Focus (2015)

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It can’t be denied that this cocktail of romance, heist thriller and black comedy all looks glossy and stylish but there’s a serious stumbling block in the absence of gritty substance. The whole con team angle is ripe for the picking but it’s played around with mildly at best and the long con is a drippy pay-off to wait for.

A savvy and well trained con artist named Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) becomes romantically entangled with the promising talent of Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). After training and working superbly well together, Nicky tries his hand at another game but a temper fuelled racing driver and Jess’ return could knock Nicky’s magic.

This film is a weird jumble of ideas, one minute it aims and scores quite successfully at the dark thriller and then, whoosh, people are riffing and making jokes turning the scene into a jarring comedy play of words and egos. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra are the figures behind the script and though every now and then they conjure up some interesting ideas, in the grand scheme of things, this movie doesn’t pull them through. Perhaps if it stuck with one genre stronger consistently the film could have benefited but in general the con is a quite lame one to sit through and the Oceans team have no concerns.

Xavier Perez Grobet can certainly present the locations necessary. He captures New Orleans and Buenos Aires in a slick photographic light, giving the backdrops a photo-shoot quality, making the places Nicky and Jess go to pop more than they may have done before. It’s almost as if the characters are stepping through travel catalogs thanks to Grobet’s cinematography.

Maybe Ficarra and Requa tackling directing roles as well as writer calls is an explanation for the film not being as great as it could have been, because honestly there is potential in this film, it has glimmers of real showmanship, the chemistry is there from time to time, it looks great and the first half of the film is a neat thing. I honestly believe they think they were being cleverer than the feature actually is. There’s too many twists or attempts at good turns in the plot and unlike the drip feeding of clues and con moves in the BBC show ‘Hustle’, which I adored, this one reveals things with no prior knowledge, going back over things making the con seem more manufactured and movie-like, taking you out of the film.

The music delivered by Nick Urata, is like a score of what you’d expect to hear if you were invited to a sleek opening night function with the biggest and brightest. It sizzles away almost, adding the glamour to the film. Also a clever reference and utilisation of a Rolling Stones tune works nicely, but that’s all I shall say.

Will Smith possesses that charm and cocky swagger needed for the character and though I found him the less interesting of the characters, Smith gave him enough emotion in stages to make him more human. As if perfectly flicking a watch off a passer by he gives Nicky this ooze of confidence and know-how that makes him believable as a con artist even if the editing of his training scene cuts too much, losing the flow needed to sell it properly. Margot Robbie is a pure stunning actress and her role as Jess was more interesting, I would have liked to know more about her as opposed to the generic male orientated focus on Nicky. She has a beaming smile that welcomes you in and can flip that masterfully, when broken by developments. She’s certainly an engaging and gorgeous talent to keep an eye on and Harley Quinn is exciting.

Appearing like a shiny article from Esquire magazine, this film is hot and glamorous but is in total a silly unbelievable series of events that leave Robbie and Smith caught up in a misfired movie. Watch Hustle instead.

5.5/10

Blackhat (2015)

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Michael Mann returns but not in a great way. Six years since ‘Public Enemies’ and now we have this cyber attacking thriller/mystery mess. It’s just not great by any stretch of the imagination, it feels horrendously long, the story is empty of any style and it just made me want to sleep.

A cooling pump in a Hong Kong is hacked into and is made to explode, after this a stock market soy trade thing gets hacked leading two government branches trying to find out who’s behind the attacks. Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) has a shady tech history with a hacker called Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) who is dealt out of jail to help the case. As Hathaway, Dawai and his sister Chen Lien (Tang Wei) work together the mystery of what this hacker is planning, begin to emerge.

The story itself written by both Mann and Morgan Davis Foehl is severely devoid of any interest. Perhaps if you’re big into coding or computers than it may make more sense but for the average Joe, the constant techno babble causes a headache. Constant close ups of codes, maps or numbers don’t make the film any better as you end up going square eyed looking at series of letters and numbers that mean zilch. The screenplay is lacking in departments of intrigue, excitement and romance, though they really work hard to make that last one stick.

