Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Gunman

This review only really scratches the surface of The Gunman for two reasons, 1) If I start ranting about this one, I’ll never stop, and 2) Christopher Orr at The Atlantic depicts my sentiments perfectly is his scathing review which I implore you to read.
Before The Gunman hit our screens, it was already dubbed “Sean Penn’s Taken” – we have the same director, the same grizzled-older-man-uses-past-lethal-skillset-to-hunt-find-and-kill-nefarious-types lead character, and the same mentality that men are awesome and women are pathetic. Of course, women are also lovely, because, as we see here and in countless other misogynistic American films, the heroine spends her time in summer dresses running around with children in playgrounds. Seriously? Another one?!

Anyway, The Gunman makes Taken look Oscar-worthy by comparison, so unbelievably poor is its premise, plot, execution and reveal. I won’t go through the plot in detail, as The Atlantic has that well and truly covered (seriously, read it!), but to give you an idea of the audacity and stupidity of it all: Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is an ex-Mercenary working as a humanitarian aid worker in Africaaah, when some local militia try and kill him. As they were looking for the ‘white man’, Terrier somehow jumps to the assumption that some serious people have a hit out on him, and he needs to delve back into his past to find out what happens. He flies all over the world, and realises that Javier Bardem’s ridiculously hammy friend who literally eye-humps Penn’s missus is part of the conspiracy. So are some other guys who acted shady and sly throughout the film. Terrier, in a tight, camp, black t-shirt, just moves from city to city, growling, tensing his muscles and dispensing pain on everyone, because basically everyone has betrayed him. (It’s worth noting here that the supporting cast is made up of Mark Rylance, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, and Ray Winstone – a stellar cast by all accounts, yet utterly devoid of any good lines, interesting characters or decent scenes. Everyone who appears in this film is devoid of credibility for 90 minutes or so.)

Like Sean Penn and his sanctimonious sermons about the third world, poverty, and constantly sticking his big nose into problems a self-loving millionaire actor from Hollywood couldn’t possibly grasp, Jim Terrier is also very serious, and very arrogant. He’s so serious (and hard, in case you missed it) he even beats up football hooligans in London pubs, and takes his shirt off maybe ten times throughout the film: he answers the door shirtless, he showers at every available opportunity, he goes surfing on his own at dawn (one of the most hilarious interludes to a film I’ve ever seen), he sleeps with his missus, he takes of his shirt again so he can stare at himself in the mirror, and of course, he has to take his shirt off so his woman can stand naked at the window with it billowing around her. It’s so utterly moronic. The repeated attempts to remind the viewer that Penn is muscly, tough, serious, and conflicted, is nothing short of laughable. In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, Penn did write the script.

I’ll leave it there at risk of exploding into a fit of rants. The film is appalling, one of the worst I've ever seen. Taken and its star Liam Neeson had the decency to keep some tongue in cheek, and Neeson was never short of heroic as he brutally punished the human traffickers and gangs that occupied this world. Sure, it was far from being a realistic crime thriller, but it was vigilante action at its best, which has earned it cult status. Penn is not Neeson. He’s not likable, and he’s far too self-aware to ever convince in this kind of role. Desperately gripping youth in his dying clutches, with botoxed face, floppy hair and a ridiculously overworked physique, Penn can not play the ‘geriatric action hero’ film trope successfully played by Neeson, Willis, Eastwood, Stallone, and Gibson. The Gunman is an embarrassing attempt for Penn to franchise himself as an action hero, a horrific misfire which seems to kill all the cast and crew as well. [1/5]

Friday, 13 March 2015

Ex Machina

  Alex Garland’s directorial debut is that rare sci-fi treat: stark, intelligent, uncompromising and unpredictable to the end. The film’s dialogue is shared between only three actors in one location, and just as Duncan Jones’ jaw-dropping debut Moon blew our minds (and influenced subsequent releases…Oblivion!), Ex Machina too throws away the rule book, and proves that less is more.

The opening sees Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb, a 26-year old programmer working for the world’s biggest tech firm (basically Google), win a competition to spend a week with the company’s mysterious CEO at his vast private compound to participate in a breakthrough experiment. It’s a very fast setup, and within about 3 minutes of the film’s start, Caleb is retrieving his keycard at the door to the secluded steel compound – Garland cuts right to the chase, and gets down to business.

