The weight of expectation looms large over Creed II. Ryan Coogler’s Creed masterfully revitalised the Rocky saga back in 2015, turning what was once a franchise on its last legs into one of Hollywood’s most anticipated narratives. With Coogler passing on directing the film due to a little movie called Black Panther it’s Steven Caple Jr. who fills what are now gargantuan shoes, and while the sequel doesn’t scale the heights of the original, that’s more of a testament to Coogler’s achievement than any failings of this hugely satisfying sophomore effort.
Read my full review on Den of Geek.
I reviewed Black Panther for Den of Geek. Read it here.
I also wrote about it for the Daily Mirror, a national newspaper.
While Wonder Woman is technically the fourth entry in DC’s Extended Universe, in many ways it’s a movie of firsts. The most prominent novelty – the fact that it’s the first female superhero movie to be directed by a woman – has been an oft-noted distinction in the build-up to the film’s release, and the feminist lens is apparent throughout. But what stays with you long after the credits roll is the movie’s heart and hope. That’s a first that DC fans like this writer have been waiting on for four years from the DCEU, and Wonder Woman has it in spades.
As we come to the end of The Hunger Games franchise, it feels a little strange to think that it only started out in 2012. Having efficiently cranked out an instalment each year for the past four years, it will go down as one of the swiftest (and successful) quadrilogies of all time. Whether it will go down as one of the best will likely be discussed in the coming months, but director Francis Lawrence can take pride in having concluded the series on a strong note. If Mockingjay: Part 1 was the calm, then Mockingjay: Part 2 is the angry, depressing, but no less compelling storm.
From the classic 1953 Disney animated adaptation to Steven Spielberg’s Hook in 1991, many filmmakers have tried to reinvent J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan on the silver screen with varying results. The latest director to walk the plank is Joe Wright; giving us a new origin story for the boy who wouldn’t grow up, the occasional entertaining set-piece can’t stop Pan from being a forgettable, CGI-overloaded mess.
Having given us movies such as Alien and Gladiator, there is a certain amount of excitement and expectation that typically surrounds a Ridley Scott production. With a recent output that consists of Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counsellor, and Prometheus, those expectations have not been merited or met. Thankfully the director is back on form with The Martian, a fun and smart sci-fi which will have you laughing more than most comedies.
From Orson Welles in 1948 to Roman Polanski in 1971, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has undergone many stage and screen adaptations in its 400 year plus history. The latest attempt to translate it to the silver screen comes from Justin Kurzel. It’s only the second feature from the Australian director, but he accomplishes an impressive feat in distinguishing his take from all that has come before it. It’s just unfortunate that much of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter is undecipherable.
Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield make for an unlikely yet compelling duo in Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes, a powerful two-hander of a thriller that loses none of its impact despite its heavy-handed nature.
After a tone-setting tracking shot which features the body of an evictee who shot himself during the course of a foreclosure we meet Dennis Nash (Garfield, sans Spidey spandex for the first time since 2010), a construction worker whose trade has been hit hard by the financial crisis. With bills mounting up and no money to pay them with, it’s not long before ruthless real-estate broker Rick Carver (Shannon) is knocking at Nash’s door and evicting him, his Mother (Laura Dern) and his young son (Noah Lomax) out of their home. Desperate to get his family out of their now squalid accommodations, Nash reluctantly accepts an offer to work for the very man who evicted him in the first place.
Near the end of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the sequel to Wes Ball’s decent YA adaptation The Maze Runner, the main character declares “I’m tired of running”. It’s a telling piece of dialogue that can be applied to this overlong sequel, which is sorely lacking in the necessary character and narrative legwork. It makes for the worst kind of middle chapter; one that you have to watch, but isn’t really all that compelling.
We immediately rejoin Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Teresa (Kaya Scoledario) and the other Gladers who are now being transported to a remote complex following their escape from the maze. While his compatriots are all too happy with finally having hot showers, a bed, and more provided by the shifty man in charge Janson (Game of Thrones’ Aiden Gillen), Thomas is instantly suspicious of their new surroundings. It isn’t long before his instincts are proved correct, and the film’s best scene sees Thomas and the Gladers escaping the underground facility, emerging into the desolate and unforgiving Scorch.
