Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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A super giddy and fun sequel to the box office record breaking 2012 film ‘Avengers’, this follow up is more of the same but that’s no huge matter. Joss Whedon and the Marvel-lous team return to the usual MCU formula to squeeze in a few more characters, a darker narrative and a bigger threat. It isn’t perfect but boy is it ever a joyous watch.

Attempting to get Loki’s scepter, the Avengers raid Sokovia where two new super-powered figures come into play. Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) begin their twin terror on the hero team and aid Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to work on his Ultron plans. Though Ultron (James Spader) wants to extinguish human life and he rises as a menacing and powerful A.I to challenge the Avengers.

I don’t want to go any further into other little plot points as it ruins the splendid fun of watching the movie unravel. Sufficed to say this barnstorming blockbuster will Hulk-smash even more box office records before we know it. It’s deserving of the audiences as it racks up the action and considering the amount in the first that does speak volumes. It’s spilling over with explosions, battles and CGI sequences but not so much that it’s dumb and loud for the sake of it. The film still greatly balances the amount of action to slower played scenes exploring character motivations.

Pausing briefly on the CGI, a lot of it is fantastic, the design and fluidity of Ultron and his minions are threatening, sleek and brilliant. The last round up of the mighty heroes warring many robots is awesome and pumps you up and the little touches of computer magic concerning character touches or background wizardry is not in any way faulty. The one sore thumb is the opening which isn’t great considering that’s the first scene you see. The raid on the base feels jolted and stuffed with too much CGI that the movements feel fake and really look that way too, which is a shame to raise the curtain on.

Also, not trying to be negative considering how much I loved the film, it doesn’t stray too far away from the feel of the original. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was ace because it broke the mould in style and content, this sequel could have done something different to keep the Marvel Universe updating but aside from giving it a darker tone it didn’t feel overly original. Also the fondness of the Marvel witticisms I have, is slowly being tested as more jokes and lines fell flat in their attempt to be funny.

I must applaud the step up in the foe facing Iron Man and the team. The Chitauri were a suitable alien problem but weren’t dealt with overly well whereas Ultron’s birth, motive and personality are unnerving and believable. The evilness of the Maximoff siblings tinged with the playfulness of their abilities is another fine addition to the villain side of proceedings. This is met with a neat rise in the further exploration of the Avengers as people. A series of flashes into their lives are handled stylistically and in a nightmarish way that does give them a new edge.

Joss Whedon directs the spectacle with his expected flair and can still deal with the more human moments amongst the craziness of it all. Hawkeye gets more script and it suits this plot well, Iron Man of course runs most of the show in his ambition to create something to take over from the Avengers and more is dealt with in the way of Hulk and coming down from his green rage, though it weakens Natasha more than I expected Whedon to do but she ends on a high teaming back up to kick start the new wave. He also scripts the feature with his mostly dazzling witty writing and built up character interplay.

Robert Downey Jr. is as charismatic as you’d expect, his arrogance elevated a little more as he plays God against the knowledge of others. Mark Ruffalo is honestly the perfect Hulk and Bruce Banner, he brings a vulnerable human touch that you admire and you empathise with his condition. James Spader voices Ultron with a wonderful level of self absorbed nastiness and his general attitude is pretty chilling. Scarlett Johansson carries out more kick-ass moodiness as the strictly trained Black Widow, she sheds a fraction more emotion as we ourselves briefly spy into her spy past. Chris Evans is the all American hero and doesn’t overly add much to his character. Chris Hemsworth is on form and gets a little side trip to Thor-land and a related face from his movies pops up. Jeremy Renner deals with a softer side of Clint well and it’s actually cool to see more of his character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a dark yet cheeky addition and Elizabeth Olsen plays a fascinating darker side in her bewitching role.

Perhaps a little overblown and not ripping apart what’s come before in the way of structure, but a superb villain and new characters help this big film along massively. It’s unstoppable fun, a little dark and a lot of entertainment.

