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Film Review: Zombieland: Double Tap

“Life Is About More Than Just Survival. We Were A Family. Dysfunctional, Sure, But What Family Isn’t…”

How a lot can change in the world of cinema in just one decade. Since the release of the first Zombieland back in 2009, Emma Stone has picked up a much deserved Academy Award, Woody Harrelson stunned audiences with a career-best performance in the first season of True Detective and Jesse Eisenberg has become more and more of a sanctimonious asshole after winning plaudits for his central role in the outstanding, The Social Network and then bombing any chances of redemption after delivering one of the worst villainous performances in the history of cinema in the awfully misguided, Batman Vs. Superman. Forever placing itself in the hearts of cult movie fanatics since its’ initial release, the world of Zombieland returns with Double Tap, a movie which finally hits the big screen after years of development hell and one helmed once again by returning director, Ruben Fleischer, whose exploits since the original movie have included the vacuous and noisy double bill of Gangster Squad and Venom. With jokes aplenty, some juicy comic violence and an erratic, lightning-fast pacing, Fleischer’s movie is exactly the movie you think it is, and an enjoyable one at that.

Whilst there is some degree of a central narrative at the heart of the movie, one involving our four horsemen (and ladies) of the apocalypse splitting off from each other in search of individual life decisions, Double Tap is without doubt more interested in set pieces, set pieces involving smart, sarcastic and well timed comedic gags during the heat of the battle against the hordes of the undead who make their way into the storyline when absolutely needed. With particular gags from the original being repeated, including the well-versed “zombie rules” utilised as a recurring flashpoint and the mighty Metallica returning to boost the soundtrack’s awesomeness, Double Tap is far from original, and whereas the original was essentially America’s answer to Edgar Wright’s superior zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead, Double Tap concludes with the most Americanised and overly ridiculous climax ever seen in a zombie flick. With the cast being supported by excellent supporting cameos including the scene stealing, Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!) and a weird post-credits sequence involving Bill Murray (Groundhog Day), Double Tap is perfect Friday night nonsense, with emphasis on the nonsense.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Favourite

“As It Turns Out, I’m Capable Of Much Unpleasantness…”

With one of the weirdest, oddball and critically acclaimed back catalogues in recent history, Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, returns to the world of cinema once again after the success of 2017’s excellent, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, with The Favourite, an award touted period drama which reunites the director with Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) after their work together on 2015’s equally baffling, The Lobster. Based on a screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos’ movie sees Colman as Queen Anne, a reclusive and emotionally unstable British ruler at the beginning of the 18th century who has come to rely on the charm and power of Rachel Weisz’s (My Cousin Rachel) Sarah Churchill, her abiding and secretive confidant who has grasped the true power of the monarch whilst the Queen procrastinates with luxurious pastimes in order to make the days go by. In the midst of wartime discussions and power struggles however, Anne is suddenly mesmerised by the recent acquisition of Emma Stone’s (La La Land) lady-turned-servant, Abigail Hill, who takes no time whatsoever in attempting to creep into the ear of the Queen herself, resulting in the creation of a vicious and violent rift between herself and the steely gaze of Churchill who takes no pleasure in watching her power over the Queen slowly drift way.

With Lanthimos throughout his career failing to ever be plastered with the term, predictable, The Favourite primarily relies on the preposterousness of the central drama to differentiate itself from just another period piece, with the slightly off-kilter and bizarre tone which the Greek’s films are renowned for immediately sending alarm bells to those audiences heading in unaware of the works of Lanthimos or expecting a cinematic equivalent to Netflix’s, The Crown, but for those well versed in the ways and means of a filmmaker who knows how to cultivate such oddities to perfection, the absurdity of the piece ultimately suits the overarching sensibility of a film bound to raise discussion. With the three pronged central performances from Colman, Stone and Weisz all absolutely top notch, the central conflicting duplicity between all involved immediately brought to mind the likes of My Cousin Rachel, with Weisz essentially portraying a very similar counterpart to her role in such a film albeit with less ambiguity, whilst Colman superbly manages to balance on the one hand a primarily fool-type role which is undoubtedly played for laughs for the majority of the film, and on the other, a person riddled with conflict, mental health issues and an abundance of loss and grief, a notion personified by the over-reliance on rabbits which are kept closely within her chambers. With one of the most subversive, surreal and simply baffling conclusions to a movie I can remember seeing for a significant amount of time, Lanthimos’ movie is by no means his trip into the conventional, with The Favourite managing to retain the darkened edge the Greek has become accustomed to but too a movie which brings home a triage of powerhouse performances which deserves the plaudits which have been raining down upon them.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

