Mix it up – Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Guardians of the Galaxy – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn (screenplay), Nicole Perlman (screenplay), Dan Abnett (comic book), Andy Lanning (comic book)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

It is no secret that I am a fan of Marvel films. One of my friends asked me when I was going to write a negative review of a Marvel film. I told him that I’d write one when I saw a bad one in this new phase of Marvel Film productions. Guardians of the Galaxy was another in a long line of films that I will watch on repeat when I get my hands on the Blu-ray.

Comic books translate into film either really well or hopelessly. There have been hits and misses. But since Phase 1 began it has been hard to fault them. I’m even partial to Iron Man 2 (yes I know that is controversial, and it isn’t my first choice but they introduced Black Widow there so I can’t hate on it). Guardians was a risk. It isn’t in the Avengers realm, there isn’t much chance of Iron Man or Captain America showing up (at least not yet in the films). It is a new universe for the Marvel Films to venture into, but the thing is I’ve grown to trust Marvel Films to put on a good show. You know when you walk into that dimly lit cinema with popcorn accidentally spilling onto the floor from your flimsy bucket, that you are in for a fun ride. Whether it is the thriller suspense of Captain America, the action/comedy of Iron Man or the fantasy world of Thor, there is an understanding between Marvel and the audience that you will be met with quality. This bond hasn’t just grown in the cinema over the last six years but over the last 75 years through the comics. We trust that the people bringing these stories to us love them just as much as we do.

Guardians is no different in this wonderful, trusting relationship. It is of the highest calibre of comic book film. It has the humour, the action, the villain and the hero (although not the way you would usually think of it) and you have those delicious graphics. The writing is incredible, the story flows beautifully, the characters develop genuinely, and the filming is gorgeous. My favourite part though? (And this probably isn’t a big guess for those of you who know me) Zoe Saldana. In a mostly male cast she holds her own as the strongest character, the one with the best character reveal and development, the one who gives the most and who has the most to lose. Gamora is fierce and there is no one that could do a better fierce than Saldana.

Guardians will be a treasure in my heart for a long time. A movie that is fun and adventurous and that genuinely makes me happy. It is so very almost perfect.

4.8/5

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Wicked is Good – The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner (2014)

Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim (screenplay), Grant Pierce Myers (screenplay), T. S. Nowlin (screenplay), and James Dashner (novel)
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

This fascination with turning YA novels into movies sounds like a great idea on paper. But that is usually where the good idea stops. It worked with Harry Potter because each novel was its own entity. It had a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It wasn’t always linked into the next book so explicitly. However, when we start moving into the Divergents, Maze Runners, and even Hunger Games, there becomes a distinct problem. There isn’t a clean ending. The story is about to continue. In books it works, in TV it works, put it on the big screen and you are just left hanging with an unsettled and unsatisfied feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I freaking love YA novels. I love the imagery and the action in them.  I love the characters. My bookshelf is dominated by them. But sometimes you just have to say no to the film.

The Maze Runner series was one that I only read after discovering James Dashner last year. The series is good. The writing is interesting and compelling, and the story is fascinating in all its intricacies. It seems like it would translate into a great epic film. Visually it does. The movie is beautifully crafted. But the film medium just doesn’t do the story justice.

The Maze Runner is inspired by Lord of the Flies and the premise is interesting. Stick a bunch of teenage boys in a giant maze and see what they will do to survive. What happens if you run the experiment for a few years and then change everything on them within a week? Chaos. The great thing about the Maze Runner series is that it asks us the question: How far would you go to save the world? The problem with the film is that it asks the question: How far would your curiosity take you? Yes it is an action thriller of kinds but it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, it didn’t make me interested in the characters like the book did, and it just simply wasn’t as compelling as the book.

However, in saying all of that, if you haven’t read the book it is probably a great teen action thriller. It probably will grab you and make you wonder where it will end. And you probably won’t see that last twist coming. The setting is frighteningly fantastic and the graphics are gorgeously gritty, the young actors do a great job of making me love and hate them at the same time, and the dialogue is used well to move the story along without feeling too expository. And let’s be honest, I still can’t fault Dylan O’Brien or Will Poulter on any point, they will have me going back for more.

3/5

That is not a word! – Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell

Mary Poppins is one of those films that most people love, but who, like me, had no idea where the story came from or that it was originally a book. The author, Mrs P.L. Travers was a fascinating woman as we discover in this film. Emma Thompson really carries this film. Her diversity and skill in being able to portray anyone at any time (I recently re-watched some of the Harry Potter films and she is unrecognisable as Prof. Trelawny) is a blessing to the character of P.L. Travers. She is an unpleasant, particular, and snobbish kind of woman. Although she grew up in the outback of Australia she rejected her Australian nature for a British and Irish obsession. It is the contrast between the character from her early days in Australia with her family and her life after she left Australia that really give this film depth.

