August 12, 2016
Director: Sam Raimi (Spider-Man and Evil Dead Trilogies)
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
Plot: Magician, lothario and circus conman Oscar, or ‘Oz’ (Franco), tries to escape his personal failings and poor lot in life on an air balloon, but is instead transported via a hurricane to L. Frank Baum’s magical world of Oz, where he must face down his flaws and discover his virtues.
Highlight: In 2009, James Cameron’s Avatar set a ridiculously high new standard of epic 3D world-building up to which Sam Raimi’s Oz’ holds itself beautifully. Luxurious CGI backdrops married with thrilling visual flourishes immerse you in this re-imagined Land of Oz and transform a winking but faithful homage to The Wizard of Oz into a mesmerising thrill-ride.
Lowlight: If you’re not a fan of Raimi-favourite James Franco (or you’re still cringing from his 2011 Oscars hosting debacle) be aware that he carries the entire film on his shoulders, at times solely interacting with 100% animated – albeit handsomely animated – fantasy characters. This being Sam Raimi there are also a few genuine scares of course, which may alarm the young ‘uns/softies.
Summary: Yet another exciting 3D fantasy spectacular for the whole family! Oz also looks fantastic in 2D and stays true to Baum’s grand tradition of adventure storytelling with a heart, with parallel characters from Oscar’s black and white and 4:3 ‘real’ life also represented in the neatly full colour, 3D and widescreen world of Oz. Funny visual and dialogue gags, a rug-pulling script that keeps you guessing, and great supporting characters – particularly the ultra-cute China Girl – all ably juggled by the great Sam Raimi make this essential cinema viewing. Catch it before it’s out on Blu Ray (in about three days probably)…
August 11, 2016
Director: Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokebum Mountain)
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Plot: Young Pi Patel’s zoo-keeping family ups sticks from India to head to Canada on a freight ship, but a magnificent storm capsizes them. Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with no one but a 450 pound Bengal tiger named ‘Richard Parker’ for company.
Highlight: All three actors who play Pi in his young, youthful and middle ages all deliver compelling performances, and the occasionally emotive melodrama is alleviated with many clever touches of light humour. You will also truly believe in Richard Parker, because the blurred line between the CGI and real tiger is comprehensively imperceptible.
Lowlight: The ‘choose your own’ interpretation the film offers of its own narrative may ring hollow for the cynical, and the religious overtones may not be for everyone, but taken for just the incredible visual journey it is, this is just a great, fun ride. Also, Pi’s repeated cries of “Richard Parker” vividly recall Tom Hanks shrieking “Wilson” in Castaway – it can get annoying.
Summary: Be wary of the over-hype and awards glory this movie has received and manage expectations accordingly. Though flawed and maybe overlong, it’s a great flick with gorgeous, original effects and truly creative cinematography boasting a sumptuous colour palette. Though occasionally frightening and emotionally intense it’s a richly rewarding experience and well worth a watch for the whole family.
August 10, 2016
Director: Chris Miller (Shrek The Third)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames
Plot: Pygmy super agent Ethan Hunt is sprung from jail only to be framed for a terrorist attack on the Kremlin – the disavowed MI4 team must clear their name and kick some bums.
Highlight: The undeniably thrilling Burj Khalifa sequence is a solid throw-back to non-CGI stunt work that will send shivers down your spine, shivers unrelated to Cruise’s ill-advised hair.
Lowlight: Tom Cruise just generally, generic villains attempting to carry out some generically nebulous but probably nasty plot, and even Simon Pegg, usually great, is a bit annoying in this.
Summary: Whether you give a fart about the MI movies or not, this 4th instalment stands alone as a genuinely fun adventure thriller with mostly sterling support from the various non-Cruise cast.
August 9, 2016
Director: Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Martin Sheen
Plot: High-school skater nerd Peter Parker sneaks into maximum security facility, gets bitten by magic spider, gains strange powers, falls in love, and fights a big lizard man.
Highlight: The two leads aren’t bad, and Garfield makes for quite an empathetic Spidey, but he’s saddled with a boring script and an inordinate amount of moping over bad things happening.
Lowlight: Having to go through the same origin story all over again, just five years after the last Spider-Man movie, and taking HOURS to get there too.
Summary: Crappy CGI fights and stunts (at least Sam Raimi had the balls to swing a camera through New York City), a lame villain, and senseless plotting make this a mostly pointless series reboot.
August 8, 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese (if you can’t name another Scorsese movie, just give up)
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee
Plot: In 1930s Paris, orphan Hugo Cabret lives and works in a train station, building a mechanical automaton which may unlock magical secrets to his father’s past.
Highlight: Scorsese’s faithful cinematic recreations of Georges Méliès’ ground-breaking works highlight how heartbreaking and evocative these now antique films can still be.
Lowlight: Some hokey acting, humour and accent work from Cohen’s villainous Station Inspector can be overlooked in the greater scheme of the movie.
Summary: Stunning visuals, broadly drawn characters, charming chemistry in the two lead children, and a compelling mystery combine to make Scorsese’s love letter to the silver screen a haunting and beautiful piece of cinema.
August 6, 2016
Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer
Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard
Plot: A sleepy American town in the 80s. A boy disappears under mysterious circumstances. His friends jump on their bicycles to go investigate whilst the police begin their search. Meanwhile his mother (Ryder – brilliant) has other ideas about where he might be. To say more is to venture into spoiler territory, something you sorely need to avoid before viewing.
Highlight: The cast is excellent, particularly up-and-comer Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven. The script is funny, upsetting, scary, emotional, and captivating. The camaraderie of the child actors is beautifully observed. The unfolding narrative and character beats are totally absorbing and tightly-paced. We see mysteries and reveals set up and delivered with perfect execution and inventive panache – this show is the antithesis of ‘Lost’.
