I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.
One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?
This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.
The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.
We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.
Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.
Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.
They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.
Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.
Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.
Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.
Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.
Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.
Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?
Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.
This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.
It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.
Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.
Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.
But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.
The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.
The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.
This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.
The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.
It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.
I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.
A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.
Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This is an OK movie that could have been great if the director’s excesses had been curtailed. The problem is that Quentin Tarantino is such a superstar director now that he has too much free rein, and here he hangs himself with it.
For a director who started with the lean, tense Reservoir Dogs it’s sad to see that QT has reached this bloated excess. At around three hours long it’s in need if some pruning and despite the lengthy run time few of the characters truly engage.
The movie opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in snowy Wyoming with three dead bounties. Warren is a former Union officer, still dressed in his coat. His horse dead he flags down a passing stage carrying fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who has a live prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth takes him aboard but despite liking each other he insists Warren cuff himself.
The cuffs come off when Ruth reluctantly decides to partner with Warren when they pick up another passenger Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a former rebel marauder and racist. Mannix claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, the town they are going to, but Ruth doesn’t believe him.
They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the oncoming blizzard forces them to hunker down for a few days. Warren is suspicious as to where Minnie is and any she’s left a stranger, Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) in charge. Ruth is suspicious of the others at the store, who include an English hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy heading home (Michael Madsen) and an ageing Confederate general (Bruce Dern).
The general and Warren clash, and Ruth is convinced at least one other person there is planning to spring Daisy, who he is chained to. Is everyone who they say they are? Who can Ruth trust? And will they make it through the storm.
The idea is a good one and to his credit QT does make the Haberdashery a tense, claustrophobic setting and ramps up the unease and distrust. But as I stated it’s a little long winded.
The violence when it arrives is the typical OTT stuff of the director’s work since Kill Bill and is laughably hyperbolic in places. This excess doesn’t quite work as well as before- this isn’t genre parody/homage like Kill Bill, or daft overblown fare like Inglorious Basterds and you can’t even make the argument used for Django Unchained where the gun fight excess was almost a contrast to the nastier, more realistic violence dished out to the slaves.
It’s these lashings of gore that make it more QT and less a western. That and the dialogue which is the usual profanity laden stuff. There’s a couple of lines that really work and the plot works, but some feels unnecessary. And I worked out what kind of ending we were gonna get and a few plot points throughout.
The biggest disappointment is the character work, with many being rather under developed. Kurt Russell is exceptional as Ruth, a tough if not overly bright man with an odd code of honour. I’m admittedly a Russell fan but he’s watchable here and makes Ruth the most likeable character.
The other stand outs are Goggins as Mannix, as he is a capable performer with comedic skill and who manages to do a good job with the only character who appears to develop over the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also entertaining as the prisoner Ruth describes as “peppery”.
The lead is probably SLJ’s Warren, and the actor is mesmerising as ever. He also gets the film’s major monologue, where he goads the general with a shocking story. No spoilers here, but it’s unlike anything QT or anyone else has done before and it’s sure to split audiences. I think it worked, if was overplayed and deliberately trying to shock.
Warren is an interesting character but far from likeable as the film progresses, SLJ is endlessly watchable and he is here, and it’s nice that they give him some Agatha Christie style sleuthing during the movie. But as for likeable or someone you warm to? He falls flat.
Dern, Madsen and Roth do well, but all are rather simply drawn and some of the twists fall flat.
This could have been a great movie, tense, claustrophobic and filled with colourful characters but it feels like a missed opportunity and the climax is rather unsatisfying. There are nice touches, but for me it’s one of the director’s weaker efforts, languishing in the bottom three with Death Proof and Inglorious.
A few interesting ideas and moments aren’t enough for the movie to work as a whole, although I was involved for most of it, even if aware if the time passing.
He clearly has ideas left in him, but it would be nice to see a restraining hand make him hold back on his excesses. A horror movie is apparently next up, and no genre is better served by brevity, so hopefully that will remind QT that you can tell a story in under 2 hours.
Verdict: Glimmers of QT’s greatness are in there and a few of the leads are very watchable, but it’s far too long, the gore is overdone and most of the characters are shallow. Generally a disappointing movie. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers Ahead! I’ve tried to avoid them where possible, but some have snuck in, apologies.
Halfway during this film Colin Firth’s character, Harry Hart, is asked if he likes spy movies, to which he replies “Nowadays, they’re all a little serious for my taste. But the old ones….marvelous. Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.” It’s pretty much voicing the film’s intent, which seems like a reaction against the more serious Bourne and Craig era Bonds, and delivers on the far-fetched theatrical plot front.
