Saturday, March 29, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, 2014) Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, in my opinion, can and has done no wrong. At worst, we have The Incredible Hulk which is still meaningful and enjoyable but has strong flaws and, at best, we have Avengers Assemble which needs no introduction. I mean, DC can barely get a film about Wonder Woman off the ground but Marvel's next film is Guardians of the Galaxy, a film which features a talking, gun-wielding raccoon and a giant tree person. They are on top and deserve it but let's take a look at their most recent entry into this widespread franchise; Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After rescuing SHIELD agents from Algerian pirates, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) muses with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) over the integrity of security after previous events. Security is attemped to be buffed by the addition of Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) who sets up 'project insight', which aims to isolate and take down threats before they even occur. However, a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) arrives and sets his sights on Fury while Rogers and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) discover a revelation that could change the entire perspective of SHIELD.

I know that many people were dissapointed with Captain America: The First Avenger but this is the Captain America film I bet they wanted. Between the amazing action, brilliant acting (thank you Sebastian Stan!), poignant political ties, strong character development and the feeling of not wanting it to end, this is easily the best solo film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you took away the Winter Soldier and added the rest of the Avengers, this would be perfectly satisfying as Avengers 2. One of the problems with previous Marvel films is that big characters like Nick Fury or Black Widow never got much development or any reason to care about them but this film deals with that issue nicely. If you didn't like Black Widow in Avengers Assemble, you should like her more after watching this. We are also introduced to Sam Wilson, played by Anthony Mackie, for I welcome into the franchise with open embrace. Mackie and Evans clearly share excellent chemistry and Steve and Sam blossom as a strong duo as a result.

This feels like the most daring of the Marvel films. While Iron Man 3 did come out with the most twists, it only really affected Tony Stark and the people around him. Thor: The Dark World just felt like filler but Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the turning point of the entire franchise, more so than Avengers Assemble, and makes me really want to see how events will lead into Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's also the darkest and most edgy film in the series. However, what stops it from being a 10/10 like Avengers Assemble is that, and this is a common complaint, I just wish it took more risks. In the last half hour, I feel that they could've thrown in one last twist just to heighten the stakes even further.

If Iron Man is the equivalent of Batman Begins and Avengers Assemble is one of The Dark Knight Rises, then Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's equivalent of The Dark Knight. This is the kind of escapade that the rest of the Avengers should be on during their down time. The new characters fit in with the rest of the established cast, the action is just brilliant to watch, it doubles as a strong political thriller and develops characters that were in need of attention. Spider-Man has a lot to live up to next month...

Everything a comic book movie should be. This could've been Avengers 2 if it wanted to be!

also, where was Hawkeye during all this?! Stark and Banner have good excuses but Hawkeye is in SHIELD!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Face/Off (John Woo, 1997) Review

I may be a bit slow on this but remember the Oscars this year? One of the stand out moments was Idina Menzel's performance of the now Oscar winning song 'Let it Go' from Frozen. Not because of the performance itself but because of the intro given by John Travolta. We all know about Adele Dazeem now so it may be hard to take Travolta seriously but let's look at the film that made me realise his hilarious potential...and also Nicolas Cage because Nicolas Cage is great...

Sean Archer (John Travolta) is a cop who is mourning over the loss of his son who was murdered in a botched assatination by insane criminal Caster Troy (Nicolas Cage). Archer has spent his career trying to take down Troy but, after a run-in at the airport, he finally nabs him. The problem? Troy has rigged a bomb somewhere where in the city and only him and his brother (Alessandro Nivola) knows where it is. Archer takes part in a secret mission to swap his face for Troy's in order to get the infomation out of his brother. The problem now? Troy breaks out and steals Archer's face. Now it's a battle of identity and, one way or another, they have to end the rivalry. 

Easily the best thing about the film is the two leads. Caster Troy is a hilariously psychotic character that Cage and Travolta capture well. What's impressive is that, after the swap, the two actors to capture themselves very well, especially John Travolta who captures he wackiness of Nicolas Cage while the idea of Nicolas Cage trying to be Nicolas Cage (yes, it happens) is too delightful to pass up. What's also great is that there are some good action scenes. The sense of humour is also great. It's not out to be funny but the cheesy moments are worth watching. It's the good kind of cheesy that adds to the film, primarily when both actors play Castor Troy. It's almost endearing in a weird way. There are many lines to keep quoting...that's a sign of a film worth watching.

This is an example of an intriguing concept working primarily due to the great acting. If I had to complain (which I kind of do, being a critic and all), I think that the plot does become a little bit cliche since they had to show off some of the parallels of Archer and Troy to make their rivalry more meaning fall. It's a bit unnecessary but I guess parallel is the theme of the film (just look at the DVD cover). I was actually surprised that I liked John Powell's score as most 90s action films generally have weak soundtracks as they go more for atmosphere rather than memorable music (a common problem even now). Then again, after How to Train your Dragon, John Powell won me over.

Face/Off is delightfully zany 90s action fun. The two leads lift the film up high with memorable characters and run on the bizzare concept. The music is surprisingly memorable and fits the film well, the secondary cast do alright and the (maybe) unintentional humour adds to the fun cheesy style. Face/Off was the film than won me over with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage if you excuse me, I have to go find many Nicolas Cage films...he's so zany.

A bizzare concept that works thanks to two strong lead actors and great action (with some humour sprinkled in).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Planes (Klay Hill, 2013) Review

So it's been a while since my last review mainly because I've been working on  another top 10 which is probably coming at some point...I should hope. I promised that my next review would be set 'above the world of Cars' so here it is...the un-wanted spin off called Planes. It seems fitting since Pixar announced this year that they are making yet another Cars. Yes it will suck but let's take a look at the same concept applied onto a different story line...don't hold your breath.

Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) is a crop dusting plane who aspires to be the greatest racing plane that ever soared. He enters a qualifying race for the world tour and makes in into the qualifiers thanks to a disqualification. He realises that, compared to the more qualified racers, he is the underdog of the race and, coupled with his fear of heights, has to rely on the help of his mentor, a retired military plane named Skipper (Stacey Keech), in order to win the race.

Let me take something away from that synopsis. "coupled with his fear of heights"...we have a story of a plane...who is scared of heights. Wow...this is desperation from Disney. As you might expect, Planes has no purpose of existing. Even less so than Cars 2 which actually had some good elements to it. Planes, on the other hand, rehashes almost all the plot elements from the first Cars film or, if failing that, flips plot twists around instead. In addition, the film seems to end on a bit of a mixed message that backfires.

It isn't atrocious as the animation is still pretty good. While it's clear that they lack the budget that Pixar had, it still looks good, especially the flying scenes which seem to always look good in animated films (How to Train Your Dragon, Bee Movie and The LEGO Movie for example have great scale and animated flying).. Roger Craig Smith and Carlos Alazraqui are the best actors in the film but, considering that they are professional voice actors, that was obvious from the start. Dane Cook and Stacey Keech provide solid enough performances I guess but the rest fall flat. Also, John Cleese was criminally underused...not even sure why he signed onto this film.

Planes is a weak, weak film. It's a film that seems dead on arrival seeming as it is not only a stupid concept but it has almost no reason for existing. It isn't necessarily "bad" so much as it is...weak, as I already stated. Some of the cast pull through but most fall flat, the animation looks good enough but clearly suffered from a smaller budget and the message is kind of mixed. HOWEVER! Towards the end, I was actually invested and the ending was surprisingly satisfying despite it being incredibly predictable.

A weak film that suffers from...well...just being weak. It hasn't got a leg to stand on.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, 2013) Review

I'm am very aware that there was a sequel to the original book in which Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was based on but, even with this in mind, I still didn't really want a sequel film as much as I liked the original film. Can't animated films just be left as one offs (like The Iron Giant for example)? I guess not but we still have this to review so let's take a look at Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs least they're honest about the title...

