San Andreas (2015)

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Where do I even begin? Possibly the first time I’ve opened a review with a question but this film leaves you asking one, namely how did this go ahead. Hollywood disaster flicks are most often guaranteed box office draws and this will no doubt be no exception but this movie’s plot is so shaky that it’s a bigger problem than the earthquakes in the movie.

Rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) is coming to terms with a divorce settlement from Emma (Carla Cugino) but more rocky than their current status is the imminent and then numerous quakes that hit California and their aftermaths happen to impact their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) in San Francisco. Ray makes his way to save Emma and Blake and of course save his marriage.

Brad Peyton directs his second film with The Rock leading things but even the former wrestler cannot save Peyton’s grip on this step-by-step guide to make an obvious and seriously overblown disaster story. It looks like any other film of this genre and directorial choices of shots or visuals become laughable as they seem to be trying to be clever or poetic. The floating necklace as a symbolic object in the very start is so openly setting up a future event and in general where Peyton is trying to garner emotion with this family, it backfires and feels void of connection. A tremendous crumbling feature with no sense of clarity.

It’s amazing there even was a screenplay for this movie but apparently Carlton Cuse was there for something. If not just scrawling explosions, disasters repeat on a script and handing it in to New Line Cinema. Actually I mustn’t be too harsh, Cuse does make a moment for a well timed and frankly genius bit of joking in terms of baseball/sexual punnery. The rest of the plot is so juddering in giving Ray and Emma angelic gifts of fortune in their quest that even for a heightened blockbuster it becomes so painstakingly unbelievable. The fault isn’t San Andreas’ but with this narrative sticking so damn firm to cliches and predictable characters and choices. There’s no room to do anything different amongst all the groan worthy dumbness, which is a shame as it could have literally shaken up the mould and surprised audiences.

Visually the look of the film is pretty good, long shots of the city landscapes tearing apart and falling to ruin are near spectacular and do get you close to that exclamation of awe but then certain points leap out like a flashing red warning of CGI. One comes in the opening scene, the place where you’d expect to be wowed and see something to grip you and marvel at destruction but slow motion, a hyper girl and a dodgy computer car upending over and over is a less than cool way to raise the curtains. Then boats and watery sequences are stuffed with off-putting foregrounds or backdrops that take you even further out of a film that has practically invited you to walk out the cinema by then anyway. Being kind, the majority of the film excels in scope and the devastation factor of what these natural rumbles can do to our planet.

Also for the certification of this film, an awful lot of damage and death could traumatize younger eyes. There’s a whole section where waters come flooding in and hefty portion of the population are being wiped out, people get crushed and buildings collapse. It’s not dark but it certainly isn’t popcorn entertainment for the non grown up watcher. Gee, there’s even a lingering shot on someone fitting under water as they begin drowning and that’s definitely a scarier more alarming point of the film.

Dwayne Johnson saves the day as per usual and though he brings nothing more than his usual bulk, swagger and heroic nature, you can’t help but root for him as the central figure. Alexandra Daddario helped me get through the film for being serious eye candy and not a complete damsel in distress, at least she worked out some solutions to keep ahead of the game. Carla Cugino does a good job as the most emotional character and delivers a line about her selfish current squeeze with fist punch in the air satisfaction for us watching. Ioan Gruffudd plays said squeeze and is the typical douche that you can’t wait to see offed. Kylie Minogue turns up for no reason whatsoever, adding nothing and doing nothing apart from tumbling back Down Under. Paul Giamatti gets to deliver the parts that sound intelligent but make no real sense in this movie and he also keeps surviving with some simple sage advice of ducking under tables and holding on.

The fault line swiftly moves from entertainingly silly to honestly stupid. A whole fleet of serious matters and human cost is pushed aside for CGI nonsense following one family. Characters and situations are so thinly drawn and so expected that nothing grips you and it turns into a loud mess. If this movie were measured on the Richter scale for quality it would hardly make a blip.

