The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (Cert: 15)


For almost as long as film has been around, vampires have appeared onscreen in all sorts of guises, and treated with varying levels of respect. There have been evil bloodsucking bastard vampires (TV movie Salem’s Lot, Near Dark), pitied, misunderstood vampires (Let The Right One In, Interview With The Vampire), comedy vampires (Fright Night, From Dusk Till Dawn), vampires that aren’t really vampires (Martin), sexy, erotic vampires (all of Hammer’s Dracula films), and glossy haired, just walked out of a L’Oreal advert, vampires (every single Twilight film). It feels like you can’t go more than a couple of years without another undead bloodsucker gracing the big screen and in 2014 you have Jim Jarmusch’s latest offering, Only Lovers Left Alive.

Jarmusch is one of a small number of directors who only produces a film every three-or-four years, each one vastly different from the last. Whatever you think of Jarmusch and his films (Broken Flowers and Ghost Dog being his most well-known), you have to admire the man for having total creative control over his films. Pace be damned, Jarmusch has an A-list actor and he’s not afraid to keep the camera rolling and get every last drop of acting gold out of them!

Only Lovers Left Alive, as you might expect from Jarmusch, is no straightforward buckets of blood vampire film. You could barely place it in the horror genre. At no point are any necks chomped on and there is very little blood to be seen. If you’re expecting 30 Days of Night, you might want to go see that nice person at the till and get your money back. The best way to describe Only Lovers Left Alive is that it’s a romance where its two leads just happen to be dead.

Tom Hiddleston (of Loki in Thor and Avengers fame) is Adam, a centuries old vampire who is tired of his immortal life. He calls humans “zombies,” disheartened by their short-sightedness and determination to ruin the world around them. Hiddleston gives a first-rate performance, much of the film’s humour down to his droll one-liners. Another actor could have made Adam come across as petulant, but Hiddleston makes his protagonist a likeable misery.

Tilda Swinton, as Adam’s wife, Eve, is the opposite of Adam. She is a motherly figure who sees the beauty of even the smallest, most trivial things. She views people as flawed, that along with their mistakes they are also capable of doing good. Over the course of the film’s two hours, Eve tries to restore Adam back to life, to help him become the man he used to be. Swinton, despite her Oscar win for Michael Clayton, is an underrated actress, rarely mentioned in the same breath as her peers. She is one of the very best actresses working today (see her in We Need To Talk About Kevin, for one of her standout performances) and once again gives everything and more to her role.

One of the many reasons to see Only Lovers Left Alive is for Hiddleston and Swinton’s husband and wife duo, both beautiful to look at in an ageless, undead sort-of-way, they hold your attention throughout.

Mia Wasikowska deserves a mention as Eve’s “sister”, Ava. If Adam and Eve are world weary souls, then Ava is a babyish teenager trapped in a woman’s body. She takes her powers for granted, doing whatever she wants and never thinking of the consequences; Adam and Eve’s peaceful lives thrown into upheaval when she visits them. Wasikowska is genuinely unnerving, portraying Ava as this sweet princess who could snap at any moment and do something senseless and cruel.

John Hurt turns up in only a couple of scenes, yet he is wonderful and heart-breaking to watch as none other than an undead Christopher Marlowe. Marlowe is an old man, his body not as everlasting as he thought, yet he is still the infamous scoundrel who courted so much controversy, occasionally giving Swinton a mischievous smile.

All of the best vampire films take the well-known rules and bend them. In Only Lovers Left Alive, not only do vampires need to worry about sunlight or a stake through the heart, they can be killed by infected blood. Here, if a vampire drinks the blood of a drug addict or someone with a terminal illness, this will also kill them. Hiddleston and Swinton can walk into someone’s home uninvited; however they see this as bad luck, in much the same way as breaking a mirror or the number thirteen.

While Only Lovers Left Alive is no horror film, it has an eerie atmosphere thanks to Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography. Le Saux takes Detroit’s run down streets, that would look ugly during the daytime, and makes them look strangely beautiful at night. Even Adam’s house (the closest the film has to a Castle Dracula location) with its crumbling walls, filled with wires and machinery from decades back, manages to look like something from one of Grimm’s fairy tales. Tangier, Eve’s home, is a fine-looking setting, with boats lining the riverside and a labyrinth of passage ways and cobbled streets.

