Take This Waltz

I’m working on a bunch of things at the moment, but none of them are postworthy yet. I was looking back over some of my older reviews (occasionally painful, often handy yardsticks) and I realised a) I’ve done a whole lot of reviews that haven’t made their way here and b) It’s a bunch of work I’ve already done just sitting there gathering e-dust. I get to plagiarise myself and I just checked with me, and I’m fine with it. Anyway, in an attempt at review diversity and to prove that I don’t just rag on dumb blockbusters, here’s an indie film that I fucking hated. It was originally posted on Cinehouse, where my work occasionally appears.

Take This Waltz (2012)

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz. I only knew her as the lead in Zack Snyder’s surprisingly not crap 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. I haven’t seen her previous film: Away From Her, but by all accounts it’s a powerful and moving piece. I’m always up for a bit of cine-brain food so I sat down and carefully placed the disc in the player. 20 minutes in and I brought up the timer to see how long I had left to go. Not a good sign.

Michelle Williams plays Margot, an aspiring writer who is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chef compiling a chicken cookbook. Whilst on an excursion, Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby). Sparks fly and there’s an instant mutual attraction. After finding out Daniel lives very close by, Margot’s temptation to stray from her safe, dependable marriage becomes stronger and stronger and the film deals with her being caught between the two men. Whilst it stars some really great actors, I really got a disingenuous feeling from it all. Michelle Williams’ Margot is meant to be quirkier than a hat on a lamb, but ends up coming across as a cynical approximation of a quirky lass. It’s not her fault as I’m sure this is how she was directed. She’s been fantastic in other films. It’s just all so insultingly twee and precious. There’s a scene early on where she and Daniel are both in the back of a cab, blowing some kind of hanging tassel back and forth. I’m sure this is meant to be charming, but I kept thinking “You’re both fucking adults! What the hell!?” I know adults act like childish dicks all the time (I’d like to think I specialise in it), but it just seemed so laboured and staged.

It’s hard to express the sort of reaction I had to this film. For nearly all of the runtime, it’s an indier-than-thou bullshit romance. It’s the sort of film destined to have monochromatic .gifs of key scenes made of it and plastered all over Tumblr. The dialogue is that special breed of pretentious and whimsical, containing “deep” metaphors. In their first proper meeting, Margot confides in Daniel that she’s been fraudulently using airport wheelchair facilities to make sure she doesn’t miss her connecting flights. She confesses she’s afraid of being afraid of missing connections. Overlooking the appalling misuse of disabled facilities, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this works as a handy plot metaphor too. It’s really not as clever as it thinks it is. As soon as the lines were said, I had flagged them up as narrative signposts, rather than just two people talking. The whole film’s like this and I had a tough time sticking with it.

I think the characters are my main problem. We’re not meant to unequivocally love Margot, but I don’t think you’re meant to dislike her as much as I did. She’s an air-headed, silly little girl who I just didn’t have any time for. Cardboard lothario Daniel, played by Kirby and looking like The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln run through the “hipster dreamboat” filter a few times, is a struggling bohemian artist type who makes ends meet working as a rickshaw driver around Toronto. If you just let out anything resembling a snort of derision at that character description, this film won’t be for you. Seth Rogen’s Lou is just a nice, average guy and is therefore (intentionally) pretty boring. The only one with some “oomph” about them is Sarah Silverman’s recovering alcoholic Geraldine, who gets a fantastic scene towards the end and gets to say a few things to Margot that I found to be very cathartic.

Look, it isn’t all bad. It’s undeniably a well-made film. Some of the shots and locations are truly beautiful. The film also has quite a candid approach to things which gives an air of reality to proceedings. It’s a compelling illusion until somebody opens their gob and more whimsical crap dollops out. The actors are occasionally allowed to act like real people and Seth Rogen gets some really nice moments. I know I’m not the target demographic for this. There is an audience out there who will love it for what it is- I just don’t want to know them. Had the film stayed on the course it was on for 90% of the total time, it would have been one of the most irritating films I’d ever seen. As it stands, the ending makes up for a bit, but not nearly enough. The very last bit spoils it though. Just even suggesting that Margot can retreat back into her little fantasy land and not learn anything from everything that’s happened was truly maddening.

Take This Waltz is a pretentious, “grass is greener” story that wants to play with romantic conventions, but ends up as an annoying air-headed fantasy with delusions of depth. I’ve only just unclenched my fists to type this review. It pissed me off. Stick that on the DVD cover.


Raw footage

Nightcrawler (2014)

Hello everyone, my name’s Ben and I’m…(deep breath)…a Gyllenhaalic. I started getting interested in his work around the time Donnie Darko came out. I’d dabbled with Gyllenhaal since then but found I could take or leave it. It’s only in the past few years that it’s got really out of hand. The dude keeps picking interesting and challenging films and turning in awesome performances. Frankly, I’m starting to feel I need a cheeky bit of Gyll to have a good time. It’s got so bad I don’t even have to double check the spelling of his surname any more and I’ll chase after anything that has even the slightest whiff of G about it. You know the really messed up part? I’m not even sure I want to get better. *Drops mic and flips the room off*

Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) a sleazy man looking for employment. During a night drive, he stumbles across a flaming car wreck, eagerly filmed by cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and his associate. After a quick questioning, Lou finds out that Loder sells his graphic camera footage to the local news channels for significant sums. Bloom decides that this is the career for him and sets about becoming the scummiest cameraman around. Nightcrawler had me hooked from beginning to end. It’s hard to sum up what it actually is. It’s probably best described as a cynical dark comedy/satire. The plot, good as it is, almost isn’t important. It’s a fascinating character study of Lou Bloom, a clear sociopath, but a completely compelling entity. Part of Bloom’s brilliance is obviously down to the tight scripting and direction, but Gyllenhaal is totally on point. He’s fucking fantastic. Bloom is scary because he’s so believably unthreatening, if that makes sense. He talks with the cool rationale of Patrick Bateman, yet talks in the sort of meaningless execu-speak you’d find on job applications. He’s basically a walking LinkedIn profile and nothing’s more unsettling than that concept. Despite being Gyllenhaal’s film, there is strong support in the form of Rene Russo’s ratings-chasing Nina Romina, Bloom employee Rick (the excellent Four Lions‘ equally excellent Riz Ahmed) and Paxton’s rival nightcrawler.

It’s tempting to talk about Nightcrawler as a satire considering all it has to say about modern news and journalism, but no matter how heartless the decisions made are, it all rings depressingly true. Rene Russo’s character reminded me of Faye Dunaway in Network– same drive, same lack of anything approaching humanity. That’s pretty much the film’s MO though as Bloom walks around like an alien in a human suit. He smiles and exchanges pleasantries with people because he knows he’s supposed to, rather than having it come naturally. There’s also a lot of shit under the surface with him and we only see hints of the much angrier, crazier person underneath. The word anti-hero is bandied around a lot, but I think Lou Bloom is one. If heroes embody all of humanity’s positive traits then Lou is the exact opposite of that. One would think that would make him a villain, and he definitely is one, but I found myself half rooting for the guy. That disturbs me on a bunch of levels. I think it’s because I really didn’t want him to be rewarded for being a moral vacuum. It kept my eyeballs glued to the screen.

