Monday, 26 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (12A)

I'll be honest, I wasn't in the most positive of moods going in to this - not only had it taken me an age to get round to seeing it, but recent events have left me bewildered by humanity.

Over in America, morons seem to have decided the correct response to discovering a girl had decided - through her own free will - to start a career in porn was to hurl abuse at her on Twitter.

The fact this led to her suicide just seems to have fuelled the fire (and Twitter say they can't take her feed down, because the owner of the feed has to request that...).

And then a young man decided that the correct response to women deciding he wasn't the man for them was to go postal with a gun.

And the shock at this has been heightened by the moron fraternity crawling out from under their rock and deciding he was right to do this.

He wasn't.

And agreeing with him is so wrong it beggers belief.

And then, over here in good old Blighty, a party that supports views that should have died out in the 70s is seemingly gaining popularity.

And no one in the media is questioning this.

Instead, bigots, racists and homophobes have decided that their sick opinions now have full validation, and those of us who believe in the rights of the individual are being treated like we're the idiots.

Mad doesn't begin to describe it.

Then, to top it off, Cineworld's genius new strategy of getting rid of those pesky ticket booths and making us get our tickets from the concession stand - where today I got stuck behind people who couldn't decide which snack they wanted to bring on their diabetes - meant I missed most of the pre-credit sequence.

Cineworld - where the customer comes last.

And so do the staff, given the company's love of zero-hour contracts...

Anyhoo, I digress.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Let's talk about that.

Yes. Lets.


Where to start?

Well, let's focus on the positives - Andrew Garfield as Spidey is brilliant again, and Emma Stone (returning as Gwen Stacy) can't put a foot wrong.

After that, it all gets a bit messy.

Now, not for a second do I think I missed anything vital in the opening scene. You soon work out what was going on, so that's not the reason the film's a bit of a mess.

No. There are plenty of other reasons for that.

For a start, Jamie Foxx's Electro is less than sparkling. As dweeby Max Dillon he's pretty OK, but once the stuff has happened he just seems to lose all his energy.

Which is ironic.

And then there's Harry Osborn (played by Through The Never star Dane DeHaan).

Essentially here just to set-up Spidey 3, he swings between flat, creepy, bit weird and surprisingly well informed (clues to this lie in the trailer - editing is a real problem here).

The performance is fine, but as any fan worth his web knows what lies in store it throws the balance of the film off.

We now have two baddies, meaning neither is really allowed to be built-up in a bid to steal the show.

And while I understand the appeal of bringing him in here, it's a bit of an own goal. Not quite on a par with Tobey Maguire's third and final outing in the suit, but not far off.

Then there's the 3D element.

Not being a fan of the sunglasses, I was watching it in 'as nature intended' 2D - which meant about a third of the film was pointless showboating.

I'd imagine the endless shots of Spidey flying about New York - and the fight with Electro - worked fine in the 3D version, but did they actually add anything?

Did they enhance the story telling in any way?


Not a jot. Which means we could lose about 25 minutes off the running time and not miss anything.

And that would have been good, because an hour and 20 minutes in I was looking at my watch, wondering where things were heading and when it would all just end.

Somewhere in here is a good Spidey film. Garfield's got the humour chops and there were moments when I chuckled.

Not many, granted, but a few.

But what comes across more than anything (and this is actually hammered home when you see the trailer) is that director Marc Webb didn't really know where he was taking this one.

The fact four people worked on the "screen story", with three of them going on to tit about with the screenplay explains a lot as well.

Then there's Felicity Jones.

Without spoiling it, she's playing a known Marvel character. And she's a brilliant actress.

So why the hell is she in it so fleetingly.

I'm guessing she'll be in 3, but there's also a good chance there's some good stuff on the cutting room floor.

If there isn't, the writing team need to have a word with themselves.

Finally (sorry, this one's gone on a bit), there's the score.

Now, as a rule I like Hans Zimmer. He's done some good stuff over the years - 12 Years A Slave and Inception spring immediately to mind.

So why he's decided here to through subtlety out of the window here is beyond me.

A score should infuse a scene with emotion - it shouldn't signpost what you you are meant to be feeling with a fanfare.

The drama, the romance - all that should come through the writing. Instead, Zimmer paints over the top with garish hues leaving you in no doubt what was being intended.

Even if that's not what's actually coming across on the screen.

Now I know this film has taken a bunch of money, and I know 3 is already on the way, but this should have been a stunning film.

