Film Review: If I Stay

If I Stay

If I Stay is schmaltz aimed squarely at an adolescent audience. Needless  to say, fans of the novel the film is based on will eat up this offering.

Life changes in an instant for talented young musician Mia. When an accident puts her in a coma, Mia must decide whether to wake up, knowing her world has changed forever…

Based on Gayle Forman’s novel, If I Stay is a sentimental drama aimed at a female teenage audience. The film’s premise is fairly decent. There are shades of Sliding Doors, and other ‘what if’-based movies, to be found in the film’s plot.

If I Stay is sentimental teenage drama writ large. The question at the centre of the film is no doubt a formidable one. Screenwriter Shauna Cross and director R.J. Cutler ring out Mia’s decision as much as possible. If I Stay is certainly a tearjerker, with the filmmakers squeezing every drop of sentiment. The various interactions Mia has will doubtlessly set certain viewers off, depending on how much they identify with the particular relationship.

Protagonist Mia is a likeable character. There is something ordinary about her, despite her talent, that Cutler has succeeded in capturing. Mia is not so out of touch that the films target demographic will not be able to identify with her. Chloë Grace Moretz delivers a good performance as Mia. She is believable as a young girl in love, yet determined in her musical talent. Jamie Blackley is well cast as the young rock star, although he falters in some of the film’s more dramatic moments. Mireille Enos is decent as Mia’s mother.

The main issue with If I Stay is that the script is so cloying, more cynical viewers will be hard pressed not to guffaw at certain moments. Every other utterance appears to be oozing with sentiment or heartfelt advice. The film would be more palatable to a wider audience if the dialogue was more genuine. Nevertheless, for those looking for a tearjerker, If I Stay is just the ticket.

Film Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Based on the novel, The Keeper of Lost Causes is an engaging detective drama with Scandinavian noir and classic Hollywood overtones.

Following a traumatic incident on the job, Detective Carl Mørck is given   a new assignment when he returns to work. Having to sift through cold cases, his interest in matters perks up when one case catches his eye…

The Keeper of Lost Causes is based on the first book of author Jussi Alder-Olsen’s series of Department Q detective novels. As such, it introduces both the protagonist and his budding relationship with his assistant, as well as focusing on a case with enough meat to hold the audience’s attention.

That The Keeper of Lost Causes borrows from classic mysteries and detective stories is not a bad thing. The set up of the film is reminiscent of Vertigo, with the use of the wounded cop motif. Elsewhere, the film utilises the style of not only other recent Scandinavian crime thrillers, but Hollywood noir. This is present in aesthetic elements, the unfolding of the narrative, and archetype characters.

Protagonist Carl is drawn as the hard-boiled detective, very much in the same mould as what has come before in crime and noir films. The sidekick relationship with Assad unfolds superficially, although the ending does point to further development. The officers are portrayed a little like chalk and cheese, but this is not dwelled on excessively. The climax of the film is a bit overblown; it would have been more effective to tone this down.

The Keeper of Lost Causes offers flashbacks and glimpses to reel viewers into the mystery. These help to make the victim flesh, and heighten interest in the events leading up to the crime. Sound design in the film is good. It helps to create a sense of claustrophobia that situates viewers with the victim. The art direction offers the clinical yet grimy look of recent Scandinavian thrillers.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is successful thanks to a decent mystery at its heart. Although clues are dropped along the way, the skilful crafting of the narrative makes the film an entertaining watch.

Film Review: Lucy

Lucy

Luc Besson’s Lucy is an enjoyable sci-fi thriller which certainly offers something different.

When a young woman is forced to deliver a package to a wealthy businessman, it is only the beginning of her ordeal. When an incident causes fundamental changes in Lucy’s body, she uses these to her advantage…

Luc Besson’s Lucy is ultimately a playful film that will keep audiences entertained. Viewers may not be quite expecting what the the film turns into, particularly with the impression given by the film’s trailers. Nonetheless, this is not a bad thing; the unpredictability of the tone retains the attention throughout.

The film is certainly offbeat. Lucy is thoroughly entertaining in its absurdity. The film relies heavily on a combination of scientific theory and fantasy conjecture. This permeates the film’s themes and narrative. The ideas that Lucy tackles are big. Besson focuses these through the protagonist like a microcosmic funnel. Some viewers may find the outcome of the film a little outlandish, but it is fitting in terms of the ideas that the film works with from the very beginning. Lucy explores some philosophical ideas whilst retaining its sense of humour. The film does not take itself too seriously, which is a definite plus point.

