Friday 28 November 2014

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2014

When the year began I made a list of my five most anticipated films - which were, in order: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, RoboCop, Interstellar, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Godzilla. Having finally seen them all after watching Interstellar a few weeks back, it is time to do another retrospect - and reorder these films in terms of quality to see how they relate to my original list.

You can find that list here.

Now, let's begin...

#5 - Interstellar

Christopher Nolan's latest sci-fi epic failed to impress at the US box office; it'll barely sell 20 million tickets, and will collect the majority of its sizeable earnings from international markets. Such a situation is extremely shocking, considering Nolan's reputation and the hype for the movie itself; and when you consider his last three films made well over $200 million domestically (one of which is the fourth highest ever in the US), it is very odd to see his name suddenly failing to attract a large audience.

From a critical perspective, Interstellar is definitely not a bad film, more a decent one, but it still didn't put enough effort into telling its great premise; and Nolan gets lost in his desire to ensure the film is scientifically accurate. Its stellar (sorry) visuals and great cast make up for some of the flaws, but it was still a disappointment due to a testing runtime and a lack of narrative focus.

#4 - RoboCop

The original RoboCop is one of the most treasured films of all time; and one of its most compelling attributes was its cheesy, over the top gory violence that was a convention during the 1980s. So, a remake with a 12A (PG-13) classification was met with naught but contempt; and with earnings of only $242 million on a $120 million budget and mixed reviews, it seems the film wasn't give the warm welcome the studio hoped it would.

But it's totally strange to me why people dislike this reboot, for this year's RoboCop is still a thoroughly entertaining action film, backed by a strong cast and a welcome focus on the emotional weight of its narrative - which makes the sacrifice of the violence more than worthwhile. Michael Keaton particularly stands out in this impressive ensemble, and while it may not be as satirical as the original, smart little prods towards the general outlook of the media still make for an updated commentary on the modern world.

#3 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The rebooted stage of the Spider-Man film franchise is not going down the best path, with the first installment becoming the least successful both domestically and worldwide in 2012; an unwanted accolade now passed onto this latest sequel. Let's go back to ten years ago: Spider-Man 2 sold over 60 million tickets in the US alone. The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Roughly 25 million. A huge decline in attendance has affected each film as the franchise moves forward, and this latest installment brought this trend to an all time low - so much so that Sony wants to progress with Sinister Six more than the sequel to this film.

It's a shame because, while a lot of the story can feel contrived, this sequel boasts an extremely talented cast, remarkable production design, and surprising depth, mainly thanks to the chemistry between our leading stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Despite initial controversies, even the villains ended up being a lot better than I initially though they'd be, particularly at Dane DeHaan's Green Goblin - despite his limited screen time.

#2 - Godzilla

Opening to a $93 million weekend yet only closing with $200 million in domestic earnings, Godzilla was one of the most front loaded movies of the summer, which is easily pinned down to one cause: a slow burn structure which didn't contain as much monster fighting that people wanted. The titular monster makes his first appearance nearly one hour into the film, and it's been calculated that the action scenes put together total roughly 11 minutes - out of a 123 minute long film. So perhaps the fans have a reason to be so upset, particularly those loyal to the original films.

But interestingly, Godzilla seems to echo the approach of films such as Jaws and Jurassic Park - the central villains of those movies don't appear as often as you'd think, which helps to build tension and make their eventual appearances incredibly exciting. Using this approach for a Godzilla movie was a bold choice, and while it failed to impress everyone, I was sure engrossed by it; especially when the cutaway teases helped make the climax all the more thrilling. It's a fact to me that director Gareth Edwards was the right man for the job.

#1 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Having collected over $700 million worldwide compared to Rise of the Planet of the Apes' already successful $484 million, Dawn has launched the series into enormous stardom once more, and things are only set to get better in the future.

Taking the story in an exciting new direction, this sequel shows us how the simian flu has wiped out the majority of the human race, leaving apes to adopt their own peaceful colony in the ruins of San Francisco; however, they face confrontation with a surviving band of humans not so far from their own homeland. Thanks to another incredible performance by Andy Serkis and the stunning motion capture effects, Dawn understands how to tell its beautiful story, and never fails to impress when it comes to the action front. As a result, it is without a doubt one of the best films of the year thus far, and another masterful achievement in this rebooted series.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 20 November 2014

Movie Review - Mr. Turner

From accalimed British filmmaker Mike Leigh comes Mr. Turner, a biopic on one of the most renowned artists who ever lived, whose legacy continues to have a huge impact on the fine art community countless decades after his death. Starring Timothy Spall as the eponymous J.M.W. Turner, Mike Leigh's film tackles complex issues and strives to be an honest rendition - but slips up when it comes to genuine entertainment.

Mr. Turner documents the major parts of the titular characters life, including the passing of his father, his travels around England, his controversial relationships with women and his own children, and his eventual decline in the art world shortly before his untimely death.

Mr. Turner is extremely difficult to critique - it is beautifully filmed, with stunning production design and an exceptional performance from Timothy Spall. But at the expense of this visual grandeur and interesting drama, the film suffers from a sluggish pace and occasional lack of focus. Things move slowly for a while, then hop around too quickly at random moments; on several occasions, I had absolutely no idea what was going on or who certain characters were. Perhaps it caters more to passionate fans who are engrossed in Turner's work, but for general audiences, it is easy to get lost.

