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Grandma (2015)
Tight, funny and powerful - Tomlin kills it
17 May 2016
Making a film funny is like balancing an egg on your chin. It takes skill, good judgement and a knack for balance. Making a comedy without making light of its hefty themes is like balancing that egg whilst doing a tightrope walk. It takes people of rare talent to pull it off, or at the very least, to avoid plummeting to a miserable end (here's looking at you never-to-be-made Reagan movie). But with considerable skill, Paul Weitz manages to make Grandma into a quintessential dramedy, full of amusing moments, hilarious quips and a beautiful family relationship.

I wonder if I'd have bothered with this movie if I didn't have an obsession with The West Wing and therefore have heard of Lily Tomlin. I'm glad I did, because Tomlin gives the best lead actress performance of 2015 as the gruff, cantankerous and blunt widowed retiree poet Elle. She revels in her hippy lifestyle, but never becomes a caricature. Her levels of self-consciousness about her desire to prove something herself makes her more human and therefore more relatable. In the dramatic moments, Elle's rarely seen emotions break free just enough to convey the adult nature of the problem and shake our faith in the assurance that "grandma will fix everything".

Equally wonderful is Julia Garner as Elle's granddaughter Sage, whose lapse of judgement led to her pregnancy. Sage could easily have become a plot device to be towed along by Tomlin and the script, but thanks to Garner, she displays levels of vulnerability that make us long to help and console her. That isn't to say she's a weak female character - she's just a real human being.

The film plays in a series of chapters, each dealing with Elle and Sage's attempt to wheedle enough money together for an abortion. As the film progresses through a series of cameos from talented actors, the show is stolen by Sam Elliott, who gives a performance at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from his performance in 2015's I'll See You in My Dreams. There is real hurt in his eyes when he speaks about abortion and it is not only believable, but feasible, that he carried his pain through at least three subsequent wives and five children. Unfortunately, Elliott's chemistry with Tomlin isn't nearly as magical as his chemistry with Blythe Danner, but the scene still has effectiveness because of him. Also wonderful is Marcia Gay Harden as Elle's daughter/Sage's mother, a highly stressed and frenetic office worker. She works very well with Garner, and although not as well with Tomlin the great writing makes up for it.

Paul Weitz's screenplay is to be credited with the wonderful balance and surprisingly high entertainment factor. The humour is perfectly done, with the exception of a silly slapstick confrontation outside the abortion clinic. The film's editors also know that the film didn't need to exceed 80 minutes, and as such the finished product is accessible and enjoyable. A great film about women, but one that has no judgement to pass on the issue of abortion.
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The ending is so bad for a movie that was so good
8 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The first half of this movie reminded me of the first season of Lost. Full of mysteries, a fascinatingly acted group of characters and a high tension atmosphere where something could happen any second. John Goodman knocks it out of the park as a deranged, dangerous doomsday prophesier. His physical presence is absolutely unequalled and Goodman knows just what to do with it. But at the same time, he's John Goodman - he's Sully, and you just want inherently to trust him. The themes of domestic violence are strong throughout, and the film is truly claustrophobic.

The last fifteen minutes reminded me of Lost after season 2. You want resolution to the kidnapping mystery? I don't care. The woman who came to the door was a red herring and made no sense at the end of the movie? Screw you. You think Rey was too good at things in Star Wars, well Michelle can use molotov cocktails to destroy alien aircraft because f*** yeah, feminism. I was fine with Damien Chazelle rewriting the ending to ensure that the message was not "she should've stayed in the basement", as that was something I was worried about. By 10 Cloverfield Lane left a sour taste in my mouth. It out Edge of Tomorrow'd Edge of Tomorrow. It should've stuck with something more appropriate for the tension and the mystery.
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Pleasantly adequate - Rocky meets Forrest Gump
7 May 2016
1. This is a perfectly harmless, feel good movie. There is not a whole lot to analyse or criticise.

2. I love the music in this film. Matthew Margeson's perfect pleasant score trundles along, almost as if one might skip to school in time with it. There are moments later on, however, which require a bit more excitement and Margeson doesn't fail to deliver the goods there either.

3. Taron Egerton does a great job as Eddie Edwards. He's a buffoon in the vein of Troy Barnes from Community, a cheerful, dorky kid skating through life on his sheer optimism and self-belief. It can be quite distracting at times whilst Egerton tries to emulate Edwards' pronounced underbite, but it does help you not to see him as the cool kid from Kingsman: The Secret Service, and throughout the film I got used to it.

4. A lot of people are taking issue with the fact that Hugh Jackman's character is entirely fictional. I'd like to point out that a film version of the true story would barely have enough content to fill a forty-five minute film. A film is meant to entertain, and the addition of Jackman's character Bronson Peary is a big shot in the arm for entertainment. Jackman is surprisingly convincing as the alcoholic former athlete, and his friendship with Edwards never feels pedestrian or forced. Director Dexter Fletcher lets us get there on our own. The way the script is written, the story never has to stop and wait for Peary, and so the film isn't unnecessarily stretched because of it.

5. The cinematography of those ski jumping shots is fantastic, especially one in which Peary flawlessly lands a jump to prove a point. The whole thing, the flick of the cigarette to the rock star landing, is just delightful to watch.

6. Two scenes really stand out as effective in the film. The first tells us more than any amount of exposition ever could: Peary tells Edwards to watch the world number two land for tips and leave him alone. The ski jumper soars through the air…and promptly stacks it, before being carried off in a stretcher. Peary then idles back over and dryly comments "and he knew what he was doing". That's it. We now understand more about the danger Edwards is in than we could ever have needed to know.

7. The second of those scenes is the scene in which everyone falls in love with him. Egerton's honest excitement and pride in his own miniscule achievement is so genuine that we as audience members want to be pleased for him as well. After seeing a whole film of people knocking Eddie down, it makes us smile whenever people want to hear about him or talk to him.

8. Issues with the film are there, but this was never going to be a five star movie so it doesn't matter a whole lot. The head of the British Olympic selection committee is so completely evil and heartless he becomes a caricature of a human being. Eddie's father is less of a caricature but still seems unnecessarily obstructive and single-minded about his son's goals and future. The film's freeze frames are so cheesy that they made me want to cringe.

9. Towards the end the screenplay gets a little too obvious and it takes you out of the film. There's only so far your disbelief can handle people dropping comments like "Oh Eddie won't compete in the 90m" or "yep, we've definitely seen the last of Eddie." I'm positive that didn't happen in real life and even in the movie, where the outcome is obvious, it isn't necessary to set up Eddie's decision to do it.

10. I would describe Eddie the Eagle as Rocky meets Forrest Gump. It may not match the former in quality, but it avoids the sticky gooey emotional manipulation of the latter whilst retaining its sweet central character. It is harmless, charming and the ideal movie to pop on for a three-generation family movie night.
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Hail, Caesar! (2016)
Its okay
5 May 2016
1. I have never loved the Coen brothers, and it amuses me that most people's problems with this film are the problems I've had with Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country for Old Men - character arcs wrap up off screen with no time to enjoy that they are there, and the focus of the film seems to be on one uninteresting aspect instead of a much greater potential.

2. Interestingly, I found this less with Hail, Caesar. The film's final ten minutes did a lot to improve my opinion of this film, linking the seemingly independent stories of Ralph Fiennes, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum together to give a nice feeling that we saw a window of Eddie Mannix's life and that another window might show dozens of other things going on. I also enjoyed the emotional conclusion for Eddie regarding his future - it felt natural and satisfying after a movie in which we've seen him doing his job.

3. The film's trailer was misleading as hell. Enjoy the trailer as a two and a half minute short film, not as a teaser for the film because it will be a massive let down. As I've said, most characters have nothing to do with one another and you barely get to register and enjoy the presence of Ralph Fiennes before he's gone. All of his best moments are in the trailer. Every single one.

