Film Review: Fury

Fury

David Ayer’s Fury is a well executed war film. The action sequences are fantastic, although the film adds little to the genre overall.

As the Allies make their final push in Germany, army sergeant Don Collier leads his small crew on a pivotal but deadly mission. With a rookie soldier, the crew fight against the odds in their mission to defeat the Nazis…

Writer-director David Ayer has constructed a decent film with Fury. In terms of pacing and action, the film is highly effective. The conflict scenes are visceral, tense, and unflinching. There is not much room for sentimentality in Fury, and the film is better for this.

The relentlessness of conflict is a theme that pervades Fury. Through the character of Norman, the inexperienced young soldier, Ayer aims to depict how the frontline will change a person. In this way, Fury can be seen as depicting a microcosm of the wider impact of war.

The table scene is a perfect illustration of the tensions within the crew. The film seems to suggest that this is the result of the confined environment in which they reside, and the pressures of war for long-serving soldiers. The ending of Fury is a little too neat, and goes against the thematic direction of the film.

Collier appears to speak almost solely in soundbites. Elsewhere, dialogue is more realistic, if a bit difficult to understand at times. In the action sequences, the editing and sound design are superb, as are the special effects.

Fury offers good performances from Shia LaBoeuf, Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, and the rest of the cast. The film sustains the attention and effectively conveys the brutality of conflict. Although it does not offer too much in terms of originality, Fury is a solid war film.

Fury closed the BFI London Film Festival on 19th October 2014.

Film Review: Whiplash

Whiplash

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is magnificent, unrelenting, masterfully crafted cinema.

Andrew is a promising young drummer studying at a prestigious music conservatory. Andrew dreams of greatness, something that his band instructor will stop at nothing to extract…

Whiplash is an exemplary film, with plenty of cause to praise and nothing to criticise. Writer and director Damien Chazelle has done an excellent job in crafting a film that hits all the high notes.

From its premise, it might be difficult to see how a film about a drummer and his teacher could be tense, consuming and enthralling. However, this is exactly what Whiplash is. Chazelle wisely reveals enough about his protagonists to make the audience empathise, without weighing a buoyant narrative down with character development.

The story in Whiplash is constructed so the audience identifies with Andrew, the determined young drummer. He is flawed, yet in an underdog position which makes viewers root for him. Fletcher is more complex in that he comes across as a bully, but not necessarily a bad guy.

The cat and mouse dynamic between these two protagonists is a delight to watch. The burgeoning relationship keeps the audience on their toes; it is difficult to second guess what will happen next. The delicious, sting-in-the-tail finale is a masterstroke by Chazelle.

Editing in Whiplash is superb in heightening tension. The cinematography is also effective in illustrating the exhaustion of the demands put on Andrew. J.K. Simmons is a tour de force as Fletcher. His performance is convincing and always compelling. Miles Teller is also fantastic is Andrew. He brings as intensity to the role that is astounding in pivotal scenes.

Whiplash is a fantastic film, which should leave viewers eager to see more from Damien Chazelle. Must-see cinema.

Whiplash is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an action adventure that should appeal to children, although older viewers may desire more from the narrative.

Reporter April O’Neill is determined to get meatier stories. With the rise of the Foot Clan criminal gang, April is lead to four mysterious crime fighters who live in the sewers beneath New York…

Based on the 1980s cartoon series and 1990s spin-off films, this version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is for a new generation. Whilst there are nods to earlier incarnations, it seems as if director Jonathan Liebesman and his team of screenwriters are intending to create a new realm for a young audience.

The narrative of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles offers nothing particularly original. The film is a by-the-numbers action adventure, with an origins story which unfolds as the film progresses. The twist in the film is predictable, and in fact there is little that occurs that viewers will not expect.

Characterisation in the film is stark to differentiate between the four turtles. A consequence of this is that they are rendered caricatures by this requirement to make them distinct. Elsewhere, Shredder is a one-dimensional villain, and April is earnest but hollow.

Dialogue in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is simply catchphrases and plot exposition. Some of the jokes may provoke a smirk, but there will be few who find the humour consistently funny. The film also feels like it goes on for too long. The chase sequence, for example, feels unnecessary; another set piece to pad out the film in lieu of plot.

Special effects in the film are seamless. Megan Fox does an adequate job as April O’Neill, whilst Will Arnett needed better lines as comic foil Vernon.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems squarely aimed at a young audience, rather than aiming to engage fans of the original series. One for younger viewers.

Film Review: The Judge

The Judge

The Judge offers solid performances from its two leads. Nonetheless, this is not enough to carry the entire film.

High profile lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his small hometown for the first time in years after a family bereavement. When his estranged father, the long-standing town judge, is arrested for murder, Hank sets out help him…

The premise of The Judge is decent enough. There is an element of mystery to the case which should engage viewers for the most part. In fact, if the film had concentrated on the criminal case, it is likely that The Judge would have been a more satisfying film.

However, director David Dobkin chooses to concentrate on the relationship dynamic rather than the criminal case in The Judge. The central narrative of the strained relationship between father and son is not necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, the characters are not developed sufficiently to make this compelling. There is something rather two-dimensional about the characters. They are archetypes, which the audience will be familiar with. Whilst reasons for the difficult relationship are explained as the film progresses, these never feel fully authentic.

