Author Archives: filmandcake

The Gunman. Sean Penn’s turn to have a particular set of skills. Are they worth seeing? Not really…..

  

Sean Penn is the latest in the line of older Hollywood men to play the revenge driven, ex special forces hard man who is trying to get vengeance having been jipped by a baddie. Liam Neeson, Keanu Reeves, kevin Costner, and Denzel Washington have all had a go and now it’s the turn of Sean Penn. Not the kind of role you expect for him given that he has previously played character roles in Milk and I Am Sam to name just two. This kind of film is obviously a hot favourite at the moment after the success of Taken. It spawned two sequels and a lot of similar roles for Liam Neeson who is trying to rack up more in film kills than Sylvester Stallone. The Taken director Pierre Morel directs here too, it seems like he can’t get enough either. 

Now this film does have some good things going for it. Mark Rylance is in the film in what I hope will be the start of him appearing in more films because Jimmy cricket he is good. He does put on a kind of weird gravelly voice at times which to be honest is just weird but he is such a good actor that you let him off. Ray Winstone is also great, basically he just plays Ray Winstone but that works here so it’s alright. Idris Elba pops up also in a similar situation to Cuba Gooding in Pearl Harbour, his part is criminally small. The action sequences too are cracking. Morel knows how to shoot a car chase and close hand combat and so you know from the outset that you are in for a treat in those respects. 

So yes there are good things on show. But sadly there are some bad points too. And they are very bad indeed. Firstly the story itself is flimsier than a pair of Simon Cowell’s linen trousers. It lumbers from place to place after setting up a tepid scenario with two dimensional characters. Javier Bardem plays one of these characters in a performance which is the very definition of the phrase ‘phoning it in’. It’s a weird performance which isn’t helped by a laboured script. Such a shame after how brilliant he was in skyfall. 

Sean Penn also has his top off. A lot. A lot a lot. Obviously he has been to the gym recently and is proud of it. But it is at times funny how often there is a close up of his pecs, literally when I saw the film there were people laughing in the latter stages of the film when Penn seems to be allergic to his shirt. Bless him. That must be annoying. 

I haven’t said much about Sean Penn yet. And that’s because…..well…….there isn’t much to say. He’s ok, I guess. He is convincing in the fight scenes and other than that he is, well, alright. That sums up the film in general really. It is very tepid and with the cost of going to the cinema recently (especially with the ending of the orange Wednesday deal – heartbreaking) it isn’t a surprise that this films box office takings have been pretty poor. It opened with takings of £406,000 compared to the £1.7 million that Taken made. 

Birdman – is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s a guy dressed as a bird, who can fly.

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Sometimes writing a review should be treated like brewing a coffee, or a good tea. Or taking the time to marinate the living daylights out of a piece of meat. Thoughts need time to grow and opinions to form whilst you recount what you have just witnessed, good or bad. There is that strange sensation sometimes when you leave the cinema, and you can’t remember a lot about what it was you just saw “There were some funny bits….I think?” Sometimes films boggle your mind and you can’t decide whether you liked it or not. I remember seeing Troy and not knowing for about 3 weeks after the film if I preffered the Greeks or the Trojans, or if I even liked the film.

On this occasion, that was not the case. I have left the cinema all of half an hour ago and here I am, keen to get my opinion written down. The reason? Michale Keaton in his pants? Edward Norton playing a self obsessed, impotent actor, Zach Galifinakis wearing glasses? Yes. all of the above. The main reason though? This film is superb.

