Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

After the response to Man of Steel, and the ‘not as strong as hoped for’ box office results, the proposed sequel to that film went through a bit of a change.  When the title reveal was made, and the character of Batman was added, the fans at SDCC went wild.  I, however, grew sceptical.  I wasn’t enamoured with Man of Steel, but held out hope that a sequel would grow the character in a better direction.  Suddenly adding Batman seemed like a stunt, a cynical attempt to get movie goers back on board by adding the one character guaranteed to bring crowds back.  Initially WB stuck to their guns with the story that this was the always planned sequel to Man of Steel, but that story changed pretty soon to say that the official MoS II would come later down the line (until it completely vanished in the updated release schedule last year, highlighting the lack of confidence the studio has in the character, with Batman being named as the ‘lynchpin that will hold the DC Cinematic Universe together’.  However, the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman flipped things a bit.  The online fan community were aghast – he was the man who ruined Daredevil!  Personally, I always felt he was a decent Daredevil and that film was ruined by the director, Mark Steven Johnson (who also gave us Ghost Rider, so there’s the evidence for the prosecution), and was quite vocal in my support for Affleck in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

As the film was further and further into production, Wonder Woman was added to the mix, and story details began to emerge.  Then the trailers arrived, and I was once more underwhelmed.  As suspected, Superman looked to be side-lined in the promotion of the film, with Batman being the focus.  However, it is worth noting that one trailer which focussed purely on Batman more than convinced me that Affleck was going to be perfect in the role, a role that many already think we’ve seen too much of, but which looked set to prove those people wrong.  As the film was about to release, the reviews came….and they weren’t good!

Shields up....this could get messy!

Shields up….this could get messy!

So it was that, as someone who has no love for Man of Steel, I approached this film with trepidation and scepticism.  The positive rants by fans online did nothing to convince me that it would be great, especially as most of them simply said it was awesome because it wasn’t Marvel (I’ve never trucked with this idea that you must like one or the other, so anyone who uses it to argue the merits of a film is instantly showing bias).   Would the film impress me by not being as bad as some will suggest (after all, I’ve never been one to shy away from going against the grain, with films such as Wild Wild West, John Carter, and Lone Ranger sitting proudly in my DVD/Bluray collection), or would it be another let-down like Man of Steel was?

Well, let’s just skim over the plot first before the critique shall we….

After the events of the first film, and the destruction of Metropolis caused by the fight between Zod and Kal, Superman has become a controversial figure.  Some praise him as a hero, others fear what he is capable of.  One who fears him is Bruce Wayne, aka Batman (for those who have just crawled out from under a rock – hi there, it’s 2016 and we have computers now).  You see, Bruce was there, in Metropolis, on that day of destruction, and he saw personal loss in amongst the devastation.  Over the two years since he has continued his fight against crime in Gotham, whilst also investigating as much as he can about Superman, who he has chilling dreams about on a regular basis.  At the same time, Alexander ‘Lex’ Luthor (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is doing some research of his own, specifically on the crashed Kryptonian ship, and the body of General Zod.  He’s also managed to get his hands on some Kryptonite, and sets about his plans to bring Batman and Superman into conflict.  Anyone who has seen the trailers will know where this will all lead.

Okay, I'm ready! Let it rip....

Okay, I’m ready! Let it rip….

Let me start off by saying that there are some really spectacular set-pieces in the film.  Well shot action, and some fantastic imagery.  Bruce’s dark dream about a world where Superman leads an almost Nazi-styled army is a gorgeous piece of film, as are the first glimpses we get of Batman in costume – quick glimpses as he evades a cop in a small room.  With an agility that we’ve not seen on film to date, this is genuinely a Batman that reflects the style and motion of the comic book character, and when we get to see him in full action later in the film it is impossible to not be impressed.  The long anticipated smackdown between Superman and Batman is another great moment, with some brutal damage being done to both parties, and a Batmobile chase sequence is yet another great set-piece.

