Rapid Reviews – Looper [DVD]

Having sat down about this time last year to watch ‘Skyfall’ but catching the first ten minutes of this film due to a mistake in the projection booth, I was actually looking forward to watching it. After waiting for it to be released on DVD and then watching it with the same excitement, I think it’s safe to say my interest was like a bag of sand with a small hole placed in it; it slowly drained out of me as the film progressed.

From the first ten minutes you hear Joseph Gorden-Levitt recite a speech that sums up who his character is and what sort of world he lives in, being a gun for hire who kills people that are sent to him from the future. That was interesting I’ll admit, but I wish I could say the same for the rest of the film. The concept behind the film is very good and has some level of interest but the delivery was not up to scratch. You have a story that fills you with details as you go along that somehow become important or don’t amount to anything so it’s all a bit hit and miss. The film the writer set out to make at the beginning is really good but it looses it’s way and turns into a different film entirely which is a real shame.

I’m not saying that Rihan Johnson did a terrible job, it’s just it needs a lot of tweaking, particularly in terms of writing. If I was sat there questioning how someone was somewhere at one time but then this happened to them later and then this person can’t even exist anymore it just goes to show two things; firstly it can’t be that well written, but secondly I’m not engaged enough in it. Time travel is always a fascinating area to use in a science fiction film, but it has to be applied well. I can appreciate that the film is ambitious with what it’s trying to achieve but personally I don’t feel it reached it.

I also found some of the visuals quite out of place as well, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt being altered to look like Bruce Willis (his character from the future) but not actually looking human any more. It’s got the usual splattering of ‘future technology’ thrown across the screen, combined with a “this is how the poorest of the poor live” and “this is how the wealthy live” making it quite average in terms of how visually pleasing it is. The violence in the film is a bit over the top too, with Bruce Willis engaging in some very stupid scenes towards the end involving a machine gun which were incredibly boring and were the points in which I considered leaving the room to get a drink. The violence is really vamped up to eleven and phasers are set to ‘dumb’ in the last section of the film and it really made my eyelids feel heavy.

From my point of view the film thinks it has more themes and messages than it actually does. I think the film is attempting to show the exploitation of the class system and how the lower classes can be treated in certain circumstances but this is only touched upon briefly so it doesn’t matter. And the whole message of “be careful of your actions because violence has it’s consequences” is completely negated by the level of violence in the third act of the film in which the film shows Bruce Willis killing an innocent person and then asks you not to care about it. I don’t think so.

Overall I give the film two and a half stars out of five, it wasn’t terrible but it was far from perfect. I really science fiction films and I have to say this didn’t meet my expectations. I can appreciate how ambitious it was and how gritty it tried to be, but it was trying too hard to be the type of science fiction film ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Total Recall’ already succeeded at being before the year 2000. It’s a real shame that the writer lost their way and ended up not making the film we all wanted from the first half. In the end I would feel more angry about the film if I was more engaged with it and took an active interest. But that would mean watching it again. Which I don’t want to do.

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Rapid Reviews: Hugo [with slight spoilers]

Firstly I will say that I am utterly ashamed of myself for not having watched this film sooner. It is quite simply brilliant.

The story has quite a nice balance of fiction and non fiction, adding adventure around the edges of the career of Georges Méliès, who it a genius of cinema and one that I have the up most respect for. The film is centered around a young boy who lives within the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris who is searching for the mystery surrounding his dead father whilst questioning his own position in the world. Whilst being largely based around this adventure the story ties in nicely with the history of cinema and Méliès himself. It is an exciting adventure to witness but also an insightful one if like me you take an active interest in films.

