Monday, 21 April 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I was not exactly a fan of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’; I felt it was an altogether sloppy reintroduction of the character that put too much focus on its romance subplot and not enough on the exploits of its titular hero. I did however predict at the time that the next iteration in the series would see a notable rise in quality as it learned from the mistakes of its predecessor and expanded upon the aspects it handled well. Well as it turns out I was correct in my assumption, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ marks a massive improvement over the previous film, and I really do mean massive.

Having embraced his life as Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) inspires New York with his heroic acts but as a result his personal life and relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) suffers. When old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns to the city Peter begins to re-examine his past and contemplate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his parents.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Andrew Garfield’s previous work as Spider-Man but in this film he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his work as the wisecracking webslinger is second to none. Even more important than that though is how much improvement has been made to his Peter Parker; he is no longer the standoffish young man we met in the first film, Peter’s confidence as a hero has permeated into his personal life and we see an assured and evolved character played with finesse by Garfield. The romantic love interest of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ also features in this film yet again played by the increasingly impressive Emma Stone. Gwen is given a lot more to do here than she has previously, allowing her to break free of the constraints usually placed upon the female love interest in a comic book movie. Emma Stone gives an earnest performance as Gwen Stacy that shows dramatic depth as well as expert comedic sensibilities, this combined with her fantastic chemistry with Garfield makes their on-screen relationship one of the undeniable triumphs of the film.

Spider-Man saves a pre-Electro Max Dillon

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ ups the ante when it comes its villains, having not one but two primary antagonists, Electro as played by Jamie Foxx, and Green Goblin played by Dane DeHaan. Unlike the very disappointing ‘Spider-Man 3’ this film handles its plethora of villains in a smart and well-focused way so as to have a hierarchy to its enemies rather than the outright chaos of Sam Raimi’s last Spider-Man effort. Foxx is great as Electro’s alter ego Max Dillon who the film depicts as an obsessive Spider-Man fan and a very lonely individual. Electro on the other hand feels quite underwritten and dull; annoyingly the film seems to forget about Dillon’s intelligence as a scientist once he becomes Electro as the character becomes gullible and subservient to the more forceful personalities he is exposed to, nevertheless I felt Foxx brought a vulnerability to the character that shines during the scene in Times Square. The saving grace of the character is the brilliant portrayal of his power, Electro, like no other villain in a Spider-Man film before him, seems truly powerful and a fierce adversary for Spider-Man.

Meanwhile Dane DeHaan is faced with a very different villainous role in that he enters the film as an ostensibly shady character whose descent into evil is driven by desperation and paced perfectly. DeHaan’s Harry Osborn feels like a much better crafted character than the last iteration seen onscreen with James Franco in the role, and even with just one film to Franco’s three, DeHaan manages to imbue the character with much more depth. However just as with Max Dillon and Electro, Harry Osborn and Green Goblin differ in quality in certain regards. DeHaan’s surprisingly short spell (in this film at least) as the Goblin feels disconnected from his earlier performance and when thought of purely as a villain he is somewhat lacking as unlike Electro who boasts menacing, godlike power, Green Goblin just seems like any other generically unhinged and altogether tacky villain.

Dane DeHaan's Harry Osborn is the best portrayal of the character yet.

Marc Webb’s direction is another highlight of the movie, having refined his technique from the previous film Webb is able to deliver a much better crafted story with a much neater plot thanks to screenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinkner; an entirely new brain trust of writers from the first film. Kurtzman and co.’s script weaves together interesting side plots into a complete and satisfying narrative free from the clunky secondary stories of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’. Also deserving of praise is cinematographer Daniel Mindel (who will soon work on the upcoming ‘Star Wars Episode VII’), who offers some really terrific photography both in moments of quiet character reflection and in large-scale action set pieces.

