Monday, 29 December 2014

Unbroken (2014)

Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson
Written by: Ethan and Joel Coen (screenplay), Laura Hillenbrand (book)
Genre: Drama, biography, sport

Angelina Jolie’s second film working behind the camera tells the traumatic and truthful tale of Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic US athlete turned World War 2 hero after a bomber jet crashes into the Pacific ocean leaving officer Louie and two more survivors (Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock) stranded at sea for 47 days, until they become rescued, captured and tortured by the Japanese as slaves at a POW camp.

Despite the heavy 137 minute length, at no point during Unbroken does your attention drift. From the word go, this wartime feature is incredibly captivating, and this is due to a range of successful decisions made by Jolie herself. The casting in this movie could not be more brilliant, with rising star O’Connell demonstrating absolutely unbelievable talent that will not go unrecognised. It’s hard to imagine another actor in this role as he takes you on an emotional journey that so effectively captures the raw nature of human spirit. Additionally, acting from Takamasa Ishihara as Watanabe “the bird”, a Japanese sergeant with a particular hatred for Louie, is terrifying and realistically chilling. Smaller roles from Garrett Hedlund and Domhnall Gleeson are also unforgettable. Think what you want about Unbroken, but one thing that cannot be knocked is the extremely skilled cast whom carry this movie until the very end.

However, Unbroken soars in other areas too. The Oscar-winning Coen brothers deliver a gritty script with the capacity to help the audience really feel the pain that Louie felt, and beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins makes the movie easy on the eye.

Of course, any wartime movie is going to be ridden with clichés and overdramatized scenes. Although Jolie definitely emphasises this with her slightly try-hard directing, these faults are not unbearable in any sense and can definitely be overlooked, if not unnoticed. Perhaps once again it is O’Connell’s entrancing performance that distracts the audience from anything other than the strength of Louie’s character, and the real traumas of World War 2.

Unbroken is a beautiful homage to the late Louie Zamperini and is a film that I would encourage people of all ages to see. With its poignant message and educational story which I am sure many people are unaware of (me included), it is a movie bound to teach, inspire and encourage, something I think is very important for cinema.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Say When (2014)

Starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Grace Moretz
Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Written by: Andrea Seigel
Genre: Comedy, drama, romance
Rating: 15

Although consistently brilliant and always captivating, Keira Knightley has been stuck in a rut of tight corsets and pursed lips for years now. Don’t get me wrong, she excels, but here, in a different light as 28 year-old ‘floater’ Megan, Knightley embodies a much more relaxed and relatable role, proving that she is a hell of a lot more than the elegant and regal character we have grown to associate her with.

After settling for a high school boyfriend and avoiding important job decisions whilst her best friends move on with life and grow up, Megan faces a ‘quarter-life crisis’, and so moves in with troubled but cute teenager Annika (Moretz) and her hot lawyer Dad (Rockwell), just for a week to get her head together. The plot is a little questionable if not implausible, but for the most part, this film is earnest and pretty fun, mixing quirky wit with sentiment to create the right balance of comedy drama.

Knightley is gawky and clumsy here, however it is a refreshing change as she reverts back to her Bend It Like Beckham days, tackling the role of the cool, chilled tomboy extremely well. The chemistry between her and rising star Moretz is unbeatable and very sweet to watch, but it is the down-to-earth scenes with Rockwell that really shine. He is wonderfully endearing, delivering both elements of loveable Dad humour and sexy love interest in a way that allows the audience to see him honestly in both lights.

Perhaps Shelton’s kooky flick is a little dull in parts, and taking a nap half way through wouldn’t exactly mess up your understanding of this predictable tale, but it is harmless fun and will no doubt make you smile. With very watchable performances from an outstanding cast, and a unique script that induces many giggles, Say When is one of those movies guaranteed to make you feel all lovely and nice - perfect for a lazy afternoon with a mug of tea.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Equalizer (2014)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Moretz
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk
Genre: Action, thriller, violence, drama
Rated: 15
If there is one thing that all avid movie watchers believe, it is that films are not just here to entertain us, but they are here to teach us something, here to help us feel. Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer – although mostly entertaining – somehow fails miserably in doing this. Despite the non-stop action, odd funny quips and expectedly kickass acting from Denzel, The Equalizer is empty and senseless, leaving the audience asking endless questions – and not the good kind.

