Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann is back and proving yet again that there is no one else like him for pushing the stars of modern cinema to the forefront of blinding lights, musical extravaganzas and glamorous set pieces. Nick Carraway begins our journey as he reflects on the lavish story of Jay Gatsby a man who pulls Nick into a world he'd never imagined he'd ever see. While the ridiculously expensive parties and foaming champagne hide Gatsby away, Nick finds himself slowly accommodating to his new quaint home next to the mysterious billionaire but his life begins to follow en suite when he realizes that everyone in this world is lavish and over the top. From his cousin Daisy, to her polo-famous husband Tom Buchanan and his Mistress to the seductive Jordan Baker, it seems everyone in the world he's adsorbed into is beyond the board and hides the truth behind layers and layers of secrets. The king of secrets arrives however when an invitation arrives from a Jay Gatsby to one of his grand scale parties, the one mystifying factor? No one ever gets invited to his parties.  So in a world where everyone has something happening on the side, everyone is out for themselves and having a good time, why is Jay Gatsby the one person who finds a true friend in Nick Carraway. As Nick settles into this life he finds his admiration of Gatsby grow from the portrayal and rumours he's lead to believe from others, to a more deep and grounded view he finds of his new friend and one secret that links Gatsby to Nick's own cousin that's been a much guarded secret for years and may change his own opinions of his spectrum of new friends forever by the time the party finally winds down.

By a mile (Which isn't to say anything bad about the rest of the cast) Leonardo DiCaprio helms the spotlight on himself as Jay Gatsby and he can't help but find himself stealing it's light for the whole show, form the same levels of sheer brilliance that he showed more recently in Django Unchained while still harking back to the romantic from both Romeo + Juliet and Titanic, DiCaprio can still act over the best of them. Even Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway feels a likeable character and played well by a post-spider-man actor who shows, while he may not steal the thunder he still has what it takes to keep the show going and engage the audiences  .  As beautiful as ever and apparently unable to have a truly bad film under her belt Carey Mulligan takes the role of Daisy Buchanan, balancing seeming innocence, beauty and all rolled up in a self absorbed character who blurs the roles between love and sympathy perfectly.Her upbeat and mischievous husband is played to similar extent if not a little more pantomime villain at times as Joel Edgerton takes his place as Tom Buchanan acting as a nice ying to Gatsby's yang. Elizabeth Debicki also brings some glamour to the film and for a fairly new comer to the bigger pictures she surely shows how she's no amateur in how she handles herself alongside the rest of the cast. Not to be forgotten is the adorable Isla Fisher who appears almost unrecognisable as Buchanna's mistress Myrtle Wilson and her hapless husband played to story breaking potential Jason Clarke as George Wilson.

Baz Lurhman has away of making things rather gaudy, over the top and sparkly. Yet that imaginative turn has made him a stand out name in features like this, Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet. While if it's the classic literature angle fans are looking for, it is there just under the more visually geared segments of the film, but for once it's a case where i don't actually mind the fact that a lot of effort was in the visual detail. The motif of the film is what;s hidden beneath the surface when all the luxury and beauty is taken away and i feel that's something which most modern cinema goers will miss. While romance has always been a big lure with Lurhman i find it's also the friendship between Gatsby and Carraway that's endearing, the look into other characters roles in Carraway's own life and the way Gatsby changed his life as well as the world that Gatsby created for himself was changed. It wasn't a film wrapped up in telling the most endearing love story, the most dramatic tale of greatness or even the most musical foot tapping piece Lurhman has directed, Instead Gatsby feels like a quaint yet grand, small yet epic, engaging and even a dash of thought provoking piece of cinema which wasn't out to primarily to make money but tell a story and i find that was the most engrossing element of the film.

