Saturday, 28 February 2015
We at The Watchers were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of the great Leonard Nimoy, who has sadly passed away at the age of 83.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1931, Nimoy was the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants and acted in community theatre from the age of eight.
After small roles in Queen For A Day and Rhubarb (both 1951), he took the lead role in Kid Monk Baroni (1952) and roles in Zombies Of The Stratosphere (1952), an uncredited role in monster movie Them! (1954) and appeared as Professor Cole in The Brain Eaters (1958). Through the late 1950s and early 1960s, Nimoy appeared in TV series such as Dragnet, Sea Front, Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, Perry Mason, Dr. Kildare, The Outer Limits, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Boone, Get Smart and Gunsmoke.
However, it is his role as Spock in the original series of Star Trek (1966-1969) for which Nimoy will always be associated. Choosing the role of Spock over a role in the soap opera Peyton Place, Nimoy became a star. He reprised his role as Spock in six Star Trek movies from 1979 to 1991, two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and in both the 2009 J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie and its 2013 sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness (a role for which he came out of retirement for, having retired from film acting in 2010- which didn't include voice acting).
After the original run of Star Trek finished, Nimoy took a regular role in Mission: Impossible and appeared in episodes of Columbo and Night Gallery. In 1978, he appeared as Dr. David Kibner in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers opposite Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. He voiced Galvatron in Transformers: The Movie (1986) and made two appearances in The Simpsons. He also voiced The Zarn in Land Of The Lost (2009), Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) and appeared as Dr. William Bell in Fringe.
Aside from his acting work, Nimoy also worked as a director, directing Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and 3 Men And A Baby (1987) amongst others.
Nimoy was also a photographer, a writer and poet, and a musician. He was a truly talented and multifaceted man whose loss will be keenly felt for a very long time to come.
Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time.
(Rhys, Matt & Tez)
Monday, 23 February 2015
The 87th Annual Academy Awards were held last night at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. They came up with one or two surprises and more than a few talking points.
Neil Patrick Harris was on good form as host. He's got awards show form, hosting the Primetime Emmys twice and the Tony Awards four times and I would be more than happy to see him host the Oscars again. OK, there was no Twitter-crashing selfie moment and there's been a lot of complaint online about his performance but I found him charming, funny and inoffensive, and any man who has the chutzpah to appear in an Oscars telecast in a pair of tighty-whities has to be admired.
There was a lot of politics in the speeches, with issues such as freedom of expression, racial and gender equality, the awareness of mental and physical illnesses and immigration brought up.
The acceptance speech by Brits Mat Kirkby and James Lucas for winning Best Live Action Short was kind of funny (I kind of want to try and find that doughnut shop) and Pawel Pawlikowski must be the only person in Oscar history to get two sets of wrap-up music when he effusively ran over when accepting Best Foreign Language Film. I found the Idina Menzel/John Travolta bit quite funny (even if the joke was overlaboured a little).
There was a really fun performance of 'Everything Is Awesome' from The Lego Movie (complete with Lego Oscars handed out to the crowd) and the performance of 'Glory' from Selma was stirring (as was the acceptance speech by John Legend and Common when it won Best Original Song). Lady Gaga's tribute to The Sound Of Music was great (and I'm not even a fan of that film) and Meryl Streep gave a touching and emotional speech prior to the In Memoriam section. I also found myself moved by Graham Moore's speech when he accepted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Imitation Game, advising people to 'stay weird'.
Onto the awards themselves:
No surprises in the acting categories with all four winners giving heartfelt and genuine acceptance speeches; J.K. Simmons advising us to call our parents, Patricia Arquette's eloquent and firey speech calling for gender and wage equality, Eddie Redmayne adorably geeking out midway through and Julianne Moore advocating more openness about Alzheimer's.
The big surprise was Birdman winning Best Picture. Inarritu's win for Best Director wasn't a surprise and- as I have previously stated- the direction of Birdman is extraordinary (incidentally, I was also pleased at Emmanuel Lubezski's win for Best Cinematography). Is it the Best Picture of those eight films? I don't think so, but then I'm not a member of the Academy. That was their decision. There's already rumblings online that it wasn't the right choice but you have to consider that the Academy's track record of what consitutues a Best Picture winner has had a few bumps in the road (Crash winning over Brokeback Mountain, for instance).
Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel both won four Oscars apiece, with Whiplash winning three. All eight Best Picture nominees won at least one Oscar each. Into The Woods, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner and Unbroken didn't win anything.