4. The film is also too long - this should've wrapped around the 90 minute mark. Most scenes involving Baird Whitlock and the communists who kidnap him are overly dialogue-heavy without being smart or witty. Each of those sequences is enough to put you in a slump of boredom. Ironically, the gag with Frances McDormand playing a buffoon editor wastes about three minutes of screen time. The film being edited together by that fictional character would explain a lot.

5. Of the acting performances, I really enjoyed Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix. It is not a flashy performance or even a memorable one, but he does a great job and I'm glad to see him headlining the cast. George Clooney is probably the most memorable as the loveably dopey leading man who is besotted by rumours from his early career and convinced of the virtues of Communism. Hearing him proudly and innocently explain his new worldview to an irritated Mannix is akin to watching Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld, and Mannix's short and direct response is probably the funniest part of the movie thanks to Clooney's expression.

6. Alden Ehrenreich is likely the star made by this film, as the polite Western star who cannot act in serious roles to save himself. He has great chemistry with everyone and nails each moment of the script as required. Scarlett Johannson is memorable in a small role, and its great to see Wayne Knight, Clancy Brown and Allison Pill getting work.

7. Roger Deakins' cinematography is a shining light in the film, especially Scarlett Johannson's glorious mermaid sequence.

8. The best directed segment of the film was the "No Dames" song and dance routine led by Channing Tatum. The choreography is flawless, the lyrics spot on and the cinematography fantastic.

9. It is a credit to Joel and Ethan Coen's script that things do flow together. There are a few Chekhov's guns throughout, characters who distract you with their presence only to reveal themselves as being more important at the end. There's also some witty banter - such as between Mannix and four church leaders regarding the depiction of Christ - although let's not hail it as perfect, because then we have to sit through those Communist scenes again.

10. I wasn't insulted by Hail, Caesar but after watching the trailer so many times I'd be lying if I said I was wholly satisfied.
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Debauched, depraved, delightful
26 April 2016
1. I gave this movie 6/10 when I first watched it two years ago. What the hell was wrong with me?

2. I didn't want DiCaprio to win the Oscar in 2013 because I thought McConaughey was more deserving (and Ejiofor was more than both). But now that the Internet got him an Oscar for The Revenant, I think its a huge shame because this is where DiCaprio's strengths lie. Jordan Belfort is a loud, bombastic, debauched, deranged, hyperactive animal - and we love him every moment he's on screen. DiCaprio invests him with an animalistic energy that dips into humanity's id and just lets himself go crazy.

3. Without DiCaprio's performance, this three hour movie would feel its length. That's why The Revenant killed me - it was just painful waiting for something to happen. Here, there is ALWAYS something happening.

4. Props to Jonah Hill for his fantastic performance as well - likely the finest of his career. His big, gleaming fake smile and his equally depraved behaviour is a perfect compliment to DiCaprio. The best scenes in the film involve Jonah Hill, who gets an even stronger reaction out of you with his frustrating behaviour. But in the film's more serious moments, there is that Goodfellas camaraderie between Azoff and Belfort that makes the characters feel like real adults who lived.

5. The rest of the cast is also up for the challenge, with talented TV actors like Kenneth Choi, Jon Bernthal and Ethan Suplee appearing memorably amongst Belfort's chums, Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Jean Dujardin stealing the show in small roles, and directors like Jon Favreau, Spike Jonze and Rob Reiner stopping by an being generally excellent (Reiner is particularly memorable as "Mad Max" Belfort). McConaughey's scenes are hypnotic in their excellence. But the real standout is Margot Robbie, who I watched when she was on Neighbours and love seeing her breakout into the main stream.

6. Robbie is completely intoxicating, thanks in part to the film's makeup and costume team. The comparison with Cristin Milioti as Jordan's first wife is a subtle but clever one - despite Milioti being cute as a button, the film makes her look just a little bit too frumpy or standard compared to the luxurious Naomi.

7. A lot of the film was improvised, which pads the run time a bit but the fun that everyone is having is incredibly infectious. The things that are unforeseen, like a kitchen island during the Quayludes scene, contribute even more to the film. The continuous and excessive swearing is magnificent.

8. Scorsese and his cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto dart around the film with freeze frames, slow-motion, tracking shots and multiple lenses to show up the drug high scenes. It is really impressive filmmaking.

9. The use of music is great as well, especially with the McConaughey humming replicated into a musical score to play over key moments.

10. This is Scorsese's best movie since Casino, possibly even better. It is full of manic energy, the mood of each scene is unbelievable. DiCaprio is an actor to be treasured, and I hope Scorsese has one or two more of these still in him.
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Harmless and entertaining - above average construction as a film
26 April 2016
1. This is one of those movies I watched as a kid and enjoyed now for nostalgia purposes. I think the DVD I watched this on was one of the first DVDs ever made.

2. Top notch casting, even if some of the voice acting doesn't have the heft of Inside Out or The Lion King. Tommy Lee Jones aces it as Major Chip Hazard.

3. Add a star for the Patton spoof where Chip Hazard recites every single cliché American speech line and turns it into the most patriotic speech ever made.

4. The screenplay never takes itself too seriously but at the same time doesn't feel cheesy. Its a tough balance to walk for a movie about killer army men, but they handle it well.

5. Its a delight to see Phil Hartman on film (his final screen appearance). Of the on-screen cast, Kirsten Dunst charms the audience easily as Christy and Kevin Dunn makes a mark as Alan's father. Gregory Smith is adequate as the film's protagonist Alan, playing him as a T2- era John Connor. Ann Magnusson has a very memorable moment towards the end with a tennis racket.

6. Dennis Leary absolutely owns the entire screen as Gil Mars. I don't use that phrase lightly, but when Leary is on screen the whole movie is elevated dramatically. It is a Velma Kelly level of screen presence.

7. The love story between Alan and Christy is goofy. Her boyfriend is barely an obstacle because she doesn't seem to even like him that much. She flirts with Alan in the same breath as saying that she only dates older boys.

8. The battle sequences are fantastic, a great blend of practical effects and CGI. The use of standard house tools and items somehow raises the stakes to an incredible level.

9. Its a great family movie but above all else it is just a delightful movie to sit down and watch. Certainly above average in all respects.
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Daddy's Home (2015)
Don't come for laughs, cos there aren't enough
21 April 2016
1. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell have terrific chemistry. The two of them on screen is a delight to the senses. Wahlberg was born to play a character named Dusty who walks around with a shirt off.

2. Thomas Haden Church is really funny but his character serves next to no purpose in the entirety of the film. Outside the main two, Linda Cardenelli does a fairly good job herself.

3. There's a lot of good writing in here and very subtle and believable maneuvering on the part of Wahlberg's character. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of silliness, especially when Ferrell splurges on a huge mid-year Christmas. Ponies and skate ramps get dropped in for stupid plot point reasons and then vanish once they aren't needed.

4. The worst of all of them is Hannibal Buress' Griff, the target of a moderately funny joke that then overstays its welcome for the entire run time of Daddy's Home. They recycle it roughly six times, all while ignoring the obvious intrusiveness of the character. Viewers are required to suspend their belief completely as Brad (and more importantly, Sara) continue to tolerate Griff's presence in their home. No one is THAT afraid of being called a racist.

5. The movie won props for me when Sara toughened up and kicked both men out of her life (plus Griff). Her joy at the potential of a third child was a pure display of jubilation and genuinely brought a smile to my face. Then the film kicked her in the teeth and demeaned her in the film's final act.

6. I didn't laugh nearly as much as I wanted to. There were two laugh out loud moments but the rest was fairly standard. It didn't help that most of the best jokes were in the trailer.

7. The best way to make someone's stunt double obvious is to have a black stunt double for Will Ferrell.

8. The film's climax is terrible, with an excruciatingly obvious, preachy and cliché resolution. Not even watching Marky Mark bust a move is worth the cringe I suffered.

