Monday, 30 January 2012

Film review - The Descendants

It's Oscar season again people and the inevitable inclusion of one George Clooney seems to be a forgone conclusion each and every year. This year, his performance in Alexander Payne's The Descendants is up for the Best Actor gong and there's no doubting he is a worthy contender.

When people think of Hawaii they instantly envision picturesque sandy beaches, sweltering sunshine and beautiful garlands, but the story of Matt King (George Clooney) shows that it is a normal place just like anywhere else where tragedy can hit anyone. In this case his wife, Elizabeth is involved in a water sports accident and falls into a coma. As a workaholic Matt is suddenly thrust into the unknown, being ultimately 100% responsible for the welfare of his children, rebellious 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller). Couple that with a big decision that he must make regarding the family-owned land left to them by his descendants and Matt's life is far from the paradise that is the location he lives in.

Initially struggling with the responsibility, Matt can only turn to his eldest daughter for guidance, whilst attempting to cope with the heartbreaking news that his wife will not make it out alive. With this news eating away at him, another revelation from Alex is revealed, the fact that Elizabeth was having an affair. His world crumbling around him, Matt takes his daughters, and Alex's not-so-intelligent friend Sid, on a trip across the Hawaiian islands to find the man partaking in the affair and to inform those close family and friends of the terrible news about Elizabeth. As the travel miles rack up, Matt and his daughters begin to appreciate the value of family and their feelings toward each other change in the most tragic of times. 

What’s so brilliant about The Descendants is that it maintains the realism of the story unfolding in front of us without needing to gloss it over with over-the-top representations of the surroundings around the characters. Being set in Hawaii, director Alexander Payne could have easily showered the audience with postcard scenes and a sense of the unbelievable. Luckily, he is a director with talent and our story is far from the dream we are all expecting. Payne tugs at the heart strings and gives us a real appreciation of life with this, a magnificent follow-up to his previous hit Sideways. 

Clooney is a worthy contender for Best Actor at the Oscars with an inch perfect representation of a father thrust into a world of the unknown and coping with multiple issues, whilst attempting to put a brave face on for those around him. He's humorous in places when its required and most importantly in moments where things take a turn for the worse he makes us care for the character. Additionally, the support from the likes of Amara Miller and the outstanding Shailene Woodley are nothing short of superb and utterly believable. Woodley will no doubt be seen in many films to come in the near future, with this, a performance to kick off her film career with a bang. 

A comedy in parts but in main an emotional soul searcher of a movie, The Descendants is a beautifully made story of life, loss and how banding together is essential at times of need. Learning the lesson that wherever you live, whether it's paradise or not, we are all human and tragedy strikes everyone. I sincerely hope Mr Clooney and Mr Payne get the awards they deserve come February 26th. A masterpiece. 

Film rating: 4 out of 5 F's

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Film review - Carnage

What happens when you stick four parents in a house to discuss an altercation between their two sons? Well, Carnage of course!

Based on the play, God Of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski brings to us a superb black comedy with just four central characters and one location, a feat that very few directors could pull off. Elaborating on the premise of Carnage is of great difficulty as the central plot is as simplistic as you can get.

When their son Zachary hits a fellow pupil’s face with a stick in the playground, parents Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) take the decision to visit the victim’s parents in an attempt to come to a resolution as to how calm can be preserved in the situation. Ethan’s parents, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) welcome the couple into their home and they proceed with talking through a solution to their sons’ clash. At first, the four remain calm and composed, maintaining a civilized discussion but soon the cracks in their personalities begin to show and the tranquility that first appeared is quick to disappear. Add to the proceedings Alan constantly answering phone calls from his work colleagues and Nancy vomiting over Penelope’s collection of art books, and chaos ensues….

As a film of such simplicity, Carnage results in an ultimately hilarious and true-to-life comedy. Pitting two couples against each other, events take a turn for the worse as we expect and even at points pits the gender groups up against one another. 

With no hesitation it can be said that all leads, from Foster's over-emotional Penelope to Waltz's workaholic Alan, there is something for everyone in the characters and each of their descent into breaking point is a joy to watch. 

As events turn from the good to the bad, the belly laughs come thick and fast,making Carnage one of the most impressive comedies for some time. Polanski will be proud of his most recent piece of work and no doubt there will be many a plaudit for Foster, Winslet, Reilly and Waltz. Oh, and a final note, if you're not a fan of vomit beware!!

Film rating: 4 out of 5 F's

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Movie Talk On Sunday - Space Movies

Movie Talk On Sunday is still going strong on Twitter each and every Sunday, and over the past few weeks we have experienced some of the best topics yet. Hopefully, this Sunday I can continue that trend with my hosting of Space movies.

If you're unfamiliar with MTOS then all the details you need are here.

In the meantime here are your ten questions and I hope to see you on Sunday for some outer space movie chat!!

