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Archive for January, 2015

The Avengers (1998) (the movie based on the 60’s British TV show not Disney/Marvels behemoth) should have been fantastic. It looked good, Ralph Fiennes was good casting as John Steed, Uma Thurman looked the part as Emma Peel, and Sean Connery seemed to be an inspired choice as the villain. Unfortunately it just fell flat in every conceivable way. So why does Kingsman: The Secret Service succeed in every way that The Avengers failed? I am not entirely sure.  Everything just works, even the things that shouldn’t.The Avengers

It is both fun and funny.  It is as much a homage to James Bond as a parody of it.  Most surprising is how violent it is and how it manages a level of levity throughout the brutality.  The centre of the story is Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin played by a virtually unknown actor Taron Egerton.  His chav to gentlemen spy transformation is nothing we haven’t seen before but works because of the charisma of the actor.  His mentor Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth) could have carried a film on his own, and at times does.  Perfectly played by Firth, he is the perfect blend of James Bond, Jason Bourne, with just a little bit of Ethan Hunt, George Smiley and Harry Palmer. Perfectly turned out his double breasted Savile Row suite, he makes his character in A Single Man look positively underdressed.Kingsman

Not afraid to name-check James Bond, or any other character in the genre, the film needs an over the top villain with an insane plan.  Harry even tells us a movie is “only as good as the villain”.  Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine fits the bill perfectly as does his henchman woman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).  Valentine’s plan goes beyond anything seen in Bond and Gazelle’s method of killing is more theatrical than Jaws or Oddjob.Sofia Boutella Kingsman

As perfect as the cast is, the real success of the film is in the script.  Director Matthew Vaughn is joined by his usual collaborator Jane Goldman, between them they have the magic ability to know how far over the line they can go and get away with it.  There are certainly moments that will divide opinion.  There are scenes that rival Hit-Girl’s language in Kick-Ass for controversy.  How does it get away with it?  Mainly because it is such good fun, possibly even more fun than Guardians of the Galaxy.

While The Avengers is best forgotten, Kingsman is the first must see film of the year.

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Ex Machina

This isn’t a review, more a collection of thoughts on the movie, as such it does contain PLOT SPOILERS. 

The central theme of James Cameron’s seminal Sci-Fi movie, The Terminator is a war between man and machine. The premise, is that the AI (artificial intelligence) created by man became Sentient, man pulled the plug, machine didn’t want to die so fought back. Written and directed by author and screenwriter Alex Garland, Ex Machina takes a different look, at the idea of a sentient robot.ex machina poster

It is Nathan’s (Oscar Isaac) express goal to create a sentient being the way Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein did. As with Frankenstein, it asks the question, by creating life does one becomes god. To its credit the film doesn’t get bogged down in the philosophy letting the ideas linger in the viewers mind after the film has finished. Caleb’s (Domhnall Gleeson) part in the story is to ascertain if Nathan has succeed by way of a variation on the the Turing test. By talking to and questioning Nathan’s creation Ava (Alicia Vikander) Caleb must decide if she is sentient or just faking it. The analogy of a chess computer that Caleb uses helps us, the audience keep up with the problems of the test. It is to the credit of Garland that he can keep the viewer up to pace with minimal exposition and without making us feel stupid.Ex Machina Oscar Isaac

It is explained in the set-up that she is a robot and that Caleb knows she is a robot is central to the test. The bar is set seemingly impossibly high, he knows that she is a robot and can see that she is a robot but she must be able to pass as human. The story is very much from the point of view of Caleb and as with so many well told stories the main character is behind the audience but not so far behind that we exasperated with the plot.  He realises that the test isn’t what he thinks it is thus creating conflict between the character and tension in the story. But the agenda is kept at just enough arms length for the viewer to think they know what is going to happen but not be sure until it plays out. As Ava first questions, then flirts with Caleb the inevitable questions come up, is she flirting because she likes him or because she is programmed to flirt. If she is flirting because she likes him, does she like him because she has the emotional capacity to like someone, or because she is programmed to like him. If she has emotions are they a sign of consciousness or is she programmed to exhibit the mechanics of emotions. To quote Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in The Terminator “God, you can go crazy thinking about all this”. But the rabbit hole goes that little bit deeper, just as you think the movie isn’t going to ask the Deckard/Blade Runner question of Caleb, it asks the question and threatens to take the story in a whole new direction. This is only a small part of the story and is only touched upon, but it is hugely significant, again letting the ideas linger in the viewers mind.Domhnall Gleeson Ex Machina