Instead you're left with a jumbled mess, littered amongst which are a few bright spots.

This has been a bit ranty I know, so I'd like to end on a positive note.

Early on, Gwen Stacy delivers her graduation speech in which she champions hope and then hope is something we all need.

And that, right now, given all that's happening in the world, resonated more than anything else in the movie.

Here's hoping the world comes to it's senses - and that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is the movie Spidey deserves.

Blue Ruin (15)

Sometimes - and it's a hard thing to do these days - it's wonderful to go into a film knowing nothing about it.

Having heard Mark Kermode's fulsome praise for Blue Ruin (but not having actually heard the meat of his review), I'd been hoping for a chance to catch it while it was still on the big screen.

And, for once, fate was smiling upon me.

And so, water in hand, I took my seat, settled down, and waited...

And 90 minutes later, I'd barely moved.

On the face of it, Blue Ruin is just a revenge thriller - man sets out to get payback after his parents are killed.

But what becomes clear from the opening scene is that this is a film that is out to play with your preconceptions.

The characters are revealed slowly, in layers, as the back-story is slowly fed into the narrative, giving us an ever-changing perspective of events.

And not a scene or shot is wasted - everything is telling us something.

Which is a good job, because dialogue is very thin on the ground.

And that's a good thing.

The silence allows the film to unfold naturally, allows Macon Blair to shape and reveal Dwight's character and motives. It's a near masterclass in silent acting.

And all the time, the tension builds.


You know something's coming, you just don't know when. And then you do know when. And then it happens.

And it's not the actual action at this point that makes you jump.

Nothing up to the first 'big' scene has led you to think it's going to be violent. Yeah, I know it's a 15 certificate (R in Americaland), yeah, it came with warnings, but the sheer unbridled anger and passion in that first attack just blows you away.

And later, you come to think of it as the 'nice' bit...

Because where this film really triumphs - among so many praise-worthy elements - is in the pacing.

Between the violence, things are quiet and peaceful. Still tense as all hell, sure, but things are slow.

And then BOOM.

It's not a spoiler to say someone at some point gets shot in the head, and when it happens you will jump.

At one point Dwight has a crossbow bolt stuck in his leg and decides to try and take it out...

Now, I've seen a horror film or three. I've seen blood n guts, gore n goo - but those five minutes were the hardest I can remember.

And it's tough because it's so bloody simple - the action isn't 'in your face', the pain is in Blair's and in your ears as the sound guys come into their own.

As I said, everything works here. Writer/directer Jeremy Saulnier has triumphed.

It's low-budget, but no where has the film suffered from this. If anything, it's benefited.

You root for Dwight every step of the way. You share his pain, you share his guilt - because Dwight could be anyone of us.

He's not, as is usual in revenge films, a man left dead inside who can go on a killing spree without so much as blinking.

He's a simple man whose life has been torn apart by the death of his parents. He's still in pain, and the only thing that can save him is taking out the man responsible.

But when events spiral out of control, he's still that little scared man. He's left fighting to save what's left of his life.

All he wanted to do was kill one man. He never wanted it to turn into THIS.

The telling of the tale, the unfolding of the drama, the flowing of the blood - it will all leave you transfixed.

And you'll still be thinking about it afterwards. Long, long afterwards...

Monday, 19 May 2014

Godzilla (12A)

I'll be honest - I was looking forward to this. A big monster mosh from Gareth Edwards? What's not to love?

(He did Monsters. You haven't? Go watch it the minute you finish reading this)

And it was a great day to go see it too. Nothing makes a great cinema experience like a bright sunny day keeping the chattering classes at bay...

And then I clocked it was only a 12A. Maybe I should have known this. Tough. I've been busy.

Now, call me optimistic, but I want a bit more than 'mild violence and threat' when my monsters rise from the deep and go a-fighting.

But hey, let's not be hasty, let's not judge. Let's just sit back, hotdog in hand (shush - I'd left my tea at work) and enjoy...

And it starts off well enough - Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins discover a thing that's all mysterious and shocking in the Philippines and we're off.

Then it's Bryan Cranston's birthday in Japan, only he and wife Juliette Binoche have to go and work at the nuclear plant in Japan because stuff has been happening.

And then stuff happens. Major stuff.

And at this point you're just wondering how dialogue this crass and hackneyed actually made it as far as the screen.

It's not that it's bad, it's just that there are 60s sci-fi b-movies with more thought-provoking prose.