Like some of his previous work, Besson places a strong female protagonist at the heart of the film. This is particularly important, given just how male-dominated the rest of the cast is. Scarlett Johansson is decent as Lucy, playing the title role with a necessary and bold confidence. Morgan Freeman is cast in a familiarly omnipotent role, whilst Min-sik Choi is delightfully wicked as the cartoonish villain. Special effects in Lucy are great. The film is well paced, and the action sequences are effectively executed.

Lucy will not satisfy all audiences, but it is fun viewing, as well as being refreshing in its sense of the unorthodox.

Stuff To Look At

Plenty of trailers this week, with Mortdecai, The Maze Runner, Maps to the Stars and more…

Mortdecai

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Here is the first trailer for Mortdecai. The film stars Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor. Depp plays Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer on a mission to recover a stolen painting. The film will be released in January 2015.

The Maze Runner

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Above is an introduction to the characters in upcoming action thriller The Maze Runner. Based on the best-selling novel, The Maze Runner is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The film will hit UK screens on 10th October 2014.

Maps to the Stars

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David Cronenberg’s latest Maps to the Stars is about the celebrity-obsessed culture. The film features an enviable cast, including Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska. Maps to the Stars will be released in UK cinemas on 26th October 2014.

Love, Rosie

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Love Rosie is a new British comedy starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin. The film focuses on best friends Rosie and Alex who decide to attend university together in the US. Love Rosie is scheduled for release on 22nd October 2014.

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue

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Planes 2: Fire and Rescue is out in cinemas now. The above video shows how to draw protagonist Dusty. No matter how good the instruction, mine would still turn out looking nothing like that. Although I did draw a good Mrs Potts once.

Horns

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Well this looks unsettling. Supernatural thriller Horns stars Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Max Minghella. The film hits UK cinemas on 29th October 2014, just in time for Halloween.

The Expendables 3 Press Conference

The Expendables 3

Last week the cast of The Expendables 3 were in London to discuss making the film, on-set injuries, and the future of the franchise. Heading the cast, Sylvester Stallone was joined by Kellan Lutz, Antonio Banderas, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes and producer Avi Lerner. Here are the highlights…

On injuries sustained…

Antonio Banderas: I think I got an injury the first take I did in the movie. I carried it all the way through the move, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want them to think I was getting older.

Sylvester Stallone: Jason [Statham] actually saw death in the bottom of the Black Sea. He’s very modest about it. He drove a five ton truck sixty feet down into black mud… because I cut the break line. That’s a little reveal, by the way.

Wesley Snipes: I broke a nail…

Stallone: …in someone’s eye.

On violence in The Expendables 3…

Stallone: The idea of PG-13; we wanted to hit a broader audience. And our predecessors, looking at the Bournes and James Bonds, they are pretty violent films. They are extremely graphic without pushing it. When we do the DVD, then you’ll see the next eighty frames and you’ll say ‘oh, there it is’. Also I thought the amount of violence, the amount of warfare in this movie, if it was graphic, after a while it would be too much. Even though I personally enjoy it, I think it would be pushing the envelope. Also it would diminish the humour.

On The Expendabelles…

Stallone: You don’t have to totally depend on actresses per se – you’re going to need a certain kind of physicality to pull that off… With The Expendabelles we have a situation here where we’re in unchartered waters. Are The Expendabelles part of a divorce with Barney, and say Sigourney Weaver as my wife and she inherited half the Expendables. So it’s all these things you are trying to concoct, so when we do it, it doesn’t languish there… it’s actually something that would hold its own.

Avi Lerner: We are right now finalising the script, we have lots of ideas about who is going to be the action movie stars. We are planning to do it the beginning of next year.

On favourite action sequences…

Kellan Lutz: You know honestly, being a part of this movie. To date, I’ve done only a few action movies.

Banderas: Anything that has to do with horses and sword-fighting.

Stallone: Overall, I would say dealing with Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, that was brutal. He was so unbelievably powerful, it’s hard to describe. The idea of sustaining a fifteen-round fight and you know that it took six months, so it’s really on long stunt. That’s what I am really proud of; I know I can never come close to something like that today.

