Monday, 27 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron (12A)

This is going to be quite the year for blockbuster movies - not only is James Bond quaffing another martini in the Christmas run-up, there's also the small matter of Episode VII of Star Wars.

In the meantime, we have another gargantuan beast roaming the land flattening all before it.

First time round, amid fears that it would collapse under the weight of the assembled cast, The Avengers broke box office records worldwide.

And rightly so. It was nothing short of awesome.

Following it up, then, was going to be no small feat.

For a start, it couldn't stand alone. Events from the first film have shaped the Marvel universe, while The Winter Soldier casually got shot of S.H.I.E.L.D.

(Non-Marvel fans - they were the god guys, infiltrated by the bad guys and made to look bad).

These events, of course, had a knock-on effect in TV land where the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D became Agents Without...

So, now, we find ourselves on the threshold of a new story arc.

Those of us familiar with the books know what's coming (the next Captain America film is also a massive clue), but for those of you who only know these characters through the silver screen that's all to come.

In the meantime, there's another two-hour explosion of quips and arrows to keep you entertained.

And entertain it does.

Dropping you straight in with a full-on battle, you are greeted by old friends while new faces are introduced slowly.

Quips fly as fast as Iron Man, with the new story being tied into past events seamlessly.

Then the real drama starts.

And it's a masterstroke.

Casting James Spader as Ultron was nothing short of genius. The menace and malevolence he exudes in every syllable puts shivers down your spine.

And the fact he's more than able to go toe-to-toe with the big hitters means there's a real sense of danger - something missing when minions are firing guns at The Hulk.

But this isn't just another collection of big fights.

Away from the action, the lives of Hawk Eye, Dr Banner and Natasha Romanov come into focus, allowing us to connect further with these much-loved characters.

Writer/director Joss Whedon also plays a blinder with the way he stitches in more of Romanov's back story. OK, it's probably setting up her own movie, but the fact it's done so well negates any cynical mutterings.

Then there's the new guys.

The always excellent Elizabeth Olsen and Kick-Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson could have been lost in an already full cast, but their portrayals of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are so nailed they more than hold their own.

In fact, the audience connects with them so quickly there was an audible tense silence when things start getting a bit edge-of-the-seat.

The one noticeable difference from the first Avengers film is the tone.

Where the first was big, brash and bright, full of adrenaline and swagger, Age Of Ultron is a darker, more slightly muted beast.

In keeping with the sombre tones of Winter Soldier, Ultron is building to a bigger problem and this is marked in both the colour pallet and tone.

And that's not a criticism.

The added grit and drama make this feel a more grown-up film (as it did with Winter Soldier).

Marvel and Joss Whedon know the audience is growing up watching these films, and so the storylines are being allowed to mature as the gathered masses do.

That's not to say this is a perfect movie.

The generally excellent and unobtrusive 3D does tend to lend a blur to the fast-paced action sequences, and this is no playground for the uninitiated.

Having introduced everyone across several films (with the exception of three characters, the third being Andy Serkis' South African arms dealer), there is now the assumption that everyone knows what is going on.

Granted, when half the Western world has seen Avengers, this could be seen as a reasonable thought, but it does mean anyone coming in to see what all the fuss is about is left playing catch-up.

Obviously, this is of little matter to the rest of us, but it was a niggling thought as I sat in the cinema that if you didn't know who Black Widow was before you sat down, you'd be no closer to knowing at the end.

Same with the under-used Agent Hill.

But these really are small points.

Overall, it's another fine triumph.

It's not necessarily up there with the first Avengers, and it's not as much full-on fun as Guardians Of The Galaxy, but they are high bars indeed.

By following in the footsteps of Winter Soldier and the events elsewhere in the film/TV Marvel universe, this is a more serious film. And that's fine.

It's still a fantastic ride that will have you laughing (and even crying) as the lengthy running time flashes by in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Emperor's New Clothes (15)

Unable to get to a screening of Michael Winterbottom and Russell Brand's dissection of moral and financial corruption in society, we asked our good friend and all round funny bloke Jamie Gosney if he would mind penning a few words.

He didn't, so he did, and here they are...