OK, I know, it's all scene-setting and back story, but is that any reason to let yer kid have a go?

Still, onwards and upwards, and before you know it 15 years have passed and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (he of Kick-Ass fame) is all grown up and back from his job as a bomb disarming expert.

And he's home to see his lovely wife Elizabeth Olsen, and have some time away from all the stress and drama of the disarming of the bombs that he's been busy a-doing.

Alas, it's not to be, and it turns out his dad (Cranston) has been where he shouldn't have been in Japan, trying to prove the accident has been all covered up and gone and got himself arrested.

Having caught the next taxi from San Francisco to Japan (they leave every 10 minutes and don't need booking, right?), ATJ has collected BC and is trying to take him home.

Only he gets sucked into the conspiracy theory and before you can say "no, really?" they've hopped into a friendly boat and return to the scene of the nuclear meltdown. And the family home.

And finally we get a monster.

And, as luck would have it, we get re-united with Watanabe and Hawkins, who are on the scene trying to work out what's going on.

Which is when things get really weird.

Over the remaining 90 minutes we are treated to more "what the WTF?" moments than most people fit into a franchise, interspersed with some monster fights.

And that's the massive problem with this film.

The actual monster scenes are great - I'd go as far as to say breathtaking. The epic size and scope of the ancient beasts is captured perfectly, and every time they appear on screen you're gripped.

I even caught myself holding my breath a couple of times.

It's just the rest of it is filler. And not well thought-out filler.

The head of the military operation seems to teleport about with gay abandon, flitting from ship to shore with an ease that would impress Star Fleet.

There is weight and gravitas being ladled onto dialogue that is just not worthy.

Then there are the WTF moments.

When you're watching it (and you should), ask yourself the following:

  • How did the birthday banner get put up?

  • How does Watanabe manage to just walk onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier?

  • How are those windscreen wipers still working?

  • Where did they find those ladders?

And that's just off the top of my head.

And yet, I didn't hate this film. Far from it.

Yes, things like those listed above annoyed the hell out of me, but once the fights started none of that matters.

And at the end, you really do care what happens to Godzilla.

And that is the crux of what's both great and wrong with this film.

Ol' Godzy is the star - he's what we want to see - and when we do, it's brilliant.

You feel every roar, you want to touch every scale, you're willing him to win his battles - but there's not enough of him.

I don't know if it was a budget issue or a misguided attempt at delaying the impact, but you're made to wait too long for not enough.

It's like queueing for an all-you-can-eat buffet and then finding they're serving nouvelle cuisine.

The fights - and, in fact the entire final third of the film - are also very dark and moody. Not a problem for ol' Mr 2D here, but with the sunglasses on I imagine you're going to struggle to make out who's doing what to whom through the dust and darkness.

Which is frankly criminal.

And yet, as I said, you should see it. It is, for the most part, fun.

Younger audiences won't care about the appalling script and weak characterisation or the fact brilliant actors are being totally wasted here (watching this, you have to force yourself to remember Hawkins was in Blue Jasmine).

They'll love the bosh and the bash and the fires and explosions.

And as long as you disengage brain at the start, so will you.

(Oh, and if you watch the trailer at the top there before going to see the film, let me know what happens to the Statue Of Liberty, because I have no memory of that being in the movie...)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Calvary (15)

I'll be honest, watching a non-IMAX film on the mahoosive IMAX screen in the fair city of Bradford is a slightly odd experience.

There's nothing wrong with the projection, or the film for the matter, it's just that I've got one of those brains that just keeps pointing out how much of the screen isn't being used.

"Look at all that space at the top," mutters Brain. "Look at all that space at the side..."

Fortunately, once Calvary started, Brain shut up and I could allow the wonderful Brendan Gleeson to wash over me.

OK, that sounded better in my head.

Brought to you by the man who also wrote and directed The Guard (John Michael McDonagh is a clever bugger), Calvary looks at the seven days in the life of a Priest after he's told in the confessional he's going to be murdered.

It's probably fair to say he's had better Sundays.

What unfolds is a measured study of one good man going about his business, trying to do the Lord's work while all around him chaos and depravity reign.

There's the local butcher (the stunning Chris O'Dowd) who's just happy that his wife is bonking anything that moves instead of him, there's the businessman (Dylan Moran in possibly his finest acting performance) who is keeping his troubles at bay with vodka, his daughter (Kelly Reilly in a beautifully measured performance) who needs a father not a Father...