3.5/10

Epic (2013)

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Of course the notion of good versus evil is done to breaking point, and even more so in family animations, to try and spark that idea to children about being on the good side, this 2013 feature is no exception, drafting in the well used handbook of wrongdoers trying to usurp a kind leader and her followers. The predictable storytelling is no issue when a film looks as stunning as this one does.

Travelling to visit and stay with her father, M.K (Amanda Seyfried) is nearly out the door in the first day as she realises her dad is still obsessed with the idea that the forest is full of little people living there. On the same day, the queen of the forest (Beyonce Knowles) is about to pick the heir when Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his baddies show up. M.K ends up the size of an ant as she tries to help Nod and Ronin (Josh Hutcherson and Colin Farrell) keep the heir protected and save the forest from rotting doom.

Written by Chris Wedge, James V. Hart and William Joyce, the story is nothing new or stirring but for young audiences the balance of nasty foes battling loyal and nice heroes is more than enough. There’s nothing overly grand to keep older audience goers amused or entertained in terms of writing but the story can’t be bemoaned as it does the job it’s doing well and this nature setting is a fine setting for the plot.

Every scene and moment with sequences or character motives, works in the building of the plot, even a brief moment with a Pitbull voiced frog has its reasoning for continuing the narrative. Chris Wedge directs this fantasy adventure film with a clear eye for microscopic detail, as if he too is zooming in on the greenery like M.K’s dad. The scenes work and though you know where moments may be going it doesn’t spoil the wonder of seeing it happen. It’s still got a fine level of suspense in trying to keep the forest warriors one step ahead of Mandrake and his cronies and Wedge demonstrates this good/evil back and forth solidly.

Blue Sky Studios are most known for their ‘Ice Age’ outings but these rises above in terms of visuals. It fails to mirror in terms of comedy and zaniness but the team of animators have lovingly crafted a gorgeous movie. The lush green palette runs through as a near constant colour for good and hope, making the gnarled blackened images that much worse. Bright purples, reds and blues aid the rainbow like world of living flowers and fungi folk and the general look of these dandelion people or the leaf-men is exquisite. The detail of this forest floor world and how M.K sees it is beautiful. Animation has never felt so crisp and perfectly designed.

It’s a shame then that a few well ridden practices of plot devices weigh down what could have been a very original bold and interesting film. Also, the happy ending is clear from a mile off, the estranged parent-child routine is tired now too and cliched sidekick characters aiming for laughs feels like a slimy stretch from the frankly irritating slug and snail duo. It’s a title that fails to live up to expectations as the film is not epic, it’s incredible at times and fun but certainly not epic.

Colin Farrell gifts the film that magical sort of lilt in his Irish accent. This helps further with Danny Elfman’s score that at times sounds like a tune of folklore from the Emerald Isle. Bouncy and jovial his music brings that element of fantastical frolic to proceedings. Farrell can be stern and gruff when he needs to be too. Amanda Seyfried has that enjoying pleasure of wonder in her voice recording, she sounds innocent and sweet but confident in herself and what she needs to do in the story. Josh Hutcherson steps up from the mopey Peeta angle and is jerky but likable as the gallivanting and cocksure Nod. Beyonce is the queen and that says it all as a fun little joke at her musical icon status. Jason Sudeikis sounds skittish and eccentric as the forest mad dad, though when he needs to lower this for attempts in patching up family problems he does so well. Christoph Waltz will always be the man to go to for villainous roles and this movie is no exception. That delicious snarl in the words he delivers makes for a charismatic yet clearly evil character.

A thinly constructed story built around the less than original notions of good and bad, family fractures and young romances but look more closely and marvel in the sheer bright fluidity of the animation. A joy to behold.

6.5/10

Tomorrowland (2015)

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Flying high with impacting visions of future, this Disney movie based on zones in their theme parks shows oncoming days as both magnificent and dangerous. This is perhaps its strongest asset in amongst a movie that is rather average to tell the truth. The story jolts up and down, it goes on more than a fraction too long and it ends in complete dissatisfaction.

Words from Frank Walker (George Clooney) lead us into the narrative as we hear his grumbled take on the world before a more chipper Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) tells her story. Both Frank and Casey are open minded souls who share similarities in getting the chance to see a place called Tomorrowland. It’s here that they realise how their skills could affect the countdown for Earth.