The film has a brilliant cast, which it may of course be star studded with a lot of small roles for big names but I rather liked it. It helped to present one of the most important messages behind the film; the value of films and entertainment. Young Asa Butterfield is very good as the title role, showing the spark of an individual who is rather small in a large world. Ben Kingsley manages to be both quiet and magical at the same time to give a real sense that he is a genuine genius in human form. One of the most surprising roles for me personally was Sacha Baron Cohen who played the station inspector who is constantly try to find Hugo and stop his troublesome behaviour. His character reminded me somewhat of the child catcher in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ but then had a hint of the theatricality that his character in ‘Sweeney Todd’ displayed, but overall he was very good and proved to be both a creepy and witty screen presence. In addition I must say it was quite emotional to see the film because it was one of the three last films Richard Griffiths appeared in before passing away earlier this year. A truly inspirational actor who was fantastic in every role, and the delicacy he displayed in this film in particular showed his ability once again.

In the past I have already talked of how much I admire Scorsese’s work and I do not feel that ‘Hugo’ was a let down, his directing was very good indeed. It was slightly different for Scorsese because it had a U certificate from the BBFC and is clearly aimed at a younger audience but I think it shows just how talented he is as a director to be able to make a film that is different from his other projects. It is less gritty and hard hitting and more adventurous and smooth edged which is by no means a bad thing.  I will admit that visually the film is stunning, the sequences Scorsese has shot are very impressive but I dislike the fact he shot the film in 3D. I know it’s meant to be an adventure film that is visually pleasing and exciting but I feel that this was accomplished perfectly in 2D without needing the extra element added. He is someone who understands film and has crafted himself perfectly to the industry so I feel that the sudden move towards 3D was unneeded and somewhat undermined the key message of the value of entertainment. The film tries to present the idea that film is something we can all enjoy because of how creative and imaginative it is regardless of how technically advanced it is, so shooting the film in 3D was a bit of a u-turn. Nonetheless it was fantastically directed, with the attention to detail being balanced perfectly when it comes to the shots of clockwork machinery and toys. It was artistic I really liked how Scorsese focused on certain elements.

The themes of the film also meant quite a lot to me throughout, with the main character questioning a lot about himself. His motivation to find the secrets behind his dead father were very interesting because it shows the true value of family and those we love around us. He also questions a lot about himself and how he fits in to the world, with one of his best lines showing an optimistic attitude that a young lad should have towards life. However for me the important themes were those linked to cinema and how much it means to people. The characters showed their true passion for film and how it is a source of inspiration for them, which is exactly how I feel when I watch a brilliant piece of cinema. The links to Méliès’ 1902 masterpiece ‘A Trip To The Moon’ show the value of cinema and the appreciation we have for such a complex art form. I talked in my last blog post of how much I like films that are about film, and ‘Hugo’ fits very high on the list in terms of reaching my expectations. It was brilliant to see a film that shows the true value of cinema and gives credit to one of the most influential humans to ever have lived; Georges Méliès.

Overall I would give the film a solid four stars out of five, it was a genuine pleasure to watch because of the sense of adventure and the value of cinema that is solid throughout the film. It’s not quite perfect but remains one of the best films I have seen recently, impressing me for a number of different reasons. I would recommend this film to anybody, but particularly those interested in film, you may very well learn something new from it. I’m glad I have finally watched this film but I am equally disappointed at how long it took me to do so. To end this review I feel it only fitting to leave you with my favourite line from the film (mentioned above) in which Hugo himself explains his thoughts on who he is:

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figure, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason”

Rapid Reviews – Star Trek Into Darkness [DVD]

Quite simple to start off this review; I think it’s brilliant. As both a film nerd and a science fiction nerd, this film pleases me on a number of levels.

If you liked the previous film, released in 2009, then this film will not disappoint. The story sees the crew of the enterprise embarking on a mission to track down the man who infiltrated and attacked Starfleet. It sounds simple but it’s been written very well so it is a film that you have to keep up with. I think the writers of the film did a very good job with the story and indeed the screenplay. The screenplay for me was particularly good because it had a strong balance of intelligence and this rather absurd humour where quite a simple remark from a character you love will leave you in fits of laughter. The writers of it clearly understand the classic characters from the original television series but then equally they know the twist that has been brought about by the recent film, so it’s just a relief to see they’ve handled it so well.