However, all of these are just set-pieces, sadly with no substance to hold them together in any coherent manner.  In addition, many of them end with some astonishgly corny exchange of dialogue which just leaves you cringing in embarrassment.  This skill Zack Snyder has with crafting standout moments but not managing to slot them together has been seen before in Sucker Punch, another film with some great sequences, but which is just an unbridled mess of a film overall (laughably so).  Dawn of Justice feels like at least two story ideas mashed together in a desperate attempt to race towards the Justice League movie, and yet feels far too long a film as a result as neither story is allowed to grow.  Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is forced into the proceedings for no particular reason other than to show off the character in the hope it will get people to watch her solo film (in production now), and the other mooted cameos are so painfully forced in via one of the most contrived methods that you genuinely feel embarrassed for all involved.

Lex Luthor is completely underwhelming as a villain.  Eisenberg does a decent job of putting a new spin on the character (who is not necessarily the ‘Lex’ we all know, with a throwaway line commenting that Lexcorp was named after his father), but feels so out of place in the story, becoming more of an expositional character, there to simply move the story along without any actual natural progression (hey, how do we get to the next action piece?  I know, Lex does something random….Go!).   Gadot is bland as Diana/Wonder Woman.  Whether this is due to her not really having much to do, Zack Snyder not really caring much, or her being terrible remains to be seen when her solo outing arrives.  Cavill, once again, fails to convey any kind of presence on screen as Superman, and whilst his chemistry with Amy Adams’ Lois is slightly better than the previous film, it still feels a little forced.

Now for the cool stuff...like this Batwing design.

Now for the cool stuff…like this Batwing design.

But, Affleck is jaw droppingly amazing, and if any one person can walk away from this wreckage it is him.  It is almost worth watching the film again just to see his scenes once more.  Giving his everything to the character, as mentioned earlier he plays a different Batman than we’ve seen on screen in the past, and I would happily watch more…in a better film.  His presence is one of the only things that kept me watching – well, him and Jeremy Irons as Alfred.  When a solo Batman outing arrives, I’m all over that like bees on honey!   I can understand WB choosing to utilise this Batman as the cornerstone of the upcoming DC films, linking each together – it’s just a shame that Superman had to become a secondary character in what was originally his own sequel in order to do it.

All of this, and no mention of the final segment of the film, one which the surprise of was spoiled by a trailer reveal (which if you haven’t seen any marketing for the film and still want a surprise, then skip to the next paragraph quick).  Yes, the tacked on team up against the CGI blemish that is supposed to be Doomsday is one of the most dreadful endgames of a film in a while.  The whole thing is an utter mess of half-finished effects work, with Doomsday looking as realistic as The Abomination did in Incredible Hulk – that level of CGI realism!  There is one well played moment in the action, which sees Superman drifting in orbit, drained of power after being struck by a nuclear weapon (a moment practically lifted from the pages of the comics), but that’s about it.  The rest of the fight is woefully directed and poorly edited, making the final heroic actions strangely comical when they should be harrowingly serious.

Throw in another dreary, booming, overpowering Zimmer score which consists primarily of loud oboes and drums, and the sloppy editing throughout, and we have a film which has some loyal comic book moments, but slap dashed together in an incoherent mess.  I’ve read in places that some people couldn’t follow the story and thought it was confusing.  I don’t agree with this, I followed it fine, but it is sloppily written, and messily constructed.  I’m still excited to see other films in the upcoming DC slate, but any which keep Zack Snyder on as director just have no further appeal to me.  What could have been two great films is instead another example of Snyder’s skill at moments, but failure at features.

On a lighter note....

On a lighter note….

2015 – A Lookback on the Past Year (part one)

Another year has passed us by, and it seems every movie critic and website is posting top/bottom 10 lists. Now, I’ve stated before (back at HERE  for example) I don’t truck with that ‘top list’ mentality. So, like last year, I’m going to go for a general look back at the year in films in some kind of loose groupings – some serious, some silly.

2015 promised much, but delivered little. The so called “amazing year of film” turned out to be a tad average overall, but in amongst it all there were some gems that stood out. Let’s kick off with my pick for:

Film of the Year

WHIPLASH

Now, let me clear something up. I know I don’t do top lists, but some folk have asked me how I can therefore have a ‘film of the year’ (which they, understandably, think means ‘best film of the year’). Well, let me clarify – my ‘film of the year’ always goes to the film which struck me, and impacted on me the most. It may not be better than other films, but something in the film resonated with me, and thus it is classed as a film which I believe everyone should see. There were a host of really strong contenders for this spot this year, especially from The Martian, Steve Jobs, and from Birdman, but Whiplash is just such a powerful tour de force that it is the film that, to me, defines 2015.