It certainly succeeds on a technical and artistic level, and it's not without a dose of likeable humour, but we must never forget one of the most important aspects of film: entertainment. And sadly, Mr. Turner is lacking in this field - at 150 minutes, it is testing to say the least, and when I thought things would soon come to a close, the film was nowhere near its conclusion. I can't say much else in the long run - on an aesthetic level, it is brilliant. But as entertainment, it just didn't quite click with me.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Movie Review - Interstellar

Christopher Nolan wasn't a marketable name a decade ago - but this day and age is a completely different story; Nolan is now one of the most profitable names in the entire industry, and the very mention of him is enough to grab a large audience. Strangely, his latest work Interstellar hasn't seemed to match that reputation at the box office - but why is this? Let's take a look...

Earth is reaching an uninhabitable state when dust storms plague the land, leaving food and other resources scarce, and the human race at the edge of extinction. As the situation reaches the pinnacle of its severity, former test pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is recruited by NASA professor Brand (Michael Caine) to lead the last resort - an expedition to a wormhole beside Saturn, which is the only hope in finding a new world to call home.

Interstellar gives us more of the striking visuals Nolan is known for, especially now that he has branched out beyond his Batman trilogy, which remained grounded in a realism. On the flipside, Interstellar embraces its outer space setting to develop a number of unique worlds, and beautiful portrayals of the void around Earth. The soundscape also pulls us into this experience - it may be far too noisy at times, drowning the character's speech, but when the sudden silence hits us as the Endurance spacecraft hovers through the Solar System, the gentle score really demonstrates a wonderful rendition of outer space.

But at 169 minutes, Interstellar is a testing experience, and the run time is evident. The last hour or so of the film could've used a lot of trimming, and some of the supporting characters are completely pointless - without trying to spoil, I will simply say a smaller role by Matt Damon is wholly unnecessary, stretching the run time with no satisfying content. Nolan also tends to expend more effort into crafting a beautiful visual palette than he does telling a coherent story, failing to provide some essential backstory, and bragging about the films scientific accuracy - I know absolutely nothing about this stuff, but the characters spew out scientific jargon as if we understand it inside out. As a result, some conversations and plot points fail to make any sense to general viewers.

But Interstellar still has its fair share of engaging twists, and a fantastic lineup of fine performances, particularly from McConaughey and Michael Caine, though perhaps less so from supporting protagonist Anne Hathaway. Nolan's screenplay also has some incredibly deep, moving moments - some of which almost had me in tears - and while many of the lines are superb, sometimes the themes and ideas of the film are painfully delivered in sentimental dialogue, which no normal person would ever say at the top of their head. It's difficult to critique Interstellar as it blends some fantastic moments with a lot of mediocre ones; and while it is likeable, it fails to fully live up to its incredible hype.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Movie Review - Horns

An adaptation of Joe Hills 2010 fantasy novel, Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe as Ig Perrish, an outsider within his local town, who is accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). His attempts to clear his name continue to fail, until he suddenly wakes up with two horns protruding from his forehead - granting him the power to reveal peoples darkest secrets. Once controlled, he uses these newfound abilities to locate Merrins true killer and unveil the truth once and for all.

Radcliffe continues to demonstrate his flexibility in the acting world - not only is his American accent extremely impressive, but his performance in general is quite easily one of the best of his career. Ig becomes an interesting character thanks to his reckless behaviour that shields a very wounded figure deep down, and Radcliffe conveys this wonderfully, with plenty of gritty charm and wit. It adds up to a performance thats funny, sinister, and extremely emotional. The supporting cast generally perform well, but while the buildup to the climax is tense and involving, a sadly underdeveloped villain lies at the end of it.

The script has been a common point of criticism, and while it isn't terrible by any means, it still needed some fine tuning. Pacing is a concern, as are the jarring tonal shifts - at its core the film is a horror comedy, and it does a good job of providing solid ideas from each genre. However, instead of neatly blending these genres, the script often seems to just jump back and forth between them, which can be awkward. After a strong buildup, the climax is a bit too sluggish at first, but soon becomes a satisfying and thrilling finale to the story. It's far from perfect, but Horns' flaws are still redeemed by Radcliffes excellent performance, an emotional if flawed narrative, stylish visuals, and plenty of classy adult humour.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Movie Review - Fury

In David Ayers war film Fury, Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) leads his troops during the last months of World War II, in the titular Sherman tankas the Allies commence with their final assault on Nazi Germany. When the original assistant of the Fury dies in battle, Collier is assigned a new one: Howard (Logan Lerman), an Army typist who has never experienced warfare battle. Wardaddy and his crew disdain him for his incompetence, but soon the intensities of war force them to stick together, and force Howard to rethink his morals and conform to the severity of what they are up against.

Unsurprisngly, Fury doesn't glorify war, nor does it lighten the content to appeal to wider audiences. This is an honest and violent portrayal of the last global conflict; the essence of fear, the sheer violence, and the utter lack of compassion from both sides is conveyed to help us realise just how relentless it can be. Despite focusing principally on the Allies, the script never renders them to be exceptional heroes; they may believe they are, but this arrogance leads them to carry out senseless killings and convey racial hatred. The same can be said for the opposing Nazis - and in the end, this violent and honest depiction of warfare is just as engaging as it is disturbing. This violence is also excellently staged in thrilling battle scenes, full of tension and satisfaction as the protagonists fight their ruthless enemies.

The intense portrayal is further enhanced by some superb performances, particularly Pitt and Lerman, but also the rest of the team including Shia LaBoeuf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, and Jason Isaacs in a smaller role. Their performances convey the tough outer shells of these men who deep down are terrified of the warfare experience, and as we see them comfort the dead and mercilessly kill the Nazis who they are sworn to fight, we see just how tragic the effects of war can be on these people. At the end of the day, Fury is a brilliant but acquired taste; it's very intense, though perhaps not on par with Saving Private Ryan or similar war films, and as we near the second act things drag out, but it's still respectful and unrestrained in its story of men stranded in a corrupt and violent part of human history.