Madness… in every direction.
Rejected was nominated for best animated short film at the Oscars back in 2000 and it really is a minor work of genius. Equal parts surreal, harrowing and hilarious, Rejected is a series of short cartoons by Don Hertzfeldt that were rejected by various organizations (for obvious reasons). The first five minutes give you a taster of Hertzfeldt’s style but it is the closing five minutes that are really imaginative and set this apart from all the other surreal animated shorts out there. Well worth ten minutes of your time.
Cast reunion for every actor to have ever played an x man.
The biggest challenge facing director Bryan Singer on his return to the X-Men series was how to marry the new generation with the old guard. It seemingly had to include time travel which is always risky as for every The Terminator there is a The Butterfly Effect. Luckily the latest X-Men instalment falls squarely in the former camp when it comes to plotting and realism. Kitty Pryde (an underused Ellen Page) sending Wolverine back in time never feels laboured or forced and changing between the past and the future makes for a compelling and exciting watch. Stewart and McKellen are good as ever but it is McAvoy, Lawrence and particularly Fassbender that have re-energized what was an ailing franchise. Peter Dinklage is also a welcome addition and Nicolas Hoult continues to pleasantly surprise as Beast. Hugh Jackman has so much fun playing Wolverine and is always fun but perhaps after seven films this should be his last outing as the focal point of the X-Men. X-Men: First Class is still the best of the bunch and it is a shame we didn’t get to see director Matthew Vaughn follow up that minor classic but this is probably Singers best effort in the directors chair in this series. Gambit and Deadpool continue to be inexplicably absent but the main achievement is that after seven films the X-Men seem as vital as ever.
Rom com parody only elevated above being terrible by Paul Rudd’s beautiful face.
There is so much comedy gold to be mined from a rom com parody but They Came Together plays it pretty safe and is actually so close to being a romantic comedy at times it is indistinguishable. The premise of a romantic origin story being told around the dinner table between Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper (Erin from The Office) is awesome and these moments are the funniest. Another thing they do get spot on is the story structure and the accompanying cheesy soundtrack. Unfortunately It is in the flashbacks themselves where most of the (many) jokes fall flat. They Came Together is aiming for Airplane but ends up closer to Scary Movie 2. It was a bold move to have Rudd sending up the genre that has been his bread and butter for the last few years and it all comes across a bit too smug and knowing like an 83 minute SNL sketch. A really great comedic supporting cast (Ed Helms, Chris Meloni, Jack McBrayer, Jason Mantzoukas) are pretty much wasted. If you are not a big Paul Rudd fan (took a long hard look in the mirror) then don’t waste your time with this.
The sleazy underbelly of LA is exposed by a chap called Lenny.
This version of LA was prevalent in cinema up until recently. Where all the criminals have long hair, wear leather jackets and carry knives and all the women look like Miss America circa 1981. See also Escape from L.A., Terminator 2 (T2) and erm… The Karate Kid. The dubious, unshaven hero this time is Lenny Nero played by Ralph Fiennes. The basic premise is one of corruption within the LA police force set against a back drop of the turn of the millennium and also a new technology that allows people to buy small memories that belong to someone else and feel and see everything they did. It is odd that director Kathryn Bigelow (and writer James Cameron) decided to set this premise only four years into the future but it seems much less ridiculous now then it probably did at the time what with the continual rise of the smart phone, Google glass, Apple watch et al. Bigelow brings all this together nicely though and if anyone can make a bit of a daft story seem believable it is Fiennes. Juliette Lewis doesn’t have to stretch too far to be a singer in a garage rock band but she is always a good watch and he bounces off Fiennes with aplomb. However at nearly two and a half hours Strange Days is far too long and as previously mentioned a lot of the characters feel like 90s caricatures. Aside from Point Break I have never been much of a Bigelow fan but this is one of her better efforts.
Boring superhero saves world yet again.