Not my tempo!

“Okay, after me, one two three… Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum!”

At the base level, Whiplash is a film about a drummer and his battle of wills with his tutor. On paper, that basic description sounds like one of the most boring concepts ever, but the skill with which the film draws you in, and makes you care very early on is staggering. The performances by Miles Teller (who shall resurface later in this article for totally different reasons) and the ever stellar JK Simmons crackle with electric intensity, aided by a well written script, and some dark humour. Whether or not this film is ‘your tempo’ it is hard to deny that all the elements involved are well realised.

Bridman would be a close second choice for the stylistic manner in which the film was presented. A fake single-take element to make the film feel like a stage play about a film about a stage play (if you have seen it, you will know what I mean) makes for a remarkable viewing experience, and Michael Keaton is on fine form in the lead role.

The ‘What the hell went wrong’ Award

Okay, let’s get the Miles Teller mention out the way early on. How on earth did Fantastic Four go so wrong (and I’d like to point out that I’m not going to go the childish route that some folk have gone and mock the Fant4stic logo, claiming it isn’t something Marvel would have done, becasue…well…look at the pic of one of the issues of the comics from a few years back).

wpid-fantastic_four_vol_5_1

Wow! Look at how Marvel would never do anything so silly with the title of the comic!

I know it is cool to mock the previous FF films (by Tim Story), but I’ve got a soft spot for them. Whilst both films are flawed, they have the tone of the comics right, with a cosmic whimsy and family dynamic that works. The first film suffered by being an origin story with multiple characters, whilst the second suffered by not having a strong payoff in the final act (I don’t have a problem with ‘Galactus-cloud’ but more in the way the world devourer didn’t feel much of a threat overall). However when Josh Trank was attached to the reboot, I was excited. Having seen what he could do with a small budget on Chronicle, I was optimistic to see what he would make of the FF, which I must make clear that I have adored in comics since I was a wee little boy (it was the first Marvel comic bought for me as a kid, and what introduced me to my love of superheroes). The cast were announced, and there were some damn good names in there. Yes, they were ‘young’ but I understood this was a film inspired by Mark Miller’s Ultimate Fantastic Four series (which the initial trailers confirmed), so was happy to see decent actors attached (I’m not going to even bother tackling the race issue – it wasn’t an issue). When the film came out, Trank was quick to disown it on Twitter.

The film started off promising, with the first 20 minutes being a decent introduction to the characters, especially the friendship between Ben and Reed. The cast show their strengths early on, and Miles Teller and Jamie Bell convince as long time friends. But then they get their powers, the film flips ahead in time, and it all goes so…erm…studio controlled. You can genuinely see the point at which the studio lost the faith in the director, and made copious changes. Stories of on set struggles, and re-shoots without Trank add fuel to the fire, and the end result is a film which rapidly descends into a garbled mess by the final act – one which, I may add, seems tacked on and doesn’t seem to match any of the trailers or promo materials.

Making the FF a ‘dark film’ in the vein of Fox’s X-Men franchise was a serious mis-step. The FF have adventures in space, and in the microverse, as well as through time. They should never be ‘dark’ in nature. After the film came out, Fox were insistent that they were still making sequels, but everything has gone quiet on that front now.

Bubbling under in this category would be Terminator Genysis, but let’s be honest, that was always going to suck.
star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterBest Blockbuster of the Year

What else could it be, other than Star Wars: The Force Awakens? If I need to explain further, then you seriously can’t have seen the film yet (and so I won’t post any spoilers). Fair enough, a lot of the blockbusters have been major disappointments this year, so it didn’t have much competition, but what this film did have was a decade and a half of disappointment to erase the memory of, and prove that there is life in the franchise yet. Whilst the marketing played around the buzz of the old cast returning (and the secrecy of the story), the true surprise was not only that the film was good, but that the old cast weren’t really needed as the new faces were so immensely enjoyable to watch. Yes, the film is pretty much a retread of the original film (in the same manner that Singer’s Superman Returns followed the beats of Donner’s film), isn’t that what we needed to kick-start the franchise? A reminder of what made it so much fun in the first place, and proof that it can still work now.

