Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Film Review - American Sniper (2015)

American Sniper is directed by Clint Eastwood and also the true story of US Sniper Chris Kyle (played here by Bradley Cooper) who joins the US Navy Seals in a willingness to serve his country and then goes to do 4 tours of duty in Iraq as well as try and raise a family with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller.)

Going into this film I was keen primarily because Clint is one of my favourite directors and this story looks to take him back to the kind of storytelling that he does best which is working class people in extraordinary adventures (Dirty Harry and Every Which Way But Loose are other examples of this) but Jersey Boys from last year disappointed me greatly so could this hit the mark or be another Eastwood misfire?

Boy oh boy am I happy to say that this film hit the mark as I really enjoyed myself watching this film, Clint's direction is the most focused and energized I've seen it be probably since Gran Torino in 2009, everything feels focused in terms of the character moments and the action scenes (which are very tense to watch in the cinema, you really feel the dust and the gunfire in the climax.) and I just sat there thinking "What on Earth has Clint been doing all this time, hard to believe he still has this in him."

And I go back to the point in my intro which is that this type of story is what Clint does best and whilst watching this I thought of an earlier film he directed in 1986 called Heartbreak Ridge where he played Tom Highway a Gunnery Sergeant in the US Army and that film was very hard edged and this feels like it could sit on that same shelf with that film, Cooper is extremely good here as well and I didn't think I was looking at the handsome leading man but the real person he's playing, Miller is also very good and she'll get a fair few offers from this film.

But also to start wrapping this up this is just a great war story about a man who wants to serve his country, does great things under the flag of the red, white and blue and like the first Rambo film First Blood returns to the homeland and a life of domesticity and there's nothing, no drive, no purpose and no sense of self or making a difference and it's no surprise that when you tell people about this movie and this story they get very interested in seeing it.

And so American Sniper is very highly recommended and ranks as the real standout of this very early film going this year, whether this holds will be both interesting and questionable but still I highly recommend this movie, 4 out of 5.

Film Review - Paper Planes (2015)

Paper Planes is an Australian production and stars Ed Oxenbould as Dylan a young boy living in country NSW with his father (Sam Worthington) and who lost his Mum in a car crash but one day at school a man comes to show his class how to make a Paper Plane and it promises to be a brand new journey for this country boy.

I went into Paper Planes fairly keen mainly because I liked the trailer but one thing I noticed was that one of the companies involved with this movie was the Australian Children's Television Foundation who were also responsible for the ABC TV series Lift Off in the early 90s so their involvement seemed to seal the deal for me, could it soar with mighty wings or crash down to Earth like many of the Paper Planes we all made as kids?

Well actually it does soar as this is a charming little family film and I enjoyed it more than I did Big Hero 6 and the Penguins of Madagascar and the reason that is the case is because I felt that this felt more complete as a film as well as having the balance right between the heart and the humour which some American family productions sometimes miss the mark on.

The film also has some likeable characters at its core especially Dylan who is likeable, charming and very resourceful and Oxenbould does a very good job here, Worthington is serviceable and probably the most enjoyable he's been since Avatar and even Deborah Mailman joins in on the fun so you can't complain.

And after seeing the Japanese in Unbroken treated as cliches we've seen before it was very refreshing to see them given a much more respectful treatment in this movie and also I love that Sam's character had old VHS tapes still around, that part made me smile quite a bit.

So all in all Paper Planes is good fun and well worth seeing, 3 and a half out of 5.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Film Review - Unbroken (2015)

Unbroken is directed by Angelina Jolie and tells the tale of Louie Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) from his time as an Italian immigrant to his service in World War 2 and ultimately to his time as a Japanese Prisoner of War.

I was very mixed going into this film primarily because of my hit and miss views on Jolie herself but the promise of her directing a film made me think "If she can win me over here then I am happy to be wrong about her" after all Ben Affleck and Russell Crowe have pulled it off before so why not Jolie, right?

Well sadly maybe not I'm afraid as this is not that great of a film which is a shame given the true story of this man should make for a very compelling film and part of that problem is Jolie's direction itself, it feels very flat for the most lacking the pop and style of both Affleck and Crowe's directorial work which is a shame given how much she felt for this material but just can't bring it to life in a way that feels cinematic and exciting and uplifting as it should.

