Movie Review – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller

Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

In the apocalyptic wasteland, Max (Hardy) is still trying to survive. Captured by a band of savages led by Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne), he’s held prisoner and drained for blood to keep the soldiers alive. Little does he know that Imperator Furiosa (Theron) is planning to smuggle out Joe’s wives and lead them to a better life. When Joe learns of this betrayal he takes his forces in pursuit, and Max finds himself on the road again as he’s used as a blood bag.

Okay, first off I’m going to make it clear that I really enjoyed this movie. I had a great time watching it and I think as an action film it does what it’s intended, and the execution is near flawless. I have seen the previous Mad Max films, although I’m not the biggest fan of them, but I don’t think you’d necessarily have to have seen them in order to enjoy Mad Max: Fury Road.

Miller manages to create a unique world without much exposition. It’s a character driven story where things are shown and not told, and the little touches give it a distinct feel. The visual style and color palette he employs complements this. The action is cool and the pace is quick. The plot is fairly simple but the aesthetic is what drives the film.

It’s also been getting amazing reviews, and I think looking at it objectively I can see that it’s a fantastic film and it’s hard to fault it. But I’m not objective and I’ve never claimed to be. I actually got into a discussion with a friend over Facebook about this, because I’m not sure that I agree with all the universal praise. I think Hardy is not used well enough as Max, because although he’s the titular character he’s basically along for the ride. This is much more about Furiosa’s story.

The other thing, and perhaps this is much about me as the film, but I didn’t feel a strong emotional attachment to it. The films I love manage to elicit some sort of visceral response from me, and while this was extremely cool it never quite reached that level of enjoyment for me. And perhaps I’m being too picky or expecting too much from my entertainment, and maybe I’m even being too critical, but while I enjoyed it a lot, at the end I was ready to move onto something else.

That’s not a bad thing either, because I don’t think it’s trying to be anything other than it is, so yes, it’s a great film and I can see why it’s been getting so many great reviews. I enjoyed it a lot, but it’s disposable for me, and it didn’t have the emotional impact on me that, say, Fury did. It’s a cool, fun film, and I enjoyed it a lot, and I’m definitely recommending it, but for me it didn’t reach that upper echelon of greatness that it seems to have done for a lot of other people.

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Movie Review – Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)

Director: Brad Bird

Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw

Casey (Robertson) is a frustrated teenager who dislikes the general attitude of the world. After being bailed out of jail she finds a strange badge, and when she touches it she finds herself in another world. This leads her on an adventure to save the world itself!

I used to work at Disneyworld and there’s a section of the Magic Kingdom called Tomorrowland, and the film features the attraction ‘It’s a Small World,’ which gets unfair criticism I think. I actually really enjoyed the ride. Anyway, I appreciated these nods and I think overall the film holds up well to the central philosophy of Disney. The message is to look forward and try to find solutions to problems rather than resign yourself to defeat. It’s about hope, dreams, and inspiration, and these are ideas that I can get behind because I do agree with the sentiment of the film. We’re bombarded with so much negativity that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the world is a beautiful, wondrous place (and it’s the reason why I don’t watch the news, because they only report the disasters and tragedies).

This is also reflected in movies as well, and while I was watching the first part of the film I was thinking that Brad Bird would be perfect to direct a Superman film because the way he shot the entrance to Tomorrowland showed that he’s capable of conveying a sense of wonder and awe. The main thrust of the film shows Casey allying with Frank (Clooney) to try and fix the world because people have basically given up hope, and apparently Casey is the one person in the world who hasn’t given up.

The film had some good set-pieces and I liked the concepts introduced in Tomorrowland itself, but the ending fizzled out completely. The build-up to the climax was done well but the ending didn’t satisfy me at all and the way the message was presented was incredibly heavy-handed and it felt like I was being lectured to. At one point one of the characters turns to the screen and, breaking the fourth wall, yells at us for making a mess of the planet. I don’t mind a message in movies but this felt like it was preaching to the audience and trying to lecture rather than entertain.

There also wasn’t enough depth given to Tomorrowland. There was so much potential for exploration here, and we’re told that there are a lot of people in Tomorrowland, and yet it seems as though there’s only one person. There’s also lip service given to the fact that other people have been recruited before Casey, but it’s never said why they failed, and Casey comes off as a Mary-Sue in some aspects. The story tells us that she’s special and unique but the only reason given is because she hasn’t given up, and I can’t see that she’s the only person in the whole world to hope.