Of course, this is from the team that brought us Kick-Ass so we’re a long way from Roger Moore territory. Once again Matthew Vaughn directs a script he co-wrote with Jane Goldman based on a Mark Millar comic book, and the result is essentially what you’d expect from the above quote and that team: a plot from an old Bond movie but served with a heavy dose of profanity, hyper violence and hilarity.
Colin Firth plays Harry aka Galahad, the sharp suited gentleman spy who works for Kingsman, a privately owned and run spy agency. Harry is investigating the death of a fellow agent, Lancelot (Jack Davenport), killed while on the trail of mercenaries connected with several incidents involving terrorist groups being taken out by being exposed to something which made them violently turn on each other.
With an agent dead, Harry’s boss, Arthur (Michael Caine), asks Harry to suggest someone to compete against the selection of the other agents. Harry’s unlikely choice is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a former colleague who sacrificed himself to save Harry’s life. Eggsy lives on a rough council estate and doesn’t fit the traditional suave spy type, but Harry sees the potential he has squandered.
Eggsy in turn is impressed by Harry’s abilities as a fighter and his suave, restrained demeanor and agrees to engage in the training programme. Here he must compete against the other candidates, all of whom are posh toffs and he faces judgment and mockery from many of them, although Roxy (Sophie Cookson) does befriend him. The training is overseen by Merlin (Mark Strong), who also knew Eggsy’s father and was present at his death.
As Eggsy goes through his training, Harry investigates Lancelot’s death, which turns out to be connected to tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), who seems to be plotting something big and is assisted by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) an assassin who uses bladed prosthetic legs as her weapon of choice. What is Valentine’s plan and how is it connected to the free SIM cards he’s giving out?
Will Eggsy stick to the course and become a Kingsman agent? Will he and Harry be able to work out what Valentine’s up to and stop it?
This movie is an utter gem, filled with laugh out moments and hugely entertaining OTT action sequences. MWG and I laughed throughout and left the cinema extremely impressed and entertained, as did all of the people we went with. It plays with the spy genre conventions, ribbing and reveling in the excesses and ridiculousness of it.
At the centre is a fantastic performance from Colin Firth, who you can tell must have had a ball playing with his traditional persona. He doesn’t look threatening or badass, but throughout the film he carries himself with this taut restraint and posh mannerisms that suggest great personal control, which ensures that when he finally cuts loose in the fight scenes it’s incredibly entertaining.
Firth’s performance generates a lot of laughs and his stiff nature is the island of calm in the middle of the ridiculous OTT film that unfolds around him.
The rest of the cast are on fine form too, Egerton, who was a new face to me is wonderful as Eggsy, making the character believable and likable. He may front with swagger and bravado, but Egerton allows us to see the softer side and the fear which has hampered him from fulfilling his potential. Eggsy is an engaging character, guided by an inner sense of decency but also having a ball with the high tech gadgets and adventures that await him.
Egerton’s transformation from chav slacker to suited gentleman spy is well done, and best of all he maintains his grinning, life loving verve throughout, meaning that even when he’s an ass kicking spy there are still flashes of the jokey, loudmouth youth. He might have the suit now, but it’s clear that he was always a hero and that being a gentleman isn’t about where you’re from or who your family is, but how you carry yourself.
Of course, a lot of the scenes get stolen by Samuel L Jackson, who still has great gravitas even with the bizarre character he plays. A man with a plan for world domination who can’t stand the sight of blood and speaks with a lisp, it’s to his credit that SLJ manages to still make Valentine a mesmerizing and charismatic on-screen presence. It plays slightly with his usual type of character, as Valentine is far from a “bad ass mother f**ker”.
Valentine’s plan is a treat, the kind of nutso idea that old Bond movies would go for, a plan to save the world by culling the population by turning the masses into rage fuelled maniacs who’ll take each other out. This leads to a fantastically excessive sequence of extreme brutality as Harry takes on the congregation of a far-right church who have all gone crazy. It’s a fast paced, extreme sequence which mixes black comedy laughs with some wince inducing, bone crunching violence.
The movie zips along with a great sense of fun and while some developments are easy to see coming it still manages to surprise and amuse with little touches that toy with Bond movie tropes and builds to a crazy, but satisfying conclusion.