Time for one of my trademark WTF comparisons, but Nightcrawler reminded me slightly of Dredd. Y’see I and many other film bores like me bang on about character arcs like they’re going out of fashion (which sadly, isn’t too far from the truth), but like Dredd, Lou Bloom doesn’t have a character arc. He’s the same guy at the start of the film as he is at the end. Sure, stuff has happened to him, but no wisdom has been imparted, no life lessons learned, no new purpose in life, nothing. Again, like Dredd, it’s more about how other factors react to the immovable object, rather than the usual narrative of the object having to learn how to move. If I may drop some Film School 101 shit on you, in the case of a character with no real arc, it’s usually the audience watching in a cinema/at home that undergoes a transformation of sorts. We’re presented with a complete thing and only when the credits roll do we understand the context of said thing. I love stuff like that.

I’ve seen some Dan Gilroy written films before (The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel) and apart from Real Steel, those films can fuck right off. Seems like all Gilroy needed was some freedom to really cut loose. He both writes and directs here and does a stellar job at both. The cinematography is also beautiful with some amazing shots of nighttime L.A. that wouldn’t look out of place in Drive or Collateral. James Newton Howard’s score is all over the damn place and it works. One scene may have a soundtrack that grabs your throat and refuses to let go, whereas another could be scored by something that wouldn’t be amiss in a mid ’90s family-friendly comedy. All of this gives the effect that the film isn’t quite sure how to present Bloom. Is he a cruel joke of a human being, devoid of any morals or is he a heroic underdog? Let me just answer that for you. It’s the first one. However, it muddies up what many would assume are very clear boundaries and that’s disquieting.

I loved Nightcrawler. I saw it earlier in the year and enjoyed it thoroughly, but only on a second viewing could I appreciate how great it is. This review is a double whammy, because not only do I get to talk about something good for a change, but I finally get to talk about Nightcrawler specifically and cross off one of the more pressing titles on the massive Word document containing all the films I haven’t been bothered to write about. Now… *scratches arm awkwardly* anyone got any news on that Southpaw?

Fifty Shades of Grey

Dumb as a whip

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

So, in a completely expected turn of events, this film is goddamn everywhere. As with most modern things, even if people weren’t excited for the film, social media had to be told. I’m sure most peoples’ pages were flooded with links to various sites because this particular article found a new way to repeatedly kick something they didn’t like the idea of or plan to see in the first place. It’s been a crazy feedback loop. My biggest problem with it all? I feel I have to defend it on certain counts. There’s a horrible idea that Fifty Shades is shite because it’s a “chick flick”. I’ve heard this repeated time and time again and it needs to stop. Fifty Shades is shite, but it’s because it’s a bad film, not because it’s written and directed by women and targeted at a female audience. There’s also a puritanical section of society that believes that anything more adventurous than shepherd’s pie and missionary is morally wrong, which just ain’t true. There are some completely legitimate concerns about the series’ content out there but I find that most of them fail to hold any real world implications thanks to the juvenile fantasy of it all. Fifty Shades has quite the low-brow caliber to it, starting life as Twilight fan fiction. I mean, Jesus Christ, you can’t get much lower than that.

Filling in for her sick roommate, college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) interviews dapper billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and the pair both become fascinated by each other. After some courtship, Grey soons leads the virginal and naive Ana into his world of whips, chains and ropes. The rub comes when it transpires Ana wants a more usual romantic relationship and Christian wants her to sign a contract that pledges her submission to him. You know a plot’s bad when you can sum it up in a few lines and don’t feel like you’re missing anything important. I actually liked Dakota Johnson in this film. She’s stuck saying awful lines of dialogue, but she manages to humanise Ana just enough to make it work. She’s believable for the most part. Jamie Dornan on the other hand is a blank. Dude’s nigh-on robotic. Had you told me the film was a sci-fi about Ana teaching and rehabilitating a fetish droid and getting him to feel love, I’d have believed you. Don’t steal that idea by the way. I’m trying to create a human centipede of terrible things inspiring each other to see how low we as a species can stoop. The whole thing is just as ridiculous as you’d imagine something with a character unironically named “Anastasia Steele” would be. It’s a story that never evolved past childish wish fulfillment and the fact that it’s so popular with car driving, voting adults concerns me in a whole bunch of ways.

The writing’s the main problem. The dialogue is truly cringeworthy. I realise that it’s based on a godawful book, but for the first half hour or so, it seems like the film is taking the piss out of the source material- understanding the limitations and rolling with it. It was rather refreshing. However, it soon devolves into Very Serious Mode and suddenly all the camp fun is gone and we’re left with boring Ana and boring Christian and their fucking boring problems. It’s like it lost confidence in what it was doing and then just folded, giving the shitmunchers what they wanted instead of speaking several levels above them. Had the film stuck to its guns, I feel I might have been talking about a misunderstood bit of tongue-in-cheekery. But alas, once the film actually gets to the two boning, that’s it. Nothing more of any consequence happens. There are no additional plot threads or interstitial bits to take the focus off Grey and Steele.

It seems to think that the (only slightly) kinky stuff is enough to keep your attention. Ordinarily, this would be fine- it is a masturbatory fantasy after all. The problem is there’s no chemistry between the two whatsoever. In theory, you can see how their different personalities would be brought together but none of that is really on screen. Both Dornan and Johnson are talented actors, so I place the blame on the thinly sketched characters limiting what they can feasibly bring to the table. It all feels like bumping Barbie and Ken dolls together. Everything about it is unbelievably shallow. It’s shot in such a flat, boring way. I hope you like skylines and massive windows, because that and the occasional shot of tits is all you’re getting out of this one. I love the fact that for all the supposedly edgy and risque things the film does it’s still as much of a corporate production as anything else with its merchandise and its inability to tell a properly contained story, choosing to save stuff for sequels. It’s a total advert for itself, with plenty of product placement and a soundtrack that’s forced to be front and centre. There’s a scene scored by a painfully slow version of Beyonce’s Crazy in Love that sounded like what I’d imagine the regular version would sound like after a massive head injury.

I suppose the main question is, is it sexy? Eh, not really. Once you get past the fact that two attractive people are on the screen in various states of undress it becomes run-of-the-mill. There is literally no sex in the film that I haven’t seen done better in other films. You want a proper BDSM experience? Watch 2002’s Secretary, which is not only a much, much better film with an actual heart, but as I understand it, it seems to be the more genuine representation of “the lifestyle”. The story can’t resist making the reason for Christian’s tastes because of some trauma in his life, which is not only insulting to anyone who enjoys that sort of thing, but it’s insulting from an intellectual point of view as well. A better written character would just own that shit, but no, it’s like therapy to him. He’s a broken soul. Pass me a bucket. Oh- and the sequel bait ending can go fuck itself too. A sequel is all but confirmed considering the attention and money this one has garnered, but that is no excuse to just cut and run like the film does.

