Month: January 2016

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs The World, for me, is potentially the most entertaining film in recent memory. Adapted from the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the director of the Three Flavours Cornetto (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The Worlds End) trilogy Edgar Wright tried his hand at adapted the works.

From the opening title, an 8-bit Universal tune and scrolling title is already something different. Bolstered by an incredible cast, Edgar Wright, made a fantastic and thoroughly entertaining follow up to the hit Hot Fuzz. I always seem to come back to this film if I’m looking for an easy entertaining watch, which is what Scott Pilgrim is.

Cast in his perfect role, Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a twenty-two year-old caught between two relationships with Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) and Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). As soon as his relationship starts with Romana, Scott Pilgrim begins his battle against The League of Evil Exes. 

Scott Pilgrim is brilliant from start to finish, thoroughly entertaining, funny and of course the story is excellently captivating as Scott campaigns to defeat the Evil Exes to win Ramona’s heart. The bulk of the acting taken on by Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead but there is a rather sizeable cast with the likes of Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Chris Evans and Anna Kendrick. The whole cast adds to this rather enjoyable watch.

Instead of having Scott fight seven people over the course of a touch under two hours, Wright incorporated into this film Scott’s band trying to make the big-time with the help of G-Man (Jason Schwartzman) and Scott’s various relationships with his roommate, sister and friends. Of course this isn’t Scott’s intention, it’s more his bandmates Stephen “The Talent” Stills (Mark Webber) who pushes the band to practice for their upcoming gigs and battles.

This film is an absolute delight to watch if you enjoy video games as the opening title is an 8-bit version of the Universal logo, complete with 8-bit music. Of course this tone is carried on throughout the film as Scott collects extra lives, collect coins after defeating opponents and even comes complete with a ‘pee meter’.

The one thing I cannot get enough of though is the music that is involved with the film, especially the song performed by The Clash At Demonhead, a band composed of Scott’s ex-girlfriend Envy Adams (Brie Larson) and Ramona’s ex-boyfriend Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh) – evil ex number three that possesses super powers thanks to his veganism.

Truthfully, this is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a long time (and I recently revisited this film much to my enjoyment). It doesn’t seem to age or tire with a numerous viewings. Edgar Wright has hit the nail on the head with the right blend of action, comedy and score, however, he also manages to incorporate some beautiful shots of a snowy Toronto.

Of course it does has it’s flaws. As entertaining as the film is, the characters (the many of them there are) aren’t particular strong, but when the film is visually entertaining and makes you chuckle from start to finish, beggars cannot be choosers. That being said, the many characters aren’t overwhelming, everyone is introduced in the right manner and without the strong characters arcs leaves the options for characters to be forgotten about at later stages.

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My point still remains, it’s understandable to see why the film is popular in certain circles, but I believe it should have more praise. It’s a downright entertaining watch, with an enjoyable storyline and a great blend of characters filmed helped via excellent action scenes and of course a fantastic score to wrap this film up.

8/10

The Hateful Eight (2016)

Set deep in the mountains of Wyoming is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth (supposedly, depending on how you look at it) film. The Hateful Eight was first announced a few years back when the screenplay was first leaked, much to Tarantino’s disgust, whereby he actually cancelled the planned release.

Bringing aboard again, the familiar names with Tarantino films, like Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and of course Samuel L. Jackson. (who is cast in Tarantino films like Bill Murray is in Wes Anderson films) Tarantino carries on his Tarantino-esque motion pictures, divulging in strong characters, blood and stunning cinema backdrops.

If only the same could be said for the first hour or so in the stage coach scenes, as Kurt Russell’s John “The Hangman” Ruth unwillingly picks up two passengers along the road to Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stop off point to Red Rock. In tow with Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in chains, he travels to the Haberdashery with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix, (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new Sheriff of Red Rock.

The first hour is entertaining if you enjoy strong characters, as that is pretty much is what is on screen. Four characters riding in a stage coach, conversing. Much of the film does continue this way as we are introduced to more characters at the Haberdashery, including Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Bob (Demián Bichir), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern).

I may go as far as saying the first hour or so is tiring. Due to the extent of the conversations that the characters embark upon, the film’s pace slows right down, making it drag. A positive to the first hour is that you get to see the stunning backdrops that Tarantino manages to capture as the coach travels through a snow-covered Wyoming.

(Potential spoilers ahead, tread carefully)

As the Major and General face off in a battle of stern words, the film begins to pick up. Major Warren coaxing the general into a retaliation is interesting, but all the while unjust I thought. However, it immediately quickens the pace for the film and begins the whodunnit aspect of the film and that thought process about who was in cahoots with Daisy. When this happens, the film becomes enchanting with the whodunnit element, something that I find is rare to capture on the silver screen nowadays, which Tarantino did masterfully.