The bare interior, all stone walls and metal surfaces, is the home/ hideaway/ laboratory of Nathan, played by 'man of the hour' Oscar Isaac, a pumped, brooding, stack of a man, completely at odds with Caleb’s tussled, boyish, slender appearance. The pair sit at opposite ends of the male spectrum, yet both share the same love of programming and computer science, prompting Nathan to dispel any awe or wonderment on first meeting with Caleb, in order that they can proceed with the experiment uninhibited: Caleb is to meet Ava, Nathan’s amazingly lifelike A.I. creation (Alicia Vikander) and participate in the Turing Test - a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. The film is then broken down into chapters of each day’s activities around the experiment. As the film unfolds, more questions are raised (and answered), and no-one appears to be quite who, or what, they seem.

Ex Machina is fraught with tension, and never misses a beat when it comes to old lessons in building suspense – Hitchcock would have no doubt enjoyed this director's machinations. Garland manages to convey the sense that a lot is going on, when in actual fact, very little action takes place. Instead, he works on the assumption that the viewer will be challenging and scrutinising a lot of the information presented on screen, which makes for simultaneously demanding and rewarding viewing. He also manages to address the key issues surrounding the ethics of Artificial Intelligence, and the motivations behind mankind for dabbling within this field – many of which coincide with the controversy around cloning (although I worry that to raise them here will give away too much of the plot and its reveals).

Quite surprisingly, the Turing Test itself, and the interactions between Ava and Caleb only occupy half of the running time, as it is the discourse between Caleb and Nathan which proves just as important, often simmering with unease and discomfort; a game of chess between two great minds which evolves into power play. Gleeson is good, as is Vikander, but it is Isaac who really owns the show, delivering a powerful performance completely at odds with his other recent sterling efforts – Inside Llewyn Davis and A Most Violent Year – again proving his versatility as an actor. No wonder he’s on for big action franchises Star Wars and X-Men.

Ex Machina has a cold and steely touch, a frostbitten kiss which slowly thaws hours after viewing, with a harrowing and unexpected ending which really packs a punch. Obviously not a stranger to Hollywood after his work on 28 Days Later, The Beach, Dredd, Never Let Me Go (etc), and clearly an intelligent director with razor-sharp precision, Alex Garland’s cerebral vision easily ranks alongside Duncan Jones’ Moon, Rian Johnson’s Looper and Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 as another true sci-fi auteur in the making. [5/5]


Chappie has been very anticipated for a long time. After Blomkamp had a slight misfire with Elysium, fanboys and film lovers have been quietly hoping for a return to form, after the stunning and admired debut District 9 a few years ago. It seems we may have to wait a little longer.
Chappie is a very cool movie. It’s got Blomkamp’s trademark uber-realistic surroundings in an alternative future vision – worn weaponry; creative technics; edgy dress; dilapidated backdrop – and comes complete with larger-than-life characters (or should that be caricatures?) and some killer lines amidst the bloody violence. I mean, it’s got a robot who bumps fists, walks like a gangster and uses street rhetoric: it doesn't get much cooler than that, does it?

I’m not really sure what is going on with Blomkamp. His debut is one of the strongest, and most prolifically adored first-films ever, and is so startlingly well-realised, that it’s a wonder how he seems to have missed the mark on his second and third outings. Elysium, another slick film, had neither the depth nor gravity of its predecessor and was a misfire on most accounts, and although Chappie had a stronger premise than Elysium, its final delivery was not much better, and certainly not a return to initial form.

Set in a South Africa, which (again) sees the streets overrun with crime and anarchy, the government has dispatched effective and ruthless police robots to curve the crime levels and restore peace from a shady engineering organisation (of course!). When the boffin inventor of these droids (Dev Patel) decides to experiment with his breakthrough A.I. software on a decommissioned robot, he is kidnapped by a trio of moronic villains and coerced into giving them his new creation, the titular Chappie. His rebirth meaning he is still an adolescent, he is a bewildered and curious  'bot', soon exploited for carjackings, petty crime and the inevitable big heist which the film is working towards. It’s predictable and shallow, whilst trying so hard to be poignant and moving.
The special effects and cinematography are superb – Blomkamp’s production values are always top-notch, but there are gaping holes in the plot (why would the inventor return in full view to a bunch of feckless criminals the day after escaping imminent death?) and very little intelligence to ponder on or question. Chappie is a popcorn flick, like Elysium, which is fine if it weren't such a letdown by the guy who brought us Wikus Van De Merwe, alien prawns, huge allegorical scope, depth of performance, and a plethora of breath-taking action scenes six years ago.

