Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

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X-Men Apocalypse Review

Finally, a superhero series I’m actually interested in, the X-Men. Coming out two years before Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (thought by many to be the pivotal films for the superhero genre) X-Men showed how good superhero movies could be. And after watching Days Of Future Past literally 24 hours ago to be caught up with the entire franchise, now it’s time for the Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscsar Isaac and is directed by Bryan Singer. The film follows the young X-Men as Apocalypse (Isaac) the first ever mutant comes back to wreak havoc on the world.

The great cast we all know and love are back. In addition to the old regulars we have newcomers such as Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and my favourite, Kodi-Smitt McPhee, recast to bring back younger versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. But even with the frankly amazing cast, there are too many characters. The first X-Men film gave us maybe around seven main mutants to remember. Here we have way too many; Apocalypse and his Horsemen, the older group of X-Men and the younger mutants as well. Lots of critics and fans have been hating on Oscar Isaac for his portrayal as Apocalypse. Sure, he was a bit flat, like if Ultron hadn’t had the brilliant voice of James Spader and we never understood what his powers were, but overall he was fine in the role.

The over-crowding of the mutants brings the other problem of the film to the front, the script. With all these characters are their different sub-plots and character re-introductions; it’ll get to the point where it’s been well over half an hour before you get back to certain characters. Mystique and Nightcrawler’s introduction especially, there are massive gaps in their parts of the story. And due to the odd editing, it seems like the duo are stuck walking around East Berlin for a couple of days instead of going where they need to immediately. To continue with the script, the film isn’t as witty as the ones before, with only a few jokes coming from the naivety of Nightcrawler. Character development, which Days Of Future Past managed to have a lot of, seems to happen here in an instant, with characters changing allegiances in mere seconds, rather than over the 2 AND A HALF HOUR running time.

It’s weird; all I seem to do with superhero films is rant when I come down to writing the review. Even with a franchise that I like, it’s just that saying anything I did like would essentially be repeating myself over and over again. The cast is good, the action is good, the effects are good, but we all know this already from past films. That’s not to say that there aren’t new, interesting side-plots. Quicksilver copies his set-piece run from Days Of Future Past in Xavier’s school, set to Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and it is honestly the best scene of the film. A scene with Apocalypse, which uses a Beethoven remix (if I’m correct) is also fun for the choice and use of classical music in that scene. It’s just I can’t really remember anything from the rest of the film clearly.

The last thing I want to talk about is the scale of the film. In Days Of Future Past, the final climactic battle takes place on the lawn of the White House. All of the energy of the film was focussed on that space. In Apocalypse, it’s major battle encompasses nearly the entire world. When it’s spaced out it loses something. To make a nerdy analogy; in Doctor Who when the Doctor first faced the Daleks, it was a big deal. Now they appear so frequently it’s lost all sense of emergency. It’s the same here. It feels too big, too dramatic, too weighed down. It just needed to back up a small amount.

In looking back and writing this review, Apocalypse wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I enjoyed myself while I was in the theatre, but it’s not a great X-Men or superhero film, just good enough.

Score: 6/10 Days Of Future Past was better.

Friend Request Review

I wasn’t looking forward to Friend Request. I remember seeing the trailer and shaking my head in disbelief at how poor the film looked. But after doing an entire module on horror films this university year, I thought I may as well go along and see how it delivered.

Fried Request stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Liesl Ahlers and Connor Paolo and is directed by Simon Verhoeven. The film follows Laura (Debnam-Carey) who after an altercation with an odd girl, Marina (Ahlers) at school is harassed online by a supernatural presence.

When I first saw the trailer, all I could think was Friend Request was going to be a cheap rip off of last year’s cyber-themed horror film Unfriended. Unfriended‘s gimmick was that it all took place on a computer screen and I thought this looked like it was just going to take the themes that Unfriended had done and redo all of them. And for a while, I was right. The film takes the idea of online/social media addiction as being the cause for why the characters don’t just switch off their laptops and phones, it creates a downward spiral. But slowly, Friend Request tips it’s hand and reveals a much more thought-out and interesting back story, it’s just hidden behind stupid jump scares and loud noises.

The film works when it’s giving us glimpses of how and why the hauntings are happening. While eventually it does turn into an exposition dump, in the beginning Friend Request manages to only give glimpses at an explanations, making the audience piece the puzzle together by themselves. We have links back to old ritualistic cults, orphanages, mutilated children, your staple horror clichés, but it somehow works. It’s a mash up of Ringu meets M.R. James and manages to be a horror film with gothic sensibilities. It falls down when it panders to the mainstream horror crowd by throwing a face up accompanied by loud musical sting like the score writer has just fallen on every note on his keyboard. It didn’t need these moments, the films was spooky enough as it was, it’s just cheapened it by having easily telegraphed moments of “be scared because NOISES!”

Following on from the gothic themes in Friend Request, the film does boast some rather well done animation sections. Marina, the girl with a mysterious past who sets the plot in motion is an artist and puts her creations online. At certain points the film enters these animations and they actually add to the sense of uneasiness. They are stylistically similar to The Judderman or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Is was an interesting deviation whenever the film would enter animation but unfortunately it doesn’t stick around for the second half, being dropped after the first half hour.

There are some other faults with Friend Request. All the actors, who despite playing sophomores all look over thirty, it’s quite funny. There is also a side-plot about a couple of police detectives who are investigating the odd disturbances. It could have been an interesting theme, similar to Arbitrage, to see two detectives trying to pin down what it actually that is that is stalking the students, epically once the stalking moves from the supernatural into something a lot more concrete and human. But once more, it get’s dropped before it is fully explored, with both characters leaving at the moments where they could have added something more to the story.

And just a small thing to finish, the ending is actually really imaginative as well as being a sequel bait to a franchise. However as soon as you start thinking about it, it doesn’t hold up to much logic, even in a supernatural horror film.

To wrap up, Friend Request wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. When it’s going good, it’s actually quite interesting and effective, but it’s push to go for the wider audience mean that that goodness is usually squandered by silly jump scares. It’s not as good as Unfriended and it isn’t as clever as Cyberbully (two films that do the cyber-horror genre well), but if you’re looking for a spooky film to watch in the cinema, then this will do.

Score: 6/10 It’s been done better, but for now it’s sufficient.

Trumbo Review

I missed Trumbo in its first cinema run, but it luckily was on a late run back home. It was nominated in the 2016 Academy Awards, sadly not winning any though. Now that I’ve seen it, did it deserve the nominations, and should it have won instead?

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Elle Fanning and is directed by Jay Roach. Set during the 1940s, the film follows the real life story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was blacklisted from writing scripts for Hollywood films. He starts to write under pseudonyms to continue working.

The films performances are alright. Bryan Cranston obviously owns every scene he is in as Dalton Trumbo. I’m not sure if it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (Cranston was nominated in the Best Actor category) but nevertheless it’s a solid performance. Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola is also good, and the interactions between her and her on-screen father are great. Helen Mirren and John Goodman are chewing the scenery every time they are on screen, while Diane Lane is the complete opposite, as the quieter side of the Trumbo household.

The film mixes characters made up for the film and the people who were there at the time. Last year’s Suffragette also did this, but here it works a lot better. Suffragette‘s real life encounters sometimes felt quite forced, while here a lot of it blends together well. The casting department did a good job, as a lot of the people they chose look almost identical to the actors they are portraying, such as Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas or Michael Stuhlberg as Edward G. Robinson.

The script has some funny moments but I wish it had a bit more bite. I did laugh through several moments and Dalton Trumbo as a character has a way with words, confusing the authorities and making them look like fools when questioning him, but it leaves the rest of the film quite flat. Things are happening but not a lot of it is engaging. There is lots in the background, the civil rights movement, the Rosenberg’s, McCarthyism, but none of it explored at a much deeper level. I know that the film is focussing on Trumbo and the rest of the writers, but after a while it becomes repetitive just watching the same types of scenes play out over and over again. Trumbo just needed some variety.