Below is the full list of winners at the 87th Annual Academy Awards:
Best Motion Picture of the Year: Birdman
Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
Best Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Best Original Screenplay: Birdman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Big Hero 6
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Ida
Best Cinematography: Birdman
Best Editing: Whiplash
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Original Song: 'Glory' (Selma)
Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash
Best Sound Editing: American Sniper
Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
Best Documentary (Feature): Citizenfour
Best Documentary (Short Subject): Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Best Animated Short Film: Feast
Best Live Action Short Film: The Phone Call
Congratulations to all winners!
OK, that's awards season finished for another year. It'll start up again at the end of November. Bring on the blockbusters!
Sunday, 22 February 2015
Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of film-making in 2014 at the 87th Annual Academy Awards, which will be hosted for the first time by Neil Patrick Harris. It has become a tradition for me to predict the nominations and the winners in the main six categories (the four acting categories, Best Director and Best Picture). I've done this since 2003 with varying degrees of success. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win.
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Arquette's performance as Olivia Evans, beleagured mum to Mason and Samantha, is a real tour de force. A woman constantly in wrong relationships with unsuitable men, her love and devotion to her kids is paramount. Her warmth and humanity shines through and there's more than a couple of 'Oscar' moments throughout the film, none more so than her tearful conversation with her son as he prepares to leave for college. She's won every other major award she's been nominated for, so it's a pretty clear indicator that she might be going home with an Oscar.
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
It feels a bit odd to say but it feels like, this awards season, that several actors are finally getting their due. J.K. Simmons is one of those actors. A truly fine character actor who has been the highlight in some of the films he's been in (Juno and Burn After Reading come to mind), he's finally getting the recognition he deserves for his role in Whiplash. His performance as Terence Fletcher is electrifying as he pushes his students with learning techniques that are less Dead Poets Society and more Full Metal Jacket. Again, he's won everything so far as an Oscar seems a foregone conclusion and damn well deserved.
Best Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
I haven't been able to see Still Alice yet (it doesn't open in the UK until the beginning of March) but I really think it would be a shock if Moore didn't win. Like Arquette and Simmons, she's been the runaway winner in her category throughout all the major awards- Golden Globe, SAG, Critics' Choice, BAFTA- so I think she'll finally get her Oscar (on the fifth nomination).
Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
With no disrespect to any of the other nominees, the Best Actor plaudits have been shared between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton throughout the awards season. However, Redmayne's SAG win probably puts him in the lead. If I'm being cynical, it ticks all the usual Oscar-bait boxes: it's based on a real person, struggling with insurmountable odds, with a pronounced change in physicality. Whilst I had a few issues with the film as a whole, Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking is affecting and poignant. But if it's not him, it'll be Keaton. Any other name called out would be a big surprise.
Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Best Picture: Boyhood
Linklater has taken all bar one of the major directing awards (Independent Spirit, Golden Globe, Critics Choice, BAFTA) but the DGA's choice of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (his only win of the major awards) could mean Inarritu gets the Best Director gong. Frankly, the direction of Birdman is excellent and the mesmeric camerawork making it look like one continuous shot is extraordinary, so if Inarritu does win it won't be a bad decision. However, Linklater's passion and dedication to Boyhood cannot be understated. To have the faith to spend twelve years of your life on a project is astounding and the end result is something special.
Boyhood is a thoughtful, exacting piece. To see Ellar Coltrane literally grow up before your eyes is amazing. The dedication that every actor and member of crew gave to this film cannot be understated. It doesn't feel like a gimmick, it doesn't feel like a cheap trick. It's an authentic, occasionally funny, occasionally moving chronicle of a young man's life and it deserves the big prize.
Last year, I got a clean sweep of 6 out of 6. I think Best Actor and Best Director may be open for debate, as might Best Picture. Birdman and Boyhood have been sharing the Best Picture and Best Director plaudits throughout the awards season, so it'll be interesting to see what happens tonight. This is one year where I won't exactly mind being wrong if my predictions aren't correct.
There'll be a write-up of the ceremony and a full list of the winners tomorrow.
This is the first of two posts today about awards season, as it all comes to the grand finale tonight with the 87th Annual Academy Awards. They can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US.
There's just the small matter of a few award results to get through first.
WRITERS GUILD AWARDS (WGA)
The Writers' Guild Awards were handed out on Saturday 14th February. The film winners were:
Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Documentary Screenplay: The Internet's Own Boy: The Story Of Aaron Swartz
Both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game are nominated in their respective categories at the Oscars, so this might bode well. However, neither Birdman nor The Theory Of Everything were eligible for consideration for the WGAs (due to WGA rules) but are nominated for an Oscar. It might be a different story come tonight.
INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS
Best Feature: Birdman
Best Female Lead: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Best Male Lead: Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Best Supporting Female: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Best Supporting Male: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Best Screenplay: Nightcrawler
Best First Screenplay: Dear White People
Best Cinematography: Birdman
Best First Feature: Nightcrawler
Best International Film: Ida
Best Documentary: Citizenfour
John Cassavetes Award: Land Ho!
The John Cassavetes Award is given to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. The full list of winners can be found here.
With the exception of Dear White People and Land Ho!, the remaining films have Oscar recognition as well. It's interesting that the Spirits have given Birdman Best Picture and Linklater Best Director. Wins for Moore, Arquette and Simmons were no surprise, and- to be honest- neither was Keaton's win.
Here's the full 'winners' list:
Worst Picture: Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Worst Director: Michael Bay (Transformers: Age Of Extinction)
Worst Actor: Kirk Cameron (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Worst Actress: Cameron Diaz (The Other Woman, Sex Tape)
Worst Supporting Actor: Kelsey Grammer (Expendables 3, Legends Of Oz, Think Like A Man Too, Transformers 4)
Worst Supporting Actress: Megan Fox (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Worst Remake, Sequel Or Rip-Off: Annie
Worst Screen Combo: Kirk Cameron & His Ego (Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas)
Worst Screenplay: Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas
Razzie Redeemer: Ben Affleck
No complaints from me about Bay's or Fox's wins. At the time of writing, Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas is STILL at the bottom of IMDb's Bottom 100. And whuilst it's nice to have this annual puncturing of the self-congratulatory awards season, it's also nice that the Razzies can recognise that actors can change and can improve. Gigli is undoubtedly the nadir of Affleck's career, but his work in films like Argo and Gone Girl almost makes up for it.
So that's awards season almost wrapped up. All that remains is the big one: the Oscars. So I'd better get off the fence and finally decide on my predictions for Best Picture, Best Director and the four acting categories.
Thursday, 19 February 2015
Shaun the Sheep: The Movie is the latest film from Bristol-based Aardman Animation, whose award-winning CV includes Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists and – if you’re old enough to remember – the British Gas Creature Comforts adverts.
Shaun and his gang of sheep are bored of standing round in a field all day, the occasional highlight being when they get sheered, and decide to take a day off. Things don’t quite go to plan, with the farmer ending up in hospital and losing his memory. With no one to take charge, the farm soon descends into anarchy; Shaun and his friends heading off into the city to find the farmer and get things back to normal.
While the plot is basic, threadbare stuff, what makes Shaun the Sheep so much fun are the near constant sight gags that Aardman is famed for. Family films can be a tricky business, you could make a film that children will love, but leaves adults bored or bewildered, or you come up with something that children will like, passes the time, but the humour, the subtext, goes miles over the heads of anyone under twelve. Aardman has this talent of making film and TV that every family member will laugh at, and Shaun the Sheep does exactly the same thing. There are so many smart jokes crammed into Shaun’s eighty-five minutes, including a stray animal catcher who, not only takes enormous pleasure in seeing adorable animals being banged up, he listens to M People in his van; the sheep singing acapella (including one sheep doing a bit of beat boxing), and the farmer ending up a Z-list celebrity when he works as a hair stylist for the rich and famous.
Aardman has been working with Plasticine stop-motion animation from day-one, and while it might be viewed as quaint and outdated when pitted against Pixar or Dreamworks, it looks just as impressive. There is no dialogue during Shaun’s running time, but you get just as much insight into a character as you would from an Oscar-winning actor. Whether it’s Shaun angrily shaking his head, raising an unimpressed eyebrow, or the baby sheep about to start crying, anyone who watches Shaun will engage with its furry cast in a way that bigger budget animation can only envy.
It’s hard to imagine another film this year having anywhere near as much laughs and personality as Shaun the Sheep: The Movie (Minions will hopefully – fingers crossed! – deliver on its funny-every-time-you-watch-it trailer). Aardman only release a film every two-or-three years, but when they do, they make virtually non-stop, inventive laughter look easy.
4 out of 5
Saturday, 14 February 2015
This might be something of a first: a quick review from me! Honestly, there isn't a lot I want to say about Big Hero 6 so I'll keep it short.
