Thursday, 24 December 2015

'Star Wars The Force Awakens' Review (2015): A NEW New Hope.

I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, I'll start out with that. I watched the movies when I was younger, it didn't really register with me the same way something like Terminator or Spider-Man did. I thought lightsabers were cool and Darth Vader was bad ass but for whatever reason, I could always take or leave Star Wars at the door. Having rewatched the films in preparation for Episode VII, I don't think that's changed, but I think I do "get it". It's a classic good vs evil story, not very nuanced, kind of loud, and pretty damn fun when it's good. Of course, I'm of the opinion there are only 2 good Star Wars films, of which one is half of A New Hope and half of Revenge of the Sith, so maybe I'm not the best judge. Regardless, I went into 'The Force Awakens' not too hopeful, but I wasn't down on the movie either. At the very least I was happy to be back in a galaxy far far away.

And for the most part, the movie did it's job. It got me invested in the larger plot of it and it gave me moments that felt like Star Wars at it's best. The story goes that 30 years after the events of the Return of the Jedi, The First Order has risen from the ashes of The Empire. Kylo Ren, the new avatar of the dark side sees it as his personal mission to wipe out the light. On the other side of things, new additions to the cast are Rey, Finn and Poe, who serve as the new generation of heroes to fight in The Resistance against The First Order and restore balance to the galaxy. Again.

So not exactly a new tale.

There are a few familiar beats, in fact, there are a lot of them. The parallels to the original trilogy are strong with this one and sometimes it works as a nice call back, but then 10 minutes later the familiarity becomes uncomfortable. In my review for Creed I talked about how that film had a perfect way of blending in references and themes of the old films, and incorporating them with all the new content. 'Force Awakens' has a few moments like that, but it always feels like it's being held back by it's gargantuan history. The movie actually works best when it lets go of it's past, which is interesting considering the movie contains themes of...letting go of your past.

Those new things that work are peppered throughout the film but they're never given time to come into fruition. Perhaps the most notable new is the younger cast. Oscar Isaacs, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver make up the new star kids on the block and for the most part they all do a great job selling their roles, and giving us reasons to care about this new adventure aside from the fact that it's Star Wars. Daisy Ridley is very much the main character of this tale and while she is good, I felt like I lacked something from her character. There seemed to be something that the movie didn't want me to know until a later installment, which is fine for the franchise, but for this movie itself, I couldn't help but feel like the television tactics of flashbacks and vague descriptions wasn't enough, especially when it's another 2 years until the supposed payoff.

Directed by this guy, who's best work is in tv

I also have come to the conclusion (after a night of constant deliberation) that I flat out did not care for Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Adam Driver as an actor is someone who I've had disdain for since 'Girls' but that's neither here nor there. Without delving into his character, I thought the way they explained his motivations and his portrayed his "evil" was so obvious and shoddy. The way he acted was like a parody of any villain without any proper backstory, even though Kylo's backstory is the best thing about him.

Boyega is good in his role of Finn, the stormtrooper with a heart of gold, and while his character is an interesting idea, his development is sort of lax and kind of asks you to dig for it. Oscar Isaacs is definitely my favourite of the bunch as he gets to show a little bit of why he's so revered and plus he's Oscar Isaacs. The general problem across the board with these character is that the movie moves at such a brisk pace that there isn't really enough time to get to know them. The down moments it does have are used to lay vague groundwork for the rest of the new trilogy. That aside, I did enjoy the way the characters interacted with each other and felt a sense of camaraderie among them and thought that while individually their development was lacking, it was cool seeing them all together fighting the good fight.

Look how chummy they are

It probably seems like I didn't like the movie. I did. It's just there were some gripes with character and originality that have stuck with me more than anything else in the film. That's exactly the problem with it. It doesn't have a moment to make me forget the things that bugged me. Overall though the film is very well made, the action is very well done and is shot in a way that really puts it on display as a spectacle and lets you see every frame of the action coherently and clearly. One thing I thought was interesting was just how funny the movie was, not that the Star Wars movies were devoid of humour, I just noticed there were quite a few direct jokes in the film instead of just snappy dialogue. I don't quite think it fit with the movie I was watching, but the movie dispatched with the quipping whenever it would've sapped away the needed tension.

The best part of the movie is definitely Han Solo. Harrison Ford is doing his best job in years for playing the old scoundrel. There isn't the lingering feeling that he's outgrown his character like there was in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Aside from that Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, all the old guard feel organic with a new story and don't distract you from the new things like the real best part of the movie BB- 8. I know I said Han Solo was definitely the best part of it but he's not, it's BB-8. BB-8 has the perfect blend of humour, utility and heart for a droid. He's like the more emotionally stable younger brother of R2-D2 and C-3PO.

R2 is old and busted, BB is the new hotness.

I'll close out by saying that this movie has it's issues but it's in no means a bad movie. It's in fact a very good movie and it'll probably be discussed ad nauseum for the years to come, but it's not a perfect movie. It's problems will probably be rectified and explained in later episodes but as it stands for this film of 2015, they're still there. The problems though can be overlooked in the overall escapade of the film as the movie gives you an adventure you can follow and a spectacle that definitely deserves to be seen on the big screen. I can't think of a better film experience than sitting in the theatre that cheered at the opening crawl and the return of John Williams' classic theme.

A.N.R = 8.4/10

Thanks for reading and if you had any thoughts on the movie you can leave a comment and if you'd like to listen to Take 4's thoughts on the rest of the Star Wars films you can listen to that here:

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

'Creed' Review (2015): Rocky Episode VII

In my review for Southpaw, I mentioned how the sports movie, and more specifically the boxing movie, is a rarity in film in that, rather than evolve from the tropes and cliches it's known for, it revels in it. Audiences even find it a travesty if the film doesn't include the things they came to see. Of course, you can't talk about that phenomenon without mentioning the OG boxing film, Rocky. The Rocky franchise is a perfect example of repeating a winning formula to the point of self parody. From a first film about rising out of the gutter to be a superstar, to symbolically winning the cold war in a fist fight with Russia incarnate, Rocky has always been about something, just not with as much subtlety as it used to. Each film is a take on the first Rocky, just with a twist that's usually preceded by "Except this time...". This is something that breaks most franchises, but like the titular main character, it just keeps getting back up. One thing is for certain though, there must be montages.

With that in mind, I went into the newest film in the Rocky franchise, 'Creed', expecting to be entertained as I always was with these movies. I'd be engrossed in the main characters plight, watch him fail, train, and then win in a way that meant he'd overcome his personal obstacles, but may or may not have actually won the fight. Of course, I got exactly what I expected, but what I didn't expect was to see one of the best films of 2015.

As Mr. Balboa had his last one last fight in 2006's 'Rocky Balboa', this new film follows the story of a young Adonis Creed, illegitimate son of Rocky's first major adversary, Apollo Creed. A small time fighter with a lot of heart, Creed jr. is somewhat of a lost soul at the point of his introduction. Because of his name, he's unable to move beyond his father's shadow and can't find anyone to take him seriously and train him. Adonis recognizes his need for focus, and thus leaves his home of L.A for the mean streets of Philly, seeking out the tutelage of the people's champion himself, Rocky Balboa. The two engage in a meaningful mentor/trainee relationship that provides the movie's heart.

Rocky becomes Mickey in this later edition to the 'Rocky' franchise.

