Category Archives: Film Reviews – A

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

“You know what I hate about the Americans? Everything. Especially cowboys.”

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch

die hard 5He’s back. Again. And after the last instalment, the bad reviews and my already dwindling hopes, A Good Day to Die Hard was going to have to give its all to get me back on side.

This time we are dealing with John McClane and his son, Jack, who seems to be getting into a lot of trouble in Russia. When McClane travels over there to re-establish his relationship with his wayward son, he discovers Jack is actually working for the CIA and in the process of trying to prevent a nuclear weapons heist. And so the film follows as a classic father-and-son-against-the-world type battle, as McClane and his boy fight against the baddies.

However, with numerous cringy scenes, wannabe action heroes, unnecessarily censored clips and predictable plot sequences, A Good Day to Die Hard made me die a little inside.

Well there is no other way to put this, Bruce Willis needs to realise his time being John McClane has long passed, and if Die Hard 4.0 didn’t show him that, we can only pray that this instalment did. Like I said previously, he is a mere shadow of who we once knew as John McClane, censored and conformed to fit within certain regulations. These changes have come about just so the film can be watched by the widest audience and just so the franchise can squeeze out even more money, meaning that this man who graced our screens as the epitome of action heroes, is no more. It has cheapened the qualities that made Die Hard so likeable in the first place and is a sacrifice that can’t be forgiven.

Willis is getting old and he needs to leave McClane behind now, while he still kicks ass it doesn’t look as easy or ‘normal’ (if you can call it that) anymore, fairly reminiscent of Stallone toward the end of the Rocky franchise. Jai Courtney, who portrays Jack, is quite a generic ‘bad boy’ character. He was nothing special in the role and it wasn’t all that memorable. In fact when I think back about his portrayal, all I can remember are these horrible back and forth exchanges with Willis and I don’t know if they were meant to be cute, funny, endearing or what, but I really didn’t like them.

The main element the film was lacking is an obvious bad guy. Previously we have had someone to label the antagonist, and we’ve seen McClane fight to take him down. With no one we can really identify as the baddie, we don’t really know who we are rooting for McClane to defeat. While this is because the film decides to throw in a few twists here and then, it doesn’t fit with the repeatedly successful formula Die Hards 1, 2 and 3 followed.

The big explosions, dangerous car chases and questionable action scenes were still in abundance though, and while it feels more contrived than previous instalments, it is still enjoyable to watch. There were a lot of desperate scenes too, almost as though the film was trying to be what Die Hard once was. Clever, witty and at times, quite comedic, underpinning an action heavy, gun riddled, classic shoot out between the good guys and the bas guys, but Die Hard 5 just doesn’t cut it.

All in all, A Good Day to Die Hard was terrible, there is no other way of really saying it, and I’m certainly not about to sugar coat it. Compared to the other films in the franchise, it’s really disappointing and along with Die Hard 4.0, they should be put in a box, never to be watched in accordance with the others. My advice, just stop after number 3.

Star rating:  4/10

Directed by John Moore.

Running time 97 minutes.

Argo (2012)

“If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.”

Cast: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston and John Goodman

ArgoWhen Islamist militants storm the US Embassy in Iran, six Americans escape being taken as hostages by slipping out of the building unnoticed. Finding refuge with the Canadian ambassador, the CIA formulate a plan to extract them, though consultant Tony Mendez criticises their proposals.

Much preferring his own idea, Mendez decides to take it upon himself to personally go into Iran and extract them. Posing as a film producer, he will meet the fugitives who will have to act as a team of Canadian filmmakers. Under the guise that they are out there scouting exotic locations for their new film, Argo, Mendez should be able to get the six of them out and back home. This elaborate plan has many flaws though, which in such a hostile environment could prove fatal to everyone involved.

Argo is based on the true events of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, and a dramatisation of the article the ‘Canadian Caper’. Given that this is such a heavy topic, the film was surprisingly accurate with the events that unfolded, documenting the unbelievable process that went into ensuring these six Americans were brought home safely. Argo was Affleck’s opportunity to prove that his last film The Town wasn’t just a fluke after the critical acclaim it gathered across the board too. Thankfully this time round was even better, showing that Affleck is looking more settled than ever in his directors chair. It’s hard to tell, but I think his acting has gotten a little better too.

Having put himself in the role of the hero, Tony Mendez, we see a lot of Affleck on our screens. While he has obviously taken advantage of his power and influence behind the film, I’m glad to say he didn’t seem to overdo his workload. As a character, Mendez is the epitome of the protagonist. Willing to sacrifice himself to save six strangers takes a courage not many can hold, and Affleck really gets into this role with a vigour I haven’t seen from him for a while.

It must be said that the acting all around was brilliant; each actor holds their own when presented with a script so full of angst that it further cements this film as a serious story. But for me, Bryan Cranston was especially delightful to watch. As Jack O’Donnell, Cranston is wonderful; playing Mendez’ supervisor meant that he and Affleck had to hold a chemistry relatable to these heavy events, and somehow they also pull off a series of light-hearted, comedic scenes, which ensured their interactions were some of the best in the film. John Goodman and Alan Arkin also had the capacity to do this while keeping the story on track, reminding us that there were much more pressing things going on. It brought the film an element of affability and made sure it wasn’t just another full-on, tense movie. Sometimes these lighter scenes are needed to break up the intensity, and Affleck made the right call here.

Another element of the film which hit the nail on the head was the pacing, which kept the story really fresh. The suspense element was always there too, lasting throughout the film right until the very end. Even if you know the outcome of what happened, I can guarantee you will be on the edge of your seat. Affleck seems to have got his head around the right way to do this, and it builds so well that you are captivated with each scene.

The scene transitions were also seamless. Rather than looking like 3 different films put together as scenes switched from Iran to Hollywood to the CIA headquarters, they blended beautifully. Each place had its own feel and atmosphere, but it wasn’t overly noticeable, meaning that the audience were subconsciously aware of each location and its underlying theme.

Affleck has done it again, and hopefully he’s going to keep on doing it a lot more! Argo is a wonderful film about unbelievable events filled with amazing people. The actors have really put in their all and portrayed each person with a fire akin to these serious events. It is one of the must-watch films from 2012 and really deserved all of the Oscar nominations it got.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Ben Affleck.

Running time 120 minutes.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

“Thirty-eight of New York’s finest, versus one guy in a unitard.”

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans

It’s only been 10 years since the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise hit cinema screens but Hollywood just loves to cash in, as we all know. While I regard it as quite soon to be doing a remake, perhaps even too soon judging by the finished product here, Spidey swung back into action this year with an unfortunate, not-so-new look.

We all know the story of the boy who got bitten by a mutant spider and became a superhero, right?

Peter Parker, a quiet, geeky boy who lives with his aunt and uncle has a change of personality after he is ‘poisoned’ by a genetically enhanced spider. Taking on its spider-like abilities, Peter goes through a transformation which sees him become the city’s vigilante. Of course we then throw in a couple of baddies, some sort of love interest and frequent, high-paced action scenes and we have ourselves a Hollywood blockbuster.

The Amazing Spider-Man is not that much different than its prior franchise. Though this time it’s apparently ‘amazing’, the story follows the same type of path as before – hence giving it the remake feel, not the reboot. Obviously it’s bigger and better thanks to the always improving CGI but we have the same product in essence. Instead of Mary Jane we now have Gwen Stacy and instead of the Green Goblin we now have a mad scientist, but put the films side by side (Spider-Man, 2002) and you can practically check the same boxes.

There are some welcomed differences though. One thing I noticed immediately was the emotion within the film. Most probably due to the cast, I felt there was more behind each character, mainly Peter’s and Gwen’s. Rather than being a bit flat like Maguire and Dunst’s characters, Garfield and Stone bring more of a personality to their respective parts. I definitely felt more inclined to become drawn in which was a great start. There are also some humorous scenes as Peter is getting to grips with his new found abilities, again, grounding the characters and making them more relatable. A very important thing to do in order to engage the audience which I feel the 2002 version just missed the mark with.

Another great point is how true to the comics the film stays. We are also given more of a backstory and the whole build up to who Peter is has been further explored. Garfield does well in his role. Not only is he believable, but he manages to convey the right sorts of emotions rather than give a deadpan performance (I’m looking at you again, Maguire). He pulls off geeky and then rises to the challenge of turning ‘buff’ quite suddenly. Stone also does well in her role. Her performance as Gwen is just as good as Garfield’s as Peter, maybe even just pips it, and this further shows there is no slowing this woman down! She doesn’t overplay her role as ‘damsel in distress’ and she’s not all ‘I don’t need no man’ either, she’s got the balance right, which is very refreshing to see from young actresses these days. The same thing lets this movie down as with all previous Spider-Man movies, the bad guy. Rhys Ifans’ character as the mad scientist-come Lizard mutant just doesn’t cut it. He’s not as scary as he could be (though we can blame CGI for that, a little), and to me, he remains as camp as the Green Goblin. It’s the one main issue I see teenage-superhero films falling short for, time and time again.

In all honesty this film did not need to be remade. Yeah there is improvement with CGI, the film’s authenticity in regards to the comics and we have a bit more of lucid and able cast, but in all essence there isn’t enough of a change to deem it viable. I’m rating it at a lower score mainly due to principle. There are a lot of good bits in the film but along with this, there are also too many bad choices that don’t see it becoming something new but rather, just a bit more polished.

6.5/10

Directed by Marc Webb.

Running time 137 minutes.

Avengers Assemble (2012)

“I have too much swag for this place”

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth

The Avengers is a film a lot of people have been looking forward to for a long time. As we have progressed within the Marvel superhero genre, from The Hulk to Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, the next step to bring them all together was hotly anticipated.

When Earth is threatened by Loki and his army, Nick Fury – director of the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D – assembles a team of superheroes under The Avengers Initiative. As one team, The Avengers struggle with power issues, ego issues, morals and plans of attack, but there is one thing they all are striving for, a win against the baddies. Full of fast paced action, great one liners (I’m looking at you Iron Man) and extraordinary graphics, Avengers Assemble deserves the hype it has been getting and more. It’s a superb film.

All of the cast do a great job in bringing these iconic characters to life. Where we’ve seen most of these actors in these roles before, Avengers Assemble gives them all another chance to further establish their mark in their roles.

For me, Robert Downey Jr. has redeemed himself as Iron Man. I have always thought the character was a great match to Downey’s persona, yet in Iron Man 2 he kind of loses his charisma and zang a bit. The Avengers sees him back to his great self though; funny, witty, over confident and smug – with a relative ease I might add! Downey is a perfect Tony Stark.

Chris Hemsworth is great as Asgardian God, Thor, and has some really good battle scenes – I think some are even better than the ones in his solo film. I love his old timey way with words against this new age of cocky, egotistical superheroes too and he indirectly provides one of the funniest moments of the film. It’s also great to see him working opposite Tom Hiddleston again, these two have a great chemistry.

While I have yet to see Captain America and give a fair comparison on Chris Evans’ performances, judging by this film, Evans does a great job in both. I will admit that I didn’t like his character the most and I hated his costume (it was that mask!) but I feel that stood alongside the other superheroes, he was more willing to solidify his character and act bigger and better than he did before. I say this as I’ve seen it of everyone in the film though. It must be the effect of bringing together a bunch of people that consequently form this powerhouse of a team, where they all encourage and push each other on.

The role I was anticipating the most was from Mark Ruffalo. As The Hulk, Ruffalo far exceeds any previous attempt to capture the essence of the infamous green beast and gives more of a compassionate, human side to him. I also enjoyed that he was a person for most of the film and not a raging animal. It meant we saw a bit of actual acting and character development, not just some super CGI. Ruffalo also pulls off the nerdy, tough guy look well! (I think it’s the glasses combined with the muscles, but maybe that’s just me!)

We briefly saw the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 but The Avengers gives her character a bit more substance with some more backstory. She’s not a superhero as such, but a highly trained spy working for S.H.I.E.L.D just like Hawkeye, with whom she co-exists. Scarlett Johansson does great in this role, at times she had me thinking that with being a woman she wouldn’t be able to match the big boys and would have been portrayed as being vulnerable or weak against them, but how wrong (and sexist) I was! She’s not there as eye candy or added to the cast as a romantic foil; she’s both physically and psychologically powerful, giving everyone a run for their money.

Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye was also a great addition. Known as the “World’s Greatest Marksman”, Hawkeye is no superhero either, he’s really just a guy with a high skill set. He oozes a confidence that most superheroes do allowing him to fit in really well with the rest of the cast. Though I wasn’t really concerned about a backstory with this guy, I was happy for him to just do his thing, a nice spin-off in the future would do just fine.

The way the tension and conflict is built within the team is great, though somewhat expected. Most of the heroes don’t like each other which gives a lot of different textures to be played with. Some rose to the top through solo endeavours (Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk) while others were helped, coxed or directed along the way (Captain America, Black Widow). This gives a great complexity running though the film as these larger than life characters, that aren’t used to working together, bump heads. Whedon must have had a great time playing around with different scenarios and he has totally succeeded.

To really grasp all the concepts, subtle jokes and background stories of each character, I would suggest watching all of the individual films concluding with The Avengers. Though it must be said, some of these films aren’t all that great and won’t get you all that hyped for The Avengers. I think it’s possible to get by without seeing all of the films, though I would suggest Thor and Captain America to help fill in some background details. I have only seen Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor and The Hulk (of which I thought all adaptations from Eric Bana to Ed Norton were poor), but have yet to see Captain America and found it fine. However, one would question why you would have an interest in The Avengers if you haven’t seen any of the previous films or read the comics.

Avengers Assemble is everything fans of the Marvel series have been hoping for. While there are some who think the script is too light and airy, we’re dealing with superheroes – it’s not meant to be overly dramatic but just awesome, packed full of action and an overload of cool graphics – which it definitely is. I think the writers should be proud of themselves, they brought together everyone in one film and made it work, mannerisms, individual backstories and unifying qualities, even leaving space for character development.

A fantastic film!

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Joss Whedon.

Running time 142 minutes.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning!”

Cast:  Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is based on the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Set during the Vietnam War, Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is dispatched on an illegal CIA mission. He must travel up the river into the Cambodian jungle and assassinate US marine renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who has set himself up among the native tribes as a God.

This film is simply fantastic, though I wouldn’t really categorise it as simply a war epic. It tends to focus a lot upon Sheen’s character and his personal development throughout too.

This doesn’t mean that the depiction of the war is by any means weakened though. The director, Francis Ford Coppola, really aimed to create a haunting and bleak vision of the War and did so with great success. While some may complain that as the film closes it loses its plausibility and becomes rather unhinged, Coppola really answered this complaint best with: “This film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam”. It just shows the true madness and lunacy that the cold war drove people to and Coppola’s attempt at conveying this as well as possible.

Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall are all simply stunning in their roles. Each giving memorable and electric performances that had me glued to the screen. From Sheen’s convicting performance of a deeply troubled soldier to Duvall’s character seemingly delightful and enthusiastic about the war and then to Brando’s self-created “horror”, each one really made their mark within the film.

Some years after Apocalypse Now was released, a film documentary – Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse – really told of all the struggles that notoriously pushed back the release of the film several times. Sheen suffered a heart attack, Brando showed up to the set overweight, extreme weather saw the destruction of several sets and Coppola couldn’t settle on how he wanted the film to end, so at times the producers were unsure if it would ever make it on screen. But it did, and it was well worth the wait.

Star rating:  9/10

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Running time 153 minutes.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

“All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her, come what may.”

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Michael Kelly

The Adjustment Bureau

Some say it’s like the lesser version of Inception – I can see where they’re coming from, sort of.

When a rising New York congressman running for State Senate meets an enigmatic and enthralling young lady in a men’s restroom, she inspires him in ways he never thought possible.

Though upon persistence of this relationship he sees one main obstacle standing in his way, a master plan that cannot be messed with, not even by the agents who ensure the world is running the way it’s supposed to.

When David Norris (Matt Damon) unexpectedly walks in on a team of men performing a non-consensual and obviously unheard of mind-altering procedure on his panel of political advisors, he is immediately threatened with having his memory completely wiped if he does not keep what he saw a secret. He comes to learn that the Men in Grey have to make sure people live by ‘The Plan’ and make the right decisions.

This leaves David with his only option being to continue on his path of politics like he was meant to all along. He is also told he mustn’t pursue his relationship with Elise – the girl he met in the men’s room – as it isn’t a part of the plan. However chance sees the two meet on several other occasions, in which these Men in Grey must step in and intervene on a regular basis.

The whole film is a bit unconceivable, though I guess many science fiction films are. First off, The Plan. We are never explained this in the ways in which I hoped. While we are told it is to stop the world having another War, Holocaust or a period like the Dark Ages (which is what happened when the scrapped the plan the last time), I still had no real idea or justification as to why people should have to live by it. It also implies no free will, which I hated. The film suggested that the Men in Grey were like angels, further hinting that it was God who put The Plan together. While this is never directly confirmed, there are always shades of suggestion.

The Men in Grey also have the ability to walk through a door at the top of a skyscraper and end up on a completely different side of New York when they walk out. Funnily enough, it reminded me of Scooby Doo when they’re being chased through the corridors. While some of the tricks and special effects are clever and inspired, the film makes sure to stay true to its character driven storyline.

Matt Damon does a great job as the lead. Possibly the most enthusiastic and passionate role I’ve seen him play opposite a woman – his connection with Elise (Emily Blunt) is completely fathomable, which is just as it needed to be. Blunt also does a great job as the woman with no idea as to what is going on. Simply annoyed by David’s inability to be in a relationship with her, which is through no fault of his own but by the frustrating levels of control that the Men have over their meetings. She’s also a superb dancer which we get to see a bit of.

I did like the whole concept of the ripples. When something in The Plan must be altered, there are ripples affecting everybody else that can be somehow related to the alteration in question. It was a nice touch and something that I wouldn’t have instantly thought of when watching.

The ending of the film felt like a cop out. I hated it. It completely defied the rules that had been stressed upon throughout the film but again, it’s Hollywood’s way of leaving us with that great feeling of success and accomplishment. I suppose in a way it also leaves us with the feeling that we do have free will, but only if we fight for it.

I don’t really like the comparison made with Inception as that was such a stunning film and The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t really compete in my mind. However, there are slight similarities and with Inception being a reference, you might as well give it a watch. It’s a good film, with a good concept and some great lead roles. Give it a go and see if you like it.

Star rating: 7/10

Directed by George Nolfi.

Running time 106 minutes.

American Beauty (1999)

Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Thora Birch

American Beauty

Most films tend to target American suburbia. With its paper-thin credibility and highly stereotypical sense of living, it’s easy to see why. American Beauty takes a shot at it, and manages to ruin the façade with superb results.

The film follows Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in his last year of life. He’s a middle aged magazine writer who is going through a midlife crisis, though living in the seemingly idyllic American suburbs. His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) is equally unhappy. Her compulsive neatness and house-proud attitude mean she focuses more on her job and the materialistic things in her life, rather than making an effort within her family. Jane (Thora Birch) is Lester and Carolyn’s daughter. She is very much an outcast at school yet finds a friend in the beautiful Angela (Mena Suvari), who is always bragging about the attention she gets from boys.

After performing at a cheerleading rally, Lester becomes infatuated with Angela. This doesn’t help Jane’s state of mind; she’s insecure and feels that she doesn’t belong anywhere, feeling the most isolated in her home. She manages to find comfort in the next-door neighbours’ son, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley). He too comes from a broken home, yet concentrates his time on finding a non-conventional sense of beauty in the world through the lens of his camcorder. They bond over their broken families and come to realise they are soul mates.

All the characters are well portrayed. The most convincing has to be Spacey’s near-perfect performance as Lester. His sarcasm, facial expressions and pure bluntness all add to the depth of his character, and he really captures the angst of Lester’s midlife crisis superbly. Battling with his sexual feelings towards teenager Angela, a new found rebellion and a broken marriage, you start to feel sorry for Lester who seems lost on his road to happiness, yet he is the one who actually seems to be the closest at reaching it.

American Beauty shows you that you can find beauty in anything. Not only within the film, which is shot with a beautiful, vivid imagery, but also around you in everyday life. There is a simple scene with a plastic bag for instance, and it’s amazing how well the message is transcribed to the audience with this.

American Beauty is both Sam Mendes’ film debut as a director, and Alan Ball’s debut as a writer, and I haven’t seen a greater introduction into film as of yet. The cinematography, characters, music and editing secured this film as one of the best of 1999 and its no surprise to me that it won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

Star rating:   8.5/10

Directed by Sam Mendes.

Running time 122 minutes.