Film Review | Hector and the Search for Happiness
Just last year audiences were treated to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which saw Ben Stiller undertake a world-traversing voyage to understand the meaning of life. This time it’s Simon Pegg trying to get in touch with his happy-self in Hector and the Search for Happiness. Based on French psychiatrist François Lelord’s best-selling novel of the same name, and directed by Peter Chelsom, Simon Pegg plays our dissatisfied protagonist Hector; a quirky psychiatrist who realises his methods aren’t helping his patients, and so embarks on a trip around the world in a bid to discover the secret of happiness.
Film Review | Before I Go to Sleep
Cinema has long held a fascination with memories, from the different ways they can be manipulated (Inception, Total Recall) to how crucial they can be in defining who we are (Memento, The Bourne Identity). Before I Go to Sleep slots into the latter grouping; As directed by Rowan Joffé it’s a well-performed and solidly engaging thriller, but it won’t be joining the distinguished pantheon the aforementioned films reside in any time soon.
Film Review | Sex Tape
Having previously teamed up for 2011’s Bad Teacher, director Jake Kasdan reunites with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel for R-rated comedy Sex Tape. Though it starts strong and finishes well, script flaws mean it’s unfunny for the majority of its run time, squandering the potential of a great cast and an entertaining premise.
Film Review | Million Dollar Arm
Directed by Craig Gillespie, Million Dollar Arm is a heart-warming and well-told tale that remains appealing in spite of its unsubtlety, and you certainly don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm focuses on J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), a floundering sports agent who is in desperate need of a big signing. Late night channel-flipping between a cricket match and Susan Boyle’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ brings inspiration (as it so often does) and soon Bernstein is journeying to India to host a talent competition that will determine which would-be cricketers have the best chance at being groomed into baseball players. Returning to America with the contest winners Rinku Singh (Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) in tow, the two prospects soon begin training under unorthodox coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), but have difficulty mastering both the game and American culture.
Film Review | Boyhood
Richard Linklater is no stranger to portraying the passing of time on screen. While the rightly heralded ‘Before…’ trilogy saw the auteur return to his protagonists at nine year intervals, here he takes the concept even further. Shot over a period of 12 years, Boyhood is a gamble of epic proportions, and its paid off in near-miraculous fashion.
Boyhood is told from the perspective of star-gazing six-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane, in the mother of all breakthrough roles), and over the course of 166 engrossing minutes we watch as he grows from kidulthood to adulthood. Along the way he gets visits from his estranged Father (Ethan Hawke), while his Mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) goes through a string of tumultuous relationships.
Film Review | Guardians of the Galaxy
Before Marvel Studios released Iron Man in 2008 it was considered a risk. Few non-comic book readers knew of the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist before Robert Downey Jr. swaggered his way onto the big screen, and the rest is history. Risk has once again been the watchword in the build-up to Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in Marvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe. Granted, it’s a lot stranger than a man in a metal suit, but Marvel have since proven how adept they are at realising their characters on the big screen. Guardians is their reward for those previous nine pictures, and as directed by James Gunn it’s a delightfully fun ride.
Film Review | Transformers: Age of Extinction
Picking up four years after the Battle of Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Age of Extinction sees amateur robotics inventor Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) discovering Optimus Prime (voiced superbly once more by Peter Cullen) while searching for junk to refurbish. The gravely wounded Autobot commander has been in hiding from a covert black ops team led by Harold Attlinger (Kelsey Grammer), who has teamed up with Cybertronian bounty hunter Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) in a bid to destroy all shape-shifting robots. Meanwhile, tech tycoon and billionaire inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is busy reverse-engineering his own Transformers with a view to having an army of robots under human control.
Video Review | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I reviewed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for The Reel Deal. Check it out below.
Video Review | Begin Again
I reviewed John Carney’s Begin Again for The Reel Deal. Have a watch below.
Film Review | The Anomaly
Whilst not quite sparse enough to be considered anomalies, British sci-fi thrillers are rare beasts. As such, you have to at least admire the ambition in Noel Clarke’s third directorial feature – titled The Anomaly – if not the execution.
Set in the near future, the Memento-inspired plot is centred on grizzled ex-soldier Ryan (Clarke), who wakes up sans-memory in the back of a van with a kidnapped boy. After 9 minutes and 47 seconds Ryan blacks out, only to reawaken several days later in a new location. This cycle keeps repeating itself, and each ten minute rebirth brings with it a new set of clues as to Ryan’s predicament.
Film Review | How to Train Your Dragon 2
Visually striking with a healthy dose of heart to boot, How to Train Your Dragon 2 fulfills all the criteria needed for a good follow-up without falling prey to its pitfalls. Written and directed by Dean DeBlois – who only agreed to return if he would be allowed to make a trilogy – it’s as assured an animated sequel as you’ll see. And see you should.
