Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Doctor Strange (2016)

Image is property of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios
Image is property of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios

Doctor Strange Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong

Director: Scott Derrickson

Synopsis: After a car accident ruins his hands and his career, brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon Dr Stephen Strange, travels across the world in search of a cure and discovers mystic powers beyond anything he could have ever imagined.

Review: You have to hand it to Marvel Studios, and in particular its president Kevin Feige. Under his stewardship the MCU has blossomed into a very powerful cinematic machine, and certainly they have maintained audience interest by crucially throwing some variety in there. The studio is clearly choosing to take risks, rather than just pump out Iron Man 4 or 5. These risks that might not have paid off, but paid off they most definitely have. The likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are perfect examples, and while there is usually some big superhero team up film or a film with heroes turning on each other. Nevertheless, the studio delivers, and they have managed to do so yet again with their fourteenth entry into the MCU, this time, they decided to go a bit mystical and dabble in the world of magic.

We meet Doctor Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon and a rather good one at that, until a car accident leaves his career and life seemingly in ruins. Driven by desperation, he travels across the world in the hope of finding a cure but instead finds a temple of sorts, governed by the Ancient One, and she teaches Strange all about the mystic arts and dabbling in a world that has not graced the MCU stage up to this point, and it is rather thrilling to watch the MCU go in new directions and make a solid success out of it.

Marvel were desperately keen to recruit Cumberbatch for the titular role, going so far as to alter their schedule to accomodate him after he was committed to a theatre run as Hamlet, and it is easy to see why, as Cumberbatch really does shine in the role. After playing the role of the brilliant and cocky but ultimately tragic Alan Turing in the Imitation Game, he shows that cockiness again to great effect. Initially, Strange is about as arrogant as they come, but with good reason. Post-accident however is where Cumberbatch really shines, having truly realised how little he really knows.

Tilda Swinton might have seemed a strange (pun most definitely intended) choice to play The Ancient One, but she also delivers a capable performance. Yet besides these two characters, not one else really gets their chance to shine. Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor do not get the screen time and development actors of their immense talent deserve. Also the Achilles Heel for Marvel lets them down again, this being their villain. Mads Mikkelsen is without question a fine actor, but his performance as the villainous Kaecilius whilst menacing, does leave a lot to be desired.

Director Scott Derrickson, of horror movie fame, also on screenplay duties along with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill deliver a solid script is but certain things could have been better developed. Marvel have made their name delivering some great humour in many of their films, and this is no exception. There are more than a few great moments that will make you laugh out loud. Yet despite the great humour, the script does lack in a number of places as some scenes do feel a bit rushed. Yet the action sequences are directed exquisitely well and the special effects are mind-bendingly brilliant. It’s almost as if the film makers rolled Inception, The Matrix and Harry Potter into one and the end result is some REALLY trippy shit, but an absolute blast to watch, aided by great cinematography and a superb score by Michael Giacchino.

Marvel have shown they are not afraid to take risks, and while that does deserve praise, it does mean that there could be some trips further down the line. For some, Strange could have been this film that doesn’t deliver the goods, but thankfully that just isn’t the case. It’s another unique and incredibly interesting dimension that has been added into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you certainly get the feeling that we will be going back into this world somewhere down the Phase 3 (or maybe even Phase 4) line. Yet so far it’s 14 and not out for Marvel Studios.

Anchored by an excellent performance from Cumberbatch with some astounding visuals, Marvel took their biggest risk to date, but the end result is one mind-bending and thrilling ride. 

Rating: A-

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

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Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heyday Films

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson

Director: Mike Newell

Synopsis: Now in his fourth year at Hogwarts, the school is playing host to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, and Harry is somewhat unexpectedly selected to take part in this deadly contest.

Review: By the time a franchise reaches its fourth instalment, there is a risk that things could start to get a bit formulaic and a bit repetitive, and viewers may soon start to lose interest. Yet in the case of Harry Potter, after coming on the back of the quite brilliant Prisoner of Azkaban, the interest remained sky high, and to counter the argument that things may start becoming repetitive, this franchise has an answer to that: The Goblet of Fire.

After the dramatic end to the last instalment which went all sci-fi on the audience with the time turner adventure, the excitement picks up almost immediately with our key trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione along with members of the Weasley clan off to the Quidditch World Cup. Visually brilliant, it’s all smiles and joyful with everyone having a good time, until it all goes a bit dark and violent as hints of Voldemort are getting louder and louder. This sets everyone off in quite a melancholic mood as they board their train to start their fourth year at Hogwarts, all the while with Harry having some very dark and sinister nightmares.

