Z for Zachariah (2015)

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Nicely brimming with anxiety, this science fiction apocalyptic-like drama is further helped by the performances and an interesting magnifying glass placed over strained bonds.

Farmer and apparent last human Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) has got used to her routine until one day she sees another person walking along in a radiation suit. After helping him out of a life endangering bathe, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is invited back to the farm where they live together and a possible relationship grows until Caleb (Chris Pine) turns up and puts a tense spin on the dynamics.

What I liked about this film quite a lot is the grounded feel, it certainly inhabits a small scale of a bigger more devastated world and within this there’s a great focused intensity on character that is ripe for theatre set drama. To be honest, a lot of the story involved feels and sounds like something that would work extremely well on stage, just the 3 actors for a start gives it that impression.

Craig Zobel directs rather well, he makes sure that the story keeps ticking but all the while there’s burning moments of danger, these anxious steps speak volumes about the rivalry between the two men and the possible consequences that could arise. The parallel between Loomis on a teetering rock and Burden slowly shoving a glass of her table is a great moment of no dialogue but a lot is said, making you wonder what happens to Loomis during that point, this perfect touch of mystery also occurs in a better way surrounding Caleb.

The relationships between the 3 people are written strongly, each of the men are worrying figures that come into the innocent, religious life of Ann, and though Loomis may be kind at first he is not without flaws and his jealousy runs rife leading to the dramas that follow. It this trio of deconstructing human behaviour that becomes compelling, at least for me it did.

Margot Robbie provides a beautiful performance, lost by the welcoming of these new figures but still trying to be strong for her father, her faith and herself. She looks surprisingly plain which is something for Robbie and you feel sorry for her. Ejiofor can dominate the screen nicely and brings a brooding sense of unease during his jealous spells. Likewise Chris Pine, in his more Hollywood poster boy appearance, he plays arrogant well in thinking he can swoop in on Ann.

If you have patience and can appreciate slow burning character dramas, then this is a film I’d recommend. It has a fantastic cast, a quite alarming end and a great look on a world with and without hope.

6.5/10

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Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Into the Woods (2014)

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A gleeful and sometime dark look at fantasy and fairy tales through musicality and typical Disney glossy production value. It falls down in seemingly never ending happy or unhappy endings and the film does feel too long for underwhelming songs and nothing majorly special.

This musical has The Baker (James Corden) narrate and feature in an intertwining tale of fairy tale classics as he and his wife (Emily Blunt) need to find four items to try and reverse a curse placed by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Along the way in the woods is a wolf (Johnny Depp), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and dark twisted paths leading to unexpected conclusions.

The film does have some neat clever moments that stem from the original 1987 Broadway story, the intriguing and playful turns of children’s fairy tales make the Disney film a little less kiddy than it could have been and in fact the middling section of this screen adaptation is good for hitting that stride of Brothers Grimm territory. Sadly it doesn’t seem to linger on the darker endings of the actual fairy tales which is a shame.

Stephen Sondheim has a knack for creating music and lyrics but so too does he have a knack for creating a sense of similarity in all the work he does. This film begins to feel tiring as each song comes in sounding the same as every other. The music builds up the fantastical village and foreboding forest really well but the songs leave something to be desired. None of them, in my eyes, are astounding or wholly memorable which isn’t a great sign for a musical, perhaps it not being something I knew of didn’t get me giddy for hearing how big names would do the songs I’d never heard, but then it hasn’t opened a door to me wanting to find out more about this show.

The only singing success I felt the movie had was in the quick paced number titled, ‘Your Fault’, an inventive, overlapping and snappy ditty that is stuffed with fast accusations and brilliant harmonies. The quick paced style can’t be said for the movie itself though as it felt like the dinginess of the woods was magically slowing down time and dragging us through the mud. It could have benefited from a few slight chops of Jack’s axe as the near two hour run didn’t feel spritley like a musical should. The beginning did but it began to labour as the twisted tales unfurled.

It’s shot very well, Rob Marshall directing the ensemble cast with his talent of behind the camera musical sparkle. The cinematography is very believable and the gnarled woods really do feel intimidating, large and troublesome. The make believe of towers, castles and forests grab attention and the costume/make-up department have a lot to feel proud of because the vision of the entire piece is remarkable, as if Hollywood and Broadway have combined in hybrid fashion to make this stage show film.

