Monthly Archives: September 2015

Legend

Trouble and Strife

Legend is a biopic of London’s most notorious gangsters: the Kray twins Portrayed by Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray and Tom Hardy as Ronnie Kray.

It is an odd situation where one actor could easily be Oscar nominated for the best actor AND best supporting actor for the same film.

It probably won’t happen because it sounds stupid but it easily could because Hardy does a stellar job of bringing both twins to life.

The depiction of Ronnie Kray isn’t as good as Reggie because whilst many of his exaggerated character traits provide some much appreciated comic relief they do tend to wander into slapstick territory.

Some people might not like this iteration of Ronnie and will come to this film seeking for a straighter gangster film but I think director Brian Helgeland has done a good job of striking a balance between a cartoon character and vicious gangster.

It’s a Japanese way of moderation; make him unhinged in some scenes but a clown in others. Two extreme polarities yet the overall result is somehow a balanced characterisation of a quirky psychopath.

The brains behind the operation though is Reggie who is smart, charming just as hard as his ‘bruvah’ Ronnie. Reggie is surprisingly likeable but there is still something terrifying that underpins Hardy’s performance.

Is this thanks to a decent script? Is it thanks to incredible acting? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because Tom Hardy is the actor who won the “Most likely to snap and kill someone” in the imaginary awards that I just made up? Again I’m not sure, but I am sure I wouldn’t want to get on Hardy’s bad side – there’s just something about him!

What is more impressive than the individual performances is how good the chemistry is between Hardy and err… himself!? The film somehow portrays a genuine brotherly relationship and even the great fight scene between the two still somehow nails this kinship.

The film doesn’t nail everything; sometimes it swings and hits its own thumb. The biggest throbbing pain is Reggie’s wife Francis (Emily Browning). Wait, i know she’s beautiful but that wasn’t meant to be some sort of innuendo.

Francis actual narrates the film, which doesn’t work in my opinion. I get the desire to show the Krays through the eyes of a 3rd party but a better choice would have been the police who are introduced in the very first scene. They could have even swapped narrators to stitch together multiple narratives into one larger story arc.

Using this approach might have even helped to provide some relevance to the Mafia presence which is – no pun intended – criminally under developed. They are only shown on screen to provide a reason for the Krays rapid accumulation of wealth but otherwise they are like how my mum contacts me: “just phoning you to say hello dear”.

Legend wouldn’t be the same without that Hardy geezer as your main man but a diamond soundtrack help produce a dapper slice of 60’s London.

Definitely worth a butcher’s hook.

Go See

  • Tom as Reggie
  • Kray vs Kray
  • The great soundtrack

Avoid

  • The annoying voice over
  • The mafia
  • Tom as Ronnie?!

Overall

4-stars

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Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Burning Man

If you have read my review of the original Maze Runner and are now reading this then: 1. What are you doing? There are plenty of better writers out there and 2.You’ll know that I secretly enjoyed the film even though it wasn’t particularly good.

Scorch trials is much the same as the original although the themes are different and this latest entry into the series feels more mature and better produced.

In the first Maze Runner film it was interesting to see how a society starts from nothing with no previous reference point of how society works and what that looks like. I also enjoyed the scenes in the maze with the weird mechanic, oil spill, tentacle monster things – yeah them. Unfortunately that’s all gone.

What I didn’t like about the original was the half baked love interest, the rushed story and the terrible ending. Unfortunately some of this is still here.

Once again we are given very little construct around why they are their current situation and how this relates to the world in general. In the original that wasn’t  an issue because you could enjoy the mystery of the maze. Why is it there? Who runs it? Do they escape? In this film you know they have escaped but still don’t know what the wider world is about. This is fleshed out to some degree but really The Scorch Trials is an entertaining but a bit generic action adventure film where a greater emphasis on story would have been appreciated.

So what are these trials of scorch? I dunno, I’ve only seen the film, why ask me? As far as I can tell it’s just a wasteland that they walk through. I wouldn’t really say these are trials though as that suggests a set of structured and defined ordeals. Perhaps a better description would be The Maze Runner: The Shit Happens Edition.

The Scorch is one of the most visually pleasing areas of the landscape. Within which they stumble across hordes of cranks: infected humans who are now more like hyper aggressive zombies. These scenes are without doubt the most entertaining in the film as the pacing of the film really ramps up in these segments.

If you have ever played possible the best game ever made: The Last Of Us then the scorch is the nearest thing to this seminal game that I’ve seen depicted on film.

All throughout the trials and even in fact the whole film Thomas is pretty much the only character that counts. The other members of the old commune have been reduced to Thomas’s back up singers or a herd of geese. Every scene of danger has Thomas at the front, arms wide, telling everyone to stay behind him. That’s cute of him but there’s no need to be a dick about it. No-one likes an attention seeker.

It’s lucky then that Dylan O’Brien, who plays Thomas, is enigmatic and convincing as the lead character or this could have been a bigger problem. It’s not just O’Brien who plays his role well, like it’s predecessor all of the cast put in a surprisingly solid performance considering the type of film it is and none more so Rosa Salazar who plays newcomer Brenda.

Brenda plays a key role in helping find a rebel army who can help take on the face-palmingly named WCKD. The finale demonstrates the beginning of this fight with *cringe* wicked and is once again the worst part of the film. It’s so rushed and poorly thought out leaving the action bland, tame and unsatisfying. The whole film tries to be gritty and dramatic yet the ending feels more at home in a B-movie.

What you end up with is no maze, no trials, nothing particularly scorching or on fire but you do have fun teen action film that is better shot and on a bigger scale than the original film. It’s a decent enough film but is not something that you need to run out and see instantly.

Go See

  • Entertaining action adventure
  • Zombie mutants
  • Mostly well acted

Avoid

  • Thomas the one man army
  • Too little story
  • Another terrible ending

Overall

3-5-stars

No Escape

Thai Hard

So, this is probably totally specific to me but it was only 6 months ago that I was travelling through Thailand with my lovely lady. Thailand is totally awesome place to be. Beaches, Wildlife, Weather, Night life, Culture, History, Pi – oh how I miss Pi. In short it has everything with perhaps the exception of road safety, hot water in hostels and smiling waitresses. It also has Bangkok which you either love or hate, it’s a real ‘Marmite’ city. At its worst, Thailand is not even half as scary as this film makes out so I couldn’t help but get a slight xenophobic overtone throughout.

Ignore that bollocks though because the best part of No Escape is how brutally oppressive it is right from the opening scene.

Normally when portraying tension there will be scenes that are either light-hearted or slow paced to give a rolling cycle of build and release but No Escape works differently. The first half of the film just keeps upping the ante to the extent that it borders on being over-powering and draining.

The film starts out with Jake Dwyer (Owen Wilson) re-locating to what I can only assume is Thailand with his wife Annie (Lake Bell) and young daughters Lucy (Sterling Jerins) and Beeze (Claire Geare). Political unrest colours the framework of the story and culminates in a rebel group looking to execute Westerners who are deemed to be ruining their local culture and draining wealth from the community.

Jake is the first one to witness the unrest on a morning paper run and has to battle to return to his family and to somehow get them out of their now besieged hotel. Owen Wilson is surprisingly convincing as a terrified father who is out of his depth and desperate to keep his family safe. It’s not Wilson’s normal typecast role but shows he is capable of being more than a loveable and gentile comedic character.

The hotel siege escalates to a truly terrifying, heart-in-mouth, moment where Wilson has to throw his own children onto a nearby rooftop to escape certain death. Now I have little interest in having my own little sprogs but I have to admit I let out a sly “holy fuhh!!” at this scene. If that’s not bad enough the hotel starts getting shelled by a tank. This is one hell of a bad day so far.

There is no letting up in the tension that coats the film in a genuine feeling of dread. You spend the entire film on the edge of your seat wondering if the family will make it out safely or if there really is no escape. as the title suggests.

For all that goodness though there are a number missteps the first being the rare moments that the family share a moment together. The cast works well together in the midst of danger but the few heart to hearts somehow feel staged or forced, almost cartoony in fact.

