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Set in the late 70s and based around a string of suspicious deaths within the porno industry, this Shane Black joint lovingly harks back to the good ol' days of ultra-violent buddy-cop flicks like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs. With this breed of movie almost extinct, it's gratifying to see Black breathe life back into it with his trademark dark wit, genre-subverting style and willingness to unleash a spot of sudden violence for nervous laughs. Crucially, he's aided and abetted by charming lead performances from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, the former a gravel-voiced, hard-nosed enforcer with a noir-ish edge, and the latter a likable loser with dubious parenting skills but a sympathetic past. Crowe and Gosling are the epitome of chalk and cheese, and are all the more delightful to watch because of it; some of the film's finest scenes are nothing more than them chewing the fat about life, albeit their warped life. Unfortunately it's not all rosy for Black's trip down memory lane though. The central mystery is convoluted, boring and ultimately a damp squib, whilst the numerous tangential subplots, infused with pitch-black comedy, often go nowhere, despite lengthy build-ups. On first viewing it's difficult to grasp exactly how entertaining The Nice Guys really is, such are the typical ups and downs of Black's distinctive writing/directing style. Cult classic status potentially awaits, but so does cinematic obscurity.
Since the first ¬X-Men movie was released way back in 2000 this mutant series has been quietly carving out its own piece of the cinematic comic-book pie, with both highs (X2, First Class) and lows (Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine) but a respectably solid overall output. This 'new cast' trilogy closer can't reach the heights of the franchise's best instalments, or its two immediate predecessors, although demonstrates just how thrilling and engaging this universe can be even when not performing at its peak. Centred on the eponymous ancient mega-mutant who wakes up after a few millennia to reclaim the world as his, the dramatic undercurrent is as compelling as the all-powerful villain (despite his underwhelming look) and generates a handful of genuinely intense and evocative scenes. A second-act tete-a-tete between Professor X and Apocalypse during which the latter is causing mass destruction accompanied by Beethoven's stirring Symphony No 7 (Algretto) is absolutely riveting, almost matched by a potent telepathic showdown within the climax. At this stage in the X-Men evolution there is also a certain level of competence that guarantees the action scenes will be nothing less than exciting and, with Bryan Singer at the helm, constructed and executed with endless ebullience and flair. The CGI struggles on the odd occasion, which is a bit strange for such a big-budget flick, however this is a minor blip amongst a collection of otherwise rousing set pieces that, just like in Days of Future Past, boasts a superb Quicksilver sequence that tops the list. There are a few missteps that weaken the film's lasting power though: bland henchmen surrounding the big bad, Wolvie's unsatisfying involvement, and an atrociously placed Stan Lee cameo that raises giggles at the most inappropriate moment. From the returning cast James McAvoy (Professor X) and Michael Fassbender (Magento) reliably bring the gravitas although Jennifer Lawrence looks a tad disinterested in her third time out as Mystique whilst Oscar Isaac (as Apocalypse) and Sophie Turner (Jean Grey) impress the most out of the newcomers. Undeniably a rung below the two preceding entries on the X-Men ladder, Apocalypse is still operating at a high enough standard to be thematically absorbing in addition to entertaining on a popcorn level.
Crafting out a comedy within the setting of a real life war is not an easy task. Which probably explains why the humour dries up halfway through and this sorta-biography heads down a more earnest, and rewarding, path. Recounting reporter Kim Barker's (Baker in the film) journey from desk-jockey to on-the-ground war correspondent in Afghanistan (circa 2003-2006), the movie leans heavily on clichéd fish-out-of-water antics for the first act to squeeze out a couple of titter-worthy moments. When the following two acts become more serious and reveal deeper layers in both the story and our likable protagonist, the interest level drastically increases, but it also highlights just how miscalculated the comedy-angle was to begin with. Adapted from Barker's 2011 memoirs 'The Taliban Shuffle', the screenplay suffers from numerous time-jumps that muddy the journalist's personal growth rather than emphasise it, whilst a few supporting characters are given oddly anti-climactic closures. A more in-depth mini-series beckoned. Tina Fey brings her usual dry wit and every-woman charm to the role of Baker, sharing a nice chemistry with Martin Freeman who almost steals the show as the irreverent and arrogant Scottish freelance photographer Iain MacKelpie. Unfortunately Margot Robbie is completely one dimensional as fellow journo Tanya Vanderpoel who could be a Brit, Kiwi or Aussie going by Robbie's accent whilst Alfred Molina is woefully miscast as the sleazy Afghan official Ali Massoud Sadiq. Fey and Freeman are charismatic enough to keep WTF entertaining, but there's definitely a more intriguing, meaningful and captivating story in here somewhere.
After the first Bad Neighbours made a whopping $250m at the worldwide box office working from a measly $18m budget, this sequel, despite being completely unnecessary, was a deadest certainty. We should be thankful then, especially considering it was rushed into production, that it's not a complete mess. In fact, it's possibly better than the original, for what that faint praise is worth. This time around new(ish) parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne want to sell their house, but wouldn't you know, a party-loving sorority moves in next door just as they're trying to impress buyers. Delete fraternity, insert sorority, leave the rest. The large screen writing team (including frequent collaborators Rogen and Evan Goldberg) cobble together a swathe of gags in their pursuit of quantity over quality, but for every giggle-worthy joke there's a forehead-slapping dud. A garage escape sequence and a weed stealing set piece offer cheap laughs whilst Rogen's and Byrne's foul-mouthed interplay is largely amusing, but virtually all of the humour stemming from the sorority side of the house is yawn-inducing. The inconsistent tone proves to be another side effect of the hastily constructed script, with multiple half-baked themes sexism, feminine independence, parenting, growing up all strangely undercut in one way or another. Rogen and Byrne share a solid enough chemistry and Zac Efron proves yet again he's game to mock his own real-life celebrity status for laughs, however Chloe Grace Moretz is embarrassingly bad as the sorority's leader. A lazy, gender-swapped carbon copy of its predecessor, Bad Neighbours 2 is entirely unmemorable yet somehow manages to scrape together enough funny moments to be a mildly entertaining diversion.
Marvel Studios have done it yet again. Just when they appeared to be running out of steam after Age of Ultron and Ant-Man sat comfortably in the middle of the MCU canon, they strike back with this enormously entertaining series-booster. Essentially Avengers 2.5, this movie is crowded with so many well-known characters it's a miracle it's a movie at all, let alone a coherent and consistently exhilarating one. When the end credits roll there's disappointment rather than relief, unlike other recent superhero vs superhero efforts. The plot mechanics don't completely hold up under scrutiny especially the antagonist's scheme but it is the pitch-perfect character interaction that propels the story in between the multitude of kick-arse action sequences. And what kick-arse action sequences they are! Bookended with an impressively gritty Bourne-esque set piece and a seriously personal (and intense) punch up, each battle is cleverly given it's own spin to avoid feeling repetitive. Nothing tops the truly remarkable showdown amongst superhero friends though; with everyone fighting everyone, a web-slinging newbie stealing the show and a HUGE surprise, it confidently challenges the New York alien beat-down for MCU's greatest set piece. It doesn't quite reach Guardians levels of humour but there's a wonderful levity maintained throughout and the quip-filled dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny, strongly aided by the rock-solid cast (both familiar and new). Picking a standout amongst such an electrifyingly diverse group of players is impossible; series regulars Cap (Evans), Iron Man (RDJ), Black Widow (ScarJo), et al are always excellent, whilst newcomers Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are both downright awesome. Somehow fresh despite having a dozen films come before it in the MCU, Civil War is a near-perfect popcorn flick that galvanises enthusiasm for the upcoming onslaught of Marvel adventures.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols has made one of the most underrated motion pictures of this millennium, Take Shelter, a movie that I would comfortably place in my top 50 of all time. With his latest effort receiving a very limited release and a non-existent marketing campaign, it seems Nichols' work is destined to stay on the outer rim of cinema. Which is a travesty, because once again he has crafted a marvellous film. From the opening scene there is instant intrigue; the tone is quickly established as sitting slightly left of centre and dabbling in multiple genres, resulting in an unnerving (but exciting) sensation that the story could go in any direction. To mention almost anything about the plot would encroach into spoiler territory, but suffice to say there are various groups of people who want to get hold of 8-year-old Alton (the remarkably captivating Jaeden Lieberher), for reasons unknown at the onset. By drip-feeding information and character motivation methodically and intelligently, Nichols expertly builds tension until climaxing each act with an enthralling set piece, whilst the big (idea) finale is compelling and evocative. Underlying the emotional and intellectual power of the story is the unsettling and apprehensive atmosphere, generated by Adam Stone's stunning cinematography, David Wingo's deeply affecting score and Nichols' assured direction. Along with wonder kid Lieberher, the familiar-faced cast Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst are all completely on point too, but it's a shame Sam Shepard's role was so small. Thought provoking, enigmatic and utterly mesmerising, Midnight Special is yet another masterful cinematic creation from the uber-talented Nichols, that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
Anyone who has watched the spoiler-heavy trailer will know how this story goes. Although truthfully, anyone who already knows the real-life tale of Britain's first ski jumper at the Winter Olympics or has seen any underdog sporting-flick ever will know how this story goes. What this unstylish but uplifting film lacks in originality and surprises, however, it makes up for with an abundance of charm, irony-free sweetness and low-key humour. Think Cool Runnings, but British, and a lot daggier. Lock, Stock and Band of Brothers actor Dexter Fletcher works behind the camera here, and even though it appears he ostensibly has very little to do in the directing role, he succeeds on two major fronts. First, rather than trying to subvert or circumvent sporting movie clichés, Fletcher leans into them wholeheartedly with an endearing cheekiness. Second, he goes to great lengths to present ski jumping as exhilarating and beautiful, and he nails it. The film's other triumph is Taron Egerton as Michael 'Eddie' Edwards, the bumbling, fumbling protagonist whose indefatigable spirit and undiluted passion for the Olympics provides the basis for a remarkable yarn. Not as successful is Hugh Jackman's fictitious Bronson Peary, an ex-ski-jumping superstar who reluctantly takes Eddie under his wing. Boozy, gruff and regret-filled, Peary is virtually identical to John Candy's Jamaican bobsled-team coach, just, you know, more attractive. Undoubtedly lightweight and highly predictable, Eddie the Eagle nevertheless scores big with its fascinating titular hero, an abashedly delightful outlook on life and a winning sense of humour.
The latest Mouse House property to be given the live-action treatment (after Maleficent and Cinderella), this epic adventure from director Jon Favreau retells the vintage tale with renewed zest and vitality, whilst remaining respectful to the source material. The story itself is already brilliant from both a literal and metaphorical perspective, so the filmmakers tinker very little with it and instead concentrate on tweaking the tone and pace to amp up the thrills and emotion to maximum effect. Hurtling from one superbly executed set piece to the next, aided by glorious CGI and Bill Pope's expert cinematography, it would be easy for Favreau to push the story aside but he carefully and precisely injects moments of intellect and introspection to ensure it remains at the forefront. Ironically though, given the film's shift away from the hand drawn animation of the original, the indisputable highlight of this update is the collection of photo-realistic, computer-generated creatures on display, all seamlessly interacting with the environment and Neel Sethi's human boy, Mowgli. Shere Khan especially is a delightfully terrifying beast that looks every bit as good as Ang Lee's revolutionary digital tiger in Life of Pi, except here the untamed predator has the added benefit of being voiced with chilling ferociousness by Idris Elba. Khan's spine-tingling entrance appears hard to trump, yet each time he's on screen the tension and fear cranks up another notch; both he and Kaa, voiced with nerve-shredding sinisterness by Scarlett Johansson, will surely give younger audience members sleepless nights. On the flipside, Ben Kingsley's midnight-black panther Bagheera is as majestic as he is wise as Mowgli's mentor, whilst Bill Murray's Baloo is quite possibly the most endearing and huggable grizzly bear you'll ever meet, and also downright hilarious. Gigantic orang-utan King Louie (Christopher Walken) and Mowgli's wolf-mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong'o) aren't as memorable with the former's musical number falling very flat but with the movie excelling on so many other fronts these are relatively minor quibbles. Fun, funny and constantly exhilarating, balanced with the perfect amount of warmth, maturity and sincerity, The Jungle Book proves that there can be value in remaking classics.