7.5/10

John Wick (2015)

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Driven by heavy blues and greys, this revenge thriller is near perfect in combining action, character motivation and just something quite refreshing. The central character is so much better than the typical Neeson vengeance role and the script has some funny aspects too that help give the film a different edge.

After losing his wife, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) gets the gift of a dog but this connection to his wife is swiftly lost as Iosef (Alfie Allen) and his lot make their nasty selves known. This sets off the pushed aside background of Wick and it’s not long until he’s out for vengeance, striding past bounties on his head to kill Iosef and his father Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Apart from taking the crown of cutest dog in cinema this year from JB the pug in ‘Kingsman’, the beagle present John receives is a lovely and emotional tool of the plot that serves as something different to spark the narrative into gear and it does so wonderfully. It’s actually a powerful little reminder of John’s past and a message of hope around the daisy flower but when that’s lost, the brutal way he’s beaten up in his own home and animal cruelty come together to easily put you on John’s side.

The action sequences aren’t overblown or needless, they’re artistic and inspired by great martial arts features. Chad Stahelski & David Leitch not only direct the bits of story in between with a neat touch, the fights are presented in a cool and stylish way. The term gun fu is a thing I found out and it’s applied here in a thrilling manner. Seeing Wick dispense of cronies with his gunning moves is exciting to watch, the art of reloading is also evident, actually seeing that someone can run out of ammo and do something else too.

This movie has a style about it, the entire look of the film is blue and grey, giving that hard gritty quality. That palette disappears for a while in a frankly outstanding nightclub sequence that utilises neon colours to pulsate through the three floor fight scene. Accompanied by bass and club dub step, this section of the movie is out and out fantastic. There’s a great number of moments throughout this battle of red shirted bad guys vs. Wick that makes you see how fine Reeves is and how well choreographed this movie is.

Keanu Reeves is a mostly silent figure, doing what he has to do with the movement required for lethal assassin Wick. He proves he’s back in the game as this character and can also provide emotional heart when looking over the past, his wife and the puppy catalyst. Alfie Allen drifts between sounding British, Irish and Russian which is odd but he plays the horrendous villain well. Willem Dafoe is a cool fine supporting actor who comes along as initial ally of John but then it becomes unclear to what he’ll do which is great. Adrianne Palicki comes into action from TV comic book kick ass fighter to big screen kick ass fighter serving as opposition for Wick in a paralleled fighting style to his own.

I do hope the talk of this becoming a trilogy is true, which speaks volumes because normally I hate the idea of sequels and such but this film deserves more because John Wick is a brilliant character, Reeves plays him with bloody and determined resolve and the film from start to finish is sharp, cool, energetic and surprising.

7.5/10

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015)

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Crass, dumb and devoid of any real comedic smarts, this sinks in the shallow end of comedy movies. It’s surprising it ever got green-lit a sequel, yes the first film did well at the box office and it was actually fun but a second one, deary me! Any of that fun from the 2010 film is doggy-paddling for it’s life in this lukewarm offering.

Following on 5 years from the events of their meddling in the first film, Lou Dorchen (Rob Corddry), Nick Webber (Craig Robinson) and Jacob Dorchen (Clark Duke) are living it up in their fame filled lives. Though at a party hosted by the wig wearing Lou, he ends up shot and the trio dip back into time travel to find the murderer and save Lou’s life.

The key difference in this film is that time is used to jump forward and a whole new sci-fi angle is explored, though not really for the best. Seeing the future would be cool but it’s far fetched to see hovering dogs, plush tech mansions and more ten years from 2015. At least push the setting on a bit to make the content slightly more digestible. To give some slight credit, the alternative timeline story makes for nerdier and cleverer moments concerning the mishaps of past and present but that’s a one medium high point I can think of.

