Monthly Archives: April 2016

Eye In The Sky

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

How much is one life worth? Is it invaluable? Is it worth the lives of 5 other people? What about double that? Or perhaps 80 others?

Think about it. No, really think about it. This is what Eye in the Sky asks of us all. The story is remarkably brief and plays devil’s advocate over a short few operational hours in a mission to stop known group of terrorists inside Kenya.

It seems simple at first; there are people recruiting fanatics who are ready to become suicide bombers. Intelligence is gathered these people have suicide vests, they will follow through but a drone is ready and can take them out. Do it, right?!

The problem is that there is a little girl, Alia (Alisha Takow) selling bread outside the walls of the compound where these terrorists are meeting. Collateral damage means that she is likely to be seriously disfigured or permanently disabled in a best case scenario. At worst it’s a gruesome death.

Is it still OK to drop a bomb? What if there are other innocent locals buying bread from her at the time? What if I told you that her father is particularly progressive and accepting for that community? Is it still OK? This could be your daughter, killed without seeing or hearing death approaching. This could be your mum, dad or friend killed whilst simply buying bread. Killed from the safety of a bunker tens, hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

It’s not OK to drop a bomb? Congratulations you have just killed and injured hundreds of others through inaction. How would you decide on your course of action and how would you reconcile your conscience?

Director Gavin Hood masterfully juggles these viewpoints without ever casting judgement on either group of supporters. Tension is built throughout the film thanks to precise scriptwriting and careful editing. He cleverly shows those making the ultimate decision on whether to engage safely tucked away in a nice building having coffee and biscuits whilst showing those on the ground desperate to save the most lives possible, whatever the cost.

However, the film’s triumphs are diminished, remarkably, by the acting from the likes of Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman. Mirren plays the head of operations to bring down numbers 2, 5 and 6 on the most wanted list but she feels out of place in the role, almost as if she has been chosen in direct response to recent Hollywood critiques of industrialised sexism.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with a woman playing this role but Helen Mirren doesn’t seem ‘battle-hardened’ for the role she is meant to play. Rickman is much the same too but perhaps to a lesser extent as he never truly commands his authority of experience to an uninitiated room of government officials until his parting words.

These theatrical performances detract from what should have been a thoroughly realistic, gripping and engaging storyline and one which really, shouldn’t need any headline stars to promote. This is an issue that concerns all of us right here, right now. How can we take the moral high ground when we become a faceless instrument of death?

Sure we may have removed a valid threat but to anyone outside of the cosy war room – those people not drinking a nice cup of arabica with a chocolate bourbon in hand – this is just senseless violence. When you put the lives of children in the cross hairs then how do you condone such actions? To save more lives? Yes… No… Perhaps?! Here I am a week later, still no clearer on what I would do.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Important subject matter
+ Well paced and directed
+ Good supporting cast


– Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman feel out of place
– Less impact on the ‘pro-drone’ camp because of the above
– We never find out who the bad guys are or how bad they truly are

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Bastille Day

Briar, James Briar!

Hey, remember that time when the internet collectively got offended about something really simple? Oh yeah, you’re right, I really need to narrow that down.

Remember when Anthony Horowitz stated that Idris Elba was too street to play James Bond and everyone shouted racism without any context to the statement?

Well, we all know that Idris Elba oozes style and charm whilst being handsome enough to swell the loins of the frostiest of ice-queens but can he punch people really hard, run across rooftops or fire guns in mid-air?

Bastille Day proves that Elba can indeed repel peoples’ faces with his fists in a film that often feels like an audition reel for James Bond.

Perhaps it’s not meant to be? However, given the recent furore it’s hard not to come into Bastille Day without this pre-conception of Elba as the next 007.

If you can separate this notion you see that Sean Briar (Idris Elba) is actually quite different to Bond and is almost more like Ice Cube’s role as Captain Dickson in 21 Jump Street.

Briar is gruff, mood yet distinctly watchable. He is meant to be offset by the jovial pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden) but Madden’s character is not allowed enough dialogue to adequately play the fool.