The pairing of Hathaway and Lien is odd. A relationship begins between them with no prior acknowledgement of their mutual attraction. There’s a brief series of shots with big sack of muscle Hathaway looking at Lien in a car but that’s literally it. One moment they’re just kissing and at it and from then on the script tries to keep making their romance something to feel for but you never do. It’s a bland and empty romantic coupling to match the bland and empty narrative.

Dialogue in general is just too much, it doesn’t clear up what’s going on and the mystery isn’t in what the hacker wants, it’s just in the run up to the final showdown, a huge sprawling running time making it seem that it’ll never arrive. I do have to give thumbs up for what are clearly unintentional but brilliant Marvel references in the writing. Viola Davis mentions dropping a big hammer and hey, Hemsworth is in this movie, probably with trusty Mjolnir a locker away. Then Hathaway breaks into NSA to get some data called Black Widow, hey hey!? It comes to something when those two points leapt out to me.

The music by Leo and Atticus Ross and Harry Gregson-Williams never sparks into dramatic tension and in fact on a couple of occasions the score seems to cut out before coming back again, which really made a blip in the scene. In running with sound issues, certain sentences, a fair number of times start off quiet and suddenly rocket into loud talk, not a positive for the sound mixing crew as it just made those scenes come across shoddily.

In lighter news, the film does look really good a lot of the time. Mann has a rep for creating moody city by night films and this isn’t much of an exception. Stuart Dryburgh on hand as cinematographer makes skylines look stunning and a healthy number of shots are well captured. The Malaysian backdrop is framed really well and is reminiscent of ‘Quantum of Solace’, lit up buildings are a running theme and try their best to give atmosphere to an iffy plot and the ending showdown at a busy parade has potential to be a stand out scene but loses an essence of style that another filmmaker may have brought to the table.

Chris Hemsworth looks like he’s coasting in this film, the character being of little challenge to anyone. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was fitting in days of shooting for this between Age of Ultron, he certainly looks beefed up as if Thor is trying the life of a smart hacker. Viola Davis is a great actress but doesn’t have much to do in this film so feels like a spare part. Tang Wei is uninteresting and doesn’t bounce off Hemsworth well at all, making her character dull and giving their romance no life whatsoever. The bad guys are just generic and don’t get any depth, serving as just doing it for the money…yawn.

A pathetic and boring end don’t help this film out and all in all, the 133 minute run time ticks away painfully. This is a stumbling vanilla sort of movie, but that’s being harsh on vanilla because at least it’s tasty, ‘Blackhat’ just isn’t whatever way you look at it.

4.5/10

My Favourite Film of the Year….so far.

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So far, and yep I know it’s early days, this film is my favourite movie to hit screens and hit screens it does, it smashes across them with drum beats and blistering battles of ego in such a cool and musically slick way. I can already see this film being in my top ten of 2015 by the time 2016 rolls on around. That’s testament of how good I feel all factors of ‘Whiplash’ are.

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Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons are hitting every high note planted on their song sheet (scripts) and pit off against each other with a suitable and perfect ending, the jazz ride there is fierce and brutal, a contained thriller set around drumming never looks the part on paper but trust me if you still haven’t seen it, it’s worth the entry fee.

To see what else I said about Damien Chazelle’s energetic original and Oscar winning film, click on WHIPLASH.

Oscars 2015 Look Back

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A fairly predictable night at the 87th Academy Awards, with all acting winners being the ones I expected and on the whole, ones I was happy to see pick up the golden statuette. The show itself started off spectacularly with showman Neil Patrick Harris doing his usual song and dance shtick, but he does it so well it doesn’t matter. ‘Moving Pictures’ was stylish, cool and one of the better notes of Harris’ hosting gig.