Fittingly, as with the Twilight cinema experience, there seemed to be just as many people there to take the piss out of it than there were to get lost in the fantasy of it all. For every appreciative “oooh” Christian got when taking his shirt off, there were derisive giggles for every tin-eared exchange. I like that fact that it’s almost like a play or pantomime. I was enjoying the audience participation way more than the actual film. It also disproved the theory that only soft-brained, sexually frustrated housewives were going to see it. The audience was pretty diverse. Even if that was the case, so what? Us manly men have plenty of poisonous brainrot pandering to us, why does every single fucking film with even a slight female slant have to be raked over the coals so viciously in the press and on the street?

As you may have gathered, Fifty Shades of Grey is pretty damn terrible. It starts off alright, but soon becomes the thing we all knew it would be. Dakota Johnson is practically the only saving grace, but the rest of the film is such an almighty mess around her it’s not worth recommending for her performance alone. There are positives, but if anything, they make the film a more frustrating and negative experience as there were a few brief moments where I glimpsed a much better film. Thankfully, with this last line, I’ve commented on what is undoubtedly the filmic talking point right now and I can forget all about this nonsense and go back to my ridiculously long, throbbing list of shit I actually want to talk about.

The Maze Runner

Solid franchise legs.

The Maze Runner (2014)

I have a Word document on my computer called “Crap I haven’t been arsed to type up yet” which was starting to get to a worrying length. One of the first entries on there was Young Adult Adaptation #16834-B “Maze Runner, The”. In an effort to prevent the file from getting so large it gains sentience, I decided to tackle it and scratch it off the list. Slight buyer beware on this one. In yet another studio move that teabags the U.K., we get two options when it comes to watching the film. Option A: we can either watch an edited down 12A cut of the film or Option B: we can fuck off. Yep, both the theatrical and home release of the film is the compromised version (EDIT: Since writing this review I’ve learned that there is a 15 rated version of the film available, but it’s an HMV exclusive, which is another practice that can suck all of the dicks.) It’s not the most egregious of examples as there are only about 43 seconds trimmed, but if the uncut versions of films like World War Z and Die Hard 4.0 have taught me anything, it’s that a little can go a long way. As I watched an uncut version, all that changes is that when I say the word “brutal” later on, you’re going to have to mentally edit in the word “fairly” before it if you’re from good ol’ Blighty. Which you probably would anyway, because we’re weirdly uncomfortable with absolute statements without hedging them. Slightly.

The Maze Runner opens on a young man with amnesia (Dylan O’Brien) in a caged box elevator being whisked up to a large patch of woods and grass known as “the Glade”. He soon finds himself surrounded by a group of jeering adolescents and tries to run for it, discovering that the Glade is walled in on all sides by a colossal stone maze. He soon remembers his name is Thomas. Thomas slowly learns about the community he finds himself in, one of the key bits of information being that the maze shuts at night and is populated by mysterious creatures known as “Grievers”. He sets his sights on becoming a “runner”, the only group of people allowed to venture into the maze by day to map the labyrinth and hopefully find a means of escape.

Put simply, The Maze Runner plays out as a mix of The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. That’s not to say it hasn’t got any original ideas, I’m just describing the general vibe. Lord of the Flies is the strongest comparison, the group dynamic of Maze Runner owing a lot to William Golding. There’s even a chubby one representing innocence, or whatever the fuck I wrote down in that school essay I did. It’s clear that Thomas is different from the usual monthly additions to the group. There’s more than a touch of destiny about him and blah blah blah. What is it with YA novels and destiny? Surely the best lesson to give to young teens is that they can control their own fate, rather than the notion that everything is predetermined and if you don’t feature in some prophecy etched into a wall somewhere you’re boned? Also the whole “memory loss” thing as a plot device can fuck off. Key points of the film rely on Thomas getting flashes of his past, which looks like the same lab that Wolverine was created in. It’s a lazy shortcut and it grates.

I really liked Dylan O’Brien. He plays Thomas with a quiet intensity that really works. This is not the sort of character that sits idly by and it gives us a good driven lead to get behind. Rumours have it that O’Brien is up for the Spider-Man role in the newly rebooted series and I’d be happy with that. Thomas’ arrival changes things and soon the only female Glader, Theresa (Kaya Scodelario), shows up in the box with a note in her hand reading “She’s the last one. Ever”. Maze Runner avoids the beartrap of having the sole female involved in some sort of love triangle, thankfully. The flip side of this is that she’s not given much else to do. She kind of fades into the background, which is a shame. Also worthy of mention is Son of Rambow‘s Will Poulter as the sort-of antagonist Gally. Unlike most jerks, you can understand where he’s coming from. The status quo has been nothing but fucked since Thomas arrived and it’s easy to see how he’d take umbrage to someone who disturbed the tenuous tranquility of Glade life. Thomas Brodie-Sangster does well as Newt. Newt is a thankless “feed exposition to the hero” role, but Brodie-Sangster takes a boring, functional character and makes him interesting.

The Maze Runner has a decent, intriguing concept. Having not read the books, I wanted to know about the maze, the Grievers and who or what put the Gladers there in the first place. The various reveals and revelations reminded me of the first series of Lost, with all of its compelling mysteries upon mysteries. I understand this is on the lower end of the budget spectrum as it cost about half of what the first Hunger Games did, but the film manages some decent effects and a great sense of scale with the various areas of the huge maze. Maybe it was these two elements that gave the whole thing a bit of a TV feel. In this day and age, that is no bad thing, but something about it just didn’t sell it as particularly cinematic. Not a huge deal as I’ve watched and loved things that were more crappily made than this, just felt it was worth mentioning. The film manages some exciting sequences and some of the Glader deaths are brutal. The maze action especially feels genuinely perilous knowing that the film isn’t pulling punches when it comes to which characters go and stay. I think the script could have done with a lighter touch though. The film can feel joyless at times and it makes all the bleak dialogue seem a little robotic. Sure, it’s not meant to be a trip to Rainbow Town, but touches of humour can really add to rug-pull character deaths and the like.

I liked The Maze Runner. It’s a decent enough start to a franchise that I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of. The sequel bait ending can feel a little unsatisfying, but it’s not a huge deal. It’s a solid film with decent ideas. The sequel has real potential and if delivered on, could be a whole new kind of experience. Recommended.

The Interview

Hollywood hacks.

The Interview (2015)

I don’t need to tell you about the furore surrounding this one. Like many people, I found myself wanting to check out the infamous film after it looked like Sony weren’t going to release it. I think it was the forbidden fruit angle. Anyway, all of that quietened down and Sony released it online and in select theatres in the U.S. and it made its way to these rainy shores sometime last week. Being more committed to writing as of late, I figured The Interview was at least worth checking out to see if it was good once the almighty international shitstorm died down. Spoiler: it’s pretty mediocre.

