I have a confession to make. I’m a Shia LeBeouf fan.
I have been since he was in the kids show Even Stevens, where he was incredibly funny and charming as the slightly goofy protagonist. As the more than slightly goofy younger brother to a well behaved and academically gifted older sister, I could kinda relate. And he’s made a couple of movies I’ve enjoyed- Disturbia, Eagle Eye, Constantine and the first Transformers movie. Sure there have been missteps, and he’s been unfairly blamed for the rubbish Indiana Jones movie, but I kinda like the guy.
The problem with this film is that LeBouef, while decent enough in the role of youngest bootlegging brother Jack Bondurant, is that he’s hopelessly outclassed by other members of the cast.
Set in Prohibition era Virginia the film follows the Bondurant brothers, who are successful moonshine makers and regarded with respect in their area due to their toughness and aura of invincibility. Jack is the youngest of the three and most ambitious, dreaming of the high life and material wealth, frustrated to be following the orders of his tough, gruff older brother Forrest (Tom Hardy), and the ridicule of his other brother Howard (Jason Clarke), the least intelligent but most vicious of the three, haunted by his experiences during the First World War.
They are successful, and their county hosts many bootleggers. Jack witnesses a mobster, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), killing a rival and this in part fuels his desire to be a sharp suited gangster. He also finds himself attracted to Bertha (Mia Wasikowska) the daughter of a local preacher.
Things change when the Commonwealth Attorney sends in a special deputy, Rakes (Guy Pearce), to tell the bootleggers that they want a cut of the action. Rakes visits Forrest, who refuses to deal with him and warns him not to return. However, Rakes intimidates several of the other bootleggers to comply.
Forrest hires a new waitress who has fled Chicago, an ex-dancer named Maggie (Jessica Chastain), who he is attracted to but uncomfortable around. During a meeting with buyers from Chicago who are in league with Rakes, a fight ensues and Forrest beats them up. However, they return when he is alone and attack him, also assaulting Maggie. Forrest is severly wounded and left for dead, but survives, adding to the local feeling that the Bondurant brothers are almost immortal.
While Forrest recovers, Jack goes against his wishes and performs a deal only to be double crossed. He is however spared by Banner, who rescues him and they go into business together, leading the brothers to make even more money.
As their success and wealth grows, Jack begins to flaunt his successes, but Rakes still lurks in the shadows, putting pressure on the brothers’ allies and keeping tabs on them. Tension mounts and a violent confrontation seems inevitable. Can the Bondurant brothers’ luck hold?
I really dug this flick, even if it does retread familiar gangster movie territory. However, the backwoods setting makes it a little different and the performances are top drawer.
LeBouef does some of his best work, and makes Jack a believable and rounded character, caught between boy- and manhood. He wants to be taken seriously by his brothers and seen as being another of the tough Bondurant brothers, but he lacks their physical grit and is too caught up in wanting to be seen as a success. He shows off his later wealth, oblivious to the depression gripping the rest of the country, and poses with guns and cars in a way that highlight’s his youth.
The problem is, as good as he is, LeBeouf is eclipsed by Tom Hardy in the role of the lead brother. Hardy underplays the role, with Forrest being a quiet, gruff guy but his shuffling, bearlike manner is mesmerizing to watch, and when he does talk the audience sits up to listen. Hardy continues to be an incredible physical presence on film, and here despite spending much of the film in a cardigan he never fails to look like a man with whom you shouldn’t mess, which is backed up in the character’s frenzied violence when provoked.
The violence throughout the film is shocking, and definitely not for the faint of heart. The film moves along at a fairly sedate place, with an air of impending doom and menace hanging over the proceedings but when it kicks off it really kicks off, with explosive, vicious bursts of violence which director John Hillcoat shoots in a no-nonsense, wince inducing manner.
It’s not all grim, and there are flashes of black humour, as well as sweeter touches such as Jack’s nervous courtship and Forrest’s discomfort around Maggie, the only moments in the film where the older Bondurant brother doesn’t seem in control, aside from when he’s injured.
Gary Oldman doesn’t have much to do, but brings gravitas to the role of a vicious and cold blooded mobster and Jessica Chastain is good as the alluring Maggie, fleeing her past and drawn to Forrest.
Best of the supporting players though is Guy Pearce as the major antagonist. The character of Rakes is quite unique and he stands out like a sore thumb- slickly dressed and quite foppish he doesn’t fit with the rough and ready country surroundings, which he shows complete disdain for. But Pearce ensures that under the neat suits and delicate, fussy mannerisms there’s a genuine sense of menace and unpleasantness, as well as capturing the character’s slow fraying as he comes to realize that he has more to reckon with from the brothers.
The film also touches on the self-mythologizing of American crime figures, mainly through Jack’s dreams of being an Al Capone figure but also in the way Forrest seems to buy into the local feeling that he’s indestructible, which given Hardy’s muscular presence is understandable. Yet despite this it still buys into the outlaw myth, the little guys standing up against corrupt government officials and unfair laws, although it should be noted that a blackly comic ending serves to undermine some of this.
It has flaws, but for the most part it’s entertaining enough and rather gripping.
Verdict: Tom Hardy is immense as the brutish bootlegger, and kinda steals the show from everyone else, which is a shame as Guy Pearce and Shia LeBeouf are both on fine form. The plot is simple enough, and you can tell where it’s all going, but there are nice touches throughout, and the ending serves to undercut some of the gangster mythologizing. Hillcoat directs it all well, handling the shifts in tone well and building genuine tension throughout. It’ll be a bit violent for some, but for crime movie fans it should hit the spot. 7.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning. May contain spoilers.
This rather mismatched double bill is courtesy of LoveFilm choosing to send these two flicks to me at the same time. I’d chosen both as I missed them in the cinema last year, but watching them back-to-back was a bit weird.
First up, is The Vow. This is a romantic drama which from the trailers looked like it was going to be a total slushfest, but I’m a bit of a soft git so I wanted to see it.
The movie stars Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams as Leo and Paige Collins, a happily married couple who spend their time larking about and enjoying beautiful together. That is until they are involved in a car accident, and when Paige wakes up she has no memory of the last few years of her life, including meeting and falling for Leo.