This film more than any other cinematic iteration of Spider-Man succeeds in portraying the wall crawler as exactly what he is, one of the greatest superheroes ever devised. Peter Parker’s story is incredibly relatable and yet as Spider-Man it is inspiring, not even the likes of Tony Stark or Steve Rogers can deliver the same humanity to their superheroism. The occasions where the film stops to have a human moment, whether that is between Gwen and Peter or when exploring the past of Peter’s father, it gets the tone right in having humanity be one of the defining aspects of Spider-Man as a whole. One thing I really loved in the film was the representation of what Spider-Man comes to mean to the citizens of New York, this is handled magnificently and certainly left a lasting impression on me as the credits rolled.

All it takes is a cursory glance at this film’s trailer to have an idea of the magnitude of the impressive action in the battle scenes. A particularly grandiose clash sees Spider-Man take on Electro in an electrical plant; here the action becomes truly spectacular as the brilliantly shot fight shows Spider-Man barely avoid Electro’s attacks with slow-motion camerawork being engaged to make it all the more exhilarating.

Spider-Man struggles to overcome Electro's immense power.

Arguably the most exciting thing about this film is the sheer amount of establishing it does for the wider Spider-Man universe that Sony hopes to curate. With films about Venom and the Sinister Six already on the cards, hopes for a shared continuity between Spider-Man films to exist in the same capacity as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe looks bright, let’s just hope they take the same care and expertise employed here when handling those spinoff films.

Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire’s run with Spider-Man will always have a special place in my heart, they were the first time the character had ever transitioned to the big screen and Raimi/Maguire really did Spider-Man justice. I mention this because I want my appreciation of that series (in particular the original ‘Spider-Man’) to be clear when I say that this film, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is my favourite Spider-Man film to date. It combines all of the brilliant blockbuster action audiences would come to expect from a comic book movie with a layered portrayal of Peter Parker including a satisfying evolution to his character. Amazing may yet be out of reach, but this film has spectacular well within its grasp.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Coming Soon: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Read my review of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' when I post it here on Monday the 21st of April.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Contrary to what you may initially think, this is not a Marvel movie. Of course I’m not saying that Marvel Studios isn’t behind this film, what I mean is that the tone used here is very different from previous Marvel films like ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Thor’, where the levity had the majority of the screen time and drama was saved only for gently shuffling the plot along. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ takes a darker approach to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in placing the eponymous captain right at the heart of a spy thriller where his own veteran values come into direct conflict with the organisation he is now the poster boy for, S.H.I.E.L.D.

Two years after the battle of New York, “Captain America” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) continues to carry out missions across the globe for S.H.I.E.L.D. During an operation involving the liberation of a ship from the control of pirates, Rogers discovers that he has not been fully briefed on the true intentions of the mission. Fearing a nefarious purpose lies behind the actions of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seeks to find out the truth, not suspecting that the truth may be as old as the captain himself.

Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and Captain America (Chris Evans).

I found the change in tone of the film, from that of an out-and-out superhero action movie into a spy thriller, to be a very welcome addition to the Captain America story, in fact I can scarcely imagine a more fitting tone for the character’s solo films. This shift does mean however that the demographic that the film is primarily intended for changes to skew mostly for an adult audience rather than a younger one, this is especially true given the copious amounts of exposition delivered in the film’s second act which works in constructing a plot that is just as comprehensive and branching as any adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel. Nevertheless there is a multitude of high-octane action sequences that will keep the attention of those viewers who do not value plot as a necessity. This action exists on a scale akin to ‘The Avengers’; it really does get that epic. In addition to the huge set-piece moments filled with CGI there are also good old-fashioned brawls for the Captain to take part in, these were the standout action scenes of the film for me as they portray Captain America as a hero without the gadgets of Iron Man, the colossal strength of The Hulk, or the hammer of Thor; Captain America is simply human, albeit a human who is benefiting from the substantial effects of the super soldier serum, so it was nice to see that when the situation presents itself for Captain America to take down an enemy, he needs no gimmicks.

The action of 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' rivals that of 'The Avengers' at times.

