Category Archives: Review

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Review | Film

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Superhero films have had a hard time growing up. For years they weren’t taken seriously in the industry or by the mainstream film audience since they were just silly little stories ‘just for kids’ or just a load of action with no substance.

Now, in 2016, it’s been 23 years since Batman first hit the big screen (34 years for Superman) – and six years since Marvel kicked the industry to new heights, and demanded attention, with Iron Man in 2008 – so you’d think that if any two superheroes could show how far we’d come, it would be Batman and Superman.

Unfortunately, this film does not complete that mission.

From the outset, there’s plenty to be excited about with this film, and really many of its elements work really well, it’s just the overall experience which doesn’t quite meet expectations.

Taking up the cape and cowl from Christian Bale as Batman is Ben Affleck, an actor (and accomplished director) who has had a difficult past with superhero films but restores faith quickly here by giving the audience a character they can genuinely sympathise with.

Batfleck isn’t rampaging the city as some sort of wish-fulfillment, but because he is adamant that Superman is a risk to humanity and must be stopped, following the destruction of much of Metropolis in Man of Steel.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Superman on the other hand (played by a permanently scowling Henry Cavill), is still trying to find his feet after taking up his cape, and is struggling to understand everyone’s resentment, fear and even worship of him.

In many ways, if the main cast had stopped there, the film might have felt more focused and effective, but since DC grows increasingly jealous of Marvel’s extended universe, it’s decided to kick-start it by throwing everything it has into this film.

Enter Wonder Woman, who is fantastically realised by Gal Gadot, and acts as an interesting element in Batman’s investigations before turning up for the film’s climax. As exciting a character as she is, and she leaves us wanting more, it’s difficult to say she is essential to telling this story.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeThe villain of the piece is Lex Luthor (Jr., which immediately feels like a bit of a cop out excuse to make the character more edgy and set him apart from his predecessors), played by Jesse Eisenberg. In many ways there are some interesting ideas being thrown around with Luthor, but in the end his manor doesn’t feel like it has enough darkness behind it, bringing up memories of Jim Carey’s The Riddler when it would have been more impactful to have the character turn in a heartbeat from slightly quirky to outright sinister and malicious.

Louis Lane seems to exist purely to flip between being a damsel in distress to an irritatingly stereotypical love interest, responsible for not only the film’s catalyst but a horribly underdeveloped love storyline with Clark Kent. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is really the only member of the supporting cast who earns his place in the film, and feels tragically under-used.

The film’s strongest suit is the action and spectacle, which sees some expertly choreographed Batman fights in particular, and the titular battle between DC’s two mightiest heroes is worth waiting for – though its resolution is the somewhat anti-climactic and obvious realisation that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent’s mothers have the same first name…

The biggest indication of where the film goes off the rails, apart from struggling to make time to introduce new characters for The Justice League films, which ended up being more arbitrary than a huge distraction, is that the tone is all over the place.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Fundamentally, Batman and Superman don’t have vastly opposed philosophies as the film tries to make out, and jumping from Batman’s grit, to Superman’s inner turmoil, to Lex Luthor’s evil villain stereotyping just feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be.

What may have been stronger, is if the film had stuck with Batman’s perspective on events, which is set up extremely well at the beginning of the film, and followed that through, only revealing Superman’s side of the story when Batman learns about it, meaning the entire conflict had a grounded, specific set of eyes which the audience is supposed to see everything from.

While there is plenty this film didn’t quite get right, it is still definitely worth seeing, but if you are expecting a film to make you seriously rethink your love of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you needn’t worry.

Now the dawn of the justice league beckons, but not on the back of a film DC fans need, or deserve.

Rating: 3/5

Inside Out | Review | Film

Inside OutInside Out PosterIt’s hard to ignore the voices inside your head, whether you’re struggling to not to laugh as your dad asks you what an Instagram is for the 18th time, or trying to resist procrastinating on a Friday afternoon. Inside Out dives into your brain head first to explain some of those moments where you just don’t know what to feel.

Riley is an 11-year-old American teen who has it all, great family, great hockey team and a great house. Of course everything changes when the family have to move and this sends Riley’s emotions into overdrive, which is where we meet Joy, Anger, Disgust, Sadness and Fear.

Like all Pixar films, the characters look incredible, the level of visual detail as they build this imaginary world in Riley’s head is astonishing, right down to the speckled, brightly-coloured outlines and other-wordly edge to the characters themselves.

Inside OutWhile the plot centres on Riley, it’s really Joy who is the main character here. It would have been easy to go for very basic emotional choices to describe the range of emotions in people, but going for Joy rather than Happiness immediately brings more depth to the character itself and makes her more relatable. Everyone knows someone who tries to see the sunny side of everything, and you immediately see them in this character.