I also loved Gazelle, Valentine’s henchwoman who with her bladed legs is like a throwback to the colourful henchmen of Bond movies past and she’s a cool character, with a steely look in her eye and the perfect compliment to the squeamish Valentine.
Vaughn’s direction is on point, with great comic timing, fast paced action and a joyous delight in the film’s daft touches. All in all it’s a hugely entertaining movie and left me with a big dumb smile on my face, and dare I say it, it even beats Kick-Ass.
Verdict: A magnificently overblown spy movie pastiche/homage complete with colourful villains, outlandish plots and insane gadgets. Vaughn and Goldman’s script is chockablock with laughs and the performances, particularly Firth and Egerton are extremely well done. The violence and swearing won’t make it everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it hit the spot and I found it a real treat, because I like my action movies to be a bit OTT and my spy movies on the silly side. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers ahoy!
So I missed this movie when it was at the cinema due to being a poor student but MWG grabbed it on DVD and I finally got to see it. I’ve always been a fan of Captain America, which is weird as a Brit, because he’s probably the most patriotic of the Marvel heroes, but I think it’s because since WW2 they’ve been careful not to use him too much for propaganda and actually use him as this kind of noble, moral standard of what America should be, not what it is, often opposing or becoming disillusioned with his homeland.
The movie picks up after the events of The Avengers, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) living in Washington, where he befriends Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a veteran of the Afghanistan war, who can relate to Steve’s problems with reintegrating back into “the world”.
Steve continues to work for SHIELD, carrying out missions with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). On one mission he discovers that Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) has given Widow a different mission that he’s kept secret from Cap, and reveals that SHIELD have built massive helicarriers that can target specific individuals using long range weapons and spy satellites, which is something Cap objects to, feeling that it isn’t freedom but fear that Fury is providing.
Fury can’t decipher the info that Widow’s recovered and so talks to senior SHIELD official Price (Robert Redford) about delaying the project. Shortly after Fury is attacked, and narrowly escapes after being attacked by a mysterious masked figure. He hides at Steve’s apartment, and the mysterious attacker strikes again, gunning down Fury and evading Cap, at one point catching his shield before throwing it back.
Following this Price asks Steve for any info that Fury had, and after he refuses Steve is attacked by his former allies and flees, uniting with Widow and going on the run to investigate who betrayed Fury. Widow reveals that the masked man is the notorious Winter Soldier, an assassin who has been active for many years.
Cap and Widow discover that SHIELD has been infiltrated by Hydra, the Nazi faction that Cap fought in WW2 and that they have long established double agents within the organization. Their plan is to cull mankind, using the helicarriers to eliminate people who may become threats to Hydra and their goals.
In need of help THEY recruit Wilson, who they give a set of robotic wings to wear to help in their mission. The Winter Soldier attacks them and during their fight Cap removes his mask and recognizes him as Bucky (Sebastian Stan) his old childhood friend who he believed had died in WW2. This throws both men, Cap as he realizes his friend isn’t dead and the Winter Soldier, who is confused by his opponent’s reaction.
Will Bucky remember who he is? How far does Hydra’s infiltration go? Who can they trust? And can the three of them reveal the conspiracy and stop the launch of the new helicarriers?
I really dug this movie, which kinda merges superheroics with some conspiracy theory stuff. It also raises interesting questions about governments spying on their citizens, and where the line lies before security becomes fascism. Captain America is the perfect superhero to deal with this issues, with this definitely not being what the shield slinging Avenger signed up for and it not sitting well with his moral outlook.
In the lead role Chris Evans is again impressive on his third outing, manage to capture Cap’s morality without ever becoming overly cheesy or preachy. Thankfully the writers have made sure to give Cap a sense of humour and not just be an overly serious square jawed hero. His easy banter with Sam and Widow ensures he feels like a real character and there are some nice touches along the way, such as Widow trying to matchmake for him and a notebook of things he has to catch up on.
They also make sure they highlight that underneath the star spangled uniform he’s a genuine badass, you don’t fight your way through occupied Europe without knowing how to handle yourself and there are some fantastic action sequences, with Cap displaying some fantastic close-quarters moves and a sequence where he finds himself surrounded in a lift is magnificent, fast and brutal, akin to something from a Bourne movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t big sequences and OTT flourishes, including Sam Wilson’s Falcon dipping, diving and swooping around blasting away at Hydra goons and avoiding missile fire. Cap’s shield throwing is also stepped up, with him using angles to get his targets and using it to destructive effect.