(End of potential spoilers)

I don’t know how true it is, but I believe The Hateful Eight had a run as a stage play for a short time and I can see the appeal in this idea. This is emphasised by the constant things happening on and off the screen and the whodunnit aspect happening in an enclosed space.

Amongst all these happenings, on and off the screen, the score was absolutely fantastic. From the opening moments, to the silent night piano piece and even Jennifer Jason Leigh playing guitar. This was a definite triumph in the film and had a lasting impression on myself.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance was thoroughly entertaining whilst she was on screen as well, considering Samuel L. Jackson dominated the screen time throughout the film. The casting did a superb job, as is the case with most Tarantino films. That being said, I could not enjoy the character of Oswaldo and Tim Roth playing him. My feelings were maybe it was a role written for Christoph Waltz or had Waltz in mind for the role.

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Truthfully, I did enjoy this film. But only from the big plot turning point and when the whodunnit ball gets truly rolling. The interior and exterior shots of Wyoming and the Haberdashery are truly stunning and cannot fault some of the shot choices that Tarantino included. Of course, with the nature of the story, the characters were always going to be strong and they are. And of course not forgetting the score that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout.

However, this doesn’t stop the initial feelings of slow paced stage coach ride. Tarantino at times got too invested in his characters, to the point of them telling pointless stories to one other. Admittedly, this shows great depth in the characters, but in a whodunnit, slow paced drawn out film, this wasn’t the time nor the place I felt.

7/10

Room (2016)

There are potential spoilers in this review, however, I thoroughly recommend seeing this film before reading any reviews (and trying to watch any clips from it)

Over the last twelve months at the cinema I have seen the most entertaining piece of cinema in Mad Max: Fury Road, a nostalgic trip back to a galaxy far, far away and probably my favourite film of the past twelve months in Ex Machina. Now onto Room. Which instantly goes up there in being the most intense film I have ever seen.

The simple premise is daunting enough for any filmmaker to take on, but Lenny Abrahamson took the premise head on and created an intense but surprisingly uplifting and spirited triumph of the human character. Ma and Jack (Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, respectively) live in Room, a confined space including a bed, wardrobe, a bath and a small kitchen.

Lenny Abrahamson during the filming of Room maintained a claustrophobic feel but found ways to view Room making to seem bigger than it is. This claustrophobic feeling is washed away when you watch Ma and Jack’s relationship unfold on screen in the flurry of emotions they convey. Ma is pushed to the edge at times in the confined space when Jack goes through the motions of a spoilt child that can’t get his own way.

Initially I avoided everything about this film to try and keep in the dark as it were, in case of spoilers, and I thought it was great way to approach the film due to the story. I later learned that this film was adapted from a book and initially thought this film was going to be confined to Room, however to my surprise they do escape and there are events after Room. I think instead of focusing on their confinement to Room and Ma’s abductor, they focus on the relationships throughout the film and believed this was very effective throughout the film.

Seen through the eyes of five year-old Jack, he struggles to grasp the concept of what’s real and what he considers ‘magic’, amplified when he believes Old Nick gets the Sunday treats through magic like the tv. Naturally the story is heartbreakingly daunting, but the spirited acting from Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay and Abrahamson’s superb direction keeps the film at a great pace and the viewer clinging on to the relationships on the screen.

Although Ma and Jack’s relationship dominates the film, Jack as a character grows as he becomes exposed to the outside world, his character becomes an intriguing watch. Also Ma’s increasing frustration with Jack as he won’t connect with the toys or other people, which causes tensions within the household, makes the film at times a increasingly difficult watch as they both try to adapt to life in the outside world.

Throughout the film, I genuinely seemed to care for these characters and their situation, and I’ve never felt so uplifted and genuinely happy for characters in a film unlike when Ma is reunited with the incredibly brave Jack. This is helped by the genuine connection that Ma and Jack have and it resonates through the screen.

Truthfully, this film, simply put, is a character driven film but the way Abrahamson kept it ‘fresh’ and kept myself engrossed in the story over the two hours running time was truly outstanding. Of course, the daunting subject of the story is always going to be focus going into the film, but not the focus leaving the film. Abrahamson handled the matter fantastically and certainly after his last film Frank I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his work in the forthcoming years.

I thought Brie Larson is deserved for his Oscar nomination and of course the Oscar nomination for best film is truly deserved. As I’ve mentioned countless times this films true triumph is the characters in the film. But the story and some lasting great shots really makes the film fantastic.

9/10

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

That moment the Lucasfilm logo appear on the screen I was already beaming from ear to ear. Immediately I was transported to a galaxy far, far away and the nostalgic memories of watching the original trilogy on VHS all those years ago rushed back.

Of course, the moment the release date was edging closer there was a collective effort worldwide to keep everywhere spoiler free and it was fantastic, everyone was simply excited about this film and it was on everyone’s lips. And it has to said it was so worth it. 