Ultimately, The Judge is let down by this, as well as its pacing. The film is overlong, with plenty of scenes that do little to move along plot or to further develop characters. The climax of the film is particularly mawkish. Whilst a breakthrough in the relationship needed to occur, the setting and reaction of observers seems to break noticeably from what would be the reality. The Judge may have had a greater impact if a greater degree of subtlety had been employed.

Robert Duvall offers a strong performance as Joseph Palmer. Robert Downey Jr. brings his charisma to Hank; a role not dissimilar from other lead characters he has played. It is almost as if the screenwriters have relied on the actor’s persona to build the character.

The Judge offers a high-calibre cast, but a lacklustre end product. Ultimately, the film feels like a wasted opportunity.

Film Review: Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth

Director James Kent’s Testament of Youth is a competent historical drama that expresses the horrors of World War I, albeit in a poetic fashion.

Vera Brittain is determined to go to Oxford along with her brother and his friends, even though her father is against it. Vera’s plans are thrown into chaos, however, with the outbreak of the First World War…

Based on Vera Brittain’s memoirs, Testament of Youth is a solid account of the First World War on the educated upper middle classes. Seen through the prism of Vera and her loved ones, the devastation of this conflict is laid bare by director Kent. The film depicts the impact the war had not only on those who saw fighting, but on their loved ones and families. Testament of Youth really hones in on the effect of losing loved ones.

As a protagonist, Vera is wilful and determined, but not necessarily immediately likeable. As the film progresses, however, the audience will feel more empathy for her. The narrative is aptly woven, with sufficient character development for all the main players. Characters in Testament of Youth are certainly believable.

The film makes the most of the landscape. This scenes are beautifully shot, and feed into the poetry that is intwined in the picture. The preoccupation with poetry gives Testament of Youth a romantic feel which sits in contrast with the brutality of war. The film plays on this contrast, creating an abrasion between the violence of the frontline and  the pleasantry of the youngsters’ upbringings.

Alicia Vikander delivers a mostly understated but effective performance as Vera. Elsewhere, Emily Watson and Colin Morgan standout in a decent cast. Testament of Youth is an attentively crafted picture, which gives pause to thought.

Testament of Youth is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

Film Review: ’71

'71

Director Yann Demange’s feature debut ’71 is a tense and compelling thriller that is finely executed.

Gary Hook is a young British soldier sent for his first mission to Belfast. When he is accidentally abandoned by his unit, Gary must fend for himself on the deadly streets of 1971 Belfast…

’71 is a unmistakably visceral film that demands the audience’s attention throughout. The narrative is well-paced, with heightened tension occurring at frequent intervals. It is the sense of anxiety which is really effective in keeping viewers fully engaged with the film.

’71 tells the audience enough about the protagonist to give him depth. Wisely, the film concentrates on action rather than the character of individual players. At its heart, ’71 is about the actions that take of the course of one day. Although Gary is drawn as a sympathetic protagonist, his inexperience and vulnerability are what drive the film’s plot.

The style of filing forces the audience to become part of the action in ’71. The use of handheld camera is effective at situation viewers at the forefront of the action. The grainy quality to the picture gives the film a 1970s feel. Cinematography in the film is great. Likewise, the art direction gives an authentic, period feel. Sound design is highly effective, particularly in pivotal scenes. Jack O’Connell delivers a sincere and convincing performance as Gary. It is not difficult to empathise with his predicament.

With moments of palpable tension, ’71 is satisfying thriller. Exhibiting shades of grey in the behaviour of characters and the situation, Demange offers a most competent thriller.

’71 is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014, and is released in cinemas on 10th October 2014.

Film Review: Men, Women & Children

MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN

Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children is a treatise on the negative aspects of the internet. The drama is slow-burning, with characters that engage throughout.

A group of high school students navigate the modern world, with their lives played out and guided by online activity. Their parents too navigate the impact the internet has had in their lives…

In previous films, director and co-writer Jason Reitman has exhibited a knack for depicting authentic characters, not all of whom are entirely likeable. Reitman continues this trend with Men, Women & Children, albeit with an ensemble cast rather than one or two protagonists.

Men, Women & Children distributes its run time fairly evenly between parents and their kids. The film takes a little while to develop the characters, given the numbers involved in the storylines. Nevertheless, as the film progresses, the characters are fleshed out sufficiently to make them appear authentic.

Reitman’s film is abundantly clear in its views of the impact of the internet. As a fable on the negative aspects of the internet, Men, Women & Children feels like it has arrived a little late. Whilst the far-reaching impact of the internet on modern society is a topic ripe for investigation, the film seems reductive in its moralising. It is obvious the type of relationship which is endorsed by the film, and the types that are considered unhealthy.

Performances in the film are strong. The ensemble cast performs well, particularly Judy Greer and Elena Kampouris. Jennifer Garner is also decent, as is Adam Sandler; it is refreshing to see him in a more subdued role.The film’s soundtrack works well.