Josh Heald’s screenplay is bubbling over with obscenities like a hot tub on the fritz. I’ve never in memory, witnessed such a grotesque, unlikable, mean and selfish creep that in the writing of Lou’s character. I don’t know you’re ever meant to like him or root for him and yet the sole purpose of this story is to save his being, why on Earth do they still go with that as the plot? It’s not just Lou that’s crude, the rape themed game show, racism, excessive swearing, dick shots and suicide gags are other things that question why you sit watching this movie, heck I’m reviewing it, I’ll go with that but I still feel like a bad person.

It’s not even got a saving grace of having laugh out loud moments, unless you’re a guffawing teen or an adult with dying brain cells. Calling it average even seems like a stretch as there is plenty of times that you really wonder what the sweet lord is the point in this film. A strut based dance fad is sort of good in riffing on clinging to fame and the ladybug acid trip is at once shot neatly and rather amusing but aside from these two blips of smart humour, the movie is odd and juvenile.

Craig Robinson plays the actually good hearted yet sometime dickish Nick well, though it’s clear he’s on autopilot playing his usual role and he looks bored to tell the truth. Clark Duke flip flops between likable brainiac and fool, simply for going the way of his dad and aiding his cause. Rob Corddry deserves an Oscar, cause he can play nauseatingly horrendous self centered ass of the century, so much so that ripping a cinema screen just to punch his cinematic face would satisfy you. Adam Scott can’t even sweeten the deal in a role that escalates from nice ignorant groom to a tainted addition of the Hot Tub Gang. John Cusack can count his lucky stars he didn’t return and that might be why the film suffers.

Dull, nasty and naff, this loud adult comedy bashes your head with no heart, no outcome or morals to balance the pointless annoying narrative. Empty the hot-tub, clean it out and never use it again, please for the love of film, send it back to the store.

3.5/10

While We’re Young (2015)

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Interesting in it’s portrayal of integrity and reflective in the characters it makes you think about. This may not be a perfect film or an out and out winner, but get through a mild start and there’s a tense, sweet and honest mix of good feelings to be had upon seeing this movie play on.

In the throes of assembling a documentary, Josh (Ben Stiller) meets a pair of younger and freer souls than himself and wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts). As they both spend more time with Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) they see more about their own marriage, age, perspectives in the good and the bad.

Certainly, it can be said, well at least by me, that the first quarter or so of the film through all it’s setting up and the like began to drag. It had a spark that quickly fizzled and for Noah Baumbach’s script that is a sore spot but it redeems itself in the last quarter when a change of tone makes you sit up and pay more attention. Gladly putting the weird centre to one side the thriller-esque pace of discovery seen literally and metaphorically ends the movie on a high note.

The deep and constant themes of truth, authenticity of action, age and the effects of adulthood play key sounds in this film’s songbook. Baumbach uses these well to build on a comedic screenplay but though there is fun moments the story isn’t necessarily funny and I don’t really feel it needed to be. The serious aspects of responsibilities, poignant desires to be young, blossoming resentment and dislike have their humourous lines but all in all they come firing out as a learning cinematic journey of how people can be and who we are.

Amongst the pitfalls and triumphs of Josh and Cornelia’s enlightening path, you get lovely light moments blurred with darker worries of what these mysterious 20 somethings are bringing to the table. I think this film could well make people think about their position, how their younger past once was and what they’re like now, that ultimately gives this film a great power of looking to the future, not just for the characters on screen but for the audience also.

It has to be said that along the way, a level of douchebaggery is pushed to 11, Spinal Tap style. The hipster imagery grates more often than not, though it’s understandable, the transition quality of the plot is pushed into the realm of hip younger oddities like cafes, hats and raman led drug awakenings. There is a good chunk of the film that feels strained through a strange sieve and comes out making you question how to take the movie.

The film deals well the choice to lift from a Henrik Ibsen play and quote it’s passage about opening a door to younger people. Always flicking back to this opening credit, I felt that the movie concerns the fear and yet hopefulness of accepting something new and unknown in a marvellous way. The end featuring a toddler and a mobile further pushes open that door of letting in a new view, this world and the muddling of tech and age is more muddled than ever before and the movie ends on that thought. At least that’s what I took from it.