J.K Simmons deserved the win, his role as Fletcher in WHIPLASH is blisteringly good. The harsh way he tries to inspire a new musical icon is violent and cold and Simmons does well giving the teacher some light shades from time to time, either in marvellous one liners or a brief scene of sadness. Patricia Arquette was the out and out favourite all along, scooping up major prizes in the run up to last night, it was a shoe-in for her to get the biggie. Don’t get me wrong, I felt her motherly vulnerable performance held a lot of BOYHOOD together but I would have loved to see Rosamund Pike win, for shock value and doing something Pike had never really done before. Eddie Redmayne is someone I never really loved until seeing his turn as Stephen Hawking. He embodies the genius and his bodily acting as Hawking is outstanding, he thoroughly deserved the win and I was glad he got it, a sweet and gentlemanly speech too. Julianne Moore was the fourth out of four predictable acting wins but from the small snippets I’ve seen of STILL ALICE she looks damn good. Just have to see it now and watch what got the trophy.

Birdman got Best Picture and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu clawed up another two for Original Screenplay and Directing. I’m more than happy with these three big prizes as Birdman was not a bio-pic, it’s theatrical, clever, funny and excellent. I have to admit I thought Boyhood would win but luckily it didn’t. It’s a sheer statement and project but not an overwhelming treat of a film whereas Birdman stands out. The second year in a row for a Mexican to win Director and gladly it seems the Oscars voters are rewarding the talents and not just American releases. Just waiting for more female recognition and they’re doing better.

Glory got Best Original Song for SELMA, beating off earworm ditty, ‘Everything is Awesome’ featured in THE LEGO MOVIE, still a major snub for not being in Animation but it’s too late now! Glory well and truly deserved the win, John Legend and Common collected the Oscar mere minutes after their hair raising performance. The production value of the Edmund Pettus bridge and large groups marching on the Dolby Theatre stage was emotional and powerful. It got a rapturous ovation and tears were shed by snubbed David Oyelowo and Chris Pine also.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lovely Anderson film and the whole look is perfect, so it was 100% agreeable that it picked up all the visual elements, such as costuming and production design. The state of Zubrowka is quirky and sweeps through doll house like mountains, hotels and prisons in typical Wes design.

Neil Patrick Harris himself threw in a couple of good jokes and zingers but on the whole the show did drag on, his magic suitcase prediction gag was a pointless waste of time. The opening number and his Whiplash/Birdman skit were the peaks of his hosting role. Harris stepping out in his tighty whities was brilliant and perfectly spoofed. I don’t know who may get the honour next time but Fey and Poehler are full of character and have chemistry so hopefully they’ll move up from Golden Globes duty.

A long and sometime odd show, Gaga and Sound of Music being a case in point, but I still can’t shake off the Oscar buzz every year it comes around. Even when the films aren’t as exciting or the winners are expected, there’s something fun about staying up to watch the Academy Awards. See you again next year. #stayweird #staydifferent.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

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Grunge is thick in the air within this rock operatic horror film. A futuristic and sci-fi theme play their cards too as songs and blood come thick and fast. These could be pretty interesting points but it all counts for nothing in an odd and disengaging pulp cult attempt.

Organ problems and failures in repayments have paved the way for GeneCo to rise up in 2056, giving people organ replacements but if they can’t pay back then the Repo men will come after you and take them off you…alive. GeneCo is led by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) who won’t be around much longer leaving his image obsessed offspring fighting for power. A father called Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head) connected to Rotti, is caring for his sick daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega) and soon stories bleed into one another.

Based on a 2002 musical by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, this does boast some out there ideas and grimy sounds but what on paper could have been the modern day ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ doesn’t come into action like that and feels lacking of proper story and after a while the Goth like song stylings become tiresome. The way this film adaptation takes on the plot with some neat comic book visuals is cool and reminiscent of the graphic novel methods of ‘Sin City’ but that is perhaps the only link.

Smith and Zdunich are also on duty for the music and here, some more positives can be noted. I liked the songs, or at least after some time I grew to appreciate the sounds before growing tired of them once again. The way a good many of the songs layer over one another, with different stars echoing their parts of the track onto the titles gives the rocky booms more depth. A song playing out in the run up to the opera features like the grand One Day More aspect of proceedings.