What this means is that it’s just not as fun as it should be. But then again…. perhaps it’s not intended to be a light-hearted crime thriller?

The story follows growing tensions in Paris between French nationals and religious/immigrant groups ahead of Bastille day. The tensions have been growing due to recent bomb attacks, scapegoating and police intervention, which all seems to hit a raw nerve given recent events in Paris.

What I wasn’t expecting was the suggestion that these events are being puppeteered by Frenchmen to suit their own agenda.

Suggesting that events of perceived terrorism might have been either orchestrated or sanctioned by those who are charged with protecting the public is a risky concept. It’s also one that needs a delicate hand to highlight the complexity of motivations and issues, otherwise it can come across as a crackpot conspiracy theories to many.

Unfortunately Bastille Day doesn’t pronounce the motivations of those involved in it’s complicated plot and therefore doesn’t feel like the important piece of cinema that maybe it should have been.

But then again; perhaps it was never meant to be? That’s the thing, I can’t quite place what the film is trying to be. Is it meant to show-reel for double-oh-Elba? Is it a whimsical crime thriller? Is it a serious examination of political manipulations of public sentiment?

I think the answer falls somewhere between all of that, leaving it as confusing as using ‘le’ and ‘la’ in French and much less revolutionary than the storming of Bastille in 1790.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Idris Elba
+ Decent fisticuffs
+ Interesting political undercurrents


– Madden’s character isn’t fun enough.
– Not sure what this film is meant to be
– Motivations not explored

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The Jungle Book

Jungle All The Way

HAKUNA MATATA ladies and gentlemen!

Welcome to my review of The Jungle Book; a film about a boy who follows his dream to ride a sabre-toothed tiger and become a singing scout leader after being raised by wild pandas.

Ok… I’ll admit it. I’ve never actually seen the original 1967 Disney classic. The good news is that I have no pre-conception about this latest reboot from Jon Favreau.

With the exception of Cowboys & Aliens which was a bigger mistake than denim on denim Jon Favreau continues to prove himself as a film maker capable of creating commercially successful films and in some ways The Jungle Book is his best film yet.

Calling the film a “live action version” of the original is misleading because apart from Mowgli (Neel Sethi) the film is about as real as Jordan’s boobs.

However, live action is also highly accurate because we are living in the future my friend. There will be times where you are convinced that you’re watching real animals trying to lick peanut butter off the roofs of their mouths; the CGI animation is that good. It’s unbelievable.

Through the animation of talking animals the makers could easily have… baloo it… sorry! Anyway, the excellent voice acting enlivens each of the main characters. Most notable for me were Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo who really become the embodiment of Mowgli’s trusty protectors.

I could write an essay on how good each of the characters are but I’m already at risk of TLDR. Perhaps the exception to this is Idris Elba as Shere Kahn. I think that’s a personal thing. I find his voice too recognisable and a bit too London (“in tha jaaangle”) for my taste.

I actually wasn’t overly enamoured with Neel Sethi as Mowgli either. Sure, he looks the part and he even moves like a Mowgli should but he’s just not the revelation that Haley Joel Osment was in The Sixth Sense for example, which is a shame when the CGI work is so damn good.

Still, these are minor points because whether you are a child or an adult there is something for everyone. Children will obviously appreciate the talking animals and the unobtrusive introduction of classic songs but be warned it’s a lot darker and threatening than the original was… I’m guessing!

As an adult I actually appreciated this darker tone and the way it questions how humans and animals are able to co-exist. It’s interesting to think that animals shun wild humans because they are too dangerous rather than the other way around.

However, the film doesn’t really provide any wider conflict between humans and animals and neither does it pose answers of how we can co-exist without fucking everything up like we do at the minute.

Perhaps this can be explored in The Jungle Book 2? There are a lot of characters that can have their story fleshed out further and given the money it’s already raked in I’m sure Disney will make a sequel out of necessity: bare necessity!