9. Okay seriously, they actually name the baby after Griff. Seriously.

10. That John Cena cameo though.
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Argo (2012)
Ben Affleck's snubbing for Best Director is the single greatest Oscar travesty in history
16 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
1. This movie is completely irresistible. In time this will rightfully become known as one of the best Best Picture winners of the 21st century.

2. Start with the premise. What a premise! You couldn't write a fictional movie half as entertaining as this one. In less competent hands, this film would have been a complete disaster of tone, but Affleck manages to walk the line with the deftness of Philippe Petit. Whenever the film threatens to become too fun or light, there's a stoic reminder of the stakes we are in, and that Affleck, Goodman and Arkin are doing their job for serious purpose.

3. The best example of this is a beautifully shot and edited sequence where the Argo team begin a table read for the film. Goodman and team sit down to read, Affleck seizes a wine glass, and then there's a tracking shot that follows the waiter into the kitchen, away from all the light and noise. In that quiet, the somber TV reporter relays updates on the hostage situation. Then William Goldenberg splices Iran scenes in with the preposterous table read. At the end, we feel exactly how we should - this is ludicrous, but we have to make it work.

4. My God the screenplay of this movie is delightful. There's the biting cynicism of Hollywood ("you're worried about the Ayatollah? Try the WGA", "you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without doing anything? You'll fit right in). There's the wildly hilarious quips, such as a hysterical monologue that Alan Arkin delivers to the screenwriter of Argo. But most of all there's the tension-packed, terse dialogue that takes place in CIA headquarters or the Canadian ambassador's house. For whatever occasion, Chris Terrio is the guy.

5. This movie runs two hours but feels like five minutes. There is not a single wasted second in the entire film.

6. Affleck's direction is perfect with a capital P. He directs tension like no other director working today. The confrontation in the bazaar, the protest outside the bus, the delays in boarding their flight - Affleck's film leaps nimbly from one tension-packed set piece to another. His decision not to have the payoff until the quiet and innocuous announcement after takeoff makes the release of that tension all the better and more realistic. It is the single biggest Oscar travesty in history that Ben Affleck was not nominated (and did not win) Best Director for Argo.

7. Andre Desplat's score, especially the main theme that plays over the celebrations on the plane, is so soaring and beautiful it could have been placed over the celebrations of The Return of the King. It is such an emotional triumph that it plays so perfectly once the tension is gone. His minimalist work throughout the film makes that music swell all the better.

8. In addition to the main story, there are two critically important but tiny subplots. They amount to little more than two scenes to set up and then one scene pay off. The first relates to Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) and his doubt of Mendez's plan, but then saves the whole group by going along with the story and using his Farsi fluency to smooth things over with the guards. The other relates to the Taylor's housekeeper Sahar, who quickly deduces the hostage's identities. When confronted to confirm that information, Sahar makes a decision that many would make in that same position. It does much to show the resistance of the people of Iran to the violent Revolutionary Guard, and that not everyone is the same.

9. The acting in this film is wonderful. Bryan Cranston adds gravitas to every film not called Trumbo, with his slightly desperate but veteran persona. John Goodman is superb as the CIA- linked Hollywood makeup artist. Ben Affleck himself is fantastic in a guarded and subtle performance, every bit believable as an intelligence officer. Alan Arkin steals the show as the cantankerous producer Lester Siegel, who blusters along and drops curse words whenever he gets impatient with having to explain things to people.

10. The final frame of the movie is all the proof you need that this movie is something really special - absorb what is actually on the storyboard that Mendez brings home for his son and it's the perfect way to fade out.
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A fantastic conclusion to a great trilogy
13 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
1. I am yet to hear a criticism of X-Men: The Last Stand that I deem legitimate. Criticisms of Brett Ratner's personality are as irrelevant as they are circumstantial. Criticisms of how he adapted the Phoenix saga are also irrelevant – films should be judged on their merits, rather than complaining about things lost from the source material. There has been no fundamental misunderstanding of the character like in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, because Ratner and his actors are continuing acclaimed work from X2, with no one undergoing a schizophrenic personality change. As for complaints about Ratner's film depowering and killing off major characters, good! Not every comic book film should be Captain America and the Deux Ex Machina Soldier.

2. The stakes are high in The Last Stand, as they should be for a film with such a title. The death of Scott and the depowering of Mystique ramp the stakes up for Jean's powers and the mutant cure respectively. Having the Phoenix kill the man Jean loves alienates her from the audience instantly, whilst losing Mystique ensures that the cure does not become some MacGuffin threat. The death of Professor Xavier creates a void in the middle of the film, a sense of helplessness in the face of Jean's power and leaving the X-Men leaderless.

3. For a film that rushed production, Ratner's film does a great job paying attention to two great stories (mutant cure and Phoenix) that have surprisingly little to do with each other. Each feels fully realised and has a resolution. Subplots for Hank McCoy as the Secretary for Mutant Affairs, Rogue seeking out the cure for herself and Warren Worthington saving his father take up little screen time but contribute significantly to the film and the resolution of those characters.

4. There is a lot more conflict within the team this time, whether it is through love triangles, the cure or what to do with Jean. Patrick Stewart gets his least serene and most impressive moment in a scene where he refuses to justify himself to Wolverine regarding the Phoenix.

5. Ian McKellen stands tall and proud as Magneto, retaining his dignity but essentially becoming a firebrand leader. Whilst in the past, Magneto has been inflammatory as to restrictions, when he sees the cure weaponised he sees this as a declaration of war. Hugh Jackman is great as Wolverine – his using flame wreckage to light his cigar is almost Jack Sparrow levels of irreverence, but throughout the film he finds responsibility thrust upon him and begins to take it on. Aaron Stanford is great as Pyro, and the great Anthony Heald is wasted in a single scene part. R. Lee Ermey has a cameo and that should make everyone happy.

6. Whilst the movie could certainly have gone without Psylocke, Arclight and Kid Omega, I don't agree that the movie is overstuffed with characters. There's no character who vanishes without explanation, and everyone who comes away has achieved something or grown as a person.

7. The dialogue is still intelligent and sticks to the themes – Magneto's conference sounds like a terrorist leader, Hank McCoy's resignation scene doesn't pander to people not up to date on politics, and there's some great lines of dialogue like Scott telling Wolverine that not everyone heals as quickly as he does.

8. There are still some problems with the film, I won't pretend that there aren't. The timeline is all over the place – why did Mystique take so long to come forward? The battle takes place in the afternoon but all of a sudden it is night-time. I also didn't care for was Magneto's final groan "what have I done?" – it makes no sense for his character because he's already seen Jean kill his best friend.

9. The action sequences are extremely entertaining, especially the final battle and a skirmish between Wolverine and Spike on the outskirts of Magneto's camp. The film's final set piece of Wolverine and Jean is an emotional one, and the visual effects do a great job at making Wolverine's pain apparent.

10. It is my hope that X-Men: The Last Stand will redeem itself over time in the eyes of fans. Ten or twenty years of Marvel churning out garbage will make people appreciate what they had – a tense, intelligent resolution to a great superhero trilogy.
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Aliens (1986)
An outstanding action film with hints of the first Alien aplenty
12 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
1. You can definitely feel the different direction taken by James Cameron as opposed to Ridley Scott. Whilst it fits snugly beside Ridley Scott's masterpiece in lore and continuity, Aliens is a different creature altogether, with a heavier emphasis on action and a much leveller playing field between the humans and the aliens.

2. That is not to say that the humans aren't in constant peril. In 1997, James Cameron would create Titanic and make us feel like we were on that sinking ship with a feeling of perpetual dread and helplessness. He does the same thing here, with a small group of humans trapped on a hostile planet without a dropship to get off. Cameron knows just when to use the acid blood to spray back on the humans and remind us of the high stakes, or to cut power or drop something horrifying in our midst. Credit should also go to the highly intense music of James Horner and the cinematography of Adrian Bibble (The Mummy).