Looking pretty isn’t enough to make Inside Out a good film though, and fortunately the Pixar gang also offer both a plot and a character arc which delivering the full spectrum of emotions (literally and figuratively, which is rather appropriate) without being obvious.

The cast work really well together, and no one outshines the rest or is so much of a talking point to make the others irrelevant. Parks and Recreation‘s Amy Poehler is passionate and likeable as Joy, while Phyllis Smith’s Sadness balances her out perfectly. Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader) and Anger (Lewis Black) all make a solid impression when the trio are left to their own devices and really it’s the human characters (as usual, you could say for Pixar) who come off as a bit dull.

The concept of Inside Out alone is enough to warrant your attention but as soon as it has it it will hook you in for good, and that’s a good thing. Once again Pixar, specifically Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, who also directed, have created an entire world we never knew existed and as soon as you see it it makes perfect sense. It almost goes without saying at this point, but the film is fun for adults and children, and proves that there are plenty of good ideas left out there.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Ant-Man | Review | Film

Ant-ManAnt-Man PosterA small film and an even smaller hero in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Ant-Man may be, but there’s no denying he knows how to make an entrance.

With a premise which stretches audience’s limits of what they are willing to believe (oddly more so than a virtually invincible god with a magic hammer) Ant-Man had its work cut out from the off. On top of that add the pressure of following up the tremendously popular Guardians of the Galaxy from the ‘oddball’ side of the Marvel camp and the excitement of The Avengers: Age of Ultron only a few months before.

Star Paul Rudd and director Payton Reed remain unphased and sensible focus their film around the character of Scott Lang, a crook fresh out of jail for burglary (not robbery) who has a daughter he cares about – a lot.

Being an ex-con is never easy, and immediately it’s easy to warm to Scott, who combines Rudd’s natural charm with some of the DNA of Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Pratt’s Starlord to come up with something which somehow manages to feel fresh in a world filled with snarky heroes.

Watching him hopefully from the shadows is Hank Pym, played (frankly, quite suprisingly) to perfection by Michael Douglas, in many ways the polar opposite to the brash, showy scientist which Howard Stark was. Pym is under pressure as his own company is on the brink of not only being taken in a worrying new direction, but it’s thanks to some of his long-buried research – The Pym Particle.

Ant-ManIt’s this which brings us our titular hero, a moniker originally worn by Pym back in the day, and now passed on to Lang, along with a chance to make amends for his past mistakes.

Squaring off against our hero is the slightly disappointing Corey Stoll as Darren Cross. Stoll put on a fantastic turn on Netflix crown jewel House of Cards but here isn’t given too much to play with other than the broad strokes of Loki’s motivations, and sadly doesn’t stand up to them.

While Cross might fall short, he is more than compensated by the other supporting characters, such as Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne and even more so Michael Peña as Luis, definitely the comedy stand-out of the film.

The story doesn’t take a massive leap from what we’ve seen before in the MCU and, one imagines, has been toned down from Edgar Wright’s original vision, after he left the project (though proudly maintains Executive Producer and Story credits). It seems like a missed opportunity to have tiptoed outside the box a little further than we’ve seen before, but given the scale of what Marvel are building, it’s no surprise they are taking a few safe choices.

Reed and the cast deliver a film filled with a nice blend of comedy and action, differentiated from the likes of Guardians by feeling more grounded and relatable and more intimate than The Avengers from its narrower scope.

Visually the film plays very well with 3D, so much so that it actually enhances the experience as advertised, and both the action and maintain the sense of fun which is threaded through the film.

The heist vibe is also nicely played in, particularly with the theme and score which build a feeling similar to the intricate-yet-relatable plans from the likes of Ocean’s Eleven.

The fun to be had here is massive and Marvel has handled a difficult property with precision, excitement and heart which is all-too-often lost in some of the more ambitious franchise films.

A great time for kids and adults alike, we’re looking forward to seeing Ant-Man play with the Avengers in the films still to come.

James Michael Parry

The Theory of Everything | Review | Film

The Theory of EverythingThe universe is a fairly large thing to fit into a film. Filled with sciencey mumbo-jumbo or not, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Stephen Hawking is one of the most respected and accomplished scientists Britain has to offer, but his story is not an easy one.

The Theory of Everything PosterDespite the headline drama of Hawking being struck with motor neurone disease, the real story is the relationships he had, which is hardly a surprise given the film itself is based on his wife’s autobiography rather than a dusty old textbook.