Dragon 2 wastes little time bringing unfamiliar audiences up to speed. It’s been five years since Hiccup (voiced once again by Jay Baruchel) tamed his Night Fury dragon Toothless, and Vikings and dragons now share a peaceful co-existence on the island of Berk. While exploring more of the surrounding lands, Hiccup and Toothless happen upon a hidden cave inhabited by a host of dragons belonging to mysterious dragon-rider Valka (Cate Blanchett), who also happens to be our hero’s estranged mother. There is little time for them to reconnect though; trouble is on the horizon in the form of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), who is gathering dragons of his own for his army.
Film Review | A Million Ways to Die in the West
On paper a western comedy is a very intriguing prospect, only more so with Seth MacFarlane’s name attached to it. ‘The Man Who Killed The Oscars’ earned plaudits as well as a hefty box office reward for 2012’s Ted (the sequel hits cinemas next year), and in addition to writing and directing A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) the film sees him make the transition to live-action acting. Though enjoyable in parts, there is a sense that MacFarlane’s sophomore feature fails to fully maximise its potential.
Film Review | X-Men: Days of Future Past
After Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011) rejuvenated the series original director Bryan Singer returns with the daunting task of uniting two timelines and two casts in the ambitious X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). With both new and old characters to introduce and re-introduce, as well as the tricky mechanism of time-travel, there was tremendous potential for it to go horribly wrong. Which makes it all the more impressive that Singer gets it mostly right.
Taking inspiration from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s beloved comic book storyline of the same name, Days of Future Past begins with a chilling battle in a dystopian future between powerful mutant-hunting robots – known as Sentinels – and a motley cadre of mutant survivors. In order to avoid extinction, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back into his younger body in 1973 (both versions played once again by the ageless Hugh Jackman) to alter past events and change the course of history. To do so, Logan must enlist the aid of both a younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensher aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), whose friendship is on the rocks.
Film Review | Godzilla
It’s been 60 years since Ishirō Honda’s thunderous Godzilla (1954), and since then the fearsome reptile has gone on to become an icon of pop culture spawning no fewer than 28 iterations. Only the sophomore effort from Gareth Edwards, the Monsters (2010) director was far from the obvious choice to bring the legendary beast to life once more, but thankfully the 29th iteration marks a triumphant return for the titular Kaiju.
It’s a while before we see him though, as the film begins by focusing on Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a nuclear technician whose wife died when the Japanese plant they worked at suffered a meltdown in 1999. Unconvinced of the ‘natural disaster’ cover up by the government, he’s been searching for answers on what really caused it in the 15 years since. Now a military bomb-disposal expert, his estranged son Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) tries desperately to convince his Dad to move on, but when signs point to history repeating itself and a mysterious monster reawakens the senior Brody is proved right.
Film Review | Frank
As unique selling points for films go, it doesn’t get much more intriguing than the promise of Michael Fassbender in a papier-mâché head. Thankfully it proves to be an inspired piece of casting in Frank, the weird, funny and affecting fourth feature from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson.
Co-written by Jon Ronson – upon whose experiences with Frank Sidebottom the film is loosely based – Frank follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), an aspiring but struggling musician who happens upon an eccentric touring band as their keyboardist is trying to drown himself. That band’s unpronounceable name is The Soronprfbs, their lead singer is the fake head clad Frank (Fassbender), and once it’s ascertained that Jon can play the C, F and G chords, he is recruited.
Film Review | Next Goal Wins
Next Goal Wins kicks off with a flashback to 2001, when the American Samoa national football team conceded a record-breaking 31 goals without reply against Australia in a World Cup qualifier. Branded the worst team in the world and ranked rock bottom of the FIFA rankings, a decade later the team turn to maverick Dutch coach Thomas Rongen to help them qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
Film Review | Sabotage
The last two films in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback tour have provided schlocky but enjoyable titillation, with The Last Stand edging out Escape Plan as the better of the two. Directed by David Ayer, Sabotage (2014) has loftier ambitions, but despite some solid work from its leading man the film is tripped up by its messily executed plot.
Loosely based on Agatha Christie’s novel Ten Little Indians (yes, really), Schwarzenegger stars as John ‘Breacher’ Wharton, leader of an elite team of DEA agents looking to swindle $10 million from a cartel. What initially looks to be a successful heist proves anything but; the stolen loot goes missing, and the team fall under heavy scrutiny from their superiors. A lack of evidence means the investigation is soon dropped, but one by one the team are soon picked off by unknown assassins.