James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a vacuous celebrity talk show host. Seth Rogen plays his producer, unhappy with the shallow nature of the programming. The pair learn that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) is a big fan of the show and, seeing a chance to score some professional kudos, the pair contact NK’s press offices to set up an interview. Their request accepted, Skylark and Rapaport pack their bags for Pyongyang and are contacted by Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan), a CIA agent who recruits the duo to assassinate the mental despot whilst they’re over there. The script isn’t great. Whilst there is proper storytelling going on (foreshadowing, actual character arcs) a lot of the jokes suffer from the “throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks” approach. I laughed several times during the film, but I’m more willing to put that down to the buckshot nature of it all, rather than properly crafted jokes. The comedy is broad and vulgar, as you’d expect. I don’t want to come across as some snooty dick who thinks he’s above poop jokes (and there are sooo many in the film). I enjoyed This Is the End a hell of a lot and I liked Rogen’s previous effort Bad Neighbours (simply “Neighbours” in non-UK territories). A lot of the gags in The Interview just seemed quite lazy. I know that now the question is “well, what did you expect?” Well, something a little better than this.

As much as I like James Franco, I’m not sure what the hell he’s doing as Dave Skylark. It’s an incredibly over-the-top tryhard performance and it sunk more than a few comedic moments. The guy can be incredibly funny and has proven so in the aforementioned This Is the End and Pineapple Express. It’s weirdly misjudged. Rogen plays a standard Rogen role, so he balances out some of the Skylark nonsense. MVPs of the film are Randall Park and Diana Bang. Park actually makes you like the Katy Perry liking murderer and makes him seem like someone you’d definitely invite to a night out. Diana Bang also does great work as Sook, Un’s propaganda minister. They’re both layered performances and it elevates the film considerably when they’re both introduced.

When I say the humour’s “broad”, I really mean it. You’re not going to get much more than dick jokes. That’s fine, but the quality of said dick jokes pales in comparison to something like This Is the End. Some of the stuff seemed incredibly dated too. I mean, Lord of the Rings references in a 2014 film, really? They’re not even good ones. Also, nice of them to use Katy Perry’s “Firework” – a song second only to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” in terms of soundtrack overusage. Whilst there are moments that do work, I found myself rolling my eyes at every lazy gag and every hacky joke. For its inflammatory central conceit, the film seems to be happy with sticking to old hat jokes. There’s one scene where Agent Lacey tells the duo she wants them to “take (Kim Jong Un) out”. At this point, the screen may as well flashed up some sing-a-long lyrics at the bottom, complete with bouncing ball. I refuse to believe that there was anyone in the cinema who didn’t know that the pair would misconstrue what she was saying and that the next line would amount to something like “…for drinks?” or “for dinner?”. It’s an incredibly simple joke but they continue riffing on it for a whole minute. A very long feeling minute. There’s no real satire to the film. Just the point that North Korea is weird and bad. Not sure about you, but I didn’t need to slap down the best part of a tenner for that incredible insight. Again, yeah, what did I expect from a Rogen/Franco film? Well, what’s the frigging point of having a controversial plot if you’re going to squander opportunities to actually say something?

The Interview is just about passable. There are hints of a much better script underneath all the lunkhead humour. I will say this, I wasn’t bored at any point, but I really felt like I should be laughing a lot more than I actually did. I’ll shakily recommend it because of the super-subjective nature of comedy, but it’s not something I’d be confident enough in to shout it from the rooftops.

Big Hero 6


Big Hero 6 (2015)

Big Hero 6 has been on my radar for a long time. Disney have been on a bit of a streak since 2010’s Tangled and since then both Wreck-It Ralph and the inescapable Frozen have raked in the critical acclaim and sweet, sweet money. Here’s the long and short of it. Big Hero 6 is loosely based on a rather obscure Marvel comic book only really known for featuring superheroes Sunfire and The Silver Samurai, both of whom don’t feature in the film due to different creative directions and complicated rights issues. It’s a Marvel property, but it’s a very Disney take on a Marvel property if that makes sense, and it fucking better do as I’ve tried and deleted about 8 different ways to say this and I officially give up.

Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a 13 year old tech genius who lives in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. Tragedy strikes and Hiro is left with an inflatable robot medic companion by the name of Baymax (Scott Adsit). Hiro soon discovers that there is a masked madman with access to an army of microbots on the loose and decides to go after him, but not before recruiting his science-whiz friends and gearing up for a massive fight to save the city. If I may get slightly reflexive on you for a moment, I wasn’t sure whether the very lines you just read spoiled too much and had to check official blurbs to see what they reveal. The summary is fine in terms of spoilers, but I think it’s the fact that the film takes a while to get there that makes it feel like I’m blowing the whole film for people. The film taking its time is completely a good thing too. It spends time fleshing out its characters and stokes the fires of emotional investment expertly. If I had to criticise, I would say the villain story is a bit weak, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s more about the team coming together than the big bad they have to defeat. This is a Disney production, so the voice acting is top notch. Scott Adsit’s Baymax gets a lot of the big laughs in the film thanks to his gentle, but matter-of-fact way of talking.

Like How to Train Your Dragon or E.T., the film works on the bond of boy and companion. Hiro’s relationship with Baymax is as funny as it is touching. In the original comics, Baymax is a dragon creature, but the decision to make him a cuddly, friendly robot is a sound one. It’s fun just watching Baymax totter around and interact with things. I’m a grown-ass man and I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him. There’s an inspired bit briefly seen in the trailers where Baymax is low on battery and basically acts drunk. His pratfalling and slurring are incredibly funny and charming. He’s not just a joke character though, as Baymax is key in some of the film’s more emotional moments and some of his interactions with the depressed Hiro are genuinely moving. Big Hero 6 has got a lot of heart and it shows. It reminded me of The Iron Giant in a lot of ways (there are more than a few plot similarities) but Big Hero 6 nails what Iron Giant did and makes you care about the characters. This is clever and mature storytelling and it’s great to see they didn’t just slap some superhero shit together haphazardly and took the time and effort to make it something special. Storywise, the film slightly falters when the team get together. Some of the team get proper arcs, some not so much. I was really enjoying the team dynamic and wanted to have each of them walk away with something learned. It’s a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things.

I know this may sound like a weak statement, but I was caught up in how colourful and fun everything was. The city of San Fransokyo is a brilliantly designed place, with evidence of American and Japanese culture colliding. I could have done with seeing more of the city, but was happy enough with what Hiro and crew were doing for it to become a problem. I’m looking forward to the Blu-ray so I can pause and appreciate all the tiny details put into it. The action is fun and frantic and seeing all the tech in action is a delight.

I loved Big Hero 6 hard. It’s now my favourite of the newer Disney animations. It’s got wit, action, emotional gut punches, the lot. It has a big ol’ beating heart at the centre too, which can’t be faked. Highly recommended.

American Sniper

Spittin’ dust.

American Sniper (2015)

If you made it through my list of most anticipated films of the year list, you’ll notice that American Sniper is conspicuously absent. There’s a very good reason for that. I wasn’t looking forward to it. The only reason why I went to see American Sniper is because it’s pretty damn significant right now. It’s broken all sorts of box-office records and people are talking about it. A lot of people. As a film critic, this kind of large scale cultural talk is like friggin’ catnip and I wanted to stick my own personal oar in before the lake became nothing but oars.