It’s obvious to see that the director and production crew are working hard to create something different and working off of the source material they do a good job in mastering something against the norm. The team have as many guts pulling this off as the amount of bodily pieces ripped from victims within the movie. The camera spiraling round choir sounding advertising towers or Gothic locations filled with mist and darkness all help give this 2008 musical a defined edge of inventive yet off putting feelings.

Anthony Head proves he has a voice for singing as well as a calm assured acting demeanor. Switching from nice to mean in flicks of a lyric, Head is a solid lead to play the shady nice guy. Alexa Vega brings along a pop sound to her vocals, the more Britney or Tay-Tay sweetness as she sings. This is done nicely and then wham, she’s joined by Joan Jett for a funky rock number where she riffs out in skimpy clothes showing the yang to her previous yin. Terrance Zdunich is one of the stand outs, as should be expected considering it’s half his baby. As the gravel toned hypnotic sounding Graverobber he steals a lot of the songs, especially in the pacy Zydrate Anatomy.  Sarah Brightman of course has the opera background to excel and does so in her small-ish role as Blind Mag. Going along with her shining and holographic eyes Brightman is like a steam punk vision of the future tainted with agonising debt. Paris Hilton isn’t even too bad in this film, playing what Hilton would be expected to play as vain surgery loving rich daughter. She can hold a tune and doesn’t act awful, in fact the acting isn’t bad in this gross out film.

Too many songs and a try hard attitude fail to ignite any musical sparks, in fact the sci-fi/musical and horror angles make the film fall flat. It’s fun in places and looks the part but apart from a brief space of enjoyable songs Repo should be repossessed for being unnerving in all the wrong ways.

4.5/10

You’re Next (2013)

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This film from Adam Wingard is a cool and dark little horror number. Mixing the slasher styles with some black humour the script keeps levels of blood up and a trickling of fear to suitable genre standards. A feisty female lead and some inventive little plays on the horror category make this more than just a usual spill your guts nonsense flick.

Heading back for a family reunion, Crispian (A. J. Bowen) and girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) are joined by Crispian’s parents, two brothers, his sister and their respective partners. Their arguments over dinner are the least of the worries once they all realise masked men outside are keen to attack and kill the family and spoil this reunion.

First of all, the horror aspects are done well, creepy houses, woods, darkness, basements and killing tools all play their part in creating a believable atmosphere to sell as a horror movie. The humour quality plays in, not overbearingly, but just in certain quips or moments that riff on other over serious horror features. Combining these two genres is a cool trick and it doesn’t ever feel ‘Scary Movie’, it is definitely more horror than comedy but it has thriller and mystery notions added to the mix as well.

Adam Wingard has a rep to his name now, for horror styled films, that and an intelligent understanding of blending genres in his work. His latest movie, ‘The Guest’ is a prime example of balancing styles and creating off beat yet fantastic looking and sounding hybrids of cinema. This isn’t as in your face as his newest but you can hear soundtrack choices that crop up in Dan Stevens acting vehicle and the feel of Wingard’s directorial hand is ever present.

Simon Barrett does a nice job with script duties, setting up the killers in a creepy bloody manner as all horror films should, then the weaving in of subject to terror and family drama is a fun one to watch unfold. The only issue with the story and the film itself is in the attempt at a twist. It’s pretty damn obvious from a mile or two off and that does weaken any surprise sadly. The missing character for a long time makes another turn in the road a predictable thing also but half of the joy still remains in seeing Erin kick butt and get to the brutal finale.

The soundtrack feels right for a horror film for a long part of the journey. Tense beats in the score could be lifted from any kind of film of this market but then as it nears the end, 80’s keys mash into the system like an electronic pirate radio making its cool self known. This really lifts the penultimate chapters of the movie, the thrills elevated as the kicking funky sounds keep going over the action.