Big Hero 6 is based on a Marvel comic but they have taken a few liberties with the source material (changing some of the characters around and leaving a few out). It's essentially an origin story which sees 14-year-old robotics genius Hiro Hamada team up with his friends- and a big white robot named Baymax- to fight a sinister menace.
Baymax is just adorable. Originally created as a healthcare companion, Hiro sees the opportunity for an upgrade- but Baymax still retains that gentle naivete which is so loveable, coupled with a great voice performance by Scott Adsit. Most of the film's real laugh-out-loud moments for me came from the odd-couple relationship between Baymax and Hiro. There's a scene with a deflating Baymax, a cellotape dispenser and a very patient policeman which was particularly funny, as is the scene where Hiro must get Baymax back to his charging station.
There's an interesting visual style for San Fransokyo (as the name suggests, it's a mash-up of San Francisco and Tokyo, so you have things such as reimagining the Golden Gate Bridge with torajii gates). There's quite a bit of self-referential comic book hero stuff knocking about, mostly through the slacker character Fred (who even remarks upon this being 'an origin story'), but that's sparing, which is good. The script is pretty formulaic, most of the other characters aren't exactly well-rounded or fleshed out, and there are some sections that looks like they've been directly lifted from the tie-in video-game (such as the first time Hiro and Baymax fly).
Big Hero 6 doesn't reach the dizzying heights of Frozen (but then it'll be a long time before Disney manage that, if they ever do) and doesn't have the same charm as Wreck-It Ralph but it's still enjoyable enough- and Baymax is just great.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
How much you’ll enjoy The Wachowski’s latest, Jupiter Ascending, will depend on how you like your big budget sci-fi. Are you a SF fan who expects your brain to work up as big a sweat as your eyes when you watch a film, or can you happily switch your grey matter to auto-pilot, enjoy the big set pieces and ignore the onslaught of clichés and awkward dialogue? If you agreed with the last part of that sentence, you’ll have a giant smile on your face whilst watching Jupiter Ascending; otherwise you’re better off with Shaun the Sheep: The Movie.
The brilliantly named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a strapped-for-cash cleaner, sharing a flat with her mum and aunt. Trouble comes calling when it’s discovered that she is the rightful heir to planet Earth, half-human, half-wolf warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) protecting her from the Abrasax family, one of the universe’s wealthiest dynasties, who want Earth for themselves.
The Wachowskis, who wrote, produced, and directed one of the best films of the ‘90’s, The Matrix, have once again raised the bar with Jupiter Ascending, virtually every frame is filled with right up-to-the-second, state-of-the-art CGI. It’s beautiful in a gigantic spaceships, imaginatively designed aliens, extravagant throne rooms sort of way. Two of the big highlights are Jupiter and Caine – in his anti-grav boots – soaring through the Chicago skyline, buildings blown apart as they’re being shot at, as well as the film’s climax that sees Jupiter and Balem (Eddie Redmayne) fighting on a mining planet that is burning up around them. If you get the chance to see this on an IMAX, fork out the extra cash, as it looks fantastic.
The whole cast do a good enough job, no one lets the side down. You’ll root for Kunis, who has sassiness as well as looks, giving us a well-timed one-liner to help make the pomp and absurdity of the Wachowski’s script a little easier to swallow, while Tatum gets to do more than be the tough, strong hero with his shirt off; he’s ferocious in a fight, yet, when him and Jupiter first meet, he has no clue how to talk to her (his only interaction with human beings is through military training). When Caine inevitably falls for Jupiter, he struggles to say anything – she’s royalty, he’s something created in a lab.
It’s The Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne who steals the show here, not just chewing the scenery, but devouring it like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster demolishing a plate of his favourite biscuits. With a throaty, genteel voice, yelling, glaring and hissing in all the right places, Redmayne delivers his clunky, space opera villain dialogue like he’s doing a stint at Shakespeare’s Globe. He doesn’t quite reach the camp, pantomime heights of Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but he’s close. You miss Redmayne whenever he’s off-screen.
The big problem with Jupiter Ascending is the amount of explaining it does. If you thought Michael Bay’s Transformer films were bogged down in exposition, characters going on about the McGuffin and various backstories, then the Wachowskis don’t just break Bay’s record, they demolish it. Virtually all of Sean Bean’s dialogue has him talking about an ancient dynasty, or the rules of Jupiter Ascending’s world, while Kunis asks what the hell is going on every ten/fifteen minutes (“We need to find the [insert bizarrely named object here].” “What’s the [insert bizarrely named object here]?”), queuing another several minute rant about someone or something that makes little-to-no-difference to the film’s narrative. It wouldn’t be so bad if Jupiter Ascending had some original ideas, something that surprised you, but instead the Wachowskis churn out one sci-fi cliché after another, clichés that date back to Forbidden Planet or Flash Gordon.