This wealth of action isn’t to say that ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is devoid of its character moments, far from it in fact. There is a bevy of solid character development in the story, not only for Steve Rogers, but also for Black Widow and Nick Fury who feature prominently in the film. The issue with having such strong components of the film in the action and character development is that it puts quite a bit of pressure on the connective tissue between the two, things like exposition or establishing scenes, which are necessary in bridging the narrative and the action. This is where the film kind of falls apart, mostly due to some jarringly mismanaged pacing but also as a result of a prolonged runtime, 136 minutes to be exact. The spy thriller tone proves a saving grace here as films of that genre tend to last that much longer than your average 90 to 120 minute movie, for a little perspective on how long this film is consider that ‘The Avengers’, which managed to bring a slew of standalone heroes together and tell an epic tale, exceeds this movie by only 6 minutes.

The villain of the piece, the titular Winter Soldier as played by Sebastian Stan, proves a great villain for the story which at its core is all about the past coming back to haunt Cap. Once again this aspect is a great fit for a Captain America story as the Winter Soldier is an antagonist ready to put up his dukes and take Cap on in a one-on-one brawl, these fight scenes are fantastic and surely among the best yet seen in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. My only issue with the Winter Soldier concerns the fact that he is profoundly underused in the film despite his name sharing the marque with Captain America, once again the lengthy duration of the film proves hazardous as the primary villain becomes somewhat lost in the mix. A similar fate befalls the character of Alexander Pierce, as played by the legendary Robert Redford. Pierce never really felt like a defined character to me, and although Redford made him a personable ally of Nick Fury, I just couldn’t shake the feeling of artificiality in his presence. Funnily enough if I were casting Nick Fury based off of his classic look from the comics, Redford would be my one and only choice for the role.

The Winter Soldier is a brilliant but sadly underused villain.

Chris Evans’ performance as Captain America in this film is quite clearly his best work on the character yet, while ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ excellently established Steve Rogers as a man desperate to stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ shows a Captain America who is unwilling to give up on the ideals his country was founded upon. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a perfect co-star for this story as she initially proves to be the antithesis of the Cap; her covert mission objectives take priority over the moral issue at hand. I found Johansson’s work in ‘The Avengers’ to be stellar, but here she takes it to another level thanks in large part to her fantastic chemistry with Chris Evans, an aspect that proves essential in the success of the character-driven portions of the film.

Is this the best Marvel movie yet? Well, no, but it’s not far off it. While ‘The Avengers’ may still lie on the horizon, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ easily blows past the likes of ‘Thor’, ‘Iron Man 2’, and even ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’, giving the original ‘Iron Man’ some serious contention for the number 2 spot on the Marvel Cinematic Universe rankings. If you like your comic book movies to be mindless then this is probably not the one for you, but if you like the idea of a superhero flick with an espionage makeover then you’d be a fool not to check out this quite brilliant take on Captain America.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Movie Review: Need for Speed

‘Need for Speed’ is the latest in a long line of endeavours to take a video game and adapt it for the big screen. The past is littered with failed attempts, each worse than the last (‘Hitman’, ‘Max Payne’, ‘Silent Hill’) but with a star like Aaron Paul who has just come from huge success on television, and a novel approach to handling the action onscreen from director Scott Waugh, could this be the film to finally establish video games on the big screen?

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul), a former race car driver and current mechanic, struggles to make ends meet in the business he has inherited from his late father. When Marshall is given an opportunity to save himself from bankruptcy by old rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) he seizes it, but what Marshall underestimates how much animosity the two drivers still have for each other, something that ultimately leads to ruin.

Narrative was the not the priority when they were making this movie, clearly, but that is not to infer that the story ‘Need for Speed’ does tell is bad, in fact I would say that it is far superior to any that The Fast and the Furious series has attempted to tell for the past 8 years. Nevertheless, there is very little here that will come as a surprise to anyone who has watched this genre before. The circumstances in the movie’s prologue, which set the story into motion, are heavily signposted and extremely predictable, yet shockingly I still found that the intended emotional swell delivered somewhat of a gut-punch of sentiment in spite of how my expectedness. The lion’s share of the credit here belongs with Aaron Paul who handles this particular scene impressively well given the melodramatic nature of the scripting.