3. Sigourney Weaver does just as good a work here as in Alien. We get a much better sense of her character, such as her maternal instincts and natural leadership. Her chemistry with Newt (Carrie Henn) is what sells the movie, especially after her grief-stricken reaction to having missed her own daughter's death in her absence.

4. The character of Gorman, played by William Hope, is a bit of a pimple. He's important to show Ripley's natural leadership and to rack up the intensity of the civilian cocoon scene, but after that the screenwriters seemingly run out of things to do with him. He gets a knock on the head, then completely concedes to Ripley and Hicks taking his leadership. Then he dies in a way completely out of character for him. That bump on the head must have awoken another personality.

5. I always appreciated Michael Biehn's performance in Terminator, but here he shows what range he has because Hicks is more rugged and down-to-earth than the slightly wild Kyle Reese. I also really enjoyed the performances of Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein and the brief appearance by Al Matthews. Carrie Henn surpasses the "screaming child" phase that so tanked Dakota Fanning in the 2000s. Lance Henrikson is great as Bishop, with his gentle and lined face and the way he politely gives a proffered gun back.

6. The moment those doors slide open and we see the acid-ravaged colony's interior I became unsettled. The outstanding production design and dark lighting really make the mood grim and carry over those hints of horror that Ridley Scott built into Alien.

7. Did anyone really not see Burke's betrayal coming? They tried to distract us by having Ripley suspicious of Bishop, and by having Burke help her out throughout the movie, but come on. Everyone knows the slippery corporate type is the bad guy.

8. The editing is great for the most part, making a two and a half hour film breeze by. However, there is one glaringly clunky edit where Hicks and the others appear to rescue Ripley and Newt from the facehuggers and we don't even see them enter the room, they're just all of a sudden pressed up against the glass. It is hard to explain but you'll notice it. I also didn't find the aliens aren't as scary this time, partly because we don't see them (i.e. miniguns shooting at darkness) or we see them coming too far in advance (when they are in the ceiling). Finally, I found that whole "Ripley is crazy we don't believe you" subplot for the first half an hour necessary but ultimately redundant. It was very awkward getting to the planet and having everyone (especially Burke) believe her after those scenes of disbelief on the trip there.

9. Ripley's rescue of Newt is fantastic. Courtesy of Weaver's slightly desperate anguish, we can see that Ripley knows she could very well die or find Newt dead, but we also see, thanks to the way they've bonded throughout the movie, that Ripley has no other choice. The decision to make the final fifteen minutes actually fifteen minutes was inspired, and the tension as she descends single-handedly into the Alien hive is fantastic.

10. The Alien Queen does in fact make for a phenomenal adversary to Ripley, even with quite limited screen time. The look on Ripley's face as she burns the Alien Queen's eggs says so much - she gets closure on her guilt of missing her daughter's death by extracting revenge on the creatures that caused it. The absolutely sensational line "get away from her you BITCH" is the single most badass thing a female character has ever said, and seeing Ripley throw down that Alien Queen is impressive. That being said, however, the fight on the ship was not wholly necessary. I had closure from their escape from the planet and the look Ripley gave the Queen who thought she had caught up to them. I didn't need it to copy Alien and have the fight through the airlock all over again, even if it did mean we got that awesome lifter moment.

Count the things that inspire Halo, I dare you. If you've read the extended universe novels, you'll find even more.
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One of the all time best superhero films
6 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
1. Sitting firmly atop my Mount Rushmore of superhero films, X2 fixes my only gripe with the first X-Men (cheesy acting) and maintains the wonderful themes and heart that made it so good. Toad and Sabertooth are gone and replaced by Brian Cox and Alan Cumming. What a trade.

2. Ian McKellen continues to be in his element here. Even when prisoner to the US Government, he walks a fine line between being beaten and still being proud and strong. He comes across almost like a Mandela-esque figure for his movement (violence notwithstanding). Magneto's revenge on Stryker at the film's end is so subtle you might even forget about it, but you can hear the venom in McKellen's voice as he leaves the man to die.

3. Brian Cox is literally one of the best film villains ever. He is as slippery as an eel but when he gets worked up he almost channels Paul Giamatti in that great guttural yell. Every word that drops softly from his lips makes the film better. His Frankenstein/Monster relationship with Wolverine acts as a wonderful arc for the latter.

4. Cox is best in show, thanks in part to his properly written motivations. With modern X-Men films tending towards silly mutant villains like Sebastian Shaw and by the look of it, Apocalypse, brilliantly written characters like William Stryker are becoming a thing of the past. In many ways, X2 is the smartest of the X-Men films because of its intricate political maneuvering and the way the characters frame each other. Were it not for the protagonists, I could very easily believe Stryker caused a state of emergency where all mutants were detained illegally. Some would see that outcome possible in the current Muslim-fearing world.

5. The rest of the cast do great work as well. Jackman is a complete animal as Wolverine in some of the most dramatic scenes, but he has a great sense of comedic timing that Singer gets just right. The death of Jean is some of the best acting he has ever done as this character. Paquin has changed from a child to a young woman, and new confidence holds her up but she still keeps that innocence in the scenes where she is out of her league. The best addition to the cast is an amazing Alan Cumming as the German, religious teleporter Nightcrawler. He's a very gentle soul but carries with him an unsettling reminder that he's not human.

6. The techs are still amazing, especially the makeup and prosthetics on Nightcrawler and Mystique. The visual effects of Pyro's fire, Iceman's frost and the rapid healing of Wolverine are hugely impressive, not to mention the mass explosions and breached dam.

7. Apparently Ian McKellen helped write the scene where Bobby reveals his powers to his family to resemble a scene where a boy comes out to his family as gay. The misunderstanding, the question "have you tried not being a mutant" - these quiet but vital scenes make the X-Men films so different (and so much better) than their counterparts. Just like the previous film, these themes could equally be applicable to people who have mental health problems.

8. The action in this film ups the anti significantly. Not even counting the fight between Wolverine and Deathstrike, there's the attack on the White House, the jet chase, Magneto's escape, Pyro's attack on the police and the attack on the school. It's breathtaking. The fight scene with Lady Deathstrike is utterly amazing, with top notch choreography. While Wolverine fights like an heavy axe, Deathstrike fights like a rapier - fast and deadly. But the end of their fight, with the draining liquid adamantium, there is almost a sense of sadness and tragedy.

9. For a film with one swear word allowed for its rating, Singer places it perfectly. He's the king of directing superhero films, with an impeccable sense of drama, comedy, even a little bit of horror, mystery and epic. He constructs amazing scenes, even with something as little as having Magneto simultaneously pull a platoon's worth of grenade pins. Especially brilliant are the Mystique impersonation scenes, with nifty camera-work and seamless editing transitioning between Stryker as himself and Mystique as Stryker.

10. Rebecca Romijn appears as herself for the only time, seducing a prison guard to help Magneto escape. Take note Jennifer Lawrence. Romijn was dedicated to her art. She went three movies with those prosthetics and only appeared as herself when it made sense.
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Forest Whitaker gives one of the finest performances of all time
3 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Holds up very well on rewatch.

1. The opening scenes in Scotland are vital, and indicative of how director Kevin McDonald and screenwriters Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock set their movie up. Within two minutes of meeting Nicholas' boring and self-satisfied father, we're desperate for the young doctor to get away from a stale life at home for some adventure. McDonald leaves out any sound but the drone of his voice, and keeps the like dim and bleak as a contrast to the colour and noise of Africa. The way that Nicholas lands on Canada first is not only humorous but stops the film feeling like a make believe story. Sometimes those little things can improve a film's authenticity.

2. Forest Whitaker's performance in this film is not only one of the best black performances ever put to screen, it is one of the single best acting performances of all time. Only Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood eclipses him. I have no doubt that the real Whitaker is a very gentle man, which shows through when Amin shows laughter or friendliness. But when Amin has one of his many mood swings, he's a terrifying monster, with his imposing physical form, impeccable Ugandan shout and overbearing presence.