Meryl Streep is as pretty much always a formidable talent on screen. Her portrayal of this bad yet good yet bad yet so on and so on witch is mischievous, wicked and thoroughly fun. The song ‘Stay with Me’ (not by Sam Smith) that she got specially from Sondheim is the only other number that stands out and it’s not even originally from the show, maybe Streep’s shine could see it featuring on stage from now on, that or it’s going for Original Song at the Oscars. I’m in no way a fan of James Corden, in fact I find him overly irritating but after a few sighs getting used to his voice and presence he’s not terrible, he holds his own and is down to earth figure in this kingdom of wolves, princesses and giants. His marriage to the beautiful Emily Blunt perhaps the most unbelievable aspect about this story! Blunt herself is kind and a warm actress that sells the good intentioned and often funny Baker’s wife, her singing is damn good too. Johnny Depp is a credit only, a pull for punters to see him being Johnny Depp as always. The creepy factor he exudes is turned up ever higher in a brief scene and song. Much applause from me goes to Lilla Crawford who makes Red Riding Hood bounce with naughtiness and charisma every time she appears. Anna Kendrick is mightily convincing as humble being turned gorgeous princess and her stage background benefits her singing moments. Chris Pine has fun and near evil delight as a mocking one dimensional Disney prince, cliched air grabs and all.

I haven’t seen the show but it retains that stage like quality and magical darkness which is a good thing, a worthy example of thumbs up adapting work. I only disliked Sondheim’s songs which blend boringly and the length begins feeling overly long. I would have desired more teasing of worrying dark ends to keep in with Grimm glory but it’s fun and looks amazing.

5.5/10

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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More entertaining and stylish than the first time around I believe, it relies an awful lot on pratting about to gain the laughs but it’s not a stale idea as quite a few times the comedy lands with a genuine smack.

The same three buffoons from the 2011 movie are back and now have invented a multi purpose shower tool called theĀ Shower Buddy. Dale (Charlie Day), Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have the hope for the gadget to become big when Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his father Burt (Christoph Waltz) want 100’000 units. The Hanson’s are quick to reverse their offer screwing up NickKurtDale’s livelihood leaving them coming up with the option to kidnap Rex to get money back from Burt, though of course their incompetence and some unwanted attention from sexpot dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t help things along.

It has some good laughable moments, perhaps not gut wrenching belly laughs unless you’re a solid hardcore fan of the original. It’s a style of comedy that does know it’s being funny because it’s so dumb and the biggest amount of it stems from moronic humour in the way the three leads are so inept at carrying out their crime wave. They’re squabbling, arguing frittering children in grown men’s bodies and some of the things they say as asides or juvenile mishaps they end up are quite funny to be honest.

The problem, or at least one of the problems this film has is in the waste of it’s amazing cast. Jennifer Aniston is actually very capable at comedy as we darn well know and she’s subjected to a sidelined role with obvious smutty humour as her main acting note. Christoph Waltz is hardly in it at all which is a shame because he’s an actor I love and he can do fun really well, his character is nothing of any villainous or entertaining interest. Kevin Spacey is back but gets a speck of screen time compared to the three main dudes and most of his stuff is sadly, not very funny.

It’s a film that centres on a trio of half-wits or at least morons in the scheme they’re up to their neck in, but a lot of the movie makes you begin to find them grating. The annoying thing is in Day’s repetitive screeching to provide funnies. Sudeikis has a character that bounces back and forth and clearly improvises a lot but it’s not always a hit, Bateman is the only one that has a character you can kind of empathise with. The stupid branch of the comedy tree is fully gripped by Chris Pine’s Rex though and he does look like he’s having a ball with the twisty turny character he’s been given.

This film felt better to me because it had a more heist genre glean to it. An ‘Oceans 11’ like style of split screens, wipes and plans being dreamed up are cool little ideas as the three think of how to pull off the kidnap ransom money being dropped their way. Thanks to this plot turn up it leads to more twists and I liked the comedy taking a slightly new angle in seeing how events would pan out. The film also has an awesomely unique spin on a car chase and the funniest moment of the film may square on a freight train and a fenced in vehicle.

This is being reviewed much harsher than I think is fair, I enjoyed it at the face value I think it should be taken with. Their may be some naff tries at comedy, some of the stars may be underused and it’s overly silly with over the top characters but there’s a good hand of fun to be had with it all and it not being as dark works in its favour. Just don’t go in expecting to laugh your socks off and have a stupid moronic time and you’ll love it otherwise it’s a comedy sequel that doesn’t do much to warrant it hitting cinema screens.

(A controversial?) 6/10