Not quite as cartoony as Pierce Brosnan’s character Hammond who is is one step away from having a catchphrase and munching on a carrot. Hammond likes to sip whiskey yet bang broads, is reticent yet exudes an outgoing mid-life crisis persona. This strange blend is held together with a ham fisted back story and an accent that shifts more rapidly than my belly when I step on a wobble plate.

The back stories of most of the characters are pretty limited in fact and none more so than the the group of rebels. I can deal with that because, even though there is one main ringleader, an unknown threat is all the more terrifying. What I couldn’t deal with is how Mr Ringleader was literally everywhere. You would have thought that the family were following the mob and not the other way around because just like McDonald’s; every sodding turn and there they were again, the same bloody mob, the same bloody leader.

I mentioned earlier that they seem to be in Thailand – they never specifically state – but at one point they mention they might be able to escape down the river to Vietnam. Hang on…. there’s at least 300 miles of Cambodia to cross before you get to Vietnam, this has suddenly become a very stupid idea.

Thankfully though, watching this film isn’t such a stupid idea. It does manage to grip you from the start and keeps the tension levels high throughout. It does suffer from a chronic case of Pierce Brosnan but it’s a solid film that you will most likely enjoy – that’s a fact you can’t escape from.

Go See

  • For the tension
  • The roof jump
  • Owen Wilson

Avoid

  • The happy moments
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Omnipresent enemies

Overall

3-5-stars

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Contagious


Yay! Who doesn’t love a romantic comedy about someone who is slowly and miserably dying of cancer?

Wait what?!

Everything about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl doesn’t make sense. On paper it simply shouldn’t work yet curiously it all somehow comes together nicely… a bit like jelly baby vodka.

The most curious of all is Earl (RJ Cyler) who is both friend and colleague of Greg (Thomas Mann) who is also the titular ‘Me’. Earl is so vastly different to Greg that their friendship doesn’t make sense and simply shouldn’t work – come on, I’ve told you this already!

Earl is from a poor neighbourhood which has forced him to be streetwise, confident, clever and brutally honest. He chooses to exile himself during his lunch hour to indulge his love for old and obscure cinema. He does this because the theatrics of daily school life are irrelevant and menial to him.

Greg on the other hand keeps just enough of a friendship with the jocks, the goths, the nerds and every social group in between whilst at the same time keeping his distance from all of the above. Bordering on the narcissistic he constantly demonstrates a lack of self esteem leading to him being often self-abasing. He too chooses to exile himself lunch to indulge his love for old and obscure cinema. Unlike Earl; Greg cares so much what everyone else thinks of him that he walks the line of invisibility to avoid conflict at anyone’s hand. Exile is the easy life.

I think what is so mesmerising and instantly likable about Earl is partly his resolve in distancing himself from the rest of the hormonal school throng but mainly because he is the equal and opposite reaction of Greg. Without Earl Greg is just Casper the friendly ghost; amiable but unseen by most.

Both Greg and Earl are beautifully cast and do a fantastic job of portraying an awkward and independent friendship. If you are someone who, like myself, has questioned where they fit in society then you will probably relate to Greg in some way whilst also seeing something in Earl that you wish you were.

Let’s not forget our dying girl Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who is every bit as good a character as the other two. What is brilliant about Rachel is that as she gets sicker she retreats into herself which only serves to make you connect to her more. The film somehow manages to portray the sentiment of “I can’t imagine what it would be like” as Rachel clearly suffers. There is no ‘braveness’ there is no life changing rhetoric there is only a descent into depression. Let’s face it though; sadness is often as important as joy – Inside Out proves this point eloquently.

I guess this will put some people off though. It’s not a happy film. It asked for a shot of ‘mono no aware’; a beautiful sadness and got a triple instead. There isn’t much to smile about in this tearjerker so if you are on the verge of breaking this will be like a brick through a window. It’s also not overly funny. Yes, it’s amusing and there are some moments that will make you giggle but this isn’t a comedy this is an Indie film.

The themes and story aren’t the only thing that identifies this as an indie movie as the visual language is not something you will find in the Hollywood mainstream. Normally you expect a character looking left will have some space on screen to the left of the character for them to ‘look in to’ but not here. Some of the shots are in the wrong orientation and the framing doesn’t make sense and simply shouldn’t work – wait… I feel like I’ve been here before!?

