Film Review: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler

Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is an unnerving thriller. The film is atmospheric and well executed.

Louis Bloom is a young man desperate for work in Los Angeles. When he stumbles into the world of crime journalism in LA, Louis carves out his own niche…

Nightcrawler works best as a noirish thriller. Pulpy at times, Dan Gilroy’s film is nevertheless engaging and entertaining. There is an uncomfortable fascination with what Louis will do next. This aspect acutely mirrors the content of Louis’ work itself.

From the very beginning of the film, it is clear that Louis will be an unusual protagonist. The character exhibits traits which deviate from the norm. These are sometimes used as comedic devices. However, as Nightcrawler progresses, Louis’ persona and actions become increasingly disturbing. The protagonist is certainly memorable, even if some of his mannerisms appear over played at times.

Gilroy delivers the dark side of Los Angeles in Nightcrawler. This portrayal is not unlike the urban depictions in classic noir and neo-noir thrillers. With much of the action taking place at night, the city is depicted with a cheap fluorescent glare. Similarly, the level of sleaze and exploitation do not lessen in the familiarity of the television studio.

Characters are drawn starkly in Nightcrawler. Supporting characters such as Nina and Rick are given little depth, yet fulfil their functions effectively. Nina is both abhorrent and a figure for pity, whilst Rick best exemplifies the normal reaction to the situations presented. As Louis, Jake Gyllenhaal is most unnerving. His mannerisms and stares function to successfully cause discomfort. Rene Russo is well cast as Nina, whilst Riz Ahmed offers a lackadaisical quality which suits his character.

Nightcrawler stumbles in its attempt to convey social commentary. At times the film seems to strive for condemnation which may seem less than illuminating to viewers with even the barest sense of media literacy. Nevertheless, taken on the basis of a thriller, the film works well. Much like the footage Louis sells, Nightcrawler is sometimes difficult to look at, but harder to turn away from.

Nightcrawler is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 2nd March 2015.

Film Review: Focus

Focus

Focus is a slick and entertaining thriller. Despite some predictability, the film is sufficiently engaging.

Veteran con man Nicky takes on newcomer Jess as an intern. The pair get close, as Nicky attempts to pull off a series of cons and thefts. His relationship with Jess makes a future job more complicated…

Writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa had success with 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. This feature is perhaps not quite as endearing as their last, but it is an entertaining film. Focus relies on the crux of not taking anything at face value. Thus, the audience is welcome to second guess every twist and turn in the narrative.

The main characters are not very compelling, but function suitably to keep the viewer engaged in the action. The relationship between Nicky and Jess is underpinned by the frailty of trust. At the beginning of Focus, viewers are positioned with Jess in observing and evaluating the sincerity of Nicky. Later on, the lines are more blurred.

The con at the centre of the film tries to keep the audience on their toes. he twists that appear throughout the film are a little predictable to those who have been paying attention. There are some show pieces in Focus that work quite well. The cons are explained in detail; viewers will no doubt spot a con, but perhaps not exactly how it has been executed. The need to unravel the sting means a fair bit of exposition. Likewise, conversations between Nicky and Jess are populated with indicators of what is to come.

Focus‘ production design offers a glossy image. There is little assaugement from the polished wealth on display. The soundtrack works well, if a little overused in some scenes. Will Smith offers a decent performance as Nicky, relying on charm to fill in the blanks of the character. Margot Robbie is not really stretched by the role of Jess.

Ultimately, Focus thinks it is cleverer than it actually is. Brush this aside, and the film is an enjoyable watch.

Stuff To Look At

A myriad of trailers this week, including Far From The Madding CrowdCinderellaAloha, and more…

Far From The Madding Crowd

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Far From The Madding Crowd was one of the few books I remember reading at high school. How the names Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak take me back. This adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel comes with good pedigree; it is directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Michael Sheen. Far From The Madding Crowd is released in UK cinemas on 1st May 2015.

Aloha

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Cameron Crowe’s latest Aloha features a stellar cast, including Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, and Rachel McAdams. Bradley Cooper stars as a military contractor who is given the opportunity to return to the site of his greatest triumphs in Hawaii. Aloha is scheduled for release in September 2015.

Cinderella

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From the above trailer, it looks as if Cate Blanchett will really shine in Cinderella. As well as, of course, that magnificent-looking slipper. Kenneth Branagh’s update of the classic fairy tale, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, hits UK screens on 27th March 2015.

