Saturday, May 2, 2015
The Avengers are reunited to fight what remains of HYDRA after the events of The Winter Soldier and while on the mission, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr,) finds Loki's staff from the first film and realises that the power contained in it is strong enough to create his dream project: Ultron (James Spader), a robot with the aim of protecting the world from alien threat. Ultron is born however he looks at humanity and realises that they are the problem with the world and sets off to destroy the species while remaking himself into his perfect image. The Avengers must fight against Ultron as well as his super powered assistants Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) Maximoff.
You know what I'm going to say. It's pretty apparent that this point how big a Marvel fan I am and how much I adore the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers Assemble was my first ever review and I slapped a 10/10 on it (although looking back I would bring it down to a 9/10...maybe 9.5/10) so naturally expectations were exceedingly high for the sequel and I have to say...it delivers. Age of Ultron is a masterpiece of the summer blockbusters. Everything that makes a beautiful action film is here. The witty writing and characters that everyone loved in the first film are back however Age of Ultron has much more of an emotional edge with characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) being given so much more to do (especially Hawkeye. It's his film). The new characters are also wonderful additions to the MCU. Ultron is easily my favourite villain in the series as he is ironically the most human villain they've had. He can be scary, he can be funny and he can even be sympathetic at times. James Spader knocks it out of the park with his wonderful voice giving the character life. The Maximoff twins, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (never called that in the film though), allow for new possibilities for the franchise. X-Men: Days of Future Past used Quicksilver very well however the Avengers version is a much more fleshed out and likable character (although the slow motion scene in X-Men is still amazing). My favourite character in the film is...hard to talk about. He was in one of the trailers and can be seen in the background of the poster but I still can't talk too much about him. All I can say is that he gives a more psychological edge to the film with some of the best lines and scenes in the film.
In my opinion, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been constantly snubbed in the music department. Iron Man 3 has one of my favourite scores in film history and how can one forget the empowering main theme of Avengers Assemble. I remember every theme in the series (except Iron Man 2) and the music in Age of Ultron is hands down the best aspect of the film. Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman team up to give us nothing shot of phenomenal music. The main theme alone is grand, gorgeous to listen to and fits the tone perfectly and the uses of previous film themes such as Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World being sneaked in adds to the idea that the the Cinematic Universe is a conglomeration of many films tied together. I was worried that Age of Ultron would just feel like build up for Infinity War and, while Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) subplot does leak into it (admittedly, Thor's subplot is the weakest part of the movie however it does lead to my favourite character's origin so I can't complain about that), the main story about the Avengers against Ultron is its own thing entirely.
One thing that moviegoers took away from Avengers Assemble was just how funny it was. Hulk smashing Loki still gets a laugh even to this day and I can confirm that Age of Ultron manages to be both the darkest Marvel Studios film and also the funniest. Every scene had a great laugh in it with every character (except Scarlet Witch) having at least one funny moment. I'm impressed the film can squeeze in the comedy while still managing to have a strong edge with much needed character development (looking at you, Hawkeye) and the highest stakes the series has seen. You would think that Joss Whedon would h struggle with balancing so many characters however he gives time to those who need it. Iron Man and Captain America do get pushed to the side in the second half however it seems fair enough because it's not their story, Thor has a sideplot leading into Infinity War, Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson) and Bruce Banner have a newly found relationship to build up and Hawkeye...well, I can't dive too much into that without spoilers but let's just say he went from the most expendable Avenger to the most precious. We'll be seeing much more of Iron Man and Captain America in Captain America: Civil War next year and they already have the best MCU films outside of the Avengers films so it's justified.
People complain a lot that comic book films are too dark in recent history and, while it fit the likes of The Dark Knight, some are trying to hard such as Man of Steel. With some amazing cinematography and well written dialogue, Avengers: Age of Ultron feels like a living comic book. With many long takes, wide shots featuring the team and memorable dialogue, Age of Ultron captures the very idea of what adapting a comic book into a big screen production should be. Even through aesthetics and iconography such as the team's new costumes, it looks great. The mix of practical and CGI is also good. I was worried that my favourite character (still a secret) was going to be a motion captured performance however the moment he showed up on screen with an amazing make-up job, I knew that Marvel Studios cared about how to bring their comic characters to life. Ultron's design is also great. I was worried in the build up that he would be too 'obviously evil' and I questioned why a robot needed teeth but the Tony Stark-esque personality and versatile performance from James Spader warrants an emotive face from Ultron. The big CGI fest has to be the Hulkbuster vs. Hulk fight that has been in every trailer. Seeing the two throwing each other around through buildings and making strong use of their environment is the kind of action that we need to see in a standalone Hulk film (seriously Marvel, get on that).
