Movie Review – Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci

Bond is back! After the events of Skyfall there has been an inquest into the 00 program. Denby (Scott) is trying to set up a global surveillance network that will make the 00 program obsolete. M has to battle with these politics while Bond is on a personal mission, uncovering the layers of a secret organization called Spectre, and the sinister man that leads it.

People are crazy for Bond. I went to go to a 1930 showing and that was sold out.  The next three showings only had a handful of seats left, so me and my friend had to wait until the 915 one, which was only put on because they cancelled a showing of The Last Witch  Hunter (sorry Vin Diesel). So it’s pretty safe to say that this film is going to make a lot of money. But is it any good?

I liked it but I didn’t love it, but I think every Bond fan is going to enjoy it because there are a lot of elements that speak to past Bond films, and in some ways this feels like a love letter to them, with many references popping up here and there (but don’t worry, they don’t feel gratuitous and don’t get in the way of the plot).

It is the longest Bond film to date but I didn’t feel that it dragged in any places, although I’m not sure if that will be the case upon any repeat viewings. The theme of the film is basically asking if there’s a place for Bond in the world now, and also touches on the dangers of complete surveillance. But there’s plenty of action, and all the set-pieces and explosions are epic, and the close combat scenes are intense. The acting is good across the board although I feel that there could have been some flashbacks to deepen Waltz’s character, although of course this would have meant sacrificing some other parts of the film. I was also disappointed that Bautista’s role was as a silent henchmen because he showed in Guardians of the Galaxy that he could bring more depth to a role than just simply being a brute.

I do like how these films have a string of continuity between them, although I’m wondering if Craig is done with the role whether they will continue to have that continuity or just begin something anew.

So yeah, Spectre is a good film with a lot of elements that Bond fans will enjoy, but it’s just lacking that extra spark to really push it onto greatness.

Movie Review – Inside Out (2015)

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo del Carmen

Stars: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Ever thought they were voices in your head? Inside Out gives us a look inside Riley’s head. She’s an 11 year old girl who has just been uprooted from her home in Minnesota to go to San Francisco where she knows no-one and the pizza has broccoli on it. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger try to help Riley through the transition but when Joy and Sadness get lost in the recesses of Riley’s mind, the young girl starts having a crisis.

Okay, so obviously Inside Out does simplify the working of the mind but I liked how it showed how things work, and it was interesting to get a window into Riley’s head. Most of the film takes place there and it’s strange because the main characters are Riley’s emotions, so although we don’t really spend much time with Riley per se, we actually know her intimately well through her emotions. I also liked how the emotions are the same in everyone, yet some are more dominant than others.

The story is actually fairly dark, and yes, there were moments that I found extremely emotional. Many people automatically give Pixar films a great rating but I don’t think they hit it out of the park as much as some people seem to think, and I still think that Up is so overrated, but Inside Out is a gem. It’s helped by a score from Michael Giacchino that will swell the heart, but it’s a clever look at the balance of emotions, and how even ones that seem negative can serve their purpose.

The visuals are incredible and there’s one sequence in particular which struck me as amazing, and the animation is superb. There’s a lot of in-jokes that only adults will get, and some nice visual gags. This is definitely up there with the upper echelon of Pixar films. I laughed,  I cried, and I enjoyed this one a lot.

Movie Review – Boy Meets Girl (2014)

Director: Eric Schaeffer

Stars: Michelle Hendley, Michael Welch, Michael Galante, Alexandra Tushen, Joseph Ricci

You know, I watch a lot of movies and I review most of them on my blog. This can mean sometimes I feel obligated to watch movies rather than simply watch them for the sheer enjoyment factor, and occasionally I have to watch a run of bad and boring movies, and while it can be fun to trash them in reviews it does get a little old. But then I come across films that blow me away on every level, and it reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place.

Boy Meets Girl is one such film. Ricky (Hendley) is a transgender girl who begins flirting with Francesca, and the two of them start exploring their sexuality. But all the while there’s a simmering attraction between Ricky and her lifelong best friend Robby. It’s a film that is all about love, acceptance, hope, and the struggles we all face. It’s about having courage when things are difficult and trusting in those around you for support and love.

The film is often funny and heartfelt, but there are moments when it ramps up the drama and shakes you from the comfortable level you’ve reached. I really liked how Ricky isn’t just a token transgender character, but a real person, and it’s hopefully a landmark role because transgender people haven’t been represented that well in films. The characters are warm and witty, and I found myself quickly engrossed in the developments of these people. It’s superbly acted and there’s a subplot running through the film that brought me to tears in the end.

In some ways it feels like we’re entering the dawn of a new era where hopefully, as a society, we can be more accepting of people who are different than ourselves (which I think we should be anyway since we’re all different in one way or another but we all have one thing in common – we’re human, but that’s another discussion for another time). This film is very relevant and it has a universal message that people can identify with, and hopefully it will lead to some more understanding.  This is an outstanding film and you have to watch it, it’s as simple as that.

Movie Review – Where the Heart Is (2000)

Director: Matt Williams

Stars: Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack, James Frain, Dylan Bruno, Keith David

After being abandoned by her boyfriend at Walmart, Novalee (Portman) ends up staying there and tries to rebuild her life in the small town.

When I read the synopsis of this movie I thought that it was going to be like The Terminal but just set in Walmart. However, the movie is much more than that. It’s a touching, emotional story that envelops so much of the human spectrum of emotion it’s astounding. While the film centres around Portman, the supporting characters have as much involvement and some of the most powerful moments in the film comes from Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing.

