Tag Archives: film review

Mary and Max (2009)

“When I was young, I invented an invisible friend called Mr Ravioli. My psychiatrist says I don’t need him anymore, so he just sits in the corner and reads.”

Cast: Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana

Mary and Max

Mary Daisy Dinkle is a lonely 8 year old girl living in Australia. She has no friends, comes from a broken home and is often teased at school for a birthmark on her forehead. One day she decides to write to a random person from the phone
directory and by pure chance, chooses Max Jerry Horowitz. Max is a 44 year old obese man who lives in New York. He suffers with severe mental problems that have left him without many close friends of his own.

After the exchange of a few letters an unlikely friendship is struck up between the two, and so the story follows their letters back and forth over a period of 20 years.

Mary and Max, hands down, has to be one of the best claymation films I have ever seen. I also
never really expected a film like this to leave such a lasting impression on me, but it has.

As a dark comedy, Mary and Max is such a step away from these glossy, generic animations pouring out of Hollywood that it makes you sit up and take notice. What we have here isn’t a cliched piece of work, but something that feels original, personal and innovative. Rather than going for the biggest audience possible, the story has stuck to some of its more heavy plot lines and kept true to its roots. Whether than means sacrificing some of its potential audience, never mind, as it secures the film as one above the rest.

The first wonderful feature you will notice about the film is that it is narrated (by Barry Humphries). It gives the film a beautiful ‘storybook’ feel and really suits its nature. It must be noted though, that just because Mary and Max is an animation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s aimed at a young audience. The film surprisingly tackles issues ranging from depression to
alcoholism and in my eyes, could be classed as more of an adult’s film. However, the scenes in which these heavier things happen aren’t too traumatising and with a nice narrater giving us the low down, it distracts from some of the heavier topics.

The film is also wonderfully funny. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as the voice of Max, we get a great delivery of Max’s lines, which are accompanied by a strong New York accent, very suited to his burly figure. This bumbling, naive man is a real treasure and having him struggle throughout life with a mental illness is really heartbreaking. However it does ensure a sense of innocence follows, which is perhaps why he connects with Mary so well.

Bethany Whitmore voices a young Mary and it just fits superbly with the character. Managing to get to the core of Mary, Whitmore really understands the young, troubled girl and gives a wonderful performance. Toni Collette and Eric Bana play smaller roles yet they are as equally as impressive as the bigger ones; this cast has been well thought out and it shows.

Mary and Max is a brilliant adaptation of a true story. Told through claymation, it has to be one of the most endearing stories and is voiced by some great people. I can’t recommend this film enough.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Adam Elliot.

Running time 92 minutes.

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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.

Die Hard 4.0: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

“Wow, I know that tone. It’s just weird hearing it come from someone… with hair.”

Cast: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant

Die-Hard-4It’s 12 years after we last saw John McClane on our screens saving the day, and how things have changed. Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free or Die Hard as it’s also known, feels very different to the previous films in the franchise. With a plot more reflective of modern society, which is rather inevitable, the Die Hard franchise has been completely refurbished.

When an online terrorist organisation starts systematically shutting down the United States, McClane is asked to go and pick up young computer hacker Matt Farrell and bring him in for questioning. Arriving at Matt’s flat, McClane finds himself at the end of a lot of gun fire, someone obviously wanting this guy dead. Barely escaping with their lives, McClane and Matt make their way back to the station.

Die Hard 4.0 follows McClane and Matt as they try to locate the Internet-based terrorists and shut them down before they completely close all online and technological aspects of the United States, which would send America ‘back to the stone age’, apparently.

No white tank top, no hair and no cigarettes, who is this man we once knew as John McClane? Bruce Willis has reprised his role of McClane most probably as a way to cash in, lets be honest. With the new glossy tone and somewhat censored action sequences, Die Hard 4.0 doesn’t feel like a Die Hard movie at all. Where are the gritty scenes that encompassed the first three films? And when your main character, who is known for saying one line and one line only, isn’t allowed to say it fully due to the film’s certification, there is no way it can be classed as a Die Hard film: “Yippi-ki yay mo-” just doesn’t do the trick.

Nope, John McClane isn’t the guy he once was. Another thing seriously letting down the film was the main bad guy, Thomas Gabriel, played by the most monotonous actor ever, Timothy Olyphant. Compared to the likes of Hans Gruber, Gabriel just seems to be an annoying man who is a bit bored. There is no real motivation or evil within him, and it makes the whole movie feel a bit flat in the good vs bad department. Even when he has McClanes daughter in his hands, the worst he does is give her a little slap. Pathetic!

As with the previous Die Hard films though, Live Free or Die Hard doesn’t fail to match their inclusion of slightly out-there and questionable scenes, however it does seem to tip it into a degree of ridiculousness. Two scenes in particular spring to mind – one involving a massive truck, and the other a helicopter and our very own Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Die Hard 4.0 is a real let down and doesn’t really deserve to be part of the franchise we have all grown to love. With John McClane now an old man, and the original aspects that made the films so loveable a mere memory, it would seem this was a last ditch attempt at squeezing out as much money as possible from the franchise. Unfortunately, someone thought this was a good idea and what we have is a very poor excuse of a Die Hard film.

Star rating:   5/10

Directed by Len Wiseman.

Running time 128 minutes.

Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995)

“Said Simple Simon to the pieman going to the fair, ‘Give me your pies… or I’ll cave your head in.'”

Cast: Bruce Willis, Jeremy Irons, Samuel L. Jackson

Die-Hard-3For once, it ain’t Christmas. However we still have John McClane to save the day and I guess that’s all that matters. As an added bonus Samuel L. Jackson has been enrolled to beat the baddies too, and oh what a team these two make.

When yet another terrorist puts the lives of thousands of people at risk, this time by placing bombs around New York City, John McClane and Zeus Carver must play a deadly game of ‘Simon Says’ to diffuse them before they go off.

I really liked Die Hard With a Vengeance, and I would go as far to say I liked it more than Die Hard 2. What I will also say is that this is probably because John McTiernan – who directed the first Die Hard (but not the second) – is back in the directors chair.

Bruce Willis is back in the shoes of his most favoured character for the third instalment of the franchise, and with 5 years separating this and Die Hard 2, it was nice to see that Willis could revive McClane so effortlessly. Teamed with his tank top, his gun and much fewer cigarettes than last time, McClane jumps back to being the star of the show. Along with Willis we also have another protagonist to root for, Samuel L. Jackson. Acting as McClane’s sidekick, Jackson is great as Zeus. In some ways he has been cast in the role of a very stereotypical black man, yet he still really manages to get to the roots of this character and act on behalf of our amazement at some of the things McClane does. He also has the ability to make his role funny and entertaining to watch, which is great as there has always been elements of comedy within the Die Hard franchise.

The bromance between John and Zeus is probably one of the first major man-friendships to grace the big screen and has become very well known. There are no doubts as to why is was so well received throughout audiences either as the writing was top notch. Like previous Die Hard’s the script is full of action, pace and drama. With our dynamic duo having to solve riddles against the clock too, there is a big amount of pressure added to the film.

Die Hard With a Vengeance is my second favourite of the franchise, and I think that’s mainly due to McTiernan getting us back to the McClane way of doing things. With more explosions, memorable one-liners, chase scenes, tense moments and gun battles than before, the third instalment of Die Hard is very reminiscent of the first.

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by John McTiernan.

Running time 131 minutes.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)

“Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”

Cast: Bruce Willis, William Atherton, Bonnie Bedelia

die_hard2

It’s Christmas Eve and a group of rogue military officials have seized control of Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. Taking thousands of people hostage by gaining control of the airborne planes and their flights paths, their aim is to rescue a drug lord from justice. However their plan comes under strain when John McClane rears his head and goes back to doing what he does best: kicking ass.

Die Hard 2, or Die Harder as it is more affectionately known, is a great sequel to the first instalment of epicness we see from John McClane. With his wife on one of the planes, combined with his do-good,
hero-esque attitude, there is no way he is going to sit out of this one.

Bruce Willis comes back as McClane with more force and vigour than ever. With his character already established he can jump straight into action with this guy and give us more of what we fell in love with the first time. Armed with his tank top, his cigarette and his pistol, there is no doubt that we have our rough and ready cop back to save the day.

In the same manner as Die Hard, Die Hard 2 gives the baddies just as much screen time as the goodies, which again makes for a good story well told. William Saddler plays Colonial Stuart, a ruthless leader who is easily influenced by money, trying to help this notorious drug lord to escape from the hands of justice. His portrayal is great and he does well as the face of evil in this one. What we also see with Die Hard 2 are the lines between good and bad blur, and it’s always a bit up in the air which side of the fence a few people sit on; it makes for a more interesting film though and allows for a few twists to be thrown in toward the end.

It should also be said that there isn’t much variation on the formula between the first Die Hard and this one, but why fix something that isn’t broken? It’s another fast paced, bullet ridden, action packed film that has you on the edge of your seat from the outset. It never slows down with its efforts to entertain the audience and keep them interested, and it certainly pays off.

There is also an arguably better feature in Die Hard 2, and that is its location. By taking place in a more open space, there is more freedom with the events and sequences that unfold. Rather than being confined to one building, McClane has the run of the airport and the buildings surrounding, so we get to see a bit more of everything. There are still some very questionable scenes though, more so than in the first Die Hard, but really, it just goes to show that John McClane is even more badass than we previously thought. I wouldn’t criticise this aspect too much as this is just something we have to accept, it makes the movie more fun anyhow.

If you liked Die Hard, which I am going to assume you did (I’ve not met anyone who didn’t) then you will like Die Hard 2. It’s a great sequel and extremely enjoyable to watch. While there isn’t much difference apart from where the events takes place, it still does the job right, that being a high paced thriller that satisfies our need for something entertaining, exciting and explosive.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Renny Harlin.

Running time 124 minutes.

Die Hard (1988)

“Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash.”

Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

die-hard-posterOn a surprise trip to see his estranged wife in LA, John McClane crashes her work Chritsmas party only to find himself caught up in a terrorist attack, fronted by Hans Gruber and his heavily armoured gang. Managing to slip away from those taken hostage, McClane takes it upon himself to save the day, working his way around the building one man at a time.

Die Hard is Bruce Willis’ best movie to date, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the one he is most known for and has spawned an impressive 4 sequels so far. It’s the epitome of all ‘good cop saves the day’ films out there and even goes as far as to top some favourite Christmas film lists.

Firstly the casting choice of our protagonist was brilliant. Bruce Willis as John McClane couldn’t have been a better fit. This cheeky, loving, hardened ‘good cop’ seems to encompass Willis’ characteristics very well. He looks the part and sounds the part. Alan Rickman as sleazy German terrorist Gruber was great too, his creepy appearance made for a more interesting criminal and the only thing to make him seem more convincing would have been a good German accent. His gang of baddies were also well played, each character being explored just enough to show us that you wouldn’t want to mess with any of them.

The simple and classic formula that the storyline follows is just another element that secures Die Hard as such a good film. It’s a very straight-forward tale that sees a good cop swoop in to an unsettled scene and save the day. With it being so simple too, it allowed for the script to be packed full of action and suspense, with a few laughs chucked in for good measure. The pace at which Die Hard continually moves is enough to keep the audience in a constant state of intrigue too. With this mixture of comedy, drama and thriller, we are given a good selection of genres to sink our teeth into, making it very accessible for a variety of audiences.

The only bad things I could pick out from two hours in front of the screen were Alan Rickman’s German accent, and the plausibility of some of the more explosive scenes. Apart from this though, which are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, it’s all good.

Die Hard is a bloody brilliant film that everyone needs to see. Willis is superb as John McClane and the story is so simple, it works without a hitch. Whether you’re watching it at Christmas or throughout the year, it will never fail to impress with what constitutes a fantastic film.

Yippee-ki-yay, motherfuckers!

Star rating:  9/10

Directed by John McTiernan.

Running time 131 minutes.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

“Yesterday, I believe I would never have done what I did today. I feel like something important has happened to me. Is this possible?”

Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is a long, twisting tale consisting of 6 stories, told over a time period from the mid-19th Century to a post-apocalyptic, distant future. Using the belief that one person can impact the life of another in the past, present and future, we are shown an array of different people, each having to deal with a situation related to someone else in a different lifetime.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas was dubbed the ‘unfilmable story’, and given the synopsis, it should be quite clear to see why. Films like this can go one of two ways, either swimmingly well or sink under its own weight. With the bill of actors including the likes of Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Jim Broadbent, it seemed the film was going to fall under the former.

Tom Hanks is obviously the best actor in this line up, and unsurprisingly gives the most consistent performance. With so many different characters in the film each actor played about 4 or 5 people overall, it certainly helped establish who affected who in each era and was a clever way to keep the audience in the loop. Though with this it’s also easy to see who isn’t that great of an actor, Halle Berry springs to mind. She did okay, though I knew not to expect too much from her. Hugo Weaving was brilliant, especially as Tom Hanks’ ‘devil’, and Jim Broadbent is another to keep an eye on, providing some of the more light-hearted laughs of the film.

Being such a long tale, Cloud Atlas sees a lot of varying components rolled into one film. From fluctuating emotions to completely different worlds and drastically diverse situations, you are always being thrown something new. Each world is very individual, some more subtly distinctive than others, but nevertheless, beautiful to look at. Given its length and explorative nature, some will deem it a bit pretentious too. While it is a bit arty and sometimes tries to be more than it is, I’ve seen a lot worse.

One major issue I had was with the length. In some lights, it seems to try and justify this with the fact that the story is so heavy. Admittedly there is a lot going on and many different strands to follow, but it could have been at least half an hour shorter. You start asking yourself when the film is going to end after 2 hours in front of the screen, and when you think the film is drawing to a close, it doesn’t. This ruined it for me slightly, as I started getting to the point of hoping it was going to finish.

This film isn’t for the light-hearted. If you’re going to watch it, you need to commit your time and attention; a few times I felt lost along the way and I think that was due to my declining interest.

Star rating:  6.5/10

Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski.

Running time 172 minutes.