Since the film came out, Lucas has been whining and moaning about it wherever he can (his most recent moan is that he was kept out of the creative process, and that the film is not original at all – clearly he thinks his Hero’s Journey tale inspired by old Flash Gordon serials was somehow ‘original’). Who cares what he thinks? After all, he wasn’t even responsible for the best of the original trilogy (and he also disliked that film too).

Bubbling under is Mad Max: Fury Road, which leads me to…
The ‘Holy Crap that was Awesome’ Award

Look, Fury Road may be just one long chase scene, and one which sums up as ‘Max Furiosa goes to one place, runs off to another, then goes back the way he she came’ but, wow, what a ride. Two hours of glorious carnage with a plethora of practical effects (and a smattering of CGI, but well positioned), and a cast that, in among the carnage, you get to care about. If you haven’t yet enjoyed the thrill of the film, just stop reading here and go watch it, then come back and be happy that you just sat through two hours of fun.

This was the underdog blockbuster that showed up the big-boys of the Summer. Max may have been a minor character in his own film, but the world in which he rides was fleshed out so well that you didn’t care.

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

Look, for this character alone, the film kicks ass!

On the flipside…

Biggest Disappointment of 2015

Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to, but we had no reason to doubt that it would be anything other than great. Marvel’s train has been rolling for a few years now, and each time they go for something, people get skeptical, only to be proven wrong when the film arrives. Here we have a great villain from the comic, and the team all re-unite with Joss as director again. But the end result felt too much like it was forced out just to get everyone back together, and unlike the first film was less of an end-act to the ‘phase’ of movies, and more of an extended trailer of the next phase. The menace of Ultron in the trailers was lost

as he became a snark-throwing bland villain. The action set pieces felt too familiar, and the spark was just lost somewhere along the way. It is telling that Ant-Man (which was basically just a rehash of Iron Man) was considered the best Marvel film by many this year – not that Ant-Man isn’t good, quite the opposite, but the point is that something with a new character was better than something with characters we are told we have come to love.

"I've got no script...to hold me down..."

“I’ve got no script…to hold me down…”

Still, it doesn’t stop the excitement for Phase 3 and Black Panther and Doctor Strange, along with Civil War. The Marvel engine may have stumbled a bit, but it hasn’t derailed yet.

The ‘Did I watch the same film as everyone else’ Award

Jurassic World isn’t a bad film, but it seems that everyone saw a different film than me as many herald it as one of the best films of the year! Personally I’d rank it just alongside Jurassic Park 3 as ‘entertaining fodder’ and nothing more. The biggest issue I have with the film is that it relies on your memories of the original film in order to enjoy it. Throughout the film is nods and references the first film, in an attempt to cover up the lacklustre script. “Yeah, but so does Force Awakens, and you liked that!” I hear some of you cry. The difference is, Force Awakens had characters you care about. Here’s a simple test – quickly name 4 new characters from Jurassic World. Okay, make it three. Okay, just tell me the name of one of the kids. Nope? Right, now name 4 new characters from the new Star Wars film. Oh, you reeled off 5 names right off the bat! How come? Oh yeah, because they were well realised characters that you cared about – heck we knew the names of them before the film landed and already cared.

"Hey can we expand that Pratt guy's role out more now he's a big name?  Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce?  Who cares if they have no chemistry?"

“Hey can we expand that Pratt guy’s role out more now he’s a big name? Maybe force a love story in there with Bryce? Who cares if they have no chemistry?”

Jurassic World is just a mess of action sequences thrown together, but actually fails to utilise the peril that it promised. Here we have a fully functioning theme park, packed with guests (despite the film trying to tell us that it is struggling), yet the peril only affects a handful of people until toward the end when one sequence sees random folk being attacked…only for minutes later everyone to be sat at the docks waiting for boats, with no sign of anyone in distress at having seen their loved one killed! Heck, one minor character gets attacked, dropped, and eaten in a manner which you feel is supposed to make you cheer (like audiences did at the accountant on the toilet in the original), despite the only bad thing this character did was try to babysit two annoying brats of kids! Yeah, someone who was assigned to watch over kids is considered a character to ‘hate-kill’.

