“The Universe Has A Tendency To Point Us In The Right Direction…”
Renowned for his work as an accomplished cinematographer on an array of American comedies including War Dogs, The Hangover Trilogy as well as the upcoming blockbuster franchise sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, New Jersey citizen, Lawrence Sher, turns to a debut in directing for Father Figures, a messy, overlong and staggeringly sickening road trip comedy featuring Owen Wilson (Wonder) and Ed Helms (Captain Underpants) as alienated siblings, Kyle and Peter Reynolds who embark on a self proclaimed journey known as “Operation Whose Your Daddy” after being informed by Glenn Close’s (The Girl With All The Gifts) mother figure, Helen Baxter, that she is unaware of her children’s true parentage. With a narrative which twists and turns through redemptive family drama to lad-cultured sex ventures and finally settling for saccharin fuelled cop-out nonsense, Sher’s movie is fundamentally unsure of what it entirely aspires to be, and with a two hour runtime attempting to hold it all together, Father Figures is unsurprisingly dour, a film which not only comes across as your run of the mill Owen Wilson centred comedy, but an Owen Wilson centred comedy without any meaningful laughs.
Settling on air of overripe repetition as our leading duo move from state to state in order to locate their true titular father figure, the screenplay attempts to shoehorn in as many jarring cameos as humanly possible for some form of comedic effect, with the likes of Ving Rhames, Terry Bradshaw and the Oscar winning J. K. Simmons, yes, that J. K. Simmons, each conforming to a soap opera type scenario in which each character has around ten minutes to show off their goods and force some form of sketch show-esque comedic set piece before being entirely forgotten about as we head onto the next underwritten character who swiftly follows such a mould. With Wilson hitting snooze mode and regressing into normality after winning back some form of merits after his performance in Wonder, the star revels in handing the director a stereotypical Owen Wilson performance, one which clashes with Ed Helms’ pretentious, all-moaning flannel of a character who not only couldn’t look farther from being an on-screen sibling of Wilson if he tried but is the type of American character who believes their life is an utter shambles even with staggering levels of wealth and a high class occupation which of course only acts as a continuous, narrative weaving joke. The jokes are joyless, the script soulless and ponderous, and whilst at times the chemistry between the two stars evoke a sense of enjoyment that the film may be heading somewhere, the concluding act is shameful and for two hours of your life you may never get back, Father Figures really isn’t worth the risk.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I’m Putting Together A Team Of People With Special Abilities. I Believe Enemies Are Coming…”
Whilst it may seem that we are now in a world where every month bears witness to oh yet another superhero blockbuster, with Thor: Ragnarok still making significant moves at the box office, the release of Justice League is a particularly interesting beast. With the DC Universe already significantly tarnished to say the least thanks to the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman V. Superman, the release of Wonder Woman earlier this year proved that the series was somewhat heading in the right direction, and whilst the DC universe seems to always be playing catchup to Marvel’s respective ongoing movie franchise, Justice League seems to be the real kicker in deciding the future success of the series as was The Avengers for Marvel, a film whose successes led the chance to delve deeper into the more subversive characters within Marvel’s respective comic history. Helmed once again by long-term DC collaborator, Zack Snyder and overseen for completion by the steady hand of Marvel aficionado, Joss Whedon, Justice League forges together characters both old and new in a popcorn laced team-up tackling the threat of Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf, and whilst one would have hoped the latest addition to DCEU would follow the success of Patty Jenkins’ work on Wonder Woman, Justice League is an unfortunate giant explosive leap in the wrong direction, one which seems to not have learnt at all from the failings of its’ predecessors and that alone makes Snyder’s latest an agonisingly painful botch-job experience of the highest order.
