Category Archives: Movies

Abraham Lincoln review

This film is, quite simply, misnamed.

It is not primarily about Abraham Lincoln at all.  It is a film about the abolition of slavery in America in the mid 19th century.  More particular than that it is about the passage through Congress of the 13th amendment to the constitution of the United States which would legally abolish slavery.  That was undoubtedly a worthy and admirable endeavour.  However, the depiction of the political machinations and horse trading involved by the director, Stephen Spielberg is stultifying.  It is also a major miscalculation.

Abraham Lincoln was and is a towering figure in the psyche of America. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrJHPS4KyVA

We know that Lincoln, the real life character, cared deeply about the issue of slavery and ultimately paid for that conviction with his own life at the hands of an anti-abolitionist assassin.  But where was the dramatic explanation of how this man arrived at this moral stance?  What about his background, his motivations, his own personal journey.  Surely that was the real story?

This film is more akin to a political documentary.  Detail is piled upon detail until one finds oneself lost in the maze created by Spielberg.

There are seemingly interminable scenes describing the backgrounds and motivations of various congressmen who need to be bought off or speeches from Lincoln or members of his team about the progress of the bill.

The job of big budget film making is surely to entertain, to inspire and to wow an audience. A couple of hours out of the cinema and I had already forgotten chunks of what I had just seen and heard.

As for the quality of the central performance by Daniel Day Lewis, I am undecided.  He is without question an amazing acting talent.  But in this instance, he began with natural physical advantages.  He is tall and rangy like Lincoln.  He also has the same angular facial features.  Put him in a dark suit, plonk on a stovepipe hat and a beard and the resemblance is remarkable.  In addition, he undertakes a lot of speechifying in a thin reedy voice and occasionally shouts.  Does all this amount to acting?

I really wanted to like this film but I left the cinema bludgeoned by facts, confused and ultimately, bored.

There is a great film to be made about Abraham Lincoln.  This was not it.

A Good Day to Die Hard: Review

 

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Twenty-five years after first hitting our screens, John McClane (Bruce Willis) returns with the fifth instalment of the Die Hard franchise.

Regarded by many as one of the best action films of all time, Die Hard (1988) is looked upon as containing the magical ingredients to make a memorable action film: an evil genius with a master plan, his team of gun-wielding henchmen and a hero to save the day, with plenty of explosions and stunts along the way.

As with many sequels, Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990), Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) and Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard (2007) failed to live up to the standard of the original. Although Die Hard 2 itself was a good effort, the latter additions to the franchise have continually veered from what made Die Hard so popular. A Good Day to Die Hard has followed suit.

Written by Skip Woods (Hitman, The A-Team) and directed by John Moore (Max Payne) the film is let down by its lack of dialogue. Gone are the quirky, memorable one-liners that made the character that is John McClane. There are several attempts at humour, some of which work, but the repeated “I’m supposed to be on vacation” and its variations are noticeably overused and have little effect.

Obviously lacking is the development of the villain. There is no real explanation as to why Komarov (Sebastian Koch) is intent on taking uranium locked away in Chernobyl. It isn’t addressed, nor is his past in-depth. Compared with villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard, there is no real connection or understanding of his plan. The focus is instead on the father-son relationship of McClane and McClane Jr. (Jai Courtney).

There are several elements however that will please fans of the franchise. There is the obligatory fast paced car-chase through the streets of Moscow with a seemingly endless amount of vehicles being damaged, a kill count that is well into the triple figures and a final showdown at Chernobyl complete with a gun-firing helicopter.

A Good Day to Die Hard will no doubt be a hit at the box office with older fans hoping to rekindle the magic of the earlier films and with younger fans keen to see a Die Hard film on the big screen. There are currently no plans for a sixth instalment, so it is probably a good day to call it a day for John McClane.

 

Film Review: The Croods

Everyone loves a good animated film. Toy Story probably made them fashionable, quickly followed by the likes of Shrek, Madagascar and The Incredibles. The Croods is one of those loveable family-friendly films. It tells the story of the Croods, a family who are among the last people on earth. They live in the safety of their cave, emerging once every few days to hunt for food. The protagonist is Eep who, despite all outward appearances, is the stereotypical stubborn teenage girl. She breaks the strict rules set down by her father, Grug, and ventures out of the cave one night. This leads the family on a venture of survival and Grug having to deal with Eep’s first teenage crush, Guy.