With this new year, Hogwarts is the stage for something special, the aforementioned Tri Wizard Tournament in which three champions compete in deadly magical tasks, with one champion from the schools of Hogwarts, with the ladies of the Beauxbatons Academy and the fellas of the Durmstrang Institute, all chosen by the mysterious Goblet of Fire. However, this one champion per school situation is made a bit complicated when Harry is also chosen alongside the other champions. Faced with no other choice, Harry must compete in this competition.

After Alfonso Cuaron brought tremendous visuals to the preceding chapter, new director Mike Newell continues this trend, and also bringing perhaps some of the most gripping sequences of the franchise to date. The Tri-Wizard tasks are very well put together and edited supremely well, with excellent CGI to boot. Despite all the magic and danger involved in this chapter, Newell manages to bring something everyone has experienced at some points in their lives, growing up and falling in love. The hormones are raging throughout the story, as our lead characters in particular are having a tricky time displaying their feelings for one another.  The film’s screenplay is far from perfect, but Kloves does his best to squeeze the key elements from Rowling’s novel in just over 2 and a half hours.

As the actors age, their performances improve quite significantly, particularly the core trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione. The bickering between Ron and Hermione is at times funny but also at times sad, because you want them to get together, but with all those teenage angsty feelings they have going on it does make things difficult. The cast for all the movies to this point was perfect, and it remained so with the addition of some colourful new characters to the mix. The best of the bunch being Brendan Gleeson’s Mad Eye Moody. With him, the clue is in the name, he’s a colourful character, but also just a bit mental. Robert Pattinson also does a sterling job as the Hogwarts champion Cedric Diggory.

Yet the most important new piece in this puzzle was Lord Voldemort, who finally makes a full appearance and is played fantastically by Ralph Fiennes. Much like the core trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione, the casting of the Dark Lord had to be just right, and in Fiennes, they had just the actor to bring this fearsome dark wizard to the big screen. With a brilliant closing battle to close this chapter of the Potter saga, it sends a chilling reminder to its audience, the dark times are returning and no wizard that dwells in the world of magic is safe.

Blending the perils of growing up with great humour and adding in really dark terrifying stuff tremendously well, The Goblet of Fire demonstrated that this franchise may have started off as child’s play, but not any more. 

a

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

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Image is property of The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, and Universal Studios

Inglourious Basterds – Film Review

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz,  Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A group of Jewish American soldiers set out with the intention of killing Nazis in the heart of Nazi occupied France, all the while, a plot to assassinate Nazi High Command is being devised by a cinema owner with a tragic past.

Review: The Second World War, a truly dark and troubling part of European History in the 20th century. The rise of Fascism and Communism and a continent that was seemingly on the brink of tearing itself to pieces. A period that has been the subject of many textbooks. Therefore presenting a perfect opportunity it would seem for writer and director Quentin Tarantino, a chance to make a fun and violent movie during the period that quite literally throws the history textbook out of the window, and shoot it a couple, or maybe ten times.

Set in 1944 with the war raging across the continent, enter the Basterds lead by Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt)  a group of Allied soldiers who are killing Nazi soldiers with with a large amount of glee as they do. Meanwhile a cinema in Paris becomes the centre of a plot by the owner (Melanie Laurent) who is after one thing only, vengeance. The perfect ingredients for a three hour Tarantino flick filled with violence and superbly written dialogue and some truly memorable characters, and it sure is bloody entertaining stuff!

With what is without doubt one of the finest opening scenes in cinema history, we meet Colonel Hans Landa, played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz who’s on his way to meet a farmer, about the whereabouts of some missing Jews.  Although this conversation is initially warm and hospitable, it isn’t long before things go cold, unwelcoming and becoming all the more tense with each passing scene. On this scene alone, Waltz deserved the many accolades that came his way for this performance, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Tarantino has created many memorable characters in his filmography, but Landa is right up there with the best of them. Laurent is also spectacular as the cinema owner, Tarantino knows how to make compelling female characters, and he does so yet again as both Shoshanna (Laurent) and Bridget (Kruger) are intriguing and well developed characters, the former more so than the latter though. Brad Pitt as the gruff Aldo Raine is also on spectacular form as the leader of the Basterds, with Michael Fassbender also lending his tremendous talents as a British Double Agent in what is a very talented cast.

