Stuff To Look At

This week, a look at the most eagerly-anticpated movies coming out in the next few months or next year, including Avengers: Age of Ultron, Birdman, and Into The Woods

Avengers: Age of Ultron

YouTube Preview Image

The week’s most talked about trailer sees a first look at the highly-anticpated Avengers: Age of Ultron. From this initial footage, the film appears less humorous than its wildly successful predecessor Avengers Assemble. We will find out whether this is the case or not when Avengers: Age of Ultron is released in April 2015.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

YouTube Preview Image

Here is one of the new TV spots for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Things are heating up in the franchise, with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss fights to save a nation and her friends. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 will hit the big screen on 20th November 2014.

Birdman

YouTube Preview Image

I cannot wait for this one. Black comedy Birdman features a stellar cast, headed by the wonderful Michael Keaton starring as a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played a superhero. Birdman, which is receiving an abundance of praise so far, is released in UK cinemas on 2nd January 2014.

The Drop

YouTube Preview Image

The Drop features the final performance from the late James Gandolfini. It also features Tom Hardy and a puppy, as illustrated above. No word on how integral a role the adorable puppy plays in the rest of the film. The Drop will be released in cinemas on 14th November 2014.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Hobbit 3 poster

What’s happened to Gandalf?! Here is one of the latest images from the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The final part of The Hobbit series, I am really hoping the film features Gollum. Everything needs more Gollum. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies will open on 12th December 2014.

Inherent Vice

YouTube Preview Image

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice features an amazing cast and a fantastic trailer. Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel, the film’s cast includes Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson. Inherent Vice is set for release on 30th January 2015.

Interstellar

YouTube Preview Image

The more I see of Interstellar, the more interesting it looks. Christopher Nolan directs Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway in his stab at space exploration. Interstellar lands in cinemas on 7th November 2014.

Into The WoodsINTO THE WOODS image

Disney and fairy tales are like… two things that go very well together. Leading on from a new look at Into The Woods earlier this week, here is an image from the film. Starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Emily Blunt, musical Into The Woods is set for release on 9th January 2015.

Big Eyes

YouTube Preview Image

Tim Burton’s latest effort appears to mark a departure from his more recent films. For one, Johnny Depp is nowhere to be seen. Big Eyes seems more reminiscent of Big Fish than more recent films, and that is definitely a good thing. Starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes is set for release in the UK on 26th December 2014.

The Theory of Everything

YouTube Preview Image

Here is a clip from upcoming Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. Starring Eddie Redmayne as the young physicist and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, the arts student he feel in love with at Cambridge, The Theory of Everything is released in UK cinemas on 1st January 2014.

Film Review: The Babadook

The Babadook

Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is a horror that successful generates a pervading atmosphere of unease. The film delivers the chills effectively.

Widowed Amelia is still coming to terms with the sudden death of her husband several years ago. Amelia struggles to cope with the erratic behaviour of her son Samuel, who is convinced there is a monster in their house…

Writer-director Jennifer Kent’s take on the haunted house narrative is a nervy experience that should sate horror fans looking for a Halloween fix. The Babadook features a narrative that keeps viewers engaged, and enough scares to keep them on their toes.

One of the film’s strong points is its narrative. Initially appearing to be standard haunted house fare, the film develops beyond this as it progresses. There are sufficient red herrings in The Babadook to keep audiences guessing. The film seems like it is heading in a certain direction to begin with, but Kent wisely subverts this. The lack of predictability in the film is refreshing.

Pacing in The Babadook is great. The film effectively introduces the background of the family, allowing certain issues to come into play later in the narrative. There are some familiar tropes in the film, but these do not detract from the overall enjoyment. There are enough jumpy moments in The Babadook to have a lasting effect.

Essie Davis is solid as Amelia. Her exhaustion is effectively conveyed. Noah Wiseman is also good as Samuel. Sound design in the film is very effective. Art direction gives The Babadook a distinctive look. There is something earthy, bordering on grimy, that works well with the overall feel of the film.

The Babadook is a successful horror thanks to the atmosphere it generates. Jennifer Kent wisely chooses not to reveal all in the film, giving audiences something to ponder as they depart.

Film Review: This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I Leave You

Director Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You is a schmalzty comedy drama. An entertaining watch, the film nevertheless lays it on thick with the emotion.

After his father passes away, Judd Altman and his three adult siblings are forced to return to their childhood home for a week. In this time, they are forced to confront the state of their relationships, as well as dealing with their over-sharing mother…

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s novel, with the  author also writing the screenplay, This is Where I Leave You features on the sentimental end of comedy dramas. Humour punctuates throughout the film, although the emphasis is on drama. Levy’s film is frequently heavy with emotion, although some of these moments are broken with laughs.

This is Where I Leave You’s comedy often relies on the uttering the inappropriate. The film balances to an extent on the non-normative relationship between the four siblings and their mother, who does not behave in the traditional maternal role at times. There is certainly humour to be found in this set up, although this does not balance out the more sentimental aspects of the film.

The family dynamic works well for the most part. The siblings are drawn with distinction, and the relationships between family members seem realistic. Whilst the varying degrees of relationship is fine, some of the situations in This is Where I Leave You feel contrived. The dialogue is heavy on sentiment, some conversations appear desperate for an emotional reaction as a result. Other interactions seem more natural, and meaningful.

Performances in the film are good overall. Jane Fonda appears to be having fun, whilst Jason Bateman does his usual straight man to others’ more outlandish personalities. The film’s score suggests a striving for pensive emotion.

Whilst a sharper pace and less unambiguous peddling for reaction would have been welcome, This is Where I Leave You is still entertaining viewing.

Film Review: Oculus

Oculus

Mike Flanagan’s Oculus is a decent horror film. Despite its fair share of genre clichés, the film offers a nervy final third.

Recently released from an institution because of a childhood incident, Tim reunites with his older sister Kaylie. She is convinced that the incident was caused by a supernatural mirror, and sets out to prove this to Tim…

Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan has constructed Oculus to run two narrative strands, past and present, concurrently. This is an astute move, as it helps to generate a sense of mystery. The audience are not given all the facts initially, which makes it interesting to watch the stories unfold. The blurring between reality and the imagined is potent in Oculus. As the film progresses, this becomes more integral to the plot.

Whilst the film is dominantly a supernatural horror, Oculus does rely on issues of the psyche to drive its protagonists. There is an element of uncertainty of what is perceived, and the two main characters are less and less reliable witnesses as the film reaches its conclusion. There are some good ideas in the film, even if some o these are not fully executed.

Some of the reveals in Oculus are predictable. The set up of the film is also riddled with a significant flaw, taking into account what Kaylie has found out about the power of the mirror. Nevertheless, special effects are good. Gore is apparent in some wince-inducing moments, but generally Oculus relies on the supernatural activity and atmosphere to generate fear. Performances by leads Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are are adequate. Some of the child acting is less believable.

Oculus is a very watchable horror movie. Whilst it is not genre-changing, the film becomes more entertaining as it progresses.

Oculus is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 20th October 2014.

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.