Right of the bat that is what I love the most about 'Creed'. It takes elements of the old guard and tacitly vests it in with the new. As Rocky trains Adonis, you get the usual references to the fans which serves as great fan service, but as we've seen fan service alone does not a good movie make. Instead what you get here is a perfect meld of more contemporary themes of identity and self realization mixed in with the old familiar themes of legacy. As far as continuations of long standing franchises go, 'Creed' is probably the greatest example of this I've ever seen, and that's in a year which had 'Mad Max: Fury Road' in it and the critically acclaimed 'Terminator: Genisys'

Cinematic bliss

This is most evident in the music. 'Rocky' has always been a franchise in which the score has played a big part of it. You heard the lonely manesque version of 'Gonna Fly' when Rocky aimlessly roamed the streets of Philadelphia and then heard that same theme in full form when Rocky was at his best at the top of the steps of the Art Museum. Here, you still get that basic structure, but instead, Adonis' training sequences include that old theme, mixed in with contemporary hip hop beats. It's a brilliant way to invigorate this new story with a sense of momentum that wouldn't be there if you were listening to the same old songs, yet still maintaining that sense of comfortable familiarity.

Of course, another stride the movie makes is through character. We're introduced to Adonis at a young age with a strong penchant for violence and learn so much about him as the story goes on. The movie shows him as someone with intellect and the skills to do something other than fight, but can't escape his inner desire to do so. It's a flip on Rocky's character who famously fights because he can't sing and dance. There's so much work put into Adonis' character that is massively helpful seeing as this movie is at it's core a character piece, and would be a lesser movie with a character you didn't give a damn about. Michael B. Jordan helps this as he's as good as he always is, and it's good to see him given a script he can work with again.

You probably thought this would be a poster for 'Fantastic Four'. Well you were 1/2 right.

However the real acting powerhouse comes from Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone. Sly gives one of his best performances since...well the last time he played Rocky Balboa. He's playing a man who's been through uppest of ups and the downest of downs in life and at the end of it all is just kind of tired. When he meets Adonis, you're seeing hints of the character you knew come back but largely, his performance is subdued, always coming off as honest. He strikes you as someone at the end of his rope and gives the film some of it's darkest, most heartfelt moments that are sold by Sly's performance.

The fights themselves are interestingly shot. Rather than taken from the view of the audience, the fights are shot much more personal, almost as if from the referee's perspective. It's mostly one shot for these scenes, and takes you into the ring itself. I'm not sure how I felt about these scenes, as while I appreciated what I gained, in seeing Adonis' reaction to each and every punch thrown his way, I feel as though I lost the overall context in which these punches were thrown. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks but I think a mix of both ought to do the trick.

Something I did love about the fights though, is just how much the movie shows you the harshness of the boxing world. Phylicia Rashad plays Apollo's widow and Adonis' stepmother and you hear her describe the debilitating effect that fighting had on Apollo, something the Rocky films never shied from showing. 'Creed' not only gives you that post fight effect, but takes moments to show you the depravity mid fight. You see blood, scars, and spit in gruesome detail, and you also see how much this is the norm in a boxing match as the blood is simply wiped off the floor before the next bell.

'Creed' takes time to show the bad as well as the good of the boxing world.

I should take time to mention just how wonderfully grateful I am that Ryan Coogler exists. Coming off the back of 'Fruitvale Station', it was easy to see how he could fit in with a Rocky movie. Fruitvale has that style of filming that makes you feel as though the character is a real person, with the camera positioned in a way that I like to describe as professionally amateur. He also knows how to capture the film's most powerful moments in a way that surprised and delighted me as a viewer.

'Creed' is a great film that has a lot of character, a well paced script, and moments that made me literally jump out of my seat and cheer. It was not the movie I expected it to be, but I suppose in a series about underdogs overcoming odds and showing the world what they're really made of, I guess that's only fitting. There are a few nit picks here and there, and the fight scenes while thrilling, did leave me feeling slightly robbed of the wider context, I still very much enjoyed 'Creed' and would see it again in a heartbeat.

A.N.R = 9.6/10

You can listen to the Audio Review for Creed here:

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Personal Post: Only The Good Die Young (The Importance of Being Decent) For Kaestner and Mikhail

I'm sitting here trying to figure if this is for you or if this is just so I can get these thoughts out. I don't have a problem with them per se, I just think I have something to say but no one in particular to say it to. 

Last Sunday a friend of mine got into a car accident. That same day another friend of mine died from a different car accident. A year ago on this very day, my friend died in a car accident. A lot of car accidents, a lot less friends. None of these were friends I knew very well. Nice guys, always made me laugh, never had a bad thought about them. Didn't know them well enough to. And yet, I'm broken up about them simply cause, in no truer words, it's a damn shame. It's a damn shame when people who are decent, kind, level headed, people who are... well, good, have to go. 

The thing about being decent is, it's the least one can do, and it means so much. No one's asking you to be good, grand or great, just decent. Being decent is taking the moment to do something that is of no gain to you, but no particular cost either. If there's ever a moment where you can give someone the gift of treating them nicely, even though you have no obligation to, why would you not? Does it hurt you? Sure, people have bad days, and you don't have to be Mr. Rogers every day of the year, but if you're not having a bad day, think about how a simple act of pleasantry and kindness can make all the difference in the world to someone who is. That's who these people were.

I'm not a religious person, and if I were, I doubt I'd presume to know the plan. I just wonder if there is one. I wonder why, and if there isn't a why, why not? I don't have the answers. All I know is there are two mothers left without sons today. Sons that were my age if not a year or two older. I think of my mother and perish the thought of what it would do to her. I haven't always been the safest driver. The first time I got behind the wheel I popped two tyres. Recently though, I've been more conscious of what I've been doing. I realize it's not just my life I'm messing with. Plus, i'm just too busy to die now. 

When I think about all this, I remind myself that in truth, there's a lot that I have to be thankful for. I'm thankful that I have a platform to express my thoughts on film to whomever will listen. I'm thankful for those who love and support me. I'm thankful that with each day that passes, I got to see it. Today a lot of my friends are in mourning, and that's their right. For myself, I'll remember my friends the way I knew them, and hope I can do for others what they did for me. I'll hope that I can carry on their legacy of decency, and bring just a little bit of kind to any man, woman or child who might need it.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' Review (2015): Fickle Finale

Another one bites the dust. Yet another YA novel franchise reaches its ultimate conclusion. I say ultimate because technically this film had an ending to its ending. Yes this is another adaptation that took it upon itself to split the final part of its saga into two films, part I and part II. Of course, this was done because the story was just too epic to be told in the standard 120 minutes. It wasn't done because making the split gives you two box office debuts to draw from, and it certainly wasn't done because the part I will inevitably end with a cliff-hanger which would act as a beacon to fans like moths to a girl on fire. Sarcasm aside, the idea that taking apart a narrative that was intended as one whole, doesn't seem like the best strategy for quality storytelling.

Of course, since this film is 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2', it already has the added ‘umph’ of a finale to make it more worthwhile than its immediate predecessor, which ultimately felt like a set up for the payoff that is this film. At least that's the intent. The story picks up immediately where the last film left off and sort of feels like it experienced a year-long intermission. Peeta has rejoined our cast of rebels and the fight must continue on against the evil oppressive capitol. This time, in place of an actual ceremony, the de facto Hunger Games is in the form of a series of booby traps set in the path of our valiant heroes. Along the way there are betrayals, twists, and of course a love triangle to top it all off.

Team Peeta? Team Gale? Team Indifference.

The first third of this movie is very slow. Everything that was part 1 of Mockingjay is present in these scenes. There's a lot of speech making, propaganda filming and decision making that isn't so much boring as it is mind numbing. Don't get me wrong, watching the development of a large scale rebellion from an underground bunker COULD be interesting, but the fact is, these scenes are largely ineffective.  The trouble is, we as an audience are told time and time again how important Katniss is to the rebellion. The people's champion. The spark that ignites the flame to burn the Capitol to the ground. But that's the thing, we're TOLD that. We're never shown how effective she actually is, and there's never really any sense of the outside world. Everything in this movie feels like it occurs in a vacuum when it should feel like the stakes are raised. 

