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301 reviews in total 
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A cinematic delight., 21 April 2014

Wes Anderson is nothing if not unique. His legion of art-house fans adore him for being fresh, chic and not conforming to mainstream marketability. Others only see pretension, pomposity and arty- fartiness (I'm somewhere in the middle). There should be nary an argument about the likability of Grand Budapest though, it's a cinematic delight from start to finish. Anderson leaves no artistic stone unturned; mixing genres, framing four stories (spanning multiple generations) within each other like a Russian nesting doll, toying with aspect ratios and even dabbling in black and white cinematography. The meticulously designed sets, lavish costumes and gorgeous lighting fill each frame with intricate beauty and are ideally accompanied by Alexandre Desplat's sumptuous score. It's all pulled together by Anderson's own cracking script, which supplies a fulfilling narrative and graces the huge ensemble cast with side-splitting one liners. And what a phenomenal cast it is. Outstanding as Gustave H, the suave and enigmatic concierge of the titular hotel, Ralph Fiennes leads a roster that boasts 3 Oscar winners, 8 Oscar nominees and, naturally for a Wes Anderson picture, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. Uproarious, intriguing, dazzling and affecting – a must see for lovers of old-school cinema.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Bigger, louder, longer. Better?, 18 April 2014

After copping criticism for having a weak villain in the first movie, this sequel offers up three baddies to make Spidey's life hell and in the process sums up exactly what this follow up is aiming for: more, more and more. The teen angst is amped up to 11, the romantic pulling and pushing is nonstop and the threats against downtown Manhattan have tripled. Often when bigger and/or louder is the major goal of a movie it doesn't work out so great (see Transformers 2), yet returning director Marc Webb (no joke) handles the increased excess relatively well. The CGI-laden set pieces are, umm, electric and the fights are choreographed with panache, however the screenplay doesn't hold up quite as well. Straining under the influence of four different scribes and a rushed deadline, the plot is tonally muddled and chocked with clichés whilst the dialogue is not as witty and, with the banter between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey especially, less authentic. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's sparky chemistry remains and Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx bring their A-game as Harry Osborn/Green Goblin and Max Dillon/Electro respectively, but Paul Giamatti, Felicity Jones and Chris Cooper are all criminally underused. There's a hugely impactful and ballsy plot turn near the end, which would've been a fantastic note to finish on, however its effect is diminished with a bizarre coda that serves no purpose other than to set up the series' next part. Too long and with flaws aplenty, Rise of Electro is nevertheless exciting and humorous in it's own bombastic kind of way.

Keeps the Marvel bar high., 13 April 2014

Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films – ie, any that relate to The Avengers – the first Captain America is my least favourite. In fact, I think it's a very ordinary movie that can't even match the other subpar MCU entry, The Incredible Hulk. This follow-up however, now set in present day rather than during WWII, is extremely well executed and enormously enjoyable. Taking Joe Johnston's place behind the camera, the Russo brothers inject the action with a ferocity lacking in Cap 1 and deliver on numerous set pieces both big and small; a slick and stealthy raid on a ship kicks things off, whilst a gigantic battle on, in, over, around and through a trio of heli-carriers offers a breathtaking denouement. The screenplay and characters are also better served in round 2. The plot throws more curveballs than any other MCU instalment and, tantalisingly, directly influences and shapes the path of the upcoming Avengers sequel. At the same time, the eponymous hero, who in previous outings has been righteous and morally steadfast to the point of boredom, is given room to evolve from boy scout symbol of all that is right in America, to a more charismatic, but no less incorruptible, defender of liberties that has his own shades of grey to contend with. Chris Evans has worked his way into the role wonderfully over three movies and now embodies Steve Rogers with ease, although he arguably loses the limelight to Scarlett Johannson who turns in her best Black Widow performance to date. Either way, the repartee shared between the two is electric and almost rivals Thor / Loki in the witty back-and-forth dialogue department. Anthony Mackie is likable as Cap's new pal Sam (alter ego Falcon), Frank Grillo is solid as hard arse special ops leader Brock Rumlow and Sebastian Stan's indefatigable assassin the Winter Soldier is a superb matchup for our super soldier hero. This blockbuster is not without its faults though; there are occasional narrative contrivances to deal with, a rather silly exposition scene at the midway point involving an underground computer hub, a wasted Robert Redford as SHIELD executive Alexander Pierce and the franchise-wide plot issue concerning the whereabouts of other Avengers during these times of woe. Gripes aside, this is still a fantastic popcorn flick that keeps the Marvel bar high.