Nope, Jurassic World isn’t a great film. It’s not as bad as Terminator Genysis (no, seriously, that film was garbage), but it ain’t the amazing return of the franchise many claim it to be.

 
Phew – that’s a fair bit covered already, and I still feel I have more to cover. So, consider this ‘Part One’ of my lookback on 2015, and watch out for ‘Part Two’ soon (where I will look at animations, comedies, pleasant surprises, and the films I am ashamed to have missed).

Review: In The Heart of the Sea

All I could think after watching this adaptation of the fictionalised account of the true story that didn’t really inspire the book of Moby Dick (despite the claims of the film), but was possibly used for part of the research (not in the manner presented though) was that they would have been better off adapting Moby Dick for the big screen again as it would have made for a better tale.

The film has a decent pedigree, with a strong cast such as Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, and Ben Whishaw amongst others, and a usually solid director in the form of Ron Howard. The tale itself is of the ship named Essex, a whaling vessel that was lost at sea in 1820. The tale of the sinking was officially reported as having run aground, but survivors of the wreck tell a different story. The film bookends the main story by having Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) visiting one survivor, Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), to obtain his story in order to give him the inspiration to write his next novel, Moby Dick. The tale recounted to the writer is one of determination and obsession in hunting whales, which leads the Essex out to disaster when a giant white whale sinks the ship. The survivors are left stranded at sea, and must make terrible decisions in order to survive.

HgCpB

However, despite the pedigree, the film just fails to make any impact. Yes, the cast are well placed, and Howard’s direction is as visually striking as you would expect from the director, but the story is weak, and doesn’t have the grandeur that it thinks it has. The historical accuracy issues aside (and embellishment of scenes for dramatical effect), there just isn’t enough depth to the characters, nor any real tension, to make this anything more than an average experience. It’s a shame that so many aspect that would have added to the film are dropped rapidly, such as the initial antagonistic relationship between Hemsworth’s First Mate, and Benjamin Walker’s Captain which just fizzles out early into the voyage. As do any signs of potential unrest in the crew, which are thrown aside as a passing reference, as opposed to actually making us believe the crew may be ready to mutiny. Yes, I get that some of that would have meant embellishing the tale more, but given the film has already taken many liberties, why not at least take some to give the tale a bit of bite? As commented in the opening paragraph, Melville’s tale of drive, determination, and obsessive revenge would have made a better adaptation for the big screen, whilst this feels more like a History Channel movie of the week.

In the Heart of the Sea isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t one likely to make any waves at the box office, and is unlikely to have any lasting impact on audiences who view it. Oh, and it in no way, shape or form needed a 3D release!

Review – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… or more precisely over three and a half decades ago in a cinema in another town, a film came along which had a huge impact on the mind of a young 4 year old. The experience of that film made a lasting impression, introducing him to the majesty of films, the joy of space set adventure, and the galaxy of Star Wars. Decades later, the love affair with the franchise has wavered a slight bit. Yes, the love for the originals (untainted versions) is still as strong as ever, and the expanded universe of books and comics (and the occasional video game) has maintained the thrill, but a trilogy of prequels came and tainted any excitement for future instalments. So it was that, even after an impressive trailer campaign, I entered the screening of the new film, The Force Awakens, with a degree of trepidation. I’d been stung too many times, so wasn’t going to get too excited.

As the end credits played, I was that 4 year old kid once more, wanting to see the wonders on screen again, and desperately wanting to collect the toys and models that tie into the film!

Especially this little guy!

