure. Well now we've reached Avengers 2, I can safely say that something bigger is building. At least, I hope it is, because as and "end of an era" film, this was somewhat disappointing.

Avengers 2 broke no new ground, and didn't use its recent history to explore the MCU on a larger scale. In Avengers 1, it used a pre-established villain who even by the end they didn't kill off. Avengers 2 creates and kills its 'bigger bad' creation in the space of 2 hours. There's no relation to any other films, other than the small inclusion of Hydra at the beginning, and the constant ongoing references to "aliens coming out of the sky" in 2012. There's no sense of history, and every sense of getting this out the way so they can focus on new things. I got the feeling throughout this film that Marvel Studios have grow weary of their heroes. That can be good, as weariness can act of motivation for evolution, except Marvel has Cap America 3 and Thor 3 and Avengers 3a and 3b lined up. The question can now be asked regarding film on this scale; Is a trilogy too much? Can we say all we need to say without getting tired in 2 film rather than 3? As far as Avengers go, definitely, as they seem to be running out of answers for the scarce few questions it asks.

There were good points throughout, don't get me wrong; Joss Whedon's script is very Whedon; humour running through the serious action throughout, running jokes included. The action is spread out too, it's not a constant gunfight. However, there's problems here too. I feel like superhero films have reached their ceiling in terms of action sequences. The Chitauri battle in Avengers 1 was epic, and absolutely spot on, and the best you'll ever see. Superman vs. Zod in Man of Steel was about the worst you'll see. We get to see both of these in Avengers 2. As cool as it was to see the Hulkbuster armour on screen, the action is extremely OTT and the destruction is causes is far too epic (I can't believe I wrote that; I've become jaded). Now, at least there's a point to the OTT action and destruction in this unlike the mindlessness of Man of Steel, but you can't help but feel Zack Snyder's ruined it for everyone now. The final standoff in Sokovia is extremely reminiscent of the final standoff in New York from Avengers 1; there's no ramping up of the action and that's probably for the best, but it still carries a three-year old taste in the mouth.

To be perfectly honest, Avengers 2 feels very similar to Avengers 1, so much so that it does not feel like a sequel, it feels like a sister film. A twin sister film. Same characters, same basic story, same humour in the script, similar big bads. The only differences? They introduce more characters so that it's not a carbon copy of Avengers 1, and they've shaken up the Avengers line up by the end so that we won't be facing the exact same film again in 3a and 3b. There's also a lot of underutilisation in this film too: Nick Fury is back from the (not) dead, but no way is enough of a big deal made about this. Of course, I reserve judgement until I see how #ItsAllConnected because, somewhat frustratingly, Age of Ultron made it to the UK before America, which means we won't see the impact it has on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for another couple of weeks. There's also not nearly enough Ultron, brilliantly voiced by James Spader (can we all take a moment to appreciate the career and silver vocal chords of Mr Spader?) but then that's hard to do when you don't establish the character until the end of the first act and kill him off by the end of the third.  There's also not enough Vision for my liking, but you know there's more to come with him.

Overall... Avengers: Age of Ultron was never going to be the film it had to be. Never. Even for a two and a half hour film, it had too much to do and skips a few steps in character and plot development, it has too many heroes for one film, but surely that's why there's an entire Cinematic Universe, too avoid crushes like this? I understand it's an Avengers film, and they're supposed to 'assemble', but they've overcooked it, which is sad, but recoverable. There's a massive array of Marvel film between now and Avengers 3a and 3b featuring a whole host of new characters. Now, they don't all necessarily have to appear in Avengers 3a and 3b, similar to how the Guardians never showed up here; sometimes they don't have to assemble because sometimes it just won't make sense and won't work. The outline of the Avengers team by the end of the film looks promising for its future though, and shows Marvel at least aren't afraid to shake things up. Also, there's a traditional mid credits scene which is VERY similar to the mid credits scene from Avengers 1. It's clear there's a bigger plan at work, and Avengers 2 is a surprisingly small cog in that particular machine, but hey, at least this was better than Iron Man 2.

Rating: **1/2

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes)

From the mind of Damian Szifron comes an anthology of 6 short films with no overlapping characters or plot lines, only a consistent theme of violence and revenge. "Pasternak", "Las Ratas (The Rats)", "El Mas Fuerte (The Strongest)", "Bombita (Little Bomb)", "La Propuesta (The Proposal), and "Haste Que La Muerte Nos Separe (Until Death Do Us Part)" each offer a different exploration of the film's overarching themes, each with different outcomes. For such a unique film, a unique review is deserved. Let's do this segment by segment...