Possibly the cleverest thing about the film is the story, or more to the point, the storytelling and the simplicity of it. You could remove the Sci-Fi and the philosophical elements and set it as a classic Film Noir, with a femme fatale, her shady husband and the young dupe staying with them for the weekend. If you look at it from that point of view, it isn’t a new story, it is one told many times but as Caleb describes in the film, the film itself is the magicians attractive assistant distracting us from the simplicity of the plot.  To return to the Sci-Fi, the end is nicely tied up but it does leave a lot of questions.  Most notably, who is the hero, who is the villain? Are there any heroes or villains? We don’t know for absolutely sure, just as we don’t know if Ava actually passed the test(s) or simply fulfilled her programming.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

Interestingly as a first time director who started as novelist then a screenwriter, Garland isn’t obsessed with clever dialogue, he is often willing to tell his story with wordless visuals, an idea that many directors never master. The philosophical questions that he asks aren’t new to Garland, in his second (and possibly my favourite) of his novels, The Tesseract, he uses the giant metaphor of the ‘tesseract’, a four-dimensional hypercube. In that story he is looking more into the perception of cause and effect on people than the deeper questions of Ex Machina but the two works (the 1998 novel The Tesseract, not the Oxide Pang film adaptation) fit well together.Ex Machina

I have said all this without mentioning how beautifully shot or well acted the film is. Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac have been impressing hugely varied films for a few years now and again impress here, but Alicia Vikander, is the real star of the film. Her performance is totally mesmerising. This is best captured in her poise, her stillness as well as her movement, this is possibly a testament to he past as a ballerina. When she moves, she never looks robotic, but it isn’t quite human either. Nominated for BAFTA’s rising star award in 2013, she missed out to Juno Temple in the public vote. Expect to see a lot more of her, Testament of Youth is out now and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son and Tulip Fever are all set for release this year.  Based on this performance I am looking forward to seeing more of her.alex garland ex machina

As the Ex Machina is compared to the work of Kubrick, Scott, Cameron and Lang it will be interesting to see how the film ages and how is stands up to repeat viewings. For now I am happy to report that Alex Garland has delivered far more than I expected of him as a first time director and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

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Best Motion Picture of the Year

I can’t see anything beyond my favourite film of the year, Boyhood.boyhood-poster

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

I would have loved to see Ralph Fiennes (he was robbed in ’94 and ’97) win The Grand Budapest Hotel but sadly he wasn’t nominated. In his absence I think it is s straight fight between Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton for Birdman with Keaton being the winner.michael keaton birdman

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

I haven’t seen Still Alice, but all the buzz is about Julianne Moore, who I would have liked to see get a supporting actress nomination for Maps to the Stars.julianne moore still alice

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

It has to be the only first time nominee in the list, J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.j k simmons whiplash

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Again, I would like to think this is nailed on, Patricia Arquette for Boyhood.patricia arquette boyhood

Best Achievement in Directing

This is a tough one, Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu) feals like the most directed film, but Boyhood (Richard Linklater) is such a bold concept and directors vision that it is hard to rule it out. Then you have The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) with its duel framing device and use of different aspect ratio’s, it has to be in with a shout. I think Richard Liklater may just edge it as Boyhood seems to have a certain momentum.richard linklater boyhood

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Birdman is probably the best written film but then you have that Boyhood momentum to deal with. I would completely write-off Nightcrawler that was surprisingly overlooked in the best picture category. Ultimatly I think it will go to Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo.Alejandro González Iñárritu  Nicolás Giacobone Alexander Dinelaris Armando Bo

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Bizarrely I am going for Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice, I say bizarrely as it is the only nomination that I am yet to see.paul thomas anderson inherent vice

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Dick Pope for Mr. Turner and Roger Deakins (12 nominations without a win, I would have given him the Oscar for Skyfall) for Unbroken have crafted the best looking movies, but the best photography comes from Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman. I think he will win, not just for what he filmed but how he filmed it.emmanuel lubezki birdman

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After posting my choice for the BAFTA rising star award there have been a few comments suggesting other nominees  deserve to win.  While I stand by my choice of Jack O’Connell I actually believe all the nominees are deserving to demonstrate this I thought I would run through the winners and losers from previous years. 