In fact, there's actually a scene where the movie itself recognizes this. Towards the end of the first act, Katniss asks the character of Joanna "Why do you hate me?", Joanna gives her a response that essentially voices the franchise's harshest critics, mentioning that Katniss herself is hard to swallow and references the trite love triangle that plagues this series. It's even more blatant when Katniss makes a decision that shifts the focus of the plot to something more focused and action oriented, an all-out assassination of series baddie President Snow. Joanna, along with the audience replies "That's more like it".

Pointing out your movie's flaws doesn't excuse them, it just draws attention to them.

The second act does indeed pick up. As I mentioned before, the Hunger Game in this film is essentially the booby trapped streets of the Capitol. Mechanisms called pods are put into place that release deadly traps throughout the city. This is actually where the film is most interesting. The characters come across these traps as they make their way closer to the heart of their opponent. The springing of these traps are filmed like a horror movie almost, with each springing feeling like a jump scare of sorts. There are even moments where the frame suggests a jump is coming, and it's the expectation that scares you more than the jump itself. 

Aside from that, the action is filmed superbly. The fight scenes are tense, coherent and engaging. It definitely gets your blood pumping as the film is very good and making you feel the danger the character's face. The pace is good in that regard as the film never lets their characters stay in one place for too long, and doesn't feel as though there are any wasted scenes after that first act. 

All the wasted scenes were shot last year.

This being the end of the series there are a few tropes that come along with finales. There is an epilogue for example that gives you an idea of the characters after the conflict is over. The way to do something like that well is to not make it too abstract and focus it on characters that are worth the added script pages. Thankfully though, Mockingjay Part 2 hits all the emotional beats it tries to hit. Even with regards to the resolution of the conflict, the movie is successful. Although you don't need to be a film major to anticipate the pivotal moment, it was still tense. One of those moments where knowing what was going to happen didn't soften the blow.

This movie isn't perfect. It has a first act that drags, and there are few moments that bugged me that were just personal preference really…just things that would've made the decent moments great ones. Truth be told, film is well put together. The second half is exciting and nerve wracking yes, and the actors do a good job in the roles they've known for the last 3 years. However, the same things that bog down the rest of this franchise are present in this movie, but I suppose that's par for the course at this point. Fans of the series will be satisfied and will go to see it no matter what. I wouldn't consider myself a fan of this franchise, but I did enjoy myself regardless.

A.N.R = 7.0/10

Thanks for reading and if you want you can leave your thoughts about this movie and the franchise in general in the comments below. We also recorded our thoughts on the franchise recently in the latest episode of Take 4. You can listen to that here:

Sunday, 8 November 2015

'Steve Jobs' Review (2015): Sorkin Overload

Every great filmmaker has a signature style to identify them. They might dabble between different genres and mediums, but at the core of it, the audience is able to say "That felt like one of theirs". Some are easier to pick up on than others but nevertheless the song remains the same. Aaron Sorkin is one such artist. Give that man an office, some hallways and a few deeply flawed characters and you'll have a "talkie" in every sense of the word. His dialogue is so recognizable that fans of his work can suss out the specific lines he's used in various projects. As Sorkin was the mastermind behind the last big biopic to come out of Silicon Valley, it seemed only fitting that he be the one to peg a Steve Jobs film.

God complexes are Sorkin's forte

A Sorkin film this most certainly is. At this point it's impossible to not have at least some idea who Steve Jobs was. There's already been a biopic with Ashton Kutcher, a documentary and a best-selling biography. Steve Jobs is not an unknown property, so the "Untold Story" aspect of this biopic wasn't exactly at the focus. Instead, the movie actually takes an interesting (?) direction with the way it's set up. Essentially, the film shows you 3 days in Steve's life with a few flashbacks here and there. Each of those three days takes place in a different year, one in '84, one in '88, and one in '98. Each are also centred on a particular product launch. Namely, The Macintosh, The NeXTcube and The iMac.

Because it was structured this way, 'Steve Jobs' always feels like it's in a state of panic. Every scene you watch is in anticipation of an event that you never really see. You see Steve prepare to unveil what he calls the next revolution in not just computing, but human connection, however, you never actually see the unveiling. This helps to move the film along at a breakneck speed, mostly because the characters can't afford to slow down. 

I suddenly want to see a Sorkin remake of 'Speed'

The trouble is, choosing this way to structure the film also makes it feel like an extreme exaggeration. At each event, Steve has confrontations with each of the same people in his life. Steve Wozniak, played by Seth Rogen, John Scully, played by Jeff Daniels, Andy Hertzfeld, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, his daughter Lisa at various stages of her life, and Lisa's mother, Jobs' ex-girlfriend Chris-Ann Brennan played by Katherine Waterston. To think that at each of his product launches the same 5 people were present, is improbable and takes away from the immersion of the film. It feels like a forced ensemble cast of characters for Steve to bounce off of as he walks from room to room and ultimately feels a little hollow.

That being said, once you let go of any misgivings you might have, the movie does entertain. As I said the movie has zero pacing problems as Sorkin often doesn't, and you do get swept up in the majesty that is Steve Jobs as you watch. The dialogue is filled with technical jargon but it all makes sense to the laymen, much like Apple products themselves. As a script goes, it's snappy, it's fun, it's a good script. It also has its fair share of heart to it. Because the movie is so briskly paced, it doesn't often slow down to deal with that heart, but when it does, it hits pretty well and that's more than helped by the stellar cast.

Fassbender is an excellent Steve Jobs. He pulls off the 
dissociated, socially inappropriate genius well and gives a really well balanced performance. The voice, the mannerisms, the micro expressions. His unrelenting hubris with just a hint of humanity. All of it is here and Fassbender is fasstastic. You get a sense of Steve's person as the film wants to present, which might be a little undefined but I think that might've been the point. The film basically at the end makes no apologies for Jobs' behaviour but doesn't endorse it either. It essentially says people are complicated and can't really be categorized.

And that all he needed was a hug *hugs*

Everyone else here is great and Sorkin's script helps to keep them all feeling like necessary parts of this whole. The real stand out is of course Seth Rogen's Steve Wozniak. Rogen who is most famously known for comedic roles, doesn't just do well as a comedian, he does well as an actor. You get the relationship that Wozniak and Jobs share based on their strong history, and the pain that can bring. The two can talk as old friends in one moment and then be in a shouting match in the next. He and Fassbender both make you forget who they are under the wardrobe and make-up, which is a feat for any big name actor.

The film doesn't go for photo realism, or realism of any kind, but it nonetheless convinces you of it's worth

As I said, 'Steve Jobs' is an entertaining film, and it has it's heartfelt moments, but a lot of it does feel like something is missing. Because of the way it's structured you feel like you're always preparing for something that never comes. By the time you've figured out what's going on, the movie pretty much ends. It's not as impactful as 'Social Network' and ultimately feels like a tech demo of a film, but like, a really impressive one with flashing lights.

A.N.R = 8/10
Thanks for reading and as always you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. If you want to hear what the rest of the Take 4 crew thought of the movie you can listen to their thoughts here:

Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Spectre' Review (2015): James Bland

James Bond films are somewhat event cinema. With a history that dates back to 1962, the series has developed success both critically and commercially, and the following that comes with it. More than that, the series has developed to the point where it has essentially become its own genre, with its own cliches and tropes. You need the car, the gadgets, the monologuing villain, Q, M, and of course, the Bond girl. He's gotta introduce himself like he's in a job interview. He's gotta order a drink to be shaken, not stirred. These are the things that make up a Bond movie. So essential are these elements that to not include them sounds like sacrilige. The problem is, at a certain point making a James Bond movie stops being a labour of love and feels more like a shopping list. A movie made of a checklist of prerequisites that doesn't so much entertain is it does qualify.