Part 1: "Pasternak"

This is how to begin a film. Two strangers meet on a plane, and begin to realise they know the same man: Pasternak. However, they're not the only people who know Pasternak... This is the shortest tale of the 6, and by far the funniest. It doesn't exactly set the tone for the rest of the film, as you'll find out, but it certainly piques an interest immediately. The premise is simple and the humour is based on the ludicrous nature of the premise. The nature of the segment means that with almost every line of dialogue, there is yet another plot reveal, but it's never overpowering and adds to the insanity. I cannot think of anything to compare this opening segment too; it's in a league of its own.

Segment Rating: 5/5

Part 2: Las Ratas (The Rats)

Our second short is certainly short; what you'll notice is the segments grow in length as the film continues, something which adds a disconcerting aspect to the viewing as you're never sure when the film will reach its climax. Two women work at a quiet diner, simple passing time, until a customer comes in who the waitress recognises immediately. The customer is a loan shark. A loan shark who destroyed her family. The waitress doesn't know how to deal with it, but the chef does: Kill him. The second tale carries on the black humour of the first (the subject matter is pitch black, but dealt with extremely humorously) but adds an element of character development we're unable to get in the first, short segment. This segment is a strange hybrid of humour, discomfort, and shock. For the most part it works until the end, which unfortunately leaves the viewer empty and dissatisfied.

Segment Rating: 3.5/5

Part 3: El Mas Fuerte (The Strongest)

A businessman drives down a country road alone until he meets a hill billy unwilling to let him pass. Finally, the businessman passes and offers an insult or two as he does so. Further down the road, our cocky businessman gets a puncture, and is forced to pull over in the middle of nowhere. He does his best to fix it himself, but the longer he's off the road, the more inevitable it becomes that someone will catch him up... This segment is probably the lightest of the 6, the humour isn't black but rather laugh out loud. There's an element of discomfort which is borne of the confrontation between the two drivers, but any and all tension is resolved through comedy, making this one of the most entertaining segments of the 6. The resolution seems a little forced though.

Segment Rating: 4.5/5

Part 4: Bombita (Little Bomb)

This is where things take a turn for the blacker. A simple story of a man becoming frustrated with the world because his car was towed ends up with him becoming a celebrated terrorist. It's pitch black, there are little to no laughs in this one, perhaps this segment runs a little too close to the edge? It would balance out if there were enough tension to carry the plot through but there's little to none of that either. This one is really character driven, focusing on Simon played by Ricardo Darin, "coincidentally" the biggest star in the film who's given more screen time than any other character in the film. The ending fits the segment's plot for once, but the theme of revenge is really played out here and is stretched to its limits.

Segment Rating: 2/5

Part 5: La Propuesta (The Proposal)

The Proposal moves us into an altogether different beast of a segment. There are no laughs derived of humour in this one, only of sheer bewilderment as to the extremes the characters are willing to go to. A young man runs down and kills a pregnant woman whilst drunk, and his parents attempt to bribe their gardener to take the fall via their lawyer. Hilarious premise, no? It becomes clear in this one another theme Szifron is exploring in these segments is the extreme lengths humans will take to self-protect and self-serve. This segment is the living embodiment of this principal... In Szifron's eyes. It goes to great lengths to depict the most deplorable of human natures, but weirdly this is the only segment which finishes with any kind of justice being done. It's engaging, and provides a sharp contrast to the overall tone of the film.

Segment Rating: 3/5

Part 6: Haste Que La Muerte Nos Separe (Until Death Do Us Part)

Then we come to the sixth and final segment. After 4 and 5, you'd be allowed to think things are beginning to drag. 4 and 5 are long, dark segments, so when we're presented with a wedding, things are looking up. Except it's the wedding from hell. After the darkness of the previous hour, segment  is joyous, uplifting, endlessly entertaining, and a fantastic way both to end the film, as well as bookend it as it accompanies the first segment wonderfully. The direction and camera work are exceptional in this; possibly because the action stays mainly in one setting and the limits of the room are fully explored. The acting of the two leads is fantastic, and the writing is so ludicrous it just about works. The ending works too, because the alternative is seemingly unthinkable and most definitely would have provided a jarring finale.