The acting is just top notch, the crew of the Enterprise is just fantastic. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto work very well as Kirk and Spock, with this odd chemistry of brains versus instinct both clashing and yet accompanying each other at the same time. I have to say Quinto has grown on me, I love how emotionless he really is in the film, however you do get to see a darker side to him at times in the film. Karl Urban is still brilliant as Bones, rather grumpy and not afraid to voice his opinion (quite easy to relate to for me), as well as John Cho, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin still doing a terrific job.

For me the best of the enterprise was Simon Pegg as Scotty, he is absolutely brilliant. His accent is near perfect, his emotions are very energetic and powerful, and his delivery of lines is so smooth. I really liked the fact he had more of a main role in the film as it showed just what he is capable of. However the star of the film (pardon the pun) is Benedict Cumberbatch as the main villain: Khan. I have never been so terrified of that man in all of my life, he is phenomenal as a villian. His raw anger matched with this rather chilling personality worked very well and he gave one hell of a performance. He was strong both intellectually and physically and there are times he had me genuinely terrified so he was definitely a man who shouldn’t be messed with. As far as I’m aware the cast sparked numerous amounts of nerdgasms nationwide.

The special effects for the film were incredible, and if you found the lens flares a problem then you clearly weren’t engaged enough in the film. I think J J Abrams did a terrific job directing, handling a strong cast very well but also in the action sequences. What impressed me about both this film and the previous film is the action and chase sequences, they’re very gritty and are paced well enough so you can see every detail of what happens. Abrams is clearly someone who is passionate about film and sci fi and it is easy to see that in his work because of the attention to detail he has.

There were some quite interesting themes present which I really liked about this film. There is quite a strong underlying message about terrorism and the option to intervene, so there is a depth to the film that really links well to our modern world and various social factors. I also rather liked the themes linked to ‘brain versus instinct’ because it really gets you thinking about how you handle tough situations and dilemmas based on overbearing thoughts of the consequences. There is also quite a lot to do with revenge and people paying for their actions, which goes for both the heroes and the villain of the film because you can see pros and cons on both sides. Your moral compass is tested while watching this film so keep your wits about you. The message from the original Star Trek series of racial and gender equality is still present, despite the shot of Alice Eve in her underwear that sparked off numerous debates. I don’t approve of the use of the shot and it was a slip up that Abrams has apologised quite rightly for.

Overall I would give the film three and a half stars but it is ever so close to four stars and just sits on the border. It wasn’t perfect but it was a big, bold and unashamed science fiction film that ticked the boxes of what makes a good sci fi film so it pleased me as a film and sci fi nerd. It’s fast paced but there is some interesting dialogue in there too. Possibly if it was slowed down a bit the cracks may begin to form and it might give the audiences heads a rest quickly, but it’s not a major problem. I like that it was a big sci fi romp because it pleased fans massively without losing it’s nerve in the climate of modern cinema audiences. I would recommend this to anybody who is a fan of either star trek or science fiction. And to anybody who hasn’t watched this or the first Star Trek film from 2009, I heavily recommend both of them.

Rapid Reviews – Dark Shadows [DVD]

Do you remember Edward Scissorhands? Really well structured, artistic film with different underlying themes? That was the genius of Tim Burton in 1990. Now fast forward to 2012, and to one of Tim Burton’s latest creations; Dark Shadows. All I can say to Tim is what the hell happened?

I saw the trailer for the film beforehand and I admit it made me laugh, there was a certain charm to it and it looked as though it could be very interesting. Then I watched the film. Which is an experience I can only describe as being similar to looking at pictures of a hotel online, seeing they’ve got a nice pool, then going to the hotel and finding out that it’s just a puddle. It was a mess and a half of a film.

I don’t think I could describe the story, because it starts in the usual Tim Burton way of being very dark and dreary and then just looses it’s nerve later as it panics whilst trying to find itself. It didn’t really have a plot line that you stick with throughout, you just watch the characters going from one event to the next. It felt as though the writers sat down to brainstorm key moments of the film, but then didn’t link them together. It doesn’t flow at all and it just left me with a lot of questions like “why is she now suddenly that?” “why did he do that to those people?” and most importantly “why do I care about these people”.  The characters are written to be quirky and have their own little personalities but they actually felt quite flat so I didn’t feel connected to them in any form.

Also on the subject of writing I have to talk about screenplay; absolutely awful. It was boring and had no imaginative spark to it, with the best jokes being formed in the trailer by stitching different moments of the film together. It wasn’t as funny as it should have been, and there are a lot of scenes spent just talking aimlessly about what I can only describe as ‘stuff’ or ‘gothic stuff’. Either Seth Grahame-Smith got heavily bored whilst writing the screenplay or he just has a total lack of both imagination and the ability to articulate.

In terms of acting, it was very similar to many Burton films: Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter do their thing that we all know well enough by now. I will say that in the film’s defense Eva Green did a good job of playing the main villain with a good mix of being dark and mysterious but also with a mischievous element too. However her ability was knocked out of focus by the appearance of a young Chloe Grace Moretz, who for this particular film had all the skill of a GCSE drama student, so instead of appreciating Eva Green more I found myself getting annoyed will young miss Mortetz. Quite a poor effort from the cast, but to be honest with the material they were given, there wasn’t a lot of room to squeeze talent in.

The whole style of the film feels very outdated. It felt as though Burton was trying to relive the days of Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands and it really didn’t work for me. There’s pointless scenes of violence that add nothing to the film, the characters are meant to be quirky and dark but in the end they just feel odd and out of place, and there is a lot of references to older gothic films but they literally feel as though they are ingredients added to a cake mixture just before it’s put in the oven. In particular, later in the film it got really boring because of all the silly violence that kicked in and amounted to nothing so it felt rather pointless. It did not have the artistic nature of creative flare that Burton has had in the past.

All in all I would give the film two stars, it was a really poor effort from a film maker that I actually rather like. It was loud and trashy with no real appeal or spark to it, and to be honest it felt as if it was really ill disciplined. I won’t say it was completely terrible because admittedly I did giggle a couple of times, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s a mess. The story and characters are both shambolic so the structure of the film collapses. There are not themes or messages present and it felt as though Burton was making the film for a bit of fun, which if you are going to do, at least do it in a Tarantino styled way so the film is at least partially enjoyable. Personally I feel that it failed as both a comedy and a drama so it sits in the void of films, waiting for a day when someone will come along and feel a connection that I struggled to find. I don’t plan on watching the film again, I was put through the pain of it once and I don’t think a second viewing is going to change my mind. To anyone planning to watch it, just think twice and don’t watch it based on the fact you liked the trailers.

So to sum up, in the words of Mark Kermode: “wasted my time I did”.

Rapid Reviews – Killing Them Softly [DVD]

I remember a couple of years ago when I sat down to watch ‘The Assassination Of Jesse James…” for the first time and being completely knocked back by it. Andrew Dominik blew me away with both his directing and writing and it proved to be a very good film. Late last year Dominik presented us with his new film ‘Killing Them Softly’ and it left a similar impact on me.

It’s shorter than ‘Jesse James’ by over an hour which is a good thing because it moves at a slightly faster pace which suits the darker nature of the film. Dominik managed to draw me into a slightly different world to what we know and tell quite a simple story of what greed and desperation can do to humans. The plot is set in a criminal run city where mobsters have a lot of money whilst others live in poverty. When a mobster poker game is robbed a hired gun is brought in to clean up the mess caused to the economy. The story and screenplay are written very well and managed to keep me interested throughout.

In terms of acting the cast is superb, with Brad Pitt taking the main role of a killer who is hired to restore order to the criminal economy. His performance is very good showing a character with different layers and quite sharp personality with a clever mind. Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelson work perfectly together as the helpless duo that rob the poker game. There are also very strong supporting performances from Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini, so altogether it is a very sound cast.