Continuing straight after the first film (so, I guess spoilers for the first film), Flint (Bill Hader) and his friends declare a partnership after the destruction of the FLDMSDFR however they are interviened by the arrival of Flint's childhood hero, Chester V (Will Forte), who seems intrigued by Flint's inventing skills and offers to clean up Swallow Falls and relocate the island citizens to California. Chester reveals to Flint that the island is no inhabited by food-imals (animals made entirely from food) so Flint gathers the team together once more to finish off the FLDMSDFR for good and clear the island of food-imals.

First and foremost I have to get the REALLY BIG negative point out of the way. The narrative, while it throws distractions at you, is a complete rehash of the first one. There were moments where I honestly thought I was watching the first one. Sam warns Flint, villain makes Flint ignore her, villain plan backfires, Flint feels bad and mopes for a while. It's almost identical. There are also moments where it seems like they want to start a sub-plot but it never goes anywhere. Also characters like Manny and Earl (now voiced by Terry Crews...what the hell is Mr. T doing instead exactly?) serve no purpose and have no business being in the film. So, yeah, the plot is a bit of a mess.

That's really the only big flaw as I still found myself enjoying the film. It's as imaginative, if not more, as the first film as I was genuinely curious how what other food-imals they could come up with. I also found enjoyment in the subplot surrounding Flint's dad and some pickles...yep! It retains what make the original great with the wacky animation, sense of humour and also characters. Chester V is a good addition and Will Forte does a pretty good job of the voice especially when matched with some very nice and fluid animation specifically devised for Chester V. It's a shame that Bruce Campbell and Mr. T didn't come back.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is, at heart, a rehash of the first film as it just re-uses plot elements from the first film and while it is a huge flaw with the film, there is so much creativity and energy put into the film that it can still be considering worth watching if you are a fan of the first film. If you didn't think that much of the first then this is one to skip but I still found enjoyment out of it despite the flaws. Do you actually want to see an animated film from last year that is below the bar? EXCELLENT! Join me next time as we go back to the world of Cars...or...above the world of Cars, technically...

Despite it's huge, glaring flaws, there is still plenty of life in this film...but there are still the aforementioned huge, glaring flaws!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Phil Lord and Chris Miller, 2009) Review

With The LEGO Movie still dominating most critically and commercially, it's interesting to note that the minds behind it, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, have a habit of making films that, on paper, sound stupid and should fail however they turn out inventive and strong films. Their first film to really get public attention was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs so the duo had a challenge of transferring a very short kids book with little to no plot into a feature length epic. Did it work? Let's find out.

On a small, insignificant island called Swallow Falls, Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) is an aspiring inventor much to his father's (James Caan) chargin. When his latest invention, the FLDSMDFR (a device that can turn water to food), gets accidentally launched into the sky, it takes water out of the atmosphere and it begins to rain food. The town mayor (Bruce Campbell) believes he can use this to turn Swallow Falls into a tourist trap so he begins to manipulate Flint into using the FLDSMDFR despite the possible chance of malfuntion. Flint must decide whether to stick with his stardom o if he should shut off the machine and stop an oncoming catastrophe.

The makers of this film took a huge risk because, while it isn't rare (at all) for people to adapt books, it is hard to adapt a book that had almost no content in it. What transpires is an wacky, energetic and creative animated film that embodies its cartooney nature. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs lives in its own world with unique animation (with strong colours and good character design that lets it shine). What really stands out is its sense of humour. You can definitely tell that this is from the same minds that created The LEGO Movie. It's that sort of style. It doesn't just pander to kids as the film does bring in some strong story elements too so it can be enjoyed by quite a wide range of people.