Although Chappie is disappointing, it's still enjoyable to watch – fun, stupid, thrilling and action-packed – but the main letdown here is Blomkamp’s decision to cast Die Antwoord, and although the supporting cast are superior actors, there seems to be an abundance of miscasting. Yolandi and Ninja have almost nil talent between them as actors. They are neither convincing nor funny, and there is no empathy, likability or shared interest for us to invest in, instead their presence just seems to jar the entire film. Hugh Jackman is absolutely wasted here, a generic bully-like weapons designer so hellbent on using his own behemoth weapons-creation he’ll tread on anyone and anything to do so, and similarly, Sigourney Weaver as the organisation's shady boss is devastatingly underused - she has very little to say or do throughout. It’s these kind of one-dimensional characters which are such an anticlimax, and sadly, their are very few (if any) memorable scenes or strong delivery from the core cast. Chappie is the real star of the show, and deserved a better film to showcase his talents. Sharlto Copley delivers a great pitch and nuance to his voice – for the third time running the best casting decision in the film.

Chappie was sadly eclipsed by Ex Machina in the A.I. movie stakes, and serves a completely different demographic – here, popcorn audiences being the mass market I’m guessing. It’s a shame, because it had the makings of a great film, but too many factors dragged it down. I’m starting to question the decision to put Blomkamp in charge of the Alien franchise – he better not continue on this downward path, as his audiences won’t be so forgiving next time. [3/5]

Friday, 27 February 2015

Wolf Hall

  The BBC’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s bestselling tome (and it's sequel Bring Up the Bodies) has come to an end after six weeks of sumptuous and riveting television. Set during Henry VIII’s reign in the 1500s, Wolf Hall follows the rise of Thomas Cromwell, played with pitch perfect subtlety by British theatre stalwart Mark Rylance. The costumes, settings and set design were nothing short of resplendent, and although in many period dramas it is often these backdrops and finer details which are the true accomplishments, it is the writing and acting which really stood out here.

When we meet Cromwell, he is the young protégé of his master Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce), a diligent and honourable servant with a kindly voice and calm demeanour, it is a masterclass in reservation from Rylance. Cromwell bides his time, he uses his wits and observation skills to out-manoeuvre his opponents; his life is a game of chess. Here is a man who was born into poverty to a Putney blacksmith rising up the most coveted and ruthless of ladders. Aside from dealing with his master’s public shunning and humiliating demise, he overcomes the loss of his wife and daughters, public humiliation from the King and Queen, and ridicule from the pompous aristocrats and Lords who surrounded him during his rise to power. He survives and thrives on his vast network of friends and informants, the original spymaster. Witnessing Cromwell’s elevation is hugely rewarding viewing, he is highly intelligent, ambitious, and quick-witted, always two moves ahead of his peers. Although history explains how Cromwell was a nasty piece of work, Mantel's writing and Rylance's depiction offer up a most welcome romantic alternative; it’s too easy to wax lyrical on this performance. It’ll be hard for anything on the box in 2015 to cast a shadow on Mark Rylance, who has once again proved himself to be a bona fide character actor, and reminded us why he has been called 'the greatest actor of his generation' countless times, with fans including Steven Spielberg, Bryan Cranston, Sean Penn and Al Pacino.

Although Rylance is undoubtedly the star of the show, we can not forget to acknowledge the stellar chops on show around him. Damien Lewis as Henry VIII was genius casting, as he is a man who can flit between emotions as quickly as dropping a smile. His presence is formidable, each time the King struts into a scene he casts a foreboding air, picking his words carefully and delivering each line with an undercurrent of malevolence and supremacy. This is where the show absolutely hit the nail on the head: Wolf Hall is a study of what it is like to be in the presence of absolute authority, as all those who occupy positions in court and the monarchy are slowly treading razor-sharp eggshells around him. Not many could have pulled it off, and after Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s miscasting in The Tudors it’s good to see Henry back to his menacing self.