Especially this little guy!  Guaranteed to be on many Christmas lists this year!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the first of a new trilogy in the ‘core’ series (there will be other films set within the Star Wars universe, but they will be spin-offs, not forming the basis of the core tale), and it comes in the wake of the sale of the franchise to Disney. Sadly, this does mean no 20th Century Fox fanfare before the opening titles, but that’s only a minor disappointment. Director JJ Abrams, who in recent times has re-invigorated the Star Trek franchise (which he was criticised for making it feel too much like Star Wars), as a long term fan of the series, was a strong choice for the job. As the pieces were pulled together, excitement in the fan community began to build. Old cast were returning, whilst a new batch of fresh faces were being unveiled for the new chapter in the tale. Most importantly of all, throughout the whole trailer campaign nobody could really work out what the story was going to be about, and I’m not about to spoil it here. All I will say is that the opening scroll is a much better read than stuff about ‘trade negotiation’ and ‘political disputes’.

So, if I’m not going to talk about the plot, let’s look at the players. Obviously the return of Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and Luke will please old fans, and they all play key parts in the film, but this is not really their film. No, it belongs to the new faces, mainly Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger from a backwater planet, John Boyega as Finn, a redeemed Storm Trooper, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the dark force warrior. Oh, and of course BB-8, a small droid that carries an important message. Ridley and Boyega are instantly likeable in their parts, making for the kind of team up that we saw between, say, Han and Leia in the original trilogy, whilst Driver is furiously menacing as the villain of the piece, although his inability to control his emotions adds a depth of character to the part that wasn’t really seen in the role of Vader until the back end of the second film. The film serves as a way to hand over the reins to the new cast, who pick them up with ease, showing good promise for future entries into the saga.

forceawakens4-xlarge

Action set-pieces are plentiful, albeit imbued with a fair bit of familiarity. In fact the film, as a whole, follows the beats of the original film much in the same way that Superman Returns did with Donner’s original film. JJ, along with long-term writer Lawrence Kasdan, fill the run time with echoes of the 1977 film, but not in a manner that is detrimental to the story, but in a way that redefines the franchise for a new generation, making it clear that this is a sequel to the original trilogy, and not the prequels. Even the lightsabre fights resonate more with the style seen in Empire or Jedi, and not the acrobatic, superhuman antics of Phantom, Clones and Sith.

It is safe to say that this is, perhaps, the third best film in the franchise to date, right after Empire and Star Wars, and sets up the story for the next chapter well. If there is any flaw it is that the fan-service within, whilst looking great, does mean that it never really defines itself as a film in its own right. However, with this re-introduction out the way, we can look forward to a glorious new future for the franchise, and for the first time in over a decade I am excited to see where the films take me next.

Review: Steve Jobs

[imdb id=”tt2080374″]

One of the true shames about this film is that many people will choose not to see it for all the wrong reasons. There are those who turn their nose up at it as they don’t see why another film about Steve Jobs has been made (after the Ashton Kutcher film of 2013). Then there are those who vocally oppose Apple products so much that they refuse to accept there is any merit in a film about the founder of the company. This second group, to me, are a curious bunch – did they also feel Downfall wasn’t worth seeing because Adolf Hitler was a bad person? Already in the US, this film has had a poor opening and been pulled from a substantial number of screens, despite critical praise for the director (Danny Boyle), the writer (Aaron Sorkin), and the lead actor (Michael Fassbender), as well as the support cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogan among others. Audiences, it seems, are not that bothered with a film aiming to get under the skin of one of the icons of the past few decades.

The film is inspired by the biography by Walter Isaacson, but in true Sorkin style takes a fresh approach, focussing on three key moments in time, and the relationships Jobs had with a small group of people at each point. The film is segmented into 3 chunks of around 40 minutes each, playing almost real-time behind the scenes activity at the launches of the Apple Mac in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. In the time before stepping out on stage to each of these launches, Jobs interacts with his confidant and marketing executive Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), the co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), the CEO of Apple John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his former girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), and his daughter Lisa, as well as John Oritz, a GQ journalist who interviews him through the film, and a handful of others. Through his interactions with these people we see both the cold, distant Jobs, focussed purely on his product and company, but with the occasional glimmer of the humanity he buried deep, whilst gaining some understanding over the course of the film as to why he kept such a distance from those around him.

