Monday, 2 September 2013

Pain & Gain (2013)

Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Action
Rating: 15

From the second Mark Wahlberg uttered the first few pointless opening lines, including the cringe-worthy “I believe in fitness”, I knew I was going to dislike this movie. Funnily enough, by the same closing line “I believe in fitness”, a lot had changed. Not only did I now hate the movie, I had also lost a small but precious part of my soul and approximately 500 brain cells. This film was all pain and absolutely zero gain.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie are three rather stupid bodybuilders in Florida, who try to kidnap and murder a rich customer from their regular gym in an attempt to steal his finances and make themselves richer. You can kind of see what Michael Bay was trying to achieve here, by bringing a (shockingly) true story to life and simultaneously hoping to create a comedy that mocks all cliché films about the American dream and being the best that you can be, however, this idea fails to translate. What is instead created is a shambles of a film that makes the audience both cringe and howl at the ridiculousness of it all. Witty and charming is what they were going for, but messy and embarrassing is more like it. I found myself frequently covering my eyes – whether that be to protect myself from the graphic and unnecessary amounts of gore and violence, or the stupidity and desperation for laughs.

There are few good things in Pain & Gain, including moments of rare and genuine talent from Anthony Mackie, and an Ed Harris role (albeit, a disappointingly small one). Perhaps even the barbeque scene (you won’t believe your eyes) gathered a few real laughs… however if The Rock’s acting career wasn’t already down the toilet, then it most definitely is now. As for Wahlberg? Maybe he should reconsider showing his face in public ever again. Harsh, yes, but fans of Ted know he can do comedy, and avid watchers of The Fighter know that he can also act. This movie has taken a good five years from his career, which is an honest shame. You can do better than this Mark.
To put it simply, Pain & Gain is an embarrassment to cinema. Although many may find some entertainment from the terrible performances, dodgy plot and try-hard direction, most will wonder where the past two hours of their lives went. That’s just my opinion, but to quote the film: “I watch a lot of movies… I know what I’m doing.”


The World's End (2013)

Director:  Edgar Wright
Writers: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
Genre:  Comedy, Sci-Fi, Action
 Rating: 15

 On paper, The World’s End sounds like the most ridiculous idea for a movie that anyone could ever imagine: five middle-aged men reuniting in their old hometown of Newton Haven to complete the 12 stop pub-crawl The Golden Mile that they never finished as teens 20 years ago, only to find that the town’s residents have been replaced by ink-blooded robots – or “Blanks”. The ‘five musketeers’ reluctantly become the human races’ only chance for survival. Yes, it’s all very ridiculous, but what’s even more ridiculous is that it still works, and this of course relies on the famous and much loved comedy duo at the forefront of this silly tale – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul).
The World’s End marks the third instalment of the ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ (a joke only fans of the duo will understand) following the critically acclaimed Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz - tough acts to follow indeed - and manages to yet again create the perfect blend of laugh-out-loud humour, loveable characters, recite-able quotes and slapstick comedy. Simon Pegg is brilliant as the rowdy and haywire Gary King who is determined to complete the Golden Mile no matter what, despite his exasperated friends – the sensible and begrudging Andy (Nick Frost), the pathetic and kind Peter (Eddie Marsan), the pretentious and boring Oliver (Martin Freeman) and the competitive and fun-loving Steven (Paddy Considine).
All five characters are very Dad-like which makes this film a perfect watch for the blokes, however it is so hilarious that anybody over the age of 15 would enjoy it. It may be unimaginably silly, but with films like this you can’t take them too seriously – they’re just a bit of light-hearted fun - yet with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s ingenious script-writing skills, there’s an underlining intelligent wit that will have the audience in stitches.
The World’s End is a film suitable for anyone with a sense of humour, and for fans of Pegg and Frost it is a 10/10 must see. Dramatically compelling, mildly thrilling and hysterically funny, this comedy sci-fi is a tremendous end to the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

World War Z (2013)