The only criticism you could have with Only Lovers Left Alive is the pace. I did occasionally find myself thinking that a couple of scenes could have been trimmed down, possibly even cut altogether. The film could easily lose ten minutes from its running time without being ruined.

Jarmusch’s latest won’t be for everyone; there are those out there that will loathe it, that it’s a waste of two hours. This is not your typical vampire film. If you’re looking for something at a breakneck speed with gallons of blood, you’re better off dusting off your copy of Blade. Though if you like a vampire film that plays around with convention, is intelligent, and dotted with wry, black humour, then Only Lovers Left Alive could end up being one of your favourite films of 2014. It isn’t flawless like Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (very few films are!), but is easily up there with the best of the sub-genre.

4 out of 5

Matt

Friday, 21 February 2014

Review: Her (UK Cert 15)



There's an 2012 episode of The Big Bang Theory called 'The Beta Test Initiation' which, as a subplot, has the hapless Raj fall in love with and start dating Siri, his iPhone 'personal assistant' (I should just clarify that, in the US, Siri has a female voice whereas in the UK it's done by the bloke who does the voice-over for The Weakest Link). The reason I bring this up is just to point out that it's a very similar premise to the plot of Her, Spike Jonze's latest movie.

Set in the year 2025, Her is a love story with a twist. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) spends his days writing emotional and love-filled letters for other people. He's a lonely everyman figure, in the last stages of getting divorced from childhood sweetheart Catherine (Rooney Mara). He gets a new operating system with artificial intelligence which can be personalised to the user. After a few questions, the OS initialises. She calls herself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). She's smart, she's funny and she's eager to learn about herself and the world. Their relationship starts to grow and Theodore finds himself falling in love with her...It's a great premise- and, in some ways, quite high-concept sci-fi- but I just didn't find myself falling for it.

I will admit that a part of my nonchalance towards the film stems from the fact that I don't like Joaquin Phoenix as an actor and, if I'm honest, I never really have. So to sit through a film where he is in virtually every shot is a bit of a trial. So why did I go and see it? Well, the film has a very interesting premise. Going into a Spike Jonze movie- he previously directed Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.- you know you're in for something slightly off-the-wall, slightly weird, a bit oddball. But there were points in the film (and I don't want to give any spoilers) where things just got a bit too weird for me. 

Performances vary from passable (Phoenix), to good (Chris Pratt as Theodore's workmate Paul, providing a bit of comic relief) to pretty damn amazing: Mara only has one scene of dialogue- there are many scenes which are cut together where dialogue is muted or not shown (which started to get very irritating very quickly)- but she shines as she tries to comprehend Theodore's new relationship. Amy Adams provides able support as Theodore's friend Amy who follows a similar story arc to Theodore. But the standout performance comes from Johansson who is just superb as Samantha. It's a nuanced and quite brilliant performance, made all the more extraordinary for her not being seen on screen. 

Ultimately, how you view this film- how you view any film- comes down to personal taste. Her has an intriguing premise and there are some knockout performances in it. It's received widespread critical acclaim and garnered a load of award nominations and wins- such as the Golden Globe and the Writers Guild Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the AFI's Movie Of The Year. However, for me, it also has an air of trying to be quirky, trying to be out-there, setting itself up as a truly original concept (which it actually isn't) and trying a bit too hard, which did grate on me. There were others in the screen who absolutely adored it and were enraptured and gushing about it afterwards; there were others who saw it as a pretentious waste of time. I get the feeling this is going to be a real Marmite film- sadly, for me, I wasn't keen.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Review: The Butler (UK Cert 12A)



On paper The Butler- or Lee Daniels' The Butler, as we're supposed to call it, thanks to some petty wrangling by Warner Bros because they own the rights to a 1916 silent film of the same name- should have 'Oscar-bait' written through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Based on a true story, it's historical, it's got a veritable host of amazing actors, it's a very worthy drama... it should tick all the boxes. Yet it didn't pick up a single Oscar nomination back in January and has only had scant major awards recognition in general (SAG and BAFTA notwithstanding) 

The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who went from sharecropper's son in Georgia to the maitre d' of the White House. Serving all American presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan, Gaines is placed at the heart of American politics while events such as the civil rights movement, Vietnam and anti-apartheid are discussed. It's very loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, who served as a White House butler for thirty years, but I can't help but feel that a straight-up documentary about Allen's extraordinary life would have been better than this muddled, sprawling mess. 