8  /  10

FIN.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Oblivion

Cruise is back doing what comes naturally. No, not impossible missions, this time round Cruise is back on Sci-fi but instead of running from crimes he already commit in the future(How long has it been now since minority report?) he finds himself the maintenance man of a post-apocalyptic earth in 2077. Jack Harper is technician #49 of a group specifically tasked with keeping Earth's remaining defences up and running, alongside partner Victoria he awaits the coming full transportation to the new human colony on Titan. Being one of the last to leave Earth, both are anxious about the final few days of maintenance before they can finally leave the blue planet behind them, though for different reasons. While Victoria is increasingly eager to start a new life, something digs at Jack who still relates some connection to the planet no matter how void of life. It's only after a crashed pod brings an echo of human life back to earth that Jack and Victoria are torn in their views, as Jack tries to ascertain who this mysterious woman is and why the defences tried to kill a human questions begin to grow out of control and Jack realises there is more left to Earth and their mission than he was ever aware of.

While Tom Cruise is no Daniel-Day Lewis, you can't argue that from Top Gun to Jack Reacher he always puts his up most into the role to deliver that down to earth cool action hero kinda guy.  It's undeniable to say that Cruise still brings the same charisma and force he did with Ethan Hunt to his more modern films, and despite some flaws amongst the film's plot (Or borrowed plot devices) Cruise is still showing he has what it takes to be the hero, although it does cut fairly close to the knuckle of a stereotypical role, so while charismatic  you do still wish he'd aimed a bit higher at changing his character. The roles of the ladies of the future go to Andrea Riseborough as the tight and Titan-centric Victoria who's eager to keep Jack under wraps and perform as a team. Though she switches to out of control when Jack goes out of his way to push against orders when finding a survivor. Playing up tight and slightly unhinged Riseborough really brings what she can to her role, though she feels slightly pushed over by the story as events unfold. Jack's survivor Julia is played by Olga Kurylenko and gives Jack the choice between doing what he believes is right or following orders and an easy and straight forward life with Victoria. Kurylenko's character offers the films first enigma into which Jack investigates and through her he finds himself digging up even more dark truths, yet Kurylenko herslef feels shunned and only really gets chances to show off a confused expression and wordless pity, which in no way reflects what she really has to offer. While the trio makes up the majority of the films cast screen time wise, elsewhere somehow surviving Jack comes across Beech a leader of what appears to be a human resistance against an unknown enemy, played by Morgan Freeman. Alongside him is secondary leader Sykes played by Nikolaj Coster-Walda, both play the role of the resistance nicely though again they suffer greatly from a lack of screen-time.

Oblivion truly highlights a great problem with Hollywood now and in its defence it's not the first film to have this problem but the lack of original ideas begins to set in around the halfway mark. While the premise isn't mind blowing at first, it does feel somewhat engaging and as it delves deeper you become more interested with what exactly is going on with Jack, the Earth and the events occurring in the orbit unbeknownst to Jack and fellow Earthbound members of the cast. However soon you start to pick out certain ideas which seem torn from some of the more original and strand out sci-fi films of the past few years and when they start to appear, you realize just how many ideas are thrown together. From the bare bones of Moon to the ferociousness gleaming red light of 2001 Space Odyssey's Hal which by themselves fit nicely, Oblivion throws them into a mix of Matrix, Independence Day and I Am Legend action to create the ultimate Sci-fi adventure. It falls far shot, by a considerable distance and by trying to be something it isn't, everything that it could have been and actually did well feels sullen. That said when it does have those odd moments of entertainment, Oblivion offers up a dose of Tom Cruise Sci-fi laser gunning to an admirable effect as long as you can bypass the fragile and unoriginal plot it has something not unique or brilliant but certainly trying and fairly engaging to offer. It's not the Oblivion of the film universe but neither is it the One, Oblivion simply is.

5  /  10

FIN.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful

Not the first trip back to Oz but the most well announced arrival of the wizard who happens to look best in green. Oz the great and powerful is the film which tells the story of a petty conman travelling as a small time magician, who finds himself transported to the world Oz via a tornado collision. After a crash landing, the conman finds himself face to face with Theodora herself a witch, who believes the man in front of her is none over than the prophesied wizard who will save them from the wicked and dark forces lurking in the shadows. Promised all the gold in the fabled Emerald City, Oz sets about on a journey up the yellow brick road, though when it comes to sitting the throne Thedora's sister Evenora informs the would be wizard that if he really wants the throne, he'll have to defeat the wicked witch. With greed in abundance, Oz sets out to earn his gold but along the way both the companions he makes and the trials he faces shape him into something that resembles the wizard that the prophecy fore told.