American Sniper is based on the book of the same name, primarily written by Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper. During his various tours of Iraq, Kyle earned the nickname of “Legend” and became the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. We follow Kyle as the film charts the trials and tribulations of both his military and civilian lives. The acting is on point. Bradley Cooper completely sells the idea of a man undergoing a slow motion mental carwreck. It’s a fantastically understated performance. Sienna Miller is also great and completely mercurial as his wife Taya. It was only when the credits rolled that I remembered she was in it, which surely is a compliment to any actor.

I will admit that I had a big ol’ preemptive hateboner for the film. I’ve always been averse to flag-waving jingoism and the deification of the military. Half the reviews I read were praising the film for being super-important and, on more than one occasion ,”life-changing”. The other half were shitbombing it for being another throbbing vein in America’s cultural erection for war. Knowing which way my political compass points, I knew I’d probably be in the latter camp. I also admit to kinda sorta maybe looking forward to giving an multiple Oscar nominee a few cheap rib kicks and sodding off, my contrarian ways intact. However, I remembered to not judge a film before I’ve seen it and tried to keep various other reviews out of my mind. Every film has the potential to be the new Citizen Kane. It’s just very, very unlikely.

The shitty thing is that my mind hasn’t been changed. I can see why the critical divide has been so massive. Part of me knows that Clint Eastwood is a smart director who has displayed more than enough understanding of irony and subtlety. The other part of me wants to base my reaction on what I felt the film brought to the table, which is an uncomfortably one-sided, chest-thumping slice of guns ‘n pecs. The real Chris Kyle is a controversial figure and I certainly don’t agree with some of the things he said and some of the passages in his book. Disclaimer: I’ve only read a few excerpts of his stuff, but unless he says something like “I’m going to go mental for the next few pages, see you in Chapter 14” beforehand, I think I’ve pretty much got the measure of what’s being said. Kyle is portrayed as a perfect (if slightly conflicted) war hero, which sticks in my craw. The whole thing is hugely binary and I kept wishing for additional shades of grey.

It’s clear that Eastwood is more interested in the forceful military patriotism than Kyle’s PTSD and his slow retreat into himself. Apart from Kyle jumping at noises and having a thousand yard stare, the film is completely disinterested in exploring the guy’s breakdown in any meaningful way. To me, that would be the most interesting and drama-heavy element of the story, but whatever, I’m not a director. The way it’s dealt with in the film feels very superficial and movie-ish. As I said though, this is only paid a bit of attention before we see more of Kyle’s many kills.

What troubled me most of all was how generic it felt. It felt like a subpar action film, complete with lazy dialogue and a lack of a actual point. Nearly every exchange between characters consisted of nail-on-the-head observations and hackneyed “let’s get these motherfuckers” type lines. Apart from a shitload of faceless locals, there are two main baddies- “The Butcher” who tortures kids with a power drill and has a collection of human body parts and an insurgent sniper who rivals Kyle in the sharpshooting department. Despite these being true accounts, again, it all feels very movie-like, which is a problem when one is striving for realism. It reminded me of the laughable Shooter, where Marky Mark plays a character unironically named Bob Lee Swagger. These are incredible events, yet my brain was switching into dumb Friday night rental mode. The film is feels rather mechanical too. It’s just of loop of Iraq, home, Iraq, home, Iraq, home. It’s like an assembly line. A particularly tedious one at that.

The performances of Cooper and Miller hold the film together, but everyone else fades into the background. I would struggle to name any characters outside of Kyle and Taya. I didn’t care when Kyle’s squad started diminishing in numbers because we hadn’t spent proper time with them. I didn’t know them from the next camoed grunt. I felt really disconnected from the whole experience. Speaking of disconnects, I’m not going to talk about the ending in great detail, despite being incredibly tempted to. Why Eastwood chose to not actually dramatise what happened is beyond me. Just baffling.

Despite how I’ve made it sound, American Sniper wasn’t completely without merit to me. It’s well shot and manages some tense sequences, especially one involving a dropped rocket launcher, but I just didn’t care. I was more focused on the story it wasn’t telling rather than the one it was. I can’t personally recommend it. Having said that, the film may hit you differently and judging by the polarising reviews, the reaction to it will totally vary from person to person.

My most anticipated films of 2015: Part 2: The Cradle of Life

So here’s the second part of my list. I actually got rid of a few like Fast and Furious 7, but I realised asking people to read through every single film I’m even a little bit interested in was a bit much. Still, there’s plenty outside this list I’m excited about, just these are the main ones. Also, as if to personally bollocks me up, In the Heart of the Sea has moved to the end of the year’s “award season”. It’s a hell of a delay, but at least it shows they’re confident in the quality of the product.


Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – 22nd May

Known elsewhere as simply “Tomorrowland”, this film is Disney’s latest attempt of making a film out of areas/rides in their theme parks. Plot details are scarce, but it has something to do with George Clooney and visiting a futuristic place called Tomorrowland. Two reasons why I’m excited for this one. One, Brad Bird’s directing and he hasn’t directed a film I didn’t really enjoy. Two, it has a very effective teaser trailer that captures that old fashioned mystery that you don’t tend to get these days. I want one of those pins.


Jurassic World – 12th June

I’m torn about Jurassic World. Part of me is still enamoured with all things Jurassic Park and is relishing the thought of a new dino action blockbuster. The other, more rational side reminds me that all the sequels have been varying degrees of shite. Set-up is that Jurassic World is a functional dinosaur park and has been for some years. The spectacle of seeing living breathing dinosaurs becomes commonplace and visitor numbers start to dwindle. At the demands of the higher-ups, the park’s geneticists cook up a new hybrid dinosaur which gets loose and runs amok in the park. Chris Pratt’s in it, so thumbs up there, but the story doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’m looking forward to the spectacle of it all, but the trailer gave me some doubts. The dialogue was hackneyed and awkward and everything had a bit too much of a greenscreen quality to it. Plus, the shot of Pratt on his motorbike riding alongside his raptor buddies has me all kinds of concerned. Fingers crossed that it at least manages to be the best of the sequels.


Ant-Man – 17th July

As you may have noticed around these parts, I’m a bit of a Marvel fan. Thing is, I’m not particularly buzzed about Ant-Man. So why put it on a “most anticipated” list? It’s because I’m still looking forward to it, but expectations aren’t high. Part of it is the whole Edgar Wright debacle (although it seemed to be over genuine artistic differences) and part of it is the trailer which can’t decide whether it’s a serious superhero film or not. Ant-Man is the story of con man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who must use a super-powered, super-shrinking suit to somehow help his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Marvel have proved they know what they’re doing and occasionally make initially baffling directorial choices (I was incredibly worried about the Russos directing Winter Soldier, but they fucking nailed it) so the director of unremarkable stuff like Yes Man and The Break-Up gets a pass. I’m really hoping that the tonal problems of the trailer don’t speak of similar problems with the film, because that could be a killer. The script’s written by Judd Apatow regular Adam McKay, so chances are it’ll lean more towards the Guardians of the Galaxy end of the spectrum than anything else. Could be a pleasant surprise, could be the first Marvel misstep in a while. Either way, it’s going to be interesting.