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Stellar animation
+ Great voice acting
+ Darker than expected


– Idris on Kahn
– Neel Sethi

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Hardcore Henry

Happy Hardcore

Ever wanted to watch Call of Duty: The game: The movie? Well in that case, Hardcore Henry says hello – assuming you replace the word hello with a bunch of fireworks of course.

Hardcore Henry is the story of some guy called Henry – coincidence? I think not! – who wakes up without a voice box to his wife Estelle (Haley Bennet) attaching bionic arms and legs to him. Moments later a powerful warlord named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) breaks in to the lab and kidnaps his wife for her knowledge in cybernetics.

What follows is an action film shot entirely in first person. In premise it’s a thrilling concept and one that should assault your eyeballs more than rinsing them out with lemon juice and popping candy.

In a way the film succeeds in this regards. There is no doubt that there are some incredible stunts in Hardcore Henry and seeing them in first person is like nothing you have seen before.

The problem with this first person view is that it feels like it’s filmed on a Go-Pro so the normal slick motion of servo assisted steady cams is but a distant memory.

The action is also repetitive and relentless, never giving you the opportunity to stop vomiting before dragging your brain through another spin cycle.

It’s also incredibly badly acted, not that really matters because you didn’t come here for a window into your own soul, but when Sharlto Copley turns up as tough guy Jimmy I could only cringe.

Within moments it’s revealed that the tough guy act was just one of many personas. The more Jimmy appears on screen the more I loved his character. It’s as bizarre as his role in District 12 or Chappie so if you like Copley in these then you are in safe hands.

Similarly, if you like fragging or no-scoping bitches in online games then again you’ll feel at home because the comparison to video games are a dime a dozen. Kill wave of bad guys, set piece, kill next wave, boss fight, repeat.

Hardcore Henry is the most like a video game out of any film I’ve seen but it’s also too flawed to become a cult classic, mainly because motion blur and shakiness makes it feel like a sudden bout of Parkinsons during a roller-coaster ride.

Underneath it all is a brilliant concept. I would hate to see this as the start and end of first person movies because with a little more care, attention and budget we might see something truly spectacular but for now we have to make do with a happy cluster fuck of madness.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Great Concept
+ Some great stunts
+ Sharlto Copley


– Motion sickness
– Relentless
– Some bad acting

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Midnight Special

Zero Hour

……………Sometimes it’s better to go into a film completely blind. These films tend to keep their trailers deliberately ambiguous. 10 Cloverfield Lane is an excellent example of this. Obviously the downside is that you are never sure if the film will be any good.

……….Whilst the trailer for Midnight Special reveals quite a lot about the film it’s still remarkably vague, leaving the viewer to peer into the unknown. It’s a method of building intrigue and suspense and Midnight Special is desperate to prove it can do this.

…..If you are wondering why each sentence starts with a long pause it’s because I’m mocking every line of dialogue in the film. Mock may be the wrong choice of word because the scripting is totally acceptable I just wish each line didn’t start with [dramatic pause].

The story follows Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) who is a special child – and not like “oh he is one of god’s special children” – as some believe him to be a saviour and some a destroyer. Father Roy (Michael Shannon) and friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) kidnap Alton in order to bring him to a mysterious location. 

Dramatic pauses serve the early parts of the film well by drawing out the question of who or what Alton is, how his ‘ability’ has put him on an FBI list, who is telling the truth and who knows what exactly?

When you start to piece together what is going on this becomes very quickly irritating as plain time wasting. Get on with it. Say your fucking lines!

The more I watched the more I wanted the film to cut to the chase the more detached I got from the characters and therefore ended up being not quite as gripping and intense as it probably should have been.

It’s also problematic because the film briefly touches upon a fascinating concept that would have been brilliant to explore further but it simply doesn’t have the time to do this. So rather than theorising about what could be a revolutionary cultural phenomenon it is like the end of the 10 o’clock news: “and finally, in other news…”.

To it’s credit though it is well acted and the slow pacing allows a degree of thinking time  for both players and onlookers alike that is missing from a lot of Hollywood films.

In fact, whilst it has the slick production of a Hollywood film there is very little in the way of glamorising the main cast which keeps it feeling ground in reality if not quite gritty.