Ben Stiller steps off the catwalk declaring Zoolander 2 and comes into his own once again, showing he can do serious. The light side of his comedy is still there but in his frustrations of his work and the annoyance he can feel towards Jamie, Stiller proves he’s a great leading man for dramatic pieces too. Naomi Watts doesn’t only bust a funny move in a spirited hip-hop class but brings dramatic weight to a wife that feels lost and trapped in that routine of normality. Adam Driver is possibly the only character to leave you cold, whether intentional or not, I left disliking Jamie, he’s a dick and goes the wrong way to get what he wants. Amanda Seyfried is bubbly and youthful in the role given and bounces back with what could be a boring happy wife mould to see how connotations in the flecks of growing older play to her narrative.

The film is fantastic at discussions of honesty, method and consequence in documentary film-making and in turn it feels nearly as fantastic in letting us watch the characters grow around one another. It’s only off the mark because it gets weird and has annoying patches. Still, a sharp and a well handled peek at the understanding of age gaps.

6/10

Furious 7 (2015)

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Taking its audience for a joyride, the latest installment in the ‘Fast and Furious’ series doesn’t hold back on explosive action and insane thrills. It’s loud and utterly unbelievable, the script stinks but it’s a riotous escape and it’s high octane entertainment.

Now able to live in the United States again, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew are hunted by Owen Shaw’s mean big brother, Deckard (Jason Statham). As he globe-trots around looking for vengeance, Dom is tasked by Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) to seek and obtain God’s Eye, a device that can utilise tech and cameras the world over to find people of interest. They must get it before it falls into the wrong hands and the Furious family unite once more to step into action and beat the bad guys.

Only the second film to not be directed by Justin Lin, usual horror director James Wan steps in to the ballsy action flick and handles it well. The jet setting journey is hot and bright, the typical screaming colours and sexy lines of each car doing their part for the target audience. Each crazy sequence ramps up more and more, always seeming to result in explosions or soaring body counts, the one time motley gang of racers now knowing how to undertake espionage missions and off big time criminals. Cinderella story or what!?

Chris Morgan’s screenplay is dripping with cheese. Just hearing some of the lines that come out of these character’s mouths is hilarious. It’s as if the script was rushed purely to get done and shooting, cliched dialogue never seemed so cliche. It falls more on the shoulders of I am Vin, who murmurs through a dull attempt at a serious B-plot with amnesiac Letty played by Michelle Rodriguez. Some of the one liners, to be fair, are so bad that they’re good and you have to smirk at the silliness of this bombardment of cinema.

The sounds of the film shake you to the core, you know when even the IMAX countdown has been pumped up with Nos, screeching tyres and roaring engines that you’re in for a booming watch. Shattering glass, blown up buildings and the usual screams of car racing melds into a blistering concoction of a loud and proud vehicular soundtrack. ‘Get Low’ by DJ Snake & Dillon Francis returns from pride of place in the trailer and suits the sun dripped glamour of Abu Dahbi to perfection.

It looks great, it has to be said. Shooting to a new scale of spectacle and Corona product placement, this movie is scorching with worldwide locations, sexy rides and sexier women, it is packed with gritty combat and explosive nonsense, the sky-falling cars and subsequent pursuit through the mountains of Azerbaijan is awesome. The yellow tinged sunset of UAE’s wealthy city serves great purpose as a super car bursts through buildings. The film may be over the top but it does look fantastic at times.

Paul Walker’s untimely passing is dealt with in a delicate manner and for a franchise known for dumb, OTT plots, the way this story slows down to consult the way Brian will be written out is rather touching. Probably the smartest thing they’ve ever put to paper as Brian and Dom move from beach to roads symbolising a happy but ultimately sad goodbye. You’d never guess he wasn’t alive for the entire film as he’s in it much more than I expected. CGI and his brothers, Cody and Caleb standing in for shots aid the story being told and it’s seamless to tell the truth.