Tarantino is one of the finest writers and directors working in the industry, and there are more than a few scenes that are just flawless in terms of the writing, the actors performances and the execution of the scenes are all just exceptional. The aforementioned beginning sequence jumps to mind, but so too does the quite brilliant restaurant scene, which has potential to be one of the finest Mexican stand off scenes ever put to film. The tension is almost unbearable at some points. Whoever knew that a scene where two characters eat strudel could be so tense? This being a Tarantino flick means that there will be violence, and there is plenty of that indeed, and it’s glorious to watch. The script also manages to fuse a perfect amount of comedy in there as well, watching Pitt try and mask his thick American accent to masquerade as an Italian is just extremely entertaining.

The length is often a gripe with some of Tarantino’s work, and yes at and at just over 2 and a half hours, Basterds is certainly a movie you need to sit down and invest your time in. Yet it’s a worthy investment when the climax is reached and the credits begin to roll. “This might just be my masterpiece,” says one character as the film reaches its conclusion. It almost feels as though that dialogue was from Tarantino himself direct to the audience, and on the evidence of this film, it is kind of hard to disagree with him.

With exceptional writing, tremendous acting, and a bloody exciting story set in the heart of the Second World War. This is vintage Tarantino, and one of his best.

a

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

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Image is property of Warner Bros Studios and Heydey Films

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Film Review

Cast:  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter is facing a new threat, in the form of the dastardly Sirius Black who escapes from Azkaban Prison and is believed to be after Harry.

Review:  The Harry Potter fandom are certainly a passionate bunch, and although there are those out there who may not have enjoyed what he brought to the franchise, every Potter fan ought to raise their wands to Chris Columbus. The director behind the first two films brought a steady hand to both movies and ensured the solid foundations of the franchise were laid. For the third outing to Hogwarts however, Columbus chose not to direct. Instead the director’s wand was passed to Mr Alfonso Cuarón, and what an inspired choice that turned out to be.

After his brave battles in taking down You-Know-Who on the back of a man’s head and You-Know-Who again in his younger self, Harry has plucked up the courage and decided enough is enough with his ridiculously evil muggle family, and escapes into more familiar and friendly terrain, in the company of his best friends Ron and Hermione. Yet before he goes, there is a hilarious incident with another member of his nasty muggle relatives. He soon finds himself back on that train to Hogwarts for the commencement of his third year, and it’s on that train when the viewer realises, that this year at Hogwarts, things are going to get darker and creepier than ever before, not least with the sinister Dementors that are lurking around Hogwarts.

Cuaron is certainly an outstanding visual director, and with this film he shows off his considerable talent in more than a few brilliant sequences. The film’s visual qualities have certainly taken a big leap forward when compared to the first two movies, and the film takes on a considerably more darker tone which is epitomised by the presence of these Dementors who are at Hogwarts because of the man who has escaped from Azkaban and is said to be coming to kill Harry, this would be one Sirius Black, played excellently by Gary Oldman. Kloves is again penning the screenplay, and he understandably does have to axe some material to streamline the script, yet the translation from  page to screen remains at a consistently solid level. Additionally, the action is much more intense in this instalment and incorporates some very exciting elements such as time travel into the story.

The acting from the main trio remains at a steady pace, they’re certainly not Oscar worthy, but their performances are assured and it’s clear that they are growing in confidence. The performances of the veterans if you will such as Rickman and Oldman certainly help bring the acting standard up a couple of good pegs. This is further aided by the tremendous work of David Thewlis playing new Professor Lupin, and the introduction of Michael Gambon as Dumbledore, having taken over the role from the late Richard Harris, proved to be another excellent casting choice. The film’s effects are also for the most part, considerably improved, except in the case of the werewolf, well the less said about that the better, it could and should have been so much better.