Two other stand-outs from the series were Sir Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, played by Anton Lesser and Claire Foy respectively. More is a particularly difficult character to play, especially given his character arc from Lord Chancellor, and named Saint by Rome, to the papist outcast left withering in a jail cell lest he renounces his beliefs under the new reform. We see More putting a prisoner under the rack (a particularly slow and nasty torture instrument of the period) early on, a queasy and atrocious scene, made all the more unnerving by Lesser’s sinister smile during the process. We hate him. He is the foil to Cromwell, another highly intelligent overachiever who is so single-minded and committed in his views he is prepared to commit any atrocity in the name of God, the Pope, Christianity. Yet later on, this same man sits with puppy-dog eyes, broken, as he rejects Cromwell’s offering of freedom if he repent and renounce. It’s a superb performance, and one of Lesser’s (who is a staple of British acting) best to date.

Similarly, the young Claire Foy, who plays the (unofficial) lead of Wolf Hall as Anne Boleyn, is as terrifying and ruthless as the King himself. However, Foy never falls into caricature or villain (think Joffrey from GOT), but holds back just enough to realise she is the product of the world in which she resides – a young, attractive woman from a powerful family married to one of England’s most notorious and petulant Kings ever. Her struggle to conceive and deliver a boy is palpable, and despite her harsh words and mocking treatment of Cromwell, he never quite dispels her as the (possibly) evil woman she is. He respects her climb to power – perhaps recognising the mirroring of his own existence. Even in her final moments she remains composed, professional and utterly loyal to her King, as Cromwell gives her a heartfelt and devastated stare. Foy is perhaps best known for her roles in Little Dorrit and The Promise, but it is here, as Queen Anne where she really shines. A star in making; watch this space.

So there we have it, the BBC has delivered another wonderful period drama; revel in Peter Straughan’s (screenwriter) and Peter Kosminsky’s (director) masterly adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s two novels, and hang your head knowing that it’s highly unlikely we’ll have any British television of this calibre come along again anytime soon. I just pray Mantel finishes her trilogy and we get to revisit Hampton Court again in the near future. [5/5]

The British Invasion

  For the past decade or so, some of the juiciest screen roles over the pond have gone to British actors - according to a number of media resources, we are apparently cheaper, more versatile, more amenable and less likely to throw a tantrum on set. That said, I'm sure we have our fair share of divas, but growing up and acting on the crowded, wet, windy island we occupy clearly keeps our stars more grounded than those rising through the ranks of sun-kissed, palm-lined Hollywood. What more, the allure of the sunshine state and the opportunities it represents clearly lures our stars into lower paycheques than the locals out there. I am not sure whether these are all the actual reasons for their rise in the film capital, a lot of it will obviously come down to good old-fashioned talent, but a lot of credence can go to some stiff upper lip sensibilities and a bit of wry charm. 

Of course, we can not solely focus on film, if you consider some of the television behemoths over the past few years - The Wire, Homeland, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Fargo - they are all in part (or for GOT, in full) led by the best of Britain, with Damien Lewis, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Sean Bean (& Co.), Andrew Lincoln and Martin Freeman (I could go on) adorning the screens week on week. It's a nice shift, and always fantastic to see some of our exports giving such fabulous performances - just as it is when we have a Yank on our shores playing it 'oh-so-lovely' - Maggie Gyllenhaal's lead in The Honourable Woman was arguably the finest performance of last year. 

A spot of English pride has made this piece sound a little vacuous, so I must add that some of my favourite and most-adored actors are indeed Americans (and other nationalities), so I have absolutely no intention of diminishing the accomplishments from those squires, but this is a celebration of England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom. 

To herald the 'British Invasion', Vanity Fair has undertaken another sumptuous shoot with the best and beautiful of Britain's offering, and here are a few of the pics which stood out:
Timothy Spall; Emily Blunt; Michael Caine (+ punk); Natalie Dormer, Jack Huston, Ruth Wilson, Dominic West, Sienna Miller & Matthew Goode; Benedict Cumberbatch; Clive Owen; Michelle Dockery & Damien Lewis; Terence Stamp & Jeremy Irons; Tom Hiddleston & Felicity Jones; and finally, a very sultry Kate Winslet.