The other characters are all done well, Johansson impresses as Widow, showing great chemistry with Evans and relishing an expanded role. The best feature of the character is her intellect and slightly murky past, she’s the bad cop to Cap’s good cop, and exhibits a real ruthless streak, and their growing bond is one of the film’s strengths, with Cap slowly coming to trust the former assassin, and Johansson does a great job of showing that this trust really means something to her character.
Similarly, Mackie is on fine form as Sam Wilson, from his introduction where he is repeatedly overtaken by Rogers while jogging to donning the wings he’s a quick, heroic figure and despite different backgrounds forms a solid bond with Rogers based on their shared experience of combat and returning home. Mackie makes the character extremely likable, and I’m hoping we get to see more of him in future Avengers films (I’m not holding my breath, War Machine/Iron Patriot vanished from the team up).
Samuel L Jackson is impressive as usual, making Fury a tough, cynical leader. Veteran performers Redford and Jenny Agutter both do well too, and after a blink and you miss it cameo in Avengers its nice for Agutter to actually get to do something this time right.
The only weak link really is Sebastian Stan, who admittedly has a challenge on his hands as Bucky/The Winter Soldier. He’s meant to be brainwashed and almost robotic, but when he does finally have doubts Stan never quite convinces, being a bit too blank for my liking. It’s a tough role and maybe he’ll return, but on this showing I won’t be heartbroken if he doesn’t.
All in all it’s a gripping, well written superhero flick which is what we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It doesn’t quite match the original in the fun stakes, but the slightly darker storyline works and leaves the character in an interesting place, now a solo operative planning to take on Hydra with just Falcon as back up.
Verdict: Lots of fun and a gripping story, a few developments are easy to spot but Evans is great in the lead and the supporting cast is generally on fine form. Good exploration of surveillance politics and Cap’s place in the modern world. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
End Credit Sting: Pretty cool, introducing a few more Avengers into the mix and definitely beats Guardians‘ Howard the Duck cameo.
Okay, this is how it works- they either had to be released this year or I saw them in the cinema in the last twelve months, so if they were released in December 2012 but I only caught them in January they’re allowed on the list. Anyway, here we go.
Honourable mentions- World War Z, The World’s End.
10. Side Effects
A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review.
9. Man of Steel
Henry Cavill impresses as Superman and Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane in this enjoyable superhero adventure. The final fight is a bit overlong, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, and Kevin Costner is fantastically cast as Jonathan Kent. More than makes up for the woeful Superman Returns. Full review here.
Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review.
7. Warm Bodies
A pleasantly sweet and endearing romantic comedy with zombies, I really dug this movie and it appealed to both my soppy liking for romance and love of the undead. My thoughts here.
6. Star Trek Into Darkness
JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise moves ahead with the second installment, and ups the tension. For newcomers there are plenty of thrills and for old fans like me a few nice riffs on the old universe. The big reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character wasn’t a massive surprise, but it’s still a great fun watch and expands the Kirk-Spock relationship, although I hope we get more of Karl Urban’s McCoy in later films. Review here.
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As with the books the second part of the story builds on the first, expanding Suzanne Collins’ fictional world and upping the stakes. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress in the lead role. Full review.
4. Pitch Perfect
Hilarious comedy with some nice musical numbers and a brilliant lead in the wonderfully charming Anna Kendrick, even though she has the whole film stolen from under her by the fantastic Rebel Wilson. Review.
3. Django Unchained
Tarantino’s long anticipated Western finally arrived and was superb, gloriously OTT but with a darker, more emotional edge. Much is played for laughs, but the violence against the slaves is done in such a way that shows it’s callous brutality in painful terms. The script has the trademark QT edge and the performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and particularly Samuel L Jackson. And the “hoods scene” remains one of the year’s funniest moments. More.
2. Iron Man 3
Shane Black takes over the reins and guides it to new heights, with this hugely entertaining superhero romp which cements Robert Downey Jr as possibly the best cast superhero in movies. Deals with the fallout from Avengers and shows us a more fragile Stark. Review here.
Ben Affleck continues to impress behind the camera and his execution of this historical thriller is sublime. Managing to capture the edgy tension of the hostages in Iran and the humour in the CIA’s unorthodox plan to extract them, swinging between belly laughs and nail chewing suspense. Review.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Here be spoilers.