Noah (2014)
21 out of 51 people found the following review useful:
Good, but could've been better., 28 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Under normal circumstances, a big screen telling of Noah's tale wouldn't be a project that filled me with excitement or intrigue. Although with Darren Aronofsky (The Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) writing and directing, the circumstances were anything but normal, and consequently my expectations grew. I should've kept them lower, as this weird biblical epic fails to fully ignite. The biggest hurdle in Noah is the inclusion of the Watchers – fallen angels who are turned into rock monsters by the Creator – who are so out of place it's extremely hard to take anything else seriously. There are sparks of brilliance to be found, such as an emotionally powerful scene between Noah (Russell Crowe) and his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) after she has just given birth, yet these are often undercut by something too bizarre to be believable, even in the semi-mystical context of this film. The CGI is at times not up to scratch, especially when the multitude of animals (all digitally created) are on screen, however the huge, Earth-flooding set piece is absolutely breathtaking in both its enormity and its execution. There are no weak links among the cast (also including Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Logan Lerman) however Crowe is particularly sensational as the eponymous ark-maker, demonstrating why he is still in high demand for these hefty lead roles. This curious take on a well-known story is good, but, with Aronofsky the major force behind it, it's not good enough.

Pompeii (2014/I)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
2014's first bona fide dud., 23 March 2014

Director Paul W.S. Anderson isn't know for his subtlety; The Three Musketeers, Alien vs Predators and the Resident Evil franchise are pictures that deal in nonsensical plotting, B-grade action and hilariously ham-fisted acting. Pompeii does not break the mould. Unfortunately, even on the Anderson-scale-of-guilty-pleasure, this sword and sandals blockbuster struggles to entertain. The gigantic set pieces are disappointingly dull, the gladiatorial battles are pedestrian and repetitive, and the CGI is horrendous, which is unforgivable in this day and age. Kit Harington (Jon Snow from 'Game of Thrones') has to contest with some truly horrible dialogue in a role that requires very little acting, but his charisma sees him come out of this disaster of a movie relatively unscathed. Emily Browning, Jared Harris and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje do their lively best as, respectively, Harington's love interest, ruler of the doomed city and a champion gladiator, however Kiefer Sutherland, as a malevolent Roman Senator and the snarling villain of the piece, is utterly diabolical and all bar seals this flick's doom. If it weren't for Harington's natural charm this would be a 1 star bomb, as is it's still 2014's first bona fide dud.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A bloody fun ride., 13 March 2014

Rise of an Empire is one of those films where you get exactly what you want, no more and no less. Which means, if you loved Zack Snyder's Spartan-centric 300, as I wholeheartedly do, then this follow up will have you leaving the cinema with a smile from ear to ear. Set before, during and after the events of 300, we follow Greek general Themistokles (a gruff but likable Aussie Sullivan Stapleton) as he wages maritime war against the Persians; their navy led by the indefatigable and vengeful Artemsia (a seductive Eva Green). The plot integrates nicely with King Leonidas' tale and we get the chance to see some returning characters including Lena Headey's Spartan Queen and David Wenham's one-eyed warrior Dilios, as well as getting an origin story for self-proclaimed God and all-round douchebag Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Simon Duggan's amazing CGI-augmented cinematography is, although primarily on a blue- grey palette instead of golden brown, reminiscent of what has come before in the series, whilst the adrenaline-pumping score by Junkie XL compliments the on screen heroics perfectly. Most importantly, director Noam Murro (Snyder wrote and produced) nails the stylised and meticulously choreographed action; the opening rain-drenched battle and the climactic naval showdown both worth the price of admission alone. The speed-up/slow-down aesthetic has been retained along with the cartoonish gore and it hits the spot for those needing a fix for blood-spilling, fist-pumping and over-the-top action beats. By no means flawless, and certainly not everybody's cup of tea, but Rise of an Empire is one bloody fun ride.

Non-Stop (2014)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Revisit The Grey instead., 4 March 2014

The next movie in Liam Neeson's badass phase, Non-Stop is the sort of flick that becomes worse, and stupider, the more you think about it. Set aboard a mid-flight airliner where a concealed passenger threatens to kill somebody every 20 minutes unless paid $150m, it initially appears clever and ripe with opportunity. However when the ludicrous third-act twist comes along, it becomes evident just how dumb the plot really is, subsequently making what came before it harder to swallow. Which is a shame because for the first hour or so it's a decent thriller. The claustrophobic setting offers a few splices of tension, the occasional sudden change in the plane's elevation allows director Jaume Collet-Serra to include some choice slow-mo moments and the rare fight sequences – a bathroom brawl a standout – are effective. Neeson gives good gruff as the U.S. Air Marshall attempting to save the day and Michelle Dockery excels as an experienced air hostess conflicted when Neeson's Marshall is posed by the media as a hijacker, however Corey Stoll is dire as a dogged NYPD cop aboard the flight and Julianne Moore seems embarrassed to be there as a frequent flyer and potential love interest. If it weren't for the drivel in the final 30 minutes Non-Stop would be passable cinema fodder, as it is if you're looking for an exciting, interesting and smart Neeson-thriller you should revisit The Grey instead.