Crimson Peak – 16th October

Guillermo Del Toro returns to his gothic horror roots with Crimson Peak. I’ll just copy and paste the synopsis here because it’s elegantly simple: “In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds…and remembers.” S’got Charlie Hunnam, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain in it and I’m looking forward to it. Del Toro describes it as more in line with his earlier Spanish language films like The Devil’s Backbone, which I’m all for. Apparently it’s going to make full use of its R rating too, which is fucking refreshing in this age of neutered horror.




Spectre – 23rd October

Hmm, do you think the guy that reviewed all 23 Bond films back-to-back is excited about a new one? Yep, it’s safe to say there are teethmarks on the bit. Sam Mendes returns which is brilliant considering the bang-up job he did on Skyfall. Christoph Waltz is probably going to be Blofeld too, so there’s that. I haven’t read the leaked script, but I imagine the plot involves James Bond killing dudes and saving something or someone. This is our 24th time around on the carousel, I think we know how many horses are in the race by now. Rumour has it that it might be Craig’s last and if it is, let’s hope this one is more of a Casino Royale than a Quantum of Solace.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 18th December

I can’t believe we’re getting a new Star Wars film this year. Not only that, but it’s been wrestled from George Lucas, so it might be like an actual, proper film. Like nearly everyone else, I geeked out over the teaser. Yeah, it’s all just fleeting glimpses of familiar stuff, but the mystery and excitement is back. If anyone can make a new Star Wars saga work, it’s J.J. Abrams. He’s crazy talented and seems to have a good grasp of what people are looking for in a fun space saga. I was cautiously optimistic, but now I can feel the hype growing. The trailer was in front of Battle of the Five Armies at the IMAX and it blew me away. I’m not as precious about Star Wars as I used to be and if the film turns out crappy, it can simply join the long list of Star Wars crap I don’t pay attention to. Still, if it manages to be great, I can’t tell you how happy I’ll be.



Trumbo – TBC

Bryan Cranston’s in it. That should be enough. In case it isn’t, Trumbo tells the true story of successful ’40s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who is blacklisted for being a Communist at the height of the Red Scare. I’ve always found the whole McCarthyism era interesting and so this one looks to be right up my street. No confirmed release date yet, but this is almost certainly awards bait so probably around the end of the year. I hate to jump to conclusions but possibly a Bryan Cranston Oscar? YES.


The Hateful Eight – TBC



It’s Tarantino. You should know your opinion on him by now. I love the guy and am always pumped for his next film. The story revolves around post-Civil War bounty hunters trying to find shelter during a blizzard but end up getting involved in “a plot of betrayal and deception”. Channing Tatum, Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell all star and it looks like it’s going to be another blood-soaked affair. One ticket please.

So, that’s my list. This is going to be a bumper year and apparently I’m going to have to become a millionaire to afford all these trips to the cinema. The perils of being an unpaid critic are numerous. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

My most anticipated of 2015: Part 1 : An Unexpected Journey

Two image-filled lists in a row? Have I sold my soul to the vapid, clickbaity world of modern listicle writing? Mercifully no.  Even worse, this is my first two part article. Why? Well, if narrowed it down to a friendly ten, it’d just be the massive billion dollar franchises getting a look-in and are the ones already being talked about incessantly. Anyway, this is not a thing I usually do, but I’m responding to a request on Facebook (Hi Dave!) to write about the films that I’m anticipating in 2015. I’m looking forward to all of these in different ways, but the thing I’m really looking forward to is a film I know nothing about at the moment and get blindsided by when I sit down to watch it. Obviously being hyped for something and then it turning out to be good is great, but there’s something incredibly special about being sucker punched by the unexpected and exciting. I realise that by saying this, I’m kinda invalidating this list I worked pretty hard on, so let’s move swiftly on. So, in UK release order, here are the films you can expect this “disingenuous prick” (actual reader feedback) to have “one of my sodding opinions” (probable reader thoughts) on later this year.


Big Hero 6 – 30th January


Big Hero 6 has been out for ages in the United States, but we finally get it at the end of the month. I’ve been excited about it for a long time and the wait has been tortuous. Basically, it’s a more traditional Disney take on a Marvel Comics property. The film’s about a boy named Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) and his inflatable medical bot Baymax (Scott Adsit) who team up with his techie friends to form a team of superheroes. Disney have been on a roll lately with Wreck-It Ralph and the inescapable Frozen and I’m hoping that co-writer Daniel Gerson brings the same level of quality to the film as he did with Monsters Inc. The near unanimous praise the film has garnered would suggest that Disney have knocked it out of the park again. I’ve only seen a few trailers, but I can already tell I’m going to love Baymax and that he’ll steal the show.

Inherent Vice – 30th January

Out on the same day is Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, Inherent Vice. Based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, the film is set in the ’70s and follows pothead P.I.  Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. Critical reaction to this one has been mixed, but the reason I’m looking forward to it is because of PTA. At the very least his films are interesting and the cast is made up of some legitimately great actors. It looks to be a bit of a strange mix of genres, but if anyone can make it work it’s PTA. Joaquin Phoenix is a fascinating actor too, both on and off screen. I’m hoping for a bit of an unconventional experience that has the potential to become a new cult favourite of mine. Fingers crossed.

Jupiter Ascending – 6th February

Whilst the trailers for Jupiter Ascending haven’t been great, I have absolute faith in the Wachowskis. Sure, the Matrix sequels weren’t as great as they should have been, but their Post Neo work has been fantastic. When they can give me stuff like V for Vendetta, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, they’ve earned a ticket sale to all future projects.  Mila Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a woman who unsurprisingly dreams of something bigger than her current job cleaning toilets. It’s only when genetically engineered ex soldier Caine (Channing Tatum) tracks her down that she learns that she may space royalty and in charge of the balance of the entire cosmos. No pressure then. I’m hoping it’s the slightly hokey but visually stunning space opera it seems to be. I imagine it’s the sort of film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, which is great for me as it’s an excuse to visit the IMAX. Pretty stoked.

Fifty Shades of Grey – 13th February

Yes, really. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s almost certainly going to be terrible considering the source material. However, this film is going to make waves when it hits and it’s probably going to be one of the most talked about films of the year. It’s kind of an event picture. If you didn’t know by osmosis alone, Fifty Shades of Grey is about Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a student, who encounters a brooding, handsome billionaire named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Grey opens Anastasia’s eyes to all sorts of things, with a special focus on the world of BDSM. Cue mugging and flogging. I’ve not read the book, but have read select passages and I was genuinely shocked at how poorly it was written. I guess that’s what you get from something that started its life as Twilight fanfiction. I kinda want to see if it’s just as much of a car crash on screen. I might skip going to see it in cinemas though, can’t be publicly photographed leaving this sort of this sort of filth- got my political career to think of.

Chappie – 6th March


So Chappie is the next Neill Blomkamp film after District 9 and Elysium. I’m a big fan of the guy. Chappie looks like my cup of weird tea. It seems to be a mix between Robocop and Short Circuit, which is something I didn’t even know I wanted until just now. It stars Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver with voice and motion capture for Chappie done by my main man Sharlto Copley. Basic story is that Chappie, a robot capable of learning and feeling, is kidnapped by gangsters and raised in a dysfunctional way and used for their “nefarious gains”, whatever the hell that means. I don’t know what the hell to expect from this one. The first trailer seemed like it was a fairly family friendly affair, but the latest one seems to indicate the film is firmly in Blomkamp’s wheelhouse with promises of gritty violence. Despite not quite knowing what I’m in store for, I’m excited. Plus, I am rather charmed by Chappie himself, I must admit.