3. Without the film's screenplay, however, this film would've been very by-the-numbers. The writing and placement of Nicholas make us fearful of Amin ourselves, the way he gives a little too much credit to Nicholas, the way he does not respond to small talk, the way he comes into Nicholas' room with no respect for his privacy. By the time Nicholas' passport is stolen and replaced, we can practically feel Amin's iron grip around our chests.

4. James McAvoy's performance is one I took for granted on first viewing, but appreciated so much more the second time. Its quite unlike what McAvoy is best known for, and refreshingly unnoble and more than a bit arrogant. He is an arrogant, ponce school boy dropped way out of his league in Uganda. Even as people try to tell him about Amin's evils, his naive ideals keep him from seeing the truth. At no point do we question Nicholas' intelligence, because he's a fully realised character whose decisions are logical for him.

5. The toxic relationship between Amin and Nicholas is central to the film. He's getting praise for things he doesn't deserve, then he's being told to mind his business. He's not just a doctor, then he's just a doctor. Every time Amin says Nicholas is his adviser, we don't feel it - the one time Nicholas makes an order we can feel the shaky authority.

6. The subplot of the Cabinet Minister Jonah Wasswa is likely the strongest in the film. It foreshadows how easily Amin throws aside his advisors and demonstrates Amin's madness that he would execute a man on the mere suspicion of unsubstantiated wrongdoing. The subplot of Nicholas' affair with Kay is a close second. Some might complain that the flirtation with the doctor's wife at the start of the film is superfluous, but its a sensational foreshadow of his affair with Kay later in the movie.

7. Kerry Washington is almost unrecognisable as Kay, a completely unsexy and raw performance as the neglected and ostracised wife. Yet her chemistry with McAvoy somehow still causes sparks...and it works. David Oyelowo is also brilliant as a Doctor Junju.

8. The British agent played by Simon McBurney is also brilliant. From his first appearance, we get a nasty impression that he's smug and self-important, and when Nicholas finally breaks and goes to him for help all of his past behaviour fits in.

9. Amin's torture of Garrigan consists of some of the most wrenching torture scenes since Misery.

10. The film drags slightly towards the end, but as a whole its a remarkably satisfying experience. The way it works in fiction around fact is an achievement in itself.
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X-Men (2000)
A terrific, genre-transcending film
1 April 2016
1. This film is very topical today with the current debate of Muslims and terrorism. This film was written and made before 9/11, based on real life events such as the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, but its themes are so universal that they still apply. Many innocent mutants/Muslims want only to live peacefully but are instead subject to fear, violence and hatred at being identified. Showing your powers is no different to wearing a turban or reading the Qoran or saying an Islamic prayer. Treating all mutants the same is likely to drive more mutants/Muslims into the arms of radicals like Magneto/ISIS, who argue that violence is the answer.

2. The film's sharp and perceptive dialogue does a lot to help it. Though uncredited, Christopher McQuarrie's fingerprints can be seen all over this. The debate between Senator Kelly and Jean Gray at the start of the film is intelligent but also sets the stage tremendously for the film we are about to watch. The final exchange between Charles and Erik paraphrases how a conversation between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King might have gone.

3. The film is nearly flawless in its editing. We jump from scene to scene, with each one serving its purpose and not staying overlong. We are able to establish Magneto, Rogue, Senator Kelly and Wolverine in quick succession, and despite the sometimes significant time gaps between those scenes the film never feels like its going too fast.

4. The casting of Ian McKellen is inspired. Not only can the great thespian get into Magneto's shoes as a marginalised homosexual himself, but he instantly elevates every single one of the screenplay's lines with his dramatic delivery. His little speech to Rogue about how America was meant to be a land of tolerance and peace stands out as a highlight. His humour and charisma make him not only believable, but plausible as a revolutionary leader.

5. Hugh Jackman suits the role of Wolverine perfectly. Whilst I believe there are other enormously talented casting choices in the film, it is Jackman's ability to easily establish the perfect chemistry with each that makes the film work. He and James Marsden instantly clash as rivals for Jean's affection, whilst he and Famke Jansen practically have sparks flying from their first interaction. His older brother relationship with Anna Paquin is the film's most important.

6. Singer's decision to make Rogue, then a relatively minor X-Men character, a focal point for the story was brilliant. Rogue, especially through Anna Paquin's powerful performance, represents everything about mutants that the film needed - fear of your own powers, fear of others' powers, and most importantly, a crushing feeling of isolation.

7. Singer does an amazing job at creating a high tension, high stakes movie within PG-13 limits. The scene where Magneto controls the guns is supremely tense without being dark, as is the powerful scene in which Wolverine accidentally lashes out at Rogue in his sleep. The Senator Kelly subplot is dramatic without being gory. There's no blood and therefore the scenes work in a PG-13 setting. Singer shows us that we can have superhero movies where the stakes are higher than "oh no, the cars are all being blown up".

8. The ability of Toad, Mystique and Sabertooth to physically deal with the X-Men in abundance creates some amazing fight scenes. Rebecca Romijn barely speaks for the entire movie, but says so much in her amazing body language and eyes. The sequence in which Mystique impersonates different members of the team is again something I attribute to Singer and McQuarrie. The fight scenes are tense because Toad is able to physically fend off all three of Storm, Jean and Cyclops with ease.

9. If I have one complaint its that too often the film comes off as cheesy. Ray Park and Tyler Mane are physically impressive, but neither has the acting ability necessary to compete with the rest of the cast. Halle Berry as Storm also makes it hard to get into the movie, due to her cheesy delivery. Some elements of Magneto's plan simply rely on our going "okay, sure that makes sense" because we don't have a whole lot of reality to base them on.

10. There are some top-notch visuals, especially with Mystique. I can't fathom just how much effort went into creating Mystique's makeup and prosthetics, or in doing that seamless midair transition from Hugh Jackman to Rebecca Romijn as she jump kicks him.

Bryan Singer should be recognised for re-launching the superhero movie. Were it not for the performances of Park, Mane and Berry, I'd say that this movie transcended its genre and became an important civil rights commentary. It comes pretty darn close as it does.
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Maggie Smith is exceptionally batty
1 April 2016
1. This film earns most of its score just from the performance of Maggie Smith. She is wonderfully batty, half-deranged and as she totters around with her canes and rumbles along in whatever vehicle she's in at the moment, you cannot take your eyes off her. In my opinion, she's in the top three performances by a lead actress last year.

2. I found Nicholas Hynter/Alan Bennett's decision to have two Alan Bennett characters quite endearing but at other times rather annoying. It closed out the film quite nicely but throughout I don't feel it really added a whole lot.

3. I don't know whether to credit the screenplay or Dame Maggie Smith's delivery, but everything she says is wonderful, especially when jabbering about the Virgin Mary or driving ambulances.

4. Jim Broadbent's small role is an nasty slimy and impressive play against Horace Slughorn, but his character was never fully realised.

5. "Mary, as you call her, is a bigoted, blinkered, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self- serving, rank, rude, car-mad cow, which is to say nothing of her flying feces and her ability to extrude from her withered buttocks turds of such force, that they land a yard from the back of the van and their presumed point of exit." This line is so wonderfully written and funny that I lay back and laughed for about sixty seconds.

6. The "mystery" introduced at the start of the film is so obvious that they would have been better off just being open about it from the beginning.

7. The pace is slow at times. Not unbearable, but slow. In a 1hr 40 minute movie, it takes far too long for her to even get into Alan's driveway.

8. The bustle around the graveyard is likely the best part of Maggie Smith's performance, but it ended with a little too much spirituality and silliness for me.

9. I've seen people complain about the wasted cameos of James Corden and Dominic Cooper. What they likely don't realise is that they are just two of a much larger cast of one of Alan Bennett's plays who all cameo in the film. There wasn't room to flesh out all the cameos, it was just as a nice little nod to Bennett himself.

