Film Review: Hercules

Hercules

Brett Ratner’s version of Hercules is an amusing action romp that distinguishes itself from previous versions of the myth.

Hercules has built up a fierce reputation by completing the legendary twelve labours. Hercules and his team of warriors are sought out by the King of Thrace, who requires help to defend his land and his people…

The most striking aspect of Hercules is how the film takes a well-known mythological character and places him in a plausible environment. Unlike previous version of the myth, Brett Ratner’s film eschews the fantastical elements of the Hercules story, positing him instead as a character that could have actually existed.

Based on Steve Moore’s graphic novel, Hercules offers a revisionist account of the myth. The supernatural aspects of his quests are explained in a plausible fashion, whilst even the protagonist himself makes light of some of the more exaggerated aspects of his feats. In this way, Hercules offers something different to previous cinematic adaptations.

The film follows fairly conventional action adventure tropes in terms of narrative and characters. The vein of humour that runs through the film is most welcome; this is a version of Hercules that can laugh at itself, to a certain extent. The comedy is a good fit for this non-supernatural account. Nevertheless, when the film makes attempts at gravitas, it can feel a little hollow.

Action in the film is good. Many of the scenes rely on the physicality of the actors, and in this respect Hercules is well cast. The set pieces are well executed in terms of scale, although some of the effects look less authentic. Dwayne Johnson makes a likeable hero, whilst John Hurt brings some gravity as Lord Cotys.

Hercules is perhaps not a definitive version of the myth. Although the film may not be as memorable as the legend itself, it is nevertheless an entertaining watch.

Film Review: The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy

James DeMonaco’s sequel The Purge: Anarchy offers some interesting ideas, like its predecessor. It is a shame that these are not executed as effectively as they could be however.

The annual night of the purge is about to commence, and most citizens are rushing home to barricade themselves against intruders. When a few innocents unwittingly find themselves on the streets after sunset, it is up to a mysterious stranger to help them survive…

The Purge: Anarchy follows the same format of its predecessor, confining action to a single day of the purge. The sequel deviates by focusing on a few disparate pairs. Rather than the wealthy family of the first film, The Purge: Anarchy focuses on less well-off characters.

The distinction between rich and poor was a key theme of The Purge. This dynamic takes centre stage in the sequel. The ideas here are adequate enough; it is a pity that some of them remain underdeveloped, whilst others are not really executed in a satisfying fashion.

Characters in The Purge: Anarchy are not really developed enough for viewers to become invested in their fates. The exception to this is Frank Grillo’s character, who retains some mystery. Other main characters have little to give them colour. To begin with, the snippets of information present an edge of mystery. Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that they are simply one dimensional.

The Purge: Anarchy presents its viewers with some apparently shocking situations. Violence is frequent, yet some of these incidents are not as affecting as writer-director James DeMonaco may have hoped. The set-ups are fine, but sometimes an understated approach would have had more of an effect. The film is rather clear on its opinion of violence. Yet, it does not shy away from gratuitous scenes.

Pacing in the film is good, and performances are adequate. The downside to The Purge: Anarchy is that some good ideas are not developed into memorable viewing.

Film Review: 20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet from Stardom

Morgan Neville’s Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom is a must-see for popular music fans.

Filmmaker Morgan Neville delves into the world of backup singers in 20 Feet from Stardom. Morgan talks to some of the most successful vocalists in the business; although they are not household names, they have lent their voices to some of the most popular songs of all time…

20 Feet from Stardom focuses on an area that most music fans would have thought about, but perhaps not spent too much time looking into. The realm of the backup singer is mostly an anonymous one, despite the fame of the records that they work on. 20 Feet from Stardom aims to shine a light on this world, by concentrating on some of the most successful vocalists in the business.

Morgan Neville’s film has a storytelling quality to it, going back to the early days of the popular use of backing singers and traversing through key moments to the present day. The film exemplifies how important a role these vocalists played on some of popular music most memorable songs. Neville speaks to some big-name lead singers in his film. Their perspective is an interesting one; with Sting’s words in particular rather poignant regarding making it in the music industry.

Integral to 20 Feet from Stardom are some key backing vocalists. Morgan speaks to a small group of singers who performed on key tracks over several decades. The film does pose the question of whether they tried to make it big in their own right. The answer to this is multi-faceted, as 20 Feet from Stardom illustrates. Morgan speaks to singers at various points in their career, who offer varying stories of success and working with well-know artists. There is not one singing who noticeably receives more screen time than the others. Like the backup vocalists themselves, this is a group effort.

20 Feet from Stardom is fantastic for its highlighting of these talented singers, and the different stories they have to tell. The film is most deserved of the praise it has received.

20 Feet from Stardom is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download from Monday 21st July 2014.

Film Review: The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie

With its home entertainment release, The LEGO Movie might just be the most fun film of the year. It is certainly a paragon of movies based on toy lines.

Emmet is just an ordinary construction worker. When he is thought to be the prophesied ‘Special’, Emmet is recruited to a quest to stop an evil tyrant from destroying the LEGO universe…

The LEGO Movie at first did not appear too appealing a proposition. The legacy of films based on toy lines has been less than prestigious. Nevertheless, The LEGO Movie goes some way in turning the tide, with its gregarious fun factor.

Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller choose to focus on Emmet, a character so ordinary that there are plenty of jokes to be made of this. There are a host of amusing supporting characters, but the protagonist is rooted for precisely for his underdog status.

The LEGO Movie is incredibly successful at garnering laughs from its audience. The humour in the film is superb, with visual and verbal gags on both on point. There are a lot of pop culture references in the film, underlined by the presence of some well-known characters (albeit the LEGO versions).

The message at the heart of The LEGO Movie is one that most will applaud. For all the jokes, the film’s narrative is one that will have resonance. The pacing in the film is excellent, with action moving along steadily and no real decline in momentum.

Animation in The LEGO Movie is great. Attention to detail in the film is really strong; those that played with LEGO as children will certainly recognise an element or two. The film’s main song is wonderful in its simplicity and humorous employment.

The LEGO Movie will be enjoyed by children and adults alike; a genuinely funny and constantly entertaining family film.

The LEGO Movie is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Monday 21st July 2014.

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful accomplishment in terms of effects, narrative and action sequences, and a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster.

Ten years after the initial outbreak of simian flu, Caesar leads a growing band of genetically evolved apes. When a group of human survivors stumbles across the apes, the threat to both groups is clear…

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is positioned in rather a curious position in being a sequel to a prequel. Viewers are aware of what is inevitable, so the film focuses on the journey towards this point. Given the outcome revealed in the previous Planet of the Apes movies, it would be understandable if this new film lacked engagement. Thankfully, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes eschews any pitfalls of its positioning.

Set ten years after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Matt Reeves’ movie is a most worthy successor. The film works so well because it focus on a microcosm of activity, which has universal impact. The intricacies and issues of the relationship between humans and the evolved apes are explored in a detail which is compelling, yet allows Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to fulfill its blockbuster expectations.

The narrative explore the fragile relationship, focusing on Caesar from the first film and Malcolm, a new human protagonist. Through their attempts to understand each other, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes explores the best and worst of the human condition, drawing overt parallels between humans and the evolved animals. This is effective, as the character of Caesar is developed from the previous film, giving the audience a protagonist to root for.

There is a brooding inevitability about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes which takes the film to a place of covert horror. Despite knowing how the story will progress, the narrative is nevertheless engaging. Action sequences are finely executed, providing puff to the story’s pensiveness. The special effects in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes are a marvel. Even though viewers will know the apes are not real, the visual effects certainly fool the human eye.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great sequel and a wonderful example of a blockbuster that provides spectacle as an addition to a thought-provoking story.

First Look: Guardians of the Galaxy Footage

Guardians of the Galaxy footage

I was lucky enough to view some 3D Guardians of the Galaxy footage on IMAX yesterday evening, and it looks like the film will be a marvelously entertaining adventure romp. The scenes screened appear to be from close to the beginning of the film. They give a good introduction to the main characters. The action sequence screened was very well executed.  Tyler Bates’ score seems to be most rousing. Hopefully the combination of fantasy, action adventure and comedy works as successfully in the rest of the movie.

The Guardians of the Galaxy footage looked superb in IMAX. There is one shot in particular which was highly reminiscent of Star Wars. In fact, this had the same effect as the Disneyland Star Tours ride. In the footage screened, the IMAX format is highly effective at drawing viewers in. The aforementioned shot may even be a bit too much for those who suffer with motion sickness! It is no bad thing if Guardians of the Galaxy is taking its lead from Star Wars. The summer needs a genuinely entertaining adventure blockbuster, and Guardians of the Galaxy could just be it.

The Guardians of the Galaxy footage was screened at the Empire Leicester Square IMAX. Guardians of the Galaxy hits UK screens on 31st July 2014.

Film Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is an entertaining sequel which provides marvellous spectacle.

Five years since Hiccup and Toothless united Vikings and dragons, the islanders are living in harmony. When Hiccup and Toothless discover an ice cave on a neighbouring island, the pair find themselves at the centre of a battle to restore peace…

Following the success of How to Train Your Dragon, director Dean DeBlois is back for the second instalment. The narrative is fairly standard adventure fare, with a few devices thrown in fro good measure. After a little meandering at the beginning of the film (talking in the necessary foreshadowing), the pace picks up for the next two thirds.

Characters from the first film are developed in a natural manner, in keeping with what was presented there. Newcomers are fine for the most part, although the antagonist is a little one dimensional. The film relies on fantasy/action tropes rather than fleshing out this role. Nevertheless, the focus on the film remains on Hiccup and Toothless, so this is not a big problem.

The beauty of How to Train Your Dragon 2 is how engaging the central pair are. Hiccup and Toothless are well crafted enough for the audience to care about their outcomes. As a result, there are moments in the film that are genuinely emotional. Writer-director DeBlois has done well to make these come across as most sincere.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 offers tremendous spectacle with its animation. The flying sequences are wonderful to watch; and there is a richness to the animation which seems delightfully indulgent. It is really worth seeing the film in IMAX to experience just how fantastic the film looks. Jay Baruchel and Cate Blanchett lead a strong vocal cast.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a highly successful sequel. Fans of the first film will not be disappointed.

