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.