James Franco takes the top hat and the throne of the Emerald City as the titular Oz who puts aside his days of old school trickery to try and save the world magical world from the quarrel of witches. While Franco may not have the same background as the colourful and magical films you'd expect from someone landing the role, when it comes to sheer playful and shallow nature of Oz before his journey and the endearing and likeable twist Franco suits both roles comfortably enough. Keeping Franco at bay are a trio of witches, some wicked and some good. Thedora played by the stunning Mila Kunis is the first witch to appear before our wizard and the one most out for love, and arguably the one who has the greatest change over the course of the film as emotions begin to spiral. Rachel Weisz takes the role as sister to Thedora, Evanora who sits comfortably in the Emerald City as the Royal Advisor (In the Disney universe no one is more trusted than the royal advisor... Here's looking at you Jafar) who watches the wizard closely as she sends him on her own personal mission to slay the wicked witch, Weisz's performance is admirable but at times lacks the grandeur you'd expect. Completing the trio is Michelle Williams as Gelinda, who may not be as wicked as she's first made out to be, leading the wizard's goose chase to an end. Williams is arguably the most enjoyable performance of the trinity, feeling well at home with the Disney fairy routine. While not the lynch pin of the film, but definitely part of the heart comes in the form of Joey King's China girl and Zach Braff's amusing turn as monkey doorman Finley.

As far as Disney's live action catalogue it's fair to say they've never truly been as successful as their animated side, yet never the less they always invoke some kind of entertainment in audiences. While not being buried down by the classics success, Oz the great and powerful is equal measure a prequel and homage to the Wizard of Oz. Some would say even Disney would have bitten of more than they could chew when entering the world of Oz, others would say it could never live up to the original classic, both would be wrong in a way This film while very neatly keeping it's ties yet altogether firmly creating it's own clever and well presented story in the hands of Sam Raimi, it never tries to out do the classic but embraces everything that was so enjoyable add even more colour some zany twists and gives us albeit not a classic but a very much enjoyable journey once more down the yellow brick road and an origin story for arguably one of cinema histories biggest movie wizards. Oz, is itself a light hearted, family fun flick and one that doesn't take itself too seriously remembering that it's for children of the 21st century and yet still catering justly to the classic fans. Whether it's been far too long since you were off to see the wizard, want to introduce a new audience to the magical Emerald City or altogether just fans of Sam Rami from entirely different works (One of 'witch' springs heavily to mind in the final act) Oz the great and powerful is one to watch.

7  /  10

FIN.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Last Stand

As the border of Mexico becomes the target of the unsavy bunch of new comers to town up to a suspicious deal of whispers and murdering, all the way in Las Vegas an FBI operation to transport drug cartel boss Gabriel Cortez goes horribly wrong and sees him speeding his way into the sunset at the helm of a supped up Chevrolet Corvette. Meanwhile,  Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Sheriff Ray Owens the man at the centre of the small rural town of Sommerton, though he hasn't always been the quaint local sheriff. With a past in the high octane life of an LAPD officer, Sheriff Owens finds some of his former type of customers speeding his way towards Sommerton and organising a welcoming party in the way only Arnie could, a large hail storm of bullets and a side dish of ceremonious explosions followed promptly by some back breaking physical strikes. Sheriff Owens rallies his deputies, makes a stand and awaits the speeding bullet and you can be sure the Sheriff is out to really show who's in charge this time round.