The Expendables 3 is out in cinemas now.

Film Review: The Expendables 3

Expendables 3

The latest instalment, The Expendables 3 certainly brings star power. Nevertheless, the film is a bit patchy; the narrative and visuals could have done with more work.

Whilst on a mission, Barney Ross and his team of mercenaries take a personal hit. Barney is determined to track down the arms dealer responsible, requiring fresh blood to do so…

Director Patrick Hughes’ The Expendables 3 continues on the same tact as the previous two films. However this instalment lacks some of the humour of The Expendables 2, which was a highlight of that film.

The story in The Expendables 3 is not particlarly compelling. There is a focus on the new characters that protagonist Barney meets. This new breed of mercenaries, however, are not that interesting as characters. Only one of these new characters has a distinct personality, and is a welcome addition to proceedings.

The Expendables 3 would have definitely benefitted from more humour. The second film in this franchise got the balance right between action and comedy. This film reverts to the more serious style of the first film. This is a shame, as the second film was overt in not taking itself too seriously. The Expendables 3 has too many moments where it attempts to bring emotion (with lingering shots and the like). Unfortunately this simply is not there.

The film relies on some action heavy set pieces. Some of the effects in the film are poorly executed. Stock footage is used to a noticable point. The violence does feel as if it has been edited for a lower rating. The action works best with the physical combat, of which some of the new additions show their prowess.

Antonio Banderas is a welcome addition to the cast. Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes seem to be having fun in their roles, while Mel Gibson is well cast. The chemistry between Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham so pushed in all three films still does not generate the laughs that it hopes to.

The Expendables 3 will no doubt satisfy fans of the franchise for its star names and brash action. Any further films need to remember the comedy, and offer a more gripping story.

God’s Pocket and Directorial Debuts

God's Pocket

This week sees the release of John Slattery’s directorial debut God’s Pocket. Slattery is better known for his on-screen skills, notably in television’s Mad Men, as well as roles in The Adjustment Bureau and Iron Man 2. John Slattery’s debut is the latest in a long line of actors who have stepped behind the camera following an already successful on-screen career. Here I take a look at previous directorial debuts…

Robert De Niro

After two decades and numerous acolades for his acting skills, Robert De Niro turned director in 1993 with A Bronx Tale. Critically successful if not a commercial smash, A Bronx Tale saw De Niro taking cues from his long-time collaborator Martin Scorsese in terms of themes and style. De Niro’s only other directing credit is The Good Shepherd (2006).

Ben Affleck

After starring in numerous high-profile movies and winning an Oscar for his writing, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut arrived in 2007 with Gone Baby Gone. The film was well-received, although Affleck’s directing skills may have flown under the radar in the UK at that time as the film was not released due to similarities to a high profile case. However if anyone was in doubt of Ben Affleck’s directing abilities, he displayed them ably in 2010′s The Town and 2012′s Argo, for which he was awarded the Best Director Oscar.

Drew Barrymore

Whip It

Former child star and Hollywood stalwart Drew Barrymore directed a documentary for television in 2004. However it was her feature debut Whip It in 2009 which brought her to the attention of critics and audiences as a director. Since then, Barrymore has only stretched her directing muscles with a Best Coast music video, featuring an array of young Hollywood talent.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Another former child actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt had reinvigorated his acting career with roles in 500 Days of Summer and Inception before turning his attention to directing. With a number of shorts under his belt, Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut came in 2013 with Don Jon, which he also wrote. Starring in the title role, Gordon-Levitt displayed a promising talent as filmmaker.

God’s Pocket is out in UK cinemas on 8th August 2014.

Film Review: Planes 2: Fire and Rescue

PLANES 2: FIRE & RESCUE

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue can be applauded for heading into a different direction than a standard sequel narrative. Nevertheless, the are a number of issues which detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.

Preparing for his next big race, Dusty finds out that his engine is damaged. Pondering how this will effect his career, Dusty is offered an opportunity to train as a firefighting plane…

The premise of Planes 2: Fire and Rescue is decent. Instead of plumping for a recycled plot of the protagonist continuing on the trajectory of the first film and overcoming obstacles, Planes 2 opts to do something different. The film fashions a new career for its protagonist, offering him less of the glamour for something more worthwhile.

The main issue with Planes 2: Fire and Rescue is that the narrative is not very inspiring. The new characters introduced in the film are not that interesting, leaving the burden to carry the story on the shoulders, or rather wings of protagonist. Dusty is likeable enough, but his story is never fully engaging.

Pacing in Planes 2 is a bit patchy. The musical interlude as Dusty travels to his training feels out of place. This segment might lose the attention of the younger demographic that the film surely is aimed at. The film aims to be rather noble in its themes, although the story of being set on a different path has been executed better elsewhere.

Comedy in the film is gentle. Planes 2: Fire and Rescue raises a couple of titters, but it is unlikely that the film will satisfy older viewers on this account. More consistent humour would have been a most welcome addition, especially as the narrative fails to fully engage.

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue should satisfy fans of the first Planes film, but it is unlikely to successful captivate a new audience.

Film Review: God’s Pocket

God's Pocket

John Slattery’s God’s Pocket is an engaging drama. Its flecks of dark humour are in keeping with the film’s tone.

When Mickey’s stepson dies at work, his troubles begin. With a mourning wife, Mickey also has to contend with a debt he can’t pay, and a body he can’t get rid of…

Based on Peter Dexter’s novel, God’s Pocket is foremost a tale of a blue collar neighbourhood. The film relies on solid writing and well drawn characters to reel viewers in. And for the most part, God’s Pocket is successful in this endeavour.

Main characters in God’s Pocket are well developed. The beauty of the film is that it does not take viewers long to make the measure of them. As the protagonist, Mickey is a convincing outsider in the close-knit community. Moreover, he is well drawn as the down-on-his-luck archetype, whose problems are at least partly self-inflicted.

There are some stereotypes in God’s Pocket, such as Jeanie the unsatisfied housewife or her delinquent son Leon. The veteran newspaper writer Richard Shelburn certainly follows an archetype. Nevertheless, this character brings colour and is entertaining to watch.

The script contains some elements of humour, which are effective despite the sombre setting. The opening sequence works well to immediately give the film shape. The different narrative strands tie in together suitably, whilst still allowing for some colourful characters. The tone of the film is maintained throughout to engulf audiences into the particular environment of the film.

In one of his final role, Philip Seymour Hoffman is as impressive as ever as Mickey. He is ably supported by a very strong cast. Christina Hendricks is well cast as Jeanie, while Richard Jenkins is perfect as Shelburn. John Turturro and Eddie Marsan are great in smaller roles.

God’s Pocket offers great performance and a good screenplay. John Slattery’s directorial debut certainly shows his promise from behind the camera.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a hugely entertaining summer blockbuster which will undoubtedly put a smile on its audience’s face.

Out in space, human Peter Quill steals an orb to sell on. Little does he realise that this object is sought after by a villain who seeks mass destruction. Peter must team up with an unlikely band of individuals to save the galaxy…

Guardians of the Galaxy is tremendous fun. Director and co-writer James Gunn gets the tone of the film spot on. Guardians of the Galaxy combines action and adventure with humour in the style of the best blockbuster movies.

There is ample humour in Guardians of the Galaxy. The jokes work on a number of levels, and are a great source of amusement. Nevertheless, the comedy does not detract from more serious elements of the narrative. The strength of Guardians of the Galaxy is its ability to quickly shift in tone in a manner which is convincing.

The script of Guardians of the Galaxy works well to introduce a host of characters. The film develops these characters with their distinct personalities without taking anything away from the narrative. The chemistry between the protagonists is good; the script is peppered with humorous interactions.

Pacing in the film is excellent, with momentum being held for the two-hour run time. Action sequences are finely executed. There is a good balance of effects-laden set pieces and one-on-one combat. The art direction of Guardians of the Galaxy is such that the highly-stylised worlds are both visually sumptuous, yet plausible within the universe created.

Chris Pratt shows off his comedy chops as Peter. The actor is also convincing in more serious moments. Bradley Cooper is amusing as the voice of Rocket, whilst Dave Bautista offers good delivery as Drax. Both the score and soundtrack of the film are fantastic.

Guardians of the Galaxy just might be the most fun film of the summer. With shades of Star Wars, this blockbuster is highly recommended.