‘Get Hard’ – Review

Homophobia and racism lead the way in a barrage of misfiring jokes in this sub-par prison comedy.

Will Ferrell’s career is full of ups and downs; he reached dazzling heights with the hilarious Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but also hit new lows never previously thought reachable with the gut-wrenchingly poor Semi Pro. Get Hard, his new outing, is painfully close to the latter, perhaps even surpassing it in ‘poorness’.

Directed by Etan Cohen (my futile hopes of the Coen brothers being involved were immediately dashed upon realization that Ethan Coen and Etan Cohen are apparently two very different people), the film follows the story of James King (Ferrell), an affluent businessman who, after being accused of fraud and embezzlement, is sentenced to 10 years in the maximum-security institution of San Quentin. With 30 days to get his affairs in order, and an intense fear of getting raped in prison, King assumes that the only black man he knows, Darnell (Kevin Hart), can prepare him for life on the inside.

'Get Hard trailer'

The main problem of Get Hard is its huge reliance on homophobia and racism to provide the laughs; I can’t recall a single ‘joke’ that isn’t there at the expense of a homophobic or racist remark. For a film that is marketed as a comedy, I think I chuckled (not laughed) maybe two, or three times at the most, one of them being at an amusing Boyz n the Hood reference.

With the jokes constantly misfiring, Cohen begins clutching at straws in the shape of musical cameos. We see singer/songwriter John Mayer making a lame appearance singing an unbearably cringe-worthy song about a quarter of the way into the film, which had me questioning why I chose this over the new SpongeBob film. We also see rapper T.I. acting out the racist stereotype of a Crenshaw gangster.

You know you’re in for an uncomfortable ride when you hear Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ blaring out of those looming cinema speakers during the opening credits. The film really is a wasted opportunity; the combined screen presence of Ferrell and Hart could be magical if in the right hands. Instead, Cohen squanders it with an all-too-heavy reliance on offensive and crude humour.

3:10

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‘Inherent Vice’ – REVIEW

“Don’t worry. Thinking comes later.” – Larry “Doc” Sportello

Inherent Vice is an enjoyably delirious ride through early 1970’s Los Angeles, as long as you don’t try too hard to unravel the film’s unbelievably complex narrative.

Inherent vice - Poster

The film follows the story of private detective and/or qualified GP (I was personally unclear on this) Larry “Doc” Sportello, a perfectly cast Joaquin Phoenix, who is on the drug-fuelled trail of a missing ex-girlfriend. Inherent Vice unfolds much like a film noir, that is, if film noir took an acid trip through Venice beach, and instead of fedoras, you get Joaquin Pheonix in tie-dye t-shirts and a straw sun hat.

If there’s one thing director Paul Thomas Anderson (of whom I am a huge fan) is best at, its characterization, his films have always been most memorable for their characters – whether it be Tom Cruise’s sex-obsessed misogynist Frank Mackey in Magnolia, or Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar winning oil baron, Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood. Anderson’s new outing is no exception, Sportello is an extremely memorable character, he’s everything we associate with the hippy movement of the 1960’s, and he tackles every problem with a typically laid-back demeanor and a joint in his hand; he’s somewhere loosely between Jake Gittes from Chinatown and Shaggy from Scooby Doo. The accompanying soundtrack matches Sportello’s character for delirious ‘trippiness’ too; I was half expecting a Dr. John or Jefferson Airplane record to come on at any moment.

Joaquin Phoenix as Larry 'Doc' Sportello

Joaquin Phoenix as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello

Anderson also skillfully captures the historic moment of the late 60’s/ early 70’s. This was the end of the hippy movement, this was post-Manson/ post-Altamont Speedway (a free festival in the style of Woodstock that ended in the murder of Meredith Hunter), the hatred towards the counter-cultural movement by the establishment is perfectly embodied by law-enforcer Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a police detective who is constantly asking “Doc” whether his findings on the case are just hippy hallucinations.

The main problem with this film is its coherency, unless I’m being stupid, you literally have no idea what’s actually going on. There is simply too much happening, too many ambiguously told stories attempting to permeate into the main narrative, which at its simplest is an intriguing premise. It also doesn’t help when the majority of the characters seem to whisper in strange accents to each other and you find yourself just giving up on understanding what on earth they’re talking about. Anderson is usually so good at interweaving several different stories into one, but here, they all sort of meander meaninglessly into some marijuana induced haze that you can’t really make heads or tails of. By the end of the film, you wonder whether half of what you just saw even happened, or whether it was just one of Doc’s drug-influenced dreams.

So when ‘Doc’ Sportello says, right at the start of the film, “thinking comes later”, you really should listen to him, let the story unfold without questioning too much, and you will probably enjoy this film a lot more.

6/10

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‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ – Review

The final piece of the Middle-Earth saga is reasonably fitting, but will never escape the vast shadow of its predecessors.

HOBBIT 1

We rejoin the action exactly where we left off, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s booming dragon Smaug laying a fiery siege on Lake-Town (a town unfortunately wholly comprised of wood). The deceitful greediness of the town’s ‘Master’ (Stephen Fry) is counter-acted by the sheer heroism of expert bowman Bard (Luke Evans). This opening sequence is utterly spectacular as Jackson’s camera expertly soars over the burning ruin of Lake-Town, following Smaug’s every move. It’s a brilliant way to open the film; unfortunately, the next two and a half hours struggle to compare.

The rest of the film is comprised of the eponymous battle, a huge, epic conflict between dwarves, elves, men, goblins, orcs with a few giant bats and worms thrown in, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without the eagles, again begging the question, ‘why not use the eagles from the beginning?’

Whilst only occupying around 20 pages in the book, in usual Peter Jackson style, this battle is drawn out for as long as possible. It is extremely enjoyable to watch; there’s tense showdowns between Thorin (Richard Armitage) and the main orc Azog (Manu Bennett), an extremely aged looking Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan) still somehow managing to keep up with the action, and an excellent, albeit brief appearance of Billy Connelly as Thorin’s more stubborn cousin, Dain. However, Jackson adopts an almost computer game aesthetic in many of these sequences, especially when Legolas (Orlando bloom) ridiculously jumps away from falling debris and it looks like something out of a 90’s Nintendo game; this is somewhat off-putting, especially when many other sequences are often spectacular.

HOBBIT 2

Orc Azog leads one of the five armies into battle

With this huge battle raging, and every life of Middle Earth clearly at stake, it still doesn’t really seem to mean much, it’s difficult to feel any strong emotional connection to the characters; none of them really stand out (nothing like our connection to Frodo and Sam in the original trilogy). Jackson poorly attempts to tug at our emotional strings with the romance between the elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), a relationship that isn’t even mentioned in Tolkien’s book. Also in the pursue of Tauriel, is Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, a performance which is unbelievably wooden and even comparable to Joey Tribbiani’s acting in ‘Days of Our Lives’.

The one saving grace of Jackson’s finale is the performance of Martin Freeman as the real hero of the film, Bilbo Baggins. He’s not actually on screen as much as you’d like, and you really miss him when he’s not there. Bilbo carries an innocence and resilience that Frodo and Sam maintained in the original trilogy.

Martin Freeman is the shining light in Jackson's finale

Martin Freeman is the shining light in Jackson’s finale

Unless an unnecessary cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s ‘The Silmarilion’ arises in the coming years, (there is talk of a Netflix series) ‘The Battle of the Five Armies’ should be Middle-Earth’s last foray onto the silver screen. To say this is a disappointing end to the saga would be slightly harsh, it is an enjoyable watch that is better than the first, but not as good as the second. The Hobbit trilogy will simply never escape the vast shadow of its predecessors, a shadow that has indefinitely changed the landscape of cinema for the better.

7-out-of-10

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‘Interstellar’ – Review

The concept of interstellar space travel is expertly humanized in Christopher Nolan’s outstanding sci-fi epic.

INTERSTELLAR1

The premise of Interstellar is relatively simple, technological advances have all but ceased and the world has resorted to an agrarian state in a sort of dustbowl dystopian future. Cooper (Mathew McConaughey) is a farmer and ex-astronaut who is forced to leave his 10-year-old daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy) behind, to travel through space and time in search of a new planet where the human race will be able to colonize and survive. Although the Earth’s degeneration is never really explained, it’s not difficult to consider that this imagined bleak future is the cause of the stockpile of problems we’re facing today, such as climate change and severe overpopulation. By not fully explaining the reasons, Nolan is really establishing the film as a reflection of whatever collective fears we have about where our society is headed.

One of the many strong points of Interstellar is its extraordinary set pieces and CGI effects, it makes Gravity look like child’s play. Nolan is a truly masterful technician in controlling the visuals and the scenes in space are dazzling, whether we are being slowly maneuvered around the rings of Saturn, or being tormented by a humongous wave on an unknown planet, you are constantly in awe of the many jaw-dropping sequences.