Midnight Special could have been a really great thriller that holds eye-opening concepts – a zero hour for humanity if you will – but this aspect of the film is barely visible. It’s a shame that it’s also the most special part of it.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Starts well
+ Interesting theme
+ Well grounded


– Dramatic pauses [dramatic pause] everywhere!
– Theme not explored enough
– Less gripping as it progresses

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Aka “Definitely Not Frozen”

Mirror mirror on the wall, why was this film even made at all?

Oh, that’s right; money. The big wigs at Universal must have been running of piles of money to stoke the fire this winter and decided to drag a mediocre film back to life with all the ingenuity of a slow roasted plimsoll.

The film clings on to life without Snow Twilight (Kristen Stewart) by bringing back the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). This time she is less prone to being stabbed. Outside of this recycled adversary we are dragged through the history of the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).

The film opens with the Huntsman being kidnapped by queen Elsa… sorry I meant Freya; a scorned ice queen, complete with ice palace, who wants everyone to abandon the idea of love.

We see the huntsman’s grow up with a fellowship of huntsmen that is cobbled together as an afterthought. There is so little interaction with the group that they become completely irrelevant to any potential character progression for the huntsman.

The exception to this is the introduction of his wife Sara (Jessica Chastain) who we are told (in the first film) had died.

An awful tragedy befalls Sara when she opens her mouth to reveal the most horrific Scottish accent. Chastain’s accent is seriously jarring and removed me from what little interest I had in the film.

After awkwardly and inconsistently straddling the events of the first film – including an inconsistent story of how Sara died – we find out that Sara is actually still alive. This all leads to an incredibly weak storyline of stopping the evil queens from being evil.

The Huntsman, who was the most likeable part of the original becomes a pastiche of his former self through bland dialogue and limited character progression but it’s Freya aka “honestly, this isn’t Frozen” that truly falls foul of this dire script.

As much as the character tries to piggy-back of the popularity of Frozen, it lacks all of it’s fun and charm. Emily Blunt is allowed precious few lines to speak and even fewer emotions making her performance incredibly boring to watch and impossible to empathise with.

At least the visual effects are good. Whilst the ice effects are satisfactory it’s Ravenna’s gloopy, spikey oil power thing that are the most visually interesting.  Other moments include moss and flower covered turtles and snakes but you can just watch the original for this.

The only other saving grace is Nick Frost and Rob Brydon as dwarves Nion and Gryff. They provide some much needed light comic relief but it’s all too little (haha… dwarves) too late.

Obviously inspiration was dryer than a mouthful of crackers and custard powder as Winter’s War manages to be a worse film that the original. It should only be watched by 7 year olds, those with poor taste in film or by idiots like myself. What could have been an interesting live action Frozen ironically ends up being less than cool.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Some cool visuals
+ The dwarves


– Frozen… minus the good stuff
– Jessica Chastain’s accent
– The overly melodramatic music
– Weak script

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Eddie the Eagle

White Men Can Jump

Eddie the Eagle focuses on the story of Britain’s first Olympic ski-jumper. It’s an enduring legend because he only qualified for the 1988 Olympics due to technicalities in the entry requirement.

In this respect it’s almost like if your cat qualified for the pole vault because Eddie (Taron Egerton) proceeded to come last in all his events by a comfortable margin.

British people love an underdog story. My late aunt would always root for the least likely of heroes and I somehow have hazy memories of Eddie even though I was barely “house trained” when he competed.

If there is one thing that British people love more than an underdog it is an eccentric underdog and Eddie is just this. Taron Egerton manages to enliven Eddie Edwards as a character by some fantastic facial expressions and mannerisms.

As an audience we are given every reason to get behind him. His dad constantly tells him he is not good enough. The same happens with the Olympics committee. He stands out for drinking milk instead of alcohol in bars, he’s not well off and sometimes dresses like he crashed into a 1980’s charity shop.