It does draw out emotions, but at times the film does feel cloying and like it’s trying it’s best to generate these emotions, so it can feel a little saccharine, but I don’t mind that necessarily. There are a few jarring time jumps, and the film follows the ex-boyfriend through his life as well, but this didn’t have a satisfying resolution for me and it felt like an unnecessary story thread.

It’s one of those films that follow a long period of a life, with all the ups and downs that can happen. It’s not going to be for everyone but if you like simmering emotional stories then Where The Heart Is is probably going to be a film for you.

Movie Review – Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Edgar Wright Peyton Reed

Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson

Scott Lang (Rudd) is a reformed criminal who is trying to make amends with his daughter. When he’s approached by Hank Pym (Douglas), a brilliant scientist, he sees the chance to redeem himself and save the world. Armed with a super-suit that enables him to shrink to the size of an ant, Scott Lang becomes Ant-Man and tries to stop Yellowjacket (Cross) from using a similar piece of technology for nefarious purposes.

Ant-Man has been a project long in gestation, and I’ve been waiting for it all this time. It went through some rocky periods, most notably when the original director Edgar Wright left the production and was replaced by Peyton Reed. Whenever I’ve mentioned Ant-Man to people who aren’t into superheroes it’s been met with a smirk and a disdainful laugh, so it was a risk by Marvel but with the track record is anything a risk anymore?

Ant-Man does have its problems but overall its an entertaining film and one that offers a much more intimate story than the often bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron, which came out earlier in this year. With far less moving pieces to keep track of, the film can focus on the characters, and I’m finding that I’m enjoying the smaller stories (no pun intended) rather than the bigger spectacles. The plot and the emotional beats of Ant-Man are, it has to be said, fairly generic. There’s some father/daughter drama that happens in many other films, although the fact that both Pym and Lang have their own problems with their daughters lends itself to some nice moments between the two as they recognize a similar pain in each other’s characters, despite the differences between the two men. Branching out from this, I liked how a romance between Lang and Hope wasn’t forced on us because most films seem to have a romance, sometimes just for the sake of it.

The main thrust of the film is the business deal between Pym’s former protege, Darren Cross (Stoll), and again this is nothing new either, and it does echo some of the plot points from Iron Man. However, I found that the performances elevated this material. Rudd was his usual likeable self as Lang, and Marvel got themselves a real coup by getting Douglas, who is not just here for name recognition but is basically a co-lead with Rudd, and it’s as much about his time as Ant-Man as well as Rudd’s.

One of the things that I liked about DC is that they had legacy heroes, but here Marvel manages to explore that concept while also filling out a little bit of their history. There are a lot of references to the wider world but it feels natural, and it’s the perfect way for them to use the universe they’ve built. Aside from references to the Marvel world there are other pop culture references, most notably a couple of overt ones to Star Wars, and one that was only on screen briefly but was absolutely brilliant.

I enjoyed the special effects and felt that the film made good use of Ant-Man’s abilities. One of my favourite films ever is The Incredible Shrinking Man, which explores the nature of our place in the universe, because in the grand scheme of things we’re all small, so I was hoping for a bit of existentialism thrown in, but there wasn’t really any of that unfortunately. However, the 3-d effects were great and I’d suggest that this is a film you should make the effort to see in 3-d. It’s also billed as a heist movie, but I felt the climactic heist wasn’t given as much attention as it could have, it’s not like Ocean’s Eleven, for example.

Michael Pena’s characters was a little too over the top at times and became annoying, and some of the humour didn’t quite land. I saw the film with a three teachers who all either teach or have a background in science and physics, and they had some problems with the science used in the film, but that didn’t bother me so much (mostly because it would have gone over my head if they hadn’t been there to point it out).

It moves along at a good pace and it actually feels like quite a short movie. I really enjoyed Ant-Man and I think it actually feels like a comic brought to life from the era when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started to build the comics universe. It has that same tone and spirit, so while the film doesn’t have the most original elements in the world the casting are top quality and the spirit and tone of the film are great. Like with Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proves that with the right talent involved, a risk doesn’t have to be a risk at all.

Also, there are two scenes during the credits. The first is a scene that I felt should have been included in the film itself because it’s a natural plot development and was hinted at heavily during the film. The final one is worth sticking around for though, because it is a scene from an upcoming film.

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.

Movie Review – Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Stars: Christopher Meloni, Victor Garber, Tricia Helfer, Michael Madsen, John Larroquette, Kurtwood Smith

Hal Jordan is undergoing a simulation when he gets hijacked by Abin-Sur, and alien who tells him that he is part of an intergalactic police force known as the Green Lanterns. Jordan is picked up by Sinestro among others and is welcomed to Oa, where he is thrust into a conspiracy to do away with the Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps.

The plot for Green Lantern: First Flight is quite similar to the live-action movie, albeit streamlined as all the action takes place in space and there’s no focus on Earth at all. There were some good moments of humor and one twist that took me by surprise. I felt the supporting characters were given good depth and some cool moments. The visuals were really cool, especially in the climactic fight sequence, as it was accompanied by thundering sound effects that really added to the atmosphere (or lack of atmosphere since we’re in space).

The concepts were introduced well and the film works as an introduction to the mythos of the Green Lantern. I enjoyed it quite a bit as a fast-paced action movie.