Segment Rating:4.5/5

Overall... The film, like any film, has its weak points. It also has its strong points. The only difference between this film and any other is that the segmented nature of this film highlights where its high and low points are. The writing is generally sharp, though it seems at certain points it struggles in achieving its aims and the segments lose their way, meandering to their drawn-out conclusions. It's hugely entertaining though. I haven't seen a film like this since Four Rooms, and perhaps I should. Perhaps more people should take the lead of this film. Inevitably someone will with the inevitable American remake of this film.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Friday, 29 August 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City. Just another Saturday night. After the events of the first film, the surviving characters are still around and trying to get by in the worst city imaginable. Marv is still destroying people for fun, Nancy's still dancing but craves revenge for John Hartigan, Gail still runs Old Town, and Dwight has magically transformed into Josh Brolin. There's also a new character, Johnny, a cocky young gambler who arrive in Sin City looking for the big action but ends up having a long, bad night. There's also Ava Lord, the eponymous dame to kill for...

Sin City was one of my favourite films growing up. A visual style previously unseen in cinema and a fantastic mix of comedy, drama, grit, and excessive violence. It went down gang busters at the cinema and plans were put in place for a sequel based on the second book in Frank Miller's series: A Dame to Kill For. Those plans were made... Then put on pause... Then put on indefinite hiatus. Then, Robert Rodriguez started making Machete films. Then, all of a sudden, Sin City 2 was resurrected and everyone from the original signed back on (except Clive Owen, but we'll get to that) and the world rejoiced, I rejoiced! Finally, the film I wanted to see 8 years ago was coming my way, and now finally it's here. It's a terrible shame that this sequel didn't come out closer to the original for various reasons: It would have hit a cinema audience in the right mind set just after the release of the original, it wouldn't have been as hyped and dragged out, the cast and crew would have been in a familiar mind set instead of trying to recreate something they've forgotten, and the film might have been better. Maybe.

Sin City 2 is just a horrendous mess, and I say this after a long, carefully considered period of reflection. It's a cluster fuck. All of the charm and wit and originality of the first film is gone and has been replaced with something else entirely. Sin City 2 feels like an exploitation film when it has no right to be. You get the feeling Robert Rodriguez has made one too many Machete films and now his mindset is warped. He's only encouraged by his co-director and script author, Frank Miller, who created half the stories in the film especially for the film and didn't take out any of his critically-acclaimed yarns. Miller has clearly tried to re-create his former glory but couldn't do it. Stick to the good stuff, Frank. Above all the many faults of this film, the thing that really stuck in my craw is the editing and the post-production. Now, I'm aware that my memories of the original Sin City may been hazy and overblown, but I'm almost certain the special effects in the first film were better employed and look far less fake than they did here. I understand it's an extremely stylised film, but when everything fits together, it can look great. It doesn't here. Things stick out, look out of place, and most criminally look fake. There are also changes in the visual style that play against the established style from the first film. There are entire people in colour now, instead of highlighted features, and it doesn't ring true. It's extremely jarring, and makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience.

But let's not forget about our actors. Jeez, where to start... OK, so Mickey Rourke's Marv was spot on, but that character's hardly a stretch of his acting abilities. Eva Green is also pretty good as the femme fatale of the piece, Ava Lord, and that's not just because she's naked for 90% of her on-screen time. Seriously, that's not an exaggeration. JGL is a great actor, but he never seems to get out of second gear as Jonny, but his second hear is better than most other actors' fifth gear. Also, Powers Boothe is brilliantly evil as Senator Rourke. Apart from that, you struggle to look at anyone else's performance with any cause for celebration. The lustre surrounding Jessica Alba has definitely disappeared. She plays a broken version of her character from the original, Nancy, but there's no passion there and she really just phones it in. Then there's Josh Brolin... I like Josh Brolin, but he's no Clive Owen. Bruce Willis makes fleeting appearances as Hartigan in a different wig to the one he wore in the first film. Dennis Haysbert is no Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) and Christopher Lloyd plays the Christopher Lloyd character. Also, Lady Gaga is no actress.