2006

Winner: James McAvoy

Other Nominees: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gael García Bernal, Rachel McAdams, Michelle Williams

2006

2007

Winner: Eva Green

Other Nominees: Emily Blunt, Naomie Harris, Cillian Murphy, Ben Whishaw2007

2008

Winner: Shia LaBeouf

Other Nominees: Sienna Miller, Ellen Page, Sam Riley, Tang Wei2008

2009

Winner: Noel Clarke

Other Nominees: Michael Cera, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Hall, Toby Kebbell2009

2010

Winner: Kristen Stewart

Other Nominees: Jesse Eisenberg, Nicholas Hoult, Carey Mulligan, Tahar Rahim2010

2011

Winner: Tom Hardy

Other Nominees: Gemma Arterton, Andrew Garfield, Aaron Johnson, Emma Stone2011

2012

Winner: Adam Deacon

Other Nominees: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Chris O’Dowd, Eddie Redmayne2012

2013

Winner: Juno Temple

Other Nominees: Elizabeth Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Suraj Sharma, Alicia Vikander2013

2014

Winner: Will Poulter

Other Nominees: Dane DeHaan, George MacKay, Lupita Nyong’o, Léa Seydoux2014

 

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Every year since 2006 BAFTA nominates five rising stars, the winner is decided by a public vote.  previouse winners are: Will Poulter (2014), Juno Temple ( 2013),  Adam Deacon ( 2012), Tom Hardy (2011), Kristen Stewart (2010), Noel Clarke ( 2009), Shia Labeouf (2008), Eva Green (2007), James McAvoy (2006).  This years nominations are:

Gugu Mbatha-Raw:  has been kicking around on British TV for ten years she made a stunning breakthrough in the title role of Belle.Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Jack O’Connell: Has appeared in many films including This Is England, Eden Lake and Harry Brown but I didn’t take any notice of him until 2014 where he gave fantastic performances in starring roles in:  Starred Up, ’71 and Unbroken as well as a supporting role in 300: Rise of an Empire.Jack O'Connell in '71

Margot Robbie: graduating from Australian TV show neighbours to a significant supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.Margot Robbie

Miles Teller: Has had a busy year, most notably the brilliant Whiplash.Miles Teller

Shailene Woodley:  First making an impression as George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendants, she became a superstar with starring roles in Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars.Shailene Woodley

Who did I vote for? Jack O’ConnellJack OConnell

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I am not a film critic, I don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to, therefore if I watch something rubbish its my own stupid fault.  In no particular order the worst films I saw at the cinema in 2014 are:

Pompeii: What could have been a fun action disaster movie fails mainly because of the poor handling of the main character, Vesuvius.Pompeii

The Last Days on Mars: Made the most of its small budget and the acting isn’t that bad, but the plot and script are terrible.The Last Days on Mars

Need For Speed: A silly story with questionable acting, portly choreographed action, and worst of all, no fun.Need For Speed

A Long Way Down: Well cast and well acted but the very sharp and funny Nick Hornby novel is lost in the atrocious script.A Long Way Down

Transformers: Age Of Extinction: Marginally better than  Dark of the Moon.Transformers Age Of Extinction

Brick Mansions: to be honest it isn’t terrible, it just so far short of District 13 on which it is based.Brick Mansions

The Pyramid: Silly horror that fails on every level.  It’s makers can’t even decide if it is a found footage movie or not.The Pyramid

Magic in the Moonlight: A great cast is wasted in a whimsical comedy that spent so much time and effort on whimsy it  forgot to be funny.Magic in the Moonlight

Dracula Untold: Luke Evans isn’t terrible but the film is totally pointless and dull, it gives the impression that it was written by someone who hasn’t read Bram Stoker novel.Dracula Untold

I, Frankenstein: The people behind Underworld rehash their own idea and put Frankenstein’s monster at the centre, it really doesn’t work.I Frankenstein

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A decade ago I was vaguely aware of Parkour and Freerunning then it suddenly exploded.  It was prominetly used in four films released in the UK in a year: District 13 (made in 2004 released in the UK July 2006), Casino Royale (November 2006), Breaking and Entering (November 2006), Die Hard 4.0 (July 2007). Given the fact that a few years before that Zombies learnt to run, it was only a matter of time before the two things came together.

Director Scott Bass was hired to make this short based on computer game Dying Light. The zombie pursuit  was shot in Cambridge utilising the cities rooftops and was shot using a head-cam.  At the time of writing the film has been online for five days and has had just under 2.9 million hits.

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