Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) Review

You may have gathered that, from my review of The Notebook, I am non-existent in the world of 'love'. I thought I world have escaped romance films for another year...I guess not seeing as I decided to watch this. What I feel comment on is that there is finally a romance film for single people! I'm so glad this exists now but can the film survive on it's premise alone? Let's find out.

In the not-to-distance future, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is trying to get by after his recent divorce with Catherine (Rooney Mara). He decides to upgrade his computer system to the most recent model which allows his computer to have it's own artificial personality. After choosing the female setting, Theodore begins his new relationship with 'Samantha' (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Over time, Theodore finds himself infatuated with Samantha as the two get to know each other which brings up the idea of artificial romance.

What I admire the most about Her is that it offers a fresh new look at the genre. It manages to tell a unique love story (the only time I've seen this idea was in Futurama) while also nailing down all the tropes in the genre. Really, once you've seen this, you don't need to see another romance film again. You could argue it's 'the best of romance films'. The film also throws some good twists along the way and I legitimately had no idea what direction the film was going to take.

Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove his acting chops and shows good chemistry with his co-stars Amy Adams and Rooney Mara. He even works well with just the voice of Scarlett Johansson who is also great. I love the increase in voice acting in mainstream cinema (Benedict Cumberbatch in The Hobbit, for example) and Scarlett Johansson's performance looks to help continue this trend. Even Chris Pratt provides a good performance but, let's face it, this is going to be his year and he will be a star by the end (The LEGO Movie was a good start) so I'm rooting for him.

Her is a great addition to the romance genre as it offers a new perspective to the genre. Joaquin Phoenix does a great job as Theodore as he manages to convey the awkward, lonely...stereotype (yeah, no avoiding that one). It's also impressive that Scarlett Johansson does a good job solely through her voice work. As a huge fan of voice acting, I shouldn't be surprised but it's rare to see this applied to a big, mainstream, live action film. Her is unique and worth a watch sometime soon.

Her offers a new twist on a dry genre and the acting breaths life into it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008) Review

In my review of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I came to the realisation that Robert Downey Jr is slowly becoming one of my favourite actors so, as a result, I looked to see what how his progress at the Oscars is (it is Oscar season, after all). His nomination for Chaplin makes perfect sense but what surprised me was that he was nominated for this film. I only know one actor who one an Oscar for a comedy, Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda (we'll get to that soon enough), so how good is the film as a whole? Let's find out.

A film crew is sent to Southeast Asia in order to film an adaptation of a Vietnam war memoir however things end up going horribly wrong when the director (Steve Coogan) is caught in an 'incident' leaving the cast and crew to fend for themselves. A gang of drug makers out in the wilderness stalk the cast and crew however they are unaware that the gang are not actors and are real terrorists. The cast, consisting of established actors such as Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr), Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) as well as up and coming ones like Kevin (Jay Baruchel) and Alpa (Brandon T. Jackson), have to take on the terrorists like real soldiers and figure out what exactly is going on.

Going in, I really wasn't expecting that much but I was intrigued by the inclusion of Robert Downey Jr being among more comedic actors such as Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Steve Coogan. Also, I heard that Downey Jr was nominated for an Oscar for this film but is it warranted? While I couldn't see him win, he is pretty good here. What shines most is his chemistry with Ben Stiller which leads to some very memorable moments. He stands out but that's not to say the other actors aren't good too. Jay Baruchel is always a good actor to watch and a side story including Mathew McConaughey and an un-regonisable Tom Cruise (seriously, that was him?) does a good job of building up towards the film's climax.

The film is a comedy at heart and doesn't forget that. There are many hilarious moments which are often combined with awesome moments making for...hilariously awesome moments, I guess. The way that the film connects all the sub stories together is clever and done surprisingly well (not to mention unexpected in some places). It's rather dark and controversial sense of humour leads to some very quotable lines (I heard "Never go full retard" so many times before even watching the film) so it appears to be a bit of a trendsetter...shame I'm only just jumping on this film since it came out in 2008!

I will admit that I wasn't completely sold on the idea at first as it could've been horrendously awful so I am impressed at how good the film came off. It's not an amazing film but, with solid acting and memorable moments, is worth a watch. Being in University now, I'm running out of films I've seen but still have a lot on my watch list so it may take longer to get reviews out because...I have to watch these films (saving the Transformers trilogy for the release of the new one).

The cast do a good job and it does have some memorable moments that you'll be quoting for a while.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009) Review

So Marvel just released the trailer for their next film after Captain America: The Winter Soldier which is Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel clearly know how good they are since they can release a film about a talking tree and a raccoon with a machine gun (but seriously, it looks great) but on the other side, DC can barely get a film based on Wonder Woman started. DC do make good films though (The Dark Knight is on of the best and one of my favourite films) but still don't dominated like Marvel. Let's take a look at DC tackle a not as popular comic, Watchmen.

In an alternate 1980s world, costumed superheros have lost their popularity as a result of change in the government but a costumed hero known as The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered by an unknown assassin. Mysterious detective Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) takes it upon himself to find out who the murdered was while other masked heroes, Niteowl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), begin to reunite after the mutated Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is brought into the public eye.

One aspect that makes a film good is how well developed the characters that are presented are. Character driven films normally come down under my favourites and Watchmen, while not perfect, has some great characters. Rorschach alone would've captured my attention but, in addition to him, he have the rest of the team who are all memorable and...okay, likable isn't the word (The Comedian is a horrible person) but they will stick with you...especially Rorschach. Part of this is probably down to the fact that they did an amazing job of bringing the characters perfectly out of the comics. I must congratulate the costume designer of this film.

In terms of content, Watchmen seems to bring the heavy stuff down in scene one as we dive into a story about prejudice and injustice. By all rights, the ending (no spoilers, don't worry) should've had me in complete rage due to how much injustice sickens me (my review of The Hunt seemed to imply that) but the gritty world that the film establishes makes the right seem easier. Our suspension of disbelief kicks in and we allow ourselves to be immersed into the world of Watchmen. There are twists and turns throughout and, while it leaves on a horrendously down-beat ending, it is poignant.

Watchmen is a very different comic book film. The tone is like no other I've seen (although The Dark Knight trilogy is close...but this is ironically still darker). DC specialise in dark stories and, with strong characters and costume design, Watchmen is worth a watch. It's not perfect as there are a few forced parts but I was glad I saw it and I may watch it again...probably just to see Rorschach be awesome...

The characters are very strong and leaped right out of the comic and the tone and content is a good step for DC.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Notebook (Nick Cassavetes, 2004) Review

It's Valentine's Day, the day when love is celebrated and couples share the day together, showering each other with gifts and the such. As a single guy, I'm no doubt a grump around this time so lets look at films instead...solo. I know for a fact that one of the most mentioned films when people think 'love' is The Notebook, and since I'm a cynical and lonely person, let's tear it a new one.

An old man (James Garner) visits an old woman in a nursing home and retells a story of romance. The story consists of Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (Rachael McAdams) who are two people from different class and upbringing who fall in love. Allie's family dissaproves of their relationship and the two are separated. After years of separation, the two find each other again and have to work out their obstacles to rekindle their love.

Seriously, I'm not going to rag on this just because I'm jealous. There's nothing to be jealous of seeing as this is such as shallow and not very enjoyable relationship. Sure, Ryan Gosling and Rachael McAdam's acting is good (I know they're good actors, so that's a start) but they don't share the strongest chemistry. I felt that the relationship did feel forced and, since the whole film is surrounding a rather shallow and lifeless romance, the film almost falls down here. It runs on romantic cliches that fall flat too. It's an overblown romance that we've seen before and we've also seen it done much better.

What also frustrates me is that the film goes way too far. The two narratives share a connection that is supposed to come as a surprise but it can be seen from miles off. If you didn't see it coming, get yourself checked. You might be dead. The ending is the bit that goes too far. I would have accepted the scenario if it ended a bit earlier but they decided to staple on one extra scene that just kills it. It's not like The Hangover Part III where it was in the credits so I can pretend it didn't happen. No. Here, it's part of the film and it kills it.

It's bland, it's predictable, it's shallow and it goes too far. The actors do good jobs, I will admit. Rachael McAdams and Ryan Gosling are good actors and this isn't exactly their worst film (Gosling is actually kind of likable, honestly) and the direction si fine but it's the narrative that ruins it. If you like it for the romance, I'm not going to stop you but, as someone looking at it as a film, it falls flat.

Bland, predictable, shallow and doesn't know when to quit.

8 stars on IMDb?! How the hell did that happen!?

Monday, February 10, 2014

The LEGO Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014) Review

Finally, we get to the 2014 films. To start off the year we had...I don't know, something about Frankenstein or Robocop...kind of missed the boat of those since I was much more excited for The LEGO Movie...seriously. LEGO has been around for many, many years and is still just as popular now as they were back in their heyday. This film came from the minds behind Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs which was a wacky film with some heart behind it. Let's see what happens when these people take the helm of the universal sign of childhood, this is The LEGO Movie.

In a world made entirely of LEGO, Emmett (Chris Prat) is an ordinary, generic construction worker who follows a mysterous person going by the name Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). Emmett accidently discovers a piece known as the Piece of Resistance which will reveal 'the special' who is the only hope for stopping Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world. Lord Business sends his henchman, Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) to stop Emmett and Wyldstyle from reaching Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and gathering the master builders.

Okay, this was VERY surprising. I walked in knowing that this would be a hilarious, wacky romp (which it was) but what I didn't expect was just how poignant it is! I'll get to that at the end but first the good stuff. The animation is just wonderful. It legitimately looks like someone has zoomed a camera into the LEGO world. It looks like a blend of CGI and stop frame which is the perfect way to animate LEGO figures. Also, everything is made of LEGO...EVERYTHING. I assumed it would only be the buildings and solid objects but, nope, it's gas and liquids. Water, smoke, steam, explosions...all made of LEGO. It's a very unique and well animated film.

The cast was picked perfectly too. Chris Pratt captures the naivety of Emmett's simple nature which is juxtaposed against Elizabeth Bank's action chick, badass persona as Wyldstyle. Liam Neeson, while a bit underplayed, does a hilarious job as Good Cop/Bad Cop and was one of the highlights for me. Other actors such as Morgan Freeman, Nick Offerman, Allison Brie and Charlie Day all hit bulls eyes (Charlie Day especially) but the person who will stick with you when you walk away is Will Arnett as Batman. That concept alone is genius and every second Batman is on screen is comedy gold. In fact, the comedy is brilliant. I was laughing all the way through. Sure not every joke landed but loads of them do and when they do, it's hilarity. The real surprise was Will Ferrell but...I can't go too deep into that. You'll have to see the film to see why...

Without giving away too much, there is a turn towards the end that cements the film in its genius. It borders on Toy Story 3 territory. I know for a fact that people will cry when watching this. The film knows its audience and that it's not just a kids movie. Everyone has used LEGO sometime in their life but damn, this hits home hard. It makes me realise that LEGO has had such a huge influence on us throughout the generations and shows no sign of stopping. There are different ways to use LEGO and this film explores this idea as well as leaving us with a moral that speaks to kids and parents. I could've gven it a lower scoe because it is just good, wacky fun but that last third is a perfect captivation of LEGO's influence that I can't possibly ignore it. As a film running on sentiment, The LEGO Movie was a ton of fun and, while it's not perfect as it may take a few minutes to really get into it (seriously, it starts off really quickly), it should not be missed. In The LEGO Movie, everything IS awesome!

The LEGO Movie is a hilarious, well animated romp with a big heart.

Now I want to play with my LEGO...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Street Fighter (Steven E. de Souza, 1994) Review

Yes, a lot of their costume colours are wrong...that's a sign of things to come.

I haven't reviewed a bad film in quite a while, have I? I also haven't seen any game adaptations in a while so I decided to pick up Street Fighter for £1.50 (nice) was simultaneously a good and bad decision. I'm sure you all familiar with guilty pleasures, you know, when a film is terrible but you love it anyway. Yeah, I have plenty but is Street Fighter one of these or is it just...bad. Let's find out.

Col. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme) gathers his army of soldiers to the country of Shabaloo where is arch nemesis, M. Bison (Raul Julia), has left traces of activity there. Bison announces that he will let hostages be attacked by his new super soldier, Blanka (Robert Mammone), unless he is given money he demands. Meanwhile, two fighters named Ryu Hoshi (Byron Mann) and Ken Masters (Damian Chapa) trace their opponests, Vega () and Sagat (), to Bison's base and work undercover with Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen) who is after Bison to avenge her home he ravaged in the past.

And so another film onto my guilty pleasure list. This is a bad, bad film but I really enjoyed it...well, I enjoyed the second half. The first half is incredibly dull, boring and I almost fell asleep. It was SOOOO cliche, generic and had nothing to do with Street Fighter except the names of characters. Once it hits the second's still generic and stupid but the fact that they make the effort to make it look like Street Fighter and things get REALLY over the top, I just love it!

It's not 100% crap though. There are a few elements that I actually think are good. Raul Julia is easily the best actor in the film since he puts his all into M. Bison. As his last role, it seems like a worthy performance to end on with ultimate hammy acting. I also feel as if Jean-Claude Van Damme is actually putting effort into it. He tries. There are also some legitimately funny moments (mostly involving Zangief) which were surprising for a film that put no effort in the plot or making the action scenes memorable...yeah, they're pretty bland.