Avengers: Age of Ultron is a cinematic joy that only comes around every couple of years (the last Avengers being the last time). It manages to hit every area of its heroic yet dark and funny tone. The cast pull together once more with great new characters including one of, if not the, best Marvel villains to hit the big screen. It manages to balance that sense of build up towards sequels and self-containment perfectly. I was skeptical that they would fail to get everything in since the running time is shorter than the first films but the sheer awe and complexity of the images on screen and how perfectly everything falls into place means that I cannot reccomend this film enough. What is loses in impact that the first film had, it makes up for in depth, development and a much more appreciated edge. With this track record, it's going to be smooth sailing to Infinity War.
Need I say more?
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a down-on-his-luck man having a hard time finding a job that suits him. After witnessing a car accident and seeing a freelance videographer capture the footage for the news, Lou is inspired to buy a camera and set off to record his own footage. His unique demeanour makes him the perfect man for the job after impressing Nina (Rene Russo) with up close and violent footage from a stabbing. Lou's empire starts to build with the recruitment of Rick (Riz Ahmed) and slowly begins to step over the line from observer to participant.
Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing. He is simply fantastic. I haven't seen someone completely embody a character like this in a long time. I said that J.K. Simmons in Whiplash was the best performance of 2014 (and I stand by that) but I can still tell it's J.K. Simmons which his part of his charm. This, however, I can barely tell it is Gyllenhaal. He becomes one with Lou and its scary just how impulsive and possibly demented he is. Rene Russo also holds her own very well, almost playing the complete opposite of Gyllenhaal. While Lou is quiet and reserved, akin to the likes of Norman Bates from Psycho, Nina is more abrasive and almost fanatic about the violence Lou captures on video. The two make a duo that make for some great chemistry and scenes together.
Nightcrawler is a very suspenseful film that had me on the edge of my seat. I really had no idea where the film was going and I always say that's the best kind of film. The last act is especially thrilling and the score plays very well into giving the film it's edge. I am sick of the Oscar's opinion of movie scores as all the best ones are snubbed in favour of praising Hans Zimmer some more for the same music he's used since The Dark Knight. Many, many films in 2014 had wonderful scores such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Whiplash and, plainly, Nightcrawler. They have lively, vibrant and varied scores rather than just slow, low droning that films have done in the past. Hell, even A Million Ways to Die in the West had a catchy score and original song (only awards I could see it getting though...). The writing is also fantastic and was the only nomination it got. I suppose that element got attention at least.
Nightcrawler fell under the radar because it didn't last long in the cinema and was snubbed for Oscars across the board. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best here with Rene Russo also delivering a good performance. The atmosphere and tension the film builds is wonderful and has you guessing all the way while holding you on the edge of your seat. Do yourself a favour and pick this up when you can. Nightcrawler is a thrill ride from start to finish with some fantastic acting.
A thrilling suspenseful film with Jake Gyllenhaal at his best that, sadly, many people missed.
Monday, February 23, 2015
10. Gone Girl
9. Big Hero 6
A surprising choice for best animated feature at the Oscars but I suppose that there is good reason for this. Big Hero 6 has the very same vibe that The Incredibles had and follows its example of what makes an engaging film: the characters. Disney deliver us a great cast of characters so enjoyable that it's actually hard to pick a favourite. Baymax would be probably be mine as he is a loveable companion who Scott Adsit's voice fits perfectly. Hiro proves to be one of the more complex Disney heroes with Yokai also proving to be a complex villain. Disney have been doing immensely well since The Princess and the Frog and show no sign of stopping. I can consider this part of a new Disney Renaissance.