When JJ Abrams was attached to the project I had every confidence in him to not repeat the prequels (albeit The Phantom Menace had the best lightsaber duel). I was massively impressed with Abrams and his work in the Star Trek universe and this was the main reason I felt comfortable with him taking charge.

A big criticism I heard of this film after seeing it was the treading of familiar ground, however, upon watching this, I felt it was necessary to launch the new characters of Rey and Finn into the Star Wars universe.

Rey and Finn are at the centre of this film, set thirty years after the events in Return of the Jedi, with Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) as a scavenger on Jakku and Finn (John Boyega) playing a stormtrooper with a conscience. Their stories become intertwined as Finn defects from the First Order (the aftermath of the Empire) and crash lands on Jakku. Over the next two hours or so, they are helped with a mix of new and old characters to take down the latest dark side enforcer, Kylo Ren and the dark side’s latest destruction path.

The casting was absolutely superb as well, with a great but not overpowering mix of new and old characters. Of course Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver – fantastic casting choice in my opinion) were the characters leading the charge, helped with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and of course Han Solo, Chewie and Leia. The teasing of new characters who didn’t have much screen time in this film, like Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who I thought held their own and intrigued me as not much was revealed about them.

With beautiful landspaces, The Force Awakens explores new territory like Jakku (Rey’s home  planet) and a shady cantina in the depths of Takodana, and not forgetting the Starkiller Base, aptly named as it draws it’s power from the suns of the solar system.

The action sequences throughout the film are excellent as they’re not overpowering to the story, with the right mix of the blaster fights and aerial pursuits. Paced well enough to keep you entertained, topped off by the finale battle that’s always to be expected in Star Wars.

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As I mentioned the story does step on the toes of A New Hope, that being said, JJ Abrams did mix it up with a few twists, some foreseeable, some not. For me, however, this was all washed away when you’re watching these characters and the story unfold on screen. And keeping John Williams on board and in charge of the sound, is always a strong choice with the familiar tune reworked, much like Michael Giacchino did with Jurassic World. 

It’s a fantastic nostalgic trip back to a galaxy far, far away. The treading of old ground makes the story wear thin, but the reworking to make the new characters shine I thought JJ Abrams has done an excellent job. The superb casting and the fantastic landscapes that have been created, this is an absolute beauty to watch on the silver screen.

8/10

Ex Machina (2015)

Alex Garland has potentially produced and directed one of the finest but ominous films of the 21st Century. I realise I am a little late to the Ex Machina appreciation party. It doesn’t stop said appreciated for Garland creating an eery look into the potential future of artificial intelligence.

It’s only until the credits rolled up and I realised that it was the same Alex Garland that wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine (which happens to be one of my all-time favourite films)

Ex Machina opens with Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) winning a company competition to spend a week at the compound owned by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the owner of Bluebook (The company Caleb codes for). Nathan’s compound is so large that requires a helicopter to fly there.

Nathan fills Caleb in on something special that he has been working on, a robot with artificial intelligence (known to them as Ava) and Nathan wants Caleb to administer the Turing test on Ava (played by Alicia Vikander). (Which is a test to decipher whether an AI can appear to be human). This is done through Ava sessions throughout the week.

It has to be said, the effects used in this film are simply astonishing with Alicia Vikander transformed into a robot, but also a few other scenes I thought were excellent but cannot talk about due to potential spoilers. The music was also fantastic, even going down to whirrs as Ava walks, which was a fantastic effect.

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And this isn’t where it stops for the music, as the music paints this tense portrait throughout the sessions with Ava and the post-session meetings with Nathan. Especially as Ava reveals information about Nathan during a compound blackout. Often during the sessions the music becomes uncontrollable and blaring and made me tense during these scenes, as it builds the anticipation to know what is going on in the compound.

Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander were all superb in this film and really kept the pace of the film up as we learn more about their characters as their relationships grow (or not in Caleb’s and Nathan’s case). This film was truly made for the characters involved in this, rather than the action in this film.

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It has to be said, I’ve read a few reviews describing it severely lacked an action sequence to do the film justice, however, I believed the action sequence to be of perfect fitting within the film and how it’s played out. Otherwise I believe this would’ve drawn too much attention away from the last few moments.

Overall, this is an outstanding directorial debut from Alex Garland, and with another work coming in 2017, I truly cannot wait for. And standing at around 108 minutes long, the film was paced superbly, not forgetting the incredible score aiding the tense scenes throughout the film. The cinematography was also astounding with the beautiful shots of Nathan’s compound, coupled with the lighting and colouring of the interior made this a joy to watch. But the real triumph in this film is how the characters played out the story is fantastic and the real reason I kept watching this film.

9/10

Also watching this film, you might see the most light hearted scene considering Ex Machina’s subject matter. A smile never left my face during this certain scene. (Don’t worry you’ll know which one)