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Quite possibly the weirdest film stacked with A-listers that you'll see in 2014, Korean auteur Bon Joon-ho's Enlish language debut is a crazy ride emotionally, narratively and visually. Set aboard a futuristic train circulating an Earth completely frozen over (why isn't important), we follow the plebeian passengers, led by Chris Evans' Curtis, as they make their way from the tail end of the train through to the luxurious front carriages, seeking revenge for their inhumane treatment. With the story more concerned about offering a division-of-class allegory than ensuring airtight logic, it would be exceptionally simple to pull apart the plot with snarky glee; but in doing so would be to miss the point entirely. A more relevant criticism, however, is that in his quest to generate a scathing indictment of the increasing class divide we're seeing in the real world, Joon-ho allows his overwhelmingly loquacious finale to drag on for an eternity, thus lessening it's gut-punch impact. Where big points are scored though is with the kinetic fight sequences; an ultra-violent skirmish with dozens of people bearing axes, spears, knives and mallets, is an awe-inspiring sight and more than holds its own against other, bigger budgeted contenders for melee of the year. With its wackily dark sense of humour Tilda Swinton's obnoxious official a source of nervous laughter throughout and confronting subplots (largely exposed as twists in the final act), Snowpiercer is not going to be everybody's cup of tea. If you enjoy ambiguity, evocative themes and a touch of the surreal, then you should seek this out immediately.
The degree of enjoyment you get from a movie like this comes down to one thing: how far does your nostalgia go in forgiving the horrendous acting (Stallone in particular), the lousy dialogue and the cringe worthy attempts at humour? For me, alas, not quite far enough. This threequel is essentially the geri-actioner equivalent to the Transformers series. Both have become louder, bigger and more explosion-y, whilst also being stupider, unnecessarily longer and featuring Kelsey Grammar looking tired and disinterested. Grammar's not the only fresh big name addition to the already chockers cast, with Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas (both good) adding some much needed spark whilst Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes (both not so good) ham it up to eye-rolling levels. There's also a clan of new youngsters on board (including UFC's Ronda Rousey), but they are so one dimensional and lacking in charisma they're hardly worth mentioning. The bombastic set pieces are relatively exciting mind you, and when they're not augmented with distractingly bad CGI (thankfully infrequent) they manage to get the heart racing. In fact, if it just focused on capturing the hard-hitting action of its stars' crowning achievements from the 80s and 90s, instead of pumping out crummy self-referential gags with a permanent smirk, this film along with the whole underwhelming franchise could have been a far superior old-school blockbuster.
With a group of heroes consisting of a raccoon, a tree, a green-skinned
assassin, a red- tattooed warrior and a man stuck squarely in the 80's,
GotG was always going to be the weirdest entry into the Marvel
Cinematic Universe. That it's now up there with The Avengers as
Marvel's best is testament to director James Gunn's vision, execution
and utterly perfect casting. After a backstory-building scene with a
young Peter Quill we jump ahead 20 years to witness Quill, aka Star
Lord (Chris Pratt a superstar in the making), in a dank cave dancing
around to Redbone's 1974 hit "Come and Get Your Love", and the movie
never looks back. It's not long before we meet the show-stealing Rocket
Raccoon (voiced to perfection by Bradley Cooper), a cocky, smart-arsed
bounty hunter with a penchant for bombs and machine guns, and his
bodyguard Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a regenerating tree-like
creature whose vocabulary consists only of "I am Groot". Throw in Zoe
Saldana's sexy but badass Gamora, adopted daughter of genocidal maniac
Thanos who is searching for redemption, and Dave Bautista's
grief-stricken man mountain Drax, whose race of people take everything
literally, and you have a ragtag bunch ready to save the galaxy from
Lee Pace's indefatigable revenge- seeker (and awesome looking) Ronan
If the success of these eclectic characters is the driving force behind the film's triumph, then Gunn, on both screen writing and directing duties, deserves the lion's share of the plaudits. His script delivers some of the year's best lines ("if we had a black light, it would look like a Jackson Pollock painting") with a consistency that puts most modern comedies to shame, whilst there are also some genuinely touching moments that reveal a deeper emotional level then initially noticeable. The climax poses as a small weakness from a narrative standpoint, but with an otherwise outstanding story leading up to it this is a minor quibble. As with all Marvel flicks, the action sequences are damn impressive, however this outing gets bonus points for dishing them out with increased originality and a wicked sense of humour. A prison break set piece, with the inclusion of a hilarious mechanical leg gag (you'll have to see it to understand it), is just one of the many technically astounding, inventively choreographed and giddily enjoyable action-packed sections of the movie. Forgiving a couple of undercooked side characters Benicio del Toro's The Collector and Karen Gillan's Nebula and a finale that can't match the magnificence of the preceding 100 minutes, GotG offers the most unbridled, unconventional fun of 2014.