Vin Diesel grunts through the picture, his bulking presence of team leader doing enough to carry the crew. Dwayne Johnson isn’t in that much, but he does get a damn cool fight scene with the Stath. Jason Statham is as he always is but does convince matched up against much larger opposition of the Iron Giant and The Rock. The violent Brit taking the title of a cat with nine lives to silly levels. Tyrese Gibson breaks down some of the action with his comedy routine. Michelle Rodriguez suffers with an annoying narrative but powers up in a duel against Ronda Rousey. Nathalie Emmanuel transitions from small to big screen in a capable smart and stunning role as helpful addition to the team.

Go for the next level craziness of car-ography, stay for the adrenaline fuelled overblown ride, just remember to switch your brain off, turn down expectations and forgive the long running time of ludicrous over production and the bad story that sticks like a broken gear shaft.

6/10

Get Hard (2015)

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Apart from having an admittedly good idea and potential, this comedy squanders any chance of pushing the ‘Trading Places’ like style to hilarious effect. It flatly relies on quite offensive jokes and stereotyped humour to cash in on the audience you’d expect would love this kind of brain dead movie making.

James King (Will Ferrell) is rich, successful and engaged to be married to his boss’ daughter, Alissa (Alison Brie). His life goes from riches to rags when King is arrested for fraud and embezzlement, something he strongly denies. He soon has to turn to car washer and devoting dad Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), as he thinks he’s a previous convict that can help him beef up and train to survive in maximum security prison.

It’s clearly a film running around the comedy playground giggling at the chance to use its title to childishly joke in concerns of getting hard and so on and so forth. The film isn’t truly terrible, it did in fact make me chuckle or laugh a few times but it’s not gut bustingly funny and not even overly funny to be honest. It drops any smart hope of being clever in class swapping story to run amok in racist and homophobic trash.

Etan Cohen has his debut here as director and doesn’t really prove to be a talent to look out for. It’s a comedy directed as most American comedies are and he brings no style to a film that sits back to let Hart and Ferrell do their thing. The only shining moment in directorial terms is the prison riot mock up, captured in strobe lighting flashes making it more funny and more pulsating. It’s a simply built movie for simply built minds.

The writing isn’t even much better, racist digs and over the top reactions filling the script to breaking point and it’s so obvious that the screenplay would have been bare bones to let its stars improv lines as much as they love to do. The plot itself is obvious from the outset and I’m sure that’s not just for me, everyone would get it before the film reaches ten, fifteen minutes in. There isn’t really any depth to the narrative or the characters, the film goes by quickly to be fair but it isn’t a well formed execution of what could have been a neat idea.

The music is like most U.S comedies, score sits back to let contemporary songs do the talking. Charlie XCX can be rolling in more cash as it seems her sounds boom, clap across the speakers more than other artists. The soundtrack is mostly pop and urban rap to work with the gangster side of proceedings that King ends up in. It clearly works though as the songs are energetic, tell their story along with the film and are recognisable aiding the audience to engage with the film more.

Will Ferrell sticks to the expected curly haired shtick but it always works and his fan-base won’t be disappointed, as he does OTT well and always excels in dumb acting. Kevin Hart is another big American actor that has a shtick to rely on now but he too does it well enough that you can’t groan too much about it if you’re seeing this movie. They both have a good chemistry and bounce off each other well. Hart’s tennis court scenario is brilliant and Ferrell’s jail time slurs are actually really funny. Alison Brie, for my sake could have been in it more but she portrays the vain gold digging fiance to unlikable levels that suits her character and Brie looks mighty fine doing it.

Lazy and dumb, this doesn’t achieve anything of note and the trailer says all it needs to. If you love or like Ferrell and Hart then you will enjoy it but if not then you’ll just about get by this wasted movie. It faintly ticks the comedy box with a blunt pencil, one you’d expect King to keister.