The plot is pretty simple and familiar to the creature feature genre- a bunch of scientists mess about with some sharks which, predictably backfires and the sharks then chow down on the cast.
In this instance the sharks are key to the research of scientists Susan McAllister (Saffron Burrows) and Jim Whitlock (Stellan Skarsgard) who want to use the shark’s genes to cure human diseases like Alzheimer’s. To do this they’ve made the shark’s brains bigger so they have more cells to study. Hmm, big brained sharks? What could go wrong.
Their boss, Russell Franklin (Samuel L Jackson) comes to inspect the underwater facility. He’s suspicious that genetic tampering may have been going on and while examining one of the sharks Whitlock is severly injured.
The attempted air lift during a rainstorm is struck by tragedy and the sharks strike, bringing down a helicopter and destroying the base which starts to sink. The bigger brains have apparently given the sharks knowledge of helicopters and the architecture of the base.
Led up by ex-smuggler and diving expert Carter Blake (Thomas Jane) a handful of survivors, including Susan and Russell, must work out how to get to the surface and avoid getting gobbled up along the way.
Elsewhere on the station, religious chef Preacher (LL Cool J) has been isolated and has to evade another of the sharks.
What makes this movie so bad/good is that it is how predictable and poorly written it is. Much of the cast may as well be wearing red jumpers because you know they’re not going to make it topside. And aside from offing Jackson halfway through his inspiring speech there are no surprises.
The script has one or two okay lines, but either on the page or in transferring to the screen something has clearly gone wrong. Saffron Burrows’ character is clearly meant to be a driven, icy scientist who we’re supposed to see warm and change over the course of the film and develop a relationship with Jane’s bad boy diver. The problem is, Susan is an entirely unlikable character.
For a scientist she’s pretty dumb, as the big brain sharks thing was clearly a disaster waiting to happen, but mainly because she carries herself with this cold, detached way that senses she feels she’s better than everyone else. This would be an annoying trait if she underwent some massive character development and saw the error of her ways, but really she doesn’t. Sure, she sacrifices herself to help save the day, but this is only because the original ending where she saved the day tested horribly.
Burrows looks great in and out of a wetsuit, and you suspect this is what got her the gig, especially as the film features a scene where she has to strip to her underwear, apparently so she can stand on her wetsuit to avoid electrocution, but clearly so the teenage boys in the audience can have some eye candy.
Also, the “relationship” with Carter seems mainly to be based on the fact that they’re the two best looking people in the film. Jane, to his credit, makes a decent action hero lead and his fairly low key performance is oddly likable, but he gets nothing to work with from Burrows, and seems far more comfortable when he’s got scenes with the rest of the cast.
Jane’s an odd actor in that quite a few of the films I’ve seen him in have been kinda lame (I’m looking at you, The Punisher) but he somehow manages to come through them with some dignity.
The rest of the cast don’t have much to do- Jackson is Jackson, effortlessly cool as the corporate suit who may have survived an earlier avalanche through dastardly deeds.
LL Cool J sails pretty close to irritating as the comic relief character although he just about manages to remain likable, and it’s always nice to see a movie where the black dude isn’t just cannon fodder. LL (Cool? J?) does quite well with his role of the Bible quoting cook and does share good on screen chemistry with Jane, even if at times the “humorous dialogue” is a bit wooden. Still, at least with Cool the performance doesn’t resort to over the top “wackiness” and he has this easy charm that makes you root for him to make the end credits.
The secondary female character, played by Jacqueline McKenzie, is a total wet blanket. She hero worships the unaware Whitlock and then pretty much sticks around to just become hysterical and become a shark snack. Weak secondary females seem to be a trend in genre flicks.
So after all these criticisms why do I love this film? Because it’s ridiculous but extremely fun. The smart sharks stalking them through the corridors and working things out is ludicrous, but it keeps you engaged and there are a handful of choice moments.
Jane, Jackson and J are all on fairly good form, and Michael Rapaport as the geeky friend role does quite well. The women let the side down a bit, but this is mainly due to the cheesy, clunky script, which strives for coolness at times to a laughable extent.
The deaths are pretty good too, especially Jackson’s OTT demise and McKenzie rising up from the water, half eaten by a shark. The effects have dated a bit, but in a way this only adds to the movie’s charm as the clearly computer generated sharks thrash about.
Director Renny Harlin has form for daft action flicks (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight) and handles this fairly well, even if it is a bit workmanlike in places.