A lot- and I do mean, a lot- of dramatic license has been used to create the storyline for this film. Screenwriter Danny Strong has thrown so much into the pot that, at times, it loses focus. At times, it feels like two films that have been inexpertly edited together- the Gaines' family drama and the upstairs-downstairs drama of the White House. Of the two, the latter is more successful and more engaging, seeing Gaines (albeit on the periphery) as American history is being made and changed. I can understand the desire to reflect the societal changes on a more personal level but it's not always successful. When the spotlight is on Gaines' family life, it feels like kitchen-sink melodrama- especially as it contrives for one of Gaines' sons to be involved in the Black Panther movement and the other to go to Vietnam, as well as giving him a wife with an alcohol addiction. The tension between Gaines- as part of the Establishment- and his firebrand son Louis is an interesting one and one played well by Whitaker and David Oyelowo but it does tend to overbalance into polemic on occasion. Oprah Winfrey is on good form as Gaines' wife Gloria but the mounting issues she has to deal with- drinking problems, the temptation of an affair- come straight from a soap-opera which really undercuts things. I also felt the opening scenes- set on a cotton plantation in the 1920s and featuring implied sexual assault and then very definitely unimplied murder- felt out of place, almost as if they'd been tacked on from a different movie.

Performances are solid throughout, with some being quite exceptional. Whitaker's stoic, dignified and humble central turn is one such performance- without such an empathetic central character, the film would suffer more than it does. There are good performances (albeit glorified cameos) from Robin Williams, Richard Nixon and Alan Rickman as Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan respectively. Other presidents served by Gaines- Ford and Carter- appear only in archive footage in what feels like a quick rush towards the finish line. 

The Butler has an intriguing and interesting story at its heart but the end result is muddy, unbalanced and scattered. It had the potential to be a great film; it's just a merely good one. 

However, I would suggest to anyone interested in the story of The Butler to read The Washington Post article it's based on - A Butler Well Served By This Election by Wil Haygood- and the Independent's obituary of Eugene Allen, who passed away in 2010.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Tez

Review: Nebraska (UK Cert 15)



Nebraska is Alexander Payne's sixth full-length movie and sees him return to his home state (after a sojourn in Hawaii for The Descendants) for a comedy-drama road movie. Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who lives in Montana, is determined to get to Lincoln, Nebraska as he has received a letter telling him he's won a million dollars in a sweepstake. In fact, he's so determined to get to Nebraska, he'll walk there if he needs to. Son David (Will Forte) thinks the letter is nothing more than a marketing scam but Woody is adamant that he's won the money. David then offers to drive Woody to Lincoln to pick up his winnings. En route, they stop in Hawthorne, the town that Woody grew up in. However, news of Woody's win soon comes out and the long-lost relatives and acquaintances soon start to come out to see him... 

Bruce Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival last year for his performance in this film and it's well deserved. It's a very quiet, unassuming performance, there are no actorly tricks or any real look-at-me moments. It's a solid and unshowy turn and is absolutely compelling. Woody could have easily been played broadly or for laughs but Dern reins it in. That's not to say it's not a funny or moving performance; it is, and there's a particularly good scene in a bar between Woody and David which gets to the heart of their relationship which is just brilliantly done.

Will Forte, better known for Saturday Night Live, gives a decent supporting turn as David. Exasperated by his father's persistence, he agrees to take him to Lincoln just to put an end to the matter. The story is as much about David learning about who his father is, as it is about the trip to get the money. There's a lovely scene in Hawthorne where David meets an old flame of his father's where he learns a lot about Woody- but (due to the elegance of the writing) it doesn't feel like an info-dump. David is presented as a man fiercely loyal to his family, despite them driving him crazy, and it feels real.

June Squibb gives a fantastic performance as Woody's wife Kate. Squibb previously worked with Payne on About Schmidt, where she had a small role as Jack Nicholson's wife, but here she's got a role to really get her teeth into. I found a lot of the humour came from Squibb and her performance- Kate is an acid-tongued old battleaxe with nary a good word to say for anyone, exemplified in the cemetery scene where she goes to pay her respects to Woody's family but ends up running them all down instead. She also gets a very satisfying scene later on where she gets to call out the parasitic relatives all circling for a piece of Woody's fortune.

There are a couple of other great performances. Stacy Keach is on good form as the oleaginous Ed Pegram, an old friend of Woody's who comes calling when the news of the money comes round. Rance Howard and Mary Louise Wilson are good as Woody's brother and sister-in-law Ray and Martha who welcome the travellers into Hawthorne. There's also a good turn by Bob Odenkirk as Woody and Kate's other son Ross. 

The film is shot in black-and-white, with moody shots of the Midwestern landscape (very flat and quite featureless) expertly captured by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. The script, by Bob Nelson, is just excellent: the strained family gatherings feel real, feel authentic, even though they are exaggerated for film. We've all had experiences of being stuck with distant family members you haven't seen in an age and that awkwardness comes through here. Nelson also nicely captures the feeling of returning to your home town and finding it not quite as you left it. 

This won't be to everyone's tastes. The film is occasionally meandering and a little ponderous and could do with a bit of editing- an early scene between David and his ex-girlfriend could be excised with very little effort, for example- but, for me, this doesn't detract from the overall picture which is a strong, well-acted, well-written and nicely-shot comedy-drama.  

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Out of the Furnace (Cert: 15)


Every year, around the awards season, a film gets released with the kind of A-list actors normally reeled off if you were at the pub and were asked the question, “What cast would you have in your film?” With the exception of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s unlikely you will see a film in 2014 with as much acting clout as Out of the Furnace. Writer/director Scott Cooper’s follow-up to his Oscar winning debut, Crazy Heart, is another character study set in the back-roads of America, Cooper once again focusing on people who are out-of-place in the country that is supposed to be their home.

Out of the Furnace has a top-rate cast that struggles to fit all of the names on the film’s poster: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana – all on fine form. Most critics have been praising Bale and Affleck, and deservedly so, as brothers both struggling to make ends meet, frustrated with the lives they are forced to live, but taking out their anger in different ways. Bale, famous for pushing the envelope in films such as The Machinist and The Fighter gives a toned-down, understated performance as Russell Baze, speaking softly and permanently exhausted. Affleck, on the other hand, as Rodney, is the other extreme, his rage constantly threatening to rise to the surface; he is uptight and always anxious.

Special mention has to go to Woody Harrelson, who has built a career on playing villains and anti-heroes with all-sorts going on inside their heads, but with Out of the Furnace he gives one of his very best performances as small-time drug dealer Harlan DeGroat. The film opens by introducing our antagonist, and for almost a minute Harrelson is silent, just sitting there, staring. This is an uncomfortable scene to watch, DeGroat bringing to mind a spring trap getting tighter and tighter. We know he is going to do something to the poor woman sat in his car; you’re just waiting for it to happen. DeGroat thinks he is untouchable, king of his own little empire, but he is more white trash than Don Corleone.

Saldana, while not getting much in the way of screen time, stands head-and-shoulders with the rest of the cast, being given the film’s most moving scene as she tells former boyfriend Bale that she is pregnant with Forest Whitaker’s child, the two of them reflecting on what they could have had if life had turned out differently. It is an honest, gentle scene, admirably played down by both actors.

The problem with Out of the Furnace is Cooper’s script. It’s hard to say what the film is about as the narrative goes in one direction before wildly swerving off somewhere else. Bale is sent to prison for drink driving, his girlfriend Saldana leaving him. Affleck has been chewed up and spit out by the U.S. army, living in limbo and wondering what to do with the rest of his life, descending into the dingy world of bare knuckle fighting. This is followed by the second half, where Bale takes the law into his own hands and wages a one man war against Harrelson. The film feels like a series of sub-plots rather than one narrative that sees its protagonists change in some way. It’s a respectable two hours, but very rarely do you feel engaged with the two lead actors. This should be a weighty, emotionally draining watch, but because Out of the Furnace takes so long to become a vigilante film, trying its hand at different narratives and not spending enough time on any of them, it is nowhere near as sharp or elaborate as Cooper intended.

Out of the Furnace is an angry film, focusing on those living below the poverty line, left behind by the rest of America. Everything that Cooper highlights, small industrial towns lined with boarded up streets, where the only hope is to leave for somewhere else, is all valid, but Out of the Furnace’s message feels more like a murmur than a blood spitting rant. Cooper’s latest is worth seeing for the performances alone but, due to a muddled script, is nowhere near as gristly or heartfelt as it deserves to be.