10. It takes too long to end. She's not Oskar Schindler, she doesn't need a live action tribute at the end.
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Annie Hall (1977)
Delightful and whimsical
30 March 2016
1. Its very easy to see the influence Annie Hall had on Larry David and therefore Seinfeld. You could smack George Costanza in half the scenes replacing Alvy Singer and the movie would run much the same.

2. This film is an absolute delight. Woody Allen's performance as the neurotic New York comedian with a constant ear for Anti-Semitism is actually quite endearing in its tiny 90 minute run time. That being said, he's a completely arrogant about himself and his city, and thanks to Allen's marvellous performance behind and in front of the camera, we can see just how his relationship ended.

3. That's what Annie Hall is really about; it is a black box for a relationship that crashed somewhere over Utah. With that in mind, no scene feels wasted in either establishing their relationship or establishing the breakup.

4. That scene where Alvy sneezes into the cocaine is one of the most hilarious unscripted moments in history. Apparently the test audience loved it so much that Allen had to put in fluff scenes afterwards to give them time to laugh without missing anything. That was a wise call.

5. Allen's directorial decisions are amazing - spots of animation and split screen and fourth wall breaking, but most of all the way he can bring his intricate screenplay to life is the most impressive. A director not intrinsically linked with the screenplay would have found it almost impossible to weave the overlapping dialogue together.

6. The screenplay is utterly wonderful, full of delightful gems like "hey don't knock masturbation, its sex with someone I love."

7. Dianne Keaton is a delight as the titular character. She's a cute free spirit who is both completely right and completely wrong for Alvy Singer.

8. The ending for the film is so perfect, especially Alvy's foray into theatre and how he manipulates events. His wry acknowledgement to the audience makes him more human than most rom com protagonists.

9. It is actually hilarious to see brief appearances by Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum and Sigourney Weaver.

10. Annie Hall is a worthy Best Picture winner. Though I love Star Wars more, I weigh up what each film's legacy in the film industry is and I can't begrudge this little film. Star Wars has inspired lots of CGI crap and Annie Hall inspired Seinfeld and Meet the Parents.
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In America (2002)
Heartbreakingly pure
28 March 2016
1. When searching for a comparison to make with the experience of watching this film, the only one that seems appropriate is Rocky. This is a deeply personal story for the author of the screenplay, and as such the emotions are more informed by experience than writing.

2. Those emotions are incredibly carried by the actors. You need only look into Paddy Considine's eyes and see his shame at not providing for his family. Samantha Morton's crazed post-birth breakdown is stunningly authentic.

3. I fell in love with the little girls played by Sarah and Emma Bolger. Their sweet Irish accents and adorable faces aside, the two of them are among the best child performances I've ever seen. Whether it is Ariel's sweet sense of wonder or Christy's balance of the mature and the innocent, the two of them are a wonder to behold. Watching Christy sing is almost heartbreaking in its purity.

4. Jim Sheridan knows exactly what to do with the film's most pivotal scenes, particularly the "game of luck" at the show ground. Lesser filmmakers (like the directors of Focus) have stuffed the landing on scenes like this, but Sheridan knows exactly how to get the most emotion out of the scene.

5. Djimon Hounsou gives the best performance I've ever seen from him. He's introduced as a screaming nutcase who we are to be afraid of, and his brutish appearance does a lot to back that up. But after only one meeting we are able to see who he really is and Mateo's frailty and grief and loneliness pour out.

6. I wish we'd seen more of him, however. That and Johnny's struggles with God and his family are among the more undercooked themes. One or two more scenes would have made the film's payoffs a little bit better.

7. We see most of the film through Christy's eyes, with this theme of "three wishes". The opening narration with the abstract colours and lullaby music conveys superb innocence, and with supreme subtlety we shift. Her closing monologue is one of supreme awareness and maturity and we realise how much she's had to deal with throughout the film.

8. At times it is heartbreaking and at others it will make you smile. In America is a beautiful film that should skyrocket up your watch list.

9. I've got two slots left so I'll just say I love Sarah Bolger.

10. Still got one point. I love Emma Bolger.
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Glory (1989)
Poignant and honest, with Denzel best in show
28 March 2016
1. The experience of watching Glory could be summed up by its music - there is an aching sadness yet a firm sense of patriotism in its soaring choral theme. This is reflected clearly amongst the story of black soldiers fighting for a nation, many of the citizens of which care little for their lives or sacrifice.

2. This is poignantly captured by the monologue of Private Trip towards this middle of the film; just one of many stirring moments contained within Kevin Jarre's screenplay.

3. Those words, when delivered by incredible thespians like Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington, become something very special indeed.

4. I took one look at the poster for Glory and saw Matthew Broderick's wimpy facial hair and thought "this is going to stink". Fortunately, the story of the rich white kid leading up a black battalion suited someone significantly weedy and Broderick adds considerable dramatic heft to his performance.

5. Denzel is best in show as Private Silas Trip. He's a hard, cynical, somewhat belligerent man but underneath there's a man. This comes out most especially in Denzel's strikingly honest performance during the whipping scene and the final words before battle.

6. I love juxtaposition, and Ed Zwick does a killer job in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam. Amid the howls of a man being amputated, Captain Shaw receives treatment for a minor neck wound (being told "this might hurt") and is informed of the great victory. With those screams and pleas, the scene is set.

7. Zwick superbly balances the film's central themes of acceptance without ever overdoing it. Something as simple as Trip helping Thomas stay on his feet is the pay off to the conflict set up throughout the movie. Where the black men fit in amongst the whites is clear from a scene in which a white officer shoots his own black soldier to protect a white Southern woman who he blames for initiating the incident anyway.

8. Rawlins' promotion to Sergeant doesn't feel profound enough because Trip was the one who showed leadership amongst the pay dispute and the shoes issue was only advice in response to something the audience and Shaw already knew.

9. The action scenes are dignified but have high stakes. Watching those bayonets come rushing towards you just looks like it hurts. There's some goofy choreography but for the most part the battles feel realistic. The decision (helped by real events, of course) to have several major characters die early in the final fight does a lot to keep the stakes of war in the front of one's mind.

10. Glory is over twenty-five years old but it feels younger. I hope that this is a sign that its message about acceptance and brotherhood is both timeless and universal.
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Buried (2010)
Masterpiece in suspense and minimalisation
27 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
1. Seeing what a good actor Ryan Reynolds is in this movie is what made me excited for Deadpool. He is literally the only actor in the movie, and he is confined to a box approximately seven by four feet. That's the entire movie, for ninety minutes. And I could not look away.

2. The opening scenes are frightening. Those off-centre shots of his terrified face, frozen as the light vanishes as soon as it appears are somewhat reminiscent of a horror movie like The Blair Witch Project.

3. The way the light illuminates the screen creates an intensity in itself, as Paul's small sources of light go through their degrees of reliability are frightening, especially with Paul's heavy breathing in the darkness reminding us that things go on even when we can't see them.

4. The screenplay's dialogue is flawless. Paul is disoriented in his panic, as would be anyone in the situation, but rather than delaying the story it actually creates the atmosphere even more. The unhelpful conversations as Paul tries to contact them make you frustrated just as Rodrigo Cortes continues to stifle you with the sense of claustrophobia.

5. The most frightening thing about Buried is that its entirely believable. Movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield are scary because "what if" but a movie like Buried would be a nightmare for anyone who has ever spent time in the Middle East.

6. That ending will straight up rip you in half.

7. There needs to be more movies like Buried.
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Catch Me If You Can is an absolute blast to watch with a big bag of popcorn, but its also an impressive work of dramatic film that ranks with Spielberg's best
27 March 2016
Steven Spielberg frequently adds the father-son element into his films, but rarely is it as strong as it is in this movie. It never stops being flashy and fun as Abagnale embezzles and defrauds his way around the country, but Spielberg wedges that family angle in there and suddenly the film changes. It becomes about a boy in denial of his parents breaking apart and he thinks that by getting all this money he can push them back together. For all of his fake titles and wealth, he's just a sad kid trying to make his father proud of him.

