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. 


Winner: James McAvoy

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



Winner: Eva Green

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


Winner: Shia LaBeouf

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


Winner: Noel Clarke

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


Winner: Kristen Stewart

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


Winner: Tom Hardy

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


Winner: Adam Deacon

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


Winner: Juno Temple

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


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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My top ten most anticipated movies for the coming year, along with the release date and the reason I am looking forward to them:

American Sniper – I am praying for a return to form from Clint Eastwood, and the trailer is excellent. 16th January

Whiplash – Great word of mouth.  16th January

Ex Machina – I am a fan of Alex Garland as a writer and am interested to see what he is like as a director.  Plus, the trailer looks interesting. 23rd January

A Most Violent Year – Great cast, interesting trailer. 23rd January

Kingsman –  The Secret Service: Another off centre action/comedy from Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman. 29th January

Blackhat – Michael Mann’s first film in 6 years.  20th February

Mad Max: Fury Road – I am such as fan of the original films I wasn’t keen on the idea of this but the trailer looks amazing. 15th May

Crimson Peak – I am keen to see anything from Guillermo del Toro. 16th October

Spectre – A new Bond film is always exciting, the success of Skyfall has upped that.  23rd October

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Can J.J. Abrams do for Star Wars what he did for Star Trek? 18th December

Also keen to see: John Wick, Jupiter Ascending, Child 44, Jurassic World, Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, Mission: Impossible 5 and The Hateful Eight (we probably won’t get it in the UK this year).

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This has been the toughest to compile Year End Top Ten list yet.  There are so many great films that only just missed out.  To set the parameters, all my selections are based on UK release dates so no places for: Snowpiercer that I have seen but has not received a UK release or Birdman that came out this week.  For the first time, there is a film so good that it makes the list despite seeing it on DVD not at the cinema.

Boyhood: It’s an obvious choice, but its obvious for a reason, its brilliant.  With a concept that could easily have descended an interesting but forgettable gimmick actually lends the film a unique prospective.  The main reason it works is the honesty that Richard Linklater brings to a movie like few filmmakers, his perfect casting also helps. (July)boyhood

Only Lovers Left Alive: There is so much more to Jim Jarmusch’s hypnotic and haunting vampire movie than the perfect casting of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as vampires.  Its warmth and dry humour negates the need for horror or even a great deal of plot.  Like all the best films, you will still be thinking about it for days. (February)Only Lovers Left Alive

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Possibly Wes Anderson’s most Wes Anderson film.  Something between a farce and a caper masquerading as a murder mystery.  Two framing mechanisms, result in a story distorted by two potentially unreliable storytellers giving an almost fairytale feel.  Ralph Fiennes is a revelation, his delivery is deadpan and his timing perfect. (March) GHB_9907 20130130.CR2

Calvary: John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to The Guard reunites him with star Brendan Gleeson. It’s a far darker film, in fact, it is the darkest and bleakest of black comedies but equally liberating and uplifting.  With a narrative that asks more questions of society than it gives answers it is a film to make you think, but you will certainly laugh along the way. I couldn’t find a cinema showing this so saw it on DVD. (April)Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson in Calvary

Edge of Tomorrow: For all the films that are interesting, clever or thought provoking somethimes a movie needs to be fun, and Doug Liman’s time loop, action adventure, alien invasion, war movie is the most fun movie of the year.  (May)edge of tomorrow

The Wolf of Wall Street: A three hour movie about a character I don’t, how does it make my top ten?  The genius of Martin Scorsese as a storyteller, and Leonardo DiCaprio on top form.  Scorsese’s best and funniest film in years, possibly DiCaprio’s best performance yet. (January)THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Nightcrawler: Dan Gilroy’s debut feature (as a director) missed out on movie of the month in October to David Fincher’s Gone Girl but Nighcrawler makes the top ten because I have through more about it since seeing it and am more keen to see it again.  Easily a career best performance from  Jake Gyllenhaal as a totally repugnant character.  (October)Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal

Guardians of the Galaxy: Like Iron Man in 2008 I went into James Gun’s entry into the Marvel Universe with very little expectation but like Iron Man it just hit every mark.  A fun action adventure like the original Star Wars and the best space adventure since Serenity.  (July)Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Interstellar: Christopher Nolan isn’t just a filmmaker, he is an artist, an artist that paints on the largest possible canvas.  His most ambitious film yet isn’t as perfect as some of his other movies but still stunning.  I haven’ made my mind up about the final act, this does relegate it a little down my list a little.  (November)interstellar

Inside Llewyn Davis: Like so many of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s movies a lot rests on the leading actor, Oscar Isaac doesn’t disappoint.  The setting is perfectly realised and the story is sublimely told, the only reason it isn’t higher up the list it the overwhelming sense of melancholy that is holding me back from seeing it again. Inside Llewyn Davis

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Last Movie of the Month for 2014 with a surprise winner. Check back over the weekend to see if any of the featured films make my top ten of the year. 

Paddington:  Adapting the classic children’s story could have been a disaster,  amazingly the story of the titular bear from darkest Peru gets everything right.  From the cast (both the human characters and the voice of Paddington) to the animation of the bear.  Most importantly the comedy is just the right side of silly to make it charming and enchanting.Paddington

Black Sea:  It essentially boils down to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre in a submarine.  A taught well acted, if predicable thriller.Black Sea

The Grandmaster: The life of real life martial arts supremo Ip Man as told by Wong Kar Wai.  It is as stunning to look at as you would expect, and the fight choreography by Woo-ping Yuen is as brilliant as ever.  The only disappointing thing, I am led to believe there are three different edits, out there.  If the reviews are correct, the version I saw isn’t the best one.The Grandmaster

The Pyramid: A team of archaeologists explore a pyramid.  Not good idea.  A silly film that doesn’t even reach the low watermark set by As Above, So Below earlier this year.  Anyone thinking of watching either of these films would be better of watching Neil Marshall’s modern classic/masterpiece The Descent, even if you have already seen it.The Pyramid

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: A decent conclusion to the trilogy.  Like its predecessors it was never going to be as good as The Lord Of The Rings.  Some of the characters are sidelined for large sections of the film but this is done to develop other characters further and was the right thing to do on the whole.The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies

Big Eyes: Tim Burtons least Tim Burton film.  It is similar in tone to Ed Wood but doesn’t have the same warmth towards the characters.  The biggest floor is the lack of depth to Christoph Waltz’s character.  We never truly understand the motivation for his actions.bigeyes

Unbroken: Angelina Jolie directed story Olympic runner and WWII POW Louis Zamperini.  Lavishly shot and often powerful, the heart of the movie comes from another great performance from rising star Jack O’Connell.Unbroken

Exodus: Gods And Kings: The return of the biblical epic continues, unlike Noah it tells its story with a tiny bit of ambiguity that may or may not rationalise the miracles on display.  It sags a little in the middle but earns its epic status thanks to some truly spectacular scenes.Exodus Gods And Kings

I never expected to say this, but Movie of The Month is: PaddingtonPaddingtonPOSTER

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