Here's the other big problem with the film: The script. The dramatic voice over monologues that were a signature of the first film have become parodies of themselves in the second film. The opening act, "Just Another Saturday Night", was not a fitting way to open the film and was clearly only used because it was a yarn short enough to act as the intro. "The Long Bad Night" yarn was solid but predictable and repetitive. The "A Dame to Kill For" yarn overtook the entire film by taking up half the run time, and featured two of the most unnecessary characters in a film I can remember, ever. The "Nancy's Last Dance" yarn was diabolical; poor writing and poor acting and poor everything and ended abruptly, which as it turned out was the end of the film as well. The dialogue was hammy and gave up any pretence of drama about two drafts ago. Frank Miller was given far too loose a leash and has not left Rodriguez much to work with (although what was there, Rodriguez overhyped too). There are so many driving scenes in this film too, and they don't look as good as they did in the first. My theory: They could afford too make the driving scenes look good in the original because there weren't many of them. They put more in the second, and the budget got stretched, and the effects suffered.

Overall, this film is not quite a disaster, but it's not good, and is absolutely not a suitable sequel to one of my favourite film of the 2000s. Everything's just a mess, with too many creative influences having too many different ideas as to what made the original work as well as it did. The stories aren't as good, the returning characters (for the most part) can't relive their former glory, the new characters aren't as well crafted as the originals, the replacement actors for pre-existing characters aren't as good as the original actors. If Sin City is Batman Returns, then Sin City 2 is Batman and Robin. Congratulations Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, you took your sweet time but you've successfully killed what could have been a lively, entertaining franchise after just two films. Maybe they should have gotten Tarantino to guest direct a scene in this one too.

Rating: *1/2

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Peter "Star Lord" Quill is an intergalactic thief, taking jobs from anyone with enough money. When he steals a mysterious orb, though, things start to go awry. He attracts the attention of Gamora, an assassin sent by Ronan the Accuser to retrieve the orb, as well as Rocket and Groot, bounty hunters who also happen to be a raccoon and a tree respectively. When they all end up in prison, they meet Drax the Destroyer, who's hell bent on revenge on Ronan, the man who killed his family. When they realise that the orb is worth 4 billion units, they form an alliance to get out of prison and sell the orb. However, when they meet the buyer and realise what the orb truly is, their consciences force them to protect the orb and get it into safe hands, and definitely away from Ronan...

This is where things get interesting. We've seen Iron Man and Thor and Captain America and all the sequels, all the characters are well established and came from Marvel's most iconic characters and most well-established material. Now we reach the point of expansion, the point where Phase 2 starts moving towards Phase 3, the point where we need some new blood in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Enter: The Guardians of the Galaxy. Finally, the MCU enters space, and the possibilities become endless. I mean, we've been to Asgard with Thor and Loki, but now the entire galaxy has become our oyster, and we've been left with a thief, an assassin, a tree, a raccoon and a destroyer to protect us. Shameful admission time: I've never seen Star Wars. However, if that particular space opera is anything like this one, I'm willing to give it a go, because this was good. Like, really good.

There's something refreshing about Guardians in the context of the MCU: It feels like a fresh start. The only two characters that had been established prior to this film were The Collector and Thanos, and even then both of those were only previously seen in post-credits scenes, and no-one was even sure it was Thanos at the end of Avengers Assemble (it was, but now he's here for real). There were no carried over story lines, no crossed over characters... This is where we begin, again. Saying that, it was a bold move to start adapting lesser known material. But then, it was a bold move to self-finance and create Iron Man in the first place, and to then create an entire universe, so this seems like a natural progression of Marvel's calculated risks. Phase 3 has lined up adaptations of characters completely new to the MCU: Ant Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther maybe? So, Guardians seems like a great way to begin introducing new characters, as it has a simple plot, it's a great origin story, and the calculated risk of picking an odd director paid off again. James Gunn, creator of the best anti-superhero film ever in Super, now as created a great anti-superhero superhero film. With me? They're not great people, if anything they're all awful, but collectively they work together and kind of fit together as well. Collectively, they're one good person, but separately they're pretty despicable.