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
7. The LEGO Movie
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has a very unique approach to film making that I admire. He even managed to convey his style in his animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox so, at this point, I was looking forward to his most recent offering. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the more enjoyable films of the year and easily the best comedy with smart humour and a more subtle tone. Ralph Fiennes is delightful as the hotel manager Gustave accompanied by newcomer Tony Revolori playing his lobby boy Zero. It's a zany film with many fun quirks. Wes Anderson hands us a delightful romp displaying the mad adventures of Gustave and Zero. Also everyone is in this film. Just everyone. Think of an actor and they're probably in this film.
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Monday, February 9, 2015
50 years after the creation of robots designed to hunt mutants known as Sentinels were created, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his team of mutants try their best to face off against the army of Sentinels. However, they can adapt to whatever mutant power that is thrown at them and, now seemingly unbeatable, Xavier must go back in time to stop their inception. Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the ability to send people's consciousness back in time to their previous body but the only person who will make the trip is Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Logan wakes up in 1973 where we must team up with a younger Xavier (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to prevent the creation of the Sentinels at the hand of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
You with me still? I know, that was one hell of a convoluted plot. Naturally, you'd think that this would be a huge issue as it would just be too much for the audience to take. Actually, I think the plot is well done. Like I said, I prefer all of the stuff set in the past and that is where the bulk of the film is set. The future scenes only act as framing devices for the real plot, the 70s, and the film is more engaging as a result. It's good to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender work off each other again and now we have Hugh Jackman thrown into the mix to deliver us a great trio. My only real gripe with the cast is Peter Dinklage. Now don't get me wrong, I adore Peter Dinklage but he was wasted here. In this franchise with so much potential he plays...a guy in a suit...who sits in meetings..really? That's the best they could give the great Peter Dinklage? On the flipside, however, is Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Good God, Quicksilver is the highlight of the film and is easily one of the best characters in the entire franchise. The best scene of the film is the breakout in the Pentagon as it shows off, in a wonderful way, the speed at which Quicksilver can run accompanied by a great song. The combination of music and visuals make this one of the most artistic scenes i've seen in a comic book film and I would love to see more in the future. I suppose the only bad thing about this is that it still damage Avengers: Age of Ultron which is set to have their own version of Quicksilver which I can guarantee will not be as good as this one.
It's rare that the best thing about a comic book film is the acting. Now, I know that there are some fantastic performances in comic book films like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight and Sebastian Stan in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but when has it ever been THE best thing. Ledger was amazing but so was the rest of the film. When I think of X-Men: Days of Future Past, I instinctively think of the actors. The combination of the old and new actors is also a highlight as it shows the strong progression and development of these characters side by side. It's very insightful and shows how much of an impact X-Men First Class made. The special effects are also great mostly down to the use of the Sentinels. The Sentinels, while only making minor appearances at the beginning, are thrown at us full force in the last third and it is a great thing to watch. They could've gone further and made an all out war between mutants and Sentinels but the two battles are still a blast.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is definitely the best X-Men film and I think will be forever the best one. not in a way that "it's hard to top this" but in a way that I don't think future instalment will have such strong chemistry between actors nor will they have the artistic element unless they bring Quicksilver back (which they HAVE to) and even if they do, i doubt lightning will strike twice. The ending of the film should please the angered 'fans' who hated the trilogy and sets up a positive future but I feel this is the best it's going to get.
The best the series has to offer and paves the way to a brighter future for the X-Men franchise.
Saturday, January 31, 2015
In the combined city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old technology prodigy with a strong bond with his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). After inventing a new form of robotics known as microbots, tragedy strikes which leads to Hiro meeting Tadashi's latest creation, Baymax (Scott Adsit), a health care robot. Hiro and Baymax team up after they discover a masked villain has stolen Hiro's microbots and is now using the bots against them. Hiro also brings together Tadashi's university friends to form the eponymous team and discover just who is the man behind the mask.
The area that Big Hero 6 really shines in is the characters. Normally, Disney villains are the ones that steal the spotlight from the sometimes bland heroes. This time, the whole cast is wonderful. My favouite character was most definitely Baymax. Scott Adsit's calm and pleasent voice fits the delightfully adorable character perfectly. I was also impressed by how much character and depth went into Hiro and the masked villain (labelled 'Yokai'). Hiro is a much more neutral hero than previous Disney protagonists. He isn't just a pure good guy. He has his faults and its much more rewarding to see overcome these personal flaws. The most interesting heroes out there are flawed heroes. Yokai is also a deep villain. I was worried going in that he was just a character who looked cool (very, very cool) but with not much to him. I'm impressed how he is one of the more morally ambiguous villains. I won't delve in for sake of spoilers but his true intentions, while not necessarily justified, are fair in some deluded sense. Of course there is a whole team of superheroes hero to talk about so let's move on. The team themselves are really fun and likable however the film falls into the same trap The Incredbles fell into in that all the development and focus is on the hero and the rest not get as much focus. The only support character who makes a strong impact is the school mascot Fred (T.J. Miller) and offers some of the films biggest laughs.