Although it does have its merits, Men, Women & Children is not at the same level as some of Jason Reitman’s previous films. A more nuanced depiction of the theme would have no doubt been an improvement.

Men, Women & Children is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

The Imitation Game Press Conference

The Imitation Game

Today sees the opening of the BFI London Film Festival 2014 with the screening of The Imitation Game. Director Morten Tyldum, screenwriter Graham Moore, and stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley were in London to discuss the film…

On Alan Turing as a figure of history

Benedict Cumberbatch: This has been an extraordinary decade for him [Alan Turing] because of his pardon, because of his centenary, because of exhibitions and books, and now this film. It is part of a momentum to have him at the forefront of the recognition he deserves, as a scientist and as the father of the modern computer age, as a war hero, and as a man who lived an uncompromising life.

Morten Tyldum: When I read the script, I was shocked about how little I knew. You know, why wasn’t he on the cover of history books.

On the character of Alan Turing

Graham Moore: I have been obsessed with the story of Alan Turing since I was a teenager. I was like enough to get to know the story of this tremendous person who accomplished all these things I knew about. As a fan of him, I always wanted to see an Alan Turing movie.

Morten Tyldum: To me, this is a movie about outsiders. It is a movie about somebody who is different, who thinks outside the box. He was an unsung hero who achieved so much. It is about a guy who was ahead of his time.

On opening the London Film Festival

Benedict Cumberbatch: It’s amazing to open the London Film Festival. I have always wanted to spend more time at the LFF, and to be upfront and centre with this film, I couldn’t be more proud of it. To present [The Imitation Game] to London is terrific.

Morten Tydum: It is a great honour. It is great for me to come here and show the film to a British audience.

The Imitation Game opens the BFI London Film Festival on 8th October 2014. See here for a live stream of the red carpet footage.

Film Review: The Imitation Game

THE IMITATION GAME

Director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is an engaging character study, which is sumptuously executed.

As World War II breaks out, academic Alan Turing is interviewed for a secretive position in Britain’s war effort. Alan and a team of talented mathematicians are tasked with breaking the ‘unbreakable’ enigma code used by Germany to transmit messages…

Alan Turing’s story is one that was kept quiet for so long, that even now the mathematician does not receive the recognition he deserves for his contribution to history. The Imitation Game makes a very good effort at rectifying this. It is a story that needs to be told.

The carefully crafted narrative is what makes The Imitation Game so engaging. The film jumps between pivotal periods in Alan Turing’s life. This works well to exhibit his personality, and the motivations that drive him in his task. The non-linear nature of the film creates an element of mystery of how Turing came to be in the position that viewers first meet him, as well as how enigma code got cracked.

The strand of Turing’s sexuality is an important one, which is given significant attention by the script. This is particularly significant, given the recent pardon. Much is made of the importance of what Turing achieved, rightly so, however The Imitation Game also recognises the importance the protagonists sexuality had to play in his life and the struggles of the period.

Brief sequences of conflict, devastation and archive footage are included, presumably to emphasise the importance and urgency of what the team were doing. These feel unnecessary; there are few who will not appreciate the enormity and wide-reaching effects of that war. The aerial sequences appear a little inauthentic. They have the look of animation rather than reality. Alexandre Desplat score is excellent.

Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a strong performance as Alan Turing. The unease and sharpness of the character are aspects Cumberbatch has delivered before. Mark Strong is well cast, as is Matthew Goode.

The Imitation Game is an excellent portrayal of what Alan Turing achieved during WWII. Not neglecting the role others had to play, the film is utmost the story of Turing; a long-overdue tale.

The Imitation Game opens the London Film Festival on 8th October 2014.

Film Review: The Maze Runner

THE MAZE RUNNER

The Maze Runner is an entertaining action thriller which only suffers with being too reminiscent of other recent films in this genre.

When Thomas wakes up in a cage with no memory of who he is and how he got there, he quickly learns that he and many other young boys are trapped in a maze. The only hope to escape is through the mapping of the ‘runners’. Thomas hopes to join them and escape the maze…

Based on James Dashner’s novel, The Maze Runner is a dystopian action film aimed at a teenage audience. The premise of the film offers viewers enough of a hook. The central question of why these boys have been sent to such an environment sustains the audience’s attention for a good portion of the film.

Protagonist Thomas is strong enough to carry the film in that it is immediately clear that there is more to him. The Maze Runner offers an ensemble of young characters. Many of these are archetypes. Thomas and Gally are suitably developed to make them appear authentic, although Gally’s transformation does seem accelerated at the very end of the film. The Maze Runner is well paced for the most part, even if the ending feels a bit melodramatic in contrast to what has preceded it.

Themes in The Maze Runner are redolent of other recent dystopian blockbusters such as The Hunger Games. There is a preoccupation with teenagers being made to suffer unduly, which underlines both this film and recent others. Moreover, that the film will continue on to something else seems almost mandatory. Art direction in the film is good, particularly the industrial look of the maze. Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee and Will Poulter offer decent performances.

Ultimately, any lack of success endured by The Maze Runner will be likely down to the fact that it feels unoriginal in the scope of its sub-genre. Really, the film misfires only in its release so soon after similar pictures.