Highlights: Woody Allen Collection

Woody Allen Collection

A new boxset of the prolific director’s work, the Woody Allen Collection is available this week. In addition to Barbara Kopple’s 1997 documentary Wild Man Blues about the musical avocation of Woody Allen, the collection includes the director’s cinematic releases from 1994 to 2000. The films were released after my personal Allen favourite Manhattan Murder Mystery, and do not feature his best-known work. Nevertheless, here is why you should be watching these films…

Bullets Over Broadway

A playwright is forced to cast a mobster’s girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.

Why You Should Watch It: The film stars John Cusack in the ‘Woody Allen’ role.

Celebrity

The fortunes of a husband and wife differ following their divorce.

Why You Should Watch It: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a teen heartthrob in his post-Titanic role.

Deconstructing Harry

An author suffering with writer’s block starts to remember events from his past, whilst his fictional characters come to life.

Why You Should Watch It: Harry Block is one of Woody Allen’s quintessential roles.

Everyone Says I Love You

With her half-sister getting engaged, a New York girl decides to set her father up with a beautiful woman in a shaky marriage.

Why You Should Watch It: The film is a musical! Drew Barrymore, Ed Norton et al demonstrating their singing abilities.

Mighty Aphrodite

After discovering his adopted son is a genius, a sportswriter seeks out the boy’s borth mother

Why You Should Watch It: Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for her role in the film.

Small Time Crooks

A crook and his wife prosper after a botched bank job’s cover business becomes wildly successful.

Why You Should Watch It: Small Time Crooks was Woody Allen’s biggest grossing film of the 1990s in the US.

Sweet and Lowdown

A jazz guitarist faces gangsters and falls in love in the 1930s.

Why You Should Watch It: The film focuses on one of Allen’s greatest loves; jazz.

The Woody Allen Collection is available on DVD from 7th July 2014.

Film Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction certainly offers spectacle, thanks to great special effects and sound design. It is a pity that not as much effort was put into the plot of Michael Bay’s film.

Five years after the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons took place in Chicago, all alien robots are considered to be a threat by the US government. With Autobots being hunted down, when an self-styled inventor buys an old truck, he thinks he has found a Transformer…

Like the previous Transformers movies, Age of Extinction suffers from the problem of visual style over narrative substance. It seems like a lack of thought has gone into the story and plotting, which detracts from the positive aspects of the film.

The plot of Transformers: Age of Extinction is riddled with holes. There are elements that are introduced at the beginning of the film that are swept aside, or not really dealt with in any tangible way. There are various narrative strands at play, which explains the lengthy run time. However, some of these strands do not tie in successfully with others.

Transformers: Age of Extinction suffers from the problem of having to juggle various narrative elements, yet even with this abundance of activity the film lacks depth and purpose. Bay’s film feels overlong; there is too much in the first half of the film that could have been trimmed down.

With the various elements being introduced at the beginning of the film, at one point it appears as if screenwriter Ehren Kruger may have something interesting to say about threat and the nature of alien. However this gives way to the everyman story of Mark Wahlberg’s Cade and his family, which simply is not engaging. At least Stanley Tucci’s character shows some personality. Any hopes of a more tangible narrative are dashed by the undisguised product placement and the most overt political propaganda (in order to appease or appeal to a specific market).

Transformers: Age of Extinction redeems itself slightly with the climactic action scenes, which offer spectacle and some excitement. Visual effects are superb, with action scenes looking fantastic on an IMAX screen. Sound also works well to cement a sense of spectacle.

Most viewers who flock to see Transformers: Age of Extinction will not care what the reviews say. However, even these cinemagoers may hanker for a little more depth and narrative coherency.

Film Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

100 Year Old Man

Felix Herngren’s adaptation of novel The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is a frequently hilarious comedy adventure that should delight its audience.

Dynamite expert Allan Karlsson escapes from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. He sets off on what becomes an extraordinary adventure, although it is not the first of his hundred years…

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared successfully entertains viewers thanks to an interesting and surprising story and the film’s consistent humour.

The off-beat style of the film is clear from The 100-Year-Old Man‘s opening scene. Herngren and co-writer Hans Ingemansson have created a screenplay which focuses on storytelling. The mix of present narrative and flashbacks work well to flesh out the character of Allan Karlsson. The protagonist is such an interesting character for his peculiarities. This evolves as the film progresses, with anecdotes and flashbacks revealing more about his extraordinary life.

The story develops at a good pace. The beauty of The 100-Year-Old Man is the level of ambiguity over which way the story well lead. This unpredictability functions effectively to keep viewers engaged.

Although the focus of the film remains on Allan, he is supported by some colourful characters. These function as an audience to his story in the flashback scenes, as well as taking a significant role in the central narrative. The biker gang are good foils for Allan and his tribe.

Hengren’s direction does has a nice style. There are some nice aesthetics, particularly in the flashback sequences. Robert Gustafsson offers a good performance as Allan. His delivery is important for a lot of the humour.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared will provide good laughs and an enjoyable adventure for audiences who take a punt on the idiosyncratic comedy.