Despite the title, there was no ‘crood’ humour; the comedy flows from start to finish. The family unit is as dysfunctional as you would expect from an American on-screen family; a rebellious daughter, an over-protective father, a dim-witted son, an animalistic baby daughter, a battle-axe grandmother and the sensible mother who holds it all together. This leads to some great scenes with the family trying to survive not only a pre-historic apocalypse but also each other’s personalities. The storyline is entertaining and keeps up with the pace of the humour. There are scenes that everyone can relate to, from family spats to more tender moments. There is a strong theme of love throughout, from Eep’s crush to the love of a father for his daughter. Animal lovers will also be pleased with some cute and not-so-cute creatures playing a blinder in support roles, chiefly ‘Belt’, the sloth who is, according to Guy, is a “Conversational. Navigator. Also keeps my pants up”.

The blindingly attractive leading couple, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds, are perhaps wasted behind the facades of their animated characters but Nicholas Cage, the voice of Grug, blends in well with his on-screen persona. The supporting cast is made up of Catherine Keener, Clarke Duke and Chris Sanders, to name a few.

All in all, The Croods is a very enjoyable film with strong comedy and a decent storyline. It is yet another DreamWorks film that is universally watchable. If you are babysitting, going on a date or treating an elderly relative to a trip to the cinema, The Croods is definitely a good option for all occasions.

From pretty woman to wicked witch

Review by Niamh Ferguson

 

Julia Roberts stars as the evil Queen Clementianna in Mirror Mirror, a new adaptation of the original fairy tale Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. At first glance it is easy to draw comparisons with Disney’s 1937 Snow White, however director Tarsem Singh has added his own twist to this well loved tale.

The story is retold through the eyes of the wicked queen and she states that this is her story and not Snow White’s. Julia Roberts’ portrayal of the antagonist is entertaining yet at times very sinister. The “magic mirror” is not in the traditional style but appears as a portal to another realm which represents her madness and cruelty towards her step daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins). It appears to be a denial of the Queen’s own conscience; “I am after all merely a reflection of you”.

The film retains the original concept of the classic tale – the Queen blinded by her vanity orders her beautiful step daughter to be killed, she escapes, finds her way to seven dwarves and meets a handsome prince (Armie Hammer).

The movie touches on the same motifs as the original narrative. There is a kiss that will break a spell, a poisoned apple and an enchanted mirror, yet they could have been utilised better to add to the overall plot. At times, it seems they have been included only because these elements are what one would expect to see in a retelling of Snow White.

Interestingly, the dwarves are not miners but thieves having turned to crime due to the corruption of the kingdom by Queen Clementianna. There are some fun references to the Disney classic, particularly when one dwarf notes: “it’s better than working down a mine.”

Mirror Mirror retains a “fairy tale” atmosphere with outlandish costumes, beautiful scenery and childlike humour yet while the presentation is near flawless the execution doesn’t hit the mark as much as one would expect.

Mirror Mirror has all the key ingredients for the classic story; apples, magic and a true love’s first kiss, yet it appears that Tarsem Singh has wanted to give it his own flavour but has not been able to fully divert from the original narrative, relying on it when things get slow.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgbH05rQx1s

 

Hungry for More

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games has been the film of 2012, as much for the controversy surrounding it as its box office success. As teen movies go this is perhaps the most challenging and thought provoking.

The film is based on a Suzanne Collins novel of the same name. It takes place in a dystopian future, in a nation that consists of one wealthy capital surrounded by twelve poorer districts. Each year a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are picked to take part in the hunger games, a televised fight to the death were only one participant can survive.

The action follows 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers for the games to spare her younger sister. She is joined from her district by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son. They both come under the tutelage of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former winner of the games, who has developed a drink problem.

The film is rated a 12A in theUK, meaning anyone under 12 can watch it, if accompanied by an adult. The themes of the film are dark, over the two and half hour duration there is no comic relief. There is however 22 under 18s being stabbed, shot, stung or mauled to death, while a wealthy population of the capital watch with detached amusement. It’s hard to think who decided this was suitable for under 12’s.

Suzanne Collins wrote the book as a commentary on reality TV shows, and how they manipulate people for the holy grail- big ratings. The strength of such a commentary is based on the main character, Katniss, who almost is alone in the realisation that the games are morally wrong and should be challenged.

