Double you tee eff – The World’s End

The World's End - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The World’s End – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The World’s End (2013)

Director: Edgar Wright
Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman

The third and final instalment of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End). Anticipation for this film had stirred in me when I first heard of its pending creation. I am a big fan of Edgar Wright’s work – both stylistically as a director, and also as a storyteller/writer.

If you haven’t seen either Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead I would recommend you do so before you see The World’s End. The main reason for this is so you understand the format of the Cornetto films. Wright and Pegg have a way of making their movies start like your typical comedy and then turn into something completely different. The World’s End starts out with old friends being lured back to their home town to do an epic pub crawl they failed to finish 20 years earlier. But the town has changed. And not in the normal, time has passed, people have moved on, kinds of ways either. Something weird is going on and the pub crawl becomes more than just getting to the end of the crawl, it becomes about getting to The World’s End.

Wright and Pegg have crafted a clever script and stylistically it is very much like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The quick cuts of mundane tasks, e.g. pouring beer, and the pop culture references are in plentiful supply. As is the witty and clever humour. There is a lot of playing with words and phrases in the first half of the film, which sets up the unfolding narrative that comes later in the film. However the character development is underdone and feels like it has been pushed to the side in favour of the jokes and action of the film. Especially with regards to Simon Pegg’s character there is a real lack of relatable qualities which make him a less than ideal protagonist. By the end of the film I kind of just wanted him to fail at whatever it was he was trying to achieve. I just didn’t care about him. I cared about the other characters more than the lead which is not an unusual feeling, but it was surprising.

The World’s End is a Sci-Fi-Comedy and does a good job of pulling apart the Sci-Fi genre in comedic ways. It is cleverly constructed and the ending is one that will have you in stitches. The World’s End is a nice finish to a classy trio of clever comedies.

3.5/5

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Adapt and Make New – Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Much Ado – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay) and William Shakespeare (play)
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese.

There is something about Shakespeare’s comedies that make for good adaptations. 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man, O, The Lion King, etc, have all taken on new looks of Shakespeare’s plays. And then there is the cinematic versions of the plays such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), Othello (1995) etc. A good adaptation can be one that is true to the original text, or one that develops the ideas and narrative into a new setting. Joss Whedon has done both with his version of Much Ado About Nothing.

The film opens with a single piano note. A note that tells the audience that love is a thing that will cause both joy and sadness. It is with this simple note that the entire mood is set for the film. The film is shown in black and white, preparing the audience to see the blurred lines of grey in all the lies the characters tell one another, whether for good or for evil. And with the opening scene of Beatrice and Benedict as lovers you know you are in for an interesting take on Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception, rumours, and purity.

The best thing about this adaptation is Joss Whedon and the cast’s comedic timing. Much Ado is meant to be funny. It is a battle of wits between Benedict and Beatrice but here you see so much more of the comedy as played by all the characters. From little moments like Leonato (Clark Gregg) falling asleep/hung over in the kitchen and then being knocked awake and into speech, or Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) standing creepily at the end of Don John’s bed. The comedy in this film is exceptional.

The way the film is shot is really interesting because of the different camera angles. The shots looking down from heights to where the characters are creates a voyeuristic feel. The audience is another member of the party and is privy to closed door conversations and monologues of characters. It feels very much like an amphitheatre at points, providing the film with visual cues back to the original play.

There are just some films that grab you from the first moment and don’t let you go until the credits roll. Much Ado held me through the laughter and the tears and made me want to revisit Shakespeare with a new passion. This film will make you laugh; it will make you question how you talk of others; it will make you question why you listen to rumours; and above all it will make you want to fall in love with innocence and joy.

5/5

Action without narrative – Man of Steel

Man of Steel - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Man of Steel – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Man of Steel (2013)

Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David S. Goyer (screenplay and story), Christopher Nolan (story), Jerry Siegel (Superman created by), Joe Shuster (Superman created by)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Diane Lane, Michael Shannon.

A good action film should have some great action sequences but there also should be a good story controlling the action. To have action just to show off a character’s abilities and special effects is not justification for action in a film, especially not a blockbuster. There have been lots of films that have done just that. They’ve also probably made a lot of money. But it doesn’t make them great films. It makes them bad films. With so many action films being pumped out each year it must be hard to compete and come up with new and exciting ideas for how to construct a good action film. With Marvel and DC Comics competing on the big screen there is a lot of speculation and comparison. After The Avengers making box office history last year and the Batman trilogy being a big success, Man of Steel was always going to be under scrutiny and highly produced. So why did it end up being so pathetically average?

The moment the film lost me was when Superman was trying to fly and smashed through a mountain. He could’ve missed it, hit the top of it, skidded along the side, but the movie makers decided that sending Clark Kent through the thing was the better option. And coming out the other side unscathed, yep that’s a way to win a human audience over. This was basically what the majority of the film was, unnecessary action sequences to show that Superman was indestructible and so was his enemy, so how do you defeat an indestructible enemy? Oh yes, you try to smash him into every building you’ve ever seen, because that’s really going to make a difference. It wasn’t that the film was bad, it was just that the action was so unnecessary that it detracted from the film.

Man of Steel takes a different kind of look at Superman’s story, his origins, and how he became the hero. It covers different ground than previous Superman films and gives Clark Kent a broader scope of character. Henry Cavill cannot be faulted for his performance as Kal-El (Clark Kent’s Kryptonian name) and Amy Adams brilliantly portrays the strong and determined investigative reporter Lois Lane. But their characters, the narrative development, and the character development are overlooked and the action takes first priority in the film. I expected more from the guys that brought us the Batman trilogy.

Man of Steel lacks substance. It lacks reality. It lacks faithfulness. If you looked simply at the narrative scenes and were able to re-cut the film so that the action was removed you’d have a far better film. This film is the perfect example of how big budgets can wreck beautiful films.

I feel a bit sad that I didn’t enjoy this film because deep down I really wanted to love it. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams were perfect on screen, and I’m usually a big fan of Christopher Nolan’s work, but Man of Steel is just one big indestructible disappointment.

2.8/5

Childhood revisited – Monsters University

Monsters University - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Monsters University – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Monsters University (2013)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Writers: Dan Scanlon (story and screenplay), Daniel Gerson (story and screenplay), Robert L. Baird (story and screenplay)
Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Helen Mirren.

Origin stories have become a real fad in cinema recently. It’s always fun to have a prequel to story you love, but there can be that niggling feeling at the back of your mind of the what ifs. What if they stuff it up? What if the characters aren’t as you remember them to be? What if it’s just a bad film?

Well Monsters University knocked all those what ifs from my mind the moment it started. The humour, the characters, the lightness was all there. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) are back in this funny origins story. Monsters University is where all the great scarers are trained to go on to work at Monsters Inc. Disney is the champion of these types of stories. You know the ones, the little guy struggles against the big corporation to make them see that their prejudices are misplaced and then they all live happily ever after. Of course there is always much more to the story than just that, and Disney definitely know how to make it great. Monsters University doesn’t fail to live up to my high expectations. It is funny, heartwarming, and brings back all the delight of the first film.

Mike and Sully are headed to university. Both have dreams of being the best scarers the Monsters University has ever seen but they are both from very different worlds. Sully comes from a long line of scarers. Mike does not. Mike is a dreamer. He wants to be scary, but what is scary about a small green ball with a large eye? Mike and Sully are not friends. They are competitive, and polar opposites when it comes to scaring. But then they both get kicked out of the scaring major and must work together with a bunch of misfit monsters to win the Scare Games and the respect of their peers.

Monsters University is charming, funny, and has a great moral lesson woven into it. It’ll be one of my favourite animated films in the years to come. Almost everything about this film is great.

5/5

How important is the ending of a film? – World War Z

World War Z - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

World War Z – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

World War Z (2013)

Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay, screen story), Drew Goddard (screenplay), Damon Lindelof (screenplay), J. Michael Straczynski (screen story)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Daniella Kertesz

Zombies have never really been my favourite monster. They are just creepy, not scary, just oozy and icky. But when Brad Pitt is in a film you know it should be of some quality at least. And it was quality for the most part.

The story begins with an outbreak of a disease, or infection, or virus, or whatever it is, we don’t really know, but it is killing people and turning them into ravenous bodies for other humans. It’s everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. America is not the only place hit with this cursed disease thing. But don’t worry, because the only man who could find out what is causing this genocide is Brad Pitt. The rest of the film unfolds as Pitt’s character, Gerry, travels across the world trying to find out what caused the zombie infestation and how to control, kill, and eradicate the zombies. The storyline is smart enough to keep you interested. It’s not a straight line to the solution for Gerry and he has to deal with friends dropping left, right, and centre. Clues are slowly revealed, but quite obviously explained for those audience members you don’t really get it the first three times you’re shown the clue. Gerry finds himself following a tough path to solve the zombie problem in the world.

The suspense of the first three-quarters of the film builds quite nicely… until the last 15-20minutes of the film. At which point they ruin all trust and sincerity that they built with me with one scene. It’s probably safe to say that it’s the worst product placement in the history of film, or at least for this year. Brad Pitt standing in front of a vending machine full of Pepsi taking a long drink from a can. Yes, actually. From that moment onwards the filmmakers lost me. I gave up caring about whether Gerry lived or died, I kind of wanted the human race to all become zombies at that point because nothing could be worse than having to sit through a 2-hour film only to realise that you hate our economic system, hollywood, and consumerism for ruining what had been a perfectly adequate action flick up to that point. And then they go and close the film with a bad monologue and montage.

If there is one thing we can learn from World War Z it is that the ending of a film is just as important as the beginning, if not more. It is the end that will be remembered more than the beginning or the middle. Every moment counts in a film and if you have bad product placement and tacky monologues at the end of a film you will be doomed to be ridiculed by everyone in the world, or at the very least, me.

2/5 – would be 3.5 if the ending wasn’t so loathsome.

Just a good ol’ uplifting film – The Internship

The Internship - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Internship – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Internship (2013)

Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Vince Vaughn (screenplay and story), Jared Stern (screenplay)
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne

I’ve seen a lot of bad films in my time. I’ve seen a lot of good ones too. It’s always seemed to be a subjective matter of what is good and what is not. What one person finds funny may not be funny to someone else. And this is what I find interesting about a film like The Internship. I was in a great mood when I sat down in the cinema. I had been laughing with a friend beforehand and I didn’t have high expectations for the film. I was just there to have a bit of a laugh and to see Dylan O’Brien (Stiles from Teen Wolf) in a film. But The Internship surprised me. I mean, yes it is a big walking and talking advertisement for Google, and Google really doesn’t need advertising, it’s a verb. I’m not a huge fan of either Vince Vaughan or Owen Wilson, and together they have no appeal for me. But they do both have that charm of being funny american men. And as much as I would like to say that this film was as bad as I expected, it really was a delight.

The story unfolds as two older gents, Billy (Vince Vaughan) and Nick (Owen Wilson) in a crisis a lot of people are facing – no jobs, no savings, no prospects, and no skills in a technological age. It’s your usual triumph of the little guy over the bully kind of comedy. It is funny, light-hearted, and entertaining. The misfit interns that we get to know and love along the way are thrown together in a group that has to compete for the opportunity of getting a job at the end of the summer intern. They are a weird bunch but they charm their way into the audiences hearts through quirks and humour.

It always fascinates me how the way you view a movie can be determined by the attitude you enter the film with. I’m not sure that The Internship is a good film or whether I was just in the right mood. But I can definitely say that it wasn’t a bad film. It was a good laugh and a great time.

3.5/5

Director: Shawn LevyWriters: Vince Vaughn (screenplay), Jared Stern (screenplay), 1 more credit »Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne | See full cast and crew

The wonder of opulence, the sadness of greed. – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay) and Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based of the novel by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.

Who is Gatsby? The question that haunts and taunts throughout the novel and throughout Luhrmann’s film. Firstly, I have to admit that I love Fitzgerald’s writing but hate the story of Gatsby. It took me a long time to pick it back up after reading the first chapter and I struggled to get through it because I despised the characters, even Nick Carraway. Their selfishness, opulence, disregard for life and love, and use and abuse of the people around them made me sick. But that is what Fitzgerald intended to some degree. He slowly reveals our darkest secrets and shows us our reflection in each of the characters features and flaws. I was anxious going into the film. With Baz Luhrmann’s reputation for over the top theatrics and in your face metaphors it was hard not to be really, especially after watching the trailer for the film. And yet, from the moment the lights dimmed in the cinema and that title sequence began I knew it would all be okay.

The Great Gatsby is a film that transports you back to the mid-20s whilst keeping your feet firmly planted in 2013. The atmosphere, the light, the music, the sounds, everything screams at you with a haunting whisper of our reality. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is the ever hopeful and Carraway (Maguire) is the witness to the demise of hope and innocence. DiCaprio is brilliant. He shines so brightly and broods so grotesquely that there is rarely a moment that you can not believe that he is Gatsby. He is the lost soul who is trying to grasp something he never had a chance of possessing. Carey Mulligan is teamed with DiCaprio like the second side of his coin as the foolish Daisy Buchanan. Her flittering eyes, constantly on the verge of tears, and vacant looks convey the truth of Daisy.

But the man who really steals the film is Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist, bigoted, cheating husband. The slow brewing act of Tom is built throughout the film until the moment he takes Gatsby down in a small room of a hotel in New York. Edgerton’s performance is stunning. You are both repulsed by and drawn towards him like Daisy. You want to hate him but you know that in some small way that he is right about Gatsby, and you can’t fault him for that. Everything else, sure, he is a douchebag 100%, but he is right about Gatsby, and Joel Edgerton plays the balance remarkably.

The trailer to this film shows the opulence, the extravaganza, the pomp and ceremony of Gatsby, but what it fails to show is the great moments in between which make this film fantastic. It is the moments of slowness, the moments of Carraway’s reflections, the glimpses of Gatsby’s past, the brokenness of life in the world, and the calm before the storm that make this film great. Baz Luhrmann has managed to give life to Gatsby and Carraway’s friendship and to provide a film that shows both the wonder of opulence and the sadness of greed.

4/5

Into the darkness with beaming luminescence – Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Star Trek Into Darkness – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci (written by) & Alex Kurtzman (written by) & Damon Lindelof (written by) and Gene Roddenberry (television series “Star Trek”)
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban.

I have been putting off writing this review. Simply because I have no idea even where to begin or what to focus on. I try to have a general direction with these reviews. Star Trek Into Darkness has made all the rationale words of a writer and reviewer disappear from my head. All I can think of to say is: “IT WAS AMAZING! YOU NEED TO SEE IT NOW!”.

But that would not be helpful. So here I go. Trying to describe this epic film in a few hundred words.

Visually this film is stunning. The graphics are simply breathtaking. From the very first moments of the film you know that the film is going to be a visual onslaught of beauty. The techniques Abrams adopted to shoot the first Star Trek film in 2009 are evident with lens flares galore. And sometimes you notice the visual cues that are cleverly adopted to salute to the old series, including a red shirt gag. Abrams has succeeded once again in using the screen, the set, the camera, and the lighting to tell a whole narrative alongside what is said and done on screen.

What is said and done though is just as great as the visuals. Benedict Cumberbatch has made it known that he is a formidable actor in a lot of different films and TV series, and as the tormented villain of this instalment his presence seals this film with a fifth star.

Narratively this film is quite similar to the first. Captain Kirk is faced with tough choices and with his comrade of Spock by his side they battle together with their differences clashing and complimenting each other. The emotional journey of these characters is always quite interesting as the ideas of what it means to be human are explored. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are fantastic lead actors but it is really the secondary actors of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and Karl Urban that make this film that little bit better than other action sci-fi films. The comic relief, the emotional support, the friendship and the conflict that these characters bring to the film makes it fun, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining.

I loved this film, as you can probably tell, and will see it many more times to come. It is one of those films that will make me giddy with excitement and make my heart race every time. Perfectly paced, this film doesn’t drag you along for the ride but welcomes you on to the bridge and gives you a seat just behind the captain’s chair.

5/5

PTSD and the objectification of women – Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Iron Man 3 – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Iron Man 3 (2012)

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Drew Pearce (screenplay) & Shane Black (screenplay), Stan Lee (comic book) and Don Heck (comic book) and Larry Lieber (comic book) and Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle

Iron Man 3 was always going to have to compete with the success of Avengers and I for one was hoping it could live up to my incredibly high expectations. Avengers was my favourite film last year and after the bomb of a film that Iron Man 2 was I was hesitant to want to expect too much of this next instalment. But if there is one thing the Marvel Universe know how to do it is to rise to the challenge and defeat the bad guy of negative reviews. This film was incredible.

Iron Man 3 focuses on Tony Stark after the events of the Avengers film. Tony is back in his lofty life as a billionaire, play boy, philanthropist but is having troubles adjusting after saving the world by traveling through a portal into another part of the universe with a nuclear missile on his back and then falling back down to earth. And thank goodness they brought that up because if he had just gotten back on the horse after that film then he wouldn’t have been a man any more. He would be something other than the Iron Man we know and love.