3 out of 5

Matt

Review: Frozen (UK Cert PG)


Frozen is Disney's fifty-third- yep, fifty-third- animated feature. Princess Anna (voiced by Kristin Bell) sets off on a journey to find her estranged sister Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), who has the power to control ice and snow, and whose powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in everlasting winter.

It's based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Snow Queen' and, like any good fairy-tale, it's a good deal darker than it first seems- death, betrayal and isolation are all here- but it's all handled well and I wouldn't say there's anything too traumatic for the kids to face (although I did hear a few sniffles at some points). There's also a particularly nice subversion of expectations at the end when it comes to 'an act of true love'. 

The voice cast is strong: Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel are excellent as Anna and Elsa, wilst Jonathan Groff is great as mountain man Kristoff who aids Anna in her journey to find Elsa (and, just as an aside, I'm glad they didn't make the reindeer talk) whilst I think the best performance is given by Josh Gad, who voices the utterly adorable snowman Olaf who not only fulfils the comedy relief role but is also surprisingly wise in places.

Some of the songs are a bit twee and a little insipid (like 'Do You Want To Build A Snowman?') but these are balanced out by some of the others, most notably the absolute belter that is 'Let It Go', sung as Elsa decides to embrace her powers. It's one of the best sequences in the film- the construction of the ice palace is a real showstopper- and Menzel's vocals are just sublime. 

Before the film was an animated short called 'Get A Horse', featuring Mickey Mouse, which was an elegant blend of old-style animation and CGI. 

All said, Frozen was an absolute delight. Well written, some good songs, impeccably animated and a lot of fun.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Awards Season 2014: BAFTA Winners



Tonight (Sunday 16 February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 67th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted for the ninth time by Stephen Fry. In attendance were stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Brad Pitt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amy Adams and Cate Blanchett to honour the best in film. 

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: 12 Years A Slave

Outstanding British Film: Gravity

Leading Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave)

Leading Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

Supporting Actor: Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)

Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)

Original Screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell (American Hustle)

Adapted Screenplay: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope (Philomena)

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Kieran Evans (writer-director, Kelly + Victor)

Animated Film: Frozen

Documentary: The Act Of Killing

Film Not In The English Language: The Great Beauty

Cinematography: Gravity

Costume Design: The Great Gatsby

Editing: Rush

Make Up And Hair: American Hustle

Original Music: Gravity

Production Design:  The Great Gatsby

Sound: Gravity

Special Visual Effects: Gravity

Short Animation: Sleeping With The Fishes

Short Film: Room 8

Rising Star: Will Poulter

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Peter Greenaway

BAFTA Fellowship: Dame Helen Mirren

As usual, the ceremony was broadcast on time delay on BBC1 and Stephen Fry was, as expected, a wonderful host. Gravity proved to be the big winner with six BAFTAs, taking a lot of the technical awards as well as Best Director (no surprises there) with three awards for American Hustle (including a surprise win for Jennifer Lawrence as Best Supporting Actress) and two each for 12 Years A Slave and The Great Gatsby. Cate Blanchett paid tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a moving and well-received acceptance speech for Best Actress and Helen Mirren's Fellowship acceptance speech was just lovely- I particularly loved the quote from The Tempest at the end. 

Awards season comes to a close on the first weekend of March, with the Razzies and the Independent Spirit Awards on 1 March and the 86th Annual Academy Awards on 2 March.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review: Dallas Buyers Club (UK Cert 15)



There was once a time when there'd have been a better chance of hell freezing over than seeing the words 'Matthew McConaughey' and 'Oscar nominee' in the same sentence. Performances in films like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Failure To Launch, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past and Sahara certainly didn't trouble the Academy. However, over the past three years, McConaughey has gone from dimwatt romantic lead to Serious Actor, giving strong performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, and Mud, culminating with a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Dallas Buyers Club.

Set in the 1980s, Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas man diagnosed with HIV and given thirty days to live by his doctors. Declaring that there's nothing that could kill him in that time, Woodroof looks for a way to prolong his life and finds drugs and treatments in Mexico which could help - the only problem is, they're not approved by the FDA and therefore cannot be sold legally in the US. But by using a loophole that allows personal use only, Woodroof starts to import the drugs and sets up the titular buyers club- where people pay a fee to join a club but then receive the drugs 'for free'. However, it's not long before the FDA come knocking... It's an intense and powerful drama with a refreshing lack of schmaltzy, saccharine sentiment underpinned by three bravura performances.