Marvel studios have been very clever to release the Avengers films in episodic fashion. Because they all tie in together and follow on from each other the viewer is now forced to watch every instalment in order to keep up with the story. So we end up with films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier which seems to only exist to introduce new characters and move the Avengers plot along. Having said that it is a lot of fun along the way. As with Chris Hemsworth in the Thor series Chris Evans has really grown into the role of Captain America now to the point where he just is Captain America. Evans has always made the most of what is a fundamentally dull character and for that he deserves praise. Elsewhere Anthony Mackie is a good fit as Falcon, Robert Redford makes for a dastardly if unmenacing villain and Scarlett Johansson is reliable as ever as Black Widow to the point where I think she could just about carry a standalone film. We also get loads of Nick Fury which is always a treat. Directing team Anthony and Joe Russo sensibly ditch the fish out of water stuff with the cap at the right time but the action scenes are nothing new. Part of the problem with this whole series is that Avengers was so impressive that it has almost become an albatross around Marvel studios neck. A decent but forgettable chapter in what is a very strong series.
Pirate DJ named Harry Hard On becomes an inspiration to local kids. No actually.
Empire Records director Allan Moyle writes and directs and like that movie Pump Up The Volume is full of interesting characters, a funny script, a great soundtrack (Pixies, Beastie Boys, Leonard Cohen etc) and a lot of heart. It also has that great late eighties early nineties feel to it in the vein of other classics Dazed and Confused, Wayne’s World and indeed Empire Records. Christian Slater is brilliant as the irrepressible, revered DJ displaying both confidence and vulnerability whilst being asked to carry the film pretty much exclusively by himself. It is difficult to inject gravitas into a film who’s main character goes by Harry Hard On but Pump Up the Volume tackles the subjects of teenage suicide, alienation and freedom of speech whilst still maintaining a sense of humour. One of the more underrated films of the early nineties.
Married bliss turns into Lynchian nightmare.
First off it is really difficult to review this film without giving away spoilers so beware, spoilers ahoy.
Gone Girl is so explicitly like three different movies that it calls to mind recent thriller The Place Beyond the Pines. Act I is a raging success and sits well with anything in master director David Fincher’s body of work. Affleck never really had the charisma to carry a Hollywood block buster ( Daredevil, Pearl Harbour etc) but he can play a down beat every man better than any of his peers. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or even Ryan Gosling simply could not have played this role. Rosamund Pike gives a life changing performance that is almost too good. While she plays loving wife, a woman scorned, psychopath, vulnerable sex object and numerous other roles all in the same film she never manages to roll them all up into one believable character. Act II starts off brilliantly but starts to unravel when a scene that should be the pay off after a huge build up is inexplicably cut. By the time we return to this scene the tension has dissipated. From here the already laid back Affleck looks like he might fall asleep and things go from bad to worse when Neil Patrick Harris enters the fold as an even more unpleasant version of Barney from ‘How I Met Someone… Who Cares Yawn’ only to be deservedly killed by a rapidly unravelling Rosamund Pike. So we stumble into act III with the jury very much out and this is where Fincher makes a huge misstep. The whole tone of the film shifts from tense thriller to ethereal daydream. With no build up what so ever Pike just decides she has had enough of this shit, slashes creepy Barney’s throat and returns to a beleaguered Affleck. Two huge questions arise from this. Firstly why would Ben Affleck, who has spent most of the movie talking about how much he hates his wife, just go quietly into the dark night of a hideous relationship with her again after he has established that she tried to have him executed, and framed two (!) men for rape and murdered one of them? Secondly and even more pertinently why would a detective (and also a lawyer who has agreed to work for free) who also knows of the aforementioned crimes just accept that the culprit is just going to get away with it? It is not so much a plot hole as a plot black hole that sucks the rest of the movie inside it. Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor’s score is brilliant and saves some of the more daft scenes later in the movie. Debate is currently raging as to whether Gone Girl is sexist or misogynist but to have this discussion about a film with a plot that is so preposterous misses the point. Other than a light message about the agenda of the mainstream media (hardly ground breaking) this is just a bonkers story told in an unconventional way. Too many risks taken, not enough of them pay off. A huge disappointment.