Street Fighter is a bad film, specifically a bad adaptation of a great game. The plot is incredibly generic and cliche with bland action scenes with stupid moments. Raul Julia is the only actor that could be considered 'good' but the others are likable despite, you know, one of them being Jean-Claude Van Damme. While I am aware that it's bad, I just can't help but enjoy it. By the end, it does look like the characters of Street Fighter have lept onto the screen (kudos to the costume designers)'s still stupid.

It's boring to begin with as well ascliche, generic, stupid and weirdly acted...but I still love it!

Also, why is E. Honda Hawaiian?......WHY IS E. HONDA HAWAIIAN!?!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013) Review

Before we step into the world of 2014 films (The LEGO Movie is just raring to go!), we have another 2013 film to get out of the way. This is the first 2013 film I've seen since the Oscar nominations were announced which obviously made it easier to pinpoint which film to watch next...and having a friend watch it and tell me to see it ASAP...which I did. Here's 12 Years a Slave.

During the mid-1800s in the United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black family man, tricked, betrayed and sold into slavery. He is bought by a slave owner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who looks favourably on Solomon. Complications arise and Solomon is forced to move to a second owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon must endure years of slavery and torture and try to get word out of his abduction in an attempt to return to his free life.

Yeah, okay, this film is pretty amazing. I will admit that I am a bit reluctant to say that for a reason I will get onto but let's take a look at the positives! Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic as Solomon. He loses himself in the role and for that I can bloody well respect his acting ability. The emotion he conveys is phenomenal (the last scene especially, my God). He isn't the only standout cast member. Micheal Fassbender does an amazing job as Edwin Epps. He practically embodies everything that's wrong with slavery and Fassbender's talent does wonders. Other stars such as Benendict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and even a cameo from Paul Giamatti deliver performances that will stick with you.

From a film-making standpoint, 12 Years a Slave is actually very unique. It has a habit of staying on a certain shot for a while which normally backfires but it adds to the uncertainty of the situation. One shot is especially exceptional which uses ambient noises and makes the film feel that much more realistic. There are also some nice transitions with one in particular that highlights the differences between Edwin and Solomon. There is some good stuff here.

12 Years a Slave is definitely an exceptional film based on a true story that I'm surprised didn't get a film soon enough. My only issue is that this is very clearly Oscar bait but, to be honest, it does deserve all the praise it receives. The only problem is that the competition for the Oscars this year is very tough! I'm still banking behind Gravity but I can perfectly understand defending this film at the awards.

Fantastically acted and uses some very unique film techniques.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005) Review

So I was planning of reviewing the Transformers trilogy since I just picked them up and watched them for the first time (took me long enough) but I remembered that, actually, the fourth film in the series is coming out this year! So I thought I would wait until then. In the mean time, let's look at Shane Black's first film (his other film being Iron Man 3, which I really enjoyed), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Harry Lockheart (Robert Downey Jr.) was a petty thief who stumbled into a film audition when running from the police after his crime partner was shot. He nails it (through enforced method acting) and becomes an actor in Hollywood. At a cast party, he meets private investigator, Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), who takes Harry on a case in order to get a bearing for playing detectives (I would make a Sherlock Holmes joke Harry and Perry find themselves caught up in a murder mystery in which Harry finds one of his childhood friends (Michelle Monaghan) along the way

I think I may have found my favourite type of film. I absolutely enjoyed this probably because it was a mix of good action, a legitimately suspenseful crime to follow and, of course, the excellent black comedy. I love films that have a unique sense of humour like Scott Pilgrim vs the World and even Shane Black's other film Iron Man 3 which relied on purely spoken comedy which worked in its favour. This is definitely a hilarious film if you are open to a more dark sense of humour than typical buddy comedies have. The action is also well executed (the climax was great to watch) and there were some moments of genuine suspense.

The biggest strength of the film is how perfectly Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer work together. Other than the novelty of Iron Man and Batman teaming up, the two clearly share very strong chemistry which comes through exceedingly well. You feel as if their relationship does grow over the course of the film with an ending that makes me want to see the two act together more often. Robert Downey Jr. works well with so many people (Jude Law, Ben Stiller, Chris Evans) and I want to see more of him and Kilmer. An influence that carried over to Iron Man 3 was the use of Robert Downey Jr. as the narrator and it works very well here. The fourth wall isn't as safe as you might think.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a joy to watch. I whole-heartedly recommend it but it isn't for everyone's taste. If you like films like The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading then you'll get a kick out of it. If you're someone that likes to play it safe then it's at least worth one watch just to say that you have seen this. Now if you excuse me I have more Robert Downey Jr. films to watch. I think he might be my favourite actor now.
Funny, action packed, excellent actor chemistry and a suspenseful narrative. Recommended.