With 'Spectre' it seems to be a little of both. The film kicks off with the usual opener, Bond on a mission, but this time it's set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. The scene shows Bond covering up a loose end of Judi Dench's M, which of course leads him into the main story. However, Bond has become somewhat a liability for his boss, Ralph Fiennes M. So of course, Bond pulls an Ethan Hunt and decides to go rogue with the aid of Ben Whishaw's Q. With a brand new tricked out Aston Martin, more suits than you can count and a gleam in his eye, Bond sets off on a mission of his own, and tries to uncover the sinister plot that thickens in a somewhat convoluted form.

Imagine if the Spectre octopus just inked all over the script.

See, it's not that the story of  'Spectre' is bad per se, it's just that the execution of some of its plot points is distractingly poor. The things which move Bond along from point A to point B sometimes don't feel very organic. Since this is the first time the organization Spectre has been at the filmmaker's disposal, there's a very glaring effort to tie it in with the rest of the Craig Bond films. What you end up getting is a retcon of sorts, that only ended up being confusing.

However, these sticky moments aside, I actually did like the main plot of Spectre. The mission itself is a fun one and takes the film to wide range of locations that gives it a sense of global threat. Bond spends time in Mexico City, Rome, Austria,Morocco and of course London. This makes the movie feel like its constantly evolving in scale but the mission never loses its sense of secrecy. For all of the sticky moments there are quite a few fun ones. Ones that focus on the just how much of a ride the James Bond films can be. Craig is his least Craig in this film and feels more like the swinging one liner slinging Bond of eras past, but still retains his ice cold demeanour.

And not just because he's running around in the snow.

Aside from that the movie's action is, well, not great. In the sense that it's a mixed bag of set pieces. There's the initial car chase between Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx which is expertly shot & edited, but devoid of tension. There's the opening scene with a helicopter that has more loops than a vine and feels like part of it was shot on a sound stage. But then there's the car chase which involves a plane barreling down the Austrian mountains and the fight scene which moves from one end of a train to the next. There are more set pieces that I liked than didn't, but from a film franchise known for setting the bar of what can be done with stuntwork, particularly that of the vehicular variety, I was somewhat disappointed to say the least.

One thing that 'Spectre' has going for it, is its cast. As I said, Craig is a different Bond this time and evolves his performance naturally, but aside from him you have Dave Bautista of Guardians of the Galaxy fame playing Mr. Hinx. Mr. Hinx joins the esteemed club of Bond henchmen past with the likes of Oddjob and Jaws. His thing is implanted razor sharp thumbnails used to gouge out his enemies' eyes. Charming. With the little you see him, his presence definitely threatens, mainly because Dave Bautista is built like a house but also the fact that he only says one word in the entire film speaks to his gravitas.

Aside from that the returning cast all settle into their roles organically. Q, M, and Naomie Harris' Moneypenny make that first 1/3 of the film feel like this is a Bond film that fits with traditional Bond structure marvelously. Newcomers Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott all do well in their roles, no matter how undefined their roles may be. Waltz in particular is a definite standout, the only problem is you don't see enough of him really, which would have been fine, except when he's not on screen you kind of forget that he's supposed to be the driving force of this film.

Metaphorically speaking of course.

I should close out by saying that, this is by no means a bad film. It's very well put together, some of the shot composition and cinematography are just awe inspiring. The score is brilliantly executed and all in all I did like the movie more than I didn't. The problem is it just doesn't reach the mark of a great movie. As it stands I can't say that I wouldn't recommend you go to see it in theatres, it's definitely worth a watch, but I wouldn't exactly say you should rush to catch it on the big screen. For a movie that's supposed to be somewhat of a worldwide event, and a great spy movie, it somehow ranks at not even the best spy film of this year alone.

A.N.R = 7.5/10

Thanks for reading and as always you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. If you want to hear what the rest of the Take 4 crew thought of the movie you can listen to their thoughts here:

Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Goosebumps' Review (2015): Go Read a Book

The films we see today are usually based on some other medium; whether it be comics, a TV show or based on the novel Push by Sapphire. Regardless, these films are the ones that get put under the closest scrutiny as fans of the original source material automatically rally behind that age old battle cry, "the book was better". Trouble is though, I'm not sure we should be comparing the two. Yes, the film adaptation takes its cues from the book but a true adaptation should be celebrated in its differences. We should look to the film version to see what it did differently and why it worked for the change in medium. Not only that, why would you want to have the same thing twice? That seems to be a set up for disappointment because no adaptation is ever going to match the imagery of your own imagination.

'Goosebumps' tries to circumvent that mess of fan expectation by not adapting just one of R.L Stine's classics, but instead crafts a subpar picture about the 'Goosebumps' craze. Main character Zach is a city boy who has trouble adjusting to his new small town life. Thankfully though, Zach has a bonafide Sam Raimi Spider-Man, girl next door, love story in cute girl next door Hannah. After Zach assumes Hannah's father is a danger to her, he sneaks into their creepy house and accidentally knocks down what seem to be harmless manuscripts for old 'Goosebumps' novels. However, once these are opened, the monster within the story is unleashed to wreak havoc on the unassuming population. One thing leads to another and soon our heroes must set aside their differences and band together to defeat the evils of when fantasy becomes reality.

The stories are alive but the script isn't.

If only the movie could have reached that point sooner. By the time the movie kicks off with the conflict you're introduced to one annoying side character after another, each one with their own zany type of "humour" that goes from being mildly annoying to groan inducing. It's not so much that 'Goosebumps' isn't funny, it just doesn't have very many jokes. What it has is one note characters that give you the same joke, just with a different set of parts to it. The film always wants to make sure you get the joke by hammering you over the head with it repeatedly.

Sometimes it feels like an actual hammer

I know that not many people like him, but thank God for Jack Black. He's the only thing in this movie worth a damn. His devotion to an Orson Wellian R.L Stine is fun to watch. Essentially Black gives a charismatic villain-like performance as one of the movies heroes. The only drawback to watching him is that every time he's away from the screen (which is quite a bit since he's just a supporting role) all the other scenes go back to feeling ho hum. However, since some of the monsters in the film do have his voice, seeing as they were creations of his character, Black's presence is felt even when he himself is absent.

Perfect metaphor for how well Black stands out

At times, 'Goosebumps' feels like it's trying to be a movie that pays homage to classic horror tropes and cliches. Sort of a 'Cabin in the Woods' for kids, which is perfectly fine and sounds like a great movie. The trouble is, it doesn't really have that essence of fright that you'd expect. You don't get anything scarier than say your average Mystery Inc. villain. This is partially because the CG models for the creatures never convinces you, and the lead actors feel like they're playing off of a green screen. You're never engaged in the scene that you're presented. Not only that but the score is abominable. It's done by Danny Elfman who you'd think would be perfect for this given his work on Tim Burton movies, but all the bad parts of Elfman are here and it almost feels like a parody of his discography.

While every R.L. Stine novel has the potential for it's own adaptation, there is a certain level of ingenuity to how the story is approached. However the creativity seems to stop there as 'Goosebumps' is a film that fails to hit the marks it tries for. Its attempts at humour are awkward at best, and there aren't any true frights here to speak of. Instead, what you're left with is a 100 minute movie that starts you off with a good idea but only manages to bore and disappoint you. Sure, kids will like it, as the ones in my theatre did, but there are literally one or two scenes that made me laugh and one or two scenes that might scare you. Other than that you're just gonna be wondering when the credits will roll.