Inherent Vice

  Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA) is an enigma. Despite wordy interviews, he doesn't let much go about his past, and his motivations are always opaque. This is the guy who made is mark with a dive into the seedy world of porn, Boogie Nights, at 26 years old, and never looked back. Since, he’s delved into stories of gambling, love, disease, oil, Scientology and now, well, no single word can describe Inherent Vice. It’s a thematically diverse CV, exploring different people in different times, much more reminiscent of directors such as Orson Wells, Sidney Lumet, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, and Jonathan Demme, than with the more prominent figures working in Hollywood today - Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Mann, Cameron, Scott et al. Like Kubrick and Malick, PTA has something of a Marmite quality to his works, love or hate him, at least he keeps us guessing.

Like Anderson, Thomas Pynchon is also an enigma. In the major leagues. He’s the Keyser Soze of writers, shrouded in a blanket of mystery. There’s only been a handful of photos published of him, and after his writing career broke through, he disappeared. It’s apt then, that the first attempt at adapting one of his works is made by Anderson, perhaps the director closest to Pynchon’s own opacity (certainly considering the abundant limelight of Hollywood). However, there may have been a very good reason that Inherent Vice has been dubbed ‘unfilmable’ for years. It does not translate well.

It must be said, this writer attempted the novel a few years ago, only for it to be added to the extremely short list of books never finished. I never really started to be honest. About twelve pages in it was clear that this would not be an enjoyable read, and his prose for me, were incoherent, baffling and oddly constructed for the most part. Clearly PTA and I don’t share love of the same writing. 
Inherent Vice is possibly the least accessible of PTA’s works, which is saying something. Steve Rose of The Guardian even referenced it in his piece about great walk-out movies, and indeed, it is a walk-out movie. During my (very quiet) screening, five of the twelve people watching left by half-way through, all of them shaking their ends in bafflement and frustration. I’m not a walker-outer, but Inherent Vice is what I would describe as bloody hard viewing, not because of nuance or subtlety, but because of boredom. It is boring. 

The film follows the escapades of ‘Doc’ (Joaquim Phoenix – typically good as usual), a stoner private eye living on a Californian beach, and seemingly as surprised as we are that he’s actually survived the sixties to tell the tales. He’s a bumbling hippie, and a thorn in the side of the LAPD, and various nefarious and bizarre acquaintances, who wish he’d just bugger off once and for good. Following an out-of-the-blue visitation from an estranged girlfriend, Doc plunges into the murky world of crooked cops, traitorous masseurs, secret societies, wealthy socialites and deranged dentists, as the film plays out three different cases, all of which seem to crossover and overlap at various confusing intervals, producing something of a spaghetti Venn diagram (yeah, it’s that complicated). The main problem it faces is a severe lack of focus, narrative and coherency, which I’m sure has been highlighted to the masses as ‘being the whole point’ by smug critics the world over, given this is the seventies, it’s Pynchon, it’s lead is stoned. Whatever. I haven’t spoken with a single sole who understood what the heck was going on, let alone actually enjoyed it. I wanted to enjoy it, I wanted to love it, but sadly, the mumbling befuddling dialogue, and shortage of any tangible or credible plot to follow makes for very boring viewing. 

There are a few ‘saviours’ with Inherent Vice, namely the acting, which sees some great chops from Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston, and the gorgeous 70mm visuals really embody the era (1970) with its texture. Sure, there’s a few chuckles along the way, and some interesting interactions between Doc and some of the more off-the-wall characters (Martin Short’s supporting role is memorable), but PTA hasn't really brought us anything worthy of his filmography, and definitely the biggest disappointment of his career to date. [2/5]

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Awards Season

UPDATE: Winners in bold
ACCURACY (will win):  9/16

 February is upon us, when the Baftas and the Oscars dish out another year's worth of accolades, meaning an end to the constant stream of top-drawer cinema releases - out with the fodder! (Hello Wild Card!). Over the past few months we've seen Mr Turner, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Boyhood, Paddington, Birdman, Wild, The Theory of Everything, Inherent Vice, American Sniper and A Most Violent Year all get a cinematic release; the big hitters slugging it out for awards nominations. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the only other film to receive notable recognition outside of this pre/post Christmas cinematic feast. 
For sheer tenacity and dedication, Richard Linklater surely deserves some recognition for the twelve years he spent making Boyhood, whilst Alejandor G. Inarritu is also a strong contender with his radical direction of Birdman - a single shot which seamlessly flows between scenes for almost the entire running time of the film. Birdman and Boyhood are both strong entries, as are all their competitors.

