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This engrossing biopic from F. Gary Gray looks at the rise and fall of Compton-based rap posse N.W.A, an innovative group pivotal in the emergence of "gangsta rap" in the late eighties. Their music, inspired by the violent L.A. streets they grew up on, caused major controversy due to its advocacy of authority-defying behaviour, and Gray wisely utilises this turbulence as the anchor of the whole movie. Like all true stories, a fair amount of artistic licence has been taken by the filmmakers here, yet the ticking-time-bomb atmosphere and larger than life characters have been captured with an indefatigable energy. It helps that the casting is absolutely spot on; the iconic trio at the forefront of the story Dr Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E are portrayed with charismatic gusto by relative newcomers Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr. and Jason Mitchell. A smattering of soon-to-be-famous rappers (such as Tupac and Snoop Dogg) pop up here and there to emphasise the central role the N.W.A members played within the rap game, but it thankfully stops short of being gimmicky. And then there's the soundtrack. It's obviously amazing, with the famous tracks given extra oomph via multiple concert scenes (where the actors performed in front of real crowds) that are thoroughly captivating. It may not be completely warts-and-all with Dre and Ice Cube producing, however Straight Outta Compton is an enthralling look at a seminal influence on the rap industry.
The boxing sub-genre of sports movies boasts some pretty remarkable motion pictures: Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, Rocky, Cinderella Man, The Hurricane and The Fighter. And whilst Antoine Fuqua's (Training Day, The Equalizer) latest effort doesn't quite reach the top of that pile, it sits comfortably amongst them as a fight flick with tremendous heft. First and foremost though, this is Jake Gyllenhaal's film. His transformation, both physically and mentally, into the emotionally complex pugilist Bobby Hope is a tour de force that, with any justice, will garner him his second Oscar nomination (after 2006's Brokeback Mountain). Even during some of the weaker parts most notably the elongated middle act that meanders intermittently Gyllenhaal's invested performance drives proceedings and commands your attention. Also in the movie's corner is 11-year-old Oona Laurence as Hope's daughter Leila. She's a wonderful sparring partner for Gyllenhaal and their scenes together are authentic, affecting and ultimately the beating heart behind the blood, sweat and tears. Fuqua again presents a world defined by urban grit, with Mauro Fiore's grimy, almost black and white photography combining with a hip-hop soundtrack to generate a tough, street-level atmosphere. The script from Kurt Sutter doesn't elevate the story as much as it could have, with rags-to-riches clichés and predictable plot beats on full display, yet there's a sincerity here that makes it work. Not to mention the fights are gloriously executed, creating an intensity and fierceness that ensures each showdown - especially the climactic match is immersive and adrenaline pumping. Anchored by a riveting central turn and boxing sequences that, umm, pack a real punch, Southpaw is an entertaining and hard-hitting drama that earns its place in the higher echelon of sports films.
Guy Ritchie doesn't do substance. But why bother with a silly little thing like that when you have style to spare. Much like Sherlock Holmes and the cockney-crime films that made him popular, Ritchie's throwback to sixties spy capers (this movie itself is a remake of a TV show from that era) has an energetic visual flair to lap up. Employing split screens, crash zooms, rotating cameras and a gorgeous soft-style lensing, cinematographer John Mathieson proves to be an ideal partner for the frenetic Ritchie, helping him capture the romanticism of Cold War espionage flicks. There are also a handful of exciting set pieces that are superbly choreographed and admirably executed; none better than the invigorating opening chase sequence where our leading trio cross paths for the first time. Balancing between endearing homage with tongue-in-cheek elements and suave thriller with flippant brutality, the zig-zagging tone somehow works too thanks to a lightness throughout although it's now understandable why this film was reportedly so hard to market. Undoubtedly the weakest element is the plot, which is entirely unoriginal and working on the surface level only, yet there's a silver lining: it forces the focus to shift from the narrative to the characters, and gosh darn it these covert agents are fun to hang out with. Henry Cavill is all cocky elegance as American smooth-talker Napoleon Solo, Armie Hammer is gruffly tender as stoic Russian bruiser Illya Kuryakin and Alicia Vikander is enthrallingly enigmatic as intelligent German beauty Gaby Teller. The seesawing tone may put off some, but the classy action and eminently watchable cast made this an immensely entertaining experience that with the door being left open for more will hopefully spawn a sequel or two.