Chris Pratt steps away from Parks and Recreation and becomes the leading man he was meant to be as Peter Quill. He's charming, he has a lot of female fans, he's funny and ties this entire film together. Finally, he's been given a chance to shine and he's taken it. He's ably assisted by Zoe Saldana as Gamora, who acts as Quill's female equal. Saldana's an action movie veteran now, having proven her fighting chops in Colombiana and her acting chops in Avatar (it might be a bad film, but she was one of few good points in it). Along side them, the CGI raccoon and tree and pretty good, very life like, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel fit well. Dave Bautista... He does well as a muscle-bound destroyer hell bent on revenge... But he's given a strange vocabulary to fit into his dialogue and it seems extremely unfitting of the character. But then maybe that's part of the fun? I just found it distracting. Although his quirk of taking everything literally was greatly amusing. The support cast was fantastic as well, everyone having unique characters, even the background players had some personality!

In general the entire film was funny, I'd say this is the funniest Marvel film by a long way, and that is to the credit of James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Gunn hasn't toned down his writing style (much) and his humour definitely carries over. There's a ton of funny lines in this one, on top of the serious melodrama and explosions. Gunn definitely got the balance right, though, after a few darker Marvel films during Phase Two, we all needed a pick me up, and this was definitely it. I'll admit I missed Nathan Fillion's blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as Captain Mal, and I thought the obligatory post-credits scene was hilarious. I won't spoil it, but all I'll say is that as funny as the post-credits was, it didn't lead to anything. We're staring down the barrel of Avengers 2, a film which should be the biggest film Marvel have produced ever, and yet we know absolutely nothing going into it. It seems as if they've got their eyes fixed further down the road, finally introducing Josh Brolin as Thanos, the biggest big bad they have at their disposal. Unless they're planning a swerve in Avengers 2 and keeping him as a surprise alongside Ultron, it seems they've forgotten the merits to short term planning as well as long term planning. The soundtrack was awesome though,

Overall, this film is entertaining, but I think we've been spoilt by Marvel films past. On their own warped scale of epicness, Guardians ends up being rather tame, and the villain is evil but not absolutely unbeatable. Of course, now we know (spoilers) that this movie's villain is merely a representative of a higher power, but there should still be some threat, something which doesn't come here until very late on in the film. The film is well constructed, don't get me wrong, but there's an awful lot going on with an awful lot of characters to the point where it feels like there's a case of too many cooks. It's a shame, because I was super hyped for this one, and perhaps I over hyped it in my own head, but it's just not the great film I hoped it would be. It's really good... It's just not great. Onto Avengers 2 we go, MCU...

Rating: ****

Friday, 25 July 2014


Mason Jr is a 6 year old boy living at home with his single mother Olivia and his sister, 8 year old Samantha. Live is as you would expect; bedtime stories, hanging out with friends, going to school and dealing with Mum's annoying boyfriend. However, Olivia announces that they are moving to Houston to allow her to go to college. From there, the life of Mason Jr is tracked over the next twelve years as he grows from a boy into a man. We see him as he meets new friends, spends every other weekend with his father, dealing with his sister and his Mum's new husband(s), all the while growing up and deciding where his future lies...

We live in a fantastic time. We have computers the size of TV remotes in our pockets which can access the world's information just by saying "OK Google", we're more affluent and free in our choices and decisions than we ever have been as a society, and we live in a time where Richard Linklater is making films. What an amazing director who doesn't get nearly enough credit when he deserves tons and tons of it.  He began his career making Slacker and Dazed and Confused, two films which inspired a number of generation X'ers to become film makers, and films which audiences continue to adopt and identify with to this day. Since then, Linklater has been a writer and director of films which continue to show modern American life and its quirks through unique characters and situations. His Before trilogy has been met with wild acclaim throughout all 3 films, he brought us Jack Black's revival in Bernie and entertained millions with School of Rock. However, it was during the filming of School of Rock that he embarked on a passion project that would consume his life for the next 12 years: The brilliant Boyhood.

Ethan Hawke described the making of this as the cast and crew getting together for a month every year and making 12 short films in 12 years. It doesn't feel like that. Despite the massive time gaps between filming dates, everything you see is one coherent narrative, it never falters or stutters. It's an extraordinary achievement to be able to craft a cohesive film from 12 years of filming, considering regular films that go into extra time filming often feel disjointed. I give massive credit to the continuity editors for getting everything right (apart from one scene, where each shot is clearly filmed at a different time of day and probably during a different filming period also). That one scene aside, everything else is spot on and it's a fascinating story of a young man growing up with a series of challenges to face and decisions to make. I think what makes this film work is that Linklater doesn't rush things, he realises real drama takes time to unfold and evolve and uses his 12 year time frame to great effect. It's a whole life story, and encompasses all aspects of Mason Jr's life from his home life with his mum, sister and absent dad, to his school life, to his friends and relationships. Boyhood becomes one of those films that is immediately identifiable with a large majority of its audience, simply because of how much ground it covers in almost 3 hours.