Nevertheless, Azkaban marks a noticeable improvement in quality from Philospher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. The shift to a much darker, more ominous tone is immediately noticeable, and it helps to deliver a really engaging and gripping story that helps set the wheels in motion for the franchise. This is because as we all know, a certain dark wizard, thought to be long since dead, is stirring…

Darker in tone from the word go, but with plenty of humour too, Cuaron delivers terrific visuals and a really gripping story that can delight, and maybe intimidate, viewers of all ages in equal measure.

a

Posted in Film Review

The Girl on the Train (2016)

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Image is property of Dreamworks, Universal Pictures and Reliance Entertainment

The Girl on the Train Film Review

Cast:  Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Edgar Ramirez, Luke Evans and Allison Janney

Director: Tate Taylor

Synopsis: Rachel (Blunt) is an alcoholic, unemployed,  divorced, woman who becomes fixated on the people she sees while on her daily train journey, until one day, she sees something that turns her world upside down.

Review: Ah trains, don’t you just love them? For many of us, they are a valuable asset that we use to get to our day jobs, even if they can be a bit late or a bit too full on occasions. Whilst on board, many of us bury our heads in a newspaper or listen to music, but what if you saw something that shocked you? And before you know it, one thing leads to another and you find yourself entangled in a criminal investigation over a missing persons case? This is precisely the situation the lead character finds herself in in this missing persons thriller.

Adapting from Paul Hawkins’s best selling novel of the same name, Rachel having lost her job and seeing her marriage fall apart has become a hopeless alcoholic who seems destined to go off the rails (pun absolutely intended.) Her life has hit a red signal, and in order to maintain a routine she take the train every day and becomes attached to the people she sees, making up stories about their lives. This is until she finds herself right in the thick of a criminal investigation and after become a bit too intoxicated one particular evening and in a similar vein to Gone Girl, we have an intriguing mystery on our hands.

Hawkins novel is very unpredictable in terms of its narration and storytelling, and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson, manages to adapt it for the most part pretty well. The change of setting from London to New York will undoubtedly upset fans of the book, but it doesn’t detract from the story. The main character here is of course Blunt’s Rachel. Although the novel’s version of the book describes her as being overweight, Blunt does her level best and gives a wounded performance as Rachel. The film does a good job of making you feel sorry for her, but at the same time, makes her look like a terrible human being when she’s a drunken mess, giving subtle warnings over the dangers of booze. The blackout scenes are handled expertly by director Tate Taylor, and adds to the intrigue of the story, it begs the question, just what did Rachel see that night? Through a mixture of past and present storytelling, the blanks are slowly filled, and the tension is well built throughout.

Blunt is well aided by an excellent supporting cast some of whom like Rachel are a bit on the unstable side. Haley Bennett as Megan, the person at the centre of this investigation also gives an unpredictable performance. After showing what an unbelievable badass she was in Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson also is excellent as Anna, the new love of Rachel’s ex husband Tom (Justin Theroux) These characters get the most character development, understandably so, yet you would have liked to have seen other characters such as Megan’s husband Scott (Luke Evans) get more screen time. The script does lack a bit of focus on occasion, but this does not derail the intrigue and suspense that has steadily been building up.

The comparisons between this and Gone Girl are to be expected, and while Gone Girl is a superior movie, this adaption certainly holds its own as a very suspenseful thriller, particularly for those who have not read Hawkins’s brilliant novel. Adaptations from page to screen can sometimes go awry, but thankfully not on this occasion.

Unpredictable, tense and expertly directed by Taylor with a superb performance from Blunt, be sure to catch this one before it leaves the platform.

Rating: A-

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Swiss Army Man (2016)

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Image is property of A24, Tadmor, Astrakan Films AB, Cold Iron Pictures, Blackbird Films and Prettybird

Swiss Army Man Film Review

Cast:  Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe

Director: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Synopsis: A suicidal man (Dano) is all alone on a beach and is about to commit suicide when he sees a deceased man (Radcliffe) on the beach, who happens to have some gassy problems.

Review: Every so often, a film comes along that has a premise that after reading or hearing about it, it just stops you in you tracks in sheer bemusement. You look at it and just think, “Huh???” This is certainly applicable to this film from a pair of directors who call themselves “The Daniels” in what is their first foray into major motion picture film-making. If nothing else this film is certainly a very original concept given the domination of sequels and reboots in Hollywood these days, but sometimes that is not always a good thing.

The story focuses on Hank, a man who has all but given up on life and is about to end it all when he spots the motionless man lying on the beach. This gives Hank a reason to keep going and together the duo go on an adventure in order to get home. Originality in Hollywood, certainly in big blockbusters has become something of a rare thing, so in this respect Swiss Army Man is to be praised, for offering something different to the big screen, like no film has before. Yet there is a difference between originality and just completely fucking weird. This isn’t to say all weird films are bad, but this is not the good kind of weird at all.