4.5/10

Cinderella (2015)

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A well balanced magical reproduction of the classic House of Mouse 1950 animation of the same name. This newest addition in the line of Disney redo’s retains that delicate and romantic quality and doesn’t stifle any of the traditional fairy tale vision with needless updates. It completely looks and feels the part and I’m sure a whole new wave of generations will adore the happy ending story.

A widowed father marries high and mighty Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) but as he leaves for business travel, his daughter Ella (Lily James) is left behind to suffer in her own home as servant to her new stepmother and two stepsisters. Whilst out riding one day Ella runs into a handsome man called ‘Kit’ (Richard Madden) who she falls for, little knowing he’s the prince. He too is besotted with this girl from the woods and calls on every woman in the kingdom to attend a palace ball in the hope to see her again. On this special night Ella could find true love…as long as it fits in before midnight.

Kenneth Branagh’s direction is grand and sweeping, the loving traditional approach really working in favour of this old style story. The look is gorgeous and the way Branagh lets each set tell its part of the tale is wonderful. There’s a lot of circling shots too adding to the sense of building whirling attraction between the Prince and Ella. It might not be a flamboyant or unique directing gig but it benefits this specific plot and the outcome of the smooth camerawork feels magic.

The actual cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is splendid. The framing of scenes from the beautiful estate belonging to Ella’s parents to the grandeur of the palace are magnificent. Each new location is captured as necessary to fill the screen with a new place of wonder to entrance the princesses at heart in the audience. It might be a typical vibe of wealth and fancy ballrooms to daze Ella but it has to be as it’s a whole new world opening up for her and so the journey from slave girl to princess Cinderella has to be full of magic, dazzle and riches.

Sandy Powell has an awful lot of work to do and she pulls it off as costume design head. The clothes on every person makes the film come alive, the sheer scope of dressing full cast and many extras for the ballroom scene puts the film into perspective of how much it looks the part. The dresses for Ella are beautiful, even the dirty rag-like blue number hints at that beauty she can possess and then her own pink design comes in like a Hermione Granger Goblet of Fire moment. The true spectacle is in the massive poof design of her palace dress, the shimmering blue adorned with fluttering butterflies is most girls dreams come true and it’s a work of art. Cinderella isn’t the only one dressed well, everyone is costumed perfectly.

The props and sets work in kindred spirit with the amount of CGI. The decorated garden with plump pumpkins paves the way for the transformation scene, this entire Fairy Godmother sequence being full of sparkle and reminiscent of the wand waving original. The odd twisting of lizards to footmen and mice to horses is funny and done really well, it’s clearly computer wizardry but it doesn’t detract from the magic, the mice in general are the only generated characters that don’t feel right and don’t have the same spark as the 1950’s mice.

Lily James is extremely pretty so has that princess look ready in her pocket but she puts across that sort of plain Jane quality, to sell the servant she becomes and the kind heart every girl is something she pours over the screen. The romantic looks she gives to the prince are lovely and you truly feel she’s in love with him. She is on the money as the good and forgiving Ella, powerfully using her nickname to take the spite away from it. Richard Madden is charming and handsome in his rebirth after Robb Snow but it’s a pretty bland role and the drippy gentleman act doesn’t require an awful lot. Helena Bonham Carter as expected does a lot to steal the show, her helpful and magical Godmother character suiting her to the ground. Cate Blanchett is amazing. She’s better than Angelina Jolie in providing a more threatening and real villain, you can hear the snide cackle in Blanchett’s voice, she fills the screen with devilish glares and mean spirits. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera are the squabbling cruel stepsisters and fit the part nicely. Rob Brydon has a neat little cameo too as a sitcom-esque artist making all the grown ups in the cinema laugh.

It’s better than I thought it’d be and it comes out on top as Disney’s best retelling yet. It really is much the same as the original cartoon and what the trailer shows, but under sturdy direction, flawless princess duties from James and romantic imagery it’s an entertaining and wholesome movie.

6.5/10