It's been ten years since Arnie's last starring role and yet despite the age, duties of governing California and his immortal enemy time, he actually pulls off his role impressively. Arnie may not be the best actor in Hollywood (his hands grasping an Oscar seem like a very extreme lucid dream) but you can't deny the man has some serious charisma, he's pulled films like Predator and Terminator while both have secondary factors which tide you over arguably more. who could ever mimic his rough charm? I would argue that some of his finest moments come from screaming about cookies, fighting Santa's and infiltrating Pre-Schools to uncover terrorist operations (would Kindergarten Cop be as successful without this Austrian Gladiator crazed antics?). The point being Arnie's mass appeal may have gained some weariness but it's still very much present.  Elsewhere in the cast roster Forest Whitikaer proves he's still the best at pulling shocked and amazed faces this time around as FBI agent John Barisster. While Making up the deputies are Jamie Alexander as Sarah Torrance, showing she has as much action orientation in her as she did when she was an Asgardian warrior in Thor and more alongside the obigulatory comic relief in Johnny Knoxville as local nut-job Lewis Dinkum and Luis Guzman as Mike Figuerola (though at times Knoxville has the strings of comedy straining horribly). On the other side of the spectrum playing the classic Eighties feel villain to Arnie's worn down hero Peter Stormare plays Burell, who's arguably more present and villainous that Eduardo Noregia as the major drug lord Gabriel Cortez(You can't help but feel his character was created with the Fast and Furious audiences is mind, feeling as if he should be racing wheels with Diesel more comfortably than fist fighting).


It's not spectacular, artsy or worthy of any awards but that's not what The Last Stand is about. If you drudges up a Delorean and had the option to relieve a slice of Arnie's hay day with a modern twist, this wouldn't be far from the monster mash up you would create. You can't argue that The Last Stand does entertain as only arnie can Loud, clunky and violence played up with such an over abundance and a sheer dumb lack of realism to add humour. This truly is a piece of uncovered classic eighties/early nineties action and while it for the majority feels like a plain call back and nothing more simply because of the used ammo count scratch the surface and it has even a bit of heart and more to offer. Consider this a metaphor of Arnie and his battle against time itself, in this we see him face the classic villain for the first part Burrell, in which he manages to struggle through but prevail, then he moves on. From Arnie in his highlight he then takes to a war on the new world as a youth in a toyed up super sports car speeds his way to cause even more carnage, Arnie is no old man who shrugs and lets the irresponsible and callous youth escape is he? No. Arnie's Owens takes his own set of wheels and shows he's still got what it takes to keep up with modern action and speed his own way towards a western stand off. In that sense it comes down to whether or not he can prevail against an ever changing world and win, in order to find out you'll have to see the final result for yourself. However as I stated this isn't a perfect film (at times even the dreaded CGI can really take you out of a scene) and while at times it has classic elements of action/comedic timing, others feel poorly placed. Looking at this instead of a classic Schwarzenegger flick and more like a return of an old, slightly crazed long lost family friend, The Last Stand has to be applauded for such a gripping return to form for an action star who actually knows what good action is like.


7  /  10

FIN.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Based on real life events though largely shaded with some wistful imagination, Zero Dark Thirty recounts the events after September 11th and the man hunt for America's most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. As an agent of the CIA, a woman named Maya has spent her time in the agency looking into Intel about the infamous terrorist leader, however she finally starts to make an impact when her inquisitive mind is shipped to Pakistan. After discovering the existence of a private courier who personally delivers messages to and from Bin Laden, Maya finds herself at the front of America's biggest man hunt and the only one with any real solid information. Maya has to push both the CIA and her supervisors for what she believes is the golden opportunity to finally track down and bring him in, the only question remaining is can the CIA move fast enough before that opportunity disappears.

Jessica Chastain is the life and soul of the film with central character Maya, a woman who is so fixed on doing what no one else can that her whole life outside the investigation comes to a stand still. played with hidden emotion, steely resolve and soaring commitment Chastain really gives that human element to events which could have happened and makes them both dramatic and realistic. Another CIA agent based in Pakistan is Dan played by Jason Clarke, it's his grim methods of torture and the role he plays alongside Maya that helps her in her investigation. The likable yet grim when on the job agent Dan is played perfectly with just enough character development to solidify his role in the story.  Kyle Chandler takes the role of Joseph Bradley, the station chief who often gets pulled into battling what he believes is Maya's foolhardy hunch time and time again. Chandler really shines when on screen and opposite Chastain, the two bring out the strong parallels of their characters. While they aren't present for great lengths a nod has to be given to both Joel Edgerton and Chris Pratt who play the operatives assigned to Maya, two names that while not huge are worthy of a mention from their time on screen. For an independent budget it's also good to see more class acting involved including Mark Strong and James Gandolfini (Along with a strange cameo like appearance from John Barrowman) as the higher ups of the CIA.

