Category Archives: Film Reviews

After Earth (2013)

After Earth

After Earth (2013)

Dir.: M. Night Shyamalan | Cast: Will Smith; Jaden Smith

This month saw the return of Will Smith and his youngest son Jaden [Smith] to the big screen. In a summer blockbuster of universal proportions it was quite the contrast from their first award-winning film together, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) which revolved around the very real story of an American stock-broker. After Earth takes you a little further from home. A film directed by the hit-and-miss M. Night Shyamalan, it set the stage for 14-year-old Jaden to cement himself among Hollywood’s elite just as his father did 2 years prior to Jaden’s birth with Independence Day (1996).

After the Earth suffered at the hands of environmental and geographic disasters the humans  are evacuated to a new planet called Nova Prime. This occurrence 1,000 years ago led to complete desertion of planet Earth and it was given the most dangerous classification of a Category 1 quarantined planet. As Kitai Rage (Jaden Smith) is eager to impress his regularly absent father Cypher Rage (Will Smith), he attempts to become a ‘Ranger’ with no success. Cypher’s wife Faia (Sophie Okonedo) persuades him to take Kitai on his next expedition for some father-son bonding. As the ship enters an asteroid storm it has to make a crash landing to Earth. Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors but Cypher’s injuries are so bad he is unable to move leaving him stranded on the ship. The film then follows Smith Snr. navigating Kitai through the uncharted grounds of Earth to reach the tail of the plane to find an emergency beacon that will send news of their location to Nova Prime.

Unfortunately, it does not live up to its story-line. The majority of the film focuses on Jaden’s character  but it never allows for an emotional attachment to his character. Unlike Smith Snr., who so often makes us love his characters (Hitch, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Seven Pounds), Jaden lacks the sincerity or innocence you would expect from Kitai. Instead he is over-confident and it is hard to enjoy his character’s development. The film orbits around the father-son relationship as Kitai tries ever-so hard to impress his father which can probably draw parallels with Jaden’s real attempts to show to his father that he can perform as the lead role in a Hollywood blockbuster.

In all, the film was disappointing. As I’ve come to learn when I watch M. Night Shyamalan films the ideas can be creative and fantastic, however, the execution is where it fails. A similar thing happened with The Village (2004) and The Happening (2008), the premise of the film promised so much but collapsed on itself when the resolution is unveiled. The film was ambitious yet flawed in many areas which led to it being ill received by critics and fans. The mixture of Shyamalan and the dominating Smith family was all too much.

2.5 out of 5.

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World War Z (2013)

World War Z

World War Z (2013)

Dir.: Marc Forster | Cast: Brad Pitt; Mireille Enos; Fana Mokoena

When I first heard Brad Pitt was going to star in block-buster zombie movie I was skeptical. Mainly because I enjoy him most when he’s playing an unexpected role where his character is challenging as seen in films such as Snatch (2000) and Fight Club (1999). However, I gave Pitt the benefit of the doubt as he has been one of the most sought after actors in modern cinema. Director, Marc Forster, famous for directing the new-era James Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008) and Machine Gun Preacher (2011) he  has turned his hand to a much different genre in his latest picture and his achievements have not gone unnoticed with people already calling for a sequel to World War Z .

The film begins with a montage of news stories, wildlife footage and excerpts from multifarious broadcasts all illustrating the danger of various environmental factors and the growing trouble in a world with over 7 billion inhabitants. The narrative follows Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, a former United Nations agent turned house-husband after retiring from his years in the force. As he sets off with his wife (Mireille Enos) and two daughters the ravenous plague that has begun infecting the world’s population finds itself present in Philadelphia, the home town of Gerry and his family. Through his years of experience Gerry protects his family until, ex-colleague and friend, Thierry (Fana Mokoena) is able to provide them with an extraction point and enabling them to reach the safety of a huge fleet of Navy ships planted in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean.

However, it transpires that it wasn’t through friendship that Theirry called upon Gerry but his expertise in the field. Asking him to protect the best professor in viral diseases on a trip to North Korea, who are seemingly untouched by the virus, Gerry is forced to undertake the mission otherwise him and his family will be thrown off the ship. From there, Gerry travels the globe attempting to find the route cause of the viral disease that is decimating populations world-wide.

The film itself is a fast-paced thriller, with elements of horror and suspense that will make many nervous with anticipation, World War Z is a pretty good zombie film as they go. Zombie-films always have the potential to fall flat on their face but Marc Forster has done a decent job with this particular film. All the troubles that surrounded it, including the whole re-shoot of the final scenes and the removal of some CGI (computer generated imagery), the film fared okay and Brad Pitt’s performance was spot on as expected. The film definitely lent itself to a follow up sequel with many unanswered questions but this added to the realist aspect not seen in many zombie films since the likes of 28 Days Later (2002), which incidentally also had a sequel. I would recommend World War Z to any cinema-goer who loves the thrill and suspense of a horror as well as the action and explosiveness of a thriller. 

