American Sniper – 7.5/10.

Standard

He might shout at empty chairs once in a while but Clint Eastwood knows how to tell a story…

maxresdefault

First off, the elephant in the room. Any film about the war in Iraq is always going to be controversial. A film celebrating the life of a sniper in the U.S army who described Iraqi insurgents as ‘savages’ and also told of how he ‘loved’ killing them, takes this controversy to a new level. American Sniper is not a propaganda film or a recruitment video however. It is at its essence entertainment and should be treated as such.

With that out of the way is American Sniper actually any good? I am happy to say that it is mostly successful. Bradley Cooper continues his incredible trajectory with another confident and touching performance. To receive Oscar noms in three consecutive films as diverse as Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper is quite the achievement for Cooper and all the work that he put in to become protagonist Chris Ryan pays off in spades.

AMERICAN SNIPER - 2014 FILM STILL - Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle - Photo Credit: Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros  (c) 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., WV Films IV LLC and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC-U.S., Canada, Bahamas & Bermuda

American Sniper does dip a little in the middle with a long Zero Dark Thirty style shoot out. I always think the most boring parts of any war film is the actual fighting itself which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Jarhead so much. Even in these moments Bradley Cooper injects a personal touch into what should be disconnecting fighting scenes.

Cooper smoulders with an intensity that bubbles under even in the quieter scenes and his co star Sienna Miller overcomes any doubts that anyone could have had about her ability to pull off a role as emotive as Chris Ryan’s wife Taya. Eastwood has a history of getting the most out of his cast and everyone in support seems to have bought into what is an astounding story no matter what your political alliances are.

Is Chris Ryan a hero? It depends who you ask. Does it matter? Not in the context of this film. A stunning return to form for Eastwood and more of the same from Cooper.

Stewart Lee brings his Room With A Stew tour to Doncaster’s Cast Theatre

Standard

Stewart Lee

Coming off the back of his latest critically lauded series of Comedy Vehicle, Stewart Lee arrived at Doncaster’s Cask Theatre on typically confrontational form – ‘there used to be a perfectly good theatre here that I enjoyed playing in… it’s just fields now’. This wasn’t to be the only personal touch afforded to the Doncaster audience, ‘I see all of Doncaster’s guardian readers have turned out’, Lee noted. He later added ‘I might go over the allocated time tonight but let’s face it there is nothing else to do in Doncaster’. While Lee probably wasn’t joking, as he would tell you himself he rarely tells a joke, it is this all out assault on his long suffering audience that makes his comedy routine so unique and so polarizing.

His critics may call him a champagne socialist who isn’t funny but Lee had the full backing of a vocal Doncaster crowd no matter how much he tried to convince us that he didn’t. He repeatedly made references to the upper tier not understanding his act or having showed up to the wrong gig and almost twenty minutes were allocated to one unfortunate punter who had the temerity to show up late.

Stewart-Lee

Lee is at once like a fine wine and a forgotten carton of milk in as much his act seems to improve with age as he grows ever more sour and bitter. The argument that Lee has become a caricature is redundant when he is this funny, whilst still delivering biting social satire with a healthy dollop of the ridiculous. Lee is just as comfortable talking about Paul Nuttal of ‘UKIPS’ as he is imagining what the national radio station of Azerbaijan would sound like. Indeed, he seemed almost TOO comfortable with the latter as he spent a good fifteen minutes making random sounds and words to form a hypothetical Azerbaijani song. This was the closest Lee came to losing some sections of the audience, but that was always his intention, and he appeared almost annoyed that some people stuck with him throughout what was an absurd section.

Stewart Lee is a London based, Oxford schooled comedian but his left leaning politics, keen satirical eye and the fact that he is still happy to squeeze in a bit of potty humour, ensures that he will always have an adoring crowd in Doncaster. Come again soon Stew!

This article first appeared in Doncopolitan magazine:

https://www.facebook.com/doncopolitan
https://doncopolitan.wordpress.com/
https://twitter.com/DoncopolitanMag

Kung Fury 7/10.

Standard

Taking on the unenviable task of making 80s cop movies seem more ridiculous than they already are…

kung-fury-the-craziest-kung-fu-movie-ever-made-is-online-to-watch-now1

Kung Fury is a homage/parody not just to buddy cop movies but to 80’s movies in general. Think Running Man, Lethal Weapon, Escape from LA, stuff like that.

The problem with parodying such a ludicrous era is that so much of it already feels like a parody of itself. Kung Fury really ramps things up though to the point that a lot of the visual jokes are so out there it is actually shockingly funny. Cult classic and blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite overcame a similar problem the same way.

A feature length film based around this concept would have been too much but thirty minutes is perfect for director/actor David Sandberg to see his project realized in spectacular fashion via a budget raised almost entirely from crowd fund project Kickstarter.

Sandberg is hilarious as well as bring really really good looking and I would be interested to see him take on something else actually, such is the quality and imagination behind Kung Fury.

Any film with Adolf Hitler portrayed as a Nazi ninja called Kung F├╝hrer is worth looking into as far as I am concerned.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 3/10

Standard

Producer Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman continue to flog dead horses whilst ruining people’s childhoods.

TMNT-2014-660

Contrary to popular belief I actually think that Michael Bay did a decent job with the first Transformers movie. It was pretty faithful to the cartoon and the child in all of us fulfilled an ambition to watch robot behemoths battling it out. The problem with taking on the turtles project isn’t just the execution but the source material itself.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had already spawned four feature length movies, various TV shows and endless merchandise before this project begun. There was a clamour to see a return of the Transformers by the time it was rebooted in 2007 but is anyone really interested in seeing the ailing TMNT brand rebooted? (apparently yes according to the box office results).

Anyone hoping for a nostalgia trip back to their childhoods will be bitterly disappointed. Some characters such as April O’Neil and Shredder are unrecognisable from the cartoon whilst others such as Casey Jones, Krang and Bebop & Rocksteady are absent entirely.

The only constant is the turtles themselves who are still stuck in a time warp of pop culture references and horribly dated 80’s pastiche. Even with comedic genius Will Arnett featuring prominently, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is never intentionally funny and the script throughout is unforgivably cheesy and cringe inducing.

People don’t particularly act in Michael Bay films but even with such low standards Megan Fox continues to be an annoyance and is woefully miscast as April O’Neil while William Fichtner and Whoopi Goldberg look faintly embarrassed throughout.

megan_fox_66574

All this equates to a franchise that didn’t need rebooting filled with rubbish acting and corny dialogue. Possibly the worst reboot of all time.

Jurassic World – 8.5/10.

Standard

A director with one low budget indie film to his name brings us the best summer blockbuster since Avengers.

JWSuperBowlTrailer-Raptors1

There is a huge amount of pressure involved in rebooting a much loved franchise and they don’t come much bigger than Jurassic Park.

Director Colin Trevorrow started his career with Safety Not Guaranteed – a charming and quirky indie flick about time travel, that had little to suggest that Trevorrow deserves to be the man at the helm for one of the most anticipated films of the decade. This potential risk more than pays off.

If Avatar taught us anything it was that you can spend all the money you want on CGI and special effects but if you can’t write believable characters or interesting dialogue you will still be left with a dumb action flick. Jurassic World learns from this and though the special effects are faultless it is the script and the acting that elevate the fourth instalment in the series above your average action fare.

R00L3UM

Chris Pratt’s journey from loveable goofball Andy in much missed comedy Parks and Recreation to Hollywood heartthrob has been surreal and unexpected but he seems much more comfortable in Jurassic World than he did in Guardians of the Galaxy and rumours of Pratt as the next Indiana Jones no longer seem so far fetched. Pratt’s co star Bryce Dallas Howard struggles with a less well written character at times but at least she has recovered from the trauma of being involved in Spider Man 3.

Like other derided genres, horror and rom-com, action films are often criticised for predictable plot devices and rehashed ideas. Apart from two people jumping over a waterfall whilst shouting, Jurassic World does its utmost to break free from the trappings of a tired genre to appear fresh and it is this unpredictability that allows the story to comfortably justify a running time of over two hours.

640_jurassic_world_embed2

The message that the human race shouldn’t play God is as poignant as it was in Jurassic Park but a ham fisted attempt at a critique of capitalism doesn’t sit well alongside such obvious and jarring product placement. In a film about dinosaurs though this is a minor criticism and an attempt at dissection and analysis of that kind only leads to less enjoyment.

I would have liked to have spent a bit more time with a wider range of dinosaurs but Trevorrow gets so much right that it feels like nitpicking to mark down Jurassic World too harshly for this.

There is no iconic moment to rival the trembling water glass but how could there be? Jurassic World is a really good film in its own right and is such a welcome addition to the Jurassic Park series especially in light of such recent massive disappointments as Indiana Jones 4, A Good Day to Die Hard and The Dark Knight Rises. Nods to the original are not too ostentatious either which is always a plus point.

Jurassic World is in almost every way a success. Breath a sigh of relief and cross your fingers for the new Star Wars movie to be this good.

The Nightmare – 7/10.

Standard

The terrifying world of sleep paralysis brought to life.

the-nightmare-is-a-creepy-doc-on-sleep-paralysis-sundance-2015-review

The Nightmare is a documentary focusing on 8 people’s experience with sleep paralysis. If you are not familiar with this sleep disorder then settle in for a jarring nights reading and do a Google search. Like many others I know from first hand experience that it is truly a horrifying experience.

The Nightmare attempts to showcase sleep paralysis through reconstructions and interviews with those affected. The reconstructions are so vivid and generally well made that The Nightmare is more horror film/documentary than straight up documentary.

The 8 chosen subjects are mostly engaging and interesting and the director Rodney Ascher does a good job in bringing it all together in a somewhat linear fashion but there is a niggling feeling of missed opportunity throughout.

The Nightmare had the potential to be so much more than talking heads and cheap scares. There is very little mention of the fascinating history of sleep paralysis or a scientific explanation offered or analyzed. This leaves The Nightmare like a job half done and at only 90 minutes there was definitely room for a more detailed investigation.

Despite it’s shortcomings it has to be said that while nothing can truly express how upsetting sleep paralysis can be, The Nightmare does a pretty damn good job.

Sweet dreams.

Stand By Me – 10/10.

Standard

The archetypal coming of age tale.

2507339_height370_width518

The best films, and I mean the VERY best films (think Star Wars, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones) are truly timeless. Stand By Me comfortably deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

Like all those films mentioned Stand By Me does not take place in the present which means it will never become dated. What sets it apart from other period films though is while the costumes and soundtrack are straight out of the 50s, the actual storyline could be plucked from any era. Boys, girls, men, women, the elderly – everybody can relate to endless summer adventures, friends you will never forget, bullies, camping and growing up.

These subjects have been covered endlessly in numerous mediums. People like Bruce Springsteen, Killers and Kevin Smith have made a career out of creating drama and romance from the humdrum melancholy of adolescence. I can’t think of any piece of work in any art form however that captures what it is to be young so perfectly as Stand By Me.

stand-by-me-cast1

Coming from the pen of horror maestro Stephen King, you might expect the story of four young boys searching for a dead body to be dark or macabre. Stand By Me is neither. It is warm and entirely innocent, one of the only examples of sentimentality being used properly and not as a manipulative replacement for a genuine plot.

Endlessly quotable, brilliant soundtrack and with a heartbreaking performance from River Phoenix, Stand By Me somehow feels like an epic journey a la Lord of the Rings despite clocking in at under an hour and a half.

Quite simply one of the finest films it has ever been my pleasure to watch.