For such a short film there were a lot of themes based around social inequality and what happens when people are left to the freedom of their own devices in a broken economy, also themes based on paying for your actions and justice taking its place. But what stood out for me was the themes linked to Brad Pitt’s character as the hired gun. He stood out for me because he was the man who was very much in control and could either represent salvation or damnation so it was fascinating to see how the story is influenced once he is introduced. The social inequality side was very interesting because you could see just how much is influenced the characters and their actions.

Overall I would give it three and a half stars, it works very well as a drama with some action scenes that are very well shot. It’s not perfect but Dominik has once again proved that he can shoot a gritty film that has a tight script. This was more concise than ‘Jesse James’ and was of a completely different nature, but if I’m honest that didn’t really bother me because I really enjoyed it. It’s not as good as ‘Jesse James’, which was a masterpiece, but I would still recommend it to anybody who wants to watch a good film.

Rapid Reviews – Cloud Atlas [DVD]

After buying the dvd of the film weeks ago I was heavily distracted by quite a few things before finding myself utterly bored tonight. The time had come for me to face this 165 minute film that I knew very little about. I started to watch it with an open mind, ready to be enticed in to what appeared to be quite a diverse universe for a film. I ended the film with my mind in a slightly different place. A more cynical place to be precise.

If I had to sum this film up in one sentence I think i would have to quote the good doctor Mark Kermode when he reviewed a film previously “it is really quite remarkably unremarkable”, which is exactly how I felt after watching the film. You have the source material in the form of a novel that is supposedly ‘unfilmable’ so there is quite a lot of material to use, with a lot of characters and as far as I’m aware six different stories that interweave. This doesn’t make it any more interesting and certainly doesn’t make it any more clever, and with a star studded cast it just left me feeling that after 165 minutes even they had had enough. The look in Tom Hanks’ eyes was similar to that of a postman on their duty in the winter snow simply saying over and over ‘we’re getting paid for this’.

The story bounces between the past, present and future with different stories that link together. Some link nicely and others you have to think about, which I really wasn’t willing to do because it would involve engaging myself in such a film. The characters are meant to be strong and have some form of moral and deep message behind them but to be honest it was more like a game of Guess Who for me because I was trying to spot which actor it was playing the character on screen. I’m sure other people will have found deeper meanings behind the characters and truly explored their depths, but personally I didn’t feel immersed enough to give it much thought.

The best character for me was that of Jim Broadbent in the modern day section of the story, he provided me with some entertainment through sheer good acting and sharp delivery of witty lines. As for other actors it wasn’t really a film to show off any true ability. Tom Hanks is capable of so much better as we have already seen, Ben Whishaw is still relatively young so this may end up as a film he tries not to think about once he’s older, Jim Broadbent as previously mentioned is very good, and Hugh Grant just feels like the last man on the end of a conga line at a wedding; clinging on for dear life and hoping not to go crashing in to the buffet table.

The special effects are good, but to be honest so are the effects for most sci fi bashes nowadays so it wasn’t anything bigger than your typical sci fi film. It’s just become common courtesy to put on a big flashy show if you’re going to make a sci fi film in today’s world and the same splattering of shiny technicolour whimsy that is used frequently in modern cinema was strongly present in this film. It was a sign of how unengaged I was with the film that I began questioning the designs to some of the futuristic technology and indeed the interior of some of the rooms. Some sequences look good but they all reek of other films, with the older parts looking like ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ and the futuristic sections looking like a mash up of ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Irobot’ amongst others, so it was quite a cliched glimpse in to the future.

All in all I would give it two stars out of five. I really wanted the film to be good and genuinely watched it with an optimistic mind, but after nearly three hours of a film that doesn’t really find itself or get started into something bigger, I just felt quite bored. I agree with most reviews, the film’s heart is definitely in the right place and it was a good attempt at filming such a difficult book, but in the end it wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. I’m not sure if I will watch it again, because to be honest I don’t have that urge that wants to watch it again.