The film is tied together by a stuttering at first, but ultimately strong and confident performance by Ellar Coltrane. As a young boy, he seems reserved and nervous, but he soon grows more confident in front of the camera as he grows up in front of it to the point where he oozes confidence by the time he turns 18 at the end of the film. Equally as impressive is Patricia Arquette, who by the way is seriously underrated as an actress. She sports a few different hairstyles throughout the film due to other TV and film commitments, but the performance remains consistent, which I would argue is a harder job for her and her other adult co-star as they need to be the exact same character for 12 years. Wow. Plus, Arquette's character gets put through the wringer in this film, which makes her strong performance even more impressive. Equally as good is Ethan Hawke. A friend of mine remarked she'd never seen Hawke in a good film, and thinking about it, he's only ever impressed in films made by Mr Linklater, a sign he brings out the best in Ethan and should work with him more regularly. Unfortunately, Lorelei Linklater (try saying that after a few drinks), who plays Samantha, starts off strong as a 6 year old performer but fades into the background as her role is de-emphasized and reduced over the 12 years, to the point where she's almost like a cameo performer by the end instead of a co-star.

It's such an innovative idea to film a feature over multiple years in order to chart the progression of its characters, as well as charting the progression of its child actors, as both actor and character develop and becoming fully functioning adults on camera. The cast is kept small enough so that outside elements do not affect the filming and plot of the film, and each character is given a progressive story arc over the 12 year time period. My only problem with Boyhood is that although it is great to see the development of these human beings on screen, it covers too long of a time period, so no events are really touched upon in great detail, or at least not great enough detail for my liking. You see how Mason Sr becomes a responsible father in his new family, but you never see the satisfying origin story of that, only the result. You never really get to go into depth with Mason Jr's parties or his drug use or his relationship with Sheena as a teenager. It feels like everything is only touched upon, with only really significant human moments with expansive monologues and important milestones being given full screen time. Sometimes, it's about the smaller things in life that make life great. To be honest though, I'm nit picking. I don't envy the task of Sandra Adair, who was tasked with stitching together 12 years of footage into one 3 hour story of life.

Overall, Boyhood is a spectacular achievement in film making, patience, and endurance. To make a film over 12 years is taxing and difficult, keeping the cast together and committed to the project for 12 years without knowing what'll happen in the future is a significant risk (although less so when one of the stars is your daughter), but Linklater persevered and has not only produced a film that tells a coherent, structured, constant narrative, but made a film that shows characters and human beings become people in a way that hasn't been truly possible on film before. The time frame of the production allows for the film's plot lines to evolve over time, actual time rather than movie time, and allows for the dramas to develop more naturally than they would in a blockbuster. I would state that Boyhood is the antithesis of films like Transformers, showing that patience is truly a virtue and sometimes all you need to do is point a camera at life and the drama will reveal itself naturally.

Rating: *****

Saturday, 31 May 2014


Daikaiju! In the Philippines 15 years ago, two scientists discover two pods in a collapsed mine; one is closed, but one is open and something's clearly dragged itself away. In Japan, a nuclear power plant picks up seismic activity before a disaster happens and Joe, an engineer, loses his wife to a radiation leak before the entire plant goes into meltdown. 15 years later, Ford, Joe's son, returns from the army and gets a call; his dad has been arrested in Japan for trespassing in the quarantine zone around the power plant. Joe is convinced it was no accident that caused the meltdown and cost him his wife, he's convinced something ungodly caused it. As he and Joe re-enter the zone to retrieve data, they find themselves in the middle of a crisis: Whatever crawled out of the cave 15 years ago has been hibernating and feeding on radiation, but now it's about to hatch and cause havoc. But where does Godzilla fit into all of this?

I'm a big fan of big monster films. They can be terrifying, but mostly they can be really entertaining and silly. I'm no expert on the Godzilla series, but I know enough to get by, and I still remember going to the cinema in 1998 and watching Matthew Broderick battle the tiny Godzilla shown in the American version of the film. The series seemed dead and buried after that, but then 12 years later, something special happened: A special effects guy made a cracking film about monsters on no budget and off-the-shelf VFX and editing software. It was called Monsters, and I bloody loved it back in 2010. So who better than that man, Gareth Edwards, to bring back the daikaiju himself, the daddy of all monsters? Here's the immediate problem: Monsters was written by Edwards, this was not.