A strong, dark and detailed thriller from Kathryn Bigelow and it's not the first time she's brought out a more static and analytical view of proceedings carried out by American forces over seas. Like The Hurt Locker before it ZDT takes the established facts and historic details, shakes them up, adds a stronger shade of humanity and even sets out to educate the little things that aren't common knowledge. Of course as with every film about real to life historical occurrences, everything has to be taken with a pinch of salt whether it may have just added to the dramatic style or made the narrative more succinct , undoubtedly while based on fact portions would still be primarily created for the film or at least modified. That said there are no obvious moment for the most part that have you question what's fact and what's been imagined, instead you find yourself pulled to the character of Maya and her own escapades in intelligence. Like The Hurt Locker, this too has seen a slew of awards and you can understand why going by translation of the source material, the performances and the realistic portrayal Bigelow brings us. I highly recommend ZDT for the patient, politically interested and curious cinema goers out there, my only gripe being and it is a small one, is the films running time which in my opinion could have been easily shaved to make a more nicely paced presentation overall.

8  /  10

FIN.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Django Unchained


Django Unchained sees the return of film maestro, Quentin Tarantino, this time he turns his camera to the genre of Spaghetti westerns alongside the trials and tribulations of slavery. Doctor King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz), a bounty hunting German by trade finds himself searching the wild west for a group of run away villains and overssers, the Brittle brothers though with no real leads he finds himself someone who might know where they are.  Coming across the group of slavers, our hero's journey begins as Schultz frees Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave sold only recently after trying to flee with his wife. Understanding Django to know the brothers by sight, he offers his terms as such if Django aims him in finding the Brittle brothers he'll allow Django to walk away as a free man. With Little choice Django agrees to help though as the pair find themselves bonding and the Brittle brothers bounty lies safely in their belonging, Schultz sees the potential of young Django and makes another appeal. Offering Django one winters worth of bounty hunting, gun training and tale trading later and Schultz promises to not only give him a trade but also help rescue his wife from the clucthes of the sinister plantation owner, Calvin J Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio).
 
With the premise giving Tarantino the revenge spin he loves flowing in his films and allowing him to structure a truly unique and magnificent cast in his western play ground, Lead by Jamie Foxx who plays the titular Django bringing enough suave and cool to drown the audience. While Foxx's Django is perfectly cast and as the film cartwheels on you'd think the show was his, yet Christoph Waltz again like he was in Inglourious Basterds is giving a performance which makes you laugh, gasp and leaves you in awe. Yet even with both Fox and Waltz screen snatching the shots as the two lone gunner heroes of the west, rising up from the plantations and giving the film a stand out antagonist who really does nothing but impress with his vile yet slick nature, Leonardo DiCaprio gives the film that face of evil as the slightly unhinged Monsieur Calvin Candie. Not forgetting the ensemble of supporting cast including Kerry Washington, the brilliance of Samuel L Jackson and even a brief appearance of Franco Nero the original Django.
 
 Django Unchained is a rolling roller-coaster of classic revenge sliced up in a Spaghetti serving of Western brought to you from the ever churning mind of Quentin Tarantino. Not just the name of the titular character for unchained, for Django, the adventure has been riding into the sunset since the classic 1966 film simply titled Django. When Django played by Franco Nero rolled into town dispensing justice with a coffin on his back and the grief of a widow, he became one of the defining actors of the genre alongside the likes of Clint Eastwood in the dollar series. Following on with almost 30 titles and unofficial spin off's Django lived on, though critically none ever lived up to Nero's portrayal not even Nero himself when he returned to the role, it seems the days of Django's reign were truly gone. That is until the present day where we see Foxx's own unique and cool gunslinger dishing out vengeance, Gratuitous 'Tarantino' violence and an almost impossible to beat level of suave. Django Unchained isn't just a good film, it's a good representation of the journey Tarantino has taken in film making and all the years from Pulp Fiction through Kill Bill has lead to a formulated, shining and ambitious narrative in the form of this slick new pic. Unchained Django most certainly is and at that it is certainly a must see for fans of westerns, Tarantino lovers and film goers one and all.