“I’m Done Talking, Let’s Play…”

Fresh from her Oscar win in 2017’s best film so far in the form of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Emma Stone leads Battle of the Sexes, the latest from Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and a film which focuses on the titular infamous tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which ultimately lit the touchpaper for King’s advocacy for feminism and LGBT rights within twentieth century America. With Steve Carell co-starring as Riggs and the likes of Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman all making an appearance, the husband and wife directorial pair’s return is one of rousing success, a brilliantly acted docu-drama with a hell of a lot to say, and whilst the film sometimes doesn’t quite succeed in cracking open effectively all the notions evident on display, Battle of the Sexes is admirable in its’ attempt to raise the same questions which were raised forty four years ago but are unfortunately still increasingly evident even today.

With Stone continuing to prove why she is arguably the most in-demand talent within Hollywood at this moment in time with yet another brilliantly nuanced performance as Billie Jean King, the film’s strongest narrative thread is undeniably the relationship between her character and Andrea Riseborough’s stylist love interest, Marilyn, a partnership which not only holds the most substance between any of the leading cast in the movie, but thanks to effective dialogue and intensely invasive camera shots is so authentic in its’ design, the movie could have been good enough simply focusing on this particular plot thread alone. With a grainy, stylised 1970’s aesthetic and a jukebox soundtrack accompanying the story, Battle of the Sexes is undeniably a crowd-pleasing ace, and with a final act which although is undeniably inevitable in regards to its’ outcome, still manages to be rousingly intense, Faris and Dayton’s movie is ironically one of the more timely releases in a year rife with discussions regarding women’s liberation and the effect of feminism. Long may it continue.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: La La Land

“I’m Letting Life Hit Me Until It Gets Tired. Then I’ll Hit Back. It’s a Classic Rope-a-Dope…”

The return of director Damien Chazelle this week brings with it a wide range of reasons to rejoice, no more so than remembering just how superb the masterpiece that was Whiplash back in 2015, a film which had the brilliant recognition of landing top of the list for best movies in its’ respective year at Black Ribbon alongside a couple of Academy Awards including a Best Supporting gong for J. K. Simmons who reunites with Chazelle in his latest cinematic venture, La La Land. Going by trailers and other in-your-face modes of advertisement alone, the hype surrounding Chazelle’s latest was unbelievably rapturous to say the least with calls for a shed-load of awards to be swiftly thrown in its’ general direction amongst unanimous rave reviews which concluded with parades of full marks for execution. Where Whiplash was essentially a war movie disguised in the body of a jazz-based drama, La La Land is a full-blown romantic musical, one which is soaked in a wondrously upbeat sense of joy and a rare case of a film which not only lives up to the hype surrounding it but surpasses it two-fold, resulting in an unforgettable cinematic journey which accumulates in you leaving the cinema with a spring in your step, singing and humming the beautiful soundtrack alongside a willingness to see it again as quickly as possible.

Following the intertwining lives of Emma Stone’s ambitious actress Mia and the jazz-infused figure of Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, La La Land succumbs to the age-old tale of classic musicals by focusing primarily on a relationship gelled together by ambition and dreams, beginning with the first moments in which our leading lovers embrace and eventually concluding in a manner both heartbreaking yet entirely fulfilling. Intertwining the narrative throughout the film are the beautifully written and deliciously choreographed musical routines which although are not as explosive and extravagant as classical cinematic scenes of similar ilk, manage to perfectly suit the overall tone of the movie, with “Mia & Sebastian’s Theme” being the standout track of the soundtrack, a melodic piano piece which accompanies the narrative of their relationship from its’ inception until the end. With Stone arguably stealing the show as the doe-eyed barista, eager to hit the big time in Hollywood, Gosling’s confident yet understated sense of swagger results in a central relationship which oozes chemistry, helped extensively from the pair’s past work in films such as Crazy, Stupid, Love, resulting in a pair of leading characters in which you totally believe in from beginning to end.