Frozen was a beautifully animated film and I was certain Disney couldn't advance their animation in any way...I was wrong. Big Hero 6 looks gorgeous. San Fransokyo has so much going on that you really want to explore it for yourself with luscious buildings and a great atmosphere. The characters are also very well designed. Yokai had my attention since his debut in the advert purely because of his awesome design and the rest of the cast look just as good. Somehow Disney continues to deliver stronger animation. When one thinks Disney, music is also something that comes to mind. Frozen brought back catchy musical numbers however it wasn't expected that a sci-fi Marvel animated feature would continue this trend but that doesn't stop Henry Jackman delivering a fantastic score nor does it stop Fall Out Boy, of all people, to create a memorable and fitting song. I don't even like them that much but I won't deny that that is a song I'll be singing for a while after. If I were to nitpick, however, I would have to say that the plot does have room for improvement. You'll catch on very quickly that Disney has been keeping the same story archetypes throughout many films but with Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen sharing this film's basic twists and turns, it's hard to be surprised. It's harsh to say but there is some predictability with Big Hero 6. The big reveal in this one just isn't as shocking as something like Frozen's. If Big Hero 6 came out before Frozen did, it would be the latter's problem. It's just poor timing if anything.
Big Hero 6 proves that Disney animation shows no sign of slowing down. Gorgeous animation, deep and likable characters as well as a wonderful soundtrack make Big Hero 6 a delight to watch, The biggest issue I have is the narrative however the same could be said if you were to look back at previous Disney flicks. Maybe it's just that I've caught on to what they're doing now. That and I would love to see the rest of the team be developed. It's not often that I want to see Disney make a sequel but this is certainly one. I want to see more of these characters and location so I hope Disney finally do some good with a modern sequel.
Delightful, heartwarming and fun. Great animation, music and characters lead this one to being a Disney classic.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Andrew (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer who shows great passion and talent on a kit. One evening after school, the head music teacher Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) catches Andrew playing and soon recruits him to the higher up jazz band in school. Soon, Andrew's life is only focused on one thing: drumming. He has to face adversity to become the next best musician and faces against the threat of other drummers taking his place, mishaps at concerts, his personal life and, most shockingly, Fletcher's brutal and explosive demeanour.
J.K. Simmons owns this film. He delivers the greatest performance I have seen in any 2014 film. You know when you stumble across a fantastic performance when he carries you through the film and holds your attention. Simmons has a wonderful screen presence and I hang onto every word and action he delivers. No fooling, this is his film and he aims to keep it that way. I know that the Oscars are very harsh against actual talent but I will have to become like Fletcher if Simmons is snubbed for best supporting actor. I recognise that a good performance is also made possible by an engaging script (which we have here) and strong director (also in the film) but no one else other than J.K. Simmons could've made this role as strong as he did. Miles Teller also proves his acting chops as he conveys the strong progression of Andrew's character as the film goes on and his drumming talent is just too good to get into words.
While writing out this review, I found myself listening to the score for Whiplash and it hit me just how memorable the songs were. This is clearly a film that makes you retain every instance that occurs. The music is wonderfully composed and the way that all the instruments work together to bring us a treat for the ears is grand. Also commendable is how the film makes use of the music. It's not treated as a background element, if it weren't for Simmons' performance the music would be the movie (sorry, just can't get over how good he was!). I am so glad that it is also up for best sound mixing and best editing because, from a film making view point, the editing and mixing are where the film shines brightest. The climax of the film (which I won't ruin) is beautifully put together from all accounts. The acting is tight, the shots jump from one another in great succession and the music is fit in perfectly.