McConaughey's central performance as Woodroof is exceptional and he is truly deserving of all the plaudits that have come his way. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, McConaughey lost nearly three stone to show the character's physical deterioration (and that physical change was still evident when he filmed The Wolf Of Wall Street). Woodroof is an unlikely hero- a racist, homophobic redneck- but such is the intensity of McConaughey's performance, you can't help but root for the bloke (even if you don't like him all that much). The scene which reveals how he contracted HIV is nicely underplayed and quite elliptical, like much in the film. It's a truly remarkable and committed performance.

No less committed in his role is Jared Leto as Rayon, a transgender woman who Woodroof meets at the hospital and who helps out when Woodroof begins the buyers club. Their relationship is initially spiky but then falls into a kind of respect. This is his first film role in nearly five years, and Leto is just brilliant, a fragile yet ferocious performance, equally deserving of his awards plaudits. The other strong performance is from Jennifer Garner who plays Dr. Eve Saks, who helps to treat Woodroof in his initial diagnosis. There's a great spark between Garner and McConaughey but the film neatly eschews a romantic storyline for something less cliched and much more emotionally affecting. Other great performances come from Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass, Woodroof's contact in Mexico, Denis O'Hare as Eve's boss Dr. Sevard and Michael O'Neill as FDA officer Richard Barkley.

The film was shot in 25 days for around $5 million and was repeatedly turned down by Hollywood studios because of the subject matter. This is an important story and deserves to be told (although, like most films, there has been some dramatic license used). Much like other heavyweight dramas out at the moment, this is a film to admire if not exactly enjoy but is worth seeing for the tremendous central performances.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tez

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Review: The LEGO Movie (UK Cert U)


They really will make a film of anything these days. Books, other films (I'm looking at you, RoboCop although I'm dearly wishing I wasn't), newspaper articles, rollercoasters, and boardgames have all been used as inspiration for a film. Following on from Transformers and G.I. Joe, there's also now... The LEGO Movie.

Generic construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is a genial, easy-going, follow-the-instructions kind of guy, living and working in the town of Bricksburg which is run by President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). However, Emmet's safe and ordered world is about to be changed as he becomes embroiled in a plot to save the world... For what could have easily been a hundred minute toy ad, The LEGO Movie manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, totally surreal and eminently enjoyable.

The voice cast is top-notch throughout, with great turns from Morgan Freeman as wise wizard Vitruvius, Elizabeth Banks as Master Builder Wyldstyle and an absolutely brilliant performance by Will Arnett as none other than... Batman! Bear in mind, Lego has the rights to a LOT of different franchises and there's a lot of fun to be had spotting the various characters. Ferrell is great as the villain of the piece whilst there's a great turn by Liam Neeson as a police officer who is both Good Cop and Bad Cop in one. There are also some genius little cameos which I won't spoil for you but which add to the general fun.

The animation is a mix of computer generated action and use of stop-motion with what looks like actual Lego pieces, even down to things like lightning bolts, fire, explosions and water. It's visually impressive, but probably doesn't need the 3D treatment (I did actually see this in 3D).

It will keep children and adults alike entertained and is an enjoyable slice of feelgood popcorn fun- just what I was in need of after a few weeks of heavy, intense dramas. All said, it was a whole lot of fun.

The LEGO Movie had previews last weekend (8th and 9th February) and is on general release in 2D and 3D releases from Friday 14th February.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tez


Monday, 10 February 2014

Review: RoboCop (2014)




RoboCop (2014)

OK....and breath!!! Before I point the flaws and there are many, many, many flaws! My mum always told me if you need to find some good in everything in life!
So, the good points. The film has RoboCop in it! The correct theme music is there. The modern effects are spot on. The plot keeps to the original concept, in part.

Right now I can unleash! This film is again a great example of how Hollywood need to grow some balls! The film lacks the power of the original and the power of central character. The film is a remake of satirical SciFi Action classic – so what should there be here. Satirical view on fascist police state run by a large corporation – well no. They failed, the plot does revolve around the idea of Omnicorp trying bring there robotic products onto the streets of America, but this lacks any of the originals clever messages – this version just fails on any satirical level.