The list goes on (I'd better stop though, people like short paragraphs apparently).

What you get is an essay on how to carry yourself with dignity.

Gleeson's priest doesn't know who has threatened him, but rather than hiding he does what he feels he was called to do - help those in need.

Whether they think they're in need or not.

It could be a really dark tale, it could be bleak and depressing - but as with The Guard (which if you haven't seen, you must), the dark tone is frequently shattered with some sublime comic writing.

Take the conversation with the psycho in jail (Domhnall Gleeson), or the chat with a young man who is clearly having doubts about life and love - both could have been quite downbeat, but McDonagh has a real gift for throwing in one liners which have you falling about.

And it's this gift, along with Gleeson (the Brendan one), that make Calvary the film it is.

It's quirky, it's touching, it's dark, it's hilariously funny, it's poignant, it looks stunning, every character is well drawn and has something to offer - and you can take what you want out of it.

Personally I sat there trying to draw parallels between the characters and the seven deadly sins, but that's me.

Others will just sit back and happily enjoy a brilliant film and a great actor at the top of his game.

In The Guard, McDonagh managed to get the audience to like a central character who was essentially unlikeable - in Calvary, he makes you laugh and cry. Almost at the same time.

There's no bad performances, no wasted lines, no wasted scenes - and to top it all off, the scenery is stunning.

As I said, you can take as little or as much as you want from this film, but if you dive in and engage brain you'll be rewarded like no other film this year.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Transcendence (12A)

You know you're in trouble when you come out of a film and you can't work out what the hell it was about.

To be fair, some films are deliberately ambiguous about their message. Others just don't know what it is they're trying to say.

Transcendence is the latter.

You may have seen the trailers. If you're a fan of DC Comic's New 52 run, you'll have seen the adverts. And you'll probably still be none the wiser.

Well, welcome to my world.

At it's most basic level, the film is about a top scientist blokie (Will Caster, played by Johnny Depp) who gets his brain uploaded onto a super server by his heartbroken Mrs (Evelyn, played by Rebecca Hall).

Now, I know what you're going to say - surely that's OK, just as long as she doesn't connect a super intelligence to the internet nothing can go wrong.

Funny story...

To be fair, there are a number of people who can see the flaw in this plan. And they do try to stop it happening.

But they fail.

So they have to try again, only this time Caster has rigged the markets, made his wife (Widow? I mean, sure he's dead, but in many ways he's still alive. Let's go with semi-widow) rich beyond her wildest dreams, bought a town, created a super computer facility and advanced technology at a rate that would impress the Borg.

And all from the warmth of his processor.

And this is where the message gets seriously muddled.

You see, on the one hand it's a story of how love can overcome anything. On the other hand it's about the dangers of allowing technology to become all consuming. On the third hand it's about the fear of change stopping progress. On the fourth hand, it's about letting the genie out of the bottle. On the fifth hand, there's the whole God question.

But writer Jack Paglen fails to come to a conclusion on any of those things - he's just happy to go 'this happens, and this happens, and this happens, and...'.

It would have been nice if he'd even attempted to create well-rounded characters, but hey. You can't have everything.

Amazingly, though, it's not all bad.

If you can stop your brain asking all the questions it will want to ask (such as 'how did he not know they were digging the tunnel?'), sit back and just look at the view then you won't have wasted your money.

You see, directing this jigsaw puzzle of a movie is the one and only Wally Pfister - a man best known for making Christopher Nolan's films look all shiny.

And, a few 'for the hell of it' shots aside, he's done a good job. He's got decent performances out of everyone (even if Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara are pretty much cruising through the movie), it looks amazing...

Well, OK, that's pretty much it.

But it does look amazing.

The problems, though, are all in the writing. Granted it's Paglen's first film, so hopefully he'll learn from this, but someone somewhere should have read this and gone 'it's all a bit flat, innit'.

We know nothing about the people, no questions are asked of the science, no stand is taken, no conclusions reached - it's as if the AI machine PINN wrote the whole thing.

Using computer logic, it works - there are full stops, commas, dialogue, action, in fact all the key elements you'd say make up a screenplay.

But it lacks heart, it lacks soul. It lacks passion. It's a thriller that fails to thrill, an action film that lacks action.

The whole thing just leaves you wondering what you watched - and more importantly, why.

But it does look lovely.

(I'll be honest, this has been the toughest reviews I've written in a while. It would have been so much easier if I'd hated it.)