9  /  10

FIN.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Les Miserables


Adapted from Victor Hugo's well known epic and the hit stage musical which over the years has made a huge impact. Les Miserables follows Jean Valjean a prisoner condemned for stealing a loaf of bread in an attempt to help his sisters starving family, has spent nineteen slaving away under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert. When his time as a free man finally comes forth Javert reminds Valjean that despite what he thinks is freedom, he'll where the crimes of his conviction until the day he dies, true enough Valjean finds a harsh world waiting for an ex-convict. At his lowest Valjean attempts to return to the very method of survival which condemned him, by stealing from an elderly priest and the only one who tries to help Valjean. Caught with the priests silver he is thrown down to his mercy, yet the priest looks at Valjean with only kindness instead increasing the bundle which Valjean already has possession of. Years pass and now known as Monsieur Madeline, Javert has built his life anew and a business in a town of which he is mayor, though when Inspector Javert once more appears in his life musing suspicions Valjean is put on edge. Only when a worker named Fantine is forced from his employment via his foreman, Valjean discovers he must once more stand up and make amends while at the same time a man matching valjeans description is caught and forced to answer for his own crimes. After finding Fantine who's health is quickly deteriorating, confessing that he is truly the Jean Valjean they and Javert search for and promising to look after Fantine's daughter Cosette. Valjean finds himself once more forced into a new life running from Javert with the young Cosette in tow, yet the world he has for so long run from ends up always biting at his heels and soon Javert, Cosette and even the struggle of revolutionaries force Valjean to truly take a stand.  

Kicking off Les Mis's Stellar cast is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, showing for the first time on the big screen that Jackman is as good at vocally performing as he is at taking lead of one of Marvel's biggest franchises. Fellow Australian Russel Crowe takes to hunting Valjean as Inspector Javert and while like Jackman he's more used to dealing with more action orientated roles, Crowe gives his all when it comes to rising to the musical challenge.Dreaming about dreams after having an already big year Anne Hathaway tugs at the emotional strings as the strong yetr broken Fontaine giving an inspiring an heartbreakingly brilliant performance. The more youthful romantics come in the form of the apple of Valjean's eye Cosette played by Amanda Seyfried and the sorrowfully forgotten Eponine played by Samantha Barks, while Seyfried does amicably in singing her character is rather subdued in comparison to the rest of the cast. While Eponine's own tragic storyline and vocals really have you loving her character and the emotion she pulls along with it. The girls cause a commotion to two men who already have their hands full planning a revolution, mainly Marius portrayed by Eddie Redmayne who's loyalties lay torn between catching a glimpse of the love of his life and sweeping Paris for her or taking to friend Enjolras played by Aaron Tviet plans of revolting for the people of France and leading a new beginning in a wave of rebellion. Both boys take to their roles with enthusiam and force that while lacking the experience of some of the leads they clearly show here how talented they both really are. The most surprisingly entertaining and immense roles come from the comedic relief in Thenardier and his madame, Sacha Baron Cohen and Hellena Bonham Carter really bring the light heart to the overbearing back bone of hardship portrayed by the rest of the characters. Last by no means least is the lovable little rouge Gavroche with a twinkle in his eye Daniel Huttlestone is pitch perfect in his performance..


A film of such gigantic proportions, aiming to please both fans of the musical and the epic novel by Victor Hugo and yet still draw in novices', Les Miserables manages to cover all it's aims. With a cast full of grand names it already attracts the eye, beautiful sets along with costume design and phenomenal renditions of by this stage well known lyrics made even better in the way they were filmed on set rather than studio recorded giving them an added sense of realism and emotion. From the way it's filmed down to the gritty appearance and stage like use of space shows a sense of sticking to what made it a success in it's origins and yet at the same time an impressively fresh take to draw theatre goers. When Superhero and age old spies are the mainstay of cinemas these days Les Miserables gives musical loves a wave of pleasure, while films like Pitch Perfect comfortably find their set audience Les Miserables in contrast should offer a different experience for fans of film in general and branches out to everyone as a grand musical epic, a stunning cast, a beautifully peiced together film with a truly endearing soundtrack full of emotionally stirring songs. Les Miserables is undeniably a grand success, offering a little something for everyone and a standing up as a truly stunning film.

10  /  10

FIN.