With my top 10 films of 2014 on the way, I can safely say that Whiplash is the only film to top my beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. Whiplash is nothing short of a masterpiece with its beautiful editing, music, directing, writing and, of course, the phenomenal acting. It's rare that I walk out of a theatre after watching a big Oscar film and instantly want to watch it again (I almost did!). I simply can't recommend Whiplash enough and hope to high heaven that J.K. Simmons walks away from the awards with an Oscar in hand.
A musical masterpiece that is led by J.K Simmons' masterful performance. Accompanied by fantastic editing, writing and, of course, a very strong score.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Filmed over the course of 12 years, we follow the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up before our very eyes along with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Mason and Samantha endure many trials throughout their early lives such as their parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) splitting up, their mother struggling with day to day life alone, moving houses and meeting new people along the way. Boyhood acts as a fictional
Right, so what DIDN'T I like about this supposed 'masterpiece'. Firstly is the gimmick. At first, it really works. It's wonderful that they kept the same cast for 12 years and we do get the feeling that we are watching them grow up. Here's the issue, towards the second half of the film, Mason stops growing. We reach the end of what the film is trying to sell us and we are left with a rather dull life story with no sense of progression. It's at this point I always realise that Ellar Coltrane is very bland. Unfair to say since they cast him when he was 12 years younger and it was a gamble as to how he'd turn out (what if he had died?).
Don't get me wrong, I'm still impressed that they managed to convey the objective that the set off with and can say that the film does have quite a lot going for it. Ethan Hawke is probably the best actor in the film alongside Patricia Arquette and the other people along the way do a good enough job. It's just the lead that isn't engaging when he's the focus. The first half when he's growing up is great as it did actually make me look back about my child hood. I guess if that's what the film was trying to make the audience do, they succeeded. I'll give it that much.
Boyhood is good. That's it. It's a nifty idea for a film that succeeds on those merits but not much else. The supporting cast are good but the lead isn't very interesting and the film stops dead in its tracks in the second half of the film. It is a long film anyway and having a film that drags is the last thing you want. So you probably think that Birdman will be my film of the year instead (well, maybe Guardians of the Galaxy) since I found Boyhood to be underwhelming. You'd be wrong. There is one film left for this week and I have one question for you: was Boyhood rushing or was it dragging?
It has a nice idea for a film but the film stops dead in its tracks and leaves on an underwhelming note.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor who's fame peaked when he starred in a trilogy of super hero films as 'Birdman'. Riggan has decided to have a go at Broadway with an adaptation of a short story titled 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love'. Over the course of production, Riggan has to handle crappy actors, overbearing actors such as Mike Shinner (Edward Norton), a tormenting critic with a grudge as well as balance his own sanity as his Birdman persona threatens to take over his mind.
Birdman is a wonderfully shot film. I am very curious to see how the script and storyboard where put together as there are technically about 3 scenes. Why? Because there are little to no cuts...at all. The camera is constantly following the action and doesn't let up. It could be disorientating however the director clearly knew what he was doing (I just feel sorry for the camera man who had to walk backwards for most of it). Speaking of the script, it is very well written. The sign of a good film is how it keeps you guessing because I truly never knew which direction the film was going. There were a number of opportunities in which the film could end yet it never took those opportunities. Normally this would be bad but the film is just so engaging that I really didn't want it to end.
The acting is fantastic. This is very much Michael Keaton striking back after years of less than great films (Robocop? Really?). He is perfect for this role because you can just replace the eponymous Birdman with Batman and you get the general idea of what the film is like. There are moments where he proves his acting worth along side other great actors such as Edward Norton and Emma Stone (all three of these actors now being up for Oscars!). This film actually made me a little nostalgic. I've dabbled in stage acting and the way it's presented is quite accurate. Not in the sense that everyone's a egotistical asshole (can't attest to that) but the way the characters work around problems, both in regards to the play and their own mental well being, is one of the elements that keeps the film going.
Birdman is an exquisite and unique film that keeps you invested with it's fascinating script, fantastic acting and wonderful cinematography that makes the film stand out. While it may be too 'different' for casual movie-goers, any film lovers need to watch this, especially now that it has been nominated for 9 Oscars! Do I reckon it will win best picture? Well, you'll find out by the end of this week. Not much more to say than "watch it"!
Wonderfully shot, acted, written and edited. Birdman is a wonderful look at the acting profession and the pros and cons that come with it.