The pair of mid-noughties F4 films are generally accepted as subpar comic-book flicks. Compared to this garbage reboot, however, they are downright masterpieces. Promising young director Josh Trank was handed the keys to this superhero franchise after his blistering debut Chronicle, yet it appears he's not ready for big budgets as he makes a complete and utter meal of it. Stories of on-set quibbles and Trank's uncooperative behaviour have surfaced recently, and the final, woeful result certainly reeks of a movie struggling to be made. There's not a single, solitary redeeming feature to be found; everything from the shocking CGI to the disinterested cast to the appallingly dull origin story is yawn inducing at best. It's difficult to tell what is worse: Trank's uninspired screenplay and his subsequent incompetent direction, or the fact that 20th Century Fox, who interjected months ago, are willing to release a pile of crap just to stick to their date slot. Either way, this remake is going to be a huge blow to both the up-and-coming filmmaker (who has also since lost his gig of helming a Star Wars Anthologies instalment) and the major studio company who clearly can't be trusted to do the F4 brand justice. At least their previous efforts in this series were more kid-friendly than most films in the burgeoning superhero genre, something this remake also fails at thanks to a single sequence with a surprising amount of blood. There really is nothing to recommend in this worthless attempt at movie-making; heck, even the saving-the-world climax feels about as threatening as a kitten attacking a ball of wool. Do yourself a favour and skip this atrocity, unless of course you're just interested to see how dire the worst film of 2015 really is.
I don't care what Tom Cruise's religious beliefs are. I don't care if he acted like a pork chop on Oprah. I don't care if the tabloids love to hate him. The Cruiser is a one-of-a-kind megastar responsible for a consistently excellent output of work since the eighties. Back for his fifth impossible mission at the spritely age of 53, he's showing no signs of slowing down either. The ridiculous pre-credits aircraft stunt, where Cruise hangs on to the side of an Airbus A400 whilst it takes off, attests to that. There's also a thrilling car-and-motorbike sequence (bringing back memories of the awesome Bourne Supremacy car chase) that sees Cruise commit to most of the high-speed driving/riding himself. It's this willingness to go above and beyond, as well as a preference of practical effects over CGI, which imbues Rogue Nation with nail biting tension and non-stop exhilaration. Not as stylish as J.J. Abrams (M:I3) or Brad Bird (M:I4), writer-director Christopher McQuarrie brings a hard-hitting brutality to the screen instead, arguably delivering the most violent entry in the franchise. McQuarrie's script is suitably meaty too, giving the cast plenty to chew on when not performing death defying acts, pummelling each other without remorse or manoeuvring in an assassination showdown. Cruise is reliably sensational as top dog and newcomers Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris are fantastic as, respectively, the femme fatale and unrelenting villain, but Jeremy Renner looks bored and Simon Pegg overeggs it on occasion. With ballsy action scenes that pack a punch and a gritty story to keep you excited, this is definitely worth forking out your hard earned to experience on the big screen.
"The man beyond the myth" reads the tagline for this dramatic take on Baker's Street famous detective, and it couldn't be more accurate. Eschewing the superhuman investigative skills and talent for hand-to-hand combat that modern Sherlock audiences are familiar with, this version instead focuses on an elderly Holmes (Ian McKellan) filled with regret and guilt. Traveling along multiple story lines delicately woven together by screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher Mr. Holmes finds the ex-sleuth pondering his retirement of 35 years, subsequently unravelling an emotional mystery he had long repressed. Although letting the pace slip in the flabby middle section, filmmaker Bill Condon's careful shot construction wisely ensures the attention is firmly on his 76-year-old star, whilst also highlighting the stunning period detail. Condon is aided by the glorious sun-soaked cinematography of Tobias A. Schliessler and a stirring score from Carter Burwell, the two combining to create a delightful, almost celestial atmosphere. Inevitably though, this movie belongs to the one and only Ian McKellan. As a curmudgeonly nonagenarian taking a final stab at redemption, McKellan strikes an impeccable balance between annoying old codger and lovable, heartbroken grump; ultimately delivering a majestic performance to absolutely relish. Those looking for the crime-centric thrills of Cumberbatch's TV Sherlock or the action-packed nature of Downey Jr's big budget Sherlock should be warned: this is as far removed from those incarnations as possible. Those seeking an intelligent, contemplative tale of late-life concerns with a masterful central turn and emotional resonance, you've come to the right place.
Even by comic-book movie standards, a thief who can shrink himself to the size of an insect as well as being able to telepathically control ants is a totally bonkers premise for a blockbuster. As their sensational Guardians of the Galaxy proved, however, Marvel Studios isn't afraid to take left-field ideas and turn them into cinematic gold. It's a shame then, that Ant-Man is more of a mildly diverting setup for phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than a wholly entertaining flick that can stand on its own two legs. It's also arguably the least action-centric Marvel film to date, with barely a punch thrown or weapon fired until the final act, save for an unexpected (and highly enjoyable) scrap between the titular hero and a recognisable face. Where this idiosyncratic heist flick scores big points though, is in the comedy department. With a script worked on by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd, it's hardly surprising to find a tongue-in-cheek tone and a healthy splattering of jokes; Michael Pena's goofy sidekick bagging the biggest laugh with an energetic monologue. On leading man duties, Rudd is eminently lovable as burglar Scott Lang his effortless charm ideal for such a breezy adventure whilst Michael Douglas brings gravitas to mentor Hank Pym. Coming so soon after Terminator: Genisys gave us a decent-looking youthful Arnie, the digitally de-aged Douglas in the opening scene here is scarily good too, with the CGI staying at a top level throughout. Devoid of an interesting villain and largely lacking in thrills, this is somewhat of a missed opportunity in the Marvel universe. Yet with a strong protagonist (who will be superb when thrown into the Avenger mix), a solid gag rate, and a light-hearted mood (resulting in a PG rating), it's an amusing film suitable for the whole family.