It's very hard to predict which way the voters will go; American Sniper has likely made itself redundant from the race due to the bad press coverage it has garnered as a result of its graphic depictions of anti-muslim violence, otherwise it'd be a sure shoe-in for the Oscar - remember the awards for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. It's a real shame not to see Gone Girl and Nightcrawler gain more nods in some of the main categories, whilst it's a disgrace that The Lego Movie didn't get a Best Animated nod from Oscar, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller deserve to be in the Director category. 

And the burning question: where the hell is Timothy Spall, Mike Leigh and Mr Turner? An outstanding film with world-class performances from all involved, it's lack of recognition feels almost insulting, so glaring is its omission. Bafta is however awarding Mike Leigh with a fellowship this year, which seems bizarre given Mr Turner is one of his best films, and arguably the finest Leigh-Spall collaboration yet.  

If this writer had his way, Leigh, Spall and Mr Turner would be up for the top awards, along with Fincher and Gone Girl (the perfect adaptation!), The Lego Movie for everything that is awesome, Oscar Isaac for his chilling portrayal in A Most Violent Year, and Lenny Abrahamson's much-loved off-the-wall musical drama, Frank. But alas, I do not get to cast the nominations, so looking at what is generally considered to be the eight main categories, here are the nominations, and some unfounded guessing as to which nominations will take away the awards...


OSCARS: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
will win...Birdman
should win...Whiplash

BAFTAS: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything
will win...The Imitation Game
should win...Boyhood


OSCARS: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
will win...Alejandro G. Inarritu
should win...Richard Linklater 

BAFTAS: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), James Marsh (The Theory of Everything), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
will win...Richard Linklater 
should win...Richard Linklater 


OSCARS: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) 
will win...Eddie Redmayne 
should win...Eddie Redmayne  

BAFTAS: Michael Keaton (Birdman), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)  
will win...Eddie Redmayne 
should win...Eddie Redmayne 


OSCARS: Marion Cotillard (One Day Two Nights), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
will win...Julianne Moore 
should win...Rosamund Pike

BAFTAS: Amy Adams (Big Eyes), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Reese Witherspoon (Wild) 
will win...Felicity Jones
should win...Rosamund Pike


OSCARS: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) 
will win...Mark Ruffalo
should win... J.K. Simmons 

BAFTAS: Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) 
will win...Ethan Hawke
should win... J.K. Simmons 


OSCARS: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) 
will win...Patricia Arquette
should win...Patricia Arquette

BAFTASPatricia Arquette (Boyhood), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Imelda Staunton (Pride), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler)
will win...Imelda Staunton
should win...Patricia Arquette


OSCARS: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler
will win...Birdman
should win...Nightcrawler

BAFTAS: Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler, Whiplash
will win...Birdman
should win...Whiplash


OSCARS: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
will win...The Theory of Everything
should win...Inherent Vice

BAFTAS: American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Paddington, Gone Girl, The Theory of Everything
will win...The Theory of Everything
should win... Gone Girl

Friday, 16 January 2015

2014 Round Up

A little late to the party, but wanted to round off 2014 after a shockingly lazy and sparsely written ending to the year – changing jobs has its demands!

Anyhow, it was a great year for cinema and TV alike, and although the London Film Festival and BFI preview screenings through the year weren’t as memorable as previous years, the productions on showcase were stronger, and some films in particular really packed a punch. Timothy Spall’s two-year crusade to learn to paint for Mr Turner was a worthwhile investment, giving a bulldog portrayal of the grunting artist, Jake Gyllenhaal shed the pounds and sharpened the cheekbones for a snake-like Lou Bloom in the brilliant Nightcrawler, and Rosamund Pike is finally brings her A game with a subtle and nuanced delivery of Amazing Amy in Fincher’s creepy adaptation Gone Girl. We also had the fast-paced beats of Whiplash, the quirky storytelling of Grand Budapest Hotel, Michael Fassbender and co go experimenting with sounds (and mental health) in Frank, and Phillip Seymour-Hoffman’s swansong performance as German spymaster Günther Bachmann in LeCarre adaptation A Most Wanted Man. It was a kick ass year for cinema.