Writing a day after the conclusion of the annual Golden Globes awards, it comes at no surprise to see Chazelle’s latest completely sweep the board in a record-breaking bout, with awards for each of the top-billed trio a fitting reward for a movie which in a time of trials and tribulations in terms of the overall world view, reminds you how cinema can allow for a route of escapism in troubled times, particularly a movie as heartwarming as La La Land. If Whiplash was Chazelle’s angry awakening to Hollywood, then La La Land is a commemorative ode to its’ otherworldly appeal, one which embraces the notion of the American dream and a destination where many journey to reach their goals of fame and fortune. In the case of La La Land, Chazelle has found his Citizen Kane, his Singing in the Rain, and after its’ inevitable forthcoming award success, the cinematic spectrum will most certainly become his oyster and as an avid fan, I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Overall Score: 10/10

87th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress

Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actress

Here we are at last. Our dedicated blog to the Oscars is nearly at its’ end with the ceremony only a matter of days away. Before then we have one more category to discuss; the category for “Best Supporting Actress”, which this year features a range of talent, and Keira Knightly. All joking aside, her performance in The Imitation Game was one of her best to date, but unfortunately for her, the bookies favourite this year is Patricia Arquette for Boyhood, which is incredibly hard to disagree with, although Emma Stone for Birdman would also be well received with everyone loving Emma Stone. Or at least I think they do. In terms of overlooked, I thought Jessica Chastain was pretty darn good in A Most Violent Year and so was Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. Anyway, enjoy the ceremony!

Meryl Streep – Into The Woods

Laura Dern – Wild

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Emma Stone – Birdman

Keira Knightly – The Imitation Game

Film Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Phoenix Rises

 

When it comes to films, I try and stay hidden from advance reviews in order to always go into the cinema with an open mind and thus, be unaware of what anyone has said about the film before I have seen it. Unfortunately for the case of Birdman, this was unavoidable. After seeing a range of films in the cinema over Christmas, a Birdman trailer was always guaranteed along with the many 5 star reviews that are presented to you during its’ run-time. Because of this, I went into the screening of Birdman with my expectation level moderately high yet, once the film had finished, it is fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

In terms of plot, Micheal Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed-up Hollywood star famous for playing the role of superhero ‘Birdman’ who, at an attempt to get his career back on track, takes a shot at Broadway by means of writing, directing, and starring in an adaptation of the short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love  by Raymond Carver, an idol of Thompson’s. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Thompson is plagued by the subconscious voice of Birdman, who, along with a faltering family and disruptive cast, place Thompson’s life and career firmly in the balance.

Firstly, it is fair to say that Birdman is something unlike anything else I think I have ever seen before within cinematic history, with its’ mix of genres, (Is it a drama? Black comedy? Satire? Superhero movie?) fantastic cinematography, (by Oscar-winning Emmanuel Lubezki who won the award for Gravity) and a brilliantly barmy plot performed perfectly by an equally superb ensemble cast. Secondly, Keaton is excellent (I am running out of superlatives) as Thompson and should easily be recognised within the upcoming awards season, even if I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his character’s life and his own (Keaton played Batman in the Tim Burton films). Lastly, the satirical notions regarding cinema in today’s society were greatly emphhasised and executed throughout the film, particularly the scene with a fancy dress Iron Man fighting Spider-Man which, in my opinion, was rather splendid. The films’ two hour running time, in general, went quickly, although I felt there seemed to be too many scenes where the film was set to end and then quickly carried on, yet this didn’t deter the utter joy I felt whilst watching it.

Overall, Birdman is a brilliant, barmy, and bonkers piece of cinema which no doubt will end up somewhere in my Top Ten films of 2015. Keaton is superb. The visuals are stunning. The plot is splendid.  RIP Batman, long live Birdman.

Overall Score: 9/10