The film is visually gorgeous, from the simple tool of a nifty pin badge we warp back and forth into the future. The concept could have perhaps benefited from being honed a little more, it’s grandest day out is when seeing the exploration of this objects power as Casey tries to navigate a corn field whilst still actually being at home. After that, this neat idea is dropped which is annoying. Tomorrowland does sparkle and gleam and will echo as most childhood visions of what the future would appear like and this film clearly looks like a lot of computer time and money went into it.

Brad Bird from Pixar days tackles only his second live action feature and does mostly well in a fun and spritley film that screams Disney giddiness for the ages. It’s not explosive or groundbreaking but it’s got heart and his direction sees the escapist dramas of Casey and Frank done in a tense yet harmless manner which is perfectly fine. It just starts looking less interesting by the time we get into the last third and along with the drifting script you almost forget how stunning this movie once was.

Bird, Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen come together as a trio writing team but perhaps like Fluffy, three heads are not better than one as the initial rocketing magic of the script sours by the time the movie ends. As stated the visual concept begins drooping but so does the writing too and the payoff for this film’s running threat of world doom is weak. Also the conclusion of the monitor/screens/worldwide danger thread is slightly baffling that it needs to be thought about how they come to work on the happy solution, so children of 12 and under wouldn’t grasp the more techno-babble of this film at all. There’s nothing largely comedic in the writing either which I was hoping for in what could easily have had laugh worthy aspects, burps stand out as the only thing that made the audience giggle. I must say though, that one of the finer qualities is the idea of society going down the drain, this plot point is close to the bone and sticks out as a worryingly real notion for a 12A movie and I do like that troubling view on our future.

Britt Robertson has that exciting young presence and plays the gifted Casey with enough spirit to keep you on her side. She’s an actress with a few other films and TV appearances but this biggie may put her on more radars. George Clooney does as Clooney always does but a later shot of him with old time gal pal is emotional. Hugh Laurie is the brainy villain and plays Nix with a terrifyingly real purpose, his stance on letting humanity die and avoiding their ruin is mildly justified for how bad the world is but of course it’s dark and Laurie’s almost unbothered expressions sells the evil at a perfect level. Raffey Cassidy is a delightful presence as posh robotic Athena. In my eyes she steals the show from under Robertson.

Tomorrowland has the necessary moral of dreaming big and not giving up hope running through its grand scope of whizzing CGI delight, there may sometimes be too much but it’s plenty to keep younger audience goers entertained. It does have a joyous feel and an ambitious idea but this is a sci-fi stumble.

5.5/10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Shot full of exhilaration, adrenaline and metal pumped action, this is a 2 hour frenzy of maddening stunts, graphic and creative scenes and an interesting enough screenplay to stand out as one of the best and most unique films to hit cinemas in a while. I honestly have to say it deserves the praise for its sheer rumbling presence and all out attitude to present cinematic excitement.

Amongst a sandy wasteland we come to meet Max (Tom Hardy) who ends up imprisoned in the land of War Boys and leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max becomes a blood donor for Nux (Nicholas Hoult) who leaves the dwelling to chase down Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who has gone off road instead of obtaining gas for their city. A barrage of dust, metal, scraps and explosive carnage follows in the pursuit of getting the Five Wives back.

The scenery of the film itself is stunning, location scouts and production crews have found a perfect treat for this empty apocalyptic setting in Namibia. The sweeping shots of barren deserts and rolling dust clouds set the scene brilliantly and when a hugely ominous sand storm fills half the screen in a goosebump inducing wide shot you know this film is keen on creating the right look for the world it is presenting.

I have to admit in never seeing any of the other Mad Max offerings, but if they have the same George Miller grip and come with the same wacky and dark take on life then I’ll enjoy them. This clearly with the money and world of film nowadays takes things up a notch from what the 80’s movies would have been like and the near endless series of vehicular battering choreography involving armoured cars, high flying attackers up on poles and motorbikes is a delicious treat for the senses. In the IMAX, the roaring sound of engines fires into your gut and sticks there for the duration.

Miller evidently has a knack for visual flair and the odd yet creative edge this film has sets it well apart from other big movies vying for attention. The many aerial shots hits home the huge scope of these cars chasing the War Rig, billowing clouds of orange dust throw up in the wide frames making us see the weighty tension of what’s forever hunting Furiosa, Max and the Wives down. An apocalypse has never looked so good and the future most certainly belongs to the mad when under guidance of Miller’s direction.

John Seale’s cinematography gifts the film further amazement and with the crew on hand to knock up these hybrid cars, assistants to help make-up the acting talent and weird bits and bobs adding to costumes and set, the movie is filled with things to try and catch and needs repeated viewings to see all wonders adding to the twisted flavour of this insane future land. Characters are insane and yet exotic or quiet yet engaging, from club footed villains to the simple white purity sheets of the young wives, the characters come across believably.

You could say a weakness is in the length, at one point fading shots and scenes drag, when even cutting fifteen minutes or so could have benefited the movie. It’s a slight shame as it lost a sliver of the pacy madness the film had so effortlessly carved up beforehand. This and the perhaps less than confident, assured role the white robed wives could have had helps make the film less than perfect. Aside from some later women and Furiosa herself, the women aren’t overly brave or strong and for a movie trying to sell as bringing power back to femininity it doesn’t quite achieve that hopeful target but it gets much closer than most blockbusters. The ending itself also drifts like a wayward car into Hollywood plains, souring the bonkers feel of the movie previously.

Tom Hardy is assured and gruff as can be as the near mute Max, his bulk and acting stature doing more than enough to convince anyone he can be the lead but the film actually gives more for Charlize Theron to play with and she does it really well. Furiosa is an engaging character with a quest you root for, her impairment is only physical and she acts her damn socks off as this wishful women on the brink of redemption. Nicholas Hoult, what a performance, what a lovely performance. The wide eyed insanity of his role is damn fine to watch. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who may be a model and a shoddy Transformers alumni actually does alright as a pregnant wife named The Splendid Angharad. Keays-Byrne is never truly seen but the presence through his suit and sinister mask is helped by his domineering swagger as central nasty of the piece.

As individual as one can get in the market these days, this is a full throttle ride of practical effects that washes over the movie in a ferocious way. The story isn’t groundbreaking but the freaky apocalyptic style and stunts certainly are. A booming escape into action like never before.

8/10

Big Game (2015)

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From start to finish, this Finnish production is an entertaining escape that requires no brain activity. You can certainly tell it’s the most expensive movie produced in Finland, what with all the bells and whistles that come with this action/adventure flick. It may ultimately be silly and bursting with distancing CGI but the heart is there and it’s an energetic ride while it lasts.

Entering a forest on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, Oskari (Onni Tommila) must prove himself a man to hunt and kill an animal in one day and one night. This rite of passage is interrupted as Air Force One crashes into the forest and gifts the boy a strange introduction to the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson). They need to unite as the President and ‘Ranger’ are hunted by people out to claim the leader of the free world as a trophy.

Just from the concept alone, you can tell what kind of movie land you’re venturing into and if a nonsense over the top action featuring blood, comic book violence and outlandish sequences doesn’t float your boat then don’t see this film. If however you like mindless mania like ‘Machete’ or ‘Snakes on a Plane’ then this movie will be right up your street and it certainly ticks that box for me. It’s not as daft as the reptilian airline nightmare nor is it as brutal or funny as the Mexican grindhouse feature but this film succeeds in pairing a hopeful hunter with the unequipped and worried President.

Their bonding relationship is rushed as it’s squeezed into the adrenaline of 90 minutes, but there’s at least one scene that makes you root for this duo and backed by a starry night over a campfire, these two come to life as characters emerge slightly to flesh them out more than just wholly 2-dimensional figures. Once that heart to heart is done then we’re back into the swing of terrorism, escapes and coming of age rushes.