With Superman gone and the world in mourning, Ben Affleck’s grizzy Bruce Wayne seeks to bring together a team of highly skilled superheroes in a bid to defeat the threat of the wholly uninteresting and lifeless Steppenwolf, who like every CGI-based villain in cinematic history, seeks to bring Earth under his apocalyptic control. Adding to the eclectic cast of characters therefore, Justice League brings Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher into the fold as The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg respectively, and whilst it is cheap and easy to compare the DCEU with the MCU everytime either has a new release, Justice League fails on a fundamental level of not having even the slightest of backstory for any of its’ leading characters before mangling them all together, resulting in a complete absence of empathy or willingness for them to succeed in their battle against evil. This of course is down primarily to the heavy handed approach of Warner Bros’ willingness to spurt out the next release as quickly as possible and completely disregard the Marvel approach of taking adequate time in developing its’ leading stars before mixing them into the bigger picture with Justice League just the icing on the cake for a universe which, aside from Wonder Woman, will be tarnished with a reputation of being the laziest big budget franchise in the history of cinema. Harsh you say? Not at all, with Justice League the type of movie which makes Suicide Squad look like The Dark Knight, with obvious weaknesses presenting them all over the place ranging from a non-existent storyline to cringe-laden chemistry between the titular team of indestructible heroes who come together simply for reasons of monetary incentives.
With a villain in the form of the poorly digitally designed Steppenwolf, a character who ironically does somewhat improve on the blood curdling awfulness of Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, Justice League’s main antagonist is the epitome of the film’s issues, with heavy plot exposition acting as the character’s only limited development for a villain who too often resorts to Viking-esque growling and cliched fight scenes to come across as anything other as sleep-inducingly dull, and for a character who seems to strike fear into the heart of many of the film’s heroic protagonists, it comes at no surprise that Snyder has once again forged a wholly forgettable leading threat which at not one point manages to match the scale of even the most camp carnival esque qualities of DC’s wacky TV show, Gotham. With too many characters and not enough script for anyone to expand out of their 2D, cardboard box cutout performances, Justice League ultimately wastes its’ extensively impressive cast, with the likes of J.K. Simmons, Jeremy Irons and the outstanding qualities of Amy Adams simply being resorted to window dressing in favour of the likes of Ray Fisher and the inevitable return of Henry Cavill who are simply not good enough in their respective superhero roles. Justice League is seethingly awful, and for a movie which features the worldwide branding of Batman and Wonder Woman, Snyder’s movie is a farce of the highest order and one which laughs in the face of its’ fans by utilising beloved characters simply for reasons of box office projections, and with not enough redeemable aspects in sight, Justice League is the movie which I would think puts the DCEU finally to bed. Thank god for Patty Jenkins.
Overall Score: 2/10
“You Could Save Them You Know. I Gave You All The Clues And Everything…”
Tackling a subject matter light years apart from the similarly titled Raymond Briggs written animation, The Snowman, a cinematic adaptation of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s best selling novel, marks the highly anticipated return of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, whose decision to adapt his fellow Scandinavians’ work from page to screen makes some sort of sense considering the dark, twisty tones of his previous work, and whilst Nesbø’s novel is the seventh in a series based around the trials and tribulations of Michael Fassbender’s leading character, Harry Hole, Alfredson’s movie is the first attempt in bringing the author’s famous detective to some sort of cinematic fruition. With good omens behind it therefore, it comes at a complete surprise to report that Alfredson’s latest is unfortunately nothing more than a shockingly dire and unintentionally woeful, manufactured work of disillusioned trash, one which seems to have faltered primarily at a pre-production stage and ultimately released just for the sake of it, and when considering the talent behind it, with a cast which mirrors the impressive ensemble within Alfredson’s previous, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Snowman is undoubtedly one of the most infuriatingly contrived let downs in recent Hollywood history.