The other reason this is the case is that this film gives off a strong air of "Been there, seen that" from it and I'll break those down now:

- The first is the scenes on the life raft which only served to remind me of the Simpsons episode where Homer, Bart and Ned Flanders are stranded out at sea and have to survive before Homer's extra keen sense of smell saves the day for them (at one point I did say to myself "God speed little doodle" and "We're done for, we're done diddily done for")

- The second is the scenes in the camps themselves which for all the time I had after I came out of the film just kept reminding me of the Railway Man from last year as well as the recently released Water Diviner and in both of those films you really got a sense that the Japanese and the Turks respectively were given a chance to be fleshed out into real 3 dimensional characters with their own view of who they consider the enemy in the War.

Here the Japanese guards just come across as clones of the colony masters from 12 Years a Slave where they pretty much take any excuse they need to beat their subjects senseless and after a while I just thought to myself "I am finding it hard to care at this stage" after Beating number 156.

However I did think O'Connell, Domnhall Gleeson and Takamasa Ishihara were actually pretty good but Jolie like Chris Nolan and his work on Interstellar and Peter Jackson on the final Hobbit film the Battle of the Five Armies needed to think this film through more in terms of what vision she has for the story as it is very lacking here.

And so Unbroken has a great story at its core but it lacks the vision and the emotional impact to bring it to life in a way that stands out from other movies about the 2 World Wars of which there are very many, 1.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Film Review - Taken 3 (2015)

Taken 3 is the third film in this series and again stars Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills but this time he finds himself on the run from the FBI after his ex wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is found dead in his apartment.

Part of me really did not want to see this film as while I really loved the first Taken film the 2nd one was dreadful so the news that a third film was coming did not fill me with optimism plus the joke of "What can they take THIS time, his Car, his Lawnmower, his Laptop hell even his Mobile Phone" but alas the only way I would've ever known what it was like was to see it and so I did.

And quite frankly something was taken in this film and those were my time and money as this movie is just crap frankly and the reasons are three:

- The first is that it's just boring as all hell to sit through as all the key players from the first 2 return but they all sound so bored shitless they just keep sitting around waiting for the cheque to come in the mail which is especially true of Neeson who just sounds like a barking dog throught most of the film.

And as for him I really really think that he needs to get away from doing the action stuff for a while as it is really getting tiresome seeing him running around and shooting and stabbing everything in sight whilst doing the whole "I will find you, I will kill you" speech over a phone then again this was the same path Stallone's action career went down whereas Arnold wisely learned the lessons of his duds and knew when to break out into his comedy work with Twins (despite everyone telling him not to and thankfully he didn't listen.)

- The second is that this sequel gets very tiresome over its near 2 hour length (the first film ran for 90-95 minutes) and as a result I just started to get very tired of the events on screen and third time around I just cannot help but be reminded of the Highlander series, the first movie was so good (a great idea for one film like this one) but as it made a bunch of money it had to be spun out into a series and everything that made the first so good is thrown away as a result.

- And third the film just gets ridiculous at times I mean there's a car chase where pretty much everyone on that freeway was probably crushed to death and then there's Neeson pretty much playing the role as if he was the Terminator as no matter what's thrown at him he just gets back up as if nothing ever harmed him and comes back for more and as the film goes on you just think "Oh Come On, this is just stupid."

And so that was Taken 3 and all it will take is your time and your money so don't go and see it, 1 out of 5.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Film Review - Sucker Punch (2011)

Sucker Punch is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Emily Browning as Babydoll, a young girl who accidentally kills her sister and is locked up in a mental home where she meets 4 other inmates; Sisters Rocket (Jena Malone) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and together they plot to escape the mental home but this will not be easy.

Hmmm, Wow.

This was a train wreck and a half of a film, seriously I feel like I've sat through one of the worst films I've ever seen in my life and there is no question that had I seen this film in 2011 when it was released this would've been my pick for the worst film of that year, how bad is it let me count the ways:

- First of all nothing in this film makes any sense whatsoever as when the drama accelerates the film takes a complete left turn into these wild battle fantasies with Scott Glenn criminally wasted as their mentor where there's giant blimps, mech walkers, robotic samurai's, dragons, orcs, terminator style robots and a LOT OF SLOOOOOWWWWWWWW MOOOOTTIOOOONNNN LIKE THIIIISSSSSS and all the while you're watching all of this you start nodding off to sleep.