Director: Marc Forster
Rating: 15

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay), Drew Goddard (screenplay), Max Brooks (novel)
Genre: Thriller/Action/Drama
The Zombie phenomenon is much like the zombie plague itself: once bitten, there’s no going back. With films like Shaun Of The Dead and 28 Days Later or TV shows like The Walking Dead, our generation is hooked on something that was once a kooky idea from some mad daydreamer but is now a cultural obsession that rakes in billions worldwide - the terror of the undead.
What is interesting about World War Z is that it may be the first proper zombie blockbuster that Hollywood has truly seen; with Brad Pitt at its forefront, an overactive hype surrounding its release and a billion dollar budget. It is worth mentioning that this budget for sure did not go to waste, as World War Z ticks all the boxes needed for a zombie thriller.
Marc Forster enraptures exhilarating suspense from the word go, immediately launching into the action sequence and subsequent introduction of these highly rapid, insanely ravenous and dangerously infectious creatures. From this moment on, the anticipation never really ceases and leaves the audience permanently on the edge of their seats, as we follow courageous family man and former United Nations investigator Gerry Lane (Pitt), as he becomes re-employed solely to help find the cure of this lethal zombie-creating disease - facing obvious terror and near-death experiences on his quest.
World War Z definitely seems to be more of a thriller than just a typical zombie film – which is a refreshing change. The movie plays less on the glamourized gore and grossness of the zombie itself (perhaps this is sad news for hard-core zombie fans?) and more on the traumatic impact and terror that this frightening unknown disease has on the world. You could say Max Brooks’ novel of which the film was based, tells the most accurate story of how a zombie apocalypse would pan out in reality - these zombies are fast, and what’s worse, is that there is a lot of them - and their numbers are fast increasing. It is the conquest of beating these creatures that drives the movie through to the end, with never ending intensity and heart-jolting jumps.
A dull moment is never to be found in World War Z. It is a quick, white-knuckle-turning rollercoaster ride of emotions, teaming well with a clever script and plot; in turn creating a brilliant film through something more powerful than just cheap thrills and artificial bloodshed.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton

Fitzgerald’s unforgettable Jazz Age novella following a young millionaire (Leonardo DiCaprio) fascinated with his long lost love Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) has captivated audiences since 1925; because of its perplexing sophistication, undeniable profanity and vivacious style. For these same awestruck audiences, Luhrmann’s sparkly and superficial adaptation of The Great Gatsby does nothing other than stamp all over the beloved book and tosses it onto an open flame.
Sadly, Luhrmann has turned a tale of such depth and complexity into something so frustratingly shallow, when it could have been so fantastic! - if only he had at least attempted to read the source material.

For non-readers of the book, it would be a lie to say The Great Gatsby isn’t fabulously entertaining. Since Moulin Rouge and Romeo & Juliet, it’s been clear that Luhrmann is a visionary. He puts on a show, and he does it well. It would have seemed almost stupid to consider anyone else to direct a story of such compelling brilliance – it was as if Fitzgerald wrote the book with Luhrmann in mind! Yet, the film falls short of this same virtuosity, and it is his directing here that lets us all down.

Swooping camera shots and close-ups, bouncing parties we long to be at, outstanding costumes, an abstract hip-hop soundtrack (featuring Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey and Fergie), vibrant cinematography and a non-stop buzz that underlines the entire movie – yes, it all draws you in, and at times, The Great Gatsby feels like the most thrilling movie you have ever seen. But, it is not until the end, when the meaning behind everything is revealed, and we see a glimmer of a rare, endearing hope that the film should have had from the very beginning. In a way, we may feel a bit robbed.

DiCaprio really does pull out all the stops. He’s endearing and charmingly odd as the mysterious Gatsby, but still, something just doesn’t fit. Even Robert Redford struggled to convey the complexity of Gatsby’s character in the first 1974 version of this literary bible, and he is the one with two Academy Awards (sorry Leo…)

Mulligan carries her part well, however adds an unnecessary innocence to the supposedly self-centred and shallow character of Daisy. Maybe it is she who steers the audience away from feeling the sympathy for Gatsby that perhaps Fitzgerald had hoped for. However, she is still incredibly fascinating as the 20s pin-up girl; she was born for this era.

Tobey Maguire is ever so earnest and beguiling as ex-war veteran/writer Nick Carraway, cousin to Daisy and neighbour to Gatsby. The story is written from his perspective as he recalls his time spent with Gatsby to a psychiatrist. Perhaps I’m not alone in wishing the focus had been more on his character than that of Gatsby, but The Great Carraway does not have the same ring to it.

The acting in this film really does not suffer that much - smaller roles from Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki and Isla Fisher are equally as brilliant - so it is a shame that the over-exaggerated, almost cartoon-like world that Luhrmann has created detracts attention away from the raw truth that lies beneath The Great Gatsby. However, that’s just typical of him, he loves a good show, and aren’t movies all about creating a new, magical world for us anyway?

If you’re wanting a meaningful replica of the book then stay as far from this movie as possible, but if you’re simply looking for a fun time at the cinema, then it really isn’t all that bad.


Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Host (2013)

 Stephenie Meyer (novel), Andrew Niccol(screenplay)
 Saoirse RonanMax IronsJake Abel, William Hurt
 Sci-fi, Romance, Thriller, Drama

It’s almost inevitable that people are going to shun a new film based on a book written by the same author of the massively successful Twilight Saga (Stephenie Meyer) but director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) is persistent in his quest to prove that The Host is arguably not just another love story but is in fact a scientific tale about an alien race and their conquest to overtake Earth. As far as sci-fi thrillers go, The Host does manage to tick some boxes. Suspense: check. Intrigue: check. Realistic special effects: Yeah they were okay. Some good action scenes: they could have been better. Futuristic props and settings: nicely done.

Yet, despite this, The Host still somehow manages to reach out mainly to teenage girls in a slightly cliché tale of courage, love, loss and despair, following human Host Melanie (Saorise Ronan) who is unlike other Hosts and is reluctant to allow her mind and body to be taken over by alien Soul Wanda. Both Melanie (a voice-over character stuck inside a body beyond her control) and Wanda work together to return Melanie to her true love Jared (Max Irons), little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and Uncle Jeb (William Hurt) – some of few human survivors taking refuge in the deserts. When Melanie returns with silver eyes (a sign she has been taken over by a Soul), it is Wanda’s job to convince the family that Melanie is still alive in her body and refuses to let go.
Whilst fighting for Jared and fighting for refuge from alien Seeker (Diane Kruger), Wanda begins to develop feelings for the friendly and more open-minded Ian (Jake Abel). Although less pathetically handled than in The Twilight Saga, this love triangle is guaranteed to get sceptical viewers rolling their eyes. However, romantics and readers of the book will welcome Ronan’s gutsy performance with open arms. It is arguable that it is she who carries the film to the end and makes it all the more watchable.

The Host is slow-moving in parts but secures some comedic moments, breath-taking suspense and projects an endless raw emotion and power – Ronan and Hurt work well with Niccol’s clever script to maintain this. The Host had every potential to get sci-fi fans foaming at the mouth if only there’d been more attention focussed on who the alien Souls were, or how they came to Earth, or what they plan on doing next, and less attention focussed on how Melanie and Wanda were to ‘fight’ for their ‘true loves’. Meyer’s source material is the only thing to blame for this. Niccol and his fizzy cast ensemble were terrific in the way that they worked with what they had to create a film that no, doesn’t work for everyone but does put a new twist on the love triangle and tale-of-heroism type movie that seems to be so popular these days.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Mama (2013)

Director:Andrés Muschietti

Starring:Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier Genre:Horror/Thriller/Drama

Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) presents Mama – an eerie story of death and loss, succeeding only because of its unoriginal use of suspense and quick gut-wrenching jolts.
Like most other horror films, the audience are manipulated into believing they have just seen an epic, scary movie. It depends what you are wanting out of the cinematic experience, but being a sceptical movie viewer myself, I left the screen with nothing other than utmost disappointment. Heart-stopping, breath-taking, toe-curling revulsion? Yes, it’s got all of that… but is that all that makes a good horror film?
Mama tells the tale of two daughters Victoria and Lilly, left abandoned in the woods after their ruined father murdered their mother. After surviving for five years on a diet of cherries and moths, their father’s brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finally rescues the girls and offers them a home with himself and his goth-rocker girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain), but whatever it was that took care of these feral creatures is reluctant to let them go. A phantom figure nicknamed ‘Mama’ - a black spiritual character with a face of despair - is willing to do everything in her power to keep the girls under her maternal care, mourning the loss of her own baby long ago.
Underneath the subversive façade of creeps in the dark, flashes, scuttles and ear-piercing shrieks is a somewhat compelling allegory about the everlasting love of a Mother and the anguish surrounding the death of a parent or child.
However, Muschietti and Cross fail to create a film that could have the potential to inspire and shock an audience, instead producing a piece of cinema that yes, can release adrenaline and get your heart-racing, but doesn’t stick in your mind for any longer than one (albeit, daunting) night.
The makers of this film have focussed too much attention on deliberately scaring their watchers and have thus neglected to emphasise a story that already has the ability to astonish and panic, without the embarrassing frontage of slamming doors, creaks, shrieks and whispers in the night.
What makes this film watchable is of course the undeniable scare-factor, but also a refreshingly bold performance from the always impressive Jessica Chastain. If it wasn’t for the Zero Dark Thirty star, then the movie would fall flat and carry no charisma whatsoever.
Mama is not a film that you’ll remember for the rest of the life. For an adrenaline fix, or something to go see when you’re bored, Mama is not completely unbearable as it does tick the boxes of a cliché horror film. However, the direction, cinematography, production and dire script of this movie are what make it a dull and unoriginal motion picture that will be forgotten within a few months.  