With Paige being a very different person, they attempt to help her readjust to life and hope to jog her memory, but are hampered by her intrusive family who had previously been estranged from her and the fact that the person she was all those years ago is very different from who she would become. However, still devoted to his wife Leo attempts to support her, despite the events shaking him deeply and struggling to cope with the changes.P
Paige’s father, Bill (Sam Neill) is disapproving of her new lifestyle and attempts to use the memory loss to get her back on the path she initially intended to follow.
The couple part until Paige is reminded of the event which drove a wedge between her and her family, and slowly starts to make similar decisions to what she did at the first time. The film ends optimistically with the pair bumping into each other and Paige feeling the spark and the two going off to get a coffee.
As the premise suggests, it’s a very slushy film but it works at what it’s for, and I can’t lie and there weren’t times when I got a little bit choked up, or found myself shouting at the TV. It’s all rather sweet and Channing Tatum, who’s been on the man crush list for a while now plays pretty much the perfect man- sensitive, devoted, loving and, of course, incredibly good looking.
He delivers a charismatic, endearing performance as Leo, the man who’s life has fallen apart and is increasingly hurt by his wife’s changes in behaviour. His attempts to jog her memory are very sweet and it’s a character that oozes decency throughout.
Because of this, at times I got a little frustrated with McAdams’ Paige, although the actress does a good job at capturing the confusion and turmoil her character experiences, especially the conflicting feelings of her past self and her present emotions as she begins to develop feelings for Leo. It also helps that the leads have great chemistry together, both in the flashbacks and their new, fledgling relationship.
The supporting cast do their jobs well enough, particularly Sam Neill as the hissable villain of the peace, Paige’s controlling father who tries to capitalize on her condition to cover his past mistakes and to regain control of her life.
The ending of the film is well handled, with Paige still without her memories but there being an optimistic feel and a sense that they will get back together. What makes it even better is the revelation that the film is based on a true story, although the real life couple are no match for McAdams and Tatum in the looks department, but, hey, that’s Hollywood.
Verdict: Somewhat predictable and very slushy, but rather sweet and benefits from two likable leads who work well together. 7/10.
The second of the double bill is The Cabin in the Woods, produced and co-written by Joss Whedon, the brains behind Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog and last year’s Avengers Assemble. The film was shot a few years back, but sat around for a bit until it got a bit of heat thanks to Whedon hitting it big with the Avengers and one of the cast, Chris Hemsworth becoming a big star.
The movie follows a group of five college friends who go up to a deserted cabin in the woods, where very quickly things go awry. However, while there are frequent nods to the Evil Dead style of horror, it’s established early on that more is going on and the cabin, the students and the creepy stuff that befalls them is all being orchestrated by technicians in a high-tech, underground facility.
Not only have they orchestrated the attack by a family of zombie serial killers, but they’re actually drugging and messing with the students to get them to behave in certain ways. The film’s protagonist, Dana (Kristen Connolly), is the traditional innocent girl and soon her companions are acting like slasher film stereotypes- best friend Jules (Anna Hutchison) becomes increasingly slutty, while her boyfriend, Curt (Hemsworth) shown early on to be smart and sensitive becomes increasingly macho and boorish. Curt’s friend, Holden (Jesse Williams) who they’re attempting to set Dana up with becomes a bit more nerdy and stoner Marty (Fran Kranz) is the closest to working out what’s going on, but bumbles around in his weed-haze.
The movie has a lot of fun playing with horror conventions, which is also part of the plot, and the technicians clearly represent the desensitized horror audience- largely male, they watch the horror with detached enjoyment although some seem conflicted and a few even root for Dana.
With the group being picked off they finally stumble onto the facility and work out what’s going on. At which point it all kicks off as the various creatures and nasties in the facility are unleashed and make short work of the technicians in an enjoyably blood spattered sequence filled with anarchy. Can Dana and her fellow survivors work out what’s going on and why they’re there? And when they work it out will they continue to fight for their survival or agree to play their roles.
I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this flick, due to Whedon’s premise I’d gone in with high expectations, which the film never lived up to. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable, as some of it is rather fun and the script has Whedon’s ear for comedy and character. The problem is that while it’s playing with genre conventions some of the characters are a bit 2D and I got annoyed when I thought they’d whacked the student character I liked the most. Luckily they come back later on.
The technicians have several great moments, bickering and bantering away, betting on which critter the students will unwittingly unleash, although I worked out what was going on a bit before the reveal, which was disappointing. Also, I think the film shows it’s hand a bit too early, I’d have liked for them to have played it straight and then had the big reveal later on, whereas early on they let us in that all is not as it seems and that it might not be an accident that the students wind up in trouble.
There are nice touches- the array of creatures in the facility are interesting and handled well, with a few creepy ideas in the mix, and some nice spins on mythical beasties. And the chaotic scenes as they tear through the staff once released is a gory delight, and for a Buffy fan it calls to mind the government organisation which was collecting various monsters.
Also, the explanation of the character’s behaviour is rather neat, tying in with stock horror archetypes.
The cast do well with their roles, even if a few are under written, and there are a few Whedon regulars who crop up. Connolly does well as the plucky good girl heroine and Kranz’ is the standout as the quippy stoner Marty.
The film just about works, mainly when the conspiracy is revealed or in the comedic, dialogue led sequences, and there’s enough gore and references to keep horror fans happy.
Verdict: A mixed bag, there are nice touches and the final act is very well done, but on the whole it rather disappoints and there are a few missed opportunites. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
It’s the final day of the year and from tomorrow it’ll be 2013, and we’ll have teenagers who have been born in the 21st century, a fact which makes me feel incredibly old.
Tomorrow I’ll spend a lot of time looking ahead to the New Year and making resolutions that I’ll probably not follow in the next 12 months. But for now let’s look back at the year that’s ending.
2012 has been a mixed bag of a year, and while I can pull a fair few positive things from it, I’ll kick off with the bad stuff, thus giving this post a happy ending.