The film also is incredibly long for the story it tells. Trumbo is over two hours, but it could easily be cut down to a ninety minute film. As I said before, too many scenes are repeated and some scenes just feel like padding for the sake of it. The film is set over several years as to hit all of Trumbo’s successes and failures, as well as his acceptance speech in 1970 at the WGA’s Laurel Award ceremony, but in between these moments, it falls below par.

Even though I do have problems with the story, it feels like something I should be interested in. As a Film Studies/Creative Writing student the film speaks to two things that I’m passionate about. Sadly, it’s not much more than an average film. If you watched Hail, Caesar! and were put off by the genre silliness of the Coen brothers, or you have a passionate interest in the story of the Hollywood Ten and America during that time, then Trumbo might be a film for you. To everyone else though, especially people who don’t know much about the Blacklist, this is one to miss.

Score: 6/10 Has some good moments and characters, but it’s length smothers it.

Dad’s Army Review

It’s been nearly 40 years since Dad’s Army finished it’s initial run on television. Through re-runs and DVD sales, it’s been passed down through generations and still has a large following today. Does the new feature film follow in the high steps of the television show or does it sink like so many film to television adaptations?

Dad’s Army stars Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Gambon and Blake Harrison and is directed by Oliver Parker. Based on the highly successful TV show, the film follows the Home Guard of the small seaside town, Walmington-On-Sea, as a Nazi spy threatens to pave the way for an invasion.

While much of the acting is superb, it’s sometimes let down by the casting. Some actors, such as Toby Jones or Blake Harrison are the spitting image of the former roles, adding to the sense of nostalgia, but others, like Bill Nighy or Michael Gambon just feel flat and out-of-place somewhat. Gambon especially, who plays fan-favourite Godfrey, just seems to be playing himself rather than performing. It seems a waste of good source material when paired up against some incredibly lifeless acting.

The script, by Hamish McColl, whose previous work includes Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Paddington, capture the spirit of the TV show and has a very British sense of humour throughout. The BBFC have rated the film as a PG for, “mild bad language, violence and innuendo”. The violence is mostly slapstick and in the finale when a simple chase turns into a multi-tiered gunfight (which incidentally is one of the funniest parts of the film for its sheer absurdity) has no blood, so it’s a film that the whole family can go to and they’ll be able to laugh at the jokes targeted at them. The innuendo is what fuels most of the jokes in the film, but a lot of them are hit-and-miss, leading to a lot of awkward silences or at least a roll of the eyes instead of a laugh.

The story is as basic and played out as you might expect. I distinctly remember the film’s plot being the plot of several of the episodes of the TV show, just with slightly different outcomes. Within five minutes of the film starting you’ll know how it ends, which is quite sad since for such a well-loved and long-running franchise, it smacks of laziness that they didn’t put a more thoughtful or at least a more developed story on screen. The film’s run time is only 100 minutes, meaning it’s pretty short in comparison to the rest of the cinema’s output, but there are still scenes in there that go on for way too long or just don’t add anything to the film. There is a love story between three/four characters (which again was a plot in the TV show) and here it just sits and does nothing original or interesting with the idea, bar one scene which is ripped straight from The Importance of Being Earnest.

The film also at times looks pretty shoddy. Some scenes, like a wide shot during a patrol on the seaside cliffs of Bridlington are quite nice, but others have an odd haze about them. On natural light was used in the film which may have been the reason why most of the indoor scenes have this golden filter rather than a clear picture. Natural light may have been used well in The Revenant, but it doesn’t look good for you Dad’s Army.

In the end, Dad’s Army has its problems. The story is paper thin, a majority of scenes aren’t lit properly and some actors just seem to be going through the motions. But the jokes, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia bring it around.

Score: 6/10 Can’t give it a higher score, but it’s a recommendation for the family.

The Danish Girl Review

Films that deal with LGBT issues and characters hardly get a wide cinema release. Despite having entire film distribution companies devoted to the subject (Peccadillo Pictures for anyone interested), unless it’s something that has swept the pre-award/festival circuit, for example Blue Is The Warmest Colour or Carol then it hardly gets an audience. The Danish Girl has been on the festival run already, so now in cinemas, how does it fare?

The Danish Girl stars Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw and Amber Heard and is directed by Tom Hooper. Based on a true story, the film follows Lili Elbe, who was born as Einar Wegener, and was one of the first people to have sex reassignment surgery.

The actors and actresses throughout The Danish Girl are one of the reasons to go watch it. While there was controversy to begin with over whether the role of Lili should go to a trans actor, in the end the role went to Eddie Redmayne and he does a stellar job of laying both Einar and Lili. While watching I was reminded of the dual performance of Tom Hardy in last year’s Legend, and just like Hardy, Redmayne manages to create two very distinct characters, both with different mannerisms, goals and talents. It’s not even the physical differences of the wig and make-up that create the main difference, it’s all down to Redmayne’s ability as an actor.

The actress opposite Redmayne is Alicia Vikander, who plays Einar’s wife, Gerda. 2015 seemed to have been Vikander’s year, with several high-profile castings, all the way from blockbusters (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) down to indie auteur pieces (Ex Machina) and just like her performances then, her performance in The Danish Girl is exceptional. Her portrayal of a woman who first made a game out of her husband’s identity issue, only for it to turn on her and wreck her marriage is heartbreaking. During the film she blames herself for losing her husband and asks Lili to turn back and “find” Einar and in the process shows a wide variety of emotions, which should definitely get her nominated during the award season.

In many respects, The Danish Girl plays much like a traditional love story, the only major difference here being is that one character is transgender rather that fitting into the male/female binary choice. Lili and Gerda still have intimate scenes even when Einar has “died” (Lili’s words) showing that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

While watching, my enjoyment fluctuated majorly over the films run time. After thinking about it, I’ve pinned it down to the three act structure, with each act seeming to drag on for too long. The first act we see Einar becoming Lili, the second we see mainly Lili and then the third act where the reassignment surgery takes place. The film is easily broken into three parts, and each one starts strong before just dropping into a much slower gear or similar scenery to the rest of the film. While the second half of part two and the final third of the film are the best sections, getting to these points flips from one end of the scale to the other, with it being sometimes engaging and at other points incredibly pedestrian.

My other complaint of the film is that it’s rather too well constructed. Everything from the inch-perfect make-up to the dresses that Redmayne wears all feels a bit too overdone and artificial somehow. This, coupled with the sometimes overracting of the actors and actresses (not a fault of theirs, more to do with a sometimes flat and awkward script), it starts to become a bit too superficial, instead of delving into Lili’s mind it sits back and looks at her and her outfits.

In summary, The Danish Girl has some great actors and actresses at the helm, along with an acclaimed director, but it falls apart when it concerns itself with surface, and is redeemed when it gets back to the characters.

Score: 6/10 After the excellent 2015, 2016 is off to a steady start.

Quentin Tarantino Collection Review

Preface

With Quentin Tarantino bringing out his new, (technically ninth) film soon, The Hateful Eight, I thought it would be good to catch up on the rest of his filmography. So, the eight films I’ll be reviewing today are,

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Jackie Brown
  • Kill Bill: Volume 1
  • Kill Bill Volume 2
  • Death Proof
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Django Unchained

With the large amount of films to get through, let’s get started.

Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino’s first feature film, and it definitely shows. While the basis of Tarantino’s later work is featured here (dialogue heavy scenes, excessive violence and constant swearing) it has some odd pacing decisions that drags it from high-octane to super slow. However, the continual one-liners from Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the infamous ear-shaving scene are reasons to watch.

Score: 7/10 A good place to start.

Pulp Fiction

Widely considered to be Tarantino’s best work, the film follows several criminal characters over the span of a few days. The dialogue is as good as it gets, the violence is toned down enough to not be too offensive and the jokes come a mile a minute. Throw in some of the best work of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, and you have one of the finest and most quoted films of the 20th century.

Score: 10/10 A film that everyone should see at least once.

Jackie Brown

A similar set-up to his previous film, Jackie Brown (adapted from the crime novel Rum Punch) follows police detectives, gun-runners and the down-on-her-luck stewardess Jackie Brown as each one tries to out-wit the other out of half a million dollars. There are some excellent and memorable scenes as well as some tense lying games, but some Tarantino fans will be missing the violence, language and overt references to genre films. It has some odd editing and a nearly three-hour run time, but it’s good enough to sit through.

Score: 7/10 A clever crime caper.

Kill Bill Volume 1

The first half of the five-hour epic Tarantino wanted us to watch in one go. While the standout Crazy 88 fight and the anime segment are cinematic gold, the films constant referencing to Hong Kong Cinema get’s a bit tiring after a while. On top of that, the fact that it’s incredibly light on story makes this only one to watch in conjunction with the second film.

Score: 6/10 It’s only good as a whole, not as a half.

Kill Bill Volume 2

The viewers pining for the story in KBV1 will find their needs met, the more action-oriented viewers will find the film lacking. While the film has more of Tarantino’s dialogue scenarios, it doesn’t have the amount of katana fights or gushes of blood. Even the final fight with Bill is underwhelming, but Brandon Liu (brother of Lucy from KBV1) as martial artist teacher Pai Mei steals the entire film.

Score: 7/10 It’s better than the first.

Death Proof

Tarantino’s contribution to the Grindhouse project, it’s sadly his least successful and according to the man himself, his least liked self-made film. Although in my opinion it’s one of his best. Unlike his earlier films, that are filled with movie references, Death Proof is about the art of film, meaning it’s filled with jump cuts, monochrome edits and retro-fitted with scratches and “missing reel” inserts to mimic 70s grindhouse. Throw in psychotic stuntmen, amazing car chases filled with death-defying stunts and a lap dance that inspired the famous “Scene does not contain a lap dance” line from Cinema Sins, you have one great film.

Score: 9/10 Shouldn’t have had the negative response it had.

Inglorious Basterds

A history-rewriting, Jewish war revenge film, the film follows both the titular Basterds, as well as Melaine Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus as they both try and put an end to WWII, one bloodied-Nazi at a time. Starring a stellar cast, with Brad Pitt, horror director Eli Roth and a star-making performance for Christoph Waltz, along with an incredibly bloody and hilarious final act, it’s another cracker from Tarantino.

Score: 8/10 Charming, irreverent and damn funny.

Django Unchained

A western focusing on the worst aspects of slavery in America’s history, this could be one of Tarantino’s most thought-provoking films yet. The violence, while sporadic, is incredibly brutal, with a few moments that I had to look away from the screen. While it has it’s great moments, the films does go one for far too long, with the home stretch after the “Painting Candyland” scene going on for way longer than needed. That being said, there really is nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Score: 6/10 The length brings down what is a really good film.

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie Review

Peanuts is one of the most successful comic strips of all time. I had got the anthology for one Christmas, and I remember reading it from cover-to-cover in a matter of days. And while there have been many animated versions, the last one was over 35 years ago. Can Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie replicate the success of the original works?

Snoopy And Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie stars Noah Schnapp, Alex Garfin, Bill Melendez, Francesca Angelucci Capaldi and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and is directed by Steve Martino. Based on the comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, the film follows Charlie Brown (Schnapp) and the rest of the Peanuts gang, as a new student, The Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) joins their class in school.

When I heard that Peanuts was going to get a feature film, I was a little worried about how they were going to adapt it. I was concerned with how the filmmakers would be able to get child actors to portray some of the most recognisable and beloved characters in all of comic books (despite the plethora of characters under Marvel and DC). Luckily, the film uses the original Schulz designs, with the film working on a 2D plain. Credit to the animators and Art Director Nash Dunnigan, who manage to recreate the hand-drawn style of the comics into CGI, without anything being lost in the process.