Interstellar astronauts explore new planet

The use of CGI is clearly becoming a slight issue with some films today due to the sheer focus and reliance on it, one certain Tranformers director spring to mind (not naming names). However, Nolan’s work here is far from this controversy; he is able to ground the unbelievable special effects to human emotions, this is arguably his most earthbound film to date, despite its subject matter. The mind-bending science fiction plot is wonderfully intertwined with a man’s love for his daughter, much like one of Nolan’s earlier films Inception, where the theme of love and grieving is blended with the complex storyline.

Interstellar is also a film that is not afraid to explore real science; the theories examined and demonstrated within the film are largely accurate, and are theorized by Dr. Kip Thorne, a renowned Physicist, who also happens to be an executive producer on the film. It’s extremely hard to remember a Hollywood blockbuster that has successfully interpreted such complicated mathematics and science to a mainstream audience.

The only potential downsides to the film are its, at times, clunky dialogue. For example, would a fully trained astronaut really need to explain the functions of a wormhole to his other fully-trained colleagues just before entering one? Hathaway’s character Brand, is also disappointing, she’s plain and rather dull as Cooper’s space companion, and a soppy speech about how love conquers all doesn’t do her much good either. Long-time Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer adds the score to the film, and whilst it provides an intriguing addition to the stunning set pieces, it largely gets in the way of the dialogue with its extremely loud, gothic-horror like church organs.

Interstellar is an unimaginably complex film, especially the last 30 minutes or so and several viewings would certainly be required to fully comprehend. In a society where space travel has severely declined and NASA is continuously losing funding, Nolan’s message is clear, he believes we should stop looking down, and start looking up. Interstellar drives home the fact that mankind is curious, Cooper calls us all “pioneers” for example and the film demonstrates that humanity is at its best when we wildly throw ourselves into the unknown, in search of discovery.

9-10-score

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‘Gone Girl’ – Review

David Fincher is back to his best with his tenth screen outing, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-seller, Gone Girl, a dark, twisted, even shocking at times marital mystery that is nothing short of extraordinary.

Happy Couple? - Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne

Happy Couple? – Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne

Author Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) finds his Missouri home broken into, and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) inexplicably missing. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is called to the scene and begins to suspect Nick after evidence of financial problems and domestic disputes become telling. From the outset, Gone Girl appears to be following an all too familiar path of kidnapping and a potential homicide in suburban America, but this is far from the truth. With Fincher at the helm, the film takes you further and further into the deepest, darkest chasms of this unearthly marriage that never quite seems right.

Based on a book, the film really does represent a big-screen equivalent of a captivating page-turner, you never quite know what’s going to happen next, but you can’t take your eyes off it. Although, in its third act the film almost slows down instead of delivering an eagerly awaited climax, it is the manner in which Fincher delivers the eerie tension, he controls each individual sequence so masterfully, shuffling effortlessly between past and present, and you’re never quite sure if you’re in reality or one of the characters’ concocted fantasies.

The casting of this film is arguably its strongest asset; Affleck is superb as the cagey hero Nick, and easily his best performance since Argo. The supporting cast is equally brilliant, Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s sister Margot, and Tyler Perry brings a much-needed comical relief to the story as Nick’s lawyer (but definitely not enough to detract from the main story). It is Pike’s performance however that steals the show. This is arguably her big break – a lead role in a huge Hollywood film, and where you’d assume that she’d grab this opportunity with both hands and pounce on it, she instead remains calm, she’s the perfect femme-fatale, expertly controlling every scene she’s in, she is also the narrator of the film, a monologue that is delivered throughout with such malicious venom.

The director himself has claimed that, “bad things happen in this movie,” and he is certainly not wrong. It is a gripping macabre portrayal of marriage in the modern age (probably the closest Fincher will ever get to a rom-com). If you’re single, going to see this film will make you extremely thankful that this is the case; but if not, you will be severely questioning your relationship status, and an awkward car journey home will undoubtedly follow suite. Nonetheless, Gone Girl is an uncomfortably brilliant watch, and a must-see for any Fincher fan.

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‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Review

Horseback apes with machine guns steal the show from their human counterparts in this thrilling ‘prequel-sequel’ from director Matt Reeves.

Andy Serkis as Caesar

Andy Serkis as Caesar

The Planet of the Apes franchise has, by in large, been a relatively successful one that has stood the test of time (let’s of course exclude Tim Burton’s excruciating 2001 eye sore). Despite falling into obscurity in the last decade, British filmmaker Rupert Wyatt managed to successfully reboot the series in 2011 with the critically acclaimed ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’. Now, the buck has passed to Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, and again the result is positive, with Reeves delivering an overwhelmingly enjoyable watch that arguably surpasses the first film.

‘Dawn of’ picks up a decade after the end of the previous film, with the Simean virus killing all but 1 in 500 immune humans surviving off scraps. Lead by Caesar (the brilliant Andy Serkis), the apes have created an ‘Ewok-esque’ shantytown in the Muir Woods outside the wreckage of a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. Unaware that there are human survivors, lead by the pro-peace Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and the trigger-happy Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), a chance encounter between the two ensures an obligatory fight for dominance.

Reeves’ direction is one of the film’s strongest elements; despite countless technological advances at his fingertips, he instead chooses to focus on the characters. Even when the chaotic spectacle of apes vs. humans is raging, Reeves’ eye is sharply fixated on the emotions of his protagonists. The motion capture technology is remarkably impressive, though it’s the type of technology that Michael Bay tortures us with year after year, yet Reeves is careful, picking his moments to showcase the marvel of all-out ape warfare.

The film’s sheer inevitability is a slight downside with an underlying feeling of predictability throughout, you feel yourself waiting for the unavoidable war to break out, but it is well worth the wait, with more than enough action to keep the tension building. Jason Clarke is reasonably impressive as bridge builder Malcolm in trying to wager peace with Caesar, but not enough time is spent on developing the rest of the human cast. Oldman’s war mongering Dreyfus and Clarke’s love interest Ellie (Keri Russell) are both characters that would have significantly benefited the film if they were developed further.

But it is the apes that are the true highlight of the film, with an outstanding Toby Kebbell as the ruthless lieutenant Koba, and Andy Serkis soaring as the protagonist Caesar. There is a notably stronger emotional connection for the apes then there are for any of the human characters, which is even stranger considering they are made wholly by motion capture; it just speaks volumes for the far-superior performances of Serkis and co.

With the release of ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ coinciding with Michael Bay’s new Transformers film, I urge you to choose the former: Reeves’ film really is a triumph, filled with extraordinary special effects, brilliant performances, and even apes riding horses.

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‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ – Review

The second installment in the hugely successful reboot of the Webslinger’s franchise has finally arrived to our screens, helmed again by Marc Webb. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ was released in the UK last Wednesday and although it has been eagerly anticipated, it has received largely negative critical response, however, I believe this unfavorable attention is harsh, and arguably unjustified.

Andrew Garfield's Spidey battles with Jamie Foxx's Electro

Andrew Garfield’s Spidey battles with Jamie Foxx’s Electro

The film follows on shortly after the events of its predecessor, with Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker still trying to solve his parent’s murder whilst also contemplating whether dating Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is the right thing to do (especially after his promise to her dying father). The villain, or villains in this case, comes in the form of Jamie Foxx’s Max Dillon AKA Electro, Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn AKA Green Goblin and the brief appearance of Paul Giamatti as the Rhino.

It’s clear like in Marc Webb’s first Spider-Man outing that Andrew Garfield is perfect for the role; he’s lanky, quirky and is a much truer fit to the original comic books, especially compared to Tobey Maguire’s stale portrayal in Sam Raimi’s disappointing Spiderman trilogy. Garfield’s Peter Parker is extremely likeable, and his romance with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is easily the highlight of the film. This on-screen chemistry is probably enhanced by the fact that the pair are actually in a relationship in real life. You can also clearly see reminisces of the film that made Marc Webb famous, ‘500 Days of Summer’. The extremely quirky romance between Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that film is undeniably similar to the relationship in question.

With practically ever super-hero film, it is usually the stunning set-pieces and action sequences that dominate, The Amazing Spiderman 2 is different in this sense. The action here has a real sense of deja-vu, we’ve seen it all before, the whole Harry Osborn and Green Goblin plot was the focus of the first Spiderman film all the way back in 2002, and although DeHaan’s Osborn is a much better fit than James Franco’s original portrayal, it still doesn’t make up for the repetition.

The other issue with The Amazing Spiderman 2 is the fact that there are simply too many villains; Spidey is battling on so many fronts it becomes difficult to keep up. He’s not only attacked on the personal front with the conspiracy of his parents’ death and with the challenging relationship with Gwen Stacy, but also he is in conflict with three separate villains, and you can’t help but think that the film would have benefitted with cutting at least one of these out, it certainly would have cut down the 142-minute running time.

These two elements of the film have been widely criticized, however, I believe these criticisms are harsh; it is true that the feeling of deja-vu is slightly off-putting, but the performances of Garfield and Stone in the lead roles are so watchable, their charming relationship somehow manages to elevate itself above the frequent action sequences, and steal the film’s limelight, it’s heartwarming, and by the end of the film, heartbreaking too. All in all, The Amazing Spiderman 2 is an enjoyable film, and is much better than its predecessor, but only thanks to its leading duo.

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