4 out of 5.

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The Hangover Part III (2013)

Hangover 3

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Dir.: Todd Phillips

Cast: Bradley Cooper; Zach Galifianakis; Ed Helms

After all the hype, the teaser trailers, the speculation and the ‘Harry Potter’-style posters, it was here; the last episode of The Hangover trilogy. After the monumental success of The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover Part II (2011) grossing over $1 Billion the expectations were justifiably high. Todd Phillips, who directed all three films, created a global phenomenon in ‘The Wolf Pack’. From Alan impersonators on the strips of Las Vegas to merchandise and memorabilia of the most ridiculous fashion it has been widely successful all over the world and to surpass the insurmountable achievements of the first film he had a near impossible job on his hands.

The Hangover Part II was received with contempt, with the exact story line of the first without as many laughs or the element of freshness, it wasn’t a massive hit with critics alike but in its opening weekend earnings of $177.8M, a record for any comedy film, it cemented its place in cinematic history. Phillips now had the greater challenge in concluding the trilogy in a way that would leave all audiences satisfied and happy that equilibrium had now been restored in Phil, Stu and Alan’s lives.

The film starts in true Hangover style. A maximum security prison situated 37 miles from Bangkok is being torn apart by inmates in rampageous fashion as the General enters a cellmate’s room. In a hilarious Shawshank reference the escaped convict is one and only, Mr Chow (Ken Jeong), who is travelling through the drainpipes to find freedom from the detention of the prison. The film then returns to normality in the suburban home of Alan’s father who suffers a suspected heart attack due to the actions of his son. His death sparks terrible consequences for the family who cannot bare Alan’s outrageous antics anymore and they decide to host an intervention. It leads to him being sent to a 2 day rehabilitation centre with Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms). The history and friendship is shown on the faces of Phil and Stu who, due to unforeseen circumstances in the first two films, have grown to love and care for troubled Alan.

From there the film descends into a whirlwind of stunts, actions and jokes in the biggest budget film of the series. As Doug is once again absent in the Wolf Pack’s adventures the group are re-united with inappropriately named ‘black Doug’ (Mike Epps) and newcomer and notorious gangster Marshall (John Goodman). They are pulled into Mr Chow’s criminal underworld business and Alan’s friendship with the infamous china men causes the Wolf Pack all kinds of trouble. Not only this, they are forced to return to Las Vegas, Nevada, a place where they vowed to never return.

The Hangover Part III was never going to surpass the first film, as expected, but I was hoping for something more. The film lacked the gut-wrenching laughter of the first film but shied away from the gross-out comedy of the second which left a film which heavily relied on the relationship the audience already had with the characters. Many jokes were recycled and after Stu’s actions in the second film and Phil getting shot, was there much left to shock the audience with? It seems the main concern with Phillips was the narrative, and I believe he was successful in pulling all the strings together and closing the film. His main focus was to achieve closure and I’ll leave that to you to decide if you found he achieved this. However, one thing that is for certain is that The Hangover and its many references and influences are here to stay for years to come and it will remain a focal point when looking at the history of comedy in cinema.

3 out of 5.

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Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6

Dir.: Justin Lin

Cast: Vin Diesel; Paul Walker; Dwayne Johnson

Fast & Furious 6

As the sixth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise is released in cinemas it instantly achieved financial success in the first weekend taking more than £8.7M, double that of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Taiwan born director, Justin Lin, who undertook the Fast & Furious series in 2006 with Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, has ventured across the globe in his latest feature from Moscow to London using traditional locations in the heart of the city. Not only has Lin drawn on previous experiences, he acquires the original screenplay from writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson which adds an interesting narrative to his spectacular visual display. 

The film follows the story of Dom Torretto’s (Vin Diesel) infamous driving outfit and their re-organisation as Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a special US agent, calls upon their expertise to bring down a like-for-like criminal gang operating around Europe. Toretto is rejoined by ex-cop Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), rapper Tej (Ludacris), playboy Roman (Tyrese Gibson), drift king Han (Sung Kang) and the beautiful Riley (Gina Carano) who all guarantee the capture of the elusive Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and the recovery of Torreto’s ex-girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez).

Apparently Hobbs techniques of torture are the most influential way in getting information from prisoners which lead the gang to Shaw’s hideout. Only to be outclassed by Shaw, in his very own vehicle reminiscent of the ‘Batmobile’, he evades Brian, Tej and Roman’s attempts to bring him down and escapes into the distance. Whilst Toretto endeavours to race Letty through the streets of London, he corners her and begins to approach with caution. Letty then pulls out a handgun and shoots him in the chest. To the surprise of Torretto and the ‘family’ he is left pondering what was Letty’s motives and he struggles to come to terms with what occurred.

Fast & Furious 6 2

The story line encounters a few twist and turns which will surprise an audience. However, the impossibilities that surround the film are hard to look past. Concluding that if you’re involved in a car incident where the car rolls numerous times before slamming into a building it will only result in minor injuries. If you are able to look beyond the implausibilities then you will be able to enjoy a truly adrenaline packed 2 hours. With Hollywood strongmen Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson there is more than enough violence to whet your appetite as well as the incomparable use of American muscle cars and expensive super-cars to satisfy the cinema-goer.

If you want to get lost in a film which includes bikini-clad women, extremely fast cars and muscle-packed hero’s fighting evil and you can look past its unrealistic nature then you will definitely enjoy this film which is not your run-of-the-mill Fast & Furious installment. And for an extra incentive to view this film, it has a special clip after the credits that will tease all Fast & Furious fans for the next chapter of the franchise.

3 out of 5.

See this film at your nearest Cineworld which can be found here: http://www.cineworld.co.uk/cinemas?film=6060&cinema=all&path=/whatson/6060?cinema=id

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Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko (2001)

Dir.: Richard Kelly

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal; Patrick Swayze; Maggie Gyllenhaal

Donnie Darko

In suburban America any attempt to attack social order is thwarted with venomous contempt. The case of Donald Darko is no different. Donald, or Donnie as he is referred to, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal and he faces a constant battle with mental illness. With the perfect family behind him living the consumerist dream they send him to see Dr. Thurman (Katharine Ross) in an attempt to restore some degree of mental faculty.

Donnie suffers from sleep psychosis and walks under a hypnosis from a satanic voice. This voice, dressed as a Rabbit and later to be called Frank, leads him to the local golf course where he is told the world is going to come to an apocalyptic end. The Rabbit is then a recurring motif throughout the film bringing danger and destruction to Donnie’s chaotic life. The film follows an episodic narrative which counts down the days until anarchy as Donnie’s emotional struggles put strain on his family and his school work. Only finding minute liberation in Gretchen Ross (Jena Mal0ne) as his infatuation grows into a strangely satisfying relationship with the new girl at his school.

As the story develops an unidentifiable object crashes into Donnie’s room causing the house to be evacuated, the film then spirals into a battle between space, time and reality. Donnie discovers a book called ‘The Philosophy of Time Travel’ written by the town’s headcase, Roberto Sparrow and he begins to explore the realms and boundaries of time uncovering a strange power to be able to see peoples pre-formed paths. It can be said that if you don’t give this film your full attention you could lose the fabric of the story and find the theological message overwhelming. It controversially amalgamates science and religion in a mixture of confusion as Donnie faces the depths of mental illness and a distortion of all mental reasoning.

Donnie Darko explores the depths of Donnie’s mind, he is misogynistic at times but opposingly finds salvation in Gretchen Ross. This is bred from his fear of loneliness as confessed to Dr. Thurman. He detaches himself from reality when faced with life’s questions he does not understand or cannot answer and this is what produces his incoherent thoughts and images. I find it hard to explore the film’s true ideological messages in one review after seeing the film as there are so many questions to be answered. However, if you want a film that will engage you until the end and leave you with thought provoking questions long after the films end then I would recommend Richard Kelly’s masterpiece.

4 out of 5.

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Dir.: Frank Darabont

Cast: Tim Robbins; Morgan Freeman

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

A film which tops IMDb’s Top 250 films of all-time, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), is one of the most widely recognised features in modern cinema. With 7 Oscar nominations, Frank Darabont’s adaption of Stephen King’s novella is one of the most successful movies of all time. This crime drama was commercially ignored on release and even the glowering reviews from critics could not rocket this stalemate to success. It was only until it’s VHS release that it received widespread recognition and through word-of-mouth it took the audience by storm with it’s masterfully constructed script, excellent casting and accomplished conclusion. This film will go down in history as a cinematic classic and it certainly asserted Morgan Freeman’s position as one of Hollywood’s best.

The story follows young banker, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), who is convicted of murdering his adulterous wife and her lover. Being sentenced to two life sentences, he is sent to the notorious Shawshank State Prison where he begins serving his infinite jail term. After years inside, Andy befriends one of the prisons senior jailbirds, Ellis Redding (Morgan Freeman), or more commonly known as ‘Red’.  This spurs a unifying bond between the two and ultimately a wonderfully, unexpected friendships takes shape. Red, who is able to sneak any type of contraband past Warden Norton (Bob Gunton), is asked by Andy for a large poster of pin-up girl Rita Hayworth. This seems like an unusual request but is ultimately a major factor in this beautifully layered production.