In the Heart of the Sea – 13th March

I like Ron Howard. He’s done some crap in the past, but his recent output has been great. I loved Rush and I hope him re-teaming with Chris Hemsworth produces a similar quality film. Based on a book about real events, In the Heart of the Sea focuses on the 1820 sinking of the whaling ship Essex by a massive and pissed off bull whale. leaving the crew shipwrecked. I really like the sound of this one and I think the spectacle alone is worth seeing. I’m a big fan of Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy and I can imagine that they’ll bring the skills needed to sell what seems to be a prolonged oceanic disaster film. Sign me up.

John Wick – 10th April

Again, this one has been out in America for ages and the positive word of mouth has me desperate to see it. Story is that John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired hitman seeking vengeance over someone killing his dog. What’s not to love about that? I like Keanu and this seems like a real return to form after recently starring in shit that nobody saw like 47 Ronin. After being spoiled by The Raid 2 last year, I’m hoping for a slice of unusual action from this one as it cites many anime and martial arts films as influences.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – 24th April

It’s the sequel to The Avengers. Of course I’m excited. Marvel are on a great run of quality right now and I can’t see that failing to extent to their tentpole team-up film which has the potential to make more than the billion dollar first did. From the trailers, it looks like we’re heading into darker territory with rifts between the various Avengers appearing and a few shots of a clearly not well Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Simple premise is that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) creates Ultron, a robot peacekeeper with self-awareness and learning capabilities (2015 is looking to be a banner year for self-aware robots). Things go awry when Ultron (voiced by James Spader) decides that humanity needs to eradicated. The trailer has me stoked. The returning cast look great. The new additions of Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision look awesome. The trailer’s promise of a showdown between The Hulk and Iron Man in his Hulkbuster suit has me incredibly hyped. Bring it on.


Mad Max: Fury Road – 15th May

God. I hope it’s half as fun as the trailer.

Anyway, that’s part one done. Part two later this week.


Scenes of the Year 2014

Happy New Year all! Phew, thank Christ that’s over. Is it just me or was 2014 fucking rubbish in all sorts of ways? Anyway, time for the now yearly tradition of me picking my personal highlights of the cinematic year and forcing you to read them because you can be sure I’ll bring it up next time we go for coffee. As was the case last year, my scenes list isn’t the same as my “best of” list, despite there being a lot of overlap. I prefer talking about individual scenes as it can bring up some really interesting choices and allows me to include the most fascinating of beasts- the good scene in an otherwise average or bad film. As always, despite my best efforts, I didn’t see EVERY film to come out in 2014, so there may be some glaring omissions. Also, if you fancy checking out my full reviews of the films in the list, just click the title. Right- rambled long enough now. Here’s my goddamn list:

1) The Wolf of Wall Street – The ‘ludes kick in


The only good thing about the shitty January period of films in the UK is that we tend to get some of the great films that have been out in the U.S. for months. Case in point, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street which proved to be the one diamond in the deluge of shite released. I expect a Scorsese picture to be great, but what I wasn’t expecting was such a thick, satisfying slab of black humour. My favourite sequence happens when Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) finally feels the effects of necking out of date Quaaludes and collapses, having the Herculean task of driving back to his house and confronting Donnie (Jonah Hill) ahead of him. What follows is a drawn out and absurd sequence which is equal parts tragic as it is hilarious. DiCaprio also shows himself to be a great physical comedian, writhing and drooling his way home.

The absolute absurdity reaches a peak, however, when Jordan and Donnie fight, with Donnie picking an inopportune moment between phone beatings and cord stranglings to stuff his gullet with ham, causing him to choke. With his friend in peril, something rational finds its way through Belfort’s ball-tripping and he realises he’s got to save him. Struggling to his feet, Belfort takes a bump of energising coke, soundtracked by an old Popeye cartoon on TV and sets about saving Donnie. It’s bloody brilliant. When the film first came out, there were several pockets of hand-wringing muppets worried that the film glorified instead of condemned Jordan Belfort’s sleazy rise and fall. I don’t know how you can watch a scene like this one and not get at least a sense of what is being said. They’re selfish parodies of human beings at this point. Completely lost in a world of disgusting excess. It’s a total condemnation if ever I saw one.


2) The Lego Movie – “Spaceship!”


The Lego Movie is a joy. It’s a kids’ movie which is a giant advert for itself, but it manages to be a fast and witty experience with an infectious sense of fun. It has a great focus on characterisation and each of Emmett’s gang have their own motivations and personalities which is rare. Highlight of the film for me was the moment that astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) finally gets to build the spaceship he’s wanted to assemble all film. Our heroes have to make it back to stop President Business’ evil plan and only some kind of spacecraft will get them there in time. There’s something about the kinetic animation and manic Day screams of “Spaceship!” that really tickles me. Not much more to say, really. It’s a good scene and I dun giggled.


3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The SHIELD lift sequence


In what would surprisingly only turn out to be my second favourite Marvel film of the year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a fantastic rebuttal to people criticising all these “capeshit” films from being the same. I’ve often thought that the Captain America series is one of Marvel’s most experimental. The Thor films may be all fantastical in their settings but they’re pretty standard fantasy films. First Avenger gave us an earnest World War II superhero caper whereas Winter Soldier gives us a ’70s style paranoid spy thriller, complete with Robert Redford. They also seem to be using the Cap films to significantly push the shared universe forward and have big repercussions ripple through the rest of MCU. The underlying message of this one is “trust no-one”. No scene better encapsulates this more than the SHIELD lift sequence where Cap (Chris Evans) finds himself in a crowded lift full of enemy agents.

Whilst the punchy and kicky payoff is feckin’ sweet, it’s the slow build up to this one that makes it special. It’s Cap noticing a supposedly innocent guard nervously toying with the strap on his holster. It’s the building tension as more and more bruisers are picked up on each floor. The main thing that sells the scene for me is Cap calmly asking: “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” which is a perfect Captain America type line. The ensuing claustrophobic fight reminded me of a souped-up version of the similarly constrained Bond/Red Grant train carriage scrap in From Russia With Love which is a compliment in itself.



 4) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Koba performs


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes disappointed me. It wasn’t bad, it just felt it was missing some key components like a compelling human cast. Undoubtably one of the highlights of the film was Tony Kebbell’s villainous ape Koba. Basic gist of this scene is that Koba’s sneaking around and comes across two twitchy human guards with guns. Instead of risking an attack, Koba turns up the cuteness dial and starts acting all chimplike, imitating what the men do and charming them. It’s only when the men are nice and distracted does Koba grab one of the rifles and blow them away. Having a deeply misanthropic character like Koba performing what basically amounts to ape blackface shows a level of imagination and intelligence lacking in the rest of the film’s undercooked script.