With a script by Sorkin, a writer who doesn’t just hand over his words and walk away, instead sticking around and being an integral part of the film-making process, you can expect swift and fluid dialogue exchanges from the offset, and also plenty of ‘walk-and-talk’ moments (a trope which Sorkin popularised in shows such as Sports Night and West Wing), making dialogue heavy scenes more dynamic, and adding a sense of urgency to every conversation. The result is a conversation heavy film which never seems drawn out, never slows down, and keeps you engaged throughout, and has a light sprinkling of wit to raise a few smiles at points.

But Sorkin is only one piece of the recipe for this film, and Danny Boyle’s direction is solid throughout, with touches of flair that make you remember how much of a visual style director he is. The three periods in time have slightly different looks, from a slightly grainy early 80s, through to the smooth focus of the late 90s segment, and sharp use of backlit images (from Bob Dylan lyrics, to NASA footage) lend striking impact to scenes. In addition the performances he gets out of all the cast ensure that at no point do you write off Jobs as heartless, and the way in which he touched the lives of those around him (who, it has to be said, stayed loyal to him despite his flaws) is reflected well in every scene.

Finally, a mention must be made of Fassbender who delivers yet another fantastic performance, with a commanding presence as a man obsessed with how others seem to betray him, who fails to see that his icy demeanour is have far worse an impact on close friends and colleagues such as Wozniak, and his daughter, Lisa. Jobs was an enigma to many, but Fassbender seems to have deciphered what made him tick and channels everything into the role. He may not look much like Jobs, but he swiftly becomes the man entirely.

Steve Jobs was a complex man, and this film (and indeed any film about his life) can only scratch the surface of what drove him, but Srokin, Boyle and the cast do a sterling job of tapping into the persona of a modern day legend, sparking a desire to find out more about his life, his drive, and his impact on the world – because even if you are not an Apple fan (which I am not), you cannot deny the legacy he left behind after his passing, and the impression he made on the tech world.

Review: Maze Runner – The Scorch Trials

I was quite late getting around to watching the first Maze Runner film.  The trailer didn’t sell the film to me, and I dismissed it as, “Yet another of those Hunger Games type things!”  Even the word of colleagues who told me that it was worth checking out didn’t convince me.  So, it was only a few weeks ago that I finally watched the first film, and was pleasantly surprised with what unfolded.  Whilst the film had flaws, it engaged me for the whole run time, and left me wanting to see how the tale of Thomas and the rest of the survivors of the Maze plays out now they have escaped.

The Scorch Trials picks up right from the end of the first film, and sees the Gladers taken to a refuge by the army who we saw pick them up at the end of the previous film.  Led by Janson (Aiden Gillan), this group promise to shelter the group and help them escape to a safe zone somewhere beyond ‘The Scorch’ (the name given to the apocalyptic wasteland).  In the complex the group are introduced to other survivors of other mazes, but Thomas is suspicious, and the threat of WCKD still looms.  Before long the group find themselves fighting for survival as they try to cross the Scorch to get to the mountains, where it is rumoured that a resistance group are located.  Along the way they encounter the zombie-like Cranks, a mercenary group led by Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito), and the perilous conditions of The Scorch itself, as well as finding themselves constantly on the run from WCKD, who want them back at any cost.

"What you doing?"  "Ah, just hanging around!"

Just building bridges….get it?  Building…..bridges…..aw forget it!

The previous film, whilst boasting some impressive visual moments, relied more on the mystery and character, whereas spectacle is the order of the day for this second film as the location shifts to sprawling deserts, apocalyptic landscapes, decimated cities, industrial facilities, and subterranean pipelines.  With more of this decimated world to work with, the film is understandably quite a journey at around 130 minutes in runtime.  Whilst, overall, it maintains attention, there are moments where it plods along, and a few scenes could have easily been excised for a tighter pacing.  One such section sees an otherwise star turn by Alan Tudyk as Marcus, the self serving owner of a bar within the city ruins.  Whilst Tudyk is on great form in such a small cameo, the scenes add very little to to the overall story, and could have easily been dropped, allowing the movie to progress with a bit more pace.  In addition, Gillan is a bit of a casting misstep as fans of his work on Game of Thrones will instantly be suspicious of him, and so within minutes of the film starting we are just waiting to find out what he is really doing, making the slow build up in the first act kind of pointless.