Leading man Eddie Redmayne completely loses himself in the character of Hawking, who is by no means exaggerated on screen, genuinely being in equal parts just as eccentric and brilliant in real life. It’s not only Redmayne’s physical transformation, as Hawking’s disease takes hold, which is stunning, but the intensity and sensitivity he shows in even the early stages, establishing a character the audience can feel like they know. His Golden Globes win is surely a sign of future award successes to come.

Good to see some familiar yet often overlooked faces in the supporting cast too, such as Game of Thrones and Doctor Who alum Harry Lloyd, who makes a suitably preppy turn as Hawking’s school chum Brian, and Harry Potter’s David Thewlis (that’s Lupin to you Pot-heads) commands respect as Professor Sciama.

It’s Felicity Jones though, who plays Hawking’s wife Jane, who you really feel for. To find yourself in her shoes could only be the most bittersweet of circumstances: falling in love with an adorable genius, only to watch him slowly waste away, despite his mind staying as sharp as ever.

The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries
The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries

No one would find such a situation a walk in the park, and the film does a good job of presenting the story without taking sides or casting judgement.

Much like The Imitation Game (an almost equally excellent journey), The Theory of Everything’s pace is the area most likely to make some attention’s drift, with a run time of just over two hours and slowing down at a few points, but really it would be unfair to mark down a filmmaking team giving such delicate moments a fair airing.

The important role of Hawking's family is central to the film
The important role of Hawking’s family is central to the film

Director James Marsh crafts his audience’s experience to the smallest detail, jumping you between the shoes of both Stephen and Jane, and ramping up the emotional impact gradually, almost without you noticing, until one critical dream sequence sees Hawking rise from his chair, as if cured, and scrape the knife across your heartstrings with expert care.

The film leaves you with an unshakable feeling of both consideration and inspiration, just as you imagine the man himself would approve of – not putting himself on a pedestal nor gushing with pity or undue tears. No amount of science can explain the impact such a against-all-odds tale can have.

Rating: 5/5

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice | Review | Gaming

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game SeriesPeople die. One fact anyone familiar with either the book or TV adaptations of Game of Thrones will already know. The real trick is, can a game trick you into caring about its characters as much as the ones fans of the show, in particular, know and love?

An episodic game, very much brought into the mainstream by Telltale themselves, this incarnation of Game of Thrones is very much part of the world, with the familiar characters (even voiced by their respective actors on the show) being positioned on the edges of its central narrative, rather than relying on them.

Ramsey Snow (or Bolton, as he becomes in Series 4 of the show at least) is a definite highlight, with Iwan Rheon relishing every syllable of his utterly contemptible character, and even new characters managing to make a good first impression.

Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun
Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun

Later episodes may dictate how significant some characters can be, since Telltale’s talent for tailoring the path of story to every player’s decisions is present and correct, but based solely on the opening chapter the narrative, and its protagonists, are interesting and diverse enough to leave us wanting more.

In action scenes the style creaks a little, with the slow motion quick-move-the-cursor moments proving frustrating at times when you ask yourself things like “Is he really only going to swing that sword twice?” Whether Telltale can keep the variety going through the rest of the series remains to be seen.

In all an ideal first stab, especially for fans, with plenty more blood left to spill.

James Michael Parry

The Boxtrolls | Review | Film

The BoxtrollsThe Boxtrolls posterBased on a book by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is the latest release from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman, both excellent films with unique animation and more than enough of a dark side to be totally acceptable adult viewing at the same time. Boxtrolls is similar in this respect, but is it a worthy follower?

The film opens in the Victorian city of Cheesebridge, where we are introduced to the film’s antagonists, Lord Portely-Rind and Archibald Snatcher (Jared Harris and Ben Kingsley) discussing how to remove the city of the Boxtroll problem, Snatcher agrees as long as upon completion he earns a white hat like that of Rind’s (the ultimate sign of status in this society).

Soon we meet the elusive Boxtrolls and the rather un-troll like baby Eggs, the star of this tale. The trolls are harmless humanoid creatures in cardboard boxes rooting through people’s rubbish trying to find items of interest, their scavenging is interrupted however when Snatcher and his cronies burst in and capture them, with just Fish and Shoe escaping (the trolls are so named after what their box once stored).

The film uses the same stop motion style of animation as its forebears, though they have possibly peaked here – everything looks so good, the movement is fluid and everything manages to feel alive. The character models are incredibly detailed, and they all managed to have their own expressions and personality. The Boxtrolls for example, may not speak English, but they are identifiable by their box, and how each one behaves.

Character models are very exaggerated and somewhat grotesque, though this allows them to be quite unique and expressive, Egg for example can speak English (inexplicably, given none of the trolls speak it) but shows a lot of his emotion through gestures and expressions, there is a particularly amusing scene where he gets shown how to politely introduce himself, but takes the advice too literally (“Nice to meet you, even if I don’t really mean it”).

The characters themselves are generally decently done, Eggs (Isaak Hempstead Wright) is a fairly typical star, being honest and wanting the best for his friends, he’s also joined by Winnie (Elle Fanning) an stuck up rich girl, who is ignored by her parents and yearns for more. At first she’s fairly cold and haughty but soon warms to Eggs and his troll friends). Her father, Lord Portely-Rind, is very cold to her – almost to the point of being dismissive.

The BoxtrollsSomething I took from this film is that, despite the cute posters and toy/merch lines available, I’m not sure this is actually a children’s film. It is quite dark in places, and the grotesque imagery (the aforementioned cheese bit is somewhat uncomfortable to watch) and dark atmosphere will doubtless prove quite scary for some children, as well as a few scenes that seem completely hopeless for our Eggs and his friends. There is little in bright colours and the locations are mostly dark and gloomy. Despite all this, there is humour, though – slapstick is frequent in scenes involving Boxtrolls and there is some witty dialogue between our two young heroes.

The film reaches a conclusion a little too quickly perhaps, with Snatcher revealing a rather unlikely method for seizing his white hat after Eggs manages to thwart his deal with Portely-Rind. It had been hinted at but seems somewhat far fetched. His actual downfall comes shortly after, and is suitably gross. The film ends happily, and it is worth sticking around for the credits as they are very well done, along with a short forth wall breaking bonus scene.

An enjoyable film, it’s something that kids will enjoy for the slapstick and cute Boxtrolls while adults can have no shame in watching for its great animation and refusal to compromise the dark aspects of the story.

Rating 4/5

Jordan Thomas

Film: Review – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I am the Apeman“Get your stinking paws off me you damned dirty ape!” Not just the most quotable line of its originator, but also the one thing which links Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the 1968 original – aside from the primates themselves, of course.

The voice which speaks that line is an unlikely one though, none other than Tom Felton, known the Muggle world over as ‘evil’ wizard Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter, and unnervingly it’s accompanied by an American twang.

Felton plays Dodge Landon, a bully not entirely unlike Malfoy, who works at his father’s ape house, where the film’s monkey-like hero eventually finds himself.

The strands of the plot in the film are completely straight, suffice to say Director Rupert Wyatt’s dictionary is missing the entry on the word ‘unexpected’, and yet still re-loading the concept enough to make it totally disconnected to its predecessors.

In many ways this is its biggest downfall, since if they had changed the name and just affectionately referred to the ‘franchise’ – if it merits the term…- then it wouldn’t have been limited by expectations and could have been something so much more.

The story focuses on the scientific exploits of Will Rodman (James Franco), who is testing a new drug therapy, designed to cure Alzheimers, on the apes.

After an incident, Rodman winds up with a baby ape, which he names Caeser, to take care of at home and he raises it as a son, teaching it sign language and converting the attic into a playground-like room, but he soon realises this animal is less than ordinary thanks to Caeser’s mother being given the drug.

Using this knowledge Rodman tests the drug on his father, played spectacularly by former Trinity Killer (in Dexter) John Lithgow, who regains his mind from the clutches of the heart-breaking disease.

The ape evolution in Caeser (a motion capture of former Gollum Andy Serkis) quickly turns to revolution as his animal instincts kick in and the magic compound spreads.

The actiony climax of the film should be the most significant moment, but instead, strangely it’s where glass house cracks. In previous films, the apes would talk as casually as their human co-stars, talking down to them as intellectual superiors, but this film decided to take the realism aspect very seriously. So seriously in fact that the creatures are animated using Avatar‘s space-age technology, creating the most photo-real computer generated mammals seen on celluloid.

But the suspension of disbelief is suddenly shattered as soon as Caeser utters a single word, somehow, it seems, this is a step too far.

Character takes a back seat in the final act as it becomes an action-based chase through the city, and Franco’s usually impressive skills are lost as he haplessly follows the path of destruction.

Still, supporting players such as Lithgow and Brian Cox, who plays Dodge’s ape house-owning dad, act as the voice of reason amid the mounting chaos.

Also there’s a long-overdue return to screen for former Spooks actor David Oyelowo, who is the stereotypical money-hungry suit bankrolling Rodman’s research, and succeeds in playing it right down to the ground, making the audience almost feel sorry for him for his naivety to the situation as it unfolds.

By the end you will be entertained but not enthralled, attentive but not captivated, and this is a shame when a bit of imagination earlier on in the film’s life could really have allowed the cast to shine.

Rating: 3/5

 

James Michael Parry