The Director (Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu – of Babel and first Mexican to be nominated for a best Director Oscar fame) is very brave with this film and boy does he need a pat on the back for his efforts. There are moments of total stillness, literally seconds where nothing happens. Normally that would drive me mad or it would be labelled as lazy or pretentious, but here? You can’t think of anything better for the moment. You don’t need to leave the film and let things marinate, he has done it for you in the film itself. There are sweeping camera shots that seem to last 15 to 25 minutes that follow actors around and nip around corners and up and down stairs. There is nowhere for the actors to hide and to me the film is all the more better for it. Conversations are had, then the camera follows the person to see where they go next, you see how that conversation affected them and how it drives them to have another conversation, it’s like theatre in film. It is therefore no coincidence that the film revolves around a  theatre and a group of actors trying to find an “honest” performance and desperate for the chance to prove themselves on stage whilst simultaneously baring their souls in performance. The cinematography means that you are so much more involved with the characters and what they are going through and you need this, as the film is mostly set in one place. No sweeping shots of the countryside or anything like that, just a couple of shots of a beach and then for the most part, you are shown the action in and around a theatre on Broadway. And of course that’s wher it’s set, this is where so many actors aspire to be, it’s like Valhalla for these guys, but they find when they are there it’s not all flowing kegs of wine and beer and a naked harem of women like the Vikings thought.

Inside this theatre, the action is centred around Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a film actor. Known for starring as the title role in the Birdman superhero films, Thompson has now sunk all of his money into a Broadway revival of a classic piece from an American great, he has written the adaptation, he is producing it and starring in it also. So for him it’s balls out of the bath time. If it goes wrong it’s gameover.

I will not give any spoilers away as that would be a waste of monumental proportions. Needless to say that Thompson is battling with a number of demons, some physical, some emotional, and Keaton in my opinion, gives the performance of his career. It would be interesting to see how he got this role, was he offered it? did the writers have him in mind? did he have to fight to get it? The similarities to his own life having played Batman are striking. Maybe he can draw on his own feelings of angst having once been the caped crusader and now trying to give an “emotionally true” performance. Whatever it was he did to get there though, he is superb. You can’t take your eyes off him. He is also surrouned by actors at the top of their game. Any film is automatically made better with Edward Norton being in it (same true of Gary Oldman, even the new robocop) and here is no exception. He is brilliant as a flawed, self loathing, arrogant actor who can be true on stage, but nowhere else. The same can be said of Emma Stone, she is understated yet fiery and totally believable as a vulnerable young girl with her own demons that have been passed down to her from her father.

The film itself looks at a topic that it is good for hollywood films to be paying attention to. Mental illness. Not only the effects this can have on those with the illness, but on those around them. It is more light hearted and in a way whimsical than Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett but it is just as hard hitting. I hope that actors aren’t going for these roles with the big Oscar nod in mind. I don’t think they are, but I certainly hope not. It’s reminiscent of Kate Winslet in Extra’s who muses that any actor that plays a disabled person are guaranteed an Oscar, I hope the same cannot now be said of actors playing mentally ill people. No that Michael Keaton doesn’t deserve an Oscar, but films like these should be the rule, not the exception.

Finnally, the music. As I said with Rush, the soundscore of a film can often be overlooked with how it can add to the drama of a scene. Again the Director has done brilliantly here with how he weaves a brilliant score in to the drama. You are left unsure as to whether the music is actually being played (a drummer outside the theatre for example) or if it is all in Thompson’s head. The incessant noise is akin to the rise in tension that Thompson feels as things go from bad to worse. Either way the drums are a master stroke. Bloody brilliant.

So the rating. I don’t do this very often but 10/10. Bang on. Best film I have seen this year and it will take somethign extraordinary to be better. Maybe Wiplash.

Birdman – get it watched!

Was Birdman a 10/10 for you? Let me know below…..

Foxcatcher – Liberace with a bit of wrestling? Or more than that?

I have to be honest right from the start here. I am a big Steve Carell  fan. Ever since Anchorman and Brick Tamland invited Veronica to the party in his pants, I was hooked. Then when I saw the American version of the Office it turned into a full on bromance, if a bit of a one sided one.

Therefore I was always going to have to work hard to look at this film objectively because I was kind of primed to like it. Luckily though I needn’t have worried because Carell is literally unrecognisable in this film. That is of course down to some incredible prosthetics just as much as it is to the actor but Carell really is superb as the eccentric, multi-millionaire philanthropist turned wannabe wrestling coach. As I assume most film goers do, having seen the film (which is based on true events and real people) I went home and googled the bejesus out of the real people that the actors were portraying. Whilst Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum (who play the American, Olympic gold medal winning wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz) gave very honest and open performances as the brothers, Carell really managed to capture a stark likeness of John Dupont which makes the film all the more haunting.