Suffering from a handful of flaws which range from sloppy unprofessionalism to sinful laziness, The Snowman seems to be the spawn of awful judgement primarily from a production standpoint, with the film’s narrative lacking any meaningful level of threat, coherence or substance in complete contrast to previous Scandinavian thrillers such as The Killing and the Millennium franchise, and whilst the absence of threat results in the bulk of the movie being replaced with utter tedium, the film is worsened by the bizarre comedic tendency it seems to evoke each and every time the movie slips into supposed dark territory, with awfully designed murder clips and the scene of a snowman’s head being planted on the top of a deceased body resulting in a combination of sniggers rather than the nail-biting thrills I believe the novels were famous for. With editing which verges on the point of insanity and scenes which move from one to another without any sort of meaningful connectivity, The Snowman is a incomprehensible mess of a movie, and whilst the likes of Fassbender and even Alfredson to some extent can’t be entirely to blame, the first entry of a supposed Jo Nesbø based franchise is a complete and utter stinker.
Overall Score: 3/10
“We Got Multiple Explosions. We Need Help Down Here..!”
Of the many cinematic pleasures within 2016, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon was a surprisingly entertaining thrill-ride, utilising the on-screen likeability of Mark Wahlberg to helm a dramatisation of one of the 21st centuries’ most infamous accidental disasters in a vein both poignant and wholly respectful. Whilst the one-two pairing of Wahlberg and Peter Berg shared mild success previously with Lone Survivor, the release of Deepwater Horizon last year has ultimately pushed the duo into a formidable partnership, returning this year with yet another live-action adaptation of a high-profile disaster in the form of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a recent example of terrorism action within the United States. With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman, Patriots Day is a thrilling continuation of the Berg’s recent cinematic success, creating a sometimes breathtaking drama which mixes white-knuckle tension, Michael Mann-esque action set pieces and an effective screenplay which amalgamates a wide range of on-screen depictions of many who were involved in the events which occurred during that terrifying day almost four years ago.
In terms of differences between the previous works of the successful duo, unlike in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon where Wahlberg portrayed real-life characters, Patriots Day allows the Boston-born A-Lister to fill his boots with a strictly composite character, created to not only fill certain narrative gaps throughout the movie, but also act as the walking cinematic guide for the audience, seemingly being wherever the high-octane events take place as often and as quickly as possible. Whilst the film uses its’ leading stars to a somewhat solid degree, the frighteningly startling and wholly believable pairing of Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the real stars of the show, using their intimidating capabilities to create one of the tensest scenes of the year so far in which they carjack and threaten to kill the life of a Chinese U.S national in a manner similar to feel and tone of a similarly haunting scene within last year’s Nocturnal Animals. Concluding with interviews with the true survivors and heroes of Boston, Patriots Day follows in a similar vein to Deepwater Horizon by not only being a entertaining body of work but by being one which is entirely respectful too.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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
“Sooner or Later, Different Scares People…”
Call it Taken meets A Beautiful Mind, Gavin O’Connor’s latest, The Accountant, is a wild ride of genre bending drama, focusing primarily on the titular accountant, Ben Affleck’s Christian Wolff, who aside from being a mathematical genius relies too on his skills as a stone-cold killer to protect himself in the land of illegal book cooking for infamous criminal organisations. Sound preposterous? It sure is, and whilst a film such as Taken and the subsequent B-Movie-esque action thrillers that have seemed to take note of its’ success in recent times tend to dwell on their fundamental silliness, The Accountant seeks to look deeper into the characterisation of its’ leading character, a figure who is bound to the weakness or strength, depending on how you look at it, of his autistic nature and uses such to become the cold and calculated killer in the heart of the picture. Does this added air of differentiation result in the movie being more than just another throwaway action movie however? Um, not exactly.
Aside from being half an hour too long and featuring yet another annoying add-on character in the form of Anna Kendrick, following in the footsteps of the similarly annoying add-on character in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back recently, The Accountant is a film which tries to balance ambiguity with exposition for its’ plot whilst trying to tangle together too many plot lines in order to seem much more complex than it really is. Do they work? Not entirely, yet once the film does get going and into the realms of the B-Movie action genre it really wants to delve into, The Accountant becomes a much more enjoyable ride, one which doesn’t scratch above the surface of its’ silliness and just becomes another Taken, Jack Reacher and all the other recent action movie throwaways that have somehow become bankable franchises. All in all, The Accountant is pure baloney from start to finish, and the added mystery of its’ titular character’s differences only adds to the movies’ sheer silliness. It doesn’t break new ground but doesn’t dent the foundation either, it’s just too long and too ordinary to be anything special.