Monday, 25 February 2013

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Kathryn Bigelow
Mark Boal
Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt 

Drama, History, Thriller, Action

Only eighteen months since the world’s most wanted terrorist was assassinated by the American army comes Zero Dark Thirty - an intense thriller centring around the stressful chase and final capture of Osama Bin Laden. Brought to screens by Oscar-winning director, Katheryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and based on first-hand accounts of real life CIA agents, Zero Dark Thirty tells a compelling tale of anger, desperation and relief that intelligently deletes misconceptions and spells out the truth behind the incredible story of how justice was done when Bin Laden was killed in 2011.
When making a movie surrounding such a sensitive topic, Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal hit the nail hard on the head. The Hurt Locker captivated its audience because of its raw truth and tasteful storytelling of an elite army bomb squad unit in Iraq, and Zero Dark Thirty does a similar task. There is no tiptoeing around the subject – in fact, many have said that the torture scenes (including the disturbingly truthful torture of Bin Laden’s nephew – Ammar (Reda Kateb)) bring the endorsement of America’s interrogation tactics to light.
Bigelow and Boal team to create a movie that has all the panache of a Hollywood action thriller and all the integrity of a 9/11 documentary, leaving out all cliché speeches about ‘saving the world’, ‘fighting for your country’ or ‘getting revenge’. What manages to inspire the audience all the same, is a strikingly poignant performance from Jessica Chastain. The tough-talking and hard-working Maya (based on CIA agent known as “Jen”) is determined to follow a lead she believes will bring the CIA to Bin Laden in Pakistan.  Maya is resolute and resilient despite facing major setbacks from both her colleagues and the Pakistani army – becoming a number one target from members of Al Qaeda and various other parties within Pakistan.
Although slow in parts and slightly too heavy for a Saturday afternoon, Zero Dark Thirty is a successful blockbuster guaranteed to get people talking. There is always the fear that making a movie about something so important to our culture may glamorize the truth and try too hard to make big bucks, but with Bigelow and Boal, there is no fear at all. Incredibly made and beautifully told, Zero Dark Thirty is a film that members of every generation should see in order to recognise the bravery of the US in eliminating a man that caused uproar across the globe. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Impossible (2013)

Drama, Thriller, Action
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast.
Juan Antonia Bayona
Writer: Sergio G Sanchez, Maria Belon
Bayona’s The Impossible had every chance to become a samey, deliberately tear-jerky, over-dramatic disaster movie and that’s of course what I was expecting. Unlike most other movies I see and review, for The Impossible, I remained spoiler and trailer-free. I had no idea what I was about to watch and knew nothing other than that they’d decided to use one of the most tragic disasters of all time as a way to make big bucks. Sigh.
Yet, from the word go, The Impossible did the impossible and completely won over everyone in the cinema. The film centres truthfully around the traumatic happenings of Boxing Day 2004, when a Tsunami hit Thailand, killing over 200,000 people and leaving millions homeless. The Impossible explores the true story of Spanish Belon family (changed to the British Bennett’s for the film) - Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts), Henri Bennett (Ewan McGregor) and their three young sons, on their unexpected and miraculous journey to survival.
Because of its truth and alarming emotionality, The Impossible is a far cry from your typical disaster movie. Everything about this film feels real, from the sometimes unwatchable trauma to the raw human spirit and hope that drives this family to never give up.
Director Bayona and writer Sanchez team together to create a film that is everything more than extraordinary. The opening scenes - although quite stiff - tell us of what should be a blissful Christmas break, yet there is a manipulative tension as the audience wait for what they know is about to hit.
As the waves crash over the resort, we are put in the position of the desperate family and allowed to feel exactly the way they feel. Bayona’s choice to view the tsunami from the view of the victim rather than from an aerial money-shot is the precise reason why The Impossible succeeds. It is not about making an incredible film  - although it is  tremendous – but it is about telling a story, and this story, is one that sticks with you. I couldn’t stop thinking about this film for hours afterwards, and I still catch myself thinking about it now.
The incredible performances from Watts, McGregor and rising star Tom Holland (Lucas Belon/Bennett) are shockingly relatable and this is what makes The Impossible so striking. There won’t be a dry eye in the house – and that’s coming from someone who never cries at films.
Beautifully tragic, inspiring and swimming with emotion, The Impossible has rightfully gained itself the title of best disaster movie of all time.