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Film Review: Patriots Day

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

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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

Film Review: The Accountant

“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

Film Review: Zootropolis

“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

Film Review: Kung Fu Panda 3

“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

87th Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor

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

Film Review: Whiplash

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?

Overall Score: 10/10