In addition to the humour, the main thing that sticks in my mind is the characters. Flint Lockwood is a likable and zany protagonist who Bill Hader brings to life with his versatile voice. The supporting cast also help bring the world and characters to life from a plucky Anna Faris, a stern yet sympathetic James Caan and the legends themselves, Bruce Campbell and Mr. T, all offer memorable performances. Even the score is good! That was surprising since most 'non-Disney' animated films don't but much effort into the soundtrack but that opening theme sticks in my head and sets the epic tale up perfectly.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a risk and, in my opinion, it worked out. It's not perfect since, while it can cover a wide range of audiences, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone will get it. It's not quite as 'culty' as something like Scott Pilgrim vs the World but, with creative minds behind it and a strong cast bringing the film to life, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a quirky, zany joy to watch...and then they made a sequel...a bit but necessary but okay, challenge accepted.

Full of fun animation, likable characters, quirky comedy and a strong cast. A fun film through and through/

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Catwoman (Pitof, 2004) Review

Hey, I haven't done a terrible film in a while (latest one was Street Fighter and I concluded that that was a guilty pleasure) so how about a film that is just..just awful. No redeeming qualities, that sort of thing. Son of the Mask still takes my place for the worst film ever made but there are those that are almost just as bad. Is Catwoman truly that awful or am I just hyping, it's bad but here's why.

When a shy, sensitive graphic artist called Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) discovers that the giant organisation that woks for has sinister side that Patience stumbles upon. After a run in with some henchmen, Patience is supposedly drowned in the river. However, she survives but the last night was blank but finds that her confidence and agility has increased leading her take up the mantle of Catwoman and use her new skills to expose the evil corporation's intent. Meanwhile, Patience's new boyfriend, Tom Lone (Benjamin Bratt), is a cop who is trying to find the true identity of Catwoman.

For me, the elephant in the room is the costume they went with. Good God, it's terrible. She looks like a trashy whore! Sure, Catwoman's outfits have always been a bit sexualised but this...this is taking it to the extreme. Even the character is on the extremes. Halle Berry tries to make it work doesn't. To begin with she is too shy and then the jump in character just seems cliche and lazy. That and the only connection between Catwoman and the comics is the name. There's no Selina Kyle here so it's not like this is some kind of prequel. In fact, I'm not even sure this is supposed to be based on the comics. I surmise that this is just a film they made that just happened to share a name with the comics.

The writing is awful. The plot is stupid and inconsistent with a concept of invincible make-up that seems to change how powerful it is MID-SCENE! Also the subplot about Patience's boyfriend is terrible too. There is no suspense since A) We already know who Catwoman is and B) It's not exactly a hard mystery. It shouldn't take the length of a film to work out the connection between Patience and Catwoman. The film also manages to sexist to both genders. One second they're conveying how stupid and ignorant men are (which, in this film, actualy doesn't surprise me) and the next, they're dressing up their 'supposed strong heroine" up in one of those sexy Halloween costumes (which I still question...).

Catwoman is a poorly written, poorly acted and inconsistent mess. The action is dull to watch and the film was just a chore to sit through. Normally I recommend some bad films like The Room and Street Fighter but this one that you should steer clear and just let be forgotten in time. Halle Berry tries but she goes down with the film unfortunately. I wish Tommy Wiseau was in every bad would make them all bearable...

STEER CLEAR! This film is a travesty and an inconsistent mess!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988) Review

With the Oscars been and gone, we can be relax for another year after knowing that Leonardo DiCaprio lost again (and, yes, I'm so happy that Frozen won best song...thank you, 'Adele Dazeem') but what is still apparent is that the Academy still fell for the blatant Oscar bait with 12 Years a Slave walking away with Best Picture and, while it is a very good film, makes me wish for some variety in the winners. The comedy genre is almost ignored by the Academy so lets take a look at a comedy film that, while not winning best picture, still walked away with an Oscar.

When an American diamond thief, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her boyfriend Otto (Kevin Kline) pull off a London bank heist with master criminal George (Tom Georgeson) and animal lover Ken (Michael Palin), they pin the whole heist on George in an attempt to keep all the money for themselves. However, the plan backfires after they learn that George has already moved the money to a location that only he and Ken know. While Otto tries to get the information out of Ken, Wanda attempts to seduce George's lawyer - Archie Leach (John Cleese).