Jupiter Ascending is decent enough, no more, no less, which is amazing considering the talent on board. As far as the visuals go, it’s one of the best films you’ll see in 2015, but the script is predictable sci-fi hokum. Pay that little bit extra to see it on an IMAX, fill yourself up with popcorn, coke, or whatever sugar/carbs you fancy, and enjoy it for what it is: fun, bonkers, overblown entertainment.
3 out of 5
Sunday, 8 February 2015
Awards Season is now approaching the final straight, with one big weekend left. This weekend, however, has seen two sets of major awards handed outs.
DIRECTORS' GUILD AWARDS
The DGAs were handed out yesterday (Saturday 7th February). The film winners are:
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary: Laura Poitras (Citizenfour)
Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television: Lisa Cholodenko (Olive Kitteridge)
With this win, it's looking likely that Inarritu might sneak in for the Best Director Oscar, in place of the highly-fancied Richard Linklater. Both films have their merits: the sheer timescale and commitment Linklater took to get Boyhood on the screen can't be underestimated, whilst the continuous camera movements and overall style of Birdman is a technical tour de force. Both would be worthy winners.
Citizenfour also got a Best Documentary Feature nod at the Oscars, so this looks good for that.
BAFTA FILM AWARDS
Tonight (Sunday 8th February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 68th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted for the tenth time by Stephen Fry. Rosamund Pike, Eddie Redmayne, Edward Norton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, JK Simmons, Keira Knightley, Reese Witherspoon and Amy Adams were among some of the stars in attendance to celebrate the best in film.
Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:
Best Film: Boyhood
Outstanding British Film: The Theory Of Everything
Leading Actor: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
Leading Actress: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Adapted Screenplay: The Theory Of Everything
Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Stephen Beresford and David Livingstone (writer and producer of Pride)
Animated Film: The Lego Movie
Film Not In The English Language: Ida
Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Make Up And Hair: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Original Music: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Special Visual Effects: Interstellar
Short Animation: The Bigger Picture
Short Film: Boogaloo And Graham
Rising Star: Jack O'Connell
Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: BBC Films
BAFTA Fellowship: Mike Leigh
Stephen Fry was on top form as host, with a couple of nice little jokes; I also love how embarrassed he got after being kissed by Cuba Gooding Jr! I'm overjoyed to see the writer and producer of Pride get a BAFTA, as well as The Lego Movie winning Best Animated Feature. There was a very touching tribute to the late great, Richard (Lord) Attenborough and Mike Leigh's Felllowship acceptance speech was probably the highlight of the night, thanking those who have backed his films and also those who didn't- as they would have only interefered!
The biggest winner of the night was The Grand Budapest Hotel, winning five BAFTAs with The Theory Of Everything, Boyhood and Whiplash all taking home three. Congratulations to all winners!
Awards Season will culminate in two weeks' time, on the weekend of 21st/22nd February. Both the Independent Spirit Awards and the Razzies will be handed out on Saturday 21st February with the 87th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday 22nd February.
And then we can forget about this trivial nonsense until the end of November.
In 1995, Cheryl Strayed undertook a 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Washington State border. Following the death of her beloved mother Bobbi, Strayed spiralled into drug abuse and other dangerous behaviour and saw the trek as a way to rediscover herself and heal from the traumatic events of her life. So, with no prior backpacking experience, Strayed set out on the walk. She published her memoir- entitled Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail- in 2012 and it was selected as the first book in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club 2.0.
The film was optioned by Reese Witherspoon's film company, Pacific Standard, and is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (who directed Dallas Buyers Club) with a script by Nick Hornby, adapting Strayed's memoir. Witherspoon plays Strayed, with supporting roles played by Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman and Gaby Hoffmann.
There's certainly no doubting the veracity of Witherspoon's performance, nor her commitment to the role, literally putting her body on the line for it. There's no softening of the rougher edges of the character- Strayed cheats on her husband, abuses heroin, is selfish and confrontational- and she goes through snow and rain and punishing heat on her odyssey. I suppose my main issue is that there's no exploration (save for a hasty wrap-up interior monologue at the very end of the film) of how this experience has transformed the character- you never get to see the other part of her life and how she is a 'better' person for having undertaken the trek. Strayed doesn't come across as particularly likeable or a character you can have any empathy with, but isn't so nasty that you enjoy seeing her suffer. It's one of Witherspoon's stronger performances, certainly, but I found it difficult to warm to the character.