But Robertson is good in the role and I predict big things for her. She has a good screen presence and was probably the most watchable thing about the film. Clooney was his usual affable self, and Hugh Laurie was okay, although his role was basically one-note.

And I feel really bad now because I don’t want to be a part of this negative cycle that the film is battling against because I do think it’s worthwhile that this film was made and I think it promotes a positive outlook on the world that people should take with them and carry out of the movie theatre. It follows the tenets of Disney, and I liked how it showed that anyone can have a positive impact no matter age, race, creed, location. I genuinely like the message behind it but I don’t think it completely succeeded in the execution, and as a film I found the climax lacking.

Movie Review – Rudderless (2014)

Director: William H. Macy

Stars: Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin, Miles Heizer, Laurence Fishburne, Selena Gomez, Felicity Huffman

Sam (Crudup) is the father of Josh (Heizer), a troubled young man who commits the tragic crime of shooting a number of students at his school before turning on himself. Sam falls apart and ends up living on a boat while drinking himself through the day. However, upon going through his son’s things he finds all the songs Josh wrote, and starts performing them at an open mic night. Through this he gets catharsis, but when he forms a band the songs take on a life of their own, and he wonders how far he can go before he tells his band the truth about who wrote them.

At first this plot sounds a little like The World’s Greatest Dad, in which a father writes his son’s diary and gets famous because of it. But in this one Sam never seeks fame, it’s simply a way for him to work his way through the pain of his son’s death. The issues presented in Rudderless are moving. Firstly there’s the complex feelings that Sam goes through of knowing that his son is a murderer, and how to correlate that with the boy he raised. I can’t imagine the strength needed to deal with that, and Crudup does brilliantly in showing the spectrum of emotions.

Then there’s the debate about artistic merit, and how much the artist should influence the work. Should you like a song if a murderer wrote it? Should it be dismissed simply because of who wrote it? They’re interesting questions that spark much discussion. The tension here comes with his band, mainly the character played by Anton Yelchin, who becomes a surrogate son to Sam. There are some moving exchanges and the emotional beats hit hard.

The songs are really good too, and this film features the best rendition of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ that I’ve ever heard. This is a musical that’s in the same vein as Once or Forget Me Not, and they’re my favourite types of musicals. It’s a genuinely moving film with heaps of drama, some light moments, and plenty of material for thought and discussion afterwards.

Movie Review – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Flula Borg, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins

The girls are back! After winning the Acapella National Championships three years in a row the Barton Bellas are invited to perform for the President himself. But after a mishap tarnishes their reputation they’re banned from performing in the championships. In order to redeem themselves they enter the world championships in the hope that they can win. However, to do so they must defeat the reigning champions Das Sound Machine.

The main thing I’m glad about with Pitch Perfect 2 is that there were no vomit jokes this time around. I’m still not a fan of Rebel Wilson but surprisingly I find her less annoying than in other films. The thing with Pitch Perfect is that, aside from maybe Becca (Kendrick), the characters basically have one characteristic and all their lines revolve around that. Lilli is a little strange and all her lines are random, there’s a Mexican member and all her lines revolve around her telling stories about how she had malaria or will have to be deported once she graduates and then sneak back into the country. Emily is a new legacy character and all her lines are about wanting to be part of the Bellas. It’s doesn’t make for any compelling character arcs…

But I still had a blast watching it because I just love acapella! The songs are really cool and the choreography is amazing. I’m not sure whether Elizabeth Banks is totally responsible or if they had specialist to come in and take care of the dance routines but they were superb. I mean, Das Sound Machine’s final sequence was so good that I couldn’t see how the Bellas could win, and I was afraid that it would feel manufactured, but then they went and blew me away!

My main complaint is that I wish more of the film had taken place at the world championships. I feel like this would have given the film an opportunity to showcase different music styles and artists from around the world, and broaden the horizons rather than use totally Western songs. But aside from that I enjoyed it mainly for the singing, what little character arcs were present were standard but if you liked the first one this one will be a winner for you.