Overall Score: 6/10
“It’s Called A Hustle Sweetheart…”
And finally, here we are at last. The showdown between two heavyweights. The greatest battle ever to have graced this crazy world. That’s right guys, it’s Zootropolis against Batman V Superman. Disney against Warner. Bunny against Bat. See what I’m getting at? Good, I’ll stop now. Continuing the riveting success of movies of the animated variety over the course of the past few years or so is Disney’s latest pet project (No pun intended) Zootropolis, a film proud enough to stand toe-to-toe with BvS in hope of snatching that esteemed number one spot in the top ten list come the end of the Easter Holidays. If money doesn’t speak volumes to you however, then the critical concentration of the two films is the thing you may indeed be looking at, with Zootropolis being leagues ahead in terms of overall quality in comparison to the Batman behemoth, with laughs being rife all the way though it’s Chinatown-esque mystery themes and nods to the adult variety which will bound to leave all audiences leaving the cinema with a smile. And a new annoyingly catchy song to hum to.
Leaving the carrot-harvesting life of her surroundings, optimistic young rabbit Judy Hopps enrols within the Police Recruitment program whereby she is reassigned to the vast and sprawling city of Zootropolis after graduating top of her class and having the esteemed reputation of becoming the first rabbit to do so. Although beginning life as a lowly traffic warden, Judy soon becomes unravelled in a kidnapping plot and with the help of fox con-artist Nick Wilde, she attempts to uncover the deep, dark secrets surrounding the cities anthropomorphic lifestyle. Featuring fantastic visuals and a incredible voice cast including the likes of Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and Ginnifer Goodwin as the young Officer Hopps, Zootropolis manages to encapsulate all the things that make animated movies the success that they are, with well-timed jokes cracked left, right and centre whilst the well-designed characters are crafted with more-than-enough detail to keep all the little ones interested and engaged. Although it perhaps doesn’t include the same wonder factor of last years’ brilliant one-two of Inside Out and Song of the Sea, Zootropolis is indeed a brilliant addition to the Disney canon, one in which I could watch again and again and continue to smile. Oh yeah, and that Shakira song is damn catchy.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Get Ready To Dance… With Danger!”
Where last year offered some real quality additions to the genre of animation with films such as Inside Out already solidifying itself as a Disney classic whilst The Tale of the Princess Kaguya all but continued the riveting success of Studio Ghibli, this year has only succeeded in adhering to the well-established notion that animation is on the rise with last week’s Anomalisa being yet another wonderful piece of animated-driven cinema. Rivalling the success of both Disney and Studio Ghibli is that of DreamWorks Animation, with their latest venture, Kung Fu Panda 3 being a solid, highly entertaining continuation of the highly successful series in which a wholly impressive voicing cast lead the way to a variety of laugh-out-loud set pieces in which all family members can take something away from. In terms of the film’s plot, after being reunited with his long, lost father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black) is required to take over the reigns of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and become the role of teacher, much to Po’s and and the Furious Five member’s bemusement. After coming under attack from the spirit warrior Kai (J.K. Simmons), Po must train under the wing of his father in order to defeat this legendary foe once and for all, training to become the teacher his master believes he can be all the way.