Now due to how much I enjoyed this film I am going to avoid giving any spoilers here, I am going to do my best anyway, because this film really needs to be seen.

So to give an overview, the story focusses on the time when John Dupont, Multi-Millionaire heir to one of Americas largest fortunes, decides to try and take over the national American wrestling team in 1986. This all starts when he approaches a young Mark  Schultz (Tatum) and seeks to become his mentor in the lead up to the wrestling world championships and subsequent Olympics. It’s hard not to draw comparisons with the film Liberace, in which the exuberant, eccentric Liberace befriends a young man as his so called ‘ward’ and tries to mould him into a version of himself. We do seem to love these stories as an audience. Someone preying on the naivety of a youngster and exploiting them for their own gains. These stories need to be handled carefully, not only because of their content but also because most of the time the real life people depicted in the films are still around and will be linked to the film whether they like it or not. Fortunately there is nothing to be squeamish about here. The actors are all delicate with their portrayal and the handling of the story is sincere. Mark Ruffalo is a shining example of this. His performance is brilliant. He is understated yet strong and gives a performance that shows why he is such hot property right now, not just for being the Hulk.

Also it’s good to see Channing Tatum and Sienna Miller tackle the roles that they do in this film (Miller plays Dave Schultz’ wife Nancy). It is not the run of the mill action or big budget fantasy epic like Jupiter Ascending that Tatum is also appearing in. Sienna Miller is not in the film very often but is a pivotal part when she does pop up. Both of them are going for the nitty gritty which is great to see, actors focussing on the acting. Lovely stuff.

In the lead up to Oscar season, as usual, there has been a raft of great films, Birdman, Whiplash, The Theory of everything and Selma to name a few. Foxcatcher is definitely up there with the best of them. Whilst I don’t see this being up there with the likes of Birdman or the Theory of Everything as best picture, it is a fantastic film that should be seen thanks to the incredible story and the even better performances. It drags a little in the middle of the film but other than that it keeps you gripped for the duration.

Verdict. 8.5 out of 10 – get it watched,

Transformers age of extinction – epic! And a bit about cinime

Transformers 4

When walking into the cinema I heard what was potentially the best introduction to this film from a young boy to his Mum:

Mum: are you looking forward to it then son?
Child: YES!
Mum: “Well I hope in this one they at least try to act, they didn’t in the last one”
Child: “Mum OPTIMUS IS GOING TO RIDE GRIMLOCK. I MIGHT NOT EVEN LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY THE REST OF THE TIME”

Good shout that man.

Couldn’t have summed it up better myself. As soon as the huge cardboard posters started appearing in the cinemas up and down the country I think pretty much everyone who is in the slightest bit interested in sci-fi, action, Transformers, anything, were thinking – “Is that Optimus on the back of a dino bot? Well then that’s getting watched”.

To be honest I think the makers of this film may have had that in mind. They knew the attraction that the all-out action would bring and so may have taken a few liberties with the plot/story. But like the kid himself inferred, if you are going to see Transformers to get a great plot then you are in the wrong cinema. There are similarities in this plot to those in Lord of the Rings, Terminator, Pocahontas, and Avatar to name a few. Along the lines of humans getting involved with something sacred and then going mad with power and spoiling it. You know the drill.

So let’s get to it, this film in terms of action, is EPIC. There is no other word for it really. I saw this in IMAX and boy do those guys know what they are doing. I won’t spoil things but there is one scene where a large magnet is being used to suck all the metal up out of a city. During this scene the sound scope and the visuals were quite literally breath taking. The woman in front of me shrieked and ducked as a lorry came seemingly from over her head, all the while the noise was rumbling the seats and your stomach giving you the feeling you were in a plane about to take off. Just brilliant, that is what IMAX is all about and that is worth anyone’s money!

In terms of performances there are a few great names that pop up, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman and Mark Wahlberg really go for it which does add to the credibility of the film, they look they are having fun and so you can have some fun too. The daughter (Nicola Peltz) is pretty wooden but then aren’t all female roles in Michael Bay films? She is certainly better than Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the less said about her performance in Dark of the Moon the better.