The action – well I’m still waiting to see some action in this action movie – the film when it does finally have action, either uses too many shaky camera angles or the speed of the action is so quick you miss the brief escape from the endless boardroom chats.
The scifi element – well that is here, unfortunately what they have focussed on in this reboot, reimaging, remake … piece of crap! Is they have focussed on the Murphy family and that’s how they draw into Murphy's humanity, instead of using an actor who can internilise the frustration from within the suit, we have endless scenes with Mrs Murphy unhappy and RoboCop missing his family!!!! Im going to SCREAMMMMM!!!!!

This film is everything I hate about Hollywood at the moment, why remake just make RoboCop 4! Terribly written, drivel performances from Joel Kinnerman and Abbie Cornish as Mr & Mrs Murphy. Gary Oldman, Micheal Keaton blatantly going through the motions and picking up there paychecks!

If you want to watch RoboBland – please carry on but if you want to watch RoboCop, then watch RoboCop not this watered down, polished up 12A embarrassment of a film – watch the 1987 film that is and always will be ROBOCOP!

In fact don't waste your cash on a cinema ticket, buy this instead: RoboCop Directors Cut 1987

2 out of 5

Rhys

Monday, 3 February 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)



Like many, we at The Watchers were shocked and saddened by the news of the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead yesterday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.

One of the finest character actors around, Hoffman was equally at ease in a big-budget blockbuster (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Mission: Impossible III) as he was in a low-budget indie drama (Jack Goes Boating, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, The Savages).

His first acting role was in a 1991 episode of Law & Order and he also had roles in Scent Of A Woman (1992), When A Man Loves A Woman (1994) and Twister (1996), before becoming recognised for his performance as Scotty J in Boogie Nights (1997), directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson and Hoffman would become frequent collaborators, with Hoffman appearing in five of Anderson's six feature films to date. Other notable roles are Allen the stalker in Happiness (1998), the boorish Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) and grieving widower Wilson Joel in Love Liza (2002). 

In 2006, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his stunning portrayal of flamboyant author Truman Capote in Capote. He would receive a further three Oscar nominations for his supporting roles in Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Doubt (2008) and The Master (2012).

Away from the movies, Hoffman was also a gifted stage actor, performing in The Seagull in 2001, Long Day's Journey Into Night in 2003, as Iago in Othello in 2009 and Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman in 2012, for which he received a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Play.

At the time of his death, he was reprising his role as Plutarch Heavensbee for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and had completed work on the John La Carre adaptation, A Most Wanted Man

A talented actor, gone much too soon. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.

The Watchers
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Awards Season 2014: DGA and WGA Awards




We are over halfway through the awards season this year- four major ceremonies still to take place (BAFTA Film Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, the Razzies, and the Academy Awards)- but there have recently been more Guild awards handed out. 

DIRECTORS GUILD AWARDS (DGA)


The DGAs were handed out on 25th January. The film winners are:

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Jehane Noujaim (The Square)

Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television: Steven Soderbergh (Behind The Candelabra)

With the DGA win, it would be a big surprise if anyone other than Cuaron gets named Best Director at the Oscars. He's consistently won the Director prizes throughout the awards season and, for the technical achievements in the film, he would be a worthy winner.

The Square is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars so this bodes well for a win there.


WRITERS GUILD AWARDS (WGA)


The WGA were given out yesterday (1st February). The film winners are:

Original Screenplay: Her

Adapted Screenplay: Captain Phillips

Documentary Screenplay: Stories We Tell

Both Her and Captain Phillips are nominated in their respective categories for the Oscars but there are strong alternatives in both categories (American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club and Nebraska in Original Screenplay and Before Midnight, 12 Years A Slave, The Wolf Of Wall Street and Philomena in Adapted Screenplay). However, this does give them both a boost.

There is no category for Documentary screenwriting in the Oscars, but Stories We Tell was not nominated for Best Documentary Feature (neither was We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks, which won the Producers Guild Award). Just goes to show that documentary film-making is a broad and vibrant field, which is a good thing.

The next major awards to be handed out are the BAFTA Film Awards on Sunday February 10th.

PS. I sadly missed it on Wednesday 29th January, but just a quick note to say Happy 2nd Birthday to The Watchers Film Show Blog


We've had over 26,000 pageviews in the two years we've been going, with an audience that spans the globe- from Russia to Brazil, China to Australia- so a great big thank you to everyone who reads and watches our reviews and features!