Of course, as with most DreamWorks Animation pictures, Kung Fu Panda is a delight to take in and admire visually, with fluorescent and vivid animation filling the screen in almost every section of the film’s incredibly family-friendly runtime. Wherein it may suitably pass the time and do wonders for the younger generation, in terms of its’ overall longevity and originality, it does seemingly go in one ear and come swiftly out the other, with the formula of the Kung Fu Panda franchise not exactly being broken to an extent that its’ third instalment could be classed as something excellent, yet for the time it is on-screen, Kung Fu Panda 3 is ridiculously enjoyable, with laughs and sniggers being constant throughout. That’s right, Kung Fu Panda is much funnier than Hail, Caesar! The kid inside me has been truly awoken. Kung Fu Panda is no mere masterpiece, but it does what it needs to and does it well. Pandas… ASSEMBLE!
Overall Score: 7/10
Oscars 2015: Best Supporting Actor
We are now on to the penultimate blog regarding this years Oscars ceremony, the focus of which is on the “Best Supporting Actor” category, featuring Hulk, Hamlet, J. Jonah Jameson, Tom Hagen and, oddly, Hulk again. In terms of bookies favourite, J. K. Simmons is the best bet to win the gong, and for the second time running, I completely agree with them. His performance as the ferocious Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash, transformed a film with a rather simple and, dare I say it, boring plot, into the most gripping cinematic experience I have witnessed in a long while. Hats off to him. As an added extra, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Edward Norton or Ethan Hawke, pick up the award instead, for their roles in Birdman and Boyhood respectively, highlighting the strength of the nominations in this particular category this year. In terms of overlooked, James Gandolfini for The Drop, and, i’m calling it, Dave Bautista for Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s right. Drax the Destroyer. Instead, we have:
Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J. K. Simmons – Whiplash
Next… Best Supporting Actress
The Sound of Drums
As an avid guitar player, I vividly remember watching the amazing Steve Vai battle against Ralph Macchio during the simply superb guitar duel at the end of the 1986′ film, Crossroads (No, not the Britney Spears film). Soon after watching it, I was amazed to find out that Macchio was not entirely playing the guitar during the film and instead, the music was performed by Ry Cooder, yet to me, the performance by Macchio was really happening in front of me. Aside from the guitar duel, Crossroads was pretty pants, yet the knowledge that Macchio must have had intense training regarding where to place his fingers on the fret-board, when to strum, and when to make Vai-like facial expressions still amazes me to this day. After watching Whiplash, I felt, and still feel, the exact sense of sheer wonder I did the first time I saw that guitar duel, yet unlike Crossroads, Whiplash isn’t pants. In fact, it’s pretty much perfect.
The plot of the film focuses on Andre Neiman, played by Miles Teller. a 19 year-old jazz drummer, who is taken under the wing of notorious teacher Terrence Fletcher, at renowned music school, Shaffer Conservatory, in order to fulfill his dreams of becoming a legend in musical history. Much like Macchio in Crossroads, Teller is flawless in attempting to present realistic and uncanny musical performances throughout the film, and even goes one better by perfectly portraying a character who literally combines blood, sweat and tears with total dedication into his musical ability. Following him all the way is J.K. Simmons’, who surely must regard this as a career best performance, with his portrayal of Fletcher characterised by one moment, being undeniably cool and calm, and then suddenly morphing into this all-swearing, larger than life, musical monster who takes no prisoners, accepts no excuses, and will literally throw chairs at you for being slightly out of time with the rest of his band.
Aside from the two actors, another winner in this film is surely Tom Cross, whose editing within the film allows Teller’s performance to propel into greatness, and it is good to see that he has been recognised by the BAFTA’s for such outstanding work which surely means an Oscar nomination is set to land at his feet. Good job. Obviously the soundtrack is brilliant, with it already being on my wish-list, but what truly exceeds in this film is it’s hard-hitting nature in its’ attempt to show characters whose lives are not only engulfed by their passion and love for the music, but will do almost anything to keep that feeling flowing, evidenced during the very last performance within the film in which both Teller and Fletcher give a performance worthy of endless applause and shouts for just one more.
Overall, Whiplash is a brilliant piece of cinema, packed full with spot-on performances, not only from the actors, but by editor, Tom Cross, a brilliant soundtrack, and a sense of wonder which gripped me from start to finish. Can I have an encore?