Jennifer Lawrence, is the undoubted star of the show. She is a true silver screen heroine, in the style of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. Wisdom, strength and courage beyond her years make her character important and memorable. Not many actresses could so easily or convincingly balance the physical demands of being a rough, ready and ruthless warrior with the beautiful and tender scene when Katniss holds and sings to a dying comrade.

Josh Hutchinson as Peeta is fine in a performance that could have been delivered by any blue eyed, blonde haired, fit, young male. The character of Peeta is eager and likable, indeed he is also important. But he seems to reach the climax of the games by luck, and the potential romance between him and Katniss doesn’t seem believable.

Jennifer Lawrence and the effortlessly cool Woody Harrelson deliver fine central performances that make the long running time seem worthwhile.  It’s smart, serious and genuinely exciting. Its themes and overall production are closer to Twilight than Harry Potter. However, in reality it is vastly superior than both those franchises.

See The Hunger Games Trailer here.

Review by Aidan McKay

A Review of “The Cabin in the Woods”

A Review of “The Cabin in the Woods”

By Ethan Loughrey

It is hard to imagine a more stereotypical horror archetype than four American college students visiting a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and being gradually picked off in increasingly brutal ways by some mysterious and evil force.

It would be easy, therefore, to be confused by the rave reviews that Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s film is attracting, when it is about just that. The film is literally called, “The Cabin in the Woods.”

A poster for the recently released film

So how have Whedon and Goddard succeeded in a genre that see’s more flops that almost any other?

The key to their success lies in two parts. The first is that they manage to keep their film a horror. There are moments of genuine fear that appear frequently enough so as to never quite allow the viewer to relax. A remarkable number of allusions to other cult horror films illustrates the director’s knowledge on the subject, whilst also giving fans of the genre something to look out for throughout the film.

The Cabin in the Wood’s greatest strength however, lies in its self awareness. It goes beyond the references to other films to becoming itself a critique of the genre.

In a pertinent example, the characters at one point begin to act differently to their original personas, adopting the stereotypical traits of a “jocks”, “nerds” and so on. So used to such people being the leads in modern horrors that it isn’t until one character, unaffected by the recent mood swings points out “Why’s Curt acting like a jock? He’s a Sociology major!”

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Goddard and Whedon are targeting everything they see as wrong with the genre, as has been expressed by them in numerous interviews.

When its protagonists become aware of their ridiculous position, they manage to escape the clutches of the people controlling their perilous situation. These people – an obvious analogy for mainstream horror director’s – try to explain that the protagonists have to die under their rigid rule system, for if they don’t everyone will die. The heroes still refuse and the film ends with the world apparently about to end.

Goddard and Whedon are saying that rather than continuing with the trend of putting out poorly made and unoriginal (hence the numerous other horror film references) films, it may be better to simply let the genre die.

Source Code Review

Source Code

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan

Duncan Jones’s second film, Source Code, explores one of the most fundamental questions human beings face; What would you do differently if you could do it all again?

THE PLOT
Colter Stevens, (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a US Army helicopter pilot whose last memory is coming under heavy fire in Afghanistan. When he awakens, he finds himself in another man’s body on a train. Eight minutes later the train explodes, killing Stevens and the other passengers onboard. Short movie.

Or maybe not. Stevens finds himself back in his own body, encased in what looks like a cockpit, with a US army Captain, Captain Goodwin, explaining to him that he must go back and find out who planted and detonated the bomb that caused the train explosion.

The film’s main premise is established from here. Gyllenhaal must repeatedly live the last eight minutes of Sean Fentress’ life, (the passenger he “possessed”), in order to discover the identity of the bomber, who has planted a nuclear device somewhere in Chicago and plans to detonate it. Stevens is told he cannot save the passengers but he can save the residents of Chicago from nuclear disaster. Jeffrey Wright stars as Dr. Rutledge, the brains behind the Source Code simulator.
The romantic interest is provided by fellow passenger Christina Warren, (Michelle Monaghan), whom Stevens falls for little by little as he re-enters the simulator.
His priorities shift from identifying the bomber to stopping the train attack in order to save Christina.
The film is hugely ambitious in its premise, something to be admired even if the ending doesn’t fully realise that ambition. It mixes Gyllenhaal’s journey to remember what happened to him in Afghanistan with the bomb plot, finding room for emotional charge in such an action-packed subject.
Gyllenhaal lends great presence to the role and he goes through the full gamut of emotions here, displaying an acting range perhaps not fully showcased since Donnie Darko and certainly not in his previous offering, Love and Other Drugs.
The other real star of the show is Captain Goodwin, (Vera Farmiga), with the idea of humanity versus science explored throughout the relationship between Gyllenhaal and her own character. Farmiga proves herself every bit as capable as Gyllenhaal with a range of emotions expressed in minimalist style.