- On a global scale 2012 has seen some textbook examples of the scum and villainy that the human race can produce- school shootings, violent crimes, war, oppression, Jimmy Saville. But sadly I don’t think this is likely to change in 2013 or the foreseeable future
- I got drunk and acted like an idiot, prompting a 5 month stint of abstinence.
- Work- My job isn’t the worst in the world, and at times it’s actually okay, but there were some stints where it actively got me down and I got tired, fed up and stressed. This wasn’t a lot of fun, and it meant that I was pretty bummed out, and as someone who’s usually able to compartmentalize quite well it really got to me that work was encroaching on the rest of my life. Luckily, I seem to have gotten myself out of this funk and am fairly sure that 2013 will see a change in this department.
- I realized I’m getting old.
- I had zero luck in terms of dating.
- One of the worst things was that 2012 turned out to be quite a rough time for some folks I really care about, and while I tried to be there for them it’s always rough seeing people you care about going through stuff that you can’t really fix for them.
I also broke most of my resolutions- I didn’t do much writing, didn’t cross any new countries off my list and didn’t socialize much as I could/should have with my friends, with long gaps going between seeing them, which sucked and is something I really must work harder on in 2013 and avoid my natural instinct to just loaf around the house by myself.
- Sport again served to show the way to happiness, despite the best efforts of John Terry and Joey Barton. First of all Wales won a Grand Slam, now for the other 5 nations this probably wasn’t so much fun, but it’s my blog so for me it was a big positive. Then there were the Olympic and Paralympic games, which were filled with awesome moments, heroes and heartwarming stories. Seriously, I get a little choked up every time they show one of those recaps of the games.
- I am decidedly healthier. I’ve lost about 2 stone and my running got better, a gluttonous Christmas may have impacted on this a little and Lazy Chris did have a few moments where he seized the reins but for most of the year I was fairly good and I feel a lot better about myself and a little bit more confident.
- I did the 3 mile Sport Relief run and felt really good about this, and it gave me a chance to do a little bit of humble bragging for a bit.
- I may not have visited any new countries but I did return to Ireland and Scotland where I had two great mini-breaks.
- I got to see Lady Gaga in concert, and she was wonderful.
- There may have been unsociable stretches but thanks to the Edinburgh trip and a few recent meet ups, I’m feeling more connected with my friends and had a great time with them.
- I took some steps to sort my life out and make some changes.
- My family continued to be awesome
- On a lighter note, it was also a brilliant year for movies and TV.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
So here are my top 10 films of the year, you can read my full reviews underneath the Films 2012 tag along with the flicks that didn’t make the list.
Seth MacFarlane’s first movie uses tricks borrowed from his TV work in being filled with pop culture references and close-to-the-knuckle gags. The central conceit of a teddy bear brought to life by a child’s wish is handled well, and it’s a fun examination of what happens when the boy and the bear grow up. MacFarlane voices the bear himself and does a good job as the foulmouthed toy, but the real stars are Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis who have great chemistry as the couple having to deal with his immaturity and it’s rather sweet at times.
9. The Raid
Welshman Gareth Edwards’ Indonesian action movie keeps things simple and tight with it’s tale of a squad of cops storming a tower block riddled with criminals to create a gripping action movies which is loaded with some of the most impressive, bone-crunching martial arts fights I’ve seen in years. Intense and entertaining it’s a real joy to watch and marks Edwards as one to watch in the future.
Tim Burton’s latest is a callback to one of his early short films and the passion he has for the project is evident as he crafts one of his most enjoyable and emotionally resonant films in years. A return to form which reminds audiences of how good Burton can be.
7. The Hunger Games
A gripping youth movie that in Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss boasted a brilliantly strong, resourceful female hero. The premise is simple, but its executed well and the violence is handled in a way that manages to be restrained yet still tough to watch. Lawrence is superb and I’m eagerly awaiting part 2.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man
Sam Raimi’s Spidey flicks stumbled after an impressive opening but the reboot (despite the mercenary reasons for it’s production) nails the tone superbly, capturing the character’s odd mix of joy and strife. Unlike most costumed heroes, Peter Parker was always a character who seemed to get massive enjoyment from his exploits. Andrew Garfield does well as the nerdy, wisecracking webslinger and shares real chemistry with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy. It’s highly enjoyable, despite the villainous Lizard being a bit weak in places. But great fun and I look forward to more of Garfield in the role.
5. The Dark Knight Rises
Christopher Nolan wraps up his Bat-movies in great style, with a dark epic which sees Bale’s caped crusader having to return to action to face a terrifying threat in the form of Bane, played with intense menace by Tom Hardy. There’s a real sense of danger and it manages to wrap up the series in a satisfying way that doesn’t let down the great work that Nolan and co. did on the first two films. It also boasts an incredibly impressive cast, all of whom do their jobs with great skill.
Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond is probably his best, with a movie that manages to balance dramatic integrity while returning a sense of fun to the franchise. The action sequences are superb and the plot has more heft than usual, exploring Bond’s past and the nature of his relationship with his bosses, in particular M played by Judi Dench, who is superb as she’s finally given more to do with the role. A real treat and among the best of the Bond series.
3. The Artist
Arriving on a wave of hype and critical hyperbole this flick was burdened by the weight of expectation but shouldered it well, delivering a film which is a heartwarming tribute to the early years of Hollywood while also being a wonderfully endearing romance loaded with funny moments and a few clever gags. The silence is more than a gimmick and it nails it’s tone perfectly throughout.
2. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
Joss Whedon brings Earth’s mightiest heroes to the big screen and succeeds in uniting all of Marvel’s good work into one hugely entertaining blockbuster loaded with great lines and brilliant performances, the ensemble cast all work well together and it manages to build on the previous movies while also standing on it’s own as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
A mind blowing sci-fi action film based on the concept of hitmen being used to take care of targets sent back in time from the future. It manages to deal with themes like destiny, choice and identity while still also being extremely fun. Benefits from Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis both being at the top of their game as the older and younger versions of the protagonist. Chock full of great moments and interesting ideas, and packs a powerful emotional punch, stayed with me for days.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I love romcoms, and the key to a successful romcom are the leads (Grant/Hepburn, Crystal/Ryan, Hanks/Ryan, Grant/Roberts, Bullock/Pullman, Rogen/Heigl) and this movie benefits from having a pair of brilliant performers, Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.