The cast are terrific. John Cleese somehow manages to avoid his usual schtick and plays a much more emphatic character while also retaining his brilliant comedic timing and delivery. He is one of the pioneers of British comedy and it continues to show here. Along with him is Michael Palin who plays a surprisingly sympathetic character and Palin's actions and delivery (Ken's stutter helps) makes for another meorable character. Jamie Lee Curtis may be the weakest link of the main cast but still works very well in the film however everyone is absolutely overshadowed by Kevin Kline. Kline knocks the role out of the park as Otto. His mannerisms, his delivery, his look, everything about the role is perfect. There's a reason that Kevin Kline is one of the only actors to win an Oscar for a comedic role and he really deserves. Otto is easily one of my favourite film characters and Kevin Kline brings him to life perfectly.

As a fan of British comedy, I can safely say that this is spot on comedy. There is a strong balance of farce and line delivery that makes for hilarious moments and quotable lines. What also works is the rivalry between the traditional, stiff-upper-lip Englishman Archie and the mad, gun toting Anglophobia American Otto which leads to some commentary about how cold the English are portrayed to be (and, in some cases, actually are) against how upfront and confrontational Americans are depicted...and then the film has fun with the idea leading to a hilarious and satisfying conclusion.

While it may be morbid to say, it says something when someone laughs to death at A Fish Called Wanda (seriously, that happened) because it is a brilliantly written and performed comedy. All the actors are a delight to watch with Kevin Kline leading the way with his Oscar winning performance. Throw in some commentary about depictions of the English and American stereotypes and you have yourself a treat to watch. If you're a fan of British comedy, this is one you should search out and watch.

Excellently written, brilliantly performed and even has some social commentary.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Declan Lowney, 2013) Review

It's sad to admit but it has become apparent that the British film industry has struggled a bit in recent years with only the likes of The World's End receiving recognition. Now we're forced to spew out tripe like Keith Lemon: The Movie but maybe there is hope in the form of classic British television icon Alan Partridge. While Keith Lemon was never funny to begin with, Alan Partridge is already funny so how would Partridge transfer to the big screen having already proved his comedic worth? Let's find out.

North Norfolk Digital radio is being taken over by a mainstream company who are bringing in fresh talent and sacking the old ones. Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) manages to save his job at the expense of his co-worker Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney). In response to this, Pat takes the radio station over with a shotgun and keeps everyone as hostages. Alan escapes but is sent back in anyway by the police as he is the only person Pat trusts. Alan must now appease Pat's demands while working with the police and also trying to stay alive against the gun-toting maniac.

While films like The World's End and About Time can appeal to both American and British audiences, this one is primarily British. From the argument about the pronunciation of the letter 'H' to the jab at modern radio, it becomes scarily relatable for anyone in England. Also something to note is that the humour is supposed to be laugh out loud comedy. This film won't have you in tears but that's because of the unique style of humour that will have you snickering instead. I will admit that the show is significantly funnier but there are still plenty of jokes that got me so it does succeed.

The format surprisingly differs from the show. What made the show hilarious was the interactions between Alan and the supporting characters. Here, the film dives more into developing Alan as a character and the engagement comes from seeing how Alan deals with the circumstances. Steve Coogan slips back into the role easily, it's like he never left (although...I don't think he ever did...) and I'm surprised how well the supporting actors do. Colm Meaney does an especially good job and is probably the best actor in the film.

Taking on a unique style of comedy, I am glad I did watch Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. It isn't out to raise the bar or tell a life changing story, it's simply out to entertain. The character of Alan is retained well by Steve Coogan's performance alongside a strong supporting cast as the film nails traditional English living. It may not be as accessible as The World's End but is still worth a watch if you're familiar with Alan Partridge.

Does a good job of providing entertainment with strong acting, a unique sense of humour and making a strangely relatable setting.

And, no, I have no idea what the hell the title means...that sort of sets the tone, really