It’s not just the art style that has been replicated in the film either. Several of the scenarios and settings from the comics, such as the skating pond, Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatrist booth (where some of the funniest lines of the film are) all feature in the film. It’s a treat for anyone who loved the comics, despite what age they are.

The jokes try and compete with the layered jokes of Pixar but not enough of them deliver enough for the accompanying adult audience, instead just focusing on the younger viewers. Some of the jokes, such as the previously mentioned lines in Lucy’s psychiatrist booth or an extended joke of Snoopy parodying The Great Escape are the standout moments, but most of the time the jokes are varying forms of slapstick, which does get old after a while.

My problems with the film however, rather overshadow what mostly is a good film. The BBFC rated the film as a U, with their comments being “no material likely to offend or harm.” This is the crux of the problem that I had with Snoopy And Charlie Brown. Despite the original comics having deep and complex philosophical, psychological and sociological tones, as well as kid-aimed films of recent times (see Paddington and Inside Out) featuring some heavy subjects, they are nowhere to be seen in the film. This really hurts Snoopy And Charlie Brown, as what used to be a sometimes-serious lineage is diluted into safe, lowbrow humour.

My other problems with the film come from its story content. While the film is just over 90 minutes (an average length for a child-aimed film) but most of the film is devoted to Snoopy writing his novel about The Red Baron, which descend into noisy explosion ridden dogfights (the airplane kind), instead of sticking with the much more interesting and engaging Charlie Brown story. While The Red Baron was a consistent recurring character point in the comics, it really doesn’t add anything to the overall film apart from a dash of Michael Bay’s Transformers.

In summary, Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie will probably delight the younger audience, but for anyone over the age of five or six, it won’t stand up with the best of the kid’s movies (basically everything Pixar bar Cars and Cars 2).

 

Score: 6/10  It’s sweet, but a little too shallow for a recommendation.

Black Mass Review

Black Mass has been a long time coming. First teased at the beginning of 2015, the film has had small leaks now and then of certain actors and characters until it was released this week, amid a buzz of differing views and reviews. Does it live up to early rumours that it’s an Awards contender?

Black Mass stars Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon and is directed by Scott Cooper. The film follows gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Depp) as he turns informant to FBI Agent John Connolly (Edgerton) in an attempt to bring down the Italian mafia.

First off, Johnny Depp’s performance is amazing. After several weak, boring and sometimes offensive roles, it’s great to see him back in a role that shows off his acting ability. Deep is covered in makeup and has contact lenses to turn his eyes a sickly grey colour, it all adding up to make him look like dark and menacing leech on society. Throughout the film we see a man who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when faced with “rats” and snitches, leading to some truly blood-soaked beatings and a great deviation from his Disney characters.

Unfortunately, while everyone else does a good job with their respective roles, they all have these ridiculous Boston accents, destroying any sense whenever they speak that this was meant to be a serious drama. Adam Scott and Dakota Johnson are woefully underused, and halfway through the film stops being about Bulger and instead turns to his FBI counterpart Connelly, played by Joel Edgerton, who compared to Depp is nowhere near as interesting a character or as charismatic. Whenever the film kept focussing on his life, the story fell apart for me since I really wasn’t bothered what happened to him. I know the film was trying to set up a “Fallen Man” archetype with Connelly, but none of it ever worked.

Reading several reviews, many people have been quick to compare it to Goodfellas. I can see the resemblance, both stories are long sagas about growing up to be a criminal and the friendships and enemies are made during those times. Black Mass also tries to have several of its own “How am I Funny?” scenes with Depp coming out with a smart quip or philosophical quote, with many of them being my favourite scenes of the movie. These smaller scenes are the best parts of Black Mass, with conversations around breakfast and dinner tables, over drinks in bars and in cars full of gangsters, making the film come to life for a few brief minutes before it slams back down into mediocrity with a long bout of police procedural work.