Things start simply enough in Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra as we meet Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), an unmotivated stoner who works at his local cash and carry and lives with the girl of his dreams Phoebe (Kristen Stewart). Their lives are turned upside down when it comes to light that Mike is actually a highly trained sleeper agent created by the CIA, who have just targeted him for termination. To survive against deadly government assassins led by power mad agent Yates (Topher Grace), Mike must put his newly discovered set of skills to good use.
When discussing the distinguished pantheon of hip hop greats, it would be impossible not to mention N.W.A. Their 1988 debut album Straight Outta Compton – which features the incendiary anthem ‘F**k tha Police’, a statement track which feels sadly timely given recent stateside events – had an unquantifiable impact on the evolution of hip-hop. As such, you’d be hard pressed to find worthier subjects for the music biopic treatment, and in translating their story to the big screen director F. Gary Gray has produced a fittingly raw and powerful film.
2015 has been a great year for spies at the multiplex. Not only have the movies been entertaining, they have all offered different takes on the espionage genre. Kingsman: The Secret Service brought back the cool gadgets: Spy was a hilarious comedy: and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation set the bar high for action. Enter Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: based on the spy-fi NBC TV series (which aired from 1964 to 1968), it has all the stylistic elements you’d expect from the director, benefitting more from the chemistry of its cast than its storytelling or action.
After Tim Story’s Fantastic Four films ended with the catastrophe that was the Galactus cloud, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only way was up when it came to depicting Marvel’s first family on film. Indeed, there were plenty of reasons to be excited for Josh Trank’s reboot: the director had previously made Chronicle – a fun and interesting take on teens with superpowers – and Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell and Miles Teller have all impressed in previous projects. So it is doubly shocking and disappointing that the fourth try at a live action Fantastic Four barely stacks up to Story’s aforementioned films, let alone the high standards we’ve come to expect from comic book movies today.
It would have been easy for Avengers: Age of Ultron – the sequel to Marvel’s franchise mega-hit Avengers Assemble – to rest on its laurels. Thankfully, Avengers 2.0 improves on its predecessor on many fronts even if it doesn’t fully recapture the magic of the 2012 endeavour.
Whereas it took a little while for Avengers Assemble to get going, the opposite is true for the sequel. We begin with a Bond-esque opening skirmish between our heroes and HYDRA cronies that ends with the recovery of Loki’s scepter and a party to remember. But when Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to use the power of the scepter to jumpstart a peacekeeping program, the inadvertent result is Ultron (James Spader), a highly intelligent robot hell-bent on human extinction. Making matters worse, Ultron joins forces with powerful Maximoff twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
Like the character he plays in Focus – the latest film from writer-director duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa , of Crazy, Stupid, Love fame – Will Smith is in need of a big score. Disappointing films such as After Earth and A New York Winter’s Tale failed to make the best use of his talents and yielded poor critical and box office results in the process. Thankfully, though it only half succeeds in the tricky balancing act between the con and the romance, Focus at least clears the low bar of being better than Smith’s recent fare.
Cinema has seen plenty of found footage and time travel films, but rarely have the two concepts been combined. Enter Project Almanac; Produced by Michael Bay and directed by Dean Israelite, it works well as an entertaining teen movie without doing anything revolutionary with the aforementioned narrative devices.
Project Almanac centers on David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a 17-year-old science whiz who is desperate to get into MIT. The answer may lie in his deceased father’s old belongings, as David discovers an old video clip of his seventh birthday party which unexplainably features glimpses of his current self, along with blueprints for a time travel device his father was working on. Together with fellow classmates Quinn (Sam Lerner), Allen (Adam Le), his sister Christina (an underused Virginia Gardner) and high school hottie Jessie (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the group construct the device and begin putting it to use but it doesn’t take long before their actions in the past start producing dangerous consequences in the present.
“From the creators of The Matrix” is a quote that has accompanied the Wachowskis in each of the trailers and posters for their subsequent films, and with good reason. The 1999 sci-fi is still one of the best of the genre, and having struggled since then a case could be made that the sibling directors peaked too soon. Indeed, Jupiter Ascending does little to change that notion, as it can best be described as a beautiful failure.
Mila Kunis plays the titular Jupiter, a lowly cleaner who lives with her Russian family and dreams of escaping her mundane life. Unbeknownst to Jupiter, her genetic code means she’s next in line for ownership of a number of planets, including Earth. Naturally there are other interested parties who want Jupiter out of the way, and when an attempt on her life is thwarted by half-man half-wolf warrior Caine Wise (Channing Tatum), she’s introduced to a new world.