Aaron Paul proves that his work on 'Breaking Bad' was not just a one-off.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Aaron Paul’s leading performance is the standout of the film. Paul’s initial scenes are, if I’m honest, quite half-assed as rather than just delivering his lines as normal he opts for an oddly throaty James Dean impression that is utterly bizarre. Nerves may have been the culprit here though as Paul slowly relaxes into the role and goes on to give a very solid performance with some crests of emotional depth, proving that his award-winning role on ‘Breaking Bad’ was no mere fluke, and that he is an actor of leading a production in his own right. The rest of the cast, aside from Imogen Poots and Michael Keaton, are almost universally awful as they flounder in their badly scripted roles with some of the most wooden performances I’ve seen in quite a while.

I found Imogen Poots’ character to be the most likable in the film, a result I feel is more down to the charismatic performance given by the actress rather than the written character. In this film Poots proves herself to be a very promising talent, this combined with her brilliant performance in the Michael Winterbottom film ‘The Look of Love’ makes her one of the most impressive young actresses working today. The final acting highlight of the film is the great Michael Keaton who plays the motormouth radio host of the underground race that acts as the MacGuffin of the film. Keaton is as entertaining in the role as you would expect but I was surprised to find how well cast he was, his character Monarch is quite eccentric and often sermonises through his show, in these scenes he uses flamboyant but effective language that works wonderfully with Keaton’s distinctive voice, sometimes imparting a feeling of awe amongst proceedings.

The video game series that this movie is based on offers little story that can actually be adapted onto the big screen, instead it provides a specific look and tone, something that I was happy to see this film pick up on and utilise throughout. There are references that gamers will immediately recognise such as the use of first person viewpoints from the driver’s seat of the car as well as the inclusion of locations that look almost identical to tracks from various Need for Speed games. This obvious mark of respect for the source material, however loosely adapted it may be, was a pleasant sight to behold as a fan of the video game series, and quite shockingly made this film a faithful adaptation.

An example of the clear inspiration the film takes from the Need for Speed video game series.

There is a definite art to shooting cars in motion, whether they are in a chase, a race, or even just cruising at low speed, how they are photographed is a vital component in the audience’s enjoyment of the film. For example, imagine a car chase made up of close camera angles on wheels with numerous rapid edits snapping back and forth from the chaser to the chased. This may very well yield a tense scene but it is something that will exhaust the audience if it is carried on for too long. This is something that ‘Need for Speed’ director Scott Waugh obviously understands because this film features some truly spectacular car scenes filmed in a very cinematic fashion. What I appreciated most about ‘Need for Speed’ was its intention to put true focus on the cars themselves, something we haven’t seen The Fast and the Furious do in quite some time (Perhaps seeing Vin Diesel fight his way through a plane travelling on an impossibly long runway was always the intended focus of the series). Waugh has made some ballsy choices in the making of this film, the most notable of which is his choice to forgo CGI in favour of real-life stunt work, this is a case where the magnitude of the decision cannot be understood until you watch the film and see the incredible action work Waugh was able to achieve without the assistance of computer wizardry.

The car that sets the film into motion, the Shelby Mustang worked on by Carroll Shelby himself.

This movie is really trying to take this genre in a different direction, it’s not a move that a lot of people are going to immediately appreciate but it is something that I am happy to see, even if there is quite a bit of fat to trim if it there is going to be any sort of future for this film in regards to a series. Personally I would like to see what lies in store for these characters but that is a decision that rests on the viewing public and their approval of the film. ‘Need for Speed’ breathes some life into an increasingly stale genre, and for that alone it has my respect.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

On paper this film has everything you could ever want: a prison break, a ski chase, a murder mystery, and so much more. But all that is not what makes ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ the marvellous film that it is, that credit firmly belongs to Wes Anderson and his fiercely unique direction. Film is a director’s medium for sure, but not every director makes his mark on cinema. Here Wes Anderson proves, once again, that there is nobody in the industry like him, and that only he could have made this wonderful film.

Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the renowned concierge of the Grand Budapest hotel, must go on the run when he is accused of the murder of an elderly guest of the hotel. Helping him to clear his name is his new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) who firmly believes in both the institution of the Grand Budapest, and in Gustave himself.