I read one article that said that Bay in this film had ‘phoned it in’ and was really there to take the money and run. Whilst I wouldn’t wholly agree with this as the action alone is popcorn-throwingly intense and that can’t be phoned in, I can see what they mean. When you watch the film, notice how many times the action takes place at either dusk or dawn, just as the sun is setting or rising. Seriously, check it out. It is even in the poster (see above). There are also a myriad of examples of panning camera shots below a character, moving from under the feet to their profile while the sun sets behind them in an ever so dramatic fashion. Man does Michael Bay love that shot! There are always people standing in front of the sun and creating a nice silhouette as they smooch in front of the fading light while the camera pans from their stomachs up to their faces. That kind of shot is OK once Michael, just, but it is certainly not OK when you do it nine times in a film.

But these ‘Bayisms’ aren’t too important, you can abide them because you get some other great stuff that makes up for it. Like more of the Autobots! Hooray! (Hound, Drift and Crosshairs) and a fantastic baddy in Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan). Lockdown is awesome, a weapon of mass destruction (ooh) and they don’t waste time by giving him a huge back story, you don’t need to know that stuff. Just know that he is lethal and is there to do some damage to Mark Wahlberg’s perfectly preened face.

One slight criticism of the film is that in my opinion it is about 30 to 40 minutes too long. There are some parts of the film that are pretty unnecessary and if they were skipped it would make the film so much better!

So overall I would say definitely go and see this film. See it in 3D or IMAX if possible and let it wash over you like a wave of technicolour action and transforming awesomeness. It’s not a film that will chancge the world, but by golly it is entertaining!

7 out of 10

Finally just to touch on what I wholeheartedly believe could be the worst phone app of all time. Cinime. I have used this a few times now after being encouraged to do so by friends and evil cretins. This app is pointless, do not use it. It listens to the adverts before films and then lets you watch them again on your phone. I am not exaggerating when I say that is literally all it does. It is pointless and a waste of time. Do not download it do not go anywhere near it, it is pants. Not the good pants, the uncomfy, grey awful pants that you got from your mum at Christmas. So there. Download a good game like piano tiles instead. That is much better!

Edge of tomorrow – a dynamic new take on time travel or 50 first dates with a sci-if twist?

There seems to be a bit of a pattern developing with Tom Cruise films. The set up for a lot his films seems to fit a formula which is brought around again and again. Tom Cruise as the dashing, figure and a comedic or strong female character to play against. Knight and Day, Oblivion, Jack Reacher and now the Edge of Tomorrow can be added to the list. He obviously enjoys playing the guy who is very much ‘in the know’ and has a smug grin on his face whilst he explains things to everyone and slaps them around the face with the ‘upper hand’ that he clearly has. This is exactly the case here.
Now don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy this film. It is fast paced, it’s a great idea and it ticks a lot of the blockbuster boxes.

The premise, bear with me, is that the world has been invaded by aliens, the leader of which can control time. It has the power to reset each day so that they eventually know exactly what the humans are going to do and can beat them very easily. Cruise’s character, William Cage, manages to acquire this power himself and so has to fight to use this to the humans advantage.

Emily Blunt is great as the feisty ‘full metal bitch’ who knows how to wield a massive ‘final fantasy’ style sword and make short work of the baddies. She once had the power that Cruise now has and so is keen to poke him and prod him so that he ends up being the perfect weapon to fight the baddies.
Whilst it’s not wholly original, it is a great idea and all of the possible fun that can be had with it are explored in the beginning parts of the film. Obviously Cage has to convince everyone who he is each day having done it multiple times before and you get to see a number of occasions where he is trying to be smooth but ends up looking like an idiot and has to start again. The good thing about these parts of the film is that Cruise is a funny guy. I mean he’s no Tommy Cooper, but he is obviously very comfortable with slap stick and obviously enjoys some of the funny dialogue he has.