Laura Dern's performance as Bobbi is just superb and is thoroughly deserving of her Supporting Actress Oscar nod. It's actually a surprise the performance hasn't featured more heavily throughout this awards season, as it's a warm, emotive and very touching performance (although this has been a very strong year for that category). Describing herself as a woman who's never been in the driver's seat of her own life, she's nonetheless a strong and grounding influence for Strayed. Other characters are very much broad sketches with little development or even much personality, pretty much just acting as ciphers to show Strayed's state of mind or place in life at that time.
Cinematography is good, the trail looks impressive in all its grandeur. This is a film that skips around as far as chronology goes, jolting backwards and forwards from the hike to the past and back again, so you need to concentrate and be engaged to really follow it. It's given to some odd metaphorical imagery as well at times which can be a little jarring.
All said, I found it difficult to enjoy this film. It's not a bad film, the central performances by Witherspoon is compelling and Dern lights up the screen every time she's on, but I found myself quite cold and unengaged with it.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fan boy’s wish list of a homage to the Roger Moore Bond films. That’s the great thing about director Matthew Vaughn’s latest (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake), but is also its biggest problem.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a young man with plenty of talent and potential, but is stuck in a rut, stealing cars for fun, spending what money he has down the local boozer, and forced to put up with his thuggish stepdad’s constant putdowns. After a run-in with the police, Eggsy is recruited by Harry Hart (Colin Firth) to join international spy agency Kingsman, where not only must he prove himself during training, he also has to survive it.
The performances in Kingsman are all solid. Colin Firth steals the show as Harry Hart. He’s suave, delivers a droll one-liner at a moment’s notice, and he’s deadly; the man can literally kick ass. While a couple of set-pieces have clearly been tinkered by CGI, Firth does the majority of his own fights. Firth, who rose to fame as Mr Darcy in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, is just as convincing and lethal as Daniel Craig’s Bond or Matt Damon’s Bourne. Samuel L Jackson hams it up as the film’s megalomaniac villain, having plenty of fun with his scenes. Valentine is text book Bond villain (including a secret underground lair), but at least Jackson gives plenty of charisma and laughs. Mark Strong gets something to do for once as Merlin, Kingsman’s answer to Q; not just standing in a lab creating lethal new toys, Strong gets in on the action as well. Sophie Cookson, as fellow recruit Roxy, gets a female supporting role where she’s not just eye candy, she’s got the brains and able to knock someone out just as well as the boys, the only problem is the film’s climax, where Cookson is literally moved out the way (Earth’s upper atmosphere – you can’t get further away!) so that Egerton can take the glory.
As for Egerton, you can’t argue that he’s got the personality to hold the film together, it’s just a shame that Eggsy has been written as a massive Daily Mail stereotype: baseball cap, hoodie, trainers, lives in a dingy London flat with his cockney tart mum (Eastenders’ Samantha Womack), and steals things because he’s bored, Eggsy is Britain’s middle class view of working class youth. Young people in this country are more complicated than that and Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (admittedly adapting Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel) took the easy way out when they came up with Eggsy.
As you would expect from the director of Kick Ass, Kingsman’s violence is over-the-top splatter. Some critics have described the gore as stomach-turning, but its larger-than-life, realism be damned gore, much like Tarantino’s Kill Bill instead of the projectile vomit inducing antics of Eli Roth’s Hostel. Kingsman’s stand out scene is what appears to be one solid take as Firth wipes out the congregation of a racist, homophobic – everything ending in ‘ist’ or ‘ic’ – church, easily rivalling the ballet style choreography of Gareth Evans’ Raid films.
Vaughn gives us a faithful recreation of the larger than life spy films that were the norm before The Bourne Identity and Casino Royale ruined the party, whilst also coming up with a few of its own ideas (the world’s population massacring each other to the soundtrack of KC and the Sunshine Band’s Give It Up). The trouble is, because Kingsman rigidly sticks to the formula we all know and love, there are no surprises, and even the script’s shock twists were done before in Bond films from years back. You have the gadgets, cars, girls, double-crossings, the henchwoman with razor sharp blades for legs, explosions, innuendos - everything you could want from a trip down memory lane, and Kingsman is a hell of a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have quite enough that’s new or never-saw-that-coming to make it something you definitely need to go and watch.
3 out of 5