A.N.R 4/10

You can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below and be sure to listen to the Take 4 episode on MOVIE MONSTERS posted right here:

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

'Bridge of Spies' Review (2015): I Spy A Damn Good Movie

How long should a movie career last? The best filmmakers typically, after a long enough run in hollywood, build a quality body of work that people revere. The trouble is, after too long, filmmakers tend to lose their resolve. Suddenly the directors that people loved will become the butt of the joke. Rather than revered they get ridiculed as the old fogey who can't seem to admit that they're out of touch. Audiences determine this, but then again, sometimes the audience isn't so right. This year alone we've seen the renaissance of visionaries like Robert Zemeckis and Ridley Scott. Both had been regarded as stuck in the shadow of their own success, and yet, they proved that they still had something to say at the movies.

Spielberg himself furthers that trend with 'Bridge of Spies'. Based on a true story, the movie takes place in the late 50s, early 60s, and follows the story of Jim Donovan, played by Tom Hanks. Donovan is an insurance lawyer and a pretty good one too. So good in fact, that when the US government captures a Soviet spy on their soil, Donovan is tasked with providing him with a defence to show he's had due process. Suddenly, he's thrust into a world of international nuclear relations as he becomes the only man in America with the misfortune of defending a cold war combatant. What follows is a legal drama mixed with a spy thriller that charms, excites and just plain entertains.


The premise itself is interesting, but it's even more so with this particular main character. Jim Donovan essentially takes on the worst job for an attorney with an unwinnable case. In fact, the whole point is to lose but that's not a very fun movie. Instead, Jim is a man who stands for what he believes in, makes speeches about the American constitution and fights anyone who tells him to stand down (he's essentially playing Denzel in 'Philadelphia'). He stubbornly takes the hard way and is willing to make his own life miserable to do the right thing by his client, so of course they got Tom Hanks to play the part. Tom Hanks is like that in real life.

It's like Captain America grew up to be a scout leader.

The spy in question is Rudolph Abel, played by Mark Rylance. The entire film is impeccably acted on all fronts, but the heart of it comes from the interaction of Abel and Donovan. As the two get to know one another, you get a sense of why Donovan fights so hard for this man's well being, which is essential for this movie to work. You have to truly understand why Donovan would still keep his resolve after threats to his job, his family and even his life unfold. Both Hanks and Rylance do wonders with these scenes, and really drive the entire film.

Something to note about this movie, it's very quiet. Although Spielberg is known for score heavy pictures, there's not a single note played until 20 minutes into the film. A lot of that is due to the fact that the bulk of this film is a series of conversations. So thank God that those conversations aren't dull and wooden. The dialogue in this is actually quite remarkable. Every line of dialogue fits the character that speaks it, and it has a naturalistic style to it. People talk over one another and repeat things for special emphasis. It's also wickedly funny at times. It's no surprise that it's good seeing as this is not just a Spielberg picture, but it's also a Coen brothers script, which is sort of like a cinematic Reese's if you ask me.

Those Reese's' would be Pieces, naturally.

With a movie that's so dependent on dialogue, it's a wonder that this movie never feels as though it drags. It's even more of a wonder when you realise it's 141 minutes long. The dialogue doesn't move at a breakneck speed like a Sorkin script, it takes its time to tell the story. There are actually a few moments in here which are just brilliant transitions. One in particular is after the first court hearing of Abel when everyone is told to rise as the judge enters the courtroom. Right as "all rise" is said, the camera cuts to a classroom where children are saying the national pledge, perfectly contextualising the case in its importance to the protection American ideology. Moments like that are everywhere in this film and keep the viewers attention, where a lesser filmmaker would've had you checking your watch.

Has he made the Gettysburg address yet? No? ZzzzZZZzzzzZZZ

Simply put, 'Bridge of Spies' is just really well put together. It's a movie that has a truly interesting central plot, dialogue that engages, actors that know how to use it, a strong sense of character and moments to be remembered. It's a classic story of a man who get greatness thrust upon him and must persevere in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. Such odds were unknown to me prior to watching and of course fascinated me with how complex things actually got. To say that I had a good time watching 'Bridge of Spies' is an understatement. The movie that put Tom Hanks at the centre of US/Soviet relations already had my interest, but it by far exceeded my expectations.

A.N.R = 9.4/10

Thanks for reading, you can let me know what you thought of the movie in the comments below. You can also check out my podcast Take 4, and subscribe to us on iTunes. We're doing a month of horror right now and our most recent episode talked about Creature Features and Monster movies:

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

'The Walk' Review (2015): Impossibly Good

Film-making is all about illusion. Every year people spend their hard earned time and money to sit in a dark room where they're told to be quiet, all so they can watch the wool being pulled over their eyes. The actors pretend to be someone they're not, and the camera tricks you into thinking you're in another universe. It's a pretense through and through and despite this, we still go. Of course we go. Because not so deep down, we're willing to suspend our disbelief, and submit ourselves to be transported, for a just a moment, to a place of wonder. That's why we get so riled up over movies. We know how we feel when that illusion works, and it's a disappointing shame when we're robbed of that opportunity.

'The Walk' performs one of the greatest illusions of the last decade. The movie tells the tale of Philippe Petit, a frenchman with a fascination with tightrope walking. Played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Philippe's fascination is not that of the typical circus artist. While most performers are generally content with a consistent audience, Phillipe has bigger aspirations. Much bigger. From his introduction to tightrope walking at 8 years old, to his development as a money making street performer, 'The Walk' chronicles the life of Phillipe Petit, as he prepares to, illegally, walk between the Twin Towers. The then tallest structure in the world. 


Thursday, 1 October 2015

'The Martian' Review (2015): Cast Away In Spaaaaace

Ridley Scott is an interesting director to say the least. While his beginnings of 'Alien' and 'Blade Runner' cemented him as a sci-fi great, Scott's curriculum vitae is as broad as the xenomorph's skull. He's done a war film in 'Black Hawk Down', a gangster movie in 'American Gangster', historical epics through 'Gladiator' and 'Kingdom of Heaven' and even a political thriller in 'Body of Lies'. Whether or not you're a fan of Scott's, you have to admit that's quite a feat. Despite that, he is still very much regarded as a sci-fi director, and that's probably because that's where his best films come from. Recent years however, Scott has had more misses than hits. Even returning to the franchise that introduced him to the world in 'Prometheus' had mixed reactions at best. Whenever this happens, it's only a matter of time until a director's prestige isn't enough to let him get off scot-free.

Wait that's his production company? HE'S BEEN PLANNING THIS THE WHOLE TIME

Thursday, 24 September 2015

'Sicario' Review (2015): Cops and Cartels

Television will often portray officers and detectives as the ideal of law enforcement. Aside from more recent shows like 'The Wire' and 'Chicago P.D', cops for decades were presented as good natured men and women in trench-coats, intimately involved with the cases that come to their desk that get solved at the end of each episode. But whereas the corrupt cop is the exception in the land of tv, film takes the opposite approach. Dirty Harry looks for the excuse to pull his gun, Alonzo Harris runs drugs in L.A, and most recently, the feds in 'Black Mass' were actively involved in the goings on of a criminal organization! It's safe to say that when it comes to law enforcement in film, you can expect a few morally questionable individuals to be in the mix. Of course, that's what makes them so good. You take what is supposed to be an institution for the protection of the people and you perverse it. The trouble is, if every representation of a thing is similarly contrary, how the hell do you stand out?