The story is simple enough, flashbacks to the little girl, Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley), with the ongoing saga of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) insisting she give them the rights to make the book of Mary Poppins into the film. But it is the simplicity and ordinary nature of the story that makes it a powerful tale. A girl who is continually with wanting to live in an imaginary world and the the world telling her that it is not a fairytale. The dissipation of hope and the insistence of harsh reality. The little girl is washed away through the bleakness of the world and yet, through all of this, she creates a wonderful world of fiction. An escape that captures the minds of millions of people. And it is this essential quality that Emma Thompson is able to present in beautiful clarity through her dealings with Walt Disney and the script and song writers of Mary Poppins.

Another stand out performance for me, mostly because I am Australian, is that of Colin Farrell. His Australian accent is perfectly subdued and subtle. So many times accents can be overdone, and Farrell managed to make it real. His charm and frivolity make the father of Ginty come alive. Without the rawness of the performance this film could have failed to bind together Mrs Travers’ past self and future self. The cohesion of the film is sturdy rather than flippant which is evidently the work of John Lee Hancock (The Blindside, The Rookie) as the director. To create a world where joy is balanced and juxtaposed with sadness.

I would never claim that this film is one of my favourites, it has its flaws, however I do believe that the essence of the film is an important tale to be told, such as the one in Mary Poppins. Without hope, playfulness, and a little imagination, this world is as bleak as we want to make it. We have minds that are capable of making even the smallest of chores a joy. Reality is only as harsh as we imagine it to be, so why not imagine it to be like a spoonful of sugar?

3.5/5

Will you love me until I become a hyperaware AI? – Her

Her - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Her – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

Spike Jonze is one of those directors that has a unique perspective on storytelling. From Adaptation to Being John Malkovich to Jackass. His repertoire is diverse. And always just that little bit strange. He is able to play with what we think and believe able the world and create a social and cultural commentary without making you feel like what he is critiquing is wrong. This is exactly the case with his latest writing and directing feat of Her.
Joaquin Phoenix is a writer in an age where everything is digital. He creates beautiful handwritten notes for people. He creates their voice, their words, their feelings, and is really good at it. But he has trouble connecting and understanding people. His wife left him and has drawn up divorce papers, he is a bit of a loner with only a few friends. So when a new operating system comes along with the ability to understand and predict what the user needs and wants, he subscribes, and then falls in love with his AI, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She becomes every thing he needs and they start up a relationship.
This film delves into the very real situation of us falling in love with someone we can’t see, touch, be with. Most people would say that is just a long distance relationship or an online relationship, and that is what I think Spike Jonze is getting at. Why wouldn’t it be okay for us to fall in love with an operating system? We fall in love over a screen already, it isn’t that much of a stretch. We have friends all over the world who exist mostly in our minds and on a screen. Of course, they also do exist in the real world, but what if they didn’t? Would it make that much of a difference to us? If we had an operating system that was like our friend, what would we do? Do we treat it just like a computer, or would we treat it like that friend we have in another city, state, or country?
Her is a film that tips the balance on romantic cliches and uber gooey lovey-dovey talk which makes it unbearable in parts if you aren’t romantically inclined to sentimental talk. And even for someone that has seen more bad romantic films more than once it is cringe worthy in parts. It’s like those couples that stare lovingly into one another’s eyes for long periods of time in the park. It’s just a little sickening. Of course there isn’t any staring into one another’s eyes in Her, because she is an operating system and doesn’t have eyes, but there is a lot of talk.
I liked this film, even though it left me feeling uncomfortable, because it makes me question how I use my technology. Do I really consider who I am texting or am I doing it just to have contact with someone in the void? Am I more in love with the idea of someone or am I appreciating them for who they truly are, outside my own crazy imagination. In saying that though, it isn’t a film for everyone and for some it will be unbearable. But isn’t that the way with all films?

Howling to infamy – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolf of Wall Street – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (Screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Oh Leo, my love, why can’t you pick films like this all the time?

Warning: this film is fantastic but if you are sensitive to nudity, drug use, or swearing, you probably won’t want to go see it. There is a lot of all of that stuff, and it is not shy about it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of those rare gems where a mix of things that could make a film bad makes it brilliant. It is too long, there is too much sex and swearing and drug abuse, the main characters aren’t all that likeable when you really think about it, and yet it is still a great film.

Set in the 80s and 90s, it follows the “based on a true story” tale of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a broker who whilst the rest of Wall Street crashed, was hooking people onto the idea of investing in companies that wouldn’t make a profit. Charming, driven, and intelligent, this man is the kind of man that will do anything to make as much money as possible, and isn’t afraid of crossing those moral lines that guide most of us. DiCaprio brings that air of sophisticated charm to a role that in another’s hand could have made this film a flop. He is both a despicable human being and a criminal, as well as being inspiring and wonderful to those who work for him. DiCaprio makes greed look both good and undesirable at the same time. This film creates so many conflicts and juxtapositions that it is hard to know whether you want Belfort to succeed or be taken down by the FBI.