Ah, well, yes, I went to see the Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottom film, The Emperor's New Clothes, last night. 
I was so fired up after seeing it that I wanted write about it as soon as I got home but seeing as I had to get up at 4:00am, I thought it was best to try and be quite, put all the film had stirred in me on hold and get some sleep. 
That didn't happen. 
It didn't anywhere near happen but it was for other reasons which are really not relevant to this post.
So, yes, the film. 
I thought I already knew quite a lot of the stuff that had been going on with the banks, the corruption and the criminal activity that caused the 2008 recession...and indeed the 87 and 93 recessions. 
However, as it turned out, I didn't know the half of it.
I won't go into any of the films detail as it's something everyone should go and see. 
Only to say, it's a really well made, extremely well researched documentary. 
The narrative is masterfully pieced together by Winterbottom and passionately and humorously presented by a very cheeky Russell Brand. 
Even if you don't like Brand, I think you'll find it hard to criticise his role in this film. He absolutely believes everything he's saying and consequently you believe him. 
But why wouldn't you? It's all factual.
If you've got any kind of heart and your soul is intact, this documentary will make you angry, sad, teary and determined to get rid of any and all organisations that could have knowingly allowed this ridiculous and criminal economic disparity to happen. 
It will also make you feel a tiny bit foolish. Foolish that you've believed the lie that we have been fed for so long.

Go see the film. Then you'll know that politics as we know them are totally broken. 
And, if we want to leave this world in a better condition for our children and grandchildren, then things must change.
I recommend you go and see it before May 7th, it will definitely influence the way you vote.

You can find Jamie on Facebook or follow him at @jamiegosney - or go see him live. He's a bit good.
You can see The Emperor's New Clothes online now via Amazon Instant Video

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Water Diviner (15)

Hang on, give us a sec, this won't take a minute - I'm sure we'll remember how to do these things in a minute.

Click that, yup, write that thing there, yup, got that, then... Ah, yes, blather on about a film for a bit.

Simple. Like riding a bike.

Presumably. Wouldn't know.

Anyhoo, after a mad few weeks when the world and it's solicitor seemed determined to stop Uncle Popcorn getting down the flicks, the clouds have parted like the Red Sea and we are back in front of the big screen.

Feet up, phone off. Just as Moses wanted.

And what delight awaits us? What cinematic gem have we waited so long to salivate over? Fast And Furious 7? (No point, haven't seen the other six). Paul Blart Mall Cop 2? (No, we've been busy, not having a lobotomy).

Nope, it's Mr Crowe's directorial debut no less. It's The Water Diviner.

And I'm glad.

Since hearing The People's Poet and singing star of Les Mis was getting behind the camera, I've been keen to catch The Water Diviner - if only to see what the hell he came up with.

The man can't sing and he's no poet - and to be honest, of late, his acting has seemed a tad laboured - but you can't deny ol' Russ is a box office draw.

After hearing his Wittertainment interview, where he said he didn't want to act in it but had been told if he didn't he wouldn't have a film to direct, you knew this wasn't a vanity project but something he felt passionate about.

And d'ya know what?

It's alright.

Sure, it won't change your life, but it's a good, solid, well-made piece that ticks all the boxes and leaves you feeling warm inside.

Which is more than Paul Blart would do.

The story (inspired by real events, it sez on the screen) is about Connor (Crowe himself), a man who has lost everything. His wife has died, his boys died at Gallipoli, and the local priest has had off with his dog in exchange for the Christian burial his wife wanted.

Nice, eh?

From such low points life-changing decisions are made, and Connor heads off to where the infamous battle was fought in a bid to bring his boys home so he can give them the burial they've been denied.

En route he makes enemies, friends, gets shot at, hits people, laughs, cries, drinks and goes about his business in a remarkably understated manner.

And as we go along, you find yourself really warming to Crowe and his portrayal of a man doing The Right Thing, no matter what men with moustaches tell him.

It is, all told, a really well made film.

It looks lovely, it has dashes of humour, it captures the horror and stupidity of war from all sides, and has sweeping vistas - there really isn't a box it doesn't tick.

Of course, that's also a bit of a downside.

There is something of the Sunday Afternoon Film about The Water Diviner.

The war scenes, while graphic, don't feel quite gritty enough, and at almost two hours long it does drag a wheenie in the middle.

But that really is the only criticism.

Sure, it has schmaltz. Sure some of the scenes are a bit clunky (a few too many zoomed close-ups), but hey - it's the guys first go. And he's acting in it as well.

The Water Diviner feels, at times, like it's not so much tugging at the heart strings as hanging off them, but you can forgive it because it it's heart is a wonderful raw honesty.

Crowe's performance is brilliantly measured, and his supporting cast are more than up to the task (and are in no way overshadowed) at hand giving the film a fine balance.

You can kind of plan out where the film is going as you watch it, but again that's not a criticism.

Because of the way the opening scenes play out, you are with Connor all the way. You understand what is driving him. You are willing him to get the job done.

For a man who can come across as more than a tad pretentious (yeah, I know, the irony, shut up), to see Crowe both star and make such a gentle, heartwarming film is nothing short of a great surprise.

The fact we sat there, glued til the end was perhaps an even bigger shock.

But at a time when you'd be forgiven for looking at the cinema listings and losing the will to live, the fact The Water Diviner actually made it to the big screen is perhaps the biggest shock of all.