But these niggles aside, the film ticks many boxes and whilst never being more than predictable sci-fi fluff (with inspirations taken from a variety of sources – heck, it even seems to go ‘Last of Us’ at one point), it just about holds attention to the end – an ending which leaves us hanging, waiting for the next film to continue the tale.  Some people may complain that the film is meaningless on its own, and the necessity to see the first, and the need to see the next in order to make a complete story is a negative.  To those folk I simply say, ‘Empire Strikes Back’, drop the mic and walk off stage.  This is the middle act of the story, and doesn’t try to resolve itself.  Instead it simply expands on the minor information about this world, and the virus (the flare) that has wiped out so much of humanity.

The Gladers just hanging out for a while.

The Gladers just hanging out for a while.

Fans of the books may be upset at the removal of some key elements, and reshuffling of stories, but isn’t this the norm these days anyway?  The film is tailored for a cinema audience, and as such this second film should please those who, like myself, were pleasantly surprised at the first film.  Scorch Trials is a visual spectacle that doesn’t quite outstay its welcome, and sets up the pieces ready for The Death Cure, due in 2017 (and if Wes Ball stays to direct will be one film, unlike the fad to split final books into two films for no good reason).

 

Review: Vacation

I admit to being quite a fan of the Vacation series.  Well, the early films in the series.  After Christmas Vacation in 1989 things went a little downhill with the dreary Vegas Vacation and the abominable Christmas Vacation 2.  So, a few years ago, when I first heard about a remake of the first film in the series, I was slightly anxious.  However, once the idea had developed into being a sequel, rather than a remake, I warmed to the idea a bit, even if there was still trepidation.  Casting decisions seemed fine (I have a fondness for Ed Helms), and the idea that the film would focus on Rusty Griswald, now all grown up with his own family, trying to recapture some of the magic of that infamous road-trip to Walley World seemed decent enough.  The trailer landed, and highlighted that the film was going to be self-aware and meta in nature, acknowledging the disdain shown toward reboots, much in the same manner the recent Jump Street films have, by way of a scene in which the ‘original vacation’ would be used as a comparisson.  The trailer amused me enough to hold out some hope, and so when I can to see the film I watched it with a sense of optimism.  Suffice to say, the film passed the six-laugh test.

Rusty is now grown up with a dysfunctional family of his own, and a job as a pilot for a cheap airline.  When he overhears his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), speaking about how the annual vacation is boring, he decides to change things and relive the nostalgia of his trip to Walley World with his father decades ago.  So he gets a family car, loads it up, and they set off on a trip they will never forget..but for all the wrong reasons.

Right from the start I found myself chuckling, as a series of terrible holiday photos were presented on screen to the familiar tune of Holiday Road from the original films.  Already in safe territory, the smiles kept coming as we were introduced to the life of Rusty and his family, finding out that the youngest son is somewhat psychotic, whilst the older one is meek and awkward.  Once the road-trip begins, the bizarre car Rusty bought for the trip adds some random humour into the mix as the various functions of the car are played with, and the gentle nods to the original films add a nostalgic element for the audience.  Much as with the original films, the movie is more a series of sketches strung together by a simple thread, and for the majority of the film it works.  There are some moments that don’t quite pan out, and a few gags that are drawn out a bit too much, but the times the gags work more than make up for it all.  By the time Charlie Day is introduced as a river rafting guide, I was suffering a bit of pain from laughing.  Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Stone, Rusty’s brother-in-law (having married Audrey) in a segment set on their farm is a scene stealing moment for many reasons.Griswald

One major flaw in the film, however,is that the trailer campaign gave away far too many punchlines to long-skits, such as the ‘hot springs’ the family bathe in.  The result is a scene that would have slowly built to the punch, but has been diminished by already revealing it in the trailer.  There are other elements to the skit that work (such as the local and his pet rat), but overall it is another example of marketing serving to weaken the end result.

But don’t let that put you off, as there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout the film, and the appearance of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo towards the end is an added plus.  The result is the best Vacation film in the series since the 80s, and I’d probably go so far to say it is a better film than Christmas Vacation was (that film sagged a little in the middle).