Movie Review – Unfriended (2015)

Director: Leo Gabriadze

Stars: Shelley Henning, Moses Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki, Courtney Halverson, Heather Sossamon

Two years ago Laura Barns committed suicide after an embarrassing video of her was leaked. On the anniversary of her death a group of friends are video chatting when they start receiving messages from her account. Fearing they’ve been hacked, they try to deal with this mysterious person who is typing to them, when one by one they get involved in a deadly game where all their darkest secrets are revealed.

I actually achieved a dream when I went to see Unfriended for it was the first time that I ever had the entire cinema to myself. Initially I was happy but, well, a horror film may not have been the best one to be completely alone. It’s a found footage film but it’s not as annoying as some other ones because it’s filmed entirely from a computer screen. I like it when films are experimental and try something different, and I felt like this one worked. I enjoyed the style and how it used the layout of a computer to ratchet up the tension, for example how it used the limited camera angle to cloak the action in mystery.

It deals with a serious issue as well because cyberbullying is becoming more and more common, and although it’s not a moral commentary it does show the consequences of speech on the internet, and how it can matter what you type and the manner in which you cyber-speak.

Some of the characters are annoying, as we learn more about them their fear increases and by the end I was on the edge of my seat. I thought the actors did a great job and I’d be interested to see how this was filmed because none of them were ever in the same room as each other so I’m wondering if they were all filmed separately or whether they had an actual group video call.

There is some suspension of disbelief required. I’m no tech expert but I’m pretty sure that some of the things that happen to their computers just aren’t possible, and I know some people are going to be annoyed by the ultimate resolution of the story, but it actually worked for me. I was creeped out and I felt the tension and I feel the film had the effect it intended. I enjoyed it a lot and it gets a recommendation from me.

Movie Review – Sabotage (2014)

Director: David Ayer

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Olivia D’Abo, Joe Manganiello, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Mireille Enos

An elite DEA team raids the house of a drug cartel and steals $10 million dollars. When the money disappears, the members of the team are placed under investigation. But when that threat gets dealt with, the team find themselves hunted by an unknown killer…

David Ayer directed Sabotage and he’s going to be directing Suicide Squad, which is of interest to me since I have a great fondness for superhero movies. After watching this I think he’ll do well because there were a good number of action set-pieces and some thrilling deaths. There were also a couple of stylish shots from the barrel of a gun, which I would have liked to have seen more of as it gave the film a unique look.

The writing is a bit lacklustre. The cast is fairly big so it’s difficult to give the characters depth and they mostly rely on the charisma of the actors, and there is a good ensemble. The twist is okay although there aren’t many clues to it so instead of being blown away and thinking ‘ohhh THAT’s what THAT meant,’ instead it just happened and the film continued. It’s good to see Arnie in a decent role that doesn’t poke fun at his 80s persona (looking at you Expendables) and the ending would have been a decent story in and of itself.

It’s a pretty decent action flick that has some good laughs. It’s not the best and there are some story beats that just don’t make sense and come out of nowhere, but overall I enjoyed it.

Movie Review – Justice League: War (2014)

Director: Jay Oliva

Stars: Sean Astin, Zach Collison, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Monaghan, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk, Steve Blum

The world’s finest heroes form the Justice League as the world is under threat from a powerful enemy.

I think this takes some cues from the New 52, although I haven’t read anything from that line. But there’s an edge to these characters that hasn’t been there in some of the other films, this is especially apparent with Superman. The line-up is what you’d come to expect from the JLA but Shazam (the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel) is there in place of Martian Manhunter, and Cyborg gets a LOT of attention.

The heroes are mostly split into pairs at first, and I enjoyed some of these, the most notable being Batman and Green Lantern, who had an amusing dynamic. The action was good, although pretty standard apocalyptic scenario. Darkseid was basically just a reason for the JLA to get together, and in this sense it reminded me of Avengers Assemble.

I liked some of the concepts, like how in this world vigilantes aren’t trusted at first, but there’s not much depth to the story so although it’s pretty enough to watch, I wasn’t moved by it and I didn’t immerse myself in it. So it’s a fun movie but it’s on the lower-end of the scale.