Film Review | Bad Neighbours
Seth Rogen and Nicholas Stoller are responsible for some of the funniest comedies of the noughties, from 2007’s Superbad to The Five-Year Engagement (2012). Bad Neighbours (2014) marks the first time the Apatow alumni have teamed up, and on this evidence it’d be a shame if it was the last; frequently earning hearty audience laughs, both director and actor are at the top of their game in this impressive entry.
Rogen and Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, a young and married couple who are struggling to adjust to a quieter life with their new-born baby. Not helping matters is the arrival of the Delta Psi Beta fraternity led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), who set up shop next door. In a desperate bid to avoid future squabbles, Mac and Kelly do their best to bond with their obnoxious new neighbours, even offering them a joint as a friendly welcome gift. As Delta Psi’s outrageous parties get louder and wilder however, war is declared and a myriad of pranks ensue.
Film Review | Plastic
Though crime capers often have their characters participating in dishonourable actions, there’s commonly a likeable, redeeming quality to them that makes them easy to root for. This fundamental building block is nowhere to be found in Julian Gilbey’s Plastic (2014), which makes the entire film tedious to sit through.
Wannabe entrepreneur Sam (Downton Abbey star Ed Speelers) is the leader of a four-man gang of credit-card swindlers whose other members include Rafa (Sebastian De Souza), Yatesy (Alfie Allen) and right-hand man Fordy (Will Poulter). When the arrogant Yatesy unknowingly steals from ruthless gangster Marcel (Thomas Krestchmann), the team are blackmailed into raising £2 million in two weeks. Recruiting bank employee Frankie (Emma Rigby) to their cause, the group head to Miami looking to rip-off the big spenders and pay their debt before it’s too late.
Film Review | Pompeii
Fashioning compelling stories even when the ultimate outcomes are already known can be a tall order, but when done well, it can still pack a punch. In this regard, Pompeii (2014) fails miserably; directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, it’s a film which takes cues from many a film before it while failing to improve on them in any way.
Set in 79 AD, Pompeii follows Milo (Game of Thrones star Kit Harington), a gladiator whose family was slaughtered by the Romans when he was a little boy. Known as ‘The Celt’, Milo’s impressive fighting skills have him shipped off to Pompeii to do battle in the arena for the town’s citizens. Along the way he meets Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a local merchant. Cassia is unwillingly being courted by corrupt Roman senator Corvus (an awful Kiefer Sutherland), the same man responsible for his family’s death years before. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, Milo teams up with rival turned ally Atticus (Islington-born actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to rescue Cassia before the volcano destroys the entire city.
Film Review | Transcendence
Helmed by Christopher Nolan’s longtime DoP Wally Pfister and packing an all-star cast, there were plenty of reasons to be excited about Transcendence (2014). Sadly, the end result is a disappointing mess of a movie which fails to deliver on its strong premise.
Transcendence follows Will Caster (Johnny Depp), one of the leading minds in artificial intelligence research along with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). That makes them the target of anti-tech extremists, and an assassination attempt leaves Will wounded and dying from a radioactive bullet. With time running out, Evelyn and colleague Max (Paul Bettany) hatch a desperate plan to upload Will’s consciousness into an experimental A.I. Evelyn and Max ultimately succeed in their Neuromancer-esque goal, but as Will’s thirst for knowledge and power grows stronger, technological advancement soon gives way to fear and paranoia.
Film Review | The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Freed from the burden of a seen-it-all-before origin story, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a marked improvement from its predecessor and gets more right than it does wrong, but it is still unworthy of its title.
After a flashback gives us more details on Peter Parker’s parents (more on that later), the narrative picks up from where the first left off. Peter (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) are very much in love, but Peter is still haunted by the promise he made to Gwen’s Father to stay away from her. Elsewhere, an industrial accident sees Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) transform into dangerous villain Electro, whilst Peter’s childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) re-emerges with secrets of his own.
Film Review | Rio 2
Few would have predicted that Blue Sky Studios’ Rio would go on to be one of the highest grossing films of 2011. Directed by Carlos Saldanha, it was well-liked by both critics and audiences, flapping its way to $483 million worldwide. As such, it’s no surprise we’re getting a second instalment of the franchise, but the assurance that this is a product which a demographic is guaranteed to respond to may have contributed to the overly safe vibe the sequel emanates.
Film Review | Khumba: A Zebra’s Tale
As the recent critical and box office success of both the Oscar-winning Frozen (2013) and The LEGO Movie (2014) can attest to, animated movies have seldom been more popular than they are today. Though noble in its intentions, Anthony Silverston’s Khumba (2014) – the sophomore effort from the Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios – is a substandard digimated excursion that’s all the more dissatisfying when compared to the films that inspired it.