So, I usually start off my reviews by summarizing the plot, and I think I did a pretty good job of it above. The problem? I had to shoehorn Godzilla into the plot description. This film does not revolve around its title character. Instead, Godzilla is something that happens in concurrence to the main plot. That's not right! There's a lot of other things that happen, with a lot of other characters and a few other monsters, and the action jumps all over the world from Japan to the Philippines to Hawaii to mainland America. All the while Godzilla is spoken of in hushed tones, all respectful like. But where is he? Where is the king of all monsters? Then, there's the problem not just with Godzilla films, but with monster films nowadays. Monster movies are the Kobayashi Maru of modern cinema.

Monster movies work better when you see less of the aforementioned monster, allowing the audience's imaginations and fears to fill in the gaps that VFX couldn't possibly achieve, hence why 'Monsters' worked so well 4 years ago. However, people pay to see the monster, especially in a film like Godzilla, and as big and intimidating you make the monster, it loses its impact the more you see it. God bless them, they try their best here, as they spend a lot of time focusing on the two MUTOs and less on Godzilla until he's needed to come into play, and they treat him with respect when off-screen, making him the ultimate monster... There's just no balance that will ever satiate everyone, and even as I write this, I'm still not sure if I'm unhappy I didn't see Godzilla enough, or unhappy I saw too much. All I know is I'm unhappy.

I was completely unaware that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was the lead actor in this film, as everything revolves around his plot line. Did anyone else think it was Bryan Cranston after all the trailers? And did anyone else know that Sally Hawkins would have such a big role alongside the legendary Ken Watanabe? Well, they are, and they do, and they're both great, along with Watanabe and Cranston. Juliette Binoche is, unfortunately, relegated to a brief (but important) cameo. Elizabeth Olsen is good too and has good chemistry with Taylor-Johnson (which makes me excited to see them together as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in Avengers 2 next year). The score is grandiose, and also carries the feel of an old-school action film, especially at its action points. The direction is spot on, and even the dialogue is non-cheesy and somewhat logical. The problem lies within the plot and the writing thereof.

Overall, I was really looking forward to this film, and the trailer promised something incredible. In all fairness, the film delivered on the trailer, there was no misrepresentation. So then why do I feel let down by this film? Is it because there was too much Godzilla, or too less? Is it because it tried to replicate Monsters by focusing on personal stories instead of the creatures when it really should have been focusing on 'daikaiju'? I like that it stuck to the canon more than the 1998 treatment, and the little things like the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Mothra reference made me smile, but the only thing that really got me excited in this film was the initial reveal of Godzilla and that first, initial, ear-splitting scream. After that, though, it was business as usual, this could have been any other disaster film. Have we been ruined as a 21st century movie going audience? I fear yes, but I have hope that revolution can still happen, and there'll be a film one day that reviews and revises all disaster movie canon. This just isn't it though. Maybe Godzilla 2 will be a bit more daring...

Rating: **

Friday, 4 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Two years after the events of Avengers Assemble, Steve Rogers is living in modern day Washington DC and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. whilst struggling to adapt to contemporary society. Whilst on a mission with Black Widow, he discovers Nick Fury has given her a separate mission, which infuriates him, and leads to nick Fury showing him Project Insight, a series of Helicarriers linked by satellite to eliminate threats. Fury, however, is becoming frustrated as he is unable to decrypt recovered data, and an attempt is then made on his life. Rogers then meets the enigmatic Alexander Pierce, a senior official within S.H.I.E.L.D., in order to work out who ordered an assassination on Fury. However, before the attempt, Fury had met with Rogers and revealed his doubts about the organisation, and when Rogers refuses to reveal that information, Pierce dismisses him and makes it known he and Black Widow are wanted dead...
Is it just me or has Captain America always felt like the odd one out? Maybe it's just because I'm British and can't completely associate with the American propaganda character, or maybe it's because Captain America is the least super superhero to get his own franchise. Granted, all Hawkeye can do is fight a bow and arrow really well, and Black Widow is just good at fighting, but in the context of the Avengers, they have their place. Captain America has the super serum going for him, but there's nothing overly special about him. He has no real powers or abilities over than his super strength and the fact that his shield is indestructible (and is the only one like it in the world despite its incredible properties...) Regardless, here we go with Cap 2, an important step towards Avengers 2. Question is, can it justify its creation? Annoyingly, yes.