(I could rant about how great Leonardo DiCaprio is in this film until the end of time. Seriously, it’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape good. He should do more physical humour. He is fantastic at it. His timing is impeccable. Oh and that scene in the country club foyer… ok, ranting now controlled…)

With a stellar cast including Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, and Margot Robbie, Scorsese has out done himself. Martin Scorsese has never been afraid of pushing boundaries and he does so in almost every scene in this film. It is obscene and opulent and yet I still love it.

I recommend this film to those of you who won’t mind the R+18 rating because you’ll probably love it for all the right reasons. I recommend this film to all those who do mind the R+18 rating because it is one of those films in a million that will make you appreciate your sensibility and your morality all that more.

4.5/5

When the train arrives – The Railway Man

The Railway Man - - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Railway Man – – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Railway Man (2014)

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce (screenplay), Andy Paterson (screenplay), Eric Lomax (book)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine

The thing about growing up in the 21st Century and being a movie and TV addict, is that you become less affected by violence. Or at least I definitely have. I can’t stand the blood splattering every where like in horror films, but when it comes to torture and war stories it doesn’t faze me that there are people dropping dead everywhere. Which is the problem when you come to a movie like The Railway Man. A film that tells the story of the aftermath of what happened to the men from the British army that ended up taken prisoner by the Japanese near the end of the Second World War. Eric Lomax is a soldier. He lived through the war and came out the other side. But during his service he was tortured by the Japanese for information. This torture has stayed with him his whole life, especially the face of his torturer. The post traumatic stress that he suffered after the war wasn’t uncommon. His experience was one that drove him to want revenge. And once you see what they did to him you try to understand, but can’t. If you’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty or have watched Criminal Minds at all then I don’t think the torture hits as hard as it’s meant to.

The performances by Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as old and young Eric Lomax bring power and strength to a part that could be played as the victim. But that is not what Lomax is, he is a hero and a survivor and Firth and Irvine portray him as such. But what really makes this film powerful, apart from its obviously powerful story, is the music. David Hirschfelder has composed pieces that fit perfectly with Jonathan Teplitzky’s slow paced directing and intense close-ups on characters faces. It is this that creates the emotion that this film deserves. The heartbreaking feeling that sinks into the pit of your stomach as you see Lomax suffer and try and stay strong. The absolute sorrow that is conveyed when Lomax confront his torturer years later is crushing.

People kept telling me before I saw the film that it was horrible what they did to Eric Lomax and that you should be prepared for the worst. And so I prepared myself, I thought of all the worst possible things and was prepared. But as someone that watches a lot of crime TV and action films I feel saddened for myself, and probably others like me, that won’t really understand the power and the horrific nature of torture. But in saying that this film is continuing to haunt me and stick to the tendons of thought as I go about my day. Jeremy Irvine should be receiving so much more praise than he has already received for his performance in The Railway Man.

3.5/5

The unnecessary and the potential – The Wolverine

The Wolverine - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolverine – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback (screenplay), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

The Wolverine is the latest instalment for the X-Men film franchise. The Marvel comic book universe of X-Men has come alive on the screen over the last 13 years. There is always some issues in adapting a piece of literature to the screen, and especially so with comics as they come with a plethora of canon and decades of story lines intertwining. The X-Men movie franchise has been somewhat successful in creating its own world on the big screen. There are however issues with this latest instalment.

Wolverine (aka Logan, played by Hugh Jackman) is practically immortal. His immortality comes in handy every now and again but it is more of a burden and a curse than a blessing. The story begins with Wolverine saving a Japanese man in the Nagasaki blast in 1945. In the present day the man he saved, Yashida, is dying and requests that Logan comes to say his final farewells to him before he passes away. Logan travels to Japan to see the man but all is not as it seems. Yashida has been researching Mutants and in particular the adamantium metal that Logan has infused in his skeleton.

The story is interesting and moves along in a swift and compelling pace but it is how the story is formed that is troubling. The saying “sex sells” is put into action in The Wolverine. Jean Grey, Logan’s previous love interest, turns up in his dreams as his conscience, always lying in bed with Logan in a silky night dress. And then there is the granddaughter of Yashida, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who Logan saves from Japanese mobsters and then falls in love with as they escape from danger and work out how to stop the evil guys. If the story was more fully developed then these two love affairs, one in the past that Logan still holds on to and the new one he is trying to move on to, could have made more sense. But the lack of time spent and clarity of the underlying ideas behind these relationships was disappointing. Instead Wolverine comes out looking like he is only using Mariko to get over Jean. This, I am told by a dedicated fan of the comics, is not what it is meant to be. Yes, I understand that the relationship between Logan and Jean needed resolving but to throw Mariko into the picture without being clear on Logan’s emotional progression creates flaws in the fabric of this, otherwise good, comic book film.

There are some great female characters in Yukio and Viper, as well as Mariko. They provide some balance to the overload of male ninjas in the film and are spectacularly cast, especially with Rila Fukushima as Yukio and her execution of the line “I am you’re bodyguard” to Logan. Nice touch Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

All in all, The Wolverine is steady-footed film that helps progress Logan’s story to a place where X-Men: Days of Future Past (due out 2014) can really expand upon Logan/Wolverine’s role in the X-Men franchise.

3/5

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

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