You have to wonder at times if a 12 year old boy wrote the script because the humour is very low-brow. Fart jokes were common place when you were in primary school and as adults it can be funny too, but to use it a device in a Hollywood movie is a risky move, and for the most part it doesn’t work. There are some humorous moments and jokes for sure, but it gets to a point where those sorts of jokes stop being funny after the tenth time, and these two very talented actors are ultimately wasted on what is a very weak script. It is trying to have a deeper meaning on life but these messages are negated by the excessive use of the toilet humour, it just simply does not work. The chemistry between the two of them is barely existent, which isn’t a surprise that one of them is meant to be dead!  There are attempts at teaching some life lessons in there but it’s negated by the fact that one of the characters is meant to be a dead man, who through no particular explanation comes to life somehow and starts talking!

Dano doesn’t really break any ground with his performance, but Radcliffe does try to give him credit. It is certainly a very different role when compared to The Boy Who Lived, but as The Man Who Farts, not quite as enthralling to watch. The film visually is impressive, there are some nice wide shots on the island and the Daniels helm it well. The soundtrack too is also of a decent quality,  but that is of little importance when you’re script is weighed down a very silly way of telling the story, which at just over an hour and a half shouldn’t feel long, but this felt like like it was a lot longer, which is never a good sign. Movies that take risks deserve attention and when done well, deserve merit, but that is not applicable here.

Points for originality and a creative premise, but these are negated by a very weak and messy script that is full of holes and bogged down by an over reliance on childish toilet humour.

Rating: D

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

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Image is property of Summit Entertainment, Participant Media, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Lionsgate

Deepwater Horizon – Film Review

Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien

Director: Peter Berg

Synopsis: An account of the 2010 BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the desperate bid by the workers of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to stay alive.

Review: Making a film about a true to life disaster cannot be an easy subject matter to tackle, especially if the disaster that you’re focusing on just happens to be the worst ever oil disaster in US history, and one that cost the company behind the oil rig, British Petroleum a whopping 18.7 BILLION dollars in fines after a total of just under 5 million barrels of oil spilled out into the sea, causing devastation for the local environment and for the nearby communities, and also claimed the lives of 11 of the men working on the oil rig.

After directing the gripping Lone Survivor, Peter Berg along with screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, certainly do their best to tell this story and tell it in a very gripping manner. The first act is a little slow at times, but the build up is necessary as with each passing minute of screen time, and every test that they make whilst on the rig, the tension is built up ever so slightly. You just know that something is not right, and any minute things will go wrong, Soon, it gets to the point when you know, that sooner or later, the shit (or mud in this case) will hit the fan and the rig workers have an unmitigated catastrophe on their hands and soon are in a desperate bid to get off the rig before they go down with it. Once the disaster has struck, the tension is enormous and it remains that way for the rest of the movie.

Berg wasn’t the original director attached to the project as originally it was J.C. Chandor who was set to be calling the shots. Yet due to creative differences Chandor left and Berg came on board, reuniting with his Lone Survivor co star, Marky Mark Wahlberg. It’s from his perspective as real life oil rig worker Mike Williams that we watch with bated breath as the bumbling BP idiots naively assume that there’s nothing wrong with the rig, but Williams and the rest of the crew led by Mr Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) know otherwise. Wahlberg’s performance is the centrepiece of the film, and it’s his character that we get to know the most with his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter. Beyond him, there isn’t much character development to really any of the other characters, but all involved give excellent performances.

Berg helms this project excellently, with confident and assured direction throughout, but especially when the drama has fully unfolded. The production design to recreate the oil rig is tremendous and the camerawork and the fast editing does a great job to to heighten the tension when the workers find themselves in peril. These scenes are packed with tension right throughout as you will these people to safety. “Hope is not a tactic” reads the film’s poster, and in this situation, hope could be the difference between life and death. With a thought provoking and moving ending, and one that could and should get you all riled up. When considering how this tragedy came about, how no one was found culpable is almost beyond belief. It was one that changed lives forever and is almost certainly still having an effect on lives to this day, and one that will have you thinking once the credits begin to roll.

The heroism of these workers is given the credit it deserves and Berg nails it with a gritty, tension filled ride that is incredibly well executed and one that pays tribute to those who lost their lives.

a