Much like Jurassic World last month, judging this reboot against the classics of the franchise (both T1 and T2) is utterly redundant. But does Genisys stand out in the crowded blockbuster season of 2015? Not particularly, however it still serves as a diverting piece of cinematic escapism with a few noteworthy elements to make it recommendable. Director Alan Taylor (Thor 2) knows a thing or two about action and, due to the jumping narrative timeline, gets to unleash an array of melees (all with top notch CGI) set in the 80's, basically-present day, and the apocalyptic future. Some work better than others. The first act showdown with a T-1000 is exciting and playful, whilst the climactic battle against a new form of Terminator displays some ingenuity. On the flip side there's a helicopter chase that is entirely bland and unwarranted, and a Golden Gate Bridge set piece that's not as thrilling as it could have been. Taylor and his writing team wisely settle on a tone somewhere between the overly jokey T3 and the pretentiously serious Salvation; they land a few key gags without overdoing it. Yet in their attempt to restart the series without excluding anything that has come before, a la J.J. Abrams' Star Trek they have crafted a ludicrously convoluted story rife with internal logic issues. Arnie returns to the mix with a much better performance than what he gave in T3, whilst Emilia Clarke is solid as the badass Sarah Connor and Jason Clarke impresses as a more mysterious John Connor. Conversely, Jai Courtney's intense turn as Kyle Reese is a tad overcooked and J.K. Simmons rocks up in a superfluous minor role that wastes his immense talent. An 80's-era Arnie also gets a look in with a couple of fights in the opening act which, although not mind-blowing, demonstrate just how close we are to completely photo-realistic computer generated humans. Genisys is likely to be a disappointment to hard-core Terminator enthusiasts, but there's just enough here to please the more casual cinemagoer.
Here I was thinking Entourage was going to be the biggest comedic disappointment of the month, and then along comes the abomination that is Ted 2 to prove me wrong. Onto his third feature film as writer-director and Seth McFarlane appears to have run out of gas already; this is somehow an even bigger dud than his sophomoric misfire A Million Ways to Die in the West. There's not a single, solitary laugh-out-loud joke to be had in the entire (dragged out) runtime, and all of the titter-worthy gags are in the trailer. A Million Ways may not have been as humorous as expected, but at least it had energy and ambition, two elements sorely missing from a stale sequel that nobody seems interested in doing. Even Mark Whalberg an actor who is nothing if not committed merely goes through the motions and offers up a completely inoffensive performance, which, in this genre, is just plain offensive. Throw in a midday-movie-ish score, McFarlane's trademark fetish for misplaced musical numbers, and way, way too many scenes of po-faced sincerity, and you have a genuine turkey of a film. Oh, and the straw that broke the camel's back? An utterly awful Liam Neeson cameo that makes him look like an amateur. Ugh, it's that bad.
By the time the end credits rolled on the first Despicable Me, the gibbering, yellow henchmen had already outgrown their malevolent master. Finally (and unsurprisingly) getting their own movie, this prequel begins with a clever montage charting the evolution of the eponymous critters as they follow one doomed boss after the other. Settling in to the 1960's for the bulk of the adventure, this whimsical comedy focuses on three brave minions who journey to Orlando for a villains-convention of course then London, in search of another boss. Not all the jokes work and chief new addition Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) lives up to her name in the worst possible sense, but the gag rate is so high there is still a healthy dose of laughs. The trademark minion chatter has evolved with an increase in recognisable words but remains just as amusing, whilst the cheeky visual gags and hidden references ensure there's humour for all ages. Where this film differentiates itself from the Despicable flicks though, is by homing in on, and adding depth to, a specific trio of minions: optimistic leader Kevin, laidback crooner Stuart and the indefatigable ball of joy Bob. Another bonus for the parents in the crowd is the ridiculously good soundtrack featuring classics from The Beatles, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Turtles, The Kinks, Aerosmith and The Who, to list but a few. More of a carefree, in-the-moment joyride rather than an animated heavyweight with lasting power, Minions is a bundle of silly fun.
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