Marketed as an end-of-days thriller, this Aussie production is better described as a sombre, thought- provoking drama that just so happens to precede an impending apocalypse. Nathan Phillips plays a self-obsessed man intent on spending his remaining time on Earth under the influence of cocaine, alcohol and self-pity. After he saves a young girl (Angourie Rice amazing) from an unspeakable act, though, he reluctantly allows her to tag along and his journey takes a new shape. Played as a two hander between Phillips and Rice, who share remarkable chemistry together, These Final Hours is outstanding. Their unique partnership is built so carefully, intelligently and organically over the course of the movie that when their affecting and poignant climactic moment arrives, it is completely earned. Writer-director Zak Hilditch errs with his supporting players though, particularly in the middle act where we're introduced to three outlandish, imbecilic and downright aggravating characters, all of which are overplayed to the hilt by local actors. That this sequence is at least 20 minutes long is a huge misstep from Hilditch, but thankfully it doesn't spoil the overall progression of the central relationship. Bonnie Elliott's cinematography deserves a special mention too; her Perth is searing, grimy and harsh, yet somehow entirely beautiful at the same time. A flawed but worthy film that deserves to be on your 'to see' list.
Less an action sci-fi like the promotional material suggested, and more a cerebral thriller with some kickass scenes thrown in, Luc Besson's movie is surprisingly entertaining and, dare I say it, even thought provoking. The central premise revolves around Scarlett Johannson's put upon drug smuggler, who, after accidentally receiving a large dose of the product, has the ability to unlock parts of the brain previously untapped by humans. The dubious science behind the concept aside, the story progresses in a smart and intriguing manner (if not subtle in its underlying message) all the way to the ambitious denouement, which will have you either scoffing or, like me, completely enthralled. There are also a handful of exceptionally designed action sequences that keep the blood pumping; an early gun-tastic showdown in a hotel with a mirroring, gun-less confrontation in a hospital later on provide a couple of noteworthy examples. The so-hot-right-now ScarJo is fine in the lead role and Morgan Freeman plays Morgan Freeman like nobody else (even when phoning it in), however it is the quietly impactful Min-sik Choi (Oldboy) who shines brightest as the drug kingpin looking for revenge. It has been a long time since the French director scored a hit (The Fifth Element back in 1997), but Lucy has everything necessary to snap that losing streak.
Brett Ratner's mythical, action-centric yarn is everything you expect a Brett Ratner mythical, action- centric yarn to be, for better and for worse. Big and brash, but lacking in brains, this medieval-esque romp is at its strongest during the multiple fight sequences, whether one-on-one or with warring armies. Ambitiously constructed and executed with undeniable flair, the action is never less than exciting and offers up a swathe of bone crunching, limb lobbing and horse throwing (yep!) events that, although predominantly not memorable, are extremely fun in the moment. There's also a tongue-in-cheek vibe throughout that is perfect for this type of movie, allowing the inherent silliness to be enjoyed rather than derided. Yet there is also plenty wrong with this blockbuster, most notably the shonky acting and b-grade dialogue. Undoubtedly looking the part when pummelling his foes to a pulp, Dwayne Johnson required to talk and emote in a manner other than his usual smart- mouthed, modern badass otherwise struggles as the soulful, sensitive man mountain racked with guilt and self-doubt. John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes share the (dis)honour of being the film's worst culprits in the acting department though, their hammy, over the top performances are embarrassing and unintentionally laughable. Hercules is a typical Ratner flick, with all that implies, which is best consumed with your brain off.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a phenomenal motion picture that I thought couldn't be matched by it's inevitable sequel. I was wrong. Set 10 years after the events of Rise, this follow up sees humankind dwindled down to a small collection of survivors of the Simian Flu, whilst the scientifically enhanced apes are slowly but surely evolving into the superior species. Matt Reeves (Let Me Go) takes over from Rupert Wyatt behind the camera and brings a seamless continuation of astounding visual style and highly intelligent narrative drive. It's easy to highlight the awe-inspiring CGI simians and the human motion-captured performances behind them as a standout, because quite frankly, their creation is one of modern cinema's greatest visual achievements along with the Na'vi (Avatar) and all of Gravity. In particular, the ape leader Caeser is a tour de force; Andy Serkis' unparalleled mo-cap work and the flawless, meticulously detailed computer effects that bring him to life combine to craft a mesmerizing and memorable protagonist that sits in the highest echelon of filmic characters, period. Yet while the action sequences are outstanding and the CGI is immaculate, it's the Oscar worthy screenplay that makes Dawn a blockbusting masterpiece. Unafraid to venture into mature, emotional territory, the filmmakers give the plot room to breathe and as a rarity in mainstream movies the story propels the action and not the other way around. Additionally, the major players humans and apes alike are imbued with multi-layered character arcs and richly textured personalities, allowing the likes of Serkis, Toby Kebbell (Casear's vengeful right hand man Koba), Jason Clarke (the human "hero"), Keri Russell (Clarke's doctor love interest) and Gary Oldman (the battle weary human leader) to create affecting and captivating personas. Enthralling, clever, subversive and breathtaking, Dawn is everything you could ask for in a film.
Coming after their fantastic odd couple comedy The Guard, writer-director John Michael McDonagh and actor Brendan Gleeson are back with this darker and more intense tale of a well-doing priest (Gleeson) who is told in the confessional box that he will be murdered in a week for the sins of other priests. McDonagh is already acclaimed for his razor sharp dialogue, yet he takes it up a notch here, coupling his witty banter with emotional beats that hit on a very deep level. Delving into themes of familial relationships, suicide and isolation, as well as focussing on the fallout of sexual abuse within the Church, this is not always an easy motion picture to watch, but thanks to its intelligence and poignancy it is utterly essential. A touching conversation between father and daughter (Gleeson and Kelly Reilly respectively) as they walk through a blowing field is perhaps one of the finest, most subtly affecting scenes of the year, and epitomises just how compelling this film is. As Father James Lavelle, Gleeson is in career-best form; his grounded turn is equal parts depressing, heart warming and humorous, creating a captivating performance that should be acknowledged when award season comes around. He's given powerful support from an array of recognisable faces, including Reilly as his emotionally vulnerable daughter, M. Emmet Walsh as a reclusive author, Dylan Moran as an arrogant millionaire, Aidan Gillen as a twisted nurse and Chris O'Dowd as a going-nowhere man stuck in life. Set in the windswept, coastal outskirts of Ireland, McDonagh's movie also looks remarkable, exploring a part of the world rarely glimpsed in cinema and all the more intimate for it. Impeccable, thought provoking, ground shattering: Calvary is a modern masterpiece.
Full of energy and swirling colours, yet narratively plodding and largely devoid of humour, this follow up adventure for Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) is a harmless misfire. The musical numbers, overseen by Sergio Mendes, are concocted with gusto, whilst the animation is vivid and sharp, but rather than augmenting the story as they did last time around, these elements are relied upon to do all of the heavy lifting here. The characters are all the same too: Blu is still a comfort-freak, Jewel is still adventurous, Pedro (Will.I.Am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx) are still bopping and popping, Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) are still oddball humans obsessed with birds, Luiz (Tracy Morgan) is still a slobbering dog and Nigel (Jermaine Clement) is still an evil cockatoo who unequivocally steals the show every second he is on screen. Most disappointingly, this sequel is aside from when Nigel performs "I Will Survive" a laugh-free affair that rarely tries for anything new, instead mistakenly thinking that rehashed jokes from the first outing will hit the spot again. There's enough enthusiasm in all of the singin' and dancin' to keep this afloat, just, however there is a discouraging repetitiveness setting in after only two instalments that doesn't bode well for this bright-feathered series.
An old school, Hitchcockian style thriller from the writer behind Drive, The Two Faces of January commences with sexy, mysterious intrigue, but slowly dovetails into a soggy noodle. Shot against the glorious, sun-drenched Greek landscape by cinematographer Marcel Zyskind and boasting immaculate costume and set design befitting its 1960s period, January looks a million bucks, yet this can't cover up the fact the final hour is bland and devoid of tension. One of the finest (and underrated) actors of our generation, Oscar Isaac is once again astounding despite his failing surrounds, here portraying the smooth, enigmatic operator who gets in over his head when he witnesses a crime by an attractive American couple. As the wealthy tourists with a secret, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen are another major weakness, the duo sharing zero spark together and Mortensen in particular possessing all the charisma of a plank of wood. It's a noble directorial debut from screenwriter Hossein Amini, but remains a missed opportunity in a subgenre not visited nearly enough.
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