Simple, take a white British actor as an american trying to make a difference in a drug system dominated by other ethniciti- oh that's 'The Wire' isn't it.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

'Black Mass' Review (2015): Strictly Criminal

Crime films are quite possibly the most conflicted genre of cinema. Here you have films that depict the most gratuitous acts of violence, moral depravity and disregard for the rules that society has agreed to align themselves by. Their charactes use foul language and more or less depict psychopathic tendencies. This is a genre that takes it's cues from the villains perspective. Yet, for every misjudged act of hyperbolic violence, the audience never seems unnerved. The reason is, mob movies, like the western before it, present these heinous personalities within the context of something that makes all the things that are inherently wrong right. A code. Characters in mob films live by a sense of honour, and presenting that as a central theme in the film makes the story you're watching feel as if it exists in a state of ordered chaos. After all, in the words of the immortal philosopher Omar Little, a man must have a code.

A man of principles

Thursday, 10 September 2015

'The Perfect Guy' (2015) Review: Evil Ealy

Stalker movies are a special breed of horror. While most horror films take a supernatural element and then go from there, stalkers tend to be less fantastic. Sure you have slashers like Halloween and Friday the 13th, but those always end up morphing into supernatural horror anyway. Strictly speaking, a stalker is the scariest thing you could put in a film that relies solely on the horrors of the known world. 

The idea of a crazed obsession that escalates to homicidal rage is not only scary but somewhat relatable. We've all been witness to a show of affection that rests on the thin line between intensely charming and massively unsettling. Stalker films that focus on that thin line have the potential to be a commentary on how a solitary act is socially acceptable in one context but deplorable in another.

'The Perfect Guy' kind of does that, but is mostly a loud thriller. As the title suggests, 'The Perfect Guy' focuses on that old cliché of the man that fits virtually every heterosexual woman's checklist, otherwise known as 'Prince Charming'. The woman in this story is 'Leah Vaughn' played by Sanaa Lathan. After breaking up with her boyfriend Dave, played by Morris Chestnut, Leah finds herself involved with the infinitely charming Carter Duncan, played by Michael Ealy. Carter seems to be a flawless fellow, until about a third way through the film when Leah realises, Carter is not who she thinks he is. 

All the good men are gay, taken or psychotic.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

'Transporter: Refueled' Review (2015): Running On Empty.

This summer saw quite a few fourth and fifth franchise iterations. There was 'Jurassic World', the spiritual sequel to the original 1993 epic, but still the fourth film in the series. 'Mad Max: Fury Road' saw the return of a franchise long thought dead, and even 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation' brought back a Tom Cruise that most believed to be past his prime, for the second time in a row. Typically a franchise tends to lose steam after the third film, but in the age where the seventh 'Fast & Furious' film was the #3 movie at the world wide box office, that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. They're also doing well critically. Both 'Rogue Nation', and 'Fury Road' have received great praise so far this year standing at 93 and 97 percent respectively on Rotten Tomatoes. No longer is it easy to write off a franchise that goes beyond the standard trilogy, as the viewer might just be walking into something marvelous that they didn't expect to.

Immensely, 'Transporter: Refueled' is not that. In fact, the only thing unexpected about the film is just how bad it can get. After 3 films starring Jason Statham, a critical and commercial failure of a television series, the Transporter returns with Ed Skrein at the helm. He plays the same character as Statham, Frank Martin, and his role is the exact same. I never much got into the 'Transporter' series, mostly because the description alone bored me. He's a very well established courier, who fights real good, and drives pretty quick.

The deal never changes and neither does this franchise. Still boring.

The movie opens in a style that settles your expectations for the movie. A van drives up in a shady part of town and a couple of Russian gang members establish themselves as the criminals that now control the area, running a prostitution ring. The gang members are more criminal caricatures than characters. Radivoje Bukvic plays main bad guy 'Arkady Karasov', whose only character trait in the scene and in the whole movie is that he's Russian and angry. After he creepily recruits Loan Chabanol's 'Anna', the movie jumps 15 years later and Anna is out for revenge. She hires the Transporter to move a package, and when it's revealed that she intends to use the transporter to help her dismantle Arkady's whole organization, he's unable to say no as Anna has Trasporter senior, played by Ray Stevenson, held hostage. What follows is a mess of car chases, choppy fight scenes, wooden dialogue and the year's most improbable action in a summer where 'Hitman: Agent 47' exists.

This was a much better "Man who kills drives Audi" movie

This is usually where I get into what parts of the movie were bad or good, but seeing as there was mostly bad, it's just a matter of choosing something to start with. First off, the dialogue in this movie is absolutely atrocious. I can't think of a single witty line, or clever turn of phrase in this film to make it memorable. Part of what makes bad action movies so good is when the characters themselves charm you into forgiving the film's faults. But 'Transporter: Refueled' does nothing to help its overall mediocrity. Cheesy lines are one thing, but when your lines are also boring, that's when you have a real problem. There are even points in the film where the general audience member can predict just what the characters are going to say next. There's absolutely nothing new brought to the table with Refueled.

As bad as the dialogue is, wooden words can be saved by a charming cast. There's absolutely nothing charming about this cast. Their roles are paint by numbers at best. 'Anna' is a prostitute out for revenge, 'Arkady' is a crime lord with an ego, and even the Transporter is an anti-hero who can't help but do the right thing. The movie tries to play with its cookie cutter composition in a few scenes (Frank is referred to as a new age John Wayne type) but instead of coming off as clever, they simply highlight the movie's sins. I can't really blame the cast for being unwatchable, because when the characters are this poorly developed, it's difficult for any performance to seem endearing. The only one with any sort of charisma to him is Ray Stevenson as Frank Sr. His character is nothing new, just a silver fox with a blooming pension, but that character is fun to watch when he's on.

Aside from being boring, the movie also seems to think its audience is as unintelligent as it is.The dialogue is heavy on exposition and the worst type of exposition, repetition. About 12 minutes after that opening scene, which establishes the faces of our main antagonists, the movie shows what these characters are up to 15 years later. Except, the movie decides you probably fell asleep after the first 5 minutes, and proceeds to show you flashbacks of the exact same opening footage in black and white. Granted the main antagonist has a hair cut now, but I don't recall having to go up to a friend with a picture of what I looked like last week every time I go to the barber.

Of course going bald was a different story...

It also doesn't help that there's zero tension in the movie. Ed Skrein's performance suffers since his character is smirking the entire time. Every attempt to inject tension just ends up falling flat since the audience can see right through the facade the movie is trying for. It might help if the villain himself was engaged in the plot at all, but because Anna's plan is unexpected by him, he spends the movie going "Huh? What? Someone stole money from my account?" This makes it all the more apparent that there's not a chance in the world that their plan won't go through. Not to mention Frank's car doesn't receive a scratch in this movie. Of course, with the way the Audi was shot in this film, I'm not surprised. Never have I seen such product placement be so integral to a film in such a shoddy way. Frank will actually go on about the features of his new car as the camera lovingly pans over the Audi logo niiiice and smooooth, so that in reality, we're watching a 93 minute Audi commercial

Pictured: A scene from the movie. Not. A. Scratch.

Of course the action saved the movie right? Well, no, not really. The chase scenes are poorly shot and choreographed, and the scenes do nothing but lose momentum as they meander along. Pacing is a real problem in this movie that runs for only 96 minutes but feels like 130. I can't remember the last time I checked my watch as much as I did in this movie. Pacing aside, there was just a problem with spacing in this movie. It has an over reliance on close up shots and doesn't let the frame tell the story as it unfolds. This forces the camera to move erratically as it tries to keep up with the action. It got to the point where I wanted to scream "GET YOUR FINGER OFF THE ZOOM" but stopped myself, because I realized I just didn't care anymore. There are a few scenes that come off as unpopped kernels of something clever, but they never do more than disappoint you.