In some ways, the absence of “I Have a Dream” from Selma, incredibly only the first feature film to give the biopic treatment to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, is symbolic of the film as a whole. It’s the four words the civil right leader is most known for, but director Ava DuVernay is interested in far more than just compelling oratory.
Selma focuses its gaze on a three-month period in 1965 when King (David Oyelowo) led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights for African-American citizens. The first act sets up the shrewd tactics necessary to induce change; Having campaigned in Albany for nine months with no results, it’s decided that Selma is the place to stage the protest, the county already a fervent breeding ground of racial inequality and therefore more likely to garner media attention. While the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) work diligently to force President Lyndon B. Johnson (an effective Tom Wilkinson) into action, the film also offers up an examination of how the civil rights movement affected its leader, both at home and as a man.
Like the rummagers on which his latest film is centred on, Stephen Daldry has long had a talent for picking out diamonds in the rough. The three time Academy Award nominated director discovered a young Jamie Bell for his debut feature Billy Elliot, and he struck gold again when he cast Thomas Horn in 2011’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His aptitude for scouting young thespians has served him well once more in Trash, an enjoyable adaptation of Andy Mulligan’s novel.
If there’s one thing which is clear about writer-director J. C. Chandor by now, it’s that he likes to switch it up. His debut feature Margin Call was a talky, deservedly Oscar-nominated financial drama with dialogue to spare. It was followed by the Robert Redford-starring All is Lost, a survivalist drama with hardly any speech at all. For his third feature Chandor has once again opted for something completely different, fashioning a sharp and sophisticated film about the heating oil industry that may be his most satisfying work to date.
Set in a wintery 1981 New York, A Most Violent Year follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a Latin-American immigrant who, along with his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain), has his sights set on closing a deal that will expand his heating oil company and give him the edge over his competitors. For that to happen, Abel will have to overcome some potentially crippling external obstacles; His drivers are getting assaulted by thugs who are then stealing fuel from his trucks, the local D.A. (David Oyelowo) is mounting a case against him, and a shadowy figure looms outside his new home. Even as the screws tighten though, Abel is determined to go about his business in the right way.
What does it take to be the best?
It’s a question that all who strive to attain the highest levels of success ask themselves, and it’s a question that Whiplash – the superb sophomore feature from writer-director Damien Chazelle – poses in riveting, effective, and wonderfully ambiguous fashion.
Miles Teller stars as Andrew Neiman, an ambitious 19-year old drummer who’s determined to become one of the greats. That’s led him to the (fictional) Shaffer Conservatory of Music in New York, where infamous instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) presides over an award-winning jazz band. All appears to be going well when Andrew catches Fletcher’s eye and is promoted to his top tier ensemble. It’s then that the instructor’s verbal, emotional, and physically abusive teaching methods are made brutally clear, and as Andrew pushes himself to dangerous lengths to meet Fletcher’s demanding standards, the question for both mentor and student is how far is too far in the pursuit of greatness.
There are few filmmakers today whose work is as instantly recognisable as Tim Burton’s. A perusal of his recent back catalogue will reveal recurring themes, gothic aesthetics, and the same cadre of actors – most frequently Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter – often backed by a Danny Elfman score. Though there are a couple of Burton-isms here and there Big Eyes is very much unlike the director’s recent fare, a fine and surprisingly complex piece of work which suggests he should step out of his weird and wonderful comfort zone more often.
“Moves, and counter moves”.
That line of dialogue, softly spoken by Donald Sutherland’s increasingly despotic President Snow, pretty much sums up The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. With no actual Hunger Games to speak of for the first time in the series, the highly anticipated sequel is light on action, trading spectacle for intimacy and bulging with fantastic performances and power plays of an altogether different sort than we’re used to as the long-foreshadowed revolution begins.
Almost every romantic comedy cliche is present and accounted for in Love, Rosie, a disappointing adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s bestselling 2004 novel Where Rainbows End.
Directed by Christian Ditter, the film stars Lily Collins as the titular Rosie, who has been best friends with Alex (Sam Claflin) since childhood. Feelings begin to blossom between the pair in their teenage years but the mutual attraction is never admitted, and when an unplanned pregnancy befalls Rosie just as Alex heads to Boston to pursue his career, the two are forced to go their separate ways. The connection between them never dissipates though, and throughout the next twelve years their lives frequently intertwine.