Sharni Vinson is a spectacular lead, unknown enough to not stand out or leave you putting her to previous outings, she sells Erin really well. The gorgeous young student squeeze could easily be sculpted as scream queen material but the creators take her out of that box and damage it completely, giving Erin the tools and brains to keep a step ahead and be a woman in a horror film with a chance. Vinson looks both capable and attractive, the mix needed for Erin and as a horror heroine, Vinson makes you empathise with her and root for her survival. The men behind the animal masks all do sterling jobs in their near anon roles. Body behaviours slowly moving to angles giving the murderers an eerie off kilter look, i.e, a head slowly cocking to the left, makes the slasher that much worse. Everyone else is a standard sort of horror foil for the plot but they play their necessary parts well, maybe apart from mumsy and papa who near the beginning sound like they’re acting out the script.

‘You’re Next’ is a different exercise in the same hat arena. It gives something gratifying to audiences or at least horror fans. Flashing ‘Rear Window’ techniques and slow mo crashes all play into the stylised sequences of this 2013 horror/thriller. It burns bright and bloody with a bitter char of predictability threatening to extinguish the flame.

6.5/10

Megamind (2010)

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Hey! It’s been a year since I posted my first review on this very movie blog. That’s quite mega don’t you think, so in weak relation to that I’m reviewing ‘Megamind’. It’s zippy, fun and entertaining too, just like keeping up with writing for this review blog is, so dive right on in to see what I thought of DreamWorks 2010 hero themed toon.

Rivals since babies; Megamind (Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) play the same revenge battles in Metro City until one day Megamind may finally come to winning. In the possibility of no hero and no need to keep on kidnapping reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey) what can Megamind do to keep occupied and will his answer make things worse like normal?

It’s not in any way a fresh story to run with, superheroes in both live action and animation are old hat but this film has some zippy visuals and fun energetic voice casting to help it along a lot. The destruction looks great and you can see where the 3D would have fitted in. Buildings crumble, sprays of Megamind graffiti line streets and explosions fill this Metropolis inspired city. The superhero angle is winked at from Lois Lane like Roxanne to Batman like lair and a mention of a Fortress of Solitude.

Brent Simons and Alan J. Schoolcraft don’t excel fully, some of their hero connected plot work is smart and suitably silly but not enough is different enough to feel as zany as it’s trying to be or remarkable enough to be a new thing. The story line is predictable from a long way off as you read into where each character is going, but that’s not a widely bad point, it is a family film after all and so it shouldn’t be too confusing, just maybe the good vs evil angle could have been played around in a less obvious manner.

Rocky soundtrack choices and humour in Megamind’s mispronunciation are a couple of selections from a few quite neat comedic touches in Tom McGrath’s enjoyable cartoon ride. The multiple coded code word back and forth discussions, the blase reactions of Roxie to her kidnaps, the radio cutting between songs and Megamind’s way of dealing with his loss of an obstacle are funny additions and keep the film running at a steady and welcome pace.

Will Ferrell gives the large blue headed alien baddie a buffoonish quality but yet with an endearing note that leaves you liking him no matter how idiotic he acts. The vocals he gives when the film spoofs Marlon Brando in Superman are hilarious and there for the adult audience. There’s a spark of wit in Megamind’s dialogue that gives him depth and character to carry the film more than well. This witty trend is shared greatly with David Cross and the quick firing banter he has with Megamind as talking fish sidekick, Minion. Brad Pitt gives his voice nicely to the showboating and over heroic Superman-esque stylings of Metro Man. Tina Fey is great at the nonchalant mannerisms and gives a balanced degree of heart and offish reaction to her reporting character. Jonah Hill as doofy nerd cameraman Hal is typically Hill but his character progresses and so does his vocal work so all in all the cast are very good at playing this story out.

A superhero parcel arriving at the door that needs not be opened before you know what’s inside, but there’s an amount of joy to be had in unwrapping that parcel. Metaphor aside and near the end of an anniversary review, ‘Megamind’ is rapid, fun and harmless heroic play.

6/10