As well as comedic elements, the time travelling brings about another aspect of the character Cage to be explored. At the start of the film we are shown Cage as the media savvy, face of the army who is a million miles away from the front line and that’s how he likes it. He loves his comfortable job and this means he is shallow and a bit wet behind the ears. Now with his new power he is able to change all this and slowly but surely become the kind of soldier that he needs to and be a bit of a better person. He obviously can’t get close to anyone though as he only ever knows them for a day and then it’s back to square one – here comes the love interest with Emily Blunt. For me they didn’t explore the change in character enough and just plough straight into the action and the love in with Emily Blunt. This in turn does lead to the film being very fast paced and energetic though so like a good park, it’s swings and roundabouts I guess isn’t it.

One rather large flaw to watch out for is the mind numbingly bad script. It is so clunky, generic and formulaic it is at times laughable. Bill Paxton is a great actor and here he is forced to spit out some awful, watered down, full metal jacket detritus about being a soldier “listen here maggot” etc. You would think with the mega budget that these films have they could have someone look over the script so that it doesn’t sound like a schoolboys attempt at being macho but this is not the case. Also whoever designed the baddies in this film ‘the mimics’ has obviously spent a lot of time watching the Matrix as they are literally a carbon copy of the ‘squiddies’ in those films.

Overall this is a good film but it does at times feel a touch rushed. The beginning of the film is blitzed through, so if you think you’re going to miss the first 10 minutes of the film pack it in and go home because you won’t have a clue what’s going on. It could have been fantastic this film, as the films that play around with time travel can be, like Groundhog Day, what a film. This one had the right ideas but didn’t quite get there for me. Which is a shame.

Cruise seems to do his best stuff when he breaks the pattern that he is setting up for himself. When he does a Vanilla Sky or a Tropic Thunder. Maybe he should do a few more of those and keep us guessing. Apart from Top Gun 2 which has been announced. He definitely needs to do that. That is getting watched.

So to round up, this isn’t a bad film. I give it 6.5 out of 10. It’s worth a watch but don’t busy a gut to see it.

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X men: days of future past – back to its best!

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Well to say that this film has been hotly anticipated is an understatement. Marvel fans, x men fans, Hugh Jackman fans, you name it, pretty much everyone has been chomping at the bit to get this film watched. And I tell you what, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a thrilling, action packed, sucker punch of a film which grabs you by the collar and shakes you into submission. Brilliant.

The film kicks off I’m a dystopian future where the humans have taken serious action against the threat of mutants and have created the ultimate weapon to kill them off. The sentinels. These mutant killing robots are the brain child of Bolivar Trask (superbly played by Peter Dinklage of game of thrones fame). So the modern day X men have to send someone to the past to ensure that the creation of these robots never happens and that everyone can live happily ever after.

Many of the old favourite X men (and women) are back, Bobby the ice man, kitty who can go through walls, storm, colossus (the guy who can turn himself into metal) and of course Xavier, Magneto and Wolverine. Bryan Singer (Director) really has done a superb job weaving all of these powers and characters together. New faces and old work brilliantly together to show how the mutants of the future are at the end of their tether, fighting for their very survival. This does mean that some familiar faces aren’t on screen as much as you may expect. Storm isn’t around much and blink and you’ll miss Rogue who is in it for all of 6 seconds. But at least these characters appear at all and not just ignored or spoken about in the past tense. It also means that we get some new characters, like Bishop. Bishop is brilliant.

What’s great about this film is that The stakes are sky high right from the beginning, if they don’t achieve their goal then everyone’s dead. Game over. It means they can get straight to the action and really go full throttle. This is where one minor criticism comes in. As the film goes off with a bang they really don’t spend any time setting the scene or going over what’s happened before. Therefore if you haven’t seen the previous X men films – you will be at a bit of a loss. Not only for this film but for your life too, they are great films, get them watched. Then see this film. Problem solved.