Subplots come in and out of the film all the time, sometimes smothering the main plot with several incidental meetings and characters. All of these range from dull to almost interesting, but given the astonishing real-life story at the heart of Black Mass, the film never really focuses on it. Instead, the film just watches from the sidelines and in doing so gets tangled up amongst all the excess baggage. When good stories are wasted it make the film even more annoying, knowing that there should and could be a really good crime story at the heart of it.

In summary, Black Mass feels very much like a film that tries to emulate several other gangster/crime films (Goodfellas obviously, but I can also see hints of several other Scorsese films, 2015’s Legend as well as 2013’s American Hustle) but doesn’t bring enough emotional depth or character depth to make it anything more than just a well-made film.

Score: 6/10 Only watch it for some of Depp’s career-best work.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 Review

I really have no prior experience with The Hunger Games franchise. I have never read the books and only saw the first in the film franchise (I was only half watching it as well). So in preparation for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 I have been on a Hunger Games crash course so I’ll know what’s happening in the new film (crash course here means reading the Wikipedia pages). So now I’m basically up to speed, let’s get on with it.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore and is directed by Francis Lawrence. The film follows on from Mockingjay Part 1, as figurehead of the resistance Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) attempts to free the citizens of Panem from the tyranny of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Just like the Marvel films of 2014, if you aren’t a huge fan of The Hunger Games series then you’ll have to probably go back and watch Mockingjay Part 1 so that you are up to date with the plot. Mockingjay Part 2 starts abruptly and doesn’t stop for people who don’t know the story, leaving me for the first few minutes trying to remember what I had learnt of the series and where we were in terms of the story. This may be due to the split in films, as they were made back to back they probably fit well together but as a standalone piece you really need to be on board before it starts.

Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t seem to display much emotion through the film, but thematically it makes sense. At this point in the series she’s the poster-girl for the rebel forces and is starting to get sick of not being allowed to fight alongside her friends. She’s become jaded and distant, a cold blooded-killer, and Lawrence plays it well. The rest of the cast play their parts well, but none of them are truly standout roles.

As Panem is in full revolutionary war, the fight scenes are really quite spectacular. One scene that stand out in particular is set in the dark tunnels underneath the Capitol, and is reminiscent of the xenomorph stampede in Aliens, with a motion tracker constantly beeping, indicating monsters in the darkness that wait at just the right time to strike at our heroes. The film actually plays these moments of tension build-up much better than films usually do, toying with the timing of revealing the monsters just to milk our expectations. Another battle that happens near the end of the film which shows the true civilian cost of war is a good gut-punch of a scene that really brought the grittiness to the screen.

That was all I really enjoyed of Mockingjay Part 2. Some people might say, “Well, you don’t know the franchise”. True, but Mockingjay’s faults are not due to its franchise, and more to do with it as a standalone film. First off, some of the script is laughably bad. There are some incredibly weak lines and situations throughout the film, including a poor attempt at survivors guilt on the part of Lawrence which feels totally out of place.

In connection with script, it seems that everyone who isn’t Katniss is wearing a countdown clock, counting down the seconds until they die to try an feel the film with some sort of emotional appeal. Maybe I’ve got too good at this, but I was able to say which characters were not going to make it to the end of the film around ten minutes into Mockingjay Part 2, and I don’t even know this series.

The spectre that is hanging over the film is the sad loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman halfway through filming, and the film does an alright job of trying to fill in his role. Lines were re-shuffled and scenes were cut, but around the second half of the film there is a definite hole where his character was meant to be, and the small amount of CGI they use to bring him back to life is rather shoddy.

I conclusion, while it definitely has some problems in the story department, and is incredibly over-long (I could easily cut 30-40 minutes from the run time) Mockingjay Part 2 actually makes me want to go back to the earlier films, just to see how the franchise started.

Score: 6/10 Fleeting moments of brilliance, but it’s length drags it down.