It does feel like this film is rattling through throwback 80’s/90’s styled feelings to give the movie some sense of identity and fun reflection on looser action exploits but the problem is that this movie does indeed rattle through everything, there’s never a chance to explore motives or expand on character, sentences are spoken that either make no sense or lead nowhere, such as the lead huntsman’s declaration of being on a side before randomly deciding to battle the President when it makes no point to his situation.

The look of the film is rather cool I suppose, from the explosions and clear CGI, you build that sense of a wild comic book stamp over proceedings, heck as a guy drops through the sky and falls alongside some missiles you know how serious to take this film. The beauty of Finland and the mountainous scenery is breathtaking on first glance but as more and more interconnecting shots sweep through the areas it becomes a tiresome tool. The style to go with the film is one of heightened action fodder with numerous shots slowed down to hit home the moment in HD, slo-mo glory.

Onni Tommila is a fine young actor, showcasing brave moves as this intrepid warrior and hunter in a quest of manliness. It’s obvious how he’ll prove himself but half the fun is in his journey of aiding the President and he brings that determination across well. Samuel L. Jackson is the actor you’d expect for this sort of movie but deals with his quips as Jackson only can. He also is a little more exciting as he plays a less assured and weaker role, not being the complete badass as normal. Jim Broadbent makes the most of sandwich eating time and kind of sounds American as he comes on board as anti-terrorist official Herbert, his character is interesting to see develop.

Clattering from chest freezers to firing high from explosive planes this film is dumb and loud but the thought is there and it just about shines through. It could have been so much better if a different certificate had been in effect but it is what it is and it’s by no means a bad film, some smooth action and fun dialogue help make it fly by and entertain you.

6/10

Unfriended (2015)

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A technological fright fest, this found footage horror employs the technique of laptop shot shocks to create a supernatural and modern twist on the slasher-esque genre. Just from seeing the trailer I was up for this film and seeing the concept play out in full doesn’t disappoint, it has some problems but it’s a neat entry into a new arena of movie making.

One year after Laura Barns’ suicide, we see Blaire (Shelley Hennig) and her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) discuss prom and their relationship over Skype, before they’re joined by their friends and some blank caller whose profile won’t budge. As they deteriorate in secrets and terror, it becomes clear that a video leading to Laura’s suicide is driving this video chat intruder to pick the mates off one by one until they found out who posted the material online.

Expanding on found footage tropes, once exciting in the early era for ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and then stale in the endless runs of ‘Paranormal Activities’, this movie strides in the former, utilising on the world’s love of social media and technology to tell this story. It happens in real time which is cool, from the beginning to the end we stay with Blaire’s views on it all and hopping from Skype to Facebook and Youtube this movie encapsulates the way people connect nowadays and squeezes it with a deathly frightening edge.

It truly feels like you sitting in on this 83 minute long conversation and twisted game. Voyeurism is pushed to the max as we see not only these friends interact but watch the videos of Laura that leads to her account stalking them all. It’s certainly no Modern Family ‘Connection Lost’ episode, the joys of Mac surfing are tested to extremities as their video call is terrorized by a nasty evil anonymous figure. Levan Gabriadze makes this film flow and though it’s a stretched gimmick it suits the plot really well.

There are a slight few stumbling blocks, such as the often quiet friends who say nothing while Blaire’s off surfing pages of the web, the deaths that do eventually come are in my opinion quite silly not scary, like seeing Final Destination offings ‘blend’ into this film. It does also seem to take a while to get to anything special, the initial introduction of the friends is good and it lets you get comfortable with the internet based visuals but after a while it drags before it excites once more. Also the ending, however abrupt and ghostly was weak, seeing a comeuppance and letting someone pay with life would have been a better choice.

Little flourishes of the sound effects to background links and sidebar imagery helps this film in getting you to go for repeating viewings. It’s not overly scary, it’s another typical feature with jump scare tactics but gladly it doesn’t just rely on them and builds up a substantial amount of tension in a clever Never Have I Ever game which heats things up massively. Another positive aside from tensions and flourishes, is the cheeky comedy wink it has for audiences in the Chatroulette section and the Spotify soundtrack that alludes funnily to what’s happening.