Eddie has to face a lot of personal criticism and his answer comes from his unwavering determination and dedication to his sport. In an age of cyber bullying where those who don’t fit in are irrationally and relentlessly shunned someone who overcomes this in such a positive way is instantly adorable.

What isn’t quite so adorable is Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who, in real life, is just words on paper. Apparently he is an approximation of both of Eddie’s coaches and whilst Jackman is enjoyable to watch his role felt obviously staged.

There are attempts to push character progression for Peary but all of it feels too convenient and too staged when compared to bizarre nature of Eddie’s ascension to fame.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing reviews such as this piece of nonsense is that I get to learn things too. Reading up on “true stories” often leads me down a Wikipedia hole that can sometimes turn up facts that can be more interesting than the actual film.

It would be remiss of me to omit Matti Nykanan who was considered to be the best in world at the time. Edvin Endre plays the rather sane and wisely Finnish ski-jumper but after the 90’s he became more famous for drink, drugs, womanising and pop music… oh, he also stabbed someone after losing at a finger pulling contest! Holy shitballs!

Anyway, whilst Jackman’s character may feel like a failure by writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton to produce more than “generic fictional male” the inter-character dialogue is smart and witty, especially since it’s their first writing credits.

Eddie the Eagle, for better or worse, comes with all the expectations of a sports underdog story and is comparable to the likes of Cool Runnings. At times it’s genuinely funny and at others it’s genuinely touching. I think it’s well worth a watch but then again; I am British.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Great underdog story
+ Taron Egerton
+ Funny


– Bronson Peary as coach

– Exactly what you’d expect from an underdog story

 

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Zootropolis

Whiskey Tango FoxHop

It’s fairly common for films to mimic, mock or satirise current affairs. Sometimes this is done with such subtlety that you only pick up on it after a period of reflection – a bit like that time you felt stupid for not getting that joke. Don’t worry; we’ve all done it.

Of course, sometimes a film can be quite open in it’s messaging. It’s rare though that a film comes along with a giant neon sign flashing the words “Get it now?” and jams it right in your eyeballs. This is exactly what Zootropolis does.

Put a fuzzy animated wrapper around this messaging though and it doesn’t feel like one of those thingymajigs you pay money to avoid in university… “a lecture” that’s the word I was looking for!

Zootropolis focuses on 2 core values. Firstly that you don’t have to follow a pre-defined path and secondly that just because someone commits a crime doesn’t mean that everyone of that race/creed are criminals.

The story focuses on Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) a rabbit who dreams of being a cop. Unfortunately for her the role of cops is reserved for larger and stronger mammals. Sounds familiar right? You can’t have that job because you don’t know the right people or you didn’t go to the right school. Non of this matters to Hopps as she is determined to overcome these arbitrary rules.

This theme is continued in Hopps’ unlikely partner Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman); a fox who has become crafty and sly through conditioning not through choice. Again, familiar? “So when are you going to settle down and have kids”, “When are you getting married?”, “why are you wearing that?”.

We are constantly pressured into behaving in a certain way or following pre-defined expectations that we often forget to live by embracing what truly makes us happy.

Once this partnership has been set up the film shifts into the real storyline that focuses on missing animals. These missing animals turn out to be predators that have “gone savage”.

Very quickly we see the whole of Zootropolis fear all predators because of the actions of a few. Scare tactics force sanctions on otherwise friendly inhabitants. You only have to look at the most recent suicide bombings and the hate filled bile that rains out of Donald Trump’s face to realise this is referring to Muslims.

It’s difficult to portray the depth at which these moral statements lie in so few words but it’s also to the detriment of storyline. It’s completely acceptable but isn’t as tight as other animated films.

Instead this film feels like 2 short films. One about a bunny wanting to be more than a carrot farmer and one about a small group of people ruining it for the rest.

Thankfully the characters are superb and it’s fantastically animated keeping you entertained throughout but will younger viewers understand the moral standpoint? I’d bet my lucky rabbit’s foot that they wouldn’t.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Well animated
+ Excellent characters
+ Morally just


– A bit too focused on the morals
– Too slow to get into the main storyline
– Might be lost on younger audiences

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