The thing is this kind of creature flick is always good for a late night watch or evening vegging out, it’s stupid and cheesy, but still fun and it’s flaws actually just become part of it’s appeal. It’s the kind of movie that I can watch over and over again when flicking channels and still enjoy it and have a chuckle, a definite guilty pleasure.
And even the worst aquatic animal movie has one advantage- water is always creepy because you can’t see what’s lurking under it.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Here’s my 10 step guide to how I’d make Die Hard 6 an improvement on A Good Day to Die Hard.
Get back to basics. One location, John McClane and a gang of thugs in a big showdown. It’ll rein in the excesses that marred 4 and 5 and get back to the series’ roots.
2. Get a Brit in as the villain
Die Hard‘s major strength is that it has a tip-top villain in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, he’s menacing, charming and entertaining and a worthy adversary for McClane. …With a Vengeance starred Jeremy Irons who was another cracking villain, so it’d be nice to get a Brit in the mix again, and preferably someone charismatic and tough enough to give Willis someone good to go up against.
My shout for the role? Idris Elba, he’s cool, badass and looks like he can handle himself in a scrap.
3. No school like the old school
Ditch the CGI and do as much as the effects as possible for real, down and dirty style. Even the best graphics age and never quite convince, blow some shit up!
4. Hire Shane Black
Black is one of the best guys for writing action movies in the business, he’s capable of crafting really cool, memorable dialogue as evidenced by his work on the likes of The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon.
5. Out of his depth
Have McClane being totally outgunned and also at risk. In the first flick McClane was someone who hurt, he cut his feet and so he was limping, and the impacts felt real, it was what made Willis’ character different from the superhuman Arnie and Sly characters, but as the series has progressed he’s become able to sustain massive crashes and impacts and barely drop his grin.
It’d be nice to see him outgunned and outnumbered having to improvise his way through his enemies and getting a bit beat up along the way. He can be tough, but let’s see him as a human again.
7. Family angle
McClane works best with a personal connection, so stick some family members in the line of fire.
Have McClane team up or guard a hapless assistant. Give them a skill that helps but mainly have them irritate and frustrate McClane and get grabbed by the baddies, it gives us someone to watch the villain’s plan unfold and someone for Willis to bounce off.
9. This time it’s personal?
I know I said I wanted McClane to just blunder into a mess, but they could go the other way and have him be targeted deliberately by someone with a grudge. They could be a demented villain out to destroy everyone he cares about, ice Al Powell (sorry, Al)in the pre-credits, have Zeus (Samuel L Jackson from 3) get attacked and survive to team up with McClane again.
You could have them ride to the rescue of Matt and Lucy, who in my soft git version are still together and even have Bonnie rock up too.
The angle could raise the stakes and add an extra element of danger.
10. Definitive Ending
Draw a line under the series, have McClane reunite with his missus for good, or hang up his guns and ride into the sunset. Or, maybe, maybe, kill him off? In an awesome, blaze of glory/last stand kind of way, of course.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
As I was leaving the cinema at the end of this flick today the middle aged couple along from me, who I’d been a bit surprised to see enter the screening, asked me if I’d enjoyed the movie. It was a tough question, but on the whole I have to say yes, yes I did enjoy.
I was rather glad I had, and that my fears that Quentin Tarantino’s powers waning were unfounded, this is a strong, powerful movie from the director and I’d say his best work since Kill Bill Vol 1 (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Vol 2, but for me the first half was the more impressive).
The movie is set shortly before the American Civil War in the South, where slave Django (Jamie Foxx) is bought by King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a German dentist turned bounty hunter who is looking for three criminals that Django can identify. He offers Django a deal, where he will give him his freedom after they track down the three outlaws. Django agrees and they go after them, with Django displaying some skill and revealing that his wife was taken from him and sold elsewhere, and he intends to find her.
Django shows skill with a gun and Schultz warms to him. Schultz finds the slave trade abhorrent and treats Django as an equal, leading to them forming a successful team as bounty hunters for the winter, and stirred by Django’s story agrees to help him track down his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). This brings them into contact with Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a slave owner who purchased Broomhilda and runs a big plantation, Candyland. He’s a cruel, sadistic master and takes pleasure in running “mandingo fights” where slaves fight viciously to the death.
Posing as someone who wants to invest in the “sport”, Schultz and Django visit the plantation and try and work out how they can get Broomhilda away, but can they really con Candie, especially as his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) is mistrustful of Django and begins to suspect that Broomhilda and Django know each other.
It’s a phenomenal film, and while there are plenty of signature Tarantino flourishes at it’s heart it’s a very simple Western tale of revenge and loss, but focuses on slavery which is usually left out or in the background in the genre. It’s a brilliant film for the genre with Tarantino delivering the gunfights in his now trademark OTT style. Similar to spaghetti westerns there are lashings of blood and people almost explode depending on what they’re hit with. The shootouts are well choreographed mayhem and endlessly entertaining.
Why the question of enjoyment was a tough one comes down to the rest of the violence in the film, which is at times hard watching. But, when dealing with something as unsavoury and vicious as the treatment of slaves, that’s as it should be. To sugar coat or tone it down would be a cop out, and while some of the violence is cartoony and gory fun, there are moments where Tarantino just lets the horror stand for itself. The scenes of whipping are tough to take, as are the other punishments doled out for disobedient slaves and there’s a particularly sickening fight which is rendered even more horrific thanks to the sadistic glee of Candie as he watches.
But on the whole, it’s an entertaining film and the uncomfortable moments are portrayed in a way which in no way condones them, and Candie, despite DiCaprio’s charisma is a detestable character. He’s a true villain, his southern manners and amiable nature never quite masking the loathsome racism that lurks within, its a brave performance from DiCaprio who gives it his all and really delivers an extremely unlikable yet magnetic on screen performance.
Jamie Foxx brings this barely restrained fury to the title role, while also allowing moments of tenderness shine through such as when he discusses his wife, or when he listens to Schultz recount a German folk tale. He plays the role in a really deadpan, cold blooded way for the most part, which totally works and feels like a good choice given the film’s clear debt to the spaghetti western sub-genre, a world populated by terse, ruthless antiheroes.
The character is clearly conflicted and affected by the things he witnesses at Candyland, but there’s also a sense that he doesn’t care except for him and his. His fury and anger seems to be aimed at the world in general, and whether playing up to the charade of being a black slaver or not he shows little compassion for many of the slaves he encounters.
But Foxx rather has the limelight stolen from him by Waltz as Schultz. Tarantino has talked of making a western for years, but I’m rather glad he waited until after working with Waltz on Inglourious Basterds, where Waltz was possibly the best thing, as the role is clearly written for the actor, and Waltz makes Schultz an extremely warm and likable character. He may be a bounty hunter, but Waltz aided by Tarantino’s script shows that he’s rather a moral man and that as an outsider he can see the evil of slavery more than any American character could. He’s an outsider, which means he finds it easier to get along with Django, who also lives on the fringes of society, and his warmth to Django and affectionate, jokey manner makes them a rather endearing buddy duo.
Schultz is clearly the softer hearted of the two, and Waltz makes him this smart, decent and witty character that you warm to immediately. In a landscape populated by idiots and bigots, his wit and kindness shine through.
The other really strong performance in this movie comes from Samuel L Jackson, who really gets stuck into his role as the detestable Stephen, Candie’s loyal and cruel slave. Initially he appears as this rather confused, old “Uncle Tom” figure but SLJ uses his eyes to suggest a darker, calculating and ruthless side within, which over the course of the film he reveals more and more of. It’s a very strong performance and like DiCaprio’s it’s a brave turn in taking on a character who has no redeeming features, and a powerful performance.
The rest of the cast all do admirably well with Kerry Washington, Don Johnson (as plantation owner “Big Daddy”) and Walton Goggins (as one of Candie’s thugs) especially standing out. The film is loaded with Tarantino regulars (Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Zoe Bell) along with some big names, both old and new cropping up in smaller roles, including Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern and Amber Tamblyn.
I feel I should address two of the main things that seem to come up regarding the film- the length and the use of the word “nigger” in the script. With regards to length, I didn’t find it to be overly long and for me the film never dragged and kept moving well enough.
As for the language, while it has cropped up in Tarantino’s other work, here I thought the use of the n-word was kind of justified. The film is about slavery and the frequent use of the term shows the way that many of the characters view the black characters, and the disrespect and opinion of them being less than human. Having a film where racism and slavery play such a key part and leaving out any racist epithets would have felt false, and while it’s hardly comfortable for modern audiences it kind of rings true and doesn’t feel gratuitous here.
Racial slurs aside, the script is a delight, with some great character speeches and some good lines throughout. Several times throughout the screening it got laughs and it zips along with Tarantino’s trademark panache and jet black humour, and there’s a fabulous scene where proto-Klansmen argue about their hoods which had me laughing out loud.