You know that feeling you get when you look into your popcorn bag and it's just a bunch of seeds? That's the movie.

And that's all Transporter will do is disappoint you. Even if you had the lowest of expectations, the movie won't even match that. Yeah it's entertaining to laugh at how bad it is, and if you look at it as a parody of modern day action films then it's probably brilliant, but even having said that, I can't recommend it to anyone. It's not a bad film that I would say you should see like 'Fantastic Four', it's a bad film that I would ask you "Why are you wasting your time with this, go read a book" and books are for nerds, man.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 1/10

Side Note: This plot is exactly the same as 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. The female protagonist takes it upon herself to take the female concubines of the antagonist away from him, whilst using the skills of the titular male protagonist who isn't really more that just the driving force of the film. Also it's the fourth in the franchise and for the third act, they have to go back to where they started. The only difference is 'Transporter: Refueled' sucks, and I'm about to watch 'Mad Max: Fury Road' again.

Thanks for reading and go listen to the latest episode of the Take 4 podcast, released this and every Sunday:

Saturday, 22 August 2015

CINEMA COSPLAY: Episode 1 (Hitman: Agent 47)

This past weekend the Take 4 crew started a new endeavor called Cinema Cosplay. A little backstory though. For the last few years or so I've been taking it upon myself to dress up for whatever movie I go to. Usually it's to match one of the characters on screen. For instance, if I'm going to see a Matrix movie? Black leather and cool sunglasses. Wolverine? Leather jacket and white wife beater. Superheroes are generally easier, because it's just a matter of wearing a Batman shirt, but this time I took it just one step further.

Yes, that is me, getting a bald cap put on my head. Since we wanted to do this whole web series thing, we decided 'Hitman: Agent 47 would be the best place to start. You can see the whole process below and the reactions from the unassuming theatre goers at Carib 5, Palace Amusement. Special thanks to the people who made this episode possible like my barber "Bunny" for making me look pretty and Kerry Spencer at Salon Innovations, for giving me the gift of temporary baldness, because once I told my girlfriend I was gonna shave my head...let's just say I might not have had a girlfriend to speak of.

You can always listen to our reviews and podcast episodes on itunes and podbean. This week we gave a review for 'Hitman: Agent 47' and we compared it to the Terminator series. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

'Hitman: Agent 47' Review (2015): Shoot to Thrill

Video game movies are plagued by mediocrity. Every attempt at producing a film based on the interactive art form has done nothing to appease those who say it simply can't be done. The end result is always a half assed attempt to cram every reference to the source material the writers can think of, which does nothing but alienate the fans they're trying to appease. Critics of video game movies will call them cursed for trying to adapt an inferior, juvenile form of entertainment. However, these same critics said the same about comic book movies not too long ago. Now you have 6 comic book movies being produced next year alone. The notion that adapting video games leads to nothing but ruin is as short sighted as it is dismissive. All the genre needs is a 'Dark Knight' or an 'Avengers' to beat the boss of sub par filmmaking so it can reach the next level.

Why yes, I am proud of that metaphor.

That being said, 'Hitman: Agent 47' doesn't break the mold on video game movies but it's definitely one of the better so far. The story that follows is simple enough. In the late 1960s, a secret organization known as The Agency tasks Dr. Litvenko, played by Ciaran Hinds, with human engineering, taking the strongest genes and combining them into super human assassins called hitman agents. Faster, stronger and smarter than regular humans, essentially the Indominous Rexes of the assassin world, with no fear or emotion. After realising that creating human killing machines is...bad, Litvenko, racked by his conscience,  decides to go AWOL so that he may never be forced to use his intellect for evil. When an obviously evil group known as 'Syndicate', and 'The Agency' itself discover that Litvenko left behind a daughter, Katia, both organisations attempt to pursue her in the hopes of capturing Litvenko and bringing a new breed of hitmen into the world.

All of that is explained in the first act of the film, and at quite a brisk pace. What isn't brisk, however, is the entire rest of the first act. The film explains its plot at multiple points and seems to forget that the audience has heard all of this already. Characters retell information to other characters and the audience is forced to sit through the same exposition twice. Exposition on its own is bad enough but when you double down on unnecessary exposition it becomes daunting. It makes the movie feel slow as all hell. Almost as if it's looking at you saying "Hey do you get it? Do you understand? I don't want to move on if all of this isn't clear?" Not to mention it says this with horribly unpolished dialogue, completely wooden and eye roll inducing. Yes movie, I understand your basic plot. You do realise you're based on the same game where this happens.

"I've got a secret recipe...of death"

The only saving grace of this segment is Rupert Friend as Agent 47. After a well shot and very well choreographed opening scene, you're very much looking forward to following this character. Every time he pops up in the first act you breath a sigh of relief, because there's something interesting going on. Rupert Friend captures both the slow methodical patience of an assassin whilst also conveying the fast paced quick thinking of a killer. Zachary Quinto's character John Smith is tasked with protecting Katia by the Syndicate and thus attracts the attention of Agent 47. Smith is generic and flavourless, and his scenes with Katia could've been taken straight out of any script where one character tries to protect another.  In these scenes 47 is played as the villain but he's definitely the audience favourite, simply because, and what a shocker this is, the character names John Smith is just absolutely dull.

The most interesting assassin in the world.

However, after that, the movie completely wakes up. Suddenly you stop watching a hollow action movie and start watching one that definitely does not care about general movie rules. Frankly, the latter is preferred. The characters are inconsistent, which is better than boring, and the dialogue is ridiculous, which is better than wooden. The perfect example of this is Zachary Quinto's character John Smith. It's revealed that his organization 'Syndicate' is actually evil, which, hello?, and once he no longer has to play the good guy protector, Quinto absolutely relishes in his material. He's an enhanced human much like 47 which gives him the ability to go toe to toe with our titular super man, but wheras 47's dialogue is very precise, John Smith is broad and bombastic. The only thing I would've loved for him to do that he didn't get a chance for, is give a big monologuing speech to Agent 47. There are snippets of it but because Quinto is more of a super powered henchman, rather than the head antagonist, it wouldn't really have worked. Which is a shame seeing as Smith's boss is an absentee overlord who's in the movie for all of 10 minutes and since Smith is the antagonist the audience gets to know, it's a missed opportunity on the movies part to make this character more important.

Yeeeeah more evil Quinto! Evil Quinto is my favourite Quinto

The through-line of this movie, is the action. The aforementioned opening action scene sets the stage for the way these scenes will go. 47 is able to predict any eventuality in whatever dangerous situation he's put in. This makes his movements very calculated and the movie puts some very intense work into choreographing these scenes, with gunplay akin to 'John Wick' or 'Equilibrium' with the weapon being an extension of 47's arm. Of course what works for these scenes is tension. 47 is the perfect killing machine, and you never lose a sense of his badassery, but when he has to handle a room full of opponents all aiming for his shiny bald head, you get the sense that he might not make it out alive. The balance between making your character formidable, whilst still creating stakes is fundamental in movies that are heavy on action and 'Hitman: Agent 47' strikes that balance with precision and gusto.