The Age of Adeline

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The premise of The Age of Adeline hinges on an interesting aspect; its protagonist stops ageing at 29 years old. If only that could happen in real life, although granted, it would be a bit odd. Starring Blake Lively and Harrison Ford, The Age of Adeline is released on 8th May 2015.

Mommy

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Xavier Dolan’s latest offering is receiving a lot of critical praise. Mommy stars Anne Dorval as a widowed mother tasked with the full-time custody of her son, who has ADHD. Mommy is released in UK cinemas on 20th March 2015.

Trainwreck

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Here is the first trailer for Trainwreck. Directed by Judd Apatow and written by and starring Amy Schumer, Trainwreck is about a young woman who doesn’t think monogamy is possible. The comedy will be released on UK screens on 28th August 2015.

Hot Pursuit

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Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara are the unlikely double act in Anne Fletcher’s action comedy Hot Pursuit. Straight-laced cop Witherspoon is tasked with protecting Mafia witness Vergara. Hot Pursuit speeds into UK cinemas on 8th May 2015.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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Here is the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s update on 1960s television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Set against a Cold War backdrop, the film focuses on a CIA agent forced to team up with a KGB operative. Starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Alicia Vikander, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is set for release on 14th August 2015.

Focus

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Upcoming thriller Focus stars Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Rodrigo Santoro. Veteran con man Nicky takes on novice Jess and teaches her the tricks of the trade. Focus hits UK screens on 27th February 2015.

Film Review: The Duke of Burgundy

Duke of Burgundy

Writer-director Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is a visually rich, ponderous piece of cinema.Writer-director Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is a visually rich, ponderous piece of cinema.

Entomologist Cynthia has a less than usual relationship with her partner Evelyn. The pair enjoy role play, with Evelyn keen to push the games further…

Peter Strickland’s film is an atmospheric and, for the most part, engaging drama. The beauty of The Duke of Burgundy is that it is unclear where the film is heading. This sense of mystery, of uncharted territory, is present for most of the duration.

The relationship between the protagonists is a complex one in The Duke of Burgundy. The levels of a power at play in this context is interesting. The film succinctly exhibits how this dynamic can change. The characters are fascinating because so little is revealed about them in the beginning of the film.

The world inhabited by The Duke of Burgundy keeps viewers on their toes. There is some familiarity to the environment presented, but Peter Strickland subverts this with some curious quirks. There are cutaway sequences which interrupts the mostly linear narrative. These are aesthetically pleasing, but not as engaging. The world presented in the narrative aspects of the film is more interesting. There are some breaks from normality which are never explained, but this adds to the quirkiness of The Duke of Burgundy.

Strickland’s film has a distinctive look. The importance of style is clear from The Duke of Burgundy‘s opening credits, where a nod to the film’s perfumer.  The distinct look is down to styling and costuming, with period dress employed to good effect. The art direction also adds to this, and is complimented by Cat’s Eyes’ soundtrack. Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna have good chemistry as Cynthia and Evelyn.

The Duke of Burgundy may not have widespread appeal, but it is an edifying watch.

The Duke of Burgundy was screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2014.

Film Review: The Philadelphia Story

The Philadelphia Story

George Cukor’s 1940 classic romantic comedy The Philadelphia Story gets a re-release in time for Valentine’s Day.

Socialite Tracy Lord is getting married for the second time to a self-made businessman. As the wedding approaches, her ex-husband shows up, along with two journalists tasked to cover the big day for their magazine…

The cinematic version of the stage play, Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story has lost none of its vigour. The film is still a wonderful example of a romantic comedy, with romance, drama and humour combining to produce a memorable story.

The Philadelphia Story draws its main characters strongly. Protagonist Tracy gets most attention, although the three other main characters are not left languishing. Other characters are rather more one-dimensional; but do well to provide humour.

The narrative of The Philadelphia Story is set up almost as a mystery; with the central question being whether Tracy will get married, and to whom. The film’s relationships swing back and forth, with pairings revolving as the film progresses. Although some viewers may predict the eventual outcome of the story, but this does not negate from overall enjoyment.

Dialogue in the film is great. With this, The Philadelphia Story reveals what a lot of modern romcoms are missing. The script offers a lot of humour, and interactions between the love interests fizzle and bristle as appropriate. Some aspects of the film do feel dated, but this is to be expected given the film’s age.

George Cukor directs his cast tremendously well, and shows a flair for comic timing. Katherine Hepburn delivers just one in a series of wonderful performances as Tracy Lord. She has the attitude and air to carry off such a character. Cary Grant is good as ever as C.K. Dexter Haven, whilst James Stewart offers an energetic and assured performance. Ruth Hussey also shines.