So, yeah, Tarantino didn’t disappoint me and it’s a return to form for the director after what, for me, were a couple of missteps and stumbles.
Verdict: A well written and well made movie, boasting fine performances and entertaining action sequences. Some of the film might make for tough viewing but given the subject matter that should be expected. The most entertaining Tarantino’s been in years and more than a homage it’s actually quite a good western in it’s own right. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
This is one of those movies that’s probably in my definitive top 10 films list, and one I can quote quite a bit from. Yet despite how much I love it I always seem to forget just how good it is, meaning that whenever I rewatch it I’m always impressed.
It’s the second movie Quentin Tarantino directed and it’s probably his most famous and arguably his best (Reservoir Dogs runs it pretty close), it’s a darkly comic modern noir featuring a series of interlocking stories over the course of a few days in LA.
Kicking off with criminal lovers Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) holding up a diner it then switches focus to verbose hitmen Jules and Vincent (Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta respectively), who are running an errand to collect a mysterious briefcase belonging to their boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames).
Vincent has been charged with taking Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) out for the evening while her husband is out of town. The two hit it off and share sexual chemistry, something Vincent is weary of, having heard rumours of how jealous Marsellus is. Things take a turn for the worse as the evening progresses.
The second plot strand is about boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) who is ordered by Marsellus to take a dive, however, unable to reconcile this with his instincts Butch not only wins his bout but kills his opponent in the ring. Fleeing he plans to get away with his girlfriend, Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros), but has to return to his house to recover a gold watch given to him by his late father. As he attempts to leave he runs into Marsellus and after a chase the two end up in trouble together.
The last strand is Jules’ who following what he views as a miracle is reassessing his life and must deal with a skeptical Vincent and an accidental shooting that needs covering up with the help of the suave fixer, the Wolf (Harvey Keitel).
That quick synopsis doesn’t do justice to the movie and the many great touches that are included in Tarantino’s script. Along the way there are flashbacks, diversions and bizarre supporting characters and for first time viewers the film is loaded with clever, unpredictable twists and turns. It may have it’s roots in noirish conventions but Tarantino takes it in new directions.
His script, infinitely quotable is a delight, blending rapid fire pop culture references with profanity strewn philosophy from it’s cast of criminals and low lives. There’s also a delightful vein of jet black humour running throughout and for a film that’s drenched in blood and features tons of dark twists the abiding memory I have of it is as a charming, funny crime flick.
One of the criticisms often leveled at Tarantino is that he’s all style over substance, and while that may be true of some of his later work, in this film he does make decent characters.
There’s the likable if slightly hotheaded and foolish Vincent, sultry Mia and the tough headed Butch, driven not merely by self interest as he also exhibits signs that he’s governed by a kind of moral code.
But the best is Jules, played with blistering intensity and bags of badass cool by Samuel L Jackson, in the role that really catapulted him into the limelight and created the SLJ persona we know and love. Jules is a suave, fast talking and intelligent hitman and over the course of the film shows an introspective side as he re-evaluates his life and job. It’s often remembered for his barnstorming Biblical tirade, but for me Jackson’s finest work comes in the quieter moments like when he bickers with Vincent and talks his way out of a tense standoff.
One of the best things in the flick is the double act that Jackson has with Travolta, who like several of the cast is on career best form here. The hot headed and not-too-bright Vincent and Jules contrast each other nicely but there’s a sense of some affection and professional respect throughout, even when things start to go South for them.
The rest of the cast are phenomenal, years before The Sixth Sense Bruce Willis shows he’s far more than just an action hero with his conflicted, tight lipped performance as Butch. This is the best performance I’ve seen from Uma Thurman as well, and she oozes sexuality as the quirky gangster’s moll and she shares wonderful chemistry with Travolta and they spark off each other magnificently.
And Christopher Walken’s brief cameo in the film is sensational, making the most of his one speech to make it a memorable, magnetic moment.
All the cast are at the top of their game, and clearly enjoying sinking their teeth into some of Tarantino’s best dialogue, with the only real misstep being from Tarantino himself, but it seems churlish to criticize when he’s handling the writing and directing so well.
It’s a slick, polished movie with characters and storylines that engage you and a script which delivers a plethora of great moments, it’s rightly regarded as a classic and a much-loved movie by fans and critics.
If you’ve not seen it, check it out.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.