Nebraska (2013)
Simple, sweet and often hilarious., 1 March 2014

With glorious soft-focus black and white cinematography by DP Phedon Papamihael and a beautiful string-based score composed by Mark Orton, this whimsical dramedy is a delightful viewing, in spite of being a tad on the slow side. Concerned more about exploring the unspoken intricacies of a father-son relationship than sharpening up it's quirky plot – middle-aged man David (Will Forte) takes his elderly dad Woody (Bruce Dern) on a road trip so he can collect a million dollar prize that doesn't exist – Bob Nelson's script is subtle, witty and utterly affecting. Directing from someone else's screenplay for the very first time, renowned filmmaker Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) still brings his trademark poignancy to the proceedings, most notably in the way he captures the lifestyle of central U.S.A. in all it's uncomplicated and unhurried splendour. Payne also casts his film with perfection, from the top billed stars to the non-professionals filling supporting roles. With his wispy hair and detached gaze, Bruce Dern's mentally declining Woody is simultaneously hilarious and heart breaking, earning the 77-year-old thespian his first Academy Award nomination since 1979. SNL alumna Will Forte is solid in a rare serious role as the unambitious David, whilst June Squibb is an absolute riot as Woody's fed up, straight-talking wife Kate, who delivers some of the movie's most memorable lines. Simple, sweet and gorgeous to look at, Nebraska is right at the top of Payne's already revered body of work.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Passionate, immersive and moving., 21 February 2014

In 2012's Act of Valor, current serving Navy SEALs were cast in order to inject realism into the action scenes, which they did, however the film couldn't overcome the dire acting and leaden dialogue to land out on top. With a group of dedicated A-listers undergoing an intensive boot camp before production, Lone Survivor proves that it's easier for professional actors to look the part in combat than it is for real soldiers to sprout a screenwriter's words. As the four- man team sent into the hills of Afghanistan to kill or capture an integral Taliban leader – which doesn't go as planned – Mark Whalberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster are fantastic. Their convincing portrayals and natural chemistry with each other ensures the audience has an immediate investment into their fates and makes the series of unfortunate events on their mission even more gruelling and gut-wrenching to witness. Writer-director Peter Berg has spoken about how this was a passion project for him (he took a pay cut on Universal's Battleship to get funding from the studio for this) and he proudly wears his patriotic devotion on his sleeve every step of the way. The opening act is relaxed, calm and humorous, slowly building a sense of camaraderie whilst introducing the military jargon and operational lifestyle. The extended middle act, where the bulk of the battle ensues, is a tour de force in modern warfare filmmaking. The meticulously researched gunfight is authentic and pulse-racing, amped up with tight, clear editing and an immersive sound design (unsurprisingly garnering an Oscar nod) that places you right in the middle of the action. Berg makes a crucial misstep with a dragged out, patience-testing denouement, but Lone Survivor remains in the higher echelon of war pictures and warrants a big screen viewing.

McConaughey nails it., 21 February 2014

4 years ago Matthew McConaughey's embarrassing run of romcoms (Fool's Gold, Failure to Launch, The Wedding Planner) hit its nadir with the abysmal Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and all looked bleak for the once promising star. Then after a two year sabbatical, the Texan struck back with critically acclaimed turns in Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike and The Wolf of Wall Street, all within 24 months. The career transformation is elevated even further here with his Oscar nommed and Golden Globe winning performance as redneck cowboy turned AIDS patient Ron Woodroof. Refusing to give in to the sickness and enraged with the limited medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of AIDS, Woodroof starts up the titular club in order to supply non-approved (but not illegal) drugs to those suffering from the disease, causing major ripples within the system in the process. Despite being a true story (from 1985), Dallas Buyers Club comes after a long line of similar stories told on film and subsequently can't shake its clichéd and predictable trimmings: egotistical pig finding his humility, unlikely friendship between polar opposites, big bad corporation stomping on the little people, etc. Yet the shortfalls in the screenplay are more than compensated by the amazing on screen commitment and charisma of the leading trio. As transvestite homosexual Rayon, Jared Leto is sympathetic, engaging and thankfully grounded despite his surface-level flamboyance, whilst Jennifer Garner is in career best form as Eve, a by-the-book but empathetic doctor who genuinely just wants the best for her patients. However this is undeniably the McConaughey show and boy does he nail it.

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