For those looking for a romance fix, The Philadelphia Story offers this and more. A classic of the genre.

A Philadelphia Story is being screened at the BFI Southbank as part of the Katherine Hepburn season, as well as at selected venues throughout the UK.

Film Review: Selma

SELMA

Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a historical drama which is equally parts moving and absorbing.

In 1965, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters attempt to help secure equal voting rights for citizens in Selma, Alabama. In the face of violent opposition, the civil rights activist plans a march from Selma to Montgomery…

Selma is a finely executed historical drama. Director Ava DuVernay guides the story with precision; concentrating on the events during a three-month period rather than more infamous aspects of King’s story and the civil rights movement. The film allows for pensive moments and sincere dialogue without a lapse in pacing. The conclusion is build towards with the requisite tension it requires.

The story that the film focuses on functions on a number of levels. There is a keen awareness, referenced in the film, that this is just one struggle of many within the movement. Moreover, the film gives viewers enough indication of Martin Luther King Jr. as an individual without the need for an encompassing biopic. Finally, Selma is powerful in its depiction of real struggles and tragedies.

Selma features a story that took place at a pivotal period in the civil rights movement. The film has additional weight given that some aspects portrayed are sadly mirrored in recent events that have taken place in the US. There are several moments in Selma that feel poignant, and DuVernay executes these effectively.

Bradford Young’s cinematography is decent throughout. The use of lighting is particularly strong. Costumes and stylings are also good, as is the film’s score.

David Oyelowo gives a convincing performance in Selma. Playing a much recorded character, the actor had a lot to live up to. Nevertheless, Oyelowo carries it off incredibly well; the lack of an Oscar nomination for this role is surprising. Tom Wilkinson and Carmen Ejogo offer good support.

Selma tells an important story, and has been released at a pertinent time. Highly recommended viewing.

Film Review: Big Hero 6

BIG HERO 6

Disney’s Big Hero 6 is an entertaining and engaging animated feature. The film offers enough to satisfy viewers of all ages.

Living in the city of San Fransokyo, young prodigy Hiro is encouraged to use his skills for something other than robot fighting. When Hiro develops a special bond with inflatable robot Baymax, who helps him investigate after a devastating event…

Big Hero 6 offers the best of Disney in terms of animation, a story with heart and humour. The heart of Don Hall and Chris Williams’ film lies in the character development. The main characters in the film are multi-faceted, and thus more convincing than protagonists in some animated features.

The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is both humorous and touching. There is the physical comedy of Baymax present, but also a more engaging relationship that develops between the pair. Supporting characters are more one-dimensional, but this is to be expected given their limited screen time.

Big Hero 6‘s narrative takes a little while to unfold, but this is necessary given the need for character development. The film blends a number of genres, including action adventure, drama and mystery. Big Hero 6 throws up a significant red herring in the mystery element of the film. This functions successfully to divert the audience’s attention.

Pacing in Big Hero 6 is good. The film allows or relationships to develop without neglecting action. The action sequences work well to exhibit the more imaginative side to the futuristic world created in the film. Animation is strong throughout the film. The use of 3D is subtle, and blends well into the animated world presented in Big Hero 6. The soundtrack is a fitting accompaniment to the on screen action.

Big Hero 6 is the latest in a line of well-executed Disney animated features, where narrative is not neglected in place of spectacle. Big Hero 6 manages to offer a great balance of these.

Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is an entertaining spy comedy, very much in the style of director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman’s previous work.

A veteran agent at a super secret spy agency is tasked with bringing in a new recruit for trials. Eggsy does not fit the profile of a regular Kingsman, but the agency has a new threat to worry about…

Kingsman: The Secret Service entertains throughout, with its brand of comedy, action and ultra violence. Based on the comic book, Kingsman has a similar feel to Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s Kick-Ass. Those who enjoyed the superhero film will surely admire this latest effort.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a little predictable in its plotting. Nevertheless, the film offers enough charm to maintain its appeal. Kingsman plays with spy movie conventions. at times overtly as a source of humour as well as tension. The villain eschews archetypal traits in a humorous fashion. Protagonist Eggsy is a fish out of water, and this aspect works well in the relationship he has with his mentor.

Violence in the film is so gratuitous that it loses its effect to shock; instead it becomes cartoonish. This is particularly the case with the obvious special effects employed. Comedy is intentionally derived from this over the top violence; especially in a few standout sequences. Action in Kingsman: The Secret Service is good. Matthew Vaughn directs these sequences with the right amount of frenetic energy. The soundtrack is used to good effect.