5) The Raid 2 – The car chase


As with the first one, I loved The Raid 2. No film series offers the same level of bone-crunching goodness that The Raid films do. Whilst featuring some fantastic choreography for normal scrapping, the moment that my jaw actually hung open for was the car chase which manages to be one of the most exciting action sequences in recent memory. Hero cop Rama (Iko Uwais) has been captured by some bad ‘uns. He wakes up and proceeds to go apeshit.

It’s the level of ingenuity that impresses me most. Some of the shots are amazing as we swoop in and out of cars involved in the chase. Best of all- it feels dangerous. I mean, when was the last time you were actually thrilled by an action sequence? Well, The Raid 2 did it for me. Both Gareth Evans and the Raid stunt team are at the top of their game right now. The very notion that this could be topped has me eager to see where they go from here, which apparently seems to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Can’t wait to see the stuff they do with lightsabers.

6) X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Quicksilver sequence


If ever there was a shoo-in for this particular list, it was this one. I enjoyed Days of Future Past a lot, but despite fierce competition from the ending, the Quicksilver sequence won out comfortably. Basic set-up is that Wolverine, Professor X et al need to bust Magneto out of his special plastic cell in the Pentagon. They enlist Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, a mutant with the power to move at incredible speeds, to help them. Quicksilver comes into his own when the gang are outnumbered and outgunned when the enter the kitchen. We see Quicksilver casually put his Walkman on and proceed to incapacitate every guard in a flash. Best part of this being that we experience it all through Quicksilver’s perception of time, so everything happens in balletic super slo-mo.

There are so many elements that make this work. The song choice of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is inspired. The little touches of humour with Quicksilver setting up guards to punch themselves in the face and such is great. The effects are astounding. We didn’t get to spend much time with Quicksilver in the film, but the most is made of him. I’ll be interested to see how Marvel Studios version of the character stacks up.


7) 22 Jump Street – The end credits

22 Jump Street is a sequel that mocks the very idea of sequels. Like the first one, it’s a genuinely funny film with some seriously clever stuff going on behind the scenes. Once 22 Jump Street wraps up, it answers the obligatory sequel question with a whole slew of movie posters and clips from fictional sequels. By Christ it’s funny. I won’t give away the various funny little bits because then I’d just be that guy who just retells jokes, but it’s great. Definitely make sure to take note of the various taglines though. Some serious punning power. What I love about it is that it’s kind of both a fuck you to the idea of franchises and kind of an acceptance of where this franchise is heading as well. 23 Jump Street has already been confirmed and if the Sony hacks (in both senses of the word) are anything to go by, a Jump Street//Men in Black crossover may happen. I wish I was fucking kidding.

8) Snowpiercer – Tunnel vision


I’m breaking the rules of my own list for this one.  Snowpiercer has endured a rocky road to get to audiences. It got a half-hearted theatrical release in the U.S. and there’s no goddamn sign of it in the UK, theatrical or home video, which is pathetic. It’s such a shitty situation as I really enjoyed Snowpiercer and feel like the more people see it, the more it will encourage a like of solid, but definitely oddball films. Basic premise is Bioshock on a train. The world has frozen over and the only life exists on a self-sustaining train that crosses the globe in an endless loop. The class divide is huge. The lower classes live in the scummy tail of the train whereas the uppers in the front carriages get to enjoy all manner of luxuries.

Sick of their treatment, the tail rises and a group of them, led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) leads the charge to push to the front. One of the best moments for me is after a few successes Curtis’ group come to a dead stop when they encounter a group of tooled-up soldiers brandishing vicious hatchets, easily trumping the crappy clubs our heroes carry. Informed by the raucous and unrecognisable Tilda Swinton that precisely 74% of them will die as punishment for their actions so far, the soldiers whip out their night vision goggles and ready their axes just in time for the train to go through a “fucking long” tunnel and plunge everyone into total darkness. It’s absolutely fantastic and hammers home the central theme of the haves vs the havenots. My favourite little bit is when the train passes by a crack of light in the tunnel and we see it shine on everything from the bloody carnage to the survivors’ faces. Brutal and beautiful. Brutaful.


9) Guardians of the Galaxy – “Come And Get Your Love”


Guardians of the Galaxy is my favourite film of the year, so chances were high that it’d appear in this list. Whist the Kyln prison escape scene is well orchestrated and executed, it’s the song and dance number we get with the title card that gets the mention. Why? Well, apart from being incredibly enjoyable and fun, it’s the film setting out its stall. The very opening scene is an emotional gutpunch as young Peter Quill attends his dying mother’s hospital bed. From there we have a bit of mystery as a masked man traverses some ruins until finally the mask is removed, headphones are placed on and Redbone’s funky-as-anything “Come and Get Your Love” is blasted. When the big gold titles come up above a tiny dancing Quill it’s a statement of purpose. The first few bits may have been tonally rocky, but that’s James Gunn’s name on screen- wild tonal shifts come with the territory. It’s unapologetically what it is and hooray for that. Best bit has to be Quill miming the words into the snapping jaws of a nasty looking alien held like a microphone.



10) Need for Speed – The Koenigsegg crash


I didn’t like Need for Speed very much. I think a lot of its throwback charms were lost on me amidst the clunky script and poor plotting. However, one thing that Need for Speed got completely right was its attitude towards stunts. Pretty much every car stunt is practical and it shows. One of the best sequences in the film is a race between three incredibly fast Koenigsegg Agera Rs. The film’s slimeball bastard Dino (Dominic Cooper) nudges the back of another and sends it skidding with it quickly gaining massive air and tumbling over a bridge in a huge ball of flames. It’s meant to be a devastating crash and thanks to the real stuntwork it looks and feels it too. In fact, all of the action scenes in Need for Speed could go on here, but this one wins because of its simplicity. I like the fact that there’s still spectacle in these kinds of things. Shame about the rest of the film, but the car stuff is brilliant.

EDIT: Balls. I found my notes and I forgot something which definitely deserves a place. Rather than removing an entry, I’ll add another because I’m a sexy writing maverick.

11) Begin Again – The imaginary orchestra


Begin Again is the sort of charming kind-of romcom that reminds me I don’t hate romantic comedies, I just hate the usual lazy shite that’s released posing as them. A true romcom can uplift and that’s exactly what Begin Again does. There are many great musical moments but the king of all is an early scene where drunk, down-on-his-luck music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) hears Keira Knightley’s Gretta sing for the first time at an open mic night. Dan immediately hears potential in the song and starts imagining what it would sound like if it was scored by an orchestra. We then see floating drumsticks and bows go to task and bring in the various instruments gradually until it all reaches a peak and slowly fades back to just Gretta’s performance complete with background chatter and bar noise. It’s Ruffalo that makes this one work so well. In hearing the song, Dan rediscovers an excitement about music and Ruffalo slowly getting to his feet and imagining the accompaniment before getting completely lost in it is joyful. Of course, it helps that the song “A Step You Can’t Take Back” is a lovely gentle track that works perfectly with Dan’s realisation.

So, that’s it for another year. 2015’s line-up is intimidatingly massive so I’ll see you on the other side.


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