Wes Anderson’s films are known for their large ensembles filled with some of the best actors on the planet, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is no different as it boasts a staggering array of fascinating and oddball characters for the cast to work with, but chief amongst them is the lead character of Gustave, brought so brilliantly to life by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is utterly terrific in the role as he smartly portrays what is actually quite an unlikable character (especially when you take a moment to consider what he says and does in most of the story) with a seductive charm fitting of the concierge of a world famous hotel. Fiennes is of course known as a world-class dramatic actor but I find that it is in his more comedic roles that he impresses me most, such as his character in ‘In Bruges’. In ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Fiennes has ample opportunity to flex his comedic muscles in a role that plays beautifully in his hands. I adored his performance as the pompous and charmingly candid Gustave, but, judging from the tremendous amount of fun he seems to be having onscreen, I think Fiennes himself may have enjoyed it even more than I.

Ralph Fiennes' performance as Gustave H. is the heart and soul of the film.

Gustave H. is not the only captivating character in this film, not by a long way. Supporting him are some of the most diverse and eccentrically hilarious characters Wes Anderson has ever put on film. Characters like Edward Norton’s soft-spoken Inspector Henckels or Willem Dafoe’s sinister henchman Jopling give the film a comedic avenue that Gustave alone could not provide. Although many of the events of film are quite grim on paper, the reason they provide such superb comedic fodder is because everything in the film is played so completely and utterly silly that even when watching a horrifically violent death, you cannot repress the crippling laughter.

Anderson’s distinctive direction is difficult to describe in a brief summary but there’s just something about the warmth that he is able to infuse into his films that provides them with a level of nostalgia and intrigue that few other filmmakers can mange. Certainly Anderson’s cinematographer, and frequent collaborator, Robert Yeoman helps with the style as his photography is responsible for the beauty of what is captured on film including the stunningly picturesque vistas and the film’s ornate scenery. Another staple of a Wes Anderson film is his comedic style, a bone-dry sense of humour that has his characters tiptoe the line between surreal and broad comedy; this film has no better character for exemplifying this than Gustave himself whose pomposity occasionally gives way to a more honest and hilariously foul-mouthed outburst that contrasts with his gallant persona.

The cast of the film is eclectic but perfectly matched.

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ inexplicably manages to retain an admirably heartfelt core to its story despite the obvious humour on offer. It has compelling and interesting things to say about subjects like loyalty, companionship, and even war, that bleak cloud that hung over Eastern Europe at the time in which the film is set. The excellent score by composer Alexandre Desplat provides a classic and vibrant accompaniment to the story that changes in tone and emotion in total synchronicity with the story.

There is so much careful artistry at work here that it’s difficult not to just stop and admire what Wes Anderson has achieved. Crafting a smart and genuinely funny comedy is difficult enough but imbuing that with genuine heart is quite the accomplishment. This film will never be the comedy that will appeal to a mass audience, but for me it was exactly what I was looking for. Therefore I can certainly see myself, much like Gustave’s loyal clientele, returning to check into ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ quite often in the years to come.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger

Whether you have seen this movie or not I’m sure you have heard some things about it, and I bet those things are mostly negative. ‘The Lone Ranger’ has, even in the short period of time since it released, become famous as a gargantuan cinematic flop that lost its studio a lot of money as a result of production problems and an enormous budget that was never fully recouped at the box office. This does not necessarily mean it is a bad film though, so when I finally sat down to watch ‘The Lone Ranger’ I was eager to discover if all the bad press the film had gotten was justifiable when considering its quality, or was ‘The Lone Ranger’ just another film to be ravaged as a result of its behind-the-scenes trouble.

In 1933 a young boy dressed in the iconic outfit of the Lone Ranger encounters an elderly Comanche Native American at a sideshow in San Francisco. The man (Johnny Depp) names himself as Tonto and goes on to tell the young boy of his adventures with the real Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) many years ago.

I found that having an elderly Tonto relay the story of the film from 1933 was a very effective story device that allowed for exposition and context to be provided in a significantly more interesting way than a simple narration. These moments where the story jumps back to the Tonto of 1933 allow the audience to look at a Tonto who has long since had his adventures with the ranger, his experiences seem practically etched onto his face as evidenced by his abundant wrinkles. A particular moment that stood out to me was when the young boy, who is dressed in the garb of the Lone Ranger, first approaches Tonto. In this moment, when Tonto first lays eyes on the boy, we get to see a terrific piece of acting from Johnny Depp where Tonto at first believes he is seeing his friend one more time, his eyes fill with tears and his voice struggles to manage a word. It is an utterly heart-breaking look.

Johnny Depp is actually rather great as Tonto.

This is a brilliantly shot and very well made film by a director who knows exactly what to do with a blockbuster action film on this scale. Much like director Gore Verbinski’s first Pirates of the Caribbean film, ‘The Lone Ranger’ features a host of enjoyable performances and an entertaining story.  The performances of highlight here include William Fichtner’s grotesque gunslinger villain, Armie Hammer’s altruistic hero, and Johnny Depp’s surprisingly defined portrayal of Tonto. Honestly I would like to sit here and call Depp out for employing his usual shtick of mugging for the camera but in this case I actually rather enjoyed it and thought it worked for the character.

‘The Lone Ranger’ unexpectedly has quite a serious plot that involves such dark subject matter as cannibalism and massacres. Therefore it is a good thing that it very effectively weaves comedy into the story in order to provide some much-needed levity. The majority of this light-heartedness is provided by the duo of Tonto and the Lone Ranger himself, a double act I was surprised to find myself enjoying as much as I did. Their sometimes-comedic relationship really works as a counterweight to the darker side of both men which itself is explored within the story. Whilst I found this dynamic charming, I can certainly see areas where other viewers may take issue, for example the humour has the unfortunate tendency to upset the tone the film tries to set for itself, especially when some gags come across as weak and outright cheesy as they do.

The chemistry between Depp and Hammer is unusual but it works, most of the time.

Much has been made of the production problems that this film underwent during its development; at a certain point production was halted due to budget concerns. In response to this director Gore Verbinski and stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer gave up 20% of their salaries in order to help facilitate the production costs of the film. Given that this made the news at the time it seemed to spell doom for the future success of ‘The Lone Ranger’ as some people had seemingly already been convinced of its quality. Upon release the response from critics was almost wholly negative with numerous reviewers citing the aforementioned production issues as a mark of a budget being higher than the quality of the written material. Personally I disagree with these opinions as I find that the behind-the-scenes drama really shouldn’t affect someone’s opinion on the finished film. The huge budget allows for a great many things to be achieved such as the state of the art effects and stunning locations for the film to take place in, but that budget also left the movie with a lot to live up to at the box office, something it ultimately went on to fail at.

Speaking of special effects, there are a lot of them used in ‘The Lone Ranger’, and I mean a lot. There are brilliant set pieces filled with explosions and death-defying leaps that manage to be both very entertaining and thrilling, but also reminiscent of the classic matinee westerns, albeit in a much more bombastic fashion. The same goes for the score of the film provided by the great Hans Zimmer. The musical accompaniment is loud, brash, and therefore perfectly suited to the rampant action occurring onscreen. The famous Lone Ranger theme itself however is wisely withheld until the climactic train sequence where it has the full exhilarating effect it deserves.

Gore Verbinski’s great direction is what keeps such a grandiose film like this on its course to adapting the legend of the Lone Ranger. Verbinski’s skill for commanding a film of this size shows but there are more than a few occasions where he neglects to edit himself, these bloated scenes are guilty of contributing to the film’s unappealingly long runtime. ‘The Lone Ranger’ is by no means a film that you can just sit down and watch, thanks to its daunting duration you really have to decide if you want to spend the 2 and half hours as opposed to a more readily watchable 90-minute film. That being said however, it still entertains almost in spite of its length, in fact the first 50 minutes went by so quickly that I felt only 20 had passed, showing further that Gore Verbinski’s impressive talent for directing a Wild West adventure on a large scale ultimately shines through. This would actually mark his second foray into that oddly specific genre due to his previous work in the excellent, and Academy Award winning, animated film ‘Rango’ (also starring Johnny Depp).

