‘Bridge of Spies’ – REVIEW

Spielberg’s latest collaboration with Tom Hanks is an interesting Cold War thriller that is eventually flawed by its unevenness.

BRIDGE-OF-SPIES-Poster-e1433542435366-677x400

Based on true events, ‘Bridge of Spies’ follows the story of insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who is drafted by the US government to organize the release of an American spy, Gary Powers incarcerated by the Soviets, in exchange for a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) being detained in America.

The first half of the film, set in a paranoid 1960’s America, sees Hanks’ civilian lawyer unwittingly acting as defence lawyer to the imprisoned Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). This segment of the film recalls similar settings and visuals to an earlier Spielberg and Hanks collaboration in the form of 2002’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’. However, it is more reminiscent of John Nash’s delusions in Ron Howard’s 2001 film, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (also largely set during the Cold War years in America).

At about 40 minutes into the film, the story takes a rather unexpected turn from an engaging and provocative legal drama to an international espionage thriller, when Donovan is sent to Berlin to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers. Whilst this unorthodox change of plot should, theoretically inject the film with some excitement and a much faster pace. It actually does the complete opposite. Once in Berlin, the story becomes an overly long thriller filled with clunky dialogue and scenes of Tom Hanks talking to one Russian ambassador after another. The film becomes slow, often dull at times as we wait for the deal to be brokered so that we can all go home.

However, having said this, like Kubrick did so wonderfully well in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Spielberg manages to combine comedy with the undeniably macabre topic of the doomsday scenario of the Cold War. The film is littered with witty one-liners and amusing scenarios that add a much-needed relief from the seriousness of the themes at hand. This is in no doubt almost entirely down to the addition of the Coen Brothers, who were asked to bulk up the script. Joel and Ethan Coen immediately came to mind for example when, after being arrested in his underwear, the Russian spy Abel quietly requests whether he can have his false teeth returned to him.

 

rylance

Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks are superb in the two lead roles.

Hanks gives his usual assured, safe, well-mannered performance of a character out-of-his-depth, relying on his charm and instincts to pull him through any situation thrown at him. But it is Mark Rylance’s performance as Russian Rudolf Abel who is the film’s highlight. Rylance puts in an extremely reserved, minimalistic performance as the timid traitor of the US government, but is excellent in his role as prisoner. It’s a shame that he only has such a small amount of screen time because his rapport with Hanks is easily the film’s highlight.

 

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Spectre’ – Review

James-Bond-Spectre-Most-Anticipated-Movie-of-2015

Spectre’ opens with one of the best tracking shots in recent memory. The camera does not blink for a second as we follow Daniel Craig’s James Bond hot on the trail of an international terrorist during the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations in Mexico City. Bells of Orson Welles’ opening in ‘Touch of Evil’ were ringing loud and clear (both also take place on Mexican soil). However, from this point onwards, Mendes’ second Bond feature contains more misses than hits.

Brilliant Beginnings

Brilliant Beginnings

Following on from the Welles-esque opening, we see Bond pursuing the evil and omniscient organization known as Spectre, and led by Christophe Waltz’s Blofeld (a familiar foe in Bond’s cinematic universe). Along the way, he encounters two Bond girls in the shape of Monica Belluci’s Lucia Sciarra and Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swan.

Craig, as he has been throughout his reign, is great. He maintains his cool wit, his charm, and his style whilst being ruthless in the face of danger, Spectre only reinforces the fact that he is arguably the best Bond we have ever had, second only to perhaps Connery. Lea Seydoux also puts in a terrific performance as the female lead; she is the first Bond girl in recent memory that can actually handle herself in danger. She may well represent a significant feminist step forward for Bond films in the future. The performance I personally, was most excited to see however was Christophe Waltz as antagonist Blofeld. He is surely the perfect actor to play a Bond villain. Mendes disappoints audiences though by giving him such little screen time, we hardly see him for the majority of the film, which really is a wasted opportunity.

‘Spectre’’s subject matter is clearly an attempt by Mendes to update the series. The story generally focuses around the controversy of drone warfare and surveillance, which is clearly a very serious and very real topic in contemporary society. Because of this though, the action suffers, there seems to be very little engaging action throughout the film, action is only ever really threatened, but never really comes about, and when it does come about, it is extremely short lived. For example, Bond and Swan escape from Blofeld’s impressive desert hideout with far too much ease, Bond only needs to shoot around 4 henchmen before they’re away on a helicopter kissing.

Despite a rather modern subject matter, ‘Spectre’ is by far the most traditional Bond film that has graced our screens in the Daniel Craig era. There are clear nods to Bond’s cinematic past littered throughout; Dave Bautista (fresh from playing Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy) plays an extremely Jaws-esque henchman, he even fights Bond on a moving train which is reminiscient of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and there’s even a snow base that reminds you of something from ‘Die Another Day’.

Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx

Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx

This technique of using postmodern pastiche from Mendes is perhaps an attempt to evoke nostalgia amongst the audience, nostalgia of the Connery and Moore era where Bond always killed the bad guy, and always got the girl. Craig’s era has differed greatly, the films have been much darker, Bond rarely gets the girl and he is portrayed as a dark and twisted individual constantly haunted by the past.

Traditional Bond from the Connery, Moore, and even Brosnan era would arguably not satisfy contemporary audiences, people today desire more realism, more grounded and ruthless action films such as the Bourne films, which have so strongly influenced Craig’s era with their shaky camera work and fast-paced action sequences.

Spectre feels like an ending to the Bond films we have seen in the last ten years, perhaps even of Craig’s reign. It attempts to bind the gritty realism that we have seen in the last three outings with the more relaxed sensationalism of classic Bond, and it does succeed in doing this, something that critics have raved about, as a return to the classic Bond. However, is this really such a great thing? ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Skyfall’ were the best Bond films in years, so why change a winning formula?

7-out-of-10

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ – REVIEW

Video game aesthetics and feelings of déjà vu threaten to ruin an enjoyable fifth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise.

rogue nation

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects and Edge of Tomorrow), Rogue Nation sees the IMF (Impossibe Missions force) shut down whilst Ethan (Cruise) and his team, including returning cast members Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner as Benji and Brandt respectively, try to shut down the ‘Syndicate’, an international rogue organization intent on destroying the IMF.

The action is relentless; the film only slows down on one, perhaps two occasions, otherwise, Ethan’s mission is quite literally nonstop. To a certain extent, this is a good thing, it is an action film after all; however, more time could have been spent on character arcs. For example, newcomer Rebecca Ferguson (not the Liverpudlian X Factor contestant) plays Ilsa in a seemingly film noir femme fatale type role. We don’t really know a lot about her, and her character lacks any real development, despite the fact that she plays a key role throughout the film.

A glowing highlight of Rogue Nation however is the much heavier involvement of Simon Pegg as Benji. He plays a larger role than he did in the fourth film, and the decision really pays off as his British charm and wit provide regular comic relief. Whether his British humour misses the mark or not across the pond is another matter, but it’s a joy to see Pegg performing so well in an otherwise all American production (go Simon).

Simon Pegg as Benji

Simon Pegg as Benji

One of the real problems of the film is that much of its action is dominated by unbelievably annoying video game aesthetics. McQuarrie opts to show several point of view shots during each action scene, he does it during every car chase and almost every fight scene. It’s a strange decision from the director, and it makes every exciting scene seem like you’re playing the Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Xbox game, rather than watching the film on the big screen.

Another issue with McQuarrie’s film is the constantly protruding and rather severe feeling of déjà vu. Whilst watching Rogue Nation, you constantly feel that you’ve seen it all before. There’s a motorbike chase scene that recalls a similar scene in Mission Impossible II, and the entire plot is actually fairly similar to the last film of the franchise, Ghost Protocol. Both see the IMF having to go rogue due to criticism of their destructive tendencies, and both see Ethan’s team jetting off all over the globe to track down some terrorist with a quirky European accent.

Whilst being a reasonably enjoyable action/espionage film, Rogue Nation’s interfering shortcomings are simply too obvious to ignore.

6/10

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Ant-Man’ – REVIEW

Predicted by many to be the first Marvel film to flop financially, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man has finally reached the big screen. Despite these concerns and years of rewrites and cast and crew shake-ups, the final product is actually rather quite pleasing.

ant-man

Ant-Man follows the story of small-time crook Scott Lang, who is enlisted by retired scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to don a special suit, designed by Pym, and effectively become the eponymous hero. The casting is more or less spot on; I’m a huge fan of Paul Rudd, he is perfect for playing that witty average Joe type character, consider Role Models, or Knocked Up. He basically does the same here, albeit also being a petty crook. Douglas puts in a solid performance as Lang’s mentor, Corey Stoll is menacing as villain Darren Cross (fans of House of Cards should recognize him), and also fans of The Wire will be intrigued to see Wood Harris playing a police detective (he is known for playing crime kingpin Avon Barksdale in the series).

Ideal Casting: Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/ Ant-Man

Ideal Casting: Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/ Ant-Man

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man has a different feel to it than other Marvel outings. It has a much more relaxed tone, although the world is at stake in the film’s conclusion, it doesn’t really feel like it, and it still feels like an almost comedic crime caper with a superhero thrown in, which is basically what the film is as a whole. The laughs are much more frequent in Ant-Man than in other Marvel films, this is in no doubt due to the involvement of Edgar Wright (writer and director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). Wright pulled out of directing at the last minute, but his name is stamped all over the film’s script. Wright, at one point, asks what everyone should be asking in each standalone Marvel film: “Maybe we should call the Avengers?”

Ant-Man’s inclusion into the Avengers has always seemed to be a bit of an issue. However, since the announcement that he would be included in the third Avengers film, you can clearly see the foundations being built for this inclusion in Ant-Man. The join is seamed over masterfully by Wright and Anthony Mackie’s superhero, The Falcon acts as the bridge between the two films as a typically Marvel post-credits sequence reveals. There are in fact two post credits sequences in Ant-Man, so make sure you stay long after the film has finished to see another Marvel teaser.

Reed’s film is an extremely enjoyable watch, occasionally amusing, and occasionally heartfelt, it will surely not be the financial flop predicted. Carried by Rudd’s charisma, it will be interesting to see how Ant-Man fares amongst more dominating superheroes in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 (slated for release in 2018), especially without the involvement of the film’s standout element, Wright’s script.

8/10

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

REVIEW – ‘Terminator Genisys’

“It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever,” pleads Kyle Reese in the original 1984 Terminator film.

It would be easy to apply Kyle’s thoughts to the constant, postmodern churning of reboots and remakes that have been gracing our screens for the last few years now; but alas, he is of course talking about Arnie’s unstoppable killing machine. The latest, Terminator Genisys, presented as the fourth installment of the ‘Terminator’ series (this excludes Terminator Salvation) is perhaps the lamest and most infuriating attempt to reboot a successful franchise to date.

Terminator_Genisys

From the offset, the film appears to follow the same storyline as the original 1984 story, Kyle Reese, played by Jai Courtney, is sent back in time to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) from a terminator (Schwarzenegger), also sent back from the future. Upon Reese’s arrival however, things are not what they seem, and the film follows an alternative timeline from there. The storyline is unnecessarily complicated, there are so many different timelines going on that it seems overloaded, and the narrative really suffers for it.

The main problem with Genisys however, is its pastiche, it is laced with it. There are an infuriating amount of nods and references to the original two films (it is pointless including Terminator 3 in this as Genisys basically indicates that the third film never even happened). Whilst it is good to pay homage to James Cameron’s films, director Alan Taylor simply overdoes it. Several scenes are actually painful to watch for fans of Cameron’s work, for example, Taylor decides to show edited footage of Arnie arriving in 1984 from the original film in his own work, it is so bad it’s almost funny, it wouldn’t look out of place in a Family Guy parody of the series.

Equally painful is the film’s script, the dialogue is so clunky and on the nose, the only good lines are the ones that are clearly pinched or manipulated from the original films. On top of this, Jai Courtney is absolutely no match for Michael Biehn in the role of Kyle Reese, his Reese is a shell of a hunk with the emotional range of the Terminator he seeks to destroy. The film’s only potential saving grace is Emilia Clarke’s performance of Sarah Connor, she possesses the same fire and drive that Linda Hamilton gave in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and is a fine substitute; fans of Game of Thrones will be shocked to see her so active and driven on a screen.

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor

Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor

If you’re a fan of the original Terminator films, it’s easy to get so infuriated with this installment, it’s a shock that Cameron himself has actually endorsed it. Its constant pastiche and complete subversion of the original story that is so well known and loved is almost insulting. With a Ghostbusters reboot in the works, a Star Wars reboot on the way, and no doubt an Indiana Jones reboot soon-to-be in the news, Terminator Genisys can act as a warning sign, telling us that perhaps it’s sometimes better to leave things in the past.

3/10

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ – Review

Feminism packs an almighty punch in George Miller’s marvelous return to the world of Mad Max.

mad-max-fury-road

Last time we saw Max Rockatansky, he was then Mel Gibson, and he was facing off against Tina Turner’s Aunt Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdrome (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds). After 30 years, Max has made his long-awaited return, and it’s absolutely spectacular. Fury Road is not so much a sequel to the original trilogy, more a reimagining; Max (Tom Hardy) joins forces with Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to escape the clutches of evil tyrant, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Visually, Fury Road is an absolute tour-de-force, the set pieces are stunning, and the Namib Desert (where the vast majority of the filming took place) is the perfect location to show the apocalyptic dystopia that Miller is trying to pull off. The action sequences are a delight; I don’t think I’ve ever been so astounded by what I was witnessing, only the biggest screens will do this film the justice it deserves.

This is, if you will, a feminist action film, whilst Hardy plays the titular Max, it is Theron’s Furiosa that is the real hero of the story. Max often takes a back seat to his female ally, offering to fix up the truck whilst she successfully fends off the bad guys. In a way, the story of the film focuses on Furiosa, it is a story of feminism overcoming masculine oppression and Max is really just a passenger to Furiosa’s raging ride of avenging redemption. On top of that, Max probably has around twenty lines in the entire film, that is not to say it is a bad performance, Tom Hardy is more-than solid, he adds a quirky sense of nervousness to his role, and Max is constantly brooding, seemingly grunting before and after every line.

Ever active: Charlize Theron as Furiosa

Ever active: Charlize Theron as Furiosa

Miller stays relatively loyal to his original trilogy, the Outback is swapped with the Namib Desert but this is still an Australian film, many of the unknown actors and actresses that appear are Australian, and there is even a return for Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the spectacularly deranged Toecutter in the original Mad Max. Visually, it’s more reminiscent of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and although that was far-and-away the best film of the original trilogy, Miller’s fourth installment is far superior.

If there was one complaint of the film, it would be that there is a severe lack of depth in the storyline and its characters. For example, Max is frequently haunted by his past, by a life he could not save (perhaps his daughter), but this is not really addressed or explained so we don’t know for sure. The film could have also benefited from developing the story of Furiosa and of the women she is trying to save, amongst them, a heavily pregnant Rosie Huntington-Whitely

Mad Max: Fury Road really is a spectacular action film, it doesn’t let up for a second in its two-hour running time, it’s a relentless ride through Miller’s crazily wonderful imagining of a not-too-distant future. 2015 is the year of the action film, and Avengers: Age of Ultron set the bar extremely high, but Miller’s film just raised it to dazzling heights. Over to you, Jurassic World.

9-10-score

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ – Review

Joss Whedon fires another impressive blow from the Marvel cannon. avengersageofultron I have to admit that, before seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was beginning to get a little tired and weary of the seemingly never-ending flux of superhero films, especially considering that in the next three years alone, they have a further ten releases already planned out. However, if they’re all as good as this one, what’s the problem?

The Avengers’ new outing sees Tony Stark’s (Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr.) peacekeeping supercomputer, Ultron (a sinister James Spader) literally take on a life of its own and threaten to wipe out the human race, ushering in a new age, one that he would apparently name after himself.

James Spader as Ultron

James Spader as Ultron

The action is relentless; Whedon throws us straight into the deep end, kicking off the film with a rollercoaster ride through a snowy, Eastern-European assault on a Hydra stronghold. (Hydra are the Nazis from the first Captain America film who apparently haven’t fled to Argentina with the rest of their party).

All the familiar faces are here again; Chris Hemsworth’s Thor looks as God-like as ever, swinging his hammer at anything and everything. Chris Evans and Mark Ruffalo also return as Captain America and the Hulk respectively, whilst the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) do their very best to keep up with pistols and bow and arrows. The opening sequence is as super as the film’s heroes, and Whedon doesn’t let up from there, he stops only twice, the rest is non-stop avenging action.

Parallel to all this action, Whedon manages to squeeze in enough comedy to keep the seriousness at bay, of course we, and the Avengers are all aware that the world is at stake, but there’s still time for a joke. There’s a funny sequence where the heroes all try and pick up Thor’s hammer and Andy Serkis makes an amusing cameo as a South African arms dealer who ironically gets his arm sliced off.

Whedon also attempts to flesh out our heroes, giving Hawkeye a secret wife and kids, and a well played-out romantic rapport between Black Widow and Bruce Banner, the on-screen chemistry is a delight to watch. The development of Hawkeye was also sorely needed; he was a passenger of sorts in the previous film, and now even gets some of the best lines. There are also some new additions to the heroes; Elizabeth Olsen is immensely creepy as Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays her brother Pietro/Quicksilver, the latter donning arguably the worst Russian accent in High Wycombe (He attended Holmer Green Senior School).

Aaron Taylor Johnson as Quicksilver, and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch

Aaron Taylor Johnson as Quicksilver, and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch

The only real problem with the film is Whedon’s camera, it is almost constantly on the move, panning and zooming as many of the film’s action sequences play out a little too much like a video game. S.H.I.E.L.D must have an immensely big budget too, (perhaps even bigger than Marvel studios) the collateral damage caused by the Avengers is ridiculous at times; Iron Man and the Hulk even battle each other at one point, leveling out a South African city, reminiscent of Team America accidentally blowing up the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre.

Age of Ultron is effectively more of the same from Marvel; it’s an extremely enjoyable superhero flick that duly fulfills its promise of entertainment. In a year of massive blockbusters (Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, Spectre, Star Wars), Whedon’s film sets the bar fairly high. 7-out-of-10

Posted in Film | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment