Itchingham Lofte has recovered from the radiation poisoning brought on by element 126. The rocks in question, which contain enough radioactive power to solve the energy crisis or create powerful nuclear weapons, are safely hidden. With an MI5 team protecting Itch, and the information he keeps secret, it isn’t long until enemies old and new come calling, looking for the world-changing new element. Continue reading
Eran Creevy directs a very starry cast in this very stylish London-set thriller. Max Lewinski (James McAvoy), a dedicated young detective hopes for a chance of redemption when ex-criminal Jacob Sternwood’s (Mark Strong) son ends up in hospital after a botched heist. Sternwood got away from Lewinski years earlier, shooting him in the leg in the process and leaving him hopelessly embittered and plagued with feelings of inadequacy and failure. With gun-crime on the rise London’s streets have never been more dangerous but Lewinski hopes he can flush out his old nemesis and reclaim his pride. Continue reading
Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter frees a black slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in the hope he can identify three wanted brothers for him. When Schultz learns about Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) he decides to help his attempt to rescue her from flamboyant plantation hunter Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Strangely enough it all gets a bit violent. Continue reading
In 1979 revolutionary Iran the US Embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian students taking most of the staff as hostages. Six Americans managed to escape and took refuge at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador. With the world watching and the safety of the survivors becoming more and more at risk CIA man Tony Mendez cooked up an extraordinary plan to sneak the six out of the country, by creating a fake science-fiction film called Argo and passing himself and the six off as movie people on a location scout. Continue reading
Looper is the latest in a long tradition of films that wrestle with the questions, paradoxes and bewildering logic of a subgenre of science-fiction that has produced everything from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to The Terminator. This is the fourth dimension, a frontier strewn with booby traps and the potential for massive plot holes. I’ve been fascinated with the storytelling potential of time travel for as long as I can remember and in my time as a writer have fallen hard into some of its pitfalls. Looper has already been lauded as an instant classic and has drawn comparisons with such sci-fi heavyweights as The Matrix. Can the film live up to this lofty billing and go down in history? Continue reading
It’s not often I’ll go and see a movie just because of who’s on it but where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is involved my usual habits don’t apply. With the high-profile and highly rated Looper coming just next weekend it could be easy to overlook this rather more modest picture as reflected in the fact that my local multiplex is only playing it for one week. But while Premium Rush might not be on a par with much of JGL’s recent output which includes 50/50, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, that doesn’t mean it should be completely ignored because it’s daft fun. Continue reading
You can’t blame Universal for being reluctant to let a commercially and critically successful franchise go. A Bourne movie without Bourne, Matt Damon or Paul Greengrass does seem a little desperate but the justifiable if predictable cynicism surrounding this expanded universe project doesn’t change the fact that if a film is good enough it doesn’t need any greater justification to exist.
Jason Bourne and Pamela Landy have exposed the Treadstone and Blackbriar programs and in their haste to cover their tracks the CIA begins systematically terminating other black ops agents in their Outcome program. Among them is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), currently deep in Alaska on a survival training mission. Continue reading
Proving that you don’t need big stars, a famous license or a megabudget to craft a genuinely fresh and engaging blockbuster, Chronicle comes out of left field to become a surprise critical hit. The story involves three high-schoolers, philosophising Matt (Alex Russell), political Steve (Michael B Jordan) and cameraman Andrew (Dane DeHaan) who explore a conspicuous hole in the ground whilst at a rave finding inside what can only be described as a huge star-shaped mass of Kryptonite which gives all three telekinetic powers. Pretty soon their playing catch, building Lego towers and blowing up girls’ skirts, all with no hands, forming a unique if slightly fractious bond.
For a significant stretch of the running time the film plays for laughs getting great mileage from the practical jokes and stunts the trio pull in shopping centres and car parks. The three charismatic leads are wonderfully naturalistic, effortlessly convincing that this really is how three American teens would react to such superpowers, and it’s enormous fun (watch out for Steve’s priceless reaction when Andrew saves his life at one point). The pick of the bunch is clearly DeHaan as the socially awkward main character who has no trouble getting us on his side thanks to his deft characterisation and excellent handling of scenes depicting Andrew’s miserable home life (terminally ill mother, drunken bullying father).
The other selling point is the way it’s filmed, Andrew having just bought a camera to ‘film everything from here on out’. Although it shares many of the tropes of the found footage genre I didn’t read it that way. I think the context is perfect, if you and your mates get superpowers you’d film yourselves testing them out right? The camera becomes our window into their private world and is worked into the script like a fourth character. The story is even used to dispel one of the prohibitive quirks of the found footage genre, Andrew uses his powers to make the camera float meaning he can film himself. It’s also worth noting that the film is shot on more than one camera within the story and therefore can’t masquerade as found footage at all. Instead the camera works as a framing device to highlight camera culture in an the age of YouTube and video blogs, something the film openly references. It’s not enough for there to be kids with superpowers there needs to be a record of it even though they’re keeping it a secret, after all the title, when expressed as a verb instead of a noun means to record.
The concept really comes into its own in the thrilling and inventive climax which I won’t spoil except that suffice to say things go a bit awry as Andrew struggles to keep to Matt’s rules. The film has been called a live-action Akira and while it could never be as pulverising as that movie I heartily agree with this observation. In fact now that Chronicle exists that live-action New York set remake of the anime classic is not only a huge mistake of an idea but an entirely redundant one too.
In a year set to be dominated by huge superhero flicks Chronicle might just have stolen some of their thunder. Creative, entertaining and very well played, this is a must see.
action, Brad Bird, Ethan Hunt, Ghost Protocol, IMAX, Jeremy Renner, Josh Holloway, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Paramount, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Thriller, Tom Cruise, Tom Wilinson
Another 2011 release I failed to catch before year’s end is this fourth entry in the successful Mission: Impossible series, the first to drop the numeric and adopt a subtitle and the first IMAX film I’ve seen since The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn.
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in jail in Russia and IMF’s agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are busting him out. They’ve been on tail of person-of-interest known as Cobalt and need Ethan’s help to liberate some files from the Kremlin to help track him down. Things go awry when a mystery party broadcasts across the team’s frequency alerting guards to their presence before a bomb blows the place up. Although Hunt manages to escape arrest he soon learns that the entire IMF has been disavowed, the bombing’s blame having been levelled at the organisation. It’s now up to Ethan’s team along with analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to operate under Ghost Protocol with limited resources and nail Cobalt thereby preventing nuclear disaster.
The Mission: Impossible films now share something in common with the Alien franchise. There are four of them and they’re all quite different. This breezy fourth instalment in the gadget-packed spy thriller series feels a world away from Brian de Palma’s complex and convoluted original and manages to maintain an enjoyably chipper tone despite a pretty tense plot involving the threat of nuclear war. There’s little doubt that this is thanks to Brad Bird’s position at the helm. The director of such animated fare as The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, two films that wrestled with similar stuff yet never became too heavy. Bird, in his first live-action feature brings his animation sensibilities to many of the action sequences, delivering a very visual show that more or less transcends the far-fetched to arrive at something easily likeable with pure entertainment on its agenda.
Tom Cruise slides back into what is, arguably, his most famous role, clearly entirely comfortable, handling both action and comedy with ease although he’s not looking as good with his shirt off these days. He leads the cast in a film dominated by its central team dynamic. Simon Pegg provides plenty of the laughs as you’d expect as geeky field techy Benji and manages not to look out of place by largely avoiding the more demanding action beats and thrives on his innate likeability. Jeremy Renner’s character is the one with a bit of mystery about him and he’s good value throughout while Paula Patton deals with the action stakes well but can’t quite elevate her underwritten character above token female status. Beyond these four hardly anyone gets a look in which doesn’t matter per se but not enough is done with Cobalt who seems a pretty faceless villain with undeveloped motivation.
But if the plot doesn’t hold together as a convincing intelligence tale it does a great job as a straight-up thriller. Divided into three clear acts the team’s missions play out as an infiltration job that goes wrong, a long-con interception that goes wrong and a last ditch recovery operation that goes wrong, all missions driven by gadgets in the grand old tradition. While Bond has recently started to distance itself from the gizmos, a relief after Die Another Day’s invisible car, Mission: Impossible is still very comfortable with its tech porn, the best of which strangely enough involves a similar concept to that car but plays out in a corridor with brilliant comic mileage. It works where Bond didn’t because the film knows its boy toys are far-fetched and that’s exactly the point. It’s good clean high-concept fun that can only exist in the movies and to knock it for that is to be a party-pooper.
There’s plenty of bone breaking action to enjoy and some extended sequences that give good value for the running time such as a disorientating sandstorm chase and the well-publicised mid-show scene that has Tom Cruise hanging onto the exterior of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. And here Brad Bird’s animation credentials come into their own as the acrophobic sequence will have you clinging your set edge. It really benefits from IMAX which has to be the recommended way to see the film and Cruise gets major kudos for doing the thing for real.
As pure entertainment Ghost Protocol is hard to fault as long as you don’t mind the tongue-in-cheek and aren’t too fussed by gritty realism. It’s a boys film but a fun one and as long as you aren’t looking for anything else it won’t disappoint.
Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a ‘what if?’ movie. Taking the moderate levels of public concern over the outbreaks of swine and bird flu and presents us with a starkly believable and downright scary vision of how it might have panned out if a highly contagious respiratory virus went pandemic.
The film opens with Gwyneth Paltrow, one of an impressive ensemble cast, looking pretty under the weather. With echoes of films like Psycho and Scream which also killed off a major star early on she quickly snuffs it courtesy of some disturbing seizures(stop yelling ‘spoiler’ it happens in the first few minutes). Before we know what’s what the mystery illness that brought about her death is spreading around the world and hysteria slowly starts to build as various medical authorities desperately try to track down the origin of the virus and create a vaccine.
More than just the spread of the disease the film smartly examines the public reaction to the pandemic and the focus of this part of the story is a snaggletoothed Jude Law affecting an inexplicable Aussie accent playing the part of a conspiracy blogger with delusions of grandeur who preaches against the honest efforts of the scientists striving for a medical cure and promoting a homeopathic remedy. His plot line adds an interesting extra element to the film and goes a long way to creating a believable spectrum of people’s responses to such a crisis.
The several other big stars each have a part to play, Matt Damon is a widower who does everything he can to protect his daughter from the illness, Kate Winslet is the front line expert trying to contain the spread of the disease, Marion Cotillard plays detective trying to track down its origin while Jennifer Ehle is the lab scientist is search of the vaccine and there are numerous other high profile cameos and cast members that lend the film their star quality to great effect. No-one really takes the lead although Damon might be seen as the everyman hero but it’s much more about the effect the concept has on the audience rather than the acting.
Early shots as the virus is starting to spread linger on the myriad things we touch every few seconds with potential contagion-spreading results and the sense of how easily the virus can be spread is extremely effective to the point where it can really build a sense of paranoia. Coughs and sneezes in screenings of Contagion have reportedly caused worried heads to turn and the brutal reality of the concept is pretty scary. It’s meant to be exhilarating rather than entertaining and it definitely succeeds.
The only glaring flaw of Contagion is in how it ties up. The film limps to a pretty plodding conclusion which is okay as it admirably avoids any kind of cinematic, popcorny climax, which, frankly, would have felt nicked from a different film but some of the individual plot lines play out into an unsatisfying nothing, particularly Marion Cotillard and Jude Law’s stories. Despite this the things the film does well it does well enough for this not to really matter and you will leave the cinema very aware of who you might be in touching distance of, and that’s mission accomplished.
Tremendously effective in its depiction of the terrifying reality of a lethal pandemic that will leave you paranoid. The all-star cast are great to watch but it’s the disease itself that you will remember.
I have just endured for the second time this year a very problematic house move. Like last time I was unable to move into my new abode on the day I was supposed to due to an almighty cock-up but on this occasion I didn’t find out about the delay until I was in the estate agent’s office to pick up the keys. So after one week of crashing at my housemate Ryan’s sister’s house (thanks Carina and Mark) which is luckily very near our new pad we are now getting settled in and going through the lengthy process of lugging all of our worldly belongings by hand the better part of a mile from the aforementioned lifesaving dwelling. It’s been a busy month and no mistake but I still found time to head to the cinema with Ryan, Carina and Mark to catch this new political thriller starring Ryan Gosling and George Clooney.
Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is a young but gifted political campaign manager riding high as a key wheel on Governor Mike Morris’ (Clooney) campaign bus, playing second fiddle only to veteran Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as they do everything in their power to get their man elected as the Democrat’s presidential candidate. Things are looking good as they petition an influential Senator (Jeffrey Wright) for his endorsement; Morris seems like the kind of green-leaning champion of the people half the world would like to see become the world’s most powerful man and even his opponent’s campaign chief (Paul Giamatti) is expressing his envy of Morris’ asset in Meyers. But when Meyer’s reporter friend (Marisa Tomei) somehow picks up a sensitive leak and Meyers discovers campaign intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood) is hiding an even more delicate secret it’s all he can do to keep the campaign and his job on the rails.
This is the first Clooney directed picture I’ve seen and I can conclude that the Silver Fox clearly has talent in the discipline which is lucky because he does more of that than acting in this one by a long way. Despite his character forming the central focus of almost every other characters’ efforts and attentions he spends very little time on screen. Instead this is Gosling’s film, the younger pretender taking centre stage in another important vehicle for his career and the good news as far as he and his fans are concerned is that he doesn’t disappoint. The same goes for the whole cast who deliver their dialogue snappily and with the necessary authenticity of a naturalistic production set in a complex world. Key scenes do not want for the sense of gravitas vital to make them work and the depth of insight into the campaign process is fascinating and credible.
But the film suffers from a couple of critical flaws that detract from what could have been a gripping and essential study of corruption and dirty dealing in a world dominated by rhetoric and spin. It’s to Gosling’s credit that his acting gets the stamp of approval because his character is extremely contradictory. Early on he gives an impassioned speech about how he will always strive for what he thinks is right but when his own success is threatened this mantra is disposed of with unbelievable ease. And for someone who has worked his way up to a very prominent position in politics Meyers seems incredibly naïve about how dirty a world it is. Then there’s the plot itself which stretches credibility. Something Meyers does early on is pitched as a serious no-no but seems like anything but a big deal in reality and an equally critical scandal lacks originality, borrowing very obviously from true events. But perhaps more than this the story lacks dimensions playing out as a narrowly focused account of one man’s fortunes when the wider context of the campaign’s progress is consistently more interesting.
The film gains some points for not portraying the Democrats in an entirely positive light but loses them again for its rather obvious Republican-bashing. Despite its flaws I never found it less than engaging (although Ryan said he struggled to maintain an interest) and the acting speaks for itself. The film is garnering some decent critical praise and it might even earn some academy nods but I sense it won’t go down in history as one of the great political thrillers.
Well played all round but missing a few ingredients to make it truly essential. Certainly worth a watch for Gosling’s good work but ultimately not the winning candidate.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Fith, David Dencik, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Kathy Burke, Mark Strong, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Stephen Graham, Thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Tomas Alfredson
It’s not often a reviewer says this but I recommend that you don’t trust this review. After a long and tiring day I stepped into the cinema with eyelids already drooping and watched this complex, slow-burning and wordy film in a state of mild exhaustion which is not the optimum condition to be in for it. Needless to say I couldn’t follow the story properly and will have to see it again to form a more reliable opinion but in spite of this enjoyed what I did take in a great deal. I’ve never believed that one’s first experience with a film (or a game) is enough to gauge how much you like it, I’ve already changed my mind about Disney’s Tangled which I reviewed earlier this year and now, after several DVD viewings believe it deserves another star, something I suspect may also apply to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Based on John Le Carré’s novel which was famously adapted into a popular BBC series the cold war story makes for a fairly atypical spy film that swaps Bondisms of Martinis, car chases and gadgets for something far more authentic, human and absorbing. The 1970s setting leads the aesthetic design which is overwhelmed by that era’s strange taste for bland colour schemes. Offices are brown, teal or grey and drowning in a fug of cigarette smoke populated by suited men and the occasional attractive blond. This is the world of British Intelligence that acknowledges the fallibility of its spies and their stunted, strained relationships.
The cast is a who’s who of the cream of (almost exclusively male) British talent including John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and, of course, Gary Oldman who takes the lead as George Smiley, a master spy brought out of retirement to investigate the presence of a mole in his former office. It’s a story of suspicion and intrigue where colleagues and friends lose their trust in each other. As you’d expect the acting is superb throughout, every player delivering some tremendous turns with the likes of Hardy and Cumberbatch standing out in their movingly human performances but it’s Oldman’s show and he here provides one of his quietest performances but he nails the character with a level of precision and professionalism few actors can manage. The subtlest movements of facial muscles do more here than some actors can achieve with far fewer restrictions.
The script also zings with terrific flavour that gives the actors plenty to get their chops round and you can be sure there’s a lot more than espionage going on here. Most characters have two or three arcs to get through and scenes that would seem innocuous in other movies really stand out. The whole thing is enshrouded by a gloom that evokes an old-fashioned world of deceit and suspicion. The only difficulty with it is that you rather need to be switched on for it. A handful of people left the packed showing I attended. Just to reiterate my reaction to this film is not entirely reliable. I thoroughly enjoyed it but know I would have got more out of it were my mind a bit sharper.
The kind of film you really need to be awake for but enthralling in its depth and performances. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy brings the cold war espionage story of yesteryear back with brilliant relevance but it’s the characters that will stick in the mind. Consider these four stars a codename for five stars.
After a busy day of training for my new job some workmates and I chose to partake of this enigmatic thriller from auteur Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, a film that has garnered plenty of deserved critical praise.
It’s clear from the start that there’s something not quite right going on in The Skin I Live In. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas, reuniting with the director for the first time in two decades) is an influential plastic surgeon who has recently perfected his creation – a new type of skin impervious to heat and insect bites. His research could have dramatic implications but for the unethical nature of illegal transgenetic techniques. His secret test subject is Vera (Elena Anaya) a beautiful prisoner in his private home clinic. Ledgard’s ambitions struggle with his own desires and his mysterious guinea pig is restless to be let out but unexpected events open up unsettling questions about sexuality and identity that takes her down disturbing avenues.
The Skin I Live In is another film that will divide opinion. The quality of the acting and direction, not to mention the script speak for themselves but a film this downright weird is certain to put people off. Things first start to get creepy when a criminal dressed like a Mexican wrestler with a Tiger fixation shows up at the house/clinic claiming to be the son of the housekeeper (Marisa Paredes) and takes a fancy to Vera resulting in sex and death. But it is the backstory of Ledgard that will slowly get under your skin.
We learn about Ledgard’s wife who committed suicide after being horrendously burned in a car crash and his mentally disturbed daughter whose first opportunity to do a bit of socialising outside of her treatment hospital doesn’t go too well. Then there’s a young man on whom Ledgard exacts a cruel and deeply unpleasant revenge. There’s a big twist in there that will likely define your opinion of the movie entirely but whatever your reaction to skin crawling events (and believe me there will be a reaction, especially for men) it’s worth noting the skill with which the reveal is made. Instead of rug-pull shock like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, the revelation here comes slowly the first clues gradually developing into something clearer that will guide your imagination to places you don’t want to go. Before suspicions are confirmed by a very stark cut you’ll be in denial because it’s just too damn gross. It all builds into a strangely but powerfully emotional conclusion that will make you wonder what the hell you would do in that situation.
With brilliant cinematography, camera angles and a subtle, slightly unhinged score there’s a lot to like about the film as a piece of art but Banderas is probably the greatest joy as he quietly and superbly brings to life an insane monster with serious issues all over the place. Do not expect anything close to Zorro.
Beautifully crafted and artistic with great performances that bring an unpleasant and uncanny story to vivid life. Another film that you won’t forget whether or not you enjoy it.