It's also just the way the movie is shot. The action uses shots that are interesting and definitely sell the scenes you're seeing. There are a few moments of hand to hand action where the movie isn't clear in the slightest. Everything is cut very quickly and with heavy emphasis on close ups, but these moments are brief and are surrounded by action scenes that do a good job of establishing scale but also space. Telling you where characters are in relation to each other and using that to create a better idea of the scene in the viewers mind. Not only is the movie cool to watch, it's also just cool to look at. 47 wears a crystal red tie set against a bright white dress shirt and the movie seems to dress that way as well. Colours pop amidst a vivid, almost saturated background and it's not overbearing. Even in scenes shot in the dark, the screen is filled with a greens and blues that make the movie beautiful at moments. 

The movie looks cool, plays cool, owns cool

What also picks up after the first act, is the comedy, but I don't think it's always intentional. 'Hitman' doesn't really handle drama well, unrealistic dialogue tends to do that. Therefore a lot of the scenes in which characters are supposed to be menacing, sincere or revered, come off as laughably so. Then there are scenes that are played for laughs that reeeeeaally work. This is especially due to the interplay between 47 and Katia. Katia is being trained how to survive throughout the film and 47 is a mentor of sorts. Thankfully their relationship never devolves into forced, trite romance and instead takes the road less traveled of the squabbling siblings. This is typically where I'd find an example to convey just how well the movie does it, but with comedy it's always better when you hear the joke from the source.

"I call shotgun!" "I have a firearm." "Your mom has a firearm"

The performances are good across the board, if not exaggerated, but since the movie makes that drastic turn around after the first act, the actors seemed to be playing two different roles.  Rather than choosing to give their character's arcs like most films, the film opts for the sudden right angle. Katia goes from a human deer in headlights to a hyper impatient psychopath, John Smith goes from honourable protector to sneering villain, and 47 goes from emotionless killer to stern teddy bear with a gun. Sure this makes them horribly inconsistent but it's definitely an entertaining technique. Plus, seeing as their motivations remain the same throughout the film, it's easier to swallow. 

As the movie made me laugh I felt like I was forced against my will to like the movie. Its charm was undeniable and it consistently felt as though it was wooing me to enjoy it. It's the same feeling you get when you're mad at someone and even though you want to stay mad, you can't help but crack a smile and say... "aaaah you're all right movie." Is it a great movie? No not by any stretch of the imagination. Its plot is thin, the development is stupid, and the characters are inconsistent. Not to mention that first act truly is a mess. Is it entertaining? Absolutely. It's one of those movies that I'll probably rewatch just because I enjoy myself when I'm watching it. I don't think you should rush out to the theatre to see it, but it's definitely something you can take the time out to watch down the road as the ones you missed of 2015, and you won't be disappointed. 

Arbritray Numerical Rating: 7.2/10

Be sure to check out the audio review and discussion of this movie where me and Nic discuss how 'Hitman: Agent 47' is the best terminator movie in the last 15 years.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

'The Man From U.N.C.L.E' Review (2015) Sleek, Stylish and so so

2015 seems to be the year of the spy. Just last month Ethan Hunt and co. returned to perform their rather difficult assignments, in one of my favourite films of the summer. In as little as 3 months Daniel Craig will don the 007 title for the 4th time, returning to battle the titular organization in 'Spectre'. Even the first major release of the year, way back in February was 'Kingsman: The Secret Service', a film which seemed to pay homage to the films it preceded. In situations like this, it's not unheard of for at least one of the films to suffer comparisons to another, and then be thought of unfavourably. The same happened in 2008 in which a whopping 5 films were superhero based and judged against their peers. As different as 'Hancock' is from 'The Dark Knight' the two would still be discussed under the superhero genre umbrella, despite being completely different. When surrounded by genre competition, a movie has to strive to stand out. Even if any other year it might've been outstanding.

Usually No Competition, Like, Ever

Unfortunately, while it's not terrible, 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E' doesn't quite do that. Based on the 1960's television show of the same name, the movie takes place in the very same swinging decade, and follows the adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Solo, played by Superman is a CIA agent, and Illya, played by Armie Hammer, is a KGB spy. Both are the best their country has to offer, so when an evil organisation threatens the very existence of those countries, the cold war combatants must set aside their differences for the greater good. Along for the ride is daughter of ex-nazi scientist Gaby Teller played by Alicia Vikander, who is the key to stopping worldwide destruction and is under the protection of the two leads.

With all that being said, the premise works as one of the best parts of the movie. The idea of Russia and America working together sounds, as the movie itself laments, like a bad joke, but 'U.N.C.L.E' finds a way to sell the idea to you within its slick sixties backdrop. However, this wouldn't work without the two lead salesmen. Both agents are physical embodiment of their nations ideology and values. Solo is smooth, charismatic and full of bravado, while Illya is stern, structured and short fused. The way they approach everything from women's fashion to espionage is so drastically different, that it helps to cement the sense that this is a far from ideal pairing. The two spend 95% of their screen time bickering and at odds with each other, so much so that they seem to forget the stakes of their mission. Instead of stopping nuclear annihilation, they more or less act as though they're roommates in a wacky sitcom trying to live without killing each other. 


Then again, maybe that's the point, seeing as 'Man from U.N.C.L.E' plays as a very highbrow slapstick comedy. While the film does have its moments, I found a lot of the jokes fell flat for me. It seemed as though a lot of the scenes could have used tightening, whether through the dialogue or just the structure of some of the scenes. As 'Mission Impossible' understands, there's comedy in tension, and in this regard 'Man from U.N.C.L.E' runs like a movie on auto pilot.  Every chase, every fight scene is dull and unexciting, save for a few exceptional moments. This makes the movie feel like a pseudo Tarantino film, that's missing the cleverness that would make this movie reach its utmost potential. 

The movie tries to play with your expectations by giving certain scenes a plot twist. It's not a new technique and it's one that's been used by director Guy Ritchie countless times before. You set up a scene, have it play out and just as it's about the end, one of the character's pulls a Columbo and has just one more thing to say that'll change the game. These moments are probably the film at its very best as it shows the cleverness of its characters. But even where this is concerned, the movie falls apart. The last two scenes that use this technique do a sloppy job that comes across as an editing flaw. Prior moments would play upon your predictions, but the most important of these scenes seem to forget how exactly these scenes work. All the information that would be used for the big twisted reveal is given to you early, and then given to you again in time for the twist. It's almost as if you were given cherry pie for dinner AND dessert. That's just too much cherry pie man. 

Nah you're right philosoraptor. Eat all the pie you want! You've earned it.

As much of a mess as I thought this was, it's a very well made mess. It doesn't take a film major to see that there was real work done on a production level. Everything from the set design, the costumes to the shots in the film, all of that works. Style definitely takes precedence over substance here. A perfect example is in the film's opening scene, which is a game of cat and mouse between Solo and Illya. You get a sense of character, action and smooth operation from the way the scene unfolds. This is actually the moment in which the film works very best, but it never reaches such heights again. That is until the very end of the third act, which has probably my favourite moment in the movie that I won't dare spoil.

As far as everything else, the characters are well constructed and there's a sense that you understand them as the film goes on, no doubt due to the performance by the cast. The villain of the film, played by Elizabeth Debicki is lackluster but serviceable, although her motivations weren't made clear, probably because there's not much for her to do than be a target. I have qualms about the fact that Illya, who is prone to violent outbursts, is the KGB's top man for covert operations, when 9 times out of 10, his temper is the cause of near death situations. Some of the accents come across as silly but that's fine for the tone the movie establishes.  Overall, 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E' comes across as...well your cool uncle. There's not much to him, he's not the most impressive member of the family...but damn does he look cool.

A.N.R = 6.2/10

Thanks for reading and if you want to hear a discussion about more movies based on t.v shows, you check out my podcast discussion on the topic here, and subscribe to the Take 4 podcast on itunes: