Bridge Of Spies Review

Steven Spielberg is hands down one of the greatest working directors in the world. Known as the Master of Dreams, Spielberg’s films often work over generations of movie-goers, speaking to something in every single member of the audience. Does his new film, Bridge Of Spies, have the same viewer-spanning watch-ability as his others?

Bridge Of Spies stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons and Mikhail Gorevoy and is directed by Steven Spielberg. The film follows the real life story of James Donovan (Hanks) who is tasked with negotiating an exchange of spies from both sides during the height of the Cold War.

It wasn’t going to be too much of an ask that the acting be great, and each actor duly deserves the praise. Tom Hanks plays the usual “super-dad” role that he is known for, as well as showing a rugged toughness in some scenes that hasn’t been seen from him since Road To Perdition. His interactions with Mark Rylance are very well written and performed, even if Rylance’s accent hops all about the British Isles, before heading over to Eastern Europe.

Good acting is one thing, but it can only go so far. Luckily the script is one of Spielberg’s best, managing to create tension just by characters talk to each other over different sides of a table. The Coen Brothers have a credit on the script, and just like a lot of their other penned works, is full of great conversation set-pieces and filled to the brim with dark humour. Several scenes in the film had the screening I was in fill with laughter at some rapid-fire jokes at the Donovan household. This isn’t a sombre Spielberg film in the mould of Schindler’s List, Bridge Of Spies knows when to have its serious discussions and when it can have a bit of a laugh with the audience, with a repeated line by Rylance being an absolute favourite.

While the first half of the film is spent in New York, with the discovery of KGB agent Rudolf Abel (Rylance) the second half and the pulse-pounding finale take place in snow-blinded Berlin. It’s a great setting for any film, let alone a spy thriller, and calls to mind many of the other great spy thrillers of the period. The finale, set on the Glienicke Bridge, is a tense standoff as both parties try and weasel what they want out of the exchange, with a subtle hinted doom for one of the characters.

The soundtrack, by Thomas Newman (of Skyfall/SPECTRE fame) is what makes the film truly great. The inclusion of Newman’s score in specific areas turn good scenes into beautifully atmospheric ones, all it needs is the inclusion of a few bars of music. The soundtrack is heavily inspired by the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer, and sounds very much like the latter composer’s Spielberg collaboration, The Pacific. As usual, I’m listening to it as I write the review and I’m still as blown away as I was when I first heard it in the cinema.

My only real bug bears with the film are linked together, and are to do with the story/length. Bridge Of Spies is 141 minutes, and for someone like me who likes films to have a sense of brevity, it’s punishing. There are some scenes that bring up a certain dilemma that is never brought up again, and some scenes that go on for way too long. The story could have been cut down but, as usual for a historical film, scenes were probably kept in to preserve the true events that the film is based on.

In summary, Bridge Of Spies is not only a great Spielberg film, it’s a great spy thriller and character piece. Not all spy films these days have to be about sophisticated suave men (and women) blowing up extravagant villain’s hideaway lairs, Spielberg shows us it can be just as tense and as exciting watching them work together to get their men back home.

Score: 8/10 A soaring soundtrack, amazing actors and full of clever conversations, Spielberg’s done it again.

 

Steve Jobs Review

Back in 2013, there was a Steve Jobs biopic with Ashton Kutcher playing the titular man. Even with having one of the most influential men of the late 20th century as its subject matter, the film bombed both critically and commercially, despite a good performance by Kutcher. Can director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin come together to give Steve Jobs the film he deserves?

Steve Jobs stars Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan and Jeff Daniels and is directed by Danny Boyle. The film follows Steve Jobs (Fassbender) behind the scenes of his three most famous PC demonstrations, the Mascintosh, The NeXT and the iMac, as well as the backroom deals that lead to him leaving the company.

While I would have thought the three-act structure, each featuring similar set-ups would have grown tired quickly (how many variations can you think of what amounts to a tech demo?), I was thoroughly surprised how each one managed to feel completely different. Aaron Sorkin (of The Social Network and Moneyball fame) brings a totally unique way of viewing Jobs’ life, through these three distilled fragments instead of a traditional narrative, and it completely fits the film. While some of the character interactions in the films feel a bit contrived, with the main players in Apple Inc. reappearing at each tech demo, the film manages to keep it together, even joking at how contrived one scene near the end is.

Sorkin’s script is a shining point in the film, with his signature quick-fire dialogue making certain scenes a joy to watch. I wouldn’t have thought that a film about creating computers would have been interesting to listen to, and even thought the film is full of ports, routers, modems and other jargon, it’s still incredibly compelling. The back and forth between Jobs and his aide Joanna Hoffman, as well as the verbal sparring between Jobs and the mother of his child allow the actors to show off their range, but the scenes that I had the most enjoyment were the exchanges between Jobs and Andy Hertzfeld, an original Mac Team engineer, as they try and fix the Macintosh before the reveal. Throughout these scenes, Jobs demeans and undermines Hertzfeld, who just has to grit his teeth and go along with it if he wants to keep his job.

The acting by all is remarkable. Michael Fassbender is on a roll in 2015, with another excellent performance under his belt. He portrayal of Jobs is very different from the charismatic public speaker that was usually seen. Here, we get an almost psychopathic artist, who knowingly screwed over several of his co-workers, showing us a much darker side to the CEO. Kate Winslet as Job’s confidante Joanna Hoffman is good, and she is almost unrecognisable underneath her dark hair and thick glasses. Seth Rogan, known for his comedic roles breaks typecasting as Steve Wozniak, Apple’s original co-founder, coming off as a shy and quite nerdy character. There is even a surprising turnaround performance by Rogan in the third act where Wozniak explodes at Jobs.

My only real problem with Steve Jobs is that for all the build up and rehearsals of the unveiling of the new computers that had been designed, we never see the reveals. While these were obviously not integral to the story, it would have been a nice addition given how much the film hyped up these scenes. My eyelids did drop at one point during the third act but my interest in the story kept me awake to see it till the end.

In conclusion, Steve Jobs has everything, a great cast list, a seasoned director and a script written by one of the greatest living screenwriters today. Criminally, the film has been pulled from several showings to due to its poor response in America, but if you are able to get to a showing, I would highly recommend that you see Steve Jobs.

Score: 8/10 A gripping film, where we see the madness behind the man.

Crimson Peak Review

Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most famed directors to come out of South America. With hits such as Hellboy (1 and 2), Cronos, Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, the man from Mexico has a series of excellent, auteur-driven hits under his belt. Does Crimson Peak follow in his older work and stand out amongst the others in theatres?

Crimson Peak stars Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston and Charlie Hunnman and is directed by Guillermo Del Toro. When Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) marries Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), he takes her to live at his family home in Crimson Peak, where strange happenings from the past haunt the family house.

The story of Crimson Peak is set during the turn of the 20th century, and it feels very much like a pulp novel from the same time. Books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which gets name dropped within the first two minutes), The Picture Of Dorian Gray and Wuthering Heights, Crimson Peak owes a debt to each of them, melding several ideas from different sources to create a new film. It’s very old-style horror, so no loud-bang jump scares are in the film. The horror is suggested and rarely glimpsed, which may put off a few viewers who want their horror to be viewed and visceral. It’s a slow start, with the horror only really coming in around the halfway mark, but after the slow beginning, Crimson Peak really brings some of the best horror of the Halloween season.

Mia Wasikowska does an alright job as Edith, a woman getting increasingly scared and sick at staying in the old house, even though her dialogue hardly changes from whispers and whimpers. Tom Hiddleston plays his usual British self, and seems to be a lot more relaxed and confident in his role now he’s not shackled to the 12A rating of a Marvel property. But the stand out is an almost unrecognisable Jessica Chastain as Thomas’ sister, Lady Lucille. Chastain, like her on-screen brother, is having fun as the quiet but menacing Lady Lucille, and once act three starts and the house lets loose the horrors of the past, Chastain kicks her performance into high gear, with a brilliant final set piece set against the white snow daubed with blood red soil.

The red on white finale is one of the spectacular sets of the film, but Crimson Peak is full of standout moments. Tom Hiddleston remarks early on (and in the trailer) that the house atop Crimson Peak is alive, and through sweeping and tracking shots in the house we see something akin to Shadow Of The Colossus or Del Toro’s earlier work, Pan’s Labyrinth, as the house starts to breathe, move and even bleed. The missing roof allows the snow and leaves to continually flutter through and collect in the main hall, adding to the effect that the house is more one with nature than something that has been built. All these extraordinary sets add up together to make Crimson Peak one of the most visually striking films of the year.

My only complaint of the film would be one I touched on earlier, namely that the film takes a while to get going and the film is almost halfway through until it actually gets to Crimson Peak. I know this is in the style of the novels that inspired the story, but the film really does faff about with story points that don’t really add anything to character or narrative. Don’t mistake that for the film being overlong, it fits it’s running time well, but these scenes really could have added some back-story to the characters or lore to the world.

All in all, Crimson Peak is another cracker of a film for Guillermo Del Toro. While it’s slow start and lack of modern horror tropes might turn a few off, if you go with it you’ll get one of the most fantastical film this year. If you choose to watch any film in the cinema this Halloween, let it be Crimson Peak.

Score: 8/10 A good, old-fashioned ghost story from one of the genre greats.

Sicario Review

I did some research before writing this review and was surprised at how little films focussed on the Mexican Drug War. It’s a conflict rarely heard about through the news, with only sporadic accounts of what is happening through documentaries such as 2015’s Cartel Land. So when reading into Sicario‘s premise, I was excited to see it due to the tough subject matter it was taking on. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Sicario (Spanish for ‘hitman’) stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro and is directed by Denis Villeneuve. The film follows FBI agent Kate Macer (Blunt) as she is drafted into a covert anti-drug squad, led by the mysterious duo of Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Del Toro).

The famed cinematographer Roger Deakins returns to a Denis Villeneuve film after his work on 2013’s Prisoners, and works his magic yet again in Sicario. His cinematography in some of the more on edge scenes almost comes down to a maths equation, with a rhythmic montage of shots just to build up tension. The gunfights that unfold on highways, in a drug mule tunnel and then finally in a drug kingpins manor (three of my favourite scenes in the film) are marvellous and shows that he is one of the best cinematographers today.

The cast are spectacular. Emily Blunt play FBI agent Kate Macer as an empowered woman during the first half of the film, but soon she gets worn down by the constant threats and violence that is erupting around her and nearly breaks down in a couple of scenes. Josh Brolin, hot off his role in Everest plays the leader of the anti-drug squad that Macer is drafted to, his character somehow charming but cunning and dastardly at the same time. He always looks like he has something to hide but his constant interaction with Blunt is brilliant to watch. The standout of the film however has to be Benicio Del Toro as the mysterious Alejandro. Del Toro is an actor that can say so much through one small facial expression, and here it works perfectly as we can gauge Alejandro’s mood from the smallest twitch of Del Toro’s mouth.

Famed composer Johann Johannsson provides the score for the film and it is atmospheric to say the least. Johannsson uses constant reverberation and increasing volume in the score, which when twinned with Deakins’ cinematography is a moody, dark and exceptional combination.

When I came out of the cinema after watching Sicario I didn’t think it deserved all the praise that other reviewers were giving it. But after sitting on it, I think I’ve figured out why I wasn’t ecstatic when I came out of the theatre. The story is incredibly dark and violent, and even as someone who enjoys ultra violent films like The Raid 2, I had some trouble with Sicario. While most of the violence on screen is bloody, it’s the violence that happens off-screen or that is mentioned that is the most stomach churning. The very first scene in the film is Macer and her team finding over forty dead bodies stacked neatly next to each other hidden in the walls of a drug house. Macer and her team run outside to throw up and you almost want to do the same.

Sicario twist and turns, bringing up more and more depraved imagery on screen, and Villeneuve just let’s it stay there for a while, almost to a point where you have to look away. Once act three rolls around and you start to learn the meaning behind certain phrases and words that keep cropping up, or why Macer is so important to the anti-drug squad and what Del Toro’s Alejandro is really doing with them, the film evokes it’s tagline, “The deeper you go, the darker it gets.”

Sicario is a film that pulls you by your stomach through a vicious and sickening world, but once you’re on the other side it’s one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll ever have in a movie theatre. If you can stay with it, definitely check this one out.

Score: 8/10 Almost sickening, but in the end incredible.

The Martian Review

Ridley Scott has been on an impressive string of duds. Despite directing two of the best sci-fi films ever made (Alien and Blade Runner) his recent filmography has included critical failures such as Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Counsellor and 2010’s Robin Hood. With his (second) return to science fiction, can Ridley Scott recover from these gigantic failures?

The Martian stars Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor and is directed by Ridley Scott. Based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, the film follows astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) as he is accidently left behind by his crewmates on Mars after being believed dead.

The Martian looks spectacular. While many of the space station and base camp scenes were shot on sound stages, the outdoor Mars scenes were shot in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski has captured several stunning aerial landscapes of the Red Planet, and they are a joy to look at. The blood red sand and epic rock formations are unlike anything I’ve seen committed to film before and knowing that it wasn’t just endless CGI creations makes it even better.

The rest of the cinematography is also brilliant from a technical and practical standpoint. Several Ridley Scott cinematic tropes appear in the film, including a gorgeous 360 degree spin of the camera near the finale which unfortunately doesn’t stick around long enough to fully enjoy it.

For a sci-fi adventure, the script is remarkably witty and funny. Matt Damon’s portrayal of astronaut Mark Watney shows a man who realises the crushing loneliness and possible futility of his location and decides to make a joke out of it. Through Watney’s constant video logging we get to listen to his stream of conscience, usually laced with profanity or a smart quip about his surroundings. These jokes are a brilliant way of characterising Watney as a man who likes to make a joke out of his desperate and almost hopeless situation.

That’s not to say the film is all laughs though. There are some great moments where Matt Damon shows off his vast acting ability and starts to break under the weight of being stranded on Mars, only to slowly pull himself back together so that he can finally make his way back home. There are even some incredibly tense, stomach-turning moments, such as when Watney has to perform amateur surgery involving pliers and a stapler, or another where his space-helmet gets cracked during a malfunction at his base camp. The final ten minutes made my heart fly into my mouth as Watney is finally at the peril of gravity, using all of his might to try and escape the atmospheric pull of Mars. It’s a master-class in tension, something that even suspense and horror films don’t get right from time to time.

While Ridley Scott films have been known for their excellent soundtrack (Hans Zimmer’s OST of Gladiator is phenomenal, as well as Vangelis’ work on Blade Runner) the score for The Martian feels a little flat. The only track that I liked was “Crossing Mars”, and that was mainly due to it accompanying one of Wolski’s landscape shots. The rest of the score is rather generic, with no noticeable or memorable motifs. The film however does have a large array of licensed 70s disco music, with songs such as Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff” and ABBA’s “Waterloo”. These songs usually come with a running commentary by Watney about how he hates the disco music that he is stuck with, but soon enough he starts dancing along, making the audience laugh enough more.

The other problem (like many other films I’ve reviewed) is the run time. The film is just short of two and half hours, which is longer than many feature films recently. While the film cuts back and forth between Watney surviving on Mars and NASA running through ideas to save him, the film does stay with the NASA side for a good half an hour during the middle of the film. While I wasn’t bored during these scenes I was more interested in seeing what was happening back on Mars, it felt like they dragged on for quite a while. And although I praised the landscape shots at the beginning of this review, there were several that could have been taken out of the film as they served no real narrative purpose.

Overall, The Martian is an triumphant return to form for Ridley Scott. Funnier than most comedies, tenser than most suspense movies and enough techno-talk for the scientists without losing the mainstream audience, The Martian could well be one of the best of the year.

Score: 8/10 Brilliant escapist fun from a legendary director.

Amy Review

Another summer film about a talented musician that was taken from the world in the middle of their life? Last week it was the biopic Straight Outta Compton, this week it’s the documentary Amy.

Amy stars Amy Winehouse, Nick Shymansky, Salaam Remi, Blake Fielder and Mitch Winehouse and is directed by Asif Kapadia. Amy is a documentary that follows the life of singer Amy Winehouse from the start of her career to her death in 2011. Featuring several interviews with her friends, family and fellow performers, the film looks into both her struggling with addiction and her successes as a soul singer.

First off, the amount of footage that has been uncovered in the making of Amy is stunning. The other documentary this summer, Precinct Seven Five, while it had it’s fair share of archive footage, had many instances of reconstruction, but Amy is nearly all home footage made by Winehouse or her friends. The very first shot is of Amy and friends at a 14-year-old birthday party, and the film keeps offering up these brief snippets of candid camera footage, giving us a real insight into how the woman lived. It’s a real achievement by director Asif Kapadia that he managed to find so much and got permission to use a lot of the more confrontational and verbally explicit scenes in the film. Kapadia’s previous work involves the documentary Senna, based on the F1 racer Ayrton Senna. With Amy, Kapadia shows that he is one of the masters of emotionally charged documentaries on influential people.

The footage ranges from simple home cameras to full interviews with friends, news footage and even some mobile phone footage during some of the concerts. It’s a brilliant collage to see the same scene unfold from a different viewpoint. The footage that is the most hard to watch is the continual paparazzi news footage where all that you can see is a small figure in the middle of a thousand light bulbs going off, watching her get more and more irate at the massive intrusion into her private life. The other couple of scenes that are were hard to watch and listen to were the comedians and the talk shows at the time who were turning her suffering into jokes. While it might have been funny to some people at the time, it feels toe curlingly cringe-worthy to see someone’s personal demons get thrown around for a laugh.

Due to the impressive collection of footage, we also get to watch Winehouse perform not just live but also in the recording studio and also before she was even signed when she’s playing her demo to the heads of record companies. Since most of the songs are based on events that happened in Winehouse’s life, they bookend each of the major points that Kapadia focuses on during the film. The performances even come with the pages of handwritten lyrics alongside or with floating text somewhere on the screen showing how the situations around Winehouse shaped the songs that she wrote.

The original score for the film was created Antonio Pinto (who worked previously with Kapadia on Senna) and the work is similarly haunting. While Pinto uses a few of the same tracks from his earlier work, they still pack the same emotional punch as they did when they were first used. The song that plays over the last few minutes of the film pulls at the heartstrings and manages to sum up Winehouse’s life in a series of pictures and notes.

The film also deals with Winehouse’s drug addiction and the attempts to get clean. Some of the footage is disturbing, but what’s more disturbing is the forces at play that want her to stay on the money-producing concert tours than try and seek professional help. While these ideas are attributed to certain members of her entourage, the film doesn’t point fingers at anyone in particular, instead just glossing over the people on the outside and focusing more on Winehouse.

The best scene however is her final recording with Tony Bennett. While Winehouse is moving back and forth, nervous and a little bit worried that she is wasting one of her musical idols time, Bennett just smiles and gets her to come to microphone and perform a beautiful rendition of Body And Soul. It’s a perfect moment between the two singers and for a few moments in Winehouse’s last turbulent months come harmony.

In summary, Amy is a raw insight into the power and pull of fame and stardom. It’s definitely one for the fans and one for those interested in documentaries.

Score: 8/10 Brutally raw and ultimately sad, a very powerful film.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review

I love James Bond. I know it might sound a bit weird to open a non-James Bond film like that but hear me out. While I am a fan of Daniel Craig’s interpretation and modern portrayal of Ian Fleming’s famous character, I still harken for the days of Connery and Lazenby, with the Cold War being the backdrop for their spying escapades. Does The Man From U.N.C.L.E. give fans like me a new spy-related alternative?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E stars Henry Cavill, Arnie Harmer, Alicia Vikander, Hugh Grant and Jared Harris with Guy Ritchie both directing and writing. Based off the hugely successful TV show of the same name, the plot follows CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Cavill) teaming up with KGB agent Illya Kuriakin (Harmer) to thwart a rogue faction from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Firstly the film looks gorgeous. Guy Ritchie knows how to operate a camera better than most directors working today, and the camerawork has a very old-skool vibe about it, strengthening the idea that this is a throwback to the early Bond adventures. After the dark streets of East Berlin, the films swiftly moves to Rome, with the sets having a glow around them, making it look and feel like a film that would have starred Audrey Hepburn if it had been made half a century ago. The movement of the camera is also worthy of praise for the making the film look as good as it is. The camera moves around effortlessly, soaking in the beautiful surroundings throughout the film and then the Ken Adam inspired sets near the middle of the film. The camera moves at just enough of a slow pace to let us appreciate the craft with which the film was made.

To focus on the actors, nearly everyone here is on top performance. Our two main leads, Cavill and Harmer are polar opposites of each other, with Cavill being the ever lovable rogue and Harmer the quiet and psychotic Russian who looks like he’s going to blow up at any point. The two actors bounce perfectly off each other, with some of the funniest parts of dialogue coming from their two different approaches to spying for their respective countries. The majority of the jokes coming from this dissonance between the two, including a hilarious sequence near the middle of the film that I won’t spoil here. Hugh Grant is his usual quintessential British self, with only Alicia Vikander turning in a sometimes wooden and emotionless performance.

Despite the aforementioned hilarious sequences, the gags aren’t always up to scratch. The jokes don’t always fall the right way leading to these awkward pauses during the film where they thought the audience was going to laugh. They happen periodically throughout the film, including a segment where Kuriakin is trying to show off his cover story to Vikander’s character, Gaby. It just feels a bit forced when the films is trying to push the jokes in where they have no weight to them, feeling like fluff to pass the time.

The fight scenes in the film are similar to the jokes in that there can be a huge divide in quality. While some fight scenes, including an early one between our two leads can have a nice Paul Greengrass-handheld camera look to them as well as getting to see some of Kuriakin’s Spock-like super attacks, most of the other fight scenes just devolve into quick cut close-ups of hands and bodies flying around, ending with most of the bad guys on the floor.

The main problem that I found with the film however is the bad guys. While we get an expository sequence at the beginning detailing who these people are and their actions, they never really have a powerful presence on screen or off it either. They just seem to be shells for our heroes to focus on. Their comeuppance at the end of the film feels very anti-climatic and it feels as if the writers realised they had a few too many loose ends at the end of the film and needed to quickly tie them all up before the credits.

In conclusion, The Man From U.N.C.L.E is a beautiful old world style spy film, filled with all the fun of an early James Bond film. And with an end credit sequence that hints at a promising new film franchise, it could be that Bond won’t be the only spy that the cinema adores.

Score: 8/10 A fun romp into the golden age of spies.

John Wick Review

John Wick has been one of my most anticipated films of 2015. I mean, I heard about this film all the way back in mid 2014, followed its success in every other territory that it was released in, read the Guardian review of it in October 2014, and then had to wait another six months before I could finally watch it. But boy was it worth the wait.

John Wick stars Keanu Reeves as the title character, Willem Dafoe as his friend/co-worker Marcus and Michael Nyqvist (well known for the Swedish version of The Girl With Dragon Tattoo) as his ex-employer Viggo. When his pet dog is killed and vintage ’69 Mustang are stolen by a gang of Russian thugs, John Wick comes out of retirement, as he was once a revered hitman, to exact revenge.

First off, this film looks gorgeous. With rain-slicked streets, neon infused nightclubs (and subtitles) and swanky hotel suites littered throughout the entire film, credit is due to cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who captures several beautiful scenes. The nightclub in particular, which houses one of the best action scenes of the film, is awash with contrasting red and blue lighting, giving us a beautiful silhouette effect on the characters that are fighting.

Praise must be given to all actors and actresses involved, who all give standout performances. Keanu Reeves doesn’t really display much emotion (that’s unfair, I do like Keanu Reeves) but special praise must go to him for his performance of many of the stunts and fight work, which at age 50 is pretty spectacular. Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist play both their roles with some beautiful overacting, and Adrianne Palicki as the possibly psychotic hitwoman Miss Perkins is fun to watch interact with Reeves. A small role for Lance Reddick as a concierge has some funny quips, but the star everyone will fall in love with is Andy, the beagle puppy. Even if you hate dogs, the first time the camera zooms in on his face, with his large brown eyes, you’ll melt.

While the story is paper-thin at best, another thing I really liked about John Wick was the world-building it did. Throughout the film Reeves makes his way to bars, clubs and hotels where he is known, and which are filled with other hitmen and women. Sometimes they’ll see each other and exchange greetings, and reminisce about previous work, and it all works without coming off as odd. Mr. and Mrs. Smith did a similar thing, what is does is flesh out the world. It almost makes me want to see a prequel/sequel, just so that we get to explore the world full of assassins again.

The fight scenes, while sometimes stunning, do occasionally focus on extreme close ups, which leads to some fight scenes being a bit unfocused. To continue with a couple of the other negatives, the first half of John Wick does seem a bit overly long, and that does mean it suffers from some pacing issues in the second half when what should be big important fight scenes are pushed quite close together.

Another problem is the score for the film. While the film has several composers, with Tyler Bates and Joel J Richard creating most of the original score (notable past work includes 300, Rise of The Argonauts, The Bourne Identity and Guardians of the Galaxy) the score here feels a bit generic, with only THINK by female duo KALEIDA being memorable. However, those few nitpicks don’t dilute the film too much into being anything short of enjoyable.

In summary, John Wick is a must for action fans or those looking to see some fantastic camera work or in camera stunts. If you like The Raid or its sequel (two of my favourite films of recent years) then I would strongly recommend John Wick.

Score: 8/10 Classy cars, sharp suits and visceral violence makes this film one to remember

David Lynch Collection Review

Preface

This review has been a while in the making. I first teased this collection on my Twitter feed nearly a full month ago, but I finally thought I should start now, after finishing the last film I wanted to feature on this list. This collection review will work much like my Bruce Lee one, yet this time focussing on the director David Lynch.

I love David Lynch. I believe he is one of the best directors alive today, with his creation of epic-spanning surrealist nightmares and non-linear narratives getting him both lauded and criticised in the film world. The seven films I chose for this review are:

  • Dune
  • Eraserhead
  • Blue Velvet
  • Lost Highway
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Inland Empire
  • Wild At Heart

A brief warning, nearly all of these films contain copious amounts of swearing, violence, nudity, and a few contain some of the most unsettling and foreboding moments in cinema. Watch them at your own discretion.

Dune

Lynch’s first big-budget studio film, Dune is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel of the same name. Featuring Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides, a son of the Duke of Atreides, one of the several warring partners in the empire of space. The film focuses on the struggle over the planet Dune, which is rich in the spice required for interstellar travel. Featuring a vast array of talented actors, Dune also features some impressive miniature work, with Herbert’s giant Sandworm being a standout attraction. Also be on the lookout for Lynch’s cameo and the soundtrack composed by Toto.

Score: 8/10 It’s a bit like Game of Thrones in space.

Eraserhead

Lynch’s first feature film, and one that is made of nightmares. Eraserhead is about a man named Henry (played by another Lynch regular Jack Nance), who after his wife gives birth to a deformed mutant, leaves him and the new baby to fend for themselves in the post-apocalyptic dystopia. Shot in stark black and white, this is the start of Lynch’s surrealist imagery, with stop-motion chicken breasts, gruesome body horror, and a chilling song with the famous Lynch line, “In heaven, everything is fine.” The constant crying of Henry’s child is laced throughout the film, making the film one of the most disturbing of the bunch.

Score: 7/10 Not one to watch before you go to sleep

Blue Velvet

Probably the sanest and easily to follow of the film on this list. Kyle MacLachlan returns again, this time playing Jeffrey Beaumont, who returns home after his father is hospitalised. While on a walk, Jeffrey discovers a severed ear in a field, and starts his own investigation into the mystery, when the police go nowhere with the case. Dennis Hopper’s portrayal of sadistic criminal Frank Booth is one of the most memorable villains within cinema history, while Isabella Rossellini portrayal of his abused plaything Dorothy is unnerving. Video game fans will get a kick out of several scenes within the film that were recreated in Silent Hill 2.

Score 10/10 Lynch’s best film by far.

Lost Highway

A twisting narrative of parallel lives and invasions of privacy, Lost Highway features Bill Pullman as jazz musician Fred, who keeps receiving tapes of him sleeping in is bed. Again featuring an all star cast, with an unnerving performance by Robert Blake as the Mystery Man, Lost Highway has some of the more frightening flashes of Lynch’s filmography, (viscerally similar to the hells scenes from Event Horizon), yet stumbles around the halfway mark with some rather boring story points. In the end it all comes together, but this one you might need to read several internet theories to eventually get.

Score: 5/10 Visceral and unsettling in places, but it’s not one of Lynch’s greatest works.

Mulholland Drive

After an attempted assassination/car crash on the eponymous street, a woman called Rita (Played by Laura Harring) is left with amnesia. She stumbles across aspiring actress Diane (played by Naomi Watts) and together the two set off to find what actually happened to Rita on Mulholland Drive. With several Lynch cast alumni featuring, along with an odd bit of casting in the form of Billy Ray Cyrus, Mulholland Drive is a brainteaser that answers more and more questions with each repeat viewing, with everything drenched in symbolism. With several startling moments and foreboding imagery, it’s a feast for the senses.

Score 10/10 This is one you’ll keep coming back to.

Inland Empire

Lynch’s most recent work and also his longest, at just under three hours. Inland Empire could be considered a very loose adaptation of anime classic Perfect Blue, with Laura Dern playing actress Susan, who while filming her latest film starts to lose her grip on reality. The closest thing to a horror movie that Lynch has created, with several scenes making me jump out of my seat with fright, Inland Empire has many of Lynch’s scariest moments. The three hour run time might be a bit too long for some, along with the meandering story, which feels like it’s about to end before going on for an extra half an hour. Plow through it though and you’ll have some of the most frightening and surreal images ever committed to film burned into your psyche forever. Stick around for the credits and you’ll be treated to nearly all the cast singing and dancing to Nina Simone’s Sinnerman.

Score: 6/10 The run time kicks the legs out from Inland Empire, but it is still a clever and enjoyable (in a horror way) film.

Wild At Heart

A romantic/crime road trip based on the novel of the same name, featuring Nicolas Cage as Sailor and Laura Dern (again) as Lula. While some of the subject matter discussed and shown, including, childhood abuse, murder, shotgun injuries and a ridiculous amount of sex can be off-putting to several audience members, what is left is a darkly funny script about two people who are in love. Nicolas Cage is as crazy as usual, and extra praise should be given to the bad guy Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe, who exudes menace. Throw in a superb rock and roll soundtrack, and you got yourself a pretty good movie.

Score: 9/10 A fun neo-noir thrill ride.

Bruce Lee Collection Review

Preface

Being a film student and also a regular old cinephile, I have seen quite a few films that are part of the collective “Hong Kong Cinema”. Many people may well be familiar with popular “HKC” films, such as John Woo’s magum opus Hard Boiled, or the police/triad Infernal Affairs Trilogy (remade as The Departed in the United States). But for this review, I wanted to go through a few films that were collectively put together and published, a selection of Bruce Lee films;

  • Fist of Fury
  • Way of the Dragon
  • The Big Boss
  • Game of Death
  • Enter the Dragon

Since I won’t be able to do a full review of each film in one post, as well as the fact that they are all part of a collection, I thought I would just do a quick review of each for your entertainment. Get ready to hear Lee’s signature chicken squawks as you watch, and enjoy.

Fist of Fury

The best of the collection from a story aspect, with Lee being a kung fu student in China during the Japanese occupation. Some people may know it as the original version of the Jet Li film Fist Of Legend, the film boasts amazing choreography and fight sequences, with fights both with “Petrov”, a Russian gangster and also an entire dojo full of Karate students, with an appearance from a pair of deadly nunchuks.

Score: 8/10 A fun piece of pulp action

Way of the Dragon

Set in Italy, WOTD has Lee protecting his family by facing off against the Italian Mafia. This probably Lee’s most comedic film in this list, but the comedy is juxtaposed with some great fight sequences, including another appearance of the double nunchuks. This is the film best known for the final dramatic fight between Lee and US Karate champion Chuck Norris inside the Coliseum.

Score: 7/10 Light on story, but the fights carry the film along

The Big Boss

Lee’s first motion picture and set in Thailand, it has Lee trying to bring down an ice factory that is a front to a drug smuggling ring. The fight scenes are not as well choreographed as later films and do not come along at a frequent pace as the others. This leaves us with the story, which is quite thin, to the point where it is almost non-existent. The final fight with the Big Boss is quite interesting though, as we get to see Lee working at peak performance.

Score: 5/10 Only watch it if you’re interested to see how it all began

Game of Death

Lee’s last film before he died, it goes a bit meta in this film, as Lee plays a character called Billy Lo, who is an actor who plays Lee’s characters in Fist Of Fury and Way Of The Dragon. Be on the lookout for Bruce Lee’s body double playing Lee through most of the film, and for the yellow jumpsuit that Tarantino paid homage to in Kill Bill, along with footage from Lee’s actual funeral. Fights are littered throughout, all culminating in a pagoda containing martial arts legend Dan Inosanto and seven foot tall basketball player and Bruce Lee student Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Score: 7/10 Despite the odd story, the forty minute pagoda fight is a great part of cinema history.

Enter the Dragon

Arguably Lee’s most known and considered his best, ETD see’s Lee go into a martial arts competition to avenge both his dead sister and bring back the honour of his shaolin temple. With its basic set up of story, the film has more time to focus on the fights, which are brilliant. All choreographed by Lee himself, the fights range from the simple fists, to sticks, to the famous nunchuks and then to Wolverine-esque claws, with each fight escalating in brutality and body count. Be on the lookout for the James Bond-lite story and Ken Adam inspired sets. The final showdown in a hall of mirrors is breathtaking as well as fun.

Score 9/10 A fantastic escape into mortal combat