What I haven’t mentioned before is the only other aspect that I found a bit of a turn off and that was that the film is narrated by Thomas Mann. It’s from his point of view as if he is writing a story but it’s not needed. Sometimes it helps with building characters but other times it detracts from the poignancy.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl avoids everything that you would expect from a life-affirming romantic comedy and throws in so many curve balls that you would swear you’ve downed a litre of that jelly baby vodka. Somehow the film comes together and manages to walk straight line, touch it’s nose and recite the alphabet backwards with hardly any faults. Impressive.

Go See

  • Earl
  • Great casting
  • Interesting filming

Avoid

  • It’s not overtly funny
  • Because it’s not a happy tail
  • The narration

Overall

4-stars

The Transporter Refueled

Insurance Write-off

The original transporter trilogy weren’t ‘good’ films yet they were fun to watch. Transporter Refueled struggles to even do that. The best analogy for this film is that it’s a 5 car pile up of a film.

Car 1 – The Lead

I might be… Statham the obvious… but Ed Skrein just isn’t Jason Statham. As Frank Martin he cannot throw a punch and make it look good like Statham can. Statham has a rugged athleticism and an underlying confidence that enables him to float on screen.

My thesis at university was about how a good fight scene must be more like a dance than a fight; timing and precision is everything in this regards. Where Statham can dance Skrein has to rely on editing and camera trickery to achieve the same effect.

Car 2 – The Fighting

Most of the fight scenes are actually OK but as I stated above they just aren’t the same without Statham but it’s some of the opponents that are embarrassing. One of the opening fight scenes is an encounter with some street thugs that have such lousy dialogue you just wish Skrein would just take an uzi to them and have done with the scene.

What’s more embarrassing is the amount of times the bad guys are sent flying simply by opening a car door. Are all these useless goons allergic to car doors? Is the car door made of chloroform? Is the car door being opened at 50 miles an hour? Who knows, in fact who cares, it’s such a terrible fight mechanic to use once let alone 5 times throughout the film.

There was one scene that was enjoyable though and that was when Frank is trapped in a tight corridor of security box like drawers on either side of him and people both in front and behind him; all wanting to punch his face in. Cue the opening and closing of drawers to trap appendages and block incoming attacks. That was a good dance.

Car 3 – Women

The story. 4 random chicks kidnap Frank’s dad and force Frank to do the girls bidding. At some point, they are locked in the Frank’s car. He says don’t touch anything and sets the car rolling at literally 1 or 2 miles an hour whilst he walks beside it and lays down the law on another group of idiots – again… opening car doors features here too!

Anyway, the girls start to panic “I don’t trust this guy”, “We need to stop this car”, “We gotta do something!”. They also start screaming as a few of the goons are hurled onto the (bulletproof) car.

If ever there was a time to scream what the actual fuck then this is it. What I didn’t tell you is that previous to being in the car they have: murdered 2 people, dragged a dead hooker into a hotel, burnt down that same hotel, robbed a security deposit box at a national bank at gun point, gassed a club full of innocent people and hacked into the club owners laptop and stolen about 120 million dollars. So WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK are they terrified about being an car going barely fast enough to damage a loaf of bread should it crash into one.

In fact all of the female cast in this film are a complete mess. At least 3 of the 4 have zero back story and they are all seemingly lesbians because… well why not? Maybe it will increase viewership? Who doesn’t like seeing hot women kissing each other?

I suppose they have a point… but anyway it’s just yet another aspect of unashamedly objectifying women within the film.

Car 4 – Villains

There are 3 main bad guys in this film. Arkady Karasov (Radivoje Bukvic) is our main antagonist and he’s alright but his two henchmen Yuri (Yuri Kolokolnikov) and Leo (Lenn Kudrjawizki) were picked, presumably, because they have a Russian accent and nothing else. They were then given lines that were so bad that it makes X-Factor rejects sound good.

Car 5 – History

You know how many people wondered about Frank’s background story in Statham’s transporter films? Precisely 0. Why? Well, because his appeal is his desire to lead a relatively simple life led by his own self-imposed set of strict rules. You didn’t need to know who he was or how he got there you just needed to know that he was good at driving fast and punching hard.

In Refueled they wedge in Frank’s backstory in a ham-fisted way presumably to attempt to flesh out the character. Something about the army? Maybe a thing about war crimes? I couldn’t really tell you because I say flesh out but really it’s as well fleshed as a cindered biter from the Walking Dead.

There was a couple of cars that managed to escape unscathed. The first is Frank’s dad (Ray Stevenson) who plays a playboy, ex army, anything-goes all round gentleman. His character is by far and away the best thing in the film, in fact it’s a shame he is wasted by being in it to be honest. It actually becomes a bit unfair because he is the most charismatic person on-screen, he has the best charactisation and has the best lines of dialogue.

The only other redeemable feature was the cinematography. They did a relatively good job of making the car chases look cool. This was thanks mainly to some low camera shots, smoking tyres and slow motion – All things you can also find in music videos or Top Gear.

This new entry into the series takes everything you enjoyed in the first few and quickly backfires. What you are left with is a burning wreck full of bludgeoned and messy characters. So when they say this is the ‘Refueled’; they obviously put in petrol instead of diesel. Oops.

Go See

  • Daddio
  • Some decent car chase cinematography

Avoid

  • Skrein isn’t Statham
  • The women don’t make sense
  • Laughable villains

Overall

1-5-stars

Straight Outta Compton

Damn that shit was dope!

Hip-Hop is often misunderstood. It is not actually a music genre but a way of life that combines Music, Art, Dance, Fashion, putting on shows/events and more. The music genre of Hip-Hop is equally diverse but usually contains a beat made by a DJ from older musical samples and a voice spoken by an MC in the form of Rap.

To think that all Hip-Hop is just “Yea, I’m a gangster, fuck chasin’ benjamins cos I got dem hoes in da club” is plain wrong. What you are probably thinking of is a sub-genre of Hip-Hop termed as gangster rap.

Even if gangster rap has become a self fulfilling prophecy in that people want to grow up to be gangsters so they can then rap about it, or worse just pretend to be gangsters, be careful not to underestimate it’s importance.

Gangster rap pretty much started with a group called N.W.A and the course of their history is charted in Straight Outta Compton. Cool, but why do you care about my shoddy abridged music lesson above? Well that’s simple; history, and gangster rap’s role in it, is represented with surprising care and grace in this film.

N.W.A started as a way for a group of disenfranchised youths to voice the frustrations of their social situation to those in the same boat. These boiled down to poverty, drugs, violence and most importantly inequality especially when it came to law enforcement.

The film both eloquently and succinctly explains why they chose to make the music why they did and why it resonated with a wider populous.

The music production and subsequent storyline weaves in and out with the growing tensions of police brutality that culminates in the Rodney King trial where, amazingly, none of the assholes that beat the poor man senseless were convicted of excessive force. Mind blowing!

Cue the L.A. riots where the maxim was taken from the seminal N.W.A song “Fuck Da Police”. The inter-connectivity of music, life and history should be interesting enough for everyone even if you are not a fan of rap or hip-hop.

If you are a fan then you have the added benefit of a well acted and intriguing drama about the N.W.A. members and the surrounding music industry. All of the cast perform surprisingly well given they appear to have been cast because they look strikingly similar to their real life counterparts.

This is especially true for Ice Cube’s own son O’Shea Jackson Jr who plays Ice Cube. You would think that he would be on auto-pilot to play his dad but there is an unexpected level of subtlety and range to his performance.

The actual events portrayed in the film are constantly interesting as we see the band rise to the fame thanks to the music production talents of Dr Dre (Corey Hawkins) and the bank rolling of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). We see the infamous break up and subsequent slagging match after Ice Cube leaves, which is brilliantly portrayed and gives further context to the motivations behind the music. We also get to see Dre work with Snoop Dogg (Keith Stanfield) and Tupac (Marc Rose) under the madness of the gangster Suge Knight (R. Marcos Taylor) at Death Row records.

Whilst the above is far from dull there is never one moment that is truly heart stopping. Even when Eazy-E’s passes away the film doesn’t hit the dramatic heights that other biopics do, which may leave you finding the film slightly flat and a bit slow paced in places.

For want of a different phrase; that’s not the worst crime the film commits. It conveniently paints the band members in a rather positive light. Sure they have wild parties with drinking and scantily clad women so they’re not the role models but there is no mention of any past felonies. I don’t know their life so I can’t say for sure but Dr Dre’s first album is called The Chronic so not even one shot of anyone smoking a single, solitary, teeny, cheeky little spliff? Come on…!

It’s not entirely surprising that they have expressed themselves in a positive light instead of being all gangsta gangsta; after all it was co-produced by both Ice Cube and Dr Dre. Still, Straight Outta Compton is much better than it has any right to be. It is competently acted and produced whilst the story carefully and lovingly articulates not only the rise of some of Hip-Hops highest paid artists but also a fascinating slice of history. If, after all that, I ain’t the one to convince you of it’s quality then check it out for yourself but parental discretion is advised.

*mic drop*

Go See

  • Demonstrates the importance of the group
  • Great soundtrack
  • Surprisingly well acted

Avoid

  • Paints everyone in a suspiciously positive light
  • ‘Shocking’ moments are not that shocking
  • A little bit slow paced

Overall

4-stars

Hitman: Agent 47

Flesh Wound Only

Oh dear, the curse of the video game movie continues.

What we don’t need is a Hitman movie. What we do need is a Hitman TV series. Think about it. In any of the Hitman games you spend what; 10? 20 hours? involved in that one character? multiply that by the 4 games there has been and you have a significant amount of time invested in not only watching the character but being that character.

Now try to boil this down into under 2 hours of hands off media and make it resonate with both fans of the original games and newcomers alike?

It’s possible. You just need to pick what you show and keep it focused and concise, which is something Hitman doesn’t really do. It tries to tell you about the agent programme into which Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) is born, about other mysterious agents, the syndicate that created the agency programme and then the reasons why Agent 47 wants to destroy the whole syndicate.

It’s too much. A TV series would allow modular episodes where 47 has to take out a target and focus on the planning of how to complete the assassination – a bit like the antithesis of Sherlock Holmes. It also gives you longer to build up a story arc and get to know a character who is actually quite bland.

This is one of the main problems with the film is that Agent 47 just isn’t that charismatic. He rarely speaks and because of his conditioning barely feels any emotions. He is as cold and heartless as Katie Hopkins. Actually, Katie Hopkins is much more of a vile human than the assassin.

Because he rarely speaks or emotes you rally don’t care about his relationship – if you can call it that – with Katia (Hannah Ware). There is no humour, no clever dialogue, no signs of affection or desperation to protect her and at times she just feels like a lost puppy trailing anyone who happened to give it a morsel of food.

Katia herself is more of an open book and does manage to redeem some of the lacking dialogue and emotions but it’s when she is reveal to be an agent that she comes into her own… sort of.  But her character is cannibalised by the ridiculousness of training for what only feels like 5 minutes and suddenly she’s an unstoppable killing machine as well. It is good fun to watch her do this but there is little logic behind it.

Of course, the main reason you are watching a film called Hitman is to see a man assassinating targets with ease. Thankfully the film provides enough of this gun-play and garroting to keep you entertained from start to finish, however, the switching between actor and stunt doubles feel particularly notable.

Similarly the editing is quite poor in these areas. You still get the overall feel of the action but it cuts at the wrong moments. If you want a master class of gun-fu then look no further than the jaw dropping John Wick and comparatively Hitman under-performs.

Speaking of John, the best aspect of the film was John Smith. No I wasn’t drinking bitter, although perhaps that would have helped, I’m referring to Zachary Quinto’s character. Quinto out acts anyone in the film and his sheer single minded determination to execute his orders actually makes him a worthy adversary.

The plots twist at the end could have been really good but there is too much going on to make any real sense of the intricacies at work within the film. The acting and on screen chemistry doesn’t really help the story but at least the hail keeps you entertained throughout  even if it’s not the killer film it wanted to be.

Go See

  • Fun with a gun
  • John Smith – not the drink
  • Katia

Avoid

  • One dimensional lead
  • Katia: “Who are you?… oh wait, I’m now a master assassin!”
  • Tried to do way too much

Overall

2-5-stars