Movie Review – Locke (2013)

Director: Steven Knight

Stars: Tom Hardy and a lot of disembodied voices

It’s an important day for Ivan Locke (Hardy). A building project is going to be completed the following day, and a woman he slept with is going to have a baby, so he’s on the way to London to see her. During the journey he has to try and explain to his wife the situation, and then everything starts falling apart at work…

Locke is a short film set in the confines of a car. The camera never leaves the car, and it focuses solely on Tom Hardy. Hardy has quickly become one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, and it’s a joy to concentrate on a master for the duration of a film. One of the things I’ve noticed about Hardy is how much he uses his voice as a part of the character, and here he adopts a mild affectation, very soft-spoken, but with an edge of authority. It’s really interesting to watch as everything he’s worked for spirals out of control, and all he can do is try and make phone calls to limit the damage.

Despite the personal drama he’s going through, I actually found the film to be quite mellow to watch. It’s the equivalent of being present during a long drive at night time as a passenger, without having to concentrate on the roads. The story unfolds at a good pace and although it comes in at just shy of 90 minutes it doesn’t feel rushed at all. It’s a really interesting movie and just another testament to Hardy’s talent.

Movie Review – Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Stars: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Juno Temple, Tom Sturridge

Based on Thomas Hardy’s novel, Far From the Madding Crowd shows how an unconventional woman, Bathsheba (Mulligan) adapts when she inherits a farm and comes under the courtship of three very different suitors.

Well, okay, so I really enjoyed reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles but I haven’t read this one. However, I’m probably not going to. I initially liked the protagonist as she flouted social conventions, but then she made some decisions which seemed completely out of character. I didn’t feel she shared much chemistry with any of the suitors, and it was only the relationship with Gabriel (Schoenaerts) that was allowed to breathe and develop properly.

The scenery and landscapes were gorgeous, and I felt that the film brought to life the period setting but I couldn’t get invested in the characters, so whenever something shocking happened it left me feeling flat. There were also moments in the film that felt incredibly rushed and it gave me no chance to settle, and also confused me as I tried to work out the timing of all these events.

By all accounts this has been getting positive reviews, but not enough of it worked for me. I enjoyed the setting, the performances were okay, but it felt like it needed some more time to develop certain threads of the story. I only felt invested in one of the romances because that was the only one that seemed to be given any attention, so this one is a miss from me and I’m not going to recommend it.

Movie Review – Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Stars: Kit Harington, Peter Firth, Jennifer Ehle, Tuppence Middleton, Elyes Gabel, Lara Pulver, David Harewood, Tim McInnery

Based on the BBC tv series, Spooks: The Greater Good begins as a routine escort mission goes wrong and a terrorist escapes. With the failures of MI5 under the microscope, Harry (Firth) begins to suspect a traitor in the ranks, so he gets in contact with a decommissioned agent, Will (Harington) to try and help him uncover the traitor, while Harry himself plays a dangerous game.

I have never watched the tv show but it’s not a prerequisite going onto this film. There’s some backstory given for Harry, but as I understand it most of the cast is new to the film, although there’s hints of backstory given which gives the world depth, and implies that these are people with a history together, and I liked that. One of the main reasons I went to see this is because of Harington, who I am a fan of from Game of Thrones, as I’m sure many people are, but the role of protagonist is shared by him and Harry, but I think perhaps I would have been more invested in Harry as a character had I watched the tv show.

The plot itself is reasonable. It’s fairly standard spy thriller stuff, with a few twists that keep things interesting. The tension was there in places as well, and I felt the ending had a fitting climax. But it’s not going to blow anyone out of the water and it’s not going to stand against the Bonds of the world. The main problem I had is that I couldn’t properly empathize with the characters. Harry started off as an outcast, and I feel that Will was supposed to be the newcomer’s window into the world, but he was pretty hopeless and never knew what was going on. He got played more than once, and didn’t strike me as particularly heroic. I don’t fault Harington’s performance, it’s more the way the character was written than anything else.

The thing is, it’s based on a tv show. Now, I don’t know what the tv show was like and I’m sure that if this movie had been an episode of the show it would have been incredible (in a different world where it would have had the same budget), but this film sits in the uncomfortable position where it probably has too much scope for a tv episode, but it doesn’t quite reach the explosive echelons of cinema, and I can’t imagine that it’s going to have much of an impact. It’s a decent film, but I’d be interested to see what people of the show thought of it, because as far as I know only a couple of the cast from the tv show were in it, and I have to wonder if there’s any point in continuing a tv show as a movie if you’re adding in mostly new characters? Would the Star Trek films have felt the same if only Kirk and Spock made the transition from tv to movies?