'The Lone Ranger' certainly isn't lacking for stunning landscape shots.

Despite my unexpected enjoyment of ‘The Lone Ranger’ there were of course a number of areas where I felt the film could have been improved. For instance if there weren’t such restrictions placed on the violent content of the film (no doubt Disney had something to do with this) and a slightly less skittish attitude was adopted then I think the film could have taken a more mature approach that would be a better fit for some of the quite frankly grim subject matter on hand. To be clear I’m not asking for Tarantino levels of blood splatter; that would be quite the overcorrection. Rather the point I’m trying to make is that it immediately takes me out of the experience when I see a man shot 3 times in the chest and yet not one drop of blood is spilled, a little authenticity to the brutality is all I’m asking for. This also comes into play when some of the darker aspects of the film are left solely as subtext rather than outright addressed, this type of sidestepping can certainly work in some situations but here it appears so obviously muddied that some scenes make little sense as a direct result of the deliberate vagueness.

If you want a film filled with substance and compelling character arcs then ‘The Lone Ranger’ may very well disappoint you. However if all you require is a thrilling adventure with some dazzling set pieces then I’m pleased to say that ‘The Lone Ranger’ will more than meet your expectations. I found this film to be a far cry from the cinematic garbage I had widely heard it to be, instead what I found was a damn enjoyable movie with quite a bit to admire.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Movie Review: Non-Stop

Depending on your appreciation of Liam Nesson’s recent body of work, ‘Non-Stop’ may either turn out to be a movie you enjoy quite a bit, or one you struggle to connect with. When it comes down to it, ‘Non-Stop’ is a low-action, high-tension thriller dragged out of mediocrity by a strong Liam Neeson performance supported by some very talented actors. 

United States Air Marshal William “Bill” Marks (Liam Neeson) finds himself caught in a game of cat and mouse while on-board an aircraft when he is contacted by an unidentified passenger through the secure Marshal network. Marks’ mysterious correspondent informs him that he wants 150 million dollars deposited into a specific bank account and that for every 20 minutes Marks fails to secure this, a passenger on-board the flight will die. Bill Marks is given the difficult task of discovering the true identity of his extorter whilst racing against the clock to secure the safety of the passengers he is there to protect.

Bill Marks struggles to find the threat onboard his aircraft before another passenger is killed.

Liam Neeson gives an authentically desperate performance as his character becomes increasingly unhinged throughout the course of his tumultuous flight. Although I do enjoy most of the films Neeson has made in this “action hero” period of his career I couldn’t help but pine for him to return to more credible dramatic roles when watching this film, especially given the fact that here I see definite shades of the incredible range he has as an actor.

‘Non-Stop’ nails what a lot of thrillers mess up: sustaining the interest of its audience. While it certainly isn’t afraid to rely on the well known tropes of the whodunit genre, the film manages to execute them in a fresher way than moviegoers often see, in particular the way it handled the setup of each potential suspect in the story was very well balanced so as to give each an air of mystery yet never singling a particular character out as sketchy. The biggest let-down of the film came when the motivation behind the villain’s actions were finally revealed, the reasoning given was utterly bogus and any screenwriter worth his salt could have come up with a more plausible excuse to have someone undertake such an act of terror.

There was a point in ‘Non-Stop’ where there was an opportunity to go somewhere totally new and interesting with the story, I was shocked to find this unexpected option be presented in what is essentially a by-the-numbers story. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that the opportunity was not taken. Nevertheless the film carried on and thanks to its impressive direction and consistent pace it delivered on the story it wanted to tell, even if that was the more generic choice.

I found the clear highlight of 'Non-Stop' to be Liam Neeson's performance of the troubled U.S. Marshal Bill Marks.

I did sincerely enjoy my time with ‘Non-Stop’; it is a more than serviceable thriller with some great tension. I cannot however, see myself returning to watch it again at any point in the future. Some films are just like that though, once we’ve seen what they have to offer the first time we really don’t feel compelled to return to them. This doesn’t mean that ‘Non-Stop’ is lacking quality however because it undeniably does a lot of things right, it just doesn’t excel at any of them.