I wasn't a huge fan of Snow White and the Huntsman, but it had enough moments of entertainment that I was mildly excited when the trailer for this subsequent effort popped up on my radar. Nothing like a second chance to fix your mistakes. Yet for all the things it improves on there are just as many areas it takes a backwards step in, placing it roughly on par with its predecessor, meaning Universal Pictures has floundered twice with this live action franchise. A hurdle the screenwriters ultimately couldn't overcome was delivering a Snow White follow-up without, erm, Snow White Kristen Stewart being written out of the movie as punishment for her transgressions during the filming of the original resulting in a clunky sprequel (sequel and prequel for those playing at home) with glaring plot contrivances. The narrative awkwardness also messes with the movie's tempo, however the filmmakers wisely restrain the runtime to under two hours and ensure that it's largely spent sword fighting, axe swinging and arrow shooting, albeit without creating any memorable set pieces. Debutant director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan continues the unique visual design established in the preceding movie (not surprising considering his VX background), swirling fantasy elements into the medieval environment with the assistance of top notch CGI. The real drawcard here is the cast, with both Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron returning as the hunky-brooding-charming eponymous hero and the sneering-sadistic-venomous Queen Ravenna respectively, the latter especially appearing to be having an absolute ball. New to the series are Emily Blunt as the ice-cold villain who instigates the titular battle and Jessica Chastain as a badass warrior with a complex romantic entanglement with Hemsworth's Huntsman; both of these supremely talented actresses do what they can to bring some dramatic heft to proceedings. It's a damn shame the screenplay has so many shortcomings and the action sequences fail to elevate above being merely serviceable, as Winter's War, bolstered by a cast to die for, could've been a rip-roaring franchise lifter.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Drone warfare has been a contentious subject ever since the first unmanned military aircraft snuck through our skies, and this masterful drama perfectly captures the many dimensions of the drone debate whilst delivering a tense and edgy thriller. After being introduced to Helen Mirren's Colonel Powell we learn that a few high value human targets, who haven't been locatable until now, have been unearthed in Kenya, and a capture mission is underway. It's not long before the mission goes awry. Following this single operation in what is close to real time, director Gavin Hood builds suspense by bouncing between multiple perspectives as events escalate and unravel, demonstrating just how many working parts and potential road blocks there are in achieving a military objective. Yet the film gives a voice to all sides of the argument and presents an intriguing and thought-provoking array of murky issues existing in the political, legal, military and human realms of fighting terrorism via drone warfare. Wisely, the exploration of this complex matter runs deep but no steadfast stance is taken. We see the unwavering militaristic viewpoint through two pairs of eyes, Mirren's weary intelligence officer Colonel Powell and Alan Rickman's pragmatic General Benson, who is back in London trying to extract an answer from the civilian leaders responsible for authorising drone attacks. Both are acting legends for a reason, and it's particularly moving to witness one of Rickman's final performances. In stark contrast to Powell and Benson's unfaltering outlook is that of Nevada-based wet-behind-the-ears drone pilots Lt. Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Lt. Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), both uneasy with their role in the mission after observing a young girl living next door to the terrorist haven. Through Richard McCabe's Attorney General, Jeremy Northam's Minister and Monica Dolan's diplomat, we are also privy to the legal and political perspectives; scribe Guy Hibberd constructing these scenes with intelligence, maturity and subtlety, refusing to dumb it down into binary points of view. It's a shame there has been little publicity for this movie in Australia as Eye in the Sky is an absorbing, insightful and provocative motion picture that deserves a large audience.
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