ANY GOOD?
The ending feels slightly like a cop-out with a clunky visual metaphor, but the film deserves credit for its ambition and star turns from Gyllenhaal and Farmiga. Superb acting, however, takes the film to another level.

By Damien Edgar

Marvel: Avengers Assemble

Marvel: Avengers Assemble, 2012, Movie Poster

By Hannah Goodall

There’s an old saying, “Too many superheroes can spoil the film”. Well, not quite, but that was the fear felt by the vast Marvel fandom when plans for an Avengers film were made public. An idea that worked well in the panels of a comic book but realistically could not transfer to celluloid. Or so the cynics believed and, how wrong they are.

Marvels: Avengers Assemble has allayed the darkest of fans fears and, made believers of those cynics that doubted its plausibility. The widely held belief was that any attempt at an Avengers film would be nothing more than a confab of big names and even bigger special effects with very little substance could not be further from the end result.

With Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, a man who knows how to create a fandom and give those in it exactly what they want, at the helm, the film was an assured hit. A perfectly balanced film with everything in good measure and as a superhero film should be, Marvels: Avengers Assemble is, in my opinion, exactly what the fans have been waiting for.

At the outset it is made quite clear that there are things are going on underneath the surface that we, as the audience are not yet privy to. Everything in this film is on a strict need to know basis, nothing is given away causally on a whim or without reason. Perfectly timed from start to finish, the plot holds its own under the weight of the mega-star cast. Which, any lesser film-maker would have clubbed together with special effects in order to make a quick buck.

At over two hours in length Whedon and, director Kevin Feige hold the audience’s attention with a barrage of quick-paced, fluid fight scenes, jaw-dropping special effects that border on the realistic and extremely well thought out and sharp dialogue. Nothing about this film feels forced, from how the plot twists and turns, to the acting itself, as the A-list cast bring their A game to the original A team.

The character development is another stellar and endearing quality that ranges from Agent Coulson – the token martyr  – to the super villain, Loki [Tom Hiddleston] with charm that rivals an Ian Fleming spy.

From the heated exchanges between the Avengers themselves, to the more emotional rebukes of Loki and brother Thor, to the fist fights and explosions and even to the unanticipated comedic element of the film. carries with such ease, Marvels: Avengers Assemble holds your every nerve on end and refuses to let go until the last bus boy on set has been named in the credits.

All in all Marvels: Avengers Assemble is not quite what you expect from a Hollywood blockbuster and it has, by far, raised the bar on and for all future summer blockbusters and every superhero film to come.

 

 

Let Penn take you into the wild

Into the Wild – a review by Michele Canning

Into the WildSean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild’

With ‘Into the Wild’, Sean Penn dons his director’s hat to tell the real life story of straight-A student Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), who in 1992 donated all his savings to charity, dropped out of society and embarked on a journey of self-discovery, changing his name to Alexander Supertramp, with only the writings of Thoreau, Tolstoy and Jack London for company.

Penn effectively paints a picture of a young man at odds with society in general and his dysfunctional, materialistic parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt) in particular.

Along his journey through the backroads of America he crosses paths with an ageing hippy couple (Catherine Keener and Brian Dieker), a grain harvester (Vince Vaughan), an infatuated teenager (Kristen Stewart) and a lonely old man (Hal Holbrook), learning valuable life lessons from each encounter.

Hirsch portrays McCandless as a charming, intellectual, yet troubled individual, who nevertheless touches the lives of all those he meets, and whose ultimate journey to the frozen wastes of Alsaska eventually leads to a damascene conversion to the value of human friendship.

An uncredited supporting character is the great American wilderness, which Penn uses to great effect in all its beautiful, and on occasion, desolate glory.

A worthy mention must also go to Eddie Vedder’s Neil Young-esque Americana soundtrack, which accompanies the scenery to great effect.

Into the wild is a moving exploration of the human condition, as visually stunning as it is thought provoking. Ultimately, while McCandless’ actions cost him his life, his view of the corrupting influence of consumerism and the great hunt for possessions at the heart of the darkness in society may be even more relevant now in a post-economic meltdown world than it was in 1992.