Denzel is Robert, a typically lonely widower working in a hardware store, spending his dull evenings reading books in the local café (clearly a feeble attempt to add an inch of depth to this shallow tale). It is here he meets Teri (Chloe Moretz), a young girl working as an escort for a group of highly dangerous Russian men. After she suffers a beating, Robert decides to revert back to his past (which is never explained) and do something about it with swift, savvy planning and lots and lots of blood.

Washington doesn’t showcase his best skills here, however you can’t help but love the guy – his minor faults can be overlooked, as the main flaws here lie with a cliché script and empty characters that you feel like you never really get to know or love. Performances from Moretz and Melissa Leo are unsurprisingly endearing and captivating, which makes their lack of screen time extremely underserved and a real shame. Fuqua’s fancy camera work and daring angles are like that of a child with a brand new toy, which makes it all a bit too fast-paced - especially for a film which already takes much too long to get going and much too long to end.

For a quick action fix, The Equalizer ticks all of the boxes. The audience may find themselves on the edge of their seat, unable to look at the screen, and yes – it is highly exhilarating and undoubtedly enjoyable - but that is it. Within an hour, you’ve forgotten what the film was even about. There is no way this movie is going to stay with us for very long, but for an unnecessarily long two and a half hours, The Equalizer is perhaps not the worst movie you could choose to see.

Hector And The Search For Happiness (2014)

Directed by: Peter Chelsom
Starring: Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette
Written by:
François Lelord (novel), Maria Von Heland, Peter Chelsom
Genre: Comedy, drama, adventure
Rating: 15

As brilliantly funny Simon Pegg is, his performances in comedies like Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz are silly and hard to take seriously. So with each release of one of his films, it is hard to remain unbiased and put any thoughts of dubiousness to the back of one’s mind. Hector And The Search For Happiness (based on François Lelord’s critically acclaimed novel) therefore came as a pleasant surprise. This film is a typical Pegg hit - silly in parts, and undoubtedly funny, but the difference between this and his other comedies, is that it is meaningful and has the audience leaving the cinema feeling enlightened, with a desire to seize the day and live your life to the brim.

Pegg is Hector, a very ordinary, very comfortable and very bored London-based psychiatrist, who spends his days doodling whilst pretending to listen to his dreary patients, and spends his nights living a tidy, normal life with gorgeous girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike). After endless days of the same old routine, Hector comes to realise that he is a “fraud”, how can he tell his patients to be happy when he doesn’t even know what happiness is himself? So he goes on an exotic journey to countries China, Africa and America, in a quest to discover what happiness is - and most importantly, how to be it.

Pegg was the perfect choice for Hector – it is hard to imagine anybody else playing this part as well as he did, being the well-balanced mix of hilarious, earnest and astonishingly likeable, which drives the movie to the very end. However, it is his encounters with each unique character on the journey which help Hector - and we as the audience - feel like a happy epiphany has been reached.

I’d be lying if I said this movie was perfect. The only criticism the film faces is its manic direction and heavy editing – although done artistically, it is a little unnecessary for a movie with a message as simple and profound as this. After all, isn’t the meaning behind a story the whole reason we started watching films in the first place? To feel something? Well, Hector And The Search For Happiness certainly does make you feel something - whether that be your own desire to find happiness, or perhaps the well-needed realisation that you already have enough reasons to be happy for.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Adventure

Rated: PG

If there’s one thing you can expect from a Michael Bay film, it is mayhem – or as often put “Bayhem”. Knock him all you want, but it is undeniable that some of Bay’s worst films have given us some of the best, most heart-racing action sequences seen on screen (i.e. Bad Boys II). So, with the release of the 4th instalment of the Transformers series, audiences are expecting to take perhaps at least a little excitement and adrenaline from Age Of Extinction – albeit, if nothing else.

However, prepare for utmost disappointment. It seems that Bay is not even good at what he’s good at anymore, because this film is incredibly boring, terribly sluggish, frustratingly samey and just downright awful.

Wahlberg is Cade, an inventor who stumbles across a hidden Transformer after the battle of Autobots and Deceptions levelled Chicago, causing the Transformers to be seen as a ‘threat’ to all humankind. Cade, his daughter Tessa (Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Reynor) join alliances with this robot, who turns out to be Optimus – leader of the Transformers – and promise to help defeat the mysterious bounty hunter who seeks to rid of Optimus and his robotic army, much to the despair of the government and their operations.

Stanley Tucci may be the only element of success in this tedious 166 minute nightmare, as Joshua Joyce, leader of the KSI – a company in the midst of creating man-made Transformers to be used for military use. Tucci’s acting is watchable beyond belief, the scenes with him are the best (…of a bad bunch) however the only disappointment here is that a man of such talent would choose a film with this level of disastrousness.

There is nothing in this movie that could offer the smallest level of entertainment to anybody. Even the excessive fighting and banging around couldn’t make the most excitable 11 year old boy bat an eyelid, and there most certainly isn’t any worthy drama or sentiment that could tug at your heart strings. The only thing Age Of Extinction succeeds in doing is forcing you to put your head in your hands and cringe.

Whether it be the dire acting, embarrassing attempts at comedy or unrealistic CGI action sequences, it is hard to tell exactly what makes this film nosedive so much. It could also be the issue that the only female role is an objectified damsel-in-distress figure. Maybe it’s the dreadful plot and script offered by Kruger, or perhaps it’s the amateur direction and odd camera angles once again provided by Bay. In truth, the one singular thing wrong with Transfomers: Age Of Extinction is everything. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Maleficent (2014)

Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Screenwriter: Linda Woolverton
Genre: Fantasy, Drama
Rating: PG

If anyone is to be cast as the human version of a Disney character, Angelina Jolie’s face and demure certainly fits the criteria. With angular features and an alluring air about her, as the villain Maleficent in this somewhat gothic adaptation of Disney’s 1959 animation Sleeping Beauty, she truly is breath-taking.
Yet Jolie is not the only beauty in Maleficent. Direction and creativity from visual effects extraordinaire Stromberg (Alice In Wonderland) and wicked costumes from Anna Biedrzycka-Sheppard team together with fairy-tale backdrops and settings and a comical, cartoon-like cast, producing a movie that is visually captivating and extraordinarily enchanting all at once.
However, as stunning as this film may be, beauty on the outside is not everything, and whilst the message behind the movie is important, the deliverance of this moral from screen to audience is not done as well as it could be.
In truth, Maleficent is really boring. It looks good, and the characters are played brilliantly, but something is missing and it’s still hard to put a finger on what that thing is. Jolie is true to her title, becoming magnificently powerful as the good fairy-turned-evil-villain, after her hardship drives her to seek revenge. Fanning (Aurora/Sleeping Beauty) is adorable and honest, and the three little fairies summoned to look after her are hilarious and heart-warming, so it is not the acting performances that have let this movie down.
Although Woolverton provides a very believable and typically Disney-esque script to keep this modern adaptation traditional, perhaps it simply is the actual story that is just so dull. Disney have tried to reach out at an older audience, attempting to turn a children’s classic into a darker, more enticing movie - but this doesn’t exactly work.
Sleeping Beauty should - and will - forever remain a story for kids, and truthfully, there really is no doubt that the kids will enjoy this take on the tale. However Maleficent wasn’t made for them. Disney have sadly not accomplished what they sought to achieve, because for anyone over the age of 10, Maleficent is so sleep-inducing, you almost believe it was you that pricked your finger on the spinning wheel and fell into a coma.


Bad Neighbours (2014)

Directed by: Nick Stoller
Written by: Andrew Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Dave Franco
Genre: Comedy
Rated: 15

With Seth Rogen’s highly-regarded acting resume boasting comedic gems like Knocked Up and Superbad, it’s obvious that by putting him at the forefront of any new film, it’s going to sell. So before Stoller has even started to create storyboards, Rogen has raked in a vast audience and guaranteed a huge opening weekend.
Then, Stoller takes Zac Efron, the sweet Disney-star turned sexy Hollywood hunk, and he throws him in the works as well. At the signing of a contract, BAM – Bad Neighbours is a potential box-office hit.
Well, this is one film that doesn’t collapse under the pressure of high expectations. In fact, quite the opposite - this film exceeds them. It is laugh-out-loud hilarious, outrageously entertaining and very sweet at its heart.
Rogen and Bridesmaid’s Rose Byrne are new parents Mac and Kelly, whose idyllic life on a peaceful estate is ruined when a college Fraternity – lead by shirtless stoner Teddy (Efron) - move in next door. Following their quest to keep the quiet and Teddy’s quest to party 24/7, a competitive battle between the neighbours erupts.
Rogen and Byrne have outstanding chemistry – together they are extremely likeable and achieve the most laughs throughout. It is refreshing, if not scarily eye-opening, to see Rogen progress from playing the irresponsible, drug-smoking adult and take on the role of a mature parent, however he does it very convincingly. You find yourself rooting for the couple, and also kind of hoping your family life will turn out like theirs – caring and settled however still with the ability to let loose and have fun.
Efron is savvy and quick-witted, showing a more rebellious and more likeable side of him that was absent in his previous films. His performance here lets go of High School Musical’s Troy Bolton, allowing us to finally take him seriously as a real and talented actor.
The younger Franco (Dave) lives up to his brothers standards, proving to be funny and smart as Teddy’s sidekick Pete. Smaller roles from Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Roberts are also played exceptionally well, all the more contributing to the earnest hilariousness and honesty that this film so wonderfully captures.
Although a bit messy and thrown together on Nick Stoller’s part, Bad Neighbours is a very entertaining watch. It has everything a comedy needs – a cast that knit together like they’ve known each other years, a bit of eye-candy, a cute baby, wild parties, and of course, a script that fuels an endless uproar of laughter.


Divergent (2014)

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet
Genre: Drama, sci-fi, thriller, romance
Director: Neil Burger
Writer: Veronica Roth (book), Evan Daugherty & Vanessa Taylor (screenplay)
Rated: 12A

It’s nobody’s fault, but the plot for the first instalment of the new young-adult franchise Divergent sounds remarkably like The Hunger Games – a young girl in a dystopian world, trying to discover who she is and what she stands for.
However, as many parallels you can draw between the two, these two franchises very much succeed on their own, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent book-turned-movie series is guaranteed to be a box office hit.
The story follows Shailene Woodley as Beatrice, a sixteen year old whose time has come to choose her future. Although similar to what teenagers go through nowadays, this decision doesn’t involve what GCSEs or A Levels to take, or what university to go to – it involves identifying your personality and changing your entire life accordingly.
This dystopian world 150 years into the future is empty and mysterious after a war ravaged the land. Chicago is its only city, guarded by high fences and walls to protect from whatever lies on the outside. But it is the inside that is most frightening.
The city is split into five controlling factions to keep the peace – Abnegation: the selfless; Erudite: the intelligent; Dauntless: the brave; Amity: the peaceful; and Candor: the honest. On one day a year, every teenager who has come of age must take a hallucinogenic test to discover their own mind and help them decide who they want to be. Individuals can either stay within the faction they were brought up in, decide based on their test results, or choose for themselves - but once they have chosen, there is no going back.
Of course, Beatrice is not like the others. She is a Divergent, meaning she fits into every category. Divergents have the ability to exercise their own independent mind and act upon human nature – making them a threat to society as they cannot be controlled like everybody else. With her test results kept a secret from the faction leaders – most importantly the threatening Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) - Beatrice chooses Dauntless, an energetic and daring faction she has admired since childhood.
Under the watchful eye of two unforgiving instructors Four (Theo James) and Eric (Jai Courtney), Beatrice (now renamed Tris) and the new Dauntless initiates undergo unisex training to ensure they really are cut out for this faction, and if they fail, they will be factionless – homeless beggars who fit nowhere. It is because of this and the relentless government that Tris is now pressured to become a successful Dauntless, and even more pressured to hide her dangerous secret.
It’s no doubt that Divergent is going to be popular amongst young-adults and those who enjoyed any of the recent blockbuster franchises, however I think it reaches out to an even wider audience than it may seem. Shailene Woodley is remarkable and extremely endearing– she didn’t get nominated for that Oscar for nothing. The chemistry between her and Theo James is rare, and very realistic. Their romance acts more as a back story, so the main plot doesn’t become forgotten, which is good because the main plot is so fantastic.

Although there’s not one dull moment in Divergent, by the end it does kind of feel like a warm-up for the next set of films. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I just hope that the first movie does rake in enough money to guarantee the second instalment. It would be a shame to see something with so much potential go to waste.
For a surprisingly enjoyable cinematic experience, go and see Divergent immediately. Especially if you like a bit of eye-candy, because Theo James is unbelievable to look at. Shoot me if it’s too unprofessional to say that.


Non-Stop (2014)

Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockrey
Genre: Action/Thriller
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Sera
Written by: John Richardson, Christopher Roach
Rated: 12A

When Neeson was announced at the forefront of 2008’s smash-hit blockbuster Taken, as divorced ex-CIA agent Bryan in an attempt to rescue his kidnapped daughter, the world was confused. How can this middle-aged actor, famous mostly for his sincere role in Holocaust drama Schindler’s List (1993) tackle such a demanding action role like this one? Yet, Neeson blew everybody away, and Taken became the most surprising worldwide phenomenon of the noughties.
Since we discovered Neeson is actually one of the best action stars in the industry, he is consistently in demand for similar roles. Non-Stop therefore shows us a side of Neeson that we have all seen countlessly before.  Despite the samey character – a troubled man of authority with his own personal demons getting in the way of his work – this film is actually alright. It was inevitable that the release of Non-Stop was going to get people talking - half of them with excitement, and the other half with dubiousness. I’ll admit, I was a dubious one, but Non-Stop fulfils its purpose, proving to be highly thrilling and will definitely have you on the edge of your seat.
Air Marshall/alcoholic Bill Marks (Neeson) is aboard a flight to London when he starts receiving texts from an anonymous passenger demanding $150 million to be paid into a numbered account, or every twenty minutes, a passenger’s life will suffer the consequences. True to the title, from here on, the suspense is non-stop. Neeson drags suspects down aisles, waves his gun around, searches innocent travellers, fighting anyone who stands in his way, to simply find out who is behind this terrifying blackmailing - and after a good twenty minutes, the suspense becomes a little unwatchable.

With films like this, it is hard to mistake your anticipation and endless questioning for genuine enjoyment, and it is only after much deliberation do you see beneath the intense façade to discover a plot that lacks logicality and girth.  It’s true that throughout the film the audience are biting their nails and watching through cracks in between their fingers, but once we find out who is the bad guy behind it all, you may find yourself asking whether the unbearable stress was even worth it.
Neeson is whatever. There’s nothing new to see but he does the job and pulls it off relatively well. Julianne Moore is ridiculously under-cast as Jen, an aloof woman who kind of acts as Bryan’s sidekick throughout. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery is Nancy, the air-hostess, and there’s no faulting her performance – it is her dreary character that deserves some stick. The same goes for 12 Years A Slave star, the up and coming Lupita Nyong’o, who doesn’t have the chance to show her talented abilities as air hostess Gwen, which is a shame.
Collet-Serra undeniably brings us a thriller oozing with sophistication and tension. His camera shots and action sequences are spot on, and Non-Stop truly does entertain for the most part, it is just a bit of a waste given how unrealistic and typical the storyline really is. If you’re the kind to look into the finer details and criticise anything short of perfection, then stay clear away from the movie theatre for this one, however if you’re easily pleased and love a cheap thrill, then Non-Stop won’t disappoint. 


Thursday, 16 January 2014

Last Vegas (2013)

Director: Jon Turteltaub 
Writer: Dan Fogelman 
Starring: Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline 
Rating: 12A 
Genre: Comedy

As the Christmas break comes to a close, and the remainders of “holiday cheer” begin to fade, Last Vegas is the feel-good comedy guaranteed to brighten up this dark and dismal January and leave audiences dancing out of the cinema with a new lease on life.
Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Michael Douglas play four fiery pensioners, reuniting their childhood gang “The Flatbush Four” for “the first bachelor party that could be covered by Medicaid” – Billy (Douglas) is getting married to a woman half his age, and to celebrate, these old guys are hitting the party capital of the world – Las Vegas.
If you liked The Hangover, you will love Last Vegas. Although particularly entertaining (and relatable?) for perhaps the older audience, this film will melt the hearts and tickle the tummies of everyone and anyone (albeit, older the guidance age of 12), with its hilarious script, charming characters and endearing plot.
It would be stupid to deny the fact that the famously gifted all-star cast of Last Vegas is the one of the central reasons the movie soars so greatly. Freeman is side-splittingly funny as old-timer Archie – a spunky fella determined to have a good time - and Kline is quick as the droll Sam, with Viagra in his pocket and “permission” from his wife (men – don’t be getting any ideas). De Niro is typically fantastic as Paddy – a miserable yet wisecracking widower with heavy grudges and a reluctance to relive his partying days, and Douglas does what he does best as cool, smooth-talking Billy - the richest, most successful member of the group, with his dyed hair, orange skin and swagger in his walk. These four actors couldn’t fault any less – their chemistry is unbeatable and together they work to create a loveable and entertaining gang that carries Last Vegas to the very end.
Turteltaub and Fogelman bring magic to screens, sending their characters off on an adventure that allows them to teach each other and the audience extremely valuable life lessons. The laughs, the cries, the fights and the truces – every emotion and action comes together to produce not just a great movie, but something else astonishing and unforgettable – the message that “you are only as old as you feel”.
With this idea in mind, anybody who sees Last Vegas is therefore left with a lust for life and a readiness for whatever it may throw it them - and that in itself, is what movies were made to do.