- Which leads me to my next problem with this film and that is the lack of heart in this film which was the same problem I've had with Snyder's work overall (I can't tell you how much I am dreading his upcoming Dawn of Justice film in 2016, I fear the absolute worst for it) in that for all of this physical mounting and gigantic scope and scale you don't care about anyone inside the machine and as a result it becomes harder to enjoy the battle sequences or care for the 5 girls when they get into trouble.

- And lastly this film has no shape or tone or structure in its script, the darkness of the mental home and the outlandish battle fantasies feel like they're out of entirely different films and just don't blend together now there could've been an interesting story about this girl who already has these fantasies before she's locked up and with the other inmates comes out of her nightmare and they all win their freedom or indeed a film like Jacob's Ladder with Tim Robbins which is FAR FAR FAR superior to this film despite its own faults where all the 4 inmates are victims of violence hence the incarceration to help them and the 5th comes in and says "I can Block the Ladder" and they all help each other to sanity but No it's just easier to dress them all in leather, have them fight and dance and then watch them all suffer.

But throughout this entire film one question kept coming to mind "Where is Paul Verhoeven?" as he could make this sort of Gender Neutral, Hyper Violent and Very Edgy action picture (The original Robocop and Total Recall as well as Starship Troopers are all very high quality) in a way that is exciting, makes sense and also makes you care about the 5 girls whereas Snyder just self indulges in the worst way and Glenn along with Malone and Cornish are all wasted as a result though Oscar Issac is probably the only redeeming quality about this mess.

And so that was Sucker Punch, a film to avoid at all costs as I hated it that much, 0 out of 5.

Film Review - Divergent (2014)

In a Dystopian Future there was Tris (Shailene Woodley) a young girl who will take the test to see which faction she will belong to later in life (there are 5 factions; Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite) but she could also be a Divergent (not belonging to any one faction, gee that sounds familiar) and those well they could threaten to destroy all.

Boy oh boy was this a dull has hell film to watch, don't get me wrong Woodley is very appealing but at times she seems totally at sea in this material and also a little out of her depth, unsure whether to bring in the bravado or try to find another approach to the action side of her roles, by contrast Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the Hunger Games went for broke and the results show on screen.

Speaking of the Hunger Games (which this film so desperately wants to be), that series created not only a great heroine in Katniss but also a real world that combined (for me at least) elements of both the Star Wars trilogy (its elements of good and evil and rebellion against the Empire) with the biting edge of some of Oliver Stone's early work like JFK or Wall Street (by this side of the comparison I mean that Suzanne Collins was someone who had something to say about the world like Stone did.)

By contrast the whole Faction system in Divergent seemed as believable as a Labor Party Caucus Meeting and I just couldn't shake that feeling all throughout watching this film.

And so that was Divergent, a dull as dishwater Sci-Fi film that just should've perished like a lot of the other Hunger Games imitators have but because of Woodley lived to fight another day, 1 out of 5.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Feeling the Force on the Big Screen

When sitting down to my session of the Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies a very unexpected surprise came amongst the number of previews for upcoming releases the cinema normally shows before any film.

And that was the teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film The Force Awakens to be directed by JJ Abrams.

I have already talked about this teaser on my Radio show but the purpose of this column is to talk about how it felt to see this teaser on the big screen where it belongs.

And the only word I can use to describe the experience is MAGICAL! as here it was, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Imperial Stormtroopers and the Millennium Falcon herself on a big cinema screen and big sound where they belong, I was giddy as a schoolboy watching this and I sat up straight so I could take it all in (there were people sitting in the row in front of me blocking the screen which was unacceptable this time) I looked around at the speakers to feel the sound.

And yet on the Inside I was virtually doing the whole Meg Ryan "I'll have what she's having" moment in When Harry Met Sally, that Giddy about this experience I was and yet the most surprising thing of all about it is that it even happened at all as I didn't really expect this trailer to be playing in any Australian cinemas, I know that AMC Theatres which is an American cinema chain was showing it in their cinemas but I hadn't seen any word from Village or Hoyts or Event Cinemas that they were going to show it.

But it sure is nice to be proven wrong and although the new Star Wars film is not my most anticipated film of the new year (though it's absolutely up there for sure) to see that teaser trailer on the big screen was like feeling the Force all over again and I am sure as hell more excited for what JJ and company have in store for us in December now that I've seen that first glimpse where it really needs to be seen.