Lowlight: One of the extras delivers a line slightly lacking in conviction in one of the episodes.
Summary: Finally, a series which commits to a high concept and delivers on it 100%, with verve, wit and originality. Homages to every great 80s movie are in wonderful abundance, reimagined and brilliantly implemented, and, crucially, there are no filler episodes or padding. This is without doubt the greatest TV show you will see all year. Utterly compelling stuff.
August 5, 2016
Review from back when it was released:
HBO or “Hope, Bastion Of” has become the byword for quality television. In fact, I could happily remove every other channel from my telly and I doubt they’d be missed. Gone are the days when the BBC was the proud, lead purveyor of quality drama, and it’s almost sad in a way. Luckily, our great British actors are still put to good use in the best shows America has to offer.
And on the subject of best shows, HBO’s A Game Of Thrones has recently begun to pillage our telly screens. Based on the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” books by the slightly disturbed George R. R. Martin, ‘AGOT’ is a dark fantasy series charting the battle for power between the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. It is also the stuff of John R. R. Tolkien’s nightmares. Taking the standard tropes of fairytale kingdoms and knights and princesses, Martin’s books, and thusly the TV show, turn tradition upside-down and deliver a violent medieval world of brutal political manoeuvring, angry sex, twisted relationships, bloody fighting and swift decapitations. And if that doesn’t hump your camel you might prefer BBC’s In The Night Garden.
The set pieces are spectacular, the costumes detailed and impressive, and the lavish production values give any modern movie a run for its money. Look out for the 700’ tall ice wall, a real eye opener for the breadth and capability of contemporary TV special effects. The sprawling ensemble cast – convincingly British – are collectively excellent, particularly considering the story’s heavy reliance on child characters. Though no single character claims the role of lead protagonist, Sean Bean as the honourable but moody Ned Stark is on track for a career best performance.
With its staggeringly effective history of translating long form novel-length narratives to the screen (The Wire, Deadwood, Generation Kill, etc.) HBO is perfectly placed to do the twisting, complex plots of Martin’s novels justice. Here’s hoping the cast returns for the rest of the books!
August 5, 2016
Director: Paul Greengrass (Bourne This, Bourne That, Bourne The Other)
Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander
Plot: Titular amnesiac hit-man Bourne (Damon) remembers some more important stuff that the other films neglected to ever mention. Tracked down and roped into another deadly mission Jason has one more score to settle with his past. And this time it’s not just how to make James Bond look even rubbisher.
Highlight: It’s moar Bourne, what else do you need?! Beyond the wince-inducing fights and stunts, you have Vincent Cassel on form as reprehensible villain ‘Asset’ who has zero qualms about leaving a truly insane trail of destruction and bodies in his wake for someone supposedly covert.
Lowlight: Weak support from the otherwise gifted Alicia Vikander, who was excellent in Ex Machina but is all thumbs and out of her depth here, and Tommy Lee Jones looking so distractingly craggy on the big screen he could be a mountain in North Carolina.
Summary: Blistering set pieces: Athens in full riots, and a smashing Vegas car chase, book-end a reliably pacey Greengrass thriller that scoots along without giving you chance to dwell on the fact that it’s mostly just people having tense mobile phone conversations.
July 4, 2016
Director: Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, this)
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster
Plot: Evil orc wizard Gul’dan from Hearthstone uses living sacrifices and creates a portal to the world of Warcraft Azeroth to send his horde through to wipe out the humans and claim their world for the orcs. Intense, beardy human Anduin (Fimmel) must team up with hippy peace-loving orcs to stop them.
Highlight: Big budget fantasy movies live in the shadow of a certain trilogy that runs Rings around them, but Warcraft does a great job of delivering big CGI action, the orcs look pretty great – more like giants – and they don’t shy away from killing off many major characters throughout the movie.
Lowlight: Some fairly weak casting in places with Ben Foster struggling as wizard Medivh, too young and awkward to pull off the gravitas of a Gandalf-type role, and Dominic Cooper looking particularly uncomfortable as human king Llane.
Summary: Some complain there are too many characters but they’re pretty easy to get to grips with (good orc, hero human, wizard orc, king human, sexy orc, wizard human, etc.), though viewers might get more mileage if they’re familiar with the material. It’s rushed at times, sometimes looks cartoony, and is brimming with genre tropes, but it’s also an interesting setup for a compelling franchise. Potentially add another star if you’ve played any of the games.
June 2, 2016
Director: Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Wild Bill, plus he was that kid from Press Gang)
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Tom Costello
Plot: This is the real life (mostly) story of indefatigable Eddie Edwards (Egerton) the lovable clown who famously represented Great Britain in the 1988 Winter Olympics through ski jumping, and his mentorship with more fictionalised gruff, alcoholic coach Bronson Peary (Jackman).
Highlight: The pacing of the movie and its utterly charming and unassuming central performance from Egerton – virtually unrecognisable from his lead role as top chav in Kingsman – are faultlessly judged, keeping the pathos of Eddie’s struggles light but touching, and the ski jumping frenetic and often funny.
Lowlight: The potentially tiring central conceit of repeatedly jumping ‘a bit further’ though repetitive, is actually managed beautifully; but the hammy archetypes giving acting support are occasionally a bit much.
Summary: A genuinely pleasing underdog tale brimming with hope, laughs, and maybe some tears (not from me, I just had something in my eye) that highlights Edwards’ simple charisma and genuine boldness in proving people wrong, overcoming adversity, and skiing off really flipping high jumps without breaking all his bones. A lovely story that will have you beaming throughout Eddie the Eagle is a good old fashioned, solid British family movie.