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Movie review catch-up

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been a lot less active recently in my blogging activity. This is largely due to the fact I have had shoulder surgery and therefore have been somewhat incapacitated, and also because I’ve been a lot busier at work which has taken up a lot of my time. But I have squeezed in a few films, so here are some quick reviews to catch up…

Noah

I had little desire to see this until the reviews rolled in and they were so divisive. Now, I have next to no clue as to what is and isn’t taken from the biblical text so I have no issue at all with what it did in that respect, and not being religious I wouldn’t care anyway.

For me, it was the mythical elements that worked the best. I found the Harryhausen-esque rock monster things actually quite interesting and the more bonkers it went, the better.

However, it was when the film descended into soap opera style melodrama where it lost me a little, particularly in the final third. It asked some interesting questions about how far you should go for your faith, but wrapped them up in contrived drama.

Crowe is decent as Noah but Ray Winstone’s biblical gangster, complete with Cockney accent and rudimentary shotguns is laughable.

A decent adaptation from Aronofsky, who definitely inserts some personality into the story, but it loses its way and by the end undoes much of its good work of the first half of the film.

3 pigeons3/5 pigeons

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

When Sony rebooted the Spidey franchise so soon after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, many thought it was ridiculous. However The Amazing Spider-Man was actually pretty decent, and although it has some definite issues, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more of the same comic book fun.

Andrew Garfield reprises his role as Spidey but even though he looks the part, I’m still not convinced by his acting, although that’s definitely not helped by the god awful script that turns the whole thing into a cheesy episode of Dawson’s Creek at times.

There are plenty of decent set pieces throughout and the swinging sections through New York are vertigo-inducingly brilliant.

Villain-wise we have Electro although he feels somewhat underdeveloped, whilst Rhino pops up very briefly and a certain Monsieur Goblin who seems destined to play a much bigger role in films to come. With so many villains, it does threaten to turn into Spider-Man 3 and ensures the film is too long, but fortunately manages to hold it together much better.

It’s clear that the director wanted this film to have a more personal feel with more focus on the characters’ relationships, but at times it does feel at odds with the main story. When key scenes are rushed to make way for more teenage romance then it doesn’t knit together.

Emma Stone and Dane DeHaan deserve a lot of credit for their performances however, the latter in particular excellent as Harry Osborn.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a perfectly fine addition to the franchise but one that doesn’t really tread new ground in any way. Bloated and uneven in tone but if you’re a Spider-Man fan then there’s enough to enjoy.

3 and a half pigeons3.5/5 pigeons

Transcendence

Transcendence

Strong characters and a belief in their actions is essential if a film is to work, and the lack of both of these is what makes Transcendence a truly lacklustre experience.

The idea of being able to upload your thoughts and feelings into a computer isn’t exactly a new one, nor is that of computer AI becoming sentient and rebelling against humanity, and Transcendence does little new to raise it above its peers. See, it’s difficult at any point to actually work out what anyone’s really doing or why they’re doing it, and as such it’s tough to buy into anything the film does.

There’s a germ of an idea, but what starts of as a slow burning, political sci-fi thriller ends up trying to turn into an all-out action film but just doesn’t have the legs to pull it off and burns out long before its lackadaisical conclusion.

Johnny Depp well and truly phones in his performance, whilst Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany do their best to inject some life into proceedings, but they have little to work with in all honesty.

There was some promise here but it has to go down as a miss for first time director Wally Pfister who struggles to give the film any real direction or purpose.

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Lawless

Seeing Tom Hardy crack someone with brass knuckles is a thing of brutal beauty. Sure, we may be getting used to him doing that kind of thing by now (after all, we’ve seen him as the sadistic Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, cage fighting machine Tommy Conlon in Warrior and the crazy Charles Bronson in, erm, Bronson over the past few years), but when someone’s good at something, it’s often best to just let them get on with it.

The Bondurant brothers

In Lawless, Hardy plays Forrest Bondurant who along with his two brothers Howard (Jason Clarke) and Jack (Shia LeBeouf) are successful alcohol bootleggers, producing moonshine during the Prohibition era. Forrest is the bumbling hard man who is in charge of operations, whilst Howard likes to sample the moonshine a little too much. Jack is the runt of Bondurant litter and is in the constant shadow of his older brothers.

All is well in the bootlegging world until Special Detective Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) is employed with shutting them down and will go to extreme lengths to ensure he does so. However, Forrest and his brothers aren’t keen on going quietly. The film is based on a true story and adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest County in the World.