So the performances. Fassbender and McCavoy are both fantastic as Magneto and Xavier. They don’t try to impersonate Mckellen and Stewart, instead they both are very convincing as powerful people trying desperately to do what they think is the right thing. Jennifer Lawrence is also great as Raven/Mystique, such a brilliant character and she is great in the role. Also it has to be said that Jackman as Wolverine, in his seventh outing as the quick healing foul mouthed goodie, is brilliant. The only word to describe him is ‘ripped’ and he just looks like he will pull your arms off for fun, he looks great as Wolverine and his performance here is really top notch. Also worth mentioning is Evan Peters as quicksilver. The effects of quicksilver and how fast he is and what he can do are just superb. I bloody love this character and they really do him justice here. One scene in a kitchen is just fantastic with some really great cinematography.

So all in all this is a great film that is hugely enjoyable. But it isn’t perfect. There are some random plot holes and things that aren’t fully explained away that do at times leave you a little confused and maybe trying to catch up. But these flaws can easily be overlooked as it really is a great film that should just be enjoyed. I give it 8.5 out of 10. Get this film watched, soon. Watch all the other X men films first if you need to as like the best revision you could think of.

One final thing just to satisfy the geek in me. So in the new captain America film (the winter soldier) in one of the bonus scenes at the end of the film we see two new characters who are set up as the next baddies. These characters are clearly Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver which if anyone has ever read any of the comics will know are Magnetos children (which is hinted to in days of future past). Then Quicksilver appears in this film, but played by a totally different actor and in a different universe. Why don’t they just put them all together?! I know the x men universe always has been and probably always will be stand alone but it is very random that they have chosen these characters to appear in two sets of films when there are countless other characters they could have chosen. Very strange decision in my opinion.

Captain America 2: the Winter Soldier – That’s more like it!

Right from the off you can tell that this film is going to be better than it’s predecessor. This is definitely one of the exceptions of the rule that the sequel is never better than the original. This one definitely is. Of all the original Marvel films, Captain America was certainly the weakest. It was poorly constructed, badly acted and had a plot line that was all over the place. It was like an elaborate kids TV show with a gigantic budget. 

This succeeds in all the places where the original failed. The story itself does something that not many superhero films is willing to do. It looks inward and questions its own actions. It also seems to have a direct pop at the American government. With Avengers assemble it could be argued that Marvel worked themselves into a corner. They pretty much had world dominance with all angles being covered. There was no way a baddie could pop up without being smashed by Hulk, bonked on the head by Thor or being mocked ruthlessly by Iron Man. But this is where Captain America two does very well. The superhero himself questions the actions of S.H.I.E.L.D and how they propose to neautralise all future threats before they even arise. He says himself “That’s not freedom, that’s fear”. Could this be a less than subtle nod towards the American government and the scandal over access to people’s personal information? It definitely is. A brilliant turn for the film to take. It pulls no punches, no one knows who to trust or what is going to happen next and that makes the film all the more watchable. 

Another area where they pull no punches, is, well, the punches themselves. The fighting in this film is brutal. It is breathtakingly well choreographed and it looks fantastic when it gets going. The first film relied on stunts like Captain America being able to jump really far for us to see his heroic attributes, here you are shown on countless occasions how he can kick some serious arse. None more so than when he fights the winter soldier himself. the fights are fast paced, vicious and everything that a hero fight should be.

There are glorious special effects throughout, as you would hope, Scarlett Johansen does her best sassy side kick acting and Samuel L Jackson gives a bit more depth to Nick Fury as a man who has his own dark side. One other thing that this film has that the original didn’t is Robert Redford. Need I say more? He is just superb and brings gravitas to a film the likes of which have often been criticised for having over the top characters. We’re not a million miles away from having real people like this in the real world and fair play to this movie for putting him front and centre and getting a proper actor to play him.

All in all a great super hero film. Yes there are plot holes but I forgive them here as it goes after a plot line with a bit of substance. It’s not a hero going after a giant yellow baddie who is hell bent on slapping people, it is a grittier attempt to look at how governments can control the threats it has on itself whilst still providing a genuine freedom for it’s people. I give it an 8.5. Very good indeed. It moves along nicely, has a great plot and sets up some great story lines for the next Avengers film. 

All of this of course just adds to the pressure for X men days of future past which it seems everyone is waiting for with baited breath, if it’s anything like this film then it is going to be a sight to see. Stan Lee and Marvel must be delighted. Get this one watched, I think you’ll be surprised.