However, fantastic storytelling, epic character arcs and incredible acting chops are more commonly becoming synonymous with the small screen rather than the big one, and 2014 truly defined the golden age of television, as bigger budgets, higher viewing numbers and increased network and on-demand competition demanded better programming for the more selective viewer. Maggie Gyllenhaal (like her aforementioned brother) deserves a mention for her wonderful performance in Hugo Blick’s The Honourable Woman, Billy Bob Thornton went uber-cool psychopath in Fargo, and the McRenaissance continued with Matthew’s philosophical gothic cop drama, True Detective, and let's not forget Keeley Hawes as the years most discussed British character Lindsay Denton in Line of Duty.

Without further ado, here’s a list of the best of 2014, (and worth noting, I missed Boyhood, hence the glaring omission given the buzz generated):

  1. Whiplash – psychological thriller pitching drum prodigy against master conductor
  2. Frank – off the wall drama following wacky fictitious band The Soronprfbs
  3. Mr Turner – Mike Leigh’s masterpiece sees Timothy Spall capture the last decades of the great artist
  4. Nightcrawler – neo-noir crime thriller which explores the antics of crime reporter and sociopath, Lou Bloom
  5. Gone Girl – Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn’s creepy  bestseller with aplomb
  6. The Grand Budapest Hotel – escapade comedy from the amazing mind of Wes Anderson
  7. Edge of Tomorrow – Doug Liman adapts Japanese sci-fi to create the best blockbuster of the year
  8. The Guest – crime thriller with nostalgic sounds, kick-ass one-liners and a twisty plot
  9. A  Most Wanted Man – Hamburg-set spy thriller complete with labyrinthine plot and slow-burn chills
  10. Interstellar – Nolan delivers another unique blockbuster, delving into quantum physics and future survival
  11. Calvary – whodunnit religious crime drama from the team who brought us The Guard
  12. The Imitation Game – another Cumberbatch performance, another British classic
  13. The Babadook – Australian horror which showcases some terrifying imagery and genuine scares
  14. Leviathan – Russian masterpiece which sees one man go up against the establishment
  1. The Honourable Woman (BBC Two; Hugo Blick)
  2. Fargo (FX; Noah Hawley)
  3. Utopia 2 (Channel 4; Dennis Kelly)
  4. True Detective (HBO; Nic Pizzolatto
  5. The Walking Dead 4 (AMC; Frank Darabont)
  6. Line of Duty 2 (BBC Two; Jed Mercurio)
  7. Happy Valley  (BBC One; Sally Wainwright
  8. Sherlock 3 (BBC One; Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss)
  9. Hannibal 2 (NBC; Bryan Fuller)
  10. The Missing (BBC One; Harry & Jack Williams)
  11. Game of Thrones 4 (HBO; David Benioff, D.B. Weiss)
  12. The Fall 2 (BBC Two; Allan Cubitt)
  13. Homeland 4 (Showtime; Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa)
  14. Suspects (Channel 5; Darren Fairhurst, Steve Hughes)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

REVIEW: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This smart reinventing of the original Apes was given a strong start by Matt Reeves in Rise…, and this follow-up lives up to its strong origins. Dawn… sees Caesar and his band of apes, orang-utans and chimps abandoning the now wrecked civilisation of mankind, and retreating to the forests to  build their own harmonious society. When a band of surviving humans need to access the monkeys’ territory to get to a generator, the two species must make a pact of faith in order to co-exist, a pact which is shattered, and so begins the war between ape and man; the annihilation of the species. Although a good film, and a strong effort to continue the story as left off in the Rise…, there is not so much fun to be had here, and the oh-so-serious overtones detracted from the overall product, perhaps taking itself a little too seriously. Admittedly, the effects and mo-cap talent on show is superb (especially the orang-utan), and both Serkis and Kebbell excel as the lead apes, but I can't help feeling it could have been more enjoyable if it didn't take itself so damn seriously. [3/5]


Director Denis Villeneuve became seriously hot material after the fantastic Incendies wowed critics and audiences alike. Prisoners was also a strong follow-up, but I get the impression that Enemy, more akin to his older films is more in tone with his repertoire. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a enigmatic professor who spots his doppelganger on a movie. Tracking down the individual (also played by him), who is far more confident and abrasive, a plan is contrived to allow for a girlfriend swap of sorts, however, things start to get very strange, as the characters (and subsequently, audience) begin to question every action and detail, as the lines between dream and reality begin to blur. It’s an audacious feature, and certainly a very original take on the lookalike saga (as also done recently in The Double), plus, it’s worth the watch just for the outrageous and shocking final shot. [4/5]