One of the most striking things about Lawless is how violent it is. There are throats slit, necks broken and skulls caved in, and there are times when it can feel a little unnecessary and over the top. Indeed, at times the violence threatens to define the film, especially considering the somewhat flimsy plot.

Hardy & LeBeoufThere’s enough to keep the story going but there’s little else going on aside from the usual good guys vs bad guys story arc. However, it’s interesting working out who the good and the bad guys actually are. The Bondurant brothers are the ones breaking the law, yet it’s they who we root for, not the authorities trying to uphold the law.

The actual issue of bootlegging is nothing more than a MacGuffin; the real focus of the film is the relationship between the brothers and their struggle to adapt to changes in the law and technology. Due to this, it very much feels like it should be a character driven film, but with little exposition and character development (aside from perhaps Jack), it falls short on this front also.

There’s some confusion as to who the film wants to make its real protagonist. It’s narrated by Jack, but for large portions of the film the focus is firmly on Forest. It shifts between the two throughout, whilst Howard remains nothing more than a secondary character. And talking of secondary characters, there is criminal under use of the film’s leading ladies. Bertha Minnix (Mia Wasikowska) is the daughter of a local preacher and becomes Jack’s love interest in the film, whilst Forrest’s attentions are turned by city girl Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). Again, Howard doesn’t get a look in.

Both of these characters feel a little like an after thought, as if the filmmakers realised they hadn’t actually included any women in the script and so wedged them in where they could, which is a shame because they do add another dimension to the film and the actresses’ performances are excellent. Gary Oldman is also reduced to little more than a cameo; again, his character, mobster Floyd Banner, could easily have had a little more screen time. In fact, there are so many interesting characters that Lawless could well have been a mini-series, offering more time with each, although Boardwalk Empire has pretty much got that period sewn up right now.

Special Detectice Charlie RakesAlthough this review has been quite damning, there is a lot that Lawless gets right. It’s not just Wasikowska and Chastain who provide top notch performances; the acting is superb across the board. Hardy once again proves he’s much more than just muscle, and even Shia Lebeouf proves he’s got some talent there after all. With Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac on the horizon, LeBeouf is clearly trying to move away from the Hollywood blockbusters that have earned him a somewhat tarnished reputation. Dane DeHaan also gives an entertaining performance as the brainy but rickets-riddled Cricket who help the brothers with their operation.

It’s arguably Guy Pearce’s Detective Rakes who’s the star of the show, however. His creepy, eyebrow-less visual is enhanced further by his equally creepy demeanour and willingness to go to any lengths to stop the three brothers. Pearce is superb as Rakes, giving the role the attitude and uneasiness it requires.

The film also looks absolutely fantastic. Director John Hillcoat has created a totally believable snapshot of the Prohibition era; the costumes, locales and cinematography all help create an incredibly rich mise-en-scène and a world you want to invest your time in. There’s also an excellent original soundtrack, but with Nick Cave behind the script (and some of the tracks), the music was always going to have elevated importance.

Whilst Lawless doesn’t quite reach the epic heights it clearly aspires for, it’s still an excellent watch with great performances and an interesting, if sometimes one-dimensional, narrative. It could, and perhaps should, have done a little more with the subject matter and the characters, but what it has done is immensely enjoyable and a worthy addition to all of the actors’ filmographies.

Words: Chris Thomson

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Quickie: Chronicle

ChronicleA group of three high school students discover a mysterious hole in the ground which, when they enter, gives them super powers. Over the course of the film, their powers develop, getting stronger and more varied, but as they do so, they struggle to cope with their new abilities.

With comic book adaptations meaning that superhero films are now an all too common sight in cinemas, Chronicle could easily just get swept away beneath an already saturated tide. However, this isn’t a superhero film at all, but more a realistic (or as realistic as you can get with such subject matter) examination of what might happen should some pretty regular kids with real problems suddenly have extraordinary abilities thrust upon them.

Chronicle is filmed in a shaky-cam, found footage style that has become rather popular over the last few years, with films such as Cloverfield basing their entire filming format around it. It works well enough in Chronicle but, as is often the case, it can become a little disorientating when things get a little more frantic. It also feels, at times, a little unnatural for people to be carrying cameras round at all times – almost a case of shoehorning this into the plot to continue the shaky-cam style throughout.

The three male leads are solid, with Andrew’s (Dane DeHaan) story taking more of a centre stage. With a rather modest run time, this does mean that the other two protagonists, and Steve’s (Michael B Jordan) in particular, feel a little underdeveloped. Despite this, Chronicle offers a decent big screen debut for director Josh Trank and is enjoyable and different enough to distinguish itself from more run of the mill films of a similar ilk.

Words: Chris Thomson

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