Hennig leads the cast well and delivers the needed scream queen credentials as the quite likable Blaire (nice allusion to the late 90’s Blair Witching footage horror). Jacob Storm doesn’t grow much apart from seeming like the all American boyfriend to rely on for a lot of the movie. Aside from the tech-smart and humorous Ken (Jacob Wysocki) the other friends in the conversation are paper thin and serve as mere bodies for the plot. The creepy white silhouette of billie227 will serve as one great horror killer for a long time.

Submerged in social media, this horror might not be fantastic but it’s certainly tense, dark and an interesting concept that works. You might not look at your computer in the same way again.

7/10

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

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Running and jumping as much as he could with the George Axelrod source material, Billy Wilder manages to create a smartly funny film about lust and romance. It could go further but then the constraints of movie studios left him cutting out moments from the play. It never feels sparse, jolted or missing something, the mid 50’s movie is rife with continuous subtle smut, passion and comedic farce.

Seeing off his wife and son for the summer, as he continues to work in the heat until September; Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) goes home that night and recieves a pot-crashing welcome to a new gorgeous upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe). Reading into the loss of attention in marriage and the ‘seven year itch’ in relationships, he fears his wild dreams of magnitude for women will see him having to fight off this blonde beauty. As the summer draws on and The Girl comes round, Sherman battles feelings concerning this new figure in his life.

The screenplay by Wilder and Axelrod is stuffed with Sherman nattering away to himself. It becomes more annoying in places and feels like a heavy handed tool of exposition than anything but you can forgive it slightly as you know it’s coming from that inner voice backdrop of the play it’s adapted from. The opening narration is a good lead into the subject of the plot and gives a light touch to the allusion of men being sex-driven from Native-American times to now. The numerous stories told throughout are comedic and add to the characters very nicely, rounding them out more, from Sherman’s disposition of imagination and tension in the face of this new woman to The Girl’s bimbo-like tale of bathtub entrapment selling her ditzy and billboard like appearance.

From a Saul Bass opening title sequence to the fades and studio based sets, this film does come across as more than dated but it’s not something to wholly weaken the movie. It would be more open and explicit nowadays but I prefer the charm in this played down back and forth. The play did actually write them having sex but in the film it works that Sherman sticks to his values and even in worried dips he keeps to his marital bond. That’s my opinion at least.

The main humour stems from men and their playing away in the summertime, all these working men turn into sex hungry boys like dogs with their tongues lolling about. An awful lot of this male based comedy ties in with the character of Sherman who fumbles about a lot in the wake of this new glowing presence. His visions are on point and the over acted accents of the piano seduction is brilliant to showcase how a lot of men would see their plans working out. It’s a fearful active imagination that makes ample room for a lot of comedy scenarios.

The farce of the home setting is straight out of a play also. The stronger elements of the film are when we’re in the living room or bedroom seeing events unfold. The roller-skate introduction is a fine prop to make us wait for the next trip and expectant pratfall. The bookcase is a farcical obstacle for Sherman’s desire to smoke in the absence of his wife. Then there’s bad breakfasts, paddle problems and a disastrous duet. These farcical qualities with an odd yet cool wink to namedropping Monroe make the film zing from start to end.

Tom Ewell comes from the Broadway version and gifts Sherman that nervous twitch very much needed for the character. Ewell demonstrates the root of masculine behaviour in the test of marriage and the urge of base instinct. He works from little cricks in the neck to reaching peaks of nerves in the lustful height of playing Chopsticks. Aside from that instantly iconic billowing dress imagery, Marilyn Monroe brings that bombshell look and puts a smile on your face as the bubbly girl of the story. There’s no question she’s adding to the sweltering seductive summer setting but she can act the young wanted female well and isn’t just a dumb blonde, she knows she’s desired but she’s respectful to Sherman’s shaking strength to stay with his wife and Monroe acts that balance well.

This is more than just a play of temptation; it’s textured better than an interesting driftwood formation as you see both characters come to appreciate the other during the well timed, scripted and acted comedy about flustered flights of fancy.

7.5/10