They play Tom and Violet, a couple who get engaged after a year together. Tom is a chef and doing well for himself in San Francisco, but when psychology PhD grad Violet is offered a job in Michigan they move across the country for two years, leading them to delay their wedding and it turns out that his best friend, Alex (Chris Pratt) and her sister Suzie (Alison Brie) beat them up the aisle after hooking up and getting pregnant at their engagement party.
Violet quickly settles into her new job and thrives under the supervision of her boss, Winton (Rhys Ifans), but Tom struggles, feeling isolated and unmotivated by his new surroundings. When Violet’s contract is extended by a further two years the cracks in their relationship begin to show and Tom starts to unravel, with them growing apart.
Can they work through their issues and finally make it down the aisle?
I went into this movie with mixed expectations because I’d heard responses from both ends of the spectrum. So I was pleased to find that it was a rather sweet and funny little flick.
The plot is fairly simple, but well handled and as mentioned above the leads are fantastic, I’m a big fan of Segel who’s a great comedic talent and an ability to capture this kind of tightly wound manic energy under the surface while anchoring it with a kind of sweet, everyday Joe charm. And Blunt, who’s impressed me in more serious roles shows a real knack for comedy too.
Together they make Tom and Violet a fairly realistic couple, managing to create a sense of real connection and affection with each other and even as things unravel the characters maintain this wonderful chemistry and this romantic sap really felt that they belonged together.
The film’s theme seems to be that holding out for that 100% match and expecting everything to be hunky-dory and easy is ridiculous, and that the couple’s future depends on them being able to compromise and work through their issues with honesty and openness. Its a good thing to promote, and the film does it well, while still managing to be a thoroughly sweet movie and the warmth engendered by the leads manages to carry it through some of the more outlandish and overdone bits. The Hollywood-ized ending might have come across as twee but its executed with bags of charm and left me smiling.
The humour throughout the film is well done, especially the interplay between Violet’s colleagues creates some great moments while Tom’s descent into madness, while overdone at times is generally amusing.
And as a Welshman I quite liked the little scene where Ifans’ academic tries to explain his dog’s Welsh name (Gwyrth meaning miracle) and the rest of the characters struggle to pronounce it.
While Blunt and Segel deserve a lot of props they receive some great support from the rest of the cast, in particular the supporting couple played by Chris Pratt and Alison Brie. Pratt manages to be oddly likable as Tom’s oafish loud-mouth best friend, but the real revelation is Brie as Violet’s sister.
Brie does a fantastic job of nailing an English accent which is extremely similar to Blunt’s making their sisterhood seem plausible and she is a wonderfully funny performer, and a scene where she and Blunt’s characters argue in the voices of Elmo and the Cookie Monster is utterly hilarious and one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen.
Verdict: Great performances and chemistry between Segel and Blunt makes this a likable and sweet romcom, with some laugh out loud moments and leaves a nice warm feeling inside the audience. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
After all the hype, the ridiculous sponsorship deals and marketing machine I finally got around to watching Skyfall today.
And they’ve really pulled a great movie out of the bag to mark the world’s favourite spy’s 50th anniversary.
Daniel Craig’s third outing is a return to the form showed in Casino Royale after the massively disappointing Quantum of Solace.
It all kicks off in Turkey with Bond on assignment to steal back a hard drive containing a list of all NATO agents embedded in terrorist organisations. During a thrilling pre-credit chase sequence Bond attempts to get the drive back, however, the agent Bond is working with, Eve (Naomie Harris) is advised by M (Judi Dench) to take a shot at the suspect despite not having a clear shot. Eve shoots, hitting Bond who falls from a bridge, and believed to be dead.
Bond uses his death to retire from the world of espionage and spends his time shagging and drinking on a beach. However, MI6 is hacked into and hit by a terrorist attack, putting pressure on M from government official Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), and appears to be personally targeted by the mysterious terrorist.
This prompts Bond to come back to the fold, but he has to deal with being out of his depth in the increasingly technological world and also slightly out of shape and past his prime.
Bond begins to investigate and begins to close in on the deranged Silva (Javier Bardem), a ruthless, highly intelligent killer who has some kind of history with M.
What is Silva’s plan? What exactly is his connection with M? And is Bond up to the challenge?
I won’t discuss any more of the plot as I don’t want to give away any spoilers so let’s get down to what I thought about the movie.
I loved it.
I’ve always been a massive Bond fan and while it took a while for me to come round to Craig as 007, I now feel that while he’s still not my personal favourite (that’s Moore, the Bond I grew up with and I love the campy vibe) he’s probably the most convincing, effortlessly cool and smooth, you can fully understand how he gets all the girls. But he also carries himself in a manner that suggests that he’s able to handle himself, there’s this kind of brutish intensity to Craig which makes him more of a physical presence than previous Bonds and a laid back, casual savagery during the action sequences that suits the character’s cold blooded side.
He also does a phenomenal job conveying Bond’s flaws and disillusionment with his life as an agent, there’s a cynical edge to the character and an interior conflict between jaded experience and his loyalty and dedication to country and most importantly, M. More than any previous installment in the series this movie explores Bond’s character and background, while still remaining true to the character. There’s a sense that the drinking, women and quips are a cover for a kind of emotional fragility and tiredness. There’s only one true Bond quip and its delivered in a way that implies he says it to try and show he doesn’t care where he clearly does.
Central to the film is Bond’s relationship with M, which connects him to Silva. Dench is superb as the head of MI6, under pressure from outside forces who seem to want to push her aside and a sense that the decisions she makes weigh heavily on her. Dench makes M an engagingly tough old woman who holds her own throughout and she and Craig manage to capture a relationship where they clash at times but seems grounded in mutual respect and even affection.
Their relationship is key to the plot, and is reflected in Javier Bardem’s Silva, and his connections with M. Bardem is phenomenal and creates one of the best Bond villains, an oddly charismatic and chillingly ruthless psychopath, with an odd camp streak to the character.
His entrance scene is a masterstroke, with Bardem grabbing the audience’s attention and holding it every time he appears on screen. He appears to be like a dark, warped reflection of Bond, the two sharing the same mother figure in “M” but with circumstances making them very different men. This is reflected in the opening credits, which is visually stunning as usual, but also manages to reflect the film’s plot and themes, including when Bond’s shadow morphs into Silva.
Silva might not have Bond’s physical power but his ruthless efficiency ensures that he’s a believable threat and decent match for our hero.
The rest of the cast does well, especially Ralph Fiennes as Mallory, the government bureaucrat who may be more than he seems and Ben Whishaw as the new Q, a fresh faced geek who ties in with the theme of changing times and works well with Craig.
The thing that makes this film work is that it mixes the traditional Bond conventions with a more grown up, character focused piece. All the boxes are ticked and the plot is fairly simple, but there’s more exploration into the character’s motivations and relationships, which makes it more engaging emotionally than most Bond flicks. Director Sam Mendes gets the tone exactly right, the brooding never slips into moping and the action sequences are visually stunning, particularly the fantastic opening chase that escalates and builds to a gripping climax.
The film’s final battle marks a departure from traditional Bond, with Bond setting up a booby-trapped fortress to try and hold off the bad guys. There’s a tense, claustrophobic feeling to the fight and its a sequence filled with Bond showing off ingenuity and toughness as he makes his stand, the kind of situation that we’re not used to seeing the character involved in.
All in all its a massively successful chapter in the franchise and definitely one of the stronger Bond movies.
Verdict: A wonderfully crafted and brilliantly entertaining film. Bond is back in some style, in a more mature, unique way, and it benefits from brilliant performances especially from Craig and Bardem. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got mixed feelings about the director Tim Burton, I’ve really enjoyed some of his flicks (Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow) and I do enjoy the gothic vibe and sense of humour he brings to a lot of his flicks, but there are times when I think his personal flourishes can overpower everything else and he’s made some movies I’ve really not liked (Batman Returns, Mars Attacks!, Planet of the Apes).
Burton’s last two movies, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, were reasonably entertaining flicks but at the same time felt rather flat, and haven’t really been emotionally engaging. But his latest flick, Frankenweenie is a very different beast.
A reworking of a short movie Burton made back in the 80s it follows the story of Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), a quiet, clever boy who spends most of his time tinkering away in the attic on various gizmos and making little super 8 monster movies, usually starring his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is sadly killed Victor is distraught, and withdraws into himself.
However, new science teacher Mr Rzykruski’s (Martin Landau) lessons on electrical impulses inspires him to bring Sparky back to life.
All goes well until his classmate Edgar (Atticus Shaffer) discovers this and blackmails him into bringing back another animal, but the results aren’t quite the same, rendering the fish. Soon the secret’s out and in order to win the class science project several of his classmates attempt to copy his experiment and restore their late pets to life, with vastly different, shocking results.
The film is clearly a passion project of Burton’s and it shines throughout the film, which is an enchanting tribute to horror movies, pets, childhood and loners everywhere.
It’s an utterly enchanting movie, extremely heartwarming and rather sweet while also delighting in its horror movie trappings, weird creatures and a cast of supporting characters which includes some serious oddballs. The creation of all the characters shows lots of thought has gone into it and the town of New Holland is populated with a cast of oddly lovable grotesques.
Victor, with pale hair and scruffy black hair, is the traditional Burton hero (see Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Victor Van Doort etc) and a lovely hero, he’s a quiet, smart loner who’s shown to be rather likable and heroic, even if he’s regarded by his classmates as something of an eccentric. He’s easy to warm to and his sadness over the loss of his dog feels 100% sincere and realistic.
Victor and the rest of the townsfolk serves to continue a theme that’s ran through Burton’s career, that the offbeat outsiders are often far more human and less monstrous than the so called “normal” people. The residents of the town are very quick to snatch up a burning torch and chase Sparky out of town, and also there’s their idiotic, knee jerk anti-science reaction. Which gives Landau’s Eastern European teacher a fantastic speech against their closed minded outlook.
Mr Rzykruski’s view that science is neither good or evil is part of the film’s major plot, Sparky is returned normal and unchanged because Victor’s motives for bringing him back are pure and made with love, whereas the actions of his classmates are motivated by greed or selfish reasons.
Burton fills the movie with references and little nods to classic horror movies, the black and white look, the Gothic styling of the graveyard is right out of Frankenstein, and there are characters who are clearly modeled on the greats of the horror genre- Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in particular. He clearly loves the genre, and the look is entirely like the great Universal horrors of the 30s.
But its not just a stylistic choice, it also makes sense for the story. Like those old horror films the monster is incredibly sympathetic, and Sparky, the zombie dog is a wonderfully sweet character. The little plasticine canine manages to provoke more empathy than many actors and his mannerisms are brilliantly studied and full of personality.
The main feeling from the film is warmth, something Burton often lacks but here he has it in spades. Its a film that’ll speak to anyone who’s ever felt a little outside of the norm, which let’s face it is almost everyone and the story of a boy and his dog is extremely sweet. Its a brilliant film for kids, emotionally involving, gloriously attractive to look at and lots of fun.
Verdict: A hugely entertaining, charming movie which is some of the best work that Burton’s done in years. It has a quirky, slightly dark sense of humour and some bizarre, likable characters. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
The follow up to the hugely successful action thriller Taken arrives, and this time its even more personal.
In 2008, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) went on a roaring rampage of revenge across Paris to get his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) back from East European human traffickers. Along the way he killed, tortured and maimed his way through a parade of scumbags. But, even scumbags have families, and now the father of one of his victims and head of the Albanian mob, Murad (Rade Serbedzija) wants revenge and the mob are after him.
In Istanbul for work, Mills is joined by Kim and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who’s current marriage is disintegrating. Kim is trying to play matchmaker and get her parents back together and so is still at the hotel when Bryan and Lenore are ambushed. They’re taken, but before surrendering Bryan manages to call Kim and help her evade capture.
He then uses a stashed mini-phone to work out their location and help Kim come to aid them. Kim races across town and the two are reunited, but Lenore is still in the hands of the criminals.
Can Bryan get Kim to safety with the entire mob on their tail? Can he find and rescue Lenore, and if so, will they get back together? Will Kim ever leave her house, let alone the United States ever again? And just how many people does he have to kill before the Albanian mob decides that they should just leave him be?
Here’s the thing, when I heard there was going to be a sequel to Taken I was kinda stoked, the first film was a fantastic, dark and brutal action movie with Neeson bringing softly spoken gravitas to the role of Bryan, the father with a dodgy past out for justice. The scene where he talks to the kidnappers over the phone is a phenomenal and rich with menace and restrained fury.
My one problem was that I feared we’d be in complete retread mode, like with Die Hard 2: Die Harder, but it chooses instead to be a direct follow up. The idea of the same gang coming after him is a nice touch, even if you do just find yourself thinking “Are these guys stupid or something?”
Don’t get me wrong, revenge works as a motive just fine, but if you’d seen how he tore through your boys the first time wouldn’t you be a bit wary? I love my family, but if someone had been this vicious in taking them down I’d bide my time and pick my moment, like when they were in a coma.
So its a case of revenge for revenge. It could have laid out an interesting narrative about the vicious circle of revenge which leaves everyone a loser, but the film doesn’t go there it just keeps things simple- Bryan went on a rampage to get revenge for an innocent, Murad’s son was a scumbag and had it coming. Which works for me, even if, in the words of Will Munny, “we all got it coming”.
The fact that Bryan himself is taken is a nice touch, and it means that we get to see Kim making a stand and showing some real grit as his backup on the outside. But aside from that its the same basic formula of Neeson laying the smack down on some swarthy foreigners, although this time there is one henchman at least who seems to know what he’s doing which means we get a much more balanced showdown near the end.
One of the major problems though is that while the first film was a 15, and nudging at the 18 certificate mark, this is a 12A, meaning that the action sequences feel rather toned down and it seems toothless when compared to the shocking brutality of the original. The decision has clearly been made to try and get a bigger audience at the cinema, but in a way it deprives the film of the hard edged tone which was a large part of why the firs film was so successful. That being said, if I was a parent I wouldn’t take an under-12 to see this as its still got a bit of down-and-dirty grit to it.
Being a Luc Besson production its extremely well executed and Olivier Megaton (great name) ensures that the action sequences are done really well, while also allowing brief character moments to ensure we remain engaged, in a similar way as he did on Transporter 3. and it all whistles along at quite a pace, clocking in at around 90 minutes, which is the perfect length for a movie as far as I’m concerned.
Neeson remains magnificent in the lead role, the softly spoken but hard hitting Bryan is a great hero, and its nice to see him engaging with the other characters more. The scenes with his ex-wife and daughter at the start of the film hint at a kind of softness that shows through his weary, reserved exterior. Neeson looks older but in a way it adds to the character, this is someone who has been around the block a few times, seen and done some terrible things and this has coloured his view of the world, making him suspicious and apprehensive.
When the action gets underway this falls away and he reverts back to his cold blooded killer ways, and Neeson looks the part. He’s an actor with genuine presence and he moves through in a predatory way, striking quickly and efficiently at his enemies.
Famke Janssen feels underused as the ex-wife/love interest but does well enough with the little she’s given, and Serbedzija does sleazy menace rather well as the mobster, while also showing the hurt of losing his son at times (it was a little off putting that I spent most of the film trying to work out where I’d seen him before, it turns out he’s Boris the Blade from Guy Richie’s Snatch).
Maggie Grace, who impressed me earlier this year in another Besson movie, Lockout, is great again here. She brings a real vulnerability to Kim, and in the opening stages we see that while she’s attempting to live the normal life of a young lady she’s still haunted by the events of the first film. When things start going awry later on there’s a flash of fear and horror that crosses her face when she realizes what’s happening, and Grace gives a sense of the stomach churning terror that the character must experience when being forced to revisit her traumatic past.
It makes the subsequent scenes believable as Kim shows grit and resilience clearly inherited from her father, and there’s a sense that her reasons for doing this are a reluctance to be a victim again. Also, while she is more proactive there’s no ridiculous transformation to instant badass, just someone who’s willing to do their best in trying to fight back.
This was never going to be a subtle, emotional movie but I did like the way we saw her trying to move past her kidnapping and on with her life, as well as Bryan’s attempts to change and reconnect with his family. They’re brief, fleeting moments before the action kicks in but it worked for me and ensured I was engaged with the characters.
Verdict: A well made, engaging action flick even if it falls far short of its predecessor. Neeson is at the top of his game again as the quiet man of violence, and Grace is engaging and sympathetic as his haunted daughter attempting to sort her life out. Just a shame the whole film has a feeling of being neutered and sanitized with the dark, gritty and brutal edge that made the first film being smoothed out completely. Still, probably a good night in on the sofa movie. 5/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
As ever I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers but its probably best if you go in knowing as little about the movie as possible.
Comparisons with The Matrix. Glowing reviews. A badass trailer. The fact Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t really look like Bruce Willis.
Going into Looper I had some baggage, but it blew them all away, around the same time it blew my mind.
The premise of the flick is that in the 2070s time travel has been mastered and is used by the criminal part of society to get rid of pesky problems, providing an evidence-free way of bumping people off. So their victims get zapped back to 2044 where they’re blown away by assassins called loopers, like Joe (Gordon-Levitt).
Being a looper seems a sweet gig, they live large, partying it up and making good money, and the kills are frighteningly easy- their victims arrive bound, gagged and with heads covered and all they have to do is pull the trigger on their scatter guns. The one downside is that each looper must eventually “close the loop”, by killing their own future self, ensuring things remain tidy and there are no loose ends.
When having killed their future selves they are given a big pay day and retired, left to enjoy the next 30 years of their lives. Joe’s colleagues are closing their loops with alarming frequency and that’s the better way of proceeding, allowing your future self to leg it is not a good move, and has grim consequences.