Shawshank 2

Andy, with his previous accountancy experience, advises Warden Norton in his future agreements and taxes. On the surface, Andy is doing a clerks job to pass the time whilst serving his life long sentence. However, this is yet another element in his master plan that leaves the audience exasperated, breathless and stunned once revealed. Tim Robbins, who plays Andy, is excellent in his depiction. He portrays a stern confidence that suggests he committed such criminal acts that he so vigorously denies. Yet at times, he conveys a gentleness that makes you question the nature of his character. His quick wit and clever demeanour also make him even more like-able and as an audience you’ll believe his pleas of innocence.

Morgan Freeman, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, delivered a performance so fantastically ambiguous the audience fall in love with Red and Freeman. At the centre of the movie, he carries the story through the stretch of 1946 to 1967 without the sequence becoming prolonged. Essentially playing himself, Freeman never has to overtly act and his calming voice and gentle attitude amalgamate into the perfect wing-man for Andy’s time in Shawshank. Arguably, the defining role of his career, Freeman evokes such a response that the audience immediately attach themselves to the character. Director, Darabont, does not ponder on Red’s criminal activity that led to his imprisonment, this doesn’t allow the audiences moral views to be confronted when responding to Red’s character which ultimately leads to him being universally admired.

The Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic journey of friendship. Stretching over a number of years it tackles several issues of prison life, love and redemption. It is a film which will not disappoint with an ending that is the perfect summation of the life long tale that you will watch, and fall in love, with over and over again.

5 out of 5.

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Drive (2011)

Ryan Gosling

In the wake of one of the most anticipated movies of the year, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, (released 12th of April) which stars Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and the Hangover’s Bradley Cooper, I review Gosling’s recent 2011 hit ‘Drive’ which is arguably his best cinematic performance to date.

Drive (2011)

Dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn

Cast: Ryan Gosling; Carey Mulligan; Bryan Cranston

After the success of Derek Cianfrance’s, Blue Valentine (2010), where Ryan Gosling played the lead, Nicolas Winding Refn’s, Drive (2011), ultimately led to Gosling’s certification of Hollywood stardom. The BAFTA nominated feature is a high adrenaline packed crime drama which wonderfully mixes compassion and violence and it’s ‘art-house’ feel increases the emotions felt between Gosling and supporting actress Carey Mulligan. The Hollywood budget doesn’t over shadow the realism in the film and the CGI does not over power the chase/crash scenes. It allows the film to progress at its own tempo with stylistic flair that draws comparisons with Quentin Tarantino when it comes to harmonious violence.

Drive follows Gosling’s character, known only as, ‘The Driver’, a Hollywood stunt driver for B-List movies who spends his life working in a garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston), his employer and agent, who has been in his fair share of shady deals. By night he is a getaway driver, with his extreme ability to manoeuvre cars at fast speeds and evading police he is widely known in the criminal underworld as the best getaway driver in the business. Shannon even exclaims, “You put this kid behind the wheel, there’s nothing he can’t do.”. However, besides his supernatural ability to drive cars, much of his personal life is unclear. He lives alone, has no history, no family and leads a very secluded life. The absence of this information leaves a sense of intrigue into his character and the mystery that surrounds him keeps you fixated on the film.

Drive 2

The mysterious character remains silent and carries an air of sincerity with every action as he offers to help next door neighbour, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. As he silently falls for the unsuspecting neighbour he becomes part of her life and his connection with son, Benicio (Kaden Leos) shows compassion that was previously absent in Gosling’s character. The missing father, Standard (Oscar Isaac), then returns after a spell in jail only to bring trouble. His previous criminal activity has led to bribery and blackmail, and instead of treating the Driver with suspicion over his visits to see Irene, he asks for his help. After considering the proposal the Driver accepts vowing this will be his last job, clear to the audience he is doing this for the safety of Irene and Benicio.

From here the film digresses into an action packed rampage of ultra violence and the passion that remains burns inside Gosling’s character with reverberating consequences. Refn’s film which is 96 minutes long quickly escalates which compensates for the slow build up which set the foundations for this layered production. This film will keep you on the edge of your seat and it is unlike any driving film that has come before it. Refn’s in-depth research into the history of driving films is clear and he strips away any elements he see’s that could hinder his film and it has come together in the fantastic production that is Drive. If you’re a Gosling fan this is a must-see and he is certainly evolving into a Hollywood superstar.

Gosling’s next film, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is due for release on the 12th of April and it will truly determine whether he has asserted himself among Hollywood’s elite. Even more exciting news, Gosling has finished shooting ‘Only God Forgives’, which will come out late 2013, a film that is directed by Refn that sees them team up again after the success of Drive.

4 out of 5.

 

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