DiCaprio's performance is essential to that focus. He's a perfectly glitzy casting choice to play someone who weaves his way through the world on his charms, but his emotional distress at the shattering of his world is much more important. Of a hefty supporting cast, Christopher Walken shines as Frank Abagnale Sr, an infinite sadness appearing in his piercing eyes as he observes his renegade son during their many meetings. Amy Adams is a delight as the bracey, ugly duckling Brenda, and Martin Sheen adds considerable heft to the film as her father. Tom Hanks goes toe to toe with DiCaprio all throughout and makes for some of the best moments.

All of the con scenes are superbly written, directed and shot, with lingering shots on DiCaprio's unblinking charm and clever movements disguising things to be hidden. The first meeting between Hanks and DiCaprio is a classic scene in its own right. The dialogue is so clipped and so well-written that it seems perfectly reasonable not to, say, open a wallet or trust a man's word. The scene in which DiCaprio escapes through a police blockade is superb, with the camera focusing on all the minute clues and then ending with that plane takeoff. The whole thing is timed to perfection.

Catch Me If You Can is an absolute blast to watch with a big bag of popcorn, but its also an impressive work of dramatic film that ranks with Spielberg's best.
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Everything about this movie works
26 March 2016
1. There's nothing I can say about The Holy Grail that hasn't been said. This isn't a movie to analyse, it's a movie to just sit and soak up how wonderfully funny it is. Every moment spent figuring out why it is funny is a moment you could spend quoting the lines or just clutching your stomach as your gasp for air through your laughter.

2. A low budget is what makes this movie. Half the best jokes (intentionally or not) come from the fact that the film's budget was low - coconuts for horses, poor visual effects, the rabbit, the animator having a fatal heart attack - its all good!

3. The screenplay knows just how to drop in the most incredibly unexpected characters. Dennis the politically astute peasant, the soldiers who get bogged down discussing logistics of swallow airspeed velocity, the extremely forward women of Castle Anthrax and the effeminate Prince Herbert are just some of the hilarious characters who you would never expect to show up in a movie in this genre.

4. The addition of the Holy Hand Grenade goes to show that it isn't just characters that bemuse and amuse.

5. The amount of effort put into the film is still incredible. How many rewrites would they need for the Knights Who Say Ni scene to ensure the word "it" wasn't used? The "he's not allowed to enter the room" skit in Swamp Castle is something you'd expect from Abbott and Costello.

6. The insults are amongst the best ever written. Anything said by the French Knight (played by John Cleese) is enough to have you crying with laughter.

7. Come to think of it, anything Cleese does is hilarious. Whether he's Lancelot, so brave that he attacks a castle with his sword; the French Knight who gets a sick pleasure taunting Arthur; a famous Enchanter whose name Cleese forgot and so just ad-libbed "Tim"; a peasant who was turned into a newt and got better or the Black Knight who is so deranged in his single-minded guarding of a random bridge that he allows Arthur to chop him to pieces before he gives up, he will provide the best lines in the film.

8. Don't want to sell the rest of the cast short. Graham Chapman's angry frustration at people who don't act the way they should in a fantasy-epic is always hilarious. Terry Jones' high- pitched Bedivere and Michael Palin's Galahad are funny caricatures that are hilarious in their total lack of resemblance to the historical characters. Terry Gilliam is amusing as Patsy and the Old Man from Scene 24, among others. Eric Idle comes close to stealing the show, especially in the guise of Sir Robin, the Not Quite So Brave as Sir Lancelot.

9. Terry Gilliam's animations often add a lot of amusement to the film, especially his rendition of God and the Monster of Aaaaarghhhhh. Some of the cutaways are so funny in their own right you don't even care that it just cutaway from the adventures of Arthur and his knights.

10. The subplot of the murdered historian is strange, but given how the film ends I couldn't imagine any other way to end it. It just comes off as so appropriate for this low-budget, meta spoof of Arthurian legend.
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Don't try to be something profound
26 March 2016
1. A movie called Ninja Assassin shouldn't try so hard. The first scene shows such promise that this will be a fun, bloody, cheesy movie about Ninjas who cut people to pieces. Unfortunately, it instead comes off as a Kill Bill ripoff with characters we don't care even a little bit about.

2. Naomie Harris is cute but every time she's on screen the ninjas aren't. You can pretty much turn this movie on halfway through with the knowledge that she's got a hit out on her for investigating ninjas.

3. There's some cool fight scenes, but a lot of the time I found the effects cheap, like darting the camera around the room with whoosh sound effects.

4. All of the characters in the movie should be wearing T-Shirts that read "childhood love interest who will die" or "former comrade who is more loyal to the cause". Its obvious what everyone's role in the movie will be.

5. Some of the editing in fight scenes made me nauseous. It's like there were ten cameramen watching the fight and all of them were doing star jumps while the director cut between them every three seconds.

6. There's at least two shots that make you go "Oh, this was a 3D release wasn't it". You know the ones - the ones that they'd try to impress you with in like 2002.

7. The battle where the special forces arrive and gun down the ninjas en masse is unintentionally hilarious. When it happened in The Last Samurai, there was a sense of tragedy in it. Here it just comes across as funny as the stupid ninjas try to scurry over the roofs. Also, it detracts from the invincible reputation you've been trying to give them.

8. The screenplay is a turd because it hilariously tries to be a film. My favourite line of the screenplay goes along the lines of: "So will you be leaving Germany soon?" "Soon death takes us all."

9. Ninja abilities of super-healing are kinda brushed over and important to the story but at the same time not. Next time, go Bruce Willis-route and inflict lots of non-debilitating damage so at least we don't find ourselves asking "what happened to your intestines hanging out of your chest?"

10. Still better explained than Drive though.
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25 March 2016
1. Batman v Superman feels like one of those films your friend made and you want so badly to ignore all the bad stuff and point out the good with compliment sandwiches.

2. Ben Affleck is a badass Batman. I wish there had been more of him. He is just not around enough. He's fine as Bruce Wayne but I wanted to see more of them. The best scene in the movie is where he's throwing down against those Russian henchmen in the vein of Arkham Asylum. Just goes to show, dark and gritty always goes well with Batman.

3. There is way too much going on in this movie. There's Batman hating Superman. There's a Congressional inquiry. There's crazy Lex Jr. There's Diana Prince. There's the bullet subplot. There's Wally, played by Scoot McNairy. And they still manage to chuck in the Batman origin story in the opening credits. The problem with such an enormous cast is that you need everyone to be doing things at all times. Amy Adams is shunted into the bullet subplot because she's Amy Adams and you can't have a Superman movie without Lois Lane. Holly Hunter's Senator Finch has a lot of promise, but she becomes an antagonist to Luthor for some strange reason. There's a half-baked explanation as to why Wally is antagonistic to Wayne. While we're trying to keep track of a dozen plot lines, important hints relating to the actual fight are lost.

4. The titular fight does not go on nearly long enough. Their initial clash during the high- speed Batmobile chase was tantilising but the fight itself was over like *that*. We all knew they'd end up being pals but boy does it just feel like a giant middle finger. The fight with Doomsday ends up being pretty cool (especially with the intervention of Wonder Woman, who kicks ass), even though Batman is predictably dumped on the sidelines for lack of power.

5. I'd love to give Chris Terrio (Oscar winner for Argo) credit for the good moments in the screenplay (some awesome lines, great political subtext, etc) and then forgive him for the overstuffed mess by the fact that Snyder was trying to cram an entire Phase One into this one movie. I went nuts for that "Martha" connection. The best written moment in the movie happens in Superman's Congressional hearing, and it devastates me that they weren't brave enough to follow through with it completely, but it was still hugely powerful and the clues were spread like Chris MacQuarrie. The worst moments are the dream sequences, which make absolutely no sense and ultimately play like Thor's lightning bath fantasy in Age of Ultron.