1. Which space movie is your favourite and why?
2. Which director has captured the visual essence of space in a movie best?
3. Which genre mixes best with outer space as the setting?
4. Who is your favourite HUMAN character in a space movie?
4. Who is your favourite NON-HUMAN character in a space movie?
6. Of all the spacecraft in movies, which is the most iconic?
7. What is the best alien race to have been created for screen?
8. What elements MUST a space movie contain?
9. For fun, straight head-to-head, Star Wars vs Star Trek. Who wins?
10. Finally, for fun, complete the movie title. _______ In Space

Until Sunday have a great week and don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@thommoj03) to get all the MTOS action from 20.00GMT Sunday!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Film review - The Darkest Hour

Ever since the aliens arrived and blew up the White House and the Empire State Building in 1996’s Independence Day we have experienced an influx of alien invasion movies that have not quite hit the dizzy heights of the impressive Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith smash hit. Even to this day, ID’s visuals and storyline are just as impressive as the first days eyes met upon it. Despite vast forward steps in technology and the way films are made, recent films such as Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles have been far from emulating the sci-fi classic. The latest offering to tackle the difficult task is The Darkest Hour.

We touch down in Moscow with American software developers Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) looking to seal a deal that could see their social networking programme make them rich. Unfortunately things are about to take a turn for the worse as firstly they are deceived by the Russian businessmen they are working with and then an event that will affect the whole world takes over.

After meeting two female users of their product at a bar they are soon thrown into a state of emergency. Large balls of light suddenly begin to fall from the sky in what results in an alien invasion. Anyone who makes contact with the light is instantly turned to dust and the only way to survive is through vigilance and figuring out their weakness.

As they look to find a way out of Moscow and to safety, Sean and the rest of the group begin to work out how the aliens are tracking their prey, what they are invading for and how they can be manipulated. All of these are key in their ultimate survival.

To say The Darkest Hour is a disappointment is a huge understatement. With producer Timur Bekmambetov on board one could be convinced that this would result in a visually breathtaking and thrilling movie but little of either is present. The visuals are little more than good at points (some destruction of the environments looks well presented) but with a beautiful location such as Russia it needs much more care and attention. As for thrills there are few to be had here. Any danger seems hugely understated and our characters are unbearable and dispensable, with several cheesy lines adding to the woes. 

Add in an ultimately disappointing showing from the once promising Emile Hirsch and you have the worst alien invasion movie since Skyline. Bitterly disappointing and yet another film falling way off the mark that Independence Day has set. 

Film rating: 1 out of 5 F's

Film review - Goon

Everyone loves an underdog story, and what better way to show the rise of an unlikely hero than in a sports movie. We’ve seen Rocky Balboa overcome the odds, Ralf Macchio become the Karate Kid and now, in 2012, we have the latest zero-to-hero offering, Goon.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is an outcast in his parent's eyes. They are academic-strong whereas he is a simple minded bouncer only handy with one thing; his fists. When he attends an ice hockey match with best friend and ice hockey fanatic Ryan (Jay Baruchel) one of the players picks a fight with Ryan and Doug steps in to deal with the situation. Knocking out the player with relative ease, Doug soon gains recognition from the crowd and is tapped up by the local hockey team's manager as their 'goon'. 

Being used as the man to tackle all fights on the ice, Doug begins to build himself a reputation and joins an amateur league team where competition is much tougher. As Doug's reputation as a brawler increases he finds himself falling for a fan (Allison Pill) and attracting the attention of soon-returning fighter on the ice Ross Rhena (Liev Schreiber). After time on the sidelines Rhena returns to the ice and the ultimate showdown between the two becomes the most talked about event in amateur ice hockey.

Goon is like all underdog sports movies; you have the formula of a simple, loveable character with a heart as strong as a lion, the rise to stardom and finally the obstacle to overcome in the finale. There is nothing new here to be fair but it's safe to say there doesn't need to be. Scott excels in playing a not-so-intelligent guy thrown into a world of pain and skates, and his support cast lend most of the laughs, from Baruchel's sweary number one fan to the ensemble hockey team including Russian brothers and a divorcee who can't quite get over his marriage failing. 

All play their parts well but it is in fact the fight scenes that draw in the most entertainment. To say they are brutal could indeed be seen as understatement as we witness teeth flying out, blood shed at every opportunity and a very wince-worthy puck to the mouth moment. In between the fighting there is present a love story which will be a welcome addition for those viewers looking for those softer moments. 

If you're after a light-hearted underdog story with a bit of brutality and plenty of spirit then Goon is the one for you. With a handful of funny moments and a good cast it's hard not to like this sports comedy. A good 90 minutes well spent. 

Film rating: 3 out of 5 F's

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Review - Kill List

As one of the most-talked about British films of 2011, Kill List was top of my list for films to finally watch in 2012 and, as promised, it did not fail to deliver.

We are in the presence of Jay (Neil Maskell), a hitman who, after a job goes wrong in Kiev, finds himself shying away from his killing roots to settle with his wife (MyAnna Buring) and child, and experiencing an imaginary back problem. Despite his reluctance to enter back into the killing profession his best friend and partner Gal (Michael Smiley) has an offer unlike any they have experienced before that changes all that. 

A job offer. A list of three people to kill with the promise of an unbelievable pay-off. Sounds simple right? Unfortunately what appears to be a routine job for the professionals is far from it. That is the magic of Kill List, nothing is ever as it seems, both for our characters and the viewer.

As Jay and Gal stalk and investigate their prey there are shocks aplenty and, as their targets are further unveiled, the mental state of Jay spirals out of control, resulting in him unleashing a wave of anger and violence on those who have they have been ordered to kill. One particular scene that will stay in the mind of viewers for some time is the use of a hammer on the target dubbed 'The Librarian' which rivals any torture scene in the world of film for sheer shock value. 

With every minute that passes on the partners' mission there is confusion, horror and sheer violence and director Ben Wheatley must be highly commended for what is a truly unique British film. Its uniqueness comes in the form of the ever mysterious nature of the story as well as a fascinatingly unnerving soundtrack and a superb mix of multiple genres in what is a modern classic.

First half a classic gritty British gangster film the second a lesson in true affecting horror, Kill List will no doubt stick in the mind some time after viewing, an effect that proves it is so mesmerising. Delivering in terms of believable characters, brutality and sheer nightmarish vision, Wheatley has created something special.

Film rating: 5 out of 5 F's 

Movie Talk On Sunday - British Films Questions

Following a fantastic Star Wars edition of MTOS last week will be a tough task but this Sunday's will focus on British films, hosted by myself and Maxwell Hubbard. 

If you're not aware of MTOS, it stands for Movie Talk On Sunday and is a weekly occurrence on Twitter where film fans get together to discuss a certain topic/genre in the field. The host posts 10 questions in all, each separated by 10 minutes.

Here are this week's questions on BRITISH FILMS:

1. What is your all-time favourite British film?
2. Who do you consider the best British director?
3. Who is the best British actor/actress alive today?
4. What characteristics define 'the best of British'?
5. What genre does British cinema do best? (give examples)
6. What makes British films different from mainstream Hollywood movies?
7. Do you think British films are better than those from America?
8. If you could get a cinema re-release for one British film what would it be?
9. 2011 was a great year for film. Which British film was the best of the bunch last year?
10. Finally, which British film will wow audiences this year?

So there you have it folks, remember to follow @thommoj03 and @maxwellhubbard for an MTOS co-hosting first and let's celebrate all that is great in British film.

See you Sunday!!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Marvel Films: A Fanatical Film Focus Part Three

For the final part of the Fanatical Film focus on the world of Marvel movies it is only fair to look to the bright future and ponder the possibilities of sequels and new heroes to be brought to the fray.

Firstly let us begin with those Marvel heroes who are guaranteed future outings.
One hugely anticipated reboot is The Amazing Spider-Man. Suiting Andrew Garfield as the new webslinger is a real catch; a young actor who is set for big things and who I personally believe will usurp Maguire and unleash a new lease of life for the franchise. 
Add in the star quality of the irresistible Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans finally bringing inevitable villain Lizard to battle our hero and you have the ingredients for a winning formula. 

Also confirmed for further outings in the near future are 2011's go-to heroes in the form of the X Men, Thor and Captain America. With their respective films gaining recognition it is no surprise audiences are demanding more. 

Talking of demand, after years of comic book fans screaming for an ensemble movie we finally get The Avengers this year, and what an event it will be. The mouth-watering prospect of a team-up including Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow will no doubt draw in the masses. Possibly more intriguing will be the evolution as Loki as a villain, joined by another nemesis likely to be between either Red Skull or the Skrulls. It's safe to say this WILL be the most popular Marvel film of our generation and could raise the expectation bar even higher for future outings.

Swaying away from confirmed future releases there are a number of characters we could (and should) see on the big screen.

A Deadpool movie is a certainty at some point. With Ryan Reynolds stealing the show in Wolverine it's clear he can take on the role of everyone's favourite anti-hero. As one of the very sought after Marvel creations this has the potential to result in one of the best origin films to reach us film fans. 

In addition, a huge amount of speculation regarding an Edgar Wright-directed Ant-Man film have circulated for so long now that it is hard to believe this cannot be anything but true. Bringing the likes of the lesser known heroes will be intriguing and the names of Iron Fist, Black Panther and Dr Strange are all possible heroes we could be seeing in years to come.

One thing you can guarantee is that the machine that is Marvel will continue its current reign as comic book movie powerhouse and we have many more years of heroes on the big screen to come.

What Marvel characters do you want to see on the big screen? Let us know!