Joe one day comes face to face with the older version of himself (Willis) who isn’t tied up and who escapes. Old Joe has enjoyed his 30 years and wants to preserve what he cares about, planning to eliminate the shadowy figure known as the Rain Maker before they can come to power and eliminate the loopers. Joe wants to bring in his older self and get his life back, while the older version is on a mission and the mob is after both of them.
Joe winds up at the home of Sara (Emily Blunt) a feisty farmer, who’s connected to Old Joe’s plan and it appears the two are headed for a showdown. But as his escape and flight changes things is old Joe at risk of losing the future he’s so determined to protect? And how far is he willing to go?
This movie is hands down the best flick I’ve seen this year. I didn’t think anything could unseat The Avengers at the top spot, but this totally blew me away and relegated Iron Man and co. to the silver medal spot. I can not overstate how impressed I was with it, and I walked away completely stunned with it, the last time a film had this kind of effect on me was when I emerged, trembling from seeing Buried.
We’ve seen time travel flicks before, but this is one of the best, up there with Willis’ own Twelve Monkeys for mind bending awesomeness. Its wonderfully realized and thought out, with some really nice touches, for example the way that the injuries sustained by a younger self will instantly change the future version, allowing Joe to communicate with Old Joe by carving a message into his own flesh.
There’s also an acceptance by the characters of how messed up things can get, one character describes how the time travel stuff can “fry your brain”, and this is particularly evident in the way that the alterations to the timeline effect the memories of the older Joe, with things becoming “fuzzy” and less clear as the likelihood of them happening. It turns out that the major danger to his future happiness might be his own actions.
Since coming out of the cinema I’ve been thinking over on it quite a bit and debating with a friend about what the film’s conclusion would do to the fictional timeline, its a wonderfully intelligent, thrilling science fiction flick.
A large part of this is down to the two phenomenal lead performances as the two different versions of Joe. They might not look that similar normally, but there’s some really subtle prosthesis work which fills out Gordon-Levitt’s jaw line and makes him more Willis-esque, but the largest contribution is from the performance. JGL has clearly done his homework and during one scene in particular where he talks to his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), where he’s got Willis mannerisms and line delivery completely down, flashing the easy going Willis smirk and talking with the same sardonic tone. There’s also a nice touch where he notices his receding hairline in the mirror.
But its not merely an impression, as JGL is a superb actor and this adds a growing list of phenomenal performances and is one of the best actors of his generation.
Young Joe is a bit of a mess, a drug addicted, damaged and self centred killer who’s capable of cold blooded detachment but is slightly out of his depth, whereas old Joe is a total badass. After he escapes the film cuts back to the first time he faced his future self and did the deed, showing how he spent the next 30 years, transforming into a highly skilled killer and also the life he built for himself.
At the start he seems the nobler of the two, but quickly morphs into an antiheroic figure. Its a brave role for Willis to play as along the way he does some truly shocking deeds, and his criticism of his younger self as being self absorbed could easily be leveled at his own actions and willingness to cross lines to fight for what’s his.
Despite being the same person you quickly wind up rooting for one over the other, but both actors should be commended for always ensuring that Joe is a sympathetic character despite his flaws.
The supporting cast are on fine form, especially a strong, confident turn from Blunt as the tough cookie that young Joe winds up spending time with. Its a perfect balance of strength and frailty, she’s not a caricature of some badass chick or an over confident girl who eventually needs saving, just someone who’s had to toughen up to survive and like the male hero(es?) is willing to go to great lengths to protect what’s hers. Blunt is perfect in the role, convincing and utterly engaging from her very first appearance.
The shady character of the Rain Maker is handled quite well, even if its easy to see what’s coming, but its nice how the rumours that old Joe says about them slowly become reality as events unfold and also links with the whole idea of whether we’re fated to turn out a certain way or if we’re masters of our own destiny. And the hints are dropped fairly subtly throughout to build up to the big reveal.
Another character I liked was the swaggering, wannabe cowboy hit man Kid Blue (Noah Sagan). He provides some of the film’s lighter moments and is a pitiable character, attempting to appear as a dangerous bad-man but hampered by his own bumbling stupidity and eagerness to please.
Jeff Daniels is engaging and charming as Abe, the low level mobster sent back to oversee the loopers who’s taken over the city, playing off his usual fatherly, nice guy vibe to reveal a hard, ruthless edge beneath who convinces as someone who could recruit followers.
His character’s relationship with Joe and Kid Blue is one of the film’s most interesting touches, there are repeated references to Joe of how he “put a gun in his hand” and gave him something that was his, and Kid Blue just craves his approval. Its an interesting reflection of how easily lost young men can be exploited to do terrible things. Abe has a knack for spying their vulnerability and uses this to get them aboard, promising them wealth and success. Its something we can see in the real world- the way gangs draw on the disenfranchised, financially poor young men from broken homes by providing a surrogate family and the promise of status and riches. Or the way the army will set up recruiting posts in dead end towns, or how child soldiers are lured into a life of violence so that they can stop being victims and possess some power.
Writer and director Rian Johnson, who made the weirdly engaging teen noir Brick knocks it out of the park here. The film’s pacing and tone is handled well, with the mind warping time travel stuff never stopping it from working on an emotional level too and there’s an undercurrent of brilliantly dark, brutal humour. Definitely one to watch, Johnson seems to be able to do the Christopher Nolan trick of making thoroughly entertaining and clever movies that don’t talk down to their audience.
Verdict: A thoroughly entertaining, intelligent sci-fi action flick featuring great performances. There are number of great touches and moments throughout and some shocking “Holy s**t!” moments. An instant classic. See it first chance you get. 10/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Are you alone as you sit down to read this? Have a look around just to be sure nobody’s around because I have a secret to share…Okay, ready?
I have a bit of a soft spot for the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie Judge Dredd.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing like the comics, horribly cheesy, features far too much Rob Schneider and is generally a bit naff. However, I’m a big Stallone fan and I can enjoy the film because I’ve completely divorced it from the source material.