6. Henry Cavill is flat as Superman. Lord help us if he ends up as James Bond. Amy Adams tries her best but suffers from underwriting. There's only so much a talented actress can do with "be damsel in distress". She sees horrifying executions at the start of the film and kinda gets over it. Laurence Fishburne and Jeremy Irons get barely anything to do but provide a few bits of humour. Eisenberg gave a great performance, as long as you don't get bogged down trying to reconcile him with the role of Lex Luthor.

7. I love Callan Mulvey and was thrilled to see him get a good role in this movie, but his allegiances are so confusing. I have no idea what was going on at the start of the movie with him in the desert.

8. It amused me how much Snyder just kinda did his thing all over again. Everyone smashes up buildings and have those long distance punches. But what amused me were the occasional shoe-ins like "good thing this part of town is deserted" and "that island is uninhabited!" Someone needs to smash his slow-motion button, especially when he just uses it on people walking towards graves.

9. The stakes always feel high in this movie, which I give credit to Chris Terrio. The opening stuff from Man of Steel feels like it could have come from a 9/11 documentary. The scene where Batman lures Doomsday away I felt like I was watching as a helpless spectator.

10. That music was beast! I loved the guitar riff.

There's too much going on in this movie for me to love it or even like it. But the bits I loved I LOVED, and I'm thrilled to see a Batman reboot under Ben Affleck's control.
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Grim and appropriate mood, what a shame this is only half a movie.
13 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This movie surprised me with its non-pandering, unapologetically adult tone and its overall grimness. I'd willingly call it the best constructed of the franchise. Unfortunately, it is only half a movie and is therefore ineligible for anything higher than 2.5/5. The problem with Mockingjay 2 is that its been so long since anyone saw Mockingjay 1 and especially Catching Fire that its very easy to forget faces, names and events. Essential characters like Prim and Finnick barely have one scene before their deaths and as a result we have to fall back on hazy memory to feel any pain for their loss.

Francis Lawrence finally settles a grim, morose and appropriate tone for these movies, which are meant to be completely miserable. He borrows elements from The Hurt Locker and The Godfather and whilst no one should ever compare this film to those masterpieces, the elements transfer well. The incredibly tense moments aren't even undone by the PG-13 violence that has plagued the films in the past, due to great harsh sound editing and Lawrence's use of smoke, fire and water to conceal things without the need for shaky cam.

Donald Sutherland is the best thing about the entire film, continuing to drip with malice. His scene with Katniss in the greenhouse is a spectacular culmination of his character, as Sutherland's warm reasoning cuts deep into the girl desperate to blame him for her sister's death. Natalie Dormer is always good, even the half second glimpses we see of her wielding her assault rifle leaving me hungry to see more of her in action films.

The rest of the cast is either average or wasted. Julianne Moore seems not to be trying all that hard, and though by her standards that still equals an okay performance, she never really excels as a woman of her calibre should. We barely register the presences of Jeffrey Wright, Gwendoline Christie or Patina Miller (whose character ends up being President by the way), whilst Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman simply serve as background wallpaper to their much less talented co-stars. I don't care for Lawrence's performance as she seems to have a default facial expression when she should be expressing something - SOMETHING! Hutcherson is clearly out of his game acting alongside everyone else, and Hemsworth is nothing to write home about.

The screenplay manages to improve a lot of the stuff I found objectionable in the book. Many of the characters are given better deaths than in the book, especially Finnick. The plot turns and villains are less obscure, especially regarding Coin. If the two Mockingjay films had been a single cinematic experience, I'd have given it a positive review. Shame.
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Its Birdman without the glitz and glamour, with deep meta thinking
11 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Mark my words, Kristen Stewart is doing now what Matthew McConaughey did between 2010 and 2013 - fill up her resume with critically acclaimed small roles that few see but those who do love. Winning a Cesar for this film and contributing enormous heart to Still Alice, not to mention a string of great roles coming in 2016. Whilst I won't quite go to the level of rave reviews that many have for this film, I will say that its a much deeper performance than most thought the Twilight star was capable. It goes to show that Stewart benefits from good writing, which should in retrospect be blamed for Stewart's awful performance in Twilight.

Ayassas' clever script is stunning, as it balances real life, the film's reality, and the film's fictional universe with incredibly deftness. In a Birdman-style meta decision, Ayassas wrote the screenplay for Binoche whose career he helped launch. The fictional script and the relationship between Stewart's and Binoche's characters blur constantly into one, as Ayassas often leaves it ambiguous whether the two women are fighting or whether they are just running lines. The way that Val manipulates Maria into taking the meeting with the director of the Maloja Snake reboot establishes their dynamic before they even start running lines. Stewart is at her best when running lines with Binoche, or just laughing as the two break and enjoy in a lighter moment.

Juliette Binoche is a class act, carrying herself with dignity and poise I've only ever seen from Isabelle Rosselini in the past. When considering the rebooted Maloja Snake play, you can tell Maria is considering it, and not just because the script makes it obvious. She wears her long hair with dignity, and then when running lines in the mountain she has her hair short (Stewart's remains long). There is something about Binoche's short hair that makes her more old and weak and vulnerable. The decision to have Binoche skinny dip whilst Stewart remains partially clad speaks volumes about their tension and Binoche's attempts to snare her young assistant and keep her attraction.

Chloe Grace Moretz steals the entire movie with her few scenes in what I consider her greatest movie role to date. She is every inch the crazy teenage superstar the film makes her out to be, and just after watching her YouTube videos I was anticipating and dreading her entry into the film. Her composed and well-behaved scenes are just as impressive, and her polite smile at the end of the film, when Binoche is living her part as the older woman she is about to play on stage, is stellar acting on her part.

Drawbacks of the film include some abrupt cuts, when I would have left them a few seconds longer. A lot of the fictional screenplay of Majola Snake sounds like a soap opera, excruciating to listen to. The resolution of Stewart's character is clunky and strange, and the film suffers without her in it. Large portions of the film, whilst clever, can be rather boring, better to remember fondly than sit through again.

Ayassas' writing about the film world scenes possibly even exceed Birdman. Watching Kristen Stewart try to convince Binoche of the legitimacy of superhero films as a serious film medium is brilliant. The respect for her boss battling the resentment Stewart feels for having her opinion belittled, with a dash of humour as she remembers how light the topic should be, they could easily have been talking about Heath Ledger's performance in The Dark Knight. Its stellar work from Stewart. Watch this space.
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Beginners (2010)
Strong opening, weak film
8 March 2016
The first fifteen or so minutes of Beginners was full of such sweet promise that I couldn't wait to tuck into the rest of the movie. Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent have beautiful chemistry and the performances are even more beautiful because Melanie Laurent's character has laryngitis and she communicates only with her eyes, smile and notepad. The little dog, Arthur, is a delight whenever he's on screen, and he has huge chemistry with his owner. There's a few incredibly well written lines, especially Mills' decision to place dialogue captions over Arthur's piercing eye contact.

Christopher Plummer has a very showy part as a life-loving, cancer-stricken, openly gay old man. That, and the fact that 82 year old Plummer had only chalked up a single nomination in his career, are the reasons he won the Oscar in 2011. That's not to say that Plummer isn't good, because he does a good job, but compared to performances like Jonah Hill (Moneyball) as well as unnominated work by Ryan Philippe (The Lincoln Lawyer), Stellan Skarsgard (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and half the cast of Midnight in Paris, Plummer comes up short. His performance in Danny Collins is far superior in every way.

This film had no business being 105 minutes long. Some things that are sweet at first become grating. Even Melanie Laurent can't keep me engrossed in the film as she and McGregor go through their inevitable love story. The editing of the film does much to create confusion. I don't know why this film is set in 2003, but for a viewer the timeline jumping can be confusing if we don't know that 2003 is the film's present day.

Beginners serves as a reminder than Melanie Laurent is a treasure who should be in more movies, but little else.
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