Colin Firth plays the type of character he is often associated with, however he subverts this image with action. Taron Egerton is well cast as Egsy, bringing a likeability to the character. Samuel L. Jackson is also amusing.

Kingsman: The Secret Service works very well as a diverting action comedy. Although the film does not stretch beyond this, there is little to fault overall.

Stuff To Look At

A plethora of movie trailers and clips on Oscar nomination day, including Avengers: Age of Ultron, Blackhat and Cake

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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It all looks very, very bad in sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. Where are jokes of Loki? From the above trailer, it looks like this Marvel instalment will have a more serious tone. Not that this is a bad thing, as last year’s superlative Captain America: The Winter Soldier can attest to. Avengers: Age of Ultron hits UK cinemas on 24th April 2015.

Selma

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So Selma may have been snubbed for several awards, but at least it has received a Best Picture nod from the Academy. Starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., Selma tells the story of his struggle to secure voting rights for African Americans. The film is released in the UK on 6th February 2015.

Cake

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Jennifer Aniston may have been snubbed for a Best Actress nomination at this year’s Oscars, but Cake still seems worth a look. A dark comedy, the film focuses on Aniston’s character and dubious relationship with a widower. Cake will be released in UK cinemas on 20th February 2015.

Blackhat

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Director Michael Mann delves into the world of global cybercrime with his latest thriller Blackhat. Starring Chis Hemsworth and Viola Davis, the film concentrates on convicted hacker who is helping the government tackle a network of criminals. Blackhat hits UK screens on 20th February 2015.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Following yesterday’s world premiere of Kingsman: The Secret Service, here is a clip from the film. Following the success of Kick-Ass, screenwriter Jane Goldman and writer-director Matthew Vaughan team up again for another adaptation of a comic book. Kingsman: The Secret Service is released on 29th January 2015.

Run All Night

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Here is the trailer for action thriller Run All Night. The film is about a prolific hit man played by Liam Neeson. Also starring Ed Harris and Joel Kinnamen, Run All Night is set for release in the UK on 1st May 2015.

Inherent Vice

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This clip from Inherent Vice sees Joaquin Phoenix reunited with his Walk The Line co-star Reese Witherspoon. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and with a stellar cast, Inherent Vice hits UK screens on 30th January 2015.

Preview of Coming Attractions: Disney in 2015

This year sees the release of numerous films under the Disney banner, ranging from sci-fi adventure (Tomorrowland – A World Beyond), fairy tale musicals (Into The Woods), superhero movies (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and re-envisioned classics (The Jungle Book). Here are some highlights from Disney in 2015…

Big Hero 6

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Above is an introduction to Baymax, one of the stars of Disney’s Big Hero 6. The film is about Hiro, a young robotics expert who spends his time competing in back alley robot fights. Although the film was produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, several members of Marvel’s creative team were involved in the production of Big Hero 6.

See it because: Big Hero 6 has been getting rave reviews from critics and audiences.

Big Hero 6 is released in UK cinemas on 30th January 2015.

Cinderella

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Disney’s live action version of fairy tale Cinderella looks sumptuous. Starring Lily James, Richard Madden and Helena Bonham Carter, the film looks set to dazzle with costume designer Sandy Powell’s collaboration with Swarovski for the jewellery and costumes, including the crystal slipper.

See it because: Cate Blanchett will surely be a wonderful wicked stepmother.

Cinderella hits UK screens on 27th March 2015.

Ant-Man

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The above trailer for Ant-Man was released this week, giving viewers a taste of what to expect from Marvel’s latest comic book adaptation. Starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas, the film brings one of the lesser-known Avengers to the big screen for the first time.

See it because: The curiosity factor of seeing a miniature superhero.

Ant-Man is released in UK cinemas on 17th July 2015.

Inside Out

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Pixar Animation Studio’s newest feature looks to be a lot of fun, judging from the above trailer. The film takes viewers inside the mind, looking at the emotions based in its headquarters. Inside Out features the voices of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling.

See it because: The imaginative Pixar seem to have done it again with this film.

Inside Out his UK cinemas on 24th July 2015.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Giving Avengers: Age of Ultron a run for its money in the hotly-anticipated movie stakes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens sees the big screen return of the sci-fi franchise. With the cast of the film still growing, there is still a lot to be revealed about the seventh Star Wars film.

See it because: Director J.J. Abrams did a good job re-invigorating the Star Trek franchise; hopefully he can work his magic here.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is due to be released on 18th December 2015.