Of course you have your psycho villain who wants to destroy the world again, now in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and the ever so helpful rival scientist mad man of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who team up to create a formidable opponent. There are a few nice little twists to the villain which provide some good entertaining scenes, especially between Ben Kingsley and Robert Downey Jr. The expected epic battles, the near indestructible villain, and some very high tech special effects create a fast-paced and action packed ending.

But I want to talk about the middle of the film.

Tony Stark is stuck in Tennessee with a ruined suit and some kid who keeps triggering his newly discovered panic attacks. Now you would think that if Tony needed to find technology, computers, etc, then there would be a logical place to find these things, but the makers of this film have decided that a T.V. station van outside a beauty pagaent in the middle of winter when the ladies are in bikinis is completely logical. This scene infuriated me, as did the lack of any substantial female parts apart from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The reason it got to me was because comic hero films have an opportunity unlike most films to really portray all people equally awesome and with intelligence and substance, but Iron Man 3 has decided that there will be many scenes with skimpily clad ladies just standing around the men who do all the work and all the action. And I know what you’re probably thinking, “chill out! It’s just a film, it was just a small part of the film, there are strong women in the film like Pepper and Maya Hansen.” But it still bugs me and it is what I left the cinema thinking about. I want female characters I can look up to and aspire to be like. Pepper Potts is the typical damsel in distress for the majority of this film and yes Tony is a mess for most of it as well, showing the depth of character that we want. After Avengers I wanted more female leads, they started well and could have improved their rep even more, but alas it wasn’t so.

Okay, feminist rant over, now onto Tony’s PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of those things that I’ve never really experienced but seeing it on screen makes me happy that it is getting more publicity because so many war veterans suffer from it, as do those who have been through major trauma. Robert Downey Jr may not have got it bang on but Stark’s humour and flippancy are powerful contrasters for his panic attacks and especially with the kid beside him. You see Tony struggle and become powerless in his fight against the stress. The increased depth of character is something that really made this film for me. It’s balanced with the action and fits well in the plot line and pushes the character of Tony Stark to new levels.

All in all I loved this film. I will see it again and again and apart from that little issue of bikini clad women through the whole film, I really do think this is one fine comic book hero film.

4.6/5

Why can’t great people be good people? – Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Hyde Park on Hudson – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Director: Roger Michell
Writer: Richard Nelson
Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams

Power corrupts. The thing about seeing an American film about an American president is that it will always try and show them in a good light, at least a little bit, even if they were awful leaders. It’s the kind of patriotism I just haven’t grown up with. However, when growing up with American popular culture filtering in through the Australian television stations, music, films, etc etc., it’s hard not to understand what it means to be patriotic and to see the appeal of powerfully positioned men.

Hyde Park on Hudson is about Franklin D. Roosevelt and the weekend when the Queen and King of England came to visit. FDR (Bill Murray) is a president who made an impression. Married to one of the most outspoken and influential women in the 1940s-1950s, Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams), FDR was not the best of husbands. He had a string of lovers on the side, including his secretary Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and his fifth cousin Daisy (Laura Linney). The film centres on Daisy’s arrival into FDR’s world and the start of their friendship and their hidden love affair.

Linney is perfect in this film. Her portrayal of naive yet strong Daisy is powerfully moving. Her performance is what lifts this film out from the screen and into your mind. The politics, the power of situation, the tensions, the controversies all leave the moment Linney appears and you remember that this is a film about people, just people. It is about their fears, their lies, their love, their hardships, their sadness, their passions, and the power of people’s love and forgiveness.

There is however the little issue of the whole adultery thing, and the many mistresses FDR keeps. The film portrays FDR as a nice man to begin with, then slowly as you learn of the indiscretions of FDR. It turns him from being a nice man and a good president into a cruel lover and a manipulator of position. Bill Murray’s character development in the film is flawless as he holds FDR’s character intact from beginning to end never allowing you to second guess him. It makes it both hard and easy to despise him for cheating on a great woman. And I suppose that is what you are meant to feel, just as Daisy would have. It’s just that he manipulates all these women and then expects them to accept him and his “habits”. And so I hate him for that. But the movie is compelling towards FDR as a character and the women in his life are empowered in their own ways through his position and power.

A history lesson of a different sort, this film left me feeling like no great and powerful men are good and nice people. It’s disheartening and pessimistic I know but it’s the feeling I was left with even with the feeling of sadness for the state of the world.

3.5/5