I thought Captain America 1 was good because it was something different, it was an origin story in a completely different era. In a way, it made it more alien than if it were set on an actual alien planet. Unfortunately, that's come to be the expectation of every new Marvel film: It has to be something different. Iron Man 3 closed the book on what was an extremely series of films up to that point. Now, the MCU needs to diversify to survive, and they've done a stand up job with Cap 2, making it the American equivalent to a James Bond film. It's full of suspicion and espionage and mistrust within an organisation, whilst retaining the superhero element which the James Bond series of film must now strive to steer clear of. It's good that they've found a niche for Captain America, a unique place for him amongst their ever-growing resume of superheroes brought to the big screen. Fittingly also, I feel the good Captain is being used in the same way now as he was back when he was created: A propaganda tool for the boosting of American morale in a time of need. Cap stands as the morale compass of an organisation that has become decayed and poisoned, and stands up to the seemingly insurmountable threat. But then maybe all superheroes are fit for that purpose, and I'm just picking on Cap because he dresses in the stars and stripes?

Regardless, Steve Rogers is played well, again, by Chris Evans. To be honest, there's nothing new or exceptional about any of the leads. That's another essential requirement now  to nay new Marvel film: They need a strong cast of refreshed characters around them for every film. Therefore, Captain America, Black Widow and Nick Fury are assisted ably by three new MCU characters: The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson, and Alexander Pierce. Big spoiler here: The Winter Soldier, aka Bucky Barnes, is played well by Sebastian Stan again; emotionless, ruthless and near-demonic, and it's more impressive as he's playing against his instinct to revert back to the Bucky character he played so well in Cap 1. Sam Wilson is s great introductuon to the franchise as Falcon, and never grates as sometimes sidekicks can. He holds his own, and is never overawed by the fantastic Steve Rogers, rather he sees him as his equal, a fellow serving officer with whom he can share his horror stories of time on the front line. Also, Robert Redford is great as Alexander Pierce, but you'd expect nothing less from a veteran like him. Cool, unnerving, friendly and deceitful; he's a great choice for the lead antagonist here.

Here's my problem with the film though: While the plot holds up and creates an exciting and unpredictable (to a point) story, it's all very convenient. Now, I realise I'm saying this about a film, a superhero film no less, but it's true! HUGE SPOILERS HERE, READ OWN AT YOUR OWN PERIL. It's the fact that the main plot driver is the fact that Hydra, Captain America's foes from the first film set almost 70 years prior, is alive and well within S.H.I.E.L.D. and the man who helps uncover it is Cap, 70 years later. Hmm. It's lucky it wasn't Thor who found out about Hydra, he'd have had no idea what to do. That aside, I think it was an extremely brave move on Marvel's part to shake up the MCU by essentially obliterating S.H.I.E.L.D., especially since they concurrently have a TV series entitled 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' which deals exclusively with the inner workings of the organisation. Where they go on TV next will be interesting, especially since Agent Jasper Sitwell appeared in the last broadcast episode (1st April 2014) and then appeared in Cap 2, becoming a very important part of the plot. One last thing too: I think it was an EXTREMELY smart move to shift Black Widow from the now-defunct Iron Man series into this one, she added a new dimension that Captain America wouldn't have been able to achieve either on his own, nor I doubt with anyone else.

Overall, this was a surprisingly good film. This was the second Marvel film in a row where my expectations have been low and have been exceeded with ease. I need to have more faith in Kevin Feige. I wasn;t sure where they could go with the Cap character and to put him in a James Bond-esque film was probably the best move they could have made for him. I can't see how Cap 2 would have worked had it been just a bog standard superhero film, but this is definitely something more. It's not my favourite, but it is good, and it sets things up well for the biggest risk/experiment Marvel have made so far: Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which contains no pre-established characters and has no bearing on the Avengers (that we know of yet). It's a gamble, and my expectations are high, so let's see what happens in July. Also, why do people still leave before the very end of Marvel films? Half the audience left before the first post-credits, and there were only 5 of us for the second one! Stick around, damnit!

Rating: ****