Over 15 years later Dredd returns to the big screen, and the new film is a very different beast.
In a desolate, post-war future most of the world has been transformed into a desolate wasteland known as the Cursed Earth, mankind has withdrawn into immense, sprawling cities, chief among them Mega City One, which covers the North East corner of what used to be the USA. The city is made up of massive tower blocks that rise above the remnants of the old cities and towns, and due to the vast size and sheer number of inhabitants (800 million) the city is a violent, crime riddled dystopia.
The law is enforced by the Judges, heavily armed cops who are able to dispense justice on the spot, serving as judge, jury and executioner . One of the best is Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), a tough, grizzled veteran who is charged with evaluating a rookie, Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), who effected by the residual radiation from the war has mutated to possess psychic abilities. Dredd is skeptical of how she’ll manage, but takes her out into the field.
They arrive at the scene of a grisly triple homicide at the Peach Trees block where they arrest a gang member responsible for the killings, Kay (Wood Harris), and plan to take him back to the hall of justice. Kay works for Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) a vicious gang leader who’s at the centre of a new drug sweeping the city, slo-mo, which makes time slow down for the user. She ordered the killing of the three men who represented a rival gang. On hearing that Kay is being taken for interrogation she locks the block down, sealing Dredd and Anderson within and ordering all gang members to take them out.
Heavily outnumbered, Dredd and Anderson need to find a way out, fight off the gang and bring Ma-Ma to justice, and begin to fight their way up the tower.
I really dug this film, at a little over 90 minutes its a very pacy, explosive action movie with a relatively simple plot reminiscent of this year’s The Raid. The film opens with a short voice over from Dredd that sets up the future world and then pitches us right into the action with a car chase as Dredd takes out a couple of perps. Then he meets Anderson, they go to the building and its not long before it all goes to hell for them. Its not a film that hangs about.
One of the things I really liked is that it comes a lot closer to capturing the tone of the comics, which was always a darkly humourous, hyper-violent and misanthropic vision of the future. Forget Mos Eisley, Mega City One is the ultimate hive of scum and villainy. The city is realized in a pretty cool way, rejecting some of the comics’ more OTT stylings and instead crafting a more realistic city where the towering blocks rise among the ruins of the old world (although I was disappointed that they didn’t follow the comic tradition of having blocks named after celebrities).
A similar attitude is taken to the look of the Judges and their gear, which is a more realistic version of the comics and ensures they avoid the campness of the Stallone flick. The iconic helmets remain (and Dredd’s stays on this time, fans will be happy to hear) but the rest of the gear is toned down a bit, the shoulder pads aren’t as impractically massive and the uniform is replaced with armour which makes sense given the situations the Judges find themselves in.
As the man himself Urban is well cast, he has physical presence and delivers Dredd’s lines in a suitably gruff, tough manner reminiscent of the character’s inspiration, Clint Eastwood. With half his face covered its a tough job to convey emotions, and Dredd is quite reserved but Urban manages in the way he shifts his jaw to hint at Dredd’s inner rage and struggles to control it, as well as delivering many of his lines with a dark, sardonic wit.
Urban is good casting because while a fairly established actor is not a mega star who’s face would have to be revealed as was the case in ’95. He does a very good job, convincing as the hard as nails Judge and making the fascistic Dredd likable.
Urban is ably supported by Thirlby as Anderson. Thirlby’s slight frame and slightly elfin features lend her a sense of fragility that contrasts nicely with Dredd who at times appears to be a relentless force of nature. However, that’s not to say Anderson is some weak damsel-in-distress figure, as at times she shows real toughness and a hard streak within. She is however less comfortable and cold blooded than Dredd is when dispensing justice and is forced to meet the family of one perp she wastes.
She’s a believable rookie, showing the skills she’s been taught but also the inexperience when called on to use them, and its easy to see why she impresses Dredd over the course of the film. She’s the audience’s entrance point into the world, someone who’s not so at ease with the killing and bloodshed as Dredd and raises interesting questions about the film’s hero as well. Was he once a hesitant rookie? Or was he always the ruthless lawman?
Her psychic abilities are a nice touch, she scans Dredd and there’s a hint that something lies beneath his rage and control, and it comes in handy throughout the film. It really helps develop her scenes with Kay, who attempts to rattle her by thinking of her sexually and in a darker way that isn’t revealed to the audience. Its also central to what I think is one of the film’s best, and most powerful scenes, where after Dredd roughs him up, Anderson takes over and psychically interrogates him. We get a brief glimpse of the discussion within his head, and just as it looks like Anderson is going to become a victim she flips it. The scene is slightly uncomfortable, but the filmmakers show good judgement in not showing us all of what happens in his head, just the real world consequences. Cutting back into the room to see a broken suspect and a steely, in control Anderson.
Thirlby is convincing in all aspects, as a shaky, unsure newcomer and the tough core that lies within.
As the villain, Headey is good value, making her Ma-Ma a grim, unstable and vindictive crime boss. She doesn’t get that much screen time but what she does get she uses extremely well, making Ma-Ma a vile, menacing villain.
The film is shot wonderfully well, the slo-mo drug giving the director a chance to shoot these extremely slow, strangely beautiful sequences where water drops, glass shards and smoke swirl around slowly in an odd, dream-like way. The actions sequences have a real hardcore, gory edge to them and there are a couple of wince inducing moments, but its nice to see a film which doesn’t try and soften the blows. The violence here is brutal, real and utterly compelling.
I was a little miffed that I had to see it in 3D, but I must say that, while I’m still against the whole 3D thing, this was one of the better uses of it- the slo-mo sequences in particular benefited from it and for much of the film it wasn’t intrusive, which is nice.
Verdict: Urban does very well as the badass Judge and the interplay between the gruff veteran and the shaky rookie is largely well handled and peformed. The film’s world is wonderfully created, with the filmmakers respecting the source material without being shackled to it, allowing them to change things so they work better in a different medium. The simple plot works for the gruff, no-nonsense character and its extremely good fun, with hard hitting action sequences and some nice visuals. Would quite like to see the lawman return to the big screen again. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.